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No Heroes Left

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Varric blinked dry eyes and put down the quill, rubbing his cramped hand as he looked around Skyhold’s main hall. It was quiet. The normally crowded area tended to clear out an hour or so past dinner these days and the constant murmuring conversations had faded to nothing now that it was just the two of them.

Mel was asleep on the couch nearby, burrowed in her forest green cowl, book open on her lap. Sleep dropped the stress from her face, smoothed her eyebrows from their perpetual worried kink--the right one with a still healing wound cutting through it, evidence of a recent tangle in Crestwood. It would scar.

She hadn’t fussed over it. Not that he’d expected her to. Melix Trevelyan the rogue who’d run from her noble family and ended up the Herald of Andraste. The woman who was now leader of the Inquisition didn’t let things show on that carved stone face of hers. Not closing rifts, not narrowly avoiding losing an eye, not in Wicked Grace.

But Varric’s trade was stories and watching people came naturally with that. And there were times when Melix Trevelyan’s blue eyes held the shadows of all of Thedas within them.

She didn’t share, even now, six months out from the destruction of Haven, what had happened to her there. Possibly with Curly, with whom she’d struck up an unlikely friendship, but no one else. She didn’t talk about Redcliffe or Haven or Emprise du Lion. Varric had gotten the details of Redcliffe from Dorian, on their way home to Haven. Since then, he clung to the man’s words when his frustration peaked after one too many moments of Mel staring at Cassandra, or Leliana, or him with tears in her eyes but refusing to speak.

The Teviner mage had looked at him with a sad smile and his answer had been quiet, shaking Varric to the bone. “You died,” he said without the slightest hint of sarcasm. “She had to stand and watch or let the whole world fall.”

It explained a lot, actually. Why after Redcliffe Mel threw herself into training and threw herself into fights with a ferocity that even drew an eyebrow from Iron Bull. It explained why she was always first through the door, first into a fight. It explained why she’d stayed behind at Haven--just her, to guard their retreat and distract Corypheus.

It explained why sometimes she put a hand on his forearm, or his shoulder, or his side and dug her fingers in for just a moment, just a moment to reassure herself that he was real.

The noise dragged him back and Varric was out of his seat, crossing to her before his brain caught up. “Mel, hey wake up.” He reached for her and she came up swinging. Varric blocked the first swing, caught the second right in the jaw and muttered a curse as he grabbed for a wrist. “Mel, wake up for me.” The last time this had happened it took Bull and the Chargers to get her under control.

He managed, somehow, to lock up her other arm, but the move overbalanced him and he fell backward, draggin her to the floor. “Mel, shit, come on, wake up.” He hated these dreams. Precious seconds ticked by as his words were lost to the nightmare gripping her. Varric debated--discarded--the idea of headbutting her. The violence would only continue.

She went limp. Thank the Maker.

But then the sobs started and Varric gathered her in, grateful beyond measure the hall was empty. He knew she wouldn’t want anyone to see her like this. “Shhh, it’s okay, you’re okay.” He pressed a kiss to her temple, should have stopped there, but Mel lifted her head and the next one connected with her mouth.

You idiot, Tethras.

There were so many things wrong with this, but he couldn’t seem to get them in order in his scrambled brain and pull away. Her mouth was soft under his and Varric caught her sigh on his tongue as he sank into the kiss. Then he pulled away, staring down into foggy, sleep heavy blue eyes.

“Varric?”

“Bad dream, Hero. And sorry. I’m going to owe you a real apology at some point when you’re coherent. Let’s get you up to bed.”

She nodded, still not quite awake and he balanced her with an arm around her hips as they made their way across the hall and up the long staircases to her rooms. He pulled her boots off, caught her coat when she tossed it on the floor and watched her crawl into bed. Ignoring the voice ordering him back down the stairs, Varric pulled the covers up over her and smoothed back a red curl. “Sleep well, Hero. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“M’kay.” She sighed and burrowed. He turned to leave. “Varric?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t die again please, I don’t think my heart can take it.”

His own heart couldn’t take the whole of this and for a moment Varric stood in the moonlit room, scrambling for words. “I won’t, Mel, promise.”

You idiot, Tethras.

She was already back to sleep and he had no way of knowing if she’d remember any of this in the morning. But that was a problem for the morning, Varric decided. Right now he was going to the tavern to get drunk with the Chargers.

In the morning he could apologize.

Or you could run, like you always do, the snide voice in his head suggested.

Running it was.

 

***

 

“Morning, Inquisitor. What can I do for you?” Cullen looked up from his desk as Mel walked through the open door. She’d watched the commander of the Inquisition’s forces for a moment before revealing herself, though she suspected he’d known she was there. The man had a talent for knowing everything about the Inquisition and what was happening at Skyhold that rivaled Leliana.

Mel had assumed she’d butt heads with the former templar. He’d wholly embraced the life she’d rejected, after all, and yet--there was a gentleness about the man that put her at ease. Which wasn’t to say they hadn’t butted heads, but their friendship was something she’d come to cherish.

“Have you seen Varric this morning?” She tried to keep the question nonchalant, wandering over to Cullen’s bookshelves. Something like a tremor in her voice must have slipped through though, or maybe it was just Cullen’s preternatural sense of paranoia, because he stopped what he was working on and transferred that focused gaze to her back.

Mel kept her back to him, if she turned now she’d spill the whole silly story of the dream and it seemed to her that the Inquisitor should be above such things. I should have gone to Dorian, she thought with a suppressed sigh. He would have understood the nightmare, teased me about the abrupt shift in the dream to--that, and then it would be off my mind.

Instead her feet had taken her to Varric’s spot in the great hall, which had been empty. Then to his room, also empty.

“He headed out with Bull and the Chargers about an hour ago. They’re making a run to Haven to look for--look over the ruins.”

“Without me?”

Cullen blinked when she spun on a heel to face him. “To be honest, Inquisitor, I assumed you would prefer to not go. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine.” She waved a hand, pinched the bridge of her nose, and heard Cullen’s chair scrape against the stone floor as he got up.

“Mel, are you all right?”

“I didn’t sleep well.”

“Bad dreams?” Cullen leaned on the desk so he wasn’t looming over her. That was one of the other things she appreciated. Human though she was, she wasn’t much taller than a dwarf and most people forgot that, or chose to ignore it. Standing too close so she had to tip her head way back to meet their eyes.

Cullen never forgot, not even when he was mad at her.

“Comes with the job, right?” Sarcasm was her refuge, but Cullen didn’t say anything. He simply waited. The man could out patience a mountain. “Redcliffe,” she whispered finally. “Sort of, it was a jumbled mess.”

“Most nightmares are.”

“I don’t want to rehash it. I just wanted to make sure-” The words stuck in her throat and she squeezed her eyes shut. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to get some breakfast. Do you want to come?”

“For breakfast?” Cullen glanced over his shoulder at the work on his desk.

“I’ll have to sit alone otherwise, you know no one will sit with me. Please, Cullen. When was the last time you ate?”

“Fair point,” he replied, pushing away from his desk with a smile. “Let’s go get breakfast.”

 

***

 

“So, you wanna talk about it?”

Varric looked up as Krem took a seat at the fire next to him. They were camped outside of Haven by silent agreement. No one wanted to camp within the dead town.

“Talk about it?”

“Thought as much.” Krem smiled. “But Bull’s like a mother hen sometimes and when he starts throwing around words like ‘maudlin’ and ‘morose’ I figured I should come check on you before he hurt himself. So--” Krem patted his shoulder. “I’ve got great shoulders for crying on and I promise to only tease you about it when we’re alone.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

The first time he saw her was right after the explosion at the Conclave. Varric had spotted Cassandra first, and then the smaller woman trailing behind, bloody-knuckled hands clutching a pair of long daggers so tightly it was a wonder she didn’t bend the hilts. A scar ran from her left ear down the line of her jaw. Blue-purple circles of exhaustion spread under eyes nearly the same color and tendrils of red hair whipping in the wind.

Memo to you, Tethras, don’t ever tell a woman her eyes look like bruises.

Solas had grabbed the woman by the left hand and all that Varric could think to say when the green light poured forth and closed the rift was a muttered, “well, shit.”

The woman seemed surprised. Solas, of course, did not. Introductions were made and Varric hefted Bianca onto his shoulder to shake the hand of one Melix Trevelyan. Cassandra’s temper seemed to have eased some, but Varric kept his mouth shut when she claimed the woman in front of him was a noble.

She was a rogue or he’d eat his crossbow.

However, there was something buried within her polite greetings and the careful set of her shoulders. An interesting complication. A hero in a tragedy. He stopped himself before he told her to run. Run as fast and as far as you can.

She caught him staring and gave a hesitant smile.

“Come on, Kiddo, let’s go see if your magical hand can close the bigger one.”

The slightly startled, exhausted laugh was worth it.

 

***

 

“So, now that Cassandra’s not around, how are you really holding up?”

Mel crouched by the fire, left hand tucked against her stomach, more out of habit now than actual pain. It had settled to a dull throb, like hitting something unyielding and the vibrations coming back to pay you double. She picked up a stick with her right hand and poked at the flames. “I don’t know,” she replied honestly. Something about Varric eased her jangled nerves enough to be able to admit it. “This doesn’t seem real.”

He glanced over his shoulder at the massive green hole in the sky and chuckled. “Tell me about it, Kiddo.”

She eyed him and mustered up her noble voice, rusty from long years of disuse. “I’d think there would need to be a more significant difference in our ages for you to keep calling me that.”

“There’s the noble bit, I almost believe Cassandra now.” Varric grinned. “You’re a baby.”

“I’m thirty-three.”

“Are you now?” His arched eyebrow telegraphed his disbelief. “Back to questioning it. How’d you avoid the Chantry, or being married off and herding a passel of kids?”

Mel looked away and poked at the fire again. “That’s what happens when you run away from home at the age of twenty.”

“Did you now?” Varric moved closer, holding his hands out to the flames. "You might want to consider running again at the first opportunity. I've written enough tragedies to know where this is going."

“Fair enough. You’re not running though.”

“I don’t have a lot of sense.”

She shrugged, unable to hide the smile, it was more than that she could tell already. “I had no interest in the Templars or the Chantry and I definitely wasn’t interested in being married off. My parents, disagreed with my life choices. So I left. Hadn’t spoken to anyone for thirteen years, until-”

The silence stretched as Mel rolled over the thoughts colliding in her brain. Until she’d gotten the letter from her brother, her now dead brother. “Fuck.” The tear slipped free.

Varric’s gentle touch on her back surprised her. “Conclave?”

She nodded, but didn’t speak and silence fell around them. It drew out to a trembling thread, untl Mel looked over at Varric. “I’m surprised you’re not pushing for the story. Most people would be.”

“I’m not most people.” He shrugged. “Tell the story at your own pace or not at all, it’s yours to decide what to do with.”

“I don’t even know how he found me to send the letter. But my brother was at the Conclave. He wanted to speak. He didn’t say what about. I wouldn’t have even gone except I had a contact in the area who had a deal for me. I figured I’d kill two birds.” The laugh choked her. “Fuck me, I knew I should have listened to that rolling in my gut and stayed far away from this whole shitshow.”

He laughed. “Welcome to the club, Herald.”

 

***

 

“You’re not at all what I pictured.”

Mel grinned up at the massive Qunari towering over her, blinking the rain from her eyes. “Iron Bull, I presume.”

“Yeah, the horns usually give it away.” He eyed her and while Mel was certain she looked like a drowned nug in this weather, there was a spark of something in Bull’s eye that made her stomach flop. “Redhead, huh?”

“Last time I checked.” She grinned at the choked laughter behind her from Varric and Bull’s hearty laugh echoed into the air.

“Oh I like you. Give me a second. Krem!”

Mel cleaned off her short swords as Bull issued instructions to his second-in-command, the man who’d come to see her at Haven. She’d liked what she’d seen of their fighting here at the Storm Coast and liked it even more that Bull’s first concern seemed to be his people rather than talking with her.

“What do you think?” she murmured to Varric.

“Me?” Varric grinned. “You're going to climb that like a Maker-damned tree before the next moon."

"Varric!" She hissed, then grinned. "Okay, you're not wrong, but I was talking about if we should hire them or not."

He seemed surprised she would ask his opinion. "They’re solid, moved like they know each other well. I did some digging before we headed this way, and everything I could come up with about the Chargers was good news. Well, for the people who hired them.” He grinned.

“It’s true. Most of them are dead,” Bull said. “Come on, let’s talk.”

 

***

 

“I don’t know what you think you are doing.”

“I’m being clucked at by a hen, evidently.”

Varric poked his head around the bookshelf as the voices of Mother Giselle and Dorian filled the normally quiet space.

“Don’t play the fool with me, young man.”

“If I wanted to play the fool I could be rather more convincing, I assure you.”

Varric spotted Mel as she came up the last few stairs, caught her eye and watched her face go from confusion to annoyance to anger in the space of a heartbeat. They’d all been a bit shaken by Dorian’s story about his father wanting to use blood magic against him, but Mel had taken it personally - if the battered condition of Bull and the Chargers after sparring practice were any indication.

“Your glib tongue does you no credit.”

“You’d be surprised at the credit my tongue gets me, Your Reverence.”

Varric choked down a laugh at that, but leaned a shoulder against the bookcase as Mel came up behind the Revered Mother.

“What’s going on here?”

“It seems the Revered Mother is concerned about my ‘undue influence’ over you,” Dorian said.

Mel got ‘that look’ and Varric wondered if he was going to have to keep the Herald of Andraste from beating the shit out of a member of the Chantry. Mother Giselle, bless her, didn’t seem to realize the trouble she’d gotten herself into and continued.

“It is just concern. Your Worship, you must know how this looks.”

“You might need to spell it out, my dear.” Dorian was clearly fanning the flames, but to be honest, Varric couldn’t blame him.

“This man is of Tevinter. His presence at your side, the rumors alone…”

Mel shoved her hands into her pockets and Varric stopped pretending to read the book in his hands all together. If those hands came back out, there was going to be trouble.

“Which rumors would those be, Your Reverence? The ones about him being an evil mage from Tevinter? Or the ones about him fucking me from behind while Bull watched?” She arched an eyebrow, that effortless noble voice loud enough that even Curly could probably hear. “They’re all false, Mother. Though the second one was not for a lack of trying on my part.”

Varric choked on a laugh, even Dorian blinked and Mother Giselle … well, she gaped at Mel for a long moment.

“I meant no disrespect, Inquisitor, only to ask after this man’s intentions. If you feel he is without ulterior motive, then I humbly beg forgiveness of you both.”

“I suspect, Mother Giselle,” Mel’s voice was frosty. “That your time would be better spent passing this along to anyone who needs to confide in you with future concerns about who I choose to place my trust in. I surround myself with people I know I can trust. I don’t care about their past, only their present and what they are willing to sacrifice for our future. There’s only one other person who’s saved my life more than Dorian, he’s standing behind you and I’m sure there are plenty of rumors about our friendship as well. Despite the fact that he’s saved the world once already. Which is more than the rest of us can claim.”

“Inquisitor, I-”

“I don’t want to hear about this again. Have a good day, Mother.”

Mother Giselle dipped her head and left.

“Well, that’s something,” Dorian said. He put a hand on her arm but Mel didn’t look away from the stairs until he tugged gently, pulling her hand from her pocket and bringing it to his lips. “I adore you, my dear. And thank you.”

“You’re my friend.” Varric heard the catch in her voice, and Dorian must have also for he pulled her into a hug.

“There now, my dear. It takes more to get to me than thinly veiled accusations. I’d ask if the rumors bother you, but clearly they don’t.” He laughed. “I cannot believe you said that to her face. Did you see her look?”

Mel laughed as she pulled away. “I did.” She blew out a breath. “Well, I’m sure the rumors are going to be even worse now. I’m going to go stand up on the battlements and let the cold clear my head.”

Dorian cupped her face, smiling down at her. “Be careful up there. I have precious few friends. I didn’t think to find one of them here.”

“I-”

“Don’t speak. I detest confessions, let me to get this over with. Allow me to say I’ll stand beside you--against Corypheus, my countrymen, or spurious rumor--so long as you’ll have me.”

Mel nodded, and Dorian released her after pressing a kiss to her forehead. She headed for the door, reaching a hand out to touch Varric on the shoulder as she passed.

“Well,” Dorian said, turning to Varric. “That was more excitement than I’d expected this morning. Care to go get a drink and start the wager on how fast and wild the rumor about the Inquisitor challenging Mother Giselle to a fight will spread?”

Varric grinned. “That sounds like an excellent plan.”

 

***

 

“All I’m saying is that as the Herald of Andraste, the leader of the Inquisition, you should perhaps not be-”

“Thick as thieves?” Mel supplied with that ridiculous grin of hers and Varric choked on his wine. “Hanging out with the undesirables?”

Cassandra sighed and Mel’s grin got even wider.

“Cassandra, my love, have you forgotten what I am?” Mel stood and gestured around Skyhold’s Tavern. “What we are? Rogues and heretics-according to the Chantry anyway. Mages from Tiventer.” She leaned down and kissed the grinning Dorian on the mouth when he raised his cup to her.

“Mercenaries.”

Bull and his men roared their approval. And Varric pitied the Seeker for a moment. Mel was several drinks in and apparently feeling like being in the spotlight. “Apostate mages.” More cheers. “Ex-Templars!” Even Curly raised his cup with a smile. “Refugees who couldn’t hold a sword six months ago and now have killed more darkspawn than our missing Wardens!”

That cheer shook the tavern, but Mel hopped onto a chair and Varric reached out to wrap a hand around her calf when she wobbled.

“But we have Wardens and dwarves. Avaar and elves. We are the people of Thedas. And we will not run, not from any fight, certainly not from this one. Corypheus and his ilk have met their match. We are the Inquisition!” She raised her cup.

“The Inquisition!”

Chapter Text

“Hold still.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine, you’re bleeding. Again.” Varric clamped a hand down on Mel’s shoulder before she could make a second attempt to stand. “Stay down.” He lifted his crossbow and fired, the bolt striking the templar rushing their direction between the eyes. “Cassandra and Solas have got this.”

“It’s a scratch.” Mel lifted her hand from her side, and blood bubbled up from the gash. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” He stripped off his glove, pressing his hand over the top of hers. “Keep pressure on that. Solas!”

The elf appeared at his side, lowering himself to a knee. “Let me see, Herald.”

Varric pulled his own hand free, grabbed for his crossbow and picked off another templar as Cassandra finished off the final one. He exchanged a nod with the Seeker. They’d come to an understanding of sorts these last few weeks but her sudden concern was still surprising.

“You’re hurt!”

“Not my blood.” He watched her eyes widen and she rushed by him. Varric chuckled and took up a post to protect the trio on the ground.

 

***

 

The wind sweeping off the mountains was cold, but Mel didn’t move from her perch. She was warm enough, wrapped in a muted blue scarf and the rocks at her back blocked the worst of the wind.

Cullen had, reluctantly, stopped trying to make her take an escort every time she set foot outside the town after Mel had promised to not stay out for longer than an hour and check in both coming and going. It was peaceful up here. She could sit and think and look at Haven across the frozen lake.

The wind shifted, carrying with it the faintest familiar smell. Still, Mel eased a dagger from its sheath and melted back against the rock.

“It’s me, Hero. No stabbing.”

Varric. She relaxed. “Up here.”

He moved silently. It was impressive, for a man as bulky as he was, how he could slip through practically any scenario unnoticed, unseen, unless he wanted it.

I used to be able to do that. She flexed her hand automatically, the phantom presence of the Mark reminding her of the blazing light hidden beneath the wine dark glove. Now it seemed like she had to work harder to stay invisible, stay hidden. So many fucking eyes on me all the time.

“You okay?” Varric asked, settling in at her side.

“Fine.”

“Liar.” He bumped her shoulder with his.

“Thief.”

He chuckled, but didn’t deny it. What he did do, surprisingly, was take her hand and pin her down with those honey-colored eyes of his. “If you need to talk, I want you to know I’m here.”

“It’s fine.”

“Seriously, Mel. You’re shouldering a lot of weight there, you don’t have to do it alone.”

“I miss being invisible.” The confession slipped out and Varric chuckled again when she glared at him. “I spent a good chunk of my life blending in, making myself unnoticed. I liked my life, Varric. Now it’s gone.”

“You sound like a friend of mine.”

“Is it the petulant, whiny one who always loses money to you in Wicked Grace?” She sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. “Because honestly that’s what I feel like. Who makes such a fuss about having to save the world?”

“Every hero ever.”

She choked back her laugh and wrapped both arms around Varric’s. “I know Cullen wants me to approach the Templars about helping with the Breach, but I just don’t trust them.”

“Now you really sound like Hawke.”

“Name dropper.” She knew he wanted her to ask, so she kept her questions about the Champion of Kirkwall to herself just to tease him. There was a long moment of silence, both of them looking out at Haven bustling in the distance.

“For what it’s worth,” Varric said finally. “I’d go with the mages myself. For all the dangers, they’re not the ones who punched out a revered mother in Val Royeaux and have been acting dodgy about shit even before that hole in the sky happened.” He gestured at the Breach with his free hand. “The deal with Curly is he’s honest to a fault, and he wants to fix his mistakes or at the least do it better this time.” He sighed. “He’s got his own demons to wrestle with, if you’ll forgive the expression. But he also expects his former brothers and sisters of the Order to hold everything with the same exalted regard he does. And the fact of the matter is - they don’t.”

Mel was curious what demons the commander could possibly have, but again she resisted the urge to dig. Varric wouldn't tell someone else’s story without permission and she suspected it was something she needed to hear from Cullen directly.

She respected him enough to honor that, even if they didn’t always agree.

 

***

 

The Chargers lay scattered around the sparring ring, some groaning. Stitches was, ironically, unconscious. Krem and Bull circled the Inquisitor, their movements in sync. Mel grinned and spun the pair of heavy sticks in her hands.

“One for each of you, come on,” she said.

They rushed her and Varric swore it was like she blinked out of existence for a moment. She appeared behind Bull, hitting him in the back of the knee and sending him stumbling into Krem.

“Training with Heir is progressing, I see,” Cullen said, leaning against the rail.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s a little terrifying to watch.” Varric groaned as Mel stepped on Bull’s back, pressing her left stick into his neck. The right had Krem pinned against the railing. “Not to mention it’s costing me money,” he muttered, fishing into his pocket and flipping a gold piece at Dorian.

“You bet against the Inquisitor?”

“He always does,” Mel said. “Claims it makes me work harder.”

“I haven’t been wrong yet,” Varric replied with a grin.

Chapter Text

The Inquisitor flirted mercilessly. With Bull (who enjoyed it). With Sera (who flirted back just as outrageously). With Cassandra and Cullen. (Hilarious, both of them, the way they stammered.) With Scout Harding and Leliana and all her agents. With Flissa. With Dorian and Krem.

Which is why Varric didn’t bat an eyelash when a slightly tipsy Mel plopped herself onto his lap one evening in the tavern in Skyhold. He merely grabbed her with a smile before she slid off onto the floor. She rested her head on his shoulder with a sigh.

“This is the fun part of the world ending,” she murmured, lips brushing against his jaw, sending little sparks running under his skin. “I haven’t spent this much time around people who didn’t want to kill me in I don’t know how long.”

“Hate to break it to you, but there are a lot of people who want to kill you.”

“Yeah. Not here though. You'd all rescue me.”

“If I didn’t know any better I’d say you’re enjoying this.”

“I am. You’re solid and you smell nice.” She snuggled closer and Varric was surprised by the sudden jump in his heartbeat.

“Not what I meant, Kiddo, but thanks for what I think was a compliment.”

Mel lifted her head, lips brushing across his cheek and just grazing the outside corner of his mouth in a move that really couldn’t be called a kiss but was still enough to shock him because she hadn’t kissed him since before Redcliffe. Flirted yes, but the casual kisses that were so much a part of who Mel was had stopped with the same finality as the avalanche at Haven. “Why are you still doing that?” She asked, peering at him with hazy blue eyes.

“Do what?”

“Still call me kiddo. We’ve fought together for months now, seen each other practically naked, bound wounds, saved each other’s lives. You’re still over here holding me at arm’s length.”

Varric wasn’t sure where he could land here that wasn’t dangerous territory. He was annoyed, amused, and aroused.

But they were in the middle of the tavern, and while there was usually some privacy with the crowd and the noise Varric knew there were at least four pairs of eyes on them right now.

So he went-surprisingly-with the honest answer.

“Remember what I told you early, Mel? That this had all the markings of a tragedy and you should run while you still could?”

“Sure.” She shook her head. “You didn’t mean it or you’d have run.”

“I’m not the hero here, and I did mean it. Heroes die, Kiddo. I’ve lost my share and it’s easier to keep you at arm’s length than to mourn for you later.”

“Oh Varric.” She leaned in and for a second he was sure she was going to kiss him. But Mel smiled, slipped off his lap and out of his grasp. “You’ve almost convinced yourself of the truth of that, haven’t you?” She shook her head again. “It hurts no matter which choice you make, believe me.” A curious smile twisted her mouth. “And I hate to break it to you, but you are a hero.” Mel flipped a hand in a lazy salute and wandered back towards Bull.

“She’s right on both counts.”

Varric glanced in Leliana’s direction when the spy drifted out of the shadows and merely grunted, watching as a ghost of a smile passed over her mouth. Leliana didn’t say anything else, but just squeezed his shoulder as she passed.

The feel of it didn’t linger the same way the feel of Mel’s lips on his did.

 

***

 

Mel sat with her fist pressed into her cheek and the pleasant buzz of what Dorian had declared "marginally passable" wine running through her as she watched Varric tell a wild story to the assembled table.

They were safe and settled in Skyhold, the construction and renovations well underway. People were smiling again and they were almost back up to fighting strength. Hawke had headed for Crestwood more than a week ago, the memory of him a buzz even more pleasant that she could call up at a whim. They’d parted well, a kiss and a smile. It was her favorite thing, to find someone who looked at the world and at relationships the same way she did.

They’d make their way to Crestwood in a few days, meet with Stroud, and take the next steps to stopping the end of the world.

Another memory, this one unwelcome, flashed into existence as Varric waved a hand in the air. Suddenly all Mel could see was his lifeless hand hitting the stone floor as a demon cast him aside.

The silence was abrupt. Mel froze for an instant as everyone looked at her. She was on her feet with no memory of how she’d gotten there.

“You okay?” Varric asked, his smile fading into concern.

“Fine. I’m going to bed. Good night.” She stumbled out into the night, the late summer air wrapping itself around her like a blanket, muffling the sob that leaked out as she melted herself into the shadows before anyone could see her and made her way to the stairs to her right.

The battlements were quiet except for the soldiers patrolling, and they were used to the sight of the Inquisitor so there was little more than a murmured, “Ser,” or “Your Worship.” She leaned against the stone, pressing her hot cheek to the chill surface and stared unseeing at the drawbridge.

It hurt. It hurt to see him still alive. Hurt more to think she may have to watch him die again. No one knew but Dorian and even he didn’t know the half of it.

It’s your own damn fault, Mel, you and your amazing talent for fallin-

“Inquisitor? Are you all right?”

She jerked to the side, cracking her temple against the stone and felt her knees give with the pain. “Andraste’s tits.”

Cullen grabbed for her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Come sit down.” He wrapped an arm around her waist and led her into his office. He crouched down next to her, a hand on the back of her neck as he frowned at the rapidly swelling bump on her temple.

“It’s all right.”

“I’ve got some potions.” Cullen got to his feet before she could protest and there was little Mel could do but take the bottle from him and drink it down under his watchful eye. Cullen took the empty bottle, leaned back against his desk and crossed his arms over his chest.

Mel blinked up at him. “Oh, you’re not wearing your armor.”

“I do occasionally take it off.”

“I thought you slept in it.”

Cullen’s laugh was startled, but genuine and Mel found herself smiling back. She hadn’t quite known how to relate to the commander of the Inquisitions forces. She respected the man, most of the time agreed with him; but their tangle over the mages just before Haven had sliced open their budding friendship and she hadn’t had much chance to speak with him since.

He smiled at her. “I haven’t had a chance to speak with you since we got settled,” he said, echoing her thoughts. “To thank you for what you did at Haven, and to apologize.”

“What on Thedas would you need to apologize for?”

“I should have trusted you - about the mages.”

“Cullen-”

“Hear me out, if you would?” He held up a hand and then rubbed at the back of his neck in a gesture she now recognized was him struggling to find the right words. “I do not have a good history with mages and I often let that cloud my judgment.”

There was a wealth of meaning laced through those words, but Mel didn’t ask. She knew all too well how pulling on threads that weren’t ready to come loose could hurt. “I understand.”

“I doubt it.” His smile made the words kind. “But that story is for another day. I would only ask for your patience, Inquisitor, as I find my way through this.”

She got up, smiled when he reached to steady her and squeezed his forearm. “It’s Mel, Cullen, and you are welcome to take whatever time you need. I appreciate the apology, though it wasn’t necessary. You have done so much for this cause and I value your counsel and your friendship.”

His answering smile was so sweet that for a moment Mel wished she felt any sort of spark about the man. But there was none, just respect and a fondness like what she’d once felt for her siblings.

“If that’s the case, Inqui-Mel, can I ask what was troubling you?” He let go of her arm to gesture at her face. “Those tears were not from trying to crack your skull open on the battlements.”

“No, but I am alrig-” She stopped when he raised an eyebrow at her and laughed. “I deserve that, don’t I, after my big speech?”

“Possibly.”

She leaned both hands on the desk next to him, staring down at her fingers and the pale green light seeping from her left palm. “I cannot seem to forget Redcliffe. The future I saw. I know it’s not real, but those images are burned into my brain. I should know the difference and be able to move past it, but I can’t.”

“It is not an easy thing, to convince ourselves that things are not real when they feel that way.” There was an understanding in Cullen’s reply she had not expected and Mel turned her head to see him staring at her with a sad smile. “You felt it, lived it, that makes it more than real.”

“How do I make it go away?” She couldn’t stop the tears and Cullen surprised her a second time by pulling her into a hug.

“You can’t,” he murmured, cheek pressed to the top of her hair as he held her tight. “I wish I could tell you otherwise, but you can’t make it go away. Own it, make it part of you, find a way to use it to make yourself stronger. That’s all I’ve been able to figure out over the years. Don’t try to deny it or drown it. That way lies madness and grief.”

Chapter Text

 

The humming echoed in the dungeon, and Mel’s stomach twisted in on itself even further than it already had. “Varric?”

“Andraste’s sacred knickers. You’re alive?” His voice was strange and when she saw the red light in his eyes she knew why. “Where were you? How did you escape?”

“We didn’t escape. Alexius sent us into the future,” Dorian said.

“Everything that happens to you is weird.”

Mel choked on her laughter, threw herself into his arms. “You might be right about that.”

“I’m always right. And when I’m not, I lie about it.” His arms tightened around her briefly before he released her. “So, what are you doing here? Or did you come back just to trade quips with me?”

“We get to Alexius and I just might be able to send us back to our own time. Simple, really.”

Varric shook his head at Dorian. “That may not be as easy as you think. Alexius is just a servant. This ‘Elder One’ assassinated the empress and led a demon army in a huge invasion of the south. The Elder One rules everything … what’s left of it anyway. Alexius is really not the one you need to worry about.”

“I promise you, Varric, we’ll make sure none of this happens.”

He grinned. “I’m pretty sure you’re crazy. Or I’m crazy. Either way, it’s a nice thought. You want to take on Alexius, I’m in. Let’s go.”

 

***

 

“We’ll buy you the time.”

“Varric, no.” His name was a choked sob. Mel squeezed her eyes shut, felt Varric’s fingers wrapping around her wrists.

“Melix, we’re done here.”

“I-” She looked around wildly. The door blocked them from Dorian and Leliana, Cassandra’s back was to them as she scanned for enemies. It was her last chance. Mel leaned down, grabbing Varric by the face and kissed him, her heart breaking all the while. He kissed her back, fingers tight on her wrists.

“Go home, Mel,” he whispered against her mouth. “Go home and for Maker’s sake, kiss the real me like that, maybe I’ll stop being pig-headed about loving someone besides a woman I can't have for five minutes and do something about it.”

Her laugh was a sob. Varric kissed her again, just a whispered brush of lips on hers. A ghost of what could have been already dead and gone, and then he let her go.

She ran, like the coward she was.

 

***

 

Mel and Dorian reappeared in a flash and Alexius collapsed, defeated. Varric couldn’t figure out what had happened, but judging from the way the pair looked it hadn’t been the same instant he and Cassandra had experienced. They were bloody, exhausted, and the stone mask of the Herald was in full display on Mel’s face.

She faced down King Alistair, offering the rebel mages an alliance with the Inquisition without flinching, overruling Cassandra’s protest with a single sharp word. And then they headed back to Haven.

She’d dug her fingers into his forearm on her way by, not looking at him and it wasn’t until later, when Varric spotted her staring at the fire in a daze, a tear sliding down her face, that he started to realize something was wrong.

Mel was gone. Not in a “the Tevinter mage swapped her body out” way, but in that battlefield shock way Varric had seen far too many times.

Dorian sat beside her, speaking quietly. Mel’s response was equally quiet and she stood, rolling herself into her bed roll on the opposite side of the fire. Dorian watched her go, the man clearly wrestling with something before he stood and gestured at Varric and Cassandra.

“We need to speak.”

And then, in detail, Dorian told them of the future he and Mel had been sucked into. Of a world gone mad. Of an Inquisition defeated by Corypheus because of the death of the Inquisitor. Of both Varric and Cassandra held in a prison of red lyrium, poisoned and dying.

To say that Varric’s skin tried to crawl off him was an understatement.

“But you stopped him?”

Dorian shook his head. “We didn’t stop Corypheus. We merely stopped Alexius from sending us into the future. We have a chance to stop him and to stop all that we saw from happening, but you must understand this has wounded Mel deeply.”

“What happened?”

The Tevinter mage looked at him with a sad smile and his answer was quiet, shaking Varric to the bone. “You died, both of you. You were dying anyway, but you bought us the time we needed to get home.  We watched as the demons killed you. Leliana also,” he said with a shake of his head. “She had to stand and watch or let the whole world fall.” He swallowed, looking over to the lump that was Mel huddled by the fire. “She is not one who takes such things well, I suspect. I suggest watching her for a while. She could become - reckless.”

“I should speak with her.”

Varric caught Cassandra by the arm. “She won’t open up. Maybe later, but right now leave her be.”

 

***

 

Back at Haven Mel endured the loud disapproval from Vivienne, from too many others over her decision to offer the mages a full alliance without so much as a flicker of an eyelash. Until Cullen said something about how dangerous they were and Varric watched the stone mask drop to reveal the fury.

“We’re all fucking dangerous!” Mel snarled. “And there’s more dangerous things coming for us! I did what had to be done. If you don’t like it, I’ll leave with the mages. We’ll close the damn Breach ourselves and you all can have good luck dealing with the aftermath.”

The harsh words startled everyone, except Varric, except Dorian who stood on the other side of the group half hidden by shadows.

Cullen blinked and then, surprisingly, relented. “My apologies, Herald. I didn’t mean to imply you hadn’t thought this through.”

Varric was sure for a second she was going to take a swing at Curly, but Mel nodded. “Apologies accepted. If you’re all done with me, I’m going to try and clean off some of this--” she gestured.

“Meet us in the war room,” Cullen said. “None of this means anything without your Mark.”

A smile flickered, then died in Mel’s eyes. “Thank you, I’ll see you shortly.”

“I’ll skip the war council, but I would like to see this Breach up close if you don’t mind.” Doran shifted against the stone.

“So you’re staying?” Mel asked, the hope thick in her voice.

“Oh, didn’t I mention? The South is so charming and rustic. I adore it to little pieces.”

Varric knew what Dorian was doing, but he was surprised it worked. This time Mel’s smile was genuine and the laugh was as well, though it was edged with shards of glass. He saw Cullen frown and Leliana looked to him, ‘later’ Varric mouthed.

“Well, there’s no one I’d rather be stranded in time with, future or present,” Mel said.

“Excellent choice! But let’s not get ‘stranded’ again anytime soon, yes?” Dorian replied.

She smiled and headed for her room. The others cleared out, leaving Varric and the mage in the silence of the chantry.

“You staying to keep an eye on her or on the Breach?” Varric murmured.

“A little of both, I think.”

Chapter Text

“...Recommend a replacement.”

“Is there anything we can do to change his mind?”

“If anyone can, it’s you. Talk to him.”

 

The exchange with Cassandra burned through Mel’s head as she crossed the courtyard. People called out greetings she answered with only a wave of her hand. Her stomach was in knots as she walked up the stairs. Her mind tangled about the memory of helping Cullen to his quarters that night. The pain he’d been in, his confession about the lyrium.

At least the stupid rumors from that night had died down. She pushed aside the unwelcome thoughts that rose up at that thought.

But now, Cullen thought it best to replace him. Cassandra didn’t agree. Mel didn’t agree.

Can I force my friend to stay in pain for the good of the Inquisition?

She didn’t know.

The box missed her by inches, and she skidded to a halt.

“Maker’s breath! I didn’t hear you enter, I-” Cullen leaned on his desk, head down. “Forgive me.”

“Cullen, if you need to talk?”

“You don’t have to-” He broke off, so clearly in pain that Mel couldn’t stop herself from bolting forward. But Cullen caught himself on the edge of his desk, waved her off. “I never meant for this to interfere.”

“Are you going to be all right?”

His “yes” was automatic, followed by a more uncertain. “I don’t know. Before when I was sick, you didn’t ask what happened, but I was stationed in Ferelden’s Circle when it fell to abominations.”

Mel closed her eyes. “I heard what happened there. Cullen, you don’t have to-”

“No, I’ll tell you.”

And he did, everything from the Circle to Knight-Commander Meredith in Kirkwall. Mel listened, didn’t flinch when he punched his bookcase in frustration. Only when his rage had been spent did she take a step closer.

“You aren’t the same person, Cullen. These things change us for worse or better.” She held her hand up before he could protest. “You said to me - 'Own it, make it part of you, find a way to use it to make yourself stronger. That’s all I’ve been able to figure out over the years. Don’t try to deny it or drown it. That way lies madness and grief.' You were right.” She took his face in her hands. “You are stronger than this. But put aside the Inquisition for a moment, what do you want?”

“I - I want to be free of this.”

She pressed her forehead to his. “Then be free of it. I am here for you, all of us are here for you.”

Cullen sighed, a half smile pulling at his face. “What would I do without you?”

“Flounder, my friend,” she replied. “As I would.”

“I’m interrupting,” Varric said from the doorway on the other side of the office and Mel dropped her hands from Cullen’s face.

“No, not really. Did you need me, or the Commander?”

“You actually.”

“Well, we’ll get out of Cullen’s way.” She crossed to him, and ushered him back out the door.

“So-”

“What?”

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

“Uh, huh.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Mel resisted the urge to shove the dwarf off the battlements.

 

***

 

Varric found her later in the garden, absently shredding an embrium flower

“Are you okay?”

Mel looked up at him and mustered a smile. “I’m fine.”

“If you want to talk-”

“I don’t.” A second smile appeared in an attempt to take the sharpness out of her words. “I appreciate your offer, but it’s personal, Varric.”

He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Sure. Just … don’t hurt him, Mel, please. Curly may seem like a big tough Templar, but he’s a marshmallow and-”

She blinked at him once before her face frosted over. “Is that what you think of me?”

“I’m just-” Varric wasn’t entirely sure where things had gone wrong in this conversation. “Cullen’s a nice guy.”

“And I’m what? A liar and thief, who’s unfit to lead let alone sleep in the commander’s bed. Trust me, I’ve heard it all, already.”

Varric put a hand up. “That’s not what I meant or what I said. Who said that to you?”

“Don’t act concerned now when a moment ago you were telling me not to break Cullen’s heart. Nevermind that you’re the last person I should take relationship advice from.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” she replied, shoving her own hands into her pockets and glaring at him. “That you’re too busy pining for a married woman who betrayed and lied to you to be able to give me advice.”

“Hey! Hold on a second. That’s uncalled for.”

Mel opened her mouth, then snapped her mouth shut, standing and shoving past him.

 

***

“Varric, do you have a moment?”

“What can I do for you, Commander?” Varric was impressed he kept his voice pleasant. It wasn’t fair for him to take any of this out on Cullen, but he was still more than a little annoyed that whatever had happened between the man and Mel had somehow tangled itself around his friendship with her and apparently strangled it.

When he’d just been trying to gently point out that Cullen was perhaps a bit more serious about relationships than Mel.

“Is there a problem with the Inquisitor and you that I need to know about?”

Well, shit.

Varric lifted a careful eyebrow. “Why?”

“I suggested you for a mission this morning and nearly got a dagger through the hand as a reply. There is now a rather large scar on the war table.” Cullen rubbed at the back of his neck, smiling ruefully. “I know you have been close … friends. I thought I would see-” he broke off, grimaced. “This is awkward, but the others refused to involve themselves.”

“It’s fine,” Varric said. “I’m surprised Mel didn’t tell you.”

“Tell me?” Cullen blinked in surprise. “We haven’t spoken for several days, but I’m not sure why she would confide in me.”

“Well it was about you. As in, I was trying to tell her to-” Varric rubbed at his own neck. “This is fucking awkward. We all know about the time you’ve been spending together and the time everyone saw you heading for your quarters late one night. And look, I love Mel, but she’s Mel and you’re you. Plus you’re also my friend and I didn’t want you getting hurt thinking she might want something long term.”

Cullen’s eyebrows nearly hit the ceiling. “She said we’d-”

“No!” Varric squeezed his eyes shut, trying to banish the image that had just taken up residence in his brain. “Bull was teasing. She said you were drunk. It wasn’t a very good cover, Curly. I saw you, we knew you hadn’t been drinking that night. Then, the other day in your quarters when I-”

“Oh,” Cullen said. “So you all thought we’d-” he closed his own eyes. “Maker’s breath.”

“Yeah. Look, don’t worry about it and forget I said anything about Mel. You’re adults. What you do on your time is your business.”

“Varric,” Cullen said with such seriousness that it stopped his babbling. “The Inquisitor and I are not sleeping together. That night, I was … sick. And earlier this week, I’d asked Cassandra to relieve me of my duties. Mel was talking me out of it. As the Inquisitor, as a friend.”

“Sick? Wait, relieve you of your duties, why?”

“I have stopped taking lyrium.”

“You’ve … what?” Everything slammed together into Varric’s head at once. “A shit ton of stuff just made sense to me.” He reached a hand out. “Cullen, this could kill you.”

“You know she said the exact same thing to me that night,” Cullen replied and then laughed. “It might, but it’s necessary. I’m also realizing that it’s necessary to get it out in the open, if I can weather this then perhaps it will help other Templars who wish to make the same choice. Though I would appreciate it if you would keep it to yourself for a while longer.”

“Shit, I owe Mel an apology.”

“You do,” Cullen said. “And she’s probably going to kick your ass. To be honest, you deserve it.” He smiled. “Because if I had those sort of feelings about her, I would have gone into it with my eyes open. As you pointed out, I am an adult.”

“You trying to  make me feel worse, Curly?”

Cullen lifted a shoulder. “She cares about you a great deal, Varric, speaking of feelings. More than anyone here, I think. She cares what you think of her.” He shook his head slowly. “You wounded her.”

Varric swallowed.

“I think you know why too. The pair of you.” Cullen shook his head with a smile. “She may not have confided it in me, but it takes a lot to get Melix Trevelyan to lose her temper the way she did this morning. I’d be very careful about how and when you apologize.”

“She’s never not armed,” Varric muttered. “So just make sure I get buried properly.”

Cullen chuckled. “I think she will not kill you, at least not right away.”

 

***

 

“Go away, Varric.”

It was a risk to try to talk to her with daggers in her hands, but Varric was reasonably sure there were remnants of tears on her face and that erased any personal safety issues he may have had. At this point he’d help her drive the knife in himself. “I’d like to apologize.”

“Go find a Red Templar to apologize to.” Mel stabbed a dagger into the dummy she was currently demolishing and twisted it. “Or better yet, Corypheus.”

“That’s harsh.”

“I mean it. Go away. I don’t want your apology.”

“Okay.” It killed him to do it, but he turned to go.

“You know what really gets me?” She threw the question into the air like one of her daggers. “You’ve never given a single shit about who I sleep with. Bull didn’t bother you. Hawke didn’t. None of the others. So why now?” She didn’t give him a chance to answer, flinging a real dagger into the ground at his feet. It came closer to the toe of his boot than was comfortable, but Varric didn’t move, she would have hit him with it if she’d really wanted to. “I adore Cullen, and had I been the least bit interested in going down that road with him I would have done the same thing I always do and talked about it with him before hand. So what the fuck were you thinking coming after me like that?”

“I don’t know.” He knew it wasn’t the answer she wanted, but it was all he had to give her. All he could admit right now even with Cullen’s words and knowing smile echoing in his brain.

Mel’s fury vanished as abruptly as a fade rift, replaced with a broken look on her face that was worse than any dagger to the heart. “You know,” she said quietly, straightening her shoulders and looking up at the sky. “I expect the judgment from Mother Giselle and the Chantry, because I will never live up to what they think I should be. I expect it from those Orlesians tittering behind their masks trying to pretend they’re better than I am even though the number of their bed partners would put mine to shame. I expect it from the noble houses who love to claim me as one of theirs but look at me as if I am contaminated with the Blight. But I never expected it from you.”

The pain of her words twisted through him and Varric shook his head. “You’re right. Sorry isn’t enough, Mel, but I am.” He put his hands up and backed away. “I’ll leave you be, if you want to talk, you know where to find me.”

Chapter Text

She was gone. A numbness that had nothing to do with the cold of the Frostbacks had settled around Varric’s heart. In truth it had settled around the whole camp the moment the avalanche had rumbled in the distance, but he was going to hoard this pain close and claim it as his own.

Because you’re an idiot, Tethras, and once again you missed your chance.

Melix was gone. She had to be. Sacrificed to save them all. Buried under the rubble of a mountainside. They’d all seen it come crashing down. Watched and heard the screeching dragon as it flew off.

Too much to hope she’d taken Corypheus down with her, but that at least, still lingered.

Cullen put a hand on his shoulder and dug his fingers in briefly as he joined him on the edge of the camp. “Everyone’s settled for now. We’ll start out again at first light.”

They stood in silence for several minutes, the muted sounds of the faltering Inquisition behind them. People injured in body and soul, clinging to what little hope they had left. It would all freeze by morning.

“What are we going to do?” Varric hated the catch in his voice, hated that he had run when Mel shouted at them to go, hated that Cassandra’s sob still echoed in his ears even as she’d grabbed him by the collar and dragged them both away from the dragon.

Away from the Herald.

Yes, think of her as that, it’ll hurt less in the long run.

“I don’t know.” Cullen’s sigh was a wisp of fog on the night air. “Keep fighting? Figure out how to close the rifts that remain. Surely Solas will be able to find a way.” He squinted out into the darkness. “I know you knew the Herald better than I, but I will miss her.”

Varric grunted because he couldn’t get the words out. Didn’t want to put them into the air because it would mean that Melix really was gone. But he had to. “This story took a shit turn, Cullen,” Varric said finally. “The heroes aren’t supposed to die until the end.”

“I know.” Cullen rubbed at the back of his neck. “None of us want to admit it but maybe this is the-”

The noise in the darkness moved them to action, Varric reaching for his crossbow as Cullen drew his sword.

A figure in the blowing snow. Was the green light a trick of his eyes, some hopeful spark that refused to go out. “Is that-” Varric couldn’t even finish the question.

“Maker’s breath, it is her.” Cullen sheathed his sword and started slogging his way through the snow, Varric following in his wake. They reached her as Mel went to her knees.

Left hand pressed to her side, green light of the Mark flickering. Varric could see the blood and he tore his gaze away from it to her face. “Mel?”

“Varric? Cullen? Thank the Maker, I-” She blinked, her blue eyes went glassy and she swayed forward into Cullen’s arms.

The next several minutes were pure chaos. Cullen scooped Mel up and strode into camp shouting for Cassandra. Dorian and Solas sprinted across the camp and Varric found himself wedged into a corner of the tent by Mel’s head as everyone else worked on her - Dorian warming her feet. Solas bent over the wound in her side, blood staining his pale hands.

He heard the noise in the chaos, and looked down to see Mel staring at him. He went down to a knee, peeling off his gloves and touching her face. Her skin was cold under his fingers and he rubbed gently, trying to bring some warmth back. “Hey Hero.”

“I wanted to see you again. Had to tell you-” She broke off, gasping in pain and knotting her fingers into his sleeve.

“Sorry, my darling,” Dorian said. “Feeling coming back into your feet, it’s going to hurt. Varric, Cassandra chafe her hands, get some blood moving back into them.”

“Varric-”

He pressed a kiss to Mel’s temple, rubbing her hand between his own. “I know, Mel,” he murmured, ignoring the looks Cassandra was shooting him. “It’s all right.”

 

***

 

“Varric!” Mel’s scream cut through the battle, freezing several Templars with almost the same effectiveness as Solas’ spells. She cut down the man she’d been fighting, sprinting across the uneven ground and launching herself at the back of the Red Templar Knight who’d hit Varric with his maul, knocking the dwarf across the clearing.

She drove both daggers down into the exposed flesh between his helmet and his chest piece, wrenching them back and forth until the blood fountained up. The knight groaned, a rattling death gurgle and collapsed forward. Mel rode him to the ground, jerking her daggers free and continuing across the field of battle.

“Varric.” She slid to a stop at his side. His eyes were closed and a trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth. “Maker, no. Solas!”

“A little busy, Inquisitor!”

She looked up, swore as another wave of Templars came screaming down from the hill and started to get to her feet.

“Down, boss.” Bull’s order was calm and Mel reacted without hesitation, folding herself over Varric’s prone form while an axe whistled over her head.

“Inquisitor.”

She lifted her head and offered Stitches a worried smile. “He’s still breathing, but it sounds awful.”

“What hit him?”

“That.” She pointed behind her at the fallen Templar’s maul. “Right in the chest.”

“No puncturing is always good. But he’s got broken ribs at least. Help me get these buckles undone.”

“Dalish!” Bull roared. “Come watch over them.”

“Got it, Bull!”

Mel scrambled around. Her shaking, blood-covered fingers fumbled at the buckles on Varric’s side.He groaned as they managed to get it open and it felt like she took a maul to the chest when she saw the ugly purple bruising spreading across his skin.

“What do you need from me?” She asked Stitches, who shook his head.

“See if you can get him to drink this. We’re going to need the elf.”

“I’m just an archer, Stitches, I can’t help you!”

“Talking about Solas!” He hollered back at Dalish and despite the fear crawling in her belly, Mel laughed.

She cupped Varric’s head, threading her fingers through his hair as she lifted him and put the potion to his lips, dribbling a little at a time into his mouth. He coughed and his eyes flew open. “It’s all right, hold still.”

Varric blinked at her, his eyes clearing for a moment before the pain registered. “What hit me?” He coughed and Mel pushed him upright enough for him to spit the blood out.

“That dead guy.”

“Don’t make me laugh, Mel.” He sank back against her the sound of his breath wheezing wrapped itself around her heart.

“It’s payment for scaring the shit out of me,” she replied.

“Says the woman who’s died half a dozen times on me.”

“Asshole.”

“Love you too, Hero.”

Chapter Text

“Now?” Her back was pressed up against his and she could feel his jolt of surprise, or maybe it was the recoil of his crossbow, Mel wasn’t sure. “You want to have this conversation now?”

“We’re about to die, do you have a better time for it?” She snapped, hamstringing a templar before putting her dagger through his throat. “I know you’re mad at me about what I said about Bianca. Just tell me if I fucked anything else up so I can apologize to you and die with a clear conscience.”

“What? What did you say about Bianca? Wait. You think I’m mad at you? How can you even think that? You didn’t fuck anything up. I did.”

“What?” In her shock, Mel narrowly avoided getting spitted by a second templar. She punched the man in the face, cut off his sword arm, and kicked him back. “You fucked up? How, what?”

“See, this is why it’s a bad idea to have this conversation,” Varric replied. He fired again, taking down the last two templars. The roar of a behemoth froze them both and Mel swore.

“I do not want to fight that thing here.” She cast around the carnage of the tiny grotto. “Varric.”

“Get behind me.”

“I’m not watching you die again.” She grabbed his arm. “Go, I’ll boost you up.” She shoved him toward the rock.

“Why are you always so Maker damned reckless?”

“Why are you always so stubborn?” She shoved him again. “Go.”

“I’m not leaving you here!”

Mel blinked. “Are you insane? Of course you’re not, you’ll pull me up after you, Idiot.”

He scrambled up the rock face, leaning back and holding out a hand. Mel grabbed for it, missed, swore, and jumped the second time. Varric’s hand locked on hers and he hauled her up as the templars burst into the grove. A hot slash of pain burst across her side, throwing stars into her eyes. She bit down hard on her lower lip, holding in the cry.

“Come on.” Varric pulled her all the way up as the templars snarled and threw shards of red lyrium. Mel scrambled for purchase as Varric turned and somehow managed to fire past her into the face of the templar trying to climb the rock face after them.

“I can’t believe you thought I was going to stay behind,” she said.

“What was I supposed to think? You’ve had a death wish for months now,” Varric snarled in reply as they ran through the forest.

“A death wish? How could you-”

“Haven, Mel. That damned dragon in Crestwood. Sahrnia Quarry. Rushing into every Maker-damned fight with every templar you can find. Jumping off cliffs onto Pride demons. Oswick. Should I go on?”

“It’s my job, Varric.”

“Your job is not to die for the fucking world!”

“Who’s going to do it if not me?” She waved a hand, wincing at the sharp pain in her side. “That’s the point of all this isn’t it? I’m the hero, it is my job to-” Mel stumbled, went down hard and this time couldn’t stop the cry.

“You’re hurt!”

“It’s fine, we need to keep moving.” She tried to wave him off, but Varric batted her hand away.

“It’s not fine, you’re bleeding. Come on, we need to find a place to hole up. It won’t take those templars long to work their way around and come after us again.” Varric slipped under her arm and lifted her back on her feet.

 

***

 

They staggered onward, Varric sweeping his gaze from side to side, trying to find a decent spot to hide. The ground suddenly shook beneath their feet, giving him an idea. “You up for a bit of a sneak?”

Mel wasn’t tracking all that well, but she nodded. “Why?”

“Best place to hide.” He pointed. “Just have to sneak past some giants and we’ll be safe.”

“You have an odd definition of safe, Tethras.”

“I know, come on.” He had to get her somewhere safe so he could look at her wound before she bled out on him.

They made it across the glen, narrowly avoiding the giants, and Varric lowered Mel to the ground within a little outcropping of ruins. The shriek of a dragon filled the sky.

“You pick the worst hiding places,” she said, trying to shrug out of her leathers, wincing and hissing with the movement.

“Best ones,” he countered, dropping to a knee to help. “No one will be fool enough to follow us in here and if they do? We’ll feed ‘em to the dragon.”

“Ha. There should be something in my pack we can use to bind this up.” Mel leaned back against the stone with a quiet sigh. “I’m fucking tired, Varric.”

“Hey, stay awake for me. Drink this.”

She wrinkled her nose at the potion he handed her but drank it down, gagging a little and then leaning her head back against the stone again. “I’m coming back here and slaughtering every last one of those templars.”

He pulled off his gloves and moved the ruined bits of shirt, cleaning the wound as best he could with water from their supplies. The cut itself wasn’t as bad as he’d thought, she shouldn’t be nearly as - he froze. “Well, shit.”

“What? Whatisit?” Her words were slurred. She blinked down at the wound. “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.” He frowned at the splinter of red lyrium in her side. “We’re going to have to get that out, Mel. Now.”

“Go ahead.”

“It’s going to hurt.”

“Just do it, Varric.” She shoved her sleeve into her mouth and squeezed her eyes shut.

Varric grabbed for the shard with a piece of her ruined shirt the only barrier between him and the lyrium and pulled. It came out with a horrific sound, but that wasn’t worse than the muffled whimper Mel couldn’t quite hide. “Damn it,” he muttered flinging it into the bushes. “I don’t know if there’s more in there but I can’t get to it. We need a mage or someone with more nimble fingers.”

She laughed. “Are you telling me, your fingers aren’t nimble?”

“Hush.” But he chuckled. “You’re high as a kite, aren’t you, Hero?”

“Apparently.”

He wished it were funnier, but if they didn’t get her to help soon things were going to get much worse. Best case scenario the lyrium would poison her. Worst case, it would start to grow.

“Sit up for me so I can wrap this.” He boosted her upright, trying to ignore the way her arms went around his neck, fingers sliding into his hair and her lips skated over his jaw. He couldn’t stop the shudder, felt her lips curve in a smile. “Mel, come on. This is serious.”

“Sorry,” she said, so clearly not. Varric’s hands were shaking by the time he finished and he lowered Mel back to the ground. “Give me a few minutes and we can get going.”

“You’re not going anywhere. I’ll cover you up and go try to find Bull and the others.”

“No, Varric, don’t leave me.” She grabbed his hand.

“Mel, you need help. I’ve got to find the others.”

“Please? I just need to rest for a minute.”

Varric bit back a curse and let her pull him down next to her. “You get five, Hero. Then either we move or you stay here while I get help.”

“Okay. We can talk in the meantime. And don’t try to tell me no. We don’t have anything else to do besides lie here and listen to the trees sing.” Her smile was crooked and her words slurred. Then she snorted. “Five minutes. And here I thought you were a gentleman who would give a girl longer than that.”

“Why do I tolerate you?”

“You love me,” she murmured. “I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had kissed you for real…”

Varric froze. “What?” His question was hoarse, barely a whisper. Mel didn’t answer and the sudden sound of a branch snapping jerked him upright. Varric slid Mel’s unconscious form back to the earth, rolled to his side and grabbed for his crossbow.

Bull skidded to a stop, his hands up. “Varric.”

“Never wanted to kiss you before, Tiny, but I am really glad to see you,” Varric said, hysterical laughter bubbling up in his throat. “Mel’s hurt, took a spike of red lyrium from a Shadow. Where’s Solas?”

“Right here, Child of Stone.” Solas bent over Mel for a moment, touching her side before jerking his hand back. “There is still lyrium in her side. We will need to cut it out.”

“Stiches, get over here!” Bull hollered.

Varric squeezed his eyes shut and willed himself not to throw up.

Chapter Text

“Inquisitor, meet Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall. Hawke, meet Melix Trevelyan, Inquisitor, Herald of Andraste, slayer of demons, etc. I figured you might have some friendly advice for her about Corypheus. You and I did fight him after all.” Varric winked at Mel and then left her alone with the black-haired man.

“Mel, please,” she said, holding her hand out. “I suspect Varric just uses the titles because he’s figuring out how it sounds for the book.”

“Garrett.” Hawke grinned. “You know him well, then.” He was handsome, worn around the eyes in the same way Varric was. Though Hawke’s were a deep blue, like the horizon where the sky met the sea. His calloused fingers closed around hers in a comforting grip, surprising Mel with the sudden influx of images in her brain of those same hands all over her skin.

“We’ve spent some time together.”

“This view reminds me of my home in Kirkwall. I had a balcony that overlooked the whole city. I loved it at first. But after a while, all I could see were the people out there depending on me.”

She boosted herself up onto the battlement next to him, smiling at how Hawke automatically wrapped a hand around her wrist. “You’re lucky it was just a single city. I’ve got half of Thedas.”

“You’re doing everything you can to protect them.”

“Does it ever get any easier?”

“I’ll let you know.”

She chuckled and squinted at the scarred sky. “We got the Breach closed at least. Tell me about Corypheus. Varric said you fought him before.”

“Fought and killed. The Grey Wardens were holding him, and he somehow used his connection to the darkspawn to influence them.”

“Corypheus got into their heads. Messed with their minds. Turned them against each other,” Varric said.

“If the Wardens have disappeared they could have fallen under his control again.”

“Well, shit,” Mel muttered.

They talked for the better part of an hour, Varric throwing his opinions in as warranted, Mel alternating between watching Hawke and trying to pretend like she wasn’t watching Hawke.

“I need a drink. Who’s game?” She shifted, legs numb and felt Hawke’s hand tighten around her wrist, his thumb rubbing against her skin and his eyes dark.

“Tragic ending to the story if you fell off the battlement.”

“That’s true. Varric seems to think I’m destined for a tragic ending regardless.” She felt her lips curve and couldn’t stop herself from leaning forward just a little, watching his pupils dilate and his eyes flick to her mouth.

“You too, huh? I feel like that’s a great reason to make sure I enjoy living now.”

“A man after my own heart,” she murmured.

“Do you two mind? The world’s kind of ending while you’re busy flirting.”

Hawke’s grin was so sharp it stole Mel’s breath, though that could have also been because he scooped her off the battlement and for a moment held her in the air with his mouth inches from hers.

“I should never have introduced you two.”

“You love us and you know it,” she said without looking away.

Hawke chuckled and set her down while Varric rolled his eyes.

 

***

 

She stretched in the silence of the courtyard. Dawn was just lighting the sky on the edges, turning the black to a mauve that would spread and catch fire with golden sunshine. The sounds of the party in the tavern spilled out as the door opened and Mel didn’t turn as Hawke slipped his arms around her, the warmth of his chest pressing into her back.

“I was half afraid I’d missed my chance,” he murmured, leaning down to brush his lips along the curve of her ear.

“The hazards of being a legend. I thought you’d have a better chance of slipping away if I left first.” Mel didn’t suppress the shudder, hours of long looks and only the barest of touches in passing had her nerves humming. “My rooms are this way.”

“Rooms, huh?”

“Don’t get too excited,” she said, linking her fingers through his with a grin as she headed for the main stairs. “One is nothing but random building materials and the other has empty barrels in it. But the view is nice and Bull ordered the bed for me from Par Vollen. It’s awesome.”

They slipped through the first door, and Mel’s heart skipped a beat as Hawke pressed her back to it, the latch closing with a little snick. “I have been thinking of this,” he murmured, lowering his mouth to hers. “Since I first put my hands on you.”

“What a coincidence,” she breathed. “I’ve been thinking of those hands since you first put them on me.” Those same hands skimmed down her sides to her hips, lifting her to her toes as Hawke deepened the kiss. Mel dug her fingers into his shirt and opened for him.

 

***

 

“I’ll stay.”

Mel closed her eyes, shook her head. “No, Hawke." Her voice broke. "Stroud-”

“Of course, my lady.” Stroud didn’t seem the least bothered as he patted Hawke on the shoulder. “This is a Warden problem, after all.”

She felt Hawke’s fingers around her wrist, pulling her forward toward the rift, away from the monster. Away from Stroud.

She would hear the whispers later, from sharp-pointed tongues. Whispers both real and not of how the Inquisitor had sacrificed a Warden to save a Champion. That she had done it purely on emotion. That she hadn’t thought it through or thought about what the loss of Stroud would do to the Wardens.

They were right and they were wrong. She had saved Hawke, let Stroud die, but not for the reasons they’d all thought.

She’d done it because she’d heard his voice as they stood on that bridge. Varric hadn’t been with them, he’d been safe in the real world, but she’d heard what he’d said to her before they rode for Adamant in the cold desert morning.

“I know you don’t really have control of these things, Hero, but if you can at all help it. Don’t let Hawke sacrifice himself for anything else? He’s given enough as it is.”

Chapter Text

The moon was full, the autumn breeze carried with it the scent of dying leaves and cold weather on the way. Mel pulled her scarf a little closer as she walked down the main steps of Skyhold and headed for the tavern. She spotted Cullen leaving and raised a hand in greeting.

The commander staggered, and Mel rushed forward, catching him around the waist and bracing herself to take the weight. “Cullen! Are you all right?”

“Fine, Inquisitor. I just-”

“You’re not fine.” She reached a hand up touching his clammy cheek. He wasn’t drunk, but sick and her heart skipped a few beats in concern. “Where were you headed? You should go to the infirmary.”

“No, there’s nothing they can do.” He straightened. “Thank you, Inquisitor. I’ll be all right.”

She caught him when he took another step and nearly face planted. “I think you need my help, Cullen, so stop being a stubborn ass and let me?”

“Inquisitor, Commander? Are you all right?”

“Fine!” Mel put on a bright smile at the pair of soldiers who passed them. “I’m afraid I may have convinced the commander he could out drink Bull.”

The soldiers muffled their laughter. Cullen’s hand tightened on her hip. “Do you need help?”

“I’ve got him,” she replied. “It’s my own fault.”

The pair moved away, but Mel kept her grip on Cullen before he could escape. “You start yelling at me now, Commander, they’ll come back and appearances aside you are very clearly not drunk.”

“By tomorrow morning the whole camp will think me a drunk.”

She smiled up at him, pale and sweating in the moonlight. “Better than the secret you’re keeping, I suspect. And I won’t pry, Cullen, though I thought we were friends and I care that you’re in pain. Whatever the cause.”

Emotions chased over his face and Cullen closed his eyes for a moment. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Mel. Can we go to my quarters? I will tell you about it.”

They traversed the empty courtyard and went slowly up the stairs to Cullen’s office. She could feel every jolt of pain coursing through him, but bit her tongue, focusing instead on mounting the steps.

“This is good.” Cullen sank into the chair at his desk.

“You’re not sleeping at your desk,” Mel replied. “But I’ll let you rest for a bit and get that armor off you or we’ll likely both fall to our deaths trying to get up that fool ladder.”

Cullen’s chuckle was weary, interrupted by a hissing breath of pain that put Mel back on her feet.

“Cullen, you really do need-”

“Nothing, Mel.” He caught her by the wrist. “There’s nothing that will help.” He lifted his head. “As leader of the Inquisition, there’s something I must tell you and it may as well be now.”

“Whatever it is, I’m willing to listen.”

“Right. Thank you.” Cullen managed a smile. “Lyrium grants Templars our abilities, but it controls us as well. Those cut off suffer. Some go mad, others die”

Mel’s breath caught and she sank down onto his desk.

“We’ve secured a reliable source of lyrium for the Templars here, but I - no longer take it.”

“You stopped?”

“When I joined the Inquisition.” He looked up at her. “It’s been months now.”

“Cullen, this could kill you.” She reached out to touch his face.

“I know. After what happened in in Kirkwall, I couldn’t. I will not be bound to the Order or that life any longer. Whatever the suffering, I accept it. But I would not put the Inquisition at risk. I’ve asked Cassandra to - watch me. If my ability to lead is compromised I will be relieved from duty.”

“You’re in pain.”

Cullen leaned into her hand for just a moment before he pushed to his feet. “It comes and goes. But it is necessary. The Inquisition’s army must take priority, should anything happen I’ll defer to Cassandra’s judgment.”

“I understand.” She glanced upward and Cullen groaned.

“You’re still going to make me climb that, aren’t you?”

“You’ll sleep in a bed, Cullen.” She grinned. “Yours or mine, take your pick.”

His laugh was startled and rusty with the still sharp edges of pain. “I think I’ll take my chances on the ladder. The rumors will be swirling tomorrow as it is.”

“Right then. Armor off first.”

“You sound like Mia,” he grumbled but complied.

“Speaking of your sister, have you written her back?” Mel undid the buckles on one side of Cullen’s armor as he sighed.

“Yes, I did. And she’s already written me again. See what you’ve done. She wants to know all about you.”

Mel laughed as she helped Cullen lift the armor over his head and watched him carefully, ready to catch him if he stumbled. “I’ll write her myself, if that will help.”

“Please don’t. The last thing I need is you two in league with each other.” Cullen took a deep breath as he grabbed for the ladder. “Maker’s breath.”

“Cullen, perhaps you should sleep in my bed. I can take the couch, or-”

“No.” He shook his head with a smile. “I can make it, though I think staying out of the way will be best, Mel. I don’t want to fall and crush the Inquisitor.”

“The rumors for that would certainly be exciting.” She laughed and headed for the door. “Good night Cullen. I hope you sleep well.”

He didn’t answer until he’d made it to the top. “Same to you, Mel. And...thank you.”

“Any time. I mean that.” She waved and closed the door behind her.

 

***

 

“So?” Bull dragged the word out as he kicked a chair out for Mel the next morning at breakfast. Varric grinned at her raised eyebrow.

“So what?”

“I heard a funny thing this morning.” Bull pointed with his fork. “It involved you and our illustrious commander being seen staggering toward his quarters late last night.”

Varric blinked, that was not what he’d expected the Qunari to say. Even more unexpected was Mel didn’t deny it. Instead she smiled tightly and wrapped her hands around her mug of tea and Varric’s heart did a panicked little flop in his chest.

“You mean it’s true?” Bull’s eye went wide. “Huh, gotta admit I did not see this coming.”

“Nothing is coming.” She closed her eyes briefly when Bull snickered. “He had too much to drink. I helped him back to his quarters and made sure he didn’t break his neck.”

She was lying. Varric had seen Cullen leave the tavern last night. He’d looked a little paler than usual and his hands had been shaky but he hadn’t been drunk.

“Sure boss, he had maybe half an ale all night. But hey, I’m just saying as a friend I can help with the cuming issue, if you both need-”

“I said drop it,” Mel snarled, pushing away from the table with such force her cup tipped over and spun in a slow circle.

“Well,” Bull said, watching Mel stomp across the room, people scattering out of her way. “That’s interesting. If I didn’t know any better I’d say our Inquisitor has some feelings for our commander.”

Varric choked on his breakfast. “What?”

“Think about it,” Bull replied. “One - Cullen was sober last night and you and I both know it. Two - normally she’s coy but confirming of whatever escapade she’d been involved in the night before. I haven’t ever see her act like that about sex.”

“Huh,” Varric said, staring after Mel’s retreating figure, unsure of what to do about the feeling coiling in his chest. “Well, shit.”

Chapter Text

“I am going to kill Leliana,” Mel gasped as she vaulted the low wall between the garden and the cemetery after Varric. The shouting growing in volume behind them as the guards of the Lady Pasternack’s estate continued their chase. “Easy job, in and out, the pair of you will be fine.” She mimicked the spymaster’s voice as she ran. “Don’t get caught, Herald.”

“In here!” Varric grabbed her by the wrist, shouldering open the tomb and practically tossing her inside before pulling the door shut behind himself.

“That was what did it, you know,” Mel said, looking up at Varric, blinking the rain from her eyes. She was drenched, crammed into a low bench, the dwarf right in her face in the tiny space. “She jinxed-”

Varric put a hand over her mouth. Raised an eyebrow and looked to the side.

Right, the guards.

She lifted a shoulder, smiling against his hand and watching as he rolled his honey-colored eyes at the ceiling. He’d been in the middle of picking a lock when the alarm was sounded so his hand was bare on her skin, warmer than the raindrops still clinging.

Mel was suddenly - inappropriately - aware of how close they were. How her fingers were tangled in the front of his blasted coat. How her stone seat put her just slightly below his eye level.

Mel couldn’t stop herself from looking at his mouth and when she looked back those eyes were focused on hers with an indecipherable expression. Varric pulled his hand from her mouth, fingers leaving her skin briefly before he ran them along her cheek and into her hair.

They’d been flirting for weeks. Varric one of the few solid things about this impossible new life Mel had fallen into. She lifted her chin, tightened her fingers in his coat, watched his lips curve into a smile and suddenly wanted.

“Dangerous idea, Hero.” His voice was barely a whisper, a scrape of stone on steel. She leaned forward anyway desperate for the taste of him despite the precarious situation.

“Any sign of them?”

They both froze, mouths almost touching, at the voice just outside the door of the tomb.

“No, sir. I think they escaped. We’ve still got patrols out.”

“Fine mess of things.” The heavy sigh was amazingly Ferelden. “Her ladyship doesn’t think anything was stolen. I didn’t get a look at the thieves, did you?””

“No, sir. Could have been anyone. With the fighting between the mages and Templars spreading the bandits seem to have taken it as a personal challenge to expand their operations.”

“That’s all we need. All right. Tell the patrols to do one more sweep and then head back to the estate. I’m going to tell Lady Pasternack the bad news.”

The voices faded, Mel felt Varric shift, knew he’d pulled away and forced herself to release her grip on his coat. He still had his hand in her hair and they stayed that way in silence for so long the pounding of her heart drowned out everything else.

“Mel?” Varric leaned in so his mouth was by her ear.

“Yeah?”

“I can’t turn around, so I’m going to have to back out of here. If there’s still a guard in the area, be ready to run again.”

“Got it.” She shifted, felt his hand flex in her hair and his lips, just for a moment were pressed to the skin of her cheek.

Then he was gone and she sighed as she followed him into the rain

 

***

 

“Need help, Hero?”

“Varric, I swear to the Maker if you ask me one more time - I’m just going to pick you up and hit the door with you until it opens.”

He grinned and rubbed a imaginary smudge off Bianca before setting her on the nearby desk of the abandoned mansion. Mel hadn’t even turned away from the lock she’d been trying to pick for the last half hour to issue the threat. “You can’t lift me. Nice try though.”

He should have known better. After all this time the one thing that Mel couldn’t resist was a challenge. Issued intentionally or not, it was like waving a sheep in front of a hungry dragon.

She’d dropped her shoulder so that when she hit him, it landed in his stomach and gave her enough leverage to lift him off his feet. Varric registered her hoot of triumph and the fact that she made it two steps before his weight caught up with her and she collapsed with him on top of her.

She didn’t move and Varric rolled off her with a string of vicious swears. “Damn it, Mel. Are you hurt?” He grabbed her and half-dragged, half rolled her into his lap.

Mel’s giggled turned into full-blown laughter. “Andraste’s tits, Varric, it hurt less when that Northern Hunter fell on me. Are you actually made of stone?” She demanded, grabbing his shoulder to pull herself upright but only succeeding in dragging him off-balance and on top of her.

No, he was not made of stone, Varric thought as he managed to catch himself with a palm slapped to the floor above her shoulder, his other hand had somehow moved to cushion the back of her head, keeping it from cracking on the marble. He felt Mel’s indrawn breath because her mouth was all but touching his, her body laid out underneath his.

“Hey Boss, you done with that … door?” Bull’s booming question trailed off as he came to a stop and looked down at them.

She jerked and Varric rolled away from her, getting to his feet and brushing himself off. He knew Bull was watching but he refused to look at the Qunari.

Mel scrambled to her feet. “I was proving  to Varric I could lift him,” she declared, her voice slightly higher pitched than normal as she stomped back to the door.

“Something got lifted all right,” Bull murmured, grinning at Varric.

“Watch yourself, Tiny.” Varric grabbed for Bianca and left the room as fast as his feet would allow.

Chapter Text

The Iron Bull liked watching people. It was one of the reasons why he was good at his job. But since joining the Inquisition, he especially liked watching Mel. She’d caught him a couple of times, turning to give him a slow smile full of promise. He’d taken her up on that promise. It was a more than enjoyable way to spend the time, and they would part ways just as easily as they’d come together when the time came.

There was a shriek, followed by a splash.

Bull looked over his shoulder and chuckled as the Herald of Andraste emerged from Lake Luthias, sputtering under a curtain of red hair and swearing revenge on the dwarf who’d tossed her into the water in the first place.

“It’s like minding children,” Cassandra said mildly.

Bull pulled his gaze away from the pair. There was a second shriek, a second splash, and then Varric’s low chuckle mixing with Mel’s laughter.

“He’s distracting her, Seeker.”

Cassandra raised an eyebrow and Bull shrugged.

The fight earlier had been brutal. Clean up even worse. He’d watched Mel hold the hand of a mortally wounded Templar who’d been barely old enough to shave, whispering the Chant of Light against his ear as she'd ended his life with a dagger to the heart. He'd watched her walk away, shoulders shaking with the effort of keeping the sobs inside instead of letting them out into the air.

He’d also watched Varric watch her, a look of anguish on the dwarf’s face that was enough to move Bull to put a hand on his shoulder and squeeze.

“We can keep her safe from a lot of things. This one’s a little harder,” he’d murmured.

Varric had taken it exactly as he’d wanted him too and when they’d hit the lake had suggested a rest, claiming - falsely - tired legs. Then he’d convince Mel to help him pick the Blood Lotus growing on the water’s edge. Not long after she’d been laughing.

Varric could get a laugh out of her better than anyone, even Sera.

The laughter cut off and Bull glanced back again. Mel was on her knees, face buried into Varric’s chest, shoulders heaving again, this time her sobs breaking the air while the dwarf held her close. Bull could see his lips moving but they were too far away to make out whatever words of comfort he was offering up against Mel’s wet hair.

Cassandra frowned, but Bull stuck out a hand to stop her before she could get up. “She’s all right, Seeker. Let Varric handle this.”

 

***

 

He’d noticed the pattern shortly before the last time he and Mel had slept together. Out on patrol in Emprise du Lion, late one night on watch with nothing to do but listen to the wolves howl and listen to Dorian complain about the cold until he’d grabbed the mage and hauled him against his side. “Stop fussing,” he said. “I’m a furnace.”

“Your Inquisitor won’t get jealous?” Dorian teased. The man was incapable of not flirting, putting a lie to his claims of dislike for being so close to a Qunari mercenary. Or maybe just one in particular.

“She’s not the jealous type, plus she’s not mine. Mel's not anyone's really, but...” He hooked a thumb back at the fire.

Dorian looked and arched a perfect eyebrow. Mel was bundled up against the cold, her cowled head resting on Varric’s shoulder. Varric’s arm was around her and she was curled against his side as close as she could get, one leg draped over his. “That’s new?”

“Not really,” Bull said. “If you watch, she ends up glued to his side at some point during the night on a regular basis; and a lot more during the day than either of them realize.”

“Does it bother you?”

Bull shrugged, dragging Dorian a little closer with the movement. “No. Why should it? Like I said, she’s not mine.”

“I worry for her.” Dorian’s admission was quiet, floating on the frozen air. “This is a hard enough task, but that one has a gentle heart and it hardens by the day. Redcliffe was very difficult for her.”

“Mage shit.”

“I suppose. But more like love shit. I’d thought at the time that having to watch her companions sacrifice themselves was what broke her. And it was, in a way. She loves us all deeply. It’s who she is.” Dorian shrugged, glanced again at the sleeping pair. “But I think it was watching him die that really broke her. She has not been the same since.”

“Fucking mage shit.” Bull growled again, but then grinned when Dorian poked a finger into his ribs. “Careful, Tevinter, unless you want to end up on your back.”

“Are you flirting with me, Qunari?”

“Might be.”

Dorian grumbled but settled against him and Bull smiled into the dark.

 

***

 

“So?” Bull dragged the word out as he kicked a chair out for Mel the next morning at breakfast. Varric grinned at her raised eyebrow.

“So what?”

“I heard a funny thing this morning.” Bull pointed with his fork. “It involved you and our illustrious commander being seen staggering toward his quarters late last night.” He saw the dwarf blink out of the corner of his eye, but Mel didn’t react.

Instead she smiled tightly and wrapped her hands around her mug of tea.  

“You mean it’s true?” Bull widened his eye in mock shock. “Huh, gotta admit I did not see this coming.”

“Nothing is coming.” She closed her eyes briefly when he snickered. “He had too much to drink. I helped him back to his quarters and made sure he didn’t break his neck.”

Interesting, Mel was normally a much better liar. Bull had seen Cullen leave the tavern stone cold sober last night. He was reasonably sure Varric had too, judging by the frown on his face.

“Sure boss, he had maybe half an ale all night. But hey, I’m just saying as a friend I can help with the cuming issue, if you both need-”

“I said drop it,” Mel snarled, pushing away from the table with such force her cup tipped over and spun in a slow circle.

“Well,” Bull said, watching her stomp across the room, people scattering out of her way. He held in the grin that threatened when he shifted his gaze to the dwarf who’d also been watching the Inquisitor and picked his next words carefully. “That’s interesting. If I didn’t know any better I’d say our Inquisitor has some feelings for our commander.”

Krem raised an eyebrow, but stayed silent.

Varric choked on his breakfast. “What?”

“Think about it,” Bull replied. “One - Cullen was sober last night and you and I both know it. Two - normally she’s coy but confirming of whatever escapade she’d been involved in the night before. I haven’t ever see her act like that about sex.”

“Huh,” Varric said, staring after Mel’s retreating figure. “Well, shit.”

“Cruel, Chief,” Krem murmured after Varric left.

“Not in the least.” Bull stretched. “That one needs a fire lit under his ass before he’ll get moving.”

Besides, he knew there was something going on with Cullen, he just hadn’t been able to figure out what. And if he’d learned anything this morning it was that whatever had happened last night between Mel and Cullen - it hadn’t been sex and she knew the secret.

 

***

 

“There’s the dreadnaught. That brings back memories,” Bull sighed. The dreadnaught fired on the Venatori ship and he laughed. “Nice one.”

Mel was silent at his side, moving only to wipe the rain from her face. “Bull.”

“Crap.” He knew Mel had seen the Venatori at the same time he had, possibly sooner. She was getting spooky good with the assassin training.

“The Chargers need to hold that position, Bull.” Gatt’s warning cut through the rain.

“They do that, they’re dead.”

“And if they don’t? The Venatori retake it and the dreadnaught is dead. You’d be throwing away an alliance between the Inquisition and the Qunari. You’d be declaring yourself Tal-Vashoth. With all you’ve given the Inquisition half the Ben-Hassrath think you’ve betrayed them already!”

Mel’s intake of breath was sharp and Bull didn’t have to see her to know she had tightened her grip on her daggers.

“I stood up for you, Hissrad,” Gatt said. “I told them you would never become Tal-Vashoth.”

“They’re my men ,” Bull growled.

“I know, but you need to do what’s right, Hissrad. For the alliance and the Qun.”

“This isn’t his call,” Mel’s voice was quiet, barely louder than the rain pounding down on them, but it rang like a dragon’s scream. “It’s mine. Bull, call the retreat. Get them out of there,” Mel’s order was quiet, but firm. No hesitation and Bull was surprised by the burst of relief in his chest.

“Don’t.”

“I am the Inquisitor,” she said with a look at Gatt that could have seared the flesh off bone were it not for the incessant downpour. “Those are my people down there. Bull, tell them to retreat.”

He blew the horn, could see Krem give a nod and then the Chargers melted back into the forest as the first Venatori crested the hill.

“All these years, Hissrad, and you throw away all that you are. For this? For them?”

“His name is Iron Bull,” Mel replied, voice still even. “And he is also mine. It’s time for you to go.” Her daggers were still in her hands and for a second Bull thought she might use them on the Ben-Hassrath agent.

But Gatt backed down first, snarled a wordless curse and stalked off through the rain. Bull turned his gaze back to the beach and watched as the Venatori mages lit the dreadnaught up.

“Bull, when the dreadnaught sinks, we cou-”

“Sinks? Qunari dreadnaughts don’t sink.” He pulled Mel back, turning slightly as the ship exploded. It was unlikely any of the shrapnel would reach them this far, but he’d seen weirder things lately.

Like him, becoming a fucking Tal-Vashoth.

“Come on,” he said with a sigh. “Let’s get back to my boys.”

 

***

 

“Bull!”

“I got it!” He punched one assassin, kept himself between Mel and the other. They hadn’t been ordered to kill her but no way was he letting her take a stray dagger. Especially since it was likely poisoned. The burning in his shoulder started.

Yeah, poisoned.

Ebost issala, Tal-Vashoth .”

He pitched the man over the battlements. “Yeah, yeah. My soul’s dust. Yours is scattered all over the ground, though, so…” He grunted as the dagger buried in his shoulder reminded him if its presence with a second burst of pain and he pulled it free, tossing it to the stone. “Sorry, boss. I thought I might need backup. Guess I’m not even worth sending professionals for.”

“You knew the assassins were coming?”

“A little change in the guard rotation tipped me off.”

“A little warning would have been nice.” She stared at him flatly and gestured with her empty hands. “I’m not much good as backup without my weapons.”

Oh, he knew that tone. Bull grinned. He was in trouble. “I’m fine, Boss.”

“You could have been killed!”

“Mel.” He scooped her up into a hug, keeping her away from his injured shoulder, grunting when she managed to kick him in the thigh and pressed his cheek to hers. “No biting.”

She did anyway, but not hard, and Bull chuckled, kissing her before he set her back down. “Unless you had some Ben-Hassrath training I’ve missed out on, this needed to stay a secret.”

“Assassin, remember?” she grumbled.

“You’re a baby assassin, Mel. But I do adore you.”

“Are you all right?”

“Fine. Hurt myself worse fooling around in bed.” That made her grin though it faded quickly.

“The knife could be poisoned.”

“Oh, they definitely used poison. Saar-Qamek . Liquid form.”

“Bull!”

“If I hadn’t been dosing myself with the antidote I’d be going crazy and puking up my guts right now. As it is, it stings like shit, but that’s about it.”

“I’d hoped the Ben-Hassrath would let you go.”

He could see the wheels turning in her head already and reached out to touch her face with a smile. “They did, Mel. Sending two guys with blades against me? That’s not a hit, it’s a formality. Just making it clear that I’m Tal-Vashoth.” He sighed and shook his head. “Tal-Va-fucking-shoth.”

“You’re not Tal-Vashoth. You don’t follow the Qun. You’re Iron Bull, mercenary captain for the Inquisition. You’re mine,” she said vehemently.

“You keep talking like that, boss. You’re going to make Varric jealous.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” He looped his good arm around her shoulders. “Let’s go get a drink.”

“We should probably get that looked at first and let Leliana know what happened.”

Bull grunted. “True. Hey boss?”

“Yeah?”

“Whatever happened. Whatever I am now. I’m right where I want to be. You need an ass kicked. The Iron Bull is with you.”

Chapter Text

“You okay?”

“Just tired.”

“You did good, Hero. Saved the empress. Saved Orlais. Looked good while doing it.”

Mel smiled, leaning on the balcony. “Saving the world through bullshit, remember? We heroes are good at that.”

“I’m not the hero here.” Varric chuckled. “All I did was listen to people talk about how great my books are. You did all the heavy lifting.”

“True.” She didn’t look at him, but grinned when he bumped his shoulder into hers. “Dance with me?”

“I’m not much of a dancer these days. Or ever, really.” He looked tired too and she knew he was sore. A fear demon had batted her across the room into him, both landing in a tangled heap after hitting the wall but miraculously uninjured.

She smiled and held out her hand, dropping into a curtsy because she knew it would make him laugh. “Me either. Care to fumble our way through it, Master Tethras?”

Varric’s eyes sparkled as he took her hand. “I suppose I would be remiss if I said no, Lady Trevelyan.”

Mel laughed in surprised delight when he spun her, though she was grateful Varric didn’t seem to notice the way her laughter caught when she came to a stop against his chest. His hand slid over her back and Mel pressed her cheek to his temple with a quiet sigh. It was done, the empress was safe. One more piece of the Redcliffe horror put to rest. One more brick in the wall that would keep Varric and all the others safe.

They would need to head for the Western Approach to meet with Stroud and Hawke almost as soon as they got home from the palace, and then-

“Stop that,” he murmured.

“What?”

“Thinking ahead to what’s next.”

“I wasn’t-”

“Liar.”

She pinched him, giggling when he yelped and pulled her closer in self-defense as their dance turned into a wrestling match and Varric scooped her over his shoulder. He spun her in a circle until she begged for him to stop and dropped her back to her feet.

“You are awful.” She threw her arms around him, felt his arms tighten around her. His breath was warm on her throat, somehow twisting her into knots and relaxing her at the same time. She knew nothing would hurt her, not while he was around. “Varric?”

“Yeah?” He released her, taking her hand again and resuming the dance as if nothing had happened.

“Tell me a story?”

“Once upon a time there lived a beautiful princess who was the most fearsome fighter in all the land…”

 

***

 

“Come on, Hero. I brought you tea.”

Mel grumbled, but lifted her head, peering through her red curls at the steaming mug in Varric’s hand. “Gimme.”

It was early morning and the tavern was mostly empty. Dorian was face down on the table opposite from Mel. Sera was under it, snoring lightly. Blackwall was passed out in the corner. While Cassandra and the rest of the Inquisitor’s team had found their way back to their beds after the celebration.

“Why don’t I get tea?” Bull asked from where he was sprawled on a nearby bench.

“I don’t love you,” Varric replied.

“I’m hurt, Varric. That hurts.”

He chuckled and sat down next to Mel, sliding the mug over to her. “For the dragon slayer.”

She took it and sighed as she contemplated the steam. He knew she was trying to figure out how to drink it without lifting her head again. “Bull made me drink a lot, Varric.”

“Yes, I saw. He twisted your arm.”

“Why are you so mean? I thought you loved me.”

He wrapped his arm around her, shifting her into a sitting position until her head was resting against his shoulder. “I do, Hero. Come on and drink. Try not to spill it on me.”

Mel huffed in protest and grabbed for the mug, sending tea sloshing dangerously around the inside. Varric stole it from her with a sigh and held it up to her mouth.

Several minutes and two near-misses later and Mel had drank the mug and was snuggled against his side while Varric rubbed at the back of her neck. “Better?”

“Much.” She sat up with a wince and kissed his cheek. “I should go get changed. I’ve got a war table meeting soon. Thanks, Varric, I love you.”

Mel slid off the bench and stumbled for the door, untangling the remnants of her braid with her fingers as she went. Varric stood and caught Bull looking at him. “What?”

“Nothing.” The Qunari grinned and laid back down on the bench, humming to himself.

Chapter Text

“We need to do something.” Cullen shared a look with Leliana and Cassandra.

“What are we supposed to do? I hate to admit it but I don’t think there’s anything we can do to fix this,” Leliana said. “My people saw them headed into the basement and then Varric came up not five minutes after and punched a tree. Mel went through the castle to her rooms more than ten minutes after that. Neither of them is talking and no one else saw a thing. I hate to admit it but I don’t know what happened.”

“This whole thing is ridiculous, but I’m sure it’s Varric’s fault.” Cassandra crossed her arms. “I will make her accept his apology.”

Cullen had to swallow down the laugh. “With respect, Cassandra, I’m not sure any of us could make Mel do anything.”

“Cullen, something has to be done. Mel gets entirely too reckless when they’re fighting. She threw herself off a cliff at a Pride Demon, if we hadn’t been there she would have--” Cassandra chopped off the words and the three advisors shared the grim look.

“I have a potential solution, but it’s risky,” Leliana volunteered finally, chewing on her lip in hesitation.

“At this point I think we’re all agreed that risky isn’t something we can avoid.” Cullen leaned on the war table. “What is it?”

“There’s a mission to the Graves. It’s not particularly difficult, but it requires a delicate touch. I’d been holding onto it until we could figure out the best way to handle it. A pair of rogues could manage it though.”

“You want to send them out into the Emerald Graves alone? Are you mad?” Josephine demanded.

Leliana shrugged a shoulder. “I said it was risky. Yes, any number of things could go wrong. For starters, they could refuse and we can’t very well order them to go.”

“They could be captured. Killed. Eaten by a dragon. Kill each other.” Cassandra waved her hands in the air.

“Send Bull and the Chargers with them to start, but have Bull peel off with different orders once they get to the Graves. Keep him in the area close enough to do a rescue if necessary.,” Cullen poked at the map, “We’ve got some bandits to handle in the area that will give Bull a bit of a fight but no real challenge. Mel won’t bail on a job out in the field.” A smile curved his scarred lip. “And Varric won’t abandon her to work alone.”

“Very good, Commander.” Cassandra smiled.

“I’ll let Bull in on this, unless either of you have any objections? He’s probably figured it out anyway and he’ll be able to manage any last minute protests.”

“Do it.” Cullen nodded.

 

***

 

“What do you mean leaving?” Mel refused to look in Varric’s direction as she stared up at Bull.

“Well, not leaving leaving, boss. We’re going--didn’t you read the report?”

She hadn’t. Well, she’d glanced at it, saw they were going to the Emerald Graves with the Chargers and then ignored the rest. Maker’s breath. Mel snatched the paper from Bull’s hand with a hiss of displeasure that was as much as herself as the Qunari standing in front of her with an infuriating smile on his face. She scanned through the initial mission brief to the note at the bottom.

 

Inquisitor -

Please be advised the trek out to the Emerald Graves is in part a ruse to throw Samson off. You and Varric will split off from the Chargers and sneak into what we suspect is a cache hold for Samson. Be advised, we don’t want them to know we know about this location and you are to infiltrate, retrieve what information you can and get out again. We felt it best to send as quiet a team as possible. You and Varric have the skills. Bull and the Chargers will provide distraction on the far side of the Graves for you both. Good luck and Maker go with you.

Cullen

 

She crumpled the note in her fist. The first stirrings of pain she’d tried so hard to bury were resurfacing. “I can’t--” She cleared her throat. “This isn’t going to work.”

Don’t look at him. Don’t look.

“I’ll go by myself,” she said. “Varric can go with you.”

“What boss?”

“Like hell you will.” Varric’s grated protest made her jerk but she kept her eyes on Bull.

“Boss.” Bull tilted his head to the side. “It’s going to take two of you to get in there. You need someone watching your back.”

“Then you’ll come with me.”

“Boss,” said in that infinitely patient tone. “I can’t sneak anywhere. You know this.” Bull pointed at his horns.

“Dorian?”

The mage held his hands up. “Don’t look at me, darling. Cullen said the two of you. Besides, I’m too shiny for stealth.”

“Fine,” Mel snarled, grabbing her pack and starting off into the forest. The words she wanted to say choking her with their sharp edges.

 

***

 

Varric followed Mel as she slipped and scrambled her way over the moss-covered tree roots. He kept an eye out from behind, though the forest was quiet this late in the day. The silence stretched for an hour, two, well into sunset with shadows falling among the trees.

“Mel.”

She jerked like he’d shot her with his crossbow, her pace slowed only by the pause before she climbed over a root so large he had to go around it.

“Mel, we should stop and make camp.” When she stopped and turned on him, he pointed over to the sheltered ruins off to his left. For a heartbeat he thought she was going to take off again, but she nodded and reversed course to head in the direction he’d pointed.

They’d spent plenty of nights like this, quiet and watchful in the dark, but this silence was strained and painful. Varric had opened his mouth to say something half a dozen times, only to snap it shut again. Mel ate, rolled herself in her blanket after a brusque, “Wake me when it’s my turn to watch,” and was quickly asleep.

He stood watch for far longer than he should have, only moving back to camp as the sky started to lighten. Mel was awake, crouched by the embers of the fire, feeding twigs into it. She glanced at him, silently grabbed her daggers and walked away from camp.

Well, shit. This was going to be a long few days.

He was right, unfortunately. Three days of sneaking their way past templars and giants and Freemen. Three days of frozen silence from Mel.

Part of him was impressed. Part of him wanted to put a crossbow bolt in his eye. Part of him wanted to grab her and kiss her again. He didn’t do any of those things.

Instead he kept an eye on her daggers and crouched in the spot next to her. “We’re going to have to talk at some point, kiddo. If we want to figure out the best way to get in there without being seen.”

“We’ll watch for a few days, do a quick turn around the area and see if anyone is watching the place. Then go from there.” She barely spared him a glance as she rattled off her reply.

“Hero-”

“Don’t call me that.” Her voice didn’t rise above a whisper, but Varric spotted the way her hand flexed on her dagger.

“Fine, Inquisitor. Do you want to split up or stick together?” For just an instant he was sure she was going to stab him and all he could hope was that it wouldn’t be somewhere fatal.

“We’ll stick together,” she said finally, surprising him.

 

***

 

A few days was an agony of awkward silences and sharp words. Mel had never so desperately wanted to drive her dagger into a Red Templar as she did when they snuck past the guards into the massive mansion. Her nerves were strung as tight as a garrote and when Varric grabbed her around the waist and yanked her back into the shadows she barely swallowed her snarl.

“I know,” he growled back even though she hadn’t said a word. “But look.”

A pair of terror demons moved down the hallway past them, their long limbs all wrong and the high-pitched chittering made Mel’s skin crawl. She barely registered that she’d pressed herself even closer to Varric until his hand flexed against her stomach.

Her whispered “Fuck” was lost to the heavy footfalls of the Pride demon who followed and they could do nothing but stand in frozen silence as the parade of demons continued.

Mel held her breath as the last of the demons passed by.

“Ready to move?” Varric whispered and Mel nodded.

They slipped from the shadows and with her heart pounding in her throat they made their way back to the front door of Chateau d’Onterre. They made it out and sprinted through the forest, stopping only when Mel was reasonably sure they were far enough away and safe enough.

“It’s a cache all right,” she said once she could breathe normally again. “A cache of fucking demons. Come on, we’ve got to get back to camp.”

“Hey.” Varric grabbed her by the wrist before she could take off again and Mel swallowed hard. “I’m sorry.”

She wanted to ask what for - the shouting? The kiss? But the words wouldn’t leave her mouth. “Me too,” she replied. “Are we okay?”

Something flickered through his honey-colored eyes, but it was quickly buried behind the fake smile Varric used far too often. This was the first time Mel could recall him using it on her though. “We’re good, Hero. Don’t sweat it.”

“Good,” she lied, pulling out of his grasp, burying her own feelings as deep as she could, hoping they would suffocate and die there. “Let’s get moving, Cullen needs to hear about this.”

 

Chapter Text

“I appreciate the warning, but you shouldn’t have come yourself. What if the Guild found out or … whatshisname?”

“Are you worrying for me or for yourself? Bianca asked with that smile that always tied him in fucking knots. That smile. Once upon a time he’d been ready to burn the world down for it. Now it just made him uneasy.

“A little of column A, a little of column B. I am the expendable one after all.” He spotted Mel, approaching with a raised eyebrow.

“Awww, don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”

Something on his face gave it away because Bianca turned and smiled. “Well this is a surprise. You’re the Inquisitor. Bianca Davri, at your service.”

“Bianca.” Mel’s eyes slid to him and for a moment Varric contemplated pulling a vanishing act. But she didn’t ask and that threw him. Everyone always asked about the crossbow when they met her namesake.

Instead she smiled. “What a pleasure. You’re a friend of Varric’s?”

“Who isn’t a friend of Varric’s? You have met him before, right?”

“Well those Venatori didn’t seem to like you all that much, right Varric?” Mel replied with a hint of a smile. “Then there were those Red Templars in the Graves. And the girl at the Winter Palace who threw her shoe at you.”

Varric sighed when Bianca laughed. “Thanks, Hero, I think that’s enough. Bianca’s got a lead on where Corypheus got his red lyrium.”

“The site of Bartrand’s Folly, the thaig Varric found has been leaked. There’s a Deep Roads entrance crawling with strange humans carting out red lyrium by the handful.”

“Well, we should probably do something about that,” Mel said.

She was quiet as Bianca promised to meet them at the thaig, but Varric could see the wheels turning in her head. “Worried, Hero?”

“A little. Can we trust her?”

He arched an eyebrow. “Bianca’s too much of a researcher to pass me information without verifying it first. But if you’re asking whether she’d lie to us, maybe set us up?” He shrugged. “It’s possible.”

“Possible?”

“Unlikely though,” he said, smiling when Mel’s suspicious look didn’t waver. “She risked the wrath of the Guild coming here. A message would have sufficed. Whatever she found shook her up. That’s what worries me.”

 

***

 

“We'll want to get out of here before it starts talking to us.”

Mel couldn’t stop her hand from drifting to her side. She knew Varric saw the movement, but he pretended he didn’t and continued his banter with Bianca.

“Everything okay, boss?” Bull’s voice was low in her ear.

“Yeah, just got an itch.”

“Tell me about it,” he said. “You know we’re probably walking into a trap, right? She’s hiding something.”

Mel had guessed as much, but to have Bull corroborate her edgy gut was unpleasant confirmation. “You think we should back out?”

“Naw, we can handle it.”

Mel gave a quick nod, then pulled her daggers free. “You all hang back.” She crept forward to where the two Carta archers were staked out in front of the bridge. They were distracted and she took down first one, then the other, sprinting across the bridge toward the third dwarf and putting a dagger in his throat before he could sound the alarm.

“You going to save some for us, Mel?” Dorian asked, nudging the body with his foot.

“I just brought you along to look pretty,” she replied with a grin.

“So is this your day to day?” Bianca asked Varric. “Skulking around in caves shooting bad guys?”

“I usually try to avoid the caves.”

Mel tuned out the conversation as much as she could while they worked their way deeper into the thaig. Bianca seemed to cycle from teasing to remincising to berating Varric for any number of things. It was surprising how on edge it made her. She didn’t rise to the bait when Bianca showed off the fancy doors she’d built for the thaig and ignored Varric’s lifted eyebrow when she merely said “we should keep moving,” in response to the whole performance instead.

Then they were in the thick of it again. More than a dozen Carta goons swarming the enclosed room. The fight was short, but brutal.

“Andraste’s blighted tits!” Mel swore when the Carta arrow lodged itself into her bicep.

“Mel!” Varric took the dwarf down with a crossbow bolt between the eyes.

“I’m fine,” she snarled, kicking the dead Carta she’d just spitted off her dagger. “Maker gave me two arms, but damn it that stings.”

“Hold still.” He took her by the forearm. “Grab my belt.”

“What? Here? Kinky.” She flashed him a grin.

“Shut up.” But Varric chuckled and snapped the arrow in half, quickly pulling it the rest of the way through her arm before Mel could say anything else. She gritted her teeth against the pain as he started binding it with quick, efficient movements and glanced up.

Only to find Bianca staring at them. The dwarf looked away without a word. Mel spotted Dorian watching and lifted her free shoulder in confusion. He, in return, rolled his eyes and smirked.

“All better,” Varric said, oblivious to the exchange. “Try not to get any more holes, Hero.”

“No promises,” Mel replied, watching Bianca cross the room.

“There you are,” the dwarf said, grabbing a large key and locking the nearby door. “They won’t be able to use this entrance again.”

“Bianca.” Varric’s voice was heavy with resigned frustration.

“Varric, what is it?” Mel gripped her daggers, taking a deep breath and reminding herself that she couldn’t stab this woman.

“Andraste’s ass, Bianca. You’re the leak.” Varric’s disapproval colored the air and Bianca’s cheeks flushed pink before she squared her shoulders.

“It’s not like that, not entirely,” she said defensively. “Shit. When I got the location I went and had a look for myself. And I found the red lyrium and I … studied it.”

Mel couldn’t stop her mouth from dropping open.

“You know what it does to people!”

“I was doing you a favor! You’ve had people studying it for years now and they’ve come up with nothing.” She shifted. “I wanted to figure it out.”

“How did you go from studying to giving the location to Corypheus?” Mel saw Varric’s shoulders tense at her tone of voice, but she couldn’t keep the fury at bay.

“I found out that red lyrium … it has the blight. Do you know what that means?”

Kaffas .” Dorian’s muttered curse was barely audible over Bull’s growl.

Mel put her hand again on the now healed wound from the lyrium spike, reaching her free hand forward and catching Varric by the shoulder.

“What? That two deadly things combine to form something truly awful?” He was furious, she could feel him vibrating under her palm.

“Lyrium is alive!” Bianca protested. “Or something like it. The blight doesn’t infect minerals. I couldn’t get any further on my own so I looked for a Grey Warden mage. Blight and magical expertise all in one, right?”

Mel didn’t bother to hide her groan and Bianca stiffened even further as her words spilled out, practically tripping over themselves.

“And I found this guy Larius. He seemed really interested in helping with my research. So I gave him a key.”

Mel had heard the name from Hawke but Varric put it together himself.

“Larius. He was the Grey Warden we met in Corypheus’s … oh, shit.”

Mel heard the scrape of Bull’s axe as he picked it up off the floor, her own hands going for her daggers.

“I didn’t realize it until you said you saw red lyrium at Haven. I came here and  … well … then I went to you.”

“You didn’t realize? I thought you were smart.”

Whatever snappish comeback Bianca had died on her lips when she looked up at Mel.

“You had to know we’d find out,” Mel said carefully. “Why come with us?”

“Boss, remember what I said earlier about a trap?”

Mel nodded.

“No, it’s not like that!” Bianca flushed a deeper red. “I heard what they were doing to people with the red lyrium. I had to help make this right.”

“You couldn’t have known what would happen.” Mel shrugged. “Probably should have known it. Definitely should have told us the story before we came down into the fucking thaig.”

“Maferath’s balls she couldn’t,” Varric spat. “I told her exactly how bad this shit was! I told her to keep away from it!”

“I know I screwed up, but we did fix it! It’s as right as I can make it,”

“This isn’t one of your machines! You can’t just replace a part and make everything right. People have died. Mel could have died!”

Mel watched as his words hit, wounded and Bianca struck back.

“No, but I can try can’t I? Or am I supposed to wallow in my mistakes forever, kicking myself, telling stories of what I should have done?”

“Enough.” Mel said.

“Ha, as if I would tell stories about my own mistakes.”

“Varric, enough,” Mel said.

He looked back at her, blinking as if he suddenly remembered there were others in the room.

“Varric.” Bianca took a step forward.

“Don’t worry about it. You’d better get home before someone misses you.” He put his hands up and walked away shaking his head. Dorian and Bull followed. Mel stuck her hands into her pockets, wincing as the wound in her arm protested the movement.

Bianca watched Varric go, then looked at Mel and her face hardened.

“Get him killed, and I’ll feed you your own eyeballs, Inquisitor.”

Mel looked back at Bianca for a long moment, rolling a dozen petty responses around in her mouth before she spoke.

“You know, I like you, Bianca, all things considered. But don’t threaten me. Of the two of us, I’m not the one who’s lied to him and just risked his life to clean up my mistake.” She smiled slowly, keeping her hands in her pockets as she looked down at the dwarf. “More importantly, Varric likes you, so count yourself lucky I’m not hauling you back to the Inquisition to answer for the hundreds of lives that have been lost because of your stupidity. You knew about the lyrium long before Haven and could have told Varric about it at any point. But you didn’t...”

She leaned down until they were eye-level with each other, her voice dropping into a frozen anger she so rarely let the world see. The fury made Bianca take an instinctive step back. “Put him in danger again and I won’t bother with your eyeballs, I’ll feed you a dagger.”

It was probably a miracle she didn’t get shot in the back as she walked away.

 

***

 

Dear Bianca,

This is, in all honesty, a letter I never thought I’d write; but it is one that probably should have been written a long time ago. The funny part of it is there’s nothing left to say, is there? Everything that’s needed to be said has been, or the moment has passed us by and will never be reclaimed.

I wish you well, all things considered.

Goodbye,

Varric

Chapter Text

Varric had told her to find him, if she wanted to talk, but as the days stretched into weeks and the empty space between them seemed to grow wider and more painful, he couldn’t take it anymore and went to find her again.

If she kicked his ass, so be it. He deserved it, after all.

She was out on the bridge leading up to the entrance of Skyhold, staring out at the mountains. Her hair was down and the wind teased her curls into dancing pieces of flame.

“Melix, can I have a minute?”

She didn’t move. He hoped it was approval as he stepped up to her side. Varric eyed the drop, tried not to think of how it would feel if she kicked him off the edge.

“I’m sorry, Mel. For how my words made you feel. For a judgment that wasn’t mine to make. I was completely and utterly wrong about it, but even if I hadn’t been wrong I’d still be sorry. The worst part is I hurt you and I didn’t have to.” He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “I keep thinking it’s easier to keep you at a distance.”

“I don’t want you at a distance.” The words were so soft he almost didn’t hear them when the wind snatched them and flung them into the abyss below them. “If I’m going to die, Varric, don’t I deserve the company of people I care about before that happens?”

“You’re not going to die.”

He didn’t want to think about her dying.

Didn’t want the pain that always sank its claws right into the center of him whenever that happened. But he’d been selfish enough. This wasn’t about him.

Mel shrugged.

Varric reached for his courage. “But, yes you deserve all that and more.”

“You should tell her you were jealous.” Cole’s words from earlier floated in Varric’s head, but he ignored them.

He heard her sniffle, did her the courtesy of not looking but wrapped an arm around her waist and tugged gently until she relented and leaned into him.

 

***

 

Mel sighed and snuggled deeper into the blanket she’d dragged onto the roof of the mage tower. Cole lay next to her, despite his slow shift towards reality he wasn’t very warm, still, she liked the quietness of his company.

“I like the stars,” he said. “They sing. Not like lyrium, which is sad. Stars are like a chorus of joyful voices.”

“Does it get too loud?”

“No, they’re all so very far away.”

“You don’t think about dying do you, Cole?” Mel asked after a long moment of staring up at the stars, wishing she could hear the same song he did.

“More than some. Less than you.” She felt him shift, knew he was looking at her.

Most people shied away from Cole, who did, admittedly, have a tendency to blurt things out. Things that were usually deeply personal for whoever happened to be on the receiving end.

She’d found the best way to head that off was to set the boundaries and spend time with him alone so he could say all the things in his head without worry.

Cole only wanted to help after all. That’s who he was. Who he still was despite what had happened.

“What is it, Cole?”

“Why don’t you tell him you dream of his death?”

“You know it’s not the sort of thing that one just brings up in casual conversation,” Mel replied.

“Even I know better than to just blurt it out,” Cole said with a raised eyebrow. “You could have a conversation about it.”

Mel smiled at the new expression. “You’ve been hanging out with Sera.”

“She’s teaching me to make faces.” Cole confirmed. “They are supposed to help people understand what I’m saying.”

“It’s not about blurting it out, Cole, though yes that’s not something I would do. It’s that-”

“You like to hold your pain too close.”

She frowned, surprised even now at how easily Cole kicked through anyone’s defenses - even hers. “It’s safer. He doesn’t need this on top of everything else.”

“He doesn’t love her, not any more. Not for a long time but it was too hard to admit until now.”

“Cole, we talked about telling other people’s secrets to me. You can’t do that.”

“But it’s necessary! He won’t say this. You won’t say that. You’re both hurting and you wouldn’t be if you’d just stop being afraid for two breaths and say something.” Cole went quiet, twitched and then sighed.

Mel couldn’t stop the soft laugh that broke free. “You forgot you can’t disappear anymore, didn’t you?”

“Maybe.”

“That’s why people don’t just say the things they want to, Cole. Because we have to stay and see what happens when our words make things real.”

 

***

 

“I shouldn’t.”

Mel pushed the full mug toward Cassandra. “Yes, you should.”

They’d just returned from Caer Oswin and she knew the Seeker was saddened by the death of her friends, specifically Daniel. She also knew that left to her own devices Cassandra would have just gone to her room and let the sadness settle into her bones.

So instead they were in the corner of the tavern, insulated from the noise and the crowd by a ring of Chargers strategically set up to block them off, but not look like they were blocking them off.

“Why did he go, Mel? Why didn’t I stop him?”

Mel reached out and threaded her fingers through Cassandra’s, glad the woman didn’t protest. She was grateful for Cassandra’s friendship, even though she’d almost mangled it with her flirting in the early days. “Because we can’t make people’s choices for them, my friend.”

“What will become of the Seekers?”

“We’ll worry about that tomorrow,” Mel said. “Tonight is for drinking.” She spotted Varric as he slipped past Bull and shook her head slightly.

Instead of baiting her, Varric leaned in and pressed a kiss to Cassandra’s temple. “Sorry about your friends, Seeker,” he said, then patted Mel on the shoulder and left them alone again.

“He’s nice sometimes,” Cassandra whispered and Mel murmured her agreement. “When are you going to tell him how you feel?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

Cassandra gave her a lopsided, drunken smile and then passed out.

Chapter Text

“Hey Hero.”

Mel lifted her head, pushing red curls out of the way and Varric winced internally at her bloodshot eyes. “What?”

He kept his mouth shut as Mel rolled off her bed, staggering barefoot through the bottles and debris littering her floor. She’d been shut up here for three days since they’d returned from Adamant and from the looks of it she’d been drinking the whole time.

Varric managed to get to what he hoped was the last full bottle and grabbed it before Mel could. 

“Give me that.”

“I think you’ve had enough.”

“Are you my mother now?”

“No, I’m the dwarf who drew the short straw.” He backed away when she tried to grab the bottle. “You’re done drinking. You need to sober up and get back to work.”

“Oh fuck off, Varric.” He didn’t have to dodge the swing, she missed him by a mile. “What do you know about it? You get to follow along and not make any decisions. I killed a man. A good man.”

“The way I hear it, Stroud chose to stay behind.”

“I told him to stay. Told Hawke to run. I ran.” Mel slid down the wall, tears streaming down her face. “I killed him, Varric, just like I killed Cassandra and Leliana. Like I killed you.”

“Mel, we're not dead.”

“You will be!” She buried her face in her hands. “I’m the one who has to make those decisions - always the one to decide. I killed you in Redcliffe and I’ll kill you again here, it’s only a matter of time.” 

Varric set the bottle carefully on the desk and approached Mel with the same care he’d take with a wounded animal. She didn’t move as he sat down next to her and laid a hand on her head. “Mel, look at me.”

“If you tell me this is war and people die and it’s not my fault I’m going to throw you off the balcony.”

The humor caught him by surprise and he chuckled, wrapping his arm around her and leaning in to press his cheek against her hair. “Lot more than two steps from here to the balcony, Hero.”

“I’ve been working out.”

He’d seen the paces Heir had been putting Mel through, but for several obvious reasons kept that to himself. “I know. I also know that Herald of Andraste, Inquisitor, whatever; this isn’t all on you, Mel. We all signed up for this. We know the risks.”

She jerked and the sob tore at his heart. “I hate this.”

“I know you do.”

 

***

 

“Are you going to talk to me?” Mel tried to keep her voice low. The noise of the tavern should have covered it, but it still felt like everyone was looking.

Varric slanted a look in her direction and kept drinking.

For a moment Mel considered walking away, but something in Varric’s eyes stopped her. She put a hand on his shoulder, squeezed. “I’ll be right back.” 

One bottle of Antivan brandy threatened out of Cabot and she returned, putting her hand on Varric’s. “Come on.”

Surprisingly, he didn’t argue and followed her up the stairs of the Rest and out onto the battlements. 

He had his gloves off, she realized, and he was clinging to her hand like it was a lifeline. Mel led him to the crumbling spot in the battlement that was still sheltered from the wind. It provided a stunning view of the night sky and the black mountains looming up in the silver moonlight. Varric let go of her hand and slid to the stone. Mel followed, taking a drink from the bottle and handing it to him. 

They drank in silence, staring up at the rising moon, listening to the whistle of the wind. Mel rolled over all the possible things she could say, finally settling on the one that was most true.

“I’m sorry, Varric.”

He sighed, tipping his head back against the wall and handed the bottle back to her. “I should be the one apologizing, Hero. I put you all in danger. Andraste’s tits, you got shot. I don’t know why you’re not raging at me for this fuck up.”

“You got hurt too,” she whispered, putting the bottle down, reaching out and touching the cut on his cheek. Varric shrugged but Mel leaned in and pressed her hand to his chest. “She betrayed your trust, Varric. That’s what I’m sorry for - I’m sorry you got hurt. She could have just told us the truth and she chose not to.”

“I thought she lov-” 

She felt the hitch in his breath a split second before he swore and then Varric was turning toward her, his face pressed to her shoulder. “Shhhh, it’s all right,” she murmured. His arms wrapped around her in a hug that was almost painful, but Mel returned it with her arm, the other was trapped between them, still pressed to Varric’s chest and she could feel the uneven staccato of his heart.

“I hate this,” he whispered.

“I know you do.”

Chapter Text

The night air in Haven was cold, but Mel reveled in the burn against her cheeks as she walked with Varric across town. It was late, few people out except for soldiers on their watch.

"So I bowed to them and Hawke and I walked out with four chests of gold."

“You are a horrible liar,” she said with a laugh as Varric finished his tale. 

“I beg your pardon, I am a fantastic liar.”

Mel pinched Varric, pleased when he yelped and squirmed away. Though the problem, she realized quickly was that he’d been the only thing holding her upright. She toppled forward as the world spun and came to an abrupt stop, her face just inches from the ground.

“Well, talk about sweeping a girl off her feet.”

“Don’t make me laugh, Hero, I’ll drop you on your face.”

Mel got her hands underneath her and pushed as Varric hauled her upright. She leaned into him, felt his arm tighten around her waist.

He stopped her with a hand over her mouth and a shake of his head. “You’re drunk, Hero, and so am I.”

“So?” Please, it’s the only time I have the nerve.

Varric sighed, but then he smiled and it was like looking at the sun. “Tell you what, Hero. Come see me when we’re sober. Maybe I’ll break my no humans rule.”

 

***

 

“Mel, as your friend-”

She squeezed her eyes shut. “Cassandra, I appreciate what you’re doing, but it’s not necessary.”

“I am the last person called to defend Varric, you know this. He is impulsive, occasionally thoughtless-”

Mel’s laugh snapped through the air like a whip and Cassandra winced.

“He knows he hurt you. He would like to apologize, which is a rarity for him.”

“He already tried to apologize. I told him to go tell it to Corypheus.”

A sound suspiciously like a muffled laugh came from the Seeker, but her face was blank when Mel turned around and she gently took the younger woman by the shoulders. “This has started to affect your focus, Mel. You cannot keep pretending it doesn’t. It’s time to make a decision.”

“A decision?”

Cassandra nodded. “Accept his apology and figure out a way to move on from this or, if you prefer, I will tell Varric the Inquisition no longer has need of his services and it’s time for him to move on.”

Mel gaped at Cassandra, startled into silence by the ultimatum and shocked by the sharp pain the thought of Varric gone drove into her chest. “I-no.”

“Mel.” Cassandra reached out again, laying a hand gently on Mel’s bandaged arm, the limb still strapped down against her side to help it heal. “You are the Inquisitor. We cannot risk you, not like this. He is a distraction, it’s as simple as that, and he will be removed if you say so.”

 

***

 

Varric sat in a chair next to Mel’s bed with his head in his hands. The Venatori flames had scorched her left arm and side, and it had taken all of Solas’s skill to beat back the magic. Mel was healing, though slowly. 

A single lick of flame had left its mark on her cheek near her ear as though to remind them all of how close it had come to consuming her whole. 

She’d been in and out of consciousness for days.

“Varric?”

He whipped his head up. Those blue eyes were looking at him, through him. “Mel, I-” He reached for her uninjured hand, but she pulled it away, turning her head.

“No … you’re gone. You died in Redcliffe. I couldn’t save you.”

“I’m not, Hero. I’m right here.”

“You’re not. It’s just a dream. I’ll wake up soon and you’ll be gone.”

Varric closed his eyes, so stunned by the pain he didn’t hear Cassandra come up the stairs until she spoke.

“Varric? Are you all right?”

“Fine, Seeker.” He cleared his throat, grateful the tears hadn’t gathered in his eyes just yet and busied himself with standing. “Your turn.”

“Varric, it wasn’t your fault.”

He stopped at the top of the stairs, hand on the bannister and turned to look at Cassandra. “Oh, but it was, Seeker. Top to bottom, this whole thing was my fault.”

 

***

 

“You know the world is ending.”

Mel dragged her gaze away from where Varric sat in the corner of Haven’s tavern. He had his glasses on and was scribbling away at something he wouldn’t let her look at. She’d thought it was accounts at first, but those he left scattered around the table and the desk in his tent with such wild abandon that anyone could see them. Whatever he was working on was different.

“What?”

Bull grinned as he sat down in the chair next to her. “If you’re looking for an excuse.”

“An excuse?”

The Qunari raised his eyebrow, took a drink, and leaned in. “To drag that dwarf back to your room and fuck him. There’s a great big hole in the sky. The world’s ending, Mel, it’s the best possible reason.”

“I was not - am not. Maker, you are awful.” She knew that her babbling response was a lie the minute it left her mouth and Bull did too. Though he at least had the grace to hide his smirk behind his mug and change the subject.

“We going to Redcliffe to meet with with this Tevinter tomorrow, boss?”

“Yeah,” she said. “You, me, Cassandra, and Varric.” She forced herself not to look back toward the corner where the dwarf sat. “Dorian said he would be there.”

“You trust him?”

“I know it sounds strange, but I do.” Mel smiled at his suspicious grunt. “Everything will be fine, Bull. Don’t worry about it.”