Hawke was too exhausted to explore the suite of rooms she claimed as her own after retaking the castle. Directly across the halls from the royal apartments, she was quite content to have easy access to her husband, while enjoying a little privacy if she so chose. She liked privacy, room to breathe and move. It made her feel less like she was less confined; Hawke hated feeling trapped.
It seemed Sebastian and the servants went to a great deal of trouble to make it feel like home while she was away, but she was too tired to truly appreciate the finer details put in place. In fact, the only thing she wanted after a warm bath was to curl up in bed beside her husband and forget for a while they’d ever been apart. The prospect didn’t seem likely. His chancellor drew him aside to discuss some urgent matter of state during the banquet in her honor, and he was forced to excuse himself hours before she and Varric finally managed to slip away from the festivities.
She spent so much time smiling and nodding and having her hand kissed by randy nobles her face and neck hurt. Thank the Maker for the mask she was born with. It was all too easy to smile, even when she didn’t mean it—which was more or less most of the time. She was so good at faking it she might actually survive Orlais if her travels ever took her southeast again.
So many nobles, so many faces and names she was never going to remember, and all of them wanted to get close to her, catch her ear and win her favor.
Maybe Varric was right. He hadn’t said as much, at least not out loud, but every time he looked across the table at her she knew what he was thinking: She was not cut out for the royal life, no matter how much Amell blood ran through her veins. She was no princess, any more than she was qualified to play Viscountess of Kirkwall, and yet that was the life she’d chosen.
It sounded silly when she thought about it that way, like some romantic tale Bethany might spin while daydreaming of the life she’d never get to live. Bethany. Now she’d have been a right royal princess, one to be reckoned with for sure. A place for everything in Bethany’s world, and everything in its place. She was so much like their mother that way.
Then there was Hawke: a bull in an Orlesian ceramics market all her life, charging straight for all the breakables and leaving nothing but dust and rubble in her wake. She had no business being in charge of one city-state, let alone two. And yet, there she was. Try as she might to imagine her life on another path, she couldn’t see it clearly at all. Not without Sebastian. They were meant to be together, just as he was meant to take back his city and his throne.
She would get used to all the pomp and ceremony… eventually. Her children would be raised with every privilege and freedom, not just noble brats, but royal ones at that. Her mother would be so very proud; Uncle Gamlen ridiculously jealous.
Stripping out of her tunic, she dropped it on the floor behind her and turned toward the full length mirror propped in the corner of the room. She lowered a hand to her midriff, fingers stretching open across flesh still muscular and taut; it was hardly altered enough to give away her condition, the barest hint of swelling only noticeable to a woman who knew her own body better than anyone else, and yet she felt it in her very core.
They’d spoken of having a family as they lay twined together on their wedding night six months earlier, clinging to one another in the shadows while the early morning sun began to nudge chaotic Kirkwall’s horizon. One day, they said. Perhaps once things were calmer, when they were both established firmly in their new positions they could begin the long process of rebuilding the vast families they’d lost.
But life had other plans. It always had other plans. Would Sebastian be pleased? Would it worry him as much as it began to worry her in the months they were apart? Night and day she fretted over the child in her womb, fearing for its very life before it was even born. She had no right to be anyone’s mother. As she and Varric liked to remind one another often, they were terrible people. Murderers, thieves, nobility…
Dropping her breeches and underclothes into a puddle at her feet, she stepped into the vast, steaming tub and sank down into the water with a long, appreciative moan. Five days on the road and every muscle in her body seemed to work against her. Her lower back ached, her legs felt stiff. Even her left knee made an unattractive crunching sound when she stretched herself deeper into the long tub and tipped her head back against the pillowed rim.
The scented steam whirling around her face was a nice touch, the kind of pampering a girl like her pretended she didn’t appreciate, but relished in the moment she was locked behind closed doors. It smelled of lavender and juniper with the faintest hint of citrus. Eerily enough it reminded her of home. Not Kirkwall home, not even Lothering home. She couldn’t put her finger on the association, only the safety and familiarity of it—a feeling she didn’t want to let go. She draped her arms over the edges, propped a foot on the side lip of the tub, and sighed out another breath as moment by moment the tension began to abate.
“I see you’ve made yourself at home with very little trouble.”
The sound of his voice startled her, water splashing out onto the floor around the tub as she shot up from her position. It was a rare thing to catch her off her guard; she wondered if he’d been practicing his stealth techniques since their last goodbye. As if reading her curious mind, Sebastian chuckled and leaned his shoulder against the doorframe before crossing his arms.
Head tilting to admire her, a mischievous grin perked his lips. “You must be exhausted if I caught you unawares.”
“I don’t even think there’s a word to describe how tired I am.” She drew back into the water, a strange part of her actually considering covering herself. What was wrong with her? She’d never known a modest day in her life, and to make matters stranger the man staring was her husband. They’d been naked together; he’d been inside her and left his mark. A mark that now grew in her womb.
Perhaps that was what she wanted to hide from him. She had spent the weeks leading up to her departure from Kirkwall, and every day on the road worrying about what he would say when she told him.
Part of her knew deep down that despite its inconvenient timing he’d be overjoyed by their blessing, but Sebastian was also very particular. In much the same way her mother and Bethany had been particular about things. He liked stability, routine, plans all laid out in pretty little rows he could walk between while analyzing them and imagining the best ways to keep them stable. Varric called him rigid, immovable at times, but Hawke knew better. She’d moved the mountain that was Sebastian Vael; he’d changed his entire future because of her. When she told him about their child, it would change him all over again, and she wasn’t sure the man he would become when he became another’s father. Rigid, hard, overprotective in much the way he’d become overprotective of her.
Pushing off the doorframe, he sauntered toward the tub. The soft leather of his boots barely a whisper on the marble, he knelt beside the bath and held himself steady on the rim. He reached for her hand, clutching her damp fingers inside his own before lifting them to his lips.
“I, for one, am looking forward to the first restful night’s sleep I’ve had in three months,” he confessed, turning her wrist upright and placing a tender kiss just below her palm. The hair of his new beard bristled the skin of her arm, sending the strangest series of chills through her and igniting a hunger inside unlike any she’d ever felt. She’d known lust before, great hunger. All those years she spent chasing after the hopelessly chaste man she now called husband were good practice, but the need she felt for him in that moment was different. It felt primal, instinctual, overwhelming. “There are no words to describe how difficult it’s been here without you by my side, love.”
She drew her other arm across the water, lifted wet fingers to scratch through his facial hair, and purred, “If you think for a second I’m letting you sleep a single wink tonight you’re sorely mistaken, Your Highness.”
Turning his face into hers, she surged into his parted lips and relaxed into a long-awaited kiss. The barest hint of whiskey sweetened his mouth, and when his eager tongue passed her teeth and sought hers the moan she suppressed vibrated through them both and melted him just a little.
It had been a painfully long afternoon and even lengthier evening, sitting beside him at that table and suffering his scandalized glare and adorably flushed cheeks each time she snuck a hand over to crawl fingers up the tight muscle of his thigh. More than once, after resituating himself in his chair to disguise his rising desire for her, he leaned over and whispered, “Behave yourself, Hawke. This is neither the time nor the place.”
Spoilsport. So proper and controlled.
Though there was a particular sparkle in his eye as he drew away, unspoken promise that when it was time he would make the wait she endured worthwhile.
Droplets of water specked his doublet, dribbling across royal sea silk and splashing back into the tub. “You’re getting me wet,” he murmured between kisses.
“We could both use a bath.” Snaking her arms around his neck, she leaned back and drew him with her. At first he stiffened, afraid to give into her whim and damage his clothes, but the hand holding him in place slipped off the rim of the tub and the top half of his body tumbled into the water with a splash that sizzled beads of moisture on the hot stones in front of the hearth just a few feet away.
“Hawke,” he started to scold her, but the boisterous glee of her laughter softened his dripping features as he steadied himself and slicked the wet auburn hair back from his face. “You’re impossible,” he chuckled.
“I’d do just about anything to get you out of those clothes right now,” she teased.
“You only had to ask.”
Shaking the water from his arms, he leaned back and began unbuttoning the silver toggles lining the side panel of his doublet. She perched on the edge of the tub, watching with quirked brow as he slowly peeled away soaked fabric and contemplated what to do with it.
Reaching out, she swiped it from his hand and tossed it toward the pile of clothes she’d left on the floor. “You’re making this whole thing much harder than it should be.”
“I’ve tried so very hard to teach you the merits of patience over the years.” Prying the buckle of his belt, the metal clanged and jangled as he fumbled almost absently with the ties on his breeches.
Hawke laughed again, her eager hand reaching out to aid him. At first she thought he’d push her away, but after a moment his hand went slack and he let her do the work. “My mother spent the frazzled years of her life trying to teach her oldest child patience. It was the one thing she most regretted failing in the end, I suspect.” Pausing to disentangle the knot, she went on as it came loose, “Father, on the other hand would say, ‘Leave her alone, Leandra. Our girl knows how to get things done, and I wouldn’t have her any other way.’”
“Maker’s breath, Hawke.” Sebastian swallowed as the ties came free. His breeches dropped, momentarily catching in all the excitement her touch stirred. The sight only broadened her incorrigible grin. “The last thing I want to talk about while you’re robbing me of my clothing is your parents.” Drawing her lower lip between her teeth, she gripped the hem and tugged them down, watching with delight as they fell to the floor.
“Get into the bath, you dirty boy.”
She drew her legs toward her chest, leaving the end opposite her in the tub empty so he could climb in. It was large enough to fit them both, a fine luxury she wouldn’t scorn, and for a time she simply stretched her legs along his as she tipped back again to relax. They didn’t speak for a while, which wasn’t entirely strange. Sebastian spent years of his life in quiet contemplation before he met her, and at times he was prone to thoughtful silence, but after months apart and so many abrupt changes in their lives she thought they would have more to say.
Not that she was complaining. She really wasn’t in the mood for more politics. Even less for small talk.
“Are you truly going to stay all the way over there after dragging me into this tub with you?” he broke the silence, startling her from her thoughts.
“I don’t know, I thought if you wanted to cuddle you’d have crawled in behind me.”
“Get over here,” he asserted, an edge in his voice she’d not have thought him capable of just a year earlier.
My, how things change—and quickly, she thought.
She conceded, wriggling around in the tub as she crawled across the cramped space and deposited herself between his legs with her back to him. She felt his eagerness against the small of her back as he leaned forward and brushed the hair away. He lowered his lips to her shoulder and noticed, “You’ve started growing out your hair.”
Reaching her hand back, she scratched through the goatee on his chin. “So have you.”
“If you don’t like it I’ll shave.”
“I like it fine,” she shrugged. “As I said before it’s very dashing.”
“I thought it was time for a change.”
“So did I.”
“So much is different now.”
He lowered his chin to her shoulder and wrapped both arms around her waist to draw her back into his chest. A part of her stiffened. A flicker of fear stirring as she worried the only man who’d touched her body since before she left Lothering would notice it had changed. Varric liked to say he was naïve and unobservant at times, but she knew better. Sebastian always noticed things; he just didn’t like to point them out unless he had good reason. Would he confront her if he noticed? Would it make her want to hide it even more?
“A year ago I pictured myself here,” he confessed in a low, thoughtful voice tinged in shame. “The image was blurred, but I even imagined you beside me.”
“Really?” she tipped her temple into his cheek. “You were imagining us in a bath together a year ago, you naughty boy?”
“Maker take me, I was imagining us in much more scandalous places, truth be told, but I fought it so hard, Hawke. I thought I belonged in the Chantry, that because my family wanted me there it was where the Maker must want me as well. And then my family…” he still struggled to speak of them at times, “and you came into my life. Elthina used to say you were temptation in its wickedest guise, that if I followed you would lead me straight to ruin.”
“And here I always thought Elthina liked me,” she sneered.
“But in the days before it all fell apart I started to see things differently. What if the Maker sent you to me? What if you were to guide me back to where I was truly meant to be?”
“The Maker didn’t send me to guide anyone, Sebastian. Don’t be absurd.”
“I think you’re wrong, Hawke.” Lifting his nose along her cheek, his lips followed, leaving a trail of soft kisses toward her ear. “I believe the Maker made you specifically for me. To fill my life with light and my heart and soul with strength.”
“You do know I was already planning to sleep with you tonight.”
Nostrils flared as he breathed out through his nose. “I was attempting, rather poorly it would seem, to be romantic.”
“That’s actually the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me. I was simply saying that had I not been intending to sleep with you before, I am certainly more than willing now.”
“I’m not scolding you for being who you are,” he chuckled. “I forget sometimes that it was your inappropriateness I fell in love with first.”
“Now that is truly the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me.”
“Kiss me, you infuriating woman.”
She obliged, tilting back her head to find his waiting lips.