Morning came and the rising light sifted through the grimy windows of the inn and captured the falling dust. At the bar, a man could be seen staring hard into the depths of his drink. It was far too early in the morning for the place to be bustling and his only company was the innkeeper, who was stationed behind the bar and polishing the counter mindlessly with a soiled cloth.

Whitland grimaced before downing his tankard and clapping it on the bar. Having known the drill by now, the innkeeper silently refilled his mug with whatever hard liquor he'd been drinking. He didn't care to find out. The alcohol was causing his head to buzz pleasantly, but he could tell that a headache was on its way.

His only solution was to drink and he welcomed the burning sensation the liquor made in the back of his throat. Sighing, his head fell into his hands and he rubbed at his red-rimmed eyes, trying to will himself to wake up. He had stood outside last night until his body was numb from the cold and his fingers had threatened to fall off.

The cold hadn't helped, the bitter chill only settling on his bones and making his heart ache even more. When he had finally returned to the room, his eyes had avoided the bed and the figure underneath the covers. There was a sense of heaviness to the air that bore down and made it hard to breathe. And then he had known she was awake, but there wasn't a sound as he took the floor. A few hours of tossing and turning had wounded him up here. And here he had stayed.

Feeling slightly bitter, he finished off his drink and threw the appropriate change he owned onto the counter and then some. The innkeeper went to move, but stopped as Whitland spoke. "Just water now." he stated tiredly

The water he was given was room temperature and tasted slightly metallic, but seeing that his customer would be satisfied for a time, the innkeeper left with a short word about chopping some wood. Whitland only nodded and sipped from his mug, rubbing his temples and trying to ignore the increasing pounding in his head.

It must have been around an hour later when she finally emerged from their room. His senses had lost that pleasant buzz by then and his headache had fully manifested itself. He could feel her eyes on him when she sat on the stool next to him, but he didn't dare look at her. His eyes were bloodshot and his complexion was a sickly grey from his hangover. Next to her, he had to look like more of a vampire than she did. He barely contained a snort and focused on the water swirling inside his cup. Hmph, he could see the grime coating the edges of the mug even from here.

Fascinating.

Yet even as he directed all of his attention on the questionable hygiene of this inn, it was impossible to ignore her presence next to him. It was like trying to deny feeling heat from a fire or saying that a bell couldn't ring. All of his senses just honed in on her, devouring greedily on any part of her that it could find. And it frustrated him to no end that he had no control over it. From the corner of his vision, he could just make out a sliver of her sleeve.

She broke the silence first. "Hey." she said softly and he wanted to scream and roar. She sounded like she was trying to tiptoe over his emotions and he was not in the mood for pity. He had a full night of that, thank you.

All the same, courtesy deigned a response. "Hey." he returned gruffly while still refusing to meet her gaze. An awkward silence descended upon them and he took another swig from his cup, his head still throbbing.

She shifted in her seat. "Are we doing that whole tough-guy-at-the-bar-scene where you reminisce about the old days and tell me a story from your embittered past?" she asked. Her voice was oddly strained, but he could hear a hint of humor seep into her tone.

Something inside him snapped.

Humor was for talking when things had been good between them, when it had been less complicated and not a mash of mixed up emotions. They had kissed now and he was done dancing around whatever it was that hung between them. Things couldn't go back to normal between them, no matter how much she wanted it.

"You know why I'm here." he growled, but released his anger with a deep sigh. "Let's just quit joking about this and get it out." he said tiredly. He lifted his head to look her dead in the eyes.

Unlike her earlier tone, he didn't find any humor there. Her face was withdrawn and he realized how forced and brittle the smile on her lips was. She seemed almost desperate for a sense of normalcy, but he couldn't give that to her. He couldn't just pretend nothing had happened.

As she held his gaze, whatever scrap of humor left in her sapped out and was replaced by a look of utter seriousness. She sighed slowly and nodded her agreement before dropping her eyes.

"What do you want to know?" asked Serana, her tone resigned.

"How about let's start with the fact that we kissed." he stated calmly enough, but he couldn't stop the edge that crept into his voice. "And then you backed off and said that we couldn't. Care to elaborate?" he asked with a bite. Suddenly he was wishing he hadn't switched over to water. He felt like he needed to be a little inebriated to get through this conversation.

"I wasn't thinking straight. The alcohol must have clouded my judgment. I didn't mean to-" she started, but he cut her off.

"Didn't mean to?" he snarled. His skull was pounding and his anger was making the headache worse. "Let's remember that you kissed me back. I don't think you could have lost your senses for that long. So stop lying and tell me the truth."

"I'm not lying." she argued with an even tone, but she wouldn't look at him when she said it.

Surprisingly, he kept his cool and his headache faded into the background. His eyebrow rose. "Really? You don't need to tell me anything?" His voice practically dripped in doubt.

A harsh silence to greeted his challenge, but she exhaled and slowly brought her gaze up to him. "No, nothing." she confirmed and he could read the lie in her face. She was terrible at hiding her guilt.

He slammed a fist on the counter and she flinched. "You're lying!" he roared and grabbed her by the arm. She tried to rip herself free, but his grip was iron. He twisted her wrist and yanked her sleeve up-

-To reveal a red line emblazoned onto her skin, identical to the one on her other arm. The curse had spread and she had chosen to keep him in the dark. Disgusted, he released her arm and looked away. In the corner of his eye, he saw her cover the exposed flesh and rub at the spot with a pained grimace. The action made a flood of guilt rush through him. His rage evaporated and the pain in his head was suddenly nothing.

His voice was subdued. "Listen," he said quietly and looked back at her. Serana's eyes lifted at his change of voice and their eyes locked. "If we're to trust each other, we're going to have to be honest with one another. That means you have to tell me when something like this happens." he said gently and tried to gauge her reaction.

She was quiet for a long time before finally speaking up. "I didn't want you to worry." she admitted softly. Her eyes flitted over to his and the light in them appeared to dim. Her shoulders slumped over. "But I know I should have told you. And for that, I'm sorry." She couldn't seem to hold his gaze anymore and looked down.

The guilt on her face didn't disappear until he lightly laid a hand on her shoulder and offered her a small smile. The tension in her figure seemed to melt at his touch, and she knew without a word that he had forgiven her.

He savored the comfortable silence that fell between them before breathing deeply and taking the plunge. "Did you want me to kiss you?" he asked lowly, but not unkindly. Her muscles tensed underneath his hand.

There was an eternity of silence where she refused to look at him.

"Yes." Serana spoke softly.

That one word echoed loudly in the quiet of the room and his stomach bunched into knots. A grin threatened to burst from his lips and he had to forcefully push aside his building euphoria to keep his composure. "But?" he asked, sensing there was more to her statement.

"But," she sighed heavily, "I am immortal and you are not. And I may be dead soon from whatever magic the daedric prince has decided to curse my family with."

His elation sputtered out and died in one last tragic cough, snuffed out like a candle. So much for the hero getting the girl and having his happily ever after. Of course, he didn't know how vampires and dragon-blooded mortals fitted into that equation, but Divines be damned, he would make it happen.

"I guess that is a bit of a problem." he stated nonchalantly. She glanced up at him and one graceful eyebrow rose as her response.

His hand settled more warmly on her shoulder and his eyes were reassuring. "But we will figure out this mess with Molag Bal and fix it." His voice breached no argument. "Mortality is something I have previously held on to, but I am not against or repulsed by the idea of giving it up, and there are ways to cure even the strongest strands of vampirism. We can figure something out."

"You can't know that." said Serana, but a glimmer of hope flickered in her eyes. She hesitated. "And even if I had the choice to give up my immortality, I don't think I could. The trials I had to go through, the ruin of my own family, would be laid to nothing if I became mortal again."

She looked so alone and lost in that moment that his actions were almost an act of necessity. Cautiously and slowly, he gathered her in his arms and held her, but she did nothing in her power to stop him. Her eyes only closed as her head settled over his heart. His chin rested on top of her dark head of hair. "We'll figure everything out." he soothed.

She sighed and her body went suddenly boneless in his grip. It seemed like surrender. "I hope so." she murmured against his clothes, but he heard her. He brushed a hand through her hair comfortingly but a thought hit him.

"What were these trials?" He immediately regretted asking when her entire body stiffened under his touch. He opened his mouth to give her a way out, but she spoke before he could.

Her voice was barely louder than a whisper, but she could have been shouting. "I suppose it's time for you to know." she said in a resigned tone.

"Know what?" he asked with a feeling of dread.

"What it truly means to be a Daughter of Coldharbor."

His dread deepened and he didn't protest as she pulled away from him and took a seat at the counter. Something in her eyes told him he would need to do the same. He could see the pain and terror in her gaze that made him wish more than ever for that drink.

Serana began her story, her eyes looking far past his shoulder, and he listened intently to every word that passed through those lips. "They say it is a great honor to be offered to Molag Bal-"

***A/N

And so Serana is going to tell him what she had to go through to become a pure-blooded vampire, with my own twist of course. Sorry for the very, very long wait and the minuscule chapter. I honestly meant to make it super uber long, but I thought the whole talking thing was dragging on forever. I hope you enjoyed it though.