Oh thank you! 🙂 Here I am finally filling this prompt. I had three or four false starts where I thought I knew the angle I wanted to take for it but it fizzled out after a paragraph or two. 😦
But then somehow it became a Varania story – still FenHawke, but through her eyes – and I always do love a good reconciliation story for Fenris and his sister and it turns out that’s what this prompt wanted to be.
And then it kind of got away from me, and became twenty-two pages and three chapters long. *ahem*
Anyway here you go!
Read it here or on AO3 | FF.net | DA
Beneficium accipere libertatem est vendere. To accept a favor
is to sell one’s freedom.
Chapter 1: Hospitality
Varania returned to
a tavern in disarray. Even after hours spent wandering the streets, loitering
near the Hanged Man long after her brother and his companions had departed, she
could still smell the stench of the corpses Danarius had summoned to his aid, and
the ozone aftertaste of spells lingered in the mages’ wake.
Most of the corpses
were now piled in the alley out behind the tavern, at least. She had watched as
the bartender dragged them out, one by one, muttering under his breath. When
five minutes passed and he had not burst through the door again tugging yet
another slaver or skeleton out by the ankles, Varania slipped back in and made
her way quickly toward the stairs at the back of the common room. She veered
past overturned tables and chairs, stepping carefully over blood stains yet to
be scrubbed from the floor.
It would have been
easier just to return to the dockside inn where she’d found a cheap room for
the week of this charade, this trap in which she’d been made the bait, but her
bloody patron had confiscated the
funds her brother had sent, along with his letter, when he hatched this plan to
use her to get his hands on Leto again. His offer was one she truly could not
refuse: for all her precious freedom, she barely found work enough to pay the
rent these days. So she took his promises: apprenticeship, training, status. She might even rise to the
Magisterium – rare for an elf to be elevated so, but Danarius had the influence
to put her there.
Had had the influence. He was as limp as any other corpse
when the bartender dragged him out into the alley half an hour ago. But without
him, Varania was stuck in Kirkwall. Stranded in this filthy, mad town, where to
reveal her magic would bring their strange, hostile Templars after her. She’d
be on the first ship back to Minrathous as soon as she could afford it, but the
corpses in the alley had yielded no coin. She’d swallowed her pride and steeled
herself to check every last one, even the broken body of the magister who had
stolen everything from her years ago, when he traded her freedom for her
brother, then promised her the world if she would give up her brother to him
again. It had seemed a fair trade; as far as she was concerned her brother had
died when Danarius transformed him, and she had no hope of getting him back.
The Fenris who signed the
letter calling her to Kirkwall had sounded like a stranger. She had half
believed he was a stranger, some
trickster claiming to be Leto just to lure her into a trap. It was too late to
recover the brother she had loved. So she had consented to the magister’s trap
was something in his eyes, the mirror
of her own, when he spoke to her that evening before Danarius had sprung his
trap. It had almost seemed possible…
Until those eyes
blazed with fury as he turned from their master’s corpse to her, ready to add
one more body to those the bartender would have to carry away. Spared from his
wrath only by the intervention of Leto’s companion, the mage who looked at him
– at Varania, too – with such gentleness, she had fled the Hanged Man before
her brother could regret his mercy.
Perhaps it would
have been better if he’d killed her then. His kindnesses had always proved
fraught with complications. The freedom he had won for her and their mother had
been no boon, and now he had left her stranded and alone in Kirkwall.
Approaching him to ask for coin to
send her home again was out of the question, so she returned to the Hanged Man
in hopes of finding something of value in the rooms Danarius had rented, just
enough to get her out of this place, this trap for her brother that had twisted
around and caught her instead.
Ten minutes of
searching bore no fruit. For all the luxury he had been accustomed to in
Tevinter, the magister had traveled light. Perhaps he had carried his coinpurse
into battle and the victors had claimed it; or perhaps the innkeeper had beaten
her to the search, claiming Danarius’ coin in recompense for the trouble of
hauling him out to the alley. Either way, Varania was no closer to Minrathous
than when Leto first showed up to meet her.
Lost in troubled
thoughts, she turned the corner to head down the stairs into the common room
again. A moment of confusion, then, as something – someone – collided with her
from the step below and her rear met the top step with an embarrassing thump.
She looked up, in
slightly less of a daze than the distraction that had gotten her knocked over,
to see a beardless dwarf sheepishly scratching behind his ear with one hand and
holding the other out, with a slowly expanding smile, to help her up. “Well,
I’ll be a nug’s uncle,” said the dwarf. “You’re the sister, right? Varania?”
She scowled at his
hand. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you
don’t. You also have no idea how glad I am to see you here, safe and sound.
Hawke’s had everyone scouring the city for you. Varric Tethras, by the way,” he
said, reaching a hand for her again; this time, hesitantly, she took it and
allowed herself to be set back on her feet.
“You met her
earlier. Me, too. Well, in a manner of speaking. Things did, uh, happen a
little quickly and before you know it there’s a magister and his whole army
dead on the floor. Doesn’t leave much time for small talk, does it?”
She remembers him
now, the dwarf who had run to help when Leto – Fenris – and his companion had raised arms against Danarius. She
had barely noted him in the corner, picking off demons and skeletons with that
contraption of a crossbow, but afterwards – when Fenris had turned his anger
upon her –
she recalled. “You talked him out of…of…” She had watched him kill Danarius
with little more than a gesture, those lyrium brands the master had given him
flaring, ironically, in vengeance. He had been ready to end her, his own sister,
just as quickly, but the woman and the dwarf had counseled mercy instead. He
had listened. She had fled, while she could.
“He didn’t ask you
to come here for it to end like that,” Varric shook his head, glancing
thoughtfully back down the stairs.
said Varania, “it is ended. There is nothing for me here.”
“Okay, let’s not
be hasty,” said Varric, holding up his hands, palms out as if to halt that line
of thinking. “We were really hoping, Hawke and me, that you hadn’t skipped town
yet, and look, here you are. Coincidence? Let’s say not. Stay a while, Varania.
Give it time. Another chance.”
remain,” she said, the words tripping over her own pride. “The rooms here…I
“Not to worry,”
Varric grinned, teeth bared, “Hawke’s covering it.”
Varania frowned. “The mage who arrived with Leto? His new mistress?”
with laughter. “Better not let him hear you say that. Or her, for that matter.
Hawke’s a friend. And friends know when a friend’s being too stupid for his own
good. Look, elf, your brother is not having the best day right now, but he’ll
“He is not having the best day?” Varania
sputtered, glaring down her nose at the dwarf. “He tried to kill me!”
“To be fair, you
sort of started it. Hey, everyone makes mistakes, this whole meeting could have
gone a million times better, but it could be worse. You’re both still alive to
give it another chance.”
“You assume,” she
said, gathering up her skirts in a huff and turning away from him, only to
falter when she realized away meant
back up the stairs, not an avenue of escape, “that I wish for another chance. I
lost my brother years ago, dwarf. I am done with him.” She turned back to face
him, arms crosssed.
Varric shook his
head. “Everyone wants another chance. Look, just give it a few days, all right?
Enjoy a free stay in Lowtown’s finest shitty accommodations, courtesy of
Hawke’s incurable case of fix-it-itis, and try talking to him again when he’s
had some time to regret how things ended today.”
“I should just
leave,” she mumbled, not meeting his eyes. “I have been gone from Minrathous
long enough. And I have no wish to take your charity.”
Varric grinned. “Think of it as hospitality. Be our guest, Varania. Someday
we’ll come crash your place in Minrathous and return the favor, I promise.”
at the dwarf’s familiarity, and yet…what was in Minrathous to draw her back
in such a hurry? She had gambled everything on Danarius’ promises and lost.
Were a dwarf’s
promises any surer bet?
It was worth
remembering, she decided, that the dwarf and Hawke and her brother had held
their own against Danarius. A magister of reknown, wielding ruthless power,
dead in the alley. But did she care to know this brother better, with his new
name, this stranger who had cast her adrift into a tenuous liberty? Was there
any point in even trying?
His eyes, the
mirror of her own. There had been hope
in them when first he caught sight of her, before he knew her betrayal.
She did not like
to replace that hope with the rage when he had looked at her last and ordered
her to leave.
answered the dwarf. “But I am not staying in the rooms Danarius has…vacated.
You had better have something else decent here.”
The rooms at the
Hanged Man were hardly decent (apart
from Varric’s own elaborate suite, into which he ushered her to wait while he
made arrangements with the innkeeper), but it was an improvement on her
dockside room. The dwarf even slipped an urchin a coin to run and fetch her
things so she need not return to the docks herself. Varania surmised he was
simply wary to let her out of his sight again; nevertheless, she found herself
relieved, after all those hours lurking outside the tavern’s door, to collapse
into one of his chairs, safe and warm and with no immediate crises to prepare
Well. Depending on
how soon she would see her brother again. That was undoubtedly a crisis in the
making. She pulled the chair closer to the fire, staring into it as she
tortured herself with thoughts of what could go wrong.
At least they had
established the very worst possible outcome of such a meeting, since it had
nearly come to pass once already today. She could conjure up no disaster equal
to her heart crushed by the ghost of his hand. How poetic, though, when he had
crushed it metaphorically all those years ago by abandoning her and Mother to
the supposed kindness of freedom.
She tried to
counter that scenario with the best
that might happen, but it was foolish to even dream that he could rush in
begging her forgiveness, after
today’s debacle. In the quiet of the dwarf’s cozy chamber, she admitted to
herself, blinking away odious tears, that she had burned that bridge quite
She woke with a
start at a hand on her shoulder; exhaustion, it seemed, had drowned out even
her worries, and she had dozed off in Varric’s sitting room. Expecting to see
the dwarf, she glanced up and her gaze traveled from the gauntlet on her
shoulder up a red sleeve to a pair of olive eyes and a dusting of freckles
above a tentative smile.
“Sorry to wake
you,” said the woman who had fought alongside her brother, “but your room’s
ready and the boy’s back with your bags.”
Varric’s voice from across the room, “she’s been hovering at the door wanting
to talk to you for the past hour.”
“I have not!” the
woman objected, firing a glance at the dwarf.
“Fine, half an
hour then. It’s a wonder she slept through the pacing.”
tucking behind her ear the strands of hair that had escaped her bun and
wandered down to play with her eyelashes as she slept. “I should go,” she said,
pushing up out of the chair.
Varric and his
friend both looked at her in alarm.
“To my room,” she
clarified. “You said it was ready.”
“Oh. Yes,” said
the woman. “I did want to talk to
you, though, but if you’d like to get settled first…”
“I…no. You are
here now. I shouldn’t make you wait.” She settled back on the edge of the
chair, hands folded politely in her lap, keeping an eye on Varric and his
friend as the woman pulled up a chair to join her and the dwarf went to a
cupboard, withdrawing glasses and bottles.
“I’m Hawke, by the
way,” the woman confirmed her suspicions. “Lisbet Hawke, not that anyone around
here remembers the first part. Thank you for staying, Varania.”
“Where else am I to go?”
Varric arched an eyebrow. “At least that was my impression when I bumped into
you on your way out of here.”
“If I had funds
for a ship back to Minrathous, I would have left already,” Varania admitted. “I
am at your mercy.”
“Ah,” said Hawke.
“I see. Look, if you really, truly don’t want to be here, you don’t – I mean,
I’ll help you get home if that’s your choice. Least I can do. It’s at least
partly my fault you’re stuck here.”
Varania looked at
her dubiously. “You did not write asking me to come.” She tilted her head as a
thought occurred to her; the letters had hardly sounded like Leto but… “Did you?”
“Me? Oh, no,”
Hawke shook her head, a smile tugging at her lips. “That was all Fenris’ idea.
I thought he’d dismissed what Hadriana said about his sister as just a trick,
but apparently it meant more to him than he let on.”
repeated her brother’s new name with distaste, even as the dwarf returned to
the fireside, handing a drink to Hawke and offering another to Varania. She
regarded it warily and finally shook her head. Varric shrugged and raised the
glass to his own lips as he stood by the fire.
narrowed. “You can’t expect him to go by a name lost with all his other
tense with the weight of her own memory. “And what else was lost with these
memories? Does anything of my brother remain?”
“I didn’t know him
then, obviously,” Hawke answered, leaning toward Varania ever so slightly, the
wineglass dangling from her fingers as she braced her arm on her knee, “but if
your brother was clever, and quiet with a dry wit that shows itself rarely but
to devastating effect, and brave and strong and as stubborn as the day is long
–” she broke off this catalogue of praise at the dwarf’s chuckle. “What?” she grunted,
looking at him with narrowed eyes.
“No, do go on,”
Varric laughed. “This is great. I should be writing it down, really. Maker
knows I get little enough to work with from either of you, ordinarilly.
Varania, you should get her riled up more often.”
“I am not,” insisted Hawke, cheeks reddening,
“riled up, Varric.”
say,” the dwarf smirked. “How is her broody brother doing, anyway?”
Hawke leaned back
in the chair, glancing out the window. “I saw him home. He had little enough to
“- even for him,
Varric. I’m not sure he even noticed when I took my leave, but he’ll…he’ll be
fine, in time.”
“He always did
like to sulk,” Varania muttered, drawing curious looks from the other two that
made her clench her hands into fists over her knees. “As a boy. If things did
not go his way, he’d disappear for hours and never even tell me or Mother what
A heartbeat, a
blink of Hawke’s eyes, and then a laugh as she answered, “Brothers, eh? Mine
tended to take out his frustrations with his fists, even when he was littler
than me. Actually, more so when he was littler than me. The taller he got, the
sulkier he got.” She hummed, regarding the elf shrewdly. “Which reminds me. I
don’t even know – I don’t think Fenris does either – which of you’s the older
“I…” It came as a
surprise to Varania that she had to think a moment to answer this. It was not
that many years since she lost her Leto, was it? Could his absence, his
transformation, truly erase the years of growing up together? “I was three, I
think, or perhaps four, when he was born.”
knowingly. “It’s a lot of pressure, being eldest.”
“We were always
afraid,” Varania recalled, “that one or the other of us would be sold away from
the family. That sort of thing happened all the time. A master would not
hesitate to sell a slave if it suited him, no matter whom he was related to.
And then this thing we feared most…Leto made
earlier,” Hawke nodded toward the door as if earlier meant over dinner
and not after your life was spared for
leading your brother into a trap, “that he won your freedom.”
meaningless. As a slave, at least you have a roof over your head and food in
your mouth. We became liberati,
Mother and I, and had to fend for ourselves. It seemed wonderful, at first,
until we learned how difficult it is to find work as freedwomen in a society
run on slave labor. Even having magic counts for little unless another mage
trains and sponsors you.”
“And Fenris wasn’t
there to help,” Hawke sympathized.
“I saw him in the
street once,” Varania frowned. “Transformed into Danarius’ beast. He walked
beside the master’s carriage like a guard dog. People took one look at those
markings and his glare and the sword on his back and kept out of the way. I
only knew him when I met his eyes, he was so changed. He did not even recognize
“He recognized you
tonight,” Hawke mused gently, and Varania looked away, biting her lip.
“I do not wish to
speak of my brother now,” she finally said, grasping suddenly for a change of
subject. “Tell me of yours.”
grinned, a feral expression scarcely reaching her eyes. “My little brother went
and joined the Templars.”
Varania looked up,
round-eyed, catching sight of the staff behind Hawke’s chair. “But you’re a –”
raised a hand, summoning crystals of ice to her fingertips, freezing the wine
left in her glass. “I’m still trying to figure out if he did it out of spite or
some deep, very deep urge to protect
his apostate sister from within the system. Doesn’t matter much. I never hear
from him and he just lives across town, with
all his memories fully intact, thank you very much.”
“I had…” Hawke began,
then took a deep breath. “We had a
sister, too. Carver’s twin. Bethany. She was killed escaping the Blight, and I
miss her every day. So…” She sighed. “Maybe I know, a little bit, what it was
like for you to lose Leto. But I really, really don’t want Fenris to lose you, okay?”
“That’s why you
stopped him from killing me.” Varania’s throat tightened, her words flat as she
shifted in her chair.
regretted it. Maker, he regretted killing Hadriana,
and she was poison,” Hawke grimaced,
glared at her wine glass, then summoned sparks to the liquid again, thawing it
just enough to take a sip and grimace as if it were poison too.
“He seemed to have
no qualms when he turned on me,” Varania bit out, watching Hawke closely.
“He would have regretted it,” Hawke
repeated. “But look, before this goes any further, I have to know. Are you
still a threat to him?”
“With Danarius dead?”
spoke, collecting Hawke’s empty glass and setting it on the mantel. “You could
be planning to sell him to the next slaver to come along, if you were ready to
give him to his old master.”
“And what good
would that do me?”
“Buy you a ticket
back to Minrathous, if nothing else,” the dwarf shrugged.
“I am not so
mercenary, dwarf,” Varania huffed.
“Then why did you
betray him in the first place?” Hawke asked, her voice gone as cold as the
crystals so recently dancing at her fingertips.
“I had no choice,”
Varania said, wincing as she realized her words were the echo of those she’d
thrown up in defense as Fenris turned on her after the battle, fury in his eyes
as their master’s corpse lay cooling.
“I could think of
several alternatives,” Hawke’s tone darkened. “Enlighten me as to why they were
closed to you.”
“And why must I defend my choices to you?”
Hawke almost rose
from the chair, her voice rising: “Because I – Because Fenris is -” She met
Varania’s gaze for a moment, then threw herself back into the chair, mumbling
curses under her breath and crossing her ankles as well as her arms. “Fine. Your
reasons are your own and as long as you’re not planning to betray him again, I
suppose it’s none of my business.”
Varania blinked in
surprise. “Why are you doing this?”
you?” Hawke quirked a smile.
“No, I…that, I
quite understand,” Varania admitted. “Why do you wish for me to stay? I thought
it was clear that my brother was done with me. Why are you so bent on bringing
us together again?”
softly, “Let’s just say that it’s about time someone got a happy ending around
spreading her hands. “Fenris was so set on finding you. So excited, though he
hated to show it.”
her gaze. “And I ruined it.”
thoroughly,” Hawke said with a sheepish grin. “But whatever your reasons, was
there ever a moment when you hoped it would work out? That you might see your
brother again and everything would be all right?”
“I let my brother
go years ago,” Varania insisted. But at the disappointment in Hawke’s eyes, she
confessed, “But…when his letter first came, before Danarius somehow got wind
of it and involved himself – I did think it might be…it would be good to see
Leto again. If he actually wanted to see me.”
said, “he did.”
Chapter 2: Tell Me
Of course it
wasn’t as simple as parading through the streets of Hightown, hand in hand with
the dwarf and the Champion, to knock on her brother’s door and catch him up in
an embrace. Varania kept to her room above the tavern for the first day,
hesitant to venture out knowing that Hawke and her friends, Fenris included,
might show up in the common room at any moment. Her scarcity did not elude
Varric’s notice; the dwarf knocked on her door at dinnertime to invite her to
join him for a meal.
“This is not a trick?”
Varania frowned down at him. “If you have Leto waiting for me downstairs, I am
certain it is too soon. It will go badly.”
waiting,” Varric assured, holding his hands up palm-out the same way he had
after bumping into her on the stairs yesterday. “In fact, Hawke’s not even
here. She’s taking dinner over to his
place and, well, I’m pretty sure it’s not with plans to lure him out. I’m just here to look after my
guest. Have you even eaten all day?”
Her stomach did
not betray her with a rumble; she had gone without often enough to train it to
be undemanding; but something in her face made the dwarf click his tongue and
nod knowingly. “Thought so. Come on, then. The meat at the Hanged Man may be a
mystery but at least it’s filling.”
She did not leave
the Hanged Man the next day either, though she did dare to sit in the common
room for an hour, mending a skirt in light scarcely better than that in her
room. Hawke and Varric found her there and conspired to draw her into a game of
Wicked Grace, breaking into foreboding grins when she confessed that she had
never learned to play.
Hawke said, widening her eyes in a horror so feigned it almost made Varania
Varric agreed. “It’s high time someone showed you the ropes.”
“Need I remind
you,” said Varania, returning her eyes to her careful stitches, “that I have no
money and would be foolish to gamble it if I had.”
Varric retorted with a wave of his hand, producing a deck of cards from where
she could not see and beginning to shuffle. “Who said we’d play for coin? I
fancy a game of Tell Me Truly.”
Varric,” Hawke groaned, “not that again!”
“Come on, Hawke,
you’re as curious as I am.”
“Yes, but last
time – oh, bother, fine then. Go on.” She signaled to the waitress for drinks
while Varric began dealing the cards.
from one to the other of them suspiciously. “What is this game?”
actually,” the dwarf said, “but instead of wagering coin you wager
truthfulness. Winner gets to ask the loser any question. The more truth in the
pot, the more audacious a question
the winner can ask and the more honestly you have to answer.”
said, tossing her head in affront, “is ridiculous.”
shouted, so loud that heads turned. Quieter, she continued with a jab of her
elbow at the dwarf seated beside her, “See? I’m not the only one, Varric.”
“Sore loser. And I promised that story would stay out of the book.”
Varania asked, blinking at them innocently.
Hawke exchanged a
panicked glance with the dwarf. Varric’s grin widened as he turned back to
Varania. “You want to hear the story, elf, you’re going to have to win a
She didn’t win the
first round, but she did have sense enough to keep the theoretical “pot of
truthfulness” small while she was learning to play this game. Being symbolic in
nature, without actual tokens of any sort to help keep track of their wagers, the
actual level of truthfulness called for was the first thing to come into
“I do not have to
answer in such detail,” Varania protested with a pert tilt of her chin. “I only
count seventeen ‘truths’ or, er, whatever you are calling them. That hardly
accounts for such an impertinent question. Ask me something else.”
“She’s got you there, Varric. Seventeen’s a generous estimate, really. I had it
“Come on, Hawke,
you’re sharper than that.” Varric raised an eyebrow and glanced at her
sidelong. “Unless of course something’s on your mind today. Care to share your
Varania took note
of the faint blush as Hawke turned horrified wide eyes on the dwarf. “Excuse you, Messere Tethras,” Hawke blustered,
“but Varania’s the one you’re supposed to be questioning!”
“At the rate of
only seventeen truth-tokens. All right, fine. Tell us, elf, where’d you learn
to sew like that?” He nodded at the half-mended skirt now piled in her lap.
She glanced down,
running a finger over the line of tiny stitches she’d been working on when they
arrived. “Mother was always sewing. She -” Varania looked up, not to meet
anyone’s eyes but just to stare at their hands, Varric’s shuffling the cards
again, Hawke’s resting, fingers linked, on the edge of the table. “I learned
from her as a girl. She said that if I could provide such a skill I might
avoid…less desirable tasks in the master’s household.”
“Oh,” said Hawke,
“She used to take
in mending, Mother told me, before she was a slave. To make ends meet.” Her
gaze hardened as she looked up to meet Hawke’s eyes. “Curious that even as liberati, in Tevinter where magic is
prized, we could not get by on my magic alone. Nor on more mundane work. She
took in mending nearly till the day she died. At least till she grew too sick
to hold the needle any longer.”
“I’m sorry,” said
Hawke gently. “Was she…has she been gone long?”
Hawke didn’t miss
the elf’s reluctance. “It’s fine,” she said, waving the question away. “You
don’t have to answer. Only seventeen tokens, and all that.”
down at the imaginary pot of truthfulness. “Well then,” she finally answered.
“Ask me again when you’ve won a hand, Hawke.”
“Last round for
me,” Hawke announced many hands later. “I’m meeting Fenris after this for
out of the corner of her eye, making a show of studying her cards, as Varric
fixed a canny eye on his friend. “Again, huh?”
frowned at the dwarf. “It’s only two nights in a row. And also, it is none of
“Oh, you know
that’s the kind of business I like best,” Varric grinned.
“Well then,” Hawke
said with a smug arch of an eyebrow, “it’s just as well that this just turned up.” She discarded,
with a flair, the Angel of Death. “Game over. Do your worst, Varric, and then I
take my leave.”
Varric grumbled, laying down his own cards. “Best I’ve got. You couldn’t have
held onto that card a little longer, Hawke?”
“Not according to
the rules,” she smiled innocently.
“Since when is
Wicked Grace about rules?” Varric chuckled as Hawke laid down her own hand.
“Well, at least I’ve beat you. Not a
single match. Elf? What’ve you got?”
Varania laid down
her cards slowly. “Three Songs, if you please.”
“Well, I’ll be,”
Varric said with a low whistle. “It’s not much, but you’ve got the advantage.”
He glanced at Hawke and then grinned and winked at Varania. “I say you press
Varania slowly, eyes fixed on the Champion, taking in Hawke’s fidgeting and
sudden blush, “are you…involved with my brother?”
deepened as she turned to Varric with a strangled sound. “Maker, Varric, you
set me up! I thought you were just trying to get Varania to talk, and now
you’ve got her asking me about this?”
Varric gestured at
the imaginary pile of tokens between them. “Forty-two truth-tokens by my count,
Hawke. That sound right to you, elf?”
“Oh, at least
that,” Varania said sweetly.
“It’s a fair
question, Hawke, for forty-two tokens.”
“Andraste’s ass it
is!” But the Champion’s mouth turned up at the corners when she averted her
gaze from the others.
“Hey now, Hawke.
You know I wouldn’t pry if I thought…well, there’s been a certain…relaxing
of the awkwardness lately, you know? About time, too. You’ve been making eyes
at each other for years.”
“We have n-” Hawke
burst out, until Varania cleared her throat and inclined her head toward the
imaginary tokens. “Oh,” Hawke sighed, “very well. There may have been eyes.”
She grinned over at Varric. “Merrill was right about the puppy eyes, you know.
I caught him at it a few times.”
proximity caught him at it, Hawke. Not that you were any more subtle.”
“I was giving him space!”
“Well, something seems to have blossomed in all
that space,” Varric grinned.
Varania broke in. “Since the question was mine, after all. How long, exactly…”
And now Hawke grew
still, her eyes fixed on something as far away as memory. “Officially, I
suppose, only since last night,” she said, her voice soft, barely audible in
the bustle of the tavern. “We had a…a false start, to be honest, a few years
ago. It was too soon.”
“None too soon
now, I take it,” Varric said kindly, without a trace of the teasing tone he
“Oh no,” Hawke
murmured. “Now, it’s just right.” Then, like one regaining her senses from a
daze, she turned to Varric with a put-upon look. “And since that,” she said,
“is surely forty-two tokens worth and
then some, I bid you good night, messeres. I’m off to see an elf.”
She left with a
jaunty smile and Varric’s laughter trailing her out the door, and as the dwarf
returned to shuffling the deck, Varania watched the Champion go and marveled at
Could her brother
truly be the cruel monster she had taken him for, if the mere mention of him
could make this fierce and determined Champion go to pieces – such blushing, happy pieces?
Chapter 3: Grace for
game improved, along with her comfort with these strangers who had taken her
under their wing, as they continued to meet in the common room each evening. It
wasn’t always Tell Me Truly, but it was always Wicked Grace: for coin, once,
when Varric insisted on loaning her a purse to play with; for buttons from her
sewing kit, another time. She met others in the Champion’s circle as well,
wandering in one or two at a time each night, never the whole group at once.
The Dalish mage was the first to show up, beaming with eagerness to meet this
legendary sister and bearing freshly baked muffins along with her smile.
Merrill was annoying in her naive curiosity and clannish superiority, yet
endearingly sweet and thoughtful at the same time. More annoying was the other
mage, Anders, who pressed her for details about Tevinter’s customs regarding
mages (little enough she could say,
having just failed in her gamble to be trained by one) and seemed to make even
his friends around the table uncomfortable. The pirate made Varania uncomfortable, all innuendo and
inappropriate questions and far too many knives and cleverly hidden cards, and
that made Varania bristle and snap retorts back every time Isabela addressed
her. And that only made Isabela even more
relentless. The guard-captain and her husband were a breath of fresh air in
contrast to the rest of their friends, even if Aveline, who had joined Hawke
and Varric in backing up Fenris in the fight against his old master, only very
gradually set aside the evident suspicion with which she so carefully watched
Varania at the start of that night’s game. Kinder and more gracious was the
Chantry brother who joined them only briefly one night, though Varania scoffed
at Sebastian’s offer to hear her confession if her part in Danarius’ trap were
weighing on her soul.
The days passed
quickly until one afternoon, Hawke pulled up a seat next to Varania and
announced, her hands aflutter at the edge of the table, “So. Tonight’s Wicked
Varania looked at
her incredulously. “But we’ve played that every night this week.”
acknowledged. “But tonight is our regular
Wicked Grace night. When everyone joins the game. Including…”
frowned and pushed away from the table. “You intend to have this out tonight.”
“Have it out?”
Hawke echoed with a crooked grin. “I’m amazed sometimes, Varania, how strongly
pessimism runs in your family. Look at it as an opportunity!”
convinced him to look at it as an
working out how to break the news to him, actually.”
widened. “You haven’t told him I’m here?”
“Look, he’s been
dealing with finally killing his old master and…and we’ve had other things
to, um, talk about, too. I’m going to tell him before the game tonight, I just
haven’t had a decent opportunity to explain yet.”
“I suppose you
could always not tell him. Make it a
“Oh, the thought
has crossed my mind,” Hawke grinned. “Frequently. But it wouldn’t be fair to
him. To either of you, really. I’ll tell him. Early enough to give him time to
warm up to the idea, if need be. But I’ll make sure he’s here tonight, one way
“At least we can finally get it over with. If he wants nothing to do with me,
then I’ll know and I can go home and forget this ever happened.”
enough forgetting already,” Hawke said, grasping Varania’s hand. “Forgetting is
what we’re trying to counteract, here.”
Varania looked up
at her. “He really remembers nothing before the markings?”
nodded. “Nothing at first. Some of it has come back over time – he recognized
you the other night, remember? And my housekeeper makes anise cakes that
reminded him once of your mother’s.”
smiled. “I shall have to meet this housekeeper. I remember Mother’s anise cakes well, too.”
“Of course. You’re practically one of the family, you know.” She blushed. “Um,
please don’t take that wrong. Fenris and I are – it’s – well, still very new
“To hear the dwarf
talk one would think you were practically engaged.”
“Still very new!” Hawke insisted. “But Varania,
whatever happens between you and your brother tonight, it’s been good, getting
to know you. We’re hoping for the best, Varric and I.”
To her surprise,
Varania felt the Champion’s warm, bright hope infecting her own heart as well.
Whatever her brother had become since he was taken from her, the company he
kept spoke well for the man he was now. “So am I, Hawke,” she murmured. “So am
The others all
arrived early. Varania surmised that Hawke’s planned peace talks were common
knowledge in the group, and none of the Champion’s friends wished to miss out
on the drama about to unfold. She sighed and hunched down in her chair,
focusing on the fabric she had brought along, centering herself in the stitches
while the others laughed and swore and drank and shuffled cards. Merrill
complimented the fabric and her neat stitches, rambling from the seat to her
right in a way that was growing comfortable to Varania. She let the other elf
run the silk through her fingers and ask her a hundred questions about the
project, all easily answered in a few words that deflected the conversation
back to Merrill’s own unendingly verbalized thoughts. Varania smiled faintly
and kept her own thoughts to herself.
swaggering around the table to snatch a tankard straight from Anders’ hands
while the mage was regaling Varric with some tale about his days as a Warden.
Eying Varania, she continued her trajectory toward the empty seat to her left.
Varania stiffened, less keen on the pirate’s direct approach to the most
embarrassing questions than on Merrill’s rambling, but before Isabela could
reach the chair, Varania heard the scrape of its movement and glanced to her
left to see Sebastian occupying it. “A momentous night, no?” he greeted her
with a smile.
Relieved, at least
a little, as Isabela claimed the chair to Merrill’s other side instead and for
a moment the Dalish elf turned her attention away from Varania, she let herself
smile back. “One way or another,” she said, and he laughed.
“It will work
out,” he assured her. “It’s none too late to make amends.”
“My brother,” she
reminded him, “was prepared to kill me less than a week ago.”
“The day before
that,” he replied, “he was prepared to welcome you back into his life. I don’t
think he has given up on that hope as fully as you expect.”
Whatever reply she
could have made was cut off by the sudden silence at the table as all heads
turned to watch Hawke and Fenris approach. He stilled when he saw Varania at
the end of the table. She swallowed once but met his gaze, unsmiling. Then
Hawke, tugging at his hand, broke the moment and they took their seats at the
“About time you
got here!” Varric said: too loudly, too brightly, she thought. “You know how
Rivaini is: longer we take to start the game, the more cards she’ll have tucked
away for emergencies.”
gleefully offended response was lost to the rushing in Varania’s ears as Fenris
met her eyes again, only to look away quickly, studying the cards Donnic was
beginning to deal. Did she imagine a flush to his ears? Or was that only
because of Hawke, leaning close to whisper in them? Fenris nodded; his eyes
flicked to his sister’s again, but only for a moment. Varania sighed and
resumed her stitching until the cards had all been dealt. At least he seemed to
have shed the rage in which he had faced her last.
Very well, then.
She had saved up for years the things she’d wanted to say to him. If Leto was
going to spend the evening avoiding her, barely acknowledging her, she could
save them up a little longer. Squaring her shoulders, she picked up her cards,
smiled at something Merrill said, and joined in the game.
Hours later, as
the card game wound down and people began to drift away, Varania had still not
exchanged more then ten words with her brother, and those across the table in
the polite manner of strangers newly met.
Which, in a sense,
more than a little tipsy, bid her goodnight with a sudden embrace, startling
Varania stiff for a moment, careful not to move with her needlework still in
her lap. A mild chuckle to her left drew her eyes up to see Sebastian pushing
his chair back and standing to offer her a slight bow. “Varania, it was lovely
to see you again, but I must take my leave. I believe this seat is required.”
frowned as the man winked and withdrew – and Fenris, standing behind him,
stepped up to claim the chair.
began, his voice rough, his gaze to the table in front of her.
She went very
“I have – that
is,” he said, shifting as he pulled the seat nearer the table, “Hawke thinks I
have been ignoring you.”
from her in a laugh, quick and short, drawing his eyes up to her face briefly.
“Hawke is a sensible woman. You should take care to keep her around.”
“I suppose I
should.” His lips quirked into the ghost of a smile, just barely. “She insisted
that I be here tonight.”
“I understand if
you do not wish to,” she answered primly. “You spared my life the last time we
met. I thank you for that. If you do not wish to see me again I -”
“That is not my intention,” he snarled, and then
sighed when she drew back. “Varania. Why did you stay?” Not, she noted, why did you come? Or why did you betray me? But why remain after the moment of hope seemed
to have passed?
She studied his
face a moment: green eyes avoiding hers again; their mother’s lips and nose;
the elegant ears hidden by white hair like the afterimage behind one’s eyes of
the dark hair on the boy she remembered. Leto, neat and disciplined, had always
worn it shorter than this. Now it was like a curtain behind which he hid his
true self from her.
“I did not expect
to find you,” she admitted at last. “But since I did, I stayed to know…” She
dropped her eyes to her needlework, taking several quick, fierce stitches.
“Hawke thinks it is not too late.”
“You wanted to
kill me, Leto. I betrayed you. I was sure that was the end of it.”
He shook his head,
slipping a hand through the white hair. “I…apologize. Danarius was the threat;
when he was dealt with, I should not have turned on you.”
“Then you no
longer want me dead?”
“Should I?” He
looked her over carefully. “Perhaps you are
a threat. I cannot understand why you would side with him.”
bracing herself with the explanations that she’d spent the week preparing – and
hating. “You were dead to me, Leto. Your letter…I couldn’t believe it was
really you. I couldn’t let myself
believe my brother – that you still existed.
You abandoned us for those markings years ago. It was all we could do to
survive as liberati. When my magic
manifested I thought that would save
us, but…” She shook her head. “The magister I served then would not hear of
an incaensor among his hirelings and
turned us out to fend for ourselves. And then Mother died, and when your letter
came and Danarius somehow heard of it and came to me demanding my help getting
you back…I could see no other way out. He promised me training that I sorely
need, and it seemed no loss to return you to him if you were not really my
He quirked an
eyebrow. “And since I am?”
“Are you?” She
glanced at his hands, lined with lyrium. “You don’t even remember your name.
You barely look like Leto.”
“I have forgotten
far more than names,” he said with a bitter laugh. “If you were expecting to
find me unchanged, still Leto,
perhaps you should not have stayed.”
“Perhaps not!” she
said, her fists clenching at the fabric in her lap. Was that it, then? She
should be grateful that at least he had spoken civilly to her tonight. She
would be grateful, and go.
Except that his
hand came to rest on hers, and he looked her in the eye again. “Perhaps I am
not the only one changed by the years, sister.”
She frowned. “Me?”
“I remember little
of you,” he admitted. “I thought meeting you again, reconnecting with my past,
would bring a sense of belonging, but…”
He glanced across
the table, where Hawke sat talking with Varric. Across the room, Isabela jabbed
a finger erratically at Aveline, underscoring some point she was trying to
make, while the Guard Captain crossed her arms and shook her head and her
husband stood hiding a smile behind his hand. Merrill, Sebastian, Anders had
already all departed, yet their presence too seemed implied in the gaze Fenris
swept across the room, taking them all in, the friends he had made in his
freedom. “But,” he continued at last, “the past was not the place to find that.
Whatever you and I were in the past, Varania, I…would like to get to know you
as you are now.”
She let his words
sink in slowly, and finally nodded, turning her hand to meet his palm to palm.
“I’m sorry I led him here, Leto. Fenris.
I shall have to get used to calling you that.”
He squeezed her
hand. “I’m sorry for abandoning you. I should never have sought these
“I suppose you
meant well,” she allowed, withdrawing her hand from his to pick up her needle
again. “You really were bull-headed about it at the time, though. Mother hated
the thought that we would go free without you. I thought that at least we would
be free, but…it was not worth it.”
Finishing a row of stitches, she anchored the thread and bit the tail free.
“But perhaps you’re right. The past is not what matters.” She nudged him
gently. “Stand up.”
“Go on, stand.
Turn around. I want to see how this’ll fit – oh! Yes, that’s just about right.”
He twisted to peer
over his shoulder, nose scrunched as he tried to see what she was doing. “Fit?”
“You can try it on
if you want.” She handed him the garment she’d been stitching, smiling faintly
as his eyes widened and he took it from her. He spread his hands and shook the
fabric out, a tunic of a red as deep as the ribbon tied at his wrist, with
delicate golden leaves embroidered along the cuffs and collar.
“This is…” he
gawked at her. “You made this for me?”
crossed her arms, torn between enjoying his surprise and wishing to have the
moment over with.
“It’s very fine
“I should say so.
I am a professional, Fenris.” She smiled a little, reaching out to run a hand
over the red silk. “And since it’s been years since I had a chance to sew for
“How did you know
what size to make it?”
smirked. “She took your measurements for me. From a spare tunic, I presume. Or
while you were sleeping.”
His ears definitely flushed, this time. “I…see.
You started it after…our last meeting, then.”
She tilted her
head. “I work fast.”
His eyes narrowed.
“You wouldn’t have made this if you expected the worst tonight. Is this some
sort of peace offering?”
“I am not trying
to buy your forgiveness! It is only a
gift, only to say that I am sorry. I’m sorry I was not strong enough to turn
the magister down.”
“He’s dead now.”
“Oh, yes, I had noticed.”
“We’re both free, Varania.”
“Took us long enough,”
she said, and smiled as she reached out to squeeze his arm.