AUTHOR'S NOTES: I was going to post this chapter tomorrow, but I thought it might be better to end a story on a Sunday rather than a Monday :) Had a ton of fun writing this story, and I hope you all enjoyed it. Thank you!
Vilkas gave himself a day. He was allowed to avoid Alba for a day, then he needed to get back into the swing of things and get over his embarrassment.
Vilkas woke early and told Ria and Torvar he'd be cancelling their training sessions for the day, then headed to Farkas's room and shook his brother awake.
"Vilkas?" Farkas said, rolling over and blinking up at his brother in the dim light. "What is it?"
"Farkas. Let's go hunting in Falkreath. It's been too long."
Farkas nodded and got out of bed, and in less than half an hour they were on the road.
"Did Alba say we could go hunting? I thought we were staying closer to Whiterun because of the fighting," Farkas asked as they passed Pelagia farm.
"She never prohibited us from leaving. And besides, Skyrim has always been dangerous. That's never stopped us in the past."
Farkas just shrugged and kept walking. Vilkas knew Farkas was as happy as he was to get out of Whiterun for a bit, and it had been awhile since they'd traveled together. Today would be a nice day.
By late afternoon, they'd caught a goat, two rabbits, and a deer. They lugged their hauls to a shack a local hunter friend of Farkas's had set up nearby and set about gutting and skinning the animals.
"Vilkas?" Farkas said as he worked on a goat.
"You like the Harbinger, right?"
Vilkas nodded absentmindedly, focused as he was on his own carcass.
"Of course. She's an excellent warrior and a worthy leader."
"So why don't you marry her?"
Vilkas's hand slipped, and he nearly stabbed himself with the knife he was using to dress the deer.
"What? Where did you get that idea, Farkas?"
"I'm not blind, brother. You like her. She likes you. You've been wearing that Amulet of Mara for months now."
"You can see that?" Vilkas asked, horrified.
"Well, maybe other people haven't seen it, but I've seen you undressed plenty of times. Can't hide it then."
Vilkas felt his face grow warm, and he sputtered a bit in his response.
"I might care for the Harbinger, but that doesn't mean we should get married. I doubt she would be interested in me, regardless."
"I think she's interested," Farkas said, levelling that honest, unavoidable gaze of his at Vilkas.
"If she was interested in me, then why would she be seeing random men from Riften or Markarth?" Vilkas said, starting to get frustrated.
"Because you weren't talking to her. She still always looked at you. I noticed."
Vilkas finished gutting the deer with perhaps more force than was necessary, then turned to his brother, blood still dripping from his hands.
"Look Farkas, I… I want things to be like that. Probably more than I'd like to admit. But I don't think it's going to work out. Don't get your hopes up, alright?"
Farkas's steady gaze never left Vilkas's, and Vilkas could see the doubt in his brother's eyes.
"If you say so, brother."
They finished dressing their catch, then headed back to Whiterun in the dying daylight. Talk turned to the war—which of their childhood friends had joined which faction, and which of their childhood friends had already met an early demise. All the while, Vilkas thought back on what Farkas had said—that Alba was interested in him. Farkas might not be the smartest man in the world, but he was a good judge of people. If Farkas was convinced that Alba wanted Vilkas, well… Vilkas couldn't help but latch onto that.
They returned home, setting the pelts by the tanning rack and giving the meat to Tilma in the kitchen, and took a bit of time to clean up. Farkas was tired, and decided to call it a night, but Vilkas felt plagued by pent up energy. He washed his face and tidied his hair, then changed into some of the only casual clothes he owned and headed for the Bannered Mare.
Hulda got him a drink, and he took a seat in his favorite corner of the tavern and stewed. A couple of drinks in and Vilkas was cursing everything under his breath. He cursed the war for making an already hard life harder, he cursed the Dragon Mask for hiding away such a beautiful person, he cursed Farkas for seeing right through him, and he cursed himself for being such a coward. He would have kept finding things to curse at if Alba hadn't stepped through the doors to the Bannered Mare and marched right back to his bitter corner, interrupting his bitter thoughts.
"Vilkas. We need to talk."
Vilkas looked up at Alba from under his heavy brows and snorted, taking another drink from his tankard.
"Can it wait? I'm in the middle of something."
Alba's eyes narrowed.
"I can see that."
She grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet, nearly causing him to spill his drink all over Hulda's floor. Vilkas managed to set the drink down, then found himself being tugged through a doorway at the end of room. Alba shut the door of the thankfully-unoccupied guest room behind them, and shoved him bodily up against it.
"I've been looking for you all day. Where have you been?"
Vilkas glared at her. He glared at her warm brown eyes that were tinged with hints of green. He glared at her chestnut hair, the plaits that wound over each ear highlighted by shades of auburn donated by some distant Nord ancestor. He glared at her soft reddish lips, twisted as they were into a frown of displeasure. Even through all the anger and the alcohol, she was beautiful.
"I went hunting with Farkas. Is that not allowed anymore, master?"
The fire in Alba's eyes dimmed a bit at Vilkas's spitting accusation.
"N-no, of course you can go hunting. But it's good to let at least one shield-sibling know where you are going, just in case."
The sudden decrease in Alba's ire doused Vilkas's own anger as well. Vilkas crossed his arms across his chest and looked at her, feeling suddenly very tired.
"Did you really come here to lecture me about telling someone where I am going when I leave for a hunt?"
Alba shook her head.
"Well then what is it?"
"I…Well I..." Alba trailed off uncertainly, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
Vilkas was about ready to stalk off and tell her to come find him when she knew what she wanted, but before he had a chance Alba finally found her words.
"I'm worried!" She blurted out.
"Worried about what?"
Vilkas could see some kind of decision being made in Alba's expression, and her uncertainty melted away. She raised her gaze from her feet to Vilkas's face, and the mischievous glimmer in her eyes made him nervous.
"Actually, I'm concerned about the reputation of the Companions," she said, smiling like she knew a secret he didn't.
"What?" Vilkas asked feeling like Alba had boxed up all of her previous confusion and handed it to him.
"Well, what would the people of Whiterun think if they knew a member of the Circle was frequenting taverns, wearing an Amulet of Mara?"
Alba's hands moved to Vilkas's neck, and her fingers slipped under the fabric of his shirt to grasp at the chain that hung there. She gently pulled the pendant in question out from under his shirt, and Vilkas flushed from his neck to the roots of his hair.
"This is my amulet, right? How long have you been wearing it?"
Vilkas wanted to lie. He wanted so much to tell her that it was some token from his long lost mother, or that he'd only put it on yesterday as a whim, or whatever excuse would keep her from assigning great significance to it. But he couldn't.
"It's yours. I started wearing it soon after you left for High Hrothgar."
Vilkas steeled himself to answer, looking her squarely in the eye like she was challenging him to a death match for his honor.
"I think you know why."
Alba looked back down at the pendant, her fingers tracing the twisting patterns for a moment before letting her hand close around it. She looked up at him through her dark Imperial lashes.
"Interested in me, are you?" Alba asked.
Vilkas was completely transfixed.
Something about the look in Alba's eyes made Vilkas feel alive and filled with reckless courage. He forgot about the weeks he had waited for Alba to talk to him after Sovngarde. He forgot about the beefy man from Markarth, forgot about the intriguing mage from Riften. It seemed like she wanted him now, and what else mattered? Alba had a way of erasing all of Vilkas's grievances and frustrations, and all he saw was a future with her.
"I am. I'd be glad to stand by your side until the Divines take us, i...if you'll have me."
Alba's face broke into a beaming smile brighter than the midday sun, and it gave Vilkas life. She pulled on the pendant gently, drawing Vilkas down to her, and kissed him with all the strength of joy Vilkas had ever felt before. After a long moment, she pulled away just far enough to speak.
"I will. Together, then," she said.
He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her again, feeling like nothing in the world could take away how happy he felt right then. Alba returned the kiss enthusiastically, pushing him into the closed door with her body and running her hands up the length of his torso. It felt heavenly, but there was so much more she could be feeling, if she only knew. Gently, he pulled Alba's hands from his shoulders and turned her around, swapping places so her back was now to the door.
Alba looked up at him, her expression an interesting cocktail of vulnerability, excitement, and defiance. Vilkas's right lip curled upwards in satisfaction, and he dipped his head down to Alba's neck, finding the soft skin just beneath her jaw with his lips and teeth. Alba sucked in a sharp breath and her fingers dug into the fabric of Vilkas's shirt at his shoulders, her reaction egging him onwards. He pushed her further into the door, wanting as much of him to be touching as much of her as possible, and collected the tiny gasps Alba emitted like nuggets of gold.
After more time had passed than was probably wise, the unmistakable sound of Mikael belting out the words to Ragnar the Red jolted Vilkas back to reality, and he remembered that they were still in the Bannered Mare, only steps away from the general public. He pulled away, though the dazed and dreamy look on Alba's face as she leaned against the wooden door almost drew him back in.
"We should… return to Jorrvaskr," he said, breathing heavily. "I don't want… Hulda to kick us out."
Alba nodded a bit absentmindedly and took a step away from the door, smoothing out her dress and righting her hair. They left the room together, steadfastly ignoring the curious looks and suggestive eyebrows pointed in their direction from the other patrons of the tavern. If pressed to recall the night later, Vilkas wouldn't have been able to remember anything about the walk back to Jorrvaskr outside of the utter and complete sense of well-being that seemed to follow them like a mage's ward. When they got back to Jorrvaskr, Alba followed Vilkas to his room.
"You wouldn't rather go to your quarters?" Vilkas asked.
Alba shook her head.
"No. I like your room. It feels more… homey."
Alba made her way carefully into Vilkas's room, looking not entirely certain what to do with herself. Vilkas was already feeling a bit giddy, and he laughed at her consternation.
"Love, we are going to be married. You can sit wherever you want. What's mine is yours."
Alba swallowed thickly, and her shoulders tensed. She looked Vilkas squarely in the face, a serious expression on her face.
"Truly? You want to marry me?" she asked, and Vilkas could tell that regardless of what had happened earlier, Alba needed clear and explicit assurances. Whatever he said next was important.
"Of course. Alba, I love you and I want to marry you."
All tension bled from Alba's face, and Vilkas realized that that was how he always wanted to make her feel. Safe, confident, loved.
Alba chuckled at herself, and eventually chose to sit on his bed. Vilkas sat next to her.
"I'm sorry, I just… want everything to be clear between us," she said.
"I understand. Things have changed so much since this morning, it's almost hard to believe."
Alba turned to Vilkas and hugged him tightly to her.
"When you disappeared this morning, and I didn't see you all day… I was so worried. I thought maybe I'd misunderstood, or upset you. I thought you might stop talking to me again."
"I shouldn't have avoided you, Alba. My apologies. After you came back from Sovngarde… Well I thought there might be something between us, but you didn't come to see me for so long. And once you finally did come back to Jorrvaskr, you treated me the same as anyone else. I must admit it hurt my pride, so I made myself scarce."
Alba squeezed her arms around Vilkas's waist and talked into his shoulder.
"I owe you an apology as well."she said. "You meant so much to me, but after Alduin, I was so overwhelmed. I needed time to recover, and I didn't think I could handle trying to figure you out. You know… you know I don't know much about men. I wasn't sure how much what happened meant to you, and I was scared to find out."
"What made you change your mind?"
Alba smiled and nestled her head further into Vilkas's chest.
"You've been such a good friend to me these past months. I knew that you deserve my trust, but I was worried that after all that had happened it was too late for me. Then I saw you wearing my Amulet of Mara yesterday, and that made me a little more confident in your feelings for me."
"You have every reason to feel confident in my feelings for you, love," Vilkas said, leaning back onto his bed and pulling Alba down with him. "When do you want to go to Riften?"
Alba curled up against Vilkas and lay her head on his chest. She closed her eyes and let out a long breath, the picture of contentment.
"As soon as possible. Tomorrow, even," she said.
"You don't want to wait until after the war? The journey could be dangerous."
Alba shook her head, and Vilkas could feel the texture of her hair shifting against his shirt.
"No. Who knows when the conflict will end? We live in uncertain times, and I don't want to die having never made you mine."
"Aye. I can't argue with that."
Alba's breathing slowed, and nestled further into Vilkas's side, finding a more comfortable position. Lying in bed with the woman he loved for the first time, thoughts of taking their physical relationship further were inevitable. Despite the significant temptation, Vilkas ruled out the idea quickly. He didn't want to do anything that might risk Alba's blissful sense of contentedness, and he knew she might still view the physical aspects of their relationships with some trepidation. There would be plenty of time for that later. And besides, there was something honorable in the idea of pledging complete fidelity to each other before becoming one physically that appealed to Vilkas. He could wait.
Still, Alba had seemed a bit more confident in what she was doing when they had kissed in the inn. Vilkas stroked Alba's hair thoughtfully.
"Hmm?" Alba responded, eyes still closed.
"Did you have something going with that man from Riften? Or the Nord from Markarth?"
Alba opened her eyes and looked up at Vilkas, her expression sheepish.
"Well… It wasn't serious, but I did spend some time with Argis and Marcurio."
Vilkas fought the urge to frown at the names.
"I thought it seemed like they had, ahem, taught you a thing or two."
Alba flushed and shoved Vilkas lightly, though she remained well within his hold.
"Nothing so scandalous as that! It was very innocent! I…" she grew flustered. "I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't falling in love with you just because you were the only man I had ever kissed!"
Vilkas chuckled, and he loved the way his laughter resonated with her body.
"And are you sure now?"
Alba closed her eyes again, letting out a massive sigh, and pulled herself closer to Vilkas.
"Yes, I am very sure."
They left for Riften the next day, and were married the day after that. Maramal performed the ceremony, and Lydia, Danica, Fralia Gray-mane, and several of Alba's Riften friends, along with almost all of the Companions, were in attendance. The ceremony was short and sweet, just like Vilkas liked it.
Vilkas hadn't thought much about marriage before, but now that he was Alba's husband the whole concept felt like a revelation. From the moment they said "now and forever," he knew that any burden, any sorrow, any joy he now encountered was both his and Alba's together. He would never be alone again. He felt somehow more anchored, more secure. He felt like no matter what happened with the war, with the dragons, with the aedra or the daedra, he would have a safe haven on Nirn. He would have a place—a person—to call home.
They accepted the well-wishes of their friends in the Temple, then purchased celebratory drinks at the Bee and Barb as a thanks to all those who had made the journey to see them. The evening was a riotous, joyful break from the shadows of war, and Vilkas was reminded of how lucky an orphan boy like him was to have such a family. Farkas clapped Vilkas on the shoulder and congratulated him for finally getting his head out of his ass, and Vilkas had to admit that in this, as in many other things, his brother had had the right of it.
The party continued into the wee hours of the morning, but Vilkas and Alba retired to Alba's home in Riften long before then. Their first night together as husband and wife didn't go quite as smoothly as Vilkas would have liked, but it was as sweet as it was clumsy. When Vilkas woke the next morning with Alba's tan, scarred arm draped across his bare chest, he felt a surge of affection for her greater than he had ever felt before, and he knew he had just made the best decision of his life.
When they returned to Whiterun, they had only a day to sort out their living situation before they needed to get back to preparing Whiterun for the war. After a brief, somewhat heated argument, they decided to move the majority of their things to Alba's house in the Plains District, but to leave enough at Jorrvaskr that they could stay there whenever they pleased. This decision precipitated a flurry of activity as Farkas, Vilkas, Lydia, and Alba tried to move almost all of the newlyweds' belongings from Jorrvaskr to Breezehome in a single afternoon.
By late afternoon, Vilkas sat on the floor of the upstairs bedroom next to Alba, folding clothing and deciding what things to put where. About halfway through the arduous process, Alba reached into a crate of her unsorted belongings and pulled out her Dragon Priest mask.
"Hey, look at this old thing! Remember when I used to be the Dragonborn?" she laughed, holding it up to Vilkas.
Vilkas truthfully didn't much like the sight of the mask, but he nodded agreeably. He resumed folding his shirts for a bit, but something about Alba's words bothered him. A few shirts later, he set the clothing down and turned to Alba, who'd set the mask down on the floor next to her.
"You know, I never much liked when you talked like that—like the Dragonborn and you were separate people. I understand if looking at it that way helped you do what you needed to do, but the truth was that it was all you. Purifying Kodlak of the beast blood, mastering the thu'um, saving Skyrim from the World-Eater—it was Alba who did that."
Vilkas grabbed hold of her hand and squeezed, hoping she would take the words with the respect and admiration he intended. Alba looked up at him and squeezed his hand back, then released it to pick up the mask.
Alba held the mask out in front of her, and she stared into its empty eyes for a long time before speaking.
"This mask is called Krosis. In the language of the dragons, it means 'sorrow.' ...The war is coming, and it brings with it pain, suffering, and sorrow. Even so, I don't think I need this any more."
She unlocked the chest at the front of her bed and set the mask down inside, letting the chest fall shut with a heavy thud when she was done. She stood up and reached a hand down to Vilkas to help him up off the floor.
"We should go. Jarl Balgruuf has had news of the Stormcloaks' latest movements. Together?"
Vilkas took her hand and grinned up at her.
Guest: And now… a happy ending! Sorry if you were hoping for anything else, I only really do happy endings, haha. Thank you for reviewing!
Nina: I don't think Alba was necessarily being insensitive with Vilkas, just cautious. I dunno, hopefully this chapter helps you understand her perspective a bit more. Both of them could have handled things better, but it worked out in the end! Anyway I hope this was a satisfying conclusion for you, and thank you so much for reviewing! Your support means a lot.
Constipated Genius: Ahh thank you for reminding me of The Return. Now that this story is done I really need to get back to writing that. I'm hoping that writing Krosis was just the palate cleanser I needed to finish off The Return in the best way possible. I am also a bit bummed by how little Elder Scrolls romance there is on ff. There's some of AO3, but I don't do smut and that's like… a pretty big percentage of the Elder Scrolls stuff on AO3 lol.
I also love Farkas! There wasn't a ton of him in this story, but I wanted the relationship between him and Vilkas to be close and meaningful, so hopefully that came across. Also the Snow Elves' history makes me so sad, especially after doing the Dawnguard questline. I don't know if it's as straightforward as genocide (nothing is ever really unambiguously good or bad in the Elder Scrolls) since the Snow Elves tried to wipe out the Nords as well, but either way their destruction is so tragic! :'( But the Companions are kinda all about killing elves… at least historically. :/ Anyway thank you so much for reviewing and I hope you enjoyed this last chapter. I'll get back to The Return now, I guess! I hope I didn't keep people waiting for too long!