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Slip Slidin' Away - 30_hugs prompt

Title: Slip Slidin’ Away
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #3; snap snap!, photograph
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, romantic
Rating: G
Summary: Some skeletons are meant to stay in closets. Nathaniel also has Daddy Issues.



“Do you know what this goes to?” Moira asked, holding out a key. Nathaniel looked up from the book he had been reading, noting that her hair and her plain work clothes were covered in dust.

“What have you been doing?” he asked her, reaching out and brushing a cobweb away from her shoulder. “And what was our rule about no sneaking?” Even as dusty as she was, she had managed to come up behind him without him noticing.

She smiled unapologetically. “Sorry, habit. But to answer your question, I’ve been cleaning.”

“I can see that. And just where did you manage to get so filthy, milady dust bunny? ”

Moira sat down beside him, her fingers brushing off a bit of dirt from her tunic. “Your father’s study.” The room had been sealed for the better part of two years, and it had shown. During the first months of Alistair’s reign, he had ordered that nothing of Rendon’s personal papers there be touched until either he or Moira had a chance to go through them personally. After a while more important matters, such as caring for the shell shocked people of Ferelden and rebuilding lost cities like Lothering, took precedence and the task was forgotten. Moira had been using the Nathaniel’s mother’s sitting room as her office, but while the wall of windows let in a considerable amount of sunlight and made for a cheerful area to curl up with a book, it was a tad bit impractical for someone who had a death threat on their head. The many windows provided archers with too many opportunities to strike.

And as much as she was dreading it, she realized that Rendon’s study was the perfect spot to use as an office, which was probably what the original owners of Vigil’s Keep had intended it for. While the two thin windows didn’t offer much in the way of light, at least they let a decent breeze blow in when the glass was opened and were on a side protected by the interior courtyard. The layout of the room was long and narrow and offered little in the way of hiding spots for assassins: a large fireplace and mantel took up one of the shorter walls. Two high backed chairs were situated near the hearth, their dark hunter green fabric worn from the generations of Howes who sat in them. Bookshelves lined nearly the entire long wall on one side; Moira hadn’t gotten around to reading their spines yet, but several of the heavier tomes looked like copies that currently resided in her own father’s library. She and Mistress Woolsey had made a decent dent in clearing away two years’ worth of dust. Precisely organized ledgers with Amaranthine’s finances had been found, which gave them both a better idea of how the money in the treasury had been used. Before then, they had spent many an evening prioritizing uses and it was rewarding to see that their guesses had been correct. It was also interesting to see where their guesses had differed and Mistress Woolsey’s eyes had glittered with the idea of comparing notes and seeing if their budget would save the arling money to use for future projects later on.

Moira had to admit it, when she first found out that the Wardens had sent her a treasurer instead of more Wardens, she had been disappointed. Yet Mistress Woolsey was proving to be a force to be reckoned with. The woman had a fearless way of cutting through red tape and slashing away frivolous spending that was on the same level as anyone that Moira had ever fought alongside of. If anything, her presence here at the Keep was going to help rebuild the arling back to the prosperous shipping community it had once been.

“I hadn’t known it was that bad,” Nathaniel noted, picking out another wad of cobweb from the back of Moira’s hair. He looked at the key in her hand. “That goes to my father’s safe.”

She frowned. “I haven’t found anything that even remotely looks like a safe yet.”

He grinned. Standing up, he pulled on her hands until she was on her feet as well. “That’s because you didn’t know where to look. Come on, I’ll show you.”

His father’s study was just as he remembered it. He could remember that as a child he had often sat near the fireplace, reading book after book while his father worked at his desk. One day, my son, his father had often said, all of this will be yours. Even at a young age, Rendon had sat Nathaniel on his lap, explaining just what the little numbers in each of the ledgers he kept meant and how important it was to distribute them equally between everything. “Here,” Nathaniel said, shaking himself out of his memories. He went over to the long wall that housed portraits of the previous Arls and took his father’s frame off the wall. “The safe is always behind the current Arl’s portrait,” he explained. “We’re going to have to move everyone down to make room for yours, once things quiet down.”

“I hadn’t even thought to look here,” Moira said, examining the back of the picture’s frame. The backs of each frame were thicker than the front and painted to match the existing stone, making it impossible at first glance to see that they were covering up anything.

Nathaniel fit the key into the lock and listened as it clicked open. “There’s something in here,” he said, reaching into the safe to retrieve its contents. “Something that I wasn’t expecting.”

“Do you know what’s inside there?” Moira looked over his arm. The safe wasn’t very large: it was probably a square hole cut into the stone about two feet all around, so it couldn’t contain much.

“I know for sure that we’ll find the deed to the lands of Amaranthine, a box of the most expensive Howe family gems, as well as several important correspondences from your family to mine. But this,” he pulled out a thick envelope. “This has me stumped.”

Moira had already taken the rest of the safe’s items back to the desk in order to inventory them. “Go ahead and open it,” she said over her shoulder. “Between the two of us, you have a right to read it first.”

Nathaniel frowned when he saw his father’s bold script stare at him. “It looks to be a letter to Teyrn Loghain,” he said, reading the first few paragraphs. Still reading, he walked to the desk and absently sat in the chair. The smell of polishing wax and leather surrounded him, just like it had when he was a child. “I can’t believe this.”

“What is it?” Moira leaned back on the desk, her right knee touching his.

He shook his head. “I…this is from five years ago.” His forehead furrowed in disbelief. “Even that long ago, Father was planning on betraying everyone.” He handed her the first page of the letter and continued reading.

Moira looked up from reading when she saw Nathaniel’s face contort in fury. “Do I even want to know?” she asked tentatively, putting her portion of the letter aside.

“Would you believe me if I told you that I’d been engaged to someone for eight years without even knowing it?” he bit out, his fingers tightening on the heavy paper.

What? To whom?” For a moment she thought that perhaps Rendon had known about them and was prepared to speak to her father about drawing up a marriage contract.

The sharp bark of laughter he gave out was completely humorless and killed the hope that had briefly bloomed in her breast. “To Anora Mac Tir, of all people.”

“But that’s…” She shook her head. “She’d been married to Cailan at the time your father wrote this.” Moira felt as if her breath had been knocked out of her and she leaned heavier on the desk, her mind frantically trying to process Nathaniel was betrothed and they meant to make him king and he wasn’t ever mine.

“It gets worse,” he said, reading further, his nostrils flaring in anger. “It seems that you were promised to my brother.”

“To Thomas?” Sure, she had thought it odd that Rendon would always mention his youngest son whenever they spoke, but she’d never seen him as a potential match for her.

His reply was sharp and bitter. “Do you know of any other brother I might have?” He set the letter aside and took a breath, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to bite at you. You do realize what this means, right?”

She nodded. “That even before the Blight, both Rendon and Loghain had conspired to take the throne from Cailan. It’s common knowledge amongst the nobility that Anora was the one ruling the kingdom instead of the other way, and it looked like your father was doing his best to set you up as the next king.” That sounded so surreal to say. “He sent you away…”

“To broaden my political horizons,” Nathaniel finished, sneering at the papers before throwing them across the desk. “The knight who housed me was one of the more influential people in the Free Marches. He spent many hours tutoring me in the ways of rules and regulations. At first, I thought that was what all young men who squired under him were put through, but now it makes much more sense.” He ran his hand down his face. “Maker, but Thomas was right. I should have listened to him.”

“What do you mean?”

He frowned. “Thomas came to me when Mother left Amaranthine years ago. He was drinking at the time, and I dismissed his warnings as merely drunken rambling.” Now it made sense to him. “He said that he had overheard Father speaking to someone about him inheriting the arling.”

I’m so sorry, Nathaniel. I’m so sorry that it all has to come about this way.

“He spoke highly of you, that last time in Denerim,” Moira said quietly. “He told me that he hadn’t known the extent of his father’s plans, that if he had, he would have tried his best to put a stop to them.”

Nathaniel’s frown deepened. “He would have gotten himself killed, that’s what he would have done. No, I should have thought something was amiss. I should have come home that very instant to see things with my own eyes.”

“It’s no use blaming yourself. How could you have known what your father was planning? Rendon was clever; he hid his deception from those that knew him the best. It would have been easy for him to deceive you as well.” Moira picked up the rest of the letter, scanning it quickly to see if her father’s name was mentioned. Her breath caught at a paragraph with her father’s name in it; it was a vague threat, but clear enough to tell her that Rendon had intended on killing the entire Cousland family as long as five years ago. We’ll invite Moira to the Keep to visit Delilah, the letter read. It won’t take much to convince her that someone else had done the deed – perhaps an uprising in Highever’s alienage will be enough. “I’d have been so grief stricken that I would have believed any lie he thought up,” she muttered, setting the papers aside and covering her mouth with her hands.

“This plan of his wouldn’t have worked,” Nathaniel told her gripping the chair’s armrests until his knuckles turned white. “I would have found out eventually and then had the power to bring him and Loghain to justice.”

“Don’t you understand? He knew that. With you as King, Delilah married off to a suitable Bann, and Thomas poised act as Amaranthine’s Arl – as well as wedded to the last of the Couslands, who were politically influential in their own right – he knew that even if he should be sentenced to death for his crimes, his children and his lands would be well taken care of.”

“And if I hadn’t put two and two together, he would have molded me into whatever he wished, ruling with Loghain from behind the scenes while Anora and I played our parts.” He frowned. “He would have turned me into an exact copy of him.”

“He wouldn’t have been able to.”

“No? What makes you think that he hasn’t already?”

“Because you are a good man, Nathaniel. You see when things are wrong and do your best to set them to rights. You’ve always been that way, as long as I’ve known you. If your father would have changed that, I would have known.” She bit her lip and looked away, trying to find how to word the thoughts that were flying around her head. “I think that your father honestly wanted what he thought was best for his children, even if the means to achieving that meant doing the things that he did.”

Nathaniel stared at his father’s portrait, trying to find some answers that made sense. “Of all the people to defend him, I never thought that you would.”

She shook her head. “I’m not defending his actions, Nate. I’m…”

“You’re what?” He felt like he had to do something. The room that had once offered so much comfort to him in his youth was now stifling and claustrophobic.

She cupped the sides of his face with her hands. “You said that he once had a good side. I guess what I’m trying to do is to protect that memory from being eaten away by what you’re feeling now. Everyone should be able to think fondly on their parents, no matter what their deeds.”

Nathaniel closed his eyes. It was hard, but he took the memories of the father who had scooped his children up on his shoulders for rides, who read stories to them at bedtime and tucked it safely away from everything that he had learned since coming back so that his actions wouldn’t taint the little boy Nathaniel had once been or the admiration he had once felt. Draw the bowstring back like this. He could all but feel his father’s hands on his arms as he had showed him the proper stance when he had been presented with his first bow on his fifth name day. Not bad for your first attempt, my boy. You will get better with practice. The naked pride in his father’s voice felt like bitter ashes on his tongue now. Reaching out, he wrapped his arms around Moira’s hips and dragged her close to him so that he could rest the side of his face against her midsection. “It wouldn’t have worked,” he said again, his voice sounding as ragged as his emotions felt. “I would have fought him. I wouldn’t have given you up as easily as he thought I would have.”

Moira’s breath fluttered against his hair and she bent to press a kiss to the crown of his head. “I never would have married Thomas,” she told him, her hands tightening on his shoulders. “I…” I loved you too much to give up just like that.

His hands splayed over the small of her back. “I would have given the throne over to Anora. I would have come for you.” He looked up at her and said what she had been afraid to. “I loved you far too much to just conform to everyone else’s wants.” And I love you still; I’m not going to let you slip away from me now.

Moira hands trembled on his shoulders and she didn’t protest when he pulled her into his lap. “Give me this one time, please,” he whispered against her lips, his hands threading through her hair at her temples. She didn’t answer with words, but leaned forward to kiss him. He groaned against her mouth and held onto her as if she were a lifeline. She did the same, her fingers clutching to the back of his shirt. If only these letters had been found sooner, she thought, slanting her head to get at a better angle. Her family could have been warned, Nathaniel might have been called back earlier, things might have happened differently. One of them was crying: she couldn’t tell who, but the taste of salt lingered on her tongue. She let her hands wander across his back, trying to give some sort of comfort even as she took what solace he offered.

She broke the kiss first, pressing her cheek against Nathaniel’s. “Rivain,” she said quietly against his hair.

“What?”

“We would have run off to Rivain and acted like heathens.”

His hand stroked her leg, his fingers running in idle circles over her kneecap. “I was thinking Orlais. That would have really stuck in Father’s craw.” He brushed his nose against hers. “It might be a bit closer to Ferelden, but we could have lived in sin and eaten chocolate to our hearts’ content.”

She laughed and tightened her arms around his chest. “It doesn’t matter what that letter says,” she finally said, resting her head on his shoulder. “What matters is what we’re doing now.”

“Do you really think I’m a good man?” The question was asked so quietly that Moira had to strain to hear.

“I don’t think. I know.” She leaned back until she could look him in the eye. “I wouldn’t have agreed to spend the rest of my life with you back then if you were anything less.”

He stroked her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “I never got around to asking you properly.” He had planned it all out, how he would have asked for her hand. He looked away. Funny, how things never worked out the way that his family planned them to.

“I would have said yes.” She wanted to tell him that should he ask her now, she still would say yes, but he put his index finger to her lips before she could open her mouth.

“Do what you want with the rest of the things in the safe, but burn the letter,” he said, switching topics abruptly. He was so emotionally drained from the afternoon’s discovery that he wasn’t sure he could deal with anything more complicated, especially when it came to the relationship he was trying to cultivate with her now.

She nodded. Rendon Howe’s name was already ruined. Bringing one more damning piece of evidence to light after the fact was overkill. She slid out of his lap and touched the edge of the letter to one of the flames from the candelabra standing near the desk. Holding the burning pieces of paper as long as she could, she set it into the empty fireplace and they both silently watched as the letter curled in on itself until nothing was left but a small pile of ashes.

Moira turned back to the desk. Nathaniel had slumped in the chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him. He looks like he belongs there, she thought. This should have been his office.

“What now?” he asked.

“Well,” Moira started, carefully picking up the items on the desk and placing them back into the wall safe. She locked it and pocketed the key. “I am going to finish cleaning this office tonight and then reward myself with a long, hot soak.” She put the portrait back on the wall, tapping the edge until it sat level with the others. “And then in the morning I’m going to go into Amaranthine and see if our Ser Wolf has found any information on those conspirators.”

“That wasn’t what I meant,” he said, folding his hands over his stomach and stacking his feet atop the desk. He’d never been allowed to do so before, so he decided to indulge his rebellious streak.

“I know it isn’t,” she replied, rounding the chair and draping her arms around his neck from behind. “I’d ask you to refrain from brooding, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find the look strangely attractive.” She kissed his cheek for good measure.

He reached up and held onto her forearms. “I do not…” he paused and tilted his head up to look at her. “You find brooding attractive?”

She shrugged. “Not on everyone, but I’ll make an exception for you.” Her thumb rubbed against the collar of his shirt. “As I said before, we can’t change what’s already happened, so there isn’t any sense in dwelling on it. I’d rather keep focus on events that haven’t happened yet instead.”

He took a deep breath and let it out through his nose. “You’re right.” He was silent for a while before taking Moira’s hand in his and bringing her knuckles up to his lips. “So, this trip that you’re planning into town tomorrow. Did you want any company?”

She smiled. “I wouldn’t mind. I’d thought that after my business was finished that I’d make a visit to Delilah’s home. I remember that Oriana’s pregnancy left her queasy the first few months into it and thought to bring your sister some ginger tea I’d just finished blending in case she was suffering the same symptoms. I’d like it if you’d come with me.”

“I’d like that very much.” It was the first time that he’d heard Moira talk about his sister, and he hoped that it wouldn’t be the last.

“We still need to find some more information about this Colbert person Captain Garevel was talking about. And then there’s the matter of the Blight Orphans and…” Moira sighed, rubbing her forehead with her free hand. “Is that offer to run off to Orlais still good?”

Standing up, he wrapped his arm around her waist. “Only if you wish to live in sin and eat chocolate every day.”

She relaxed against his side. “I happen to like chocolate.” Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she looked around at what was left to clean. “Although I have a feeling that Anders would kill us both for leaving him in charge.”

Nathaniel laughed. “Forget killing us. He’d find a way to hide himself and that cat of his in our luggage and join us, leaving Oghren in control of things.”

“Which would more than likely lead to hedonistic drinking parties every night, the Joining reduced to a contest as to who could chug the most darkspawn blood before passing out. Alistair wouldn’t be pleased at all and we’d only have ourselves to blame.” She broke away from him and grabbed her dust cloth, holding it in her hand as if it were a weapon. “I guess we have no other choice but to stay here.” Moira began to dust another bookcase, but stopped when she saw Nathaniel look around.

“There are a few tapestries in storage that might look good in here,” he said. “And I think that there’s another rug with them. If you want, I can get them for you.”

“You’d actually want to help?” In her experience, the men in her life had made themselves scarce whenever the phrase ‘Spring Cleaning’ fell from her mother’s lips.

He shrugged. “Well, if we can’t run off together, the least I can do is help you out here.”

She smiled at him. “You’re going to get dusty.” As if to prove her point, a large clump of dust drifted down from the top of the bookshelf, making her sneeze.

He wiped away a smudge of dirt from her cheek. “I think I can handle it.” His eyes went towards his father’s portrait again. Would his hair grey in the same pattern as he aged? Would his face have the same lines on it between his eyebrows and along the sides of his mouth? The features caught on the canvas were so much like his own that it was impossible to wonder if he would one day become his father. No, he thought, the knowledge of the faith Moira had in him settling warmly in his chest. I am nothing like you. I will be better than you, I swear.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
annikainen
Jun. 28th, 2010 03:07 pm (UTC)
seriously. You made me cry. :/ And I was on my way to work and everything! Not that I'm complaining. You're amazing, I tell you, amazing ^^
iceprincessd
Jun. 29th, 2010 12:47 am (UTC)
Aww, I'm sorry! *hands out Kleenex box*

(If it makes you feel any better, these two made me tear up when I started thinking about the epilogue, even though that's not for another eight of so more chapters.)
annikainen
Jun. 29th, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC)
Don't be! Isn't it just a good thing?

Oh nuuuu... I'll get a box of kleenex of my own for the last chapters then. But I think my heart will break if it's a sad ending... *sigh* Well, you do as you find best :)
iceprincessd
Jun. 29th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
It won't be a sad ending, I promise! I can't write those! I think it's going to be more of a bittersweet "bawwww it's over!" sort of ending, because I'm really getting attached to these guys.

I still have about seven more prompts left to go, and then an epilogue, but I've been kicking around an idea of doing a prologue (EDIT: I meant prequel) to this that starts from the Cousland Origin and then goes all the way to the end where Moira gets sent off to Amaranthine.

I just have GOT to try and figure out how to write Alistair in the meantime, because if I do this, he's going to be a big part of that main story, seeing as he's Moira's BFF and all :D

Edited at 2010-06-29 11:43 pm (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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