It had become a regular thing before he realized it.

At first only one evening a week had found Sebastian knocking on Hawke’s door, offering a wan smile to Bodahn and whatever assistance he could think of. The frequency of those visits grew to nearly every night–and extended earlier and earlier into his days–after he saw how much work needed tending, both in and out of the house.

At first, he’d tried to see Hawke, to give whatever comfort he could offer her, but she saw no one. Orana left trays of food outside her door that sometimes were cleared, but more often than he liked, they remained unchanged, sitting lonely in the hall before her bedroom.

So he offered his help to the people she employed.

Orana manned the kitchen and most of the cleaning, and though he made himself available to her should she need an extra hand, she rarely called upon him. (She did when ingredients were on too high a shelf, or when she needed something heavy shifted to cook or clean.) He insisted she divide the menial cleaning duties evenly with him until she relented.

He helped Bodahn sort through Hawke’s mail, and even managed to reduce the ever-increasing piles left on her desk by deftly recognizing and removing unnecessary or fraudulent missives. While Sandal and Faolan, Hawke’s mabari, usually entertained themselves, Sebastian was never one to refuse focusing attention to either.

Helping the others who lived at Hawke’s estate did not take up the bulk of his days there; much of them were spent outside on the grounds and in the now-neglected garden. Neither Bodahn nor Orana had much of a green thumb, and both had other duties to attend, and Sebastian knew that Hawke herself would not–perhaps could not–take care of them. The gardens had been her mother’s place of solace. He saw the remnants of a vegetable garden unprepared for winter, and its companion herb garden overgrown and choked by weeds; once tidy rows of ornamental flowers now were unruly, lining an overgrown path he would have missed had he not nearly tripped over one of the flat stones in the middle of it, marking its course.

He spent much of the warming days outside in the garden (beneath some of her bedroom windows) working with the plants and soil and humming soft tunes from his youth. Most nights, he fell asleep in a chair in her library, exhausted, and Faolan curled up by his feet or beneath his hand.

One particularly hot day, two months after he’d started coming as part of his daily routine, Sebastian stopped in the early afternoon, before the sun reached its worst hours. Taking a cup of cool water with him, he went to the library to pick up a book he’d found on the history of Ferelden that he was making his way through, only to discover Hawke sitting on the edge of a chair. He nearly dropped his cup out of surprise.

A soft croak reached his ears, and he realized he had tried to say her name and failed. Shoulders slumped forward, her head was bowed over her hands, looking at something she was holding. He set his cup down on a table by the doorway and managed to take one step before a sudden twist in his gut halted his feet.

Sebastian drew in a slow breath, steadied his voice in his chest before it ever left him. “Hawke?”

Her head whipped around, long auburn hair in unkempt locks about her face and her eyes sunken and shadowed. What startled him most was their color–or lack of it. Where once they were a vibrant, laughing blue, now the color looked as if it’d been leeched from them, leaving a pale memory instead.

“How long have you been here?”

He hesitated. “Only a few hours today. I can leave if you wish–”

Today?” The hitch in Hawke’s voice nearly shattered his heart. “How… how often have you… while I…” She didn’t finish.

He took another step forward, stumbling over his words instead of his feet. “Please forgive the forwardness of–the presumption of my presence, I only… I thought I might help.”

His words seemed to fall on deaf ears, and Hawke’s face twisted, her hands grasping the arms of the chair like it was the only thing anchoring her.

“So much I have not noticed,” she whispered, her words fracturing. “Too much. I should have noticed, I should have seen. But I didn’t. I was blind.” She closed her eyes, tears welling along the line of her lashes. The knuckles of her fingers were white and shaking. “I should have seen–should have seen–”

Sebastian didn’t know when he had started walking again, but now he was less than a stride away from her and hesitated, unsure if she would welcome any closer proximity, but then sank to one knee and reached out, placing his hand on the arm of the chair next to hers.

“It is not your fault,” he told her gently.

Her eyes flew open and desperately searched his. “I should have. I could have stopped her from meeting him, stopped him from–from–”

As her breaths dissolved into hiccuping tears, Sebastian could think of nothing he could say, and so instead shifted closer and wrapped his hand around both of hers. Her skin was cold to his touch and she leaned her head into his collarbone, crying quietly. He remained still, resting his head against the back of the chair.

After a time, she whispered something he didn’t catch.

“Hawke?” he ventured softly, still not moving.

“Don’t… please don’t go. Not just yet. I don’t… I don’t want to be alone anymore. Not right now.”

He squeezed her hands a little. “I won’t.”