The grey smoke from the funeral pyre curls into the sky.
You sit on a grass covered embankment, your knees drawn up to your chest, and look down at Enger's family gathered around the flames.
You can hear Engar's widow sobbing. It's a noise you don't think you'll ever forget.
His family don't blame you. You wish they would. You long for their anger, because then you'd be able to focus on that, rather than your own stagnant emotion that sits heavy in your chest.
One by one, locals and family drift away from the funeral. You stay, feeling that's it's your duty to see it through, until the flames die down and nothing remains but ash. It's the least you could do for Engar.
'Do not blame yourself.'
You didn't hear Vilkas approach.
You hunch your shoulders, fold your arms around yourself.
'It's not your fault.'
The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you rub a hand over them.
Your journey back from Chillwind Depths was made in silence. For that you were thankful. Since then you have managed to avoid the Nord. You're not sure if you're ready to answer his questions.
There's trepidation that still hasn't left your mind. You fear being cornered by Vilkas' disappointment.
'You think Kodlak went through all those years without making a mistake? That there weren't times he didn't blame himself?' Vilkas cups your chin with his calloused hands, lifts your head so that his gaze penetrates yours. 'Trust me, I can give you plenty of examples where the old man has made even Farkas frustrated.'
It's not the reaction you expected, not from the one who had been full of scorn and labelled you 'New Blood'. Not from the one who had gone to Kodlak and challenged why you should be allowed to join The Companions.
'It's hard being Harbinger. That's why Kodlak chose you, and not I. He knew you'd bear the frustrations. If it were easy, every idiot in Skyrim would be vying for the position.'
Vilkas removes his hand from your face, slaps it on your shoulder and squeezes. 'You're not alone,' he says, and his voice is as soft as mist. You detect warmth in his accent, like a fire that beckons you away from the cold.
Engar's wife is a round woman, with hair as brown as the leaves in Frostfall. The lamp light from her house reflects in the pools of tears that gather at the rims of her small, blue eyes.
'Thank you, for everything,' she says.
You begin to protest but she interrupts.
'You did everything you could to save our Engar, and more. You've cleared out that cave, so that's one less thing to worry about, and you brought him home to us.' She dabs at her eyes with the corner of her sleeve. 'Mara bless you just for that.'
Engar's family stable your horses for the night, and his wife allows you to set up camp at the side of her house.
Vilkas' sits scraping stubble off his face with the edge of a dagger.
The flames from the campfire warm your cheeks.
Now and then, out of the corner of your eye, you catch Vilkas looking at you.
'You have been avoiding me all day,' he says and tilts his head to one side, raises his eyebrows.
Your hands are sweaty. You tell him you haven't.
'Is that so? Then why does your face redden?'
You duck your head downwards, busy yourself by sharpening arrow tips.
Vilkas throws his dagger downwards. It hits the ground with a clunk and rests there, handle sticking up.
'We have been dancing around this matter all day,' the Nord says. 'Like two New Bloods fearful to commit the first blow. What happened last night? Why am I still alive?'
Alive? You have no answers for that. Not definitive ones. Vilkas is alive because your care and attention to his wound thankfully worked. As for yourself. Hircine allowed you to walk away. You aren't sure why.
Vilkas' eyes narrow. 'Something happened. Something happened to you.'
A sharp pain comes from your left arm, like something has bitten into your skin. You clamp a hand over the smarting, squeeze the flesh.
You return Vilkas' gaze. You don't want him to realise you are keeping something from him.
'I dreamt,' he hesitates. 'I dreamt that I was a wolf trailing far behind my pack. They ran deep into the forest and I was about to follow but then,' he runs a hand through his hair and shifts his gaze downwards. 'I saw you, and you lit up the dark. You glowed as if on fire. And you told me not to follow the wolves, for it was a trap. I told you that I had to go, they were expecting me. I had to be the one to take the first bite from our prey. But you reached out to me, told me to stay, and that you would go in my stead.'
Words become stuck in the back of your throat. You cough, fumble with the tip of an arrow, stick the point into the flesh of your thumb.
You tell Vilkas it was just a dream.
Vilkas pauses shaving, then slowly nods his head. 'I trust you're telling the truth. There's no reason why you'd lie to me. Regardless, the fact remains, last night you saved my life.'
The Nord resumes his shaving.
'I am not sure how, but if I can, I will repay you. A Nord never forgets such an act, a member of the Companions, less so.'
The pain in your left arm returns. You turn away from The Nord, glance over your shoulder to make sure he's not looking, and roll up your sleeve.
There's a scar on your arm, and that's where the pain radiates from. It's faded, like you acquired it years ago. You don't remember how you got it. The skin is puckered, like you've been bitten by something.
In the distance, a wolf howls.
Your heart quickens. Your hands tremble. You can't get Hircine out of your head. You can hear his voice. Smell him, the scent of earth after rainfall. You remember how rough his hands had felt.
You squeeze the mark on your arm.
Vilkas curses under his breath. A bead of blood materializes on his chin beneath his blade, and he wipes it away with the back of his hand.
Should you tell him? Would he understand the fear that lurked in the back of your mind and extended its dark tendrils so that they came to rest in the pit of your gut?
Would he mock you, think you were weak? That's always a worry that is never far from your mind.
You can't help but question Vilkas' patience, his reassurance. His concern when you'd been attacked by the dragon. Where have these emotions sprung from and what is his interest in you? When did it start? When he saw you call forth fire, when he discovered you were Dragonborn? What does he think you are going to do, ascend the throne and rule all of Tamriel? If you were Empress would he be Emperor?
You snort. Stifle a smile with the back of your hand. Vilkas?
He looks over in your direction.
The Nord's eyebrows draw together.
Your gazes connect.
Vilkas' attitude changed just after Ysgomor's Tomb. His voice had softened. Not soon after he'd smiled. Perhaps it had nothing to do with being the Dovahkiin, but everything to do with, simply he'd grown to respect you.
You lean forwards. How to start. Where to start. Tell him Hircine hunts you. Simple.
You say Vilkas' name.
As Vilkas leans forwards and swishes the dagger around in the bucket of water, an amulet slips out from behind his rough shirt. It hangs around his neck, swinging backwards and forwards, and you realise it's your amulet of Mara.
Breath catches in the back of your throat.
The pain from the mark on your arm intensifies. It feels as if fire consumes your arm. You grit your teeth.
The Nord looks up. 'Is something wrong?'
There's a voice at the back of your head.
It sounds like Hircine's.
It tells you.
Tells you that it will come for you.
A/N: I don't usually write these, but I just want to thank every one for their support, encouragement and critiques. It means a lot to me :) This story is part of a series. So if you enjoyed this one you might want to read the previous story 'The Amulet' (which kind of started it all). If you're read that one too and enjoyed both The Amulet and The Rescue, then keep an eye on my profile as their are more stories from this series to come. If you want updates on my writing or are just curious to know who I am, you can follow along on my tumblr: autumnfox or twitter: mrs_moonlet