Tidbit Tuesday: Betting on Myself

I came home, damp from a drizzly afternoon of battling slave traders along the Wounded Coast, to find the Prince-in-Exile of Starkhaven standing near the fire talking to my dog.

Mabari war hounds are widely known for their ability to understand what is said to them and obey complex commands but not for their sparkling wit. It was getting a little ridiculous how often I found one of my friends chatting with him of an evening. If they hadn’t often stayed for a drink and a game of cards I might have started to think they liked him better.

Prince Vael’s swept-back hair still sparkled from the light rain, showing he hadn’t been here long. His back was to the door and he hadn’t heard me enter. I kicked off my boots, wincing at the noise their mailed tips made in the corner, while I loosened or removed what armor I could without being thoroughly indecent. Then I stepped into the room, pretending to be preoccupied with a stubborn buckle, and bumped lightly into his back.

“Sebastian! What are you doing in my parlor?”

“Hawke!” He turned his enormous cobalt eyes on me, eyebrows arched in surprise. Clearly he hadn’t heard the clatter in the foyer. I fought back my usual urge to lick that aquiline nose as he straightened. “I was waiting for you.” He made some chit-chat about how winning the loyalty of a Mabari indicated nobility in my home country of Ferelden. I cocked my head to the right, fixing a questioning look on my face.

“Why are you so interested in verifying that I’m a noblewoman, Sebastian?”

I teased him lightly, as I did at every opportunity. True to form he blushed, the smooth skin of his cheeks turning pink while the tips of his ears achieved a much deeper red. He stammered some response, tugging at the collar of the padded jacket normally covered with the shiny, white armor that Isabela used as a mirror both because our darling prince kept it so spotless and because her staring at his chest, hidden though it was, made him exceedingly ill at ease. It also gave her an excuse to place her ample cleavage in double view for him which had more than once cause him to leave the room abruptly.

I did so love to discomfit the man and Isabela often joined me in making him squirm behind the enameled face of Andraste that hung at his groin. Though he’d been sworn a chaste brother of the Chantry we all knew he’d abandoned his vows when his family had been murdered to pursue the killers and the throne. As far as we were concerned that made him fair game. Yet he lived up there, atop one of the two peaks in Kirkwall, sleeping in the dormitory with those who still held to their own promises of purity. That made him a challenge as well.

With a voice thick and sweet as clotted cream and a noble brow that begged for kisses he had inspired an on-going campaign to get him out of that armor. Even Varric joined in, helping us to create entendre out of innocent remarks, just to see the prince wriggle in shame at finding such comments as delicious as they were inappropriate. And here he was, as vulnerable as I’d ever seen him, standing in my house. I was hardly one to waste such an opportunity.

“I did want to discuss something with you,” I said, gesturing for him to follow. I tossed my gloves on the table near Sandal as I passed and the little imp winked at me. Enchantment, indeed!

Sebastian walked into the drawing room and I closed the door behind us. There was no need to advertise to the servants what I intended, whether or not they figured it out for themselves. He stood near the fire, watching me expectantly. I smiled and walked over, stopping a handbreadth away from him. I judged it just far enough that he wouldn’t step back at my approach but still close enough to hear the hiss of his in-drawn breath.

He looked down at me, looking a little curious and still somewhat flushed. That half-smile he often wore when he was unsure tugged at the left corner of his mouth. I had to lower my eyes for a moment to control myself, though the exposed base of his throat was nearly as tempting. Seeing my hesitation, he spoke softly. “Is something wrong, Hawke?”

I looked up, catching his eyes with mine, pouting a little. The silence drew out for a moment as I considered how to begin. Finally I said, “Sebastian, you have to stop teasing me like this.”

He started a little, coloring deeply. “Hawke, I’m sorry if you think I…”

“It’s cruel,” I interrupted as though he’d never started. “These banters you have with Isabela and me, these unexpected visits to my home…you seem to mean something and yet you never approach me directly.”

His mouth hung open a little as he searched for a response and I resisted the urge to capture that tasty lower lip. I could see he was casting his mind back over our conversations, recalling interactions in which we’d twisted something he’d said into a ribald jest.

His eyes showed how he began to doubt his own innocence in those exchanges. Of course he knew that all of our friends were in and out of my home regularly, invited or no. Yet he reconsidered his intentions. I took advantage of his momentary speechlessness.

“And you come tonight, half-dressed, to tempt me more.” Laughter threatened to overwhelm my carefully-controlled tone and I had to stop for a moment, breaking eye contact to look at anything but that reddened, confused face, those lips that waited to be nibbled. The choked sound that escaped me as I quickly turned my face to the fire must have sounded much less merry to Sebastian. He touched my shoulder gently.

“I want…” He cleared his throat and started over, “I can’t…”

My eyes had teared up in earnest from suppressing hilarity at my own audacity. I took a deep, shuddery breath, stuffing my laughter, and looked back into his face. He looked concerned more than confused, now, and what he’d intended to say died on his lips as our gazes locked again.

I shifted a bit as though uncomfortable and slid even closer to him. The sharp smell of soap came to me over the more masculine scent of his skin. Our faces were inches apart and something new had come into his eyes, something altogether disallowed by his forsaken vows.

My amusement faded as I searched his face, reminding myself that this game had begun because he was, in fact, an incredibly attractive man. Heat built between us as we stood, not quite touching, unable to speak. Finally, I reached up and grabbed the top of that thickly-furred jacket, pulling him down the last little distance and kissing him deeply.

I never did find out what he’d been waiting to discuss with me.

The next day I informed Isabela that she owed me ten sovereigns and she called me a liar. Three days later Sebastian moved into some rooms in Hightown. Isabela paid up and bought me a pint. Then we set our sights on Fenris, double or nothing.

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