It really was the most logical, the most natural, the most impossibly disgraceful (as Ondolemar tried to tell himself) thing to do, what with the ice broken and Ondolemar's terrible, terrible crime of falling in love with a human admitted to. The first time - shortly after the multitude of healing incantations and spells poured over and into Kiara took effect and she was finally able to move without making apologetic little groans of pain - was easy.

All Ondolemar had to do was lean over her as she lay in bed, luxuriating in the first rays of the morning sun falling across her blanket, and bite greedily into her lips, and feel the entire universe - including Barbas, who was covering his eyes with his paws like a good, tactful pet, - slip away from him as he finally reached the bottommost point of his fall... or maybe the topmost point of his flight.

And all Kiara had to do was cling tight to the front of his robes and drag him down onto the blanket beside her, and laugh a dazed, insane, happy laugh as he tore his mouth out of hers and moved to her ears, and then her neck, his lips and the quivering tip of his tongue tickling her skin - especially that space between her collar bones; it flushed bright crimson with the heat sent in wild, pulsing waves by her heart, which seemed to have leapt upwards from its rightful place in her chest, travelling inside her throat in the wake of Ondolemar's touch.

The first time was easy. The other dozens and dozens of times, not so much. Eventually, this not-so-muchness reached such an alarming degree that Ondolemar had to call for an emergency meeting in his quarters in the Understone Keep, which Kiara (and Barbas, though he was not officially invited) reached in perfect stealth mode, stomachs gurgling slightly due to the not so perfect quality of a couple of hastily brewed Invisibility potions.

'Something needs to be done,' Ondolemar announced resolutely, slapping his hand on a small, thickish notepad that lay on the desk in front of him.

Barbas stood on his hind legs and, resting his snout on the desk's edge, peered suspiciously at the little volume. 'What's this, another diary?' he asked, with a barely traceable shade of disdain.

'It is my personal organizer,' Ondolemar elaborated pompously. 'Having one is an integral part of one's superior breeding.'

Kiara snickered into her fist; Ondolemar's favourite sound bite always made her think of horses, and imagining an equine version of your favourite Thalmor is certainly no boring pastime.

Ondolemar ignored her, 'I keep track of all our so-called Operations'.

'Really? Let me see!' Kiara exclaimed eagerly, her mental image of a little Ondolemar-like pony dissolving with a small 'pop!', and reached out for the organizer. As she leafed through it, squinting at the miniscule handwriting, Ondolemar watched her, somewhat uneasily, over her shoulder; suddenly, he grabbed her by the wrist, 'You might want to flip over this page'.

'Why?' Kiara asked innocently.

He bit his lips. 'It's... It's the list of all the people I've arrested. Gods, why do I always explain myself to you?!'

'Because that's what mature people in a relationship do,' Kiara said wisely, lifting the index finger of her free hand with an air of great importance (most likely mock); then, without even pausing for breath, she immediately changed her tone to a childishly curious one, 'What do all the cute little stars stand for?'

'The stars are instances where extreme interrogation methods were recommended,' Ondolemar replied reluctantly.

'Extreme interrogation methods my tail!' Barbas growled. 'Why don't you call a spade a spade, a mudcrab a mudcrab, and torture torture?'

'You are horrible,' Kiara declared.

'I've always known that,' Ondolemar said, with a snort. 'Why don't you just get rid of the dog? Send him back to his Daedric master?'

'No, no, no!' she shook her head energetically, prodding him in the chest. 'Youare horrible!'

'Correction,' he objected softly, moving his head closer to hers so that their lips almost touched. 'Youare horrible'.

'Well, you are more horrible,' she whispered, the last word melting away into a long kiss.

'You sly little human!' Ondolemar exclaimed suddenly, mentally commanding his hands to stop wandering around Kiara's waistline and taking an abrupt step back. 'Give me the list, this instant! I know you've torn it out! Now hand it over! You are not rescuing these heretics!'

Kiara dazzled him with one of her radiant, ear-to-ear grins. 'Try and stop me if you can!', she chanted teasingly, doing a little 'I Dare You' dance, which mostly consisted of hops, first on one foot, then on the other.

Barbas let out a loud, attention-drawing barking cough, 'Shall we return to the matter at hand?'

'Oh, right,' Kiara giggled sheepishly and skimmed through the remaining sections of the organizer, successfully evading Ondolemar's searching hands as he persistently tried to discover the list of prisoners on her person (though it could have been just an excuse). Finally, she came across what she was looking for - a most curious chart, which deserves to be quoted.

Operation Flying ShadowsPlanned procedure:

Ondolemar descends out of the Keep's window at night, using a rope and wearing face-concealing armour (which still compliments his fine athletic build). Having thus left his quarters unnoticed, he goes to a specified location. Kiara meets Ondolemar at said location, and the two proceed accordingly.

Actual events:

The rope, its quality being beyond unsatisfactory, tears almost to the point of snapping in two, leaving Ondolemar in a life-threatening, not to mention humiliating, position in mid-air. The movements of his legs, in particular, produce a most ridiculous, unbecoming impression - through no fault of his. Kiara has to climb up a steep rocky surface to free Ondolemar from his current predicament. To her credit, she does this fast enough to give herself and Ondolemar time to flee from the town guards, who, due to their sad lack of intelligence, have mistaken them for thieves. The two spend the rest of the night pretending to be Dwemer statuary while the guards canvass the territory in search of unknown perpetrators.

Operation C & C(name suggested by Barbas, an apparent incomprehensible cross-universe reference)

Planned procedure:

Kiara conceals herself by being rolled up inside one of the tapestries bearing the symbols of the Aldmeri Dominion, which, according to the orders of First Emissary Elenwen, are to be installed as decorations in the Jarls' palaces in the cities that support the Empire. The aforementioned tapestry is brought to Ondolemar's quarters, Kiara reveals herself, and the two proceed accordingly.

Actual events:

Thongvor Silver-Blood bursts in on the Jarl, vehemently protesting against the new tapestries and spewing out all manner of outrageous accusations against the Dominion (reminder: work on getting him removed). The Jarl attempts to reason with him, but he remains deaf to words of wisdom - not surprisingly - and in a fit of rage, orders the guards to toss the tapestries into the canal by the smelters. The guards obey; Kiara, still inside the tapestry, risks drowning, but is aided by the smelter workers, who show remarkable resourcefulness and finesse, quite surprising for savage natives.

Operation Caged Bird.Planned procedure:

Unclear; the operation is entirely the product of Kiara's machinations.

Actual events:

While Ondolemar is overseeing the process of a prisoner being escorted by his Justiciars to Northwatch Keep for interrogation, a woman in a full set of steel plate armour emerges from behind a roadside rock, blocking the agents' way. She frees the prisoner, who flees the scene. After his subordinates leave in pursuit of the escapee, Ondolemar finds himself face to face with the woman, whom he promptly strikes with a lightning bolt. But as she surrenders and takes off her helmet, it is revealed that she is, in fact, Kiara. With no one in the vicinity, the two proceed accordingly; however, they are soon interrupted by the returning Justiciars, who, judging by what they see from the distance, conclude that Ondolemar and Kiara are engaged in close combat and launch an attack. Kiara uses a potion to turn invisible and escape, but not before getting a few arrow wounds, none of them in the knee, which, for some reason, she deems very important.

Operation Royal Night.Planned procedure:

Ondolemar uses his superior intellect to move the date of the meeting between the representatives of the Thalmor and the Empire, to be held in Castle Dour in Solitude, so that it coincides with the weekly Burning of King Olaf (a primitive festival involving savage dances and a vast consumption of food and beverages of dubious origin). The pandemonium that usually reigns in the streets on such occasions is enough to create a diversion and thus to allow Ondolemar to separate himself from the rest of the delegation. Ondolemar slips into the building of the Bards' College, whose inhabitants are all outside indulging Sanguine. Kiara meets him there, and the two proceed accordingly.

Actual events:

Ondolemar fulfills his part of the operation flawlessly, as expected of a mer such as himself. Kiara, on the other hand, happens to cross paths with one Octieve San, an alcoholic of an exceedingly questionable reputation, whose level of inebriation is, quite logically, higher than usual. Seeing the necklace Kiara is wearing (ordered by Ondolemar - incognito - from the Markarth silversmiths, most skilled artisans, though humans), San mistakes it for an Amulet of Mara and pursues Kiara with a 'Let's get hitched!' battlecry. As she flees from him, Kiara enters the courtyard of the Bards' College, where the Headmaster is about to burn the King's effigy. She pushes the Headmaster - due to her innate human clumsiness; - the burning effigy topples, and everything flammable in the surroundings promptly ignites. Thus, Ondolemar finds himself trapped within the College while there is a fire raging outside. Kiara forces her way into the building, sustaining several burns; the smoke disorients her, and by the time she locates Ondolemar, she is on the verge of suffocation. In a superior display of chivalry, Ondolemar carries Kiara out in his arms; once out of harm's way, the two proceed accordingly. They do not proceed for long, however, hindered by the resurfacing San, who dares to defile Ondolemar's person by pounding him with his fists and claiming that he had 'stolen his girl'. It is only the arrival of Ondolemar's colleagues, who have finally disentangled themselves from the revelling crowd, that saves San from being incinerated.

Operation DynamoPlanned procedure:

Ondolemar and Kiara gain entry to the Dwemer Museum, climb inside a dormant Centurion and, thus concealed from prying eyes, proceed accordingly.

Actual events:

Whilst inside the Centurion, Kiara, allegedly by accident (still not sure if 'It was dark, and I thought I was touching your sweet shaved head!' is a valid excuse), activates some sort of obscure Dwemer mechanism, which causes the Centurion to come to life and move out of the Museum, sweeping down all that stands in its way, with Ondolemar and Kiara still inside it. Lumbering through the Keep, the automaton wreaks utter havoc. The guards attempt to put it down with spells, but their efforts - as always - have little effect. The scene reaches its climax when the construct seizes Calcelmo the researcher and lifts him high in the air, presumably with the intention of tossing him on the ground and then crushing him. However, Kiara and Ondolemar prevent it from doing so by disengaging its dynamo core; the Centurion winds down and falls to the ground. It is likely, though not confirmed, that Calcelmo breaks a leg in the process. Ondolemar and Kiara still have to spend a few hours within the contraption, while its fate is being debated by the court, which has gathered round it, thus nullifying any chance of a stealthy exit. Eventually, the Jarl rules that the Centurion will have to be melted down. By sheer luck, it is left unattended for a while, the court having retired and Calcelmo having departed in search of the tools needed to dismantle the automaton, and Ondolemar and Kiara set themselves free.

'Do you see it now?!' Ondolemar exclaimed emphatically when Kiara finished reading. 'Our situation is nigh on hopeless! You know perfectly well that I have contained my feelings far too long, and every moment spent away from you makes me suffer - and I don't like suffering! At the same time, if the fact that we are... well...'

'An item?' Barbas suggested.

Ondolemar winced, 'Itemis such a crude, degrading term... Items are what one seizes while apprehending a criminal. Anyway, as I was saying, if our relationship is discovered, we shall both end up wishing we were dead'.

'I never wish I was dead,' Kiara piped in brightly.

'The point is,' Ondolemar was clearly beginning to lose his patience, 'We need a strategy - a way of spending time together that does not involve ridiculous mishaps or accidents or explosions...'

'Explosions?' Kiara echoed eagerly. 'Ooh, we haven't tried that one before'. A flash of venomous green from beneath Ondolemar's hood made her cut herself short and hurry to change the subject. 'Come on, Lemmie, don't get so upset! I have a perfect scheme planned! Came to me, why, a whole ten seconds ago! It is so packed full of simple awesomeness that I will bet this fabulous jazbay crostata,' she produced - seemingly out of nowhere - a round piece of pastry and brandished it in Ondolemar's face, 'That we will be able to smooch our tongues off right in the middle of the street, and no one will be the wiser!'

Ondolemar took advantage of a pause in her shrill, fast-paced oration to ask bewilderedly, 'You brought a jazbay crostata with you to our emergency meeting?'

'That I did,' Kiara nodded, beaming. 'Which reminds me: are you a fan of this delicious flavour?..' Having scrutinized Ondolemar's expression for a short while, she remarked, 'Looks like you aren't. Well, all the better for me then. It means I will get to eat the crostata either way, no matter if I win or lose the bet. But I will totally win. As sure as Ulfric Stormcloak doesn't like being Wabbajacked, I will win'.

'I can't believe I let you talk me into this,' Ondolemar said weakly, peering down at the narrow, maze-like, stone-paved streets of Markarth from the small bridge that Kiara had chosen as the site of her little experiment. 'If I am executed for treason, you will be executed with me'.

'Sure,' she gave him an eager nod. 'I've been planning for us to die side by side for a while now. Of course, it will have to be a violent death, because otherwise I'd have to become a Necromancer or a vampire to live as long as you guys do, and that's way too gross. Being one of those things, I mean, not living long. Although, it depends on the way you look at stuff. Take poor, poor Master Aren, for instance. He was over a hundred years old, and he'd spent most of that time feeling regretful about what he'd done to his best friends. Though it's not like he had any choice, given that there was a mean old Dragon Priest on the loose, but still...'

Ondolemar raised an ominous eyebrow. Kiara obediently let her tale of the adventure in the Labyrinthian go untold and set to work on making her 'scheme packed full of simple awesomeness' a reality.

She began by taking a deep breath, eyes half-closed, as though preparing for meditation. Then, she parted her lips, in a very deliberate, dramatically slow way, and uttered two words, in a tongue Ondolemar was sure he had never heard before, ''

The instant her voice trailed off into silence, the invisible cogs and wheels moving the world around them ground to a standstill. Through a bluish, flaky mist, the people of Markarth could be seen standing petrified in the streets: Hroki balancing herself on one foot in the middle of the market square, the other foot raised to make a step; Kerah bending over, her fingers inches away from her daughter's ear, about to give it a strong educational pinch; old Degaine throwing his head back, his tongue arched, waiting for the last droplet of mead from his grimy cracked mug to land inside his mouth; the smelter workers holding on to half-emptied shovels, heaps of coal hanging suspended in mid-air in front of them; Yngvar the Singer leaning against a wall, his expression brooding and sullen, lips pushed forward, about to let out a small spit projectile; Muiri reaching down towards a potion bottle which she has dropped on the pavement and which has just begun getting shattered...

But Kiara paid little heed to the peculiar pantomime being acted out in the streets below; she moved closer to Ondolemar, each strain of her muscles an eternity, and placed her hands on his robe buckles, and kissed him. The kiss was slow, frozen in time like everything around them, and thus all the more elating. Stunned, uncomprehending, inebriated by this new, prolonged sensation of their two beings moulding into one, Ondolemar wondered if perhaps this kiss could last forever... It did not. There finally came a point when the enchantment's dam broke, and the currents of time came rushing back, ringing deafeningly in their ears. Kiara parted her lips from his, and soon all was set in the intended order: Hroki strode across the square back to her parents' inn; Kerah grabbed hold of her daughter's ear and began telling her off for some prank or other; Degaine gulped down the last of his mead; the workers fed the smelter's fire with yet another shovelful of coal; Yngvar spat disdainfully on the cobblestones; Muiri squatted down, gathering into her skirt the shards of the potion bottle. And the Redguard girl and the Thalmor stood on the bridge, looking in different directions, as though they had nothing in common - nothing whatsoever.

'Well, what did I tell you?' Kiara asked triumphantly when they returned to the Keep. 'Those folks down there did not see a thing! I suspect they did not even feel I was tampering with time - because they were not in the epic centre or whatever it's called... Just like when a Psijic monk came to Winterhold! Such a funny word, Psijic - try saying it fast ten times... oh wait, you probably don't wanna hear that; you people don't like the Psijics too much, do you?'

'How...' Ondolemar asked hoarsely, almost burning the skin off her face with his intense glare, 'How in Oblivion did you cast that spell? Such magic is far beyond the capabilities of any human!'

'Oh, it wasn't magic!' Kiara replied light-heartedly. 'Well, not the kind of magic most folks are used to. It was a Shout'.

Ondolemar frowned, 'A Shout? You mean, like in one of those ludicrous Nord stories? What was it the rebels feed to the crowd... Ah, yes, that that heretic Ulfric used a Shout to kill the, uh, Tall King?'

'Shouts aren't stories!' Kiara objected, pouting her lips and stomping her foot in a rather childish display of indignation. 'They are real! And I know a whole bunch of them! As a matter of fact, I actually learned a new one while we were looking for your cannibal friend - but you were so busy whining and complaining that you didn't even notice!'

She took Ondolemar by the hand and, gazing deep into his eyes, added, quietly, earnestly, 'You know... It's high time I told you something really, really important...' Apparently, she was physically incapable of remaining serious for long, for she went on thusly, a mischievous spark dancing in the deep blue of her eyes, 'And it's not what girls usually say in such cases, either! Though that would be the cutest thing ever! I wonder what a half-blood Redguard-Altmer baby would look like... They say they usually take after the mom, but sometimes there're some traces of the dad's race, too... I would love ours to have your eyes; did I tell you have the most gorgeous emerald-gold eyes in the entire universe?'

'Is there a point to this?' Ondolemar mumbled faintly, stupefied by the sudden - no matter how jocular - revelation of Kiara's thoughts on half-blood babies... though wholeheartedly agreeing with the bit about his eyes.

'Yeah, sure,' Kiara said. 'The thing is... I am Dragonborn. You know, like Talos?'

Whatever comment Ondolemar was about to make, it stuck half-way in his throat, making him choke. Kiara gave him a soothing pat on the back.

'I know you are about start one of your tirades about Talos not being a god - which he is, and that's final - and me being a Stormcloak - which I totally considered becoming, but I just hate taking sides - and you needing to arrest me - which I know you won't do, because we've been through that before... But just listen to me, okay? Listen to your wise old Auntie Kiara - though you're probably, like, a hundred years older than me... Whoops - shouldn't ask an Altmer his age or weight, should I? Anyway, we have dragons flying around, doing their thing - and this is so much bigger than the war, and the Talos debate, and all that nonsense about elven supremacy! And my job is to set things back to the way they were - dragonless! Though some of these flying critters are really sweet... What I am trying to say is... ah, whatever, let me just show you, okay? I have a couple of friends waiting for me at a certain place here in the Reach - if you come along, you will see for yourself. You will understand. Just... Don't kill them. For me? Because I know you'll want to the moment you see them. They are Blades, after all.'