A/N: Thanks for everyone who dropped by to read. I hope you enjoyed the story.
The festivities following the announcement of a royal bun in the oven prompted a celebration that carried on in Starkhaven for well over a week. Hawke was used to being at the center of attention, but never for something others considered so positive. During his time on the throne, the usurper Goran Vael had no family to speak of but a barren wife who produced no heirs during his reign. It had been a dark time, predicting uncertainty and despair for the failing city-state, but Sebastian’s return to rule had lifted many spirits. He brought promises of prosperity and peace again, and with a legitimate Vael heir on the way people knew hope for the first time in almost a decade.
It was still terrifying every time Hawke thought about the little life that would one day soon be entrusted to her care, almost as frightening as it was every time she realized she was responsible for the welfare and prosperity of a major portion of the Free Marches. But she and Sebastian would be fine, she supposed, making every effort to see right by their people and their child.
Varric had been right all along. Her husband was beside himself with worry over every action she took, refusing to let her do the most mundane of tasks and often insisting she rest far more than was actually necessary. It took a lot of convincing and a few medical tomes from the University of Orlais to ensure him having sex while pregnant would not actually hurt their unborn child, and thank the Maker for that because her hormones didn’t feel like they were going to rein themselves in any time soon.
Of course, Varric didn’t want to hear about any of that. It made her laugh until her she nearly cried every time he got so uncomfortable it made him swear. And then the tears nearly turned to a flood of sadness each time she realized he would be leaving her. She wouldn’t have the counsel and comfort of her dearest friend as readily as she had it during some of the most difficult and trying times of her life.
He would be leaving in the morning to head back to Kirkwall, where he would depart with Isabela and Alistair on some fool’s errand in Antiva that filled her with dread every time she thought of it.
Her dearest friend so far away, exposing himself to danger when she wasn’t there to watch his back…
Varric had always been there. Well, not always, but the times when he wasn’t a part of her life were so distant she barely even remembered them at all. She foolishly let herself believe there were things she might say to convince him to stay in Starkhaven, but over the course of the week leading up to his departure, Hawke found it harder and harder to find words she might use to persuade him to stay. It wasn’t fair to expect him to stay simply because she asked him to; he would, and he would be miserable. She could never ask him.
“It’s going to be weird, you know.” Stiffening her shoulders as she pulled in a breath, she stared down at the city below from the balcony they shared. “I never thought a time would come we wouldn’t be together for more than a few days, and yet here we are, about to embark on exciting new adventures alone.”
“Not alone, Hawke.” Varric lowered a hand beside hers on the balustrade, the edge of his gloved pinky gliding along her finger as he followed her gaze into the city. She stretched her hand to loop their pinkies, squeezing tight in a childish gesture she’d once made with friends she could scarcely even remember the names of in the back allies and fields of a land more distant than her memories of it. The colorful banners of celebration still wavered in the slow breeze, the sound of happiness and promise drifting up to tease their ears. “You’ll have Sebastian, and I’ll have Bianca. And we’ll always be together in some way, right?”
“Always, Varric.” Her throat ached with emotion, and the more she tried to swallow against it, the harder it was to resist.
“We’ll be all right.” He sounded more like he was trying to convince himself than her. She squeezed their pinkies a little tighter, not wanting to let go. “I’ll be back before the baby comes.”
“Do you promise?”
“That would make me very happy,” she confessed, her lashes fluttering furiously to stave off tears.
“And if whatever this thing is we’re doing goes off without a hitch, good old Uncle Varric will be rich enough to spoil the kid the minute she takes her first breath.”
“Or his first breath.”
“And I’ve already told Isabela a slow death awaits her if anything happens to me.”
“And that king, too. I’m not above regicide if it means avenging my dwarf.”
“Of course,” he nodded. “I probably don’t have to warn Choir Boy, since he’s always just a little too good to be true, but Bianca and I will fill him with holes if the luster comes off while we’re gone.”
“I don’t think he’ll ever tarnish.”
“I do hope you’re right,” he sighed. “I know I’m hard on him, I expect far too much, probably, but…”
“I know, Varric,” she nodded. There was something between them that would never be beyond the beating of their hearts, something there were no words to describe or explain. They would never be more than friends, even as what they shared went so much deeper. “We’ll be all right,” she whispered, the hitch of her voice catching in the tightness of her throat.
Leaning into her, he put his head on her arm and said, “You’re gonna be okay, Hawke.”
Lowering her arm to rest on his opposite shoulder, she said, “So are you.”
“So, what do you say? One more game of Wicked Grace?” he goaded. “We’ll bet baby naming rights.”
Pushing off the balustrade, they turned into her apartment, still walking so close it was a wonder they didn’t trip over one another. “There’s no way I’m betting you naming rights. Sebastian would kill us both, and no one would take a princess seriously with a name like Honeysuckle or Chuckles, or whatever you decide to call her.”
“You’re just scared you’ll lose,” he taunted.
“Scared you’ll cheat.”
He gasped and clutched his chest in mock scandal, “Hawke, I would never cheat.”
“You keep telling yourself whatever you need to in order to sleep at night,” she laughed. “And besides, what do I get if I win?”
“I’ll let you rename Bianca.”
“Tempting,” she considered.
“Tempting enough to take the bet?”
“All right, you’re on.” She slid into the table and reached for the cards, muttering to herself, “Sebastian’s going to murder me in my sleep.”
“He’s not going to murder you,” he waved her off and reached for the cards, shuffling them with an expertise that always made her shuffled bridges feel pitiful and amateur. “I’m sure we’ll have no trouble at all convincing him Bethany is the perfect name.”
She was only just starting to regain her composure when he said that, the tears she managed to resist on the balcony already so close to falling she couldn’t stop them from slipping down her cheeks. Varric pretended not to notice because he knew she wouldn’t want him to get all mushy and comforting. He dealt the cards and she took a moment to dry her eyes before lifting her hand to have a look. The Angel of Death stared back at her from the center of her cards, four angels and a knight. She’d already won before the game even started, but she glanced across the table to study his face.
“I’ll discard one and draw one.” She tossed one of the angels face up into the discard pile and gestured for him to take his turn. They went back and forth six rounds, Hawke studying his every draw, watching his blank face for the simplest sign he might be building something worthwhile. She waited until she had the worst hand imaginable before she threw down the Angel of Death and declared her hand. “Two daggers, a knight and a serpent.”
“Ooh,” he looked his cards over, his left eyebrow quirking upright in triumph. “Three songs and two knights. Full house.”
“Damn it,” she mock-cursed his victory. “Sebastian is not going to be happy.”
“He’ll get over it.” Varric shrugged, sweeping the pile of cards together and beginning to shuffle them again for another game. “Or should we shoot for best two out of three.”
“Deal the cards, Dwarf,” she said, knowing that no matter what he dealt her, she was going to play the worst Wicked Grace she’d ever played just because she knew how much it meant to him.