A/N: This AU take on one of Velanna's possible epilogues was written as a kink meme fill for a prompt that requested Nathaniel/Velanna fic. I considered working it into my WIP "Stray Fereldan Warhound," but I think it works better as a standalone. Despite the M rating and the fact that it's a kink meme fill, there's actually not much in the way of smut, but I figured it was better to rate it M just to be on the safe side.
She's halfway down one of the side tunnels before he even realizes she's gone, just a flash of blond hair rapidly swallowed up in the Deep Roads' gloom.
"Velanna!" he calls after her, but she doesn't look back, doesn't even slow her pace, even though he knows she's still within earshot. Unease tightens his chest, and he calls a quick halt to the rest of the party before charging after her, fingers clenched hard around his bow.
His lover may be many things—impulsive, willful, impossibly stubborn—but she is not so foolish as to plunge alone into the Deep Roads without reason.
Her elven form is light and quick, but his longer strides catch her before she reaches the end of the tunnel. His fingers close around her forearm, his other hand already rising to block her responding swing as she whirls around in his grasp, her face white with mingled fury and desperation.
"Let go of me!"
"What's gotten into you?" he demands instead, bewilderment lacing his tone, fingers tightening on her arm as she struggles against his hold.
Velanna's free hand hovers over her staff, as though she's considering using it on him, but her face twists with a new burst of frustration instead.
"I saw her," she says, panting harshly. "I saw Seranni. Just down this tunnel. Nathaniel, I have to find her—"
He barely manages to keep his hold on her as she wrenches against him again.
"You saw your sister?" he repeats, each word punctuated with skepticism. "Velanna, that's—"
"Don't you dare tell me it's impossible," she hisses. "I'm not crazy, I know what I saw. You have to let me go!"
The anger begins to fade from her face, replaced by pleading mixed with genuine fear—fear of losing her chance to find the one thing she wants most, and Nathaniel feels his skeptical resolve weaken.
In the years that they've been together, all the time since his patient persistence finally wore down her barriers of distrust and bitterness, her attitudes have slowly begun to mellow, her demons faced and conquered—except this one.
"All right," he says, his grip loosening. "All right. But let me come with you."
She narrows her eyes, asserts her fierce independent streak—both endearing and exasperating, like so many of her other traits. "I don't need your help."
"The Deep Roads are too dangerous for any one person. If you came across a band of darkspawn by yourself, you'd have no chance," he says. "I won't lose you down here, Velanna."
At any other time, her eyes would flash at him in mixed affection and annoyance, her sharp tongue cracking about his unnecessary protectiveness, but now she only gives a quick, distracted nod and turns back down the path.
He follows behind her, eyes darting in all directions, fingers itching for the solid weight of his bow. Velanna runs as though an ogre is on her heels, calling out her sister's name every few seconds, hope and dread running together in her voice.
Minutes blend together with no sign of any life, Seranni or otherwise, and Nathaniel sets his teeth on edge, thinking back to the rest of the Grey Wardens they left waiting at the tunnel's entrance. "Velanna—"
"No." She pivots toward him, teeth bared in a grimace of determination. "I'm not leaving until I've found my sister. Go back without me. I'll find my way out once I have her."
It takes a monumental effort to refrain from grabbing her around the waist and slinging her over his shoulder. "To leave you down here alone would be akin to signing your death warrant."
"Then so be it. I would rather die than leave here knowing I could have saved my sister and failed."
He reaches out to take her arm again, more gently this time, tilting her chin up toward him with his other hand. "You may be willing to throw away your life so easily, but I am not. You lost someone you loved. Please don't ask me to do the same."
Her eyes widen, then narrow, but she doesn't pull away. "That isn't—"
A pale flash of movement catches his eye as well as hers, and her words are swallowed up by a gasp. "Seranni?"
She jerks free from Nathaniel's grasp, and his eyes follow her path as she moves forward, her stride now slow and careful rather than frenetic. Directly before her, only yards away, stands a waifish figure clad in too-big armor. What little skin is visible appears nearly translucent, and though the face is hidden by a disheveled mass of dirty blond hair, the ears poking through the tangles are unmistakably pointed.
Nathaniel draws a deep breath, fingers brushing the edge of his bow.
Velanna inches forward, slowly extending one hand. "Seranni?"
The figure raises its head, and Nathaniel's heart sinks.
He doesn't remember what Seranni looked like, having seen her only once, and briefly, several years ago. He doesn't need to. The expression of horror that twists Velanna's face tells him all he needs to know.
The ghoul's lifeless eyes widen, its jaw unhinging as it releases a bloodcurdling shriek from its gaping, rotting mouth. Velanna stumbles backward, her arm still outstretched, her lips forming words and pleas drowned out by the unearthly noise. Bile fills Nathaniel's throat as he whips his bow free, reaching for an arrow and aiming at the ghoul's forehead.
"Nathaniel, no!" Velanna moves to block his shot, even as she takes another step backward to avoid the ghoul's clawing fingers. "Don't kill her!"
"We have no choice!" He lowers the bow a fraction, but doesn't remove the arrow. "Velanna, she isn't your sister anymore. We can't do anything for her now."
She ignores him, eyes fixed on the ghoul, still keeping a respectable distance between herself and the staggering figure.
"Seranni," she says, her voice soft and gentle. Nathaniel can count on one hand the number of times he's heard her use that tone. "Seranni, it's me, your sister. Velanna. Don't you remember me?"
The ghoul lurches forward, no recognition in its blank eyes. This time, Velanna stands her ground, voice rising in desperation, alternating between appeals to Seranni and pleas to the Creators. The ghoul heeds neither, letting out another shriek as it stretches its bony hands toward Velanna's neck, and Nathaniel raises his bow again.
The ghoul's scream becomes a howl of pain and rage as the arrow strikes its shoulder, sending it tumbling backward in a heap of diseased flesh and jutting bones. Velanna whirls around, fury transforming her face.
"She would have killed you." He steps forward, lowering his bow. "Velanna…we have to end this."
His heart aches in empathy as he watches the warring despair and denial on her face, remembering his own anguish upon learning Adria's fate. Beyond them, the ghoul thrashes about on the ground, still yowling in outrage, clawing at the arrow as it struggles back to its feet.
"There must be something we can do." Velanna stares up at him, eyes burning brightly in her face. "We—we could make her a Grey Warden! That would cure the taint, wouldn't it?"
"There's nothing left to cure." He grasps her shoulders, gently. "Her mind is gone. The kindest thing you can do for her now is to end her suffering."
Velanna stares at her sister a long moment before closing her eyes, her expression a picture of misery. Her voice is barely a whisper. "You're right."
Nathaniel gives her shoulder a brief squeeze. "I can do it, if it would be easier for you."
"No." She opens her eyes, reaching for her staff. "I'm her elder sister. I was responsible for her well-being, and I failed. I must be the one to do this."
She walks forward, every muscle rigid, her knuckles white with the force of her grip on her staff. Before her, the ghoul hauls itself to its feet, favoring its injured side and letting out one last defiant hiss.
They bury the body as best they can without the use of a proper shovel, and Velanna kneels by the grave's edge, her hands caked with dirt and her face pale and set.
"She should have been buried up above." Her voice quakes, still tinged with disbelief. "In a forest somewhere, where we could perform the proper rites and plant a tree over her body."
"Here." Nathaniel digs in his pack, removing a tiny leather bag. He pulls the drawstring and tips the contents into his hand. "It's not as good as an actual sapling, but it was the best I could find."
Velanna blinks, her forehead furrowing as she reaches over to pluck one of the seeds from his palm. "Why are you carrying these with you?"
"For you." He carefully replaces the remaining seeds in the bag, pulling it closed. "Just in case."
She stares at him for a long moment, her eyes growing bright with the sheen of unshed tears. "Thank you."
She won't stop shaking.
Nathaniel glances over at Velanna, a worried frown crossing his face. She hasn't said a word since they left Seranni's makeshift grave and returned to the rest of their party, but he can hear her teeth chattering, see her trembling all over. He isn't sure whether it's from rage or grief or the simple aftereffects of adrenaline.
When they stop to make camp she breaks off from the group, standing with her back to everyone else, shoulders hunched and fists balled. She remains there, as though carved from stone, while the fires burn low and the rest of the Grey Wardens drop into sleep.
Nathaniel finally goes to her, coming up beside her and letting his fingers brush the small of her back. "You should try to get some sleep."
She stares straight ahead, not even blinking. "I don't think I can."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"What purpose would that serve?" She turns toward him and the dim firelight flickers on her face, illuminating her tormented expression. "Talking won't bring her back. Talking won't change what I did. Nathaniel, I—"
Before he even registers what's happening, she cuts herself off and seizes his face, dragging him down until her mouth meets his. The kiss is raw and desperate, lasting until they both draw back, panting for air, forehead resting against forehead. Nathaniel blinks several times, fighting through the sudden haze in his brain before he notices her quick, small hands furiously working at the clasp on his belt.
He draws a sharp breath. "Velanna—"
"Shut up," she hisses. "Please, just…stop talking. I need—"
She gives up on the attempt at speech as the clasp gives way, and all rational thought flees his mind as she reaches down to take him in hand, giving a few sharp tugs before she moves her hands to his shoulders and pushes him down to the Deep Roads' cold floor. He goes willingly, pulling her with him, hands tangling in her hair as he reaches up to claim her lips again.
The pace she sets is fast and hard and not at all gentle, her movements sharp and almost frenzied with need, her nails leaving little red crescents on his skin. It doesn't take long before she reaches her climax, her back arching, mouth falling open in a soundless cry. He follows her a moment later, and she collapses on his chest, spent, her muscles now trembling with exertion.
He waits, holding her in the darkness until she pushes herself up on one hand, leaning forward to give him a softer kiss. He searches her face as best he can in the dim light, fingers smoothing back her hair.
"I don't want to talk yet," she whispers, answering the unspoken question. "But when I do…I'll let you know."
He knows she'll never ask him to hold her, to comfort her, so he wraps his arms around her unbidden and pulls her close against his chest, listening to her breathing slow as sleep finally claims her.
Just before he too falls into slumber, his last waking thought is a prayer.
Maker, just this once, let her sleep without nightmares.