Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #4, teddy bear
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, eventually romantic
Summary: Where’s a girl’s best friend or her Mabari hound when she needs them?
Note: I just realized that I can't think of titles to save my life, so I'm naming all of these after songs that come up on random when I start writing. I kinda stuck Lifehouse on repeat for around half of this one.
“He shouldn’t be out this long,” Moira murmured, kneeling beside Nathaniel in the throne room. Her hand skimmed his throat, his pulse throbbing strongly beneath her fingertips. “Is something wrong?”
“I know not, Commander,” Varel said, standing beside her.
“Sodding thief just can’t hold his darkspawn blood, is all,” Oghren commented from the post he had taken near the large keg in the corner.
Moira closed her eyes tightly. “Not right now, my friend,” she quietly warned. “If he stays out any longer, we’re going to have to move him.” As furious as he was at her for deciding his fate, she figured that Nathaniel would hate to add waking up with a crick in his neck to his list of grievances.
“There are few rooms in the Keep that are ready for occupation,” Varel explained. “Although, I believe that there is a room in the eastern wing.”
Moira nodded. “Good. Then that will officially be his room.” She ignored the urge to run her fingers through his hair and stood up. It took very little organizing to have two soldiers haul Nathaniel’s limp body up a flight of stairs and down a hallway. She followed a little ways back, her thoughts back to the last time she had been a guest at Vigil’s Keep while Nathaniel had lived there.
The halls had seemed larger, she remembered. Everything was grander, shiner, more intriguing to her back when she had been eighteen. Fergus had been scheduled to leave Amaranthine’s harbor to travel in Antiva for an entire year and leave on the same ship that would take Nathaniel away to the Free Marches. Her father had planned for their family to stay with the Howes for an entire week in order for them both to leave together. Even though she had been exhausted from the journey and depressed at the thought that she would be left alone while two people she loved were going off on their own adventures – let alone that she wouldn’t be seeing Nathaniel for such a long time - she had been on pins and needles with excitement that she had poorly tried to hide. A week in the Keep meant a week with Nathaniel, which was something that Fergus had mercilessly teased her about the entire trip there. Moira could clearly remember the shy glances that she had stolen with Arl Howe’s eldest son at the main gate, how she had felt her cheeks burn in pleased embarrassment when he had commented that she had grown prettier since he had seen her last – and how she had held herself back from elbowing her dear brother in the ribs when he had not so subtly chortled at the compliment.
Most of her time had been spent in Delilah’s company touring the gardens – those same gardens were now in disrepair after two years’ worth of neglect – but her nights had been spent practicing her stealth, carefully padding down the hallways and slinking in the shadows, always in fear that she’d get caught by a maid or a guard as she tried to sneak into Nathaniel’s bedchambers.
Her memories of the past collided with the present when they stopped at his new quarters. Her breath caught and she maneuvered herself in front of the two men carrying Nathaniel to open the door. Eight years had done little to change the room. It hadn’t been lavishly decorated to begin with, but she remembered the large, overstuffed chair near the bedside, the polished bronze telescope arranged near the window, and the roomy bed with its downy soft comforter, which she absolutely refused to let her memories linger on. Instead, she busied herself by building a fire in the hearth while the guards not so gently dumped Nathaniel on the bed. Neither man said a word as they left, but even without turning, Moira could feel that she was now alone with the one man she hadn’t expected to ever see again in her life. Fatigue from the earlier fighting and emotions she hadn’t been prepared to face made her tremble, the room swaying in front of her eyes. She made her way to the chair near the bedside and sat with her knees close to her chest, glad that the dragonscale armor she wore was flexible enough to allow her such a position. It had rained for days after their arrival and the chair had been the perfect place to rest, Nathaniel’s voice sleepily rumbling against her side as he read aloud from a book of poetry while she sat curled up in his lap. She took a deep breath and let her head hit the back of the chair with a soft thump.
“It would seem,” she drawled, more for her benefit than his, “that I’ve arranged for you to take back your old bedroom. You can thank me later.”
Nathaniel’s reply was a slight grunt, his mouth turning down into a frown in his sleep.
“You always did frown too much,” she told him, holding her arms tighter around her knees. “Though I never minded; you always said that I smiled enough for the both of us.” She hadn’t done much smiling in the past two years, what with the death of her family, dealing with the Blight, and trying to rebuild Ferelden alongside a king, who despite his dedication to his new job, was terribly wet behind the ears when it came to politics.
“At least your things are still in place,” she commented, looking again at the telescope. There was a layer of dust on the surface, but other than that, it looked to be in good shape. They’d spent hours at night staring at the stars, his lips near her ear as he whispered the names of constellations and his hands warm on her waist as he held her close. She stared at the telescope until her vision blurred and she was forced to wipe at her face with the back of her hand. “You know, I didn’t believe my friend when he first said it, but fate is definitely a tricky whore.”
“What am I doing here?” she breathed, turning her head so she could look at him. “Did I do the right thing in forcing you to be a Warden?” Better yet, why had she made him become a Warden? Practicality told her that it was because their numbers were far too few, especially since the Wardens from Orlais had been killed or drug off by the darkspawn that had ambushed the Keep. Common sense told her that it had been to keep her enemies close; if Nathaniel was there in front of her, she wouldn’t have to worry about him stealing back into the Keep to slit her throat.
Unfortunately, sentiment was all but screaming that she had chosen to keep Nathaniel at her side because even though his father had murdered her family, stolen her lands, sided with Loghain in a bid to overthrow the throne, and no matter that Nathaniel himself was understandably bitter and angry with her for how she had dealt with the situation, she was still in love with him.
The realization hit her like a ton of bricks, even though in retrospect, it shouldn’t have. While she had spent months loathing his father for what he had done and years afterward helping her brother rebuild their family home, she had never placed any blame on Nathaniel. She had kept his last letter to her tucked into her belongings during the Blight, bringing it out and rereading his words until she could recite them from memory, for Andraste’s sake. Even the Sloth demon in the Circle tower had been able to see her heart, offering her the illusion of happiness with Nate in return for slowly wasting away in the Fade. She had ultimately seen the lie for what it was, but the encounter had rattled her.
She wished that her Mabari hound was there with her, if only so that she would have someone to talk to. Unfortunately for her, Quinn was needed more in Highever. Ever since she had taken the hound back to their old home in order to help with the clean-up, Quinn had stuck to her and Fergus’ sides like glue. Moira hadn’t minded at the time; Fergus had been so distant as they had arranged for Oriana and little Oren’s funerals and it seemed that nothing Moira did could break through the stony defenses he had put up. He had worried her, how he had bottled up his grief and guarded his heart from even her. She had been deathly afraid that he would keep everything in, that he would slowly start to waste away while she was helpless to do anything except watch her last living relative’s spirit die right in front of her eyes. Yet one day, Quinn had given her brother’s hand a nudge with his great big head and Fergus had fallen to his knees, wrapping his arms around Quinn’s neck and sobbing into his fur. The two of them had been inseparable ever since, and it had only made sense to leave him in Highever when she set out for Amaranthine.
Not for the first time since arriving at the Keep, she wished that Alistair was around. Over the years the two of them had become the dearest of friends. While Eamon was Alistair’s chancellor, Alistair usually came to Moira first when he had questions. Moira had protested in the beginning, but had eventually come to realize that he was using her as a sounding board so that he could gain her opinion and judge it against his own before going to Eamon. It didn’t hurt that the two of them thought on the same wavelength, smoothly transitioning from moving tandem on the battlefield dispatching darkspawn to working seamlessly in the throne room attacking procedures and regulations. Eamon had commented on numerous occasions that she would make the perfect Queen for Alistair, but she had refused each time. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Alistair, but it was that she loved him like she would love a brother and their union would ultimately demand an heir that she could honestly never see them attempt to produce.
She had brought that point up to Alistair himself, and she felt as if he had said something to Eamon, because the man had quickly dropped the subject some time after.
But what she wouldn’t give to have Alistair with her. Out of everyone, he was the one person who knew her almost better than she knew herself. He would understand what she was feeling where Nathaniel was concerned. He might not have the right words to say all the time, but he would have held out his arms and hugged her until she was certain that things were going to be all right. Everyone else might see him as the King Who Saved Ferelden, but to Moira, Alistair was nothing but a giant teddy bear.
Getting up from the chair, she fought against her better judgment and perched on the edge of the mattress. “Do you really hate me so?” she whispered, reaching out and tucking a strand of hair behind Nathaniel’s ear. She gave into temptation and ran her fingers down his cheek, staring down at his face that she had long since memorized. She had been ten and he twelve the first time that she had thought he was handsome. She still found him attractive, thinking that he had grown even more so in the years that he had been gone. He’d always been a quiet boy, preferring to sit and read when she had wanted to run outside and climb trees. He had kept his quiet nature as he grew older, which only added to his appeal. There was something about the line of his jaw, the spark of intelligence in his eyes, the strength in his hands that had gotten her interest in earnest when she had been fifteen. As a teenager, she had chalked her interest up to the type of girlish fantasies that led every maid in the castle to sigh over Fergus and Rory while they sparred together in the garrison’s training circle, yet as she had grown up that interest had turned into outright affection, especially after Nathaniel confessed that he shared her feelings. Each letter that she had received from him while he had been away had been treasured, and she had anticipated the day that he would finally come home.
And when I return, nothing would make me happier than the ability to tell everyone that you’re my wife.
Ask me properly when you return, but know that my answer will be yes.
Yes. Even if you ask me a thousand times, I will always say yes.
Moira looked down at Nathaniel, who hadn’t moved or seemed aware that she was sitting next to him. Very carefully, she lightly ran a finger over his bottom lip, thinking back to all the times where she had been free to kiss him. Unfortunately, all of that had come to a screeching halt in her family’s larder, and then died outright in a dark dungeon. Moira bit her lip and stroked his cheek again. How could she even begin to contemplate him falling back in love with her after everything that had happened between their families? How could she even think anything of the sort when it was obvious that he despised her?
He never was one to hold grudges, a little voice in the back of her head protested.
“Yes, but even the most even tempered man would have a problem rekindling a relationship with the woman who had killed the person he most admired.” Besides, he had said some incredibly hurtful things in the dungeon cell, things that still stung. How could he believe that her father would actually betray the king? Bryce Cousland had been an honorable and loyal man; it pained Moira to know that Nathaniel would have believed the lie that his father and Loghain had spread so easily. She thought that her family had meant more to Nathaniel than that, or at least that was what he had often told her himself.
His father killed your entire family. Does that change the way you feel about him?
“No. Nathaniel didn’t have anything to do with what his father did. As far as I know, he wasn’t even aware of his actions.”
Honestly, Moira, the voice said, sounding eerily like her mother, how are you feeling right now?
“Shocked. Hurt. Angry. Confused. Guilty. I had no right to conscript him. The Joining could have killed him.” Thinking back on what she said, she was also ashamed of how she had treated their reunion. Instead of rising above petty insults and barbed comments, she had sunk down to his level, wanting to strike out at him with as much force as he did to her, to make him hurt so he knew just how badly her own heart had been wounded.
But it didn’t.
“He’ll still die. It’ll just take longer.”
Everyone dies. It just so happens that now both of you know how you’ll ultimately go.
“Ah, because dying in the Deep Roads miles under the earth in excruciating pain is the way that everyone wants to meet the Maker.” Moira shook her head and let out a tiny laugh. “Look at me, talking to myself. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that I’ve finally gone mad.”
Nathaniel stirred and Moira could feel that he was on the verge of waking. “Will you ever forgive me, I wonder?” she murmured, kissing her fingers and gently pressing them over his slack lips before standing up to go to the fireplace. She stared at the flames, listening as Nathaniel groaned and sat up. Moira had precious seconds to collect her thoughts and hide her feelings behind a layer of protective armor. She might have survived assassination attempts, darkspawn hordes, and an archdemon, but she didn’t know if she could survive Nathaniel using the knowledge that she still loved him against her.
Her eyes caught on a book sitting atop the mantel. She had a similar copy in the belongings that she had brought back from Highever that still contained between the pages every single letter he had ever written her. “I meant what I said earlier. No matter what happens, no matter how long I’m away, I will always love you. Nothing can ever change that.” Moira could still smell the water from the docks, the memory of riding to Amaranthine to bid Nathaniel farewell still as fresh in her mind as it had been all those years ago. “It seems as if you’ve forgotten your promise,” she whispered, taking a shaky breath to try and settle her nerves. She closed her eyes and remembered the way that he had gathered her in his arms that day, his head dipping down to kiss her. She had gone onto her tiptoes to better align her body with his, one hand wrapped around his shoulders and the other clutching at his tunic.
That had been the last time that anyone had ever kissed Moira. She took a deep breath before gathering enough courage to turn around.
“So, I see that I didn’t manage to die,” Nathaniel said, his voice raspy.
“It would seem that way,” she replied coolly, walking over to the foot of the bed. Nathaniel had already swung his legs over the mattress and was leaning his elbows on his knees. If he recognized that he was in his boyhood room, he didn’t mention anything to her.
“And what,” he said, narrowing his eyes at her, “would be your first order for me, Commander?”
She flinched and put a steadying hand on the bedpost, physically shoving memories away. “If you are well enough, then come with me back to the throne room. You still use a bow, yes?”
“Normally yes, but you know as well as I do that I can wield a blade as well.” They had often gone against the other in their sparring sessions once Moira had finally gotten good enough. Nathaniel was several years of swordsmanship lessons ahead of her, but he had never let a chance pass to give her a tip to help her form.
“We’ll just go with what you normally use. There is a possibility that darkspawn still linger in the cellars. You, Anders, Oghren and I will go down there to eliminate that threat.”
He stood up and leaned a hand against the same bedpost she had her hand on. “Not afraid that I’ll put an arrow through your back?”
She stiffened. I might not hold it against him that he hates me, but this attitude has got to go. “That’s a worry that I can’t afford to have,” she said. Then she leaned against the post, her face bare inches from his own. She had the faintest satisfaction of hearing his indrawn breath and watching the way his eyes darkened before continuing. “Besides, I’m certain that at least one of my friends will object to you killing me. Have you ever been on the business end of an axe wielded by a dwarf in full berserker mode?”
“I can’t say that I have.”
“You don’t want to be. I’ve seen what it can do and it isn’t pretty.” She ran a critical eye down his body before stepping away. His shoulders had filled out and his chest was broader than she remembered it being. Hopefully she would have something that fit him. “I take it that you still prefer leather armor to the heavier suits?”
“Yes.” He broke eye contact first, moving away from the bed and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Good. It just so happens that I have a set of drakescale armor that may suit you after a few slight alterations.”
“I have a suit of armor already,” he bit out stiffly.
“One that’s seen better days. You were out longer than you realize; I had plenty of time to see what you had been wearing.” She raised an eyebrow and casually leaned against the bedpost. “The set of armor I’m suggesting you wear offers more protection than your old one. Your bow could stand a few upgrades as well; and there are several in the armory that I’ve brought with me for you to choose from.” She turned to the door and put her hand on the knob. “You coming? Darkspawn aren’t likely to kill themselves, you know.” She turned her head to find Nathaniel watching her with the most curious look on his face. It wasn’t the sneer that he had adopted since she had first seen him in the dungeons, but it wasn’t anything that she had remembered from their past either. To her, it seemed as if Nathaniel was trying to figure out a complex puzzle and wondering if there was a piece that just might jump out and bite him in the process.
“Why do you do this?” he asked her.
She shrugged. “As much as you hate me now, I would hate to see you get yourself killed on account of foolish pride.” She watched as he made no move to follow before sighing and turning back towards the hallway. He could come down whenever he was ready; she wasn’t going to beg.
“I could never truly hate you,” he said, his voice so soft that it was apparent that she hadn’t been meant to overhear. “I hate what you’ve done to my family.”
Moira tensed and blinked away tears. Hearing him follow her on nearly silent feet, she straightened her posture and flexed her hands, ready to vent her mixed up feelings on any darkspawn that they encountered.
She imagined that had he been there, Alistair would have given her hand a supportive squeeze back.