Her new office was large, well-lit and warm, filled with lavish furnishings. It suited her, but at the same time…
She was sitting at her desk, hunched in quiet concentration over a stack of papers several inches thick. There was a strategy map laid out to her left, identical to the one that was spread over the table of the meeting room and the one tacked onto the wall behind her head. She had written several things on it in Dragontongue, presumably as a method of coding. Was she worried about spies?
To her right, just by her elbow, was a pile of unopened letters. Vilkas frowned. Was she still answering those, even now?
As he closed the door behind him, her body jerked at the noise and sent the letters scattered across the floor. She cursed lowly, a deep wrinkle between her brows, and bent to retrieve them.
"How many times have I instructed you to knock first, Adventus!" she said, poison evident in her voice. She looked up from her papers, eyes widening as she saw it was Vilkas. "Oh, oh husband, I'm sorry." She rubbed her temples, sighing. "Adventus Caesennius has been coming here nearly every hour, asking when I will schedule my next strategy meeting. I swear the man is positively bored with his position. They should have sent him to be Legate of the Rift instead. Between him and Captain Aldis, it's a wonder I've managed to do anything they've asked of me."
Vilkas lifted an eyebrow. "Aldis, the captain of the Solitude Guard? What could he possibly want from you?"
"All manner of things," she said, sighing again. "It seems everyone in this blasted city feels entitled to a piece of me." She looked forlorn towards her letters and let her hand rest on them. "I haven't had a chance to answer these in days…"
Vilkas took in his wife's appearance and felt a pang in his chest. He had never seen the woman so tired, so harried. How did anyone expect her to win a war when they would barely let her sleep?
Speak of the devils, Vilkas thought with a heavy scowl as someone rushed into the room behind him.
"Dragonborn!" called a young soldier, out of breath.
Aveline stood from her desk, palms flat and eyes closed. "What is it, soldier?"
"Er, Captain Aldis wants to know if you've looked over the city's defenses yet." The soldier, just a boy really, was faltering under Vilkas' intense gaze, swallowing hard. "H-He said the plans for the city's guard must be finished by the end of the week…"
Aveline offered the young soldier a smile, but it was laced with something menacing. "Take care in your return. Be sure to tell Captain Aldis, very clearly, that if he would like to speak with me he should come himself. Also, make sure he is aware that I have many responsibilities to take care of, and if he would like the plans completed by the end of this week, then perhaps he should take some initiative and create the plans himself." She fixed the soldier with a stare so intense, Vilkas was suddenly worried the boy would wet himself. "Dismissed."
The soldier ran off, door slamming shut, and Vilkas couldn't hold back a chuckle.
"You're aware of how terrifying you can be sometimes, aren't you?" he asked her.
She glanced at him and let her lip curl up slightly. "Yes, husband, I'm aware."
He stepped up to her and laid his hand gently on her head. She seemed to collapse a bit under his hand and he bit his lip. "Why have you let them exhaust you like this, Aveline?" He stroked her hair briefly and then lowered his hand to her shoulder, where he gave her tight, coiled muscles a strong squeeze.
She sighed in contentment and leaned into his touch. "It's not as if I didn't know they would turn to me this frequently, husband. It's not their fault, and I can't blame them, not really."
He placed his other hand on her opposite shoulder, pressing slightly and she nodded her head in encouragement.
"They're scared," she said quietly. "Terrified, actually. Their pride won't let them admit it, but it's obvious in how much responsibility they've given me already. They're afraid, Vilkas, and in me they see a savior."
She tilted her head back and looked up at him, her expression conflicted for a brief moment. "I don't know how to tell them they're wrong."
He felt himself frowning again. "How are they wrong, Aveline?"
"I'm not a god, Vilkas." She offered him a small smile, but it fell from her face quicker than he liked. "I'm just a person. I can die just as easily as they can, and then what? What will they do then?"
"They believe in you."
"They're relying on me," she said, voice bitter. "They're leaning on me, and if I move an inch, they will crumble. This is no way for an army to function. I cannot single-handedly keep the entire Imperial Legion strong."
He tilted her chin up and said, "You're not alone in this, Aveline." He crushed his mouth to hers, tasting her for the first time in—Gods, how long had it been since he'd been able to kiss her? "And you will not die." I will make sure of it.
She exhaled, lips fluttering across his cheek. "I'm glad I called you in, Vilkas. I've missed you."
He tried to ignore the way his heart skipped at her words, thundering like a herd of mammoths beneath his ribs. He had missed her too, missed her soft skin and her careful expressions and her clear green eyes and her gentle touch on his face, but the words wouldn't come. Instead, he simply nodded.
"Has Rikke given you any more trouble?" she asked gently.
His scowl should have been answer enough, he thought. "Constantly."
Aveline laughed slightly. "Yes, that does sound like her. Try to ignore it as best you can. She resents me with all her heart, it's unlikely her treatment of you will improve anytime soon." She touched his face and his skin burned with fire. "I'm sorry for that."
Vilkas smiled at her and touched her hand with his. "It's nothing I can't handle. She's not the vicious Sabre Cat she thinks she is. She's more of a Skeever than anything else-annoying but easily taken care of."
His wife's face blossomed into a beautiful smile as she laughed. "Oh, by the Divines, don't let her hear you refer to her as such."
"Are you kidding? I may just call her that directly next time. I'd pay a hefty sum to see her face at being called a Skeever of a woman." Vilkas grinned broadly. "Did you only summon me here because you missed me?"
Her cheeks tinged pink. "That is not all, husband. I wanted to inform you of the next meeting. I would like you to be present."
Vilkas nodded his consent. "Do you want me to leave you to your work then?"
Her pink skin suddenly flushed scarlet. "There is something else. That is…" She trailed off.
He waited for her to finish, but she didn't. She wouldn't look at him either, standing from her desk and standing on her toes to plant a kiss on his lips. She avoided eye contact though, and he had to admit he was confused as to what she wanted.
This wasn't like her. The only time she ever got this shy was in regards to their bed. Realization struck him like a lightning blast, and he nearly choked on his own air. She couldn't want…
"It has been a while, hasn't it?" she murmured, still refusing to meet his eye. "We haven't been able to spend many nights together…"
He supposed that was true. He often tried to stay up for her but usually fell asleep before she came to their bed, and she was always gone long before he awoke. It had been lonely for him, but he understood why she had to do it. He understood—or hoped—that it wasn't her choice. Still, was she implying what he thought she was implying?
He wrapped his arms around her, marvelling for the millionth time how small and fragile she felt once she was enclosed in his arms. She was the strongest woman he knew, but he knew if there was ever a chance of unraveling her, the chance was here. Here, he felt how delicate she could truly be.
She stiffened at first, relaxing gradually. He dropped his lips to her ear and bit down lightly, making the woman jump the slightest bit.
"Are you suggesting, wife," he growled in her ear, "what I think you are suggesting?"
"If…" She turned her head away from him, her voice strangely muffled. "If you were to want to."
If I were to want to? He almost laughed, squeezing her tighter against his chest. Is she pouting?
"Aveline." He trailed his lips down her neck. "What makes you think I wouldn't want to?"
She didn't answer him, perhaps saving her dignity and pride, and he grinned against her skin before taking her earlobe between his teeth. She reacted almost immediately, more sensitive to him than any woman he'd ever had.
"What makes you think," he planted kisses across her throat, hands wandering over her Imperial armor—Shor's bones, how he hated this fucking armor—"that I haven't wanted to do this every hour of every day that we're together?"
Goosebumps had arisen on her skin and he reached for the straps of her armor.
"Not here!" She pushed his hand away, her face flushed and her breathing unsteady.
He took in the image of her and groaned, taking a handful of her hair and pulling her towards him. "Why not?" he asked cheekily, smirking. "It would be quite scandalous, wife. The ever-composed Dragonborn allowing her husband to take her in her office? I could take you right here on your desk. Wouldn't that be something to think about, the next time Aldis comes to bother you?"
She shivered but nonetheless pushed him back. He expected as much and let her go willingly. He didn't want to push her into it, regardless of how much it turned him on to imagine. The thought of Aveline wanting him so badly that she would allow him to pleasure her in such a place made his pants tighten uncomfortably.
"I'm your wife, Vilkas," Aveline hissed, suddenly glowing with a righteous, womanly fury. "Not some tavern wench you're bedding for the night."
"I apologize if you think my suggestion disrespectful." He watched her face carefully. She was embarrassed, but she wasn't truly insulted. He could see her now, clear as day, and could see that she was the way she always was in regards to their sex-just a bit scared. What would it take to reassure her? He had been gentle with her in the times since their first, but each time he touched her she acted as though he would simply use her and leave her. Her lack of trust in him was a bit disheartening.
She crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly uncomfortable. "Please disregard my suggestion, husband."
She tried to turn away from him, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
"Now, now," he whispered, nuzzling into her hair. "Don't be like that, Aveline. Come, let's go to your room. It will be proper, on a bed, as you deserve."
She was soft and yielding against him when he kissed her again and led her to her room. He was careful to lock the door, before turning his full attention to his wife. She moaned quietly in his ear, arching into him and moving her hips in tandem with his, and his climax was so strong that his vision blanked white. Feeling her body arc like a taut bow string sent a wave of pride crashing into him, and she fell back onto the bed completely drained of energy. He licked the sweat from the dip of her collarbone and kissed her lips lightly. She fell fast asleep after he promised to wake her for the night's meeting, and he traced the contours of her flesh and wondered how much longer happiness like this could last.
Vilkas couldn't stand the expression on Aveline's face during the meeting. There were only two other people in attendance, Rikke and General Tullius, and Vilkas stood as far away from the vile Legate as he could while still being able to hear. Aveline stood opposite the two, on the other side of the strategy table, with a strange, strangled sort of face. She was gripping the edge of the table with white knuckles while the other two argued, and he couldn't tell if she was angry or in pain.
"If Ulfric gets his hand on that crown, it won't be a fairy tale. It'll be a problem," said Rikke.
The two were discussing the Jagged Crown, a Nordic artifact that evidently had Ulfric's forces engaged in a desperate search.
"Don't you Nords put any stock in your own traditions?" said Tullius, frowning with his arms crossed. "I thought the Moot chose the king. We're backing Elisif."
Vilkas thought he saw Aveline's lip twitch at those words.
"Not everyone's agreed to the Moot. You've been here long enough to know that Nords aren't always sensible. We follow our hearts."
At Rikke's response, Vilkas fought the urge to snap at her. Nords were plenty sensible. Maybe she wasn't, but she shouldn't speak for the entirety of their race.
Aveline's face suddenly evened out into a calm expression. "When were the two of you planning to tell me we had already selected Elisif as the High King's replacement?"
Tullius seemed surprised. "I had thought you would assume, Dragonborn. Doesn't it make sense? She was High King Torygg's wife, after all."
"Her marriage does not entitle her to a kingdom," Aveline responded. "With no direct member of the royal line left, there are plenty of capable replacements. The Moot is aware of that as well, I'm sure, which is why Elisif's succession is not guaranteed." She straightened her back. "Nor can I support it."
"It's true, Elisif's succession is no sure thing," said Rikke. She glared briefly at Aveline before turning back to Tullius. "But if we were to retrieve the Jagged Crown before Ulfric, in the absence of the Moot, it would further legitimize her claim."
Aveline's demeanor darkened as Tullius slowly nodded.
"I'm entrusting you with what resources I can spare," he said after a pause. "But I'm warning you, if this turns out to be a waste of time and men..."
"It won't be a waste," said Rikke.
The two swiveled their heads to look at Aveline. She was solemn, collected and cold. Vilkas suppressed a shudder. He always hated the sound of her voice when she was this serious.
"You will waste time, men, resources, and most of all, you are wasting me." Her eyes shot daggers at the general. "What did you call me here for, Tullius? Drag me from my home in Whiterun, from my faction, from my innate duties to this land as Dragonborn, if you were going to simply ignore me when I arrived? I did not join this war to be privy to Aldis' unending demands, Aventus' unending complaints, or unending towers of strategy plans and battle formations."
"How dare you," growled Rikke. "How could you possibly understand? What could you have against Jarl Elisif? I don't suppose you intend to take power of the country for yourself, Dragonborn?" Rikke practically spat the title.
"You will show me the respect I have earned, Rikke," said Aveline coldly. "I am not the dirty girl you tried to execute all those years ago. I have saved your very existence from complete annihilation. I care not if you despise me, but at least have the dignity of a Nord and try to be less of an ill-mannered child."
Rikke bristled, shouting, and Vilkas felt his own rage rising.
"The Jagged Crown—"
"Isn't even at Korvanjund," Aveline finished. "In fact…" Here, she smiled and seemed almost to be enjoying herself. "I've had the crown in my possession for nearly two years now."
A/N: I'm sorry this has been forever, I haven't had time to work on this at all. Hopefully this marks the start of more frequent updating? Thank you all for sticking with me. I hope you enjoyed this installment!