Maximus knew this hunt was a stretching their limits too far, they had been out far too long. Feeding only sustained their bloodlust for so long. Normally he never would have allowed this, but weakness to pleasing his wife had won over. Together he and Aela made sure that despite their demanding commitments throughout Skyrim, they would make one night a month for each other. A night dedicated to the ages old ritual, the hunt. The two werewolves ruled the night, tearing through the snow, feeling the icy wind blow through their thick fur. Aela loved it much more than Maximus did. She craved the hunt. Maximus was more interested in straightforward battle, sneaking wasn't his thing. There wasn't anything subtle about his greatsword and heavy ebony armor.
Maximus had seen the Silver Hand leader and Aela vanish into a sheet of snow that whipped through the air. The blizzard was growing stronger by the minute. He growled as he cast the Silver Hand crony into the nearest pine tree, satisfied when he heard the snap of what was surely the woman's spine.
Max’s eyes glowed as he searched through the blistering wind, when finally he heard the growling and grunting of battle between werewolf and warrior. Maximus ran at full speed on all fours, claws providing traction in the snow. They were running out of time and their armor and weapons were far out of range. Maximus growled, cursing in his head. Tearing around the corner of ice and rock, he only caught a glimpse of Aela, completely nude, fighting for her life against a heavily bleeding but better equipped. Maximus felt his wolf legs buckle and his face connect with the snowy ground. He felt the full force of the cold now, returning to his human form as well. Even his cold resistant Nord skin couldn't keep the blistering cold out. He pulled himself to his feet, he could see Aela facing death at the hands of a silver sword, coming downward towards her chest cavity. Maximus let out a powerful shout of unrelenting force.
He watched as the man flew limply through the air, completely caught off guard. The Silver Hand leader's skull connecting with the rock of the mountain foot, killing him instantly. He could see Aela slide across the snow from the corner of his eye, the force hitting her indirectly. Maximus looked down to see a bloody trail that lead to Aela's still form. He rushed to her side, kneeling and rolling her over into the crook of his bulging arms, "Aela, my love!"
Much to his surprise she smiled at him, "I owe you a mead, Max."
Maximus laughed, "Nah, it's my job to cover your arse." Aela smiled, her icy grey eyes sparkling. A closer look made him realize they were tears forming at the brim of her eyes. It made them especially beautiful. He felt himself overwhelmed with the weight of the look she gave him. It was the rare moments like these throughout their marriage that Aela truly showed her love for him.
Maximus felt a hand on his as it rested on her bleeding abdomen.
"We need to get out of here," Maximus half pleaded to her and the universe itself, "You're fine! You've been hurt worse," he jabbed at her, attempting to boost her resolve.
She laughed, though it caused her pain. The look she gave him told that she knew she was not fine, nor was she leaving this place.
"No better place to die, Max. Here near Falkreath, among the bones of the many heroes," she said peacefully, Maximus had never seen the driven Companion so at ease.
"I'm going to Hircine's hunting grounds, where I can hunt forever," Aela smiled up at him, "Don't follow me, Max. Skyrim needs her Dovahkiin. I know hunting isn't your paradise."
Max for the first time in nearly twenty years, let tears stream down his face, "Don't make me choose. Stay," his voice trembling, failing to remain firm.
Aela reached up and touched his face, the only warmth his bare body felt in the blizzard, "I won't. I've lived my life, and now I can go with Skjor and my other brothers and sisters. You have much yet to do. Don't make me a burden, Max," she commanded making firm eye contact.
Max nodded, "I love you," was all he could say.
Aela smiled, her face as beautiful as he'd ever seen it, "I love you too. Goodbye, my love." Aela's eyes slowly drew closed as Max kissed her one last time. He expected her eyes to open again after he pulled out of the kiss, like she had every other time. This time they did not.
In the five years that followed, Max fell into a dark state, the generous, good-humored man he once was had withered away. This was not the first time he had suffered loss, but it was the most painful. He joined up with the Dark Brotherhood, putting his talents up for the highest bidder to keep himself busy. He could not stand to remain the Harbinger without his wife at his side. The Companions were Aela's life and he felt it wasn't right to lead without her. He decided to leave the Companions to Farkas and Vilkas.
In his time as an assassin, Max embraced the coldness of the Night Mother's embrace. He weathered betrayal, rebuilding, and even assassinated Titus Mede II, Emperor of Tamriel. At the contract's conclusion, he fulfilled the dead Emperor's request by killing the man who ordered his slaying. At the end of it all, Max found himself the Listener for the Night Mother.
Not even cold-blooded murder or the voice of legendary spirit that spoke only to him could fill the empty space within Max's chest. He had no purpose anymore, not even his Dragonborn blood could fix that. Maximus couldn't bring himself to return to Whiterun, one of his many homes, but the one chosen by Aela as their primary residence.
Finally, on the seven year anniversary of Aela's death, and after much scolding from his friend, Mjoll the Lioness, Max returned to Whiterun. He slumped up to the Bannered Mare and ordered the strongest drink the establishment could muster. Hulda, the barmaid, gave him a concerned smile, "You know, I've been hearing talk of the Dawnguard looking for new recruits."
Max scowled, his thick beard accentuating his distaste. "Not interested," he grumbled.
He had no quarrel with Hulda, he just wished the woman would mind her own damned business.
Hulda only shrugged and continued to wipe down the bar.
Max finally made his way out of the Bannered Mare, it was nearly morning and he couldn't see straight. This was the only state in which he could force himself to return to Breezehome.
As he stumbled through the stony streets, an Orc approached him. Max had never seen his particular armor set before, but found himself more interested in staring at the Orc's outward jutting jaw and jagged teeth. They were so hideous.
"Hey, Nord, you looking for work?" the orc's rumbling voice called out to him.
Maximus frowned, "No! Can't a man be left to his misery?"
The Orc's face contorted, Max took it as the Orc equivalent of a frown, "Sir, it's not my business what's got you in such a state, but I bet killing a few vampires would help keep your mind off it."
Max nodded, staring at the spinning ground for a moment, feeling as if he were about to hurl.
"Aye, where do I sign up? I hate the blasted creatures," he blurted without thinking.
The Orc smiled, "That's the spirit. Report to my boss, Isran at Fort Dawnguard. Take the cave near Stendarr's beacon."
Max saluted drunkenly. The Orc reached out and stuffed a paper into Max's belt, "My name's Durak. Lookin' forward to seeing you there."
Max saw this as an opportunity to clear Aela from his mind. And it would be, though not in the way he had expected. In fact, it, or should he say, she, fell right before him in the heart of Dimhollow Cave.