Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Bethesda Studios and I own nothing at all except for the OC and plot. There is no profit made at all, really.
Summary: Because there was a deeper, darker version of Dragonrend… Now Alduin must learn to live again, not as a devourer of worlds, but as a man.
A/N: Hey everyone, this story is back! I'll freely admit it's more of a filler chapter, a kind of calm before the storm moment. For everyone who suffered any anxiety about whether I'd abandoned this story, I would like to repeat that come what may, I'll see this story through to the end. There were many things that happened in real life which just savaged my writing wings and it took awhile to get the Muse in gear. To everyone who reviewed, I thank you from my heart. A special thanks goes out to SilentStorm and applefanfic whose reviews helped tipped the scales and kept me going. As grateful as I am to people who do favourite this story, I would like to add that a review would be even more welcome. There's no money made from this and giving the author feedback, regardless of the number of reviews already given, sometimes makes all the difference. I hope you all enjoy this. :)
Upstairs, Freyja was making just enough of a ruckus for him to hear the audible sounds of someone stomping about and the violent crash of what he rightfully guessed to be a chest lid against the wall of the room above. He also heard the muffled soft clinks of fat gold septims; he could just imagine his wife in a fit of pique as she angrily shovelled coin into a fat purse to pay Lydia's bail. Well, Lydia and that other one, the man she had beaten up, Alduin though absently as he eyed the Imperial soldiers that had begun gathering across the narrow street from Breezehome. It would have been absurd and insulting to consider otherwise, since Lydia was Freyja's servant. She must have given at least a decent accounting of herself even though he was disappointed by the fact that she had allowed herself to be arrested.
While the sound of his wife's angry mutterings and cursing faded in and out of his hearing somewhere in the background—for there was no dragon that ever lived which enjoyed giving away good gold for a poor cause—Alduin reached out and pulled the door closer towards him. That way, the impudent mortals who were wearing more boiled leather than chainmail could no longer look into the hallway or shuffle around, craning their necks for a glimpse of his wife. Freyja had sufficient confidence that the Legates, anxious to win over her Jarl now that the Stormcloak bastard had attempted to lay waste to Whiterun, would not risk an open attack on her. It was a fairly sensible conclusion to draw. He however, had neither reigned nor lived so long by taking chances, and so he would do whatever he could to keep the Dragonborn whole and in one piece.
With lazy grace and a sharp smile that made his golden eyes gleam like a knife's edge when it caught the light, Alduin dropped his hand to the black hilt of the Nightingale blade and watched as a visible jolt of alarm ran through the soldiers. He could smell the tension, hear myriads of thick iron rings brush against each other as those who wore them jumped. Some soldiers reached for their own swords and behind those faceless helms, Alduin was willing to bet their lips were white. A bloodless lot these, he sniffed silently. But they found strength in numbers and bore watching all the same. And since he had to suffer keeping an eye on them, he would amuse himself, if he could, at their expense.
Then, he caught a familiar scent, or more like the ghost of a scent on the light morning breeze. Beneath the layers of light smoke, fresh and bloody meat, the sweat of the populace, and the sweetness of that enormous flowering white tree was one particular stench that hardened his face and wiped away any remaining traces of light-heartedness. It was all he could do not to snarl when the red-headed thief stepped out from behind the house on the low hill opposite Breezehome. Dancing green eyes met his and the quim had the gall to issue a mocking salute before slipping away. At that moment, Alduin realised the door behind him was sliding back. Freyja was here.
"Well, this is going to be an utter waste of—" She never finished her sentence because he wrapped an arm about her waist, pinned her against his body such that her face was practically smothered against his shoulder, and propelled her into the armourer's shop, which thankfully was mere feet away. In the process, he had practically lifted her off her feet.
"They had bows and arrows," he calmly explained to his visibly shocked wife once they were safe within the confines of an enclosed space, as though her widened eyes and slightly opened mouth were reactions that were entirely unwarranted. "And you are wearing no armour at the moment."
"But... Even then..." she sputtered. "I didn't even get to lock the door!" She wriggled slightly, trying to make him let go. He merely tightened his grip. That had been too much too close for comfort; Alduin still vividly recalled the moment when Freyja had hurled herself into Brynjolf's arms. He would sooner be damned then let it happen twice.
"Good. Then I will have an excuse to legitimately annihilate any intruder we find in our house." Actually, he had a certain red-haired thief in mind but it would have been hard to butcher Brynjolf in Freyja's presence, if only because his wife was certain to interfere. "And you may inform your Jarl that the Imperial soldiers are nothing more than thieves and thugs that deserve to be booted from your city."
"Whiterun is not my city. It belongs to Balgruuf," Freyja grimaced, her eyes darting to the side where they were being watched with unabashed interest by people whom Alduin assumed were the proprietors. "And I would appreciate it if firstly, you don't place thieves and thugs in the same category and secondly, you let me go now. I doubt Imperials possess arrows and bows that can penetrate these walls."
"And not a word of thanks from you." Alduin murmured, dipping his head lower so that he spoke directly in her ear. "Ungrateful wench." He felt her tense in his arms, saw the rosy flush that crept up her cheeks and the curve of her neck as she swallowed. Pleased with her response, he slid his arm from her waist, subtly running his fingers over the small of her back. "Go get your armour. I will wait outside." And if he managed to spot that red-headed thief once more, even the pantheon of the Nine themselves would not be able to save that one's skin.
If it had been any other man, I would have reared my head back and bashed my forehead into his nose. "Crude, but effective," Vex had instructed. "I did it to Delvin once when he was too deep in his cups and too grabby with his hands."
"At least he still has hands."
"What good is a thief with no hands?" Vex smiled rakishly. "We are a Guild and every member is family and an investment of sorts."
Or, even though my hands were pinned against his chest and there was no way I could effectively push him away since he was stronger than me, alarmingly so, I could free my arm by sliding it upward and after that, I would have a choice of either going for the eyes or the apple of the throat.
But I could do none of those, because this was Alduin. Neither did I want to make a scene even though he seemed intent on doing so, or at least making it very clear even without a verbal introduction that he was my husband, just in case anyone had missed the sight of him on the gigantic red dragon while they burned Ulfric's army to little more than ash.
It was bloody embarrassing though. "Whiterun is not my city. It belongs to Balgruuf," I corrected through gritted teeth while trying not to feel the force of Adrianne and Ulfberth's gazes on me. Public displays of affection were for others, not for me and up until now, I had thought that the case for Alduin too. Standing in the middle of Warmaiden's plastered against my husband was not acceptable. "And I would appreciate it if firstly, you don't place thieves and thugs in the same category and secondly, you let me go now. I doubt those soldiers possess arrows and bows that can penetrate these walls." Naturally, when speaking in favour of thieves, it made sense to lower my voice to a fraction above a murmur. It also helped to save face and prevent gossip when one was arguing with one's significant other in public.
Unfortunately, he responded in kind, lowering his face closer to mine. "And not a word of thanks from you." The warmth of his breath skimmed my ear and my knees nearly buckled. It came so close to something else I had dreamt of the night before, except that Alduin had kissed my ears before he had moved down my neck, biting and licking a hot wet trail until he reached my br—'Stop!' With more effort than I cared to acknowledge, I forcibly wrenched my mind back from the memory of that lusty dream. Unfortunately, my face had already turned red.
"Ungrateful wench," he teased, golden eyes glinting with humour and I just stood there dumbly, thinking that yes, now that he had mentioned it, 'wench' was quite a good description of my own behaviour in the aforementioned dream. Some of the things I had done...well, I'd read about them, one bored night while hiding out in a cave, from a book on Dibellan arts that Tonilia had asked me to steal for her. After that, it had taken awhile before I could look at either our resident fence or Vekel straight in the face without picturing them in any of the positions that had been drawn out in great and loving detail by the author, who had been a Sybil of Dibella's. When he ran his hand lightly over my waist as he stepped back, it was like fire down my spine. Clearly, I had debauched myself somehow by reading that book; I knew I should have stopped but it had been too horrifyingly juicy to put down. Now I was paying the price.
"Go get your armour. I will wait outside."
I couldn't have made a single sarcastic remark about bows and arrows if my life had depended on it. And because only half—and I was being particularly charitable to myself at that moment—of my brain was not suddenly seized with the urge telling me to re-enact last night's dream now, I turned around and did exactly as he directed. At least it put some space between Alduin and myself. I doubted Adrianne or Ulfberth would have appreciated what I had in mind and with Warmaiden's being a weapons shop after all, there were far too many options at hand for them to use should they decide to chase us from the premises. That would probably end with Alduin and I joining Lydia and Vilkas in the dungeon of Dragonsreach.
'Get a grip, Freyja.' It was an internal litany I chanted over and over even as something inside objected fiercely to the sound of the closed door, signalling Alduin's absence. 'Or not,' I reminded myself, taking a deep breath and steadying my legs, fighting to keep my expression neutral. 'He's just outside, not far away at all.' In fact, all it would take was less than five steps and I could wrap my hands around the intricate armoured grooves on his chest piece and yank him down on the floor—
"Married life suiting you well, Dragonborn?"
My head snapped up; I blinked rapidly, hoping my eyes weren't as glazed with lust as I feared they were. This was bad, even worse than anything I had ever experienced with Bryn. At least with him, my mind was still able to rein in my desires. But now, I could feel it burning in my bones, a flash flood barely stymied and only because of the presence of others and my own tenuous grip on myself. "Well enough," I replied, wincing inwardly at the slight rasp in my voice. Ulfberth was not exactly smirking but that thick black beard twitched and the twinkle in his eye grew brighter. "I do apologise for..." I gestured weakly in the direction of the door, trying not to focus on the fact that it was all that stood between Alduin and me. "He's spent too much time alone with the Greybeards. Life off the mountain is very much different from what he knows and he doesn't...take well to strangers," I ended lamely.
"Oh, don't worry about that," Adrianne shushed, pushing the neatly folded midnight coloured garb at me. "I know a thing or two about that."
Her huge husband started next to her, an indignant rumble coming from his chest but Adrianne effectively silenced it with an elbow to his side. It probably would have registered as much as using a twig to whack the hide of a mammoth but it worked. The day I could have Alduin wrapped around my finger like that was...well, never. Fingering the Nightingale armour and ancient cowl, I felt a rush of pleasure that had nothing to do with my wayward body. "They're as good as new." The large gashes where the arrows had pierced through to break my collarbone and tear into my thigh had disappeared, as had the dozens of scratches and superficial rips that had marked my armour for weeks. The half-mask was sewn back firmly, and I could see the glint of gold wire that Adrianne had used to reinforce the stitches. It must have been an expensive repair but any offer of payment would have been an insult since she and Ulfberth meant this as repayment for saving her and Proventus. "I cannot thank you enough."
"You should come in more often to get your armour repaired. Or at least let another smith look to those nicks and tears if you're too far from here," Adrienne admonished although she looked pleased.
"Not every smith in Skyrim knows how to work with enchanted items." That was a fact I had discovered the hard way when I had arrived in Dawnstar with deep tears in the Thieves Guild armour and several blackened edges reeking dragon smoke to find that it had been beyond the skill of either Rustlief or Seren to repair the damage wrought by five bandits, one blood dragon and a troll, possibly the stupidest in Skyrim, which had simply wandered into the midst of the battle.
"And there are some like Eorlund Gray-Mane who refuse to," Ulfberth added, exchanging a meaningful look with his wife. "We've heard that you might be having some...trouble with the Companions."
"You mean you heard Lydia and Vilkas were arrested for fighting in the streets," I sighed. Embarrassing as it was, and somewhat troubling too because it had been a known fact that I had joined the Companions shortly before I had left, there was no point in being less than direct. "I do have to speak with them. Some...matters need to be settled."
"You might want to avoid the marketplace," Adrianne said gently. It did nothing to assuage the mild horror that I could feel washing over me. "I'll speak to my father about the damages. You saved us all from the Stormcloaks; surely there must be some reward in that which could be used to compensate the vendors."
"Oh..." And here I'd been naively hoping that it had been something as simple as fisticuffs. The guard had mentioned Vilkas' black eye, not that it would have been that obvious with the copious amounts of war paint the man chose to smear his face with. Of course the only one who wore even more paint than Vilkas was Aela. Still, at least she looked ferocious and formidable; I had never quite had the heart or the courage to tell Vilkas he simply looked unwashed—
"Actually," Ulberth's low rumble cut in and brought my panicked, rambling thoughts back to the awful present. "You might want to take the Cloud District route to Dragonsreach when you pay Lydia's bail."
Well, at least the upside of all this bad news was that it had effectively wiped out my ardour. Alduin could have paraded himself across the room in the nu—okay, maybe not. But at least I had lost the urge to run out on Ulfberth and Adrianne in mid-conversation so that I could make little Dragonborns with Alduin. "Just how much damage did they do?" I didn't want to know, but experience had taught me I wasn't one of those people who could effectively put things like that out of mind; instead it set me on edge.
It might have been comical to see Adrianne and Ulfberth exchange long looks as they hesitated. Maybe ten years from now, I would laugh, if I lived that long. Right now though, I wanted to dig a hole in the ground and hide myself. Or maybe Vilkas' body. Lydia had a temper in her own right but she would never have made trouble this way, of that I was completely sure.
"The front entrance of Belethor's shop took quite a few blows from Vilkas and Lydia's weapons." Adrianne had put on her merchant's voice, rattling off the list as objectively as she would have if I had popped in to see what new merchandise she had acquired. "Anoriath's stall is semi-collapsed and his day's supply of fresh meat is currently not purchasable. Carlotta's stall requires new stands and a new covering; she may have to repurchase a fresh supply of vegetables and cheese. Fralia Grey-Mane's stall escaped damage—"
"A bloody miracle," I muttered.
"—but she twisted her ankle trying to get away from Lydia and Vilkas' altercation."
It was official: the Dragonborn could never, never catch a lucky break. I was going back to the Ebonmere and demand that Nocturnal accept my resignation letter.
"And somehow, Lydia managed to chop the well beam in half, although I do believe she was aiming for Vilkas who had fallen over it."
"Would that she had succeeded," I muttered in a futile attempt to take the edge of my ire, knowing that I didn't mean it.
"It wasn't for want of trying," Ulberth replied dryly. "I was there when the guards finally managed to corner them, only because they both somehow managed to disarm each other and all that was left to use were fists and boots. The Companions like to refer to themselves as wolves but your Lydia, there's a real she-wolf."
"Sigurd says it was Vilkas' fault. He was with Lydia when they encountered Vilkas' on the road. He was coming to find you and she would not let him pass."
'Because I was having my own little dispute with Alduin.' Lydia might well have saved Vilkas' life actually. If he had been angry enough to actually harm me, Alduin would have made every effort to kill him. Sighing deeply, I gathered the armour up. "I'm sure Vilkas will have something to say about whose fault it is when I see him. But thank you for the news; at least I know what to expect. Adrianne, I will pay for the damage." That earned a slight frown from the Imperial blacksmith. "I imagine your father and Jarl Balgruuf have to pay for refortifications, new weapons and armour. The farms beyond the city have been wrecked; there must have been citizens coming to ask for help. And I can well afford it," I smiled wanly.
"You intend to bail Vilkas out."
I nodded at Ulfberth. "We're still Shield Siblings, at least we still are as of now."
"You have a lot of siblings there. And only one of him," he nodded in the direction of the door. "Unless you mean to bring a dragon down on Jorrvaskr."
"Of course not!"
"Then maybe you might want an extra pair of hands to watch your back."
This time, my smile was far more genuine. "Thank you, but I can't accept. It might upset Vilkas more and make matters worse. Not everyone is as hot-headed; everything will be alright." If prophetic powers had been part of my retinue of skills, I might actually have believed myself. As it was, judging by the looks on both their faces, neither Adrianne nor Ulfberth believed me. It was time for an exit. "If you don't mind, I'd like to use a room to put these on."
Ulfberth looked like he wanted to press the matter but Adrianne had already taken me by the arm to show me to the back room. In the privacy it afforded and by the soft heat of the hearth, I yanked on my armour, glad for the shadows the cowl drew over my face. When I stepped out, the sun was about three hours from its zenith in the sky. I had less than twenty hours to smooth things over with the Companions, answer to Balgruuf while protecting their secret, and find a way to escape the Imperial contingents that were crawling all over the city. I rounded the corner to see Alduin eyeballing said Imperial soldiers who by now, had crowded the street opposite him. There was no way they would part for us and little chance of us getting through without weapons being drawn. Alduin caught sight of me and the lazy smile he unleashed made my breath catch and my knees weak, stoking what I had imagined to be dormant fires in my belly. Memories of what had happened in Anise's basement collided with the remnants of last night's dream. Again, there was that fierce, almost primal flash of lust and it genuinely alarmed me.
'You can do this,' I told myself sternly as I marched down the Plains District, my husband at my side and Imperial soldiers trailing in my wake. I would accomplish everything I set out to do without doing any of the things I had read about to Alduin. After all, I was the Dragonborn. That had to be good for something.