The Little Prince
Celeste was aware of two things when Merrill broke the mirror with her staff. One was that the shattering of the glass sounded very much like an anguished scream; the other was that the room filled with acrid smoke, sending them coughing to the windows. She opened the window, waving out the white plume of smoke with the aid of a well-channeled globe of force, the residual fumes still making her eyes water. Varric had opened another window and was hanging out of it, gasping like a beached fish.
"Is…is everyone all right?" she managed to ask through the bout of coughing. She could see Varric through the stinging tears, and she caught a glimpse of Merrill next to him, breathing in the air of the alienage as she hung out of the window. Anders gave a coughing rasp from beside her and muttered something that sounded like an invective against the Dalish in general and female keepers in particular.
As the smoke cleared, her eyes sought out Sebastian, the last of her companions, and she was panicked when he was not to be found. Merrill had told her stories of the mirror before, about an elf named Tamlen who had disappeared into the mirror and never returned. What if Sebastian had shared his fate?
She moved away from the window, towards the mirror. "Sebastian?"
As she made her way around the table, she nearly tripped over a bundle of very familiar armor. It lay in pieces on the ground, the white and gold trim of the rerebrace and vambrace winking in the smoky air. The belt buckle that had earned him so much ridicule from Anders lay next to it, face down on the floor as if discarded. The mail shirt was there as well; it was bunched around a small figure that looked up at her with the largest blue eyes she had ever seen. Unruly auburn curls in need of a good brushing surrounded the chubby face, a softer version of the man he had been. He gave a smile and she felt her heart melt in response, the urge to pick him up and cuddle him resisted only by the strongest willpower she could muster.
"Hello," he said, giving her a courtly little bow that was hampered somewhat by the boots that now enveloped his entire leg.
Varric was the next around the table at the sound of the child's voice. He stopped, and for the first time in her friendship with him, she found him speechless. Sebastian cocked his head at the dwarf, seeming to not understand the shock.
"Who are you?" he asked. "Are you the new help for Grandfather's stable? He said he would take me there today if I behaved myself."
"Shit…" Varric muttered. The curse sent Celeste scrambling to clap her hands over Sebastian's ears as she shot him a withering look. "What? It's nothing he hasn't heard before."
"Varric, he's a child." She slowed the tirade that was about to pour from her mouth, realizing that the situation was absurd. "Okay, hang on. He's talking about his grandfather's stable. Is it possible he doesn't remember us?"
Merrill took in the sight of Celeste holding her hands over Sebastian's ears. The little boy endured it with serene patience, holding up one leg to examine the boot that covered him from toe to hip. Anders was shaking his head, leaning on his staff as he quivered with suppressed laughter.
"Merrill, is this the mirror's doing?" Celeste asked, reluctant to remove her palms from Sebastian's ears. The little boy began to resent the contact, wriggling away from her and trying to shrug out of the heavy mail undertunic.
"I – I don't know," Merrill said, looking distressed. "I've never seen the Eluvian do something like this. When it was destroyed before, Tamlen disappeared, but who knows what this means?"
"Is it reversible?" The question hung in the air, and Merrill shrugged.
"Who knows? I've never seen anything like this, and none of the stories have mentioned anything like this. I suppose I could have a look in my books to be sure, but I don't know how long it will take."
"The Black Emporium might have something to reverse it," Anders said. "I've never seen anything like this before as a healer. Maybe it only needs time?"
"Broody might have something from the Imperium. I'm sure he hasn't destroyed Danarius's mansion entirely," Varric said, his eyes on the small child now working both feet into one oversized boot. "How about it, Squirt? You remember who we are?"
Sebastian looked up from his task, his little brow furrowed in confusion. "You mean you aren't the new stablehands?"
"Afraid not, kiddo. Tell you what, though. I bet Hawke would let you stay with her until we can get this figured out."
Blue eyes narrowed. "I'm not supposed to go anywhere with strangers."
"Sweetheart, we're not strangers." Celeste felt the twinge of conscience nag at her as she prepared to lie her arse off. "I'm your…new nanny. Your mother sent me to keep an eye on you while she and your father talk with the Viscount in Kirkwall."
"You know my mum?" The little boy was suspicious.
In a stroke of genius, Celeste dug through her hip pouch until she found the locket that had belonged to Meghan Vael. She had meant to give it to him earlier, and she thanked her forgetfulness now as she pulled the locket out. She handed it to the little boy.
Sebastian took the locket, running chubby fingers over the crossed arrows of Starkhaven. He looked up, large blue eyes meeting her dark green ones, and her heart leapt into her throat at the sight. Maker, those eyes were far deadlier than the arrows an adult Sebastian could feather into the throat of a bandit. She smoothed the tangled auburn hair out of his eyes.
"Would I have that if your mother hadn't sent me?" she asked, smiling despite herself at the conflicting emotions that warred on the boy's face.
It was hard to remind herself that this boy had once been a man she had been interested in, one who had rebuffed her without saying anything at all. As a sworn brother in the Chantry, she couldn't bring herself to speak to him about her feelings when he was so adamant about his vows. She snapped back to attention as Sebastian looped the chain of the locket around his neck.
"All right, I guess it's okay to go with you, miss." He slipped his smaller hand into hers and gave it a squeeze. "I'm Sebastian."
"Nice to meet you, Sebastian. My name is Celeste. These are my friends Varric, Anders and Merrill." She squeezed his hand in return, standing up from where she knelt in front of him. She turned to the others. "Let's get his clothes and armor together, at least. He's going to need some new clothes until we can figure out how to reverse this."
Merrill fished out a burlap sack while Celeste helped Sebastian out of his mail tunic. She had forgotten about the boots, and the little boy pitched over with a cry, arms pin wheeling, as he wobbled in the one boot he had managed to wiggle both legs into. She helped him up off the floor, distressed by the tears that sprang to his eyes as she cradled him to her chest. She managed to pull the boot off, along with his trousers, leaving him in nothing but an oversized shirt of soft linen. Merrill helped her gather everything up, along with his bow and quiver (kept out of sight by Varric distracting the boy with a story, for there were sure to be questions about his grandfather's bow).
Celeste gathered the boy to her chest again, lifting him in her arms. He placed small arms around her neck, cinching his hold even tighter on her heart as she carried him out of Merrill's house and into the Lowtown alienage. She had the others with her to watch her back, and she was grateful for that as they made their way to Hightown and the Amell family home.
Anders and Varric lingered on her doorstep, Varric stowing Sebastian's gear inside and out of sight. Anders was eyeing Sebastian with pursed lips, tapping his chin in thought. Sebastian scowled at the mage, tightening his hold on Celeste.
"I don't like him," he said with the matter-of-fact tone that only little boys could have. Anders scowled back at him, only to be rewarded with Sebastian sticking his tongue out at him.
Celeste shifted Sebastian to her hip – Maker, the boy was heavy – and glared at Anders. "Stop antagonizing him."
Anders sputtered. "Antagonize him? He's the one who started it!"
"Anders." Celeste's tone was no-nonsense. "You're older than he is by far, please don't act his age. I think I can only deal with one of you that young."
"I was only trying to help. He's the one who doesn't like me." Anders sighed, making his way down the steps. "You know where to find me if something else happens, Hawke. Try not to pull your hair out over this. If it's anything like the magical backlash I've seen, it's mostly harmless, but persistent. If I'm right, it should correct itself in a few days."
"Then we wait it out?" she asked. Anders nodded, starting his long trek back to Darktown with a wave.
Varric shook his head. "Blondie may be right, Hawke. I'll check with Fenris anyway, just to be sure. Can you keep an eye on Squirt in the meantime?"
"Varric, I helped raise my twin siblings. One of them is a piece of cake." Celeste grinned. "Leave it to me."
Oh, how wrong she was.
Sebastian was a child of two minds. One moment, he was a noble boy with impeccable manners, charming Orana with a beatific smile that seemed to be tuned specifically to melting female hearts, earning him sweets and hugs from the reserved former slave. He dimpled when he grinned, and it became a game to see how many times she could make those dimples appear, never getting enough of them. Celeste could see that smile turning deadly in a few years, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind it as it made its way across the Free Marches. She had fallen for that same smile herself when she'd first met him.
The other side of Sebastian was a hellion of epic proportions, however. Sandal was delighted with his new playmate; soon the two were thick as thieves, getting into more mischief than the adults could handle. Celeste was forever confiscating 'enchantments' from Sebastian's pockets, keeping the more dangerous of the magical runes away from the little boy. When he couldn't charm sweets from Orana, he resorted to nicking them from the table when she wasn't looking, and Celeste often found him dozing off a sugar high, curled up on Cambert. The dog was often a willing conspirator when sweets and other tidbits went missing from the kitchen, and the scrabbling of claws accompanied the giggling thud of small footsteps as something crashed to the floor more often than not.
Scolding Sebastian proved ineffectual; Celeste found that all he had to do was turn up those endearing blue eyes at her and quiver his lip before she caved. She knew she was weak, but the sight of him tearing up made her heart ache. Coupled with the story he had told her about his family, she could imagine that his childhood was full of a little boy that craved attention no matter how he got it. What she was seeing now was proving her theory right with each passing day. When she was engrossed in a text to try and change him back, she knew to expect the crash of pottery or the manic barking of Cambert as he chased a giggling little boy down the hall to burst in the door and fling their attentions upon her.
By the end of the first week, she alternately wanted to tear her hair out and hug the young prince until his ribs creaked. She lavished affection on him, reading to him at night before he slept and letting him sleep with her when the nightmares of being in a new house drove him to seek her out, wild eyed with his auburn hair tousled.
Her duties as Champion became put to the side with taking care of him, her apologies sent out with a paragraph about a cousin who had lost his family and needed her attentions while she arranged for someone to foster the boy. A similar letter was sent to the Chantry to explain Sebastian's absence to the Grand Cleric, informing her of their sudden departure to Ostwick to interview a lord who was interested in squiring the boy. She had squirmed with guilt over that letter, but it had been a necessary evil.
Clothes had been the easiest problem to solve. Sandal was about his size, although broader in the chest and limbs; Bodahn had sent Sebastian's measurements to a tailor while the prince traipsed about in borrowed clothes that flapped about him like a mummer's costume. Within a few days he had trousers and shirts of his own, and he clomped about in his new boots in the pretense of breaking them in.
He was in constant motion; she had forgotten how Carver was the same way, always moving, running, investigating things and inventing imaginary monsters to slay and damsels to rescue. Cambert often played the slavering beast, giving a convincing death rattle as he rolled onto his back, paws in the air as Sebastian stood over his 'corpse', victorious.
Varric brought him a wooden sword; the toy became a perpetual companion as he dueled Cambert up and down the hallways of the Amell estate. Celeste was often roped into playing the damsel, rewarding the brave knight with a kiss on the cheek and a story for slaying the beast. Sometimes he was Dane, clearing the forest of the threat of the werewolf king. Other times he was Alistair, the grey warden who had helped defeat the Blight in Ferelden and had become king alongside his queen, Elaine. (Celeste was always chosen to be Elaine, to no one's surprise. Orana was too timid to be the Fletched Queen, no matter what anyone said on the matter.)
Varric sometimes played the Archdemon, an old cape of black wool fluttering around him like powerful wings. He gave horrible theatric moans as Sebastian pounced on him, stabbing with his wooden sword, only to turn the tables and pin the boy, tickling him until the young prince was giggling fit to burst. Celeste would swoop in to save her grey warden, pulling Varric off of him only to pounce on him herself, tickling until the boy cried for mercy. They would collapse in a laughing heap, and Celeste would forget that they were looking for a way to reverse the spell.
The sight of his armor stacked in a corner of her chambers always reminded her, though. She pored through tomes that became older and older, making frequent trips to the Black Emporium to divest the owner of any new stock in hopes of a cure. She found nothing as she looked, and so redoubled her efforts to make him feel loved and a part of the family. Nothing her companions turned up proved to be helpful, either.
One week turned into two, and the second week was about to merge into a third when she caught him swinging on the chandelier in the main hall with Sandal.
"Sebastian Vael! You get down here right now!" The fear in her voice made him look up from where he was sitting, the grin growing wider as Sandal moved the light fixture in a slow, rotating arc that caused the whole structure to creak on its moorings.
"Look how high we are, Celeste!" he said, waving. The chandelier gave an alarming groan, and she was sure the whole thing was going to come down at any moment. She raced up the stairs, leaning out over the railing to reach for him.
"Sweetheart, I want you to jump, okay? Jump over here to me." She held her arms out, and he leapt into them with a giggle, thinking it a good game. She tumbled into a trembling heap with him, sliding to sit on the floor as Sandal jumped to the banister, leaving the chandelier swinging alone. There was a sudden, dreadful cracking noise as the moorings gave way, the trio watching the whole thing plummet to the carpet below, smashing the writing desk to kindling. The crash brought Bodahn and Orana running, the dwarf fussing over Sandal in a panic.
Her heart hammering against her ribs, she crushed Sebastian to her in a vice-like hug, only to release him and turn him over her knee. Once, twice, three times she swatted him on his rump before straightening him up and crushing him to her again before he had a chance to react to the spanking.
"Don't you ever do that to me again, all right?" she asked. She hadn't realized she was crying until a solemn little boy patted at her dampened cheeks with his chubby fingers. "You scared at least a year off my life with that little stunt, young man."
"I'm sorry," he said, his eyes swimming with tears. He hugged her with a sudden fierceness, a small sob turning into a wail as he clung to her. He said something, the words rendered inarticulate by his sobbing hiccups as she patted his back to soothe him. She rocked him until his crying stopped, leaving only a hiccupping and tear-streaked little boy in its wake.
"What's wrong, love?" she crooned, stroking his hair.
"I don't want you to leave like the others."
"Others? Other nannies? There have been a lot, then?"
A nod. "You're the only one who's stayed." A muffled snuffle as he clutched at her neck. "I love you, and I don't want you to go."
Her heart breaking, she gathered him up in her arms. "Don't worry, sweetheart, I'm not going anywhere."
With his hands and face washed, a mug of hot tea in his belly and tucked into bed, it wasn't long until Sebastian drowsed and she felt it safe enough to go and catalogue the damage from the fallen chandelier.
Celeste glared at Anders, who refused to quail, to his credit. Beside him, Sebastian smiled up at her, the dimpled face streaked with blues and reds and his clothes daubed in various colors. He held up a large stone, the rough surface painted with the varying colors that lined his face, hands and clothes.
"I made you something!" His tone was informative, and he held it up for her again.
"Two hours, Anders. I left you alone with him for two hours and I come back to find him covered in paint." Her hands made their way to her hips, and she found herself tapping her foot.
"Look, it was either I let him finger paint with the colors I could make or risk him downing one of the various bottles of ointment because he wants to touch everything." Anders let out an aggrieved sigh. "I don't know how you've made it three weeks with the little monster, really, I don't."
"He's a little boy, Anders, not a monster," Celeste said, scooping up Sebastian in her arms, heedless of the paint. He laughed in delight and found a not-quite-dry patch of red on his tunic, dipping his fingers in it and streaking it across the bridge of her nose. Anders's lips quirked into a grin, one that was hidden behind a coughing fit as Celeste turned her gaze on him again, lest he be turned to stone.
"It probably wasn't the best idea to leave him here, Hawke." Anders gestured at the bundles of herbs that rested on his work bench. "A lot of this stuff can be poisonous in the case of little hands and curious mouths."
"I didn't have much of a choice, Anders. I got word from the Emporium that there was a book that might fix the whole mess, since your advice to wait it out doesn't seem to be working." She shifted Sebastian to her hip, ducking paint-smeared fingers. "I'll ask Fenris next time, then."
"Fenris? That can't be sanitary, all the corpses around the mansion," Anders muttered as the pair left the clinic. "I doubt that Fenris is aware of how to care for a child properly anyway. The removal of hearts is not a parlor trick you show at a child's Name Day."
Fenris proved to be an able, if reluctant, minder. The former Tevinter slave regarded Sebastian with a critical eye as the little boy stared up at him in awe, the elf imposing in his blackened armor and armed with an impressive greatsword. Sebastian looked between her and Fenris, his eyes huge.
"I like him, Celeste, but he needs more hugs."
"What." Fenris was not amused, Celeste could tell. Sebastian had a habit of giving matter-of-fact snap decisions about someone he had just met. While his observations were accurate, they were not kind to the recipient very often. In fact, Varric and Celeste had been the only ones to receive Sebastian's praise in these once-overs; Varric was funny, and Celeste was nice.
"You need more hugs," Sebastian repeated, walking up to Fenris and wrapping little arms around the elf's leg. Fenris made a startled noise and looked as if he were about to draw back, but a warning look from Celeste had him holding stock-still like a deer catching the scent of a hunter. He gave Sebastian's tangled locks a ginger pat, and the little boy let go, beaming up at Fenris.
"See? More hugs." Sebastian gave a firm nod.
Fenris begged her with his eyes to not leave him alone with the little prince, but Celeste was adamant. She pecked Sebastian's forehead with a warning to be good for 'Uncle Fenris', breezing out the door to meet with Merrill and put their heads together over the little problem.
She returned to find them asleep in a chair by the fire, Sebastian in Fenris's lap. A book of fairy tales she had brought Fenris to help him learn to read lay open on the floor below Fenris's dangling fingers. Fenris woke as she gathered Sebastian up, the little boy snuggling into her arms. She was lucky that Sebastian had brought Fenris's guard down; waking the elf like that was never a good idea under normal circumstances.
"He wanted to teach me to read," Fenris said, clasping his hands over his stomach. He had forgone the armor, dressing in a soft undertunic and breeches. She smiled and hugged Sebastian closer, rocking him with a slight movement.
"He's a good little boy, if energetic."
"I heard about the chandelier."
"Maker, don't remind me."
Fenris fixed her with an inscrutable stare. "What will you do if this can't be reversed? What if he remains a child?"
She swallowed around a lump that formed in her throat. What would she do? She couldn't keep this up forever; though she had inserted herself into his life as a caretaker, the memory of the man he had been would be a constant. The armor in the corner of her bedchamber gleamed in a mockery of the man that had filled it. The bow was oiled and put away for safe-keeping, but the memory would always be there.
As much as she loved the little boy in her arms, she loved the man more, and his absence was a constant ache.
"It does not take a smart man to figure out how you feel about Sebastian, though you hide it well from the man himself," Fenris said, the low rumble of his voice cutting through her thoughts. She nodded, giving him the admission that he was right in exchange for his help. She found that give-and-take worked well with Fenris; it was something he understood.
"Know that I am here, should you require my aid, Hawke." Fenris stared into the fire, fingers still clasped over his stomach. "Anything I can help with, ask."
She let out a breath. "Thank you, Fenris."
He gave a curt nod, still staring into the fire as she left.
She made her way home with effort, the sleeping Sebastian weighing her down as she fumbled the key into the door of her house. She carried him up the stairs, tucking him into his bed in the guest room and smoothing the hair from his forehead to place a kiss there. He yawned and shifted, rolling towards her as he adjusted to his new sleeping place.
She muffled the sob that clawed its way up her throat and kissed him again as he settled in with a sigh, snuggling into the blankets. She left the door cracked and made her way to her rooms, the banked fire glittering off the white steel of Sebastian's armor. She closed the door with a firm click and stared at the armor.
"Oh, shut up," she growled and scooped up the reading she had abandoned, opening the tome of obscure magic and picking up where she had left off, trying to read through frustrated tears.
Sebastian looked at her with the silent scrutiny he reserved for his matter-of-fact first impressions over breakfast the next morning. She was aware of the dark rings around her eyes; late nights spent reading and long days entertaining a whirlwind of energy like Sebastian had not been easy. She took a careful sip of her tea and set the mug down, folding her hands on the table to return his solemn regard.
"Something the matter, Sebastian?"
"Why aren't you married, Celeste?"
She was glad she had finished her sip of tea before asking; she was certain she would have spat it across the room. As it was, she scrambled to find an answer to his question that wouldn't raise more questions.
"I – I haven't found the right person yet, I suppose." She glanced at him. His little brows were furrowed as he processed this new tidbit of information.
"Mum could find you someone nice to take care of you, Celeste. That way you wouldn't have to run errands so much and you wouldn't be so tired." He nodded with sage assurance. Everything was simple to a little boy.
"It's not that, Sebastian," she said, wanting to steer the topic away from Sebastian's parents. The fact that he hadn't questioned where they were after the first day was very telling, but she didn't want to encourage his curiosity in that direction. "There is somebody, but…"
"Why haven't I seen him then?" This was asked around a mouthful of toast, a little garbled, but understandable.
This was not where she wanted the topic to go, but it was better than his parents. "He's very busy. He works in the Chantry, and he does good things there."
"He must not care about you if he left you alone," Sebastian said, anger crossing his features. "If I ever meet him, I'll thrash to him for you. Only a – " He searched for the phrase, his nose wrinkling in concentration. "– a ruffian would leave his lady alone."
"Oh, sweetheart." Celeste couldn't help the laughter that bubbled up from her chest as she rose to clasp him in a hug. "Sometimes things aren't so simple."
"They should be," Sebastian grumped. His face lit with an idea, and he wriggled free of her arms. "I'll marry you instead."
She froze. "What?"
Sebastian nodded around another mouthful of toast, his smile crumby but no less dimpled as he chewed. "When I grow up, I'll marry you and take care of you. Then you won't be alone, okay?"
"Sweetheart, you're a prince. I don't think you get a choice in who you marry," she said, sidestepping around the issue and the sudden painful squeeze on her heart. "The thought is lovely, but you should finish your eggs. Varric will be here soon."
The matter was dropped, although far too late for her liking.
Sebastian woke with an aching head and a bad taste in his mouth, eerily reminiscent of his nights spent drinking away his monthly allowance before he'd joined the Chantry. He brought a hand to his head, touching his throbbing temples as he struggled to remember where he was. It was just before dawn, he saw; grey filtered into the room from the windows, illuminating the room in dim light. His other hand brushed the hilt of a small wooden sword, worn and battered with loving use.
His first thought was that someone had dumped him in a child's room to sleep off whatever it was that had affected him, but the sight of the sword in his hand jogged his memory. Flashes of remembered games, Varric and Cambert whooping around him as he protected Celeste from the 'Archdemon', her gentleness as he cried over a scraped knee, the chandelier – it all came rushing back as he sat up in bed.
He was naked, and he noticed shredded clothing littering the sheets. It hadn't been a fever dream, after all. Through some strange happenstance, benign but mischievous magic had turned him into a child for the span of a month. He passed a hand over his face at his remembered antics, paling at the true terror he had been in his youth laid bare for his companions to see. He shook the shreds of clothing out of the bedclothes, winding the sheet about his hips in a makeshift covering as he sought out his armor that he knew was stored in Celeste's room.
His skills he had acquired before his admittance to the Chantry proved handy. He crept along on bare feet, making no sound as he ghosted down the hallway to where Celeste's room was. The door was cracked; he pressed his ear to it, hearing nothing but her steady breathing as she snuffled in sleep. He chanced the noise and pushed the door open, revealing the bedroom. He saw his armor in the corner, kept clean and free of dust; his clothing and boots were stacked in a neat pile next to it.
As he moved through the room, his gaze was drawn to the chair by the fire as a sleepy sigh sounded. Celeste slept there, a book propped against her chest as she shifted. The dark circles under her eyes were his fault, he knew. The magic that had afflicted him sent her into a frenzy to find a cure, bless her. Her hair curled in lank strands against her face, and he resisted the urge to push them out of her eyes. Instead, he focused on getting his armor together and getting it out of the room without waking her.
It would not be the first time he had left a woman asleep while sneaking out of her room holding his clothes, but it was the first time he had felt so guilty about it.
He dressed in silence, his hands shaking. What was he going to tell her when she woke? What could he say that didn't sound flippant? Thanks for taking care of me, sorry for breaking your chandelier rang hollow in his ears as he dismissed it. He stacked his armor on the bed; he couldn't leave without his bow, and he knew she had hidden that from his clever little fingers while he'd been afflicted. While his instincts screamed at him to run, to flee and never look back, he knew that she deserved better than that.
Memories were still coming back in fits and starts. He thought back to the day before, the conversation they'd had during breakfast. He fastened the toggles on his shirt, his fingers feeling leaden as he remembered. He forwent his boots for the moment; barefoot and as quiet as before, he slipped into the hallway and crept down to the kitchen to put some water on to boil. He had a feeling that Celeste would need a strong cup of tea if she were going to face this today. The Maker knew he did.
Cambert padded up to him, wagging his tail in easy familiarity, and he scratched behind the dog's ears as he hefted two mugs of tea in one hand. The breakfast tea she preferred had been easy to find; a lot of the house was built into muscle memory now. He felt a pang of regret that he would have to leave.
He worked his way up the stairs, balancing the steaming mugs long enough to push the door open. He set them down on the table next to her and knelt next to the chair, pulling the book from her hands. The motion made her start awake, staring in numb confusion at him – whole and the correct age again.
"Sebastian?" She brought a shaking hand to her face to rub at her eyes. When she looked again, to make sure he hadn't disappeared, he offered her a hopeful smile. She burst into exhausted tears, flinging herself at him and hugging him around the neck. He patted her in an awkward attempt to soothe her, finally just holding her and rocking her in a gentle motion. Her tears subsided and she took a shuddering breath, pulling back and looking at him, a watery smile on her face.
"I knew it was too quiet," she said. "Something told me today was different. Usually you're up by this time and waking me for breakfast."
He coughed. "I – thank you, Celeste, for putting up with the wild boy I was."
"Sebastian, that wasn't nearly as bad as the shenanigans Carver and I got up to." She realized she was still clinging to him and fumbled away, pulling her house robe closed at the throat. "I see you found your clothes."
He flushed. "Yes, I did. I remembered you had stored them in here, so I…came to get them."
The silence stretched between them, long and awkward. He looked at the ground, not willing to meet her eyes. She cleared her throat, moving to the locked wardrobe in the corner.
"I should give you your bow back. It was a devil of a time keeping it hidden from you, but…"
He nodded, rising. "I should be going soon. It wouldn't do for me to be here this early, not anymore."
"Don't you want breakfast?" Her brow furrowed. "I'm sorry, I'm still trying to reconcile that I won't have a little boy to spoil anymore. Of course, if you'd like to stay for breakfast, you're more than welcome."
His memories were clashing within him, leaving him unable to reconcile the warmth that flooded through him at the invitation. She had cared for him as her own, feeding him and clothing him, watching over him; now she was just as willing to let him go. He was afraid at the ease that the mental image of her with children of her own came to him. He knew she would be just as gentle with them as she had been with him. He tried to shake off the image of children with their shared features and found he could not.
He paused, remembering the most important bit of their conversation at breakfast yesterday. The casual offer of marriage had done something to her, stiffening her where any other woman who had her feelings invested elsewhere would have laughed it off. His child-self had seen something he had failed to see; she had been lonely for a long time, something he could have remedied had he bothered to look.
"Celeste." He didn't know what to say, but he knew where to start. He strode across the room and took her face in his hands, pressing his lips against hers in an invitation of his own. Her eyes widened and then fluttered closed as she melted against his insistent kiss. His hands slid to her hair to hold her to him, and she pressed her palms against his chest.
He broke free, needing more air but reluctant to part from her. His heart hammered against his ribs, and he looked at her, trying to gauge her expression.
"Your vows…" It was all she managed to get out before he kissed her again.
"If the Grand Cleric asks, I'll tell her I'm fulfilling a childhood promise. Not technically a lie." He saw her smile and relished it, hoping to see more of them. "As for the other promise, the one to thrash the ruffian who ignored you, I'll be happy to do it – so long as the mirror isn't magical this time."
A/N: Apologies to the late Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for swiping his title, but I couldn't resist. The over-reaching themes of his book are especially poignant, such as when the Fox speaks to the Prince and says "It is the time you have lost for your rose that makes your rose so important." I like to think Sebastian could fit that very well, but then again, I'm only a fanfiction writer, what do I know? :)
As always, thanks for reading.