Author's Note: While I have attempted to comply, I can't cut the mature scene in this chapter. The character development matters too much. Please don't read past the nightmare if such things bother you or if you shouldn't be reading it for whatever reason. Thanks to faejilly for her read-through! Enjoy!


Sebastian's anger didn't cool, even with the frigid slap of damp air that met them outside the warmth and noise of the tavern, until he noticed the sister giving him slightly frightened glances and stepping quicker than she might have, normally. Maker…was he so forbidding when he was upset, these days? Settling the cask in his arms, Sebastian relaxed his jaw, trying to gentle his expression. "We should be slower. It wouldn't do to jostle the ale, Sister..."

"Odette." She bobbed her head nervously. "I did not mean to cause you trouble."

"It was not your fault. I did not expect that your offer would be taken so amiss by my…companion."

"Well, if she wasn't too careful, she wouldn't be much of a guard, I suppose." Before Sebastian could correct her misunderstanding, Sister Odette was pleading again, "Won't you stay? There's always more than enough at table and we have a lovely guest house. You can look after Chant."

"No, Sister. I have my friends to get back to. We have a journey to continue early, if we can manage."

With a sigh, the woman bobbed another curtsey. A holdover from a former life, Sebastian thought. Most sisters were less obeisant to those outside the hierarchy.

"Thank you, then, messere. May the Maker hold you in His Light." Her hand was raised, fingers curved in blessing's graceful form.

He bowed in return, "Maker's Blessing to you and your Sisters and upon the walls of this Chantry." Behind them, the melodious bells rang out the call to Chant. The cords in his throat tightened as if he was readying to sing; fifteen years of training, of ritual, of comfort and a sense of home not so easy to set aside, especially with the memory of Aeryn's cool dismissal and the way she'd pulled away from him, tonight.

He was weary of having to scry the bones of her discontent and read between her lines. A break was due him, perhaps.

Catching back the edge of the kitchen door he'd started to let swing shut, Sebastian spoke. "Wait. I think an' I will come to Chant. I have missed the singing too often, of late."

Odette's smile was beautiful and honest in her plain face, backlit by the warm bustle of the kitchen. "Oh, wonderful!"

There was no sermon at this late service, only the Joined Chanting of Benedictions but it was nonetheless convivial and almost crowded with the seven sisters and Mother Maris, several late workers, a few older folk, and a couple from the tavern cooing the lines of Chant inappropriately at one another in the corner. Sebastian was almost tempted to call them out before recalling that it wasn't his duty, any longer. In the warm atmosphere, he manage to relax. A happy change from the discord of the Denerim Chantry or even the sparsely attended palace chapel.

He knelt, unease flowing out of his bones as he breathed deeply during the brief, silent meditation before the Sacred Flames. He forced her out of his mind and sought the quiet center that he had neglected of late, until the cantor took up the Chant again in signal to the devout that they were dismissed.

Surrounded by the chatter of happy worshippers in a waft of incense heavy air, Sebastian stepped back into a night turning crisp as the damp settled. With the brush of a breeze, icy and faint, and the flicker of pale starlight, the night brought her back to him.

Slowly, he strode across the hushed square lit only by a few windows casting their homely light out on the stone paths, pausing for a moment by the fountain and letting the last of the faithful pass him by to their homes.

Ice was forming along his ancestor's edges and he brushed a few frozen droplets from the arrogant marble face before he turned to go. It was a long time since he could recall being alone at night. Kirkwall. And then...it had been dangerous to linger. He shook his head over his foolish dallying. Aeryn would be worrying and it wasn't truly his intent to worry her.

A few more steps had him on the wide planked porch. The tavern was dark, the downstairs windows shuttered and only the distant nicker of a horse in the barn met him as he scraped the mud from his boots on the upturned iron edge placed near the door.

Hitching his breath, the dull ache returned in the pit of his stomach and the cinch of a headache behind his eyes, Sebastian almost expected the door latch to be locked for the night. Maybe he hadn't been missed after all?

But there was a figure moving around inside, just barely visible through the amber-tinted wavy glass of the door and the latch lifted easily when, after his hand hovered a moment, he brought up the nerve to try it.

With her back to him and the bar lit only by the remnant of the fire in the massive fireplace, waiting to be banked, Aeryn was deftly drawing a broom across the hearth on the other side of the gloomy, eerily silent barroom.

Sometime since he'd left, she'd discarded the scarf covering her shorn hair and changed from the leathers she'd been wearing to her green wool tunic, cleaner...somewhat... than the gear she'd been wearing, tugged out over her trousers. On the dull wooden bar stood a nearly empty brown bottle, a gold disk leaned against it, and a glass turned mouth down on the plank, a drop or two of liquor puddling beneath it.

From across the room, he watched the pale, vulnerable nape of Aeryn's neck, the graceful sway of her neat figure for a space of minutes. The broomstraw shushed across the worn brick hearth and she worked steadily, with her head down as if absorbed by the mindless task. What would life have been like, he wondered, had she been a barmaid he'd come across. If the vulnerablity hadn't been a deception. If he'd never taken vows.

Finally, he cleared his throat. "Did you have to earn our keep, then?"

The door swinging open had startled her out of her reverie, out of the recriminations snarling into tangles across her thoughts. As Sebastian's long silence had grown, coming close to unnerving her, Aeryn fell back on an old habit. "Offered to lock up. Got bored."

It had been a long time since she'd pulled that casual, nonchalant voice out for him. It belonged to the past, not what they were now, not between lovers, between anam charaid and he snapped back at her, hurt. "I'm so sorry, Hawke. I did not realize I was keeping you from something more interesting." As if he'd been dallying with some other and he pushed back the false guilt trying to whisper to him that it wasn't a poor comparison. He'd not likely have stayed to the singing if they'd not bickered, before.

Aeryn winced before she turned around and said levelly, not giving into the goad of his temper. He had a right to be angry at her. "I didn't mean that. I figured you'd stay for Chant and I just thought I'd be useful as the tavern apparently closes once tenth bell rings. Finnegin's short a maid, so I told him I'd lock up."

He was glowering at her, looking down that fine nose with all manner of disdain. It was unfair of him, really, to be so...glorious when he was angry. Perhaps it was bred in the bones of princes, to keep their subjects allured when they were quaking in their boots.

Not that she was quaking. Or wearing boots, for that matter. Focus, Aeryn. Third glass was a mistake.

"You're angry."

He snorted.

"I'm sorry." She hoping that the simplicity would gain her some approval, her eyes searching the austere planes of his face for some sign of forgiveness.

But he clearly wasn't ready to give it. "Well, and you should be."

With his arms folded across his chest, fists knotted, his whole body closed off to her and Aeryn forced herself to be still and not fold in reaction, herself. She'd brought it on herself with a sharp tongue. Even Sebastian, understanding as he tried to be, had his limit.

She was an adult. She could take it.

Moving the broom behind her back, Aeryn clasped her fingers around the work-smoothed handle to hide the tremble in her fingertips. "I am."

"For all your dislike of the Chantry, I've never known you to be cruel about it to the sisters. She's a simple woman offering the only hospitality she can. It was badly done of you."

"So I've been told. Fenris, Bethany, even the barman saw fit to chastise me, wicked creature that I am. I chose penance." The mild jape slipped her reins and she groaned inwardly and tried to disarm with a smile.

The wry quirk of her lips tightened the lines around his eyes. "It is not a joke."

Sebastian watched as Aeryn's eyes skittered to the side at the clipped sound of his disapproval and shadows bent around her feet as she retreated from him. Frowning, he offered, "When you've acted like that, it's something that's frightened you. But for the life of me I canna figure out what …"

"That frightens me." Maker, she hated the impulse to just blurt out every little truth that burst forth around him. No way out now but through. "You never hesitate. You walk through those doors and breathe the smoke and everything you've learned in eight years with me flies out of your head. You just trust them."

The words of Benedictions were still on the edge of his tongue, the scent of incense still in his nostrils. "I was them."

When Aeryn glanced back at him her eyes were opaque and her face was completely smooth and the contrast with the moment before struck him like a fist to his heart. But it was a momentary lapse; a blink and she was soft again as if she was forcing herself to stay open to him and the last frigid knot of anger, the one that had been lodged in his gut making it hard to stand straight, thawed and drained with the knowledge.

"Yeah. You're right...I was rude. I'll apologize, given the chance and claim some lingering injury for my ill managed tongue. I don't want them remembering your ungrateful companion, later, when they realize who you were. Are." She turned away again before she saw the way the anger had bled out of him, leaving him to sag against the doorframe.

"Aeryn…"

She tried again, the broom swishing a small arc in the stubborn dusting of soot clinging to the bricks. Finnegin had been using too much soft wood in his fires. "You were outside a while."

Sebastian fought to keep his feet still on the fresh rushes beneath him as he admitted, "I thought it might be locked and I didna want to find out."

Shocked, she jerked around, tearing her gaze from where she'd been staring at her fingers clutched around the broom she'd been using to sweep the hearth clean. "Locked? Why would you think you'd be locked out?"

He nodded to his pack and bow, lone on the floor next the table where he'd sat them next to hers, now gone. "I saw my things still here." The whine in his voice made him bite his cheek and shake his head. "No reason, I suppose."

Aeryn watched him warily, the way his arms were folded now and his focus somewhere above her head. "No, if you thought that, there was a reason. You aren't prone…unlike certain others of your acquaintance….to flying off the handle." Enough. Enough of this. She set the broom against the wall and, pulling up a courage she didn't feel, padded across the floor until she was in reach of him. "Sebastian? Why?"

Sebastian flicked his eyes away from her face, so open and concerned. "I was…it was nothing."

Aeryn shivered as if a damp draft had forced its way down the chimney across the back of her neck. His eyes were still averted-so unlike his normal direct gaze, his unfailingly honest self- that the wrongness of the moment curled like a frost spell down her spine. As if she could dispel it with a touch, she reached out tentatively, her fingers barely brushing his leather sleeve, as shy a caress as she'd ever laid upon him, and looked up.

This close, he could see the chapped edges and broken skin of her bitten lip. She'd been worried. He batted aside the urge to brush his thumb there.

"You've asked that of me before…not to lock you out." At Vigil's Keep, he'd ordered it angrily, slamming his hand on the door and with a bark in his tone and she'd dismissed it as the lingering spark of their argument. Twice now,though…and a dozen more in less direct ways? No, that meant something that needed her attention.

"Have I?" His hand twitched up, the urge to rub the back of his neck biting, but he deflected to his shoulder instead, not wanting to give her the tell. Let her read him, for once.

Aeryn frowned. That was the shoulder he'd injured fighting Corypheus. Laying her palm on his lean, cold reddened cheek, she gently pressed to redirect his eyes down to hers. After a moment of searching the chilly blue, she spoke, "I was waiting down here for you to apologize to you. I was purposely rude and it might have reflected badly on you. I have more control than that. It won't happen again. " Setting her other hand to frame his face. "And there aren't any locks between us." That's part of the problem, sometimes.

Her palms were warm and suede soft against the rasp of his unshaven skin and he tensed to keep himself from nuzzling. He shut his eyes against the worried plea in hers.

"I'm sorry. Please forgive me, Sebastian. I was..." No, she wouldn't try to make excuses. She wasn't a child any longer, wasn't vulnerable, and she had promised him to try harder. Her fingers stroked his cheek for a moment longer before, snagging her lip in her teeth, and swallowing a hiss when she hit raw skin, Aeryn pulled back, letting her touch drop away start as her off hand snaked around her midriff. Sucking in an unsteady breath to let her make her next statement, as she turned away. "The others took their things up. Do... you want yours to take back with you?"

Sebastian clenched the hand he'd started to raise, too slowly, as she turned from him. Aeryn's careful, charted, movement away reminded him of not so long ago days when she'd given him every chance to keep his distance. "No. I'll be staying with you, just like I'd hoped you'd have stayed with me. But y'give me no credit, Aeryn. I know well enough we cannot board at the Chantry."

"We wouldn't have been together at the Chantry," she scoffed.

Consternation flooded him and he stood straight back up. "Yes, we would have." Wait, was that the trouble? "Aeryn, the rooms for visitors are not...they aren't segregated. We'd have been together."

She blinked at him. "Oh." Even more foolish than she thought. Stupid girl.

"Y'didn't think I'd make you stay there by yourself, with no one at your back?" He asked her, incredulous.

With a twitch of her shoulder, Aeryn confirmed it. "I've never stayed in a Chantry, how would I know? There are cells for the Chantryfolk and...I never explored very far, you know."

"I wouldn't have left you alone." He raised his hand and she flinched away again.

The expression on his face trod dangerously close to pity and she growled preferring to keep the fight going than suffer that particular indignity. "How was I supposed to know that?"

Quick, calling on his own reflexes, he caught her hand with its tattooed band, to remind her. "You've a right to assume I wouldn't let us be separated!"

Jerking her fingers from his grasp, "I couldn't have stayed with you, either way! I'm your guard at the moment...or at least I was before we started this spat in public business. It's going to be rather a hard sell now." She'd seen eyes on them earlier, remnants of the rumors she'd asked Varric to start and then more than likely fed by the brief argument. Well, she'd wanted to generate a little gossip. Good show.

"You are not my...I dinna want to do this anymore." He turned to lock the door on the darkened square, lit only by the wavering light of a few torches and the glimmer through a few windows over shops, he was only musing aloud. No more of these charades. Once they got to Cleve, that had to be the end of it.

Aeryn felt the bottom drop out of her stomach. He didn't mean them. He didn't. He loved her and she believed him. This was a fight. It was serious, she'd been needlessly harsh but it was only something they needed to work past. It took her a few tries, though, to suck enough air in before she could speak and when she did, looking at the broad tense line of his back, the question flew from her before she could grab it back. "What do you mean?"

He jerked around, his hands flying wide and Sebastian failed, for once, to read the blankness in her tone. "What in the Maker's name d'ya think I mean? I dinna want to hide anymore. I want to use our names. I'm not ashamed of you. I...if the Chantry means you harm, if there's a bounty and a price to pay...better to find out now than later."

"Sodding black Void," Aeryn whispered before she spun on her heel and flung herself into his arms, slamming the breath from his lungs as his shoulders hit the wood behind him.

The tremor in Aeryn's limbs had nothing to do with the dropping temperature in the large room as the fire burned to useless embers, nor the dark folding around them. As the shaking threatened to travel to her legs, her fingers closed around a fold in his leather jerkin, trying to hold herself steady. She'd wanted to make him step fully up. She might have requested that he not yank her heart from her sodding chest in the process. But no of course, that wasn't his doing, it hadn't even crossed his mind, just her own.

He could feel her heart hammering even through his armor, pressing against him as if she was trying to bury herself in his chest. "Aeryn...leannan...what…?" They'd been arguing and now she was shaking in his arms and he groped for words, running back over their conversation in his mind as he rubbed circles on her shivering back and tried to recover from her sudden collapse. When her hands tightened on the sides of his leathers, he hummed low and shifted, so that she wasn't pressed so hard against the unforgiving plate of his armor.

They stood for a moment, caught between the fading firelight and the harsh shadows of the edges of the room before Sebastian shifted his shoulders against the door, slowly. "Talk to me."

She was almost embarrassed at the relief of the gentleness and warmth ekeing back into his murmured, "I am sorry. I'll...be better if you can forgive me for being a brat."

Better? His mind whirled at the implications of that small word and the faint scent of strong spirit, suddenly realizing that the bottle on the bar had likely been full when she started. "There's nothing wrong with you but an overabundance of suspicion, earned or no'. And...it's not a question of forgiveness. I was angry, but I did not mean." He tipped her face up and smoothed away a nasty red crease where delicate skin had found the edge of his chestplate. "Aeryn, we must talk about this."

"I was stupid, is all. I just...I don't want to fight with you. I...was waiting to apologize. I'm just tired and it was a stupid thing to pick a fight over and...please can we just go upstairs?"

"I…" His head was aching. His shoulder hurt. And, when he'd sworn to himself he'd never see those shadows under her eyes again, there they were above cheeks holding the pallor that shouldn't be there either, not after a solid fight and a few days of marching in sharp weather that should have seen her rosy-cheeked. "All right."

"Yeah?"

If he hadn't been sure of his welcome before the fragile way her eyes lightened, the brows easing up cleared it up. "Yes, mo chridhe." He held his hand out. "I couldn't deny you if I tried."

"Oh, you could I think. But, please don't." She tucked her hand in his giving him a small smile when his fingers curled around hers.

As they passed the bar, Aeryn palmed the coin sitting beside the bottle...no, he caught the relief on it just before her hand swept it away. Isabela's earring. Why would she have that out, now? He hadn't seen it before, hadn't realized she'd kept it with the gear they took with them off the boat.

The pop of an ember reminded Aeryn of her earlier promise and she pulled up by the fireplace as they passed. "Let me finish this last thing." Her fingers slipped from him but he plucked the earring from her hand when she started to tuck it into her breastband and she startled, surprised at his quickness.

"What's this, then?" The gold glimmered in his hand as he rolled it over. It was well polished, as if Aeryn had been lavishing attention upon the bit of gaud.

"It was in my pocket. I was just keeping my fingers limber." She'd turned away from him and crouched to shovel the coals in a neat line.

"You're missing her?" The dimming light limned out her features, blurring the lines of her face, but he could see the little wrinkle on her forehead deepen with shadow.

Aeryn fussed with the ash, trying to spread it evenly. Finnegin would come back to an icebox, if she couldn't get it to...ah, there. "I'm allowed. She was my friend."

Oh. "She's still your friend, leannan. She won't forget."

Maker's Balls, and now I'm feeling sorry for myself. Didn't realize I was that sodding drunk. The breath she drew tasted of lye and soot. "Sure, I know."

With a final little frown, the ash seemed to meet Aeryn's approval and she dusted her knees off as she stood lithely up from where she'd sat down on her heels. "C'mon."

He followed her up the stairs and hesitated when she paused outside one of the doors leading off the narrow hallway, lit only by a candle at the back, sitting in a bowl of water on a small carved wooden table.

A raucous, familiar laugh came through the wood and a lighter laugh with an answering low, smirking chuckle that followed. Aeryn raised her hand to rap on the smooth wood and then lifted the latch to stick her head in the candlebright room. "G'd night."

"All's well, one assumes?" Fenris asked, concern laced in his warm voice.

"Yes, Fenris. Thanks."

"Hey, Charming!" Varric called out. "Come in here and explain to Sunshine why you wouldn't hold a rack of Martyrs when your Seekers are set to run."

With his hand over her head, Sebastian pressed the door open wider, startled but pleased, "Well, it depends I suppose on if she'd turned up Queen's Mace or no'."

"Show him your hand."

"I don't even see how you knew I had Seekers or Martyrs or spotted Mabari, for that matter, without cheating." Bethany fanned her cards out so that Sebastian could see what she held and he stepped over the threshold to look closer.

"Well, these cards were made in Navarre not Ferelden, so it wasn't likely to be hounds. Gotta count as you play, otherwise you're always going to be fumbling in the dark. Like broody over there."

"I do fine in the dark, dwarf, never fear." Fenris muttered as Sebastian told Bethany, whose cheeks had pinked.

"Never let them see you count, though, or you'll find your playing venues limited." Sebastian sat down in the wooden highbacked chair that Varric kicked out for him and leaned over Bethany's shoulder.

"We're staying then, I guess." Aeryn murmured under her breath as Sebastian tugged out a card then another and pointed out their values as ballast to her sister's game. With a half swallowed sigh, she sat heavily beside Fenris who was eyeing the two over his own hand. Not taking his eyes off the rack Bethany was laying out, Sebastian reached out and dragged her chair closer to his side, the wood scraping the floor gratingly.

Under the table, his long fingers callused and warm, closed over hers, thumb strumming across her knuckles, gently. Aeryn felt her nerves settle at the caress and, despite herself, the tension still sparking behind her eyes and threatening a headache fluttered to a soft buzz. She chuckled and when Bethany leaned back with raised eyebrows to catch her eye, she shrugged and leaned into Sebastian's shoulder to watch the tutorial unfold. She would never understand it, how he eased her with a touch. Did it matter, really? He made her feel better...whatever he did, however he did it.

Fighting it...and Aeryn knew she had been... fighting against the comfort he offered, the simplicity of the way loved her, pressing herself away from the way he offered it to her like it was her due.

Waiting for his honesty to turn into a lie.

It was making her crazy, wearing her thin in the places she desperately needed to thicken her skin before they made it to Starkhaven, when more than a war would meet them.

She had to stop, now, before it started to erode the bond between them. They would need it, come the battle.

Sebastian brushed his thumb across her ring finger sending a shooting vine of warmth up her arm, even as he gathered up cards in his off hand. He'd done it often, as if the fact she wore the little arrow proved to him all the things she'd promised.

As impulsive as he'd run in Kirkwall, as often as his temper had run away with him, he was outgrowing it, at last. And she had no right to treat him otherwise.

Her eyes drooped a little, adrenaline from earlier draining and leaving her flat.

Sebastian glanced at her and caught the way Aeryn blinked wide, forcing herself awake. He handed the cards back to Bethany. "Perhaps we can have our lessons another night?"

"I don't need lessons. I need these two to let me play my hand!" Bethany flipped over a Mace with a flourish of long fingers and a satisfied curl on her lips. "And too, to recall that I've played with Isabela once or twice since I was nineteen," she whispered to Sebastian as Varric and Fenris grumbled, gathering the small pot towards herself with that smug cat smile that had suddenly made Fenris' eyebrows climb and his eyes sharpen.

"Are we going?" Aeryn let him pull out her chair and stand, and when Sebastian nudged her shoulder she glanced up at the table and their finished hand. "Ah. Alright."

Aeryn let him steer her into the door across the hall that she pointed out and as she closed the door behind them she noted Fenris escorting Bethany down the hallway. Curiosity perked through her and Aeryn ruthlessly mashed it down. Grown folk, those two. Though Maker help them if they threw off the balance of her crew with lover's games.

That's my job, after all. Through the narrowing crack in the door, Aeryn saw Fenris step over Bethany's threshold only to halt and then turn back. He'd only been checking it out for her, as she had taken the small maid's quarters Finnegin had offered.

Bethany murmured something low and Fenris gave her the sort of smile that might curl through a woman's body as he bowed over her hand. Gracious.

Aeryn managed to make herself shut the door just before her partner swung back around. Beyond the door, his step was light and only hesitated to lift the latch to his own room.

As Aeryn pulled the latchstring through, Sebastian gave the room a glance. She'd unpacked her bedroll to air before and set her boots next to the yellow brick chimney that ran up between the center beams of the inn. Dropping his gear besides a small black enamelled brazier, with a weary sigh he bent to unlace his and toed them off to sit next to hers, wiggling his toes in their stockings against the warmth that radiated from the brick. Discovering a small pile of twists on the on the coarsely hewn shelf that ran across the bricks- hardly worth the title of "mantle," he lit one from the brazier and touched it to the wick of a candle sitting in a polished tin sconce to throw a bit more light.

Sparsely furnished, smaller than the room Varric and Fenris were sharing, but clean. A pair of high windows let in light from the moon. Low, plain furnishings; a table and chair all in dark, old wood and a neatly made bed pressed up to the wall and covered with a bark brown woven blanket, matching the drab braided rug on the wood floor. In the corner closest to him, there was a shallow hipbath, and the candlelight glinted off of the surface. Buckets steamed next to it, a sheen of oil on the water.

It occurred to him to wonder about the incongruity of Tellend. A market town with a full Chantry but only one inn. And not the sort he'd have expected to find on a busy crossroads. The market towns Sebastian had passed through in his rambles before the Chantry and the ones he'd paused in when he made his first attempt to gain support among the nobles had inns that reflected the heavy business that they maintained, if only monthly. They usually catered to merchants who liked luxury in their accommodations, not ex-Chantry brothers and their ex-mercenary lovers with a penchant for simplicity. Not to mention, a market town usually had a larger security concern than Tellend seemed prepared for, as reliant on their

Templars as they seemed for protection.

"Ah!"

Aeryn had snaked her arms around his waist from behind and Sebastian felt her jump guiltily when he startled, but he caught her hands before she could jerk away.

"Sorry." She ducked her chin as she tried, halfheartedly, to free herself.

Turning in her arms, he kept one hand clasped in his and pressed the other to his hip, not allowing her to break contact. "No, now. I was just thinking."

"About?"

He opened his mouth to answer, "Just," before shaking his head, "It's of little importance, I imagine." He stepped back, tugging her along to sit with him in the x-framed chair next to the bed, the woven leather of the seat giving a little under their weight. A few moments passed, with them settled together, fingers woven close. "I'm glad you're cuddling again."

"Hmm?"

"You seemed a bit disinclined earlier." His long lashes brushed along his cheeks and she tilted her head curiously.

"I don't...oh." Her little game. "It was…I was just fooling around. Teasing."

His eyes went round. "Teasing?"

"You know...stirring the pot a little. Trying to..." As Sebastian clearly tried to hold back a grin, she huffed.

He couldn't help the grin at her little incipient pout. "Did no one ever teach you to tease your lover properly, then?"

His voice had dropped warm and low and Aeryn forced herself not to squirm in his lap, in reaction. They were both in need of sleep not play. Instead, she shrugged and told him, "Never found the need, so you know. Generally all I ever had to do was wink at a likely body, buy a drink and find myself comfortably distracted for an hour or so."

"Well, that does work." Sebastian agreed. "But a bit of play is nice, too." He brushed a kiss to her shoulder, falling silent, thinking of long years between them.

Aeryn let the silence stretch. She was steady, now, the momentary weakness that had nearly overwhelmed her pushed aside but Sebastian felt too small against her, fragile and worn.. Here, in the candlelight, the skin around his eyes showed bruised and he kept rubbing at his temple. Exhaustion was dulling his eyes.

Sliding to her feet, she said "Come wash up, love." She wanted to pamper him somehow. There wasn't much here to work with but his fondness for a bath. Curving her hand around his wrist, Aeryn pulled him standing.

He raised his eyebrows. "Am I rank, then?"

"Just a bit," but she winked and there was no sting in the words. Led by the grip of her hand, he followed meekly to the plain wooden hipbath that sat in the corner. The water was tepid and he hitched a breath as he stepped.

Aeryn helped him divest of the rest of his clothing, folding the loose wool tunic as he hitched the leather trousers down. She reached out and smoothed her fingers along his waist, taut and lean before he sank into the shallow tub to soak from the waist down for a minute.

Hefting the rag covered bale in one hand, Aeryn hauled over a still-steaming bucket and carefully added it, Sebastian hissing at the sting of the heat, before she took up a linen rag and the soap to scrub his shoulders.

"I c'n manage." As if he wasn't sinking lower, as if his spine wasn't practically melting at the way the linen felt against his back, the firm touch and heat just what he'd been craving.

"I know. But I want to." She murmured into his ear, kissing just above the curve. Tipping his head back and blocking the flow of water from his eyes with one hand, she poured out a tumbler to wet his hair and her fingers massaged soap into his scalp for long minutes until suds formed. "You need a haircut, darling man."

He nodded, a little vaguely, as he'd nearly been lulled to sleep. "I'll see if Varric will." He'd sunk as far down into the wash tub as he could manage and sighed over his bent knees. He ought to be grateful to have a bath at all, but with his knees around his ears, he was hard pressed not to miss the long tub they'd left behind in Ferelden; the deep soaking bath in Aeryn's estate that had accommodated both of them. He'd never admit to the daydreams he had about the dwarven built, hypocaust heated baths in the lower levels of the Keep at Starkhaven.

"Close your eyes." She poured clean water over his head, fingers sliding through the sodden locks and flooding out suds. "Where's your kit?"

"In m'pack." He roused himself enough to be curious and lifted his lids to watch Aeryn rummage deftly before pulling out the small leather bag he kept his shaving gear in. "What d'you need it for?"

"I thought I'd shave that scrub from your chin before you take half my hide off."

"I'll do it."

"Let me."

Her hand stroked his cheek again and he nuzzled into it, this time. All the sweetness he'd be craving earlier on display and it was beyond him now, not to soak it up. "Alright."

She lathered up the brush and stroked the foam thickly across his jaw and down his neck.

Sebastian resisted a chuckle, lest he make her hand shift. He had an assassin at his throat, with the sharpest razor he owned in her wicked hand but all he felt was a pervading sense of well-being as Aeryn tipped his chin and stroked the blade up, all of her focus on the slip of his skin beneath the sharp edge. As always, his little thief was efficient and quick and he was clean in minutes, even the back of his neck that he'd neglected in the last week.

Aeryn surveyed her work, satisfied with both the shave and the lazy, contented smile curving Sebastian's mouth and whispered across the small raised scar that was normally hidden just beneath his collar after wiping away the last trace of sud. "There you go."

He captured her hand and kissed her palm before dropping his head back to look up at her, the soft fond look on her face smoothing away the last lingering pall that their bickering had cast over them. "Thank you." He still needed to make sure she was truly settled as well. She'd turned soft too quickly, maybe. Once he had her in the bed with him, then he could...he nearly cracked his jaw with a wide yawn and cut off his own thought as she laughed gently at him.

Rubbing at his hair with a bit of toweling, Aeryn managed to get it mostly dry. "C'mon. The water's getting chilly." She watched him as he stood, water streaming from his body and drawing runic patterns along his skin and toweled off with another length of rough linen she'd handed him before she turned to the cot. He ignored the pair of trews laid across the chair and dropped to sit on the bed's edge.

"Give me a moment." She started to tidy, laying the towel next to the fire to dry.

"Hmm, alright." He watched her start to strip off as he settled. "Want help?"

Sebastian had lain on his stomach and folded his hands under his chin to watch, and she smiled at the languid sprawl of him as she shook her head. "No, you look comfortable."

"Hmm."

He yawned as she stretched out on the floor for a few minutes, the clean line of her body growing wavery as he rubbed his eyes. The edge of her tunic flashed over her head and as she unbound her breasts, he had to close his lids, just a moment, aching with weariness and too heavy to keep open even to watch, listening to the soft sounds of her body moving in the room.

Folding aside the band, Aeryn stood and shook out the last of the tension in her arms and stepped briskly along the tread-smoothed planking. "You're awfully quiet, love." Sebastian didn't answer, but there was a soft sound of deep breathing and turning on her heel she saw- he was sound asleep.

"Poor darling…." she broke off her sympathetic murmur to stare in consternation. He was catty-cornered across the bed. On top of the blankets she'd checked for vermin earlier and left laid back. And with his arms wrapped around the pillows cuddled under his chin. Very comfortable.

"Sodding Void."

Tipping her head, Aeryn considered. She could try and wedge herself in the small space that his long body left on the outside edge, but she'd be fighting to not fall off if he moved. With only a tiny grumble...it could have been much worse, after all...she snagged her tunic and pulled it back over her head. She had no interest in the woody, smoky beggar's lice laden bedrolls airing out by the fire, tonight. Carefully, she swung her leg over the footboard and curled into the corner, between his side and the wall. Closing her eyes, she was asleep before she could bother to find the most comfortable angle for her head against the clapboard.

0000000

Stone and thick air and the heavy rotting sweet taste of taint on the back of her tongue. Deep Roads. Trapped beneath stone upon stone and swarms of them scurrying up and around them and she can't can't can't see can't run there's never anywhere to run there are only walls and stone and mold and she can't climb fast enough there's a hand closing on her foot and dragging her no how did she get here she'd been so close to that elusive blue that promised…nothing

Her eyes flew open in the soft dark, the small room stuffy and humid with their body heat and her hands still reaching for the invisible cliff edge. Forcing herself to stay quiet by biting her lips shut and not wake the man beside her, his breath coming slow and deep. The black pressed in on her, the thin clapboard wall scraping against her back and she gave in. Craving contact.

With just a slight roll of her body her nose was pressed just above his navel. Slowly, Aeryn opened her clenched fist possessively over his chest, spreading her fingers, slowly, smoothing. The scent of her Sebastian; sleepy male, warm musk and that faint trace of incense that lingered from his earlier prayers flooded her nostrils driving out the lingering odor of the dream and she opened her mouth to feel the muscle shift under his skin, against her tongue.

This, then. This was what she'd missed all the long years and what she'd been denying herself by running away from it. He'd given his other life up and given her this as her right, the right to wake up instead of dragging herself from a nightmare alone, the right to touch him, lazily trace down the line of cinnamon crisp hair, wander over the plain of his stomach, down a pale white scar along his ribs to the jut of one sharp hip bone. Salt there and a trace of sweetly sour heat as she suckled a dark mark on the thin golden skin over the bone. His back arched, he breathed her name like one of his prayers and splayed hard fingers on the velvet spike of her clipped hair.

"Aeryn."

Pausing in her pursuit, she glanced up guiltily into his sleepy, blinking eyes. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake…" but she stopped. Yes, she had. She brushed her cheek against his thigh before she sat up. Moonlight streamed in and the blue brimmed with words, trying to escape. "What is it, love?"

He could hardly get the words out, though. Here in the dark, he was vulnerable to the Fade, too, she knew. "Don't stop."

"Never." Aeryn could read the way Sebastian's eyes dropped, the jaw that was tightly clenched that he'd been dreaming, too, and she set herself into swearing oaths with every inch of her body.

She had to uncurl her hands again to reach out to lace between his fingers, instead, pinning his hands with her own, binding herself as much as him. "Not ever." She lifted one of his hands to her mouth, shifting her grip to trace the mound of his palm and to press a kiss against the tiny puckered scar. With her eyes on his Aeryn whispered up each of Sebastian's long fingers and met each calloused tip with another kiss. When she reached the broader pad of his thumb, she sucked the length of it into her mouth.

Sebastian groaned low, as her fingers brushed down his wrist and the corded strength of his forearm, the rest of his fingers curving around her jaw as she laved attention on his thumb, never taking her eyes, smoky and full of dark promises, from his. "Mo chride," he gasped as she dragged the stunningly sensitized digit out of her mouth, scraping it along the sharp flat of her teeth.

Her lips brushed his stomach again, following the lift of his ribs, the snub tip of her nose nudging the flat of his nipple just before her tongue traced the curve dragging up. A sharp nip had him gasping, his hips jerking against her as the soft skin of her belly pressed against his cock.

Her face fit in the curve of his neck and she breathed in the soft scent of soap root and the rose oil she'd floated on his bath before she flicked her tongue against the hollow, tasting salt that had sprung up in the wake of her exploration.

Sebastian gripped her hands tight and let his head drop back with a groan. "Please, a ruin." His fingers itched to touch her, to feel the way muscle played under her skin, the plump luxury of her breasts in his hands as she worked her way back up his body with lips and tongue and the occasional graze of teeth.

He trembled under her as she traced the curve of his ear. Sebastian fought to lift his head up and nibbled along the line of muscle at her shoulder. Aeryn found the tendon and nipped, feeling him stiffen further against her, and every muscle lock under her.

"I need…"

"What do you need, love?" she murmured. Her hips rocked into his, his cock trapped against her stomach and he groaned again and gave into her lead.

"Don't stop."

"Not planning on it." She whispered against his mouth, a throaty sound of satisfaction that ran right down his spine before she nudged his mouth open to sweep her tongue in, savoring before it twined with his.

Her hand let go of one of his and ran teasingly down his side until she could grip him to tug firmly and he whimpered under her, his hand clutching the edge of the mattress as his hips bucked again.

Sebastian gasped a huge lungful of cool air, trying to distract himself enough not to come just from the commanding touch. He wrenched his desire in line and then lost himself again in the silken slide of her body down his hot skin only to gulp again as her mouth and the little pointed tongue hotter still, sucked, licked down his rigid flesh and brought him to the edge.

She teased, her lips just brushing around the sensitive glans and he pressed his fists into the mattress to keep himself from coming, coming undone before she'd hardly started.

He moaned and Aeryn clamped her thighs together, trapping a pulse of want that lanced through her body at the half-sobbed sound, a throb centered on her clit and paused a moment trying to think as Sebastian muttered, complaining in vague Starkish pressing one hand against his eyes as the other fisted in the thin slubby homespun sheeting at her delay. He was tired and she'd meant to just take the flavor of him...but Maker, she needed him.

Aeryn knelt up beside him, her grip shifting from tight to only just the teasing drift of her fingers as he shuddered and followed, pushing himself upright with freed hands. To seek out her mouth again, to beg entrance with entreating lips and his fingers sketching along her jaw.

She made him work for his want, until the softness of his mouth sliding against hers made her want to yield, lips, tongue and all. The lilt of more Starkish, this time happy and approving as he skimmed her shirt off, tickled a giggle out of her just before he suckled on her tongue, traced a callused thumb over her tight nipple and drove language appreciation out of her mind. Winding her fingers into his curling hair, Aeryn licked the roof of his mouth for the hum of need it always earned her. Long, insistent fingers were pressing between her thighs and she straddled his broader one as he shifted his other hand, clutching her arse to drag her closer.

Tearing her mouth away from the drugging lure of Sebastian's lips, she protested against his throat even as she rubbed, aching and hot, against the rasp of hair curling across his thigh, "I was going to..."

"Later." Sebastian growled and when his hand shifted again, Aeryn felt her control yanked away. She was suddenly flat on her back, the thin mattress barely padding against the ropes of the cot and pinned by his eyes, now wide and blazing in the moonlight as he knelt between her thighs.

He spread her with one hand and thumbed her clit through the wet linen, blunting the sensation as he yanked the tie and dragged them from her with clawed fingers. Another insistent press of his thumb sent jagged spikes of sensation pulsing with her heartbeat.

Fast, his mouth in a firm line, in one hard, smooth roll of his hip he drove into her. Aeryn cried out and rolled up to meet him, locking her heels around his thighs and, instead of spurring him on, simply rode out the punishing rhythm Sebastian set in his first few movements, shocks of pain tagging the heels of pleasure.

Sebastian sought out her hands, locking them down intending to preempt her normal hurrying, the nails raking his shoulders. It took a few moments, the slick pulse of her muscle around his cock so hot, utterly enthralling, before it penetrated his sleep and lust-fogged mind, for him to realize she wasn't urging him on with heel and trying to rush their pace, that she was yielding far more than usual. Her eyes were closed, scrunched shut and her lip was caught between her teeth.

"A...aeryn…" Sebastian stilled and only then did her eyes open, blinking wide.

"What? What's the matter?"

Her whole body had gone tense beneath him and he only just slammed a lid on panic as he choked out, "Did...have I hurt you?" She'd been soaked to the touch even though he'd only briefly tested but, Maker...

Before he could pull away, apology stuttering from his mouth, Aeryn tightened her legs to prevent his cock from slipping out. "No...I'm fine. Please, I just thought...slower but I want you. Please, don't stop."

Halting, Sebastian considered a moment, his hands releasing hers to stroke down the line of her breastbone, follow the soft arch of her ribs and span the edges of her hipbones watching the reaction of her skin and letting the way Aeryn arched into his touch reassure him, even as he noted the chill across her stomach, the gooseflesh on her arms and the darkness in the room.

She'd woken him up, long before the night was gone. She never woke him. Not on purpose.

But she had tonight. With eyes huge in the dark and tension in her spine and apologies on her lips again as she'd pulled him to the edge along with her.

Adjusting his hold on her other hand, Sebastian tugged, pulling her until she curled up from the waist and waited until her arms came sweetly around his neck and she set her forehead against his, nearly eye level sitting up on his thighs. "I'm no' going anywhere. I'm all yours." He spoke his lips feathering across hers with each word. "And if it's slow you need, I c'n give it."

Aeryn shivered as he spoke, the low and intimate purr a caress in itself, so close that his features blurred into blue.. All the promises in his voice, warm and darkly sweet as any summer forest. His hand closed around her hip, the other at the nape of her neck, his thumbs rubbing slow circles on her skin, setting off sparks.

She tightened her thighs, pressed closer still to his heart steady as metronome against hers and the rhythm of it smoothing out her jangled nerves.

"Is this better?" She nodded and smiled when he brushed soft kisses against her eyelids. "Are y'sure?"

In this position, more than any other, loving Sebastian was like being joined with late summer, surrounded by burnished gold and ruddy brown and that brilliant, harvest blue sky of his eyes, creased in concern when he looked at her. How could it not be better?

With a writhe of her hips that had him hauling in a breath as his shaft slid further into the silken clutch of her body, "Much better. Oh...yeah...much…" she breathed, tracing down his cheekbone, his jaw until she could tongue the cord of his neck, feeling it snap taut.

With a scrabbling hold on his control, he held his hips quiet and let his mouth travel the mound of her breast, pressed hot against his chest, trailing one hand around to lift the hard dark pink tip to suckle as she clenched around him.

Suspended minutes passed and tiny kisses traded as her skin warmed through and a faint blush climbed her throat and matched the desire blazing across his cheekbones.

Fingertips dug into the meat of his shoulders, Aeryn slid up and sank down again,watching the pupil of his eyes blow out and drown all but the faint lyrium flare edge of blue. "You feel so good." She whispered, nipping the downy curve of his earlobe, the answering shudder running the length of his spine and thrusting his hips up, making her gasp in return.

His mouth dropped open to suck in a breath and Aeryn snagged his lower lip in her teeth, worrying it until he lunged forward, bracing one arm on the rough wall.

He'd kept his movements as small as he could but every nerve was screaming, his cock tight and balls heavy. It was his turn to clench his eyes shut, hanging on with every last inch of will he had but... "A ruin...mo chridhe I can't…I want..."

The words throbbed through her gut and in answer she growled into his ear,"Fuck me….love me…now now…." and he let go, her back pressed to the wall and legs so tight around his hips he thought there'd be bruises come the morning but all he could care about just now was the mindless urge to move, bury himself in the scent of her, the heat, her welcoming cunt, her fingers yanking his hair back to suck at his mouth, his chin and need burning down his spine, enclosed in throbbing heat as her breath squeaked out with every impact. As he came, Sebastian buried his face against her hair, lungs locked and whole body rigid.

White noise still rushing in his ears, Sebastian shook his vision clear with fingernails dug into the wood behind them. He lifted his head Her eyes were wide black with want, swollen mouth open and panting.

When he moved delicately inside her, still hard, Aeryn gasped and let her head fall back against the rugged board behind her with a thud. "Sod."

He pulled away, letting her slide down the wall. She protested with a whine that cut off as he curled down, long body sinuous with his release, moving in grace to give hers. Hands trailing, fingernails scraping over her shoulders, down her breasts across her belly to press her thighs wider and the low purr in his voice when he revealed her, wet and hot.

Aeryn looked down at his ruddy head between her spread legs, the air musky with sex, and felt another tightening ache lash through her as she drew her knees up to latch over his wide shoulders. She couldn't hold back a needy whimper as he nudged between her lips, found her, hot breath as he murmured, "I've got you, I've got you." One hand forced under her arse, stroking fingers against moist skin to urge her back to him.

Sebastian nuzzled, the taste of his seed mingling with her tart juices such a strangely enticing draw that he was tempted to lick her clean. But she was so close, trembling under him, against him. He couldn't tease at all, desperation in her every heaved breath a spur to his need to make her come.

It only took a tongue pressed hard, once, twice to her hard little clit, his fingers curling in a wave in her tight channel to have her thrusting into his hand, back arching up off the mattress nearly forcing him backwards as she clutched his head, shaking through her climax.

Tremors snaked their way along her nerves as Sebastian lifted his mouth away, peppering kisses over her mound and belly, across the ridges of her hip bones. Love you, mo chridhe, anam chara I love you between each fluttering touch as her breathing slowed and she could relax her hold on his curls; threading them, damp silk through her fingers. He laid his cheek against her stomach, strong arms coming up to wrap her warm.

"I...I love you so, Sebastian." Her hand traced the curve of his ear, the arch of his brow, along his throat trailing.

He felt her low murmur in his bones, the catch of rough fingers on his skin and smiled, home again.