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Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
Canon Character
Noble
Grey Warden
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183
#1
((OOC: Bloomingtide 20, 9:35, Redcliffe Castle, Morning, @Cauthrien ))

Fergus stayed the night. While not the first time Nathaniel and Fergus had shared an evening together, it was the first time that either of them stayed the entirety of the night. He was grateful Fergus stayed even if he was reluctant at first when Fergus ignored his desire to be left alone. All the emotions bottled up and left unspoken or felt within the Deep Roads poured out through the course of the evening in much needed relief.

With Fergus' departure, Nathaniel found himself alone within the bed. He stretched out atop the disheveled bedding, muscles still sore but not nearly as achy as when he returned at Castle Redcliffe the night before. At some point, he needed to seek out Teagan and answer his questions about the expedition as well as talk to Tessa. The girl harbored guilt about Cauthrien's injuries and desperately wished to see her family. Nathaniel forbid her return to her family's home until he could speak with her further. He did not wish a guilt-ridden Tessa confessing things she should not confess to her family. Redcliffe suffered enough loss; he would not add more bodies to the pyre with failed joinings.

With a grumble, he eased his way out of bed and toward a bowl filled with fruit. An apple retrieved, he bit down on the fruit and let out a low and satisfied groan. Too eager for his solitude the night before, he failed to eat and his stomach let its anger be known as he awoke in the morning to its growls. The apple would not be enough to fill his hunger, but could stem the pains for long enough for him to make it to the dining hall.

While the wardens were gone, Teagan left their rooms as they were before they left. What items Nathaniel did not require for their trip to the Deep Roads still sat packed in trunk. He had no interest in putting on his armor any time soon, only briefly looking at the discarded and dirty pile on the floor adjacent to the tub as he walked toward the trunk. A knock at the door drew his attention away from searching out clothing briefly and without music thought, he yelled out, "Come in," expecting Fergus to have returned as he hinted he might.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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357
#2
Cauthrien's night had been far from restful. After her bath, she had eaten, and exhaustion had allowed her to drop into an uneasy slumber, but far too soon she jerked awake, the screams of the dying Broodmothers echoing in her ears, her heart racing, windpipe narrowed to a sliver and unreasoning terror thundering through her veins. She had laid in her bed, fingers clutching the sheets, teeth clenched against the cries that she would not give voice to, fighting the attack as though it were a living thing until, after what had seemed an eternity, it had passed, leaving her sweat-drenched, trembling and gasping.

What in the Fade was wrong with her? There was no danger here, nothing to be afraid of, and no foe that she had faced in her life had ever inspired this kind of paralyzing fear. Had being brought back from death done this, uncovered some cowardice that had lain hidden within her? What if an attack came over her in battle? She could barely stand, let alone fight when she was afflicted thusly; she would be useless in combat, but what was she, if she was not a warrior?

Her sheets were as soaked as her clothes, but she would not summon a servant to change her bed in the middle of the night; she dared not fall asleep again, anyway. She dressed and seated herself in the broad sill of her window so that she could see the open sky overhead, solid stone against her back, and spent the rest of the night cleaning and sharpening her sword.

It was a good blade, and had served her well, but it was past time that she got another. She had saved more than enough to commission a silverite greatsword and have enchantments placed upon it. A silverite blade would have held a cutting edge longer, might not have gotten hung up in that hurlock, leaving her vulnerable as she tried to free it. It was not the sword's fault; she should have honed it after the fight with the ogre, but there had been no time. She tilted the sword to and fro in the light of the setting moon, examining the blade, then working the stones along it until all the nicks had been smoothed out and the edge gleamed razor sharp. The ritual was a familiar one and soothing, keeping her mind turned from darker thoughts as night gave way to morning.

When the first light of dawn touched the eastern sky, she left her room and made her way to the one that Nathaniel had been given. She doubted that he had slept much, either. The deaths of Fiagi and Matthias would weigh heavily on him, and he undoubtedly also blamed himself for what had happened to her, though it was the fault of no one but herself. He carried too much weight, and he was always ready to accept more, whether he should bear it or not. She would not add to his worries by telling him of these strange attacks; not yet. They would pass; there was nothing here to be afraid of, and Cauthrien MacLean was no coward to cringe at shadows. But they did need to discuss how to deal with their newest member. The brief reunion that Tessa had with her mother and sisters last night would not be enough, but before she was allowed to speak to them at length, they would have to be sure that she knew the potential cost of revealing Warden secrets.

As she turned the corner, she saw Teyrn Cousland emerging from Nathaniel's room and walking the other way. He was awake, then. She approached the door, knocked.

“Come in!”

She did as instructed, entered the room, and was immediately greeted by the sight of her Commander's bare ass in the air as he rummaged through a trunk of clothes. Not the worst of sights by any stretch; Nathaniel had a trim build, well muscled without being bulky, and he definitely had a nice ass, but she was reasonably sure that he hadn't intended to present it to her in this manner. Still, it was enough to put a smile on her face, despite the overall bleakness of her mood.

She cleared her throat politely, averting her gaze just a bit. “I'm going to guess that I'm not who you were expecting?” she asked him. The condition of his bed suggested either an extremely restless night or a very active one.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
Canon Character
Noble
Grey Warden
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183
#3
Nathaniel heard the sound of the door open and close behind him. He continued rummaging through his trunk, hands settling on a pair of pants.

The voice he heard next, however, was not at all whom he expected.“I'm going to guess that I'm not who you were expecting?”

Not that he spent a great deal of time imagining Cauthrien seeing him naked, but when and if that time came, he never imagined this particular scenario. His head sank and he let out a muttered, "Fade," before rising, pants in hand, and glancing over his shoulder. Cauthrien stood there, gaze politely and ever so slightly averted. A small smile lined her mouth, the first he'd seen since their return from the Deep Roads. His own em-bare-assed-ment was worth that, he supposed.

"No, you aren't,"
he replied, keeping his back to her as he quickly stepped into his pants. Only once he was appropriately situated and pants fully laced, did he turn around to face her. A hand drug through his hair, still disheveled from the night before. With Cauthrien's arrival so soon after Fergus' departure, he assumed she saw the teyrn leaving his room. "I thought you were Fergus," he confessed, no use in hiding that particular truth.

She looked tired, shadows beneath her eyes to match his own. Nathaniel grabbed the first shirt within the trunk and slipped the black linen shirt overhead. "I'd say good morning but we both know it isn't." He wouldn't insult her with such a lie. He assumed much like himself, she disappeared into her room upon returning to the castle. Both preferred to deal with their demons in private.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#4
No, he definitely hadn't been expecting her, and his discomfort was evident. “I thought you were Fergus,” he admitted after pulling on his pants.

She accepted that with a nod. She'd known that the pair had been friends since childhood, but this was the first inkling she'd had of it being anything more. “A definite improvement on Jean,” she offered with a wry smile. She'd never cared much for the insouciant Orlesian; she'd preferred the company of Philippe, though she'd been just as happy when both men had returned to their own country. Still, it had helped him deal with Fiona's death, and she wouldn't begrudge him that. “There's no shame in seeking comfort, you know,” she told him gently. She had little doubt that others of their number had done the same last night, but Nathaniel had always seemed reluctant to allow himself any respite, as though he didn't believe he deserved it.

He pulled a shirt over his head. "I'd say good morning but we both know it isn't."

She shrugged. “It's morning, anyway.” More of their number lived to greet it than she had honestly expected going into the Deep Roads, but that did not make the losses any easier to accept. She sighed. “I am sorry about Fiagai.” Matthias would be missed, as well, but it was the Chasind whose absence would be most deeply felt by the Fereldan order ... Nathaniel, in particular.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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Noble
Grey Warden
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183
#5
Cauthrien grinned dryly as she said, “A definite improvement on Jean.” Her tone softened. “There's no shame in seeking comfort, you know."

Fergus was a vast improvement over Jean. Nathaniel would not disagree with her there. For starters, he actually liked Fergus. Jean had never been anything but a distraction. Fergus was far more than that.

He continued his dig for a shirt and said, "I know." There was a time when he would have felt some shame. That time had passed and he trusted Cauthrien. No scandalous rumors would find their genesis upon her lips. Nathaniel did not worry for himself, but he did for Fergus. Staying the night was reckless and they were both lucky Cauthrien was the person that saw Fergus leave Nathaniel's room.

He slipped on his shirt and spoke the morning not being a particularly good one.

Cauthrien rolled a shrug. “It's morning, anyway.” With a sigh, she added, “I am sorry about Fiagi.”

"I know," he repeated voice quiet. Their conversation in the Deep Roads was interrupted by Tessa when she woke from her Joining. Cauthrien's visit was a surprise but not an unwelcome one. There were things he needed to say. Down below, such a discussion hardly seemed appropriate. And now? He did not wish her to hear from someone else. Time and time again he considered how he might approach her. Now that the moment arrived, the hunger rumbling his stomach surrendered to a case of nerves.

He sank into a seat upon the couch in front of the hearth and motioned for Cauthrien to join him. "How are the injuries?" His gaze left hers briefly to search out her scar.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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357
#6
His replies were terse, and he seemed restless, still ill at ease. Perhaps she should not have said anything, even after he had brought up Fergus. He had never been one to speak openly of his personal life.

He settled on the couch before the fireplace, gesturing for her to do the same. “How are the injuries?” he asked her, his eyes shifting to her neck.

“They don't hurt,” she replied honestly. “Still a fair amount of soreness in the muscles, but that will work itself out.” She hesitated, then added, “Maya and the other mages ... are they all right?” She had seen how much it had cost all of them to bring her back; Maya had looked more than half dead, herself, but Cauthrien hadn't possessed the reserves the previous night to do more than get herself to her own room.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
Canon Character
Noble
Grey Warden
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183
#7
“They don't hurt,” Cauthrien replied. “Still a fair amount of soreness in the muscles, but that will work itself out.” There was a pause before she asked, “Maya and the other mages...are they all right?”

Nathaniel’s lips pressed together in a thin line. Too concerned with his own needs, he had not bothered to check on any of the other Grey Wardens when they returned. His mind was set upon two things: privacy and whiskey. He could not help others if he could not help himself, he tried to reason as he sat there and noted the worry etched upon Cauthrien’s features. “They are fine. Exhausted. Teagan assured me anything we need, we have but to ask.”

He fell silent, his hand eventually reaching for hers before he stammered and grew quiet again, “Cauthrien, I…” Nathaniel was a man that selected his words carefully all too conscious of the empty speech his father favored. He did not know how to voice what he needed to say. The wrong words could convey incorrect intent and this was new territory for him. Fiona and he happened in an instant. And Fergus? No matter what happened with them, Nathaniel did not fear their friendship.

A deep breath drawn in and exhaled, he pushed on and let the words come to him as he spoke. “I need to tell you something and I’m not entirely sure how to do it.” He managed a half-smile. “And my timing is horrible, I know, but I do not want you to hear from someone else.When you fell, I acted inappropriately.”

His posture stiffened, shoulders squaring. "I let everyone see how important you are to me. I begged Mysaria to save you, for someone to do something and not just because you are my friend but because…” His eyes closed for a moment before opening to find Cauthrien’s, “…you are someone I wish to be more than that."
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#8
“They are fine,” Nathaniel responded to her query about the mages. “Exhausted. Teagan assured me anything we need, we have but to ask.”

The knot of worry in her gut loosened as she nodded. She would not have forgiven herself if harm had come to any of them because of what they had done for her.

He reached out for her hand. “Cauthrien, I...” He fell silent, visibly struggling with words and looking more ill at ease than she had ever seen him.

“You are not to blame for...what happened to me,” she told him firmly. She still hadn't managed to wrap her mind around the idea that she had actually died. “Nor Matthias, nor even Fiagai. Each of us knew the risks, each of us chose our own path.” And yet, the two men were dead, while she had been gifted with a second chance that she deserved no more – and perhaps a good deal less – than they had. Fiagai's sacrifice had left them with no body, and Matthias had been torn asunder, beyond the reach of any spell to undo. And if they had been able to be revived, the act would likely have taxed the mages to the point that they would have been unable to continue. They had been damned lucky to have encountered nothing beyond the Marches Wardens on their way out.

He drew a deep breath, as though steeling himself. “I need to tell you something and I’m not entirely sure how to do it.” A self-deprecating smile touched his lips. “And my timing is horrible, I know, but I do not want you to hear from someone else. When you fell, I acted inappropriately.”

Inappropriately? She regarded him in puzzlement. “What do you mean?” He seemed to labor under the delusion that a leader could never allow his emotions to be seen by his subordinates. Seeing a third Warden under his command fall had undoubtedly been hard on him, but after scolding Bethany for letting her emotions rule her actions, he likely believed that showing it would have been viewed as hypocritical. “Nathaniel, you are allowed to feel. You care about the people that you command. That is nothing to be ashamed of. It is one of the things that makes you a good leader.”

He straightened, his posture suggesting the determination of one resolved to bull through to the bitter end. "I let everyone see how important you are to me. I begged Mysaria to save you, for someone to do something and not just because you are my friend but because…” He closed his eyes, opened them again, “…you are someone I wish to be more than that."

“More than ... what?” She was well and truly baffled now, because he seemed to be saying - “But - I thought... Aren't you and Teyrn Cousland...” She trailed off awkwardly, wondering what in blazes she was missing, whether she had misinterpreted what he had said earlier, what he was saying now, or both. There could be another reason for him to be naked in his room right after the Teyrn had left it, after all. She couldn't think of anything at the moment, but that didn't mean it didn't exist.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
Canon Character
Noble
Grey Warden
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183
#9
“More than...what?” Bewilderment rippled along Cauthrien's features.“But - I thought... Aren't you and Teyrn Cousland...” She did not complete the thought and fell into an awkward silence to match the anxiousness Nathaniel already felt at voicing his confession.

Cauthrien finding Nathaniel as she had on the heels of Fergus' departure from the room was as unfortunate as fortunate. Talk of Fergus that was to come later if at all could not be avoided and he tried to explain. His gaze trailed down to her hand held within his. "We are and we are not." The words would do little to stem her confusion and he let out a long, steadying breath before continuing. Eyes raised, he looked to her once more. "Breanna and he have agreed to a courtship. I imagine come the ball, they will make some kind of announcement. He needs to remarry and more heirs as teyrn." He quirked a rueful smirk. "I can provide neither nor would I wish to if at all possible." There would be no more marriages for Nathaniel; no more children. What he wanted and what Fergus needed did not coincide.

He squeezed Cauthrien's hand. "I've felt like this for you for some time but was waiting for the right moment to tell you. And then the Deep Roads happened and you almost..." It was Nathaniel's turn to leave a sentence incomplete. "This is not how I wanted to tell you but it is what I want. I told Fergus almost a month ago." He added before his mouth took a sardonic slide, "I've thought about this quite a lot. And we both know how much I over think things."

"Fergus and I... There are things that will forever tie us together and we will always be a fixture in each other's life because of it." Nathaniel did not outline those ties. Cauthrien more than anyone would not need them spelled out. "But, just as I cannot give Fergus those things he needs, he cannot do the same for me. What I need is someone I do not have to keep secrets from because of my duty; someone that challenges me and makes me a better person. I need someone not afraid to tell me no."

A corner of his mouth tugged aslant, "Though this does not need to be one of those times." Self-mocking mirth faded, sincerity taking root in the focus of his eyes and straight line of his lips. "But if it is, I will understand."
 

Cauthrien

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#10
He said a good many things, but she took note of very little after a certain point. When he was finished speaking, she withdrew her hand from his grasp, disbelief touching her features.

"The Teyrn is courting Breanna, but spent last night in your bed?" she asked, her voice quiet, with the barest hint of rising anger undercutting it. "And you allowed it?"

She'd put up with such behavior from Cailan because she'd had no choice; she'd thought Fergus Cousland made of more honorable stuff than that, and Nathaniel...she didn't understand that at all. He never would have betrayed Fiona thusly...or perhaps she had been a blind fool again, seeing the traits that she needed to believe in, needing to believe in the commander that she followed.

No. She had seen enough of him, in both good times and bad to know that wasn't the case. Nathaniel was an honorable man, which made it all the more incomprehensible. "Why?" The same question she had asked of Loghain in the swirling mists of the Fade, but this time, she would not allow it to go unanswered.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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183
#11
Cauthrien pulled away, tugging her hand from his. Shock, but not the kind he expected, shifted upon her features. He had prepared himself for the possibility of her rejection. He was not ready for the indignation. "The Teyrn is courting Breanna, but spent last night in your bed?" The first simmer before the boil, Cauthrien asked in a voice, edges cut with rage. "And you allowed it? Why?"

So nervous about telling her of his interest, Nathaniel never stopped to consider the view from the outside in. Breanna was Cauthrien's charge at one time and her friend now. "Fergus would never... Iwould have never..." No matter his acknowledgment of outward appearances, her disbelief in him stung.

He shook his head and pushed from the couch, standing. Fingers drug through his hair and he paced between the hearth and couch as he spoke, "My father kept a mistress the entirety of his marriage to my mother - Bann Esmerelle. I suspect he had others as well. There was talk of some woman in Denerim while he was Arl of Denerim. That is not who I am nor will I become that person."

Nathaniel ceased his walking, stopping at the couch but not sitting. Knuckles whitened as they coiled along the curve of the couch's back. Voice calm, though tension tightened his posture, he said, "Fergus asked Breanna to enter a formal courtship while we were in the Deep Roads and told her about..." His hand flicked in gesture to the rumpled bed and got around to answering her question, "...me. They have an arrangement. They each have their interests and agreed to let the other pursue those so long as they remained discreet."

A hand abandoned the couch, rising to pinch at the bridge of his nose. His voice grew quiet, "And because last night, I needed someone and he was there. That is why I allowed it, Cauthrien."
 

Cauthrien

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#12
He was plainly hurt by her words, rising from the couch and pacing in agitation as he spoke of his father's infidelities. Cauthrien let him talk, listening in silence, though she couldn't help grimacing when he spoke of Esmerelle. She couldn't imagine anyone bedding the pinch-faced, sharp-tongued crone, but she had to admit that she would have been a match for Rendon Howe's venomous nature.

“That is not who I am, nor will I become that person,” he spat, his features set in lines of bitter distaste.

She nodded without speaking. He had always been at pains to distance himself from anything that his father had done, in matters both great and small. He stopped pacing, his fingers gripping the back of the couch as he spoke of Fergus and Breanna.

“They have an arrangement. They each have their interests and agreed to let the other pursue those so long as they remained discreet.”

Her jaw tightened slightly, but she nodded again, accepting his words. Had he been anyone else, she would have called him a liar, but he had never given her reason to doubt his honesty. Whether Fergus had been truthful with him and Breanna was another issue, but it was not one that she would take up with Nathaniel. Not the way he looked now.

He dropped his head, pinching the bridge of his nose in a familiar gesture of stress, his voice low. “And because last night, I needed someone and he was there. That is why I allowed it, Cauthrien.”

He had shouldered the greatest portion of the burden in the Deep Roads. He had seen his best friend die to save him, watched another under his command be torn asunder and still another fall in battle, and had then been forced to end the lives of the women they had been trying to save, a task made all the harder by Oghren's ill-considered actions. Whatever comfort he had needed, he had more than earned.

She drew in a deep breath, let it out. “All right,” she said slowly, nodding a final time, accepting all that he had told her. “All right.” She stood herself and moved toward the window. ”But if that is the case, I don't understand." She glanced back at him. “Why me?” The not keeping secrets, the willingness to tell him 'no': they had that now. She shook her head slowly. “I am no lady to grace your arm. I am a soldier. I am -” She swallowed, looked back out the window, where the residents of the castle were beginning a new day, the bustle of preparation for the upcoming event continuing in spite of the mourning that was taking place in the village below. “ - tainted,” she concluded with a sigh.

Darkspawn blood was the least of it. Tainted by Loghain, by Rendon Howe, by her own actions; she'd barely scratched the surface of an atonement that would span the rest of her life and still not be enough. He might think them kindred spirits, and she might pretend it, but Nathaniel was an honorable man who had no part in the crimes of his father, while she had followed Loghain Mac Tir through his treachery to the bitter end, turning away only when it became impossible to deny the truth.

“You deserve better,” she told him quietly.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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#13
Whatever disbelief Cauthrien showed earlier faded with Nathaniel's explanation. She exhaled a deep breath and said, "All right," before repeating the same phrase after a nod of the head. She abandoned the couch as well, moving toward a window to view the scenery below. “But if that is the case, I don't understand.” With a look over the shoulder at Nathaniel, she asked, “Why me?” Her head shook, “I am no lady to grace your arm. I am a soldier. I am -” She turned back to the window, peering through the glass and finished the thought with a sighed, “ - tainted. You deserve better."

Nathaniel said nothing as she spoke, letting her get the words out as he quietly walked to join her at the window, standing at her side. The quiet continued for a pause as he considered a response.

You deserve better. How many times had he used that same phrase himself? Too many. What a person deserved was a subjective concept. What he felt he deserved was not at all what Cauthrien believed. What he felt he deserved, what he knew he wanted was her.

Each hand sought a partner, fingers curling about Cauthrien's. Slowly, he turned her to face him, sure to have her attention upon him as he spoke. "I do not want a lady to grace my arm." If that was what he wanted, there would be a room of willing women come the ball. His thumb traced the juncture of her thumb and finger. "I want a partner. Someone I trust. Someone... Why you? Because I do not have to pretend to be something I'm not with you. Because I do not have avoid talking about not only my life as a Grey Warden but also my life as a Howe."

He released one of her hands, his rising tentatively to touch the side of her face, fingers resting beneath her chin and thumb along the angle of her cheekbone. Blue-grey eyes sought out her blue, "Because you are the strongest person I know. When I thought I lost you..." His mouth pressed together and stayed the thought, saying instead, "What I deserve and what I want are not often the same. They are now, Cauthrien. More than one person has told me that I deserve some happiness. I'd like to try to find some of that with you."
 

Cauthrien

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#14
She felt him move to stand beside her, quiet and steady. When she finished speaking, there was silence. He had never been one to speak rashly, or needlessly. His hands reached out to hers, turning her so that they faced each other.

"I do not want a lady to grace my arm," he told her, one thumb brushing lightly along the back of her hand. "I want a partner. Someone I trust. Someone... Why you? Because I do not have to pretend to be something I'm not with you. Because I do not have avoid talking about not only my life as a Grey Warden but also my life as a Howe."

There was nothing in his past to be ashamed of: no treasons, no deaths lay at his feet, but his father's name hung about his neck like an albatross. He bore the guilt that Rendon Howe had been incapable of feeling, and no matter that his deeds and bearing since the Blight had made him his own man in the eyes of many who had once only seen him as his father's son, he would likely bear that weight to his grave.

One hand lifted to touch her face, thumb brushing the line of her jaw with exquisite gentleness, his eyes watching her with the same expression that had been baffling her these past weeks. She'd had no idea what lay behind it then, and now that she did, it terrified her.

"Because you are the strongest person I know,” he went on, and she swallowed against the impulse to let out a lunatic's laugh. Strong? Perhaps she had been once, but only hours past, she had been curled up in her bed, paralyzed by a panic that had no cause, frightened when there was nothing to be afraid of. If she could be so stricken when there was no danger at all, what might happen in the face of a genuine threat?

“When I thought I lost you..." He cut off his words, his lips thinning. "What I deserve and what I want are not often the same. They are now, Cauthrien. More than one person has told me that I deserve some happiness. I'd like to try to find some of that with you."

She opened her mouth, closed it. “I...was not expecting this,” she admitted slowly. “I'd never even considered it. Not just from you,” she added hastily. “From anyone. I am a soldier. It's what I am, and I do not know how to be anything else. You are my commander and my friend. I do not want to do anything to damage that.”

She wasn't explaining herself well. She gave her head an impatient shake, her hand gripping his as she searched for the words, something she had rarely needed to do around him. “Darren Fletcher was my last lover. When Maric's Shield was formed, we were the top two candidates for the commander's position. We agreed to abide by the choice of the King and Loghain; the one who was not selected would accept the command of the other.” She shook her head, a sad smile touching her lips. “I do not think that he really believed that he would not be chosen, even though we were evenly matched on the field. When he was not, he...said a good many things that he knew were not true.” He of all people would have known who shared her bed. “A man can be man and soldier both, and when he must do his duty, no one thinks any less of him for it. A woman...” She shrugged. “Perhaps there is a way of it, but I never found it. I have been a soldier, and nothing else, since I took command of Maric's Shield. I do not believe you to be anything like Darren was,” she told him. “I just don't know if I can be what you want me to be.”
 

Nathaniel Howe

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#15
Cauthrien opened and closed her mouth as if stumped for what to say. “I...was not expecting this,” she finally confessed. “I'd never even considered it. Not just from you. From anyone. I am a soldier. It's what I am, and I do not know how to be anything else. You are my commander and my friend. I do not want to do anything to damage that.”

She shook her head quickly and her fingers squeezed his. “Darren Fletcher was my last lover. When Maric's Shield was formed, we were the top two candidates for the commander's position. We agreed to abide by the choice of the King and Loghain; the one who was not selected would accept the command of the other.”

History told how this competition played out. Nathaniel's brow crinkled, already coming to his own conclusions of what was to come next. His hand dropped, seeking out her free one in a supportive clasp.

“I do not think that he really believed that he would not be chosen, even though we were evenly matched on the field. When he was not, he...said a good many things that he knew were not true.”

The furrowing of his brow deepened, anger setting in the corners of his eyes.

“A man can be man and soldier both, and when he must do his duty, no one thinks any less of him for it. A woman...” She shrugged. “Perhaps there is a way of it, but I never found it. I have been a soldier, and nothing else, since I took command of Maric's Shield. I do not believe you to be anything like Darren was. I just don't know if I can be what you want me to be.”

"Cauthrien," he began as she finished. "I do not want you to be anything other than yourself - the soldier and the woman."

His gaze panned down to focus upon their entwined fingers. "I never told you why my father sent me away." His expression became shadowed with an older and wiser man's ire mixed with a boy's sadness at disappointing a father he worshiped. "When I was 16, he found me with male servant in an out building of Vigil's Keep. We were...." He shook his head. "...father was furious. He said you are no son of mine." A wry puff of air passed over his lips as his gaze found Cauthrien's once again. "I did not appreciate the compliment at the time. I spent years in denial and filled with shame because I was not the man he wanted me to be." He had spoken to so few about those years, keeping the memories tucked away in a place rarely visited.

Nathaniel continued after exhaling a long breath, "It was only after I became a Grey Warden that I came to realize the most important expectations are those I place upon myself, not others. I came to realize this is my life, not my father's, but mine."

He released one of her hands, finger and thumb pressing against the bottom of her chin. "I have no expectations of you." His heart thrummed within his ears and he thought for a moment to narrow the space between them further, but stayed his motion. Only the slow and steady nature of his breathing betrayed his lack of action.

A self-deprecating smirk overtook his lips. "Talking to you about this, Cauthrien, is one of the most single terrifying things I've ever done." The pad of his thumb traced the angle of her chin. "I also do not want to damage our friendship. I value it too greatly." He shook his head, "But our latest trip to the Deep Roads made me realize just how short our lives could be. I don't want to live with the regret of not trying for something that feels right to me because of my own fear."
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#16
Again, he listened as she spoke, a glint of anger showing in his eyes as she spoke of Darren and his hands finding hers once more, the touch reassuring, undemanding.

"I do not want you to be anything other than yourself - the soldier and the woman,” he told her earnestly when she was done.

She drew a slow breath, let it out. “I have not thought of myself as a woman in...” She shook her head bemusedly. “Longer than I care to calculate. I thought that such things were not for me.” Her career, her duty had demanded everything of her; she had given it without hesitation, but lost everything when she allowed her loyalty to Loghain override her greater duty. Her devotion to him had been that of soldier to commander, of daughter to father. How much greater would be the devotion of a woman to a lover? How much greater the blindness?

"I never told you why my father sent me away,” Nathaniel said, dropping his eyes as an old pain touched his features. It was again her turn to listen, unsurprised that a man who thought nothing of dishonoring his own wedding vows would take so harsh a view of his son involved with another man. Rendon Howe had been nothing if not a raging hypocrite.

“I spent years in denial and filled with shame because I was not the man he wanted me to be."

“You are a better man than he ever was,” she told him, her fingers tightening around his, supporting him as he had her.

"It was only after I became a Grey Warden that I came to realize the most important expectations are those I place upon myself, not others,” he went on. “I came to realize this is my life, not my father's, but mine." He slipped one hand from hers, lifting it to press gently beneath her chin. "I have no expectations of you," he told her, and she felt her heart begin a panicked flutter in her chest, because in that moment, she thought that he meant to kiss her, and what in the Fade was she supposed to do with that?

The moment passed, and his mouth quirked in the self-deprecating smile that she knew so well. "Talking to you about this, Cauthrien, is one of the most single terrifying things I've ever done."

Her racing heart slowed, and she managed a shaky laugh. “You are not alone in that.” Maker's blood, it would be easier to face down another Broodmother than to try to grapple with these unfamiliar emotions!

"I also do not want to damage our friendship. I value it too greatly."


She nodded, grateful that he understood what might be at stake. He went on. "But our latest trip to the Deep Roads made me realize just how short our lives could be. I don't want to live with the regret of not trying for something that feels right to me because of my own fear."

If he had been speaking of any other woman, she would have agreed without reserve, encouraged him to take the chance. But it was not another woman that he spoke of, and she dropped her head, unable to meet his gaze with her thoughts churning and newly awakened feelings swirling in the mix that frightened her more than any darkspawn ever had. She had been alone most of her life, and that had been enough. What if it wasn't anymore?

“I failed Loghain,” she whispered. Perhaps her counsel would not have swayed him; he had always been stubborn, but her failure lay in never even making the attempt, following him blindly, obeying without question and so never knowing if she could have made a difference. “I do not want to fail you.” Resolve crystallized, and she lifted her chin, meeting his eyes. “I will not fail you,” she said fiercely.

She should tell him that they should keep their relationship professional, that she needed to preserve some degree of objectivity to maintain her ability to act as his second, but she did not want to hurt him. Anything else that she wanted...that did not matter.

“I...” She bit lightly at her lower lip, weighing her words. “I need time,” she said at last. This infatuation was at least partly fueled by the intensity of their experiences in the Deep Roads. Given time, the force of those memories would fade, and his affections might turn to someone else, someone better suited to him, and they could simply continue as they were: friends and comrades-in-arms. That would be best for all concerned. “I need to think, decide if I can do this and still serve as your second.” She would not lie to him. “If I can't -” She broke off. If the attacks of groundless fear continued, she could no longer serve as Warden-Constable anyway, but what was she, if she was not a soldier? “I do not know,” she told him softly.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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#17
Cauthrien’s gaze lowered, looking anywhere but at Nathaniel. His brow furrowed and his hand lowered from her chin. Maker, what had he been thinking to bring this up now? Had he pushed too much? Gone too far? He could not regret having told her. Not knowing was far worse than knowing. But to have her turn him away now…

“I failed Loghain,” she confessed, tone nothing more than a whisper. “I do not want to fail you.” Resolve strengthened the rise of her chin and filled the depth of the gaze that fixed upon his. “I will not fail you,” she insisted.

Cauthrien had not failed him yet. But more than anyone, he knew the tricks doubts could play with logic. He battled his doubts anytime someone called him a good man or better than his father. He imagined he always would much as Cauthrien would always fear to repeat her failures of the past.

The hand that still held hers squeezed gently. “I know,” he replied simply.

“I…” Teeth dug into her lower lip. “I need time. I need to think, decide if I can do this and still serve as your second. If I can't - I do not know,” she ended quietly.

While he would have preferred an answer now, needing time was far better than an outright denial and more than reasonable. Nathaniel had over a month to think about what moving their relationship to a new level meant for Cauthrien and himself. The whole idea was a new one to her and apparently, quite the surprise.

“I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how I feel. I am sure on this.” He had not been so sure of something in quite some time. "But I won’t deny you your time. Whatever you decide…” He sucked in a breath and held it in for a moment before exhaling slowly. “I do not want my life without you in it be it as just a friend or something more. Whatever you decide, I will accept,” he said softly.
 

Cauthrien

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#18
“I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how I feel. I am sure on this.”

His words caused an unsettling mix of emotions, a churn of panic foremost among them until he added, "But I won’t deny you your time. Whatever you decide…” He paused, took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I do not want my life without you in it be it as just a friend or something more. Whatever you decide, I will accept."

She nodded, relief and anxiety washing through her in a frustratingly equal balance. If he had begun pondering this mad notion before the excursion into the Deep Roads, it would be more difficult to dissuade him from his intent, so why should his declaration make her feel...what? Flattered? Pleased? Touched?

Idiot.

“Thank you,” she told him. “I feel the same about you.” All right, now what? Instinct screamed at her to beat a strategic retreat, but she had actually come to his room for a reason, hadn't she? What in blazes had it been?

Sodding idiot.

Oh, yes. “Tessa,” she began. “She will wish to see her family soon, and they her.” Last night's brief reunion would be far from enough for any of them. “Did you wish to speak with her, or should I?” The orientation given to their newest sister in the Deep Roads had been a bare bones affair, telling her only what she needed to know about their mission. Before she was permitted to speak at length with her family, it was necessary to be certain that she understood the consequences of revealing Warden secrets.
 

Nathaniel Howe

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#19
“Thank you,” Cauthrien said. “I feel the same about you.”

Nathaniel’s thumb brushed against the top of Cauthrien’s hand as a smile feathered upon his lips upturning the corners of his mouth faintly. “Good,” he murmured. Whatever fears Nathaniel had his confession would push Cauthrien away entirely were silenced with her admission. She was not a person to lie about such things anymore than he was.

No one had been more surprised than himself at her growing importance to him. He’d fallen into a trap no one purposefully set. Not everything could be reasoned away, however. Emotion and attraction often defied logic. But it was not his logic he needed to overcome.

A quiet fell for a pause, heavy and awkward. His eyes dropped, looking to her hand within his. Were the comfortable silences they shared so often together now a thing of the past? Nathaniel half expected Cauthrien to make her excuses and run away. It was no light burden he placed upon her shoulders with his confession.

“Tessa,” Cauthrien said, breaking the silence. “She will wish to see her family soon, and they her. Did you wish to speak with her, or should I?”

Like cold water splashed upon the face, Cauthrien’s change of subject drew his gaze upward and the release of her hand. He cleared his throat as his newly freed hand rose to rake through his uncombed hair. “I will,” he replied. Aedan’s sins were Nathaniel’s to share and Cauthrien needed her rest. She was healed but certainly not fully recovered.

“You should rest some more,” he added. He clasped his hands behind his back to stem any urge to place them elsewhere. A corner of his mouth quirked and he tried to lighten the mood with dry humor, “One battle over and another just on the horizon. We have Teagan’s ball ahead of us. You'll need your strength.”
 

Cauthrien

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#20
Nathaniel shouldered the responsibility of speaking with Tessa, as she had known he would.

“You should rest some more,” he told her, a faint smile quirking his lips as he added, “One battle over and another just on the horizon. We have Teagan’s ball ahead of us. You'll need your strength.”

The notion of a ball, a celebration, seemed almost obscene after the events in the Deep Roads, but there could be no rescheduling at this late date. Folk were already on the road, and had begun to arrive. “I'll need more than that,” she replied ruefully. “I promised Breanna after Eamon's death that I would allow her to help me select a dress, to wear at an occasion of her choice. I suspect this will be it.” She grimaced, her thumb running lightly over the raised tissue of the scar at her throat. “This ought to be quite the conversation starter.” She'd never been ashamed of her scars, but neither had she ever been one for talking about them.

She released a resigned sigh. “First things first, though. I'd best clean my armor before it crawls off on its own.” She turned toward the door, paused and looked back. “Make sure you get some rest yourself,” she reminded him.
 
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