Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Bethesda Studios and I own nothing at all except for the OC and plot. There is no profit made at all, really.
Summary: Because there was a deeper, darker version of Dragonrend… Now Alduin must learn to live again, not as a devourer of worlds, but as a man.
A/N: Firstly, many thanks to everyone who reviewed! Initially I wondered if the chapter was any good at all and I am incredibly relieved to see you guys think it is and I am so glad you told me so (and yes, to OO, I fully agree that Tom Hiddleston would make a very yummy Alduin). And it seems a Freyja and Alduin romance is being rooted for. I have been thinking about it, that and the rating. :P I've managed a (relatively) quick update and I hardly write action so please forgive me if certain things are hard to understand or imagine. I take full responsibility for that. Still, I hope you enjoy this!
I only had memories that started on the road to Helgen. In my mind, Ralof was the first man I ever set eyes on; Lokir or Ulfric Stormcloak would have to settle for second and third. The gentle sway of the carriage as it ascended the steep inclines and rolled down the equally sharp slopes gave no indication that I was being carried to my execution. The sunlight had been soft then, the scent of leaves and wood strangely familiar and comforting. And then I realised why I could not move my hands. That and the fact that I did not know anything, save for my name.
That had been almost a year ago, eleven months to be exact. And I had spent two of those months training my enemy. Quietly I waited, hidden in the long grass, watching as the evening sun slowly drew darkness over the hills of the valley. I was always most comfortable when unnoticed, little wonder then that I had been drawn to the path of the Thief. And on near silent feet he came, wariness radiating from every line in his body, sword in hand in a firm grip we spent days working on.
Those golden eyes were searching for me, the amber cold and hard. I remembered the first time I stared into them. Perched atop the tower in all his ebony might, he was both glorious and horrific, a creature whose gaze met mine and dismissed me in a single glance.
'And now here we are,' I thought, as I began to move around him. The wind was in my favour, sending my scent in a direction away from him as it rustled the grass, the sound obscuring whatever slight noise I might have made. Not everything about Alduin was completely human; his senses were exceptionally sharp, the way mine became at the moment of a Shout, just as the dragon soul within took over and it seemed as though a curtain had been drawn back and I was looking at the world as it truly was, in all its vivid, intense beauty and I would think that I had been blind before this moment…
Slinking behind a tree, I waited. It had been a long time since I stalked someone, and it reminded me of the Night Mother. I could hear her, somewhere in the back of my mind, her voice somewhat more insistent. Sooner or later, I would have to journey to Dawnstar and pay my dues. Some jobs I could give Nazir and Babette; I would always have one to fulfil. It was a bargain hard won and I had no desire to cross the wife of Sithis.
The light turned red, bathing Alduin in what looked like a rosier version of dragon's fire. There would be a moment…. he turned, blinked against the glare and in the split second I struck, leaping out, a dagger flying at him from my uncurled fingers.
'What you cannot hit, you dodge.' It was one of the first rules that Brynjolf taught me and Alduin had learnt it well. He threw himself to the side and onto the ground, getting to his knees just my blade came crashing down. The swords met in a clash that was jarring, even to me. I wondered if he knew how strong he was; there weren't many that could take that type of strike and not have their arms fold beneath it. A scant second later, warm fingers latched onto mine and I was being pulled forward. A backward roll, I realised and knew what was coming, my stomach muscles flexing themselves rigid as a booted foot ploughed into my middle. Even as he landed on his back, I was flung through the air and made hard contact with the ground, the grass doing little to cushion my fall. Usually a person lay there, winded and ripe for the kill. I did not manage to learn as many Shouts as I had by doing that. The impact was jarring but I moved, ignoring the pain in my gut, pushed myself on my side and scrambled to my feet even as Alduin came in with a flurry of strikes.
Gods, he was fast. I parried, swept my blade to keep from being pierced by what was still essentially my own sword even as he forced me back. It was a dangerous dance, with Alduin controlling the pace. An attempt to sidestep was met with a thrust aimed at my face. I blocked, he circled and then we were back on the same path he had set. There had to be something he wanted to force my back against…ahh… this particular part of the hill was dotted with little clusters of rock that were treacherously hidden in the grass.
The next time he lunged, I blocked, pushed hard and sent my sword sliding along his. Metal screamed, a faint trail of sparks feathered the blades and hilts clashed with a sharp ring that went right into my ears. Before he could react, I curled my arm back and decked him on the temple.
This was the part I hated. Not because I didn't want to hit him, he had given me more reason than most people ever had. But each time I landed a hard blow on him, I felt it too. The burst of pain, the disorientation followed by stinging and then numbness. It was like punishing myself, which is why all I ever landed on him were physical strikes. And I had to pull back on those as well.
To his credit, Alduin did not stumble back and drop his guard. Through the sudden bloom of pain, he found enough focus to grab my shirt, fingers scoring my flesh through the thin cotton as he shoved me as hard as he could from him. If he had had a dagger, I would be reeling now, with either my guts lining the ground or choking on blood-filled lungs. But he didn't and if this had been a real fight, it would be over by now, with me standing over his prone form.
"I can't fight you at full strength," I explained. "Not because I'm being condescending," I added quickly when those amber eyes started to flash, "but the point of practice fights is not for me to beat you into the ground. It's just for me to assess your battle-readiness. If you can fight off most bandit chiefs, you should be fine unless we run into Thalmor guards and justiciars."
"What happens then?" he demanded.
I grinned. "You stick right next to Shadowmere and everything will be fine."
His muttered curse in Dragon Tongue only served to increase my amusement.
Carefully, we circled each other, Alduin's eyes never moving from me and I was reminded of Helgen once more. It was clear he did not remember me from then; I wondered when I would tell him. He scowled when I bent swiftly and plucked my Elven dagger from the earth in which it had been buried. "Always be aware of your surroundings," I smiled sweetly.
Briefly, I considered upping the ante by using the dagger but decided against it. Already I could feel the familiar stirring within, the Dov inside recognised what it was fighting and I could feel that extra edge it brought to my instincts, the way it whispered to my blood, inflating the desire to win.
Slowly the circle grew tighter, the tension more palpable and when I finally struck at him, it was almost a relief. The tip of my sword was an inch from his eye when he parried, twisting as it sailed past him. He knew when I pulled back, but was not fast enough to prevent me from slapping the flat of my blade against his ribs. The contact of metal on flesh was frighteningly satisfying.
Lips pulled back in a snarl, he lunged, a low sweep aimed at my legs. I stepped back, blocked and slid the flat of my blade under his. With both hands I pushed up even as my body shifted forward, a triumphant hiss escaping my lips as the sword slid up and the curved tip tore a ragged hole in his shirt, stopping right above where his lungs would be.
"That's two." The calm in my voice belied the brightness I knew was in my eyes and both served to infuriating him. Fingers clamped over the blunt edge of the Daedric sword, pushing it aside and he slashed, a reverse strike that would have taken off my head if I had not ducked low. Unfortunately, that brought me within distance of his foot and there was hardly time to react—or to curse myself for my utter carelessness and complacency—as Alduin kicked me again. The blow was hard, landed square on my forehead and I reeled, falling on my back. The pain was sharp enough to bring tears to my eyes and I had to fight the urge to squeeze them shut and cradle my head. Then there was no time to breathe as his sword fell from on high and I braced myself, barely managing to block his strike. The impact shook me right down to the bones of my shoulder and I knew a moment of true alarm as my arm wavered and the blade began to fall. His blade followed mine down, and then I saw it, the subtle twist of his wrist as he swept my weapon aside, the Nightingale blade drawing thin line of red from my shoulder to my stomach that made me cry out.
It was only when he didn't stop, when the dark blade began cutting towards my throat that I forgot I was supposed to yield. With dragon's fire in his eyes and the burning sun behind him, Alduin's shadow covered me and for a moment, I felt a sense of déjà vu, as though this had all happened before. And I then knew where it had taken place, for in my nightmares, he slew me, over and over again.
Self-restraint snapped, the cords with which I bound the dragon inside slid away and with a wild roar, it sprang free.
"ZUN HAAL VIIK!"
Our eyes held for a moment before his sword was torn from his hand with a loud piercing ring and a force that send him staggering back as he tried to hold onto it.
That singular thought pounded through my head as I leapt up, twirling the Daedric blade as newfound strength coursed back into my body and I realised my left hand was doing the same with the Elven dagger.
I barely felt the slight breathlessness that always followed in the wake of a Shout as I advanced on him. A running leap, a strike from the air and his head would be cleaved from his shoulders between the two enchanted blades. Through the intensity of colours, the myriad of scents that assaulted my senses, I could see him, smell him, watched the stretch and pull of skin over muscles as he fought for balance, heard the rasp of boots over grass and soil, the fury of his heart as it hammered against his ribs, the taint of fear that wafted over on the wind.
'Take him.' He was mine.
'No.' The song was already in my blood and now it escalated in response to my refusal. "No," I murmured aloud this time. Not over this, not here or now, especially not when it would mean certain death for me too. Knuckles white with effort, I forced my hands down, started lowering my weapons when I realised I couldn't hear Alduin stumbling about anymore. And then I heard it, an unnaturally deep indrawn breath.
"FUS RO DAH!"
Two giants had once tried to club me to death and some Draugr Deathlords had caught me off-guard with this Shout. But all that was nothing in comparison to the might of Alduin's roar. I crumpled as the Thu'um engulfed me, driving the breath from my lungs as it battered me on all sides, sweeping me off my feet as it hurled me through the air the way a savage storm does the helpless leaves it has torn from the shelter of the trees.
As the ground rushed up to greet me, I saw it, one of those rocks Alduin had been trying to use to trip me. Either my luck for the day had run out, or Nocturnal was as fickle as any mistress one could have. Lifting my arm, I tried to shield my head and squeezed my eyes shut. The last thing I remembered was the sound of the impact I made as I slammed into unmoving stone.
Had he been in his true form, Alduin would have thrown his head back, torn the sky asunder with a great triumphant cry and promptly leapt over to the prone form of the Dragonborn to finish her off.
However, he was not and it was shock, more than anything else, which disrupted his rage at the traitorous whelp he had sent flying through the air directly into the path of the rocks. She had set the rule that neither of them would use the Thu'um and she had promptly broken her word when defeat stared her in the face. It was that, far more than any of the blows she had landed, which made him tremble with fury.
That, and the sudden breathlessness that assailed his lungs. The Thu'um had left him winded, sufficiently so for Alduin to realise that he was unable to summon the strength for another one immediately. The sensation was so foreign that his first feeling was one of horror, that he had somehow damaged this body, that it was incapable of supporting the power of the Thu'um. And then his eye settled on the still, blonde head of his nemesis and he calmed down. If she could use the Thu'um repeatedly and not suffer ill effects, so could he. This burn in his lungs, the feeling of his throat being stretched such that swallowing became uncomfortable… he would have to ask her about these.
Long moments passed and still the wretch did not get up. Suspiciously, he eyed her even as he retrieved his fallen blade. Bastardised version or not, she was as much a Dov inside as he was and like all of them, she wanted to win whatever the cost. And Alduin was all too aware that with the exception of Akatosh, who was untouchable, he was the next biggest prize, the one everyone wanted to defeat in their eternal quest for glory and power.
Cautiously, he approached her. He would not put it past Freyja to be feigning unconsciousness before springing a surprise attack. What would she use next? Fire? Ice? Maybe she would call down the storm on him. Perhaps she would slow time so that she could leisurely cut him to ribbons. She had deceived him, with her human concerns and thoughts, her conversations, her ability to care for others, her caring for him. The struggle for supremacy was a cleansing fire that revealed the truth about her: she was exactly like him.
The Dragonborn was lying next to the rocks with her back to him; he could make out a dark wet stain on the rocks, could smell perfectly well that it was her blood. Placing the edge of his sword against her neck, he spoke. "Do you yield?"
He could hear her soft, almost gentle breaths as she inhaled and exhaled. "Do you yield?" he repeated, pressing the blade harder so that even a hair's breadth more pressure would break the skin.
The only reply he received was silence. Still holding the blade to her neck, he bent down and taking her by the shoulder, rolled her over. The side of her face was covered with blood from a gash on her forehead. She had obviously tried to protect herself because the arm which she used was equally bloody, the sleeve hopelessly shredded with particles of stone and soil embedded in the wounds. The wrist was bent at an unnatural angle and even with his inexperience, he could tell it was broken.
If not for the fact that she was breathing, sight alone would have given him reason enough to believe he might have killed her. If only the stupid woman had let them practice with armour on. None of this would have happened.
His throat seemed to have closed up and it had nothing to do with the strain of using the Thu'um. "Dragonborn," he called out, hand hovering over her; he dared not touch her anymore, he did not know what to do. "Freyja, wake up."
Two weeks ago she had tried teaching him a healing spell. The books had been sitting on her desk for days and he had assumed they were for her perusal until she carried one of them to his room. "This is a Quick Healing spell book. I know you can't read our language but if you repeat the words after me, you'll understand how to cast it and the magic within the tome will be released to you."
He had arrogantly refused, since Dragons had their own spells of healing, crafted from their own native tongue. "Slen Aav Drem," he whispered, but it was just that and nothing more; he could not yet summon the power within, try as he might. Helpless, he could only watch as the dark ruby of her blood oozed out from her broken flesh and continued to mar the rest of her pale skin. She could not die; he needed her.
Then Alduin heard a sound that he had dreamt of almost every night, a sound that he loved so well that in darkness after waking, he felt his cheeks wet with shameful tears.
It was the sound of ancient, enormous wings beating the air, the sound of flying.
He looked up and his breath caught. Only dragon sight enabled him to pick out the paler flesh tones mingled with the copper glow, the huge wingspan all but blotting out the sun as the Dov circled swiftly overhead in circles that spiralled ever downwards. Those golden eyes, twins to his own, crawled hungrily over him, took in the sight of the fallen woman, and Alduin could feel the fine hairs on his arms and the back of his neck rise.
He was large, even for one of the ancient breed, the dark spikes that studded his back long and curved, and to Alduin's dismay, he realised the wings were almost perfect. There was none of the raggedness that came with having lived through millennia, no permanent injuries from battles. And this one had seen battle. There were places where the light shone which reflected the whites of scars, the uneven ridges where smooth scale ought to have been. Here was a dragon in his prime, and Alduin knew all too well that this one was spoiling for a fight.
The ground shook as he landed, the gust from his wings so strong it stung Alduin's eyes, forcing him to take a step back even though pride forbade him to. This was a lesser Dov, for strong as he was, he had not been given a name. One did not cower in the presence of those who were inferior. Still, that was when he had been in his true form. The other would not even have dared present himself unless summoned. Something cold was coiling in his belly; that same emotion made him reach down to pry the Daedric blade from the Dragonborn's hand.
He was afraid and the other could smell it. Now he knew what his kind looked like through human eyes. How utterly tall and imposing, armed from tail to teeth, scales rippling in the sun, a behemoth that looked impossible to take down. And for the first time, Alduin understood what all the countless warriors who had fallen before him felt as he stood his ground and took that first step towards what he knew was possible doom.
"I thought I heard the sound of two Dov battling. But here are two humans." The dragon lowered his head, craned to look behind Alduin at Freyja before speaking again. "I see no skeleton; there is no weak one here that has been slain."
The great mouth opened, stretched back in a cruel smile to reveal row upon row of jagged yellow teeth. "Which of you is the Dovahkiin? For the legend speaks of only one. I wish to test myself against you and bring your head to my lord Alduin."
"You look upon him." There was truth in that statement which the other dragon could never be allowed to know.
"And the woman?"
"An imposter. One who has learnt the Thu'um although she has not been given the right by blood. When I have dealt with you, I will return to finishing her off as well."
While he spoke, Alduin moved slowly to the right, away from Freyja and as he hoped, the other followed suit. When the dragon's eyes trailed to her, he flexed his wrist, twirling the Nightingale blade and the former's eyes immediately darted back to him.
"So arrogant, for a puny creature. Come then, and die."
It was the arch of the neck that gave his opponent away. It provided him with a precious split second to move as the dragon stretched out his neck, opened his mouth wide and shouted.
And then there was light enough to set the world ablaze and Alduin felt the lick of flames on his back, smelled his own skin burning along with the grass as he ran, even as the fire followed after…