It was dark by the time he returned to Whiterun. The streets were quiet, a certain peace lingering on the very wind itself, but the comfort of home didn’t touch him the way it usually did. He walked toward Breezehome and for a moment he just stood on his own doorstep wondering what he’d say to her, how he’d look her in the eye knowing what he knew, what a part of him now felt he’d known all along.
Taking a deep breath, Farkas reached for the door handle and pushed it open, the familiar essence of home sweeping out to greet him. The smell of wood smoke and crushed herbs, stew simmering in the pot over the hearth. It was almost as comforting as the lifting of her bright amber eyes from the table where she and his children sat spinning wool together.
His children. His wife. His home.
“We were just talking about eating dinner without you, Da,” Freya informed him quite matter-of-factly.
“You waited for me? You didn’t have to…”
“We always wait for you, my love,” Luthien said, tucking her spindle into the basket.
“Why do you always have to talk to each other like that? Next thing you know, you’ll be kissing again.” Freya gagged herself. “It’s so gross. Nobody else’s parents act the way you two do.”
“You should pray to Mara you’re lucky enough to find a man like your father one day,” Luthien laughed and pushed the bench away from the table to approach him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek just to spite their daughter. “A man who still finds it in his heart to love you even after the children you gave him have surely driven him insane.”
“I’m never getting married,” his daughter announced. “Or having children.”
“It’s probably better if you don’t,” Bran said simply. “I think you would be a terrible mother, Frey.”
“Only if all my children were as dumb as you.”
“If anyone’s dumb around here, it’s you.”
“All right, all right, that’s enough of that. No one in this house is dumb. Finish cleaning up and set the table while your father goes upstairs to change his clothes.”
Luthien followed him up the stairs, stopping for a moment to remind the children that she was just upstairs and she could hear whether or not they were doing what she’d told them to do. “And no more fighting, or you’ll both go to bed without your supper. I don’t understand why you can’t just love each other like normal children.”
Closing the door behind her, she turned toward him just as he was stripping out of his breastplate, her beautiful eyes alight with unspoken desire as she scanned his bare chest. “I talked with Bran,” she said softly, stepping toward him to take the armor as he peeled it away. She lowered it onto the table behind her and then turned back to face him. “He was afraid we were going to punish him, and it took me hours to get him to understand that sending for the Archmage should make him feel honored, not like we’re planning to send him into exile.”
“I’ll have to have Aela take Freya away to hunt for a couple of days if they agree to come. I don’t want her here, or she’ll resent him.” The way his brother resented him, he thought, reaching down to unbuckle the belt that hugged his thick waist.
Turning her head downward, her hands came over his and she worked the leather through the tongue until it loosened beneath her gentle fingers. “I thought that was why you went to see Vilkas.”
“Vilkas is gone again.” He lifted his gaze to her face, eyes squinting with curiosity as he waited for her to react. “Gods know when he’ll be back this time. A few months, a year, maybe never.”
Her face told him nothing out of the ordinary, if anything she seemed briefly annoyed just before she shook her head. “Ah well. Freya will miss him terribly. She always does.”
Farkas lifted his hand to her face and tilted her chin up until she had no choice but to look him in the eye as he asked, “And you? Will you miss him terribly?”
“I doubt it.” She shrugged her shoulders and leaned forward to brush her lips across his in a slow, lingering kiss. She couldn’t ever know how much those three words meant to him, how desperately he’d needed her to kiss him that way, or how guilty his relief made him feel. “I know you love your brother, but it’s probably for the best if he’s not here interfering with what’s best for our son right now. He’s made no bones about telling us exactly how he feels about the way we raise our kids.” Drawing back, she smiled for him and lifted a hand to rest against his cheek. “And I get the feeling sometimes he doesn’t accept Bran for who he is, that he doesn’t love him even half as well as he loves Freya and it makes me uncomfortable. It bothers me more how much Freya tries to emulate him. His sarcasm, his dry wit, his subtle cruelty. I think half the rotten things she says to her brother are her attempts at trying to mimick the way he treats you and she only says them because she thinks he will approve.”
“Yeah,” he muttered, kissing her wrist and then backing away to find clean clothes to put on. “Maybe we could all use a break from Vilkas.” He tugged into his breeches, but before he could secure the waistline she reached to help him with that to. The tender brush of her fingertips across his stomach sent chills rippling through him, made his body ache with a need for her that no amount of touching ever seemed to quell. “Lu,” he reached for her and drew her close to him again. Her lowered his forehead against hers and stared down into her eyes. “Do I make you happy?”
She actually laughed, relaxing her body against him and nuzzling the tip of her nose across his. “Always, Farkas.”
“Yeah,” she nodded and then the sound of raised voices downstairs snagged her attention. She drew back to grab his hand. “Come on. We better go feed those monsters before they tear our house apart.” Opening the door, she stepped through it muttering to herself, “And to think I once took down a dragon meant to devour our entire world, but I can’t even keep two small children from trying to kill each other.”
Farkas followed her down the steps, their presence striking fear in the two small beings who now stood in front of the table in the most awkward embrace. Freya had both her arms hugged loosely around Bran’s neck and both of them were grinning up at their parents like clever little cats who’d just eaten a whole cage full of canaries.
“Why does it look like you were trying to strangle him before we got here?” Luthien groaned, lifting the cooking pot from the fire pit to carry it to the table. “Didn’t I tell you you’d go to bed without supper?”
“Not strangling, mama, loving. I’m loving him.”
“Yeah,” Brandr agreed, turning into his sister and looping his arms around her waist. “We’re loving each other like normal children just like you told us to do.”
“You better be.” Farkas took his seat at the head of the table. “You’re the only brother and sister you’ll ever have. It’s your job to look out for each other.”
“That’s what Uncle Vilkas always says too,” Freya said, relaxing her arms and withdrawing from her brother and then adopting Vilkas’s strict, but distinct tone. “Little brothers will always get themselves in over their heads. It’s up to you to keep them safe and out of trouble.”
“That’s right,” Luthien lowered the pot onto the table. “And one day that little brother will probably grow up to be twice your size, and it’s better to have him on your side and watching your back than grumbling about all those times you pinched him until he was black and blue.”
They settled into dinner and as Farkas looked around the table at his family, his beautiful wife, his brilliantly gifted children, all the guilt he’d allowed to overwhelm him in the woods faded away.
His brother was jealous, and maybe he had every right to be. Things had never come easily for Vilkas, but that wasn’t his fault. He’d loved his brother well, would die for the man if it ever came down to it, but he’d never let Vilkas tear his family apart.
And maybe Farkas wasn’t exactly the smartest man alive, but he was damn lucky and there was no way in Oblivion he would allow himself to feel guilty for being the luckiest man in the world.