One Night in Kirkwall

"You may, in a very male episode of last minute panic, decide that you need to sow some wild oats right before the wedding. Let's define our roles: if you are the sower, I will be your reaper." – W. Bruce Cameron, 8 Rules for Marrying My Daughter

Malcolm looked up from his mortar and pestle, a streak of ground elfroot smeared across his cheek. One thick, reddish eyebrow rose in question as Sebastian hesitated at the door, the newly-crowned Prince still adjusting to the sharp smells of herbs and damp earth that permeated the renovated cellars of the Amell estate. It had been transformed into a workshop for Malcolm to brew potions and mix salves for their group and the poor of Kirkwall. Sebastian saw Tomwise working over his own table on a high stool, using an eyedropper to measure a thick white liquid into a basin. Malcolm and the poison maker had struck up an easy acquaintance, and he had employed Tomwise for his knowledge of elven remedies and antidotes.

"Sebastian," Malcolm said, scraping the remnants of the crushed elfroot from the pestle into a bowl. His eyes were on his work, but Sebastian could tell that his gaze would flick to him should he make a move. Not many dared to disturb Malcolm Hawke while he was at work. He settled into a stance of feigned relaxation at the top of the stairs, looking down at the workspace.

"Serrah Hawke, I was wondering if I could have a word with you," he said. He was proud of the timbre of his voice; not a waver was heard as Malcolm looked up from his work again. "It's about Celeste."

The silence of the workshop was deafening in its totality. Tomwise looked up, paling over his basin as he set aside the eyedropper. The stool he was on scraped across the wooden floor with a screech as he hopped down, scurrying away with a mumbled excuse about needing more supplies. Malcolm set his elfroot into a kettle and placed it over the fireplace to steep before turning to him.

"Before you say a thing, I'm warning you. Celeste had best not be pregnant, crying, or mortally wounded," he said, wiping his hands with exaggerated care on a spare towel as he turned to bellow into the stockroom. "Tomwise! I'm going to pack it in for the day and head over to the Hanged Man. Keep an eye on this elfroot and don't let it go acrid this time!"

A shout of agreement wafted up from the room, and Malcolm tossed the towel on the table.

"Let's go have a drink, and you can tell me what's on your mind, your highness."

The Hanged Man was a myriad of unique smells and sounds this early in the afternoon, most of which weren't something that Sebastian wanted to consider. He and Malcolm somehow appropriated Varric's room, the dwarf waving off the pint that Malcolm offered to buy him. He snapped his coat's lapels, grinning at the two humans with his usual wry humor.

"The Merchant's Guild will have my coin purse if I miss another meeting, and I don't mean the one I pay my tab with," he said, sauntering out the door. "Feel free to use the room as long as you like, but don't break my furniture, Malcolm."

"His highness and I are just going to talk." Malcolm wandered to the sideboard and poured out a measure of Varric's Antivan brandy for each of them, as at ease here as he was at home.

"Right. Don't break my furniture."

Sebastian could hear Varric's whistling recede down the hall, and he settled himself in a chair that was slung low to the floor for Varric's use. There was nothing to do for the difference in height but to splay his legs out beneath the table, so he crossed his booted feet at the ankle as Malcolm returned to the table, a glass in each hand. He set the amber liquid before Sebastian, settling in a chair across from him.

"Now, why don't you tell me what the fuss is about?" Malcolm splayed his legs out as well, taking a sip from the tumbler.

"Serrah Hawke, I know that you place a very high importance on your daughter's happiness," Sebastian said, aware of the scowl that was beginning on the other man's face. He held up a hand to forestall any lightning. "Which is why, as your daughter's suitor, I'd like to ask you for your permission to marry her, if she'll have me."

For the second time that afternoon, silence reigned. Sebastian leaned back in his chair, resisting the urge to fidget. He would face his death like a man; he had asked, and the worst that could happen would be that he became a stain on Varric's floor. Malcolm Hawke regarded him for a long moment over the rim of his glass, his face unreadable. Then, with a slow smile, he placed the glass on the table and folded his hands next to it.

"You are a very traditional man, your highness."

"As are you, Serrah Hawke."

"My daughter is an apostate, as you are aware. What will happen when your people remember that your wife is a mage?" Malcolm's expression sobered, his face troubled. "You will not be able to protect her if the Divine finds out."

"Serrah Hawke, your daughter is the Champion of Kirkwall, as are her siblings, for bringing peace without violence between the Chantry and the Qunari. She was named Champion of Starkhaven for her valor in helping me retake my throne. The Divine would not punish her for becoming my bride, she's too deeply entrenched in politics now."

"You are entirely too optimistic, your highness." Malcolm took a deep breath and let it out. "You know, when I first met you, I had my reservations. You were young, and prone to making snap decisions that would only bring you grief in the long run."

Sebastian nodded. "I was. Celeste has helped me find peace between the wild boy I was and the man I was to become. She has made me a better man, and I realize that I could not have accomplished all that I have without her."

"Well then, Sebastian," Malcolm said, unclasping his hands to hold out his right hand for Sebastian to take. It was the first time that the patriarch of the Hawke family had called him by name, and Sebastian sat rolling that around his head for a moment before taking the proffered hand. "I'm convinced. If Celeste will have you, then you have my blessing."

"I – " Sebastian faltered, his voice failing him. "Thank you, Serrah Hawke."

"Don't thank me yet, your highness. I still get to plan your bachelor party."

Several Months Later

The Hanged Man was not the place that most men would have chosen to hold a bachelor party, preferring the Blooming Rose for the entertainment, but Malcolm Hawke would be cursed to the Void before he would let wine and his three potential sons-in-law mix where they could grab rooms out of sight with courtesans. Reddish brows rose in surprise as Carver and Fenris walked in, followed by Anders. He was sure that his wayward children's lovers would object to the humiliation of one of their own.

He was wrong. Fenris and Anders seemed to take an almost maniacal glee in plopping down on either side of Sebastian with tankards of ale in their hands. Carver gave his future brother-in-law an appraising look before seating himself next to Fenris. Malcolm watched the pair, and was gratified to see the slender arm slide around Carver's waist before Varric sauntered up and plopped down at his usual spot.

Malcolm stood, raising his tankard to his future son-in-law. "Tonight, lads, we drink to salute the last night of freedom for the Prince of Starkhaven. Tomorrow he'll be marrying my eldest, and submitting to the Qun – I mean, wedded bliss."

Varric snorted into his ale. Fenris's lips quirked upward, and Anders rolled his eyes. Carver was stony-faced, but the gleam in his eye echoed Malcolm's own. He was going to give Sebastian what-for tonight, and Malcolm was going to help him.

First, however…

"I'd also like to take the opportunity to single out my future son-in-law, Anders, whenever he gets the stones up to propose and make an honest woman out of my Bethany."

Anders spluttered the sip of ale that he'd been swallowing. Varric pounded him on the back as he sat up, red-faced, to stare at Malcolm in horror. Sebastian was smiling now, relieved that he wasn't going to be picked on the entire night, and Fenris was smirking with open enjoyment. Malcolm felt the small smile he wore grow wider as he continued.

"Anders, it's only a matter of time, and since I know I won't be getting grandchildren from Carver any time soon," he said, giving Fenris an oblique look. He was pleased to see the smirk drop off of Fenris's face – for that was what he'd intended. Carver looked mortified, going red to the roots of his hair. "You can't leave the grandchildren up to Sebastian by himself, he'll never get anything done."

He swept the table with a level stare. "And there had better not be babies until marriage."

Varric was enjoying the show, Malcolm saw, and he tipped the dwarf a wink as he sipped from his tankard. The table was quiet, the boys avoiding each other's gaze as they let Malcolm's warning sink in. He let them squirm for a moment, then relented, setting down his tankard.

"That's neither here nor there tonight, however. Tonight we're going to get piss drunk in the spirit of celebrating Sebastian's last night as a free man, because it's tradition. This is why we're going to start the night off with a Fereldan tradition – Dragon Bile."

Varric gave him a horrified look. "Are you serious, Mal? That stuff is – "

"A Fereldan tradition," said Carver, his arms folded.

"You don't have to drink it, you big baby. It's not like you need more hair on your chest, anyway. You will have to go sit at the kiddie table for the rest of the night, if you don't, though." Malcolm grinned at Varric, eyebrows raised in challenge. "Come on, one round, and I'll leave you be."

Varric sighed, and Malcolm knew that he'd won the battle of wills. Edwina brought over the brimming tankards, her eyes lingering on the men, but Malcolm shooed her away with a grin before lifting his tankard. The others did the same, Sebastian sniffing at the drink in trepidation. Malcolm didn't blame him. The smell was always the first thing to get you.

"What a delightful bouquet," Varric said, his nose wrinkling. "There's a reason they keep the casks away from the others, you know."

"Are you going to whine, or are you going to put that big mouth of yours to good use and drink?" Carver said, scowling at Varric. "I swear, you complain more than Anders, and that takes a lot of doing."

"To Sebastian," said Malcolm, interrupting the bickering before it could go into full swing. "May his highness treat my daughter with the love and care she deserves, always."

The others rolled their eyes at that, but lifted their tankards higher. They drank, Malcolm eyeing the table over the rim of his mug. As was the case when the males of their rag-tag group of misfits got together, the competitive levels spiked with the amount of testosterone in the air. They took their lead from Malcolm, none of them stopping as their throats worked in long swallows.

Fenris's eyes slipped closed in concentration, as did Carver's, while they tried to maintain their composure enough to down the awful liquor. Anders was turning a remarkable shade of green as he choked it down, his eyes on Malcolm's throat so that he would not be the first one to stop drinking. Varric was matching the others, although he did not look happy about it. Sebastian was the surprise out of the group, Malcolm found; he swallowed the foul stuff with a look of almost serene patience, draining the tankard as Malcolm did. The blue eyes never wavered from his own, meeting him look for look.

The banging of empty tankards on the table resounded through Varric's private room, along with the gasping pants of six men breathing at last. Sebastian wiped his hand across the back of his mouth, nodding in satisfaction that he had passed the test.

Malcolm raised his eyebrows at them all. "Another round?"

Sebastian returned the look. "Was that a challenge?"

"It might have been." He gave Sebastian a bland smile as the prince's eyes narrowed. "Are you up to it, your highness?"

Sebastian called for another round without breaking eye contact. Malcolm took his mug, smiling as the water touched his lips, and matched Sebastian swallow for swallow. He almost felt bad for Sebastian. Dragon Bile was horrid; he never drank the stuff.

"Who's up for Wicked Grace?" Malcolm asked, reaching for the deck.

The Blooming Rose had not been Malcolm's idea, strange though it sounded. Malcolm had switched to ale, just enough to make him feel tipsy while he watched the younger men drink themselves silly. Sebastian had begun giggling into his cups after a few more rounds of Dragon Bile, proving to be a happy, friendly drunk. The Prince turned to Malcolm when the others had gotten up to stretch.

"Y'know, Malcolm, I don't think you've ever been this nice to me. I always thought you hated me." His chin was propped in his hands, and he had a wide grin plastered on his face.

"I don't hate you, Sebastian." Malcolm gave him an indulgent smile. He was quite drunk, after all. "It's a father's duty to ensure that his children are happy."

The realization of that dawned on Sebastian, it seemed, for he sobered somewhat, that ridiculous grin lessened. "You put your duty as a father before everything else, don't you?"

"Any father who doesn't is unworthy of the title."

Sebastian nodded, a hazy, off-kilter thing that almost set him tumbling off the chair. "Then you are truly more of a father than mine was. In fact, you remind me of the kind of man my grandfather was."

Malcolm didn't mention that he and Androu Vael had written each other for years; their correspondence had been some of his most valued letters. The elder of the Vael family had been sharp, canny, and held a refreshing view of mages, despite the man's leaning toward serving the Divine in all things.

Instead, he smiled for Sebastian. "I'm not that old yet, your highness."

"No, you aren't, and I apologize if that's the way it sounded." Sebastian peered into his half-empty tankard. Draining it, he slammed it down, placing both palms flat on the scarred wooden surface as he wobbled to his feet. "I want t' show my app…my…thanks, Malcolm."

"I don't think you can walk."

"I can walk jus' fine." He was unsteady, but he could walk without much trouble, Malcolm saw. Even as drunk as he was, there was still some grace left in Sebastian's stride. He stood as well, grasping Sebastian under the elbow when he stumbled. "Come on, we…gotta get there before they're all occupied."

"Get where?" Malcolm's voice was touched with amusement as Sebastian leaned on him, blinking up at him through alcohol-tinged eyes.

"Why, the Rose, of course," Sebastian said, as though this made perfect sense.

"The Rose?" Malcolm's eyebrows met his hairline. Sebastian took the bemused quirk of his lips as encouragement, nodding as they wove their way to the door of the Hanged Man.

"Aye, I want t' show my…my…thanks." The drunken man gave him a lopsided smile. "'m gonna buy you time at the Rose."

Now the two of them stood in the foyer of the brothel, redolent with perfume and the thick, cloying stench of spindleweed leaf. Malcolm was amused, to say the least; it hadn't taken Anders long to beg off, slinking back up the stairs to Varric's room, the dwarf following to make sure that nothing important got in the way of Anders's nausea. Fenris and Carver had managed to slip off unnoticed, leaving Malcolm alone with a very happy, very drunk Prince of Starkhaven. It was indeed the strangest evening he had been a part of for a while.

Sebastian wandered up to the bar, smiling at the 'keep who approached. He was a charming lad, for he laid down the coins for the token and for a bottle of wine with a smile that got him a larger bottle than what he had paid for. He pried the cork out with his teeth, spat it out, and took a long, appreciative swallow, his Adam's apple bobbing as he drank. Smacking his lips, he looked to Malcolm, still standing close to the entrance, and staggered over, the chit in hand.

"Here," he said, grinning at his future father-in-law. "Best services they off'r, on me t'night. You go relax, an' I'll find a table to finish my wine."

He pressed the wooden token into Malcolm's hand, and he looked down at it for a moment before tucking it in his belt. Sebastian looked confused.

"Perhaps another time, Sebastian. I think I should get you home now, actually." Malcolm's tone was gentle, but the words filtered through the drink and caused Sebastian to scowl.

"You don't app - appe - like the gift?" The blue eyes bored into him with all the force the drunken man could muster. He swayed on his feet. "You are overdue for this. I'll be arright, Malcolm."

Having had experience with drunks before, he knew how fast the mood could change. Happy, friendly Sebastian would be much easier to deal with, he decided. He held his hands up in a gesture of peace.

"If you are going to insist, your highness," he said, reaching for his belt. Sebastian nodded, taking another pull off the wine bottle as he clattered into a chair in the corner.

"Oh, I do. I do." He gave a laugh, snickering into his wine.

"And you must stay here, all right?"

"Oh, I must. I must." He nodded again, by far the most complacent drunk Malcolm had ever seen. "Go 'wan, have fun."

Malcolm sighed. "All right. I'll be back shortly."

Sebastian hooted laughter. "I hope for her sake you aren't!"

Malcolm left him there, against his better judgment. He would double back around the estate, hand off the wooden token to one of the girls and collect Sebastian. It was a good plan, and he set off at an easy stroll, nodding at some of the patrons. He didn't frequent the place, but there was good money to be had in making sure that the girls were well stocked with potions and poultices for the various ailments the sailors dragged in. He knew most of the girls by name, having helped Anders and Bethany treat them enough.

Which is why the crack of a fist meeting flesh and a pained, angry cry took him from an easy stroll to a sprint, charging down the hallway to a locked room of the mansion. The door was locked, as was to be expected, but Malcolm had enough experience to know that there were other ways into a room. He took a deep breath, centered himself, and planted his foot in a vicious kick just below the latch plate. The wood splintered with a sickening crack, rattling the door on its hinges. There was another slap from inside the room, and he reared back, kicking again.

The latch plate gave a twisting groan as the wood of the jamb splintered apart, the door flying open to reveal a shirtless man standing over a tow-headed lass. Malcolm remembered her name being Marcella. His fists clenched.

"Step away from the girl, serrah." Malcolm strode into the room, his anger reaching its boiling point at the sight of the swelling on the side of Marcella's face.

"I wasn't doin' nuffin." The lout was big, missing several teeth. Malcolm made a mental note to tell Lusine to screen her guests with better care next time. He leered at Marcella, who shrank back with a glare. "We's just havin' a little fun is all, right, sweetheart?"

"I think your time is up," Malcolm said. "Marcella, go to the front and tell Madame Lusine I'll be paying for her door in the morning. Right now, if this gentleman, and I use the word loosely, would be so kind as to walk to the entrance with me?"

"I paid my due, and I'll get my time, yeh bastard. Shove off, old man."

"Suit yourself." Malcolm had been inching forward as he spoke, and his hand snapped up, catching the man in the ear with his cupped palm. The brute roared as Malcolm boxed his ear, stumbling away and shaking his head in pain. Malcolm followed up with a jab to the stomach, a wisp of his magic augmenting his strength enough to knock the air out of the diaphragm. Another sharp jab sent the man reeling back again, clutching his nose.

Malcolm stepped around the haymaker thrown his way, grabbing the thickly-muscled wrist and twisting it behind the lout with all the force he could muster. The sharp snap of breaking bone sounded throughout the room, and the man fell to his knees, the roar turned to a scream. Malcolm brought his knee up in an acute arc, knocking the man into the silence of unconsciousness.

Madam Lusine's bouncers, burly men with more muscle than brain, arrived at last, picking the man up under the armpits. Malcolm took a last look around the room and moved back up to the front of the brothel, shaking the numbness out of his hand. Lusine herself brought him a mug of ale, Marcella sitting next to him so he could take a look at her swelling eye.

A brush of chilled fingertips made her wince, but she held still while he reduced the bruising, his touch gentle. He slid the chit across the table to her when he was finished, turning to look for his wayward future son-in-law.

Sebastian was nowhere to be found.

"Madame Lusine," he said, snagging her attention the next time she passed. "Have you seen my daughter's betrothed?"

"Yes, he went upstairs with a few of the girls about twenty minutes ago." She shrugged. "I figured it was his last hurrah before the wedding, so I treated the boy."

Malcolm stifled the cold fury that raised the hair on the nape of his neck. An involuntary spark skipped across his knuckles, but he tamped down on it, managing to grit out his next sentence.

"Which room, please, Lusine?"

Malcolm tried to control his temper; Maker knew he really tried. He stalked down the upstairs hallway, an occasional spark of electricity crackling from his fingers or his boots to go arcing into the air with snapping flickers of light. The key jingled in his fingertips; Madame Lusine did not want to replace more than one door this evening, and he wasn't inclined to pay for repairs after he beat his stupid, unfortunate, ex-future son-in-law to a pulp. Giggling wafted down the hall, titters that could only mean women who were being charmed by a man they were intent on bedding.

His jaw clenched. The titters were growing louder, accompanied by male laughter as well, some of it the drunken giggle that he had come to associate with Sebastian. He would kill the boy. He would find some way to explain it to his daughter; Celeste would understand, eventually. She would have to speak to him again sometime in her life. He was only trying to protect her from getting her heart broken, after all.

The key slid into the lock with a harsh finality. To his surprise, the door was unlocked, and ghosted open at his touch, revealing the antechamber to what the girls called the 'Antivan room'. Plush rugs in bright patterns sprawled across the floor, strewn with plump cushions and settees, small tables set with chocolate and other goodies for the consumption of the guests. Malcolm's eyes adjusted to the dim firelight, making out the half-naked forms of the courtesans laying and sitting in a semi-circle around Sebastian, who was sitting tailor-style, his hands on his knees as he spoke.

" – and you sh'ld see the way she lights up when she talks about Kirkwall. She gets this…look on 'er face, like it's the only thing that matters to her is to see people happy." He took another pull on the wine bottle, leaning back against the settee with a grin. The girls gave happy sighs, their chins in their hands as they listened. "And she's marrying me tomorrow, Irene, t' answer your question. I still don' know why. I'm such a lucky sod. Maker, 'm a lucky sod."

Malcolm froze just inside the antechamber, his misdirected ire cooling as he registered what Sebastian was saying. Well, dip me in lyrium and call me a templar…

"And don't you get any funny ideas, Andre. She's chosen me." A possessive look flashed across his face as he wagged a finger at one of the men lounging on a settee, the man snorting laughter and waving him off.

Malcolm leaned against the entryway, his arms folded as he watched Sebastian. The Prince kept his hands on his knees, talking in an animated voice. He felt his lips lift in a grin and stepped forward, clearing his throat.

"Malcolm!" Sebastian threw his arms out wide, overbalancing and pinwheeling backwards to land in a tangle of cushions and his own limbs. He struggled back upward, a grin on his face. "Did you enjoy y'rself?"

"Apparently not as much as you did, your highness." Malcolm smiled at him. "Come on then, let's get you home."

"Sure, so long as you had fun." Sebastian struggled to his feet, bidding goodbye to his new friends with a spurious invitation to his wedding that they accepted. Malcolm knew he'd regret it in the morning, but he was far too amused to correct it now. He shrugged one of Sebastian's arms over his shoulders and led him downstairs into the early Kirkwall morning. It was cool, bordering on cold, and that was when Sebastian began to stagger more.

They wended their way toward the estate, Sebastian wobbling as the impact of the night of alcohol caught up to him. He had to pause, swaying on his feet as he peered about. Malcolm sighed as Sebastian collapsed on a stone bench not four blocks from the Amell family home. He knew Sebastian would be feeling the drink now, more so now that the warm spring evening had chilled in the darkness of predawn.

"Sebastian, just a little further, lad. Then you can sleep it off and wake up hungover for your wedding." Sebastian's head was in his hands, and he was breathing in slow, deep breaths.

"Sick." It was a mumble, one of dejection after being so happy all evening.

"Well, soon you can have a sleep. Come on, there we are."

Time seemed to slow as he helped Sebastian lever himself to his feet, the prince's hands going to his knees in a sudden, jerking moment as he voided the contents of his overburdened stomach…right onto Malcolm's boots. Malcolm held onto him, rubbing his shoulderblades as he got it all out, a long-suffering look on his face. Maker, he'd deserved that one, but honestly, these were his favorite pair of boots. Well, his only pair, but not the point.

Sebastian sagged against Malcolm, and he could tell that he wasn't going to be walking any more tonight. He hefted the lad over his shoulders, squelching down the street in his soiled boots and that same long-suffering expression on his face as he poured his daughter's groom into bed and went to find enough water to have a bath before seeking his own.

The drapes were pulled back from the window with a flourish that Sebastian did not appreciate after the night before. He groaned and pulled the pillow over his head to block the bright morning sunlight that streamed through his window. The pillow was also pulled from his grasp and he was left squinting up at Malcolm, bright-eyed and bushy tailed. It was not fair. He grunted up at Malcolm, his mouth tasting like someone had stuffed it full of sand and bile.

A foul-smelling potion was shoved under his nose, and he grimaced, taking it and sipping with caution. Its taste was just as foul as it smelled, but the battalion of ogres stampeding through his head quieted, and it no longer hurt to look around in the sunshine that poured through the windows. He drained the flask.

"You handled yourself with aplomb last night, your highness," Malcolm said, offering him a mug of spiced tea and an apple. Though Sebastian's stomach roiled at the thought of breakfast, that nausea was replaced by the greater anxiety when he realized that today was the day he was to marry at last. He sat up, sweat beading his brow, but there was no more nausea, only anticipation coiled tight in his belly.

"I did not make too much a fool of myself last night, I hope?" He ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end.

"You threw up on my boots, and you tried to buy me a night at the Rose, but otherwise you proved yourself to be a man of impeccable character, where it counts."

"I threw up on your boots?" Sebastian groaned and covered his face with his hands. "Maker, I'm sorry, Serrah Hawke, I – "

"I think it's high time you started calling me Malcolm, isn't it?" Sebastian peered through his parted fingers at the man, wondering if he were still bleary from sleep. "After all, you're going to be joining the family soon, right?"

He gave a slow nod. "I suppose you're right."

"I usually, am, son. Now, come on, get up. We've got a little time for you to wash and get dressed, but your bride has been awake for hours now, and you need to be as well-groomed as she is, or she'll have my hide."

He nodded and rose, relieved that his hangover did not seem as bad as he thought. He scrubbed himself in the standing bath, listening to Malcolm clomp around, laying out his clothes. It made him feel better, the warm water and soap helping to make him feel human again. His hair damp, he wrapped the sheet around his waist and turned to the bed, freezing when he saw the ceremonial plaid of his kilt.

Maker, no. The kilt.

He gave a reflexive swallow, clutching the sheet a fraction tighter. He wondered, in an idle fit of panic, if he could wear smallclothes under the kilt; a mental image of his grandfather frowning at him in disappointment stopped that train of thought dead. His hands shook as he dressed, and he hoped that Malcolm would attribute it to pre-wedding nerves. His stomach was leaden as he rolled the soft woolen socks up his calves and slid his feet into his low boots, but he settled the coronet on his head and stiffened his shoulders.

He would do this as a man, and if she dropped a fork at the wedding, then he would die like a man.

Malcolm knocked on the door to his daughter's room, sticking his head around it to peer into the room as she called out for him to enter. She was splendid, always beautiful, but more so with the sun streaming into the window behind her and bathing her in gold. It caught the rich yellow fabric of her gown, deepening its color to gold and setting the silver trim in her plaid sparking as her hair became a living flame in the light. Her smile brightened as he stepped forward into the room, a carved wooden box in his hands.

"You look so beautiful, Punkin." He said, his eyes overbright. She laughed, stretching on tiptoe to brush her lips against his cheek. He set the box on the side table and turned to her again, holding her arms as he gazed down at her for a long moment. "Your mother would be so proud today."

Leandra would be a mess, came the thought. She would be in an absolute tizzy, wringing her hands and fretting as her eldest was to be married. However, the fever had claimed his wife many years ago, and the ache that accompanied her memory was not as poignant as it was, although it was still a constant. He took a steadying breath, squeezing his daughter's shoulders.

"Daddy," Her heart was in her eyes as she rested her head against his shoulder for a moment. "Mama would have been a mess, and you know it."

He laughed at the similar trail their thoughts followed. "Well, your prince is waiting for you, Punkin, and we don't want to make him ill. It's time to go. Are you ready?"

"I think so," she said, giving him a crooked smile. He opened the lid of the carved wooden box, revealing the circlet that was the symbol of her station. Wrought leaves of silverite wove about her brow, interspersed with the crossed arrows of Starkhaven. It rested light on her brow, glinting in her ruddy hair as she laid her hand on his arm and they walked out to greet the crowds.

They paused outside the closed doors of the cathedral, Celeste peering through the crack of the door. She scanned the crowd, noting her companions up front, and stepping back with a frown.

"Daddy," she said, her lips pursed. "Why is the entire crew of the Blooming Rose in the audience?"

"Ask your husband," he said, giving her a bland smile. "He invited them last night."

"You had a hand in that, I'm sure," she pursed her lips further, but straightened her shoulders. "I don't mind, I was just curious as to why."

"If you're sure, Punkin." He took her hand and kissed her forehead once. "Are you ready?"

"You asked that already."

"Just nervous, I suppose."

"Oh, Daddy, you're not afraid of anything. Don't fib."

He couldn't suppress the quake in his gut as the doors opened, revealing them to the crowd. A deep, steadying breath, and then he escorted his daughter down the aisle to the rest of her life.

A/N: Oh my, this took longer than I thought it would. Ah, well. I had way too much fun writing this. Malcolm is such a BAMF that he's been spawning his own fanart now. As for those who want to see a full-blown AU where Malcolm is the surviving parent: I'm not saying anything right away, but... *small smile*

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed!