He was used to being lonely. Growing up the King's bastard ensured that he was constantly surrounded by others while being completely alone. His mother was often sent away to one of her various chateaus. Sometimes he'd be sent with her, but often, his father kept him around for what he now realizes was his own amusement. He was a plaything for his father, not as valuable as his legitimate royal siblings. He knew his father loved him, but he also knew his father was the King. And Kings don't let love get in the way of ambition.
As Catherine de Medici bore more children, he grew in his loneliness. His desire as the oldest to protect his half-siblings left little space in his head to care for himself. But he was used to it. He found ways to occupy the loneliness.
Being the dashing son of the king made him favorable with many young ladies of court. He knew he'd never marry any of them, for he was title-less and nothing more than an accident of his parent's recklessness. Yet that didn't stop the girls from coming to his bed. The sex was meaningless, and he knew most of them only slept with him in hopes of getting to his father or brother.
His brother was at one point the only person who didn't make him feel lonely. Francis was his younger brother, but they were so close in age that they experienced everything together-well nearly everything. While Bash learned how to hunt, Francis learned Latin. When Bash was learning how to shave, Francis learned how to command the servants shave him. They were alike in all ways except their mothers and their destinies. So alike that they both fell for the same girl. He used to think nothing would come between them until Mary. Yes, she was beautiful, beautiful and royal. Destined to be Francis' wife and queen since childhood. He had no hopes of being with her, yet he took solace in the feeling of being around her. The opposite of loneliness.
And then his mothers plot to legitimize him and take Francis' place happened. It all happened in such a rush, that before he knew it, he found himself the Dauphin and Mary his fiancée. But of course, as good things usually do for him, it all ended. He rode off into the woods to sulk in Mary's choosing Francis over him.
-He never expected that when he returned to court, he'd be forced to marry one of her ladies-in-waiting. Bash was a good, honorable man, and would do as his father and king commanded. He'd had one conversation with her before, and, like everyone else, only knew of her as his father's mistress.
"Your father is a confusing man," she said.
"Yes he is," Bash replied.
"Is he a punishing man if he doesn't get the exact thing he wants the moment he wants it."
"Hard to imagine a more uncomfortable conversation about one's father."
"You don't even know what I'm talking about specifically."
"I know exactly what you're talking about," he paused. "His attention drifted to you and now it's drifting elsewhere, am I right?"
He offered her the bottle he had been nursing, and she took a swift swig of the ungodly liquor.
"He's not punishing you; he's playing you," Bash continued. "He likes to play, and he likes to win, but know this about him: a victory without effort is worse than a defeat."
There was no doubt she was beautiful, but his heart loved someone else. Still, he took marriage seriously, and seeing as he was stuck in it, he would do his best to be a good husband to Kenna.
"I Sebastian, take this woman to be my lawful wife, under the eyes of God, from this day forward."
That meant protecting her from his father, the Darkness, the plague, even himself sometimes. His loneliness consumed him, but he couldn't let it consume his wife, shallow and flirty as she may be.
She surprised him in many ways. Her care towards his grandmother's ring, the way her maternal instincts took over with Pascal, and especially the way she made him feel loved. He knew he was not the titled man she'd expected, but he knew she'd fallen in love with him, and he her.
"I don't know what my place is here anymore," he said the night of his father's death.
"Your place is with me," she replied.
"No I meant- "
"I know what you meant. You don't need your father's name or to slay every dragon to be worth something. You've done enough, you are enough. Now you deserve some happiness of your own."
"I think I've found it in you. I love you."
"I love you too."
"What a miracle."
Sex with Kenna was nothing like he'd ever done before. In the past, he'd never look at the girl, sometimes he'd never even learn their name. It made him feel less bad that way. But with her, he wanted-needed to know every crevice of her body, every place that his touch made her weak, every spot where they fit perfectly together. With her he never had any inclinations to leave bed before the sun rose and she woke up. He felt peace when he'd open his eyes and see his wife, smell his wife, feel his wife lying safely next to him. Sometimes he forgot that they'd been forced upon one another. The love she showed him, despite there being plenty of reasons for her not to, made him fall in love with her.
"Look at me. Am I the only one in this bed with something to forget?"
"What do you mean?"
"When you're with me, I want to be the only one inside your head. I want you to look into my eyes and see only me. I want you to always remember what I feel like, so that when you're using your fingers for some other task, you'll wish they were touching me instead."
"I will," he grunted.
"I want you to always remember what it feels like to be with your wife."
No, with her, it wasn't just sex. It was pure, magical, unadulterated lovemaking.
He knew that no matter what, Mary would never be able to love him the way Kenna did. And as time progressed, he found he no longer cared if she did. His heart was completely, unequivocally, Kenna's.
So much so, that he found it harder to resist the jealous feelings whenever men looked at her or flirted with her. She was a goddess walking on earth, and he knew he wasn't the only man who thought so. His own father, the king, had bedded her, why wouldn't any other man? Most of the time, his jealousy lent itself to both of their favors. Men felt as though they could touch her or holler at her whenever they chose. Bash would swiftly remind them that was not the case, before taking her back to their chambers and letting the jealous feelings fuel their desire for one another. But those were just ordinary men.
He'd felt his old walls build up when King Antoine arrived, when he saw the way the man looked at his wife. He told himself that if given the choice, she would pick Antoine over him because of what he could give her.
"I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your hands off my wife."
So, he'd run off. Go on missions claiming it was in the name of the king, his brother, when really, it was his fears sabotaging the one good thing that he'd ever had. He'd blame her past mistakes and relationship with his father, make her feel like she was in the wrong. He wanted her to have everything she wanted, so in his own, self-destructive ways, he set her free. He knew that she'd never truly leave him for Antoine, but it was easier to act as though she did. She'd be free of him and what he couldn't offer her.
The loneliness crept back in and he found some comfort in Delphine, but he knew there would never be anyone like Kenna again. So when she followed him to their old chambers, he let his walls fall for his charming, beautiful, sedulous wife. The realization that in trying to set her free, he hurt her instead was enough to convince him to give it another shot, despite his fears and her previous mistakes.
"When I saw you with Delphine, I panicked. I grabbed at Renaude because I was lonely and felt desperate. I miss you, Bash. If there is any part of you that still feels for me, I'm asking you to give us another chance."
"Is it because you don't want to be alone again, after watching your lover hang?" he asked indignantly.
"I knew before, during the siege when the swords were flying, I called out to you. I saved your life not Renaude's. I know you're with Delphine, and tell me if I'm wrong, but you don't seem happy. We are still husband and wife; we haven't undone anything yet.
Then she shattered his heart. He hadn't often thought about having children, because he knew what it was like to grow up as living mistake of passion. But he caught himself thinking of her pregnant sometimes. He saw how she'd been with Pascal and knew she would love her own child infinitely. So when he learned of her pregnancy from Delphine and that she was carrying another man's child, he was heartbroken. He wanted to believe that Kenna didn't know, that she wasn't trying to deceive him, but he rationalized that she'd done to him what Mary had done: gone to him only when he was the only option.
"Stop using this child only to save yourself, we are finished."
A couple days after he angrily confronted her, he heard from Mary that she'd left French Court. She was on a ship to Sweden, to save her reputation. She'd have the baby there and leave it with a Swedish couple-Mary had arranged the whole thing. It was unspoken between the two whether Kenna would return to court after having the child. He didn't know what would be worse, to never see her again, or see her again, after having another man's child, knowing she was only his wife in name. He didn't want to think about it, so he plunged himself into Delphine, his duties to his brother, and the ceaseless loneliness.
His mother, father, and brother were the closest people he'd have to family, even if they were his blood. He hadn't heard from his mother since he learned of her treachery, his father six feet under, and now his brother, gone too.
With Francis' death, Bash wasn't sure he would be able to continue much longer. He'd lost everything he'd ever cared about, and the few people still alive that he felt responsible for would fare without him. Claude, Charles, Henry and his other siblings would have their mother and each other, and he'd never been as close to them as he'd been Francis. They'd always felt like distant cousins than his brothers and sisters.
He would always love Mary, he realized, not in the way he once thought, but she'd been a great friend to him. She was a queen in her own right. She didn't need him when she had advisors and ladies and eventually, a new husband. He was kidding himself if he felt any sort of real attachment for Delphine. She was merely a distraction to aide his heart from the hurt caused by his wife.
He tried not to think of her often. By now she must have been halfway through her pregnancy, at the least. He didn't know if she was miserable or happy in Sweden. He didn't even know if she knew Francis was dead. But it didn't matter, she didn't matter to him anymore.
Until he rounded a corner in the castle the day before Francis' funeral and crashed into someone going the opposite direction.
He stood up quickly and extended a hand out to the disgruntled person without looking at them.
"Sebastian?" her soft, high pitched voice asked.
His breath hitched as he looked at her.
"Kenna. I truly wasn't expecting to see you here," he said while refusing to look anywhere near her midsection. He wasn't sure how seeing her protruding stomach would make him feel.
"Mary sent word about Francis. I got on the first ship and came straight here… Bash I'm…I'm so sorry."
"What for? You didn't kill my brother. You just tried to trick me into believing that's my child," he said looking at her stomach for the first time.
Her hands were cradled around the obvious bump. She was showing more than he was expecting her to.
"I know. And I will never be able to apologize enough. But you know that's not why I'm here. I wanted to be here for Mary, my friend, my queen. She's just lost the man she loved most in the world," Kenna replied. "I have an idea of what that's like. I'm here for her mourning. I'll stay out of your way, don't worry."
She lowered her head and began to walk away, but he gently grabbed her arm and turned her to face him.
"Kenna, wait. I…I don't need you to avoid me. I know you're here for Mary and I'm glad. She needs friends and love right now," Bash said. "And despite how we ended, I do care for your safety."
"Well, I must admit, that is a surprise," she said with a soft smirk.
Bash looked at her with a sense of admiration. Though she had put him through hell, he would always admire her stubborn attitude. It was one of the things he'd once loved about her. He thought she was someone he never wanted to see again, but after months without her brown eyes and charm, a whirlwind of emotions overtook him. He suddenly found himself very concerned about her. He wanted to know how she was faring, if the baby was safe, if the family she'd been staying with was treating her well. But those things were no longer his concern, not after he ended their relationship.
"Kenna, I will always care about you. You are my wife."
"In name only though, right?" she asked him.
"Right," he sighed.
"I've got to get back to Mary." She hesitated before adding "I'm sure I'll see you tomorrow at the…"
"Funeral. It's alright, you can say it. Funeral. Francis' funeral."
"Very well then. I'll see you at the funeral."
She turned and headed towards Mary's chambers. He didn't want to be caught glancing after her, so he quickly turned his head and continued towards his destination. When she left for Sweden, he was sure that if he ever saw her again, he'd only feel rage and hatred towards her because of her deception. Yet he found himself waning in that anger. Instead, he had a sense that a conversation between the two was much needed.
He'd been dreading his brother's funeral. He knew he was supposed to be the strong one that day, for Mary, for Catherine, for his other siblings. But he woke that morning with a strong urge to drink his sorrows away. As he was about to pour himself his first drink of the day, there was a knock on his door.
Prepared for it to be one of his Kingsguard, he opened it begrudgingly.
"I told you all not to bother me tod-" he said as he looked down at his guest.
"Good morning," Kenna said slowly. "I imagine today is going to be rather difficult for you."
She let herself into the room and set down a cup of tea she'd been holding on his table.
"I know how you can get," she eyed the liquor he'd been about to pour. "So I wanted to bring you some tea. I remember how it used to calm your nerves."
And like that she swept out of his door and down the hallway. It happened so quick he almost didn't have a chance to say thank you before she disappeared around the corner.
"Kenna, thank you!" he shouted.
He didn't hear a response from her, but he did feel a smile grow on his face.
The funeral and what happened after was a blur to him. He yearned for comfort throughout, only to realize that he was looking for her. He just wanted to see her face, see her breathing, know that she was okay. He'd locked eyes with her at some point, but then had to remind himself he no longer had the right to seek comfort from her.
He didn't see her for a couple days after that. He assumed she had sailed back to Sweden. It would have been near impossible for her to conceal her pregnancy at court. It only made sense she goes back.
One night, he was called to Mary's chambers. As he was about to knock, Kenna opened the door and exited herself.
"Kenna," he said surprised, but before he could inquire into her, she dashed down the corridor. He heard Mary beckon him inside.
"I thought she'd gone back to Sweden," he almost shouted at Mary.
"Well good evening to you too," she laughed.
"Sorry. Good evening. I just…I hadn't seen her around the castle since the funeral. I just assumed she would go back, seeing as the baby and her reputation and everything."
"She insisted on staying as long as I want her to," Mary replied. He wanted to ask more questions but knew that Kenna was not the reason the Queen of Scots had called for him.
He was on his way out of the castle for a hunt, to clear his mind, when he saw her in the common dining hall early the next morning.
"Bash!" she said, clearly startled to have seen anyone.
"Kenna, what are you doing up this early? I recall you never seeming to rise before the sun," he asks her with a laugh, so she knows he's only teasing.
"Ah I recall those days as well," she laughs back in response. "This babe doesn't seem to agree though, they like to eat as soon as the birds crow."
It's then that he notices her large spread of food. He couldn't tell exactly what it was, but a large piece of meat and a pickle seemed to be her main entrée. He can see the sun beginning to rise through the grand windows and knows that he must leave the castle soon if he wants to have a proper hunt. But he also knows this moment, with nearly everyone else asleep, is the best chance he has to talk to his wife without fear of interruption. He doesn't know whether it's his head or heart that makes the decision for him, but he knows the latter is what he must do.
"Kenna, I'd like to talk to you," he starts.
"Well we're talking now aren't we?" she teases him.
"I know. I mean talk about…things. Like your not returning to Sweden, and the baby, and what that means for us." He's unsure if he's crossed an unspoken line referring to them as an us. "Surely people will make their guesses about your situation."
"Bash I no longer really care about what others think. We're still married, and an annulment is surely out of the question now with Francis' death. So even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to remarry," she says.
"I've spent most of my life in France and I've grown rather accustomed to it. My queen is here as are my friends. I want this baby to have a mother that is happy. I am happy here, despite everything."
"What about the family in Sweden?"
"Somehow I know even if Francis' death didn't bring me back here; I still wouldn't be able to leave the child. It was the woman I was staying with that helped me realize that actually."
She tells him of the woman, Astrid, who took her in. Astrid herself had a child when she was unwed. She had been intent on keeping the child and raising it, but her family tore the baby from her when he was born and sent him to live with her sister and her husband. She was heartbroken and when she eventually married her husband, Erik, found conceiving to be near impossible. While she relished the opportunity to have a child, she didn't want Kenna to be forced into the same life she'd been.
"She told me that when the time came, if I still wanted the baby, she wouldn't resent me," Kenna said. "She knew what it was like to have her child taken and told me she'd only take mine if it's what I truly wanted."
"So you'll be staying here?"
"Yes. But Bash, if it's too difficult for you, I will leave."
"I wouldn't make you do that. It's just… people will assume things. They will assume the child is mine."
She opens her mouth as if to speak, but then closes it before standing from the chair she'd been sitting in and walks over to him.
"I know I asked you to claim this child after trying to fool you. I was scared then and I still am now. But I will accept the responsibilities of my choices.
"What do you mean," he asks.
"This child is not your responsibility. I cannot ask you to claim it. I know that means they will be a…. bastard…" she chokes out the word like its bile. "But I will love them and protect them and make them feel like the richest child of all time. And I am content with that."
Hearing her say these words stirs up something inside him. He thinks back to that moment months ago when he found out about her duplicity. He thought she was being selfish in trying to fool him into thinking the child was his, but now, he realizes, she just meant to protect the child. He did know exactly what it was like to be a bastard. But he was the bastard of a king. Her child would be the bastard of a fallen lady, who would never have an opportunity for growth. Despite knowing the child wasn't his, he suddenly felt a strong longing to claim it.
"What is it?" she asked him. He realized he hadn't said anything for a bit and must have had a pondering look on his face.
"What if I did claim the child?"
"Bash, I don't understand."
"I know what I said to you when I found out. But I also know what I thought that day has changed."
"What do you mean?"
"Your child shouldn't have to worry or fear because of your mistakes."
She couldn't help but feel a little sting with that quip.
Quickly realizing his candor, he corrects himself. "I meant; no child deserves to be called an unfortune of its parents' choices. And no mother should have to make choices because their husband failed in their job."
"You are-err…were a wonderful husband."
"No. I neglected how you felt and told you I would change when I never did. I'm not forgiving your actions, but I do understand why you felt like you needed more. I pushed you away by not recognizing what was wrong."
He sees her swallow like she's waiting for him to say more.
"Admittedly, I was ashamed I wasn't what you wanted. I genuinely thought you were seeking Antoine out because I wasn't enough. My jealousy and foolishness pushed you away."
"This is me trying to say that I'm sorry. I know more needs to be said and the trust we once had needs to be rebuilt before anything happens between the two of us, but Kenna, if you want me to, I will claim this child. It will never know the pains of being an illegitimate child."
"Bash I can only ask this of you if it's what you truly want," she said carefully.
"It is," he replied. "We will tell court the child was conceived before our separation. There will be no questions of cheating. We'll make it clear we weren't together when I was with Delphine and you with Renaud. When we found out you were pregnant, you became gravely ill and we sent you away to seek help. You have recovered and that is now why you've returned."
"Well, you've certainly thought about this, haven't you?" she laughs. He smiles bashfully.
"I just want us to be honest with one another and for this child to feel loved," he responds.
"Then okay," she nods. In that moment they both realize they had been grasping one another's hands for quite some time. She moves to pull hers away, but he maintains his grip. She looks up at him with a questioning smirk.
"Kenna, I hope you know this means I want to be husband and wife in more than just name, not yet exactly, but eventually. It'll be better for the child."
"Whatever you say, Baron de Poitiers," she says as she kisses him on the cheek.
They quickly land in a routine after their morning confession. Every day, he personally sees that the servants bring her a full breakfast before walking her to Mary's chambers for her lady-in-waiting duties.
He goes about his normal tasks as he did before her arrival back to court, but he now thinks of her nearly every moment. He makes sure that his duties are completed at a reasonable time so he can attend to her. They dine together every evening and whenever a ball or party occurs, he makes sure to escort her to the festivities. On the days they both have free time, they take walks throughout the castle grounds, his arm holding hers while her free hand rests on her ever-growing bump. Her maturity makes him want to be a more attentive husband. As they spend their months together, he is constantly reminded of the reasons he fell in love with her.
That's why, one night, months after their breakfast conversation, when Kenna is nearing the end of her pregnancy, he doesn't reject her when she leans in to kiss him goodnight. While he knows she intended for it to be a small, chaste peck, he deepens it. They haven't been together this way in the longest time and resisting her had become more arduous for him as of late.
Pregnancy suited her well, and every day her body changed, he found himself more drawn to her.
He has pulled her close to him, with both hands cupped around her face, enjoying the taste of her, a feeling of peace overtaking him, when she pulls away.
"Bash, I don't want you to do something you don't want to do," she looks down as she speaks.
"Wife, I am kissing you, because I want to," he firmly pulls her face back up to look at him. "I'm not kissing you because I feel like I have to or because you're pregnant or because we'll be having a child soon. I am in love with you and that is why I'm kissing you. I know I haven't said it since before everything, but I love you. I always have. I never stopped."
He sees tears in her eyes and realizes he hasn't seen her cry since the day he left her.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. I just, I've longed to hear you say those words for a very long time."
He gently kisses her on the lips. "I love you." Her nose. "I love you." Her cheek. "I love you." Her neck. "I love you."
That night, after so many lonely nights apart, they are together again in the way they had both wanted to be again for so long.
It's just a week later when a messenger finds him in the South Keep.
After his love proclamation for his wife, they took up residing in the same chambers. Her things were brought back to the rooms they once shared, while new things for the baby occupied most of the space. They made up for lost time in that short week. He swore he'd never be able to make up for the months away from his wife, though he would try to everyday for the rest of his life. He woke every morning by greeting her stomach, growing larger and larger by the minute.
"Hello, baby," he'd whisper. "It's me, your, your daddy." He knew the true paternity of the baby would not change how he felt for the child. It would be his child. He would be the one to teach it how to ride a horse, how to read, how to fight. He knew that when he and Kenna inevitably had more children, their first would not feel any less loved because of their biology. He would not subject his children to what he had gone through.
The last week had been pure bliss, so when the messenger informs him his wife has gone into labor, he goes into a panic.
"No. You're wrong, it's far too early," he shouted at the messenger. The physician had calculated she had nearly a month left of her pregnancy. If the baby were to come now, he feared it wouldn't survive.
Though men were typically absent from their children's birth, there was a fat chance in hell Bash wouldn't be with his wife during this moment.
As he raced through the castle halls, he could hear her screams as he approached their chambers. He burst into a room filled with chaos. The castle midwifes and physician were preparing tools for the birth, while Mary, Greer, and Lola were at Kenna's side. Kenna, his sweet precious Kenna, looked like a warrior.
She was screaming and grunting but she had never looked stronger to him. He only paused in the doorway for a moment before running to their bedside and pushing Greer out of the way.
"Bash what are you doing here?" Kenna yelled at him.
"Why wouldn't I be here?"
"It's not proper, you don't…you can't see me like this."
"Damn propriety, you are in pain and I am here to serve you." He kissed her temple before turning to Greer.
"Sorry for…you know…" he makes a pushing motion and she simply nods in forgiveness.
"How is she, how is the baby. It's too soon, right? We weren't expecting the birth for at least another four weeks," he says to no one in particular in the room, hoping someone will clue him in on what is happening.
Mary has come to him now; she pulls him over to the window.
"Bash, we don't know why she's gone into labor early. The physician says she is strong, but the baby is exerting too much on her body. You might have to-"
"No. I won't pick between them." He walks back to his wife.
"Kenna, listen to me. I will not let you or our child die," he says as though he has the power to control fate.
"No, Bash…if it comes down to my life or the baby's, I need you to choose the baby. I need you to keep them safe and love them," she says as Bash is pushed away by one of the midwives. They allow him to stay in the room but keep him back, as they fear he will cause more harm than good.
He feels his heart clutch in his chest, already knowing what life without a living Kenna is like. He can't imagine what a life with a dead Kenna would be.
Luckily, he doesn't have to find out. The shrill cries of a new life entering earth come minutes later, and to everyone's surprise and joy, Kenna perfectly delivers the afterbirth and recovers well.
As soon as he is allowed, Bash climbs onto their bed and wraps his arms around her. She's tired, but alive and well, for which he is so grateful for. The midwife brings the baby to them, as the physician follows behind.
"Congratulations on the birth of your daughter," the physician says. "In fact, she's perhaps the healthiest babe I've ever delivered. Seems she came right on time, perchance even a few days late."
Kenna and Bash look at one another, knowing what that means.
"But I thought I had weeks to go, we all did," Kenna says to the physician.
"This is no premature child; you positively carried to term." He finishes up his final inspection of mother and child before taking leave. The midwives follow, with one posting next to their chambers in case of an emergency.
After cooing over the baby and congratulating Bash and Kenna, Mary ushers Greer and Lola out with her, knowing the new parents have much to discuss after overhearing the physician.
"Bash, if she is full-term, you do know what that means right? It's impossible Renaude is her biological father."
He recalled the final time they had sex before their separation, it had been a night he was particularly jealous of Antoine and she desperate for her husband's attention. They had forgotten about everything except one another, making it plausible she conceived that night.
"Yes. But it doesn't matter. I meant what I said, our child's paternity doesn't matter to me. I will love unnamed baby no matter what." She smiled at his nod to her one-time reference to Lola's son.
"What shall we call her?" she asked.
"Ailene? For your mother?" He knew she hadn't seen her mother in years but wanted to pay homage to her homeland. Their daughter would after all be half French, half Scottish.
"Colette Ailene," she replied.
"Colette Ailene de Poitiers. Kenna de Poitiers. Sebastian de Poitiers," he said. "La famille de Poitiers."
He meant it when he said it didn't matter if he was truly Colette's father. The love in his heart felt palpable as he gleamed down at the baby in his arms. He placed a soft kiss on her forehead and then turned to his wife and gave her a loving kiss.
For all the turmoil they had experienced, he was grateful to whatever god there was that he was here, in this moment, holding his wife and child. He couldn't believe how lonely he once had been. Laying there with his family, he knew his purpose was to love them.
As little Colette grew in the coming weeks and months, her green eyes, fair skin, and dark brown hair were not the things that made her parents, especially her father, love her. It was the way she would only settle in their arms, or how big she'd smile when she woke in the mornings and saw their faces first, or how she'd laugh deliriously when they passed the stables on a walk.
The loneliness that had once plagued him was now occupied by the fiercest, most passionate love he had ever experienced. He knew he would live every day of the rest of his life worshipping le femmes de Poitiers, the loves of his life.