Wicked Graces: Chapter Five

A/N: May contain language and situations not suitable for readers under the age of seventeen.

Hawke didn’t remember falling asleep, though for the first time in months her slumber was not plagued by twisted nightmares of all the ways her lover might die before she was back at his side to protect him. In fact, she didn’t remember dreaming at all, not a single threat or temptation working its way through the darkness, and as she opened her eyes she felt mysteriously rested. Almost at peace, even.

She came awake slowly, disoriented and estranged from her surroundings. The bed felt far too comfortable, the air in the room not too hot, not too cold. The pillows and duvet stuffed with warm downy feathers that whispered as she rolled from her back onto her side and found herself face to face with her sleeping husband.

My husband.

It still felt strange to call him that, even just in her mind. Not bad strange, just unexpected and glorious and wonderful in ways she was sure were going to be yanked out from under her the first moment she let down her guard. Life had a way of doing that to her. It dangled something precious before her, made her believe she only had to work to reach it, and just when she curled her fingers around to claim it, it was torn away. She’d done more than just curl her fingers around Sebastian; she sunk her claws in deep, tethered herself to him in ways that would make it damn near impossible to separate them. And now she was carrying his child. She liked to think there was nothing more permanent than that, but she’d known plenty of unwed mothers and orphaned children, both in Kirkwall and Lothering.

Just looking at him made her believe in the Maker, though she’d never admit as much to anyone. Face slack, lips slightly parted, he was almost angelic. She didn’t want to wake him, but the longer she studied his face, the harder it was to resist touching. She waited years to trace her fingertip across the soft, sensual curve of his lips, to stretch her leg along his while drawing her foot up the length of his calf before inching ever closer to feel all of him against her. Daydreams of his hands on her skin, his mouth tasting hers became reality, and once he was hers completely she wanted to spend every waking moment in his arms.

Teasing fingers slipped down his chest, over the taut muscles of his stomach before crawling between the gap in his bed pants. She slid her hand against bare skin, through the wiry, short hairs trailing down his stomach. His body jerked in reaction when she traced just below his navel, a slow, confused murmur passing through those perfect lips before he absently attempted to roll away from her touch.

A coy grin found her mouth and she tucked the barest whisper of a laugh into her shoulder. It was funny to her how familiar every one of his features was as she studied them. She knew them, knew him by heart, and was sure if she were any good with charcoals she could create a perfect likeness of him with her eyes closed. But during the months they were apart she often fought to remember each precious detail and worried herself sick she might forget him before she saw him again. The tiny lines beside his lips that promised a smile was just moments away from lighting his eyes. How his long, dark brown lashes touched the tops of his cheekbones when he closed his eyes. Heavy lids hid sultry eyes so bright a color blue they rivaled the sky on a clear afternoon. He always kept his hair perfectly combed and styled, but seeing him in that state, ruffled and shaggy from sleep, only made him that much more appealing.

She hadn’t thought it possible to find him more attractive, but absence certainly made her heart grow fonder. In all her life she’d wanted things: a nicer house, nicer clothes, a nicer, less resentful little brother, but she’d never pined for those things the way she yearned for Sebastian when he wasn’t with her. And once she realized she was carrying his child, the ache worsened. Alone, she would lie awake every night in Kirkwall trying to imagine how he would feel when she told him, picturing the person who might be born from their union.

She wanted her baby to look like him. To be normal and sensible, perhaps even a little arrogant and self-assured, and with a sense of humor her own father would have been proud to call his legacy. But more than all those things she wanted her baby to be born completely untouched by and disconnected from the fade. Whatever magic coursed through her veins, whatever dormant gifts her father’s blood bestowed, she didn’t want them anywhere near her child.

The root of her fear: She would give him a child he wouldn’t want because after swimming in the darkness of so much blood magic, after everything Anders had done, there was no way he’d ever love a child born with magic.

“What are you doing, Hawke?” he murmured, lids rising to reveal bright, curious eyes.

Trying to imagine what our baby will look like. Will it have your smile? Your eyes? Your values? Will it be born with my father’s magic?

“Watching you sleep.”

“Watching me sleep?” Fingers curled around her wrist, tightening before he let go to drift across her knuckles and guide her hand against the stiffness rising up to meet her. How very naughty of him, she thought, how bold and forthright.  “With your hand?” He cocked a brow as he tilted his head off the pillow to look at her.

“All the better to see you with.” She grinned and wiggled her fingers, delighting in the sharp breath that pulsed through his lips when he gasped.

“You’re… feeling better… then?” he managed.

“Better than I’ve felt in months.”

Except for this uncanny fear and anxiety I can’t shake. I have to shake it. It can’t overwhelm me. Nothing overwhelms me. Not ever.

The midwife in Kirkwall laughed as she promised her months of unstable mood shifts and hormonal outbursts. Hawke hadn’t believed the woman, but every moment had been unpredictable since she learned she was pregnant. She actually found herself missing Anders. Not crazy Anders—though the greater part of her wasn’t sure there’d ever been a sane Anders—but the Anders who knew more about healing and life than anyone she’d ever known. Anders who had been her friend… until he wasn’t. Once, he would have known all the right things to say to reassure her. He might have even been able to convince her having a mage child wouldn’t be so bad. But she’d killed Anders for the things he’d done, and sometimes just thinking about the sad, frightened mage she met all those years ago in Kirkwall filled her with ominous guilt.

What if the Maker punished her with a mage child simply because she killed Anders? What right had she to punish the wicked?

“Well, I’m… glad to hear it.”

She gripped him, her hand firm as she stroked gently upward and watched his eyes flutter behind the lids. “I’m feeling so much better I thought it best I take full advantage of you before princely duties draw you away from me and I’m left to wander the grounds with Varric trying to fully assess your fortifications.”

“My… fortifications are… in serious distress at the moment.”

“Sounds like the perfect time for me to invade.”

He grabbed her wrist again, fingers squeezing just tight enough to make her wince without actually hurting her. He pulled her hand from his waistband and rolled into her, pinning the offending arm behind her head as he came in above her and touched the tip of his nose to hers. “You can certainly try, but don’t think for a moment I won’t retaliate.”

Hawke liked being in control; she liked playing the aggressor at every opportunity, but since she’d inspired Sebastian to take back his life several months earlier she’d seen a side of him she always suspected lurked just beneath the surface. Powerful, dominating, in complete control of every situation he found himself in. In bed he dominated the movement of their bodies—he moved her left as he shifted right, lifted her into him as he descended, their hips colliding and fingers gripping, reaching, clawing, nipping, biting. It was primal and exciting as he matched her every maneuver, breached her defenses, and turned their lovemaking into all-out war with promise of heavy casualties.

She could count the number of times they’d been intimate since their wedding night six months earlier on her fingers and toes, so it should be no surprise that every encounter was a delightful revelation of personality traits and tricks she had no idea he even possessed. So many years alone, yearning, pining, refusing to believe she would never have him. The reward for her patience more than compensated the loneliness both body and soul endured while she waited for him, but now she couldn’t get enough.

Crooking his arm beneath her thigh, he drew her along his bicep. The tilt of her hips brought him in deeper, reaching a part of her that had never been touched before. She cried out in surprise, warm bliss shuddering through her in waves that left her breathless and so emotionally overwhelmed it brought tears to her eyes.

Tears? Sweet Maker, this is new.

She blinked furiously, but it was more than just her eyes that betrayed her. Her chest fluttered, her stomach quivered. She wanted more, so much more. She begged, and he gave, his stamina renewed entirely after a good night’s sleep. They carried on so long that way the feelings his touch inspired terrified her. She was losing herself, spiraling away on euphoric waves of elation and bliss that threatened to shatter her at the same time they completed her. What was this? What was happening to her? She couldn’t catch her breath until he finally let himself go, collapsing into her and burying his face in her neck with a triumphant growl. Hot breath rushed across her collarbone as he gasped, and the patterns decorating the canopy above the bed blurred as the tears she fought poured free. She didn’t realize she was clinging to him, a desperate soul holding onto a rock in a sea storm. Trembling, body shuddering, the first sob escaped her even as she fought against it.

Was that what the midwife meant when she spouted phrases like emotional instability and hormonal mood swings?

“Marian?” Ruffled hair askew in all directions, he lifted his head to regard her and the hard edge of his aggression dissolved the moment he saw her tear-streaked face. She tried to look away from him, the fact that he’d seen her weakness making it that much worse, but he gripped her chin and drew her back. She squeezed her eyes shut tight, hoping that at least would stop the tears, but it was too late. “Marian?” his voice was so soft, so compassionate. “Are you… Did I hurt you?”

“No, I…”

“What’s wrong? Did I do something?”

Sweet again, gentle, the loving, naïve young man from the chantry who only wanted to do right and good and make the world a better place. Sometimes it broke her spirit to think it was her who took that naiveté from him and smashed it like a ship upon the craggy shores of the Wounded Coast. She worried every day she took that little bit of peace from him and shattered it, but in moments like that, when his voice was calm and his brow furrowed with worry, she knew her sweet young man was still in there. He would always be there, even if his own nature conflicted with the hard person he had to become simply because he loved her.

She shook her head and sniffled, quickly brushing the tears away with the back of her hand. “It’s nothing. I’m just… I’m so happy, Sebastian. You make me so happy.”

“Hawke?” The edge returned to his voice, urging her toward honesty, but she wasn’t ready. She couldn’t tell him, not yet. Not until she felt sure that no matter what he wouldn’t cling to the same fears she harbored and cast looming shadow over a child they’d not yet meant to conceive. “Talk to me.”

“I said it was nothing.”

“It’s not nothing. You’re crying.”

“I’m not… crying.” Tears dripped across the slope of her nose and slid down her cheek, tickling through the hair stuck to her skin before soaking into the strands and the pillow.

He actually laughed at her, a dangerous mistake that shut down any chances he might have had at actually convincing her she was safe with him, that she could tell him anything. “You are crying.”

“Sometimes women cry, all right?” she snapped, trying to push him away from her.

“During… sex?” The bridge of his nose creased under the weight of a furrowed brow.

“Whenever they want, Sebastian. We cry whenever we want.”

“You’ve been acting strange since the moment you slid off that horse and into my arms again. Is something wrong?”

Edging her shoulder out from under him first, she rolled onto her side and dangled long legs over the edge of the bed. Back to him, she shook her head and said, “You’re imagining things.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of having an overactive imagination.”

“I’m actually shocked to hear that.”

“Come on, Hawke. You can talk to me.”

“I said it’s nothing, Sebastian, just… let it go.”

“I’m not going to just let it go. We’re married now. You’re my wife. Whatever burdens you carry are mine as well.”

It was his burden, just as much as it was hers, but she wasn’t ready to lay it on him. Not until she came to terms with it herself. Though at the rate she was going, she wasn’t sure when that would actually happen, if ever.

He crawled across the bed and knelt behind her, his arms coming around her as he dipped his head in beside hers. “You would tell me if something was wrong, if I hurt you in some way? Was I too aggressive?” Suspicion mingled with worry to crease his brow; she felt more than saw the lines wriggling across his forehead.

“It wasn’t that, you were fine.”

“Then what?”

“Nothing, all right? Nothing is wrong.”

“Then why are you crying?”

She swiped at the offending tears again and shook her head. “I just… I’m overwhelmed is all. There are so many things, so many changes in so short a time. Viscountess, Princess of Starkhaven. Responsibility after responsibility, and I’m so tired. I barely know how to cope with it all.” And things were only going to continue change, responsibilities would pile up around her. Before she knew it there would be another innocent life in her hands, and what if she couldn’t protect it? What if it was born wrong, or tainted by magic? Drawing in breath through her nose, it expanded her lungs and broadened her shoulders, filling her with a semblance of calm she could latch onto long enough to reassure him. “I promise you I will be fine once I’ve had some time to adjust to everything.”

“I rushed you here, didn’t I? When I wrote to you about the coronation, you felt obligated to come back, but you’re not ready…”

“That’s not it, Sebastian. I came back because you need me.” She hesitated, a part of her on the verge of telling him she needed him, too, that sometimes just being near him was enough to make her fears seem small and insignificant. But not this fear. Why not this fear?

“Do you… not want to be here?”

“What? Yes, of course I want to be here. There is nowhere in all of Thedas I would rather be than with you.”

He dropped back onto his heels, his hands slack on her shoulders as he sighed. “I’ve known you a long time, Marian, more than seven years.” It was serious if he was calling her Marian. He reserved use of her given name for intimate moments and scoldings. She didn’t have to guess which one he was gearing up to. “I traveled with you, fought beside you six of those years. I’ve seen your suffering firsthand, watched you build walls around yourself so no one else could see you in a moment of weakness, and right now you’re laying a strong foundation to put up a wall between us.”

Shrugging out from under his hands, she stood and bent to grab her shift from the floor. She stretched into it angrily, arms catching in the sleeves in the most absurd display of insolence, but at last she yanked it over her body and spun around to face him. “How could you say that? Insinuate I’m hiding something from you?” Because he was far more astute than anyone ever gave him credit for, and he did know her. Better than anyone, it seemed; perhaps even better than Varric. Oh, Varric wasn’t going to like that…

“Hawke, you—”

“I’m what?” she challenged. “Being unreasonable? Ridiculous?”

“I was going to say you mean the world to me, that I am overjoyed you are finally here with me, but I only want to see you happy. However, since you wish to put words into my mouth, yes, you are being more than a little unreasonable. Why come all this way to be with me if the only thing you wished to do when you got here was shut me out and argue with me?”

His face was flushed, not unlike the blush that colored his cheeks all those times she mercilessly flirted with him when she knew she shouldn’t, but it was different. Anger and confusion burned in vibrant, narrowed eyes, and the color on his cheeks the result of that agitation. It spread down his neck and reddened lightly freckled shoulders. The fire of that spirit, the one she saw stirring beneath his chantry-calm demeanor, was the very thing that drew her to him like a moth to a flame all those years ago. A man who, despite his better nature, craved vengeance and power and would not be denied even by the most reasonable of voices. A man who would not suffer a lie, no matter how small and meaningless, and most especially not from the woman who loved him.

“If you want me to go back to Kirkwall, I’m sure Varric will happily see us departed within the hour.” Even she didn’t know where that came from once it left her mouth. He’d never said anything to even suggest he didn’t want her there, but her unreasonable tongue was already tangled, and the offending blade was sharper than ever.

“If I want you to—What are you on about? Of course I don’t want you to go back to Kirkwall, Hawke. I never said… I just want you to talk to me. One minute you’re in the throes of bliss, crying out my name in pleasure, and the next you’re sobbing and telling me it’s because you’re happy. You say women cry all the time, but I’ve seen you do it once since I met you. You’ve never been the vulnerable type, though Andraste herself knows I prayed many times you’d let down your defenses for even just a minute so things wouldn’t bottle up inside you like they do. If you’re crying something’s terribly wrong, and I would know about it.”

“I can’t cry because I’m happy? Something has to be wrong?”

Fists clenched, he scrunched loose sheets between his fingers and lowered his head. “You’re an impossible woman.”

Before she could respond, not that she had any idea what to say to that, a light rap sounded at the door and a voice called out, “Your Highness, the hour grows late and the time for your meeting with the ambassador from Wycome nears. Will His Highness and Her Ladyship be coming down for breakfast?”

“We’ll be right down, Chancellor,” he barked over his shoulder before climbing out of bed and approaching her from the side. He was still naked, which might have diminished a lesser man in a moment of anger, but for reasons she couldn’t even begin to comprehend the exposure emboldened him. She shouldn’t be thinking about how sexy it was, but her stupid hormones were out of control. There had to be a potion, something she could take to feel normal again.

“I have duties to attend to and a very long day ahead of me, but this is far from over. I give you the day. I’ll assign an escort of guards to show you and Varric the efforts that have been made to embolden Starkhaven. Get some air, enjoy the markets and the sights. Perhaps her peace and beauty will help you find reason so that tonight we can finish this discussion. I will expect your honesty.”

She started to counter his expectations with a biting retort about how she’d never be anything less than honest with him, how dare he suggest otherwise, but the smoldering look in his eyes made her bite her tongue. She wasn’t lying to him, but she wasn’t being entirely honest either, and she knew it. Stubbornly crossing her arms, she watched as he stalked toward the wardrobe on the other side of the room and began rifling through it for something suitable to wear.

He dressed with the barest measure of control and calm, then while lacing up his boots said, “Get dressed and come to breakfast. Everyone will be expecting you.” Then he left her alone in the room feeling more like she wanted to cry than ever before.

The one good thing in her life, the only thing out of an unending stream of bad and wrong that felt right and perfect, and there she was doing everything in her power to destroy it the way she destroyed everything she touched before it even had a chance to grow. Hand drifting across her midsection, she cupped her fingers over the slight swell barely large enough to be noticed by anyone but her. How long before she felt the life quicken inside her, before the first stir of movement made it feel undeniably real?

“I would blame this on you,” she muttered, “but it’s not your fault you’ll be born to an impossible woman. Poor thing. Hardly a whisper and already you’re doomed.” The barest hint of a smile touched the corner of her mouth as she shook her head. “No. No, you won’t be doomed. I will love you, no matter who you are or what you become. And he will love you,” she realized, “perhaps more than he’s ever loved anyone or anything in all the world.”

So why was she so afraid to tell him?

“I just need time, little one.”

About erica

Erica North is the fanfiction pseudonym for fantasy/romance author Jennifer Melzer.
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