Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of Oblivion or any characters, plots or other elements there within, and I gain no monetary profit from the writing of this story. I do claim responsibility for Elowyn Demark and one or two random characters scattered throughout the story.

Chapter 55

"By Sanguine's left buttock," Elowyn managed around a wanton moan of pleasure, "you are very good at what you do, my dear, dear Mazken."

The dark skinned male crouching beside her smiled slyly and continued to knead the lean muscles across the backs of Elowyn's thighs. "You have been gone far too long, Madgod," he purred, his touch sliding slow and seductive against her sensitive skin.

The woman murmured something unintelligible and relaxed under his talented touch. She was sprawled face down in one of the shallow pools, the warm water only a scant inch deep at best, gloriously naked and shamelessly fawned over by her two attendants. She told herself she had missed this, that these two would find ways to wash away all of her lingering unpleasant feelings. So far, she had not managed to convince herself.

The second of her Chosen gently lifted her braids from the back of her neck and ran his fingertips down the slopes of her shoulders. "There is so much tension in you, my Lord," he murmured. "'Tis our duty to find ways of making you forget your troubles."

The daedra's unintentional echo of Elowyn's thoughts created the opposite effect in her. She frowned and felt her muscles bunch reflexively. Why did she feel so damned guilty? No, it was not guilt – it was a distinct sense of wrong. This was not where she wanted to be, these were not the hands she wanted to feel on her skin, those eyes were the wrong color, those voices the wrong timber. Here she had at her disposal two gorgeous, willing – talented – males, and yet she could not stop wishing she were outside, riding alongside someone far too serious, far too pious, far too sane for her. Seeing him scowl at her teasing, his rare smile and even rarer laugh that made his eyes shine...she squeezed her eyes closed, forcing down the sudden, infuriating sting of tears. She felt like a fool.


Elowyn's eyes snapped open, her thoughts roughly shoved aside, and she lifted her head to regard Haskill blankly as he materialized into the dim room. The two Chosen completely ignored the chamberlain, and for his part, Haskill hid his distaste for their antics fairly well. "Cake?" she asked.

"Ah, of course," the Breton murmured with a flippant wave of his hand. An expensive silver platter appeared on the edge of the pool near her face, the surface dotted with miniature sweets of more varieties than Elowyn thought existed. Several of them she could not even identify.

"You sly dog," she smirked at Haskill, who narrowed his eyes at being referred to as a canine. "You thought you'd forego my complaints about what kind of cake you chose for me by providing me with every kind of cake, hmm? Well, instead I'll complain about not being able to choose which to try first."

"Shocking," the chamberlain replied. "I fear you have no time to enjoy the sound of your own voice, madam. There is a disturbance at the gates which requires your attention."

Elowyn casually picked at one of the cakes, sucking the gloriously sweet frosting from under her fingernail leisurely and making little noises of approval. After a moment, she glanced up to see Haskill staring at her, unblinking. "I'm waiting for you to tell me all about this full blown invasion," she informed him.

"It is not an invasion, but…"

"Then shoo," she ordered with a dismissive flick of her wrist, her attention back on the delightful cake.

"The Gatekeeper has been attacked."

Elowyn snorted and did not look up. "Then let the fool who thought that was a good idea get what's coming to him, hmm? Hey, wait…I was that fool once…"

Haskill sighed, his voice laced with impatience and irritation. "The Gatekeeper has been attacked and injured. Madam."

The cakes completely forgotten, Elowyn's head shot up. "What? Why didn't you tell me?!" she shouted as she jumped to her feet, sending her Chosen stumbling backward to get out of her way. Heedless of the water coursing down her bare skin, Elowyn stalked toward her stoic chamberlain. "Nobody hurts my Honey."

"Indeed." Haskill held out his hand and a buttery soft doeskin blanket suddenly hung off his fingertips. Elowyn snatched the wrap around herself and she had barely enough time to cover herself before the landscape shifted and changed, leaving her and Haskill standing at the Gates of Madness.

Thick fog and misty rain immediately greeted her, and she found herself shivering from the sudden change in temperature. She could hear Honey bellowing angrily, smell the faint, acidic tinge of his magically enchanted blood, but she could make out little more than vague shapes moving some distance from them. Squinting, she clutched the blanket around her body and took a step forward only to trip over something hard and sharp in the gloom. She blinked down at the bracer under her bare feet, then let out a low growl of frustration.

"This is ridiculous," she snarled, turning her face up to glare at the clouds overhead. "Enough already!" she shouted, and immediately the rain ceased. The scathing glower she leveled around her was enough to burn back the fog, the offensive obstruction rolling back as if in fear. Still, the heavy clouds loomed stubbornly overhead, and let out a few low rumbles of thunder from time to time.

She gaped at what she saw when the air was finally cleared. Pieces of armor lay strewn all across the cobblestones in front of the gates, but she realized that none of it seemed damaged. Rather, it appeared the owner of these items had shed them while fleeing, a suspicion which was confirmed when Elowyn spotted her enraged Flesh Atronach in pursuit of the offender.

"Impossible," she breathed when she recognized the Redguard scrambling across the wet, muddy stones to keep out of the furious Gatekeeper's reach.

"Apparently not," Haskill replied with a sidelong glance at the woman.

"Honey!" Elowyn called out, and the infuriated beast limped to a halt and turned her direction. "Come, let Mama deal with this!"

As Honey lumbered her direction, she could see a thick flow of purplish-blue blood trailing down the creature's thick right leg. The hilt of a sword sticking out from his thigh was the obvious culprit. Breathing heavily, the fleshy beast wobbled to a stop not far from Elowyn and let out a pitiful murmur. "It burns, Mama."

"Elowyn!" Thedret skirted closer to them, but kept a wary distance, his breath coming in little foggy puffs with each quick pant. His clothing was soaked through and clinging to him, and she could all but see the heat emanating from his sweating skin. Honey twisted his head to bellow an outraged snarl at the man, but Thedret stood firm. "Please, Elowyn, I need to…"

"You attacked Honey?!" she shouted, all righteous fury and indignation. What in Oblivion was wrong with the stupid man? Did he really think she would want to have anything to do with him at all right then?

"But…I…" Thedret floundered for a moment, his eyes going round and desperate before he caught sight of Haskill. "Him!" he pointed at the chamberlain emphatically. "He told me to do it! He gave me the sword!"

"What…?" Elowyn turned a skeptical stare on the Breton, but her expression quickly shifted to shock at the discomfort she spotted there. "You did what?"

"I did no such thing," Haskill sniffed with a disgruntled lift of his chin. He narrowed his eyes at Thedret and added quietly, "You ungrateful cur."

"This is just…argh!" Elowyn growled, feeling herself on the verge of a childish temper tantrum. "You get Relmyna down here right now to fix up my Honey," she furiously commanded Haskill before rounding on Thedret and storming his direction. "And you had better have some damned smooth words prepared, my dear knight!"

"I…I just needed to see you!" he called out as he strode forward to meet her halfway across the stone courtyard. "I…" he frowned and they both stopped several feet from one another, "why are you naked?"

"Because you interrupted my bath," she shot back, adjusting the soggy wrap with an uncharacteristic touch of self-consciousness. "And because this is my realm and I can do whatever I damned well please! I belong here. You, on the other hand, don't."

He shook off his frown and took a challenging step toward her. Though he tried to hide it, she saw him shiver from the cold, but his face was set in firm, determined lines. "Oh, really?" he arrogantly replied. "What must one do to merit belonging here then, my Lady?"

"You must be crazy, of course," she retorted, "and we all know you're sane enough for the both of us, hmm?"

He took another step closer, and Elowyn hated the way he was making her nervous. He was near enough now for her to see the reddish flecks in his dark eyes, to smell the sweat beneath the rain of his soaked clothing. Despite the fact that he must have been freezing cold, and he had just come very close to being a bloody smear across the bottom of Honey's foot, the man seemed eerily calm.

"Crazy, huh?" he murmured. "You mean like…a man going through a portal in the middle of nowhere, attacking a monstrous beast with nothing but a little knife given to him by a mysterious stranger, but refusing to kill the monster because he wouldn't want to hurt the woman who cares about this monster…all on the off chance that she might grant him an audience and hear what he has to say, despite the fact that it was she who ran away from him not long ago? Is that crazy?"

Elowyn's mouth worked wordlessly for a moment, and she was torn between affection and annoyance at the smug expression on Thedret's face. "A little…" she admitted.

"Not enough?" he asked, inching just a bit closer to her. "What about a knight who meets a vampire, is rescued by her and joins her in a crusade against great evil? What if this knight helped her rebuild an order dedicated to the Nine Divines, even though the vampire was not one of their followers? What if he stood by her through hard times, supporting her and nursing her wounds, even keeping her secret when she briefly turned against him? What if he got drunk and danced on a table with her and almost got stabbed by a crazy, jealous follower of Sheogorath because of her and screamed obscenities at his god when he found her broken, lifeless body because he didn't want to go on without her? What if…" his eyes danced away from hers for a moment, and she was relieved to realize that he was as nervous as she was. He was just better at hiding it. "What if he tried to forget her when she left, but he couldn't? What if he didn't want the end to mean it was over? Would he be crazy enough then?"

"Then…in that case…" Elowyn swallowed hard, distracted by the heat of his skin only a scant inch away from her as he stared searchingly down into her eyes, "I would say he's in pretty deep, hmm?"

"I think she's in just as deep," he murmured back, his expression taking on that soft edge she had seen from him a few times, the look that made her insides give a little twist of fear. "It's just too hard for her to admit it. Even to herself."

"If that's true, if she cannot admit it to herself, then how does he expect her to admit it to him, hmm?" She told herself firmly that her voice did not sound small and breathless and afraid.

"I don't," he replied with a hint of a laugh in his tone. She startled when his cold fingers wrapped around her free hand, but she did not pull away. Her chest ached with something like joy and terror all at once, and she did not know how to handle the feelings. "I only ask one thing of you. Just one small thing."

"I-I don't know if I can give it," she told him with an edge of panic. "How can you just sweep into my world and expect to…to, what? To carry me back to Cyrodiil? To make your home here? Impossible! Thedret, this is not insane – it's stupid!"

"Do you think I came here to fall to my knees and make some grand declaration?" he asked. His usually stoic expression was touched with bemusement. "That doesn't sound much like me, does it?"

"Well…no, but…"

"Elowyn, I can't promise you anything. I can't promise me anything. I'm not going to swear to spend every waking moment at your side from now until the day I die. I have responsibilities and so you do you, but…" again the nervousness rose in him, "I'd like to know I have the option. Elowyn…what I came here to ask…"

"Don't," she cut him off in a pinched voice. "Please don't ask me. I can't say it…even if it were true, which I will not say it is and will not say it's not, I-I just…it's not in me to give you that. To give anyone that! It's not…"

"I know," Thedret gently stopped her, his fingers rising to trace the slope of her cheekbone. The woman froze, her breath caught in her throat. "I finally figured that out. Took me long enough, I suppose. That's why I want you to tell me that you don't love me."

Elowyn was visibly shaken by his unexpected words, but Thedret only regarded her with a serious, expectant expression. "What…?" she whispered. "Why would you come all this way just to ask me for that?"

"Just say it. Tell me you don't love me. Tell me you have no feelings for me whatsoever so I can leave now and never bother you again."

"I…can't," she hissed, wanting to twist away from him to hide the flood of emotion rushing to her face. "You know I can't."

His hand slid from her cheek to her chin, forcing her eyes to meet his dark, commanding stare. "Why not?"

"Because," she sighed, somewhere between defeat and relief, "because it's not true."

Thedret smiled, a wide, pleased expression that made his eyes sparkle as the light broke through the clouds overhead. "That's the best confession I've never heard," he whispered warmly, then bent his face to press a gentle kiss against her lips.


A/N: Complete! It's not exactly a "happily ever after" ending, but I'm very satisfied with where I left it. Thank you to everyone who reviewed, and for anyone who took the time to read the story, I hope you enjoyed it. :)