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Quasimodo - 30_hugs prompt

Title: Quasimodo
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #30; hug!
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, romantic
Rating: G
Summary: Being the leader is not all sunshine and puppies.
Note: I know this was supposed to happen in-game a lot sooner than this, but I kinda pushed it back a little.

He found her pacing on top of the battlements, one arm wrapped protectively around her middle, the other holding up the necklace she almost always wore. She was staring at the mirrored back as if she’d find answers to whatever questions she had, her mouth drawn into a tense, thin line. In the torchlight, Nathaniel could see that her armor was still as stained with darkspawn blood just as his own was.

“You handled that well,” he said, leaning against the wall. They’d just returned to the Keep after encountering a large pocket of enemies when their party had been confronted by a mob of angry citizens demanding their fair share of grain. Moira had been worn out, but Nathaniel noted that she had still managed to carry herself with her usual amount of grace and poise, quietly dispersing the would-be mob before it could truly form.

“Did I?” She let the necklace settle back against her skin and crossed her arms. “There was almost a riot in the courtyard.”

“But you put a stop to it before it even began.”

She frowned. “Those people should have never even had a reason to gather in the first place. All they wanted was grain; why weren’t the granaries opened sooner?” She thought back to Alec, the shepherd who she’d conscripted into the army when he was caught stealing food for his family. “These poor people are starving.”

Nathaniel went up to her and carefully pried her hands away from her arms. “There’s not much you can do,” he told her, his hands uncurling her fingers from the fists she clenched them in.

“I am their Arlessa, for Andraste’s sake. There is plenty that I could have done.” Anger flashed in her eyes and Nathaniel knew from experience that it was directed towards herself.

“Ah, yes. Because you could control two growing seasons since the Blight ended. Or, since you’ve only recently become Arlessa that means that you’re instantly able to make the lands fertile or control the rain for this season alone.” He rubbed his thumbs against the backs of her hands. “Tell me, have you the power to magically fill the grain silos by merely waving your hand? If you do, then you’ve cleverly hidden that ability from everyone.”

Moira sighed, her shoulders slumping in defeat. “You know how to pull the wind out of a good temper tantrum, don’t you?”

He shrugged. “It’s one of my many talents.” Settling his hands on her shoulders, he held her out at arm’s length. “You have been doing as much as you possibly can with the few resources you have at your disposal. Look what you’ve done in as little as two months: trade is starting to flow again, the farms are guarded from darkspawn, there are previously undiscovered ore deposits at hand, and you’re upgrading the Keep’s walls, which has been needed for generations.”

“It’s just that I wish I could do more for people,” she told him. “I feel so powerless.” She’d had many a sleepless night since coming to Vigil’s Keep. If dreams of darkspawn didn’t keep her awake, the images of hungry children did, their cheeks hallowed out as they begged for food, their skeletal hands holding onto her skirts.

Nathaniel tugged her towards him, his arms going around her. “You put too much on yourself sometimes,” he said, his cheek against her hair. He ran his hands down her back in soothing circles. “You don’t always have to play the hero, you know.”

“I know. It’s just that after spending so long fixing other people’s problems while I traveled, I don’t know how else to act now.” She wrapped her arms around his waist and settled comfortably in his arms. “Not that I don’t appreciate the gesture, but what was this for?”

“You gave me one the night Adria died; I thought I’d return the favor.” He tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “Besides, you looked like you needed it.” And just like she had told him that night, Nathaniel hated to see Moira unhappy.

“It could have been much worse,” she confessed, sighing when his fingers worked at a knot in her shoulders. “There might have been bloodshed.”

“You’re right. And now that the farmers have had their say, you’ve proven to everyone that you’re willing to listen to conflicts fairly and deal with them in a just fashion. You’ve also sent troops out to protect their lands, which goes a long way in developing their trust.”

“What would you have done differently?” Hearing Nathaniel try to cheer her on just made her more aware that he should have been in charge instead of her. He had, after all, spent his childhood and subsequent early adulthood being trained to take over the arling. He knew these people far better than she did. Moira often found herself looking to him for advice before she went to Varel, which suddenly reminded her of what Alistair used to do with her in those early days.

“Nothing. Having the guard try to calm the crowd down would have only incited tempers and giving out seemingly empty promises would have done the same. You did the right thing.”

She hugged him tighter. “Thank you. You don’t know how much I appreciate that.”

Her admission shouldn’t have made his heart swell as much as it had. “Well, my lady, what are we going to do next?”

“I can write to the Bannorn, ask for aid,” she mused, her hand resting on his chest. “With Alistair there now, he might be able to help out.” The area had quickly bounced back from the Blight, and weather had been favorable for growing crops. If she recalled correctly from the reports at the palace, there was a surplus of produce to be had. Perhaps she could trade food for resources, or get with Mistress Woolsey and see if they had any money in their coffers to spend on purchasing what they needed outright. There were also the supplies at the Keep. Surely they didn’t need all of what was in their vast larders – she could organize a party to distribute the extras to the Chantry. She knew that if she paid too much attention to the farmlands and not enough to Amaranthine, she might have yet another riot on her hands at a later date. Highever might be another option. She didn’t know the exact numbers in the brother’s grain stores, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask and see if he could spare anything. While the castle had been taken over two years ago, the town below had been left relatively intact. Hopefully Fergus would have things to spare. She was reluctant to ask for guards instead of food, seeing as the number of soldiers under his employ was almost as low as hers.

“You’re thinking,” Nathaniel accused, tapping at her temple with his index finger. “Care to elaborate?”

“Nothing quite yet,” she admitted. “I’m just thinking that it is taking considerably more work rebuilding Ferelden from the Blight than it had in saving it. You would think that it would have been the other way around instead.”

“That’s because you can’t whack protesters with pointy objects,” Nathaniel said, stepping away. “Come on, let’s get down from here. It looks like it might rain.” He started towards the stairway leading back down to the lower levels of the Keep, but Moira’s hand on his arm stopped him.

“I meant what I said, Nathaniel,” she told him. “I don’t think I could have done any of this without you. Thank you for being here.”

He gave her a crooked grin and held onto her hand. “What can I say? We make a good team.”

She looked up at him, the smile on her face reminding him of the ones she used to give him so long ago, warming him from the inside out. “That we do.”

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