On the Mark
Warnings for this piece: dubious consent, if you tilt your head to the side and squint. I know it's a trigger for some people, so I'm throwing this out there so that you can't say I didn't warn you.
The hissing thunk of an arrow meeting its target greeted Celeste as she wandered into the Chantry gardens early one bright spring morning. Kirkwall had not yet gotten into the blistering heat of summer that sapped the will of every living thing, the morning still nice and cool as a breeze wafted in from the Waking Sea. The fresh greenery of the garden was soothing, and she paused to sniff at a new rosebush that sat in the shadow of one of the chantry's many pillars. Roark was forever planting new varieties, all with subtle differences. Knowing that Roark would not mind if she took a single bloom, she trimmed one of the smaller ones from the back of the plant with a careful cut of her belt knife. She gave an appreciative smile as she brushed the soft petals of the rose with her fingertips before moving closer to the sound of Sebastian's early morning practice, twirling the stem between her fingers.
She found him in the secluded back corner, the view of the rest of the garden blocked by large, squared off hedges that soared above her head. This was the contemplation area, a place of peace and quiet where the Maker's supplicants could come and reflect on personal issues. Wooden benches were arranged along the wall, and flowering bushes stood in large planters between them to give them a sense of privacy, even when two people were sitting on benches beside one another. Her eyes were drawn to the target set up along the back wall, however, and the man that stood in front of it.
Sebastian Vael, heir to the throne of Starkhaven, drew another arrow to the curve of his cheek, his eyes narrowed in concentration. She watched the flare of his nostrils as he lined up his shot, the sunlight turning the soft leather jerkin he wore for practice into a smooth, buttery tan. Trousers of worked doeskin accentuated the long lines of his legs, the muscles taut in concentration. He didn't acknowledge her presence until he loosed the arrow, the shaft hissing to its mark with deadly accuracy.
"Good morning, Hawke," he said, turning and inclining his head toward her. "You are up early."
"I've been having trouble sleeping. I thought I would come and greet the morning in the Maker's house." She gave a small shrug, the little white lie not hurting anyone but herself. She had hoped to see him awake and about, wanting nothing more than to get to know him better and speak with him more. They had spent several such mornings like this, talking of everything and nothing. This was the first time she had caught him at practice, however.
He gestured to the bench, making to unstring his bow and speak with her as a gentleman, but she waved him off. "Don't interrupt your practice because of me, Sebastian."
"If you are sure?" He gave her an uncertain look.
"I can speak with you just as well from the bench as I can while you fire arrows. I would rather you keep in fighting trim, just in case." She shot him a smile, a shrug rolling through her shoulders. "It's no inconvenience on my part."
He gave her a nod, turning again to the target. She watched him nock another arrow, the lines of his form tautening again in concentration. He was a fine specimen of a man, and she allowed herself an oblique stare from the corner of her eye as she pretended to watch the target. His eyes narrowed again, his focus sharpening as he sighted down the arrow to his target.
"You have such unflappable calm," she said, as he loosed another arrow, this one striking home in the center of the target next to the others. "Is that aided by a life of contemplation?"
He walked down the length of the wall to retrieve his missiles. "Some. We were taught at a young age by my grandfather to ignore distractions. When I fight by your side, nothing exists but the target. It allows for more accurate shots."
"It also allows for more monsters to slip into your blind spots," she said, grinning at him. Just last week a skeleton had surprised him, lashing out with a bony hand to strike at him, only to explode into powder as her lightning bolt struck it down.
He cleared his throat, replacing the arrows in his quiver as he sighted down each shaft for imperfections in the wood or the fletching. "Erm, yes, it does, but I have done it this way for so long that I know nothing else."
"So, no distractions can bother you at all?" She twirled the rose between her fingers again, deep in thought. Did she dare? Her inner Isabela said yes, go for it. She pushed Isabela away, knowing that if she took that step, there would be no turning back, and likely he would never speak to her again.
"Not usually, no. Unshakable concentration is a boon when one is deep in prayer, so I suppose there is a side benefit to that." He shrugged and gave a lopsided smile. "I haven't found the distraction yet that can best me."
"That sounds like a challenge," she said, grinning at him. She had meant it in fun, but the competitive light that fired in his eyes sent a tingle down her spine. He nocked another arrow, turning to the target.
"Try it." There was command in that voice, one that showed he was convinced it would never succeed. It lit a spark in her chest, a twin to the one she saw in his eyes, and she stood from the bench along the wall, moving up behind him. He drew the fletching to his cheek, sighting down the arrow.
The arrow thudded into the dead center of the target, even as her fingertips ghosted over the back of his neck in a tentative caress. She heard, rather than saw, the smug smirk in his voice as he reached for another arrow.
"My grandfather would trail behind us with a feather, tickling our ears and necks so that a shot would fly wild. You'll have to do better than that, Hawke. My concentration is hardly broken." He drew the fletching to his ear again, sighting his shot.
She glared at the back of his head for a moment before she hit upon a delightful and devious idea. She still held the rose, the petals softer than any feather, and she brushed it along his ear in a delicate swipe, tracing the outer shell. The arrow hit its mark once again, a finger's breadth shy of the last one.
He nocked yet another arrow, his silence smug and yet telling. She had gotten to him somehow. She drew the petals of the small rose along the back of his neck, watching the gooseflesh ripple at the nape in the wake of her caress. His hand flexed around the grip of his bow, and she could hear the audible swallow as he adjusted his stance a fraction.
"So, what do I get if I can break your concentration, your highness?" She allowed her voice to slip into a low chuckle, her breath washing across his ear as he took aim once again. "Shall we make a wager of it?"
"I have nothing to bet that would interest you, Hawke, even if I were to go against the teachings of the Chantry and gamble." His voice was a careful, neutral tone, and she knew she was getting to him then. She gave another wicked chuckle against his ear, and she saw his jaw muscles work as he grit his teeth.
"Oh, there are plenty of things I could think of," she said, her voice a low purr as she allowed her competitive streak to get the better of her common sense. She stepped closer, pressing herself against his back. "We could work something out."
The arrow struck home, still on target. He nocked another, drawing the fletching to his ear in controlled, precise movements. She grazed his ear with gentle teeth, hearing the shuddering intake of breath as encouragement. He adjusted his stance, his breath catching in his throat as she dropped the rose, palms sliding along his taut stomach muscles as they flexed against her hands.
"I can see the appeal of archery here, Sebastian. Such dedication to your craft leaves you with such musculature." Her wandering palms slid lower, as did her voice, dropping to a whisper as she palmed him through the buttery doeskin of his trousers. She gave an appreciative sigh as she ran her fingers across his hardening length. "And I do so appreciate good musculature."
"Hawke, I –" The fingers on the bowstring trembled as she gave him a gentle squeeze through his trousers, and he lowered the weapon. "Maker, no…please…"
"You brought this on yourself, Sebastian," she said, grinning against his throat as she pressed a kiss to the jittering pulse point. "You and your foolish pride. Surely mere temptation will not distract you now? Take your shot, if you can."
He swallowed hard, raising his bow again. The shot was true, hitting the mark with a solid thump. Sebastian gave a half turn, as if to dissuade her, and she squeezed him again. He trembled like a horse that had galloped for miles, his legs spread and his head down as he gulped in a great breath of air to steady himself.
"Was this your plan, Sebastian?" she whispered, feeling him slump a little as her fingers worked his length through his pants. "Make a game of it, have the blushing mage place her hands on your shoulders, maybe your neck, and you could stop the game whenever you wished?"
She cupped him as she pressed him back against her, feeling him buck against her hand. She heard a groan slip from between his clenched teeth. "I am the Champion of Kirkwall, Sebastian Vael, and I will not be toyed with. Take. Your. Shot."
He gave a full-body shudder, reaching for another arrow even as she worked the ties of his pants loose from their moorings. Her hands slipped inside, the twitch he gave at her touch an indication of how much he wanted her to wrap her fingers around him and she obliged, stroking her long fingers down his shaft to the base. She gave him a squeeze and a strangled sound came from the archer as he loosed the arrow. It was, to her surprise, on the mark.
"Again," she said, giving him a languid pump in reward for his diligence to his craft.
He did as she asked, shaking hands steadying the moment they touched the arrow. He nocked it, drawing the fletching to his ear as she ran her hand up his length again, his teeth gnawing his lower lip as he took aim. Her thumb circled the head of his erection, and he loosed the arrow with a hissing outpour of breath. It was still on target, unerring as it flew through the air to strike within the inner ring of the bullseye.
"Well done, Sebastian." She pressed herself against him more, feeling the desire for him pooling into her belly as she worked her hand along his length. She resolved to enjoy this last bit of pleasure from him, for surely he would never speak to her again after this. Her palms heated a fraction with a wisp of magic, causing him to shudder again as he reached for another arrow.
She made an impressed noise as the arrow met the target again, this time erring to land on the ring just outside of the center. He gave an irritated grunt that turned into a whine of need as she stroked upward, angling her hands so that it would be just as if he were taking himself in hand. She nibbled his neck and let her tongue trail along his ear as he reached for yet another arrow.
"You know," she said, her hand sliding along his length once more as he lined up his shot, "you are maddening still, even like this. Have you any idea how much you've infuriated me over the years?"
"N-no." He gave a slow shake of his head, sighting his shot again. "I was…unaware."
"Then you are a fool, and I should have done this sooner." Small tingles of electricity sparked along her fingers, causing the throbbing flesh in her hand to jerk in time with the sharp yelp he gave.
His shot went wide, skipping across one of the wooden benches and clattering against the worked stone of the wall. He dropped his bow, turning to face her fully as he sought her mouth. She felt herself pressed back against the warm stone of the wall as he plundered her mouth, his hands tearing at her robes. She writhed against him, even as he lifted her to get at her throat and chest. She gave a gasp as his teeth nipped the column of her throat, his growl a low rumble as she wrapped her legs around his waist and clung like a limpet, unable to weather the storm without support.
His broad hands rucked her robes up to her waist, strong, square-tipped fingers jerking aside the smalls she was wearing as he entered her without preamble, her cry of shock and lust swallowed in his mouth. He thrust up against her, hitting a secret, sensitive spot inside, and she felt herself shatter as she came undone, the violence of the coupling not at all what she expected but exactly what her body wanted as she flew apart in his demanding embrace. He jerked his hips against her as he chased his own release, biting down on her shoulder with a snarled oath as he came. He filled her with the hot spurt of his seed as they sagged against the wall of the garden, exhausted if not sated.
He pushed away from her, righting his clothing with trembling hands as she stood on shaky legs. He refused to look at her, snatching up his bow from where it lay on the ground and stalking off, leaving her to fend for herself in the early morning. She clutched her torn robes to herself as she cursed the stupidity of her actions and the impulse that had driven away her one chance at happiness.
She slipped out of the Chantry garden, thankful that the nobles of Kirkwall were late sleepers as she ran home.
A knock on the door later that evening went ignored until it turned into an angry pounding. Bodahn bustled from the kitchen to answer it. She leaned over the railing before entering her room, calling down to him.
"I'm not here, Bodahn, if anyone asks."
"Of course, messere."
She shut the door behind herself, seeking her bed. She flopped down, exhausted in both body and mind. She'd spent the day clearing out slavers along the Wounded Coast with Aveline, trying to chase away the guilt that followed her. What a fool she was, thinking to push him off the fence one way or another. She should have known he would run.
Shouts from Bodahn had her scrabbling for her staff as they came closer to her door. The door to her bedroom burst open, revealing Sebastian, trailed by the flustered dwarf. She took in the distress of his features and her heart clenched. She set aside the staff, resting it against the wall as she took in the desperate plea in his eyes.
"It's all right, Bodahn. Prince Vael and I needed to speak sooner or later." She placed a reassuring hand on Bodahn's shoulder as he moved to stand in front of her, protecting his mistress as best he could. "Would you check the doors to make sure they are locked for the night? I will let his highness out when we've finished our discussion."
"Are you certain, messere? It's rather late for a gentleman to be calling upon a lady." Bodahn wrung his hands, glancing between the two of them, the unspoken tension ratcheting up another notch as the two humans stared at each other.
"I'm sure, Bodahn. Please, get some sleep. I'll be fine." The dwarf took her measure once more, nodding as he made his slow exit, glancing over his shoulder before he left the room in case she changed her mind. She shut the door behind him and turned to face Sebastian, pressed against the wood of the door for strength.
She swallowed. "I…owe you an apology, your highness."
"I think I owe you much more than that, Celeste." The use of her first name had never hurt so much. She flinched, but he stepped forward and cupped her cheek in his hand. "I owe you an apology for prodding you into the situation in the first place. Your words…you were indeed right when you accused me of playing a game with you."
She stared at him. "You should have told me to stop, should have pushed me away, something. Maker, I molested you."
She shrugged out of his grasp, moving to the bed and sagging down onto the mussed coverlet. She put her face in her hands, unwilling to look at him as shame burned through her. The creak of leather heralded his approach, and he settled on his haunches before her. Sun-browned hands pulled her fingers away from her face, bringing them to his lips.
"You are not to blame for a plot of mine that backfired, even if it backfired in such a spectacular way," he said, not meeting her eyes. "You have haunted my thoughts much as of late, enough to send me running to prayer far more than usual. As of now, I have nowhere to run any longer. News of my shameful act in the garden reached the Grand Cleric. She has, well…"
He paused before looking into her face, a wry smile on his lips. "She has requested I find new quarters, in light of my recent transgressions."
Her hand flew to her lips. "Oh, Sebastian, I'm so sorry. If you like, I can try to reason with her, explain what went on–"
"I would not have wanted the outcome of that to be any different. I was shamed because I coerced you into helping break my vows. I forswore myself the moment I suggested you try and distract my shot." He looked away, rubbing her knuckles in an absent motion as his nostrils flared, his agitation apparent. "I had a choice to make. I could renounce the world and become a cloistered brother, or I could make my way in the world with what I have."
He met her eyes again, that same wry smile on his face. "I chose the latter, because I enjoy the good we do around the city. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to ask you for payment now, instead of helping of my own free will. I have a room at the Hanged Man to pay for. Just enough to cover my expenses, I swear to you–"
"That's enough of that, Sebastian. You'll stay with me." The decision was made in a split second, because she knew she had to make this right somehow, fix this. He opened his mouth to object, and she shushed him with her fingers pressed against his lips. "No matter how responsible you feel, we were both to blame for that. I could just as easily have walked away, but I didn't. Now I need to make this right."
"I forswore my vows, Celeste. I'm not worthy of you." He rose, stiff in his movements.
"I'll be the judge of who is worthy of me, thank you very much. Don't presume to tell the Champion of Kirkwall who is and who is not worthy of her." She grinned at him, one she knew he would have no choice but to return. He did, that same lopsided smile that had caught her attention all those years ago. She twined her fingers in his, bringing his hand up to her heart. "If you want to pursue this, then I think we need to get reacquainted with what this actually is. Otherwise, tell me now."
He stepped closer, his other hand tilting her chin up as he pressed a soft kiss to her mouth. It was full of promise, gentleness, and the taste of him, just as heady as if he were taking what he wanted. She melted against him, her eyes slipping closed.
He broke the kiss, resting his forehead against hers as he smiled. "Yes, I would like to…pursue whatever this is. If that's all right."
"Of course it's all right." She grinned, her voice turning teasing as her hand stroked up his forearm. "You realize that the story is probably all over Kirkwall by now. Varric will have embellished it to where we were on the altar in front of Andraste and the Grand Cleric, during vespers."
He gave a low groan of embarrassment. "Maker, don't remind me."
She laughed, and he nuzzled at her earlobe, far more interested in the real thing rather than a tall tale of Varric's. "You're okay with staying here, then?"
"For as long as you'll have me, yes." He brought her fingers to his lips.
"That's all I ever wanted."
A/N: The idea struck like lightning and wouldn't go away once I saw the prompt. I didn't expect for it to turn out like it did, but the Order dictates...
Anyway, back to work on Aquila. As always, Constant Readers, thank you for sticking with me!