damalur: (clear eyes full hearts can't moo)
no, use my SPACE name! ([personal profile] damalur) wrote2017-07-30 07:24 pm

Fireproof (Dragon Age, Hawke/Varric)

Title: Fireproof
Characters: Hawke/Varric, Hawke/Anders
Wordcount: 8k
Additional Tags: Emotional Infidelity, Angst, Pining
Notes: Written for [archiveofourown.org profile] clevermoll in the 2017 Hightown Funk exchange. Many thanks to the National for the title and summary and to [personal profile] odyle for her last-minute beta job.
Summary: Nothing breaks your heart.

-

It was summer in the City of Chains. It was always summer; even in the rare winters when ice cracked and crawled from the north and the Waking Sea froze in frothy licks where it lapped at Kirkwall's doorstep, there was something thick and humid and stifling about the air, something hot and ripe and smothering that lingered in Kirkwall no matter the weather or the season. Hawke woke with sweat on her brow and upper lip and went to sleep with her shirt soaked through. Beside her in the dark bedroom, Anders was a torch.

"I tried freezing the sheets, you know," she confided, "but then I woke in the morning in the middle of a puddle. We had to throw out the mattress. It smelled like wet dog, can you imagine? Good thing I'm rich now."

Varric was paring an apple as they ambled through Lowtown. She had run into him by accident, but it was the first time she'd seen him in days, and she couldn't resist a few stolen moments spent in his company before they went about their business. This close to the docks, there should have been at least the suggestion of a breeze, but the great black wall that gave Kirkwall its name blocked wind and invasion alike; the air over the harbor was often dead and always stinking.

"How's that, Hawke?" he said.

"To buy new mattresses, obviously," she said. "Any time the stench gets to be too much, why, out with the old and in with the new."

"Did it ever occur to you to give the dog a bath?"

"I don't see how that would solve anything," Hawke remarked. "In fact, it might give rise to even more problems. Letting Anders think he's won, for instance — if the dog isn't able to announce himself with his odor, Anders might think I've finally gotten rid of the poor boy. Tcch. Cat people."

"And him a Ferelden, too," Varric sympathized.

"Traitor," Hawke agreed. "The very worst. Thankfully, he's all caught up in that… you know. Project of his."

"More letters?"

"A treatise," Hawke said. "Can you imagine spending all your free time writing?" She took a nip from the flask in her pocket. "Oh, wait, you can."

Varric chuckled. Even he had forgone his coat and armament in favor of shirtsleeves. "Good thing you love him," he said.

"Oh yes," said Hawke, "good thing."

-

It wasn't that Hawke minded Anders being all rah-rah-mage-freedom. She was herself something of an advocate for radical personal autonomy, which meant she danced merry circles around the templars and did not dream, did not recall, did not imagine what it must feel to be hobbled and trapped behind stone. She was not precisely a fan of what went on at the Gallows; but they all had their fires to endure, didn't they?

Maybe that was one of the things she liked about him, though — that he still had the reserves to care when she didn't. He reminded her of her father, who might have been a revolutionary had he not been saddled with a wife and three children. Hawke herself was too glib to care for revolution. They argued about it sometimes, she and Anders, about apostasy and the templars and the Rite of Tranquility. It was academically interesting, if personally frustrating; not many people bothered to argue with Hawke. She was too studiedly absurd for most people to bother engaging with her in any meaningful way.

Sometimes she would swagger into the library, and there would be Anders, his notes and self sprawled over the floor in front of the fire while he brooded over some particularly vexing paragraph. His occasional refusal of desk and chair were one of the few remnants of the man she imagined he had been when he was young — not that he was old now, but he wore his years like each month weighed a decade. She had liked that about him, had liked how he sat with one leg flung to the side and the other knee drawn up while he chewed on his lip and hunched over his books.

"Hawke," he always greeted her.

"Hello, the scholar," Hawke said. "How's the fight going? Odd sort of fire you have there, although really, any fire is odd in this heat."

"It's veilfire," Anders said. "Only a mage may summon it, and it gives off no heat. I'm surprised you've never seen it before."

"My education wasn't precisely… let's say systematic," Hawke said. "Also, there was that bit about my teacher dying unexpectedly." The veilfire cast a sickly green light, and she wondered how Anders could see well enough to read by it; it reminded Hawke of the Fade, which reminded her of several other things she preferred not to contemplate — uneasiness, failure, reality, fathers, and so on.

"I'm sorry," Anders said immediately.

"Why?" said Hawke. She dropped down beside him and tugged off her boots. "Can you teach me?"

"To summon veilfire?" Anders set aside his sheaf of papers. He was down to his shirtsleeves in deference to the heat. "Of course. It won't be terribly difficult — you're already familiar with elemental and spirit magic. The technique is… somewhere between the two, I guess." He passed his hand from left to right, and the fire snuffed itself out — then from right to left, and the green fire sprang back into being.

"It's a matter of how you pull on the Fade," he started. "The pattern of thought it similar to casting a fire spell, but you must reach beyond… or you could do that," he finished mildly.

Hawke had figured out the trick herself. She flicked her fingers, and the fire roared to life from the dark, cold hearth.

"Could I stick my hand in there?" she said.

"I supposed you could," Anders said. "Although I'm not sure why you'd want to." He was watching her slantwise, fixated but trying not to let her see it.

"What?" said Hawke.

"Nothing," said Anders. "No, really, I mean it — you've heard my arguments before. There's no point in dragging them up now."

"Oh, you mean the part where if I would only dedicate myself to the cause, I might make a real difference?" Hawke said, matching his mildness.

"You might, you know," Anders said. "There's only so much I can do. I'm a runaway twice over. If the Circle doesn't catch up to me, the Wardens will. Also, there's the small matter of my, let's say…"

"Roommate?" Hawke suggested.

"Permanent occupant," Anders agreed. "For some reason, people tend to distrust someone who shares his body with a spirit."

"It's the glowy eyes," Hawke said. "That, and the insatiable thirst for justice. The murderous single-mindedness, too."

"Yes, thank you," said Anders.

"But really," said Hawke, "I don't see what your admittedly charming shortcomings have to do with me."

"Think of what you could do for the Underground," Anders said. "If someone like you took up our cause as a leader…" He nudged her with his shoulder.

"Someone like me?" said Hawke, playing it wide-eyed and flirtatious.

"Charming," said Anders. "Brilliant."

"Go on."

"Daring," said Anders, and he let his hand slide down her arm and over her fingers. It was the first time he'd touched her since — well.

Hawke turned her hand over. "Daring? I hadn't heard that one before."

"Powerful," he said, right into her ear.

"That I have heard," she said, "but please, don't stop on my account."

"Tired flattery is better than no flattery?" Anders said, and Hawke twisted to face him. His face was strangely lit by the veilfire; his eyes were blue, his hair auburn. She dropped her hands to his chest and unfastened the top half of his shirt.

"Too hot for clothes," he agreed.

"Too hot for everything," Hawke countered, and she filled her mind with the pattern of veilfire.

-

At night, he was like a torch in the bed beside her. When the heat of him was too much, Hawke would slip from the bed and the room. She could move quietly; her education may not have included esoteric magical techniques, but it had included a great deal of practical instruction in how to evade notice, how to run, how to stand, and how to fight.

She took the emptiest streets in Hightown — and after midnight, they were nearly all empty — climbing up and up and up until she reached the rim of Kirkwall and could find her way by moonlight along the top of the cliff and then down again to the coast. Some nights she just stood there on the shore, looking south to Ferelden; but some nights she divested herself of her clothes and waded into the water.

She couldn't remember the age at which Mother had taught her to swim. The twins were young enough that they hadn't been allowed in the water even with supervision; they were in Highever that year — no, it had been West Hill, three or four furlongs down the coast from the fortress that gave the city its name. "Here, my love," Mother had said. "It's time you learned how to float, at least." And she had spent a long afternoon teaching Marian first to bob like a cork, and then to paddle like a dog, and then to cut through the water like a fish, albeit one that sometimes flailed and gasped after accidentally swallowing a mouthful of water.

"Who taught you to swim?" Marian had asked. They had taken a break to eat some bread and cheese on the shore; the drying saltwater had softened Mother's hair into waves.

"My brother," said Mother. "When I was young in Kirkwall, we used to swim together at night in a cove below the coast. I thought my nursemaid didn't know, can you imagine? She did, of course, but she let us pretend to sneak out anyway."

"Does that mean I have to teach the twins?"

Mother laughed. "Only if you wish, sweetheart," she had said.

Some years later, Marian had in fact taught Bethany and Carver to swim. Bethany applied herself with a hilariously serious determination that would have better suited someone ten times her age. Carver, meanwhile, had ignored Marian's instruction in favor of thrashing about until he arrived at the correct form through stubbornness and sheer luck. Marian expedited the process by shoving him underwater until he could hold his breath for two or three minutes at a stretch.

It was easier to remember them here, in a place empty of other associations. She sometimes felt her life in Kirkwall was so full, so crowded with people making demands, that there was no room for her memories. She had won her place in Kirkwall first by making herself useful and then by making herself indispensable, and she had done it in a way so thorough and subtle that no one questioned the immediacy with which an unkempt layabout refugee occurred as the solution to their troubles. Hawke couldn't claim deep feeling for the plight of Kirkwall's citizens, but she liked the defense of knowing everyone and the safety of having people owe her.

And yes, all right, maybe she wasn't entirely devoid of compassion. There was something about Kirkwall that distilled suffering into its most exquisitely refined form. Hawke had lived in a dozen places by the time she reached the age of majority, but nowhere else had she been so consistently confronted by the worst the world had to offer.

She could leave. It would be easy. No blood tied her to Kirkwall, not any longer; she could leave the mansion to Anders or Bodahn, take her dog, and vanish into the Vimmarks. Who could stop her? In Kirkwall she lived in a pit, dug so deeply into the rock that standing outside of the Hanged Man it was impossible to see the horizon. Hawke hadn't grown up in a city.

She thought about it while she floated on her back in the cove below the Wounded Coast. Even at night it was so humid that the water didn't evaporate from the exposed skin of her face and chest; the moisture beaded there, sliding down her nose and neck and breasts. The air felt thicker than the water. She licked the salt from her upper lip and thought about being alone.

But really, wouldn't it be entirely too much trouble to run? All the packing, the unpacking, the vast uncivilized swaths of wilderness (she heard that last part in Varric's voice), when here in Kirkwall she had ancestral hearth and home, a minor but successful racket as the world's most obvious apostate, and a handful of people with whom she was entirely content to eat, drink, and make merry for the rest of her days. Also, the dog would be quite upset if they moved now; he'd only just figured out how to let himself into the larder. 'And what next' was a question that could be answered later, if it needed to be answered at all.

When her skin was thoroughly pruned she hauled herself back to the shore, dried herself in the air in a fit of luxurious nudity, and then made her way back to the city. She took a meandering path that cut a narrow channel through the rock before emerging near the less reputable portion of the docks. Her feet carried her through Lowtown without any direction from the rest of her; in the dark or in daylight, in weather clear or foul, there was no part of Kirkwall she could not navigate senseless. Part of it was a knack for adaptability. Hawke hadn't been born in Kirkwall, but she had taken it like a lover into her life. A dirty, smelly, occasionally unwanted lover that certainly had several unseemly habits — actually, more like an undesirable relative. Yes, that was it — Kirkwall was the reprobate uncle she hadn't wanted but had learned to live with nonetheless.

She didn't see Varric until she turned onto the high road. He was on the far side of the market square, sitting at the top of a set of steps, and he was watching her.

Hawke could have gone to him. She could have… oh, she could have crossed the street, said hello, offered to help him finish that lovely flagon of ale; she could have told him about swimming in the cove, about the day with Mother in West Hill, about how she could no longer summon that memory without seeing a chain of stitches around her mother's neck. She could have told him she'd been thinking about leaving, and they would have laughed about it together, because Varric in his way was just as much a coward as Hawke was in hers.

But she stayed where she was, and Varric watched but didn't beckon her closer; and then something collided with her leg, and Hawke wobbled and looked down in time to catch the tail-end of a cat as it dashed away. When she looked back up, Varric was gone, and the door at the top of the stairs was closing behind him. Hawke didn't wonder who was waiting for him behind that door. She didn't have to wonder; she knew.

Instead of going home, she bought two hot, fresh slices of raisin bread from the midtown baker, and then she wandered her way to the Viscount's Keep in time to watch the city guard perform their morning drills in the yard in front of the Chantry. Aveline was there. She looked at Hawke sternly, but then she saw the bread (her favorite), and when her lips twitched, it was almost like they were sisters.

-

She asked Anders about it. "What made you keep running away?"

They were in his clinic. It was late afternoon, and Hawke was hiding from the Viscount's seneschal. This part of Darktown soaked up every bit of heat trapped by Kirkwall above and then some; she was fanning herself with a piece of paper that had a recipe for some elfroot concoction written on it, but even that didn't help. The situation was made worse by the torches that blazed away with impunity. In Darktown there wasn't enough daylight to find your own feet, much less stitch up cuts or examine unfortunate genital conditions.

"From the Circle, you mean?" he said. "I'm… not sure I know. It seemed like the natural thing to do." He was mashing together herbs and a tincture into some kind of poultice. Hawke had no talent for healing. It wasn't the subtlety that escaped her; she could steal a man's balance or siphon his soul with no more than a nod and a wink. There was something about the way bodies fit together that was lost on her, though, and while she had been an indifferent student of healing at best, Hawke's indifference was frequently superior to the obsession of others. Even so, she had never managed to do more than dispel a headache or mend a paper cut.

"I hated it there," he added. "At first, I simply wanted to go home. They took me when I was twelve, you know. I still remembered my mother and father."

"And then?" said Hawke.

"When I got a little older, I realized what it meant that my parents had handed me over to the templars in the first place. After that… I'm not sure, Hawke. I just wanted to get away."

"Did they punish you for it?"

"Of course," he said. "If magic exists to serve man, then it exists to serve the templars most of all. When I was a boy, I was given extra chores, but that leniency didn't last long."

"Solitary confinement," Hawke said. He'd only told her about it the once, and then only long enough to mention that he'd made the attempt shortly after his first lover had been moved to Kirkwall's Gallows.

"Yes," he said. "They caught up to me in West Hill. I was trying to find passage to the Marches."

"West Hill," said Hawke.

"It's the closest seaport to Lake Calenhad."

"Ah," said Hawke, and then, "Is that a piercing? How did I never notice?"

He clapped a hand over his ear and scowled at her to cover his obvious embarrassment. "It isn't!"

"It is," said Hawke, who let her mockery burble over to wash away whatever else she had been feeling.

"Oh, all right, it is." He went back to grinding herbs with his stone pestle. "I lost the earring when I was running away from the Wardens, and then the hole grew closed. Don't laugh — I liked it."

"I'm sure it was extraordinarily dashing," said Hawke. "In fact, I've always been partial to piercings."

"Isabela will be glad to hear that."

Indeed she would be, and Hawke was on the verge of asking Anders to walk with her to the Hanged Man to inform Isabela of this happy news (and, perhaps, to play a hand of cards or ten) when he stood up and started packing things into his satchel. "Going somewhere?" she inquired.

"A house call," he said. "And then a meeting."

"Oh?" said Hawke. "A meeting?" She tried to keep the censure out of her voice, because she wasn't entirely sure she didn't admire what he was doing. What was it Father used to say? Ah, right — magic should serve that which is best in us, and not that which is most base. Easy for him to say; Hawke was assuredly more base than the average mage.

He leveled her with a look that was altogether too knowing. Hawke very much wanted to kick him in the shins to distract him, but that was childish and additionally might pull Justice to the forefront. "You could come with me," he said.

She could, but then what? Would she be harboring fugitives in her home next? Going up against the templars? Declaring open war on Knight-Commander Meredith and her Chantry masters? She wanted none of that. In fact, what Hawke primarily wanted of late was to be left alone by everyone and everything — by Anders, by the Mage Underground, by Varric, by her friends, by her memories, by her own wants and desires. Nothing at the moment sounded quite so appealing as crawling into a bottle until she forgot her own name.

"No," said Anders, "I supposed you couldn't."

"Anders…"

"Tonight, then?" he said. "I might be late."

"I was thinking of staying out, actually," Hawke said. "Round or two of cards, perhaps some light debauchery…"

"Tomorrow. I'll come find you." He hesitated, swaying towards her like he meant to press a kiss of her forehead, but something in her stance must have disinvited contact, because he drew away before he could come close to her.

"Tomorrow," Hawke said.

"So long, then," he said, and then he was gone, off to save the world, or at least delude himself into thinking he was saving it. Who was Hawke to judge? The only skin she had ever saved was her own.

Instead of climbing back to daylight, she buried herself in Darktown. The deeper tunnels were cooler, sometimes even cold, or rather cold by comparison. At least Carver didn't have to suffer through the miserable heat; he was deeper than this, far deeper, buried so far beneath the ground that summer was no more than an old folktale Wardens told around the campfire. Lucky bastard.

She wasn't armed with anything other than a knife she kept on her person more for utility than for protection, but staff or no, she could still light anyone who fell upon her on fire. Fire was an excellent deterrent. It was too hot to bother with robberies anyway — Hawke, who had briefly made a living as a criminal herself, understood something of the mindset. The point was to avoid doing hard, honest labor.

Once upon a time, she might have had a reaction to Anders' insinuation that she didn't care about the plight of her fellows. She had a kind of muscle memory of that reaction — not the feeling itself, but an idea of what the feeling would've been: a secondhand account from a traveler. Everything now seemed very muted to Hawke, like she was underwater, or like the wind was rushing past her ears — or almost everything, at least. What reached her clearly was what she wouldn't allow herself to have.

When she found herself in the deepest tunnels, the ones where no one habitually lit torches, she summoned a tongue of veilfire to light her way. Little creatures scurried away from even that small light; there were rats and spiders down here who had never seen the sun, and earthworms the size of snakes, and all kinds of beetles and bugs and larvae. Many interesting molds, provided molds were something you found interesting.

There was blood, too, sunk deep into the earth; it was not innocent blood, not natural, not blood spilled without intent. She could feel it seeping into the dirt. That more than anything was what identified Kirkwall — not its stench or its chains, not its great black wall or descents of stairs, but its blood channels.

She was thinking so hard about not thinking that she rounded a corner and almost collided with another person. Or rather, with two people — an adult woman holding a torch, and a child who held no torch but whose hands were, like Hawke's, wreathed in flame anyway.

They were far more startled than she was by the near-collision. The woman snatched the girl to her, uncaring of the fire that burned in the girl's hands — it wasn't veilfire, but rather the kind that gave off heat and might potentially singe the skin of anyone foolish enough to grab at it. The girl let out a sharp gasp that was not only startled but afraid.

"Pleased to meet you, too," said Hawke, but the woman was already backing down the tunnel, dragging her paralyzed daughter with her, both of them stumbling and scrambling and wide-eyed and terrified.

"Put it out, love," the woman hissed, and Hawke caught one last glimpse of the girl's flashing eyes before they vanished into the darkness. Another minute, and she couldn't sense them at all.

Were they fleeing the Gallows, or had they been living in the lowest parts of Darktown? Hawke sank down on her haunches. Her heartbeat was drumming at double-time, at triple-time, although she had fought whole troops of mercenaries to a standstill without ever so much as breaking a sweat. Their fear had been so palpable she could still smell it, rank and sour, and it woke something long-buried in her — the terror she had once felt every time she saw a templar, every time Bethany forgot herself and pulled on the Fade in public, every time she passed beneath a sacred image of Andraste. The girl had been a mage; her mother hadn't. What Hawke remembered was being hunted.

-

She hadn't been afraid herself, of course. Absolutely ridiculous to think she had been; everyone knew that Hawke felt no fear. Anyway, she went and liberated a flask from a particular merchant known for the strength of his spirits, and then she continued her stroll above ground, where the only apostate she was likely to meet was her own reflection.

What she really wanted to do was find Varric, but that was a horrific idea for a number of reasons. Probably very good reasons, too. Hawke had reasoned those reasons herself, and she was an excellent reasoner when sober. Oh yes; Hawke made decisions with her head, however improbable that seemed.

She did miss him, though. Right from the start, she had recognized in Varric something kindred, something that was less shared sensibility than shared… well. He tried to cover it up, of course, and he did so nearly as thoroughly as Hawke; but it was there if you knew what you were looking for, and Hawke did. Varric's great secret was that he was kind.

Of course, he was also a scoundrel, and that had no doubt expedited the bonding process.

She deposited her flask in a pocket and in the process discovered a pack of cards there. It was an old deck — not the set more commonly used for Wicked Grace and Diamondback, but what had come before. She'd won it off of Isabela one night when they were playing Dead Man's Tricks.

Figuring out how to shuffle while she walked took several intense moments of concentration, but then her fingers recalled their task despite the pleasant numbness that plagued them, and she rifled through an overhand shuffled before fanning the cards out and back in. Two passers-by dodged out of the way. Hawke tipped them a wink and managed a series of false cuts in a honeycomb pattern before she tripped over a step. A trio of cards escaped her grasp and fluttered to the ground, but she scooped them up and continued on her way.

When she reached Hightown she temporarily traded the cards for the flask. Whatever the spirit was, it had a burn fit to strip varnish from a table; the effect it had on Hawke's mouth and throat could not be properly set to words. She was swallowing hard around a mouthful and doing her best not to cough when she spotted Fenris and Isabela across the way. Neither of them were terribly fond of this part of the city, but since Fenris had chosen to occupy a derelict manor tragically located in Kirkwall's richest quarter, at least one of them had no choice but to soak in the refined Hightown air on a regular basis.

This, the two of them, Fenris and Isabela — they were exactly what Hawke needed. She would stroll over there and make some cutting remark about Fenris's posture, and he would scowl and pretend he minded while Isabela laughed; and then they would walk together back to Fenris's manor and light as few candles as necessary, and Fenris would produce a bottle of wine, which he would describe to them in an affected Orlesian accent while Isabela and Hawke made mock noises of interest; and then Isabela would pick the deck of cards from Hawke's pocket and they would play well into the night while they talked about where they would go once Isabela had her ship back — how they would sail to Antiva or Rivain, how Isabela would show them the Frozen Seas, how Fenris wanted to see the shores of Seheron one more time, how Hawke felt that piracy was not a job but her calling. "I thought your calling was to be a dragon, Hawke," Fenris would tease, and then they would laugh and drain the wine and play another hand.

But then she saw Isabela catch Fenris by the wrist, and instead of swatting her away, he allowed her to pull him closer; and then he put his hand on her waist and tilted his head while she smirked at him. Hawke hadn't — she hadn't known.

It made sense though, didn't it? Good for them. Superb, really — in fact, downright excellent. They deserved each other, and she meant that in the best way possible. All the best ways. And that was the two of them out of her hair, which meant she really only had to drop by the Alienage every now and again to make sure Merrill was remembering to eat. Really, she didn't even need to bother with that; Varric probably paid someone to do it.

She climbed out of the city entirely by accident while she finished the last of her liquor. There was a bit of a breeze up the Sundermount, at least, and it worked wonders to cool the flush brought on by the shimmer of inebriation. If anyone knew where she was, they would probably scold her for going unarmed up the mountain. The joke was on them; Hawke was never unarmed. Her arms were right where she'd left them — attached on either side at the shoulder.

The cards were in her hands again. She cut the deck one-handed and then flicked the top card over with her fore- and middle fingers. Interesting. She cut and drew again; and then, unsettled, shuffled the deck, and drew a third time.

The wind was picking up; that was the only reason she stashed the cards away. She was well on her way up the Sundermount now, and when she finally stopped, she was standing in front of the altar where she had once done a favor for a dragon named Flemeth.

After a moment of consideration, Hawke weaseled her way behind the altar and sat herself down at the edge of the precipice. There were some kind of stone relics on either side of her — nothing she recognized, but Merrill could probably identify them. Her feet dangled into the open air.

The view from up here really was spectacular. To one side were the Vimmarks, which rose out of the coastal plain like something wicked and wild and foreboding; to the other was Kirkwall. The path she had followed out of the city wound its way below, a series of switchbacks that ran down the mountain until the ground leveled off and the path cut a line straight to the high road. She was beginning to think that the liquor she'd purchased had been liberally watered down. Her vision was entirely too clear for this sort of view.

Her fingers strayed to her pocket and to the lump of the cards. After a moment, she took them out, shuffled, and drew the top three.

Now if she could turn into a dragon — that would be a trick worth knowing. When you were that big and that powerful, nothing could hurt you. You didn't even have to keep your feet on the ground; all you had to do was fling yourself at the sky. She could imagine the arc of her flight so vividly that her body tensed to throw itself off the mountainside.

But, of course, she wasn't a dragon. If she stepped off the edge, she would only dash herself on the rocks below.

Because she was alone, it seemed safe to look at the cards. She turned them over one by one, until all three were revealed: Eluvia. Servani. And Judex. Every time, the same three cards, always in the same order. Whether they were history or warning, Hawke didn't know.

-

"Have you thought about getting another earring?" Hawke asked.

Anders looked at her over the top of his book. They were in the Amell library again. Sometimes she wondered if he liked her library better than he liked her. "I can't say that I have," he said.

"I could buy you one," she offered. "Or steal one, if you prefer. There's something far more appealing about wearing stolen jewelry, don't you think?"

He made a note on his already thickly-populated paper and said, without looking up, "I'm busy."

"Hello, busy. I'm Hawke," said Hawke.

Anders ignored her. He wasn't sitting on the floor today; he was at a table he had dragged over to the bookcase. The entire slab of it was covered with frantic, frenetic notes that were part history, part philosophy, and part entreaty; together, the sum was a radical tract that Hawke was certain would earn an immediate sentence of excommunication and execution from the Chantry.

She could sense him before her. She had never been sure if all mages could sense one another or if the trick was peculiar to her, but she could feel a distillation of spirit that was immediately recognizable as Anders. When they'd met, he'd felt warm and dark, but now a perpetual storm sent lightning crackling through that darkness.

"It's a lovely evening," Hawke coaxed. "Only dreadfully hot rather than hellishly so. Good evening for a drink. A walk, even. A sandwich?"

"Hawke, please," Anders said. "This is important. I can't afford to be distracted."

"Can't it wait for another day? Or another week. Another month, perhaps," Hawke said. She was sitting on a different table opposite him, kicking her heels in the air. The scratch of Anders' nib made for a fine counterpoint to her monologue. "Bodahn is making summer corn soup. Well, I say Bodahn — I hope Bodahn. I fear Sandal. Bless him, he does try in the kitchen, but he's nearly as talentless as I am."

Anders turned his next page with viciousness.

"You know, I've always wondered if that's why I'm as awful as I am at healing," Hawke added. "There's so much alchemy, and alchemy is really just cooking, isn't it? All that chopping of ingredients and stirring things at precisely the right time. I lack either the patience or the attention span. Possibly both. Although Mother" — her voice caught; he didn't notice — "Mother always said what I lacked was a willingness to take instruction."

Anders said nothing, but his shoulders had crawled up around his ears.

"Of course," said Hawke, "we could dine elsewhere. Fenris has been saving his 9:01 something-or-other. Are all wines Orlesian, or only the very snobbish ones?"

"I don't care about Fenris!" Anders snapped. He had finally stopped writing, but he kept the tip of his quill set to the paper. "I mean it, Hawke. Go find someone else to entertain you."

"An evening spent in frivolous pursuits won't be the end of the world," said Hawke.

"No," said Anders, "but you want to spend every evening frivolously."

"Would it be better if I declared my pen weapon enough to pull down Andraste's church?" said Hawke. "It's admittedly brazen. I doubt they'll see it coming."

"I won't let you joke about this," Anders fired back. "It isn't funny."

"That isn't Anders talking, surely. Did Justice hide your sense of humor again?"

"Always picking at Justice! Have you ever considered that Justice made me better?" He shoved back his chair and stood with his fists balled against the tabletop. "Have you, Hawke? Until I met him, I cared only for my own freedom, not the freedoms of others."

"Well," said Hawke, with what she thought was an admirable delicacy, "you weren't like this before Justice."

"You never knew me before Justice!"

Everything in her was clamoring for an escape. She had lost her head there, for just a moment; Hawke never took well to being ignored, and it felt like weeks, it felt like years since she had last held Anders' full attention. This, now, none of this was what she had wanted.

"Maybe not," she said. "Maybe I don't know you at all. But this obsession, Anders — it puts all of us at risk. It puts you at risk — " And I need you, she thought; don't I?

He laughed bitterly. "I shouldn't have expected you to understand," he said. "You might call yourself an apostate, Hawke, but you have no more sympathy for our condition than you do a mouse caught in the claws of a cat."

"I don't not have sympathy — "

"Don't," he said. "These are your people who suffer, Hawke. Our people. Every day they are made tranquil or put to death for no more than the crime of being what they are, and you — you, of all people, could make a difference. I truly believe that. And yet you refuse to act, to acknowledge how the Chantry enslaves us, because you're too busy… what? Playing cards? Drinking?"

Fine cracks of blue were beginning to shatter her field of vision; she couldn't tell if they came ran across Anders or the insides of her eyes.

"Does nothing hurt you, Hawke?" he pressed. "Touch you? Move you? Do you not have any fire that burns in your veins?"

There was a thick, dense knot like a star in her chest. The heat, probably — it was stifling even out-of-doors. In a close-walled room, it could suffocate.

"Me?" said Hawke. "Not in this weather."

She thought passingly that in the next instant she might have Justice at her throat. There were half a dozen things she could have pointed out, starting with the casual hypocrisy of claiming enslavement when he was so dismissive of Tevinter's slaves and ending with the futility of his timing. Maybe he was right; maybe revolution was coming, maybe revolution was needed, maybe the only way out was by destroying the walls of the Chantry — but Hawke's mother was three weeks in the ground, her brother lost not yet a year in the service of the Wardens. She was in every way that counted the last of her line; in Ferelden, she would still be wearing the black of mourning.

But Anders restrained himself, and Justice stayed put. "You," he said. "You've never taken anything seriously. Not even this."

"Especially not this," said Hawke. "I'm going out."

"Good," said Anders. "If you won't lead, then stay out of my way."

"My pleasure," said Hawke. "Terribly sorry to interrupt your work." And then, this time, she was the one who left. It felt absolutely fantastic. In fact, she had never felt better in her entire life.

-

She flew through Lowtown, taking the last few steps into the market at a sideways skip before throwing herself up the last flight and into the Hanged Man. Corff waved at her from behind the bar, and Isabela raised a toast in Hawke's direction; but she had no time for any of that. She strode up the stairs two at a time and without even pausing to knock flung open Varric's door.

Does nothing hurt you? Touch you? Move you?

"Hello, Hawke," said Varric. "I figured you were still trying to keep your distance."

"I was," said Hawke. "It was awful. Do you know how boring it is to try to fleece Aveline out of her pay all by myself? I tried to teach Merrill how to gamble, but she kept getting the odds all mixed up, and then she wanted to stop and pet the horses. And Isabela, why, every time she was reminded that Aveline has a weakness for horse-racing, she started laughing too hard to be any help at all."

He was sitting in one of his low chairs in front of the fire; there was a flagon of ale balanced on one of the chair's arms, and he had a small bound book with blank pages balanced on one knee. As Hawke approached, he kicked the chair's partner towards her in invitation. Hawke collapsed in it gladly; the trick with these dwarven chairs was correct positioning of the knees.

"Sounds like a shitshow," he commiserated. "I, meanwhile, have been locked in a battle of wits with my editor. She wants a book about organized crime. I ask you, Hawke: what do I know about organized crime?"

"All those years dodging the Merchant's Guild haven't given you any perspective?"

"Well, I did kill a couple of Carta thugs once. That might count as research." He passed her his ale. "Didn't your mother like those crime novels?"

"Oh, the ones about the Nevarrans?" said Hawke. "She devoured them. All that blood and filth — who would have thought it of Mother?"

"She had unseen depths," Varric said. "Remember that time she wanted to learn to play Diamondback?"

"Ha!" said Hawke. "We made Carver play her partner. He hated it."

"Only because he wasn't any good at it," Varric said. He smirked at her. The lamplight made the gold of his earrings glint; that was Varric all over. Glinting. He was made for firelight, even in the high heat of summer — amber and copper and whiskey, brown leather and ruddy skin.

Does nothing hurt you? Touch you? Move you?

It was perfectly hopeless. How stupid had she been, to try to stay away from him? Not that it mattered; it didn't. Hawke had… and Varric was… but he knew her better than anyone, and denying herself the comfort of his company had been her most absurd idea in a lifetime dedicated to absurdity.

She sighed and leaned forward, crossing her arms over her knees and then dropping her head down to hide her face in the cradle of her arms. She was tired.

"Hey, now," said Varric. "What's wrong?" She heard him shift and lay down his book; he must have mirrored her pose, because a moment later, his broad hand slid over her shoulder and stayed there. The very tips of his fingers rested on the back of her neck, just under the thick fringe of her hair.

She was so tired. She was so hopelessly tired; but when he touched her, what came to her first was fire.

"Have you ever wondered what it's like to take everything too seriously?" Hawke said. It came out garbled, no doubt, since she was speaking directly into her lap, but Varric's thumb started to move in soft circles just beneath her left ear. "If Anders believed lashing himself to a pyre would draw attention to his rebellion, I think he would. I used to see my father in him — all that passion and protectiveness — but Father would have laid down his life to keep any of us safe. Anders…"

"He's after you to join up again, huh?" Varric's voice was like a candle on the sill of her home — not the mansion in Hightown or Uncle Gamlen's hut, but the old three-room house in Lothering. Three rooms counting the loft where Hawke and the twins slept, of course.

"It isn't that I don't care," said Hawke. "But sacrifice myself for some grand cause? Anders wants to me be some kind of… I don't know. Figurehead, perhaps. Although the idea of that sort of legacy isn't without an appeal — they'd write odes to me from Antiva to Orlais. He seems to think that's part of the problem, though. 'Everything's a joke with you, Hawke.'"

She wasn't at all sure she should be complaining about Anders to Varric; in fact, she was sure she shouldn't. It was Varric, though, who had kept her from drinking herself to death in the days after Mother's demise, Varric who had endured the abuse of a daughter who had alternately railed against and softened to a mother who had never entirely understood her; it was Varric who had sorted out the deeds and wills of the Amell estate; it was Varric who had bought her a way to safety in Kirkwall, Varric who sent letters to every Warden stronghold until he found news of her brother, Varric who had polished her reputation until she was no longer a refugee but a folk hero, Varric who protected her and laughed with her, who made himself vulnerable to her in the wake of his brother's betrayal, who relied on her and took chances on her and looked at her like he couldn't quite believe his own luck in knowing her.

"Know what I think?" said Varric. "I think that someone who took everything too seriously would end up making laughter their shield. They'd figure out a way to make a joke out of everything, because otherwise they'd bleed to death trying to staunch everyone else's wounds."

"I'm a coward," said Hawke.

"Shit, Hawke, then we're a matched set."

Does nothing hurt you? Touch you? Move you?

"No," she said, lifting her head; she hadn't realized how close his face was to hers. "I am. I never told you why I tried to stay away."

"Hawke," he said, "come on. You don't have to tell me why."

"You don't want to know?"

"I do want to know," he said. "And maybe that's part of the problem."

"You don't get to say that," Hawke said. "I know Bianca was in town, Varric."

"I don't think you want to play it that way, Hawke."

"No," said Hawke. "No, I suppose not. I'd like to meet her sometime, though… there are so many things I'd like to ask her." To her own surprise, her voice sounded not mean but wistful. "I never wanted any of this, you know. I used to look at my parents and swear that I'd never end up like them — all twisted in knots because I was drawn to person I couldn't really understand."

"Are you?"

"What?" said Hawke. "Twisted in knots?"

"Drawn to someone you don't understand."

"Oh no," said Hawke. "That's the problem — I understand him entirely too well." Even the impossibility of it all sweetened the sight of him; she told herself that Varric didn't want her, not really, but she couldn't decide if that lessened her burden or caused her all the more strain.

"You love him, Hawke?"

It took her a minute to realize he was asking a question. "Varric, come on — I don't think you want to play it that way." But she was more generous than he was, so she added, "Shall I lie to you instead?"

"I always like fiction better," said Varric mildly.

"All right," Hawke said. She shifted beneath his hand; his thumb was still moving against the drawn skin of her nape. "Of course I do," she said. "And you — you don't mean the world to me." He flinched away; he hadn't been expecting that. "I never think about what it would be like to wake up in your bed. I don't want to learn that accounting trick you keep telling me about, and I absolutely don't want to hear about your problems with your editor."

Does nothing hurt you? Varric had gone absolutely still, right down to his thumb, and Hawke kept her eyes locked on his face; when you killed a rabbit for dinner, you didn't look away when you shot it through the throat.

"You aren't my rock," she said. "Anders was the only reason I made it through Mother's funeral. I don't want to tell you what keeps me awake at night or why I can't condemn Merrill for using blood magic. I don't want to share with you all the secrets I've never told anyone else. You aren't my confidant, Varric. You certainly aren't my partner. I'm never jealous when I think of you with Bianca, nor do I feel guilty about taking up with Anders. If I loved you, I might; but I don't. Of course I don't love you, Varric. You hardly matter to me at all."

All she heard was the rasp of his breathing.

"Okay," he said. "All right, Hawke."

Does nothing touch you? Move you?

She thought he was done talking, but she should've known better. "You know," he said, "when you came barreling through my door, I was working on a story about you. It never works out, though — the writer and his hero."

"Liar," said Hawke.

His hand was still on her. When it slid to the small of her back, Hawke, who no matter how hard she tried to smother it had never been anything but fire, went up like a torch.