Terribly sorry for keeping you all waiting for so long.

Chapter Thirty-Two

Admittedly, Lucien didn't believe him at first.

Caelan was an attention-seeker, and not above exaggerating the truth – even outright lying – if it meant he would be fussed over. It was therefore perfectly reasonable if Lucien was unsympathetic and dismissive of Caelan's insistence that yes he was blind, and no he wasn't a compulsive liar. It was only when the boy scowled at him, or rather, completely misjudged his position and ended up glaring daggers at a wall instead, that he realised Caelan honestly couldn't see anymore. He conceded, and the argument abruptly gave way to depressing silence.

"We need to leave the city," Olyn announced when they were finished. He'd said nothing during the dispute, watching them not impassively but observantly, hawk-like, "Noveni has undoubtedly given our descriptions to the guards and on top of that, the Mages Guild will be hunting the encyclopedia. Caelan's shack is the first place they'll look."

There was no denying that. With nothing to pack, they left the city before the sun could rise, picking up Shadowmere from the stables. Even she couldn't carry three people, so Olyn walked on foot while the other two rode. Or at least, that was the arrangement for all of five minutes before Caelan started whining about motion sickness. So he walked. With Olyn. Clinging onto the man's arm with the desperation of the newly-blind.

Lucien was not happy.

Olyn was well aware that Lucien wasn't happy and therefore chose to rub it in as much as possible. Deliberately walking slowly so that Caelan would stay close, steadying him after each stumble with a touch to the wrist or chest. And then at one point, as they descended a steep slope on their path, he looped his arm around Caelan's narrow shoulders-

"Is that really necessary?" Lucien snapped at last, "I'm sure he's perfectly capable of getting down a hill by himself. Just because he's blind doesn't mean you need to treat him like a child."

"I'm simply providing support," Olyn answered without relenting his hold, "Nothing untoward about common courtesy is there, Caelan?" he was not looking at the Altmer as he said this, but staring straight at Lucien, mouth curled into the epitome of arrogance.

"Uncommon courtesy, apparently," Caelan answered, ignorant of the smugness radiating off the man next to him. He stuck out his tongue childishly, but again got Lucien's position wrong and didn't crane his neck enough. The gesture ended up being directed at Shadowmere, who snorted.

"I offered to save you walking altogether, if you'll recall," Lucien shot back, eyes narrowed dangerously, although the effort was redundant, "If moving about is such a terrible struggle for you, you can get back on the horse."

"Yeah, so then I can be blind and sick. No thanks."

"Then perhaps I should take a turn helping you while Olyn rides?" he asked faux-innocently, threading his fingers through Shadowmere's glossy mane. She was a horse to be admired and envied: exquisite beauty, exquisite speed, exquisite strength... exquisite kick if anyone other than Lucien tried to ride her.

Unfortunately, Olyn cottoned on to that last part; "I should think she'd throw me straight off. Not something you want to happen to the only person who can help you resolve this mess... is it?" his smirk turned into a sneer.

Lucien sneered right back, "Presuming you can resolve this, of course. I needn't tell you what happens if you prove to be of no use."

Olyn glanced away, admitting defeat, or so it seemed. But Lucien heard him mutter under his breath, "I'd like to see you try."

They came to an eventual halt at the Inn of Ill Omen. Lucien had always liked the name, but they chose it more for being quiet and unremarkable. They booked the two downstairs rooms under false names for a few days, since Olyn had everything he needed, and this was as good a place as any to start studying the encyclopedia. Without further ado, he disappeared into his room, leaving the other two to their privacy.

"Lucien," Caelan asked tentatively, groping at the air in search of the assassins' arm, "Can you guide me to the bed? Not much point looking around the place if I can't... er, you know."

Feeling a little cruel, Lucien deliberately stepped out of his reach, "Oh? But since I apparently have no courtesy, why would I choose to help you?"

"Aww, come on. You know I didn't mean anything by that."

"You could be a little more gracious. I did leave my sanctuary unsupervised and marched all across Cyrodil to lift a curse that you, might I add, brought entirely upon yourself," the words came out sharper than he had intended, "Bah, and people wonder why I'm selfish. Go out of your way to help people, all you get is disrespect."

Caelan visibly faltered, "I didn't think-"

"No, you didn't," he was cut off, "You rarely do."

A silence followed – guilty on Caelan's part, cold on Lucien's. The mer shuffled on the spot, keeping his gaze downwards.

"I'm – I'm sorry," he spoke at last. Lucien rolled his eyes, but Caelan continued before he could claim insincerity, "No-one's done anything for me on this scale before. On any scale, really. Everyone either ignores or distrusts me."

"You lie and steal, Caelan. Of course they distrust you."

"Yeah, but I started lying and stealing so they would notice me. It just became habit after that," he pointed out, "But I still get overlooked. Even though I was the best pickpocket in the Thieves Guild, the best Conjurer in the Arcane University, one of Mannimarco's hand-picked students in the Necromancer cult, everyone just... shoos me away." He tugged on his sleeves nervously, twisting the worn and faded fabric between his fingers, "You're the first person to put up with me for this long. To act as though I'm worth the effort."

Lucien thought back to when he had first met the mer. It didn't bother him as much now, but back then there'd been times when he'd wanted to rip out Caelan's throat just to shut him up for five minutes. Truly, if he hadn't been forced to share his home with the boy, he would've turned his back straight after meeting him too. Then somewhere along the way he'd gone from disliking his company to tolerating it, then accepting it, then sort-of-enjoying it, and now he dreaded being without it. But it made him wonder, if anyone else spent a prolonged period with Caelan, would they too become infatuated? And likewise, would Caelan adore anyone who gave him the time of day?

It was a question he couldn't leave unanswered: "Do you stay with me just for the attention?"

The High Elf fidgeted, "I'll – I'll admit, that was true at first. When you took me to Fort Farragut all those months ago – yeah I wanted to die, but – I stuck around mostly because I liked being fussed over. Even if it was in the bloodiest sense possible."

Not quite the denial Lucien had hoped for. Still, Caelan had used past tense, so perhaps there was one to come yet. He waited patiently for him to continue.

"Then eventually I ended up liking you, not just your attention. I mean, you're seductive and eloquent and intellectual and all those things I can never be. I know everyone goes for that sort of thing, but you're also wicked and vicious and really kinda scary sometimes. That's okay though, because I like that too."

"Truly?" he was well aware that he was a cruel man. Something he was unapologetic for, but he was used to hiding his darker streak from others, even the assassins he called family. Caelan had witnessed that side to him; he had his invincibility to thank for living to tell the tale, but even when physically impervious, most people would not be so undaunted. "Even though I enjoy inflicting pain on you?"

The elf waved a careless hand, "Oh, you know how I feel about that. I'm not just into masochism for your benefit, you know," he paused thoughtfully, "Although I didn't really get into it until you came along. I used to just shrug it off, then I started to like it, now I really like it. Strange, huh?"

To Lucien, not so much. Caelan was addicted to pain, he was addicted to the addict, the patterns mirroring each other. Which meant Caelan was equivalent to masochism... hmph, wasn't that an analogy and a half.

"But, um, anyway. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful earlier. I didn't get the chance to say it before, but just for the record, thank you."

Lucien didn't respond. It wasn't as though he'd never been thanked before – he conversed with strangers, laid the flattery on thick, they thanked him coyly. He purred out a you're quite welcome, my dear or something similar, and the ensuing flirty banter inevitably led to a skirmish between the sheets. After which he usually killed them, and enjoyed the post-coitus glow with a glass of fine wine until the body next to him had gone cold.

So 'thank you' wasn't alien to his ears. But of course, this was no light-hearted conversation intended to ensnare someone into being his evenings entertainment. This was a thank you for one of the very, very few kind things he had done in his life, even if the reasons were still steeped in selfishness. He wasn't entirely sure what to say.

But he needn't have worried about the magnitude of his next words. Caelan could be counted upon to spoil the moment, which he did most aptly when he cleared his throat and continued: "So... if you lead me to the bed, I can thank you properly..."

Seriousness abruptly discarded, a smirk tugged at his lips; "Was that you seducing me?"

"Yeah," came the sheepish but hopeful admittance, "Did it work?"

He gave a low, throaty laugh, pleased at the involuntary shudder it elicited. His smirk turned predatory as he prowled around the High Elf, silent and undetectable until he stood behind him. Caelan jumped as he felt Lucien's hands skim up his arms before resting on his shoulders – and then pushing him forwards, guiding him.

"Keep going..." he murmured, matching their steps so he pressed into Caelan's back. He broke away only when they had reached the bed, turning him so he could sit...

...And then forcing him further back as he crawled over him, feline in his movements. With nimble hands he undid the belt to the teal mage robes, tossing it idly aside, then tugged loose the layers of clothing to reveal soft golden skin beneath, like a fruit unpeeled. Caelan shuddered at the sensation of cold air against his suddenly-bare form, and shuddered more at the contrasting heat of Lucien's mouth as he traced the mer's shape with his lips and tongue. And yet, Lucien could detect a hint of frustration in the noises he made: "What is it?"

"Nothing, I just..." his hands curled and uncurled in visible agitation, creasing the bedsheets, "I wish I could see you. It's harder to participate when I can't... when I'm like this."

"Mm, not that difficult. You managed just fine before."

"What do you mean?"

"Remember that first time, in Anvil?"

Caelan recalled, and realised: "When you were invisible?"

"Exactly. Not quite the same as blindness, but close enough," he pulled back, allowing the other to sit upright, "I'll hold still, to make it easier for you."

Repeating his steps from last time, Caelan tentatively trailed his hands up Lucien's arms, his shoulders, his neck... sliding the hood of the assassin's robes back, he weaved his fingers through long, silky strands of hair and tried to visualise the exact colour from memory. But all that came to mind was that night back in Anvil, Lucien's chameleon spell: feeling it, lustrous and tangible beneath his fingertips, but seeing only his hands twisting aimlessly in mid-air.

"This is so weird," he murmured, as the ghost of his past did the same. He trailed his hands back down, past a jaw rough with stubble until he found the man's lips, then guided himself into a kiss.

Lucien, meanwhile, was trying very hard to stay still. This was far more challenging then it should've been; he was a man of experience and expertise, for whom self-discipline was no great task, yet his fingers itched and twitched at the anticipation of it all. Memories surged as Caelan loosened his belt and pushed his robes back from his shoulders. He wished he had been less patient back in Anvil because he had to match it now, to re-live the moment.

Caelan stripped him of his gloves, "Your hands are still soft," he commented.

"You still bite your nails," Lucien countered easily, smirking despite Caelan being unable to see it.

But he must have sensed or predicted it, because he grinned back: "And you still smell of-" the smile faltered when he abruptly remembered that his nose didn't work anymore, "Well. I assume you still smell of nightshade... Lucien, do you think I'll get my senses back, when all this is sorted out?"

"Perhaps. It might be too much to hope for, though."

In truth, he found himself fairly receptive of the notion. Certainly, intimacy was diminished without smell or taste, and the blindness meant Caelan needed constant help. But for that help he had to rely on Lucien, making him that much more co-dependent, therefore less likely – unable – to stray. Much as he hated to admit it, there was a sore truth to Olyn's earlier claims that Caelan would eventually take his leave. He would, after all, stay youthful forever, whereas Lucien would age, wither, and die.

But if Caelan couldn't witness that process, he could only remember Lucien in his best years. Nor could he be lured away by another, for there were undoubtedly people who would try. People both as brutal and beautiful as he, eager for a plaything that offered cruelty without compromise nor consequence. Despite Caelan's claims, Lucien had the lingering insecurity that the mer would one day seek his attentions elsewhere, and he was entirely too selfish to let him go. So if he just, say... suggested to Olyn that Caelan's sight need not be restored, it could ultimately turn out for the best.

Perhaps it was that thought, the idea of finally making the mer his in every way, that drove away the last of his self-control. His hands lashed out, grabbing ahold of Caelan's wrists, evoking a startled gasp, which turned to a moan as he pulled the boy towards him and did not so much kiss as devour. His thoughts were as aggressive as his actions, plotting and planning all the various ways he could make his lover reliant until independence became an impossibility.

He had once said that there was no way to keep Caelan chained, but chains didn't have to be physical.