Disclaimer: The usual jumble and jive, you know the drill.

Made a New Years Resolution to write at least a page a day, and I believe this has produced a plethora of Skyrim oneshot ideas. First up: Cicero. Not entirely sure how this all came out it one sitting, but it was finished around 3am and I'm sure it shows lol. Obviously I'm playing this game waaaaaaay too much, and I just have to say, I've never liked the Dark Brotherhood and never planned to join...and then I ran into Cicero on the road. Upon learning he was DB, I joined. This fic stemmed from that. Hope I got dividers in all the right places...and hope the drama isn't too annoying. I have a habit of telling dramatic characters to buck up and get over it, so writing a character that dwells on 'pointless drama' as I see it was rather taxing, but I hope it turned out okay.

She's angry and disillusioned, a runaway lost in Skyrim and now a survivor of a dragon attack. The Empire that she always depended on to protect her tried to execute her; the promise of a new life, free from the judgment of her overbearing mother, has proved nothing but a child's dream as she wanders the road from Whiterun, weak with hunger, carrying no money, and having no idea where she is or where she should go. And Liette has only herself to blame.

Some would say getting caught up in that Stormcloak camp had been the start of her fate; others, escaping Helgen with her life; only she herself knows the truth of it all, however. Her fate started on that lonely road, with the threat of rain overhead and despair clouding her heart. For she hears him first, the loud cries of anger and frustration up ahead, then sees the broken down wagon.

She's down on her luck, as well, and sympathizes. He's got a funny face and a funny way of speaking, acting. For the first time in a long time she's smiling, genuinely, and can't understand how or why anyone could turn away from such childish joy. She is determined to help and, even though she calms the local farmer's fears, she can't convince him to help, but a compromise brings her running back to the stranded jester and his poor dead mother with the tools they need, and two silly minds somehow waste away the afternoon and eventually fix his wagon wheel.

She doesn't know where she's going, anyway, so Dawnstar up north with such good company (minus the coffin) sounds like the best offer she's had in years, and climbs aboard. They are all smiles and chatter, even when the rains finally come pouring down on them, and the trip is filled with laughter and humor that turns a tad twisted at times, and she loves it. Sitting in that rickety wagon with a dead woman and a madman on a freezing cold evening in the drench of rain, she's never felt more at home.

When it's time to part ways, she's grasping for some excuse, anything to stay with him, but he doesn't seem to notice and she realizes whatever he has to do now is very personal, and she backs off. Stranded in Dawnstar, she fights the panic of knowing she's alone again and tries to recover that feeling of home. It doesn't come.

It's been over a month since then, and the memory of that strange jester on the road is faded but fond. She waited, hoping he'd come back, hoping to see him again, but he never did and she had to move on. Her first friend, her only comfort in this strange place, she tries to forget. She works in the mines, long days in the cold, hard labor and little reward, and lives out of the local inn. She isn't miserable, however, not like in Bruma, and enjoys the feel of ever growing muscles, the pain and strain that tell her her life means something. But she knows she can't keep living like this, so she moves south-east.

In Windhelm, she hears rumor of a boy.

She's half tempted to turn her frosty magic on the woman in dark armor perched on the shelf. Liette didn't like being kidnapped in the night and manipulated like this. Killing wasn't a problem. In Tamriel, life came cheap, she'd learned that early on, and just being able to walk down a road usually meant you had to have to steel to defend yourself. Maybe murdering a cruel old woman was different that protecting yourself from bandits, but Liette didn't really see it that way. Being told by her kidnapper she had to kill one of these three bound, gagged strangers in cold blood, however, didn't sit right at all.

But her mind was reeling, connecting tiny threads of memories that shouldn't mean anything, but did. The reason she had taken up Aventus Aretino's cause in the first place, the words he'd said and the book she'd taken from him that had struck a chord.

"Sweet Mother, Sweet Mother, send your child unto me..."

"I was transporting my dear, sweet mother..."

Sweet Mother.

She read Aventus' book. She looked, and found more. She's well versed now, well read on the subject that is now a part of her life.

The Dark Brotherhood.

Could that jester, that crazy man with the sweet smile and deceptive eyes, really be a part of this organization? She wants to know. She'd got nothing to loose. She decides that killing one more angry old woman won't bother her that much.

At first she was disappointed. After her first contract, however, she finds her decision right, and dear Cicero joins the family.

Liette supposes it should bother her that the person she feels closest to, closer than she's ever been to another person, is a murderer and a madman. But she notes idly to herself that she's now a murderer, too, and despite this not being the free life she'd always dreamed of, she does feel at home again. She awakes at night in cold sweats sometimes still, nightmares haunting her, her actions, her kills. Sometimes she feels guilty, sometimes she thinks she regrets, but then she sees his smiling face, hears his rapturous cries, and all of that melts away. She's happy. She'll never regret this, not the time she can spend with him.

Most think him utterly crazy, but she knows there is more to his madness than that. Astrid sees it too, and somehow it has the opposite affect on her that it has on Liette. The Nord grows more and more suspicious, while the Bosmer grows more curious. Those moments of lucidity, when his eyes are alight, calculating, fierce, she feels a flood of fascination. She sees a man underneath the child she has known, and she wants to know this side of him, too.

It is with this in mind that she follows her orders. Astrid's paranoia has Liette hiding inside the Night Mother's coffin, an act she knows would infuriate him. Her fear overlaps with her excitement; she wants to see that gleam in his eyes, wants to see the anger of a man surge through him, towards her. It's exhilarating. It dampens her feelings of betrayal, her guilt at spying on him.

When he finds her, she sees it. In all his glory, he attacks, rampages, roars. He pulls her from her hiding place, throws her to the floor, holds a knife to her throat as he straddles her, and she's terrified, but there's more. More than the terror, more than the feel of cold steel on her neck, there's the awareness of him, not foolish, childish, giggling, innocent Cicero. He's all male, all muscle, all fury and power and the Night Mother's guardian, glorious.

And as she murmurs the words his mother wants him to hear, she's aware that the Matron means nothing to her. The Night Mother she serves, the Brotherhood she supports, the crimes she commits, they are all for him. As he pulls her up in joy, singing and dancing and ecstasy, innocent again, she realizes she'll never be able to draw the line between the two Cicero's she thought she knew again. Her hands burn where he holds her, her heart leaps with his happiness, and she'll do whatever the Night Mother asks her for his sake. Listener? She can do that. If it keeps him this happy.

If he'll keep looking at her like that.

Proud. Thrilled. Those golden eyes that are lit like a child's and intense like a man's burn right through her.

She doesn't understand it. It baffles her, completely confuses and floors her, these people. Don't they know? Haven't they seen? Have they no eyes, no mind, do they not understand? Astrid is madder than she ever believed Cicero to be if she thinks Liette will do this for her.

She wants her to kill him. Cicero.


As if she would. It's almost laughable. Liette stares at the Speaker, waiting for her to realize her mistake, to come to her senses. There is no change. The whole room is watching, waiting.

They really don't know. They haven't realized, have no idea.

That Liette joined the Brotherhood, a guild of hired assassins, pledged her life to subterfuge and murder, only on the off chance of meeting him again. That she stayed only because he was there, because she could see him every day. That she made her kills with growing ease, growing enthusiasm, lessening guilt, only because she knew he could only live through her. That she returned so quickly to tell him her missions, to narrate her kills, to see him tremble with restrained adrenalin as he imagines it, wishes he was there, wishing he could take lives again. That every moment not on a contract was spent in his company, that she barely spoke to anyone else in their cave home.

That she would never kill him. Could never. That she would kill them all before she's hurt him. That she would never let them harm him.

They don't see it. Don't see her confusion, the absurd laughter bubbling inside her, don't know her devotion. They are strangers to her, and she, apparently, to them.

With the practiced ease they have taught her so well, she promises to do the deed. She lies.

She calls out to him when she enters the Dawnstar Sanctuary. She can hear his voice echoing through the halls, but his jeers are not answers to her. She makes her way through, makes her way to him, time fading so fast in her head. She knows he's set these traps for her, that he thinks she's here to kill him and thus he must kill her first, but all she can think is that he's injured. It's been a long time since she's felt this kind of fear, so pure and unaccompanied by some other twisted emotion. There's nothing else, no worry for her own safety, no feelings of resentment or fascination. She's only afraid. She can't lose him.

Liette feels her heart stutter in her chest at the sight of him. He is on the floor, curled in on himself, smiling and holding his gashing wound, speaking through a swelling of pain. She stands before him, legs locked in place, mind halting, and he is begging her for his life as though he doesn't know, either. That he's been as unobservant as the rest of them, that he has no idea that he's the only one that matters to her, ever has.

He hasn't even finished his plea when she finally regains control of body and throws herself at his side. He flinches, probably expecting a knife, but she's yanking his arms away, panic guiding her, mind racing, inspecting his wounds. As an assassin, she's seen worse. Is it fatal? She can't tell. She's no healer, but she's a Mage and she's got her palms pressed to his side in a heartbeat, fingers slipping through the tears in his tunic, sliding through slick blood and across tattered flesh, forcing the warmth of Restoration out of her and into him.

When the deed is done, there is silence. She slowly pulls her hands away, loathing the loss of his skin under her touch, confused by this feeling, too concerned for his safety to take the time to inspect it. He's staring at his side curiously, his healed skin still stained but showing through, and his eyes flicker up to meet hers, curious and surprised and more.

Her mouth is dry, she can barely speak. But she forces out the words, averting her gaze. "I killed you. You're dead."

She gets up. She doesn't want to leave him, thinks, for a moment, of running away together. But the Brotherhood will hunt them. They've caught her before. She'll go to them, tell them her lies. She'll protect him, even if it means they'll be apart. She goes.

It's been awhile since that day, she's heard no word from him since. As soon as she'd had the chance to sneak away, she'd gone back to Dawnstar to check on him, and he'd been gone. Now, the entirety of the Brotherhood is dead except three, and she wishes so much she could find him, tell him, bring him home – to her. They've moved into the Dawnstar Sanctuary, and the lonely halls of the place remind her of him, send a strange pang through her that she can't describe. She wonders, not for the first time since she almost lost him, if she loves him. She has no answer, not yet.

She leaves her last two family members to their own devices and exits the sanctuary, unsure of where she's going but certain she needs air, needs out of that place holding her most painful – and most confusing – memories. And then he's there.

He comes from above, she feels him there, and as he leaps down onto her she instinctively readies to fight back – until she realizes it's him. His knees hit her chest and he rides her falling body into the snow, legs locking her on the ground, settled on either side. He has his knife to her throat again, and she's reminded of that moment when he pulled her from the Night Mother's coffin and had her pinned just like this. She had been lost in the exhilaration of it, and she feels it again now, unhampered by the excess emotions of her secrecy.

She can identify them now. The feelings that flow through her, like cool lava in her veins. Her relief at seeing him again, knowing he's okay. The thrum of her pulse at the feel of his body on hers, the heat in her cheeks as she looks up into his face, his triumphant, conquering smile. Her awareness of him, her attraction. And her absolute disinterest in fighting back, her complete lack of fear for her life at the feel of his dagger once again against her neck. He's here, he's okay, he's back, he's with her.

She has her answer now. She loves him, so much.

He's threatening her, and she's so entranced by the movement of his lips, the sound of his voice, the bob of his throat, the heave of his chest, the look in his eyes, that she barely registers his meaning. And then she's smiling, as serene as she's ever been.

"Now you will die!"


It's as easy as that, she thinks. It's okay. Completely okay.

He seems put off by her words, eyes raising. "Okay?"


"What madness is this?" he asks, pressure on the blade slackening. "Cicero thought himself the only one mad, but has the Listener lost her senses too? To welcome death so easily? Do you wish to meet our Father so soon?"

She shakes her head, body limp beneath him. It's hard to breath, but she doesn't mind. She likes the view, the position, a dark little part of her chuckles. "It's okay because it's you, that's all."

She can see it in her mind, imagine it. The ecstasy on his face, the thrill of the kill that has been denied him for so long. The motion of his hands, nimble fingers, as he plunges in the blade, pierces her with the length of it (that dark part of her is giggling again, growing hot). It's okay to be killed by him. To be his target, the center of his attention, to fill a role in his life that is so...intimate, the relationship of a murderer and the murdered, the dance of death.

The jester's eyes are locked on her, penetrating. She is taken in with their intensity, how they see her, watch her, evaluate. His words are low, a growl that stirs her soul and more. "Now that is madness."

He didn't kill her. He'd never intended to. The moment was lost as quickly as it had come, and the knife was sheathed and the fool was on his feet, laughing and explaining and saying it was all a joke. He has made himself at home, taken up his duties caring for his mother again, and the remaining brother and sister of the night have shaken off their confusion into reluctant acceptance. Life has taken up the semblance of normalcy, a routine forming, life continuing. Nazir and the Night Mother both continue to provide contracts, and Liette accepts them all, faithful Cicero at her side.

He is ecstatic to be allowed along, to once again take up the art of killing. His devotion to his Listener knows no ends, and Liette is torn between enjoying his company and attentions and worrying that she is only the Listener to him, nothing more. She grows angry with him at times, and loses herself one day enough to order him to call her by name. She hides it under the guise of covertness, keeping their identities in public, but she melts when her name graces his lips.

She hasn't told him. Doesn't know if she ever can. She is overwhelmed, at times, with the urges of attraction. She wants him, and his madness blurs so many lines. His sweet innocence calls to her dominance, makes her want to run a finger under his chin and stare into those wide eyes, to take him. His bouts of swift clarity, however, evoke the desire to be held by him, taken in his strong arms and to be devoured by his intense gaze, a slave to his masculinity. Does he know what he does to her?

Sometimes, she thinks he does. In those moments of lucidity, when Cicero, the man, shines through, she thinks he knows. She thinks he revels in it, laughing at her, toying. She can't be sure.

It makes it easier to think of him as two, but she knows better. He is one, all male, all wild, all madness. His mind may be clearer at some times more so than others, but it's the same mind with the same thoughts, the same man. They joy, the bloodlust, the intensity, the naivety, the loyalty. She treasures it all, loves every bit of him. Even if he throws her whole world into confusion. He's going to drive her crazy.

She's having those unbidden thoughts again, the more melancholy of her musings, as they approach their target. He's with her again, excited for the kill, they are sneaking into Riften, someone's going to die. She doesn't need him, not for this, and he doesn't need her either, and yet they are going in side by side. He wants to share this with her, his wonder, his joy, his skill. She wonders with a sinking heart if he would still be like this to her if she weren't the Listener, the one he'd been waiting for, hand chosen by his beloved mother.

She isn't paying close enough attention, and in a moment the contract is compromised. The deed is done, but they've been seen. They kill as they must, and run. She's got his hand, is pulling – he'd kill them all if she didn't. They go over a wall, over a rail, and down into the river below and ride the flow out of the city. A few miles out they drag themselves, soaking, to shore, and immediately start stripping off their water-logged clothing. She's got spares, just as wet, but at least they aren't their Brotherhood outfits. She's shed her hood, her gloves, she shoes, and is pulling out their matching jester outfits, their cover. He's got on her shrouded armor, and it's harder to remove, the hood stuck to his head.

They are both out of breath and laughing, amused by their escape, their swim, their drenched outfits. She's using her magic to dry some towels as he finally manages to yank a boot off, the action sending him toppling over backwards. She's laughing even more, he's pleased with himself, proceeding to the next boot. By the time she's dried the towel he's got himself caught in his armor, the leather stuck halfway up his chest with one arm pinned to his body. He looks at her from under the folds, helpless.

Giggling and sighing both at once, she moves towards him on her knees, settling in front, and tucks her fingers under the armor, ignoring the way the skin contact sends shivers through her body. She yanks it up, he pulls himself down, and eventually the leather comes sliding over his head and the Imperial is free, to his delight.

"Foolish Cicero." They say at the same time, eyes meeting in camaraderie. She begins toweling his hair, ruffling the fabric over his head playfully, working to dry him and tease him at the same time. A single bright eye peaks out from under the soft cotton, and she's lost in that honey-gold. For an instant she's overwhelmed by that look, by the drip of the water from his ginger hair, by the wet sheen of his bare chest and shoulders, by the curve of his lips and the ripple of smooth muscle beneath his skin and just how close their bodies are.

He can see it. As clear as day, he can see it, he has to. She feels like she's sinking in it, drowning in the raw ache of her emotions. He has to know.

His eye, that one clear, staring eye, is locked on her. In it, she can see nothing. She can't read him like she usually does, can't tell if his moods lean towards the coherent or the innocent. She is blocked, blinded, and frozen in fear and desire and anguish. She's desperate for his love. Somehow, without knowing, without trying, she's past her limit, past her breaking point.

The towel slips behind his head, taking her hands with it to slide down the curve of his face. She's dipping, slowly, imperceptibly, her head tilting only slightly as her eyes drop. Her breathing is ragged, her body coursing with fear. What is she doing? What if he pulls away? What if he doesn't? The assassin is terrified of the response of a single fool.

Her courage almost fails her. She stops, frozen, inches from his upturned face, and can't go any further. Her heart will burst. She almost pulls away.

His head twitches, leans. Their foreheads press together softly, their hitching breathe mingling between the short distance.

She wonders if he truly knows what's happening, and then she isn't thinking at all.

Who moved first is a mystery neither can answer. Their lips drag across one another, slowly, catching on each section of cracked skin, sliding along the smooth areas, moist and tantalizing. A first kiss between two lost souls, a line finally crossed. Her eyes flutter open, meet his gaze in a whirlwind of fear and desire. It's the deciding moment, the grand reveal – her feelings out in the open, exposed. Waiting.

His eyes flicker down to her lips again, and this time it's definitely him who initiates the kiss. Their mouths are brushing, light, over and under, up and back, getting a feel for each other, testing. The towel falls away, her fingers finding skin, delicate touches, sliding into his hair. His hands find her hips, grabbing a bit too roughly, loosening, making their way up her sides.

The kisses grow heavier, more confident, her mind feels like it's caught in a fog, weighed down and sluggish. He's pulling her closer, meeting her growing hunger with sure responses, almost calm in his actions.

Her lids are heavy but she has to see him, prying her eyes open far enough for his face to come into focus. As though he can feel her gaze, his eyes are suddenly on her, and she is shocked by the passion she sees there, the heat emanating from the crisp gold steel.

Panic surges through her, the panic that stems from the fear of finally getting what you want after so long, the irrational urge to pull away from what you want because you don't know what comes next – or, in fact, you just might know exactly what's to come.

Her head jerks away, breaking eye contact, searching for her way out. Then she's reaching over, studiously not looking at him, to grab his clothes and drop them in his lap. She's backing up, backing away, pulling her robes quickly over her head so she can slip into her jester clothes while he's hopefully busy with his own.

The Amulet of Mara she has jangles against her chest as the fabric that was hiding it is stripped away. The feel of the cold metal on her skin is a shock, reminding her painfully of when she would where it openly, only around him, in the hopes he'd notice. Now she's afraid of the door she's opened.

There's no sound behind her, no movement. The feel of his gaze on her bare back is burning through her, setting her on fire. Her heart hammers beneath her ribcage.

It's too much at one time, his acceptance, this overflow of emotions, of want and need and desire and passion and love, all without control. If she doesn't find a way to stop it all, to stop this connection, she won't be able to stop anything, and she's not ready for that, not ready for everything when all she's had up until now is nothing. It's too physical, too fast.

"Liette?" His light, questioning tone, his use of her name, is a strain on her control. It holds no accusations, no confusion, no resentment. He only wonders.

"We should get back." She replies, wishing he couldn't hear the hoarseness in her voice. She didn't know where to go from here.

His throaty laugh resounds and he's bounding in front of her, his usual crooked grin in place, eyes holding no sign of the heat they'd held moments before. "Off we go then! Faithful Cicero will lead the way!"

It's a return to almost-normal, and she's overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude towards him, feeling the panic ease away with the comfort of the everyday. "At least put on a shirt first," she manages, dangling his tunic from her fingers with the beginnings of a smile.

"But Cicero likes being in the buff! He thinks he shall take his pants off as well."

"You take them off and I'm riding Shadowmere back, and you can walk in the snow to Dawnstar!"

She's gotten good at pretending. A life as an assassin will do that, but so will hiding your feelings for so long. Now that she finds she may not have to hide them anymore, however, she's guarding them closer than she ever has. She's pretending everything is normal, and, in a way, it is. Cicero, certainly, acts no differently. It's as if nothing's changed.

She's not sure if she should be relieved or hurt.

She's still wearing that Amulet of Mara, hidden away beneath her robes. And sometimes, only sometimes, she thinks she feels his gaze on it.

Somehow, the strangest of conversations has come up in the den of hired killers – romance. Liette shies away, still holding everything inside, but Babette brought it up and Nazir is scoffing and Cicero is surprisingly interested, soaking it all up as the initiates circle the table, wondering if there is a place for them amongst the comfort of their seniors' banter.

"What do killers like us know about love?" Nazir demands with cynicism.

"I've been around long enough to have gone down that road a time or two, you know," Babette snaps back, a cool beauty, arms crossed. A regal child, her years aging her eyes.

"You're ten years old," he shoots back, looking disturbed. He's the closest thing to proper in the bunch. "And a vampire. How in Oblivion- you know what, never mind, I don't want to know."

"Don't be naive," she shakes her head, eyes narrowed. "Or vulgar. There's more to love than age, appearance, or physicality."

"Some barriers aren't meant to be overcome." He mutters darkly.

They exchange a look, long and hard and angry and a bit too tense, an undercurrent running through that Liette wonders at.

"What about madness?"

The moment is broken as eyes flit to the jester, perched childishly on the stairs, leaning as far forward as he can as though to take in the information faster if he's closer.

"Cicero wants to know," he cocks his head, eyes bright. "Is madness a barrier love cannot over come? Is Cicero unlovable?"

Nazir cringes, obviously not comfortable with this line of questioning, though it might just be Cicero who he's still not comfortable with. He leans away like it will help his escape the madman's scrutiny. Babette, however, is more receptive, tabbing her chin thoughtfully.

"I don't see why it should be a problem."

Nazir scoffs. "How is madness not a problem?"

"Love is love, we'll love who we love and love them how we love them, no matter their faults or differences or even out own." She shrugs, a tiny sage with fangs and glowing red eyes. "Nothing is impossible. No one is unlovable. It's just a matter of finding someone who will love the way you are, or is willing to try to, at least. Even love isn't perfect."

"And if the one Cicero loves cannot love him like that, then what?"

"You love someone?" Nazir's laugh is a snort. "Now I've heard everything. You'd better not be talking about the Night Mother, because that's just-"

Babette cuts in with a huff. "What did I say about being vulgar?"

Nazir sends a glare her way, then grins darkly. "Maybe he loves you, Babette. Wouldn't that be perfect? The old woman trapped in the little girl's body and the crazy kid trapped inside a grown man."

A war looks about to break out between the two comrades, but the jester's light words turn them all to stare again.

"Cicero doesn't love the unchild," his nose wrinkles in distaste.

But they aren't listening anymore, and eventually the initiates manage to insert themselves into the verbal battle, serving as mediators and finding their place as part of the family.

Liette stays out of it, and so does Cicero, still perched idly on the staircase, listening, it seems, with sporadic attention. She's pulled away from them, away from him, leaning against the fireplace and fighting the urge to run she doesn't know where to.

She wants it to be her. She's dying for it to. She wants to tell him that she already knew he was lovable, that she's the one who loves him that way. She prays he thinking of her, and at the same time is afraid. She loves him, but she doesn't know how to love him. He's mad, and that doesn't deter her, but she's afraid of messing up, of not being what he needs. How do you love a madman? She knows the feeling, but not the act.

Does it matter? If he's talking about someone else, thinking about someone else, a thought she thinks is ridiculous because how could there be anyone else when his life revolves around their tiny family, if he loves someone else, she feels as though she'll die inside. Her heart will crack, break, and she doesn't know how she'll handle that.

Is that answer enough? Her mind is raging within, telling her its time to throw caution to the wind and just live and learn, and let life teach her the lessons she needs along the way. She loves him, she wants to be with him, she needs to just spit it out already. Or she'll make herself mad.

The war of the vampire and the Redguard is finally over, and the companions go their seperate ways, the early dawn sending them all to rest. Cicero is already half asleep on his step and Liette treads softly around him, careful not to disturb. She'll sort herself out in the morning, she thinks. And as she takes a small glance over her shoulder at his back, the broad line of strong shoulders wrapped in cotton, trembling under dozing breathes, she wonders what her indecision has put him through up until now.

She kissed him not too long ago. She never said anything about it again. What did he think, he wonder? What is it like in the mind of Cicero, Fool of Hearts?

He's told her before that he had longed for her position, to be named his mother's Listener, hear the Night Mother's voice. She would gladly have given it to him to make him happen, but at this moment she would give anything to hear the mad laughter of a dead jester that so haunts his mind. To know, to understand. It's the link she was missing in her love, this thought, this desire. She feels complete now, somehow. It doesn't make any sense really, but nothing in her life much does anymore.

She's at the top of the stairs when she feels the presence behind her, when the tickle of breathe touches her ear and his soft voice freezes her solid.

"I only love my Listener."

Her heart hammers, heat rushes through her, and her mind grinds to a halting stop. She can think of nothing, and she wonders if he's really as oblivious of the turmoil he springs raging inside her as his childish antics lead. But for once since that kiss they'd shared, this turmoil isn't panic. The rush doesn't overcome her, but instead she embraces it with a deep breath and the resignation that this is love, she'll probably never figure it out, and she's okay with that now.

"I've told you, Cicero," she finally whispers, her voice slow and calm and reassured. "It's Liette."

"Hm? Oh!" He nods furiously, chastising himself. "Cicero apologizes, he won't forget again. Liette prefers to be called by name, yes she does."

"Say it right this time."

He pauses, turning his head to meet her gaze over his shoulder. He's still smiling that smile, but his eyes are those eyes, and she sees the merging of the two halves she has tried to divide him into. She felt guilty, like she was taking advantage of a child, but that feeling is gone now, stifled under the blossoming realization that they love each other, man and woman.

"Say what?" he's asking innocently, like he doesn't know, but his eyes say he does.

"Say you love me."

"Cicero loves Liette." Simply, he says it.

How can a heart beat so fast when a person feels so at peace? she wonders. It's all finally come to this, and she's happy.

She reaches forward to take the back of his collar in hand, leaning in coyly, cheeks painted burning rose. Her whisper betrays her nerves, but her eyes are firm. "Kiss me again."

He looks, for a moment, as if he'd like nothing better and will oblige immediately, but then he straitens, setting his face into stern refusal. "No. Not until you say it, too."

She smiles. "That I love you?"

He stiffens for real, his face slipping. He tries to hold his composure, but the longer they stare at each other, the brighter their soft smiles. "Yes, that you love me."

"I love you." It amazes her how easily the words come out, even after so long, even though her throat feels dry and unforgiving.

The facade of control is finally gone, and she sees one moment of rapturous joy on his face before he's whirled around to take her, snatched up her wrists in his hands and crushed his lips to hers, triumphant.