Title: The Petals that Fall

Summary: It wasn't Mary's title that brought her danger. It was the way she laughed and the way her eyes sparkled under starlight. The softness of her hair and skin, the honey, lavender, vanilla scent that wafted off her skin, and the plump of her lips. She was a queen, and in the world of kingdoms and politics, Royals did not have the luxuries of choice; but they were all moths to a flame.

Category: Reign

Genre: Romance/ Drama

Characters: [Sebastian/Mary], Francis

Date Published: 13-03-11

Disclaimer/Letter from the Author: Reign's characters and original plot do not belong to me. However this fanfiction does. Please ask permission before any reuse of any part of this fandom. If you happen to enjoy it that immensely, please share this story so others may read it, and help make it a success. And review!

©Marie Meyers, 2013


The Petals that Fall

"She comes."

Sebastian looked around at the gossiping court as he walked to stand beside his mother and father.

He saw her first. Her raven strands of hair swaying in the breeze as her eyes eagerly scanned the crowd, the ground, the land; the court. As he put his hands behind his back, he couldn't stop the instant flutter in his stomach, and his sudden intrigue at the fair-faced queen. Queen Mary of Scotland. He would have never expected her to look quite like that. He wasn't sure the word, but there was something.

Sebastian watched as Mary and her friends, the ladies-in-waiting, paused in front of the crowd of the French Court. One of the girls leaned in to Mary and whispered, and Mary's head snapped up, straight into his direction. Sebastian curiously watched Mary shook her head. He wondered what that was about.

"Mary."

Sebastian looked a ways. There was his brother, the legitimate heir and the future king of France, standing off the side of her. Sebastian stared at Francis' face, saw the discomfort there, and silently sent his brother a dosage of courage. He had no doubts about how awkward a predicament Francis must have found himself in. After all, before the whole French Court stood the woman who was meant to be his future queen.

He watched the instant attraction that passed between the two.

"Francis."

It was so obvious, so heavy within the air, that Sebastian felt that he could draw his sword, and cut it.

He watched Francis bow his head slightly. "Welcome back to French Court."

Mary smiled.

Sebastian felt himself starting to frown, stopping himself and setting his lips in a thin line. Again, there was something. But he didn't quite have the word.

§

Mary walked the long corridors of the French Court eagerly. She hadn't been there in so long. With only a few hours before the royal wedding, Mary and her friends had decided to explore the castle; for one always saw things different when older.

The castle was different. The once narrowing staircases that seem to just stretch for miles now seemed so short. The walls that once towered over her were now so small. But the wonder was just the same. Every nook. Every corner. If anything, for Mary, it was even more magical; walking up the winding staircases that her and Francis once played on.

She felt her cheeks heat. Francis. The years had done him quite well. He grew into his legs-she almost smacked herself: she couldn't believe she had said that! Way to be smooth, Mary-he now stood tall and proud. Of course, he had grown into other things too. Like his eyes. And his voice. And his hair...

As she reached the top of the staircase, she couldn't contain her excitement. The hall she found herself in was the very hall where she and Francis used to sleep when they were children. In fact, she could practically see the door to her childhood bedroom. She placed one hand against the wall, trailing it along the wood of the doors as she found herself lost in memories. In her mind, all her memories were happy, colorful pebbles that seemed to float untop the water; her memories were water lilies, precious, fragile, and commanding. They had a certain beauty of their own, that entrapped Mary in Hope.

As Mary's hand brushed the door of her old room, she gave a smile to nothing in particular then placed her second hand on the door and pushed it open. Francis looked up abruptly, his hunched form freezing as he leaned over the table, one hand clutching some sort of tool. Mary placed a shaking hand on her heart.

"Francis! You startled me."

"Mary..." Francis said slowly, as if he was trying to decide whether he were imagining something, "Mary," he said more stern. "Why...are you up here?"

Mary blinked. "What do you mean, 'why?' These used to be our old rooms, don't you remember?"

"Of course I do," Francis said. "But they aren't now. So likewise you shouldn't be here. No one comes up here or uses these rooms for anything."

"Except for you."

Francis faltered. "Well. Yes. I. I guess that's right."

Mary barely heard him; her eyes were drawn to the table he hunched over, and the tools in his hands. "What are you doing over there?" she asked, moving away from the door. She stepped into the room and stood beside Francis. "Are those swords?"

"Yes, actually. They are," Francis said slowly.

"Why are they up here?"

"I...I make them." Mary stared at him. A smile slowly made its to her lips.

"But why?" she asked, gently reaching around Francis to feel the cool metal of his weaponry.

"Because I am good at it, and because I want to be a great king."

"You will be a great king, however. There isn't a need for this," Mary motioned.

"I believe every king should have a skill, something that they are good at, and fall back on," Francis said to her.

"Leading is a skill, isn't it? Not a lot of people can lead a nation."

"I don't want a skill that defines me as a king. I want a skill that defines me as a man."

"I can milk a goat."

He paused.

"At least I know that if I ever lose the throne I'll have you to milk goats and my skill as a blacksmith," he muttered with a shake of his head.

Mary took a step back and frowned. She would protect him if there was an uproar; wasn't that going to be her job? "That wouldn't happen, Francis. If we ever had to leave the court, we could just go to Scotland, and rule there. I would look after you."

Francis looked up at her, and Mary got lost in the deepest eyes; she felt she couldn't breathe. There was a look on Francis's face; a look that she had yet to seem him use, that made her heart beat too fast and her knees weak. It wasn't feral. It was more than kind. It was something.

Something like kindness but weighted with something ten times stronger.

And then it was gone. Mary stared at Francis confused as he dropped his gaze and cleared his throat. "Yes, well. We should probably get out of here."

He didn't move. Francis stared at her expectantly.

He wants me to leave him, she realized. But she sensed it was more than that. So she nodded.

"Right - I should explore more of the castle elsewhere. It's a nice day to be outside." She smiled at him gently as she made her way to the door.

Closing the door softly behind her, Mary halted for a second, ear by the door frame, listening for...anything.

Then she heard it; an audible and shuddering breath that made hers hitch. She leaned her head against the door, right hand caressing the handle, and closed her eyes. She counted to seven, willing either Francis or herself to fling the door open and take one another into each other's arms. At seven she shook her head clear, and smiled again. Then she stepped away.

§

Francis felt his breath hitch when Mary past him. He held it fast; the scents of honey, vanilla, and lavender swirling all around him and clouding his senses.

He didn't watch her walk away, he merely waited, breath held, for the soft click that signaled she'd gone. Then, as if he had been a man struggling under water, Francis let his breath leave him. Hard. Fast.

She smelled so good. It was a weakness for him. How girls smelled. He loved a girl that smelled tantalizing. Mary smelled like more.

It wasn't as if he had never been with a woman before. He'd been with plenty; a girl's scent wasn't necessarily something that caught him off guard.

But Mary. Mary. Oh, Heaven help him. He didn't remember her smelling like that. How could he of not noticed when he greeted her at the castle gates?

He had noticed everything else. Like how her eyes lit up when they met his own. How soft the skin on the back of her hand was when brushed beneath his lips. How silky and soft her hair looked; her soft curves; how she grew into her voice.

Mary was beautiful. Perhaps beyond that if he were being honest. But he had seen beautiful before. There wasn't anything that separated her too much from anyone else; from his current lover. From his past ones.

Then there was that smell. That honey/lavender/vanilla seduction. That natural allure that he was sure she didn't even notice herself. That wasn't the same as any other girl he'd had vie for him.

It dawned on him that perhaps there was more to his fiancé than what he thought. Something...some imprint that she leaves in her wake, that no one could overlook.

Fiancee...the thought was like a the hilt of a sword into his stomach. He could feel the distaste rolling off his tongue. That's right. She and he were supposed to be getting married. Whether he liked it or not. To make an "alliance". A pact with Scotland. Marry Queen Mary of Scots and rule France as king with her as his consort bride. No choice. No discussion. For the sake of a kingdom or two.

Of course, he knew it wasn't just him in the marriage. Mary also had to marry him for her kingdom. But maybe he didn't want to marry without love. He saw how his father and mother were. How estranged their union was and how he favored Sebastian and his mother over any other. He didn't resent his half-brother for that or anything, but he had decided long ago that he wouldn't follow in his father's footsteps. If he were to marry, Francis knew that he wanted it to mean something. He wanted it to be real. For both his people and his heart.

And there was nothing real about an arranged marriage.

And nothing real about he and Mary. So what if she was beautiful, sweet, and smelled good?

Snap out of it, Francis, he told himself. He gave himself a firm shake of his head. Snap out of it. He combed his hand through his hair and realized he was shaking. She did that. Like she were some sort of witch. Is it possible to be bespelled by some girl who really only just met him? Of course not. How ridiculous. Magic was a bunch of cheap card tricks. It wasn't something he believed in.

He left the old room and slowly descended down the stairs. Her smell was still lingering. Not only in the hall, but in his mind.

As Francis made his way to his quarters, he paused near the hall that led to Mary's. He slowly walked towards it, then stopped, realizing that in just a few more feet he'd be in her hall and right there before her.

It frightened Francis, that although he had just told himself that he and Mary were not meant for one another, he was yearning to go to her. When she had told him that she would take care of him, it pulled at his heart. She would be a loving wife, and queen; she gave people her heart, and they were warmed by it. The power she had in her eyes, that earnestness, almost had him smitten.

But he wanted love. Not its illusion.

Francis clenched his jaw and turned on his heels, leaving to go to his own hall. When he approached his door, he had never felt as much relief as in the moment. Finally. A moment where he could just get away from all the distractions. He opened his door quickly and slipped inside. He didn't turn right away, placing his forehead against the cool wood.

"Francis."

The voice made his heart stop. Instant apprehension gripped him as he felt his muscles tense. He turned around quickly.

"Natalia. Why are you here? You know when we meet."

"I wanted to see you." The dark-haired girl took a few steps towards him.

"What if you were seen?" Francis told her. He rushed to her, and placed his hands on her shoulders. "With the queen here, Natalia..."

"No one saw me. They never see me." She reached a hand up to stroke his cheek. Francis flinched, then took her hand from his face, and held in his own.

"We can't. If we are found out-"

Natalia pressed her lips to his. "Shh, Francis. We won't be. We never will be," she declared, and Francis stared into her eyes, seeing that she meant her promise. Seeing more than he knew he could return. He inhaled quietly, and her smell hit him; roses. She always smelled of roses, and before he loved it. However now, the smell that haunted him was one more herbal, and much sweeter.

"Never, Francis," she repeated, and he nodded. Taking that as a hint, he guessed, Natalia pressed her lips to his again, leaving him one chaste kiss after another, until he felt a need to respond to her grow within him. Francis found himself threading his hands around her waist, and pulling her to him desperately. Whether it was because of her, or because of something-or someone-else, he didn't want to say.

As Natalia's hands tugged his shirt gently from his trousers, there was a knock on his door. Francis began to pull away, but Natalia shook her head, and he halted, still kissing her. When the knock sounded again, he pushed her, albeit gently away from him, and put his finger to his lips. He then walked to the door.

It was Mary, beaming at him.

"Mary."

"Francis! ...May I come in? I have something-"

"What are you doing here?" he snapped at her. "I am busy."

The look she gave him was enough to freeze his heart. But he wouldn't let it. He wouldn't dare. He watched as the smile fell from her face.

"Next time, have yourself announced."

"But Francis, I found you something, for your knives and your swords, and-" she paused. "Why do you have the door cracked like that? Is someone in there with you?" she moved her head to see around him, but Francis simply straightened more against the door so she could not. He watched as she pursed her lips.

"We are to be married. That is not how you should speak to me," she said slowly.

Francis stared hard at her, guilt assaulting him, and a strong desire to apologize, fall at her feet, and beg forgiveness from her. He didn't know why it was there, and he cursed himself. She would not do this to him. She would not make him feel this way.

"You're right, we are to be married," he said angrily to her, "And here's a tip for you, if you are to be the queen: Kings do not answer to their wives." Without waiting to see her expression, lest he kiss it away, he shut the door in her face.

He leaned against it; he felt weakened. When he heard her walk away, he rubbed his hands over his face, balling them into fists. Dammit. Dammit. Damn you, Mary Stuart.

He hadn't meant to sat those things to her. He hadn't meant to hurt her.

He felt more than heard Natalia make her way to him. She tried to wrap her arms around his back. "It's okay," she crooned. "Francis, she is gone now, and it is just you and I again. Like it should be."

Francis looked down at her snuggled against his chest, and for a brief second, he saw Mary in Natalia's eyes. He shut his eyes quickly and shook his head, speaking quietly.

"Get out."

He felt Natalia tense against him. "Don't be silly."

"I'm not. Natalia, you must go."

"I don't understand."

He shook his head again. He reached for her arms, and disentangled himself from her. "You. Need. To. Leave." He stood away from the door, then opened it just enough for her to slip through.

Natalia stared at him. "You told me she would never affect us. You said-"

"Natalia!" Francis yelled. "Get out, or get hauled out. Just go."

Natalia lowered her eyes. She stood there for a moment, but then she stalked past him, and out the door. Francis eagerly closed it.

§

Sebastian trot alongside the woods, staring hard, wishing that he could stare into its depths from his distance, and see every danger that lie inside it, and what those dangers were doing now. He sighed deeply, looking down, and shook his head. He was a son of the French Court. He may have been a bastard, but he still had reason to be strong. He would not let himself be drawn to the forest's darkness.

When he turned to face the castle, he saw a dark-haired girl sitting on a log, alone with her dog. It was Mary Stuart. Francis' fiance, and future queen of France. His future queen.

Of course, Francis, Sebastian knew, had other thoughts and ideas about the marriage. It had nothing to do with age. Being fifteen, marriage was more than probable. It was of age. No, what bothered Francis was whether or not the marriage with Mary would be good for France. Sebastian knew that Francis had a strong love for his country, and his people. It was its interests above his own. Always. Marrying Mary, Francis sometimes told him, might not promise that, or the want to experience what it meant to truly love. Sebastian wondered when Francis would tell Mary how he didn't intend to marry her.

Just then, it occurred to Sebastian that he was watching her. The way she sat on the log in good posture, how her long, dark tresses fell down her back. The way she pet her dog. She was very graceful, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Sebastian almost felt as if he could just stand there and not mind it. Of course, that wasn't proper.

He watched as Mary's dog snapped its head in the direction of the forest. It stuck its tongue out, panting. Then it barked, and ran; and the young queen ran after it.

"No, come back! Sterling! Don't go in there! Sterling!" As Mary's dog ran into the forest, Mary was right behind. And almost a length's way from Sebastian. Of course, he didn't believe she would go in there. The woods were not for the living-or the royal. But it became evident, the closer and closer she got to him, that she didn't plan on halting. Sebastian quickly got off his steed and went after her.

"Don't go in there, Mary. Mary. Mary!" Sebastian reached for her, pulling her to him, and shook her gently. She startled. She hadn't noticed him.

"Young girls; royals-queens-do not leave the castle alone."

"But my dog..."

"It shall return." He searched her eyes. Her wide eyes searched his own, and he was suddenly overcome with just how beautiful a brown they were. How fitting that the queen of Scotland had eyes the color of the hearth. "Do not go into the woods. Do you hear me?"

She gave him a hard stare. "Why not?" she asked slowly. "What's in there?"

He could tell that he had piqued her interest. That wasn't good. The woods were a place best left alone. For anyone. Everyone. What was in those woods could kill any person. Any creature. He set his lips in a grim line.

"What is it? What is in those woods, besides my dog - whom I would have caught, if you hadn't stopped me - ?"

Sebastian couldn't help but be somewhat amused by her curiosity. Mary Stuart had an inquisitive mind, and a bold tongue. He felt a twinge of admiration towards her. "Your dog," he told her, avoiding her questions, "will find its way back. There is food and water-shelter-at the castle; who wouldn't want to stay there?" Good; answer a question with a question. He stared at her face again. He felt a curious smile tug at the corner of his mouth.

"Except for perhaps...you?" He asked her. "You'd rather be at the convent, would you-eating porridge and trudging through mud."

He saw something flicker behind her eyes. She looked up into his own again, a smile beginning to grace her lips. "I happen to like how mud feels under foot."

"Take you back to the nuns; maybe for...misbehaving." He smirked at her. Teased her.

She placed a hand on her hip, and the corner of his eye was drawn to her curves. He eyed them quickly.

"You're cheeky," she told him.

"And you're upset about more than your dog taking a jaunt in the wild." She looked away again, and he added more softly, "What is it." A statement, not a question. Flowing so smoothly through his lips, that it surprised himself. He hoped she wouldn't be taken back. Hoped she wouldn't notice his slip, or the way he had casually found his hands rubbing up and down her arms, her skin obviously soft, even through the sleeves of her dress.

She laughed, but the sound was humorless. "Ask your brother."

He raised his eyebrows. Perhaps Francis had already told her. "Ask him what?"

"...Why he has to be such a moody, arrogant arse," she said quietly, looking up at him tentatively through her lashes. He felt himself grin. She grinned back at him. Despite her being the queen and Francis' fiance, he found himself wanting to flirt with her. Get to know her. Make her smile. She was really quite stunning. Her eyes, lips, and hair. How fair her skin was. Up close, she was even more gorgeous than he had thought when she arrived earlier that day.

"By the way, we are half brothers; just so you know," he replied with a raised brow. "Nothing in common, save our father. But, I will tell Francis of your...discontent."

She smiled wryly at him. "Don't bother." She turned to walk away.

He didn't want her to go just yet. His mind scrambled frantically. Come on, Sebastian, old boy-think. Think, damn it. "And, I will bring back your dog," he blurted, which made her pause.

She turned back to look at him, and for another moment he was graced with looking at the gorgeous lips that looked so plump and soft. He felt his heart stutter within his chest. Giving him one last glance, she turned, and walked back towards the castle, leaving Sebastian alone.

He stared at the wood's lining, heart palpitations slowly regulating, tension working its way through his body, and set his jaw. The dog, Sterling, probably entered the woods because he smelled the blood.

Sebastian looked to the sky. The sun was slowly setting. If he were to enter the woods now, chances are he would not find the dog in time before the Francis' sister's wedding. Damn. He didn't really even want to attend it. But he was somewhat of royal blood. Maybe not a legitimate dauphin, but it was something, and thus he had obligations.

He could wait until after the revelry, and while everyone was too busy dancing, discreetly step out, and return here. He knew it was a much more riskier option, but it was the better one. He didn't wish to not uphold his word to Mary. True, he had never said when he would search for her dog, but knowing that the sooner Sterling was returned to her, the better she would feel, warmed his heart in a way he had never felt before.

He found himself not wanting her to feel alone. He didn't want her to feel saddened that she was away from the convent, or unhappy during her stay at French Court, which may possibly be forever. He wanted her to see the French Court as her home. He wanted her to see she belonged. He wanted Mary to see him.

The thought was like a sudden jolt throughout his body; so that was what his intrigue was? He found it to be highly irrational-after all, she had returned to the court just hours earlier. He couldn't believe that he was smitten so quickly. He was never smitten so quickly.

It was a start though, that much he would admit. Rather than be afraid or ashamed of it, he found himself quite amused. He, Sebastian, was developing feelings for the Queen of Scots, his brother's bride-to-be; what were the odds of such a thing?

§

The wedding was to be expected; the exchange of vows, the chaste promises of eternal love; the share of the goblet. After every wedding comes celebration.

Sebastian stood among the crowd watching the newly wed couple dance. It was the first dance of the revelry, and the dance which signified it. Some watched the dancing couple as they performed ritual; others chattered, and spoke among themselves, drinking wine and dining. Sebastian had no desire for the weak wine or the wedding entrees; instead he watched the dance floor, watched Francis' sister dance with her husband, and wondered if their love was real.

As the wedding dance came to a close, he saw her; Mary, and her ladies-in-waiting, arm in arm, skipping onto the dance floor. No one else had yet to step into its center, and now no one of the French Court did, watching the Scottish Queen dance with her friends without shoes. It wasn't a traditional dance, but one done in village pubs and festivals.

And it never looked so graceful. Sebastian watched, enchanted at the young queen. Normally, one of Mary's status would never act out in such a fashion. But not her. She was different. He had heard the rumors around the court, that it was because she was Scottish and raised in the convent, and perhaps it were true. Yet, Sebastian felt as if it were so much more than that.

Perhaps it was just her. How God had made her. Her spirit so wild, so young, and so free. She was glowing, dancing with her friends as if she had not a care in the world-as if she were not a queen, but merely a girl, and Sebastian found himself wondering if Mary knew that it was not custom or proper for a queen to dance that way. Then he wondered if she would care. She would probably question it, asking dozens of questions, demanding who made it as such, that queens could not be themselves.

Laughter suddenly sounded all around him, and before Sebastian knew it, the women of the French Court too took off their shoes and skipped onto the floor, charmed by the Scottish girls. Sebastian didn't blame them. Perhaps if he were also female he would also have joined in.

Sebastian saw all the dancing girls around him. This was the charm of Mary Stuart, this natural, shining glow that touched everything in her wake. Perhaps that was why he found himself so drawn to her, and the reason why he had done nothing but think of her since their exchange outside the woods, and why the smells of lavender, vanilla, and honey had repeatedly brought him to the kitchen quarters for most of the day.

Mary's black dress, which hugged her curves modestly yet noticeably, and drew a sharp contrast against her skin, rose as a fan around her as she twirled in the center of the floor. He watched as she raised her arms high above her, eyes closed, feeling the charm of the music. Letting herself become succumbed to it. And likewise he watched her, blatantly and not minding, enjoying the show. Enjoying her. She was contagious, that was sure.

Then mid-twirl she looked over in his direction. Sebastian had always wondered if coincidence and fate were real, but he was sure in that moment, as her face turned his way, and her eyes instantly set on his. He didn't look away, nor did he waiver. He stared back at her, determined to let her see all that was there. His amusement, his fascination, and he wondered if she would hear him calling her beautiful if he passed it through his stare. She didn't turn away from his eyes either, and suddenly he couldn't notice much. He knew, of course, that others were around them, but he had trapped her in his gaze, and he was going to do all he could to keep her there.

But when the feathers fell her head snapped up to the ceiling. He watched as her mouth opened in surprise. He watched as a smile elated her face, as she held out her hands, palms upward, to catch the feathers falling. Then she looked in a different direction, and stood there, immobile. Lost. He looked in her direction, and noticed Francis standing there, looking just as lost as she.

Perhaps they were sharing a memory, of a time when they were young. But it didn't matter. His eyes went back to Mary. Watching her. Memorizing her. Sebastian knew he couldn't deny it. He was absolutely enchanted. Even as he watched her take a step towards his brother, only to be roused from her fantasy by one of her friends, who leaned her face towards hers, then grabbed Mary's hand, and hauled her away.

Sebastian watched Mary leave. He wasn't so possessed by his fancy to the point where her attraction to Francis bothered him, but he was glad that she was no longer bespelled by him. When he could no longer see even a linger of Mary's hair in the room, he discreetly started moving from the hall. After all, his main reason for being there had just gone.

§

His horse neighed softly in protest, as Sebastian traveled deeper into the woods. Sword securely in its sheathe on his side, Sebastian searched the woods cautiously. The air in the woods was too chill. The under current of death a chill that may way down his spine. He clacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth quietly in an effort to calm down his steed.

It had been hours since he had entered the woods. In fact, it was almost morning. He hadn't left last night as he had planned because he knew it would be dangerous. So when he had got up that morning he waited until early evening, then left the castle.

He had been riding through the woods for hours. Hours; and Sterling had yet to be found. Sebastian did not like to admit defeat, but perhaps this was a fruitless venture. What if Sterling was already dead? It was in his best interest to turn around and return to the castle, lest he rode farther into the wood's forestry, and stumbled upon the trap of a vagrant.

But that would mean failing Mary. After what Sebastian had seen at the revelry the night before, failing her was something he knew he never wanted to do. He urged his horse forward.

The more restless his horse became, the more Sebastian knew they were getting closer to the woods' darkness. They were almost at the heart of the woods. The heart, filled with sinister things.

There was suddenly a giant tree before him, blocking the center of his path. It's full branches stretched as far as he could see, twisting, winding; like bony fingers beckoning he and his horse into it. To its slaughter.

They were there. The heart of the forest.

Sebastian stared at the flower petals that graced the ground. He didn't want to look too closely at the tree. He didn't want to. He had to do it often when he was a child. He didn't want to do it anymore. There wasn't a much blood on the fallen petals like there was along the tree. He was safe from the nightmares, so long as he didn't stare at the tree.

But he knew that didn't do him any good. He was there for a friend. For someone important. For Mary. He would keep his word. Holding his reins in one hand, and touching the hilt of his sword with the other, Sebastian raised his head. And saw Sterling. Lapping at the blood and the bodies that coated the body of the tree.

It was taboo to walk up to the tree; he'd be left at their mercy. Anything could happen to him, and he had no doubt they were watching him. But he stepped down anyway, with the thin rope he had brought with him and tied around his waist.

Sebastian approached the tree slowly. Never show weakness when in the woods. Never show fear. It fed off of it, and it killed the one who felt it. He willed himself to appear valiant.

"Sterling," he said in a low voice. "Sterling. Come here. Here, boy." When Sterling didn't do so much as lift his head, Sebastian hissed, "Sterling! Right now!"

Sterling lifted his head.

"Come boy."

Sterling ran over to him.

Sebastian got on one knee and began to pet him. "Good boy," he crooned. Sterling started licking his face, and although he his mouth had just been in putrid, Sebastian let him. He untied the rope from around his waist, and stealthily tied it around Sterling's neck. He then wiped Sterling's face, in case he had blood along his nose. He would make Sterling drink from the lake once they were back at the castle. Standing, Sebastian pulled Sterling with him, mounted his horse, and trotted back through the woods with Sterling in tow.

He was grateful the woods didn't claim his body too. This time.

§

He slowly led Sterling through the castle halls, trying to be effectively quiet, but somewhat failing as the dog kept periodically licking his lips, still tasting the water on his tongue. When he reached the steps that led to the royal halls, Sebastian somewhat bounced up them, light and quick in his steps, with Sterling following behind.

Mary's room had been the first stop. He planned to knock, gently and quietly, and wait for her to open the door. Then, she once she had, she would have seen her dog in his hands, and she would have smiled a smile just as bright as the ones he had seen at the wedding. Sebastian could not wait for it.

But when he had got to her chambers, he had found them empty. When the guard told him where she was, that was where he went, eager to see her, and speak with her.

He was surprised for a brief moment to see her at the top of the stairs. Again, Sebastian wondered if fate and coincidence were working in his favor, granting him these chance meetings. If that were the case, he silently thanked them. Sterling whined, and he heard Mary gasp.

"Sterling!" she cried. "Oh, you've found him!"

Once he was at the top of the steps, he let the dog go, and watched it run to its master. Mary dropped to her knees and flung her arms around the dog's neck, petting it, obviously happy. He smiled at her gently. But there was something else. Something off about her.

Sebastian watched as she buried her face into the dog's neck and then realized the distinct glitter of tear stains on her cheeks.

"What do I do, Sterling? What do I do?" she pondered quietly, and Sebastian watched her, his own heart filling with pain. She looked up at him then, eyes glossy. "I'm sorry...it's just so hard," she told him, admitted to him, voice heavy with emotion.

"I know," he answered gently. He stated down at her. He wished he could lean forward and wipe away her tears. He wished he could take her hands in his and pull her to him, holding her in his arms. To let her feel his assurance that he would be there for her; that she would be okay.

"It's a lot harder than I thought it would be."

"You are not alone here."

She stared at him, startled. "I have my friends."

Was that a defense? A firm statement made to convince herself or him? Sebastian knew about the attempt on Mary's chasity. How she had seeked counsel with the his father and the queen. Did she feel as of she had to make the statement aloud, to feel as if it were true? He took a silent breath in, for courage, and felt a bashful smile cross his features.

"I was not talking about your friends."

She met his eyes again, and he straightened his posture, making himself feel braver than he felt, admitting such a thing. When it came to Mary, he found himself nervous, enchanted, bold-all at once. It was an elated feeling.

Even more than the emotion that washed over him, was how she couldn't look away from his eyes. He wasn't an idiot. He saw how she looked at him. It was the very same way he looked at her. And he liked how it made him feel. How she made him feel. Be it the second day of her arrival or not.

His eyes flickered up for just a second, and he halted. There was his mother, staring at him. Watching them. He made his face a blank mask, and looked at Mary again.

"I meant, I hope you are well, Your Grace." He bowed slightly.

He knew Mary wasn't fooled by his sudden change in attitude towards her. She stood then, regal, and just as respectful as he.

"Thank you, Sebastian." She gave him a stare, and he understood. The fondness, the bond, and silent understanding that was passing between them. "Really."

He gave her a slight nod, and watched as she turned away, and walked down the steps. Watching her go, he wanted to chase after her, and accompany her. He felt so much...want for her. For Mary.

But he stayed where he was, if only for the fact being that his mother was about to speak to him.

When she walked up, he turned to her. "Hello, Mother," Sebastian said.

"Where did you find the dog?" his mother asked him crossly.

"In the woods." Then, "It was drawn to the blood."

She stared hard at him. "How close did you get?" she demanded. Sebastian looked away. He wouldn't tell her that he was so close he could reach out and touch it. Never. No way.

He didn't need to. "Be careful, my brave son," his mother said to him coldly. "Or you will bleed for a girl who will never be yours." He met her glare.

And suddenly he was reminded of his title. Of Mary's. Of the impossibility of it all. He knew he was an illegitimate; no one had to tell him. But he didn't care about that, or the throne, in the least. He was taught from the beginning it would never be his, and that he would never be crowned. He didn't let it bother him.

However now, it did. It bothered him to the point where he could no longer stand beside his mother, hearing her words to him. It bothered him to the point where he wanted to curse her; demand why she had to have been his father's mistress, and made him the bastard who could never have the chance of having what he wanted most right then.

So jaw clenching, he turned away. He walked away from his mother without a word, and down the hall to his chambers. He angrily opened the door and shut it. Sebastian then stalked to his window, where he stared out at the castle grounds with haunted eyes.

He had already knew that, damn it. It wasn't necessary for her to tell him.


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