By no means had Varric Tethras ever given anyone cause to call him slow. Under ordinary circumstances he was generally very observant, quick to the uptake, often figuring things out long before anyone else and piecing them together so he could sit back and say, “I knew it from the start,” while everyone else was making sense of it way after the fact.
But Hawke had thrown him for a complete loop with this one.
Maybe because in all the years he’d known her, he never once imagined her in that light. She was definitely a sexual being, which was one of the reasons he struggled so hard to understand it when she relentlessly pursued Choir Boy all those years ago, but he never thought she and Sebastian would actually ever… sleep together, much less procreate.
Despite her vigilance, the care she took to see everyone else’s needs met, he never pictured her as the nurturing type, so when it dawned on him that she was ascending to whole new level of care that involved patience, acceptance, nurturing, he felt a little… stupid.
He told himself at first that maybe even she didn’t know—accidents happened all the time, and if she’d really gone all those years without having her needs met, maybe she and Choir Boy both forgot how easily such mistakes could be made without proper precaution—but the number of times he watched her hand absently drift to rest over her womb the last few weeks suggested otherwise.
The real question was: Why hadn’t she told anyone? Most especially her closest friend and trusted companion? So what if he was writing a book about her exploits in Kirkwall, and always pumping her for details to make sure he got every word just right, but her love life always seemed far too boring to include within the pages—until now.
He reasoned she probably wanted to tell the father of her child first, but judging from the frigid atmosphere at breakfast when Varric finally stumbled to the table she hadn’t yet told him either. Sebastian’s ability to take a ridiculous amount of joy in the simplest of pleasures suggested he would receive the news of an unplanned heir well, probably declare a Starkhaven-wide holiday, complete with parades and a banquet so lavish it would be the talk of the Free Marches for years to come.
So yeah… She definitely hadn’t told him.
Again, the question of why niggled in the back of the dwarf’s mind. But he said nothing, not at first, anyway. He walked the streets of Starkhaven beside her, noting a silence most uncharacteristic of her and the tight muscles of her jaw leaving a constant frown where her generally sarcastic smile tended to linger. They admired the brilliant colors and well-stocked wares of the marketplace, remarking at how quickly the city-state had recovered from the chaos of Sebastian’s reclamation of the throne. They sampled every delectable treat offered to them once the vendors in their stalls took note of the squadron of soldiers assigned to escort them and realization dawned they were appealing to the better nature of the very woman who would govern over their affairs beside their prince.
The weather was beautiful, not nearly as stifling as the heat and humidity they left behind in midsummer Kirkwall, with a slow, balmy breeze fragrant with colorful flowers, rich spices imported from Antiva, and the sticky, roasted fruit dripping from skewers and jutting out of every other stall in the marketplace. Despite the breeze, the heat seemed to bother her, winding her just a little as they moved from stall to stall, but her only real complaint was that so far the food in Starkhaven was too rich for her palate. All of it, she declared, was making her stomach feel warbly and off.
Varric couldn’t agree more. And to make matters worse he felt naked. The guard insisted he leave Bianca in the armory, and while they hadn’t exactly come upon anything suspicious in the streets of Starkhaven, if there was anything the dwarf hated it was being unprepared for the worst.
“It’s all very righteous, isn’t it?” he said, steering her away from a stall selling fish and egg pasties with a dollop of strange golden cream decorating the crust. “I mean, even the streets are pretentious.” He gestured toward the pristine, cobbled white thoroughfare winding through the market.
“Go on,” she urged, nudging into him as they walked, “you know you want to say it.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, come on, Varric. It wouldn’t be an afternoon in Starkhaven, pretention and all, without you making some jest about finally understanding Choir Boy’s ostentatious nature.”
“I wasn’t going to say a word, honest.”
“Liar,” she smirked playfully down at him. “It’s been all you’ve thought about all day, admit it.”
“Actually,” he steered her by the elbow away from the market square and toward the chantry towers overshadowing the immense palace, “that’s not all I’ve been thinking about all day, but I don’t want to talk about that here in front of all these people. Come on. Let’s go have a look at this cathedral I’ve heard so much about.”
“The chantry,” she scoffed, “really, Varric? Of all the places… haven’t you had enough of chantries?”
“To be perfectly honest, with all that’s happened I find myself wondering if I shouldn’t spend more time in them.”
“It’s never too late to find your way back to Andraste’s bosom,” she snickered.
“I believe the correct term is the Maker’s side,” he corrected with a chuckle.
“You say potato…” she shrugged.
She learned long ago to slow her pace and match his own, knowing it was often difficult for his short legs to reach her long strides. She moved casually, with a grace he sometimes wondered if she even knew she possessed, her eyes taking in every sight they passed and lighting with wonder at the beauty she would never confess to noticing. She tucked away details, made mental note of landmarks and guard positions, keeping it all on file in her mind in case she was ever forced to fight her way through the streets of Starkhaven to make a quick getaway.
Knowing Hawke, that scenario wasn’t nearly as far-fetched as it seemed.
“So, what did you want to talk about?” she finally prodded. “The fine weather? The reclaiming of my marriage bed after far too long of sleeping alone? I’m surprised you didn’t hear—”
“I said not here.” He gestured toward the chantry with his head and added, “Let’s get out of the sun and post these guards outside for a little privacy first.”
“Ooh, privacy,” she cocked a brow, “now I’m all a-blush and flutter.” She fanned a hand across her face, which he noticed actually was a little pink beneath the sweat peppering the tops of her cheeks, and added, “Imagine the scandalous gossip we’ll create while you’re here.”
“I’m sure tongues are already wagging,” he laughed.
“Well, if it’s details you’re after, you should know I’m exactly the kind of girl who’d kiss and tell.”
“Isabela would be so proud, but honestly I have no actual interest in what goes on when you’re locked behind closed doors with Choir Boy.”
“He’s not a priest anymore. Are you ever going to stop calling him that?”
“Good. I think it makes him hot under the collar.” She brought her hand up again to cool the air across her face. “Whew… Speaking of hot under the collar,” her nostrils flared as she drew in breath, “I think I need to sit down in the shade.”
“We’re almost to the cathedral.”
“I never thought I’d be relieved to hear those words, come on.”
The guards Sebastian assigned to tail them as they explored were reluctant to follow orders when she told them to wait outside. She, of all people, knew how dangerous the chantry could be. The last one she frequented was blown to bits with all the people still inside—by one of their so-called friends to make matters that much harder to swallow. Fortunately, Varric wasn’t the kind to blow up chantries, which she ensured them rather comically. She held her ground, asserting herself as prominently as a princess should until they relented and positioned themselves outside the doors of a cathedral ten times more elaborate and grandiose than the one Anders struck a match to.
She was a little flustered when they finally walked inside, either from the heat or her minor confrontation with the guard, but she seemed to sigh relief as the cool breeze moving through the vestibule swept out to welcome them within its peaceful walls. Chorused voices joined together, the “Chant of Light” a serene greeting as they sauntered across the deep red carpet leading down the central divide between the pews. Varric walked several feet, drawn by the melodic chant, before he realized Hawke was no longer beside him.
He turned just in time to see her quick hand reach out to grip the wood of the pew in the back row to steady herself. Rushing back, his arm shot across her back in an attempt to hold her upright before she lost her balance entirely.
“Whoa, hey,” he rumbled, holding her tight as he steered her around the arm of the pew and deposited her within the seat. “Are you all right?”
“I felt a little lightheaded for a moment,” she muttered, a hand sweeping the loose hair off her brow. “Probably the heat.”
“Right,” he rolled his eyes. “The heat.” He stood in front of her a moment, watching her regain her composure, but the splotching on her cheeks was worrisome. “I’ll go see if I can find you some water.”
“Thank you, Varric.”
By the time he returned, the red of her face cooled to a dull pink flush. Her eyes were watery, almost as if she’d been about to cry—something he’d never seen her do in all the years he’d known her. Not as she held her dying sister in her arms, nor when she kissed her mother’s brow one last time before lowering her back to a blood-spattered floor. Even during Leandra’s burning, she stood stoic and distant among her peers and the only family she had left, leaning occasionally against Sebastian for support and nodding absently whenever Aveline spoke to her. She was too strong sometimes, and in his experience that only seemed to suggest that when she did finally break down, the spiral would be almost impossible for her to climb back up from.
“Here.” He handed her the cup a very gracious cloistered sister had given him and she reached out for it with trembling hands. “Drink it slowly,” he warned, “the last thing we want is for you to start puking all over this pretty red carpet.”
“It wouldn’t be the most sinful thing I’d done in the chantry.” She sipped tentatively, wetting her lips with her tongue as she brought the cup away from her mouth.
“You and Choir Boy?” he hiked a brow as he regarded her. “In the chantry? Shut up, you did not.”
Her shoulders lifted nonchalantly, the wicked grin teasing her lips a little too telling in his opinion. “You should put that in your book.”
He gave her a minute and several more sips of water before he nudged into the pew beside her and folded his hands between his knees. “They don’t make chantry pews to accommodate dwarves,” he pointed out, his dangling feet swinging. “You’d think with the number of us who have come to the surface, they’d be more obliging, but it is what it is, I guess.”
“I always thought they should make the benches more comfortable, line them with pillows so we can at least relax while they spew harsh lessons and promises of damnation if we don’t change our wicked ways.”
“I’m sure if you put that motion before Sebastian, he’ll see it done. Here in Starkhaven, at least.”
“Maybe I will,” she mused, a slow smiling touching the corners of her mouth.
“You’re gonna tell him, right?” His observation caught her off-guard, her head snapping toward him and eyes widening as she realized he knew exactly what he was talking about.
“About the pillows? Of course. I’m sure he’ll put it at the top of his endless list of things to manage.”
“I meant about the B-A-B-Y.”
She bounced back quickly, her stunning wit bringing a grin to his face. “Whatever gave you the impression I could spell, Varric?”
“You know damn well what I’m talking about, Hawke. It took me a shamefully long time to put it all together, but I finally figured it out.”
“You are a very clever little dwarf.”
“I do try.”
“A little too hard sometimes.”
“You’re deflecting,” he pointed out. “And you still haven’t answered my question.”
“Am I going tell him? Of course I’m going to tell him.”
“Eventually?” he wondered. “When it’s so obvious he figures it out on his own? He’s not exactly the most observant guy I’ve ever met, Hawke. It could take him a while. Kid could be two or three years old before he even noticed.”
“You’re wrong about him, Varric. He’s very perceptive. And if I keep acting like an absolute loon he’ll figure it out on his own sooner rather than later.” She paused and tilted her head toward the front of the cathedral, her eyes unblinking as she stared upon the towering statue of Andraste overlooking the empty hall. Candles flickered around the base of the statue, their light momentarily catching in Hawke’s irises, and then she blinked.
“Your reunion hasn’t been all you hoped?”
“The opposite, actually. It’s been everything I wanted and more.”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“This morning he accused me of keeping secrets.”
“Well, yes, but…” Her tongue tripped over the words. “I’m terrified, you know. I’ve gone up against ogres and darkspawn, rampaging qunari and high dragons. I stood before abominations and corrupted Templars, a creepy Tevinter magister god monster held in check by my father’s blood, and never once did I flinch, but this…?” She worried the hem of her tunic with those trembling hands, tugging a loose string that promised to unravel the fabric if she didn’t leave it alone. “I kill things for a living, Varric.”
“We all gotta make a living somehow.”
“That’s not it. I… When my father died, the last words he said to me were, ‘You know what to do, Marian.’ He thought I would take care of them, but I failed him. I failed them all.”
“What kind of Maker would think for a single second I’d be any good at keeping a child alive until it was old enough to look after itself? Bethany and Carver were both very capable, and I got them killed.”
“Last I checked, you weren’t responsible for the Blight.”
“And my mother…”
“It wasn’t your fault. You’re always taking blame that isn’t yours.”
“Isn’t it? My father died believing I would keep his family safe, that I would protect them, and I failed them all, Varric.”
“As long as I’ve known you, you’ve never given yourself nearly enough credit.”
“Credit,” she laughed. “For what? Destroying an entire city?”
“Andraste’s dimpled ass, Hawke. You didn’t destroy Kirkwall. You saved her.”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to talk about Andraste’s ass here.”
“Not the point. There’d be nothing but an ashen smear on the map where she used to be if you hadn’t been there, and you know it.”
“What if I’d never come there?” she wondered aloud. “Would Carver still be alive? Bethany? Mother?”
“There’s no way of knowing that. You and Carver probably would have died at Ostagar.”
“Well, Carver, probably. He always was a hot-headed little fool.” Lifting her gaze toward the vaulted ceiling overhead, she muttered, “Sorry, brother.”
“And it would have been far worse than it was Kirkwall without you there to keep it all straight. Like I said, there probably wouldn’t be a Kirkwall to speak of, but you’re deflecting again.”
“I know,” she exhaled frustration and took another sip of water. “I can’t explain why I’m so afraid. Deep down I know he’ll be overjoyed about this. It was part of our eventual plan, to start a family, but we wanted to be more firmly established. He can be very particular about things, you know, easily frustrated when they don’t go exactly as planned, but things like this are rarely ever planned.”
“But that’s not what you’re really afraid of, is it?”
“How is it you know me so well?”
“It’s a gift. Look, I won’t push you if you don’t want to talk, but you know I’m always here for you. And you know no matter what you do, I’m always on your side. You wanna skip Starkhaven and head back to Kirkwall, I’m with you. You wanna stay here and settle down, I’m all for that too. I’m here for you, Hawke.”
Lowering her hand over his forearm, she nodded as she squeezed the muscle. “I know. Thank you.”
Silence fell between them, and though Varric didn’t stop worrying about her, he did take comfort in the Chant. The cadence of the verses rising, falling, filling the air with light and wonder—why would anyone ever want to destroy that? He knew the politics weren’t perfect, but at the heart of it all there was peace for those who wanted to feel it. Why didn’t more people want to feel it?
“What if…” she broke through the music, hesitating to continue. She waited until he turned his head up to look at her before going on. “After all we’ve seen, after everything we’ve been through, Varric, what if this child is like…”
Somehow he already understood where she was going, the name she was afraid to speak. “Sunshine?”
She nodded stiffly, turning her gaze back toward Andraste. “Magic is in my blood. What if I pass it onto my child?”
“Bethany was everything good in this world, Hawke. She was sweetness and light, pure sunshine. And I never met the man, but from the memories you and Bethany shared, the faraway look Leandra got in her eyes whenever she said you reminded her so much of him… I always imagined your father to be a decent man.”
“He was,” she agreed. “The very best of men.”
“Well, there you go,” he shrugged, as if it were really so simple. “It would be a blessing to have a kid like Bethany. Look, I know what we went through back in Kirkwall was unbelievably bad, and trust me, I’m with you. If I never see another mage, I’ll be perfectly content, but the likelihood of living out the rest of our days magic free…”
“It’s crazy to be afraid of that, isn’t it?”
“Maybe just a little.”
“I should be more worried about it being born with all its fingers and toes, but every time I close my eyes that one fear lingers.”
Reaching across the space between them, he took her hand in his, curling their fingers together and squeezing as he leaned his shoulder into hers. “Let’s say it does happen. You bring a mage into the world, then what?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“You do know, Hawke. You love the kid, no matter what.”
“You’re right. I know you’re right, but… what if I can’t?”
“You have faced every challenge that’s crossed your path since long before I met you with grace and dignity. This one won’t be any different.”
She pressed fingers into her forehead, scrunching them across the furrowed lines in her brow as she drew breath in through her nose. “How is it after all this time, after everything I’ve done, you still believe in me?”
“Because you’ve never let me down.” He smiled over at her. “And I know you never will.”
“Thank you, Varric.”
“Anytime, Hawke.” He shrugged into her again, resting his head on her shoulder and letting the peace of that place, the depth of their friendship uplift him. Whatever she needed, whenever she needed it, he would be there—always. “Anytime.”