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Hold on Hope - 30_hugs prompt

Title: Hold on Hope
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #21, be an angel
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, eventually romantic
Rating: G
Summary: Fallout from exploring the basement has Nathaniel wandering the halls late at night.



When he had been younger, Nathaniel had a habit of wandering the Keep during bouts of sleeplessness. It seemed as if that tendency hadn’t changed now that he was older. He’d left his armor in his room, preferring to make his way in the darkness as stealthily as possible in plain clothing. Even after being gone for so long, the hallways and corridors were as familiar to him as they had always been. Without really noticing where he was going, he found himself atop the highest battlement, the view overlooking the sea.

Adria had loved the sea.

With that thought, Nathaniel leaned his forearms against the battlement’s ledge and bowed his head. He might have handled the news of her death a little better if he hadn’t been the one to have actually killed her. He let out a shuddering breath, the memory of her charging at him with daggers in her hands and an almost feral expression on her usually serene face still fresh in his mind.

A slight noise had him turning to his right. Moira stood in the doorway leading downstairs, a mug of something steaming in her hands. “I’m sorry,” she said, already backing up. “I didn’t know that anyone was here.”

“It’s all right,” Nathaniel told her. “There’s plenty of room for someone else.” He shifted over and watched her from the corner of his eye as she leaned against the wall a few feet away. Moira looked somewhat smaller, more approachable, out of her armor. As Arlessa, Nathaniel had expected to see Moira in a dress befitting her title, but she had chosen a dark blue shirt and light brown breeches instead. He had also expected the silence to be somewhat awkward, but he found her quiet presence soothing. The breeze picked up and carried over the scent of the tea she was carefully sipping.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Moira asked, breaking the silence.

“No. You?”

She shook her head. “I never sleep well after a fight,” she admitted. Her shoulder hurt like hell from where she had pulled a muscle, but it wasn’t enough to ask Anders to heal it. She’d see to making a poultice herself before she went back to her chambers to attempt to get some sleep. “Sometimes I wonder if the dreams I have are actual darkspawn or just ordinary nightmares.”

“Do they happen often?” What he knew about the Wardens was enough to fill a thimble; if he were to spend the rest of his life as one, he would like to know as much as he could. Surely the shortened lifespan and unsettling ability to detect darkspawn couldn’t be the extent of his newly gained powers.

She shook her head. “Not as often as they did during the Blight, but just enough to let me know that they’re in the area.” She took a sip from her mug and set it aside on the ledge. “I’m sorry about Adria.”

“She was like a mother to me,” he said softly, looking away from Moira and out towards the sea again. “In truth, she was more of a mother than my actual one. Even after Delilah and Thomas were born, she always had time for me. After we were all too old for a governess, my father had her move into the kitchens. She’d often make these amazing apple pastries that she’d set aside for us.”

“My governess did the exact same thing,” Moira said quietly, rubbing her arms to combat the nighttime chill. “Except she would let Fergus and I have spice cookies and warn us not to ruin our appetites for supper.” She hadn’t expected it to, but she had been affected by Adria’s death as well. Standing over the woman’s body had triggered the memory of finding Nan that horrible night. Like Adria, an arrow had protruded from Nan’s breast, and Moira remembered how the moonlight from the kitchen windows had caught on the fillet knife clutched tightly in her former nanny’s hand.

“I remember those,” Nathaniel told her. “Fergus and I would always wander in and out of the kitchens whenever I visited Highever. Nan used to spoil me with those meat and potato pastries of hers she knew I favored.”

“You always were her favorite. I think that’s because you were the best behaved out of us three older children.” She couldn’t help but smile fondly at the memory. “I wish that I would have had a chance to spend more time with Adria when we were younger. She was a remarkable woman.” Thinking back, Moira just how calm the Howe’s governess had been. Her face very rarely strayed from its peaceful expression save for when she was laughing at her charges’ antics or when she read aloud from a book, her voice and manner growing as animated as the subject material, making each word jump off the page.

“That she was. She never raised her voice, but she managed to get my siblings and me to behave her perfectly.” He smiled. “She often called us her little angels, even when we were too old for such names.” He looked out towards the water in the distance, his mind going back to the many times that as a very young boy, Adria would allow him to sit in her lap while she read story after story to him. Most of her tales had been about pirates or rogues or young men set off to find their fortunes, and he had been enchanted by the way she made the words come off the page. She was the one to first teach him how to read and write before any tutors, and it had been her that he had gone to first to share any news.

She had most certainly been the first one to know about Moira. She had been the only one to know how he had truly felt about Bryce Cousland’s daughter. “She liked you very much,” he said softly. He clenched his hands into fists and grit his teeth. “By Andraste, the screams…

Moira tentatively put a hand on his arm. The move made him turn his head towards her and her heart twisted at the anguished look on his face. “That hadn’t been her,” she said carefully, trying to find the right words.

“Then what? By the time we had made it down to her, she had already been turned into a ghoul?”

“Yes.”

“But wasn’t there anything that we could have done differently? Isn’t there any cure?”

Moira shook her head. “As far as we know, there isn’t. Once a person is tainted, they cannot be turned back. She would have suffered even more if you hadn’t…”

“Hadn’t killed her, you mean.” His voice was bitter with a brittle edge to it, as if he were trying to keep his emotions in check. He wasn’t paying attention, so he tensed when he felt Moira lean against his side, her arm against his back as she gave him a brief sideways hug.

“What was that for?” he asked, looking down at her as she moved away.

“You looked like you needed it,” she explained, looking away from him. “I know that it probably wasn’t welcome, but…” she looked back up at him and gave him a sad smile. “It seems as if I still can’t stand to see you unhappy.”

At any other time, Nathaniel was certain that he would have lashed out with a scathing comment, but just then he felt so bare, his nerves so completely raw, that he went with his gut instinct. Turning so that he was facing her, he reached out and wrapped her up in a proper embrace before she could recoil away from him.

“Thank you,” he murmured, his words muffled by the cushion of her hair. He couldn’t help but tighten his arms around her, remembering the last time that he had held her like this. This was a mistake, he thought, feeling his throat close up on itself and his heart roll painfully in his chest. He closed his eyes tightly and clenched his teeth, wondering how much more loss he would have to go through before he finally became numb to his grief. Moira shivered in his arms and let out a noise that almost sounded like a muffled sob. He felt her hands slide up his back, grabbing onto his shirt and holding on as if her life depended on it. Her face was pressed against the crook of his neck and he tried to ignore the way that the skin there felt damp, her breath warmly puffing against his throat. Nathaniel didn’t know how long they stood there like that, but he eventually let go of her and stepped back.

“You’re welcome,” she turned her back on him, her voice thick as she replied. Moira’s fingers were trembling as she reached for her discarded mug, her eyes blinking rapidly to try to gain some control over the situation. “I think I’m going to try and get some sleep. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.” Mistress Woolsey had explained how the trade routes between Amaranthine and Denerim had recently been under attack and it was crucial to Amaranthine’s economy to make sure that the roads stayed safe. Moira was planning on going into town in the morning to see if she could get any information from the Merchant’s Guild first before setting out on a scouting trip to see if she could find anything suspicious.

Unfortunately, it was almost morning. If Moira wanted to be alert, she was going to have to get some rest before the sun came up. Still completely shaken from Nathaniel’s hug, she wondered just how difficult it was going to be to sleep after all. “Goodnight, Nathaniel.”

“Goodnight.” He watched as she walked down the stairs leading back into the Keep before tilting his head up and looking at the stars above. Things were so different now. With Adria gone, the last link to his former life was gone as well. He didn’t know where he belonged or how he was supposed to act as a Warden.

Figure things out as you go, my angel, Adria had once been fond of telling him when he came to her with his problems. Things might not be as bad as you think they are. Nathaniel sighed and headed towards the stairs. He had a great deal of things to figure out, starting with Moira. It seemed as if they had come to some sort of unspoken truce where they weren’t snipping the other’s head off and actually acting in a civilized manner towards the other. He had expected far less, especially since he hadn’t exactly been nice since seeing her again. Nice is an understatement, don’t you think, he wondered. Then again, she hasn’t exactly given you a reason to act any other way, now has she?

It seems as if I still can’t stand to see you unhappy. He quietly made his way back towards his bedchambers, mulling over her words. Would it be wise to nurture a thin sliver of hope that she might still feel something for him? Would it be wise on his part to wonder if perhaps he might be able to put aside his feelings and let himself love her again? Was he a fool for wondering if she had been as affected by their hug as he had?

He kicked off his boots and flopped onto his bed. “Perhaps she was acting on pity,” Nathaniel said to the ceiling. “Probably doesn’t want any of her soldiers to be distracted, so she just acted like she cared. She’s a killer; what’s to stop her from being a liar as well?” Somehow that explanation didn’t ring true to him, but he decided to believe it nonetheless, if only so that his mind would stop lingering on the what ifs when it came to her. If there was anything positive that he could take out of their conversation, it was that talking to Moira managed to help push the horrifying images of Adria to the back of his mind, allowing him to remember the fallen woman as she had once been, not what she had become.

It was too bad that their talk and the emotions it had stirred up hadn’t done anything for his sleeplessness. He rolled to his side and held onto his pillow, still feeling the ghostly imprint of Moira’s body in his arms. For a brief second, it hadn’t mattered to him that she might have lied to him, that the tears still drying on the collar of his tunic might have been fake. All that mattered was that the scent still lingering on his clothes gave him some measure of peace, if only for a little while.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
annikainen
May. 10th, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC)
Ahhh. You never fail to amaze me <3 Wonderful writing, again!

And you seem to have an excellent taste in music ;)
iceprincessd
May. 13th, 2010 02:55 am (UTC)
Thank you! I've gotten caught under a bad case of writer's block, but I'm hoping to have wrangled enough plot bunnies together by this weekend for another post. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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