Hawke rubbed at his jaw, callous fingers scrubbing in his beard to soothe a developing bruise as he walked the quiet streets. His most recent ventures had left him still a bit sore, and though Anders offered healing, there was only so much Hawke would accept. He would be lying if he said he didn’t welcome the soreness of a hard won fight in some capacity. Very few things kept him grounded and a bruise or two was one of them. It had been like that for as long as he’d been in Kirkwall, a subconscious way of paying penance for what had happened to his family since the Blight. Carver, his mother, Bethany. All had been taken. At the very least, one alive. He carried these failures around under his skin, walking wounded. He hid it behind that lopsided, charismatic smile, and a quick witted tongue.
Low Town was still tonight, maybe out of reverence for all the things that had happened here. Years of fighting, of political strife, of refugees and those who would rather see them gone… All that bloodshed. The streets owed the city their moments of silence. While walking alone toward the Hanged Man, Hawke welcomed the familiar smells of the place and the way the humid air felt on his skin. He’d never known humidity like this in Ferelden, but here it was common. It left his skin a bit damp and his face flushed, but something about it made it easier to breathe. The air was much thinner in High Town.
Most nights he was out he left clad in armor and carried poison coated weapons. Tonight, however, he’d left his pair of blades at home in favor of a small dagger. He allowed himself this one discrepancy, dressing in finery for a simple visit to an old friend. He’d learned shortcuts over the years, the best ways to avoid gangs, and while many still wished to challenge the champion, many more would rather stay away. His methods, devil may care as they were, gained him a proper reputation. His lips twitched as he thought of Varric, the man he was going to see this night, and how often he would comment on their own success.
Remind me not to get on our bad side…
Maker’s breath, Hawke, you do get results…
Varric had mentioned offhandedly earlier in the day, not long after they checked in on Anders, that he’d like it if Hawke came by. With all the tension developing in their merry band of misfits, the idea of just he and Varric sharing a drink as they did from time to time was a welcomed one. When half the people you met wanted you dead, and the other half wanted you to help them stay not-dead, he could find steady reprieve in a few drinks and Varric’s outlandish stories. Even after he’d been in Kirkwall for a year, even after he’d learned the streets, settled in, it never felt like it could be home until the day he met Varric. Now, the Hanged Man was as much a second home as he’d ever had. The estate was lovely, but empty. Here there was family.
The heavy door to the building stuck on occasion, swelling when the air was especially damp outside as it was tonight. The patrons here were all too used to the side effects of living so close to the water to really notice, they just heaved the door open and let it smack patrons within or the wall without a second thought. Hawke pushed hard with his shoulder and the screech of the hinges signaled his arrival over the murmur of stories and drunken sonnets in the hovel. Some looked up when they caught a glimpse of him, his distinctive smudge of red clay across his nose was cleaned away for the evening, no need for battle paint tonight, or so he hoped. As he strode slowly around tables, feet tracing a worn path in the floor they knew too well, he ignored the hush that fell over tables when he was close. Let them be reverent, it mattered very little to him. Though, to Varric, it was a sign of accomplishment. It was a sign that all the tales he told of the Champion had left a lasting impression.
Champion. It was a title for a better man, Hawke thought, but he’d heard it whispered, he’d heard it shouted, he’d even heard it as an accusation; it was as much a tool to uplift as it was to mock or tear down. Would that he could, he’d abandon the title just for one more stroll through the streets as no one of particular import, dwarven friend at one side, little sister at the other, gathering coin how they could. He didn’t mind being a noble but the money, the mansion, the regard, all seemed empty without his mother near and with Bethany so far from reach within the circle.
That was his own fault, he supposed, he could have reached out to her if he truly desired but for Hawke it was easier to grow distant in the face of one of his many failures to the family he loved so much. Not many knew the depth of his dedication to them, which was how he preferred it. Few could see past his smarmy attitude, but Varric did. It took a pretender to spot a pretender after all.
At one end of the bar, twirling her dark finger around the edge of a handsome guardsman’s beard, Isabela glanced Hawke’s way, just briefly, but Hawke had no interest in speaking to her again any time soon. With good reason, of course, she’d cost him so much. Nearly his life. Though, he couldn’t remain mad at her either. Self preservation was a powerful instinct to overcome. He tore his eyes away from her and sought the someone he’d come to see.
There, in the haze and the dark of the Hanged Man, past the bodies heaving drunkenly about, Hawke spotted the dwarf. Even with his back turned and Bianca nowhere in sight, the set of those broad shoulders, that shock of straw-blonde hair… they were unmistakable. He looked over the red fabric of Varric’s tunic, so often covered by a world weary duster, deciding it really was a good color for him. Hawke’s lips curled with a soft smile before he’d even greeted Varric. It was a smile brought on by the anticipation of the evening ahead, the stories yet to be told, the jokes and barbs yet to be shared, the drinks yet to be consumed, all of it brought a warmth creeping into his cheeks and a fullness to his chest. He felt sated, and didn’t begin to question why that was. It was a feeling he came to expect when it was just he and Varric doing what they did (second) best.
“Hello stranger,” Hawke greeted, a lilt of teasing in his voice as he watched Varric turn on his heel to face him. The look on Varric’s face was welcoming but pinched. Something troubled the corners of his mouth and drew his brows closer together in a knit that spoke of discomfort. Hawke’s expression twisted to question Varric’s own, an unspoken exchange of feelings passing between them through the subtle shifting in their faces.
“Hawke,” Varric greeted, a stifled and slightly uncomfortable laugh passing his lips, “Ah… This is awkward.”
Hawke’s brows raised as he folded his arms across his chest and tilted his head curiously at his friend. He’d wait, just a beat or two, because Varric was a wordy man, and it was likely that in this pause he was gathering a speech of some kind. He was all too good at stringing words together to hide what was truly going on, though it had stopped working on Hawke years ago.
“I uh… I just wanted you to know that no matter what happens, it’s been an honor,” the heaviness in Varric’s voice caused Hawke’s expression to soften, his lips parting with unspoken inquiries, “to be at your side.”
That fullness, the satiation that Hawke had been feeling a moment ago drained from him in an instant. There was a gravity to Varric’s words that left him feeling unnerved. Sure, their future didn’t always look great, but it couldn’t possibly look so bleak as to bring on such a statement of finality.
“Has something happened? Are you dying? Am I dying?” it was meant to sound like a joke, but Hawke’s expression of concern, his slightly strained tone, those things gave it away in an instant. He was afraid. When faced with loss so many times over the idea of it coming to greet him again, to take this dwarf, this man, this friend, this brother in arms from him…
“Nothing so grave. While I appreciate it, there’s no need to look so concerned for my sake. I just,” Varric’s eyes shifted to one side, his chin dipping toward his broad chest. Hawke knew that look; that mannerism spoke of a desire to tell the truth, but there was a lie waiting on Varric’s lips. He’d watched Varric lie before, to his brother, to merchants, to friends, to strangers, it didn’t matter. Varric lied. It was a trait that they shared. Lies were easy, but truth? Truth was difficult.
“Don’t tell me that you,” he tried to smile but it didn’t quite reach his eyes, “…are actually speechless?”
Varric huffed slightly, a wry smile tugging at his mouth though he didn’t look up.
“Don’t get used to it,” he warned, finally lifting his gaze to meet Hawke’s own again. Hawke wondered down at Varric, watching the storyteller catalog things from this moment that he’d retell later. He’d speak of the color of Hawke’s eyes as if he were a predator, and paint himself a much more suave liar than he was being in this moment. Varric’s eyes were searching him, picking apart invisible armor, and leaving Hawke feeling a bit exposed. The quiet went on for what felt like days, but Hawke didn’t know how, or if he even should break it.
“Do you realize it’s six years ago today… That you and I met?” Varric finally broke it for him, the admission of all the time that had passed startled Hawke.
How time did fly.
“Seems like only hours ago,” Hawke replied with a faint smile, more genuine, more bright, “I can’t believe you’ve been able to keep track. I had no idea you cared, so, to remember our anniversary.”
Hawke’s jokes might have landed a laugh or two any other evening, but instead, his words seemed to make Varric tense up, his jaw set like stone as his eyes bored into Hawke’s own. For a moment, Hawke was concerned he’d actually offended Varric. He very rarely feared that, in fact he scarcely believed it to be possible.
“Well one of us has to, and it certainly wasn’t going to be you. You’d forget where your ass was if it wasn’t so perfectly attached,” Varric’s own joking was a welcome sign that things between them were still okay, but there was a tension there, bubbling below the surface and slowly reaching a boil.
Hawke’s first instinct had him wanting to make a quip about Varric checking out his backside, but instead, he thought about how important this must have been to Varric. He wasn’t exactly open about his sentimentality, though it was obvious to Hawke by now that Varric was indeed, a romantic. He sang to his crossbow and told lavish stories about daring heroes. Of course he was.
“Is that why you called me down here? To celebrate?” Hawke asked, slightly less silly. The touch of seriousness in his tone made Varric’s face scrunch up again and he huffed another half laugh that sounded almost like he was choking on it.
“In a sense,” he replied. He licked his lips and grasped at the back of his neck, trying to loosen some of the knots forming there and down between his shoulder blades.
“In a sense?”
Varric’s cheeks were growing ruddy and he cleared his throat, searching for words again.
“There are things that have been left unsaid for too long, Hawke. Now just seemed an appropriate time to say them,” when Varric spoke so seriously, Hawke had learned to respect it.
He’d watched Varric consider killing his own brother, he’d watched Varric succumb to a touch of the same madness that had taken Bartrand away from him, he’d watched so much carefully constructed strength crumble. If Varric had something important to say… Hawke looked around for a moment and saw that there were still eyes on them, whispers being spoken about them, all around the Hanged Man, people were vaguely interested, but Hawke didn’t need people prying or listening in. His eyes landed on Isabela and he tensed. No, certainly not.
“Shall we say them over a drink in a more private setting,” Hawke jerked his head toward the staircase and Varric conceded to the idea without question. He gestured for Hawke to go up first with a sweep of his hand.
“I’ll meet you in a moment,” Varric’s back was to Hawke moments later as he headed for the bar, and Hawke lingered for a moment, watching Varric order their drinks. He took the stairs two at a time to make up the difference when he ascended, not entirely comfortable with things having taken such a serious turn. They’d had their share of tense conversations in the past, but never quite like this, never about… Well what was this about, anyway?
Hawke found himself getting caught up in his own thoughts as he walked around the room he’d come to know as Varric’s home. The furniture was low, made for a dwarf, the table only rising to Hawke’s hip, but it was somehow still inviting, even though when Hawke took a seat in any chair his legs just sprawled onto the floor in front of him. He knew that Varric had no real ownership of the place, but this was where he’d carved out a place for himself. The smell of stale ale, sweat, and dirt permeated everything. Often, when he was close enough, he could smell this place on Varric. It wasn’t an entirely unpleasant thing, either, because it mingled well with his natural mus and was a smell Hawke now associated with the warmth of his friend’s laugh and the outlandish nature of his tales.
Hawke ran his fingers across the spines of books full of scrawlings and stories that Varric kept closer than most any other treasure. Bianca was the only thing Varric seemed to value more than his writing. Not for the first time, Hawke wondered if Bianca’s story was written somewhere in these volumes. With his back to the door, Hawke didn’t see Varric approach, but somehow, he felt the other rogue’s presence. It was just a sense they had in common, knowing when someone was behind you. It made his skin prickle in a not entirely unpleasant way because Varric was one of the few he didn’t expect to turn up with a knife at his spine.
He turned on his heel and watched Varric approach with two mugs in one hand. He set them on his table, not bothering to move aside their long neglected maps of the deep roads. The memories would take on a slosh of ale or two, the ink might run, and perhaps that would be as good an excuse as any to rid themselves of them. Or perhaps just put them away to be kept for nostalgia’s sake. They could look back years from now and wonder at how they’d made it out alive.
“What’s this… really about, Varric,” Hawke asked, approaching their drinks and closing the paces of space between them. He wasted no time getting right at the unspoken thing hanging in the air, making it feel too thick and too sour. Varric lifted a mug and gulped down bitter drink, avoiding Hawke’s eyes and an honest answer for just a while longer. Hawke could wait. He was patient to a point, and more so with Varric than others, partially out of respect and partially out of fondness. Hawke’s drink remained untouched, his sharp goldenrod eyes trained on his friend, unflinching.
“You don’t make this easy, do you?” Varric’s rhetorical inquiry was met with a scoff. Hawke was hardly willing to accept any blame for this situation, this… nonsense. He wasn’t even sure what he was making so difficult for the dwarf. They’d never had such difficulty before. The candid nature of their relationship was what made it work so well. Hawke’s throat felt tighter at the thought of something hidden between them. It seemed wrong, somehow.
“Avoiding something?” Hawke dipped his head slightly, trying to catch Varric’s evasive eyes. Varric sighed through his nose and set his mug down with a clunk. He made himself comfortable in a seat at the table and eyed Hawke for a few long, quiet moments, before finally taking a breath to answer.
“Yes and no,” Varric scratched at his chin and watched Hawke as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, arms folding protectively across his chest once more. When he closed himself like that it always made Varric want to reach out and pry his arms apart. There was no need for that. Not here. Not when they were just them, alone.
“Very helpful,” Hawke’s pointed tone was met with a soft, self deprecating smile. Varric very rarely looked so ashamed of himself. Hawke couldn't think of a time he’d seen such an expression on those chiseled features before.
“I’m no fool to think that you could ever understand what it is that I see in you, Hawke. You are like no man I’ve ever met, and I’ve met many. You stand confidently at the precipice of destruction with a joke on your lips, look into the maw of a dragon and laugh wryly, you twist the knife into the templars even as they breathe threats down your neck ,you puff out your chest to the Qunari and duel their leader as if he were just a two bit slaver in the Low Town alleys, and you… Call yourself my friend,” Varric’s words sounded rehearsed, as if he’d written them down in a book just hours before for practice. He was protecting himself, putting on airs and dragging a herring across his path to draw Hawke away from the point he was making.
“Six years you’ve known me, and you think that reciting my victories as flattery is going to derail my questions?” Hawke challenged. Varric laughed, hand covering his eyes as he slumped lower in his chair. He propped one boot up against the edge of the table to stop him from sliding to the floor. It was then that Hawke noticed Varric wasn’t wearing his gloves. Of all the insignificant little things to notice, somehow, this one made Hawke’s heart leap into his throat. Those hands were calloused and scarred. He’d never really seen them before. Six years. Six long years and he’d never looked at Varric’s bare hands.
Varric dragged his hand down over his face, his fingers lingering against his mouth as he looked off into the middle distance somewhere. Anywhere but at Hawke.
“I have not,” the words came out muffled and Varric seemed to hope that they wouldn’t slip past his fingers, “felt so unnerved by another person in such a long time. You derail me, Hawke.”
Varric dropped his hand into his lap and sighed in defeat. It took all of Hawke’s self control not to howl his frustration to the Gallows and back. Instead, he took a moment to consider this, all of these words, these mannerisms, and he pieced things together. The flustered speech, the tension, the first words, this is awkward, the way he couldn’t seem to look Hawke in the eyes.
“Oh,” he came to the sudden realization of what was being poorly communicated, “Oooh.”
Varric sighed again, shifting and lifting his eyes to look at Hawk with a slight flush across the crooked bridge of his nose. Hawke wasn’t sure what to say, his tongue felt too heavy behind his teeth as he waited for something, but what that something was, he didn’t know. His clever tongue had abandoned him, his wit had flown away, all he was left with was this hammering in his chest that he realized was his heartbeat.
“I’m under no delusion that you could possibly return the sentiment, I see how you look at Fenris, how he wears your crest, I just felt the need to unburden myself before it was too late to do so,” Varric sniffed and tried to look away, tried to appear unaffected, tried to act as if Hawke’s response to all this wouldn’t hurt him.
“Unburden… Unburden yourself? You call me down here to unburden yourself of this? What would you have me do now? Carry it for you?” Hawke laughed bitterly and Varric’s fingers curled into a fist against his thigh. His jaw set again, his teeth clenched so hard they felt as though they might crack beneath the pressure.
“My apologies if I’ve inconvenienced the great Champion of Kirkwall,” Varric’s words were like iron; they cut deep, cut harsh, slipping between his ribs and puncturing his lungs. Hawke felt as if he couldn’t take a full breath.
“No. My apologies that harboring such feelings for me are a burden to you that you would rather pass on than share equally,” Hawke spat back.
Varric’s head snapped up and he met Hawke’s furious stare with bemusement.
“Share? What is there to share? Your heart—”
“Belongs to no one,” Hawke interjected before Varric could send more empty accusation his way. There was a long, drawn out pause. Neither of them was quite sure what to say, so Hawke spoke first.
“Fenris is loyal to me. He may even love me. But his is not with me. He hasn’t been. He sought temporary happiness in me and I him, but he left. Three years ago was the last time… The only time… If you had only asked, perhaps I would have told you,” Hawke’s words were full of long held disappointment. Even looking at Fenris now caused him a pang of heartache. There was a time when he thought perhaps they would rekindle their romance, but the hurt of being pushed away had kept Hawke’s own barriers up, steady between them.
“Even so,” Varric’s voice was gentler as he spoke again, “I am not a fool.”
“Yes you are,” Hawke rolled his eyes and picked up his pint for the first time and swallowed down mouthful after mouthful until the mug was empty. When it clunked back down onto the table he panted heavily, trying to catch his breath and put his jumbled thoughts to right.
“Hawke,” Varric exhaled his name and tilted his head to try and catch a better glimpse of the look in the champion’s eyes. Hawke didn’t hesitate to look down, to meet Varric’s gaze. It seemed inappropriate to be standing so high above Varric in a place of mock authority. So he sat, dropping to a sudden heap on the floor, legs sprawling before him as he leaned up against the side of the chair. They couldn’t look at one another now, but at least he felt better, lower, more appropriately positioned. His shoulders pressed against the arm of the chair and he could feel Varric’s shoulder against the back of his head. There was closeness now, but it didn’t serve to break this horrible tension.
“In all the time that you’ve known me, why would you ever think that I would not be capable of loving you?” Hawke asked after a long few minutes of silence. Hawke shut his eyes and tipped his head back, feeling Varric’s strong arm against the back of his neck. The fabric of his clothing was softer than Hawke had imagined it would be.
“I…” Varric’s face contorted as he thought of all his reasonings, all his empty excuses, all those moments when he watched Hawke’s lips part with laughter and berated himself for wondering what it might be like to…
“Speechless again? This is a record for you,” Hawke’s taunt brought a gentle dose of familiarity to the situation that was so welcome Varric grappled for it like the only port in a storm.
“Are you more offended by my lack of faith in you or my lack of faith in myself?”Varric wondered aloud, glancing down at Hawk. He was clean. He must have bathed before coming, because his hair looked soft and sleek, no dust or blood lingered on his scalp. Varric couldn’t help the pointless observation and found himself reaching tentatively to touch. He rested his hand in Hawke’s hair, finding it felt as soft as it had looked. He’d never touched Hawke before. Not with a bare hand… He realized belatedly that it was probably an inappropriate moment for such a thing.
“You have always been here, Varric. My constant. People have come and gone. You were here when Bethany was taken. You were here when mother was… when she passed. You were here from nearly the beginning. I met you a year after I came to Kirkwall… you have always been… here,” Hawke sighed and closed his eyes, leaning back and letting Varric’s nimble fingers find their way along his forehead. He let the touch take him away for a moment while Varric’s hand stroked his hair away from his face. It was slow and rhythmic, and in his ears, ringing from memory, he could hear Varric humming that tune he often did for Bianca.
“Now who’s dodging the question?” Varric pointed out, a slight hint of humor there in his voice.
“I am offended by… the fact that it’s taken you this long to say something. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be this attractive and be the champion aaaand be single in this city?”
What a relief Hawke’s sarcasm was. It made Varric’s shoulders go lax and his jaw unclench. He continued to idly play with Hawke’s hair, thinking on how differently he’d imagined this whole conversation going in his head.
“I will always be here, Hawke,” Varric said, looking down at the peaceful expression Hawke now wore.
“I should hope not. The mansion is feeling quite empty these days. You should spend more time there,” Hawke’s invitation was given so casually that Varric was almost unsure of whether or not Hawke was being serious.
“Just so we’re clear… You’re inviting me to visit you at your estate more often, right?”
“Well now I’m just confused.”
Hawke reached up and grabbed at Varric’s hand, squeezed it gently, and pulled it down away from his hair and to his lips. His pressed a kiss to that bare palm, then spoke against his calloused skin.
“I was more hoping you’d visit more… permanently,” Hawke clarified. Varric’s shoulders were tense again, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end as he felt those lips on him, so warm and gentle. He’d seen Hawke tear chunks out of people and spit blood with that mouth, and it felt so calm against him he didn’t quite know if it was real.
Varric sounded unsure but Hawke was not. He turned and took to his knees, placing himself at eye level with Varric who dropped his boot from the table and to the floor. The thud of it thundered through the room, the tension between them rapidly rising again. If it kept on like this, coming and going in such strong waves, Hawke was sure they would drown. Their gazes locked together and Varric’s lips twitched with apprehension.
“Varric?” Hawke raised his brows in that challenging way they often did over a game of cards or before a fight. He asked with his eyes, are you ready? Varric didn’t have an answer yet.
“Would you clarify… just… humor me?”
“Which part needs clarification? The part where I asked you to move in?”
“No. That part is clear. I want to know why.”
“Isn’t that obvious? The feelings… Those have been mutual for longer than I care to admit.”
Varric stared into Hawke’s eyes in disbelief for a few unblinking moments then his lips split wide into a smile and he laughed quietly.
“And you had the nerve to be mad at me. Hypocrite,” Varric scoffed, amusement lifting his tone to a place of teasing that felt warm and familiar. Hawke rolled his eyes and said nothing, just reached up to touch Varric’s stubbled jaw. His fingers slipped down to the side of Varric’s neck and he furrowed his brows, a soft smile playing at his lips.
“How was I to know that I would be an exception to your non-attraction to humans? I may be the champion, but I’m not delusional,” Hawke defended, his words full of amusement and soft laughter. Varric reached up to close his hand over Hawke’s own where it rested on his neck and closed his eyes. He leaned closer, and Hawke met him, their brows pressing together, noses brushing, faces so close.
“I’m not attracted to humans in general. Really, not my preference. But you’re as close to a dwarf as any human I’ve seen,” Varric said,his tone ambiguous enough that Hawke couldn’t be sure if he was joking or not, “full of arrogance and--”
Varric inhaled sharply as his words were interrupted by the softest brush of Hawk’s lips against his chin. He felt the scratch of Hawke’s beard and the warmth of his breath, smelling sweetly of ale.
“And?” Hawke pressed.
“And… that beard is quite enviable by most dwarven standards.”
Hawke’s mouth was resting just off to the side of Varric’s mouth as he spoke against his skin, gently touching, leaving him all the more flustered, anticipation for what was coming to him causing him to flush deeper red.
“I’m going to kiss you now, and I expect you to kiss back.”
“I think I can manage that.”