Responsibilities kept Sebastian busy throughout the day, and for that he was grateful. If left to sit and fester with his thoughts, he would have been a lot angrier with Hawke as the day progressed, but distractions kept him levelheaded. By the time he sat down at a table made ready by the servants in his apartment, he was calmly prepared to confront her if she didn’t confess her secrets.
Of course, she managed to keep him waiting even though his invitation was for promptly seven o’clock. He was relatively sure she did it on purpose; she liked to get under his skin in every way imaginable. That extra fifteen minutes made him angsty, his mind finally able to churn over all the things that had been bothering him since he woke up hungover that morning.
His wife was keeping secrets from him. The child she carried, his child… He had a right to know about it. And why was she meeting secretly with Wardens? He knew the moment his heart could no longer deny her, before they ever stood before Mother Hesperida in Kirkwall and pledged their heart and their lives to one another it wasn’t going to be easy to hold Hawke back for long periods of time. That free spirit of hers was a death sentence in the offing, but they promised one another as they took their vows nothing the world threw at them would ever truly come between them. They would make precious every moment they had together, but Maker’s breath, she was with child. The family they wanted to start together would become a reality far sooner than they expected, which meant it must become a priority; not just for her, but for both of them.
She had no business planning anything that involved fighting, or darkspawn, or blight, and the Wardens promised all three. What in the name of Andraste’s Mabari was she thinking?
Minute by minute ticked by, his ire growing as he tossed it all around. It hurt to think she didn’t trust him enough to share her plans, that she didn’t respect him as her husband enough to tell him about their child. He loved her with conviction, the strength of bond between them stronger than anything he ever endured, and he knew she loved him too, but true love, the kind of love that lasted a lifetime was built on trust.
If she didn’t trust him, what did they have?
“What’s all this?” she appeared in the doorway, a hand on her hip and her head cocked curiously as she surveyed the spread on the table. “Did I forget my own birthday?”
The kitchen staff and the servants had outdone themselves preparing a romantic setting. Candles on the table, every piece of silver shined to perfection, the napkins and porcelain dinnerware impeccably placed. It was a gesture she would pretend not to appreciate, but he knew better. Deep down, under layers of hardened blood and suspicion, there was a lady, someone soft and appreciative of romantic gestures and moments that left lasting impressions. She’d seen so much hardship, held onto too many bad memories, and maybe he was overreaching, but he wanted every precious moment of their life together to begin outweighing all the bad. How could he give her that happiness and peace if she wasn’t completely forthright with him?
“No,” he chuckled, his spirit lightening in her company. It was so easy to be dismissive of his own feelings when she was being infuriating, but he kept a grip on the fact that he was almost furious with her.
“Did I forget your birthday?” she balked.
“You’ve got several months to forget that,” he said, gesturing for the servant to depart. “I think we can manage from here, thank you for everything.”
“As you wish, Your Highness. If you need anything ring the bell.”
As the servant bowed out of the room, Sebastian rose from the chair and moved to greet her with a chaste kiss on her cheek. She wasn’t taking just that. She turned her mouth into his, catching him by surprise and further cooling his anger; enough so that when he said, “I was beginning to wonder if you misread my invitation,” his tone was more thoughtful than irritated.
“Am I late?”
“Aren’t you usually?”
“Well, I’m sorry. I couldn’t find a thing to wear. All my clothes are garbage. I’m going to have to burn them.”
“That’s a little extreme, don’t you think?”
Slipping his hand along the small of her back, he guided her toward the table, drew out her chair, and waited until she sat down to gently push her in. He was overly cautious in giving her space, worried he might hurt her. As he withdrew to cross the table and take his own seat, his ears reddened just a little when he thought of the rough bed play they’d partaken in since she returned and felt ashamed. Had he only known, he would have been much gentler with her.
Wasn’t she worried such aggressive behavior might endanger the baby?
“It’s been a while since I set a wardrobe on fire,” she shrugged. “I thought maybe I could start anew.”
“We have many a fine tailor and seamstress in Starkhaven. If you’d like, I could send for them. Perhaps we could even make a competition of sorts for the city to celebrate.”
“Perhaps.” She reached for the water pitcher and poured herself a cup. “So, what’s all this then? What are we celebrating?”
He knew he said he wouldn’t push her, that he’d wait until she was ready, but that was before he knew just exactly the weight of the secret she was carrying. “Oh, I don’t know,” he led in casually, “why don’t you tell me what we might have to celebrate?”
“I…” she hesitated, long lashes blinking over stark blue eyes as her face lengthened. “Well, we could celebrate the fact that I wasn’t conscripted by the Grey Wardens today.” Her expression changed quickly, a smug smile drawing at the corners of her mouth as she raised her water goblet as if in toast. “That’s always nice.”
“Yes, I heard you met with the Wardens. From the chancellor and the King of Ferelden.”
“It wasn’t exactly a secret, Sebastian.” How infuriating it was when she snickered before taking a drink of water. “The Wardens mentioned last night they wanted to speak with Varric and me, then put in a petition this morning first thing. I would have told you about it, but I was fast asleep by the time you stumbled into bed in your party clothes. When I woke up this morning and saw you there still dressed, I figured you had a long night so I didn’t wake you.”
“You went to the Chantry?”
“You’ve been spending a lot of time there, so Mother Lucinda tells me.”
“It’s quiet in the mornings. I like to go there and think. Why do you sound angry about it? I thought you’d be happy to learn I was spending more time there.”
“I’m not displeased you’re spending time in the cathedral, but I’ve known you long enough to fear the burden you carry must be very heavy if you’re seeking comfort from Andraste.”
“Well, that is what the chantry is for, isn’t it? Comfort?”
“Hawke, I was going to give you a chance to tell me, but I can’t.” He watched her tense, the linen she was about to spread across her lap tightening in her grip. “It destroys me to know you’re struggling with what should be a blessing, so much so that you’ve been avoiding telling me about it since you got here. I know what troubles you, but what I don’t understand is why you couldn’t share it with me. I had a right to know.”
“How could you…” she started, then shook her head before turning her eyes down to the still-empty plate in front of her. “You’re angry.”
“I’m hurt,” he asserted, the unexpected rise of his voice making her shy back a little. He hadn’t meant for it to sound so hard, but sometimes his temper got the better of him. “Why would you keep word of my own child from me?”
She pushed her chair away from the table and stood up, but Sebastian wasn’t far behind her. She was halfway to the window before he stopped her, gentle hands firm in their grip as he spun her back in to face him. She refused to lift her head, her downcast eyes flitting over the buttons on his shirt cuffs.
“I wasn’t keeping it from you, just…” she backed out of his grip and turned away from him again. “I was giving myself time to come to terms with it before I told you.”
“Come to terms? Isn’t this what we wanted? A family of our own so we could start over together? What is there to come to terms with?”
“Eventually,” she threw up her arms. “We said we would start a family eventually, when we were established and things had calmed down, Sebastian.”
“We also said we would wait to get married until after I’d taken back Starkhaven, but we didn’t wait on that either.”
Talking over him, she went on, “Not immediately after we were married. I thought we would have more time to plan things.”
“You’ve never been a planner, Hawke. Why start now?”
She spun back in to face him, her pale face alight with frustration, eyes shining with fear unlike any he’d ever seen in her. “I’ve never been more responsible for someone else’s life than I am now. Sure, I was responsible for my brother and sister, for my mother after Father died, but this is different. This child is mine.”
“It’s terrifying, all right? Night and day it’s all I think about, and I go to the Chantry to ask the Maker why.” She started pacing, head down, loose locks of hair shadowing her face as it jostled with her incensed movements. “Why now? Why in the midst of all this chaos…? How could He trust me after all the things I’ve done, all the lives I’ve taken. How could He ever believe I am fit to be anyone’s mother? And then I worry. I fret and agonize over all the ways the Maker could punish me with this child.”
“Punish you? What are you talking about? The Maker doesn’t punish…”
“My father was a mage, Sebastian,” she cut in. She stopped pacing again to stare at him, that same fear still brimming at the edges of her eyes. “My baby sister, a mage. Magic runs strong in my family, it’s in my blood, but I have turned my back on it. I sided with the Templars against people like my father who just wanted the right to live their lives in peace as he did.”
“How many demons did your father summon, Hawke? Your sister?”
“You were there with me in the Warden’s Prison in the Vinnmark Mountains. My father used his blood to seal the wards that bound Corypheus. He was a blood mage. I killed so many blood mages to try and save Kirkwall…”
“Not Merrill,” he pointed out. “Despite her stupidity, you were overly kind to her.”
“Merrill… didn’t know better. She was like a bloody child. She still is.”
Internally he was trying to wrap his mind around her fear, make sense of it, but it felt impossible. She was afraid their child would be a mage? To punish her for her crimes against the mages? “You’re worried our baby will have magic?”
“It would be my just desserts, wouldn’t it? The one thing I’ve grown to hate more than all others, and the Maker sees fit to bless my life with it.”
“You don’t even know that, Marian.” He took a step toward her again. He wasn’t going to let her turn away. “You can’t even begin to guess what our child will be like, much less determine whether or not it will grow into magical capabilities when it’s older. And even if he or she did, would we love it any less? Have you stopped loving your father because you learned of the things he did to survive, to earn his freedom so he could be with your mother and you?”
“And your sister? I’m sure you had your share of sibling squabbles over the years, but was there ever a moment in your life you didn’t love her because she could summon a fireball?”
“Of course not, but…”
“Then why would you love your own flesh and blood, a child you brought into this world, any less?” Hands coming down on her shoulders, he steadied her in place as he tilted his head down to look her in the eye.
“I wouldn’t, but…”
“Enough, Hawke.” Voice soft, he hoped it would calm her, give her the strength she needed to stand up to her fears. “I understand your fears, and I won’t say it’s not a concern, but careful planning wouldn’t have changed the possibility of our child being born a mage. It upsets me that you knew, that you carried around this burden of a blessing alone when by all rights it was my burden to share.”
“You weren’t exactly close by when I got the news,” she said as he steered her back toward the table, “and is that really something you would have wanted to learn about in a letter? I had so much time in Kirkwall to sit with this and mull it over. I mean really sit and think, and the more I thought, the more terrified I became. I was afraid you would be just as scared as I was, and that once I voiced my fears you wouldn’t want to have any children at all. That maybe you wouldn’t want me at all.”
“My love,” he trembled her hear her say such words. In no world, under no circumstances could he ever imagine not wanting her, not loving her and any child they might bring into the world together. Helping her into the chair, he knelt on the floor in front of her and took her hands. He brought them to his lips, kissed them, and then pressed his cheek against her knuckles. “I would never push you away from me, and I certainly wouldn’t turn my back on a child born of our love. You were a gift to me from the Maker, a blessing I never thought to see, a promise that I would know the love of a family again.” He forgot at times she did not grow up under chantry teachings, that her view on the Maker was often skewed and awry. “The Maker gives us every opportunity to atone for our sins. He doesn’t punish us in this mortal world, but gives us chances. If anything, this baby is another chance for both of us to do something right in the world. Whether it’s born with magic, or without.”
“But what if…”
“It doesn’t matter, Marian. No matter what gifts our child is born with, we will love and nurture that child because it is ours. Our love made flesh. We should be rejoicing, not starting this new path afraid of what may be down the road a ways.” Lifting both hands to cup her face, he tilted her head up so she had to look at him. Stretching upward, he touched his lips to hers, then drew back to tip his face to study her. “My years in the Chantry were spent grateful for the family I had within its walls, but now I have a family outside them again. I have you, and soon I’ll have so much more than I ever dared to dream I would be given. Please tell me that despite your fears, you’re happy, too. That you want a family with me.”
She closed her eyes and nodded, a single tear escaping through her lashes and dripping down her cheek. “I am happy, and I do want a family with you,” but she sounded so scared.
“Do you promise?”
“Whatever trials the world throws at us, whatever gifts it gives us, we will accept them all graciously together, just as we promised in our vows to one another. Do you have any idea how happy this makes me? How happy you make me?”
“Even when I’m infuriating?”
“Most especially when you’re infuriating.”
“You’re going to make me cry again,” she warned, lowering her forehead into his and closing her eyes. “You know how much I hate to cry. Every time it happens, which has been a ridiculous lot lately, I feel like such an idiot. An emotional wreck of a fool. I spent my whole life refusing to feel things out loud, and now I feel every bloody thing that comes my way so deeply it nearly destroys me. If this is what motherhood is going to be like for the rest of my life, I’m going to have to reevaluate my thoughts on Mother’s sanity.”
“No one ever has to know but me. You’re safe with me, Hawke, always.”
“I’ve never been safe before, not really. I… I don’t know what to make of it.”
Chuckling softly, he kissed the tip of her nose and said, “We’ll figure it out together, maybe find a little balance between always in control, and perfectly fine with handing over the reins behind closed doors. We’re both headstrong, and I’m sure we’ll struggle at times, but I know in my heart we will bring one another the balance we need.”
“A baby will mean a lot of changes,” she said.
“I’m ready to face them with you.”
Nodding, she started to lean back a little. “I didn’t think I would, but I feel relieved now that you know. Varric warned me you’d be angry for not telling you, and I think that was part of the reason I kept avoiding it, but you’re not angry anymore so could we eat now? I’ve been starving all day.”
“Of course,” he laughed again, kissing her cheek before rising from the floor in front of her. “We can’t have you and baby hungry.”
“It sounds strange, doesn’t it?” She was already scooping a hearty helping of potatoes onto her plate. “Baby, I mean. We’re going to have a baby.”
“I think it sounds wonderful.”