Jun 132015
 

[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody In Ass Major – Chapter 95
Co-Conspirator: TumblrMaverikLoki
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Artemis Hawke , Anton Hawke , Carver Hawke , Aveline , Cullen , Fenris , Isabela , Merrill , Varric
Rating: M (L2 N3 S0 V0 D1)
Warnings: Knob jokes, strip Grace, absurd and obscene objects
Notes: Wicked Grace, now with the Knight-Captain, who has so very little to lose, but loses it so very well.


Cullen hadn’t been inside the Hanged Man in a very long time. He thought he might once have stopped in, at the advice of one of the recruits, but decided the place wasn’t really his… anything. But, Anton had insisted. His friends apparently played cards there, and he wanted to announce their engagement. Cullen had, of course, eventually said yes. Eventually. After a very long conversation involving the fact that he still had to live in the barracks, and he still didn’t know what he was going to do about Cormac. Anton had just shrugged and pointed out that neither of those things were actually changes.

The bar was just as dimly-lit and loud as he remembered, and the low lighting barely hid the years of blood, spilled drinks, and worse things. Cullen stayed close to Anton, as they crossed the room and climbed the stairs. Anton waved to the bartender in a way that implied he spent a lot of time here, and Cullen supposed if it was good enough for Anton, he’d give the place another try.

Varric looked up from his conversation with Isabela, as they entered the room. "Curly! So, is this it? It’s official now? You’re bringing him to card games, Stabby?"

"It’s nothing serious," Anton said, with a smile, leaning over to steal a piece of cheese from Isabela’s plate. "We’re just getting married."

"And many a woman’s heart was broken," Isabela said, putting a hand on her chest as though wounded. She smirked up at Cullen, who looked every bit as awkward as he felt. "From one Captain to another, well done. Not everyone can bag a Hawke."

"Erm. Thank you?" The last time he saw Isabela, Cullen had been drunk. Very drunk. Drunk enough that he’d assumed he’d been seeing double when he saw those breasts. But no. Cullen was very much sober, and those breasts were just as large as he remembered. And just as inappropriate to stare at. "Yes. Yes, I’m very lucky." He spoke to her face this time. Maker.

Isabela winked across the table at Fenris, who snorted into his drink.

"Where’s Artie and Aveline?" Anton asked, sitting next to Isabela and pulling out a chair for Cullen.

"You wouldn’t believe me if I told you," Fenris laughed, picking at the plate of fruit between them.

"Oh, no, see, now you have to tell me." Anton stared, wide-eyed and grinning, leaning forward over his tankard. Beside him, Cullen took a seat, still glancing awkwardly around the room.

"Aveline seems to have developed feelings, of some sort, for one of her guardsmen. I know the man, actually. He loses well." Fenris smiled to himself. "She’s decided to ask your brother for relationship advice. For help getting them together."

Anton managed to gulp down the beer in his mouth before he could spit it out in laughter. "Relationship advice? From Artie? My brother has many talents, but he wrote the book on social awkwardness."

"He has to be doing something right," Isabela said, nudging Anton with her elbow, "to end up with such a luscious example of elfdom." She eyed Fenris up and down to illustrate. "So what advice did Artie offer her?"

"And let me guess," Anton said. "It involves alcohol."

Fenris truly wished he could deny that. "They will be downstairs, shortly. Take him out for a drink was where they ended up. I do hope not even Aveline can bollocks that up."

"Aveline’s very competent!" Merrill said, as she walked in. "I’m sure whatever it is she’s doing will be successful!" She left a chair between herself and Fenris, when she sat down.

"She’s a very competent guard captain," Fenris clarified. "After listening to her plans to further her, er, ‘relationship’ with Guardsman Donnic, however, I begin to wonder how it is that she provided Artemis and myself with such excellent advice. I suspect it was because we were drunk for both the delivery and the execution."

"Is that how we ended up with a goat?" Anton asked, picking up the cards, to deal. "That’s how we ended up with a goat, isn’t it?"

"You proposed to me with your brother’s goat, didn’t you?" Cullen suddenly realised, shoving Anton’s shoulder. "You cheap bastard!" He tried to look offended, but it was difficult to do while laughing.

"Are we recycling goats now?" Varric asked, picking up his cards. "Is that a Fereldan thing too?"

"That goat was an expression of love," Fenris muttered, picking up his. "An expensive expression of love. I don’t know how I feel about you passing it off to a templar."

"It was for a good cause!" Anton insisted. "Besides, Meredith didn’t want to keep the goat, so what’s the difference?"

Carver paused in the doorway on his way into the room, a pitcher in each hand. He looked longingly behind him and wondered if he should just leave before this conversation got any weirder.

Varric looked on the verge of choking, his face turning purple. "Meredith?" he sputtered. "You gave the goat to Meredith?"

"Well, Captain Clueless over here doesn’t know where his mother is, so I couldn’t give it to her!" Anton shrugged defensively. "I picked the next most obvious authority figure, and the one most likely to object! And she did object… to the goat, anyway. I think she objects to me, too, but she’s smart enough to realise that’s none of her business."

Carver edged into the room and took the seat next to Merrill, setting the pitchers on the table. "This is… why are we giving goats to the Knight-Commander? Is this some new tax on the city?" That or his brother had just proposed to the Knight-Captain, in the stupidest possible way, and he really didn’t want to think about that. "Tell me it’s just a tithe…"

"Of course it’s not a tithe!" Isabela laughed and leaned down the table to grab a pitcher and refill her drink. "Your brother’s in love!"

"I’m leaving home. That’s it. I’m really just… enough with the goats and the screaming and all the craziness in that house." Carver pressed his hands to his face. "Why did I have to be born a Hawke? Weren’t there other families in the world that actually wanted another son? Maker’s breath, why me? Why this family?" He paused. "No offence, Cullen. Honestly. I like you just fine, and I’m so very sorry about my brother."

"Not as sorry as I am about mine," Anton said, kicking Carver’s shin under the table. Carver jumped and glared at Anton. "Really? No ‘congratulations, Anton’? Just straight to the ‘woe is me’ part of your whining?"

Merrill laid a hand on Carver’s arm before he could say anything — and it looked like he wanted to. "He’s happy for you, of course," she told Anton. "We both are."

"Yes, yes," Carver sneered. "Congrats on the goat." He lifted his tankard sarcastically.

Anton smiled tightly and made a note to ask Artemis to force push Carver down the stairs. Any stairs. Preferably stone ones.


Down the current set of stairs, Donnic arrived. No other guardsmen seemed to have gotten there, just yet, but there was Artemis — he’d finally taken the time to ask which Hawke that was — holding down a table. That was odd, really. He’d heard this place was the preferred watering hole for most of the guard.

"Am I early?" he asked, sliding into the seat across from Artemis. "There seem to be surprisingly few guardsmen here, tonight."

"Oh, I’m sure your friends will be along shortly," Artemis said, plastering on his widest, friendliest smile. At least he hoped one person would be. Artie looked past Donnic’s shoulder, trying to spot Aveline.

"Ah. Yes. Of course." Donnic smiled back, and Artemis saw his own discomfort reflected back to him in that smile.

Artie filled the awkward silence with a few gulps of rum.

"So, ah… How did you and the captain meet?" Donnic asked, fidgeting with the edge of the table.

Edwina took mercy on their awkwardness and came over to take Donnic’s order. "It’s weird," she said, picking up Artie’s empty glass, "tonight’s so quiet!"

"I’m sure everyone will be along in a bit. Supposed to be some kind of party or something." Donnic continued to fidget, looking after Edwina, as she went back to the bar. "But, really, she’s never mentioned it, other than that you all came to Kirkwall together."

Artemis’s thumbnail picked at the table, at an imperfection in the wood. "Ah. Well. Met during the Blight. There were darkspawn chasing us — my family and me — and everything was on fire." Donnic nodded, brows tilted in sympathy. Artemis paused. Should he mention Wesley? Should he bring up that she had a husband? Or that she ended up needing to stab him in the chest? That probably wasn’t first date material. Then again, Artemis had never really had a ‘first date’ with anyone. Generally, they went straight to the groping. "Uh… anyway, we ran into Aveline on the road and watched her chop off a darkspawn’s head. We thought it best to travel in numbers and so we did. She’s a lovely woman, really. The captain. Aveline."

Donnic nodded, but Artie went back over that in his mind. He wanted to talk up Aveline, but too much and it would sound like he was the one interested in her. "Very lovely. If you’re, uh…" Artie coughed into his hand. "If you’re into women, that is. Which I’m not." There. Now Donnic wouldn’t make that mistake.

Donnic nodded again, this time looking towards the exit. Edwina arrived with another tankard for Artie, and he thanked her profusely.

Fenris appeared on the stairs, having decided to see what was keeping Artemis so long. Surely Aveline would have arrived, by now, and taken his place at the table. But, no. There was no sign of Aveline anywhere.

He approached the table with a sigh. "Donnic! This is unexpected! Have you come to lose more coin to me?" He rested his hands on the back of Artemis’s chair. "We have a game going, upstairs. It’s a good one. You might even manage to win a hand, with this lot."

"No, no, I’m… enjoying the company of the charming Serah Hawke, while we wait for the rest of the company. I rather expected they’d be here, by now." Donnic looked extraordinarily distressed by the lack of other guardsmen.

"Enjoying the company—? Are you flirting with my fiancé?" Fenris teased, smile a little toothier than strictly necessary. "How much have you had to drink, m—" He coughed. "—my dear?"

Artemis waved the question aside, the sloppiness in the gesture answering Fenris better than his mage could. "You know I don’t count when I drink," Artie said. And yes, that was his drunk voice. Fenris couldn’t take him anywhere.

Donnic managed to look even more uncomfortable than before. "Oh. He’s… your fiancé?" He glanced at the claws at the end of Fenris’s gauntlets. "I… should go."

Artemis spotted Aveline peeking at them from around the corner.

"See you at Reston’s on Sunday!" Fenris offered, cheerily, as Donnic attempted to extract himself from this spectacularly awkward situation. "Why do I feel like we’ve been set up?" he growled against Artemis’s ear. He had no idea what they’d been set up for, though. There was no obvious benefit to making them look like fools.

Donnic muttered something unintelligible, but agreeable, and hastened toward the door. Once he was out, Aveline slipped out of the corner and joined them. "I couldn’t do it. What did he say?"

"Artemis is drunk," Fenris pointed out. "And I suspect your man was left with entirely the wrong impression."

"Impression? What impression?" Artemis slurred. "I was…. I was just being friendly. Waiting for you to show up." He pointed accusingly at Aveline.

Aveline shook her head at Artemis’s state. "I’m an idiot," she sighed, looking helplessly at Fenris.

"Admitting it is the first step," Fenris said archly, carefully sliding the drink away from Artemis. Artemis who looked up at him with those large eyes. Fenris ignored him. "So what now?"

"Now I go hide in a hole and pretend none of this ever happened," Aveline sighed. "A deep hole. Maybe I should move back to Ferelden. I always liked spring in Ferelden."

"Hiding? You?" Fenris’s shock was pure melodrama, complete with chest clutching and staggering back. "I thought you were the brave one of us, Madame Guardswoman!"

"I know, but the only place I’m not a mess is on patrol, and killing bandits doesn’t really leave much time for banter." Gesturing frustratedly, Aveline sighed again.

"I beg to differ. Some of my best conversations on the nature of magic have been while relieving bandits of their tedious and treacherous lives. Once you get into the rhythm of it, there’s nothing like a sword for punctuation." Fenris wrapped his arm around Artemis.

Artemis leaned back into Fenris, smiling lazily. "And your sword is very good at punctuating," he said. Aveline cleared her throat, and Artemis turned his attention back to her. "Oh! I have an idea. You and Donnic go on a patrol together. We’ll clear the way for you, and you’ll get a chance to talk to Donnic."

"Putting you in danger just makes it worse," Aveline said, shaking her head at her drunk friend.

"That’s what he’s here for." Artemis patted the arm wrapped around him.

Fenris looked like he might object, for a moment, but shrugged and nodded. "Years of experience guarding mages from treachery." He clicked his tongue, and his ears still jutted in that particularly annoyed fashion. "But, yes, presumptions aside, we would do this for you."

"You clear the way up the Wounded coast and I’ll… live to regret this, I’m sure." Aveline shook her head.

"Come play cards with us. You haven’t taken the night off in weeks," Fenris suggested. "And I’m down a seat, because he’s not allowed to play, in this condition. — Don’t make those eyes at me. You remember what happened the last time you got drunk and lost. You’re lucky Isabela didn’t win."

"I— yes, of course. That would be good. Cards. I can think about something else, for a while." Aveline nodded.

Artemis wobbled to his feet, slipping an arm around Fenris’s waist and resting his chin on Fenris’s shoulder. "I suppose I can find other ways to entertain myself while you play," he said, grinning against Fenris’s ear.

Fenris exchanged a look with Aveline. "I’m already living to regret this," he said, his ear twitching as Artie tried to bite it. He led them both back upstairs.

"Where’s Anders?" Merrill asked, drawing another card. "Did he get stuck at the clinic again?"

"Nah, Cormac dragged him off on some crazy foreign holiday or something. That or it’s a quest for the perfect wedding gift for the man who steals everything." Varric picked up his tankard and held it out in Anton’s direction, waiting for the clank, as he kept talking to Merrill. "Including the Knight-Captain’s heart, apparently. How many years did it take you to get your dirty fingers on that prize, Stabby?"

"Not as long as you’d think," Cullen admitted, debating whether to add his other sock to the pot or just fold.

"Longer than it’s going to take me to bet you naked," Anton teased. "But, it’s always easy to get you naked."

"Only for you. Cheater." Cullen glared at his cards, as Fenris returned with Artemis and Aveline. "Your brother’s on holiday?" Cullen wondered if that had anything to do with him.

"Yeah, wouldn’t tell me where he was going. Didn’t want to be disturbed on his romantic getaway, or some crap. Maybe he finally got a clue. You know they’ve been together almost six years, now?" Anton shook his head.

"Yes, but it’s very, very non-exclusive," Isabela purred, and Fenris busied his hands with Artemis, not to clutch at his twitching ears. Non-exclusive indeed.

"Still, it’s good that Anders has Cormac looking after him. He always works so hard. I worry." Merrill smiled and rearranged her hand. "Do you think he’ll come back with a tan? He’s so pale from all that time in Darktown."

"Maybe he won’t come back at all," Fenris said, picking up his cards and using them to swat at Artie’s hand when his mage reached for his drink.

"You don’t mean that," Artemis said, leaning against Fenris’s side and looking at his elf’s cards. "Not when Anders cures your hangovers."

"I’m not the one drinking," Fenris said as Artemis reached over and moved one of Fenris’s cards. "What are you doing?"

"The order you have them in makes no sense. See? Now they make a pattern…"

"Is there a spell for hangovers?" Cullen asked. He looked around the table in surprise.

Varric snorted. "Asked the templar, who’s surrounded by mages all day…"

"Well, the goal is usually to avoid being the object of spells. And I don’t drink enough for it to have come up." He’d ask some of the other templars, but he doubted they’d give a straight answer to their captain.

"He says," Isabela said, dropping the Angel on the table and ending the round, "it’s almost the same as the one for curing poisons. But, he’s got a real talent with it, and I’d know. I was going to steal him away and take him out to sea with me, but he disappeared, and now I don’t have a ship any more. Can you imagine? I’d have been unstoppable! I was still nearly unstoppable. Just a little accident with some bad weather. Oops!"

"No, you had a little accident with being crazy," Varric pointed out.

"Now, Varric, not in front of the guard captain!" Isabela chided him. "Stop cheating, Anton. You get to fondle your templar’s clothes all the time. Save some for the rest of us!"

Cullen blushed. He really should have worn plate, tonight, but then he’d have had to explain how he managed to lose his platemail. Days after there had been a goat in his office. Maybe it was better he hadn’t worn the plate. Still, he was only going to make it another three rounds, like this.

"Don’t worry, Ser Templar, I’ll win it back for you," Anton said, with a wink.

"I’m not sure if that makes me feel better," Cullen said, unhooking his belt and tossing it into the pot.

"Better naked than in an Orlesian maid’s outfit," Artemis said, earning him an odd look from Cullen.

"As I recall, that ended rather well for you," Fenris replied, smirking. He showed his hand to Artemis, who grinned, approving of the pattern.

"You’re marrying into this family," Carver told Cullen. "Willingly."

"He’s willingly marrying into my family, and he hasn’t even met them," Cullen pointed out. "That’s faith. I really should find them, though. At least find out what happened… I mean, they were in the south…" He needed to send a letter. A few letters. There had to be other people he could ask. Maybe Solona had heard something — she’d been at Ostagar, maybe she’d passed through on her way north. "I can’t get married and not invite them, if they’re still alive. I wouldn’t still be alive if I did that. My sisters would murder me."

"It’s always the sisters, isn’t it?" Carver grumbled into his beer.

"I’m sure you’ll find them," Aveline said. "No matter what happened. There’s all kinds of outreach through the Chantry to get the blight survivors back to their families."

Anton sucked in a breath and held it for a moment, waiting for the inevitable comment from the brother who wasn’t at the table. Obviously it didn’t come. "As Cormac keeps pointing out, the south got hit hard, Aveline, and you know it. You were with us. I know there were people who ran before we did, but I’ve never heard from any of them again. There are no old faces in Kirkwall."

"You’re also not really looking for them," Aveline pointed out. "Kirkwall’s not the only place to go. There’s the rest of the Marches, there’s Orlais, there’s Antiva, Nevarra — Maker help me, I don’t know why anyone would want to go to Nevarra…"

And, really, that was part of why Cullen hadn’t tried looking for his family. If they hadn’t made it, he’d rather not know. At least like this he could pretend, could dream that they were safe and happy. "Mia always did want to go to Antiva," he said. "Somewhere warmer, near the ocean. And she always was a fan of Antivan leather." And that was a nice thought, his sisters by the beach, safe and happy.

"I should like to meet her," Anton said. For Cullen’s sake, he hoped his family was still alive. That and maybe they would balance out the chaos that was his family at the wedding.

Wedding. He was getting married. He’d proposed, but he still hadn’t wrapped his head around it.

"I suspect she and Bethany would get along," Cullen said. He sighed at his cards. "Which is a scary thought, actually."

"It is," Carver agreed. "You should be very afraid. I should be very afraid. Two of my sister? One is enough."

"I’m all in favour of two of your sister!" Isabela winked at Carver and dealt the next hand.

"Izzy, that’s gross!" Carver complained.

"Your sister’s very nice, Carver. I don’t know why you always say such things about her," Merrill protested, shoving a few copper across the table. "She’s been trying to help me with my … work."

"She’s researching a really fascinating bit of elven history," Varric told Cullen. "And Sunshine’s got the scholarly wit, in the family. Not much about elves, but you should see her work in Nevarran history. It’s dense. I wouldn’t want to drop it on my foot, if you get what I’m saying."

"Oh, Merrill, have you asked Cormac? I know he’s much less… bookish, but elven legends are kind of his thing," Anton pointed out, rearranging his hand.

"Yes, I know. That’s how I met him. Do you mean he did that to other tribes, as well? Maybe I will ask him." Merrill laughed and drew a card. "I never even imagined he might — not being an elf, you know?"

Artemis finally managed to steal another sip from Fenris’s tankard. His elf sighed in defeat. "Yes, he did that to other tribes," Artie said. "Dragged me along a few times."

Merrill giggled into her hand. "Oh, I remember," she said. "Mahariel was rather taken with you."

Artemis groaned, and Fenris took his drink back to take a long swig himself. "Can we not talk about that? I’d rather not talk about that. But yes, ask Cormac. Maybe there’s some useful information in that mad head of his."

Carver made a face like he’d eaten something sour. He drew the Angel this time.

The cards hit the table and points were tallied. Fenris smiled and claimed his winnings, after a few minutes of argument and checking Anton’s sleeves.

"It doesn’t matter if he cheated," Fenris pointed out, "I still have a better hand. And Ser Cullen’s belt. I might let you buy that back from me, Anton."

Anton laughed. "Not going to bet it, so I can win it back from you?"

"If I bet it, that doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to lose. And it’s still going to be mine." Fenris smirked across the table and scraped up the cards to deal another hand.

"It’s kind of fun being a spectator," Artemis said, his cheek on Fenris’s shoulder. "I’m not losing or shaming my ancestors, and I get to watch you kick their asses." He watched Fenris shuffle the cards and whispered the rest in his ear, "Plus I love watching you hands move and thinking about what you’ll be using them for later."

Artie’s hand disappeared beneath the table, and Fenris swore quietly, dropping the cards. "Mage."

Isabela whooped as he picked them up and started over. Cullen cleared his throat awkwardly and looked down at his person. He was down a pair of shoes, socks, and a belt. The betting went around the table, and when it got to Cullen, Anton grinned. The templar looked around him, threw up his hands, and pulled his tunic over his head. This time Isabela cheered.

"This… this may be my last hand," Cullen laughed, looking down at himself again. "I’m, er, running out of things to bet. Can’t walk back to the Gallows naked."

Anton grinned wider. "So, don’t walk back to the Gallows. Come home with me, tonight. And the second point, I think I can get you something to walk home in — as long as you don’t bet that, too." He leaned in closer, but Isabela could still hear him. "Besides, I like the idea of walking you through half of town in just one layer, knowing I get to pull it off you as soon as we get in the door."

"You have a sister!" The words leapt out of Cullen’s mouth and Carver glared across the table at Anton.

"Not you, too," he grumbled. "Is anyone in this family, other than me, not doing someone else in this family?"

"What?!" Cullen jumped up, smacking his knees on the underside of the table and sitting right back down, which served no purpose, in the end, than flashing his abs across the table.

Isabela’s eyebrows shot up. "That’s not what he said, but am I missing something? I’m going to ask your sister, if you don’t tell me."

"Carver! Don’t say things like that about your brothers. At least not where Varric can hear you!" Merrill rubbed Carver’s arm.

"That’s… what… ignore him," Artemis said, sputtering unconvincingly. This time when Artie reached for Fenris’s drink, Fenris let him. "Carver, we went over this already. Or do I need to repeat my argument?"

Carver made a face, positioning his cards between him and Artemis. "Maker, no. Don’t ever do that again." His brother was, he suspected, just drunk enough to make good on that threat too.

"Now I know I’m missing something good," Isabela purred, leaning over the table to look at them both. "What about you, Varric? You taking notes?"

"Always, Izzy."

Cullen was at least grateful everyone had stopped staring at his chest for the moment.

"I do wish Cormac was here," Isabela sighed, drawing a card. "He’d tell me what was going on. All of it. At length, and in detail, with lots of cursing and screeching in between. I’m sure I could get it out of you, Anton, but I’d almost feel funny rolling your dice under the table, now that you’re practically a married man."

"You— you and—?" Cullen’s eyes darted to Isabela and he looked a little dizzy as he drew the Angel. "Crap," he sighed, laying his cards on the table.

"For a while. On and off." Anton grinned and laid out his cards. "It was funny running into her here in Kirkwall. Where was the last place we met, Izzy? … First place, too, I guess."

"Oh, that is a question, isn’t it?" Tapping her teeth, Isabela arranged her cards, smugly. "That’s where I almost stole you away, wasn’t it? Couldn’t do it, you know. Stealing people from other people is great fun. Winning people from themselves, in card games… I’m sure I could have found a use for you, but I don’t think I’d have taken you with me. Not really."

"Well, you lost, anyway." Anton laughed.

Isabela dragged the shirt and coins toward her. "Are you sure?"

"Well, we were the ones stuck with him, so I’d say yes," said Artie. He raised his glass to Cullen. "And here’s to the templar who’s going to be stuck him from now on!"

Cullen raised his glass in answer. "I don’t mind being stuck with him. Not too much, anyway."

Anton quirked an eyebrow at him. "‘Not too much’?"

"Well, you did propose with a goat."

Varric picked up a card. "You know," he said, "we all keep joking about that, but so far the goat proposal has gotten two yeses and no rejections. The Fereldan barbarians may have something here."

"It’s a sign that I bought the right goat," Fenris said, picking up his cards as Cullen dealt. "And that you, serah, are a goat-thieving cheat. I bought that goat for your mother."

"Mum died. It’s Cormac’s goat, now, and he doesn’t want the sodding thing. As you said, you bought the right goat! Why wouldn’t I use the very best?" Anton very nearly sparkled with audacious pride. He glanced at Cullen. "Getting down to the interesting bets, now, Ser Templar?"

"I really shouldn’t," Cullen protested.

"We promise not to send you home naked. Nobody should have to walk through Lowtown with nothing on," Varric reassured him. "However much you bet yourself out of, you’ll still leave here in something that covers the important bits."

"Pants on the table," Isabela demanded, "if you think you’re playing this hand."

"Best chance you have of winning back the rest of your clothes," Anton said, serenely organising his cards. "You’re not getting them back, otherwise. The tunic is the most clothing Isabela’s had in years, and Artie seems… greatly amused by your belt. Artie, how drunk are you?"

Artemis looked up from where he was tying the belt around Fenris’s head. "Hm?"

"Right. So I second Izzy. Pants on the table."

Isabela pounded her fists against the table and started a ‘pants on the table chant’. Cullen looked at them, expression somewhere between amused and pained, and stood to unlace his trousers. Everyone cheered except for Carver.

"Are all templars such pushovers?" Carver asked. "Maybe that’s what’s wrong with this town."

"Or maybe it’s just that you’re a dick," Aveline suggested. They’d been right about the getting drunk part, at least. She felt much better about everything. Maybe she should’ve gotten drunk before Donnic had showed up. Tossing a few more coins onto the pile, she drew and rearranged her hand.

"This is why I’m not in the guard, isn’t it? It’s because you think I’m a dick," Carver complained.

"No, it’s because you are a dick. You’re a dick and you have a problem with authority, just like the rest of your family."

"I’ll have you know I have no problems with authority whatsoever. I can get around anyone," Anton announced, rearranging his hand.

"You don’t dispute being a dick, I notice," Varric pointed out, placing his bet.

"Why would I deny the truth? That’s like saying fish don’t exist or elves aren’t people." Anton shook his head. "I’m a dick. Tell me something I don’t know."

"Wait, hold on," Artemis slurred, peering around Fenris’s belted head to squint at Aveline. "Am I included in this category of… of dickishness? The one who you asked to deliver the ‘copper marigolds’? The one who… who sat downstairs, nervous-drinking, with your man? Or… your not-man. The man you want to be your man. That one."

Aveline shifted in her seat and looked like she was gearing up to say something, her freckled face mottled, when Fenris interrupted them both. "I would not say that you are a dick, Amatus, but that you have dickish tendencies." He met Artemis’s offended stare with a flat look of his own. "Wax floors."

Artie opened and closed his mouth a few times. "…fair enough. But I’m not as big a dick as Carver."

Carver threw him a rude gesture.

"No," rumbled Fenris. "But I think the biggest dick isn’t at this table."

"Are we talking about Cormac or Anders?" Isabela asked, grinning. "Because if we’re talking about the biggest dick…"

Fenris had a distinctly uncomfortable thought and eyed Artemis, contemplatively.

"Is or has?" Anton shot a sidelong look at Isabela. "On second thought, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know any more of your opinions on my brother’s junk. Did he pull that waxed floor thing on you, too, Fenris? Hah! I must have been… what, thirteen? Fourteen? We were staying a night at a tavern in … I don’t know. Some little town in the Bannorn, I think. And he was up all night, fidgeting and rearranging things. I don’t know, I gave up and went to bed. I guess Cormac sat up with him, but I got out of bed in the morning, and just ended up hugging the floor for a while." He laughed. "And after we moved to Lothering, I swear this blighter started doing it on purpose. Shoving me around on the freshly waxed floor… You’re such a dick, Artie. You really are."

Merrill drew the Angel, this time. "Oh, no! I almost had a good hand, too!"

Cullen laid down his hand, holding his breath, but Fenris’s grin was full of teeth as he laid down his. "Oh damn," Cullen groaned. "Well, there go my pants. First time I’ve lost them to anyone but Anton in… years, I suppose."

Fenris darted glances at Artie and Anton, who both looked away. "I will take these," he said, sliding the winnings over, pants and all. "Here, Amatus. Something else to play with." He draped the pants over Artie’s head.

Isabela leaned forward over the table, her chin in her hands as she smiled ever so sweetly at Cullen. Cullen’s answering smile was more scared than sweet, the blush on his cheeks taking on a uniform red that spilled down his chest. "No," he told preemptively. "I’m out. I have nothing else to — no."

"You could still win something," Isabela smiled wider. "I’m not completely merciless. Well, unless I’m playing Fenris. I’m always merciless with him."

"I would expect no less of you. I’d hate to see you throw a game out of concern for my opinions." Fenris twitched and shot a faintly disapproving look at Artemis, but said nothing. "Still, the man is down to his very last article. It would be terribly rude if we made him shame both himself and Anton’s… tastes." A hint of a smile played at the corner of his mouth, as his eyes met Isabela’s across the table. He didn’t care, either way, but this really did have the potential to make the next round even easier to win.

"You can’t be serious," Carver complained. "You think he’s going to bet his smalls?"

"Your last chance to walk out of here with more of your own clothes," Varric pointed out. "Assuming you win, of course."

Merrill hesitated, not dealing the hand until she knew who was playing. "I’m not sure what you’re concerned about," she said. "I’m sure you’re just as handsome without them as you are with them."

"She’s not wrong," Anton said, grinning at his fiance.

Cullen squirmed, folding his arms in front of his chest. "It’s not a matter of how ‘handsome’," he muttered. "It’s a matter of propriety." Yes. Scruples. He still had those.

"I know what you mean," Artemis said, nodding solemnly, an effect ruined when Cullen realised he was wearing the pants as a scarf. "You know what I say in that situation? ‘Fuck propriety; have a drink!'" He slid his — Fenris’s — half-empty tankard in front of Cullen.

"That explains so much," Aveline muttered to herself.

Anton nodded. "A few drinks will make almost anything sound like a much better idea. Besides, just think, I get to take you home with me, and they just get to stare. It’s a tribute to your amazing body and my excellent taste."

Cullen’s blush reached a point where it actually looked painful. ‘Excellent taste’ just brought all the wrong memories to the fore. He picked up the tankard and finished the drink without thinking, and Isabela reached over to pour him another one.

"Don’t worry. I’m not going to let you get molested by pirates," Anton reassured him, and Isabela whined.

"Aww! You’re no fun!"

"Unless you want to be molested by pirates, in which case all I want is a bottle of wine and a good view." Anton grinned. "And really, if you’re going to go that way, I’ve known a lot of pirates, and Izzy’s the one to go with."

"No! No pirates!" Cullen kept drinking. "Deal me in. I’m not taking them off unless I lose them." There. That seemed sensible. He just had to win this hand. He’d won a couple of hands! Just… not the last few. The last extremely several. Just not tonight. He’d won against other templars! He looked at Anton and said, "Next time, we’re playing strip chess." He was much better at chess. Then again, Anton was much better at stripping.

Merrill dealt the cards, and Cullen sucked in a long breath as he picked up his. All right. Not a terrible hand, to start. Not great, either, but the kind he could work with. Everyone played their bets, sliding coin across the table until they got to Cullen, who merely gestured at his smalls. Anton grinned and patted his thigh.

"If I win, you can keep them," Carver muttered. "I’ve seen quite enough templar tonight."

"Oh, but have you really seen a templar," Isabela purred, "if you haven’t seen his sword?"

More beer went into Cullen, as he tried to shape up his hand. Maker. Anton made it look so easy… Of course, rumour had it Anton was also cheating, so that might have been some part of it.

"I’ve seen all the sword I need to see," Carver insisted. "I was thinking of joining the order, but if I’m watching the Knight-Captain strip over a game of cards, maybe it’s not any better than staying at home."

"You’re not related to any templars," Merrill reminded him. "That’s what you said to me. ‘I don’t care if they dance the naked tango and howl at the moon, because at least they’re not my brothers.’ I don’t see where a look at the Knight-Captain’s sword is going to change the fact that he’s not your brother."

"Soon to be brother-in-law," Anton reminded her. "And come on, Carver. Cullen is a… master swordsman, too. I’m sure he could give you a few pointers."

Carver turned red enough to let off steam.

Cullen shook his head, eyes glazing over. "Please be talking about actual swords," he muttered. "There’s too much drink in me and not enough clothes on me for sword puns."

"Joke’s on you," Aveline said, drawing a card. "I’m a better swordsman than either of you."

Varric nearly choked on his beer. "Please tell me we’re talking about actual swords now."

"Sure," Aveline said with a sweet smile. She turned over the card in her hand: the Angel of Death.

It wasn’t the best hand he’d ever had, but it wasn’t bad. He’d won games with hands like this, before. Cullen laid his cards on the table, chin tipped up with a confidence he didn’t feel at all. In fact, the only thing he could feel was a bit of a draught.

"Oh, this one might be mine," Anton said, spreading out his own cards.

"Not quite." Fenris’s hand was just a little better.

"Oh! Fenris, I beat you!" Merrill slapped her cards onto the table with a cheery smile.

"I said you’d do it, eventually." Fenris twitched again, muttering things that might have been Tevene obscenities, as he eyed Artemis pleadingly.

"Children, children…" Isabela laid her cards out one by one. "Let the captain show you how it’s done." Her smile verged on wolfish as she turned it on Cullen.

Cullen stared down at her cards, checked and rechecked them to be sure, and then let out a tiny ‘eep’. Next to him, Anton was biting his knuckle to keep from laughing, but Cullen could see his shoulders shaking.

Isabela sat back in her chair, arms behind her head. "Pay up, Ser Cullen," she said. "But no need to rush. Take your time. Make it worth my while."

Cullen looked about him for help but found none. Expectant eyes watched him around the table, and he muttered a curse, scooting his chair as close to the table as he could and trying to shimmy out of his smalls without standing up. He jarred his knee against the leg a couple times but was ultimately successful. He flung the smalls at Isabela, who caught them gleefully, and cupped both hands over his groin, knees pressed together.

"Oh ho, aren’t these cute," Isabela said, holding them up for everyone to see. "A bit skimpy for a Knight-Captain, if a boring colour. Now, Cullen, I know this lovely shop…"

At the other end of the table, Aveline snickered into her beer. "Mint," she said.

Fenris’s ears twitched.

"They’re perfectly sensible!" Cullen protested, debating whether pulling Anton into his lap would make the situation better or worse.

Isabela leaned back and looked down the table. "I still think they’re a little scant for those … magnae nates."

"Your accent is still horrible," Fenris groaned, regretting everything that had happened that entire week, at least until he finally made it home.

"Magnae what-es?" Artemis slurred. He peered at Fenris, then at Isabela. "Was that Tevene? How do you know Tevene?"

"She just knows a few words," Fenris muttered. "In theory, anyway. With her pronunciation, she might as well know none."

Artemis sat back to look at him, blinking a few times to get him to focus. "Your ears are fluttering," he said. He reached out and tried to pinch one but missed. "Why are your ears fluttering?"

Cullen looked across the table. This was getting some kind of serious, and he had no pants. He reached over and manhandled Anton into his lap. "It’s not like I have anything left to get into another hand with!" he hissed at Varric’s amused and bemused look. "I don’t need to see the table!"

"Ooooh!" Isabela leaned over the table. The Hawke-hefting beside her was interesting, but not as interesting as the fact that Fenris still hadn’t taught his Hawke any dirty words. "Still not dancing the irrumambo? Still not using your best weapon to its greatest potential?"

"I was very drunk at the time," Fenris muttered to Artemis. "It was… that book. You remember that accursed book. You helped her stab it. I was translating. I was very drunk. Now you know what I do when I’m very drunk." That wasn’t quite true, but he’d had to be very drunk to discuss any of those words.

"Clearly I have not gotten you drunk enough," Artemis said. He almost looked hurt. "Those were naughty Tevene words, as I remember. You never say naughty Tevene words to me. Well, not unless you’re cursing at me and calling me a mattress fucker—"

"Fututor matris. Motherfucker."

"Ohh, see, that makes much more sense." Fenris squirmed a bit, and Artemis tugged on the tail of the belt still on his head. "So what’s a magnae nates?" he asked, voice pitched low. He cast about for Fenris’s drink — if his elf needed to be drunk for this, he was going to be drunk for this — but remembered he had given it to Cullen. Damn it.

"Great buttocks," Fenris muttered, grabbing the nearest tankard and refilling it. "And I’ll teach you to say it right, when we get home. Now is not the time or the place."

"Please don’t teach—" Carver paused. "No, please do teach him dirty words in other languages. Maybe it’ll stop anyone from understanding him, when he’s … drunk enough to use them."

"I’m not learning to write in Tevene," Varric grumbled. "I will make up dialogue in Common, and it will not be flattering."

"You— you’re writing a book?" Cullen leaned out from behind Anton. "Oh, please don’t put this in the book. My entire career will go down in flames."

"You say things like that, and I definitely want to put it in the book. Nothing personal." Varric laughed and poured himself another drink. "But, it won’t have your name on it. How’s that?"

Cullen groaned, resting his forehead against Anton’s nape. "Or my rank," he insisted. "Or… Maker’s breath. Everyone will know who it is if you include the goat. It’s become something of a legend in the Gallows already."

"Oh, I’m definitely including the goat," Varric said, grinning. "But don’t worry. This isn’t half as embarrassing as most of the scenes with Artie."

"And suddenly I’m not drunk enough for this," Artemis groaned. And this was considering that Varric didn’t know about the worst of it. Or at least Artie hoped. Maker.

"You are always plenty drunk enough, all the time," Carver replied. "Which is why I will look like the sane sibling in this book."

"Sane might be stretching it." Varric gestured uncertainly.

"Cullen, tell me the order’s accepting recruits," Carver said, not looking anywhere near the naked Knight-Captain.

"You’re a little old, but you’ve got some basic background in combat already. Anton tells me you were a soldier?" Cullen peered around the side of Anton’s shoulder.

"I was. Served at Ostagar, same as Aveline." Carver shot a dirty look down the table, and Aveline shrugged.

"Not my fault you’re a dick."

"I’ll warn you our recruits aren’t much saner than your family. And occasionally a lot less clothed… Good people, though." Cullen stared until he caught Carver’s eye. "If you do this, you make sure you do this for the right reason. I can’t afford any more men who can’t protect their charges. I can’t afford another Alrik."

Artemis’s eye caught Anton’s. He looked about instinctively to catch Cormac’s reaction only to remember that he wasn’t there. Suddenly Artie was aware that he was the oldest sibling at the table and for the first time considered that he was too drunk for this conversation. His baby brother, a templar? That was one way to sober up fast.

"That’s… it sounds like you’ve been considering this a while," he said in as neutral tone he could manage. He toyed with Cullen’s pants, which he still had wrapped around his neck. There was a loose thread there, close to the hem. "And, Cullen, my youngest brother may be a dick, but he’s no Alrik."

Cullen blinked against the back of Anton’s neck. "You knew Alrik?" he asked.

"We met. Briefly. Long enough to know he was in a different category of dickishness."

"Anders knew him better than we did," Anton said, "but, yeah, that’s not my brother. He’s an obnoxious little fuck with all the sense the Maker granted a wet parsnip, but he’s not… like that. Tell him what you think of mages, Carver."

"I think the next time I get force pushed down a flight of stairs, someone’s going to have a fucking broken nose, that’s what," Carver snapped. "My dad was a mage. There’s only so much shit anybody gets to talk about my dad."

Cullen noticed he didn’t mention his brother. Anton must not have told him, and that was very interesting. "With the rate we’ve been losing men, the last few years, I’m sure we’ll be happy to have the extra hands. Just be careful how you talk about your father, and let me know if anyone starts with you about him."

Carver straightened a bit in his seat. "I will," he said. "Of course."

Next to him, Merrill smiled. But it was the smile of the resigned, of someone who knew this was coming, in some form or other. Artemis looked at her but not at Carver. He kept what he wanted to say behind his teeth. Even drunk him had enough to sense to do that, with a templar present.

"So," sighed Fenris, squeezing Artemis’s hand under the table, "it appears the game is at an end. I think, perhaps, I should bring my fiance home before he finds more creative uses for those pants." He adjusted the belt on his head.

"Come on, Curly, let’s get you something to wear. I’d spot you a pair of pants, but I don’t think I’m your size." Varric laughed and stood up, heading for the slightly more private part of his suite.

"Do you know what I’m going to do with these?" Isabela asked, holding up the smalls. "I think I’m going to have them mounted, so I can hang them on the wall."

Aveline scoffed. "You wouldn’t. Not even you would hang underwear on the wall."

"You’d be very surprised what hangs on my wall." Isabela winked. "Anton, once your templar is fit to be seen in the hall, how about I show you two the very spot I mean to hang them? It’s a real place of pride. I’ve been waiting a long while for something worth putting there."

Varric returned with a bedsheet. "Best I could do on short notice."

Cullen looked at the bedsheet and sighed. "Better than hiding in the bushes, I suppose. Thank you." The sheet replaced Anton as his lapcovering of choice. At least while they were in public.

Fenris escorted Artemis to the door, an arm around his drunk mage’s waist. As they passed Carver and Merrill, Artie stopped to pat Carver’s arm. "You are a dick, you know," he reminded his brother cheerfully, earning him a scowl from the dick in question. "No, but shh, it’s okay. Because I like dicks."

Carver and Fenris groaned in unison, for different if related reasons. "Yes. I know," Carver reassured him. "We all know. All of Kirkwall knows. Please don’t kiss me again."

"I’ll just…" Fenris sighed. "Yes." He tugged Artemis towards the door again.

By the time they’d left, Cullen had wrapped the sheet around himself and with an ease that indicated he might have done this before. He faced Isabela with a resigned look.

"Is that a hidden mastery of bedsheet fashion?" Isabela asked. "Maybe another one of those templar skills, or just one of those teenage window-jumping skills?"

"Sorry to disappoint, but I joined the order at thirteen. No window-jumping in my past. I—" Cullen cleared his throat. "I suppose that makes it a templar skill."

"A skill he had before he started wearing my bedsheets, that’s for sure." Anton ran a hand down Cullen’s back, blocking the view with his body, and gave Cullen’s bottom a quick squeeze. "If you end up hanging his smalls off something’s antlers, Izzy, you’re not invited to the wedding."

"No antlers in my room! I hunt a different kind of game!" Isabela laughed and led them out, as Aveline and Carver helped Varric clean up.

"Does that worry you?" Cullen asked Anton. "Because it worries me."

Anton’s answering smile did not reassure him. Nor did the encouraging bum pat nudging him forward. Isabela ushered them into her room, holding the door open and flourishing her free hand. A map spanned the length of one wall, while on another…

"Oh my." Cullen’s eyebrows shot up. His blush returned in full force. "Is that…? A horse? Really?"

Anton blinked at Cullen. That response was quick.

Isabela smiled brightly. "That, right there, is the one thing Cormac would never let me put into him, and I’ve put an awful lot of wonderful things in Cormac. Ooh, and he just never stops begging for it!" She shivered with delight. "But, I was thinking I’d put your smalls right on the other side of the mirror. I’ve been waiting for the perfect thing to offset the stallion."

"Okay, let’s stop talking about things you’ve done to my brother and… I’d ask why … that, but I’m afraid you’d tell me." Anton looked nothing but horrified. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen it before, it was just that he’d always interpreted it as a weird design for a coathook or something. But, now that Cullen had said it… He’d been around enough horses… "How the fuck do you even—?"

"I grew up on a farm. Didn’t you?" Cullen looked a little confused by the question. "Same town, same time?"

"And yet I somehow managed to miss the ‘horse penis’ part of the farm tour," Anton said, eyes still a little bugged. He turned away, rubbed his eyes, and blinked them open again. "Nope. Can’t unsee it."

Isabela grinned like a madwoman, holding the smalls up to the wall on the opposite side of the mirror. "What do you think, Ser Cullen? Does it look even to you?"

"I’m… really not sure how to read that juxtaposition," Cullen said. "My smalls. Horse penis."

Anton was still rubbing his eyes. "I elect to read it as Cormac doesn’t want to fuck you. I like that as an interpretation. I’m extremely comfortable with that idea."

"Or I could take it as… a compliment? I suppose…" Cullen blinked and tipped his head.

"I like to read it as two impossible things. I enjoy collecting impossible things almost as much as I enjoy doing impossible things." Isabela smiled wickedly at Cullen. "How do you think he’d handle two captains at once, Captain?"

Standing in front of the mirror, between two impossible things and two more impossible people, Cullen could see himself turn a shade redder. "I… er…"

"Oh, I could handle it," Anton said, recovering enough to turn back around. He tried and failed not to stare at the horse penis. Shaking it from his mind, Anton wound his arms around Cullen, resting his chin on Cullen’s shoulder. He smiled at his blushing templar in the mirror. "I’m not sure this captain could, however."

Cullen cleared his throat. "He’s right, I’m afraid," he said. He was once again reminded of how little clothing he was wearing.

"Pity. Well, if you boys change your mind, you know where to find me." Isabela winked and waved them toward the door. "I’m keeping your smalls, though. It’s going to take a lot to part me from those. What a win!"