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Puff the Magic Dragon - 30_hugs prompt

Title: Puff the Magic Dragon
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #10; just a memory
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, eventually romantic
Rating: G
Summary: Dragons have ways of melting ice.

Moira’s hair was still damp from her bath and the meal that Varel had arranged to be set out for them upon their return settled comfortably in her belly. She was exhausted, but found that she couldn’t sleep. Throwing the sheets off her, she pulled her arms through a thick dressing gown and went towards her bedroom door. As an afterthought, she picked up her pack and brought it with her.

The darkened hallways were still unfamiliar to her, the stone cold on her bare feet. She made her way to the formal receiving room, opening the door and stepping inside. She didn’t bother with starting a fire in the hearth, but she did light a few candles to chase away some of the shadows. Sitting on the chaise – she remembered as a child how politely perching on the edge of the lounge had made her back ache whenever she and her mother would visit with the Arlessa – she tucked her feet underneath her and reached inside her satchel. Her fingers blindly found the sharp edges of the drake scales she was looking for and she pulled both out, examining them in the candlelight. One was a dark, rusty red while the other was the deepest blue. Moira turned them towards the light, entranced by the way the candle flame brought out other iridescent colors on each. She let herself become so distracted by them that she didn’t hear the door open.

“Collecting dragon scales must be a hobby of yours.”

Moira jumped, dropping the scales into her lap. “Nathaniel,” she said, clearing her throat and sitting up straighter. “I hadn’t heard you come in.”

“It seems as if I’ve begun to share your habit of not being able to sleep after a fight,” he said, coming closer and standing beside the high backed chair next to the chaise. After a brief internal debate, he decided to sit. “Is that common for Grey Wardens?”

Moira shrugged. “I don’t know. Oghren doesn’t seem to have that problem; I passed by his room on the way over here and heard him snoring away.” She picked up one of the scales again and looked at it.

“I should leave,” Nathaniel said in a rush. “I’m sorry for disturbing you.” Truthfully, he was still shaken by the events in the mines. He had tried sleeping, but every time he did, he would dream about killing Moira’s double. The nightmares were so vivid that he could feel the weight of the double against him and its blood pouring over his hands, except that when he looked into the double’s eyes, it had been Moira staring back at him instead. Are you happy now? she kept asking him, her face oddly peaceful looking. Will this make up for everything?

He had bolted awake in a cold sweat, wanting nothing more than to get as far away from his bed as possible. He had seen light coming from underneath the door to his mother’s sitting room and had investigated, finding Moira sitting with her back to him, the scales in her hands. Leftover panic from his dream had seized him momentarily, but just like the time on the battlements, he realized that being in her presence was a soothing balm to his frayed nerves.

He guessed that no matter how much he tried to shove it aside, the past had a way of reminding him of what they once had.

“No, please,” she said, reaching out and putting a hand on the arm of his chair. “I…I could use the company.”

He sat back in his chair, gesturing to the scale she held. “Those go for a sizeable price in the market,” he commented. “I’m surprised that you didn’t sell them.”

She shook her head. “They’re not for sale,” she said. “Actually, they’re not even for me.”

“Who are they for, then?”

Moira’s lips turned up in a sad smile. “They’re for Oren, my nephew. You remember me writing to you about him, don’t you?” She turned the scales in the light again, her expression softening at the mention of her nephew. “He was the sweetest boy I ever knew; persistent too. He would often follow Rory around and pester him for shield bashing lessons. Didn’t want anything to do with learning rogue skills, he said that he wanted to be a warrior just like his father.”

Nathaniel noted how she spoke of Oren in the past tense. It made sense, seeing how even he had heard that the entire Cousland line had all but been destroyed that night. “I remember you called him Fergus’ duplicate. You said he would shadow him wherever he went.”

She laughed. “Yes, he did. His mother often said that it was a marvel that she wasn’t raising a little terror between mine and Fergus’ influence. He wanted to have his very own sword so badly; begging Fergus when he left for Ostagar to bring him back one.” She could see Oren now, running through the castle with his imaginary sword and shield, leaving make-believe enemies slain in his wake. “He took strongly after Fergus. I’m certain that had he lived, he would have been as insufferable as my brother had been when it came to girls.”

“You speak very fondly of him.”

Moira put a hand to her chest. “I couldn’t have loved him any more if he had been my own child.” She remembered how she had felt that first time she had held him, how she had instantly fallen in love with the red and wrinkled baby wailing in her arms, knowing that she would do everything within her power to make him happy and keep him safe.

Moira’s heart fell. She had failed her sweet Oren. She had failed them all. Grief had a way of sneaking up on her when she least expected it to, digging its talons into her throat and bringing tears to her eyes. “The last conversation we had,” she said, her voice shaky as the scales she held up began to blur in front of her, “was about dragons. Oren was so worried that the castle would come under attack while Fergus and Father were gone, that dragons would burn our home to the ground.” She swallowed hard. If she looked up at Nathaniel now, she didn’t know what she would say. “I promised him that I’d slay any dragons I came across and bring scales to him.”

Nathaniel was silent, watching the way Moira withdrew into herself, her hands going up to hug her elbows. He didn’t know what to say to break the uneasy silence that had fallen between them, but Moira did it for him.

“I haven’t done a good job keeping up my end of the bargain; the only scale I’ve brought him belonged to the High Dragon guarding the mountaintop path leading to Andraste’s ashes. I thought it would be too dangerous to bring one belonging to the Archdemon to Highever, and Flemeth only transformed herself into a dragon, so technically she didn’t count.”

Nathaniel leaned forward. “You killed the Witch of the Wilds?”

Moira nodded. “It’s a long story.”

“One of many, I don’t doubt.” He glanced at her, noting that she was finally looking his way again. “I never dreamed that the girl I left behind would have such tales to tell.”

She tilted her head. “We both know that I’m not that same girl,” she said softly, slipping the scales back into her satchel. “There are times that I miss her.”

He wanted to tell her that he missed that same girl as well, but kept his thoughts to himself. “I think she may still be around,” he said instead. “I saw her when you spoke of your nephew.”

Moira stretched her legs out and swung them over the side of the chaise. “Thank you,” she told him quietly. She stood up and grabbed the straps of her bag, but stopped when Nathaniel stood and wrapped his fingers around her wrist.

“I don’t know what happened that night,” he said, staring intently at her. “But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry that you had to suffer so much loss.” Somehow, he knew that the barrier of hurt feelings and resentment that he hid himself behind would eventually fall, that the icy layer he put around his heart would thaw. He didn’t know if it was because of the mines, or the nightmares he had of them, or because of the way that Moira stoically tried not to shed the tears that made her eyes shimmer in the candlelight, but he knew that he couldn’t hold up the harsh way that he had been treating her any longer. He let go of her wrist and waited for her to make the next move.

“Thank you,” she said again. The air in the sitting room suddenly seemed too confining, the small room becoming even tinier. Talking about Oren had brought back some pleasant memories of the boy, but it had also brought back several that she would rather keep buried. She looked up at Nathaniel’s face and her heart pounded against her chest. She would have been able to keep her emotions hidden had he looked at her with the slight disdain that she was currently growing accustomed to seeing from him, but he was staring down at her in sympathy, his eyes soft and reminding her of how he had used to look at her right before he told her that he loved her so long ago. She sat back down on the chaise and stared up at him. “I can’t do this, Nathaniel,” she confessed.

“Can’t do what?” He had a feeling that he already knew what she was going to say, but he needed to hear her say it out loud.

“I can’t continue with the way we’re going, where we can barely stand to be in the same room with one another. I can’t force myself to hate you; I don’t want to hate you. It hurts to know that everything we once had is now gone.” She clenched her fists in her lap and bit her lip. Well, you lasted all of three days, she thought sarcastically. So much for the strong front you were supposed to put up against him.

He sat down heavily onto his recently vacated chair. “I…”

She held out a hand. “I know better than to ask the same of you. We’ve said harsh things to the other since we’ve met again and I know you think that what I’ve done to your family is inexcusable, especially when it comes to your father.” She sat up straighter. “I won’t apologize for my actions, which I’m certain is another thing that you hate about me.”

“You killed my father and took over my home. How else do you expect me to feel?” Nathaniel’s tone was quiet, but it still felt like a knife in her chest.

She leaned forward. “Do you honestly think that I wanted this position? I don’t mind being Warden-Commander, but I fought Alistair as hard as I could to move our post to somewhere else besides Amaranthine. I didn’t want to become Arlessa, not…” she looked down, her shoulders slumping. “Not like this. Never like this.”

“What do you want me to do? Do you want me to leave?”

She shook her head. “No. This is still your home. I could never ask you to leave. Isn’t there any way that we could manage to co-exist without this distance we’ve set up between us?” She looked up at him with such openness that he could clearly see how much this conversation was costing her, how very badly she wanted things to change. Had he not decided to put away his resentment just then, it would have been easy to say a few words that would have cut through her, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“You know that I’ve never been good with words,” he said slowly, slipping the chain he wore over his head. “But I hope that this…” he paused, his thumb running over the band one last time before he handed the necklace over to her. “I want you to have it.”

Moira stared dumbly at the ring sitting in the middle of his palm. “This was my mother’s,” she whispered, reaching out and taking it with shaking fingers. “She said that she lost it. Father commissioned a new one when they renewed their wedding vows. Why…” The metal was still warm from Nathaniel’s skin and she held it close to her heart.

“Why should I have it?” he asked, leaning his elbows onto his knees. “Your mother never lost it; she gave it to me two months before I left for the Free Marches.” He gave her a sad smile. “I went to your parents to ask for their permission to marry you. She told me how that ring had been passed down and how pleased she would be to have you wear it.”

“But…” It was difficult to breathe. “They never said a word. All those years and they never once told me that they knew about us.”

“I asked them not to. I wanted to be the one to tell you once I got back.” He stared at the way she carefully held the ring, the chain it was on falling through her fingers. “I didn’t want to keep it here while I was away, and I didn’t trust having it in my pocket for fear of losing it, so I wore it every day not only to keep it safe, but as a reminder of what waited for me back home.” His throat felt naked now without it and he hoped that what he had meant to say had translated well. “You should have it. It’s always been yours.”

Nathaniel watched as Moira turned the ring over in her palm, her finger tracing the delicate engraving on the inside of the band. Nathaniel had often done the same, the two words written there giving him comfort whenever he had missed Moira. Love endures, he thought, watching as she mouthed the same words. If only that were true. He stood, not knowing what to do when she began to cry, tears silently falling down her cheeks. Without saying another word, he left the room, softly closing the door behind him.

Moira wiped at her face with the back of her hand. “You knew,” she whispered, sniffling. It made sense now; the way they had both carefully steered any potential suitors away, how they had never pushed anyone onto her, how they had never actively nagged her about marriage.

Besides being a friend of yours, do you think that you’d ever have romantic feelings for Nathaniel?

How can you be certain that Nathaniel will share the same sentiment?

How can he not? You’re a beautiful, smart, capable woman. Any man would be lucky to have you.

I think that it would be very easy for me to love Nathaniel.

Then it would please you for me to speak with Rendon?

Yes. It would please me greatly.

“Oh, Papa,” Moira said, a loud sob escaping her. The sound triggered another, then another and soon Moira found herself crying in a way that she had never allowed herself to do, not when she had fled to Ostagar with Duncan, not when she had been on the road during the Blight, not even when she had been helping Alistair rebuild what had been lost. She cried until her throat went raw and she felt ill, her face blotchy and her eyes swollen. She cried for her family, for Roland, for all those who had been lost.

She cried for herself too, for the girl who had dreamt of marrying the love of her life and living happily ever after. Her heart ached for that girl, as well as the boy who she had loved and how things between them would never be the same again. Exhausted, Moira curled into a tight ball on the chaise and fell into a fitful slumber, her mother’s ring clutched tightly in her hands.

Nathaniel leaned heavily against the other side of the closed door and let out a ragged breath. He was torn between flinging the door open and gathering Moira into his arms to offer her any comfort he could give and walking away to give her privacy. In only three days Nathaniel had seen what a strong person Moira was and how she was someone who others clearly looked to for guidance and as a rock to lean on. He’d also seen something brittle in her eyes that reminded him of how even the strongest piece of steel could break if exposed long enough to harsh conditions. It seemed that handing her back the ring had been her breaking point. Knowing how Moira had often put the needs of others before her own in the past, Nathaniel could only guess that she had pushed aside her own personal issues in favor of dealing with the aftermath of the Blight and she was finally allowing herself to mourn those she had lost.

In the end Nathaniel hadn’t been able to decide what to do, so he stood there and listened to her cry until he couldn’t hear her any longer, feeling about as low as he possibly could for ever thinking that Moira had not gone through the same type of loss or felt the same feelings as he had.

“I can’t do this either,” he murmured, stepping away from the door and moving down the hallway. He didn’t know how they could live under one roof together after everything that had happened between them, but he was determined to try to set things as right as he could.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Dec. 1st, 2010 08:51 am (UTC)
OMG that broke my heart... especially when Nathaniel gave Moira her mother's ring. Oh... I am SO into this story now (not that I wasn't before, but... :D)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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