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When Push Comes to Shove - 30_hugs prompt

Title: When Push Comes to Shove
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #22; ichi-go, ichi-e
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, eventually romantic
Rating: PG for violence
Summary: The thought of killing her shouldn’t have sent him into such a panic.
Note: From Wikipedia, the term ichi-go, ichi-e is also much repeated in budō (martial ways). It is sometimes used to admonish students who become careless or frequently stop techniques midway to "try again," rather than moving on with the technique despite the mistake. In a life-or-death struggle, there is no chance to "try again."


Realistically, he should have known that it would come to this. They had recently met and defeated Oghren and Velanna’s doppelgangers, so logically, Nathaniel knew that his and Moira’s were soon to follow.

It still didn’t make defending himself against Moira’s double any easier, especially when it shrieked and came at him with both swords drawn. His blood ran cold as he remembered Adria’s screams and he let out a cry when the double’s right sword cut through the thin leather of his scavenged armor. He shuddered, trapping its blades with the daggers he had picked up since escaping from their cell. He placed a boot against the double’s midsection and pushed, successfully kicking it away from him. A quick glance to the side showed him that the rest of his companions were dealing with the darkspawn that had joined the attack. He tried to scan the dim cavern to see if he could find his own shadow, but was halted when Moira’s double lunged at him again.

“Kill it!” Moira yelled from his right, her dagger swinging up in front of her to deflect an arrow. She traced it back to the far end of the room where Nathaniel’s twin stood, already taking aim at her again. She was too far away to help Nathaniel, and she knew that Oghren and Velanna had the rapidly dwindling darkspawn numbers under control. Shoving herself to the side of the cavern, she used the dim light to her advantage. Holding her breath, she sank into the shadows, remembering all the lessons in stealth that Leliana had taught her. She managed to get in close enough range to see the sallow skin of Nathaniel’s imposter, noting how it turned its bow left and right. It had three targets in plain view to shoot at, but it seemed as if it was searching specifically for her. Her grip on the lone blade she had picked up was slippery as her palms began to sweat. That isn’t him, she thought, slinking around a column made up of wooden scaffolding. Keep your eyes off its face and treat it just as you would any other enemy. If she could get closer, she could put an Assassin’s Mark on it. Her mind went back to the countless nights on watch where she and Zevran would practice the maneuver over and over again until she had performed it to his satisfaction. It will be fun, the Antivan had assured her. I will make it fun.

She knew that she shouldn’t have taken her eyes off her target, but she couldn’t help but look back at Nathaniel. With the cold, barely civil way he had been treating her since they had met up again, she would have thought that he would have relished having the chance to plunge his knives into her clone’s heart.

The anguished look that twisted his features stole her breath and told her otherwise. Even from where she was at, she could see that he was hurt, blood running down his arm in rivulets. He was fighting defensively; she remembered how well he used to be in swordplay when he and Fergus would spar, but he wasn’t attacking at all, even when her double presented a clear opening. He tried to stun it, but it seemed as if her double had the same resistances that she herself did. Letting out the breath she had been holding, she ran up to Nathaniel’s imposter, her knife hitting its bow, the blow sending teeth-jarring aftershocks up her arm. “Under the arm,” she yelled, circling her enemy. It had thrown the now useless bow to the side and took out one of the daggers Nathaniel had picked out from the Keep’s armory. “There’s a weak spot in my armor on the left side, close to the clasps near the ribcage.”

Nathaniel kicked Moira’s double away again, examining its armor to see if Moira told the truth. Sure enough, he saw the opening that he needed, but… I can do this, he told himself, parrying another blow. This isn’t her. When the next attack came, Nathaniel lunged forward, using his momentum to shove his dagger into the small weak spot, his wrist twisting as he brought the blade past the ribs and into the double’s vital organs. It gave a final rattling gasp, its eyes wide in pain, before slumping lifeless against his shoulder. He closed his eyes and stepped backwards, letting the body fall to the mine floor with a thud. He looked at his hands and had to swallow the bile that rose in his throat at the blood that covered his skin. It was only then that he felt the sharp, stinging pain at his bicep and the trickle of blood running down his arm. Clutching the injury, he knelt next to the body and numbly began unbuckling clasps to the armor. Moira would hate to have her armor bloodied, he thought, glancing up at her. Oghren and Velanna had finished off the rest of the darkspawn; Velanna had come to his side and was silently assessing his injury, her lips moving as she soundlessly recited a healing spell.

“Aren’t you going to help her?” Nathaniel asked, looking at Oghren.

“Does it look like she needs any help?” Oghren replied, taking over the removal of Moira’s belongings from the double’s body. Nathaniel flexed his newly healed arm and watched the fight Moira was still engaged in.

Moira did a little backwards hop as she dodged a wide, sweeping slice from the dagger Nathaniel’s double held. It sneered at her and lunged again and Moira prayed that the double hadn’t figured out Nathaniel’s shadow skills, because if it did, she was going to be in trouble. She winced when the tip of the knife tagged yet failed to pierce her borrowed set of armor, her defense faltering when she had realized the double was moving in a series of attacks Nathaniel had often used on her when they had fought together for sport. Concentrate, Moira, she told herself, lunging into a riposte that the double easily blocked. You need to end this quickly. She lashed out with a crippling blow, which made the double drop its guard. That gave her plenty of time to dart behind its back for a finishing attack. She grabbed a handful of hair – it was the wrong texture; she remembered Nathaniel’s hair had once slid through her fingers like silk, not stiff like straw – and yanked, exposing the double’s throat. Focus on the feel of steel cutting flesh, Zevran had instructed her. Is it not marvelous? Just then she looked up and caught Nathaniel’s eyes. In that moment, the feel of hot blood spilling over her fingers and the gurgling death rattle that sounded far too much like Nathaniel’s voice felt anything but marvelous. She let out a horrified cry and threw both the dagger and the body away from her, stumbling back with the hand that had escaped getting bloodied covering her mouth. Her breath was coming far too rapidly and she forced herself to go back to the body, to kneel and carefully unlace the heavy leather ties. The room spun and for a moment she thought she was back in the damp dungeon underneath Rendon Howe’s Denerim estate, standing over the Arl’s dead body. Her hands shook and she jumped when a larger pair covered her fingers.

“I...” she started, looking into Nathaniel’s eyes. She could feel her lip begin to tremble and she quickly looked away. “I see you took my advice,” she said, regaining her composure. “I’m going to have to ask Wade to fix that once we get back to the Keep.”

Nathaniel saw the way that Moira fought to keep her voice even, grateful that she felt just as unsettled as he did. It didn’t matter that he disliked her. It didn’t matter that she had killed his father and taken his entire family down with him. What mattered right at that second was the fact that she had hated killing his lookalike just as much as he had hated killing hers. If she had reacted any other way, he might not have had the overwhelming urge to gather her in his arms, reassuring them both that they still lived.

He didn’t though, but he did reach out to rub at a smear of blood that had marred her chin. She inhaled sharply through her nose, but didn’t recoil from his touch. “We need to get moving,” he said quietly, looking her in the eye.

She nodded, slowly standing up and walking towards the heap of armor that Oghren had left her. Quickly shedding the clothing she had woken up in, she buckled herself into the dragonskin armor and returned her swords to their sheaths strapped to her back. She gave her double a closer look. The facial features were almost identical to hers, but there was something not quite spot on. Oghren had stripped the body down to its smallclothes and Moira could see that where her skin was littered with scars both large and small, her double’s was perfectly smooth. This was not me, she thought, standing up as she fumbled with the last of her armor’s buckles. Nathaniel had also finished arming himself, his eyes looking critically over the bow Moira had ruined. One of his hands held the now useless weapon while the other held tightly onto whatever pendant he normally wore.

“We can’t do that again,” she said carefully, coming up to him, noting that he nonchalantly shoved his necklace down underneath his armor. “We can’t afford to hesitate.”

“You’re right,” he told her, his tone rough. He tossed the broken bow to the side and picked up the knife he had discarded. Moira put a hand on his arm and held out one of her longswords.

“I don’t need two of these right now,” she said, as a way of apologizing for destroying his weapon.

He took it, not saying anything for a while. “My kidneys.”

“Pardon?”

“There is a weak spot in my armor directly above my kidneys.” He glanced sideways at her. “It’s only fair that you know my weakness since I now know yours.” He wanted to tell her that he wasn’t angry for the way that she had dealt with his double, that he knew that she was fighting it as a random enemy instead of fighting it as if he had been the one attacking her.

She gave him the smallest of smiles, the knot that had been forming at her shoulders loosening. “Thank you,” she whispered, reaching up. For a moment, Nathaniel thought that she was going to cup his cheek with her hand, just like she used to, but she merely swiped her thumb against the neck of his armor, wiping away the last trace of blood his double had left on it.

Moira let her hand linger longer than necessary against his chest before collecting herself and stepping away. “We need to go that way,” she said, pointing towards the left. There was a distinct odor of sulfur wafting that way that Moira recognized from the time she had gone into the mountains to look for the Urn of Sacred Ashes. If there was ever a place that the dragon tamer who had stolen Keenan’s wedding ring would be, the left hand tunnel would be it. She began walking that way, Oghren and Velanna falling into step behind her.

Nathaniel gave his double’s corpse one last look before he followed, the borrowed sword feeling heavier than it should against his back.

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