There are a set of rules written in the backroom of the Hanged Man. At one point they had hung in the main area of the bar, but the years of getting literally and figuratively spit, stomped, and vomited upon forced it into hiding. This helped to an extent—a spine works best when not exposed to repeated damage, after all.
Somewhere on that list is a line scrawled with a few rips on the downstrokes. Although originally an act of a be-swindled vandal, once the tavern owners read the ad-hoc addition, they found themselves unable to object. They figured it an appropriate amendment… and fair warning.
And if you look closely at the wooden pillar where the list once hung, you can see the same angry lines etched in the wood itself. In the right light, it reads:
DO NOT BET AGAINST THE RIVAINI BITCH.
No one in Hawke’s motley circle had ever been in the back room of the Hanged Man, nor had they seen the warning carved in the pillar.
All the better, so when Isabela jabbed a finger at Varric over a game of Wicked Grace, he was none the wiser.
“I bet,” Isabela started with her harbinger, a wink in her eye they thought to be related to her hand. “That I can end Hawke’s dry spell.”
Varric snorted, drawing a card. “You already barked up that—well, climbed that tree once, Rivaini. Plus, I don’t think she’d—”
Isabela rolled her eyes with a huff. “Not personally. What I mean is that I bet I can get her and Fenris back together—physically, to start, anyway.”
“Andraste’s ass dimples…” Varric grumbled at his new card, quickly addressing Isabela to hide that fact. “You really think that’s a good idea?”
“No,” she answered with a toss of her hair. “But it’d be fun.”
And in this, she wasn’t wrong. Word of her bet spread like fleas across their group, everyone but Anders itching to try their own plan or to watch the plans of others flourish or flounder.
Although initially objecting to this ‘invasive tomfoolery’, Aveline shortly thereafter concocted her own plot to reunite the two.
She was voted ineligible within a minute.
“Nice night for an evening,” Donnic reminded her.
Merrill and Sebastian voiced their own ploys that were laid to rest after some deliberation. Too chaste, or too obvious, or too complicated to come to fruition.
With a resigned sigh and open palms, Varric admitted that he had no plan of his own to counter Isabela’s bet. “Fenris—well, they separated for reasons I was told in confidence. While I think the little dance they’re doing is stupid at best and toxic at worst… Hawke’s a big girl. She can handle herself.”
Then, he added to his own damnation: “That said, I still don’t think it’ll work, but I can’t wait to see you try.”
So, sink or swim, they all agreed—naively, foolishly, and in some cases, begrudgingly—be onboard with Isabela’s scheme.
The rule etched in the wooden pillar was covered by a flyer for the new entertainment at the Blooming Rose when they met the next week for cards.
Everyone but the two in question received very specific instructions prior to the meeting—where to sit, what to drink, what to wear… Isabela was worrisomely thorough.
“I know, I know,” Isabela bemoaned theatrically. “But our usual card table got a bit smashed by this unruly fellow who could handle losing a bit of coin but not a single drop of pride without a raising a storm. Just be thankful they didn’t give us the glass one, trust me.”
Once everyone had taken their assigned seats—leaving Fenris and Hawke strategically adjoined at a corner—Isabela began shuffling the cards.
“Now, seeing as it’s my birthday, I say we do things a little differently this week.”
Seated on opposite end from Hawke, Merrill whispered to Aveline next to her, “Do people in Rivain celebrate their birthdays twice a year? That seems a bit unfair to the rest of us.”
Aveline replied, “Don’t worry. It can be your birthday again next week.”
Dealing the cards in singles instead of pairs, Isabela continued, “I got special permission from the owners to play this game, so none of you are allowed to leave until you play at least a few rounds. Captain’s orders.”
Hawke, already a few sips in, raised her glass. “Aye aye, Captain!”
The torchlight of the tavern made Isabela’s eyes glint like rubies, her grin swelling like a storm on the horizon. “You lose, you drink. You curse, you drink,” she ordered, “You blush, you drink. Catch someone staring at you, they drink. But! If you wink at them, whoever looks away first has to drink.”
The remaining cards in her hand thundered down on the table, her hair rolling like storm clouds over her shoulders. She flashed them a wicked look.
“Alright swabs and strumpets. The name of the game tonight? Naked Grace.”
The first couple rounds came and fell like torrents. Between Hawke, who couldn’t bluff with the heart she wore on her sleeve and lover’s wrist, and Fenris, the perpetually card-cursed, it didn’t take long before the drinks seemed to go down just the same.
“Now, isn’t this just delightful!” Isabela crooned from under Varric’s overcoat, Fenris’ tunic, Merrill’s scarf, Aveline’s headband, and a crude imitation of Hawke’s bloodswipe she’d drawn on with lip-paint. She kicked up her heels onto the table, Donnic’s shoes flimsily slipped over her own boots like a child wearing who’d dressed themselves from their parent’s closet.
As the next wave of stolen clothing and begrudging swallows made its way around, Fenris voice caught Hawke’s attention.
Her blue eyes snapped into focus, swerving until they crashed into his. “Caught you staring,” he said with an effortless wink. “Drink.”
Oh, Maker have mercy. She could feel the blood rising to her face. Clutching the edge of the table, she steeled herself and held his gaze. “No, no, I’m not looking away, see?”
But he wouldn’t back down that easily. “Nor am I, but I wasn’t the one caught staring in the first place.”
And neither would she. She leaned closer with a sultry grin to try to catch him offguard. “And if I was?”
Fenris held her gaze evenly with the ghost of a smile that she wanted to punch as she felt her cheeks burn. “Then, drink… twice.”
Reaching blindly for her drink, she sputtered, “Damn you and your, your stupid—”
Hawke looked away and swiped at her glass. Taking a swig from her mug, she held up four fingers, swig, then three, swig, then two, until her middle finger was the only one left standing.
Another hour passed. Or maybe two. Hawke was so busy keeping track of the drinks she had to take and the clothes she had to take off that she had completely lost track of time.
Though she’d been stripped of her shirt, she’d briefly earned one back in the form of Varric’s overcoat forfeit by Isabela to Merrill who then lost it in a gamble. Briefly, as not long after she’d gotten it, she lost it again by way of shedding it due to the alcohol’s warmth.
Everyone else was in a similar state of disarray—save for Isabela, of course, and Sebastian, having heeded her secret instructions to him to wear as much rings and baubles as he could manage. Oh, and how everyone devoured the juicy idea that Sebastian had outwitted her!—that he could strip himself of those in lieu of making himself indecent.
To match the heart of gold, Isabela twirled Sebastian’s ring of silver around her finger. “Give it another hour more, at most. Get enough alcohol into anyone and shove ‘em up next to their crush, they’ll all revert to horny teenagers within the hour.”
Sebastian just snorted in response. “Precisely why I abstain.”
Fenris remained clothed in his leggings but for the saving grace of the occasional barmaid swinging by to check on them. Hawke—both thankful and not that the corner of the wooden table obstructed some of her view—used this to her advantage. She could now spot a blush more easily, watching creep up his chest, shoulders, and neck before it would reach his face, she found out. Not that she’d been looking.
Despite that his lousy luck only got worse the more drinks he had under the belt he no longer had, Fenris had not completely surrendered to Hawke’s onslaught of “Drink!” accusations, no matter how well deserved each one was. He still could parry her on technicalities—in particular, her sloppy winking technique.
“That is a blink. You blunk both eyes.”
“I blinked both eyes.”
“So you admit it. Drink.”
Hawke slammed a fist onto the table. “Bloody hell, you can’t play that card like that!”
Despite it all, Fenris laughed out, “But it is the only good card I have!”
From the other side of Hawke, clad in only his necklace and his stolen overcoat slung over his lap, Varric raised his glass. “Hear, hear! To Hawke, getting played like a fiddle there, and to the truest statement I’ve heard all night.”
A few drunken cheers and a few spills later, Hawke grumbled just loud enough for Fenris to hear. “I’d like to play you like a fiddle.”
He leaned closer, the abundance of ale raising his eyebrow. “Oh? Are you threatening me?”
“No,” Hawke said with a grin as sloppy as the bloodswipe she’d tried to wipe from her face. “I’m flirting with you."
Unable to react any other way but truthfully, he smirked with a low hum. “Good.”
Hawke blinked—on purpose this time. “Good?”
He nodded, rubbing his fingers over the red cloth on his wrist he’d sacrificed his undershirt for. “It is good to know that—I was… afraid that you would not…”
“I have to pee,” Hawke said, grabbing his wrist under the table. “Don’t you?”
When he did not follow her as she got up, she let his wrist pass through her fingers, looking over her shoulder with a wink—that, again, was more of a clumsy blink.
Fenris watched as the Champion of Kirkwall sashayed over to the lowtown tavern washroom in nothing but her small clothes and Varric’s boots.
Then, there was a nudge at his shoulder. Donnic handed him his mug with a sly grin. “Drink. At least twice for that.”
It was only then that Isabela returned her gaze to the cards in her hand. “Well, shit,” she said, putting her cards facedown on the table. She took a shot, and then another, then slid the glasses at Fenris. “Since you couldn’t take off your pants the last round, you have to go get us more drinks. Captain’s orders.”
“Fine, fine…” Fenris said, gathering as many of the shot glasses as he could carry, and then the mugs.
Varric laughed. “Damn, broody, they oughtta hire you for barmaid.”
“Wine glasses provide much more of a challenge,” Fenris replied in an even tone, placing a remaining drink in front of Varric before heading towards the bar.
With a triumphant smile that swelled like a wave, Isabela addressed the table. “Now just you wait. He couldn’t take his pants off for the last round, but this round…”
Though not without a few stumbles, he managed to make it to the bar and return all the glassware completely intact.
“Another round for the table?” Corff asked, eying him. “Doesn’t look like you need any more.”
Fenris nodded and felt the world bob under him like a dinghy on open sea. “I… do not.” In his periphery, he saw Hawke peek out of the door to the washroom, then slip back inside. “I really do not. In fact, I think I am going to be sick. Excuse me.”
No sooner had he entered the washroom than he found himself pinned between Hawke and the wall—a very familiar position. She had one hand on the wall, the other poised and hesitating, held at her chest.
“Tell me now,” she breathed, sobriety washing over her face for the moment. “What can I… what are we doing, Fenris?”
The sound of the tavern had dimmed behind the washroom door, nothing but a murmur under the pounding of their hearts and the uneven pulse of their ragged breathing. In the stillness of the moment, he realized—
—wait, where was his shirt? Or her shirt? Or her pants, for that matter?
If he could not even remember the important, material things like where his shirt had gone, or why they were both effectively naked in a filthy public washroom, then what did he need to worry about remembering things fleeting and coy?
He put a hand on the small of her back and pulled her into him—chest to chest, skin on skin, his thigh cleaving in the space between hers. “I’m flirting with you.”
And in the moment before her lips crashed like a tidal wave against his, she said, “Good.”
“Well,” Isabela wiped her hands on her sash. “It’s been ten minutes. I think it’s safe to claim a victory. Unless, Varric, you’d like to check on them to be sure?”
He heaved a sigh. “No… no, that won’t be necessary. I’ll know based on what kind of shitstorm this brings tomorrow morning.”
She shrugged. “Suit yourself. In the meantime…” She picked up her mug, the lukewarm ale swirling halfway up the glass. “I’d love a new drink. Barely had to drink this one, you all were hogging all the fun. You’ll pick up the tab, won’t you?”
“I always do, don’t I?”
“There’s a good man.”
There are a set of rules written in the backroom of the Hanged Man. They now include two new rules written in a tired, exasperated hand. The one details the expectations of paying and maintaining open bar tabs, and the other…
The other can be found on a rough, metal sign hanging on the wall of the washroom. It is lined with conspicuously sharp screwheads, and its hammered-out letters state:
FACILITIES ARE FOR PAYING CUSTOMERS ONLY, AND ONLY ONE AT A TIME.