We left Whiterun like thieves in the night, under the protection of the darkness and through the hidden exit of the Underforge. We both agreed to this measure of precaution when Kodlak pointed out that it was entirely possible that the Thalmor had me under surveillance. But as beautiful as the day before had been, the erratic spring weather had switched completely overnight. Heavy squalls whipping an icy sleet into our faces combined with a hurried, cold breakfast, sleep-deprivation, a far too heavy pack and a companion who only greeted me with an ill-humoured grunt, sporting a tired scowl, made for a lousy start of this journey.
We tried to lay as much distance between us and Whiterun before anyone could notice that we were gone and set a fast pace westwards across the plains. But we had agreed to avoid people and settlements as much as possible and were heavily laden with everything necessary to survive in the wilderness, and the ground we crossed was murky and slippery from the snowmelt up in the mountains. It was difficult and uncomfortable right from the beginning, and I wasn’t sure if the shiver that ran down my back was caused by a sense of foreboding or only by the cold dampness seeping through my cloak.
And when the horizon behind us became barely noticeably lighter and I looked back at the silhouette of Dragonsreach that vanished slowly in the mist, my heart grew heavy. Leaving Jorrvaskr always made me a bit sad, and to know that we would be gone for weeks… realising that we hadn’t even left the Hold and I was already homesick, I snorted at myself and set my eyes on the enormous campfire in the distance, a huge column of smoke, ash and sparks, the giants circling their camp with a small herd of mammoths in tow. Somehow, the way they sauntered slowly through the landscape, they looked a bit like the silent brute beside me who set foot before foot, stoic and silent.
When he caught me looking at him, Farkas gave me a strained smile. “‘t can only get better.”
“Yeah. The Reach is supposed to be nice this time of year.”
He snorted and nudged his elbow into my side. “Gotta keep us busy, this will be some long days ahead. How about some tales about the adventures of a wandering Dragonborn?”
I grinned at him. “What do you wanna hear? The story of the glamorous party at the Thalmor Embassy with a special performance of the Dragonborn jester? Or about the weird encounter with a charming thief in the sewers of Riften? Or how I found one of the most mysterious organisations in all of Tamriel, and we set out to find a hidden treasure?”
He laughed out loud. “You joke, don’t you? If you really did all that, I’ll never forgive you that you didn’t let me join in the fun. That sounds so much better than boring cloisters, boring dragons and boring tombs. Besides the sewers, of course.”
“You’ve no idea, Farkas. And those bloody sewers were the only task where I really could have needed some help.”
He nudged me friendly. “We’ve plenty of time, and I wanna know everything. How about you start at the beginning?”
The beginning, that was Delphine. The weeks before that were mine alone.
“I went to Delphine. It was the only clue I had. You won’t believe what she really is.”
I told him everything over the course of that first day, and it distracted us successfully from the cold and the wetness. How Delphine had revealed her identity to me, from Alduin in Kynesgrove over our assault on the Embassy and Esbern’s rescue from Riften to the discovery of Skyhaven Temple and Alduin’s Wall. And everything I had learned during these travels – that the Thalmor were even nastier bastards than everybody had thought, that the Thieves Guild was a wretched, but charming gang of scum and everything Esbern had taught me. It was distracting and soothing at the same time, his attentive way to listen, his laughter and snarky remarks, and most of all the way he grasped intuitively the impact of everything concerning Alduin’s return.
When I told him about Esbern’s lecture at Old Hroldan the day before we reached Skyhaven Temple, his explanation of the ancient prophecy, I could cite the old scholar nearly literally although I hadn’t thought about it for a long time, had suppressed the truth he had made me see. And like me, Farkas was overwhelmed by the impact of these words. The end of the world. The end of time. It was overwhelming. But he not only understood what it meant, he also understood at once what it meant for me. He stopped our march, stood there before me in the drizzling rain, his eyes wide with sudden, unexpected comprehension.
“It’s you alone, isn’t it? It’s all on your shoulders?”
It was nothing like Esbern’s challenge to understand or Delphine’s determination to push me forward. His face mirrored the same horror I had felt, horror, perplexity and compassion. And suddenly I could cry as if all dams had burst, could relieve myself from the loneliness, the rage and the helplessness I had buried deep under my mantra of one step at a time, under my denial to look any further than the next day. It was cathartic to pour it all out upon him, and he just held me and let me cry until nothing was left but soreness and a small, hard core of determination.
“They’re cruel, the Divines,” he mumbled, and then he laid his arm around me, and we went on, searching for a shelter for the night.
The only shelter we found was a small ledge which barely concealed us from the rain. The morning woke us overtired and stiff from cold and wetness, and both in an equally bad mood. I wasn’t even sure if Farkas had really slept at all; when it was my turn to keep watch, he had just tossed and turned in his bedroll as if he was haunted. I woke him twice during that night, but it didn’t help.
We set off quietly into another day that was likely to be at least as miserable and dull as the last, but we were both too used to bad weather and long hikes to let that hold us off. And when Farkas asked me to finish my tale, I did so gladly, if only to kill time. My efforts to display Esbern’s excitement over the useless wall in Skyhaven Temple were meagre, but they still lightened up the mood a bit, and in the end Farkas couldn’t stop laughing about my outburst in High Hrothgar.
“That’s just like you, Qhouri, bolting out there, slamming the doors and fuming like a dragon.”
I had to grin. “Yeah, that fits. I was really angry. I mean, what does he think? Perhaps Alduin shouldn’t be stopped!” I mimicked Arngeir’s solemn speech, but then I became serious again. “The problem is, I’ve no idea what to do now. I mean… I have to defeat him somehow, but at the moment I don’t even know where he is. And I’m afraid only the Greybeards do.”
He looked at me, calmly and full of confidence. “Let them sulk, Qhouri. We will find a way. Something will happen, and you’ll know how to go on. It always does.” I gave him a hesitating smile. To tell him everything had been relieving. But he didn’t only listen. He knew and understood and still didn’t lose his quiet fortitude, instead offered his aid and support again, and his confidence rubbed off on me like it always did. I had no doubt that he was right, and that something would happen. It didn’t even matter what, because no matter how horrible or impossible or insane it could be, he would face it with me.
“Hey,” he pulled me out of my thoughts, “I know where to spend the night. Cosy and warm.”
Cosy and warm sounded incredibly compelling. We needed urgently a fire to warm up and dry our armours and equipment. “Sounds good. Where?”
“An abandoned hut. We’ve been there before,” he said with a crooked grin.
I gasped. He really wanted to stay where that necromancer had stolen his soul? “You mean…?”
He nodded. “Yep. It’s really abandoned now, only the caravans use it. I’ve been there not too long ago.” Sometimes I wished I had his thick skin. But when we reached the site I had to admit, as a refuge for one night it was perfect. Someone – probably the merchants who used it more regularly – had removed every trace of the atrocious experiments that had happened here as well as fixed up the shack itself. It had a fireplace and dry firewood stacked in a corner, a raw table, two chairs and even a cot with a straw mattress and covered by a rough blanket. All in all, it was pure luxury.
I insisted to take the first watch, Farkas needing to sleep much more urgently than me. He was tough, and he concealed his constant fatigue with discipline and stubbornness, but I worried for him… Aela had said he had nightmares, and the night before I had seen for myself that he didn’t get the rest he needed.
I sat on the porch in front of the hut, wrapped into my bedroll against the chilly wind and my senses set on the manifold sounds of the night when his whimpers startled me up. He tossed around on the narrow mattress, tangled up in the blanket, heavily breathing and his face in the smouldering remains of the fire covered in sweat and stricken with pain. Whatever haunted him held him obstinately in its grip, and I had to shake him nearly violently to wake him.
When he finally opened his eyes with a startled gasp and searched my face, the weariness in them was frightening. Slowly he sat up and slumped against the headboard, knees drawn to his chest, and pulled me to his side.
“Please… just a few minutes. Just sit with me…” He closed his eyes and let his head fall against my shoulder, and I felt a faint shiver when I laid my arm around him. He looked as if he hadn’t slept for weeks.
“What’s happening, Farkas? You already barely slept last night. What’s the matter with you?”
He didn’t open his eyes. “No… it’s okay. Just a few moments, and I’ll be okay. I’ll keep watch. Go to sleep.”
“No, I won’t.” It wasn’t hard to guess what this was about. I steeled myself. “It’s Vilkas, isn’t it?” I asked softly.
He nodded hesitatingly, but refused to look at me.
“You want to tell me?”
He was quiet for a moment, and if possible he became even tenser. I rubbed soothingly the tight muscles of his shoulder. “It’s always the same…,” he mumbled finally. “He’s in Jorrvaskr and tears you apart… and Aela and Kodlak and the whelps, and he feeds on the corpses. Destroys everything that was good in his life, until nothing is left. And… he forces me to watch.” There was so much pain in his voice… a shiver ran over my back, and I pulled him closer. If this was what he saw whenever he closed his eyes, I wouldn’t sleep either.
And there was nothing I could do. Nothing but share it with him, knowing that it wouldn’t help at all. We sat together for a long time, and slowly, gradually, I felt him relax.
“Hey,” I said softly, “you should try to sleep. I’ll wake you when they come back. Don’t forget… everything’s fine in Jorrvaskr. And I’m here.”
“Yeah. You’re here.” His hand came up and found mine. “Stay for a moment. Please. It’s better… with you.”
“Okay.” Something clenched in my chest, but I didn’t move and listened to his breath easing out until it was calm and even. Exhaustion took finally its toll and sleep claimed him in a matter of minutes, deep and sound like a few nights ago on the floor of his room, when he had slept with my hand in his.
Perhaps he needed this. Perhaps he needed someone near, someone breathing and living to banish the pictures of death and violence that tortured his mind. When I urged him to lay down and pulled the blanket over him, he turned dozily to the side, mumbled something unintelligible and drifted off again with a deep sigh. But he wore a small, serene smile, and he didn’t let go of my hand. I made myself comfortable to watch the rest of the night over him.
He finally woke to the smell of the food when I warmed the remains of our dinner for breakfast. Who knew when we’d get a hot meal in such comfortable conditions again, and the way he stretched himself in the rays of the morning sun that sparkled on the dust in the air made me laugh.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” I peeked at him over my shoulder, “want breakfast in bed?”
He lay on his side, his temple propped into his palm and watched me intently, shaking his head. I hoped he wouldn’t bring up last night and that I didn’t wake him. It had been… strange, and I was glad that he had rested for so long. But I didn’t want to talk about it. It would be awkward.
But I heard the bedframe creak when he stood up and naked feet padding over the rough floor planks while I stirred the leftover stew over the fire, and when he knelt down beside me and took the ladle from my hands, I turned to him with a confused frown. My breath hitched when I met his gaze. His smile was gentle, anxious and full of stern resolve. I knew this expression on him. It always meant that he had made a decision.
He took a deep breath. “I don’t want breakfast. I want…” He stopped and swallowed, rubbed his palm over his face and pinched the back of his nose, eyes squinted shut. And then he searched my face, taking my hands in his. “You probably don’t even know what you did last night. You heal me, Qhouri. That you’re here with me… I want to give this back. Something… whatever you need from me. Will you let me?”
I held my breath, stared into his face. There was shyness and insecurity and happiness. And a quiet determination that ignored the stiffness that settled in my limbs.
“What do you mean?” I whispered. I didn’t want to know… all I knew that this wasn’t just a I’ll fight dragons with you till Alduin lies dead at your feet kind of offer.
His voice was strained, but he held my gaze, burning and intense. “I love you so much, Qhouri. And I lost you already once… I want you… us… I want to give this back. And I want you to know.” And then he palmed my face and pulled me in, his breath warm on my face. As warm as his lips that pressed to mine.
I froze in his grip, turned my head reflexively and tried to shift away. This didn’t happen. This couldn’t happen. But his thumbs stroked my cheeks and he pressed his forehead to mine, felt my resistance and spoke on hastily. “You’ve always been special to me. For me, it has grown, and it still grows. I love you. I just want you to know. We can leave it at that.”
No. This wasn’t awkward. It was insane. “You’re insane,” I whispered.
And then I tore away, screamed at him to leave me alone and fled like I always did it when the sky crushed over me and I didn’t know what to do, lost in a turmoil of conflicting emotions, my brain running havoc.
My first reaction was to run and hide and to get away as far as possible. Impossible, unfortunately, there was a job I had promised to finish. We had promised to finish. The second was even more insane, the urge to turn to him for help. Simply ridiculous. The third was anger, a deep, boiling fury that he had the gall to confront me with his feelings like that. I had already shouted at him once. Hadn’t that been enough?
I was seething when I stormed out of the hut, leaving half of my stuff behind. He yelled after me to stop, to talk to him, and I ignored him. The golden light of the morning sun mocked me with bright rays glittering in the wetness and the remaining raindrops.
Everything had been good. Finally. We had worked so hard to get where we were now. We knew what we meant to each other, how we were dependent on each other, that we liked to be together. I was even able to admit to myself and to him how much I had missed him.
Special! Of course he was special! But love? Insane.
I needed him most for the bit of stability he brought into my life. He didn’t have the right to turn everything upside down, suddenly and again. I didn’t want anything to change.
Storming ahead and leaving him behind didn’t help. Forcing my thoughts on the task before us, on the Thalmor and Thorald waiting for us and that we didn’t have time for this nonsense didn’t help either, and neither did killing a pack of wolves breaking out of the bush, half a dozen rabbits, a careless deer and some impertinent frost spiders. I left a trail of corpses behind, easy to follow, and it was nearly noon when I reached a small glade to wait for him. Running away would help least. And he didn’t deserve it, after all.
He looked perplexed, angry, frightened and relieved all at once when I pushed him with a rough shove against his breastplate down onto a log.
“You’re crazy if you believe we can just leave it at that, Farkas. What in Oblivion did you think?”
His eyes grew wide. He didn’t think at all, obviously. We both had this bad habit.
“I don’t want you to feel pressed, Qhouri,” he muttered, letting both our packs slide from his back.
I stared at him furiously, pacing nervously up and down. This was so… uncomfortable. Why did he have such a cursed way to present me with accomplished facts I had to deal with afterwards? But he was just so irresistibly honest, he always was, an honesty he had a right to claim from me as well. After all, we had always been able to speak about everything. Well, mostly, about nearly everything, and then it was always either about him or me. This was about us, about something I didn’t even know it existed. Not like this. Not as something that could become… difficult.
More than difficult. There was no us. I had enough difficulties with me alone, I didn’t want anything that included anybody else. Not even him.
“But you did,” I barked. “You know exactly that you already pressed me with this… confession. I can’t just… ignore it. Now I have to think about it. How to react.” I was glad that he just sat there and listened while I tugged nervously on my braid. “I don’t want this. You… it scares me. I don’t want to deal with feelings. It’s… doesn’t it change everything?”
He nestled with a strap of his knapsack, looking anxious and confused.
“No, it doesn’t. For me, nothing has changed, I’m just relieved.” He shrugged a bit helplessly, and his gaze became imploring. “Please, Qhouri… you’re my best friend, we’ve been through so much together… I just wanna be with you.”
Slowly I turned to him, my shoulders bunched up defensively. “But you are, Farkas. You are with me. At the moment we’re wandering straight across Skyrim, just you and me. What else do you want?”
“But… I will never press you. Please… you’ve never been scared of me before… just now, and only because I told you that I love you? Don’t tell me you don’t see the irony.”
I blushed, and he didn’t care. No amusement about my insecurity, just tenderness and appreciation. And a calm, bright certainty that was new. But it only meant that he knew what he wanted… and no matter what he said, it carried a demand I didn’t want to meet.
“What do you want, Farkas?”
He looked so terribly certain. “Love you. However you let me. If you let me.”
My throat constricted, my own pulse roared through my ears. “You want to sleep with me.”
His eyes shot wide, and then he lowered his gaze to the ground and avoided my face. It was answer enough. He was just a man, and I had let him already come far too close.
A clump of burning dread formed in my stomach, and I recognised it, it still felt the same it had felt when I was only a child. Time and experience had done nothing to lessen it, and it was fed by the memories that he stirred up and woke with his careless words, things I had hoped to have left behind once and for all, and now he brought them back. It wasn’t true… we couldn’t talk about everything. He had no idea what he just did. He had no idea how much it still hurt. But it was there, there was nothing I could do against it.
I swallowed thickly to keep my voice steady. “I don’t know how to deal with this, Farkas. With you. I do not know you won’t hurt me when you come too close. Look at yourself, you’ve worked all your life to make yourself the weapon you are today. You’re a werewolf, you’re made to hurt and you’re used to get what you want. You can easily do what they all did and just take it.”
The insecure smile and the understanding left his face, pale gaze changing into shocked, unbelieving bewilderment.
“You really believe that, Qhouri? You really believe that sex is all I want and that I would just take it? Against your will?”
Now I had to justify myself? I snapped at him, my voice shrill. “You’re a man, aren’t you? And what a paragon of a man, so handsome, so strong. Isn’t that what all this talk about love is about? What people do?” My hands clenched into whiteknuckled fists. “And isn’t this why Vilkas was so obsessed with you and me? Why he had to beat you to it?”
He blanched. “This is not about Vilkas,” he whispered, terror written into the lines of his face. “Leave him out of this. Please. It’s not about him.”
I turned away, couldn’t bear his sight any more. “I can’t. You know I can’t.”
I wasn’t safe with him, my own judgement obviously worth nothing. I should have known better, should have trusted my own experience more than this naïve illusion of companionship that I thought existed between us. In this moment I felt threatened by his presence, trapped between his demands and the impenetrable wall of black, blinding panic that grew behind my eyes. I had to get away from him, he was dangerous, and if it destroyed everything else I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t my fault, and I had to prevent that he came too close, no matter the costs.
I knew he could smell my fear when he clenched his jaws and his eyes grew wide.
“You’re scared of me,” he whispered. “Divines. I scare you.”
My voice was flat in the effort to appear calm, to swallow the unshed tears, to retain my composure. Most important was not to reveal my helplessness. It was bad enough that he knew how frightened I was.
“You shouldn’t have said that, Farkas,” I said quietly. “Why did you have to force it? You know so much about me… I thought what we had was good. I thought I could trust you… I thought you knew that I would give you everything I could, because you were my friend. But for you, that wasn’t enough. Perhaps you really believe that you love me, but what was so bad before? The only difference between what we had and what you want is something you know I can’t give you. You know that my master also said he loved me when I… performed well?”
He didn’t move when I passed him and left the glade, sat on his log like frozen, his face petrified in an expression of shock, only his eyes burning into my back. It hurt so much to leave him behind like that, as if a fist clenched my heart into a tiny clump of ache, but I went away with firm, even steps and squared shoulders. I just destroyed the perhaps best thing in my life in this helpless effort to protect myself, chased away one of the few people I had learned to trust, and did so by hurting him as much as it hurt me. But I had no choice. I had to get rid of him because I didn’t know what would happen if he came even closer. Whatever had been between us was a mistake, and it wasn’t worth my safety. It didn’t matter how much it hurt, if choked sobs threatened to shake my body or if I stumbled because tears constricted my view. It didn’t matter as long as I was safe.
When he showed up at the camp I set up shortly after nightfall with an arm full of firewood and crawled wordlessly into his bedroll with as much distance as possible, I could show him an outward calm that matched the cold inside of me. The loss of our togetherness hurt as if someone had cut a limb from my body, but all that mattered now was the job we had promised to finish, and we would work together and finish it successfully because we had to, not because we wanted to. And after that… I didn’t know. I didn’t want to think about it. I only wished the last night and the morning after hadn’t happened.
I let him toss and turn in his furs and whimper through his nightmare while I sat huddled on a trunk, trying to have an ear on the sounds of the wilderness around us, hardening myself against his pain. Now I knew what it was about, and that I couldn’t help him. He would have to go through it alone. But the longer it took the tenser I became in trying to shut him out, until I crouched at the fire with my arms over my ears. The more I tried, the more it became impossible to ignore his agonised thrashing, shivers running down my back as if the torment he went through affected me physically. The images of his dreams wreaked havoc in my mind, the beast that was his brother on its devastating rampage through Jorrvaskr, tearing through the flesh of its siblings and pack-mates, hunting, killing and feeding, destroying his home until nothing was left but blood. So much blood. I saw the feral satisfaction in glowing eyes, the fury and hate and the urge to leave nothing behind but death and annihilation.
A groan of bottomless anguish let me finally start up. He sat straight, still sleeping, still dreaming, his hands clenched into the furs, wide open eyes staring into the void of the terror inside of him. He would bring all of Skyrim’s predatory nightlife down on us if I let him go on, and I approached him reluctantly and hunched down beside him. A look into his contorted face let me grit my teeth and I grabbed his shoulder, shook him tentatively.
“Farkas,” I whispered, “wake up. It’s just a dream. Wake up.”
He shivered violently, and then his arms clenched around me with so much strength that they forced the breath from my lungs, his face buried in the crook of my neck. Like a child searching for shelter, hiding from the terror lurking in the shadows or behind closed lids. I felt him tremble and remained where I was, stricken by his pain that was mine as well, and my hand came up and stroked over the back of his head until some of the tightness slowly left his body and his ragged breathing started to ease.
But his eyes shot open all of a sudden and he became rigid, jerked back and away from me violently, startled fear in his face. We crouched face to face, eyes locked in a silent, troubled stare, and it took seconds like an eternity before he moved again, scrambling frantically out of his furs and hunching down at the edge of the small circle lit by the remains of our fire, his back to me.
“I’ll keep watch,” he finally broke the silence, rough and terse. Leave me alone, his body language said.
I crawled mutely into my bedroll and curled myself into a tight ball, eyes pressed shut, trying to find shelter from the loneliness that dwelled in me, that I knew so well and that I had never felt in his company before. We had a journey of weeks ahead of us, and we relied on each other. How to survive that… like this? I lay trembling and wide awake for hours, felt his stare in my back and knew that he knew that I didn’t sleep, and when we set off westwards in silence with the first light I was taut and tense and aching, and we held as much distance as possible.
It was a dull march through the grey twilight of the rising day, and I set foot before foot without thinking, my mind numbed by the inevitable dreariness of the coming days. Until I suddenly felt a hand on my pauldron that whirled me around, clasping my arm in a grip that would cause bruises.
He clenched his teeth, deep lines of fatigue and despair in his face, and his voice was weak and strained.
“I know I’m a fool. I should have left you alone, and now I’ve ruined everything, and it’s my own fault. Just… one thing. Gods, please… tell me you don’t really think that I’m such a monster. Like… them. Like Vilkas. I would never… tell me you don’t believe that I would take you against your will. That I would rape you. Please.”
If in the first moment his grip caused my mind to cloud with the familiar panic and I wanted to hit him and shout at him to break out of this grip, a single, conscious look into his face stopped this urge. I took him in, this huge, dangerous warrior, the desperate plea full of self-loathing in his eyes, his hands falling helplessly to his sides, and the panic ebbed away… this wasn’t just any man. He was my shield-brother and friend, we had saved each other countless times and in countless different ways, and I fell into my own pit of shame when I realised what I had said to him. What I had thought about him. No matter the circumstances, no matter how deep I was drowned in my own abyss of fears and distrust, that accusation was as unjust as inexcusable.
A desperate groan escaped me and I felt the blood rush to my cheeks, my hand raking helplessly through my hair, but he had already released me from his grip and made another step backwards, his gaze fallen to his feet. If I was honest I wanted to hide in his chest and feel the soothing shelter of his arms around me, wanted this comfort that had felt so natural and good only a few days ago, when I had cried in his embrace. When he understood me. I didn’t know if he understood me now, and if it still mattered at all. Perhaps we had already lost each other.
“You’re no monster, Farkas. Of course not. I’m sorry… you didn’t deserve that.”
He stared at me with an unreadable expression, lips pressed into a tight line, but he released a long breath. “On the cliff above Northwatch Keep, there’s an old, abandoned watchtower. Let’s meet there,” he said curtly, shifted the weight of his pack on his shoulders and strode off with long steps in northern direction, away from the path I followed.
I looked after him, speechless, helpless and stunned. He really went away, he really thought I didn’t want to travel with him any more, he really thought it was his fault. He left me alone, and he really thought he did me a favour.
To see him go away broke something in me. It wasn’t his fault. No one but me was to blame for ruining our companionship, friendship, relationship, whatever it was… and he went away not to protect me from himself and his demands, even if he might have thought so, but most of all from my own fears and memories. From this past I had just decided to leave behind instead to deal with it, truly and honestly.
But I didn’t want him to go. I didn’t want to lose him. To be without him was much worse than to deal with him and his demands. Perhaps even worse than to deal with myself.
He took a few more steps, but then he stopped, his head lowered. But he didn’t turn, didn’t look at me.
Gods. My head swam with all the spoiled expectations, disappointment and sadness that stood between us, with everything he had said during the last days, everything I had thought to understand or had misunderstood, I didn’t even know, everything I had said to him that I didn’t really mean, not like that, not in all this brutality. But he was just Farkas. He didn’t deserve to be treated like that. And even if I was confused like never before, with him, one certainty was written in stone: that he was always honest. That he always meant what he said. And I knew beyond any doubt that he would do me no harm. Never. He was a man, but he was no monster, and I didn’t want him to leave.
“Don’t go,” I whispered, breathless as if he would just vanish if I wasn’t fast enough. It took a few endless seconds until he finally moved, slowly turning to me. The sadness in his eyes bore into my soul. But it changed into astonishment when he saw me standing there, looking pleadingly at him, and finally became a feeble smile.
It took us the whole day until we started to speak again, and although we wandered together, apart from his mere presence he left me alone, with him leading the way and me trudging behind. The solid wall of his armoured back in front of me gave me enough safety to get lost in my frantically pacing thoughts. It was enough time for me to find out that I wasn’t scared of him. His confession and everything I thought would follow from it, all these demands and expectations and the closeness he wanted were indeed as frightened as confusing, all my instincts screaming to run away and to hide. But at the same time I realised that he gave me so much more than just fuss-free, reliable camaraderie. He had given me his strength, mentally much more than physically, and he had given me the safety and shelter of his friendship when I needed it most, when the world threatened to crush over me. All this didn’t come out of the blue… I had been blind, but I couldn’t deny that there was an intimacy between us I had never known before, and the thought alone to lose this was at least as frightening as everything he could want from me.
I would never be scared of him. I knew him too good, he wasn’t dangerous, he was the same reliable, familiar, friendly companion he had always been. The hours I marched under the protection of his alertness were enough time to make me admit to myself that for a change, I wanted something from him. That it was my turn to take the initiative and make a step towards him, because I wanted him back.
When we sat at the evening fire and I had finished chewing on my leathery piece of dried venison, I pulled myself together.
He sat opposite of me, the wavering heat obscuring his features, staring into the flames. Now his head jerked up in surprise.
“I… I want to apologise. I shouldn’t have said that. I can’t even say that I didn’t mean it… I did mean what I said and thought… about you, in that moment, but you didn’t deserve it. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”
He let me wait with his answer, and when he finally spoke, his face was deadly serious, sadness lingering in his voice. “That really hurt, Qhouri. I know I’ve expected too much of you and I should have kept quiet and you have a hard time with me… but I didn’t deserve that, no matter what an incredible idiot I am. You know me long enough and good enough, you could have at least given me the benefit of the doubt.” He shook himself like a wet whelp. “Gods, the thought alone is disgusting.”
He straightened himself. “I just wish… you were terrified of me, and I don’t know why. Can you tell me what happened with you? I don’t want to see you like that again. I would never hurt you! It was… as if I were a stranger.”
It became quiet as I thought about his question. I wanted to be honest with him, and this… now, it was easier.
“I didn’t know what you want. Everything I know about… these things is stained. I know only abuse. And… you woke all that again. I know you didn’t want to, but… when you told me you want to sleep with me… everything came back, and that I thought before I could trust you only made it worse.”
I had to be so blunt to make him understand. And he did, I saw it in his face, showing shock and anguish.
“Gods, I’m so sorry. That’s not what I want. Really.” He bent forwards, a deep crease forming between his eyes, his gaze piercing into mine with strange determination. “I can’t claim to understand what you have experienced,” he said slowly, cautiously. “What it has done to you. I also don’t know if it helps when I tell you this, but… Qhouri, you’re a strong woman. You’re a warrior. The Dragonborn. You’re able to protect yourself against anyone, no matter if they threaten you with a blade or a fireball or a cock. You don’t have to let it happen, you don’t have to let yourself get hurt. And you don’t have to panic.” He took a deep breath. “Sorry for being so blunt. I know it’s not so easy, I know fears are not… rational. But you’re not helpless. And you already proved it, when you hurled me against the wall in my own room. Just saying.”
I swallowed heavily, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks. He had nailed it again, knew exactly what was happening with me, and his bluntness got straight to the point. The worst was this helplessness, the feeling to be utterly at his mercy. And that it was so awfully familiar.
“But that’s how I felt,” I said weakly, “helpless and threatened. It’s… just happening, and it was even worse because it was you.” I became quiet, lowering my eyes to the ground. I couldn’t spare him this. “That night… I wasn’t afraid of you. But it felt the same with Vilkas,” I whispered.
He made a movement as if he wanted to stand up and come over, but then he only drew his knees to his chest, his hand rubbing nervously over his face, leaving his warpaint smeared over cheeks and temples. Helplessness stood in his face, but he didn’t avoid my eyes.
“I wish you had shred him to pieces,” he said lowly. “That you had to endure this…”
I bit my lip. This wasn’t the moment to talk about Vilkas. Perhaps, one day… but not now. Now we had to see to ourselves.
“You’re not him, Farkas. I know that. But I still don’t know what you want.”
He cracked a small, cautious smile, the first real smile for more than a day. “That’s easy. I want to be with you. I want you to trust me like you’ve done it before, and I want to hear you laugh with me again. I want to prove that you don’t have to be afraid of me, that my feelings are no reason to be scared. And I want to show you how it feels to be loved… in every way that you will go with me. Not more, but also not less.”
Blue eyes shone with sincerity and certainty. “I wish I could take back what I said, but I won’t lie to you. It’s true, I’m just a man and you are a beautiful woman, and I also wish I could take these fears away from you and show you that… not every touch has to hurt. But… gods, Qhouri, I know you, I know it’s not so easy. I would never hurt you. Please believe me.”
Not more, not less. Gods, he demanded so much. I wanted to believe him, but he tried to lead us into regions I had never experienced before. Everything I knew was stained with humiliation and hate. But – he was the one I went to for comfort, I had cried in his arms just like he had cried in mine. Which was quite ironic.
“I can’t just switch this off, not even for you. I don’t know what it means when you say you love me. I’ve heard those words before… and they always meant that they wanted to take even more. It was just a disguise for their power over me.” I clenched my hands in my lap, and my voice was flat and determined. “That will never happen again. Nobody will ever again control me like that. Never. Not even you.”
Fury flitted over his face. “That’s so twisted… so spoiled! Gods, they robbed you of so much… It’s so wrong. It means…” He rubbed nervously the nape of his neck. “I can just tell you what it means for me. That I care for you. That I can’t get you out of my head. That I want you to feel good, because you make me feel good. It’s about respect and trust… and belonging. Closeness.” He shrugged helplessly and clenched his hands in his lap, searching for words. “And much more than that. I can’t just describe what it means, Qhouri. But you know I don’t want to control you. You know me good enough. Please… don’t be afraid of me.” His piercing gaze held a plea.
I remembered the painful sting of loss I had felt when he had gone away and the sadness in his eyes, the relief when he stayed and my urge to hide from all this in his embrace. Much of what he said sounded familiar… and it was only familiar because I knew it from him.
I rubbed my temples uneasily and studied the dead leaves between my feet. “I’m not afraid of you. I’m afraid of so much… and sometimes it’s simply overwhelming, but I’m not afraid of you.”
After a few seconds came a low chuckle from the other side of the fire. “Look at me.” When I rose my eyes to his face, his smile was warm and relieved. “You’ve no idea how glad I am that you say that. And that’s what I love about you. You face all the disasters in your life including idiotic shield-brothers, and in the end you just fight through them and go your own way. You’re tough and frail, and… I never felt so close to anyone before.”
I shifted closer to the fire, drew my knees to my chest and clenched my arms around my shins. I didn’t feel tough, and I realised that nothing would ever be like it was before. Not for him, and not for me, and only honesty would now be able to save what we had.
“I don’t feel tough at the moment… I feel weak and tired, I don’t know what to do and what to feel and if I have to protect myself or not. But I don’t want to lose you, Farkas. You’re important to me. We are close… but sometimes this closeness is frightening, and…” I became quiet and buried my face in my palms. This tension that quivered between us like the wavering hot air over the fire, it was new, and not to know where all this would lead was the most daunting. But at the same time his mere presence was strangely soothing. Wherever it would lead, he would watch over me. He always did.
“And?” His voice was soft, without any pressure.
I pulled myself together, but my voice sounded exactly as weak as I felt. “I couldn’t let you go. I need you, and I want to trust you although you have changed, and I’m so confused… but you don’t deserve that I blame you. It’s not your fault that I’m so messed up. And I hate to be so weak. I want to be free and normal and leave it behind, but I don’t know how.” I swallowed heavily, not daring to look into his face. “Perhaps… you can help me? Be careful with me?”
I exposed myself to him, put myself into his mercy, and I didn’t know if he understood. Holding my breath I waited for his reaction, but there was nothing, he stayed silent until I slowly lifted my gaze. Partly I expected to find pity in his eyes… or, worse, disgust over my weakness.
He looked at me with his intense blue gaze, visible even through the fire, and all I could see was affection and understanding. And then he stood up and came over, hunched down in front of me as if he wanted to make himself as small as possible and held out his hands in a silent offer. He waited quietly, head tilted to the side and with a smile on his face until I laid my palms into his, and then he pressed his lips on the knuckles of both hands.
“Qhouri… you’re not weak, and I haven’t changed. Nothing has changed. I’m still the same big oaf you know, and I’m nervous and scared and I feel horrible because I made you feel so bad. But… I’m still relieved. I had to tell you… and I couldn’t hide it anyway, not any more. I just hope I haven’t destroyed too much.”
He buried my hands between his palms. “I don’t know where this will lead. All I know is that you’re precious to me, and that nothing will ever happen that you don’t want. And if I could help you… if I could take only a bit of this burden off your soul… it would be the best deed I’ve ever done.”
He held my gaze with his sincerity. If I had put myself into his mercy, he had put himself in mine… in a way. And he gave me the feeling that in his hands, I was safe. “You’re precious to me too,” I said quietly. “I don’t want to hurt you. Will you tell me when I’m… unreasonable?”
The corners of his mouth twitched, and then he chuckled. “Yes, I will. And you tell me when I’m obnoxious. That’s something we’re good at, after all… to watch out for each other. Let’s just keep it up, okay?”
There it was again, finally, the lightness in our dealings I had missed so much, and the heavy bump of the load that dropped off my mind was probably audible back to Whiterun. My grin must have shown my relief when I withdrew my hands from his grip and poked an index into his chest. “Okay. And you’re no oaf, Farkas. Don’t ever say that again.”
He toppled over backwards in mock clumsiness and lay flat on the ground, grinning as well, broad and boyish. “Oh yes, I am. But I’ll try not to behave like one if you promise to stop looking like a fawn.”
I laughed and rose to put another log onto the fire while he scrambled to his feet, but he stood behind me when I turned again, the grin replaced by a feeble smile.
“I missed your laughter. I was afraid I’d never hear it again,” he said quietly.
He always said what went through his mind. Neither he nor I had really changed over the last days, and still nothing between us would ever be the same. For the first time in my life, I wanted to trust a man so far to let him decide how close he came. For the first time, there was a glimpse of hope that I could perhaps truly leave my past behind… with his help.
“Come here,” I said and made a step towards him, and then my head rested against his shoulder and his arms were slung around my back, his stubble grazing my temple. For a moment we simply held each other. And then a chuckle rumbled through his chest.
“Told you so.” He smiled down on me.
“That we’ll work it out.” The smile transformed into a grin. A very smug, very irresistible grin.
“You’re an ass.”
“No, I’m not.” I yelped when he lifted me up and veered me around, but his laughter was contagious, full of happiness and relief that the other was still there.