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Winter drabble

Title: Gifts
Rating: G
Pairing: Nathaniel/Moira
Summary: “Why is it that they can’t wake up this early every other day of the year?”
Note: This is an AU where the Blight never happened, Rendon Howe never betrayed the Couslands, and Nathaniel came back after his time in the Free Marches to marry Moira like they had originally planned. This also has no nutritional merit besides the fact that at this time, I need to write something so saccharinely sweet to balance out certain real life issues or else I’m going to run out the door screaming and pulling at my hair. Call it writing therapy, if you will.

And gosh darn it, Eleanor wanted grandbabies.

“They’re scratching at the door,” Nathaniel murmured against Moira’s shoulder.

Moira refused to open her eyes, enjoying the warmth of the sheets and the solid bulk of her husband curled behind her. “I heard them earlier, but I thought that they would go away if we ignored them long enough.”

He pressed his lips against her skin. “Hardly. They’re your children; they’re as stubborn as their mother.”

“Why is it that when they do something naughty that they’re instantly mine? You, my love, are as much to blame for their existence as I am.” She turned in his arms until she was facing them. “What time do you think it is anyway?”

“It’s still dark, but it looks as if they’ve let us sleep an extra hour or so longer than last year. Why can’t they get up this early every other day of the year?”

She smiled. “Because the Winter festival doesn’t happen every day of the year. And because they don’t receive mountains of gifts at any other time besides their name days.” She yawned, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. “You would think that they would have been a little less enthusiastic after we allowed them to open up one of their gifts last night.”

Nathaniel leered. “And I’m glad that you let me open one of my gifts early.” His fingers trailed over the ornate lace edging of the green silk negligee Moira wore. There had been a bow wrapped around her when they had gone to bed the night before, but he had long since untied it and used it for a better purpose. He glanced up; the long green ribbon was still partially tied onto their bedpost, even if they had undid the loose bow from Moira’s wrists afterwards. “I was rather pleased with it.”

Moira smirked. “I do aim to please, Husband.” She giggled when he rolled her onto her back, his mouth covering hers in a way that had her toes curling.

He groaned and buried his face in her hair. “They’re not giving up,” he moaned, rolling away and sliding out of bed. He put on a pair of pants that he normally slept in and tossed Moira one of his discarded tunics. “If Tristan learns to pick locks, I’m blaming you.”

Her reply was muffled. “You can share the blame, seeing that you’re just as good, if not better, at opening locks than I am.” She pulled her hair out of the neckline of the tunic and arranged the sheets and bedding to cover her legs.

Nathaniel grinned as he heard voices from the other side of the door. “Stop shoving!”

“I’ll stop shoving when you stop getting in my way!” There was more scratching and Nathaniel’s eyebrows rose. It wasn’t Tristan at the door attempting to unlock it, but their daughter Evelyn. Quietly sliding the lock open, Nathaniel jerked the door wide.

“We thought we heard little mice out here,” he said, scooping his daughter up before she fell flat on her face. He growled against her neck and peppered the skin there with smacking kisses, which made her squeal in laughter.

“Papa! Happy Festival!”

Not one to neglect his firstborn, Nathaniel scooped him up in his free arm. “Happy Winter to you as well, my boy. Now, what has the two of you up and waking your poor parents so early?” He sat back down in bed, watching as his children embraced Moira before settling in between them. As a child, he too had been excited to see what Mother Frost had left him during the night, but now that he was older with children of his own, he could fully appreciate the quiet moments before all the presents and paper and other happily chaotic things that happened during the day occurred and savor this time alone with his very own family. He settled against the headboard and wrapped an arm around Evelyn. At six years of age, she was her mother all over again. Aside from her inky black hair, when he looked at her he was sharply reminded of how Moira had been at that age, especially the way that Evelyn’s hazel eyes would sparkle as she planned some mischief or another. She was even sporting a scrape along her chin from where she had tripped over a tree root just the day before while she and her brother had played in the forest surrounding Castle Cousland. They had included their cousin Oren in their play and Nathaniel was glad to see that even though he was a little over eight years Tristan’s senior, they still got along well. He suspected that it was because Oren was an only child and had secretly wished for siblings of his own.

Where Evelyn was Moira’s near duplicate, Tristan was Nathaniel’s exact copy, all the way to the prominent Howe nose and his quiet nature. He was even showing an interest in archery, which pleased Nathaniel to no end. It would be good to have something in common to bond over as the years went on, like he had with his own father. Yet unlike Rendon, Nathaniel swore that he would personally teach Tristan how to shoot instead of spending a few hours here and there criticizing the job his tutors did at teaching the skill.

He hugged Evelyn tighter. Nathaniel’s father had met his end in a freak hunting accident three springs ago. Rendon’s boot had slipped on an algae-slicked rock and he had fallen. When he landed in the creek they had been wading through, he had landed in such a way that he had broken his neck. Nathaniel’s only consolation was that the fatality had been instantaneous and that his father hadn’t even known what had hit him. It still felt odd being called Arl, but he had settled into his new role with ease. Moira had also slipped into her role as Arlessa easily, taking a more active part than Nathaniel could remember his mother taking on. He wouldn’t have it any other way; Moira was not one to sit idly by without offering her help and he appreciated having a partner he could lean on.

Evelyn fidgeted. “When are we going down to see what Mother Frost left for us?” she asked, looking up at him.

He tweaked her nose. “And what’s to say that she didn’t leave coal in your shoe instead?” he asked playfully. “The two of you have been up to no good lately.”

This prompted a squawk from his son. “We’ve been good!”

Moira tisked. “The frog in your sister’s bed?”

“It was a new pet.”

“And the midnight cookie raid? Poor Adria had spent hours icing those.”

Evelyn blushed. “They looked so nice we had to try them out to see if they were good enough for Father Winter.” She wiggled around again. “May we go look, Papa? If we don’t hurry, Uncle Fergus is going to eat all the treats like he did two years ago!”

Moira and Nathaniel shared a look. Fergus had always been fond of the Winter festival and there were many years growing up that he had spent the better part of the day with an upset stomach from gobbling down too many sweets. That habit carried over into adulthood and was also passed along to his son, leaving Oriana with two ill boys on her hands. “You were four then, how do you remember?”

“Tristan was five, he told me. Besides, Grandmama keeps on reminding Uncle Fergus not to do it again.”

Moira rolled her eyes. “Like that will ever happen.” Clapping her hands, she leaned over and kissed Tristan’s cheek. “If the two of you will wait outside while we dress, the four of us can go down to the Great Hall all at once.”

“How is it that you can shoo them out like that?” Nathaniel asked, pulling on a shirt and clean pair of pants.

“Because I am not wrapped around their grubby little fingers, unlike some fathers I know. They tend to mind me.”

He sat back on the bed to pull on his boots. “Don’t talk about your father that way. He can’t help it if Evie is his second weak point.”

She looked at him from the vanity mirror’s reflection, her brush stopping mid-stroke. “And what would be Papa’s first weakness?”

Nathaniel went up behind his wife and finished lacing up the stays at the back of her gown. “That would have to be you, dearest. Our daughter had a good teacher when it comes to batting her pretty eyes and getting what she wants out of Bryce.” He punctuated his statement with an affectionate kiss before dodging out of the path of Moira’s hairbrush, a wry smirk on his lips.

Moira fondly shook her head as she heard her daughter beg Nathaniel to let her ride up on his shoulders all the way to the Great Hall, but decided not to comment.


“A honing stone! Thank you, Auntie!” Oren had never broken the habit of calling her the familiar name and Moira had never truly minded.

“One can never have too many of those,” she replied, sipping on her mug of hot cider. True to tradition, Fergus and Oren had been the first ones up and downstairs. By the time that Moira and her family had arrived, the two of them were already picking up gifts and rattling boxes to see if they could guess the contents of each. Fergus and Moira’s own parents were last to arrive, looking far more rested than their children.

“We did our years of waking up early with you and your brother,” Eleanor had told them, smiling at the way that Oriana tried to hide a tired yawn behind her hand. “Now it’s your turn to see what it’s like.”

Evelyn let out a shriek of surprise when she opened her gift. “Dolls!” she yelled, bouncing up and down on Bryce’s knee.

Bryce laughed. “I <>finally</i> have a little girl to give these to,” he said, accepting her enthusiastic hug. “Your mama was fonder of wooden swords instead of dolls and stuffed animals.”

“I don’t recall you ever minding giving her those, Bryce,” Eleanor said at his side. “In fact, I do believe it was your fault she wound up with her first dagger set in the first place.”

He winked at his daughter. “And I wouldn’t have my girl any other way. Did you like your gift, Pup?”

Moira ran her fingers over the leather cover of the book in her lap. “Oh, very much.” She hadn’t expected to receive anything from her parents after turning a certain age, but Bryce and Eleanor still gave each of their children at least one gift per year. This year’s present was a familiar copy of The Adventures of the Black Fox, which had been one of Moira’s favorite books to have read to her as a child. She traced the worn spine, thinking back to countless bedtimes where she had begged her father to read her just one more chapter before she fell asleep. Now she could carry on that tradition with her own children.

“And these are handsome candlesticks,” Eleanor declared, turning her gift in her hands to admire it from all angles. “Thank you, my dear.”

“The silversmith in Amaranthine was pleased with how they came out,” Nathaniel said, grinning as he watched Tristan thumb through his own collection of books. Tristan was often on the go thanks to following his sister about, but he had a great love for reading. Nathaniel had picked several titles that he himself had admired as a boy, glad that he had been able to find copies of each that were narrow enough to be put into jacket pockets for easy transport.

“And I have one last gift,” Fergus announced, coming back in from one of the side doors. Moira had thought that her brother had nipped off to the kitchens to steal one of the honeyed buns that she could smell baking, but she caught sight of the small, wriggling mass in his arms.

Evelyn’s eyes grew huge. “A puppy!”

“Now stay where you’re at,” Fergus said, setting the puppy down. “We have to see if she’ll go…” He was stopped when the little dog let out a yip and made a beeline towards Tristan, who knelt down and cuddled it in his arms.

“How did you know?” Moira asked, watching as Evelyn peered over her brother’s shoulder and laughed when the dog licked at her face. “Tristan’s been talking about wanting a Mabari for months, but we haven’t had puppies in our kennels to choose from.”

“I didn’t know,” Fergus explained. “Actually, the dog was meant for Evie, though I don’t think she’s going to have a problem in getting her brother to share.”

Moira leaned against Fergus’ side. “I don’t know if I should thank you for making him so happy or hit you for giving us something that will chew up the furniture.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be cursing me every time you wind up with piddle in your shoes or slobber on your chairs.”

Moira sighed. Tristan was looking critically at his new puppy and already listing names. He caught his mother’s eye and the bright smile that he gave her made every single future mess and chewed up item completely worth it.


“They lasted longer than I had expected,” Nathaniel commented, tucking the blankets up and around Tristan’s sides. Nia, which is what Tristan finally settled on after a long bout of indecision, was curled up close to her young master’s hand, similarly sound asleep.

“Evie nearly made it to the fireworks,” Moira agreed, brushing a dark curl away from her daughter’s sleeping forehead. One of her many new dolls lay under her arm, the rest lined up in a row on top of the chest at the foot of the bed. Moira looked down at them, thinking that her parents had been overgenerous as usual when it came to gifts for their grandchildren. She bent to softly kiss Evelyn’s head, her lips curving upwards at the toy sword that was held tightly in her daughter’s other hand. Both of them quietly made their way out of the guest bedroom, leaving the door open just a crack so that the torchlight from the hall could spill into the room.

“Dinner was incredible,” Nathaniel said as they walked down the hall. The night was still somewhat young and neither of them were ready to go to bed just yet. “Nan outdid herself this year.” Several days beforehand, he, Bryce and Fergus had gone out into the forests to hunt, bringing back two bucks for the cooks. This year, Oren was deemed old enough to join them, which was one of those milestones every boy looks forward to experiencing. Nathaniel couldn’t wait until Tristan was old enough. He was hoping that once Tristan was that he would be skilled enough with his bow to not only go hunting with him, but to also bring back his first kill.

They made their way up to the castle battlements, stopping a little bit away when they saw that the spot was already claimed by Bryce and Eleanor. Neither of them noticed their daughter and son-in-law, seeing as they were too caught up with watching the fireworks that still shot into the sky from Highever below, Bryce standing behind his wife with his arms wrapped around her, Eleanor with her hands covering her husband’s, a contented smile on her face.

“That,” Moira said as they left and walked down another hallway. “Is what we’re going to look like in a few years.”

Nathaniel wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her closer to his side. “I can only hope so. Did you like your gift?”

She put her fingers over the locket resting over her chest. “I love my gift. However did you manage to get the two of them to stay still for so long?” Inside the locket were miniature portraits, one with both children on one side and another with only Nathaniel on the other.

He smirked. “You’re not the only one that they mind.” He shrugged at her dubious glance. “All right, so bribery works as well. I promised them both twenty bits each and a trip into Amaranthine to the pastry shop if they didn’t move around while the artist painted them.”

They finally made their way down to her mother’s gardens, the lanterns that the servants lit in the corners giving off a soft glow. It was a shame that Eleanor’s roses hadn’t made the frost, but Moira knew from experience that they would come back with a vengeance in the spring and summer. “I have one last gift to give you,” she said.

“Oh?” He looked around. “Unless your gown has grown pockets in the past few hours, I don’t see…” he eyed her. “Moira, it’s somewhat chilly out here. If you have the sort of gift in mind that I think you do, we might have to wait until we’re back inside.”

She laughed and rolled her eyes. “Not that kind of gift, silly. I swear, I think that’s all that runs through your mind at times.”

His grin was unrepentant. “That’s what happens when I have a beautiful woman as my wife. I can’t help where my thoughts naturally turn to.” He tilted his head down and gave her a brief kiss. “So, if that’s not the sort of gift that I was thinking of, then what is it?”

“I have to be honest. I don’t actually have it with me at the moment and it will take some time getting here, but I will let you guess what it might be.” She toyed with the metal frog clasp to his cloak. “I had it special ordered and I hope that you’ll grow to love it for many years to come.”

“Special ordered, hmm? Is it a new bow?”

“No, but I was already thinking of asking you if you wanted one for your name day.”

“Is it…ah, it’s that book that I’ve been talking about!”

She shook her head. “Guess again.”

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It isn’t a bow, and it isn’t a book, but it’s something custom made that I’ll be sure to love for many, many years. I certainly hope that in light of our newest family member that you weren’t thinking of getting me a dog.”

“Well…” She took hold of his hand. “It isn’t exactly a dog, but it will need the same, if not more, care that a puppy would.”

His eyes went round as Moira placed his hand against her flat abdomen. “Do you mean?” He let out a whoop and spun her around in his arms. “How long have you known?”

She framed his face with her hands. “I suspected something a few weeks back, but I wasn’t quite sure. The healer says that I’m about a month and a half along. I didn’t want to tell you until I was completely sure.”

He leaned in and kissed her long and deep, hoping to tell her just how happy he was through actions alone. “I’m going to have to have your locket repainted to add the newest Howe whenever she or he arrives,” he said softly, the backs of his fingers gently running over her cheeks. “I don’t know how you do it; when I think that I can’t love you more than I already do, you do something so wonderful that makes me love you even more.”

She threaded her fingers with his and led him back inside, where her childhood home echoed with years of memories of warmth and love. The thumb of her free hand ran over her new necklace, thinking that amongst all the things Nathaniel had given her over the years, their family and the love that they all had for the other was the greatest gift of all.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 31st, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
D'awww, this is so cute! I love the way you write this pairing. I did get a little teary at the idea of this happy family -- "what could have been". I can't help it! I love the Couslands, okay, and I really hate what happened to the family in the game.

BUT. This was amazing, as always! <3
Jan. 1st, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)
Thanks! I really, really want to edit their main story now just to include little Evie. Maybe I'll do another AU with her in it instead later on. :)

I love the Couslands too! Grandpapa Bryce would have been the most awesome grandparent ever!
Jan. 3rd, 2011 03:18 am (UTC)
So sweet! Their happy ending in your non-AU timeline already gives me the warm-fuzzies, and the addition of Grandparent!Bryce and Eleanor is all the sweeter.

I like how you conveniently took Rendon out of the picture without making a big deal of it - no need for him to be grumping up such a cute holiday fic.
Jan. 5th, 2011 03:19 am (UTC)
Nope, no need for Grampaw Rendon to be the grouch in here at all! Hurrah for the convenient plot device!

I think Bryce and Eleanor would have spoiled their grandbabies rotten, had they been given the chance. I'm sure that they already did off-camera with Oren anyway. :D
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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