Title: Falling Slowly

Chapter: One

Author: Jade Sabre

Notes: I finished writing this story over a year ago, but due to real life getting in the way of the editing process, it's only now that I'm finally posting it. This fic is different from "Not Yet by Lightning," but I hope if you like one you'll like the other. There are fourteen chapters.

I owe some thanks to Donna, for writing a Nevalle fic that made me sit down and go "wait, that's not my Nevalle at all!" Which made me wonder who my Nevalle was, after all, and next thing I knew… :-)

The title and the chapter epigraphs come from the wonderful soundtrack to the film Once, which you can listen to at the Fox Searchlight website for the film. The epigraph for the story proper is the song "Harbor," by Vienne Teng, which is also gorgeous.

Disclaimer: I don't own Neverwinter Nights, or any of its sequels or expansions, or any of the characters contained herein.


Dedication: To my dear Quark, best friend and beta extraordinaire, who complained that I never write anything happy.



We're here where the daylight begins
The fog on the streetlight slowly thins
Water on water's the way
The safety of shoreline fading away

Sail your sea
Meet your storm
All I want is to be your harbor

Fear is the brightest of signs
The shape of the boundary you leave behind
So sing all your questions to sleep
The answers are out there in the drowning deep

Sail your sea
Meet your storm
All I want is to be your harbor
The light in me
Will guide you home
All I want is to be your harbor

You've got a journey to make
There's your horizon to chase
So go far beyond where we stand
No matter the distance
I'm holding your hand

Sail your sea
Meet your storm
All I want is to be your harbor
The light in me
Will guide you home
All I want is to be your harbor



I'm scratching at the surface now

She is young and she is beautiful and she shouldn't think that he doesn't know what she's up to, being young and beautiful and smiling every time she sees him. He knows what she wants—has known it ever since the first time she saw him, interrupting her party, her face turning to his with laughter still in her eyes even as she flicked those eyes over him, assessing and appraising him like any of the other men she saw as he escorted her to her captain. He knows the only reason she persists is because his lord insists on using him to communicate with her, and she's come to see him as a challenge, as someone to be bent and broken and used and then relinquished, not caring whether or not he's able to put himself together again. The thought doesn't bother him—his loyalty is to his city and his lord, not to a lady, and any dalliance he might fall into would never unseat that unswerving devotion. It is more that she sees him only as a challenge, a thing to be appraised with an appreciative eye, an adventure, a tactical situation to be assessed, a statue to be toppled. He thinks for the first time that he understands why his female comrades detest being leered at and refuse any companionship, lest anyone think they can take advantage of their willingness. Of course, those women are hardly defenseless, and he winces to think of the man who would try to cross them, but the principle of the thing remains.

And he is not simply an object; he is a man, with his own considerations and agendas and motivations, and the fact that she doesn't want to consider that is frustrating. It shouldn't be; he knows she doesn't want romance, and he knows that he doesn't, either, and so the fact that she only wants him for what he represents shouldn't matter. But it does, and he finds himself treating her with more than the usual levels of restraint—already tight for the man considered to be one of the faces of Neverwinter—which of course only darkens her laughing eyes with carefully tempered lust, as if his apparent lack of any desire made him more desirable. Or so she wants him to think, and so he refuses to believe. She finds him desirable because he is everything she does not want to become, and because serving as a bodyguard requires a certain level of physical fitness that is rare in general circles. He doesn't see her often enough to know if she looks at the men in her employ—her "companions," she calls them, and he catches himself wondering how full the sense of that word is, if the accent she puts on it is simply for his benefit, and sometimes he wonders if he is jealous—with the same consideration, but he thinks she probably does.

The first time she sees his lord, she subjects the man to her consideration not once but several times throughout the course of the interview, and he thinks he will either strangle her or himself, for Nasher is not immune to a girl's charms in the way he ought to be, especially at his age. After the brief interview, his lord comments to him that she is a pretty thing, and that he ought to be especially nice to her as the trial approached. He made a suitable snort in response and finds himself wondering why she makes eyes at his lord—wonders if it is for the sake of saving her neck, or if she can't help it. He wonders if she considers every man before he can consider her in order to assert herself, to make the men realize that she knows their game and can play it just as well. He wonders if he pities her, and then he remembers that he only knows her lustful gaze and she only knows his uniform, and his uniform requires him to focus his thoughts elsewhere.

She sits next to him, under his watchful eye, as her champion steps forward to face her challenger and defend her innocence, to the death, if necessary. It is not only a wise decision to send another in her place, it is a necessary one: he estimates, with a practiced soldier's eye, that she would last approximately one minute in the arena. Thirty seconds for her challenger to bring her within range of his falchion; twenty-nine more for such a slow thinker to decide whether to hack or decapitate her; and one, and only one, for him to execute his decision. Instead, she sits next to him, and he watches her, trying to balance contemplating her beauty and ignoring her entirely.

She doesn't take her eyes off the battlefield, as the paladin—who she may or may not be bedding; he remembers why the man left the city, and wouldn't be surprised if he had been susceptible to her charms; he wonders if that is the reason he agreed to come back—brandishes a greatsword, rather than the customary hammer and tower shield, at his enemy. He cannot decide if this is a tactical error or not; on the one hand, the greatsword's reach rivals the falchion's, and would allow him more movement; on the other, he will never be fast enough to evade a crazed berserker, and would probably stand a better chance hiding behind his shield until the rage dwindled and the challenger's strength deserted him. The two weapons meet with a clang that rings out, silencing the pre-battle chatter as everyone watches, wondering who will force the other to disengage first. The few Luskans in the crowd cheer, none-too-quietly, as the challenger shoves the greatsword aside and charges the retreating paladin. On his other side, he hears his lord mutter a curse under his breath, and refrains from pointing out that it is early in the battle, and the tide may yet turn. He is not watching the battle, except for the glimpses he catches out of the corner of his eye.

She is, however, and that is why he is almost surprised when she says, quietly, so that he can hear her under the restless, sometimes-cheering crowd, "Sir Nevalle, you're staring at me."

The tone of her voice is colored with a world of implications, few of which are true at the moment and none of which deserve a response. He continues watching her, hearing the crowd moan and his lord curse and half-hoping, half-praying to Tyr that the paladin has a damn good supply of healing potions in his pack.

After a moment she says, "You don't have to watch me so close. I'm not going to do anything." For emphasis, she holds up her hands, tied together at the wrist with rough rope that probably rubs raw the delicate skin it obscures, in his direction, so that she doesn't block her view of the battle.

He considers saying, "We both know you could burn through those ropes in less time than it would take the Luskan to kill you," while he hears another clang of steel-on-poisoned-steel and catches a glimpse of the Luskan stumbling. He almost says it, but the implication—that they share anything other than calculated stares and cool indifference—warns him away, and he says instead, "You will pardon me for following orders."

"If you had thought about it, you would have thought twice about putting me so close to Nasher," she says, her tone shifting, still implying more than she says, but with a dangerous undercurrent. He puts his hand to his sword as an unspoken warning, but she either doesn't see or doesn't care. Unspoken, too, is the fact that they both know she doesn't want to hurt his lord anymore than he wants to hurt her, for she is valuable in the eyes of Neverwinter, and he would never offer harm to his fair city. Even as he wonders whether it is his fair city he actually considers in this scenario, she sucks in a breath and says, in an entirely different voice, "Damn it Casavir, you have got to be faster!"

"He should have carried a shield, then?" The words escape him before he realizes it; she spoke as a warrior does, one worried about a comrade, and this is a tone with which he is entirely too familiar.

"I don't know," she says, distractedly, a furrow deepening between her delicate eyebrows and a grimace pulling her well-formed lips taut. "Shields and swords are not my area of expertise." And then, as if remembering herself, she says, "I am skilled with…other sorts of weaponry…" but her voice is unapologetically sultry, as if she knows she has slipped and doesn't care, rather than attempting to cover her mistake. As if she will speak to him however she wishes, and he will simply have to listen. Her moods are capricious and he is a steady man, though she probably only thinks that is part of the uniform, and that once he is out of the uniform and in her control she may subject him to her whims and he will willingly follow.

He ignores her words, and concentrates on her bindings. They are smoking slightly, and he says, with a wry undertone he cannot quite mask, "My lady, you will want to exert more control."

She shrugs her narrow shoulders—she sits hunched, on the edge of her seat, and he thinks this is unusual, but he has rarely seen her sitting, normally encountering her moving between decisive actions—and says, "I have to release the tension somehow. There are other, more exciting ways to do it, though I doubt you know what they are." She has the audacity to quirk her plump lips in a half-smile, but before he can begin to ignore her, there comes an inhuman roar from the battlefield, and she gasps instead. "By the gods, he's going to kill him…run, you idiot!" she yells, clenching her fists.

"He is a soldier," he says, not daring to look at the battlefield, though at this point it hardly matters anymore. "He is unused to running away as a mode of combat."

"Unlike sorceresses, you mean?" She snorts, but her face is pale. "It's a perfectly valid—damn it—"

In the next moment, her hands are in his lap, the rope that binds them together resting on his knee. "Nevalle," she says, and the calm in her voice is as absolute as her gaze on the battlefield, "please hold my hands."

He complies without a second thought—her hands are small and soft, as he knew they would be; it is one of the few things about her that he has never wondered. It is awkward, due to the rope, to take them in any meaningful way, which is perhaps for the best, but he slips his hands between hers and takes her fingers in his, as best as he is able, and within moments she has managed to curl her fingers around his and clench them, painfully, as she watches the battle and he watches her face. The muscles in her jaw are tense, her cheeks sucked in as she bites on them rather than grind her teeth; her skin draws tight over her fine bones, translucently revealing her veins, revealing how every inch of her is soft and weak. He wonders if she is as helpless as she seems, but there is no denying her delicacy, or the fact that she is not equipped for this particular kind of battle, that she must sit back and watch as one of her own takes her battle upon his shoulders. And her fingers—long, slim, more suited to following lines in spellbooks or tracing runes in powdered unicorn horn—wrap themselves tightly around his hands without a hint of any dishonesty. The battle continues in his ears, and the crowd's reactions with it; her fingers tense, and his do so, compulsively, in return.

He sees, for a brief moment, the berserker charging, and even in that glance thinks perhaps the endgame has arrived—and then it is over, in the overwhelming roar of the crowd, in the way her eyes close and her face falls as she blows out a sigh of relief, in her fingers, tightening once more and then falling not-quite-limp in his grasp.

His lord is standing, announcing the victory, and the final verdict the paladin has won for his lady. He knows it is time for him to perform his duty, and so he rises, pulling her to her feet with him. His gaze drops to her hands as he releases them, though she holds them out expectantly as he—not-quite-fumbles—for the knife in his belt. He slices through the rope in one quick motion, and as they fall away she draws her hands apart, and the crowd cheers wildly again, and he is left staring at the space between them "Casavir," she is saying, and he swallows and looks up, prepared to point her in the proper direction before attending to his lord—and is surprised by her eyes, which belie the relief in her face and her proud, graceful stance with their uncertainty. It is gone as soon as she focuses on his face, except the way she bites her lip—and he knows she is biting her lip to draw his attention to it, and distract him from his duty and her hesitation.

And so he smiles at her, broadly, letting his joy in the moment—the paladin has won, and Neverwinter is safe, and the lady is a hero—flood his face, and then he says, "Congratulations, my lady. You will of course wish to see to your companion—"

"Of course," she says, layering the words with meanings he doesn't hear.

"—so please, do not allow me to delay you any longer." He bows, and knows she will curtsy in answer; so he is ready, when she stands, to catch both of her hands. Her fingers curl over his again, and he bends and presses his lips to the back of each one, feeling their softness, parting his lips just enough to brand them with his breath. He does it with the aim of catching her off guard, but even as he straightens and looks at her again, he wonders if she hasn't just caught him, instead.

"Thank you, Sir Nevalle," she says, and in his name he hears a key turning in a lock, and then she goes in a whisper of silken robes.