New chapter, finally. Sorry for the delay: Planning a wedding is hard as hell, and I'm working on a book.

Plenty of rawr in the next chapter, I promise. Had to cut this one in half. ;)

For some reason, Brett couldn't stop studying Alduin. She wasn't completely certain as to what that reason was, but she was choosing to blame it on her sleeplessness.

He just looked so different when he slept. He lost his haughtiness, the pride that so annoyed her while he was awake. His brows weren't tense, his mouth wasn't pulled into a smirk and, most importantly, he wasn't looking down his nose at her. Then there was the added bonus of him not talking...

Either way, this was the best way to study him. Stripped of his massive ego, she could see the dragon that had been present at the dawn of time. The eldest of Akatosh's children. She could see parts of Paarthurnax in his face, features he normally kept hidden behind his prideful facade. It was strange, how alike the two brothers could look. She looked for glimpses of Akatosh in the World-Eater's face but didn't know what to look for. Was it in the high cheekbones? The shape of his jaw? Or maybe it was in the way his eyes lit up when he looked at the sky, or his fierce determination? The Dragon God of Time was there, she knew it.

Before she could stop herself, she was reaching out towards him. Tentatively, she stroked his face, pushing a stray bit of hair back. The same ache that she felt looking into the night sky curled into her chest. She hated this being beside her, knew that he wanted to destroy everything she knew and cared about. She knew that he wanted her soul. Still, there was something...

'Why him?' she thought bitterly. 'Out of all the people on Nirn, why him?!'

Angry, hurt tears welled up in her eyes. She blinked them back furiously. No, she would not be crying, absolutely not...

Once again, before she even knew she'd made the decision, she was moving. Softly, she pressed her lips against his. After a moment, Alduin stirred, reaching up a hand to cup her cheek even as his mouth responded to hers. Suddenly, his hand moved to the back of her head, letting his tongue invade her mouth.

Slowly, and a bit reluctantly, they parted. Still, he held her in place, not letting her move away from him. His eyes finally opened as that self-satisfied smirk returned to his face.

"Mm, pruzah vovulon, mal gein," [good morning, little one,"] he said softly, running his thumb over her brow tenderly. "Any reason for it?"

The question caught her off guard. "Um, well..."

He cut her off with a kiss of his own. It was light and short, but affectionate, nonetheless. "But perhaps I shouldn't question this," he continued. "Waking to a beautiful little female like you? Few are so lucky," -he took hold of her hips- "Meyz het." ["Come here."]

Before she could say anything, he dragged her over, so that she was straddling him. He ran his hands over her hips in slow circles, an appreciative gleam in his eye. Reaching up, he brushed his hands up her rib cage, over the curve of her breast, and back down.

"I have become...quite fond of you, mal geini," [my little one,"] he said softly, pulling her down to hold her against his chest. "Perhaps not the best decision, but true, nonetheless," -he tilted her face to look up at him- "I might even miss you when you're gone, and I don't say that lightly."

They laid like that for a few moments, the only sound their breathing. Then, the silence was broken by a loud roar. "AL...DU...IN!"

Alduin's attention was immediately drawn away from her. He glanced backwards toward the balcony and, taking the hint, Brett rolled off to the side. After a moment, he rose and looked out to the horizon. She couldn't see what he was looking at, but what he saw made him grin.


Another piercing roar ripped through the air. She had just enough time to crawl out of bed before Alduin rushed by her, hurriedly grabbing clothes out of his dresser and throwing them on. It was only after he was dressed that he spared her a glance and saw the confusion on her face.

"Zu lost nii vodahmaan hi, mal gein," ["I have not forgotten you, little one,"] he said, grabbing her chin and pulling her into a brusque kiss. "Nuz aan wuth fahdon do dii lostaan meyz. ["But an old friend of mine has come.] I must speak with him. But, once that is finished, you shall have my undivided attention.," -he stroked her hair- "Get dressed, Dovahkiin. We'll be returning here." He began to walk away, but paused at the doorway. When he looked back, there was an almost mischievous glint in his eye. "That blue corset of yours, I want you to wear it. Geh?"

He waited just long enough for Brett to nod her head before he was gone.

"Hurry up, we're almost there!"

"You said that in Ivarstead."

"Well, we're even closer now. So c'mon!"

Erik was breathless as he hurried to follow Lydia. Climbing the Throat of the World had taken what seemed like forever; of course, getting lost three times certainly hadn't made anything easier. His lungs hurt from the cold air, something that the Nord had never experienced before. On the steeper parts of the ascension, he could feel his legs quaking, could hear his pulse in his ears. Lydia, however, seemed fine. She pushed on like it was nothing but a stroll, not a climb up the largest mountain on Nirn.

"How in Oblivion does Brett run up and down this mountain all the time?" Erik mumbled. "No wonder the woman can kill dragons..."

Lydia laughed. "Women have more endurance. It's how we deal with male stubbornness."

"I'm not that stubborn..."

He almost walked headfirst into Lydia, who had stopped in her tracks. Following her gaze, he was amazed to see a large, ancient stone building, seemingly rising out of the mountain itself. The deep grey stone, cut millennia ago, still seemed strong, despite their great age. There was a tightening in his throat at the sight.

"Gods above, look at that!" he said softly.

Quick as lightning, Lydia took his hand. "Come on! We're almost there!"

Before he could stop her, she was running, and dragging him along. All he could hear was the clanging of their armor and the crunching of the hard-packed snow. He wanted to slow down, but the vice-like grip Lydia had on him wouldn't allow it.

'She's focused, that's for sure,' he thought. 'No wonder she got her housecarl posting...'

Just as suddenly as she'd started running, she stopped. It was so sudden that he ran into the back of her. There was a clang! as their armor clashed, and, next Erik knew, he was face down in the snow, trying to untangle himself from Lydia.

"What in Oblivion was that?" he asked, rising to his feet while simultaneously trying to shake snow from inside of his cuirass.

"There's boot prints," she said, brushing snow out of her hair. "They're frozen just there, see?"

"Maybe a pilgrim?"

"No one in Ivarstead knew of anyone coming this far up the mountain."

His eyes grew large as she walked towards the frozen indentations. "Could it-...could it be-?"

"It isn't her," Lydia said, kneeling down to examine the footprints. "They're too big, and there are two different sets," -she looked a little closer- "Someone in metal armor made this. And it was heavy, very heavy."

Erik knelt beside her, trying to see what she was seeing. "How can you tell?"

She motioned towards the heel. "Can you see that dent? That's not where the snow melted; that's where metal was joined together. And the snow is so hard-packed that the person had to be wearing something very heavy, or it would have been looser."

He looked closer, furrowing his brow in concentration. "Well, then, what's that?" he asked, motioning to some small, narrow brush marks just behind the boot prints.

She examined it carefully. "I'm not sure. It isn't fur, it's too fine for that."

"Fringe, maybe?"

"Or a tassel?"

He paused. "Who on Nirn puts tassels on armor?!"

A focused, hard look came in her eyes. She was perfectly still for a moment, just looking around. Finally, she rose to her feet. "C'mon. We need to go."

She began to walk around him. "Wait!" he said, reaching out and catching her arm. She turned to look at him. "Where did you learn to track like that?"

Lydia cocked a brow, a coy smirk on her face. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

Brett was pacing like a wild animal in a cage, quietly muttering furious admonitions to herself. How could she feel anything but pure, unbridled hatred towards Alduin? He was the World-Eater, after all: He wanted to destroy everything that she had fought so hard for. He was keeping her captive in Skuldafn, threatening Paarthurnax's life to ensure her obedience. Yet she had started it this time, she had kissed him. And she had wanted it with no provocation from him.

'What in Oblivion is wrong with you?!' she thought heatedly. 'You are not some stupid little twit, giggling and fluttering after the first male to show you attention! Get a grip on yourself, woman!' -she paused even the internal dialogue to reach into the bodice of her dress- 'By Sanguine's wrinkled, sore-covered left-... I'm going to kill Endarie for letting me buy this itchy thing! Damn lace...'

Because of course she'd done as he'd said. As soon as he'd left, and she'd realized what she'd done and reality came crashing back, she'd been absolutely infuriated with herself. The first thing she was tempted to do was to do the exact opposite of what he'd said; she wanted to take the corset and tear it into ribbons, and throw it all over the edge of the balcony. But after a few deep breaths, she'd realized that that would be foolish: If she intended to escape, she needed him to lower his guard, if only slightly. And he certainly wouldn't do that if she started acting like a badly-behaved child.

'At least no one but him will know I'm wearing it...'

Suddenly, she heard footsteps and male voices. Recognizing one as Alduin's, she quickly pulled her hand out of her bodice, despite the itching, and quickly readjusted her dress. She had just composed herself when they walked in. With Alduin was someone who could only be his "old friend", Odahviing. He had roughly the same height as Alduin, with flaming hair and purple eyes. His robes were a blend of purple, red, and white; she realized that one of his ears had a few gold rings in it, with a single fang dangling in the Dunmer fashion. Having had quite a few piercings herself when she was younger, she could recognize them as very new.

"Skuldafn los rinik mul, Alduin," ["Skuldafn is very strong, Alduin,"] Odahviing said. "Ahrk rinik brit. Fin nusse kos vowuth, geh?" ["And very beautiful. The statues are new, yes?"]

"Geh. Ahrk Bromjunaar los kosaan wahlaan. Zu hind wah daal ni wah loswah." ["Yes. And Bromjunaar is being rebuilt. I wish to return it to greatness."]

Odahviing stopped the moment he spotted her. The probing way he looked at her, as though he was trying to decipher what she was, made her uncomfortable. But she kept eye contact with him. Dragons had looked at her like that before; she would let him know that he was no different than the others.

Finally, he glanced over at Alduin. "And who is this?" he asked. "Your new pet?"

"Geh," ["Yes,"] he said, waving her over. "Dovahkiini." ["My Dragonborn."]

"So this is the one all of the females have been chattering about," he said as Brett, a bit unwillingly, walked over to Alduin. He looked her up and down, almost as though she were livestock his friend had purchased. "She's rather small."

Alduin laughed. "Dreh nii kos meyaan, Odahviing," ["Do not be fooled, Odahviing,"] he said, tilting her chin up so that they could get a good look at her face. "She's more dangerous than she looks."

He examined her face, once again like she was an animal. "Brii cannot be happy."

"She isn't," -he motioned towards the sitting area- "Make yourself comfortable, fahdoni. [my friend.] Your flight was a long one. There is a servant bringing wine as we speak," -he let Odahviing get a few steps ahead of them, then lead down to whisper in her ear- "Don't drink too much, geh, mal gein? [yes, little one?] We have unfinished business."

She felt heat rush through her at the feel of his breath on her ear. "I won't."

He kissed her cheek lightly, then took her by the wrist and led her after Odahviing, who had taken his place in an armchair. Alduin chose the sofa, and pulled Brett down with him. He was making sure to keep her close, to show off the control he had of the Dragonborn. As they sat, she felt his hand on her waist, a clear sign of possession.

"I take it you enjoyed yourself in Solstheim, I take it?" Alduin asked. "You took your time."

He gave a small mock bow from where he sat. "My apologies, drogi. [my lord.] I found Iizodensosin [Icy Snow Enchantress] there and my attentions were briefly drawn...elsewhere."

There was footsteps behind her, and a maid appeared, holding a tray with goblets and a rather dusty bottle. The girl was young, certainly not more than sixteen, and there was a look of utter terror in her eyes. Wordless, she sat the tray on the table, gave a deep curtsy, and backed away. Brett very much wanted to stop her, to tell her not to be frightened, that everything would be alright soon enough. But she couldn't, and knowing that made an icy fist clench at her heart.

"Joori," ["My little mortal,"] Alduin said, nodding pointedly towards the tray. "Pour the wine."

Her lips tightened in anger. 'Since when am I a damn tavern wench?!' she thought bitterly. Still, with her muscles aching with desire to disobey, she leaned forward and poured three goblets full of wine. It was a deep red, and she could smell its richness. Tense, to avoid the temptation of flipping the damn table over, she handed Odahviing his goblet, then Alduin the second. She kept the last one.

"Obedient," Odahviing said.

Alduin laughed. "Not really," he said, grabbing her chin and turning her face up towards his. "But she's learning."

He let go of her face, though he kept an arm around her waist. Immediately, she downed half of the goblet, trying to swallow her anger with the wine. If either dovah noticed her real feelings, they didn't comment.

"The jewelry, it looks new," Alduin said, motioning towards the hoops in his friend ears.

"Oh, yes," he said. "Fashionable with the Elves of Solstheim."

Alduin laughed. "You always were one for mortal fashions..." -he took a drink- "What of Miraak's so-called 'Temple'?"

"It appears to be overrun with bandits, drogi," [my lord,"] he said. "Some of the structure has been rebuilt, but it appears that the mortals are simply doing it for shelter."

"And there was no talk of him?"

"No," Odahviing said. "When I asked about him, no one knew who I was talking about. A handful said it sounded familiar, but it led to nothing."

"Pruzah," ["Good,"] Alduin said. He pulled her tight against him and yanked her face upward, a bit roughly this time. "Gein ahst aan tiid, ["One at a time,] I suppose."