They rolled across the plains of Whiterun, the frozen earth trembling beneath their footpads, her mate steering the doe in her direction for the final act in a supreme game they’d perfected together beneath the moons. She lunged at the doe, hungry jaws clamping her throat until her frantic, squealing grunts rent the silent night. Thick jets of rich, salted euphoria gushed into her mouth, coated her throat as she gulped them down until she could feel the animal surge of power screaming in her veins.
He raced toward her, slowing as he approached and standing guard over her while she fed. He was proud of her; she could feel it in his stance, in the brilliant stare of his ice-blue eyes. He watched, waiting for her to offer to share her kill. The beast lifted her bloodied maw, golden eyes flashing as streams of red dropped off her jaw into a puddle on the earth between her and the elk that had offered itself to sate their hunger. Nudging the elk toward her mate with a push of her snout and affectionately licking at his face, a submissive whine escaped her.
They fed together, fueling and empowering their spirits, strengthening the bond they shared until nothing but bones and bloodied fur lay steaming in the snow. Her mate rose from the kill and lifted his body toward the moons, broad chest rising and falling with every ragged breath. His jaw gleamed red in the moonlight as he bared his canine teeth to the cruel silver mistress of the sky. She followed suit, their conjoined supremacy howling through the night like a beacon until every wolf within a ten mile radius answered their call and chilled the blood of every citizen in Whiterun Hold.
The beast did not wallow in the guilt of the kill, but reveled in the glory of the hunt, in the awe-inspiring resonance of her own power and the freedom to be what she was. Savage, wild, untamed and alive. She delighted in the feel of the wind rustling through her fur, the smell of winter on the air and the musky scent of her mate when he dropped down on all fours beside her and nestled his forehead against hers. Every gesture was a communication, an expression of their love.
She nipped at his ear and he let out a soft yelp of surprise, but before he had a chance to react she took off running across the field, barely looking back long enough to make sure he had followed. He always followed, catching up quickly and tackling her near the edge of the stream, their bodies tumbling, rolling until he pinned her beneath him and lowered the cold, wet tip of his nose to hers.
They regarded one another, spoke silently of their needs with nothing but their eyes and their spirits—one wolf to another—and then they tore into each other in unrestrained passion. Biting, clawing, thrashing and struggling for the dominant position, the beast inside her felt completely at peace when she succumbed to the need of her mate to claim her as only another beast could do.
Pain mingled with pleasure and she could feel his heartbeat drumming in time with hers, his every breath matching hers as he ravaged her until his true hunger was sated.
She didn’t feel the cold until they suppressed their inner-beasts, resuming human form on the banks of the river where they’d left their clothing. Emerging from the water clean, icy beads specked her cold white skin, and when she she bent to pick up her dress, Farkas tapped her bare bottom with the fleshy part of his palm, fingers squeezing as she rose and turned into him to meet his kiss.
“That… that was just… wow.”
“Mm,” she agreed, struggling with the sudden uprising of guilty emotions flooding through her mind.
She didn’t know how he could do it, just exist as they were, completely at peace with the duality of their nature, man and beast always one inside him. The only time she didn’t fight with what lived inside her was when she let it rule her, but coming back into herself she was always overrun.
“You look so beautiful in the moons’ light.” Oblivious to the cold, he tugged her naked body into his and whisked his arms up and down her back to warm her. His hand lingered against her cheek, brushed the damp strands of hair from her face and tucked them behind her ear before he lowered to kiss the top of her head.
She rested her cheek against his shoulder for a moment and then said, “We should get back. If Vilkas finds out we were out hunting…”
Withdrawing to look down at her, the edges of his mouth curled into a playful grin. Farkas didn’t care who knew what they did in the wilderness, but that kind of attitude was dangerous and she knew it. People could joke all they wanted about the Companions putting a muzzle on the dogs up at Jorrvaskr, but if any of them ever saw them as they were… The Silver Hand had shown her enough hatred for their kind to last her ten lifetimes.
“Vilkas isn’t going to find out. And so what if he does?”
“Farkas,” she murmured, pulling away from him and stepping awkwardly into her dress. She slid it up the curve of her hips and slipped her arms into the sleeves, straightening them before drawing the strings of her bodice tight across her breasts. “If he does, he’ll go straight to Kodlak.”
Shrugging into his leather armor, he once more posed the question, “So what if he does?”
“Kodlak would be so disappointed in us.”
The Companions may have been a leaderless faction, but Kodlak Whitemane was the closest thing any of them had to a patriarch. Luthien respected the old man, and every time she and Farkas snuck off to hunt and mate she felt remorseful because she knew how disappointed Kodlak would be if he ever found out.
“Come on, Lu,” he rumbled amusement. “Kodlak’s purpose is noble, but the rot’s eaten away so much of his brain he’s not thinking clearly. Vilkas has been holding back the beast for almost a year now and look how miserable it makes him.” He swiped his hand out to reach for hers again, tugging her back across the space she’d put between them. “And I may not be the smartest man, but even I know we can’t deny what we are inside.”
She knew he was right, but it didn’t make her feel any less guilty. She could only soothe her frayed emotions with the notion that no people had gotten hurt and the hunt had quelled her inner-beast enough that it felt almost docile and sated inside her for the time being.
Lowering his arm across her shoulders, he steered her toward the distant lights of Whiterun and they started walking home.
Kissing the top of her head as they walked, he said words that chilled her to the bone. “If we deny it, it will destroy us. Rip us apart from the inside out until there’s no man left at all. Only beast.”
She thought of Vilkas again, of how angry and embittered he’d been since the day she’d met him. She’d overheard him speaking to Kodlak the night she came to Jorrvaskr, murmuring about how it beckoned him, always calling for him to answer.
“Like Vilkas,” she muttered softly.
“He’s well on his way if we don’t find freedom from this curse.”
Kodlak had been researching freedom for years; he’d briefly confessed as much to her when Farkas brought her back from the brink of madness after she’d taken the blood. But the old man had seen her despair. He hadn’t wanted to burden her with the ramblings of a hopeful old man—not until he was sure.
“What if Kodlak found a cure?” she asked him, her eyes centered on the distant moon as they walked. “Would you take it?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged, drawing her closer with the movement. “Vilkas says there’s no honor in this life, and if we die as beasts we’ll never be welcomed into Shor’s Great Hall, no matter our deeds as warriors.”
“I want to go to Sovngarde,” she whispered.
Farkas said nothing.
The guards met them at the gates, pulling them open to usher them inside the city just around midnight. Luthien swore she could hear them sniggering as she and Farkas headed toward Breezehome. Toki, the braver of the two called out, “Is that fur coming out of your ears?”
Ignoring the sound of their laughter, she unlocked Breezehome, Farkas steering her through the door as a flurry of surprised movement near the hearth brought both of their hands to the weapons on their belts. Luthien’s hand relaxed, sliding away from the hilt of her blade as soon as she realized it was just Lydia and Athis.
Lydia had been sitting in the Dunmer’s lap when they entered, bolting upright, but the man’s hand was still positioned compromisingly on the firm curve of her housecarl’s backside, the bright red topknot of his hair quite obviously mussed and the dishevelment of their armor suggesting they’d been doing more than just throwing back a couple bottles of mead together. Lydia’s face flushed an embarrassed shade of crimson as she smeared the back of her hand across her swollen lips.
“My thane,” she swallowed hard against her humiliation. “I… I thought you were…”
Farkas looked between the two of them, his bright eyes flaring with amusement. “We’re heading out before sunup so we’re turning in. You kids be sure to lock up before you go to bed.”
It was all she could do to hold onto the laughter bubbling up from inside her as Farkas ushered her up the stairs. Lydia was so humiliated she wouldn’t even meet her thane’s gaze as they passed, and once inside their bedroom she heard the soft murmur of their voices below. Athis admitting he thought he’d overheard Vilkas say they’d left town for a few days, Lydia cursing that she should have listened to her gut, muttering, “She never leaves town without saying goodbye first. Gods, I feel so stupid.”
She spun around to face Farkas, who was already stripping out of his clothes for bed.
“Lydia and Athis?” she mouthed as she watched him strip out of his shirt and began loosening the bodice of her dress.
Still grinning, he shrugged and shook his head. “I always thought she had a thing with Torvar, but now that I think about it Athis is more her type.”
“Shh.” She swatted at him and he reached for her wrist, drawing her into his bare chest to hug her body close to his. “Don’t embarrass them anymore than they already are.”
“What? They have nothing to hide,” he insisted, not stifling his voice. “People in love should never have to hide the way they feel about each other.”
The only way to quiet him was to silence him with kisses, which she did, pushing him back into the bed and falling into his arms, where they snuggled down under the quilt. She rested her head atop the soft muscle of his chest, fingers tracing through the soft hair there as he curled his arm gently across her back to tug her closer. So what if they did spend the rest of their lives as beasts, monsters hunted by factions like the Silver Hand and the Vigilants of Stendarr? At least they would be together–they would probably die together for it the more she thought about it, but it would be an honorable death. Hircine’s realm might not be so bad.
But there would be no family for them. She’d never bring a child into their home as long as they were wolves. She just couldn’t. “Farkas,” she started.
“I want…” The words wouldn’t come.
After a few silent minutes he asked, “What do you want, Lu? Do you need a drink of water?” He couldn’t possibly have any clue what she really wanted. It just wasn’t the way his mind worked. “Another blanket?”
“No,” she shook her head. “I just want you to hold me.”
He was already holding her, but he didn’t point that out. He only drew her tighter, melding her body against his and nestling his face into her hair.
She ached, every muscle in her body dully throbbing, but she ignored it, shamefully allowing the soft voices rising in anger under her bedroom distract her.
“If you really gave a damn about me at all, we wouldn’t have to hide. Almalexia, Lydia! It’s been four years… If you’re so ashamed of who I am…”
Four years? Luthien couldn’t believe what she was hearing. First Skjor and Aela, then Jon and Olfina, now Athis and Lydia. Who else in Whiterun was hiding their love under the shadows, and why all the secrecy? Were Farengar and Arcadia conducting secret meetings behind Dragonsreach?
“I’m not ashamed of who you are,” the woman insisted. “I love you. I love everything about you, but you know in my line of work I can’t have a family of my own. I am sworn to her service. Her family is my family and that’s the way it will always be.”
“Oh that’s all a load of bloody malarkey, and you know. Her family is your family.” He mocked her with those words in that thick, arrogant voice of his. “Do you really think she’s going to deny you if you told her you wanted to get married? She’s not a tyrant and you’re not a slave.”
“Athis, those were the oaths I swore…”
“You used to stand behind the Jarl before he swore her to your service, now you’re using her as an excuse. This isn’t enough for me…”
“I’m sorry, Athis, I…”
“If you don’t want to be with me, why do you keep playing this game? Just tell me you don’t want me, and I’m gone. There are plenty of women out there who wouldn’t have to think twice if I asked them to be my wife.”
“That’s not what I said. You’re twisting all my words around. You knew the oaths I took when you started… Athis, don’t just walk away. Athis…”
The sound of their footsteps on the floorboards below was followed by her quietly calling out for him to wait and the door closing behind them. She listened to the silent house, could hear the fall of Lydia’s bootsteps on the ground outside, dwindling into the night as she chased her lover through the Plains District.
She’d never had a housecarl before Jarl Balgruuf swore Lydia into her service, and though the two of them had grown close enough over the last eight months, she realized there was still plenty they didn’t know about each other. Upon reflection of all those nights they’d spent out with Torvar, Luthien seemed to remember Athis always making a late appearance, seating himself beside Lydia, the two of them making eyes at each other all night, but she’d always just sort of thought the guy was weird.
“A housecarl can’t get married?” she asked out loud, only to be answered by the soft, ragged draw of her husband’s snoring breath. Shoving at Farkas, he snorted and rolled into her, burrowing deeper into the pillow before lifting his heavy leg over hers.
There was still so much she didn’t know about a lot of things, she realized, rolling onto her back and kicking his leg off of her. She stared at the ceiling, her mind racing through so many thoughts at once it was impossible to grasp a single one. By the time the fickle hands of sleep finally claimed her, Farkas was nudging her awake to tell her it was almost time to go.