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Chapter 1

“Was it a true story?”

Aeryn glanced up as he quietly stepped to her side at the back of the Chantry. "Are you come to chastise me, Brother Vael, for a story you eavesdropped on…in a tavern?” For once, Sebastian thinks, her eyes are amused instead of wary and guarded when looking at him.

“I..Not chastise, Mistress Hawke.” He smiled and almost got a smile back. “I was just curious.”

She couldn’t help the smile, then. Aeryn tilted her head, trying to feel him out under the bland calm the Chantry laid on him. “It was a tale told in a tavern to folk interested in being entertained.”

“So, no, then?”

Ah, persistence. Too bad that wasn’t a sin. “I’ve no need to confess, Brother Vael.”

He wanted to sigh, but that had been trained out of him, too. Her sister called him Sebastian. Her mother called him Sebastian. Yet Hawke refused to address him any other was but in the formal language that set him at a distance. Which is where he should stay, of course. “’Twas a fine tale, Hawke.” Her name, he knew, was Aeryn. He never heard anyone but her mother use it, and rarely at that.

Aeryn sketched him a courtly bow. “My thanks, serah.” She wanted to ask him. Twenty years of being told that the Chantry was never to be trusted with her family secrets had kept her tongue still. The fact that her mother and sister couldn’t seem to stay away from this Chantry seemed to be moot. And Sebastian Vael was different in a way that made her nervous. She wanted to trust him. Something in his eyes, the way he never pushed against her boundaries but stood just next to them. Like he was looking in a shop window. Hoping to see...what?

Sebastian watched her as she contemplated. She was different this afternoon. There was suddenly something new in her face, as if she had been weighing an idea and was hesitant to proceed. Then, “Are you…often in Lowtown?” It seems a bland enough question. But he could tell from the shift in her tone that she was leading to a point.

“Yes. I assist Lirene from time to time.” That had been where he had come from the night before, when he chanced to hear her telling her wild tale of how she had made her first kill. He had dropped in to the tavern, to escape the rain and had been almost drawn to the steps leading to where Varric Tethras held court. Once upon a time, he’d have been eager to gain entrance, to be a part of her crew. If he was honest, there was a part of him that yet felt that way and why the laughter of the card game had pulled him in close.

Aeryn looked directly into his face, holding his eyes with her own serious grey gaze. She leapt. “May I make a request of you, Brother Vael?”

Anything, his traitorous thoughts nearly escaped his lips. He bit it back and bowed slightly, “Of course.”

“I am leaving tomorrow.” Leaving? He had to think to catch the next words of her request.

“The journey may take some time. Perhaps as long as two months.” Aeryn glanced down and then towards her praying family. She had to ask. They would come anyway. She started back as Vael held an inquiring hand out to her. “They will want to attend the Chant, though. I cannot count on my uncle to accompany them, nor can I require my friend in the guard to take time from her duties. The only two I would trust are coming with me.” She looked back at him, searching his face…for what he wondered. “Might I ask…could you on occasion.” She let her words peter out and shook her head.
This was a foolish idea. She started to back off.

No! He touched her gauntlet to stop her. It had been charming to see her at a loss for words, but it seemed sure to throw her walls back up. “I would be pleased to offer my escort to your family. Aeryn…” She jerked gracelessly and Sebastian was a little startled to see her eyes flash at his familiarity with her given name. Then the lines of her lips relaxed in relief.

“Thank you,” she whispered. He couldn’t help the arch of his eyebrow. “Seb…Brother Sebastian.” His name felt nice on her lips. Hers had sounded lovely on his.

Her crooked smile flashed and oh my. That’s a dimple. His eyes lingered on the spot her creamy skin had dented and he missed the shift of her glance that indicated they were no longer alone.

“Good evening, Brother Sebastian.” Leandra Hawke had a warm voice like her daughter’s, but it was trained in the polite tones of the nobility. “We missed you in the Chant?” The last word was a question as she glanced between her daughter and the priest.

“I’ve a bit of a cough from the damp last night, my lady.” He bowed over her hand and smiled at Bethany, who blushed becomingly.

“We should go, if we want to be back at Gamlen’s by dusk, Mother.” Hawke had pulled her hood back up over her gleaming hair and hidden her face. The shadows seemed to cling to her as she stepped towards the door, eager to be away from the Chantry and the sudden intimacy that had built between them.

He touched her arm again, drawing her back from the shadows for a moment. She tilted her pale, heart-shaped face up to him in question. “I will pray for you, Aeryn.”

She closed herself off in the manner of a noble born at the thought. “Thank you for your assistance, Brother Vael.” Turning quickly, she swept through the door into the gathering gloom, leaving Leandra and Bethany to trail down the steps behind her.


“How long did you say Mistress Hawke would be gone?”

“Not less than a month, no longer than two.” The worry that had permanently creased her brow lightened briefly. “You can be less formal, Brother Sebastian. She can’t hear you.” Amused, Leandra Hawke sounded very like her elder daughter.

He felt a blush edging at his cheek and nodded to deflect her eyes. “Yes, my lady.”

“Not yet,” Leandra cautioned.

“That it isn’t written makes it no less true, Lady Amell.” Oh, thought Leandra as she blinked at the warmth in his tone. Well, Brother Sebastian did have a way about him, indeed, Leandra admitted to herself.

“Aveline says that if Aeryn isn’t back in a week, she will take a branch of the guard to meet them on the road.”

“I will add the Guard Captain to my prayers, then.” Sebastian wished that sounded less ineffectual to his own ears, but Leandra nodded her thanks.


It was three days into the second month when he was finally able to get back to Lowtown after a torrential downpour had kept everyone inside for two days. Too much wet for him to believe that Leandra and Bethany might care to brave their way to Hightown. But the rain had stopped last night and he had tried not to appear too eager to check on them when he left the Chantry after morning prayers. He was only keeping his word to a parishioner.

He caught sight of her in Lowtown’s Market District, but at first he couldn’t be sure. The short dark red hair was ragged around her ears, the frame was too thin and her skin had the unhealthy translucent sheen of a prisoner kept too long in the dungeon.

He loped a few steps to catch up with the woman and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Aeryn Haw…?”

She turned on him like an adder, knives gleaming, and shoved him into the cut-off behind the tailor. He drew on all his training, archer and priest, to make himself absolutely still against the blade at his throat.

It was Hawke. But her eyes were cold, glinting like the steel in her hand, too large in her thin face. “How dare you!” She hissed.

Bewildered at her reaction, he asked “What has happened, Hawke? Was it so terrible?” It occurred to him that perhaps she had contracted the Blight, the change in her was so great.

“You dare ask me...? I trusted you.” He could hear the sorrow, ragged and sharp in her voice and everything in him longed to fix whatever it was that he had done. Maker help me.

“What have I done?”

“My sister. My baby sister. You fed her to those wolves.”

Bethany? He was utterly lost and the pain in Hawke’s voice made him ache to reach out to her, but, well, daggers. “What has happened to Bethany?”

“Templars happened to Bethany, you bastard.” Hawke let ice form on her words.

At a loss, Sebastian could only repeat, “Templars?” Confusion caused him to swallow and he felt the blade bite at his throat. “Why would? Bethany was an apostate?”

Through the haze of violence, even Hawke could hear the confusion in his voice. She pulled back from where she pressed him, though she kept the knives between them and allowed him room to breathe. “You didn’t know.” It was a statement more than a question.

Sebastian ignored the twinge that her distrust caused him. “You believed I turned her in?”

Hawke snapped. “If you had known, wouldn’t you?” Sebastian remained silent. The I don’t know ratcheting in his head. But in his silence, Hawke had her answer and gave him a small, cold smile a league away from the warmth he had seen once. “Excuse me, Vael. My mother requires my assistance.”

He recovers to ask, “Is Leandra unwell?”

“She has been prostrate with grief since I returned to find them dragging Bethany off to the Gallows.”

“I will come and…”

“You will not.” Her knife was between them again. “I need no escort from your Chantry.” Her voice, bitter and brittle, cracked the last word like a curse. She twirled her daggers up to set them back into their scabbards and turned to stalk away.

It came to him to ask, “Is Bethany…is she alright.”

Hawke didn’t know why she stopped. “We don’t know. We don’t know who to ask.” She ducked out of the cut before she could hear him promise to ask Elthina, leaving him with a trickle of blood sliding down his throat to stain the white of his armor.

All Elthina could tell him when word came was that Bethany Hawke had survived her Harrowing and that she would not be allowed contact with her family until a time of the Knight Commander’s choosing. But at least he had that much to share with Leandra, still collapsed into her grief. She grasped his hand when he told her and thanked him in a rasping voice for his kindness.

The first words out of her mouth are to thank Vael. Hawke held that poisonous thought to her and let it chill her heart. She left the bedside.

She hadn’t even acknowledged him, Sebastian thought as the door to Gamlen’s closed behind him. It was better. Somehow, their chats in the Chantry, if wary on her part and curious on his, had been a temptation. He hadn’t a right to want the connection that was now severed. He shouldn’t have wanted to hear his name on her lips, or to see that flashing dimple again. Or to feel how his whole self had been concentrated in the brush of his fingers against her arm.


He heard through the gossiping women visiting the Chantry that Hawke had purchased the Amell estate and moved her household. Leandra began coming to hear the Chant and to pray, but her daughter never came with her, leaving her escort to a dwarven servant.

He caught glimpses of Hawke prowling Hightown with a handful or another of her companions. She regained herself slowly, her color improving. She let her hair grow out and within a year it brushed her shoulders and she began wearing it pulled back and up.

He visited the Viscount, badgering him for his support and saw her chatting with Seamus Dumas, all warm smile and light flirting. He stood still in the corner of the landing as she lightly laid a hand on Seamus’ shoulder and charmed an answering smile from the lad before she left, slipping gracefully down the steps. Never once had she so easily chatted with him and he recalled the bitter way she spoke of the Chantry and the way she had hovered by the doors, quick to leave, never relaxed.

He had stopped wearing his robes, unless he was assisting with the Chant. On one of those occasions, he found himself speaking with Leandra and asking about her daughters.

“She is punishing herself. And me.” Leandra smiled sadly. “I insisted that Bethany not go on the expedition. It never occurred to me to ask that Aeryn not go either.” She looked down and laid her hand over eyes briefly. “And, too, she does not like the ‘trappings’ that have come with her new station, she is rarely home.”

Sebastian felt the pull to counsel. “It is not your fault, either, Leandra.”

“I was the one who insisted on Kirkwall. We could have gone anywhere, but we came here. She had to sell herself out as a mercenary for us to even enter the city. It just…emptied her out.” Leandra paused for a minute, her gaze in the past.

“You can’t imagine. She was such a merry little child. Bethany was sweet and biddable. Carver was loud and hyper. Aeryn was a light-heart. Light-fingered as well,” she chuckled ruefully. “She’d just charm her victims, drop their goods in their hands with a guileless smile and bat her big eyes. And they’d just laugh her off, often giving her a copper for their trouble.”

“She would sing as she worked, sing as she played. She even hummed little ditties in her cot.” Leandra looked up at Andraste, “She was the one who started to teach the Chant to Bethany and Carver.” She was silent, as she gazed on the Beloved.

“When did she change?” Sebastian thought he’d kept the (foolish) hungry curiosity out of his voice until Leandra looked at him and he caught the spark of pity in her eyes.

Hesitantly, she continued. “One day, she was just eleven, and we had to move very quickly, because of, well” Sebastian nodded, understanding. “And it seemed like a candle had been snuffed out. Oh, she would sing if she was asked and she smiled all the time, but it was so different.” Leandra paused. “I thought it was just, girls change as they get older, you know. It eased after we came to Lothering. But then one day we came home and she’d cut her hair short and it began again. More and more she was like she is now. Wearing a mask for everyone, a merry mask. Playing with words, quick with a joke and all the time watching from behind her own eyes, cold and fair.”

“I asked her father once if he thought, perhaps, if she had magic after all. She’s so good at slinking into shadows and such…It seems like magic. And I worried that a…that something had gotten to her. But Malcolm promised he could tell. He spoke with her and she was better for a bit. But he died and then she ran off to the army when she turned eighteen. “

A sister carrying the incense past them woke Leandra from her reminiscing. “I have talked your ear off, Brother Sebastian. You shouldn’t have let me.” He could hear the caution in her voice and he wanted to heed it. But instead he recalled that dimple and the truth of that smile. He wanted to heed the warning, but his dreams recalled the whisper of the one time a girl had said his name.

A month later, he spied her in the marketplace with her elvhen companion, the one with the shining tattoos. She had a soft, fond look on her face and she reached out to push the elf’s hair out of his face and was rewarded with a smirk. She smiled back and patted him on his spiky gauntlet before they turned down the steps into Lowtown. That dimple had flashed easily for another. He shouldn’t care. He had taken vows. And then the letter came that took him out to the Marches to track down leads on the murders.


Time passed quickly while Sebastian roamed the Free Marches. He'd had the vaguest notion of a plan, to begin with but it fell to pieces. No one wanted to help a disgraced son discover what had happened to his family and he criss-crossed the citystates with only vague assurances of aid "should he ever get a proper lead.” The more influential families, Laird Robard’s brood at Raven’s Reach and the Gyrlains at Lostleap, barely acknowledged him at all and he was forced to resort to meeting with their skeptical secretaries.

Thin and at the ragged end of his resources, Sebastian returned to Kirkwall not quite a year later. Still empty-handed, still unwanted while Starkhaven celebrated the wedding of Goran and a noble girl from Orlais. Elthina, at least, was glad to see him and his cell was unchanged, sparse and clean. He fell asleep in the bed that had been his for ten years; the worn, heavy linen sheets smelling of lye and incense a reminder of simpler, easier days that had once stretched before him with a promise of unending service and purpose. Sebastian whispered a prayer of thanks and a promise of renewed faith before he slept.

But Elthina would not renew his vows, not that morning nor any thereafter. “Not yet. We will see.”

She found new uses for him, now that he’d acknowledged the family name again, beyond being simply Brother Sebastian. Now, he was sent to the Keep to make her thoughts known to Viscount Dumar and to the Gallows to confer with Knight Commander Meredith. He kept an eye out and saw Bethany Hawke once, in heavy blue robes with her dark head bowed in a way that troubled him for days after he left the mages’ tower. She’d been a little shy before, certainly pious, but there had never been anything cowed about any of the Hawkes.

Certainly not Aeryn Hawke. He saw her on occasion, too. And she was...different. Polished, elegant. Noble.

Most notably, she attended the Viscount’s 55th nameday dinner. She escorted Lady Amell to a gathering of the older matrons and with a precise curtsy left to prowl the room, a shadow in her daringly cut black velvet and long grey gloves amidst the brighter flowers of Kirkwall femininity. Against her stark simplicity, he thought they looked gaudy. Standing to the side of the room, Sebastian couldn’t help but watch her as she dealt with the inanities of public life. Hawke chatted and danced with a cool smile on her dark lips, never seeming to mind the way the little circles would close behind her as she moved on.

He followed her, not too closely as he did have some idea of how foolish he was, but close enough to hear the ladies tittering behind their fans about her working habits and the scars on her shoulders and the men making comments about her proclivities in the bedroom, the curve of her arse, even as they claimed she was far too common to bother with. “Dangerous as a damned dragonling. Might keep your sheets warm, but she’d probably turn around and bite your cock off and steal your rings on a whim. I’ve told the boys they’re on their own if they fool with trash like that.” Comte DeLauncey murmured to his crowd of older noblemen as Sebastian passed. He had no right, and less stature, to call them to apologize. No right to stalk her through the crowded ballroom either not that it seems to be stopping you, he sighed to himself.

A moment later, he bowed over Lady Mardin’s delicate fingers avoiding her attempt to get him to dance with her daughter, a lovely creature with a wave of golden hair over her forehead and an odd gleam in her eyes. Perhaps she’d had a bit much of the punch. “No, I’m sorry. I am here on behalf of Grand Cleric Elthina, my lady. I cannot dance and I would not be so remiss as to deprive someone else of Lady Emma’s company. Excuse me.”

The reflected candlelight caught garnet sparks in Aeryn's...Hawke's hair. She'd let it grow out and it was caught up in ebony and onyx combs.

The Viscount himself, his son, and the foreign guests did not seem to share the rest of Kirkwall’s opinion. Aeryn gave her best wishes to Dumar and Saemus bowed over her fingers before she whirled him off in a dance.

Sebastian was close enough to see the speculative look on Dumar's face as he watched his son’s back. “I have considered it,” he nodded when the ambassador from Cumberland raised a curious eyebrow. “The Amell name and she’s quite...formidable. I’d have had worse troubles with the Arishok by now if not for her aid. He likes her, I think, if he can be said to like anything. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t walk on eggshells with him. No, she’d be a fine match, make a man out of Saemus. Maker knows, we could use a little hotter blood in the noble lines and she seems to be fond of the boy. He’s reluctant, though, for one reason and the other. I’ll give him a few more months before I push anything. Anyway, she’s been quite busy dealing with a few problems too delicate for the Guards. Don’t want to distract her with wedding plans, just now.”

Aeryn returned on Saemus’ arm and a tall, lean, dark man with the insignia of the court of Antiva embroidered on his doublet and the shoulders of a soldier gave her a bow. She returned it with a wryly arched brow over mocking grey eyes and took his hand for the Remigold that was announced.

An hour or so later, the Antivan bent down to catch something she was saying in that low, sweet voice. Sebastian caught glimpse of his eager face and a knowing smile canted on Hawke's lips, the dimple Sebastian had seen once nowhere in evidence as the Antivan escorted her out of the ballroom.

Vael, are you listening at all?” The narrow-shouldered nobleman Sebastian had been talking to forced a rolled set of documents into his hand and Sebastian missed entirely the way Hawke turned her head at the sound of his name before she led her new acquaintance down the stairs. “I thought you’d want to hear about this, but don’t let anyone know you got it from me. The Harimanns don’t deal gently with those who betray their confidences.”

“Of course. I’ll read it as soon as I’m alone.” Sebastian swallowed the last warm dregs of the melon scented punch he’d been carting around in its delicate glass cup in an attempt to wash down the spurt of empty, pointless jealousy and thanking his contact, bowed to him and left the ballroom. He walked slowly the distance to the Chantry, measuring his steps to the toll of the bells for evening prayers. First he’d read the documents and then he’d go into the nave for midnight prayers.

And he would not, not, think of pale shoulders or black velvet or dark red lips whispering wicked things.

Perhaps he should pray, first.

Sebastian trembled, the papers in his hand crushing as he shook. Reeled. It just couldn’t be the Harimanns. Maker preserve him. He had played with Brett and Flora. He had mocked Ruxton and kissed serving maids to make the prude blush. He had eaten at their table and cleaned out their stable, once, when Lady Harimann had caught him with his hand up the assistant cook’s skirts.

He fully intended to smash into the hall and demand answers, but when he stopped in their courtyard, the estate felt…wrong. Something crawled along the back of his neck and he found himself backing away, praying.

He passed Hawke’s estate on his way back to the Chantry and something made him stop and knock. The dwarf that attended Chant with Leandra opened the door

“I’m sorry, messere.” Bodahn replied to his inquiry. “Mistress Hawke is away attending to something along the Coast. I will take your message, though.”

A week passed. Two. He knew she’d returned because he heard that she fought with mercenaries in an alley filled with poison that had something to do with the Qunari. He prayed for her and tried to make himself go back to the Harimann Estate.

Night after night he spent on his knees. Elthina returned from Orlais and he was talking with her when Hawke, Varric Tethras, the elf and a tavern wench with too much jewelry and not enough pants trotted up the stairs. Hawke slid a finger over the bound Chant on the lectern before mocking his surprised acknowledgement. “Don’t stop on my account. I love to eavesdrop.” It sparked a bit of good natured banter between her and the dwarf before he interrupted.


They left the Chantry together, though it had taken a fair amount of convincing during which she had nearly ignored Sebastian. Elthina’s insinuation that little Hawke did was of value had set her teeth on edge, but it had pushed her to accept the task. Sebastian wasn’t sure if he was grateful.

While they walked, Tethras asked, “Why are we doing the lost prince’s dirty work, again?”

Hawke arched her eyebrow at him, “My mother likes him.” For all the world as though he wasn’t trotting along after them.

“What we do for the fair Leandra.” Varric grumbled.

“And her wicked daughter,” the wench, called Isabela, added.

Fenris threw in, “Who owes me two sovereigns for Wicked Grace.”

Hawke chuckled, “I’m good for it, Fenris. Don’t I always pay up straight?”

Just then, they reached the Harimann’s dooryard. Sebastian felt the wrongness crawling up his neck. Fenris stopped dead and growled, “Hawke.”

She looked hard at the elf and snapped at Isabela. “Go get Anders.” Her voice had gone deadly serious.


When the mage (which was clearly what he was) Anders, arrived, they entered. And the creeping got stronger. Hawke and Anders exchanged talking glances when the shades attacked. He can’t believe how casually they strode through the mansion, taking the horrors in stride and rifling through chests, pocketing trifles and reading bits of Flora’s diary.

Seeing the demon that had enthralled Lady Harimann was…he’d run out of words for awful and strange by then. Obscene, perhaps. And then Hawke chatted with the creature and it was clawing through his thoughts.

He made it through the fight on adrenaline, he thought. At the end, Hawke had smacked him on the chestplate and quirked a smile at him. “Nice work.” But he just looked at her. Five seconds ago that thing…those things had…and Lady Harimann was bleeding out at his feet.

He smiled back. That seemed to be what was expected of him.

Hawke, Isabela and Varric walked him back to the Chantry. Anders and Fenris had peeled off in opposite directions. He tried to thank her for her aid only to be met again with a smirk and a glancing regard as her eyes travelled upwards. “I can think of other ways to repay me.”

He felt himself blush and heard himself stammer something as he retreated. He caught Isabela’s laugh, “Oh Hawke. That was naughty!” Delighted, it seemed, at his embarrassment.

He stopped at Hawke’s reply. “He’ll recover.” After a pause she added, “That was rough, for him, I think. He knew those people. I wanted to give him something else to think about.”

“I imagine it worked.”


And it did. For that night, his subconscious lingered on ways to repay her, that would live up to the smoky tones her voice had used, light kisses and gentle strokes and then heated reminisces of things long past. He was up early for prayers and then spent the day in the gardens, weeding herb patches to distract himself from the morning’s evidence of his lack of self-control.

The next night, though, demons scraped at his prideful and ambitious heart and he had to fight from running to Elthina, from begging to have his vows renewed and his choices taken from him. Instead, he lit candles and knelt, the edge of the carpet digging into his knees.

That day he spent at the rail, fasting and reciting the scraps of Chant that he could grasp in his shattered calm. Elthina had offered to hear his confession, but he was not ready to share with her what had occurred to him at the Harimanns. He knew that he should, but doubt and shame bade him be silent.

Hours passed. He could tell by the changing rhythm of the Chantry that evening was drawing in and he had gathered the scraps of his poise as much as he was to be allowed, it seemed. Sebastian had just stood, to stretch and perhaps find something to relieve his day-long fast, when Hawke slipped up the stairs. She pushed back her hood as Sebastian looked up, revealing her newly-shorn hair.

She looked him over, observing this time, not leering. He looked tired and wan, pale under his tan. His eyes were dull. “I came to apologize.” She spoke quietly, gazing out over the Chantry floor before looking up at him, eyes solemn. “I forget not everyone meets with such things so often.” Her lips twisted in regret. “We expect demons, these days.”

He whispered. “I can still hear it. Telling me how it can give me what I want.”

She frowned. Even metaphorically, she felt the turmoil in him. “Don’t let demons drive you from your rightful place.”

He grabbed at that, someone to tell him what to do. “What is my place, Hawke?”

She couldn’t indulge him, though. Shaking her head she replied, “I’d say your people need a leader. But I’d do them no favor sending you to them with doubt in your heart. Only you can decide that.”

He sank back to his knees and laid his head against the cool wood of the rail. Closing his eyes he breathed in the ever present smoke of incense and the eternal flame. Once it had calmed his soul. Now?

He heard her drop down beside him and it was her scent he breathed. The heat of the day drew out an aroma of almonds to complement the leather of her jerkin. Glancing at her, he found her balanced on the balls of her feet, graceful and nonchalant, but soft concern on her face. In her hands, was a long thin package, wrapped in brown cloth.

“What’s this?”

“Found it at Harimann’s. Varric said it was a Starkhaven mark.”

Sebastian knew what it was as soon as it was in his hands, but he flipped back the cloth anyway. “This…this was my grandfather’s bow.” He touched it reverently, drawing a finger down the inlaid arc. Hawke watched his fingers and a slight smile touched her lips. “He said he’d give it to me the day I could draw it.” He continued and she listened to his tale, his accent thickening as he spoke of the man he had admired so. She admitted to a little envy, that he could recall such stories with his family, that he had a relic. Bethany had Father’s staff, but she had nothing. It was hard even to recall his voice or the exact amber shade of his eyes. And Sebastian spoke of grandparents and cousins and it seemed odd to her, the idea of family extending past the little knot of people she had spent everyday of her life with until she’d turned eighteen. Gamlen had hardly extended that, he only barely seemed like kin.

“It’s a useful thing.” She gently broke into the reverie he’d fallen into at the end of his story. “Better to launch arrows at your enemies than your family.” The teasing crooked grin she gave him felt like balm against the lashes of his conscience battered soul and he couldn’t help but laugh.

“Is nothing sacred to you, Hawke?”

The frown that crossed her brow was fleeting. “Many things.” She kept her voice light, though, as she stood to leave. “You are quite skilled. It’s in good hands.” He felt the loss of her warmth far too keenly and turned to watch her go. He tried to think of something beyond thank you to say. To make her stay. And as if reading his thoughts, she paused at the top of the steps.

“If I called upon you, could I expect you to come?” Hawke hesitated to do this. In the end, though, he needed to know what lay out there for him. He needed to learn combat and how to react in a fight, not just how to aim with dead-eye precision. He couldn’t make a choice if he didn’t know that part of war. And, she admitted to herself, she was curious as to how he made her react. Somehow she wanted him to walk with her for a while, but it was sure to make his choices more difficult.

He could tell that this was a loaded question. Answered one way, it would mean that he’d not see her again, that she would accept his withdrawal from her overture. She would leave him to the Chantry, to follow Andraste’s silent road. To follow her, to be counted among her companions would mean a far different path. He should not answer. But, his inner self argued, now you owe her. It would be dishonorable to not attend. To give himself a moment he clarified, “Come and fight? With you?”

She dropped her head in a nod. “Yes.” Even the dim light of the Chantry gleamed off the mahogany of her hair. A wholly different path.

Sebastian leapt. “If you could use me, I would come.”

Chapter Text

Aeryn was awake long before dawn broke. Stretching, she looked out her window into the garden. The clear sky indicated a warm day coming. She buckled on her leathers and sheathed her daggers and slipped down the stairs to the kitchen, to grab a sweet roll off the plate she had Orana leave out for her each night. Hawke’s hours were odd. It was easier if she didn’t have to bump around, disorganizing the elf’s kitchen, when she needed a snack in the middle of the night.


The practice ring she’d built into a corner of the small garden was set up with dummies and targets and she fell into her stretches with the ease of old habit. Old habits also left plenty of brain to ramble with thoughts she could otherwise ignore.

She should apologize again, Hawke considered, as she leaned from a backbend into a handstand. She’d apologized for embarrassing Sebastian after the Harimann’s, but not for…before. Rotating off her hands, she bounced into a crouch and flung the first knife into a hay-filled target.

When she’d turned on him like a half-starved wolf after Bethany went to the Circle. Bethany had made it fairly clear that she’d been the one, that she’d turned herself in, to keep the Templars from her family.

Cast the blame anywhere except where it belonged. cast the fake smoke powder bomb into the face of the nearest dummy She should have Sandal rearrange these now and again, for the surprise factor. And then remind him that practice dummies shouldn’t go ‘boom.’

through the paces of patterns, now Then, she’d ignored him. Avoided the Chantry like it was the Deep Roads all over again, as though the door might shut behind her and never open again. She’d been embarrassed, more than anything.

There had been such…pity in his face when he’d come to tell Mother about Bethany. That she lived. Compassion, then, and an urgent need to be useful, to her mother. He’d watched her, sitting in the corner of that dank, damp room of Gamlen’s that the three of them had lived in for a year and a half. Whenever he hadn’t had his eyes on Leandra’s face, he’d looked up to her and…something in his gaze. Halfway between longing and needed distance. gauge the distance to the far wall and run and jump and ricochet back into the ring

Very briefly she’d wanted to close the gap, but then her mother had spoken to him. Aeryn knew it was just that Leandra had manners bred in the bone, she’d had to thank him. Aeryn had been trying to get her mother to speak for three weeks, at that point.

contrast the positions. down low with sweeping foot then up into a opposing roundhouse Sebastian Vael was nothing but a contradiction. Archer and priest. Gentleness and grace concealing power and impulsiveness. Cold white armor against ruddy hair and eyes like gas flames. Empty words and a voice that promised everything. Rough brown robes and smooth tan skin. And…he was a priest. Oathsworn. And if Aeryn was nothing else, she was a woman who honored vows.

If she wasn’t that…what else was left to her?

It had been better to ignore him. ignore the fallen target and forward roll to hamstring the dummy To forget the way he had smirked fondly at her when she’d stammered out her request to escort her family. The way his eyes had sparked when she’d said his name. If she was a sort of temptation to him and his vow, then he was better off if she ignored him. And it didn’t matter if she didn’t honor what he made his vow to. Like the Saarebas, Ketojan. She’d honored the decision, even if she’d had the stench of burning flesh in her nostrils for days. She would lock that longing in the trunk with all the things from Lothering that she wanted to forget even as she kept them. don’t forget that target half hidden in the bush or the one on the roof across from the ring

When he’d left the note with Bodahn, his request for her aid with the Harimanns, she’d almost tossed it in the trash. There were several other mercenary bands in Kirkwall, each able to take care of a host of problems. Let him ask one of them.

She had watched, though. Watched the mansion Vael had mentioned and noticed that no one entered or left. She’d had Varric make inquiries about the family and discovered that there were strange rumors surrounding them. She’d remembered Lord Harimann, how he’d stood to aid Ferelden and realized that something must have gone wrong indeed if they had stooped to slaughtering the Vael clan. She’d seen Sebastian go up to the door once, bow in hand and watched as he’d shuddered and slunk away. Cowardice? Aeryn didn't think so, but...then he hadn't attempted to deal with the mercenaries, either.  Maybe he was a coward. 

She leaned over, with her hands on her knees, breathing deeply. She’d decided then. The next day she had asked Varric and Isabela to meet her in Hightown and picked Fenris up on the way to the Chantry

Chapter Text

It was the third time he’d fought with them that he saw it. For a change, he’d found a good vantage point, with his back to a wall, on a height that allowed him to see the whole alleyway. He’d just launched a volley to distract the enemy when he saw Fenris and Aeryn, the glance they shared as they leapt to their work.

He’d never thought about it. Sebastian had always assumed that Hawke plied her trade out of necessity. Her mother had mentioned that she’d been forced into mercenary work and then she’d required coin to fund the expedition to the Deep Roads. The look on her face he had come to know now, that had nothing to do with necessity or requirement. There was bliss. It wasn’t peace, like you’d see on a Chantry sister at prayer, but the look of a woman well satisfied with her work.

The smile that she and Fenris shared, though, was something else again. Not cruel, no, but yet feral. A baring of teeth between pack-mates before one bounded into the heart of the fight and the other launched a tumbling run around the edge. They were eager for the battle.

Merrill was just below him on the stair, casting spell after spell on the bunch he had pinned back. She’d been fighting with Hawke as long as Fenris, long enough to know instinctively where her mates would be. But he’s still new enough that he had to watch where they moved. One flame-haired, one with a white shock. One a blaze of light and the other gathering shadows.

When a new wave (Slavers? Bandits? He wasn’t sure if they’d even found out before the fight started.) dropped from the opposite roof in to the pool of light, he called out to them. Hawke rebounded herself off of the staircase and shouted, “Fenris!” The elf cleared an arc around him with a clean motion and then planted his massive sword point down into the packed dirt of the Lowtown street. The two fighters clasped wrists and, with the broadsword and his left foot as pivot, Fenris used his unnatural strength to fling Hawke into the line of archers.

Between that stunning move, the ensnarement that Merrill cast and his precision (false modesty is a sin, too) the fight was over. Hawke and Merrill pillaged the bodies while he collected his arrows and Fenris picked over the weaponry to separate the useful from the scrap.

The elf mumbled something in Arcanum. Hawke heard it and chuckled as she worked next to him and leaned into his shoulder fondly, oblivious to the spiked armor he wore. Fenris reached out a clawed hand to pluck a bit of viscera out of her bangs and she didn’t flinch, she just laughed again. They were so comfortable with each other. Sebastian tried to fight back the envy that twisted in his gut. With him, she stiffened every time he got close.

“They’re like the dragons.” Merrill chirruped next to his shoulder, and handed him two arrows he’d missed.

“How’s that?” He asked, gently. He often thought he should be somewhat more disapproving of Merrill. He’s seen what she was. Yet, something in her brought out the gentleness in most people. Not Fenris or Anders, of course. They were seemingly immune to her and her gamine charm.

The elf cocked her dark head at their companions. “Like the poem? No?” Her mouth twisted ruefully. “Oh, I guess you wouldn’t know it.”

She went quiet then, frowning at the nick on her thumb as if wondering where it had come from. Hawke started helping Fenris stow the loot in their pack so he asked. “What poem wouldn’t I know, Merrill?” At her surprised look, Sebastian added “I like poetry, you know?”

“Right. That story-song you sing. This one’s Dalish. About humans.”

“Not dragons?”


“Ah.” He rubbed at his brow. Maybe he sighed.

She blinked up at him. “Oh, you want me to tell you the poem?”

“That would help, yes.”

She folded her hands behind her back and closed her eyes like a child about to recite a lesson. “Like dragons, they fly. Glory upon wing. Like dragons, they savage. Fearsome, pretty things.” She opened her big hazel eyes. “We met a dragon, the day they came to get me from my clan. Well, it was a witch. In an amulet. But also a dragon, really.”

He must have gaped at her, because the elf blushed a little.

The body that Hawke had been about to pat down groaned at her feet, drawing their attention. She rolled him over and the fellow reached out a shaking hand. He said something and Hawke glanced up at Fenris. “He asks for mercy.” The elf translated.

“You had none.” Hawke replied for Fenris to translate again, as she slipped a long, slender blade under the slaver’s sternum and into his heart and twisted. Fenris spat at the man’s feet and helped Hawke up, earning a grin as they moved on.

“They’re like that. Fearsome, pretty things.”

“They are that, Merrill.”

Chapter Text

Sebastian saw Hawke turn down the landing into the Guardsmans' quarters. They'd come to meet with the viscount and he'd been drawn into a conversation with the seneschal. He thought to catch her up and see if she was going home or if they had a new task. He'd heard the ripple of her laughter from Aveline's office and he'd paused to listen, a smile flickering across his face at the warmth of her chuckle.

"I mean it, Hawke! Stop sleeping with my guardsmen!" Oh. Sebastian ducked his head, forcing away the jealousy that twisted in his gut. He should probably leave, then.

"Stop hiring the pretty ones, then." Leave any minute.

"Isabela is a terrible influence on you." Sebastian would have to agree.

""She'll be pleased to hear it."


"Oh, Aveline. It's not as if I'm lining them up every evening to pick out my new favorite." Thank Andraste for small favors. "It was Brennan, what last year? And then Fergus a month ago."

"And now the others are casting lots and trying to pull duty where you might be prowling."

"Do I prowl? I am sorry, though, Aveline. I didn't realize I was distracting."

"Why the guardsmen? I know Leandra has you out among the noble sons now."

"Tcha. Have you met the noble sons of Kirkwall?"

"A few." He would have to agree with the dismissing tones of the women’s voices.

"Shaken hands with any? No, of course not. They all have hands like cold fish and marshmallows, Aveline. It is truly…unpleasant to have them touch you."

"What does this have to do with my guardsmen?"

"I'm a good daughter. Mother wants me to find a nice boy and settle down. And I have humored her. I go to the parties and the salons and the suppers. I dance and chat and now and again one of them tries to stick their limp hand down my bodice. And I don't stab them. Because I'm a good daughter." Even Aveline had to chuckle at that. Sebastian nodded at a guardsman who had looked up at Sebastian’s choked snort.

“You know, in Ferelden, I could at least have counted on the nobles being trained to sword or bow. I’m reasonably sure most of these men have never held their own.” Aveline coughed. “I was going to say quills, Aveline.” Hawke finished demurely.

“Still, what does that have to do with…oh, calluses.” He could almost hear Aveline blush. It probably matched his.
“There you go. I bet Donnic has…”


“Yes, Guard Captain?” With his eyes closed he could picture Hawke blinking her big gray eyes innocently to contrast with the wicked grin she likely wore. “Anyway. I’m not chasing after the lowlife mercs in this town and the only other soldiers in Kirkwall are Templars and well.” Hawke trailed off.

“No. That would be inappropriate.”

Sebastian backpedalled up the stairs as he heard the women approach the door.




“To the Void with you!” Hawke kicked the bandit who had thrown acid at her in his chest, sending the recently dead fellow over the cliff and into the water, below.

She’d stripped off her half-fingered gloves when the acid started to eat through the leather. Picking them up gingerly, she cast them over the cliff as well. “I just bought the sodding things!”

“Need healing?” Anders looked up from Fenris’ badly cut bicep even as the elf snarled.

“Finish already, mage!”

Hawke looked over at them. “How’s that arm?”

Anders waved her off. “Just fine in a minute.”

“Then, no.” She grumbled as she looked at her wrist. She rinsed it off with a splash from her waterskin and winced as the water hit the reddened skin.


“Here. Let me.” Sebastian pulled a vial from a pocket on his quiver. He pulled the cork with his teeth and caught her small strong hand in his own to pour the healing solution over the blistering patch. The elfroot stopped the stinging and her wrist regained its smooth texture. He didn’t let go though. How come she always forgot how tall he was until he was standing next to her like this?

“There now. Not so bad.” Sebastian’s voice smoothed over her. He was rubbing his ungloved thumb soothingly against the hollowed joint where her own thumb met her wrist.

He meant to stop until he heard the breathy tenor of her reply.

“Uh. Thank you.” Hawke’s eyes were wide, dilated in the growing twilight and the gray had taken on a slight smoky quality. He didn’t know why he couldn’t let go of her hand. But he did know exactly why he dragged his thumb a little farther up the sensitive inside of her arm, away from the healing burn. She breathed in sharply and caught her lip in her teeth. He was tempted. Maker, he was tempted to drop a kiss in that hollowed spot on her wrist as he kept his eyes on hers. She tugged back then, though, and he let her go.

She shot occasional glances back at him as they trekked back to Kirkwall. How had he known? Because he had. There had been something that in another man’s eyes would have been self sure knowledge of just how that roughened thumb dragging across the sensitized flesh would feel.

Sebastian spent the trip wondering if he should pray harder about deliberately trying to stimulate Aeryn, the pleasant satisfied feeling of knowing she'd respond to him or the smug feeling he got when he could see her trying to deduce how he’d come by his knowledge of her weakness.

Chapter Text

Aeryn looked out at the horizon. No getting around it, they’d cut the trip up Sundermount far too close to nightfall this time. Sol would have to wait until tomorrow for his potion ingredients and they were going to have to camp. Stumbling around in the dark was just asking to fall. Into a spider nest or off a cliff, neither sounded a fun way to cap off the trek.

She glanced back at her companions. Varric would complain, but she thought Fenris and Sebastian would be amenable. There was a wide clearing just south of the bend in the trail, with easy access to a stream. That would do.

In reality, none of the men had been thrilled with the idea. Fenris thought he felt a storm coming on. Varric had an idea he wanted to write down and he didn’t have his equipment. Sebastian had intended to help with early prayers. All of them had gruffly accepted their assignments to set up camp, treating Aeryn to silence.

Fine. “Look, I like camping, but I didn’t intend to do it tonight. I’ll cook.”

That got a more companionable atmosphere. She was a good scratch cook, but she often made her male party members do it on principle. Sebastian disappeared into the woods. When he returned a halfmark later, they had a fire started, the camp well organized and he had three fat rabbits spitted on an arrow.

Aeryn took them and splayed the first out to skin it. Sebastian tugged out his belt knife to attend to the next.

“I am sorry to keep you from the Chantry over-night, Sebastian.”

He glanced aside to her as she finished the third rabbit and quirked a smile at her. “It’s not a problem, Hawke. I know it was not on purpose.”

Varric snorted behind them. “I’m sorry I kept you from your plans, Fenris,” he smarmed in his more sarcastic voice.

“And I regret the loss of your evening employment.” Fenris went along with the joke in his dry humor.

“Alright. I’m so sorry, Fenris, that I dragged you away from your dank, rotting mansion and your bottle of wine. And you, Verric. I’m terribly put out that you will have to spend the night away from the piss scented hall of your suite. Please forgive me!” She clasped bloody hands to her chest and sighed with the all the pathetic fervor of a repentant maiden.

That got the men grinning, well, Fenris smirked a little, which was his version. She dredged the rabbit in the little bit of seasoned flour she carried in a pouch for cooking ingredients, separate from her poisons. A few dried vegetables and herbs made for a fine stew, and were convenient to carry. Ah, oops. The bottle she touched with her fingers was bumpy, a poison vial. That wasn't right. Adder’s Kiss would not be appreciated as seasoning. She slipped that back into the poison pouch.

An hour later, they had enjoyed a decent meal, though the stew could have used a longer cooking. She could stretch it with hulled barley in the morning and they’d have a filling breakfast, with the added benefit of more tender meat.

Aeryn didn’t have to assign watches. They were used to the routine by now. Varric went first, because he slept like the Stone the dwarves on the Expedition swore they were borne of. Fenris second, since he had the soldier and slave’s habit of waking and sleeping easily. Aeryn took third. She’d always thought it was the hardest, not enough sleep and not enough time to get properly back to sleep. Sebastian last, because he was usually up for prayers by that time anyway.

They settled in snugly, spaced around the fire. Hawke had fallen asleep almost instantly, lulled by the breath of her companions. She’d never quite gotten used to sleeping alone, without Bethany beside her and Carver and her parents nearby. It was one of the reasons she looked forward to their rare camps, the chance to be surrounded by the now familiar breathing of people she trusted.

She woke easily to Fenris’ gruff word. “Hawke.”

She sat and stretched and nodded to the elf, indicating he was off duty. He slipped to the other side of the fire and dropped off quickly. She stoked the fire and then turned away to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Keeping the flames to her back, she took up patrol.

She prowled for two hours, stopping occasionally to listen to Varric’s rumbling snore and Fenris’s quiet, controlled breath. Sebastian didn’t seem to be sleeping well, though, and when he finally went still, she decided to let him sleep through his watch. Aeryn was enjoying the cool air of the night, fragrant with the green of trees and the slight tang of salt off the coast. And it was possible, she admitted, that she’d never get to sleep again, listening to him move around the camp and watching him from between lowered lashes. He moved differently when he wasn’t aware of being watched. Less upright Chantryboy and more like the stalking rogue he was trained to be. Maybe she should wake him, she smirked silently. Ah, she really needed to push off this foolish crush she had. It was doing neither of them any good.

Sebastian started shifting again in his sleep and Aeryn turned closer. He was mumbling something. “No. No. It’s not true.” A nightmare, then. Perhaps dreaming of his family. He’d mentioned once that he still dreamed of the demon, too, so she slipped to his side to wake him.

He lay illuminated between the fading embers of firelight catching sparks in his auburn hair and the coolness of moonlight silvering his cheek. One arm was flung over his head, while the other covered his eyes. He’d removed his breastplate and his spaulder, leaving only his hooded leather jerkin for warmth. He whimpered in his sleep again and Aeryn just caught herself from smoothing her hand over his lean cheek, from brushing back the touseled hair off his high forehead. Void, he was a beautiful man. She didn't often get to just look at him, but...he shivered and she recalled what she meant to do. Leaning awkwardly over him, Aeryn touched the fire-warmed, fine doeskin to shake him gently, her hand closed on his shoulder and spoke his name in a whisper, “Sebastian.”

He grabbed her hand and rolled her beneath him, his mouth warm and hard on hers and his strong thigh between her own, her hand captured and pressed to the ground beside her head and all before she could squeak a protest.

Later, she would think about how this was the move of a practiced rake and that it was possible that the stories he hinted of himself were actually true. Just now, her senses were being assaulted by the stubble of his cheek, his lips nipping at hers; begging entry, the lean, muscular thigh between her legs and his voice sleep-rough as he whispered to her in his cradle tongue.

He smelled of smoke and incense that permeated his leathers and something green and spicy that must be his soap and, Maker, just him. Rich and dark and male. Aeryn's free hand combed into his hair, the wavy tangles of it surprisingly soft at his nape and he smiled against her mouth, chuckling.

She needed to stop him. He was dreaming and this was, somehow even though it was her pinned to the ground, this was taking advantage of him. But she needed… and she had dreamed of him, being close enough to… He’s not aware it’s you, she scolded herself, but then in the torrent of words he was whispering she heard her name and she opened to him, to the tongue gliding to twine with hers. Arched into him, grinding against his thigh.

Aeryn managed not to moan when he started to trail kisses down her jaw to growl at the leather collar protecting her throat. Part of her, the rogues' wicked streak, was basking in the revelation that Sebastian wanted her, all his distance and blushing a cover for his real feelings. But... Fenris and Varric were just on the other side of the fire. No one was on watch and his teeth, oh…against the vulnerable line of her throat. She pressed him closer.

His hand had slipped between them now, to the buckles of her leathers knuckles brushing the curve of her breast and Maker, his vows. She couldn’t. If she let him, encouraged matter what he felt like pressed against her, her name on his lips. This was cruel. He would never forgive himself for breaking a vow this way, unconsciously. And...just because he wanted her, didn't mean he wanted this. So, scrounging up the dregs of her honor, Aeryn dragged her eyes open and managed a weak protest. “Sebastian. Stop.”

He went instantly still, taut as the bow he carried.

He had been drowning in a nightmare and now he was safe, surrounded by the scent of Aeryn, his Aeryn...sweet almond, sharp steel, and clean sweat from the previous day. He was in the Fade, granted a sweet dream by the Maker, until he heard her whisper.  Stop.

Sebastian opened his eyes lifted his head from the reddened skin of her pale throat to look her, wide eyed, pupils dilated until there was just a ring of silver around black pools. All he could see in the setting moonlight and then he felt her, soft and pliant against him, beneath him, breathing fast and heart pounding against his hand on her breast.

Sebastian threw himself off and away from her. “Hawke. Aeryn.” He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, mortified, still tasting the sweetness of her on his lips.

The cool air chilled her now, bereft of his body heat and Aeryn shivered. Quietly, she whispered as she gathered herself up before his stricken eyes, “You were dreaming, Sebastian. It’s fine. You soon as I asked.”

She patted his shoulder to reassure her archer and he'd just, what, attacked her and she had to reassure him? “I’m so sorry, Hawke. I would never...” what? Assault her? He had. His horror at how he supposed his actions appeared, clear on his face.

“Don’t worry, I’m fine.” Wry little smile. “I know you wouldn’t want it. That’s why I stopped you.” She turned away from him, catching the bale of the kettle on her wrist. “It’s your watch. I’m going to the stream for water. I’ll be right back.” Cold water. Lots of it.  Perhaps a bit of a dunking.  Maker, he had the loveliest mouth.

Aeryn disappeared into the woods before Sebastian could process, “ That’s why I stopped you.”

Chapter Text

Two weeks passed after the impromptu camp. Sebastian struggled between the urge to push the memory behind him, a forgotten moment of weakness, and the desire to relive it, the brief moment of having Aeryn against him, the taste of her skin, the supple strength of her thighs. It hadn’t been a sin, it was not willfully committed, would be his advice to another in his situation. He couldn’t bring himself to regret it, though, when Hawke had made it clear she was neither injured nor offended. He’d be honest before the Maker in that, at least.

It was unusual for her not to send for him after so long, though. He’d made a trip into the market and looked for her the whole time, slowing when he walked past the estate. He’d had to shrug off a certain resentment, feeling like a boy with his first crush. Then again, perhaps it was apt.

Sebastian was relieved to have Elthina request his aid in reviewing the week’s invitations. She had begun to rely on him recently, to act as her unofficial liaison to the nobility of Kirkwall. His awkward status, no longer a priest not quite an independent, had proved of some use to her. He could, at least, accept invitations as an exiled prince. His former reputation even facilitated matters. No one expected him to be interested enough to analyze their conversations and report back to the Grand Cleric. Elthina was now far more informed of general opinions and current topics of interest. Not that these were easing her own position of the middle ground. It was rapidly destabilizing to a no man’s land.

They were discussing the upcoming Artisan salon, at which patrons would be displaying the work of their favorites, when the Chantry doors admitted Leandra Amell. She was a regular to the midday Chant, and often arrived early. He lost track of Elthina’s musings on the salon. Hawke was lingering in the gloom by the doors, like she had years ago, accompanying her family.

“Or perhaps I will go. Do you think scarlet silk would be becoming if I dance the Remigold, Sebastian?”

Sebastian choked, “G…grand Cleric?”

“Ah. There you are.” Elthina’s eyes twinkled and Sebastian smiled ruefully. Glancing down the narthex, she queried, “Is there an adventure waiting, then?”

“I think not.” He went back to shuffling the heavy card stock. “She’s merely escorting her mother.”

Elthina raised her eyebrows. It had been three years since Aeryn Hawke had come to the Chantry for any reason other than business or to fetch her archer.

It was plain something had shifted between the two. Sebastian had been beyond distracted. It would be interesting to spend a few minutes before the Chant began, to see them interact. It would help her make her decision. “Go see her anyway, Sebastian.”

To her surprise, the young man hesitated. His eyes hadn’t left the figure lounging against the far pillar but he didn’t move. Elthina saw Hawke push back her hood and then Sebastian stood. Some sort of obscure signal, perhaps?

He glanced back at his mentor with a note of apology in his expression. “I may need to leave before the Chant. She is…never comfortable, here.”

“Go, then.” He started down the stairs and Elthina decided to push a bit more. “Sebastian. Have you ever asked her why?”

“I don’t wish to pry, Grand Cleric. She is very private and I..” He stopped, the edge of a blush on his cheek.

“Don’t wish to push her away?” She smiled. “That can be an effective method of conversion, Sebastian, to refuse to meddle until they are too curious to resist asking why. Well done.” She raised an eyebrow at the sudden, fierce expression that crossed his face.

“Excuse me, Elthina.” Sebastian turned down the stairs.

That was interesting indeed. That was very nearly…protective.


Sebastian scanned her figure as he approached. She wasn’t visibly armed, here in a sacred space, but Isabela had assured him once that Hawke was always carrying something pointy about her person. “Always.” She’d winked and given him a knowing grin. Aeryn was unlikely to stab him, anyway, if she’d come voluntarily. She probably hadn't changed her mind about feeling insulted. He approached hesitantly.

“You missed our weekly card game.” Hawke’s voice was soft and familiar and sent a streak of warmth to his bones.

“Ah, well. I’m not truly sure I’m welcome. Varric doesn’t seem to like me very much.” The slight smile he gave as he stood near her was almost shy and she was surprised at the appealing boyish charm it leant to his patrician face. She’d missed his rolling brogue, while she gave him a bit of space. So much that she’d agreed to come to the Chant, just on the off chance she’d hear him. Maker, she was in so much trouble.

She chuckled and winked to hide her reaction. “Aww. He’s given you a nickname and everything.” She shook her head at Sebastian’s inelegant snort. “Nope. One of the highlights of being part of the band is the nickname. Soon you’ll be escorting Merrill when she’s wandered into the wrong part of Hightown, bribing Templars for Anders and distracting tax assessors for Fenris, just like the rest of us.” He quietly laughed, sparking her own and worshippers turned to them, admonishing.

The crowd had begun to gather for the Chant and he noticed her fidgeting. He tipped his head towards the door and then opened it for her to step back out into the courtyard.

Aeryn frowned at him, but followed. As they stepped out onto the landing, she asked. “Aren’t you going to be in trouble, missing the singing?”

He had been looking down the stairs to the notice board and when he looked back up at her, there was something dark in his eyes. “I’m no longer a brother, Hawke.” Only the sudden tilt of her head betrayed surprise. “I haven’t been since I left the Chantry against the Grand Cleric’s orders three years ago, not officially. And now I find myself more and more in the world, at her request.” He nodded towards the heavy doors as the Chant began echoing in the chamber.

Elthina’s less than subtle question about Hawke’s faith was itching at the tip of his tongue. He’d never asked because he didn’t want to know why the daughter of an apostate had once known the Chant so well she could teach it to her siblings and then decided she couldn’t even stand to be in the same room as the singing. And Elthina was right, he’d been sure it would push Aeryn away, though he feared it less for her religion and more for himself.

He spun around suddenly to face her and she backed up a bit, watching his face warily. “What is it?”

“Why are you so set against the Chantry, Hawke?”

The sudden sharpness of his tone and the piercing look in his hooded gaze shocked her. Had their intimate encounter on the mountain driven him to this? She wondered and tried to distract him with a gently condescending question of her own. “Besides the obvious?”

Sebastian wanted to know, now. "That's never stopped your mother. Or your sister, before.”

Her eyes flared and he thought she would spin and walk away from him. The pure tension of her posture indicated flight.

He was glaring at her as though it were her fault that he was so conflicted. And, it was. She’d dragged him away from his certainty with her own curiosity. She should leave. This was never meant to end well. It would be an eternal sticking point for them.

But she wouldn’t leave without giving him some explanation. “Do you know what my first memory of the Chantry is, Sebastian?” She looked up into his face, her own jaw tight with knowledge of the coming rejection.

He shook his head, eyes locked on hers. He could picture her, a little girl with long braids, kneeling in a white dress at her dedication.

Looking down, she wrapped her arms around her middle. “I was four. We were living in Rainsfere, Father working night security for the sheepfold and Mother doing fine needlework for the local gentry’s dressmaker.”

He followed her down the steps as she spoke. “We’d been to town to drop off her week’s bundle. On our way home, we passed an overturned ox-cart. There was a sister and an elderly couple underneath. The old woman was dead, the man close behind. The sister had a badly broken leg and a couple of crushed ribs. It was the first time I’d seen human bone poking through the skin.” She added the last part in a soft tone, glancing up to where he’d come to stand by her.

“Mother and Father got the cart turned back over and Father set the sister’s leg while Mother got the ox harnessed back. We’d almost got her back to town when she started to clutch her chest and wheeze. It was an awful sound.

“Father didn’t hesitate. He just cast and healed her. He wasn’t primarily a healer, but he had some battlefield experience. She went unconscious and we left her at the Chantry with the mother.”

She rubbed at her arms. It had been a typical, cold Ferelden spring. She could almost see the frozen mud puddles around the edge of the raised Chantry walk. “They were so nervous. They started pulling together our travelling things, we were on our way out the door. But it was too late. There were Templars there within the hour.” She was staring at Sebastian as if he wore the flaming sword on his own chest and he fought the urge to reach out and comfort the little girl who had watched her parents fleeing for their lives.

“The sister was there, to point Father out. She was perfectly hale.” Aeryn’s mouth twisted. “She called the Templars down on him, even though all he’d done was save her. We got away, of course, but…Mother was two months gone with the twins, but she could still fight. If it had been later on…”

Hawke stopped her reverie and Sebastian thought she was lost in the past until Bodahn hustled up the last of the steps to them, a letter in his hand. “From the Viscount, messere,” he huffed. “Said it was terribly urgent.”


In a Chantry. She was covered in blood again, but this time she was in a Chantry. There was a dead person at her feet, again. Though, sadly, this one hadn’t died by her own hand. The Qunari had been faster.

She glanced up at the balcony altar. Seamus was laying there, still. She needed to go find his father. Glancing at her companions, she gathered herself up. Aveline was rubbing at her face in disbelief. Varric and Fenris were tidying up their weapons, though Fenris had his eyes on her. She nodded and he headed to the door.

Sebastian was sitting on the steps, the fading adrenaline of the fight in the Chantry had drained him. The last few minutes had left him shattered. He’d been sure that Aeryn was about to gut Mother Petrice in front of him when the Qunari had loosed his first ravaging arrow. She’d grinned at the Qunari. Nodded to him after he spoke as if she agreed with the action.

She stopped in front of Sebastian and he looked up at her, shock leaching the blazing blue. She wanted to stroke her hand along his drawn brow, rub away the horror of the last few minutes.

“The Maker doesn’t want this, this violence here. This is not how things are meant to happen.”

She swallowed, but she spoke anyway. “He doesn’t want anything, Sebastian. He’s made it clear.”

“I can’t. I can’t believe that. We have to try.” There was a hollow, broken sound to his voice. The warmth was all but lost in barely held grief.

“You can keep trying. I’d listen to you, if I were Him. I’m the last person to change His mind.” He looked up at her then. Saw her covered in blood, the bleak truth in her eyes and the steel she yet held. But her voice had cracked on her words, and it finally dawned on him.

“That’s why? That’s why you don’t sing the Chant?”

She turned away to find the Viscount and bring him to his son.

Chapter Text

Fenris came blazing into the Chantry. The look on the elf’s face left Sebastian reeling as his blood chilled. Maker, no. Please.

“Sebastian. It’s Hawke’s mother.” Fenris’ voice was like gravel.

“Leandra?” Sebastian started to breathe again.

Fenris nodded and gravely told the archer what had occurred. “I’ve alerted the guardsmen, but I didn’t know where your undertaker would be,” he finished.

Elthina spoke up. “I’ll arrange for that, Sebastian. Go. Bring her back to the Chantry.”

He followed Fenris back to Darktown. Silent and grim, the elf left him to his thoughts and he began praying Leandra’s soul to the Maker’s side.


Anders and Varric had stayed with Hawke and what was left of Leandra Amell. Varric had located Leandra’s body, while Anders had convinced Aeryn to allow him to remove and cover the corpse with her mother’s face.

By the time Sebastian and Fenris had returned, Hawke was standing by a table in the living quarters, sorting papers while Varric and Anders watched with identical tired, worried expressions.

“Hawke. Aeryn, I’m so…”

“Sebastian.” She cut him off, the blank look on her face belying the briskness of her tone. “Here, show these to Aveline when she gets here, please?” There were twin tracks through the dried blood smeared across her cheeks, but her eyes were dry. “They seem to be notes about the process. I imagine the Templars will confiscate everything, but Aveline will want the details on the other victims.”

“I will. But, Hawke..” He reached out just as she moved. If he hadn’t seen the tiny flinch, he’d have thought it was a coincidence.

She waved a vague hand towards a pile of books. “Anders says these should go to the Templars, so they must be bad.”

Looking around, she backed to the staircase. “I need to get back to the estate.” She glanced at Sebastian. “I assume someone from the Chantry will be by for the bodies?”

“Elthina was arranging it.” He watched her retreat, concern creasing his brow.

“Thank her for me. Have someone drop a note off at the mansion, so I can notify Bethany about the cremation service.” Her crisp voice was completely at odds with her wide eyes and ashen complexion.

“Anders, you should go before the Templars show. I’ve got to pick up an order from Tomwise. He’ll scold me if I leave it too long.” She escaped up the stairs, drawing the shadows around her.


She arrived at the Chantry the next day to stand beside Bethany at the cremation ceremony. The expected Templar at Bethany’s side had prevented Merrill and Anders from attending, but the other companions were there and Sebastian chose to stand with them, behind Hawke, as Elthina lead the service. Varric had nodded in a strangely accepting way.

He tried again to express his condolences. She didn’t meet Sebastian’s eyes when he told her how he’d added Leandra’s name to the Chantry memorial.

“That’s kind of you, Brother Sebastian.” Bethany replied for her sister, in a watery voice. “Isn’t it, sister?”

Hawke nodded, absently. “Oh, yes. Very kind.”

Bethany’s dark brow tightened as Hawke turned and left the room abruptly. She followed in a swish of her robes, swathed in a black cloak for the ceremony.

Hawke was nearly out the door when they caught up but she stopped to ask, “Can you come back to the estate, Bethany?” It was a cool, quiet question but Sebastian heard an edge to it, as if she already knew the answer.

“Enchanter Bethany is required back at the Gallows.” The Templar answered instead and Sebastian idly wondered if the man realized how close he was to a dagger through his eye slit. He’d seen that particular sharpness in Hawke’s eye before.

Varric and Aveline were flanking Hawke and Aveline laid a gloved hand on the other woman’s shoulder. They’d seen it, too.

Bethany answered finally. “I have a class to teach, Sister.”

“Of course. Fare thee well.”

“Maker turn his gaze on you.”

They didn’t reach out for one another. They didn’t even look at each other as they left. Sebastian saw Varric shoot a surprisingly acid look at Bethany’s retreating back and wondered. Varric had been fond of Hawke’s sister, before she left for the Circle.

He was left behind them at the Chantry. He’d wandered the building, lingering nowhere until Fenris had returned an hour later. Finding him in the library, the elf had frowned. “Varric took Hawke to the Hanged Man.”

The tavern was in its usual state, humming with excessively inebriated patrons and harried waitstaff. Fenris led the way to Varric’s suite, but Sebastian hung back at the door, recalling another time he’d been here and hadn’t been invited to join them.

Hawke was seated between Isabela and Merrill, cards in her hands and a half empty bowl of stew at her elbow. Varric refilled a tumbler from a green bottle and placed it next to the bowl before flicking two fingers at Sebastian in a subtle, get in motion.

He sat in one of the low, broad stone armchairs, feeling his knees creak at bit as he settled next to Isabela. The pirate arched her eyebrow at him and then reached back and unclasped her gaudy choker and ante’d it up. Merrill was chattering about the new sprouts in her garden and then reached over to brush a smudge off of Hawke’s hand. He could see her stiffen and heard her draw in a breath.

“You smell like salt, Bela.” Hawke’s voice rasped a little.

“I was down at the docks.”

“Good. It’s nice. It’s better than…” She stopped and then started again. “It was the quicklime. It made things slimy and wrong and you’ve always got such nice warm skin, Bela. Generous, too. You always share it out and…”


Suddenly, she’d flung herself into Isabela’s lap and buried her head against the pirate’s hair. Isabela closed her arms fast and Merrill, who’d still had her hand in Hawke’s, pressed herself tight to them, snuggling into a comforting embrace. Hawke wasn’t crying, though her breathing was ragged.

Sebastian shared a glance with the other men in the room. Anders had tears in his eyes and he looked down at his hands. Fenris nodded at Varric, who started to dole out the cards he’d been shuffling, dealing Sebastian in. He picked them up, fighting an impulse to lift Aeryn into his own lap.

Aveline came into the room with a tray of drinks that she sat down next to Sebastian. “She spent the night alone.” The guard captain whispered as she handed him a tumbler. “Not about to let that happen again.” There wasn’t any censure in her voice, but he felt it like a slap, anyway.

Anders picked up the lute in the corner and began to coax a tune out. Sebastian played cards, listening to Isabela’s murmuring voice and Aeryn breathing.

Chapter Text

Aeryn woke the next morning in Varric's bed, piled in like mabari pups with Isabela and Merrill. Her mouth was filthy from last night's whiskey so she untangled herself gently from her friends trying not to disturb them.

She found a pitcher of cold tea and poured a cup to rinse her mouth. They had all been here last night. Even Donnic had come in after patrol to play cards with Fenris, Varric and Sebastian. Anders had played a few old familiar Ferelden tunes. Aveline had kept her tumbler full. When Sebastian had sat down, she'd been tempted to crawl into his lap instead, but no.

He'd been there. It was all she could ask. It was enough. It had to be.

She didn't remember falling asleep. Hope Varric found a soft spot to land, she thought. She didn't see Bianca on her rack, so she imagined that Varric had decamped to a less crowded domicile.

Corff was stirring up the kitchen staff with a less that loving "Up, you lazy louts." when she slipped down the stairs. She headed for the armor stall. She was due some new leathers anyway and she'd never be wearing that last set again.

Outside of a skull-bending head ache, she noted, she wasn't feeling too bad.

She could feel anyway, which made a nice change.

After she'd caught -it- she'd been able to feel nothing but the shattering silk of the decaying wedding gown and the clammy, slick, wrongly warm skin of the -body.
Its muscles had been twitching in her arms even as her mother's voice had bid her goodbye.

She'd gone straight back to the mansion, which meant she needed to stop by Tomwise's still. She'd stoked the boiler and started scrubbing even before the water could heat and then kept scrubbing until the fire had failed and the water had gone cold again. She'd used a months worth of soap and still felt the sliding skin against her hands and smelled the quicklime and felandris used to keep -it- from rotting.

After sitting in her room all night, ignoring the knocks on the door, she'd gotten up at dawn to go to the Gallows and let her sister scream at her. Bethany had kept it up until Cullen had threatened to drop Silence on the room to quell the gathering force of some unfamiliar spell Bethany had picked up from the Circle. He'd insisted on sending a templar with them, but from the look on his face it was more to keep Hawke from being yelled at than any fear that Bethany would run.

She didn't remember the boat from the Gallows, or the cremation. She didn't recall anything until the templar had spoken and then Aveline had dropped a warm hand on her shoulder and steered her out of the Chantry into the light.

She'd expected them to head back to the mansion, expected to have to protest.
But they'd turned down the bridge into Lowtown and gone straight to the Hanged Man. In Varric's rooms, Anders had put down a bowl of lamb and pea stew, proper grayish-brown Ferelden stew and threatened to feed her himself if she didn't start eating. Sodding healer, she smiled inwardly, her lips twisting a bit.

Merrill had sat down beside her and used her scarred little thumb to rub smut off of Hawke’s left hand and it was the first time she’d felt proper skin, since. Isabela dealt and they had played a hand and then Bela had ante’d up her necklace and she could smell the salt air on the pirate’s skin. And she’d started babbling, all the words bogged down on her tongue and only half coming out about how it was all so much more pleasant than corpse skin. Varric had said her name and she’d recalled how nice Isabela was about sharing and apparently Aeryn had said that out loud because suddenly she was curling into Bela’s lap and she dragged Merrill along as well, because Merrill always smelled of the elfroot salve she favored, clean and sharp.

Aeryn didn’t know how long they’d sat like that. Long enough for the lads to put the card game back in full swing. Long enough that she’d fallen asleep. She’d dreamed of the ocean and flotsam pulling away on the tide.


Sebastian wasn’t surprised at all by the blinding headache that brought him to as the Chantry bells struck. He’d left the tavern after he and Aveline had put Hawke in Varric’s bed, but the last two days had left him ill and out of kilter. He was slow in his morning preparations, stumbling through stretches and fumbling with his armor.

After prayers, Sebastian had felt more centered. He’d knelt to light the candles for his family and now for Leandra, when Sister Couldra crept up behind him with a message.

Gathering up his bow and gear, he exited the Chantry. Hawke was looking over the notice board. She was wearing new armor, black and padded. The hood was pushed back and her hair gleamed in the morning light. She was drawn and she winced at the sunlight, but she threw him a wan, lop-sided smile that tugged him closer.

Aeryn wouldn’t want to hear the pieces of Chant that he would comfort a parishioner with, but she had sought him out. Sebastian stood there a moment, with a hundred things to say and sure that none of them were what he should say.

She nodded her chin at a posting on the board. “There’s a ‘nest of spiders and other unnatural thingys’ attacking a farmhold north of the city,” she read. “Looks like a bit of fun.”

“I’ll come.” He recalled then, how she’d flinched away from him and some little bit of selfish hurt made him add, “If you want me to come.”

Quietly she replied, “I always want you to come.” Oh, dear. Still saying things out loud that she meant to lock down. “I mean…Sorry.” She fiddled with the pouch on her belt.

“You didn’t...” Why was he rebuking her? It wasn’t what he meant to be saying, so he bit off the words.

But Aeryn knew what he meant.

“You didn’t want to touch me, Sebastian,” she chided. “I was filthy and covered in gore.”

His voice was rough when he stepped closer, “You think that mattered at all?”

“To me.” As close as he was, he almost didn’t hear her. She turned to watch a group of older ladies flutter up the Chantry steps. “I can count the number of times you’ve touched me. I didn’t want one of them to be…” Maker. She needed to stop talking. Aeryn pulled away and trotted away. The decision she'd made while she changed had addled her, apparently. A few more jobs, to make sure her friends were well-financed for the nonce and then Aeryn had decided to finish packing the case she'd pulled from under the wardrobe and see where the boats in the harbor were headed. There was no reason to stay in Kirkwall, with Mother...gone...and Bethany lost to her. Still, no reason to make Sebastian uncomfortable, either.


“Never mind, it's fine.” Please don’t say my name again, she prayed silently. “Are you coming? We can pick up Fenris.”

He scrambled to catch up to her.

Aeryn kept up a stream of chatter as they loped through Hightown. “Sometimes Isabela’s at Fenris’ but it’s not noon, yet. She’s probably still sleeping. Maybe we should swing through Darktown, and get Anders. Spiders can be tricky.” Her mouth gotten away from her, she thought, but at least it's just chatter. Not too revealing.

Silent, Sebastian let her go until they got to Fenris’ doorway, but in the alcove he reached out and wrapped his hand over Aeryn's taut shoulder. She’d started hunching in on herself, hugging her arms. “Are you cold?” He asked to see if she’d realized.

“No.” Aeryn was confused as the day was already turning warm. Then she noticed her posture and straightened her back. “I’m fine.”


Sebastian sighed. “You’re not. No one expects you to jump right back into your adventures, Hawke. Give yourself some time to grieve.”

Another lopsided grin. “And let the spiders get the upper hand?” She asked, mockingly aghast. Sebastian tsked and annoyed, she continued, tugging away from his hand, leaning against the crumbling stone and ivy. “What do you want, Sebastian? Should I huddle in my room and pine? Drink myself into oblivion? Spend my days having tea with the DeLauncets and their ilk while they try not to wrinkle their noses at me and my Ferelden manners?”

“Your manners and heart put them to shame.” He answered her sharply, but softer he added, “Do you not need a bit of time, a good cry at least?”

She looked up at him, aghast in truth this time. “I don’t do that. Why would I do that?”

“Why would you cry?" He wondered. "At the very least, it can be cleansing.”

Snorting, she turned her head aside. “It’s a waste of time, energy and it’s too sodding noisy.” In that terse statement, sounding like she’d heard and recited it a hundred times, Aeryn revealed a great deal of herself to Sebastian, more than she had in years. He’d heard such things from his own family. Hard lessons for children. He wondered how often her father had repeated it before she’d taken it to heart.

“Aeryn.” He caught her under the chin, his bare fingertips stroking up to make her look back at him. The little squeak she made and the way she pressed her chin back against his grip sent a jolt of heat through him but he pushed it away. Friend not hopeless lover, today, of all days.

She felt pinned, fixed, between the wall and his hand on her face. Aeryn wanted to run, wanted to press herself into him, wanted to do both and neither. She closed her eyes against the scrutiny, the sweet warmth and concern in his voice. The electricity of his touch. None of it hers to keep. And besides...she was leaving.

Sebastian paused a moment and considered the way she’d burrowed against Isabela, utterly silent. The dozens of times Aeryn had used her own touch to comfort one of her friends; pats, rubs and the occasional hug to show her fondness and concern. He recalled what she’d little she’d said about her childhood, the time she and Anders had reminisced about what it had been like to hide from Templars, covered in hay or blankets or tradegoods. A scene played out in his mind’s eye. A father with his hand pressed against a little girl’s mouth, keeping her quiet but comforting and shielding her with an embrace while they hid, silent. Her lessons had been hard, he thought, but maybe taught with love.

He dropped his hand and Aeryn folded in on herself, missing the contact already. "So, spiders," trying to drag up a quip to deflect the moment until she saw him strip off his gauntlets and gloves, dropping them to the flags below. Her brow knotted in confusion she looked back up at him to be caught by his eyes, less like the blaze of gas flames and more like the soothing warmth of water.

He reached out his hand across the span of the alcove. “Come here, Aeryn.”

The roll of his voice over her name made her sway to him, wanting his scent; incense and leather and fir, but she stiffened her spine against it, bewildered at his offer. “What?” She didn't touch Sebastian. Aeryn had one firm rule that she managed to keep with Sebastian. She didn't touch him. Because if she started, she might never stop. Why was he...pushing?

He leaned in and dug his fingers into the short length of her hair and tipped her forward. “Come here,” he repeated, tucking her into his shoulder, against the leather of his underjerkin.

“Sebastian!” She chided, forcing a laugh, and tried to push away stiffly. It was so hard when she wanted so much to...No.

He splayed his hand in her hair, treasuring the feeling of it, and smoothed at her scalp. “Relax.” His voice rumbled against her ear.

“Oh.” He rubbed his fingers against the ridge at the back of her skull, calming and soothing. Aeryn choked a little at the comfort he was offering and for a second, she did as he asked. She relaxed into the embrace. Only for a second, though, before she was pulling away again to grant him back a safe distance.

“Stay here, mo chridhe.” The endearment slipped out but he tightened his arms. No lies before the Maker. “Let me give you what I can, at least.” Sebastian let himself kiss the top of her hair, breathing in her almond soap. He felt Aeryn give in, one arm snaking around his waist. He leaned back against the stones, settling, and suddenly Aeryn was curling against him, clinging. She was silent still, trembling, and he tucked her head under his chin.

He held her in the shadows of the alcove, whispering the prayer he’d said nightly since she’d left for the Deep Roads. “In Andraste’s Name, I call upon the Maker to watch over his child and creation. Watch over her path, O Maker. Give her light in darkness.”

Chapter Text

“Hawke!” They heard the clatter of armor coming through the tavern, chairs scraping to avoid the storming Guard-Captain before Aveline arrived, jaw clenched and green eyes blazing, in Varric’s suite.

Aeryn refrained from hiding behind Sebastian. “I didn’t do it I swear!”

“Didn’t do what?” he asked, a slight smile on his face as he glanced down at her. He’d tagged along to Varric’s when he met her on the way to Lowtown, following far too easily, even though she’d only been on her way to check up on the financial acrobatics Varric was working for her.

“I don’t know. Whatever’s making Aveline look at me like I’ve been selling babies to bloodmages on the black market.”

Varric smirked. “What have I told you about shady deals, Hawke?”

“To indulge whenever possible?” She widened her eyes innocently.

Aveline growled and drew back their attention. “I just arrested Meeran this morning, Hawke.” Sebastian noticed that Aeryn had fixed her smile just before it slid away. “He’s been spouting some interesting stories about our first year in Kirkwall.”

Aeryn glanced down at her drink ignoring the interested gazes of her companions. She didn’t talk about those days, beyond a wild, clearly exaggerated story now and again. “Oh?”

“Oh.” Aveline mimicked dryly. “Like how he didn’t decide that I was a liability what with my- how did you put it?- penchant for law and order?”

“Well, he might not have put it quite like that, no.”

“You had no right to pay off my debt, Hawke!”

Fenris and Isabela had joined them, slipping into the suite after Aveline had ignored their greetings. Isabela cooed, “Aww. Our girl’s such a do-gooder.” Sebastian noticed that Fenris had a slight frown on his face.

Aeryn wrinkled her nose at the pirate and looked up at Aveline, fondness evident in her face. “T’was a very special privilege, my lady Captain.”

Aveline loomed over her, glowering, clearly not moved by Hawke’s attempt to maneuver her out of her temper. “It was my debt, incurred freely. I should have paid it fully, not you. You had no right.”

Hawke’s expression shifted like water to glare right back at the other woman. “I had every right. You were miserable. We were breaking laws left and right and it killed you. My way, I got a friend in the guard and Meeran got to think he had a friend in the guard.”

“You had to work for that bastard longer because of it!”

“So?” Hawke was incredulous. “Aveline, I was perfectly content. I was doing exactly what I was trained to do.” Sebastian felt Fenris’ gaze land on him, and he looked back quizzically at the elf’s intent observation.

Aveline’s voice came hard. “You were his personal assassin, Hawke.” Startled, Sebastian slid back to look at Aeryn. She noticed his movement out of the corner of her eye, but didn’t glance his way.

“And I was good at it, Aveline. Bethany’s bribes were paid, we were decently fed. It was a good deal and I was fine.”

Aveline’s face was red. “If you were so flaming fine, why did you quit?”

Hawke rubbed her thumb over the chip in the edge of her tumbler. “It wasn’t enough.” She shrugged coolly. “Mother wanted her old life back. Bethany didn’t like the type of work Meeran asked her to do. They were unhappy.” And they had made Aeryn miserable. “Once we were paid off, the next time Bethany got a poor assignment, I told him no. Meeran threatened her with Templars and I…made him reconsider.” She smiled a cruel little smile.

It was even almost true. Bethany hadn’t waited for a bad job, she’d just waltzed into a room full of half-addled ex-Templars and Meeran’s other enforcers and quit without a fare-thee-well. Aeryn had killed two people and crippled three others, men she had worked with, trying to get her sister out of that room alive.

Varric cocked his head at her, rubbing his nose. She suspected he knew something closer to the truth, with his contacts in the undercity. But he kept her secrets. “Is that who turned Sunshine in?”

“No.” Aeryn clipped out the word. They didn’t need to know Bethany had gone willingly, even if she was sure they suspected. Shooting the rest of her drink down, she looked back at Aveline. “Be mad if you want. The guards were hiring. I wanted you to be doing what you were meant to be doing.” Same as Aeryn thought she had. “Not knocking over shopkeepers for protection money on Meeran’s filthy jobs.”

“Is that what you did?” Sebastian’s question was so quiet, she might have ignored it.

Instead, Aeryn made her smile deceptively careless. “No, by that point, Meeran was saving me for those special assignments.”

Sebastian shifted in his seat. “You killed defenseless people. Just on his word?” He fought to keep his tone light. Fenris was shaking his head subtly, but the archer ignored him.

She frowned down at the table, refusing her urge to cross her arms in front, protectively. “Fewer people died my way than would have if we’d taken whole crews in.”

He felt his gut drop at the casual dismissal. “Does that make it right? Is that how you justified it?” He was losing his fight.

She looked at him then. “No.” Her eyes were bleak. “I never tried to justify it.”

Varric was glaring at him over his accounting books. Isabela had moved to Hawke’s shoulder, backing her up. Fenris’ eyes were on Hawke, concern plain in the way he held his mouth. In one minute, Sebastian had lost what little ground he had gained in the group dynamic. He swallowed and looked away.

Aveline coughed, perturbed at the sidetrack to her righteous tantrum. “It still isn’t right. It was my choice, Hawke.”

Something regretful crossed the rogue’s face at Aveline’s words. “I’m sorry then, Aveline. Truly. I just wanted you to be happy.” Hawke replied, sincere for once.

Resigned, Aveline sighed. “Alright, then.” She nodded and took Hawke’s proffered hand in a comradely clasp and shook it. “You are incorrigible, you know that?”

She flashed a dimple. “It’d be boring without me, though, right?”

“Boring might be a nice change. Try letting me find out, once, hmm?” The guard-captain dusted herself off. “I’ve got to get back.” She took her leave.

Sebastian avoided Aeryn’s gaze as he stood as well. “I promised my aid to Lirene this afternoon. Excuse me, please.” He evaded her as he slipped out of the doorway.

Aeryn watched him walk stiffly down the stairs, her face carefully blank.

Varric gruffed, “If it bothers him, Hawke, then Choir Boy can shove his Chant up his…”

“It’s alright, Varric.” She cut him off with a weak smile. “You’re right though. If it bothers him, it’s better if he finds out now.”

Chapter Text

Dusk was falling as Sebastian returned to the Chantry from the early supper he had taken at the Mardin estate, hoping to garner a bit of support for the orphanage Elthina was attempting to rebuild after it was destroyed by Qunari. The Chantry wasn’t built to house children comfortably.

Hawke had been expected as well, he surmised, but hadn’t shown. He wasn’t sure if he was glad or not. After yesterday’s revelation at the Hanged Man, Sebastian didn’t know if he needed to see her again. It was unhinging to think of her as a paid assassin. Aeryn killed people, true. He’d killed people in her service. Sebastian had never seen her start a fight unless an innocent life was at stake. She avoided a fight if possible, trying to talk someone down, relying on her own quick tongue or Varric’s uncanny storytelling abilities.


It had been a relief to not see her, he admitted. To not face the fact that she said she’d once been content to do murder on the word of a man she clearly didn’t respect. To not have to acknowledge that he had been judgmental without discovering the whole truth, because he didn’t think the casual way she had spoken of it could be the whole truth. Where Aeryn was concerned, the first glance, the easy word was never all of the story.

He hadn’t been surprised that she wasn’t in attendance. Since Leandra died and Aeryn became Champion, she’d been invited to every Hightown event scheduled but rarely attended. She admitted once that she found the nobles tedious to the point of distraction. It tempted her, she said, to do outrageous things just to make them gasp.
Because of that, she was both a prized guest and an object of vicious gossip.

Sebastian gritted his teeth, recalling the last conversation he’d had about her. Hawke’s name amidst cruel laughter had attracted his attention.

A drawling voice jeered, “I hear that one of them is in and out of her house at all hours. You know, that one with…”

“Ooh. The tattoos!” A harsh giggle. “Melicende said her father hired him once as a bodyguard. He was terribly silent and enticing.”

Noticing his attention, Sebastian had been addressed. “You know the Champion, don’t you, Prince Vael?” That popinjay, Georges Varden, peered over the edge of his wine glass with a sotted but intense look of interest. He waved his hand at an overly laced, gaudily painted young lady. “Lady Daphne and I were just discussing her.”

“And her pretty companions.” Daphne cooed.

“Does she really have a trio of elven ‘companions’?” Varden sneered the word. “Doting on her?”

“No, of course not.” Sebastian denied. “Lady Hawke has an elven servant whom she rescued from Tevinter slavers. She counts two elves among her associates, it’s true, but they are partners in her work.”

Daphne picked up on that scandal. “Oh, that’s right. She still takes mercenary work.” The woman sniffed delicately. “I recall mother saying how wholly inappropriate it was for the Viscount- Maker guide his soul,” she simpered piously, “to allow the Amell estate to be purchased with that sort of money.”

Defensive, Sebastian snapped. “It was being used by slavers before that. In the midst of Hightown!” He bit his tongue. It wasn’t his place to defend Hawke. She wouldn’t care what these vapid, drunken…He sighed. “Maker guide your paths.” He’d blessed them as he turned sharply away.


Now, Sebastian hesitated before he got to the first residential square. He should go straight back to his cell at the Chantry. He’d been away almost every evening this week, between jobs for Hawke, errands for Elthina and cards at Fenris’. He’d stayed late at Lirene’s shop, trying to avoid the others as they left the tavern.

Sebastian flexed and popped his shoulders and neck as he walked. He was in need of an early night and perhaps a day of solitude and contemplation. He was feeling turned out at the edges, unable to meditate with the singular focus it had once been his privilege to claim. Too often, his thoughts turned to Aeryn. What she might be doing, if she was working. If she had looked his way as often as he looked to her, the last time they had been together.

She invaded his thoughts even about his home. How would she approach the problem of the farmers versus herders that perpetually divided Starkhaven, thorns in the sides of his grandfather and father? Would she think it wise to begin to produce more in the way of luxury goods to export to Ferelden, a country which avoided Orlesian goods? Would she like the mountainous country?

Even in contemplation, she hovered as he wondered how best to address her belief that she was unworthy to even attempt a reconciliation with the Maker. The revelation of last night went some way to explain why Aeryn felt that way. An assassin was rarely the apple of a righteous heart. She was more than that, now, though. Unworthy was the last word he’d think of her.

And now, again, she was guiding his steps. When Sebastian should be headed to the Chantry, he’d turned to the Amell estate. Setting his heart aside, he turned away into the alley leading to the Chantry courtyard. As he turned, a familiar, bright-haired silhouette leaving the estate caught his attention.

“In and out of her house at all hours.” The comment stung his memory like acid, echoing hollowly. The words had made his gut clench in jealous reaction. Fenris and Aeryn were but friends, he reminded himself sternly. Not that it should matter. He had no right to be jealous of that. He’d spent an evening or two in their private company himself, both at the Amell estate and at Fenris’ mansion. They were each fascinating people.

But how easily, the thought came, to turn from friendship to something more. And wasn’t it already something more? Aeryn never left Fenris behind on a fight. She would put off jobs, if the elf needed time on private work. They had a bond, a regard for one another. They worked like extensions of one another, they shared a love for battle that left the rest of them, him, all but out. Sebastian fought for every inch he gained with Aeryn, only to lose ground as he had last night. Perhaps it was time to concede what was never his right to pursue anyway.

Watching the elf, the archer made his decision.

Fenris stalked down the steps to his own square. Sebastian slipped into the shadows to follow him.

Only a few steps from his residence, Fenris turned suddenly, lyrium glowing. It reflected off of Sebastian’s armor and the warrior relaxed imperceptibly.

“I’m sorry if I startled you, Fenris.” Sebastian stepped further into the light. The voice sounded ragged, and Fenris noticed dark smudges beneath the archer’s unusually dulled eyes. Like Hawke, Sebastian was feeling out of sorts over their conversation yesterday, he thought.

Hawke hadn’t been able to keep her mind on Fenris’ reading lesson, so he had left early. He hadn’t realized he was being followed until a few steps ago. Sebastian’s skills were clearly improving. He answered the other man, “It is no problem, Sebastian. Did you require my assistance?”

Shaking his head, Sebastian replied. “Just a moment of your time.”

“Of course. We should not linger on the street, however.” Fenris indicated that Sebastian should tag behind. He never entered the mansion without the cautious thought that Danarius might yet lay a trap for him.

Safely up in the rooms Fenris had claimed and kept relatively neat, Sebastian stoked up the fire as Fenris piled up a tray with wine and sausage rolls pulled from the pack he carried. Orana seldom let him escape Hawke’s tutorials without some sort of treat, especially since she had been cajoled into joining them.

Sitting, he watched Sebastian stare into the flames. It was clear that the other man wouldn’t be able to just come out with what was troubling him. Fenris was going to have to wait or prod it out of him and he shifted uncomfortably in the wooden seat. He wondered if this was how Hawke felt when one of her companions pleaded for her aid. How did she know which question would bring the issue pouring out? He took a swallow of wine.

“What did you want, Sebastian?” The question was blunt but not spoken unkindly.

Sebastian pushed off of his heels to sit in one of the chairs, long legs pushed out in front of him gracelessly. “You and Hawke. You are friends?”

Fenris frowned. He had expected to be asked about Hawke’s past. “I…if I can call anyone that, I think it is Hawke.”

Sebastian ducked his head, feeling guilty. “I consider myself your friend, Fenris.”

Raising his eyebrows, Fenris acknowledged, “I am not unappreciative of that. It is still somewhat new, for me.”

Nodding, Sebastian rubbed his hand over his face. “You and she…you fight well together.” Maker, this was difficult.

“Thank you,” the elf replied sardonically. “We do it often enough that if we did not, we’d likely be dead.”

“No. What I mean is that you seem to share a…fondness for the fight. You run to it. Together. I’d like to know, why?” He gulped at the wine cup he found in his hand.

Ah. Fenris shrugged. “I do not know.” Drinking again, he hesitantly added. “Her brother fought with a greatsword. It is how she was trained. And I suppose, like calls to like.”

Sebastian looked up sharply and Fenris caught a glimpse of something dark in the man’s eyes. Jealousy, perhaps? “Like to like? What does that mean?”

Fenris rolled a mouthful of the Aggregio as he considered. “You know now, about her first year here?” Sebastian nodded, impatient. “Have you spoken with her about how she came by her training?” He hesitated. These were not his stories to share. Hawke would not care for him blurting out things she had said in confidence.

“We do not talk as often…as you do, I suppose.”

Snorting, Fenris sat down the cup and fixed Sebastian with a sharp glare. “Then why are you here now, instead of asking her?”

“Maker knows.” Sebastian shook his head. “No, that’s not true. I often feel myself on shifting ground with Aeryn. I don’t like to walk in without a map.”

“The fact that you use her first name and she allows it might be an indication that you are not as unsteady as you might think.” He paused. It was difficult to balance what he knew of Hawke and what he thought she would not mind him telling another. This other. “I will say this, Sebastian. When I first came to Kirkwall, fighting with Hawke was a terrifying experience. She was reckless beyond belief.”

“More reckless than now?” He couldn’t imagine.

“By far.” Fenris nodded, grim. “She once leapt from a landing into the midst of a gang of raiders by the docks. It took Varric and I time to get to her and we got there about half a second before a maul caught her across the shoulders and sent her into the harbor.” Fenris had recalled his heart pounding as he fished her, laughing and filthy, out of the water. He’d been sure she was dead and had been surprised at how the thought had shaken him. “She had no sense of self preservation. And it stemmed somewhat from what she did that first year.” He watched Sebastian’s thoughts play across his face as he ate a roll. “Whatever she says, she was not happy. And if she was, it was not for good reasons.”

They sat in silence for a minute listening to the fire crackle and the rafters creak in the crumbling building. “I will tell you why I am at Hawke’s estate so often if you answer one question.”

Sharply, Sebastian declaimed, “I didn’t ask that.”

“No, but you want to know. If you are my friend, I do not think you will hold it against me.”

Sebastian winced at being read so easily. “Fine, then. Ask your question. I have no secrets.”

Fenris doubted that was true, but he put it aside. Hawke might not need his protection, but he had fought by her side too long. He would have her back in this, as he did elsewhere, filling in her blind spot. He would feel unworthy of that trust, if he did not ask this of Sebastian. “You are a sworn brother. Why are you here? What are you pursuing with Hawke?” His voice took a menacing quality as he finished, “Your rejection last night hurt her, whether she ever admits to it or not. Was that your intention?”

“I think that’s actually three questions.” Sebastian mused. Automatic deflection was perhaps a side effect of being around Aeryn so long.

“Answer them.” Fenris growled. He didn’t seem to have picked up the habit of indirectness.

Sebastian leaned over with his elbows on his knees and shook his head. “I’m not a brother any longer, in truth. Not until Elthina renews my vows. And…I don’t know, Fenris.” He ran his hands through his hair, roughly. “Truly. I have no intention of hurting her. I…she…It is complicated.” He looked up at the elf, bafflement clear on his face. “This was not supposed to happen.”

Dryly, Fenris took pity on the archer. “I think that happens quite a lot where Hawke is involved.” He shared Sebastian’s rueful chuckle. It was enough, he thought. Fenris was becoming more grateful by the minute that Isabela was straight-forward in her desires and required little in the way of romantic coddling. And Hawke was unlikely to enjoy the thought that he had interfered this far with whatever it was between them.

He took up his wine again, fortifying himself before admitting. “She is teaching me to read. And write.” His head was tilted, longish hair obscuring him from Sebastian’s knowing gaze as the man shifted from bewildered lover to consoling priest. Or friend.

“That is…I’m glad you have a teacher, then, if you want one.” Shrewdly, he made no comment about why Fenris might not have learned before now. “Let me know if you would like to borrow from the Chantry library.”

“Hawke’s library is sufficient for the moment, thank you. And Isabela brings supplements on occasion.” He indicated a stack next to his bed.

“I can imagine.” Sebastian felt a little blush creep up his neck. Fenris smirked and was surprised when Sebastian returned it, making him look far less like a Chantry brother.

The men drank companionably for a while, until the fire beginning to crumble the logs. Sebastian recalled his earlier impulse to retire early and stood to go. “Thank you, Fenris.”

He shrugged. “It is not I you should be talking to. But I am glad if I aided you.”

“You did. It helped to admit to it, at least.” He took up his bow from where it lay on the desk. “It is not a subject I care to bring up in confession and reconciliation anymore.”

“No?” That had Fenris’ attention.

“It isn’t a sin.” Jealousy had been a sin. He had dealt with that, though.

There was a determined solidity to Sebastian that had been lacking when the man had approached him.

“I don’t mean to hurt her and I will endeavor to do better, as her friend at least. Good night, Fenris. Maker keep you.”

“And you, Sebastian.”

Chapter Text

Aeryn closed the door behind Fenris and retreated back to the library. Stacking primers and notebooks neatly, she straightened up the cozy room to save extra work for Orana.

She had to get her head back on straight, she scolded herself. Fenris was coming along beautifully with his reading and writing, even if his spelling was atrocious. He still needed her help, though. She didn’t want him discouraged by some perceived lack of interest on her part.

She banked the ashes in the fireplace, dropping the study into gloom, and closed the door behind her.

Somewhere, Bodahn had found a case of bottled Fereldan cider, lovely fellow. She had given up asking for sources, just glad that he was predisposed to indulge her fancies. She pulled a bottle from the cabinet beside her bed. She ought to pour it into a glass, she supposed, but took a swallow straight from the bottle. Fenris would be so proud.


The house loomed silently around her as she stripped and stood staring at the huge, empty bed. Briefly she wondered what Orana would think if Aeryn slipped back downstairs with her blanket and curled up on the girl’s carpet. It was so quiet in this damned house, the walls so thick, the outside world could have fallen into the Void.

Maybe she should go for a walk, instead. Down to the Hanged Man. A year or two ago, Isabela would have been up for a late night prowl. But now? She and Fenris weren’t involved. Except for how they were and Aeryn wouldn’t discourage that interesting development just because she was lonely and her bed was empty.

Aeryn had never brought a lover here. It had been awkward with Mother and then…

And then there had been Sebastian. She hadn’t meant to fall into celibacy. She’d never been one to deny herself if there was someone willing around. There had been that guardsman, what was his name? Fingal? Then Aveline had asked her to stop molesting the guard. And Sebastian had been around more and more, and she had started collecting his touches like pretty leaves pressed into a book. Scraps of sensation. His fingers on her wrist, his breath in her ear.

Suddenly, she hadn’t been interested in anyone else. She’d flirted with men and women alike, only to discover their voices were too squeaky or breathy or their hands were the wrong shape or their mouths didn’t draw her in, eager to kiss. She abandoned it all as a bad deal, accepting that she’d have to wait until the fascination had burned out of her system. It would pass.

Always had before.

Maybe it was just that she couldn’t have him and she liked him too much to force the issue. Isabela had mocked and pleaded and cajoled for her to come out and play. Aeryn couldn’t.

And then that night in camp, Sebastian had pulled her into his dreams and he’d been in hers every night since. The memory of his teeth on her throat and his thigh between hers and the words he’d been whispering. Even when she tried to think of anything, anyone else, it had been his fingers she imagined playing against her.

She’d been living on scraps for years, now. No wonder she felt ragged. Surely it was enough. Surely she could move on, now that he knew what she was and she’d seen the disgust on his face. He was not hers to lust after. He belonged to his Andraste and the Maker.

Falling back onto the bed, she shoved her fingers into the slick. Hard, brutal, fast. Nothing and everything like what she wanted from him. When his voice ghosted in her inner ear, she bit her lip, tasting blood. The skin gave as she came and she plunged into the dark Fade like a meteor.

Aeryn hated it when she dreamed. Dreams were never a gift.

She was a blade. She was metal, cast into fire and beaten. Thrust into water and honed. Yanked out of a scabbard and fed into a heart.

All around her was praise and filled purpose.

It was simple. It never needed to be difficult again. They were screaming. They were running.
But she didn’t have to do that. Voices reminding her of why it shouldn’t be easy, but the voices were flesh and she was Not.

Bianca. She was Bianca…No. But she had a trigger.
When it was pulled, she was free.
Someone, someone wanted her to be flesh too, he whispered.

But she is Sharp and Simple.

And she would be like that forever, so long as she kept saying yes.

Blood in her mouth.

She clawed up from the dream, spitting, only to have the throb in her bitten lip turn sharp.

Sodding Void.

Breathing hard, Aeryn gathered herself from the bloody rags of her dreams in the bleeding light of the dawn. Storm tonight, the thought crossed her mind.

She physicked herself with the elfroot salve that Anders compounded in bulk for them all and swished a potion around her mouth before she cleaned her teeth.

The day went by in a haze. She helped Bodahn clear the desk, sliding all but a handful of invitations and requests into the fire. She helped Orana with the baking, scraping and kneading dough. She weeded the kitchen garden. She worked through her practice. She did not think about things.


There was a chest full of weapons in the library that she hadn’t sold. Too fine to just hand over to the nearest merchant or too enchanted to let them out on the open market until Sandal checked them over. Orana was still baking, doing up small loaves to take to Anders for his Darktown patients. So, instead of taking the blades to the kitchen, Aeryn spread an oilcloth on the carpet and grabbed her weapon kit. In the familiar rhythm of stroke and slide, the rasp of the stone, she lost herself for a while.

It was going on evening and sure enough, the sky was gathering clouds and threatening rain when the dwarf rapped cautiously on the door. “My lady, Pr..Brother Vael is here.” Aeryn smirked. Bodahn hated that Sebastian wouldn’t just pick an honorific, so he alternated between them and sometimes used both. She glanced down at herself. Filthy again and not in the fun way. She stood up from her graceless sprawl on the floor and wiped her hands on the cleanest of her rags.

Chapter Text

Sebastian entered, hesitant to intrude on her privacy.

"Here I am, the very picture of Ferelden hospitality," Aeryn grinned and sweepingly indicated the pile of weaponry and her own dishevelment.

He'd left his armor off, not wanting to seem unapproachable. In only jerkin, tunic and breeches he felt vulnerable but it was worth the unobtrusive lingering glance she gave him. For once, he could sit with her and not feel stiff and formal. He looked around the nook. With her work laid out and her accumulated treasures it was a reflection of her, business and pleasure.

"It is very…ah…homey." She had a smear of knife oil across her forehead, he noted, resisting the urge to wipe it off. But, a friend would do that without thinking. "You've missed a bit." Sebastian took the rag from her hand and holding her still by her shoulder, wiped her face as though she were a toddler. He hoped he looked mildly exasperated as opposed to fond and tender. She looked tired and her lip was swollen from some recent injury. Sebastian had had his meditation after the talk with Fenris. He felt far more at ease, but it hurt him to see her weary again.

"Ah. You always have reminded me a bit of Carver." The grin darkened into a smirk.

Oh, good. I like reminding her of her brother. Thank you, Maker. Sarcasm wasn't a sin. But neither was it a grace, Elthina would remind him.

"Have you come to yell at me for my past decisions? That would make it a complete match."

Plunge right in, then? Ah, Aeryn. "I am sorry if I upset you. It was not my intention." He took some shelter in the formality of his words.

"No? So, running off and not talking about things works for you, too? Good to know." She had moved away from him, kneeling to stack the weapons back into the chest for storage.

"Hardly. I wanted to think before I spoke." She winced and he wondered if he'd stumbled onto a tender spot again.

She mirrored his formality when she asked, "And what did you conclude?" She finished folding the oil cloth in on itself and stood to put it away.

He grasped her shoulders and turned her back towards him. "That it is not my place to judge without knowing a bit more, at least. After all, I'm the one who hired you to avenge his family." He dropped the rag onto the filled chest. "The barmaid seems to know more about you than I do." He didn't quite keep the hurt out of his voice, but Aeryn ignored it.

"Well, Norah has seen me at my finest, it's true." He frowned at her and she shrugged. "You know me pretty well, Sebastian. As much as most." She started to push the chest back against the wall, nodding when he helped and sat down on it to look up at him.

He grabbed the chance. "Fenris knows things about you that I've never even guessed at." This time, Aeryn looked puzzled at his hurt tone.

"Well, Fenris is..different."

He didn't want to know. He didn't. It didn't matter. "Do you love him?"

"Yes." Sebastian was terribly proud of not flinching. She laughed lightly. "I love them all, the mad wretches. Whole ragtag merry band of thieves and killers."

"Aeryn!" Surprised at the description, he did inject a scolding tone into her name.

She shook her head. "We are what we are, Sebastian. We are more than that, but it doesn't make the other part of it untrue." She watched him as he paced to the fire. "But you're right." Sebastian turned back to her. "Fenris is special. He knows things, mainly because I've never had to explain myself to him. And too, of all of us, he needed most to know he wasn't alone."

Wasn't he alone, too? Sebastian bit down on the thought before it escaped. Until Aeryn, he'd known himself to be alone, he'd just been able to ignore it. "Can you tell me?"

Aeryn looked up through her thick lashes. "I don't know. Sebastian, you've lived a sheltered life. The things you don't understand sometimes…" She looked away, into the fire.

He swallowed back a retort. "Try me. If I seem to misunderstand, you can stop." He didn't realize he'd started rubbing the back of his neck. "And Aeryn, privileged isn't the same thing as sheltered." She looked up him and he kept his expression bland. She narrowed her eyes, though, and he wondered what she was seeing.

But she answered. "Alright. So what do you want to know?"

He leapt. "You were an assassin."

"I was." She was forthright, apparently willing to lay herself bare. And that was a distracting thought, so he took a breath before he continued.

"Did you know the victims?"

She shrugged again. "I wasn't an infiltrator. It wasn't like that. Sometimes it was someone I knew, though. Meeran gave me a name, a location. Sometimes he would tell me what they'd done. Not always."

Bodahn brought in a tea tray, eyeing Sebastian coolly the whole time, before saying that he and Sandal were retiring to their quarters for the evening. Aeryn poured and handed a cup to the archer after he sat down. The storm broke, shattering the air outside with thunder. They listened to the wind howl while the tea cooled and the fire snapped as rain spattered down the chimney.

He took a sip of the spicy brew before asking. "Did you ever offer mercy?"

She leaned back against the wall, staring at the door as if she might bolt through it. "The first time. Our first job, that got us into Kirkwall. I told the mark that if he'd pay us in, I'd act as protection until he didn't need it. He didn't have the coin for the bribes. So…"

"You killed him." Sebastian tried very hard to keep his voice steady, pretending he were hearing confession from a stranger instead of the moody, sweet, bright-eyed woman he was beginning to believe he loved. It seemed to work.

"Yes." Her answer was detached and he tried to reconnect her.


Glaring at him, she explained shortly. "Mother was sick. We didn't have the coin to get back to Ferelden. I took the job and did what was required."

"That first…job." He used her term. "Aveline and Bethany were with you?"

She nodded and sipped her tea. "Mmmhmm."

"But not later?" Sebastian prodded.

"Aveline played enforcer. Bethany was healer and threat. I was what happened when the first two didn't get the message across."

Frowning, he remarked. "Who." She looked at him, confusion flickering across her sweet face. "Who, not what. You weren't a thing, Aeryn."

She scrunched her brow at him like she disagreed. "Alright."

"No, it's not. You don't believe it." She shrugged and he wanted to shake her, but he rather thought that would end the conversation. "Why did you keep doing it, after you were paid up?"

"It was easy." It seemed like a fond remembrance and Sebastian felt the blood leach from his face. So hard to pretend to detachment.

She saw his reaction and continued softly. "Oh, Sebastian. Everything had been so hard. We'd been running since Ostagar, Carver and I." She stood up and walked to the fireplace, holding her hands out to the flames and he followed her.

"I went down, you know. At Ostagar. Something hit me across the back of the head and when I came to a genlock was dragging me across a field of the dead by my ankles." Her eyes lost focus as she fell back into the memory. "I fought and tried to grab something, anything, but it just kept going. Carver came out of nowhere like a bloody lightning strike. He grabbed me up and we…ran." He had to stand close to listen, the words coming like a torrent, now, but so quietly.

"The injured were moaning and begging, for water or for death. Others were being dragged off, for whatever purpose. And we kept running. We had to get back to Mother and Bethany, get them out." She was almost apologetic, her voice small.

The memory had her now, and Sebastian could tell she was right back in the middle of it. "We weren't two hours ahead of the horde. Lothering had emptied out. There weren't any supplies. We didn't even stop to eat. Just grabbed them and a couple of rucksacks and kept going. They kept trying to stop…even when we could see the fires start. That black, greasy smoke." Her nose wrinkled as if she was still smelling the taint. "They wanted to know where we were going. They didn't understand and Carver and I had to keep dragging them along."

"We met Aveline and her Wesley. And then…" Her face went white and Sebastian gave up his pretence of detachment and wrapped her in his arms, wanting to make her safe now, at least.

She turned her face into his chest. He could barely hear her. "It was so huge. Have you ever seen an ogre?" He shook his head. "So…vast. Carver was a big fellow, you know. Tall like you, but bulky. He carried a broadsword from the time he could lift it and had the muscle to prove it. He'd flex and lift crates and bushels for the local girls and, oh, Beth and I would laugh. That creature picked him up and crushed him like a cornhusk doll. Tossed him away like a piece of trash. My beautiful, angry loud little brother." She was trembling and he could hear the tears clogging her throat, but still, she didn't cry. It made him fear for her, even as he admired her depth of control.

The next bits came in gasps and Sebastian rubbed her back, wishing he hadn't asked, glad he had, praying for her silently. "And we got away, thanks to a fairy tale dragon. And then we crammed into a hold with a hundred others, sick and starving. And we got to the Gallows. Meeran seemed like a light, he seemed like just the right thing. All I had to do was what I was trained to do, anyway. And we were fed, Bethany was safe. Gamlen let us stay, and he didn't have to do that." Aeryn pulled away a little and looked up at him, her pupils dilated with remnants of her fear.

"I'd walk through Darktown and I was so grateful because we didn't have to stay there. I'd take Mother and Bethany and show them where we could have ended up. And all I had to do was keep saying yes every time Meeran pulled my trigger. Point me, pull me and let me fly. So, yes. It was easy." Her voice was wistful and sad as she dropped her chin again, standing stiffly in his embrace.

Sebastian's mouth had gone dry and he rasped a little when he spoke. "Your mother said once that she was afraid for you. That you seemed so empty."

He felt her nod. "She should have been. She was right."

Sebastian pulled her away to look at her in his surprise at the admission. "No, really. I couldn't see it then." Aeryn twitched her shoulders up and went farther, "I was just..I was finally doing what I thought Father had asked me to do. I didn't see why they were making it sound so awful. And it was…I get that. But it was so simple, then." She looked away again. "I know why they were afraid. Bethany quit to force me to quit. She did it for me." She pulled her arms up and set her smudged, scarred little hands against his chest, but she didn't quite push away. "But, oh, I hated her for it, then, Sebastian." The firelight cast shadows on her face, but there was no deception in her eyes, only regret and a sort of longing that threatened to break his heart.

She was shaking again in his arms. He sat her down in the armchair close to the fire. Turning back to the tea tray he topped up her cup, hesitating before he turned to give it to her. She lifted the cup and swallowed out of habit, only to sputter and gasp. "Maker's Breath! What is that?"

"Starkhaven's finest." Despite or perhaps due to the rush of emotions he'd unleashed, Sebastian couldn't help the wicked grin that crossed his face as he showed her the flask. "Good for what ails ye, whatever that may be, as my grandfather used to say."

"I think I would have liked your grandfather." She sipped again, cautiously. "That's unholy." She nodded to his cup. "Don't make me drink alone." With the remnants of his grin still lighting his eyes he took a nip and savored it while he considered her. The tip of the lance was out, he thought, though there was no telling how many shards were left leeching their poison in her heart. But maybe this was a start. Maker, let it be a start.

A twitch of her shoulders and as she stared down into her cup, swirling the tea leaves, he could see darkness edging in on her again. "So?"

Confused, he echoed, "So, what?"

"Am I no longer worth following?" It wasn't the whisky making her voice tight.

"What?" Surely she didn't think…

"You said you needed more information to judge me on, I…"

He took a gulp before setting his cup aside and dropped to his knees beside her. "Aeryn, that was never what this was about." He laid his hands on hers around the teacup, rubbing warmth back into them, ignoring the fact that her knees were bare. "You needed to talk and I needed to hear it. I just…" He sat back on his heels. "I wanted to be trusted with…you. To see if you knew I didn't need a joke or a witty aside to deal with what you are. You are good at your fight, leannan. I've no want to change that about you, but...we lean on you so…you can lean back and I wanted to be a part of it." He took a breath and admitted to her, "I was jealous. And I handled it badly, tried to make it about what you had done."

She looked at him, searchingly. "I trust you, Sebastian."

"We don't ever talk like you do with Fenris." He turned his face away, not wanting to see if she realized just how jealous he'd been.

"I didn't want to…" She bit down on her lip and winced.

He brushed his thumb across her mouth to soothe the injury and her eyes fluttered shut. He sighed. "Tell me."

"Tempt you." He felt his eyes widen to reflect his shock at the word. "I think I make it harder for you. Harder to keep your vows. And I respect them, Sebastian." She sat down her cup and pulled his hand into hers. "I do. I don't understand them. I think you could do so much more as a prince than a brother, to help people. But that's not what you want and I didn't want to make it harder by…drawing you even farther in."

He laughed weakly and curled his fingers around hers. "Oh. Aeryn, I was drawn in long before you even spoke to me. I'd watch you haunt the Chantry while Leandra and Bethany prayed and I'd lose track of whatever I was doing. "

"Aveline says I prowl, you say I haunt, Varric says I stalk. Apparently I'm a ghostly hunting cat as opposed to a Hawke." He snorted, an inelegant noise, and it made Aeryn chuckle, but he wasn't distracted by the whisky smoothed sound. Well, not much.

He tipped his head and looked at her through lowered lashes with a slight smile on his lips. It was a look he'd practiced once and gratifyingly, he heard her breathe in sharply and felt her hand tighten. "Is that the only reason you think I'd be better off as a prince? The way I could help people?"

She looked at him, level and prim. "Until you address the other part of it, yes."

He felt a blush run up his neck from his attempt at flirtation and the urge to taste the whiskey on her lips. Glancing around the room for a distraction, he spied an opened trunk he didn't recall seeing before. Inside, were bundles of cleaned sticks, shafts for arrows. He stood to look closer. There were feathers for fletching and practice points. "What's this?"

She had followed him over, taking up her cup again. "Oh. I had that brought down. It was Mother's. She had plans to lure…ah, hire a couple of tutors to teach the children in Darktown their letters and arithmetic and the ones who did well, she was going to bribe with archery lessons."

Sebastian smiled warmly. "That seems a good idea. I'd have been happy to help."

Aeryn seemed startled. "You know, I don't know that that wasn't what she had in mind though, I rather thought Mother might teach them herself."

It was Sebastian's turn to be startled. "Your mother was an archer?"

"Once. Not long after Father died she had an accident with a scythe. It cut through the muscle in her right arm. Bethany saved Mother's arm, but she never had the strength to draw a bow again." Aeryn shuffled through the trunk, revealing a few fletched arrows. "I thought you might be able to use these."

Sebastian stepped away from the trunk, frowning. It had been an issue of contention recently, among the other brethren. He had accumulated quite a number of possessions in the last few years. He didn't really want to drag another trunk to his cell, even though these would be useful things to have.

His hesitation apparently made Aeryn nervous. "I mean, I know you have your own things. Never mind, I'll just…" She went to shut the trunk, but he stopped her.

"Could I leave it here?" He asked quietly.

"Here?" He had her by the hand again, and her eyes lingered on their clasped fingers.

"I could come and fletch the arrows while you…sharpened your daggers or did your paperwork." The image caught him, almost domestic in nature and Sebastian longed for it so suddenly it took his breath. Oh, he didn't want to be just her friend anymore. Maker, he was so far gone.

She tilted her head, contemplating his request. "I don't really do much paperwork, but of course. You're always welcome here." Grinning, she added, "Mind, we have to make sure we don't make more work for Orana. She might even scold me."

Chapter Text

Sebastian had stayed late into the evening, letting the storm wind down. He and Aeryn had talked lightly of Ferelden and Starkhaven, comparing notes of their childhood homes. It had been a soft interlude after the emotional beginning. He'd left reluctantly, the Chantry seeming imposing and impersonal as he entered and gone to his sparsely furnished cell.

He'd spent the next day running errands for Elthina. There had been letters from Starkhaven, Ostwick and Cumberland waiting for him when he returned. He'd spent a night in contemplation and consideration. This morning was his own and he'd gone in pursuit of whatever adventure Aeryn had waiting and eager to tell her his decision. He'd gone to her estate only to discover she was already out and about in town.

And there she was, carrying a basket like any other lady might, while doing her marketing. Well, no, a lady would have a servant doing the shopping or at least the carrying. Aeryn Hawke was not like any lady he'd ever met, Sebastian admitted. And glad he was of it, he thought fondly.

She stopped at the sweets stall to be greeted like an old friend by the merchant. Sebastian watched as she sampled one treat then another, charmed by the showy display of appreciation Hawke made for the second, what looked to be a nougat. The assistant handed her three rather large packages and she tucked them into the basket before giving a jaunty wave to the proprietor. Instead of turning towards her estate, though, she headed to the bridge to Lowtown.

Curious now, he caught up. "May I carry your basket, then, my lady?"

"My hero." She batted her eyelashes besottedly, but ruined the effect with a mocking grin. Hawke handed over the awkward carry-all.

"Where are we headed?"

"I am on my way to Anders' clinic. I'm not sure about you."

"With three pounds of sweets?"

You villain, you've been spying! Well done! We'll make a proper rogue of you yet." Hawke's eyes sparkled with amusement and she sideswiped him with her shoulder playfully. "Also, rolled bandages, two bottles of spirit, some foodstuffs, a woolen blanket that Orana thinks I should be ashamed to own, a ream of writing paper, several empty flasks and bottles, a few new quills, a bottle of ink, three packets of steel needles and six spools of silk thread."

"Which explains why you were very nearly lopsided and why I am about to rupture something."

"All for a good cause." They found one of the seedy stairwells that lead down into the undercity.

"Quills, paper and ink. It's your fault I have three copies of the manifesto hidden in my footlocker."

"Is it?"

"The last one I found in the bound Chant that sits on the lectern in Elthina's loft. And he doodled kittens on the third verse of the Threnodies." Sebastian added dryly.

"He's leaving them in the Chantry, now?" She sighed when he nodded. "Smuggle them out. I'll take care of them."

He watched her as they walked, a dangerous habit in Darktown when one should be looking for trouble to rear its head. He was coming to crave the play of expressions across her features, the way a twitch of her brow or the tilt of her chin would reveal some new shade of mood. Just now, though, the tightness of her mouth and the drawn line between her eyes indicated one he was too familiar with. "You're worried about Anders, aren't you?"


"I am." She nodded and turned to suss out the source of a scuttling noise that turned out to be a rat. She didn't bother to kill it. Like as not it would be on someone's dinner menu soon. "He's too thin. He doesn't sleep much, I don't think. He's too often alone...or not alone enough, I suppose." Sebastian tipped his head, he got her meaning. Aeryn stopped when they got to Tomwise's stall. The poison expert was out. "Hmm."

"What's the matter?"

"There's usually a Ferelden woman here, begging. She rescued a handful of kids from the Blight. I've been trying to convince her to take one of King Alistair's boats back home, but she won't go."

"Maybe she finally took your advice?"

"Hope so." She didn't look assured. "Anyway, I think some of Anders' problems stem from the Warden business, not just the other."

"There isn't much you can do if that's true, Aeryn. Their burdens are varied and kept close."

"The king seems to do alright, from what's told." Ferelden's merry warden-king, who had a fondness for the commonlife, was a favorite new source of tales. Anders had allowed that most of them might even be true, from what little he knew. "The Warden Commander certainly thought he'd hung the moon." He'd told them. Aeryn thought he'd sounded just a bit bitter.

"Well, he's a king married to a beautiful woman and he helped save all of Thedas from our worst nightmare. He'd probably just seem petty if he came off tormented."

"True." She conceded. "Best to leave the angst to someone less well-favored."

The lantern was lit over Anders' clinic, but the door was closed which usually indicated some delicate bit of healing being done. Aeryn and Sebastian stepped quietly into the open doorway that entered the area Anders called his waiting room. The gaggle of children that usually flocked here to play was absent.

Anders glanced up from the small figure on his examining table to see who it was. Aeryn tsked at the state of him, more disheveled than usual and wavering on his feet. She moved to his side, observing his pallor and the shadows under his eyes. Even his feathered pauldrons seemed to droop.

Sebastian saw a thin haggard woman weeping softly behind the healer. He poured a cup of water from the pitcher Anders kept on the counter and held it out to her. "May I pray with you, Mistress?" Aeryn shot him a smile at his ministrations and turned her focus back on her friend and his task.

The figure on the table was a small boy, lying on his stomach. His narrow back was a mass of lacerations. The lad's dark head was turned to face Anders, displaying an evil looking contusion across the temple. "I had to deal with the concussion first," Anders whispered hoarsely. "Almost lost him twice, to a weak vein." That and the effort it had taken to cram Justice back down from going after the father. Anders figured he'd only managed it due to the fact that the boy wasn't a mage.

Aeryn ground her teeth at the abuse. She'd taken her share of stripes growing up and well deserved...but this tiny fellow had never done anything deserving this sort of punishment. "Can I help?"

Anders nodded. "Bathe the back with this" he indicated a bowl of solution. "I'll heal him up when I get my breath." She was gentle as she could be, trying to get the wounds clean, but Aeryn was grateful that the boy was still unconscious.

Sebastian had the woman. Sarai, calmed enough to speak. She explained in a hopelessly tired voice how her husband had lost his job and how he'd fallen apart. His last straw apparently had been the boy, Caleb, spilling a bag of flour. An accident, but...He'd sobered up enough to bring the boy to the healer and disappeared. "It were a belt." She said, when Anders asked about what had caused the lacerations.

Aeryn was turned to her work, still, but Anders saw the tumble of emotion and the darkness that flashed in Vael's eyes. He recalled, then, the one time he'd had to heal something significant for the archer, a Tal Vashoth spear that had gone dangerously near an artery. Hawke had been busy then, too. She'd not seen the welted scars that ran across the man's shoulders, one going up his neck, almost to his collarline.

Anders had helped Vael get his underjerkin back in place before Hawke or Fenris could see. They'd said nothing about it, but Anders had wondered if it had happened at the Chantry or before. Anders would have laid coin on the Chantry until today. It seemed their style to mete out punishment and then deny healing so that scars would linger.

"Anders." Hawke jostled him out of his reverie. "He's going to wake pretty soon." She warned him.

"Right." He took a deep breath, summoning the warm feeling of healing as he stepped back to the bedside. He let it flow into Caleb, knitting flesh smoothing and restoring the skin. It was delicate work and Anders reeled back when he was done. Hawke steadied him, the strength of her belied by a small stature. She sat him down and opened one of Elegant's restorative potions.

Vael brought Sarai forward so that the boy would see her first. "No' a scar." The archer's brogue was thicker than usual, and that did draw Hawke's attention. She narrowed her eyes at him in a searching way that Anders was just as glad to have redirected from him for a change. "You do fine work, healer." Anders saw a slight twitch in Vael's shoulders and refrained from an acid comment.

"Thanks." He raised the vial of potion in salute before shooting it back. Too many of his own scars were right on the surface, he didn't really mind helping Vael hide some.


Caleb woke a few minutes later and reached for his mother. Aeryn convinced Sarai to send word if her husband came around again, but she realized when Anders shrugged at her that odds were she'd never hear. The boy had buried himself in his mother's arms at mention of his father and Aeryn saw Sebastian's jaw clench.

It was a normal reaction to a man taking advantage of size and power to damage the weak, she thought, rummaging in her basket. The Chant forbade it and sure enough, Sebastian was reminding Sarai of those verses when she turned back to them. It was probably nothing more than that, though there was darkness lingering in those bright blue eyes.

She handed Sarai a cloth bag with some supplies and a bit of coin. "Varric was telling me last week that The Hanged Man needed a new serving girl, especially if she was willing to do some cleaning. I can ask him if the position's still open."

Sarai flushed, and it made her look closer to her real age. Younger than me, Aeryn realized. Dark haired and doe-eyed, with a bath and a few decent meals and less worry and fear, she'd be attractive again. "I could do that," she said,

"I'll leave word with the healer." She looked down at Caleb and gave him a disarming grin. He smiled tentatively back and she opened her hand for him. "These were my favorites when I was small." Two red barley sugar mabaris and he looked at her with big soft brown eyes like his mother's, as though she was handing him gold. "Go on then, pup. One for each paw."

The boy didn't quite snatch the treat and managed a "Thank you, Mistress." She ruffled his hair and patted the woman's shoulder.

"I'll escort you home." Sebastian offered. Carrying her child and a bag of goods, she'd be vulnerable. Sarai nodded her thanks and Sebastian took up his bow. "I'll be right back."

Aeryn waved him off with a concerned gaze at his back and turned to face Anders. "Alright, let's get you fed."

"Does Varric know he's going to be hiring a girl for Corff?" He asked her after she'd dished him up a trencher of stew.

"I'll pay her salary if I have to, but they could use the help. And if they're up in Lowtown the boy can go to the Chantry school." The Darktown children weren't allowed because officially no one lived in Darktown and only official residents were allowed to avail of the Chantry. The only other option was to sign the little ones over as orphans, which even the poorest were reluctant to do.

Anders eyed her. "And now Corff's going to provide living quarters?"

Aeryn shook her head. "No. I bought one of the warehouses through an interested party and converted it to living space. I was looking for some tenants. No reason Sarai can't be first." She shrugged and then looked at him sideways. "There's room for healer's quarters." She added casually.

"No." Hawke huffed and Anders smiled wanly. "I'm safer down here and you know it." Safer from Templars who rarely came to the undercity and easier for Aveline to miss when assigning rounds.

She indicated that he should eat and she tidied away the mess left from cleaning Caleb's wounds. She tucked the sheets and rags into her emptied basket to carry them for washing. Magical cleaning only went so far.

He was finishing a second bowl when she fished something out of her poison pouch and handed to him. "You really shouldn't carry metal bits in that pouch, you know."

"I'll remember."

"This is a key." He stared at the dull metal object, old fashioned and heavy.

"Very good, poppet! Can you spell key, now?"

"Ha Ha. What's it for?"

"You know that boarded up hall across the alley?" She continued when he nodded. "It's the entrance to the estate's basement. The third board is loose enough to pull free and the lock on the upper door is unpickable according to me and Isabela, so don't lose the key."

Warmth welled in him and even the corner of his mind where Justice lingered seemed pleased, but "No. NO. Hawke..."

"You'll take it and you'll use it if you have even a glimmer that there are Templars about." Hawke pulled a sturdy silver chain from the pocket on her thigh and, plucking it from his nerveless fingers, threaded the key onto it.

"Or what? You can't...if they find this on me?"

"It's not labeled. Just promise you won't shout 'oh no don't take Hawke's key,' and I think we'll be fine." She dropped the chain around his neck and tucked it into the neck of his robes. "They won't have you, Anders. Not while I've got a breath left." She kept her voice casual but he could hear the old hurt in it.

Anders stood up and wrapped her up in a dusty, feathery hug. Hawke hugged enthusiastically back until the feathers tickling her nose made her sneeze. "You are mad like a mad thing." He laid his cheek against the top of her dark red head, just for a second before she pulled back.

"Just keeping up with my lunatic friends." She smirked up at him, laughter and concern warring in her eyes.

Behind them, Sebastian coughed. The old Anders couldn't resist giving Hawke a little extra squeeze before he let her go, despite Justice's protest. The arch look she sent him over her shoulder let him know she knew exactly why he'd done it. The blazing glare Vael sent him over her head made it worth it. Won't claim her himself, nooo. But, woe to anyone who dallies with her as if she can't take care of herself. Typical noble.

Chapter Text


Shelter: Chapter 14

Sebastian picked up the basket, balancing it while Aeryn made Anders promise to meet them at Varric's later in the week. Remembering Anders' earlier silence, he bit back his usual sniping at the apostate. Unlike Fenris, he typically did not use the term abomination out loud, if only to spare Aeryn the grief of having to balance yet another arguing pair. It was not his right to tell her who to bestow her affection on.

The mage had saved her life on more than one occasion, and held his secret, as well. If she wanted to hug him, Sebastian had no quarrel. This other he had overheard, though... They walked back up the warrens of Darktown in silence.

Aeryn glanced up at the quiet man beside her. Sebastian never required constant conversation. Like Fenris and Aveline, he knew the value of a silence and when she wasn't wrestling with the hopelessness of her...affection for him, it made him a restful companion. It was unlike him to brood though, and as attractive a look it was, with his hooded eyes and tense mouth, she thought she should ask. Andraste's tits, it was pretty. That mouth should be illegal on a man.

She enjoyed the, let him brood until they reached the relatively safer surroundings of Lowtown. "Alright, then. What has you in a knot?"

"You've given Anders a key to your home?" He saw no reason to dissemble.

"Yees." She drew out her answer trying to think why it would bother him.

"Aeryn...I know he's your friend and I will not deny the man's skill." He stopped to face her and she dragged her eyes up from his lips to give him her proper attention. "Aeryn, do you trust him?"

"With my life and yours." She spoke softly. "As a healer and a friend, I trust him, yes. Outside of that? I don't know."

"He's dangerous." They were silent as a group of sailors split around them, on their way to the Hanged Man.

"So am I. And Fenris. And Merrill. Most everyone we know would bad to meet in a dark alley on the wrong day." There was a warning in the glib answer, the way her voice went smooth and Sebastian berated himself even as he pushed the issue. He was on edge. He shouldn't be pursuing this right now.

"You aren't capable of becoming a monster and turning on the people who trust you."

"I might surprise you on that point." Her eyes had shifted from their general soft grey to ice. She let the chill linger on her tone. "Would you want me to turn my back on him, leave him with no support at all? How long do you think he'd last like that? "

Sebastian clenched his jaw. "Not long," he acknowledged.

"No." She started walking again, quickly. Aiming for shadows as though she felt threatened. He lengthened his stride to catch up when a hand tugged at his elbow.

"Brother Sebastian?" He recognized the parishioner, Rafe, an elderly man who had once been an archer in the guard. He had often cornered Sebastian to discuss tactics or reminisce about times past. Usually he was happy to indulge the man, finding him a good source of stories. Today though…he glanced up, but Aeryn had disappeared down an alley.

"That was a beautiful woman, Brother. She sweet on you?"

"Not at the moment, no."


He bought the man a pint and a bit of lunch in the Hanged Man, excusing himself soon after. He went straight to the estate, not pretending to himself that he had any other intention. No, that was long past.

Bodahn answered to his knock. "Yes. I thought you'd be along, messere." The dwarf's genial expression led him to hope Aeryn had blown off some of her anger by the time she'd arrived home. "She's out in the garden."

"Thank you, Bodahn. Hullo, Sandal." He greeted the younger dwarf.

"New knives." The lad said conversationally.


"Ah yes. You might be careful, Prince Vael. She had Sandal enchant a new set of throwing knives and I believe she was going to practice." Bodahn said this rather reluctantly, not quite looking at Sebastian. .

Well, at least Sandal wasn't eager to see him turned into Hawke's new pincushion. He walked through the dark, quiet house to the back entrance. He stood on the tiny porch, letting his eyes adjust to the light, looking for her in the corner where she'd set up her practice area.

He swallowed, hard. Aeryn had stripped off the padded jerkin and the bloused shirt she wore under it, leaving only a thin, short linen tunic and her leather trousers. She'd been working quite diligently, it seemed, enough to sweat through the fine fabric. It clung to the curves of her body, leaving nothing for him to fill in but the texture of her skin.

Sebastian wasn't sure when it happened, but he'd come to think of Aeryn as rather...sturdy, though with a lovely curve to her backside. Her armor, usually padded and made to deflect, hid the difference between her narrow waist and the flare of her hips. Even the short woolen house dress she'd adopted gave little impression of shape beneath its thick folds, though he admitted a fondness for the slits up her thighs.

His eyes traced along her revealed form, all the way to her bare feet, as she flexed and stretched. Her knives ran deadly patterns in the air, but he was captivated by each sway and thrust she made, her shapely strong arms and lithe figure. He shifted his stance uncomfortably and licked his dry lips. It was an awfully hot day for armor.

Aeryn finished her pattern and caught sight of him. Something of his wayward, heated thoughts must have shown in his face judging from the darkly amused smirk that twisted her lips. She walked towards him, and Oh Maker, Aveline was right. Aeryn did prowl.

"See something you want, Brother Sebastian?" There were beads of sweat running down into the valley between her full breasts and he followed them.

"Yes." He snapped out the word in a growl.

She felt her eyes widen a bit in surprise at his admission amd she slunk closer, her earlier anger pushing her to a challenge. "Hmm." She let her gaze travel upwards lingering on his lips and then she laughed coolly. "You don't want me." She drew up even with him on the steps. The flush on her skin and the scent of her threatened to set him alight. "You forget. I've seen you go after the things you want, Sebastian. If you wanted me, I'd be up against that wall, begging in minutes." Pushing aside a memory of him, gold and white in the early morning sun, she brushed past him to enter the house.

The image she'd given rocked his control and he grabbed her by the elbows and swung her back against him. "Do not tempt me, Aeryn." His voice had dropped into his chest and his brogue turned her name into a caress. "Please." The last came out a bit more desperate and concern pushed aside the smoke in her eyes.

Sebastian wasn't sure he was grateful, for once, that Aeryn's tenets of friendship trumped even this...heat that sprung up between them. If she pushed...He saw her swallow. She laid her warm, callused hand against his tanned cheek and he leaned into it. "Alright."

She pulled back from him and he let her go. Glancing down at herself, she smiled ruefully. "Let me clean up," she said, "and then we'll talk."

"Wait, I..."


"Maker take me if I ever turn from you due to your loyalty to your friends, Aeryn." He apologized.

She looked up at him again. He did look penitent. "Did it bother you that much, my giving Anders a key?" He opened his mouth to speak, closed it and shook his head. It had but that wasn't what drove him to anger. "What is it really?"

He didn't want to tell her, but she had shared herself with him. It was only right that he trust her. Searching his face, her eyes went soft. Aeryn tucked her arm around his as if the disagreement had never happened and tugged. "Let's go back inside. If you can stay for lunch, Orana was making something that smelled lovely."

He unstrapped his armor and mail, leaving them in a neat pile by the door. His tunic was wrinkled and damp, but it dried by the time she came down. Her hair was still wet, curling slightly around her ears and she smelled freshly of her almond soap. She'd left her soft house boots off, and she padded silently across the floor to him.

Orana's steak and kidney pie was being kept warm, wrapped in a cozy on the hearth. Dispensing with formality, Hawke dished it up and they carried their plates to the study, cooler than the kitchen.

Trying an old trick that had often worked with Carver, she sat next to him on the padded chaise set against the wall, instead of across from him in her usual armchair. She could listen to a low voice and he would be able to talk without looking at her. Not to mention, she could feel the warmth of his long thigh against hers. His amused sidelong glance told her he'd worked out one reason or the other.

They ate quietly for a minute, enjoying the hearty dish. Sebastian took a long drink of the cider she'd poured. "Your parents, they were...affectionate?"

"Hugs and such?" He nodded. "Sure. They were cheap and easily portable." He'd thought as much. She was too free with such things than to have grown up without them.

Aeryn hesitated. "And yours?"

"Not particularly. Or at all. My mother would clean my face if it was smudged, or straighten my clothes if we were in public and I was not quite up to Vael standards. I don't ever recall my father touching me." Not wholly true, but he would get to that. "Oh, I had nans for the kissing of knees and like that. And my grandfather was a great one for ruffling hair." He reached his hand up and tousled Aeryn's short cap of hair, nearly dry now, catching it and enjoying the silken texture as she sidled a bit closer, a slight smile softening the edge of her lingering wariness. He left his arm draped across her shoulders, feeling a bit like a hapless youth on a first outing.

"Mother was ill for a time after I was born. I suppose it made a difference." His brothers hadn't lacked for affection, at any road.

"I was a wretch, I imagine. A grief to them. More interested in practicing my bow or sneaking through the keep than attending the lessons that the sisters laid for me. I was on my own quite a bit. My brothers were a bit older and I was little more than a pest and a tagalong. I mentioned that once, I think." He had looked up to the bigger lads, in awe of their training gear and their larger world.

She nodded. "You said you were one too many." Her voice was incredulous, the sound of an eldest daughter who had never doubted her place in her family.

", I know if I'd been a girl, it would have changed things. I could have been dolled up as a child and then married off for a good connection. Any hypothetical offspring wouldn't have been a threat to the true heir."

As it was, I was just...inconvenient." He paused and ate another bite. "Then, weel, I got to be more than that."

His accent was getting thicker and he saw Aeryn cock her head. She'd noticed.

"I found that if I was causing trouble, then I got a bit more of their attention. So, pranks and disappearing at the worst times or showing up at even worse times. Salt in the sugar bowl when the Viscount came to visit." He recalled how she had stared at the door, looking like she wanted to escape when he'd been questioning her. Now he understood the impulse. He continued, anyway. "Eventually, they pawned off my punishment onto servants as well."

"I learned not to get caught then. It made the help uncomfortable to be ruling over any of the family, even a whelp like me. And it wasn't the servants' attention I lacked. Like you, I've come ta realize what I was doing, why."

"But, at my middle brother's, Alexander's, wedding. One of the guests brought a servant with...beautiful eyes. I didn't know why I wanted to follow her 'round sae much." He grinned a bit sheepishly when she arched her fine brow at him. "I was only fourteen."

I joined in my first game of cards that night, too. The next week I was in a pub brawl and brought home by the guarda."

"That got their attention?"

"Oh, my, yes." He sat his bowl down and hugged her to his side. "Were Malcolm and Leandra strict wi' you?"

She was quiet for a moment. "Well, yes. Quite a lot depended on me doing exactly what I was told, what we were told to do, immediately." She laid her head against his shoulder. "I didn't always appreciate it as I got older. And...I think Mother told you that I was a bit, ah, free and easy with ownership?"

"Light-fingered, I believe she said."

"I am fond of shiny things." A wry smile crossed her lips.

"I had no idea. Truly, I'm shocked." He said dryly and she chuckled. The movement rippled through him, warming a knot of chill he'd been carrying since he saw the boy on Anders' table this morning.

"Yes, well. I collected my share of stripes. Mother was steady and fair with a pear switch. It was never anything like what..." She stopped, adding up a few things and he sighed. "Oh, Sebastian."

She sat up and slid her hand across the back of his neck, feeling out the welt he often rubbed when troubled. She caressed the mark with her sensitive fingers as she looked into his eyes. Her own were dark with emotion. He smiled gently at her.

"It was generally just some stripes for me, as well, leannan. And well deserved, to be honest. The keep's blacksmith, Geordi, was designated, but he had boys and wasn't a cruel man. My father would watch, to make sure I took my punishment like a Vael should." He tugged her back against him, but she left her fingers curled in his hair.


"Our seneschal had a lovely daughter, Jillane, a year or so older than I. She caught the eye of one of my father's lesser Banns and a match was arranged. He was...well, we thought him terribly old at forty. She didn't want to go to such an ancient fellow and I...well, she was a pretty thing." He shrugged and closed his eyes. "Jilly went and told her father. She was perfectly content to never marry, that she'd asked me to ruin her. Brave little mite. I hightailed myself to a tavern right after." He shook his head. "I was three sheets gone wi'a doxy in my lap when Father's guarda found me and dragged me home."

Aeryn's other arm had curved around his chest and she cuddled against him, lending him what strength she had, as he'd done for her. Sebastian laid his head against her hair, breathing in the scent of her, comforting and settling.

"I don't say I didn't deserve some punishment. It was a sinful, wicked thing to do. They were legally wed by proxy, so it was adultery and I expected to take more than my usual. My father wasn't happy with Geordi's enthusiasm...and took up his belt and..." He breathed deeply, again, her almond soap as much a sacred scent to him now as the Chantry incense, blasphemous though it seemed. Maker, I forgive as you wish and commend his soul. "He proceeded to tell me what a disgrace I was, what a useless waste."

"He blacked my eye and split my lip for good measure. Told me he hoped it slowed me down. He gave orders that I wasn't to have any healing beyond cleaning me up and bandaging, so it scarred. And when I did heal up, they sent me to the Chantry." He felt her small fingers curling in his hair, stroking against his skull and he leaned back into the luxury of the sensation.

"Jilly sent me a note, said her husband was just as happy not to have a weeping virgin to deal with and once they were sure she wasn't carrying a bastard, she headed off to him. They've three of their own now. Turned out forty wasn't quite as decrepit as she feared."

She had been still and quiet against him but with a fluid movement, she had pulled her knees under her and was sitting up gazing into his eyes, searching. There was something black roiling behind the silver-grey and Sebastian tried to deny it. "Don't hate him, Aeryn. His methods were wrong, but I was..."

She laid her finger against his lips. "You are the saint, Sebastian, not me. You just told me that the only time the person who should have been teaching you to be a man, a prince, ever touched you was to beat you. Let me hate him." I'm so good at it, she added silently.

He shouldn't...but the fact that she cared so was a little overwhelming. He nodded, but honesty required, "Not a saint, mo chridhe."

"Someday, you're going to have to tell me what that means."

Not until I'm sure you won't bolt, little wild bird. His breath caught. She was rubbing her thumb across his cheekbone and he turned into the caress, eyes closing. He heard her sigh.

He looked so resigned and Aeryn couldn't stand it.

Softly, she asked, "May I kiss you, Sebastian?" He thought his heart might burst. Every step in this, she had offered and accepted his choice. The Maker had set her in his path and now it was his decision.


Gentle. Oh, so gently. Cupping his face in her hands and turning him to her, she leaned in and brushed her lips, warm and soft, against his. His hands clenched into the loose fabric at her waist, then smoothed up the lithe lines he'd seen earlier. Aeryn swayed into him, pushing her hands into his hair, adding sweet pressure to the kiss. Shifting, she laid a kiss against his brow, his other cheekbone, her breath like feathers against his skin.

Aeryn's control, her refusal to push too far, shattered his. He brought his hands up to brush against the soft undersides of her breasts. When she gasped, he kissed her, twining his tongue with hers, claiming the sweetness that had haunted him since their dreaming encounter in camp. He ran one hand up into her hair and she slid closer to him, one taut thigh swinging over to straddle his hips. His other hand dropped to her knee, sliding up the bare length under her slitted skirt, roughened thumb pressing in, sliding against lean muscle. She shivered against him and he felt a wicked smile on his face even as his hips twitched up, making them both gasp apart.

Her hands were stroking into the loosened neck of his tunic, playing against his collarbone, her mouth against the hammering pulse in his throat. Head spinning from lack of air, he pulled back, shaking under her hands and Aeryn pressed her forehead to his. "I swear, before the Maker, Sebastian Vael. If you tell me you've decided to go back to the priesthood after that, I will end you."

He dropped his head back and laughed, low and rich, kissing her cheek and cuddling her against him. "No. No, that was not what I was going to say." Looking up at her, he was surprised by the wide-eyed wonder with which she was observing him. He cocked an eyebrow at her. "What?"

"Well, one...apparently, you've made a decision I wasn't aware of and two...I've never heard you laugh like that." She drew her fingers softly down his throat to the reddish brown fur at his chest, where the sound had resonated.

He blinked at her, surprised. "Am I so dour that I don't laugh?"

" chuckle and you do that snorting thing that's really rather adorable, if not particularly princely...but I've never heard you laugh out like that." Oh, I want him to laugh like that again, Aeryn thought covetously.

"Perhaps it's that the company is a joyous armful?" He tightened his arms again, then shifted. He would have to admit to some small stress at her continued presence in his lap.

"Alright, then." She slid off his lap and relaxed against him, her breathing returning to normal. "Although I admit, I truly did mean to just kiss you."

"I know." She couldn't see his face, but he sounded a wee bit smug. "It seems we get on like a house afire."

"Hmm." It was a contented, purring sound and he gathered up the scraps of his control to keep himself from trying to get her to make it again.

"Aeryn. I do not intend to go back to the priesthood." He breathed in, gathering himself to say out loud what he'd known for years. "I must go back to Starkhaven. I've had letters recently. Goran does not seem to be ruling well or wisely without Lady Harimann's control."

She sat up, considering him seriously. "Does that surprise you?"

"No, as I've said, he's a bit simple. Odds are he's just saying yes to every request made of him and scrambling when they conflict. Exports are down. Yields are down, too. It's rapidly becoming a mess. Something must be done and if the nobles are writing me, then it seems I will have their support if I challenge. So, I must. I will not let my family seat fall to incompetence."

Aeryn wore an appraising look and he asked. "What are you thinking?"

"That was very princely." Her smile curled warmly into his chest.

"Hopefully, I will be more worthy of that title now." He couldn't help thinking how very unworthy all who'd known him before had thought him. If not for the letters, he might simply resign his vows to follow Aeryn to whatever end she pursued. But he wanted to give her a prince.

"Tsk. You've grown up, Sebastian. That's all. Seen more of the hard parts of life and what other people suffer when their leaders fail them. Kirkwall has been good for that, at least." There was a bitter note in her voice. "Remember them and you'll make your Grandfather proud, I'd think."

He took a moment, cherishing her encouragement, but... "I cannot go just yet. Elthina has mentioned a delegation coming from Orlais. She will need my support. And as long as I live at the Chantry, Aeryn, I feel I must keep my much as I can." He looked up through his lashes to determine her response.

She was pouting. Truly. He laughed again, delight lodging in his heart and kissed her as she chuckled. "So, kissing's allowed, then?"

" 'Lest I perish from the lack, yes."

"However did you manage for fifteen years?"

"It was never a problem." She let her skepticism show. "Honestly. Once I made up my mind to give myself to the Maker, I was never tempted. I still appreciated a well turned leg or a pretty face...but, it was as if the Maker gave me a mere aesthetic appreciation, to see the beauty, but not crave to possess it."

"Sebastian." Aeryn leveled one of her prim looks at him. Maker, she rivaled Elthina for a single word lecture.

"What, then?"

"Far be it for me to call you a liar, darling man. But I never felt merely aesthetically admired when you turned those bright blue eyes towards me." She laid her finger on the bridge of his nose and tapped.

He caught her hand and nipped the end of that slim finger. Her eyes went that smoky silver that was rapidly becoming his favorite color and he swallowed hard. "No." He admitted as he folded her hand in his and pressed it against his heart. "No, you I craved from the first moment I saw you. Craved to hear your voice, then my name on your lips. Craved your trust and your company and your approval and your attention." His voice had gone rough. "Then, oh, I woke to you in my arms and I only thought I understood temptation." Her free arm curled around his neck and she kissed him, nudging his lips open and sending heat licking through his veins.

Against his lips, she whispered. "Glad to know I wasn't alone, then. Craving." He sipped the sultry word off her lush, sweet mouth.

"Forgive me for wasting years in indecision, leannan." He tipped her chin, kissing down the white column of her neck to suck gently on the pulse point until she whimpered, her fingers clutching his shoulders to push away.

"Forgiven. But if you expect me to help you keep your vows, Sebastian, you have to stop, now." Her voice was breathy and low. Aeryn trembled in his arms and it was only the work of years of self-denial that allowed him to set her safely back instead of pressing her down to find out exactly what it would take to make her shatter, to find out what it was she had craved of him.

He kept her hand though, clasping her small fingers in his longer ones.

A knock came, signifying a need to return from this interlude into the wider world.

Author Note:

Oh, finally! But the course of true love ne'er did run smooth, so...

We're at the end of what I can post daily. New posts will come every 4-5 days, even if you get half chapters at a time. Unless I get a chance to finish up 15 tonight. No worries, though. The whole story is framed and scripted out.

Thanks again to all of you who have reviewed and favorited and signed up for alerts for the story so far. I hope you continue to enjoy.

Chapter Text

It had been a close run thing.

One moment Hawke was standing in the shadow, waiting for Fenris to open an opportunity to drop into the fight with the revenant. The next she was being pulled in and slammed against its shield. She’d managed to twist and use a little of the momentum to drive one dagger through a rent in its armor, right into its heart. If revenants had hearts. It had apparently decided she was too sharp to keep close and flung her off again, into a protruding stone.

Too slow. She’d been too slow to curl up.

Next thing she knew, Anders was kneeling next to her, pouring out every ounce of energy he had into her. Fenris and Isabela were hovering near by.

Varric was muttering, “You’re going to be fine, Hawke. You’ve got the hardest head I ever knew outside of a dwarf.” As if he was trying to convince her. Then, “Oh, Choir Boy is going to kill us.”

“Mmmphn.” She tried again and managed. “Nah. He’ll scold me.” Then she coughed and her head took the opportunity to turn itself inside out.

“Watch out!” Anders shouted as her stomach made its protest known. Isabela was suddenly no longer hovering.

“Urgh. Ah, sorry.”

“Hazard of the job.” He sighed. “Sodding Void.”

She reached out and patted his foot. “New robes on me. Those’re tatty anyway.”

They got her back from the dockside warehouse in record time. By the time Aeryn had drunk the two potions Isabela had foisted on her, she’d felt almost her normal self. At least there weren’t two of everyone anymore. Anders had made Bodahn promise to check on her every hour. Varric had mentioned raiding her liquor cabinet and they’d let her collapse into bed.

A couple of hours later, Hawke walked into the warm kitchen, unsurprised to find Orana there. Even on her day off, she liked to spend her time here, in the spicy, yeasty-smelling, warm space. Aeryn sighed. At least the girl had her lute in her hands and not a work utensil. She’d heard the strains of music coming down the hall.

“Didn’t you want to practice in your room, Orana?”

The slight elf jumped guiltily. Mistress Hawke was so quiet. Even if she didn’t mean to, she often startled Orana. “I’m sorry, Mistress. I did not mean to disturb you.”

“You didn’t, pup. I love to listen to you play. I’m glad you’re enjoying the lessons.”

The pale face colored and Hawke bit back a grin. “Thank you.” Ducking her head she added. “The music sounds better here…Oh!” Hawke looked up from where she had pulled out a plate. “Do you need me to make your lunch? I will start…”

“Don’t you dare!” Aeryn spoke softly, though. “It’s your day off, Orana. I am perfectly capable of making myself a plate of bread and cheese. And apples.” She added, eyeing the bowl of ripe fruit. “Keep playing, please. If you want to.” Crunching one, beautifully tart and sweet, while she gathered the rest of her snack, she listened while Orana hesitantly began to pluck out a tune. It started to sound familiar.

Orana strummed, gaining confidence as she played the melody through twice. Seating herself at the long wooden table and bowing her head over her food, Aeryn recalled the last time she’d heard the old folk tune.

Aeryn finished her snack and tidied up after she’d chivvied Orana back to her practice, yet again, but was reluctant to leave the kitchen. She was at now at loose ends. She had intended to run to the Keep to check on Aveline and see if the Guard-Captain had discovered a location for the latest batch of bandits harrying Lowtown. And perhaps to meet Sebastian and drag him back to the estate for supper.

Anders had wanted her to rest up after she’d taken the blow to the head this morning and between Isabela, Fenris and Varric threatening, cajoling and admonishing her the whole way home, she had actually listened to him. Bodahn was apparently under orders to report any escape attempts. She imagined one of them would be along to check up on her soon.

She glanced at Orana. Either the girl was unwilling to order her mistress back to bed or it hadn’t occurred to her that she could. The kitchen was an acceptable refuge from the too-quiet bedroom. Aeryn had noticed a chicken left from last night when she’d pulled the cheese from the larder. Shouldn’t waste that, she thought. So, she gathered up the carcass and some vegetables that were threatening to go limp and set to work. “Keep playing, if you’d like, Orana. I’m in the mood to cook and listen.” Her mistress’ little smile made her stay at the table.

Chopping and softening aromatics, Aeryn let herself drift on memory. The first time she remembered her mother singing that song. She had been around five or so. Aeryn had crept out of bed to listen to her mother sing. Pressed against the rough wall, she had seen Mother seated before the fire, a pile of mending abandoned at her side. Father had been seated on the floor, leaning against her legs with his eyes closed, while Mother finger-combed his dark, waving hair. The fire had gilded them, smoothing the utilitarian homespun clothes and their tired faces.

They had been beautiful and young and so terribly, terribly in love. Little Aeryn had her first glimpse of the wider world of adults, compelling and a little frightening.

Leandra often sang in those days, ditties and story songs, songs of the Free Marches and songs of Ferelden. She said it made work shorter to have the right tune for every job, but had stopped when Father died. After Aeryn had bought the mansion, when the building had been full of workers and dust, Leandra had started singing again. Quiet little songs as she rebuilt her childhood home. But never once did she sing Father’s song.

Unconsciously, as she browned flour in sausage fat and set the chicken to simmering, Aeryn began humming, easy in Orana’s company and the work. It reminded her a bit of older days, when Bethany or Carver would work at the kitchen table and Aeryn would give her mother a break to go wander the fields with Father.

The pots on the hearth spattered and hissed home-ishly. She didn’t notice when she shifted from humming to singing herself, turning the spider, spreading sand to catch the grease splatters, just another pleasant sound in the working room.

Somewhere about the time she was tipping rice into the broth, she left her memory of mother and father behind and recalled the curve of her archer’s lips and the way his hands felt when he touched her face or tangled her fingers with his own.

She cleaned the chopping block as the soup simmered, sending wafts of pleasant aromas into the air. The fire pinked her cheeks and steam curled the short ends of her hair across her forehead. And she never noticed when Sebastian stepped into the shadowy doorway, only to stop and listen to the low love song she was singing again.

He watched, entranced by this side of Aeryn, softer and calling up long-lost wishes of a younger man. Perhaps it was the sad little smile that crossed her face or the smudge of flour across the bridge of her nose. When she stopped singing to snag an apple and take a bite, he came forward and broke the spell of her, moving efficiently about the kitchen, swaying as she sang. Orana saw him first and blushed to see the look on Brother Sebastian’s face as he watched her mistress. It seemed a very private emotion to wear so openly.

“Excuse me, ladies.” Sebastian’s warm voice was husky. “May I speak with you a moment, Aeryn?”

Orana fled the kitchen as Aeryn went to meet him, chewing her mouthful quickly, meaning to scold him for startling them. “Alright. You get the scout’s honor for sneaking, Sebastian. No more lessons for you.”

“Were you no’ meant to be resting?” Sebastian asked, a taut note lending an air of command to the burr of his question.

"I was." She glanced back at the hearth. "Ah, all evidence to the contrary aside."

"I believe you were working. And fine as it smells, I mean for you to follow your healer's orders." He drew in close to her, something hungry, almost longing in his face.

"Are you all right?" He looked pale under his tan.

"Well as can be expected." He hadn’t had a decent breath until he’d gotten to the kitchen to see her. He brushed his hand along her temple, but Anders had done his usual good work and there wasn't even a bruise to be seen.

More than the heat of the fire made her flush, now, trapped between the burning blue gaze and the way he had dropped his hand to her bare throat, caressing her with his calloused thumb. He felt her pulse jump.

“Every time I think I have come to know you, you turn and flash a new facet,” he said, his voice like roughened velvet. He leaned in and kissed her forehead and Aeryn’s eyes fluttered shut at the delicate touch. “So beautiful.” He tipped her chin up and gently, lightly brushed his warm lips to hers, tasting apples.

She drew up on her toes to kiss him back, lightly setting a hand on his chest for balance and he obliged, holding her to him. It was only a matter of a slight shift to slide his arm down and sweep her up.

"Hey!" Her head swirled from the sudden movement and she smacked his shoulder.

Sebastian shook his head. "Fenris warned me you're a poor patient. Up you go."

He smelled of sunlight and warm leather. That was the only reason she allowed for letting him carry her. But..." Wait!"


"That soup is for dinner, it'll ruin if I leave it on the fire." She tugged against his hold and he set her down. She pulled the pot from the hook and set it on the cooler part of the long hearth. Then she picked up the spider to take to the dry sink. She was about to grab the firkin of scouring sand when he sighed and stopped her with his hand on her shoulder. "Sit down."

"I need to..." He steered Aeryn to the bench. "Sebastian, I'm not made of glass!"

"I've got it." His movements were quick and efficient as he scoured the pan.

"It's Orana's day off." She was a little apologetic. "Thank you."

He tossed her an exasperated grin. "Not my first go at cleaning, Aeryn. I take my turn when I'm at the Chantry." He dried his hands off. "Anything else that can't wait?"

"Just the sweeping." She pointed out the broom in the corner and he swept up the sand she'd spread. "There's a cobweb over there," she pointed out, vaguely amused that a prince was doing her house keeping.

"Minx." He growled, but he swung the broom up to catch it.

"Done." She held her hands up in surrender and walked to the doorway as he put the broom away. He stalked after her. "Leave me be. I can walk up to the bedroom."

"I'll just come along to make sure you actually go there and don't decide that the chandelier needs dusting." He pressed his hand, solid and warm against the small of her back.

"No, we did that a couple of days ago." She sassed and trotted up the stairs.

Sebastian followed her to her door and she stepped into her room before she turned, eyes flashing. "Do I get a goodnight kiss?"

"Always." He pulled her to him. He meant for it to be light but Aeryn leaned against him with a contented murmur and took it deeper. He ran his hands down her sides, lifting her to him with his hands against her lovely curved backside with a groan as she tangled her fingers in the curling hair at his nape.

He held her tightly to his heart. Varric and Fenris had been worried enough to let him know, to actually come to the Keep where Sebastian was meeting with a pair of Northern Marches banns and wait for him to tell him. It had been a close thing.

He could have lost her. Lost her and never…Maker, forgive me my weakness. Deciding, he pulled her off her feet again, pushing through the door. She squeaked a protest, but a few steps and he set her on her bed.

Aeryn watched in bemusement as he knelt down to take her boots off. "Daft man. Get up!"

He was right by her bare knees and her breath stopped as he pressed a kiss to one joint. "Sebastian!" She warned. That was taking petting too far for her limited sense of restraint. The blue blaze of his gaze trapped her again.

"You might have died, leannan, and I was off..."

"Gathering support for your cause. While I was attending to a request made of the Champion. We have our duties, Sebastian." No good could come from him forgetting that.

"Yes, and now mine is here, to make sure you follow orders. Even if I have to tie you down and wear you out to do it." He kissed the other knee and slid his long fingers up to the tie of the wrap.

There was a dark hint of a growl in her answer, “Oh, promises.” Gulping at the dance of lightning he sent through her with a yet higher brush of his lips, she stopped his seeking fingers. " might leave that to me. I really did just go down to get a snack."

"And?" He was focused on his task, as she batted at his fingers

"And I justputthis on so as not toscandalizemy housemates." She tried to control it, but her voice slid up the scale a bit as his other hand massaged her thigh.

"And?" He stopped as his fingers up her rucked-up skirt brushed crisp curls instead of cloth. His eyes snapped to hers.

"I get hot, sleeping." She shrugged, but she felt herself blushing like a girl.

Maker's Breath. He pulled the tie, loosening the belt, unwrapping her from the waist down to his utter delight. Only to pause at the sight of the dagger strapped to her thigh. He deftly unbuckled the sheath trying to decide if it was disturbing or arousing that she slept with a dagger but not smalls. And then he pulled away the sheath to discover another delicate little dagger, barely the length of her thumb, drawn in black ink on the inside of her thigh. Arousing, he decided as his groin tightened and he felt himself swell. Oh, he definitely wanted that story. Later. He traced it with the tip of a callused finger, smiling as she shuddered.

"Sebastian..." She tried to inject warning into her tone, but oh the look on his face. "Your vow." He was starting to get a hint of that intensity he had when shooting. It was somewhat disconcerting to have it focused on her, this way.

"Aye. My vow. 'Tis but a kiss." He nuzzled against the creamy skin of her taut belly, breathing in deep as he pushed her back to lie on the bed. Almonds and salt and womanly sweat and...he laved his tongue across her flesh, tasting as she arched against him.


He brushed his hand against her dark copper mound then cupped, pressing as she pushed against him. That hungry little moan went right into his catalog of favorite sounds. He slipped a finger into her, gathering slickness and swallowed a groan of his own. So wet, just from a few kisses. He concentrated, digging his teeth into his lip, for a moment to drive away the primal urge to rise over his love, release himself and thrust home. Even if he didn't have a trust to keep, she had still been injured and didn't need that particular brand of rough treatment.

No matter how much they both wanted it. Give me strength. Sweet Andraste. A tattoo on her thigh.

Sliding his hands under her bottom Sebastian slid Aeryn to the edge of the bed, spreading her and bent to his work. His thumbs worked circles on the sensitive skin of her inner thighs. He nosed apart her folds and drew his tongue up and around the sensitive nub of flesh he sought, drawing yet another glorious sound from her.

For her part, Aeryn had meant to protest. To claim his vow for her own, but his fingers had blanked her mind completely only to be replaced with want when he applied his tongue. She arched towards him as he whispered little gasps of foreign delights and spiraled his clever tongue again and again. Oh, he'd surely had practice at this at some point. She sent quick good wishes to every last tutor.

She was briefly reminded of the night before he had come to talk with her of Ostagar. He was driving her just as hard, as fast as she had driven herself. But this wasn't brutal. No... this was exquisite. It was the last coherent thought she had as he slid one, then another long, blunt finger into her sheath, crooking and twisting as he dallied on her clitoris.

Her hands dug convulsively into the linens looking for something to keep her grounded. He spoke her name against her, lingering over the 'r' in a caress and she surrendered to it, nerves firing and sending shockwaves rippling as she cried out wordlessly.

She opened up eyes she didn't recall closing to see Sebastian smirking smugly at her, licking the flavor of her off his lips. Nary an inch of the shy Choir Boy left, it seemed. Aeryn, aching to return the favor, instead reached for him to draw him up onto the bed for her to curl beside, then murmured, "You know, if that's 'but a kiss' in your Starkhaven, love, I'm rather surprised you don't have something of an immigration surplus."

He went very still. Archer still, as though he had stopped his heart and breath, waiting for a shot.

She thought back to what she'd said. Ah. Well, it was true. Aeryn had made her own vow long ago to never lie about love once it cornered her. And if she was right...

"Say that again." His voice had the tense, husky note she'd heard in the kitchen.

"Starkhaven?" He pulled her up to look into her eyes, trying to read truth there. "Kiss?"

"Aeryn." He heard the pleading in his voice and swallowed, looking away even as he clutched her arms.

Oh, she was right. Cast them to the Void. No more teasing.

"Ah." She cupped his face in her hands and turned him towards her to see his brilliant eyes flare when she said, "Love. My love. I love yo..."

Sebastian kissed her hoping to taste the words on her lips and bury them in his heart. She kissed him back, rubbing her hands around his broad shoulders, leaning into him, trying to put the words into every sensation she could. To wrap him in it. She'd say it every chance she got. Make up for every time it was never said. No matter what else came, Aeryn could ensure Sebastian knew he’d been loved.

He pressed his face into the crook of her neck, whispering. "Mo chridhe, leannan. My heart, my own love." He’d been saying it for years. That was a fine warm thought to be going on with.

She tugged Sebastian back with her, leaning against the cushions piled against the headboard. Closing her eyes she let herself drift on the words he whispered as she rubbed his back with gentle soothing circles. Deep down in the blackest part of her heart there was a rare prayer for old victims. Hoping the mercs she'd killed for him had made fine kills of their own.

Chapter Text

She hadn't wanted him to go.


Aeryn had fallen asleep, listening to Sebastian breathe, deep and even. When he had tried to extricate himself, she'd woken. They had walked down to the kitchen again to eat and then he'd tucked her back into bed and he'd kissed her goodbye. He'd gone back to the Chantry with her love whispered into his ear.


She'd waited a quartermark to be sure he was gone and so she wouldn't be lying when he asked her tomorrow if she'd stayed in bed.


It was still early evening. Isabela was waiting downstairs, going through her messages. Again.


"I hope you didn't break the lock this time." Aeryn said casually as she padded down the stairs. "I swear, Bela, if you've got another lost relic..."


"No, just checking up on you, sweet thing. I figured if I didn't, Fenris would make me come with him when he did." Isabela gave Aeryn a good once over and her brows shot up. "Walk over here!"




"Come here." A sly smile spread across the pirate's face as Aeryn complied with a huff. "You've had sex!"


"Maker, Isabela." Aeryn groaned. "Really?"


"Wait, no. But you had areally good time!" Isabela gave her a squeeze. "Mmmh. You smell like a bordello."


Dryly, Aeryn replied, "Thank you. You know, until someone broke into my house, I was on my way to the bath."


"Not on my account. It's my third favorite smell in the world."


"Salt air and?"


"The second one's a secret." She smirked wickedly with her finger against her lips.


Rolling her eyes, Aeryn asked, "Hungry?"


"Famished, now." Shrugging, she added, "And I could eat." Laughing, Aeryn pointed to the kitchen. She set Isabela up with a bowl of soup while the pirate poured cider for Hawke and ale for herself.


Isabela was actually hungry, so she ate a few bites before waggling her eyebrows at the other woman, who was sitting with a slightly dazed expression that the pirate truly hoped wasn't from the head injury. "So?"


Aeryn focused back on Isabela. "So, what?"


"So we know Choir Boy's good on his knees, but...?" Isabela waved her hand trying to draw forth Aeryn's critique.


She quirked a dimple and played along. "Let's just say that somewhere along the line, Sebastian was a very diligent scholar and," she finished over Isabela's chortle, "that's the last tell you're getting out of me." She winked over the edge of her tumbler.


The other woman shivered appreciatively. "All that focus. And the way his tongue works those R's..."


It occurred to Aeryn that she'd thought along similar lines and a throaty laugh escaped her.


Isabela's painted eyes went wide. "I haven't heard that laugh in years. I think your prince is my new favorite."


"No sharing."


Isabela pouted and then shrugged. "I suppose I'm covered for the moment." She smiled a little introspective smile that on any other woman would have been soft.


"Ah." Turnabout's fair play. "About that, how's it going?"


“Well, he’s amazing in bed, for one.”

“Yay for you. And?”

Isabela toyed with the stud in her lip before she answered. "It is what it is, Hawke. Not all of us are aiming for epic love stories."

Snorting, Aeryn grinned darkly. "Isabela, I grew up in the home of epic, who cares if the world burns so long as we're together, love. I get that not everyone wants that. Trust me, I really wasn't looking to repeat that part of my family history."

"And now?" Isabela asks.

"And now if Sebastian wanted to burn down Thedas, I'd strike the flint." Aeryn let her grin twist, wryly. "Which is why I'm lucky he's sane."

"At least one of you is."

Aeryn nodded agreeably, but sharpened her tone to say, "I'm serious, though, pirate. Fenris is an adult and you're my friend, but..."

"When the ship sails, all debts are paid." Isabela said, sagely.

Aeryn considered her for a minute. "Okay." She trusted Isabela to try to end things quietly, if it came to it.

They drank companionably until Isabela stood to go. She gave Aeryn another cuddle. "You know, if I'd known that all it would take for Sebastian to jump fences was massive head trauma, I'd have laid you out years ago."

"I love you, too, Bela."

Aeryn saw Isabela out and then returned to her desk to straighten out the disorder the woman had left. She sorted several out to be burned, but one of the invitations stuck out. She read the heavy, deckle-edged card again, contemplating. It was for a ball honoring Lady de Launcet's sister, married to a Starkhaven lord. Maybe a connection that Sebastian could use, plus an excuse to dress up for him and dance with him. Perhaps.



She’d gone to deliver a basket of cakes Orana had made specifically for Serah Fenris, wondering if she should speak to the girl about her crush. She’d found Aveline, fed up with Fenris and his sharpness.

And then he’d told her.

"Your sister's here?" Aeryn was nonplussed. Fenris had contacted his sister and she was here. Maker.

"Come with me?" Fenris pleaded, wincing as he heard the whine.

"Save the puppy eyes, Fenris. You know I will."

"I do not..." Hawke grinned at him and he sighed. "Brat."

All for the family reunion, Aeryn thought. But… “Umm. Varric and Isabela are probably at the bar, but…”

Fenris nodded, resigned. “We should have backup.”

“I think it would be sensible.” She was apologetic.

“Is Sebastian free from his duties?”

“Probably. He didn’t mention anything specific.” Aeryn considered for a moment. “Though, we’ll be inside. The Hanged Man’s not the best place for a longbow.”

Fenris shrugged, trying to be nonchalant. “He is observant and accurate and capable with hand to hand, these days. And…I would like…” He grimaced and Aeryn got it, letting the warmth of the idea show in her smile.

“Just in case this isn’t a trap, you’d like to introduce your sister to your friends?”

He nodded, a self-mocking curl on his lips.

Aeryn stood and stretched. “Let’s go find out then.”

Hesitant, but with a certain fondness in his voice, Fenris spoke as he followed Aeryn down the stairs. “I am glad.”

She turned to look at him, curious. “About your sister?”

“No. Ah, Isabela mentioned that you and Sebastian had…resolved your differences.” A certain relief on his face made her even more interested.

“We’re adults, Fenris. If you can’t say it out loud maybe you aren’t ready to do it?” She arched her eyebrow at him.

He chuckled and then picked up the challenge. “It is for your sake I am relieved. Isabela had decided that if you two hadn’t…oh, what was that colorful euphemism she used?”

Aeryn blushed. “Never mind. I can imagine.”

Fenris grinned, just a small bit, mischievously and continued, “That if it continued much longer, she was going to get you drunk and drag you into bed with us.”

Her crack of laughter startled the pigeons on the landing outside, but. “You aren’t laughing.”

He cocked his head. “I was…considering it.” A little more gravely he added. “You have been very unhappy, Hawke.”

Unhappy? Well, now she was just about strangled. “Hmm.”

There was a wicked glint in his eyes. “On my part, it might have been worth it, beyond the doubled length of weapons check, beforehand.”

“You wretch!” She smacked her partner across her chest. “What did I do to deserve such friends?” They were chuckling as they turned to the Chantry.


Sebastian had been pleased to join them. They hadn’t gone far, though, when he noticed that neither Fenris nor Aeryn was quite as eager as he might expect. Fenris looked decidedly apprehensive, almost hunted. Aeryn wore the same expression as when she was preparing for an ambush, slightly calculating and distant.

He thought he should ask. “I’m sorry. Are we expecting trouble?”

Fenris and Aeryn shared a glance. Sebastian was quite proud that he didn’t growl possessively.

“It is easier, Sebastian, to expect trouble and not to find it.” Fenris explained. “I hope this will be a good experience, but…”

“Odds aren’t in our favor.” Aeryn finished.

Sighing, Sebastian nodded, feeling as naïve and unworldly as he had been when he’d first begun to follow Aeryn. She smiled at him, then, softly and laid her hand on his arm, rubbing the leather of his jerkin soothingly.

“You hope for the best. You’re a good man, Sebastian.” She stretched up and kissed his cheek, while Fenris stalked ahead to give them a moment of privacy. “Don’t let us change that with our cynicism.” Her lips twisted a bit. “Just…consider the best place for your stand, hmm?”

She threaded her arm through his and Sebastian allowed himself to feel soothed. They walked on and he did contemplate the set up of the Hanged Man for a good angle of coverage.

Glancing up at his handsome face, Aeryn thought she might take a chance. “Lady de Launcet has a sister who married in Starkhaven?”

Nodding, Sebastian recalled. “Married to Laird Robard of Raven’s Reach.”

“There’s a ball next week in her honor. Would it be a good connection for you to cultivate?” Aeryn buffed a scuff on the shoulder of her leathers.

“Yes, it might. The Reach isn’t known for soldiers, but they have large families and, so many blood ties among the nobility of the Marches and abroad.” He watched her, curious, but she was sweeping the area and not looking at him.

Aeryn nodded and went quiet. He felt a grin cross his face. Really? “So, was that just idle curiosity about Starkhaven?” He prodded.

“Would you like to go with me?” Her words ran together and a red tinge crept up her neck. Oh, so adorable. Maker, this woman. Sebastian had a sudden vision of Aeryn in something elegant and fine for a change and had to catch his breath.

“Yes. Yes, I think I might.” Not to mention it was a chance to be seen with her. To make a public declaration.

“Oh. Good.” She shot him a small smile and glanced away, casually.

Her apprehension in the face of such an obviously formidable question made him swallow a chuckle. For a battle she was all in. For a dance she was nervous. He tugged her closer and leaned down, brushing a kiss against her temple. “Thank you, leannan. I would be honored to accompany you.”

The warm tone of his voice smoothed out her nerves and she chuckled at herself. “And I, you, my love.”

Fenris was standing at the door of the tavern, waiting, shifting in his impatience and trepidation. Aeryn shifted smoothly to her battlestance. “Let’s see what awaits us, hmm?”


Slavers. Demons. Betrayal.

That’s what had awaited them.

Sebastian had been astonished at the vicious satisfaction that had twisted through him when, after a final desperate wave of demons, Aeryn had pinned the magister with her sharp daggers through his shoulders for Fenris to pluck up and dispatch. Freedom for his friend, at last.

But this?

This was not satisfaction. It was a horror.

Fenris had turned on Varania with all his fury, shock and hurt blazing as his lyrium flared. His hand poised to strike, he paused only as the woman appealed to Aeryn.

And found no mercy at all.

Aeryn was as hard and cold as the steel in her hand, eyes gleaming and cruel. Her mocking reply, “Oh, no. It’s not my place to interfere in a family dispute,” was delivered in a sickly sweet tone with a terrible smile that had driven ice down his spine.

But his horrified, “Aeryn, no!” had been lost under Fenris’ hissed, “I would have given you everything!” as the elf reached into his sister’s narrow chest and squeezed.

Sebastian was still reeling from the shock when Fenris spoke of being truly alone. Aeryn, shifting again like water from freezing and deadly to warm and soothing, leaned against her friend. “Never alone. Not as long as I’m standing. Okay?” as she brushed the long hair out of his eyes with a gentle, bloody hand.

Fenris nodded, touching her cheek and turning to Isabela, who had slipped up to wrap her arm around his waist. “Let’s just go.” He and the pirate left the tavern, quickly.

Only then did Aeryn turn back to Sebastian and she faltered at his expression. White to the lips, he looked as appalled and disapproving as she had ever seen him. Concerned, she asked, “What is it?” as she stole up next to him.

His voice shook. “How could you do that, Aeryn?” She tilted her head and scrunched her brow, clearly not understanding.

Fenris was free. He was finally safe. That thought glowed giddily in her heart, but what was Sebastian so upset about? Confused, she wondered. “I don’t…?”

Sharply he asked, “How could you let him…” but patrons were returning to the bar, straightening their chairs and getting back to drinking. They had turned their curious gazes on the handsome couple. Sebastian snapped as he turned to pick up his spare quiver, “Not here.”

Uneasy, Aeryn nodded. “Alright, we’ll go back to the estate. Just give me a moment.” She could feel his blazing gaze, heavy on her back as she went to speak to Corff, telling him to let Varric know when he got back from the guild quarter how much the damages would cost to repair. She stepped to the cellar door to check on Norah and Sarai, who had fled as soon as they had walked into the bar.

Sebastian followed her out of the door without a word, radiating censure.

He was silent and distant all the way to Hightown, rejecting her attempts to talk and Aeryn felt resentment boiling under her skin. By the time they got to the estate, she was livid.

Sebastian could feel it. He knew the moment she transitioned from concern to hurt to anger at his silence, watching the shift of her shoulders. But he’d needed the silence to organize his thoughts. He was praying, fighting, trying to reconcile the two halves of his love, the two creatures she embodied so easily. Loving one moment, heartless the next. And struggling with how to explain to her why he was so aghast without referring to the Chant verses that would only throw up a wall between them.

Aeryn blew into the courtyard of the estate, through the doors and left him to trail her back to the practice ring as though she were warming up for a fight. Grimly, he did so, only barely acknowledging Orana, Bodahn and Sandal.

She reached the ring and spun on her heel towards him. “What then?!” Her bottled up shout burst out.

“How could you let him kill his sister, Aeryn?! Encourage him, even?” Sebastian yelled right back at her, a flush running up his neck.

Was he serious? “Were you not there? Didn’t you hear what they said? Fenris turned himself inside out for her. Gave himself over and that monster emptied him out and poured back in an automatic, unquestioning weapon! That bitch was perfectly happy to hand her brother back to that for a scrap of power!” Aeryn would have killed Varania herself, given the chance. “He could have kept her safe, here. She just had to trust him!”

He waved his hand. “I’m not interested in the least about her.” That was true, and in the back of his mind, Sebastian was disgusted with himself for it. “How could you do it to Fenris?!” He saw the confusion again and it drove him farther in his anger, right into her face. “Do you honestly think he’s not going to wake up one morning and realize that he. Killed. His. Sister? With his bare hands? Danarius was one thing, but, Maker, Aeryn. He crushed her heart while his best friend in the world stood there and smiled.” He closed his fist in imitation, and snatched it open right again in front of her, fury at her blindness screaming through him.

Aeryn snapped back as though he’d slapped her, eyes wide and Sebastian hit her weak point again. “You could have done anything. You could have let her go to live with herself, still weak in the eyes of the Empire. You could have turned her over to the Gallows, an apostate and a blood mage and let them deal with her. There were other options. Did Fenris need that? Another vengeful death? One more dark, hard deed written on his soul?”

It hadn’t occurred to her. Aeryn had only been concerned with how the elf had dared to hurt and betray Fenris. “I…” Shaking her head, she backed up to the stone wall and pressed herself against the warmth it held, like a bolster against the devestation of Sebastian’s questions.

Sebastian saw it, saw the shock run through her. The anger bled out of him and he slumped in its wake. And too, something she’d said caught up with him. He softened his tone. “Aeryn. I know you’d not hurt Fenris for all of Thedas. You’d defend him to your last breath. But this, this was a terrible thing. It’s going to haunt him, mo chridhe.

Aeryn felt a chill crawling through her bones, despite the gentleness of his voice and the heat of the stones at her back. “You’re…right. Oh, Sebastian.”

She covered her mouth with shaking fingers and grief filled her eyes before she looked away from him and wrapped her other arm around her middle as though he’d shot her through. He reached his hand out to her, but she flinched away, evading him.

He’d inflicted the wound, but damned if he’d let it fester. “No, love. Come here.” Sebastian stepped forward and pulled her to his chest, mindful of his armor. She stood stiffly before she started to tremble. He tucked her head under his chin.

“I can’t undo this, Sebastian.” It grieved him to have to agree with her.

“No. We can only be there for him when it hits him.” If it hits him, he thought silently. It occurred to Sebastian that Fenris might well just accept what he’d done, though it saddened Sebastian to admit it about his friend. But Fenris had been angry and betrayed. Aeryn had smiled. And it was Aeryn’s soul that Sebastian was most concerned with.

He steered her back to the house, out of the glare of the sun. Bodahn had set up a wash basin in the mudroom and Aeryn went to it, pouring the water out into the bowl. She soaked a rag and handed it to Sebastian. Silently, they cleaned their faces and hands and stripped off their outer armor. The water in the bowl was bloody when Aeryn flung it into the yard.

Chapter Text

Sebastian caught her hand as they walked to the front rooms of the house, bringing her cool fingers up to his lips to kiss them. “Let’s get a cup of tea?”

She nodded, still preoccupied with their early words. He kept her hand, rubbing her scarred knuckles with his own rough thumb, as they walked to the kitchen. Orana had set up a tea tray, but they sat in the kitchen instead of going back to the study. Sebastian waited until they’d settled down with the teapot and Aeryn had poured, before he spoke again.

“Aeryn, were you maybe thinking of Bethany when you said that Fenris’ sister should have trusted him to keep her safe?” He tried to keep the question casual.

Her wide, sad grey eyes looking over her teacup were going to haunt him tonight.

“Maybe.” She acknowledged after she swallowed.

Aeryn watched him ponder his next words before he asked, oh so carefully, “Is this one of those things where,” he quoted Fenris, “like calls to like?”

Surprise claimed her, chasing some of the ache aside. “Fenris has been telling tales, then?”

He was glad to hear her closer to her normal tone, but he shook his head. “He keeps your counsel, leannan. He told me to ask if I wanted to know. That was just something he said in passing.” And I want to know.

“He didn’t know about Varania, then, who she was.” Her voice quavered a tiny bit. “Just a mention of her from someone else who came after him.”

Sebastian nodded, but he pushed again. “No, then. But that was your goal, going to the Deep Roads to get enough coin to keep Bethany safe?”

Aeryn nodded. “And the estate for Mother. Having the title back was an added protection.”

“And then she turned herself in, anyway?” Surprise betrayed her again and Sebastian smiled gently. “I can add two and two as well as Varric, Aeryn. You’re angry with her and it has less to do with her quitting Meeran than it does her going to the Circle.”

He watched her draw a mask down over her mobile features and the still set of her face chilled his heart. He grabbed her hand again, fighting whatever she was doing to separate him from her. “Aeryn?”

Distantly, she answered, “You think she did the right thing.”

Sebastian kissed her fingers again and sipped his tea. Should have brought the whiskey. “I think that had it been me, I might have done the same thing. To spare my family the hardship and danger of harboring an apostate.” He said, finally.

The cool mask didn’t slip. “No matter if it made a pointless mockery of everything your family had done to keep you safe, before?”

“To keep it from continuing?” He nodded. “Perhaps.”

Calmly, she spoke, as if she was mentioning that they might need milk for the tea. “My mother’s cousin, Rivka Amell, gave birth to three mage-blooded children and had each one taken from her before they were six. They said after the last one was dragged from her arms, Rivka screamed for six hours before she walked off a cliff.”

Holy Maker.

Aeryn continued, just as casually. “After Bethany showed signs of magic, my mother woke up screaming every night for a month, dreaming of the rocks rising up to meet her. Father swore to her that he’d do anything to keep Bethany safe with us.”

Her eyes locked on Sebastian’s, trapping him in their glow. “My father loved me, Sebastian. But he loved my mother more. He started explaining to me what we would have to do to keep Beth safe for Mother. Me first, then Carver later.”

“And when I was eleven and Bethany was eight, I took her fishing with me.” Eleven. Leandra said that Aeryn had changed when she was eleven.

“I only went upstream for a minute and when I heard her shooting sparks, I turned right back. It was all she could do then. They were pretty.”

“I cut around, thinking to surprise her, yell at her for being foolish. She didn’t even see the Templar Hunter. But I was behind him. Above him, on the bank. And I had my fillet knife in my hand.” Unlike her previous confession, Aeryn spoke firmly. Her eyes never wavered from his face. If he wanted to know what she was, she would tell him.

“I always had a knack for finding weak spots. And he wasn’t wearing his helmet. I’m pretty sure he was lyrium-addled, he never saw me. He had blue eyes.”

Leandra hadn’t known, Sebastian was sure.

“Bethany didn’t see. I wiped my knife off, gathered her up and went home to tell Father. We left that night. He bought me my first set of daggers at the next town.” She softened her voice, seeing the blood drain from Sebastian’s face. “If I was capable of killing, I was a weapon to be used to protect Bethany.” It was a cold little smile and suddenly Sebastian had some idea how much Aeryn hated his father. Holy Andraste, give me strength for her.

Something of it showed in his face, because Aeryn shifted and her smile was for him again, soft and gentle. “Father loved me, Sebastian. He would never have suggested that his child kill someone. It was just…I failed to stay with Bethany, to keep her safe. I had to kill the Templar to fix that. That death is on me.” She tried to explain. “And once I’d done that…Father knew how to use all the resources at his disposal.”

All his resources? Maker. “You were his daughter!”

“So was Bethany. And no one was trying to take me from them.” He didn’t understand. “Sebastian, do you think I’m the only girl who started so young? Where do you think the Coterie women start…that they’re free and twenty-one before they take up a blade and learn a skillset?”

He couldn’t help it. “Stop it. I don’t care about them. I’m not in love with them.” He shouted at her again. “Maker, Aeryn. It’s not right! To use one child as a shield for another.” He reeled with it and her mask slipped away. She leaned across the table and brushed his creased, anxious brow with her fingers.

“I love you, Sebastian. And I love Bethany. I was a volunteer.” But her voice shook in the face of his anger with her father.

“You were a child.” Standing up, he swept around the edge of the table and pulled her up with him. “Not a weapon. Not a soldier. Who was protecting you, Aeryn?”

“The same One you claim was protecting you when your parents were treating you like you were inconvenient and whipping you for protesting the only way you knew how.” She gazed up at him and said just a little bitterly. “Where would I be now, if I hadn’t taken up a blade? Dead in Lothering at the hand of the Darkspawn?” He quaked at the idea. “Maybe you’re right, Sebastian. Maybe it was wrong. But it is what it is.” She shrugged and again he resisted the impulse to shake her, though he clasped her arms in his hands. Maybe he was right?

His voice cracked when he asked. “How many?”

“I don’t…” But she did.

“How many did he make his child kill?”

She tried to make him understand again, her voice gentle, soothing. “He never made me, Sebastian. To save Mother from her nightmares? To save Bethany? I did it gladly.” His hands tightened on her arms and the fire in his eyes made her blink. “Three, for Bethany.” She added grudgingly. “And two that were in self-defense, before I was seventeen and Father died.” After that he couldn’t blame Father, if she had been the head of the family.

“Sweet Andraste.” He had said prayers for that man, after Leandra had died. Hoping to speed her to join him at the Maker’s side.

She pulled away from him and poured him a tumbler of ale. “It’s not your whiskey. But it might help.”

“Thank you.” Sebastian pulled her back to him, loathe to let her too far away for fear he would fly apart under the weight of what she had told him. Weapons. That was what Fenris meant. One made out of desire for power and control. One made out of something Aeryn insisted was love. But both of them made into weapons. Like to like. Maker guide them. And those of us who love them.

Aeryn closed her eyes and breathed deeply, inhaling the lingering scent he carried of incense and fir and leather. She’d never seen him as angry as he’d been this afternoon. First with her, now with her father. Snagging her fingers into the cloth of his tunic, she leaned into him, feeling wrung out. He might never understand. That little thought curled darkly at the back of her mind.

Sebastian kissed the top of her hair and slipped his hand under her chin to drop kisses on her lips. They grew desperate, reconnecting after the hard words. His hands clutched her to him, her hands buried in his hair. Sebastian lifted her up and sat her on the chopping block, wedging himself between her thighs, never taking his lips from her.

Twining her tongue with his, Aeryn slipped her hands under his tunic, to feel him, hot smooth skin, muscles shifting beneath her questing fingers. He massaged her breasts, molding them in his strong, large hands, finding a nipple and rubbing it through the cloth as she gasped. Binding in touch what had been loosened in anger. Aeryn’s exploring fingers slipped down his hips, to find his cock, straining the leather of his trousers and he groaned against her mouth as she rubbed up his length. His teeth found her throat and she leaned back, granting him access.

Orana squeaked and froze when she found them and they broke apart, panting. “Excuse me, please, Mistress,” the girl begged miserably.

“No, Orana. Excuse us.” Aeryn shivered as Sebastian lifted her down, blushing all the way to his toes. “We were inappropriate.”

“There was a message for you, Prince Vael.” Orana explained, her eyes still on the floor. “From the Chantry.”

He nodded and stepped forward to take it from her. “Elthina wishes to see us. About the delegation from Orlais.” Thank the Maker.

“Oh.” Aeryn smiled shakily up at him and saw how his eyes darkened at the sight of the mark he’d left on her throat. Not a moment, too soon, it seemed.

Chapter Text

Sebastian let his head thud back onto the seat of the wooden armchair again. He was sprawled at Aeryn’s feet while she curled in the chair, gazing down at him with a rueful but amused expression. All he could do was beg forgiveness. “I am so sorry, Aeryn. I don’t know what comes over me.” He raised his head and thunked it back again for good measure, next to her knee.


She ran her fingers through his mussed, ruddy hair. “You’re going to give yourself a headache, love.” There was just a slight hint of laughter in her concern.


“And so I deserve. Next time I try to make a vow or a promise or, Maker help me, so much as a handshake agreement to anyone but you, mo chridhe, please, just smack me upside the head, knock me out and drag me off ‘til I regain my senses.” Actually laughing now, Aeryn leaned over to kiss him on the forehead.


“Will do.” She traced her fingers over his temple and tapped. “Right here, I think.” Her hand smoothed down the side of his face. Sebastian sighed, turning his head to kiss her palm. To distract herself from the electric touch, she asked, “So. How long, do you think to clear us from an Exalted March?” She had listened in shock as he made yet another vow to protect the Grand Cleric, but it was who he was. She would live. Maybe.


Pinching the bridge of his nose, he answered. “I have no idea. The very thought, that the Divine would risk a city of innocents over a handful of bloodmages…” He trailed off, shaking his head.


Solemn, Aeryn replied. “Revolutions all start somewhere, why not here with all the corruption, blood magic and no viable leader to be found? I think I might understand the impulse.” She added in a bleak whisper, “Raze it to the ground, set it on fire and salt the earth so it never rises again. It has its appeal.”


Hearing the bleakness, the sudden shift in mood, Sebastian sat up and turned to her, taking her hand. He wanted to kiss it away, but he asked instead, “And what of the innocents, Champion?”


Her gaze was level on his. “I’ve no love for Kirkwall, its apathetic nobles, its numbed residents or its blighted Gallows, Sebastian, no matter what they’ve chosen to call me.” There was a grim line about her mouth, but she smoothed it away in a smile for him. “Except, of course, for the people I’ve found here, I would turn from it in a heartbeat.”


“Says the woman who bought and rebuilt a warehouse to house the indigent, runs around doing errands to set their minds at ease, and regularly bleeds and nearly destroys herself protecting them.” He dropped a kiss on the inside of her wrist where a spark of dragonfire had left its mark.


Aeryn sighed. How much more of her would Kirkwall take? But, she pushed it aside. “Well, I’ve just been notified of an indefinite delay to something I was quite looking forward to. You’ll have to forgive me.”


Sebastian shook his head again. No, there had to be a limit. It was unfair to Aeryn any other way. And this sudden sadness worried him. “Not indefinite, leannan.” His voice was firm and sure and there was a blaze in his eyes, and Aeryn let her surprise show.




“A month. Give me a month and I will do my best to encourage and convince Elthina to leave. And if I cannot…I will leave her and the Chantry in the Maker’s hands and you and I will…” Cupping her cheek, he smiled and Aeryn felt a great deal of the gloom fade in the light of it. “I will be yours.”


She leaned into his touch and decided to ask something else of him. “And if I decide to leave Kirkwall, then?”


He considered her for a second. “If I go anywhere, Aeryn, it must be Starkhaven.”


“Then it will be my privilege to follow, oh Prince.” Aeryn pledged herself to his cause and Sebastian caught his breath at the idea.


“A war there, too.” And could he reconcile that by believing Starkhaven would be safer for the Maker’s people if he led than if he allowed his incompetent cousin to do so? He must.


“Maybe not.” She shrugged. “You are the rightful heir. It may be that your people will rally to you and your cousin, who seems to be failing anyway, will step aside.”


From your mouth to the Maker’s ear. “Do you think it likely?” Sebastian was rather ashamed of the ill-faith that accompanied that appeal for comfort.


“Well, you have the support of several nobles now, true?” He nodded. “Then, too, you will have me.” Sebastian raised his eyebrows. “I am the Champion of Kirkwall. I might as well use that title for something other than free drinks at the dockside swill joint and patronage of armor merchants. And…” She hesitated for the first time and Sebastian wondered what else she could come up with. “I don’t know who else will come, but I imagine Fenris could be convinced to join us. He might win the fight just by standing there, glowering at all who stand before you.”


“Will you speak to him, then?” That was odd.


“You don’t think he’d do it for friendship?”


“I have asked him, several times.”


“Not since we finished Danarius.” Aeryn avoided the other part of that event. “But, I will speak with him. I need to anyway.” A wee bit of sorrow crept back into her voice and Sebastian sighed. He regretted having to make Aeryn confront what had seemed a clear truth to him. But it was a necessary thing.


As was this. “Aeryn. I do not expect you to fight my battles for me.”


“I don’t expect to, either. I expect to fight them beside you.” Aeryn smiled at him, but her eyes were searching. “You do realize that one of the reasons I asked you to join me in my…misadventures, was to see if you had the nerve to fight and the will to learn how to take advantage of your abilities?”


Sebastian smirked. “You give me no credit at all, do you? Yes, I detected a slight learning curve to the way you worked me into your merry band.” Varric’s lessons on positioning and how to take advantage of an archer’s viewpoint. Aeryn and Isabela refining his skill in the finer arts of roguery. Fenris’ examples of battlefield technique. Even Merrill and Anders had contributed, with the art of understanding magic’s use in battle and destructive quality. Five years of schooling to shift him from priest to able strategist.


Aeryn nodded. “And now we depend on you. You almost always have the best overview of the fight and you’ve learned how to direct us. Even subtly, sometimes.”


“I’ve never noticed you actually taking direction.”


“Suggestion, then.” Agreeable, but Aeryn shifted and Sebastian stood to allow her to do the same. She stretched and he ran a glance along her length, appreciatively. A month. He could manage a month. Aeryn arched her back and he gulped. Maybe. Maker.


She saw the heat in his eye and curved her lips, slowly, invitingly. She closed the gap between them and slipped her hands up his chest and he breathed in the scent of her, focused on her mouth. And then she clenched her hands against his shoulders and tapped her fists against him even as his hands came up to her waist, a wry twist on her lips.


“Come on, then. Aveline said there was a band of ruffians making Lowtown even less pleasant than usual. And we could use some exercise. And a distraction.”


Sebastian agreed with alacrity and, laughing, they left the study to strap on their armor.




Three nights and four bands of ruffians later and they still hadn't found the hide-out where the leader was cowering. The men fought like they were possessed and when Varric and Merrill had nearly fallen in the last alley brawl, Aeryn called a halt to it. "Enough. I have a ball to get ready for tomorrow. I'd rather not go looking like I've been drug backwards through half of the Wounded Coast." The Grand Cleric had needed Sebastian's aid tonight, meeting with representatives from the Cumberland Chantry. They had hopes of arranging for several of the sisters to take the relics to sanctuary.

"I think we probably slowed them down enough for Aveline to maybe keep her guards alive, anyway." Varric agreed. "Bianca and I could use a night off." He fiddled with one of the crossbow’s various attachments. "So, dancing and dining?"

"Yes." In her terse answer, Aeryn let a little of her apprehension show and Varric glanced up.

"It’s a good idea. Choir Boy needs to rub elbows with the noble crowd. And it won't hurt you, either." He'd tried to get her into the social scene before, to cultivate the connections that brought more lucrative adventuring. Nobles always had lost treasures to find and old estates to explore.

"I know. That's why I suggested it." She twitched her shoulder and he and Varric followed Merrill, Fenris and Isabela back to the Hanged Man.

"So, why do you look like you'd rather go back to the Bone Pit and give that dragon a rematch?"

Aeryn smirked. "Because, there're parts of it that aren't such good ideas. Like the bit where I get so bored I start considering setting the drapes on fire or dropping bits of destructive gossip in the ears of drunken people who then wreak havoc with it. Or someone pinches my arse and I forget where I am and stab them."

"I think your lost prince might have an opinion on that last one now."

She nodded absently, clearly dwelling on something. Varric tried again. "Could be amusing to see Choir Boy use Perrin Mardin as a pin cushion. You know he'd turn into a bragging rights thing..."I was shot full of arrows by the Prince of Starkhaven." Then there'd be a little side competion, nobles trying to get Sebastian to shoot them, for your honor."

That earned him a dimple. "You think I can't defend my own honor?"

"I think your defense is more lethal. He'd at least try and miss vital organs." Varric held the door to the tavern open for Hawke. She dropped him an elegant curtsey before she went in. "It might be different, you know, actually going with someone. You might even have fun. Choir Boy's got his moments of smooth."

"He does at that." The shy little smile that crossed Aeryn's face turned her sweet and soft for a minute and it was right then that Varric knew the score. He'd spent six years cataloguing and memorizing the expressions Hawke let flit across her face, let change the baseline cool curiosity. He could describe them all, so that his audience knew what to expect when he said "Hawke's hard eyes got more intense or Hawke smiled, bitter and sharp" Varric had seen her serene and content and satisfied and murderously close to manic. But he'd never seen her simply happy. And if Choir Boy could put that look on her face for even a second, then Sebastian Vael deserved all the prizes. No shit. She rolled her eyes then, mocking herself. "Come on, drinks on me."




Sebastian would have given his left arm to stay locked in the estate with Aeryn. Maybe his bow.

She'd come down the stairs in a column of black velvet. Elegant and spare, pale shoulders exposed. Her lithe figure slipped down the stairs like she was made of water, managing to somehow look both delicate and lethal. He had no doubt that even formally dressed, that she was armed. He had to swallow hard, recalling the blade strapped to her thigh and the one inked on creamy skin, beneath it. Ached to reach out and find the buttons that would bear her to him.

Aeryn's mind was in much the same place when she stretched up to kiss the corner of his mouth and whispered. "If you keep looking at me like that, we won't be going to a party, love."

They stepped into the humid evening. "You might get warm in velvet, tonight."

The corners of her lips, painted just a touch darker than usual, tipped up. "Velvet is quieter than silk. It doesn't rustle so much." And Sebastian laughed, because of course she'd chosen her fabric based on stealth. "Plus, we match." She rubbed her fingers up the dark blue velvet of his doublet.

"Starkhaven colors and cloth," he explained of the dark blue and silver embroidery. More than one declaration to be made tonight.

They walked to the de Launcet manor and were soon waiting tp be announced by the doorman. With his words, they'd drawn every eye and the room fell to hushed chattering after a first brief silence. Sebastian felt Aeryn tense in that silence, but she'd relaxed again when he drew a smoothing stroke across the top of her spine. No one to see but the doorman and servants' gossip was useful. Her eyes were still gleaming, though. Approaching the dance as though it were a battle.

In the greeting line, Dulci de Launcet tittered at them. "We are 'onored to 'ave you attend our little party, Champion, Prince Vael." Nevermind that the fripperies adorning the hall could clothe half of Darktown and the dainty little snacks could feed the other half.

Aeryn slipped her mother's nobleborn manners to the fore. "The honor of the invitation was most appreciated, Lady de Launcet." Leandra had been a fine teacher, this was an easy mask. She could step into this role effortlessly as any other. And it was only Sebastian who saw how her eyes never quite stopped scanning the room for threats and easy exits. The edge of the room held welcoming shadows that she could have used to observe, but that was not the point of this evening. She was on Sebastian's arm. She meant to be seen.

Therese of Raven's Reach was an older, less flighty version of her sister and openly curious about the new arrivals. "So you claim your title, Prince Vael?"

Aeryn's hand tightened on his sleeve and he bowed deeply. "I do."

"You intend to follow up on your past inquiries?"

"I intend to reclaim Starkhaven for the true line." No hesitation and Aeryn wanted to crow for him. She settled on a cool smile.

Therese's eyes were bright and sharp. "Laird Robard will be quite interested to hear that." She resized the attractive man before her, far more resolute than the dissolute boy who had left Starkhaven in disgrace.

"I would be happy to provide your husband with a letter detailing my...intentions." She nodded. "I'll have it delivered in the morning."

Therese turned her attention to Aeryn. "Do you come in guard of the prince, Champion?"

Aeryn tilted her head, "I come as his ally, Lady Therese."

Not enough, Sebastian thought. My intended, he wanted to say but he could not ask her until he was free. So he brought her fingers to his lips and watched her mouth curve appreciatively. That was an announcement in itself and he heard the ripple among the nobles. "I could have no better." He had to be satisfied with that. For the moment.

The small orchestra shifted from quiet conversational music to a gavotte. "We wish you many happy returns, Lady Therese. If you will excuse us, I would like to dance with my Lady Hawke."

He managed not to drag Aeryn away to the floor. When he turned to start the dance, she was clearly amused. "So eager."

"I have announced my intentions and gotten the lady to accept my letter. Now all I want to do is enjoy your company." Her ringing laugh turned heads as he swept her into the country dance.

After supper, while Aeryn excused herself to touch up her face, Sebastian leaned against the rail of the balcony, the doors opened to bring (relatively) fresh air into the overcrowded crush. A group of the younger set was gossiping on the next balcony, oblivious to his presence.

Distracted by the success of the evening, it took Sebastian a moment to realize what they were discussing. The cadence of a Starkhaven accent attracted his attention, though.

"Can you imagine what something like this at Starkhaven Keep would be like with those two? He'd have a whore in every bed."

"And she'd have a dead body in every closet." He recognized Lady Daphne's simpering giggle.

"Not to mention how she's corrupted a priest. You'd have to count your rings every time they greeted you."

"I'm fairly surprised she hasn't stabbed someone yet." Perrin Mardin, who Sebastian recalled had been the last noble to proposition Aeryn at a dance and had his sleeve pinned to a column for his cheek.

"Oh, that's why he's got her on such a short leash, so that she doesn't spoil his posturing."

"She's as whorish as he ever was. My father said his secretary told him that she personally field tests every new guardsman hired. Makes sure they're up to snuff. Plus, her harem of elven sluts."

Sebastian spun, almost reflexively reaching for his bow. He checked himself, but dare they? As if any of them would be anything but dead or broken Qunari converts without her? As if she didn't bleed for them? He could still take them down a notch or two.

Slipping up behind him, Aeryn had seen the instant he'd heard them, seen the hard edge of focus shift to something dangerous. She schooled her features and voice to reflect concern before she stepped out and spoke. "Sebastian? Is something wrong?" He'd ruin himself if he allowed his anger over an insult to her to get the better of his sense.

Sebastian released the breath he'd taken and smiled. She hadn't heard the vipers, then. "No. I would like to take you home, leannan." Take her home, kiss her breathless, run his hands over that creamy flesh, watch it flush with heat.

"The estate it is then" She let him take her arm and steer her away from the balcony, ignoring the icy look he sent over his shoulder to the scions of Kirkwall, making at least one stop in their tracks. And tried to ignore the cruel little tendril of doubt that grew, that he wanted to leave because he'd been reminded. What nobles would always think of the Ferelden upstart in their midst. Killer. Thief. That part of her that made him so angry, a few days ago.

They were quiet as they walked back. It was dangerous to linger in the nighttime streets unarmored and distracted, despite their best efforts. They nodded at the various guardsmen they passed, noting that Aveline had increased the numbers she had out.

Aeryn had insisted that Bodahn and Orana not wait up and was glad they'd listened as he removed her cloak and pressed kisses to her bare shoulders. "All night I've wanted to do that." His whisper against her skin made her shiver. She took his hand and led him inside the quiet hall and he followed her up the stairs.

"I'll never get out of this dress without help," she murmured and his fingers itched to flick open the tiny buttons running down her spine. Once in the assured privacy of her room, he pulled her back against him doing just that while he nibbled up the length of her neck.

She turned in his arms, and had his doublet undone before he could take a breath. "Aeryn." He doubted how far his control would stretch with her hands on him. And then, too, there were the scars.

"Please?" She kissed his collarbone adding a quick lick of her little pink tongue as her hands slipped under his tunic. She wanted so much, some contact to burn away the doubt. "I just...please let me see you, Sebastian. Touch you." She punctuated her words with little nips at his throat. He couldn't help the groan as he caught her elbows and lifted her up to his lips. She flexed her spine, rolling herself against him as her tongue rubbed against the roof of his mouth. Oh, Maker. Heat swirled through him and he shifted, pressing towards her.

"Alright, love. I understand." She pulled away. The slightly downcast expression slaying him, even as his pride swelled a bit. She went to roll down one long glove, eyes on the carpet. He gulped, then shucked out of the doublet and reached down to pull the tunic up and over his head.

She looked up at the sound of fabric hitting the floor. He stood for a minute, head down as her eyes scanned up his lean muscular torso, fine broad shoulders that she'd expected logically, arms that it looked like the Maker had sculpted, skin glowing golden in the firelight, a trail of reddish hair running down, bisecting the taut abdomen. Aeryn had to swallow the fission of want that shuddered through her. Oh, following that trail, absolutely. A smattering of freckles across his chest drew her fingers back towards him. Maker, he's so beautiful.

And she'd said that out loud, because now there was a bright red flush creeping up his chest as he looked up at her through his lashes. She stepped forward, reaching behind her to redo a couple of buttons to keep her dress in place and stripped off her other glove. She drew one finger along his collarbone, again and set one little hand against his waist and breathed him in for a moment, feeling him quake under her touch. "You are."

Sebastian's heart thudded against his breastbone as her slim, quick, oh, clever fingers traced patterns on his skin, her own calluses dragging a line of fire as they moved. She pulled him forward and turned him. He followed her as though he were on a lead, drugged by the feel of her, the promises her touches made. She stepped closer pressing him gently to sit and lean back on his elbows, on the bed and slid up next to him never letting her fingers leave their tracing patterns, soothing and exploring. She leaned over and trailed hot kisses and delicate licks down his stomach, tasting. Brushing gently over a shiny white scar from a knife fight in his rakehell days that ran along his ribcage. He let his head drop back, arching a little under the caresses. Oh, he was gone, lost to the moment in the sensation.

She ran her slick hot tongue along the waistband of his trousers, the taste of salt and skin drawing her on and his spine curved to press his skin closer. Aeryn paused then, the desire to keep going beating like drums under her own skin, but..."Oh, Maker, Aeryn please." She brushed her cheek against his stomach and utterly unwilling to resist his plea, let her hand cup his erection.

His hips bucked and as need curled through him, he made himself sit up and snatch her hands to pull them away. She went very still. Breathing hard, he squeezed his eyes shut and bit the inside of his cheek, concentrating on stopping the rush blazing in his veins.

When he opened his eyes, she was staring up at him. Pupils blown wide in desire but just a tiny bit of something that looked like fear bleeding through. "I...I'm sorry, Sebastian."

What? "No, Aeryn. Leannan, I asked. I hoped..I hoped to have more control for you. But I'm weak, mo chridhe. " He smiled wanly and she nodded. Sitting up, she slipped of the bed and retrieved his tunic to hand to him. She stood there for a minute, worrying her lip with sharp teeth.

"Give me a moment, I'll help you with your dress." He heard the husky hunger in his voice and so did she.

Shaking her head, Aeryn said, "No, Sebastian. Not until.."


"Its not fair, love. I've never considered myself a cocktease. I can't keep letting you satisfy me and then send you off alone and wanting...I just can't."

"I want to..." She grinned then, dimple flashing, chasing shadows from her eyes.

"I know. And..I have no complaints...I just...I can't, Sebastian."

He nodded, a wry smile on his lips. Far more careful than he was these days, of his honor. Gallant woman. But..." I can't promise to not keep trying, Aeryn." He was reasonably sure he'd collapse completely without some taste of her to get him through the next days.

"Lucky me." She didn't lose the grin. No, she kept it tight. Trying very hard to ignore the irrational feeling of rejection that had lashed across her when he'd stopped her, as though he'd done it out of some unwillingness to give himself to her. Utterly irrational, foolish to let that twine in with the nasty jibes from earlier. She forced herself away from the thought.



They'd found the hideout. A forgotten square tucked behind an alley. Filled with dozens of men continuing to fight like they were possessed.

And then the demons appeared.

Sebastian had a fairly good position on a section of half-destroyed wall. Anders was just below him, where the archer could drop down to distract any strays or assassins who tried to interrupt the mage's casting. So he saw when a wedge of fighters drove Aeryn and Fenris apart and ruined their normal tactic of him at the center and her at the edge. He turned to lay covering fire for Aeryn and...

He didn't know what it was. A rushing, like blood through his ears. He staggered and then jerked. It felt like someone had lodged a grappling hook under his sternum, screaming pain. Suddenly he was walking forward, his bow in his limp hands, still.

He was...someone was whispering to him. It was so very important that he listen, listen carefully to every word. It sounded like Aeryn, low and musical. It sounded like his father, cold and disapproving. It sounded like a dozen voices layered on top of each other.

He walked past Anders, who was just then struggling to keep Justice at bay so that he could get a nasty slice across Isabela's thigh closed. Anders didn't notice the archer's blank stare as he passed.

She wants you to. She wants you to pin her down in the alley. Make her beg. Don't you remember? She aches for it. It's all right there on top of her soul. You want it, too, princeling.

I wouldn't hurt her...I don't... He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think.

You do. I don't even have to dig for it. So pretty, the two of you. You want her with you mouth and your hands and your bruises all over her, marking her for yours. She wants to cut you open like the blade she is, so that she knows she's written on your heart."

Stop. Sweet Andraste, Holy Beloved...stop this..His mind was scrabbling against a buzz of power behind the words.

No, I don't think I will. My sister thought you wanted power. But what you want is control. Oh, princeling. He took it away but you can have it back. You have so much. Take more.

I haven't I don't want...

Don't you? But she does. And everything she is, is yours. Did you know? She dreams of being so sharp. She aches to be simple. Make her simple, princeling, and she'll give you everything. You'll take so much better care of her than those others did. Her father. The mercenary.

Aeryn. Maker, please. Stop.

You could make it so easy. All you want. All you have to do is ask and she could hand it to you on the points of her blades. She would thank you. She would smile. Ask her, tell her, make her simple again, princeling. Your enemies would be dead at your feet. Your very own leashed monster. And she would worship you for it.

Aeryn. The creature before him looked like her now, Aeryn's face, smeared with blood. Serene and her strong little hands dripping red, reaching for him. "Please, Sebastian..."

He wasn't aware of falling to his knees.

Across the square, Aeryn saw Sebastian drop his bow, but before she could move, the line of demon-possessed fighters that he'd been keeping pinned while she picked them off had crowded her into a cut-off.

Maybe Fenris could..."Fenris!" But the elf was in the middle of a circle of shades and the glare of a hunger demon. Sodding Void, how did they all get so separated?

Aeryn fought to keep her feet and kept scanning the area. Sebastian was fine but he was walking...where? Anders was working on Isabela. The way the blood was vaporizing there had to be a blood mage...there. Aeryn found him, drawing the power of Isabela's blood, his eyes locked on the archer walking straight to the...Flaming Swords, the desire demon.

"Sebastian!" He didn't even flinch. Gritting her teeth as one of the men got in a lucky slash to her forearm, Aeryn pulled out a fire bomb, throwing herself backwards as it exploded, riding the shockwave out of reach. Rolling into a crouch, patting out flames, she smashed a shock bomb towards them, shutting down their nervous systems and she ran through them. She saw Sebastian falling to his knees. No! Maker, please. Faster, let me run faster.

She shunted her mind from fear to tactics. Mage first. Aeryn drew up into the shadows, counting on the mage to be concentrating so hard on...what was he hard on his power source and his victim that he wouldn't see her at all. The vial of magebane in her fingers and poured out as she moved, coating the bright blades. She was behind the mage now, and into his heart and across his throat and done, the potion interrupting the spell before he bled out. Anders shouted as his healing spell finally closed Isabela's wound. But Aeryn was already launching herself towards Sebastian and his demon.

Hanker cackled, delighted with the feast it had unexpectedly pulled forth from her prey. It had only wanted another worshiper, but this one's thoughts were so rich. Want and desire and buried pain and fear and such utter loneliness covered up by layers of piety and loyalty and love. Ah, so sweet. It felt the moment its pet mage went down. It didn't matter. The suggestion was buried now, too, deep in the new toy's heart. Hanker could remove itself from the battle, happy to gorge on the toy at its leisure, tonight after its will was sapped. Hanker went to fold itself away when something smashed into its ribcage. Crying out shrilly, the demon spun to its attacker.

"I don't share, fiend." Aeryn hissed, bouncing back up on her toes, the edge of her vision gone white as the demon clutched for a hold on her thoughts. Her only want, though, her only desire was to gut the demon and rip it limb from limb for its audacity and the creature screamed as Aeryn dug her left dagger deep into its back. Hanker turned, trying to grab her but Aeryn used the pull closer to slam a throwing knife into one slitted eye. Shrieking, Hanker collapsed as Aeryn drove her right blade into its mouth and through the back of its skull, gore gushing over her hand.

Panting, chest heaving with effort and shaking with hatred, trying to force back the tight knot of cold fear in her gut, Aeryn glanced up. Anders had the handful of men who hadn't collapsed when the demon died frozen, picking them off with lightning bolts. Isabela was up and she and Fenris were finishing the shades.

She turned to Sebastian with her heart in her throat, dropping to a crouch in front of him. His face was slack, his blue eyes cold, blank and fixed to the distance.

"Sebastian! Answer me, love." Aeryn patted his face, trying to bring him out of it, leaving bloody fingerprints across his cheekbones. "Sebastian, please. Please. Come back." Her voice trembled as she shook him and finally, drew back her hand and slapped him.

He rocked back on his heels, drawing a shuddering breath. Horror crawled across his face, a sob in his voice. "Oh, Maker. Aeryn."

Relief flooded her. "Its alright. You're alright." She reached for him, but he flinched back, his hands up defensively. "Sebastian?" She'd left bloody prints across the gleam of his armor, too, the thought flickered in the back of her thoughts.

Terror in his heart at the things he'd seen himself doing, the things he'd asked her to do, it was the uncertain wobble in her voice that truly woke him up. He looked at her, finally. "Aeryn. No, leannan I'm sorry. I'm well, love."

He pushed back the nightmare, reaching for her, instead.

Chapter Text

They're just dreams, Sebastian assured himself.

Well no, nightmares if he's honest and he did generally try to be honest. Well, now. No longer denying his love and desire for Aeryn and his intention to leave the Chantry, honesty came easier now, true.


Nightmares were nothing new. He's had them before after dealing with demons, especially des...ones like that. Those.


He couldn't quite remember what the nightmares were about. Just the terror that streaked through him on waking and the need to reach out and touch the woman who wasn’t there, never had been in his narrow cot. Except in his more pleasant, vivid dreams.


He'd had his armor half strapped on last night before he thought what an idiot he'd look, scrambling to her door in the middle of the night over a will o' the wisp he couldn't even tell her about.


Not to mention the fact that Aeryn had sent him home early the last couple of nights, sending him away after a few kisses that had done little to ease the want she could call up in him with a twitch of her shoulder and the curve of her mouth. Sent him away even when he claimed to just crave her company, saying she trusted him, she just didn’t trust herself.


He understood. He did. It was gloriously kind of her to not want to tempt him or herself anymore than necessary. His own fault for swearing yet another vow when right now he could be in her bed with her legs wrapped around him, listening to her...


Yes. That was not helping. He was kneeling at the rail, for the Maker's sake. Surely he could control his thoughts long enough to finish morning prayers?


Of course. He was fine. In need of a day of meditation and fasting, perhaps. A good way to draw his dedication to a close.




Aeryn slipped into the Chantry behind a worshiper. She tilted her head back and caught a glimpse of Sebastian, up at the rail. She'd have to wait for him to finish his devotions, then. She walked sedately to the steps leading up to the loft and leaned against the newel post to make herself comfortable.


The light tread coming down the stairs wasn't her archer. The steps were too slow and measured, the sloughing sound of cloth instead of the creak of leather and armor. The Grand Cleric, then. Taking a deep breath, Aeryn straightened her spine and turned slightly to greet the woman.


"Champion." It was a welcoming tone, but formal.


"Grand Cleric." She did her best not to mimic, but people did make it hard.


There was a slight smile on the Cleric's face. "Sebastian will be down in a few minutes, I believe."


Aeryn nodded and resisted the impulse to bow, "Thank you."


A fleeting pity crossed the creased face, setting Aeryn's teeth on edge. "You are welcome here, you know." It wasn't pity, so much as compassion. Elthina was fond of the Champion, from the little glimpses she'd had. Especially for the enthusiasm Sebastian showed when telling the Grand Cleric of the little acts of mercy Hawke was constantly doing, seemingly unconsciously. Just things that needed doing. He'd chosen well, Elthina thought. She just wished the young woman didn't act like she was expecting an ambush every time she set foot in the Chantry. Although, Elthina considered, she did have reason.


Aeryn kept her voice soft. "I know." But her pose, just slightly restrained tension, proclaimed otherwise.


The Grand Cleric suppressed a sigh. She could not acknowledge the relationship until Sebastian formally withdrew his vows. It would be inappropriate. But she didn't believe Hawke would ever relax until Elthina could acknowledge it. There was a slight movement behind them and Elthina smiled to see the slight flash of eagerness cross the Champion's face before she could smooth it back.


She could remove herself, though and allow the two lovers to greet each other. "Excuse me, then, Champion." Withdrawing, she heard Sebastian's steps speed up as he saw who waited for him.


"Aeryn." Oh, such a caress in the young man's voice. Elthina's smile grew as she moved to the steps of the upper level. She would have to see about getting Sebastian's endowment put back in order for him to take when he left. It wouldn't do to let him go to his Hawke empty handed. She never should have allowed him to make the last promise of protection.


Aeryn glanced Sebastian over. "You look tired, love." His face was a bit drawn.


"I didn't sleep well." They stayed a respectful distance apart as they strolled to the doors. But she cut her eyes to him.


"Was it..?" She hesitated to speak of demons in the Chantry. Didn't want to give anyone the wrong idea.


"Yes. I don't really remember what it was about. But probably." He shrugged as he held the door open for her to exit.


She took his arm as they trotted down the steps and he tugged her closer. "It's been almost a week, Sebastian. I want you to let Anders check you over again."


He smiled warmly at her even as he rubbed his neck with his free hand. "He's just going to say I'm fine, leannan. And complain that I'm wasting his precious time. I dreamed poorly for a few months the last time. This will pass."


"I don't like to think of you not sleeping well for that long."


He checked around them and then leaned down to kiss her, lightly. She smiled against his lips. Whispering, he said, "I don't plan on sleeping alone for months this time." She felt the tension around her shoulders relax at the promise in his tone.


"Alright. I'll let it go." She wouldn't, she'd just be more circumspect. "Let's go see what Aveline wanted."





Fenris quirked his sly smile at her and Aeryn bared her teeth back at him, fierce and sharp. She'd have to thank Aveline for the tip.


Slavers. It was always so much more fun to fight slavers.


On her skin, she could feel the buzz, Anders ramping up something lethal. On the edge of her hearing came the whine as Sebastian drew the string taut, sending shivers down her spine and she felt her smile go feral. Aeryn launched herself into a shadow when the thrum of the arrow's release came when he shot.


These moments. Some hot, dark streak of her lived for these moments when she and her blades could sing and know that around her, in the fray, her boys (and though she would never say it out loud, they were and Carver ghosting beside her in her mind's eye) were singing, too.


A hail of arrows on one side, a sheet of flame on the other and the knot of slavers were trapped for her quick work.


Run and ricochet and then she was right where Fenris needed her to drive a hand full more into the arching sweep of his blade. Sebastian shouted and she laughed like she was dancing when Fenris grabbed her hand to pivot and disc her across the line of archers in the alley to tuck and roll into the shadows again.


Sebastian watched as Aeryn and Fenris exchanged their glances and anticipation curled around the stillness he cultivated. Watched as they charged as one even as he released and he smiled in appreciation. He didn't have to watch any more, but they drew his attention, beautiful creatures. He heard one slaver call out to his fellow to catch the pair and they'd sell in a set and Sebastian had to appreciate his eye even as he took an arrow through it.


Aeryn wrapping herself in Anders' smoke and flame as she disappeared only to slip back into view as an enemy fell. Fenris, all power and grace as he illuminated the fallen with lyrium.


Dragons, the memory whispered. And watch them dance to your call.


He shouted and they reacted flawlessly with deadly precision. Aeryn laughing as she laid them out, then gone, hunting, Fenris pulling up and then striking like lightning to stun the fallen bowmen.


An assassin dropped out of the darkness, two steps too far from Anders who was tracing a glyph to judge from his level of concentration. Sebastian tsked at the villain's sloppy technique as he notched another arrow and sent it through the fool's throat.


Sebastian glanced back up at the fight, to judge his next shot and he caught Aeryn in a graceful turn as she pinned one fellow like a butterfly and decapitated him. So gorgeous.


His quiver still had an arrow left and he hadn't even touched the spare. Over too quickly, he lamented, then shook himself at the thought. They were Maker created, too. He should pray for their souls.


Aeryn felt eyes on her as she helped Fenris sort the equipment. Good quality stuff, they could make a nice profit for with plenty left to resupply Anders' clinic tonight. But the back of her neck itched and she had to turn and look at Sebastian, who was supposedly collecting his arrows. Instead, he was watching her, a predatory smile on his face that sent lovely sparks to her spine. It got harder to send him home alone every night. She arched her eyebrow at him questioningly, and he seemed to shake himself and get back to work.


Turning back to her own work, she sighed. Fenris glanced at her. "Are you well?"


"Dandy. Are you coming over to practice? Orana was making that rabbit ragout you like."


He shook his head. "Not tonight. There's a Wicked Grace game at the dockside that Isabela thought might garner her a lead on a ship. She wanted back-up."


"We can come, too." But Fenris smiled, shaking his head again.


"It's a small, invitation only sort of event, I'm told." At her concerned frown, he added. "Isabela thinks you're too respectable these days. She's afraid you might scare off the owner. I'm only going to ah...glower and grimace."


"No glistening?" He growled and she smirked back at him. "Alright, but if you two end up fighting a raft of pirates on your own, don't say I didn't warn you."




Anders dropped a sack of smaller magical items next to their pile. He looked exhausted. "Here. I think I'm just going back to the clinic. I'll come help you carry this stuff to the market tomorrow."


Aeryn stood and stretched to brush her hand across his forehead. Not feverish at least. "Come on back and eat dinner with us." He shook his head and pulled away from her as Sebastian came up behind them.


"I've got a few things to do before I crash. And I hate being a third wheel." Anders spun on his heel and walked off. "Good night," he called back.


"Stubborn mage." Sebastian slipped his arms around her waist and she glanced up, surprised. "Hullo." He smelled of sweat and fir. The incense that had once clung to him seemed to have grown fainter as he spent less time at the Chantry.


"Are you done inviting everyone else home with you?" Fenris coughed a laugh and Aeryn elbowed the archer who huffed indignantly.


Shouldering his pack, Fenris took his leave. They were only around the corner from his mansion, so he'd store the haul rather than have them traipse it across Hightown. "I will see you tomorrow as well. Isabela will be getting impatient."


They waved him off and Sebastian took up the smaller pack while Aeryn tucked Anders' pouch into her belt. He was pulling off his arm guard and glove. "What're you doing?"


"I want to hold your hand, mo chridhe." He took up her hand and stripped off her glove. "And I want to feel your skin against me."


"Oh." She blushed a little. He could be so utterly sweet it was disconcerting sometimes.


They walked hand and hand for and after a time, he lifted her fingers to his mouth and brushed a kiss across her knuckles. It tickled and enticed and she pulled away, speeding up a bit in front of him. He narrowed his eyes. No, I don't think so.

"You said something the other night..."

"I do that on occasion." She sent a crooked grin back at him. “Known for it, actually.”

He smirked too but didn’t let himself be distracted. Not going back to the Chantry tonight with only a sweet kiss. "About sending me home wanting..."

"Sebastian..." Her tone was fond and a wee bit exasperated.

He pitched his voice low and she had to slow and drop back to hear him. "So, after I've spent an evening kissing and touching and making you feel as good as I can, do you think I don't go back to my cell, then Aeryn...back to my cot and wrap my hand around my cock and imagine your able wicked little hands on me?"

"Um..." Aeryn's mind went utterly blank except for the image, her Sebastian beautifully sprawled against rough sheets in a sparse dim room, laying hand to himself and thinking of her. She stumbled a little on an uneven paver and he caught her elbow.


Leaning over to whisper in her ear, his voice purring and breath warm as his lips brushed the shell of her ear, sending sparking tremors down her neck. "Do you think I don't dream of the way you feel against me? The way you writhe and press yourself up to meet my mouth as I lick your sweet cunt, leannan? And then stroke myself imagining your pink tongue swirling, following my hand? Remembering the way you taste, Aeryn and the way you smell?"


"I...ah..." Heat bloomed again between her thighs, a soft throb that made her want to press them together to ease the ache. She'd lost focus, relying on him to guide her as they walked, not realizing he'd steered them into one of the vine covered alcoves that lined Hightown.


Chuckling, "Have I struck you silent, then? You aren't generally silent, with your little moans and gasps and begging, hungry noises. Every one, love, I remember every filthy sweet whimper you've made whenever I've laid hands on you and that's what I'm listening to as I grasp myself and rub until I'm so hard and aching and then, then leannan, I imagine exactly what it's going to feel like when I finally press into you, all liquid heat, drive into you again and again and feel you stretch and clench around me and" he dropped into a growl, "I come so hard, Aeryn. And it's you I'm thinking of and have been nearly every night since you first said my name."


"Sebastian." She whispered it again like a prayer, eyes wide and dilated in the dusk and he smiled, darkly.


Sebastian turned suddenly, dropping his pack and pressing her against the wall with the length of his body. Aeryn felt the breath leave her, only to be replaced with his scent, the spice of his taste as his mouth slanted down against hers, hot and hard. She opened willingly, forcing her own mouth up, using a foot to brace against the stone jutting out conveniently so she could lever up to him and hook a leg around his hips to soothe the heated ache that had started when she'd seen him smiling at her. Pooled want that had only increased with his words sending shudders through her as she rubbed herself against the cool mail that wrapped his hips. Sebastian groaned into her mouth at the friction.

He unbuckled her scabbards, pulling her forward to let the daggers drop to the ground. Then, the belt with its pouches followed. Flicking open the silverite buckles on her armor, slid his hands under her tunic, under her breastband, long rough fingers seeking, kneading then pinching and rolling a sensitive nipple hard. Moaning, she used one hand, fingers digging into crumbling mortar to hold herself up, the other digging onto the leather at his throat to drag him closer.

His free hand snagged the laces of her trousers, yanking them loose and then forcing down between her legs, into her heat and she was already wet for him, soaking as he rubbed around her clit, making her hips buck against him while she gasped. "Good. So good. Always ready for me." He broke the kiss to whisper in her ear, making her whimper and he laughed low and rich. And she recalled dimly through the rush of blood in her ears mocking him, telling him he could have her up against the wall begging, and Maker, it didn't take minutes, she'd beg now if he'd let her have the breath.


Sebastian was sucking and nipping and licking his way down her throat and the hand on her breast moved to wrap around her hip. Two long fingers were plunging and withdrawing into her and his thumb was making rough, pressing circles on the sensitive nub and all she could do was keen, biting her lip hard as she tried not to shout, as she rode his hand, her hips grinding and spine flexing, her shoulders pressing back against the stone, one sharp corner digging into her skull. She was looking into his eyes and there was something hunted there behind the blaze and sharp in his smile and it should have bothered her, but he'd drawn his fingers out and slipped in a third to stretch her and... Maker...she clenched around them, the added sensation.


Her eyes shut and Sebastian's brogue took on a taut note, “No, Aeryn, open your eyes. Let me see you.” She didn't, just tilted her head back feeling the stones press her skull. He snarled, and he let his hand stop, digits still buried in her. “Open, Aeryn...or I will stop.” He slid his fingers almost out and she'd be ashamed of that whine tomorrow. She dragged her eyes open to see him, see that sharp smile turn sinful and his hand was moving again, driving her. "Good lass, my beautiful, smoke-eyed love." and she thought she might fly apart in all that blue and was perfectly happy to go that way.

"That's it, leannan. All I'm going to dream of tonight is the way you taste and the way you smell and the way you say my name as you, Aeryn.”


He crooked his fingers just as he twitched his thumb across her clit and she sobbed, "Sebastian" as the sparks rolled down her spine and flung themselves against her skin as her head snapped back against the wall. His fingers moved, gently now, drawing her down from her height. He shifted his stance, wider, to take her weight as she collapsed against him, breathing hitched and fast and he murmured softly, words that fluttered across her ear.


“Easy, then, mo chridhe. I’ve got you close.” Her fingers curled around the edges of his armor as he set her back on her feet. Her legs trembled for a second, as she came down, but he kept her up, one arm at her waist and the other around her shoulders until she could stand alone. She glanced up from where her forehead was resting against his chestplate.


“Sebastian…we’re only a few steps from the house.” Aeryn was only a little scandalized. The evening had drawn around them, the hanging vines would have obscured them. Though, anyone on the balcony of the house above them had an excellent place to listen.


There was laughter in his throat. “Hmm. And we would have gotten to the house and Bodahn would have taken our weapons and Orana would have tempted us into the kitchen and then there would have been a lovely home-ish dinner. And you’d have kept yourself a nice polite distance away and then kissed me good night and pushed me out the door and I…” His hand had carded up from the back of her neck into her hair and he felt something warm and sticky on his fingers. Frowning, he pulled his hand back to look.


Even in the dusk, Sebastian knew what blood looked like. He was intimately acquainted with it, these days. “Aeryn! What…” He turned her gently around to look at the back of her head, parting her hair with careful fingers to see a small bloody gash. “You didn’t say you’d been injured…” He started to chide and then saw the blush go up her neck and recalled the way her body had just been pressed against the wall…Oh...


He stepped back, staring at the blood on his fingers, shaking his head and Aeryn turned to him and tried to calm him. “You didn’t do that, Sebastian. I did.” Her fingers reaching out and the pads were scratched and one nail was ragged and bleeding where she’d gripped the wall. He grasped her hand, carefully and turned it over to look.


“Aeryn. Maker, I’m so sorry…” His voice was tight with self-disgust and Aeryn dropped her voice, soothing, but she didn’t see the problem.


“Its fine, love. I’m fine, they’re just scratches. Come on, help me clean up.” She pulled her hand away to adjust her laces.


“It’s not fine, Aeryn. I hurt you!” How could he have just...? He hadn’t even noticed.


She smiled up at him, foolish man. As if she’d even felt it past the glorious feelings he’d conjured up. As if she didn’t do worse to herself in her practice ring.


He looked at her, smiling and had to swallow back the dread. He’d been in control yet not even noticed. “Leannan…”


The lost sounding voice curled into her, warming her with his concern even as she realized how troubled he really was about it. "Hey....Sebastian. Look at me. The fond warmth smoothed over him and he looked up. "Did you mean to hurt me?"


"No! I would never..." She laid her finger on his lips and looked at him levelly.


"Did you hear me complain?" He shook his head. "Did I ever say no or stop or oh, ouch?" As he recalled the only actual word she'd said had been his name and his cock twitched at the memory while that self-satisfied portion of his ego preened.


There was a glint in her eye now. "Yes, you do rather reduce me to incoherency. Let me assure you, darling man, the only words going through my head were yes and please and more." Sebastian let himself relax enough to set his arms about her waist.


She tilted her head. "It’s been a while, yes. But this wasn't your first rough up against the wall, hmm?"


"No." He was blushing again, like a youth. Then it occurred to him to wonder...


And she saw the question cross his features and grinned. "Would you believe me if I said it was my first, Choir Boy?" He snorted. "Smart man."


"I just...I don't ever want to cause you harm or hurt." And he had.


That warm feeling curled tighter. "I know that. You are a good, gentle man. I've no doubt of that, love. But, I'm a big girl and...I fight dragons for a living, you know. Not made of glass. And I'd be awfully disappointed if you said we weren't ever going to do that again." He smiled then, at the plaintive note in her voice. He believed she was alright, but it didn't excuse his lack of care.


"I'll make you a promise. I swear that should I ever feel less than well taken care of, less than loved I will let you know if you promise me something in return."


"What's that then?" She stretched up to whisper in his ear.


"Promise me you'll tell me again exactly how you touch yourself and think of me? I may need to think about that once or twice a day for the next few weeks. And I might have a suggestion or two for your imagination." She nipped his earlobe as she finished.


He was laughing a little when he kissed her.


She snuggled against him, ignoring his armor, languid and relaxed. And Sebastian tightened his arms around her, outwardly calm but still reeling, inside. He’d just, Maker, he hadn’t even thought. He’d hurt her. She was bleeding because he couldn’t be bothered to take her to the bedroom, he couldn’t wait. And maybe the wastrel he'd been once wouldn't have thought twice, but he wasn't that man any more. The accusations ricocheted in his head as they left the nook to walk the few feet to her home.




Aeryn had stood complacently under his ministrations while he physicked her scratches, an indulgent smile playing about her lips. Other than a ragged nail, none of the injuries had lasted past a treatment of elfroot salve.


He'd been quiet all through dinner, though, and gone back to the Chantry without a protest at her chaste kiss. She wasn't smiling anymore. Even when she'd smoothed out the crease between his eyes with a gentle thumb and whispered to him that she really was fine and to sleep well, he'd only quirked his lips wanly and pulled away.


She watched him walk away. His shoulders seemed to slump a little as he turned the corner. Sebastian seemed intent on punishing himself.


The Chantry was dark and still when he went up to his cell. He'd tried to pray the evening portion of the Chant, but the words had jumbled on his tongue and he gave it up. Too tired, really. Tomorrow.


He stripped off the armor and stacked it neatly, automatically. Then laid his head to the pillow trying to forget the slide of her blood against his fingers.


She is standing before him, her alabaster face grinning crookedly up at him and he paints crimson across her nose. Runs his thumb across her brow streaking the pigment there, too. Presses his finger to her lips, leaving another bright trail then kisses her temple and says "Have fun, mo chridhe." And she curves quickly brightly away from him singing like a blade drawn and runs a faceless enemy right through. He laughs to see her so happy.


He startled awake in his still, windowless room with a sickly sweet thickness in his mouth.

Chapter Text

Sebastian had dreamed of her. Soft dreams of a lazy, love filled afternoon in golden light.

And then…

Sebastian is standing next to a dark-haired man in an open field with smoke and flame billowing towards them unacknowledged and he is telling Sebastian that there is no greater knowledge than knowing how much one child could love another and the dark-haired blue-eyed man laughs and says Sebastian will never know that now and she is there and she has handed him that cruel pair of blue eyes and she is smiling that terrible exquisite smile.

And he woke cold and shaking with smoke in his nostrils and his hands ladling soup into a bowl for a child.


Aeryn stopped at the Chantry steps. "I'm going to run up, see if Sebastian's here. I'll meet you at the gate in an hour."


Fenris frowned. "I doubt he's going to be happy with this, Hawke. I would not. I am not."


Aeryn scuffed her foot on the first step, watching the early working crowd leave the Chantry. "Well, I doubt he's going to leave the Cleric for two weeks while we run to Orlais. There's not much choice."


"We could just leave this woman to her business." He sounded like that would be his option.


"I gave my word. Anyway, it sounds like a lark. I hate to think I'm becoming so respectable." She repeated Isabela's criticism as though the pirate had suggested she might be selling poison to babies.


"If you insist." The scowl didn't leave his face.


"Ah, Fenris. Surely you aren't concerned that two fine upstanding women such as Isabela and myself might get into trouble?" She grinned at the look of resigned doom crossed his features. An hour."


They'd meant to meet Varric's contact at the crack of dawn, before the market opened, so it was still early in the day. The Chantry was still and quiet, past the early prayers and too early for the more pious nobles who came to midmorning services.


Sebastian had spent the day before helping out in the soup kitchen, since the Grand Cleric had sent the handful to Cumberland, leaving them shorthanded. She'd not seen him that evening.


One look at him now, kneeling to light candles and she'd had to swallow at the shadows under his eyes. "Alright, that's enough." She slid her hand onto his arm and was surprised to feel him jump. She turned him towards her. His eyes were red and a slight tremor went through him as she touched his face. "Sebastian. Come on then. I'm taking you to see Anders."


"Aeryn, it’s fine." He shook his head and tried to pull away from her.


"It’s not. Let's go."


"I have..." Sebastian waved his hand around, indicating the work to be done yet.


Stubbornly, she just tugged him along. "You're no good to your Cleric half worn through. You'll end up ill."


He followed her silently, trying to ignore the pounding headache that only increased as they stepped outside. As they entered the market, she waved one of the youngsters who ran messages over. "Pauli, do you know Messere Fenris?"


"Yes, m'lady." The tow-haired boy’s bangs flopped into his face as he nodded eagerly.


"He'll be at the gate in a little while. Go and wait for him, tell him I said I had to run to Darktown. I'll be along as soon as I can."




She had him repeat the message and its recipient back and Sebastian managed to rub the headache away. There was a strange clutch in his chest, but he ignored it. She took his hand and they went on.


Anders wasn't in. Aeryn had cursed under her breath when his lantern wasn't lit, but then she'd popped the lock and entered the space. Ducking into the nook he slept in, she realized he really was gone. "Void." Sebastian was looking a bit better after the brisk walk, but still. "Come on, let’s lie you down."


"There's no need, leannan." He resisted her tug, now. "I'll go back to the Chantry. I'll lie down there, I promise."


"I'm tempted to take you back to the estate and let Orana tend you if I didn't know you'd run her in circles."


He was tempted himself by that. A bed properly long enough to stretch in with the soft linens he knew they stored with orris root and Orana and Aeryn's home cooking...but she'd said Orana, not herself. "And where will you be?"


"I've a job. And I wouldn't go now, but it's time sensitive. The hunt is next week." Worry creased her brow.


"The...hunt?" Aeryn was many things but she'd never expressed an interest in the nobles’ hunts. Hunting wasn't a sport, it was a necessity.


"Duke Prosper's hunt. I accepted a job to help someone...liberate a certain item. But apparently, the only way in is to participate in his wyvern hunt."


"Prosper? The job is in Orlais? Aeryn, I can't go to..."


She patted his arm, soothingly. "I know, love. I'm just going to run up there, take care of this and come right back." Smiling up at him and ignoring the red flush rising in his tanned cheeks, she added. " Youwon't have time to notice I'm gone. The Grand Cleric will keep you busy."


"Who hired you?"


"An elvhen woman named Tallis. Seemed rather competent herself, but apparently it's a two person set-up." He heard the excitement in her voice. Something new and interesting but she'd be going without him and the tightness burned in his chest.


"Is she a friend of Varric's?" She heard the caution in his tone.


"Not exactly." She hedged. "It seems I've gained something of a reputation as being an able hand with difficult jobs."

He hated to do this, she sounded so eager. He'd not heard that tone in her voice about much had been awhile. But no. So he said it out loud.


She smirked at him and continued. "We'll be gone about two weeks, I think. Five days travel either side and then..." He was shaking his head, his brow furrowed.

"Aeryn, I said No. You're not going..."

Surely not. He wasn't really... Her eyebrow arched sharply. "Excuse me?" She jerked her hand away, incredulous. "I don't think I asked yourpermission, Sebastian."

He couldn't help the sneer in his voice as he listed the holes in her plans. "You don't know a thing about this Tallis, you've never been to Orlais, you shouldn't be involving yourself in theft. Prosper's got a reputation as a dangerous man. It’s foolish that you're even considering..." He trailed off when he noticed the ice in her eyes.

Though they were almost all good points, his tone of condescension edged under Aeryn's skin and worried at the creeping doubts and fears that had been building, mixed with the wicked streak she'd been neglecting that wanted to play. "Foolish." She gave him a sharp, toothy smile that she usually reserved for ambushes. "I've been called worse. And you've no place to be telling me what I should and shouldn't do, Choir Boy. I'm in the mood to try my skill, this is a good opportunity."

"No? What is this then, if you've no care for my opinion, Aeryn?"

"If you'd given your opinion, we wouldn't be arguing. You've just suddenly decided I've no right to make my own decisions about where I go and who I associate with!" She'd backed away from him and struggled not to wrap her arms around herself, defensively. He could see her eyes dart, looking for an exit. So wary of him again, so fast.

"That's not what…" It was though. A liitle. Maybe. He rubbed his neck. "Maker, Aeryn. I just. I don't want you going off so far without me." The clutch in his chest tightened at the idea.

"Well, think of that next time you make your vows." She's not sure where that little jibe of resentment came from. He'd apologized charmingly for it. She'd forgiven him.

Wincing at the hit, he nodded. "Please?" He couldn't help but ask again.

"I gave my word. And...I think perhaps these last days of your vows will go by easier if we aren't in easy range of one another. I spent last night considering covert entry points for sneaking into the Chantry undetected."

"I..." That would have been far more pleasant than the way he had spent the night. "Two weeks?" He heard the slight whine in his voice.

"I'll try to hurry back."

"You gave your word to a thief." He realized even as he said it, that he'd chosen poorly. Where was his head today?

"From one to another." Her voice went cool again and there was a storm gathering in her drawn brow. "And might consider whether or not you're sure about this, if that is a contention between us." She drew a line with her hand between them. "I know you aren't feeling well, but..." Consider? It occurred to him what she was saying and he had to swallow the rush of fear that she'd ever think he meant he didn't love her.

"My thief, with my heart in your hand." He captured that hand again to set a kiss in her gloved palm. "Never doubt that." The shadows didn't leave her eyes, though.

"And, yet." The lines of her mouth were tense and she cast her glance down at the worn boards that constituted a floor in the clinic. He'd said it unthinking, but he'd still said it. He could see the old wall slamming down between them and came close to panic at the thought.

"No. No. Aeryn, leannan,I'm sorry. "He pulled her to him, ignoring the scrabbling urge to grab her up and take her back to her room and love her until she'd no thought in her head but him. You could...but he ignored the clutching tendrils of the thought. He pressed his lips to her temple, whispering. "I'll miss you, so."

Still tense in his arms, she nodded. "And, I you. But I'm still going. Kirkwall is stifling. Meredith keeps sending me notes like I'm her personal errand girl. And, apparently Prosper's place is in the mountains." Green and wild. She'd missed that. She'd missed the idea of an adventure. It had been a long time since Kirkwall had felt like anything but a series of traps.

Sebastian recalled, "Yes. Not too far from the border. Wyverns won't roost any closer to civilization." He ran his hand down her side, trying to ease her to no avail. Stupid, stupid things to say to a woman who'd been her own counsel for years. Maker, what had he been thinking. "Please, Aeryn. I'm sorry."

She sighed. He sounded repentant enough. "Look. Had I realized it would bother you so, I might have said no. Fenris said it might, but..." She shrugged.

"Fenris is going?"

"And Varric and Isabela. Merrill won't leave her mirror and Anders isn't here to ask."

Fenris and Varric...both of them fond enough of Aeryn to attempt to keep her out of trouble's way. Out of sorts as he was, he knew that. And if she wasn't here she couldn't pester him about a few bad dreams. They'd have faded by the time she got back.

"If...if you must. But , Aeryn...swear you'll be careful, don't take too many chances, please." He grasped her arms to look into her eyes.

"I'll be as careful as I can and take no chance I don't have to, hmm?" She relaxed finally, with his acquiescence, though there was still a lingering doubt in her face. She stretched up to kiss him. "Promise me you'll come back later and see Anders." He frowned and she shook her head, "No deal, then. I'll make no promises if you won't."

"I promise." He said reluctantly.

"Then, I'll be careful." She tugged at his arm. "I'll leave a note for Anders and then you're coming back to the estate. Maybe you just need a change. "

She'd shown him to the spare room and sent up a tunic that he'd left and charged Orana with feeding him up, before tossing her things into a pack. He was standing in her doorway when she turned to leave. "Sebastian..."

He held his hands out to her. "I just wanted to say good bye."

"’Til later, not goodbye." She stepped into his outstretched arms and pressed her lips to his. "Bed, now."

"If you insist." He scooped her up and stepped towards her bed, mischief curling the edges of his lips.

"Daft man." Aeryn twisted and fluidly slipped away from him as he grumbled. "Your bed." She turned him around and marched him back down the hall. He sat on the mattress and watched her with hooded eyes.

"I like that purple thing...with the laces, so." Sebastian rubbed his hand up her spine as she leaned over him fussing with his pillow. She fought back a delicious shiver.

"I'll wear it for you sometime, then." She tucked him in and kissed his forehead. He felt a little warm. Sodding Void, she'd have to tell Bodahn to send for Anders. "Stay here while I'm gone, Sebastian, please, love."

There was a faraway look about her, a dark little twist to her lips, as if his Aeryn were already gone, replaced with the hunter. The thief. Part of him wanted to seek that out and encourage it, let her drag him with her and it crept alongside the whisper that didn't want her to go. He grabbed her wrist, a little roughly. "Don't go, and I'll promise."

"Enough." In his relentless gaze, there was a sort of restless, haunted hunger that strummed right along the same string of her heart that craved the mayhem of a fight, the adrenaline of a theft. It was appalling and appealing, not quite foreign to him, but not his normal blaze. Unsettled, she pulled away from him, resisting the twin urges to rub her wrist or tumble into bed with him and forget Orlais. "Two weeks and then both of us can make some new promises, hmm?"



Tallis was pacing while Fenris, Isabela and Varric looked on. “Finally.” She huffed as Hawke walked up. “What is the hold up?”

Aeryn eyed her coolly. “I had some personal business to attend.”

Frowning, Fenris asked, “Is everything alright, Hawke?”

“Sebastian’s a little under the weather.” She smiled wanly. “I took him to Anders.”


“He wasn’t in. Sebastian…wasn’t really happy about this. You were right.” Shrugging, she continued. “I made him go back to the estate. Bodahn will send for Anders, later.” Sighting the message boy, she waved him over and handed him three silver. “Can you manage another message, Pauli?”

“Absolutely, m’lady.” The tow-haired lad palmed the coins away and pushed his lank bangs out of his face, trying to look ready.

“Go back to the Chantry and tell the Grand Cleric that Prince Vael is unwell and will be staying at the Amell estate while I’m out of town. Then run over to the estate and Bodahn will pay you this again, hmm?” He repeated her message back and scampered off.

The red-haired elf switched on her feet impatiently. “That caravan isn’t waiting forever, Hawke.”

“No need. Let’s go.”

“Are you sure you can leave all your responsibilities, oh Champion?” Tallis’ sarcasm was clear.”

Aeryn spread her hands and arched a fine brow. “All done. Or have you decided you don’t require my help, mystery lady?”

“Oh, this is going to be fun.” Varric sighed.


They travelled north with the caravan for two days, acting as protection until they reached the river Minanter. They were in good time to reach the cargo ship Tallis had arranged transport on.

Bruises had come up purple where Sebastian had grabbed her. She could have healed them, but something made her keep the marks, only to find herself staring at them when she had a moment to herself. She covered them with her bracer, though, in public.

‘There’s the inn.” Tallis pointed out a bustling hostelry. It was a low thatched building, sprawling alongside the river, in a small grove, with a constellation of outbuildings surrounding it.

Hawke nodded absently. “Looks fine.” She was fighting a restless urge to just keep moving.

Hawke’s companions exchanged glances. It was almost unheard of for her to choose an inn over a camp. Fenris asked. “We aren’t camping?”

“No reason to turn down a bed over a blanket. Come on.” She hadn’t slept well, since leaving Kirkwall. It would be harder to hide that in camp.


She turned on them fiercely. “Look, I want a drink and a bed, alright?” Her voice was short and Varric backed off.

“Fine by me.” Isabela winked. “I’m for a drink or three.”

Aeryn took a breath and released it slowly, letting a wicked grin replace the snarl. “Or four?”

“That a challenge, my lady?” Isabela singsonged.

“Could be, pirate.” Fenris regarded the wild glint in her eye warily.

“We should probably keep a low profile.” Tallis warned.

Isabela winked and waved her hand dismissing the elf’s concern. “Sure, sweet thing.”

“Absolutely.” Hawke agreed with wide innocent eyes. Festis Bei.

Three choruses of “Wicked Grace’s Daughter” (the last sung standing on the bar) and a dead bottle or so later, Tallis was hiding her head behind her arms. “This is not a low profile.”

“He’s probably actually going to use us for target practice, this time.” Varric murmured to Fenris who was watching the proceedings half-amused, half-horrified.

She and Isabela had started a side-bet after they entered the well-patronized tavern. For every shot, someone had to snatch a small valuable item, though Hawke had specified that the take had to be stashed behind the bar, not kept. Hawke had shed her armor two pints and one shot in. The song had started three shots in, as a mutual distraction. They were now five in and neither had been caught yet.

Varric frowned at the pair launching into a fourth verse. “She’s not usually a good time girl, these days. Is she alright?”

Fenris shrugged and winced as Hawke slammed another glass. “I do not know. Something is different, though. Perhaps she is just worried about Sebastian.” It had been a long time since Hawke had had a wild night. True. Perhaps she was just seeking a release, then. It mattered not. He would have her back as always. He took a sip of the not terrible red the tavern stocked. Oh, here we go.

A dark, burly man was sneaking, rather badly, up behind the bar towards Hawke. As he put his hand out, though, Hawke flipped off the bar and the fellow’s sleeve was pinned to the chipped wood by one of her dragonbone knives. Isabela had a dagger poised and Hawke had another knife in hand, both of them as steady as if they’d been drinking juice as opposed to rum and whiskey. It was…impressive.

Varric had sat Bianca on the table, to stroke her stock. Tallis was doing her best to slide under her chair. The bar had gone very still.

“We’re having a fine time on our own, serah.” Hawke was saying in her low, dangerously well-humored voice. “No need to get handsy.”

“Can’t blame a fella for trying, sweetheart.” The man grinned crookedly.

“No.” She agreed amicably. “But I’m not available, are we clear?”

He included Isabela in his leer. “I’d be willing to watch.” The pirate rolled her eyes.

“’Bela? You up for a private show?”

“No, I think not.” She winked at Fenris, who simply raised his eyebrow. Her choice, of course.

The man grumbled. “Your loss, girly. Black Jake is well-known for a good time.”

Hawke waved to the barman, who had been nervously glancing between them. “Round on me, hmm?” She twitched her shoulder at Isabela and they slipped back to the table in the rush.

“Feeling better?” Fenris asked his partner drily as the other woman slung herself into his lap.

“I am.” Hawke leaned back in her chair, balancing it on one uneven leg, then another. She winked at their newest companion. “Don’t look so glum, Tallis. There’s not a drunk in this tavern who’ll recall what we look like in the morning. I’ll catch another round before we leave.”

Varric caught a familiar glint on the first knuckle of her left index finger and reached up to feel at his ear. “Maker’s Breath, Hawke, you clepto. Give it back!”

She grinned at him. “Wanna come get it?” She slipped the earring off with her teeth and wiggled it at him.

He snorted. “Not on pain of death. Which is probably what would happen if Choir Boy found out.”

She flipped his gold hoop back to him. “Maker hates a coward, Varric.” Glancing around, she gnawed on her lip. “This has been fun. We haven’t done anything like this in ages. The four of us. It’s almost like old times.”

“You’ve been playing respectable for your priest.” Isabela reminded her.

“I’ve not. I just generally have something more fun to do than get tight and pick pockets.” Aeryn’s smirk turned flirty and her eyes went smoky in remembrance of how she was spending her recent evenings. Isabela chortled, seeing it.

The crowd had dispersed after collecting their drinks. In the low hum of the tavern, her sharp ears picked up the now familiar cadence of a Starkhaven accent. This close to the border, she supposed it was surprising she hadn’t heard more. Her eyes lingered on the tall, ruddy haired man. Too broad to be her archer. The accent was flatter, too. And he had a beard. She wrinkled her nose.

Fenris saw the change in her face. Melancholy came far too easy to her, even now. “Hawke?”

“Yeah. I’m going to go up to the room. I think I’d better call it for the evening if we’re to get an early start.”


Sebastian had every intention of staying at Hawke’s. He’d stretched out to enjoy the luxury of her soft scented sheets and a down pillow. Here, at least he might sleep. He did, in fact, for almost four hours. The light had shifted towards late afternoon when he stirred again.

Orana had a small light meal prepared and he ate with the girl and the two dwarfs companionably, enough. Bodahn had mentioned that he’d sent for Anders, but there was no word from the mage. Good. He couldn’t break his word to Aeryn if the mage had disappeared.

He puttered about her library for a bit, then sat down to fletch arrows, but he couldn’t settle. His skin itched as though he were being attacked by sand fleas. He tried to map out the route she’d likely take, but it just brought back the resentment of being left.

Enough, she’d said, dismissing him. He’d not cared at all for the glimpse of hurt left in her eyes before she’d turned to leave. He’d have to make it up somehow.

He shot targets for a time, but his aim was off. Too distracted, hearing feminine laughter in the street and jerking, wondering if Aeryn had changed her mind. Sighing, Sebastian gave it up and went back upstairs. Acting like a lovesick puppy. She’d probably been tired of having him hanging on her every move.

Sebastian passed her room and couldn’t resist going in. There was little here that indicated this was her space, he had to admit. Her armor was gone, of course, the rack empty. Her weapon stand, empty. The study held all of her personal items and she’d taken the few toiletries she kept on the vanity. Only the lingering scent of almond was hers.

He sat on the edge of the bed and kicked off his boots. He might as well be completely pathetic, then. He picked up her pillow. And then set the bare dagger under it on the side table and patted down the rest of the mattress before lying down. Wrapping his arms around her pillow and burying his nose in her scent, he drifted off again.

She is nude, kneeling, turned away from him as he curls naked behind her. They are lying in a lover's nest of dark blue velvet in a large candlelit room with a grey marble floor and she is cleaning her blades while he traces the crimson in spirals and swirls and twining vines on her pale elegant back with a delicate brush. The line trails off and he reaches the brush to the palette for more paint dragging it through the gaping neck wound of his poor simple cousin who is staring up at them as Sebastian tells her how beautiful she is.

And he woke and he was on his knees gazing up at the Beloved and he was dressed in his armor and the bells were ringing morning prayer.

Void. He started to shake. He had no memory at all of coming back to the Chantry.

“Sebastian?” The Grand Cleric. “The Champion indicated you would be staying at her home for the time she was gone.”

He stood and stilled himself with every ounce of concentration he had, turning his back on the statue of Andraste and the blood his imagination was painting on her hands.

“I came back for prayers, Your Grace. I didn’t intend to be gone the whole time. You yet have need of me.”

Elthina glanced him over. He looked more rested, but he was pale. “She mentioned that you were ill. Have you seen a healer?”

The lie came easily. “Yes, a friend of Aeryn’s. A slight bit of a stomach problem. It’s cleared up now.”

“As you say. You must take it easy, though. I’d hate to have Hawke come back to find you ill-treated, Sebastian. She’d likely level my Chantry.” He did his best to return her fond smile as she moved on to the worshipers.

He’d no choice, now. The dreams were getting worse. And if he was losing time…He had to go see Anders.


The mage was in, finally. But the room was full of squalling, coughing, spotty children and harried mothers.

“Vael. Unless you’re actually dying, you’re going to have to wait.” Anders looked like he hadn’t slept in two days, either.

The screaming headache was back, as soon as he’d tried to speak to Anders. The clutch in his chest grew tighter, nearly making him gasp until he shook his head. “Never mind me. Can I help?”

Anders couldn’t turn down the offer. “Make sure they’ve all got a cup of water with a measure of this.” He handed the archer a tray filled will small paper twists filled with powder. “Start down there.”

The rest of the afternoon was filled with maintaining order in the small epidemic ward. Only dusk brought a hush to the three patients who had been ill enough to keep in the clinic.

Anders collapsed onto his cot. Sebastian slid down the wall to sit on the floor. He was shaking again, but fortunately the healer was too exhausted to notice. “Do you need me to stay, Anders?” He asked finally. He stood again, trying to keep the tremble out of his limbs and failing.

Arm flung over his eyes, Anders shook his head. “Take a couple of packets of that powder home with you. Likely you’ve got the adult version of this spotted fever. It’ll clear up, probably.”

“Thank you.”

“Of course.” Sebastian closed the door behind him.



Aeryn kept moving, though inwardly she was all but dumbstruck. There was Bethany, for all of Thedas as though she wasn't meant to be trapped in Meredith's Gallows. An envoy of all things.


"So, sister. Where is Brother Vael? I'd heard that you and he are nearly never separated." Bethany’s sharply toned query came quickly on the heels of her joining them during the hunt.


"And I'd heard that Meredith never let her mages wander about unattended. Was Cullen unable to join you?"


"I've earned my privileges." Bethany sounded affronted.


"No doubt." Aeryn’s voice was cool and smooth, as though she were speaking to a stranger.


Snorting, her sister dug in. "This from a woman who seduced a priest. Mother would be appalled, Aeryn."


"You have a first name?" Tallis asked and Aeryn rolled her eyes. She was beginning to regret this new association.


"It’s only a myth." Varric assured the elf.


"He renounced most of his vows when he swore vengeance for his family, Bethany. I didn't seduce him." Hawke’s voice had gone just a bit hurt and Fenris was beginning to wonder if he would have to separate them, like unruly children.


"I'm sure you encouraged him to retake those vows once the family thing was done, too." Her sister seemed insistent on scoring points.


"I told him to do what seemed right. To follow his heart." Fenris glanced at Hawke, again. There seemed to be a bit of hesitance in that answer and yes, he could see the little line between her eyes that indicated she was conflicted over something. "He chose to fight with us."


"For you." Aeryn nodded, unwilling to lie to Bethany.


"And now he's set to retake his seat?" She nodded again.


"So you'll have a prince." Bethany stated hollowly.


Aeryn didn't answer, but Isabela asked sharply, "Are you jealous, Sunshine?" Aeryn shot a glare back at the pirate who smirked at her.


Bethany was silent for a minute. "Maybe."


Aeryn's eyebrows shot up. "You know, Bethany, I didn't mean for it to..." She glanced at the avidly listening Tallis. "Later. Hey, what's this? An altar?" Wonderful.


They were at the celebratory party before Aeryn got a chance to talk to Bethany. She took her a cut glass cup of a fruity iced wine and showed her the caprices she'd found.


Bethany tossed one into the fountain. The fight with the wyvern had reminded her how dangerous her sister's life was. Her childish pique couldn't stand. "I...I feel the need to apologize. I'm sorry, Sister. I have been rather awful to you since Mother...died."


"I deserved it." Aeryn kept her voice cool as she gauged the distance and tossed.


Bethany frowned. "What happened was not your fault, Aeryn. It was a horrible, sick man and his twisted desire. Short of locking Mother away, what could you have done?"


"I wasn't at the estate much, Bethany. I didn't attend her little parties unless I had no choice. I could have been there more." Aeryn tossed another of the little tokens in and watched it sink.

"Are you never going to call it home, sister?" Aeryn's mouth twisted.

"No." Beth was the only person who'd ever noticed that.

"You should know, Bethany. I'm not staying in Kirkwall much longer." Bethany eyed her sister, saw the little lines between her eyes and the faraway look. Whether Aeryn ever believed it, Bethany was happy at the circle, with her duties and her earned freedoms. She was suited to what many considered a dulled, blighted existence, though she knew the Gallows had horrible faults for those less well adapted. But, Kirkwall had been less kind to her sister.

"Starkhaven, then?"

"Maybe." She saw worry cross her sister's face. "What?"

"He'll need an heir, your prince." Her voice was soft and she glanced around for listeners.

"We're not to that point, sis."

"But, eventually?" Aeryn had to nod. That did seem to be the road they were travelling.

"Between the Amell line and Father...Aeryn...what if your children are mageblooded?"

Aeryn let the thought hang for a minute. She'd not allowed herself to think so far ahead. "I don't know, Bethany."

"Has he said anything?"

"We haven't discussed children. We aren't actually sleeping together, you know?" Bethany was surprised. She knew her sister.

"That's not...there are rumors..." She blushed.

"He's still living at the Chantry. He's not...we aren't going to until he feels he's no longer needed."

"Oh." It was humbling in a way. Bethany hadn't considered that Aeryn wouldn't have pushed the issue. " love him, then?"

"Yes." And Bethany blushed again at the depth Aeryn put into that little word.

"I'm glad for you, sister." Aeryn smiled a soft little shy smile that twisted into her sister's heart. Lucky girl.

"And you? I know it's not easy...but Anders has said it’s possible to have a romance in the circle." She had missed this. It had been so long since she felt she had a sister to confide in and gossip gently with.

"It is complicated, but I've found a bit of happiness. I, ah. I actually thought you knew."

Aeryn's eyes went wide. "Really?" Cullen. Complicated wasn’t the word for that. Andraste's perky tits. "We seem to like our men with complications." She grinned and chuckled as Bethany giggled. "Oh, Maker, Bethany. Be careful, pup."

"We are." She assured her big sister. "Why didn't he come, anyway?"

"He's helping the Grand Cleric arrange a few things. And..." She had the old urge to share boy troubles with her baby sister. "We had a bit of a tiff. He's been a little over-protective recently and he was a mite upset about my reason for coming." She nodded towards Tallis, who was doing a poor job of ignoring Aeryn's malingering.

"Well, you can't blame him. It is a little awful."

"It's what I'm good at. Well, one of the things. I wanted an adventure."

"And he got left behind."

Aeryn grumbled. "Stop taking his side. You're my sister."

"Alright. My. How terrible of him to not be utterly thrilled and supportive that his one true love went off and left him alone while she does something that's probably going to get her locked in a dungeon and eaten by a wyvern for a perfect stranger." Aeryn huffed but then Bethany saw a trace of guilt mar her features. "What?"

"I worry, Beth." She confessed. "I'm not really... I'm a... He's so...good. I mean, he's rather arrogant. Has something of a bad habit of making vows without considering the consequences and wants to treat me like I'm made of spun sugar, but...He's so decent and gentle, and I'm..."

"You're what?"

Aeryn was staring out over the wooded hills. "I do things like this. And worse and I don't know that I'll ever change or that I even want to."

"You protected me, Aeryn. And Father. " Bethany kept her voice low but firm. "You provided a good life for our mother."

"I haven't had those excuses in a while, sister." Her crooked grin smothered the emotions.

"He knows what you are, Aeryn. You can't have hidden your skill from him?"

"It bothers him. Sometimes." So often, too often.

"I wonder if it really just bothers him that you hurt so, Aeryn." Aeryn tilted her head, confused. "You think we don't see it...but Aeryn. If he loves you, he worries for you, dearheart. And maybe it's time someone protected you for a change."

She nodded, but Bethany wasn't sure her sister took it to heart. She might have to drop Brother...Prince Vael a note, get to know the man who had finally gotten the illusive Aeryn Hawke to surrender a bit of herself. Give him an inside tip or two.

Tallis took it upon herself to intervene in the sudden silence. "I'm tickled, honestly, that you two have had your happy reunion, but we really need to get that key."

Aeryn shifted from her open softer self back to the professional. "Just luring the audience into a false sense of security, my dear Tallis. Off we go." She ushered the thief off, and shot back a "Thanks, Beth."



Flaming sodding shite-ridden swords. Maker forsaken Qunari bitch.

"Are you mad?" Tallis was eyeing Aeryn as though the human might go for her throat. It wasn't far off.

Aeryn growled and paced the cell. Turning back to the elf she spat out "If you had said something..."

"You wouldn't have come."

"No. And I wouldn't be stuck in a dungeon or had a fight with my...I'm going to have to admit to him he was right, you know."

"Aww. You were having fun until this bit. You got to see your sister." Tallis tried the brightside only to have to duck a pebble flung at her head.

"Lovely. Come to Orlais to see a woman who doesn't live five miles from me."

"Let's just go." The elf fiddled with the gate and it sprang open. Aeryn growled again. "You've spent too much time with that Fenris."

"Remind me to have him show you his party trick."

Three hours later, she was standing on the edge of a cliff watching a wyvern charge towards her. Maker. I have seriously got to re-evaluate my life. She couldn't help the triumphant laugh, though as the thing finally took her bait.


It spat at her just before it lost purchase on the sliding shale. Flames. She could feel the venom eating away at the enchanted leather. She slipped a little as she tried to shrug out of the smoking armor. Fenris grabbed her as she tilted precariously over the precipice.

"Can we go home now?" Varric asked in what was a remarkably plantive tone for him as Bethany cast healing to clear up the caustic burns and Isabela held out the antidote, just in case. Aeryn slammed it back.

"Maker, yes." Back to Sebastian and if Kirkwall was trying to kill her at least it didn't ruin her armor first.

Tallis called after the party. "Thanks, Hawke. I'll see you around?"

The four of them muttered, "Not if we see you first," and Bethany nodded vigorously. Though Fenris was speaking Arcanum. He might have been more colorful.


Sebastian felt that he was walking in a haze. He managed not to draw attention to himself. He continued with his duties and was grateful when a group of clergy from Ferelden occupied Elthina's time. He ran small errands to free her up and spent the rest of his time trying to keep busy in the gardens or the scriptorium, avoiding her. If his hands were busy with tasks it kept him from trying to focus too hard on the images his exhausted brain kept dredging up.

She'd pressed him once or twice, but his excuse of missing Aeryn seemed to satisfy her. The last time he tried to tell Elthina of his dreams, he'd felt as if he was having a heart attack.

The last few nights he had dreamt of her. Dreamt of setting her loose amongst his enemies...and when had he decided that? He had a rival, not an enemy. Lady Harimann had been an enemy, but Aeryn had dealt with her. Dreamt of her and Fenris carving through Starkhaven in scarlet swathes. He didn't want that.

He hadn't been able to pray or meditate.

He was starting to be very afraid he was going completely mad.

He was starting to be afraid he was dangerous to her.

He'd given up trying to sleep at the estate. Even the almond scent had faded from her sheets.

Then she is handing him a dagger blade first and she slides it across his hand and scarlet blooms in his palm as she closes her hands around his and he lays her back and slips the knife between her thighs and the pommel presses deep as she begs and begs with bliss written on her face.

And he woke, hard and aching with a scream that used to be her name on his lips.

No more. He had to keep her away from him. Had to think of something that would make her run as fast as she could. Whatever was wrong with him...he couldn't let it have Aeryn.

Chapter Text

Aeryn had trotted up the Chantry stairs, eager to see him despite the doubts that had piled on her in the past days. She felt like her skin was too tight. Like she'd been breathing too shallowly. She'd carved two days off the return trip, running her companions nearly into the ground. It terrified her a little, how she'd missed him. She dragged her fingers through her hair. It was curling around her ears where she'd let it start to grow out. He liked playing with it. Maybe he'd like it longer.

She ached to hear his voice, see his eyes light up and... there he was, up on the landing. She stopped for a minute to center herself, to not run across the hall like a child denied a promised treat too long. And then looked again, searching.

He looked...ill. As though he hadn't slept or eaten in days. Pale, gaunt with a fevered blush high on his fine cheekbones. How sick had he been? Guilt crept along her spine. She'd left him for that waste of time and he'd needed her. He'd been right. She never should have gone.

"Sebastian, love..." She'd run up the stairs after all to reach for him.

And then he'd set her back from him and started spouting about vows and chastity and how only a pure love was worthy of the Maker and...oh…she couldn't hear him anymore for the blood rushing away from her face, for the chasm that had opened under her feet, for the spiral of darkness that threatened to pull her in after it. He was in earnest, intensity in every line.

He was serious.

Aeryn couldn't seem to take a breath. She stared at him; at the bland, not quite apologetic, expression on his face as she tried to make herself catch up. He'd changed his mind, then. He wanted this life and not the one they'd so tentatively started thinking of, together. It was too much. She was too much. Not worth following, after all. He needed her and she'd left and now... Oh.

She blinked once and then again, gathering herself, willing herself to speak evenly and quietly. "I don't think I'd be…suited for a life of contemplation, Brother Vael." Breathe. In. Out. Don't think about why he's done this or the utterly lost look dawning on his face. "Thank you for the…" offer? Opportunity? "compliment."

Leave. Now. Oh, maker why.


Clearly. she had no reason to ever call upon the Maker, ever again. "Excuse me, please."

Down the stairs. Gracefully. Head up, Aeryn. Don't look back. Don't clomp like a cow. Don't bebrittle iceisbrittle waterflows. Cool. Why now….noshove it back lock itback…just go. Go.

Sebastian watched her glide down the stairs, soundless as a spirit. She stopped at the double door to draw the hood of her new foreboding armor and he saw her shoulders hunch just for a second, before she straightened. In his mind's eye, he could see that proud delicate chin firm and jut out before she walked into the evening. The door closed behind her, shutting her away from him.

He'd seen it. Seen the light go out of her eyes and the mask come down, closing him off from all the warmth, the love, the strength. There was something screaming at him in his thoughts. And he was glad, he was so glad because if it was screaming he'd done right. He was…Maker, he wanted to die. But she was safe. He was reasonably sure he'd just cracked his heart in two, but Aeryn was safe.

He felt the wooden rail he clung to creak in his hand and tried to remember how to breathe. The incense was choking him.

"Sebastian." He closed his eyes as he heard Elthina draw up behind him. She'd been Grand Cleric for long time. She could fit a whole lecture in just your first name.

"You'll have to forgive me, Sebastian, for eavesdropping."

"Of course, Grand Cleric." Oh good. He could still talk at least. There was pressure building in his chest.

Her voice was low and calm, as always. "Did I truly just hear you offer to make Aeryn Hawke your chaste bride?"

"Yes." He didn't realize he'd raised his hand to his chest, rubbing.

"A sister in the faith?"


"Forgive me, Sebastian. I was not aware that the Champion had ever given any indication that she was remotely interested in a life of Chastity, Poverty and Service in the Name of the Maker. You have spent more time in her company, it's true." She added just a wee bit sarcastically.

He swallowed down the choking groan. "She has not, Your Grace."

Coming to his side and catching sight of his pale countenance, Elthina questioned. "Why would you do that, Sebastian?"

"I…" Maker, help me. The pressure was leaking up from his chest, trying to keep him from speaking. Holy Andraste. Sebastian fell to his knees, trying to pray.

Sure that something was dreadfully wrong, Elthina pushed. "Not to mention that you asked her to take vows you discarded nearly six years ago."

"I have asked to renew those vows, Your Grace."

"And I told you no. Why did I do that?"

He shook his head. She'd done it because she'd seen what he'd refused to, even then, that his path had diverged. But he couldn't keep Aeryn, knowing…

"You serve joyfully, Sebastian. But when she calls, you run out of here with a light in your eyes I never saw in your service and in your diligent prayer." She ran a fragile hand across his ruddy hair, feeling him tremble.

"You were given to the Chantry for guidance and for punishment. You have long since repaid any punishment you were due and made yourself useful, a support and a friend. You are dear to me, but I have told you more than once that the door is always open. Do not do this for me." One of the sisters had come up, having seen Sebastian fall, but Elthina waved her off. This was a private conversation.

He shook his head. "Not for you, Elthina."

"I have heard her tell you more than once that you should follow your heart. You gave it to her long ago."

"She said no." And walked away and all he wanted to do was follow her and beg, but he was so afraid for her.

Elthina scoffed. "She said no to the Chantry, Sebastian. To a life that would leave her stunted and withdrawn from the things she holds dear. Where she would be constantly faced with the temptation of luring you down a path that, suddenly, you seem to not want to tread. What did you expect her to say, if she loved you?"

He shook his head trying to clear his thoughts enough to explain. He knew that. Maker, could he tell Elthina, where he couldn't tell Aeryn? Perhaps…if there was any power in the Maker, in Andraste's holy flame…surely he could tell the Grand Cleric, now? Demon haunted dreams couldn't have a greater strength than the frail woman who stood beside him. And if his heart burst in his chest, if his skull split, it surely couldn't be worse than how he felt now. The Maker might forgive the evil in his heart if he died trying to protect her.

"I'm afraid, Your Grace." He swallowed again. "Of the man I might return to being." Not quite true. Sweet Andraste…

Surprised at that, she answered, smiling fondly. "I think that selfish, angry, forsaken boy is long gone. I can see perhaps, fearing the Principality. Nobility has many traps. But, Sebastian," she chided, "the man I see when you stand with Aeryn Hawke…that man is no one for the righteous to fear."

He was sweating and Elthina thought perhaps they were coming closer to the mark. "No, it's not just that. I had to get her away. I'm afraid…of what I might make of her, fighting my war." Almost. The wood creaked in his hands again and the pressure in his chest, in his head. Dreams. They were dreams from demons and he would not fail. I will embrace the light. I will endure.

Shocked, she asked, "Why would you…?" She saw him mouth the words and sharply she spoke. "Sebastian Vael, tell me what is wrong. Now."

Finally, an order. "There was a demon, Grand Cleric…" He felt the pressure pop and the relief…Maker, thank you. He managed the thought before he passed out at her feet.

Elthina gasped as Sebastian crumpled, pale as death. Sister Couldra, who had continued to hover just out of sight, ran back up. "Go get the healer, Couldra. And send a messenger to the Champion. No..." She thought of the past moments. It was possible that Hawke had not gone where she could easily be found. Who best of the companions to send for? Only the elf, Serah Fenris, ever attended Chant. "Just get the healer."

The woman fled down the steps as Elthina stroked Sebastian's clammy face.

The doors of the Chantry banged open. "VAEL!"

Well, the Maker does know His business. Elthina whispered a prayer of thanks as she slowly stood. "Serah Fenris, please attend me." She called over the banister.

He was at her side in seconds, cold fury shifting to a confused frown at the sight he came upon. "What has happened?" The healer pushed him to the side as she knelt before her patient, checking his pulse and his breathing.

Elthina drew the foreboding elf to the side, out of hearing. "He proposed to Aeryn and she said no. But something else is wrong. He mentioned something about a demon."

Horror flashed on his handsome, tattooed face, "A demon? We've not fought…there was the desire demon, but that was some time ago."

"He was unable to tell me what was wrong, only that he was afraid of something. That he might hurt her, by keeping her near him."

"So he proposed marriage?" Fenris shook his head, baffled.

"A chaste marriage. Vows to the Chantry, and not to each other, in truth."

He considered for a moment, then nodded gravely. Hawke would likely have considered that Sebastian's way of trying have both his vow and her. It would not have set well. "That would send Hawke away from him."

The healer spoke. "He is asleep, Grand Cleric. It seems to be a natural sleep. He shows some signs of recent insomnia and a fever." Shaking her head, she added. "It's all I can tell. We should send to the Gallows for a spirit healer."

"No need." Fenris growled.

"He does need…"

"No. I mean, I know a healer who is capable of dealing with other things as well." He glanced at Elthina, who nodded. On occasion, she'd noticed the mage who followed Hawke. "I will find him." He hesitated, then shook his head. "No. I will make him come."

"He will be safe here, for this." Elthina assured him.

"I doubt he will believe me. I know another, but she is no healer." He grimaced, shaking his head at the idea of allowing Merrill to attempt to deal with Sebastian's well-being.

Elthina had to ask. "How did you know to come, serah?"

"I didn't. I passed Hawke in the street, on my way to her home. There's only one who could make her look as though…I came to…I will go and get the healer." Fenris sprinted down the stairs.

- -000-

Fenris made his way quickly to the Darktown haunt. It was the only time he could recall being glad to see the healer's lantern lit.

Anders was hunched over his desk at the back o the gloomy room. He looked up hopefully at the clattering entrance, but the elf's appearance slid the expression from his face. "Fenris. If you're dying, I'd be glad to see it through."

He refused to be baited. "Never mind that. Your assistance is required."

"Oh, such manners."

Straightening, Fenris let his voice drop. "I mean it, mage. You are needed."

Anders finally took a good look at the warrior and saw worry etched into the scowl. "Is it Hawke?" He started to gather his staff when Fenris spoke.


Scoffing, he turned back to his work. "Let him pray for assistance, then." He only felt a little guilty, recalling the priest's early visit.

Across the room in a heartbeat, Fenris grabbed the mage's arm, ignoring the flare of blue that issued from his eyes. "No matter what you think of him, you know how Hawke feels. Be assured that if you fail to aid Vael, I will tell her why."

Narrowing his tired eyes, Anders clamped down on the surge of power he felt. "Where is he?"

"The Chantry."

"Maker's Breath, you have got to be kidding me." He would have laughed, but it took too much energy. "This is the worst set up for an ambush."

Fenris growled but gathered himself anew. "I swear it is not that."

"Like I would believe…"

"I swear on my friendship with Hawke. If I lie to you, if I turned you in, Hawke would kill me." He rubbed his forehead. "Sebastian has collapsed. The Grand Cleric claims he said something about a demon influencing him."

Dislike him though he did, Anders had no illusions that Fenris would dice with Hawke. "Why would a demon be interested in the lost prince? He isn't a mage."

"No, but it was a demon that caused his family's slaughter. Perhaps it is something to do with Starkhaven."

Anders stared back at Fenris. That was true. And…"He got caught by that desire demon, what ...a week ago?"

Fenris regarded him oddly. "Nearly a month, now. He seems to have taken the brunt of it while we were in Orlais. Something occurred when she went to see him after we returned."

Anders paused. It had been that long? "She's with him?"

Shaking his head, Fenris didn't care to explain. "No. I don't know what exactly happened. Vael is at the Chantry. If you will not come, I will go get the witch and see if she can help. She would not refuse, no matter what she is."

He could see Anders clench his jaw, grinding his teeth and had to swallow a small smile. He'd been around Hawke and Varric too long, if he could use a man's weakness so.

The very thought of Merrill using her blood magic on an ill man made Anders faint. And then the thought of what would happen if she was seen using blood magic. In the Chantry. "Oh, Andraste's knickerweasles. Hawke really would kill us if Sebastian died and Merrill got made Tranquil. Or worse."

"Then let us go. Now."

They got across town quickly enough, but then Anders hesitated, hanging back before the forbidding double doors.

Turning to observe him, Fenris said, "The Grand Cleric promised your safety."'

"Forgive me if I don't find it particularly reassuring." But the mage indicated that he would follow.

The healer had Sebastian set up in his cell, changed from his armor into a plain linen robe. The Grand Cleric was sitting in the low wooden chair, praying silently, with her eyes closed. She had sent the rest of the observers away, in anticipation of their arrival and to keep more gossip from starting.

She acknowledged them and Anders stepped forward to consult with the Chantry healer. Elthina waited and dismissed the woman when he nodded.

"I thank you, healer. For coming so quickly to a place you had no desire to come."

"I...Such is what I do, Your Grace."

"And in doing so, you serve. We are grateful."

Anders turned back to Sebastian, pale and still. He had more color than when Fenris had seen him, prone on the floor, but he looked as if he'd been ill. Fenris turned to the Grand Cleric, who seemed to know why.

"He kept saying he missed her, that he was sleeping poorly, when I asked."

Fenris nodded, watching Anders make his diagnosis. The mage moved methodically around the archer's body.

Anders checked Sebastian's pulse. Typical, maybe a bit slow. His skin was dry and not as resilient as it should be. Lips were dry. Dark circles under his eyes. Pupils were normal. Breathing clear. So much for what observation could tell. He sent an exploratory wave of magic through the man, who sighed in his sleep. Hmm. "Your healer was right. He's not been sleeping, much. His heart feels strained, but it's nothing rest wouldn't cure. And he's been running a fever. He's a little dehydrated. This is normal sleep, though." He'd better fix that strain anyway. Vael was never far behind Hawke. No reason to take a chance.

Elthina nodded. "And the...other matter?"

Anders hesitated and shared a glance with Fenris. He really didn't want to do this, here of all places, but..."You may want to not be here for this, Your Grace."

She smiled gently. "I will stay. For both of their sakes, he should have someone with him who loves him. I will at least be able to tell the Champion I took that much care with him. Maker guide your hand, healer." Anders wished she would stop calling him that.

Fenris grimaced and went to stand in front of the woman. He widened his stance and braced himself. Sebastian was his friend. It was Fenris' duty to strike him down if he longer just Sebastian. He nodded at the mage. "I am prepared."

Anders breathed deep. "This is going to seem odd, Your Grace. I swear it won't hurt him if he isn't..." It almost wasn't a lie. Vael had suffered far worse, fighting with them. She simply nodded and he could see her lips moving in prayer.

He let slip the control he was finding harder to maintain everyday and his skin cracked blue. He heard Elthina draw in a breath, but to her credit she simply prayed harder. He sent a bolt of electric blue-white energy stabbing through Vael.

The archer snapped up, blue eyes blazing, hands grabbing for his weapons, swearing. "Sodding Void! Maker's Ba..." His hands went to his chest, scrabbling where the magic had pulsed through him and glared up at Anders. "What are you about, man?" One hand went to his head, trying to keep his skull from flying apart. "Och. Remind me never ta drink wi' you, again."

Anders stared at him. "Ah. We haven't been drinking, Vael."

The last hours came back to Sebastian and his expression went bleak. "No. Oh, Maker." He saw Fenris and the Grand Cleric, but not...He swung his feet up and over, only to have Fenris lay a gauntlet on his shoulder to stop him. "Aeryn." He didn't go on and perhaps he did not have to say anything else. He saw the elf's jaw clench.

"You've been ill, Sebastian. You need rest." Elthina came closer.

"I dinnae care." He tried to move and the room swirled.

"What happened, Sebastian?" Fenris asked. Sebastian winced as another pain lanced through his head. Anders came closer, one hand raised in warning. Sebastian waved him over and the mage let healing magic curl away from him, healing the damage caused by magic and stress and soothing the headache. The archer nodded in thanks.

They needed to know, he realized, before they could let him go. Anders had heard the rasp in his voice and handed him a cup of water. "Drink that slowly or you'll regret it," the mage warned.

He took a sip, then another, letting the tepid water soothe his throat. "The desire demon. Hanker, it called itself."

Anders frowned. "That was weeks ago. And Hawke..."

"Killed it, yes." Sebastian had a vision of his love, standing before him fierce, the creature dropping while he was on his knees before it. "But before said, it said something about its sister. I think it meant the one at the Harimann's. I don't know." He shook himself, feeling free of clutching fingers for the first time in weeks. "I'm apparently susceptible to the creatures. Or they want something else, wanted Aeryn for something."

Fenris was reminded of something. "There was a blood mage as well."

Anders nodded, thinking. "I suppose it's possible. Enthrallment and possession. I've never heard of it lasting so long, though."

Sebastian grimaced. "I don't think...It wasn't was just dreams. Horrible nightmares about the worst parts of myself and what Aeryn was. And how I could turn her back into that, use her for my own purposes."

Fenris nodded grimly, understanding suddenly. "I see." What a demon could do with Hawke, like that, under it's control through Sebastian was a terrible thought.

Elthina spoke, sharp. "I do not." Her Grand Cleric voice in full and Sebastian answered out of reflex.

"Aeryn was an assassin, Elthina. A very good one. But it hurt her. To use her like win Starkhaven the way it was taken." He shuddered. "It would be the easy way." And he remembered the wistful tone of her voice, a part of her longing for the simplicity and wanted to weep.

"A blood mage can implant such suggestions that linger and torture." Fenris explained to Sebastian, grim remembrance in his tone. "It is not unheard of for such things to drive the afflicted mad."

"Which is why you wanted her away from you?" Elthina asked.

"Yes. Away or...I thought if she pushed, it might, I might be able to..."

Anders narrowed his eyes. "That's why you came to the clinic. Why didn't you just say something?"

Sebastian rubbed his chest. "Every time I spoke, got near to it, I'd feel a crushing pressure in my chest and like my brain was about to pour out of my ears. But I didn't try, I didn't actually realize it was anything but dreams until after they left for Orlais. I just thought it was the old nightmares again, I wasn't really remembering them, until it started happening even when I was awake."

"If you weren't sleeping, that can cause hallucinations and paranoia."

"I will attest to that." Sebastian nodded wearily.

"So how did you break through the suggestion?" Anders persisted.

"The Grand Cleric. After Aeryn left, Elthina...Blessed Andraste, thank you Elthina." Not the first time she'd saved him from his own weakness.

"I finally realized something was wrong and pushed." There was a note of censure for herself in the woman's voice and Sebastian hesitated before he nodded.

"And the pain?"

"After Aeryn left...I didn't really care anymore if it killed me." He said flatly and Anders blinked at the hollowness in the man's voice.

He finished the cup of water and swung his legs over the side of the cot. He stood up only to reel and the mage caught him, staggering himself under the archer's mass. It crossed Sebastian's mind that Anders was far too thin, but only briefly. He had one thought, now. "Thank you." He stepped forward, shakily.

"You really do need to rest, Vael. I'm not sure you've slept properly in weeks. You've been running a fever. You need to be in bed."

Sebastian snarled. "No, I need to find Aeryn before she ties herself in knots trying not to care about what just happened." But he could see from Fenris' expression that he was already too late for that. "I'll rest, then."

Fenris moved forward to take Sebastian's arm. "I will assist you."

"Bloody stubborn..."

"You did not see her, mage." Fenris growled, shutting Anders up. "I will take him to her."

"Sebastian." Elthina's soft voice made him look back at her. It was time. If he'd done it before now, maybe none of this would have happened.

"Grand Cleric. I request release from my vows. All of them, though I will ever attempt to be the Maker's servant."

"He could have no better. You are released, child. Live in His Light and know you and your Aeryn will ever be in my prayers."

"Thank you, Grand Cleric." He bowed slightly, trying not to stumble. Fenris gripped his arm tighter as they moved forward.

Again, Elthina spoke softly. "Sebastian..."

"Your Grace?" Impatience in his tone and it made her smile. That sounded more like the young man she knew.

"If you want to convince her you have given up holy orders, you might consider changing your clothes."

Glancing down at himself, Sebastian had to allow that to be true.

- -000-

Anders had handed him a potion. Apparently that hadn't been enough and the mage had grudgingly cast a rejuvenation spell, as well. Sebastian had thanked him, honestly, but the mage had snorted. "You aren't going to thank me when that wears off. You'll drop like a rock."

It was enough to keep him on his feet, though, and that was what mattered.

Fenris had accompanied him anyway, and Sebastian was grateful for his silent support. And a strong hand on his elbow, when a passing group of Hightown ladies nearly bowled him over in their eagerness to reach the market.

Fenris paused just outside the estate. "I will leave you, here." He turned towards Sebastian suddenly. "Good luck."

"Fenris? You said you saw her? What did you see?" The elf looked down for a minute before he answered.

"When I first joined her...on very rare occasion that someone wasn't watching her, when she thought herself to be unobserved...she is difficult to explain." Fenris drew his brow down, considering. "All the life would leave her. Still and blank. And she'd stare into the distance...and if you spoke to her or she saw you move, she'd switch like it had never happened. But it was like nothing I'd ever thought to see on a free person." His large green eyes were troubled. "I haven't seen that look on her face in…she was just standing there, Sebastian." He indicated the alcove by her door. "Standing and staring at absolutely nothing."

Sebastian closed his eyes and rubbed his face. Oh, my love. "We argued before she left. Has she said anything to you, these past days?"

He looked over his shoulder, clearly unhappy with the circumstance. "Not exactly." His eyebrows turned down as if he were struggling with speaking out of turn. "Venhedis...fine." Turning back to Sebastian he spoke harshly. "She has been far too like she was when I first met her. Reckless. Willing to take too many chances. We fought a wyvern. Two, actually." Sebastian went white. "She led one off a cliff. By balancing there first, herself, laughing." Fenris' olive skin had gone a bit ashen, too. "I thought she'd gone over for a minute."

"I will fix it." He would explain. He would tell her of the demon, she would forgive him for hurting her. It would be fine.

"You had better."

Chapter Text

She walked blindly back across Hightown, trusting her reflexes to keep her out of harm's way. She was deep in her own head.

It was better. They had no business being involved. It was always going to end badly...this was probably the best ending she could have hoped for. No yelling. Nothing thrown. Just an acknowledgement that he was always a priest and she was never going to be anything other than a mercenary up for the highest bidder.

It hurt. Oh, it felt like the time she'd fallen on glass, like she'd rammed shards of it into her chest, maybe She smothered the thought. She'd have to be more drastic.

She popped her neck as she walked. Clenching and releasing her fists. Counting, then.

Templar. Templar. Noble. Chantry sister who stuck her nose where it didn't belong and got it chopped off when she saw Bethany clearing brush with a small fire spell. Idiot boy who got his fingers frozen when he'd tried to pinch Bethany's arse in a dark corner.

Father who realized that his control was slipping with his illness. But that had been poison. He'd done that. Her poison but not her she wasn't supposed to count him. Breathe.

Bloodmage who'd wanted Bethany as a pretty pet. Templar.

Then Ostagar. Ostagar with its endless death.

Ostagar was where she lost count. Ostagar was where the white noise would claim her and on the other side she would bury what she'd thought was love. Hadn't been love. Maybe he'd wanted to save her soul?

What was the point of that? Because it hadn't just been darkspawn. She'd killed more than one too tainted to live. Another who'd gone mad at the sight. How many had died when she and Carver ran? Sebastian had held her after she told him about Ostagar. Held her, whispered...Stop, keep counting.


Fredrick. Then twelve, thirteen. Twenty-five, maybe. She'd lost count again somewhere in there. Just a job. And a coin. And a well done. And another job as Meeran had her pick off his rivals. And never mind how sad Mother and Bethany were.

There. There as the empty place she could shove him into. Until she could cut him out of her soul she could bury him in there with all the rest of her failings. Shove him in there with the last remnants of her heart.

A handcart clattered over the cobbles behind her, startling Aeryn back into the present. She'd arrived back at the estate.

She needed...she needed a job. Something else to do, something to affirm what she knew. A day or two to make it permanent and she'd be able to smile at him in the street, let him touch her and she'd never flinch.

Recalling the Antivan who had flagged her down as they entered the city, Aeryn dug her hand into her pouch and fished out the slip she'd written the information on. A Crow. A professional.

Stillness had slipped in to replace the chaos. She felt the smile crawling across her face and reached up steady fingers to touch it. Oh. That's it. Wash him out of her soul like that and no need to ever come back.

"Bodahn! Hey! Can you get this stuff cleaned up? I'm gonna grab a bath and repack. Have Orana throw together some rations. I've got something to do up the mountain. Sandal...look what I found! You think you could put something nasty on this rune or...?"


"Boom would do nicely."

Sebastian went to the door and knocked. It took a few moments for Bodahn to come to answer and when the door finally swung open the dwarf was clearly troubled. He'd been told that the priest was no longer welcome, but the still, sharp woman who had breezed through the doors throwing orders was barely the mistress he recognized. "Brother Vael. Ah, I'm not sure..."

Sebastian squared his shoulders. "Let me try. Please, Bodahn."

He opened the door wider. Lady Hawke had been happy. This fellow had made her smile. And lovers had fights. He knew too well the distance that could grow if those fights were allowed to fester. And sometimes it was fixed too late. "She is...not herself. You should have a care, messere."

Sebastian nodded and took a breath before he trod the now familiar path to her room. He could hear drawers being pulled and shut. Then he turned the knob.

No. No. No. Too soon. Sodding Void why was he even here?
She could feel him standing behind her. Bloody flaming swords, Bodahn. She conjured up the stillness.

"You are out of bounds, Brother Vael. I called for no counsel or confessor. Please leave."

Softly spoken and bland, the lack of her customary warmth hit him like an icy blast. Her packs were open and travel-worn items were being traded out for new. In the days before she left she'd been letting her hair grow out a little, since he so enjoyed letting it slide through his fingers. Two hours ago he'd seen it had started to curl around her neck while she was gone. Now, it was raggedly short again, clearly trimmed close with a dagger. There was a tiny nick at her nape, a small smear of dried blood.

Sebastian let his eyes rest on her for just a moment. Even without her looking at him, even with her angry and hurt and cold, it was still a balm to be with her. This watchful stillness reminded him of something, though.

"Let me explain, please, Aer..." She cut him off.



She turned to him, her features composed and her eyes flat like winter skies. "My name. Is Hawke." Somehow the withdrawal of that privilege was worse than the following order in that soft, level voice. "Get out. You've made your decision. You've got your reasons. Leave me to my life." She turned back to her packing.

He hadn't moved. She fingered the hilt of a knife in the built-in sheath on her clawed glove. And then he was behind her, reaching out to turn her and she spun and pushed, sending him back, nearly off his feet. "Do not touch me." She never raised her voice. But she'd drawn the blade. She'd forced all of her vulnerability behind the locks, pushing Hawke upfront and cramming Aeryn into the chest. If he touched her though...

"I won't. I swear. But, please, just listen." Now he knew where he'd last heard that tone and seen that look. The Chantry in her early days. She'd still been in the Red Iron. Maker please.

"The demon, Aeryn..." The blade thunked into the doorframe, behind him. He couldn't though. He wasn't giving up ground, especially not her name, until she'd heard him out. "No. I won't. Aeryn. The demon, the desire demon you killed. It did something. I was... Aeryn, look at me." She'd paused at least, in her packing.

"In the alley. When you fell." But she'd killed it. She had. Its blood had coated her hands when she'd slapped him awake. He'd been fine.

"Yes." Desperate, he clung to that acknowledgment. "Fenris said that there was a mage, that it must have implanted some sort of suggestion. I was having such horrific dreams...nightmares. I was doing such vicious things, leannan. I wasn't thinking...I just… Aeryn, the things it made me want to do to you. I just wanted you to be safe." He was babbling, and he knew it. The whole thing seemed foggy, now. He tried to order his thoughts and make himself coherent. This awful empty stillness in her was so much worse than what he'd expected.

She laughed mirthlessly. "It's a demon of desire, Brother Vael. It can't make you do something you don't want." She mimicked his worst patronizing tone as though she'd practiced it, making him wince. "Although, I admit, you're the first I ever heard who claimed a desire demon made him take a vow of chastity." And, Maker, the sarcasm was painful without the gentle smile.

He sidled around her. "I didn't take vows, Aeryn. I didn't." He could at least see her face when he said, "No vows to any but you, mo chridhe. I've renounced what vows were left to the Chantry."

She knew her mask was solid. It didn't matter if he saw. What he wanted of her was buried. So long as..."So why the proposal?" Just a little boredom. If he thought she wasn't interested, maybe he'd...well, no. Stubborn man.

"I wanted to protect you, Aeryn. You can't...I was using you, in my dreams and I was going mad, I think and it was the fastest way I could think of to make you leave before I could actually hurt you." He had to clench his hands to keep from reaching to her.

Some surprise slipped through before she could smooth it and she knew he saw it as he stepped closer. Took it as encouragement. Maybe. Maybe she could believe him. But he was had been his first choice, to go back to the Chantry, for sanctuary. She slammed down the tendril.

"Alright." But though her face had shifted, her eyes were chilled and her tone emptied. "What changed, then?"

He took another step forward. "Elthina heard us and asked, pushed after you left. I wanted to die Aeryn, I thought I might. But she kept trying and got through. She...Actually, I don't know why Fenris and Anders were there...but they, Anders did something."

Anders. But, then...curiosity got the better of her sense. She shouldn't be encouraging this why was it so easy for him to...She'd let him in too far. "Why didn't it work before?" In the corner of her eye she saw his confusion. "I asked you to go see Anders, why didn't it work then?"

Oh. He looked down to his feet. "I didn't actually...well, I did but he didn't examine me. He was busy."

"Your Chantry saved you, then." And she'd left him. Left him possessed or enthralled and she'd known something was wrong and she'd left anyway because she was bored and greedy. And oh, that was so much worse than it simply being his choice.

He was better off without her. And he must know it deep down, how she'd failed him.

Relief burst through him at the softer tone of her voice. He was surprised then when she flinched away again as he tried to set his hand on hers. "Aeryn, please, I'm so sorry I hurt you or frightened you or made you think I didn't love you. I couldn't think of anything else."

"No, you've nothing to apologize for. Its fine, I understand." And, Sweet Andraste the smile she shot him sideways was so sharp he thought it could draw blood and lonely as though he were a thousand leagues away instead of right beside her. "You did what you thought was best. I'm glad Elthina could help and that you're better." She buckled up her pack, ducking her chin. "I've got to run now. Excuse me."

What? "I don't understand. Leannan, look at me." He raised his hand to touch her chin but hesitated. She'd asked him not to.

She looked up anyway. Her face had lost the hard edge, her eyes were a clear serious grey. But..." You found what you needed, and it wasn't anything I could help with, didn't even think about." She patted his shoulder as the bottom threatened to fall out of his world again. "I'm glad you're okay. I've got a...thing. I'm going to go."

"Stop. Where...what do you mean I found what I needed? I need you..."

"You did. And were I any good for you, I'd have seen that. But...I think maybe...I'm not good for you. I've known that. And I think you do, too. If that demon was using me to hurt you and the first one you went to was your Grand Cleric, you do know it. This is better." She swallowed. She yet owed him. She'd promised. If she could get away for a day, she could still..."I'll yet be your companion, if you truly want your principality."

Companion? He scrabbled to catch up with her quicksilver change. "No. That is not what this means. Aeryn, I went to the Chantry to protect you. Because I was afraid not because I thought you failed me." How could she even think...?

"And you did. You had my back. While I abandoned you. I left you, even though I was fairly sure something was wrong, I left. Thank you, but I think you're better off without me."

Better off without..."Aeryn, I'm lost without you. I'm alone. I love you...these last weeks thinking there was anything in me that could hurt you, make you back into an empty assassin nearly drove me insane."

"You can't make me into what I was born to be. I'm on my way right now, a paid assassin on my way to remove another assassin." She'd ignored that he'd said he loved her. A remnant.

He looked at her and leapt again. If that's what she wanted, he'd follow until he could win her back. "Then, let me get my bow and I'll come, too." Not without him. Never again.

"No!" Unthinking she set her hand against his chest as though to stop him from following. He laid his hand over it quickly trapping her unless she risked slicing him open on the clawed metal.

"It's alright for you, but not for me?" He stepped closer, angling his head to try and read her in the silver-grey eyes and the curve of her mouth.

"If I've turned you into a mindless follower, I really am meant for the Void." A flash of horror, then. She was honestly afraid of that.

"Stop that. You are not." He took her arm carefully, mindful of the spurs and turned it over, nimbly flicking the catches open. "I love you. If that's what you want, then I'll come, too. My choice, Aeryn."

She shook her head as he moved to the other glove. "I'm not anything you need. It's been..."

"No!" He wasn't going to let her say it. He dropped her gauntlets to the floor. She pulled away before he could take her hands, backing away. He followed, though.

He could feel desperation reaching for him and he tried one last thing. "Tell me you don't love me, Aeryn. Tell me I'm only your friend. And I'll..." he choked. He had no idea what he'd do.

She could.

She could tell him that lie with a soft regretful smile on her face and compassion in her eyes. It would be easy.

She'd promised to love him. Promised to tell him so, every chance she got.

Wouldn't be the first promise she'd broken.

He deserved so much better than someone who could so easily lie to him.

If she loved him, truly loved him, she would tell him that lie, get him a drink and send him back to his Chantry.

But she didn't think she loved him that much. It lodged in her throat. He spoke again then.

"Before you left, mo chridhe, you cut up at me for telling you where you'd a right to go and who with."

"This is different. I'm not..."

"Rightly so, too. And who are you, Aeryn, to tell me who I need, to whom I choose to give my heart?" He ran his fingers into the prickly edges of new cut hair, stroking the bone behind her ear. Close enough now to breathe her in and he heard the little sharp breath she took. "I do, run biodagain. I love you. I want you so."

Panic clutched at her. And she dropped the mask finally. It had done her little good in the face of his protest. He seemed so determined to fight for her. She pushed at his chest again, though without any of the intent that had nearly leveled him earlier. "You can't want me. It doesn't matter what I ….I'm a liar. And a thief. I'm a grave robber. I'm a killer. You know that. And I like it. I'm good at it. I'm made for it." She put no deception at all in her frank expression, in the pleading tone begging him to acknowledge what she was saying.

Sebastian clasped her hand to his heart, pounding in his chest. He had to give her nothing but his acceptance, now or they were lost. "It is true you are all those things, Aeryn. But you are also something else." He had backed her into the corner of the room and when he stroked his hand forward and cupped her jaw in his hand all she could see was the honest, open searing blue of his eyes.

She closed her own as if bracing for his rejection and it broke his heart that she had allowed herself to hear nothing he had said. Action, then was all that was left to him, action and declaration. "What else am I, then?" Despair evident in the whisper.

"You are gentle, you are loving. You are the strength of your friends. You are such a light, mo chridhe. And also, you are mine." He pressed gentle kisses to her temple. To her cheeks, to either corner of her mouth. "My love, my heart, the one who makes me laugh and brings out the wicked streak in my soul and the steel in my spine. And I'm yours, leannan. I swear it." She sighed and he kissed her again and he felt it break, the line she had drawn between them as she softened, finally, against him.

Which of course was when the rejuvenation potion wore off. Anders hadn't lied. Sebastian did, indeed, drop like a rock. Sodding mage.

-000- - >>>----->

He woke in her bed again, this time coming up easily from what seemed like a deep, dreamless sleep. He'd been stripped down to his trousers and he wondered how she'd ever gotten him up into the bed. Dusk had drawn in. He panicked for a moment, she'd said something about a job...but her packs were sitting in the corner.

There was a carafe topped with a glass and a note written in her neat, slanting hand, 'Drink before you get up. Slowly.' Dutifully he poured and took a hesitant sip, but it was just cool ginger tea. He finished the soothing drink and had to admit he felt stronger for it.

On the foot of the bed was a neatly folded set of clothes and he dressed and set out to find her. She had let him touch her, kiss her. But she hadn't said she loved him still. Hadn't even said his name.

He stretched the tightness out as he slipped down the stairs, reveling a little in a body that felt like his own again. Brushing a hand across his jaw he realized he was in dire need of a shave. He saw a light in the hall leading to the kitchen and swung that way, first.

A quick glance showed him no Aeryn, just the rest of her household seated at table. It smelled enticing, but he wanted to see her. He turned to go before they could see him. "Brother Vael?"

Orana almost never spoke to him. "Just Sebastian, Orana." He kept his tone gentle.

"Are you well? You should eat." Sandal waved his spoon. Bodahn looked at him with concern in his worn face.

"I hoped to find Aeryn."

"Mistress was in the study. Shall I bring a tray?"

"She hasn't eaten?" The girl shook her head. "Please do, then. Thank you."

Aeryn wasn't in the study. Though there was a book open over the arm of her chair, a half-filled tumbler sitting on the floor and her polishing kit next to that. He could just hear a thud...thud thunk. Knives hitting a target. In the garden, then.

He touched his rough face again. If this went the way he hoped, he should clean up. He ducked back down the hall to the bathing chamber. He'd left some of his kit here and yes, there, neatly on the low shelf.

A quartermark later, the sounds of thrown knives still reverberated. It was full dark, now and Sebastian frowned as he exited onto the narrow porch. Moonlight spilled over the small green space, filtered through the leaves of the one large tree in the corner. Illuminating the figure in the circle, just now bent into a stretching contortion that turned into a roll and a whirl back into standing position, facing him. All grace, personified, like a deer poised on the edge of flight.

"You're awake, then." Some hesitant thing in her voice made him cautious in his approach. All the things he wanted to say, the loveyoumissedyouamiyetforgiven, bundled on his tongue.

"I am."

"You slept the sun 'round." Really? No wonder then, he'd been stiff. "Anders said you might." She walked to her target to pull knives, still out of his reach. The dappled moonlight hid her face. "Did you drink the draught?"

"Yes." Maker. Was she still... the light shifted and brightened her eyes for him and he caught his breath.

Oh, the wariness was there yet. And confusion. But something else, too. Relief. Hope, maybe. But fragile, so fragile. And he understood. All this time, she kept offering him a way out. She kept expecting him to take it. And he hadn't. He'd fought for her. Against her, even. "Aeryn."

"We still should talk, Sebastian." And he had to close his own eyes at the sweetness of the caress in the way she said his name.

"We should." He agreed when he recovered his equilibrium. "You lied to me, leannan."

"What?" She was startled by the accusation.

"You promised to tell me if you were feeling less than loved. You never said you still believed that I held your work against you. You can't have felt loved with that eating at you." It occurred to him, then. "You heard those vipers at the De Launcet dance, didn't you?"

She nodded, solemn.

"You don't think much of my loyalty, mo chridhe, if you believed they have any influence over me." He sounded hurt, indeed.

"Never that. It was reminded me how very unlike a partner for a prince I am."

"It's no' a partner, I'm wanting, Aeryn." But the flash of fear in her face stopped him, there. Not yet, then. "And I have no doubt at all, at all, that you will fill any role you choose to with grace and purpose."

She ducked her chin and the reticence pulled him forward. "What else then, Aeryn?"

"Bethany. She was in Orlais and we spoke. It's better between us, I think. But, she reminded me." She chewed at her lip and he stopped it with his thumb, earning a quick breath. "You'll need an heir, Sebastian. And with my's likely any children I give you could be mages." Had he even thought that far, or had he ignored it like she had?

The idea of her, heavy with his child nearly staggered him, Sebastian wanted it so, but he remembered her distant voice, telling him of Rivka Amell and her lost babes and the rocks rising up to meet her. He had to smooth that fear. "Any child I am privileged enough to share with you will be a prince's heir, Aeryn, not the child of an apostate, nameless in the world. And Starkhaven is not like much of Thedas. In Starkhaven, the prince's word is the whole of the law." Her eyes were wide on him. She hadn't known that. "No one will touch our children." Maker forgive me, Thedas would burn first. He was wise enough not to say it aloud, but something of the thought escaped to set his eyes blazing and she only just stopped herself swaying into him.

He saw her face clear a little and she nodded. He had been stroking her chin with his thumb and he bent to her. She stretched up to meet his kiss, her pulse skittering in her veins. Want forked through him like lightning, clean without the greasy haunting that the demon had left. There was a clunk as a door opened and closed and she pulled back, almost gratefully. There were yet things she needed to say.

Come on, Orana's reminding us to eat." Sebastian caught her hand in his own as she led him back to the house. Doubt was beginning to stir in him as they left the moonlight. She could be so self-contained and he wasn't sure, even after the kiss, that Aeryn was ready to let him wholly back into her life.

He waited as she washed and then followed her to the study. She uncovered one of the dishes and handed it to him, indicating he should sit. He waited until she settled in her armchair and then sat at her feet, leaning against her knees. A hundred times, then. A thousand apologies if that's what it took. "Please, leannan. I'm sor.."

"Stop." She ran her fingers into his hair, soothingly and he sighed. "You did what you could to... protect me." And the hint of confusion in her tone nearly undid him. "None of this was your fault, Sebastian. Eat. You're nearly transparent." He took a bite obediently, chewing as she spoke. "I threw a knife at your head. If either of us is begging forgiveness, Sebastian, I believe it's me."

"If you'd meant that blade to hit me, I'd be past caring."

"Accidents, though." She leaned over and brushed his temple with a kiss. "I'm sorry. Never again."

"Forgiven, then if it means so much." He took another bite but her next words nearly made him choke.

"I tried to cut you out. Tried to bury what I felt until I could deal with it. I thought I had. I thought I was safe. But you're so deep in my heart. I...You came for me too quickly." Her fingers kept stroking, but her voice trembled. "It's frightening. You touch me and I...I have no defense against you and..." She sighed and he sat his bowl aside to turn to her.

He laid his hands on her knees and looked into grey eyes that were wide and vulnerable. "I will never knowingly use that to hurt you, Aeryn. Do you think it's not the same for me?"

She rubbed her rough little thumb across his cheekbone. Hesitating, she said, "I know. And I love you. Always." He leaned into her touch. Maker, thank you.

She held up a piece of bread and he nipped it from her fingers. Oh, with naught but a brush of his lips. His warm strong hands were massaging the top of her thighs.

He gazed at her while he chewed and saw her eyes dilate as she watched his mouth. "You need to eat." She said it, not quite sure if she was warning him or reminding herself.

"Suddenly I'm not hungry at all." Small lie. As he tipped her chin towards him and leaned in she smiled a little.

"Liar." She murmured against his lips and her arms twined around his neck and he had no interest in anything but her. His hands came up to her waist, smoothing up as he stroked her tongue with his. He pulled her from the chair, against him and she spread her thighs and wrapped her legs around his waist, wriggling closer, able fingers digging into his hair as he slid his fingers under her tunic to brush the narrow curve of her waist. Up to her breastband and he wanted it off, wanted to see. He only barely restrained himself from shredding the thin fabric of her tunic in his fists.

"Aeryn. No' here, but please, leannan." He gasped against her temple. Her clean touch to sear out the last of the foul clutches.

She laved kisses against his jaw. "Anders said no exertion for..." Oh, he smelled so good. The fresh soap and the light musk of his skin and he shaved just for her and she wanted to watch him do that someday.

"I dinnae care." He suckled at the hammering pulse in her fine white throat and she whimpered and pressed the hot juncture of her thighs against the hard length of him, trying to ease the ache instinctively and only sending them both farther along.

"Ah...oh, love." He laid a kiss against the swell of her breast, fingers rubbing circles under the back of her waist band. "Alright...let me...let me up." Reluctantly, he released her and she unwound herself from him.

"Go upstairs. I'll meet you in a minute." She tugged him to his feet. At his quizzical look she added, "I have a thing or two to do before I...we retire." She blushed a bit and he refrained from following the flush with his fingers. She wasn't embarrassed, it was simply...anticipation.

"Not too long, please." He did manage not to whine. He was quite proud.

"Ten minutes." She promised. "But lie down and drink this, at least." She poured and pressed a tumbler of cider into his hands. He sipped it, bemused, as she slipped out of the door.

Quick bath, then. She'd meant to bathe before he woke, but she'd not been able to drag herself back inside until he'd come and found her. She kept herself from actually running to the bathing room. But it was a near thing, admittedly.

She glanced at herself in the mirror as she stripped. Well, he'd seen most of her and hadn't seemed to mind scars and ink marring her skin. Pale as ghosts, of course. At one time she'd envied Bethany's warm olive tones and then Isabela's rich coloring. But she'd long since been educated on how nice the contrast of her own coloring with darker skin could be. Isabela herself had pointed it out, once upon a rainy night. And his was that lovely golden tan, all the way to his breeches anyway, though it was darker where the sun caught him. And then she shook herself. Why daydream when the actual fellow was right upstairs? She slid into the tub, scrubbing while it filled, even though the water was barely room temperature. She was warm enough.

Anders had said Sebastian shouldn't exert himself for a day or so, though. She rubbed herself dry and skimmed one of her longer sleeveless chemises over her head. This one was black and hit midthigh. Closest thing to fancy nightwear she owned, to be honest. She should have gone shopping in Orlais with Isabela. Then again, it probably wouldn't even register with him tonight.

Fifteen years. That was a lot of anticipation. Aeryn shivered and shrugged into her housewrap, then padded through the silent house.

He shouldn't overdo. They had time. And she knew she was avoiding thinking about one thing and another, but...he was upstairs. He was free. He was hers. He'd sworn it.

He was also asleep. Sprawled on his stomach, snoring just a bit. On her side of the bed.

Of course he was. Sodding Void.

-000- ->>>>----->

She wasn't worried about it. Anders said that until Sebastian evened out, he might be nappish. Very briefly, she considered leaving him to sleep and going downstairs.

But he was right there, bare to the waist, all golden and lean, long muscled back. She ignored the four welted marks that ran across his shoulders. The one that curled around his shoulder blade up to his neck. The slimmer one that snaked across his lower back. Ignored them because she'd hissed over them yesterday when he'd collapsed against her and she'd made him comfortable after her heart had stopped, thinking he'd...No, he was hale. Anders had promised. It was better, because when he woke up, she could be comfortable and easy.

Russet hair all tousled where his head was pillowed on those sculpted forearms. Strong features softened, almost sweet in repose. He even had elegant bare feet. And for once, her quiet room and her bed looked like the most pleasant place in the whole of Thedas

She shrugged off her wrap and curled up beside him.

-000- -

It was too much to ask, he supposed later, that he'd be completely free of the nightmares.

This one was only an echo. There wasn't that terrifying present feeling or the grabbing, dragging fingers in his mind.

He still woke up gasping.

The difference was that Aeryn came awake beside him, up on her knees, dagger in her hand, pushing herself in front of him with her other strong small hand pressed to his chest, scanning the dark for danger.

"Dream. Just a dream." He reached for her pale, tense shoulders to pull her back to him. She twisted a bit to read his face, but there was only the faint edge of shock from waking so suddenly. His eyes were clear in the moonlight that spilled across the room.

"Let me..." She wiggled the dagger and he let her go so she could stash it back in its scabbard slung on the bedpost. She slid out of bed and took a spill to the brazier to light a few candles before she returned. He glanced down and saw the gleam of a pommel on his side as well. He chuckled ruefully. Take a rogue to your bed and...He blinked owlishly.

He was in Aeryn's bed. With Aeryn.

She was sitting back on her heels, looking at him with an arched eyebrow and an amused twist to her mouth.

"I fell asleep. Maker, help me." He rubbed his face.

"My fault. I was the one who told you to lie down." She chuckled, the warm sound curling around him. "Its fine, Sebastian. All the time in the world, hmm."

He put his hand out and she let him pull her to his chest. "I have given enough of our time away, leannan." She curled her free hand around the back of his neck, stroking the tendon beneath her thumb.

"Do you want to talk about the dreams?"

"Not particularly."

"I'm told it helps." Not that she'd ever tried it.

"Maybe later." She was wearing something black with a scooped neck that revealed the top of her breasts and to be honest that was all he wanted to think on just now.

She noticed the direction of his gaze and looked up at him through lowered lashes. "Do you require a written invitation then, oh prince?"

He raised his hand and oh, so carefully traced the ribbon ruched edge of the fabric with the tip of his callused finger. She shuddered at the delicate sensation, the jolt that went straight to her center. But he snatched his hand back suddenly.

She looked up at him and saw traces of fear in his eyes before he closed them. “Hey. What is it?”

Swallowing, he said. “I hurt you. In the dreams…and before, in the alley. Aeryn, I…”

Oh. Oh, Sebastian. “You aren’t going to hurt me.” Aeryn took his hand back and pressed kisses to his fingers. “You aren’t. You are going to love me, Sebastian.” He was looking back at her again, want burning in his gaze. “If you want to wait, then we’ll wait. But I don’t have any fear of you hurting me here, love.”

“I don’t want to wait anymore. But I…” No, he wouldn’t give into fear. He loved her. That had been a nightmare planted by a demon and cruel magic. She saw him relax a little and smiled gently.

She placed his hand back where he’d been and pressed her hand on top of his against her breast. “Then let me give you what I have to offer.” His fingers curled in a caress and she moved her hands to his chest.

Her eyes were on his mouth, even as she reveled in the press of her fingers against his bared torso. They'd spent little time together with any naked skin, both well aware that honor would only hold against temptation so long. It was a toss up of who kissed who, Aeryn was long past keeping score, herself.

Lips, tongues, fingers, skin. No reason to stop short now.

"Tell me what you want, Sebastian." Her voice was low and husky in his ear. There were just silver halos around the blown pupils of her eyes. He imagined his were similar.

He swallowed again, dragged his fingers along the lower curve of her breast and rasped, "Show me."

Her smile was crooked and wicked as she grasped the bottom edge of her chemise and dragged it over her head in a fluid motion. He grabbed the garment away once it cleared her head, but while her arms were yet over her head.

"Hold, there, leannan." His soft, velvety command stopped her before she could slink back towards him. She folded her hands behind her neck, posing for his pleasure.

Again, one reverent, tracing finger along the full, creamy curve. He followed one blue vein up and around, watching the dark pink nipple contract at the contact. "Oh." She breathed sharply. He repeated the movement on the other and she shivered, lush mouth opening slightly as she watched him, intent on the task at hand.

He leaned forward and heard her breathing go shallow and fast as he blew warm air across her, close enough to see the reaction of her skin just as he gently sucked one peak into his mouth. He palmed the other breast, and rolled the nipple between his thumb and forefinger. Sighing, she arched back to increase the sensation and he splayed his other hand to support her, never ceasing the movement of his mouth, his hot tongue as it curled.

He trailed kisses into the valley between as he shifted his attention to the other breast, eliciting a moan. She was bent like his bow now, pressing herself to him hands reaching back to the mattress. His teeth worried the hard nub and she choked on his name as the tugs sent warm threads through her veins.

So good to her, Maker, she felt...treasured when he touched her. But she had meant to take control, this time. So as soon as he lifted his head, she shifted and slipped away to reorient herself behind him, wrapping her arms around the comforting breadth of his shoulders and laying her cheek against the toned skin. "My turn." Where to start though? Here or the tendons in his wrists or that happy trail down his stomach...

He twined his fingers with hers pressing a scarred knuckle to his lips. "Aeryn?"

She kissed along his shoulder blade, gentle against one long scar. "Just overwhelmed with choice, love, sorry." She curved back around, pink tongue dwelling on his throat, suckling at the jawbone. Just before she pulled her hands away, she sank her teeth into the pad at the base of his thumb to see his eyes flash and his nostrils flare. She smiled darkly.

She spread her hands against the plains of his chest, brushing the edges of the reddish brown hair and then curling her spread fingers in to lightly scrape his skin with her short nails. She slung her leg over his thighs and sat there, trailing her fingers and then following with kiss and tongue and teeth. She lingered over his navel, circling it and delving until he was whispering in his cradletongue and arching beneath her. She slid down his thighs to reach the waistband of his trousers and tugged loose the laces.

"Let's get these off, love, hmm?" She ran her thumb up the length of him. He was hard beneath her hand and panting, now.

"Yes. Please." He lifted his hips and she peeled the leather down with his smalls. She moved to the side to allow him to shift and they were gone. He blushed a little at the utterly avaricious gleam in her eyes.

His cock was, delightfully, just about as beautiful as the rest of him, on the generous side of average and thicker than her wrist at the base nestled in ruddy curls. Oh, lucky, lucky me. And she leaned down and brushed her cheek against it, startling a laugh from him at the feline move. She glanced up at him. "Speak now or forever hold your peace, love."

"I...Maker..oh, Aeryn..." She hadn't actually intended to let him talk though as she swirled the dark head with her tongue, tasting him as she flicked across his slit. "R`un biodagain, aon-tlachd barr maise..." His eyes fluttered shut as she licked her palm and took him into her mouth, wrapping her hand around the base and worked gently, but firmly, sucking and nibbling as his hands came up to her hair, threading through but not grasping and his hips took her rhythm as cue. She breathed in the clean musky scent of him, memorizing it and the urgent tenor of his voice driving her on. A few more strokes and "stad...stad..Aeryn, mo chridhe...stop..." His hands tightened on her shoulders and his words penetrated her focus.

Aeryn paused and looked up at him, his jaw clenched and eyes wide, and felt worry burning down her spine. I won't be disappointed, I won't. "If you want..." She closed her eyes as a quaver trembled in the words, biting her lip. She hadn't meant to let him hear.

His fingers tightened in her hair and the warmth of his smile broke through. " that's no' what I meant. Just come, come here."

Oh. Oh, thank the Maker.

"Why, love?" Low and breathy, Aeryn kissed his inner thigh, nuzzled the sharp jut of his hipbone. "It feels good, you taste so good, Sebastian...let me..."

"I want inside you, Please... I need…won't last but please." He didn't want to beg, graceless as an untried boy, but...oh, he would. Years he'd waited, dreamed. Her mouth was hot and wet and her tongue was sinful and he wanted that again as soon as possible, yes please but he needed to be seated in her, now. To burn out the false memory of hurting her and replace it with the truth.

His fingers were tugging at her hair, reaching under her shoulders and she let him pull her up his body, reassuring him as she went

"Shh… Absolutely, darling... whatever you want, love." She reached up a finger to his lips and Sebastian sucked it into his mouth and cradled her bottom in his hands as she straddled him again and guided his cock to her cleft. She'd been wet as soon as he'd touched her. The taste of him, the hunger in his rough voice had sent a new rush flooding her, though.

Aeryn sank down slowly, so slowly, watching his eyes to gauge his mood. The broad head of his cock stretching her open, and she had to hope he had the presence of mind to let her adjust. Four years was a very long time. She was fairly sure fifteen would have killed her, darling, patient man. He'd waited and all she wanted just now was to make it worth it. "Steady, sweetheart…oh, Sebastian." She could feel his pulse, thudding through her as they sat still, feeling the way the world had changed.

"So tight, sweet...leannan," he moaned. The slide into liquid flame, tight slick muscle wiped every fantasy Sebastian had had from his mind. So much better than he'd remembered, even. Of course. It was her, his Aeryn, finally. Holy Maker. He clenched his jaw, trying not to thrust and spend all at once.

She opened her eyes to find his blazing blue gaze focused on her. The naked want on his face, the slightly parted lips and bared teeth caused her spine to flex in response and his head dropped back with a groan.

"Is it...does it feel good? Darling, ah." Aeryn rolled her hips as she braced her hands against his chest. She slid up and his hands clutched at her hips for the twisting plunge down. Again and again as he caught her rhythm to meet her and she was fairly sure he was begging from the tone of his voice, but he was speaking his native tongue again and she couldn't pay attention for the burning, driving need to move, to feel the way he filled her, fit her.

He was. Begging for control enough to take her with him as the rush pulled through his veins. He slid his hand down parting her folds to find her clit to circle and flick while she worked herself against him and oh, Holy Beloved, she clenched tighter yet around his cock and he was lost as he heard her keen, pelvises grinding, thrusting... any technique he'd ever known all but abandoned for the helpless need to come as she shattered around him.

Moments later, Aeryn sprawled across his chest, heart slamming against her ribs and head swimming. She rather thought she'd forgotten to breathe there at the last. Sebastian's hands smoothed up her back, trailing in the line of sweat running down her spine.

"Better next time, mo chridhe." Sebastian was whispering between gasps. He could. Everything of pleasure he'd ever known, he would lay at her feet, no better use could he think of for his years of dissolute foolishness than to use the knowledge gained to make her happy.

"Oh...alright, hmm." She shivered as a last tremor rolled across her as she ran a fond finger over the trio of freckles spangling his collarbone. "I'm not really complaining, here."

He pulled her up to kiss her and lingeringly sucked the bruised bottom lip, pulling a contented purr from her. Generous, beautiful...Maker, thank you. I will endeavor to be worthy of this glorious woman. "You are...Maker, I love you, so." He touched his forehead to hers as he shifted to the side, settling her against him. Aeryn’s small hand came up to caress his jaw and Sebastian leaned into the caress.

"And I love you." Sighing, then. "But we're going to be sticky." He chuckled as she slipped away and returned with a wet flannel from a discreetly placed bowl. Practical, too, his beloved.

They cleaned up and Aeryn snuggled back against him. He wrapped her in his arms, dropping kisses on her hair where it gleamed in the candlelight. She toyed with the whorls of hair on his chest and yawned. "Have a rest then, mo chridhe." She'd almost nodded off, listening to him whisper, the loving tones sending warm spirals through her, when his stomach growled. She sat up, smirking archly.

"I did tell you, you needed to eat, right?"

"So you did, aye." He grinned at her, abashed and they laughed as they gathered enough clothing for a kitchen raid.


Chapter Text

They spent the better part of a week in bed. In theory, this was to allow Sebastian to recuperate. He did, in fact, try to spend at least two hours a day shooting targets, reclaiming his form. Aeryn seemed to have no objection to sharing her practice ring. Though, she occasionally was distracted from her own stretches. He kept his back carefully towards her while he worked. He had no qualms admitting his weaknesses.


She rolled over and moved away from him in the first night, only to have him wake and drape a large hand over her waist to pull her back to him. He mumbled several disgruntled sounding things into the nape of her neck, soothing her back to sleep.


The next morning, warm light just starting to peek into the room, she stirred and stood and stretched. He said good morning only to break off in a strangled sound. Sebastian was across the bed and pulling her back to him. Startled, she’d jumped and yelled. "What?!"


He stared at her lovely, curvy backside and the little dimples placed on either side of her spine, just above the curve of her buttocks. As though the Maker had signed his work with careful thumbprints. "Sebastian?" Aeryn tried to turn pushing at his wrists, only to have him caress those little divots with his own thumbs and grasp her hips tighter. She couldn't break his hold without hurting him. What in flames? They were just dimples.


"Had I realized these were here, I’d have had you naked a lot quicker, leannan." She blushed and squirmed at the husky tone just before he scraped his teeth against the top of her spine. Oh, that was...she shivered.


"Oh, really?" Aeryn ended on a squeak as his tongue replaced his thumbs momentarily. "Holy Flames, fetish noted." Sebastian placed his thumbs carefully as he kissed up her spine. And then tumbled her back to the bed, on her stomach. He kneeled behind her, starting at her ankles, licking, nipping, whispering until she was writhing. Hovering over her, balanced on one forearm he ran his tongue again into either dent as his long fingers slid into her slick warmth. "Oh, love, ah...please." Waves of heat spiraled through her and she grabbed the rumpled bedclothes to ground herself as his fingers crooked.


He'd grown accustomed to the little dimple in her cheek, seen it often enough that he wasn't quite so distracted. But, these, like... secrets written on her flesh, kept for him. Perfect, just right for him to set his hands and hold her hips and...

"Every last beautiful inch of you, the Maker made for me, mo chridhe." He tugged at her and she pulled her knees up and under. He slid into her, then, bottoming out in one stroke, sending pleasure snaking through her veins. Who was she to argue with that sort of logic?


On the fourth day, Isabela sent them a care package. Aeryn sorted the contents into fun, maybe later, definitely not and Maker, Isabela, I can't unsee that. Sebastian would later deny moving one or two items to different piles.


They discovered that they both liked oat porridge for breakfast, though Sebastian thought it was the height of decadence to add anything to it and rhetorically questioned if it stopped actually being porridge if one added dried bilberries, cinnamon, nuts, milk and honey. At which point Aeryn licked (possibly sucked) some of said honey off of her finger and Sebastian quit questioning.


They discovered that they both spent an inordinate amount of time with their weapons, polishing sharpening fletching and working on bowstrings. And that watching the other doing such work was more stimulating than they should probably admit in mixed company.


He was hesitant to pray in front of her at first, trying to do so in rare moments alone until she walked in on him kneeling at the bedroom window on the sixth day and he stopped in midchant, with a look of guilt as though she'd caught him with his hand up another woman's skirt. She'd frowned for a second and said, "You were in Transfigurations, love, go on, I didn't mean to interrupt." Then, sat in her chair, mending a tunic, listening to the lilt of his warm tenor.


He went two nights without a nightmare and then bolted up on the third, reaching for his bow. This time when she asked, he told her. They sat bolstered by pillows, tucked into one another, while he spoke and she listened. She was quiet for a moment in the dim room, only their breathing to mar the silence.


"It bothered you that I never said no." Swallowing, he nodded. "You have to trust me to say no, Sebastian. I don't want that life back." Mostly. Now. "I worked very hard to set the worst part of me aside even before I came to know you. You make it easier, not harder, love."


"And if I begged?"


She regarded him solemnly. Tried to imagine what would make Sebastian, so careful of her conscience, beg her to shut off and reach back into the black, to that part of her that lived in the chaos. "I won't lie. I...don't know. I would try to say no." He had to trust her. He nodded, again.


"In the worst ones...I hurt you."


"You wouldn't."


"I could."


"I didn't say you couldn't." She laid her hand palm up in his and traced the disparate sizes. "You're bigger than I am. Stronger, in some respects. You're fast. If you had me at a disadvantage, you could wreck me. But, you wouldn't." Apparently his little grunt didn't count as acknowledgement. She turned in his arms, brushing her thumb against his cheekbone and looked at him levelly. "You wouldn't. I have faith." She leaned in and tugged his lower lip with her sharp teeth, then licked it soothingly.


He didn't have the nightmare again.


Though he would have traded his for hers.


Sebastian wasn't sure what woke him, except for her movement. But he opened his eyes in the dark room, only a sliver of moonlight that revealed her sitting up next to him, arms stretched out before her, eyes closed and tears streaming down her face.


"Aeryn?" She didn't seem to hear him and he realized she was still asleep. "Oh, mo chridhe, leannan." He sat and pulled her into his lap, wrapping his arms around her. She didn't relax, just kept reaching. Tucking her cold hands against him, he could feel her heart pounding and now, little huffs of breath as he rubbed circles on her back.


He should have realized. Just because he'd never seen her cry, it didn't mean she didn't. "Oh, my love." It made him shake to wonder how many nights this had happened with no one to hold her. He wiped her cheeks and kissed them, her temples softly, lightly, trying to wake her. He'd thought once it would be cleansing for her to cry, but this..."Aeryn, leannan, wake up, please. Its fine, you're fine, I'm here, please don't cry, love. Ah, you break my heart."


She took a great, shuddering breath. "Sebastian?" And it was the flat disbelief in her voice, that he might actually be here, that she hadn't dreamed it that nearly did break him because it was proof that yes this had happened before, that she had needed him, wanted him here and he wasn't. He felt her shift to lay tentative fingers on his arm. The tears had stopped as soon as she was conscious.


"I'm here, leannan. Always here, now. Never going to leave you." I swear, Maker, I swear. He curled protectively around her, trying to surround her in safe warmth.


She buried her face in his neck, trembling. He ran his fingers into her hair, rubbing them soothingly against the bones of her skull. She took another deep breath, breathing in the scent of him, the crisp fir scent of his soap chasing out the dream smells of rot and decay and old blood. He started a little when he felt her lay a hot, open mouthed kiss on the joint of his shoulder and neck, her hands snaking around to run up the cords of muscle along his spine.


"Aeryn, love?" He ended his query on a groan as she suckled a mark into the pulse point on his throat.


"Make me forget, Sebastian." Her pleading words were muffled as she twisted and pulled him down over her, little tongue tracing his ear.


He slipped a hand down to cup her breast, massaging gently and thumbing her nipple to hardness as he settled between her spread thighs, before he asked." Forget what?" It had helped him to tell her of the horrors he'd dreamed.


She reached up to kiss him deeply before she answered, her face nearly unreadable in the dark. "Everything. Everything but you and your hands and this bed and your voice. Everything."


He could only do his best. And if he prayed for her while he made her beg, well that was between him and their Maker.


In fact, she rarely slept the night away. He'd wake to find her sheets cold next to him and he'd slip into the pair of rough linen trews he'd taken to keeping by their bedside to go and search her out. Twice she was in the kitchen, sharpening her daggers and she'd followed him back when he took her hand. Once he found her in the study, curled into her chair, staring into the banked fire with a tumbler dangling from her fingers. He'd scooped her up, then, and carried her back, whispering softly to her.


He most often found her in her practice circle, though. Running her patterns at all hours. He'd occasionally pick up his bow and get to work as well, sighting the targets that Sandal rearranged for them. Usually he'd just stand watch until he saw her take a misstep, then slide in next to her walk her back to the house.


"It’s not always nightmares, Sebastian. Not even usually. I just don't sleep much. I...get to thinking on this and that and suddenly, I just need to be moving." She smiled at him one morning over porridge. "I used to go running about Kirkwall doing this and that, but I don't expect you'd care for that."


"By yourself?" No, he didn't care for that at all.


"Not in a while and not always by myself. Isabela used to be up for a late night prowl, sometimes we'd pick up Varric or Fenris or Merrill."


"You never came by for me?"


She shrugged, "It was mostly before you joined us. And you never seemed the type to need a late distraction."




"He preferred not to. Said he wanted to at least pretend he might go back to sleep." Aeryn patted his hand and he grumbled at the placating gesture. "He did say once that if I couldn't find anyone else to come find him. He didn't want me running around by myself at night, either. Isabela and I usually just went out for a good time, not trouble." Thank the Maker for small favors, he thought.

And too, she catnapped on the worst days. He realized that those naps were one of the reasons Bodahn was so protective of her schedule in his early days as one of Aeryn's crew. His tendency to show up erratically had likely often interrupted one of her rests.

Despite his obsession with her erratic sleeping habits, Aeryn was surprised at how easy it was to incorporate him into her daily life. It was a comfort after so long in solitude, when she'd once been used to a presence, notably a male presence. His clothes on her dresser, his shaving kit in her bath. The scent of him, musky and male chased with incense and fir, on their pillows and her skin in the morning. They indulged in their small bubble of a chance to get to know one another’s patterns, to luxuriate in the newness of reaching out and finding someone there. Though she hesitated to tarnish the sweetness of it by speaking too much of future plans. Here and now. That was the only thing you could count on, she knew.

Eventually, though, Kirkwall called them back to their duties.


She was standing at her desk, clearly contemplating the letter in her hand as he trotted down the stairs. It didn't look like it was anything she was happy to receive.


"What do you have there, leannan? It seems in some danger of your wrath."


She unclenched her hand around the lovely paper. "First Enchanter Orsino requires my aid in some matter." She couldn't ignore him, not after she'd aided Meredith. Balance. She could do that much for the Grand Cleric. One thing she could grant Sebastian, her open support of the Grand Cleric's middle ground.


"I'll go with you."


"You were going to the Chantry, this morning. I can..." She didn’t want to make it seem as though she were trying to keep him from his devotions.


"I'll go to evening Chant. I don't...I'm not quite ready to let you out of my sight, yet." He smiled self-deprecatingly and she smirked.


"Well, I'm not saying I mind exactly. Maybe I can see Bethany, too."


They rounded up Fenris and Varric. Isabela was out tracking down another mysterious boat lead. Aeryn considered bringing Aveline as she had when she aided Meredith with the bloodmages. But, just in case it was something hinky, she thought it best to leave the Guard-Captain out.




"'You don't actually expect me to answer that?" Aeryn shot Varric a raised eyebrow and a smirk as they waited to be allowed into the Gallows for the meeting with Orsino.


"Now how am I supposed to finish the story without details?" The dwarf groused with a good-humored chuckle.


"The same way you started them, make up something fantastically unbelievable and add my name in judiciously."


"I hate to say it Hawke, but it gets harder to write things stranger than the shit that actually happens."


Aeryn glanced up. Sebastian and Fenris were chatting with Cullen, who had come up while she and Varric were checking out Sol’s new stock. She could be a little irreverent without undue consequence.

"Well, you could say that I accepted his proposal of a chaste marriage and we served the Maker humbly and purely all the rest of our days." She would turn it into a joke hoping to forget it ever happened.


He smirked back at her with a snort. "I say those little love-bites all down your sweet prince's throat are begging to differ."


"Yes, well, piety always did make me hungry." Aeryn gave him a wolfish grin as Varric laughed. The grin faded when Fenris twitched his shoulder subtly.


"Knight-Captain?" The templar looked tired, now that she was closer. For Bethany's sake, Aeryn hoped he was still years from the inevitable decline into lyrium madness.


"Hawke." He dropped his voice into a whisper. "Have you seen your sister this morning?" Aeryn matched his tone while Fenris and Varric turned outward scanning for eavesdroppers and Sebastian slid between them and the closest Templars.

"We met in Orlais and I had a note from her saying she'd returned safely, but that was three days ago. Why?"

"We...she usually breaks her fast at the fountain and I...often pass by?" Aeryn nodded at the implied question, yes, she knew about their attachment.

"She did not today. She left a note saying a templar of your acquaintance by the name of Thrask was accompanying her to your home for the day. She received permission for that after she returned, though I expected to attend her."

Sebastian shifted at that, to look at her and saw the moment she locked down the thing she felt and threw forth the false emotion, fond confidence. "Hey, Cullen, maybe she's got some surprise going. Is Thrask around?"

"No, he is well as several others and a handful of...less trustworthy mages."

That’s probably what Orsino wants to chat about, Aeryn thought. She smiled for her sister's lover. "Alright. We'll check it out." She tipped her head and Sebastian slipped aside, concern written on his face. "Bethany wanted to go through a few things of Mother's, Knight Captain. She and her watchdog will be back before evening, I'm sure." She said that loudly enough for the listeners to pick up, in an annoyed tone that implied she resented the interference.

"Of, course, Champion." The Templar bowed. Aeryn turned to her companions.

"Let's see what the First Enchanter needs. I wanted to have lunch with my sister."

Varric grunted. “Hawke, I’ve got to go deal with a late delivery. You mind?”

Rolling her eyes, she shrugged. “Go on, Varric.” She watched him slip back out to the Gallows wharf. He’d have what he could find on Bethany by the time they dealt with the Enchanter’s request.

Orsino laid out what he knew of the possible conspiracy. Aeryn cursed inwardly, though she remained casual trying to force down wild panic. Bethany was no conspirator. She was in trouble.

Orsino was looking at her as though he expected her to say something. She tried to recall...oh..."Well, I guess I shouldn't slit my wrists and dance naked in the moonlight, then?" She smirked when Sebastian startled behind her.

"Maybe I’ll join you, after all." Orsino's reply in a suddenly heated tone made her nearly jerk back and Sebastian and Fenris both stepped in closer to her. Sebastian’s warm solid hand sat in the small of her back and her own hands straying to a hidden knife, betraying her unease. That was..odd. She hadn't expected the old mage to rise up to her bait. It was a strange look in his eye, too, frayed and gleaming. Aeryn was glad to leave.

Sebastian watched her worriedly, but he knew better than to say anything until the Gallows ferryman had left them at the docks. "Aeryn..."

"C'mon. Let's just see if Varric found anything." She shook off his gentle hand on her elbow and loped up the grotty stairs. She didn't want to talk about it. Talking meant thinking. Thinking meant remembering the last member of her family who disappeared. Sebastian glanced back at Fenris, who frowned and shrugged before follow his partner down the dank alleyway.

Varric hadn't gotten a single lead. It was as though Bethany had dropped off of the map. Void.


Three hours later and they had some idea of what was going on. To their dismay. Sebastian felt fear creeping in and murmured a prayer. Aeryn shot him a glassy look as though she were going to ask him something and then bit it back. She was tense, every line in a stalking fight position, shoulder canted forward, knees bent. Something cruel was playing around her mouth and she was twirling her dagger, as though she was itching to bury it somewhere soft.

No wonder Keran looked a little like he was going to shame himself.

"I swear I didn't know, Champion. Not till just before you came in."

"Why in sodding Void do I keep helping you people?" She growled and the templar went a shade whiter.

"They've got her up at the Wounded Coast. That's all I know, honest."

"Hawke, let's just go find her." Fenris leaned in against her shoulder in their old gesture of solidarity.

She turned bleak eyes on the elf and shrugged. "Right."

She avoided Sebastian's gaze as she spun and left but he caught up and tilted her chin up. "She's fine, Aeryn." She wanted to cling to him and his comfort. It was pointless. But let him keep his hope.

"Of course." But he'd seen it flash before she misdirected the Knight Captain with a smile. She thought that Bethany was dead. He swallowed back a flush of anger. He hated it when she played the masks for him. If only because if he hadn't seen, he'd have believed her. Perhaps it was greedy, but he wanted her trust here, too.

But time enough for that conversation when they found Bethany, whole and safe.


The metallic glitter in Aeryn’s gaze was locked on Bethany’s inert figure as though she were a lodestone. She hadn't yet replied to Thrask. Sebastian stepped forward. "Why didn't you just ask Hawke for her help? She's no friend to Meredith."

"Liar! Traitorous bitch!" The tattooed mage spat at them. "It's her fault we're here!" Aeryn shifted her focus onto Grace.

And smiled.

The shadows seemed to curl around her despite the harsh sunlight of the late summer day.

"Festis Bei!" Fenris swore beside him, unsheathing his sword. Sebastian agreed with the sentiment as he back pedaled to the little outcropping he'd noted when they approached, notching an arrow. That particular trick always sent a shiver through him. Leandra had been right, years ago. It was a lot like magic.

They managed to just incapacitate most of the templars who fought less enthusiastically and outright surrendered when they realized Grace's deception.

Aeryn took a little too much glee in the mage's demise for Sebastian's own comfort. He watched her whisper into the woman's ear as the rogue drew the knife lovingly across her throat. Then he looked at Bethany, hopefully unconscious, eerily floating. He whispered a grateful word to Andraste. No, he couldn't blame Aeryn for her enthusiasm, today.

The gleam hadn't left her eyes when she knelt by Bethany's side, but she shook inside. So still. Please. Please. Not again.

A weedy little mage crept up. "Hey..aren't you.." Sebastian noted that Anders clearly recognized the man.

"Alain, yes. Champion, please. I can help...but its blood magic, I have to..." he mimicked a cutting motion. Aeryn nodded grimly. Sebastian bit back the protest but it didn't stop Fenris and Anders in their one point of agreement.

Aeryn was uncharacteristically harsh. "Shut up for once." Fenris scowled and Anders looked terribly shocked. "Get on with it."

Sebastian let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Bethany rolled up to her knees, Aeryn grasping her shoulders, not quite clutching her.


""Here, little sister." Sebastian choked at the ragged whisper as Aeryn gave in and wrapped the mage up in her strong arms, forehead pressed to the sloped shoulder. Bethany grabbed her fingers, holding for dear life and leaned her raven head back against Aeryn's dark red cap.

"I'm so sorry...they came out of nowhere. There was magebane on the knife..."

"Knife? Anders!" The healer was already on it.

"Just a little scratch, probably just to apply the 'bane." He assured Aeryn. "She's fine, Hawke." She nodded.

"Can you...well, no, I guess not till I get off you." Aeryn stood gracefully and hauled the other woman to her feet. Sebastian had forgotten that Aeryn was shorter than her 'little' sister by two or three inches.

Sebastian stepped forward to take Bethany's arm, allowing Aeryn time to gather herself. "My lady. I'm glad the Maker kept you in his Light." He smiled at the mage gently and Bethany blinked a couple of times before turning back to Aeryn, big brown eyes wide.

"I get it. Completely." Sebastian stood bemused as the two sisters giggled.

Cullen’s troop wasn’t far behind them. Anders slipped behind Fenris and Sebastian, surreptitiously picking up a dropped bow. He never could pass as a swordsman.

Keran was marching just at the Knight-Captain’s shoulder. He hadn’t run, then. The look on Cullen’s face only briefly betrayed his relief that Hawke had found her sister. Aeryn had a twinge of guilt. No matter how hard the days before Sebastian had renounced his vows had been, there had been some faint hope of it. Her sister was never going to have that comfort, without the drastic measures that had sent their parents running.

The Knight-Captain barely spared a glance for the dead. He had the conspirators rounded up and then turned back to Hawke. “I’m sorry, Champion. I need to get Enchanter Bethany back to the Gallows immediately.”

“Oh. Sister, I’d hoped…” Bethany trailed off. This was what the Gallows was. It did little good to protest. And any protest she might make would leave Aeryn hurting and bitter. No. Better to go quietly.

“Can she perhaps make that visit she was given permission for?” Aeryn noticed a few of the faceless Templars shift. Cullen shook his head. “May I…” He stopped her.

“It is likely that she will have her privileges revoked for a time. Until we can be sure she escaped undue influence.” His voice was colorless. It wasn’t his idea, then. Aeryn nodded, but she noticed a small frown cross Sebastian’s face as he released Bethany’s arm and wondered what brought it on.

She hugged Bethany, her face composed and noticing that her sister had progressed in hiding her own emotions. “Be well, little sister. Write when you can.”

“I’m not the only one with access to a quill, you know.” Aeryn promised a letter before the end of the week.

She watched the group march off. Bethany seemed to be treated courteously enough.

Sebastian stepped behind her and slipped his arms about her waist. She leaned back into him. “Let’s get back to the city, before full dark.”

The Chantry bells were ringing as they passed and she saw him glance up the stairs, but he didn’t stop until she did, laying a hand on his arm. “Go on up, Sebastian. I’ll see you at the estate.”

He didn’t want to leave her alone after the emotionally draining day, but he missed his devotions more than he’d imagined he would and, too, he had a thing or two to meditate on. As well as a few things to pick up from his room. “Are you sure?”

She gave him a soft smile. “Absolutely. We’ll have dinner waiting.” He searched her face, but she seemed honest in her assurance.

Sebastian kissed her temple before he turned up the stairs. He ignored the sinking feeling as he walked away. It was only a couple of hours. He’d be back in her arms and the better for his time in the Chantry.

Letting her face fall blank, Aeryn slipped into the shadows almost as soon as he turned away. She watched him trot up the stairs, faster with every step until he disappeared inside. Only a couple of hours. She pushed away the dread of seeing him walk away from her. Foolish, love-sick girl. She could go in with him, she supposed. But…no. She skirted the dark edges of Hightown back to the estate.

“Magic is meant to serve man…”

Of course. That would be sister Etheline's selection, today of all days. Sebastian let his mind drift as he followed along. It was a typical habit of his, to dwell upon the meaning of the words and meditate upon his own feelings about them even as he reflexively repeated them.

He was having second thoughts these days, about things that had always seemed obvious truths.

It was horribly unfair. Aeryn had only her sister left to her, and she hadn’t been allowed to even share a meal with her in years. And the idea that their children might be subject to such pointless cruelty… No.

No. That would not happen. He tamped back the flare of anger that lanced through him like he’d touched a raw lyrium vein.

Bethany was a model of how a mage should act. Respectful of the power she wielded, but confident in its application. She served. In fact, she was a far better representative than most of the Circle raised mages he’d come across, although he admitted that Anders also served more usefully than most of the Circle in his clinic. Raised by an apostate, but in the embrace of a loving family. Despite how he felt about Malcolm Hawke’s abuse of his eldest daughter, his methods had produced a fine result in her younger sister. And, Sebastian had to admit, what had happened to Aeryn wouldn’t have if they hadn’t lived in constant fear of discovery when all the Hawkes wished was to live quietly.

He wondered if Aeryn would ever allow herself to be happy, so long as Bethany was imprisoned, even if Bethany herself seemed to be content.

Sebastian realized he had forgotten how similar they were, despite their difference in coloring. Bethany was softer, drawn along more lush lines, although some of that was probably accounted for in Aeryn’s constant movement and strenuous lifestyle and Bethany's cloistered existence. They shared the same heart-shaped face inherited from their mother, elegant hands, same eyes that tipped up slightly cattish.

Aeryn’s nose was a little snubbed. Her chin was sharper. Her dimples. Plural. Maker, help him. Her voice lower and huskier, with a sweeter note in the Ferelden lilt. She was altogether fiercer in her smaller self. He stared at the Eternal Flames, flickering and reminiscent of her changeable moods bright and dark. And…

Chant was over. He’d lost the last verses completely thinking of the woman waiting for him. He smirked at himself. Fine. Go say hello to Elthina and pick up a few things and back to sharp, fierce, sweet Aeryn. Beloved Andraste forgive him, his discipline was shot to shreds.

Elthina had had his endowment ready. Sebastian hesitated to take it, but in fact, to take back his family seat, he needed it. He should have Varric give him a tip or two on decent investments to build it up further, as Aeryn did. Though he’d need to be careful to remind Varric to not indulge too far in certain stakes.

The Grand Cleric had smiled at him, seemingly glad to see him hale and happy. Though she had also seemed slightly perturbed that Aeryn hadn’t attended with him. There was time enough for that, Sebastian believed. Pushing her would only set her back up, throw up walls between them that he was still trying to knock down.

Sebastian paused in the doorway of his cell, after he packed up his rucksack. Fifteen years. Most of his things were still here. He should make arrangements. But he and Aeryn hadn’t yet discussed if he would move into the estate, permanently. It seemed rather presumptuous to have his chest and keepsakes hauled over to her estate, without a clear invitation. Deciding, he made sure everything was tucked into the chest, that the room was neat and bare. That way, if he sent for the chest, then it would simply be a matter of carting it out of the room. He snuffed the tallow candle and shut the door firmly behind him.


Aeryn was waiting for him, though she managed not to fling herself into his embrace. It hadn’t been the full two hours, even. She frowned a little at the small pack he carried.

Is that all he brought? Glancing out into the hall, there were no chests or trunks. Not even another rucksack. He’d started keeping his weapons kit here a while ago, and she knew that was his most prized possession outside of his bow, but…she swallowed.

He saw a glimpse of something raw in the flash of her eyes and the twist of her mouth. “What’s this then?”

She turned slightly dark eyes up to him. “I just thought…” she shook her head. Never mind.

“No, now. Tell me.” It was harder than it used to be, resisting that urge to tell him everything. She glanced away.

“I thought you’d bring more. I thought…” I thought you’d bring everything. But she didn’t say it.

Sebastian recalled the earlier flash of anger he’d felt, realizing she was hiding something from him. Guilt hit him. Private as she was, she shared so much now. Gave him little signs now that he'd never have seen before. It must be so hard to overcome years of not letting things show. “Aeryn…we’d just never discussed it. I didn’t want to presume I was moving in.” He slipped his hand under her chin, stroking upwards, gently.

Aeryn looked up to him, his warm blue gaze compelling in its intensity. Trust him. Trust this. “I want you here. If you want to be here.”

“I want to be where you are.” He kissed her then, sweetly, lingering. Softer than was their wont in recent days. And he stroked her cheek and she smiled at him. Oh, that. That little smile, dimple and all. All for him. Maker, thank you.

Chapter Text

She'd planned to meet Isabela in the Hanged Man the night after their escapade with Castillon. It was the night the lads gathered for their less than secret game of cards. Aeryn had only raised her eyebrow when Sebastian had mentioned slightly too casually that he might go see Fenris for a bit. He'd had a bashful grin. He knew she knew.


Bodahn brought her the note from Bethany. She just managed to catch her smile. All this with Sebastian. She'd forgotten the date.


She dressed and left, telling Bodahn her plans in case Sebastian returned early.


But Cullen met her at the Gallows dock. "Hawke, I'm sorry. I can't...The Knight Commander has quarantined the mages. We had an escape this morning." He rubbed his forehead wearily. "Well, no, actually, we had two eight year olds decide they wanted to go wading...but..." He trailed off, looking broken.


"Cullen?" Maker, they hadn't....


"No. No." He didn't seem shocked that she might think it, though. "No, Maker preserve us. But, Meredith...they're in solitary. I've got to get back but I wanted to explain. One of them was your sister's apprentice."


Sodding Void. "Is she alright?"


"She is...impressive, your sister, in her control." It was as close to Maker she's hot that Cullen was as likely to get, Aeryn's wicked streak whispered.


"I...can you tell her I came, anyway?"


He nodded. "I will see her." Aeryn turned to go back to the ferryboat and he laid a hand on her elbow. "My condolences to you too, Hawke. It's a sad anniversary."


She gave him a soft smile. "My thanks...just...look after my little sister. Let me know if I can help." He held her hand as she boarded the small boat. Ah, those Chantry boys and their manners.



Isabela had been sullen even after Aeryn had brought her a new tumbler of rum.


She leaned against the back of the pirate's chair and laid her cheek on the top of Isabela's kerchief covered hair. "Isabela. I'm sorry, really. I just couldn't."


"Don't wheedle me, girl. You just didn't want to." It was definitely a pout in the Rivani's voice.


"No, you're right there. I didn't want to let a known slaver free just so you could score pirate style points on his sorry arse." She curled her arms around the other woman's neck and kissed her cheek. Isabela tilted her head back and a sly smile played on her lips.


"If it had been you and me and Varric? If we'd left Fenris and Sebastian at home?"


Aeryn tilted her head and nodded reluctantly. "Yes, probably." She gave a crooked grin and dropped back into her seat as Isabela cackled. "But my moral code is iffy and I know it. That's one of the reasons I keep those two around. If you recall, the last time I ignored their advice, I had to fight a wyvern, I ended up in a dungeon and then I had to fight another wyvern and ruined my favorite armor. Easier by far to just listen to them."


Isabela shook her head in mock disappointment. "Not as much fun, though."


Aeryn pursed her mouth and cocked her eyebrow. She'd been thinking. "Tell you what. What if we organized a Wicked Grace tourney and you won yourself a ship? That enough style points for you?"


Isabela looked speculative. "What ship?"


"Well, Castillon's not using his any more. What do I need with it?"


"Maaybe." She drawled, then her eyes went sharp. "Can I cheat?"


Aeryn snorted. "I don't know. Can you play Wicked Grace and not cheat?" Glancing up at a disturbance as they laughed, she saw that Merrill had wandered into the tavern.


"Hey Kitten, are you here by design or lucky chance?" Isabela called her over.


"No. I meant to come. I didn't even have to use my ball of yarn." The elf looked a bit out at edges and a nudge of guilt hit Aeryn, realizing she hadn't seen Merrill since before the trip to Orlais. Since she'd become obsessed with her mirror, she rarely strayed from the alienage.


Aeryn tipped her tumbler towards the mage. "I'm going for a refill. What are you having?"


"Oh, pint's fine, I suppose., pint. Yes." Aeryn twirled one black lock fondly as she passed and earned a small smile. She ordered their drinks and a round of the pasties Sarai was good at. Merrill looked like she needed feeding up. She surreptitiously glanced around before she slammed back the cheap whiskey she'd bought. Ick. Sebastian and his sweet Starkhaven mash had spoiled her.


Isabela was contemplating Merrill's palm when she returned to the table. "Have you finally caved to cultural pressure, Bela?"


Snorting the pirate replied, "Yes. Kitten is going to fall in love three times and have a whole litter of kits."


Merrill raised her eyebrows. "And who's feeding that lot, then? I can't even keep the rats happy." Aeryn knew she was joking but ouch. She needed to have Merrill come along more often on the more lucrative crawls. Varric and Isabela generally kept an eye on her, but they'd both gone to Orlais.


"We've not had a night out in ages. Is Aveline coming too?" She pounced right on one of the flaky pies, so Aeryn felt justified in her worry.


"She usually pokes her head in on the nights Donnic plays with Fenris." Isabela assured her, pouring the shot Aeryn had brought into her pint glass. Satisfied that everyone was served, Aeryn sipped at her cider and tipped the chair back on it's back legs.


The Rivani shook her head at Aeryn's mistreatment of the furniture. "Choir Boy hasn't tsked you out of that bad habit yet?"


"He hasn't seemed too particular about the way I sit in my chair, to be honest." Aeryn managed to balance it on one leg and Merrill clapped. "Anyway, if Mother never managed, I doubt he could."


"I bet he's got better persuasive arguments about what you use to sit in it, though." Aeryn grinned at the pirate's waggling eyebrows. Yes, if Sebastian plied her in his usual way, she might even learn to sit like a lady when out of character. Still, there was the principle of the thing.


"I want it noted for the record that it was not I who brought up men at our gathering of thieves, killers and miscreants." She finished her drink and waved Norah over.


"Are we dancing on the bar again?" It was the rogue's third cider, and while it wasn't stout Hawke never had been a heavy drinker unless she was trying to drown out something.


"Oh, Void no. I'm still nursing the headache from that fool's night."


Merrill groused as she picked up a second pie. "There was dancing? Oh, I always miss the fun."


"There was also picking pockets and massive hangovers and dawn expeditions. Not to mention the wyverns and the tour of the dungeons and caves crawling with ghasts." Aeryn commiserated.


The elf looked like she was weighing the difference and shrugged. "I could give those a miss, true."


They let her eat for a while before Aeryn asked, "So why the palm reading?"


"Merrill was showing me how she healed up her palm." The elf held up her hand to show a tiny scar across her lifeline.


"Ooh, nice one. Elfroot or..."


Merrill shook her head. "No! Proper magic."


Aeryn gave her a grin. "Well done, Merrill!" Norah brought them another round and they toasted her.


A dignified clank announced Aveline's arrival. "Guard-Captain!"


Aveline snorted as she clamored down into a chair. "You know, Hawke. I don't run around yelling your titles. I meant to be here quietly."


She got a smirk for her sarcastic tone. "Aveline. I adore you, but you aren't a subtle figure. You announce yourself."


"I suppose." Sarai brought the woman her usual pint and glanced at Hawke's finger tapping her half-finished third.


"My lady...Prince Sebastian will scold you if you go home tipsy." With a disapproving motherly gleam in her eye, too. Well done.


Aeryn scowled good-naturedly. "Only if you tell him. I'm pretty good at walking the line." But she waved the maid off with a smirk.


Aveline eyed her. "Are we celebrating something?"


"Merrill learned something new, we're going to have a Wicked Grace tourney and Sebastian and I seem to have knocked our rough edges off. S'been a good couple of weeks."


"She's had decent sex too. Makes her blood hot." Isabela winked as Merrill giggled.


"Hush, whore. Not all of us like to talk about our men in taverns."


"Ah, lay off of Bela, Aveline. She's not wrong, anyway." The rogue flipped something shiny back to the pirate who caught her earring with an awed expression.


"Okay, when did you do that?" She'd checked after Hawke had given her a cuddle.


"When I went up to get our drinks. That makes me fifty two and you thirty, I think."


"It's about right, old woman."




Huffing, Aveline rapped the table. "Keep it civil. Hawke, do you really have to play that game when I'm here?"


"You weren't when I started." She pointed out logically. "I always return everything, these days." Speaking of which..."Sarai, you dropped this, pup." She handed the tiny mabari figurine back to the waitress as she passed.


"Oh, thanks Hawke. Caleb made that at the Chantry school." She kissed it before dropping back into her apron pocket.


"He's doing well, then?"


"He can read some now. And he's good at figures." There was a little puffed up pride about her fond admission.


"I'm glad." She shooed the woman off as Corff started to wind up a shout. "Fifty three."


Merrill blinked at them, a little bleary now that she was full. "Before I forget, Hawke. I wondered if you could do me a tiny favor. Small one."


"Sure, Merrill. What's up?"


"I need to go up to the mountain, soon. I can't...I need to ask about something and I'd like some back up in case it goes badly."


"Tuesday good for you?" She needed to check out that assassin, anyway, though he'd surely moved on by now.


Relief flooded her fine features. "Oh, that'll be grand. Thanks, Hawke."


"My pleasure, Kitten. You ladies want to come with? We could make it girls only."


Aveline shook her head and rolled her eyes at Hawke's pout. "Don't give me that. I imagine you'd like the city in one piece when you get back?"


"Well, at least the bit with my stuff in it." Aeryn agreed. "Isabela?"


"Sure." She shrugged. "Fenris will come to complain, I'm sure."


"Alright, just after eight bells then." She tossed back the rest of her cider and wondered idly if Sebastian had won his game. " Well, if I'm not drinking anymore, I think I'll head back. Who wants an escort?"


Isabela glanced at the elf, who had laid her head on the table and apparently fallen asleep. "Merrill can stay here with me tonight."


"I'm waiting for Donnic. Don't forget dinner this week's end."


"My favorite social event, your dinners. I'll...we'll be there." Aveline gave her a fond smile when she saw the tiny flush creep up Hawke's cheek. It had taken her a while to get comfortable making herself used to counting for two, as well.


Sebastian had left Fenris' early, much to the amusement of his fellow players. He was up a bit, but he didn't let them talk him into letting them win it back. "The Grand Cleric deeply appreciates your contribution to the Chantry orphanage fund." He'd smirked at them.


He was nearly home when he heard the clash of steel down one of the side passages.


Despite the fact that she was out numbered six to one (and from the look of the two villains already down, it had been more) she had a careless, free look about her. If she'd been wearing her armor, he'd be less worried, but apparently she'd left home in a bit of finery.


Even as he nocked his arrows for a flurry, he couldn't help but admire her stand. Though he wondered how she'd been caught out of her shadows.


Deadly. Fierce. A born fighter from the way her shoulder edged forward to the way her feet were spaced, up on her toes. But, there in the curve of her lip, the humor, the wicked streak. He suddenly recalled the first time he'd seen her. He was sure she didn't remember and he'd never mentioned it. Not in the Chantry, no. It had been that first year she was in the city as Meeran's assassin. He'd been delivering alms to Darktown and heard someone call out hey trouble and the girl in front of him had whirled and it was her, just like that. She'd caught his glance before she'd blown past him and given him a temptress' smile. And he'd wondered about a girl who'd answered to trouble until he'd seen her with her family a week later, all wary eyes and tight mouth, prowling the back reaches of the entrance.


Trouble. But his troublemaker, placed in his path by the Maker. And by His hand, these lads would pay for interfering with her.


Aeryn recognized the gray and white fletching on the hail of arrows that fell, scattering the band of thugs. The crimson tipping to the upper edges of the feathers was new. "I cannot wear your favor on my arm, leannan, as is your due," he'd said. "It would throw my aim. But I have a thought." And somehow, the idea that he'd altered his weaponry for her was better than any dainty he could have worn.


There was a clattering behind him and so he missed the moment she launched herself into the fight, less cautious now about the numbers, with his support. It was a guardsman, come to investigate the commotion. The other man gave a little salute as he recognized Sebastian and continued on to draw off one or two of Aeryn's opponents.


The guardsman took the one survivor up and bound his wrists as Sebastian ran down to her to check her over. "You're an idiot, you are. That's the Champion."


"That little bit...owwww"


"Show some respect." Aeryn grinned at the swordsman as Sebastian slid his hands over her and she tried desperately to remember his name. Ferlin. No...oh, green eyes, dark blonde hair, knife scar up his...ah.


"Nice rescue, Fergus." She patted Sebastian's gloved hand on her shoulder, soothingly. "And you, too, oh knight in shining armor. I'm fine, love. Go collect your arrows." He didn't move, though. Eight to one. She'd been lucky.


The guardsman grinned openly at her. "Well, we do our small part. You alright, then?"


Slightly exasperated. "Yes. You need assistance getting that one back to the keep?"


"Nah, Hawke. You let yon archer take you home and fuss over you." He eyed the prince shrewdly. "He good to you, lady?" Sebastian stiffened behind her and narrowed his eyes at the other man.


"Better than I deserve and well you know. Have you been well?"


"Can't complain. My Ellie's due with our first any time now." Sebastian had to swallow a growl as Fergus glanced at Aeryn's lithe frame speculatively. "You two gonna...?"


"Someday. Maybe if bandits ever stop dropping out of the woodwork." She leaned back against him and he settled.


"My thanks, guardsman. And congratulations." Sebastian said politely. Not going to bark at the man who just helped her. Don't even want to. Not one little bit. Maker guide him and his wife and their babe to be, even.


He gave them another jaunty salute as he pushed the prisoner into the night.


Sebastian hugged her tightly against him pressing a kiss to her sweaty temple. "Leannan, are you sure you're..."


"Yes, love." She tugged away from where his armor dug into her, but she gave him her soft smile. "Let's get your arrows and get back to the estate."


He saw her fan the crimson edging of one feather with her thumb, a warm glow on her face even in the moonlight and felt a goofy smile tug at his lips. She would love that he'd used his arrows to show his affection. She handed him the handful she'd collected and stretched up to kiss his cheek. His eyebrows shot up.

"You smell a bit ciderish, mo chridhe. Did you perhaps...over-indulge?" There really wasn't a delicate way to ask a lady if she was three sheets gone, he thought. That would explain how they got the jump on her, though. He detected just a bit of a whiskey tinge, too.

"Maybe I'm a bit tight." She was blushing, even though she seemed steady enough. She tugged away and turned towards the estate.

He followed, a bit baffled. He couldn't think of the last time he'd seen her off guard, much less drunk. "Aeryn, what happened?"

She shrugged. "I just wasn't paying attention. I wasn't hugging the shadows and next thing I knew they were half on top of me. My own fault."

"But why? And how did Isabela let you out of her sight this way?" He could see it now. She was slightly too precise in her movements, lacking her casual grace.

"Oh, I don't think she noticed. I'm pretty steady." She turned back towards him, walking backwards, her line never veering. "Don't worry about it. I'm fine."

"You very nearly weren't. Why were you out without your armor, anyway, that's not like you." He caught up and turned her rightway round as they stepped into the estate's entry.

Bodahn let them in. "My lady. Was your trip to the Gallows successful?"

She winced at Sebastian's stricken expression. She held her hands up in conciliation. "The note came after you left. That's why I was dressed like this. I thought maybe if I didn't look my normal troublemaking self, I might get into see Bethany."

"Did you?" She shook her head and didn't hide the twist of sorrow that crossed her face. "Aeryn?"

Her voice was small and sad. "I forgot."

He slipped his arm about her. "Forgot what?"

"Mother. It's four years, today and what with everything...I wasn't thinking about it. Bethany sent for me...but I couldn't get in. Cullen tried, but..." Her voice choked off and he tucked her gently against him.

"Oh, leannan, I'm sorry." The last years she'd made a point of doing some job that had them all out in camp. She'd been surrounded by her friends, easy with no need to talk about it. She slid her arms around his waist and slumped against him. Weary now, that the adrenaline of the fight had fled and killed her buzz.

He rubbed her back and steered her into the hall. Bath, tea, then bed. Poor, wee thing, she'd have a sore head in the morning to match her heart.

Sebastian touched the runes that Sandal had recently placed on the tank to heat the water. They hummed with their bit of magic and he opened the spigot to fill the tub. Aeryn stood on one foot then another to unlace her boots. No faulting her balance, even tipsy.

Nor her dexterity. Bloody little thief. She was staring at the two feathers and a small box he'd had in his pouch. "You carry odd things with you, love."

He plucked them out of her fingers and tucked them back away. He didn't really care about the feathers, it was just habit to pick them up. The other would go straight to his foot locker. Not quite yet. He tapped the end of her nose. "Mind your fingers, mo chridhe."

She blinked wide innocent eyes at him and pouted. "You're no fun."

"I am so." He reached around her to undo the laces of the pale blue waist she wore. The purple one had apparently been ruined in Prosper's dungeon but Orana might be able to get the blood out of this one. She had a knack. Aeryn hummed and twined her arms around his neck.

"Yes, you are." She admitted in a husky whisper that went straight to his groin. The little lick she gave to the edge of his ear followed it up.

He set her back gently, though. "Into the bath with you." If he had a choice, he'd rather she smelled of her almond soap, rather than the dregs of the Hanged Man and the blood of bandits.

She stripped off efficiently and slid into the water. It was a deep enough basin to let her duck her head under, though too short for him to stretch out in. She came up and started scrubbing as quickly and austerely as any penitent might, bathing out of a bowl of tepid water in her cell. He wondered if she'd picked up that habit in the army or if she was trained that way by her parents.

Done and rinsing in less than three minutes. It wasn't nearly long enough to watch. "You know, at the Keep in Starkhaven, the baths are deep and wide enough for two."

She chuckled. "Decadence. No wonder you were such a rake." Something seemed to occur to her, then. "Oh, I didn't mean...Really?" She'd turned to look at him and the intensity of his gaze and the way his lips were tipped up curled right down her spine.

He was definitely thinking of pulling her into one of those marble wonders, with their dwarven plumbing. It had been one of the harder things to give up, entering the Chantry, the luxury of a bath big enough to stretch and soak in and any number of soaps and salts and whatnot. His fir soap had been the first thing he'd indulged in upon breaking Elthina's edict. He was a born hedonist, he had to admit, though he was fairly sure he’d broken himself of the worst habits. Someday, he'd be able to show her the joy of such indulgence, spoil her a little.

But not today. She yawned and he held the rough linen bath sheet up for her to step into.


Merrill had possibly slightly exaggerated the smallness of her favor, Aeryn considered as they exited the cavern. What in the Maker's name had Marethari been thinking? There had to have been some other way to deal with the demon.

"Ah, Aeryn." Sebastian called her up from where she and Isabela were gently steering a distraught Merrill up the path. He sounded tense.

With good reason. Sodding Void. "I'm sorry. Marethari was possessed..."

"It's her fault! Your fault. You never should have come back here!"

"No. Wait! I don't want this..." The elves were already attacking, though. Aeryn defended herself, trying to reason with Fenarel, even as they all tried to block the attack without injuring the furious hunters.

Sebastian felt horror snake through him, oh, Maker please don't make us do this....He launched a smoke bomb to try to obscure a defense, but the stiff Sundermount breeze carried it away. He had one of Aeryn's shock bombs...that slowed down the far group. But he knew Aeryn had only come with lethal things in her pouch. She expected demons, not this.

Merrill pleaded with them as she tried to keep her chaotic magic non-lethal. "It was Marethari, please..I'm so sorry, don't, don't...Hawke, please... I'm sorry."

"Hawke, we can't..." Fenris threw off an attacker, trying to stun another. "They aren't listening, Hawke."

"I can't just..." She just managed to dodge an arrow that still curved along her jawbone, leaving a bloody trail. "Flames...stop!"

"Blessed Andraste, please..." But this was the mountain Andraste was said to have returned from weeping, he recalled.

The elvhen didn't heed.

They didn't train for crowd control. They weren't guardsmen, to take prisoners. Lethal force required lethal reaction. "Sebastian!"

He looked up to see her face go hard. The assassin behind Sebastian got her knife in his throat.

It was over quickly after that. Merrill collapsed, sobbing as the last of the hunters went down.


"Get up, we've got to get out of here." Aeryn yanked the mage to her feet. She hadn't lost her battle stance. "We're not done."

Sebastian followed with his eyes scanning the far approaches. Aeryn allowed Fenris and Isabela to take her usual point position so that she could keep Merrill on her feet.

"If we can get to that side path, we can get around the rest of the clan. We've just got to be quiet."

It might be possible, Sebastian mused. They were a quiet crew. But even as he thought it, he saw movement on the lower trail. "They're coming." He spoke just loud enough to be heard.

Her shoulders hunched for just a second. "Alright. Give them half a chance and then treat them as hostile." Merrill whimpered. "If they attack together, we're dead, Merrill." Her voice was cool and detatched. "I won't put them before us. If you won't fight, tell me now."

Meaning, Sebastian suspected, that she would hand Merrill over if the elf wouldn't defend them. Oh, Aeryn. Andraste please be with her.

Merrill stood up. "I will. I'm so sorry." Aeryn jerked her head in a tight nod as Fenris spat in vicious Arcanum.

"Yes, you did." Aeryn acknowledged what ever he had said. "Sebastian, keep them pinned back and hedged in. Isabela do you have any bombs left? Yeah, me either." She grimaced at the pirate's negative head shake.

"Round the bend." She pulled up her hood and gathered up her shadows at his quiet words. Her face, before she disappeared into the foliage had been like marble, blood streaking down her throat where the arrow had grazed her jaw.

It was a hard fight. Merrill begged and pleaded with her kin to stop, that she'd only wanted to help even as she turned her magic against them. Fenris was grim and efficient. Even Isabela's normal brazen taunts were muted.

He did as she asked, while she skirted the edges. He saw her now and again, face composed and eyes like glass, utterly silent as she dropped another. Sebastian clenched his jaw and aimed for thighs and shoulders instead of throats and eyes. Crippled, perhaps, but not dead. Maker forgive us.

They got to an aravel filled with children and one old woman, armed with a bow, screaming epithets. They were yet pressed from behind, but Aeryn hesitated before she turned away. Sebastian whispered a prayer of thanks but cut off mid-word as the arrow thucked sickeningly into the meaty part of his thigh.

He saw pure rage tear through her even as she spun back to the old archer, knife poised. "Don't. Aeryn, please!" He'd be fine, it had gone neatly through. There was ice in his gut though, at the look on her face before she nodded and merely pinned the woman to the wooden wall. She slid under his arm to help him limp around to some rocky coverage where the others waited. They had one more dash to make and she sat him down to catch her breath.

"Merrill, what have you got left?" The elf was nearly blue, pale like skimmed milk. There were several deep slashes in her arm, but they were only seeping.

"I...not much, Hawke. I'm so..."

"Enough. Do you have something...ensnarement or enslavement...something that will keep them all, the adults, held?"

"I don't have the mana, Hawke." She was shaking.

"I can fix that." What?

He shouted, "Aeryn!" even as Fenris reached for her.

"Hawke!" But she was so fast. The dagger was already flashing and blood spurting. Merrill's eyes were huge and horror-stricken but the blood was vaporizing as she drew up the power, not wasting a drop.

Aeryn's face went as white as the elf's. She'd struck deep. But she stood, her teeth bared and defiant. Holy Andraste, Beloved One please, please. Fenris caught her as she staggered, and hissed at Merrill. "Cast your spell and shut it off, witch!" He leaned his bright head against Aeryn's, whispering before tucking her into Sebastian's reaching arms. He wrapped a bandage around her arm, but it was already soaked before he could tie the knot. Maker.

Merrill did as he asked, throwing up a wall of thorny greenery across the narrow path and setting a trap just beyond it. The blood stopped as Merrill used the last of her strength to close the gash. Isabela kept her upright, barely. Fenris tipped their last healing potion into Aeryn's mouth and Sebastian was grateful to see the blue tinge of her lips go back to a more normal pink.

"How long did you buy us, Kitten?"

"Half a mark." Merrill mumbled to Isabela's question. "We should...let's just go." They could only hope that it would be enough to slow down and cool the bloodlust of the remaining elves. The companions were in no shape to fight on.

Sebastian broke off the ends of the arrow and smeared some salve into the open wounds, hoping to stave off corruption. Reluctantly, he handed Aeryn back to Fenris who slung the half conscious rogue over his shoulder. The lyrium flared as he borrowed its strength.

Limping, Sebastian took point as they made their way back to Kirkwall. Whether the barrier worked longer than Merrill expected or the elves gave up in order to lick their wounds and bury their dead, no one came in pursuit.

Aeryn got her strength back enough to walk back into the city on her own. Either that or her pride wouldn't allow her to be seen so vulnerable. She kept her eyes fixed ahead of her and Sebastian was reluctant to interrupt her concentration. He kept his eyes on her, hoping to break a fall if it came. They stumbled to Darktown, hoping to find Anders in.

"What in the name of the Maker...Hawke!" Anders caught her as she pitched forward. "What happened?" He gathered her up and laid her on the table. Isabela and Merrill sank to the floor and Sebastian forewent dignity and joined them. Fenris leaned against the table and outlined their injuries. Anders was already spiraling magic towards Hawke. Isabela stood to rummage in his potions cabinet and pulled out a few restoratives and handed them around before slumping back down.

"Sebastian first." Aeryn's voice was soft. "I got a potion. He didn't." Anders glanced up and Sebastian waved him off. It was bleeding again, from the shaft working back and forth in the wound but he still hadn't lost as much blood as she had.

"No dice, Hawke. Blood magic trumps flesh wound." Anders felt at her head. "So does concussion and..." A whimper escaped her and Sebastian shot to his feet much to his regret. "Cracked rib. Blighted Void, how are you even still conscious?"

"You mixed your metaphors." She whispered. "No trump in dice."

"Brat." He heard her sigh as Anders' warm healing magic curled over her. He dragged himself and his spinning head to her side and held her limp grubby hand in his own. How had he missed her getting injured twice? Fury welled up in him, both at her lack of self preservation and his utter ineffectualness at protecting her.

Anders sent a messenger and Varric and Aveline were there within the hour to help him escort them all to their respective homes. He'd had to slit Sebastian's thigh open to extract the broken shaft, but it healed cleanly. Aeryn explained what had happened to a white-faced Guard Captain, her voice never losing its soft cool detachment. It started to seep into his tired brain that she hadn't looked at him once since she'd made Fenris set her down.

Orana was fussing over them in seconds, pressing hot sweet tea into their hands as Bodahn and Sandal helped remove filthy armor. She herded them into the bathing chamber with a promise of soup soon to follow. Suddenly, they were alone and she was still not looking at him. He closed his eyes for a second to center himself.

Aeryn was fighting a new wave of despair. He was angry with her. She'd felt it as soon as she'd managed to stand up and felt his eyes on her.

Of course he was.

She'd killed half a clan of elves. People they knew, that they'd traded with, eaten with. Master Ilen had adjusted Sebastian's grandfather's bow for him not long after he'd come to join them. He hadn't even known Varania and he'd been so furious then. And she'd made him help, this time. Ordered him to kill.

She'd let Merrill use blood magic. She'd had to, but still. Of course he was angry.

"I'm sorry." Her arms were wrapped around her waist, defensively, shoulders hunched in.

What? Her voice was so small, it hardly sounded like her at all. "Aeryn?"

"I'm so sorry, Sebastian. I didn't want...I didn't want that to happen, I swear." He was next to her and guiding her chin up to him. She clutched her hands in his tunic, looking up at him with tragic eyes. "I swear, I tried to stop it. I never wanted to make you..."

"Aeryn, stop. Stop. I don't...I know that. I know you didn't want that to happen."

She was talking over him, half hysterical. "I didn't want to kill them. I didn't."

"I know. I know." He wasn't sure what to do. He didn't want to shake her or Maker forbid, slap her. "Aeryn, I know, leannan. It wasn't your fault. It wasn't."

"You're so angry with me. Please, Sebastian, I'm sorry. I am. I can't fix this, either." Angry with her? He pushed her out to look at her, horror welling up in him.

"I'm not. Aeryn, I'm not angry with you. It wasn't your fault."

"You are, I can tell." She was breathing again, at least. "Your do that scowling thing. Your voice gets all tight."

"I'm...oh, Aeryn. Mo chridhe." It dawned on him what she was feeling. "I was angry that you were hurt, anam chara. That you used yourself. That you didn't take care of yourself. I was angry at myself for not stopping you, for not realizing you were injured. I promise." He cuddled her to him. "Not angry at you. This was not your fault."

He sounded sincere. He wouldn't lie to her. Oh. She relaxed against him, finally.

He eyed the copper tub behind her. It was a quarter-full. Maybe if he were very careful...

He let go of her long enough to strip and then helped her finish, her tired hands fumbling. Then he drew her over to the steaming water, and stepped in to help her over the lip. He sat down cautiously and spread his knees, hissing as the newly healed flesh stretched and pulled her down between them. Not luxurious, no. But safe, with his skin touching hers in the way he knew calmed her best. He ran his hands over her again, checking her for anything Anders might have missed, but her skin was whole. There was a red scar down her arm where the blood magic had seared the edges of the wound, but the healer said that would fade to nothing in a day or so.

"Please promise me you won't ever use yourself like that again." He rested his forehead against the back of her neck.

She was silent in his embrace, swirling a sponge across her flesh.

"Promise." He begged, freely.

"I can't do that." She leaned the fragile curve of her skull back against him. "I can't."


"You can't ask that of me, Sebastian. Anything else. Anything. Ask me to walk away from everything else I am. But...I won't make a promise I know I can't keep, not to you." Her voice was more normal, less frantic though still a little reedy from exhaustion.

"Please." The idea of her...

"I would throw myself to the wolves if I thought it would keep you whole, Sebastian. I don't...I don't know any other way to be."

Then all he could do was keep himself between her and the wolves. Maker help me.

Chapter Text

Anders had handed him a draught to help her sleep before they left the clinic. "She won't want to take it, but she needs the sleep, Vael." He'd palmed it and promised to try, but the mage had been right. She'd eyed the small flask like he was handing her one of her venoms.




"But...Anders said..." If it was a chance to stave off her nightmares...they'd been doing well, but the deaths on Sundermount were going to haunt her. And him.


"No. If I take that..." She shuddered and looked very small in the huge bed. "I've got myself pretty well trained to wake up if I get a really bad one, Sebastian. If I take that, I won't be able to." Fear edged in on her face and he set the bottle aside. He'd trust her over Anders. He wouldn't want to be trapped in the Fade's nightmares either.


He slid in next to her and she came easily into his arms. He had knelt and prayed earlier, but he whispered the prayer he kept for her into her hair.


"See? I have you to pray for me. What could get to me through that?" And though there was a slight jibe to her tone, there was also the fact that she'd relaxed completely in his arms as he whispered.


And whether it was the Maker's protection or utter exhaustion, they both slept soundly.


The nightmares didn't come till the next night.


He woke up first, feeling the memory of elvhen children' frightened faces and her blood gushing trail off of him. Aeryn was still asleep, curled into a ball on her side, turned away from him, as she often did if he didn't pull her back to his side. It was still and black outside and he grabbed his trews to pad downstairs for something to drink.


He came back to her arching up off the bed, sweating and whimpering. Sebastian set the tumblers aside to reach for her but she was suddenly turning like an adder to hold a blade between them. Maker. "Aeryn!" She opened her eyes but she didn't see him, tracking on something in her dream. "Leannan " He stilled himself, ready to jump, dropping his pulse and making his breathing shallow. Low and soothing he whispered to her until she tilted her head, focused on his voice and returned to him.


She dropped the knife onto the bed and pressed her palms into her eyesockets, before dragging her hands down her face to look at him. "Blighted Void. Maker, Sebastian, I'm so sorry."


She sat up on her haunches to run her hands over his torso, his arms, the line of his throat. He let her move his head from side to side, checking him over. "Oh, love, did I hurt you?" Flaming Void. She could have.


He took her hands then and pulled her to him, shaking and damp with sweat. "No, mo chridhe. I'm fine. You weren't aimed at me."


"Doesn't matter. Still could have..." Terror at the possibility sent her limp against him. "Maybe I should sleep somewhere else."


"No." He'd waited too long to share her bed. He'd risk her knife at his throat every night.


"But...Sebastian, if I hurt you it would..." It would absolutely destroy me. She didn't say it, but he felt it in the tremble of her rough little fingers across his face.


His voice went taut and commanding in its warm brogue. "No. Absolutely not." He softened a bit and curved his hands to frame her sweet, worried face. "You trust me not to hurt you, Aeryn. Even though I spent nights dreaming of it." He turned his face to press kisses into her palms. "I've got my share of faith and yours, too, run biodagain. You won't."


His assurance ran warmth through her fear and she nodded against his chest. "Alright. Still. Let's take some of the possibility out." They spent a few minutes stripping the bed. She had one tucked between the mattress and the frame and another in a sheath behind the headboard. And three small ones worked into the cording of the mattress itself. Not to mention the little chest on her nightstand that held a small curved blade she could palm and four delicate shock bombs. He'd thought it was a jewelcase. She piled them all into her weapons chest and shut the lid before sitting back on the bed.


He leaned against a poster and rubbed his hand across his mouth, hiding a rueful smile.




"I'm a little surprised I haven't bled to death in the middle of the night, to be honest."


She bit her lip and cast her eye down for a second and he'd thought he'd struck too low a blow, but she was smirking when she glanced back up. "Well, you're not the one who's had Carta dwarves try and kidnap you in your all together to drag you before their lord. Nor opened your wardrobe to find a thrillseeker waiting."


"I jest, mo chridhe. I know whose bed I've taken to." Sebastian smiled a slow curving smile that pulled her attention to his mouth and made her breath run shallow. He did know how to distract her from her thoughts. "We've missed one." Aeryn frowned and counted.


"No...this is all. I know my inventory." On looking back up, she discovered him standing over her with a familiar blaze in his eyes.


He slipped a hand up her knee to her bare thigh, rubbing his thumb deeply into the muscle. "My favorite one." His other hand matched the movement on the other thigh and he leaned down to purr in her ear. "Haven't seen it all day, though. Maybe I should check for you."


Her posture shifted from penitent to alluring as she parted her knees and leaned back on her hands and he felt a wicked sense of accomplishment swell. "Maybe you should. It would never do for us to become complacent." Smoky eyes under lashes tipped redgold by candlelight trapped his as she ran her tongue across her lower lip. He leaned in to nip the glistening plumped skin before slipping down between her thighs.

He lingered over her breasts, mouthing one peak and suckling a small mark just at the crest. She arched back and he drew the other nipple into his mouth, worrying it with gentle teeth. “Ah, love.” He kissed down to his target, pressing a warm wet kiss to the cup of her navel as he passed.


Oh, yes. Still there. He traced it with the tip of his tongue and whispered against her smooth skin, "Tell me how you came by this, Aeryn." He was hard already, the sight of her spread for him bringing him full to attention in a minute. He wanted to be buried in her, but the taste of her was an equal draw. Choices. Such luxuries.


"Now?" She was sitting curled around him, running her fingers through his hair. Surrounding him with her humid scent of almonds and woman. He nuzzled into her belly, letting his teeth skim her creamy skin and smiling as she purred.


"Tell me a story, while I earn my keep, hmm."


She chuckled and he delicately brushed her mound with his nose, making her catch her breath. "Ah. Well, it’s not much of a tale and it involves my brother...shall I continue?"


Looking up, he blinked his beautiful eyes at her. She smirked down at him and traced his neat, arrogant eyebrow. "No...I don't suppose I want to be hearing about your brother just at the moment. Another time." He shook the thought away. His thumbs delved into her slick and her bright gaze disappeared behind fluttering lashes. He gave her a smirk of his own and set to his task, parting and baring her to his tongue. He swirled it over her clitoris and she gave a sweet little cry. She'd never hidden this from him, not one reaction. Gifts from the Maker.


Around and across, flick and swirl while she twitched her hips and murmured and sighed and as he sucked the erect hard little nub, a begging whimper. Her hands tugged in his hair and he let her pull him up and Aeryn twisted unexpectedly, landing him on his back. Blessing upon blessing, he thought as she lowered herself on his cock and with a thrust, he hilted in her tight sheath.


He dug his fingers into her hips and she smiled at the thought of the prints he'd leave on her, purple on the pale skin of her arse. Sebastian had been upset the first time he'd seen the results of his impassioned grip until she'd proceeded to tell him the exact thought that echoed through her every time she looked at his marks. His. Utterly and completely. He'd seemed alright, then. A little abashed, but happy.

Aeryn kept up the slow steady gyration. wanting to spin out the feeling of him buried in her, filling her. She was his and he was hers and if it was yet new it was still the safest she had felt in years, having him where she could reach him.


She'd need to be more careful about her weapons, though.


The icy fear threatened to creep back on her but she rubbed his nipple with the scarred pad of her thumb before giving it a little pinch and twist, drawing a moan out of him as he arched his spine. Her smile slipped darkly, he was almost as sensitive there as she was. Altering her angle she could lave one tiny point, then the other with a questing tongue and sharp teeth and listen to him whisper the urgent little love words he seemed best able to express in his native tongue and the chill melted back again.


Nothing to fear in the dark, the shadows couldn’t draw her down, not with her Sebastian sunk deep in her and his voice in her ear and his hands anchoring her, supporting her as she rose and dropped. Nothing but light in him, throwing the swallowing dark off. Dragging flickers of flame slid from her core out to the rest of her as he thrust in time with her, sliding in then nearly out then back home again. And..and. oh. She let him take the rhythm as everything in her, thought to breath to heart, stuttered.




"You didn't take the sleeping draught, did you?" The mage's tone was exasperated as he examined the woman on his table.


Aeryn flashed him a grin and a dimple and shook her head. "You aren't going to lecture me are you, Serah 'those things don't work on Warden dreams'?"


"You needed the sleep."


"I got it. I just have better ways of rendering myself unconscious." And so does Sebastian, but she refrained from bringing him up to Anders.


He knew what she meant, though. It used to be his favorite way to beat back the nightmares, too. Sighing, he rubbed his eyes.


He was slumping and pale as though he were the one recuperating from half of his blood being yanked out of his veins. He'd fallen on the rabbit pie like he hadn't eaten in days. She poked his thigh with her booted toe. "Hey, what's up?"


He didn't want to. He didn't want to involve her, especially not now, but the fact was that he couldn't do it alone and the Mage Collective was no more in Kirkwall. Everyone was dead or gone...Vengeance flared in his heart and he only just tamped it down. Soon. Soon.


"I need your help, Hawke."


"Your wish, Anders, is my command." Something gleamed in his once gentle eyes. Alright, poor word choice. Six years ago and, still, she sighed inwardly. That'll teach me to be a flirt with a fragile man. "Where do we need to go?"






He'd dashed back from the Chantry. He'd meant to stay and meditate longer, but he'd overheard a conversation that had sent him sprinting. She had planned to see Anders that morning, but hopefully she'd returned.

She was at the table with Orana, polishing the house silver. There was a bit of smut across the bridge of her nose and her bangs were too long and threatening to start falling over her eyes as she eyed down one gleaming blade. "Mistress, we aren't expecting them to fillet their dinners with these." Orana was saying in a tone that would qualify as exasperated for her.

"What is the point of knives if they aren't sharp?" Aeryn's voice mocked her servant gently and the elf giggled as Aeryn smirked. It sounded like an old game and normally he'd be charmed by it but... They looked up at Sebastian's unusually clattering entry and concern crossed her face. "Sebastian? Love, what...?" She stood as if expecting a horde behind him, one hand tightening around the butter knife.

"Has Bodahn it is." He pawed through the pile of messages the dwarf had left for her perusal and tossed it to her. She popped the crested seal open with the knife. Orana did not sigh. But she thought about it.

"Dear Champion, Please meet me in the Keep. King Alistair"

She looked up at his open anticipation and paused. She'd been about to be sarcastic, but...look at him. All bright eyes and expectant face.

"Ah. Is this legit? I mean, it's nice paper...and that's a lovely seal, definitely the seal of Ferelden. But it’s quite....lacking in...ah..'all hail the king-ness.'" And this penmanship was a bit sloppy, if she were honest.

"He's here. The Keep was buzzing. I believe the Knight Commander was on her way in from the Gallows." She didn't look interested at all. He frowned at her. "Aeryn, the King of Ferelden, the man who was second to the Hero, is requesting your attendance."

"So it appears." Sebastian was practically bouncing on his toes. "And?"

He deflated a little at her lack of enthusiasm. "Aren't you curious as to what he wants?" Oh, he was excited and I've spoiled it. She tilted her head at him, considering. Yes, she supposed...Alistair was Sebastian's contemporary. A good connection to have a king in your corner and he might even make a more personal alliance. That would be good for Sebastian in coming days. He'd told her that the nobles of Starkhaven were both less fawning and less available to the Prince than the Kirkwall equivalents. He'd need a royal pal, for lack of a better word.

She grinned at him and handed him back the invitation. "I am. I'm just a little surprised. Though, I shouldn't be, I suppose." The king did have something of a reputation for maintaining his soldierly straight-forwardness and easy going charm from former days. She was rewarded for her concession with a return of his bounce and fought back a laugh. She glanced down at herself. Bit of a mess again, though.

"Let's see what armor I have that doesn't make me look like a reaver, hmm." The traditional Champion's armor was overly aggressive, with its little claws and talons and spurs. Not to mention that none of the armorers she'd found could fix the rents and gouges without breaking the charms. It wasn't something she cared to wear day to day. She went to find Bodahn, with his merchant's mind for inventory.

Sebastian busied himself polishing up his armor. Have to invest in something less...overt. It wasn't the most practical armor for an archer and yes, he had come to see why the others had mocked the placement of his buckle. Not to mention he'd caught the light at inappropriate times and Prince, he would need to catch the eye. He'd see what the king wore, see if there was a tip to be had.

Half a mark later, Aeryn trotted down the stairs in her new leathers. Bodahn and his secret sources had tracked them down and he'd kept them for a special opportunity. These were better shaped to suit her, Sebastian thought, dark wyvernhide with charms worked into the skin molding to her curves. The dragonbone buckles were buffed to absorb light as opposed to reflecting. Half-gloves left her sensitive fingertips free for their less legal tasks. A hood to hide her gleaming hair and pale face from revealing light. She looked dangerous, down to the wry twist of her lips.

They stood in the hall for a minute. He tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "I think he'll want to meet you without much pomp, leannan. The note indicates an informal approach. That means he'll likely be attended only by a second, someone he trusts. So don't..." Wait. Ah, no. He didn't want to indicate that she would act inappropriately. She had a facet for every occasion he knew, but she also had a tendency to treat authority with far less respect than with which she approached more average people. As if something in her wanted to tweak the nose of anyone who might think himself superior. His brow furrowed as he tried to explain. "I'd like this to go well. I think he'll be a good ally and he's a Grey Warden. He fought the archdemon, Aeryn. He's not like any of the nobles you've met here."

There was a distinct air of amusement about her mouth as Sebastian fussed. She'd known he admired the Grey Wardens for their single-minded devotion to defending Thedas at all costs against the worst result of man's pride against the Maker. She hadn't quite realized how this translated into a wee bit of hero-worship for the warden-king of Ferelden.

Aeryn gave him big solemn eyes. "I promise I'll be on my very best behavior, Sebastian. Keep my fingers out of the sugar bowl, remember not to slur my speech. I won't even pick his pocket, though I imagine he carries awfully fascinating things." She blinked innocently and contemplated her fingers. "Maybe just one..."

"Dinna you dare..." He was pinching the bridge of his nose. She's not taking this seriously. But he caught the sparkle in her eyes. Little tease, he thought as he blushed and ducked his head. "I'm being foolish."

"You're adorable." She smiled at him fondly and smoothed the line between his eyes with a caress. "Maybe a tiny bit over eager."

He flushed a deeper shade. "You're meant to tell me when I'm acting a child."

"Well, its just me, here. I'd have calmed you down before you got to the Keep." She tucked her arm through his, chuckling when he snorted at his actions. "Come on, then. Let's go meet the king, oh prince.

Meredith was berating King Alistair when they entered the main hall. Her strident tones filled the room, but the Ferelden seemed almost entertained. Aeryn would say he was baiting the Knight Commander if that didn't seem somewhat insane, even to her.

Varric, Isabela and Fenris had met them at the stairs, responding to the messengers Aeryn had sent. She wanted Varric's quick tongue and Fenris' eye for detail behind her. Isabela had tagged along, but she'd been to Ferelden during the Blight. The pirate had mentioned meeting the Wardens once. She'd been quite closed mouthed about the circumstances, which was unlike her.

Aveline skirted the edges of the room and joined them. "The Knight-Commander has been haranguing him since she arrived. She's just now started on the mage issue." It had sent a ripple of shock through Thedas when Alistair had announced he would be taking steps to make apostate mages welcome in Ferelden so long as they didn't cause trouble. Ferelden stood because of the efforts of two apostates, his proclamation had read. He'd not given names nor circumstances, just that there was room for debate in a long closed subject.

Aeryn observed the king. He was handsome in a clean cut way with his sandy, spiky hair. Looked tired, though, it occurred to her, seeing dark circles under intelligent hazel eyes. His voice, with which he occasionally tried to interrupt Meredith, was loud and, she noted wistfully, very Ferelden in it's accent. Alistair stood like a warrior, feet placed wide and restrained power in his movements and he dressed to match. His armor was clearly custom made and nicely polished, but it showed equally clear signs of being well used. And that was no ceremonial sword and shield on his back.

Sebastian noted the armor, too. Yes, the man dressed to be seen, but practical too. His eyes strayed to the shield. A griffon rampant on the battered surface, recently touched up. Yes, well, try not to gape, man, he admonished himself. He'd spent hours in the Starkhaven keep library, pouring over the tales of the Blights and the warriors who fought and died in the cause.

Archers were always welcome to the Wardens, distance and far-sight useful weapons against the darkspawn and he'd dreamed once upon a time of escaping the constraints of his childhood home and fighting the righteous cause. Wardens were freed of their families and their other obligations. No one could have touched him, then. The dreams had faded once he'd reached his teens and buried his hurts in passion and drink and excess, though. He'd have been a poor Warden once he was old enough to join, reluctant to sacrifice, abandoned to hedonism. Long ago and far away. He had other dreams, now.

Meredith stalked off and Aeryn walked over to draw attention to herself, letting her companions file in behind her. Alistair mumbled to his companion, "That could have gone better." The older man snorted.

"You think, Your Majesty?" And then looked up to see Aeryn, who gave him a courtly bow. "Ah, here's who you came to see. Your Majesty, may I introduce the Champion of Kirkwall, Lady Aeryn Hawke?"

"King Alistair." Aeryn dipped low in a curtsy that would have made Leandra faint with happiness, but rose immediately to meet his eyes. Not a Ferelden any longer. The man glanced over her appraisingly but not in a manner that she or Sebastian could object to. More sizing her up than ogling her assets.

"Well, I'm glad to say you don't resemble your statue." Aeryn smirked and shook his offered hand. That awful thing. If she ever found out who'd commissioned it...

"Forgive us our Meredith, that's her brand of Kirkwall hospitality."

"Kirkwall hostility must rip the skin off your face, then." He grinned at her and she returned it, somewhat ruefully.

"You aren't far from wrong, Your Majesty." She introduced her companions, Sebastian first, fondly smiling at Aveline's soldierly bow and noting the king's immediate indication that she should stand. He turned his sharp eyes on Sebastian.

"Prince Vael. Your Starkhaven was once an ally of Ferelden, during the occupation."

"That's true, Your Majesty." Sebastian frowned. Once?

"I was fostered there for a time, sire." Teagan reminded his nephew, quietly.

Aeryn queried. "I'm sorry. Once an ally?" She'd seen Sebastian's concern.

Alistair rubbed his chin before answering. "We've not had much contact with them since the Blight. The envoys we send come back with vague assurances of friendship and a crate of whiskey and not much else. It’s good whiskey, at least."

"My cousin, Goran, has held the throne since my family was murdered. I'm afraid he is not the best choice of leader."

"And yet, you're here." Alistair's tone was dismissive and Sebastian buried the urge to wince.

"I was an avowed priest when Starkhaven fell. I have been...debating the best way to serve the Maker." Something lightened in the king's face and he nodded as Sebastian continued. "It has only been recently that I have renounced my vows and taken up the title. I hope to return soon, with the support of the noble families."

Alistair saw Aeryn's cool smile and curious, asked. "You support the Prince's claim, Champion?"

She nodded. "I do, Your Majesty. I hope to accompany him in his campaign." That seemed to surprise him.

"I had hoped you would be remaining in Kirkwall. I understand there's a power vacuum here."

"I am not suited to take up the Viscount's throne, Your Majesty."

Varric snorted. "You're a better choice than anyone else." Aveline frowned, though and Isabela and Fenris exchanged glances.

Aeryn shook her head. "That may be. But Kirkwall made me Champion by their choice, not mine. I will defend the city so long as I am here, but I will not be remaining."

"This seems an old argument." The king glanced between the companions.

Her voice was spare and cool as she explained. "My mother's family is an old name here in the Marches, sire and there are some, like Serah Tethras, who feel I'm a good choice. But I'm an apostate's daughter, a mercenary, a thief and an assassin by training and I was raised in Ferelden, which are heavy considerations for many others. Personally, I have little patience with petty politics and this city has brought me little but grief outside of my companions. If Prince Vael leaves, then I follow." Sebastian took her hand and the king's glance lingered on their twined fingers.

"I see. I'm sorry for Kirkwall, then. It seems to have worse luck than a nug in a dwarven camp.”

"The city and I will stand a bit yet. If I can be honest..." Sebastian saw her face shift and Fenris and Varric stood straighter at the change in her voice.

"As you can be, please." He sounded intrigued.

"I don't think the situation will last much longer. Meredith is mad." Sebastian startled at her outright declaration and Aveline grunted in surprise. "My sister is in the Gallows and the mages have been quarantined for weeks, now. People who have never so much as cast a spark are being hunted as blood mages, while actual blood mages roam the streets like this was Tevinter. Tranquil are being created in numbers with complete disregard for whether they've passed their Harrowing or not." Her eyes were wide and serious, her features set. "We are...we are likely due a storm any time, now, Your Majesty. I suggest you not linger in the city once you conclude your business."

"What business? I came seeking allies against Orlais' fiddling and some improved trade and discovered that Kirkwall is neck deep in its own troubles. Your sister?" She nodded and Sebastian tightened his grip. The king looked grave. "I am sorry, Champion."

"Call me Hawke, most everyone else does." She pulled them away from the dark topic.

"Hawke, then. And, could you possibly just call me Alistair? There aren't many who will, these days." She gave him one of her wicked grins and Sebastian saw the king rise to it with a sudden smile that reached his eyes. Charmer.

"Permission to address a king informally? Absolutely, Alistair."

They chatted a minute more and he turned to go. He yet looked tired. And when he’d glanced between her and Sebastian, he looked a bit…sad? Was that what she’d seen? Aeryn felt a twist in her heart. Married man, king and all, but he lacked that…air of a man who was tended and beloved. She bit her lip and called out to him. “Alistair? When does your ship sail?”

“High tide. Why?” Aeryn tilted her head at Isabela who read her question in her eyes.

“Just after four bells, Hawke.”

“You’ve a few hours. I know you’re quartered here at the Keep, but would you care to share a meal at my estate? Informal, just my companions.”

He regarded her and then nodded. “I would, actually. That sounds exactly like something I would care to do.” His uncle sighed and shrugged.

“You too, of course, Bann Teagan.” But the man shook his head.

“No. I’ll stay here and keep the gossip down. I’ll entrust the King of Ferelden to you, Champion.”

The Bann’s formal language caught Aeryn’s attention and she gave him her best formal bow.

“I will take his care most seriously, my lord. Have no doubt.”

Sebastian leaned down to her as they exited the Keep. “Orana is going to be plotting your demise if you bring a king to her table with no warning.”

She winked up at him. “I plan to send word.” Fortunately, they’d spent the last two of her recovery days restocking the larder. They’d probably spend the next week doing it again, if the king’s Warden appetite was similar to Anders’. She waved down Pauli and another of his friends and sent them scurrying to Orana and to invite Anders and Merrill. She never was sure when the mages would join them, but she couldn’t leave them out. Anders had the Warden connection, as rarely as he spoke of it. And Merrill shared a clan with the Dalish Hero. And while that was now a sore subject, she might have good memories of the woman who had ended the Blight.

They took a quick tour of the less deadly parts of Kirkwall, including one up to the ramparts of the walls to show him the view of the Wounded Coast. Aeryn hadn’t been up there in ages, but it would give Orana a little time.

While they walked, Isabela gave Alistair a nudge and he smiled fondly at her. "It’s good to see you, Captain. Though I'm rather shocked to find you landlocked."

"Not for much longer. The wind is shifting." And winked back at Fenris who gave her a smirk. He’d heard about her wild night with the Hero and her second. Isabela eyed the king again. "You looked better rested traipsing across Ferelden, sleeping in the mud and fighting 'spawn and traitors every other hour, sweet thing. I'm sorry about Lyna." She was unusually subdued.

"Me, too." His eyes seemed locked on something distant and Isabela frowned.

"Didn't know her long, but I don't think she'd have wanted you to dwell."

"Haven't actually. Married. Doing the king bit. Just...remembering her suddenly." He ducked his head a little and Isabela glanced back at Hawke who was distracted from listening by something Sebastian was whispering in her ear. Lovebirds, she sighed.

"Yeah, I saw it, too."


Orana had outdone herself, taking the initiative to send out for a few things as well as spreading out the entire content of their kitchen on the broad trestle table. After a convivial dinner, they retired to the study for drinks. Anders hadn’t come but Merrill had peeked in and Aeryn had made a point to give her a cuddle until she’d agreed to stay. Alistair had seemed startled at her appearance, but had welcomed a chance to talk of Lyna Mahariel with someone who had known her before her Joining.

Bodahn hadn't been exaggerating his association with the Hero's band and he and Alistair told a few amusing stories. "I'll say it again, it was Sten who kept putting dead rabbits in Morrigan's pack and blaming it on Fen’duril. I’m sure of it. The man had an unhealthy obsession with her undergarments."

"That might be so, sire. Though he wasn’t the only one. Mistress Morrigan was quite distracting."

Aeryn slipped back to the kitchen and Aveline followed to help. Fenris, Donnic, Varric and Isabela broke out the cards and let Merrill deal. Alistair begged off the game, citing his complete and absolute lack of ability and Isabela had backed him, with a tale of watching him flail at Wicked Grace. He and Sebastian were sharing a quiet companionable glass next to the fire, instead, while watching the proceedings.

A few sips in, Alistair spoke. "She's formidable, your Hawke."

Sebastian couldn't help a fond smile. "She is."

Alistair regarded him solemnly. "Are you planning know, marrying her?"

Yes. Tomorrow if he thought it feasible. He hesitated before he replied, though. "Eventually. Things are unsettled here and I'd hoped to give her more than I have to offer at the moment."

"Don't." Sebastian must have gaped because Alistair shook his head ruefully. "Bad choice of phrase. Don't wait, I mean. If you love her and she, you...don't wait."


"No. I know something of what I speak. You don't want to wake one day and find you've missed your chance to make her yours. You'll get to be prince and then there'll be meetings and people trying to fit you into their boxes and she'll...women like that don't take to boxes, Sebastian. They fight them."

"She's...we've discussed that. I think she's aware of what will come." He noticed now, that Alistair was twirling a small ironbark ring with leaves and vines inlaid in gold and a tiny rose artfully enameled in red glass around the second joint of his smallest finger on his shield hand. It was a beautiful trifle and it looked out of place on his scarred and weather-beaten digit, but Sebastian could see pale skin underneath. It rarely came off. He wore no other, married or no.

"Not to mention...lives like ours are dangerous and often short. Too blessed short."

"I don't guess I realized you and the Hero were..."

"Lyna. Almost everyone called her the Warden or Mahariel or 'that Maker forsaken pointy eared bi...troublemaker' and now they call her 'the Hero.'" He stared into the amber liquid in his glass. "She had a name."

Sebastian felt a sympathetic ache in his chest. Aeryn was rarely addressed by hers, either. Just him, his privilege.

"Your Hawke...she reminds me a little of Lyna. Coloring's different, true and of course, not an elf. But...fierce. Same sort of dangerous grace. Smiles like she's about to steal your heart and your purse. Something dark behind the eyes. Lyna favored daggers and leathers and shadows, too." He finished his drink and waved off the offer of a refill. "Nah, melancholy enough. Don't want to drown in it. I'm just...she's a Ferelden. Just feel I should look after her a little."

"I understand." Sebastian replied gently. "And, it’s good advice. Thank you. I’ll keep it to mind." He would. There was a hard earned honesty in Alistair’s words.

"Does she like roses?" Actually, Sebastian thought, he didn't know what flowers Aeryn favored. There hadn't been many opportunities for flowers. "Just, Sandal knows a neat trick with preserving flowers. Get him to show you sometime." The king rose to his feet as Aeryn and Aveline reentered. "Hawke, you've been a fine hostess and I've eaten you out of house and home and cheese, but I should get back. Teagan's probably having kittens."

They made it back to the Keep without a skirmish. Alistair seemed disappointed. "Not even Kirkwall villains are that foolish." Aeryn indicated their group, armed to the teeth and fell, beneath their camaraderie. "Next time we'll go a hunting bandits, hmm?"

"I'll hold you to it. You've a fine crew, Hawke. Cherish it. Even when it seems like it'll last forever..." He trailed off, shaking his head with a self-mocking grin. "Maker, Vael, that Starkhaven whiskey is potent. I'll have to send a case to the Vigil." He bowed elegantly and clasped Aeryn's hand. "My lady."

"Hey!" Isabela launched herself at him and kissed him soundly while Fenris rolled his eyes. "Next time I want a rematch."

Alistair grinned and kissed her again before setting her back, giving her cleavage a salute. "We'll see." The guardsman held the door for the king and his Captain. "Let me know when you make your bid for the throne. I can't give you troops, but I can make a proclamation. That's always very useful." His tone was wry. "Or maybe I'll run away from home, help you fight your war." And they were laughing as the king turned away.

Chapter Text

"Anders. This is a sewer. I mean, the Bone Pit was one thing but...." She exchanged a glance with Varric and Fenris and only just managed to keep the whine out of her voice. Oh, she'd be buying the good stuff after this.


"I know...but Hawke, this is the only place. I wouldn't make you if it wasn't important." He gave her a sweet smile. "Please?"


"Importuning mage." But Aeryn walked into the reek with a grin and so distracted, she missed the dark look that flashed across Anders’ features.


Sebastian had a meeting at the Keep so it was just her, Fenris and Varric on this jaunt. Fenris had at first flatly refused to accompany them but when Aeryn had shrugged and started to leave, he'd followed, muttering something about not letting her walk in the dark alone.


An hour later, she reeked as much as the sewer. She might never get the smell out of her new leathers, she thought, plucking something rank off her sleeve and tossing it aside. Anders leaned down to ask quietly, "Hawke. Can I ask you something else? In private?" She shrugged and waved Varric and Fenris off.


"C'mon, Broody. Let's go find something that'll kill our sense of smell." Varric grumbled. Fenris glanced back, with a tight expression and she tossed her head indicating she'd see them later.


He shut the door to the clinic. Anders leaned against the examining table and watched her for a minute. She'd lost a bit of weight...nothing serious, he knew from the last exam he'd given her. Just tired and still grim over the elves and the lack of contact with Bethany and everything else Kirkwall was pressing on her. Vael wasn't taking as good of care of her as...he bit off the thought and asked his question.


"I need to get into the Chantry, tonight. I need you to distract the Grand Cleric."


Aeryn blinked at him. Why would... "Anders, what kind of a spell is this? Why in flames do you need in the Chantry?" She had a creeping feeling starting along the base of her spine.


"Don't ask so many questions. me?"


"You've known me for nearly eight years. Tell me again to not ask questions." She couldn't help the scoff.


"Please?" But she was a born liar. She knew deception when it tried to look her in the eye.


"No! Tell me what this is. Now."


Hurt and anger gleamed in his gaze and he felt justified in a righteous protest. "You'll fight blood mages without a question for Fenris, kill Varric's brother, slaughter half a clan of innocent elves for your pet blood mage. You're risking an open civil war for your sodding prince. I just need you to talk to an old woman for a few minutes, Hawke!"


"And none of them lied to me about why, Anders." She narrowed her eyes. She'd been too distracted recently. Something had changed. This was... not right. "You're lying about something. Tell me what it is." She searched his face and inwardly blanched at what she saw, the desperation and finality. "This isn't going to separate you from Justice, is it?"


Her voice had gone calculating and smooth and he flinched away from it. "No."


"Tell me what you're doing. Sodding Void, Anders!" She slapped the table beside him, tired of circles, sending him jumping. "You know I'll help you if I can. Just tell me. Don't make me go in blind."


"I..." Almost. He'd almost told her. But she would stop him. Before Vael had won her, she'd have been on his side. But now? He shook his head.


She wasn't a mage, she'd never understand. Vengeance whispered, she'd left her sister to the Gallows, when she could have had Bethany free in a trice. She'd hunted mages for Meredith. She wasn't his ally anymore. "Go home, princess. Thanks for the charitable visit."


She stepped back as though he'd slapped her. "Fine. I'm going to find out, Anders. You know I will." She stalked out of the door. Go and clean up and talk to Sebastian. She doubted Anders had it in him to try and do whatever it was on his own. He'd avoided the Chantry like a plague zone since Karl.

She felt his eyes on her back.

She would find out.

That was what she'd intended anyway. The crawl through the Pit yesterday and the sewer fight today had taken their toll, though. She'd slept poorly, even for her, since the elves. Warm and sleepy after her bath, she padded through the silent, empty house. Orana was out for the afternoon for her lesson and Bodahn and Sandal had some appointment about Orlais. Sebastian hadn’t returned, either. She'd just wait for him outside, under the tree. He'd come looking, he always did. The early autumn sun was warm, the grass was fragrant and soft beneath the rug and...


The frustrating meeting had Sebastian seething and tense. He had expected to eventually come up against some resistance to the idea of his return, but this had been more of a reluctance to change rather than outright disapproval. Goran wasn't a good Prince, but he had given many of the nobles free reign in a way that was entirely new to Starkhaven. Not a bad thing, either, he realized. It made the gathering of support more difficult, though.


He was having a little difficulty explaining that he was amenable to changes but not to complete overhaul of a system that had worked well for a very long time. The smooth politicking was a different world than the part of the Chantry he was accustomed to, though he wasn't so naive as to think it didn't occur there as well. Something else he needed to learn. Now he knew why Varric was always encouraging him to take more part in Kirkwall's society.


Now, though, he just wanted his bow in hand and a target. Simplicity at it's finest.


He wasn't surprised to spy Aeryn in the garden. On the nicest days it was her wont to spread a rug, lean against the chestnut tree in her garden and doze.


He didn't like to disturb her. He knew she wasn't sleeping well. It was one of many things that had begun to worry him.


Her moods shifted like quicksilver these days. She'd started picking at the good food Orana and she kept on their table. She focused too much on the safety and comfort of her companions and random strangers and ignored her own. He needed to get her out of Kirkwall, away for a while at least from the constant requests of the Champion's attention. Yet one more reason to continue his pursuit of the throne.


Sebastian knew the thrum of the string would wake her. But the sun had shifted and she was in some danger of a sunburned nose, anyway. He was a little surprised, then, when he hadn't heard her stir after he'd been shooting for a quartermark or so. He stripped off his tunic and went back to work. Long shot. Short range. Precise. And yet more precise. Draw and release and breathe. As much a meditation as anything he reached in his piety.


Aeryn woke to see him as soon as the first arrow struck home, dead center as always. Watching under lowered lashes she observed as he moved gracefully, a study in power and control. She knew the strength it took to draw that bow. He'd allowed her a try or two, but her strength was distributed differently. She'd barely gotten a half pull in, though she'd never had a problem with the shortbow she'd often carried in the past.

There had been something she meant to tell him, she thought, fuzzily.


He stripped off his tunic and her mouth went dry and her thought escaped her. Sweat soaked and well warmed up, he was temptation personified, his skin shining golden in the sun. The veins roped in his arms as he tensed. The movement rippled up his ridged abdomen and across his back, tuning muscles in tiny increments. A wet throb started, hot between her thighs. Maker, he didn't even have to touch her anymore, just the sight of him and the memory of what he could do, how he could make her feel.


Where would she begin, this time? That gorgeous dip right above his hipbone or...A droplet of sweat slipped down from his neck to linger right at the join of his shoulder to his spine. Or...oh, that place where the vein wrapped over his wristbone. There. She let her hand drift down her stomach.


He heard her shift, finally. And then she sighed just like...oh, my... His hand moved reflexively to unstring his bow.


"You've still got arrows, love." He glanced back at her and then turned at the sight, a sly crooked smile on her lips, her knees splayed and her skirt rucked up to the tops of her thighs.


"Aeryn..." He felt poleaxed, his jaw dropped just a bit. Her clever fingers right up her...


"I'm watching your form. See how you work with a distrac...tion. You finish your....ah, set."


Sebastian was suddenly dizzy as the blood drained from his extremities elsewhere.


Holy Beloved. That was... "Back to work, archer or I'm going inside. Alone." She actually sounded annoyed.


Right. He managed to not completely miss the next shot, though it was only barely in the ring. "Hmm..that's disa...ah...disappointing."


"Wicked lass." He was right in the center next shot. She had him hard as stone and he adjusted his stance to deal with that, not usually a problem in a fight. He shot a twin, neatly cleaving the other arrow and snorted at his attempt to impress her.


"Oh…oh, better." Her voice had gone low and breathy. Maker...enough...


Sebastian loosed the last five arrows in quick succession. Fairly sure the last one hit...already sliding between her taut thighs, batting her fingers away, growling to find her in smalls. He dragged them down and off and nimbly unstrapped her thigh sheath, casting it aside before nosing into her folds to find her soaking heat. He sucked hard on her clit, just to hear her wail. The sound sent a smile to his lips and a shudder of want through his body.


She dug her fingers into his hair to drag him up to her mouth, tasting herself on him, tang and salt. " need work on that...hunh..middle"


He balanced over her on one arm and worked open his laces and she made quick work of her top, baring herself to the waist. "That so?" He swiveled lean hips to push off the leather trousers and she reached to him, rubbing her slicked fingers over the head of his cock and he jerked in her hand before he pushed it aside and pressed back her knee to fit himself against her. The need to be inside her like drums in his ears.


"Ye...ahhh..." He hilted himself in one stroke, lifting her into his lap in a smooth movement and Aeryn marveled at the strength of him again. She rolled her spine, rocking and wrapping her legs around his waist, plastering herself against his overheated slick skin. "Not...uh quite it c.c.could be."


"I...Maker...will take that into considera...tion..oh..." She was worrying his earlobe with sharp teeth. Her short nails digging in his back, his shoulder. Little wild cat...He was done with practice. He braced one arm against the tree behind her head in case she leaned too far back, wrapped the other around her, pistoning his hips as she whimpered and lapped her tongue along his jaw, swiveling to work her pelvis. He licked the top of one breast, then nibbled to its twin.


"Harder, ah, that's..." He worked inside of her, felt like he was up in her throat and oh, holy flames, so gloriously full. Her heel dug into his straining arse, as though to push him closer.


He glanced up to see her eyes flash as her slick muscles contracted and dragged around his cock. The consuming rush, the need to come and fill her up crept through his veins. "Aeryn. So good, you feel just..." He pressed openmouthed kisses to her throat, tasting the salt and honey of her flesh.


White lights behind her eyes burned into sparks slamming down her spine and her head snapped back as she shouted. She hadn't come down from the first orgasm when he flipped her onto her back and pulled her leg up over his shoulder for the better, deeper angle. Sebastian slid his hand down her back, finding and circling the dimples for a moment, to dig his long fingers into the firm flesh of her bottom and shifted his other hand to strum her swollen clit with his thumb.


"Sing for me, Aeryn... come on, leannan…" His voice, rough and urgent dragged over her, one more sensation to her over-stimulated senses.


"Sebastian...oh, Sebastian..." Keening, sweet, the way she bent back, he'd swear she didn't have a bone in her spine. He drove into her, letting the sound of her cries spiral through him.


"Oh, here we go, love, good lass..." He bit his lip trying to hold off for her one more time as she clenched around him, scalding hot and wet.


She arched and bucked and came apart underneath him with a shriek as he let himself go, thrusting on every word. "Never ever going to get enough of you, mo chridhe. Holy sweet...ah."


>>>---- > ---000---


They were sitting in the study with their tea when Orana arrived back from her lesson. Aeryn curled in her chair and Sebastian against her knees.

She'd brought him in a chair, once she'd realized that all of the seating in the room was selected by her mother to suit the members of the household, shorter and low backed. The one he chose was leather covered with the high back he preferred and fit the longer length of his legs. Yet he almost always gravitated to the floor, to lean against her.


"Is this a set back, do you think?" She asked of his wasted meeting.


He considered as he laid his head back, enjoying the press of her thigh to his skull. "No. I don't think so. There was always going to be some who cut up sharp and either prefer Goran or want the power that a vacuum would leave. Robard is still on board with his extensive connections, the Viscount of Ostwick and the Lady of Cumberland. I've had the letters from Mikal of Ainbridge and Darin at Cleve recently. I think...I think perhaps it will be time, come spring. I hesitate to launch something like this in the winter months."


His brow was drawn as he spoke. He didn't want a war, she knew. The people of Starkhaven were on his mind, as they would bear the brunt of any protracted fighting. She smoothed the lines and rubbed at his temple as she contemplated what he said. "I will call that the plan, then. I'll have Varric start the process for selling the estate. We likely wouldn't have a buyer before Solstice anyway." The profits would provide a living for them until the throne was settled, pay the bills for a short campaign. There wouldn't be much time for dungeon crawls during a coup.


Hesitantly he asked, "Are you sure, leannan?" He hated the idea of her selling what had been the jewel of the Amell family. He couldn't imagine doing the same.


She leaned over him, a soft smile hiding just a touch of her own fear. "Are you not, my love?"


"You bled for this home, Aeryn. You were locked in the dark." And that had been another story he wished he'd never heard. "I don't..."


Oh, well if that was the reason he hesitated, that was easy to dismiss. "Not my home. Mother's home. Bethany's dream. My dreams..." She paused and then took the jump. "My dreams follow you, Sebastian. We go to Starkhaven or we choose another path. But I am leaving Kirkwall, dreams or no." It's not good for me to be here anymore, she didn't say.


He turned and faced her. "Then come wi' me, Aeryn. I'll...We'll make such a home, mo chridhe. I swear it." He could do that. Maybe even a finer reason than that he thought he'd be a better leader than Goran. Give her a home, forge a place strong enough that she'd feel safe. That was something he could set before the Maker. He was earnest, his eyes ablaze.

The sudden light in him took her breath. "I believe you." She cradled his face and pulled him to her for a kiss, warm and affirming. He sipped at her lips and opened to her and their tongues stroked together, briefly before he broke the kiss to feather them against her temples, then leaned his forehead against hers.

She slipped her hands down to gently rub his shoulders, broad and strong under her hands. If she had faith in nothing else, there was this, the surety that if Sebastian swore to something he would do his best to see it through.

He recalled Alistair's advice, to ask her for marriage before she thought too much about how her role would change or before death could separate them. He had no doubts he wanted to ask, but he yet hesitated. Kirkwall still consumed them. He wanted an open door before them when he offered his hand.

She brushed her lips against his cheekbone and tugged back to sip at her tea. "I need to talk with you about Anders." She didn't want to but...something in her friend's face.

"Did you get what he needed for his spell?" Sebastian had been pleasantly surprised that the mage was trying to drive out the spirit which possessed him.

"I think so...but he said he needed to do something at the Chantry, some reason...but Elthina wasn't to know."

He frowned. "That's odd, I take it."

She forgot sometimes that magic and its contours and requirements were yet strange to him. He hadn't grown up with them. "I've never heard of a spell requiring being cast in a Chantry. There are loci of power...but I doubt the...well, wait." Something occurred to her that hadn't when she'd been filthy and tired and tense. "The Chantry is a Tevinter structure, isn't it?"


"Maybe...there may be some sort of power center then. Void, I hadn't thought of that." She rubbed her face. "Oh, I may have blown up at him for no better reason than he made me run about a sewer all morning, scraping samples." She laughed at the choking sound he made. "I've scrubbed. Twice. And I used the carbolic soap on my hands. I promise you'd have been able to tell, otherwise."

He cocked his eyebrow at her skeptically and casually mentioned, "You know...I read that manifesto of his." He'd mocked so often and felt guilty for it after Anders had come to the Chantry to aid him. When he'd come across a copy of it in her library the last rainy day, he'd paused, then sat with it a bit.

"Did you now?" Her eyebrows were nearly at her hairline. "And?"

"And I think he's mad as a sack full of wet cats." She smacked his shoulder and he looked mockingly wounded as he chuckled. "But, he's got a point or two." Sebastian conceded. "Hidden near entirely under the complete insanity."

She nodded ruefully. "They are a bit tucked in there, yes. It was better before. There was less...elaboration."

"He had a point or two. Maybe something good will come of this."

And Aeryn hated to tell him that there wasn't a spell to divide the spirit out, not when he'd just made a huge concession in his attitude towards Anders and the mages' she didn't. Anders wasn't likely to do anything without her. She'd talk to him in the morning.

It was Diamondback night at Fenris' again and Aeryn chivvied Sebastian out of the mansion to play. They were good for him, those friendships he'd built with Fenris and Donnic, the gruff mentoring that Varric undertook. It would give him a chance to push around his plans and she sent a note with him, asking Varric to start the selling process.

She'd be lying if she wasn't eternally grateful that Sebastian and Fenris took to one another. Someday her partner was going to decide he was tired of following, but until then, Aeryn wanted Fenris at her side and Sebastian watching their backs. They were a good team. If Anders wasn't so unpredictable these days, they'd have a perfect foursquare force.

Anders. She snagged on the memory of the hurt and the deception on his face. Maybe he did just need the Chantry's Tevinter history. But, he'd said.... She shook her head. Just go and sketch the building over, see if anything looks amiss.

Upstairs, she pulled her older, black merc leathers out of the chest. Better for dark work, anyway. Absently she noticed that they fit better than they should have, given her more relaxed life and the way Sebastian and Orana kept putting food in front of her. She smudged some soot across her nose and cheeks and grabbed her hood before heading out the door.

---000--- >>>------ >

Sebastian settled into one of the chairs Fenris had pulled to the fire. Donnic had popped his head in earlier to tell Fenris he'd not be joining them. Varric hadn't shown either. The fire crackled and he stretched his booted feet out towards it. The night had taken an early chill. It boded poorly for winter.

Fenris proffered a bottle and when Sebastian nodded he poured a glass. Hawke would have just shared the bottle, but her archer was more fastidious. The cards lay between them, so he dealt a round of cutthroat. Sebastian contemplated his hand and lead out in suite. He would take the chance to try and convince Fenris to accompany them to Starkhaven, then. Aeryn had won a confession that he would follow so long as she led, but he'd ducked Sebastian again the last time the archer brought it up.

"I wish you'd think about coming with us, Fenris."

Faintly exasperated, Fenris sighed. "We have discussed this. Why do you think I will change my mind?"

"We're leaving in the spring. Aeryn is going to sell out the estate for the last of the coin." He stated it bluntly, hoping to spark a reaction.

Fenris blinked. The plans were in motion, then. For some reason, he'd felt it was only talk. "I still have no reason to believe I should go."

There was a flash of bleakness in Fenris' expression. And it occurred to Sebastian that while he'd once asked Aeryn if she was in love with Fenris, he'd never asked Fenris the same question.

Could he ask? It seemed beyond the properties of their friendship, but it would explain the elf's reluctance. Sebastian decided against asking. Let Fenris have his secrets. He could come up with some other reason. "There are elves in Starkhaven. Their lives are as dismal as the ones here. If I'm Prince, maybe I can make a change there. How much easier will that be if you're with us, Fenris?"

"I'm no revolutionary, Sebastian. Nor can I teach most of what I know."

Sebastian snorted and laid out another run. "I'm living proof that you're a good enough teacher."

That was true. Hawke had been reluctant to spar with Sebastian in early days, no doubt trying to avoid what intimacy could spring up between two people when blood was hot and spirits high. Varric had handled archer's tricks but Fenris had stepped in when it became clear that Sebastian's hand to hand was rusty from disuse.

Shrugging, Fenris dismissed the idea. "You were well trained already. You simply required finesse and exercise of your skill." He responded to Sebastian's lead with trump.

"We want you to come. She'd miss her partner. I'd miss my friend."

The elf shook his head, finding refuge behind his fringe. He’d remind Sebastian, then, why it was a bad idea. "You were jealous of me, of what Hawke and I have wrought together, not long ago, Sebastian. I would not insert myself into your lives, not when you are about to start them anew."

Fenris wasn't wrong. And it was possible from the outside, people would even misjudge as he once had. But Aeryn needed Fenris, needed him to fight beside and to understand the bits of her that Sebastian found baffling. So...

"I'm taking her from Kirkwall. And I know she's glad to go. She'd go anyway. But, I'm taking her to a war, in all probability, man." Sebastian let his fear of that show and played his final card. "I'm taking her to start a war. Andraste forgive me, but I have to. And I know she's perfectly capable of fighting, more eager than I, but damned if I'll do it without taking you to fight beside her when I can't."

Fenris' head came up at that, surprise lighting his eyes. "I...I had not considered that." Nearly eight years he'd stood beside Hawke. Sebastian saw it first. It was...wrong somehow to let her go off without him to battle. It was not yet time to leave her. Not yet.

---000--- >>>----- >

There wasn’t anything here. It was the same stolid, forbidding building it had always been. Aeryn had snuck in, the shadows of the pillars hiding her from prying eyes. She’d rummaged through the rooms that she’d avoided since she’d come to know Sebastian, not wanting to be tempted to seek out his cell. Or exercise her habit of looting unattended valuables among his fellow Called. She even went down to the damp cellars, the walls seeping with the same chokedamp that stifled Darktown. Nothing.

No altars, no statues. Nothing that looked like it would draw a desperate mage’s attention. There was a swirling dragon medallion in the floor of the cellar, but it was only a crest of some sort and crusted in calcite and salt. No sign of any tampering.

Anders had said tonight, but that was when he expected her to help him. Maybe she should go back and convince him that she’d changed her mind. Maybe she could deduce what he was up to, then. She climbed up the narrow cellar stairs.

The Grand Cleric was yet in her loft, tending the altar. One more try, then. For Sebastian.

“Grand Cleric?”

Elthina turned, startled. She looked older, somehow. The fragile skin around her eyes seemed thinner and darker. Aeryn wondered, a little guilty then, just how much of the woman’s work Sebastian had taken upon himself and if she was suffering without his aid.

Her voice was still smooth and warm, though. “Champion? To what do I owe the honor?” And just a wee bit sarcastic. Aeryn had always liked that about her, despite everything.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, your Grace. I just wanted…there may be a new threat to the Chantry.”

Her eyebrows went up. “Oh, and what would that be?”

“I’ve gained knowledge that mages may try to enter the sanctuary for some reason. I…wow, that sounds extraordinarily vague.” Aeryn mocked herself.

“Sebastian has been working on you as well, then?” Aeryn shrugged. What could she say, really? One of my companions is a bit mad. He’s got some nasty scummy noxious dirt he may put in your bed clothes? Tomato juice and carbolic will get the smell out? “He looks well. Happy and whole, since he’s gone to you. I am glad, Hawke.”

A tiny blush ran up her neck. It was a little like having a lover’s mother tell you she was glad her son was satisfying you in bed. “He’s good to me. I’m glad you think he’s happy.” It was a soft little voice that Elthina had never heard from the sharp, adventure-prone woman.

“I hope to see you in Chant with him, soon.” The slight thaw in Hawke froze back over. Elthina sighed. Well, that was a mistake. Sebastian was right, better to let her come to things in her own time.

“Hawke, I will tell you as I have told Sebastian. Repeatedly. The Maker watches over his Chantry. Nothing will happen that does not have his express intention behind it. I will stand with my flock.”

Aeryn nodded, trying to beat back the sudden resentment that had sprung up. The woman meant well. It was what she did. “If that’s your will, then I’ll respect it, Grand Cleric.”

Elthina regretted that the gentle softness was gone, now. Back to the cool politeness that Leandra must have worked very hard to teach the wild girl Hawke likely had been once upon a time. “Maker keep you in his Light, child. I pray for you often.”

“I probably need it.” Aeryn threw her a quirked smile as she trotted back down to the shadowy narthex.

She hung around the Chanter’s Board for a while, lingering in its shadow. She still felt something was off, but there was nothing to point to and night was drawing on. The chill gathered and she tipped her nose up, sniffing at the autumn sneaking in on the wind.

Aeryn hadn’t left a message for Sebastian. He’d worry if he came back and she was gone. Sighing, she shook off her uneasiness. She’d run up to the Keep and then go back to the estate.

Aveline didn’t share her concern, though. Without some actual threat, she didn’t want to move precipitously.

“Hawke, if you know something specific, then I’ll act. But until then, I…Do you really want me to slam into Darktown and drag him from his clinic for nothing but a bad feeling?” Aveline had avoided the topic of Anders almost since she’d met the mage. It was one of those spots she kept blind. Hawke needed Anders, with her lifestyle. As long as he kept her whole and spent most of his time healing, then Aveline had little qualm helping him duck the law. It was less a matter of protecting Anders than it was protecting Hawke. “It’s not like he hasn’t been set against the Chantry for seven years and longer.”

"Look, I don't know, alright? I know he isn't entirely sane, but he's been stable. But...something's got my hackles up. I know you're stretched thin...but..."

Aveline rubbed her forehead. She didn't like the slight desperate note in Hawke's voice. "I'll put a couple of guards out. For the rest of the week. But then they have to come off. The social season's starting and there are pick pockets enough to wipe the nobles clean. Don't look at me like that, they pay the taxes, Hawke. There wouldn't be a Guard without them."

Aeryn nodded, snagging her lip to worry at it for a moment. Maybe they could organize a private watch. She felt Aveline's heavy glove drop onto her shoulder.

"Go home, alright? Get some rest. Let me do my job. Anders is…he’s angry, but I don’t think he’ll move without you. Has he ever?"

He never had. Aeryn slipped through the shadows, back to the estate.

Sebastian slipped quietly into the house. He’d stayed far too long at Fenris’ when Donnic had unexpectedly come back. They’d played their game and enjoyed a bit of foolish chat. Fenris had been in rather good spirits, joshing Donnic about his desire to talk Aveline into a family.

The hall was silent and dim. There was a tray on the sidebar, a covered teapot and a small selection of rolls and cheese. Orana’s way of telling him that Aeryn hadn’t eaten dinner, again. He ducked into the bathing chamber and then picked up the snack on his way up.

She was curled around his pillow, sound asleep. She had a copy of Anders’ manifesto under her arm, enough to send anyone into oblivion, hand limply trailing off the edge of the mattress. He sat the tray aside and doffed his trews to slip in beside her, sliding the pamphlet out and dropping it on the table.

Snugging in next to her, Sebastian laid his hand on her pale, elegant back and stroked gently. The linen sheet just covered her hips but her skin was comfortingly warm so he didn’t draw it up further. She was like his own personal brazier. It was so simple a thing, to be allowed to touch freely and be warmed by the woman he loved. So simple and yet the richest blessing he’d ever received. He smirked at his lovesick thought. Such a fool for her.

He could wake her and pull her into his arms and have her trembling against him in moments, but it wasn’t what he wanted just now. He lay there, watching her relax further as he smoothed his hand down her back. Her face was sweet in repose, sharp eyes shut and red lashes in fans over her cheeks, the wicked grin put away, lush lips slightly opened. He brushed a feather light kiss to the deep groove a Tal Vashoth spear had left in her shoulder in her early Kirkwall years and saw her smile a little.

It wasn’t a bad day to put to close, he thought, sleepily. He’d not made any progress with Starkhaven, but he’d made her a promise and gotten Fenris to commit to coming with them, which would give her another reason to smile. Not long now, and he’d have her away from here and in a place maybe she’d come to call home. He curled around her and fell softly to dreaming.


They sat, sharing a bench, eating their oat porridge. The kitchen was warmer than the upper floor, this morning. Autumn had definitely set in over night. Aeryn threatened his plain bowl with the cream pot and Sebastian gruffed at her silliness, poking her ribs while surreptitiously stealing a nut from her bowl with his other hand. She pouted about the nut until he pressed another between her lips and smiled when she bit into it with a glint in her eye.

Orana had gone to market, citing a need to pick up new strings for her lute. Bodahn entered the kitchen, grave and quiet. There was a note in his hand and he handed it to his mistress.

“This came just now. The man who delivered it was a mage, my lady.”

Aeryn glanced at Sebastian’s curious face, shrugging. “Orsino again, probably.” She read a bit. “He needs my help. Apparently Meredith is making a move.”

“I’ll come with you.” He stood and picked up their bowls to take and scrape.

“You had Chant this morning,” she protested. “It’s likely just going to be another screaming match.”

“No. I…I don’t want to send you to the Gallows alone, leannan. I don’t know why, something seems off.”

Aeryn chewed at her lip. She felt it too, a need to gather in her friends and have them where she could see them and know them safe.

And so it was. They ran upstairs to find their armor while Bodahn sent for the companions to meet them at the docks.

---000--- >>>------ >

It was all so foolish. She turned to Orsino to try and convince him to let Meredith have her way. It would just be one more reason for the public to find fault with the Knight Commander and gain sympathy for the mages when she found nothing. Again. She tossed her head at the closest message runner who read her lips…go find the Grand Cleric. She was the only one these two idiots ever listened to.

And then…Oh, Anders.

Aeryn turned to the mage, horror written across her face and despair in her voice. "Anders. What have you done?!" Sebastian looked between them...Aeryn clearly knew what the mage referred to, but how?


He answered her even as a buzzing black-edged noise started ramping up. "What had to be done."


Aeryn started towards the noise, only to pull up sharp as something electric and vermillion and smelling of death ripped into the sky. Sebastian could see it over, through the Chantry...and...Holy Andraste, no...


A wall of blackish smoke edged in reddish lightning rolled over them, but the whole crowd was shocky and still, the after image burying itself in their brains.


Then it was gone, and smoking, flaming debris rained down around them. And everyone was talking and screaming and trying to understand, but all Aeryn could hear were the wounded cries coming from behind her. She turned to find Sebastian on his knees, tears streaming down his face.


She was quickly beside him and for just a moment he pressed his face against her stomach trying to hide from it. She shielded him as best she could with shaking hands while he gathered himself. Oh, Maker, she wanted Anders dead for doing this to Sebastian. Wanted his heart in her hands to hand to her lover. But…oh, oh Sebastian wouldn’t want that. She folded the chaos away and focused on the moment.

He pulled away, ashamed of his weakness, and began to pray his mentor and colleagues to the Maker's side and she turned back and made her stand.


Aeryn had no hesitation in siding with the mages.

Fenris and Aveline protested and she could offer only her one explanation. "I'm sorry. Bethany." Her one means of absolution, that she was made and meant to protect her sister. Aveline shook her head, still debating, but Fenris breathed in and nodded. He was with her. As always.

And even as she writhed inside, hating Anders for bringing this to a head, in this nightmarish way, she relished it. It was never going to end any other way, better it came now when she was still here.


The brief skirmish did nothing to dull the battle rush that built in her and she was moving towards the Gallows to seek her prey when Orsino cast Anders’ fate into her hands. Aeryn stood there, confused for a moment.


It was her decision? Why hadn't someone struck him down already? He ought to be dead. In earlier days he'd have died at her hand with no remorse, for this horror. It would have been her first reaction. But she tried to be slower to kill now, to remember debts and circumstances. Anders was mad. And he had been her friend.


Meredith was on her way to the Gallows, where Bethany would be. Aeryn struggled for a moment, her blood singing to simply follow to the hunt.


Anders was talking to her, explaining. She held up a hand to stop him, not caring to listen as he tried to martyr himself. He wasn't going to die at her hands, there was too much debt between them. Sebastian would remind her of how Anders had saved her and him, too.

They were even now, though. Aeryn would stand no longer between him and the justice that should come to him. She'd deliver him to the Gallows herself, offer him to whatever authority remained when the battle ended. But something had caught Sebastian's attention, once he’d completed his prayers for the fallen Templars.

"You knew about this?!" Betrayal and his earlier screams turning his tenor ragged and pointed.

Shock ripped through her, penetrating the battle plans and schemes in the front of her mind. How could he think that? "No. Sebastian. No." She shook her head, frantic suddenly.

"I've heard you talk about razing Kirkwall to th' ground. Is this what you meant?" But even in his grief, he could see the hurt and shock on her face that he would accuse her. Of course not.

"I would never do this to you, Sebastian. I told you that I was worried about his intentions. I tried to talk to the..."

He batted her explanation away. Talking. But she hadn't talked to Fenris' betrayer. Or hesitated to strike down Isabela's captor. Where was her blade in the midst of his loss?

He couldn’t stop the bitterness in his voice when he asked, "Then why is he no’ dead yet, Aeryn?" She went very still at his question.

"I don't...Sebastian, killing him like this, won’t it only make a martyr of him?" She tried to touch him but he flinched away from her.

"Who would follow th' memory of a demon possessed madman bringing death down on the heads of the innocent?" Sebastian's eyes were blazing, but the fires were cold and backed in tears and she dropped her gaze. "You just dinnae want ta admit you made a mistake, sheltering him all these years."

"He's been my friend, Sebastian. He's saved my life. Saved your sanity. I owe him." Almost in a whisper. But if he thought she should? If Sebastian thought Anders should die here...she was staring at the ground, caught between what he’d said before and what he was saying now. Only to jerk her eyes back up to him when he let his next words crack across her like a whip.

"I meant to go to Chant this morning. What if I'd been there, Aeryn? Would you be waffling then? He deserves death."

"I..." She looked away from him then, out over the courtyard where they had gathered. She'd been ignoring the chaos, trying to focus on the argument between Orsino and Meredith.

Sebastian could have been there, yes. Had he been, Anders would already be dead at her feet, truly. No debt would have covered that.

Who else was lost?

Sebastian’s mentor, the only one who’d given him succor in days when he had been so alone. Sarai liked to go to late morning services sometimes, after she'd seen Caleb to school. The girl she’d just sent to find the Cleric, who had time to get to the Chantry, but not enough to get away. Pauli might have been there waiting for a messenger job. Which of the guardsmen had been assigned there at her request? Oh, Maker. Donnic.

Some shattered remains of the Chantry lay around them. She could hear screams now, reedy and terrified. The smoke still billowing from the wreckage. All the death. Endless death. She'd missed something last night. Misread Anders’ desperation. She kept making mistakes and everyone paid but her.

She could have stopped it years before when she'd seen what Anders was.

If she'd remembered what she was.

Ah, but Sebastian remembered for her. Remembered how sharp and simple she could be. The bitter smoke faded out, the buzz of voices around her, the screams. That bone-deep exhaustion that had plagued her in the last few days dropped away. She had a mark and a purpose. Anders did deserve death.

She welcomed the stillness that crept into her heart.

Wild hurt tore up in Sebastian at her indecision as she stood silently, but then, she turned back to him.

"Of course." Her eyes were blank and her face was serene and pale. A bit of debris had nicked the edge of her eyebrow, sending a trickle of crimson down the apple of her cheek. "Yes."

Curving away with fluid grace, Aeryn was drawing her blade even as Sebastian heard an echo of dark, cruel, seductive laughter and Aeryn's own soft, wistful voice saying, "All I had to do was keep saying yes."

---000--- >>>------>

Chapter Text

He felt like someone had plunged him headfirst into an ice bath. She was only a step away from Anders, so quick she could have been a loosed arrow on its way to a target.


He wasn't as fast.


It was his longer reach that saved them.

"Stop! Aeryn, wait!" Sebastian caught her arm just as it began the motion that would drive the narrow blade under the mage's shoulder blade and into his heart. Her impassive gaze sent black despair spiraling through his gut, the knife between them pressed against his armor. Andraste, forgive me. Grabbing her shoulders, he shook her slightly, hearing the metal scrape against his chest piece.


"Don't. Not for me, not like this." What had he almost done? Was this how the nightmare started? "Forgive me for asking it of you." He wanted the creature dead, but not if it cost her soul, the heart of her. He tried to wipe the bloody trail from her face with his shaking hand, only to smear and feather it across her skin. He let slip a small anguished noise.


"Sebastian?" It was that small broken sound that broke through, then his bare fingertips on her face. He saw confusion race through her and could have wept anew.

She blinked up at him, feeling the stillness ebb. She had been...maybe he wanted to finish it himself? "Do you want to..." Almost brightly, as though she were offering him a turn at some game.


Sebastian's fingers were brushing the pommel before he tamped the surge of savage bloodlust that nearly made him take the blade she had twirled hilt first to him. Yes, oh yes he did. Wanted to carve out his heart.


Maker, I...forgive me. Your servant was right. He squeezed his eyes shut as he turned his face away from her.


"No. Elthina was right. Death is never justice." He heard the hollow ring in his words, but the hunger that seethed through him, twisting and greasy, could only be a sin.


"We are letting him go?" Fenris flared, outraged.


Aeryn shuddered in Sebastian's grip. Saw the horror written on his face. "No." Oh. Oh, he had asked had all seemed very clear for a moment. She pulled away from him. "No, we can't do that." She sheathed her knife and rubbed both hands over her face. She turned without a word or a touch and Sebastian felt his world slip a little.


She was busy reorienting herself, shutting down the urge to hide her face in his neck or to beg someone else to please for the love of all things holy start making the decisions because she really just wanted, for once to put her head down and fight and didn't notice his slump.


She walked around the crate that Anders was collapsed on. "You'll have to come with us."


"Really?" The mage looked stunned at his reprieve.


"If we live through this...I don't know. I'll think of something, I guess." Her fingers itched to place the blade at his throat. She wanted to shriek at him. But there wasn't time, now.


She was looking through him as though he only barely existed. "Thank..."


"Do not thank me, Anders." It was a cold growl and now she was looking at him. He rather thought he'd prefer it otherwise.


"I'll do my best to keep you alive." He whispered feebly.


She spun away. Ratcheting back the urge to strike him down. Redirecting it to fill in the gaps in her composure. She almost had it patched when Aveline's ringing voice caught her.


Aveline made up her mind at the last minute as Aeryn began to stalk towards the square. "I can't let you go it alone, Hawke. I'll send word to Donnic to act only in defense of the citizens and then I'll join you."


Sebastian saw her pull up and hunch those shoulders before she turned to her friend, shaking her head. " Don't come with us."


"What? Why?" The soldier was shocked. But, he thought he saw her logic. Ah, Aeryn.


"You've got a life here. You, out of all of us...don't let my poor choices ruin ..." Sebastian, Fenris and Varric all started to protest at her taking the blame but Aveline reached out, grabbed her and shook her. Hard. Hands on as always.


"This is not your fault. You spent an hour last night trying to convince me to put better guard on the Chantry. How long did you spend combing it for trouble? You knew something was wrong and you tried to fix it. You run yourself ragged trying to fix everything. And I wouldn't have a life if not for you. I'd have died with Wesley. I wouldn't be captain. I certainly wouldn't have Donnic." It was very nearly the longest speech he'd ever heard the taciturn woman ever give. He could practically here Aeryn's teeth rattle.


Even so, Aeryn looked like she might argue and Sebastian for once was glad of Aveline's blunt approach. "I will come with you or I will follow alone and cover your rear action. And if you don't like it, then lump it. I'm a big girl." She shot a quick look at Isabela who had cracked out a laugh. "I make my own choices about who to follow. Now stand up straight and let's go." Aveline let her go, glaring at her friend.


Sebastian held his breath for a moment, then Aeryn sassed. "Standing up straight makes you a bigger target, soldier girl."


There was fond amusement in the way the Guard-Captain crinkled her green eyes when she answered the old challenge between soldiers and scouts. "Spoken like someone's worried about covering her arse, shadow."


"That's what you grunts were for, I thought." Aeryn was smiling wryly, seeming back fully in her own skin. Maker bless you, Aveline Hendyr. He had no right to comfort and cajole as this break in her facade was his fault, caused by his cruel temper and unthinking accusations.


Aeryn took a breath and then glanced over her companions. Merrill looked like she wanted to run and hide, but she was casting a few preliminary protections. Fenris twitched his eyebrow at the growing sounds of chaos in the city. Varric jutted his jaw and cocked fair Bianca. Isabela looked very carefully bored. And Sebastian...


Sebastian was looking at her like he was waiting for her to rip his heart out. He had asked out of anger. She had answered out of her nature and now he was blaming himself, alone. He was rubbing at the back of his neck in a way she hadn’t seen him do since they’d slept together. Oh, love.

There were things to say. Hard words. But not now. She pushed it all into the box in her head and locked it.

She walked back up to him and set her hand to his chest plate. "I love you. Nothing has changed, alright? We'll talk later. But we've got to put it away right now."


He raised his eyes to hers, the blue slightly washed out with grief and shock and horror and whispered. "Leannan...forgive me." He shouldn't, he knew. Shouldn't bring it up now, but I can’t think straight until...

She closed her eyes, briefly. He had to..."Forgiven, then, if it means so much. Love, we have to go."

Her eyes were clear. The calculating set of her mouth said she was already trying to guess at strategy and the best use of talent. Aveline had reset her on a working path. To make her confront all of what happened would put them and innocents at risk. Aeryn might never forgive him if Bethany was lost because he made her talk to him.

Bethany. He wouldn't let Aeryn lose one more person. Those templars that stood between the sisters...they would discover the difference between piety and blind, unthinking faith.

Push it into the hands of the Maker, his grandfather had said. On the other side is the draw and the stillness. He grabbed for his focus. "I love you."

She saw his eyes shift, his breathing change and the focus snap. There's my archer. She gave him a sharp smile and felt her eyes widen when he returned it. That's new. That’s…but explore that later. There’s a hunt to be had.


"Let's go.”

>>>----- > ---000--


It was...worse than she'd expected.


All around them was the evidence of panic and sudden violence. People were huddling like sheep. Wailing over the dead. There were fires and other evidence of magical resistance.


And no choice but to move forward. That, she could use. She spared a glance for the estate as they passed their square. It seemed relatively intact. Bodahn knew something about cities under attack. He'd have Sandal and Orana doing what could be done, filling in the plan the two of them had sketched out back after the Qunari siege. She pushed it aside with all the rest.

The fighting grew more intense as they approached their goal. It seemed to Sebastian that they fought as many demon possessed mages as they did templars. He called out to Fenris who raised a hand in thanks before ending a retreat with his flashing massive sword filling the gap.

He felt doubt slide aside as he shot and watched Aeryn. No hesitance in her now.

The rest of them might doubt. Aveline and Varric shared a distinct air of unease, fighting Templars. Fenris was scowling and swearing to himself in Arcanum. Even the abomination was trying to heal as he went, making lethal injuries merely incapacitating. But this...

This was literally what Aeryn was made for. Her sister was in peril at the hands of Templars and demons. Aeryn was the line drawn between that peril and freedom.

Sebastian suppressed a shudder as he aimed and released. She had never lied to him. She had always been honest about what her father's training had made of her. There was none of the serene emptiness she'd cast herself into for the assassin's trade nor of the open glee she took in fighting bandits or slavers or blood mages. Aeryn was made to defend mages from templars and to end the torment of mages given over to demons.

She looked like she was at the altar rail. Sealed with a fell and holy peace.

And it came to him that he couldn't fault her for it, even as he prayed for their souls. The Templars were following an evil order. The Circle mages shouldn't have been blamed for one demon-ridden man's work. He had no hesitation in following her in this. He'd almost failed her, earlier, asking her to murder her friend in cold blood. He wouldn't fail her now, saving her sister.

He had changed so much since she had slinked across the Chantry narthex and dropped Meghan's locket and the mercenaries’ insignia into his hand, with a wicked smile and an appreciative glance and then listened, honestly listened to what he'd said.


He'd taken a wholly different path following the curve of her hip and the jagged corners of her heart. Found purpose and clarity and shelter from the buffets of his temper and the wind of fate.


And he had no doubt the Maker's hand was on them. This was the path he'd been meant for. Nothing in this was easy or good. But it was right. Even in this, the Maker had a purpose. Perhaps this was where things would begin to change. And if she was the Maker's chosen pivot point, then he would stand with her.


His bowstring might sing the Maker's will as clearly as any Chanter.


They felled demon after demon. Did none of these sodding mages have an ounce of control? Bethany had more willpower when she was 12, Aeryn groused to herself as they took a breath before crossing the bridge to Lowtown. Fenris looked grimmer by the minute.


Sebastian wore an odd look and she could feel his eyes tracking her. There was some repair to be done there if they survived. He would, perhaps she should not guess what he was thinking. She had been rather in error, before.


That temper had gotten the better of them, though she could not blame him for his grief. And had she not been so sure of his moral center, she'd have been better braced against his ire. He was good, but he was human. She was not as good as he was, but she'd learned restraint. He'd trusted her to say no. She'd trusted him not to ask. It wasn't the trust that was wrong, surely.


Void. Cram it back in the box, Aeryn. It doesn't matter if you're dead.


She touched his shoulder before they set off again. "I love you." Just in case.


"And I, you, mo chridhe." His voice easy and sure, his hand laid briefly across hers.


Finally, they ran into a group of mages fighting valiantly and they shot to support and relieve them. It was a good reminder, Sebastian thought.


Running, fighting. Endless chaos. As though someone had taken the last few years of her life added a few nightmares and folded them into the last two hours. She could feed off the chaos. But how much of it could even she take?


At last the docks. She saw Isabela scan the waterfront and then take off. "Bela!"


"Be right back!" Sodding Void. And then she saw the mage making an altar of the Champion's statue. Flaming shite ridden swords. Aeryn spun up her daggers.


Isabela did make it back to hit the last Pride demon with a shock bomb just as Varric caught it with an ice bolt, making it easier for Aeryn, Fenris and Aveline to finish it the hard way in unrelenting digging blows. Merrill was down, but Anders had her. Sebastian laid out the last of the minions.


They commandeered a small craft to ferry themselves across, Isabela steering and Anders manning the small sail. He'd mentioned once in better times that he'd learned all sorts of skills in his travels. Yet another one, today. Everyone else ignored him, but he occasionally caught Hawke's gaze on him, like her namesake raptor might eye a snake.


Sebastian took the moment to run the bare tips of his fingers into her hair and run at the bump of bone behind her ear. He felt the tension in her drop. Fenris noticed his action and shifted so that he leaned against her shoulder. They caught the edges of her mouth turn up. Not alone. Not so long as they were standing.

---000--- >>>----- >


If Aeryn was surprised at Meredith allowing them time to regroup, she kept it to herself.


It occurred to Sebastian that he might be the closest thing left to a priest in twenty miles. And yet another duty. He swallowed hard and knelt. Sebastian blessed the dead as she took the moments to check in with everyone and then started on the prayers to be taken from the battle verses.

She meant to walk past Anders. Time enough to speak with him to give him his orders and then push him away until it was clear that there would be an after.

Anders spoke lowly as she passed. "Hawke, I...I wouldn't have. I wouldn't have done that to you." She stopped though she did not turn her gaze to him.

"What are you on about, Anders?" What once would have been warmth and fondness was nothing now. He didn't even deserve her ice. He got the bored, quick tone she kept for customers who proved unscrupulous.

He attempted to explain. "If Sebastian had gone to Chant this morning, I'd have waited. I swear. I wouldn't have taken him from you."

Hawke curved her neck to look at him then, though her body was still aimed away. It was a feline movement and he shuddered again. She arched her eyebrow at him. "So all the other widows and orphans you made today? They didn't compare to my possible heartache?"

She looked away for a minute then turned back to him with chilling, narrow eyes, every inch of her tuned on him like a hunter. "Sebastian not being there saved your life. I'd have eaten your black heart, you bastard. Don't think I don't regret him stopping me, either. He stopped me for my sake, not yours."

She walked on.


Scraps of conversation came to Sebastian on the breeze. He’d missed what she said to Anders. A laugh with Aveline and something about onions. Varric's deep velvety assurance and...had he just called Aeryn 'baby girl?"


Fenris was closest and Sebastian heard baffled affection in his greeting. "You lead me to strange places, Hawke."


"Stick around, we're not done yet."


"So I have promised." The elf muttered something in Arcanum and Aeryn brushed her hand into his bangs to push them out of his eyes.


"Do my best. You too, alright?" Fenris nodded.Then she said something in very quiet, halting Arcanum, adding a fervent, “Please,” when Fenris’ eyes went wide and seemed to turn towards Sebastian, before arresting the movement. He touched her face with strange gentleness.

“I will do this if I must. But, please don’t make me.”


She turned to him then, waiting until he finished his verse. He went to stand and only just caught her whisper soft "So let it be."

He caught her hand and the gleam of hope in his eyes made her smile, just a bit. "Can't hurt." She shrugged.

"No. That it can't. He stripped off his glove and noted that she mirrored him. One moment. They would take one moment to themselves, though Orsino chafed and fretted behind them. They twined fingers and they were silent, just a moment before he said, "Never in the wildest dreams of my heart did I ever think to meet a woman like you, mo chridhe . The Maker blessed me wholly when he curved my path to meet yours. His hand is on us." He couldn’t seem to take his eyes from her face, trying to carve it into his memory.

Aeryn looked up at him through her lashes, eyes silver and bright. “Perhaps. You aren’t the only one blessed in this, though, Sebastian. No matter what…” She trailed off to give him her softest smile that still flashed her dimple. “I love you. Even if I forget my own name, Sebastian Vael, I will still remember yours.”

He traced the dent in her creamy, blood streaked skin. And then she was in his arms and her mouth warm and hard against his, surrounding him in the faint traces of her almond soap, the sweetness of her mouth broken with the bitterness of adrenaline. He crushed her to him as she wrapped herself around him, both mindless of armor and leather and only trying to find what solace in touch they could. It might have lasted forever. Sebastian wasn’t ready when she tugged away from him.

“You and no other, Aeryn. I love you, so.” He whispered to her before he reluctantly let her slide from his embrace.

She'd had to let him go. She'd been about to beg him to take her away. They had Bethany, her only objective. This...the rest of this would be a fight for something less tangible.

“Champion…” Orsino’s voice was ragged and regretful, but insistent in his interruption.

“We have work to do, then. Let's get to it.” Her companions came in for their instructions. She pointed out the mages, Varric and himself. “Up to the heights with you.”



“Kindly recall who you all call the leader of this merry band, hmm?” She fixed them all with gleaming eyes. “If…and I mean if two of us blades are down, then one of you comes in. “Which do you think, Fenris?”

“Sebastian has better reach with his hand to hand. Varric fights dirtier.”

“Aveline?” The guard-Captain, who had no idea where her own husband was at the moment, grimaced.

“Sebastian. He’d fight it otherwise.”

“Alright. But only if two of us are down. Do you hear me, archer?”

He nodded. Varric would come anyway. The dwarf winked at him.

Aeryn looked at her mages. “All the nasty tricks, please. Switch it up.” She glanced at Anders. “Except you. You keep us alive. That’s your job. Us and whatever allies we find in there.”

Anders nodded.

“Beth…if Cullen…”

Bethany shook her dark head. “We knew…we knew this was coming, Sister. We’ve said our goodbyes.” Sebastian saw Aeryn’s eyes go dark as she considered the mage. Oh, little sister. She nodded.

Fenris and Isabela had whispered to one another while she spoke. And then looked up when Aeryn cleared her throat. “Our job is what it always is. Fenris is the pivot. Isabela and I are the outside edge. Aveline, you…” She stopped again.

“I lead the way.”


“That’s how it’s always been, Hawke. Don’t protect me. I’m…what did you say? I’m not subtle.”

Void, Aveline I’m just trying to save your career. But she couldn’t make Aveline stay back. “Okay, then. Orsino, get your mages up and going.”

The older mage stood and then asked, “Don’t you want to give a rallying speech, Champion. They’d do better with some words.”

“Varric? But the dwarf shook his head.

“No, Hawke, this is your thing.”

She gave him wide eyes and what came to mind was, Well, this is an awful thing. I’m reasonably sure we’re all about to die. But hey, let’s have fun out there?

No. Probably not.

“Ah. Well, I’m fairly sure you all have no outsized expectations. We have a moment here, to strike a blow for some fairness, some equality. Or at least a chance to get away. We should take it. They…They have failed in their duty to protect you. I’m not… I have a life I would like to be going to.” And Sebastian grabbed her hand and she squeezed it before tugging away. “But I also want you to have some chance of a life like that. And I really hate being cornered. So, I will do my best to get you out of this. Drinks on me.”

And with that she turned away, to let them trail her as they would.

Blood and fire. Mayhem. Aeryn went down once and heard Sebastian begging protection behind her, Fenris shouting her name, Aveline standing over her like a small wall. And then, Anders dropping a heavy heal on her, pulling her up to her toes and pouring power back into her.

Bethany rounded up some sort of force spell. All the templars in the field, drawn in from all corners and slammed into one another. And then she flung them to the walls with a shout to let them collapse where they hit.

“Holy flaming swords, little sister. I take back everything I ever said about wimpy Circle magic!” She couldn’t help her delighted laugh as she and Isabela wiped up what was left.

It was almost fun, to be fighting with Bethany again. Aeryn almost caught the part of herself that was nothing but singing blades and movement and shadows.

And then Orsino and his panic. Sodding Void. Her vision went nearly white.

“My mother. You knew about that freakish nightmare of a murderer and you did nothing?!” Sebastian had never heard Aeryn scream like that, her face like alabaster, her eyes like glass. All control thrown to the Void. He left his post to stand behind her.

“It was research. I have no choice now. We’ll never win.”

Bethany was calling up something dark and angry and bone-chilling. Aeryn was spinning shadows and then… Holy Maker, defend your servants. It was almost beyond him to back away enough to take aim and not jump between her and that…obscenity.

It was horrific. The noisy slide and suck of flesh transforming and resolidifying was going to haunt him.

But they won. It was a mindless thing Orsino gave himself to, magicless and strength it’s only weapon in the end, though it called upon waves of the undead. He and Varric had them in their sights and easily pinned.

Aeryn leapt into the air, dug in and ripped its center away. Fenris put all of his strength into the driving blade that impaled it.

“Aeryn. Oh, Aeryn, he knew. He knew.” Bethany was collapsed into herself in grief. Varric and Aveline went to her as Aeryn seemed to be frozen where she’d jumped away, lungs heaving to pull in air. A small figure huddled in her hood. Sebastian started towards her.

She was shuddering, trying to ramp down from the adrenaline rush. “He did. Void. Sodding, screaming, black, empty Void!” Shaking now, her voice edging higher on each word and she flickered from his sight for a moment as if she’d tried to draw up her shadows. He dropped his bow and went to wrap her tight, but she yanked away from him. She whispered raggedly.

“Don’t. Sebastian, I’m sorry. Just…I need this. To get through whatever else is up there. I need the…chaos.” She held her hand out to stop his comfort. Pulled the shaking inside. Her pupils were blown wide, nearly blacking out the gray. Fear or hate or some dark side of passion. He wasn’t sure. He didn’t like it, whatever it was. It was terrifyingly wild.

He watched her warily and glanced aside to Fenris, behind her. The elf nodded, reluctant, grave. He’d seen her when her mother died, been with her in the Deep Roads. Sebastian had to trust Fenris on his knowledge of her in the thick of these things. It was why he wanted the elf, wanted her partner with them in Starkhaven. Though he hoped, would beg and plead with the Maker and His Beloved that they never had another fight like this.

“Alright, Aeryn.” He retreated, dropped his arms, aching to disobey. She spun and cracked an order to her sister in a voice he’d never heard. Growling and deeper than her normal low musical tone, a different cadence. A mimic, he realized.

“Bethany. Bethany Hawke. We have to go. You’re too noisy. Pull it together.” Bethany jerked up almost as if she were on strings and followed, her tears stopped like she’d shut them off at the spigot. Maker. Aeryn…no…Hawke had dredged up the mimicry of her father and Bethany had fallen in line like she’d been…enthralled.

The companions glanced at each other, uneasy, even Anders, though he stood apart from them. Merrill whispered, “That’s…that’s not a normal…”

“Shut up, witch.” Fenris bit out as Isabela shook her head at the mage and laid her hand on the slim arm.

She turned huge eyes to Fenris. “But…”

He shook his head. “We do what we have to, to survive. That is all.” And he stalked after his partner.

“Maker’s Breath, Choir Boy.” Varric breathed. “I hope like all the Stone you know what you’re getting into.”

“You and me, both, Varric.” But he followed with his head up, whispering. “Give her light in her darkness, Oh Maker.” Please.


---000--- >>>----- >

It was almost a relief.

A relief to find that what had driven Meredith over the edge was the same thing that had broken Varric’s brother. That there was some reason for the madness that consumed the Gallows, beyond the abomination’s act. This, at least, would have needed to happen anyway.

Sebastian rather thought that he could have done without the living statues, though.

“I knew I never liked these sodding sculptures.” Varric yelled at him from his perch. Fenris had boosted the dwarf up onto one of the abandoned pedestals before he went to aid Aeryn and Aveline. “And next time someone says, Let’s go to the Deep Roads, what could go wrong, I’m letting Bianca do the talking.”

“I fully intend to have every single Tevinter statue left in Starkhaven smashed into dust.” Sebastian agreed, fervently. “It will be my first act of office.”

“You will have my full cooperation.” Fenris called out as he passed.

Cullen and a good number of the other Templars were fighting with them. Sebastian saw the Knight Captain edge towards Bethany, glancing at her. Trying to catch her eye. They may have said their goodbyes, but that was a man who had given his heart and did not expect its return. He had Sebastian’s sympathy, as he was having as much luck drawing her attention as Sebastian was Aeryn’s.

The sisters were intent on ending Meredith. As if the Knight Commander had become the focus of every cruel thing the Hawke family had encountered in the last eight years.

He gave it up as pointless. Until Meredith fell, Aeryn was not his. Bethany slammed her with the ice and force spells she had polished in the Circle and then followed up with some odd combination of fire and electricity that she’d brought to Kirkwall. Aeryn was a relentless shadow, stalking the edge of the fight when Meredith withdrew and on top of her when the Templar returned.

Sebastian was tracking one of the spinning fire-spitters when Meredith started shrieking.

Aeryn was shocked out of her battle trance by the collapsing woman. She watched in horror, one dagger still raised and gleaming as the sword and Templar merged into a dreadful symbiotic creature and froze in a scream.

And then it was over.

Cullen took advantage of the other Templars distraction to step next to Bethany and lay his hand on the back of her neck and whisper something to her. Bethany touched his face and then h went on to Hawke.

The smaller woman was still in a crouch and turned as quick as any viper at his approach. “Hawke. You should leave. Now. Maker guide you.” He spoke as low as he could before he drew his sword and aimed it at her, backing away to subtly give her room to retreat.

Aeryn twirled her daggers back for the first time since they’d hit the Gallows dock. And walked out with her head high. Sebastian was right behind her, worry and pride warring with one another.

She stopped a moment just before they left the courtyard. "Beth...what about your kids?"

Bethany spoke in a wan voice. "The older ones tried to fight. They're...all gone."

"And the little ones?" She didn't want to know, but they couldn't *leave* them.

"We left a pair of enchanters with them when we left the Gallows this morning. One of them panicked. When Meredith started...And..." Aeryn reached out shaking fingers to stop her sister's lips. Even Fenris looked appalled.

They kept moving. Aeryn's brain leaping a league forward and back again, trying to decide the next steps.

She had planned to leave Anders in Cullen's hands. It was a death sentence, now though. They wouldn't bother with making him Tranquil and that's what Aeryn had intended. That black trap he'd been terrified of.

Death was too easy.

What now, though? She and Sebastian couldn't just haul him around like some millstone. She glanced at Sebastian, but all she could see was his weary resolve. And she hesitated to break into it, just for her own comfort when they still weren't safe.

They made it back to their stolen boat, silent all, and he felt some surprise that the craft was still there and intact. He rather believed he would have used it were he a mage. They had passed no survivors but he imagined there must have been some.

He wanted to touch her, to reassure himself that she was whole and breathing and herself, again. His bright sharp Aeryn instead of whatever she had tapped into to get through.

Sebastian thought he recognized this. Something like what she'd been like after her mother died. Less grief but similar. She hadn't wanted him to touch her then, but he was no longer stringing her along on a starvation diet of physical comfort. He laid his hand to her shoulder and while she didn't flinch, neither did she acknowledge him, her eyes on the sky watching a circling bird. He kept hold of her as the boat made its quiet way back. All of them quiet still, nursing hurts, gathering themselves.

Kirkwall had fallen into a smoldering silence in their absence. The Guard seemed to have succeeded in shutting down the worst of the violence.

Dockside, he felt her draw a shuddering breath to speak. "Isabela, did you get a crew?"

The pirate snorted. "No fooling you, sweet thing, hmm? Yeah, the ship should be ready just up the coast."

"Good. I'd say we've got two hours or so before the Templars Cullen can't control come after me. Us. Go in pairs, get what you need, what you can carry. Meet us at the estate in an hour. In two, we'll shove off."

Aveline spoke, quietly for her, "I may not be there, Hawke."

"Aveline..." Her even voice quaked just a little and he tightened his grip on her shoulder having replaced it after he helped her disembark.

"I can cover your escape. And I have to find...Donnic," she whispered the last as the guardsman ran up to them.

"Oh. Aveline. Thank the Maker!" He kissed her soundly enough to make the Captain blush and Isabela gave a little whoop.

"We were discussing our future plans, guardsman." Aeryn's voice was soft. She knew what was coming. The first goodbye. It seemed fitting, since Aveline was her first friend. She'd never had one before. Not one who knew her secrets and helped make new ones.

"The city is in a shambles and everyone's holed up waiting to see what rolls in from the Gallows." He explained, reporting to his lady.

Aveline nodded. "I may not be your Captain any longer. Hawke has offered us a chance to..."

Donnic was shaking his head. "I don't want to leave, Ave. Kirkwall's got to have something to hold it together." He grimaced. "If you want to...I'll come, but Maker...look at this place."

"I don't want to leave, either." She looked at Aeryn a frown. "I don't want to leave you, but Hawke..."

"This is your home."

"Yes." She shrugged. "I did enough running eight years ago."

"Then I respect your choice, Aveline." Aveline grabbed up Aeryn and kissed her on both cheeks. "Thank you, for...oh, everything."

"This is not goodbye, Hawke. We'll meet again."

"I hold you to it, Guard Captain."

Aveline and Donnic said their goodbyes. Aveline saved Sebastian for last. "I saw you shake her, Sebastian. You'll probably have to do it again. But if you *hurt* her, Maker help me...and you."

"I'll make sure you see her again, Aveline. For the wedding hopefully." Aveline shook her head and unknowingly echoed a king.

"Don't wait, Sebastian." She shook her head. "For whatever reason you've been waiting. And I'm sure it's reasonable, just...don't." She smacked him across the back then, staggering him. "Other than that, lad, I think you'll do."

They marched off without looking back.

"Varric, you're the only one who’s almost a native..."

"No way, Hawke. I want to know how the epic story ends. You aren't getting rid of me."

Sebastian felt her relax a little, then. "Okay, then. One hour. C'mon. We...Sebastian, I'll meet you and Fenris at the estate."

"What? No, I don't think so, Aeryn." And he put that taut snap into his words that sometimes seemed to work, especially if she was worn. Though now he wondered why exactly.

Aeryn was gnawing at her lip again and it took every ounce of willpower he had to not set his thumb to stop her. "I need to take him to Darktown. I imagine there are…"

He might have to shake her already. But the mage was shaking his head. "There's nothing left of the clinic, Hawke. I..." didn't expect to return. He lifted the pack he'd been hauling all day. "This is all I've got."

"Fine." She turned to Bethany. "I forgot to ask you..."

Bethany gave her a thin smile. "Nothing I could carry, sister."


Varric took Merrill and Isabela to Lowtown while the rest of them slipped through the eerily silent streets to the uppercity. They dropped Fenris off at his place with Aeryn's admonishment to stay there until the others came for him.

He shrugged. Sebastian wouldn't have laid odds of him actually doing it.

They had to duck a patrol, not knowing exactly when the Templars would move. Even so, it was a quick trip through darkened streets and hushed squares.

The estate was yet unscathed, though another in the square showed signs of a break in. Aeryn tapped on the door in a prearranged signal and it swung open. "My lady!" Bodahn chivvied them in off the street.

There was a cold meal on the sideboard in anticipation of their arrival. Bread and meat and cheese and fruit. Orana brought in a tureen of soup and Sandal activated a rune to warm it.

Aeryn knew there were trunks and baskets packed and set into a hand cart waiting to be hauled out, down in the cellar. "Bodahn, you''re a wonder. Thank you." Aeryn leaned over and gave him a peck on his temple, setting the dwarf's cheek aflame. She pointed to Anders. "Eat. Don't go anywhere. And..." She reached into the neck of his robes and snapped the chain. "I'll be having that back." She palmed the heavy key.

"Beth...this isn't the best time and now there's no other." A brief blankness crossed her face and Sebastian took her arm. "Mother left you a small case in her rooms. Go up and get it and…anything else you want. Clothes. She had a cupboard full and we can fit them aboard ship." Bethany nodded and Orana spoke very softly.

"I will go with you, if you want. To your mama's room, Mistress." Bethany smiled and agreed and the two went up.

"Sandal. Sebastian and I need a moment. If Anders moves..."

"Not enchantment." It was the closest to grim Sebastian had ever heard the fellow get. Anders blanched at the threat.

"You're a bright one, Sandal pup. Don't ever let anyone tell you different."

"That's right."

Aeryn looked up at him and tipped her head towards the stairs. They slowly followed her sister up and turned to their room.

Sebastian turned to shut the door behind him. When turned back to her, she had wrapped her arms around her middle and she was staring away. "Aeryn?"

"Sebastian, I swear...if you don't have your hands on me in the next second I'm going to fly apart. Pl..."

He didn't give her time to beg, He worked his hands into her sweaty, filthy hair and his lips pressed against her smudged, bruised forehead. She was snapping the catches of his armor to pull it away so she could get her hands into his jerkin against his neck, one sliding into the lank curls at his nape. There wasn't time for aught else.

They were both shaking and he guided her around so that he could drop onto the bed and pull her into his lap. He honestly didn't have the strength to lift her, his arms were so tired. She licked at his mouth, begging entry and he opened his mouth to glide his tongue against hers, stroking. Bitter tang and salt, blood and sweat and he couldn't care about any of it because she was here with him and...Maker, thank you. He rubbed the ridges of her skull, fingers moving of their own volition.

Her fingers dug into his hair and he could feel her other hand stop at his pulse point and press gently.

She had to, had to feel it. Proof that he was here and that she hadn't gotten him killed. It beat against her fingers like secret code. He pulled away from her lips to feather kisses against her brow, whispering his thanks between.

There was a tap at the door. "Water and soap, my lady." Bodahn withdrew, totally unperturbed at their embrace. He found a knot and a crusted gash from where she'd gone down earlier just as she brushed against a burn he'd received from a rage demon. It had singed away a little hair and skin behind his ear and they hissed apart.

"We should..."

"Aye." But she didn't move and he didn't let go. She leaned her forehead against his and sighed.

"I'm not actually sure I can. I feel like someone's stripped the muscle from my bones."

He gave a rusty chuckle. It felt like years since this morning, laughing, teasing each other over their breakfast. "I would tend you, leannan, but I'm no' much better." He wasn't sure he had the strength to shift her from his lap.

She sighed again and slithered from his grip, eyes half closed. She limped a little as she went to the desk where Bodahn had set up their supplies, but he thought it fatigue and strain rather than injury. She tossed him a small flask and pulled the cork on another. "Elegant's restorative. Might get us to the boat anyway."

He drank the too sweet cordial and felt the false energy snake through his veins. He followed her to stand by the desk. Bodahn had brought two basins and pitchers, and their soaps, fir and almond.

Methodically scrubbing, they removed the worst signs of their day. Sebastian knew she could bathe quickly, but no one else would have time and she wouldn't take it for herself when no one else could. She did save half of her water to scrub out her hair, though, and he recognized a good idea and did the same.

Somewhat refreshed, they began to fill their personal packs. "Get the things out of that bottom drawer." Aeryn told him without catching his glance. Curious despite his weariness, Sebastian pulled open the long drawer. A stack of new tunics, in finer linen than the ones he'd brought from the Chantry were neatly folded next to leather trousers and trews and smalls. He pulled one out. It was a handsome blue and had a bit of darker blue embroidery around the eyelets and hem. Beautiful, tiny stichwork.

"Aeryn." She'd bought him new clothes. A smile played about his lips. He couldn't recall the last time he'd had anything specifically bought for him, other than armor or weaponry.

"You needed some new things. Orana and I ran them up." She shrugged. "I...they should fit. We took the measure from your older gear. If you don't like them..." He looked at her, dumbfounded. She made them. How could he not like them? He tugged her to him, with the tunic clutched in his other hand, pressing a kiss to her temple.

"I love them. They're perfect. Thank you, leannan."

She smiled, just a little shyly, before she went to finish her packing. It was rather a wifely thing to do, she thought, but...he had needed them. Thank you, mother, for my lessons.

He looked at the tunics again before he packed them away carefully with the other new items. He glanced about, there was little else other than... "Ah...I still need my footlocker and my weapons kit."

"Check, but Bodahn knew to get them." He glanced around the room. Her weapons trunk was gone.

"Aeryn, how long have you had this planned?" She blinked at him, bemused, before she answered carelessly.

"Always have a plan and a back door, love. No place is safe, forever. First lesson my parents ever taught me. Bodahn's done the quick getaway before, too."

No place is safe, forever. He tried not to let the words twist in his heart, but he knew they would. Then again, had that been his family's motto, he would still be a priest. Having a back door didn't mean she wanted to use it without cause.

Slinging their gear across their shoulders, they rejoined the others. He kept his hand pressed to the small of her back and felt her lean back into it briefly.

Anders had eaten and was sitting on the floor of the hall, back against the wall, hands between his knees and eyes on his feet. Someone had convinced him to wash, but he'd only sketchily done it.

Fenris was downstairs, sitting in the courtyard to avoid Anders' presence, but Orana had brought him refreshment. He'd cleaned up, too. Aeryn smacked his shoulder for coming alone and dragged him into the house.

Bodahn had taken up a set of robes for Bethany that Aeryn had found and promptly forgotten about. Not as wellspelled as her Circle set, but less recognizable. She had a small pack, the box Leandra had packed her and another. Sebastian saw something, some small hurt, flicker across Aeryn's face. "Aeryn, this had your name on." Bethany held out the small case.

"Keep it." Brusque and firm.


"Not now, Bethany. Alright?" A familiar stubborn set came to the mage's jaw, but she nodded meekly enough. The entrance of the Lowtown crew interrupted whatever that had been.

"Eat and let's get this packed up." Aeryn directed her friends. "We need to go." She only just kept herself from snatching the bread Orana handed to her and stuffing it into her mouth.

The provisions were the last of the goods to pack and everyone hauled their share down to the waiting cart. The exit into Darktown would get them to the docks in a quieter way. Aeryn stopped at the small safe tucked into the wall on the lower level and pulled out a few pouches and a jewel case. She handed two of them silently to Varric and another to Isabela who took them without a word between them and slipped the case and the other two sacks into her own pack. Again, it spoke of old plans. Sebastian managed not to wince outwardly. He wouldn't have been included in the old plans. She never expected him to come with them until just recently. He saw his footlocker and his weapons kit on the hand cart and let the tension go. He was here.

He watched her shut the door and turn the key. No regret or longing on her face, at all, at all. She tucked the key into her belt pouch and led the way.

Chapter Text

Darktown seethed with hidden violence, but they made it out without a fight. Anders' clinic was clearly broken into, but he didn't spare it a glance.


Tomwise had packed up his stand, Aeryn noticed. She'd hoped to catch him, restock on a few things he didn't share recipes for, but no matter. There were other poison masters and she was no slouch, herself. Between her and Isabela, they could both brew enough to fill their pouches.


Out of Darktown and to the docks. The small craft sat low in the water, and moved sluggishly once they loaded everything and themselves. Isabela's mouth was tight as she directed Anders on sail position. This probably wasn't the safest way, but Aeryn didn't want to take a chance on separating again and none of them had it in them to make a march up the coast. Merrill had already fallen asleep against Varric's chest, one slim hand curled against the mat of hair. His eyes were on his city, the smoke yet rising and the debris piled high. Fenris looked like he was only barely awake, himself, held up only by his league-wide streak of pride. Bethany had her head pillowed on her knees, heavy eyes on the distant Gallows. Sebastian sat next to her, arm about her shoulders and she could feel the weariness coming of him in waves. Only Orana looked alert, her eyes wide and taking in everything.


The breeze was nearly nonexistent. Bodahn nudged his son and they slotted the oars in. "Bodahn, don't..." She started to stand but, Sebastian pulled her back against him, shaking his head. Stubborn, self-sufficient woman.


"No, my lady. Let us help. You're providing the means for our escape. We can do this part." They rowed the craft around several hulls of abandoned craft, out into the open water with more skill than Aeryn would have imagined. She'd clearly missed one or two stories about their adventures.


"You boys let me know if you ever want to man a ship." Isabela praised.


The wind picked up enough to fill the sail and relieve the dwarves. They were upon the ship in almost no time, the silhouette appearing around one crumbling cliff, anchored in a sheltered inlet.


Isabela took charge as soon as they stepped on the ramp. "Stow that gear in the second hold, through the hatch and to the left." She snapped at the two cabin boys she had found and got two mates working on the ropes and such that would lift the sails. She turned back to Aeryn. "Aboard ship..."


Aeryn cut her off with a wave, "You're the captain, Captain. I'm just the paying cargo." Isabela shot her a sly smile. Hawke had never been stupid. "One question, don't we need to name and christen the ship? Luck and all?"


"Got her named, one of the lads painted it up while we were working." Aeryn turned and yanked a bottle out of her pack and handed it to Orana.


"Here, pup. Crack that over the bow." The pirate snorted.


"You've read too many stories, sweet thing." But she waved at the elf to go ahead. It smashed satisfyingly and bubbled down into the water. "Here's to the Siren's Call II."


"Long may she sail, Captain." They felt the ship lurch under them as the anchor lifted and the sails filled.


"Alright. Cabins down the hatch and to the right. Last one's mine. Stay above deck if you want, but if you get underfoot, I'll send you over."


Varric steered Merrill to the hatch and Bethany followed. Fenris clearly wanted to follow them and Aeryn gave him a push. Anders lingered by the bow, watching the water. Aeryn glanced at him then back to Sebastian who'd been watching the mage with a carefully blank expression and sighed. She walked up behind him.


"Do I have to ask Isabela if there's a lock up on this boat?" He shook his head. "I have magebane. Will you make me use it?"


Anders looked at her, stricken and then in a rusty voice, "No. One of you might need healing."


She watched him for a minute, feeling Sebastian's tension as though it were her own. "Then find a cabin." He drooped and made his way down the hatch. Sebastian tracked his descent with hooded eyes.

Isabela hesitated for a moment. "Hawke, I got a skeleton crew, but no cook."

"No problem. How many of yours?"

"Six." Aeryn widened her eyes. Alright, then. Aeryn squared her shoulders and dragged her spine straight. A small shiver hit her, but she stilled it. She was chilled and far past overtired, but there was work to be done, yet.

"Orana and I..." Sebastian nudged her. "Orana, Sebastian and I can deal with that." She'd forgotten that Sebastian had taken his kitchen duties in the Chantry. She picked up one of the baskets and Sebastian took the other while Orana hauled up the two smaller packs of food. "Which way is the kitchen?"

"Galley." Aeryn grinned and nodded. "Past the second hold. Um. Where are we going, by the way?"

"Cumberland. We have to drop off Bodahn and Sandal somewhere where they can get to Orlais." Isabela nodded and left to issue orders.

The galley had some small provisions; two barrels of salt meat, slabs of bacon, a few crates of crackers, tubs of lard, a large salt box a sack of beans and some dried vegetables like Aeryn carried in her pouches for quick stews. They stowed the things the companions brought; fresh vegetables and fruit, flour and grains, sugar and tea. They wouldn't live richly, but they'd not starve. It was a tight fit with the three of them. "I'll have to shuck my armor to work in here." Sebastian mused.

"You won't want it, anyway, unless we land or hit pirates." She assured him as she considered. "Cold collation, stew and pudding, I think. Use up the fresh stuff first."

He lifted a large pot to the large metal box. It was rather like an enclosed hearth he saw as Orana started building a small fire in the space.

Aeryn went to start chopping meat only to have a delicate hand stop her wrist. "Mistress, I will do this. Please go to bed." Orana had her not quite a scolding tone.

Aeryn shook her head. "I'm not leaving you alone in a strange place with men Isabela plucked up from who knows where. Not happening." But Bodahn had made his way down the hatch and worked himself into the doorway.

"We will attend Orana, my lady."

Aeryn locked her jaw. "You realize that once we hit the shipdeck, you stopped working for me, right?"

"So then we are free to do as we like, true?" She looked like she was going to argue again.

Sebastian looked at her, the dark circles under her eyes and the slight shiver he'd seen earlier and decided. He wrapped his hand around her arm and pulled. "Enough. Let's fret about it tomorrow. Bodahn and Sandal can help Orana tonight."


"Let it go, Aeryn." She swallowed and her eyes went dim and he realized that she was dreading what might come if she had time to sit and rest. "Come on, leannan." Gently, though. She looked up at him and then nodded and let him steer her out of the narrow kitchen.

"We'll take breakfast duty, though." She called behind her.

Isabela stuck her head down the hatch as they passed below. She had a sparkle about her that Aeryn had never seen, a bright glow that obliterated the exhaustion the pirate had to be feeling. "Just so you know there's a bathing chamber with cold salt water pumps just before the last cabin. And a private bath in my bunk, with heat runes. Castillon liked his comforts. I won't be down for at least an hour. Or five. Just don't have sex in my bunk, unless you're waiting there for me when I get back." It was a sharkish smile and Aeryn shook her head. Sebastian honestly didn't have the energy to blush.

Aeryn let Sebastian guide her down the passage. He dropped their gear in the first empty cabin they saw after she pulled out linen, soap and clothes and prodded her down to the final cabin. It was a bright space, rather garishly decked out in mustard silk and brass fittings. Moonlight streamed into the windows at the wide back of the ship over a desk piled with charts. That ship part had a name, she thought dully and Maker, she must be tired if words were escaping her. A large copper tub sat to one side, strapped to the deck with metal fittings and a pump arrangement. A good sized box bed on the other. Sebastian stretched and popped his shoulders and primed the pump. The water gushed with a salty sweet scent.

Aeryn stripped, her fingers half numb and fumbling, but Sebastian was no better and she didn't ask for help. The leather creaked with filth, dried blood and other unmentionable things. She was glad, in retrospect that she had worn the hideous Champion's rig out. She would dump it over the side with no regret, come morning. Her wyvern set was waiting, fresh in her trunk.

She eyed Sebastian's gear. He desperately needed new armor, something more suited to an archer. Somehow, that shining white set had grown on her and he'd seemed reluctant to part from it. But a fresh start. When she knew where they were going, she'd have to find him a replacement.

He watched her, standing in her smalls in the moonlight, the pale light setting her skin aglow and her hair dark. He could see her ribs, sharp against her skin, her collarbone was too prominent and another tremor ran through her. She looked half worn through, breathing shallow. He wondered if the shadows gathered in her eyes would ever go, now. He got down to his skin and then slipped up behind her and wrapped his arms around her narrow tight waist. She'd taken a chill, standing. He closed his eyes as she leaned against him and folded her arms over his. It was such a trust she gave him.


It came to her that she hadn't... Maker, that was unforgivable, despite her exahaustion. "Oh, Sebastian. I'm so sorry, my love. For your loss." Elthina had been a mentor and a good friend to him. He'd had others there, too. She reached a hand back to stroke his jaw, rough with stubble.


He laid his cheek against her hair and sighed. "Thank you, mo chridhe. Elthina would say it is the Maker's will. But...." He tightened his arms to press her to him. "Thank you." He stood there a minute while the water heated. "Let's be getting clean, then, before we stop being able to stand."


She pulled the ties on her bottoms and he unclipped the hooks of her breastband and held her hand as they stepped into the steaming water.


Maker. Everything hurt. He couldn't help a groan as the water hit his seized muscles and she whimpered between his knees in a way that wasn't sexual at all. They sat in silence, letting the salt water do its work alone. He wished now, that he'd turned her around so he could see her face. It was hard enough to read her right with out the tiny visual clues he'd become more sensitive to now. She reached him back a flannel and his soap and began her scrub. He ran his over her back and felt her jump.


"Sorry. Startled me. Got a twinge, there." Her voice was so soft, as if it was just about the last thing she could do to get enough volume out to be heard.

He found the knot and rubbed it away until she sighed. "We...we need to talk, I think, leannan."

"We don't really, love." She circled her cloth down one of his legs, then the other. Truly. She just wanted to sit here with him in the steamy water and feel surrounded by him. It amazed her how much this simple thing on his part turned into such comfort. Talking would ruin it.

"I need to..." But he wasn't going to let it go.

She splashed and turned to him, a graceful and nearly impossible move in the small space. The light picked out a gleam in her eyes, her mouth tense. "You don't. I understand, Sebastian." She watched the emotions chase across the strong features and sighed at the worry in his eyes.

She paused and he was moving to touch her as soon as he saw the twist of anguish that crossed her face.

"Would you leave me? Because I couldn't say no?" He wouldn't be here if that was true, but...

"Of course not!" His hands grabbed at her shoulders, where he'd just meant to stroke. That she would question...but she wasn't really, was she? "Aeryn, I love you!"

She breathed in and Sebastian felt some strength come back to her.

"Then right now, that's all I want. I love you, Sebastian. I'm on my way away from Kirkwall and my whole world is on this boat and everyone is breathing and no one is bleeding, much. As far as I'm concerned, that makes it a good day, no matter what else happened." Then hard regret slammed into her as shock flared in his eyes and she recalled what had started the day. "Oh, Maker that's not...I didn't mean..." Her hands came up to his chest and petted, trying to smooth it away.

The words had startled him but he'd not been hurt. He knew what she meant. "Aeryn, I know that. You meant...between us." She slumped in his hands and nodded.

"I'm tired, Sebastian. I'm so sodding tired. You're tired. What happened...I just...can we keep it packed up for a while longer?" He almost said yes. He knew, he could feel it in the effort she was making to keep herself upright, to keep speaking, how weary she was. But...

He shook his head. "I need to talk. This time. Please."

She looked at him and he wondered what she read in his face as her brow knotted. "Alright, but let me finish bathing. Let's talk in bed."

He nodded and they finished and pulled the plug of the tub. It was a clever device, the water running down a hollow tube into the ocean. More sensible than having to haul out scummy water by the bucket full. Sebastian seemed vaguely amused at her reaction, but declined to answer her why.

He didn't speak other than to offer her a cup of wine once they reached the cabin. She waved it off and pulled out their bed rolls and they spread them across the straw tick. It was a smaller cased frame, not really enough room for both of them, but she wrapped herself around him and pillowed her head on his shoulder and he thought he could live with the results, breathing in the scent of her to calm the tumble of his thoughts.


Aeryn hid her face in his throat. He hadn't shaved, but she'd been longing to be here all day. The clean, fir laced scent of him settled into her and she could feel herself relax despite what was coming.

He stared into the darkness for a minute. Her breathing started to smooth out. He'd better decide what to say, then or he'd lose her despite her effort. Hesitant, he began. What he'd felt, what he'd pushed away to help her had been amongst the ugliest thoughts to ever cross his heart. But he had to explain.

"I knew that you wouldnae have helped him. I...wanted you to leap to my defense. To my revenge, th' way you did for Fenris and Isabela and...everyone."

She mumbled, "It was my first instinct. When you were...when it first happened, I thought to turn on him. I thought...I just thought you wouldn't want me to. That it would be...beneath you somehow. Considering what he'd done before, the healing and all."

"But I said that...I said it all to hurt you. Ta make you realize what I felt." He flushed with shame all over again.

"It worked." She was blunt and he flinched. She stroked his collarbone, seeking out the three freckles that drew her attention now and again. She swallowed and told him her truth. "It doesn't matter, though."

Sebastian felt a shock run through him. How could it not matter?

"But I knew what I was doing, Aeryn. I knew that if I asked you would, especially if I made it about... You love them and you've killed for them and then... I wanted you to prove..." No he had to say it out loud, terrible though it was. "I wanted you to prove you loved me as much and more. It doesnae matter to you that I deliberately manipulated you?"

She heard the baffled hope in his voice, the shame at his actions written in the way he'd haltingly spoken. Hiding a faint crooked smile into the dark hollow of his throat, she gathered her strength.

Aeryn pushed herself up to lean over him. "No. What matters to me, love, is that you stopped me." Gently, she pressed her thumb against his cheekbone. "Sebastian. No one ever thought to stop me because it might hurt me. I know how angry and hurt you were and I know no one else would have questioned his death. But it would matter what he's done? He was my friend and it would have caught up with me. Or maybe it wouldn't have...and that would have been worse. And you didn't let me."

She set her hands, strong and callused, yet gentle on either side of his face and gazed deeply into his brilliant eyes. "You thought about me. You wanted him dead. You have every reason to want him dead. I'm a weapon, love." He breathed in sharp in protest, but she pressed her finger to his lips. "But you stopped me, because to you I am more than that. Sebastian...that means everything." In the end, it was the only thing that mattered.

"In the dreams, the nightmares, that’s what I was aimed at." He touched her face where he'd smeared the blood across her skin. He thought he could see the shadow of it even in the dim light through the porthole. "Shaping you to make you follow my orders. To put you under my control, so I’d know you loved me, so. And it nearly worked." He had to make her understand that.

"But then it didn't. Because you love me enough to not want me to go back down that road. Because you know it isn't right. No matter what was taken from you. You're only human, sweetheart. You're allowed to make poor decisions out of anger."

At his disagreeing hmph, she shook her head. "And I don't care, Sebastian. I don't care if you almost did it. Almost only counts in firestorms and shock bombs." She pressed her lips to his fine brow and rubbed her thumb across it trying to smooth away his worry. . "I will never forget that. I was a weapon in your hand and you chose not to use me to kill my friend and then not to do it yourself, despite the horrific evil he committed. You're a good man, Sebastian Vael. And I am privileged and amazed to be the one you love and want to protect. Please, now, beloved of my heart. Can we go to sleep?" She was actually begging.

He should let her sleep. He should sleep. But…

"I it something I can do again...without thinking, Aeryn? Is it part of" If that was what it was, he'd never be able to let her take the field on his behalf. Crown and Starkhaven or no.

Maker, please. She closed her eyes for a minute only to open them when she felt the room swirl from her weariness.

"No. I wanted….Sebastian, love…do you know how long it’s been since someone I trusted told me, “This is the right choice. Do this. Don’t worry about it?” It was…it was the easy thing. And I was so tired and I wasn’t expecting you to ask. I…had to, back when I was working for Meeran, had to cut off the part of me that questioned an order, because to question was to put Bethany at risk. And I was so…all my decisions have been wrong, recently. I wanted to not be the one making them. And it just came together badly. I don’t think you can do that again.”

He pondered that. It was unlikely, he supposed, that they would have another day like today. One last thing, then.

"What...what happened with Bethany this afternoon? After...after she collapsed." He wouldn't bring up Orsino to her. "You gave her an order and it was like she was under your control for a minute."

She was silent and only her eyes in the light reflected off the water and the tension in her frame let him know she was awake. "Father trained us to obey in cases of an emergency. We were small. Children cry. He couldn't let them…Bethany was a crier. Carver would pitch a fit at just the wrong moment. It was a necessary thing."

The implication of what she said hit him like a mallet. Holy Maker. What had he been...Sebastian sat up and pulled her into his lap, muscles protesting the abuse as she groaned.

"Aeryn. Don't lie to me, please?" But he kept his voice soft and made it a question. "Can I...can I do that to you?"

There was a sense of terror just under his words, as if he'd fallen into his nightmare, again. She lifted her fingers to his face again, soothing. "No, Sebastian."

"But...sometimes...I've made you talk to me when you didn't want to."

"You can't. If I hadn't wanted to talk, I wouldn't have. You reminded me that I could talk to you, is all. There's a cadence and a tone and phrases, it’s very like a tricky lock... it took me years and to be honest, I wasn't sure it would work today. I've never done it before."

"You...sometimes. I've told you to..." His face burned in the dark. A man of his age and experience, blushing at intimacies. Fool. But her fool, he supposed.

She gave him just the hint of a smirk. "Hmm. Yes, you have. And I do. But I don't think it has anything to do with compulsion, darling man. I think it has to do with the fact that you can play my body like a Master bard with a lute and I've come to crave it." She collapsed back against him, her head tucked into the space of his neck and shoulder.

"Love, believe me. You have a commanding tone with that addictive voice, and I will not deny that I like it far more than I really care to admit. You can’t pull my strings that way, though, and it has never been about anything except noise and crying. And just so you know, I don't ever remember Father doing it to me. Bethany and Carver, yes, but not me. I was a naturally quiet child. I followed the skillset I did for a reason."

He had to trust her. What else could he do? He smoothed his hands down the length of her and she relaxed into him with a sigh, curling her fingers into the light hair on his chest.

"Some other night, I'll let you try though, alright?" He felt his eyes widen. "I mean it. Some time...when we're rested...I will let you try. I will even demonstrate the tone and phrases.” Her low voice had faded into nearly nothing, now. He felt her speaking as much as he heard her.

He stopped talking for a minute. Her breath started to slow again as if she had gone straight from that to sleep. He was sure she'd fallen into the Fade.

"Is that why you don't cry, leannan? Did he make you so you couldn't at all?" Sebastian breathed the words across her cheek and he heard the sadness in his own voice as he whispered. As if she should want to cry. But he’d been a counseling priest a long time. He knew how it could help to shed a burden that way. And despite her assurances, he'd seen her tears cut off the same way as Bethany's had. It was possible she didn't know.

He would have to be very careful.

He was almost asleep himself when she whispered back. “I’m alright, Sebastian. So are you. Here we are together, despite it all. Count your blessings, love.” And right she was, so he prayed them both into the Fade as the boat rocked beneath them.

It was still dark, the cabin warm and close and she woke, deeply disoriented when she felt him stiffen and whimper beneath her. His back arched, dislodging her from her sprawl across him. She reached to his face, patting gently to wake him from his dreaming.

"Sebastian, come back. I'm here, sweetheart." He was huffing his breath and it sounded more like pain than...

"Not...ah, ow...not dreaming. My back..." He'd fired countless arrows, carried packs, lifted kettles. And then as the tightening and spasms had set in, he'd tried not to wake her and held too still. He was in absolute agony.

Oh, poor love. She sat up, ignoring the burn in her own arms.

"Roll over, let me..." He groaned as he moved. Aeryn went to her pack, her own stiffness easing with a few steps and a quick stretch. She pulled out a vial and returned to him, before pouring it to puddle in her cupped palm. She warmed it between her hands before sliding them across his seized muscles. Oh, his knots had knots. Finding the worst, she set to.


"Hnngh." Sebastian whined as she dug into his shoulder with her strong, precise little fingers, finding the sorest spots out of instinct and feel in the dim light. "Ow." He sounded rather put upon.

"Aww." She pressed a kiss down on his slick shoulder, but she didn't quit. Down the sinews and corded lines of his shooting arm and his bow arm. Into the spaces between the ridged muscles of his lower back and his arse, smooth and round beneath her hands. His skin grew hot with the mildly warming herbal scented oil and he grew quieter as he started to relax, just a sigh and an occasional yelp as a spasm released.

Aeryn was kneeling up over him, straddling his broad thighs, baring down with some weight behind the stroke, when she felt his hips twitch, down against the straw tick. And…ah, that wasn't pain, that particular noise.

Sebastian bit into his lip. Maker. He hadn't meant to... but she'd slung her leg across him and...ah, she felt good. The solid weight of her pressing into him, the contrasts of her, taut muscle, soft, sleep warmed skin, the patch of crisp dark copper curls. He tried to hold still and breath deeply, hoping Aeryn would think he slept. She was exhausted. He would was more than he should have asked to wake her. she drew her thumbs down his spine and over his arse and he arched into the firm stroke with a muffled moan.

"Like that, do you?" It was a throaty chuckle and it washed over him in the warm, humid dark like balm.

"And well you know...ah." She slid her hand between his thighs to cup his sac from behind, heavy now with want. The memory of her fallen, the need to drive it out with the wet warmth of her. But he would not. She was...she...she laid her body over the length of his, her full breasts and hard nipples against his slicked shoulders, sending his whole body loose and warm except for the length of him that had grown hard and hot as she'd worked. He tried not to rub himself against their blankets and swallowed another moan.

Maker, please. He wasn't going to ask when she could barely move a few hours ago...but she'd slid off and then using the strength that seemed unnatural at times, wedged her arm and leg under him and flipped him to his side.

No hiding the cockstand now. He should slap himself. He closed his eyes to try again to will it away.

Aeryn's lips were twisted up. She'd straddled him unthinking, only wanting a better angle in her massage. Once the worst of the knots had gone she'd lost herself a bit in the dark heavy salt air and the slide of his oiled, pliant skin under her fingers. There was a soothing in it for her, too, being able to touch with no restraint. Then resigned herself to the pleasant ache between her thighs when he'd relaxed and quieted. And now, here he was presenting her with himself, heavy and thick against his stomach. They were both weary, but oh, she needed him inside, filling that aching empty want. More proof of his presence and safety.

She turned to her side, facing him and curled her leg over his hip to draw him closer. " can wait. You're tired." He could see the bruises under her eyes in the last of the moonlight.

"Parts of me seem to disagree, apparently." She drew his hand between her thighs and he could feel her, heated, swollen and slick. He let his fingers slide and kissed away the wanton sound she loosed. Ah, Andraste, this eagerness of her for him. Please never let it stop.

"How are you not as sore as I?"

"You've a year or two on me, love. I have a better stretch routine. And I've got a less intense weapon set." She reached to fit him to her and pulled his cock in to her sheath with a movement of her hips and her tightening leg.

He groaned as his tip pressed into her cleft, wet and dragging tight and hot. She whispered to him, the husky tone curling down his spine. "We could have died a dozen times today, Sebastian. Prove to me we didn't."

Slow and languid. Neither of them with the energy or the will to move quickly or let it finish. He watched her face between soft kisses, though she was in shadows, rubbing the long muscles in her back as he stroked. She arched and he nuzzled her breasts, breathing in salt and almonds between them before suckling one hard little nipple then the other and spoke against her skin, his voice sliding against her like dark, heavy warm silk.

"Want you, ah Maker, I need you so, mo chride. My beautiful, smoke-eyed love." He rolled one nipple between his teeth and tongue and got a birdlike cry as the tug sent tendrils of heat through her.

"You have me, my love. You do." Her arms wrapped him up, hands across his welted shoulders, trying to press the adoration, and oh, call it what it is, Aeryn...devotion that welled up in her heart into his very skin.

Aeryn opened her eyes to stare into the banked glow of his, saw it flare and burn as they rocked, the ship's movement their cue. Long rough fingers drew delicate lazy circles around her clit and she gasped as the orgasm caught her unaware, gentle spiralling rings of warmth pulling her into blackness soft as feathers.

The rhythmic clench of her drew his cock further into her scalding heat, milking him and he followed her. Burying his face in her neck he came, filling her, her name on his lips. "Aeryn! Aeryn. Marry me, leannan. Please, don't ever leave me." But she'd fallen from bliss into sleep and she missed his plea.

From the light that streamed in through the porthole, Aeryn was forced to assume no one had chosen to wake them for a turn at the morning chores.

Sebastian was still out, sprawled face down on the tick. Somehow managing to look very young and innocent with his sweet mouth and the lines around his eyes relaxed. She ran through her stretches and dressed quickly, eyes lingering on him, the way his feet dangled off the end of the bunk.

She made her way back to the deck, first. She had no way of knowing the time until she saw that the sun was not too far above the horizon. Still early morning then, but a bright, clear day. Chilly, too, now that she was in the air.

The deck was still, except for the fellow guiding the ship wheel and the two up in the sails. That looked like great fun, actually. Maybe she’d get a chance later.

She slipped down the hatch, reluctantly and turned into the galley. Orana had left things tidy, as always. And breakfast was laid out to be prepared. So, they’d decided to take a lazy morning. Good. She set to work laying a fire.

She got the oats on to cook, before setting the griddle across the back of the cookstove, just as Orana hustled into the tight quarters, tugging an apron into place. “Mistress, I’m so so….”

“Hawke, Orana. Not your mistress anymore, remember? We discussed this. You continue to work for me, you go on as the rest of the companions.” Her voice stayed gentle, but firm. “And you’ve as much right to rest as any of us. I take my turn, considering I volunteered us for the duty.”

The slight woman nodded. “I don’t mind. I wouldn’t know what to do without a chore.”

Aeryn chuckled. “Me, either, pup. I figured it was either work or let Isabela chuck me overboard when I got underfoot once too often.” Orana hovered by the doorway and Aeryn narrowed her eyes. “What is it, Orana?”

“I…I have something to show you, Mis….Hawke.”

“Oh. Alright. Let me turn this meat and …” She wiped her hands on the towel she’d grabbed to protect her clothes and turned to take the papers Orana offered.

It was a letter from Orana’s music tutor. The paper was fine and the script elegant and it offered quite the opportunity. Aeryn had to swallow before she asked. “Do you understand what Master Tinto is offering?”

Orana answered quietly, her eyes on the worn worktable where her finger was tracing an old scar in the ridged wood. “We had spoken of it, once or twice. He was leaving yesterday. It was to be our last lesson. I…he gave me this to give to you. He wanted to talk to you, but…”

“I have been busy, yes.” Aeryn read the first bit of the letter again. “Is this what you want? To go to Navarra and study?” The other papers were the contract offering Orana lessons at the College of Musical Arts in Navarra in exchange for two years of service as a court musician. She’d have to get Varric to look it over, check it out for double speak.

“Yes.” It was a tiny answer and Aeryn tipped Orana’s chin up to fix her gaze with a frank assessment. “Yes.” This time the elf’s voice was firm, though she flushed a bit. “I do not want to leave your service, but…I…I would like to learn more.”

“Then, Orana. That’s what you should do.” She thought for a moment. “You can go with Bodahn and Sandal at Cumberland. He’d likely be happy to see you to Navarra and get you settled.” She released Orana’s chin and turned back to the breakfast. Oh. One more gone. Aeryn tried to ignore the flutter of lonesome that welled up.

Orana should do something with her life besides serve. This was a chance for the woman to make herself a new life and in all honesty, she wasn’t suited to the rough road life that they would be leading until Sebastian won his throne. It was a good thing. But Aeryn would miss the quiet, efficient presence.

Sebastian came in as they were dishing up the food. He gave her a chiding pinch as he kissed her. “You should have woken me, leannan. He gave her a glance. Better rested. Still needed feeding up, though.

“You looked too comfortable. Couldn’t bring myself to do it.” She heaved the covered pot of oats swathed in sturdy cloth to carry up to the deck and he took it from her. There was something in her face, he thought. Not sad, but…

“Is everything well, Aeryn?”

She shot him a smile. “Well, now that I don’t have to carry that, yes.” He let it go for the moment.

Everyone was up on deck except for Anders. She saw everyone served and then went to make him a tray. Sebastian stopped her. “Eat first. If he can’t stand to join us, then he can eat it cold.” His voice was hard under the brogue and Aeryn decided not to argue with him. He watched her with serious eyes until she’d fixed her bowl the way she liked it. And kept watching until she stuck her tongue out at him and took a bite. He quirked her a smile, then.

Fenris was frowning at the net he was perched against, near the trestle. She took a seat near him and jostled him with her elbow as she took another bite. It did taste good, her porridge. Better than it had, for some reason. Must be the air.

“It smells of fish.”

“Well, Fenris. It’s a fishing net. I admit to being at a loss for what else it should smell like.”

He gave her a glower. “I just thought, being a pirate ship, there wouldn’t be fishing equipment.” He pushed the closer loops away.

“If I had to guess, pirates tend to fish when not pillaging and plundering. Isabela would know better than I.” She was scraping the bottom of the wooden bowl. Hmm. Sebastian handed her another bowl, topped up with the last of the cream. She blinked at it a minute before spooning another bite with a shrug.

“We have not discussed piratical habits during their leisure. I…don’t know how she will live now.” He was watching the captain lecture her new cabin boy about something.

Aeryn looked at him, then. “Is it…alright, Fenris?” She didn’t want to pry in their romance, if that’s what it was. She hadn’t thought that far ahead. Isabela might not be following them back to land.

He barked a self-depricating laugh. “I think that it will be. I have just become a creature of habit.”

Sebastian nudged Aeryn’s knee as she finished the bowl and took it from her. She smiled her thanks as he went to gather the others’ detritus and stack it to return to the galley. She turned back to Fenris with serious eyes. “You know we want you with us. But if you feel you want to go…” He was shaking his head.

“No, Hawke. I want to help Sebastian take his throne. I…it seems the right thing to do and a good use of my skill. I…do not want to be a mercenary forever. Nor am I suited to the pirate’s life, I think.”

“Aww. You might come to like fish, you never know.”

“I know.” His tone was deep and disgruntled, but he smirked when she grinned at him. She patted him on the knee. He was a grown man. It was up to him. But, Maker, she was glad he was staying.

Anders was lying on a bare bunk in the farthest cabin when Aeryn brought his tray. “I didn’t know if I should come up.”

“You make extra work if you don’t.” Aeryn sat the tray down on the small desk and turned to leave. “Bring this to the galley when you’re done.”

“Hawke. Where are you…What are you going to do with me?” His bloodshot eyes raked her straight back, wishing she’d turn back to him.

“Come to the galley when you’re done. I’m not talking about this down here alone.” She slipped out of the door, leaving him devastated behind her.

He came back with the tray just as they finished laying out the plans for the rest of the meals of the day and tomorrow’s. They’d reach Cumberland for supplies and to drop off those who wanted to leave the ship by then.

Aeryn had slipped down to the cabin and rearmed herself before she returned to the galley. Sebastian had noted it, but decided not to say anything. He noticed the tension in her spine, now and wished he’d thought to bring a dagger, himself. His bow was not much use, here.

Anders set his things to soak and turned to her. She twitched her shoulder and they followed her above.

Fenris saw them come up and tapped Varric’s shoulder. He’d been explaining some of the more colorful sea chanties the sailors were entertaining themselves with to Merrill. They gathered towards the stern.

“So. Something has to be done about you, Anders.” Aeryn had waited only until the others were gathered. They had a right to hear what would happen to the man who had disrupted their lives, so.

“I take it as my responsibility. I’m the one who let you stay on with us, even after I knew what you’d done, taking in a demon.” Anders clenched his jaw. He couldn’t dispute it, he knew. Her eyes were bright and clear on him. She had that look of steel about her. He’d admired it, once, her lack of ambivalence once she’d made a decision. It reminded him of Meridan, the Orlesian Warden Commander who’d freed him from the Templars.

“I’ve decided…I’ve decided to take you back to the Grey Wardens. To Amaranthine. They’re the ones who let you get away first. And if you can be of some help to anyone, it’s probably fighting darkspawn in the Deep Roads.” He was staring at her aghast. “Unless there’s an objection.”

“It’s too noble a punishment. He’s unworthy of the name.” Sebastian snarled. She turned to him with a question in her eyes and he shook his head. “But he fears it. So let it be done and rid us of him.”

Fenris shrugged. If Sebastian accepted it, he who was closest to the injury, then Fenris had no qualms.

Varric agreed. “It’s a righteous end for him.” The dwarf looked sad. He’d liked Anders, but it was too far, where he had gone. Merrill nodded with tears in her eyes. Isabela shook her head, but she didn’t say anything. She knew when Hawke had made up her mind.

Anders pulled himself up, even under their condemnation. “I object. Hawke…”

Her voice went smooth and cold and she locked her gaze with his. “You have a choice, Anders. I will take you to Amaranthine, to the Wardens and charge them with your imprisonment or I will take you to the Circle at Kinloch and see you're made Tranquil.” Merrill gasped as Anders spun.

A flash of blue in his hazel eyes and Aeryn had a knife at his throat, before anyone else could move. The magebane mixed with a neural poison dropped him. Martin had been right, it was a nasty combination. She should have been carrying this with her earlier. "You can tell me what you've decided when you stop drooling. Until then, we'll just keep the heading set." She prodded him with her toe, turning his head so he could see her, even though he couldn’t move. “I’ll be reapplying the magebane now until we land.” She had just enough, she thought.

She sat down on her haunches next to him. “You should heed this, Anders. I will turn you over to them. If they allow you to escape again, then it won’t be Templars or Wardens coming after you. It will be me.” Her voice, with its promise of doom, settled into his gut as he lay prone on the deck. And then she stood and walked away.

Chapter Text

They dropped off Bodahn, Sandal and a teary Orana. Bodahn had promised to give the school his best eye and to see the elf well settled. Varric had used his connections to set up post drops and Aeryn made sure the dwarves and Orana both had a list to get her a message, should there be a need. She'd waved them off with a smile and promptly hid her face in Sebastian's shoulder as soon as they were out of sight.


Merrill opted to stay on. "I don't know where I'd even start, Hawke. If it's all the same to you, I'll tag along."


Aeryn had been glad of it. As dangerous as the mirror had been, it had been a source of focus. She worried about the aimless waif, now with neither clan nor obsession.


She'd checked with Fenris, guarding Anders' door, but nothing had changed. The magebane and the threat of the cocktail was enough to keep him docile. Aeryn had no doubt he might try something were they closer to land, but in open water it was moot.


And now there was just Sebastian to find this morning.


Of course, there he was. Aeryn found him smiling softly down at the water, the dolphins skimming along beneath them, playing. He'd said once that the Wounded Coast was as close as he'd been to the ocean. He'd spent most of their time aboard ship listening to the sailors and their lore.


"They're they know what they're about?" Sebastian held his breath as one came too close to the wooden side and rolled away with a laugh on its face. Another chittered at it, scolding the daredevil.


"I don't know. My only voyage I spent crammed in a hold." But her voice stayed light. "Isabela might know." Her arm came about his waist and he tugged her closer. "In Ferelden, otters play like that, in the streams. They seemed to know their games well." She had a wistful look about her. She'd missed the wild green of Ferelden.


Sebastian rubbed his thumb up her bare arm beneath the sleeve of her tunic and very casually recalled. "We've otters around Starkhaven. Up in the mountains, north of the city proper."


She shot him an arched eyebrow. "You don't have to do that, you know."


He glanced down before he asked with bright eyes, "Do what?" She'd caught him. No where near the dissembler she was.


"Try and make Starkhaven as appealing as Ferelden." Leaning back against his arm she looked into his suddenly sheepish face. "Ferelden is appealing because its not Kirkwall. Starkhaven trumps it, being as that is where you want to be." She reached her thumb to cross his cheekbone and he leaned into her familiar caress. "I want to be where you are." Echoing his earlier declaration.


Sebastian leaned down to kiss her. She smiled against his lips as she returned it, stroking their tongues together until heat bloomed.Just as she slid her hand under his tunic one of the leaping creatures flipped high and splashed. Icy, salt water pelted them and she pulled from him gasping and laughing. Oh.


Laughing with a free note he'd never heard. As though she'd left some broken part of her back in Kirkwall or she'd found some lost piece of her on the Waking Sea. It twined about him, one more sweet vine to bind his heart. Here then was another joyous duty. To ensure Aeryn never again lost that laugh.


He cuddled her to him and noted the ease with which she fitted against him. Sebastian considered it, asking her the question he'd whispered to her again in the night while she slept. But...he wanted to give her a moment. Some fine, romantic memory to pull out for their children someday.


If he asked now, she'd be terribly practical. Here, let's just have Isabela do it shipboard. A quick, blunt and being Isabela, ribald, ceremony and then down to the galley to make supper for the crew. Her parents had married that way. Hastily. Fleeing Kirkwall.


He wanted her to be a Starkhaven bride. Flowers in her hair. Sunlight gilding her. A Chantry mother to bless them. Different than he imagined the stiffly negotiated marriage between his parents.


Some new tradition. He would know. The moment would find them. Now, their course was set.


Amaranthine, for that grim duty. Anders lay below deck, now, drugged with Aeryn's magebane for the night. Bethany and Fenris had offered to keep watch until he regained himself.


Denerim, then, for the winter. Isabela knew shipwrights in the Ferelden capital to do the work she wanted on the Siren. Aeryn had sent ahead a letter to Alistair from Cumberland, warning of their arrival.


Come the early spring, Starkhaven. And what lay before them there.


There were battles, yet, in their future. Maker, help them.


And promises to keep.