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Spårlöst Försvunnen (Vanished Without A Trace)

Chapter Text

 

Years later, as she huddled over a mug of mead, she would reflect on the smell.

 

It was the first thing she had noticed, here. Arriving. Whatever the hell, or Oblivion, had happened. The tang of pine sap, her ears immediately going numb from the 'brisk' breeze (warm, almost summery air, Solaf had teased her) the abrupt copper smell of blood. Like pennies in her mouth.

Later, it had been the stench that had almost knocked her over, the warm and all too soon welcome stench of civilization. Cows, goats, horses, people...excrement was everywhere. Ripening in the sun, squishing underfoot. Later, with the hard found painful wisdom she was slowly absorbing the more she lingered here, she would look for it, look for the shit, the pebbled droppings of elk and deer and the more substantial spoor of bear and sabrecat lion.

Shit meant life. Shit meant food.

 

And food was life. Everything here in Skyrim revolved around it. The lowliest farmer scratching in the permafrost to the highest land owning noble lived by it.

Lived by nature's law laid down by shit, food and blood.

 

It was, she grimaced as the mead slid thickly down her throat (too thick, like soup, she'd never get used to it) the beginning.

The smell was the start, the first clue that golly, Toto wasn't in Kansas anymore.

There had been a fire. Warmth, smoke, s'mores, smiles. Bryce's grin; god, she'd never get tired of her husband's eye-crinkling smile...so white bright against the dark natural tan of his skin. Hot hands on her waist, around her belly, snaking into her pants, covering her mouth when she made too much noise. It wouldn't do to wake up the soft lumpy sleepers in their mylar sleeping bags huddled around the firepit.

She fell asleep later as well, in his arms, lazily counting embers as they glowed white, flaking out like stars into the blackness...

 

 

A rough voice interrupted her woolgathering. "Done then? Let's keep moving."

 

Sniffing, she pushed the almost drained mug of mead away and turned to face Vilkas, the Companion. His smell was blood too; blood and salt and steel. Today, the steel was tempered with the herb green of elves ear and frost mirriam.

Days like today, she particularly enjoyed his smell. Days spent foraging and sunbathing were always preferable to the darker, albeit necessary evil of killing bandits, cave trolls and other monsters that went bump in the night. Grinning, she paid Hulda her gold for the mead and left The Bannered Mare, motioning for the Companion to follow.

"Sure you can handle this?" God, the sky was a glorious blue today.

"Aye," he frowned as she flashed him a brilliant, toothy white smile and pushed open the creaking gates. Skipping down to the meandering cobbled path that led to the tundra plains, Sigrid Farstrider, formerly Sarah Ferguson, hummed a tune for no ones pleasure or understanding but her own.

 

...mmm, weeee're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz...

 

************

 

The skeever brained s'wit was laughing and dancing down the road like a Khajiit acrobat high on skooma.

 

He had to admire her fortitude, Vilkas admitted to himself as he readjusted his pack and hurried along after her. Last night had been a bad night. Her eyes had that telltale white edge around them as she had knocked back ale after ale, trading jokes and lewd stories with the other Companions. Only the subtle tremors of her hands gave her away, but he knew where to look. They had been together long enough that he could ward off the worst of the fits, the cries she let out at night. Hopefully distracting her with the calluses on his fingertips, he would touch her...alter her dreams to something more pleasant.

Then her cries would turn to a different sort.

Nights like that, he remembered unwillingly the beginning. Literally stumbling across her, he had blinked stupidly in the dank cave upon seeing the torchlight shine, gleaming like mirrors in her too-wide eyes. And no matter how much ale he drank or how many years had passed, he would always recall with perfect clarity the bodies of her family scattered like broken dolls upon the cave floor. 

Death and blood and beginnings.

It was how he thought of it still. There had been the beginning, and then everything that had come after. The end of his life, as he had known it, and the start of something wonderful and new and raw...with an outlander who had been Sarah who was now Sigrid.

 

 

The necromancer had been adept, but not expert; the bodies of adults and (he shivered in rage) children few enough that he might have lingered in that no name cave even longer practicing his foul spellwork. Had Vilkas taken the other job, the one in Eastmarch, he might have missed Sarah. Sigrid.

His woman.

Even a milk drinking fool would have been taken aback at the ferocity, the single mindedness of her vengeance. Grime covered and giggling, she had taken Aela's proffered dagger to remove her bindings and had stabbed what was left of the necromancer until his face was a red pulp. Chest heaving, she had glared at all of them as Aela cautiously led her out of the cave to a stream to wash up.

It wasn't until his watch in the early morning that he really looked. He might have the soul of a wolf, but he was still a man. Even Aela's eyes had lingered on the shine of her hair, the plumpness of a woman who had the good fortune to never miss a meal. The pure, unblemished whiteness of her skin.

No one, he reflected later on, had that type of flesh untouched by sun or snow. Fear prompted him to examine her as she slept fitfully for signs of vampirism, but his nose could find nothing but fear, shock and rage wafting from her. Not until his senses confirmed that she, it (whatever it was) was of mankind that the awareness of lust made itself known again to him.

Blinking in the starlight, he had masterfully reigned in his feelings. She was likely a noble brat, likely 'adventuring' and all too happy to pay a finders fee to be returned to her hold.

He remembered refusing to count the smaller, burlap covered bodies that waited, all too patiently, stacked against the fir and spruce. He had counted them thrice already.

 

Watching her stroll down the path, singing that jaunty tune that made not a lick of sense, Vilkas readjusted his sword. 

 

...And followed his woman. The Dragonborn. 

 

Chapter Text

-Before the Beginning, in another world-

 

"I really want to hit Fairy Falls this year," Sarah mused as her avatar brutally decapitated another Thalmor soldier. "We've done Yellowstone so many times, and I am sick and tired of the same old trails. Oooh...watch this! Bam! That is so damn satisfying, getting that kill animation! Yes yes yes! 

 

Her husband, Bryce Ramirez Ferguson, sighed. "Seriously, sweetheart, pick up Breath of the Wild. Or Bioshock Infinite. Hell, I'll even watch you play Fallout 4 and wrap Nuka Cola labels around some Diet Coke cans for kicks, just play something else." Sarah laughed as he groaned at the sound of another NPC splatted to the clickclickclick of her controller. He continued sharpening his Falkniven, the birch handle gleaming as he stropped the blade with practiced ease.

"You're up to six hundred hours now of gameplay in Tamriel. There can't be anything left to discover."

"There's tons left to do." She mused as she tapped the buttons on her Xbox One controller. Nirnroot, finally. She always had a hard time collecting that one to round up the side quest for Ingun BlackBriar. "I haven't collected all the dragon masks yet, and I'm not done levelling up my magicka for some of the spells I want to try."

"Come back to reality, babe. Maybe with the bonuses from my new job, we can build our own Dragonsreach. You'd like that, wouldn't you? A-line roof and all."  Finished with his sharpening, Bryce reached for the leather sheath for the Falkniven and slid the blade home. Setting aside the last of his (impressively varied) knife collection, he looked at his wife with a mixture of exasperation, patience and mirth. "Trust me - I'd love to build you a laundry room so the clothes don't end up thrown all over the hallway. We could build that chicken coop you've been talking about, and even have room left over for a real garden. I bet the kids would just love weeding."

"Those punks. Weeding builds character." Sarah grinned gleefully as she looted the Altmer corpses for a diamond, two rubies and spell scrolls. "Oh, I love Barenziah's Crown, it gets me so many shinies. Gotta say, it was worth slogging through hours of fetch quests for this baby."

Bryce tested a knife edge with his thumb. "Pffft. The Thieves Guild sucks ass, chica."

"No it doesn't! Well, yeah, they have a billion boring chores to do, but the payout is impressive. And I love the creepy vibe of the Ragged Flagon."

"Mi corazon, it's one a.m and I'm bushed. Put the controller away and come upstairs so we actually get some sleep tonight." Bryce kissed Sarah's cheek and casually turned off the XBox One.

"Nooo! Now I have to find more nirnroot!"

He laughed as she pulled a fake pout. "Come upstairs with me, and I'll let you find something else."

"You liar. You're not tired at all!"

"Chica, I'm never too tired for this. Come on...shhh, here. Let's close their door. Quietly...we can always pack for the trip tomorrow." 

A sharp gasp, and a giggle. "...ack. Bryce! Those are attached, you know! Don't squeeze so hard!"

"....Quiet. The kids are sleeping. You wanna wake them up?"

"It's no fun when we have to be quiet."

"Oh baby, I'll make it fun. I promise. Come on."

 

 

 

*******************************

 

 

"Mom? Mooommm! Are we going yet?"

 

Sarah leaned over and snagged the last backpack, double checking the snack bags and water bottles attached to each one. A mob of children poured out of the van, yelling and screaming as they darted across the tire rutted dirt road of Yellowstone National Park.

"Ugh, finally, we're out of the car." Bryce sighed and stretched his back as he yawned. She patted his rear fondly. Eight kids, four their own and four fostered and finally adopted, and they were still in love and going strong. Fifteen years of marriage had seemed like a long time to Sarah's younger sister (perennial bride, in love with the drama of love) but the white hot electricity of their newlywed years had softened to a burning, steady thrum of secure trust and affection. They were both older (heavier, less likely to stay up late) but active enough for this.

And it had been too long. Too long since she had smelled fresh, green things untainted by exhaust or the eyesore of telephone wires and planes screeching overhead. They were going to go far enough away from the tourist-clogged roads that there would be nothing but nature for miles around. Sucking in a deep breath of lodgepole pine scented air, Sarah smiled. She could hardly wait.

"Let's pass out the packs, round them up and get going on the trail." Bryce suggested as the boys milled around the trailhead like restless puppies. Deftly snagging a teddy bear before it could hit the ground and get covered in dirt, she nodded in agreement. After six hours in the van she was just as eager to get moving. The cheerful radio host who announced the weather said they were good to go - 65 degrees, low chance of rain...a sunny day.

She inhaled once again and  breathed out, refreshed and ready. "Come on, kiddos! Time to saddle up! We're doing the full loop today...no complaining!"

"But Mom! Sean ate my beef jerky and I'm starving!"

"-Did not! He took my juice, so it's only fair!"

"Break it up." Bryce straightened out the two fighting boys, smiling as Sarah bounced on the balls of her feet. Ready to go. "I think - no, wait. Don't lick that. Gross. Aha! Now we are ready to go! Say bye to the car, kids! We'll camp up at Fairy Falls tonight!"

A chorus of voices in varying octaves chimed as they began walking down the path. "Bye, car!"

"Bye car!"

"Bye internet! Bye-bye civilization." Sean, her oldest, muttered grimly.

"I heard that." Sarah called out, entranced by the sight of a geyser steaming not far off. Damn, she had forgotten her camera. It wasn't as though she'd have any time to actually snap a decent picture anyhow, with a herd of boys to care for. "Bye-bye Netflix when we get home if your attitude doesn't shape up, mister."

 

Attitude could make or break a vacation, after all.

 

********************

 

-Some time after the Beginning-

 

 

The Ragged Flagon was more smelly than ragged. Like all the piss and shit from the entire city and the towns had filtered downstream and had collected right here, in the odious underbelly of Skyrim's criminal underworld.

 

And it was dark, to top off the stank with a dash of blessed obscurity. Blessed, she told herself, because she didn't want to see any more clearly just what those piles of refused heaped in the corners were really composed of. She nearly stumbled over a skeleton half concealed by rotten clumps of hay, and heard a high pitched squeak as she accidentally stepped on something soft. 

Picking up the pace, she averted her eyes from studying anything but the path in front of her after that. 

Ugh, Riften. The city itself reminded her of bread she had bitten into once... only to find little weevil like black specks crawling out. Like that biblical quote about bones in whited sepulchers. Rot amidst ripeness. Which was a shame, since Riften from the outside was a pretty town. Aspen groves with their softly falling golden leaves and the peaceful lake hid the core of corruption that hid beneath the bustling markets. Mjoll and the softhearted Jarl and her brood sure weren't getting anywhere anytime soon, despite their better efforts.

 

Ultimately, the vibe tended towards odoriferous and skeever filled; tending towards rodents that walked on two legs.

 

"No, like I said, I have no interest in joining your Guild." Sigrid felt her smile crack at the edges. "I just want to find a man named Esbern who was last seen in the Ratways. Are you sure you don't know where exactly he is?"

Delvin Mallory, even more thuggish and scarred in the flesh, shifted in his seat and scratched his chin. "Yeah, nope. Sorry. If you couldn't hold up your end with Brynjolf then I'm off the hook."

 

She sighed. In the game, sidestepping the pickpocket quest and avoiding ruining Brand-Shei's life was a noteworthy option for the more altruistically inclined Dragonborn. But ever since she had (eaten? absorbed?) taken her first Dragon soul, her temper frayed more often and more spectacularly.

"There might be something in it for you, if you cooperate." She jingled her septim pouch meaningfully. Blood and shit might make the world go round up top, but down here the almighty septim ruled.

"Welll," Delvin snorted and spit off to the side, his bright eyes missing nothing, scanning over her neatly repaired armor...stopping to rest on Skyforge blade strapped to her hip. "I might know which passageway he would likely be squattin' at. But me hands are tied."

"Well, I can see you don't want any trouble." Coins clinked as the small pouch traded hands furtively beneath the table.

"That I don't. And if I were you, I wouldn't go down to the second level. Might end up in a cookpot...or worse."

Transaction completed, the thief sniffed. "Tonilia, is that your stew? Horker stew?" He leaned over and passed gas, muttering out of the side of his mouth. "Second level. Third hallway, fourth door. The one with more locks than a virgins chastity belt, aye?"

Eyes hardening, Sigrid sauntered away, muttering under her breath. Chastity belt? The old dirty coot had probably never laid eyes on a virgin in his life.

But, he was a helpful dirty old bastard. Her recollections of the Main Quest had always been spotty, since it was her least favorite of the many questlines in Skyrim. She vaguely remembered offing Thalmor spies in the Ratway and waiting forever for Esbern to unlock his door (paranoid git). With any luck, the real thing would involve less lightning bolts headed her way and an efficient escape from Brynjolf and his lackies trying to bring back the world of organized crime.

Was there even a way to get rid of the Thieves Guild for good?

She sighed. Dragonborn. Errand girl. She would have loved a day when no one noticed her and nothing was requested, begged or demanded.

 

Decisions had been so much easier to make back when she had first arrived here in Skyrim. In the beginning. 

Chapter Text

There was no going back.

 

Sarah had read countless fanfiction about modern characters thrown into Middle Earth, or Thedas, less commonly Tamriel. Many fans online adored arguing about nuance - whether or not the unlucky person entrapped in a fantasy world would understand the native languages, whether or not it was Mary Sue-ish to already have studied combat, and so on.

 

Would they be attractive? Would they bend the laws of the universe and ensnare that gorgeous Legolas Greenleaf or seduce the bashfully handsome Commander Cullen?

 

Waking up in the Dead Mans Drink, alone and penniless, with a lump on her head the size of a tangerine was not very promising.

If this is some sort of karmic joke by God or by a Daedra, Sarah thought viciously to herself, then I am going to defile every shrine I see. Unless, she realized with not a bit of trickling fear, said Daedra could take offense and whisk her away somewhere even more unpleasant.

Cyrodiil two hundred years ago during the Oblivion Crisis would have been far more unpleasant.

 

As she lay there on the grotty hay stuffed mattress (with straws poking at her skin like little shivs through the rough covering) Sarah stared at the ceiling and tried very hard not to think. Not to think about anything. About how she had gotten here, wherever here really was, and why.

At least their deaths had been quick.

Damn it, her mind really wasn't cooperating today. Sarah purposefully blanked her mind, and then swallowed. It was apparent, from the arrival and subsequent rescue of her person by the Companions of Ysgramor, Skyrim's furry version of the Fighters Guild, that she was indeed languishing in Skyrim.

 

Fucking Skyrim. How the hell that had happened, she could hardly guess. She had been asleep, and then - 

No. She wouldn't think about it. Not yet. Not right now. 

 

Skyrim was better than Middle Earth, she tried to convince herself. Sarah had always indulged a teensy fantasy of being a Tenth Walker with the Fellowship of the Ring. Reading scores of fanfiction, both good and bad, had only helped it along.

But Tamriel...Skyrim. Skyrim, home of the Nords, current climate of a bloody civil war, filled with vampire lairs and draugr and creepy soul gems and...

 

Don't freak out. Stay cool. Stretching out her fingers and toes, she realized that a few of them had been splinted crudely with twigs and binding cloth. Twisting her mouth, she leaned over in the crude bed and tried to spit the scum in her mouth. More like dried dust, actually...felt like she had been sleeping with her mouth open for days. Convinced she had gotten it all out, she shivered as she tried with her good hand to pull herself closer to the center of the lumpy mattress.

 

The door creaked open, and what could only be Valga Vinicia walked through holding bandages and a bucket. "Hey, you're awake. You must be blessed by the gods or something. Don't worry, you're paid in full for the next week."

Sarah cleared her throat. Thank God she could understand her; those stories where the hero had to painstakingly learn a completely new non-Romantic language were terrifying. "Thank you for your help. I think my head is..."

"Yes, the worst wound. I see that." Putting the bucket, which Sarah realized was filled with steaming water and a fuzzy green plant down, Valga wrung out a rough washcloth and began cleaning Sarah's cuts and scrapes. Rebandaging the wounds that had soaked through with blood and pus. "You have a strange accent, outlander."

"Do I?" Sarah chuckled hoarsely. "I'd rather thought you were the one with the accent."

"Oh I do." Valga did something that made Sarah gasp, and then she rewrapped the head bandage a bit tighter. "Sorry, got to get the pus out. Yes, I've been told my Imperial voice is still there. Even though I've lived in this town longer than many of my customers have been alive. Pssh. Ungrateful snow backs."

Sarah cleared her throat again. She had definitely fried her vocal cords from...from (don't think about it) and they were making it difficult to phrase the questions she really wanted answered. "Where are we?"

"Falkreath, at my place. Dead Man's Drink. All the places here have death names, its a sort of nod to the graveyard."

 

She looked down at her stained threadbare tunic. It barely covered her knees. A rough sort of loose pant covered her legs, and her feet had been wrapped in yards of mummy-like cloth in lieu of shoes. Apparently her modern clothes hadn't made it...one less thing to explain, perhaps.

No way home. No going back.

No one to miss her if she did.

 

Sarah closed her eyes tight and started chuckling, her breath hitching. Valgas pitying look morphed into a terse scrutiny. "You alright?"

Trying to to constrain the enormous unnamed emotion threatening to erupt in a fountain of blubbery snot, Sarah nodded. Tears managed to leak out despite her efforts, tracing warm paths down her cheeks.

Well. She was doing a bang-up job of holding it together. She was a freaking bawl-bag. But maybe her tears would prompt the Imperial (shit, she was really here, wasn't she?) to be more forthcoming. 

 

"Tell me, Valga..." Sarah mumbled, wiping her nose on her sleeve and wincing at the scratchy cloth. Valga instantly looked cautious, and Sarah remembered she hadn't been told her name. "Sorry, must have heard it earlier. Did ah, did anyone else make it out of there? The...the cave? The Companions would have brought them here as well."

Sympathy warred with pity in Valgas dark eyes. "No, dear. You were the only one they brought out alive. I'm so sorry."

 

"I see." A gruff chorus of yelling and laughter and the stomping of heavy boots sounded, along with the slamming of the inns main doors.

Valga shot her another look, and pushed her back onto the bed. "I've got to go. Sleep now. I'll bring you a potion later, if you're awake."

Numbly, she watched the Imperial gently close the door and looked around the room. There was her bed. An unevenly sawed end table and rough wardrobe. Water dripping from some moss growing in the cracks of the walls beside her.

 

Sarah dimly remembered reading something about moss being placed in the cracks of cabin homes in ye olden days (and wasn't that something, to have been transported to the land of no toilet paper and gory death) because moss blocked drafty gaps and insulated the home.

It probably absorbed the incredible amount of water in the air here as well. If she turned her head a little more, she could see a wisp of fog snaking its way across the floorboards where there were more cracks than board. Sarah remembered the family trip they had taken to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, where the fogbound forests were literally dripping in ferns, moss and waterfalls. She'd thought it beautiful at the time.

Oh God. Tears streamed out of her eyes as her mind unwillingly flashed the events of the previous few days before her minds eye. Bryce. The kids. The blood. God, all the blood. More than she'd ever seen.

 

Dammit, don't think about it, really don't think about it...don't think don't thinkthinkthink-

 

 

Death and Sarah had already been acquainted. She had seen death in its various forms, drowned, decapitated, buried, and 'crispy crittered' as the charming firemen of Rapid City called the burn victims. She had served in the Pennington County Search and Rescue team near the Black Hills in South Dakota for years in her spare time.

 

Sometimes, the people she was searching for had been alright. Cold, thirsty and scared, but none the worse for a night out in the forest.

 

Most weren't so lucky. About three fourths of the time, the calls Sarah was sent out on ended up in body recovery. She had hated the drowning victims the most, the rubbery skin so distended with water and bloat that dental records were often required.

Congratulations, death and reanimation by necromancy. You beat out all the other types in my book. God, the clouded eyes of her children staring vacantly, bodies swaying in a ghastly simulation of life. Helpless, hobbled with leather strips and gagged. The cooling, stiffened limbs of her husband contorting in jerky motions, mouth slack and unspeaking...

 No matter how she screamed, begging for him to speak, only speak and tell her this was just a nightmare, baby, don't worry...

 She shivered, as a water droplet plopped onto her forehead. Magic. Of all the fucked up things to be real in this oh-so realistic and yet fantastical place.

 

Bryce. Sean. Terence. Lewis. Blaze. Robbie. Peter. Dave. Little Adam, barely three years old.

 

Sarah clenched her fists. They were beyond caring, now. But she was still here. That first night, with the chaos and confusion as they had awakened to find a necromancer calmly tying and transporting the bodies of her babies, all she could do was drool and pin him with her enraged gaze.

Never mind what the hell had happened. When her mind had awakened from apathy and the dull numb shock, she would address the question of dimension jumping, Daedric interference and possibly have a little chat with Savos Aren, current ArchMage of Winterhold. Why not? Off to see the wizard, an inane voice giggled somewhere in her skull.

The Mass Paralysis spell was a bitch to cast, she remembered watching the necromancer sweat as he recast it painfully every half an hour. Interesting that he was strong enough to do so, that was Expert Alteration if her hours playing as a Dunmer BattleMage were any indication. The bastard was probably an Altmer, judging by his dirty blonde hair and bloodshot green eyes.

 

She hoped he was rotting in the cave still, face smashed in like a watermelon. No one like that deserved burial near her babies. Near decent people.

 Of course, she didn't care about the improbability of dreaming herself into Skyrim at that point. She snorted. Like any of this was even real. This was a shitty nightmare, she wanted to wake up immediately, smell the woodsmoke, see the tall pines of Yellowstone and begin the giant task of feeding the bottomless pits that were the appetites of her boys. This...weirdness reminded her of the time she and Bryce binge watched The Walking Dead and she began having nightmares of beating off snarling zombies and rescuing her kids from hopeless situations. After that horrid episode where the kid and his mom got eaten on camera, she stopped watching.

The blood pulsed in her temples, made tighter and more painful by the goose egg lump. Her hands ached. Her back was sore, and she had to pee soon...by the looks of her bedroom, she was going to have to do it in that little basin over in the corner that absolutely reeked and she was not looking forward to it.

Real. Real. Real. All too real.

Dead.

 

They were dead. Her husband and babies had been killed while she watched. Dead and probably being buried in the massive graveyard of Falkreath, while she lived. Why hadn't she died as well?

 

Shit.

This wasn't a dream. She scrubbed at her eyes, but no matter how hard, how painfully she pressed...the wet and rough little room reappeared before her eyes. 

 

Be rational. First things first. Think about your situational awareness...what you have. Where you are. What just happened. The W's...think think think. 

 

She had been rescued by Vilkas (creepy gray silver eyes, were they really that light in game?) and Aela, more beautiful and predatory than her NPC avatar had ever been. Her memory was jagged and punched, recalling snapshots more than a flowing sequence of events. She remembered.

Bedtime. Bryce. Embers like stars in the night air. A sudden rush of wind. The penny-iron rot of blood. God her head hurt. The babies? THE BABIES.

 

Real. Real. Real.

She turned over as much as her splinted hand would allow and cried.

 

REAL. REAL. REAL.

Chapter Text

Runil, Priest of Arkay of the monstrously sprawling graveyard in Falkreath, had a pleasant face. Sharp and pointed, like all Altmer (she assumed, she had only seen one other) but drooping with soft, lined wrinkles. Like an anorexic shar-pei dog. Sharpness and softness in a singular, alien face.

He had been kind as well, handing her the small satchel with a pat to her back and a gesture to the shrine. "Perhaps it will give you peace, my child. I will be holding services outside if you feel you have more questions that I might answer." He left the small cottage, quietly closing the door behind him.

Sarah took a deep breath. So far, Runil's house smelled the best out of all the huts in Falkreath. Beeswax candles and dried herbs managed to overpower the stench of open sewer and moldy rot that pervaded the rest of town. Well, she hadn't had the pleasure of visiting the Jarls Longhouse; but if Siddgeir was the Jarl, she'd pass on that pleasure. Her knees scraped the planed wooden floor as she knelt and opened the satchel.

...and discovered her ring. Her and Bryce's wedding rings, carefully cleaned by the looks of it. And at the bottom of the satchel, a still-stained and raggedy plush Hiccup dragon toy.

Had Adam still been holding it when he was taken? Sarah wondered dumbly as her hands shook, squeezing the rings until they bit into her palm.

She sat like that for what seemed like hours, though it may have been mere moments. The candlelight flickered on the stone ceiling as Sarah contemplated everything and nothing.

Someone had saved these. Knowing they would mean something to her, instead of hocking them to the nearest peddler.

She had to ask.

But first, a prayer. To Arkay. She shivered. Having lived a semi devout life as a former Catholic school girl, she had attended Easter and Christmas mass and thought little of it afterward.

But, if she was here (HERE, really, in Skyrim. Part of her just giggled. Another bit of her was screaming. She shut that bit deep away, to inspect later when she had the luxury of falling apart) then that meant that the gods were real. Arkay listened to prayers.

And healed.

Because, man, did her head hurt. She could feel the fine tremors and groggy heat she always associated with fever. Her head pounded beneath the bandage, already grimy with sweat and blood. Healing would be good. Then, then...

She would thank them. Him.

It must have been them who gave instructions for burial of her family, who saved the rings and toy for her later, who paid for her shelter, food and care. After puttering around Dead Mans Drink doing simple chores to bide her time, she'd noted the menu prices and had come to realize that the hundred or so gold septims the Companions had spent on her recovery was no small fee.

She would thank them, and pay them back.

Quest marked and given, she thought bemusedly. Looking up at the blackened sundial of Arkay's shrine, she thought about things (stuff and things, the giggler supplied)

About life, and death. And rebirth.

"Thank you, Arkay, for your watch over the graves of my children and husband." She cleared her throat, voice still rough. "If you truly look after those who have lost, help me heal, so that I may work, and travel, and pay back my rescuers."

"And..." she inhaled raggedly. "Give me the strength to...to learn how to protect others, in order to keep what happened to me from ever happening to anyone else."

As Sarah bowed her head, a prickling tingle enveloped her entire self. She didn't see any threads of white light like in the game, but the shrine seemed to glow a bit brighter in the candlelight. A feeling of peace pervaded the tiny hut.

Feeling better than she had since the beginning of all this, Sarah stood. Her fingers stretched on their own accord, headache gone, aches and pains removed to feel an astonishing wellness. Even the twinge in her hip, an old sciatic annoyance, had been healed.

She found Runil outside, planting nightshade (she had asked to confirm what the dusty violet flowers were, just to be sure, because they were everywhere here) near the new graves that rested near the end of the path.

Mouth dry, she handed him a scrap of parchment Valga had offered her earlier that day. "Here are the names, Priest. Thank you for all your hard work. And...thank you for saving the rings for me."

Runil's sparse eyebrows shot up. "Saved? Nay, I usually bury those who enter here to their rest with all effects in place. Vilkas, one of the Companions, you may remember...he handed this to me with instruction that you were to receive it when you were well. And you look well, my child."

"I'm surprised as well," Sarah quipped, smiling sadly. "Thank you again, Runil. I am..." she paused, searching for words. "Touched," she decided. Runils lips spread into a weathered grin. "Not touched in the head! Not completely!" Sarah added as an afterthought as Runil began wheezing in laughter.

"I'll admit your peculiarities have been...amusing, child." Sarah blushed as she recalled the latest incident where Delacourt the bard had gotten her drunk on Cyrodilic brandy and she had taught him all the words to 'Hooked on a Feeling'. Blue Swede had never sounded so good as it had on Delacourt's lute.

She had jumped on the stone rim of the firepit in Dead Man's Drink and danced wildly, everyone clapping and cheering her drunken fool self on. Now, whenever she ran errands to Gray Pine Goods, Solaf gave her a sly wink. Damn him.

"But no matter," he continued kindly. "Please, take this." He pressed a heavy necklace in her hands. It could only be an amulet of Arkay, with a small heavy sigil of the shrine looped at the bottom. Chewing her lip, Sarah unlaced the ends and slipped the two wedding rings on either side of the pendant. There they gleamed, looking like they belonged.

"It will aide you if you somehow become injured again, although Valga will not appreciate you undoing her hard work." Runils eyes crinkled again in a smile. "Go with Arkay, my child. Life is far too short...do not waste it."

"I won't." Hefting the satchel up on her shoulder, Sarah started up the path towards the rutted mud street that was the hub of Falkreath. Stopping suddenly, she turned back to the old priest. "Runil, I know that you served in the last war. As an Altmer mage."

Runils back stiffened where he had bent over the plots of nightshade plant. "Oh? Have you found my journal, then? They are regrets I do not intend to forget, if you wouldn't mind returning it to me."

Sarah huffed. "I am definitely not ready to risk my life in some mountain pass. Not yet. Maybe never."

She paused, considering. "I understand that this life must be peaceful, especially after the war. I can't imagine what that must have been like. Particularly a war with mages, and magic." Shivering with sudden cold, she blocked the sudden snapshot of the necromancers staring, dead eyes bisected by a dagger. Her handiwork. 

Noticing his mouth slowly turning downwards, she added "Why not practice restoration magic, if you truly want to atone for your past? And don't ask how I know," she warned as Runils mouth opened. Mouth snapping shut, he peered at her.

"Those are dangerous questions, child. The townsfolk have finally become accustomed to my presence...a non magic-wielding presence. I am not sure how they would greet my efforts to aid them in other ways."

Sarah shrugged. "You won't know if you don't try."

"Perhaps not." Came his quiet reply.

"If it means that much to you..." she shuffled her booted feet in the loamy dirt. "I owe you for the graves, and the stone markers. If I can find your journal, I will. I promise."

Runil nodded, once.

Suddenly restless, she turned without another word and began jogging back to Dead Mans Drink. Eleven days had passed since she had awakened, helpless in Valga Vinicia's care.

It was time to repay her debts.

Chapter Text

Sarah had, in what she had started thinking of as her 'previous' life, been considered a passably good outdoorswoman. She went hiking in decent shoes, brought a fully charged phone, always let friends or family know where she would be and for how long, kept an eye on the weather and could make a decent fire given some time and if the wood was dry enough.

She knew nothing.

Sarah knew that now. NOTHING. Less than nothing. Her brain was an addled mush of modern living. It might as well have been packed full of tundra cotton for all the good her previous bush crafting skills did her here in Skyrim.

For starters, it was freezing cold. Sarah had encountered winters on the prairie where her eyelashes froze together at thirty degrees below zero. Here, spit bounced. Here, if you left your mug of ale out long enough in the cold, it froze within minutes. The Nord villagers in Falkreath often waltzed about in nothing but light tunics and leggings, claiming the spring breeze was so pleasant this time of year. Sarah thought it was bracing and made Valga laugh when she had asked if there was such a thing as fur underwear. "Yes, but can you imagine washing it?" Valga guffawed.

Hell, she wasn't even in the Pale and the cold had been unbearable, on that first night by herself.

Bilbo Baggins had been better prepared, she mentally complained as she hid under the drooping boughs of a wayward pine, struggling to light the damp tinder she had painstakingly collected. It was just too damn damp here, the rain (which sometimes turned to slushy snow at night) had soaked into everything. She had managed to find some small branches protected from the wetness under the heavier evergreen trees, but what was not soaked to the root was often covered in green, slimy mold and curling ferns.

Oh, for a lighter and some dry firewood in nice plastic packaging, she thought fondly. And maybe some hot chocolate with marshmallows, a big burger with everything on it and fries on the side. If only she had saved enough for another night at an inn. Even Delphine might have taken pity on her and let her stay for five gold septims instead of ten. Maybe, and then maybe not. She had been crusty and ornery enough in-game without testing that theory here.

She had worked her ass off in Falkreath running errands, cooking and cleaning at the inn, even trying her hand at chopping firewood. Her previous experience with axes had been entirely limited to splitting neat, sawed off rounds with few to no knots in the wood. Here, the logs came gnarled and moss coated...and as her aching knuckles and wrists protested, more knots than actual wood. Bolund had sneered at her efforts, but Solaf had just laughed. "Keep at it, and you'll eventually become more proficient, Breton."

She hadn't the heart to correct him. Her blisters hurt too badly to summon a witty comeback, and even if she had one she wasn't sure what it would be. Surely she could pass as a Nord here? In her previous life (there she went again, like she was never getting back) her height of 5 foot eight inches was considered decently tall. Here, the Nords came in two sizes: giant, and mammoth. Maybe she could plead half blood status? She began amusing herself by imagining what different blended races might look like. An Orc and Altmer baby might even be cute, she reasoned.

Dunmer and Argonian? Ugh. Definitely not.

But daydreams could kill time only so far. At last, Sarah had finally saved up enough to afford some essentials on The List, as she called it in her head. The List entailed the most basic supplies needed to keep her alive:

THE LIST:

- A full set of leather armor in good repair, with quality boots being the highest priority. (She had tried on the iron armor only to take a step and fall over, much to the amusement of Lod).
- Enough healing potions and cold resistance potions to last until Whiterun (she hoped).
- One functional bow and a quiver full of arrows. Not that she'd had any success in practice, but it couldn't hurt to keep trying.
- One short sword or dagger for close quarters combat, reasonably sharp.
- Three days worth of travel rations (mostly ale, bread, cheese and dried fruit. Food here in Skyrim tended to be remarkably fresh and delicious, or the complete inedible opposite. Surprise!)
- One small, precious bag of Moon Sugar, for the purpose of begging passage with a Khajiit caravan. Any caravan, actually, that was willing to have her. Horses being far out of her price range, she figured that if she could catch the caravan that traveled from Markarth to Whiterun she could at least be protected halfway through her (increasingly desperate) journey.

With a tiny fire finally burning albeit weakly, Sarah shivered and wrapped her leather clad arms around herself. If only the decent furs had cost just a bit less, but the moon sugar (deemed absolutely necessary for bargaining with the cat people) had swallowed up her savings. Plus, the cheapest furs had a mangy, skunky aroma. When she had asked Solaf why certain smaller animals smelled so rank, he had shrugged and smiled. "Just as you'd rather eat nice salted beef than roasted skeever, I'd rather spend a bit more for a proper bear pelt than a ragged goat or wolf throw. Always pay for quality if it touches your skin, woman."

If only bear fur didn't cost thirty septims, she thought sourly as she prepared for what would surely be a long, sleepless night. Awake, cold and alert for wolves, blood sucking vampires, man eating werewolves, bandits....

Huh. Maybe she wouldn't have such a hard time staying awake, after all.

******

Her luck changed considerably with the rising sun. As she forced herself along the road after that miserable night, she came across Ri'saad and his band of Khajiit traders.

And thank God for that. The game had been deceptively quick when it came to traveling distances. She estimated it had taken her an entire day just to bypass Riverwood and camp outside the trail that might have led to Bleak Falls Barrow (it was tempting, but she passed by Alvor and company without a single peep other than a stoic nod. She had already gotten too many strange glances by calling strangers by name in Falkreath and a delay couldn't be helped.) At this rate, her rations would run out. And she was starting to feel in her chest a pang of loneliness, as Sarah had never (don't think of it) been alone for so long in many, many years.

The moon sugar netted her some raised eyebrows and approving stares (though it was hard to tell with Khajiit facial features being what they were.) Payment accepted, they deemed her acceptable traveling company and continued what they estimated to be two days journey to the outskirts of Whiterun.

Within an hour, she had settled into surprisingly friendly banter with the guard Khayla and the female trader named Atahbah (who seemed especially appreciative of the sweet gift/bribe.) Ma'randru'jo (what a mouthful) the well dressed and rather prissy male was more aloof. Grizzled leonine Ri'saad led the group in silence, ears pricked and searching for signs of predators ahead.

Atahbah playfully danced back and forth along the road. At times, the red furred Khajiit even swiped at a passing butterfly. Khayla had left a large litter (her term, not Sarahs) of siblings back in Elsweyr and had been invited by Ri'saad to share in the wealth that surely would be brought by selling goods in Skyrim. Didn't she also teach the Sneak skill, Sarah wondered idly as she took in Khaylas cumbersome steel armor. Apparently they all had hidden depths here.

The first night had been an education, as well as a bit of a culture shock. Having contributed what was left of her meager food stores, Sarah sprawled in front of the fire feeling full and warm from what Khayla called 'elsweyr fondue'. Kind of like regular cheese fondue, with a sharp aftertaste like brie with a caramelized nutty flavor.

The Khajiit dipped everything from bits of bread, carrots and even fish in the bubbling pot. Soon, flat hand drums and bone filled gourds were brought out, and Atahbah danced as Ri'saad and Khayla sang something vaguely Arabic sounding in their slurred, raspy voices. Maybe more Bollywood than Arabic? The sonorous chanting was definitely lulling her into a sleepy trance, helped along by whatever they had done to that fondue.

It was glorious, weird...and comforting to be traveling with a group. She had half expected to be robbed blind and left in some ditch (based on the truth of certain stereotypes in Skyrim, Ashkari didn't know shit) Ma'randru'jo relaxed enough after ale and fondue to beckon Sarah closer and actually began braiding her hair.

"It is such a lovely color," Khayla hummed thoughtfully as his clawed fingers gently separated the cinnamon brown strands. Too buzzed to care, Sarah slumped almost completely in the cats lap as his nimble fingers swiftly wove a ribbon (red, Atahbah insisted) into her hair. Khayla brought out a wooden wind instrument and a reedy, quivering melody filled the air.

"Indeed. This one thinks that thought should be given to what Sarah wishes to do once we have arrived at our destination." Ri'saad slowly ended drumming with a few taps of his padded fingers.

"Thoughts? Like what?" Clicking his tongue, Ma'randru'jo gestured at Sarah to get up from his lap. She sneezed as his tail flicked her nose. He reacted with a toothy grin.

"As to what Sarah should pursue as a venue of work in Whiterun. So far, this one does not see that Sarah has any plans beyond repayment of debt." Ri'saads claw tapped meaningfully on the ground. "This one has told you of our inability to enter the cities and towns of Skyrim without inviting violence. We are not trusted within the Nords walls...and yet business is transacted and wares are purchased." The old cat thrummed in thought. "This one thinks Sarah should choose a new name for a new life, and leave Sarah behind."

"Oh, yes!" Atahbah hissed. "This one agrees! Sarah is so foreign, like a Breton name. If one wishes to be accepted, one must look and act the part. Sarah must become a born and bred Nord." She swayed in the firelight, the gold rings in her ears clinking together.

"What Nordic names appeal?" Khayla murmured, throwing a couple of furs towards Sarah. She brushed blades of grass and bugs off the furs and shrugged.

"Hmm...it's not a terrible idea," she spoke slowly. No going back, only forward. She could address the hidden fear that this was still just a nasty dream later. And maybe find out if skooma was worth becoming addicted to, if only for peace of mind. "I kind of like the name Astrid." Suck on that, Dark Brotherhood. If she ever actually ran into the lovely assassin (HELL no), at least she'd have a conversation starter.

"Astrid!" Ma'randru'jo hooted. "A pretty flower? No, this one needs a name that speaks of something the Nords respect. Sigrun, perhaps?" His left paw unfurled to reveal a dancing ball of light. Her sleepy eyes tracked it, widening as glowing butterflies of light wisped and floated away. How about that. Magic could be pretty. "Helga?"

"How about Sigrid?" Sarah muttered sleepily, already laying her head on the musky furs. The magical butterflies slowly dissolved into nothing. Pleasant to think that Skyrim had harmless magic, along with the mangling and malevolent kinds. The night sky was inky black, showcasing the strange galaxy and double moons (Masser and Secunda, she remembered vaguely). Grey smoke rose in spirals and whorls, dissipating into the cold tundra air.

Sigrid started with S, like Sarah. Sigrid had been the name of her Boy Scout, do-good Nord warrior woman...one of many avatars begun and discarded in favor of the dastardly sneaky types Sarah always enjoyed playing. Her heart thudded with sudden guilt as Sarah suddenly realized that if she ever magically made it back to her reality that she would never again be able to play as a vampire, thief or murderer again. Once, the caravan had fallen silent as they passed a burnt down cabin. Curious, she had ignored the silent pleas of Khayla to stay close and drawing near, had seen enough. Pale, dessicated bodies flung in unnaturally still poses. A bandit hideout, most likely, judging by the brazen show of stacked mead bottles and rotting food carcasses.

They all had their throats slashed open, with no blood pools or splashes in sight.

"Sigriiid..." Khayla hoomed thoughtfully. "This one likes it. A battle name, a blood name. Sigrid Short-Strider." Her fangs lifted in a cat-smile, her husky laughter trailing behind her as Sarah mock-glared at the furred guard. She may have fallen behind a few times due to her lack of stamina, but that was uncalled for. 

Sarah, newly christened Sigrid, only smiled sweetly when Khayla awoke the following morning with a earsplitting yowl to find a decapitated skeever head placed lovingly on her chest armor.

Chapter Text

There were days, Vilkas reflected, that the daily rhythms of Jorrvaskr revolved smoothly, like a well oiled Dwemer automaton. Wages were paid on time, warriors received adequate discipline and training, boredom was kept at bay and the ledgers tally promised a surplus of septims for all.

He snorted. Then, there was today.

The warriors awakened to find the main fire burned out to cinders, ashes smoking and food unprepared. Aela had entered Tilma's room to find her shaking with fever, the dark room soiled with the scent of sleep sweat and urine. Tilma had been put on bed rest, and the burnt offerings (courtesy of Torvar, who was never allowed near the firespit again) had them all on edge picking gristle from their teeth. Two fistfights had already broken out, and there had been muttering and sidealong glances until Vilkas set them to running laps around the perimeter of Jorrvaskr with much grumbling.

The whelps were due to be tested in their battle forms today, and he had no time. The accounts required balancing in order to pay Eorlund his weekly tally, Pelagius had reminded him twice that the grocers fund needed attending to, and he had a sinking feeling that Jorrvaskr's wealth was slowly running out. No thanks to the appetites of the warriors themselves; he reminded himself again that Tilma needed an assistant, for her sake as much as theirs.

Not only that, but there was a surplus of work that required intimidation rather than brawn or finesse. What did it say, Vilkas wondered as he made his way downstairs with a tray for the old man, about them now that the majority of their errands consisted of beating some milk drinker who cheated on his woman into submission?

Peh, the glory of Jorrvaskr. The future (and his stomach) seemed achingly empty.

Clearing his voice, the armsmaster respectfully waited to hear a croaked 'enter' before he trespassed upon Kodlaks private rooms. The Harbinger straightened from his chair, shakily pulling a fur onto his lap as Vilkas cleared empty mugs and the remnants of yesterdays meals to make room for the new tray.

"Greetings, Master."

Kodlak reached for his mug of ale, took a sip and began hacking and coughing. Vilkas averted his eyes as the old man shook. It was hard to see the atrophy slowly consume his mentor and friend. It was the way, the way of things as they aged. But it hurt to see such a mighty blooded warrior reduced to this.

Vilkas hoped he wouldn't survive to see himself become a shaking shadow, fed broth and hidden away in the bowels of a warriors hall.

"If you wish, we may continue our discussion from before." The old man hunched over his plate, sensitive wolf nose wrinkling at the smell of burnt meat and egg. He picked at it unenthusiastically as Vilkas launched into a recital of what the residents of Jorrvaskr had accomplished in the last month.

Much of the work was rote; killing wild animals that had found their way into residents homes, the request for a mammoth hunt, several requests for bodyguards and debt enforcement.

Thug work, no more fit for the ancient brotherhood than banditry or mercenary work.

But septims were septims. He finished, gazing at the dirt embedded in his palms as Kodlak painfully swallowed the last burnt roll. "Vilkas, it is well. But have you given thought to my last personal request?"

"But, I still hear the call of the blood," Vilkas despaired. Looking back down, he shuffled his boots against the worn stone flags of the floor. Not this. He would have given the old man his heart on a platter, twin to the Daedric heart pulsing on Kodlaks trophy table. It would be a simpler task. 

"We all do. It is our burden to bear...but we can overcome." Kodlak looked at him meaningfully.

Exasperated, Vilkas exhaled in a huff. "You have my brother and I, obviously. But I don't know if the rest will go along quite so easily." Even now, he could deny him nothing. Kodlak, Harbinger, the closest he had ever quite come to respecting as a father figure (he would not think of Jergen). Holding off the change, remaining indoors and abed when the moon shone full and round, calling to him...

But if Kodlak believed, then Vilkas would have faith.

Even if his faith chafed and itched, like a welt rubbed raw.

"Hmph. Leave that to me." Wrapping his furs more closely around him, Kodlak sniffed the drafty air. "A stranger enters our halls," he cautioned Vilkas, who craned his neck to see a timid figure approaching.

Clad in torn leather armor that had clearly seen better days, the woman carried a whiff of anxiety, hope and...he inhaled shallowly, the sweet cloying scent of moon sugar.

Great. Another Torvar, a weight dragging the great name of his hall through the mud. His shoulders stiffened as he glared at the woman, who seemed familiar somehow.

"I would join the Companions." Her rough voice had a studied calm.

Kodlaks eyes shone brightly, reflecting the candlelight. "Would you now? Here, let me have a look at you." He gestured her forward. Stepping into the light, she hesitated and at Kodlaks impatient movement, removed her helmet.

Long auburn braids spilled out as she shakily pushed back the weight of hair from her nervous gaze. Vilkas felt his heart drop.

It was her. The fat noblewoman from the necromancer lair a month and a half ago.

Had it really been only that long, he mused, sharp grey eyes taking in her despondent air and newly acquired bruises hidden beneath dirt. The woman (he still couldn't decide which race of man she was) literally shook with something that smelled like...anticipation? She wore nothing under the faded armor, which must have chafed like hell if she walked all the way here. Vilkas could see red marks where it had rubbed her white flesh raw. His eyes followed the curve of her hip, visible through the poorly fastened buckles. Forcing himself to continue his perusal, his grimace deepened into disgust.

One of her shin guards had been fastened crookedly on backwards.

Oh, this wouldn't do. This wouldn't do at all.

"Yes, perhaps. A certain strength of spirit."

"Master, you're not truly considering accepting her?" Vilkas interrupted, feeling the first stirrings of panic. The woman startled, then shot him a dirty look. He glared right back, a permanent frown etched on his lips. All they needed right now was another wet-behind-the-ears whelp to feed and train. And the last thing he wanted was distraction. Of her sort.

"I am nobody's master, Vilkas. And last I checked, we had some empty beds in Jorrvaskr for those with a fire burning in their hearts."

"Apologies," Vilkas insincerely sniffed. If the woman was a prime candidate to be his new Shield Sister, then put a golden flower on his hip and call him Dibella. "But, perhaps this isn't the time." He folded his arms, pointedly tapping the wolfshead worked in metal on his chestplate. "I've never even heard of this outsider."

Her full mouth turned down at that, hazel eyes narrowing in suspicion. Vilkas stared right back at her unlovely, muddy hazel eyes and stupid unruly hair. Finding faults, like the small scar on the corner of her lip, kept him from examining the surge of (What? Restlessness? Memories? Lust?) guilt that was slowly soaking into his awareness.

How many of the little ones had been hers? He remembered (despite all his best efforts to drown it with ale) she had screamed until her voice gave out, open mouth howling wordlessly as she had hit Aela repeatedly. Trying to get to the bodies of her bairns, who had fallen like puppets with their strings cut once Vilkas' blade had spilled the mages intestines on the dirt floor. 

Kodlak stirred, glancing to the side of the room where he kept stacks of bent and battered books. "Sometimes the famous come to us. Sometimes men and women come to us to seek their fame. It makes no difference." He traced a beaded braid on his lip with an arthritic finger. His eyes shone knowingly in the candlelight. "What matters is their heart."

The woman smiled at that, her straight white teeth shining in the dark smoky room.

"And their arm..." Vilkas cautioned. The old man seemed strangely focused on the woman, Hircine knew why. It was not for him to question (much).

"Of course." Kodlak harrumphed. "How are you in battle, girl?"

"I..." She paused and looked to the side in what could only be shame. "I have much to learn."

Shit. It would have been much easier to talk Kodlak out of this...this bad idea, if she had only boasted. The Harbinger often waxed poetic on the virtues of a humble heart in a warrior. True enough, the chair creaked as Kodlak leaned over, a knowing smile on his lips. "That's the spirit!"

Turning to him, Kodlak took a sip from his ale. Was that...a twinkle in the old man's eye? "Vilkas, our armsmaster here, will get started on that."

"Aye." Vilkas knew a dismissal when he heard one. But the sour ache in his gut grew stronger as the whelp took a deep, shaky breath of relief. "Not here. Out in the yard. Come on."

Shor's bones, what a day.

*************

Sarah/Sigrid P.O.V.

Sarah (no, it was SIGRID now) hurried to keep up with Vilkas who was storming up the hallway. His long strides took three of her steps to catch up to. Something scratched at her calf, and she hopped on one foot, trying to reach the itch and accidentally colliding with Vilkas who had stopped by the door to the stairs.

The man was built like a brickhouse. It felt like she had walked smack into a cement wall. Rubbing her cheek sheepishly, she wondered how heavy all that padded steel was to wear around all the time. She felt, rather than just heard, his breath sigh above her and looked up. "Dawdle on your own time, whelp." He snapped, his cold grey eyes furious. She looked down and nodded.

The others (was that Athis? Damn, he was stacked as well. She didn't know that Dunmer could carry that much muscle. He still looked downright scrawny next to Njada Stonearm though) looked up as Vilkas stomped over to the doors that led to the training yard. Managing a weak smile, she received sullen stares in return, with only the mountain of a man that must be Farkas looking truly interested in the proceedings.

Carefully stepping over the threshold, she managed to sneak a glance at the outdoor dining hall and armory (was that also in the game? Reality was blurring the lines for her more and more) before Vilkas halted right in the center of the dirt packed yard. Worn burlap dummies dotted crumbling stone walls, interspersed with round wooden targets and what looked like boxes of chalk and coiled rope.

 

Oh, if there was rope climbing as part of this test she was DEFINITELY going to fail.

 

She swallowed as he gestured for her to pick a weapon from the rack. Lips thinning with resolution, she strode over and picked up a one handed sword. Probably SkyForge crafted, with surprisingly detailed runes and spiral grooves in the pommel. The weight felt good in her hand.

Atahbah had tried teaching her the bow, with predictably frustrating results. But the sword had felt more natural, made her feel more in control. Sigrid smiled. Hah. Knew those marathon sessions of watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy would pay off somehow. Right.

"Just have a few swings at me so I can see your form." Vilkas grunted as he pulled his greatsword into an opening battle stance. Shit, that was a big sword. More like a claymore.

"Don't worry, I can take it."

But can I? She mentally censored herself. Time to do this. If Vilkas kept to the script, he'd rough her up a bit, let her get a few swings in and then sent her on her merry way to 'sharpen his sword.'

And boy didn't she blush a bit under her newly acquired tan, wondering if the euphemism held true in Skyrim as it did in Game of Thrones. Unless that bit of dirty fiction (The Lusty Argonian Maid, her mind helpfully supplied) meant what she thought it meant. Spear polishing indeed.

She bet he NEVER had to sharpen his own spear, alone.

Whoa there, girl. She would not be exploring that vaguely remote possibility. 'Not even three months dead, and you're moving on from Bryce, just like that?' her inner mental bitch sighed.

Guilt flooded her with adrenaline, steadying her sword hand. "Let's do this." She sneered back, readying herself for a lunge.

 

Her sword bit into his blade with a metallic thwang! clunk! as he immediately disarmed her. Her borrowed sword spun lazily into the dirt.

Looking almost bored, Vilkas gestured to the weapon. "Pick it up. And try again."

 

A curl of frustrated anger clenched her fists as she stomped over and regripped the blade with a huff. She'd show him. No matter that she'd never held a sword in her life before all this, or that she had never felt more helpless and out of her element. She'd wipe the smug smile off that piece of shit. Here she was, prepared to humble herself, to repay her debt in any way possible, and this asshole wasn't even giving her the courtesy to treat her like a threat?

The thundering, fart sniffing twat waffle.

 

She was gratified to see Vilkas' ice grey eyes widen momentarily as she thrust the pommel into his gut. He oomphfed, and moved maybe two inches backwards.

Knowing he was probably ready for whatever she could think of to hurt him, Sigrid lifted the sword in an arc, sweeping it down on what would have been Vilkas's head, had he not moved almost lazily, swatting her sword down with a glance of blade.

So, she punched him.

 

It hadn't even been a good punch. She had the sense to keep her thumb outside of her fingers, as Bryce had taught her, so she wouldn't break her own hand against someone's face. But hell, damn bastard, shit it still hurt more than she thought it would.

His head snapped back with the force of the hit, slowly lowering down to pin her with his astonished gaze. Dammit, he barely looked fazed by her hit. At least she had erased that stupid grin off his face. Blood trickled from one of his nostrils. "All right, that's enough." He sighed, smearing the blood with the back of his hand as he wiped it away.

She cradled her aching hand and tried not to grind her teeth. "Not bad." Vilkas took her blade and set it back in the rack. "Next time, it won't be so easy."

"You might just make it. But for now, you're still just a whelp to us, new blood. So you do what we tell you." His grey eyes narrowed at her hand dangling uselessly by her waist. "Here's my sword. Go take it up to Eorlund to have it sharpened."

He hefted the battle blade up and placed it into her good hand. Good god, what was this thing made of? Sigrid laid the flat of the blade (which was as wide as her hand) on her shoulder, where it wouldn't bite into her only set of armor. Vilkas smiled mirthlessly. "And be careful, it's probably worth more than you are."

She sputtered, at a loss for words as Vilkas turned on his heel and sauntered back into Jorrvaskr. Leaving her with his sword. Which she now had to sharpen.

Sunlight shone through the fluffy white clouds, dancing in what promised to be a beautiful clear day. Sigrid blinked stupidly, and then startled as her abused leather shin guard finally fell off her leg into the dirt.

Backwards, she noted.

 

Damn, what a day.

 

Chapter Text

Sigrid had begun a new List of Things To Do.

Item one: She had to achieve some degree of physical stamina and strength.

 

Being a whelp in Jorrvaskr was not an idle occupation. She had never fetched so many jugs of mead, sharpened so many swords and axes (after one sniggering joke about sharpening HIS axe Torvar had been stared down by Farkas, who simply loomed over him until Torvar muttered an apology and stalked away. Sigrid had baked Farkas a jazbay pie. A big one.)

The Companions had a daily schedule that kept her exhausted and practically asleep before her head hit her furs each and every night. Mornings began with a rude boot kick to the bed by Njada, Sigrids new least-favorite person ever. The Stone Arm then led the new recruits in a series of calisthenics, such as push ups, crunches, balancing postures that looked suspiciously like yoga (until they were told to do them on an upturned shield wobbling precariously on a log. Pass on that.) Then, they all ran twenty laps around what was termed 'the yard', a treacherous rocky path that circled Jorrvaskrs' bulk and the much-larger than in game (Sigrid was noting a trend here) training area.

Then, after a brief breakfast (usually porridge, meat and ale) came weaponry and tactics.

 

Vilkas was a hard taskmaster. Aside from a much abused textbook (which they were forced to share) Vilkas lectured them on battle strategy and survival. They were each tested on their various weapon forms. Much like the kata of a martial art, they were fluid and memorized patterns of engagement that looked easy, yet surprisingly difficult to master.

Athis flitted across the yard like a shadow, his blade twirling so quickly that no new recruit ever emerged from a session with him unscratched. Farkas was the most patient, slowly but surely teaching one and two handed weaponry to any who would learn. Njada taught the art of blocking with a weapon or shield (though Ria silently whispered that her head would do just as well)...Sigrid always made herself scarce for those lessons. She had actually been dragged to a blocking class by none other than Vilkas himself (who had begun abusing Shor's bones, limbs and inner body parts far more often with the arrival of the strange newcomer) who insisted that if Sigrid was to train with a sword, she could not leave herself open to attack.

Sigrid learned that the most fatal areas to linger in dungeons and caves were the openings and doorways. She was surprised to see the amount of stealth that was actually taught (although magic was, unsurprisingly, not encouraged among the Shield siblings) and one of her favorite afternoons was spent stalking the mammoth through the grass tundras of Whiterun Plain. Aela, their teacher for the day, taught them how to track prey by observing prints and the way the grass was twisted and bent underfoot. The whelps learned about wind direction, how scent changed or was entirely eliminated when one traveled through water, how to place an arrow through the eye of a creature to kill it instantly and mercifully.

 

Sigrid would have enjoyed it far more had she not been the butt of what was becoming the newcomers favorite pastime - hazing Sigrid.

First, it had been her few possessions stolen while she slept and hid in the dusty rafters. One morning, instead of a boot there had been four buckets of water unceremoniously dumped on her, as she jerked awake spluttering in rage. She was teased about her heavy accent (not that anyone in the Companions had any room to talk. She was finally growing accustomed to the Nordic almost sing-song lilt of the common tongue, but she had to focus to understand Ria. She was pretty sure she had gone through all of Athis' insults before comprehension happened there, too. Morrowind must have been a bitch for an outlander.)

There had been a bad moment when she had stood toe to toe with Ria, screaming about what she was going to do to the Imperials pretty face if her goddamn amulet of Arkay wasn't returned, immediately. That had been handled by Vilkas, who unsurprisingly sent her off to do more trivial errands. The one where he had ordered her to find a magnet for a Dwemer cog had her scurrying back and forth through the different districts of Whiterun, generally annoying the townspeople with her questions until sundown. Arcadia (the nicest person here so far) had gently let her down by telling her that dwarven objects were not, in fact, magnetized.

Soon, very soon, she thought darkly... Vilkas was going to have something unfortunate happen to him.

 

Item two on her List of Things To Do: Earn and save enough septims to pay back the (undeserving, brutish) Companions for their assistance.

Though the wisdom of doing so seemed to grow less and less important over time. Especially after her first job.

 

Shaking in rage, she stomped down the ancient corridor and knocked at Vilkas' door.

"Yes?" The door swing open to reveal Vilkas clad in nothing but a loincloth, rubbing his hair with a rough towel. Sigrid stared. Water droplets ran down the line of his collarbones, trickling into the dark hair that trailed all the way down his taut abdominals to...

"Shor's beard, are you going to stand there and breathe heavily all day, or do you have something to say?" Vilkas demanded, jerking Sigrid out of her frozen state. It really wasn't fair for someone as nasty as Vilkas to be so...lickably swole. She sniffed and focused her glare on his grey eyes, where it was safe.

"Yes, I do have something to say. What was that?" She demanded, hands on her hips.

"Ah, the job? If it was too much to handle for your first time..." Vilkas said with a passably straight face. He had sent her to the hut of Olava the Feeble, who was occasionally convinced that a skeever had taken up residence inside her home, chewing her food and breeding. Paranoid and grim, Olava was convinced of its existence and had told Sigrid that the skeever must be found and killed.

There was no skeever, had never been a skeever, but damn wasn't it fun to see Sigrids face turn purple as the woman shook with inarticulate fury.

"There was nothing! I had to take down that woman's entire pantry and spoon collection (and believe me, no one needs that many spoons) just to search for invisible droppings and mend holes in her walls!" Sigrid held up her hands, caked with clay and daub. "I didn't even get paid, because I didn't..." she slapped his chest, leaving clay marks..."find...the goddamn...SKEEVER!"

She stood there, chest heaving as she belatedly realized that slapping her Master at Arms with a mixture of dirt and poo was probably not the wisest course of action.

Luckily for her, Vilkas was currently struggling with a mixture of admiration, mirth and irritation. She had spark, all right. He had been worried that the fight might have been beaten out of her due to her past...entrapment, what with all the wide-eyed cringing and lurking in shadows the woman had done the first few days here (save for that memorable punch to his face. He needed to teach her how to swing a real uppercut one of these days. He'd be damned if any of his students ever threw such a weak milkdrinker's punch like that again).

Unluckily for Sigrid, his irritation won the fight. "Out, woman. I'll deal with you later. Just get out."

Glaring at him from her diminutive height, Sigrid huffed and stomped away towards the underground hot springs that circulated near the whelps quarters (another pleasant surprise that wasn't included in her playthroughs. The hot baths had been hollowed out from a cave network that she suspected was linked to the Underforge. After a hard day of labor, she had fallen asleep in there once, until she found Athis and Torvar leering at her nakedness with no shame whatsoever. That never happened again.)

Vilkas sighed, and looked down at himself. He would wash up again as well. Perhaps he would send her on an actual job this time. He didn't know how why he derived such entertainment from her irritation. Seeking to have her bright optimism knocked down a peg was perhaps a dim reflection of his own self. It was unkind, and unnecessary, to torment the new blood further. Even if seeing those white teeth stretched in a smile was more torment for him than anything he could do to her. 

He shivered as his skin cooled under the cleansing motions of the washcloth. For not the first time, he pondered where she had hailed from, with that unnatural smile (so even and bright) and that skin that was slowly turning freckled and browned in Skyrims weak spring sun.

Who was more of a monster? The wolf, or the man? Different pleasures of the flesh.

Vilkas did not look forward to the answer. 

 

 

************

 

 

Item three on The List: Alchemy/Gold

 

In Skyrim, Sigrid remembered, some of the easiest ways to get the septims rolling in was to find the transmute spell (probably in one of the bandit camps north of Whiterun) mine a ton of iron ore, and sit there casting the transmute spell turning iron ore into silver, then gold. Then, combined with the random jewels found trekking across Skyrim, she would have smithed necklaces and rings and then enchanted them to sell for a shitload of gold. It also raised her smithing and enchanting skills considerably, bang for buck.

Or, considering Sigrid was showing absolutely no signs of magical talent anytime soon, there was alchemy.

Sometimes, in the months following her arrival at Jorrvaskr, she had an afternoon or two of freedom. Rarely, Vilkas and the others of the Inner Circle (all caps, she thought gleefully in her mind, because really, the werewolf thing seemed like such an open secret. Skjor, the grump, and his squeeze Aela were always lurking off to their 'secret' tunnel) went on more complex, higher paying jobs. Usually kidnapped citizens, or recovery of lost family artifacts. That sort of thing.

That left the new bloods to their own devices, sometimes for days at a time depending on their luck. She never felt quite welcomed by the others in her new quarters. Especially after the hell they had put her through; there had been stares and muttering that followed her for months, only recently abated. Even now, Sigrid kept to herself.

Athis whittled, carving toys out of blocks of wood so skillfully Sigrid was surprised he stayed on to fight as a Companion at all. Torvar did errands around town until he had enough gold to get stupid drunk, which happened at whatever inn or bar was unlucky enough to host him before he ran out of septims. Ria sewed, Njada snored, and Sigrid took to wandering the plains outside of Whiterun to gather ingredients for alchemy.

Which was a massive disappointment. She had run into the Khajiit traders a couple of times since they had dropped her off (with good natured teasing and ribbing about her new status as Companion's slave drudge, screw them). None of them were exactly proficient at alchemy, but Ma'randru'jo knew how to cut, dry and store lavender, tundra cotton and thistles for storage and for later use. He also spent an afternoon taste testing some truly foul concoctions she had brewed as experiments, only wincing manfully (catfully?) a few times. Alchemy was far harder than it seemed in the game, with a full chemists lab of glass beakers and bowls, tuning forks, and bizarre apparatus she wasn't even sure had a purpose other than bewilderment.

Arcadia had been nice, but firm. "I can't waste my stock on experiments unless you pay, dear." She had gently but forcefully pushed Sigrid outside her shop, then. "Why don't you try something else with those herbs? I'm sure you can be creative."

And thus had her beginnings as Whiterun's newest merchant begun.

It had begun with a quiet moment in the chill of what passed as early summer for Skyrim. Tying up her bundles of herbs, she lifted her eyes to gaze in awe as the sun slowly descended. It painted the jagged ice capped mountains a glowing gold, brushing the clouds with a violet pink haze and lighting up the rocky tundra. It was so wildly, achingly beautiful that she sat down and stared until the last wisp of light sank into the west.

Her mind clearer and quieter than it had been in weeks, Sigrid remembered suddenly an open market fair she had attended years ago. It was a Renaissance faire type event, with the usual legs of turkey and axe throwing contests one would expect. But a few of the stalls had specialized in historical goods and trade. There was one stall that smelled like an entire garden distilled into five square feet that sold soap and wreaths.

Sigrid genuinely grinned, crushing a stem of lavender between her stained fingers. Soap making was a science, and she had no idea how even to procure lye, but...

From that time on, whenever Sigrid left to gather Arcadia's order of ingredients she needed (because she would pay for product but never for bum potions) she also gathered a massive amount of bundled lavender and (because it was pretty) red and blue mountain flowers.

At night in the main hall, when everyone was busy getting buzzed with mead and telling stories by the fire, she wove reeds that she had cut from the pond near Dragonsreach into spiked wreaths. Once the lavender bundles she had hung over her bunk had dried (Athis claimed that she would ruin their reputations, making the most fearsome warriors of Skyrim smell like posies) Sigrid tied the lavender and mountain flowers into the body of the wreath.

She didn't sell many at first. Sitting near Carlotta Valentia's stall (she was good natured enough not to mind the side business) Sigrid displayed her wares, silently pleading for someone, anyone to buy something not entirely needed for survival. It wasn't until Ysolda and Sigrid became deeply involved in a conversation about the properties of lavender (and the repellant effect the strong smelling herb had on mice and insects) that she started seeing her wreaths disappear.

Over the summer, she made more lavender wreaths. Eventually she became more creative and used glowing mushrooms, dragons breath and her favorite: snowberry and tundra cotton. She amassed enough gold that she bought ribbons from the caravans to weave in the reed spokes of the wreaths. Sigrid raised the prices. They sold out even more quickly.

Times like these pleasantly windy, summer days when the heat beat down on the market and Sigrid actually felt warm, she thought of Item number four.

 

Visit the College of Winterhold, to see if they could get her home.

 

She knew it was a long shot. Portals to alternate dimensions were sketchy enough without the memories of the Oblivion Crisis still whispered as firelight tales. She had timidly broached the subject of daedric realms with Athis at one point, who had stopped carving long enough to shoot her an amazed stare. "Magic? Do I look like a magician to you? Any random s'wit knows to consult an actual mage for questions like that."

It was just as well. The chances of her returning to her time, at the time she left, were about as likely as waking up in Yellowstone with Bryce blinking awake next to her and eight happy boys shaking her shoulder, clamoring for eggs and bacon. She swallowed as their faces flashed in her mind, then ruthlessly pushed them back in her mind, locked the box and pocketed the key. Later. She could always fall apart later.

She had saved, she estimated, about seven hundred septims from her labors. Sigrid had been putting off the moment when she would present Vilkas (and Aela) the one hundred and twenty five gold septims she estimated had been paid for her recovery in Falkreath.

How to go about it was an entirely different matter.

Ever since the day when she had opened the door to a dripping, shirtless Vilkas she couldn't look him in the eye. Her mind unhelpfully triggered that (glorious) picture every class she tried to concentrate in, every sword form she struggled to fix in her muscle memory. Every evening she dutifully wove her wreaths, ignoring the steadfast, untroubled stare Vilkas seemed to grace her with the more he settled into his nightly mead. 

It wasn't embarrassment as much as shame that kept her head down and eyes averted, these days. Months. Mere months had passed since she had been a married woman. Happily married. Sigrid had grown skilled in crafting the fantasy that Bryce and the kids were waiting for her back at home. That this was just a sabbatical from real life, a extraordinary chance to experience the most vivid recreation of her favorite game for a time. 

That Bryce and the boys were slowly decomposing in that silent graveyard was a panicking thought. She squelched it. 

 

But buried secrets never remained so for long. 

"You know, confronting my brother with what has you all bothered shouldn't be that difficult," Farkas informed her one day as she lay gasping on the floor of the training yard. Damn, the hulking werewolf was swift on his feet for such a big man. He had taken a special interest in her training after one day when Sigrid had tripped in the training yard and nearly impaled herself on Ria's eager sword. Grasping her hand, Farkas had yanked her arm almost out of her socket and sternly scolded Ria for going full contact in the ring. Sigrid had stammered her thanks, aware of Farkas' twin glaring silently from the eaves of the porch. Farkas had only smiled knowingly, clasping her fingers in his paw of fist. "Better watch your back, newblood."

Since then, Farkas had taken over teaching her swordplay from a grateful Athis. He also, strangely, never missed an opportunity to touch her during a session...grasping her wrist to show the correct angle of an overhand chop, or twisting her hips with both hands to give her more force in her swings. 

And Vilkas, ever present and watching with those inscrutable pale eyes. He was, Sigrid thought sourly, biding his time until she screwed up again. 

She picked herself up, dusting off the (new, well cared for and properly fastened) leather armor and refusing to look at Farkas.

"Hey, look at me." Sigrid sighed, and looked at his placid face. Farkas, like many other people here she'd come to suspect, truly had hidden depths. The writers at Bethesda, she thought amusedly, had been good but not thorough. There had been a lack of dimension in the game, for the true complexity and layered emotional baggage everyone here had simply stunned her sometimes. And no where was this more apparent than with the resident village idiot.

Farkas tended to hang out around Carlotta's vegetable and fruit stall on his afternoons off. She initially thought he was there simply to eat (which he did, often and with gusto) but found that most of the time the mountain of a Nord was awkwardly bent on his knees, playing hand clap games with the child Mila and bringing her what she believed were small bears, wolves and eagles carved by Athis.

An icebrain, she supposed, wouldn't have the shrewdness (or, she suspected, the patient, plodding kindness that was all Farkas) to get on Carlotta's good side by befriending her child. Sigrid sometimes caught the heated glances they would send each other across the market, and many nights she could see Farkas slipping away silently...well, as silent as someone who probably stood six foot eleven clad in steel plate could be... to be seen at breakfast in the same set of clothing, tired and smiling.

Good for him.

But this unusual perceptiveness was not helpful, today. Farkas seemed to be searching her face for something. "What?" She wheezed, hands on her knees as she regained her regular breathing pattern.

"Where they your family? The ones put to rest in Falkreath? Vilkas thinks so."

Suddenly she couldn't take in any air at all. The suspension of belief she had so skillfully woven for herself over the many months spent here wavered. Torn, mended, re-torn. She swallowed, then met his gaze (the grey eyes somehow more warm than his brothers, like hot stone).

"Yes. Yes, they were. My...my husband, and children."

Farkas ponderously sat down on his haunches, gesturing for her to sit as well. She flopped back in the dirt, rubbing at the sweat on her neck. "All of them? Aela spoke of many bodies there."

"No. There was...we had four kids, er..." she chuckled weakly as Farkas' eyebrows shot up. She frequently forgot that American slang for children, or kids, meant something entirely different here. Namely, infant goats. It had taken a while for her to stop referring to the children milling around the market district as baby quadrupeds. "Children. I had four, with my...my Bryce. We adopted four more boys later."

Farkas sat silent and immobile as a statue next to her. Wiping her forehead, she forced her mind to remain peacefully blank.

"You should tell Vilkas."

"Farkas, I..." she groaned as she stood up from the ground, stretching her back. Farkas rose as well, returning her practice sword to the rack and sheathing his own. "I don't know how. I've tried so hard...to avoid thinking about it. And I feel awful, because I want to say so many things."

His gaze was solemn. "Like what?"

Sigrid shrugged, annoyed. "Like, thank you? You killed that son of a bitch. Damn you for not coming sooner. And...sorry? Sorry you took the time to care? I couldn't even pay you all back for the inn and the food until recently. And," she cleared her throat. "And now I have the septims, all ready to go. And I can't find the words." Sigrid fingered the amulet around her neck, twisting the two rings that hung on either side of the pendant.

Farkas tracked her movements, eyes softening. Then he let out a gusty sigh.

"Fine. Its not my place anyway to get between you and my brother. But you should know," his gaze locked on her, commanding her attention. "...that I think you're both wasting your time."

Stepping closely, Sigrid was greeted with an intimate faceful of furs as Farkas hugged her, her feet leaving the ground as he grunted fondly. Satisfied with his cryptic message, Farkas put her down and winked. "Maybe think some more about what you want to say, before saying it. That always helps me." Then he wandered off, leaving a tired and bemused Sigrid staring after him.

Bending to retie a broken lace on her shinguard, Sigrid abruptly realized that Vilkas was watching her, face expressionless. He must have seen the entire thing. 

Had he heard any of that? 

Shor's bones, there was nothing 'between' her and the Master At Arms of Jorrvaskr. She sighed. Nothing but a history of enmity, debt and (she gulped) some very guilty fantasies she most decidedly was not going to think about tonight, alone, in her bed.

Damn to Oblivion, she did not need this distraction. If she were to survive in this brutal place, she had to train fast and hard. To learn the things that every child here took for granted, and grind the lessons learned here into her slow, giftless muscles.

 

Without distractions. 

 

Chapter Text

Falkreath, Sigrid decided, was the place to be during Skyrim's brief, hot summer.

The sun, which had slowly grown obnoxiously hot in Whiterun since there was NO shade anywhere to be had, was tempered here by cool evergreens and towering rock monoliths. Never truly blistering hot, the mossy rocks were pleasant places to rest on the trail. Flowers and ferns peppered the forest with pops of unexpected color, and the busy villagers all wore smiles and hailed Sigrid as she shook each hand personally. 

She had requested this job in Falkreath, knowing that it would be one of the few chances to meet up with old friends. Gratitude was one of the feelings she intended to nurture here, and there was plenty of opportunity for it. With the hot sun baking the muddy trails and roads into something resembling a proper street, Sigrid found herself actually enjoying the festive atmosphere of summer. Falkreath may have had several gloomy naming conventions, but even the painful string of stone stacked graves couldn't keep her down today.

Bolund, whom Sigrid privately called the grumpy brother, had been hassling the fine ladies of Dead Mans Drink and refusing to pay his tab. He had refused to be intimidated into proper behavior, and her mouth quirked as she remembered the satisfying pressure of his lip splitting against her knuckles. Farkas had taught her well...brawling was actually fun now that her daily regimen of pushups and log pulls had increased her strength (the Navy Seal's Hell Week could not compare to the back breaking tutelage of the twin Companions.)

Wandering over to the graveyard, she could see Kust weeding the gravestones, with Runil resting on a stone bench.

The priest of Arkay did a double take when he noticed Sigrid, smiling and walking down the path. "Child, is that you? I hardly recognized you."

"I spent the summer toughening up," Sigrid quipped. Extending her arm, she deposited Runils long lost journal into the old Altmers wavering hand. "Here you are, as promised."

Runils golden gaze scanned the tome thoughtfully. "...I must say, after our last conversation I did not think you would actually venture into the mountains to recover this for me. Thank you."

She grimaced at the memory. The climb had been slow and careful, but not difficult. Not until they had entered the dark rocky depths of the mountain pass had a screaming sabrecat surprised her (and Aela, who insisted on traveling with Sigrid for reasons known only to herself.)

Aela was still guffawing hours later at the sight of Sigrid messily heaving up her lunch over the warm corpse of the mountain cat. It had been luck more than skill that had saved her, as she had raised her sword instinctively (mentally gibbering in fear) after all those months of practicing battle forms. The enormous cat had lunged and impaled itself on her sword, crushing Sigrid and dying almost by accident.

The Companions would never let her live it down, if they knew. She knew how it worked by now, anytime a shield sibling erred in judgement or common sense the story was bandied around the hall. Shame encouraged the offender to never repeat the sin again. A practical convention as Skjor had unsmilingly warned her, those who repeated mistakes often took other Shield siblings down with them. It had taken three bottles of Honningbrew mead (and a promise to eventually tell everyone the tale of her first kill at Jorrvaskr, at a time of her choosing) but Aela promised to be silent on the subject. For now.

"Well, you helped me when I had nothing to give in return. So thank you, and I hope it was worth it." Sigrid leaned on a tree, breathing in the fresh air. Sun motes floated in the bars of light streaking over Bryce's grave. She noticed that the battered plushie dragon remained fastened on the tiniest gravestone, secured with leather strips. She wiped her eye, stupid dust. 

Runil smiled, wrinkles blooming on his weathered cheeks. "For me, it is of great worth, yes." His eyes turned sly. "I hear you have made other friends as well."

Sigrid burst out laughing. "Oh no! Damn that Valga and her running mouth!"

Her first stop in Falkreath (after kicking the shit out of Bolund, first things first) had been to rush into the Dead Mans Drink and hug a squealing Valga Vinicia. The eager gossip had been thrilled to see her invalid friend hale and whole. After a few bottles of Cyrodilic brandy (the good stuff, Nord mead had a texture not unlike gutter sludge) alcohol loosened Sigrids tongue and she came clean about everything that had happened since her departure. The ice cold first night, Khajiit music, her initiation into the ranks of the Companions of Jorrvaskr, her rise as Whiteruns newest entrepreneur (Even Solitude had caught on and was ordering her wreaths long distance. She had decided to do small batch orders, since her time was devoted mainly to training and working for her shield siblings. Maybe Carlotta would take over the business for her? It had become a major thief of time.)

Delacourt, the resident bard, had wisely waited until Sigrid was fully inebriated to pounce. "So, friend, do you have any other music you've been waiting to teach us?" He pled hopefully.

Sigrid took another swallow and blinked. She could kind of understand. The instrumental music here usually had a good beat. Mikael back in Whiterun (insufferable brat) played well enough to warrant repeated visits to the Bannered Mare, despite the ass pinching and sly winks. But the songs usually tended towards 'Ragnar the Red' or 'The Age of Oppression' or aggression. Whatever the singer meant it to mean. Sigrid didn't feel like opening the can of worms that was the Civil War just yet.

Somewhere, somehow an unlucky Dragonborn was being captured and led to Helgen for an execution that would never happen. She'd kept her ears open for news, casually asking for gossip from Helgen and surrounding villages so as not to raise questions.

Still nothing. Nervous anticipation coiled her her gut. She drained her mug and motioned for more, Valga spilling a bit as she grinned lopsidedly.

"Yes, as a matter of fact. I have a really good one jus' fer you, Delly." She slurred, the brandy far more potent than the watered down ale she had grown used to back at home.

(Home? Her mind supplied fretfully. Yes...home.)

Standing up unsteadily, she gestured for Valga to stand as well. "Do as I do, m'kay? Goes like this...here, give me th' drum."

Later that night, Runil and the other locals clapped and cheered as Sigrid, Delacourt and Valga treated them to a hearty rendition of Queen's seminal classic 'We Will Rock You'.

Who cared if the guitar solo lacked panache when played on the lute? The thud-thud clap quickly caught on, and Delacourt made up some of his own verses on the spot. 

Still epic.

Still strong.

Oh yeah. Debts were being paid, ass was being kicked, and (Sigrid grinned and belched appreciatively as Solaf and Valga danced, stomping and yelling, in a circle) she had gotten to spend one glorious afternoon planting a certain type of mountain wildflower at the graves of her loved ones.

Mountain briarhearts. And if she watered them with her tears, well...no one was there to mock her either.

Chapter Text

"A dragon! I saw a dragon! It flew right over the barrow!"

Sigrid froze midstride, dropping the mountain flowers she had been gathering in shock.

"Whats the holdup?" Aela padded up to her, green eyes darting to the woods and river in search of a threat. The huntress had declined the invitation to party at Dead Mans Drink last night, instead choosing to spend a night visiting 'friends' in the woods. Sigrid was not a betting woman, but if she was, she would have wagered fifty septims that Aela had indeed visited friends of the furry sort. Probably had a regular werewolf jamboree. 

She amused herself with a teensy fantasy of huge, hulking werebeasts wearing mob caps and sipping tea from dainty china as she also casually checked out their surroundings. Riverwood moved slowly in the haze of summer heat today, with the clang of hammering metal coming from Alvors smithy as well as the kchunk! Thunk! activity from the log-splitting waterwheel. Children splashed in the river shallows, searching for minnows and dragonflies and shrieking as they chased a barking dog in circles.

The outburst had come from Hilde, mother of Sven. Sigrid slowly turned and walked back, seemingly to the Riverwood Trader. Aela followed, green eyes narrowing suspiciously.

"A dragon, you say?" Sigrid spoke softly. Sven passed by with a load of firewood and scoffed. "If you keep telling these tall tales, Mother, no one will believe you!" Hilde puckered her wrinkled lips and peered at the sky. Her nervous energy was affecting the huntress, who began shifting her weight from foot to foot in anticipation of a fight. "It's true! Flew right over Bleak Falls Barrow!"

Shit. Oh shit. Double damn and hell.

"Aela, how many potions do we carry between us?" Sigrid hurriedly pulled down her satchel and began rummaging through it. Aela sighed and looked through her pack as well. "I'd say about fifteen health potions, some stamina for you Farstrider."

Sigrid just rolled her eyes, too focused on making sure she had extra bandages, potions and ale. Word had got out from the Khajiit caravan of her darling nickname and the Companions had given her hell for it (except for Vilkas, who snorted and returned to staring at the fire). Eventually Athis proposed a change from Shortstride to Farstrider, which he claimed reflected better on the Companions. She didn't complain. Hadn't known he cared. 

"Honestly, Sigrid, what has gotten into you? We left at the break of dawn, just as you asked, to return to Whiterun in all haste. I don't see why we're changing plans now." Aela huffed, readjusting her bow as the dozens of arrows rattled in their quivers.

"I have to do something. Her hazel eyes shone with sincerity as they locked on Aelas, both totally ignored Hilde who was blatantly eavesdropping. "Hilde!" The old woman nearly fell over. "Hilde," Sigrid continued, "I need you to tell Alvor and Gerdur to prepare hot boiling water, clean bandages and to gather ointment for burns. As much as possible. And make up your spare beds. I'll be back when I can."

Curiosity got the better of her caution. "Young un', they'd have to have a fair good reason for interrupting the days work. What shall I tell them?"

Sigrid smiled thinly, pulling the Skyforge steel sword slightly out of its scabbard to test the edge. Still sharp.

"I'm going to change things, and bring home Ralof and Hadvar. Both of them."

**************************

The trail was rough and uneven, but Sigrid and Aela flowed fast and silent like fleeting shadows towards the eastern mountains. Months of training had resulted in the round, wiry hardness of muscle replacing the softness of her previous life. She had hardened, like a wooden spear sharpened in the fire coals and tapered to a razor edge. She no longer complained (to herself, since everyone else stared blankly) about the lack of toilet paper, coffee, or automobiles.

She was the wind, and the wind had no barrier when it hunted.

Her memory of the hours spent playing Skyrim, like much of her life in South Dakota B.S. (Before Skyrim) had been fading as she pushed the memories further in the back of her mind. For her own mental health as much as anything else. If she thought about how much she had lost (no don't think about it) then the nightmares where she woke up the other new bloods screaming and thrashing happened more and more.

Sigrid was pretty sure that she had what Bryce had jokingly called the 'I lived through shit' mental disorder PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Bryce had nights (thanks to two tours in Iraq in the 101st Airborne Division) where he woke up shivering and covered in sweat. Sigrid, then Sarah, had made it her personal mission to come up with creative ways to distract Bryce. It had been downright fun turning his focus to pleasure, creating new memories that chased away the shadows on his face. 

Sigrid slipped, her ankle turning slightly on a hidden root. She grimaced and continued running, scanning the mountainside near Helgen for tell tale signs of smoke and the glow of banked fires.

There would be no Bryce for her here, no one to channel the nervous trembling energy that kept her up at night and ruined her dreams. 

Who could she tell? Who would believe her? Coming through a wormhole, or space time continuum to land, dead asleep, in a clearing oh so close to a wandering mage. A serial killer mage who had killed her family and played with their corpses for research.

Sigrid wondered if there were any jobs to be had that killed rogue necromancers. She would go out of her way (bloodlust must be catching, with the turn her thoughts often took of late) to relive that moment of freedom and stab, stab, stab...

Torvar had made multiple offers to be 'bedmates' (she had only laughed, as he blushed in offended anger) and Anoriath the Bosmer hunter had developed a friendly, teasing rapport with her. Every day she made her way down to the Plains District he called out "Sigrid, my love! When will you stop denying yourself and come live with me? Just think...." He wiggled his thin eyebrows..."All the meat (he clicked the 't') you could ever eat!"

"Not today, Anoriath. I'm very selective about my cuts of meat, thanks." She always laughed in response. The descriptions of raw meat and the promised offers of seduction varied in lewdness day by day, but she enjoyed the fresh banter.

Ah. They were here.

If her memory served her correctly, she wrinkled her brow as Aela huffed to a halt next to her, this cave south of Helgen was the exit to the overplayed beginning game sequence. This was where either Hadvar or Ralof led the escaped prisoner to freedom, Riverwood and glorious open ended sandbox gaming.

This time, she would save them both, if she could.

They were right where she thought they would be. Hadvar had managed to kill the bear, but had taken a major slash to his side and was lying on the ground near the carcass, shaking with fever. At a nod from Sigrid, Aela kneeled near him and began pouring alcohol over the open wound. The career soldier hissed in pain as Aela then applied pressure with a wad of clean cloth, murmuring to him all the while.

Ralof was worse. The Stormcloak armor of quilted padding and chainmail had not deflected the swords and lightning bolts of the Imperials he had fought to reach the exit. Gaping wounds from electric shocks marred his formerly handsome face and skin, melting into the more ragged burns of searing flame. She carefully tipped a healing potion to the Nords lips, watching him swallow painfully.

"Th-thank you, woman. H-How did you know we were here?" His bloodshot blue eyes blinked wearily.

Sigrid frowned. "It would take too long to tell..." her eyes darted around the cave, just now noticing the bodies both Nord and Imperial slumped in the stream, partially hidden by rocks. "Is there anyone else who made it out of there?"

"No," Ralof sighed, pushing himself slowly to his feet. "None made it out alive, save Hadvar and I."

Her frown deepened. "Thats odd." Where in flying falmer was the Dragonborn?

Aela crept up to Sigrids side. "Their wounds will fester if we don't lance the boils and begin treating the burns," she spoke quietly. Her shield sister nodded. It couldn't be helped...hopefully Hilde had successfully passed on her warning and the families of Riverwood were prepared for their arrival. It would take days of bedrest and healing, but they would both make it, if she and Aela hurried.

It did not help her sense of foreboding that there was no Dragonborn needing potions and bandages here. She had kept her expectations open, knowing the other prisoner could have been any race, age or sex.

But no one? It was a bitter disappointment, and now, a prickling fear.

Had she changed things by somehow ending up here?

Shor's bones, she hoped not. Skyrim sorely needed a Dragonborn.

As Sigrid pulled Ralofs arm over her shoulder (she didn't even register the blood, sweat and body odor that only a year ago would have made her squick with disgust, good soap was in short supply here) she realized that there were many lives in Skyrim that could be saved, just like these men from Riverwood.

It was not a comfortable thought. Gods, she had no desire to be painted a seer or prophet, but what if she changed the plot of the game and made things worse? Having the foreknowledge to change their fate and doing nothing would be awful, but meddling with unknown results? She swallowed, thinking of Aventus Aretino, starved and alone, praying in a dimly lit room over old bones.

Sweet Mother.

Oh, gods. The Dark Brotherhood. The Thieves Guild, with that tit Mercer Frey. She shivered, thinking of the massive castle to the north commanded by Harkon and his vampire court. The Penitus Oculatus, personal guard of the Emperor of Cyrodiil were about to get a nasty shock, if the assassins guild were up to what she knew could happen.

The Empire (she snorted, making Aela look at her in surprise) had certainly made a mess of things in Skyrim. They managed, in the most rudimentary sense, the cities and towns of Hjaalmarch, the Reach and Haafingar, collecting taxes and dispensing justice with the few squads of Legionnaires left on patrol. But most of the Imperial forts and watchtowers were crumbling and empty. Villagers fended for themselves with crude axes and handmade bows against beasts and bandits. The empire lacked an understanding, or desire to know the culture and traditions of Skyrims Nordic people. She had become accustomed to the almost constant racism of most of Skyrims citizens, hearing ethnic slurs uttered casually at market or in the stables. It was not, she reflected, only the hostility of the Nords that was responsible for the caustic environment of the day. She had seen many Imperials and Mer sneer openly at the Nord festivals of Kyne and Shor, imitating what Sigrid thought were beautiful festival dances with bawdy mockery and thrusts.

She idly wondered what Vilkas would have thought of the political correctness of modern America. Micro-aggressions, pride parades, places where people lived and died without ever seeing a dead body. Her lips lifted in a fond smile as she imagined him, war paint and all, sitting on Jimmy Fallons couch, completely out of his depth as the host pelted him with questions.

She wondered if he would have loved Italian food, or Mexican.

Shaking her head, she refocused on the task of placing her boots carefully on the path. Ralof could only limp along, so she bore most of his weight as they started down the path that led to Riverwood. Like the decline of Rome in her world (and wasn't Cyrodiil based, at least loosely, on the rise and fall of Rome?), the Empire's power had waned to the point of obsolescence in Skyrim. But the Stormcloaks were few in number, stretched thinly over the north and east.

It would take a significant change to tip the scales on either side.

Since there seemed to be no Dragonborn (yet), Sigrid wondered what would be the catalyst for that change.

'Sufficient unto the day are the evils thereof,' Sigrid thought bemusedly. Let tomorrow keep itself. She had enough to do at the present moment.

But, she wondered idly as Aela lifted Hadvar into a fireman's carry over her shoulders (he had passed out from his wounds, poor man) if she wouldn't regret doing something to prevent the loss of innocent lives.

The whispered rasps of 'Sweet Mother, Sweet Mother' echoed in her mind. A susurrus of voices...children, men and women weeping, shrieking and begging, sent to Sithis.

Judge, jury, executioner. Didn't they deserve more than a prayer and token payment to an evil god?

Perhaps, she would destroy the Dark Brotherhood after all.

Chapter Text

Water hissed over their bodies as the surf broke on the beach. Uncaring of the gritty sand, Sarah undulated beneath him, gripping his hair as his hot mouth found her neck. God, this second honeymoon idea was worth all the time spent planning, paying astronomical hotel fees and arranging babysitters for an entire week. Free to eat, sleep and fuck when they wanted, Bryce and Sarah had been like voyeuristic teenagers.

The warm press of his callused fingers palmed an exposed breast, dragging down the sensitive skin to grasp her hip as they moved together. They had christened the bed, the wall, the shower...finding this beach miraculously absent of tourists had been a godsend. Beach sex was always on her wish list. Her legs curled around his calves, seawater and sand punctuating each broken moan and gasp. Silk and lace, fucking hell the sand was driving her crazy. But Bryce took her mind off of that, sucking as much of her sunburned breast into his mouth as he could.

Throwing her head back, Sarah blinked at the Caribbean sun pouring over the shallow sky blue waters, unknowing, uncaring. All her senses were filled with Bryce and the single ruthless pursuit of the welling tidal climax that couldn't be better than...

Breath hitching, she raked her nails up Bryce's lower back, urging him on as she gripped his hair. Licking the shell of his ear, salt and sweat mingling on her tongue, she was gratified to hear him gasp. He was everywhere in her, and she was consumed by him, with him.

She never wanted it to end.

Feeling rather than seeing his lips curl into a smug grin, she lost all control as he knowingly pressed once against her swollen clit. The rhythm of their hips stuttered and fell out of sync as she crested, peaking on an electric white hot wave of pleasure. Blinking her eyes against sunbursts of unnamed colors, Sarah exhaled raggedly and clung to Bryce, who found his own release seconds later with a shuddering gasp. Clinging to his broad shoulders, she held him close in exhausted bliss. His hand came up to tilt her face to his for a lazy kiss...

...only to see smeared warpaint and lightning gray eyes dilated in a triumphant afterglow.

Vilkas gave her a smirk as he slowly lifted his bulk from grinding her into the sand, as everything went dim.

*******************

Sigrid awoke with a start. Hearing the soft snores of her roommates, she eased back down into her bed, biting her lip as her soaked cunt ground against the soft fur with every careful movement.

Being married (happily married) for fifteen years had had its ups and downs, but coming from an active sex life to this drought had had its repercussions. Sarah covered her eyes with an arm and groaned silently into the fur covered straw mattress.

These dreams had to go. Especially the ones where a stubborn swordsman played the starring role. Obviously her fertile imagination had been overacting what with the dream fodder she had walking around. In a land where physical prowess often meant the difference between life, death and your next meal, every man and even most of the women sported physiques that would have made any bodybuilder proud. Sarah Connor's biceps (of Terminator fame) had nothing on Aelas arms, shaped by a life pulling sixty pound bows and dragging hundred pound elk to be butchered.

Nearly everyone was impressively swole here. It was incredibly distracting, given that as high summer came and went men had begun to walk around shirtless. She had nearly swallowed her tongue when she spied Farkas dunking his head into the rain barrel, trying to cool off. The man was truly impressive, with tattooed runes coiled around the meaty curves of his spine and shoulders. 

She had even dreamed once of being turned over Jarl Balgruuf's throne and fucked mercilessly in a strange fantasy where she (the humble serving girl) had brought the wrong brand of mead to her lord. She winced as vague memories of her dream recalled her pleading to be punished, she'd be a good girl, ugh god why.

What was WRONG with her? Clearly too many perusals of 'The Lusty Argonian Maid' had gone and rotted the logical Vilkas eschewing side of her brain. She knew Athis had been up to something when he claimed it was the simplest, most useful book to practice reading Tamrielic script. The devil tongued s'wit.

Nevermind how smooth and sharp the dusky planes of his elven features would feel under her hands, hot tongue slipping into her mouth as she moaned...his armor hastily unbuckled and then...

Torvar turned over in his bed opposite hers, releasing a rumpled fart and snort. A distinct stench, like rotting cabbages, wafted over.

Well. That killed off any desire to relieve her frustration in bed.

Stealthily easing herself out of the communal room she padded quietly over to the bathing cave.

With all the sharp noses in Jorrvaskr, bathing off the sleep sweat and sodden proof of her filthy imaginings seemed wise.

******************

There was something wrong with him.

Vilkas leaned back against the stone lip of the bathing spring, idly flexing his sore limbs. He inhaled the humid mist that had a tinge of lavender clinging to the familiar sulphuric smell. Those damn wreaths again. Nearly every door mantle in Whiterun displayed an ornate herb scented wreath. The floral fragrances were pleasant to the villagers, but to Vilkas' sensitive nostrils they held the astringent bitterness of a medicinal potion.

And, he sighed, sinking deeper into the misty water, they reminded him of their creator.

Sarah and Aela had arrived later than expected to Whiterun, even though they had clearly ran in full armor all the way from Falkreath. Without stopping for refreshment or rest, they had climbed the steps to Dragonsreach, only to return to Jorrvaskr to collapse into bed from exhaustion. The house servants whispered the next day that the audience with the Jarl had lasted for several hours as his Dunmer housecarl interrogated them, then deployed several city guards to an undisclosed location.

Her face, relaxed in slumber, was soft and innocent like a child. More like the pale, trembling woman he had dragged from a bloody cave that winter than she ever allowed in front of him. Not lately.

All that next day, Vilkas was occupied with balancing the ledgers and paying the many merchants and craftsmen who supported the warrior hall their due. Kodlak had receded further into his rooms with time, poring over dusty books with a strange hunger in his rheumy eyes. The old man had remained strangely mum on the newest of the whelps and her substantial progress over the last few months, smiling secretively and urging further training upon her and the other newbloods.

Restless from a day spend sitting hunched over a candlelit table, Vilkas had taken his midday meal out to the Sky Forge. Eorlund didn't mind his best customers sitting among the tidy stacks of armor, weaponry and supplies, as long as they kept their voices down. The view from the battlements encompassed a vast area of tundra, reaching all the way to the mighty roots of the Throat of the World.

He had been disrupted from his reverie by a cleared throat.

There she stood, tall and proud, although he noted her left hand trembled slightly as she raised the bag of septims nearly to his eye level. He leaned back slightly, eyebrows lifted. "This is for you."

"What for?" He looked at her face instead of the funds. He had become accustomed to her many moods as he studied her face night after night in the dull smoke of the fire. Happy, irritated, contemplative...it was now habit to see her lips quirk in an all too ready smile and feel his chest ache. She never smiled like that for him. Not like she did for Farkas.

Vilkas loved his brother, but he would happily have picked a fight with him for how...hands-on his twin seemed to be with the strange outlander.

"Its a repayment of my debt." Clearing her throat, she lifted her chin defiantly. "Paid in full. One hundred twenty five gold septims. I asked Valga Vinicia of Falkreath and the priest Runil to be sure, since you...left me with them."

He had not thought of it that way. The call to clear out the necromancer's lair had come from an outlying lumber mill that had lost three workers mysteriously in the night. Dogs had tracked them to the cave, and money raised to rid Falkreath hold of yet another unscrupulous magic wielder.

Sarah...or Sigrid. Whoever she was, the woman and her family were simply victims caught in the middle.

Not unlike himself and his twin. (A great black hole and a lot of rage.) Vilkas still couldn't remember before his sixth winter what had transpired in his childhood to make Jergen lead them here, of all places. They had been fortunate, as she had been with him. The cave had sparked an unwelcome spark of memory, of flame and shadowed smoke. He dimly remembered lying back to back with Farkas as a woman hummed a soothing melody. Flares of memory, nothing more.

It mattered little. If it assuaged her grief (and released some of the deep tension and anxiety he smelled most often around her these days) then it was money put to good use. His rough fingers brushed the flesh of her inner wrist as he took the pouch, nodding his acceptance. Sigrid shivered suddenly, her face reddening as she mumbled something that sounded like 'thanks' and fled.

Whatever all that was about. He was tempted to take a deep breath and sort through the pheromonal cloud of emotions spiking in the air, but a sudden breeze put that out of his mind.

"You're daft, boy. You both are."

Vilkas turned to face Eorlund, who had ceased sharpening his tool and was looking over the armsmaster with a critical eye.

"Aye?" Vilkas hoped his face was as bland and stoic as his voice.

The old smith harrumphed and turned back to his work. "Youth is wasted on the young," Vilkas heard him grumble as he thoughtfully strolled back to the desk piled high with work.

And the awkward, flighty behavior had only gotten worse with time. He had straightened up from bending over a whetstone just last week to catch sight of her face awash with a full blush and Aela snorting with laughter. The huntress had merely kept laughing when he shot a beseeching look her way. "Oh no," Aela had chortled. "This is all on you. Figure it out yourself. I thought you had Ysgramor's brains, if not his balls."

Recalibrating his awareness back into the present, Vilkas yawned. His eyes at half mast, he dazedly noted the candle stub had almost burnt completely out. With a rush of water, he stood up, reaching for a drying cloth that had been immediately to hand...

...and grasped the softly curved fleshy parts that could only be present on the fairer sex. "Gah! Oh shit, oh shit...what happened to the light?"

****************************************

Chapter Text

Steely eyes pinned her in the dim light of the bathing room as she froze in place, her breast fully enveloped by a very real, very male hand. Hardly daring to breathe, she swallowed and shifted her foot on what felt like a bath towel as Vilkas blinked slowly, his gaze raking down her naked and exposed body.

She had not been the sort of woman who was overly proud of her appearance, before. Sarah's stocky figure, compact limbs and elongated torso were the end result of good Scots Irish and German stock breeding. Child bearing hips, her mother had proudly proclaimed, and slapped her on the ass (at her wedding. She thought she would die). Once she had cared enough as a teen to flaunt her then-trim figure in bikinis and cut off shirts, but four pregnancies and fifteen years later, she was twenty pounds overweight with the stretch marks (war wounds, Bryce fondly called them) to prove that she had carried life within her. Her poor belly was a punched in bowl of striated doughy flesh. 

Shocked didn't even begin to cover her reaction the first time she caught sight of herself in what passed for a real mirror here in Skyrim. Workmen had been transporting a polished Dwemer mirror to Dragonsreach that had a lustrous bronze sheen. It caught her eye. When they leaned it against a wooden pillar, arguing with the maidservant over which room it rightfully belonged to, she had cautiously looked herself over.

Even fully dressed in her leathers, she could tell her post baby plumpness was gone. Entirely. Weeks of small portions while travelling along with the heavy physical activity had whittled what remained of those last stubborn pounds, transforming it into sleek muscle. Her cheekbones were defined in a way that had taken her younger sister an entire compact of contouring creams and wizardry to achieve. So was the Irish pale skin she had despaired over. Instead she had burned, then tanned a slightly darker cream and had, she realized with an ironic laugh, been entirely doused in freckles (head to toe. She checked herself out later) from a life spent outdoors in the sun.

And her hair had grown as well. Kept in a long plaited braid, it tickled the gooseflesh of her ass as she unconsciously raised her head to look at the man who seemed to loom large, taking up seemingly all the space in the small room. His breath puffed on her cheek as the candle light created pinpoint reflections in his pupils.

Deeply inhaling, his mouth twitched, and he pulled her (by the breast, oh my god, why wasn't she punching him) closer. Grasping her chin with his other hand, the Nord paused to pull in a lungful of mist laden air. Resulting in a full body shudder as he curled his impressive height over her body, both hands sliding down, the calluses catching on her dimpled skin as a cold draft breezed through and fanned the candle briefly brighter.

She would not look down. He was a fucking werewolf, he could smell fear and probably lust. She would NOT look down at the sudden presence of Vilkas' male interest jabbing into her thigh.

Feeling lightheaded, she put a hand on his chest and pushed. Wet, matted chest hair gave under her fingers, and his breath rushed out of him in a heavy sigh.

The candle went out entirely, plunging them into darkness.

Seconds ticked past as Sigrid clung to whatever scrap of mental fortitude she still retained. His hands (one of which was idly rubbing circles on her hip) were the only sign that he was awake or even aware of what was going on. Hot breath mingled in and out between the space that separated them. Not much space at all.

Jarred out of the trance she was slowly succumbing to, she smelled herself in the air as her swollen cunt leaked pathetically down her leg.

His grip on her hips tightened, and then suddenly he was crushing her against the flagged stone walls of the bathing room.

Gods fucking hell.

It was like her dream, only real. Humidity poured from him as his mouth nipped furiously at her ear, her neck, moving south to latch onto her collarbone where he worried at the tender skin with his teeth. A finger dipped inside her engorged entrance, slowly pumping in and out with every catch of her breath.

She didn't realize until he ground his cock against the cleft of her pussy that she was speaking in garbled moans, quietly begging, explaining. A torrential downpour of words spilled from her lips as he slid down her body, lips licking the salt from her chest as she gasped out how guilty she was, how lonely, how good this felt, god, how tormenting her dreams had been.

A hoarse scream arose from her clenched teeth as his tongue licked her in one long swipe.

"Woman, you have to be a bit quieter than that." His amused chuckle drifted from where he kneeled between her legs.

He was holding her up against the wall by sheer upper body strength alone. Sigrid was sure if he let go, she would slide boneless down the wall and collapse into a puddle of need. Motherfucker, she was swollen and wanting and if he didn't do something, anything soon, she would be on him. Her cunt ached like a throbbing bruise.

Two fingers joined the one that had slid inside her and her knees buckled. His thumb circling over her bud, she gasped in gulps of superheated air. He was winning her, slowly, methodically, though she could sense the coiled tension radiating from his rock hard arms as he held himself back.

But Sigrid was a newblood of the Companions. She feared no man.

Shivering in anticipation, she reached down to where he kneeled and grasped him, pumping his cock once, twice in her tight fist.

The hand that he had been using to hold her still during his ministrations lifted to pull her braid around his fist. Slowly, with great focus, she could feel the air move around them as he lay her down upon the now soaked bathtowel. It was so dark she could barely make out his form hovering over her, hands touching, lips tasting, biting down on a spot on her hip that made her forget to breathe.

"Woman." His almost inaudible query barely penetrated Sigrids mental fog, and she inhaled sharply as something long and velvety hard glided across her lower lips.

"Yes..." she whispered as a hand tangled itself in her hair, the other one lifting her leg as she bore down on his cock, imploding with pressure and knife edged grief and surprised joy as fuck, sweet fucking hell, as Sigid threw a massive mental fuck-you at all the fear and doubt and terror barely kept at bay, waiting at the corners of consciousness.

Panting harshly, Vilkas covered her mouth with his and she forgot everything she ever knew.

************************************

They explored each others bodies in an almost drugged wonder until just before dawn.

After that explosive first impact, they had escaped unnoticed from the bathhouse to one of the larger caves. The tunnels were used almost exclusively by the Companions, Vilkas explained, and the cave he had chosen had a ragged gaping hole almost directly overhead, the glow of starlight enough to see by until morning.

The flood of words he had unlocked from her earlier had slowed to a trickle. But he was, gradually, responding. And in his quiet rumbling as they shared memories, he was removing an armor Sigrid didn't know existed. 

"I don't remember much of anything before Jergen brought us here." He admitted, slowly tracing his fingers up and down the silky smooth underside of her thigh. Vilkas had discovered that she was ticklish in the space behind her knee, and had derived an almost childish glee from making her clap her hands over her mouth as she shook with laughter.

Pride swelled his chest. He had made her laugh. Free and clean, her face finally unguarded and bright like the sun.

"Did you ever ask what happened, before Jergen went to fight?" Sigrid turned away from him, guarding her legs with an impish grin as she pulled one of the drying cloths they had stolen over her hips. Lips quirking, Vilkas pulled her into his arms more tightly.

"No. As a child, I was in awe of Jergen and Skjor, great veterans of the war. Especially Kodlak. I saw no reason to ask until much later, and by then the chance was long gone." He smoothed the tangled nest of her hair away from her shining eyes. "Farkas...we are closer than I think we would have been, merely as brothers. As shield brother, he has protected my back for many years, as I have him." He sighed, eyes going distant as he moved slightly away. "All these years, and nothing has come between us, until now." 

Frowning, Sigrid pulled the fur more snugly around her. She didn't want to examine the anxiety suddenly bubbling in her gut when Vilkas pulled apart from her. Dammit, not even the morning after and he was regretting it all. 

Did she regret sleeping with him? 

It bore examination later. But what had they been discussing. 

Ah. Farkas. 

Suddenly, his stony glares during her training sessions with his hulking brother made more sense. Oh Dibella...he had been jealous.

"Vilkas," Sigrid spoke slowly. His face remained impassive as she drew closer to him. Her small hand slowly glided over the arc of his hipbone, walking slowly to his stiffening half-erect member. "I think..." she grasped him, his throat bobbing as she slowly lowered herself to glance up slyly behind a reddish mass of locks. Frozen in place, he didn't dare to move.

"...You..." her tongue swiped a line from base to tip "...Are..." He arched his neck, throat cording in silent bliss as her mouth enveloped him.

"...a skeever shit." She nipped at his foreskin, dancing away with laughter as he hauled himself on his elbows to stare incredulously at her.

"...and an idiot." She primly cross her arms, hip jutted at an angle. "You'd best explain yourself," he grunted fiercely as he wrapped his hand around her ankle and pulled her, laughing, into his lap.

"If you truly regret this," she sighed, leaning heavily against his shoulder. "Then I will be sad, but I understand. This has been...really sudden. For me as well. But..." she turned slightly only to see his face in profile, stoically fixed upon the skylight filled with stars. 

"Well..." her fingers slowly entwined with his, stroking his unresponsive hands. "I have to say, Farkas is not at all my type. So if he has been interested in me, he is out of luck. Though I doubt that's the case."

His grey eyes thawed from steely ice into something almost warm. "Woman." He cleared his throat, removing his hands from hers. "We should return to Jorrvaskr before sunup."

Disappointed, Sigrid sighed. She should have known that...all this... was far more one sided on her part. He was beautiful and wild, his body scarred and perfect. 

And though her form had been refined, like ore into a weapon, she turned away to shield the view of her own stretch marks still visible upon her belly. 

Would he still have chosen to speak with her like this, had she not chosen to bathe alone so late last night?

"We should." Slowly standing, she winced as blood rushed into the raw parts of her womanly center. Ambivalence wasn't a mental space she was familiar with; Sigrid had preferred to think in black and white long before, when she had been merely Sarah. 

But it had been like a dream. A good dream. 

Where would they go now, with this?

Looking at him as he stretched to his full height, lit only by the light of the stars, he felt as cold and distant as before. 

He had been inside her, under and over her...had even mentioned the memories he barely remembered himself. 

But still...they were strangers to each other.

Holding each others gaze, they left separately to return to their respective quarters. Sliding silently into her furs, she was grateful for once that the nightly ritual of drinking at the fireside kept her fellow warriors dead to the world. 

When Njada Stonearm complained at breakfast about the water that some inconsiderate ass had splashed all over the floor of the bathing room, Sigrid caught Vilkas' eyes and flushed until her freckles disappeared. 

 

Chapter Text

Agent Sanyon of the Third Aldmeri Dominion truly despised the province of Skyrim. Every frozen river splashing into his boots, every smelly beast that beset his subordinates and slowed their patrols to a crawl. Every Nord.

 Stubborn, knuckle dragging blasphemers. He couldn't stand the sight of them. 

Sighing as he readjusted his hood, Sanyon was approached by one of his scouts. Flanked by the two of his battlemages, she gestured to her burden. "Report." He barked. They had just returned from their survey of the wilderness surrounding Lake Ilinata. Sanyon's instincts had not been proven wrong yet - he was eager to find what he knew must be a hidden Shrine of Talos in this forsaken wilderness.

 "This may be something of note, sir. I've never seen this type of craftsmanship before." Spreading out the odd assortment of items upon a ledge of rock, the scout stepped back and folded her hands behind her. 

 The Altmer leaned closer, almost unconsciously. Fascinating. 

 Most of the items were mere scraps that hinted at finer orgins, but what remained was intriguing enough.

 One brilliant red tunic, with perfectly symmetrical seams. Material that was more finely woven than any he had previously seen outside of the Summerset Isles. Thick cotton leggings dyed a faded blue, with ridged seams studded with buttons of dwemer design. He lifted a small flap at the opening, only to frown as the small label was written in an unfamiliar script. Curious.

 One device that emitted light when a lever was pressed, of a material he was unfamiliar with. An alien rectangular glass device with a fine web of cracks on its face. He could not decipher its purpose, no matter how long he stood, brows furrowed. 

 And lastly, one finely tooled knife of high quality steel, still in its leather sheath. 

 Sanyon caressed the antler bone handle. This, more than any of the other strange artifacts, proved that the local Nords were up to something. A weapon of Nord creation despoiling what was surely the preserved remnants of a Dwarven cache, treasures long hidden?

 Sanyon smiled grimly, golden eyes narrowed in triumph. He would just have to have a little chat with the residents of the closest community of inbred cave dwellers. The items had been found carelessly kicked under a bush near a stream, the scout explained. There was evidence of a skirmish, with dried blood and disturbed earth leading not far to a small cave. The mages had emerged, appearing slightly nauseated as they explained the contents were surely that of a practicing necromancers dwelling and bodily remains.

 Some lucky snowbacks had escaped what was sure to be a lingering, painful death. Sanyon tapped an elongated finger against thin lips. The presence of the strange devices and obviously worn attire eluded the Altmer. But only for now. It was such an interesting diversion from his normal patrols. 

 The cave with its nearby stream was not far from the dung heap he had overheard the Nords refer to as Falkreath. He was sure the previous owner of the items must have made a glancing impression upon the locals, for the path that led from here could only lead to the most logical conclusion.

 There was something out of the ordinary afoot. Something that, once discovered and delivered to a certain leader of an embassy, was sure to net him at least a promotion.

 Perhaps even a new role further south, away from the boredom of these wretched freezing wastes?

 Sanyon hefted the cracked glass like creation and, prying the back away, could see the fine miniscule geometric craftsmanship therein.

 Promising indeed.

 

************

 

Some people didn't think he was smart. 

 Anyone who was fool enough to mention their opinions soon found the error of their ways, Farkas mused as he observed the newest whelp taking out her frustrations on a wooden dummy.

 But sometimes smarts didn't seem to make much of a difference in the end. Sure didn't seem to be helping his brother out. Instead of his usual spot overseeing the practice in the training yard, today Vilkas was doing rapid sets of pushups in full armor. Unusual. 

 Sniffing the air, Farkas sorted out the smells in the air, singling out his twins unique scent and...

 

Oh. Well thank the gods that finally happened. The scent of lupine musk and sex blending with the lavender oils Sigrid favored hovered around his shield brother, potent enough that Farkas was confident they had finally worked out their differences in a most satisfying way. 

 Although it didn't seem that Vilkas was especially happy. Not like Farkas was, when he had exhausted himself with Carlotta. Sweet, warm Carlotta. He couldn't get enough, some nights. Her sweat perfuming the smoky hut as he covered her mouth with his hand, stifling her moans. Didnt want to wake the child sleeping not twenty feet away in her trundle bed. It made the nights all the more a challenge as the giant man did his damned best to tease out the moans, cries and, his favorite, breathy gasps of his name. No matter how she complained later, he knew he was forgiven when her face relaxed, joy warring with good humored exasperation as she caught sight of him. 

 The corner of his mouth twitched, otherwise his face remained lazy and relaxed. He imagined that much of the gossip spoken around him was due to his inattentive appearance. Tilma prided herself on knowing the inns and outs of the workings of Jorrvaskr, but Farkas felt truly invested in the well being of his fellow warriors. His pack. His family.

 Looking dumb was a good way to hear things, to puzzle out the truth when folks were too wrapped up in their own heads to see a good thing and not pick at it. Like some he could name, Farkas scratched his head thoughtfully as Vilkas swore a foul oath on his last pushup.

 Sweat, desire, lust, regret. Snorting, Farkas shook his head and took a fresh lungful of air to dispel the confusion of scents. Love was easy, when over thinking didn't kill it dead. But then, Vilkas was good at killing things.

 Turning his head back to his student, he sighed and cracked his knuckles. Her form had improved, and Farkas nodded slowly as Sigrids practice sword sharply cracked the wooden beams in quick succession. She dropped the sword after a particularly vicious pommel strike, rapidly punching the burlap head until stuffing flew, floating in the breeze.

 Farkas frowned. 

 Looked like frustration was contagious today.

 

************

 

"Bet you twenty septims they made the beast with two backs last night." Skjor chuckled.

 Aela sighed happily as his fingers stroked through her mane of silky red hair. That newblood was as troublesome as the huntress imagined she might be. 

 Good. Aela stretched languorously as Skjor stood up and began fastening on his wolfs head armor. Things had certainly been dull here before her sudden acceptance into their ranks. Kodlak did have a sharp eye when it came to promising talent. The old man may be wrong about certain other things...

 Heaving a put upon sigh, the huntress donned her armor alongside her mate. Silently working in tandem, they buckled and tightened each other to satisfaction, the work made light by the familiarity of time. Skjor may have been two decades her senior, but the grizzled veteran complemented her in ways that only the weight of years made evident. 

She sighed. And as a were, he was magnificent. Becoming part of the pack had given the drifting, aimless Skjor purpose. In more ways than one, she reflected, memories of countless matings fresh in her minds eye.

Running in freshly fallen snow under the fullness of Secundas light, rolling, nipping at her mates tail playfully...

Kodlak was a fool. But, she amended, a fool who had tired of the hunt. A fool who felt the weight of the gaze of his ancestors from the halls of Sovngarde. She would not begrudge the old man pursuit of his desires; Aela certainly bore her own.

Huffing, she followed Skjor to the main hall, nodding at the awed wave Ria offered and smirking when Athis merely nodded, crimson eyes slitted in calculation. That one had promise.

 Almost as much promise as the skittish, ever smiling stranger. She had never seen a new blood rise through the testings so rapidly...the woman attended to everything she did with a cheerful fervor that was positively infectious, working steadily towards each goal placed before her.

Not always...Aela frowned. There were nights when cries floated down the hallway from the whelps quarters. Mornings after, her usually vibrant hazel eyes turned sad and dull. She would sit on the steps of Jorrvaskr twisting the rings on the amulet she always wore around her neck, rocking slightly.

Her strange moods, flat accent and odd customs (she washed often, with expensive soaps and salves) as well as her burgeoning friendship with Farkas alienated her from her fellow warriors. The jealousy, intrigue and avoidance the others outside the circle felt for the strange one was entirely evident to one who saw with her nose. 

 She smiled evilly. Attraction as well. Slimmed down and hardened by training, Sigrid was still one of the most vital women Aela had ever seen. Few that were unrelated to Jarls ever had the privilege of the soft pale flesh and skin unmarked by wind and sun that Sigrid had possessed at first sight. Even the new creases and freckles on her face bore tribute to the woman's zest for life, apparent to all who viewed the swing in her step, the joy in her gaze as she traipsed up the steps to Jorrvaskr bearing her armfuls of greenery.

Not even Vilkas, who had slept with the better half of Whiterun's available womenfolk, was immune.

Aela had nearly barked a laugh when she had walked into the bathing chambers that morning. Vilkas had not been careful. He should have known that his pack would know instantly with a whiff just what Kodlaks favored pup was up to.

 Aside from running on all fours that is. 

 Feeling suddenly tired, Aela sat at table and bit ferociously into a shank of venison. The twin brothers may have been won to Kodlaks view of things, for now.

 But she had someone in mind that might tip the balance back in Hircine's favor. Sigrid slammed the door as she strode to the table, stuffing bread and cheese into her pack, her features twisted in an uncharacteristic frown.

Raising her eyebrows meaningfully at her mate, Skjor caught on and paused demolishing the heap of roasted potatoes and slaughterfish before him. "Ah, there you are Sigrid. It seems your time has come. A fragment of Wuuthrad has been found."

 Yes, they would eventually see her way of things, Aela mused as the new bloods shock morphed into intrigue and pride. Skjor explained her trial, marking on her map the clearest path to Dustmans Cairn.

Another Companion of the beast blood would certainly make the twins think twice. Aela busied herself with her meal to disguise her glee as Farkas led Sigrid, still quietly asking questions, out to the waiting road. 

Ah, yes. The patient hunter always got her prey.

Chapter Text

"Qiilan us diilon!"

"Hah! A fight!" 

Lifting her sword with leaden arms, Sigrid stumbled after Farkas as he rushed headlong into battle. Shadowed tunnels crept with draugr, shambling slowly to where the Companion and whelp held them at bay.

 

As her sword slashed, ripped and tore at the tough mummified hides of the undead, Sigrid felt heavy, limbs held fast by quicksand. A pleasant numbness had stolen over her, which made it all the easier to lunge and thrust her sword into a charging Silver Hand warrior.

His wild war cry cut off with a gurgle as jets of crimson blood pumped out of his severed neck, the man dropping jerkily to the floor like a broken doll.

There was no time, and no sensation left in her limbs as she calmly uncapped and swigged a stamina potion. Wincing at the sour juniper tang, Sigrid spun slowly searching for any remaining foes, feeling relief as fresh strength coursed through her limbs. Grunting, Farkas pulled his great sword out of the last Silver Hand corpse with a sucking pop.

"All right then?" His face cast in shadow, Farkas slowly approached her, idly cleaning his sword on a fallen warriors furs. 

Blinking up at him in the dim torchlight, the giants mouth suddenly gleamed with a maw sharp with yellowed fangs.

No...another blink, and Farkas' features righted themselves. He peered at her in concern.

"Lets get moving. We're close to the end. Stay sharp." He cautioned as they approached a forbidding door. 

She could hear the rustling of the dessicated dead beyond, and swallowed.

Her first kill, her first real death had been...messy. She had been surprised by the orc, bellowing with greataxe raised as she tore her eyes away from contemplating the draugr scattered on the tomb floor. 

Farkas had held her hair back as she heaved the contents of her stomach up, until nothing but bile remained. She had been driven back by the orcs furious onslaught, barely holding her own until an opening in its guard had her blade biting through the burly olive neck. 

 His bowels had loosed in death, and as she wiped her mouth and grimaced, she could smell nothing but the shit. The sweat of her fear. The dank staleness of the walls closing in on her.

Shit and blood and death.

"First kill, eh." His heavy hand patted her back soundly. "Well done."

Sigrid stared at the head, which looked smaller now that it was separated from the body. White tendons and red gristle dripped ichor as she realized she was looking down what had been the esophagus.

 She had killed, killed a living, breathing being. Her breath came out in shuddering sobs.

 Turning to her with a health potion, Farkas frowned. "None of that. He would have killed you, if you hadn't fought back."

 He handed her the potion and motioned for her to drink up. "Eyes on the horizon, newblood. Don't think about it right now."

 Nodding in agreement, Sigrid stood up, feeling heavy with grief. Innocence lost, never to be regained. There was no going back, only forward. Dipping her hands in the rapidly cooling blood, Sigrid traced the path of tears under her eyes and down her cheeks. Farkas huffed his approval

 First kill. First blood. And now, her first war paint. So much had been lost to her. Now, when and if she cried, she would have to repaint it again, and again. 

 And she didn't, until the end. Coasting on a blank numbness that felt eerily free, Sigrids arms spun whirling blade patterns memorized by countless hours of repetitive practice. Only instead of the straw stuffed burlap dummies and wooden planks, steel tore red gaping wounds in flesh both dried and hale.

 She felt a faint perk of surprise when (she should have remembered this was coming) Farkas shifted, bones and muscles snapping and popping as they coalesced into something monstrous and black as night.

 He made short work of the Silver Hand who had taunted him, surrounding him with a ring of razored steel and arrow tips. Massive paws, killer claws for the feed, Sigrid thought dumbly as the werewolf emitted a bellowing roar, mouth jutting with fangs the size of her fingers as huge swipes from clawed limbs took them down, fast.

 Disney had no part in this. Fear trickled past the barriers of her mind as she reflected on the Companions questline. If she could prevent the deaths of those she had begun to consider family....

 Would Skjor, and Kodlak still die? Was she going to be forced to partake of the beast blood to save Kodlaks soul? 

 Gods, there had to be a better way.

 She bet transforming hurt like a bitch.

She waited in stunned silence, war paint ruined and streaked in fresh blood smears as Farkas leapt into the shadows, returning moments later as a man. 

"I hope I didn't scare you." She noticed he was keeping his distance, and a part of her appreciated that. 

Feelings returned with a vengeance later, as she leaned shakily over the stone table where rested a small chip of ancient steel. The fragment of Wuuthrad. Her trial borne, her passage into the ranks of honor and valor assured.

Why did she feel such foreboding? The freedom from sensation had been so refreshing. She didn't want to examine her feelings, any feelings, about what had transpired today, or in the past week. The sweet aches that randomly tightened her vaginal walls were slowly disappearing. And, she reflected sadly, so was she from his notice as well. Vilkas hadn't even glanced her way when Skjor had announced to all the trial of her proving.

No. None of that.

Her sword had taken the lives of twenty three men and women. Silver Hand, torturers, no better than bandits.

But, she amended, living things. That had met their end (screaming, gurgling, choking on blood) at her hand.

The dried husks of draugr piled on the floor where they fell, sometimes two or three deep. Farkas didn't even look winded. The big man was eyeing the edge of his blade, testing it with his thumb and sighing in dissatisfaction.

Scooping up the fragment, she wrapped it carefully in a clean scrap of linen and secreted it away in her pack.

In the corner of her eye, Sigrid saw that the back wall was actually a Word Wall, deeply grooved and etched in the clawed script of the dragons. Faint blue light glowed, then faded, glowing brighter as she approached as if in a dream.

"Hey there, you going to throw up again?" Farkas called out.

She drew nearer, transfixed by an awful certainty that her mind begged to be disproved. As she placed a shaking hand on the stone, the last of the adrenaline flowed out of her veins, only to be replaced by terror as a low rumbling chanting reached her ears.

No.

No, it couldn't be. Not her.

She wasn't even from this fucking world.

The voices roared in a triumphant crescendo as rushing winds were absorbed into her stunned form. Fire licked at the corners of her mind, wreathing her thoughts in death, war and dragonflame.

 Yol.

 Shaking, Sigrid turned to her shield brother who stood, head cocked and eyes narrowed, looking her over for visible injuries. 

"Its...nothing." She drew in a lungful of stale crypt, then breathed out an exhausted sigh.

"Didn't seem like nothing going just now." Damn it all. He wasn't going to let her get away without an explanation.

And what was she supposed to say? 

Hey, so it turns out I may be your cultures version of a soul eating Superman who fights literally by yelling weird shit.

That would go over so well.

"I don't want to talk about it." Tears leaked out despite her best efforts to hold to them back (God, she was such a weakling). Not a day, and her blood paint was ruined by a milk drinkers weak, womanly tears. So full of shit. No way she was Dovakhin. Dragonborn. Savior of Skyrim. 

Sigrid had barely survived her first dungeon crawl, and now this? If the powers that be thought she was ready for Blackreach, much less a dragon fight, they would have to wait.

"I mean it, Farkas!" She snapped as he pulled back his outstretched hand, looking hurt. "I am so done. So done. This is all shit. I just..." she sniffed, feeling her features crumple into what was surely an epic ugly cry face. Great.

"I just want to go home!" She wailed, illusions of self control be damned as Farkas' warm bulk surrounded her in a hug. She was getting tears and snot along with bits of dried guts all over his furs, but he didn't look like he minded. He stunk to high heaven himself.

"Nothing makes sense, Farkas." She sobbed like a child as he awkwardly patted her back.

Minutes later, her tears finally ran out and she sat on the steps overlooking their handiwork of death, numb once more. Dimly she realized that they were both filthy, coated in dust encrusted gore, with slashed rents in their furs. She realized she was bleeding from half a dozen shallow cuts, and was faintly thankful the Silver Hand had not favored poisons.

"Come, then." Farkas stood with a sigh. "You did well. It's time to return to Jorrvaskr." Squeezing her shoulder, his solemn dirt streaked face broke into a slow smile.

Sigrid patted his hand. In the echoing chamber of her silenced mind, weak gratitude eased out, taking the edge off of the bone deep weariness that rode her. 

She shot him a tiny grin back. She had done it.

Sigrid was now a Companion.

*******************

Golden sunlight painted the worn wooden shingles of the roofs yellow. The mountains that cradled the vast tundra that housed Whiterun Hold also glowed, finer and more precious than gold in the fading light of day

This was his home, Vilkas reflected with a swell of pride as he stood at the steps overlooking the Wind district.There was no place more worthy, no hall more valorous in Skyrim than this. 

A pale moon, fingernail thin, rose slowly from the jagged horizon. Wincing, Vilkas alternated squeezing his fists and clenching his feet within their steel reinforced boots. Damn, but resisting the call of the blood was far more difficult than he imagined it would be.

The smallest things reminded him of his loss. Snow glinting from mountaintops brought back the exhilaration of running through fields of winter snowfall, ice crunching beneath his paws. And the unsatisfactory fights he had picked with Hrongar among others had done nothing to cool the fire in his blood. He swallowed, remembering the graceful ease of dagger like claws ripping tearing through flesh and mail alike, hot spurting blood fresh and iron rich, swallowing, rending...

Normally, seeing the work of his fists gasping and bloodied beneath him at least made him crack a smile.

But smiling any smile recalled her, which just would not do.

He had even, after walking past the drying bundles of herbs and flowers hung in the new bloods quarters, taken Saadia to bed again. Among the women he occasionally visited when the need struck, the Redguards sultry smile and come-hither air had required hardly any coaxing at all. On hands and knees, stripped to all her dark loveliness she had glanced behind with a knowing smile as he divested himself of his armor. 

He didn't care at all, he told himself fiercely as he chased away the image of pale freckled skin with Saadias velvety cunt and cries of pleasure, finding his own release more rapidly than he would have liked. 

He had no further desire to stay, though the Redguard woman cajoled and teased, fingers torn away as he strode back to the streets of Whiterun. Back to Jorrvaskr.

No matter that the beast burned within him, still.

If it was truly his wolf, and not the man. Grimacing, he continued searching the roads for the arrival of his twin and what would be the newest Companion, if she had survived her trial.

Not that he cared. Because he didn't.

As sun dipped low and light faded, stars slowly appeared, twinkling in the vast expanse of sky. Two figures slowly trudged their way up the steps towards him, reeking from here of grave-rot and body odor.

Damn. His eyes narrowed, taking in the fragment clasped tightly in hand, fresh blood painted on her proudly impassive face. Blooded, tested and triumphant.

Looked like she was his shield sister, after all. 

******************

"Come. We've been waiting for your return." 

All she wanted, Sigrid sighed mentally, was a shower and a bath. A hot bath. What she wouldn't give for a modern washing machine, to have the luxury of throwing all the stenchy underclothes and furs into a herculean spin cycle and forget about it all.

But Farkas prodded her onwards, and so she followed Vilkas.

 He led them past the freshly lit torches upon the rock path to the training yard, where everyone had been gathered. Even Tilma stood, weathered face splitting in a grin as she caught sight of Sigrid and Farkas approaching.

Smiling in welcome, Kodlak Whitemane stood without support in full wolfshead armor. Swallowing trepidation, Sigrid stood at attention as Farkas took his place next to his twin. Aela nodded at her. She nodded back in a bob of her head, aware that many of the eyes around her reflected the light rather than absorbed it. 

Like animals.

"Brothers and Sisters of the Circle..." Kodlak intoned. "Today we welcome a new soul into our mortal fold. This woman has endured, has challenged and has showed her valor."

With grand sweep of his arm, the Harbinger called out, "Who will speak for her?"

Farkas stepped forward. "I stand witness for the courage of the soul before us." He did not smile, but his eyes warmed as they glanced at Sigrid. 

She hoped barfing all over his boots still qualified her as brave.

"Would you raise your shield in her defense?" Kodlak stood tall.

"I would stand at her back, that the world might never overtake us." 

"And would you raise your sword in her honor?" The Harbinger queried.

Farkas nodded. "It stands ready to meet the blood of her foes."

"And would you raise a mug in her name?" Sigrid noticed Athis and Ria shifting on their feet, looking distinctly uncomfortable. Torvar, seemingly less drunk than usual, met her gaze, with no aggression for once. 

Farkas continued in practiced tones. "I would lead the song in triumph as our mead hall reveled in her stories."

"Then this judgment of this Circle is complete." Her chest swelled with pride as Sigrid looked around the faces, solemn and strong, surrounding her. 

 "Her heart beats with fury and courage that have united the Companions since the days of the distant green summers." Kodlak's voice rose and fell, deep and strong. She relaxed minutely. He wasn't going to keel over anytime soon, at least. Despite how frail he seemed, compared to the others.

 "Let it beat with ours, so the mountains may echo and our enemies may tremble at the call." Kodlak gestured in finality, face cast in the flickering shadows of torchlight.

 With a rumbling echo, the Companions of Jorrvaskr saluted, clapping right fists to left shoulders. 

"It shall be so."

At a nod from the old Harbinger, Sigrid stepped shakily forward and deposited the fragment of Wuuthrad in his waiting hand.

Judgement complete, the others slowly melted away, talking quietly amongst themselves. A few, such as Aela and surprisingly, Athis, came forward to congratulate her. 

Clasping shoulders in the Nord way, she tamped down her feelings of inadequacy. She was going to enjoy the moment, no more. She had few reasons to celebrate, but this had to qualify, didn't it?

She'd think about the Word Wall later.

“Well, girl, you’re one of us now. I trust you won’t disappoint.” Kodlak stepped forwards when the rest had disappeared. She could make out, from the corner of her eye, Vilkas and Farkas speaking softly in the shadows. Oh no.

"So..." There was no helping it. She'd have to ask now, or risk suspicion when she showed a marked lack of surprise at her later induction into the beastblood. "You are all werewolves?"

Kodlak hmmphed, his creased brow furrowed. "I see you’ve been allowed to know some secrets before your appointed time. Yes, it’s true. Not every Companion, no, only members of the Circle all share the blood of the beast. Some take to it more than others." 

The Harbingers eyes followed the broad back of Skjor, who was laughing at something Aela was demonstrating. 

Damn and double damn. Was she pretending to vomit?

It looked like some stories were going to be told earlier than Sigrid would have liked. It was nice while the peace lasted, she thought depressedly. Soon, all the Companions would be laughing about her weak stomach.

Eyes on the horizon, she reminded herself. "What do you think of all this, Harbinger?" 

Like she didn't know.

"Well, I grow old. My mind turns towards the horizon, to Sovngarde. I worry that Shor won’t call an animal warrior as he would a true Nord warrior. Living as beasts draws our souls closer to the Daedric lord, Hircine. Some may prefer eternity in his hunting grounds, but I crave the fellowship of Sovngarde." 

Kodlaks gaze grew distant. "But," Sigrid prodded, "...Isn't there a cure?"

His rheumy eyes blinked. "Yes, but it’s no easy matter. But you don’t need to share the worries of an old warrior. This day is to rejoice in your bravery, and speak to Eorlund for a better weapon than..." He gestured with a wry twist of lips. "Well, whatever that is."

 She hefted her blood stained steel sword and for the first time that day, really grinned. 

 

Chapter Text

Leaning against one of the massive carved wooden pillars of Dragonsreach, Sigrid counted the logs in the massive firepit.

Sixteen big logs and twelve small ones.

Oh, she could count them again, she sighed with boredom. She had already counted the designs in the woven carpet, well, the bits visible beneath the massive tables and chairs.

But Proventus Avenici the steward was still arguing with that blowhard, Hrongar. Unlikely that a spat between those two would resolve itself anytime soon.

In and out. Get the bounty, drop it off at Jorrvaskr, and I'd have the whole afternoon free! Sigrid murderously caressed her spare dagger. Aela could be a literal bitch sometimes.

Bet she simply didn't want to wait around, as Sigrid was doing now...waiting. Interminably. Forever. Waiting.

Companions little errand girl, she thought with a huff of derision. Glorious valor, her ass. Not that the jobs were much better for the others in the Circle. Skjor and Vilkas were off guarding some rich merchants caravan of goods. Farkas had been called upon to settle an argument about land rights between farmers as a kind of warrior liaison.

Even Athis and Ria had been sent off to kill some sneak thief who was stealing chickens in Rorikstead. Probably Falmer were to blame. And she, newblood no more, was stuck clearing bandit camps and cashing in the bounties. 

And all their stuff. So much stuff.

Adrianne Avenicci was starting to greet her by name, as her best customer and newest trainee. Sigrid had successfully sold the designing rights and mercantile patents (who knew, right?) of her wreath making enterprise to Carlotta Valentia. The fellow widow was thrilled for a chance to earn hard money, and had agreed upon a percentage of earnings to belong to Sigrid.

Who in turn, put every last septim right into her martial training and remedial smithing skills. Instead of wandering the tundra cutting blooms, Sigrid could now be found hammering at Eorlunds precious Skyforge or, more rarely, repairing bloody finds at Warmaidens forge.

She worked hard, late into the evening until the coals of the forge provided her only light. Sweat soaked her back and streaked her brow. Hammering, sharpening, tanning, it was all necessary and with grim focus she learned it all.

Maximum effort. Deadpool would be so proud.

Not that there was much to show for it, as of yet. The cold bite of autumn was growing noticeably in the Wind District, and business was brisk for fur pelts and wool. Her savings were still pitiful...only about a thousand septims that neatly rotated into fixing constantly destroyed armor, weapons and training fees.

Septims may be the root of all evil, but even evil had its day. With a generous bribe (and coercion on her part) she had convinced an unamused Vilkas to hire on the beggar girl Lucia as Tilmas assistant.

Tilma the Haggard was now Tilma the Well Rested. With a sweet roll for Sigrid whenever she saw her. And Lucia, clean and growing plump on Tilmas generous portions, waved at her each time she passed the dining hall.

Not that she'd had to twist Vilkas's arm, much. Sigrid shifted awkwardly. Things had been strained between them, with one word answers and hardly any willing interaction at all.

He still watched her during the morning training sessions, ghost grey eyes tracking every move until she squirmed self consciously.

But he never commented to correct her form. Never touched her. Sigrid had the impression, at times, that he was working up the nerve to say something to her.

Her lip curled. She'd given him enough of her time and tears.

She traced the flaking blood on her cheeks.

Let him stew. Alone.

Idly drumming her fingers on a chair, she rewarded Dagny with a smirk as the little brat glared imperiously at the Companion.

A hooded figure stalked out of the mage Farengars quarters. Wait, wasn't that...

She stood taller, thoughts of teasing Dagny forgotten.

Shor's manly tits, it was Delphine. 

Oh, she reflected as she ran to the mages room, bounty forgotten. This was bad. Very bad.

With an unmanly yelp, the pompous mage lurched back as Sigrid dove at his table, frantically clearing pots of ink, quills and scrolls to reveal the Dragonstone.

Ignoring his protestations, she scanned the translations the Breton Blade had left, grateful for the nights spent laboriously learning the written tongue of Tamriel.

Athis had been a spiteful, unbending teacher, but at last she had been deemed a barely adequate scholar, at least in the Dunmers view.

Shit. Shit shit shit. Dragons were coming back from the dead.

She knew what would come next. Irileth stomped over.

"Farengar! You're needed at once. A dragon has been spotted over circling the western watchtower."

"Really? What was it doing?" With a dirty glare and a harsh push out of his quarters, the court mage practically tripped in his eagerness to get up the stairs after the Jarls bodyguard.

Sigrid stood, chewing her lips in thought.

Mirmulnir would not wait for her to gain Jarl Balgruufs trust. Obviously, Delphine had raided Bleak Falls Barrow. Which meant the timeline was changing yet again. 

Which meant she could not fall behind.

Checking her stock of healing potions and her array of weaponry, the newest Companion headed off to fight a dragon.

Finally...something exciting. Terrifying (shit, a dragon, she prayed she was prepared enough) but something she could prove to be proficient at, to herself, if no one else. Her pace quickened.

Aela was going to be so jealous.

**************

"By the gods...you're Dragonborn!" The surviving guard of the western watchtower squawked. The other Whiterun guards (some still smooth cheeked and far too young for this) cautiously gathered around Sigrid in awe.

The show was over, Sigrid thought wearily. It had been a real fight. She could still see in her minds eye (and her future nightmares) the guards feet kicking weakly as he disappeared down the dragons gullet. But persistent slashes and chops had finally worn him down. Mirmulnirs bones were all that remained, still steaming from their otherworldly flesh stripping spell.

Whatever that was.  Perhaps a byproduct of the dragons resurrection? Ash to ash, bone to bone?

Yet another question for Paarthurnax, once she made it up to the summit of the Throat of the World. Not that he would love her for killing his fellow dovah, but then not everyone elected to live in peace.

Some chose to burn.

"Yes, Dragonborn. So it would seem." She sighed, then coughed, smearing ash and sweat even further into her hair.

'Yol' had seared from her with an acrid blast of flame, leaving a numb tingling on her lips. She thought dispassionately that the trail of fire had burnt at least twenty feet from where she stood, still smoking at the grassroots. Good to know her limits.

Sniffing at a clump of burnt hair, she wrinkled her nose and took off, heedless of the whispering guards.

Arcadia was making a fortune off selling Sigrid her herbal hair tonics and creams. After her first few months of bathing every other day, Aela had pulled her aside one spring morning and informed her that her odd cleansing habits made her seem...overly preoccupied with cleanliness. 

Most Nords washed their bodies twice monthly, at best. Sometimes right before festivals, she also noticed a dearth of body odor as well, so obviously she wasn't the only one who cared. 

Yet she understood...the labor of washing the thick woven garments, underthings and furs was such that it was put off until one could put it off no longer. Laundry day was a big, fat pain in the ass, often accompanied by the forlorn wails of children as they were forcibly dunked as well. 

And some abstained all year round. Sigrid gave them a wide berth. Torvar, for instance, had a miasmic yeasty cloud that followed him.

Rather like Pigpen from Charles Schultz's Peanuts cartoon. She wouldn't be surprised if he had flies buzzing around him as well, but she never drew close enough to find out.

Practicality won over fastidiousness, and now Sigrid stuck to a weekly ritual of cleansing that she anticipated with gusto.

The bathing cave having lost its appeal of late, she had asked Aela if there was a fresh spring or waterfall near enough that it wouldn't be a burden, but far enough away that being spied upon was unlikely.

And boy, Aela had delivered. She had discovered a craggy outcropping of rock behind the massive base of Dragonsreach beyond the city walls.

Partially shielded by bushes, there was a cold but clean stream of water that fell ten feet into a deep quiet pool ringed with ferns and mosses. Peaceful. And private.

When Sigrid called out for the huntress to join her, Aela had scoffed at first. Didn't a healthy layer of dirt hide scent from prey? She wouldn't give up any advantage when stalking elk or bear.

But after watching Sigrid splashing merrily in the waters, skin pinked and glowing, the huntress deigned to swim and became hooked. They now took turns weekly washing their hair and keeping watch for unwanted guests.

Sigrid found after a few weeks that shivering in the glacial water had improved her tolerance for cold. Not that she'd ever approach Nordic immunity, ever (how did they do it?) But she felt confident that the winter storms she dreaded would not be the hardship she feared.

The weekly ritual dip also increased her strange friendship with the descendent of Hroti Backblade. Sigrid knew she was being weighed and measured. The huntress often joined Sigrids jobs without asking, surprising her with questions about Farkas...even teasing her with references to Vilkas, which made her cough and blush up to her hairline.

Goddamn nosy bitch. Not that there was anything Vilkas related to speak of...it had been a full month at least since her initiation into the Companions. She had seen him once talking with Ysolda at market. She had been laughing coyly as he whispered something in her ear. She felt a pang of longing. That ship had now sailed.

For such a close knit group of fighters, drama seemed to crop up more often than she would have expected. Oblivion broke loose when Aela discovered Sigrids knowledge of the Circles true nature.

Abandoning stealth, she outright demanded to know what Sigrid thought of the Harbingers plans. 

Nearing the green edged waters of the hidden falls as the sun set, Sigrid sighed. Aela had been furious when she replied that she had no intention of becoming a werewolf.

She had not seen her since. Another that Sigrid had considered a friend, lost. 

Beginning to strip off the rank, smoky layers of leather and fur, she turned sharply at the careless snap of wood.

Where a moment before had been nothing but empty space there was a hooded and cloaked Altmer. He stood smiling in triumph, flanked by four cronies.

His almond amber eyes glittered brightly in the dying sun.

"Ahh, Sarah I presume? How marvelous to finally meet your acquaintance. Anytime, gentlemen."

Frozen by the sound of her old name, she reached for her blade lying in the grass when she heard more than felt a sharp blow to the side of her skull.

Stumbling, her thoughts spun stupidly with pain. Sigrid could feel herself falling ever so slowly as her sight dimmed, blackened.

Then, finally, there was only silence.

Chapter Text

The month of Hearthfire after the newest Companion had been tried and found worthy to join their ranks was not one of Vilkas' finest.

 

Farkas was disappointed in him. His brother rarely spoke, never so much as hinted at the night he had lost all self control and filled the bathing cave with the careless scent of sex. Vilkas had few rules, but one had had adhered to all his life had served him well: never sleep with a fellow Companion. He had heard enough bard tales of familial dischord to have no trouble keeping Jorrvaskr apart. Until now, that is.

Sex was like an itch that had to be scratched. A bodily function, like thirst or hunger. He allayed it at will, with little thought after. He made no promises and said no goodbyes. The Companions were family enough, and at times it was all he could do to keep his closest friendships from imploding. 

He loved his brother. The larger twin had always, in Vilkas' mind, been the better man, even the better warrior, for he fought methodically and calmly as in all things. Kind, patient and solid as stone. Ever since they were pups, Farkas had been larger, slow enough in response to adults that they had clucked their tongues and branded him an oaf. But Vilkas, small and ferocious even as a boy, had constantly scrapped with the town children over the question of his brothers intelligence. 

The quiet censure he found in the grey eyes that mirrored his own troubled him still.

He had been impressed against his better judgement, the armsmaster mused as he continued running laps in the predawn light. Sigrid's perseverance and dedication did her credit. She had come a long way from the trembling, plump female crudely fitted in throwaway gear. As he had observed her in the practice yard, she had grown graceful with the ease of long practice, movements almost like a dance in their cadence.

 

And although he knew he had no right, not after how he had ended things, the shape of her in that armor made him sweat.

 

Evidently she had overcome her fears in the draugr's lair. His twin had described the blank, stone-faced expression Sigrid wore as she efficiently put down all the Silver Hand in her way, falling apart only later when safety allowed. Dealing death made its mark on the most hardened soldier. She had watched Farkas' back and protected him well enough. Had passed trial, and as Kodlak's deep voice spoke the welcoming edda, he looked upon her stoic and dirty face with well concealed pride.

Though he did not understand the icy vacuum of silence she battled in, for simmering rage fueled Vilkas in most things. 

Especially when it came to matters of the heart. Restlessness plagued him, tied to a deep seated ache that Vilkas blamed on his promise to Kodlak. He had not assumed the guise of his beast these last few months.

It had not been without effort.

 

Throwing himself into the workings of Jorrvaskr was less than helpful. Tasks that had been satisfying and necessary had become stultifyingly boring. Ledgers were balanced in speed and with less care than usual. His students avoided him on and off the training field, wary of his quick temper. And he found himself, more often of late, pounding his frustrations into the gravel road, running laps until he finally tired. 

And always, the newest Companion was absent. When seen flitting around the hall, she walked head down and quickly, with no smiles for any save Farkas, and sometimes Tilma and the girl she had browbeat him into hiring.

He had almost drawn out that discussion, merely to have an excuse to be close to her. Like, he scoffed at himself, a boy pulling at a girl's hair for attention.

Vilkas may not have agreed with his Harbinger, but he would follow orders. Holding back the transformations was like meat stuck in his craw, uncomfortable, but he would endure.

But no matter how he slaked his lust with the comely females of Whiterun, Vilkas could not outrun the twisting worm of dissatisfaction nesting in his own heart.

 

And of course, the old man noticed.

Kodlak Whitemane was mere months from being bedridden, he thought with some sadness as he brought two mugs and a bottle of spiced wine down to the Harbingers private rooms. And yet he was still perceptive, for one who spent his days in his rooms poring over books.

"Ah, there you are son." No matter how many men he had fought in combat or beasts he had slain, Kodlak had always called him that. Or in a more chiding tone, boy. Warming with his masters regard, Vilkas sat heavily in the seat offered to him and poured the wine for them both.

"I worry," Kodlak began with a sip of wine, "of the many nights spent away from the hall of late." 

Vilkas felt his skin heat beneath his warpaint. "Training only eases the urge to transform so much." He took a measured drink. "Inns and taverns are a welcome diversion."

"Come on now boy, you know what I mean." Kodlak's creased eyes bore down, seemingly into Vilkas soul. He shifted uncomfortably. Damn, he never had supposed the Harbinger would want to talk about...this.

Vilkas sighed. "My blood runs hot, of late."

"So it does." Kodlak hmmed, drumming his fingers idly on a weathered volume. "You have the true heart of a Nord, Vilkas. But even the bravest of men consider their actions."

Averting his eyes, Vilkas took a long pull of wine, foreign spices tingling his nose. "I...Harbinger, are you certain this is the conversation you wish to pursue?"

The old man's chair creaked as he laughed quietly. "You know, I was a young blood once. Hard to believe, I know. And I discovered in my youth that when it comes to women, as with war, brave hearts beat lesser ones."

Vilkas blinked. Of all the turns this conversation could have taken, he was receiving...advice. 

Kodlak continued, seemingly not noticing the Companion's silent misery. "Also with women and war, the underhanded and honorless may seem to win. Though it is an empty victory." He coughed, sipping at his wine with evident enjoyment. "So, boy, how have your conquests been of late?" Pouring more wine, Kodlak eased back and viewed the very-uncomfortable warrior with some amusement. 

Well. Damn. It seems Kodlak’s aged nose was still sharp, after all.

"If you're referring to that...that thing with Sigrid," he began awkwardly, only to have Kodlak wave him off. "Don't, Vilkas. I know enough of that particular battle." He sighed. "What I'm getting at, young man, is this. Do these nightly encounters make you a better man? A better warrior, desiring to protect and defend?"

Kodlak finished his wine in a smacking gulp. "Or do you feel ensnared, doubtful? Does this lessen you?" The elderly wolf tapped his chest. "A good woman is a sheath to your sword, son. You guard her, adore her and she gives all the richness of life in return. But," Kodlak's mouth turned down. " ...a witch will take, and take...until you realize you have been brought to ruin by the very thing you sought to cherish."

Vilkas relaxed slightly, frowning in thought. 

Ysolda's gentle reminders had eventually borne fruit. Vilkas had finally brought her a mammoth tusk, and the reward had been memorably pleasant, if not quite satisfying. Nights ended with her soft pleas for him to stay, sometimes with weeping. Ysolda would accuse him of unfairly taking advantage of her. Which left Vilkas, as he cleaned up and left the lovely Nord with her arms folded tight, unsure of what exactly it was she expected of him.

Saadia was no better. Every time he dared drink at the Bannered Mare, she would be there at a ready arms length, smiling seductively and leaning over so that he would not miss the deeply cut bodice she always wore (for him alone, she had chuckled richly). The Redguard had some truly exotic ideas for the bedroom. Which, although enticing at first, had quickly become tedious as he grew weary of her strident demands to be choked, teased, and spanked.

It was nothing like it had been with her. Sigrid...Sarah had been genuine from the start. His cock stiffened slightly at the remembrance of her need, driving him mad from the smell alone. That night, the thought of leaving had not occurred until the dim light of dawn had encroached upon his awareness.

"Fear does not become us, Vilkas." Kodlak restoppered the spiced wine, then leaned forward to place a weather beaten hand on the armsmaster's knee. "And a true Nord never backs down. I know you will do the right thing."

Stepping out of the drafty rooms and closing the door, Vilkas strode towards the upper stair. And in his chest, buried amidst the snaking nest of doubt and guilt, there fluttered the gentlest sigh of hope.

Chapter Text

They began with simple questions.

"Who are you? Where you you hail from? What is your purpose in the province of Skyrim?"

Over and over. The Altmer voices, male and female, had an upper crust, almost British flair, Sigrid thought. Except that the liquid, mellifluous tones she caught snatches of were distinctly inhuman. She lifted her hand to touch her head, which pulsed like a hammer beating an anvil. Found that she was bound, hand and foot...spread eagled on a wooden slab tilted down, tied with leather strips until she was wide open and vulnerable. Like the Vitruvian Man frozen in time. 

And, with a cool breeze prickling her flesh, she realized she was stark naked.

Weak flickers of firelight ebbed in and out of her vision. Her lips were cracked, dry with thirst. Something was wrong with her vision. Grey cobwebbed shadows chased themselves in her sight, like a hare pursued by a wolf. 

Blinking repeatedly, her eyes watered in the smoke of the dimness around her. A cave, maybe. A room? Barely, she could make out the bulky figures of tables similar to the one she was bound. Then, blackness.

No way to tell. 

In what could have been moments, or hours later as she slumped in her bonds and lost moments of awareness to the dark, something she never thought she'd see again was lifted for her to view.

"What is this? Its purpose? Speak up Nord!"

Straining to focus her gaze, Sigrid saw the shattered glass face of her Samsung Galaxy phone

The modern technology had not borne up well under the Thalmors' experimentation.The case had been pried free, and bits of silicone and plastic had flaked away, leaving depressions filled with grime. 

The glowing orb-like eyes of the Thalmor holding the phone were close, scrutinizing her every reaction. With a shudder of revulsion, she slowly turned her face away.

She was rewarded with a tight slap. "Filthy Nord..." The Altmer hissed, sharp face tight with fury. "In time, your entire race will be eradicated!"

Leaving the dim circle of her visibility, the Altmer's clipped voice rose and fell as he conversed with unseen others.

Feeling lightheaded, Sigrid sagged against her bonds and with dim relief, fell headlong into a deep sleep. 

It would be the last rest for what felt like an age.

 

**************************

A tidal wave of frigid water, hurled from a bucket jerked Sigrid awake from an almost sleep. 

The water running down her face hurts. Feebly she licks the water droplets, tongue darting out. It takes maximum effort to crack her eyes open, and when she does, she wishes distantly that she hadn't. 

Sigrid has not moved from the table they had strapped her to. Distantly, she could hear the rustling of robes as figures paced and murmured quietly, out of reach.

Her hands are the first thing she sees. Curved in a horrid parody of claws, her fingers swollen like purple eggplant — she remembers, vividly, the cracking they'd made as each bone had been broken —curling in on themselves so that the tips of her fingers graze the inside of her wrists.

Three of the fingers of her left hand pulse in agony. That's right...after revealing the other clothes and the lamp that had miraculously survived her entrance into this world, she had been punished for her stubborn refusal to speak. 

She had howled and wept later, when with superheated pincers they delicately peeled off her fingernails. 

And, Sigrid shuddered in the biting cold. They had enjoyed it. Cold, high laughter echoed around her. And though she could not see her tormentors in the dark of her hell, she had regained her vision just enough to wish she was blind.

The body a mere few feet away from her lies limp in its shackles. Bruises of blood pooling on the undersides of pale thighs, arms and neck reveal that Valga Vinicia, her dull brown eyes wide and unseeing, had been dead for some time. Flies buzzed out of her gaping mouth. 

Her friend was missing her fingernails, too. 

Sigrid's feet are no better, as her battered nerves remind her; her blackened toes are bent at awkward angles, her ankles swollen and stiff like iron. The broken bones ache; worse is the spiking agony that throbs with each heartbeat, as if every muscle of her arms and legs is cramping at once, a vicious pain that goes on and on and on.

She was going to die. 

So much for being Dragonborn. Someone else was going to have to aide the poor sods of Skyrim in fighting back Alduin and his forces. Although, an unhelpful voice echoed in her mind, it wasn't as though the powers that be had been dealing favors her way as it was. Look at her now.

At least she could see Bryce and the boys again. If they were even in the Halls of Shor, or Daedra, or sent back to whatever heaven they had to have earned in their brief, precious lifespans. Where they were, she told herself peacefully, she would find them. She would go.

But...wrinkling her mouth, her tenderly swollen lips bleeding with each movement; Sigrid still had something. A secret weapon, yet unused.

The Altmer mage who dared lean over her to display her dead husband's Falkniven knife had shrieked beautifully, over and over, beating the flames from his hood as 'Yol' roared forth from her bloody lips. 

They gagged her with soiled rags after that. 

Time passed on.

 

*****************************

Thump. Pa-thump. Pa-thump. Pa-thump.

Sixty beats per minute. Her heart was slowing. No idea how many hours, days had passed. Time moved impassively, eternally here. 

Only the flame, and the lightning, and the ice to mark the time.

They had been incredibly thorough in their investigations of her person, so much that one female mage had exclaimed with surprise to feel the metal cord of her IUD, her intra-uterine device, still intact deep within her. 

She would, she thought viciously, kill the man who had made her orgasm exquisitely over and over, lightning sizzling from his fingertips delicately touching her cunt as he laughed mockingly over her sweating, furious face. He had counted. She would slice into him as many times as he had violated her.

Kill kill kill. Kill him dead. 

But the woman had been politely distant, for a Thalmor. She had not joined in the laughter at her expense; nor later when they collectively analyzed their findings of the insignificant details of her person and previous belongings. Had even removed the gag, though the woman was wise enough to secure Sigrids face in a vise, forcing her throbbing jaw straight forward and up while performing her analysis. 

Thinking longingly of the fire barely visible in the next room, she lay still and uncaring as the Thalmors questing fingers pulled the copper cord to and fro. She no longer shivered with the cold. Fingers and toes had lost their feeling long ago, she could feel the tendrils of ice snaking their way up her limbs, stealing the very warmth of her blood. 

She would have told the mage every known location of the Elder Scrolls in Tamriel for a drink of water.

"It's..." she coughed weakly "...it's a method of contraception. Birth control."

"How crude." The Altmer sighed. "Of course, we have spells for that type of thing. I guess it does no good to remove it." Long, tapered fingers were wiped quickly on a wrap of linen, and with quick footsteps she disappears.

Breath visible in the cooling air, Sigrid closes her eyes. Devoid of the desire to see, she waits for what must surely come. 

 

**********************

She has nearly finished counting the stones in the shadowed ceiling above her when she hears a very distant scream. Strange. She is not the one screaming, so she tilts her head in mild curiosity. 

Another scream and a great clashing crashing metal noise and abruptly Sigrid feels the stab of forgotten fear, because it is closer than the first sound.

More clashing, more screams and high pitched cries for help, along with a booming discharge of sound that sizzles. She blinks, stunned by the thunderclap of noise echoing around her tomb.

The noises of the metal clamor are so close to her now, maybe even in the same hall as what she knows to be her little stone room she shares with poor Valga. 

Valga, who didn't even laugh at her jokes anymore. Something dripped from her mouth onto the floor. 

Sigrid giggled breathily...drip, drip, drip...

She can hear the man's shouting voice clearer now. 

"Sigrid! Gods, Sigrid! Where are you, woman?"

The man's voice melds with the metallic shings and booming crackle of magic, creating a resounding echo that deafens her, oh she can't think, why can't she think think think...

Sudden silence. The lock on her door rattles—and then it clicks— mildly interested, she looks towards the entryway...

And the door swings open with a clap-bam to reveal a wild eyed giant of a man with beautiful grey-white eyes. Like a huskie, she thinks abstractly. Pretty pretty eyes. The man walks carefully in the room, dripping red dots all over the stone flagged floor. Upon seeing her laid out upon the table, he becomes like a statue. 

"...Sigrid?"

Chapter Text

I would rather be ashes than dust! 

I would rather that my spark should burn out 

in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. 

 I would rather be a superb meteor, 

every atom of me in magnificent glow, 

than a sleepy and permanent planet. 

The function of man is to live, not to exist. 

I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. 

I shall use my time. 

 

'Credo' - Jack London

 ****************

Vilkas wasn't sure, those first few days spiked with loss of sleep and fear, that Sigrid would survive to reach Whiterun.

No one had noticed her absence, until Tilma's apprentice timidly peeped up, asking where Sigrid had gone to, for she was supposed to go over Lucia's letters with her at supper. 

Aela had left earlier that week, snarling under her breath that she was leaving to back up Skjor. Kodlak had merely shaken his head in sadness. Gallows Rock had been a beehive of activity for the Silver Hand for years now...yet the leader of the Circle had yet to give the command to wipe them out, stating that further retaliation against the Hand would only result in more death.

Skjor had reluctantly obeyed, until now. Krev the Skinner was a mighty prize, and the veteran chafed at his inability to avenge the deaths of countless fellow werewolves. Friends, all of them. And where Skjor ran, Aela followed on the hunt.

Who else could go, to look for the woman? Farkas would not return for four days time. Athis and Ria were still nursing wounds gained by clearing out an entire cave of wretched Falmer. Njada had just been called to clear out a bear trapped in some farmers cowpen. And Torvar-

Vilkas frustratedly kicked a snoring Torvar, lying in a puddle of his own vomit. Useless. The sot was not always dead drunk, but to be so unreliable, now, when he was sorely needed...

The Master at Arms would have words with him, later.

Pulling out the ruff of his cloak collar in a furry halo, Vilkas stepped into the deceptively gentle snow, the first of Frostfall. 

It had been two days and three nights, and she had not returned. 

Not away for any job, that he knew of. 

Missing. 

Checking that his massive two handed blade, greater than the height of a child, was strapped securely in its scabbard to his back, Vilkas sniffed the frost cold air, seeking. Finding the thin thread of scent hidden in the tapestry of smells...ghosted with sunshine lavender that was purely Sigrid alone. 

The scent-thread beckoned him outside the city gates. Someone had seen her. Someone would know. The city guards (children barely taken off of apron strings, babbling about a dragon, only the gods knew why) knew nothing, had not seen her enter or leave these last few days. 

Shuffling his gear to lay more comfortably, he huffed a sigh and broke into a steady lope. If he did not quicken his pace, the Nord could cover countless miles this way.

Lavender and sun. Freckled skin. Sleek bark brown hair, whipping around the practice yard in a ragged braid. 

She had called him a skeever shit, yet smiled, afterward.

He'd find her, if he could. 

Snow fell more thickly, clouds shielding a dying sun in a silvery haze.

Only prey waited. 

 ******************************

He had not expected this.

Covered in the syrupy stink of elf blood, Vilkas gaped at the woman, filthy and giggling, strapped to the torture table. 

Barely recognizable. Much less as his shield sister, proud and strong.

With hesitant care, he had unwrapped the swollen sausages of her wrists and ankles. His heart sank when she looked upon him dazedly with no recognition. Blood boiled at the sight of the damage done, greenish-plum bruises and half healed burns marring her skin in a patchwork quilt of pain.

He'd kill them again for that, if he could. 

Vilkas' nose (and persistent stubborn questioning) had led him to the cragfaced Bolund, lumber worker of Falkreath's waterwheel mill. The milk drinker had dared to sneer at her name, in front of the Companion. He smirked. Fisticuffs led to a faster spill of answers, and Bolund -squeaking around his bloody, broken nose - informed Vilkas of the Thalmor troop that had infiltrated Falkreath. 

Imperiously demanding any knowledge of someone named Sarah Ferguson.

It had been the work of another eternal day to track down the decrepit Imperial fortress that had crumbled, like week-old cake, into the surrounding evergreens and rocks. 

Five Altmer. Four mages. A single scout. Unsheathing his greatsword, Vilkas had smiled widely, exposed teeth lengthening, fang-sharp in response to the bug-eyed fear the Thalmor sentinel guarding the door gave. 

Sweet perfume, that fear, beckoning to his inner wolf. 

He'd indulge his craving, this once. 

They had all died too quickly, arcing ice spikes and fire bolts deflected by fur padded steel and quick footwork. Accustomed to finding his way through the maze of tunnels from exploring countless similar fortresses, he flowed through the stronghold like a poisoned river. Relentless. Unstoppable. In pursuit.

The thread of sunshine and lavender grew stronger as he burrowed deep within the bowels of stone.

Vilkas had remained strong, determined to fight like a man, to make Kodlak proud (a Nord never backs down, forward, only forward, damn it where is she) -

- Until he caught it. The scent of her honeyed womanly parts, emanating from the last elf male quaking in his robes before him. Had he -

Steel tore, buckled and ripped as Vilkas had exploded in an agony of fur and fury. Ripping, jaws clenched deep, immovable in the thin golden skin like a hound shaking a rat, he shredded the man into unrecognizable bits. Tooth and claw, rending...until no scent remained but that of sickly sweet ichor. 

Unsated, his claws moved of their own accord as he blindly tore the other bodies to wet shreds. 

 Once he had calmed somewhat, a still-shaking Vilkas fought the wolf down, fought for dominance of his own damn body. The wolf amber eyes bulged, refracting into bloodshot grey irises with pupils blown wide. He allowed black fur to recede into skin, jaws aching as blood tipped fangs sank back into gums like needles, leaving a layer of wet filth on dry lips. 

He had opened the last door, to at last find his prey.

But that sunshine-flecked skin was cold, gods, so cold and she was out of her mind, with the ranting mad glee of a woman who welcomed the grave.

Releasing her bonds, he had closed the eyes, in respect, of the dead Imperial woman who had passed on what smelled like days ago.

Later. He would sent someone back to give her a proper burial later. They would not linger here a moment more.

Grabbing the remains of Sigrids travel pack, he scanned the room. Nothing for it. The priestesses of the Temple of Kynareth back at Whiterun would know what to do for the seeping wounds, the broken bones. They could heal her mind. They must.

Growling in frustration, he gently rolled his burden into his arms, wincing as she shrieked. He knew, knew it was always more painful to be moved than to move oneself, when badly injured.

Nothing more to do. The Companion knew no restoration spells, no magic, barely any healing at all. The potion he had tilted to her lips leaked down the divot of her lip and chin, trickling to the straw covered floor. She didn't swallow.

Vilkas took a deep breath. Keep her clean, dry and warm. He could worry later about whatever damage was done that was not visible to his eyes. Fast, and silent he would be, to take his pack sister home.

Wrapping her in whatever had survived the mindless destruction of his rage, Vilkas trudged slowly with his burden, revealing a world of white-swirling blizzard that howled, howled the twin song of the grey sorrow pounding in his chest. 

She would come back. 

She must.

******************************************

This accursed storm would be her death, if he did not hurry.

Wearily blinking fast to clear the snowflakes clinging to his lashes, Vilkas hefted the weight of the woman in his arms to a more comfortable angle. She was slowly turning paler, her lips tinged blue with the killing cold that blanketed the path. Making it all but impossible to find the way.

Limbs shaking in exhaustion, he lurched to the nearest blur of white edged darkness. A large pine, needles coated in ice. Perfect. 

Slowly lowering the woman, who had been rolled in a forest of fur, down underneath the tree he stretched and pulled the soreness from his aching arms and back. 

Gasping for breath, Vilkas shut his eyes and felt, seeking with the brother wolf that abided in him for the full moon, hidden by storm and snow. For the second time in ages, he willed his body to change. Bones cracked, snapped and popped, glutinous muscle and innards twisting and reforming into fur and claw. 

Vilkas shook his muzzle. Better. 

He'd worry about telling Kodlak later. Surely the old man, after that last gods-awful conversation, would understand. 

Carefully judging the distance, as his eyes were still refocusing to lupine lenses, Vilkas slid his paws beneath Sigrid and cradled her against the blackness of his furred chest. She moaned in pain as her hands bumped his jaw. 

He growled, straining to focus on his goal. It was always a battle for dominance, with the wolf. His wolf wanted to play, to roll in the snow, to feed.

And Sigrid, wounded and bleeding and cold, was fresh meat. 

Snarling at himself, Vilkas held his burden tighter to his chest and ran, ran in great loping strides in the direction his wolf senses revealed to be true north.

Focus.

Chapter Text

Soft, black hair. Musky pine and something rich and wild. 

Sarah snuggled deeper into Bryce's warm arms and sighed, pleasantly numb. She loved it when Bryce came back from chopping wood for the cast iron wood stove. He smelled so, so good. She would tangle her fingers in his thick, dark hair and hold him close, just smelling him. Trees and snow and something that smelt faintly dark and masculine. Like sandalwood. 

"God, I have had the most crazy dream," she murmured, stroking his hair. Chuckled. "I'll have to tell you all about it once I wake up, Bryce. I just need a few more minutes..." Shivering, she hunched closer to the heat emanating from him. Her very own built in water heater, she had once joked. "I'm going to need to cut your hair again, huh?" She wound her fingers lazily in the soft, pettable hair. 

She had stayed out longer than she had thought. Winter in South Dakota started with cold flurries sometimes as early as September, with strong winds that came down to the plains from the north bringing the cold from icy Canada. She loved it, would stay outside wrapped in her afghan with a cup of coffee and just inhale the fresh air, feeling the wind bite into her ears and whip her hair into a horrible snarl. 

But she had overdone it today. Her fingers felt off, somehow, thick and unresponsive. Bryce must be wearing one of his thickest flannels, because everything smelled like musk and sweat and God, what was that stench? Was it her? 

She couldn't open her eyes.

A dog whined, seemingly far away. Sarah frowned. They hadn't had a dog since Tucker died last spring. 

Her legs weren't responding either.

"Bryce?"

***********************************

They were back, the two of them. 

Wow. These were really good drugs.

If, Sarah reasoned, she was hallucinating, then her brain had really good taste. 

She was laying on something soft and raised, high enough that she could see the light sparkle on the water in the circular pools, all lined in an aqua tile. Very Greek. Long trailing plants hung from the ceilings, dangling from pots and planters lining the walls. The air was damp and smelled vaguely herbal. Mint and rosemary and bitterness, like maybe oregano. 

The kind faced woman wearing the weird bathrobe-thing led the two men closer to what had to be her hospital bed, if she wasn't hopped up on Vicodin or Oxycodon or whatever they had given her. Her mind felt pleasantly pillowed, like she wasn't really here. Wasn't that called lucid dreaming or something? When you could interact with the people in your dream, like in that movie Inception?

Awesome.

She didn't feel an I.V. in her wrist, but flexing her hands she could tell her fingers had been splinted and wrapped in...in yellowed bandages?

Damn, they must have made some budget cuts or something here. Sarah wiggled her fingers. It felt like wearing Mickey gloves, that time they had made the amazing mistake of taking the kids to Disneyland. In the summer. God what a mess. 

But little Adam had giggled so hard when she tickled him with the Mickey gloves. Mickey gloves got them through the two hour lines standing in ninety nine degree heat. Seeing the snapshot of the kids and Bryce, mouths open in a scream of delight down Splash Mountain, that had been worth the tears and complaining. Well, almost.

These guys didn't look like they worked at Disneyland.

And really, were they some of those Golds Gym dudes who took steroids on top of a daily five miler? Because she could see the cut and flex of muscle through their rough tunics and pants as they slowly walked closer. The bigger man knelt down, squatting near her bed. The other hesitated, remaining at a distance. 

"Hey there." Big guy scratched his head, pulling long strands of hair out of his face. She could feel the deep bass of his voice rumbling through her as he spoke. "How you feeling?"

Sarah wrinkled her nose. Sensation, rising from someplace buried deep, was slowly returning to her lips, fingers and toes. Itching, prickling...she didn't like it. "You must be one of the orderlies here, right Goliath? Can I get a Coke zero, now that the I.V. has been taken out?" Expending more effort that she thought it would take, she lifted her heavily gauzed hand and tapped him, once, on the chest. "That would be greeaaat..." She grimaced, head thumping back on the hard pillow as she closed her eyes. Whew. Everything was spinning.

Goliath looked at his buddy. "That...didn't make much sense, brother."

The other man sighed in frustration. "None of this does." Footsteps drew closer, then paused.

"Hey. Woman. What do you remember?" 

Woman? What kind of training did they do here at this hospital? How hard was it to call her Ms. Ferguson? Bryce should be here, he must be going to the bathroom. Checking on the kids. God, she couldn't remember just yet why...why she was here.

Car accident? It had to be. Some pile up from that snowstorm. Sarah was always nagging Bryce to leave a little more distance between their Suburban and...and-

Her medical chart should be right there. Sarah looked around, eyes darting around the fantastic spa her belabored mind had created. No chart. 

Just these guys. Wearing those odd tan jogging clothes and moccasins. The one who had moved closer made a pained noise, reaching his hand towards her. She stiffened, something warning her not to make a move. 

Whoa. His eyes were a strange shade of light silvery grey, lightening to polar ice at the outer edges of the iris until the white ended with an unusually dark limbal ring. 

Pretty. 

"Sigrid." His jaw tightened, and he bent closer to her. She could see the roughness of his face where his shadow of a beard was growing in. Deep furrows in his forehead made him look older, tired. "You have to remember. Danica says your mind is...hiding, to protect itself. You must wake. Wake and remember." His breath sighed over her face. Callused fingertips touched her cheek. "Remember us."

Sarah blinked. Sigrid? 

Something about all of this was familiar. Like...like that godawful dream she had been having. It had been so nice (and sexy, ooh Bryce was getting lucky tonight) up until the part where she couldn't wake up. 

"My name is Sarah. Sarah Ferguson." She shivered. "Can I have some more blankets, please? And bring my husband, Bryce, back in here. He should be here somewhere, with a bunch of kids. Please, will you let him know I'm awake?"

The men looked solemn. And sad. Needling fear stole through Sarah as she began to breathe rapidly, quelling the fast-growing panic. Bryce was okay, right? She didn't remember who had been driving, but the kids all had their seatbelts fastened, and...

Shit. They had the look, that look she recognized from her search and rescue calls. The ones that were usually body recovery. The look that said 'Lord, I don't want to be the one to tell them this.'

Someone was dead. Sarah winced as feeling suddenly coursed through her legs and arms, spiking in soaring agony as she seized, almost falling off the bed as her eyes rolled back and her body spasmed, no longer hers to control. 

The guys tried to hold her jerking limbs down, Big Guy calling over and over for someone named Danica. Pretty Eyes was grim, holding her head down carefully and searching her eyes for - something? Bathrobe lady ran over, straight through the decorative tiled pools and god, was that light streaking from her wrinkly hands? 

Warm, welling golden light, soothing the burns, the aches. It hurt so bad, tears leaked from her eyes as she shut them tight, shut away the pain, god the pain, not even giving birth had been like this god god oh god-

 

"Perhaps you wish to confess now what your purpose is here with these Dwarven machinations?" Sanyon idly sipped from a bottle of wine. 

Her cracked lips salivated, eyes tracking every bob of the mers throat. Recorking the wine, the Thalmor agent walked in measured paces towards her. She shifted, struggling, couldn't get away. 

Hell, he wouldn't believe her, even if she did tell him. 

Perhaps he could sense her reticence, even now. Lips thinning, Sanyon lifted a long fingered hand and -

Her back arched, shaking in agony as lightning crackled through the sole of her foot all the way to her spine. 

"If I do that again," The Altmer warned "-then it is likely you may never walk again. Or the lightning will find its way to your heart, stopping it permanently. I would be displeased, as you have told us nothing. Less than nothing."

She tried to wet her lips with the old leather strap that used to be her tongue. Unable to take her eyes off the bottle of wine, the half filled mug of water the other mage had drank from earlier. The barrel in the corner, sloshing with liquid. 

Cupping her face in his hands, she found herself drinking greedily all of a sudden as Sanyon lifted a shallow bowl to her lips. Gasping, head bending forward as he took it away, Sigrid would have cried, if she hadn't already run out of tears. It tasted so good. 

She hated the gratitude she felt, biting back her thanks. 

"Tell me something. Anything, about these objects, and I will give you more. All the water and wine you can drink." Amber eyes, slanted like almonds glittered in the light of the lantern. 

And so she did.

Told him all of it. The camping trip to Yellowstone, the strange transference from her world to Tamriel, death and rebirth and blood and shit. She told him of Valga and her caring hands (damn him), of the unexpected friendship found in the Companions, hours spent making wreaths, something beautiful, the stark wild beauty of Skyrim untainted by industrial pollution or strip mining or nuclear threats.

He didn't believe her. Scoffed at her explanations of the cell phone, how she used it to speak with people thousands of miles away. How chemical reactions powered the batteries he rolled in long thin fingers, lighting the Coleman lamp he held on his lap. How machines now sewed all her peoples clothing, cheaply made by slaves far away.

Stupid. Desperate for water, she knew, knew he wouldn't believe. How could he, a Thalmor, confronted by evidence of a culture superior in magic he had never seen? When the other elven mage came in to trade places, green eyes raking over her nakedness with lustful dominance, she pulled hard at her bindings, hard enough to feel the broken bones grind together, panting in hard fast gasps as no, no stop, go away, don't do that don't do that no leave me alone go -

"No!" She wailed, horribly aware. Aware of where she was, what she was, who held her now when she never thought he would again.

And everything aches. Her eyes are so heavy they might as well be glued shut, and yet the rest of her feels strangely weightless, as if she is floating a few inches above the bed.

"That is...all I can do, for now. Let her rest, if she will." Danica (Danica Pure-Spring) removes her hands, the light fading from the edges as she stumbles back in exhaustion. Her hands and feet feel peculiar. For a moment she can't place the feeling, and then she realizes, they move. 

Somehow, in the period where she had blacked out, someone had removed the bandages. Though her fingers and toes still throb, the healing not quite complete, they are loose, free; their bendiness is intoxicating, and she rolls her hands on her wrist for the sheer blissful ache of it, doing the same with her unbound feet.

Sigrid is so enthralled by the possibility of movement, of the lack of overwhelming pain that she doesn't register the pitched argument going on right beside her.

"She needs rest!"

"...asleep for days..."

"...won't take unless she has somewhere quiet, you'll shock her, no..."

"She needs her people. You have given us much help, but we will look after her now." The world tilted, her view shifting as the giant (Farkas, how could I forget) picked her up from the stone bed. Lifting her like she weighed nothing, with him walking right beside her, oh god.

Vilkas.

******************

Chapter Text

Dipping in and out of consciousness, Sigrid awakens in a strange bed. In a strange place once again.

No, she amends to herself, she knows where she is. Somewhere in Jorrvaskr. The golden, slightly aged tapestries and furs, the juniper tang of the cleanser Tilma prefers...all signs point to the hall of warriors. Home.

Abruptly, she realizes she is not alone. Vilkas is here as well. Looking around, she realizes that this must be his personal room. Funny. She'd never been in here before. Various weapons were arrayed carefully upon the racks framing the door, with an entire wall taken up with a massive bookcase, filled with more books than she'd ever seen here in Skyrim. She itched to get her hands on them.

"Tilma provided some hot water and soap, if you feel well enough to bathe." His voice is carefully disinterested, as cautious as his movements as he settles on the edge of the bed.

He touches the shedding edge of her grimy furs. His breastplate and gauntlets are gone, she notices; his arms look naked without them. He wore a simple tunic over soft pants. "Or, if you prefer, you could rest instead."

Vilkas holds her gaze steadily, neither pushing nor pulling, unusually patient as he waits for her to decide.

It isn't even a difficult choice - Sigrid can smell herself, smell the stink, she so desperately wants to be clean - but her mind flutters like a bird without a perch.

"Are you going to help me?" Her voice cracks, ending with a rough cough as she curls in the furs, suddenly despising herself. Weak, foolish enough to be captured, to be rescued. Again with the rescuing. God, and she had just begun to imagine herself to be capable, self sufficient.

Why he hadn't let her die, she would never know. 

Vilkas is silent, so long that she is about to speak when he interrupts her. "I can find Tilma, or Lucia, if you'd prefer." His voice is soft, careful. 

He's treating her like an victim, and she immediately despises it.

"I'd like to get clean. If you'll help me. I want to be clean more than anything else right now."

"I'd recommend it," he says, his voice dry, but he still looks shaken as he fetches the washbasin of steaming water Tilma must have left by the door. 

Sigrid sits up cautiously; her ribs creak in warning and the burns pulling the skin tight on her back spike with pain and everything hurts, but hey, for the first time in days she moves all on her own.

Freedom. The muscles of her legs aren't strong enough to swing her feet on their own, so she digs her hands (hands she can move anytime she wants, fingers she can bend and flex and feel) under her thighs and pushes them over the side of the bed, one at a time.

That motion in itself is exhausting, though, and she can do little more than wait for Vilkas to set the basin and a pile of thick towels at her feet.

Though she has every intention of standing under her own power, Sigrid's legs haven't borne weight in a while, and her knees buckle almost immediately. Vilkas catches her around the waist before she can fall and lowers her back to his bed. Sigrid snorts. "That went well."

Vilkas straightens up, his eyebrows furrowing. She's missed those eyebrows. "Raise your arms."

She does so at once, a little shiver of fear overriding the burns pulling her tender skin. Something like sadness races over Vilkas's face, but it is gone so quickly.

She wonders if she has imagined it. He says nothing, anyway, and gently removes the rank fur pelt, peeling it free where it sticks to dried blood and pus. Her gaze drops as it pulls free from her completely and she freezes, stunned by her own appearance.

"I am disgusting," Sigrid murmurs, staring at her thighs. She should be nervous, this is Vilkas seeing her in all her nasty glory, but really, all she can think of is the mage's hands kneading, pulsing with electric light; and the sick horror with which she had screamed in ecstasy, hating it, wanting it to end and yet never cease. 

Vilkas's eyes narrow, his gaze suddenly snapping with icy fire. "You are not."

She looks up, startled, then sighs. "I meant—no, Vilkas. I meant physically." So tired, so fucking tired of hiding and pretending she isn't completely lost at sea. So much lingering shame and humiliation, but she doesn't have the strength to think about it now, and more than anything she doesn't want Vilkas to see the grime left deeper than any bath can reach.

She turns her mottled arms over to show him the dirt encrusted in every crevice in her skin, the dried blood that sticks to the half-healed cuts scattered over her stomach and back, grim souvenirs. She fingers the matted hair over her forehead and winces as Vilkas picks something out of it. Please don't let me have lice. "I think I'm going to need more than a bucket, here."

"It can be refilled," Vilkas points out mildly, dipping soap and cloth into the basin of water. He kneels behind her on the bed and she senses him stop suddenly, arrested by the sight of the lightning marked weals that she knows spread from shoulder to hip. "Ah," he breathes, barely loud enough for her to hear; she feels him bend, brushing his fingertips like ghosts over the mark that runs longest over her shoulders.

She can't help but wonder if he thinks the less of her for bearing them, for being caught in the first place, but he doesn't linger, and with a tenderness that surprises her, he begins to wash her clean.

The water feels incredible. It has been doled to her so severely for so long that it feels almost a waste to have it spent on something as luxurious as a bath. 

Sigrid lets her eyes drop closed as Vilkas sweeps the cloth over her bare back in long, smooth strokes, lightly patting over the places where the skin is split with the sure fingers of experience. His hands knead through her hair and over the back of her neck with what smells like lavender water and snowberry soap, working out the tangles as he helps her lean over the basin, wringing her hair out with slow, sure fingers.

It soothes her until her head tips forward. Sigrid feels more than sees Vilkas move off the bed.

He dips the cloth in the basin and wrings it clean, then kneels in front of her. One hand cups her chin lightly, raising her face to his.

Her eyes are drooping in relaxation and Vilkas actually cracks a smile in something suspiciously like gentleness. He wipes her face clean with his other hand, lingering over her eyes and her mouth until not a speck of filth is left.

"How did you find me?" Sigrid asks eventually, when he seems focused on the bruises collaring her neck. Bruises that match the echoing pain of long, strong fingers holding her down. And then a thought occurs to her, and she adds, "Where was I?"

"Didn't realize you were missing, at first," Vilkas mutters, his voice pensive. "Thought you were at the forge, or afield hunting bandits. Aela is..." He winced. "Not herself, as of now. Skjor is dead...taken down by the Silver Hand."

Sigrid gasped. "She is in wolf form, and refuses to turn back. "

The cloth dips with a noisy splash into the water, and when Vilkas speaks next, his voice is more businesslike. "Honestly, woman, it wasn't until Lucia asked where you were to teach her lessons, that we saw you had been gone for days." His grey gaze flicks up to hers, just for a moment, and the darkness in his eyes makes Sigrid realize that it was worry, not judgement that she found there. 

He...he had found her. Somehow. 

"You were being held by the Thalmor in some abandoned fort outside of Falkreath." The cloth brushes over her bare breasts and stomach and then stills; water drips from her hair onto his wrist. "You have lost weight," Vilkas frowns. His thumb bumps over her ribs. 

And even though she can't quite forget what the Thalmor had done, or how cold he had been, she shivered in unexpected pleasure.

"I thought," he says, so soft she can barely hear him, "...that not knowing whether you were alive or dead was..." The muscles of his neck are whipcord tight and his jaw works to get out his next words. "Seeing you in there, at the elves mercy, was - unbearable, Sigrid."

Sigrid shakes her head mutely, unable to speak past the sudden lump in her throat. She swallows once, then twice, and then manages, "I'm just glad you came, Vilkas. Seems once again I owe you a debt."

Vilkas moves, wraps his arms around her and pulls her into his chest in one swift movement.

Her heart leaps to her throat, then, and the prickling tears begin to spill over her cheeks in earnest. One of his hands slides into her (clean, finally clean) hair and the other curls around her waist, pulling her so close against him she can barely breathe, his arms tightening until it hurts. She tells him so, and the pressure lessens.

He says nothing else, and peace steals into her as she realizes that awful tension that had stretched between them for weeks is gone, gone with the certainty that whatever this was, she was safe now. Sigrid presses her face against his chest, naked and shivering with pain and exhaustion and terrible relief. 

He lets her weep softly, as his fingers trace small circles on the unblemished skin of her back. 

Chapter Text

Aela showed up two days later.

 Vilkas had taken to reading to her as she dozed fitfully, sleeping off the remnants of a fever that struck after the last wound had scarred over. Sigrid wasn't always aware of what the low, rumbling words meant; she drifted on eddies of wakefulness and dreams, brought on by the steady dosage of potions Farkas brought in daily.

 It was enough, to not be alone. 

 The tales she did manage to stay awake for resulted in a flood of questions. It was like some Wagnerian opera; gods and daedra and men, battling an alien pantheon with exotic names she absorbed with fascination.

 She had nothing to do but heal and sleep and sit; to stare at him as he read, memorizing the fine lines in his hands, the breadth of his shoulders, the way his lips curved and formed words. Deep emotion colored his voice as he told stories of Fjori and Holgeir, Ysgramor and the Five Hundred, Sheogorath and Shor.

 She loved the sound of his voice.

 It was during one such afternoon, when Farkas sat his bulk on a tiny stool and told her the latest gossip from the market while Vilkas flipped pages, impatient to find the story he sought, that the huntress crept into the room.

 Tail between her legs, Sigrid thought idly. But that was unkind. Aela looked haggard, her normally flawless complexion blotchy with tears, armor stained in splotches of dirt and gore. Seems she had been taking the fight to the Silver Hand herself. 

 Clicking her tongue irritably, Aela motioned sharply for the twins to leave. Raising a single brow, Farkas stood up from his stool and patted Sigrid on the shoulder. "I'll be down the hall if you scream." He winked, then walked out pulling a stiffly silent Vilkas behind him.

 The door heaved shut. The two women stared each other down.

 Aela broke first, turning away to glance at the plates of food scattered around the room, half drunk bottles of mead balanced on teetering piles of books. "Glad to see you are stronger than you look," the huntress sniffed. "If I hadn't known any better, I would have thought a mammoth had dragged you through a camp of Forsworn, sister. You've looked better."

 Reluctantly, Sigrid smiled, feeling the new scars on her face and neck stretch, new skin pink and healing. It was about as much of an olive branch as she had expected from the taciturn woman. "Aela." She reached out her hand to the huntress, who took it reluctantly, pausing as her dirt encrusted fingers encountered the missing fingernails of her left hand. 

 "...So." Sigrid cleared her throat, aware of the unsure, awkward pause that swelled between them as Aela's eyes took in the thick, fleshy patches of skin marring her arms, peppered with small white slices that were finally fading. "Aela, I'm so sorry for your loss." 

 She patted the woman's still hand. Sigrid knew, not without sympathy, that it was probably the last thing the huntress desired to hear, but she would still say it. Part of the grieving process, she dimly remembered her search and rescue mentor telling her, when she had fallen apart upon finding the body of a child who had been separated from his parents, lost in the badlands. 

Horrible. It was fine to cry, to rage. It was unfair. It was life.

Change was the only constant, even here. 

Aela did not respond, but they sat there like that for a few minutes; both thinking private thoughts of the men they had lost.

 **********************

Sigrid didn't mind the scars as much as she thought she might, after Athis had dropped by and removed his shirt. The Dunmer had proudly related the tale of each scar marring his dusky skin, with Njada in the corner pretending not to listen, stolid face sneering with mock disgust at each tale. It didn't escape Sigrid that Njada slowly drew nearer as the stories became more drawn out, the locations the scars were obtained even more exotic. Athis was old, at least two hundred years old (what would that be like), and even related with glee his memories of surviving the madness of the Oblivion Crisis as a child.

It had been...fun. The camaraderie she had been greeted with upon her groggy wakefulness was not expected, but welcome. Each had made a point to visit her, under the watchful glare of the Master at Arms. Except for Torvar, who left Sigrid chortling to herself as Vilkas asked, with mock sweetness, to have a talk aside with the man. 

Their raised shouting had brought Kodlak hobbling down the hall, just to inquire about the racket. 

Sigrid shifted in her pile of furs. The Harbinger had been one of the first to visit, bringing yet another vintage for the invalid to sample. She had been so dehydrated, so thirsty those first few days that Farkas had barked in laughter watching her demolish pitcher after pitcher of spring water. 

Vilkas hadn't laughed, merely folded his arms tightly, mouth grim in concern. He hadn't even laughed when, hopping in panic, she begged him to leave so that she could use the chamberpot. Even when she blushed in embarrassment, he had just shaken his head and left. 

Strangely, it wasn't as humiliating as she thought it might have been. Having him wait on the other side of the door as she relieved herself wasn't much worse than having him give her what amounted to a sponge bath with a bucket. Or throwing up all over Farkas's boots (the giant claimed she owed him a new pair). Or having him rescue her from a killer necromancer. Or from the sadistic experiments of some seriously unhinged mages. 

Even though the scale balanced far in his favor, she told herself it was no matter, as long as she paid him back. Somehow.

How do you thank a man for saving your life, if he keeps doing it, she pondered late one night. The lantern had burned low, and the room was dark in shadow. Vilkas dozed in his armchair, brow smoothed in sleep. 

Stone walls. With a flash of fear, she tore off the blankets, suddenly desperate to be free and unencumbered. Vilkas became Valga, limp and dead instead of asleep, the room cold, not warm...

But, it was not that room. Not Valga who picked up the blanket, cradling her in his arms as she shuddered in nameless fear over the room that wasn't cold, not cold at all.

"Peace, woman." His mouth brushed the top of her head, so lightly she hardly felt it. "Sleep."

Darkness, and warmth, safe. Safety in his arms.

She slept.

********************

She was fine. If she kept telling herself that, it was bound to be true. Getting better by the day, and she told Kodlak so, as he poured what smelled like mulled wine into polished horn glasses.

"Evette Sans spiced mead," Kodlak Whitemane toasted her with his cup, nodding. "Like a fire in the belly - I find it helps as winter pains my joints, these days." He harrumphed, sharp eyes taking in the well lived atmosphere of what had become a hub of activity in Jorrvaskr's living area. "I have a task for you."

Sigrid basked in the flavor of spices, something akin to clove and anise dancing on her tongue. She was going to have to send an order for this by the wagonload. "Yes, Harbinger?"

"You have heard by now the story of how the Companions came to be werewolves?" 

She had heard that particular tale, one night when she had timidly asked her watchful roommate if he knew why she had dreamt of fur and pine when she was ill. One of the few times she had ever seen him struggle for words.

"Vilkas said it was a curse." She sipped more slowly, savoring. 

Kodlak chuckled. "The boy has a nugget of truth, but the reality is more complicated than that. It always is." Taking a labored breath, the elderly Harbinger paused to collect his thoughts. 

Knowing what was coming wasn't the same as hearing it from the horse's mouth, Sigrid thought ruefully as she mentally mapped how far away the Glenmoril Coven cave must be from Whiterun. 

Damn. She had been enjoying this vacation. 

Yep. Think of it as a vacation. Nothing more. 

"The Companions are nearly five thousand years old. This matter of beastblood has only troubled us for a few hundred. One of my predecessors was a good, but short-sighted man." 

Kodlak sniffed. Sigrid found herself leaning forward, despite herself. The old man would have made a fine bard. 

"He made a bargain with the witches of Glenmoril Coven. If the Companions would hunt in the name of their lord, Hircine, we would be granted great power. They... did not believe the change would be permanent. They were deceived."

He sighed, seemingly searching for words. Flame guttered in the lantern set near on the table, as Sigrid sat silently, waiting for him to continue. 

"The witches didn't lie, of course. But it's more than our bodies."

The sudden sound of footsteps neared, then paused. Kodlak raised his head; then seeing Vilkas at the doorway smiled fondly. 

He continued, "The disease, you see, affects not just our bodies. It seeps into the spirit. Upon death, werewolves are claimed by Hircine for his Hunting Grounds."

"For some, this is a paradise." Kodlak thumbed an etching of a wolf on the tusk handled dagger he carried at his waist. "They want nothing more than to chase prey with their master for eternity. And that is their choice. But, I am still a true Nord."

He smiled sadly. "And I wish for Sovngarde as my spirit home." 

Seconds ticked by as no one moved, Vilkas leaning against the doorframe, seeming to contemplate what the Harbinger had related. 

"Is there a cure?" She prodded.

"That's what I've spent my twilight years trying to find out." Kodlak responded, taking the opening she had given.

"And now I've found the answer." Vilkas shifted from foot to foot. She looked up at him. He seemed even taller, in the darkened hall. "The witches' magic ensnared us, and only their magic can release us. They won't give it willingly, but we can extract their foul powers by force."

Kodlak fixed Sigrid with a look, his gaze heavy with expectation. "I want you to seek them out. Go to their coven in the wilderness. Strike them down."

"...And bring me their heads." He finished, before Vilkas could object. Sigrid finished the rest of her wine, offering the man hovering over her the rest of the bottle. He shook his head, focused on the Harbinger. His loss.

"The head. The seat of their abilities. From there, we may begin to undo centuries of impurity." Kodlak finished, with a faraway twist to his lips. 

"Should I do this alone?" 

Her quiet statement finally brought Vilkas out of his silent observations. "No, woman. No! You've barely recovered as it is!"

Kodlak steepled his fingers and looked at Vilkas from beneath bushy brows. "You shall have no shield brother this time, girl. But the spirit of Ysgramor goes with you, to restore the honor of his legacy."

Standing creakily, he passed by a seething Vilkas with a rasped chuckle. "Talos guide you, lass." She sighed and nodded wearily.

As the door eased shut, Vilkas fixed her with a stare. "You should have said no."

"But Kodlak, he..."

"No!" Raking his fingers through his hair, Vilkas swore and turning on his heel, walked from the room.

Sigrid sank back in the bed, a ripple of unease spreading through her. Stretching her hand out, she grabbed the tome that had suddenly become the top priority on her reading list and dragged the lantern onto her lap, for better light.

Vilkas stalked into his room hours later to find the woman fast asleep...his copy of Herbane's Bestiary of Hagravens flopped open upon her chest. The tattered book rose and fell with each breath, her face in peaceful repose.

Pulling the woven blankets higher over her exposed hip, he frowned. Not that it was necessary; it was perfectly warm.

He let her be.

Chapter Text

She spent the following week in preparation. 

After Danica Pure-Spring declared her fit to fight, Sigrid spent the last of her savings on a new set of leather armor. Though the game she remembered only allowed for the basic brown set of light armored leathers (unless one was a Nightingale or Assassin, fat chance) she found a great deal of variety was possible depending on the craftsman.

 

Adrianne had outdone herself this time, she thought as she looked critically at her reflection in the blacksmith's small mirror. Tight red leather closely fit each joint and curve, the seams double stitched and waterproofed with a waxed oil that came, she was told, from tundra cotton. Steel plates were concealed in the areas of her shoulders, wrists, thighs, belly, shins...like the hard plate kevlar body armor Bryce had stored somewhere in their attic. 

Blood red; the better to hide the stains if not herself, she laughed inwardly. 

Stealth did not become the Companions. Sigrid would meet her assailants head on.

She had added a stylized wolfshead to each shoulderblade, drawn painstakingly in ink. Sigrid smiled; the memory of the Companion's reaction had been memorable. Farkas had whistled appreciatively, with Torvar and Athis giving her a slow clap as she turned slowly around, posturing. Like Vanna White, her mind helpfully supplied, the armor was certainly tight enough. Ria and Njada simply stared. 

Vilkas had said nothing. But later (she almost missed it) she had bent over at the waist to pick up one of her boots and saw him stumble, almost walking into a wall. 

Totally worth it. She should have picked up the other boot too.

Tightening the straps of her wrist guards, she frowned at the tiny braids tightly woven at the side of her skull, holding back the bulk of her hair. They were uneven; Aela would need to fix that. If Sigrid could dig her out of her latest hiding place. Aela had helped her shear off about a foot of matted, snarled hair during her convalescence. Now it hit her collarbones in a sheet of burnished brown. She missed the weight, the silkiness of her old braid.

It would grow back.

Begging some blood from Anoriath's stall, she carefully painted on her trails of tears. Warpaint applied, she turned this way and that, ensuring each side was even in the mirrors reflection. 

Beware, Glenmoril witches, beware. 

She hummed cheerfully, sharpening her shiny new steel blade (courtesy of Eorlund, who told her that the previous weapons burial with the bodies of Thalmor was fitting. She was deemed fit for another sword, free of charge). Which was a godsend, frankly, since she had found out how much her custom armor cost just then.

During her flurry of activity, her hours spent checking, filling and rechecking her travel pack, two thoughts repeatedly circled in her mind, like a snake swallowing its own tail.

Would the Silver Hand still attack Jorrvaskr in her absence? 

And, as she dodged Mikael's lecherous groping as she absentmindedly slapped him in passing, what would she do about Vilkas.

The man she now considered somewhat beyond a friend, yet still a foe was insufferable. He had made his point quite clearly, she thought with sourness. Thought he was her father now. He didn't think she was capable of taking down the coven by herself, and even went so far as to challenge her to a fistfight. 

If he won, she would stay. If she won, she could go.

Like he had any say in the matter.

Farkas nearly fell over laughing when a perfectly executed mule kick to the gut had sent Vilkas spinning roughly to the dirt. She winced; judging by his evil glare, he would not forgive her for that anytime soon. 

She had to go. It was the will of Kodlak. It spurred the progression of the story she knew (and prayed had not altered, despite her sneaking suspicion that Aela had killed far more of the Silver Hand than she let on). 

It was not the only thing she had to do alone, either.

Why, she reasoned with herself as Carlotta paid her the stipend of earnings from the wreath making business (the clinking coins music to her ears) would she even bother with Delphine at this point?

Ustengrav was nowhere near any of the landmarks she planned on visiting.

And, if she was being honest, even in the game she had never bothered with the Blades questline. Could care less about Sky Haven temple. The katana-like Blades swords were nifty, and she had briefly indulged a teensy fantasy of herself striding around like Michonne, that badass from Walking Dead. 

Only instead of zombies, she had harvested the greasy heads of hagravens with the curved blade. Returning to Kodlak alive and well, the warrior hall filled with toasts and cheering of her name, Vilkas stripped and waiting for her in the hot springs...

But no. No need to go to Ustengrav. The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller waited, safe in the Sleeping Giant Inn somewhere near Delphine's person. It might require more stealth than she possessed, but hey. There were potions for that.

And things had been so different, already, than she had expected.

No. She could not warn them. They would want to know the source of her knowledge, and sweat beaded at her hairline as she thought of trying to explain that this world; this reality was a complex, open ended video game where she had come from. 

In which game she had typically played a dastardly, murdering thief. 

 Oh, how the tables had turned. 

Sigrid took a deep breath, and squared her shoulders as she took to the road. She would place her faith in Paarthurnax, for the answers she already knew he would hold. 

The road waited.

**************************************

She spent the better part of Sun's Dusk travelling to Glenmoril Cave.

It took three weeks, four days and approximately six hours to slog through the heavy winter snows to her goal. After two miserable days spent postholing in the deep snow, she broke down and purchased a pair of highly smelly, webbed leather snowshoes from a passing hunter. 

She sniffed, her breath fogging the air. Yep. She was pretty sure that was a classy combination of skeever fat and urine keeping her snowshoes greased and functional on top of the snow. But the hunter had actually laughed at her when she asked if the weather was much worse further west.

"Anywhere near the Reach you can guarantee youll run into rain, if not snow," the hunter snorted, stropping his blade on a nearby smooth boulder. "Getting closer to Evening Star, and its only bound to get worse. You're really not from around here, are you?"

No. No she wasn't, she thought in exasperation.

Her travel rations ran out halfway through her journey. She had chewed slowly, making each bite count. Had tried to catch some of the silver-flecked salmon swimming in the river, tried and failed.

At least her firemaking skills had improved since her first jaunt into the wilderness of Skyrim.

Sigrid had even pried off some of the inner pine bark, to chew on sparingly as she walked down the remnants of the old Imperial roads. It did not, she discovered gasping in agony as she squatted under a tree in the dead of night, go down smooth. 

Even her snares (one of the few things Torvar had ever imparted of worth in their group lessons) caught next to nothing. She hated killing the fluffy, plump rabbits, who squealed and strained against the wires, cutting themselves deeply in a wild attempt to escape. She bashed their heads in with a heavy rock, as quickly and mercifully as possible. 

Oh, but rabbit tasted almost as good as a Thanksgiving feast, after nothing but hard bread, cheese and dried apples for so long. She kept the bones to gnaw on, and soon the smell drew the attention of wolves.

Sigrid killed and ate them too.

She had gotten soft from Tilmas daily spreads. As she drew nearer to the Reach (thunderous black stormclouds dumping even more snow and sleet upon her, god she hated it when weathermen were proved right) she began to carry rolled up chunks of punky wood stuffed with sap and moss. Her own little bic lighter. It reduced her time spent shivering pathetically while building a fire almost in half.

And, as she whittled fish hooks from the bones of beasties, she slowly started to catch the trout, river betty and salmon.

Salmon was even more delicious here, in Skyrim. Something about the freshness, or lack of pollutants. Could have used some lemons or butter sauce, Sigrid lamented as she licked her fingers, sucking each one carefully to get all the juices. 

But one couldn't have everything.

Still hungry, she laughed in relief as the witch keeping survey over the what had to be Glenmoril cave spotted her and, lighting up like a firework with spells, sprinted towards Sigrid.

She must have looked a sight; all gaunt and ragged in her makeshift cape of wolf and rabbit furs, wind fluttering her Forsworn finery.

"Oh thank god. I'm so glad to see you," Sigrid smiled. 

The black clad Breton paused in her charge, teeth bared uncertainly.

Steel hissed as the Dragonborn pulled her sword free. 

Continuing to smile tightly, she eased her back foot into a fighting stance. 

"Just so you know," Sigrid continued conversationally, "...you should really move to a better location. Whiterun has some good real estate. I bet it is just lovely this time of year."

They waited, barely breathing in a standstill.

The witch's hand briefly flickered, then -

"YOL!"

Chapter Text

Calm pervades the plains of Whiterun as the world slept, blanketed beneath pure, unmarked snow. The wind barely stirred, the sun in the east tinting the Throat of the World pink edged and pearly grey. Morning dawned. 

The month of Morning Star was well on its way, idyllic in its perfection.

It did nothing to ease her foul mood. 

Sigrid stomped up the steps towards Whiterun. She ignored the guards' tentative welcome, slamming the main gates until icicles rained down upon their hapless helmets.

She swore at the Imperial guard captain who passed, frozen mid-wave.

Pushing roughly past the villagers setting up their wares, she steamrolled through the animals milling about placidly in the market square.

Not even seeing (finally, it had been months and she missed them all) the great ships hull of Jorrvaskr could make her smile today.

Delphine (that bitch) had caught her red handed. So much for the pickpocket potion that traveling peddler had sworn up and down would work. And now, she had been coerced into a twisting, bottomless pit of fetch quests, with no end in sight. 

Just what she had striven to avoid, all along, forced down her throat.

It would have been too easy to simply wander down to Blackreach (after a brief chat with Septimus Signus, naturally) nab that goddamn Elder Scroll from the Falmer and swoop back to Paarthurnax, sitting pretty on the Time-Wound.

(In a moment of weakness, she wonders if the Elder Scroll might not be the only thing powerful enough to somehow send her home, back to her own reality, no, don't think about it-)

- And what a busy couple of months she had endured already. After decapitating every last Hagraven in Glenmoril Cave, she bagged the heads and walked along the river until she reached some local Nord fishermen. 

Sigrid suspected (and after a few fireside tales, she knew) that these hunters and fishers were the redneck hillbilly folk of Skyrim. They didn't care if she tagged along on their boats floating along Lake Ilinata towards Riverwood...as long as she sang for her meals. 

She performed the entirety of the Pirates of Penzance. For the fish, of course. 

Delphine had caught her sneaking around her room so easily. Sigrid couldn't tell if the old Breton was thrilled or dismayed to discover that she, of the patchwork furs and crazy eyes, was indeed the Dragonborn. She hadn't bought any of the bullshit excuses Sigrid had stammered. Of course Delphine had asked the question she knew was coming.

How had she known that the retired Blade had already waltzed into Ustengrav for the Greybeard's horn? Especially when she had yet to make the long trip up Skyrim's version of Everest... lucky guess?

Thank the gods that after a demonstration of her Thu'um, Delphine had required no further proof. No traipsing off to Kynesgrove, no Sky Haven Temple. Yet. 

At least she had the horn, for the old guys who actually cared. After the Delphine fiasco, Sigrid had broken down and hired a wagon to take her to Ivarstead. The wagon driver had been thrilled to have a Companion along for protection, and had given her a hefty discount. 

She spent a day, one glorious day, completely off her feet lying in the box of the wagon atop the bundles of straw feed, drowsing in the sun. 

Such bliss, after the brutal month and a half surviving in the winter wilds.

But bliss could not be eternal. The hike to High Hrothgar had been...bracing.

No, she told herself as she kicked snow from her boots and warmed her hands by the banked fires of Jorrvaskr. Be honest. 

It sucked Shor's balls.

The path up the seven thousand steps to the peak of the Throat of the World had been one of Sigrid's favorite scenic hikes in the game. In her previous life, though, she hadn't had to move her ass off the couch. Or stab the ice wraiths, whose needlepoint teeth stung. Or kill a Frost Troll, when Sigrid was completely, utterly exhausted from climbing said seven thousand steps. 

Or be chewed out by the spokesperson of the most depressingly solipsistic, patronizing group of men Sigrid had laid eyes on in her life.

And she had attended college. Wise and peaceful teachers of the Voice, pah.

It hadn't been a complete waste of time. Obtaining more Words of Power had been...useful. Terrifyingly useful. With every Word came knowledge. Sigrid wasn't sure if the knowledge the Greybeards imparted came from souls, or experience of their own, but she feared it. 

Feared the dreams.

She dreamed now, not of the simple pleasures of sex, but of flight. Soaring high, on leathery wings unfettered by gravity or fear. She had cried, the first time she awakened from the dragon dream. So vibrant, alive, real...it had felt like she was the dragon, had lived as Mirmulnir.

Would she relive each dream as a dragon whose soul she devoured? Was that her lot, as Dragonborn? In the week she spent studying under the tutelage of the Greybeards, the changes had slithered, unseen until they could not be undone, into Sigrid's soul. 

Her temper grew, patience thinning until she found herself snarling and shouting at the smallest provocations. And she was afraid to fall asleep, for fear she'd never want to wake up. She found herself craving meat, red meat, as raw as it could be served without being alive, wolfing it down (was this how Vilkas and Farkas felt hunger? Damn, she owed them an apology, and a nice rack of roast ribs). She spent several hours fascinated by the shining gold in her purse, counting and recounting her pathetic stash of septims. Dragon sickness, like poor Thorin Oakenshield. God help her.

It explained alot about MIraak, come to think about it. Ornery cuss. Couldn't wait to get shanked by his cronies for simply existing. 

To hell with dragon souls. Miraak could devour them all, for all she cared. 

Each new Word made it better, and simultaneously worse. Now, she not only knew Yol Toor Shul, the Fire Breath shout, but she had quickly mastered an odd assortment that Arngeir and his cronies insisted on testing her with.

Feim Zii Gron. Ven Gaar Nos. Fus Roh Dah. Wuld Na Kest.

They weren't even happy to see that stupid horn. 

Mess with the timeline, reap the consequences. Sigrid had been paying couriers regularly since Riverwood for news from Whiterun. Coming back down the mountain to Ivarstead was a particular agony, especially as she snatched the sheaf of paperwork from the courier's waiting hands and scanned it. 

Nothing. No news from Whiterun, nothing of note. Oh, thank god. A warm glow of relief burned in her heart. Kodlak lived. Aela (bless her) had killed enough of the Silver Hand that they didn't have enough to regroup and mount an attack on Jorrvaskr.

The old bastard, who had the stones to send her on a lengthy quest like this after she nearly died, was going to make it. 

Something had turned out right, after all. 

Sigrid was going to have to haul ass to find some way to Riften to rescue old Esbern, head in the total opposite direction for Winterhold, break into the Thalmor Embassy, talk the Greybeards into teaching her that Clear Skies Thu'um to see Paarthurnax...

Shit. She wanted to hit something. 

Dumping her gear in the chest by the stairs, her footfalls echo in the empty hall.

Luckily she knew someone who would never back down from a fight.

************************

Frost swirled lacy patterns on the glass of his smoked out lantern. Cold, so cold. He is working up his resolve to rise out of his warm bed when without warning, his doors slam open with a bang and Sigrid stalks in.

Sitting up quickly, Vilkas' heart just about stops as he sees the expression on her face.

"Come on... ready for a rematch? Miss me Vilkas? You've lost so many chances to train me. Surprise! I survived, dumb ass!"

She viciously boots the side of his bed. "Get up! Get up and fight me, you son of a bitch! Think I'm weak, a weak woman child, that you have to tell me what to do?!"

He swallows as he takes in the snowflakes clinging to her wild hair, the furling cloak of raggedy pelts crudely stitched together with leather laces. Months. Months have passed. Scars have healed on her full lips and pointed chin, faded white on her neck and visible on her hands. And that goddamn skin tight armor...

She's beautiful. 

He hates it. Despises her for leaving, Shors' thumbs, didn't she know it would tear him apart to find her remains, scattered by animals and the spring melt, lost in the Reach? That he missed her, missed her presence in his bed as he stared sleepless at his ceiling, counting the books he read to her and the ones he wanted to read. She had left him. 

That bitch wanted a fight, she was going to get it.

*****************************

Sigrid knows she is ranting, but just can't stop. It feels so good, after all this time to get this deep, gnawing ache out of her chest. 

"You didn't think I could do it, did you? Didn't think I'd survive. Well," She is shaking as she stabs him in the chest with a finger. "Fuck you, Vilkas. I did it. I killed the hagravens, I-"

The deep growl in his chest is all the warning she gets. 

She doesn't see him move until he tackles her, arms around her waist, unbuckling her sheathed sword off and somehow kicking it away under the bed, pinning her down with his weight all the while.

He's testing her, she knows, testing her strength and stamina because she will be tested by someone less careful soon enough, but ohhh, his hand hurts so good as he grabs her neck and holds her down — she hooks her fingers into the soft edge of his sleeping tunic and yanks him, rolling to the wall and landing on top.

Pulling back her arm, she punches him in the nose. Once. twice. Blood seeps from his nostrils, washing the last of the sleepiness from his eyes, but his hand is still around her throat and suddenly she is gasping, clawing for air -

- and gasps in relief, as he tears off her ratty cloak, ripping the topmost clasp of her breastplate. She should be pissed, this set of armor cost her a fortune, but the hand on her neck suddenly grips the back of her head and she sees his eyes flashing darker than she's ever seen them, as he pulls her down his mouth seals over her own.

She kisses him back, fighting for control, the rumbling in his throat soaring right through her. For all that she'd accused him of treating her gently this definitely is not, and yet she revels in it, loves that he is not tip-toeing around her like a victim, to be carefully kept from breaking. 

Broken, and remade. She has rebuilt herself.

Rolling them over again so that she is under him, his weight is hot and satisfying as he grinds into her. Sigrid opens her mouth under his, lets his tongue slip between her lips and winds her arms around his shoulders and pulls him closer... because it has been months, months she has been out of his bed and he still isn't close enough.

His leg nudges her knees apart and slips between them until he is pressed flush against her armor...she is pressed against him. Her hands touch his back, his arms, his chest, following the heady burn of his kisses. She is lost, and like a map to guide her his own hands move more slowly over her armored body. Almost as if he is trying to memorize the feel of it under his fingers. 

Pulling closer to her, she arches her back to match him, ignoring the twinges of complaining muscles, aware only of the heat slowly coiling in her belly. Sigrid sweeps her tongue over his and his hand spreads over her neck and her jaw, the calluses on his palm slipping wonderfully rough over her skin. His fingers dig into her hair to adjust her head better to fit his as his other hand slides over her breast through her leathers, glides down her stomach to pull at the buckled straps. 

"Vilkas," she groans against his mouth — not enough, she has been starving, dying for touch and she needs more. Answering her unasked plea, Vilkas squeezes her hip, then slides his hand under her thigh and pulls her knee up to his waist. 

Too slow. He is slow and she is burning with want, need and rage, goddamn him how dare he ignore her for so long — her palms graze down his stomach and she feels the muscles jump under her touch. His mouth drops to her chin, nipping at the tendons in her neck; she lets her head lean back against the fur throw, baring her throat to him as she weaves her fingers into his hair - 

"Uh, hey. Guess you're back."

Sigrid's eyes snap open. Farkas.

********************

Fuck it all, Farkas had the worst goddamn timing today.

She freezes beneath him as Farkas rumbles in ill-concealed amusement, outlined by the door frame.

"...I can come back, Shield Sister, if you'd prefer?"

He would prefer. But she writhes, flushing red all the way up to her hairline. Vilkas hangs his head as he tries to capture just how damn good it feels to have rub up against him like that, as she wriggles out from under him.

He stays there on the ground, for a minute more. Just to catch his breath. 

"Nice to see you here. It's been a while." Valiantly ignoring the incredible wreck Sigrid's face must be, Farkas claps hand to shoulder in welcome.

"Um, its good to see you too." Sigrid manages to squeak. 

"Looks like you dropped your cloak. Kodlak wants to see you, when you're done eating breakfast." Turning back, Farkas peers down at her with an almost wicked glint in his eyes.

"...Unless, of course you're already full."

Vilkas slumps, his head hitting the stone floor with a sigh.

Chapter Text

For the rest of the day, Vilkas only thought of ways to get Sigrid alone, to finish what they had begun.

She had spent a few hours after breakfast closeted with the Harbinger. He had restlessly paced outside Kodlak's private chambers, until Farkas pulled him upstairs and with a shove, sent him to warm up and attend to the daily weapons practice of the Companions.

Not that he needed anything physical to heat his blood, at the moment. Heat poured off of him, steaming through the joints of his armor as he practically galloped through the fresh snowy path around Jorrvaskr. He hardly dared examine the feelings thumping with every pound of his heart...

Desperately trying to forget how she had moaned, soft tongue in his mouth as her hands slid under the band of his trousers -

- Vilkas quickened his pace, breath puffing in clouds, and passing Torvar, Athis and Njada who were panting a few laps behind him. He would put her from his mind, now, and continue the lesson planned for the day, focusing particularly on Ria, who had been struggling to balance sword and shield in tandem.

Ever since Kodlak had imparted his well meaning advice, the master at arms had abstained from visiting the Bannered Mare. Taking a page from the old man, he spent his evenings reading, a mug of mead always kept refilled by Lucia; Lucia who no longer crept around the warrior hall like a mouse, but ran, eyes bright and chattering excitedly to any who would listen of how she would be a warrior one day. Just like Aela, or Sigrid.

He had avoided the appearance of studiousness as a boy, not wanting to give the impression of a scholarly mind when he had craved more than anything to be seen as a man. Arnbjorn, in particular, had been ruthless in his mocking taunts, until Jergen and Skjor had driven the wild teenager from the halls. Vilkas never found out why, and didn’t much care...the skeever-shit had been brutal to Farkas, and that was unforgivable. Once his growth caught up to gangly limbs and oversized hands (though he would never quite reach the hulking stature of his twin), he read voraciously.

His brother did not care much for the pursuit of reading. Vilkas wasn’t exactly sure that his brother could read, as he never saw him do so. But the larger twin had developed a taste for listening to tales, those few weeks when Sigrid had been bedridden (smiling, his alone to keep, keep safe). To keep his hands busy while sitting at her bedside, Farkas had started to knit (of all the fool things) and the day he had presented the woman with his handiwork (a very knotty, chewed up afghan) Vilkas could see the tears she had swallowed back as she squeezed it in her roughly scarred hands, thanking him.

From then on, it had been his mission to find something similar, something to make her happier than a simple shawl. He thought he had landed upon it when one evening when they were alone. Normally when Vilkas began to read to Sigrid, she listened attentively until her sleeping draught took effect. Nodding gently, she would drift off and on. He read anyway. But, she came fully awake and aware when he began to read The Tale of the Dragonborn.

He hadn’t thought that that particular story would have any impact, honestly. It had been a favorite of his as a boy. But her amber-green eyes (like sunlight shining through a glass of ale) had been intent, interested.

He read her the entire volume that night, and they had been so absorbed in the ensuing conversation that he had forgotten his entire purpose; to impress the woman.

And perhaps, maybe, to touch her again, without it being the touch of a careful man. A cautious man, soothing a shield siblings hurts and fears.

He wanted what they had had that night so long ago, in the bathing room. Sudden, all instinct and no fear, flowing into each other like wind and rain.

Ysolda avoided him at market, refusing to meet his eye after he remained purposefully absent from her bed. And Saadia had apparently moved on to greener pastures; he had seen Redguard men in desert garb opening the doors to the Bannered Mare, escorting her out to the stables.

He hardly gave them a thought, anymore.

 

Perhaps one of the caverns that led from the Underforge? Twisting passages where sound refracted down and away. Where they would not have to be silent, he could make her scream his name as many times as he wanted, and be claimed by her in turn.

 

He was sure that one of those hidden tunnels had a sister cavern to the bathing pool.

Not now, he told himself sternly.

He didn’t even care if Farkas gave him shit about it. Vilkas would corner the woman, alone. Privately.

Later.

****************

Kodlak’s hearty laughter filled his rooms as Sigrid told the Harbinger her tales of travel and daring. The effects of dining upon pine bark in particular had him almost howling, and after obtaining her promise to make more space for dried meat and way-bread rations, Kodlak rather teasingly insinuated that perhaps some rolls of linen would not be amiss, either.

She had hidden her face in her hands, as he chortled merrily at her expense.

Her grisly prizes from Glenmoril Cave had not held up well in their storage sack. Already half decomposed, the skin had begun to slip from the bone as Sigrid held a head up by greasy hair for Kodlak’s perusal, a rotting miasma filling the room as she hurriedly tied it back in with its fellows after he nodded in approval.

She was glad to have accomplished something right, for once.

Her chest still felt fluttery, like a bird beating its wings in her ribcage as she cautiously looked around Jorrvaskr’s living area, searching for him. Seeing it was empty, her heart thumped in disappointment.

Get it together, Sigrid, she chastened herself as she walked down to the bathing room -

-only to stop in a silence that seemed to stretch as Torvar stumbled, gurgling, from the bathing area, a silver swordpoint gleaming from the front of his chest.

 

Their eyes met, and a bubble of blood popped as Torvar’s mouth opened, and closed. In unbelieving horror, she watched his body collapse to reveal a grinning Silver Hand, flanked by two grim, robed men wearing amulets featuring a rams horn, holding swords and hands of flame….

 

Stendarr. Stendarr’s amulet.

 

The Vigilants of Stendarr, and the Silver Hand. Dumbly Sigrid stood there as if in caught in a mire of quicksand as the three men strode forward, confidently.

They had teamed up to destroy the werewolves of the Circle once and for all.

 

She had been so, so wrong.

 

As their swords caught the torchlight in their slow advance, dimly she could hear cries upstairs. Shrieks of ‘attack!’ and ‘...to the light, brethren!’ seemed so distant as Sigrid hazily remembered their preachy catchphrases in the game.

Slowly reaching for her sword, she backed down the hall, eyes fixed upon those who would kill all she had come to love.

They would regret this day.

************

It was the smell that first alerted Vilkas that something was suddenly, spectacularly wrong.

Farkas smelled it as well, the scent of blood mingling with ash, more smoke than was usual from the chimney flue. As one, they turned from the training yard towards Jorrvaskr, deceptively peaceful, frosted in a veil of white unbroken snow.

He could hear screams, and his breathing became a rapid pant.

Athis and Njada Stonearm, sweating from their recent match, cautiously approached the twins. Ria chimed in, swinging her sword arm.  “What’s the problem?”

“The tunnels.” The look of lazy impassiveness that Farkas wore like a shield had disappeared. Turning in all directions, teeth bared, Farkas unsheathed his greatsword, with Vilkas following suit. “Inside! Come on!”

They followed the brothers into a scene of clashing mayhem, darkness and fire.

Robed men lay dead upon the floor, mingled with what could only be the fur-leather clad soldiers of the Silver Hand. Wild with fury (they dared to enter his home) Vilkas could smell the song of silver, like metal grating against his teeth. As he lunged forward, intercepting a blow that would have taken the head from Tilma, who had huddled for protection beneath a bench next to a hysterical Lucia, he could see flying gouts of fire lick up the tapestries, the wooden beams glowing as they caught flame.

“To Vignar’s room! Quickly!” Picking the old woman and the child up in his arms, Farkas heaved them up in his arms and deposited them into the care of the shaking old man and his servant. Trusting that Vilkas had his back, as Ria shouted a war cry to distract the Vigilant who had crept, teeth stretched in a parody of a grin, ready to slash and stab.

His head suddenly parted from his neck as the fine-edged shield of Njada spun in a wide arc. Not pausing to appreciate the kill, the Stonearm roared back to back with Athis, his dual blades spinning in blinding patterns meant to confuse and slice.

Vilkas lost himself to the dance of the battle, harshly focused on ending them, destroying these intruders who defiled with hands and swords, how bold they were, to seek the wolves in their den…

It may have been moments or mere heartbeats later that Vilkas realized that Sigrid was fighting beside him, behind him, her Skyforge steel dripping wet in crimson glory. Slashing, screaming, she defended the door where the innocent cowered, chopping the arm off of a Silver Hand who had raised his axe for Vilkas’ throat.

In all the madness, only he heard the rough shout, the warcry of Kodlak Whitemane as he stormed the stairs of his home, war hammer raised high in knotted hands.

No. He couldn’t look away, couldn’t move his leaden arms any faster to cut, slice away the bodily barriers that blocked his view of the man he looked up to more than anyone.

“No, Kodlak, no don’t!” Sigrid screamed somewhere to his left, cornered by Vigilants as she parried, gasping for breath, as she too struggled to cross the impossible distance. 

In a moment that would forever be etched in his memory, he saw the Harbinger cut down. It was Aela on the floor dangerously close to the firepit, almost hidden in the smoke...holding hands to her slashed midriff soaked in blood.

His aged body jerked, contorting as he took it, took the blade meant for her as her dilated eyes opened impossibly wide.

The Harbinger’s last swing of the hammer hit the Silver Hand with a wet pulping thud, the man’s face unrecognizable as he released his grip and dropped to the floor; silver sword remaining buried in Kodlak’s gut.

Roaring in denial, Vilkas drew upon his remaining strength and charged forward.

It was a blur of death and ruin, all faded and grey.

Chapter Text

The funeral was held two days later.

Clouds held their silence, swollen dark and silvery with grief. The wind from the plains played with the hair of the assembled Companions, friends and citizens who had come here to this ancient seat of power.

The Skyforge, last resting place of Kodlak Whitemane. Harbinger. Father. Friend.

Torvar lay on lower bier, arms crossed around his axe and shield, covering his gaping wounds. Ria lay on Kodlak’s other side, lips blackened still from the smoke that had ended the Imperial’s life.

And Kodlak, raised above on the tallest bier of all. Covered in a golden tapestry of wolves, bears and eagles on a stylized ships hull.

They were waiting for something. Someone.

Carefully walking up the steps, Aela the Huntress stepped forward bearing a torch. Her other arm was wrapped around her heavily bandaged waist, tightly.

She spoke loud and clear. “Before the ancient flame....”

“We grieve.” Sigrid looked around as the assembled men and women spoke in unison.

“At this loss…” Eorlund stepped forward, hand clasped to his shoulder.

“...We weep.”

“For the fallen.” Vilkas spoke quietly.

“...We shout.”

“And for ourselves…” Farkas lifted his head.

“We take our leave.” Echoing against the stone walls of the Sky Forge, the mourners approached one by one to leave effects upon the pyre. Many left bottles of wine, or dried flowers. Sigrid approached bearing the wreath she had given him, so many months ago.

Measured in her steps, Aela touched the burning torch to the tinder heaped upon the Skyforge. Dry logs lit up in flames, shadowing the bodies of the dead. Slowly, a bard began to sing, drumming to the story of Kodlak Whitemane’s life. His adventures as a youth, the battles won in the Great War, how he had led the Companions to fortune and glory. His last sacrifice, valorous even in death.

Sigrid felt as grey as the ash floating away, free on the currents of wind. Glancing at the still, inward grief of the men and women beside her, she swallowed and looked away.

Could she have prevented this? Even she could never have guessed that those fanatics of Stendarr would have gone so far.

Hadn’t their Hall of the Vigilant been torched already by the vampires of Harkon? Her head spun. What was the timeline now? Had that happened yet, or was it yet to be? Did it matter?

Gods, she was so tired.

 

It was all death and fire and smoke. She couldn’t remember the smell of sun ripened grass, anymore. Her tears were blackened, hands repeatedly wiping away the grime, the grey that she kept repeatedly spitting out as she helped to clear the broken burned timbers of her home away. They all wore warpaint now, for there was no room in Jorrvaskr untouched by ash or blood. No heart unburdened. Could it ever be rebuilt?

There was no talk of avenging Kodlak. Not that night. She would have been amused at the holes in the knowledge, if she hadn’t been sick with worry over the stunned silence of her family, her siblings.

She couldn’t bear to sleep in Jorrvaskr tonight.

Packing up her belongings, noting absently that her cell phone, lantern and knife had been stuffed in the chest that had belonged to her in the new bloods quarters ( Torvar, drunkenly laughing as he showed her how to spring a snare, to gut a rabbit, Ria, so desperate to prove herself, to prove anything) she packed them as well and took a deep breath as she opened the door to his room.

Vilkas sat on the bed, motionless, sword still sheathed on his back. With a lump in her throat, Sigrid realized he was still wearing flecks of blood from the battle, warpaint darker than usual with ash ground into the creases of skin, his armor stained and scratched. He hadn’t bothered to bathe in the days after that horrible afternoon.

 

He hadn’t said a word.

 

She took his hand. Limp and unresponsive, his fingers lay open and unmoving. She leans over, tips his chin up to catch his bloodshot eyes with her own.

“Vilkas.”

A ripple goes through his shoulders.

“Vilkas. Let’s go. We’ve cleaned up the worst.” She squeezes his fingers. “Come. I know where we can track down the ones who did this.”

His lips slowly twisted into a snarl.

“Come.” Standing up, she pulled gently at his arm. She knew her face was filthy, her armor encrusted in things she would not name. Her eyes still wept ash. Pulling at him, urging him up, she rested the other palm of her hand on his cheek.

“Vilkas. Come.”

Slowly, unsteadily, he stood up and followed her out. Out of the only home he had ever known.

Farkas watched them go, face shielded once more as his arm cradled the pale, unblinking form of Aela. Eorlund leaned over the remains of the main table, placing together pieces of what looked to be Wuuthrad, assisted by Njada Stonearm and Lucia. Tilma held Kodlak’s journal.

Dimly, Sigrid wondered if she were Harbinger, now. Wondered if he had dreamed of her, before the end. Hoped not. She was the last person she would have picked. 

She had, before leaving Kodlak’s desk (it felt longer than two days ago) organized the careful notes the old man had made, detailing the proper procedure for curing the beast blood. The witch heads were still in the basement of Jorrvaskr, wrapped tightly and stored in the meat freezer dug into the permafrost ground.

She hoped no one got a nasty surprise, rooting around in there.

Guilt swallowed her as she realized she hadn’t even asked them...asked if they, the brothers, wished to be healed with Kodlak.

No one had mentioned Ysgramors Tomb. She was lost.

Athis rose from his seat on the stair, and cried out hoarsely as they took the path, “Make them bleed!”

Sigrid responded by raising her sword, high above them both. Her other hand gripped Vilkas’ fist.

The Companions watched until the two figures were no longer visible.

At last, the snow began to fall.

 

*******************

It took them to First Seed to reach Riften.

Vilkas did not speak, did not move on his own except to eat and drink what Sigrid proffered him. He lay still on the travel furs as Sigrid wound her arms around him and slept when she bid him.

Otherwise, it was like travelling with a ghost.

They alternately walked and rode in carts. The weather changed (she hardly noticed) the snows of deep winter thawing into a lesser cold. Sun awakened the first tint of green on the edges of tree branches and bush. The water they waded through became less glacial and more temperate, the nearer they drew to the Rift.

Soon, she smelt sulphur and the green of living things. She had forgotten, Sigrid thought, forgotten what life smelled like, as she held the hand of the man whose eyes were fogged in a daze of death and grief.

He began speaking again, once they reached the burbling heated pools and terraces of Eastmarch. “I haven’t seen these pools in years. There used to be more, to the west. They dried up winters ago.”

Shocked, but grateful to hear words of any sort from his lips, Sigrid squeezed his hand in response.

He squeezed back.

They bathed together, uncaring of their nakedness as they luxuriated in the mineral rich pools, savoring the feeling of being clean. Washing the dirt, the accumulated grime and blood that revealed skin she was almost afraid to touch, after urging him along for so long in silence.

That night, before she could wrap her arms around him, he held her instead. No fires were lit, as they preferred to gaze up at the ever-changing kaleidoscope of the night sky, peppered with stars and constellations that Vilkas quietly pointed out, telling the ancient songs and stories. 

Curled up in his arms, feeling his breath move through her hair and heartbeat strong and slow, she slept more deeply that night than she had in ages.

******************

 

She decided to tell him the truth about her world after Honorhall.

They had elected to stay in the Bee and Barb, agreeing quietly to follow up on Sigrid's hunch and ask more about the new vampire hunters that went by the name of Dawnguard. They kept their peace, kept watching for signs of the Vigilants.

It wasn’t for another three days that Sigrid saw the horns of Stendarr, worn openly and she clasped his hand, Vilkas’ grin matching her own in wolfish glee.

They would hunt, soon.

 

She leaves him to drink fancy cocktails with the kind Argonian couple (nothing surprises her anymore, she fears, not even living sentient dinosaurs) and hefting her newly sharpened blade, Sigrid pays a visit to Honorhall Orphanage.

Windhelm is too far away to effect a change yet for Aventus Aretino, who was probably still praying desperately over the corpse of what must be his mother. Incense of nightshade, human heart and blade. Sweet Mother, sweet mother...but Her child would not come.

Sigrid would never serve the Night Mother. Not a dark goddess who murdered her own babies. 

Idly, as she pushes open the door to smell rot and dank, Sigrid wonders if the Dark Brotherhood would have ever gotten around to killing the headmistress if they knew the reward was a simple plate.

Probably not. But then, these assassins were religiously motivated. Death was their cult, the end was the means.

All the worst atrocities in the world, her world, were caused by fanatics. Idealists, unchangeable, unmoving. Not unlike much of the conflict currently dividing Skyrim. Was she any better than they? Would changing something effect anything, anymore? 

Faith seemed too delicate to grasp, right now.

She reminded herself it was a kindness. With Grelod gone, Constance might grow a backbone and actually tend to the children in her care. She frowned. It had been the work of only a moment to corner the Bosmer steward Anuriel at the Jarls keep.

Easy...too easy to use the leverage, the knowledge of Anuriel’s wealth of embezzled funds and sly machinations to ensure that the orphanage would flourish. Thanks to Sarah Fergusons’s knowledge, achieved by an exhaustive playthrough of an addictive game, Sigrid could ensure that Honorhall had the funding it had been allotted, instead of the septims lining the Bosmer’s pockets as they had been.

She only wished she had pursued more individual quests. Petty things...lost folk, missing rings. Sigrid interacted far more with the common and coarse than Jarls and Kings.

She waits until the old bat has fallen asleep, silently crouching in the pantry, waiting for the children to sniffle and cry themselves to sleep, her fists tightening in their leather gloves as one little girl sobs in hunger. Constance cleans the dishes, then wearily takes herself to bed in a room the size of a closet.

Grelod died poorly.

Returning to the Bee and Barb in a sunny mood, Vilkas looked at her warily as she slams a mugful of Cliff Chaser down in one pull.

She dreams of her dead children that night and awakens, screaming, in Vilkas’ arms.

Chapter Text

The old balding Nord jabbered on and on, his words tripping over themselves in his eagerness to expound. “...which of course, is ludicrous. Haven't you figured it out yet, Dragonborn? What more needs to happen before you all wake up and see what's going on? You idiots !”

Dragonborn. Right.

Sigrid sat, topless, on his bed in the Riften inn of the Bee and Barb. Not the way he would have liked, perhaps, getting her naked (cuddling platonically for months had been...pleasant, but he was slowly waking up from the grey numbness that followed him from Jorrvaskr. All of him). They weren’t exactly alone, and he reigned in his baser urges as he continued attending to her wounds. He was trying to breathe as shallowly as possible; the stink of old man’s sweat mingled with spilled mead from the bar downstairs, the earthy smell of the ground blisterwort in the poultice he was currently tying to her arm, the acrid sweetness of elf blood.

Well. Dragonborn . It explained why the agents of the Aldmeri Dominion seemed so focused upon his Shield Sister.

It also perhaps enlightened Vilkas about her secretive errands of late. She’d smile brightly, encouraging him to sit awhile and drink Talen-Jei’s (admittedly high quality) brews, and then she’d wander off Shor knows where. This time, she had returned with this Esbern fellow, along with a new collection of lightning burns and still-bleeding wounds.

Vilkas had difficulty reconciling the Dragonborn , eater of souls and wielder of the Thu’um, with Sigrid. Sigrid who just that morning had lectured the beggar Snilf on the value of imbibing fruits and vegetables for the preservation of teeth, instead of spending his coin on drink alone, children running circles around her as she passed out honey nut treats and pulled taffy...

Terrifying.

Hardly stopping to draw breath, the old man droned on and on, consulting one of the texts he carried in his spindly arms. Vilkas pulled a bandage tighter with a vicious yank. Sigrid made a noise of complaint, her eyes hooded in exhaustion as she continued digging through her pack. If she would just ask , he thought with a mental sigh. Just bring him along, so that he could watch her doing whatever she was doing. Tell him what the fuck was going on.

It was as though a song was playing that everyone knew, could sing along to. Except that he didn’t know the words. He despised that feeling.

“...alright, Esbern.” The woman cut off his ramblings as Vilkas tucked in the last roll of linen bandage and sealed the healing salve for later use. Turning her head experimentally from side to side, her neck cracked and popped. Sigrid huffed in relief. “Esbern, I know you must have a thousand questions. I would encourage you to talk to Delphine about them. She’s at the Sleeping Giant Inn, in the town of Riverwood.”

Eyes darting back and forth, Esbern leapt forward and covered her mouth with a wrinkled hand. “Shhh, woman! Don’t you know the Thalmor have spies everywhere?” Esbern glared at Vilkas, who was washing his hands. He frowned right back. “For all you know, this man could be serving them, secretly.”

That prompted a guffaw from Sigrid, who eased herself to a standing position. Pulling a wrapped little burlap bag from her (bottomless, he swore that knapsack probably carried the secrets of Mundus in its depths) travel bag, she held it aloft triumphantly.

“Aha. No, I don’t think I have to worry about him. So sweet of you to worry, but that’s that! Now, seriously, go get a wagon and get thee hence to Delphine. She’s probably peeing in empty wine bottles and killing rats right now in some hole, hiding until she sees you are safe. Go go go.”

Slack jawed in shock, Esbern watched his Dragonborn sidle over to Vilkas. Standing on her tippy toes, she gave his cheek a smacking kiss, which made him blink. “I’ll be back in a minute, if you want to talk.” Giving him a winning grin, Sigrid pulled on a spare robe and tramped downstairs.

“I don’t understand,” Esbern muttered, shaking hands flipping pages furiously. “There must be some mistake.”

“No.” Vilkas sighed, then gently placed his hands on Esbern’s shoulders, ushering him out the door. “Stables are down the street to the left. Farewell, old man. And good luck.”

Following behind him (what the hell, he wouldn’t be left behind on any adventures from now on, he vowed) down the stair, Vilkas startled as abruptly the main floor of the Bee and Barb erupted in shouts, cheers and cries of glee.

Talen-Jei lifted Sigrid and twirled her in the air, laughing as Keerava began dabbing her scaly eyes with a handkerchief. Smiling (and wincing) Sigrid pushed away from the Argonian and stood in front of the couple, shaking their hands as they kept uttering their thanks.

“Drinkssss for everyone, on the houssse!” Keerava called out, resulting in an echoing cheer as the patrons clapped and roared, banging their mugs on tables. Well, the ones who were still sober.

“Mara’s blessing on the happy couple,” a priest intoned near Vilkas. Hooded in robes of butter yellow and harvest gold, his arms hung heavy with amulets as he proffered one to Vilkas. “Hello there, my Nord friend. Have you heard of the mercies of our Mother Mara? Perhaps you’d like to get married as well?”

Vilkas licked his lips, his grey gaze focused upon the woman who was now sipping from the foaming mug Talen-Jei had brought; her face puckering as the Argonians hissed in good humored laughter.

“How much for one of those amulets?”

 

********************

Rain’s Hand lived up to its name as Vilkas and Sigrid walked steadily into the steaming fissured plains of the Rift. They had left not long after Esbern’s departure, Sigrid urging them to make haste. He had lifted an eyebrow at that; hadn’t they been stalking the Vigilants of Stendarr? He had been under the impression that they would be slowly making their way to the fortress of Dawnguard. The orc had pointed it out on his map, with a hearty slap to the back as Vilkas wavered in confusion. Did they kill just vampires, or were werewolves a target of the Dawnguard? Sigrid had only mentioned the Vigilants of Stendarr, how their Hall had been destroyed by vampires (oh he would love to fight a vampire, and here he stood thinking he had killed one of everything in Skyrim). He didn’t know how she obtained her knowledge, but judging by the constant running of couriers taking her coin, he guessed.

She had been smiling, face flushed pleasantly from drink when a courier had rushed by, begging her attention. Scanning the parchment quickly she had paled, freezing in place as singing and dancing continued around her; horror stamping her features. When he inquired, she motioned him to gather their things in haste.

Concerned, but not overly curious (Sigrid often took detours during their travels, picking plants, talking to people. It was a miracle they had even reached Riften) Vilkas did as she asked.

Muttering under her breath as they packed their bags, Vilkas could hear snatches of what sounded like ‘they know... they know , fuck ‘em, so what they know, gods we need to move…”

Hours had passed since they had passed the mining village of Shor’s Stone, and there was nothing but wilderness as far as they could see. Fat raindrops pelted them from above, gradually increasing until it was a veritable downpour of rain, soaking through furs and steel.

“We have to stop!” Sigrid called out, her pale lips slightly blued. Nodding, Vilkas looked all around for shelter. A cave, or rocky outcrop where the fallen wood might still be dry. Sigrid did not have his tolerance for the cold; the refreshing spring breeze that made him sigh with pleasure was a torment to her.

Peering through the rain, Vilkas spied a watchtower not far from where they stood. “Up ahead. Come on,” he called. They began to walk more rapidly, huddled together beneath an oiled tarp that Keerava had insisted they take for inclement weather.

As they drew closer, he could see that the watchtower ( Shor’s Watchtower , the faded sign read) had been neglected for some time. “Stay here,” he whispered to Sigrid who nodded, wrapping the oilcloth more tightly around her trembling form.

Drawing the steel dagger from his boot, Vilkas crept closer and prodded the still form he had spied from a distance, propped against the entrance. Dead, for some time by the smell of it. Guards of the Rift, with rents in their chainmail that told the tale of death by sword.

He carried three more out of the tower, laying them in the woods before he motioned to Sigrid to enter.

By now, a full body shaking had taken ahold of the woman. He blocked the entrance with available logs and broken planks of wood. Luckily for them, he noted, there was plenty of firewood here, piled almost chest high up against the wall near the firepit. Sniffing, he investigated the barrels lined up against the other wall. More sleeping furs, some threadbare but dry clothing. Two bottles of Honningbrew mead, unopened. Some apples, wrinkly but edible.

The dry wood eagerly set to flame, and he pulled off his soaked armor with a sigh. Sigrid set to hers as well, her trembling fingers struggling to unlatch the buckles and laces that held her leathers in place. Finished, and standing in damp underclothes, Vilkas did not pause as he walked over to assist her, gently removing the sword, travel gear and pieces of armor.

Her nipples pebbled in the cold as the thin tunic she wore under her armor stuck to her, sopping wet and transparent. Noting his blush, she laughed ruefully. “Y-y-you know, having you un-dress me went m-m-much differently in my h-head.”

His soft rumbling laughter filled the small space, as he gathered the driest furs and a set of spare clothing. “Go ahead and change. I won’t be far.”

Stripping off his own wet shirt, Vilkas wiped off his warpaint with the soiled fabric. He felt a timid hand brush his back, hesitant. “Where did you get this?” came her soft query.

Feeling a prickling knot tighten in his gut, Vilkas did not turn around but continued cleaning his face. “Farkas and I chose to get tattoos when we joined the ranks of the Circle as young men.”

He shivered as one of her fingers circled the branching tree, looping and interlocking strands symbolic of death and rebirth. “J-just like the Gildergreen.” She laughed quietly, reaching around his back to grip his stomach with her hands. He placed his hand on hers, holding still as she sighed, leaning against the warmth of his back.

 

Gods she was cold, her skin bare against his. She had not replaced her wet shirt. “Go sit by the fire, woman.” he managed to say, as her fingers played with the line of dark hair that disappeared into his pants.

 

He felt, more than heard her chuckle. “Nope. Shan’t.”

 

Gripping her hands with his own, he turned to fix her with a serious look. “No.” At her mulish expression, he shook his head. Not yet. Not until she told him everything, everything she had been holding back. His nose could smell her hesitance before, when she had vanished with half truths and excuses off to return with old men, or nightmares. Or flawless amethysts, never mind how she had found such treasure in a place like the Ratway.

Gentle, but firm, Vilkas pushed Sigrid onto the furs by the fire. “Not until you tell me what has been going on.”

Sitting across from her, barely within touching distance, he crossed his arms and stolidly refused to look lower than her face. She sighed, and then pulled her travel bags closer. Riffling through with a sad smile on her face, Sigrid pulled out a separate bag and gestured for him to open it.

He did, eyes narrowing at the strangeness of the things she showed him. An antler bone knife. Some clothes, smelling unlike anything he’d ever smelt before, finely tailored with neat even stitches. Something vaguely dwarven, with cracks all along its length. And a cylinder that lit up with a cold, yellow light as she flipped a switch on its side.

Vilkas simply looked at her.  “I have no idea what these are,” he reminded her. “But it must mean something to you.” His lips turned down. “Everyone, even the Thalmor, seem to know what I do not.” Pulling away from her, he used a stick to prod the fire, coals glowing a deep blazing orange. “So tell me.”

 

The fire sputtered as they sat silently, With a deep exhale, Sigrid wiped her face, then straightened with what looked like resolve.

 

Staring at him with a mixture of tenderness and something...dark, Sigrid whispered.

 

Feim Zii Gron.

 

The air seemed to waver as suddenly Vilkas could see right through her, the outlines of her body suddenly as transparent as her wet clothing. He could see the stone masonry of the wall, the furs beneath her as the shaking of what must have been the Thu’um reverberated in the watchtower.

Moments ticked by as he took it all in, trying not to focus overmuch on the fullness of her breasts or the shape of her hips flaring from her waist as the color poured back into her skin, form regaining substance. “So you are Dragonborn.” He cleared his throat.

“Yes.” Her eyes were serious. “I...I am also not from here. Not from Skyrim.”

That I gathered, long ago.” He would not look down. “Where are you from, then?”

She laughed raggedly in what sounded like terror. Or relief. “I don’t think you’ll believe me. The Thalmor certainly didn’t, though it didn’t stop them from asking.” Her fingers traced the patterns of scars, rubbing the missing nails on her left hand.

He waited. She spoke, “I was travelling with Bryce and the children, back home. In my world…” Sigrid challenges him with her hard stare, “...we did this often, for fun. Getting away from the city, such as it was, from the pollution and daily routine. My world is not like Skyrim. God. Not at all.”

“We had camped at this place. Fairy Falls.” She twisted the rings on the amulet of Arkay she wore, her shivering slowing as heat filled the room. “Then, and I don’t know how, don’t ask...we ended up here.”

Her face was wretched as she lifted her hands imploringly. “I have asked everyone I can think of, aside from the mages at their college how, why , my family ended up in that necromancer’s lair. No one can tell me how it happened. A rift in the fabric of Mundus? Daedric lords meddling in plots we mortals can’t understand, maybe? I don’t know. And I’m fucking tired of not knowing either, Vilkas.”

The fire pops and sputters. Pulling a fur over her shoulders, Sigrid adds a log then resumes her position across from him. “And that’s just it. I already know too much.” Her jaw jutted stubbornly as he realized she was trying hard not to cry. “I knew what would happen when I joined the Companions. I knew you were werewolves. I know that right now, there are vampires and Vigilants of Stendarr searching for a vampire who has the power to blacken the sun. I know that Alduin eats the souls of the dead in Sovngarde, and is bringing back the dragons... dragons , Vilkas, I barely managed to kill just one. Dragons, taking back Skyrim. Unless I stop it.”

“And…” her fingers continue turning the rings, twisting, fidgeting. “I know how to cure the beast blood. Before Kodlak told me, I knew...knew I had to go and face the hagravens of Glenmoril. Vilkas, you can be cured, if you want.”

“Please say something.”

Chapter Text

Vilkas hardly dares to breath. Blinking, he looks over at the woman who is sitting placidly before him.

 

His woman is crazy.

 

Perhaps it was the Thalmor and their questioning that did this. He had fantasized many times of killing them over again, slowly...or perhaps it had been the grief of the attack on Jorrvaskr. His heart still ached, letters yet unread from Aela (with scribbled tidings from Farkas) still waiting in his travel pack. He had just gotten Sigrid to the point where she did not jump at the sight of slanted eyes and pointed ears. As long as she slept in his arms, her rest was untroubled.

But this was impossible. Part of him wanted to ask how she could cure his lycanthropy, if she was even a Nord by birth...what pollution was, and why her world (her fucking world?!?) was so different. If he didn’t think about it too hard, it almost made sense. All the books he had read pointed to alternate realities, dimensions that Daedra ruled. Other worlds, wrapped in the ambient omniscience of an Elder Scroll.

Everywhere and nowhere. Gateways to other worlds in the strangest of places.

He could feel her scrutiny as he thought about what to say. Since that fateful day in Morning Star, when she had taken him by the hand and led him out of Jorrvaskr and into the wilderness...

This journey...it may have started in pursuit of vengeance. But, he thought wryly, if this was a hunt, then they had veered far off course. Vilkas had never spent so much time holding bundles of plants, fishing, picking out landmarks, chatting with the odd villager…

Never been so relaxed in his entire life.

If he was being honest with himself his first instinct after the burning of Jorrvaskr would have been to hunt. Hunt with Farkas, with Aela and strike at the remaining known fortresses of the Silver Hand. He would have slaughtered them - all of them, down to the last woman and child.

It wouldn’t have brought back Kodlak. Or Ria, or Torvar.

She had guided him, channeled the stunned rage, a hatred so cold he didn’t know it existed within him. Sigrid had thawed his heart, and so, he would listen to what she had said.

Even if it sounded completely mad.

And she knew it, knew how to gauge his expressions by now. Her eyes popped wide and her expression, so unguarded, became fierce. “Oh hell. You don’t believe me! I wasn’t surprised that the Thalmor didn’t but,” her voice cracked “- but you...you know I wouldn’t lie, right? Not about this. Not to you.”

Tears seeped onto her cheeks as she huddled in on herself. “Please believe me.”

He did. Shor and Kyne damn him, but he believed her. More ridiculous things had happened. Somewhere. Holding the rectangular dwarven artifact out to her he hmmphed dryly. “So what is this then, woman?”

Taking it with shaking hands, she pressed an indent on the side. Light suddenly flooded the cracked glass, with a metallic jingling sound as Vilkas stared, fascinated, the colors and swirls on the device so vibrant and alien.

“This is called a cell phone.” Tapping the screen with her rough fingers, Sigrid carefully stroked the peeling plate-glass. “We used them to speak over long distances. It’s a...a bit complicated.” Her mouth quirked, noticing Vilkas staring at the images that suddenly appeared.

“And this one is broken and just about out of battery life. Yeah, I’ll explain later,” she added as his mouth opened to ask. “But basically it depended on a type of magic we had at home. I stored everything in here….music, books, pictures…”

Leaning closer, he breathed in her scent as scarred fingers lovingly traced the faces, bright and healthy, of her bairns. Picture upon picture, as she showed him her life. Her home - a ranch style home ‘straight out of the seventies’ she said with a self conscious laugh, he had no idea what that even meant- the drawings and finger paintings of little boys. Messy rooms, foreign mountains. Strange gleaming wagons on wheels that were everywhere. Pictures of food that made his mouth water.

One of the boys looked just like her, wide hazel eyes amazed as a plump, smiling Sigrid ( Sarah , his mind whispered) lifted the toddler to touch the paw of a puppy resting on a man’s lap. Bryce.

Bryce was a man not much taller than Sarah. Dark in hair and skin, with twinkling black eyes and a very white smile. She showed him pictures of them, years younger, her wearing a long lace embroidered white gown, fingers entwining with her new husband who held himself tall and proud, dressed in some kind of uniform and beret.

The fire burned through seven more logs before the phone blinked out, fading into blackness as the batteries died. Placing the dead cell phone reverently back in her pack, Vilkas turned back to Sigrid, only to be surprised as she held out the knife.

“It’s a Falkniven. A really good type of knife, from my world. Still sharp.” Fingers tightened on the smooth antler bone and wood. “I want you to have it. Please, Vilkas.”

Hadn’t he taken enough away? As they talked quietly, Sigrid alternately laughing and sobbing over some of the pictures forever frozen in her past, the doubt and guilt twisted around his chest, biting, clawing…

...He could have come sooner, he was sure. Could have saved them all. Didn’t know. There were so many children. He could see, see in her face that she had loved them. She must have been a wonderful mother. Fierce. Kind.

 

And for the briefest flash, he pictured her... belly swollen and ripe with his child, as she laughed, clean and free.

 

“Woman, I can’t take that.” She waited, knife outstretched in her palm. “It was your husband’s, now yours. Keep it. In their memory.” Pulling back, he couldn’t read her expression as she placed the knife next to her cell phone and clothing.

She was still naked, he realized suddenly, and he was ashamed as his body reacted, slowly stirring to life as the firelight cast its shadow over the hills and valleys of her form. He swallowed, turning away to lie upon his furs.

Only to be surprised, again, as she stands up and carefully steps into the space between his arms. Lying flat, she arranges the sleeping furs around them and drags his heavy arm over her waist.

“Rest...” she murmurs in his ear, burying her head in his neck.

Slowly, the tightness of his muscles relax as he holds himself away so as not to push, push against her as his cock throbbed with want. 

She had saved him from his black hole of grief and pain. He would try, try to believe. To absorb what she had revealed, realizing that she sagged against him in something like relief. Exhausted from baring her soul.

She had been right about so many things.

He feels her breathing become slow, measured, and his eyes slowly shut as he chases her into the realm of dreamless sleep.

 

He would trust. And follow...wherever this path led them.

Together.

 

Chapter Text

There was a roaring sound, like wind blowing through the eaves of her hall. Rushing waters, pounding drumbeats. All in her head, as Sigrid blinked in the darkness.

“Sleep well?”

A shrouded figure sits, leg dangling carelessly. Her eyes focus on that leg, clad in black, swinging back and forth hypnotically.

 

She can’t see what awaits in the dark.

 

Lifting herself to a low crouch on the bed, Sigrid realizes she is naked. Scanning her surroundings, she find her armor piled upon the floor at the foot of the bed. She slowly reaches for her sword, so close, still there in its sheath.

 

“Where am I?”

A chuckle, dry and silken. “Does it matter? You’re warm, dry...and still very much alive.”

 

Fingers flip a mirror bright dagger, back and forth. “That’s more than can be said for old Grelod. Hmm?”

Sigrid licks her lips and blinks, rapidly straining to focus, damn it. Focus.

 

Abandoned shack. Astrid. Three figures, hobbled and hooded against the wall.

 

And the darkness seems to coalesce, lingering in an umbra around the woman, assassin , killer who caught her in a trap. Sigrid would play along.

“So, you know about that?”

 

If she thumbed the pommel out slowly enough, the blade would make no sound. Astrid chuckled. “Half of Skyrim knows. Old hag gets butchered in her own orphanage? Things like that tend to get around.”

A sound, muffled, comes from one of the prisoners. Sigrid doesn’t dare look away.

“Oh, but don’t misunderstand.” The dagger ceases its spinning. “I’m not criticizing. It was a good kill. Old crone had it coming. And you saved a group of urchins, to boot. Ah, but there is a slight...problem.”

“You see,” oh, she is tensing, readying herself for the leaping strike that will kill, slash the spider that entrapped Sigrid in this web. Slice before the words can come.

“...that kill had already been claimed by another. A little boy, all alone in Windhelm. Who prayed, for me and my associates. Grelod the Kind was, by all rights, a Dark Brotherhood contract.”

“A kill....that you must repay.”

“So, you want me to murder someone else?” Her fingers have almost completely gripped the hilt of her sword.

“Well now, funny you should ask.” Silk rasping on leather. No one should have a voice like that, and waste it on serving Sithis. Sigrid remained crouched, bare feet digging into the straw of the bed - tightly wound as a spring as Astrid jumped light as thistledown to the dusty boards before her.

“If you turn around, you’ll notice my guests. I’ve collected them from...well, that’s not really important. The here and now. That’s what matters.”

 

Oh no.

 

Two women and a man. They are chained, cuffed to the wall in unforgiving metal, the blackness of their hoods preventing her from seeing their faces in the guttering torchlight. But she knows.

Astrid taps a booted foot against the floor. “You see, there’s a contract out on one of them, and that person can’t leave this room alive. But...which one?” Her voice turns playful. “Is it the thief, the wolf, or the bat? Go on, see if you can figure it out. Make your choice.”

The assassin whispered closer. “Make your kill. I just want to observe…”

Astrid breathed into Sigrid’s ear. “...and admire.” Straining not to pull away, Sigrid stands still as Astrid traces a gloved hand over her back and steps away.

The hut creaks in the wind as Sigrid considers.

 

An old lesson, an eternity ago.

“When you are surrounded, trying to rescue a hostage on a job-” Vilkas spoke sternly, pacing around the training field as the whelps sat in exhaustion on the benches. Sigrid could barely focus; military strategy was not her preferred reading material at the best of times. The words jumbled around like alphabet soup in her head.

“...never freeze. The longer they have you, or the prisoner, the less likely you will make it out alive.” The Nord Master at Arms warned. “Violence, and speed of action. Surprise them with the unexpected. Throw a torch, fire an arrow. Lead the fighters away from the innocent, who are at the most risk in this situation. Strike to kill.”

 

Strike to kill.

She struck.

 

The Dark Brotherhood leader’s lovely eyes (blue as morning glory) widened in shock as Sigrid drew her sword in one swift pull, angling it upwards and cleaving off the assassin’s left arm.

 

Violence. Speed of action.

 

Blood pumped wetly from the raw stump as Astrid screamed, high and furious. Stabbing with her dagger (poisoned,keep away!) with her remaining arm, the women circled around each other, their heavy panting the only sound.

No words were needed. Sigrid could see that the assassin was beyond words, her pupils dilating to see, to kill, to take her life. Blood continued to spurt, hot and sticky, on the floor, smeared by their footwork.

Sigrid waited, a slow smile stretching her lips over her teeth as she watched the other woman gasp shallowly and strike again. The woman had skill. Graceful, with an economy of movement that belied the swift sharp snap of a blade, the shift of a heel. Sigrid parried her strikes, fighting the cloud that hung over her still, from the drugged sleep that Astrid had forced upon her.

Never. She would never join them.

They could all rot in hell.

Once, twice, Astrid lunged. Sigrid felt a slice cut into the soft skin of her waist. It immediately burned ice hot, warming with prickling pressure as Sigrid danced out of the way.

 

The fly, pulling its dented wing out of the spider’s grasp.

 

Heaving the suddenly-heavy blade in a wild horizontal swing, Astrid’s mouth moved soundlessly as her head tumbled off her shoulders, rolling onto the cracked boards.

 

Gasping with the sudden rush of adrenaline and spiked fear, Sigrid leaned over and put hands on knees. Breathe. In and out.

 

You did it, you goddamn amazing idiot, you killed fucking Astrid.

No more Dark Brotherhood. Soon.

Breathe.

 

Slowly, the light no longer flashed in bursts against her retinas. Sigrid straightened and walked slowly over to the wall where the prisoners were kept.

 

The first hood revealed a gangly teenage girl, dirt streaked face runneled with tears. Sigrid carefully removed the gag and chains, silently gesturing for her to leave. No words - the ‘thief’ stumbled over to Astrid’s corpse and looted the pockets, turning only to kick the dead woman furiously in the stump of her neck before unlocking the shack and sprinting away.

The second hood revealed what she already knew. Focusing blearily on her smiling face, Vilkas relaxed. “Sigg-hreed,” he mumbled through the gag, limply hanging by the wrists.

Never had she moved so fast, unchaining the cruel wrist cuffs, rubbing the chafed marks as she hurriedly removed the cloth gag and supported his weight as he took a weak step forward.

His silvery eyes were almost warm. “You killed her.”

“Of course. That bitch didn’t know what hit her.” Sigrid sat him down on the creaky bed, hands patting all over his bare chest, making sure he had no further wounds. “Like I would join the Dark Brotherhood. Protecting you keeps me busy enough.”

He coughs at that, the dust they kicked up during their fight still hangs in the air. “Yes, yes, you’re a mighty warrior.” He grasps her arm, frowning at the droplets of sweat beading on her pale face, the bleeding slice in her side. “Not yet.” she cautions him, reaching for the last hood of the remaining prisoner.

 

Glowing orange eyes gleam from a bloodless face, perfect as a doll. Serana, daughter of Harkon, Lord of Volkihar and veritable princess of vampires stares back at Sigrid.

 

“Well, this is unexpected. You’re...well, you’re naked. But also not like me at all.”

 

Sigrid closes her open hanging mouth with an audible click.

Shit.

Chapter Text

A werewolf, a vampire and an outworlder went on a quest, Sigrid thinks dryly.

 

Mired in the swamps of Hjaalmarch, they continued by foot for days, seeking the distant rock arch where lay the city of Solitude. Sigrid could see it, when the mists (and the biting dragonflies, and zombie draugr) cleared away long enough to view the western horizon.

She had slowly become more sick the longer they traveled; the poisoned wound in her side seeping greenish pus. It made Vilkas’ nose wrinkle in worry, and she bit her complaints back as he shouldered both their travel packs, walking closely in case she fell.

Serana, vampire, did not speak as she walked. Her black cape flowed over the rocks and streams, with no audible footfalls. Her burning eyes could be seen looking back time to time, as Vilkas and Sigrid struggled along the tangling roots and mud.

“Here.” As they halted for the night, the great bridge looming above them, Sigrid could hear the clanging bells of ships in an unseen harbor. Serana ghosted to her side as Vilkas lay her down carefully upon their bedding.

Weakness was slowly stealing her limbs, as every step had become a torment. Her side burned, swelled with the poison she could almost see spreading, blackening her blood vessels with dark ichor. “You won’t last much longer with that in your system. Let me try something.”

“Yes, please,” Sigrid waved Vilkas away, who stepped back from intervening with a grim tilt of his lips. He had been polite, if not exactly cordial to the Daughter of Coldharbour. Distrust colored his awareness, and Sigrid could see him watching the vampire discreetly as she held out hands wreathed in light.

Healing hands. She sighed in shuddering relief as the pain ebbed away, replaced by a numbness that was definitely preferable. “Oh. Oh thank you. That’s much better.”

"Thought so.” Removing her hands, Serana drew back and away as Vilkas claimed her, dragging Sigrid into his lap as he stirred the contents of their pot buried in the coals. The smell of spiced beef and vegetables made her mouth water, and she rubbed her cheek happily on his arm as his other arm tightened around her.

“There is a boat, further north, that can take you to your father’s castle.”

Serana tilted her head, listening.

“It’s not far - maybe two, three days by foot? From what I remember, there are no people that way, but plenty of wolves and bear.”

“That sounds...reassuring.” Serana drawled, watching as Vilkas spooned out the stew into bowls and handed one to Sigrid. He didn’t offer any to the vampire. “But you should come, too. My father will be, well…” glowing eyes darted to Vilkas, then back to her. “...not thrilled, to be honest. But he will reward you for my return.”

“I think you’ve got things well in hand.” No way was she going to end up in that dungeon as human cattle, food for the flock at Volkihar. “I wish you well, though.”

Serana nodded, resignation clear as she stood up and brushed her (gloriously goth, Selene from Underworld had nothing on her) armor off. “Then, I guess this is goodbye. I appreciate your discretion.”

The vampire had already begun to walk away when Sigrid called out, “Wait!”

Serana turned.

“You don’t have to go, Serana.” Vilkas made an inaudible complaint over a mouthful of stew, and she shushed him. “I mean it.” Her lips compressed to a tight line.

“You don’t have to give your father that Scroll.”

Pale lips narrowed as Serana assumed a fighting stance, hands clawed in ice. “How do you know?” The vampire demanded. “I don’t sleep, and I know you haven’t been through my things. What would you, a human, know about it?”

“Enough.” Sigrid took another bite of stew, calmly chewing. “I know you don’t want your father to have it. And your instincts - and your mother - are right. It’s a terrible idea, plunging the world into darkness.”

Removing a curled up map from her knapsack, Sigrid rolled it along the rocky ground towards Serana, gesturing for her to pick it up. “Not four days southeast from here, there is a town called Morthal that has a vampire problem. A wizard named Falion took up residence there, to help. By now, he should have learned how to cure vampirism. Serana,” her eyes were solemn and kind as she held the shocked bright gaze in her own.

“It has always been your choice.”

They stood there, locked in unspoken communication. The vampire’s lips trembled, then she stooped, picking up the map with shaking hands. “I don’t know how you know these things,” the undead woman warned. “But don’t follow me.”

Turning on her heel, she vanished into the night.

Sigrid sighed and flopped back on her furs.

“What in the name of Kyne was that all about?”

She turned to her side, rejoicing in the lack of pain as strength flowed back into her limbs. “One of those choices we talked about, Vilkas. A major clusterfuck, potentially averted.”

 

*********

He was glad to see the vampire go.

 

She smelled wrong, like the dust of bones and old, rotting blood. Beautiful and pale her face may have been, the eerie glide of her walk and too-smooth skin painted her what she was.

They should have killed her.

He almost had, back in that abandoned shack. Their supplies had come with them on their sudden, drugged journey out of Shor’s Watchtower ( Thank Shor and Kyne and all the other gods listening ) and he had hefted his broadsword, preparing to cut down the dead thing that talked and walked like a woman.

Sigrid had stayed his hand. “She isn’t a threat to us, Vilkas. Not unless she chooses to be.”

And so, they had traveled in a group for safety, encountering more things dead and alive in the reeking swamps that curled his fists and blighted his nose. “Do not touch the water,” he finally scolded Sigrid in exasperation, as the bodies of mud crabs and frost spiders littered the clearing. At least the undead one had helped; her ice spikes searing through draugr and crab.

Gods, he was tired.

Solitude was...stifling. He missed Whiterun, for all that he had visited the major hub of his homeland many times. High walls and close minded people, weak and worldly. At least the market was silent this time of eve, with the fluttering of luna moths and torchbugs alone in their dancing flight. That last day was a dim blur in his mind, as they walked through the last of the wilderness, towards the small farms and mills crowding the outskirts of Solitude’s port.

Filled with lives. All the lives of men, trickling from the city gates into the rivers and woods.

And all this was a game to her. No, he rephrased that mentally.

No longer a game. He could hardly wrap his head around it. Like an Elder Scroll, she had explained...a world within a world. LIke the World Tree, the choices, quests and conclusions, all turning with root and branch into different stories, forever and ever growing.

But the foretelling, the creepy awareness of everyone and everything that may or may not happen…

...the woman was a fucking seer.

He had to protect her. No one could know about her terrifying knowledge. They would chain her to the jagged throne, (a table, cuffs rusted and crumbling with blood) hurt her, as she had been hurt before, to get to the answers they didn’t know were possible.

He wouldn’t stand for it. Luckily the woman ( his woman , he thought, smug) had some sense. He dared not ask her, though the questions remained at the tip of his tongue, what lay in store for his country. She had briefly, sadly explained that the current civil war balanced on a knife’s edge either way.

Had asked him what he thought, the Dragonborn requesting strategy from a Companion.

Sometimes his life felt like a elf tale, spun by a fanciful bard.

And other times, it was all too real. He walked closely at Sigrid’s back as they stumbled towards an unfortunately named wayhouse (really, the Winking Skeever, it was a miracle it hadn’t gone out of business) and then exchanged gold for a single room. With two baths.

“Oh, thank god.” The woman sighed as the servants hurriedly filled the dwarven hammered tubs with buckets of steaming water. “That looks divine.” She rubbed her hands eagerly.

Vilkas could only stare as, finally alone, she removed her armor with swift practiced motions. Pulling her breastplate over her head, he swallows as the muscles in her back bunched and stretched beneath her tunic, the curve of her ass narrowing into the still-soft belly.

“Hey.”

He startled, then turned abruptly to shed his own armor.

A touch on his neck, soft and inquiring. “Vilkas, that look on your face.” He turned. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her full lips curve invitingly into a smile.

Her breath sighed over his shoulder. “We should talk about that.”

Snaking her hand around his chest, she held him close. “Maybe more than talk.”

He shivered as she slowly dragged her hands down, lower still.

 

They didn’t make it to the baths.

Chapter Text

He turns, facing her. She lifts herself up on tiptoe to kiss the roughness of his cheek.

 

She feels his breath hitch. His hands grasp her bare shoulders to stop her or steady her...she doesn't know. Sigrid doesn't stop, though, and doesn't hesitate; her mouth passes to the other cheek. Placing another light kiss there, she curls her hand around his neck and pulls his face down to hers, so that she can reach his mouth.

Here she lingers. She traces his jaw with her thumb and follows it with her lips, brushing his hair out of the way where it falls against his jaw...that revealing jaw which tightens in rage, loosens in lust. She darts out her tongue, dragging it against the bristles of his newly grown beard -

Vilkas bites out a garbled oath, his voice low and strained, and one of his hands slides to the nearby wall to brace himself as she rubs herself against him.

Sounds of laughter, drinking and lute playing float upstairs, distracting in their volume but Sigrid hums against his jaw and feels him shudder. Allowing her fingers to wander to his ear, her mouth follows as she placed a hot open mouthed kiss to the shell of it.

Her other fingers clench around his neck. They curl so hard into his throat she can feel his heartbeat, thudding just as rapidly as hers. Tilting her head up, she sees...

 

-He stares at her without blinking, his dark eyebrows drawn tight, all the muscles in his neck and arms and chest so tense they ridge under his skin.

She opens her mouth to say more words, and he kisses her instead.

The kiss is fierce and hot and brutal, her fingers still digging into his throat, anchoring herself to him. She is no thief but she will take this, her tongue diving into his mouth and claiming it even as he falters in surprise.

He snarls into her lips and his hand moves suddenly to fist in the hair at the base of her neck, forcing her head back...and then it is his tongue that takes her mouth, the wildness of his strength pulling her forward, with the corded muscles of his chest pressed fully against hers.

 

"We have to talk about this," she begins again, and his fist tightens in her hair as she tries to form words, but he kisses her again and again, hard drugging kisses that wither her thoughts into nothing, until they are only words.

 

But she must say them still, before he takes away her ability to think entirely.

 

"I am not," Sigrid says against his mouth, her fingers digging into his scalp, "one of your women, for you to fuck and leave. I am in love with a bastard of a Nord -" he shudders at love and his grey eyes go wide and she doesn't care, not at all, because it's true.

"...and I choose this. And if you can't handle it, this shit I’ve told you, all of it - you can stop right now and take your ass back to Whiterun, you stubborn skeever-shit!"

 

Vilkas growls, a low rumbling deep in his chest that coils through her belly, and then he wraps his arms around her and crushes her against him. His mouth seals over hers in a searing heat, and she can't help the noise she makes as she pulls him closer.

His grip in her hair loosens - his hands scour down her back and waist and ass, and then he lifts her bodily against him. Sigrid wraps her legs around his waist, her arms around his neck as they still fight, battling for control of the kiss.

Absorbed in the moment, a small part of her realizes that Vilkas is moving, making his way with her towards the bed in the room, the baths completely forgotten; the rest of her is fully enthralled by the feel of his hands gripping her hips, the smell of him all smoke and sweat and pine-musk, the light in his eyes as feral as her own.

...And then they are both toppling over onto the bed in a tangle of limbs and gasps and entirely too many clothes. Her hands are pulling at the homespun tunic, desperate to feel his hands on her skin… but then Vilkas is pushing her hands out of the way as his mouth drops to her throat.

"Vilkas—ah—" Sigrid tries to speak, to tell him she can undress her own damn self, but his teeth are grazing down her shoulder to sink onto her neck, and she loses her train of thought. "Vilkas," she says again, fainter; he bites down on her, and her fingers helplessly rake his back, straining for something to hold to.

She feels him smirk against her throat and that, more than anything else, clears her head...a moment later, she has rolled them over on the bed until she can straddle him, his eyes narrowing as he grips her waist. Sigrid leans over him, rolling her hips as she does so, enjoying the shudder of his neck as he swallows.

"I bet you think you're my teacher in this as well," she breathes, and her hand drags over the muscles of his chest and down his stomach to tug at the top of his pants. She drops her head and mouths his collar-bone, feels him jerk; one of his hands slides to cup her breast through her tunic, ungentle and tantalizing as she moves to the hollow of his throat. She sweeps her tongue over the straining tendon there and rolls her hips again - he growls again and god, that sound does things to her. With the sudden sound of tearing cloth, her tunic is falling free from her shoulders to fall on the bed.

She should care. She should care a lot, actually, since that was her last shirt, but his mouth is hot on hers and his hands are finally, finally on her bare skin, and she doesn't know if the goosebumps are from the air or his touch. His thumb flicks over her nipple and she shivers; the calluses of his palm scrape coarse over her breast and she stifles a moan.

 

-They seem to both realize at the same time that he is, in fact, still wearing pants. Sigrid pulls back and scrapes her nails down his chest, over the dark trail of hair, and tugs at his pants. She has only a moment's notice when his muscles bunch in his arms and his neck strains forward before he has flipped them both.

"We will teach each other," he says with a half-smile still hard around the edges, his cock heavy and pressing into her stomach, and his voice is rough and dark and it thrills right through her.

"Not sure you’re ready for this job...you're still wearing pants." Sigrid hooks a leg around his waist and shifts her hips, showing yes, that it is a problem, and Vilkas’s eyes hood over.

He kisses her, hard, and then moves to her neck, and lower. "You are a pain in the ass, woman," he mutters against her breasts.

"I'm not trying to be," Sigrid says breathlessly, threading one hand into the wild mess of his hair as his mouth skims over the swell of her breast. "I'm trying to - don’t you dare stop, ah..."

His tongue rasps rough over her nipple again and her fingers clench in his hair. "Not fair," she gasps, and arches into his touch. His chest rumbles over her stomach and she feels his hand thrust between them; he shifts over her in a sudden movement and then at last his pants follow her tunic to the ground, forgotten. Again his head bends over her breast, tongue tracing the freckles she has there, like constellations of stars.

Sigrid grasps his neck and tugs. As much as she likes this, it has been forever and he is going too damn slow. He kisses his way back up her chest until his mouth brands hers, until he is pressed flush between her legs and she can feel how tense he is, how much he is holding himself back but Sigrid is tired of gentleness

- she wants him to trust in her strength and let go.

"Sigrid," he groans into her mouth, husky and hoarse, and the sound of it sweeps through the hot tight coiling in her stomach to curl her toes. She slides her leg higher on his waist, inviting him in; he stares down at her with pupils blown wide. Bracing himself over her with straining arms, he kisses her with a savagery rimmed in tenderness as he enters her.

It has been too long. She has gone through too much and and she can't help the moan she makes as he drops his head to her shoulder and presses his open mouth to her skin.

 

He moves, then, slowly at first and then faster, and her hips roll to meet his as he quickens. She doesn't want gentle, doesn't want soft, doesn't want careful - she wants rough and hard.

 

She wants to feel alive!

 

His hands slip under her shoulders, raking his fingers over the scars there with something like desperation. Sigrid retaliates, scrapes her fingernails of her good hand down the sweat slicked muscles of his back where his tattooed tree curls, his teeth dig into her lip in response.

This is what she wants, the stormy wild abandon, honest and furious and perfect. She leans back, breathless and grinning as her tongue traces the marks of his teeth on her lip and he pulls her mouth back to his; his kiss is ravaging, rough and territorial and Sigrid feels the twining heat in her belly twist in on itself.

"Vilkas," she breathes, because she is close, so close , and his pace increases as if her words are electric. "Vilkas," she says again, letting everything she's feeling out in her voice, all the heat and light and shuddering love, and then the heat snaps tight in her cunt and she arches like a bow on the bed, her arms seizing him as close as she can get as she clenches around him, as the waves crash down behind her eyes.

The growl rumbles again in his chest, and then Vilkas's voice soars to a triumphant shout and his hips rock hard into hers. He pumps once, twice, three times, and then he grabs her face roughly and kisses her, bracing his weight on his elbows as best he can as they ride out the tide of sensation that swallows them both.

 

...Eventually, when her pulse slows to something slightly less than a deafening roar...when his breath is not quite so harsh in her ear - he's panting now, she thinks with satisfaction - he rolls off her with a groan.

Sigrid follows him over, her sweaty skin sliding wetly against his, resting her head on his chest and pressing her ear down to where his heart beats. One of his arms wraps around her. She lets out a long sigh over his skin. "Vilkas...hey."

"Hmm?"

"I don't really think you're a bastard. Mostly. Sometimes you are."

He snorts and Sigrid slowly smiles. He turns his head and presses a painfully tender kiss to her forehead.

 

************

 

They bathe later, in cooling lukewarm water.

“So,” she murmurs hours later, completely and deliciously worn out. Vilkas is half asleep, drowsing against her stomach, fingers idly tracing the stretch marks there. “Dragon's Bridge is half a day south.”

Feeling free and unburdened for the first time in forever - she stretches, lazily rubbing her foot against Vilkas’s calf.

 

“Hmm...How do you feel about killing some more assassins?”

 

Against her belly, his lips curl upwards in a grin of his own.

 

Chapter Text

Commander Maro was...thrilled. Hesitantly, dubiously thrilled.

 

Not that he didn’t believe the Nords. They had gone out of their way to visit the small outpost of Penitus Oculatus, last line of defense of the Emperor of Cyrodiil. He had led his squadron as best he could in this backwards little village, preparing for the Emperor’s arrival in Solitude. Soon, a few months now, and the bulk of his labors would be over.

But unfinished. The Imperial had made it his personal mission to track down and eliminate that cult of death dealers, the Dark Brotherhood. He had lost his wife to those bastards back in Cyrodiil, years ago before the angry mob had torched the Lucky Lady, hiding its sepulchral secret deep in Bravil. Reconnaissance and backbreaking legwork had led him, finally, to the last remaining hideout of assassins in the continent.

They were due for some death of their own.

Which is why his heart leapt into his throat when they told him that they had taken down Astrid, the elusive vixen. Their leader, dead and rotting in a shack, an ignominious end to a notorious murderer.

Gaius made a face behind the woman’s back; his son had not yet become accustomed to the dress and habits of these Nords; the streaked warpaint of blood and ash that decorated their stern faces was fresh enough that he could smell the metallic tang.

 

Commander Maro thought it the sweetest perfume.

“And you’re sure?” He looked over to the giant of a man, who looked almost bored. “Aye,” he stated, shifting his bulk of steel armor. Maro had never seen the detailed wolfshead motif that emblazoned the armor before - the work of a master - but he put it from his mind.

“I took her head myself.” The woman, who looked positively wild, all scars and leather, blinked up at him. Behind the warpaint, Maro thought, she could have been rather pretty. Her amber green eyes had steel behind them. “I am willing to aide the Penitus Oculatus in ridding Skyrim of these murderers.”

It was too good to be true. “That is...excellent news.” Clicking his fingers at his son, Gaius began shifting paperwork, searching for Maro’s latest reports. “Unfortunately, while I know of the sanctuary’s location in Falkreath, I do not have the passwo-”

“...Silence, my brother.”

“Beg your pardon?” This snowback thought they were equals? His olive hand twitched to teach the woman a lesson.

“The answer to the door’s question.” Continuing patiently, her hands waved as she emphasized her point. He noted that her left hand was missing three fingernails.

“What is the music of life?” She rasped, making her voice a hagraven croak. Then shifting a step aside, she responded in a normal voice. “Silence, my brother….” she resumed her position, hands behind her back. “Now you have the password. You’re welcome.”

Commander Maro thought he saw the ghost of a smile on the man’s face. Impudence. With the civil war stretching across all of the provinces of Cyrodiil, Skyrim had been pushed to the back of the news that reached citizens of the empire. Obviously these backwards mammoth hunters needed a lesson.

But he would not be the one to give it to them. He frowned as the woman smiled sharply at his discomfort. “I...don’t know how you came by this information, but…” Damn his doubts. Success, at last. “...no matter! When you are ready, meet us by the roadside ruins, on the southeast.”

He reached out his arm to clasp the woman’s right shoulder. She mirrored him in the Nord way, grasping his shoulder in return. “Then, we will end them once and for all.”

She sighed. “It won’t be easy.” Her brow creased in thought. “You should prepare your men. They have a vampire in the guise of a young girl, an Alik’r warrior, a necromancer....hmm. ah yes. A Shadowscale and a man eating werewolf.”

Damn, but that did seem a bit more daunting than he had hoped. Behind them, Gaius stepped back, face pale in shock.

“If we work together, we can take them down. Prepare many healing potions and antidotes to poison, you’ll need them. We will meet you at the ruins in a month.”

Allowing the male warrior to exit before her, the woman stopped as if just remembering something. “Ah, something I almost forgot.” Removing a scroll from her pack, she presented it to him with a flourish. He opened it to reveal a crude map of Whiterun Hold, with an ‘x’ north of the small farms dotting the northern steppes.

“Where I have marked the map, your soldiers will find an Imperial man...a Jester...who will not leave his broken wagon and is waiting for a wheel replacement. Arrest him. Kill him if he attempts to escape.”

Maro frowned. Strange. He knew the locals were not fond, exactly, of Imperial customs, but to imprison a jester for existing seemed a bit harsh. “What for?”

A shiver of what could have been fear passed through her. “The man Cicero is a deadly assassin, quite mad, a risk to the people of Whiterun Hold. Oh…” her gaze turned to ice. “And this is very important. The wagon he guards must be seized. And burned, burned so thoroughly no trace remains.”

“Or else all this planning, all our efforts will be for nothing at all.”

Lifting his eyebrows, he nodded. Satisfied, she walked out to join the man, who waited near the horses. Swinging the door shut behind them, soon the only proof they had even stepped inside was the stunned looks of his officers, blinking in the sudden silence.

“Well, gentlemen, we’ve been given quite the gift! Prepare for an assault!” His men cried out in a victorious shout, scattering to ready themselves as Maro dragged a flagon of wine towards himself. Uncapping it, he drank it to the dregs.

Death was coming for the death dealers.

At last, his wife would be avenged.

 

*******************

 

Jumping off the wagon near Whiterun’s stables, Sigrid and Vilkas ran to the waiting group of warriors who had gathered near the gates to welcome them home.

 

“Brother! Sister! At last you’ve returned.” Farkas boomed, clasping them both in mighty hugs. Athis shook their hands, with Njada calling out greetings as Lucia ran circles, leaping like a rabbit. “You’ve come back! Tilma said you would, and it took the whole winter - its spring and you missed the first blooms, Sigrid - but you’re here and its okay!”

Aela, looking more hale and whole than she had in the months before their departure, gave each of them a tight embrace. Sigrid couldn’t stop smiling as she watched the men and women she adored, family , moving amongst each other, exchanging news and hailing the townspeople as they made their way up the steps to the Wind District.

Jorrvaskr stood, eternally strong. Skillfully repaired, it was as though the fire and death of Morning Star had never taken place. Sigrid sighed in pleasure. A soak, in the mineral rich waters of the springs, would be more wonderful than a whole case of brandy at this point. Her muscles screamed from being seated in a bouncing cart for an entire week. She could see Vilkas wincing and stretching as well.

Her lips curled evilly; perhaps they could lock the door to the bathing cave somehow? And once again make it their own. There had been little opportunity for intimacy after Solitude when they were travelling by wagon, with only stolen caresses and heated glances to keep her warm.

She did not forget his challenge that she was somehow less skilled than he at the art of pleasure. Pulling at her leather fastenings, she wiggled as suddenly the undergarments beneath the armor felt too tight, heat coursing through her as she imagined...

 

She had plans. Very detailed plans for teaching Vilkas just exactly how informed she was -

 

Breaking through her daydream, Aela gestured for Sigrid, Farkas and Vilkas to follow her to the Underforge. Tripping in her soreness, Sigrid entered the vine covered entrance (skillfully blended to merge with the bulk of the rock) and looked around curiously.

It wasn’t that far off from the game’s version. A massive stone bowl took up the center of the room, with smaller rocky alcoves lining the cavern. She could make out small totems, carved wolves howling, hunting, beasts of prey being pursued. Totems of Hircine.

She tried to remain stoic, allowing none of the joy she felt to steal across her face. Ysgramor’s Tomb . The cure... a head for Kodlak. A head for Farkas, for Vilkas. Battle with the spirits of their wolves, brief and hopefully bloodless. And then…

Then they’d be free.

Vilkas had spoken with her at length on the subject, on the journey back to Whiterun. Since she had foreseen the beneficial effects of curing the beast blood, it was now only a matter of personal choice. Her heart went out to him as they talked quietly (too quietly for the wagon driver to hear, the old man was practically deaf as it was) of expectations and traditions. The joys of running on four paws (she had teased him about riding werewolf back, which prompted Vilkas to roll his eyes as she giggled) contrasted with the battle for dominance. The wolf always sought to dominate, Vilkas murmured. It took a strong will to resist the anger of the beast, and the bloodlust.

She thought of his face when he spoke of what he called his brother wolf; a longing stained with self disgust, as he stepped forward in the Underforge to address the others. "The old man had one wish before he died. And he didn't get it. It's as simple as that."

Aela shuffled on bare feet, her eyes going to the totems. "Being moon-born is not so much of a curse as you might think, Vilkas."

"That's fine for you.” Vilkas gestured firmly. Stepping closer to him, Sigrid caught a tilted look from Farkas who lifted an eyebrow in inquiry. She smiled back, broadly.

“But he wanted to be clean. He wanted to meet Ysgramor and know the glories of Sovngarde. But all that was taken from him."

The Huntress sighed. "And you avenged him."

Vilkas stilled, his nostrils flaring as he struggled to regain calm. Sigrid mentally huffed. Of course, Aela would bring that up. But, she reminded herself, the woman had been mourning her own mate...had not seen the Hall of Vigilants the way she and Vilkas had. It had added an entire day to their travels, but Sigrid was firm in her insistence that he saw with his own eyes the consequences of retaliation.

He had been silent, as their footprints left tracks in the snow. Bodies, burned beyond recognition, interspersed with piles of gleaming ash and spell scars upon the timbers of the once-mighty hall. Vampire dust, she had whispered. The result of an eye for an eye, the finality of continuing a warfare that destroyed yet did not rebuild. They had seen the last of their order in Riften, she explained quietly as he struggled with what he saw as betrayal, a breaking of the trust he had in her. For he had expected a fight - no, a slaughter, to repay in kind the grief and fury of the attack on his home.

But they were already over and done, never to return. Not even with the potential rise of the Dawnguard would the Vigilants of Stendarr or the Silver Hand be a power on Skyrim again.

With the silence of the grave surrounding them, a weight seemed to leave Vilkas as he sighed in resignation. And nodded, once, as Sigrid wound her arms around and held him, relieved that at last his inner turmoil had ceased. She fought her own battle in her heart, she told him quietly. And he listened as she brought forth all the doubts and fears she had never been able to express before that night spent bearing truths in the shelter of the watchtower.

Would the Silver Hand have joined forces with the Vigilants if Aela had not hunted them down?

Would Kodlak have lived, dying peacefully in his bed surrounded by beloved Companions and friends? Was it her fault, for meddling? Doing too little, or too much?

Another branch of the tree, cut off too soon to tell.

"Kodlak did not care for vengeance." Farkas sat heavily, still eyeing the way Sigrid hovered near his twin.

"No, Farkas, he didn't. And that's not what this is about.” Vilkas’s voice echoed deeply in the cavern. “We should be honoring Kodlak, no matter our own thoughts on the blood."

Aela’s face drooped. "You're right. It's what he wanted...and he deserved to have it."

Drip-drops of water somewhere in the cave reverberated as the Circle sat silent in contemplation.

Sigrid cleared her throat, with Vilkas shooting her a glance. "Kodlak used to speak of a way to cleanse his soul, even in death. You know the legends of the Tomb of Ysgramor."

“Yes,” Aela sat on the rock floor, her bare feet exposed and dirty. There was a faraway look in her gaze. "There the souls of the Harbingers will heed the call of northern steel.” She huffed. “But, we can't even enter the tomb without Wuuthrad, and it's in pieces, like it has been for a thousand years."

Footfalls sounded as Eorlund Graymane entered, face solemn. He held a massive double bladed axe, stylized, Sigrid noted with some amusement, with the face of a screaming elf at its heart.

The old blacksmith sniffed. "And dragons were just stories. And the elves once ruled Skyrim. Just because something is, doesn't mean it must be. The blade is a weapon. A tool. Tools are meant to be broken. And repaired."

"Is that?...” Vilkas’s hands twitched. “Did you repair the blade?"

Eorlund smiled, hefting the massive axe in a battle stance. "The flames of Kodlak, Hero and Harbinger, have reforged what was shattered. Behold Wuuthrad, reborn." Lifting the axe, he handed it to Vilkas, who stood as if stunned. “And now it will take you to meet him once more."

Sidling closer, Farkas traced the engravings upon the haft and the blade. “Shor almighty,” he muttered.

Aela stood, eyes bright once more. “For Kodlak.”

Farkas took in a deep breath and pulled his own blade forth. “For Kodlak!”

Lifting Wuuthrad high above his head, Vilkas’s chest swelled with unnamed emotion as his cries joined that of the other Companions. Lifting her own Skyforge steel sword, Sigrid’s eyes were suspiciously glassy as she roared along.

 

“For Kodlaaak!”

Chapter Text

Of course, they couldn’t just scamper off to the northern Pale without some preparation.

Having the Companions immediately run off to the Tomb of Ysgramor in game had been dramatic, Sigrid mused, but not practical. There was an incredible amount of packing that had to be done to allow Sigrid, Farkas, Vilkas and Aela to leave Jorrvaskr for any amount of time.

Ledgers had to be balanced, the bills paid. Lesson plans were written out, with strict orders for Njada Stonearm, Athis and the few new, fresh faced whelps who sought to join their ranks. Meals cooked, dried and stowed away...enough for three ravenous werewolves and one woman. Travel furs, of heavy weight and durability to combat the freezing snows and ice storms that choked the North Sea.

Sigrid actually bounced with excitement; she was going to see the ocean, going to the resting place of the Five Hundred Companions as well as Ysgramor himself. Along with a side trip, she thought darkly, to a certain assassin sanctuary north of Dawnstar.

She had sent a runner to investigate the situation at Loreius’s farm, north of Whiterun. The courier had returned later that evening, gibbering in fear as he relayed the news. There was no sign of a wagon, or an Imperial Jester. Four Imperial soldiers, Loreius and his Altmer wife Curwe...all had been found lying dead on the farmstead. Every cow, goat...even the chickens had been killed as well. Throats cut, with wide slashed smiles carved into the creases of their lips.

Joker style, Sigrid brooded silently. She would not underestimate Cicero again.

Enough. There was enough to prepare for, to plan. Delphine had made a surprise visit to Whiterun, hooded and skulking until Sigrid joined her in the shadows.

The Breton Blade had been relieved to open her door to the sight of Esbern, who had arrived safely on her inn doorstep. But, of course the woman was not satisfied. Delphine had spoken in tight, whispered sentences about the need to infiltrate the Thalmor Embassy, to steal the papers filed about the surviving Blades.

And, hopefully, to find out what the Thalmor knew about the return of the dragons.

Sigrid had attempted to tell Delphine, to tell her the truth. That Alduin, miraculously spit forward in time from ages long past, was resurrecting his forces for a hostile takeover. But the moment she mentioned her trip to the Greybeards, the Breton woman’s face pinched in a sour scoff. And Sigrid knew she had lost her chance.

So, along with visiting the Tomb of Ysgramor, the Dawnstar Sanctuary of the Dark Brotherhood, and in a few weeks the destruction of the current sanctuary of the Dark Brotherhood south of Falkreath…

Her schedule was booked. Rather like having too many quest markers, she thought amusedly to herself.  

Packing the hagraven heads herself (thank the gods they were frozen solid and no longer gave off a stench) Sigrid gathered the notes from the Harbingers desk.

His rooms had remained undisturbed those months Sigrid and Vilkas had traveled across the land. Dust softened the piles of books, coating the blankets and shelves. Fondly patting the chair he often slept in (still draped in his favorite bear furs) Sigrid closed the door quietly.

...Only to slam face first into steel plate.

 

“We have to stop meeting like this.” Throwing her hand dramatically over her brow, Sigrid looked up at him, batting her eyes.

Suddenly, all her breath left her in a huff as Vilkas threw her over his shoulder. “Stop! Cease! Desist!” She yelled melodramatically, pounding his back with her fists. He continued to walk with his burden down the hallway as she started to giggle. This was something out of a cheesy romance novel; the burly barbarian dragging his woman to bed.

Grunting in pain as his armor dug into her side, she pinched what she could reach of his ass. Mmm...lucky her. She felt him spank her in return, heard Farkas guffaw somewhere out of sight (her hair had fallen over her face in a wild tangle) as Vilkas muttered something that made his brother laugh even harder.

Shutting the door so hard that one of the boards cracked, Vilkas dumped his burden onto the bed. Sigrid had a moment to realize that everything was spotlessly clean, the tapestries beaten clean from soot, with a vase of spring wildflowers on the side table.

-And then she began laughing in earnest as Vilkas, his hands everywhere, began tickling her. “Ack! Damn it, stop that.” She curled up in a ball away from him, batting away the hands that wormed their way into the gaps of her armor, the backs of her knees, her armpits. “See if I ever tell you my weaknesses again!”

Bored to tears, they had begun swapping tales from their pasts as they watched the tundra slowly roll by. Vilkas told her of the time Aela had arrived to join the Companions, a scrawny girl dressed in ragged furs like a Forsworn; who pinched Farkas and taunted him until Vilkas found his twin hiding in tears. That had prompted Vilkas and Aela’s first ever fistfight. It had been declared a tie, as Aela ended up losing her front teeth and Vilkas cradled a broken nose.

They were both called to task by Kodlak for their childish spar. But, it had made them close friends at an age where boys and girls often avoided the other. Sigrid wondered if cooties existed in Tamriel in some form, too.

In return, Sigrid told him about the day her boys had been particularly rowdy, with a summer rainstorm keeping them inside and driving her up the wall. Tempted to spank them (they had broken three plates and a glass) she had taken one look at the sniffling, rebellious kids and had tickled them instead. She smiled as she remembered chasing them, shrieking around the house as she administered her punishment. Many couch forts and stories later, they had all fallen asleep in a big puppy pile.

“You should know better by now than to open yourself to an opponent, woman.”

Oh, that smug shit would not do. Thrusting a leg between his, she heaved until his greater weight toppled over, catching him completely off guard as he nearly crushed her in his fall. Laughing hysterically beneath him, she wheezed “Oh god, you should have seen your face!”

His head banged against the wall. “What am I going to do with you, woman? You run into me without apologizing, attack me, trip me into bed…” unfastening her armor, his questing fingers finally found their prize as she began laughing helplessly.

“No! Ahah hah hah, oh stop! I’ll do anything, I swear!” Slapping him away, he grinned as he gripped her arm and held it high above her head, the better to attack her armpit.

“I think not,” he said idly as she writhed beneath him. “Such underhanded dealings will cost you.”

One hazel eye peered out of her birds nest of hair. “Oh really?”

Then suddenly, the tables turned as her hands delved beneath the laces and furs of his armor, and he was suddenly interested, very interested in whatever Sigrid had planned.

She smiled in sly victory. “So, Vilkas, ever heard of the term ‘blowjob’?”

 

*******************

 

Later that night, after a new cask of mead had been broached and emptied in honor of their return (leaving most of the warriors dozing where they lay at table) they crept into the bathing cave.

“Alone at last,” Sigrid whispered playfully as she sank into the slightly sulphurous and steaming waters. Vilkas followed her in, moaning as the tension of the previous months slipped away with the heat.

They lay there in wordless bliss, eventually sitting up out of the water as they became overly hot. Steam poured from their skin, Sigrid sighing in contentment as Vilkas rubbed some salve into her shoulders. “So, in this ‘game’ of yours, did Jorrvaskr look the same way?”

“Not entirely.” Pulling the mass of hair forward over one shoulder, she leaned back to give him better access. “They had a training yard, of course. And Jorrvaskr was close to the Skyforge. But there weren’t as many rooms, or practical things. Such as the privy.” And thank god for whoever had designed them with the seats directly over a running stream. Other privies were not as fragrant. Some had been so rank she swore her hair curled when she drew near. Although Sigrid winced when she saw folks casually step in or drink from the water running down the streets of Whiterun. Eww.

“...And there was an Underforge, with tunnels that led out of Whiterun. No bathing rooms or springs though. Mmm, that feels so good, right there.” His thumb continued digging into her shoulder blade as she considered what she had been thinking about. “Anything else?”

“Well,” she began sheepishly. “This is going to sound so surreal, but I actually married Farkas once. In the game, with my fake Dragonborn avatar.”

His hands stopped. “You’re joking.”

“Nope.” She popped the ‘p’. “Farkas was...much more sweet. And slightly dense, in the game. Like a cute puppy. Not that he isn’t nice now!” she added hurriedly as Vilkas began laughing.

His hands rubbed idly over her hips. “And what about me, hmm? Did I not tempt you?” She could hear the smile in his voice.

“Umm....yes?” Oh boy. Awkward. Thinking of how to phrase this, she turned to face him. “So, you er, you and your brother...actually all the Companions...had quite a fan base back home.”

“Hmm?” He was distracted, she could tell, his hand that had rubbed her hip slowly meandering further south. God. But if this was how she was going to die of embarrassment, she would die in bravery. “I may or may not have read quite a few stories about you. In...intimate situations.”

Blinking, he looked puzzled. “Your people had the time to play these involved games, and then write about it?” He seemed to be masterfully ignoring the jist of what she had said.

She swallowed as his finger crept closer, shamefully hoping he’d rub her and yet hoping he wouldn’t, so that she could think straight. Damn, but he was distracting. “Yes, certain inventions made it...possible to...waste time, oh hell , do it or don’t, just…” he pressed his thumb straight against her clit and she stiffened in ecstacy.

“What kind of things did you read about?” His voice was a deep purr.

Whining, she struggled to move, get away from his questing hands. They kept her trapped in place, as he seemed utterly focused on circling her center of pleasure.

“Er, well...most stories seemed to involve Ulfric Stormcloak - I know, why, right? - or Aela, or Brynjolf - that thief from Riften, yes the annoying one. But I loved to play as...umm...a wicked character. So, the things I liked to read were often about getting caught stealing from the Companions, and ah..” one of his fingers slowly pumped inside of her  - “... god I loved the ones where you or Farkas would catch the Dragonborn and punish her, and…”

Sudden splashing filled the room as he kneed her roughly apart and put his mouth on her. Clenching her thighs around his head, she furiously bit down on her hand, breathing quickly in and out as his tongue replaced his fingers. 

Later, they lay on towels in the room. Sigrid shifted in his arms, pleasantly sore and and scrubbed clean. He had made her come twice more (the last as she rode his lap, gasping as he slammed her onto his cock, damn that was fun) but now he had finally run out of stamina, it seemed, and was beginning that deep, slow breathing that usually meant he was almost asleep.

“You’ve always been my favorite,” she whispered, hoping he was too tired to hear.

His chest rumbled as he chuckled. “Hope so.”

Sighing happily, she cuddled closer.

“But you realize I now have to tell Farkas everything.”

She yawned. “Do that, and I will tell all the Companions the truth; that I saved your ass from a woman who had nothing but a knife. Naked.”

“Damn.”

Chapter Text

The dark pool lay still, unfathomable, ringed by nightshade. The wind, stirring the nearby pines and tossing the purplish heads of the deadly plants, made no ripple on the waters.

"Don't touch that. I'm not sure it is even water," Sigrid whispered in agitation to her shield siblings as they drew closer to their prey.

It was supposed to be so easy. Should have known Murphy's Law existed even here, in Skyrim. Or would that be M'aiq's Law? It seemed randomly destructive enough.

Commander Maro of the Penitus Oculatus had not been content to wait a month. Sigrid had received a message one week after arriving in Whiterun, scribbled sentences that informed her that the Falkreath Sanctuary was to be attacked that following Sundas, in three days. And if she was to assist, she would have to haul ass to get there in time.

Arrogant Imperial, she thought frantically. Judging by the body count of the soldiers fallen like leaves around the black door, they hadn't even planned to wait for her. The wrinkled form of what looked to be Festus Krex hung limply bound from a tree, pincushioned with dozens of arrows. If they had had the time to torment the mage, then the fools would have given the remaining assassins all the time in the world to flee or prepare to fight, accordingly.

Babette and Cicero. Undead child and mad jester. The two who always survived in every playthrough in the quest Destroy the Dark Brotherhood. She couldn't let them live; not when the body count was so high.

Sigrid had a sinking feeling that it would be up to her, Farkas and Athis to clear the sanctuary and also rescue the commander with the any of his surviving men. Though, feeling the blood squishing into mud underfoot, she would be pleasantly surprised if they did have help in the bowels of the assassin’s lair.

Vilkas had wanted, no, demanded to come and fight by her side. But Jorrvaskr needed him more. There were at least five new whelps, bright faced and eager, who had to be put through basic training. Farkas had attempted to keep the accounts balanced, but (and Sigrid knew this was just proof of how stupidly head over heels she was for the man) Vilkas had gone into an adorably long winded rant as he flipped through the books about just how damn long it would take him to sort all the numbers.

He should be Harbinger. Not her. Hell, even Farkas would be a better fit.

Tilma and Eorlund had approached her the day after the welcome feast with the news, taken from Kodlaks journal. Of course, this piece of foreknowledge had been depressingly accurate.  Down to the dream recorded, with the old Harbingers vision of Sigrid herself, driving back Hircine and leading the Companions to a glorious afterlife in Sovngarde.

No pressure, she thought acerbically. Barely a year ( a year ) in this world and she was the fucking Dragonborn and the Harbinger of the Companions.

She didn't want it. Hell, Sigrid just wanted to eat Tilma's delicious apple pie, try all the wines, and sleep until the aching soreness that pounded her head went away. There were so many gorgeous places she wanted to see with her own eyes, like the Forgotten Vale and glowing Blackreach. She wanted to sunbathe with a shirtless Vilkas on a sunny beach with fruity drinks (where was the nearest hot sandy beach? Hammerfell? Worth it). Maybe build a house of their own, far away from nosy Companions. Especially, she glared at Farkas who had taken point, Shield Brothers who liked to tease.

Sigrid rolled her shoulders, forcing herself to loosen up her tense muscles as Farkas pushed open the black door all the way. It made no sound, for such a heavy stone door. Thin tendrils of smoke escaped as they silently entered in, with Athis smiling savagely as he readied his dual wielded Skyforge blades, gleaming greenish ochre with poisons.

The Dunmer warrior had not become more verbose with time. But, he had made a request to come along, when he heard what Sigrid was about, the night she had related her upcoming quest and had been declared Harbinger to a stunned roomful of fighters. He had taken the news in stride (much more so than Aela, who had stomped off and began furiously whispering with Vilkas in the corner) and when Farkas, Tilma and Lucia had finished toasting her and declaring their loyalty, he had pulled Sigrid aside to tell her about the Morag Tong.

The worshippers of Mephala had murdered the Dunmers entire family clan when he was just a child. Athis had survived, barely, by hiding in a barrel and creeping out when the screams (and footfalls) went silent. Athis followed Azura, he told her in hushed reverence, had crawled his way across the border of Morrowind to seek Azura's statue...a pilgrimage of the Goddess of Dawn and Dusk. At Her feet, Athis had recovered from his journey, his wounds treated by her priests and priestesses.

Ending a guild of murdering fanatics was too good to pass up, he informed her with a strange gleam in his blood red eyes.

Sigrid was never more grateful for his fervor when in a matter of minutes, the smoke from the burning sanctuary obscured all sight. Handing her and Farkas a small blue bottle, she followed Athis' gesture to drink up and immediately saw the glowing outlines of bodies dancing, dealing and avoiding death. Detect life, she thought, with a sudden spring in her step. Farkas returned her grin with a smile that had fangs, and then they were suddenly upon them.

Sigrid found herself locking blades with what had to be Nazir, his white teeth set in a snarl as sweat soaked his turban. Straight Skyforge steel shed sparks as his curved scimitar thrust, curved and thrust again, seeking to end her.

Not far, she could barely see Farkas battling Arnbjorn out of the corner of her eye. The two werewolves wielded massive two handed blades as they furiously swung at each other, growling and barking gruff threats. Had they known each other other once, or...

With a swift chop, Nazir disarmed Sigrid. Crouching in desperation as his blade came down, she rolled out of the way, tossing a palm full of dirt toward the Alik’r's dark face. It bought her just enough time to snatch her sword and see his jaw grow slack, eyes dimming in death as twin dagger points emerged from his chest.

Nodding her thanks, Sigrid ran past Athis and lunged as Veezara attempted to stab a truly enraged Farkas, who was throttling Arnbjorn by the throat. The scaly skin parted for her, as she slashed him in passing, his taloned hands clutching his throat as he fell.

Three down. Four, as Arnbjorn ceased struggling in Farkas's crushing grip, eyes popping from their sockets as his tongue protruded swollenly. She felt a faint twinge of fear as her shield brother dropped the were like a sack of flour and loomed over her ( no, it's Farkas, it's okay ), his eyes glittering wildly in the firelight.

"Please tell me there are more to kill, sister."

"This way!" She led the Dunmer and Nord further into the nest of tunnels, stumbling as they tripped now and then on the bodies clad in Imperial armor. Remembering the layout of the sanctuary was simple; she had roamed it so many times when Sarah Ferguson played a Khajiit assassin, or a Dunmer battlemage that she confidently ignored the false corridors and shadowed dead ends to reach her goal.The sanctuary smelled of moldy rot, the bitterness of poisons and somehow, old blood. Sigrid had a brief moment to wonder why it didn’t seem quite as homey as it had when her avatar had been welcomed with murderous open arms into the family. Circumstance was everything, she supposed.

Suddenly the three reached an open chamber where an alchemy table was set near an enchanter’s alcove. Sigrid could see that Gabrielle, the Dunmer mage, had been eliminated as well... blood soaking her robes as she slumped atop the main table. Death that had been bought dearly, by the looks of spellcast scorch marks and the bodies of soldiers sprawled upon the floor.

The smoke was turning more thick and and acrid the further in they went. Sigrid coughed and choked, feeling Athis and Farkas solidly at her back as she hurried to catch the most elusive and dangerous remaining assassin.

Babette had to be here somewhere, she thought wildly as her head whipped around, struggling to see against the flames crackling around her. She could see embers of orange eating into the supporting timbers, and knew time was short. "Farkas!" She cried, grabbing his elbow as the Nord werewolf tried to rush past. "The vampire girl! Do you smell her?"

Wrinkling his nose, Farkas lifted his head, sniffing the stale air. "No scent.. just blood and fire." He sneezed, Athis giving them both a strange look. Peering into the last tunnel, she saw that it ended in a collection of rooms lined with beds, all empty and burning in billowing clouds of black. "I don't see Commander Maro," the Dunmer shouted at her against the roaring of the fire. "Time to leave!" She hoarsely yelled back, keeping her blade ready.

Damn, and double damn. There must have been some private escape tunnel, some secret way out for the undead child. No honor among thieves or murderers it seemed, Sigrid thought as they ran past the bodies of Gabrielle and the crushed remains of Lis, Babette's pet spider.

A figure stumbled blindly ahead, calling out into the hellish darkness. "Father! Father, where are you?"

Stubborn fools. If only they had waited, had bloody listened to her about the risks, the need for preparation. Grabbing Gaius Maro by the arm, Sigrid disarmed him, throwing away his sword as he struggled, throwing punches and generally panicking. "I didn't see your father in there, he must have left already!" She shouted into his ear. Shor save her, he continued struggling against her grip as she strong-armed him to the surface.

The green pines and ferns had never been a more welcome sight as the group hurtled past the black door, coughing and pulling in great lungfuls of fresh damp air. Breathe. We're alive. Just breathe.

"Easy! Easy, my boy." Commander Maro forcibly hauled his son off of Sigrid as she bent over, trying to keep hold of her last meal. The stench of death was everywhere; dead men piled up in wagon loads, their grim faced compatriots silently dragging the rest of their casualties out of the sanctuary.

"Well done!" Maro clapped his hand on her shoulder. Feebly waving it away, she gripped Farkas's hand as he pulled her up straight. "I will personally inform the Emperor of this glorious victory. You and your, erm..." He struggled for words at the sight of Athis and Farkas bedecked in blood, weapons dripping, "...brethren, should be richly rewarded. Here," he placed a chest in Farkas's hands, causing the Nord were to grunt and shift under its weight. Still trying to control her gasps, Sigrid nodded. "We found it in their lair, near what looked to be the leader's quarters. Compensation for your timely assistance."

And just as she was about to snarl at Maro (the ass, he would have fucking died along with all his men for that Imperial arrogance) the leader of the Penitus Oculatus strode away, followed by his son, who did not wave, but looked back wide eyed as the caravan of death disappeared down the cobbled road.

Wiping her tearing eyes, Sigrid sniffed as she felt more soot and blood smear on her face. No wonder Gaius had looked at her like that; she must look like something a dragon spat out.

It was strange, Sigrid thought, realizing that common citizens found her frightening.

"Azura's mercy. That's a lot of coin." Athis murmured admiringly as Sigrid walked over to Farkas and opened the chest. She blinked at the sudden gleam of gold, piles of it, in which nestled jewels of every hue and shape. Strings of pearls, amulets, as well as what looked suspiciously like a carved jade phallus. Well, well. It seemed even assassins had needs. Averting her eyes, she blushed beet red, closing the chest as Farkas raised an eyebrow at her.

"Well," Sigrid clicked her tongue. "I think we can afford a wagon ride back to Whiterun, now."

"And pay back the repairs made to Jorrvaskr, among other things." Farkas did not smile, but heaved a great sigh of relief as he put down the chest and began cleaning his blade on a scrap of linen.

“If you have any further errands like this serjo, please feel free to bring me along.” Athis was still staring at the chest with undisguised glee.

“I will...you certainly earned your share, serah.” Winking back at the Dunmer, the new Harbinger sat down with a weary sigh. “A good days work. One less thing to do.”

“Oh, sister, is that all you see?” Athis sat down near her and began inspecting his blades, reapplying poisonous salve. “I think this victory will earn us another feast, back at Jorrvaskr. I for one am anxious to drink all the mead my share allows me.”

“And a bath.” Sigrid stretched her arms, leaning side to side as she worked out the crick in her shoulders. “Yes, we know, a bath for the soft skinned outlander.” Athis teased back.

Sharing more good natured jibes as they packed up for the trip home, none of them noticed that a full moon was slowly rising. An orange moon.

A Hunter’s Moon.

 

*******************

Blood, so shiny, so fresh-red, drink the blood eat the flesh.

Call, call the pack call the pack on the hunt moon hunt.

Slashing ripping tearing with fang claw eat as they scream pretty screams

Call the brothers call them CALL CALL CALL

 

She could hold it in no longer. No more. Lonely, longing for her brothers. Lost to the moon, Aela howled.

And as she waited with indrawn breath, moments later she heard a faint howl echo back.

Her blood coated lips stretched into a smile.

 

Call the wolves, sister hunter. Call them, call them close. Call them here.

Here for blood, for the flesh, so fine to tear, to rip to maul.

Eat their screams, lovely screams so fine.

 

Lord Hircine had called. Her Horned God bid her call the others. So she called, stretching, twisting as bones popped and muscle writhed over flesh as she changed. Changed into the beast, the wolf, still hunched over the kill.

The white stag still gleamed white in the darkness of the shadowed trees. She stretched her clawed hands, the hand that held the ring. Pretty ring. From Sinding. Hah. Her mind pulsed like a drumbeat as she grinned at her own pun. Red, rich drops of blood spattered the trophy hide. She was liberally covered, dripping in iron red life. But no matter...it had been a wild hunt, a fine hunt.

Her Lord called. She would obey, and hunt again, as was proper. Aela the Huntress, descendent of Hrotti Backblade, would find and seek her prey. Sinding. The one Her Lord wanted dead.

And her brothers would come. Come to hunt, to eat the kill. She would be alone no more. What would their high handed morals, their denial of this basic instinct, their own nature come to when confronted with this...this joy? Surely once they saw, once they could feel again...they would come around. They would hunt with her again.

Adrenaline hissed in her veins as she grew tight with wanting, with heavy lust as the Aspect of her Lord, of Hircine caressed her with moon pale claws. Shifting from mighty stag to wolf, to bear, to werewolf, Her Lord’s glorious aspect wavered like shadow. Aela whined as His claws raked furrows down her neck, tongue laving her neck.

 

You have been faithful, my Huntress. I know your devotion to Me. You will never be alone again.

 

Stretching her neck to the glorious moon that hung, harvest gold and heavy, she crooned a song.

 

Come to me, brothers.

 

**********

“Do you hear that?” Farkas lifted his head again to the night sky, stone grey eyes puzzled.

“Nothing. I hear nothing, for the tenth time tonight brother. Go to sleep, while you can.” Athis grumped, turning over in his furs. Sigrid shifted in sympathy; this had been the best campsite they could find, and it was still heavily covered in lumpy tree roots, rocks and wet fern. She had drawn first watch, and she wrapped her furs more tightly as her breath came out in a cloud of hot mist. “He’s right, Farkas. Sleep while you can. I’ll wake you at midnight.”

“No. Something’s not right.” Her shield brother stood suddenly, an odd tension rippling through his unclothed back as he sniffed the air. An almost audible whine came from his chest.

Of course the Nord was comfortable in almost nothing at all, Sigrid sighed mentally. Just because she and Athis would freeze even in early summer without their furs...yet Farkas could waltz about in a fur kilt and not even get goosebumps from the chill.

“Wait, wha-” Sigrid hardly finished her thought before Farkas bounded off into the darkness, into the trees. Shielding her eyes from the firelight, she blinked as she focused, trying to see him. “Farkas! Farkas come back!”

“Oh, for Oblivion's sake.” Athis made a disgusted noise, then tore off his sleeping furs with a huff. “The stubborn oaf. Going off about this smell, that noise all day long.”

Sigrid kept her face still, not betraying any emotion as she hurriedly packed up camp, dousing the fire with a kick of wet earth. Athis had not joined the Circle (technically neither had she ) and Sigrid wasn’t exactly sure how private her friends wanted to be about the beastblood. Even if it seemed a bit...obvious. It’s a secret to everybody. Right. And half the Companions disappeared every few weeks for long, romantic strolls in the moonlight. Tilma often despaired aloud of ever getting all the blood out of Aela’s carpets…

Aela. Ever since that night she had been made Harbinger (against her will) Aela had been missing from Whiterun. Vilkas had reassured her, stating that it was not unusual for the huntress to work off a fit of pique by taking to the tundra and hunting down several elk or sabre cat. With the temper (and evil glare she had fastened on her new Harbinger) Sigrid would bet anything that Aela had bagged mammoth this time. It seemed like that time of month.

Meeting the Dunmer’s exasperated gaze, she motioned him on as they followed the obvious trail Farkas had left. Worry filled her; it wasn’t like her friend to just take off like that.


Not like him at all.

Chapter Text

It had been years since Farkas had felt this way. Not since he had been young, a young man. Newly tattooed and basking in the glow of pride. Pride in himself, in his brother. At being entrusted with the Circle’s great secret.

Lycanthropy. The beast blood. Moon called. A tradition that dated back hundreds of years. Wild and fearsome strength, Jergen had told them, his normally jovial face serious with the desire to impress upon the restless younglings the weight of this honor.

So many names for a simple thing. Natural. His feet raced over the forest floor, sharp grey eyes taking in every branch, root and rock as he flowed into the night, one with the night, seeking, a feeling he had not felt since…

The first transformation was always the worst, Jergen told them.

But Farkas had not believed, had not been prepared for the gut ripping pain, the feeling that his insides, all those murky bits of odds and ends, had somehow rearranged as he bent over with the agony. He could see Vilkas faring not much better, paces away from him in the clearing Jergen and Kodlak had chosen for their first moon.

Something gave inside with a wet rip, and Farkas choked out a howl, sharp burning heat poking through as fangs emerged from his open maw. His limbs felt loose, the ground further away than was normal as he stood flexing, chest heaving.

And was overwhelmed by the terrible, clear beauty. The beauty of it all.

Farkas heard Vilkas gasp, wolf-rough, as he too took it in. The moon - shades and patches on Secunda’s rough face. The furry edge of a luna moth’s wing. An ant crawling on a yellow-veined leaf. The scents, so rich and complex, good and bad...he could smell Kodlak’s breath, the honeyed mead he must have drunk for dinner. The scent of the oil they used to sharpen their blades. A rabbit twitched, hiding in the brush behind him. All this knowledge, imparted in a single breath.

It was intoxicating, and as the brothers prostrated themselves before Kodlak and Jergen (who must have Changed as they were struck dumb and staring) Farkas felt his jittery pulse thrum with excitement. It was almost as good as when Helgi had let him touch her breasts, giggling nervously, or when Farkas had made his first kill on the tundra and saw the proud faces of his family eating, full and happy and fed.

Oh, how ready he was, ready to hunt, to kill, to do something, anything. His claws ached to rend, tear. To fuck…

He heard the howl, then. Aching, pure and powerful in its lonely call.

Come to me. Come in me. Be with me.

Without meaning to, his legs pounded even faster into the loamy forest floor. He was needed. He was wanted. All of Farkas had been condensed into one single purpose.

Find her. Hunt with her. Be with her.

And, as his cock throbbed, hanging heavily as he leapt and dodged gracefully through the trees, he could slake the lust, kill the pain, the lonely call he felt echo through him. Thoughts were gone, purged in the raw simplicity of this bone-deep need.

Lifting his face to the ripe moon, he howled back.

Not far. He sniffed, picking up the pace.

Not far at all.

**************************

He came.

Aela slumped as she saw only one appear, silver eyed and raw, before her.

No matter. He would do.

Lifting her paw, she growled in need as she carefully painted the blood, rich fresh blood of her kill upon his face. She could see it, the moment Hircine blessed him, see the pupils expand and his breath hitch as he felt it. Oh Horned Lord, God of the Hunt, he did feel it after all.

And Aela would never be alone again. She nuzzled him, resisting the impulse to bite down on that tenderly beating pulse as the man ( Farkas , the woman inside her sighed) fell to his knees, still looking at the great white stag laid out before them.

Feast, brrotherrr,” Aela spoke around dagger-sharp teeth, pulling claws through his long dark hair. Not yet fur, but soon. “ Heed th’ caaall…chaaange.”

“Farkas!”

Hissing, Aela whipped her muzzle left and right, searching for the intruder. A woman and a man, not far off. Intruders. Challenging her. Taking her rightful prey.

Her werewolf, brother-soon-to-be-mate, winced as Aela released an ear-splitting howl of defiance, clawed hands raking the air.

“Farkas, what th-” stumbling loudly into the open air of the grotto, the scarred woman blinked ( so familiar sister-in-pain ). “What in Shor’s hairy ballsack is going on here? Farkas? Who is this?”

The elf man hung back in the trees, blood red eyes wide and fearful. Good. Aela would allow him to slink away, just this once. This woman had come, she knew, come to take away what was hers. Deep inside, she felt the truth of this in her gut. Something, something she treasured, this one would take.

Not if she was dead! Lunging forward with the speed of a striking snake, Aela’s jaws trailed gobs of saliva as her muzzle champed, snapped at the neck, the arm. So sweet, the flesh, to rend and tear and gobble up, gobbets of flesh. Hircine promised.

Leaping backwards (so slow, the prey was not worthy) the woman who smelt of dragonfire and lavender kept her eyes on Aela, so wise, and slowly walked closer to the werewolf still kneeling on the ground.

“Farkas, come on, Farkas I need you to snap out of this!” Leaning closer, away from Aela, the woman cradled his face in her hands and stiffened as he opened moon-bright eyes to stare at her in puzzlement as she touched him, touched one who had already been touched by Hircine. 

Ah, the fear. The best spice to a hunt, blowing aside all barriers. The bones in the woman’s wrists cracked as Farkas grabbed both wrists of the woman, hoisting her high. Aela watched in amusement as the woman ( Sigrid! Aela howled. No, stop this, stop it, its SIGRID-) choked in surprise as Farkas’ mouth claimed hers, taking both wrists in one hand, keeping her suspended as the other clawed away all furs, all clothing, all obstructions to the hunt.

The Hunt had been called. Had been given. Tongue lolling out of her muzzle, Aela capered playfully in the clearing as Farkas gripped the woman with his free hand, already growing claws, and pressed her, full body against his. Writhing to get away, the woman was only making it worse. Prey ran. Prey struggled. All the better for the taking. Oh, it was sweet.

The elf man was watching, a musky fear emanating from him. Aela feinted an attack, just to see him yelp and take off, running north. Where the other soft two legs lived, where her human form lived enslaved by those rock-hard fetters, those feelings so impure and confusing.

Wasn’t this better? She licked her paw as she waited, patiently, as her wolf-brother stripped the woman of her leather coverings, her steel tooth-blade. She kicked and yelled, tears streaming as she screamed meaningless words at the moon-bound man, trying to bite him when he held her chin still to take her mouth with his once more.

He would take her. He would change her. And they would hunt, once more. A full pack.

And it would be glorious.

***************

What in Kynareth was going on?!?

Oh, this was just pointless, yet Sigrid couldn’t help but fight - fight the wild strength of the stranger that had somehow taken over Farkas. This, this couldn’t be her brother. The one who had held her hair as she vomited over his boots. Who sang silly songs, knitted horrible afghans and never raised his voice.

Against her will, she shivered as his tongue swept hungrily through her mouth. They were pressed so closely together that Sigrid was left without any illusions as to how the evening was to conclude. Struggling to raise her knee (wait, was she naked? When the fuck had that happened?!?) Sigrid attempted that last ditch effort of desperate females everywhere. She kicked his balls, as hard as she could, and heard a satisfying grunt of pain as his hands released her.

She dropped, stunned, to the forest floor. That must have been a ten foot fall, she thought blankly, rubbing her ass. Probably be a mother of a bruise there, tomorrow.

If she saw tomorrow. She could see the she-wolf coming for her, preparing to attack again. No weapons in sight, no reliable Skyforge steel at hand.

Crouching on her heels, Sigrid prayed that Athis had made it away safely as all of a sudden a weight forced her onto her back. No , hell no, and she fought with every dirty trick in the book as a very naked, very zoned out Farkas rubbed the length of himself roughly against her.

She panted as struggled to get out, get out GET OUT from under him. “Farkas, listen to me, you don’t want this, please stop. For fucks sake, you’re like my brother, just-)

- with a massive thud that shook the ground, another werewolf (obviously male, no genderless wolfmen here) leapt upon Farkas from nowhere. Pinning the Companion down, he began slashing and tearing with massive paws, jaws snapping as they struggled to bit down on his neck.

“No!” she cried, searching vainly for her sword, anything really that she could use as a weapon. She could Shout, but didn't quite feel like harming Farkas. Yet. Maybe after he had explained what the hell had happened, here.

But the strange were was not the only threat as Sigrid backed away from the she-wolf, who opened her jaws panting in what looked to be a smug smile. Thunk! K-chunk!

An arrow embedded itself in the werewolf’s thigh. Keening in rage, she bounded off for the woods. Sigrid couldn’t see, couldn’t tell in the dark who had shot the were. But soon it all became clear as Athis desperately shouted from far away “-Sigrid! Stay close to the wall!”

Sigrid did as he asked, shivering with cold as well as nerves now, as another arrow took the werewolf atop Farkas in the back. With a cut-off bark and groan, he jerkily fell off of Farkas who was lying too-still there, naked in the raked-up clumps of grass.

“Shit. Shit shit shit. Damn, where are my potions?” Heeding the sudden twitch of her gut, Sigrid leapt completely over Farkas as the female werewolf suddenly lunged for her, almost clawing out her guts. Close...too close, and she was shivering full bodied now, as the slavering creature took one step, then another, and -

- and then fell, fell heavily onto the grass with a sigh and did not get up.

Sigrid froze, not wanting to make a move in case the crazy bat-shit thing made a move. It didn’t move.

“Here sister. I think your leather armor is good and done for.”

Accepting the fur pelt Athis offered her, eyes averted, she swallowed as she tied the makeshift dress around her and then stood wobbling in the moonlight. Blinking, she squelched the bubbling betrayal as she stood over the form of Farkas. “What...what was all that about?”

“I don’t know. Let’s ask him in the morning, when everyone has clothes on again." Keeping his movements slow and unhurried (for her benefit, she realized, since she was shaking like a leaf) Athis reached for the coil of rope tied to his travel pack.

"Just so you know, I’m tying them all up. I don’t know how long this paralysis potion I shot them with will last.” Athis began to busy himself picking up the odds and ends that had been scattered all over the meadow clearing. Forcing herself to move around the still, breathing forms of the werewolves (except for the strange male, who seemed to not be moving at all, arrow still embedded in his back) Sigrid noticed all of a sudden that the rocky walled cavern they were in was beautiful , with an open ceiling that framed a galaxy-strewn sky.

Over in the corner by a rock wall, a small shrine decorated in antlers, bones and hides had been carefully tended with candles and incense. Coughing, she grimaced at the sour-sweet stench of the smoke. “Athis, I’ve never seen this plant. What is this stuff?” She picked up a dried bundle of the strangely spiky leaves tied with twine to show him.

Wiping his hands off as he finished the knots that bound Farkas and the two werewolves to nearby tree trunks, Athis examined it with a critical eye. “Oh, for the love of - put that down!” He spluttered, with Sigrid frowning as the Dunmer seemed to bite back a laugh.

“None of this is funny Athis.”

“I know, Azura take me, I saw all... that ...earlier. But this,” he fingered the incense bundle. “This is epimedium.” Taking in her clueless expression, Athis smiled. “Horny goats weed. It’s an aphrodisiac.”

Dropping it faster than a pile of dried mammoth shit, Sigrid danced away, kicking dirt at the incense burners. “Oh for crying out loud! The fuck do they need that for, anyway!?!”

Athis and Sigrid stared at one another. Suddenly they both started snickering, as the ridiculous hilarity trumped the near death experience they had both faced.

“Hircine’s Horny Goat’s Weed.” Sigrid was turning purple from helpless laughter, as she began waving wildly at Farkas. “Like, haha - like he even needs it!”

“Oh ho,” Athis chortled weakly, wrapping his middle tightly with his hands. “Oh, that hurts. Well, all I can say is that I was wrong. This will be a much better story to tell in Jorrvaskr over a mug of mead than the slaughter of the sanctuary.”

“Ugh, just…” Sigrid picked at the grass in her hair. Frowning at the blood decorating her lips, she shuddered as she remembered Farkas pulling her lip between razor sharp teeth. A feral kiss. One that was going to raise a hell of a lot of questions, once that big bastard woke up. “Just give me until tomorrow morning to talk to them. Well, whoever the others are.”

Athis nodded, still grinning. “Sure, sister. As long as I get to keep the weed.”

“Ugh. Like you need it either. I've heard enough stories at the Bannered Mare.”

“You never know, sister.”

******************

It was with shock, pain and no little amount of foreboding that Aela and Farkas awoke the next morning to find themselves bound quite thoroughly with rope, each tied to a tree. Even worse was the expressions of exasperated humor that Sigrid and Athis stared them down with.

Aela’s face fell, drooping even further as she realized the werewolf form of Sinding was dead, slumped in his binds against a tree with an arrow in his back. But, she realized as Farkas shot her a look that was brimming with humiliated loathing, she probably had bigger problems at the moment.

“So,” Sigrid tapped her foot on the ground. She was wearing nothing but a chewed up wolf pelt, tied with leather thongs. “Someone’s got some ‘splaining to do.”

Athis rolled his eyes. “Today, please. You s’wits have set us back long enough.”

Aela and Farkas looked at each other, then said in unison, “You first.”

Sigrid hissed and stamped her foot. “This...this, augh!” Throwing her hands in the air, Sigrid stomped off muttering something Farkas couldn’t quite hear. Something about stupid werewolves and their stupidly hot brothers and…

Oh. That was not complimentary.

Athis raised his eyebrow at the bound Companions, who were tugging at their ropes with steadily sheepish expressions. “Really? Werewolves?

Farkas sighed. He didn’t even remember what he was in trouble for.

“I hate Morndas,” Aela seethed next to him.

Chapter Text

“...and then, we made it back here. So that’s, er, all of it.”

Vilkas stared nonplussed at the faces of his shield siblings sitting around the table. When he had asked the three returning warriors what, exactly, had happened to put such a variety of expressions (and smells. Vilkas never thought he’d smell embarrassed intrigue wafting from his brother, but there it was) on their faces, he was not prepared for the honest truth.

Which apparently entailed his own brother getting into his woman’s pants. Or getting them off. He was too enraged to draw a distinction, at the moment.

Get out. Everyone but you, Sigrid.” Rubbing his temple with forefinger and thumb, Vilkas closed his eyes tightly, striving to banish the pounding headache that had existed since the discussion began.

“Vilkas…” His eyes opened. They were alone in Kodlak’s room, the door quietly shut tight. “It was, um, well…”

“If anything you are about to say excuses Farkas for what may or may not have happened then do not bother to speak. He knows better. I have seen more self control regarding a...a leg of goat roast than he has shown in this!”

“Hmm, I wasn’t actually going to mention him.” Her full, scarred lips, with their delicate cupids bow spread in a sad smile, then slowly turn down as Sigrid thinks. “I was more concerned about Aela, actually.”

Vilkas feels the iron ridged tightness of his muscles relax slightly, at that. “Explain.”

"Aela may have briefly mentioned this in passing,” Sigrid stepped behind him and began applying pressure with her hands to his head. Sighing, he dropped his head back, giving her further access. “...But no, she is not exactly enthralled that I have been made Harbinger. Against my inclination or opinion as well, I might add.”

Her thumbs dug into the base of his skull, rubbing at the tightness there. “I...am not sure how to deal with her recent streak of defiance.”

Despite the relaxation stealing through him at her touch, Vilkas snorted. “A Harbinger guides us, leads the overall hall in matters of importance. Each warrior is ultimately responsible for themselves.”

“Yes, I’ve heard all that before.” Dropping her forehead to rest on the top of his head, Sigrid blew out a frustrated breath. “And yet, she is spiteful. I know she is unhappy that...that you, and Farkas are going to cure yourselves as well as Kodlak of lycanthropy. She feels, well, alone. And I can sympathize with that. “

Her fingers tightened, almost painfully on his shoulders through his tunic. “What I cannot and will not tolerate, if I’m to really lead this rabble, are the backhanded attacks on my own free will. Farkas doesn’t even remember last night, just the moon calling him away. I had to practically sit on Aela for hours before the woman even let on that she had been lost to her wolf, trying to bring back the pack. Her pack. You.”

A tremor went through Vilkas, one of his hands lifting to grasp hers. She squeezed back, then continued. “What if Hircine’s gift, his blessing to his devoted follower had been directed at you? Would you have gone to her, the moon in your eyes, and not known yourself until you awakened in Aela’s arms?”

She sighed again, in sadness. “She has been my friend, and yet...I am so furious at her, for attempting to change me - make me were, to fit her desires.”

Vilkas hummed in thought, considering all that had been said.

If all this was true, then Aela was guilty of using incredibly underhanded means in order to influence the Circle back to the old ways. It still pricked at his fears that Aela had been...lost, to the wolf. He knew better than Sigrid of what that could entail. Vilkas had awakened once in in the middle of the tundra, stark naked and covered in the blood of what appeared to be some dead bandits. Dead bandits with visible tooth marks and gouged pieces missing from the corpses.

Other times, it was lust that hungered to be fed. Brother wolf had his own desires and needs...some of which were distinctly inhuman. He had made himself retch up whatever he had eaten - usually rabbits, or elk, but he didn’t know. Couldn’t, did not want to know. Cleaning his face off in the glacial water of a stream, he made sure to never hunt as a werewolf alone again.

“There is somewhere we could send her. Somewhere she wouldn’t be alone,” Vilkas spoke aloud. “North of Skyrim, there is an island called Solstheim. I’ve heard other werewolves mention a pack that lives there with some consistency on Frostmoon Crag, in the mountains.”

Pulling her fingers through his hair (it was growing long, almost past his jawline, he needed to cut it) Sigrid hmmed thoughtfully. “I don’t want her to be alone. It’s a terrible thing. But, I can’t say I trust her, anymore. Not to have my back, and not try something again. Will…” she cleared her throat. “Will you and Farkas miss her, should she go?”

“She has been our friend and shield sister for many years. Yes, I will.” As Sigrid suddenly stepped away from him, he held her by the wrist to stop her retreat. “But, I would be far more upset if you were harmed, intentionally or not. The beast blood is...not a restful thing, Sigrid. It plays upon your desires, constantly testing, until you are not sure if what you feel is you , or the wolf.” A tiny smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth. “I would not wish that for you.”

Sigrid huffed, also smiling. “Me neither. Well, that’s a fine idea. I think she will be over the moon, if you’ll pardon the expression, to be part of an active pack again.” He shook his head at her pun, smirk pulling into a full, more gentle smile.

They stood there, grinning like idiots at one another, until a knock at the door announced Farkas as he entered.

He carried the chest filled with treasures, hard won against the sanctuary of assassins. “Brought this to you, brother. Since you actually know how to balance the numbers right. Sorry I made it worse for you.”

Seeing the unspoken apology, the nervous tightening of his fists, Vilkas read clearly what his twin was trying to say. “It’s all right, Farkas. It is not your task, to keep the ledgers. I know you did your best.” Holding each other’s gaze, they both spoke without words, used to each other as they were.

 

Sorry, brother. I wasn’t myself.

 

I know. Let’s not dwell on it anymore.

 

Opening the chest, Vilkas blinked as the gleam of gold fairly lit up the small room. “And this is certainly welcome. We’ll be able to pay back Eorlund and the other workers in full for the repair work done to Jorrvaskr. As well as a great many other things.

Sifting through the gems, jewelry, and septims, Vilkas mentally estimated just how much wealth the destruction of the assassin stronghold had brought to Jorrvaskr. Three, easily four thousand septims. A fortune.

With a raised eyebrow, he pulled out what looked like a carved phallus from the chest. Sigrid laughed nervously as both brothers looked at her in amusement. “Perhaps we can sell it?” She offered, trying not to blush even brighter as Farkas slowly smiled, eyes glinting. “What, you don’t think you could use it? My brother must not be doing things right.” Vilkas turned to his brother affronted, as Farkas began to laugh, big booming chortles that filled the room as Sigrid stuttered. Leaning over to slap his chest, she began scolding him as Farkas pocketed the sex toy.

Vilkas leaned back, forcing himself to relax as he witnessed the rapport between his brother and his woman being rebuilt. At his expense, perhaps. But still. He smiled again, when Sigrid pushed the bigger man away.

She didn’t smell like fear.

 

*************

 

Later, after Athis had performed a retelling of their daring victory against the Dark Brotherhood, the rest of the warriors sang and clapped as Njada Stonearm brought out her fiddle. Vignar, his hands still spry at his age, began an infectious drumbeat in accompaniment. Brill, his face red with drink, whirled around the main hall with Sigrid, who was laughing uproariously and still clutched her bottle of ale as she spun.

“You are good together.” Farkas leaned back, pleasantly full after gorging himself on Tilma’s fine baked potatoes, leeks rubbed in butter and grilled, and his favorite, peppered mammoth roast. “I’m happy for you, brother.”

Vilkas swirled the summer ale in its bottle, focusing his eyes as the room blurred pleasantly in the firelight. “Mmm. It seems we both share a taste for widows.”

Farkas choked suddenly on a roll, looking abruptly at his brother who was grinning at having shocked his twin. “Oh, and you thought I didn’t know where you’d been sneaking off to, all those months.”

“So,” Farkas pounded his chest, managing to inhale an entire sweet roll at once. “You. I mean, what...so, er…”

“I don’t disapprove, Farkas.” Taking a long swig from his ale, Farkas could almost see the stiffness bleed from his brother’s posture. “‘Mm glad for you. Seems like a good woman. Kind. The bairn is a happy thing, so must be a good mother as well.”

“Yes…” Looking over his brother’s profile, Farkas turned back. Sigrid was now dancing by herself, loosely swaying as her hips rotated to a beat only she heard. Farkas could hear her muttering “...hips don’t lie, starting to feel you boy…” Athis, Brill and even Vignar seemed entirely focused on her dance moves. Biting back a chuckle, he leaned closer. “So. About that. You wouldn’t happen to have an amulet of Mara, would you?”

His grey eyes slowly opened to take in Farkas’s grinning face. “What, do you need one?”

Lifting his feet up and crossing them on a stool, Farkas shook his head, amusement coloring his face. “No. Already got one. Just waiting for Midsummer’s Eve. You?”

Vilkas tilted all the way back in the chair, until the feet left the floor. “You’re a nosy bastard. Like always.”

“Heh, heh.” They continued watching Sigrid dance, up until the moves became positively scandalous, Brill hooting appreciatively as her hips began grinding into the carved post. Vilkas stumbled over to her and picked her up, arms waving as she shrieked happily. Something about barbarians in kills? kilts? Farkas tilted his head to hear better, as his brother carried her off to his quarters.

Must be an inside joke, then.

Heh. Good for them.





Chapter Text

“Tell me you’re joking.”

“No, Dragonborn. This is the best way for you to enter the embassy, er, unnoticed and be in and out without causing a fuss.”

Sigrid stared in horror at her reflection in Delphine’s polished bronze mirror. A tightly cinched, laced leather bodice held on what was barely a string bikini of nearly sheer linen, held up by skimpy leather straps that were more decorative than anything. The entire affair flared out into a loincloth-like skirt that was heavily embroidered, leaving her hips and thighs almost completely bare. The look was finished with a gaudy set of dwarven earrings and choker, with tall heeled boots completing the tacky look.

Delphine had even curled the ends of her hair and applied rouge to her lips.

“Tell me you’re fucking joking. I can’t wear this!” Her voice rose to an almost shriek, Delphine wincing as she gestured for Sigrid to lower her voice. “How am I going to hide a sword, much less a dagger, in this?” She gestured to the clothing, feeling the air breeze around her privates with no obstructions in place. Oh. Hell no. No way this was happening.

“Malborn, our inside contact, explicitly stated that there was an opening for an...entertainer, only.” The Breton sighed. “No more musicians, barmaids...Sigrid, I did everything I could to obtain an invitation. Forged or not, they cannot be had. This is the way.” She tapped Sigrid’s hips.

“But they can see everything!” Panicking, Sigrid turned almost in a circle. She still had stretch marks visible underneath the scars on her hips, her breasts while still full had sagged a bit after breastfeeding four boys. Not that Vilkas seemed to mind, but hell she minded. Especially in this bit of nothing top. Princess Leia had worn more than this on her tits!

No. No way was she waltzing around like a bimbo in front of a room filled with Altmer. Delphine couldn’t create a worse environment for Sigrid’s nightmares if she tried.

Oh shit. “Delphine, please tell me there is some way we can smuggle in my armors, potions and weaponry in that embassy.” Sigrid pleaded.

“No, Sigrid, what part of undercover and no contact was not clear?” Delphine threw up her hands, walking away from the distraught Dragonborn. “This is Malborns’ life on the line too. Not just yours! And this information is crucial. I just know they have something to do with the return of the dragons. We don’t know what else the Aldmeri Dominion may be plotting. So no. No weapons. They will search you when you enter, and believe me, they are thorough.”

Delphine and Esbern deserved each other, Sigrid thought viciously. She knew all about ‘thorough’ when it came to the Thalmor. Swotty bastards.

She sighed, popping out a hip and trying a seductive smile in the mirror. Bleugh. It looked as though she was grimacing. Which, to be fair, she was.

Hmm. Damn if her ass didn’t look fine, though.

It was too bad Vilkas was out on one last job with Aela, before the huntress left for Solstheim. She would have liked to see his eyes pop wide as he took this whole...monstrosity in. And maybe steal him away for a bit of roleplay? They had never gotten around to discussing any potential kinks or desires, since whenever they actually found the time to be alone they were far too wound up. What was Vilkas capable of, should they actually reach the point of discussing sex, aside from just doing it?

She grinned. Every cloud has a silver lining.

 

*************

It was better, and worse than she had expected.

Every Altmer, from the bored guard who stood sentinel and checked her work papers, to the steward who ushered her in the back way of the embassy, had a sour puckered look when they saw Sigrid.

Fully bedecked in her barbarian finery, she had only to remember her sister and the nights she insisted Bryce and Sarah go ‘clubbing’. Memories of too-loud dubstep, watered overpriced drinks and some big guy named Merle grabbing her ass had not endeared her to her sister, who insisted they had had a great time and wanted to return the following weekend.

The Thalmor Embassy was rather like that. But, she amended, with much better drinks. And the music, while loudly and enthusiastically played, was not quite so headache-inducing.

“Hey there, handsome,” She purred, sidling up to a wood elf that could only be Malborn tending the bar. “Oh, hello Helga! Glad you could make it on such short notice. The guests are already arriving.” Pulling her close to him, Malborn leered at her breasts as he spoke quickly into her ear. “Create a distraction. Something. Anything...get one of them alone and beg to be shown the ‘back room’. Just do what you’re here to do, and get out while you can.”

Straightening up, the Bosmer smiled widely. “Two Hammerfell Pounders, aye-up at the bar!”

He nodded to the tired barmaid who took the drinks on her tray, and then pushed Sigrid. “Go now.”

Helga. Calling Malborn every filthy name she could think of mentally, she eased her lips into an inviting smile as she swayed into the room crowded with finely dressed, jaded looking men and women.

There were more, so many more people here than in game. Smiling blankly, Sigrid tried to remember how many had actually attended in game. Twelve? Thirteen, including the guards? She could see what must be Razelan, the drunken Hammerfell rake, over by the barmaids. A calculating beauty of advanced years and ebony hair - Maven Blackbriar? So many wearing the fur cloaks and richly embroidered heavy fabrics of wealth. It was hard to tell who was who.

“So, I gather entertainment has been provided of all sorts this evening.”

Turning to the first man who had addressed her (verbally, she could feel the eyes on her) Sigrid was slightly shocked to realize it was an Altmer. Probably Thalmor, she thought with a concealed shudder, taking in the long black robes and geometric embroidery. His hood was pushed back to reveal a shock of greenish-blonde hair that complemented golden skin and...really, rather a handsome face. Slanted grass green eyes wandered over her lush form with something approaching lust.

“Ondolemar, Justicar to the Thalmor. Stationed in Markarth.” He bowed slightly, eyes fixed on hers. Was that...a blush, staining his yellow cheeks?

She could work with this. Forbidden fruit, and all. And to think she had previously believed all elves found men repellant. Turning to a barmaid, she took two frosted mugs of Cyrodilic brandy and smiled up at the Altmer, intentionally thickening her accent to be as Nordic as possible.

“Helga the Hale. Pleased to meet you, Ondolemar.” Looking around at the pressing crowd, she smiled winningly, fluttering soot-enhanced eyelashes. “Any chance you’d know of a quiet spot, to know each other better?”

The red spots burning high on his cheeks grew even brighter. Clearing his throat, Ondolemar proffered his arm. She took it, silently marveling that this part, at least, had been so easy.

She supposed even the Thalmor had needs. Markarth being what it was, he probably only had his prune-faced guards (one of which was currently staring daggers in Sigrid/Helga’s back) for pleasure.

All too easy.

 

*******

Unlocking the door to what must be his personal chambers, Ondolemar led her by the hand to one of the most richly furnished rooms Sigrid had seen. A chandelier made not of goats horn or antler, but silver gleamed up above her, candles casting the rich tapestries and bedding in a warm glow. Ondolemar favored reds and purples. Even his chairs were upholstered in jeweled shades, and she marvelled after so many months of earth tones at how bright.... how unexpectedly modern and lavish this all was.

It looked like something out of Tudor Style Magazine, with the high four poster bed, the shelves filled with expensive leather bound volumes and, she noticed with relief, entirely stocked with a variety of potions.

Seating her on one of the cushioned chairs, he took away their empty mugs and turned to pour a carafe of what smelled like spiced wine. Handing her a silver goblet, the Altmer sat across from her. Concealing, she noted with a smug smile, his lap from view with arms bent upon elbows as he sipped his drink.

Well, he hadn’t fallen over dead yet. Deeming the drink he gave her to be safe she took a sip as well, looking around as she took in the oil paintings, the vibrant soul gems that were scattered in elegant groupings along the cupboards.

“So, Helga. Have you...been doing this long?”

Drinking deeply, she thought of what to say. Taking in the tight fisted way he was currently balling up his robe with his hands decided her. “I am one of the best, as a matter of fact.”

His golden adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Then…?”

At this rate, the dragons would be holding sacrifices for new draugr by the time Ondolemar made a move. “Just lie back and let me do all the work,” Sigrid oozed, aware of his indrawn breath as she pulled down the straps to her top, allowing even more cleavage to peek out.

...Which served her purpose well, as the tiny blade coated in paralysis toxin hid there, capped for safety between her breasts. In and out, she thought. Elenwen’s study was just downstairs, conveniently cleared of guests. She had checked as they ascended the stairs.

She turned to him, preparing her best get-it-on smile, when all of a sudden his lips crashed into hers. Shocked, she stood there like a statue for an entire breath as he moaned into her mouth, seemingly lost. Kicking herself, she tried to show an enthusiastic response, reaching her hands around his (too tall, too thin!) frame and sliding her palms down his shoulders and onto his chest.

This is the second man besides Vilkas that I have kissed lately who has been, well, a surprise. Sigrid realized she was actually enjoying herself, his long fingers toying with her hair, lowering the straps as he bent impossibly low, burying his face in her decollatage.

Woof. Was he...was that his tongue?

You slut. Do your job, then get out of here! Deciding to take matters into her own hands, Sigrid gathered his robes in her fists and pushed , heaving a flushed and sparking-eyed Ondolemar onto the bed. Assuming the position of a Playboy Centerfold, she began moaning and caressing her breasts through the sheer veil that covered them, disguising her intent as she slid two fingers into her bodice. Seeking the needle that would send Ondolemar to a deep, if not satisfied, sleep.

The Thalmor mage watched her movements, biting his lips and barely breathing in thrall. It seemed he wouldn’t be content to wait, however, and grasping her hips he pulled Sigrid atop him.

Damn. I almost had the needle, that time.

Pulling her back down to him, Ondolemar leisurely explored her mouth with his tongue, which tasted like spices. Forcing herself to relax atop him, she limply sprawled across his lanky figure. 

And whoa. Was that what she thought it was?

Sigrid wondered if she could make him come in his pants, just by rubbing herself against him. It couldn’t hurt, for distractions sake. So glad Vilkas isn’t here to see the Dragonborn doing her duty. Easing herself down, she fixed what she hoped was a sultry gaze on his fascinated eyes as she dragged her breasts down his chest, simultaneously arching her hips into his.

The moaned oath that he bit out seemed genuine, and for the tiniest millisecond Sigrid felt sorry for the poor horny bastard. Luckily, for him and her, she had finally palmed the needle. Now, all she had to do was pull off the cap, distract him and then -

- A crackling sound filled the room. Sigrid froze suddenly in fear, and then horror as Ondolemar’s graceful hands lit up with sizzling bolts of electricity. Noting her fear, he smiled warmly. “Shhh, my dear. I realize your people are stunningly ignorant about such things, but we Mer…”

She arched suddenly as his fingers found the cleft of her womanhood, spiking unwanted pleasure, and no no No no No that’s the last FUCKING STRAW - meeting his slowly failing smile with a furious squeal, she grabbed the nearest object to hand (which happened to be a Thalmor-made boot) and clobbered Ondolemar in the head with it.

Hurriedly uncapping the needle, she stuck it into his neck and watched in victory as he slowly slumped back in bed, eyes fluttering as he strove to form words.

“Sorry, handsome. But you’re not my type. Never will be, in fact.” Leaning over, as she felt a zap of confidence return with the twitching paralysis of his limbs, she planted a smooch on his high forehead. “Too bad. Seemed like you really needed to get off. I’d go with that female elf guard who was giving me a serious stink eye. Ta!”

Ensuring Ondolemar went nighty-night, with his limbs fully relaxed, she took precautions and tied all four limbs to his bedposts with the silk ropes conveniently stowed beneath the bed ( damn was she glad she had gotten out in time).

It was the work of a moment to riffle through Elenwen’s desk on the lower level for the key, grabbing what potions and elven daggers she could see with her as a security blanket. It was slightly more difficult to sneak to the basement. She braced herself for the inevitable.

The torture chamber was ( no, don’t think about it) very well equipped. Pristinely clean, with the leather straps oiled and ready, the tables stacked with sharp hooked implements that gleamed in the torchlight. Scanning warily for any Thalmor, she snuck over to the massive chest that hid behind a tidy desk covered in scrolls and neatly lined up quills and inkpots ( prissy elves ) and found the dossiers. Ulfric Stormcloak. Esbern and Delphine of the Blades.

Even, she gaped at the paper in her hand with incredulity, her own history had been contained here.

 

Sigrid Farstrider

Known by Agent Sanyon Investigative Officer of the Aldmeri Dominion as Sarah Ferguson.

Unknown entity, based out of Falkreath. Associated with unknown dwarven artifacts of potential value and import.

Known associates: Valga Vinicia; deceased.

Solaf, owner of Grey Pine Goods; alive.

Kodlak Whitemane, Harbinger of Companions; deceased.

Continue searching for individual; seek and detain. The deaths of four agents are upon her head. Preferably alive, but dissection of her deceased will be forwarded to Ithinriel, who has expressed a desire toward the matter.

 

Yours, Head of Investigative Action, Rulindil

 

Oh. Oh she was going to throw up. She felt dirtier even handling the paper.

“Hey…” Someone coughed weakly. “Is there anyone out there?”

Right. Etienne Rarnis, the captive thief still hung in shackles. Stowing the documents away in her newly pilfered knapsack, Sigrid used the key from the table to unlock his cuffs. Rubbing the feeling back into them, he nodded his thanks as his eyes darted warily around the basement.

“We know you’re down there, Nord.” Shit . Of course this part of Diplomatic Immunity would go right on schedule. Fumbling with the tiny elven dagger, Sigrid bit back hysterical laughter as she shared a look with the thief. Oh, they were so screwed.

Because if this part was going to plan, the only bloody way there were going to get out through the basement trap door was to kill the head torturer, Rulindil. Who was currently dragging along Malborn, the panicking Bosmer who was chanting ‘no no no…’ as they hauled him down the steps to where Sigrid and Etienne waited.

Shit. This was all going south, fast.

Nothing for it.

Krii Lun Aus! She shouted up the stairs.

Seeing the Thu’um impact the soldiers as they wavered, weakened and stunned by Marked For Death, Sigrid hollered at Malborn. “Get the key and get your ass down here, now!”

Fumbling in fear, the Bosmer dodged a glancing blow, taking another in his chin as he lifted the keyring from an astonished Rulindil. Booking it downstairs, Malborn hurriedly threw the keys to Sigrid as she made noises of impatience, unlocking the trap door rapidly and gesturing for them to follow.

Relocking the door from below (something the game never bothered with, but Sigrid was NOT about to be chased down the mountain in this getup) the thief dispatched the troll who came grunting and heaving his way out of an alcove in the rock. Grimacing at the snot bubbling out of its nose as she passed the dead thing curled on the path, Sigrid thanked Etienne and then grabbing Malborn escaped free into the cold and clear sky -

 

Freedom.

 

Barely. By the skin of her teeth. But free, and (she shivered) containing information that would get Delphine off her back. And hopefully, protect her beloved Companions from any consequence she may have had upon them by simply existing.

“Thanks. Hey, look me up in Riften if you are ever in the area.” Giving her scantily clad body a full perusal, Etienne Rarnis smiled rakishly. Joining Malborn (who had barely given her a glance as immediately ran away) he waved goodbye as he ran off the road with the Bosmer towards what was probably Solitude.

Whew. Sigrid took in deep gulps of the still-cool, summery air. Over and done with. She began walking down to the stables, eager to hitch a ride home.

 

“What the...Sigrid?!?”

 

Oh hell.

 

************

Vilkas and Aela spent one tense, awkward week guarding the rich merchant’s goods on the road to Solitude. With little to no conversation beyond what was necessary, it was a silent affair. Vilkas was disapproving. Aela was shamefacedly defiant.

The combination did not lead to much friendly banter.

As they finished seeing the merchant (who Vilkas thought was probably more smuggler than merchant, judging by the cagey looks, hyperawareness and the fact that his storehouse was a cave hidden in the rocky coastline) they wended their way back on the road to Solitude’s stables.

Aela, true to form, was the first to break the silence with a blunt attack. “So, you won’t regret this at all? Giving up the beast blood, the safety of the pack, the strength and years of tradition….just like that?” Moodily, she shook her mane of red hair.

Looking at his shield sister with something approaching sympathy, Vilkas readjusted his sword and said nothing.

“I get it, brother. I do. Sigrid is…” Aela huffed, kicking at a rock stuck in the dirt. “She is good with you. And you are better with her.”

Vilkas blinked at the unexpected compliment. “Thank you.”

“Just tell me this.” Planting her feet firmly in front of him, blocking the path, Aela folded her arms and jutted her jaw stubbornly. “Is she making you give up being Moon born? Or is this something you do just for you? Like Kodlak?”

“Hmmph. Honestly, Aela?” Vilkas slowly replied, taking time to formulate his response. She would never believe him if he simply shot off some fast answer, they knew each other too well. He chewed his lower lip. “I want to know if the anger I feel is truly mine . Not Brother Wolf’s. Somedays, it is all I can do to stay in control of myself, my own rage.”

“Sigrid has helped me see this, but in the end I choose, as Kodlak chose, to join the welcoming throng in Sovngarde. With my own merit,” he added acidly as Aela began to fume. “And not the stolen power granted by Hircine.”

“Do as you will,” he finished with a sigh, as Aela stomped off, intentionally lengthening her stride so that he would be left behind.

Which was just as well. Plodding along the road mired in his own thoughts, he almost didn’t recognize the woman wandering down the road. Her...assets had been displayed to their best effect, luscious hips and breasts visible as she moved in that scrap of a gown. It wasn’t until he looked past the smear of rouge on her lips and the despondent expression that he realized…

“What the...Sigrid?!?”

“Oh. OH!” The woman jumped, hands fluttering as she tried to contain her heaving bosom from spilling right out of the skimpy attire. “Vilkas, you...ah. I can explain.”

His eyes narrowed dangerously. “What. Is. That.”

“Umm. Er, so I told you I was doing something Dragonborn related, right? Um. Yes. Well, you see…”

Her faltering mumbles increased in speed and pitch as Vilkas slowly stomped over to where Sigrid stood, blushing and stammering like a fool. Shor’s bones, he could practically feel the heat of her full body flush increasing the temperature of the air.

And that outfit. “So,” he ground out. “What. Were. You. Doing.”

“Er, ah. Yeah....well you see, it turns out that Delphine, that Blade I told you about? Yes. Mmm. Well there were no more invitations to be had, forged or otherwise, so, er...she found me a job as...as an entertainer.”

“An entertainer, eh.”

“Yes!” She lifted a finger, happy to have finally belabored that point without stammering. His face was carefully neutral, although she could sense him simmering with...something behind his cool glare. “Yes. And so I got in, I managed to get past the main party and into the living quarters where I…”

“And how did you manage that?” Gods, his voice could freeze a Frost Troll.

“Er,” she managed to reply, aware that her makeup was liberally smeared all over her face, that her straps were hanging on by a thread, that Vilkas didn’t believe any of this shit and was waiting for more.

“So….one of the elves was, um, taken with me. I managed to get him alone, distract him and then…”

“Wait. Hold up a minute, woman.” Removing his travel pack to toss it heavily to the ground, Vilkas rubbed his neck as he fixed an incredulous glare upon her. “So, this Delphine sent you into a dangerous private home, filled with Thalmor soldiers, mages and politicians ,” he practically spat that last word out. “...and expected you to what? Seduce some poor sod in hopes of gaining access to hidden paperwork. And then somehow drag your sorry ass secretly out of there?”

Sigrid thought about it, then nodded. Her last strap fell completely down, revealing the rosy tops of her nipples. The woman didn’t even notice. “Hmm. Yep. That’s about right. Except,” her golden green eyes turned sly. “I did it all, while saving the asses of a Breton and Bosmer also held captive, with no weapons, potions or armor of any kind.”

His hands began to shake. With what, she didn’t know, but she was slowly backing away.

“You didn’t.”

“Damn right I did.” Oh, Azura, he was losing it. “And even better, Vilkas, I totally knocked the shit out of the Altmer official who was feeling me up. He was so -”

Her words were cut off with a squeal as Vilkas grabbed her, turned her over his knee and immediately began spanking her. Squawking, she did her best to get away from his insistent hand and grim face.

“Ow, ow ow! What the flying...Vilkas! Let - me - go!”

“Not until you start acting like a fucking adult and not a naive child!” He spat out, releasing her as she rubbed her sore ass, giving him a look. Popping out her hip, she stood arms folded tightly. Prepared, he realized with sudden amusement, to completely and totally lay into him for his behavior of her.

“No.”

“I didn’t even…” she began, color rushing into her cheeks as her eyes glinted dangerously.

“NO.”

“I made it out just fine, you sadistic bastard, don’t give me that overprotective shit now…”

“Not now. And just so you know, woman…” He stopped her in her tracks with an outstretched hand. His finger flicked a shoulder strap back up. Nope. Nipples, still there, pebbling in the cool air of early summer.

Damn. He couldn’t be angry at her when she was naked.

“...I fully blame your friend Delphine for sending you unarmed into such a shit-storm.” Straightening the other strap, Vilkas pulled up the top cups so that her breasts were completely covered. Looking down, she blushed again, her freckles disappearing as she tried, unsuccessfully, to remain angry after his declaration.

“Well, yeah. It was not ideal at all. But…”

“No. No more words.” Grabbing her hand, Vilkas picked up his travel bags and began walking away. Sighing in irritation, she followed the Companion as she shook her head. Some days, it just wasn’t worth it.

"So, where is Aela?” She asked after what felt like an hour of walking silently through the green forested path. Birds chirped, bees hummed. All was peacefully idyllic, were it not for her spanked ass paining her every single step.

Asshole.

“She went off ahead.”

“...Let me guess. Something you said?” Sigrid retorted, still holding his hand. Which was nice, and she was frankly shocked he was allowing it with the conversation they’d just had.

“Yes.”

“Wow. So, what did you do? Insult her choice of furs? Imply she has no business fighting without a man beside her? Did you bend her over your knee and spank her ass, too?”

“I told her I was choosing to become pure from the beast blood. Partly, because of your influence.”

Oh damn. She winced, feeling a bit like the proverbial foot-in-mouth (where did that expression come from?) idiot.

“Oh. Well. I guess she didn’t take that very well.”

Vilkas shot her an amused look. “Not at all.” Stopping beneath the shade of a spreading pine tree, he tilted his head to look at Sigrid. “But you know,” he finished thoughtfully, slowly pulling her against him. “I don’t really care.”

His kiss blew Ondolemar’s all the way out to sea. Electric fingers notwithstanding. He crushed her to him, his hands riding up the bit-of-nothing skirt to cup and soothe her spanked ass, stroking higher, one hand going north to trace her tightening nipple as she moaned into his hot mouth.

Breaking away from her, he made a face. “Spiced wine. And...is that elf?”

Smiling shakily, she couldn’t help the shiver that went through her. “I really hit him quite hard, you know. Even with the paralysis potion that I stabbed him with. The man seemed desperate.”

Vilkas chuckled darkly. “I guess I’ll have to get rid of the taste, somehow.”

She gasped helplessly as he kneaded the sore muscles of her rear. His huge hands completely dwarfed her ass cheeks, rubbing in smooth, practiced motions. "So, ah, what do you think about the outfit." He could give her shit about how breathy her voice was later. She needed to hear this.

"You know I prefer you with nothing on at all." His breath caught roughly as she rubbed herself against him, the linen cups doing nothing to conceal the form of her breasts. "But I suppose this is something I could get used to." Biting her shoulder, he ripped a strap completely off. "But only if you enjoy wearing it."

Sigrid felt completely limp, yet warm in his arms. "Mmm. I could get used to it." Grasping his jaw, she pressed a hard kiss against his lips and then looked at him straight in the eyes. "Don't go home with Aela. She's going to be a pain in the ass anyway. Come with me."

"I was planning to." He laughed, with her smiling at the joke as he slowly pushed her against the rough bark of the tree.

Entwined in each others arms, they didn’t make it to the stables where Aela waited impatiently until sunset.

 

Chapter Text

Yol.”

“In your tongue, the word simply means "fire." It is change given form, power at its most primal.”

Sigrid sat cross legged in the snow, warmed by her meditations on the Word of Power.

Fascinated, she watched as Paarthurnax stretched an ancient dew-claw to scratch an offending scale on his back. He perched upon the wrecked remnant of the World Wall, his long scaly tail wrapped around the base, a lovers embrace. The dragon’s deep voice thrummed through her, even at this distance. “That is the true meaning of Yol ... suleyk , power. You have it, as do all Dov. But,” the old beast rumbled, fixing his dull eye upon Sigrid. “...power is inert without action and choice. Think of this as the fire builds in your su'um , in your breath. Su'um ahrk morah . What will you burn? What will you spare?"

Sigrid took a deep breath. And felt fire, power, coalescing at the base of her throat, seeking to spill out, to dominate and destroy.

Su'um ahrk morah. Breath and focus.

“Thank you for the lessons, Master.” Struggling to stand on wobbling knees, she stretched, savoring the icy air, the cold purity of the Throat of the World.

It was well into summer down in the valley tundra. Spring planting was well underway, with early harvests of snap peas, carrots and spring wheat already bartered in the markets. Sheep and goats were sheared, and Tilma had decided to teach Sigrid to card wool, to dye, to weave on a loom. She was eager to learn; anxious to create things of beauty with her hands.

Aside from her weekly, sometimes nightly, moments stolen with Vilkas she felt as though she created nothing of worth. With him, as fire not of her own making burned its way through her body, she felt alive. Felt human, still, very human and fragile and his. She loved creating passion with him, in him.

It seemed that her body had been created for destruction, if Sigrid only focused on her recent battles. Thrilling and terrible, as the dovah who swept in all over the land consumed crops, people and entire towns with their Thu’um, their dagger tipped maws. Sigrid had returned home from Solitude with Vilkas (bidding Aela a half-hearted farewell) when the news came pouring in.

Dragons. Rumours of dragons. Refugees came hobbling into Whiterun, bandaged and burned, faces blank with pain as they held screaming orphans. Often they had nothing but what they had upon them, at the the time they fled.

Whiterun opened its arms to them. Poor and rich, old and young. There was some grumbling, particularly among the Battle-Borns who decried the cost of feeding so many for so little, but they were overwhelmed by the other voices of the people.

It was spring. The grass grew green and thick, crops flourished. And Whiterun’s own Dragonborn, Sigrid Farstrider, strode out of the gates every day. Hunting the dovah that flocked to kill, to feed.

Killing her own kind, she thought with a hint of acid. You’d think she was some kind of hero, the way the townsfolk went on about her exploits. Not even the other Companions, who had been running around doing shit far longer, rarely got the accolades Sigrid received when she walked, exhausted, into a town or village.

Dragonborn. Yes, I've heard. Kills dovah by the hundreds. And if she were here, she'd consume the dragons with fireballs from her eyes, and bolts of lightning from her arse.

Heavily edited. But the jist of it was the same.

Thing was, she wasn’t sure the villagers would love her quite so much, were they aware of the fire that burned in her heart. No longer a peaceful hearthborn flame, content to keep home warm and safe, no, her heart throbbed with the ravening of a wildfire consuming a forest.

Consumed. She swallowed. With every soul, the dreams of flying, of falling, devouring, became worse. Sigrid woke up Vilkas almost every night, crying as she pressed herself tightly into his arms. She’d never tell him, but the nights she flew, free and strong….

She killed what she was. She was what she hated.

“Paarthurnax,” she broke out suddenly, aware that her voice was unsure. Trembling. Unbefitting of a dovah. Paarthurnax bent his immense neck closer, the better to hear.

Weak, wavering. She spoke anyway. “I seek to protect the people I love. How do I...avoid becoming the very thing I hate?” Looking down at her boots in the snow, she shifted in shame. “I fear this the most. How do you do it? Live with this...burning, inside? And not hurt those who...who don’t deserve it?”

Paarthurnax tilted his head, his hot breath misting the icy air into steam. "I have overcome my nature only through meditation and long study of the Way of the Voice." His deep throaty rumble held a tint of derision. " Dov wahlaan fah rel . We were made to dominate. The will to power is in our blood. You feel it in yourself, do you not? This is what you speak of?”

Sigrid nodded, a sudden wind whipping her hair into a tangled snarl as she looked into the ancient dragon’s dark eyes.

“How? How do you withstand it...knowing,” she coughed, grimacing as a thunderclap of sound erupted upon the mountain. “Knowing that every day is going to be a struggle, a fight that will never end? I am...so tired.” She hung her head.

"No day goes by where I am not tempted to return to my inborn nature. Zin krif horvut se suleyk ." The ground trembled where Paarthurnax landed, his massive jaw opening and closing with his breath, mere feet away from Sigrid’s face. She sighed back, enjoying the rush of heat, the fire of Yol , emanating from him.

It was as if she knew what he was going to say, felt in her bones the rightness as he spoke. "What is better - to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?" The dovah’s claws shifted as they gripped the snow packed ground. “You will see, joore , see as the dovah do. Drem, patience. And practice. Return to me with further questions on your travels, wunduniik. Su’um arkh morah.”

“Su’um arkh morah!” She called out in return, as Paarthurnax took flight. Wheeling around the summit, he roared his farewell, dipping as he took off for the north.

 

Drem. Patience.

 

Damn. She shifted, sorely desiring wings at that moment; if only to avoid the inevitable climb back down the seven thousand steps of the mountain.

Zofaas suleyk. Dreadful power, indeed. So many souls she now had crowding within her, fighting for control. And her with only one human soul to fight alone. With a curl of her lip, she felt strangely conflicted about her sympathy towards the werewolves, her friends in the Circle.

Was it like this? This awful desire, unnatural (at least, it used to be. She couldn’t remember a time before she knew what blood felt like. Smelled like. It scared her) in its strength.

But they had only one soul, one wolf to contend with.

What would the Dragonborn do? She had taken, no, claimed the lives of sixteen dovah, dragons in the last couple of months. Not to mention the alien energy that the Greybeards had visited upon her. The rash of burnings, of dragon attacks had pushed back the Companion’s plans to visit the Tomb of Ysgramor. It had delayed her meetings with Septimus Signus far, so far up north.

She had good intentions. It was on her list, yellowed and faded, hardly looked at anymore.

If only she could endure.

 

Zin krif horvut se suleyk.


Honor is fighting the lure of power.

Chapter Text

It was the Midsummer Festival, a celebration of the longer days and shorter nights that heralded true summer. Greenery adorned every doorway, looped around lampposts and hearths. Fresh wildflowers, in a rainbow of colors and designs, were worn by men and women alike as the hum of excitement rose slowly over the morning. Food stalls were set up, the traditional herring and cold ales placed next to braided bread, fresh berries, clotted cream and the first cheese of the season.

It was, Sigrid thought with genuine joy, almost better than Christmas. Which she found out actually existed here, after a fashion. Her last Midwinter had been spent away from civilization, freezing and starved, walking in ill fitting snowshoes to the Glenmoril Coven cave. Though Farkas informed her, when asked, that the Dark Day was often just as eagerly anticipated. The day with almost no sunlight, when the world lay silent and sleeping beneath a blanket of snow...all the villagers drank spiced mead, sang the traditional songs and even exchanged kisses beneath wreaths of snowberries and pine. Almost like mistletoe, but with offerings to Shor and Kyne instead of the Christ Child. She was looking forward to it already.

But this...this was an effusive, colorful dance of sunshine and spring. Ribbons adorned the hair of girls and young women, and men vied with one another in fistfights and tug-of-war, preparing for the games of strength. Please, please let the Nords have something like kilts, Sigrid thought with an inward snicker. Then her life would be complete. It would be official - she was living in a romantic fantasy. With a dark, cruel slant, she reminded herself, as she packed away the dragon scales and bones she had harvested from her last kill.

Adrianne Avenicci had offered her best customer a personal storage chest at Warmaidens for lugging home ingots, hides, and other supplies. Sigrid made constant use of it, considering how often she hauled in random odds and ends of gear from her travels. Having trained on and off with Eorlund in the art of smithing over the last few months, she felt nervous but prepared enough to attempt to craft her very own suit of dragonscale armor. It would be a bold statement to Alduin, she knew, that the Dragonborn herself wore the skins of his soldiers against him.

Noting the activity and waves of greeting, she pondered the changes in Whiterun as she walked up to the Wind District. As time passed, Sigrid could not remember the details of the Bethesda game quite as well...nor did the old luxuries of life in a modern world have the same nostalgia as they once did. Taking in a deep lungful of fresh air, misted with the fragrance of blooms, fresh grass and festival foods, it was hard to imagine that she once missed the smell of exhaust from an automobile. Seeing the golden roofs, the doorways with their twined, almost celtic loops and stylized animals, Sigrid sighed in contentment as she basked in the feeling of being home.

Even Jorrvaskr had been done up for the occasion, she realized as she opened the doors and walked towards the breakfast that had been prepared. Winding strands of spruce, dragons tongue and tundra cotton lightened the rich ambiance of the warrior hall, the furs and shields almost hidden by sprays of wildflower and the trestle tables of meat pies Tilma had stayed up nearly all night to bake.

“Sigrid! You’re awake! Here!” Lucia squealed, presenting her with a wildflower wreath wound in trailing ribbons. Smiling fondly, the Dragonborn leaned over so the girl could place it on her head. “There! Now, it’s time for salt porridge!” Grabbing her hand, Lucia dragged Sigrid over to the table, where Farkas, Vilkas, and Athis sat along with Njada and the other newcomers to the Companions.

Farkas had been chosen as this year’s Green Man, a symbolic figure of fertility and life. Bemused, she watched him scratch at the elaborate crown of green leaves that had been woven into his hair, threaded into the homespun green tunic and pants. None of them wore warpaint today, but someone had stippled green paint in a pattern upon Farkas’ face, like light dappling a forest floor. “And a good Midsummers morn to you, sister!” Farkas waved, attempting to reach for another jazbay crostata without losing any more leaves from his attire.

“So, why salt porridge?” Sigrid asked as she sat down next to Athis and Vilkas. Vilkas winked at her, and she slowly smiled in return as she realized they matched. Both wore their nicest casual wear, which somehow happened to be the pale sky blue of a cloudless day. Sigrid tugged at her dress, which bore the careful, almost lacy white embroidery Tilma had insisted Sigrid have as Harbinger. It was, possibly, the nicest dress she had ever owned; aside from her old wedding gown. Her roughened palms scraped and caught on the soft linen as she smoothed her skirt, and Vilkas (who never paused in his eating, the twins treated meals almost as seriously as training) pulled her hand away from her lap and squeezed it twice.

“You don’t know?” Lucia jumped up on her chair and began spooning porridge from the heated cauldron into two bowls. “Tilma says that Midsummer is special. Girls have to eat salt porridge, so that they’ll be thirsty. And when they sleep at night, on pillows that have seven different flowers hidden beneath, they’ll dream of their future husbands giving them something to drink. It’s like magic!”

Sigrid slowly flushed red as her man gave her a particularly lascivious look. Something to drink, huh. Shifting in her chair, aware of Athis laughing at her reaction, Sigrid tried very hard not to remember the last time she had swallowed something Vilkas had given her.

Not that he had offered marriage, or anything like that. She had caught him staring at her amulet of Arkay sometimes, eyes narrowed at the wedding rings that still hung at her neck. Looking at them herself no longer gave her such a pang of longing, the memories of Bryce more bittersweet now than an actual source of pain. It was something that did not come up naturally in conversation between them.

Coughing as she took a bite of the almost-overly salted gruel, Sigrid reached for a horn of chilled ale. “Well, if it’s tradition, then. What do boys do?”

Lucia scoffed, making a face as she swallowed a bit of porridge. “Stupid stuff, like wrestling and axe throwing. They just show off for the girls.” Drinking an entire horn of weak ale, Lucia wiped her mouth. “Will you dance with me in the circle festival? I don’t always remember the steps, but if I’m with you then I won’t feel so bad.”

Sigrid laughed. “Well, that sounds fine. I can promise you I won’t remember the right steps either. We’ll learn together.”

“Yay!” Porridge forgotten after a single bite, Lucia hugged Sigrid tightly, then ran outside, shouting at the other children milling in the square to wait up.

Farkas groaned in satisfaction, having demolished three rashers of pork, two bowls of porridge, an entire bottle of ale and countless jazbay crostatas. “Well, I guess that will hold me ‘till noon. Time to go to festival!”

Njada Stonearm gave an aggrieved snort and looked away as Farkas stood to leave, grabbing the great branches cut that morning to simulate the Spriggan-like Green Man. She had been caught and forced into wearing a flower crown by Athis, who complained that if he, a Dunmer, could wear one, then a true Nord must.

Sigrid laced her fingers into her lover’s hand, as they both shared a look as the two trainers argued. It was all but official. The strangest pairing she had ever seen, and yet Athis and Njada were matched in grumpiness, if not by mutual displays of overt affection. She snickered as Athis plucked a posy from his crown and dramatically bowed as he presented it to a scowling Njada. “Let’s just get this over with!”

“As you wish.” Unruffled, the Dunmer almost pushed the Stonearm outside into the sun. Trailing behind her Shield siblings, Sigrid was in no hurry as she followed them into the bustling din of noise; noise composed of sellers hawking their wares, bards strumming lutes and belting out their songs (the Age of Aggression was, thankfully not being played today) and the chattering gossip of hundreds of people.

She blinked against the bright sunlight as Jarl Balgruuf began the festival by offering the Green Man and Lady Kyne a symbolic tribute, the massive flaring branches of the Gildergreen framing the spectacle.

Looking even larger as he dragged around handfuls of leafy boughs, Farkas bowed, accepting the tribute of fine wine and a lit lantern. Carlotta stood next to him in a ceremonial gown of green embroidered in gold, smiling beneath her crown of yellow wildflowers as the Jarl presented her a staff of ashwood and a large goblet. Pouring the wine into the goblet, Farkas grasped the cup, his hand over Carlotta’s as they both intoned the words.

“With fire, wine and wood blessed three, let summer come. So mote it be!”

The crowd cried out in response, clapping and cheering as they took turns drinking from the goblet, offering the last to the Jarl, who poured the remainder upon the Gildergreen tree. Jostled by the surrounding spectators, Sigrid let herself forget, forget the burn of dragonfire. She allowed herself to relax as she put her responsibilities from her mind and enjoyed the day.

Hand in hand, Sigrid sampled ales, cheeses and fruit, arguing with Vilkas over which ones were superior. He preferred snowberry, she would only eat jazbay. After belaboring the quality of the soft goat cheese over the peppered eidar, Vilkas threw up his hands and dragged her, laughing into the revolving chain of dancers.

Kicking and stomping, she spun like a dervish, surrounded by smiles as the circles of entwined men and women expanded and shrank, snaking around the market in a wild race. Occasionally, she could feel Vilkas, feel the heat of his hands as he pulled her from the chain and twirled her around with the other couples. She could see Tilma waving at her pie stand, Lucia screaming with joy as Lars Battleborn chased her down the street. Faces she knew popped up in a merry blur; Njada accidentally stomping on her foot, sour face red as Athis pulled her away chortling as they vanished into the crowd.

The dancing dispersed occasionally, always returning as some damn bard strummed his lute in melodies familiar only to the Nords of Whiterun. Between dances, she sat with cups of ale and wine, cheering as the men performed feats of strength. Competing for the favor of women, she remembered Lucia say, and she tried not to grin too broadly as the day went on to include axe throwing, tug of war, and something that involved a hay bale being thrown high with a pitchfork.

Farkas, the leaves almost gone from his garb as they shedded with every step, lifted Carlotta and Mila in a wooden chair high over his head, face red with effort as he walked slowly around the square, lowering them to the ground to thunderous applause. She gave him a kiss for his efforts, happy face stained with green paint as he rubbed his cheek playfully against hers.

As the morning became afternoon, people began to take seats around the stalls, bathing their tired feet in the streams. Jarl Balgruuf, looking far more relaxed than usual with sprigs of snowberry in his crown, called upon various bards and storytellers to entertain. Snuggled against Vilkas, his arm tight around her, Sigrid sipped ale and listened as ballads wound on, songs of Ysgramor, skalds who drummed to wild chants that made her feet tap in time. Her face began to hurt from smiling after the children put on a skit about the Dragonborn; with a fiercely scowling Lucia painted in blood, pointing a wooden sword at the cowering kids costumed as dragons surrounding, lashing at her with tails made from branches. She felt Vilkas rumble with laughter as Lucia mimicked the Thu’um, figures scattering dramatically as she stomped around shouting to a riotous encore.

“Looks like you’ve got competition!” Farkas roared at Sigrid above the noise of the crowd. She rolled her eyes in response, laughing anyway as Farkas stole his brother away to prepare for their ‘turn’. Vilkas just smiled when Sigrid asked him what he was up to.

She soon forgot what had piqued her interest when Athis and Njada appeared, encouraged with hearty slaps to their backs and mugs raised as they walked into the center of the cleared market square.

Picking up her shield, Njada raised it as the skalds began drumming a steady, rolling beat. Athis also raised his twin daggers, the two walking in a grand circle as they encouraged the crowd to cheer, working them up to a furious wave of sound.

As the drumming ceased, the bards chimed in with a guttural ‘hah’ and began a sonorous, almost toneless chant, accompanied again by a more militant drumbeat. Athis began weaving his blades in spirals and circular patterns, the steel flashing as it caught the sun. Njada shadowed him, in sync with the rhythms as she dipped and spun her shield in arcing blows against some unseen foe.

Together, they held the audience spellbound as the drumming only increased in tempo. Sigrid felt someone sit down next to her on the grass, and found Carlotta Valentia, who smiled and offered her a fresh bottle of wine. Nudging her in return, Sigrid took a drink and turned back to the warriors.

Athis and Njada continued their shadow battle, occasionally meeting against one another as the voices rose in guttural shouts. A wave of whispering slowly spread across the seated crowd when to her amazement Farkas and Vilkas approached the clearing, holding their massive warswords. Shirtless. In what looked like silvery-grey wolf furs belted around their waists, with ornate wolfshead buckled belts of leather.

They were wearing kilts .

Suddenly feeling lightheaded, Sigrid leaned against Carlotta in a mock faint, as the Imperial laughed quietly, hugging her around the shoulders. “Just wait,” Carlotta mouthed against the swelling roar that greeted the brothers as they saluted Athis and Njada.

“Blessed Shor, Lady Kyne,” Njada Stonearm intoned, sweat beading upon her brow against the wreath she wore still. The drumming increased to a fevered pitch. “Ysgramor, hear me, thee and thy Five Hundred Companions. We sing the songs, we tell the tales!”

“And here we stand before your judgement! Sovngarde, hearken now!”

Athis joined her in a long wailing cry, leaping aside as Farkas and Vilkas blurred into sudden movement.

Sigrid watched in fascination as the crowd began stomping their feet in time with the drums, the two men squaring off with Athis and Njada standing guard on each corner. They were well matched as the double handed broadswords spun lazily in memorized forms, feet stepping precisely as blade met blade in a dance of death. Farkas stood at least a head above his brother, with biceps trunk-thick as he roared in challenge, all the while battering his sword against his twin. Vilkas, she noticed, was far more aggressive, keeping Farkas on the defensive with skillful lunges and swipes as he snarled back invectives, to the hooting approval of the audience.

Already aware of the impressive stamina needed to continue fighting for such a stretch, Sigrid was seriously impressed that they managed to hurl insults at each other while showing off, the culmination of years of practice.

“They do a demonstration every year in honor of the Companions,” Carlotta whispered in her ear. “And every year it gets better. Once, when they were barely men Farkas dropped his sword by accident, hitting Vilkas, and they ended up wrestling in the mud in front of everyone! Kodlak had to pull them apart!”

Sigrid chuckled, eyes still focused on the Companions and their show. “I would pay a good amount of septims to see that.”

The two women giggled as the twins locked swords, bare chests heaving as they finished with a blood curdling war cry, echoed by the skalds as they beat a final blow to the drums.

The crowd cheered, hammering the ground with their feet as they clapped the Companions on their backs, pressing bottles of mead and wine into their hands as they nodded, taking it all in stride.

Vilkas flopped down in the empty space next to Sigrid. “Look at you; you’re filthy.” Sigrid murmured, trailing fingers along the sweat of his back as she traced his tree tattoo. “Can’t talk, need food,” gasped Farkas, who immediately started ripping into the roasted goat leg Carlotta offered him. Rolling over, Vilkas began wiping his sweaty forehead onto Sigrid’s dress. Trying unsuccessfully to get out from beneath him, she fought off laughter. “Ack, no! No, this is my only good dress, damn you, get off!”

She could barely see the corner of his mouth in a grin as he buried his face in her lap, hands holding tightly to her thighs as she huffed and attempted to push him away.

“Farkas.” Carlotta signaled. Leaning over, Farkas used his free hand to shove Sigrid over onto the grass, then continued eating with fervor.

“That’s not what I meant!” The Imperial scolded as Sigrid giggled. Rising over her, holding the bulk of his weight away Vilkas placed a whisper of a kiss on her belly, then rolled to join her flat on his back in the grass.

The light was fading, glowing in the west as torches were slowly lit across the districts of Whiterun.

Shaking her head no when Farkas and Carlotta gestured to the circle of dancers swirling wildly around the newly stacked bonfires, Sigrid waved the couple off as she lay back against the soft, newly grown grass with a sigh. Vilkas opened a bottle of wine, and they took turns sipping from it, talking quietly as the sky grew slowly dimmer, fading into blackness. Pinpoints of stars gradually appeared, sprinkling the sky in a haze of light as Masser and Secunda rose vibrant and full.

Cradled in the crook of his arm as they lay there, completely relaxed, Sigrid yawned. She didn’t even mind that her face was inches away from his armpit. Her time in Skyrim had almost made her immune to the smell of sweat and body odor, but even so, Vilkas smelled almost more like musk. She sniffed. Musk, pine, and something else. The product of living life as a werewolf, she supposed.

“Are you smelling me?” His drowsy voice drifted in the air as she snuggled even closer.

“Yes. You smell good. Even after...whatever that was you and Farkas did.”

“It’s a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, woman.”

“Too flashy.” Adjusting her neck so that her hair lay more comfortably against his arm, she placed a single finger upon his stomach and slowly drew circles. She felt his muscles jerk as her finger wound slowly lower. “Honestly, I’m surprised you even managed to hit each other with such pretty swordwork.”

“There are other things I could show you, with my sword.” Grasping her hand as it made a dive under his furs, he held it prisoner as she struggled playfully, snickering as an old couple walked past them on the street, sniffing in disapproval.

“Hmm. I think that salt porridge thing really worked. I am parched.”

She felt him suddenly grow still beside her. “I’m not asking for anything.” She quietly spoke, removing her hand from his as he let go. Sigrid could almost feel the air leave his chest as he sighed.

“You should.”

Tightness easing from her neck, she looked over in surprise. “What?”

In the light of the stars, she could see him swallow, throat moving as his lips parted. “Why, woman.” He turned to face her, still lying on the grass with her dress rucked up around her knees. “Why don’t you want more?”

His eyes shone eerily in Secunda’s light. Werewolf, remember, her mind supplied as she shivered, not from cold. “I...honestly wasn’t sure this would ever come up.” She slowly spoke, thinking of the gossip she had heard. As Sigrid had become more well-known to the populace of Whiterun, she heard snatches of conversation that abruptly ended when it was apparent she was listening. She found herself receiving hostile stares from women at market, once even being shoved as she was carrying supplies from Warmaiden to the Skyforge. Carlotta had taken her aside and explained quietly that all the Companions had quite the reputation for being eager bedmates. Particularly Vilkas.

It honestly had never come up between them. She had never felt insecure before the niggling doubts placed by those sideways glances began to affect her. Never noticed him ‘looking’ at anyone else.

She turned to face him as well, forcing herself to look, really look at the expression of his features, what his eyes were saying, rather than the moon reflecting back in them. Moon called . “Vilkas, what do you want from me?”

Something in him shuddered, and he turned away. Sigrid felt a knot tighten in her heart as he pulled away from her. No no no… and then suddenly her mind went blank as he took her hands and carefully placed something in them.

Slowly opening her fingers, she stared at an Amulet of Mara. Lifting her eyes to his, she was sure her confusion was obvious.

“I...I know what this is, now.”

His silvery eyes burned, holding hers captive. “Do you, Sigrid?”

She swallowed, her throat suddenly so dry. “Then...ask me.”

Slowly, carefully he crept closer to her as she lay immobile, stars the only witness to the feeling that spiralled, flaring white hot as he placed his hand over hers.

“Marry me, woman.” He placed his forehead against hers, as her eyes fluttered, then closed as he breathed in her scent. “Be mine, in every way.”

She felt his other hand creep down to rest upon her stomach. “Bear my children.”

Her breath left her as he placed his mouth close to hers, barely touching. She could feel his lips move as he spoke against her, quietly. “Say you will.”

Oh, this was...it was too much. Her chest ached with the sweetness, the fire-hot feeling so entwined in grief and want and love that -

“Yes. Yes , I want to, I will…”

He cut her off with a heated gasp, his mouth branding hers as every nerve lit up at the feeling of his hands holding her tight against him, winding into her hair as his lips moved, slanting against her mouth with everything he couldn’t say.

They lay there like that, slowly kissing, heedless of the dancers and singers that still surrounded them as if some huge distance engulfed the two, as if they were completely alone.

When the drums finally ceased, the bards singing soulfully as festival goers slowly trickled back into their homes, Vilkas bit her lip gently between his teeth and helped her up off the grass.

She felt dizzy, weightless as though her heart was somewhere high in the night sky instead of beating in her chest.

“Here,” he brushed grass from her back, the other hand squeezing hers before he let go. “Let me find you something to drink. Then, we’ll head home.”

Smiling in response as he sauntered off to one of the remaining vendors, she stretched languorously, reaching for the sky, for that feeling of soaring that had somehow given wings to her heart.

“Hm-hm-hmm, oh-ho, how sweet! Romantic overtures in the dark! Here, let Cicero try!”

Couldn’t move. No movement. Could not make a single sound, her tongue thick and unresponsive, as the needle prick in her neck burned like a sting. She smelled something rotten, like mold or graverot, as gloved hands manhandled Sigrid away, away from the lights of the market, far away from Vilkas who stood so unaware as he bought their drinks. Oblivious to her silent cry, her tongue, her Thu’um silenced by the poison stealing so coldly through her veins.

“Ooh, yes! Madness is merry, and merriment's might, when the jester comes calling with his knife in the night..."

The night was so cold as a veil draped over her vision, as Cicero dragged her, giggling and wheezing, away. She felt drool pooling in the corner of her mouth, dripping in jerks as Cicero heaved her into a wagon. As the pressing weight of the toxin slowly, inexorably closed her eyes she felt something drop. Felt it fall, the only sign she could leave. 

A cold wind blew across the tundra, as the jester clucked at the horse, snapping the reins as the wagon began to move its still burden.

Fallen from her pocket, the amulet of Mara lay in the upturned earth of the stables.

Waiting to be found.

 

Chapter Text

“Kids! Breakfast is ready!”

 

Standing before the stove as she flipped a perfectly browned pancake over onto its bubbling side, Sarah yawned and rubbed her eyes. Staying up late playing the most immersive, addictive game ever had taken its toll. And Bryce was going to give her hell for it, she just knew. Though he had unenthusiastically played up to sixty hours of Skyrim with a Breton thieves guild avatar, it wasn’t his passion nearly as much as, say, Forza Horizon.

“I mean it! You’re going to be late for school!” God, where was the coffee? Leaning over to open the cupboard, Sarah released a caffeine-deprived growl when she realized they were out. Again. Not a coffee bean in sight.

“Bryce! Why didn’t you save me any? Bryce?!?”

No one was answering her, but she heard the chairs being pulled out roughly, and rustling sounds. The smacking of lips as something was chewed, dammit Bryce, she told him not to give the kids their gummy vitamins before breakfast. That, or they had snuck food before breakfast...a cardinal sin, in her book.

Yep. Someone was snuffling, breathing heavily. Tossing the hair out of her eyes as she poured maple syrup, Sarah sighed. It was probably Sean. That kid got sick so frequently that she was seriously considering homeschooling him, just so he would be able to catch up to his classmates.

More chewing, gargling noises. Those kids. She swore, if she didn’t remind them (kindly, gently, DAMMIT stop talking with your mouth open, god she had to work on her love language) they would act like savages everywhere. Just the other day she had pulled Robbie out of the park, bright red in embarrassment as he pulled up his pants. He had, she remembered with exasperated mirth, pooped on the park lawn in full view of all the other moms and their kids, who were pointing fingers and shrieking as he wiggled his little butt in pride.

Huffing, Sarah took deep breaths as she piled the stacks of pancakes layered in butter and syrup on a large serving plate. Easing her hand beneath the plate, she grabbed the orange juice pitcher with the other hand. “Ready or not, here’s breakfast, so -”

 

The glass pitcher shattered, dropped from nerveless fingers.

 

The chewing sounds continued as Sarah looked on in horror. The kids were seated neatly at the old farmhouse table. Plates, forks, napkins were tossed askew as their bodies bent fully over the blank, staring body of Bryce.

Wet pops and cracks reached her ears as Terence turned to her, his dark brown eyes bloodshot as he slurped and swallowed a length of glistening intestine. Fuzzed mold, white and greenish, carpeted his skin, still smooth for a preteen. Clumps of hair had fallen off, and she could see the outline of teeth moving behind thinned, dried lips as he crunched and chewed.

Peter had his face fully immersed in the open cavity that had been Bryce’s stomach, wet crackling sounds, as the little boy lifted his partially decayed, skeletal arm and lifted a wet chunk of liver, bitten neatly with little circular tooth marks, out to Sarah. Frozen in horror, she saw him blink slowly, one eyeball shriveled like a dry grape as her four year old held out his grisly feast.

“Mom, we saved you some.”

Bryce lifted his head from the table to look at her. What was left of the flesh on his face was clay grey, blackened with rot as shockingly white bone flashed at his chin, his brow. His nose was completely concave and sunken in, the dried stick of his tongue wagging in his open jaws as he spoke.

"Sorry I drank all the coffee, Sarah. But I did feed the kids breakfast.”

 

**************

Normally, she rather enjoyed speaking to her victims.

Oh, they sobbed and begged, pleading for her to have mercy. Have mercy little girl, you don’t want to do this, I have a family.

Always the same repetitive song.

But with this one, Babette mused as she ground powdered mammoth tusk and nightshade with mortar and pestle, she would have to be more careful. Well, more than usual.

One did not live for three centuries in the guise of a ten year old girl without clever preparation. And it was, she wrinkled her nose as her fangs itched, simply incredible that the one who hung, dead to the world in the torture chamber, had such explicit knowledge of the sanctuary. The old sanctuary, she amended to herself, long since burnt and gone. This, this frozen abandoned crypt, was home now. Home for her, for Cicero, for the Night Mother.

And, she smiled in triumph as the substance in the mortar coagulated into a fine sandy salve with one last press, it would be the final resting place of the two prisoners.

Tapping out a careful portion of her mixture, she poured it carefully into the bubbling beaker that was suspended over steady flame.

A Dragonborn would be a unique challenge to interrogate. Wisp wrappings for silence, nightshade to deaden and numb the throat. Powdered mammoth tusk to bind. Babette was a master, having spent thousands of nights studying, mixing, measuring her deadly brews. As long as the jester was kept at bay, she could keep the Dragonborn prisoner for as long as she liked. And ask questions, without fearing the effects of the Thu’um, the unknown factor that had the vampire girl tense with delicious expectation.

She couldn’t wait to see her concoction in action.

Slipping off the stool, she held the hot beaker in a padded cloth as she strolled down the dank stone stairs, into the black corridor that led to the torture room.

It was an annoyance, she decided, that those meddlers in the Penitus Oculatus had found such assistance. While she felt a pang of nostalgia for Astrid, for Veezara and Gabrielle and the others, she was a practical thing. Her forebear had always instructed her that for the vampire, survival came first. Remember, Babette, there is always someone out for your blood. Others could fall on their own swords, defending some peculiar notion of honor.

Babette would survive. Her friends, no, her family that had passed away...they had been skilled assassins. Competent. Vicious.

But not skilled enough.

And she would outlive them all. Even the capering fool who she could hear cackling in the foyer where the Night Mother stood sentinel. Echoes of his hysterical mumblings echoed down the twisting passages, reverberating eerily. Babette sighed. At some point, she would have to explore the cave system for herself, if only to ensure that she would not be waking up to a Falmer blade at her throat some morning. Blinking as her glowing eyes readjusted to the single torch burning merrily in the chamber, she scanned the room for any new thing of note.

Nothing.

That Priest of Mara that Cicero had dragged in not a week ago still hung limply in his chains. He had defecated again, the stench making her undead nose wrinkle in disgust. The living just couldn’t help themselves, she supposed. Urine also stained the blue gown of the Dragonborn, who was twitching and jerking in her sleep. With amusement, Babette noted that even her eyes rolled behind their lids in delicate tics.

Whatever nightmare she was enduring was but a prelude of what was to come. Vaermina had found quite the alliance in the fool. He dragged that disgusting skull staff everywhere, now. It bothered her not a bit, for she had perfected the potion Dreamless Sleep ages ago.

Placing the beaker, which was now quite temperate, upon the table near the door, Babette prepared a thin, needlelike blade for insertion of her prized potion. Rolling the tip in the torch flame, the metal glowed a dull orange as the vampire slowly dipped the tip of the dagger into her solution.

There. It was but a moment for her to sidle over to the woman and prick her throat. A drop of blood beaded upon the skin of her throat.

Babette licked her lips, venom gushing into her mouth as her fangs felt...dry. Soon enough. When questions were answered, and Cicero was satisfied that the Night Mother was fully protected and hidden from all prying eyes, then. Then Babette would taste the Dragonborn’s blood.

Would it taste of brimstone and fire? Smoke and ash? She was sure the flavor would coil, delicious and complex, upon the tongue. A vintage to be savored.

Drawing a chair closer, she sat and waited. The woman moaned, still trapped in dreams. Growing impatient, Babette leaned over and gave her face a light slap.

Hmph. Another, then.

When the third, hard slap landed the Dragonborn opened her eyes wide, focusing immediately on the unchild.

The torch sputtered as they stared at one another. The blood on her throat had already dried, Babette noted with some sadness. Shame. It was a pleasant smell. Better than the urine that soaked the lower half of her gown. A rumbling filled the room, almost inaudible for its depth, and Babette realized with some trepidation that it came from the chest of the woman.

“Diil Kiir. Release me, undead child.”

The green-amber eyes were unusually clear, for having been under the influence of an amalgam of poisons and draughts for so long. There were faded scars etched into her face, upon her lips and hinted at on shoulders and bust, beneath the gown. The brown hair was probably much more fetching when brushed, but now it tangled limply in the amulet the woman wore.

She was not impressive. Not even with the echo of that voice . Babette was almost tempted to interview the woman sans potion, just to hear the raspy tones in their true power. It probably would not happen. Even now, as Cicero anointed and oiled the Night Mother in a profane ritual that the unchild was not privy to, she could not think of any other tricks or distractions to keep the mad man away. He would break in, and eventually kill her. She had only saved the priest by reasoning that he would make a splendid sacrifice to appease Vaermina, later.

Cicero was overjoyed. His dagger had been brought out of retirement, and Babette had had to clean up his many indiscretions since, to keep her erstwhile brother out of harm’s way as they traveled up here to Dawnstar. For all the fondness she felt for the fool, it was becoming a bother, babysitting her brother in this dank keep. She longed for fresh prey.

But, as always, family first.

“Hello, Dragonborn. Unfortunately I can’t do that. But I do have some questions for you.” The vampire girl crossed her ankles and bounced them against the rungs of the chair. She noted with amusement that the Dragonborn tracked every move, the pricked throat swallowing as undoubtedly the woman tested muted vocal cords. “None of that, dear Dragonborn. You won’t be able to speak above a very hoarse whisper for some time now. I simply can’t have you leaving just yet.”

The rumbling vibrations increased as the woman pulled, testing the metal cuffs chained to the wall. She coughed, murmuring over and over something that sounded like ‘feim, feim’ with no effect. Grimacing, the Dragonborn locked eyes with Babette once more. She almost shivered at the calculating look, the sheer rage pouring from those eyes.

“Very well, krah tafiir . We may speak, for now.” Her voice was barely audible, and still it vibrated the ground, shaking the table, the chair. Small rock chips bounced on the floor, settling as silence pervaded once more.

Tipping her head to study the prisoner, Babette folded her hands in her lap. “I suppose it would be pointless to ask how you knew our sanctuary’s password?”

Raspy chuckling seemed to shake the vampire’s very ribcage. “You wouldn’t believe me. Though I want to kill you very badly," the woman was almost conversational about it. Babette could have liked her. "...I am your zaam  for now. But does it matter? Here you are. And here am I.”

Leaning forward, the metal cuffs ground upon their hinges as the Dragonborn leaned far forward.

Release me .”

“Or what?” Fascinating already. Babette bobbed her foot as the woman struggled to compose herself. Strange that she was not more discomfited by her capture. Most were. “You can’t escape, and I have taken measures to keep you alive purely out of curiosity. If you cannot, will not answer me, then I have no use for you.”

Hopping up from the stair, Babette took the beaker of potion from the table. Turning, she looked at the Dragonborn’s furious gaze. “If I were you, I’d come up with creative ways of distracting Cicero. The Keeper was beside himself that anyone would dare desecrate the Dark Brotherhood’s...no, the Night Mother’s sanctuary. He will probably kill you. Soon.”

The hoarse whisper stopped Babette before she could open the door. “What? No knives? No thumbscrews, or gags? I'm almost offended at how little you care.”

“Oh, Dragonborn.” Biting back a chuckle, Babette lifted her hand above her head to push open the heavy dungeon door. “You should know. The mind is so much more delicate, more easily broken than the body. Sweet dreams.”

Leaving the torture room, the unchild skipped down the stone corridor, humming in delight. Pausing to lock the door to the main chamber where Cicero hummed and chatted to his charge, she giggled. That would delay things, if just for a bit.

 

Oh, playtime was going to be so much fun.

 

Chapter Text

Trees rimmed her vision, slowly tossed by the night wind. She could hear the leaves fluttering, branches sighing as dark clouds scudded across the stars. Masser was full tonight; the smaller, paler moon Secunda half full in its shadow.

A deep lassitude had taken hold of her limbs. Sigrid lay unblinking, though she summoned the will to move. To look anywhere but up at the stars. Cruel, cold stars.

Rustling, nearby. Footsteps neared. Her eyes would not blink, would not roll in their dry sockets to see, to see…

“Ah, such a shame. Didn’t make it.”

Leaning over her, Aela blocked out the stars. Bright moss-green eyes trailed up and down Sigrid’s form. “She would have been an asset to the pack.”

A heavy arm snaked around Aela, pulling a face into her field of vision.

 

Vilkas...

 

He pressed an open mouthed kiss to Aela’s neck, as she smiled secretly and turned to him. Nuzzling him in return. “Stop that.” She sighed, as Vilkas’s arm caressed Aela’s front, slowly trailing lower out of sight, into Aela’s fur-wrapped leggings.

Sigrid could not even draw breath. With a icy prick of shock, she realized her heart was no longer beating.

“Well, it’s a shame to waste such a fine spread.” Aela flipped her head back, entwining her arms, her form with his as Vilkas made a noise of hunger. “Fine.” She captured his mouth in a heated kiss, his teeth nipping at her lips, the painted streaks on her cheeks, eventually descending to her breastband.

“We’ll do this your way, for now. Food first.” Shaking free, the huntress cautioned him with a wagging finger, eyes alight with fondness. “But, you owe me a kill, love.”

Frozen in time, Sigrid willed herself to draw breath. To shout, scream, anything. Oh, god, this wasn’t real, couldn’t be real not real not real wake up up up ...

Disconnected, almost pleasantly numb, Sigrid watched as the man she loved shivered, stepping away. Vilkas’s face slowly elongated, his jawline morphing into a hairless muzzle. Eyes that were such a familiar silver-grey brightened to wolf gold.

Fingers, toes. Nothing worked. Nothing moved. She was held captive as wet, plopping noises accompanied the crunch of bones as he shifted , long talons bleeding from human hands. Fur poured from skin, the dark hair spreading, lifting until the head became massively canine. Spreading like shadow, the werewolf stood before Sigrid, outlined by the full moon.

Out of sight, Aela sighed happily. “Save me the heart, will you?”

Dead to the world, Sigrid screamed inside, over and over as his fangs tore a wide ragged slice from her belly. Blood spattered, dark and hidden on his furry form. She couldn’t feel it, could feel nothing on the skin, inside the skin but horror. She was naked, she was in hell as his hot muzzle entered her, a parody of the act of love as the head ripped, tore, and swallowed. Devouring, tasting - Vilkas lifted his head, wolf eyes catching and refracting the moonlight as his jaws champed and gulped the long loops of intestine.

Drawing nearer, he briefly left her sight. Then reappeared as the penny sweet hot breath of the werewolf surrounded her, closing off what she could see as a rough tongue slid wetly over nose and unmoving mouth as the jaws bit oh so slowly down…

 

***************

 

“Life Flesh Heal…” she sighed, her voice casting itself towards the Priest who hung, too still, on his chains.

It was a Dunmer, she could see that. With the butter-yellow robes of a Priest of Mara. Erandur, then. It seemed the unchild’s threat might have had some reason behind it, Sigrid thought unhappily. That last dream had been a doozy. She had awakened with a sobbing pant, tears spilling from her eyes.

Sigrid, you're an idiot. Remember last time? She was thirsty enough; crying would not help her survive this. No more tears, until she had something to drink.

At least the Thu’um rumbled within her, alive once more. “Life Flesh Heal ,” she crooned, willing the priest to awaken, to look at her. It would be so much easier to fight, to flee with his assistance. And she dimly remembered, he was a good mage. A solid follower. Erandur would do.

A twitch, then a full body shudder heaved through the Priest of Mara as he bent, wracked by coughing as fingers of healing power coursed through him. Brown feces stained his robes, with the more faded marks of urine and darker blood visible as he moved, shifted in his bonds.

“...ah. I’m no longer alone. How pleasant.” The hooded head lifted, and she smiled as dark eyes, bright as rubies found and caught hers in their stare. “Who are you, my daughter?”

“I am Sigrid Farstrider, Dragonborn and fellow prisoner of the Dark Brotherhood.” She replied as quietly as she could speak, her voice still rolling, shaking in dark timbred tones the stones in the walls, rattling the floor.

“Apologies, Priest.” His panicked face eased as she tried to smile reassuringly. “It has been...a trying day.” It would be better not to explain further. He didn’t need to know how close, how razor edged thin Sigrid’s temper held, to be taken here in such a way. Taken right from a festival, in her safe haven, her home town.

Oh Vilkas...

“Vaermina has won a mighty victory,” Erandur grimaced back, his thin lips twisted in disdain. “I should have returned years ago.”

Water dripped from somewhere in the room as Sigrid craned her neck around to look. Her shoulders ached, bound in one position as she slowly tightened, then loosened her arms. Not bad. Not...like last time. But awful enough.

She blinked, straightening as she heard footfalls echo somewhere beyond the chamber. The tunnels of Dawnstar’s Sanctuary meandered, twisted in hidden crumbling corridors. Designed to confuse, entrap. That sound could have come from anywhere.

They waited with bated breath as they listened closely for more sounds.

Nothing but the drip-plop of water. The torch sputtering in a gusty draft. Shifting in her dress, Sigrid wrinkled her nose as she realized she had pissed herself. That much was similar to her last incarceration. Though she hoped she would not be here as long as Erandur had, judging by the piles of shit surrounding the poor man, smeared over the back of his robes.

Clean clothing would be a top priority, once they escaped from here. If they escaped.

Of course she would, Sigrid chastened herself. She was the fucking Dragonborn. Harbinger of the Companions. She had killed Astrid buck naked with her bare blade. She could rescue herself.

The vampire girl couldn’t keep her doped up on that potion all the time. It had almost completely worn off by now, and she heard no one approach.

Pulling, testing at her restraints again, Sigrid swallowed. Then spoke.

“Feim Zii Gron!”

The heavy weight of her material body dissolved, as her spirit form stepped forward out of the shackles. Fade Spirit Bind always reminded her of her childhood dream to be invisible, unseen by her sister as she snuck around the house giggling. Ignoring Erandur’s shock, she walked through the closest wall and looked around.

Dank darkness greeted her. Nothing but tunnels.

Walking back into the room, she noted that there was no lock on the torture room door. Cocky. They’d pay for that, she reminded herself, grinning as her form took substance once more and she ran solid fingers over the manacles binding the priest.

“W-what was that!?”

 “The Thu’um. Dragonspeech, or Dovahzul.” She replied, distracted as the left cuff refused to budge. Bracing her wrist, she shoved her weight against the rusted bolt and sighed in relief as Erandur almost fell, free from his binds.

 They’d hear that, if anyone was listening. Sigrid idly wondered if vampires had hearing as good as a werewolf. It had gotten her into trouble before, when as a whelp she had muttered sarcastic comments in the training field. Vilkas always heard, and never hesitated to reward her backtalk with fifty pushups, or twelve laps run barefoot.

She hoped against hope he wasn’t out of his mind with worry, right now.

Gesturing for Erandur to follow her, she bravely ignored the stench wafting from them both as they crept down the hall. There had been no weapons, no torture tools, nothing at hand in the chamber other than the torch that Erandur had taken.

At least the Dunmer had his magic.

She balled her fists tightly. Not without weapons, no, her Thu’um rumbled within her. Vicious thoughts circled like buzzards in her mind as they slowly wended their way to a hopeful exit, thoughts tainted by dovahzul . She knew them by now, could almost label which soul had such acrimony, or a sense of humor. One of them liked to sing songs, old tunes with a dialect even Paarthurnax couldn’t name for her. She thrust them from her thoughts, for now. 

Up ahead, a portion of the sanctuary that actually looked lived in loomed ahead. An alchemy table, with braziers still alight and powders carelessly tossed near bundles of ingredients. Sleeping rolls, half opened. A bottle of...something thick and viscous. Probably blood, she thought as she noted dark spatters coating the walls nearby.

“Eh heh hee hee hoo...what? Mother? Is that your voice I hear?”

They froze. Their breaths puffed fast, clouding the dank cave-like air with steam.

“...Hmm. No, no. Just my head playing tricks...foolish Cicero.”

He must be in the main chamber, guarding the Night Mother, Sigrid thought ruefully. Really, she should have known better than to relax her guard. Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary, remember? She placed a finger to her lips, cautioning Erandur as she slid quietly past the door that marked the main entrance, hoping with everything that it led to the surface.

 

Sweet child, do not leave.

 

Gasping, her hand flew to her throat as she struggled to hold her shriek of dismay inside. She could hear her, hear the voice, that husky silk brushing like cobwebs over her mind, no no no -

 

Come closer, and know me.

 

You fight it still, but I know better. Lost daughter. Listener.

 

Come to me.

 

- Crackles of electricity wreathed Erandur’s fingertips as Cicero tumbled from the shadows, his blade striking stone where the priest stepped away. As if in a dream, she ignored the battle between the two, uncaring of the priest’s cries for help as she walked dazedly towards the chamber. In her peripheral vision she could see the mad jester wield the Skull of Corruption, the foul staff glowing amethyst dark as Erandur struggled, his hands lit with fire and light as he fought off the influence of his former mistress.

Chamber of Horrors. Mother of Night, Sithis’s bride.

The room was dark, perfumed by the scent of hundreds of candles that had been lit and scattered upon the broken stones surrounding the coffin. It was open.

She was floating, hardly touching the floor, her heart pounding out of her chest as she approached.

 

Errant child, willful, disobedient child. Why do you kill your brothers and sisters?

 

The Night Mother had been freshly oiled, lovingly tended. Sigrid had no idea how old the woman was supposed to be, dead or alive. Or undead, as it were. She remembered reading that the Night Mother had once been a Dunmer thief, who took to murdering her victims for the ease of robbing their valuables.

She had also sacrificed her five children to Sithis, God of the Void.

“Bitch, you are not my mother,” Sigrid managed to grind out, struggling to feel the fire of rage. Panic and a deep crawling sense of fear skittered over her, like spiderlegs as she looked over the sticklike limbs, the fresh linen shroud that bound the dead woman upright. Her dessicated face was open in a perpetual gasp, eyelids crumbled shut. Sigrid thought, perhaps they might open, the sense of unlife radiating from this thing was...was…

 

I am Mother of All, Listener. The crone, who cuts the thread of life. Necessary.

Come closer, child.

 

Against her will, her feet dragged Sigrid closer.

She could smell her now, smell the rot that no oil or perfume could conceal. The air was hot and thick, now, with melting wax and the sweet stink of bodily decay.

 

You cannot defeat me. How can you kill death?

 

Sigrid blinked at the hands wrapped against the dried husk of a chest as they blurred, seeming to move, to entreat her.

Little hands.

 

“He is so beautiful,” Bryce marveled as he held his firstborn son close. The baby wailed, beet red, tiny fists waving as he twisted weakly, snug in his swaddled blanket.

“Oh sweet boy,” Sarah crooned, the sweat drying on her forehead. It had been a long labor, hours of pushing, anxiety and pain were finally over. The doctor whisked away the afterbirth as nurses flitted around the couple, lost in the grey-haze of newborn eyes blinking up at them.

“We should name him Sean, after your father.” Bryce lifted the little bundle higher, placing a tender kiss on his forehead. Sarah smiled, blinking back tears as all the emotions that had been running haywire for what seemed like the last nine months broke open. A flood of love enveloped her, as she took baby Sean from Bryce and set his puckered grasping mouth to her breast.

She felt a tingle as he latched on. Bryce sat heavily down next to her, laughing with her as she grimaced, trying to relocate his desperate sucking to include the entire nipple and not just the tip. Which was more bloody painful than she had thought; god, everything ached.

But wasn’t it wonderful, this little thing, this boy she and Bryce had created with their love. Gazing at his tiny, scrunched face in adoration, Sarah sighed happily as her baby suckled, bursts of heat flashing through her breasts as they gave life-nourishing milk to her little one. Little hands, tiny fists curled with the most delicate fingernails and pudgy wrists she had ever seen…

 

Brought abruptly back to reality as Erandur skidded across the floor, Sigrid blinked as she realized she was almost completely surrounded by the walls of the Night Mother’s coffin.

A calm peace pervaded her as she thought about tiny hands growing, covered in peanut butter. Painting on walls. Cupping her cheek. Larger hands, placing a gold-bright ring on her shaking hand. Different hands, dirt covered and callused, placing an amulet oh so carefully in her waiting hands.

“I can’t destroy death.” Sigrid spoke, aware of the conflict behind her as Babette and Cicero raced into the room, intent upon her now that Erandur had fallen down. Vaermina's staff was still in Cicero's hands, and Babette brandished a wicked looking daedric dagger that gleamed a poisonous ochre. 

In the seconds she had left, thoughts flashed like snapshots through her mind. Thoughts of life and death. A never ending circle, the eternal tree branching into infinite possibility. His eyes, grey and soft as he offered all he had, all he was. 

“But, I can destroy you.”

 “YOL TOOR SHUL!”

Fire blurred the dead dry limbs, licking eagerly at the oil soaked linens. “No, dearest Night Mother, no!” Cried Cicero, heaving Sigrid out of the way as gloved hands danced desperately, seeking to put out the flames.

“Oh, Dragonborn, what have you done?” Babette cried out in shock.

With a speed she didn’t know she was capable of, Sigrid reached Erandur as black webs burst in her retinas, a voice howling in the recesses of her mind, raging as she dragged the priest out of the room. Hesitating at the doorway, she could see Cicero, his jesters motley ablaze as his black hands crisped, burning in the fires as he wailed in desolation. Vaermina's Skull of Corruption lay forgotten upon the floor, spilled against the sleeping furs, the swords and daggers she never noticed before in her thrall. Babette had turned to face Sigrid, somehow larger than her girlish form as her glowing eyes caught the inferno. The unchild opened a mouth lined with fangs, and -

“Ven Gaar Nos!”

- And the vampire’s eyes widened as she was tossed like a rag doll in the winds, cycloning around the room, picking up candles and flame and weapons in a dizzying whirlwind that rattled the door and shook the walls.

She shut the door. Lowered the crossbar, heaving quick panting sighs as leaned her whole weight against the door that shook, threatening to burst off its hinges. She heard Cicero scream, high and unending...the clatter of edged weapons spinning off of hard surfaces, the sound of a girl shrieking -

- until it cut off suddenly. The winds seemed to endure forever, the hurricane she had created from the cruel intelligence of the dovah gusting in fitful bursts, easing slowly down to stillness.

Soon, there was only silence. The sound of liquid, dripping somewhere. Erandur coughed weakly.

Steeling herself for...something, she pushed open the door.

********

They remained for a few hours more, to finish burning the last remnants of the Dark Brotherhood.

The coffin had been enchanted, and would not budge. Not even beneath the heavy blows of a warhammer. But the body within had disintegrated into so much ash, drifting into the eddies of air caused by the roaring fire Sigrid and Erandur built high, high enough to burn all bone and flesh into soot.

Erandur destroyed Vaermina's token himself. 

Finally, it was done. Slumped against the rough black sand of the shoreline, they both dragged in heaving gulps of fresh air, untainted by smoke as they looked out over the port of Dawnstar. 

Slowly, pink and gold stained the grey sky as a new day began.

Chapter Text

The letter from the courier came four days after the Midsummer Festival.

And not a damn minute too soon, Farkas thought as his brother rushed around his quarters, packing his bags, checking weapons and potions for an immediate departure to Dawnstar. The manic energy that had driven him to search all over Whiterun Hold, snapping at the most casual remarks about Sigrid, had been exhausting to watch. Farkas was tempted to drug his ale, just so the poor damn fool would get some sleep.

Then again, if someone - anyone - had tried to kidnap Carlotta or Mila right from under his nose, he would have torn down Dragonsreach block by block, to the foundation until he found them alive and well.

Kind and thoughtful as his future wife was, Carlotta had helped spread the word about the Dragonborn’s sudden disappearance. She had visited Arcadia, Olava, all of the gossips with questions about who had seen her, had anything strange been noticed. Despite their differences, the Imperial felt a certain sort of empathy for a fellow widow, for which Farkas was grateful. Trouble followed his shield sister like a hound trailing a chicken...and now where the his Harbinger went, his brother followed.

The Companions hadn’t heard anything about her disappearance at all, until the morning after when Vilkas had walked into the main hall, fingering an Amulet of Mara and looking as poleaxed as that time Farkas had hit a major growth spurt at fourteen and with one haymaker had laid him out cold. Eventually, Farkas got the whole story out of him - the proposal, her acceptance, how he had left to buy drinks only to return and find her missing completely (damn that was bad timing), unnoticed by any of the other drunken revelers still lingering late at night.

...Which any of them could have told Vilkas was not like Sigrid at all, to leave without notice or farewell. In fact, the newest Harbinger was at times a bleeding heart, all motherly and...involved, in a way that Farkas admitted to himself was pleasant. And in other times was just unnecessary. Farkas could shave his own damn beard, thank you very much, without someone pointing out the uneven spots.

The less said about that night when the moon was full, the better. His memories of that night was more a blur, a rush of feeling than anything solid...although there were moments that stood out that he tried very hard to forget. Farkas refused to think about the smiling, eccentric Sigrid in any way other than as a shield sister, or potentially, his sister by marriage.

If they ever found her again. He was going to make her wear armor with bells, when they did get ahold of that woman.

Ensuring his own sleeping furs and supplies were securely fastened, Farkas hurried to catch up with Vilkas as his twin practically raced down the stairs towards the city gates. “What, no goodbyes?”

“They know where we are going.” If anything, Vilkas ran faster. “We have the hagraven heads, Kodlak’s notes, and spare clothing and sword for Sigrid. If we push hard, I think we can make it to Dawnstar in three days. The Tomb of Ysgramor, a day or two past that.”

“...Only on four legs.” Farkas grumbled. But he also lengthened his stride, catching up to the long legged walk that ate miles over long distances and could be sustained.

“Hey Vilkas,” he called out as they rose over the mountain ridge that marked Blizzard’s Rest. Mammoths grazed peacefully on the plentiful grass, cropping it with their trunks as the twins stopped for a rest. “...this is good news, right? That she was kidnapped.”

Vilkas shot him a look. “How so?” Opening his pack, he threw Farkas some dried meat and bread.

Chewing placidly on the tough fare, Farkas swallowed. Wasn’t as though Sigrid had never been kidnapped before. Although this time seemed to have worked out a bit better for her than the last. “Well, brother, this means she didn’t run away screaming at the thought of marrying you for life.”

“Always the optimist.”

“I can see her now, kicking. Screaming. Begging for someone to take her far away…”

Vilkas hit him, but not like he meant it. Farkas grinned. See? Things were already getting back to normal, if his brother was punching him. And not even in the face. Yet.

“So, do you think she found more chests of gold and jewels in this assassin hideout?”

Tearing off a hunk of bread, Vilkas tore it apart with his fingers, his eyes distant. “Maybe.”

“Tell you what.” Taking a swig from his ale, Farkas wiped his mouth and sighed. Ah, good stuff. “If she didn’t find anything special, I’ll give you back that toy we found down in Falkreath.”

“Huh?” Hell, his brother wasn’t even listening to him.

Replacing his travel pack on his back, making sure his sword was available to draw at a moment’s notice, Farkas frowned at him. “I didn’t use it, if that’s what has your breeches in a twist.”

"Right. Yes.”

“Carlotta didn’t use it either.”

“Uh-huh.”

Farkas narrowed his eyes. “I licked your woman’s birthmark on her upper thigh, that night. Hope that’s alright.”

“Aye, Farkas.”

Shrugging, Farkas pushed ahead, deciding to take the lead. It wouldn’t do for his brother to dawdle all absent minded straight into a pack of Frost Trolls. This once, Farkas would look out for his brother, and not the other way around.

“Since I have your attention, you should know that I was the one who set your bed on fire, back in Second Seed. Just to get you two out of there for one day.”

No response. Vilkas had taken the lead again, and was running directly into what Farkas could smell was a camp of giants, herding their mammoth towards the green pastures of the Northern Pale.

Farkas sighed. Some days, it was a real pain being the responsible one.

 

**************

Night fell quickly in the Pale. Snow fell here even in the summer, and the two Companions rolled out their sleeping furs in a small rocky overhang that almost could pass as a cave. Only a couple of sabre cats, not a big deal. They sure tasted good rubbed in salt and elves ear, all roasted over the fire, after nothing but hard bread and dried beef all day.

It wasn’t the most comfortable outdoor spot Farkas had ever slept in. Not like the time he had hunted down that Priestess of Dibella, years ago. Cold and fogbound the Reach might be, but Farkas had learned quite a bit from her warm charms. He’d never look at honey, leather strips or horker tusks the same after that. He smiled fondly. Good times.

“Hey Vilkas!” His brother did not turn from his scrutiny of the snowbound horizon. Probably wondering how little sleep he could get away with until he reached Dawnstar, Farkas thought with some amusement. Or praying for a frost troll or wolf to attack. If his twin had a prayer of actually bedding the only woman Farkas had ever seen him stutter over when they reached Dawnstar, he would need some sort of distraction. Something to relax him to the point of sleep.

Like a good joke. He nudged the butchered skins of the sabre cats. “Hey, what did the sabre cat say to the other as they ate a jester?”

He heard Vilkas heave a put-upon sigh. Hah, he was listening.

“This tastes...funny.” Spreading his arms, Farkas walked around in a circle, accepting unseen accolades of applause as Vilkas finally looked at him in exasperation. “I got a thousand of these. Hey Vilkas, do you know why the graveyard in Falkreath looks so old? That’s because it’s…”

-”Arkay-ic. Like archaic...look, I appreciate it, Farkas. I truly do. But I think I’d rather drink myself to a stupor than go through the Red Book of Riddles ever again.”

Not offended in the least, Farkas smiled and clapped him on the back. Vilkas coughed. “That’s alright. Just as long as you sleep. I got more of those jokes ready for ya, if you want to stay up.”

Huffing a short laugh, Vilkas flopped over in his sleeping furs. “Think I’ll pass, brother.”

“Ah, just as well. I’m tired out.”

“G’night, Vilkas.”

“Good night, Farkas.”

 

*********

They made it to Dawnstar in two days.

“Hey, brother.” He jogged up to Vilkas as the scent of salt sea air drifted over the treeless tundra. Not long now, and his brother looked almost ill as he pounded out the miles, relentlessly unstoppable. “Hey. So, have you heard what they call the wenches who serve hot desserts in the Mage’s College?”

Panting, Vilkas stopped, blowing hard as he put his hands on his knees. Farkas walked in front of him, less winded, since he hadn’t been running at full tilt like a crazy person. Not like some.

“I...I haven’t heard that one.” Vilkas wheezed. “Do you think Sigrid…”

No. Think about it.”

“Honestly, I give up. Pretty sure it’s something stupid, though.”

“A pie-romancer!” Fanning his hands with flair, Farkas thought he almost saw his brother crack a grin at that one. Damn, that was Mila’s favorite. “Cheer up. Looks like we’re almost there.”

It took Vilkas four of his best child-approved jokes to get Vilkas stumbling, exhausted across the threshold of Windpeak Inn. The warmth, the smell of hot food and the sound of lutes and drums...Farkas rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

“Farkas! Vilkas! You’ve arrived!”

Rubbing at the under eye circles that were not the smears of leftover warpaint, Vilkas jerked his head left then right, looking for her. Farkas sighed in relief when in three great strides his brother picked up the woman running for him and practically squeezed the life from her. A priest followed her from the table they had been seated at, a smile wreathing his grey features as he folded his arms within their golden sleeves.

What a relief. And she was walking straight and everything. Ah, and now they were kissing. Great. “Barmaid, please bring us some bowls of your stew. Hot. Oh, and about half a dozen bottles of mead.” Farkas slouched down in front of the fire, sighing in relief as he took off his travel pack and rubbed the soreness from his shoulders. If he were a betting man (which he wasn’t, no matter how often Athis asked) he would bet that Vilkas would fall dead asleep the moment his head hit the bed. No matter how engrossed they seemed to be, locking lips like that.

“And one bottle of wine!” Sigrid surfaced for air to yell that out, then was forcibly recaptured as Vilkas dragged her face back down to his.

Farkas hid a smile as some of the inn patrons hollered and cheered the couple entwined in full sight. “For Kyne’s sake, get a room,” grumbled an aged woman hauling in buckets of water.

“That’s enough, alright. Move over.” Shoving his brother away, Farkas leaned over to hug Sigrid, who hardly looked worse for wear. She was wearing a new dress of rich red patterned in gold braid, along with her ever-present smile. “Looks like you got the best of them, this time. I’ll bet everyone will think twice before stealing you again, Harbinger.”

She laughed. “I hope so. I’m done with the surprise getaways.” Clapping the priest on the back, she faced the brothers. “Time for introductions. Boys, meet Erandur, Priest of Mara. He saved my life, back there. Also got rid of the nightmare problem that Dawnstar has been dealing with for months.”

“I think it’s safe to say you saved me first, sister.” Clasping hands to shoulders, Farkas greeted the Dunmer with a smile. The priest reached out to Vilkas, only to frown as the idiot stumbled a step back. “Are you alright?”

“Well, mostly. The fool decided to run all the way here. With only a couple hours of sleep. So, I guess he must be alright, if he had the stamina for that.” Farkas rolled his eyes at Sigrid, who blinked, then put a hand to Vilkas’s head. “You know, I think you gave yourself a fever.” Her brow knit in concern as Vilkas coughed. “I’m fine, woman. Just need some sleep.”

“Right.” Taking the bottle of mead from the blushing barmaid, Farkas upended it, draining it entirely in one go. Ah, what the hell. It was small. “So, Priest, you do weddings, right?”

Erandur smoothed the folds in his robes. “When the occasion requires, yes, my son.”

Farkas grinned, opening another bottle. “Grand. Well, it just so happens that we have a double wedding coming up in Whiterun hold. And we haven’t found a priest to marry us yet. What do you say, sister?”

Sigrid, who had been speaking quietly but quickly to Vilkas turned suddenly. “I hadn’t even thought of that, yet!” She exclaimed. Vilkas sighed, weariness etched across his features as he nodded, once, to Farkas. The larger twin gave him a sly grin, then handed Vilkas some mead. “Really, Farkas? Erandur, would you be willing to marry us? And Farkas with Carlotta? Oh my god,” she turned back to the twins as the priest nodded his agreement. “A double wedding. That…”

With some trepidation, Farkas noticed his Harbinger’s eyes begin to well up with tears. “Oh no. None of that.” He stepped forward, waving his hands as if there was a spell to ward off womanly crying. God, what a septim spinner that would be. “If it really makes you happy, you won’t cry. I know those are just tears of terror now that my brother has got you where he wants you.” He slapped Vilkas on the back, causing him to choke on the mead he had just swallowed.

Sigrid rolled her eyes. “Right. Thanks Farkas.”

“Your welcome, sister.” He winked as she began to pull his brother away from the crowd slowly gathering around them in the tavern, offering congratulations. “Don’t wear him out!” He called after her, only to be answered by a strange hand signal, with the middle finger extended as the couple disappeared into their room.

“Whatever. Barmaid, where’s that stew?”

 

*************

Farkas hadn’t been kidding. After holding her tightly in bed, like she would slip away if he didn’t keep her enclosed in his arms, Vilkas drifted away into sleep and didn’t awaken until late into the next day.

Sigrid woke earlier, with her lovers’ breath puffing gently onto her forehead. Dim light leaked through the roof of Windpeak Inn, with the sounds of timbers creaking and voices murmuring outside her door. She tried to relax back into sleep, only to hear coughing and the sounds of a broom sweeping the floor. Blinking, she slowly snuck out from under Vilkas’s heavy arms and stretched, invigorated after another night free of nightmares. Months of waking with the sun, and now she could no longer sleep in. Sigrid wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse.

She walked out into the main hall to find Farkas blearily sipping some thick concoction by the firepit. “Morning.” Judging by the wrinkling of his nose, she bet it was the famous morning-after chaser. She had been forced to drink it, a time or two. Njada had told her never to ask what went in it.

“To you as well. How’s my brother?”

“Dead to the world.” Holding her hands out, she shivered as the blazing logs slowly heated her hands. “How can it still be so cold at night? It’s high summer...Last Seed.”

Farkas took a sip, then made a face. “We’re in the Pale, Harbinger. Almost above the treeline. It’s pretty damn cold up here all year round.”

“Ugh.” Pulling out a mammoth tusk-carved comb, Sigrid began to sort out the snarls in her hair. It had grown quite a bit since its last chop, and now reached her breasts. Finger combing it into three parts, she rapidly braided it into a heavy plait.

“So…” Replacing the comb back in her bodice, Sigrid tilted her head to look at Farkas. “You guys brought the hagraven heads, right?”

Trying to hold in a belch (unsuccessfully) Farkas pulled his hair back from his face and began tying the length into a messy knot at his neck with a leather thong. Clucking her tongue, Sigrid stood up and helped pull it back evenly. “Aye, we did. They’re still frozen from being in the root cellar so long, though being stored in the inn might have done something to them. Brought the notes too.”

“Good.” Her eyes were distant as she stared into the leaping flames. Sigrid rubbed her hands together and heaved a sigh. “It should be fairly easy, once we make it through Ysgramor’s tomb, and the ghosts.”

At the questioning look Farkas shot her, Sigrid backpedaled a bit. “...Look, Kodlak’s notes detail everything. All that we can expect to face there. It even has the ritual for cleansing the-the blood.” She quieted her voice for the last part, aware of the curious looks they were getting from the other patrons who were slowly waking and eating in the hall.

“And, you agree with Vilkas on this? You’re going to do it for...yourself, as well as him and Kodlak?”

Farkas downed the last mouthful of his drink, spitting into the fire. “Ugh. Hate that stuff. Gotta drink it though. Yes, shield sister, I agree with my brother in most things. And if he says the wolf is bad for the soul, well...I trust him.”

As she smiled in response, Farkas narrowed his eyes at her. “And I trust you . You’re not going to do anything suicidal, like break my brothers' heart, are you?”

The woman looked offended. “Farkas, the Companions are my life now. My family. And Vilkas, he’s…” Pushing a strand of hair back from her eyes, Farkas noted with an inward grin that she was blushing, her freckles almost disappearing. Aww. Cute. “He means everything to me. Believe me, I would never have just left like that. Not…”

“Oh, I know you wouldn’t leave. Just, try very hard not to die, while you’re out there doing Dragonborn things. That one time I asked how you were doing after Solitude, he gave me a look that almost melted my face off. Without magic.”

She giggled, shaking her head as his eyebrow quirked. “No, no no...that’s one story that’s definitely staying private!”

They both looked up as Vilkas stumbled out of the room. “Well, look who finally decided to grace us with his presence.” Picking up the tray they had saved for him, Sigrid handed it over. He poked at the oat gruel unenthusiastically, hiding a yawn behind his hand.

“Well, it’s not much longer until we reach the tomb of Ysgramor. Sigrid, we brought your sword and spare clothes, but we didn’t manage any armor. Is the smith any good here?” Farkas stood and stretched, rolling his shoulders as his shield sister drank the tea the barmaid offered her.

Swallowing, she set the mug down. “Hmm. Rustleif is good. Nowhere as good as Eorlund, but we can’t have everything. I worked out a deal with him these last few days...a new set of leathers for some help around the forge. Don’t worry, I just need to get changed. Then we can head out.”

“Good. Tired of hanging around here.” Noticing his twin was marginally more awake, Farkas smiled. “We’re finally doing it, brother. Sending Kodlak’s spirit where he always wanted to rest.”

“Sovngarde.” Tracing a finger against his own mug of tea, Vilkas looked pensive. “Farkas, do you remember anything about...before? Our parents, before we ended up with Jergen?”

Feeling Sigrid aware and watching them both, Farkas kept his voice low and unhurried. “Don’t remember much. Just fire and screams.”

Taking in his brother’s disappointment, the giant man watched as Sigrid patted his hand. “Vilkas, I asked Runil in Falkreath about that. He said he would look through his records of the dead for you and your brother. To see if...if he had any names that matched the time you were saved and brought to Jorrvaskr.”

“That’s...something, I guess.” Standing heavily, Vilkas rubbed his eyes. “I suppose it doesn’t matter now. We can only hope they made it to Sovngarde, as well.”

“Even the simple life can be one of valor.” Nodding, Sigrid stood as well. “I’m sure you’ll see them again. Many, many years from now!” She fixed her glare on both of them. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get into my new armor and make sure everything fits right.”

“Don’t forget the furs, woman. I’ll help you.” Farkas watched them both go, shaking his head fondly. All this sweet sentiment was going to rot his stoicism. Vilkas would be plucking a lute somewhere by the end of the month, singing with flowers braided in his hair. Heh.

‘Course, Mila had already done that to him at the festival. Pink and yellow wildflowers. Carlotta had laughed, like the trill of a songbird.

Damn. He was getting soft.

 

**********

“Greetings, Shield Sister.”

Approaching the ghostly form of Kodlak, Sigrid held her sword at the ready as she watched the old Harbinger warming his hands. The flames in the raised firepit popped and crackled merrily, and she could almost feel the old man become more solid, the closer he crept forward.

“Kodlak!” The wolf brothers both wore looks of astonished recognition. Sigrid bit back a grin, shaking her head. Of course they hadn’t believed her, when she said they would literally be able to speak with their old master once more.

“Ah, my sons. Good to see you again. I see you’ve been busy.”

Vilkas shuffled his feet, clearing his throat. “Harbinger, what are you doing here?”

“Ah. My fellow Harbingers and I have been warming ourselves here, trying to evade Hircine.” The old man’s voice was almost jolly.

“I don’t see anyone else.” Farkas looked around the dim tomb, as if expecting more ghosts to pop out any second.

“Well, you wouldn’t, lad. You see only me because your heart knows only me as the Companion’s leader.” His bearded mouth pulled into an amused smirk. “I’d wager old Vignar could see half a dozen of my predecessors. And I see them all.”

He turned to Sigrid. “The ones in Sovngarde. The ones trapped with me in Hircine’s realm. And they all see you, girl.”

Sigrid bowed her head, humbled by his regard. Kodlak continued, “You’ve brought honor to the name of the Companions. We won’t soon forget it.”

Vilkas stepped forward, his hand lifting to reach out to the old man’s spirit. Thinking better of it, he retracted his gesture. “Kodlak, there is still a way we can cure you. Cure you of the the beast blood.”

“Is there, now?” His spectral voice echoed in the round chamber. “I can only hope. You still have the witch’s heads?”

All three nodded. “Excellent. Throw one of them into the fire. It will release their magic; for me at least.”

Farkas nodded, his face solemn and proud. “We will follow you in this, as in all things Harbinger.”

“It is well. Do it, girl.” Unwrapping the heads from their packs, Sigrid gestured to the brothers to ready themselves. Grasping the lank greasy hair of one of the hagraven heads, Sigrid turned her face away from the grisly sight. The flesh clung still to bony skull, but the smell of decomposing flesh had only gotten stronger as they had traveled. Sigrid would be glad to see the heads burned and gone.

Throwing her burden into the fire, the disgust she felt at the sudden smell of burning hair and flesh was replaced with awe as Kodlak suddenly jerked, writhing as a great blood-tinted beast poured out of him, snapping and growling as the brothers circled it with their warblades. She hovered in the periphery, slashing as the beast approached her with clear, murderous intent.

With one final overhead stab, Vilkas finished the beast, kicking it away with an armored boot. Wavering, flickering in and out, the spirit of Kodlak walked over to the three warriors and extended his hand.

Sigrid took it, feeling a shiver as the insubstantial hand passed almost completely through her skin. “And so, you have slain the beast inside of me. I thank you all for this gift.”

Vilkas put his hand on Sigrid’s shoulder. “It was our honor, Harbinger.”

Kodlak’s blurred features became a knowing smile, as he saw Sigrid huddle closer to Vilkas. “The other Harbingers remain trapped by Hircine, though. Perhaps from Sovngarde, the heroes of old can join me in their rescue.”

Farkas whistled in approval. “Yes...the Harrowing of the Hunting Grounds.” Kodlak continued. “It would be a battle of such triumph. And perhaps some day, you three will join us in that battle.”

“But for today, return to Jorrvaskr. Triumph in your victory.” Placing a ghostly hand on each of their shoulders in turn, Kodlak’s spirit dimmed, and gradually faded altogether with a parting remark.

“Lead the Companions to further glory. Family and honor. You...have chosen...well.”

The three Companions stood there silently in the tomb that felt suddenly darker without Kodlak’s light. Sucking her lip between her teeth, Sigrid turned towards her bag and held up another head. A piece of skin fell off with a meaty plop to the stone floor.

“Yuck. Who is next?”

 

***********

“Is it over?”

“Yes. Here,” Sigrid hauled Vilkas to his feet, gripping his hand as she helped him stand. “How do you feel? You alright?”

Sensing his brother and woman regarding him, Vilkas looked away from the...the thing that had been Brother Wolf, already fading from sight. Red rage and snapping teeth. Had that really been a part of him for so long? Taking stock of himself, stretching his limbs, he sniffed.

He could still smell. Smell the sweat, the smoke of the fire. The dust in the tomb. But it was no longer overwhelming, owning his senses as it had, before. Farkas was right.

“It’s...like waking up from a dream.” Running fingers through his hair, he blinked and looked around. Seeing Sigrid’s joyous smile, he tentatively smiled back. “I can...breathe more deeply now. I can’t smell your heart beating the way I used to. But my mind is...free. Unburdened.”

“Like sinking into a warm bath.” Farkas offered, sheathing his battle blade and nodding in agreement. “Or drinking a mug of spiced mead.”

“Yes.” Looking at the tomb of Ysgramor with new eyes, Vilkas blinked back the dust and sleeplessness of the last week. “I’d like to spend some time looking around here.”

“Aye.” Farkas smiled widely, moving with a relaxed pace that Vilkas suddenly realized he felt as well. A looseness, a lack of tension. Had that always been there before? They moved, circling the tomb and staring at the inscriptions and carvings on the walls, speaking quietly.

He found Sigrid picking through chests of armor, jewelry and potions. “I’m not sure I should even be going through these things,” she laughed nervously. “Isn’t this desecrating Ysgramor’s tomb?”

“Should have asked Kodlak,” Farkas quipped, looking over Sigrid’s shoulder. LIfting a chest lid, Farkas barked a laugh and pulled out gleaming ingots of what appeared to be gold. “If they wanted to keep this for the afterlife, they should have buried it in their graves all proper.”

Vilkas looked at Sigrid’s face as a slight frown line etched itself between her eyes. “What do you think, Vilkas? Should we leave everything as it is, or take some of this back to Jorrvaskr? It’s part of your history, too.”

Taking in a deep breath, he could still smell her. Lavender and sun. He smiled. At least that hadn’t been taken from him. He could think so clearly now. “Is there anything that appeals to you?” Touching Ysgramor's shield with a thrill of wonder, she smiled warmly and handed it to him. Feeling the smooth curve of the metal against his fingers, he looked it over, turning it around. "This..this would be a mighty prize. It can hang where the shards of Wuuthrad once lay."

A wry grin tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Hmm. I don’t know. I’m not sure I trust this new Vilkas, who smiles and dances around like a girl at festival.”

Farkas laughed as Vilkas raised his eyebrow at that. “I’m not dancing.”

“You may as well be. You two are acting like we didn’t just fight a pitched battle through five hundred of Ysgramor’s best fighters. Not to mention the frostbite spiders. Or the wolf spirits.” She shivered suddenly, sitting down on the edge of the barred wall that held the remains of Ysgarmor.

Joining her, Vilkas gestured for Farkas to give them some space. The woman had been mysteriously silent on the matter of her brief incarceration in Dawnstar. He had asked that night at the Windpeak Inn what exactly had transpired. He remembered how she had shivered, the sudden stink of fear. He didn't ask again. She would tell him in her own time. “Perhaps there was some healing involved, when you cleansed my soul.”

Lifting her eyes to his in shock, she swallowed as she caught him gazing at her. Peaceful. It wasn’t an expression she was used to seeing on him. “You really think...Vilkas, I didn’t do anything you couldn’t have done yourself. You made this choice. I just...helped it along.”

Face grim, he shook his head as fingers came up to trace her cheekbone. “No, woman. I enjoyed the strength, could blame my temper on the beast. I would have ran with Aela, with Skjor and Farkas, always on the hunt. Unless Kodlak had insisted, I would have remained tied to the moon all my life.”

His thumb traced her lips. “But you. You believed. Knew that there was something more here, than a monster.”

Inhaling raggedly, he traced his nose alongside hers, feeling her swallow. “You made me feel like a man, at last.” He whispered. Her lips trembled, then captured his as she took him, took his mouth in hers. Fisted her hands in his hair as she pulled him even closer. He gave back gladly, his hand cupping her chin, the smoothness of her cheek with her warpaint flaking beneath his thumb. She moaned into his mouth as his tongue swept against hers, enveloping her mouth as he tasted her.

His. His woman. Soon to be his wife. He mentally thanked the gods and whoever else was watching over them that this , this outlander had shaken the bedrock of his beliefs, had altered his life so. Shor knew he didn’t deserve her.

**********

They left the Pale, burdened only with trophies of war, to be displayed in the glorious hall that held strong still, after thousands of years. Their heads were held high and their hearts were clean and free.

Free at last.

 

Chapter Text

Sigrid had seen many incredible things in her time spent wandering Skyrim. She had seen the shaking aspen forests of Riften and the regal Blue Palace of Solitude. Trudged across the snows of the pale, held her hands in the cold north seas to taste the salt of the water. She loved the green, mossy woods of Falkreath, and though it wasn’t exactly her favorite, she had walked through Markarth in awe of the misty waterfalls spilling over the crumbling rock ruins.

But Blackreach was...haunting, in a way that felt almost primeval. Deadly. She had gasped when she and Vilkas had first opened the great gates of Fal Zhardum Din. The ceiling was so high, it might have been the sky with that glowing greenish-bronze sun casting a cold light upon the massive cavern. She had reached out with wonder to touch the floating fungus that wavered in unseen breezes, only to have Vilkas clasp her hand and draw it away. “Don’t touch anything,” he warned quietly. “The spores and the water have sometimes killed explorers here. If the Falmer did not get to them first.” She heeded his advice. But once when he wasn’t looking, she dragged a finger along one of the glowing stalks. The bioluminescence smeared off against her hand, as she rubbed her fingers together, then faded in seconds. She wondered if the light was emitted from the mushrooms themselves, or if it was a chemical reaction from the fake sun that she definitely was not going to explore. She doubted that they could kill all the Falmer, along with the sadly indoctrinated slaves that wandered the old city still.

The Falmer. Poor, vicious sods. She killed them reluctantly, remembering the one surviving snow elf who still lived, somewhere far west deep in the Forgotten Vale. His brethren were truly feral, whatever they had been was lost to the depths of history as they skittered, snarling and hissing around Blackreach. She avoided them as they turned their blind gaze left and right, listening for the footsteps of the Companions as they crept along.

She stopped them several times to gawk. Once, they passed a giant strolling along, holding a long broken piece of dwemer metal, scratching his back with a puzzled expression. How he had gotten down here, she could never know. Secrets long hidden...exploring this place had given her a taste of the curiosity that drove mages all over Tamriel to do, as Vilkas dryly put it, the most skeever-brained of experiments. He had told her stories of the jobs he had taken protecting scholars and mages as they poked around in caves and ruins. Often completely oblivious to any danger, he had snorted and told Sigrid that no amount of gold was worth babysitting a magical theorist with an idea in his head. Unfortunately for Vilkas, the spirit of adventure was alive and well in the outlander. She wanted to see it all, while she could.

Sigrid got distracted by everything, peeking into old dwarven halls, paging through books. Sometimes she painstakingly mined the white, gleaming geodes that she whispered would fetch a fine price. When Vilkas huffed at her as she knelt down to harvest yet another handful of crimson nirnroot, she shushed him and reminded her man of the benefits of her foreknowledge. It would not harm her...as long as she didn’t stuff it in her mouth, or anything.

Finding Sinderion’s remains in that sad little house had been gut wrenching. Sigrid remembered, like in a dream, the memory of playing Oblivion. The puffy, glowing graphics, the way she had savored all the quests and exploration. She did remember the enthusiastic, slightly dotty Altmer who lived in a cellar studying the alchemy of nirnroot. To step over his bones was...more surreal than anything that she had seen yet in the depths of the Dwemer ruins.

As they wandered past the waterfalls and glowing giant mushrooms, Sigrid could make out the tower of Mzark. They entered as silently as their armor allowed, with the Harbinger making silent oaths to study stealth more thoroughly once they had finished this slog of a journey.

Reaching the glowing, mechanical buttons and levers, Sigrid placed the strange cube device upon the pillar. “Right, right, left…”she murmured to herself, noting that Vilkas seemed hyperaware, his fists tightening around his blade as he searched for anything moving. Anything alive.

With a hiss and clank, the wide metal arms parted to reveal a malachite hued egg that cracked down the middle, revealing what had to be an elder scroll. Touching it with reverence, Sigrid wrapped it in the lengths of linen she had procured for this purpose, and gesturing to Vilkas to follow as they exited through the rusted elevator.

Sniffing the strange hydraulic fluids, she was vividly reminded of her father’s garage, where he tinkered with antique automobiles and motorcycles. The acrid, almost gasoline smell of dwemer oil mixed with the tang of rust made her strangely nostalgic. A car, driven on actual paved roads, now that would have cut her travel time down considerably in Skyrim.

Not that she wanted the aftereffects to spoil the atmosphere, though. Even in South Dakota, where the population barely supported itself with the home grown businesses and one-man medical clinics, there was sometimes a haze of pollution in the air. Especially in July, when the Sturgis Rally held full sway, and thousands of motorcycles roared through Rapid City.

She got lost in a teensy fantasy of Vilkas all gussied up in black leather, leaning against a vintage 1950 Indian Chief Black Hawk. Mmm. Even his smeared warpaint wouldn’t look that out of place at a bike rally, with his hair messed up the way it got, all ruffled in the brisk winds. She could just feel the sun on her face as she climbed on behind him, running her hands across the jacket, dipping under his black Hanes t-shirt to find…

“So, now what? Back to the old man up north, that Septimus?”

The reality stood before her, frowning as she came back to the present with a twitch. They had exited the tower to be greeted by the fading day. No more snow had fallen recently, thank the gods. But it didn’t really feel warm enough to be late summer. Even August in South Dakota had held more sunshine. She shivered, feeling the weight of the elder scroll tug against her pack.

“Later, maybe. He’s a bit of a crackpot, and the less I have to do with Hermaeus Mora, the better.” She had intentionally skipped the visit to the College of Winterhold, after much deliberation (and discussion with Vilkas, who agreed that had they known where she came from and what she knew, they might have chained her to the Arch Mage’s desk and kept her). Sigrid knew what had to happen, next.

It was just a matter of working up the nerve to open that damn scroll at the Tiid Keld, the Time Wound. Learning a shout that was crafted of pure hate. Perhaps the Greybeards were onto something when they had refused to have anything to do with Dragonrend.

Vilkas on the other hand had looked mildly intrigued as she explained the journey past Ivarstead, all the way up the seven thousand steps to the top of the Throat of the World. She had done it...damn, four, five times now? Not counting the trip down. She didn’t want to tally just how much time those steps had stolen from her life. No view was worth that.

Maybe, with him keeping her warm, it would be a tad more pleasant this time around. Sharing their furs, their naked bodies gliding against each other in the firelight...

Hell. They needed a vacation. Maybe after the wedding? She hadn’t even given it a spare thought. Vilkas had been adorably awkward when she brought anything marriage-related up in conversation. The way he tilted his head, refusing to look at her, all bashful...

“Well, no time like the present.” Sheathing his sword, Vilkas readjusted his pack, then checked hers. “We can ride in a wagon again, if you want. Climbing seven thousand steps sounds…”

“It sounds exhausting. And it is, especially when the ice wraiths come out to play.” Grimly preparing for the long haul ahead, Sigrid unlocked the gate of Mzark for later. Just in case.

“Let’s get going, then.”

 

********

“Bahloki nohkip sillesejoor. My belly is full of the souls of your fellow mortals, Dovahkiin!”

Gritting her teeth against the sound, the terror of Alduin’s powerful voice ripping through her, inside of her, Sigrid steeled herself. Wind blasted snow almost sideways, as rumbling thunder clouds revolved ponderously around the mountain peak. “Ruth Strun Bah!” She heard Paarthurnax spit, almost buzzing with frustration as she moved at a glacial pace.

She could see Vilkas behind her, with Paarthurnax hovering protectively in the air around them both.

“Die now, and await your fate in Sovngarde!”

Readying her sword for what was probably going to be the shortest fight of her life, Sigrid stood shaking in terror as the monstrous, black scaly beast that was the firstborn of Akatosh swooped lazily overhead. “Lost funt, you are too late Alduin!” Paarthurnax rumbled behind her.

“Dovahkiin! Use Dragonrend, if you know it!”

Currents of snow laden air whipped her hair into her eyes, obscuring her vision as she looked wildly around for Alduin. She knew, oh, she definitely had felt the spiny claws of Joor Zah Frul hooked into her soul when she learned, learned from those ancient Nord heroes in the time wound.

As Alduin roared yet again, words triumphant yet indistinguishable from the howling storm, Sigrid prepared herself. The dragon was a paradox. He reminded her of the cheap fantasy statues sold in asian markets down at the mall, where the scales were flaking off their paint as they were handled by bored customers. Cheesy. Unrealistic. A caricature of evil.

And at the same time, the dark billowing presence was like the most terrifying horror flick she had ever seen; the kind that made her check the locks on the doors at night, dig her back into the sofa and cover her eyes because god, if she looked they might see her, reaching those black claws straight out of the television and -

- “Joor Zah Frul!” She couldn’t risk it, couldn’t risk the great drake diving down and entangling Vilkas, who looked so fragile, so small on the mountaintop, in his teeth or claws. Alduin had already screamed something; syllables that had brought down rocks emblazoned with fire, like meteors raining from the sky. She dodged them, pushing Vilkas out of the way as a rock as big as a VW bus came crashing down.

Her Dragonrend shout began to take hold, as binding blue light wrapped itself around the fearsome limbs, dragging the black body down, down to the snowy peak. Paarthurnax howled in triumph as Sigrid shakily approached the dragon, sword first.

“Dovahkiin, you call yourself?” His voice rumbled, haughty and proud. “Arrogant mortal!”

Striking with the speed of a snake, Alduin snapped his teeth at her, at the Companion following close behind. “This is your chance, Dovahkiin!” She heard Paarthurnax call, as if from far away, his words blown with the wind. “Strike with all your force!”

She did. Hacking and cleaving, she dodged the swipes from his armor plated tail...bobbing and weaving away from the red gullet surrounded by dagger tipped fangs, stretching, seeking to consume her.

Her steel held true. She used every Shout she knew of, Fus Roh Dah, Yol Toor Shul. She would not chance creating a hurricane on the mountaintop where Vilkas could be swept completely off. She could see him at times, dazed and barely clinging to the surface as the battering powers of the Thu’um broke and crashed, like mighty waves of sound, against each other. Dragonborn against the Firstborn of all Dragons.

She hiccuped with a weak laugh as Alduin taunted her, calling out Dovahkiin. It would have been a hell of a lot more awe-inspiring, more the stuff of bards songs and tales had her limbs not been shaking, trembling with fear as she forced herself to move closer, to keep swinging her sword despite the awful, wrenching panic that his dark, deep voice called inside her. Every nightmare she had endured under Vaermina, in the keep of the Thalmor, in her own head was played on a video reel, over and over, gods make it stop...

Vilkas yanked her out of the way of a sudden snap of jaws. Shoving her behind him, the Companion’s blade bit deep into the ebony scaled neck. Jets of black blood spurted in stops and starts, as Alduin shrieked his rage at the impudence, the raw daring of these joore to trap him, to cut him with steel tooth and claw...

She heard it all, as the souls within her all cried out in varying degrees of triumph and hate. Her head pounded with the fury, the emotion of dovah long dead, overtaking her.

“Now, while he is grounded!” Paarthurnax landed atop Alduin in a predator’s dive, claws digging into his brother’s back.

And all she could see were those flashing red eyes, directing all their violence towards her.

 

Meyz mul, Dovahkiin. You have become strong.”

Her teeth chattered as his eyes became rubies, became blood glinting in fathomless pools as she was drawn into his gaze. “But I am Al-du-in, Firstborn of Akatosh! Mulaagi zok lot! I cannot be slain here, by you or anyone else!”

 

Heaving suddenly, Paarthurnax cried out as Alduin curled, ripping into the soft belly of the elderly dovah. “You cannot prevail against me. I will outlast you...mortal.”

She squinted, tracking his wings as they took the black dragon higher, soaring above the thunderclouds. Lightning flashed, outlining the dragon in brilliant white light as a fork of electricity hit the rock arch nearby with a resounding boom. Boulders crashed into the snow.

Slowly, her hearing came back through the static whine of sensory deprivation. She could hear Vilkas panting, grey eyes furious and staring after the World Eater. She tried for bravado, allowing her sword arm to hang limply at her side. Gods, her limbs felt as though they were going to fall off. “That...was more intense than I had expected.”

“You think?!?” Wiping his sword in the snow, the dragon blood smoked, thin wisps of black trailing from the edge as Vilkas dried the blade then sheathed it. Turning to her, he was about to speak, when Paarthurnax wheeled down and landed with a thundering crunch.

Lot Krongah.” The massive, wedge shaped head nodded approvingly. “You truly have the Voice of a Dovah. Alduin’s allies will think twice after this victory.”

Pursing her lips, Sigrid saw Vilkas shudder in the cold. Leaning over, she wrapped her arms around him and whispered. The fires of Yol Toor Shul immediately warmed them both, bathing them in embers of flame that she contained with difficulty; living fire scorching her throat in its desire to break free.

Satisfied that they would not die right then and there, Sigrid turned to her teacher. “I need to find out where Alduin went. Though, I do have a sneaking suspicion.”

“Ni liivrah hin moro. True, this is not the final krongrah - victory. But not even the heroes of old were able to defeat Alduin in open battle.”

Well. That was just great news. And the game had made killing Alduin seem so simple, almost an afterthought to the Halls of Shor in Sovngarde. She remembered complaining about the ease in slaying the World Eater. What had she been thinking? “So...not much of a victory, if Alduin escaped.”

She felt Vilkas huff out a shuddering laugh, and tightened her arms around him. Breathing superheated air onto his neck, he nuzzled against her, grey eyes wide as Paarthurnax stretched his ragged wings, re-adjusting his stance on the shifting snows. “Alduin always was pahlok - arrogant in his power. Uznahgor paar. He took domination as his birthright.”

“This should shake the loyalty of the dov who serve him.” The old dragon mused. “Yes...one of his allies could tell us. Motmahus...But it will not be so easy to...convince one of them to betray him. Perhaps Odhaviing.”

“The Hofkahsejun would work very well, to trap a dovah.” Dovahzul almost rolled from her lips without realizing it. Such ease, in an alien tongue. Paarthurnax grumbled vahzah in agreement, his brow ridge arching at Sigrid in such a way, that-

-was Paarthurnax winking at her?

Oh. Well. Yes, she was holding Vilkas rather tightly. With a wave of exhaustion creeping up over her, she thought they sort of deserved some comfort after the hellish week they’d both endured.

Tiid Bo Viing,” she cautioned the Master of the Way of the Voice. Please, no more. If she lingered just to have the old one tease her, they would end up as ice statues, trapped on the top of the world. Her breath of fire would not last forever.

Heavy chuckles, like the rasp of a drawbridge being opened, echoed around them as Paarthurnax bore himself aloft once more. “Good luck, dovahkiin! Dahmaan, remember to call upon Odhaviing soon. ”

Pruzah wundunne, Paarthurnax,” She whispered, the farewell unreciprocated as Paarthurnax laughed once more. “Orin brit ro, Dovahkiin!” Paarthurnax gestured to Vilkas.

Kren sosaal…” She muttered balefully, as the dragon swooped away, laughing still in that rusty-hinged voice.

“...I’m almost afraid to ask. What are we doing now?” Damn, she could feel the ice from the man’s cold hands seeping past her leathers. Not even his vaunted Nord endurance would save them if they stayed.

“We are getting the hell off this mountain. Stand back, so I can clear up this storm a bit.”

Staring at her, with snowflakes encrusting his eyelashes as he blinked in stunned amazement, Vilkas spoke shakily, “You can do that? Gods, woman, is there anything you’re not capable of?”

For the first time since opening that dratted scroll, Sigrid smiled. Holding her arms up high, she spun around. “Fly. Now step away, so I don’t blow you off the mountain.”

 

***********

 

The Greybeards were surprised, but welcoming when the Dovakhiin and her companion trudged in from the blizzard, cold and worn out.

 

Vilkas left the cold stone chamber he had been led to by Arngeir, searching for Sigrid. The elderly Masters of the Voice had been courteous, but so silent. He had spoken a few times without realizing, though he had been told quietly by Sigrid that they would be unable to respond. He could still feel the aged eyes following him as he stepped quietly through the tomb-like stillness of High Hrothgar.

He found the woman deep in the throes of meditation. Kneeling on cold stone floor, he watched in fascination as wisps of smoke escaped from her nostrils and parted lips. She wore nothing but a binding cloth on her breasts and smalls to cover her nakedness. Vilkas could smell the sour-sweetness of the snowberry soap they had used to wash up, water turning cold fast in the high altitude of the mountain keep. Almost too cold to wash with, though the water had been near boiling when placed before them.

Kneeling next to her, Vilkas waited for her to finish...whatever it was that she was doing. Minutes passed, and the peace he felt must have spread to Sigrid as well. The fine lines caused by worry slowly smoothed, and eventually she opened her eyes to smile at Vilkas.

Who smiled back. His lips quirked at the sight of smoke still escaping from her mouth. So that was why she often tasted like fire. It wasn’t just the heat of his blood that made her that way, to him. She made him burn.

“Thank you for waiting.” She stretched, shivering suddenly in the cold as she hugged her nakedness.

“I didn’t mind.” Handing her a heavy, almost rug-like ice-wolf pelt, she hopped up from the long corridor and jerked her head, indicating that he follow.

He trailed after her, eyes scanning the worn but expensive furnishings that were housed in the Greybeard’s keep. Books seemed to be the most dominant feature. Every wall and nook bore groaning shelves filled with volumes. His fingers longed to run over the embossed surfaces, to open and devour the pages.

He would ask later for that pleasure. At the moment, as he watched hungrily as Sigrid stripped off her breastband and coverings, he could think of only one thing he desired.

“A long week, yeah?” She yawned, cracking a grin as she felt him spoon her from behind. Still dressed, he wrapped his arms around her as the furs cocooned them atop the stone slab that passed for a bed around here.

“Too long.” Resting his chin atop her head, he sighed. “We might have gotten better rest in a ditch than...whatever this is.”

He felt her chuckle, feeling the echoes of her voice thrumming through him. He only noticed her Thu’um, really, at the extremes of her moods. “True. I think we need about six more layers of furs before this bed would be even remotely comfortable.”

Curling his head into the curve of her neck, Vilkas breathed out slowly, his exhale tickling the sensitive skin of her neck. He grinned, feeling her squirm beneath him. “Hmm...you are getting soft, Harbinger. But,” he slowly traced her hipbone, moving stealthily as he slid his hand down, cupping her womanhood. “I’m sure we can find better ways to keep you warm.”

“Oh yes,” she moaned, as he pushed slowly against her, behind her. Wrapped up like this, she could almost imagine they were all alone, on some alpine retreat, and not sharing a drafty castle with a group of crusty old men.

Even traveling alone together, she had not had much success in seducing Vilkas away from what he considered his honor-bound duty; to protect her. Even at night, they took turns taking watch over the night against bandits and beasts. Hurried embraces and stolen kisses were all well and good, but it had been so long . So long since they had been free from vigilance. Way too long since they had slept somewhere that wasn’t a cave, or under some tree, all exposed in the open. Usually covered in an unenticing mixture of sweat, blood and dirt.

Sigrid felt as though her stomach were tied in knots. Every touch was a delicate torment. And her bastard of a fiance knew it, too, knew what triggered her toes to curl, to make her pant with want.

She could feel his length, warm and hard as he slowly, carefully pushed against her back, against the cleft of her ass. Arching her back, she encouraged him, writhing sinuously as he gasped in response. Grabbing his hands from their place at her thighs, she placed them on her breasts, pressing on his hands with her own as he mouthed the shell of her ear.

But he wouldn’t, refused to give in to her. He would make her come first, drawing it out until she literally begged him to end it. He could be so patient at this, that she wondered if all the irritation and angst he poured into training and warfare at Jorrvaskr was just a cloak, a concealment for his true nature -

- That of a torturer. Gliding his hands lightly up and down her torso, she whined, wriggling against him, begging without words for more friction. Something. Anything.

She felt his chest expand against her back as one of his hands parted her folds. Stiffening at the intrusion, she leaned her head back, trying to catch his lips in a kiss as he bit his lip, going further. Adding two fingers, as he pumped slowly, achingly inside her heat.

The tightness was driving her wild, and when he added a circular movement with his thumb she just about lost it. “Faaz nah, ” she snarled, her throat sparking, rumbling as she felt his lips widen in a superior smirk, bucking against his hips as he held her still, still tracing her clit with all the patience in the world.

She came hard, so hard she saw stars. His arms were tight around her as she jerked against his chest, gasping for breath. Her entire body rumbled with echoes of her voice, and dimly she realized that the books in their shelves nearby had all fallen over. She'd pick them up later.

Still holding her as she came down from her sensory high, Vilkas pulled her earlobe tightly with his teeth as, lifting her leg, he slowly entered her from behind.

The hot sensation of fullness, right after that mind blowing orgasm...it was almost too much. She whimpered pathetically as he took his time, gliding in and out, his hands tight as he pinned her hips against his. This time, he was too distracted to avoid her, as she leaned her head back to kiss him. Her knees bent, toes curling as her mouth leisurely explored his.

It was her turn to smile crookedly as his breath came faster, losing his timing as she reached back, holding what she could of him as his hips pumped against her, moaning against her mouth.

He came with a muffled oath, pressed against her lips. She held him tightly, eyes fluttering as the furs slid off, forgotten. Trying to capture forever the butterfly feeling of his hard on slowly softening inside of her, as she basked in the hot flush of afterglow.

She could feel the long muscles of his torso and legs relax, slowly easing away from her as he sighed, breathing on her neck. Snuggling against him as she turned, she wrapped a leg around his hips, pulling him in even further as he grabbed the furs that had fallen down off the bed, covering them thoroughly from the cold.

Curled into the cradle of Vilkas’s arms, Sigrid slowly fell asleep, soothed by his even, steady breaths.

 

*****************

 

She didn’t think about how loud her Thu’um may have been until she sat at table with the Greybeards and Vilkas that next morning.

 

Borri caught her gaze, then flicked his eyes at Vilkas. Dumbly, she stared back, chewing a very dried out boot of what was supposedly bacon. Damn, Klimmek needed to bring fresher supplies once in a while.

Raising hoary eyebrows, Borri puckered his lips, then pointed to his throat.

Oh.

She blushed a deep, hot red. Damn. Well, if Borri wouldn’t (or couldn’t) say what was apparently on everyone’s minds, then she wasn’t going to bring up how loud she was during sex.

And honestly, that had been downright tame. She was pretty sure the reason Njada Stonearm hated her was the fact that her room shared walls with Vilkas’ room in Jorrvaskr. But now that Athis was keeping her busy, perhaps the Block Trainer would be a bit more...friendly. Relaxed, maybe?

Hell. Like that would happen. She told Vilkas about Borri later, as they descended the seven thousand steps.

His laughter warmed her, even as it echoed out over the valley.

 

Chapter Text

“Mama, they’ve returned!” Mila danced in the road, still chewing one of the green apples Carlotta had set aside from trading for her. One of her best sellers, she had almost sold them out. The last of the shoppers were slowly trickling away, back to their homes to prepare for the midday meal.

Squinting against the light, Carlotta stepped away from the stall to better see the cobbled road that led to Whiterun’s gates.

“I see them, little fairy. They all look unharmed, thank the Divines.” Wiping the sweat from her forehead, the Imperial straightened her gown, smoothing down stray hairs as she hurried to make herself presentable. She could see them now, see the tall head of Farkas dwarfing that of his brother and the Harbinger as they strolled leisurely towards the market district. She smiled in relief.

Safe. He was safe, they had found Sigrid. They were here.

Every time Farkas arrived home from attending to a job or errand, the tight knot in her chest eased a bit more. She still remembered that fateful day, years ago when Mila was still in swaddling clothes, when the Imperial courier had delivered to her the death notice of her husband, Arcturus Valentia. It had felt like the end of the world, had tied up her heart in cold fear. Fear that had not loosened, not completely, even with the strange serendipity that was Farkas arriving, like the sun in her life.

It hadn’t been all that long ago, really, that Mikael had become almost intolerable in his attentions. There were not very many child friendly places to take little Mila to dine. The Bannered Mare was comfortable, clean. Hulda heaved out any nasty drunks by her own hand, and if they were too rough for her to manage, then the Companions who frequented the tavern would do so gladly.

It had reached the point where the bard leered at her every night she crept in, Mila in tow. That night, she had paid for their meal. Had taken the roasted potatoes and seared mammoth steaks to a quiet corner, to be enjoyed in peace. Until Mikael had grabbed her, and despite her cries of angry protest, tried to kiss her, groping as Mila yelled at him to stop. Laughing as she beat at him ineffectually, her blows glancing off the Nord’s chest.

“That’s enough. The lady doesn’t want your company, bard.”

He had seemed larger than life, then. Almost blocking out the light of the fires as Mikael turned to sneer at the approaching Companion, who had a face so grim that she feared him at once.

The ensuing fight had been short, with few blows exchanged. The bard had crawled away, holding his head in pain, nodding when Farkas had warned him, clenched fist still knuckled tightly, to leave and bother her no longer.

“Thank you, Companion. Life’s hard enough with all these men propositioning me. But that bard was the worst.” Slowly, so slowly he had turned to face her. Peering down from his great height, Farkas had scratched his head and given her a careful smile.

That had been the beginning of the end, Carlotta thought ruefully. It wasn’t long before Farkas began to frequent her produce stall. Buying simple things, such as the green apples or fresh carrots, which he munched in seemingly deep thought, standing by her stall.

Later, he brought a carved bear of wood for Mila, who had cried happily, clutching the precious toy to her chest. “Oh, thank you! I’ve only ever had dolly, but now she has a friend!”

Mila had struggled to make friends with the Nord children of the hold. Many never let her forget that she was Imperial, outlander. Unwanted. It was difficult for Carlotta, as well. She had only arrived in Whiterun during her husband’s call to serve because of Arcadia. The alchemist was a distant relative of her mothers, and had invited her warmly to come visit. Carlotta had fallen in love with the wide, blue skies, the fresh air so different from the close humidity of the Imperial City.

And now, she had fallen in love with a Nord.

She cracked a smile. The most barbaric and warlike of Nords. Farkas was hard to miss, walking along the streets pursuing a job, running errands between the smithies, helping Tilma with her shopping. Once, she was passing the Shrine of Talos with her laundry when she had spied him training, shirtless in the yard with his brother. She had dropped the wet clothing in the dirt. Blushing, she had picked it up only to find him reaching down to help collect her things. She had stared in fascination as the bunched muscles of his shoulders flexed; the coiled, curved ropes of tattoos snaking across his back in a tangle of lines.

Vilkas was steel and sinew, tightly coiled and sharp as a blade. His harshness appealed not at all to Carlotta, who feared the the gruff man, saw him as unapproachable. But Farkas never shouted, never raised his voice even while wielding that sword that was almost as tall as Mila. How those two ended up as brothers was a mystery.

She knew, later, when she presented him with a baked apple pie as thanks for Mila’s toy, that he was kind. He had eaten only a slice, his eyebrows lifting in appreciation as he tidily licked his fingers (and there was a memory that would keep her up at night) insisting that she keep the rest for Mila. Her little fairy had been delighted. The next day, she had been pleasantly surprised to find the two of them, hulking warrior and little girl, having a tea party on the stone steps near the waterfall. The carved bear and dolly were in attendance, as Mila primly cut and presented slices of pie to them all.

Those who called him oaf, or dim-witted...gods, Carlotta could recall with perfect clarity Brenuin’s sour face crumpling in shock when she belted him with a fist. The old drunk had laughed at Mila when she had refused to share her dumpling, insisting that Farkas have the first pick. “Peh, that ice brain couldn’t appreciate a rock cake! Give it here, girl.”

It had hurt, that first time she had ever hit someone in anger. She had held her shaking hand in shock as the beggar hightailed it away, only to gasp when Farkas had appeared from nowhere. Frowning, he lifted her hand, his rough fingers feeling for breaks, gently squeezing with enough pressure that she shuddered, though not in pain.

“Shouldn’t hit someone with your thumb in your fist, woman. It will hurt less, next time, if you make a fist like this.” And he had shown her, shaping her fist with his giant, careful hands.

“Thanks. I may just be an Imperial widow, but if that beggar thinks he can bully my girl or her friends, that drunken sot can think again.”

Farkas had blinked, slowly stretching his lips into a wide grin. “Aye. That’s the spirit.” Looming over her, it was her turn to blink as those warm grey eyes locked onto hers. “I’ve hoped to be considered your friend, as well.” he spoke softly.

And so he was. Until he wasn’t. Was no longer just a friend, that night she had invited him to stay for dinner. She had spent the day in a flurry of activity, rolling and baking and tasting the meal she wanted to prepare. Scolding herself for the unseemly excitement she felt, only to be surprised when Mila had announced that she was staying with Braith overnight for her nameday, and would Carlotta mind?

No. Carlotta hadn’t minded. Not at all, not even when Farkas had pushed the devoured remains of her days labor to the side and had oh-so carefully pulled her in closer, capturing her chin with his callused hands…

She had forgotten what it was like to be held, to be filled by a man. So lonely. All those years, she had kept herself locked away, telling herself she needed no one and nothing but what kept her and Mila alive. She had moaned, almost in agony that night the first time he made her come as he pressed her against the hastily cleared dining table, hands tightly holding her down as she writhed against him. The first of many, many such nights.

And now, as she watched them approaching, it was almost too good to be true that they were to wed. That she had been accepted, fully, without reservation into the society of Whiterun.

It seemed Sigrid felt the same way. Later, as their men joked and bantered over the fire at Jorrvaskr, Carlotta had dared to sit down next to the new Harbinger.

She wore a beautiful wine-dark dress that bore golden threads at the neck and wrists, with her sword still belted on top of the gown. Her rich auburn hair had also been braided back, her usual tear trails of bloody warpaint missing for once. Uncaring of her finery, Sigrid twisted the rings that hung upon an amulet around her neck, deep in thought.

Where was her amulet of Mara?

No matter. Some couples waited to exchange tokens until the wedding day. Perhaps Sigrid and Vilkas followed that tradition. “I heard about your engagement, and I am happy for you.” She nudged the woman playfully. “I’ve always wanted a sister!”

“I had one, once.” Sigrid’s amber eyes were far away. “She was about six years younger than me; a surprise for my parents. Annoying and spoiled. Gods, I loved her.”

“Ah.” The Imperial winced, wishing she hadn’t been so free with words. “I’m so sorry.”

“No need for that.” Realizing Carlotta sat there, Sigrid stood a bit straighter. Reaching behind, the Harbinger unfastened her amulet and offered it to Carlotta.

Curiosity prompted the Imperial to take it, examining what appeared to be a very well-worn amulet of Arkay, with two gold rings strung on either side. “Arkay? I’d have thought Vilkas would go with Mara. Tradition, you know.”

“He did. Give me an amulet of Mara, I mean.” Sigrid’s fingers twisted in on themselves. “I don’t have an amulet for him, yet.”

“That’s easily remedied. I’m sure Eorlund could find one for you, somewhere. His wife carries a good variety of jewelry in stock.” Sensing her discomfort, Carlotta placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Are these rings meaningful?”

“They...one belonged to my dead husband. And the other was mine. We married young.”

“I see.” The rings were finely made. Replacing the amulet in the Harbinger’s hands, Carlotta turned more fully to face her. “My husband Arcturus died somewhere in the Pale Pass, about seven years ago. He was an officer in the Imperial Legion. Even though I originally came here to be close to him, I stayed. And I’m glad I did.”

The Imperial woman reached out tentatively, patting Sigrid’s scarred hand. “Are you...alright? You don’t seem very happy, for someone who will soon be a bride.”

“I am. Happy, I mean. It still doesn’t feel real, you know.” Twisting her free hand in the red cloth of her skirt, Sigrid bit her lip. “I keep expecting to wake up in my old house, with...with Bryce and the kids, all needing something as we prepare for the day. For so long, that was my life. And I loved it.”

Her hand twitched under Carlotta’s fingers. “But, I love this too. And I feel so god damn guilty about it.”

Quietly laughing, Carlotta leaned closer. “The guilt of the survivor. You’re not alone in feeling that way. I...I hardly knew Art, before we were wed. And Farkas is, well...he’s Farkas. It’s wonderful and new and terrifying, all at once.”

Someone began playing a cheerful tune on a flute, with a drum quickly sounding in accompaniment. The two women sat there, contemplating their thoughts. Sigrid broke the silence with a hoarse chuckle. “I never realized how much we have in common. We’re both widows...outlanders. Hoping, somehow to built a new life.”

Carlotta smiled, squeezing the woman's hand one final time, then retreating to grab a bottle of wine from a nearby table. “You know, I think Eorlund could melt down those rings to make you an amulet, if you like. That would be incredibly romantic.” She poured them both a cup, handing one to Sigrid with a nod.

“Too romantic!” Sigrid laughed, taking a sip. “I wouldn’t want Vilkas to think I actually like him. Ruins the whole balance of power I’ve got going here.”

“Well, we wouldn’t want that,” Carlotta teased in return. “Divines only know we need all the help we can get, against those two.”

“Hmm.” The Harbinger hummed in agreement, swirling her glass. “What do you think about a harvest wedding? Later in Hearthfire, or early Frostfall?”

“That sounds perfect. A double wedding, I can’t believe it.” Carlotta finished her wine. Noting the lines of worry that still marked Sigrid’s forehead, the Imperial sighed. “You should know...I’ve never, not in all these years here seen Vilkas so upset as when you were taken away. That man is in love with you.”

Sigrid huffed, her eyes focused on the subject of their conversation, who was with his brother attempting to play the drums and laughing at their failure. “I wish it never happened. I’m not sure I can promise that it will never happen again. What I have to do...it’s not safe, Carlotta. I’m afraid for him.”

Shaking her head, Carlotta could almost feel the sadness seeping from the woman before her. “You never know what the future will bring. When I found out that Mila and I were alone in the world, I thought that was it. My life, such as it had been, was over. Maybe you’ve felt like that too?”

Seeing Sigrid nod, Carlotta continued. “Then why are you worried? No one, not even the gods can predict the future. I can’t imagine what it must be like, being...well...Dragonborn. And Harbinger of the Companions. That’s a heavy burden. But Vilkas...he’s strong.”

Patting her on the back one last time, Carlotta stood up. “He’ll help you carry that burden, if you let him.”

Leaving the Harbinger sitting, staring forlornly at her amulet, Carlotta banished melancholy from her mind. Wrapping her arms around Farkas, she felt him smile as he placed a kiss upon her wrist. “Hey there, beautiful. Ready to head home?”

Tracing a finger along his amulet he wore around his neck, Carlotta lowered her head, kissing his forehead. “I can’t wait.”

Love could be simple. Steady, like the sun that always rose and set. They walked hand in hand, towards her home. Their home, where Mila waited for her parents to return again.

 

 

Chapter Text

It wasn’t fair. Not to him. Not to Vilkas.

The insistent, trailing thought had dogged her mind for so long, now. Couldn’t quench the pain, the fear, not even in his arms. He knew there was something bothering her, though he respected her enough not to ask. What was it about guy talk, she thought in some amusement, that it kept them from asking straight out what was wrong? Men were so forthright about other things. She almost wished he would, if just to release the poison she kept deep inside.

Sigrid sat on the roof of Jorrvaskr, watching the sun rise in the east, painting everything in pre-dawn light. No one else was up yet, no one there to see the Harbinger stewing in indecision up here.

She couldn’t let him hurt, hurt as she had, when Bryce had been taken. When her babies had been buried.

Sigrid felt the omen of her death, felt it in her bones with a weary assurance. Knew it as Paarthurnax had bid her farewell. Saw it in the Greybeard’s eyes as she meditated long and hard upon the Voice, seeking the clarity she glimpsed only infrequently. The calm, unfeeling nirvana of peace.

She was going to die. Soon. No one could live through the quest she had undertaken, to fly on the back of a reluctant dragon to a mountaintop only a dovah could reach. Entering a portal to the Nordic underworld. Defeating the black demon that still crept in the shadows of her nightmares, a grinning black hole of teeth and red glowing eyes.

He was still young. Not more than a year or so older than she. He could still father children, attract some young, winsome slip of a Nord girl. They could live at Breezehome (she had passed by so many times, looking through the open door at the current occupants who had recently moved to Markarth. A family, with three young children.) He would be a good, if stern father.

In her painful fantasy, this Nord girl would be plump and smiling, with wheat blonde hair and sky blue eyes. She could give him children, boys and girls milling around Jorrvaskr, being fed sweetmeats by Tilma as Vilkas tried to balance the accounts. She could almost see the smear of ink that often stained his chin as he chewed upon the nib of the quill, studying the numbers…

Choking back a sob, she sat back against the weathered tiles of the roof.

She had to. Would not, could not chain him to her, to a dead woman whose soul was more draconic than human.

Allowing herself to feel, to feel this at least, Sigrid lost herself to the grief. Tears poured from her eyes, chest shaking as she curled into her hands and wailed, over and over. She yelled at Heimskr when he approached, chasing away with angry oaths the batty priest who had ventured over to see what all the noise was about.

Such a beautiful dream. She would have spent the rest of her life with that impossible, stubborn, wonderful bastard. Lived it fully. But how cruel, how cold it would be to marry him right before her imminent death?

It could only be a dream.

 

************

She had wavered long enough. It would be kinder, more just to make this his choice, Sigrid thought sadly. She decided to ask him when they returned from High Hrothgar, recovering from their battle at the Throat of the World.

What was it Runil had said, so long ago? Life is far too short, my friend. Don’t waste it.

She had not yet reclaimed the amulet of Mara from Vilkas. After the horror show that had been Dawnstar (and all those nightmares) she felt strangely reluctant to talk about the upcoming nuptials. And to think, Sigrid thought wryly, she had once been worried about his commitment issues.

But when the wedding was discussed, all she could see was the gaping maw of Alduin. Black wings shrouding, encasing her in airless silence as she disappeared forever, down, down into the darkness…

Or worse. The darkness devouring him.

Be brave, she scolded herself. There were no guarantees. No restarts, no saved files this time. Vilkas had been fighting far longer than she had. He knew the risks they took, every fight, every venture into the wild.

 

It only took Eorlund a moment to melt down the gold rings, fashioning an amulet of Mara beneath Sigrid’s inquisitive gaze.

 

She felt an echo of bittersweet longing, seeing the rings that she and her husband had worn for so long dissolved into a sun-bright puddle of metal. The clanging racket of the master smith’s work was strangely soothing. It felt as though her own past was disappearing, at last...the final link to her old life, gone.

Not like that. Remade. Forged into something that perhaps, could last the test of time. It would depend upon him.

She hovered near the Skyforge, staring out across the windy plains as Eorlund plied his craft.

“Here, lass. It is finished.” Looping the still-hot amulet on a newly fashioned chain, Sigrid examined the work with a critical eye. The gold had been blended with quicksilver, giving it a lustrous gleam.

Thanking the old smith, she walked towards Jorrvaskr. Her head held high, as she mentally prepared herself for the worst.

Be brave.

 

*********

“Sigrid? Are you there?” Vilkas walked down the hall, weary after the long day of catching up with the business of running Jorrvaskr. Gods, he was getting old. These trips were taking their toll on his body. These last few weeks, a new book and Sigrid cuddled up to him in the hot springs was all he craved. If he had told himself, two years ago, that his ideal pastime involved a good soak and the arms of the same woman, night after night, he would have scoffed at himself in ridicule.

But he was not the same. Never would be. Thank the gods.

 

Where was she now, he wondered with a yawn. Pushing open the door to his personal quarters, he shut it. Only to pause in surprise.

 

Sigrid sat, stark naked, on his bed. She wore nothing but an amulet of Mara around her neck. No warpaint. Even her hair had been combed out of their usual braids.

“Hey there.” She smiled oddly, as he faltered in his steps at the look in her eyes. Patting the furs on the bed next to her, she beckoned him closer. “I wanted to talk to you for a second.”

“Is this some sort of trick, woman?” He seated himself gingerly on the edge of the bed.

She laughed almost ruefully. “No. No tricks.”

 

Pulling something out of her lap, she handed him a small bag. Quirking his brow, he frowned at her passive expression as she motioned for him to open it. He upended the bag. Out spilled a brand new amulet of Mara, along with the Falkniven knife she had offered him months ago.

Vilkas was at a loss for words, as his hands tightened around the amulet and knife. “They’re yours, if you want them.” her voice softly spoke in the stillness.

“I’ll always want this, woman.” He moved to place the amulet around his neck, only to be stopped by a gesture from her. She sighed. “That’s what I need to talk to you about.”

A cold curl of fear snaked into his belly. He swallowed. “What is this about, Sigrid?”

Shaking her head, the woman took off her amulet. Reaching out her hand, she took his unmoving fingers in her own. The amulets lay there, trapped by the cage their clasped hands made.

“Vilkas, I...I release you, from our engagement.”

He could hardly believe his ears. “What the fuck, Sigrid…”

“No, just...just hear me out.” Tamping down the fury and bone-deep sadness, he forced himself to look at her. Her eyes were bright with tears, turning the hazel almost sea green in the wavering light of the lantern.

“Vilkas. I love you.” Her hands squeezed his, as his held breath shuddered out with relief. “Don’t talk yet. I have to get this out, somehow.”

He felt his lips tighten into a thin line as she continued to speak. “Taking you to the Throat of the World was so dangerous. I didn’t realize, until we were there, just how...how god damn easy it would be, to lose you. I couldn’t bear it. And what I’m doing is not exactly safe.”

She looked down, her free hand tracing the scars on her legs, the bumps in her feet that remained from broken toes that had healed, lumpy and uneven. “It isn’t fair to you, to marry someone who doesn’t have long to live.”

“Sigrid, you -”

“I’m not done yet.” She cautioned him to stop with a sudden tightening of her hand on his. The metal of the amulets bit into his skin, as he forced himself to stay calm. “You should know, know that you have options. We don’t have to marry yet. Not until after all this has ended.”

Shaking his head, Vilkas huffed a laugh. “You’re the Harbinger, Dragonborn. I’m the Master at Arms of Jorrvaskr. Did you think our lives would be easy?”

He tilted his head, grey eyes sharp and intrusive as he seemed to look into her soul. “Is that it, woman? You want to give up? Go wander off somewhere, to till a farm and pluck cabbages. To keep me safe from you and your duty?”

Vilkas felt her tighten, the look of misery on her face like a blow to his gut. “Ah,” he breathed, almost rigid in his fury. “That’s what you think, isn’t it. That you won’t survive this...fucking hell Sigrid, how many monsters do you have to slay, to prove your might to yourself?”

Seeing her shoulders droop, he pulled her in close as the woman began to cry. Sighing in resignation, he held her close. “If it’s what you want...we can delay the ceremony. Until...after whatever it is you’ll be doing that has you tied up in such fear.”

Lifting her face with a hand, he forced her to look up at him as she sniffled, tears streaking her cheeks. “But you should know, I’m not giving up on you so easily. Now that I have you where I want you…” his other hand stealthily reached around, tickling the back of her knee as she yelped in surprise.

He managed to get a hysterical laugh from her, along with hiccups, as he brought her back from the wave of despair he could see she had been fighting, holding off for so long.

“Oh,” she gasped, still naked as she stretched out on the furs of his bed. Freckled and scarred, her body was a marvel. So soft, yet hard. Vilkas thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful. “Oh, that almost hurt, I laughed so hard.”

Feeling the remaining tightness in his chest ease, Vilkas lay down beside her. “Woman...I love you too.” Feeling her start as he pulled her into his arms, he smiled in triumph. He had never said that before, not out loud. Not for lack of trying. He had almost bitten out the words, that midsummer night. Pride kept them in, sealing his throat against words that could not be reclaimed.

But after this, he just didn’t give a shit anymore. “I love you. Don’t you dare ever say anything like that again.” He felt her shudder against him, still wound so tightly.

“There is something Kodlak used to tell us, back when the old man still taught us himself.” Vilkas spoke softly, stroking the curve of her hip. “It reminded me of your Greybeards, up there. What you said about the Way of the Voice. Kodlak liked to say that in the heat of battle, a warrior must control his rage. Focus on the calm, the peace within. Or else, that rage would overwhelm a man. Consume him, until all control was lost. A battle within a battle.”

He could feel her listening intently, as his hands continued their path down her legs, up again to trace her shoulders. He traced her freckles, sun spots that reminded him always of stars. Constellations in the night sky. How he longed to map out her entire body, to hold it forever pictured in his mind.  

Clearing his head, he focused on what else Kodlak had said, that had impressed him so at such a young age. “There are rules, you know, for living life as a Companion. Glory in battle. Honor in life.”

His hands reached up to cup the fullness of her breasts. “Deal with problems head on.”

As she arched her neck, eyes tightly shut, Vilkas held her tightly against him, fingers working, rolling the softness in his palms as she bit back another sob.

He would make her see the fault in her fears.

“Love...” Vilkas rested his chin on her shoulder, his lips barely brushing her ear. He could feel the wetness of her tears as they dried, the puffiness of her cheeks. She inhaled a rattling, soggy breath as he closed his eyes as well, considering what to say.

“You should live such a life that your shield siblings would proudly say that they fought at your side.” Feeling her legs entwine with his as her breath hitched shakily, he smiled against her shoulder.

“Cowards die a thousand deaths, but the brave die only once.” Her hand reached up to cover his, over her chest. He could feel the hammered pounding of her heart slow as she calmed.

“Family and honor, Sigrid.” Vilkas whispered, holding her as tightly as he dared. Never. He’d never let her go. No matter how much time remained. “Family and honor.”

“I’m so sorry…” she whispered, grasping his hand in her own. “So sorry I put you through this. I just…” her breath puffed out tiredly. “Thought it would be more fair. Fair to you, to have you choose.”

“I chose you a long time ago.”

 

They lingered in his bed, wrapped together with no more words to say. Carefully pulling back, Vilkas felt her breathing slow as she drifted off to sleep in his arms. Being in a relationship, he reflected, had seemed so simple at the start.

But Vilkas had never in his life ran away from a fight. And he wouldn’t stop fighting, now. If this was to be how his life ended, then he would follow her. To Sovngarde, if need be.

 

Lulled by her soft snores (she never admitted it, but he found it strangely charming, that what she called snoring was more like a heavy sigh) Vilkas followed her into dreamless sleep.

 

 

Chapter Text

Politics have no relation to morals.

Thanks Machiavelli, Sigrid thought sourly as she left the peace summit in a tangled snarl, men and women shouting as she escaped. Her footsteps took her to the room she and Vilkas had stayed in the last time she had visited High Hrothgar.

So simple. Gods, it had been so simple, to say, sure, let’s trap a fucking dragon in Dragonsreach. No problem.

Closing the heavy door, she began ripping off the heavy fur stole, the ornately embroidered gown that Jarl Balgruuf insisted she wear. It was lovely, the heavy velvet-like fabric a deep gold with a celtic knotwork pattern of green-gold thread running along the seams, gracing the cuffs that spilled almost to the floor. Tearing the matching circlet from her carefully coiffed hair, she tamped down the urge to throw it across the room.

Jarl Balgruuf had agreed to an audience with the newest Harbinger of the Companions, as well as the Master of Arms and the Head Instructor. A month ago Farkas and Vilkas, their heavy wolf armor replaced with a new, more Nordic design, flanked Sigrid as she strode into the Jarl of Whiterun’s study.

Sigrid wore plain red leathers and her weeping blood warpaint. Her hair was simply pinned and braided back, away from her face. She wore no jewelry or adornment aside from an amulet of Mara and a newly crafted Nordic sword. Its cruelly curved edge glinted in its scabbard, catching the firelight as she sat at the Jarl’s behest.

The Jarl of Whiterun was a handsome man, despite his declining years. His steward and bodyguard sat behind him, growing more distraught the longer Sigrid spoke.

She didn’t hold back. The Harbinger did not delve into the source of her knowledge, hinting in a roundabout way at the Sight her family passed to her, similar to Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone.

Balgruuf seemed to believe that part well enough. Her stance on the civil war, he had accepted with less equanimity, his knotted fists grasping the armrests of his chair until the knuckles turned white.  

Having argued about it on message boards back in her world, Sigrid felt ambivalent about choosing either side, herself. She could certainly see where the Jarl was coming from as a neutral party.

The Empire of Cyrodiil was a dying carcass, being picked at by ravens named the Aldmeri Dominion, Morrowind, hell, even Skyrim had taken territory in the last hundred years or so. All had gone downhill for the once proud Empire after Martin Septim had broken the Amulet of Kings, saving Tamriel from the invasion of Mehrunes Dagon. He had saved them, yes, but at such a price. The dragonblood no longer flowed in royal blood, dead and faded. The Septim line was gone.

Well, dragonblood still technically flowed in her veins, Sigrid thought with an inward shrug. But she was from an entirely different world. Don’t ask her to explain how the hell that worked.

Point being, the Empire was no longer a sure thing. They did a shitty job protecting their supposed provinces. Skyrim was dotted with crumbling forts, watchtowers and prisons that had long since been abandoned to the ravages of time. Only bandits, rogue mages and beasts infested them now.

And while the Empire still heavily taxed Skyrim, Sigrid had learned that the benefits of trade only went so far. It was true that in game, Vittoria Vici of the Empire East Trading Company, had extorted the spiced wine seller for a hefty tariff. Two thousand septims...the woman would be lucky to make that in half a year. She had always shaken her head in dismay, performing that little fetch quest.

And the whole White-Gold Concordat...god, what a mess. Sigrid wished sometimes that some form of video...holographics...something existed in this world to enable the spread of knowledge through vision and sound. Wished she could show the people of Skyrim the cruel consequences of appeasement, the slow drain of power that occurred when one gave in, and gave in until nothing was left to give. Skyrim already felt the pinch. Talos, god of men, had been banned from worship. And Sigrid still saw the defiant secret worship, the shrines hidden in mountains and secreted in caves, watched as the townsfolk of Whiterun muttered ‘Talos guide you’, despite all risk and punishment.

But, the banner of the dragon still protected those of all races who flocked to it. Which was more than Sigrid could say for the Stormcloak movement.

The rebellion, while popular with the native Nords as a nationalist movement that inspired pride and hope in her people, was spread out thinly...too far apart to effect a change as it was. There simply weren’t enough fighters to spare from the villages, the farms, the lumber mills to fill Ulfric Stormcloak’s army. Most fighters had served in the Imperial Legion and were still fiercely loyal to the brothers they had fought and died with during the last Great War.

Not to mention the issue that was Ulfric Stormcloak. After her imprisonment with the Thalmor, Sigrid honestly felt sorry for the Bear of Markarth. She had read his dossier, before turning it over to Delphine, and having endured much of the same torture that he had experienced...well. It made her more sympathetic than she otherwise would have been.

But the problem remained: Ulfric hungered for power. It wasn’t enough to merely kill the previous High King. He had to boast his use of the Voice, a move that rankled Sigrid. How could the man use the Thu’um in a political battle? Every time one used the voice, like a blade it cut deeper inside. Ulfric had used it for personal gain, for recognition and to solidify his claim to the throne. One who had been personally trained by the Greybeards should have known better.

Power corrupts. The more powerful one was, the greater the temptation, the easier it was to misuse that strength. Ulfric Stormcloak was already edging the line. Raised in a palace to be a politician, it was obvious that his soldiers, who promoted him so eagerly it was painful to see, were mere pawns on a board to the man.

She and Vilkas had talked at length about how she should present her case to the Jarl of Whiterun. As the single neutral party of a powerful Hold, Jarl Balgruuf could sway either side, providing soldiers, supplies and most importantly, food. The farms that clustered near Whiterun were the bread basket of Skyrim. She had often walked in the fields of wheat and rye, trailing her fingers over the golden stalks and marvelling at how such a simple thing spurred trade, won wars, and influenced royalty.

Vilkas had made a convincing argument to Sigrid about the necessity of choosing a side. Well, Sigrid thought darkly. She would choose a side, alright.

She chose Whiterun. Just as Jarl Balgruuf had, in-game, she would hold him to his personal loyalty, his dedication to his people that was far stronger and more believable than that of the other rulers she had encountered in her many playthroughs.

“And that is why, Jarl Balgruuf, I would support you as candidate for High King of Skyrim. Let it be at the upcoming Moot, or a peace council of your choosing. I believe you are the best choice for Skyrim, if she is to survive the coming years.” She finished what had turned out to be almost an hour of speaking. Her throat had run dry as she expounded upon the pros and cons of choosing either side in an alliance, the potential outcomes that could ensue.

Farkas had stepped out to bring her a pitcher of wine, his solemn face radiating an awe that she was uncomfortable with as she nodded in thanks, taking a drink to soothe the soreness of her throat. It had been difficult, resisting the temptation to use the Dovahzul, the more sly overtures of enthralling the mind that she knew, she knew with the alien strange knowledge that now existed inside of her, could win her any opinion. Any influence she chose.

It was evil. She would not, could not go so far as to actually force a man, to tell him what to think. It gave her a chill of terror, knowing that the Voice had been used eons past to influence man in this way. Not just in violence, but in guile. Never. She would never use it like that.

Leaning back in his chair, Jarl Balgruuf interrupted the shouted responses of his counsel with a raised hand. His clear blue eyes, rimmed in laugh-lines, peered at Sigrid thoughtfully. “Why, Dragonborn? Why me? I have not made any claim to the throne. Ulfric and Torygg’s widow, Elisif have already done enough damage.”

“Because, Jarl Balgruuf.” Her face radiated sincerity as she leaned forward on the table. Vilkas looked proud, if a bit sad as she spoke clearly, her voice ringing through the stone chamber. “You do not want it.”

“You don’t crave the power that would come with being High King. In truth, you see the tangled mess that any King would have to deal with, the bickering of Jarls promoting their own interests above that of others. The struggle to feed and govern Skyrim’s many, various peoples. The violence that already exists, has existed for centuries between different races and religions.”

“But I believe you are the best choice, to bring lasting stability to our country.”

The Jarl fingered his mug of wine, seeming to think hard on what she had said. His fingers traced the carved rim of his goblet.

“What you’re asking will make Jarl Balgruuf even more of a target than he already is.” Irileth, Balgruuf’s Dunmer housecarl, spoke forcefully. Her greyish fingers gripped the hilt of her sword, red eyes restlessly roaming around the assembled men and women. “There have been many assassins, Dragonborn, assassins and spies. Why should he place himself in even more danger?”

“The Dark Brotherhood is...no longer a problem.” Sigrid looked away from Irileth as if in pain. Vilkas took her hand in his beneath the table, squeezing it in a show of support. Raising her head, Sigrid looked at Jarl Balgruuf squarely in the eye.

“But if you are worried about Jarl Ulfric...don’t be.” She smiled, a hint of cruelty hovering over her mouth as a throaty growl rumbled across the room. Proventus leaned back in his chair, shaken. Hrongar crossed his arms, grunting in approval. Farkas and Vilkas remained silent, solid sentinels surrounding her defensively.

Jarl Balgruuf stared back. “That man has already slain one High King. What’s to stop him from doing so again?”

“Me.” Releasing Vilkas’s hand beneath the table, she brought both her hands up and folded her fingers together, squeezing as she struggled to contain the wrath of the Thu’um. More difficult, every day. “Ulfric studied for years, and does not have the innate gift. How many Words of Power can he speak, even after all that time? No, Jarl Balgruuf, he is no threat to me.”

“I will protect you, as your Champion, if you will allow it.”

Again, the counselors of Whiterun’s ruling body broke out into heated argument. Some even stood, red faced as they spewed vitriol at the stone-faced Dragonborn and her Companions.

It had taken repeated meetings to bring Jarl Balgruuf to agree upon a peace council. Even longer to obtain the Greybeard’s approval to host the council at High Hrothgar; neutral territory for the Empire and the Stormcloaks.

One quiet night, when they were as alone as their watchful bodyguards would allow, Jarl Balgruuf and Sigrid Farstrider sipped at juniper mead upon the wide porch of Dragonsreach. The sun was setting, gold and pink painting the clouds that hovered over the far mountains, lighting up the tundra and rocky plains.

The Jarl was silent for a long time, swirling the mead in his glass. “Not since Numinex has a dragon been caught and contained, here. It will make for a fine tale for the bards to sing.”

Swallowing, Sigrid winced at the burn of the drink. Juniper belonged in healing mixtures, not alcohol. But it was his favorite. She would defer to his taste, this time. “I have Seen that Odahviing will be successfully captured here. It is absolutely necessary, my Jarl, for him to be lured here, so that I may reach Skuldafn in time.”

“Yes, so that you may fight this...World Eater.” Leaning over, the wooden chair creaked as Jarl Balgruuf looked at the Dragonborn, weighing and measuring. “Harbinger, I appreciate your show of confidence. But I am no whelp, all wet behind the ears. What do you gain from my ascendance to the high throne?”

Sigrid sighed, echoing against the wide hall in thunderous reverberation. “I gain peace, my Jarl.” The sun continued to set, as stars sparked, appearing slowly in the descending ink blue sky. “I get to know that I did my best, my very utmost for the people of Skyrim.”

“And perhaps, these choices we make will have saved lives, in the long run.”

Nodding as he continued to scrutinize her, Jarl Balgruuf lifted his glass. Raising hers in kind, she tilted her head as they drank to the dregs, both watching. Aware.

The sun disappeared, casting Whiterun into the night.

 

***********

The Peace Council had been a shitstorm of epic proportions.

The Blades, represented by Esbern and Delphine, were there. The Thalmor Embassy was present in the form of Elenwen, her cadaverous face pinched with distaste when she recognized Sigrid. Jarl Balgruuf and his scowling housecarl. Ulfric and Galmar, Elisif, Tullius and Rikke, they had all shown to give their two cents.

Arngeir of the Greybeards had presided, watching with steadily furrowed brow as the arguments ricocheted back and forth in the chamber.

It was as she had thought. No one agreed, no one was willing to budge an inch for what they viewed to be their high moral ground, their stance on the conflict tearing Skyrim apart.

Jarl Balgruuf had stayed silent much of the time, tapping a finger against his lips slowly as he took in the impassioned debates, the mud flinging. Thinly veiled barbs were slung on both sides. No one looked good here, and obviously the entire room felt it, as they strived to make up in volume what debate had lost.

“Enough!” Sigrid finally roared. The thunderclap of her Thu’um caused a visible recoil in the guests of the peace summit; with Elisif actually leaning away in something akin to horror. Arngeir watched silently, his eyes betraying nothing.

“I have listened to your debates.” Her voice rumbled as she managed a whisper, choking on rage. “Have endured the name calling, the childish casting of blame. No more!”

Turning towards Ulfric, then Tullius, Sigrid gestured to each. “By the power vested in me by the Greybeards as mediator of this council, I declare it to be over.”

Raising a hand to silence the babble of sudden refusal, she shook her head, lips tight. “You have been arguing for hours. I hear nothing but arguments chased in circles; endless. Hopeless.”

“There will be a Moot, a reconvening of Jarls at this same location one year from now. At that date, the vote will be cast as to who shall be Skyrim’s new High King. Ulfric Stormcloak, Elisif the Fair, or Balgruuf the Just.”

Cries, shouts, accusations, all were flung at her in a moment that seemed suspended in time. Ulfric glared at her as Galmar stood, spraying spittle as he gestured wildly at the Dragonborn. Elisif appeared to faint, as Tullius wearily eased the nerve-addled woman to the floor.

“In the meantime - “ They quieted somewhat as she quelled them with her hard stare. “There will be a cessation of hostility. That means no more fighting, ” her lip almost quirked in a fiendish grin when both Tullius and Ulfric shot her looks of shock and rage. “No more. Not until Alduin has been ended, the dragon threat gone from our land. Gentlemen, we are tearing ourselves apart from the inside, while we suffer the loss of all we hold dear.”

Her voice swelled, shaking the snowberry branches in their vases, making the chandelier above shake and jerk. “ This council is concluded. Depart.”

They would, she thought viciously, listen. They had begrudgingly accepted the terms. They would heed her...or there would be Oblivion to pay. At least she had caught their attention with her mention of the World Eater. An oncoming headache pounded in her temples as she tore off the heavy robes, the circlet, desiring nothing more than to feel clean cold air upon her skin. Perhaps the numbness of the mountain would chill her, calm the anger that so easily clouded her mind and choked her throat.

Blood painted upon claws. The taste upon her tongue, dripping in dagger teeth.

Was she human, still? Could one be human when one thought Dovahzul and dreamed of flight?

In all likelihood, this was the end. In Skuldafn, in Sovngarde. In some dank tomb, surrounded by draugr. Despite the faith her lover had in her, she was not naive to the dangers approaching.

Blood, fire and death. One way or another, it would all be brought to an end.

 

Chapter Text

Horvutah med kodaav... caught like a bear in a trap.” The giant red scaled dragon grumbled fitfully. The guards who had clamped the massive chain link harness down upon Odahviing were still here, shaking in their boots.

 

Smiling despite the ever-growing weariness, Sigrid strode forward to the massive head. Ignoring the appraising looks Jarl Balgruuf and his councilors were throwing her way, she cleared her throat. “Drem yol lok, Odahviing.”

“Zok frini grind ko grah drun viiki, Dovahkiin.” A massive golden eye blinked at her, diamond pupil slitted in the light. “Ah, I forget. You do not have the dovah speech.”

“Not entirely, no.” She smiled, despite her misgivings.

It had been the work of a moment to call out for Odahviing, daring Alduin’s dragon to attack. She felt fairly confident, considering all the preparation and hours of work that had gone into simply being allowed to call a dragon down on the hyperventilating folk of Dragonsreach.

And now, here they were.

She could pat herself on the back for how simple this task, at least, had been.

 

“My...eagerness to meet you in battle was my undoing, Dovahkiin. I salute your, hmm…” The head tilted, examining Sigrid with the other, bowling ball sized eye. It blinked a secondary filmy lid as she checked him out in turn. “...hmm, low cunning in devising such a grahmindol, stratagem.”

Barely checking a laugh, Sigrid planted her fists on her hips. “Tinvaak los grah, Odahviing,” she rumbled playfully.

The great red beast shifted, swaying his head in the confines of the brace. “Zu’u bonaar. You went to a great deal of trouble to put me in this...humiliating position. Hind siiv Alduin, hmm? No doubt you want to know where to find Alduin?”

She could see the amber-gold of her eyes reflected in that pitch dark blackness, as the secondary lid opened once more over the iris. “Devouring the sillesejoor, I imagine. In Sovngarde.” She stepped forward, perilously close to the giant jaw as she lifted her chin.

“Tell me where Skuldafn is.”

 

He laughed, leathery wings beating against the wind in hurried gusts as the bass chuckling seemed to vibrate straight through her. “Ahh, Dovahkiin. You have the Thu’um of a dovah, but without the wings of one, you will never set foot in Skuldafn.”

“Of course…” His pupil thinned even further, until it was a mere slice of shadow. “I could fly you there. But not while imprisoned like this.”

Sigrid nodded slightly, eyes still fixed upon the dovah. She thought she could sense the subtle influence of Odahviing through his Thu’um, his desire to be free of the cage of Dragonsreach as his voice slipped tendrils of thought inside her mind.

Not on her watch. She quashed the foreign desire to walk over and unleash the beast. “I agree. But later, at a time of my choosing. Erei mu grind.

The Dragonborn walked quickly away, before Farengar could begin snooping around the dragon’s hindquarters. A smile still pulled on her face as she passed down the hall, hearing the dragon’s rumbling discontent, following by a high yelp and what was probably breath of fire.

So far, so good.

 

*********

 

Ah. It was nearly complete.

It had required the patience of a saint, and plentiful assistance from Eorlund (who griped just for show, as he greedily took in all the plans she had drawn up and dramatically improved them) but finally Sigrid’s set of dragonscale armor was complete.

The armor was lighter than she thought it would be. Most of the scales had come from the dragon Vuljotnaak. Dark Maw Eat, she thought, was quite an irony, as she had encountered the golden-green dovah consuming a mammoth in the wrecked remains of a giant's camp.

But the scales were tough, and gleamed almost like fingernails. Keratin, with a coat of polish. Turning the armor this way and that, they caught the light...similar to the dandelion grass gold of elven armor, but with a rougher texture. It had taken some false starts (and she had ruined quite a few scales, bones and lengths of dragon hide) before she had come up with a suitable pattern that overlaid the scales in sufficient protection without being bulky.

Eorlund had helped her choose the right metals and ores to smelt the scales onto the tough hide. He always preferred a blend of steel and quicksilver, and so she let him do what he would. He was the master, and she the humble student. And who could argue with the result, she thought happily as she stood in front of the polished sheet of steel Eorlund kept for this purpose.

Badass. From rippling scaled gauntlets to spiked knee guards and sturdy overlapping breastplate….a thing of deadly beauty. It was light, comfortable, and even shifted with her movements better than the skin-tight leather she usually preferred for flexibility. She swung her new Nordic style sword, giving it a few practice slashes as she stretched the leather chainlink ties and laces, moving this way and that. The helmet looked vaguely samurai-like, with arched horns giving her a draconian profile.

 

Eat your heart out, Flemeth, she thought with a rusty chuckle. She had played through all three Dragon Age Games in her previous life, and her new helmet was a smashing blend of Loki, Flemeth and Maleficent all in one. 

 

...and wasn't that a relief, she thought with a shudder. Could have landed in Thedas instead of Tamriel. Shit. What a clusterfuck that would have been...give me Skyrim and the Nords any day over Orlais and darkspawn...eeek.

 

Even though she had trained reluctantly in the skill of blocking, Sigrid had developed a fighting style that was almost pure offense. Disdaining shields, she often grabbed a secondary blade or dagger to parry and thrust with. Or she took after Vilkas and Farkas, and used both hands. Especially when decapitating something particularly grisly, such as a giant or dragon.

Vilkas often despaired of her as they fought while travelling on the road. Though he rarely bothered with a shield, he often lectured her on the importance of knowing when to block, when to push back and when to strike. She always responded in the same way; a sassy retort about the futility of blocking dragonfire. “If I can move swiftly and dodge their Thu’um, I have a better chance of lashing out when they least expect it.”

They agreed to disagree, at least on the art of blocking it seemed. Though the more they spoke on other subjects, Sigrid found she listened more than she thought she would lecture in turn. Vilkas was almost fun to debate, especially when it came to the virtues of the civil war, or of previous battles in the Great War against the Aldmeri Dominion. The man loved his battle strategy, she thought with a mental yawn. Good for her. She didn’t have to read it, if she could pick his brains.

They often spent their nights winding down with a good book and a bottle of something just alcoholic enough to relax with. She favored romance and humor, he enjoyed myths and war stories. Vilkas preferred reading in the hot spring, but after about thirty minutes Sigrid just couldn’t take the heat anymore, and would walk around in the nude to cool, much to his bemused delight. Sometimes she could convince him to relax in bed. It wasn’t quite wide enough for both of them, but if he lay on his side, and she read on her stomach, they just about managed it. They usually ended up wrapped around each other later anyways.

After the battle with Alduin (and her resulting panic attack) Vilkas rarely left her side. She often found plenty to do in Jorrvaskr as it was. The harvest was approaching as summer slowly wound down, and the people of Whiterun were in a constant state of motion. Tilma had Lucia airing out all the mattresses and tapestries while the weather held warmth; Sigrid had walked out one day to find herself startled at how suddenly bare the stone walls were. Training practice continued every day at dawn; and she found herself enjoying the routine more now that Vilkas was no longer breathing down her neck. He was now too busy to correct her, having found the new recruits fodder for his steely stare and punishing calisthenics.

Lucia had decided to pursue her dream of becoming a warrior. But much to her dismay, Sigrid had started her off running laps around the track at Jorrvaskr. “It’s what we all have to do, sweetheart,” she told the rebellious, sulking girl that day.

The other Companions (who were eavesdropping, naturally) all held in their smiles as Sigrid lectured Lucia on how physical prowess was built, brick by brick, as a solid foundation for weapon work. “Says the newblood, not a year ago,” Athis whispered loudly, red eyes gleaming in mischief. “Disregard that.” Sigrid cooly replied. “Now, go get running,” she finished, patting her on the back, to the applause of the Companions. They had followed the girl, much to Sigrid’s amusement, hollering insults and encouragement as they all ran around the track with their newest whelp.

And boy, were there now quite a few new whelps around Jorrvaskr. She didn’t even know them all by name yet, though she tried. Since Kodlak’s old rooms had remained unused since the old Harbinger’s death, Sigrid insisted that they be used by the new bloods as upgraded quarters. Taking Athis, Farkas and Njada aside, she allowed them to pick their rooms first, as they had more seniority. There was quite a marked improvement in morale, after that.

Mmm, but those rooms held too much history, Sigrid thought as she watched Companions moving tables, dressers and furnishings up and down, driving Tilma to distraction. And Vilkas seemed to agree. More and more, she noticed him poring over courier notices, sneaking glances when he thought she wasn’t looking at sale lots listing land prices.

Would he be amenable to moving out in the wilderness, Sigrid wondered? Like the Hearthfire add-ons (which had seriously kept her happy and occupied for hours ). Perhaps it would be too far away from Whiterun, from Jorrvaskr and family. But, Lake Ilinalta was lovely this time of year…

“Oh Dragonborn! Hello there!”

Sigrid looked up from her book where she had chosen to sit at table, next to Vilkas who was currently measuring out payment to Tilma for groceries and supplies. The Harbinger blinked. She had never expected to see Farengar, court mage, grace the halls of Jorrvaskr. But there he was. “Is there something I can do for you, Farengar?”

“Actually, yes. It seems our captive dragon friend has certain...preferences for his meals. Would you happen to know what they are?”

“Well, I’ve heard he’s rather fond of mage…” She drawled, slowly marking the book with a length of cord as Farengar’s face paled. “Just joking. Why don’t you ask him?”

The mage’s face drooped. “I have tried, at my Jarl’s behest. The beast does not wish to converse with me.”

Sigrid hummed thoughtfully. “Well, he won’t be a problem for you much longer. It is the middle of Hearthfire, and it looks like we will be feeding Odahviing for only a few days more.” And cleaning. Bethesda never addressed the issue of scooping out massive heaps of dragon dung from a captive dragon. She was pretty sure the housemaids of Dragonsreach hated her guts.

She didn’t turn to look at Vilkas, but she could feel his eyes upon her as she finished her conversation with the court mage. As soon as he left, Vilkas closed up the treasury chest with a sharp snap. “A few days, Sigrid?”

Rubbing her head, she nodded dolefully. “It has been days, and every time I visit Odahviing he is more snappish and spiteful than usual. I’ve been...putting it off, but the armor is complete and...and my affairs are in order.”

She swallowed as he looked dismayed at her news. “I can’t run from this any longer,” she whispered, looking away. Scratching her ear, she looked back with a timid smile. “Besides. Someone very smart told me a while back that a true Nord never backs down.”

“You’re not a Nord,” he quipped, the reference bringing the smallest of smiles to his lips, as they both climbed down the stairs to the basement.

“Whatever I am, it is close enough.”

“If you were a Nord, you’d actually enjoy climbing that mountain you grumble about so often.”

“Well, if you were a true Nord, you’d carry me on your back up said mountain!”

“Ah. Only a true Nord could be so assertive.”

“You can insert something later, asswipe.”

“Hah, Nordic charm. Never gets old.”

Teasing banter got them past that first night. Making love filled in for the words that just wouldn’t come afterwards. He had said them. She remembered, and was content to take what was offered to her. Enjoy the moment was her new motto, she thought, and she watched eagerly as the harvests of autumn continued to sweep Whiterun into a hive of activity.

Soon, the wind that swept the districts of Whiterun had a discernable bite of chill to it. Great sheaves of grain stood propped up in fields, prepared for the threshing and milling of wheat that would be stored and shipped all over Skyrim. Tilma and Lucia were constantly darting back and forth to market, bottling, brewing, drying...Sigrid marveled that they found the time to attend to the cooking on top of all the harvest preparations for the winter.

She had been pleasantly surprised when the day before her departure on Odahviing came. At breakfast Sigrid didn’t miss the pointed looks the Companions were trying to sneak around her. As she headed for the training ground, she was relieved of all duties by Farkas. The bigger twin had winked saucily, then led her out of the main doors to see none other than his brother, waiting outside by the Gildergreen. Without his usual armor, just a grey tunic with casual pants.

Vilkas looked almost naked without it, she thought. “Hello.” His silvery eyes were alight with...a secret, she decided. Nothing else would be so suspicious.

“What is it.” She folded her arms, as he cracked a grin.

“Already prepared to lay into me, eh? There is nothing untoward going on here, Sigrid. Just a fine stroll with my future wife.”

She laughed, nervously looking around for anything that might surprise her. “You know, I’ve heard that one before.” And she had. The first week she had been home after Dawnstar, recuperating, news had spread about her engagement to be married. Apparently something similar to a singing telegram existed here, and she had opened the doors of Jorrvaskr one morning to be greeted with a gristly old bard, wearing a very out of place golden sash with a large open-petalled flower adorning it.

He had sung thirteen verses in praise of love, Dibellan virtues, and suspicious metaphors that Sigrid was certain had something to do with sex, judging by the poorly hidden laughter that was being muffled behind her in the dining hall. And because she had been raised never to be rude to a gift giver, she had stood there, red faced, and had taken the dubious honor like a champ.

But after the fourth one came and went, so did her tolerance. Sigrid grew more certain that someone was shitting her with a practical joke. She blamed Farkas.

Yet Vilkas, she thought, narrowing her eyes, might possibly have enjoyed seeing her squirm. “If there is a bard hiding out somewhere in a bush, I’m going to wear your balls for earbobs,” she warned her future husband.

Snorting, he walked arm in arm with her as the daylight slowly stretched over Whiterun. “Right. Like I have a death wish. That would be my brother.”

“I knew it.”

Enjoying the rare feeling of having nothing immediate to do, Sigrid and Vilkas walked down into the market square, past the vendors and into the residential district.

She noticed he seemed...well, damn, Vilkas actually looked nervous. “Alright, now I’m actually concerned.” She stopped him as they neared Warmaidens. “What’s wrong?”

He heaved a sigh. “Nothing gets past you, does it woman?” Pushing his fingers through the dark hair that fell over his forehead, Vilkas drew something out of his pack and handed it to her.

She turned over the key in her hand. “A key.”

“Yes.” He cleared his throat, gesturing with one hand. “To, ah...to Breezehome. I remember you spoke of it.”

Damn. So he did actually hear her sometimes, when she rambled. Her feet took her without any conscious thought to the doorway, where her hands almost fumbled the key as she eagerly turned it and clicked the lock open.

“Oh. Oh! Oh my god, this is...Vilkas!” Walking in the main room, which had been fully furnished, with the fireplace burning merrily, was just overwhelming. Breezehome was the first real home her characters ever had, playing Skyrim. One of the best, most memorable homes located conveniently right next to the city gates and a blacksmith. She knew everyone got Breezehome for their Dragonborn, but it had a certain nostalgia for her.

He remembered...remembered her relaxed musings about Breezehome. About having more privacy, more space. She jumped him, hugging him tightly as he faltered back in surprise, almost falling out of the house before his hands scrabbled for the door. Closing it, he returned the hug with a sigh.

“Thank Shor and Kyne you like it. It’s...well. It’s a wedding gift.”

She pulled away long enough to show him a wide smile, eyes shining in gratitude. “Really?”

“...Yes.” He leaned his forehead against hers. “So you always have a home to come back to. To fight for.”

“Oh, Vilkas.” She cupped his face in her hands, lips quivering. Like an idiot, she couldn’t stop smiling. “I already have so much to come back to! But this,” she turned to look at the humble home, the layout almost exactly the way it was in the game. “This is perfect.”

Rubbing her nose against his, she sighed into his mouth. “Thank you.” Catching his lips with hers, she wrapped herself more fully around him as she kissed him, hard.

“Aha, that reminds me.” Just as he was becoming very interested in exploring the bedroom on the upper floor, Sigrid tore away to riffle through her knapsack. He leaned against the doorway, tersely trying to quell the sensations Sigrid stirred in him all too easily, as she finally found what she was looking for.

“Yes! You’ll love this. I mean, I hope you do. It took forever, but here.” Placing the roll of parchment in his waiting hands, she looked up at him through her eyelashes, a mischievous grin coloring her features. “This is your wedding gift. From me.”

Impatiently, Sigrid shifted on her feet as he slowly drew off the ribbon and opened the scroll. Reading it, she could almost see the recognition click as he jerked his head up, grey eyes wide.

 

“You found them.”

 

Her smile was going to split her face, it almost hurt at this point. “I did! Oh, it took forever, and Runil needed help so I had to pay an assload of couriers, but I found them!” She hugged him, as he stood there dumbstruck.

 

“My parents. You found out who...my...Farkas and I...our parents were.”

 

“Yes. They came from Falkreath, just like I thought. No last names, but hey...your father’s name. It was Thadrig. Does that spark any memories?” Seeing him shake his head, she deflated a bit. “Huh. What about your mother’s name. Gydda?”

Gydda. Ma. Something stirred, forgotten and far. He couldn’t reach it, or remember. “Almost. It...sounds familiar. Perhaps Farkas can remember more.”

Pulling a bit farther away from him, Sigrid frowned slightly at the dazed look on his face. “Do you like it? I know, it’s not a house.” Nervously playing with her braid, Sigrid looked down.

“No one has ever done something like this for me, before.” Hearing the rustle as Vilkas placed the scroll on a nearby bookshelf, she felt his hands grasp her shoulders. He pulled her close, tight in his embrace. “I don’t know how you’re going to top this one, woman.” He spoke quietly.

“Me either. Seriously. It took forever. I took etchings with charcoal and everything. Maybe, you and Farkas can go visit their gravesites sometime. If you like?”

He continued holding her, contemplating the future and all its possibilities. “I’d like that,” he replied simply.

“Hmm.”

“Just…” she could feel his hands rising, touching her neck, holding her chin as brought her face close to his. “...try. Try not to fall off, up there, on that beasts neck. When you go to Skuldafn.”

Sigrid swallowed, feeling him almost trembling against her. “I promise.” She vowed quietly. “I’ll come back, if I can. Safe and sound.”

They held each other quietly as the sun continued to rise, filling the small room in dusty rays of golden light.

 

Chapter Text

“...And so then came clashing and slashing of steel, as the brave lass Matilda charged in, full of zeal!”

Sigrid sat in the hall of Jorrvaskr, hands clasped firmly over her ears, eyes tight shut.

“No. I beg you. No more.

“And the braggart named Ragnar was boastful no more...when his ugly red head rolled around on the flooor !” The warriors ended with a resounding chorus of cheers, applauding Njada who had mimicked Matilda’s fearsome decapitation, with Athis gasping and writhing in mock pain on (you guessed it) the floor.

“That was the best! Can we sing it again?” Rubbing her eyes and blinking sleepily, Lucia looked hopefully at Sigrid. But it was Tilma who responded first. “No, girl. Time for young ones to go to bed, now.”

“Thanks, Tilma. Sleep well.” Sigrid and the others waved off the youngest of the whelps to bed. Somehow, Lucia had stayed quiet and unseen while the other newbloods had been politely ushered out of the hall to sleep. Most needed no prompting - they had done log drills earlier that day, with twelve whelps (including Lucia dangling at the end, helping where she could) lifting and carrying a peeled log up, down and all around the training yard. Supposedly it taught teamwork, but from the satisfaction Vilkas derived from supervising Sigrid rather thought it was more punishment than anything.

“So, anyone up for a drinking game with our esteemed Harbinger?” Athis leapt up from the floor and ran to the closets where they kept bottles of mead, ale and wine. Njada scowled, wrapping her lute in linens and placing it in a chest. “Does this Harbinger have time for us, anymore? I hear she’s rubbing elbows with Jarls and nobles, now.”

“There’s enough of me to spare.” Smiling, Sigrid offered her drinking mug to Athis, who poured a good portion of Skingrad red in it. Taking the bottle from the Dunmer, she continued pouring around the table. They were all alone now; Sigrid, the two brothers, Athis and Njada.

“So, what kind of game did you have in mind?” Farkas sipped his wine.

“What about ‘I have never’?” Leaning back in her chair, Sigrid narrowed her gaze at Athis, who stared innocently back. “What? Dearest Harbinger, don’t look at me like that. It will be fun.”

“Fine. I’ll go first.” Njada gestured for someone to fill her cup. “I...have never been Harbinger.”

The group all groaned. Sigrid rolled her eyes, taking an overly exaggerated gulp, coughing as the strong vintage went down with a kick.

“This game will be over in five minutes if this is how it’s going to be,” Vilkas sighed.

“Hey!” Sigrid swatted at him. “I’m not that bad at holding my drink.”

“Says you…” Farkas murmured wryly, quirking an eyebrow at her when Sigrid pulled a face.

“Hey, I grew up in a religious household! It was not okay for children to drink where I’m from. I have the handicap, here.”

“Poor milk drinker.” Vilkas took a sip, smiling as he fended off Sigrid’s slaps as she rolled her eyes.

“Very well. I have…” Athis sighed, taking his time as he grasped his chin in thought. “...never been to Windhelm.”

There was a rolling grumble as Njada, Vilkas and Farkas all took a drink. “Is it as depressing as I’ve heard?” Sigrid asked the room as she opened another bottle.

“Worse.” Njada sighed. Taking in the Nord’s tumbling brown locks and long eyelashes, Sigrid realized that the Stonearm was really rather pretty. Once the helmet came off. And the shield. Hell, take away all her weapons and the woman was downright feminine. “With the Stormcloaks, the slums where the Dunmer live and the docks where the Argonians are made to stay, it has always had this...air about it. I hate going there.”

“That’s why I’ve never been. Too close to the Red Mountain. Or what’s left of it.” Athis swirled the wine in his cup, his sharp features thoughtful. “Your turn, Harbinger.”

“Well…” she drew it out, trying to think of something not completely obvious. She didn’t want to explain bungee jumping, television or airplanes. “Aha. I’ve never not had children!”

“That’s not how it works!” Athis complained, while Farkas hesitated over his cup until Sigrid gestured for him to drink. “You’re a father now, Farkas. Adopted or not, Mila just loooves you.” She grinned, bumping him with her elbow. She thought she detected a slight flush on the man’s cheeks. Nope. Probably just the booze.

Vilkas waved off further questions, saving Farkas from any more embarrassment. “Fine. My turn. I have never been rescued from the Thalmor, only to return to their Embassy alone.” His silvery eyes alight with triumph as his woman sent him a death glare, the group broke out in questions as Sigrid defiantly took a drink.

“Seriously? All the way up north! Why?”

“Do you have a death wish after all, serah?”

“No no no,” Sigrid fanned away all inquisitive looks, blinking against the haze of smoke and wine. “It’s a stupid story, and more boring than you’d think. Farkas, you’re up.”

“Very well. I have never passed a year in the company of only one woman...save this year, of course.” Leaning back in his chair, there was a smug expression on his face as a sea of whines, complaints and laughter greeted him.

“Now that’s really not fair,” Athis muttered as he sipped discreetly.

“Doesn’t count! I’ve never slept with a woman!” Pumping her fist into the air, Sigrid did a little dance as Vilkas, Athis and whoa, even Njada took a sip.

“Well now you’ve done it.” Njada shot back. Was that a smile softening that stony face? Sigrid wished she had a camera, for the millionth time. “Alright. The gloves are off now. I’ve never slept with less than...oh, three people in my life.”

More complaints, more groans as Farkas slumped forward, hitting his head against the table repeatedly while Vilkas laughed. “Honestly, I’m not surprised, judging by all the gossip around this esteemed company.” Sigrid said slyly, as the other Companions managed another drink.

“Hey Harbinger, you forgot to take a drink.” Examining her with a twist to his lips, suddenly Athis’s red eyes stretched wide open. “No. Oh sweet Azura.”

Sigrid slowly blushed red as all four of her friends stared at her in astonishment. “What?” She snapped, wriggling in her chair at the look Vilkas gave her. There was a delicious looseness in her limbs, and with a huff, she noticed that her mug was almost entirely empty. “Religious school, remember? I’ve only ever had sex with...with two men in my entire life.”

Njada looked affronted. “You might as well be a squeaking virgin, Harbinger.”

“Hah, don’t think so. Pretty sure the last few months got rid of whatever virginity was left in there.” Farkas managed, trying hard not to laugh as both Vilkas and Sigrid glared at him.

“Was this religion especially cruel? With only one partner...how do you even know what you like?” Athis demanded, slapping a hand on the table.

“Not a single one night stand, Harbinger?” Folding her arms, Njada leered at her suggestively.

She laughed awkwardly, rubbing the back of her neck. “Just one. But I don’t think it counts.”

“Ugh, I knew it. I knew it was you.” Njada sighed in disgust as Athis hooted in laughter. Farkas made a face as Vilkas looked on, untroubled. Sigrid could have sworn there was a twinkle of something in his eyes. “And you didn’t have the decency to clean up all that water afterwards? Inconsiderate ass.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll tell all.” Sigrid waved a hand lazily. Damn, she would never be this open without the burning warmth of the wine in her gut, echoed by the heat of the fireplace. “I think I only kissed about two boys before I met Bryce. Total amateurs. Way too much tongue.” She added as Farkas pretended to vomit, Njada finally joining in the laughter.

“And when I met Bryce, it wasn’t exactly a place you could go to, say, get it on.” She smiled in remembrance, tapping the wood of the table with her fingers. “We met in a hospital...kind of like a temple of healing.”

“What were you doing there?” Vilkas asked, curious. Sigrid never offered much about her previous life, and he’d be damned if he wasted the opportunity.

“I volunteered there, to be close to my mother.” Seeing no further need to wait, she took a sip and beckoned for a refill. “She was dying of a wasting illness. Something we called cancer. It took a long time for her to die, and it was just me and my sister by then. Father died two years before.”

“Sorry to hear that.” The Dunmer’s eyes were sympathetic, as he pushed an entire bottle of Cyrodiilic brandy towards her.

“Me too. It was a long time ago.” Sigrid hummed thoughtfully, wondering how to continue. It all seemed so far removed from where she was. The hall was dark and warm. It smelled like the roast slaughterfish they had enjoyed for supper, the smoke from the fire curling above their heads, pulled out of Jorrvaskr by stray breezes that found their way through the timbers. The fire popped and crackled, lighting the expectant faces of her friends.

She sighed. “Bryce was a soldier who had just graduated from his military academy. He was delivering toys for charity to the sick children, when I ran into him by accident.” A pang of homesickness stole through her, as she remembered the Christmas season that felt like it was a lifetime ago.

Sigrid, then Sarah Kincaid, had taken a variety of odd jobs to be available for the hours when her mother most often stayed awake. Leukemia had stolen so much from her; her hair, her smile, her desire to eat. Sarah had been looking for the kitchen, to find any remaining gingerbread to tempt her with, when she had run smack into a chest covered in crisply buttoned uniform and medals.

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” Sarah had leaned over to pick up the assorted stuffed animals and toys, when she saw him bend over as well. “Don’t be. Hey…” his hand lifted her up off the ground.

“I’m Bryce. Corporal Bryce Ferguson, of the 101st Airborne.”

She blushed, aware that she was looking at him in surprise as he laughed, his teeth very white against the dark caramel of his skin. “I know, right? Ferguson was my dad. My madre came from Veracruz as a girl. Dad got lucky. Said so himself.”

He poked the silver pin that hung from her scrubs. “Convent of the Sacred Heart, huh?” He looked her over, appraisingly. “I’m gonna guess...Irish. That skin. Probably volunteering out of the goodness of your soul, while you study how to stitch up orphans and kiss babies.” Bryce’s tone was teasing, but his dark eyes were kind.

“Something like that,” She had smiled shyly.

“We were married about six months later,” Sigrid continued, half-aware of their eyes upon her. “My mother made it to the ceremony, but died during our honeymoon. His family outnumbered mine by about six to one at the reception. The after wedding party,” she added, when Farkas shook his head in confusion. “It was a complete zoo...er, madhouse.”

“How romantic. And were you completely shocked on your wedding night?” Njada gave her an arch look.

“Not...entirely.” She blushed even brighter, remembering Bryce’s stunned delight and incredible patience as he had taught his sweet virginal wife the ins and outs of lovemaking.  She scowled at her own embarrassment, as Vilkas smothered a grin with his hand. His chair creaked as he moved closer next to her. Uncorking the brandy, there was a liquid splash as he filled both their cups.

“We both wanted, ah, big families. Lots of children. We, um, figured it out pretty well.” Ooohs and aaahhs greeted that statement, as she squirmed under their amused scrutiny. “I had one baby boy, and was pregnant with another when the war in Iraq started, and Bryce was called on tour with his division.”

“Iraq? Where is that?” Athis frowned.

“Somewhere in Hammerfell,” Vilkas offered, none too subtly as he pulled Sigrid against him. “Perhaps you’ve had too much, woman.”

“No! No, I’m good.” Her mind was a bit jumbled, but she didn’t care. If this was to be her last night of life, before daring the eyrie of the World Eater, she would live it up. No holding back. “I never had been with anyone else, until now.”

“And what a voracious appetite. Kyne knows I can hardly get any rest when you’re around. You’re a regular slave driver, woman.” Vilkas laughed, free and joyous, as she growled in mock anger. “It’s always the religious ones,” Athis sniffed primly, crimson eyes dancing with humor. “Run away while you can, armsmaster. Far away. The wedding hasn’t happened yet!”

Thank the gods the subject had changed after that to more mundane topics. It was pitch black outside when Vilkas and Sigrid finally stumbled, still laughing and waving goodbye, towards the road that led to Breezehome.

 

During their farewells, she had presented Farkas with a brand new pair of boots. Farkas had roared with laughter, and of course had to retell the tale of her proving in Dustman’s Cairn. The room had spun dizzily as she leaned against Vilkas, who had pulled his arm more tightly around her. Her first kill seemed ages ago. Had she really ever thrown up over the sight of a head? Shaking her head, she bemoaned her loss of innocence. Killing hardly bothered her anymore; though it was true she had never lifted her sword to any beast or man who hadn’t attacked her first.

“So, you were entirely inexperienced then?” Her fiance asked her, as they weaved their way down the darkened streets towards the gates. Willing her thoughts to clear, she recalled the earlier conversation and scoffed, kicking her boot into the dirt. “Is that so hard to believe?”

“No.” Slowing as they reached the lit sconces of the front door of Breezehome, Vilkas steadied her swaying walk with one hand. Reaching down her arm, he took her hand in his. “It’s one of the things that first drew me to you, Sigrid.”

Blinking in the light, Sigrid could see his pupils retract, the icy grey of his irises somehow still sharp, focused after countless glasses of wine. “That night…” his fingers twitched, thumb sliding over her knuckles. “...in the bathing room. I could smell you, smell the strength of your need.” He breathed out shakily. “I don’t make a habit of pursuing my fellow shield siblings, but I don’t think I was thinking at all, that night.”

Feeling something akin to disappointment, Sigrid turned away. “So, it was mostly out of pity, then. I was an easy lay.”

“No!” Pulling her arm, Vilkas leaned over, trying to capture her eyes with his. “No, Sigrid. It was nothing like that.” She rested against the door, suddenly tired, as he tried to find words, seemingly tongue-tied.

“I have never lied to you about my past. I’ve been with many women.” Swallowing at the flat look she gave him, Vilkas ploughed on. “I never thought much of it, until lately. I fucked around, mostly for fun. To release tension. A diversion from training, from hunting as the wolf.” He sighed, his breath fogging the cold night air.

“But you…” his hand tightened around hers. “You did not sleep with me, because you wanted something that night. Not because I was a Companion, or...Shor’s beard...even to stop the unfair tasks I set you.”

He was close, so close she could count his eyelashes. She felt a curl of expectant lust, tightening her deep inside, her own breath coming faster as he leaned in. “You, you wanted me. So badly I could almost taste you. Your lust was...a heady perfume. And there was nothing but the need, the need that I could ease, that night.”

Sweet talker. Feeling the prickle of wood against her gown as he pressed her back against the door, Sigrid strove to control her breathing as his hand lefts hers. Tracing up her inner arm, his fingers slowly brushed the side of her breast. His other arm leaned above her head, trapping her beneath, against him.

Close. So close. She knew, knew with the heat coming off him, that if she just arched her back she would feel him, hard and ready against her. The warmth of his breath puffing against her neck made her shiver with goosebumps. God, what was this, that after months of lovemaking it still felt so raw, so real. She shivered as his thumb deliberately circled the cloth covering her nipple, making it pebble in the cold.

Familiarity had not dimmed the fire, not really for them. Sigrid knew that with long years of marriage came a loss of novelty. Truly, it was one of the things she feared when she had the time to contemplate what was growing between her and Vilkas. The wild infatuation of early love had deepened for her and Bryce into the steady burning of embers. Solid, reliable, anchoring her in the assurance of time. They had learned together, grown together.

Undeniably some of that was here, as well. Nakedness was no longer quite the titillating experience it was once. She had joked one night as they lay together in the hot springs that he would get used to her breasts, if she kept them uncovered much longer. He had done his damndest to make her swallow those words, as he had tried to take as much as he could of her breasts into his mouth, that night.

Try as she would to cloak her insecurities, Sigrid could not escape the consequences of their combined pasts among the townspeople. Ysolda had approached her earlier that week, as Sigrid had been window shopping in the open air market. Should have known the pretty woman had been one of his. She winced inwardly as Ysolda scrutinized her scars, her hair, the missing fingernails on her left hand.

The merchant had whispered a warning to Sigrid that she was a fool, to choose so poorly. Vilkas was not the marrying kind; would love her and leave her. Huffing in scorn as Sigrid awkwardly walked away, the Nord woman had joined the slowly gathering throng of women and begun speaking softly, watching. Judging. She had felt on her back the stares of the jilted and jealous.

But, then, just when Sigrid felt the spiralling anxiety begin to peak as she tried so hard not to compare, to complain that her experience could never rival his, he would do something so untoward, so surprising that she forgot her worries.

The bastard, she thought with frank admiration, had just admitted to her that she affected him. In their constant, amusing game of one-upmanship, rife in teasing and friendly insults, neither of them was frank enough to openly admit defeat. Until now, it seemed.

“So, even with all your... experience …” her own hand slid to his tunic, slowly lifting the tucked fabric out of his pants. His breath became harsh. “You admit that...that I arouse you. Me.”

“-Isn’t it obvious, woman?” Trapping her hand as she wedged a finger beneath his breeches, he pushed her fully against the door, thrusting his leg between hers. Giving in to the urge to pant wantonly, she squirmed as she bucked her hips shallowly against his thigh. His arms barred the way, no escape for her as she struggled to regain her dominance. Lowering his head, Vilkas traced his open mouth against the revealed skin of her collarbone, her shoulder, easing off so slightly as he breathed carefully against her ear.

It was like a sparking line of gunpowder had been lit - straight from the curve of her ear, pooling in the pit of her stomach. Trapping her, Vilkas slowly ground once, twice against her. Helpless against the onslaught, she pushed her hand even further in his pants, biting back a moan as he took her ear in his teeth and gently bit down.

“So real. So beautiful...gods, woman, you never fake this. Never with me!”

She felt him twitch, hard and rising to meet her as she stroked boldly, his body arching in response. Feeling like she had been fairly lit on fire herself, she angled her face and body to meet his (and shit, he was there, waiting) then…

“Ah, um. Hello, my Thane. Will you be requiring anything from Breezehome tonight? I was just about to head in for some rest.”

She felt Vilkas freeze against her, as her head leaned back to hit the wood of the door.

 

Lydia .

 

Her new housecarl had been fully forgotten after that disastrous peace summit. Jarl Balgruuf had openly declared Sigrid a Thane of Whiterun Hold before the meeting, for her efforts at ending the war. She remembered Lydia briefly, remembered being amused more than anything else. The eponymous follower, beloved for her catchphrase ‘ I am sworn to carry your burdens! ” had been an interesting footnote to the never ending political slog of the past few months.

Until now, said footnote had been unobtrusively tucked into Dragonsreach, lingering in the barracks somewhere.

“Lydia, what are you doing here?” She managed to squeak out, her cunt throbbing in sympathy as Vilkas groaned against her.

“This is your new place of residence, right my Thane? The steward informed me of your ownership this morning. I am sworn to protect all you own, my -”

“No.” Turning away from her, Vilkas gave Lydia a glare so cold Sigrid was surprised the woman didn’t turn tail and run.

“But -” The housecarl tried again.

“NO.” Unlocking the door with swift, jerky movements, Vilkas nearly shoved Sigrid inside. She could barely see Lydia’s face frown as slow realization finally happened. Yes, dumbass. Walk away . Sigrid snickered mentally.

“You can return later. Much later. Your precious Thane has enough protection, at present. Go back to the barracks.” Slamming the door in the affronted Nord’s face, Sigrid had a moment to laugh out loud, just once, before Vilkas locked it and turned to her.

The naked hunger that raked over her in his grey gaze undid the last of her fears.

Swallowing, Sigrid lifted her chin high. The fire was almost gone, only hot orange coals glowing visibly in the cooking pit behind her. Enough light for this. Slowly, she lifted her hand to her bodice, keeping his eyes fixed on her. With a twist of her fingers, a lace popped free.

His breath rasped as he took a step forward. She stopped him with a sharp shake of her head. Working her hands down the front of her gown, she continued unlacing the tight corset front, watching as want darkened his face the looser her laces became.

The soft red fabric slowly pooled around her ankles as, uncaring, she pushed the sleeves from her shoulders. She stood naked before him, nothing but an amulet between her breasts.

He was, she noticed with smug pride, completely rock hard with tension. The tendons in his hands stood out as he balled them into fists. She could see every outlined muscle, shadowed in the darkness of the house and against the roughspun cloth of his clothes.

Fortune favors the bold. Clearing her throat, as the coolness of the air tightened her nipples, Sigrid tilted her head at him.

"I want to try something, tonight. Something different."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"I want to try something, tonight. Something different."

 

She felt so free, this last night of life here, with him. It would be...yes, the last chance she had, to try something so daring.

In all her travels and studies, Sigrid had picked up quite a bit of Dovahzul, or Dragon speech from the tombs and Word Walls. She often read books, only realizing when she was surprised into speaking that she had been translating the Nordic text into dragon runes. The Thu’um was complex and starkly beautiful in its simplicity. Mostly, the shouts she had discovered were about attack and defense. There were shouts that controlled the weather, influenced health, slowed time...

And even, she thought with a shiver of expectation, shouts that conjured pleasure.

She really hoped the Greybeards had not noticed her particular interest in that section of their library. Really really hoped they never used said shouts among themselves. She grimaced. Now there was a mental image burned into her brain.

 

Feeling powerful and bold, she took a deep breath, then stepped forward.

"Can you follow me? Upstairs?" Damn, she could barely speak the words, much less concentrate with that look on his face.

His jaw tightened as he seemed to fight some inner battle. When he grasped some degree of control, Vilkas ground out, "You have nothing to prove, woman. You can have me, in any way you want." His hand lifted, as if to reach out and touch her.

The honest reply prompted a laugh from her. "Oh, love." Turning and walking away with short fast steps to the stairs, she stopped just as she was about to ascend. Feeling the silken weight of her hair brush her back, her head lolled on her neck slightly... just enough to see him, see the man standing there in front of the door as if spellbound. Something defiantly dark and primal surged within her.

A dragon dominated. Dovah delighted in conquering new territories, gathering riches and slaves.

Mine.

"It would be so much more fun if you would..." She struggled, seeking to find words that encapsulated the raw rapture she felt welling within her. Huffing, Sigrid decided to couch it in terms he would understand. "...fight me, on this. You're always boasting that you are more more experienced than me. More...skilled."

Her hazel eyes were calculating as she bit her lip. He was waiting, oh so patiently, waiting for her to speak. She willed the right words to come to mind, to be said.

Fuck it.

"Vilkas..." Arching her chest out as she slid slowly down the stairs banister, her fevered eyes never left his as she uttered in a rough whisper. "I'm going to make you come in my hand. Then again, in my mouth. And finally, I will ride you, taking you in me until you fucking come 'til you see stars."

"And love, there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

 

******

This wasn't happening.

Vilkas was dreaming. No, he had died and was currently skimming over Dibella's realm in some skooma drugged fantasy that soon he would wake from. In no reality that he was familiar with did Sigrid ever speak so boldly, so sensually, about what she wanted to do to him. Fuck, the woman could barely stammer out what she wanted him to do to her in bed.

But now, she had issued a challenge. As though he were a helpless whelp beneath her.

Gods, this was going to be fun.

"Bitch, I'm not going to come for you." He snarled, the familiar flare of temper softened by gentle amusement.

So, she wanted to play a game, did she? Vilkas would play.

Watching her flash him a smug smile as she slowly sauntered up the stairs, her naked ass bobbing back and forth...

He kicked his foot against the door. Ouch. Huh. Still not a dream.

What could he do but follow? Whatever crazy idea his woman had cooked up for him now, he was far too invested not to be intrigued.

Silently ghosting behind her on the stairs, he watched with bated breath as she lit a lantern with some spark rocks. The flame glowed brightly in the dimness of their new bedroom, casting a golden glow over the marriage bed he had prepared.

He took a moment to admire the pile of furs he had collected from every corner of Skyrim, ice wolves and cave bear, displayed like some barbaric treasure horde before his woman. Firelight caught every curve...the shadow and slope of her skin. His hands trembled to touch it.

Slowly she turned, looking him over as he tried very hard not to think about his rock hard erection tenting his pants. God damn it, he would not lose this strange challenge she had set. He was a true Nord. He would die with his dignity intact.

Tapping her chin with a finger, Sigrid smirked. "Off with your shirt, please."

Simple enough. His shoulders rippled as he balled the tunic over his head and threw it down to the floor. Looking up again, he caught her staring, frankly admiring him as his lips pulled into a slow feral smile.

He moved, itching to put hands on her, when she held up a hand in sudden censure. "No. We're doing things my way, remember?"

Sighing dramatically, Sigrid sauntered over to the wooden chest that rested near the foot of the bed. Lowering herself to kneel on all fours, Vilkas tilted his head; the better to enjoy the view as she shot him a saucy look, shuffling the contents of the chest until she found what she sought.

Standing and facing him once more, he could see the leather thongs she had retrieved from the chest. She snapped them playfully. "Since it seems I cannot trust you to to keep your hands to yourself, we'll have to use these." He thought he saw a flash of mirth in her eyes. A light draft from the roof fanned the flame in the lantern, flickering across her hazel eyes. For the briefest moment, they turned slitted, golden. Her voice was the echo of thunder.

 

"Down on the bed. Face up."

 

Doing as she asked, Vilkas squirmed as the furs bunched beneath his back, wadded up against the mattress tick. As Sigrid leaned over to help smooth out the furs to be more comfortable, he stole a long, lingering kiss as she froze in surprise. He made it worth his while, her eyes fluttering closed as he stroked his tongue against hers, tangling their mouths until her taste filled him, scalding in the heat of his desire.

Pulling away, he retracted his tongue, grinning in triumph as her eyes narrowed. "Sneaky...You'll pay for that." She warned, tying his wrists to the bed posts tightly enough that his arms were suspended slightly above the bed.

Testing his binds, Vilkas shifted against the thick furred pelts, watching her every move with unabashed hunger as Sigrid sat primly on the end of the bed.

Leaning over, she sprawled onto her stomach next to him. Smiled. "Comfortable?" He watched her feet kick, scissoring back and forth, her breasts pillowed upon the furs.

Cute. But he’d never tell her that. Rolling his eyes, he taunted her. "I've had meditative shits more exciting than this."

Her smile widened, teeth glistening in the wavering light. Making no sound, she merely watched him, watched his bare chest slowly moving with each inhale and exhale. His cock was slowly softening, pants no longer quite so tight as they had felt before.

Moments passed this way. The heated boldness she had displayed earlier melted into something more soft, tender. He couldn't look away...her round eyes barely blinked, more green than gold.

With the softest of caresses, Sigrid reached out her arm to touch his hip. He saw her mouth move, the words uttered as if from an impossible distance as they roared through him.

 

Sahlos Tolaan Slen.

 

Every nerve suddenly sparked, a crescendo of adrenaline coursing through him as his back bowed off the bed. Everything was buzzing; color that had been softly warm was almost too bright. He heard harsh, rapid panting and realized with some horror that it was his own.

Her fingers moved, the barest of movements. He watched, transfixed in agony as her hand slowly, surely wrapped around the length of his manhood, covered by his pants.

Her hand stroked down, only once. A tease.

He came anyway. It was almost involuntary, the orgasm ripping through him, destroying any and all barriers. He throbbed, shuddered with the glorious power of it, his teeth clenching so hard his jaw fucking ached.

 

Dimly, he heard soft laughter and realized it was his woman, still laying beside him.

"Oh, that was fun. Are you all right?"

 

Her voice was throaty, velveted in assured superiority. Inhaling shakily, he managed to gasp out a response. "What the fuck was that?"

Vilkas felt a deep, almost thrumming purr reverberate through him. He realized it was coming from Sigrid. Fascinated, he watched the muscles of her throat flutter as they vibrated. "The Thu’um, naturally. A very unusual Thu’um."

No longer capable of speech, he watched dazedly as Sigrid slid down the furs, gripping the top of his pants and shucking them down his legs. He heard the soft impact as his pants hit the floor, then felt the rope springs of the bed bounce as Sigrid reappeared.

The raw edge of excitement his nerves had been riding was slowly easing down, and he felt almost boneless. Relaxed.

Damn it, he had lost the first battle. But he would win the war. Even if it was won by his sheer inability to participate. “Perhaps, we should delay the rest of this. You haven’t had satisfaction yet, woman.”

"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that." She laughed breathily.

Feeling a palpable sense of foreboding, Vilkas warily watched her as she draped herself over him. He felt some pressure as she laid herself carefully down. Folding her arms upon his lower stomach, she grinned lazily.

His cock twitched, nestled in the depths of her cleavage. Pathetic, he told himself. Steeling his will against further attacks, Vilkas glared at her.

Her breath puffed out, tickling the hairs on his abdomen. He counted ten breaths, feeling almost anxious as her sparkling eyes stayed focused, centered upon him.

 

No. No fucking way. He was good, but not this good. 

 

Slowly, ever so slowly, she lowered her head down his belly. Those eyes were liquid bright with mischief as she lightly traced her lips down the trail of dark hair, lowered her head until her face was slowly obscured by the wavy mass of hair. A pearl, disappearing beneath a red tide.

He felt her delicately lick her lips. Then, with a hot breath her mouth enveloped his cock, root to tip.

Lying there, all loose and languid, Vilkas closed his eyes against the dragging sensations as her tongue swirled around him, flattening in rapid smooth strokes. Allowing himself to enjoy this, at least, he stretched in his bindings. Wet sounds filled the comfortable silence, as Sigrid sucked and licked him at a seemingly unhurried pace.

His cock twitched again, and his moment of relaxation was broken as he realized with a prickling wonder (and some shock) that once more, he was getting hard.

Sigrid's hand joined her mouth, and he bit his lower lip in exasperation as the pace suddenly quickened. Friction increased as her head bobbed up and down, like it was a fucking race, gods, and then -

- pleasure that was almost pain swelled, as that deep vibrating thrum started once more. Trying to get away from the unbearable sensation, Vilkas writhed against the bed, leather cords creaking as he pulled tight, the tendons in his arms standing out like ropes.

Fuck, but it was over, over before he realized he could hold out no longer. He could feel her mouth uttering words, whispering alien consonants blunted by the saliva slickness of her tongue as her fist compressed him. Pumping his hips shamelessly, Vilkas cried out as her mouth milked him, lingering there as sweat ran down his forehead and trickled into the furs.

He lay there in a hazy stupor, as the blood roared in his ears. Tasting blood, his tongue darted over his teeth. Damn, he had bitten his lip. Thoughts ran in leaping circles, his mind pleasantly blank.

 

She was a fucking wizard. Why had she never shown him this before?

 

He felt her leave the bed once more. Heard the snap of a bottle being opened, swallowing sounds as the woman took a drink.

Eventually, he would regain the use of his thoughts. Once his head stopped spinning with delirious pleasure. And he would pay her back for this. With interest.

Again, he felt her weight on the bed as she approached him, her legs sliding along the furs as she sat upright next to him.

 

"You win. No more. Gods, no more." His head fell back limply, a heavy lassitude overtaking his limbs. He was finished. Pride gone, all hopes of retaining any shred of manhood disappeared. She had done the impossible. Vilkas was completely, totally devoid of the desire to have sex.

Somewhere up above him, he heard Sigrid laugh fondly. "As you wish."

 

Another pop of a container, opened. He smelled lavender, with a mellow aroma that reminded him of honey. "What's this, now."

"Nothing wild." A giggle. “Nothing like...heh heh, nothing like Hircine’s horny goat weed.”

Vilkas chose to ignore...whatever that was about. He felt a sudden warmth and pressure as her hands pressed into his shoulders. Groaning in relief, he turned his head to blink sleepily at Sigrid. "It smells almost...sweet."

"Lavender oil, salve of dragons tongue and beeswax. Great for relaxing sore muscles." Kneading the taut stiffness of his arms, she paused at his tied wrists. "These are digging into your skin, love. Let me take them off now."

Too tired to fight, he sighed, stretching with a yawn as she untied the knots holding him down. "Luckily for you, my stamina is completely tapped out.” She threw the leather cords to the side of the bed, forgotten. In the quiet of the night, he could hear insects chirp. The sound of brook water running somewhere outside, in the streets of Whiterun.

Turning his head slightly, Vilkas fixed a pale eye upon Sigrid. “Mark me, woman. For this...I'm going to do something unfortunate to you later."

The hands that were rubbing his neck so deliciously stopped. He held his breath; wondering if he had said something wrong.

"Hmm. You have enough energy to complain. Well, shit. That just won't do."

Opening his eyes to behold the face of what must surely be pure, unadulterated evil in female form, Vilkas felt his heart start hammering in his chest. Sigrid leaned over him, gold green eyes consuming his vision. The round irises shook, shrinking to slitted black slots as she opened her mouth.

Vilkas felt, more than heard, the trembling roar of her Thu’um as she spoke.

 

Unahzaal genazand vaan!

 

...And whatever he had been thinking broke entirely out of his thoughts as suddenly he was aloft, borne on a tidal wave of rushing waters. Sensation, touch in triplicate, gods it was too much, too much for any man to feel without going mad.

 

“Ful hi lorot wah rel zey?” Sigrid crooned, her thighs lifting as she danced over him. “Dii meyar, Zu'u fen genun hi vahzah suleyk.”

 

- And her eyes were dark, black as the void and burning as she spoke, her voice rattling the cupboards, shaking the very bed, but he was captured. Pinned beneath her as her thighs tightened in luscious strength. He couldn’t fear her, not even as he felt more throbbing heat spiral through him at her words, words he could only guess at that were now part of the woman he loved.

Bracing herself against him, Sigrid shuddered, her chest heaving in tight short gasps as she arched, glided against his cock with the slickness of her folds.

Too much, far too much on top of everything else, but he couldn’t help it. Thrusting against her, he dragged his cock against the wet heat of her, smiling unabashedly at the cry it tore out of her lips as he held her hips with his hands.

She seemed lost to impulse, her throaty purr echoing through her limbs, that dipped waist that flared into lush, womanly hips. He rode out the wild grind of her cunt with an unconscious buck of his own hips, driving up against her, hard. With a spark of pride, he saw her fling her head back, her breath a ragged pant as her hands scrabbled, clinging to anything she could hold on to.

Eventually Sigrid touched herself, her hands clutching her breasts, clawing at her nipples in a frenzy of passion. Her eyes landed on his as they locked together; a joined moment of shocked awe. “Zu'u nis... Zu'u didn't mindok nii vust kos med daar…” she hissed, tightening her thighs around him as he gasped.

He reached up, his thumb brushing over the fullness of her lips as she suddenly bit down, nearly drawing blood. Her eyes fluttered closed as she continued rubbing, bucking against him. Taking away his hand, he grasped her hips and carefully angled the frenzied rocking pace into...fuck…

Closer. She bent over, her tangled hair falling in her face as she sobbed, trying desperately to swallow the little noises she made as he finally entered her, taking her for his own. Pushing inside, he marveled at how soft, how wet and yet how hard she was inside. Her walls fluttered against his cock, bearing down with a pressure that rolled his eyes back in his head. Her breasts touched his chest as her strength gave out; the heaviness of her soothing, clearing his mind as he reasserted himself. He was now in charge.

Grimly biting back his mounting desires, Vilkas dug his hands into her hips until his knuckles turned white and guided her crazed bucking thrusts into something that might actually bear results. Seeking that angle that would drive her wild, would end this ecstasy that was a torment all its own.

Sigrid whined into his chest, muttering a string of words that may have been Dovahzul littered with obscenity that made him grin. He would risk it; risk the wrath of the woman to end this once and for all. The muscles of his arms bunched, as her eyes shot wide open as Vilkas flipped them; her shriek of anger swallowed by his mouth as he pushed her hands into the furs and took it. Took her mouth in his, eating all the whimpers, the sounds she made as he drove into her in earnest.

 

“Don’t you dare stop,” she cried out, when he gasped for breath. “I swear to God, I will Shout if I have to.”

His ragged laughter came in fits. “Don’t...do that,” Vilkas jerked, writhing as her legs suddenly wrapped tightly around his waist. Gods, her cunt was like silk, and he was...just a bit more…

The sound she made, as she came...a high broken cry he knew he’d fucking remember forever, as they met each other again and again, a dance he wished would never end. He nearly screamed himself, fighting to thrust back as she squeezed him inside of her, tight as a fist, his hips stuttering hard as everything became jagged and blank as he came, a hoarse roar torn out of his throat.

He could feel Sigrid trembling beneath him. Slowly, he relaxed his hold upon her. Lifting his weight up onto his elbows, his darker hair mingled with the sun browned tangles of the woman’s unruly mane. She was panting hard, eyes closed tight as he smiled, feeling her throb slowly, repeatedly, against him still.

Rolling off of her, he tucked her back into his arms as she shivered with the sudden loss of his heat. Moments blurred past as their breathing synchronized, slowing as the lantern burned out.

 

“Vilkas?”

“Hmm?”

“...Think I won that challenge.”

 

“Mmph." Cracking a yawn, Vilkas pulled a fur over them both. "You may have started the battle, woman, but I won the war.”

Resting his chin upon her head, he felt her body press against his as they lay there, limbs tangling in exhausted repose. “That was...something else.”

He felt, rather than heard her snicker. Suddenly, he saw a flash of light reflected from her eyes as she shoved herself up in bed, came face to face with him.

Vilkas blinked, feeling exhaustion creep over him as he struggled to stay awake, to be alert enough to remember this. Her lips descended slowly, carefully upon his.

Zu’u lokaal hi, Vilkas.” She whispered tenderly. Her fingers traced patterns upon his brow. He swallowed. “You too, Sigrid.” Pulling her closer against him, he closed his eyes against the night.

“Always will.”

 

Wrapped in each other, sleep took them until dawn.

Chapter Text

Bolog aaz, mal lir!”

 “Faaz! Paak! Dinok!”

 

Ignoring the threats of the undead, Sigrid hacked her way through the temple of Skuldafn, the compelling urge to see the sun once more giving her feet even greater speed as she rushed past the draugr, ignoring some of them entirely in favor of seeking the light.

 

She felt dirty, unclean, as she had killed the two dragons who stood sentinel near where Odahviing had dropped her off. Such a waste. And an incredible downer from the adrenaline rush that was dragonflight.

It had been a thrill; god, almost similar to a rollercoaster, with the swooping drops and high soaring leaps among the clouds. She had screamed in joy; Odahviing roaring his approval of her response as he wheeled and banked against mountain crags hidden in fog and cloud.

“This is as far as I can take you. Krif voth ahkrin. I will look for your return, or Alduin's.” Steadying herself against the sudden dizziness of landing on solid ground, she merely nodded. She was surprised when the massive red dragon shoved his nose against her chest. “ Mindoraan, pah ok middovahhe lavraan til. I surely do not need to warn you that all his remaining strength is marshalled there.”

“Either way, this will all be over soon, Odahviing.” With a surge of daring, she placed her hand upon his muzzle, feeling the tight interlocked scales heat as his nostrils flared. It felt almost snakelike, the delicate skin around his lips and nose. Sigrid marvelled at the texture; she had never touched a dragon’s face with the skin still attached. The strange power that dissolved flesh into bone instantaneously after death did not allow for it.

Lok, Thu’um. ” His breath warmed her as his wings beat against the thin mountain air. She watched as he became a red pinpoint blurred against the far eastern mountains.

The entire day had passed by in a blur. When she hadn’t been sneaking carefully around traps, draugr or solving the lock puzzles (meant to keep the unquiet dead in, she imagined, because they were far too simple to solve) Sigrid had been hacking and slashing her way through deathlords, skeletons and the more rank and file of the draugr soldiers.

There had only been once, where she had hidden gasping in a dusty alcove, badly injured from a massive spike of ice that protruded fully through her thigh. That had been a bad moment; the deathlord hunted the halls for her, coughing threats in that dead, dry voice as she fumbled with the healing and stamina potions. Trying to be as quiet as a warrior who had barely trained in stealth could be. Damn, she really had to bone up on sneaking at some point. If just to stay alive in situations like this.

Potions helped. Making a face as the tang of juniper, blisterwort and giant’s toe went down none too smoothly, she felt renewed strength course through her limbs as she stood, breathing shallowly the dust of ages.

That had been hours ago. Now, as she burst into the light from the final flight of stairs, she could see the swirling otherworldly portal, in all shades of blue and violet. It threw the cadaverous outline of the dragon priest into full relief. Nahkriin .

I’m coming for your mask, bro. Sigrid thought, eyes narrowed as she summoned whatever dregs of energy she had left. The brews she had brought would only push exhausted muscles so far. It was rather like a bandage for a gaping wound; it held the edges together and stopped blood loss, but to heal fully would require rest and stitches.

Dodging a blast of sparking lightning, Sigrid rolled out of the way as he summoned a Storm Atronach. She swallowed as the stones bound together with ozone and electricity hummed, growing tree tall as she looked furiously for an opening, anything.

Panting as the withered body of the priest disappeared with a nicely timed thrust of her sword, she wearily leaned over to pick up the dragon mask. Feeling the thrum of magicka zap her as she touched it, she sighed in frustration as she remembered - Nahkriin’s mask was enchanted to fortify magic. Well that’s no bloody good. Stuffing it in her pack with a sigh, she edged closer to the vortex that dipped, like a well with no end, into Sovngarde.

Like a galaxy full of stars, she thought, fascinated. If only she had a camera. She wished Vilkas could see the crazy she had endured, just to get to the pit of doom.

A pang of longing ripped through her, harsh and needy...No! 

 

She pulled in a deep breath and breathed out. Slowly.

 

He was fine. She was still alive, despite the odds. Purposefully blanking her mind against the panic, she took a running leap -

-and went down into the rabbit hole.

 

**********

 

The mist swirled, grey and foreboding.

Sigrid held fast to the memory of her purpose, trying to fight the mind-fogging properties of the darkness that sapped her strength. There was something, something she could do. Had to do. She wandered, tripping on rocks and bushes. Not even the pulsing galaxy above was visible, now.

Oh. Duh. “Lok Vah Koor!”

The skies cleared. The Dragonborn blinked, as suddenly colors exploded against her vision. Blue-green, iced purples, reds and molten orange, all swirled in a somehow harmonious aurora above and beyond.

Sovngarde.

 

Scores of the spirits of the dead wandered here, in the vast endless fields and mountains. She could see them stumbling, falling as they strove to reach the tall, distant towers of what must be Shor’s Hall.

Vilkas had spoken reverently of the whale-bone bridge, of the golden halls, where the valorous and brave rested from their mortal sorrows. Seeing the black form of Alduin swooping, far off, her mouth tightened into a grim line as she realized the spiky bastard was eating them. Consuming the souls of the dead Nords who sought their heaven. She felt a rush of fear as the beautiful flowers, the sky and grassy fields around her suddenly held a shadow of dread.

Had to move. Move faster, past the idyllic feeling of peace that had snaked itself around her heart. It was a trap. She didn’t belong here. Forcing her legs to take one step, and then another, Sigrid made her way down the path towards Shor’s great Hall.

She was forced to Shout twice again to clear the skies of that mind numbing fog, when suddenly she realized she saw none other than Kodlak Whitemane, wandering fruitlessly near a sparkling stream. “Harbinger!” Sigrid called out gladly.

“...Sigrid, child is that you?” He replied plaintively, his eyes looked around her, above her. With a stab of sorrow, she realized that the Harbinger was still lost, lost mentally in the fog that had ensnared the brave souls who stumbled, helpless before the World Eater here. “When I woke from cold death, my doom was lifted - there was Shor’s Hall, my heart’s desire.” He spoke as if speaking to himself, his arms raised slightly to the left of where she could see the great building gleaming off in the distance.

“But now I wander, weary and lost. Alduin hunts me as we once hunted our prey - a bitter payment for many bloody deeds.” Kodlak sighed, a forlorn sound.

Against her better judgement, Sigrid approached Kodlak and hugged him. Solid, yet somehow insubstantial, the Harbinger’s spirit felt fragile. Like the hollow bones of a bird. Slowly, the old man’s arms reached around her, holding her in turn.

“I feel...can hear your heartbeat like the Harbingers of old. Sigrid…” she smiled, feeling a tear trickle down her cheek as he patted her back. “Your glories in Skyrim are seen and honored.”

Hugging him tightly for the space of a moment more, the Dragonborn released him. As soon as she did, the clarity left Kodlak’s eyes. He began to look around, taking slow unsteady steps once more.

She watched in sadness, suddenly realizing that there was no end to this torment. Not until Alduin was taken care of.

Easier said than done. She shivered, watching as the World Eater snapped up a Stormcloak soldier in his jaws. Steeling her heart, she kept her focus on the stark white arch of the whale bone bridge.

Just as she was about to cross it, a giant suddenly appeared. Blinking up at him, her mouth fell open in shock. He must have been ten feet tall, easy. He wore a barbarian’s garb of hide loincloth, wrapped leather boots and armored gauntlets, with his torso cinched in what looked suspiciously like a WWF wrestler’s champion belt.

If he wanted to wear a macho, over-the-top corset like that, no one would be able to stop him. The dude was huge.

Tsun. Nordic God of Trials. She remembered Vilkas reading about him, about the struggle every warrior faced, to ascend with honor into the hallowed halls.

God damn it.

 

“What brings you, wayfarer grim, to wander here in Sovngarde; souls-end, Shor’s gift to the honored dead?” Tsun’s voice echoed strangely in the open plain.

She cleared her throat. As the mouse said to the elephant, she thought with dark humor. “I pursue Alduin, the World Eater.”

“A fateful errand. No few have chafed to face the Worm since he first set his soul-snare here at Sovngarde’s threshold.” She could see those massive hands grip tightly the warhammer that was taller than she was. “But Shor restrained our wrathful onslaught - perhaps, deep counselled, your doom he foresaw.”

“Perhaps. But I must face him anyways.”

“Hmm...no shade are you, as usually here passes, but living you dare the land of the dead. By what right do you request entry?”

She thought about it. Claiming she should enter simply by being Dragonborn felt a bit like a cop-out. It wasn’t something she had much control over.

No. But there was something else. Someone she owed.

“I request entry by right of glory. I lead the Companions of Jorrvaskr.” And as she spoke the words, she felt a warmth burning in her heart. The words felt truer than they ever had, back home in Whiterun as she had attended to the warriors in their hall. Feeling a deep abiding love, she smiled, grateful for all she have been given.

Tsun’s rocky face shifted into a small smile. “I welcome the chance to challenge the blade of Ysgramor’s heir, honored shield sister to Kodlak Whitemane...whom I have watched for in vain.”

“Yes.” Craning her neck to look up at him, she noticed he wore a twisted torque around that neck. God, his neck was thicker than her thighs. “Can I enter the Hall of Valor?”

He raised his hammer. “Living or dead, by decree of Shor, none may pass this perilous bridge ‘till I judge them worthy by the warrior’s test.”

Shit on a cracker.

And it was on. Rolling immediately out of the crashing weight of the giant’s swing, she struggled to parry the hammer that struck.

Fast. So much faster than anyone that big should have been. Darting around him, Sigrid tried a few Shouts, which the goliath dodged easily. When a downward swing connected with his axe, she felt her teeth grind as the rebound from their weapons shook like an earthquake. Once, twice more, she attacked bravely but futilely, mentally mapping out the distance to the whale bone bridge...then -

- Withdrawing, Tsun took a step back, then nodded. “You fought well. I find you worthy.” Her breath heaved out of her with a sigh.

“It is long since one of the living has entered here. May Shor’s favor follow you and your errand.” Turning the broad bulk of his body, Tsun gestured towards Shor’s Hall.

Sigrid stared. This was it. Quelling her anxiety, she began walking past the giant (seriously, her head came up to maybe that ridiculous belt) and continued on.

The whalebone bridge was terrifying. She had to jump the gaps rib to rib, with huge spaces between the rib bones and vertebrae. Gods, she thought, finally making it over. Any soul could fall through. Where was the justice in that, after trying to beat that behemoth?

If she ever designed an afterlife, it would be a tropical paradise. Full bar and all, swimsuits optional.

Looking up as she reached the monstrous, polished doors, she pushed hesitantly. They felt like stone. One of them slowly, soundlessly opened.

She entered.

 

Blinking at the sudden barrage of light, smells and sound, Sigrid felt vaguely overwhelmed after the peaceful barrenness of Sovngarde’s valleys. Massive roast spits took up the majority of the hall before her, with entire oxen and cows turning upon the flames. Tables and chairs occupied nearly every extra space, gleaming gold and quicksilver white. She could see nearly every variety of food; sweetrolls, breads and crostatas piled up next to cheese and fruit. Meat, fish and vegetables, in a stunning array of options that dragged her eyes from the people that were walking around.

Most were Nords. Not much of a surprise. She saw several mage robes, which piqued her interest, as well as the blend between the more highborn and the poor. Everyone mingled freely, some feasting and singing, others engaged in fistfights further down. If she squinted, she could see a training area not too far, with weapons and shields of every kind…

“Welcome, Dragonborn!”

A heavy hand clapped upon her shoulder, startling Sigrid from her reverie. Looking up at yet another huge man, she raised her eyebrows. This one was actually pretty hot. Long, cornsilk blonde hair fell in a pale waterfall across his shoulders. His armor was gleaming and ornate, in a style Sigrid had never seen before, but felt familiar somehow. If possible, his accent was heavier than Tsun’s. “Our door has stood empty since Alduin first set his soul snare here.”

Taking a step back to appraise the Dragonborn, the giant smiled slightly. “Newest of the Harbingers of the Companions, aye?” The grin left his face as his eyes became hollowed, serious. “Do not fail Kodlak. He’s earned his place here, and does not deserve to fall prey to Alduin’s insatiable hunger.”

“I won’t fail him.” Sigrid nodded her head, keeping her eyes upon him. “If I may ask...what is your name, hero?”

His laughter enveloped her, crashing like waves in her ears. “I am Ysgramor, Harbinger. Bringer of Words, First Harbinger, late refugee of my homeland of Atmora.” He bowed slightly, eyes fixed upon hers. “Welcome to Shor’s Hall. By Shor’s command, we sheathed our blades and ventured not into the vale’s dark mist. But three await your word to loose their fury upon the perilous foe.” He gestured further into the hall, where Sigrid could clearly see the three ancient Tongues waiting patiently. “Gormlaith the Fearless, glad-hearted in battle; Hakon the Valiant, heavy-handed warrior; Felldir the Old; far-seeing and grim. They await your word.”

“I, ah, will definitely be over there soon.” Sigrid stammered. Damn, but she was having a hard time reconciling the stories and songs with this jolly handsome giant.

Nodding her farewells, Sigrid made to get away, then stopped. Turning to Ysgramor once again, she cleared her throat. He tilted his head, seemingly curious. “I have a question, if I may?”

His blue eyes were warm and clear. “Speak, Harbinger.”

She took a deep breath. “The Companions...they are meant to be impartial, right? Never choosing sides in a conflict. More like judges, or arbiters of truth.”

His flaxen majesty nodded. “Aye, that’s the idea.”

Oh no. “Then, have I failed the Companions by taking an interest in current affairs?” She felt her throat bob in fear as his eyes squinted in thought. “I haven’t involved the Companions beyond using the clout of their name to receive audiences with Jarls. But, I have meddled with politics. More than I’d have liked, honestly.”

Ysgramor scratched his chin pensively. “I see nothing wrong with personal valor. As long as the Companions themselves are not forced to fight against their conscience, it will be well.”

“Go.” He ushered her away, a smile wreathing his face once more. “There are many who are eager to speak with you, now!”

And boy, were there. Olaf One-Eye, Hunroor, Ulfgar the Unending all briefly chatted with her as she walked, looking around in awe like a country yokel visiting the county fair. Jurgen Windcaller, solemn and dour, drank a cup of mead with her as she sat, fascinated by his recountings of the Battle at Red Mountain.

Another war leader, humbled by loss and grief to turn power to a force for good, she mused. Jurgen had taken the time to warn her, quietly, about time spent in Sovngarde. Particularly as a living soul. That time in Shor’s Hall did not pass as time would in a different plane.

“There are many different realms of the afterlife, Dragonborn.” His fingers picked at a grey thread on his robes. He wore the same garb as the Greybeards - ornate, navy blue and silver grey embroidered layers that reminded her somehow of Gandalf the Grey.

If Gandalf had been about forty years old and oozed sex appeal. She bit back a smile, imaging what glorious destruction a joined cult of Greybeards and Dibella could do. It bore further thought, certainly.

No more of that, or she would accomplish nothing here. She finished the mead; pure ambrosia. The best mead she had ever tasted, hands down. “Jurgen, where do those souls go that do not qualify for this Hall of Valor?”

The Greybeard creased his brow in thought. “There are many daedric realms. If one devoted a portion of their time and energy in life to a daedra, it is likely they could end up there. Many planes of existence span Mundus, Dragonborn. Realities and worlds we cannot even dream about. Who is to say until presented with the truth that this is all there is?”

Sigrid cracked a smile. “That makes sense.” Looking away as a sudden round of singing broke out, she placed her empty mug back on the table. “Do you have any advice for me?”

Dragonborn and Greybeard looked at each other, as song and battle continued, echoing in the vastness of Shor’s domain. “You are not from here. From this world.”

“No.” Restless, she scratched beneath her dragonscale armor, under her neck where sweat and blood had dried, tacky against her skin.

His eyes were calm, respectful. “Do you realize how you came to be here, in Tamriel?”

A bubble of excitement burst within her. “Oh please. Do you know anything about that? I’ve looked everywhere to find the truth.”

Continuing to study her, Jurgen pulled a volume from somewhere in his robes. “No doubt you have already visited the Time Wound that sits atop the Throat of the World.” After she nodded, he began flipping through pages, searching for something. “Ah. Here. Tiid kreh .”

“A tiid kreh , or time bend is similar to what the Time Wound is, yet altogether separate. You saw, did you, the strange ripple, the unnaturalness of the air? Even Kynareth herself shies at the wrongness of a tiid kreh. You...emerged from one, in your entrance to this world. More than that, I cannot say. That more than one exists at all is an aberration, an affront to the fabric of aetherius.” Snapping the book shut, Jurgen peered at Sigrid. “I can sense much of the unreal around you. You bend reality by merely existing here.”

“So,” her throat was dry again, damn her fears. “I was never meant to come? There is no giant Daedric plan that scooped me and...and my family from all we knew and landed us here?” Feeling a curl of anger unravel in her heart, she sucked in a breath.

“They all died for nothing.” She spat, looking away. Her chest hurt, aching as though a icicle had speared her heart.

“Dragonborn.” She felt suddenly, his hand upon hers. His deep lake blue eyes radiated compassion. “We may not know why the trials we endure are called for us to bear. But we can overcome.” Patting her hand as she sat there, tongue-tied, he stood.

“There are more here in the this hall who are eager to greet you.”

“Farewell, Jurgen the Calm. And thank you.” She clasped shoulders with the man, who smiled for the first time as she did so. “Fate drives you, Dragonborn. But you follow your own path. Choose wisely, lest you wander into evil.” She released him, already looking toward the doors, steeling herself for what was to come, when his hand grabbed her gauntlet.

“Yes?” Sigrid turned, her eyebrows raised in surprise. Were the goodbyes more elaborate here in the afterlife than a simple salute?

“Dragonborn.” Jurgen seemed to be swallowing back something; his lips pressed tightly together. Finally, he fixed his gaze on hers. “Do not give up. Not even when it seems all may be lost. Time is a great spiral, Dragonborn, and what is will ever be. It cannot be remade or undone. Only added to.” He finished with a wry twist to his smile, as she blinked in confusion.

“Uh, thanks? Is there something else to go with that? Like any actual information? Battle advice?”

Actually chuckling, he gestured for her to move along.

“Go. They’ve been waiting for you.”

Expecting to see perhaps Ragnar the Red, or maybe the three Tongues of old waiting impatiently for her to quit chit-chatting, Sigrid was completely unprepared for the group currently running towards her.

 

“Mom! Mommy, you made it!”

 

Her mind went completely blank. Heedless of her sword rattling in its sheath, or her knapsack bouncing crazily upon her back, Sigrid sprinted to meet the crowd of children, being herded by a group of adults she recognized, knew with all her heart.

 

“Oh my god ...Bryce! Mom and Dad! Sweethearts, what are you doing here?!?”

Chapter Text

Warmth. She was surrounded, held tightly by arms large and small, chubby and wrinkled. Faces she never thought she see in the flesh again, smiling before her.

 

“Sarah! Oh Sarah girl, you look like something the cat dragged in, darling!”

“None of that. She made it here. She’s with us, now.”

“Mommy! Mommy I can see you!”

 

It was hard to cry with a smile, but she managed it. Swimming through a sea of arms, she pulled out the darkest hand, which clasped her fingers in his. “Bryce!”

And suddenly, she was enveloped in a tight embrace that smelled like gun oil and Hugo Boss cologne. “Sarah, mi corazón, I thought we’d never see you again.”

Choking on her sobs, she hugged him tightly. So familiar, those arms. She rested her head against his chest as her face crumpled. Damn, ugly cry face again. But she didn’t care. God, she didn’t care at all.

“Mom, don’t be sad.” A plump little hand tugged on the furs that lined her dragonscale armor. Moving away from Bryce, who smiled sadly at her, she tore her eyes away to see Adam. The toddler’s eyes were huge and round, as he chewed on his fist. “Mommy, you’re all poky.”

She laughed, leaning over to kiss his cheeks, pecking them until the little boy giggled. “Yes, I suppose I am, in this getup.” She could see the other older boys stare at her, as they took in her barbaric apparel. Terrence took a step forward, bravely. “You look kind of badass, Mom.”

Her parents chuckled, holding hands tightly. Turning to them, she ran into their arms with a happy cry. “I’m so proud of you, my chickadee,” her father murmured softly, stroking the matted braids in her hair. She could see her mother start as she noticed her scars, the whiskey brown eyes widening as she took in all the other changes to her daughter’s appearance. “The robed gentleman was kind enough to explain how we managed to visit you, dear. But I have to say, this is all a bit of a shock.”

Sean swallowed, holding hands with Peter and Robbie as they cringed away from the Nord warriors slowly pacing the hall. “Is it true, that we’re really dead? I...don’t remember much of anything, before we went to Fiji with Abuela Ramirez.”

Raising an eyebrow at Bryce, she was rewarded with a chuckle. “Heaven,” he softly responded, his dark eyes twinkling as her jaw literally dropped.

“Seems like I’m in the wrong afterlife,” she managed to rasp out, eyes still absorbing his appearance, unharmed. She tried very hard not to remember the last time she had seen Bryce, back in the lair of the necromancer. This, this was how she wanted to remember him. Warm and alive, always surrounded by at least three boys at any given time.

“Nope, I’ve been told this is where you’re meant to be.” Her dead husband sighed. “I’ve argued plenty of times with your old friend Ysgramor over there, who is currently standing in for Shor. He pulled some strings to get us here in time, to see you.”

Pulling Lewis and Dave closer in a careful hug, the kids buried their faces in her neck as Bryce shook his head, frustrated. “I don’t know what the hell you’ve been up to, here, but it seems as though you’ve been busy. They want to keep you. Something about fending off the apocalypse, or something.”

“The world takes a stab at ending every spring. Something in the air sets it off,” she tried for jocular, a bit of Buffy, just to see him laugh. He just stared at her, grief clouding those beautiful eyes.

“Pues si, pero ni modo. I miss you so much,” he spoke quietly.

 

Feeling hot tears squeeze from her eyes, she turned away, clenching her jaw.

Some favor. This was some kind of reward? God, how sadistic were the heroes that brought them here...to show her her loved ones, seemingly alive and well only to rip them away?

“I’m so glad heaven is a tropical beach, at least.” She managed to say, laughing as the rest of her boys overcame their shyness and hugged what they could reach of her, carefully avoiding the spikes and sharp edges of her armor.

 

They sat there for a time, talking quietly. Jurgen Windcaller was right - time passed differently in the realms of the afterlife. Neither Bryce nor her parents could tell her just how long they had been ‘on vacation’. And while the adults remembered more or less clearly how they had passed on, the children seemed oblivious to the details. For which Sigrid was grateful, though she briefly pulled her teenager Sean aside to talk when he started shivering at the sight of a staff-wielding Nord mage.

Sigrid clutched each and every boy to herself, finally managing to take off her armor (with some amazed scoffs at how difficult real armor was to unlatch and unfasten) until she was clad solely in a soft tunic belted in furs. Hugging them all for real this time, she kissed them all on their cheeks. The older boys blushed and dodged her attempts to smooch them. She settled for hugging them close instead, desperately trying to hold it together, to just enjoy the moment.

Little Adam clung to Bryce, her husband picking the boy up and walking around, introducing him to the random warriors who stopped, amused to see a child in the Halls of Valor. Her parents sat close as well, her mother tentatively asking her about her scars.

She told them all. All of the ridiculous, unbelievable tale, from the beginning. And watched as her father grew silent and grim, her mother crying into her sleeve as she related her own Tale of the Dragonborn. Cast adrift, thrown into death and confusion and pain. Buoyed by friendship, first, then camaraderie as she learned how to wield Shout and blade. Love, once thought lost, then found again in sudden surprise and burgeoning trust.

 

At the end, they all sat together, silence punctuating questions and stories. Some of the boys had fallen asleep, so peacefully on the steps or dangling from benches. Did the dead really sleep, Sigrid wondered? Or did they pass on the habits of their lives into the afterlife? They seemed to eat for enjoyment, but Bryce told her that what felt like a week had passed without any need to take the kids to the bathroom; he laughed that he was enjoying the reprieve from cleaning a boy's toilet while he could.

 

“Are you Sigrid Farstrider? Harbinger and Dragonborn?”

 

She lifted her eyes, hefting the weight of a sleeping Dave who had fallen against her shoulder. A Nord couple stood before her, clad in simple homespun and fur cloaks.

The man was tall, even for a Nord, his dark hair bound in a shaved wolfstail. Blue woad streaked across his eyes, which were a dark, gleaming brown...like polished oak. The woman was beautiful in a predatory way. She reminded Sigrid suddenly of Aela, as the Nord woman shifted on her feet, edgy. A scar bisected her lower lip, her blonde hair falling artfully in a mass of beaded braids. Those eyes-

With a snap of shock, she realized she knew exactly who they were.

“I see you have noticed the resemblance.” The man chuckled, kneeling down to have a better look at her. “I am Thadrig, late of Windfell Farm. And this is my wife, Gydda.”

Gydda’s cold, silvery grey eyes focused on Sigrids. She had seen frozen lakes that looked warmer. “I have been told you know my twin boys. Farkas and Vilkas. Are they well?”

She swallowed, very aware of Bryce waiting patiently behind her, still holding Adam against his hip. “Yes….Wow. It’s wonderful to meet you. You should be proud of your sons. They have brought the Companions great honor with their deeds.”

Wondering if she dare voice a long unanswered question, Sigrid turned to Thadrig. He resembled Farkas more, she thought on further scrutiny. He had the bulk, the size and the warmth in his appraisal of her. Gydda, on the other hand was a dead ringer for the sterner son.

“May I ask something, as a favor to your boys?” Seeing them nod, she hurriedly continued before they could change their minds. “They...don’t remember much about their lives before being brought to Jorrvaskr. Farkas says they were rescued, by a Companion named Jergen.” Licking her lips, she fastened her eyes bravely on Gydda.

“What were they rescued from? Were you there, as well?”

Thadrig sighed heavily. “Our farm was on the outskirts of Falkreath, deep in the woods. We were taken by surprise at night by a clan of necromancers. Much like you, Harbinger,” his thick eyebrows lifted, a grin pulling at his mouth. She responded with a quirk of her own, reluctantly grinning at the irony.

“They practiced their foul magics on us first. We protected the twins, barely out of breechclouts, first with our fists and then with our bodies.” Gydda snarled, her brow furrowed as she remembered painful things. “...Only to find ourselves here, in Shor’s Hall for our bravery in defending our children. It doesn’t make up for it! Not for leaving them, just bairns... all alone in that cave.”

“Aye.” Sighing, he pulled his wife towards him. She rested against his arm, those ice grey eyes focused on Sigrid. “But Gydda, they are well. Grown and blooded men. We will see them, when their years are ended. We will, won’t we?” He added, almost as an afterthought.

Feeling more confident, she nodded. “They cured themselves of the beast blood. I have no doubt they will make their way to these halls of valor, Thadrig and Gydda.”

“Then, it is well.” Breaking into a smile, Sigrid noticed he was missing an eyetooth. “Many thanks, Dragonborn.”

“The three await you at your convenience. Shouldn’t keep the Tongues waiting.” Gydda added, as they walked away.

 

Sigrid and her family watched the Nords wander among the tables, greeting old friends. Carefully placing the toddler he held into her mother’s arms, Bryce motioned for her to sit further away, at an almost entirely separate table.

She swallowed. Damn. And here it was. She was about to argue with her dead husband in a Valhallan afterlife about her sexual escapades in a fantasy medieval world with a werewolf barbarian warrior.

Shit just got real.

 

Holding up a hand, he shook his head as she opened her mouth to speak. Smiling, his voice was dry as he began. “So, which one did you end up with?”

She stared at him, blank. “Wait. What?”

Bryce grabbed a sweet roll and inspected it. “Huh, that actually looks more appetizing than it did in the game. Yeah. Which of the two brothers did you end up with in Jorrvaskr?” Taking a big bite, he chewed, obviously enjoying her red faced misery if the mischief in his eyes was any indication.

“H-How do you…”

“Oh please Sarah. I’ve listened to all your rants about marriageable followers, even the ones about the lack of Altmer options. Which from what I’ve gathered is no longer an issue, thanks to those Thalmor bastards.” Swallowing the sticky treat with some effort, he reached for the ambrosia mead to wash it down. “Frankly I’m just glad you ended the Dark Brotherhood instead of joining them. I’ve heard enough Cicero-isms to last another lifetime. Let’s just ignore the craziness that all this even exists for real, in any dimension or reality or whatever. Which one?”

 

She held her breath, feeling anxiety clamp like a vise over her chest. “Hey, breathe.” Bryce cautioned, and she obeyed, feeling a small zap of familiarity, with a pang of sadness, as breathing helped ease the pain. He knew her so well.

“Er...Vilkas. We’re actually engaged to be married. Shit, that was awkward as hell to say to you. Um. That is, if I survive any of this.” She held out her amulet of Mara for him to see. Carefully studying the intricate emblem, Bryce suddenly grinned. His face lit up like the sun.

“Hah!” He crowed. “I was totally right! Ysgramor owes me a hundred septims.”

“Wait.” Oh, he was totally playing her. “You and Ysgramor have been betting on...what? My fucking love life?”

“Oh, sweetheart,” those dark eyes crinkled at the edges. He took her hand, contemplating the new scars, the bumpy knuckles that had healed poorly from being broken. “I’m dead. No!” he barked suddenly as she shifted shakily away from the table, panic making her movements jerky and uncoordinated. “I know it. You know it. I remember it all, babe.”

He reached out for her hand. She took it reluctantly, grimacing at the feather light feeling of holding hands with a spirit. Looking up, she could see his patient face was flooded with warmth, grief and...huh. Anger.

“I - I am so sorry I could not save you, or the boys from that fucking dick of a mage.” He spat darkly. “That was...quite a sore spot for me, for a long time. Sean remembers the most, with Terence and Lewis also remembering flashes of that necromancy shit before they ‘went to the light’” he used the bunny fingers expression, making her crack a grin.

“He was using a paralysis spell.” She responded quietly, her thumb rubbing gently over a sticky spot left by the sweet roll. “I actually looked into it, when I had the chance. There was nothing either of us could have done to stop him. I was…” breathing out heavily, she remembered how panicked, how confused she had been. The red ruin of the mage’s face when she had stabbed him, over and over. Her first violence in a violent world. “...lucky. So lucky Aela and Vilkas were there, to gut him. To save me.”

“Thank god they did.” A smile suddenly appeared on his face again, quick as a flash. “So why not Farkas, huh? I thought you said he was a sweetheart ,” Bryce drawled that last bit, enjoying how she squirmed.

“Yeah. He is. He’s also marrying Carlotta - you remember that fruit seller, the one with the daughter? Yes. The one Mikael was always trying to get into her pants. Apparently Farkas beat me to the punch, literally. Just another weird thing about...remembering the game. Some of the quests aren’t necessarily done by the Dragonborn.”

“And thank God for that, if I remember correctly,” Bryce sighed. Sipping at the mead, he made a face. “Ack. This stuff is thicker than Guinness.”

“You get used to it.” Seeing his grin widen as she fidgeted nervously, Sigrid decided to just get it over with. “Alright, fine. Fine! You want to know, you’re gonna know! I went months, months without a handshake, or a real hug or any kind of human contact. And then, after always being so tired after training (you were right, basic training is a bitch ) and those dreams …” She hung her head.

“Whoa, whoa. Enlightened though I may be, I’m not sure I want to hear all the gory details.” Bryce laughed fondly. She managed to return a small chuckle of her own, slumping in relief. “Just...he had better treat you right. Or else, voy a liberar la mamá grande sobre él!”

She laughed. “We get along just fine. It was...weird for a while, but now it’s mostly straightened out.”

“Glad to hear it.” As he looked suddenly away, Sigrid could see the warriors of the hall gathering near the front doors. She could make out the tow-headed form of Ysgarmor towering over most of the bodies there. “It looks as though they are waiting for you. Dragonborn. ” He rolled his eyes with a smile.

“That’s me. Kicking ass and taking names.” Standing, she sighed. Damn, she was going to have to put her armor on again. “Think you can help me with my bits and pieces? It goes much faster with some helping hands.”

He was amazed by the dragonscale armor, exclaiming over the texture, the workmanship as she showed him how to buckle and tighten the straps so that it lay snug and secure against her. Checking her remaining potions, odds and ends, Sigrid examined her sword. Seeing his interest, she handed it to him.

“One handed, huh?” Carefully, he swung her blade in an arc, the celtic scrollwork catching the light. “I would have pegged you for an archer, all sneaky.”

“Turns out I’m better at hacking things to pieces than shooting holes through them.” Sigrid laughed, scratching her scalp. God, her hair was a total mess with her braids all loose and askew. She knew she probably stank of the dusty grave and sweat.

 

But it didn’t seem to affect the way Bryce looked at her. His sunny expression held a trace of sadness. “You look so different now. And it’s not just the scars on the outside, mi corazón.” He gave her back her sword. She sheathed it with a metallic hiss.

“I...I am different. Consuming dragon souls...it’s not simple, as it was in the game. It affected me, in more ways than one.” Scratching at the peeling blood on her cheeks, she looked away. “I’m so angry, all the time now.”

“Ah. Then you and my madre would have finally gotten along, instead of that meek ‘don’t look at me’ thing you had going!” She smiled ruefully as he chuckled, shifting as the weight of her armor settled, heavy, on her shoulders.

“You can do this.” He told her, as she walked back to the family group. Nearly every boy was asleep now, and she ached to wake them up, just to hold them again. Her father was muttering something to her mother, who was staring around the hall in fascination. “You’ve always done whatever you set your mind to. Remember the garden? You turned that piece of shit graveyard for boulders into a full on vegetable garden, with just the boys for help. You can do anything.”

She laughed a little wildly. “You know, I’m not even sure I can kill Alduin. Remember how he just...dissolved? The Greybeards think that he’ll just come back, for the Nord’s version of Ragnarok. That, that this world is supposed to end and that I’m only delaying the inevitable.”

“Maybe.” His dark eyes looked right into her. “We all die someday. But you’ve still gotta try.” Walking closer to her, Bryce leaned in, close. She shivered in guilty want, turning her face away as he hugged her tightly, carefully against the scaled armor. He breathed into her ear. “...I just want you to be happy. Let yourself be happy, with him. You deserve it so much, mi amor. I will miss you, always.”

Releasing her, Bryce smiled one last time, then walked off to rejoin the kids and her parents. 

Waving her last goodbye, Sigrid stopped and stared at them, fixing them in her memory one last time. They looked...happy. Paradise was treating them right. She could picture it in her mind’s eye; the boys squishing pearly white sand into castles and moats, Bryce chasing them into the crashing ocean waves as they shrieked with joy. Her parents, drowsing in beach chairs with absurdly huge sun hats and glasses of wine.

It was a good afterlife. Fair. She’d mentally question all the ins and outs of godly punishment and Catholic liturgy later, when she had the headspace for it.

“Thank you, First of Harbingers,” she called out as she approached Ysgramor in the crowd of heroes. The giant smiled back at her. “You are welcome. Your husband would be most welcome in our halls, but he elected to remain with the children.”

“Makes sense.” Straightening her spine, she cleared her throat. “I’m ready, as I’ll ever be.”

“Good luck, Harbinger.” Ysgramor guided her to where Gormlaith, Felldir and Hakon waited impatiently by the massive doors.

 

She didn’t look back.

 

***********

 

“Ven Mul Riik!”

“Again! Shout again, once more, and his might will be broken!” Gormlaith cried out, her voice echoing sepulchrally in the vast plains of Sovngarde.

The old mage nearest to Sigrid frowned, peering out at the slowly dissipating mist. “His power crumbles...do not pause for breath!”

“Stand fast!” Hakon roared, as the World Eater glided, descending and growing larger with every beat of wings as he approached them.

It was the hairiest fight she had ever been in. Sigrid dodged and ducked gouts of dragonfire, almost freezing in panic as Alduin called down flaming boulders to rain upon the plains. The other tongues were busy dodging as well. Gormlaith slashed wildly, eagerly rushing in to strike at the joints, the underbelly of the massive dovah.

Hakon and Felldir hung back further, more cautious in their approach. Sigrid could see the hate spark in their eyes as Joor Zah Frul was shouted repeatedly, often missing Alduin as he circled the four fighters. Like the black horizon of a storm, more than anything living. He blotted out the stars.

This is what you are here for. This is what you must do! Poisoning her blade, Sigrid leapt into the fray, joining Gormlaith as the approached a downed Alduin. The massive head rumbled in fury, blue cords of light holding him pinned to the earth as his tail whipped around, nearly clipping Sigrid in the head as she lurched to the right.

“Die, foul worm!” The Nord woman laughed fearlessly, stabbing deep into the open maw. Thick blood gushed wetly, slicking their blades. Spattering them in acidic, steaming blackness.

Sigrid hacked grimly, relentlessly at whatever opening Alduin gave. Her arms were sore, she could feel the lactic acid burn in her arms and legs as she pressed on, leaving no opportunity wasted.

Each swing was torture. It was like lifting a block of cement that swung on a rope, over and over. But she persevered, mentally grateful for all those months of running laps. Lifting logs. Hauling water. Doing pushups and flutter kicks and squats, over and over. She was fit, in the prime of her life; yet still she tired.

Popping open a stamina potion, she drank quickly and almost threw up at the gamey taste, the liquid sloshing as she was forced to drop the remainder in favor of leaping away as Alduin’s wings flapped, free of the Dragonrend shout. His voice crackled in the air, rolling towards her like doom. “I have already defeated your friends once. Beyne! I do not fear them!”

“Arrogant mortal…” She grit her teeth, eyes watering as Alduin’s pumping wings blasted screaming gusts of wind towards her and the Tongues. She could see Felldir slipping back, held on his feet only by Hakon, who grabbed a fistful of his robes. Sigrid covered her eyes as the wind kicked up dust, bits of bush and zaps of electricity. She saw Gormlaith shield her eyes as well, against the storm.

“...Your pride will be humbled. Dragonborn. Those you love will be brought to ruin...dez motmahus. Inevitable.”

Kren sosaal!”  She shouted back, defiant, as Alduin gained altitude, slowly shrinking. She watched, gasping out of breath and in horror, as a rippling portal seemed to tear through the stars. Widening a black hole that seemed suck light in, rather than lead anywhere.

Felldir screamed at them to shout, only shout Dragonrend once more. But she could not. Her throat had given out minutes ago, and she knew from past experience that it would take more than a few minutes to refresh her ability to Shout.

As the warriors hovered, panicking on the ground, Alduin ascended into the portal. Like some nightmare made real, the blackness swallowed him whole.

The rip in reality closed.

 

 

“Nooo…” Hakon moaned, dropping his great axe to the grass in despair.

“What...where did he go?!?” Gormlaith cried, her eyes darting back and forth across the skies, furiously trying to detect any movement.

 

Tired. She was so tired. Sigrid flopped to the ground, also unable to tear her eyes away from the swirling nebulae of starry sky. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Shouldn’t happen.

She had no blasted idea where he’d gone.

 

...So much for foresight.

“Dragonborn!” Tsun called, as if from a great distance. She turned her head, feeling the muscles in her shoulders protest. The God of Trials loped towards them, stopping as Felldir approached him. “You must return to the mortal world. These three cannot assist you there.”

“Go, then.” Gormlaith turned to Sigrid, eyes alight with battle fury. “Avenge us all! And end the life of that foul creature!”

 

She could barely manage to speak, her throat was so dry. “Do you know where he went?”

Tsun’s eyes were bottomless pools, dark with grief. “I will send you to the Throat of the World. Paarthurnax, brother dovah, he awaits you there.”

No! That’s not what I asked, damn it! Do you even know where he went?” Sigrid demanded, forcing her screaming muscles to help her stand. Her hips cracked, a burn on her hand throbbing as she tried to focus.

“He flies for Whiterun, Dragonborn. Harbinger. The World Eater -doom driven- flies to the Sky Forge, the Hofkahsejun, Dragonsreach.”

 

No.

 Oh gods, no.

 

“Send me!” Fear electrified her, propelling her to walk jerkily over to where Tsun stood, impassive and eternal. “Shout me back! I have to stop him! Please!”

“He is far too mighty a foe for you, Dragonborn. You cannot go alone!” Felldir cautioned, concerned.

 

No time. No chance.

“Please, Tsun.” She begged him, panic shortening her breaths into a harsh pant. “Send me back. I have to try! Oh god, please!”

Seconds passed, but it felt like an eon as Tsun looked at her, silently. “Return then, to Nirn. Fight your foe. But know that I send you to your doom, Dragonborn.”

Hopping from foot to foot, Sigrid ignored the burns and aches as she waited, eyes wide, for Tsun as he slowly approached her. She could see his chest ripple as he drew in a deep breath, then…

“Nahl Daal Vus!”

 

Oh, it burned. A shivering ache enveloped her, as the Shout rocked her from her feet and she saw stars, as the shivering became electricity snapping, sparking through her, lighting every nerve until it burned. Burned and cooled, till there was only numbness. Was this what it was like to die? Or be born? Even her thoughts were sucked away, as her senses left her.

 

Pretty stars, swirling in a night that suddenly became white as midday.

 

Nothing but white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sigrid woke up almost completely numb from her shoulders down, laying on the snow of the summit. Dimly, she could hear a dovah’s labored breathing, and she shifted her eyes to see Paarthurnax, waiting for her to awaken and rise.

Everything hurt. Her neck hurt, where she lifted her head, slowly ripping away strands of hair that had become frozen against the snow. Her shoulders throbbed in agony. Biceps, triceps, all those labeled parts of her anatomy felt bruised somehow. A sharp stab ripped through her as she curled up to a seated position. Wincing, Sigrid shoved her numb fingers through the gaps in her armor.

Well, shit. It felt like she had a couple of broken ribs. On top of that, the burn on her hand was leaking a clear, reddish liquid. No time to attend to that.

Wobbling, Sigrid leaned forward and executed the most painful rising squat of her life. “Aaargghh!” She yelled, tears springing from her eyes as she clenched her teeth against the prickling, insistent waves of pain, pounding over and over through her head, her limbs as she stood there struggling to breath through it.

 

Aaz Hah So, Dovahkiin. Alduin soars towards Whiterun, now. You will not catch him in time.”

 

She looked up, blinking against the stark whiteness of snow at Paarthurnax. “How the hell do you know that? What makes you think I can’t stop him?!?”

Ro laan. You have cleared Alduin’s nest at Skuldafn. Vomindok. He must have returned another way. I can sense him…” the dovah’s neck lifted, rheumy eyes searching the distant horizon. “...Vahzah. He flies south, from what you joore call the settlement of Dawnstar.”

“You cannot hope to stop him in time, Dovahkiin.”

 

“Fuck that! Faaz nah, there must be a way to reach Alduin! You must know a way! I will end him! It is the only fucking reason I’m even here!”

She knew she was stomping and swearing like a teenager, but...but after all of this. All this hell, to be confronted by the reality of travel. It was weeks by foot to reach Whiterun, especially through the new fallen snow.

She wouldn’t make it. Her friends, her family were going to die.

 

With despair, she remembered Helgen. What was left of it anyway, smoking orange and reeking of death as she had stolen away Hadvar and Ralof with Aela’s help. Bodies crouched, sprawled and burned to ash. It seemed an eternity ago.

Was that Whiterun’s fate? Was all the labor, the studying and the fighting useless here, at the end?

No. No!

There had to be a way.

 

 

“Paarthurnax, fly me.” She begged, turning to her master, her mentor. She ignored the ragged holes in his wings, weeping pus oozed from the scarring marks where Alduin’s teeth had gnashed his past brother in arms. “Take me there on your back! Please!”

Turning away as the dovah remained silent, she inhaled deeply and bellowed, “Odahviing!”

“Odahviing! Fen hi aak, Odahviing?!?”

“...Ni tiid, Dovahkiin. Your friend cannot hear you. He has traveled far, to Lok Vild, High Rock.”

The aged dragon tilted his head. She could sense the compassion wafting from him. Fuck that.

 

“Paarthurnax, if I don’t stop him now, I will regret it forever!” She cried out, using all the power, all the influence her untrained, weak mortal voice wielded. God, let this work, let him help me, I can’t see Whiterun become Helgen, no no no… ”There must be something you can do!”

Minutes passed by, with only Paarthurnax’s heavy breathing for Sigrid to focus on. The wind keened, high and shrill against the craggy peak. It whipped her hair into her face, as she blinked against the sudden flurry of snowflakes that now coated her eyelashes and brows.

 

“There is...one way.” The words seemed to drag, as though forced from the dovah’s throat.

“Anything!” Hope flared brightly in her heart.

 

Paarthurnax sighed, a hot gust of brimstone scented air engulfing her as she crept ever closer to him. “Krosis. There is a Thu’um, lost to the past that is still known to me. It would place you in grave danger, Dovahkiin.”

Like she wasn’t already knee deep in that. “How can it help me?”

Stretching, Paarthurnax opened his wings, fully spreading them into a crescent arc. He looked massive, dangerous, and suddenly Sigrid remembered how Delphine had told her; told her long ago about all the deaths on the old dragon’s head. The blood sacrifices, massacres of innocents. Burial mounds wreathed in bones. Shivering, but not with cold, she took a step back.

“You have the dovah sos, the dragon blood. I can turn your joor buld, your mortal form into that of a dovah. But it takes its price, Dovahkiin.”

“Do it, then!” She spat, defiantly lifting her chin as Paarthurnax narrowed his eyes at her, fangs revealed as his scaly lip curled.

Don’t think about it, definitely don’t think about it, just kick Alduin’s ass, don’t think about it... she mentally chanted, rigid with fear as Paarthurnax growled deep, a bass grumble that shook the bones of the mountain beneath her.

“You are doom driven. Mal briinah, your temper exceeds your wisdom. But I will heed your request.”

 

Unable to shut her eyes, she stared bravely at her old mentor as the growling rumble reached a terrifying crescendo of sound.

 

"SIF RIN NOK!”

 

His Thu’um echoed against the mountain peak, crashing like thunder in her ears as suddenly her entire body seized.

 

And god, she was burning.

 ...burningburnburned on fire with a pain she had never before experienced. Never.

 

Sanyon, and his Altmer torturers? It was a soothing bath in gentle rainwater, compared to this.

Only the burning, as she was broken, screams ripping from her throat as the flesh of her fingers split, dragonscale armor burst and shedding to reveal new, brighter scales coated in the slop of violent birth.

Her voice grew raw, rougher and rasping as her very vocal chords changed, lengthening as her neck stretched. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope as her vision shifted, cracking as the viscous jelly of her eye burst, regrowing in a scalding rush. She could feel the diamond points of talons burst from her fingers and toes, the ache in her gums as needle sharp teeth sprouted from the spaces that blunted human molars had occupied, pattering into the snow, humanity lost.

Lost. Lost and found. Writhing in her new armored hide, Sigrid coughed, choked on a roar that could have been a Thu’um, that could have ripped the mountain down around them.

Everything was so beautiful. She paused, the afterpains and aches almost forgotten as she looked around, stunned.

Snowflakes. Each one was a perfect crystalline web, delicate and pure and perfect. Every snow covered rock in Kynareth’s realm, the grey veined skies rumbling in thundering storms, all of it.

So beautiful, and she could suddenly see , in a way her mortal form never could, the fragile chain of cause and effect, as the mountain snows melted in her mind to form gushing streams. Streams that cascaded into waterfalls that wore away the rock, forming rivers. Rivers that fed the trees, the towns, washed away villages. Snow turned to water, turned to ice in a glorious never ending spiral of life that -

-It was too much, and she cough-roared in agony, as the acid-sting of dovah thoughts slowly flamed out the dimming embers of her human mind. Forgotten.

“And so you are reborn, truly. Sonahsod . You must fly, fly to face Alduin, mal briinah. Remember the cause for your sacrifice.” The Elder Brother flapped his wings, taking flight as she tasted the air with a newly sensitive tongue. Following his lead, she gave her wings an experimental flap. The raw, ripping power almost bowled her over, and she staggered clumsily in the snow.

Righting herself, she looked up again to see Paarthurnax waiting patiently for her. She tried again.

Oh, and it was glorious, the soaring flight of freedom. The muscles and tendons that fueled her flight were strange, the feel of pulling and pumping wings foreign to her, and a niggling feeling in the back of her hindbrain howled that no, this was wrong, this was all wrong but how could it be, when she was heading out to do right?

 

She followed Paarthurnax to the grey horizon, chased by the golden fingers of dawn behind her.

 

*********

They saw Alduin, a black blot in the distance, flying over a giant’s camp north of Dragonsreach at sunrise.

 

Paarthurnax bellowed a challenge. She (motmahus, was she Sigrid anymore? Or was she reborn as what...Paarthurnax had called her. Sonahsod?) trumpeted along with her teacher, feeling the wind dry her fangs as she hissed her fury.

Alduin was twice her size. Light seemed to soak into his scaly body, instead of reflecting properly off the hardened skin. The ruby eyes widened in shock, and opening a maw filled with bloodstained teeth, the Firstborn laughed, long and hard.

“Dovahkiin! Hin yun buld genun hin miizun do dovah!” That horrible laugh resounded, bouncing from air currents as she tilted, flying around the evil echo of his Thu’um as she screamed, too angry for words.

“Alduin! Vonmindoraan. This is not the way!” Paarthurnax dipped, wings flapping to hold him steady as the old one breathed heavily, pain clear in his dulled eyes.

Nid, zeymah. It is the only way.” She could see the minute expressions of scorn and rage stamped on Alduin’s features, so obvious. Had she ever had trouble discerning the expressions of the dov, before?

-painpainpain as Alduin roared a torrent of flames, fire that burned, singing her tender belly and clawpads. She wheeled, dipping out of range as Alduin heaved with rapid pulls of those night black wings away, further and closer south. To the place of the Hofkahsejun , Whiterun, her joore self reminded her.

She followed, beating against the twisting, pulling air currents to gain all speed. She was swift and newborn, her giant heart pounding like a drum. Sonahsod would overtake him and end him, by claw or shout. Paarthurnax followed, farther behind, as she pursued the World Eater. Her teeth to his neck , for all the pain and wailing fury she felt, with both her souls.

Dovah, Dovahkiin. Dragon, mortal.

Sonahsod was Sigrid who had been Sarah.

With every flap of her wings, she soared closer to the end of it all.

Dinok bo fah hi, Lein Naakin. Alduin!

 

******

 

Farkas was drilling the newbloods when the two dragons suddenly appeared, fighting over Dragonsreach.

 

Squinting against the rising light of midday, he shielded his eyes. Whispers, moans and shrieks surrounded him, as the whelps nervously milled around, waving their practice weapons in futile posturing.

No one, not even an archer could reach whatever was going on up there. They were way too damn high. He could barely make out their movements as they fought, thunder claps of Shouting reaching his ears as they wheeled and dove, clawing and biting in the air.

The big fucker was black, pitch black and monstrous. Black spines stood straight up all along the humped ridge of its back, sticking out of its wings. He was slowly, steadily wearing the other down by sheer strength.

But the smaller, golden one was holding its own for now; matching in fury and speed what it couldn’t make up for in size. Piercing screams punctuated the battle; the metallic gold snout ran red with blood from bleeding slashes and successful hits.

It was only a matter of time, though, before the little one tired. And, Farkas decided, as he watched the golden dragon snap and spin, herding the black one away from the gates of Whiterun, that she would need some help. Why a dragon would protect a town, he had no idea. Didn’t seem typical. But he wouldn’t question any help that brought the dark thing down.

“Companions! Follow me!” He roared, dragging the sniveling whelps that hadn’t wet themselves into Jorrvaskr. He found Njada, Athis and Vilkas eating their lunch spread. They stopped speaking as he rushed in, followed closely by the newbloods who poured into the hall, babbling nervously amongst themselves.

Clearer heads would prevail. He turned to his brother. “Dragons, overhead. One of them needs our help.”

“One of wh-?” His brother bit off the question, shaking his head. “Never mind. Archers! Do we have any who are training to be archers?”

Three hands were raised timidly in the air.

The arms master nodded, harshness stamping his features. “Good, because I’m shitty with a bow. Follow me, newbloods. Athis! Njada! Come on, we’ll need backup.” They grabbed extra quivers of arrows and every type of bow Jorrvaskr supplied, on the way out.

As they ran to the stairs that led to Dragonsreach, Vilkas turned to Farkas. “Is the dragon you saw, the one we are helping...is he old with torn wings and missing scales? I’ve met him before. Don’t want any friendly fire.”

“No.” Huffing as they rapidly mounted the steps, Farkas peered up at the sky. The dragons were no longer visible, but the thunderous booming of their voices still echoed around them. “Looks like the big black one is trying hard to reach Whiterun. I don’t want to know what he’s gonna do if he gets past the golden dragon, so we should help her.”

“Her?”

“...May not be able to see much, but the differences were fairly obvious, brother.”

 

They hurried past the townsfolk who were also struggling to see, to reach the shelter of Dragonsreach, to gawk at the dragons who suddenly reappeared. Farkas winced as the black one roared, sinking his claws into the golden dovah and hurling her bodily at the castle.

Thwwoomm! The impact shuddered the stairs as open mouthed, the Companions saw pieces of Dragonsreach crumble, shedding pieces of stone and wood off of the small drake as she managed to free herself, trumpeting shrilly and screaming in that raspy dragon speech.

Times like this, Farkas wished Sigrid was here, to tell him what the hell was going on. She always had such good explanations for weird shit.

“No time to stop and stare! Come on!”

Farkas felt himself being pulled as Vilkas grabbed his elbow and tore into the keep. It was even more smoky and crowded inside; children crying in fear as mothers shushed them. Faces turned as the Companions pushed their way towards the porch, expressions of relief and indignation trailing behind their passage.

“Hurry! You can reach them if you get to the balcony!”

“For Ysgramor! For the glory of the five hundred!”

“What took you so long? They’re going to destroy the castle!”

That last remark was fired off by Dagny, Jarl Balgruuf’s spoiled spawn as her uncle Hrongar lifted her bodily, shrieking away as the ruling family was ushered into the safehouse deep in the bowels of the keep. “Come on!” One of the soldiers cried out, fear safely hidden behind the anonymity of his helmet. “We can take you there!”

And in the space of a few breaths the sky opened above them, as they ran along the wide deep porch that had housed that red dragon, Odahviing. The one that had taken Sigrid far away.

“To arms!” Farkas called, reminding the whelps of their duty as they started, shaking themselves from their shock and starting to knock arrows to bows. He took a bow for himself as well. Though it felt light and clumsy in his hands, he had undertaken basic training in this. He would help.

Another crash. The Companions stumbled, as the castle shook beneath the impact of unseen bodies. Then suddenly, there they were. A giant cracking groan came from the ceiling, as black spikes suddenly thudded straight through the roof, ripping all the way down in a blur of black and gold as the dovah reappeared on the porch, fighting tooth and claw for the upper hand.

“Aim for the underbelly! Straight for the heart!” Vilkas yelled, as the assembled fighters pulled back on their bowstrings. Taking careful aim himself, Farkas waited for a good opening.

It was hard. They were almost indistinguishable from one another, the two grappling drakes. A black plated tail pounded against one of the supporting stone pillars, causing an ominous crack. “Watch out!” Athis cried, as a shower of dust rained upon their heads.

It was no good. The ceiling popped and groaned, leaning, as the pillar that had taken a hit slowly crumbled. Whiterun soldiers dodged the falling rocks, one screaming as a stone the size of a wagon crushed the unfortunate man. With a high yelp, the golden dragon was flung off the porch, the black one rolling to its claws, shaking the massive muzzle as blood spattered the stone floor.

Farkas had never seen such evil, blazing out of those red eyes. Dropping the bow, he unsheathed his warblade in a swift firm stroke, and noticed that the others had done the same. “If it yells anything like ‘Yol’, get out of the way!” His brother screamed, readying himself in a fighting stance as the beast purred, slowly edging his way closer. Stalking them.

That jagged black mouth seemed to curl in a wicked facsimile of a grin. Smoke billowed from its nostrils as teeth suddenly flashed, the red gullet open and waiting. With a yell, the new blood archers released their arrows, twanging hopelessly against the scaled hide. One arrow stuck in the pinkish flesh of the drake’s inner cheek, as it coughed out a gusting blast of wind that rocked the keep, blowing everyone off their feet. Some soldiers were not so lucky, and Farkas heard screams as three soldiers overbalanced, falling off the jagged edges of the porch to their deaths.

He could feel the tightly coiled tension in his Shield brothers and sister, as they cautiously approached the evil beast. What a glorious battle to talk about in their hall, if any of them lived, Farkas thought in bloodthirsty merriment, until the black neck snapped forward with blinding speed, striking at his brother…

...who had already raised his sword in a crossbar defense move, which probably saved his life. Daggered teeth snapped, crushing against Vilkas’s arms, bending the steel of his sword as Vilkas fought for his life, slowly bending lower, his knee smashing against the ground as he strained against the head of the dragon striving to eat him.

Superheated breath jetted from the monster’s nose and mouth, smelling of carrion and decay. It blew back Farkas’s hair from his face as he snarled angrily, raising his sword and with one fluid stroke, he sliced off one of the curved horns and an ear. “Take that, you fucking worm!”

The distraction worked. Red eyes rolled in pain as the dragon bellowed, dragging its head away from Farkas’s blade as Vilkas stumbled backwards, a hand clamping down upon his left shoulder which was spurting blood.

“Fall back!” Farkas shot at him, taking point among the remaining warriors as a rumbling snarl announced what was probably going to be another attack, when -

-damn, she was fast. More like a wind shear crafted in gold than an animal, the golden dovah bore down on the black one, her talons sinking into its spine as she shrieked shrilly, triumphant. Teeth snapped, as the black head snaked back, trying to reach the one currently ripping chunks of flesh and scale off of its back.

And amidst all the chaos, screams and dust, Farkas could just make out what the golden one was shouting…” Brit gah, Alduin. The only end here is your own! My teeth to your neck!”

...and it made good on its threat, as shining white fangs sank, tearing into the shadowed length of throat. Blood poured out, drenching her golden scales in sticky spurts as the she-dragon worried a large mouthful of meat from the hide of her prey. Tearing it off, she spit it out against the wall, where it bounced to land near Athis’s feet in a viscous splat. “Eww,” Njada crept behind Athis, pulling him away as the gold one continued her attack, mindless of her observers.

Kren sosaal, Dovahkiin!” The words gusting from that bloody black maw were almost palpable with rage. Farkas shivered, retreating as he ushered the quaking new bloods further into the keep. His brother’s grey eyes were so wide, he could see the white all around the edges. “Get inside, fool!” he muttered harshly, dragging Vilkas further to safety, as he seemed frozen in place, staring at the golden dovah.

Black scales rattled, as the black dragon opened its jaws, jerking against his attacker. “You believe you have won, Dovahkiin. But I know best! Tiid bo amativ... you think this is our first battle? Nid . I will come for you and all you treasure!”

And with a roll of flashing eye and claw, the black one turned on her, turned and screamed words that tore light itself apart, as they both shimmered, the keep shuddering and rocking deep in its foundations at the strength of the Thu’um.

 

“TIID...LUN...WUUULD…”

 

The rest of the pillars holding up the porch of Dragonsreach finally toppled with the stress, quaking as massive stones crumbled and dropped, tearing holes in the floor. Farkas heard screaming behind him, as he bodily heaved his brother and the other Companions through the door, yelling at the panicking bodies to give way as they escaped the collapse.

The rumbling, groaning fall seemed to last an eon, as smoke and dust made him cough. He curled protectively around his brother, who was pale from loss of blood, still shocked at something he had seen, out there in the battle. Though what was more surprising than a dragon duel, Farkas couldn’t guess. “You alright?” He hollered over the screams and wails of the people crammed against them.

“No,” he could see Vilkas’s mouth move, rather than hear him. Bloody fuck, he needed potions and healing, now. Wrapping his brother’s good arm around his shoulders, Farkas was pushing his way through the mass of unwashed bodies as suddenly the rumbling ended.

Athis, always so curious, walked through the hastily opened gap in the bodies as he made his way to what remained of the porch. Peering into the dusty air, he turned back with a cough. “Nothing is here! They’re gone!”

“Gone?” Njada wiped at her red-rimmed eyes, smearing dust against her face. “Beasts that big don’t just disappear. They should be there, underneath the stone. No way they could have escaped.”

“Could have flown off. Or fallen off.” Farkas tried to see past the haze that hung in the air. His brother groaned, falling to the floor as Farkas tried to catch him, calling out for Danica Pure-Spring, or Farengar. Any healer, really, he yelled over and over as his brother went into a dead faint. Blood was still pumping sluggishly from the deep wound in his arm, and Farkas realized with horror that there were similar, dagger like strikes all over his brother’s torso and left leg.

Oh fuck , those were tooth marks, from where the black beast had nearly bitten him through. Blood dripped from his brother’s armor, even trickled slowly from his left ear as his eyes became unfocused, blank and unseeing as Farkas waved a hand in front of his face. Damn this was bad.

“Healer! I need a healer for a downed Companion, now!”

Chapter Text

The phone rang, an insistent brriiiiiinggg, brriiiinggg.

Almost tossing it to ground in his effort to answer, Bryce yawned wearily as he punched in his passcode and croaked, “Hello?”

The clock gleamed a cold digital red. 4:32 am.

“Bryce? You there?”

“M’here,” Scratching his hair, Bryce mentally swore as he heard light footfalls padding down the hallway. God damn it, he had just gotten Adam to sleep again. The boy had been waking at regular intervals, crying for Sarah. She had left earlier that night on a call. Some kids had been lost while on a hunting trip in Wyoming, and she was on duty for the next couple of weeks, to free up her schedule for their planned trip to Yellowstone.

“Oh good, you’re up. Listen, I wanted you to hear it from us first.”

Sarah had kissed him goodbye, leaving in the spare pickup truck to meet up with her team at the firestation. That was hours ago, and he was on kid-watching duty. Balancing the babysitting between himself and the older boys was always rough; but her service in the Pennington County Search and Rescue was infrequent enough that he didn’t mind. She loved the outdoors, and being able to use what skills she had to break the monotony of chores and childcare made her happy.

When she was happy, the entire household benefited. Especially Bryce.

Except when calls related to her volunteer work came at inconvenient hours. Very, very inconvenient hours. “What’s up?” He recognized the voice as that of Spud, Sarah’s supervisor. He was from Idaho, and Bryce thought his real name was something like Aaron...Alex? After the long rant he gave extolling the virtues of potatoes during a fourth of July barbecue, everyone just called him Spud.

“Uh, do you have the kids with you?”

“Yes, of course.” Bryce felt something crawl on the bed, and lifted the blankets to let Adam cuddle in close next to him. “Great. Can you bring them to St. John’s in Jackson?”

“Jackson, as in Jackson Hole, Wyoming?” That woke him up. “Why?”

“She’s being treated there.”

“What the fu-” Swallowing his shock, Bryce looked at Adam, who was staring back innocently, thumb in mouth. Clearing his throat, he got out of bed, switching the cell phone to his other ear.

“That is eight and a half hours from our place, Spud. You know that.¡Mira qué cabrón!”

Even over the line, Spud’s voice sounded sad. “It would be better to show you, buddy.”

 

***********

 

Bryce was glad he had kept the kids in the waiting room as he stared in frozen shock at what they told him was his wife, lying there on the hospital bed.

“She’s been on a steady drip of Thorazine ever since we found her. No idea how she got all the way this far in the park, especially since her team members swear she was with them, all the way. Until she wasn’t. Then they freaked out and called it in.”

His feet moved, almost without thought as he stepped closer to the bed. Scars criss-crossed her arms, face and what he could see of her neck and legs. Some looked more like burns, or welts. Others had that sliced look that Bryce was familiar with, after close quarters combat training. Some guys got macho, and tried training with live steel. That never ended well. Though what those scars, well healed and definitely not present yesterday were doing on his wife, he didn’t know.

What the hell had happened , he thought with a creeping, sick feeling as he looked Sarah over. Her hair had grown about a foot, and he thought he could see some braids snarled in the thick matted mess, beneath the oxygen mask. Not like Sarah at all. She was almost prissy about her hair.

And her skin; it had been sunburned, then tanned, then burned again judging by the millions of freckles that had suddenly popped out. And she had lost weight, almost too much weight. The roundness of new muscle in her legs and arms couldn’t make up for the fact that she looked sick . On top of all that, the bleeding gashes and tears in her arms and neck had been bandaged. She looked like the Michelin man, all white and puffed in gauze.

Taking in an unsteady breath, Bryce turned to Spud, who had waited respectfully by the door. “What the hell happened, man? Why was she so far away? And who found her?”

Spud looked at Sarah with obvious discomfort. “I don’t know any more than what the rangers told us. Some of their guys were driving down the road that leads to Fairy Falls, preparing to clear the path for all the spring park goers, when they saw her bolt out in front of the car like a fucking deer.”

“...Naked.” Spud added, as Bryce looked at him incredulously. “Oh, and screaming the weirdest shit. Something about dragons and the end of the world.”

Pinching his nose between his fingers, Bryce sighed. “This...doesn’t sound like Sarah.”

“Nope.” Spud popped the ‘p’, still checking her out as the heart monitor beeped quietly in the background. “They had to dope her up good just to get her in here. She was fighting like she was hopped up on meth or something. Biting and shit. She almost clawed out one of the ranger’s eyes. Hell, they weren’t happy when they checked fingerprints and found she was one of ours.”

“This is fucking crazy.” Bryce rubbed his eyes. Maybe if he rubbed harder, this...thing would go away and the woman he had married, the mother of his sons, would return.

He knew. He knew those scars, that skin hadn’t been there yesterday. They had made love, hidden in the bathroom from the kids just after lunch. She had balanced sitting on the sink, giggling as he tried not to topple backwards as they did their damndest to make each other come. Her skin had been pale and unblemished, her face unmarked.

What the hell was going on?!?

 

************

Beep.Beep.Beep.Beep.

 

In, out. In, out.

 

She breathed. Slowly, she awakened.

 

Slowly, she became aware.

 

Beebeepbeepbeep... that stupid beeping sound became faster, more shrill as she gasped, couldn’t breath as she tore off the thing keeping her from taking a proper breath.

 

Her limbs felt sluggish, her head stupid and slow as she looked around, not really believing what she saw.

A hospital room. Sterile, bland pale curtains with cheap plywood furniture. A television had been turned on the news, and she stared in numb shock, as a perky coiffed woman announced that it was going to be a high of sixty eight degrees, and wasn’t it nice, to have a sunny spring day?

She had left a place that was easing into the cold sleep of winter.

What in Shor’s name was going on, here?

As workers dressed in scrubs rushed towards her, Sigrid slowly shed the tubes, the plastic and wires that had been taped to her chest, her limbs. Blood spurted as she dug out the I.V. that had been taped to her arm with a grimace. Groaning as she got up out of the bed, she willed herself to fight the lethargy that clogged her thoughts. It was important; she knew, important to remember what she had been doing.

Dragonsreach. Alduin. Vilkas .

Vilkas, caught in the jaws of the World Eater, frantically trying to get free.

The damned beeping finally stopped as she shook free of her tethers with relish. Someone grabbed her arms, and she idly shook them off, annoyed. She had to leave, had to get out of here.

Whatever it was that Alduin had shouted, it had taken her...them, to a black pit with a waterfall that poured into a yawning chasm. It was so shrouded, her mind was muzzy with whatever they had given her in that I.V., but she remembered.

Oh yes. They had both emerged naked from the rip in time, their tiny joore bodies struggling with soft fleshy limbs and clawless talons to kill, to shred as they had before. She remembered the wild rage in his queer golden eyes, framed in harsh black brows, and had a moment to laugh at the fact that Alduin, World Eater, looked quite a bit like a young Tommy Lee Jones. Before Alduin had shuttled them from Nirn. Before…

“Another ten cc’s of benz, now!”

“I can’t...hold her down!”

Idly, she swiped them off once more, lurching around the room as her hospital gown came off, untied as it was. Sigrid had been liberally wrapped in bandage gauze like a mummy, and as she mindlessly tore off the constricting things her wounds began bleeding anew.

Yelling. Loud beeps, a crackling voice that sounded tinny, as though it came through something metal. Sigrid felt a prick in her neck that sent her blinking, falling into a grey numbness that stole the very power from her limbs.

As she fell, cushioned by the bodies of the nurses who had injected her, Sigrid could see sideways into the hallway, filled with harsh, fluorescent light. She smelled the stink of ammonia cleaner on the floor. How repugnant, to clean with something that smelled like piss in the first place.

She giggled, saliva oozing from the corner of her mouth as everything went blessedly dark.

 

******

“Mommy isn’t talking today.”

Sigrid rocked in her chair, holding Adam as he clutched his stuffed Hiccup dragon and sucked his thumb. He was too old for either; Bryce was talking about taking away the toy dragon if he couldn’t stop using his thumb as a pacifier, but she let him anyway. Treasured the moments, rare and peaceful, that she had left.

She couldn’t, didn’t dare to speak. She wasn’t sure if her dragon form had an expiration date, or if it was ripped from her bones by merely arriving in this world, but Shouting seemed like a bad idea. Her kids wouldn’t talk to her, even if she chanced it. Dave, Peter and Terence kept their distance at all times after that night she had screamed awake, running naked into the front yard with a meat cleaver until Bryce had caught her. Had talked her into coming inside, making soothing sounds as she stood shaking, the cold spring air hardly registering as cold.

They feared her. And Bryce…

She shivered, tucking the blanket more snugly around them both. The little boy made a soft noise, his eyes fixed upon his Hiccup toy.

Bryce was like a stranger.

To be fair, she was a stranger too. All that she had gone through, had endured, just to end up in the past. In a present than no longer was real, to her.

All that she was, all that she had been was focused upon finding him.

Finding Alduin.

The World Eater had been set loose in her world. She had seen him, briefly, before he had broken free and run off, out of the cave.

The rough stones had been cold, but she ignored it as she sprinted across the trail, into the steaming fissured hills and plains that looked like Eastmarch, yet decidedly were not. He was in there, somewhere hiding in the trees, naked as she was.

Until he wasn’t. Sigrid bared her teeth, holding Adam even tighter until the toddler whimpered. She loosed him, patting the baby-fine down of his hair.

She had enjoyed it, enjoying clawing Alduin’s human face with her weak human fingers. He was missing an ear, the stump oozing blood still as he fought with her. Wearing a hastily buttoned park ranger uniform, no less.

She hoped they had found the body he had stolen it from, for the family’s sake.

“Well, if Mommy won’t talk, maybe she will listen.”

Sigrid startled as Bryce sat down across from her on the porch. Deep furrows creased his forehead, between his brows. New wrinkles, all thanks to her, she thought viciously. Fine silver hairs ghosted the sides of his head, standing out against the darkness of his hair. Were those there before?

So much had changed.

Better, if she had never returned. Better if her last memories had been of him in Sovngarde, speaking of his trust in her, of heaven.

She was in hell, now.

“We’re still heading out to Yellowstone, tomorrow.” Her husband was carefully calm, watching her for sudden movements. He treated her like a threat, ever since the midnight screaming incident. And the coffee (she had drunk two pots of joe and he had found her at one am, sitting outside watching the moon rise). And the destruction of the Xbox One.

Now, that had been a mind bender. After a few weeks of her wandering aimlessly around the house, touching all the modern things, Bryce had led her to the family room and sat her on the stuffed armchair. “Here, honey. Why don’t you play something to get your mind off...whatever it is you don’t want to talk about? Maybe we can talk later.”

-and had stared blankly, stunned as the diamond shaped dragon logo ( Imperial , something whispered inside) flared up on the big screen, followed by the gutteral chanting music that sang praises to the Dovahkiin.

When the flat graphics of Jorrvaskr had appeared after a lengthy wait cycle, with Farkas and Vilkas and Aela standing around (so stiffly, they never just stood there like that) she had thrown it. Thrown the controller at the television screen hard enough to break it, to the deafening shouts of all the traumatized children present. She had buried her head in her hands as Bryce stood frozen in shock, the boys screaming about the loss of their shows.

Bryce no longer tried to engage her. Never touched her, if he could help it. Now their interactions were cautious, practical. He silently assisted her as she robotically cleaned, cooked, and made sure the boys had fresh clothing and homework and school lunches. She had been smearing peanut butter onto slices of bland bread one day, not really thinking about anything, when Bryce had grabbed her left hand. Had grabbed it and held it closer, to better see the missing fingernails that had been torn off and healed, long ago.

He had escaped to the garage, where he had taken an axe to the busted remains of the TV. Over and over, until there were only plastic splinters. She had silently doctored his blistered, shaking hands with bactaid and Snoopy bandages, hardly daring to look him in the eye.

No. She couldn’t tell him. He already thought she was crazy; that something awful...well, more awful had happened to her somewhere between the time she had left on her search and rescue call and the national park.

Something had happened. But, it had happened in a cave in a another place. When a necromancer had calmly, clinically slitted the throats of eight boys and one man with his knife, saving her for last.

Saving her to watch.

That was pretty fucking traumatizing all in itself, but she couldn’t talk to him about it.

She slept fitfully; always rolled into her blankets away from him. That way, she had to unwind herself from the blankets as she awakened, shaking, from the nightmares. It stopped her from bolting mindlessly, waking up the kids and scaring her husband. She wouldn’t scare her family like that again.

 

The worst was the drugs.

 

Gently, but firmly, Bryce gave her a shot every single morning. Five milliliters of thorazine. An antipsychotic, hah. She thought of Cicero and his eerie giggle every day, wondering what prescription the sweet-faced psychiatrist would have prescribed him as Bryce rolled up her sleeve and clenched his jaw, administering the crazy-juice to his nutjob wife.

It blunted her thoughts with a sort of filmy blanket, until she couldn’t properly feel or think. She wandered her own home like a mindless drone, forgetful and numb. It helped to do simple tasks, to hold Adam (who had warmed up to her the fastest out of all the kids, and insisted on tracing the scars of her arms with pudgy fingers) as she rocked, absently looking out on the porch. Taking in the view.

Their old rambler was nestled in the Black Hills, in a community not big enough to justify a name. Just a few folk lived out here, far enough away that it was inconvenient to get gas but peacefully quiet. So quiet at night, that she could hear the wind groaning against the grass. Creeping past the eaves, into the chimney. She could almost imagine it was the whisper of wind against a carved timber wall, a wall that became the upturned hull of an ancient boat...

If only she could float away. Like the downy cattail fluff Peter had strewn all over the kitchen floor one day, claiming he was making a soft carpet for her to step on.

A week before the trip to Yellowstone was scheduled, Bryce had taken her to the doctor’s office one last time. What a good girl, she thought sardonically, as the doctor approved her to take pills instead of intravenous shots and asked her - yet again - if she didn’t remember how she had ended up naked, in Fairy Falls.

Oh, she knew.  And yet there was that shining silver lining, gleaming just ahead of her cloudy day.

Yellowstone. Yellowstone was a National Park. Parks had rangers.

Alduin was posing as a park ranger.

Sigrid seriously doubted the dragon overlord was savvy enough to disappear in her world. Her world was scary. She had spent an hour, flicking the light switch on and off, almost gasping each time at the ease , the luxury of light whenever she wanted it. They were so spoiled here. The supermarket had been an awkward experience, as Sean had almost pulled her along by the hand, blushing at the stares other shoppers fixed on her, with her scarred body and manky hair as she gaped at the aisles of food. Mountains of it. More food than anyone could eat, all for the taking with a swipe of plastic.

All those computers, the blaring music, lights and cars…

The Firstborn of Akatosh would be lucky to not be admitted to a mental asylum, himself.

Unless he was as clever as he had proven himself to be.

When Bryce gave her a cup of water and her pill, he always stayed to watch her swallow, to ensure the pill had been taken. She swallowed the water, but hid the pill beneath her tongue. She spit it out later, hid it in the flush of her waste (another miraculous modern invention). 

Soon. She would need all the mental faculty she possessed, to find and slay Alduin. She had secretly packed a to-go bag, filled with beef jerky, matches, bottled water, dried fruit and a machete the length of her arm. Had hidden it, in the crawlspace of the attic, buried behind boxes of clothing. Her Shouts still worked...she had uttered Feim Zii Gron one night, as she watched Bryce twitch in a nightmare. Fucking messed up, it was, that she felt more real as a ghost in this world than as a part of it.

“I’d like for you to come with us, Sarah. It’s been...god, mi amor, this has been a clusterfuck , and I know you don’t want to talk about it. Just come with us. Enjoy some nature. We won’t even have to go near the falls, if you don’t want to.”

Lifting her head from Adam’s little head, where she was mindlessly smoothing his hair, Sarah fixed her eyes on Bryce. Her voice was a rusty rasp, but her smile…

Her smile made Bryce sit back in his chair. Almost as if he was afraid, as she swallowed, clearing her throat to speak aloud for the first time since she arrived.

“...I’d like that. Let’s go.”

 

Chapter Text

They were waiting for Old Faithful to go off, when she saw him.


He had tried, unsuccessfully, to blend into the crowd. A green ballcap perched on his head, he walked through the sea of humans like he was ten feet tall.


Sigrid fixed her eyes on him, tracking that cap as it parted the mass of tourists standing around, counting the minutes until they could depart. Just another checkmark taking off the famous geyser on their list of things to do, here.


Cracking a smile, she inwardly rolled her eyes at the things her people got up to. For fun.

She had sat with Vilkas on that trek to Riften in the hot springs, as geysers bubbled and burst all around them, sending up clouds of steaming sulphurous mist. They were careful about which ones to bathe in, as some were known to suddenly reach a boiling point and had charming names, such as ‘Giant’s Cauldron’, or the eponymously named ‘Surprise Pot’. But they had never lingered for hours simply to watch a geyser, for the sake of it.

There were better uses for their time.

It would have to be swift, and secret, she decided as a burbling sputter announced Old Faithful’s imminent eruption. The crowd erupted in clapping and cheers, the geyser spouting as her family was shoved around by tourists determined to take their selfie and push onward, to check off further boxes of Things to Do at Yellowstone.

Things to do: Get her family to a safe space. Slip away unseen, with her weapons and her survival bag. Kill that sonofabitch who lurked in human guise. He didn’t belong here any more than she did.

She had gritted her teeth audibly when the news station that serviced Yellowstone had announced a rash of deaths in the past month. Innocuous deaths, the kind that happened every year. Someone fell into a geyser and dissolved in the superheated mineral waters. Someone fell down a cliff or ravine off trail, body not yet found. Drownings in the lake. Bodies found torn apart, half eaten by wolves or bear. Trampled by bison or elk.

Sigrid knew better. Predator that she was now, she saw the signs, the pattern of a hunter. One death had been in Biscuit Basin, the next two in the area directly nearby amidst the dying trees that clung to life in the marshy ground. Both had been labeled as animal deaths, with slashed wounds that had bites taken out of them. She shivered in disgust.

Did a dragon really need a reason to kill? Not Alduin, World Eater. She would bet the remaining fingernails of her left hand that he killed for fun. For pleasure alone.

She had to get him out of here.

Her opportunity came as she and Bryce herded the children to the massive visitor’s center. Leaning close to Bryce, she whispered with a grimace that she really, really had to go to the bathroom, and would he mind?

Lulled by her recent good behavior, Bryce had agreed, sitting down on the padded benches with the pamphlets. He had begun explaining the flora and fauna to the boys as they huddled close, pointing out the caldera rim of Yellowstone, and how they were all sitting on a massive volcano…

Her last glimpse of them. She lingered in the open door, drinking in the sight of healthy boys and a content Bryce.

Yes. They would be fine...more than fine without her.

When they were sufficiently distracted, she took off for the trails.


*********

Five hours later, the light was slowly leaving Yellowstone, darkening the trees as her boots crunched along the gravel of Fountain Freight road.

Fairy Falls was the last place she could think of, to search for him. The Tiid Kreh would surely still be there, a passageway back to Skyrim. She could feel it from here; a pressing, pulling feeling. Almost like the feeling being watched, knowing no one was there. Creepy.

She had passed numerous tourists who hadn’t given her a second glance. She had chopped off the tangled, knotted mess of her hair. Her clean, blunt cut hung just below her chin. Sigrid wore a long wool hunters shirt, with wool pants, a backpack with a compass and sturdy hiking boots.

The machete hid behind the backpack, strapped along her spine. All she had to do was tilt her head and carefully draw the sharpened knife if she was threatened. The walking stick she had picked up at the visitor’s center would do in a pinch as a distraction for her best weapon; her voice.

She would avoid using the Thu’um, unsure of its effect in this world, unless she had no other option.

“N-no, please! Please stop! Someone help!”

Dropping the walking stick, Sigrid tilted her head, then carefully wound her way through the soft crumbling dirt and piles of dried needles to the source of the sound. Placing her footsteps carefully, she crouched down, the better to observe and hear, unseen.

In a small clearing far off the main trail, in clear sight of the majestic Fairy Falls, Alduin was currently tying up a woman. She looked Indian, with a long black braid that shook as she struggled, her rich coffee colored skin blanched with fright as he continued to wrap her in rope and duct tape.

Damn. Duct tape was a bitch to get out of. Easing her way towards the clearing, Sigrid slowly drew the machete from its sheath, praying the slight sound would be covered by the ripping of tape as he tore a new strip from the roll.

Holding her knife angled down, so she didn’t flash him and give away her position, she waited.

“I have a family! They’ll be looking for me, oh, you can’t do this. It’s not fair.” The woman sobbed, eyes frantically darting around the area, looking for someone. Anyone to save her.

Sigrid grimaced, retreating further into the leaf loam. It wouldn’t do, to be spotted and set the woman off, shrieking.

It would sort of ruin the surprise of cleaving Alduin in half.

Grik los lein. So the world is, woman. So unfair.” His veiled chuckle was a shadow of the bass roar that had rolled forth from him as a dovah. But Sigrid wouldn’t underestimate him. Not again.

Satisfied that she was tightly bound, Alduin stepped back to scrutinize his prize. Clearly he had been here a while, judging by the torn backpacks, clothing and empty water bottles that littered the area. Delicately testing her Thu'um, Sigrid could feel a barrier surrounding this little field.

Almost a ‘don’t look here’ echo of a shout. Interesting. It would explain how he had survived for so long, without being detained by an official, or turned in by a tourist. He simply killed them all and took their stuff.

With a wrinkle of her nose, she tried to inhale shallowly as the stench of rotting bodies wafted her way. He definitely had killed someone. Or several someones. There were lumpy piles of dirt and pine leaf litter, four neat piles in the corner of his clearing.

He had not been careful enough.

As she tensed, preparing to spring at him, she stopped with a graceless lurch as Alduin spun around, neatly decapitating the woman with one blow of a summoned sword. It gleamed transparently, wet with a thin layer of blood as the head with its long braid bounced once, then rolled out of sight.

She froze, praying he had not seen her, as he stood silently, sword extended. Blood dripped off the tip of the blade, the only sound as she held her breath.

Just as she was about to see how quietly she could gulp a lungful of fresh air, he opened his hands, allowing the blade to evaporate back into...whatever magicka did when it was released.

“You may come out of there, Dovahkin.”

Oh, shit.


*********


“So, Sonahsod, is it? A fitting name, for a rather pathetic dovah.”


Standing, she held her blade at the ready as she walked carefully, closer to the man that wasn’t a man. “Better than some.”

He laughed, a deep rich rumble of joy. “Ah, it has been long since any of my kind have been such a challenge to me. I would let you live, if you had not been such a thorn in my side.” He turned to face her, the curtain of black hair shifting, loose against his back.

Alduin still wore a park ranger’s uniform, but it had been neatly buttoned up. His face was hard planed and craggy; handsome in the way that some men who fought professionally were. The eyes that roamed over her thoughtfully were a bright clear gold, slitted with black pupils. He went barefoot, his toes grasping the soft grassy earth. A new blood spatter decorated the front of the uniform, and as she took in the changes in his form, he raised a finger coated in blood and sucked it dry.

Bleugh.

“This world of yours is a fascinating place, Dragonborn.” Almost carelessly, he began to circle her.

She returned the favor, matching him step for step. “Although I cannot say much for the state of your civilization. Perhaps a dragon cult could actually improve the quality of the populace? So many are grossly plump, elderly and sick."

"Yes. I have given it much thought, these last few weeks.”

Noting the torn clothing and empty bags of chips scattering his humble lair, Sigrid curled her lip. “I see you haven’t taken any strides in implementing this glorious plan. Don't you know? You are what you eat."

That chuckle again. It wasn’t fair, for such a sadistic evil bastard to have such a honeyed voice.

Like a news radio announcer. This is KJZZ, brought to you by Skyrim’s finest, Black Briar Mead. Drink it or Else!

“Almost, you amuse me.”

“Glad to hear one of us is having a good time.”

Continuing the careful dance, the two dovah circled, eyes locked as they waited. Waited for any opportunity.

She spoke first. “The Tiid Kreh.”

“So you can speak some of our words.”

“Some. What did you do?”

He grinned, eyes lighting up in an almost friendly way. If one ignored their past history of mutual death threats and destruction, she might have thought he liked her. Perish the thought.

“Oh, very little, Dragonborn. We’ve been here before, have we not?”

A frisson of panic seared through her at those words. No, she didn’t remember that.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“Must we revert to obscenities?” He examined his yellowed fingernails, which were grossly long and curved. Licked the underside of one.

“I could...show you, if you like.” The golden eyes tilted, turning sly.

That voice. “Not sure we’ll make it to that part.” Sigrid managed to speak. “Since I’m planning on killing you, and such.”

There was nothing warm about his laughter, this time. It chilled her as the mocking tones almost sank beneath her skin, prickling her spine.

“So little you know. Father Akatosh made me, and what a god makes cannot be undone.”

Suddenly he stepped closer, pausing with an amused smile as she raised the machete with shaking hands. “Did they tell you? Those Greybeards? My brother,” he practically spat the last word.

“Did they inform you of my role? Of yours? The never ending spiral of creation and destruction, doomed to repeat for all eternity? Do you not know that I cannot be killed?”

This laugh jarred the sword right out of her hands, as she clapped scarred fingers over her ears to block out the cacophony, the wound that was his laugh.

Walking even closer, all she could see was those eyes, filling her vision. Black on gold, burned into her retinas as his mouth bared teeth, saliva dripping in strings from his fangs as they grew.

She screamed as those eyes pulled her in, as he reached out a blood soaked hand and touched her shaking finger, a finger missing a nail.


NO OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? Stay away, no oh no Bryce! STOP

Sounds of screams.

They never drew breath, but continued screaming, shrieking, until vocal chords gave out and the sound was only in her head.

So much screaming, a symphony of it, ever circling as she was lost, cut adrift in a pool of black rimmed in gold.

She saw him sitting by her hospital bed in scrubs, his missing ear bleeding as he smiled politely at her.

He was there in the waiting room of her psychiatrist’s office, thumbing through a reader’s digest.

Checking the kickstand of his motorcycle as she strolled past him, his long black hair in a loose ponytail.

There she was, sitting at his side in the primitive finery of the Merethic Nords, peering out across the obeisant backs of thousands of slaves as they paid homage to their gods...

Snapshots. Pictures of Alduin, frozen in time, over and over, an eternal progression of memories frozen like insects in amber, oh god make it stop -


They had done this before. Somewhere, sometime.

“I always win, Dragonborn.” His voice was friendly, matter of fact. “How do you destroy death? You might as well try to break time. I sense that you’ve tried.”

Numbly, she realized she was gasping for air, her hands clasped tightly around his as they stood there, alone in the clearing.

She blinked. Awareness. Be aware of your surroundings, one of the first rules of combat drilled into the whelps at Jorrvaskr.

The decapitated head lay not five feet away. The eyes were half closed, the tongue protruding. A fly walked along the bluish lips, disappearing inside.

Suddenly, the hand she was holding grasped hers. Crushing, fingers stretched around her wrists. She leaned back in agony as her bones snapped, popped with the strength of his grip, as she tried with all her might to get away, get away from the thing that had gotten ahold of her…

Whimpering, as she shrank in fear, she could see him lean ever so slowly over her, those pupils swallowing the gold, until there was nothing, nothing but her death she saw in those night black eyes -

 

Dead in the woods, throat slit, never found or buried as the bodies of children and men decomposed, dancing on puppet’s strings.

Dead in Dustman’s Cairn, the orc’s swing had connected, had slashed her throat and she was gasping for air that would not come. Her lifeblood pumped out of her, as she crashed to the floor.

Dead in the dragon’s belly...Mirmulnir had had the courtesy to break her neck, so that she was immobile, helpless as she slid slowly down the acidic sandpaper gullet to the waiting darkness -

Dead in the lair of the Hagravens, bound and immobile as they opened her ribcage and lifted her heart, still beating out of her chest as a witch raised a pulsing briarheart in its place -

Dead as the werewolf fell upon her, the pain a distant dream as wolf tore chunks of hot flesh from her wounded body. She was aware, so horribly awakened from her mind-dream as steam hissed from blood painted fangs and she had only enough breath left in her remaining lung to whisper a scream...

Dead by the hand of Astrid, as the assassin stabbed her in the heart. A clean kill. The tightness in her chest eased as she fell over, so slowly...the assassin’s blue eyes so lovely in victory.

Dead and undead, walking an eternal round as Babette taught her, raised her to seek for the blood, hot red blood under the moon tasted so sweet as she served, served the Night Mother who she could hear as the Listener, sweet Listener send your child unto me -

 

“I have seen all your deaths and lives, Dragonborn. Whatever your name, Sarah, Sigrid or Sonahsod, I have seen them all."

"It begins and ends with the Tiid Kreh. The Time Rift. Ever beginning, never ending. All these cycles of time that we have fought, you and I. I could...kill you now.” Impossibly, his grip tightened further and Sigrid cried with the pain of it, struggled to escape. He did not let her. “We would end up right back here. Or, you could join me. Be my right hand."

"Wouldn’t it be better, more pleasant to avoid the pain, Dragonborn?”

Still holding her hands so tightly, he leaned forward and placed his forehead on hers, breathing out a sigh. Shuddering, she smelled the blood on his breath. She would fight. She could fight this, this yearning draw towards him that wasn't real...just the coercive powers of a god. 

Sure she could.

“I can ease your pain. Make it so that you never have to feel such useless emotion.”

A rumble grew in his throat, and she could feel, could see the vocal chords vibrate as he purred against her.

No.

No, it can’t be. He wouldn’t -

And as he spoke the words, the Thu’um she had studied in secret so bashfully, she cried out in disbelief and humiliated rage as pleasure, violent orgasming pleasure crashed into her.

Wave after wave, unrelenting. She wished he had broken her arms, instead.

What she had done with Vilkas that night, in the bonds of love and trust...that had been but a shadow of a breath of a song.

Alduin poured an orchestra of power into her, strumming each nerve with pricks of light as she writhed helplessly, hanging from his grip.

Pleasure to the point of pain.

The kind that men would sell their souls for, lose all that they had, to slake their lust.

It could have been hours. It could have been seconds. She didn’t care...only noticing finally as the sweet aching of her cunt ceased that he was through.

Dimly, she realized the death god was speaking to her, quietly. Telling tales of the dovah, the glory of their past civilization. How the humans had worshipped them, honored the rightful rulers of Nirn with great cities and temples, sacrifices and feasts.

As they would be honored again.

He promised.

A feeling of calm entered her as he spoke, drained her resistance.

He was like her. Dovah. He knew her.

“Dragonborn….Sonahsod. Come with me. Follow me. You will never suffer again.”

He waited patiently, his forehead pressed against hers as gradually she grew limp, compliant, as the rightness, the words of the Thu’um of the Firstborn penetrated her mind.

It would be better, wouldn’t it? So much more kind, to feel nothing at all.

She had nearly died, so many times. He had revealed the truth. She couldn’t do it alone. Not without him.

He could end her. Or she could be his. His to command. She wouldn’t have to think so damn hard about everything, her life hanging in the balance.

As she opened her lips to speak, watching those slotted golden eyes widen in expectation, she remembered.


There are rules, you know, for living life as a Companion. Glory in battle. Honor in life.”

His hands reached up to cup the fullness of her breasts. She pressed herself into those hands.

“Deal with problems head on.”

As she arched her neck, eyes tightly shut, Vilkas held her tightly against him, fingers working,  rolling the softness of her in his palms as she bit back another sob.

“Love...” Vilkas rested his chin on her shoulder, his lips barely brushing her ear. Her cheeks  were puffy and swollen. She must look like a wreck. Inhaling a rattling, soggy breath as she  closed her eyes, Sigrid listened to what her lover had to say.

“You should live such a life that your shield siblings would proudly say that they fought at your  side.” Their legs entwined as her breath hitched shakily. She could feel his lips move, smiling against her shoulder.

“Cowards die a thousand deaths, but the brave die only once.” Her hand reached up to cover  his, over her chest. She could feel the hammered pounding of her heart slow as she calmed.

“Family and honor, Sigrid.” Vilkas whispered, holding her tightly as she swallowed her fears and leaned against him, safe for now. “Family and honor.”

 

“Never.”

Alduin pulled away, startled. “What?”

She felt liquid drip down her thigh and shook, shook with the fear of it.

He had me in the palm of his hand. He could have done anything....I would have done anything and I would have begged him, begged him for the pleasure.

Evil.

Another voice, old and wise, overlaid itself atop the whisper of her true love.

"What is better – to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?"

Dragonborn, you-” Alduin seemed surprised.

- And seemingly unaffected by his own shout, she noticed. Perhaps instead of a dick, he had a spiked mace because damn, that had worked for her. Mentally scoffing at herself for her weakness, she steeled herself for what was to come. 

Perhaps it was easier to give up. God knows, coming back to this time and this place had almost broken her.

But, Sigrid reflected, she would rather feel genuine pain and joy, rather than some simulation born of a Thu’um. Life sucked balls, sometimes. It didn't mean she was going to roll over and die.

Lying there, dangling from broken wrists still held in his hands, she looked up the immortal asswipe who was currently lost for words.

Fuck it all. No going back from this crazy train. Feeling the delicate unseen fabric of the Tiid Kreh waver in the face of her intent, she drew a deep breath.


“TIID LUN WULD!”

Chapter Text

Staccato snapshots of her life blew through Sigrid’s mind...faster than she could take in.

 

Flash.

"Give me the strength to...to learn how to protect others, in order to keep what happened to me from ever happening to anyone else."

Flash.

The man was built like a brickhouse. It felt like she had walked smack into a cement wall. Rubbing her cheek sheepishly, she wondered how heavy all that padded steel was to wear around all the time. She felt, rather than just heard, his breath sigh above her and looked up. "Dawdle on your own time, whelp." He snapped, his cold grey eyes furious. She looked down and nodded.

Flash.

"Woman." His almost inaudible query barely penetrated Sigrids mental fog, and she inhaled sharply as something long and velvety hard glided across her lower lips."Yes..." she whispered as a hand tangled itself in her hair, the other one lifting her leg as she bore down on his cock, imploding with pressure and knife edged grief and surprised joy as fuck-

Flash.

...Alduin snapped forward with blinding speed, striking at Vilkas, who had already raised his sword in a crossbar defense move. Daggered teeth snapped, teeth digging deeply into the Companion’s arms, biting, bending the steel of his sword as Vilkas fought for his life. As she watched in horror, desperately climbing with hooked claws up, up the wall, she saw him slowly bending lower...his knee smashing against the ground as he strained against the head of the World Eater, trying to consume him whole -

Flash.

They were tangled in a vicious pretzel of tooth and claw, only they had...changed. She could see nothing in the darkness, but locked in battle, she felt it with every kick, every swipe of suddenly clawless hands. Instead of encountering black scales, Sonahsod’s fingers ripped across flesh. His teeth tore into tender neck, tearing her hair out by the roots. Joore, mortal humans once more, but no matter, she would end him, destroy the World Eater who killed without thought, kill kill kill -

 

***********

 

Floating, she drifted aimlessly. There was nothing of substance here. She ( she was a she, wasn’t she) was trapped. Spinning forever in a whirlwind of time. Done it to herself, other spirits whispered, when she bothered to remember to ask. Dovahkiin. Doom driven.

Forward, backwards, it all circled together. The neverending spiral, monstrous in its immensity. Minute in its perfection to detail.

 

All life danced within its ever turning, ever reaching arms.

 

Lost, she wandered, bodiless, as pinpricks of light caught her attention.

As her mind touched each flare of light, a memory played.

 

Martin Septim, leading the survivors of Kvatch out of the ruined chapel, trusting in the Champion, believing. Last of the bloodline, the dragons long dead.

 

Talos, Tiber Septim. Ysmir of the North, bending over a map as he plotted where best to move his armies next. Vilified, glorified - both equally true.

 

A bard, reciting verse before a burning effigy. “ No shouting match between dragon and man, no fire or fury did this battle entail. Olaf was Numinex in human form, on moonless nights he would spread wings and sail."

 

Was she a dragon? Or perhaps a woman? Could one be both?

A voice speaks, echoing hollowly as if from far away -

 

-”Some would say that all things must end, so that the next can come to pass. Perhaps this world is simply the Egg of the next kalpa? Lein vokiin? Would you stop the next world from being born?"

 

Was she stopping the world from ending? She liked this world. She didn’t want it to end.

It would end someday. But that day seemed very far away, with life and death chasing each other as they did in the eternal spin of stars, suns and moons.

Time simply had no meaning in the Aetherius, the Immortal Plane.

 

Forgetting, she drifted once more.

 

*******

 

There was something. Something she ( for she had agreed that she was, in fact, a she ) had to do.

Something important.

If her thoughts would only remain, still and solid, instead of being driven to distraction. So much knowledge, an eternal bookcase to sift through. All the jokes and stories, tales of ages long past and forgotten, at her fingertips. Drawing her off course, away from something she once held dear.

Someone needed her. Forcing herself to focus, she looked down and saw...nothing. The faintest glimmer of matter so fine, so pure it shimmered transparently. So pretty...but so useless, if she were to return to Mundus.

 

Where was her body?

 

If she had a body, she would feel. It would hurt. I don’t want to hurt anymore.

But with no body, she could not feel. And the not feeling hurt, as well.

Decisions, decisions. She floated above the varied planes, basking in the Lost Shores. Dipping insubstantial fingers into the Sands Behind the Stars. Warmth, peace without end.

But that bothersome thought remained, a sharp hot reminder of what she had yet to do.

 

Someone needed her.

 

God. gods. Goddess?

Perhaps they would know.

 

*******

 

Too many gods.

 

Give a being some power, and they all grew mighty aspirations of being worshipped, apparently.

After traipsing through countless daedric realms and planes, she floated silently through Sovngarde ( sad, she was sad for some reason. Why was that? No one bothered to talk to her) and ended up in the land of ‘shrooms.

The Shivering Isles had been like some surreal vacation that melded with a horror funhouse. Seuss...Why do the words Seuss and Wonderland come to mind? She floated over Mania, relishing the brilliant, blood tinged autumn hues as she skimmed the waters, searching for amber on the shore. The mad god Sheogorath had welcomed her warmly, at least, telling her jokes. Capering and offering cheese and intestine when everyone else simply ignored or passed right by.

She wasn’t really there, of course. Was she ?

Can one be present without a body to be present in? She knew her thoughts made more sense than this, somehow. A body would solve that.

Where had she placed it?

 

*******

 

This one seemed familiar.

Many named. Akatosh . Auri-El. Allfather. His presence was warm as he embraced her. Couldn’t really see him, or anything else here. Wherever here was. But it was so comforting. She basked in it.

A vision...no, a memory played in a loop. Over and over.

She stood in fields of lavender, wildflowers and tundra cotton. Wind blew the grass of the tundra gently, waving it in patterns that reminded her of the sea, in neverending ripples of green gold. Clouds scudded across a robin's egg sky, framed by snowcapped mountains that cradled the bowl of the valley. Butterflies flitted around her head as she walked, not a worry in the world. Working slowly, she cut and picked stems of lavender. Over and over.

Lean, grasp, cut, store. Her basket never seemed to fill, but she did not empty it either.

A deep sense of peace filled her soul. He was here, too.  

 

What do you wish, dii mon, my daughter ? Why do you seek me so urgently?

Someone...needs me. I don’t know who.

You do not remember it?

Perhaps if I had my body back, I might remember, Allfather.

Krosis. It would not be the same as before.

That’s alright. If I could just remember, then I can make it better. Can’t rest until I do.

 

Hey. (hands cutting lavender, so sweet and fragrant. It would make a beautiful wreath) Are you God? Like, ‘God’? The one I learned about in catholic school?

All gods are one.

...Ever have I watched over you, no matter what name you may call me.

Go, then. Remember. Return to your time and place. ( Warm hands, stopping her as she reached for more. Taking her hands in his, she blinked as the field disappeared. What-)

Be satisfied with the path you have chosen.

 

And as a heaviness suddenly caught hold of her and dragged her, down, down into the mortal plane she wished for fields of lavender. Or the safety of his arms. Cradled, like a child. She remembered, so long ago, being held like that. Safe and secure, like nothing could hurt her...

It hurt now. She didn’t like it, hated it even...but if the Allfather sent her, it couldn’t be too bad.

She hoped.

 

**********

 

“Fall back! Fall back!

Farkas shot an arrow at the black dragon, taking charge among the remaining warriors as a rumbling snarl announced what was probably going to be another attack, when -

-suddenly, a shock of light. Almost a flash. He wouldn’t have seen it, it had happened so damn fast, but he was watching. The big black fucker blinked, seemingly disoriented as he hesitated. Farkas took the opportunity to push Vilkas even further behind him. He couldn’t see how badly he was wounded, yet, but even without a wolf’s nose he could smell the rusted tang of blood. It had him worried.

Out of nowhere, the golden dragon descended onto the monster; her talons sinking into its spine as she shrieked shrilly, triumphant. Teeth snapped, as the black head snaked back, trying to reach the one ripping chunks of flesh and scale off of its back.

Amidst all the chaos, screams and dust, Farkas could just make out the golden dragon hissing in dovahzul. “ Tiid bo amativ, Alduin! Grik los lein...”

“JOOR ZAH FRUL!”

The impact of her voice shook Dragonsreach. Stones fell from the cracked ceiling, as the far end of the porch crumbled away completely. Both dragons shuddered in the twisting, ethereal arms of the Shout. It wrapped the dark one tightly, ensnared in ribbons of blue light. Shaking her head rapidly, as if to ward off shock the golden one struck ...her shining white fangs sank, tearing into the shadowed length of throat. Blood poured out, drenching her golden scales in sticky spurts. Oblivious, the she-dragon focused her might into destroying the black one’s throat.

Farkas watched in amazement as that bastard’s black jaws opened, but no words emerged. He could see white bone, glistening wetly in the red flesh of the monster’s throat. The vocal cords almost invisible in the gushing black blood twitched, yet made no sound.

Gurgling, the beast turned, looking at the she-dragon with an eerily human expression of shock. The beast did not delay. Grasping her foe firmly by the head, she shook her jaws from side to side, like a dog with a skeever.

Burning red eyes opened impossibly wide before dulling, the head and neck severing entirely as the golden one gave a great heaving pull.

“By the gods…” One of the guards whispered. They were all transfixed as the great one’s body began shaking. Patches of blue light emerged from solid flesh, flaking as a howling wind erupted from the thing, roaring through the open porch.

Screaming incomprehensibly, the dragon dissolved into filaments of ash and darkness.

This one left no bones behind. Odd.

Farkas shivered as he watched the the golden dovah spit out a chunk of neck meat, hissing as it too dissipated into the wind. Wearily, she limped forward on wounded front limbs, closer to him and his brother. She didn’t seem to be attacking, now that the threat had been removed. But there were hundreds of lives here, hiding inside Dragonsreach. He couldn’t take that chance.

Raising his blade with one hand, Farkas prepared to attack... until Vilkas stopped him with a hand on his arm, his other still grasping tightly the wound in his shoulder. His brother’s grey eyes were so wide, he could see the white all around the edges. “Get inside, fool, and stay there!” Farkas muttered harshly, dragging Vilkas further behind him to safety, as he seemed frozen in place, staring at the golden dovah.

Ignoring him, the idiot wobbled away, moving forward even closer to the creature. It...she...was panting, those black eyes dull as it lapped at an open wound with an absurdly long tongue, licking blood away from a scaled elbow.

“...Sigrid?”

Ni tiid, Vilkas.”

And that was apparently the last straw, as his brother groaned, falling to the floor as Farkas tried to catch him, calling out for Danica Pure-Spring, or Farengar. Any healer, really, he yelled over and over as his brother sagged heavily in his arms.

He would worry about what his brother had said later. ( Sigrid?!? You’re shitting me.) Blood was still pumping sluggishly from the deep wound in Vilkas’s arm, and as Njada raced off to find help, Farkas realized with horror that there were similar, dagger like strikes all over his brother’s torso and left leg.

Oh fuck, those were tooth marks, from where the black beast had nearly bitten him through. Blood dripped from his brother’s armor, even trickled slowly from his left ear as his eyes became unfocused, blank and unseeing as Farkas waved a hand in front of his face.

Damn this was bad. This was very bad.

“Hold on, brother…” He muttered, trying to remember what helped in these types of situations. Hopefully the she-dragon would wait its turn. Farkas had to be there for his twin.

Body flat on the floor? Check.

Pressure on the wound? He grasped the shoulder that his brother had let go of, when he fell. Covered. Check. The others he could do nothing about, but Athis saw, and began applying pressure to the chest, the legs.

Blood welled up between their fingers, and Athis and Farkas shared a look of deep concern.

He wasn’t going to make it.

“Slen Ahraan Vahraan…”

“What is it doing?” Athis looked completely unnerved, as the golden dragon crawled painfully forward. Resting her wedge shaped head on the floor before them, Farkas held himself tensely, ready for anything. The great black eyes blinked, then another gust of wind blew over them, smelling like smoked meat and ozone.

SLEN...AHRAAN...VAHRAAAN…”

He could do nothing but sit there in dumb amazement as golden fingers of light soaked into his brother’s form. Blood ceased to pour from beneath his hands, and Athis lifted his own arms in wonderment. “She’s healing him!” The Dunmer exclaimed, whipped his head towards their erstwhile savior.

Farkas was so busy reassuring himself that his brother was, indeed, healing as he lay there so still that he didn’t see. Heard too late the groaning rasp of the she-dragon as she fell, dragged by her own body weight, off of the porch of Dragonsreach.

A long fall, then a crunch of impact.

Damn it. “Athis, go see if she’s still alive. If that, er, beast is really our Sigrid we need to help her.”

Nodding wearily, the Dunmer took off, dodging through the gaping onlookers. The Priestess of Kynareth suddenly appeared, pushing Farkas aside as she began evaluating the damage done.

Farkas leaned back with a sigh. Dust still hung heavily in the air. Black ash drifted in the gusts of wind, wind no longer held at bay by the structure of the porch. The porch was now a skylight, it seemed, and the Companion chuckled as he saw the astonished faces of Jarl Balgruuf and his family peering out of what had been the safe room.

Yes, this would make a fine tale to tell around the fires of Jorrvaskr. Too bad it would probably be labeled a tall tale, when they had all passed on.

Farkas looked over at his brother, reassured as Danica Pure-Spring gave him a firm nod. He watched as she spread a poultice upon the gashed skin, still healing from whatever the golden she-dragon - his Harbinger - had done.

No one would believe this had really happened. The best tales were always like that.

Not a bad day. Not at all.

Chapter Text

She slept.

Sometimes, she would wake, her eyelids heavy as stones as she took in the tiny joore who surrounded her, now and again. None seemed intent on harming her, and the land her broken body lay in was so warm , cozy compared to the chill of winter that surrounded her nest, that it was not long until she fell asleep again.

Joor Zah Frul . Her mind rebelled against it, crying out in horror and incomprehension. The mind of the dov could not grasp its meaning. Sonahsod shrank from it, preferring to sleep and ignore hunger and thirst, in favor of avoidance of this...puzzle she had uttered.

Sigrid, however, lingered. Trapped in her own mind, in the body of a dovah.

 

Wake up! God dammit, wake up, you lazy beast!

 

Was it really fair to yell at herself? Did she expect her dragon-self to actually talk to her mortal, fragile human self? If they shared the same body, was she mortal or immortal?

Cicero snickered, somewhere in the shadows that always lay thickly in her unconsciousness. You, crazy? Heh heh heh, that’s madness…

 

Sometimes when she awoke, she was herself. She, Sigrid, was in control. She could speak, roughly and with difficulty in Nordic, stretching the front limbs and claws that had healed, bones and tendons knitting slowly together as days passed by. She had injured her long tongue against the needle-sharp teeth once, when she struggled to tell Farkas what had happened to her. Dovahzul came to her dragon tongue with much more ease, but her shield brother...he needed to know.

Sigrid didn’t get very far. The blood had splattered wetly on the Companion’s face, but she could not resist laughing hoh ho hoh at the look her shield brother gave her. An exasperated fondness she was used to seeing on the training field. Not in her bed of rock and rubble, with her friend looking so small and delicate against her shining bulk.

She had landed somewhere behind the tall monolith that formed the base of Dragonsreach. There was only blackness, after she had Shouted the healing Thu’um. No memory existed, save those brief wakeful periods where Sonahsod dithered with the choice of whether to waken and eat something, or to sleep off the exhaustion. Sleep often won out, as she was still healing from the soul crushing pain that had come from enduring Dragonrend.

Even if she had been the one to shout it. Which didn’t make any sense, as far as Sigrid could tell. Wouldn’t it just have affected Alduin?

Incomprehensible to a dovah, Paarthurnax had said. No wonder she had been so weak, that she had fainted from her tumble through time and space. To be fair, just the queer out-of-body experience she might have really gone through was batshit enough.

But Sigrid was still here. Still a human mind, the mind of a woman. The dov could not possess her...her body ( mine, dammit! MY body!) for the rest of her life.

Or could it? Was she now only Sonahsod?

Sacrifice . Paarthurnax had called it a sacrifice. The change that had been the only way to prevent what would have been the total destruction of Whiterun.

She hoped against hope that this was not forever.

 

*********

 

“She’s not very responsive today, you adorable fetcher.”

“That’s okay! We brought all her favorite foods! She has to wake up and try them!” Lucia chirped, shifting the heavy baskets on her arms.

Vilkas sighed, sharing a look of commiseration with Athis. They had visited nearly every day since the day of the battle, trying unsuccessfully to communicate with the gleaming golden dragon that was, somehow, Sigrid. Their Harbinger.

Farkas had spoken with her. Not for long, he had said. The dragon seemed content to sleep, days and nights meaningless in her slumber. Snow fell, creating mounds and hills upon the spiky tail and curved back, only to melt with an aggrieved huff of ‘yol’ when the dovah noticed.

She had spoken to him. Called him by name, once. He would hold onto the hope that...that this was not the end. That she would come back, be cured of this...this curse that she had willingly undertaken. To protect them all.

Could she just for once be a bit more selfish, he ruminated on days when dark thoughts clouded his moods. Think more about what she wanted, instead of what was best for Skyrim. All the agonizing deliberation he had watched her undergo, had spoken at length with her about, seemed so pointless now. The political struggle of attempting to patch together the warring factions, to provide some measure of peace while dragons hunted and elves bided their time...what good did that do for her, as she slept lost and dreaming in the snow?

This whole victory seemed utterly hollow to Vilkas, at the moment.

Paarthurnax had arrived not long after the death of Alduin. It had not been a promising conversation.

The old one lingered around the female dovah, prodding her with wingclaw and snout. After examining her thoroughly and breathing the same Shout of Healing that had been used upon him, Paarthurnax informed the waiting Companions that though Sigrid was still in there, unresponsive, the dragon was in control.

It was...unlikely that she would ever recover. Be as she was. He had left with a great flap of his leathery, ragged wings, promising to meet up with allies. To seek out an answer, he informed the astonished group of warriors. An unplundered dragon temple; far to the west that might hold the ancient knowledge; key to her return to self.

It had been almost two months without any word.

But they had not given up. Not yet.

“Hello, Harbinger! Look how hot your scales are! Look, Vilkas, she melted the icicles that were over her head!”

“Yes, I see that.” Helping the girl unwrap the supplies they had carried out of Jorrvaskr, Athis and Vilkas sat on a nearby rock and ate quietly, as Lucia danced restlessly. Gesturing with a piece of braided bread, Lucia brandished it like a sword, talking all the while to Sigrid about her training. How she was up to ten laps run without pausing. How unfair it was, that boys were stronger than girls, and did Sigrid learn to Shout to make up the difference?

A rumble rolled through the great form of the dovah, forming sound as the great muzzle yawned widely. A curl of smoke escaped, as Lucia oohed and aahed at all the pointy teeth.

Athis chuckled, tearing apart a piece of bread as he listened to the nonstop chatter. “Asleep again. Another day passes by.”

“So it would seem.”

 

*******

It was a cold Loredas in Evening Star when the Greybeards arrived.

No one in Whiterun could remember a time when they had even heard of the Masters leaving their perch in High Hrothgar. But when the letter had been delivered by courier to the hands of Jarl Balgruuf’s steward, informing them of their imminent arrival, the entire city had been thrown into a flurry of activity. Huge barrels of spiced mead were rolled out and tapped, huge hanks of mammoth and elk put into smoking sheds to thaw. All talk revolved around hasty preparation for the feasting and dancing that surely would celebrate such an occasion.

Midwinter was not far off, and the old streets of Whiterun fairly sparkled with freshly fallen snow. Snowberry wreaths and garlands of elves ear and pine adorned every lamppost and lintel, threaded around the grand pillars of Dragonsreach that had been painstakingly repaired. The porch was still ragged and unfinished, workmen claiming that nothing could be done until the dragon was removed and spring had arrived to ease their way.

The weather did not seem to impede the Greybeards, as they followed the well trod path that led to Sonahsod’s place of rest. Many of the townsfolk came out to catch a glimpse of the elusive Masters of the Voice, some following at a distance in awe.

The Companions had no such qualms. They followed directly behind the trail of grey robed men, Njada and Athis taking the lead, an honor guard for the Greybeards. Lucia, Tilma and the twins walked behind. Wearing fur stoles and carrying staves to assist their journey, they looked more like a band of mages than monks, Vilkas thought in amusement. It was so cold that Lucia, who had insisted upon being included, had almost turned blue until Farkas took off his bear pelt cloak and dropped it over her, drowning the girl in fur. She had popped her head out, like a rabbit out of its burrow, to the broad guffaws of the Companions present. Even Arngeir had chuckled; the rumbling of his amusement shaking icicles from the stable eaves, causing them to crash to the ground and scare the horses.

Arngeir had explained the purpose of their visit. They had been pleasantly surprised one day by a message, passed along by Odahviing. The great red drake had informed the Greybeards of Paarthurnax and his success in retrieving a shout.

“...A Shout that will break the hold the dov has on the Dragonborn’s form. It is unclear whether she was blessed with this body by Akatosh, or merely meant to possess it for a time. We may never know the circumstance. Unless…”

“ - she could tell us herself.” Vilkas interrupted impatiently. They had reached Sonahsod, who was entirely covered by snow at this point. Little puffs of heated air and smoke floated out of the wintery mound, almost like a chimney. If the chimney came from a beast that spanned the length of Jorrvaskr, not including the tail. “When will you be able to test this Thu’um?”

“At once, FaadvurdeinDrem.” Chilled gusts of wind enveloped the group as two dragons descended from the grey clouded skies, wings displacing flurries of snow as they landed with a heaving thump upon the frozen ground.

Vilkas nodded solemnly. “Paarthurnax.” He didn’t bother greeting Odahviing, who looked entirely too smug as it was.

"Drem yol lok, warrior. At last we meet.” The younger dovah tilted his great head with an almost mischievous expression. “I’ve heard….hmm...much about you. Lost rek in hii el pruzah?”

Boh na gut, Odahviing. Your humor is unappreciated, here.” Paarthurnax shook his wings, ice cracking from the webbed leathery skin as he stretched. “ Nii los tiid. It is time, Arngeir.”

Surrounding the sleeping dov in a semicircle, the Greybeards gave Odahviing and Paarthurnax ample space. Fanning out even further away, the Companions watched as the the robed masters extended their arms, palm up and began whispering in a measured, toneless chant.

Small wonder they never spoke, Vilkas thought in awe as the very earth shook at the rumbling of the combined might of the Greybeards. Only just a whisper, the waiting dragons still silent, and he could feel the strength of their voices shake the sword within his scabbard, chatter the teeth in his jaw with the power of it.

Spreading their wings, Paarthurnax and Odahviing stood on hind limbs, rising to a great height. Lucia peeped in fear, hiding beneath her furs and against Tilma as the two dragons began a recitation that sounded like blades clashing, steel against steel, in a battle of words.

 

“Vopraan, briinah! Kog do Bormah. Al do Alduin, faal Diist Kiin.”

 

Leaning closer, the Greybeard’s muttering chant became a triumphant shout. A roar of sound that blew an unseen tidal force of power away from them, rippling the snowy plains with its force.

Vilkas blinked back against the dryness of the rushing winds, as they stole his breath away. Farkas had crouched protectively over Tilma and Lucia, who had bent almost double from the blowing gale force winds that keened, whipping up a froth of icy powder. Athis and Njada shielded their eyes, as they all continued their vigil.

It had to work, Vilkas thought desperately.

 

“Vopraan ahrk kos ulaan. DREM...VITH...KREN!”

 

With a sudden thunderclap of sound that echoed over the tundra, they fell silent. The dovah folded their wings, delicately placing forelimbs upon the ground and drawing closer. Vilkas could see nothing, nothing but snow.

No smoke or heat issued from the snowy mound. Did she not make it?

Without conscious thought, his feet were suddenly moving as he raced past the Greybeards rumbling in surprise. Heedless of Farkas’s call, he approached the mountain of snow.

It had collapsed in on itself. Grateful for his leather lined gauntlets, Vilkas began to dig furiously, throwing handfuls of snow as his breath clouded the air in quick bursts. There was something, had to be something under all this snow. Don’t you dare leave me, now…

Bo ireid, joor sahlo!” With a rough shove that knocked Vilkas to the ground, Odahviing took his place. Inhaling deeply, the red scaled dovah began a slow, heated breath of fire. Picking himself up, Vilkas could see the snow melt, steaming in the wavering heat of the air, as-

 

-There she was.

Naked and pale and completely inert. Her perfect, full breasts rose and fell, blue tinged, fingers twitching and restless as she slept. She looked like a drowning victim, vampire pale, her hair like dark seaweed tangled against her shoulders, stark against the snow.

 

She lived.

 

Almost stumbling in his relief, Vilkas reached out to grasp her, to finally touch her once more , then stopped. “A cloak. I need a cloak or blanket, anyone?”

He felt the softness of fur brush his hand, and looked down to see Lucia, her wind-chapped lips smiling as she offered Farkas’s cloak. Vilkas returned the smile, realizing he was grinning like a fool as the Greybeards standing around him shared a look of warm triumph.

Safe. Carefully wrapping her in the warm furs, Vilkas lifted the woman and slowly walked back to the waiting Companions, who cheered loudly. Even the dragons seemed moved by the accomplishment. Odahviing rumbled a querulous trill, nudging at Sigrid’s hand that protruded from the furs. At the sour look he received from Vilkas, the dovah sighed. “ Zu'u koraav vahzen do nii, warrior. Do not misplace her again.”

“I have no idea what that...first part was, but I do seem to remember it was you who flew her far from home.” Vilkas retorted, feeling the woman slip as the furs slid wetly against his gauntlets. Readjusting his precious burden, he almost spoke to deny how tired he was when Farkas approached. Until his twin arched an eyebrow and extended his arms, as if to say, really? Vilkas had taken weeks to regain his former strength after being nearly bitten in half by the World Eater. Even now, he felt the burn of maintaining his grip.

“Very well,” Vilkas sighed, allowing Farkas to take her. She looked so small and pale, nestled in his brother’s arms.

“When will she awaken?” Athis peered at her, a frown stretching his thin lips.

Arngeir pulled at the folds of his grey robes, his stave planted firmly in the permafrost. “That will be up to the Dragonborn, I fear. That she has resumed her mortal form is a marked improvement. Time will tell.”

As the dragons rumbled their farewells and took to the air, the Companions retraced their steps on the path to Whiterun. Now, they were joined by the Greybeards, who had accepted the offer of feasting and celebration with grave dignity. And one slumbering Dragonborn, wrapped in furs, dead to the world as she dreamed.

Vilkas hovered near Farkas until his brother rolled his eyes. He then contented himself with following behind, scanning the area for any threats as his heart beat wildly with elation.

She was herself, once more. Out of it, but the woman couldn’t sleep all the time.

Sigrid would awaken. Soon.

Chapter Text

Winter had fallen, silent and cold. The long sleep.

She dreamed of a blizzard; the ice riming her lips, frosting her eyelashes and hair with lacy flakes of snow as she stumbled, hip deep in the drifts. The drifts became waves, clear and brilliantly blue as their white capped peaks towered over her.

She stood at the brink of the abyss, looking into the deep as the waves crashed over her. The sun seemed so far away as she drifted down, down to the dark deep that glittered with stars -

 

Wake up. Please. Wake up, woman.”

 

Black waters rushed into her mouth as she opened her mouth to take a breath. She couldn’t breathe, could do nothing but panic as she sank, struggled, fought to reach the surface. Where there was air, light, warmth. Limbs tore against the heavy press of darkness, seeking…

- Suddenly there was air. Gasping, she shook in relief. Inhaled deep. Then another breath.

There were lips, warm and real against hers.

“...Sigrid?”

 

********************

 

The feasting of the Masters of the Voice went on the entire week before the Dark Day of Midwinter.

Arngeir and his fellows were given an honored place at table, directly seated near the Jarl and his most trusted advisors. Dragonsreach bursted with life amidst the silent snows; juggling, dancing, singing all filled the hall as the feast wended on. No mug went unfilled, no mouth unfed. The bounty had been prepared for all to enjoy.

Vilkas took pleasure in none of it. Sigrid lay as one dead, still, carefully watched in the Temple of Kynareth as they all celebrated without her. A week had passed, and Danica Pure-Spring grew more and more grim faced the longer the woman went without substantial food or water. She had brushed a mixture of honey water and healing herbs upon Sigrid’s lips, and Vilkas had been gratified to see her idly lick it off. Slowly, and far between.

Not enough to sustain life.

Far from the feast he had hoped to share with her, with her fellow shield siblings.

Seated near the rest of the Companions, he picked at the honey nut treats Lucia had placed before him. “You have to eat something , mister. Hey! Try this!”

He huffed a sigh as the girl placed a bowl of pudding before him. Sweet spices had been sprinkled atop the mush, and without enthusiasm he dug in a spoon at Lucia’s urging.

Teeth crunched against something hard. Spitting it out, he examined the offending object carefully.

“Oh, lucky! You found the bowl with the hidden nut! That means something good will happen to you!” Patting his back, Lucia spun away and ran off to Farkas to tell him the good news.

Vilkas sighed once more. He hated to break the young one’s hopes. Every day she had visited Sigrid, piling winter blooms and snacks near the Harbinger’s resting place. Talking to Sigrid in a running babble of childish enthusiasm and worry.

He didn’t have the heart to stop her. Every day Sigrid slept, the hole that ached inside him grew a bit wider.

Putting the spoon back on the table, Vilkas looked down the table at the assembled Companions. Aela had rejoined them three days ago, accompanied by Majni and his fellow werewolves from Solstheim.

They were all wearing pale, black tipped fur pelts atop raggedly cut leathers and looked fairly wild to the armsmasters view. Aela had joined them in their collective getup, the ruffled cowl somehow right as it rested against the Huntress’s leathers. She had reluctantly accepted the group hug the Companions had greeted her with, but Vilkas did not fail to note how tightly her fingers grasped as she hugged each of them in turn. She had been missed, as well. There was so much to tell, to catch up on amidst those who had been friends since they were whelps.

The Frostmoon pack had been gruff, but cordial. Farkas in particular was delighted to discover that Aela and Majni were together ; Vilkas would not be surprised to see the Huntress surprised by some poor sod of a bard singing odes to love in the near future. He hoped the bard could run fast.

The werewolves were surprised, but thrilled to be invited to a feast. Though he rather thought they were poor company in a civilized setting, Vilkas thought wryly as Akar broke wind loudly, grunting at the glares he received in turn.

He didn’t miss it. Did not miss the speed, the wild strength coursing through him. When Majni had politely prodded him about his past with the beast blood, he was able to answer calmly. Without excessive emotion. And as the pack leader’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, Vilkas realized that the foul edge of his temper that had always simmered, waiting to explode was gone.

Oh, he was still brought to anger fairly easily. But it was manageable. He no longer felt like flaying every new blood who dropped a sword on his toe, or misfired an arrow, or wrecked a shield by standing upon it. It was reassuring to feel more fully human, relaxed and more in control than he ever had been, as a beast.

Was it like that, for Sigrid? He pondered as Athis refilled his mug with spiced mead, taking slow sips as the rush of noise and music seethed around him, like a stream parting around a rock. Had the dragon poisoned her ready smile, the happy optimism that had radiated from the woman as she performed the smallest of tasks?

 

Nothing for it. He could not linger, pretending to enjoy himself any further.

 

Standing, he carefully pushed the happy drunks who surrounded him aside, as he made his way to the great double doors that led outside. He waved at Farkas, who had been trying to get his attention. His twin currently had his arm snugged tight against Carlotta, the other ruffling Mila’s hair as the child devoured a plate of sweet rolls and honey nut treats. Waving in response, Farkas gave him a sad smile as he returned to doting upon his future wife and child.

The cold bite of chilly air was pleasant, after the smoky heat of the hall. He walked in thoughtful silence to the Temple of Kynareth, nodding as passing villagers hailed him on their way up to Dragonsreach.

Snow had begun to fall once more, and he soaked in the still peace as he pushed open the door to the place of healing.

“Vilkas! Why aren’t you feasting with the others?” Danica stood from her chair near Sigrid’s bed. The Harbinger was the only patient that remained. Even the sick farmers and soldiers dragging broken limbs had been assisted by their fellows to the celebration.

He could see the marks of exhaustion, the lack of sleep that lay heavily upon the healer’s shoulders. “I’ll watch her, for a time. Go get some food and rest, Danica.”

“Just don’t stay up too late, this time. You’re no good to her, or to me if you don’t take care of yourself!” Giving him a fond look, the priestess rubbed the small of her back as she quietly left, shutting the door gently behind her.

Setting himself down in the chair with a yawn, Vilkas reached for the book he had been reading yesterday. Aela had brought back a knapsack fairly bursting with new books, as a wedding gift. He flipped through the Skaal tale of Aevar Stone-Singer, trying to remember where he had left off.

“...Speak to her!” Danica had urged him, the day she had been returned to her human form and the Companions had laid her to rest upon the bed in Kynareth’s temple. “It has been my experience that those who sleep can still hear. She will respond, eventually.”

And so he had. Each of the Companions had taken the time, one by one, to speak quietly to the woman who lay, restless and dreaming. When his turn came, Vilkas felt his throat close with damned emotion. The words...would not come.

So he read, instead.

“You have done well, Aevar. You, the least of the Skaal, have returned my gifts to them. The Greedy Man is gone for now, and should not trouble your people again in your lifetime. Your All-Maker is pleased. Go now, and live according to your Nature. And Aevar started back to the Skaal village."

A finger twitched. He looked over, scanning her form anxiously for any signs of life. Her breathing was shallow, steady. Shaking his head at himself, he continued to read aloud.

“And then what happened, Grandfather?”

“What do you mean, Child? He went home.”

“No. When he returned to the village,” the Child continued. “Was he made a warrior?”

Or taught the ways of the shaman? Did he lead the Skaal in battle?

“I do not know. That is where the story ends,” said the Grandfather.

 

There. Her hand had definitely moved.

 

Marking the page, he placed the book on the table that held the healing mixtures and honey water. He could see small changes; fingers restless as she struggled in her sleep. Her eyes moved, rolling behind closed eyelids. Warmth bloomed inside him as he saw her pale lips tremble.

She was fighting, fighting to escape her slumber. To awaken.

“Oh, Sigrid.” Sitting next to her on the stone bed, he tucked the furs that covered her more tightly around her form.

The woman had lost weight in her long rest. He could see the fine tracery of blue veins webbing over the ivory pallor of her skin. The Shout had returned her to her human form, which Vilkas was grateful for, but it was not until he had the luxury of time to examine her that he realized just how deep the changes went.

The freckles were gone. Back again was that moon-pale skin, soft and unmarked by scars, sunspots or time. Her left hand bore all five fingernails, neatly trimmed by Danica, as they had been almost talon-like in their length and sharpness at first. The sun-ripened burnt brown hair he had grown accustomed to seeing in their tangle of braids was dark once more, spreading in a waterfall across her shoulders, trailing over the bed. Aela had spent some time brushing it, sorting out the knots until it fairly gleamed in the lantern light.

Suddenly, Vilkas realized she more closely resembled herself as he had first seen her, so long ago when they had rescued her from the necromancer’s cave. Youthful. Unreal. More like an elf tale of a wood spirit than a living woman.

No one escaped from life so unmarked. Her marks now remained only on the inside.

Still, it was Sigrid . That same nose, the stubborn chin, those expressive eyes still shut tight against reality.

Those lips, so full and slightly parted as she breathed . He could feel the passage of breath, proof that she was alive as he bent over her. Curled his arms protectively around her, as his bearded cheek lay against the smoothness of her skin.

“Wake up. Please. Wake up, woman .”

Filled with yearning, he turned his neck to press his lips against hers. Tasted the sweetness of honey, with the bitter burn of elves ear and blisterwort.

Her mouth parted beneath him, drawing the very breath from his lungs.

Hardly daring to move, he held himself still above her, as her breathy gasps came closer together. Faster.

“...Sigrid?”

Suddenly, she began coughing. Choking.

Hurriedly he sat up and lifted her to a seated position as she continued those hacking coughs, her frail frame shaking. His hands held her upright, and in his wild joy he barely registered the bumpy ribs, the knobs of her spine that he could feel through the soft white nightgown she wore.

 

She was awake ! She was alive !

 

A cold hand touched the skin of his neck. Trailed through his hair, hair he had not cut in months that now lay almost to his shoulders. “...V-Vilkas?”

With a cry that was almost a sob, he hugged close to him once more. Tucking her head in the crook of his chin and shoulder, he managed barely to control his relief as he laughed, all the tension and fear flooding away with the tremulous movements of the woman, touching his hair, his neck, his lips.

“Vilkas. Mmm. I need - oh, shit.”

“What?” He broke away from her, looking over her anxiously. “What do you need?”

She bit her lip. Her hazel eyes ( still the same! ) were bloodshot, but calm in their gaze.

“...I think I need a chamberpot. Like, right now. Sorry.”

Giggling as he carefully released her from his shaking grasp, Vilkas shook his head, a smile pulled unwillingly from his lips as he stood up to fetch the woman a damn chamberpot.

She was here. She was back .

And as he was shooed outside of the temple as the woman wriggled in her desperate efforts to keep from pissing herself, he couldn’t help the deep laugh that broke, happy and gods so relieved as he waited patiently for his woman to care for herself. Another daily task that meant she was alive.

Alive, well, and his .

 

*********

 

The Midwinter Festival was as fantastic as Sigrid dreamed it would be.

After Danica Pure-Spring had arrived back at the temple to see Sigrid very much alive and well, she had put her on bed rest for three days. Slowly, the news circulated that the Harbinger had awakened from her long rest, and Companions eventually trickled in, bringing delicacies from the feast along with wide smiles and hearty hugs.

After eating so little for so long, she couldn’t bear much more than a few sips or bites of anything. Lucia, in particular kept urging her to eat as much pudding and sweet rolls as the girl could sneak out. She broke off pieces instead, smiling as the girl devoured the rest.

Aela hovered nearby, and when the rush of visitors ebbed in their frequency it was she who sat with Vilkas, bringing boiled eggs and spiced mead to her as they chatted, catching up on all the news. The woman had been frank in her disbelief as Sigrid cautiously related the entire tale of the death of Alduin. But Vilkas backed her up, relating his side of the story, and eventually Aela deigned to at least accept the fact that Sigrid, helpless whelp and unworthy Harbinger, had slain the World Eater. As a fucking dragon. After venturing to Sovngarde, Hall of the Valorous Dead, only to be trapped in time, sent to another world and flung through Aetherius to return, once more.

So much of this was like a dream that Sigrid smiled in commiseration as Aela shook her head, struggling to take it all in. She knew the feeling, and every time Vilkas leaned in, taking her hand in his she squeezed his hands with all the feeble strength that remained in them. Grateful for what she had been given, for what had been returned.

Farkas came in, joined by Carlotta and Mila halfway through the tale, so she had to begin again from the beginning. As more of her friends and family interrupted, she had laughed, fairly swaddled in furs and covered in plates of food, and announced that she was not going to talk anymore until everyone showed up at the same time.

It took her the better part of a day and into the night of the Dark Day itself to speak of everything that had occurred. It was satisfying to let her shield siblings know about Kodlak Whitemane. Almost, Sigrid thought, she could see tears in Aela’s eyes. The woman had turned away as she spoke of Kodlak, of Ysgramor and the other heroes of Shor’s Hall. She especially relished the astonishment on the faces of her fiance and his brother as she related how she had met their mother and father in Sovngarde. How they looked, what they had said. It was almost worth all the highs and lows, the sheer exhaustion from too much too soon, to see them so lost for words.

“Well, damn. Seems that this is something else we have in common,” Vilkas finally choked out, as Sigrid explained the cause of their rescue, their induction into the Companions at such a young age.

“I wonder why Jergen never mentioned them at all,” Farkas mused, stroking his woman’s hair as she slept curled upon his lap.

“You were both so young. ‘Barely out of breechclouts,’ Gydda said. Maybe Jergen didn’t want to traumatize you any further?” Sigrid suggested, picking at her egg and bread. Behind her, Vilkas huffed a laugh. “It is enough to know they are well, in Sovngarde. We will see them again.”

 

On the last day of forced bed rest after Midwinter (the priestess insisted she was still an invalid, though her arms and legs finally seemed responsive and she itched to move) Sigrid cleared her throat, looking at Vilkas who had been folding furs and blankets, always close by. “What, woman?”

“Vilkas, I’m so sorry.” She touched her bare neck, grimacing. “I have...no idea what happened to my Amulet of Mara. I think it ended up on the Throat of the World, along with whatever happened to my armor and other stuff.”

His grey eyes softened at her words. “Don’t worry about it. I can always get you another one...unless, you have changed your mind?” His tone turned playful, as he nudged her over on the bed, sitting almost on top of her until she slid off entirely, laughing.

“Yes, you skeever shit, I will still marry you. Though I don’t know why I put up with you. I’m the Dragonborn, remember? Slayer of the World Eater. Killer of the Glenmoril Coven. Destroyer of the Dark Brotherhood. You should be out there with all those men, begging me for my favors.”

Vilkas grinnned. There had men (and women) who had petitioned to be allowed inside the Temple, just to speak with the acclaimed Dragonborn. A few had been bards, urging her to set her tale to song, so that her exploits could be sung far and wide. Others had wanted her to perform tasks for them, to talk to this Jarl or fetch that sword from some cursed tomb. A few had brought bunches of flowers, amulets and rare fur pelts as gifts of courtship (he discreetly threw those away). One very adorable little boy had begged to see her Shout something, just to brag about it.

With a mischievous wink, she had complied. Her whisper of “ Zul Mey Gut” had the boy looking around frantically for the source of her voice. Her disembodied voice giggled and sang silly songs that echoed in the temple, to his astonished pleasure. That had been fun.

“Why? It’s not as though you can run away.” Grabbing a snow bear pelt, he threw it on the woman who laughed, muffled as she tried to crawl out from the heavy weight of fur. Leaning over, he bit back a laugh of his own as he rolled her in the pelt like a lump of dough until she was trapped.

Satisfied, he flopped to the floor. Her head, the only part of her that was visible, blinked in agitation. “Really? How old are we, four?”

“You tell me. Aren’t dragons supposed to be immortal?”

“And that explains why I killed so many of them.”

Watching as her face slowly became solemn, he sighed. Damn it, not again. She had these moments, less and less as time passed on, that she grew dark with inward grief, dwelling on recent memories.

On Bryce and her children. He knew she suffered over the means by which she had left them, alone, with no goodbyes as she stalked Alduin in her world.

It had sparked hours of conversation, as they discussed whether or not they would have eventually ended up in the same situation, trapped in the necromancer’s spell had Sigrid stayed to camp with her family. Had Alduin’s shout taken her to an alternate timeline? Was their current time unchanged, really?

Metaphysics aside, it was impossible to tell, and as she wriggled trying to release herself from the wound up furs his thoughts became less introspective. More distracted, as he spied a pale shoulder emerge, the nightshift dragged down almost to the faint outline of her rosy nipple in her efforts to be free.

Very distracted.

He had been careful. So careful and cautious as he dared to touch her, this new Sigrid who was frail and soft and so new. Ages since they had shared that incredible night in the bed at Breezehome.

Vilkas had been understandably occupied since then, what with the attacks on Dragonsreach and his vigil over her as she slept. Watching as both times he waited for the dragon, the woman, to awaken.

She was awake, now. And so was he. All of him.

Danica wasn’t watching, busy with grinding herbs into salve for potions. He leaned over his woman, placing both arms on either side of her. Keeping her from unwinding any further.

Her breath puffed against his cheek. “Let me out.”

“Not yet.” Dropping his head, Vilkas breathed in her scent. Clean and cold, like the snowberries in the soap she had used that morning. He traced the sharp edge of her collarbone with his nose, as she slowly moved beneath him. He had kept his beard, at her shy insistence. It tickled her now, as she breathlessly laughed, squirming as he brushed his cheeks, his lips against Sigrid.

“Vilkas, get off.” She whispered against his hair, as he dared to dive further, drawing away the nightgown as his mouth dipped into her cleavage. “We are not alone. Get off.”

He grimaced against her skin. And wasn’t that just the way it had been, lately. No one left her alone. Not even with him. She was too famed, too immensely popular to be unbothered.

Hearing her gasp as he quickly licked her breast, one quick swipe, he pulled his head free and started unwinding the snowy white fur. She was blushing, the skin of her chest pinking beautifully as he shot her a smug smile.

Soon. All this would go away, as the novelty of the Dragonborn and her victory wore off, and the Dark Day’s festivities wound down, sinking into the peaceful rhythm of winter chores.

Soon he would have her alone, again.

 

He couldn’t wait to make her scream his name.

Chapter Text

It was nearing the end of Rain’s Hand when preparations began for a double wedding. The first that the people of Whiterun had ever seen, or could remember. Especially between two such well known and unique couples.

The snow had begun melting in earnest weeks ago, and an early spring heralded a warm summer.

And mud. Lots and lots of mud scraped off of boots. Smeared upon doorways and tracked into houses. The tightly curled buds of wildflowers and bulbs struggled to emerge from the soggy mess, and there was a definite green tinge to the trees and bushes of Whiterun. In a few days, leaves would uncurl in the life giving light, buds would bloom...the mud would dry and life would go on.

Sigrid would be happy to see the rain, the mud and the remains of winter go away for a good long while.

“Why couldn’t we just keep up appearances and sneak away when no one is looking?” She grouched as she scrubbed at the floors of Jorrvaskr on her knees. Beside her, Carlotta chuckled quietly, also kept busy with scrub brush and buckets of water. The sharp smell of juniper hung in the air, shot through with wood smoke and the other, less pleasant scents of a melting spring. Something had died, somewhere in Jorrvaskr’s pantry and hall, and Tilma had turned the place inside and out to find the dead skeever decomposing beneath the floorboards.

Now, they had all been roped into a furious spring cleaning. Mucking out clogged privies. Clearing the ruined straw that had molded and stunk in the training yard. Njada was out back with Lucia, beating the furs and tapestries hung on lines of rope with brooms. The Harbinger could hear the thwok thwok thwok as they clapped out all the dirt and dust that had built up from being hung inside the smoky hall for months.

Taking the cake of juniper soap in her hands, Sigrid gritted her teeth as the sharp lye stung small cuts in her hands. “I mean, I know it’s tradition. Men and women are separated for a week before the wedding, to rest and purify, blah blah. It doesn’t mean I have to like it!”

“This is just the first part.” Picking at a blister on her palm, Carlotta stretched with a sigh. “Imperials have different traditions, but I helped with the last wedding here. You’ll see...it will all be worth it.”

Tilma entered, bearing new buckets of rags and hot, steaming water. “Of course it will. This is the first day, where you cleanse your home and hearth. This week, Harbinger, you will shed all remnants of your former life, to prepare you for your life as a wedded woman.”

“Symbolically, of course. You are still the Harbinger, Sigrid. And the Dragonborn.” The old woman added with a wrinkly smile, as Sigrid huffed as she scrubbed a particularly stubborn spot in the wooden floor. “But you must attend to your tasks, if only to give peace of mind and distract you from your worries. Your man will be busy, too.”

“Yes. Because hunting out on the plains is just as purifying as cleaning a house, top to bottom.” Looking at the Dragonborn’s sour expression, Carlotta snickered. “Really. Don’t you think you can wait a week? It’s not as though you’ve been apart all that long since midwinter, Sigrid.”

Actually, she had. Vilkas had been with her for the last few months, of course. Physically. His presence stood behind her as Jarl Balgruuf gave her a public accolade in his hall, placing a finely crafted steel axe in her waiting palms as his court applauded.

Her fiance had lingered, frowning at the many who came to Jorrvaskr to solicit advice, to ask her to undertake quests or to ( she blushed ) consider their son or grandson as a possible future spouse. She had quickly remedied her lack of an amulet of Mara after the last, very elderly rich gentleman had not taken ‘no’ for an answer. The pervert was probably used to getting his way. His robes fairly dripped in gemstones and the rank scent of musky oils and perfumes. Such a turn-off; she preferred the smell of pine and good honest sweat any day over that .

Sigrid smiled wickedly. Freezing him in place with a gently whispered Thu’um had sent just the right message. And, it had kept her protective fiance from throttling the poor man.

Yes, he had certainly been there. But they had not been alone , in what felt like an achingly long time.

Stolen kisses and quick, hurried caresses only went so far. Every time they stole silently away from the piles of work, training and constant questions, it had ended up with someone bursting in them, calling for the Harbinger, for the Dragonborn or the Master at Arms for something that just couldn’t wait. They were both reaching a snapping point. The recent rains, which churned dirt into mud underfoot and brought biting flies and insects in the rare instances it did not rain, was not helping.

One evening, they had been desperate enough to sneak away to the rubble that still covered the back of Dragonsreach. Hiding in a crevice beneath a large slab of toppled stone, she had been pulled back against him as he divested her of any clothing he could reach. Helpless to resist as his fingers worked against her, inside her...she had moaned like a wanton, rubbing herself against him shamelessly, until a torch bearing guard approached.

Never had she fastened her bodice laces so fast.

At least she wasn’t the only one terribly frustrated by this entire situation, she thought in sympathy as she had watched him bully the new bloods with unnecessarily difficult tasks. Walking up all the steps to Dragonsreach, just to haul away rubble back down again. Fifty pushups, in full armor and weaponry. Sparring until they dropped from exhaustion. He pushed himself as well, running drills and laps until he nearly fell asleep face down in his evening meal, and she had to push and prod him down the stairs to his old bedroom. Where they would inevitably be interrupted by someone needing something again.

And now, he was gone hunting with the men of Whiterun. Off to find a mammoth for the wedding feast, with other manly rituals. Whatever a man did to prepare for a wedding here in Skyrim. She really hoped there was no Tamrielic equivalent of a stag night, complete with strippers or drugs. Although, she thought as she carefully removed a splinter from her thumb, a night like that would be fairly amusing to watch as a casual observer. She wondered what ‘sexy dancing’ looked like, here. Did the men throw septims at the dancers as they shimmied and swayed? Ouch.

And she was stuck here. Scrubbing.

So fucking frustrated she could scream with it.

She wasn’t sure she (or Carlotta) would last the week.

 

**********

 

After the first day of cleaning house and hearth (Breezehome had not escaped Tilma’s exacting treatment. She had nearly died when the woman discovered her stash of leather cords and pots of honey. Thankfully she asked no questions.) it was then time to weed out items that the bride would wear on her person.

Even after the years she had spent in Skyrim, Sigid did not really own a hell of a lot. She opened the chest that contained her personal belongings with aplomb, relishing the surprised shock of Tilma, Carlotta and Njada as they beheld how little she really had.

“Damn. I think we actually need to buy you some shit before you get married, Harbinger.” Njada held up a stained, torn dress and wrinkled her nose.

“Is this really all you’ve got? No chests of jewelry or armor hiding somewhere?” Tilma supplied hopefully.

Sigrid growled in irritation. “Everything I wear ends up getting destroyed, somehow.” Her amulet of Mara, her dresses...hell, even her dragonscale armor had not been salvageable. She owned a few volumes of books, stacked beneath a dried out old wreath and some spare potions that had long since passed their expiration. Oh, and some worn out underclothes and half a bar of soap.

“That’s it, then. Time to go shopping!” Carlotta shut the chest with glee.

One thing Sigrid did not lack for was septims, at least. Ever since she had cleaned out the Dark Brotherhood sanctuary, she had been in the black for funds. She had just never really gotten around to spending it on things that were not absolutely essential for survival.

The Harbinger found herself standing in nothing but smalls in Belethor’s back room as the Breton measured her with quick, snappy movements. Promising to have an entire wardrobe ready by the time of her wedding, she had left his store with two brand new gowns. One was a rich forest green, embroidered in golden yellow leaves along the wrists and neck. The other was a deep lake blue, simply cut with a square neck.

No frills, lace or fuss. She absolutely loved them, and as she turned this way and that in front of the mirror as Carlotta and Njada made approving sounds, she decided to wear the blue dress out. When had she last gone shopping with friends? Gods. Not since she was a young mother, going out on the town to visit the tiny antique slash consignment shops that popped up like mushrooms along the country highways.

Next was a visit to Fralia. Over lunch, a simple affair of spring vegetables in a chicken broth at the Bannered Mare, Njada informed Sigrid that a Nord woman wouldn’t be caught dead without some sign of wealth decorating her neck, arms and ears on her wedding day. Did she want Vilkas to look like he was marrying a beggar? No, of course not.

A silver necklace, earrings and rings set with deep sapphires joined the space in their rapidly dwindling bags, along with a gold and emerald collection that matched the green gown. As Njada haggled with Fralia over the cost of the goods, Tilma placed a crown upon Sigrid’s brow with a nostalgic sniff. “Nord brides always wear a crown. Whether it be a crown of flowers or of gems, my girl.”

She had put her foot down on the crown part, arguing that she couldn’t possibly spend thousands of septims on something she’d only use once. Grumbling, Tilma had relented, brightening only when the Harbinger promised to wear any crown of flowers that the woman provided on the wedding day.

Hours later, Sigrid was the proud owner of several hand-stitched quilts, hammered metal pans, a new cooking cauldron with tri-footed stand and ladle, a full set of bottled salts and spices, and more shoes and accessories than she had ever owned, even in her previous life. She was wealthy now, Njada had sniffed. Powerful. A hero in her own right. Why didn’t the Harbinger want to show pride in her appearance, her home?

As her friends helped her store the leather stitched house slippers and fur lined boots away in Breezehome, Sigrid marvelled at how much could be accomplished in a single day. “There, isn’t that better?” Carlotta smiled as they put away all the kitchen goods, stocking the shelves with more food and supplies. Stacking firewood in the corner of the living area, Njada returned Sigrid’s shaky smile with a fierce grin. Grabbing Sigrid’s shoulder, Tilma clucked her tongue. “When was the last time you groomed your head, girl? Sit down now.” Tilma began yanking at her (crazy long, she really had to cut it soon) hair with a bone carved comb, with Sigrid making exaggerated faces of pain as Carlotta giggled and Njada scoffed.

Surrounded by friends, she relaxed into her seat and listened with a smile as they continued talking. A quivering rush of anticipation filled her as they spoke of other wedding traditions, how the families of the bride and groom chased each other to the bonfires, where the losers would serve the victors their mead. Njada teased Sigrid and Carlotta both about the wedding night, offering suggestions and jabs at their men as Sigrid sat helpless in Tilma’s grasp. She retorted good naturedly, asking about the stamina of Dunmer men, which made the woman sputter. Thank Shor and Kyne she had put an end to that line of questioning.

Sisterhood. Something she had missed, for far too long.

 

******

 

As the days passed, dragging by so slowly , their friends did their best to distract Sigrid and Carlotta from the upcoming nuptials.

They shopped almost every single day that week. Sigrid had never felt so pampered, or so poor. Unused to seeing the septims leave her pouch so easily, she dragged her feet as Njada forced her to purchase some new travel packs and purses, since hers had holes that could almost drop septims through them.

Aela the Huntress spent one quiet afternoon helping Sigrid hammer out a marriage band. She had been forced to explain to the Harbinger the significance of this little tradition, when Sigrid blinked in puzzlement and asked why there were even wedding bands or amulets of Mara, if they just exchanged arm bands during the ceremony. It had been almost...charming to see the woman splutter as she tried to impress upon the Harbinger the importance, the symbolism of the unbroken circle. Similar to the unbreakable nature of the marriage vow.

But his armband didn’t take very long at all to craft, and as it cooled she lingered by Warmaidens, gazing longingly at the gleaming daedric swords and elven axes. Carlotta had shown up to drag her bodily away to try on scents at the Khajiit caravan. Finally, they had just arrived with the spring thaw, and business was brisk.

Her old friends were welcoming, promised to stay for the wedding...and she left with three bags full of glistening sugar, a good-luck charm shaped like a crescent moon (to be hung over the marriage bed, Khayla had purred with a wink) and three full bottles of scent. After they had sampled all the different smells, Sigrid came across something that smelled exactly like bergamot and sandalwood. It was perfect for her future husband, and she bought it, along with two other bottles of oils that leaked oil of gleamblossom (almost like freesia) and a very strong earthy patchouli-like smell that she was told came from the emperor parasol moss of Morrowind.

The day before the wedding, Arcadia gave her a kindly lecture on the uses of potions for birth control, explaining the efficacy of each. Taken with one spoonful a day, the one she had sold to Sigrid would prevent childbearing until the time of her choosing. Thinking about the IUD that remained still inside her, Sigrid listened along with Carlotta, wondering how to approach this particular can of worms.

In one of the rare moments they had (relatively) alone, Sigrid had stood with Vilkas in the training yard as they watched the new bloods undergo the morning exercise routine.

Twisting her dress in her fingers nervously, Sigrid made a split second decision to just blurt it out.

“Vilkas...do you want children?”

You’d think she had asked if he wanted to strap stilts to his legs and stumble about like a giant, the way he had looked at her. “Er...do you?”

Sigrid huffed. “I asked you first. Let’s not make this about me.”

Sucking in a breath, Vilkas turned to face her more fully. Sigrid shielded her face as the early morning sun reflected off of his armor, nearly blinding her. “I had thought...with what happened...you -”

Oh. So that was why he was struggling so damn hard. He was worried about her past, not necessarily avoiding the topic.

“I’m up for it, if you are.” Watching his pale grey eyes widen, she thought fondly of tiny baby fists, curled tightly around her finger. A toddler, face smeared in honey from a sweetroll, with Vilkas’s eyes and her nose.

“But only if you feel right about it. These decisions need to be made together. And where I’m from, we usually talk about it before the wedding.”

Vilkas had looked confused. “Woman, what has kept you from bearing my child until now?”

She had explained, much to their mutual embarrassment, about the tiny copper string a doctor had inserted inside her that kept her from becoming pregnant. “I could...take it out, if you like. It might take a while. To get pregnant, I mean. But...I’m willing, if you are.”

He had stood there, scrutinizing her for what felt like an eternity as she bore up bravely beneath that cool stare. “Aye. I’d like that.”

And that was the end of it. It had never come up in conversation again. But she felt a warmth burn within her, as she contemplated having another child. A tiny newborn, to feed and cuddle. His child.

“Why are you smiling like that? Seriously, stop. It’s just creepy, after all that lecturing and shit.” Njada pulled her along, nearly shoving her into Jorrvaskr as the others followed. “Now, time for my favorite part.”

Oh dear. Carlotta and Sigrid shared a look of foreboding, as they followed Tilma and her shield sister further into the hall, down the stairs where the hot springs steamed.

 

**********

 

Njada Stonearm was a horrible, wonderful tormentor.

At Tilma and Njada’s urging, Carlotta and Sigrid had stripped off all their clothing. Submitting themselves to the ‘ritual purification’, they had been soaped, scraped clean of all excess body hair and rubbed down with rough cloths. Their calluses had been rasped with pumice, the skin of their backs and limbs fairly sloughed off with the salt-oil mixture Njada gleefully sanded them with.

Eventually, Aela, Lucia and Mila joined the women as the brides to be had their hair washed in oil of frost mirriam. The girls were guided to stand upon their backs, and Sigrid squeaked as Lucia walked along the sides of her spine. “Eeek, Lucia, that hurts .”

“Hurts so good, you mean.” Carlotta winced. “Maybe a bit more to the left, Mila?”

“Wimp.” Njada carefully kneaded Carlotta’s shoulders, as the Imperial sighed in appreciation. “Your turn, Harbinger.”

Surprisingly, the combined effects of the exfoliation and massage felt...good. Her skin fairly tingled with all the stimulation, and afterwards she sat on the edge of the pool and compared her skin to Carlotta’s. They both practically glowed with all the scrubbing...Sigrid’s skin being a lighter shade of rose than the Imperial’s more olive hue.

Damn, what do you know. The torture worked like a charm , she thought in admiration. This, she thought sinking into the hot springs with a sigh, was infinitely preferable to scrubbing floors. “Almost, I forgive you Stonearm.”

“Aaah! Hot hot hot!” Carlotta yelped as she almost overbalanced, with Aela saving her from a plunge with a tug of her hand.

They all sat there, blissfully naked and not a care in the world. Drowsy from the heat, the younger girls were soon ushered off to bed. Tilma returned from taking them upstairs with towels and bottles of wine, which were gratefully accepted as they sat on the benches carved into the walls.

Sigrid blew bubbles in the hot springs, idly wondering where all the water went. It must recirculate somewhere, she thought, as she watched the water gurgling under the stone cracks that extended past the smoothed bathing area. Or else, she thought with a wince at her modern mind intruding in this stone age ritual, this would be really unhygienic.

“Hey, ‘Lotta?” She turned her head lazily to her friend, who looked half asleep herself.

At her nod, Sigrid continued, lifting a pruney foot from the water. “Since we’re going to be sisters soon, I have a big favor to ask.”

It had taken a whole bottle of wine to bolster Sigrid’s courage, but eventually she ended up sprawled, legs apart and nervous as, well, a virgin on her wedding night as Aela and Njada carefully pried out her IUD. Carlotta and Tilma stood to the side, trying not to watch. “Ouch, ouch ouch goddamn it , don’t ruin me!” Sigrid shrieked, trying to hold still as Aela’s questing fingers were shoved up inside of her.

“Don’t pretend to act all virginal, Harbinger. It’s unbecoming to lie. Now hold still.” Holding aloft the copper wire triumphantly, Carlotta made a face as Aela waved it around in the air. “So what is this thing, anyway?”

Tilma clicked her tongue in disapproval as blood slowly oozed from Sigrid’s poor abused womanly parts. Sigrid glared, whispering the shout of healing under her breath, relaxing somewhat as she helped Tilma clean up the floor. “It is a type of birth control where I am from. I don’t want it in there anymore, but fuck Aela you nearly made it unnecessary the way you were yanking it around in there!”

“Why not just take a spoonful of potion every day?” Njada wondered aloud.

“Because I’d have to remember to take a spoonful of goddamn potion every day.”

Ignoring her Harbinger’s seething glances, Njada pursed her lips. “Can I have it? If Carlotta doesn’t want it, that is? Since you’re going to be sisters ,” the Stonearm fluttered her eyelashes.

“I, er...I don’t need it.” Carlotta muttered, looking everywhere but at the women staring at her in surprise.

“Oh damn it.” Uncaring of her nakedness, Aela flopped down next to the Imperial. “How long?”

“A week, maybe.” Seeing how nervous she was, Sigrid slid over and put her arms around her friend. “It’s alright, isn’t it? Does Farkas know?”

Carlotta sniffed, her eyes welling with tears. “Nooo…” As the Imperial began to sob, Njada and Aela shared a look of baffled confusion. Always the caretaker, Tilma grabbed a clean towel and offered it to Carlotta, patting her back and murmuring kind nothings as the woman continued to cry her heart out.

As she took in the nonplussed stares of the women surrounding her, Sigrid was reminded of just how young her friend was. Carlotta had been no more than sixteen when she had given birth to Mila. Seven, almost eight years later and in her early twenties, the woman had endured so much for someone so young. But hormones and fright made for a bad combination, and the Dragonborn decided right then and there to be the big sister she always wished to have.

“Carlotta, this is wonderful news.” Offering the Imperial a fresh towel and discreetly taking away her wine, Sigrid smiled encouragingly. “Farkas already loves Mila so much...I know he will be over the moon to know you are both going to be parents again soon.”

“Oh, I know he’ll be a wonderful father. I just...thought I’d have more time. And it has all happened so fast…”

“Believe me. I’m with you there.” Her face was puffing out from all the tears. “Here. Let’s see if we can’t use some cooler water to blot out all the redness. Don’t want to undo Njada’s hard work.”

“Goddamn right.”

Shooting the woman a look, Sigrid sighed. “Look...you don’t have to tell him right away. But the longer you wait, the more a secret like this will weigh on you. For your sake, tell him soon. M’kay?” Stealing a glance at the Imperial’s flat stomach, Sigrid thought it would be unlikely that anyone could tell she carried life inside her, at least for a while. Comparing her own belly to the younger woman, she realized with a bit of horror that even her stretch marks had been taken from her, in the strange weirding spell of the Shout that had turned her back to a human from a dovah.

But strange as it sounded, she wanted her stretch marks. She missed her stretch marks, even feeling a thread of nostalgia for her old scars. They had been proof...proof that she had endured something so fucking awful, but had come out on top. Sigrid had cried, all alone in the bathing area that day in Kynareth’s temple, when she realized how altered she was. Like something had ripped the skin from her bones and had given her a replacement, without her permission. It was just another reminder of the slow disappearance of her previous life, the kids she had carried and born and raised. All gone with the spell. Poof.

Sometimes, she thought viciously, she hated magic. Thu’ums counted as magic, in her book.

Fucking apocalyptic death dragons and their meddling ways.

Carlotta smiled, still so beautiful even after bawling her eyes out, Sigrid thought with a bit of amazement. Not like her, with her ugly cry face. “I will. I’m so glad we’re going to be sisters, Harbinger.”

“Sigrid.” Patting her awkwardly on her naked back, she flopped back on the stone floor, suddenly exhausted. “Call me Sigrid.”

“Call me out of this sugar-sweet mess. Are you sure you’re actually a warrior, Harbinger? Shouldn’t you be strumming a lute in a tavern somewhere?”

A hand lifted, wagging a finger. “Don’t tempt me, Njada. Bards here could use some different music.”

And as the evening wound down with a heated argument about differing tastes in songs Sigrid began to tune out, idly combing her fingers through her wet hair. She felt a shiver of anticipation quiver deep in her belly for what tomorrow would bring. A double wedding, with dancing and presents and finally some alone time with the person who meant most to her in all the world.

She couldn’t wait.

Chapter Text

"You know, I bet the women are having a shitload more fun than we are right now." Farkas grumbled quietly, as he and his brother looked at the noisy, mouth-breathing rabble that had taken over their hunt.

Days later, they were still stalking the same damn bull mammoth far west of Whiterun. Anoriath had been beside himself when he had been asked to arrange the traditional hunt, and had gone into a frenzy of mapping out the likeliest spots to find the massive herbivores. Both Farkas and Vilkas had been consulted on known watering holes, whether the brothers preferred male or female prey, and did they know any wild mammoth game trails that did not also lead to a giant’s camp?

Vilkas almost wished he hadn't gone through so much trouble. The small getaway, which had originally only included himself, his brother, Athis, Anoriath and Majni of Solstheim had swelled to include the rest of the Frost moon pack and what seemed like half of Whiterun.

They had planned to camp out beneath the stars and the waxing light of Secunda with just bedrolls, until they were waylaid by an army of shouting, gesturing men. Now there was a paddock for horses, four firepits blazing and two wagons for carting off the bones, meat and pelt of the mammoth they were supposed to hunt. There were so many tents set up that from far away it could have passed as a soldiers camp; if the soldiers had forgone all vigilance and decided to slop down the mead like there was no tomorrow.

As the crowd of city men drank and sang, the twins were unable to escape the spotlight. Toasts and cheers were made in their honor, and Vilkas ended up hearing way more ribald jokes and lewd praise for his betrothed than was proper. Fixing the blankest of stony stares on his face, he gritted his teeth when Nazeem elbowed him and loudly joked about the chances of Sigrid shouting him to death in an argument, with the punchline involving a gag and restraints of some sort. The idea had sparked a burst of rough laughter, and Vilkas had broken several arrows in the stress of containing his anger until Anoriath snatched the quiver away with a roll of his eyes.

Farkas did not get off much easier. Even with Whiterun being the trading capital of Skyrim, a fair amount of prejudice still existed against Skyrim’s southern neighbor. And everyone knew that Carlotta Valentia was a war widow, which was a mark against her in this company.

"So, that's a fine Imp ya got there," one deadhead had slurred, stumbling towards Farkas. "Got your snowberries in a bind over some milk drinker, eh? Nord women not good enough for you?"

That comment had prompted an all out brawl. It had been by far the most interesting thing to happen so far, Vilkas thought dryly. He and his brother had emerged from the fray blooded, but victorious. Farkas was not even breathing heavily as he left a trail of groaning, injured men behind him.

Ah well. If they weren’t man enough to hold their drink and defend their words, it wasn’t Vilkas’s business to interfere. Much. He did accidentally ‘stumble’ over Nazeem as he passed him crumpled up near their other combatants. A shame, that. Trying to hold back his grins at their expense, Vilkas made a final decision the fifth night. Enough was enough.

"Let’s just go our own way", he muttered to Athis, Majni, Anoriath and his brother, when the drinking and storytelling continued without end. At this rate, there would be nothing for the wedding feast but a bunch of hung over Nords with sour moods.

Not at his wedding, he vowed.

Anoriath had agreed quickly, his face pinched in disgust as he gathered his quivers and bow. After the hundredth time being referred to as piss-face and tree-fucker, the Bosmer was also rethinking his role in this undertaking. Athis had been called names only once; the offender had swiftly found the Dunmer’s blades between his eyes, pressing into the skin until a flood of apologies followed.

Vilkas spit into the fire, disgusted. It was all well and good to hate the Thalmor and their Aldmeri Dominion. A war had been fought, with many thousands dead. In his past experience, he did not feel a shred of regret in the pleasure he had found killing the Altmer agents of the Thalmor. Faceless, nameless shadows of an oppression his homeland still fought against, still.

But Anoriath? Athis? Vilkas had known them since he was a boy. They were of Skyrim as much as he was. Teasing out of camaraderie was one thing. But the dark hatred diverted and focused so easily on men that were different - it was low hanging fruit. Despicable. A true Nord would never stoop so low, to take away the dignity of another with crass words.

Silently the five men slipped away in the dying light, in pursuit of their prey.

 

******

 

They tracked the mammoth to the head of a massive waterfall, west of Rorikstead.

It was ideal, Vilkas thought with no small amount of pride. It had been a difficult trek, in the rain soaked terraces of the tundra that was split with rocks and small waterfalls with the spring runoff. But with the high cliffs that rimmed the waterfall, and the far side closed with a high rocky ridge that blocked any escape...there was no place for the mammoth to run. Risky. But if they worked together, it would be a fine kill.

Majni tested the edges of the spears they had brought. "I still think bringing the beast down would be easier in my other form."

"Keep your voice down." Farkas calmly replied, eyes searching the horizon as they all stood ready, prepared. "Not all here are aware of your wild nature, Maj.”

“Here they come,” cautioned Vilkas, as he felt the pounding earthshake of the thundering mammoth approach at a full gallop, driven closer by Anoriath and Athis running closely behind.

And by Shor, it was a fight ! The mammoth was a fine, large male in his prime. Trumpeting furiously at the men who sought to take his life, he swiped his tusks in a heavy arc that sent Majni crashing against the rocks, spear fallen from nerveless fingers.

Athis had taken a mad leap of faith; landing squarely on the mammoths back. As the others jabbed at the beast with their spears and arrows, shouting to herd it ever closer to the rock wall, the Dunmer began stabbing the spine in quick, surgical movements.

Not to be outdone, Anoriath pulled back his bow in a full draw, squinting as he lined up the perfect shot. One that would take the mammoth down, straight to the head. He was interrupted by Farkas and Vilkas, who with unspoken agreement had pulled out their greatswords and with carefully timed swings managed to hamstring the mighty mammoth.

Collapsing, the beast bellowed in pain and rage, the sound echoing in the cold night air. It was the work of a moment to end its suffering. Offering his blade handle first to Farkas, his twin blinked at the queer workmanship, then shrugged as he used Vilkas’s Falkniven knife to slash the mammoth’s throat.

As the lifeblood fountained out, the dying mammoth moved, jerked in thunderous twitches, then lay still.

 

*****

 

There were rituals to be done, in the old Nord way when a man hunted for his wedding feast.

Kneeling near the cooling carcass, Majni solemnly swiped blood stained fingers over the foreheads and cheeks of the brothers, smearing it onto their chests.

At their urging, he recited an old Skaal blessing, praising the fruits of the hunt...the leathers and furs that would create clothing and shelter, meat for sustenance for the wives and children waiting back home. Even the bones would not be wasted, Majni reassured the spirit of the animal, as he thanked it for giving its life to the hunters, in the name of the Allfather Spirit.

Vilkas felt a distant sadness as he thought of Kodlak. It should have been the old Harbinger's task, to do this. 

While the blessing was spoken, the elven brethren had not been idle. Cracking the great ribcage open was the work of a moment, and Anoriath soon presented the heart to them. Ruby red, glistening with the hot fresh blood of the kill, they each accepted it and took a bite.

Chewing laboriously, Vilkas managed to swallow his gristly share manfully, without grimacing. He had had his fill of raw meat as a wolf, and preferred his meat well dead and roasted as a man. It was Sigrid, ironically enough, who preferred her steaks raw and bleeding, not him. Dragonborn indeed.

Seriousness over and done with, the Frostmoon leader was almost effusive in his praise, as they all joined together to hack and carve the great animal into more manageable steaks and rib roasts. “I had a wife, once.” Majni reminisced as he sliced the liver into equal portions.

“How did you trick her into marrying you?” Anoriath shot back, struggling with the looping intestines as he struggled not to perforate them. It was the damn hardest thing, the effort to take out the stomach and all the waste without breaking the tender membranes, spoiling the meat.

The men laughed as Majni sniffed, moving to skin the furred hide. “In my prime, I had my pick of the females. But Helgir was fast, her eyes sharp. She was a fine mate, a good hunter. I was sad to see her pass on.”

“And how does it go for you now, that you and Aela hunt together?” Vilkas asked pointedly as he salted the sliced remains of the heart. They had found some wild garlic and leek, which had been thrown into their travel pot to boil along with the meat. Wiping his hands on a tussock of grass, he caught his brother’s eye and grinned as he waited for the answer. Farkas pulled a face in response, occupied in removing the tusks from the weighty jaw.

“...It goes well enough. Ah, but she is a fierce thing.” Examining the brothers with a gimlet eye, the werewolf sat back on his haunches, blood dripping from his knife. “I wonder that neither of you saw her fit to wed, yourselves.”

Athis exploded in a flurry of poorly disguised laughter, the twins not far behind as they tried to contain their mirth. The very idea made Vilkas feel almost sick inside. The huntress was many things; friend, trickster, shield sister...but to bed?

Vilkas would rather crawl naked through hot coals than even think of Aela like that .

Keeping a straight face, Vilkas turned to the older man. “And that is why you are far braver than I, Majni. Remember...we grew up with Aela. Being tormented by Aela. Having oil poured on our sword handles by Aela...”

“...and he’ll be wedded to the Dragonborn tomorrow! Now who thinks the Huntress is terrifying?!?” Anoriath added gleefully.

The whole discussion devolved into an argument over how to choose a spouse, what the most important requirements were, and so on. Blocking the majority of what he heard from his mind, Vilkas focused instead on the raw beauty of the landscape. Secunda shone nearly full and round, hanging in the sky on a bed of woven light from the auroras. Insects chirped as the wind blew gently, ruffling the waves of grass that had sprung free of the spring mud. Wildflowers also dotted the plains here and there, a promise of further warmth and life.

As he stirred the heart-soup, adding more garlic and leek as he tested it with his tongue, the Nord thought about the woman. His woman, about to be wed to him tomorrow.

She certainly had the advantage of him there, having been previously married. Cleaning the edge of the knife she had given him, he examined the fine antler-wood handle that had been so smoothly polished. He would honor her dead husband’s memory...would strive to care for her in all the ways a man could for his wife. And, he reminded himself with a sudden flush of anxiety, for their future children. She had caught him by surprise with that one.

Though the vision of her, full bellied and round with his child, was an image that frequented his thoughts more often of late, Vilkas had held back. Had silenced his tongue. Not having been a father, he could only imagine the pain of losing a child, much less eight of them. It would be her choice, he had decided long ago. Her body that bore the fruit of love. But, he reminded himself, she had approached him . Demanded to know what he wanted.

A slow burn of warmth filled his heart as he recalled her face, strained and waiting for him to respond. Yes...he did want children with her. Would treasure them.

He was making a good start, he reassured himself. Vilkas could provide for her, had already made the hunt successfully. He had rescued her, and she had saved him time and time again. They were well matched.

As the night went on and the stars shifted in their eternal patterns, Vilkas wondered if Ysgramor looked down upon his Companions with pride. If Kodlak had joined him, searching for Shor’s Hall on those vast grassy plains. He took his tusk of the mammoth after supper had ended and set the tip of the Falkniven to trace, carefully, an edged repeating pattern in the ivory.

He would make something of beauty, for his Sigrid.

Smiling, he watched as Farkas nodded in approval and began carving his own tusk ivory as well.

The fire popped and snapped, the red meat marbled with fat heavy in their bellies and piled neatly against the great mammoth’s hide.

 

A good kill.

 

*******

 

The trailing, inebriated group of townsfolk came by their camp the next day.

It was noon when the horse drawn wagons creaked slowly to a stop near the carcass. Seeing their sheepish looks, Farkas and Vilkas merely rolled their eyes and gestured for the men to help them cart away the remains of their kill.

When nothing but a few bones and the innards remained, food for the wolves, the men set onward back to Whiterun. It was a journey made far longer by the sickness and groaning of the men, who had drunk every last drop of the barrels that were meant to last the entire week.

Not averse to strong drink by any means, the twins shared another look of exasperation as one man leaned over on his horse to retch, vomiting on the grass that was quickly given a wide berth by the following walkers. It would have been nice, Vilkas thought longingly, to actually drink some of his own damn wedding mead by the fire.

It was the sixth day, the day before their wedding when they stopped by a steep ravine to camp for the night.

As the rabble set up their tents and prepared for the final push in the morning, Vilkas and Farkas stole away to the nearby streams, to begin the final ritual of purification. Women had theirs, secret and done in the solitude of sisterhood. The men kept their own traditions as well.

Never having done this before with any of his comrades (he felt a pang of sorrow for Skjor, dead this last year. The old veteran had deserved more.) Vilkas merely did what felt right. He and Farkas ducked their heads beneath the small waterfall that streamed glacially cold water into a shallow pool.

Stepping onto the gravel gingerly (damn mud crabs always popped out when you least expected them), they scrubbed themselves all over with fine silty gravel and sand, until they were red with the effort. Submerging themselves beneath the falls again, Vilkas sighed as water sluiced against his hair, down his back. Somewhere nearby, his brother did the same.

He closed his eyes and let it all go. Washing away all the doubts and fears of the past. His insecurities and petty vengeance, all poured into the spill of water that ran over and down him, into the ground.

Pulling themselves from the frigid water as they shook themselves dry, Farkas and Vilkas set up camp a bit further away from the assembled men, choosing solitude on this their last night of bachelorhood.

“Makes you wish we did this more often, eh brother?” Carefully removing a chunk of ivory with his knife, Farkas tilted his head towards Vilkas. “Think we’re getting soft, mostly taking city jobs.”

“Aye.” His tusk had been carefully split into parts. The main length of it, he wrapped in oilcloth for Sigrid to do what she would with it. Decorate their home, maybe. The round base he hollowed out into a ring, thinning and smoothing the sides until it resembled the bracelet he envisioned.

Making fine, crosshatched designs, he worked alongside his brother until the sun set completely, sinking into the horizon.

They spoke quietly, now and again. Of small things. A funny story Carlotta had shared. The way the auroras danced above them. Something Sigrid remembered from her impressive, unbelievable journey. What it meant, now that they knew, knew their parents names. How they had begun their lives.

And as the fire died completely near the middle of the night, Vilkas laid himself down next to his snoring brother and blinked up at the stars. Feeling a pleasant ache in his loins as he shivered in expectation of the day ahead.

Finally, he would have her all to himself. Finally, they would be alone.

Idly he wondered...how could he get his woman out into the sun, practically naked, just to see those freckles bloom like constellations against her skin? To trace them, marking the path of the Warrior, of Fjori and Holgeir. Trace with fingers, then with his tongue.

As he thought of days to come, he drifted off into deep, dreamless sleep.

At peace with his world.

Chapter Text

Startling from a dreamless sleep, Sigrid blinked as sudden shouting awakened her.

It was their wedding day. The auspicious day of Fredas (the only day to be married, according to Tilma) in the first week of Second Seed.

And thank Shor and Kyne for the end of Rain’s Hand. The last couple of days had been free from rainfall, and slowly the ground had dried from a sodden mess to actual grassy earth. Small blooms had peeped, unsure of their welcome, all across the fields and gardens of Whiterun. It looked to be a pleasant, sunny day. Perfect for a wedding.

They had turned in late last night, after soaking for so long with wine and hot water. Wrapping themselves in towels, they had lain down on the beds and immediately passed out into sleep.

But now it was morning. And there was so much to do!

Njada Stonearm was the source of the shouting, naturally. She arrived before there was any chance of breakfast, bearing Sigrid and Carlotta’s wedding dresses. She had wrestled herself into a dress as well, the Harbinger thought in stunned amusement. While it looked somewhat out of place on the venerated warrior, Sigrid couldn’t deny...the bitch had style. Njada’s hair had been braided into a half crown, the remaining length spilling against the back of her hunter green gown. “Hope you drank your hangover cures, ladies. Because this is probably going to hurt.”

After being poked, shoved and prodded into a tightly laced corset, Sigrid agreed. Feeling sick, she stealthily loosened it. She noticed that Njada did not give the same treatment to Carlotta, who looked relieved. No doubt due to the little Farkas baby growing inside. Awww.

The gowns had been chosen according to personal preference. Having asked what was traditional for Nord weddings, Sigrid was unsurprised to hear that pretty much anything went as far as color was concerned. Carlotta had chosen an Imperial style gown of white linen that draped becomingly, fastening at her shoulders and corded at her waist. On her head soon rested a garland of elves ear and wildflowers.

Sigrid had wanted a more warlike look. How fitting for a Dragonborn and Harbinger to wear full armor to her wedding? She had argued for wearing a new version of her dragonscale apparel. But Njada and Carlotta had shaken their heads in a definite no when they saw the prototype lying in pieces at Warmaidens. It wasn’t even ready yet. And did she even have a romantic bone in her body, Njada had demanded? Didn’t she want to look stunning ?

So she had gone full gothic medieval, instead.

Her wedding gown was a rich amber gold, with a tightly laced bodice and long bell-like sleeves that nearly dragged to the ground. It had been embroidered on the cuffs and the neck with delicate dragon runes in black thread. Sigrid had chosen them, drawing the runes painstakingly with ink on paper for Belethor’s seamstress, explaining exactly what she wanted.

All the Shouts she knew, including the names of dear friends and dovah. Words of love, faith, and trust written in Dovahzul. It would have to do. The part of her that was still Sonahsod approved, somehow. Saw her shining scales in the cloth of gold, and was content.

Despite the urging of her friends to wear more elaborate jewelry, she wore only her amulet of Mara, gifted to her by Vilkas. And that dratted crown…

Tilma had been sneaky. She had presented Sigrid with an ornate spiked metal crown, crafted of dark shining ebony. As she examined the beautiful thing, she realized it had been finely engraved with patterns of flowers and vines. Swallowing, she leaned over to allow Tilma to place it on her hair, which had been brushed out and left loose. When asked, the old woman wouldn’t answer where she had received it. Tilma merely smiled, and reminded Sigrid of her promise to wear anything Tilma had come up with.

It sat heavily upon her brow. A weight not too unlike the responsibilities she felt, encroaching upon her happy day far off. Waiting to pounce.

Prepared and waiting anxiously, they were ushered to the gates of Whiterun where Sigrid and Carlotta stood, surrounded by slowly gathering townsfolk. Somewhere close, a drummer beat out a slow tattoo, steady as a heartbeat.

There the women stood. Waiting for their men to return home.

 

*********

 

Slowly trudging up the path that led to Whiterun, the brothers led the caravan that bore the wedding feast.

And thank Shor the assembled men had finally found their balls, Vilkas reflected. It had been a morning filled with delays, moans and complaints, until Athis had quietly spoken to a few of the ringleaders. From then on, the trip back to Whiterun had been remarkably silent. Stoic, even. Vilkas owed the Dunmer a favor for that one.

The mammoth meat had been carefully wrapped and stored in the wagons, ready to be removed and prepared for the day of feasting. As Vilkas and Farkas led the horses who pulled the meat by the bridle, they approached the gates in solemn finery. Whispers greeted them, as the onlookers murmured in awe struck appreciation.

They had decided, after careful consideration with Athis and Majni, to go for all out intimidation. Farkas had laughingly joked about showing up as a berserker, wearing only blood paint and woad and running in naked, screaming. Though it would have been funny (for all of three seconds, until Carlotta backed out of the marriage) Vilkas had encouraged him to wear his finest set of armor. And so he did.

Farkas was resplendent in the carved Nordic armor that echoed the style so favored in Solstheim. Deep runneled curves of quicksilver steel plate covered the black fur lining, making his impressive height even more intimidating by sheer mass. He wore Skyforge steel on his back and had foregone his warpaint for the wedding, opting instead to wear his amulet of Mara and tie his hair back in a tail.

Vilkas, on the other hand, had exaggerated his warpaint with almost black markings that made his cool grey eyes stand out in sharp relief. They were both clean shaven, hair newly shorn. He wore his amulet beneath gleaming ebony armor, finely crafted by none other than Eorlund Graymane himself.

Allowing himself a smirk as he came into view of his future wife, his smile widened at the shock she couldn’t quite conceal at the sight of them rolling through the gates. Damn , but it had paid off to bribe Fralia and Tilma into sneaking that crown onto the woman’s head. He dared any man to say that they did not look like a matched couple.

Standing directly behind the two women, Erandur the priest of Mara waited patiently for the procession to come to a halt. “Brothers and sisters, if you would please follow the wedding party to the Gildergreen.” He motioned with a sweep of golden sleeves.

Striding up to her, Vilkas could almost laugh at the tart look Sigrid shot him. Gods, but she was a beauty. Thanking Shor and Kyne and any of the other gods who were listening, he took her arm in his, holding her hand as tightly as he dared. Stealing a glance at his brother, he realized that Farkas was oblivious to his scrutiny, and was completely lost staring into the blushing face of his Imperial bride as he escorted her to the great tree of Whiterun.

As they walked a steady pace in the procession, Sigrid whispered to him out of her mouth. “What took you so long?”

Smug, he forced himself to keep a blank face. “It took time to kill a mammoth for your wedding feast. I hope one is enough; I know of your massive appetite.”

They walked for a few steps more.

 

“I’m going to do something unfortunate to you for that.”

“Gods, I hope so. Seems like forever since we’ve been alone.”

“Well, we’re not alone now. Oh no... everyone is staring.”

“I hope so. That crown was expensive.”

 

Before she could dignify that with a response, all of a sudden they were there. As if it knew somehow that the day had come, the Gildergreen had blossomed, traced in delicate pink blooms. Looking left and right, Sigrid saw so many familiar faces...there was Keerava and Talen-Jei from the Bee and Barb. Aela and Majni, surrounded by the Frostmoon Pack. Ri’saad and his caravan, Commander Maro, even Solaf and Bolund from Falkreath had arrived in time. Njada gave her a slight nod, holding Lucia and Mila by the shoulders with Athis hovering close by. Tilma, Arcadia...even Jarl Balgruuf was present, standing with family and all his court to see their Thane wed the arms master of Jorrvaskr.

Erandur walked a slow step as he took his place in the cleft of the roots. The drumming stopped, and the quiet susurrus of voices ceased whispering as the ceremony began.

Raising his arms, the priest began speaking the words that had been passed down, old as the Skyforge. “Let us begin the ceremony. Shor Allfather, Loving Kyne, we gather here today to wed this man and this woman…” he gestured to Farkas and Carlotta, who stood beaming. “...and this man and this woman….” Sigrid could feel Vilkas tighten his grip upon her hand.

“...in the bonds of matrimony. It was Mara that first gave birth to all of creation and pledged to watch over us as Her children. It is from her love of us that we -”

Try as she might to listen, to pay attention to the words Erandur spoke over them, Sigrid felt almost edgy with suppressed excitement. All she could think of, all she could feel was his arm against hers. His hand holding tightly. The presence of his form so near, after so long. Sneaking a look up at his impassive face, the Dragonborn felt warmth flood her with affection. Nudging him with her hip, she smiled brightly and was rewarded by a small smile of his own.

“...a life lived alone is no life at all. We gather here today, under Mara’s loving gaze to bear witness to the union of these men and women, their souls sealed in eternal companionship.”

Taking a shaky breath, she felt for the twisted dragon-headed torque she had crafted days ago, preparing for the part in which she would pledge herself to him. “...May they journey forth together in this life and the next, in prosperity and poverty, and in joy and hardship.”

For better or worse, Sigrid thought distractedly as his thumb traced over her knuckles.

Erandur turned to Farkas and Carlotta. “Do you, Farkas of Jorrvaskr, warrior of the Hall of Companions, take this woman Carlotta Valentia to be your wife? Bound together in love, now and forever?”

The giant man smiled gently. “I do. Now and forever.”

Turning to Carlotta, who blushed prettily, he repeated the question, changing the names. “Yes, I do. Now and forever.”

They exchanged arm bands under the watchful gaze of Whiterun and the priest of Mara. Farkas slid a beautifully carved ivory bracelet upon her arm. With tears in her eyes, Carlotta returned the favor and gifted him a hammered quicksilver bracelet that had Nord runes stamped upon it.

Good choice , Sigrid approved wholeheartedly. She had been with the Imperial when the woman had dithered over which of Fralia’s wares to give her soon to be husband. This one had been the best, and the least fussy. She had good taste.

A frisson of nervousness flip-flopped in her belly as Erandur turned to her and Vilkas.

“Do you, Vilkas of Jorrvaskr, Master at Arms of the Hall of Companions, take this woman...Sigrid Farstrider, Dragonborn and Harbinger of the Hall of Companions, to be your wife?”

“Bound together in love…” his hand suddenly squeezed hers, tightly.

“...now and forever?”

His voice was strong, proud. “Yes, I do. Now and forever.”

Oh gods, her turn. “Do you, Sigrid Farstrider, Dragonborn and Harbinger of the Hall of Companions, take this man - Vilkas of Jorrvaskr, Master at Arms of the Hall of the Companions, to be your husband? Bound together in love, now and forever?”

She could barely speak, over the lump in her throat. Oh damn it. She was going to cry. “I really do.” As her mistake was greeted with a whisper of laughter, Sigrid blushed all the way to her crown as her husband smirked. “I mean...yes. I do. Now and forever.”

Hardly even hearing the priest as he continued talking, she almost jumped as Vilkas slid a bracelet carved from mammoth ivory upon her arm. Holding it up, she marvelled at the even, delicate patterns that had been rubbed with ink, to bring the designs out in stark relief against the yellow-white of the tusk. It was an amazing piece of art, and she bit her her lip shyly as he smiled down at her.

Removing her own offering, she was gratified to see his eyes widen as she placed the twisted open bracelet onto his bare wrist. She had worked for a full afternoon to craft the tiny dragon heads that topped the twisting spiral of steel, and it was adjustable for comfort. He treated her to an even wider grin, his teeth glinting in the light as she swelled with pride beneath his clear admiration for her work.

The Dunmer priest’s rich crimson eyes wrinkled as he smiled widely. “Then under the authority of Mara, the Divine of Love, I declare these couples to be wed!”

Feeling her face fairly split with a grin as she struggled to keep her eyes wide open, preventing the tears from spilling down her cheeks, she listened as Erandur continued… “ I present to each couple these matching rings, blessed by Mara's divine grace. May they protect each of you in your new life together.”

As each couple took the rings and slid them upon their fingers, Sigrid dared to peek at her new husband’s face. It was a glorious wreck of emotion, his silvered eyes fairly searing into hers as she stood, enraptured. “...And may I remind you of the never ending love and commitment you have both promised today. Like these rings and armbands you have exchanged, may these covenants be unbroken and unbreakable."

“You may kiss, in front of the gods and these witnesses, to seal the union.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she could barely make out Farkas as he bent Carlotta almost double, eyes closed as he savored the mouth of his trembling bride in white. Feeling almost hyper-aware, with her heart fairly pounding out of her chest, Sigrid turned to Vilkas.

His hands left hers to slide up her arms, one hand grasping her shoulders as the other lifted her chin. She closed her eyes, those damn tears finally flowing down her cheeks as she felt his warm lips slant over hers, branding her forever his.

Lost in the moment as his arms slowly crushed her to him, her crown tilted askew as she gave as good as she got. Arching against him, she parted his mouth and glided her tongue against his. Rewarded with a rough gasp, she could dimly hear cheering and shouting somewhere far away, as she lost herself in that kiss.

Breaking free from one another, she realized she wasn’t alone as she burned with happy embarrassment. Vilkas had flushed a deep red beneath all that warpaint; and as he took her hand once more, they were surrounded by smiling faces as hands clapped their backs and cries for their good health and happy union were called out.

Smiling like idiots, they stayed close to Farkas and Carlotta as they were surrounded, hugged and kissed by loving friends and family, shaded by the far branching arms of the sacred tree.

Bound in love, now and forever.

 

********

 

Hours later, Sigrid was glad she had foregone breakfast.

The music, once started, had not stopped once that day. Skalds drummed, played and sang as dancers twirled and stomped, the circular patterns twisting and twining as everyone took their turn on the open floor of Dragonsreach.

She had originally thought their double wedding to be a small affair; maybe a few dozen people crammed into the smoky dining hall of Jorrvaskr. Perhaps in the training yard, with borrowed tables accommodating their guests, where they could get drunk and maybe dance a bit before turning in for a well deserved rest.

Damn, had she underestimated badly. Not taking no for an answer, Jarl Balgruuf had insisted on hosting the Dragonborn’s wedding, courteously inviting Farkas and Carlotta as well, to be held in the vast recesses of Dragonsreach.

The main hall had been decorated for the occasion, with wildflower strung garlands wrapped around the huge banisters, trailing along the carpets on the floor. Everyone had hunted for whatever spring blooms were available, and she grinned to see Athis plop a spring crown upon Njada’s head with a stolen kiss.

By the time the couples reached the great hall, the mammoth steaks and ribs had been roasted and smoked to perfection. Her mouth fairly watered when she smelled the spread that had been laid before them; stacks of loaves of bread, cheese wheels in all shapes and varieties sat next to trays of fish fillets, tureens of soup and more varieties of meat than she knew even existed. Bowls of apples, berries and grapes were spaced along the trestle tables at intervals, and she nearly hopped in place, wanting to try everything .

The best, by far was the mammoth steak. As they sat at table, graciously accepting the constantly refilled mugs of ale and mead, all she could do was try very hard not to smear grease all over herself as she devoured the rich fatty meat. Farkas loaded her plate with baked potatoes and grilled leeks, securing some of the ribs for his new wife. The Dragonborn grinned as she noticed Carlotta looking slightly green at the almost bloody slab Sigrid was digging into.

“Okay. I will admit - this was worth it. Mammoth is amazing.” She spoke as she managed to swallow the remnants of her second steak.

Vilkas laughed, clear and happy. “I’m glad to hear that you got at least something you liked out of this day, so far.”

Choking, she carefully wiped her mouth and turned to him, as he chuckled to himself and cut his own meat, which had been so seared that it was nearly black. “That’s not fair and you know it. How was I to know you were going to spend a fortune for this hairpiece, here?” She tapped the ebony crown, eyes narrowing slyly.

“Besides.” She daintily wiped her mouth, lips quirked in a knowing grin. “The only present I really care about gets to be unwrapped, later.”

He nearly dropped his fork and knife at the look Sigrid gave him, his wife sauntering away to chat with Carlotta who already looked tired from the excitement of the day.

Well. His mind stuttered, kept repeating the words his wife had whispered. Unwrapped later. Huh.

Pretty sure he was still grinning like a fool when she pulled him by the hand into the cheering circle of dancers, grabbing her long trailing skirts with one hand as he swung her laughing in the midst of their friends and countrymen.

Later.

 

******

 

“I hope you didn’t drink too much tonight, because this is our ride out of here.”

Leaning his head back, Vilkas struggled to keep his mouth shut as Odahviing circled lower, landing with a heavy rasp of scale and wing upon the repaired porch of Dragonsreach.

Drem yol lok, Odahviing. Glad you could make it.” Sigrid stepped forward, her face still flushed from hours of dancing and feasting. He felt a bit queasy himself, now that he realized what the night had led to. Oh gods. Please say we’re not flying dragon back, after all that mead and...and dancing and eating. Fuck no.

“We’ll be flying on Odahviing’s back to a...surprise location.” Smiling, Sigrid suddenly looked worried. “Are you alright, love?”

Sweat popped out upon his brow. “Uh…”

This was not quite what he had pictured when his new wife began whispering to him as they danced, teasing him with her veiled plans for the evening. Farkas had already ushered Carlotta away for the night. They had loaned the new couple Breezehome for the next week as a sort of ‘honeymoon’ get away (why that term meant what it did, he would never know) and Sigrid had answered all his questions about what their vacation involved with a sly wink and deflected responses.

But shit, he was far too tanked to ride dragonback and not vomit all over his lovely new wife. Oh, this was bad.

Lost hin kendov laagus nalkun? Vankar do gaan, aalkos?” The air rumbled with Odahviing’s amusement.

The Dragonborn rolled her eyes, hissing through her teeth as responded. Vilkas tried to ignore the churning of his gut as he bit his lip, completely lost at sea in this conversation. “ Tolro nid do hin maarahmik! Dreh ni wahl zey horvutah hi het ontzos.”

The red dovah tilted his head in response, still purring in that bass growl.

“Whatever.” She turned to Vilkas. “Don’t worry. Tonight’s trip won’t take very long at all.”

 

*****

 

It took long enough.

He managed to hold in the imminent eruption of everything he had eaten and drunk, until they landed with a heaving lurch south of Lake Ilinalta somewhere in a forested clearing.

“Oh dear,” he heard Sigid mutter as he shakily descended from the dragon’s scaly back and made his way to the nearest tree.

He managed to ignore Odahviing’s booming laughter as he threw up everything. Gasping, he slumped against the tree he was practically hugging as he realized Sigrid was stroking the hair back from his forehead. Vilkas realized she was speaking to him. “...-sorry I didn’t realize. I’m not a big fan of mead, unless it’s the spiced stuff. I should have known, since you’ve never rode dragon-back before that this would be a problem. Oh, damn it all to Oblivion.”

Embarrassed, he reached for something, anything to wipe his mouth with. A length of linen suddenly appeared, with a waterskin. Wiping himself off, he gratefully swished out his mouth as his woman thoughtfully left him alone.

Cleaned up and grumbling, Vilkas managed to stumble blearily towards the clearing they had landed in. He stopped, taking in the sight with a sudden, new appreciation as the dragon took off, still chortling to himself.

They had arrived at a tidy little cabin, roughly timbered in the old way. The sinuous lines of bears, wolves and dragons, with arched wings and long spiked tails, were engraved into the arched door frames. Flames burned merrily in the goat horn sconces, and Vilkas felt a sudden queer sensation as he looked around at the trees, the rocks, the sky.

“Where are we?”

Hidden in the dark, he could barely make out her smile. “Come on. Follow me inside.”

It was as welcoming as the exterior had been. With short, practiced movements with a tinder box, Sigrid bent over the firepit and soon a warm glow enveloped the room as she stepped back, her face alight.

“This...was something that came as a surprise to me, actually.” She spoke as though deep in thought, as she walked around the cabin. He looked at her, tracking her movements as her fingers touched the shelves, the solid table and chests, even running idly over the fur pelts that covered the wide carved marriage bed. “Does any of this seem familiar to you?”

He had to think about it for a moment; his head was still pounding from their trip. “Somewhat. I’m not sure. What should I be looking for?”

Sitting on the bed with a gusty exhale, Sigrid patted the bed. He gladly sat down next to her, gritting his teeth as the world spun. Damn it all, he would be worse than useless tonight. At least he could pull himself together enough to give her - his new wife, god damn it - pleasure.

“Back when this...was all a game, you remember? There was something in it called Hearthfire.” She patted his arm distantly, her eyes looking inward to another place and time. “It was my favorite. Building your own little paradise in the woods, farming, raising livestock...definitely a bit of escapist fantasy. It wasn’t until I spoke with your parents, in Sovngarde -” his throat suddenly went dry with remembrance - “...that I realized that this place...Windfell farm? It was what I used to call Lakeview Manor.”

“This was your home. Yours and Farkas, when you lived with your parents Thadrig and Gydda. I’ve had it repaired and cleaned up, as a gift to you. A repayment of Breezehome, since that was such a wonderful surprise. And this is far more private...it can be a home away from home.”

A moment passed as she took his hand, holding it tightly as he looked around.

He remembered.

 

...Sticky. He was completely sticky, head to toe as he and his bigger twin got into the sealed crocks of beeswax and honey that Ma had carefully stored in the shed, not far from the apiary where the bees droned in their fields of wildflowers. Crowing at their bravery, Vilkas swatted at the big fuzzy bees with one honey coated hand...only to be stung once, twice. “Maaa!”

 

Farkas, his mouth sealed almost shut with wax and honey, managed to chew and swallow. “Shushh, she’ll be mad!”

 

He didn’t care. Ow ow ow, this hurt! “Maaa, help! Help!”

 

A sudden rushing of footsteps. And suddenly, strong arms held him up.“Ugh, Vilkas! Farkas! What have you boys done!?”

 

Sniffling, he held out his stung arm as he stuck his other hand into his mouth, sucking at the golden stickiness as if honey banished pain. He whimpered around his hand. “H-hurts!”

 

A sigh. “Of course it hurts, little cub.” Burying his face in her neck, he felt his hitched breathing begin to slow, as her hand rubbed slow, smooth strokes over his back. “Farkas, you come along too. Time for a bath, you mucky little Forsworns.”

 

“Aagh, nooo! Don’t wanna bath!”

 

Giggling as Ma hoisted him up almost to her shoulder, Vilkas felt the air breeze by as Ma raced after Farkas, who had stripped himself naked again and was currently streaking for the cow stables; his favorite hiding place. If Farkas managed to cover himself in straw and cow dung, he knew Ma would shriek even louder. “Farkas ruuun!” He screamed with joy. At least one of them would escape punishment today.

 

“Shor’s sake…” His mother huffed as she ran. “I’m going to give you such a wallop, boy!”

 

But she never did. After a thorough bath, Pa set them down later and gruffly forced them to apologize to Ma for the stolen sweet treat. The whole thing was forgotten as later, they were cuddled by the fire as Ma and Pa sang to them. Something husky and comforting that wound itself like a knot in Vilkas’s ears, until he drifted to sleep, warm and drowsing back to back with his twin...

 

And with a deep pang of resentment somehow mixed with gratitude, Vilkas realized he was crying. Shit, when had he ever fucking cried in front of anyone?

Making no sound, he slumped against Sigrid as she pulled them both down to the bed. He breathed against her neck, wrapping his arms around her as the tears slowly ended, drying against his cheeks.

“So, you remembered something.”

Yes. As he looked around, Vilkas suddenly realized he knew this place. Slowly, as they got up and dragged off their wedding clothes and armor, he told her things. Things like the deep depression in the wall near the door; that had been caused by Farkas flinging the cooking cauldron when his mother failed to provide lunch in a timely manner. Lifting a plank of wood on the floor, he pointed out the scratch marks he had made, laboriously scrawled as a boy, into the wood with his father’s stolen dagger.

Feeling the pressing weight of weariness come over him, he forced himself awake. “Sigrid...thank you. This has been quite, er, the surprise.” And he found himself, against all belief smiling with her, as she chuckled at the predicament they found themselves in.

“Raincheck?” She arched an eyebrow, looking at him as he returned her look with puzzlement. “Oh, right. Well, that’s slang for ‘shall we continue this later?’”

Vilkas was silent, thinking. “It’s a poor repayment of your gift. Fuck , the very night of our wedding...I don’t mind -”

She cut him off with a finger to his lips. “Shh. It’s really okay. I’m probably as tired as you are. Well…” she amended that as he rolled his eyes. “Okay, I didn’t slay a mammoth. But I’ve been keeping busy as well.”

Stripped to their small clothes, she tucked herself inside the crook of his elbow and sighed as he curled around her. “Raincheck? I promise, I have something really amazing planned for tomorrow. You will love it. It’s...not as sentimental as tonight was, but it will definitely relax us both.”

Nearly asleep, Vilkas managed to slur out a response, his body relaxing by increments against the layered furs. “Agreed. Raincheck.” She sighed happily, wrapping herself against him.

Entwined in each other, they fell quickly into a deep sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Writhing against him, she gasped as he pushed. “Harder!”

 

“Fuck, woman I’m pushing in as hard as I can!”

 

She bit her lip. “Don’t...think...it fits…”

 

Gripping more tightly, sweat popped out on his brow. “We’ll make it fit! Wider, woman!”

 

Both warriors gasped, as suddenly the rock they had been wedging into the cracked stone managed to crack open the spring. Clear, pure water began to gush, where before there had only been a trickle.

Flopping down on the sand, Sigrid wiped at the strands of sweaty hair clinging to her forehead. “Whew! At least we have water now.”

Less inclined to roll around on the gritty beach, Vilkas stared, soaking in the sight of Sigrid wearing practically nothing but smallclothes as she scooped up handfuls of water and drank thirstily. Droplets of water rolled down her chin, her neck, tracing wet lines between her cleavage. Legs that had been burned and were slowly browning in the sun slid in the white sugary sand as she swallowed. “Oh, that is so good.”

Two days. It had been two days of disappointed hopes for Vilkas. Riding dragon back was an...interesting experience, to say the least. They had awakened the morning after their wedding to the sound of Odahviing singing draconic love songs (Shor’s bones, he thought their speech sounded awful enough. Singing was an entirely new form of torture). As they packed, forgoing armor in favor of lighter layers of clothing Sigrid explained what she had planned for the rest of their week off from responsibility.

It had sounded marvelous, at first. Four days of lounging on a deserted island in the tropical seas off of Hegathe, in Hammerfell. An island that had been vetted by Odahviing as completely uninhabited, wild and beautiful. The perfect place to enjoy some much-needed alone time.

Trouble was, it had taken two full days of flight on Odahviing’s back. Riding the air current that would cut days from their journey, bobbing up, and down...and up, and down…

Sigrid teased him, as they had camped that first night in the mountains lining the great Alik’r desert, that he had now coined the term ‘dragonsick’. Too miserable to argue, he had spent the entire night trying not to heave up any more of their water rations, as Sigrid had hiked off, taking in the sights of the majestic dust-brown landscape rimmed in a golden sunset.

That had been the first day. The second day, as Odahviing wheeled and turned, crossing the neverending dunes dotted with green oases, Vilkas fared a bit better. He managed to keep his seat, clinging tightly to Sigrid who sat fully at ease in front of him.

With every dramatic plunge, she would raise her arms and scream “wooooh!” and shout encouragement to Odahviing, who always roared back in appreciation. He held on like grim death, eyes clamped shut. Vilkas was pretty damn sure the fucking dragon dipped more than was necessary, just to feel him squirm.

The only highlight of traveling this way had to be the close contact he enjoyed with his new wife. Usually Odahviing flew fairly high, sometimes passing through fields of clouds that misted their faces with cool wetness; pleasant after the beating sunshine of Hammerfell. But when the dragon skimmed mere hundreds of feet above the dunes, they shed off their outer protective layers, and he could finally feel her.

All her softness, her curves pliant beneath his hands, crushed between his thighs. The woman had finally gained back some plumpness after months of rest and regular meals. Considering how her ass ground against his cock with every rise and fall of dragon wings, Vilkas heartily approved, and tried to bide his time in this realm of Oblivion until they could land.

At which time, he thought darkly, he would make her pay dearly for all of the agony of suppressed desire she had put him through.

As they flew high over Iliac Bay, passing the cities of Sentinel and Hagathe they could see the sea stretching before them.

Vilkas had visited the North Sea a few times in his life. Had sat and watched white capped waves of silver crash upon rocky cliffs. Had walked along the monstrous glaciers and ice caves that emanated a cold, blue light. To be sure, Skyrim’s northern border of th