Chapter Thirty Four | Snowberry

They buried Nurelion two days later, after Helgird had finished preparing the body. Quintus had mentioned in passing that he'd wished there was an Altmer who could preside over the service, but unfortunately there was no time to send for one. It was a shame, too. Wyn could have brought in that Altmer priest from Falkreath, had she had more time to do so. But, as everything was in Skyrim, things happened in a blur. Soon, it was the morning of the funeral, and Wyn was in her bedroom in Hjerim Manor, trying to find a suitable outfit. It was very…girlish of her. She tried not to think about that part.

She'd attended many extravagant events, but couldn't recall any funerals. Strange, actually, considering how much bloodshed was soaking into the land. Shame she hadn't the foresight to buy a black mourning gown from those prissy cretins up in Solitude. As it was, Wyn could only find some dark leather trousers and piles of white shirts.

"Damn," she muttered, cursing herself for not thinking about this earlier. She couldn't help it if she didn't care about clothes! She was a warrior, not some foolish maiden. Quintus would doubtlessly be wearing black. It was tradition. Of course, Nordic funerals were a little more lax. They usually just wore armor…

With a jump, Wyn slammed shut the door of her armoire and stalked to the corner of the large room, where two mannequins awaited. One wore the thoroughly cleaned armor she'd pulled off of that draugr beast on Solstheim – she hardly wore it because she often got comments on how it still reeked of death. Also because it left little to the imagination, which certainly had its uses when fighting a horde of bandits, but was damned stupid considering the freezing weather.

She turned to the other set, pulling each piece of armor off and setting them on her bed. Her Nightingale armor was shining magnificently. Calder had done a good job cleaning it.

She was wearing tight leather pants already – her standard outfit beneath her armor, to ensure that the metal didn't chafe her skin – and so she pulled the greaves over her legs. After she dressed herself in the gleaming metal, she pulled her dark cloak over her shoulders and clasped it around her neck. The armor moved silently, as quiet as a shadow. She nodded to herself and reached for her Nightingale blade, which she slung around her waist. No use getting armor on without the blade, she figured, even if she hardly suspected there to be fighting at a funeral. Unless Nurelion came back from the dead and started insulting them all.

She chuckled at the thought and made her way downstairs. Calder had already cooked up some breakfast an hour or two before, and so she only had to make her way to the White Phial to collect her alchemist. The only problem was that she was Thane of Windhelm, and formal events such as city funerals rather…restricted her. She couldn't just go to Quintus's house. As Thane, she had to be escorted there. So with a sigh and a curse that was wholeheartedly directed at silly formal traditions, Wyn called, "Calder, are you ready?"

Her Housecarl and escort appeared not a moment later, dressed in his armor and even cleanly shaved. At least the man knew how to make himself presentable, even if he'd hardly known Nurelion and probably didn't really care about his death.

"Yes, my Thane," he said, hand clutched over his heart in his customary greeting. She tilted her head, watching him with those golden eyes, and then after a trembling moment of pure silence, Wyn rolled her eyes.

"Let's get this over with, shall we? And if I see Ulfric there, I'll pummel him."

Thankfully, Ulfric wasn't there. Many merchants were, though. Those who had worked alongside Nurelion in the Stone Quarter attended, and even that dark elf merchant who had a shop in the Grey Quarter was there. It was a small funeral, intermingled with a few noblemen who had come to either see Nurelion off, or to see her. She wasn't about to turn into a pretentious woman, but Wyn knew a kiss-ass when she saw one.

Quintus didn't comment on her choice of dress, so Wyn figured she looked respectable enough. Many of the noblemen were also wearing armor. She hardly looked out of place, despite her rather famous position in society, and the service went by without a hitch. She was thankful for that – Quintus didn't need to deal with anything else today. He already looked tired enough.

It was true. There were bags beneath his eyes, dark shadows that leached at the usually sparkling brown gaze. He had spent yesterday by himself, asking Wyn to leave him be for the day while he prepared himself for this moment. She respected his decision of course, and had herself spent the day pouring over her journals and notes, which she had hardly had the chance to open during the last few weeks.

Helgird, who knew Nurelion as well as any who had ventured into the Stone Quarter, gave a nice enough speech as she sent him on his way. When they lowered him into the ground, everyone watched the dirt swallow up the casket – but Wyn watched Quintus. He angled a small glance her way and tried to smile, but it was a pathetic attempt. She smiled gently back anyhow.

When the funeral was over, she sent Calder back to the manor and went with Quintus back to the shop. It was thankfully quiet, almost too quiet, when they entered. No sound of Nurelion's insults, or his raspy voice, or his quick-witted words. Only the soft crackle of a nearly dead fire and the bubbling mixtures brewing by the alchemy station.

Wyn immediately made it her job to rekindle the fire, adding several logs to it as Quintus busied himself with making tea. They worked silently, and spoke only when they had two steaming mugs of chamomile in front of them.

"I've never thanked you for helping me with the phial. It was my master's dream, to hold it in his hands…" Quintus slowly said, staring into the fire. He glanced at Wyn, who was looking at him, and leaned back. "I suppose he wasn't very accommodating to you in the beginning, was he?"

She chuckled and murmured, "Cranky old man. I am glad I could help, even if it only meant killing some draugr."

But Quintus was shaking his head before she even stopped talking. "You did much more than that, Wyn, and you know it. It would've taken me ages to collect all the ingredients without you. And…erm, that leads to another thing. Your payment."

She paused, raised one pointed brow, and said in an amused voice, "You think I did this for gold? Are you aware of how much of that I already have?"

He rolled his eyes.

"I am aware of that, yes," he muttered, sounding a little more like himself. "I wasn't offering you coin, you dolt. I'm offering you the phial."

She gaped at him. The phial? He wanted to give her the one thing he had worked so hard to repair? With an adamant shake of her head, Wyn stubbornly said, "Absolutely not. You should keep it here, in the store. It'll attract more business anyhow. Hang it over the door or something."

His eyes bugged out, "Hang it over the – do you even know how disrespectful that sounds?! Hang it over the door – ha!" He laughed for the first time in days, and Wyn hid a smile into her cloak, happy to see that familiar joy light up his face after so long.

"Really, Quintus, I've no use for it. What if I break it on my travels? All our hard work would be for nothing."

But her words only made him shake his head.

"I've crafted it to specially hold health potions, and not just any health potions. It's very strong – stronger than any I've made yet. I suspect the magical constitution of the bottle strengthens it. Quite amazing, really – but, erm, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'd feel better if you had it. Just in case you get, you know, poisoned again by some rogue member of the Brotherhood…or something…" he trailed off, and she smirked in amusement.

"There is no such thing," she told him breezily. "You're either in the Dark Brotherhood or you're dead. But," she added, upon seeing his expression, "very well. If it will make you feel better, then I'll take it. For now. I really think you should hang it up though."

He smiled, relieved that she accepted his offer, and chuckled. "It would only collect dust in the shop. I would prefer it gets proper use. And besides, you can tell me everything that it can do – it will be like a field experiment." His eyes got that familiar alchemical sheen to them, as they always did whenever he was contemplating something of great scientific importance.

Wyn raised her eyebrows and muttered, "Am I to be your guinea pig, then?"

He only chuckled again and said, "Hardly. But I have a feeling you'll be able to handle any side effects that may occur. I haven't tested it thoroughly yet. I only hope you don't turn into a frog while you're on the road – that would be a nasty business, don't you think?"

If possible, her eyebrows got even higher. "Was that a joke, alchemist?! I didn't know you had the capacity to joke!"

"Ha-ha. Very funny," he muttered, feeling somehow lighter than he had before. And it was all because of her. She had brought a light like no other into his life, and he was mesmerized by it even in this dark hour.

They fell silent. The fire crackled. The wind roared outside. The force of it shook the little shop and gave them the distinct impression that they were no more than tiny players in an enormous game.

Quintus looked at her. She blinked back, and smiled. Her hand reached for him and he tangled their fingers together. It felt like a prayer; like a symphony. It felt like completion.

"You look tired. Should we go to sleep?" Wyn asked after a moment. She was watching him closely, in that owlish way of hers, as if searching behind the layers of his psyche, attempting to tread carefully around his seemingly fragile state. But Quintus had no desire for pretense.

"I'm not tired," he returned, leaning back in his chair with attentive poise. Slowly, one of Wyn's eyebrows rose up into the perfect expression of dry amusement. She crossed her legs and let her eyes drop to swallow him whole.

"Should we just go to bed, then?" she murmured, eyes flashing with mirth – as well as a fair helping of darker things. Quintus smiled bashfully and cleared his throat.

"Perhaps you should just…erm…" he trailed off with a slight blush and Wyn blinked at him questionably. He finished with a low, nervous, "…Come here."

She smirked. Then she went.

"How wicked of you, Quintus," she murmured as she crawled into his lap. "It appears there is much I have yet to learn." Her eyes grew warm as she pressed a kiss to his jaw.

He wrapped his arms around her with a sigh, chuckling at her gentle teasing. It was hard to imagine a time before her, yet it had not been so very long ago when all he cared about was alchemy and this shop and his master. It had seemed like such a perfect life, back then. But everything in it had changed, the faded pleasantries all polished and gleaming and stripped of the dust they had unknowingly carried before. Looking back, that life was so dull in comparison. But then again, Quintus didn't have the particular source of light that he did now. It was strange to ever consider how he had lived without her.

"Have you found it yet?" he asked suddenly, lifting her hand to his lips to kiss the scorch mark that encompassed her palm. The kiss he placed upon it was soft, lingering with an emotion Wyn wouldn't have understood several months ago. But she did now. She felt its fire fill her just as fiercely as the fire had burned her skin – the gift Parthurnax had bestowed upon her in her quest to learn passion.

A few months ago, she had given up that quest, having thought that such an emotion was far beyond her limited capacity to understand the strange tides of human nature. Now, it was as if a part of her had been stripped away. The part that hid the deep well of emotions she had always possessed, but could never grasp. With Quintus, everything was so easy.

She smiled, golden eyes bright with the gleam of firelight, and murmured, "It's you."

It's you.

It's you.

It's you.

He smiled that boyish smile she loved so much and kissed her properly this time.

Nurelion was gone, the phial repaired. The shop would see better days ahead, and with her by his side, the world felt lighter than it had in years. For the first time since she was a child, Wyn was at peace.

The End