Ch. 6. Let the Great Axe Fall

Discussion in 'Heir' started by Telki, Mar 29, 2019.

  1. Telki Member Author

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    Summary:
    Time to take the kiddles home, rest up, interrogate and execute people. And carry some Khajiit around.



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    Chapter Text
    The sound of water lapping against the sides of the canal and the barks of vendors up above were all that greeted Telki as she emerged from the Ratway, looking around for Rommy and Talon. The sky was somewhat overcast, and the water of the lake dark and grey. Green moss hung limply down in front of the Ratway entrance, looking like it wanted to die. The flowers peeking over the side of a pot beside the Honorhall doorway seemed to share that opinion.

    A few too many worrisome minutes later, the swarm of butterflies returned, swirling into Rommy beside her on the dock, unsurprised to see her and walking right into her open arms. "Sorry. I didn't want to leave until Ulfric had him secure and I made Talon promise no one would touch him until we got back."

    "Hmm, I worried about you. Tyr will also be expecting that explanation soon. You let a little too much Sheo through in there. Your eyes were shining." Telki rubbed her hands up and down his back. "S'one reason I worried."

    He cursed, running his hand through his hair in his habitual gesture of stress. "I was hoping to avoid that for a few more…ever."

    "I know love. I know. But he's kin, and he deserves to know. And you, mister," Telki snuggled in close, and poked his chest, "need to know your family will love you anyway, Sheo or no Sheo. I mean, if my loveable lumps can love you anyhow, how can you worry your own kiddoes won't?"

    He glanced away, sighing. "Who do you think should go back next? I can probably take Tyr or Fey and both kids, but not both. Not right now—I'm having to work to keep the butterflies blue."

    "Hmmm, nope. Not wearing you down again. Besides, you guys promised me." Telki's eyes twinkled with mischief. "Where oh, where, oh where's my Sammy? Where, oh where, oh where's my Sammy?"

    Rommy goggled at her as Sam appeared on the walkway above, overbalanced and fell into the canal. He promptly bobbed back up, floating on his back and staring at the clouds. "Now if only this were beer," he muttered.

    "Oh Sam, I already knew you were all wet," Telki giggled at him. "Get up here, we have some news about your Muffin. Dry off if you want a hug."

    Sam frowned in confusion and Rommy bent down to help pull him out. Predictably, he was dry before he was standing, swaying on his feet as he opened his arms. Telki gave him a hug; Rommy caught his hands when they got a little too low for his peace of mind. "Ready? Mercutio's related to Rommy."

    Sam blinked, looked puzzled, blinked again, then looked at Rommy. "Is it the Hist sap, or did she just say you and—hic!—Muffin were related?" Telki nestled back into Rommy's side and let the giggles begin.

    "They are! Merc was there when the kin spell went off to find where they were hiding the munchkins. Merc lit up like a spriggan eating nirnroot mixed with glowmushroom."

    "That's, ah, a lot of glowing," Sam didn't seem to know what to think, or possibly was simply too inebriated to think. He looked back to Rommy. "Really?"

    Rommy nodded and gave a half shrug. "Out of Aviese's line."

    "Oh, the bitchy one. I really could have loosened her up, you know," he sighed.

    "But then you might have been related to Merc, and we'd all be feeling very weird right about now," Rommy pointed out.

    "Sam, you're going to have a feels fest with Merc about this, you know. If you get confused or anything, let me help, okay?"

    The Daedra of Debauchery perked right up, "Sounds good," he said, making grabby hands.

    "Emotions, Sam. Emotions. Merc's all kinds of unsettled by this, and you're going to have to deal with his emotions. You told me you don't do those so well. I can help with those." Telki swatted the back of his hand. "You can have non-gropey hugs whenever."

    "Hey," he slurred, "I handled the Lydia thing okay."

    "Oh Dear Mara, you did? When? How? Does she need a poison cure?"

    Waving that off, he sank down onto the edge of the dock, standing apparently quite difficult for him at the moment. "About a month ago. We drank, we talked, I invited her to play, there was some kissing, then we decided to invite Merc before more kissing happened…good talk."

    Telki was impressed, and ruffled his hair. "You did good, Sam. I am proud of you." He leaned back into her hand like an affectionate cat, closing his eyes. Rommy shook his head, eyes finally starting to dim as he watched his friend's antics. Telki grinned, and then gave him a proper scalp rub. "But seriously, watch for it. He may try to hide his worries, 'kay? And…are you here enough to make a port back to Windhelm for the whole gang? Oh! We have a Shell! I think she and Gideon maybe have their issues sorted." She turned to Rommy, "Any other news I'm forgetting?"

    "Shell?" Sam's red eyes popped wide open. "Not-So-Bitsy-Bosomer?" He jumped up and ran down into the Flagon.

    Rommy gave Telki an amused look. "I think he missed her," he said, offering his arm.

    "I think you might be right. Oh dear, my knees feel weak, carry me?" Telki gave him her most teasing smile as she leaned hard into him.

    "Well," he smirked at her, "if you're having that much trouble, I could always shrink you and put you in my pocket."

    "Pfft, where's the fun in that? I want cuddles. Gimme." Telki budged under his arm and snuggled into him.

    A strange expression crossed his face, then he looked a bit sheepishly at her as he stepped back. "One moment," he said, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a tiny, shivering Khajiit in Guild leathers. "Sticky fingers here reached inside earlier, so I sort of just helped him in."

    "Rommy, should I be jealous? Letting other Khajiit ride in your pockets! I'm telling Murril," Telki tisked at him, then fixed a stern gaze on the little thief. "Just so's you know, we're family with your Guildmaster. No touchie. That goes for all my homes, my housecarls, my kids, and my people. Understood?"

    "Off limits!" the tiny Suthay said in a high, irritatingly panicked voice, "This one understands! Please return this one to his proper size!"

    "Rommy, please? Shell probably won't be happy with you permanently miniaturizing her guildies."

    Holding his arm over the canal, Rommy let go, the Khajiit becoming his normal size again just before he hit the water. "Amature," he muttered.

    "Darling, I doubt any normal could sneak past you these days, no matter the level of skill." Telki cuddled in close.

    Rommy handed her a small bit of cloth she always kept in her innermost pocket. "I've been able to do that since I was fourteen," he said, then really looked at it. "What is this, anyway?"

    "It's from my dad. He died a few months before I came to Skyrim. Still miss him, sometimes." Telki narrowed her gaze at her fiance. "Sneaky pete." She shook her finger at him. "Absolutely no peeking when I'm hiding Solstice or birthday presents."

    Giving her a little grin, he pulled her forward and kissed her, letting his lips linger and pulling her close. "I make no promises," he chuckled when they came back up, breathless. "Shall we go see how much trouble Sam has gotten into?"

    "Still want you to carry me, just because. Please?" Telki batted her lashes when she pouted at him.

    Heaving a heavy, exaggerated sigh, he swooped her up into his arms, carrying her into the Ratway. Behind them, the Khajiit clambered his way out of the canal, making a mental note to never, ever mess with Fox's family. Apparently, she wasn't the scary one, after all.

    .

    .

    Nala eyed Gideon with Shell still wrapped in his arms speculatively, going over the various ways to broach her subject carefully.

    That, apparently, never even crossed Ama's mind. "Okay, the sharing thing, how does that work? Because we thought the hubbies were off limits."

    Shell glanced up, startled, then laughed. Wrapping her arms around Gideon and wiggling in the way that always made his cheeks and the tips of his ears pink, she gave the pretty Khajiit a mischievous look. "I'm tenacious."

    "Oh, you're tenacious, are you?" Gideon breathed the words softly in her sensitive ear, rumbling his chest just for her benefit, and pinched her backside in retaliation for all the squirming she'd done on his lap. Fair's fair, after all.

    "It is one of my many endearing qualities," she chuckled, jumping a little. Catching the woman's skeptical look, she shrugged. "I…sort of stabbed my way in, I think. Or maybe it's because I fed him. Hard to tell."

    "Or maybe, someone was intrigued by my ridiculous height, and I held out for something that meant more than just a night's tumble in the sheets," Gideon nipped her ear, and squeezed her close. "Definitely worth it."

    Shell's eyes popped open wide before she lolled in his arms, boneless as a Khajiit, a pleasant shudder going through her. Slanting him a look halfway between "take me to the bedroom" and "don't make me stab you," she wondered if he knew exactly what doing that to her ears did, or if he'd somehow managed quite by accident. Sometimes, it was very difficult to tell with him, but this certainly wasn't the place to turn to jelly. "It was more your butt than your height, Treenord."

    "Is that why it's one of the few places without a mark from your daggers? Besides, you don't call me 'buttnord,'" he teased back.

    "I don't leave marks unless I mean to," she replied with as much dignity as being squeezed afforded her. "And when I mean to, it's usually not my daggers that make them, Buttnord."

    "Hmm, seems I should have counted my blessings, Bitsy."

    Nala delicately cleared her throat. She wondered if those two had managed to forget they had an audience. Considering the sniggering going on amongst the thieves, well, the ones whose jaws weren't scraping the floor, it was time someone reminded them. "So, um, is there an application, or what? Because, um…well. You know what? I'll ask Telki." Nala decided to get some fresh air. How was the Ragged Flagon this warm, anyhow?

    She'd just started opening the door when it burst inward, pulling it right out of her hand as a familiar Breton in a black robe ran in, stared around with wild reddened eyes that lighted on Gideon and Shell. Squealing suspiciously Telki-like, he raced across the Flagon, unbothered by rough stone, uneven planks, or even water, until somehow he tripped just a few feet from them, landing face downwards in her chest. "Mmmmmm," he sighed, arms around both of them and hands disappearing suspiciously low around Gideon's middle.

    "Sam!" Gideon's howl was nearly rafter rattling. He shoved Sam off, hard, nearly rolling him into the open water in the Flagon. Three small, intricate daggers were sticking out of his torso in various places, apparently not hitting anything vital, since he was still moving—at least, as far as those not in the know were concerned.

    He gave Shell and Gideon a sappy grin. "I really missed you two. It's like a wine, it is. Hug me." Another dagger appeared in his thigh, very close to his groin. "Or we could get—hic!—reacquainted later. I see you're busy," he added.

    Shell was glaring at him with narrowed eyes. "No touching without explicit permission," she said coldly, suddenly looking very like her mother and yanking all the daggers out with a single Telekinesis spell, the four small, needlelike weapons fitting nicely in her palm. She cleaned them on a piece of cloth and stuck it away for later. One never knew when Daedra blood would come in handy.

    "Sam, are you going to need a heal for that?" An underlying roughness gave lie to the idle snark Mercutio was attempting as he pulled Sam up from his sprawled position.

    "I'm pretty self—hic!—mending, Muffin, but if you want to cast a spell or dozen on me I do love the feel of your magicka," Sam leaned on him a little more than was necessary.

    "Never had the healing knack, I'm afraid. All I have are the heal potions Telki insists I carry."

    Sam shuddered, "That's…that's alright. You can hit me with—hic!—lightning again later, though."

    "That was one time, and it was Telki, not you, years ago. Though Rommy was telling me some interesting uses for sparks." Mercutio huffed, "You don't behave, I won't show you."

    The mischievous look Sam gave him was fairly dark. "You really don't have any idea half the stuff you do when you're drunk, do you?"

    "I…uh? What?" Now Mercutio was confused and worried. "Oh hell, Sam. What'd I do?"

    "Cute things," Sam waved that worry off. "Don't worry about it."

    "Sam, please. That was neither the face nor the tone you use for cute things. I've watched you with Blaise."

    "You are very—hic!—very cute," Sam informed him, giving him a squeeze and leaning on him just a little more. "Even sober."

    Shell was staring at them in complete and utter shock. Glancing back at Gideon like she wasn't quite sure she hadn't actually wandered into Rommy's realm, she jerked her head at the pair with a questioning look. Was the Imperial really getting himself involved with the Daedra of Debauchery? She wasn't sure whether she should feel impressed with his bravery, or lower her estimation of his intelligence.

    "No, really, sitting you all down and hearing the rules of engagement is going to be a hoot. Who's bringing the snacks?" Wemie couldn't keep her dry observation to herself.

    "I'll make the snacks," Rommy volunteered, walking in with Telki snuggled up in his arms. "And it appears at least three of the girls get to be carried back. Granted, one of them is five and sleeping, but still. Gentlemen, why aren't you volunteering?" he joked.

    "I have a little boy and a horker," Tyr called back. "I'm set."

    "I'll carry Muffin!" Sam hollered happily, leaving Mercutio flabbergasted. There were pretty girls Sam hadn't gotten hands on, and he offered to carry him? He wasn't sure if his jaw was coming up off the floor soon.

    Shell glanced at him then paused, raising her eyebrows. "Might want to close that, sweetie. Your tongue's getting dusty."

    Wemie kindly closed it for him with an audible click. Sam chuckled and muttered about how cute he looked with that poleaxed expression. Mercutio felt his cheeks heat up, but his tongue still felt like lead in his mouth.

    Wemie decided to help, "But Sam, if you carry him, that leaves two girls walking. Where's your gentlemanly," he raised an eyebrow at her, "wait, nevermind."

    "Dang, I was hoping to catch a ride," Nala pouted.

    "You and me both, sister," Ama sighed. Wemie shook her head at their antics. Ama lightly shoved her shoulder. "Did you think I'd pass up half a chance to be carried by one of these guys? Have you looked at them? I swear, all the pretty in Tamriel decided to move to Skyrim."

    "Well if you want something done right," Galmar hoisted both girls amid whoops and shrieks, one tiny Khajiit in each beefy arm, "might as well do it yourself." Nala and Ama eyed each other speculatively with a very 'now what' wide eyed look.

    Rommy's eyes flickered down to Telki. "He's growing on me," he whispered, chest rumbling with laughter.

    "Tolja," Telki couldn't help but snicker back.

    "I'll carry one of you," Delvin volunteered, crossing his arms and leaning against a post, eyes fixed on the last sister standing. Wemie raised an eyebrow, and then started cleaning her claws with her dagger. His eyes went a bit wide and he shifted uneasily.

    Vex snickered. "Why Delvin, I didn't know you were in such a hurry to meet the High King. Very brave of you."

    "Er…" the thief looked cagy, glancing around. "Um…how's that ship working for you, Rommy?"

    Smirking, Romulus inclined his head genteelly. "Quite well, Delvin, thank you. It certainly brightens up that corner of the museum." His eyes twinkled as he glanced at Sam. "Candlehearth again, please?"

    "You know, there is more than enough mead in the guard room to count," Sam revealed. "How do you think—hic!—Ulfie would like us all stampeding out of the basement?"

    "I like it," Rommy replied, eyes flashing amber with mirth. He didn't dislike Ulfric nearly as much as he'd used to, but by no means was he passing up a chance to drive the jarl a little batty.

    "I wonder if Ulfric had any idea the crazy he was letting into his life, when he made me family," Telki snickered into Rom's comfy shoulder.

    Three pairs of eyes zeroed in on Telki. "Say what?"

    "Um, surprise? We've been adopted by Skyrim's High King? I mean, not legally, but friends are family, right?"

    "Did he know it was a four for one sale?" Wemie pinned Telki with a sardonic eyebrow.

    Tyr raised his eyebrows, watching Telki's sisters with a great deal of amusement, "Don't go too far down the adoption path: He's single," he called. Fey elbowed him.

    "Is he, now?" Wemie drawled, crossing her arms. Her shenanigan senses were tingling.

    "Very," Tyr confirmed, giving her a toothy grin.

    "Particular reason you're egging me on to chase Ulfric?" Wemie wasn't eldest for nothing. She'd seen that same mischief too many times on Nala's face when tattling on Ama.

    "Because he's married to his work and I think it'd be funny," Tyr admitted without a fight.

    Wemie shuddered. "You and my sisters are never to be unchaperoned. Ever. The cosmos would explode."

    Rommy and Tyr exchanged looks. "I sense a story," Rommy said. Tyr nodded, eyes twinkling mischievously. Fey sighed and went through a breathing exercise.

    "The last time I saw that expression Tyr's wearing, Ama got tired of leading Telki on the pony, tied her to it, and left her in the pasture alone."

    Tyr glanced at Telki, "If you still desire revenge for that, you can borrow Betsy."

    "I turned her bed into a tadpole refuge, water and all," Telki admitted, leaving both Wemie and Ama gaping.

    "You did that?" Shrill squeals in unison left poor Telki's ears flattened, but unrepentant.

    Tyr was nearly falling off the bench laughing. Shell sighed, watching all this with a sort of rueful happiness. Glancing up at Gideon, she said, "As much as this warms my poor shriveled heart, mellani, I am running a business here. Perhaps we can chivvy them out of the middle of it?"

    "As my lady wishes. Although," Gideon's eyes twinkled merrily at her, "Just think, you signed up for this familial madness willingly."

    Alarm crossed her face briefly, then she shook her head. "I'll adapt. Sam!" she called, catching the Daedra's attention. "I don't much care if it's the inn or Ulfric's basement, get this madness out of my Guildhall so these reprobates can get back to drinking—I mean, working!" She transferred her gaze to Rommy, "And you're buying their next round."

    Rommy raised an eyebrow, but carried Telki over to the bar and materialized a large coinpurse in his pocket, simply leaving it on the countertop. Wasn't like someone that could mint their own money couldn't afford it.

    "But it's the best entertainment we've had down here in ages, sure they have to go just yet?" Vipir called from where he was holding up the back wall. He was still hoping to get a little better acquainted with Ama.

    "Do you want me to send you back to Winterhold?" Shell threatened.

    "Nooo, nope, I'm good. See you when you get back, boss." Vipir shuddered, but gave her a cheery wave off.

    "Whatever," Sam shrugged, swung the still-reeling Merc up into his arms, and strode for the back door, opening it to show Ulfric's guardroom, with several gaping guards that didn't know whether to draw, run, or give up on booze.

    "Hi guys, just me and mine on our way to see Ulfie. Have fun!" Telki waved from Rom's arms cheerily.

    "I'm going to annex this place yet," Rommy muttered, walking through portal, room, then hallways, climbing the stairs to emerge into the throne room, scaring Ulfric's steward, who he wasn't sure he liked anyway.

    "Hi Jorlief, Ulfric in his War Room?" Telki gaily called from Rom's cozy arms.

    "Yes, of course. He's been waiting for your return."

    Tyr and Fey emerged from downstairs, the twins starting to shift a bit in their arms as the drug wore off. The horker was already wide awake and honking loudly, not liking being carried and being dry.

    "Do I hear the sounds of a successful rescue?" Ulfric stood in the doorway with his arms crossed, imposing face in place, except for telltale crinkles around his eyes.

    "Aye, Bacon letting all and sundry know she wants her bath and her fish." Galmar grunted as he set the girls down, pouts and all, as he took the restless horker from Tyr.

    "Thank you," Tyr said with relief. Two wiggling littles were more than he could comfortably handle.

    "Did he really just trade us off for a horker?" Ama snickered.

    "Honestly, I don't know if my ego can take that sort of beating," Nala dryly confirmed.

    "I was getting tired of her bellyaching anyways," Galmar patted the calming pup's back and eyed the twins. "I'll just go get her settled, so she'll be ready to play with Orien when he wakes up."

    Fey unbent enough to grace the man with one of her unconsciously dazzling smiles. "Thank you, Galmar. Orien will want to know she's taken care of as soon as he wakes. I'm glad we'll be able to tell him you assisted."

    Galmar, for once at a loss for words, simply nodded to her and quickly made his escape. Rommy and Tyr both snickered. Fey gave them an amused look, then suggested sweetly that they get the children into bed. Tyr, ever aware of her moods, raised an eyebrow and followed her from the room.

    "Well, this place is as stupidly freezing as I remember," Shell grumbled to Gideon as they emerged into the room. Gideon swirled his cloak around to cover her better.

    Telki poked Rommy's shoulder. "Got another one of those amulets handy, handsome? Might need one for Blossom and Orien too, come to think of it."

    "It might be better to just enchant all their clothing. I don't think they're much into jewelry at their age, and I sort of think Shell's planning on Gideon keeping her warm," Rommy said, greatly amused. "I'll make him something pretty to give her. Want to help me come up with it?"

    "Ooh, I do indeedy like the way you think." Telki kissed the chin that was right there tempting her. "Yes, please, and thank you."

    "I do hope you plan on questioning the prisoner before you go off to design jewelry," Talon said, abruptly there in his usual manner and radiating a faint sense of disapproval.

    "Ooooh, you want me to question him?" Telki thought about that a moment, turning to face Rommy. "I dunno what to think, that Talon thinks I can pull off intimidating. Or is it scary? Maybe he thinks I can irritate the information out of him?"

    Talon's cheek twitched slightly, and Rommy chuckled, leaning forward to kiss her forehead, then put her down. "I think this might be more my area," he told her.

    "Want some moral support?" Telki asked, worried. "I don't mind providing backup or just a reminder if you need it."

    "It's fine. Why don't you fill father-figure in on what happened, since the proud parents ran off?" he suggested.

    "Oh, yeah, and the whole sister thing," Telki huffed, then looked over at Talon. "You'll send someone for me if things get too hairy in there?"

    He considered her for a moment. "If they get too hairy for my first and second other choices," he finally said.

    Telki gave Talon an odd look. "Um, Talon, lemme put it this way; if his eyes get bright enough to read by, come get me."

    The mer tilted his head slightly, a new respect entering into his eyes. "You assist with that?"

    "Yeah. See anyone else stepping up to keep my darlin' grounded?" Telki snuggled into Rommy's arms. "Which is hilarious, considering everyone else thinks me flighty."

    "You are not flighty," Talon said firmly, "merely unconventional."

    Wemie, Nala, and Ama all turned to give Talon a very considering look, and their quiet conversation resumed, this time with more of those looks his way.

    "Awww, Talon." Telki could feel herself blushing. "You are in danger of getting hugged again. That was so sweet!"

    "It is rare for someone to be taken for what they really are, Telki," he said, giving her a piercing look, "You let it bother you far too much."

    "And that's going to be a looong talk, m'dear. Perhaps we can save it for after we get the information we need from Impie in a hogtie?"

    "It won't take me long," Rommy assured her with complete confidence.

    "Okay, I just, don't like it when this sort of stuff gets to you." Telki was not pouting and not grousing, not even a little. So what if she was fixing his collar for the third time?

    Stepping back and catching both her hands, he pressed a quick kiss to her fingers, then stalked out to where they had left the prisoner. He'd rather Telki didn't see this, actually—it was never pretty, having a Mad God sort through someone's head. He didn't want to hurt the man, but he didn't want to risk him lying or omitting anything, so he'd just decided to take what he wanted to know right out of his head. He'd probably end up in the Isles afterwards, if Ulfric didn't order him executed.

    "So, now what?" Wemie looked about, no one had come forward to introduce them, show them where they should go, or anything, simply leaving them standing, rather stupidly to her mind, there in the Great Hall. There were more sweets laid out on the banquet table than she thought all the kids in Honorhall could eat. It made her smile to think 'the Bear of Eastmarch' had gone soft on a pair of halfelven children.

    "I dunno, they leave me standing here long enough, I'll start meddling about on my own," Ama smirked.

    "Oh no you don't. You are not getting me kicked out of here before I've a chance to meet Wuunferth. That man's forgotten more magic than most of Winterhold ever knew," Nala poked Ama with a severe finger.

    "Heeey sissies, ready to go meet the High King?" Telki draped herself between Nala and Ama, beaming up at the exasperated expression, there it goes, Wemie was bound to sport.

    "Telki, did you adopt all of Skyrim?" Wemie asked, as she let lead them all towards the War Room.

    "Not quite, I threw Erikur back." Telki was now nearly leaning horizontally, pulling them all along. "Hey Ulfie! I brought my sisters to meet you!"

    There it was. The patented fingers massaging the bridge of his nose pained expression pleading for patience. It always warmed the cockles of Telki's heart.

    "Ah yes, the sisters I knew nothing about until now. Why is that?"

    "Enemies can't attack what they don't know is there," Telki told him primly. "This is Wemie, my oldest sister, and this is Nala and Ama. We're the triplets."

    Ulfric eyed them all. "Are you going to run me as mad as this one has?"

    "I probably won't, these two might. Eh, stick Nala in a library tower, and she might not. Depends on how many explosive volumes you have in there. Ama, tie her in a sack when she gets too fractious." Ulfric laughed at Wemie's answer even as Ama swatted at her sister.

    "I can see now this Palace will never again have a dull day. Welcome to the family."

    .

    .

    Telki paused in the doorway, worried. Mercutio sat on the bed, a carefully blank expression on his face. Of her husbands, she often thought Mercutio the most emotionally vulnerable, and that was after taking Vaermina using Erandur as an aperitif most of his life into consideration. She sat down beside him on the bed, and laid her head on his shoulder. An arm wound its way around her waist, his expression never changing.

    "I thought you would be with Rommy tonight." Telki frowned at the flat voice. He'd not been this bad in ages. She snuggled her head into the valley at his shoulder, and wrapped both of her arms around him and squeezed.

    "Honey, have you looked at yourself lately? How on earth could I snuggle down with someone else when you needed me?" Telki pulled until she had him laid down with his head resting on her stomach, soothing her hands through his rich brown locks. "Talk to me, angel."

    "I thought I was your 'arrogant ass'." He shifted slightly so that his weight wouldn't crush her against the headboard. He could tell she wouldn't let this go, but would chase him all night about it if necessary. It was better to settle down comfortably and get it over with now.

    "Sometimes, you are. Sometimes, you're my angel. Right now, you're my darling husband with too much on his mind, and it worries me. You were doing that flat faced thing again." Telki smoothed the frown forming between his brows. "Talk to me."

    "I sometimes wonder, is anyone ever going to choose me, just for me?" Mercutio threw an arm over his face, waiting for the waterfall of words he knew that would unleash. He peeked under his arm at Telki, when she uncharacteristically remained silent. She tilted her head, and raised an eyebrow at him. Her soft fingers never stopped their repetitive trail through his hair.

    "Yes, I know you didn't pick me for my face. Hell, you barely tolerated me at first." He tilted his head at her, narrowing his eyes, "Which was very sneaky and unfair of you, by the way."

    Telki smiled back at him. "What? Never dealt with someone not bowled over by that unfairly beautiful face before?" Telki ran a light finger from forehead to chin, scratching his meticulously trimmed and groomed beard. The other hand never quit stroking through his hair.

    "No." Another frown slipped across his face, and Telki hugged him close. "Sam made it pretty clear he was interested at first because I was pretty. Now, I wonder if it's because I'm an available extension of Romulus." He chuckled humorlessly. "Or maybe it's because I've told him no. Dammit." Mercutio went limp in Telki's arms. "I don't know, and I know a lot of it is just holdover, but…still." He sighed through his nose, deflating to lay boneless against her.

    "Well, would it help you to know I hurt his feelings over you?" Merc shifted his head to stare at her. "Or that Sam's had a heart to heart with Lydia? Whatever first caught his eye Love, you—adorable angelic arrogant ass you—tied up the Daedra of Debauchery enough to not only reach his feelings, but to get him to consider family life—a version of it, anyway. You did that. Not me, not Gideon, only you. If that isn't proof enough you are awesome on your own, I don't know what is." Telki wrapped herself around Mercutio, snuggling him close. Her tailtip twitched lightly on his stomach, just further proof of how upset he was. Usually he'd have brushed it off his stomach because it tickled.

    "What if he doesn't stay?" Mercutio asked softly. "What then?"

    "Honey, he's not going to stay. He's a Daedra with an auspice to fulfill. I think you mean 'what if he doesn't come back?' And that I can't say. Maybe he will, I think it likely. I don't see him throwing away his friendship with Rommy, and you are important to him. And if he does? It'll hurt, no two ways about it, but this time? This time you'll have me, you'll have Lydia, you'll have Erandur, and Gideon, and Romulus, and the kids to support you and remind you how loved and cherished you are. I don't think that's a small difference, do you?"

    Mercutio laid there thinking it over a long while. "No, it's not a small difference." He finally cut his eyes up to Telki, fluttering the lashes at her. "Were you planning on kissing me anytime tonight, or just sneakily tickle my poor abused stomach all night?"

    "I dunno, holding you hostage and tickling you helpless sounds pretty tempting," Telki quickly found their positions reversed as someone decided to cover her face in teasing little kisses. Mercutio could move very quickly for a mage.

    .

    .

    Rommy took a deep breath and let his hands fall to his side, opening eyes that were a tad too bright to look at the chained Imperial before him. The man's face was slack, where it had been defiant. A bit of drool leaked down his chin a moment before he slumped forward, unconscious. A faint whimper drew his attention to his right, where the assassin that had made the mistake of going after Ulfric was chained to the wall, awaiting execution. The man twisted in his irons, pressing himself as far back against the wall as he could while the Mad God stared. Finally, he stood and turned away, closing the cell door quietly behind him.

    Talon and Ulfric waited tensely down the hallway somewhat, Ulfric talking quietly to his headsman. Rommy got the distinct impression that the entire affair made the Nord uncomfortable—in the past, he'd dealt with those trying to kill him himself, in ritual combat or honest battle. To his knowledge, this was the first time Ulfric would use an executioner for attempting to take his life, and it made him feel sullied. The execution needed to be made, however; rumors of what had transpired were radiating out from Windhelm, getting more and more speculative. Who could have done this? Why? Since they had focused mostly on the attempt on Ulfric and not the kidnapping—despite what the Imperials might think, most Nords were more concerned with their High King than some maybe-emperor—there was an undercurrent of taking restitution from the Empire by force.

    "What did you learn?" Talon asked him softly.

    Rommy sighed. "Not a lot," he confessed. "You were right; they're not usually hired to work as a group, not more than two or three of them at a time, anyway. Their fees are outrageous, but they have taken on similar jobs in…smaller uprisings. Things not official enough to call in the Legion, but annoying enough to local nobility to bring in specialists."

    The elf nodded, having surmised as much. "I do not believe we got all of them," he revealed evenly. "A company that size would need more higher-level mages than we found. At least some got away."

    "Well, I suppose one good thing about Skyrim is that the unprepared often die, and these men were more prepared for a Cyrodiil winter than a Skyrim spring," Rommy said with some relish, shoving his hands into his pockets. "The cold may fix that problem for us."

    Ulfric rubbed his brow. "I would prefer to be more certain of their fate. Is there a way to find them?"

    "I can send my Girls out searching, but they mostly look for the mad," Rommy said, only grumbling a little. "Too bad it's not a family business."

    "Word is going out through the former Young Ones as well," Talon said, surprising them. "Fey is one of ours, and so are Pearl and Blossom. They are not taking it well."

    Ulfric chuckled darkly. "They've roused the Young Ones ire? That's a more certain death than a blizzard in the Pale Pass."

    "A very few have entered the private business," Talon said dryly, "They promised to keep an eye out."

    "Well, their company was called the Charging Stallions—nice, subtle name there—so if they can discover who hired them, that would help," Rommy said. "Unfortunately, these two were rank and file. The best either of them had was overhearing someone else talk about a well-dressed, bitchy rich woman. I'm not sure how much the Imperial City has changed since I lived there, but that described about eighty percent of the upper class female population."

    Ulfric barked with laughter. "They were the same in my youth. I doubt much has changed in thirty years."

    "Then they were really unhelpful," Rommy sighed. "Neither of them even knew where the company records were kept. They hired a bookkeeper with half a dozen other companies."

    Ulfric sighed. "Then one to the headsman, and the other? It was your grandchildren they held. What do you want done with him?"

    Rommy shrugged, "That depends largely on what happens when he wakes up. I might take him back to the Isles, I might leave him to you. I like to not have personal grudges against my subjects. Makes things murky."

    "Do you need Telki?" Talon asked, examining the way the man's eyes glowed. Not quite as bright as a Candlelight spell, but definitely brighter than an elf's, or even Khajiit's nightvision.

    "I'll find her soon," Rommy assured him, then looked at Ulfric. "If you want to go ahead with the execution, I have no more need of him."

    Ulfric heaved a sigh, as if about to say something, but simply nodded, and signaled his headsman. Rather than draw things out, Ulfric liked to get unpleasant things over and done.