Nine.


"Again!"

The clash of metal against metal cut through the air. The sound should have been satisfying to his ears, but all Vilkas felt was annoyance. The two whelps, one Nord and one Imperial fought one another to practice their defense. Vilkas would have thought the Imperial, Cyrus, would be much more able than the Nord, Yrla. The Imperial had come to them in shining, heavy armor, claiming to be the best warrior of his entire province. This had quickly been disproven when Vilkas had tested his skills, as he had done with Caspus several years ago. Caspus had impressed him, and he thought this Imperial would too. Unfortunately, Cyrus seemed incompetent and unable to grasp that fact.

Yrla, on the other hand, had been recruited by chance two months ago, when she had saved Torvar and Njada from an irate bear they had accidentally stumbled upon. She was a hunter, a scavenger and was very capable with bow and arrows. Her current practice fight against Cyrus proved she was more than able with a sword and shield as well.

Despite this, Vilkas felt jaded. Nothing was satisfying anymore. Training the new bloods only irritated him and going away on his own missions proved to be not only a waste of time, but unsafe as well. He had failed more than once because he was unable to pay attention and that had eventually resulted in a broken clavicle when he failed to avoid a blow from a mace. Caspus had been worried, and prevented him from going on other missions until the injury was healed. The pain had lessened to the point where Vilkas was able to swing a sword without trouble two weeks earlier, but Caspus had still not cleared him for duty. He knew it had less to do with the injury and all the more to do with his state of mind.

Cyrus struck against Yrla's shield, his blows sloppy and uneven. The Nord was easily able to defend against his strikes, until she, in a flawless move, trapped his sword, twisting it and forced him to drop it, lest he break his wrist. Before he was able to compose himself, she pointed the tip of her own sword towards his jugular.

"Yield," she prompted.

The young Imperial refused, looking both angry and disgusted at having lost the fight. He stood defiantly, neither surrendering nor attempting a counter blow. Eventually Yrla tired of his stubbornness and relinquished the sword, turning her back on him. He struck then, as quick as a snake, grabbing her by her long straw-colored hair and swept his legs against the back of her knees, causing her to lose her balance and drop to the ground. The Imperial followed gracefully, and ended up on top of her, straddling her hips to keep her in place while pushing her face down in the dirt.

"You bastard!" the Nord was outraged, twisting and turning in the hopes of throwing her opponent off balance, though to no avail. Though she was slightly taller than him, Cyrus was both broader and more heavily muscled, easily outweighing the girl.

"Yield," he said in an echo of her previous demand.

"Never!" she spat.

"Oh, well. I can sit here all day. Especially if you squirm like that."

When it looked as though he would go through with his promise, Vilkas thought it prudent to step in and interrupt the fight, as he was confident neither of them actually would surrender to the other. He walked up to the pair of them and forcibly pulled Cyrus away from Yrla. The youngster stumbled a few steps before catching his momentum and standing up straight. The woman ignored Vilkas' outstretched hand and pulled herself to her feet, brushing off her armor.

"That was cheating," she seethed. Her face was dirty after having been pressed into the dust and there were grains of sand stuck in her teeth.

Cyrus smiled victoriously in return and Vilkas placed himself between them, realizing the risk of the practice fight continuing and escalating into an all-out brawl.

"I think you both learned something here today," Vilkas spoke in what he hoped to be a calming voice. "Cyrus, you really need to practice the melee, especially with a one-handed weapon, and Yrla, don't lower your weapon until your opponent is dead or properly subdued. This is merely practice, but in a real fight people will fight dirty."

The tension between the two new bloods was palpable, but fortunately Farkas exited Jorrvaskr alongside Athis and Erik. The new appearances in the courtyard lessened the hostile stares and eventually Yrla snorted and walked away. Though, Vilkas was pleased to note, she did not turn her back on the Imperial.

Satisfied that at least one of the whelps had learned a valuable lesson, Vilkas stepped away from Cyrus and walked up to the wooden dummy nestled in a small alcove of the city wall. He drew his sword and swung it around him, exaggerating his movements in a way he never would in a real fight. This was more about meditating, calming his mind and exercising his stiff shoulder.

He heard footsteps on the gravel behind him and he knew without looking who had approached him.

"Go away, Farkas."

"You wanna spar for real? I doubt that dummy is putting up much of a fight," his brother asked in his rumbling voice.

He was barely able to finish the sentence before Vilkas struck the dummy's shield a little too hard and it spun around, smacking him in the chest. It wasn't a hard blow, but he gasped and prayed that no one other than his brother had seen the error. The whelps would never respect him again if they caught him making such a rookie mistake.

"But then again, this one seems rather vicious," Farkas chuckled good-naturedly.

Vilkas sighed and withdrew from the dummy, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

"What do you want, Farkas?" He was tired. Not just from lack of sleep but a bone-tired exhaustion that made him feel twice his age.

"I'm just worried about you, brother. You haven't been the same since we were captured by the Silver Hand. It's been six months."

Five months and twenty-three days. Not that he was counting.

"Is this about Ronja?" Farkas inquired in the most gentle tone he'd ever heard him use.

"What? No!" At Farkas look, he relented. "Maybe."

Damn it, when had his brother become so insightful? Perhaps he was just acting dumb so people would underestimate them and he could take them down without anyone seeing him coming. He received his answer with Farkas' next words, however.

"I saw you two kissing on the wall of Fort Dunstad."

He was saved from further embarrassing questions when Caspus walked out in the courtyard with a large piece of cheese, calling his name.

"What?"

"There's a new recruit and I want you to handle it," Caspus mumbled in between bites of food.

Vilkas had long ago stopped feeling disgust at the way the man spoke while eating. Though it was unpleasant to get crumbs of food spat on you, the Nord suspected that the Harbinger's excessive eating stemmed from his past. The kind of past he rarely spoke of, but hinted at a harsh and unjust life, studded with war and death.

"Isn't that your job?"

"Well, you're mostly useless these days anyway. And besides, the kid said he knew you."

Vilkas felt his interest piqued at the second part of his words, allowing him to ignore the sting from the first remark. He wasn't useless, he was just… Inadequate.

"He's inside." Caspus clapped him on his previously injured shoulder, causing the Nord to wince slightly.

Inside, it took a few moments for his eyes to adjust, as the sun had stood high in the sky outside, while Jorrvaskr was lit with a fire and only a few sconces lining the walls. A man stood by the stairs on the opposite side of the building. He was rather tall, but slightly built and carried a war axe and an iron shield. He didn't appear familiar.

The stranger straightened his back when he caught sight of Vilkas and strode up to him. And suddenly, there was something in his movements and in his eyes that beckoned at Vilkas' subconscious. Did he know this boy?

"Hello," he said, opting for a neutral start.

"Hi! I, er, would like to join the Companions," the boy stammered, his tone eager.

"Well, we don't let just anyone in. Why should we welcome you?" Vilkas weighed his words before speaking. Why in Oblivion was he so familiar?

"I've admired the Companions since I was a little boy. I want to fight with strength and honor, defending the people of Skyrim!"

"Sounds like you should join the army instead then," the Companion scoffed. "What's your name, boy?"

"Viggo."

And suddenly it all clicked into place in Vilkas' mind.

"You're Ronja's brother," he stated.

"Well, yes. Though I hope you won't hold that against me."

No wonder he hadn't recognized him at first glance. He'd only seen the boy a few minutes several months ago; and the transformation from then to now was incredible. Whereas before, he had been but skin and bones, a shadow of a man, drenched in blood and pain and before him now stood a healthy-looking young man. He was thin, but his bare arms revealed strong arms. The only traces of his capture were the faded scars on his cheek and the haunted look in his dark eyes.

Those eyes. They were exactly like his sister's and Vilkas suppressed the thought of how they had glittered mischievously the last time he'd seen them. He sighed. Yet again the thief was haunting his subconscious as she had after their encounter in Markarth.

"Is she here as well?" Vilkas couldn't help but ask, even against his better judgement and his spirits fell slightly as Viggo shook his head.

"No. After I recovered from my… experience, we went separate ways. I wanted to find my own way in life, not just relying on my older sister."

Even through the little things Ronja had told them about her relationship with her brother, Vilkas was confident Viggo's suggestion hadn't gone over well with his sister. Especially if you considered the fact she had had to break him out of a fortified stronghold the last time he went away on his own.

"I'm guessing she wasn't thrilled to hear that?"

"She was furious. We don't always get along, but we have never fought like that. I left the same night and haven't seen her since," Viggo sighed.

"Well, I can't see how I could turn you away now. Welcome to the Companions," Vilkas tried to sound cheerier than he felt. If not even her own brother knew her whereabouts, she was as good as gone.

He cursed himself for his thoughts, as he had told her himself she shouldn't return to Whiterun, lest she'd face incarceration or worse. She was just looking out for herself, as she'd always done.

And yet, he couldn't help but to feel sudden tugs on his heartstrings at the thought of never seeing her again.


It had been yet another tiring day in Jorrvaskr. Vilkas had, as usual, supervised the whelps' melee training and was pleased to see Viggo fitting in quite nicely with the rest. Though he, like everyone else, occasionally traded both words and blows with Cyrus.

Vilkas had decided to skip dinner, as he could feel the mounting pressure of an on-setting headache developing behind his eyes. Supper was now more boisterous than ever, with even more new Companions joining the ranks. In the last few months, the Companions' reputation had improved, with new recruits and available missions just flooding in.

The warrior easily traversed the darkened corridors of the lower halls of Jorrvaskr. He had lived there most of his life and knew exactly how many steps there were between the staircase and the doors to his room.

Inside his room, a single candle battled against the darkness, casting flickering shadows on the walls. When he was younger, he'd thought the shadows invisible monsters and had been terrified to sleep alone. Now, the shadows still unsettled him, but for different reasons.

He removed his armor, stripping down to his trousers and stepped up towards the wash basin. The water was cold, as always, and he could feel his skin prickling in response. When he reached for the cloth, his hand grasped only air.

"Looking for this?"

His heart skipped a beat at the sound of her voice and he turned so swiftly he swore he could hear his neck crack in response to the sudden movement.

Ronja was sitting cross-legged on his bed, as she had all those months ago when she first came to him. The way her eyes swept over his semi-clothed body was also reminiscent of that time. But now, unlike then, Vilkas felt himself responding to her appreciative stares. While she was looking him over, he took the opportunity to peruse her in return.

She appeared the same as she had six months ago. Six months, ten days. Her dark hair was tied back, and her armor was different, but there was no denying that she was here – sitting on his bed, stroking a piece of cloth between her fingers.

He approached her carefully, in the same way he approached a skittish animal, desperate for her to not flee when he got too close. He took the offered cloth and dried himself with it, allowing himself a few moments to collect his thoughts.

"Why are you here?"

She had apparently been expecting this question, as she stood and withdrew a wad of paper from one of her pockets.

"These are receipts, lists of known members, letters and the like, all taken from the Silver Hand. I promised to give you that when we made the deal, but I forgot until now," she mumbled, offering him the correspondence.

He plucked it from her hands, and deposited it on the nearby table without a second glance.

"Is that the only reason?"

She hadn't met his eyes once since he'd found her inside his room and he felt annoyed. He couldn't read her expressions; she was too closely-guarded. And then, she shook her head slightly. He'd have missed it if he hadn't been studying her closely.

"Is it because of Viggo?" Vilkas tried again.

"No. I didn't even know he was here until I arrived and saw him practicing in the yard."

"Then why are you here?" He stepped closer, decreasing the distance between them until her chest brushed against his with her every breath. He bent down his head, feeling her heavy breaths catching against his lips.

"I don't… I mean, I've never before cared about anyone else. I didn't care about their feelings or their safety or anything," she whispered, still refusing to meet his gaze. "Until now. When I left you at the Silver Hand and you were shouting at me, something inside me shattered. It hurt."

She paused. He knew she was uncomfortable, but he refused to say anything to ease her troubles. He wanted to hear her say the words, even though it obviously pained her.

"And you're so infuriating and you get under my skin in a way no one ever has. Even though it's painful, I've never felt that way about anyone before. I just…" she trailed off and raised her chin, warm brown eyes boring straight into his.

"I came back for you."

Those were the words he'd been waiting for and without any further ado; he enveloped her, crushing her against his chest, his mouth eagerly seeking out hers. She responded just as readily, flattening her palms against his naked chest only to reach up and tug at his hair.

He winced at the pain and growled warningly, tugging at her lower lip with his teeth. Impatiently, he backed her until her legs touched the side of his bed and they fell down together in a tangle of limbs. He relinquished her lips and mercilessly attacked her neck with his mouth. He knew he was sure to leave marks, but he didn't care.

She flexed her hips, crashing them against his and gave a needy whine, which he met with an answering growl.

"I told you that you would be punished if you ever returned to Whiterun," he spoke against her throat.

She gave a wicked smile and rocked her hips again, drawing a moan from his lips.

"I look forward to it."


FIN

A/N: Thank you so much for all your favs and follows, but most of all thank you for your reviews! This was my first multi-chapter story and I didn't expect so many to be interested. I started this in order to practice writing and I really want to thank you for your support along the way.