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Wicked Game - 30_hugs prompt

Title: Wicked Game
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #29; silhouette
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, romantic
Rating: G
Summary: Nathaniel has a rather unorthodox way of teaching shadow skills.
Note: You guys! I have fanart! The wonderful annikainen just posted this. *dances*

“What are you reading?” The question spoken so close to her ear had Moira jumping, the manuscript in her hands snapping shut.

“Nothing!” she said, trying to hide the cover in the folds of her dress. It had been such a nice day that she had decided to take a break and spend the afternoon reading in one of the inner courtyard gardens. The roses were in full bloom, their perfume creating a pleasant atmosphere. “We’re going to have to institute a new rule: no sneaking on others while off-duty.”

Nathaniel smirked as he sat on the stone bench beside her, his head craned to try and read the title on the spine peeking out from under her sleeve. “It’s too thin to be one of those tawdry Orlesian romance novels my sister was so fond of reading,” he teased, his mouth working into a mischievous smile when Moira swatted his hands away. “And it’s too thick to be a letter that you’d get this worked up over me spying.” He bumped his shoulder against hers, grinning when her cheeks turned a bright scarlet. “Is it a letter? Wait, don’t tell me; it’s a passionate love missive from the king of Ferelden.”

She laughed. “The only way any letter from Alistair would be passionate in nature would be if he waxed poetic on a new shipment of cheeses. If you really must know,” she sighed and pulled the manuscript out. “It is a training manual. Yuriah had them for sale.”

“It’s a little thin to be a full training guide on the shadow arts,” Nathaniel mused, thumbing through the pages. “If you really wanted to learn, you could have just asked me.”

She smoothed an invisible wrinkle out of her skirt. “Well, I wanted to know the basics before I did.”

“I should have thought to teach you earlier. Your attack style tends to be…”


He snorted. “I was going to say a full-frontal assault with a bit of flanking action, but we’ll go with your description if it pleases you.”

She harrumphed. “I am too stealthy.”

“Yes, when sneaking around undetected, picking locks or locating traps, I’ll give you that. Unfortunately, when facing darkspawn, you tend to meet them head on. Blending into the shadows might make your job a little bit easier.” Not to mention that certain shadow skills made enemies lose interest in their target, which would take a load off of Nathaniel’s mind. Every time Moira waded into the thick of a group of enemies, his breath always caught in his throat at the idea that she was taking on more than she could possibly handle by herself. Standing up, he held his hands out to her. “Now, what exactly do you know about the shadow arts?”

“I know that they’re an extension of stealth skills.”

“Yes. And like stealth, blending into the shadows depends on the skill level of the user.” Reaching out, he brushed his fingers over her eyes. “Keep your eyes closed until I say otherwise.”

Moira’s ears picked up the sound of his boots crunching on the gravel pathway. It seemed that he was deliberately being loud in order for her to try to pinpoint his location by sound alone. Her head turned to the right where Nathaniel’s heel made a particularly loud snapping sound in the gravel.

“Open your eyes,” he said, his voice confirming where she thought he’d be. Moira blinked and turned around so that she could face him.

Except that he wasn’t there.

“Nate?” She automatically looked for any shadows that he might have hidden himself in, but saw that the center of the courtyard was in full sun. Slowly turning on her heel, she scanned the area, her eyes darting around.

“Oh, like I’m supposed to make this easy for you,” he teased, his voice coming from her left. Quickly spinning around, she thought she caught a darker looking silhouette by the garden’s entrance.

“I’d say you weren’t making it difficult enough,” she said triumphantly, going towards him. “Tag, you’re it,” she crowed, tapping him on the shoulder.

Or she would have, if her hand hadn’t gone right through.

“You were saying?” Nathaniel asked, his voice at her ear. She jumped when his hands settled on her shoulders.

“A decoy, I should have known.” She pushed her hair out of her face and turned to face him. “So, have you finished showing off?”

He tilted his head. “For the time being. As I was saying, the user’s skill level determines the success rate of your shadow talents. We’ll start with the easiest and most important one, the shadow form.” He led her towards the deeper shadows underneath the archway. “Truthfully, this time of day isn’t the best to begin practicing, but at least we can see just where you might need work better than at night. First of all, show me your stealth mode.” He had heard Oghren and her go on and on about how sneaky she was capable of being, but he’d never actually seen it firsthand. True, she was silent and quick on her feet, but it would take a little bit more that just that if she wanted to master the moves he was willing to teach her.

Moira took a breath and held it. Leliana had taught her how to move undetected, and she’d had a lot of practice in Denerim trying to avoid guards and well-meaning folk who wanted to see the Hero of Ferelden. She slowly let the air out of her lungs and drew it back in, breathing shallowly so she wouldn’t give up her position. Sticking against the garden’s walls, she made sure her slippers didn’t make a noise on the gravel.

“Nice,” Nathaniel said, looking around the garden. “I would have never noticed you if I hadn’t been watching the entire time.”

“So, am I a suitable enough student?” she asked, coming back to where he was standing.

He smiled. “Quite. The secret to the shadow form is to attempt to blend in with the darkness around you. Find the shadows and meld with them, like so.” His expression didn’t change, but one moment he was there in front of Moira and the next he wasn’t. “The trick is to control your breathing,” he said, reappearing. “Now, you try.”

Moira stared at the shadows around them. Concentrating, she slid into her stealth position and thought about what she wanted to do. “Did it work?” she asked after a while.

He shook his head. “Not quite. Try it again.”

They went back and forth for almost an hour before Moira gave up. “I don’t know what’s wrong,” she said, slumping down on the bench. “I’m doing everything you’re telling me.”

Nathaniel rubbed his chin and frowned, thinking about what his own instructors might have said. “I think the problem is with your breathing,” he told her. “Are you certain you’re doing it shallowly enough?”

She let out an unladylike snort. “You put on a corset and then ask if I’m breathing shallowly enough,” she quipped, gesturing towards the tightly laced bodice she was wearing. She stood up and shook out her hands, ready to try again. Taking as deep of a breath as possible, she let it out on a stuttering sigh when Nathaniel’s arms went around her.

“Let’s try this again,” he murmured, one hand going to her hip while the other settled warmly at her sternum, his fingers fitting between her breasts. The hand at her hip tightened, bringing her back flush to his front so that she was able to feel the rise and fall of his chest. “Mimic my breathing.” While this wasn’t exactly how his instructor had taught him, it was the easiest way to demonstrate. And admit it, he thought, having her in your arms isn’t such a hardship, now is it?

Moira swallowed hard and tried to find her balance. Reaching out, she put a steadying hand against the side of Nathaniel’s right thigh. “Your heart is racing,” he told her, his lips grazing the curve of her ear. He smiled when he felt her pulse jump against his palm. “Try to relax.”

She tried to think of something witty to reply with, but all her thoughts had scattered and it was impossible to retrieve them. She settled with a strangled ‘hrm’ noise instead, which made Nathaniel quietly chuckle, the vibration going all the way down her spine. Closing her eyes, she tried to block everything out, concentrating on feeling his chest move against her back. Gradually, she felt her breathing match his.

Nathaniel relaxed against her. While he had initially chosen this position as a way to flirt with Moira, the atmosphere had rapidly changed to something deeper, more intimate than he had anticipated. Their heartbeats slowed down and mirrored the other until he wasn’t sure which one was his any longer. Her head lolled to the side to rest against his chest and it felt right for him to put his chin on her shoulder, filling the space she had created. The hand she had braced on his leg moved until her fingers laced with his at her hip. The attraction he felt whenever he thought about her was certainly present, but instead of the sharp bite of desire, he felt something quieter, like a flame that had been carefully banked instead of being allowed to quickly burn out of control. The feeling was new to him and he embraced it, deciding to savor the moment as long as possible.

As much as he hated to, Nathaniel carefully stepped away after a while. “Congratulations,” he said, his voice sounding far too loud in the silent garden. “I do believe you’ve mastered the shadow form.”

Moira looked down at herself, noting the way that shadows had clung to her body. “I wouldn’t say that for certain,” she told him, stepping out of the shadows. “I mean, darkspawn aren’t exactly going to wait around until I get my breath under control, now are they?”

His mouth twisted upwards. “You do have a point. Perhaps we should start practicing in the evenings? As I said, this light isn’t the most ideal to train in.”

“I’d like that.” Her hip still tingled where his hand had been. “Didn’t you say you wanted to learn the dualist technique a while back?”

He nodded. “I did. Are you suggesting that you teach it to me in return?”

She winked at him. “It depends. How good are you at playing Wicked Grace?”


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 23rd, 2010 02:42 am (UTC)
Phew! Reading that made MY breathing go a bit funny! That should be an interesting game of cards :)
Jun. 24th, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
Thanks! Hrm, I'm betting either one of them would eventually propose a game of strip poker Grace, which would definitely wind up interesting. :)
Jun. 23rd, 2010 02:54 am (UTC)
Exquisite! If a little unorthodox - not that I'm complaining! I especially liked the line comparing the desire to a carefully banked flame instead of an out of control inferno.
Jun. 24th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm hoping to try and pull off showing different facets of a relationship into this story, from the urgent "have to have you" side all the way to the quiet "I just like hanging around you" spectrum.
Jun. 23rd, 2010 10:19 am (UTC)
Aaaahh wonderful! *tries to steady her breathing* That was an incredibly beautiful moment, and the way you described it... *Sigh* I think I have to go for a run to vent it out a bit. Thank you for this! Made my week <3
Jun. 24th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
Yay! Glad you liked it! :) The next one is slowly coming together, so hopefully I'll have it ready by either this weekend or sometime early next week. It's quite fluffy, which is always fun to write. (That and it gives me an excuse to write Happy!Nathaniel)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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