On a Bed of Green Blades
Late afternoon, 14th of Midyear, 4E208
The Oasis, Alik’r Desert, Hammerfell
Gregor had quickly changed out of his black clothes and into his linens before they had set off into the desert. Even so, beads of sweat dripped down his face and his white shirt clung to his muscular torso, the thin fabric turning somewhat transparent, showing off the vague black shapes of his tattoos to everyone that looked at him. He had never experienced heat like this before. It was grueling. Still exhausted from fighting his way into, and out of, the palace, and being struck in the chest by Rourken’s lightning magic, it took all of Gregor’s willpower not to fall asleep in the saddle. His relief was immeasurable when they reached the underground oasis and he made sure to give Shakti and Mazrah a grateful smile and a pat on the back before he quenched his thirst and made himself comfortable on the soft, lichen-covered ground. He closed his eyes and a long sigh escaped him. Everything hurt. Whether it was because Raelynn’s ointment had started to wear off or because the thunderbolt that hit him had reawakened the pain in his muscles Gregor couldn’t tell. Either way, it was rough.
He had spent the entire journey so far boring his gaze into Zaveed’s back. Seeing the Khajiit again and having Daro’Vasora tell him that they were supposedly allies -- if only for the time being -- would have certainly driven Gregor to immense fury, if he hadn’t been so drained. Even in his current state, the insufferable wink that Zaveed had given him when their eyes locked for the first time after their fight in the alley had almost made Gregor reach for his claymore to take another one of his cat-lives then and there. It was the pain in his shoulder and a small voice in the back of his mind that yelled at him to control himself that had stopped him. Raelynn had chosen to spare Zaveed’s life. It was not up to him to undo that decision anymore. He was simply going to have to suffer their presence.
When Gregor opened his eyes again they met the glacial blue gaze of his lover, Raelynn, the color of her eyes more vibrant than ever in the golden light of the desert sun. They remained still, just looking at each other, until Gregor eventually cracked a smile. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?” His voice was hoarse and and he cleared his throat, mildly alarmed at how weak he sounded.
Unlike Gregor, Raelynn had not spoken a word to anyone, nor made eye contact with a soul. She had too much on her mind to give thought to them all. So Zaveed was here? Wonderful. It was simply fabulous to have been asked about it, she had thought. After that, she didn't think about him anymore. If she was exhausted then she did not show it for even one second, and remained perched upright and graceful for the ride to their camp behind Gregor, her hands against his sides comfortably.
She had gathered what she could on their way out, and her sword was now affixed to her back in a simple leather harness that was bound across her chest. Her hair had remained immaculately styled despite the whirlwind of action, her skin was kissed with a bronze glow. She relished in how good she still looked, especially as the others looked like they'd trekked through the desert as they each had. The black eyeliner had smudged only just, but it concealed the exhaustion sitting under her eyes.
She had silently placed the bag containing Daro'Vasora's belongings at the place she had pitched her tent before returning to her own, removing her own belongings to gather them, as if keeping a mental inventory. She felt tense and full of emotions and thoughts that, like her belongings, she was cataloguing inside her mind. She would go through each one individually and in order when the time was right.
Gregor's gaze was soft, and in turn it softened her just enough to smile down at him as he lay back against the grass as one would do on a summer's day in a bright and vast meadow, a breeze carrying all worries away. This however, was no meadow, as evidenced by the constant sound of chatter and the pattering of feet. So many feet. Raelynn sighed as she looked out at them all, a knot forming in her stomach. She had been living alone for a while, in quiet solitude and isolation and she was now thrust back into the fray.
“Because I can,” she said, almost playfully, in response to Gregor. If she just focussed on him - everyone else wasn't there, and there was silence again.
“Fair,” Gregor replied and his smile widened. “You look so beautiful. How do you do it? I feel like I’m dying in this heat.”
“Born with it, or something like that,” she said in almost a whisper as her lips curled to a smile. She turned back to what she had been doing. “It's…” she began, her eyes tracking the perimeter of the camp, “I don’t know actually, nevermind.”
There it was. The weight on Raelynn’s shoulders that Gregor had been worried he would see. Any number of things could be on her mind, but he decided to surprise her with the least likely thing she probably expected to hear from him. “I’m sorry about Alim,” he said softly. “I hope we can get him back soon.”
Her eyebrows drooped at the mention of him, and she simply exhaled a quiet ”hmmmm” sound. The last time that she had been genuinely happy in Gilane had been dancing in the streets with her friend. The very same afternoon that she had been taken. “He's smart,” Raelynn uttered softly, “he'll be fine.” There was a finality to it that made it clear she wasn't willing to talk too much about it.
“Very true.” Gregor knew Raelynn well enough to pick up on the tone of her voice and he looked away, thinking about what to say. The urge to cheer Raelynn up was stronger than the simmering anger and disappointment that he felt himself and he chuckled when he became aware of the fact. It had been a long time since he had put the needs of another before his own so subconsciously.
He dropped his voice, making sure that nobody could overhear them. “Did you notice the way you-know-who reacted to seeing that clean-shaven officer, and what she said about me taking him from her? I think that was her… lover, or something,” Gregor said and his eyes narrowed with the glint of satisfaction. “She lives, but we hurt her where it counts.”
She smirked. The black dress made by her mother held up in front of her, she shook it free of sand, using it as a veil to hide her expression from anyone who may glance over at the two of them. The knot loosened and was replaced with a familiar feeling of longing, an almost pleasurable squeeze around her waist. Her thighs twitched. “I watched the whole thing, I saw her every reaction to you,” she breathed softly. Her eyes glimmered with something.
The breathy quality of her whisper and the look in her eyes stirred a familiar sensation within Gregor and he smirked, his pulse quickening. Even if the outcome wasn’t ideal, what they had done had been undeniably thrilling. “And was it to your satisfaction?” he asked in an equally soft voice, cocking his head slightly to the side.
“I hadn't realised you were that…” she paused deliberately, letting him hang for a moment and she bit down on her lower lip to provide him with something purposefully visual. “Powerful.” Raelynn raised the tone of her voice to a girlish coo, releasing her lip from her teeth with a smirk. “Now I've seen… Everything that you are.” She placed the dress in front of her, folding it with great care before turning to Gregor, her mouth slightly open as she gazed down at him. To anyone who happened to glance over it would appear as an innocently affectionate exchange as she placed a finger under his chin, practically mouthing the words to him; “yes, I'm satisfied…”
Gregor propped himself up, placed his hands -- the hands of a killer, but now so very gentle -- on her hips and pulled her a little closer. He could practically feel her words soothe the storm inside of him. “When you stood between me and her,” he murmured, remembering the scene in his mind’s eye, the way he had looked up at her from his crumpled position on the floor, “you were the brightest star in the sky. I love you, Raelynn. I really, really do.”
She had never really paid much mind to his compliments, but the way he had said it caught her off guard this time and she gasped sharply, relaxing against him, her guard slipping down. Everyone had come to save the Khajiit on this day, but Gregor had fought for her, and had kept his word. It was all she needed, just him. “I…” she began, blinking at him, she had so much she wanted to say and there were so many things that had to be done right now, but the moment they were sharing together allowed her to escape that dreadful feeling of urgency. “Thank you,” were the words. “For keeping your promise.” The way that she had said it, the way she felt it leave her body was akin to rain after a drought. It was barely a sentence, but it was the most sincere display of gratefulness she had made in her life.
“Of course,” he whispered. Gregor wrapped his arms around Raelynn, one hand resting on her lower back and the other on her neck, and kissed her slowly and softly. The deep sincerity of her gratitude made it all worth it. Beneath all the cruelty and the violence that had become a part of him during his quest, this is who Gregor felt he really was. Raelynn could bring out the darkest side of him but it was during moments like this that she made him feel more human than anything else could. It was deeply moving and Gregor closed his eyes, holding on to Raelynn tightly, breathing in her scent and feeling her body against his. “I am yours and you are mine.”
Raelynn moved her own arms around him too, placing her head against his neck. She kissed him there before sighing contentedly, tempted to close her eyes and drift off to sleep in his arms like that. It was the sound of an iron pot hitting stone somewhere in the distance that pulled her from the moment, a crashing reminder they were not alone. The Breton peeled herself away slowly, planting another kiss on Gregor's cheek with a smile before returning once more to her task. “I think I took for granted having all that space to ourselves…” She remarked, removing several books from her last bag of belongings.
Content to merely watch, Gregor hummed in agreement. He had significantly less belongings than she did and there was nothing more for him to do after he’d dumped his backpack on the ground. “I never expected to see them again either,” Gregor said and it was clear who he meant from the tone of his voice. “How…” he began, unsure of whether or not this was a wise subject to broach, but he pressed ahead anyway. “How do you feel about it?”
Her skin crawled at the very mention and she flinched in disgust. It was hard to put into words how she felt, maybe it was easier to start with another promise - one that had been broken. “After I… After I saved his life I walked away,” Raelynn began, her voice was no longer as hushed - as if she was daring Zaveed himself to pry; “but I turned back and I don't know what came over me. I threw his face to the ground and told him that he would never come to any of us again.” Even thinking about it made her blood run hot like venom, her lips pursed. “So to see him now so blatantly and arrogantly flaunting himself-” she cut herself off and slammed down a book onto the pile of clothing, both hands flat against the cover.
“I know,” Gregor said, his face grim. “I almost admire his audacity. He winked at me when we locked eyes. Can you believe that?” He was silent for a few seconds before continuing. “However, he’s apparently working to recover that Redguard woman’s brother from the Dwemer. You gave him a second chance at life. If that is true, it would seem that he is putting it to good use. It’s…” Gregor sighed and looked around the oasis, searching for words, fiddling with his trembling fingers. His scars ached. “It almost defies belief, truth be told. Do you believe any of it?”
“He conveniently finds a woman with a sob story to endear himself to the rest of us, yet can't resist… Can't resist doing things like that.” Gregor was right, she had given him a second chance but that was not sitting so well with her now that he was sitting somewhere nearby. “It makes me uncomfortable that he is here. It wounds me that it was Daro'Vasora and Latro who rolled out their red carpet.” Her jaw clenched and she grimaced at the thought, her hands relaxing back into her lap as she looked down at Gregor, her voice resonant and louder still, “I don't want him anywhere near me, and if he so much as looks at me I will remove one of his eyes for the trouble.”
“I shall be sure to tell him that,” Gregor grinned. “I’m going over to talk to him later. I hate unfinished business, and he knows things about me he wasn’t supposed to survive learning. Can’t have him running his mouth.”
Discussing the Khajiit had incensed her, she wanted to bite back at Gregor for suggesting that he would talk to Zaveed, but she reigned herself back from the edge, she took a long and deep breath. “Discuss what you must, if that is what it is then it's your business - don't even give him an ounce of the satisfaction he so craves by saying my name.” Her tone had been overly sharp and she knew it, “I'm sorry… I just want nothing to do with him Gregor. Finish the business and close that chapter.”
The venom in Raelynn’s voice made him blink. That said, he was relieved to hear it. A small part of him had been worried that Raelynn’s decision to save Zaveed’s life was motivated by… well, something other than what she’d told him. It was good to see her so decisively eliminate any notion of that. “Very well, I’ll leave you out of it,” he said, his voice soft to show that he had taken no offense. “If it were entirely up to me, I wouldn’t even exchange any words with him, I’d just cut him down where he stands. But that is not a choice for me to make anymore.” Gregor looked at Raelynn closely. He wanted to see how she reacted to that.
She felt an unusual swell of… sentiment? No, something else, inside of her that caught her off guard enough to bring a lump to her throat, seemingly from nowhere. “Nor is it mine…” she croaked, feeling tears form under her eyes. “Why does he get to be here? Why is he here and Alim is not? Why are we making ourselves at home around them? How could Daro'Vasora… Latro?” She sidled to Gregor and wrapped her arms around his neck, slightly surprised at her own display of emotions. She caught her breath again and attempted to steady herself. Perhaps this was the exhaustion of the day and the dust having settled on the excitement of it all. “I just don't want anything, or anyone to come between us anymore.” Her hand found the nape of his neck as it always did and she curled the shortest hairs that had fallen free from his topknot around her finger, breathing slowly. “This is just… Not what we were supposed to come back to,” she sobbed quietly against his neck.
How could they was a question that Gregor could answer. He was pragmatic enough that he understood the decision Daro’Vasora had made. Sevari, Zaveed and Sirine had valuable supplies with them and they were both after something inside the Dwemer desert prison. Their Khajiit leader had suppressed her own trauma to see the big picture. Gregor admired it, but with Raelynn sobbing against him he could not help but feel that it hadn’t been worth it. Either way, Gregor knew that the cold, hard facts weren’t what Raelynn needed to hear right now. He kissed her forehead and held her close while thinking of a way to say what he wanted to say more tactfully. “Hush, my love. It’s unfair, I know, and I hate it as much as you do. Daro’Vasora did not think about you when she made this decision. But she did not even think about herself. She’s doing what leaders do: thinking about the grand scheme of things. If they can help us break into the prison to retrieve the things we need to end this Dwemer invasion once and for all… that’s all she’s thinking about. It takes a lot of willpower to push everything else aside. Is it right? Not really,” Gregor said softly. “It’s wrong and it’s vile. But sometimes wrong and vile is necessary.”
He hooked a finger below her chin and forced Raelynn to look him in the eyes. “But the most important thing is that you don’t have to fear anything, or anyone, coming between us. Together, we can weather any storm. No matter the depths of depravity this war sends us to, I will be there for you and you will be there for me and that is enough.”
“You're right,” she whispered, nodding as she squashed the tears back down. “You're right,” she repeated again to reassure herself. She would of course share her thoughts with Daro'Vasora in the coming days, but there was more important things to be done before then. The tome of restoration from her father was more of a priority to her than anything else. “I don't know what came over me, I think I'm too tired - I barely slept last night. Maybe I should rest now.” Gregor's presence always allowed her a sense of relief and calm, and she held onto his stare for a moment longer before kissing the tip of his nose tenderly. “Don't leave me alone for too long though, I might miss you.” Her thumb traced from behind his ear and down his neck and she couldn't resist but kiss him one more time.
“Yes, rest,” Gregor said and returned her kisses with conviction. “I shall be back before you know it and then I’ll join you.” The two lovers gently extracted themselves from their embrace and Gregor got to his feet with a grunt, steeling himself for the conversation ahead. He was determined not to give Zaveed the satisfaction of getting a rise out of him.
With long, purposeful strides, he set off.