Sebastian’s chair was the perfect distance from the fire, the muffled pattering of the rain against closed windows a soporific rhythm. He’d leaned his head back some time ago–he wasn’t quite sure how long–and the book in his hands rested lightly in his lap.

Fenris’ quiet voice rumbled from the other side of the library, where it was his custom now to sit with Hawke as he learned to read. Sebastian accompanied him often, walking together through Hightown to have a good meal with Hawke in her estate and to take advantage of the collection of books the Amell family had amassed through the generations.

Today, however, he could not keep his eyes open. The chill from walking through the rain outside melted blissfully away from his bones–except for the lingering ache in his right knee–as he sat by the fire, and after he realized he’d read the same paragraph three times, Sebastian relented and closed his eyes. Just for a bit.

Distantly, he registered Hawke and Fenris talking softly, and his consciousness floated nearer to waking, listening to them but unwilling yet to move.

“… collect our friend and leave you in peace for tonight?”

“Let him be for now. I’ll make sure he gets back in one piece later.”

“Very well. Goodnight, Hawke.”

Sebastian could imagine Fenris tipping his head to her in one small motion, in the way that he had. A subtle show of respect most people did not warrant from him. He did not hear Fenris leave, the other’s soft, bare footfalls too quiet for Sebastian’s drowsy senses to pick up, but he thought he caught the faint, careful latch of a door closing.

A soft hum drifted behind his chair, and soon after he sensed Hawke’s nearness leaning over him.

“Sebastian.”

His name was no more than a breath from her, and though he was mostly awake now, he could tell it was not her intent to try and wake him.

She sighed above him.

“I wish we had met before–no,” she whispered. “I can’t say that. I am glad you are here, now, as you are. I just wish you would stay.”

A cord drew taut down the middle of his chest, straight through his stomach, and a strange, sharp ache filled the emptiness between his hands and where they touched the book still in his lap. He had to do something before she heard the thudding of his heart and knew he was awake, hearing things he ought not to hear.

Slowly, deliberately, Sebastian shifted as if uncurling from sleep, lengthening his spine and arms into a stretch. Blearily blinking his eyes, he looked first toward the fire, then, pretending to sense her presence for the first time, he languidly looked back at her. She’d moved a few paces away, a more decorous distance from the man asleep in her library chair.

“Forgive me, Hawke,” he rumbled, voice thicker with sleep. “I must have dozed.”

She smiled at him, and for once he could not tell if it was genuine or one of the many guises she maintained.

“It’s all right. Care for some tea before you leave?”

The cord in him twisted a few notches tighter, out of guilt and deception. He should not have heard her, and he could not bring himself to confess.

“Yes,” he said instead. “Tea would be nice.”