Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, romantic
Rating: PG-13 for non-graphic sex and character death
Summary: Some endings are merely the beginning of something new.
Note: Keep scrolling down after the story for an expanded Author’s Note, please.
Twenty years later…
“Do you know what Tristan said to me the other day?” Alistair asked, his hands clasped behind his back.
Moira sat down at the window seat and smoothed her skirt over her knees. “Apparently it must have been something important to agitate you so much that you’d leave the palace to let me know.” She patted the cushion next to her. “Come, sit down and tell me what my dear son has said to have you so upset.”
Alistair shook his head. “He wants to marry Alison.”
Moira sat back and put her fingers over her lips to hide her smile. “And this is news?” She laughed at his flabbergasted expression. “Alistair, Alison and Tristan have been in love with the other since before they could talk. Surely this shouldn’t come as a surprise.”
“But…”He sat down next to her and raked his hands through his hair. “Oh sure, you can look smug. It’s perfectly acceptable for your son to grow up and want to create more little Howes to run all over Ferelden. My little girl is supposed to stay five years old forever.”
She reached out and put her hand on his knee. “You do realize that it’s a miracle that we’re even having this conversation, don’t you?” Somehow, they’d both beaten the odds and had children. Tristan had been first, and then a year later Alison had arrived, much to the delight of the Denerim court. While Alistair had made great advances in the lives of mages, Alison had spent much of her younger years being watched over for signs of inheriting her mother’s magical ability. She hadn’t displayed any, which eased the minds of some of the older leaders.
He sighed. “I do. And you know that I already love Tris like a son, right?”
“I do. I haven’t seen him since he returned. What did you tell him?”
“What I felt was right.” He leaned over and bumped his shoulder against hers. “I gave him my blessing. Congratulations, you’re now the mother of the future king.”
Moira linked her arm with his. “Well, at least Eamon got his wish,” she said. “He always wanted to see our families joined up.”
“I wish he were here to see it. Lissie is set on a spring wedding. Eamon always did like the spring.”
“She’s going to make a beautiful bride.” Moira sighed and wiped a sentimental tear away from the corner of her eye. “And they’re going to give us gorgeous grandchildren.” Aside from inheriting Alistair’s hair color and good-humored nature, Alison was willowy, delicate boned, and blue eyed like her mother. Tristan was definitely his father’s son, from his dark hair, grey eyes, and hawkish nose. He might have taken after Nathaniel’s portion of the family tree, but Moira always thought that he had gotten the set of his jaw and physical bearing from the Cousland side. There were many times that she caught herself looking at her son, especially now that he was older, and thinking that from a distance how much he looked like her own father.
Alistair groaned. “Maker preserve us. We’re going to be grandparents.”
She laughed. “I think they’re going to give us at least a few years to get used to the idea,” she said. “Admit it, we’re getting old.” At forty-six, Moira’s hair had already started to have wide streaks of grey in it. As the years went by she’d grown her hair longer, fashioning it into braided buns at the base of her neck much like her own mother had worn hers. She’d kept up her training, but she couldn’t help but realize that she was definitely slower than she had been twenty years ago and that it took a lot longer to recover from pulled muscles.
Eight years. That was all she had before she could anticipate the nightmares beginning again. She looked up at Alistair, who seemed to be thinking the same thing.
“Don’t worry,” he said, draping his arm over her shoulder. “We’re leaving Ferelden in the best possible hands.”
“I know,” she told him. “I know.”
Eight years later…
“Pretty convenient,” Alistair quipped, staring at the open doors leading to the Deep Roads. “At least this beats having to trudge through the snow all the way to Orzammar.”
Moira flexed her hands and took a deep breath. “Thank you for waiting,” she said.
He shrugged. “Oh, it wasn’t too difficult to hang around for six more months. You know, because I’m so ready to die and all.” Six months had gone by in a flash. Alistair had all but stepped away from the throne, allowing Tristan a more hands-on opportunity to the lands that would soon be under his rule. Tristan had caught on quickly, mostly because he had spent his entire life immersed in politics, not to mention living in the palace for the past eight years and learning the ropes firsthand.
He would make a good king. Moira just wished that she’d be able to see it. “Any regrets?” she asked, stepping inside the doorway with Alistair. As soon as they passed, the great doors began to close and lock behind them. They both refused to look back.
She thought about her family, how she had spent the last day cuddling her grandson. He was only three; she wondered if he would remember her when he grew older. She’d also spent it with her brother. Fergus had never remarried, and he had constantly batted away Moira’s attempts at matchmaking as the years went by. “I already have a family, little sister,” he had finally told her. “I promised you that I wouldn’t mourn them my entire life, but I shall be with them again once my time comes.” She had stopped all efforts at finding him a wife after that. Fergus was happy over the years, and he had it in writing that should Tristan and Alison have any other children that they would inherit the teyrnir to keep it within the family upon his death. “No, I don’t.”
He glanced at her out of the corner of her eye. “I didn’t see Nathaniel in the cellar.”
“That’s because I didn’t want him to be there, much like you didn’t want Gwen present.” She rubbed her wedding band with her thumb. Even after eight years, it still felt odd to wear her mother’s second ring, seeing that she had given Alison hers once she and her son had married. “Nathaniel and I said our goodbyes this morning.” She’d also made him promise that he wouldn’t be part of the expedition that went in and retrieved their bodies. She wanted him to remember how she was when she was alive, not as a lifeless blood-spattered corpse. He’d had that stubborn glint in his eye that he often had when he wanted to argue a point, but he’d finally agreed to her wishes.
She wove slightly on her feet. Not trusting darkspawn to do their job, Moira had mixed herself a slow-working poison that was sure to kill her should she survive and be captured. There was no way that she was going to become some tainted creature. The poison was deadly enough to do what needed to be done without dulling her senses or causing her any ill effects, which was just what Zevran had explained it would do when he had taught her the recipe a month ago. There is a high concentration of pain-numbing toxins that will make sure you don’t feel a thing. It will be like falling asleep, he had assured her. He had smiled at her before he had taken his leave. When she had asked him what it was all about, he only replied with “And so it seems that I have finally completed my contract on your life. Let me tell you, the lifelong friendship that you’ve offered is far more valuable than the small payment Loghain would have given me. I will never forget you, my Warden. Just make sure to take as many of those bastards out as you can for me, for old times’ sake.”
“We did a good job,” Alistair said, changing the subject when he sensed that Moira was getting depressed. “I mean, with saving the kingdom and everything.”
She gave him a weak smile. “That we did.”
“Not too bad for the daughter of a Teyrn and an almost-Templar, huh?”
She laughed, holding her hand over his. “No. Not bad at all.”
“I just wanted to tell you that you’re my best friend in the whole world,” he said, staring down at her. “I’m glad that you’re with me, here at the end. You’ve been the sister that I always wished I had.”
She squeezed his hand. “I’m glad that you’re here with me too. I love you, Alistair.”
“Are you scared?” It was odd, but he didn’t feel the least bit afraid now that they were down there and it was actually going to happen.
Moira closed her eyes, thinking about her parents and little Oren waiting for her in Highever. “No, I’m not.” They both stopped in their tracks when they felt the familiar pull at their chests. Unsheathing her swords, she eased into a well practiced fighting position. “Ready?”
Alistair grinned and Moira felt as if she’d been transported thirty years in time, back when they were both young and seemingly invincible. “Let’s do this.” Both of them let loose a battle cry, running into the darkness.
The next thing Moira knew, she was looking up at blue sky. She blinked, wondering how she had gotten out of the Deep Roads. The wooded area she was in looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t put her finger on just where she was. Sitting up, she brushed pine needles off her knees, puzzled because she could have sworn that she had been wearing dragonskin armor instead of breeches.
The loud bark and heavy weight that bowled her over took her by surprise. Her breath was knocked out of her and she turned her head to avoid a wet tongue licking the side of her face. “Ooof, Quinn,” she complained, pushing the dog muzzle out of her way. Then she stopped. Quinn had died of old age several decades ago. “Quinn?” She sat up and threw her arms around the Mabari, who was madly wagging his little stump of a tail.
“Well, look what I’ve found,” a voice boomed out from the trees. Moira looked up and broke into a large smile. Ser Gilmore stood there, a quiver of arrows against his back and a bow in his hands. “I went out hunting for dinner, but I think bringing you back to the castle will be even better.” He held out a hand and helped Moira to her feet.
“Did I really do it this time, Rory?” she asked, finally realizing that they were in the woods that surrounded Highever. If she wasn’t mistaken, they were only a short distance from the castle. “I’m here to stay?”
He laughed. “Yes, my lady. Now come along. Let’s get you home.”
Two years later…
“Do you have to do this?”
Nathaniel buckled the strap to his armor. “You know I do.” The nightmares had been plaguing him for months now. He’d tried to shrug them off, but they were happening with an alarming frequency, sometimes even when he was still awake. He’d spoken with Anders and Oghren, and they had told him the same thing. “It’s time.” Tristan would never have to go through the Calling – both he and Moira had been against their child joining the ranks of Grey Wardens.
His son frowned, a line forming between his eyebrows. Nathaniel shook his head - So this is what I must have looked like at that age. “I can forbid you to go,” Tristan told him. He set his jaw and Nathaniel was hit at how much he looked like his mother when she had her mind set on something. That Cousland stubborn streak is alive and well, I see. “I am King, you know.”
“And I am still the Commander of the Grey,” Nathaniel said. “We Wardens are above the King’s command.”
Tristan swallowed hard. “Are you certain that it’s time? Mother has been gone barely two years and…” He looked away. “I don’t want to lose you so soon after.”
He put his hands on his son’s shoulders. “If there had been any way to avoid this, I know that we both would have stayed here until we were old and grey. But it isn’t the case.”
“I know. It’s just that I wanted to have you both for just a while longer. Alison’s expecting.”
Nathaniel smiled. “That’s wonderful news.” Little Duncan was five now and Nathaniel was certain that he would be a good older brother. He and Moira had been at the palace for his birth. Holding his grandson in his hands had been one of those perfect moments in life, and he wished dearly that he could have held on just a little longer to welcome the newest Howe into the world.
“If we have a daughter, we’d like to name her Moira, after Mother.” He put his hand over his father’s. “And if we have a son, we’d like to name him after you.”
He didn’t know what to say. “I would be honored,” he finally told him, clearing his throat. “And I know that your mother would be as well. I’m very proud of you, my boy. You’re a fine man and a fantastic father.”
“I had a good role model.” Tristan blinked before enfolding his father in a tight hug. “I’m going to miss you so much. The Keep isn’t going to be the same without you here.”
“Your cousin is taking over as Arl.” Delilah’s son had proven himself to be a model Warden, and Nathaniel felt at ease to know that he was leaving Ferelden’s Wardens in his hands.
“I know. It’s going to be so odd to call Thomas ‘Commander’ whenever we meet.”
He laughed. “Probably as odd as it’s been to call you ‘Your Majesty’ for him.” He broke away and bent to pick up his quiver of arrows. It felt odd after all this time to use something besides his grandfather’s set, but he had already placed that quiver and bow in the Keep’s armory right alongside Moira’s favorite swords. His usual armor was also on a stand there next to his wife’s. The leather and dragon scales had done their job well, protecting Moira until the end. Besides superficial cuts and scrapes, she had come out of the Deep Roads unscathed, letting Nathaniel know that the poison she had taken beforehand had worked. Never before in his life had he felt as grateful to his wife’s Antivan friend as he had when he found out that Moira hadn’t suffered. “She had given me so much in her life,” Zevran had told him at her memorial service, dressed somberly in black and his eyes red rimmed. Grief had aged him a great deal and Nathaniel was hit with just how dearly the former assassin had cared for Moira. “The last thing I could give her was a merciful death.”
Nathaniel stopped, thinking of one last thing. “I almost forgot.” He pulled out the necklace that he’d worn every day for the past two years and slipped it over his head. The raised Chantry emblem was a little worn from his fingers, but the mirrored backing was as bright as ever. He looked at the back one last time, tracing Moira’s cheek as she smiled up at him with his thumb. Moira had given it to him the day that she and Alistair had left with the condition that he wait at least a day to look at the back. The moment that he’d seen her face appear on the back was when he knew it was time to order their fellow Wardens to go in and retrieve their bodies.
He’d made the same arrangements with Tristan and Thomas for himself, requesting that his ashes be scattered over Highever instead of interred in the family crypt. All his life, the Couslands had been more of a family to him than his own; it felt right to join them in death. “As you know, this belonged to your mother,” he explained, putting the necklace in his son’s hands. “I’d like it if you’d keep it in the family.” He twisted his wedding ring off his finger and pressed it into his son’s palm. “This should stay in the family as well. It belonged to Moira’s father before she gave it to me on our wedding day. He was a great man; I’ve tried my best to rule and live my life in a similar manner to how he lived his own. Bryce would have been proud of the way that you are living yours.”
Tristan’s fingers curled over both items. “I will, I promise. Father…”
“I just wanted to say…” Tristan frowned, trying to form his thoughts properly. “I know that you were always trying to rebuild the Howe name after what Grandfather did. You and Mother have made Amaranthine better than what it used to be before the Blight. The Grey Wardens are flourishing, and it’s all thanks to you two.”
Nathaniel reached out and embraced his son. “The Howe name has long since been redeemed. I don’t have anything to worry about there.” He pressed a kiss against his hair, much like he used to when Tristan had been a small boy. “I love you, Tristan. Don’t ever forget that.”
Anders and Oghren met him in the throne room. “Are we ready to head out?” Anders asked, brushing off the sleeves of his robe and adjusting the straps to his pack, the tips of his cat’s ears poking out of the bag. Surprisingly, Ser Pounce-a-Lot was still around; twenty-eight or so years was an abnormally long lifespan for a feline, and even though he had a cloudy film covering both eyes and seemed to be deaf in one ear, he still got around the Keep as well as a younger cat and was rarely seen out of Anders’ company.
The only thing that Pounce had given up in recent years was terrorizing the Keep’s mice. He had spent his retirement lapping up cream that Nathaniel had always suspected Anders of slipping health potions into as a way to ward off any sort of arthritis that might have otherwise plagued his beloved cat.
Oghren let out a belch. “We’d better be. The booze ain’t gonna last forever.”
“Uncle,” Thomas said, standing from the throne.
“You look good there,” Nathaniel noted, clasping his nephew’s hand. He drew him close and gave him one last embrace. “Give your mother my love,” he said in his ear. Delilah had refused to show up, preferring to stay in the small farmland that Teyrn Cousland had granted the Howes over twenty years ago after Nathaniel had saved him from bandits.
“I will.” Thomas stood back and saluted. “Maker watch over you, Commander.”
Nathaniel nodded. “Maker watch over you all.”
“What I can’t understand,” Anders said as they descended the stairs in the cellar, “is why we’re doing this in the dark. Couldn’t we have at least waited until tomorrow morning?”
“You want to have another sleepless night before you die?” Oghren asked, hefting his axe. “I say we bust some skulls and get this thing over with.”
Nathaniel had his reasons for choosing to go into the Deep Roads at night. He’d snuck back into his family home under the cover of darkness thirty years ago. It only made sense to him that he’d leave for good under the same conditions.
“I always wondered if Velanna had ever found her sister,” Nathaniel mused. A week after the final siege all those years ago, Velanna had just…vanished. He might not have gotten along with her well, but he hoped that she had found some sort of peace.
“Pity Sigrun isn’t here. We could use her sunny disposition right about now.” Anders held out his staff and tried to shake the unease he felt. “Maker, but I wish we didn’t have to do this underground. I would have liked to have felt the wind in my face one last time.”
“Quit yer bellyachin’ and man up,” Oghren said. His words might have been harsh, but the tone that he had said it in was oddly sympathetic.
Anders rubbed at his chest. “They’re that way,” he told them, pointing down where the road took a curve. Looking at both of his companions, he straightened his shoulders and gathered magic around his hands. “What say we tell them hello, preferably with a great big boom?”
“It has been an honor fighting alongside you both,” Nathaniel said, readying his bow. Age had made his shoulder creak, years of constant repetitive action finally catching up to him.
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s kick some arses before we all start sittin’ around cryin’ like a bunch of little girls.”
Nathaniel groaned and rolled to his back. He rubbed at his chest, expecting his hand to come up wet and tacky with blood. When it didn’t, his brow furrowed and he sat up.
“That’s odd,” he muttered, wondering why he wasn’t in pain. The last thing he could remember was spitting into a Hurlock’s face as it impaled him with its greatsword. His only hope was that the dagger that he had managed to plunge into the creature’s eye with his remaining strength had killed it as well. Rolling to his feet, he tried to get his bearings. “It looks like you might have gotten your wish, Anders,” he mused, looking upwards at the stars twinkling overhead. The moon was full, the light giving him something to go by as he wandered along a deer trail. It didn’t take him long enough to realize and accept that he had died, but he was still left wondering as to where he actually was. The scent of pine trees was overwhelming, and fallen needles crunched underneath his boots.
He jumped when a pinecone hit him square in the back. “Andraste’s flaming sword,” someone complained from behind him. Nathaniel whirled around at the sound of the voice, his eyes wide. “Would you stop for a minute? You’re going the wrong way.”
Nathaniel’s breath caught in his throat. “Moira? Is that you?”
She seemed to melt out of the night, her smile brilliant even in the shadows. “Hello, Nate.” He watched, frozen in place, as she came up to him. The moonlight showed that she looked as youthful as she had been when he had first laid eyes on her in the Keep’s dungeon thirty years ago, her face losing all the faint lines that he had long since memorized.
“You’re…” he reached out and let her hair sift through his fingers. It was just as long as it had been before her death, but instead of being streaked with grey, her hair was a solid mahogany that fell nearly to her waist in dark waves. “I didn’t know we could pick what age we’d be for eternity.”
She laughed, the sound music to his ears after two years of miserable silence. “I’m not the only one. How does your shoulder feel, my love?”
Now that she mentioned it, Nathaniel noticed that he hadn’t felt the ache that had plagued him since he had hit his forties. In fact, he felt just as fit as when he had been in his prime. He rotated his arm, amazed when it didn’t creak as it had done for years. His hands went to his face, fingers trying to find the heavy lines at the corners of his eyes and across his forehead.
“They’re not there,” she reassured him, her hands going up to cup his cheek. “And yes, Mister Vanity, your hair is as dark now as it ever was.” She would have said something else, but Nathaniel swooped down and captured her mouth with his.
“I missed you,” he said in between kisses. His hands ran down her body, tucking her tight against him. “Wandering about the woods in nothing but a nightshirt and boots?” he teased, drawing the material higher up her legs.
She huffed, her hands already working his belt free. “I would have been more presentable,” she said, tilting her neck to give him better access, “had you decided to die in the daytime.” She had been sound asleep when she had felt the urge to venture outside; she didn’t know what it had been, but something had guided her straight to him.
He moaned low in his throat when she stroked him through his trousers. “Minx,” he growled, nipping at her collarbone, which made her breath hitch. He dragged his mouth up to her ear. “I love you.”
“We only need to go a little bit the other way,” she told him breathlessly, allowing herself to be drawn down to the ground, the clothes they were quickly discarding providing a cushion for them on the forest floor as his hands roved greedily over her. “There’s a perfectly good bed…oh, Nathaniel, don’t stop.”
He eased her down until her back hit the grass, his body looming over hers as she arched up to meet him. He cried out against her skin, savoring the feel of her legs clinging to his sides, the sound of her gasps, the sweet ache as Moira raked her fingernails down his back. He tangled his hands in her hair and lost himself in the moment, rocking in a rhythm with her that spoke of years of experience and yet still felt like something completely new.
“I missed you too,” she said after, her voice sleepy as her hands slowly trailed down his chest and side, relearning familiar territory. She nuzzled her lips against his jaw, inhaling the scent of leather and man that had been missing for so long.
“I can’t believe you waited for me,” he murmured. He couldn’t stop touching her. Those years that he had been alone had been torture.
“I told you once that I’d wait forever,” she said, her lips at his throat. “Two years was nothing.”
He held her tighter, his hand tipping her face up. He kissed her, and she gladly stretched up to meet him, smelling of lavender and comfort and home. “And now we’ll never have to wait again.”
Final Author’s Note: It’s over! I wanted to take the time to thank everyone who stopped to read this either here or on the other various livejournal communities I had posted it to, and to thank those who commented and offered constructive criticism. I would especially like to thank Annikainen for all the lovely words of encouragement, the fantastic piece of fanart, and extremely useful Italian help.
While this wasn’t a songfic, I think I explained in one of the earlier portions that each of the chapter’s titles came from songs that I had been listening to while writing, or songs that I thought fit each theme. For anyone that might be curious, here are some of the lyrics and artists I picked out for each chapter that stuck with me:
Title: But tell me you love me, come back and haunt me, oh and I rush to the start -Coldplay, The Scientist
1. And I don’t need the fallout of all the past that’s in between us -Gin Blossoms
2. I’m watching somebody’s world at an end -Chris Isaak
3. Even if you don’t want to speak tonight, that’s all right, that’s all right with me -Lifehouse
4. And the girl in the corner is everyone’s mourner - she could kill you with a wink of her eye -The Sweet
5. Reaching out for a hand we don’t see - Guided by Voices
6. I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet -Joni Mitchell
7. Here there may be roses to punch you in the nose -the Grateful Dead
8. A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys -Peter, Paul & Mary
9. Ev’rybody knows that baby’s got new clothes -Bob Dylan
10. Go, forget it. Let it all go, let it all go -Mark Knopfler
11. Robin Hood and Little John walkin’ through the forest, laughin’ back and forth at what the other’ne has to say -Roger Miller
12. I’m not meant for you and you’re not meant for me -Francis Dunnery
13. You’ll remember me when the west wind moves among the fields of barley -Sting
14. So far away, doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore -Carole King
15. And then glued me back together, returned to me what others stole -the Perishers
16. No lyrics for this one, it’s instrumental! Flutes and drums FTW! -Tartanic
17. It never felt so good it never felt so right and we were glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife - Meat Loaf
18. What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way -Chris Isaak
19. She’s as sweet as tupelo honey, just like honey, baby, from the bee -Van Morrison
20. There goes the world, right off my shoulders. There goes the world, right off my back -Lifehouse
21. I know a father who had a son, he longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he done -Paul Simon
22. My red is so confident he flashes trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria -Jimi Hendrix
23. Nothing unusual, nothing’s changed, just a little older that’s all -Damien Rice
24. And every breath we drew was hallelujah -John Cale
25. If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world -Snow Patrol
26. Girl don’t be angry if I seem rude each time we meet someone that you once knew you said used to be so close to you - Joe Cocker
27. I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero till the end of the night. He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight -Jennifer Saunders
28. If you could only see the way she loves me then maybe you would understand - Tonic
29. All this water under the bridge, everything comes sneaking back -Hotel Lights
30. But these stories don’t mean anything when you’ve got no one to tell them to, it’s true, I was made for you -Brandi Carlile
Epilogue: The endings are never ever happy. It’s the happy moments along the way that in the end make it okay -Five for Fighting, Nobody