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Miles Behind Me - 30_hugs prompt

Title: Miles Behind Me
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #12; oxygen
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, romantic
Rating: PG
Summary: Dealing with near-death out-of-body experiences isn’t for the faint of heart.

Musicians had composed songs of her deeds, both as the Hero of Ferelden and as the Dark Wolf; although no one besides a select few knew of her involvement in the latter. Seven months ago, the people of Amaranthine praised her as she led efforts to rebuild their city and they were still reacting positively to having her as their Arlessa, making the Grey Warden’s occupation of the arling run smoothly. Moira had slain an archdemon, defeated both the Architect and the Mother, sneered at dragons, and laughed in the faces of abominations. She’d dodged blows, unarmed intricate traps, and avoided multiple assassination attempts.

She found it immensely ironic that while she had made it through all of those things relatively unscathed, all it took was a run of the mill bandit with a bit of knowledge on poisons to finally do her in. The roadside attack had taken both her and Nathaniel by surprise; they had been walking back to the Keep from the city after a day of overseeing damage repairs. Things were looking good and both their moods had been high. Seeing as it was a working visit, both of them had neglected to wear any armor and only traveled with the lightest of weapons. The four bandits had jumped out from a ditch roughly a mile away from the Keep, demanding valuables. Between the two of them, she and Nathaniel had easily taken three of the bandits, but the fourth one snuck up while Moira was busy attacking and stabbed her with a dagger. Moira had winced at the feel of the blade hitting her ribs, and then her knees hit the dirt road as fiery pain shot up her side. She vaguely heard Nathaniel shout out to her over the roar of blood in her ears as she collapsed.

“Damn them!” Nathaniel cursed, pressing his hand against her side to try to stem the bleeding. She clenched her teeth, smothering a scream, and put her hand over his.

“Don’t touch the blade,” she warned, turning her head to the side and coughing up blood. “It’s poisoned.” Her mind ran through all the symptoms and she closed her eyes in defeat, the side of her face sinking into the dirt. Zevran and Leliana’s voices rang in her ears, explaining how just the right amounts of the simplest ingredients could create a toxin so deadly that it killed its subject before antitoxins could even begin to work. Prying Nathaniel’s hand away from her side, she attempted to sit up.

“Are you insane?” he hissed, moving so that he was supporting her body. His heart was frantically beating against his chest as he tried to staunch her wound again. “You’re going to bleed to death if we don’t bandage this.” Even as he spoke, he ripped the bottom half of her shirt into strips and wound them around her middle, using his own torn sleeves to supplement the makeshift bandages.

“I’m already dying,” she reasoned, trying to catch her breath to speak in anything louder than a pained wheeze. “If anything, bleeding out here will be preferable to what this poison will do to me.”

He shook his head. “No. I refuse to let you die here.” He hooked one arm under her knees and the other behind her back and rose, staggering as he picked her up. “We’re close to the Keep; Anders will heal you.” Even Nathaniel realized that he sounded panicked, and he began to run as fast as he could while he felt her blood soak through his clothes. “I’m not letting you give up this easily.”

“It’s too late. The poison will finish me in less than twenty minutes. We’re a half hour away from the Keep, if not more,” she murmured, her head falling backward over his arm. “Funny, I always figured I’d die away from the sunlight and in the middle of a darkspawn mob.” It was almost better this way; the stories Alistair had told her about the Wardens following their Calling had always frightened her. She’d never wanted to die in the dark.

“And you’re still going to get the chance, if I have anything to say about it.”

Moira gasped, her back bowing as the poison made her muscles spasm. Clawing at Nathaniel’s shoulder, she put a hand on his cheek. “Go to Varel,” she told him. “There are letters that you need to read once you get back. He’ll know the ones I’m talking about. One of them is for you, the other is for Alistair.”

“We can read them later.” He tried to run faster, but the blood on his hands made the hold he had on her slippery.

“Someone is going to have to tell Fergus,” she said. “And arrangements will have to be made.” Her heart clenched as she thought about her brother. She was going to miss him so much. “People are going to look to you for advice now.” Nathaniel’s breath puffed against her face as he ran, and she took a measure of comfort in the fact that she was going to die in his arms. “I just wish that we could have had more time together; I would have…”

“No,” he interrupted, glaring down at her. “You are not going to give any deathbed confessions.” He hiked her up higher in his arms. “You can tell me later, when you’re well.” The road was beginning to become well-maintained, telling him that they were close to the Keep. “We’re almost home. Just hold on for a while longer.” He ran through the front entrance and into the courtyard, bellowing at the top of his lungs for Anders. Exhausted from his run, he fell to his knees, cradling Moira close to his chest. Her skin had gone waxy pale and there was a hint of blue around her lips. “No. Stay with me, Moira.”

Moira found it extremely difficult to open her eyes. She could hear Nathaniel speaking to her, but it was almost as if she were listening to him with her head submerged under water. Somewhere behind her, she heard Anders curse. Letting her eyes look up, she caught a glimpse of the highest portion of the tower. “When did we get to Highever?” she asked, her voice sounding far away.

Nathaniel looked up to Anders, who was shaking his head. “Do something,” he hissed, holding Moira tighter against him. Her skin was clammy and he winced when she cried out as he pressed his hand against her wound.

“What do you think I’m doing?” Anders replied, his expression grim. He could already tell at a glance that a simple healing or regeneration spell wasn’t going to cut it. Running through his mental catalog of spells, he began to cast.

“Moira,” Nathaniel said, tilting her face up with his hands, his fingers leaving streaks of bright red across her cheeks. “Listen to me. I need you to look at me.” He panicked when he saw that her eyes were already starting to dim. “Don’t leave me, please.” he whispered, his lips at her temple.

“Nan’s baking cookies,” she said. Her voice was so soft that Nathaniel had to strain to hear it. “Can you smell them?” Ginger and spices perfumed the air. If she was lucky, she might be able to get one fresh out of the oven.

“No.” Nathaniel looked at her face, watching as the light left her eyes and her breath went past her lips with a sigh, her body going limp in his arms. “No!

Moira felt her body growing lighter and lighter. She tried to touch Nathaniel’s arm, but her hand went right through him. She stood up, feeling strangely disconnected as she looked down at her own body lying there on the cobblestones, a puddle of blood underneath her. Amid the slowly growing crowd of people, Nathaniel had his face buried against the side of her neck, his arms wrapped around her body as he slowly rocked back and forth. Her shoulder muffled the low, anguished sounding moan that was wrenched from his chest and she wished that she could do something to reassure him that she was fine now. She knelt and was in the middle of one last failed attempt at a hug when a noise behind her caught her attention.

“Auntie!” Moira’s head turned and tears blurred her vision. Somehow, Castle Highever had appeared directly behind her, the white battlements shining in the sunlight and the Cousland flag flapping proudly in the breeze. Oren was standing at the front gates, a wooden practice sword and shield in his hands. Behind him were three other familiar figures. Letting out a sob, Moira stood and ran to them, her arms outstretched.

“Ah, Pup,” her father said, smoothing his hand over her hair as he embraced her. “It’s so good to have you home.”


“Not so fast, Commander,” Anders said, blue light spilling from his hands. “We’re not letting you go that easily.” Nathaniel could feel the spell sink into Moira’s skin and he looked down at her hopefully. Her back arched off the ground as magic forced air into her lungs and his hand went to her throat, trying to search for a pulse.

“She’s alive,” he breathed, feeling the faintest beat under his fingers.

“Try not to move her just yet,” Anders told him, leaning heavily on his staff. “I don’t think I have enough mana left in me to do another resurrection spell any time soon.” Luckily Serena had heard the commotion was currently getting onlookers out of her way as she knelt beside Nathaniel, her hands digging into her bag of potions and poultices in a quick, efficient manner that Anders was rapidly growing fond of.

“Thank you,” Nathaniel said, his hands shaking as he smoothed Moira’s hair out of her face. She was still pale, but at least there was a hint of color about her cheeks now. “I am in your debt.”

“She’s my friend too,” the mage explained, wincing when Serena undid the bloody rags, exposing the deep puncture wound at Moira’s side. Both healers shared a look before Anders gathered the last bit of his energy to cast a low level healing spell to repair the worst of it, letting Serena follow up with a poultice and fresh bandages. “It wouldn’t do if she just up and died, leaving us to our own devices, now would it?”

“No, it wouldn’t.” Nathaniel rubbed a streak of blood away from the corner of her lip with his thumb. “We’d be lost without her.”


The sun was warm on Moira’s face as she dangled her bare feet off the training platform. “You’ve had quite the adventure,” Rory told her, swiping one of the cookies from the pile she had cajoled Nan into letting her have. After her reunion with her family, he had shown up and the two of them had made their way down to the sparring ring where they had spent the majority of their time together in life. “I’m almost sorry I didn’t get to witness it firsthand.”

It was strange seeing her friend out of his armor, but the simple white cotton tunic and dark brown breeches suited him, his own feet pale against the dark wood of the platform. “I wish that you’d been there too,” she said, chewing thoughtfully. “I’ve missed you.”

Ser Gilmore leaned against her. “I’ve missed you too, my lady.”

“Do you remember how you died?” she asked suddenly. Her mind went back to the first time she and Fergus had gone back to Highever, shortly after Alistair’s coronation. Part of her had expected Rendon to have left everyone where they lay, to leave heads on pikes as a grisly reminder as to whom the castle now belonged to. She was grateful that the worst they had found was a mass grave, none of the bodies desecrated in any way. At least he had some sense of decency with that.

He shook his head. “I don’t quite recall,” he told her, his hand involuntarily going to his chest. “I think I was run through? It happened so quickly that I don’t even remember feeling the blow.”

Moira leaned heavier on him. “I’m glad that you weren’t in any pain in the end. Thank you, for your sacrifice. If it weren’t for you and the others defending the entrance, then I wouldn’t have been able to escape.”

He stood up, holding his hands out to assist her back on her feet. “You’re quite welcome. Now,” his lips turned upwards in an anticipatory grin. “If you’re quite finished talking about the macabre, would you do me the honor of sparring with me? I haven’t had a decent opponent in years.” He winked at her. “And I promise not to beat you too terribly this first round, for old times’ sake.”

Moira laughed, feeling as if the weight she’d carried on her shoulders for the better part of two years was finally starting to lift.


“I don’t understand why she hasn’t woken,” Anders said, using his thumb and forefinger to lift Moira’s eyelid. Just like the last time he had checked, her pupil constricted in the bright white light coming from the wisp that floated about Anders’ head, but she was otherwise unresponsive. “Physically, there’s nothing wrong with her.”

“Do you think that it might be a side effect to the poison?” After finding out that she was going to be all right, Nathaniel retraced their steps and retrieved the poisoned knife before it had gotten too dark. Anders had a better than average knowledge of poisons and their antidotes, and even he had been stumped.

“I don’t know,” he said. “All I do know is that with the amount of spells I’ve cast, Moira should have already been up and doing cartwheels by now.” He was jittery, his fingers tapping on the bedpost. To replenish his magical energy, Anders had downed four potent lyrium potions in one go. He knew that he would pay for it later, but he hadn’t cared. He guessed that he had about ten to fifteen more minutes before his body decided to crash from the extra stimuli, leaving him out cold for a while.

“Get some sleep,” Nathaniel said. “You’ve earned it.”

“You’ll send someone to wake me if anything changes?” He was already starting to weave on his feet, the spell wisp flickering before dissipating.

“You’ll be the first one to know, I promise.” Nathaniel watched as Anders walked out before going to the fireplace and dragging a nearby chair over to Moira’s bedside. Sitting down, he stared at her. She was lying so still in the bed that he had to watch the slight rise and fall of her chest to reassure himself that she was breathing. Reaching out, he held her hand in both of his. “Come back to me,” he murmured, pressing his lips against her palm.


“Was it scary?” Oren asked, sitting up in his bed. It was late, and it was obvious that he was losing the battle against sleep, even though he was trying his best to stay awake. “Did it breathe fire?”

Moira nodded, reaching out to ruffle her nephew’s hair. “It was indeed scary, and yes, it did breathe fire.” She would have gotten burned had Alistair not jumped in front of her with his shield.

“How big was the High Dragon?”

“Gigantic. It was so big that it wouldn’t have fit inside our Great Hall.”

Oren lay back down and looked up at his aunt. “I want to see one!”

Moira smiled, “They’re not all that they’re cracked up to be. For one, they stink something awful.” She tucked the blankets around his chin. “And for another, they eat people.”

“Will you tell me about the darkspawn, Auntie?” Oren asked, rubbing his eye with a fist and yawning.

Moira leaned down and kissed his forehead. “Tomorrow,” she promised. “Now go to sleep, my sweet boy.” She smoothed his hair away from his eyes and got up from where she had been sitting on his bed. Blowing the candle out on the bedside table, she left his room, leaving the door open just a crack.

“He’s been asking about you for the longest time,” Oriana said when Moira walked down the hallway. “He adores you.”

Moira’s eyes watered and she quickly swiped at them with the back of her hand. “Oh, Oriana, I’m so sorry that I wasn’t able to help you sooner.” Guilt still clawed at her even after all this time and now she hoped that she could repent in the afterlife.

Her sister-in-law reached out, brushing a tear from Moira’s chin. “Don’t. How could you have known? The entire castle had been taken by surprise; there was no way that you could have come to rescue us in time.” She led Moira down to her own bedchamber and the two of them sat on the edge of the bed.

“I was so terrified that night,” Oriana confessed. “I was afraid, but they were going to hurt my Oren. I couldn’t let them touch him.”

“And you killed one of Howe’s men. I saw the body.”

“There were too many of them. I might have gotten one, but the others…” Oriana stared down at her hands. “I wish that I had learned how to fight like you. My son might still be alive today.” Moira didn’t have the heart to tell Oriana that if he had survived Highever, Oren would have more than likely found his end in Ostagar, seeing that it had been a miracle that she had made it out alive.

“We can’t change what happened,” she said. “And look at me: all the fighting lessons I’ve had over the years and I still wound up dying from a stab wound.”

“You’re right. We can’t change what happened. How…how is Fergus?” Oriana hesitantly asked.

“Miserable.” Moira ran a finger against the delicate embroidery of the coverlet. “He tries to hide it well behind a wall of good humor, but I can see through it. He misses the both of you every day.”

Oriana bowed her head. “I never wanted him to mourn our loss. He was never meant to be alone; he should find happiness with someone new.”

Now it was Moira’s turn to wipe tears from Oriana’s cheeks. “I don’t know if that’s possible. He loves you.”

“I miss him. I miss him so much.” Oriana sighed. “Is there someone that you’re leaving behind, too?” she asked.

Moira looked down. “Yes, there is.” She and Nathaniel had been so busy with trying to rebuild Amaranthine after the darkspawn invasion that they hadn’t really had much time to themselves. With everything going on, there were nights that they all but collapsed in bed, falling asleep before their heads hit the pillows. Moira had thrown herself into her role as Arlessa and as her Second-in-Command, Nathaniel had taken control over her garrison; there were many times that they found out their schedules were on opposite ends of the other. The little pockets of time they managed to steal together hadn’t felt like nearly enough, even if they did wind up leading to incredibly satisfying encounters in darkened hallways or seldom used rooms.

All the complications hadn’t stopped Nathaniel from demonstrating how much he cared for her though. There were the thoughtful, practical gifts: the freshly trimmed ink quills on her desk, the hot mugs of tea he had sent up to her when he knew that she was pulling a late night, the way he took the time to sharpen her daggers when he knew that she was too busy with other things to do so. There were also the single flower blossoms that wound up on her dressing table almost every morning that showed his more romantic nature. “Out of everyone I left behind, I’m going to miss him the most.”

Oriana held Moira’s hands. “I’m not going anywhere until Fergus arrives. Hopefully that won’t be until he’s lived a long, happy life. We can wait together until then.”

Moira tightened her grip on her sister-in-law’s hand. “Yes. I’ll wait for him forever, if I have to.”


“Get some sleep.”

Nathaniel didn’t turn to face Varel. “What if she wakes when I’m gone?” he asked, his fingers stroking the back of her hand. “I can’t risk that.”

“It’s been two days.” Varel circled the bed until he reached the opposite side. “We need someone in command.”

Nathaniel’s lip turned downwards into a frown. “You’re the seneschal around here; take over until she recovers.”

“I would, but she had appointed someone else to rule the arling in her stead, should she ever be unable to.” He held out a letter. “She named you.”

Incredulously, Nathaniel broke the seal on the envelope and read the contents. “When did she write this?” he asked, setting the letter aside.

“I believe she wrote it the night she released you from the dungeons.” He stood for a while, looking down at both Moira and Nathaniel. “My lord, we need you. She needs you. You’re only pushing yourself to exhaustion by sitting here like this.” He didn’t stay long, leaving Nathaniel alone with Moira once again.

“What were you thinking, naming me Arl in the case you died?” Nathaniel asked, tracing the line of her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “Back then, you must have thought I hated you.” However temporarily, he had hated her. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he’d felt that way.

“I don’t want to be Arl,” he whispered, standing up. He stretched out on the bed beside her, his arm draping over her waist. “Not if it means you’re not there by my side.” He had only meant to rest his eyes for a few minutes, but the next time he opened them, sunlight streamed through the bedroom window. He must have slept deeper than he realized, because someone had come into the room and covered them both up with a blanket without him noticing.


“Moira.” Moira sat up in bed and looked around. She could have sworn that she had heard Nathaniel call out to her.

“Nate?” She sleepily pushed her hair out of her eyes and looked around the room for him. His voice was so close to her ear that she felt as if he were in bed with her.

“Honestly, this has gone on long enough.” Grabbing her robe, she quickly tied the belt and padded barefoot down the hallway.

“Where are you?” she asked, running down to the inner courtyards. She turned in a circle, looking wildly around in the shadows to try and pinpoint where his voice was. “Nathaniel!”

“We need you here. I need you here. Please, open your eyes.”

She spent the rest of the night running through the castle following the sound of his voice, opening doors and walking down darkened halls in a futile game of seek-and-find.


Four days later and there still wasn’t any change. Seeing how reluctant he was to leave Moira’s side, Varel had finally talked Nathaniel into moving a desk into their bedroom, if only to answer the correspondences that had begun to pile up. It didn’t feel right to write Arl Nathaniel Howe on the bottom of the replying letters. Hell, it didn’t feel right to even be addressing those letters in the first place, even though Moira had often asked for his help on such matters before while they helped rebuild the city together.

“I hate to intrude, my lord,” Varel said, knocking at the door. “But a rider has been sighted along the road and should be arriving any moment.”

“Is it the messenger we sent to Highever?” Nathaniel had sent riders to both Highever and Denerim late that first day to inform Fergus and Alistair of Moira’s condition. Both letters had been hard to write, but the one to Fergus had been the most difficult. He’d sent the Keep’s fastest riders and so far he’d heard word from Denerim saying that Alistair was on his way, but there hadn’t been anything from Highever.

“Actually, no. The rider is Teyrn Cousland himself.”

Nathaniel stood up, his left thumb rubbing against the ring he wore on the index finger of the same hand. “He made good time, seeing that the roads have been awful with the recent rains.” He took a deep breath. “I ought to meet him at the gates.” He gave a brief glance towards the stand next to the armoire and wondered how bad it would look if he showed up downstairs in full armor.

“I don’t believe that would be necessary,” Varel said, noticing where Nathaniel’s eyes had wandered. “He holds his sister in high regard; I don’t think he’d do anything untoward.”

Nathaniel snorted, but made his way towards the door. He gave Moira’s sleeping form one last glance, feeling all the world like he was throwing himself at the lions. “Obviously you’ve never seen Fergus when he’s angry.”

Justice and Anders were already in the courtyard when Nathaniel finally made it down. Fergus was already there as well, dismounting and absently handing the reins of his horse to a waiting groom. Nathaniel steeled himself for the confrontation, but it still didn’t quite prepare him for the seething fury in his childhood friend’s eyes that was directed solely at him.

“Fergus,” Nathaniel started, taking a few steps towards Moira’s brother. He was about to say something else when Fergus let out an almost inhuman growl as he stalked towards him, his arm cocking back and his fist connecting with Nathaniel’s face. The blow snapped Nathaniel’s head to the side, but he kept to his feet.

“You bastard!” Fergus yelled, his left fist connecting with Nathaniel’s side. “She trusted you!”

“I know,” Nathaniel said, dodging another swing. “I take full responsibility for what happened.”

“You damned well better! This is all your fault; I knew that getting involved with you would almost get her killed. I knew.” He lunged at Nathaniel again, but it was easy to avoid blows when the person throwing them was using pure rage instead of finesse to fuel their attack. “She wouldn’t listen; she was too busy playing house and spreading her…”

Nathaniel didn’t let Fergus finish his hissed sentence. Red clouded his vision and he struck out, his knuckles catching Fergus in the mouth. “Spew venom at me all you wish,” he said, punching him again. “But don’t you dare say anything about Moira again.”

Fergus yelled, barreling at Nathaniel. They fell to the ground in a tangle of grasping arms and punching fists. Nathaniel tasted blood and he was about to strike again when something extremely cold and wet hit the both of them.

“Gentlemen,” Anders said calmly, holding an empty bucket that Nathaniel knew belonged to the well at the eastern side of the courtyard. Justice stood beside him, holding another. Cold wisps of frost flew around the mage and it was obvious that he was gathering enough energy to cast another spell. “Don’t force me to zap the both of you with lightning to make you play nice.”

Fergus stood, wiping blood off his chin. His lip was bleeding freely and Nathaniel could see where it had split. “Where is my sister?”

“I’ll be glad to show you, Your Lordship,” Anders said, moving between Fergus and Nathaniel. “Although I think that you could use a change of clothes before seeing her.” He turned is head, giving Nathaniel a pointed look over his shoulder as he guided Fergus inside the Keep. Nathaniel rubbed his knuckles, the sting of split skin doing nothing to calm his anger.

“You did not deserve to be hit,” Justice told him.

Nathaniel shook his head. This is all your fault. “Yes I did.” If only he’d been quicker, if only he’d insisted that she’d worn at least lightweight armor underneath her clothes, none of this would have happened. His right eye was already swelling shut and his head began to throb. Without saying anything else, he made his way to the infirmary where Serena shook her head and carefully assessed the damage.

“Grown men acting as boys,” she muttered under her breath.

“I heard that.” He wondered how someone a year or so younger than himself could make him feel as if he was a boy being admonished by Adria.

“It was meant for you to hear.” Gently smoothing healing paste over his injury, she gave him a wry grin as she handed him a potion for his headache. “Despite everything, I do have to say that you have a wicked right hook.” She turned back to her cabinets. “Good for you for standing up for our Commander.”

Nathaniel downed the potion in one gulp. “I heard that too.”

She kept her back to him as she went back to whatever she had been doing before he’d interrupted her. “It was meant for you to hear as well.”


The mage had left Fergus in the hallway leading to his sister’s bedroom. Fergus took a deep breath before carefully opening the door. He’d expected the room to be empty, but Moira had a visitor sitting in the chair at the side of the bed.

“Oh.” Delilah looked the same as she had when he’d seen her years ago at a fair in Denerim. She had a ball of blue yarn in her lap and knitting needles in her hands. “Forgive me; I didn’t think that you’d make it here this quickly.” She struggled to stand, but Fergus held out a hand.

“Please, stay where you are.” His mind unwillingly went to Oriana, her belly large with child. “He’s strong,” she had laughed, holding his hand against her stomach so he could feel the baby kicking. “I think he’s impatient to greet the world, my love.” “I…” he cleared his throat. “I didn’t know that you were still here at Vigil’s Keep.”

Delilah slipped her knitting into the basket she’d brought with her. “Normally, I wouldn’t. My husband and I have a home in Amaranthine that is currently being rebuilt, but Moira insisted that we stay here until after the baby is born.” She reached out and held onto Moira’s hand. “It should be any day now.”

Fergus sat at the edge of the bed and stared down at his sister. She looked so small, lying there almost motionless. Every now and then, her eyelids would flicker as if she were having a dream and her chest rose and fell so shallowly that he could have easily imagined her not breathing at all. Quinn was lying at her feet, his head resting on her knees. The hound gave a single acknowledging bark as way of welcome before turning his attention back to his mistress. “Has she been like this the whole time?” Fergus asked quietly.

“She has. Anders and Serena can’t figure out what’s wrong with her. It’s as if her mind doesn’t accept that her body is fully healed.”

“The letter I received said that she had almost died.”

Delilah saw how the muscle in Fergus’ jaw twitched and didn’t think that telling him that his sister had died, no matter how temporarily, would help matters. “She would have, had Nathaniel not gotten her here in time.”

He sneered. “He might as well have killed her himself.”

She pushed herself out of the chair, one hand curled against her stomach, the other at the small of her back. “I know that you’re upset right now, but please, know that my brother would have rather it had been him lying in that bed instead of her. He might not come out and say it in words, but he loves her very much.” She touched his arm, not jumping when he flinched. “Don’t let my father’s evil poison you. Don’t let him win.”

He didn’t say anything, but he slipped into the chair she had just vacated, his hands curling over Moira’s. Delilah gave him a sad glance before leaving the two of them alone. She quietly closed the door, pressing her hand against the wood when she heard him let out a shuddering breath from the other side, and prayed that he could find some sort of peace.


This has been the longest day of my life, Nathaniel thought, pacing the floor of the throne room. He slumped into the chair the room was named for, but found the seat as uncomfortable as his new title. Flinging himself out of the chair, he raked his hands through his hair and marched down familiar hallways, wanting to find something, anything to do in order to dispel the nervous energy that he had pent up within him. Fergus hadn’t left his sister’s side all day and Nathaniel hadn’t wanted to intrude.

“I don’t think that he’d appreciate my presence anyway,” he muttered, his fingers going to his eye. It wasn’t swollen any longer, but the skin around it was still tender. He’d caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror and saw that his entire eye from his eyebrow down to his cheekbone was a dark bluish purple bruise. There was also a small nick on his top lip near the corner of his mouth that stung when he tried to smile. It didn’t bother him quite as much as the eye, mostly because he didn’t have very many reasons to smile.

Not standing it any longer, Nathaniel made his way to his and Moira’s bedroom. He’d already moved a few of his essential belongings back to his old chambers, not feeling comfortable sleeping in the same room as Moira while they had guests, but it was still obvious to anyone that he shared a living space with her from the various odds and ends that he had left where they were. Silently opening the door, he slipped in, blending with the shadows.

“You’ve taken all the fun out of beating you up, Nate,” Fergus said, not looking up from the book he had been halfheartedly reading. “You’ve done a better job of it yourself than I ever could.”

“How did you know I was there?”

He set the book aside. “I figured that you’d show up sooner or later.” He stood and crossed his arms over his chest. “I owe you an apology.”

“It isn’t necessary.”

Fergus shook his head. “Yes it is.” He took a deep breath and slowly let it out through his nose. “I’ve heard enough from the people that have popped in during the day to know that you did your best to get her back in time. I owe you a great debt that I’ll never be able to repay for saving her. She’s all I have left; losing her would…” He looked away, his eyes downcast. “I don’t know what I would do if that would have happened.”

Nathaniel looked down at Moira, holding his breath when her eyes fluttered, but letting it go when she quietly sighed without waking. Sitting down, he resisted the urge to hold onto her hand. “We’ve all grown accustomed to thinking that she’s near invincible,” he said quietly. “I doubt that she’s told you everything that we’ve been through.”

Fergus let out a sarcastic snort of laughter. “It wouldn’t be Moira if she told me everything. If she had it her way, she’d still believe I thought that she slew the archdemon by simply skipping up to it and bopping it on the nose with the flat of her sword.” He shook his head, his eyes drawn towards the scars that her gown exposed on her arms and shoulders. He had known about a few of them, but the majority still took him by surprise. “She always did want to keep me from knowing about her injuries, even when she was training back in Highever.”

“I owe you an apology as well. My father…”

“Stop. Were you there that night?”

“No, but it still doesn’t keep me from wanting to atone for my father’s crimes.”

Fergus stared at the floor. “Rendon Howe paid for his crimes with his life. He doesn’t need you lugging his guilt around as well.” He looked at Nathaniel. “I’ve spent the better part of two years fighting that realization; I’m shocked that Moira hasn’t sat up and gone ‘it’s about time!’ yet.”

Nathaniel smirked. “She does have the flair for the dramatic, doesn’t she?”

“Do you love her still?”

He nodded. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love her. If there was any way that I could trade places with her right now, I would do so in a heartbeat.” He looked up at Fergus. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost her either.”

Fergus went to the fireplace and lugged the remaining chair towards the opposite side of the bed. “When was the last time you slept?”

Nathaniel shrugged. “I’m trained to go without sleep for days at a time.”

“Which means that you’ve gone far too long without. You look like shit.”

Nathaniel snapped his head up to stare at Fergus. He was about to take offense to the comment, but he caught the familiar gleam in his old friend’s eye that he hadn’t seen in a long time. He could tell that it would be a long way to recovering what they had, but maybe they could begin to heal the wounds that his father had caused. “Well, getting punched in the face didn’t help matters any.”

“True. I do have a good right cross. You’re not bad yourself.”

“How’s the lip?”

“Hurts like hell.” Fergus stood and went to his side. Nathaniel watched as Fergus seemed to hesitate before putting his hand on Nathaniel’s shoulder. “I’m going to get some sleep. Try to do the same, for her sake.”

Nathaniel listened as the door closed behind Moira’s brother. Quinn, who had been sleeping by the fire the entire time, woke and walked up to Nathaniel. “Well, that went better than expected,” Nathaniel mused, scratching behind Quinn’s ears. The Mabari made a whuffing noise of agreement before resting his large head on top of Nathaniel’s knee. “You miss her too, don’t you, Boy?”

Quinn’s whine was all the answer that was needed.


“What has you so distracted, darling?” Eleanor asked. “You’re about to stitch your dress to the back of your project.”

Moira looked up from her embroidery loom, shaking her head when she realized that she had threaded the needle through her overdress. “I’m sorry, Mother. My mind must be elsewhere.”

“Or on someone else,” her mother said with a knowing smile, noting how the roses Moira had been embroidering on the edge of the tablecloth had gradually changed to stylized bears resembling the ones on Amaranthine’s crest. “You’re thinking of young Nathaniel, are you not?” She stood up and went to sit at the window seat beside her daughter. “Though I guess I can’t call him young any longer. He’ll be thirty soon, won’t he?”

Moira untangled her needle from her skirts. “In another year.” It was one of the many milestones that she was going to miss now.

“If I recall correctly, he is quite handsome.”

She sighed. “Yes, he is.” She let herself daydream about him for a moment; how his normally serious expression would vanish when he smiled at her, the way he had of touching her as if she were the only woman he’d ever wanted to hold, how he only had to look at her from across a room in order to make her pulse jump. Her eyes closed and she could feel a blush creep over her neck as she thought about the way that he would groan her name just as he reached his climax and how safe she felt to fall asleep wrapped in his arms each evening. “I hear him every night,” Moira confessed. She had been kept awake the other evening listening to Nathaniel read aloud all the old letters he had written her while he had been away. She had saved each one in a book that she kept in her nightstand drawer, the last one horribly stained and creased during the many times she had read it over and over during the Blight. He must have found it while packing away her things. “Why am I hearing him? He speaks to me as if I’m still there. He keeps on asking me to wake up.”

Eleanor looked away, her hand reaching out to stroke her daughter’s hair. “Why do you think he does that?” she asked quietly.

“I don’t know. The way he talks makes me think he believes I’m not dead.”

“And what of you? Do you think that you’re dead?”

Moira looked at her mother. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.” She took a deep breath, her heart speeding up. “Would I?”

Her mother gave her a sympathetic look. Leaning in, she enveloped Moira in a hug. “You’ve told me several times now how much you missed us all. I think that you were so badly injured that your spirit left your body to join us here, wherever we are.” She squeezed Moira’s shoulders. “I love having you here, but I feel as if now is not your time.”

Moira swallowed a lump in her throat. “What should I do?”

Eleanor gave her cheek an affectionate pat. “I think it’s time you listened to your Nathaniel.” Kissing the crown of her hair, Eleanor gently pushed her daughter to her feet. “Now, go find your father.”


Anders draped his leg over the arm of the chair. “It is official,” he said, stretching his arms above his head. “This place has completely gone to pieces without you. Oh, everyone puts up a great show of acting like nothing’s different, but you know us Fereldens. Stoic to the bitter end, am I right?

“The king even showed up this morning. The king.” He nudged Moira’s leg with his foot. “You could have had the decency to at least curtsey in his presence, you know. Nice guy, even if he almost became a Templar. Just between you and me, the almost part is why I like him. Shows that the person running the kingdom has a good head on his shoulders if he realized that he should get out of the Chantry before it was too late.” He took a bite out of the apple he had brought along before reaching out to stroke Ser Pounce-a-Lot’s back with his other hand. The kitten was curled up right next to Quinn, who didn’t seem to mind. The dog had given Pounce a look as if he were sizing the little ball of fluff up before licking the side of Pounce’s face, causing the fur there to wetly stand up on end.

“Must be hard to be you,” Anders continued. “I mean, your best friend is the king, your brother is a teyrn, and you have an arl head over heels in love with you. I know that you’re aware of that last bit, but Andraste’s lacy knickers, the way the two of you dance around the subject is enough to drive me to drink and you’ve seen me drink enough to know that it isn’t a pretty sight. He’s been particularly broody this week, and I can safely say that it’s your fault entirely. The only positive thing that’s come out of this is that no one here at the Keep has any doubts as to his feelings towards you. Teyrn Fergus hasn’t said anything, but I can tell that he’s at least impressed by how devoted Nathaniel is now that the two of them aren’t punching the other in the face.”

He took a breath and set the apple core down on the nightstand. Flexing his fingers, he cast yet another regeneration spell. “This probably isn’t helping at all, but at least it makes me feel like I’m doing something.” Sitting up, he rested his chin on his fists, his elbows on the mattress. He stared at Moira’s profile, which remained unchanged except for the occasional fluttering of her eyes behind her lids. “You’re just going to continue to be stubborn, aren’t you? Well, fine. But if Nathaniel puts me on weapons duty one more time merely because he’s feeling surly, I’m going to be quite upset with you.”


Moira quietly pushed open the door to her father’s study, knocking as she did so. “There’s my girl,” her father said. “Come in, sit beside me.”

“I shouldn’t be here,” Moira said, sitting in the chair next to the fireplace. “I need to get back to Vigil’s Keep.”

Bryce’s smile fell. “Ah. I was wondering when you were going to realize that you were needed elsewhere.”

“You knew?”

He nodded. “I did, but it wasn’t my place to tell you. You had to realize it for yourself. Would you have believed me if I had said so the moment you came running into my arms?”

She twisted her hands in her lap. “I was just so sure. The poison…”

“It had already bled out of your system.” He reached over and took her hands in his. “Didn’t you see all the blood? The both of you were soaked with it.”

“But…” She frowned. “If I didn’t die from poisoning, then what brought me here?”

“What you didn’t see was that your mage friend cast a resurrection spell on you at just the right moment. Technically, you did die, more than likely from the blood loss, but only for a brief second. Unfortunately, your mind had already been made up that you were dead, which is why you’ve been here for so long.”

“I know I need to go back,” She squeezed her father’s hand and stood. “But I don’t want to leave you. I’ve just found all of you again.”

Bryce stood up, gently tugging her to him until he could wrap his arms around her. “My darling girl,” he began, his chin resting on top of her head. “When your time finally arrives, we’ll still be here.” he tapped the tip of her nose with his finger, much like he had done when she had been a child. “It might be a very long time from now, but know that when the time comes, we’ll stand and welcome Nathaniel as well.”

Her eyes widened. “You know about him?” She touched the three wedding bands she had threaded onto the chain around her neck, her fingers holding onto her mother’s heirloom ring. “I only recently found out that you had known about us back then, but how did you know about us now?”

Bryce laughed. “I have my ways.” He lifted the pendant of the necklace she wore, the slivered backing gleaming in the sunlight. “I might not be there all the time, but I do get brief glimpses of the world around you. The two of you are doing a fine job in Amaranthine, just as I thought you would. I am very proud of the woman you’ve become, Moira.”

She sniffled, burying her head against the side of his neck. “I love you so much, Papa.”

His arms tightened around her. “And I love you.” He leaned back so he could look her in the eye. “It’s time for you to go now.” His voice wasn’t steady either and he rubbed his knuckle over the corner of his eye. “Give your brother our love, won’t you?”

She closed her eyes. “I will, I promise. How do I get back?”

Bryce kissed her forehead. “Wake up, Moira.”


The first thing that Moira noticed when she opened her eyes again was the ceiling in her bedroom. The second thing was that there were several heavy weights in bed with her. A familiar bark had her looking down to her knees.

“Hey, Quinn,” she rasped, wondering why her throat was suddenly so dry. She moved her hand when Quinn licked at her fingers, the little nub of his tail wagging.

“Well, look who decided to rejoin the living,” the second weight said, shifting on the side of the mattress. “All of us Wardens were putting up a pool as to when you’d come to.”

“Alistair?” She tried to push herself up into a sitting position, but her arms didn’t want to cooperate with her. “What are you doing here?”

He smiled down at her. “Funny thing, that. See, I got a message saying that my best friend was gravely injured. You didn’t think I would stay away, did you?” He put his hands under her arms and pulled her up, stacking pillows behind her back. “All in all, I’m very glad to see that you’re on the mend.”

“I’m happy to be around as well,” she said, taking the cup of water he offered her in both hands. “Maker, I feel as weak as a kitten.”

“You should; you’ve been unconscious for over a week now.”

How long?” Sighing, she ran her fingers through her hair, grimacing at the oily texture.

“I know; I’m impressed as well. You only stayed out a few hours after the whole archdemon business.” He smirked. “You must be getting old.”

She gave him a mock sneer and reached out to pinch his side. “If I’m getting old, then palace life is certainly getting to you. You’ve been eating far too much cheese and not visiting the practice ring nearly enough, Alistair.”

He rubbed his side. “You may mock my age, but never my love for fine cheese,” he said, wagging his finger at her. Leaning against the headboard, he sighed. “I’ve missed you, Moira. I’ve missed this.

“I’ve missed you too.” She felt that he was about to say something else, but he stopped when her bedroom door opened.

“Wouldn’t you know it, she woke up when we weren’t all crowded around her bedside looking concerned and everything,” Anders drawled, his head peeking behind Fergus’ shoulder. Both of them looked relieved to see her sitting up in bed.

Fergus beamed. “You made me lose a bet with the mage,” he said lightly, crossing the room and rounding the bed. “I wagered you’d wake up two days from now.” He swallowed hard and hugged her. “Don’t ever do that again, little sister.”

“I’ll try not to,” she promised, trying not to wince at the strength of his embrace. “I have so much to tell you.”

“And with that, we should probably leave the two of you in peace,” Alistair said, sliding off the mattress and giving Anders a pointed look.

“What? Oh. You’re doing that stare thing at me where I’m supposed to quietly leave, right?” Smirking, Anders reached out and squeezed Moira’s hand. “It’s good to have you back, Commander.”

She held on tightly. “Thank you,” she told him, her other hand going over his. “Thank you for everything.”

He shrugged. “Well, we couldn’t let you go so soon,” he said, sliding his hand out of her grasp. “Things were just starting to get exciting around here. It wouldn’t do if you missed out on them.”

“So,” Fergus said, making himself comfortable next to her once they were alone. “Where were you this past week?”

She took a deep breath before answering. “In Highever, with Mother and Father.”

He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. “That…wasn’t what I had expected you to say.”

“Well, it wasn’t where I had expected to be either. At first, I was wondering where all the light and harps and such that the Chantry is always talking about had gone off to, but then I realized that where I had ended up was better by far.”

“Did you see anyone else?” His voice was quiet, but Moira could hear the thread of hope underneath his words.

She held onto his hand. “Oriana wanted me to tell you hello. And Oren would like you to know that he’s getting better with his sword of Truthiness.”

Fergus’ breath came out in a shuddering sob. Tightening his grip on her hand, he looked her in the eye. “Were they well?”

“Very. And they were happy.”

“Did they say anything? Did they leave any messages?”

“Father wanted me to tell you how proud he is of the way you’re taking care of things. Mother said to make certain I fuss over you from time to time, lest you forget what nagging sounds like.”

Fergus laughed and wiped at his eyes with his free hand. “That certainly sounds like her.”

“Oriana also wanted me to tell you that she wants you to be happy.” Moira leaned against her brother’s shoulder. “You haven’t been happy for more than two years, brother.”

He closed his eyes. “I miss them so much.”

“She never wanted you to be alone. She loves you very much, but she wants you to move on, to find someone else.”


“I know. I don’t think she meant for you to remarry this very second, but she doesn’t want you to live your life forever in mourning either. You were a good husband, Fergus. And you were a wonderful father. You should have that in your life again.”

He nodded. “I can’t promise anything, but I understand what she was saying. I’ll…” he took a breath. “I’ll try.”

They sat together in silence for a while before Moira piped up. “Where’s Nathaniel?” she asked. That was when she finally got a good look at her brother’s face and noticed the still-healing split on his bottom lip. “Oh, Maker, you went and started a fight with him, didn’t you?”

“Why is it that I’m always blamed for starting things?” Fergus asked, squirming uncomfortably.

Her eyebrow rose. “Because you’re usually the one that does. And I know you; you probably blamed him for what happened to me.” Even though her words were harsh, the way she smoothed her thumb against his cut wasn’t. “Did you at least leave him in one piece?”

“I think we wound up doing equal damage to the other.” He nudged her with his elbow. “He’s sleeping for once. He’s barely left your side the entire time I’ve been here.”

She sighed. “I feel bad about putting everyone through all of this.”

He leaned over to kiss her forehead. “Don’t. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t care for you.” Moving off the coverlet, Fergus whistled for Quinn. “I’ll call your maid in. I’m sure that you’ll want to get all prettied up before seeing him again, right?” His familiar grin was back in place, and for once, Moira felt as if it hadn’t been forced.

“Thank you, I appreciate that.”

Fergus winked. “And we’d appreciate it as well. You can tell you’ve gone a week without brushing your teeth.”

If Moira had enough strength, she would have thrown one of her pillows at him.


Hot water had never felt so good. Jillian had clucked over her like a mother hen and before Moira knew it, she was out of the tub and into a dress made out of light purple silk. She’d been growing her hair out since their last fight, and it felt heavenly to have someone brush it out until it fell around her shoulders in dark waves. After bringing in a tray with lunch and tea, Jillian left, leaving Moira sitting next to her window. Now that she had been awake for some time, she could feel her strength quickly returning to her. It was frustrating, but at least she wasn’t walking on trembling legs any longer. She looked down at the courtyard where several refugee children were running about the flower garden. Standing up, she decided to hunt down Nathaniel herself. Fergus hadn’t told her where he had been sleeping, but she figured that his old bedroom was a good place to start looking.

Plans were changed, however, when she saw Nathaniel standing at her door, his hand on the frame. There were dark circles underneath his eyes – and she noticed the yellowing bruise over his right eye right away – and what she assumed to be a week’s growth of beard on his cheeks. He was pale and even from across the room, Moira could see that he had noticeably lost weight in a short amount of time.

Even so, she thought he was the most wonderful person she had ever set eyes on.

“Hello,” she said, taking a step towards him. He moved faster than she would have thought possible; within seconds he had crossed the distance between them and had her face cradled between his palms. He was kissing her as if he needed to in order to breathe, as if she would disappear from his arms the moment he stopped.

“You died,” he said hoarsely, planting kisses over her eyelids, her cheeks. “You died.

“Shh,” she soothed, brushing her lips gently over his. “I’m here.” She smoothed his hair away from his face, his stubble rasping across her fingertips.

Nathaniel slid his hands down until they rested against the small of her back. “You are never allowed to do that again,” he told her. “I’m serious about this.”

“I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere anytime soon,” she told him, her head on his shoulder. “I heard you,” she murmured.

He looked down at her. “You did?”

She nodded, her fingers toying with the laces of his tunic. “You have a wonderful reading voice.”

His eyes went to her nightstand where he had left her book of letters. “I can’t believe you kept them.”

“Of course I did. They were from you.” Moira looked up at him and pressed a kiss against his jaw. “Hmmm, the scruffy look is different.”

Nathaniel rubbed his chin. “I didn’t know that you were awake, or else I would have shaved.” He hadn’t really cared for himself while she had been out, only leaving her side to quickly bathe and eat something.

She caught his hand in hers. “Thank you, Nathaniel,” she said. “For getting me here so Anders could save me, for staying next to me, for everything.”

He kissed her, hoping that he could put into actions all the emotions he didn’t trust himself to express correctly in words: all his worry, the grief he had felt when she had died in front of him, the relief when she was brought back, anxiety when she wouldn’t wake up, the loneliness he had felt during those days, and finally the joy of having her back in his arms, alert and responsive. “You’re welcome,” he breathed, nudging her nose with his.

She kissed him again, sighing against his mouth. “Nate?” she asked, tilting her head so he could trail his lips down her neck.

“Hmm?” It was getting difficult to think straight, especially when Moira worked her hands underneath his shirt, her fingers touching bare skin.

Her lips curled upwards into a mischievous smirk. “Lock the door.”

He arched an eyebrow at her, but walked backwards towards the doorway, not willing to let her go long enough to make sure the bolt slid home. “As my lady wishes.”


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2010 05:09 am (UTC)
Okay, I haven't read any of the other prompts yet, but OH MY GOD I AM IN LOVE!!

You just totally made me fall more in love with Nathanial. Upset!Nate broke my heart, and I loved Fergus and Nathanial fighting it out.

There's just so much win in this fic, I don't even know what to do. I think I'll just keep squealing like a fangirl! XD
Jul. 28th, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
:D Thanks! I think the part I liked best was writing Anders. he just seems to be the type of character that would go "Hey, stop fighting. Don't make me have to get the hose out."
Jul. 27th, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
Okay, dudette, seriously. You've had me shed so many tears over this whole story that it'd probably fill a regular-sized bathtub. But this was the worst piece (or, someone would probably point out, the best). Every time you wrote about her in Highever I just spontaneously burst in tears :´) Ohgodohgohgohgod I don't believe it's soon gonna end :( Once it's done, I'm printing the whole thing out and keeping it safe. You should be a writer, ma'am. ^^
Jul. 28th, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC)
I can't believe it's almost over too! These prompts were so much fun to write for that I'm going to be sad when they're done. I'm somewhat stuck on the last bit, but I have an epilogue already written and plans to do a pre-Origins prequel and maybe an in-game Origins Moira + Alistair friendship story that ends right where this story begins and possibly little vingettes from different characters' points of view (such as what does Varel think about his new Arlessa, Anders trying and failing at schmoozing up to Serena, Justice's take on being involved and some others) and sticking them in between chapters.

Oh man, I've created a monster. *headdesk*
Jul. 29th, 2010 07:53 pm (UTC)
Ooooohhh, that sounds good ^^ softens the blow when this ends... *sigh* But I guess all good things must come to an end. I'm still printing this and starting over once the last chapter is out :)
Jul. 28th, 2010 12:52 pm (UTC)
I'll admit it, I teared up a little bit. Well done!
Jul. 28th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks! :)
Jul. 30th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
slhkdgs the imagery of him anguished and holding her in the courtyard with poor Anders trying to do anything to help... so heartbreaking! And I loved the cameos by Mama and Papa Cousland.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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