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Ice-brain.

He's not sure how that had started. He'd been young, a pup, and it had been Skjor who had started it, that much he knows. The rest is lost to him. As so many other things are.

Meathead. Lumbering oaf. Idiot.

They must have started because of ice-brain. Just the one insult gets boring. So they spice it up, vary it a little. The only thing they have in common is the theme of his intelligence.

Or lack thereof.

He looks down at the war hammer he's in the process of smithing, and he snorts. Who else at Jorrvaskr apart from Eorlund could forge anything like this, he asks himself.

I love my brother, but his brains are not his strong suit.

But. There's always a 'but' in there, isn't there? Love's not supposed to be conditional. Is it? Why should his brains not being his strong suit diminish the love Vilkas feels for him?

He's overreacting, he says to himself. Vilkas doesn't mean it like that. Vilkas likes insulting people.

He makes an exception for him.

Does he?

He makes an exception for him, and then he turns around and insults him. No, no, Vilkas doesn't make an exception for him.

Although he does spare him from his temper. He does spare him from the things he says when he's in a bad mood. He does spare him his abrasiveness. Gudmundr saw the pair of them alone once, a few weeks after he came to Jorrvaskr, and he was surprised at the difference in Vilkas' behaviour.

So, he spares him from most things.

So, he does make an exception for him.

Of course, he does.

Yes.

Right.

Some people don't think I'm smart. Those people get my fist. But you, I like.

He said that to Gudmundr on his first day at Jorrvaskr. Gudmundr had laughed and said he'd bear it in mind if ever he were up for a friendly verbal sparring match. Aela had said she'd have loved to see that.

Njada had said she'd doubted he would win. Kodlak had chided her. Betting against a Circle member in favour of an untried whelp? Learn some respect, girl.

She had not been rebuked, of course; Njada could never be rebuked. Kodlak had worn a rare expression of frustration that had not so much as budged when he had told him to let it go.

Kodlak had always placed too much faith in people.

I've never been a smart one.

He said that to Gudmundr on his seventh day at Jorrvaskr. Someone snorted and said hear, hear. Gudmundr blinked and looked closely at him as if he didn't know what to think.

He has never seen what so confused him.

There was no contradiction. He can think himself stupid, and other people can think him stupid, and he will fist them for it.

But he never fists anyone for those insults. He takes them in good stride. They think him stupid, call him stupid, and he does not fist them for it.

There is no contradiction.

There is every contradiction in the world.

"Is everything all right, Farkas?" Eorlund asks, and he looks up from the forge, brow furrowing. "Only you're looking rather distracted."

"I'm fine," he says reassuringly.

Eorlund nods and pats him on the arm as he heads off to the grindstone. "Just make sure to concentrate," he says over his shoulder.

He watches him briefly and wonders what it's like to be universally respected, the way Eorlund is.

I don't claim to be the best blacksmith in Whiterun. Eorlund Grey-Mane has that honour.

So indeed, he does.

His mind flicks back to several years ago. Skjor had just returned from Chillwind Depths, short of an eye, terribly scarred, and lacking a set of armour and a weapon. Eorlund had taken some time off because of a family tragedy. Skjor had needed new gear.

He went up to the Skyforge that same night Skjor came back, and he worked it for a good week, constantly, hardly stopping to rest. The result was a new set of wolf armour that fit Skjor's measurements and a new Skyforge steel sword that would balance well in his hand.

He had taken them to Eorlund first, for his evaluation.

Shor's bones, boy, this is excellent! This is far beyond the level of quality I expect even of myself. You have a talent for this, Farkas!

Thanks, he had said. Just thanks. Such praise from Eorlund Grey-Mane would be received much more enthusiastically by anyone else.

He was not used to compliments.

He had so hoped for a compliment and had been so very happy to receive it. Perhaps disproportionately so.

He took them to Skjor the next day.

You made this for me? All by yourself? This is… Honestly, Farkas, I can't thank you enough for this.

It's nothing, he had said. Seriously. Think nothing of it.

Skjor's praise for him had made him uncomfortable. He was not used to compliments.

He had wanted it to get back to normal.

He had enjoyed it, while it had lasted.

Later, he would muse over it, remember it. While the others made their jokes, part of him fell back on it. I can't thank you enough for this.

The one time Skjor had thanked him as a person, complimented him as a person, and not as a warrior. It made a change from the norm.

Skjor says that I have the strength of Ysgramor, and my brother has his smarts.

But Vilkas was known for his strength, too. Maybe not so much emotionally speaking—but as a warrior, he was as strong as him, as strong as the rest of them. It was not a compliment all his own.

He did not want a compliment all his own, anyway.

He did so much want a compliment all his own.

He was happy being complimented on his strength alone.

He wished people would give him compliments for things other than his strength.

He can play music. He has a lute in his room, an old and somewhat battered thing that nevertheless still plays well. He inherited it from Jergen. He can play it better than Mikael can play his, and he's never as much as set foot in the Bards College.

Oh, there once was a hero named Ragnar the Red, who came riding to Whiterun from ole Rorikstead…!

A number of times before, he has offered to play it for the others. They have always refused. Stories and brawls are more to their taste.

Besides, they doubt he could play it well.

What do they know of playing music, anyway, he thinks to himself, surprising himself with the bitterness in his internal voice. Bitterness is not for him. Bitterness is Vilkas' thing.

What does he have to be bitter about?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

He can talk, and talk pretty well.

My brother Vilkas is the talkative one. He's around somewhere.

But he can talk, regardless.

Somebody has to get supplies from the merchants, after all, and why would they send someone who can't haggle?

He can't talk.

He remembers an incident that occurred in Evening Star last year, after the end of the war. They'd sent him to get some general supplies from Belethor. Belethor had offered a wartime price, which was no longer necessary. An unstoppable force had met an immovable object.

But everything moves eventually. He had bargained with him until Belethor had, with the greatest reluctance, given in.

They had refused to believe him when he returned to Jorrvaskr, but the amount of coin remaining in his pocket and the recount Sigurd would later give at the inn lent credence to his story. It was an achievement, to make Belethor of all people back down and offer a fair price, but it involved no weapons or blood, just words, and it was him, so even if they did believe him, they never did comment on it after that.

He had expected nothing else.

He had expected some praise, even if only joking. It would have been nice.

His thoughts drift to the events of the last several months, and he flinches. They are still somewhat raw in his memory. The wounds heal and scar, but the process is slow. He supposes he has to wait for the end, and be patient.

He remembers kneeling by Kodlak's body after all was over. He remembers silently asking Vilkas to come kneel by his side, and help him, as Vilkas was always supposed to do. He remembers the awful shock, the grief, the rage, that had filled Jorrvaskr in the aftermath.

Vilkas had not come to him. Vilkas had paced, in a fury that he had scarcely been able to restrain, and he had not come. He seemed to have quite forgotten him.

It hurt. Vilkas was not supposed to forget him.

It did not hurt. It was natural of Vilkas to do this. He was being selfish, wanting Vilkas to help him when Vilkas had his own grief and rage to deal with.

Of course, he was.

Yes.

Right.

He remembers Gudmundr stumbling in, carrying a bag, pale as death from the shock of what he had seen outside. He remembers how he jumped when he saw Kodlak's body.

He remembers Vilkas confronting him, taking out his rage on him. He remembers Gudmundr backing into the door and stammering out a response.

He remembers Vilkas vowing revenge. He remembers Gudmundr agreeing to help him.

He remembers looking around, watching the others as they listened, seeing the implicit agreement in all their weary faces.

And he remembers thinking, But, wait, revenge was what led to this mess in the first place!

He should have opened his mouth to protest. He did not. They would not listen to him, after all. He watched them walk out the door, and Vilkas never once looked at him.

It was wrong. Revenge for something caused by revenge was an insult, and dishonourable, and not what the Companions stood for. It was morally reprehensible.

It was right. The Silver Hand needed to pay for what they had done, and the fragments of Wuuthrad had to be recovered. Besides, everyone else had agreed to it. Everyone else thought it was right.

And if so, then he must be wrong.

He was wrong.

He was right.

He knows both in the depths of his bones. There is a contradiction there. It is not one he can hide from, as he hides from all the others.

Because he does hide. Like a child, he hides. He hides behind contradictions and he pretends both are right, but at the same time knows only one is—a contradiction in itself.

He hides because he cannot face them. To face them would mean looking at himself. To face them would require some modicum of courage and a different sort of courage from that he needs to be a Companion. No, this is a more personal courage. It is one he lacks.

He hides, and he pretends all is fine while knowing it is not, and he tangles himself up in endless contradictions, and he pretends, and he thinks that is adequate. He thinks that is a fair life, a good mindset.

Contradictions and pretending and hiding.

It's not what the Companions are about, and he knows it, yet he continues to engage in it.

Is he a hypocrite, then?

He knows he was right, truly knows it. He knows the others were wrong. He thinks he was wrong because he so hates to go against them, because he needs their approval and their love before anything else. He will get it if he stands with them.

And so in the Underforge he said nothing but a bland Kodlak did not care for vengeance. And when Vilkas agreed with him, as if he had known all along, he wondered, Then why did you go off and take vengeance for him, but he did not voice it aloud. It would be disagreement. It would be a protest. It would be a risk.

How pathetic. Was he ever so weak as this?

Skjor said that I have the strength of Ysgramor, and my brother has his smarts.

If Vilkas does not have the strength of Ysgramor because he does not have emotional strength, then he must lack the strength of Ysgramor because he does not have moral strength, the strength to stand up to his family and tell them what is right and what is wrong. He does not merely lack it; it is absent in him.

Then he has no honour. He pretends he has honour, too, and to pretend he has honour is a worse sin than to pretend all his contradictions and pretending is healthy.

And yet not. He remembers what Kodlak used to say. You act with more kindness than anyone else here, with more honour than anyone except Skjor, and you are smarter than you think. Don't listen to what they say. Remember that.

Kodlak had always placed too much faith in people.

He has honour.

He has no honour.

There is another one where he feels both answers are right, feels them both in his bones. He feels sick. If he has honour—then—he deserves better—he deserves better

His mind reels away from deserving better because he doesn't, he doesn't deserve better, everyone is equal here and he gets a good deal, except how he doesn't, he doesn't—

If he has no honour, then he has no place here.

But—sometimes the others—they don't always have honour, do they? Not always—and he thinks them all honourable and thinks them all worthy of a place here, even Athis and Torvar—and if, despite their dishonourable actions, he still thinks them honourable… After all, he can lay no claim to taking vengeance too far, nor to alcoholism, nor to… nor to a fair few things. He has always tried to act with honour. Tried.

If they deserve their place here, he deserves his place, too.

Where would he go, anyway, if he were not a Companion?

His mind races back, and back, and back, to the time before. Before the Companions, before Jergen, before the necromancers. There is nothing there, nought but a void. All is gone. His parents—their parents, he never came alone, and damn him for thinking of himself on his own—their hometown, their birth sign, their date of birth, their age, whether it is him or Vilkas who is the elder… all of that is lost. There is nothing left but the Companions—and each other.

If he has no place here, then he has nowhere to go.

I go where my brother goes.

The reverse is true, as well. If he has no place here, then Vilkas would come with him. That he can be certain of. They have been their only constants in life for so long, longer than either of them can remember. They are very different, but at their core, they make up a whole. Without Vilkas, he would be nothing.

If he is not already—but he has Vilkas, so he is not—

He wonders, with black humour, if he's experiencing what Vilkas used to experience so often before he cured himself. Endless crises, endless upheaval. It doesn't feel right. His mind is normally so settled, why now has it become so chaotic? Why does he now see his web of contradictions and pretending as clearly as he sees the sun?

He wishes he was blind.

There he goes, running again, like a small child. He has that power in him to untangle his web and stop his pretending and change, but he is afraid of it.

What would be so different if he changed himself, anyway, he wonders. Would the others really stop, just because he asked? Not bloody likely. They wouldn't change a thing for him.

Is that any reason not to try?

But what's the point in trying if nothing will change? He'd have just spent energy on an unnecessary, superfluous, pointless action. Even so… he could… maybe…

And there again, he loops around in endless circles and he can't find a way to break out and all he has to do is choose, but he can't bloody choose because he's so afraid, and he wonders what he has to be afraid of, and the answer's right there—he's afraid of himself, himself, himself and his own power, because after all these years, and all this time, after everything has built up and up and up on him, he knows nothing else and he is scared of any change, scared of things becoming different, scared of—

So much.

Why should he be afraid of himself? It's not as if the others are afraid of him. But they shouldn't be afraid of him, anyway; by the same token, he should not fear himself.

That's not the right answer.

He knows what the right answer is. He has all the right answers. They are there, along with the answers he chooses—invariably the wrong answers, invariably the answers that just make things worse and worse. They are the easy answers. They are the ones that make it so he doesn't have to change, so he can keep the status quo. They are good for their purpose.

But they cause so much pain. So much, so much…

He hears an odd whimpering noise. Realises it's him. Crying? Is he crying?

His hands tighten on the forge, and he stares into it. Eorlund is gone. How long has he been up here? Doesn't matter. Is he crying?

His eyes sting and his mouth twists, grimacing, and he feels pain and tightness in his chest; this is crying. When was the last time…? Probably not so long ago. Over Kodlak, he imagines. But of course; nearly everyone cried for Kodlak. Even Njada. Vilkas, too, but only when alone. He was much too ashamed of his tears to cry even in front of him.

Aren't they both just a pair of fuck-ups?

When was the last time he cried for himself?

He can't remember. By long-developed instinct, he forces it back; buries it all inside him again, but this time he knows he cannot hold. His exterior is so weak, and there is so much he has to hold in. The weight of all those insults, the weight of his pretending and his endless contradictions, the weight of…

Say it, he tells himself. Speak the truth. Say an honest truth. For once in his life.

The weight of himself, more than anything else.

Say it.

For once he speaks an honest truth. Now there is another, and it is at his very core. It is the very heart of the matter. Everything else, every other reason, stems from this one. So simple, but so… clichéd. He feels spurred on to say it, as terrified as he is to know it. But he does know it, and he cannot help that. He knows it in the depths of his bones. Deeper than anything else.

Say it. Speak the truth. Say an honest truth. For once in his life.

He hates himself. He really does.

A terrible truth, but a truth, and he feels bile rising in his throat. He could pretend all he has is a lack of respect for himself, and so he has pretended for years, decades. He could pretend he likes himself, but thinks little of himself, as the others do. Do they…? Maybe he is wrong about that, too. He shies away from the thought.

But this is true. This is undeniable. He wishes he did not know it because now he looks back and yet again questions himself.

All he's been thinking—is it true? Is it even remotely accurate? If he hates himself, despises himself, then how does he know what he's been thinking is really true? If it's coloured by his own bias against himself, how does he know he's thinking on the right track? Is he anywhere near that track at all?

There is a limit, he tells himself. Maybe some are right, maybe some are wrong, but there is a limit.

How does he know which are right and which are wrong? He tries to sort through everything, tries to examine them all again, and all he comes up with are endless contradictions and endless pretending. He's been lying to himself all along, he knows, but how to fix it…?

What would Jergen say, he wonders.

Jergen he defaults to because he knows Jergen loved him, because Jergen never once insulted him or belittled him or dismissed him. He was his—their—father anyway; he would know what to do.

So what would he say?

His mind freezes.

Truth is, he can't think of anything. He remembers Jergen, remembers his big, bulky frame and his deep laugh and even deeper voice and his furious red hair and brilliant green eyes. Redder hair and greener eyes he has never seen since. He remembers how he would play the lute or read to them of an evening, or carry them both on his shoulders if they insisted and not care how ridiculous he looked. Remembers him holding them in his arms, playing with them, instructing them. Some memories are dimmer than others, but… he remembers, and he smiles.

But this he does not remember.

What would he say when they came to him, seeking help? He does not remember this. He casts about, frantically, but there is nothing there. Merely yet another void, as if he did not have enough voids in his life as it is.

And then it pops into his head, clear as day.

You'll look after each other, won't you, in case I don't return?

Yes, papa, of course, we will!

Of course. But, just remember—sometimes you have to look after yourselves, too. You can't always help each other with your own problems. Sometimes you have to rely on yourselves alone. Mmm?

Yes, papa.

He could laugh. That is one piece of advice he and Vilkas have most certainly not followed. He has always taken care of Vilkas, kept him calm when he was on the verge of losing his temper, reassuring him and easing his mind when they still had the blood. And Vilkas has always protected him, swiftly obliterated any threat to his person that he saw, and generally led while he followed. It has always seemed a good arrangement, if, at times, a little unhealthy.

'A little unhealthy', he now realises, is putting it too mildly. There is no balance. He protects Vilkas, to be sure, but does Vilkas take care of him as he takes care of Vilkas? No. Otherwise… he might not be here, in this gods-awful position.

And Vilkas… has not protected him from everything. In the end, the one thing he should have protected him from is the one thing that he joined in on himself, and it is the one thing that has done the most damage.

The insults, the teasing. They're just words, but… they're words. And they've been hurled at him for so long, and by people he loves and respects so highly… of course, he would believe them to be true. The people who he loves and respects, they would not abuse him, of course, so anything they say about him must be true.

Such a childish attitude. Such a stupid attitude. Ice-brain…

He reels away from it, and when he realises what he is doing, he begins to reel away from that, too. Thinking for himself, doing some introspection, some self-reflection… defying, willing to change.

He reels, but something catches him.

It's Jergen again. Fierce Jergen—Jergen the Red, they called him—with his hot temper and his almost superhuman obduracy and his infinite kindness. Not Kodlak, who he knew for far longer and who was always much kinder to him than the others, and not Vilkas, the other half of him, the one constant in his life, but Jergen, who saved both their lives and started everything.  Maybe he wasn't there so long, but no one else has had as big an influence on either of them as he has. In the end, he defaults back to him.

His own kindness and his own stubbornness were Jergen's; Vilkas' temper was Jergen's, too—partly. He must, by necessity, come back to him.

There are no real words. It's just Jergen. He knows what Jergen would tell him—think for himself, act for himself, and don't bother about what anyone else thinks.

He's not at that stage yet. There is still fear and self-hatred and weakness in him; he can't do exactly that just yet. But he can make a start. He can start untangling his web of contradictions and stop pretending and he can build himself up, slowly, and he can dig out all the shards. He can start.

And once he starts, the rest is easy in comparison.

His long-developed instinct tells him to reel away. He is of two mindsets: one defiant, one submissive, and the submissive one has had power over him for so long. Time to shake its yoke. He feels anger boiling, bubbling in him, knowing why he's in the state he's in; all the insults the others have merrily chucked at him since he was just a pup have taken their toll. They left him in this mess. And Vilkas, who should have known him so much better and seen for himself—he didn't just let it happen, he joined in.

He'll need to have words with him.

And if he's right, Vilkas will be so surprised, he'll not even put up a fight. But if he does—he's got plenty of fight in him, too. He'll throw some punches if he needs to.

Maybe they can hammer out something new. Something healthier. Something a bit more balanced. Something that isn't based on him just following and looking after Vilkas, and Vilkas leading and protecting him. He knows Vilkas fears to lose him more than anything else, and that's why he's so protective; but he fears to lose Vilkas, too, and he doesn't have quite the same attitude. Vilkas… he'll have to do some thinking, too. He'll have to face himself, just like he is facing himself. It'll cause him a great deal of inner turmoil, turmoil he hasn't had since he cured himself—but Vilkas is used to turmoil.

And this time, he's going to leave him to deal with it himself.

Unlike Vilkas, he sees not what he wants to see, but what is actually there. They're not so dissimilar in that, eventually, they'll come to understand themselves. All he'll do is give Vilkas a good shove in the right direction—and then wait and see. Vilkas will never get anywhere if he keeps propping him up and thereby stopping him from taking care of his own emotional needs. He might be a much healthier, calmer man if that wasn't the case, and Farkas grimaces, thinking of his own fault, his own part in this. There is so much to dig out…

As for the others, well, gods know. He half-wishes Skjor was still alive so he could ask him what in Oblivion he was thinking, starting a trend of endless insults that's persisted for well over twenty years. Perhaps he had never meant for it to get to this point, or for it to have the effect on him it did. Skjor was, after all, an honourable man, rather abrasive, but honourable, and friendly insults were always in the spirit of the Companions.

Still. There is a limit to these things. He's not asking for it all to stop—just for them to tone it down. For them to acknowledge his other strengths. For them to give him a bit more respect. Is that too much to ask?

There is a part of him that says it is, and he still finds it terribly convincing, but this time—this time—he does his best to ignore it. They may not care in the beginning, but if he keeps fighting it, maybe they'll stand up and take notice. If he lends truth to his words—Some people don't think I'm smart. Those people get my fist.—then maybe they'll see. If he stops hiding, if he stops running, if he stops burying himself in endless contradictions, if he stops pretending

Right. Contradictions and pretending. That's the very crux of it, isn't it? Before anything else, he must untangle his web or all he'll do is get caught in it again. There will be days when he'll find it hard to fight, when he'll not want to fight, and he must make sure that that web isn't there to catch him and entangle him again.

So, then.

Does Vilkas make an exception for him? Does he exclude him from his abrasiveness and his insults?

In some matters, yes. In other matters, no. He spares him the most of his abrasiveness, it is true, but he has his bad days even now. This he knows to be true.

Does he want more compliments? Does he want more respect? Does he want his other strengths and achievements to be acknowledged more?

Yes, he does. Absolutely, he does. Compliments might do something for his self-esteem. He wants to know people think well of him, and not have to convince himself of it. He wants to genuinely believe it. How else can he than through sincere compliments, sincere respect?

Does he have anything to be bitter about?

Yes, oh yes. He has a lot to be bitter about. That he is not bitter is something most would be surprised at. Getting the shaft like this for such a long period of time would leave most bitter, very bitter, but he has always been stubborn, and he has always been kind. Besides, his contradictions and his pretending acted like a sort of sick shield, stopping him from reaching bitterness. Even without it, he does not think he will. Anger, yes, but not bitterness. Bitterness is Vilkas' thing.

Can he talk?

Yes, he can. Anyone who can persuade Belethor of all people to offer a reasonable price is capable of haggling with the best of them. That is unquestionable.

Was Vilkas wrong in not supporting him in his own grief after the attack on Jorrvaskr, and was he wrong for seeking his vengeance?

Yes. He was. Most definitely, he was. If he had gone to Driftshade Refuge solely for the pieces of Wuuthrad, he would have had no objections, but that was not Vilkas' priority. He said as much. And though he stayed back at the Tomb of Ysgramor because his head was too clouded, he said explicitly that he did not regret it. What was the point in staying back, then, if he did not regret his revenge? He feels a stab of anger at the mere thought.

It's been a long time in coming, but he resolves himself to call him and Gudmundr both out on it later. Vilkas for instigating it, Gudmundr for going along with it. There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy about the latter, he knows, and he thinks he'll have to leave it for when it isn't so hypocritical. These things have no time limit.

Does he have honour?

Yes, he has honour. He knows with certainty that he has always tried to act honourably, do right by other people. Probably in this disaster, he acted more honourably than the rest of them put together. The opposite answer, like all the others, calls out to him, tries to lure him back in, but for once in his life he pays it no heed. He knows what is right, and he is determined not to lie to himself anymore. There is moral strength in him, he sees it at last, and he has honour. He must put that honour to good use.

Does he have intelligence?

His mouth twists. Isn't that just the million-septim question… At the end of the day, it's where all this began. One stupid little insult about his intelligence that turned into something that got rather out of hand and led him to this. If he can reclaim this, there's nothing he can't reclaim.

But he can fight, and fight well. He can talk, and talk well. He forged a set of armour and a weapon for Skjor that even Eorlund thought was excellent, and Eorlund never gives such praise lightly. He can play his lute well, and he's never set foot in the Bards College. That—all of that—requires some skill, and certainly some smarts.

So… maybe.

No, not maybe. He doesn't have as much in him as Vilkas does, but then nobody at Jorrvaskr has as much intelligence as Vilkas does, so there's no shame in that.

It's not maybe. It's yes. Absolutely. Certainly. He's not ice-brain. He's… well, he's no genius. Not exceptionally intelligent. But by no means stupid. Perhaps even by no means average. Maybe above average.

He thinks he should feel some joy at finally thinking this, and thinking it sincerely, but all he does feel is an aching protest inside him, the inevitable result of having been told the opposite for so many years. The rest he can convince himself of with not as much effort, but this… this will take time. A long time. He'll have to dig out all the shards first, and that'll be no mean feat. Then… gods know. Just saying it to himself over and over again won't be sufficient.

What will be? He's not quite sure of that.

But, baby steps. He's not going to have the answers to everything at the first. Some things he can change quickly, but other things, things such as this, will not change overnight. He must be patient, and he must not overstretch himself. Take things one at a time, and they'll turn out better.

Hopefully.

"Hey, Farkas."

He glances up, sees his brother standing just at the top of the steps with the amused, condescending smirk on his face that he is both fond of and wants to punch.

Having his attention, Vilkas asks, "Are you coming down for dinner, or are you staying up here all night? You've been here since the late morning." There's that patronising tone of his to match his smirk, and he almost considers punching him now, except as he comes out of his thoughts and enters reality again, he realises how exhausted he is. He's still not entirely used to feeling exhausted or even remotely tired. Not having to sleep much is one thing about the beast blood he almost misses. Almost.

He looks up at the sky, realises how dark it is, and he snorts. "Yeah, I'm coming," he says, finally pulling away from the forge and rubbing his eyes.

Vilkas comes over to him. "You haven't done much," he comments, looking at the thing that'll become a war hammer, lying on the edge of the forge.

"No," he admits. He hesitates. He sees an opening to start, and of course, fear pulls him back again. Fear and weakness and self-loathing. His resolve wavers.

Then he comes back to Jergen again, and the moment passes.

"I got—ah—side-tracked. I was thinking about…" He's not quite sure how to phrase it, and he chews on his lip. Vilkas raises his eyebrow, and he can tell he's not sure what to make of this.

"About?" his brother prompts.

He settles on a generality.

"About some serious shit," he says, and he could laugh at how terrible an answer it is. Vilkas evidently agrees with him; his eyebrow goes up even further, and Farkas finds himself laughing despite himself.

"Really?" Vilkas thinks little of his intelligence too, but he still expects better of him than this.

He shakes his head. "Sorry. That was a shitty response." His laughter ceases. "In all seriousness, though—by serious shit, I meant—ah—I meant things I want to sit down with you and talk about. And I mean—not just stuff where you can tell me what to do. I mean for the both of us."

It's that last bit that makes Vilkas frown. "What do you mean?"

"I can explain better after dinner. I think it's been coming for a while, honestly."

"And I didn't know about it?" Farkas laughs again, blackly, and starts heading down the stairs.

"I hate to tell you this, but you have missed a lot when it comes to me and my issues," he tells him. He looks back and sees Vilkas coming down after him, already looking agitated.

"What issues?"

"See? Exactly!" He gestures to his twin, who grows more confused by the second, and he shakes his head again. "Did you think I never had any problems of my own?"

Vilkas turns red. "It, ah, it never… occurred to me. You never said… and you never acted like…" Even he realises how idiotic that statement is. "Dammit. I'm supposed to know you better than anyone. That was… bloody self-centred, wasn't it?"

Farkas grins. "Not going to lie, it certainly was."

His brother looks terribly uncomfortable. By instinct, he yearns to reach out and comfort him, but this time, he does no such thing. As they reach the bottom of the stairs, Vilkas glances at him again. "Farkas, what were you thinking about?"

"Things that'll take a long time to sort out," he says bluntly. "I'll tell you after dinner."

"Do we need to involve Gudmundr?"

"Not yet, I don't think," he says. He takes some pleasure in having a degree of control over the situation. Vilkas is grimacing, casting about for some ideas as to what he was thinking about, and he decides to let him keep at it. If they're very lucky, maybe he'll hit something. Vilkas can be a bit short-sighted, but he's not blind.

Then again, people always do tend to miss the obvious.

But what a revelation finally seeing the obvious was for him. If he can keep it up, maybe things can change. Beyond that, gods know.

His twin pushes the door open, and they head inside to the usual loud conversation. Over dinner, they'll both be oddly thoughtful and quiet, but the others will suspect nothing for some time yet. That'll do him for now; there's no need to involve the others until he's ready.

Baby steps.

It'll be a difficult road to fix things. But like Vilkas, he takes some pleasure in difficulty. And finally, with some resolve and some courage, some desire to change, in him, he thinks he might be able to do it. Not just to make a half-hearted start that he abandons right away, but to make a proper start and to continue on, no matter how much he falters and wants to give up on it.

It'll be worth it in the end. Change usually is.