A/N: Hey readers! So after my one-shot "Last Letter" (which you should totally read if you're in the mood for sadness) I decided that I'd continue on with the story of Lydia and the Dragonborn. Well, not really continue on, but sort of building from it. My Dragonborn is the same guy here as in that story.
So I guess this is not really a collection of one-shots. But I guess it kind of is. I'm not really sure. It will be chapters based on moments in time where, at first, Lydia starts to fall for him, up until she realises she loves him, and continuing on to her trying, desperately, to get his attention. But of course our favourite hero remains completely oblivious. And the Housecarl is, as always, socially awkward and fails miserably. We'll see where this goes.
And I realise this whole Lydia+Dragonborn thing is kind of overdone, but whatever. I'm such a rebel.
Anyways, read on, and please review with any thoughts/criticism/flames/whatever! I'd just really appreciate some feedback.
Lydia was jerked awake to a distant howl piercing the cold starry night. She was frightened for a moment, and dazedly pulled the furs closer to her, but she relaxed after she heard the crackling of a fire and saw the light flicker through the grimy hide tent walls. Her eyes were puffy from sleeplessness and she should have tried to fall back asleep, but in all honesty she had been having a nightmare and was silently thankful for the wolf's wail. Of course she would never mention this to anyone.
So she lay there for a few moments, listening to the fire, trying to forget what had startled her in her dreams. She sighed, accepting that she couldn't while laying here, and with reluctance she threw the warm furs off her body and slowly, stiffly, rose. Her back ached from too many nights sleeping on the ground, and lately from sleeping in her armour. She could not afford the comfort in exchange for a surprise attack in the night. For her Thane's life.
She crawled out of the tent on all fours, iron armour scraping against the barren rock, and she stood up with a stretch, pulling out the tautness and smoothing her aching muscles as she breathed deeply of the fresh cool air. She shivered in the breeze and looked around.
She and her Thane had been on a mission in the Reach for the Companions the past week, and making their way back to Whiterun had them camped on the grassy hills just west of Rorikstead. Soon they would be back in Whiterun Hold, and not a moment too soon. Lydia hated the Reach with a passion. Well, not the Reach, to be exact, but the fact that astonishingly large bands of crazed Forsworn had attempted, many times, to eradicate the travelling duo. And they weren't above night raids on their little camp, hence why the Housecarl had been sleeping in her armour.
Her Thane had decided to pitch their tent near a rather steep cliff, which incited her protests, but she humbly agreed with him after he explained to her that the cliff meant the Forsworn could only attack from one side. Not to mention the large lone pine tree nearby which helped to block out the frigid westerly autumn winds. But she had to admit the view was breathtaking. The vast open sky created a sense of endless freedom that, though she was used to the sweeping plains of Whiterun, had a different feel. Wild, feral even, and more alive. She could see the lights of Rorikstead in the distance, and she thought if she squinted hard enough that the fires in Solitude were the cause of those faint twinkling lights to the north.
She cautiously stepped closer to the ledge to get a better look at those lights, but a voice from the darkness made her jump in fright for the second time that night.
"Don't get too close, Lydia. I really don't feel like climbing down there and scraping you off the rocks."
She whipped her head around and there was her Thane, sitting on a rock near the fire with a sly smile on his dark face and amusement in his eyes. She glared at him. She forgot he was on guard duty.
"Of course, my Thane," she said with a hint of irritation. "I wouldn't want you to trouble yourself." She probably shouldn't have spoken to her Thane in this manner, but he had scared her, and he knew it. She tensed in anticipation of his rebuke.
He merely laughed. She relaxed.
He was not one to order people around, and he never got angry with her. In fact, he treated her more like a friend than a Housecarl. Which was odd, to say the least. Her intensive training for this position had ingrained in her mind the fact that her future Thane would most likely be a very large, very mean Nord with a scarred, hardened face and a personality to match. So one could imagine her shock as she looked upon her Thane for the first time and found he was the total opposite of what she had been expecting.
He gestured for her to come sit by the fire, and she was tempted to simply stomp back into the tent with not so much as a backwards glance, but a particularly cold gust of wind convinced her otherwise. She crossed her arms to keep warm and sauntered wearily over to the fire with another shiver running up her spine. This armour could protect her from the claws of a dragon, but not from the biting Skyrim weather. No, not even her Nord blood was enough. Not tonight.
She had to sit next to him on the rock as it was the only one close enough to the fire. But she didn't mind. She could still look out over the plains and hills below.
The Imperial was lounging comfortably on the rocks, and the Housecarl winced as she sat down cross-legged next to him. How he was not in pain was anyone's guess.
When she settled down he straightened up a bit.
"You're getting quite the tongue there, Lydia. Soon you'll be able to keep up with me." He playfully jabbed an elbow into her ribs which she ignored. She could see his breath in the air.
"Well, my Thane, when one has the pleasure of travelling with such a revered person, she tends to pick up on some of his habits. Admirable or not."
He laughed again, louder this time, and she could no longer hold her anger. He had an infectious personality that not even the frigid night could dampen.
"See? Look at you! You make me so proud," he teased, lightly clapping her on the back. She said nothing.
They lapsed into a comfortable silence, both staring into the embers and listening to the almost utter silence of the night. Despite only knowing her Thane for a few months, she felt relaxed around him, which, again, was odd. She had expected to be standing at attention the rest of her life, ready at her Thane's every beck and call. Not that she was complaining, though. It was nice to unwind sometimes. She never really had that luxury, and she was still learning how to deal with it.
After a little while her Thane broke the silence.
"So, when we get back to Whiterun, I was thinking I'd get Adrianne to patch up my armour. That saber-tooth nearly ripped me in half yesterday." Lydia tore her eyes from the fire and looked over to him. He was examining a rather large gash through the leather covering his chest area.
"A sound plan, my Thane."
"Lydia, please, for the thousandth time, it's Cato. Not 'my Thane'." His voice wasn't irritated or exasperated. It was monotone. He had said this time and time again.
She rolled her eyes and he continued.
"It's going to be expensive. It's a pretty big tear. But the damned cat's hide will help pay for it."
She laughed internally but quickly stopped as she recalled the horror that the large cat had caused her yesterday. She had thought for sure that the huge paws had ripped right through his light armour and had torn into his skin. There was one terrifying moment as he lay still on the hard ground after being thrown through the air like a child's toy by the animal. And in her rage and fear the Housecarl had thrown herself back at the cat and finally managed to put a sword through it's neck.
Her Thane was alright, though. It had only caused a small cut and a bit of bruising. A few health potions had fixed it.
She had convinced herself that her concern for his life was merely the product of her oath to protect him, and her fear of facing the jarl with the news that she had failed in her duties. But she knew there was more than that. Perhaps even more than the fact that they fought so well together, and it would be a shame if she was reassigned a Thane.
He glanced over to her. "Thanks for that, by the way. I'd probably be inside the stomach of that animal right now if you hadn't been there."
She blushed slightly at the compliment but waved it away.
"I am sworn to protect you with my life."
He gave her an exasperated look, but she continued to avoid his scolding. "Why do you insist on wearing that leather armour? It tears too easily," she asked. "If you wore the heavy stuff you wouldn't need to get it fixed so often."
He smiled again and grabbed the long stick he had been using as a fire poker, pushing around the burning wood absentmindedly. "I know. It can be a pain sometimes, and it doesn't really do much against heavy weapons. Or cats, apparently," he said as he gestured to the tear near his chest. "But I find that it allows me to move easier. To dodge out of the way, I guess. I figure that avoiding getting hit in the first place is better than being slowed down by iron or steel armour and getting all banged up."
It made sense to her, she supposed, though she still preferred her own heavy armour. She felt safe in it. And she doubted that his small stature could even support the weight of heavier armour.
"I can repair your armour for you, my Thane." He gave her another irritated look. "Cato," she corrected. "I can repair it. I'll do so as soon as we get back."
"Lydia," he said with a sigh. He pushed a large log over and the embers flickered up in one big rush. "You don't have to do everything for me, you know. You're going to have a good few days' rest when we get back." She was about to protest but he added, "I'm quite capable of surviving on my own."
She wasn't really offended by this, though she thought she perhaps should be.
"Well, if you don't need me, why do you insist on bringing me along?" More like dragging me along, she thought.
His smile softened and he said, "for the company."
She blushed again, face growing red and hot despite the cold, and reached for the stick in his hands. She started poking at the fire for something to do. The little golden flecks swirled up into the vast inky sky and it was hard to tell what were stars and what was fire.
He realised she was uncomfortable and attempted to change the subject. "Sooo," he drawled, pretending to examine a scar on the back of his hand. "What brings you out of the warm tent on this lovely evening?"
She couldn't pass up her chance.
"The company," she retorted.
His laugh was nothing short of hysterical. It boomed out across the hills, echoing through the grasses and rocks of the Reach, and she couldn't help it.
"Ah! There it is!" he cried out suddenly, startling her. She looked over to him questioningly. "I never thought I'd get to see it!"
"My Thane - " she started.
"Lydia, it's Cato," he cut her off.
"Cato, I don't - "
"You smiled just then. I don't think I've ever seen you smile."
She stopped cold and an icy silence filled their little camp. She was shocked at first and didn't say anything. He watched her intently with a blank expression, but she could see in the flickering firelight that his eyes held great interest.
"My Th- Cato," she corrected when she finally found her voice. She was looking into his face. "What in the name of Talos is that supposed to mean?"
He had expected her to react in such a way, and was not taken aback by her fractious tone. He gave a small smile.
"I'm simply saying that you don't smile enough. You take this whole Housecarl business much too seriously. Lighten up a little."
How dare he- how could he-? She had no words to describe how angry she was right now. She was performing her duty to the very best of her abilities. She had fought for and trained years for the honour of holding this position. She was silently disappointed when she was first introduced to him, but she held her tongue. She had been his pack mule while she followed him across Skyrim on every stupid errand he did, and she was tired and cold and bruised nearly every hour of the day. And he had the nerve – no, the audacity – to tell her to 'lighten up'?
It took every ounce of her brute strength not to throw her fist in his face.
He laughed again, watching the rage and disbelief flash across her face.
"See? You're doing it now. It was a joke, Lydia. I didn't mean it."
No, it wasn't a joke. There had been truth behind his words. His laughing was only irritating her now.
When he figured out that her silence meant she was not impressed in the slightest, he admitted that he'd gone too far. She was a new friend, and he was still figuring out how she worked. Apparently she very much disliked jabs at her work ethic.
He sighed and placed a hand on her shoulder. She tensed but didn't move, still staring into the fire. He had to repair this. The tension in the air was tangible.
"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."
"Hm," she mumbled.
"Honestly, he added.
"It's alright, my Thane. I will try to be less formal in the future," she answered stiffly. She had no right to be cross with her Thane.
"No, it's not alright, Lydia. I'm sorry. I know you take this job seriously, and that's fine. But you don't have to talk to me like a king, for gods' sakes," he chuckled.
Her expression softened. He let go of her shoulder and followed her gaze back to the flames.
"It's weird, you know. I don't like it. I know I'm Thane and all, but I just can't get used to it. I've never had people under my control before. And you know how clumsy I can be. That would be a disaster! Can you even imagine?"
No, she couldn't. He would probably end up accidentally sending an entire army over the edge of a cliff.
"I'm not going to order you around. You're my friend, and I don't want to do that."
She froze for a second. Friend? Cato thought of her as a friend? She was taken aback, but something inside her softened.
She'd never really had a friend before.
Lydia let go of a breath she didn't know she was holding, and he could tell by her posture he had been forgiven.
After a moment of silence he stood up and stretched.
"Well, I think I'm going to bed now. It's after midnight, and my watch is nearly over. Is that alright?"
She nodded, still staring into the fire, but she could make out his slender form from the corner of her eyes.
"Alright. 'Night, Lydia," he saluted. He stepped over to the tent, but just before he bent down and crawled inside he paused and looked back to her.
"Hey," he called softly. She looked up into his grinning face, and his bright brown eyes, so different from the pale blue of the Nords she was accustomed to, caught her breath. "What I said earlier, about your smile. I meant it. You should do it more often. It suits you." He smirked again and went inside the tent.
The rest of the cold windy night passed with Lydia gazing into the flames pondering what her Thane had said.
Maybe he was right. Maybe she shouldn't be so serious. And maybe she should lighten up a bit.
She smiled at the thought. He was right. It did suit her.
They had walked the whole morning, right from dawn, in comfortable silence. In fact, they'd hardly spoke at all while folding up the tent and putting out the fire. The most they'd done was sneak a few curious glances at each other.
Lydia's mind was still contemplating over last night's conversations, and she stared at the ground, her boots crunching the frosty grasses. She didn't notice when they finally crossed into Whiterun Hold and the rolling hills gave way to flatter plains where the giant mammoth still roamed free. As such she was not paying attention to where she was walking. Some animal bone jutting out from the frozen ground, hidden by the grasses, caught her foot and she fell forward. Her packs were full of useless junk her Thane had burdened her with, so she could not manage to catch her footing. She was dragged to the ground.
Cato heard her fall, and he turned around to see her struggling to stand again. He rushed over, and Lydia suddenly found a tanned hand offered in her face. She took it gratefully and he pulled her up.
They stood facing each other for a moment, hands still together, and a blush found it's way to her face as she smiled again. Gods, what was wrong with her? Couldn't she face him without turning into a beet?
He returned the gesture and said, "See? It's not that hard."
He let go of her hand and turned around, leaving her there smiling in the grass with his touch still burning her hands.
A/N: Btw, "Cato" is pronounced "Kay-toe". It's a Roman name, as he is an Imperial. And yes I know it's lame.