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Long as My Exile, Sweet as My Revenge

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One

Caius Martius’ house in Rome

Virgilia will always see her husband’s scars in private. Someone needs to play nurse, to clean the fresh injuries and wrap bandages. And a man has to be able to be naked in front of his wife sometimes, without surprises. She has to learn the new wounds and see the old marks sometime.

Neither of them like to think or talk about his scars outside of this, but there is a sort of comfort to this intimacy. Mostly in silence, she unwraps the rough cloth they use to stanch wounds on the battlefield and lets hot water scour them. One hand playing physician unmercifully, her other grips his, and she lets him grind her bones together against the pain.

She has come to recognize types of gashes and gouges and to guess at where they come from. The mark of a skimming arrowpoint, almost missed by a swift motion or arrested by a shield; the mottled bruises that can be inflicted by the edges of that selfsame shield; the bone-kissing mark of a battleaxe (just the once, please the gods) and...

Here is one, cutting a long red stripe across his breast. It skirts the dark pebble of one nipple like a teasing mockery of a lover’s touch—of her touch, Virgilia thinks with unreasonable anger—ending perilously close to his heart. Caius lets go of her hand as he notices her eyes on it. And yet he barely winces as the warm, wet cloth traces over the mark.

“What was this from?” she asks softly.  

He answers with a growled name. “Tullus Aufidius.”

She wrings pink out from the wash rag. The drabble of water seems dangerously loud. “Who?”

“One of the Volscians,” he says, quite unnecessarily. It was Volsci they marched against this time, the Volscian hills she might have lost him in. She might not love his campaigns, but Virgilia does follow them. Sharing a roof with Volumnia means she cannot well avoid it.

But he is only stating the obvious, it seems, for lack of other words. Here in this room, at this time when they rarely speak, Caius strives for terms to do this Aufidius justice.  

“We faced each other several times,” he says at last. “Each time we fought to a draw. He is...a lion.”

The one word heavy with significance. If it does not illuminate him fully for Virgilia, she is at least certain now of what he is not: not a man, nothing human. No mortal man could affect her husband like this.

“…And I am his hunter,” he finishes at last.  

The injury is angry-looking but clean, and already healing. There is an herbal balm at the bottom of the healer’s basket which she can spread over it, but Virgilia decides against a bandage. It will scar, of course. She will have plenty of time to study it over the years to come.

“And how did you get this?” she asks.

She asks not to know how he was hurt, but how he survived. So she can comfort herself with the knowledge the next time he’s away. He knows she does not want to hear about his wounds, not usually—not as his mother does—but it’s different here, where she can ascertain the nature of them. Where she can know they were not fatal, not a real danger, that even this lion Aufidius cannot touch her husband.

“How,” she continues, to make certain he will hear her, “did Tullus Aufidius give you this?”

She has seen the words failing him already. Even so, it takes her a little by surprise when he demonstrates.

In a flash he is away from her side, flying from under her healing hands. Crouched low to the ground, he pivots to face her. The look in his eyes is...different. Almost serpentlike, and she a mouse. Mesmerized, even perversely glad, to see this side of him at last. Her warrior husband. He is frightfully beautiful. So she does not move to flee when, caught up in memory, he strikes at her.

All the same, Caius Martius is not the only one in his household with a noble nature, a fighting spirit. Though she barely recognizes the man before her, Virgilia’s instincts recognize the beautiful threat he suggests. And when, caught up in memory, he grasps for her throat—she moves by instinct.

One of her hands closes on his wrist, nails digging into flesh with the greed of a harpy. The other mirrors his grip, tight around the neck she has in times past caressed so lovingly.

They stare at one another in shock.

She feels his heartbeat hammering against her palm. Though his hand is strong, it gentles against her. No real threat; she breathes deep beneath it, at ease. But he does not let go, and she doesn’t, either.

His pulse spikes as her grip tightens. The gleam in his eyes is now all too human, and familiar. It steals the breath from her lungs as surely as the choking grasp they mimic. Dancing on the edge of promised annihilation, he finds a sort of ecstasy in the threat.

And so does she.  

Caius raises his chin with another shift of muscle and veins under her fingers. “We fought,” he said. “Like this. So close...”

Virgilia swallows. Breathes as deeply as she can. It does not seem very deep. “Like this?”

Expressions flit across his face—a moment of amusement chased by uncertainty. “Almost.”

He releases his grip, and breaks her own. She lets him draw away. Bending to gather up the healing supplies, Virgilia lets her hair fall across her burning cheeks. She tries to ignore the flush of heavy blood lower, the pulse of desire throbbing between her legs.

Caius returns suddenly, and kneels at her side. He holds out his hands as if making an offering. He has brought her a pair of his gloves. The sort he wears to war, made to perfect his grip on a weapon—or as weapons themselves against an enemy in close, no, intimate quarters.

He puts the left one on his own hand, and she watches his practiced fingers flex to adjust the fit of the straps. She holds out her right hand for the other, and holds very still as he slips it on her. At first she worries she will be too small for it.

It is worn to softness. The half-fingers are slightly loose, but he tightens the straps to fit her wrist and palm—slowly, shy, fumbling. Their eyes meet, and they exchange smiles. Caius kisses the leather over her palm, then her uncovered fingertips. Then he returns her grip to his throat—she cannot feel his bare skin anymore, but still senses the flex of muscles as he swallows. When his gloved hand settles around her neck, his heat rises through the leather.

She cannot bring herself to speak, and it seems he cannot, either. But they’re watching each other, studying, waiting. His smile fades from his lips, but dances in his eyes as he nods to her. And—

Enthused by her earlier success, how she had been able to surprise him—to say nothing of startling herself—Virgilia throws herself into it. Bracing one hand against her husband’s chest, she lets the other wrap tight and pulls with it. Sweat-slick skin slides against skin, but the leather of the glove does as it is meant to, and that hold at least does not slip.

The textures of warm, worn leather and hotter skin, the pressure of his hands on her, every limb straining, the sheer physical exertion, is shockingly pleasant. She has spent over a month now pacing the chambers of this house, waiting for this man to return to her; now she can suddenly throw herself into action, and all her action focused upon him. And it’s amazingly satisfying to feel him against her in return, to fight for each breath and win it, each moment a continuing victory.

Excitement pounds between her legs again. A sudden tug from Caius sends her sliding across the couch towards him—even knowing how strong he is, she would laugh from surprise, only she cannot quite get enough air in her throat. And the friction leaves her aching, almost angry with the ache. She tightens her grip on him and rises to her knees.

The shift unsettles her balance, and he takes full advantage of it. He has handicapped himself somewhat by taking the left-hand glove, but still he is more than capable of moving her at will. Virgilia is strong enough not to let go. Still, it is a near thing as Caius tumbles both of them off the side of the couch.

She lands on her back, and he comes down over her. Though she gasps in the moment his weight settles, she is far more distracted by the way their loins slide, then lock together. But in an instant he has released her, ready to jump up in concern. She reaches for a free hand--his right; her own remains locked around his neck--and seizes it, holds it tight so he cannot grasp her again.

His laughter is at first sharp and startled. Then it deepens, husky like a growl.

“You’re not playing fair, wife.”

“Would he fight fair?” she asks. Not really caring, in truth, whether he would or not. What she is feeling right now has little to do with Tullus Aufidius.

Caius’ lips press tight in thought, his eyes gleaming like keen-edged blades on something she cannot see. Though she has slackened her hold at his throat enough to permit him to speak, she is ready to undo her gentleness at the slightest hint of motion. He rests easily even braced over her on one arm. Their hips still brush against each other with each shift, each breath.

Jealousy barely crosses Virgilia’s mind even at his intent, distant look. She is more aware, oddly, of its absence. It hardly matters why this is happening between them, only that it is. The excitement of having her husband like this almost steals her breath.

“Likely he would not,” he says at last. “So I shall not, either.”

With his hands pinned and preoccupied, he instead lowers his mouth to her. Kisses brush where his fingers had gripped. He traces with his tongue her collarbone and the tops of her breasts, revealed where her gown has slipped down. Virgilia’s breath turns to sighing, and her sighs take on a higher, sweeter pitch. His eyes flick up to her, bright with a grin that does not occupy his mouth as it moves lower. Her toes and legs curl until she finds her feet under her. It could give her leverage to overthrow him, if she wanted. Instead she spreads her stance a little wider, and shifts her hips so that her skirt falls to pool over her lap, baring her thighs. She sees his plan and invites it. Demands it. Dares him to try.

Her gown’s thin cloth is wetted to transparency where his tongue flickers and lips suckle. Caius makes his way down her body with almost predatory intentness. A hunter, still. But a lioness hunts, too.

Virgilia adjusts her grip to hold the back of his neck, allowing him to move still lower. At last he rests between her legs. He nuzzles first, breathing deep of her scent, musk and a hint of salt. The air stirring from his lips tortures her flesh. She barely holds back from squirming. Then his tongue makes a testing, teasing swipe just across the outer edge of her folds. She waits with baited breath.

Usually when he pleasures her like this he also uses his hands, his beautiful, strong hands with lovely, long fingers. Now, one hand prisoned by hers and the other caught in supporting him, he has only his tongue to work with. The sensation is more singular, wet and soft and blunt, but with a touch of roughness when it strokes slowly across her. He finds her entrance and presses inside, and ticklish stretching makes her want to giggle, then gasp. The feeling passes and something hotter takes its place.

In the midst of it, she very nearly does let go of him.

His fingers entwine with hers and squeeze, marking that he noticed. His tongue circles her sensitive bud. As her hips rise from the floor with delight, he suckles harder, and it is all she can do to remember to keep her hold. He is trying to tease her into releasing him, but victory is too pleasant an experience for her to sacrifice for any other pleasure.

Especially when he is pleasing her so well regardless.

She rolls against him, and he meets her with more lapping and suckling. She can hear how wet she is, and how his wet flesh joins hers. It is as dizzying as the feel of it, and suddenly she wants to fill all of her senses. She gasps in air and strains it for the smell of herself, and wonders what he’s tasting. From his eagerness, it is good.

It is very good.

Suddenly she wonders whether he would stop if she let go, and that only convinces her to hold on more tightly, even though she suspects whatever he would do next would also be… very good…

But she will not give in.

She does not give in even as she feels herself falling in a heady rush, as pleasure coils outward through all her limbs and she cannot say whether she is melting or trembling apart.

In the midst of her climax, her legs wrap around him and squeeze, and she hears his grunt as her ankle jars him in the ribs. The first thing she does, as soon as she can speak again, is babble apologies. He hasn’t yet caught his breath, simply because of how hard he is laughing.

In the midst of their confusion, her gloved hand slips.

She had released his right hand, too, and he pulls it in to grip his sides.

“Are you well?” Virgilia asks.

He nods, taking in a slow breath. “So that’s the trick…” Another deep breath and a chuckle. “…to getting my gentle lady to show mercy on me.”

She rubs her ankle. “I’m not certain I was very gentle.”

As he turns his head, the light gleams on the damp skin around his mouth, and catches on a line of red marks beneath his jaw. The imprints of her fingernails.

Now Virgilia feels as if the breath has been knocked out of her.

“I am certain,” she says, “that you overestimate my gentleness, my dear lord.”

She goes to her knees and seizes him as he looks up to her. Caius’ lips, wet and almost swollen, part in a grin. It carries less of humor this time, more of amazement.

“And was it like this with him, your lion?” she asks.

“Not…” Virgilia feels him swallow beneath her hand, a gesture of incredible and charming fragility. “Not exactly like this.”

She pulls him to her. “Kiss me.”

She knows his flavor and filters through it to find her own. She tastes sweet—not like honey, or like berries, or any other thing she could name, yet hauntingly familiar and temptingly sweet. And then there is him, clean and with an interesting hint that she thinks of as spice although, again, it is like nothing else she has ever tasted. It is just Caius, her husband, and she could kiss him until she forgets what else they might be doing.

He pulls her into his lap. Her hands stroke his bare back, then drag harder, scratching lightly with her nails. She feels the effect of it in his kiss, how his lips quiver, until he pulls back for a gasp. Then he has seized her and they tumble, still interspersing kisses with the play at struggle. She catches his thigh between hers, and as they roll and grip and writhe she finds herself once again uncertain whether she wants more to ride out her pleasure or to fight to win.

Once again, she doesn’t need to make a choice; she takes both, climaxing from the friction as she finds a point of leverage (bracing against a stout limb of the heavy couch)—and Caius’ points of vulnerability (her teeth nibbling the lobe of his ear and the corner of his jaw are enough to make him melt, as she has known since their wedding night, while her leg presses at the join of his thighs with just the right pressure)—and bears him to the floor.

As she lies in the lassitude following, he carries her to the bed. He pulls her dress over her head, and she rises to strip off his last garment. In their eagerness for each other, they leave on the gloves. But now they are too worn out for further violence or games. They make love gently, although their gentleness is not mild—neither of them is ever mild.

Afterwards, they discover blood spotting the floor where his newest wounds have been reopened. Virgilia spills more apologies, in earnest this time, and makes him sit still as she rewraps bandages and threatens calling a physician with waxed thread for stiches. Caius tries to laugh her concerns off.

“It’s all well,” he whispers in her ear, after suddenly tackling her with an unexpected embrace. As he rubs her back, she realizes she had been shaking.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she answers.

“And you hardly did,” he scoffs.

She pulls back and wipes the last of a trickle of red along his side. “I fear my kick made this one reopen.”

“And I fear the fault for that kick was mine.”

Virgilia shakes her head, but she is smiling.

“I’m no stranger to a little pain,” he tells her. “Especially not in the thick of battle.”

He might have winked, but her own eyes are downcast, her face flaming. He takes her right hand and brings it to his lips. There is a gap in the glove just above the band around her wrist, and he kisses her along the bare strip of skin. At another time it would have made her laugh, but then his tongue swipes across it, reminding her of where else his kisses had fallen this night.

He takes a cleaner corner of the wash towel and swipes cool water across her cheeks, easing their burning, then catches the sweat that had gathered at the back of her neck, bathing her like an athlete after exercise, or a warrior after a practice bout. Then he lets her complete her care of him, and they sleep curled together on the couch. Virgilia could not say which of them is more exhausted, but her dreams, though confused, are sweet.

#

Virgilia takes a fine-woven cloth and embroiders it with her own design, then gives it to Caius to wear around his neck. It hides the marks left by her fingers and nails and, in time, teeth. Eventually he takes to wearing one everywhere, though the cloths get torn, bloodied, ripped away while on campaign. But that’s no matter; smaller wounds are not to be noticed there.

And sewing another gives her something to do while she waits for his return. While she sews and waits, she thinks of what she will do with him next.  

He never writes to her of his wounds. She doesn’t want to know, not until she can see him in the flesh and know he is safe despite them. But now she finds them… It is strange. The reality of them is never less than nightmarish, and yet she and her husband have discovered a certain paradoxical joy. She welcomes him home, bearing in her hand a letter that states any number of things. And the one thing it does not contain, that he knows she’ll be ascertaining for herself.

She never asks how he has received his scars; he shows her anyway.

When he is fully healed, it is even better. When she doesn’t need to worry about reopening the injuries or adding harm to harm, she doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t want her to, however careful he is of her himself.

#

The second time comes after he has returned from a minor skirmish, uninjured. With no chance for glory, no great victories to celebrate (and no scars to appraise, Virgilia cannot resist thinking bitterly), his mother does not linger, but leaves the two of them to reunite alone.

It is possible for a smile to hurt, for relief and joy to cut that deeply. And so she is glad, for many reasons, to let Caius kiss her smile away. Her arms wrap tight around him, at first only clutching her husband to her. She feels his hands, broad but delicate, stroking her back from shoulders to waist. Gradually, she begins to return his touch. And what was reassuring becomes exploratory; they relearn each other and lose themselves in familiarity.  The first cloth band she made for him is still around his neck, stained and a little loosened. She unties it completely and draws it away in a fist. Her fingers comb at the ends of his hair, tracing feather-light at the nape of his neck. He inclines to her, welcoming her touch, and something in his vulnerability makes her adjust her grip. Not taking advantage of his surrender so much as paying tribute to it.

She catches his right hand at her hip. The neckcloth drops from her fingers as she begins to pull at his glove. He turns his forearm to help her find where the band is fastened, but otherwise remains still, only watching, feeling, waiting for what she will do.

After removing the glove, she raises his naked fingers to her mouth. She kisses them and kisses his unarmored palm. Her tongue flicks teasingly, tastes salt, feels his trembling. Then he’s reaching for her wrist, hurrying to help her put on the glove.

Once it’s on, they go back to their kissing, caressing exploration. She strokes the pale, whole skin of his inner arm, usually shielded by a vambrace and utterly sensitive. She rubs his broad back and pays attention enough to his chest to feel the scars beneath the fabric of his tunic. She touches his face, black leather against his tanned cheek, and watches the flush grow there.

Virgilia is gentle. Truly, she does not think Caius has ever felt the touch of a glove so gently before, not even from his own hands on his own body. At first he seems unsure how to react. Then he surrenders utterly. Pliant to her touch, lost in it, turning to expose himself to more of it.

She, too, is caught up in the rapture for a while. Not just to have him home but to have him; the idea sends jolts of desire and awareness of power through her at once, until they blend together.

But she has to remind him to touch her—with a teasing half-order he is quick to obey. Sharp words do not come naturally to her, even in jest, but Virgilia is intrigued by the way hers make him stand straighter, as at the command of a superior officer.

He holds her as a husband, though, and a lover.

It is a long time before she has her fill of it and leads him to bed.

Bed, though, is rarely where they end up or stay in these games. Whether thrown, or going willingly to their knees, or tumbling entwined together off the edge of the cushions, they come to know the smooth, delicately-patterned tiles of the floor very well. Virgilia remembers the first time he was able to pick her up and throw her—arm locking tight around her waist, as much in embrace as a wrestler’s grip, and then the spinning of the whole world. She had laughed with exhilaration until breathless.

When next he tries it, she hooks her legs around his waist, gripping until they have to go down together. He turns so that she lands on top. Then she makes him hold still a moment, testing for injuries jarred in the fall. He wriggles beneath her until she pinches him like a wayward child. But once her survey is over, she pinches him again, much harder, until he has to struggle to break the vise of her grip.

To ease their fears of really hurting each other, they devise a signal. Caius suggests it from his practice sparring matches: not a word, because a word cannot always be reliably heard or voiced, especially if one’s opponent is sealing off one’s throat, but instead the tap of a hand against the ground or the other’s chest. She still worries they might be unable to use it if both hands are ever pinned, to which he answers—not irritably, but with a touch of impatience—that she knows his look when he is glad at a thing, and he knows she is ever watchful for it and will halt at a hint of its absence.

“The trouble,” he whispers between nibbling a line of kisses before her ear, her fingers tight about his wrists like the bonds of silken manacles, “is not getting you to cease tormenting me but getting you to continue.”

It’s not quite true, as she then goes on to prove. Her concern partially stems from realizing just how easy it is to continue. So long—he is right in this—as her husband seems to enjoy it.

Which he does. Standing above him, she studies his look of rapture as she holds him on his knees, pulling him back by the throat while her ungloved hand rubs at the stiffening line beneath the cloth over his groin. Or as she grasps him tight, a near-choking grip, and leaves his one hand free to make the signal as she guides the other between her legs. He doesn’t signal. His fingers slide among her folds eagerly, circling and sliding in, stroking rhythmically, pulling at the hardened, swelling nub. Brought near the brink of her climax, she never wants it to end. She holds him there to service her until his strokes begin to slow, becoming unsteady. Then she lets go of his throat and pulls him down to her, feeling his intake of breath against her shoulder.

She observes how compliant he turns at the touch of her glove against his bare skin. It is not that the spirit has gone out of him, but neither is he fully master of himself, much less anyone else. To see such a change come over him in the midst of a fight is sometimes disconcerting.

“I worry I’ll tame you,” she confesses one night afterwards.

“And I worry I’ll make you a Fury fit to overthrow Rome.”

“I’m being serious.”

He shakes his head. The moon is full, and it silver light dances on his scars, picks out shadows, sketches like a drawing the look that crosses his face. It makes her shiver, not out of fear exactly but because of the impression of something inhuman, as if the invoked Fury were present in the room with them. Alongside or inside him. “No fear of that,” he says.

Soon enough she sees that he is right. First comes reassurance: just as mixing this play at violence with their love does not make her love any crueler, sometimes having love with violence does not make him softer in war. She has not weakened him. And if she has tamed him, it is only for herself.

But this reassurance comes with an unsettling confirmation. There are moments when he seems lost too deep in their games, reaching for something she will not, cannot give him. Always after he faces Tullus Aufidius. Three, five, half a dozen times their paths and their blades cross. Each time Caius relives again and again, with her help, her willing help—because even when she is taken aback by it, she loves the passion in him, and there is a passion that only she and Aufidius, together, can rouse.

In her saner moments she should be terrified of it, but she is never sober as she feels his body strain against hers, finds his thirst for victory, for dominance, almost as strong as his gladness to surrender. In moments like these it is all the more sweet to prevail over him. She always does; there is always an instant where he recognizes Virgilia, and yields to her.

At least she believes that the charade breaks in that instant. She cannot be sure.

Still, she always can calm him, if not always easily. Whether from war or the inanities of tribunes or baseness of Rome’s common people or even, sometimes, the frustrations caused by his mother, Virgilia is the one who can strike through Caius’ anger. Her quiet is sometimes catching. He has come into her room, ranting, both of them knowing he will end the hour with his head resting peacefully in her lap, the transformation complete from rabid to docile hound. It is a thing he has always relied on, even before they started their private games. And so she begins to realize not only the control she has always exerted over him, but also how much he needs it.

The realization gives her confidence, until at some level she has more faith in his faith in her, in the bond between them, than she does in her most beloved goddesses. She no longer fears anything about him, not even the shadow/riding genius/thing Tullus Aufudius leaves.

On one such night, when it burns through his eyes like blue fire, when his lips are pale with it and an old scar, long-carried enough to be almost cherished, has been as though mockingly near-obliterated by a new one, she finds her back connecting with the floor, the shock of it jarring down her spine and stealing her breath. And then his weight is on her, warm and rousing, but heavy, unyielding. He braces his knees on either side of her legs, easing some of the crush yet pinning her, too. His face is close to hers but their eyes do not meet; his seem blind. She feels, sees his hand between them reaching up, and the thought comes: he is going to kill—

The sentence does not end with –me. Instead, it does not end at all.

Feeling confident, almost calm, she clutches his fingers before they reach her neck. Her other hand, the gloved right, takes his wrist, and with the strength of both together, she pulls his hand to her chest, clasps it over her heart. They both feel the pulse of it, jarringly strong, rapid as a lion’s lope on the chase.

Every inch of Caius Martius’ body freezes. Then he takes a single breath, unsteady and echoing to the corners of the room. His fingers curl where they rest just over her breasts. Their touch becomes gentler.

His eyes close, and when they open again they are no longer blind.

“My love,” he says, and then “My wife” in the way he has always said it, the way which resounds and means the same thing as the first.

“My lord,” she answers, reaching up with her left hand to touch a curl of hair fallen and trapped against the sweat-sheen on his forehead, tracing away the frown from his mouth and the corners of his bright eyes. The lashes kiss her fingertips as he blinks, and she ignores the single drop that slides out against the pad of her thumb.

Only then does she release his hand, and it moves over her gently, slowly, worshipfully. He cups the peak of her breast, feels the nipple tighten against his palm. He bends his head to kiss, to suckle, and she lets him; she accepts his apology, his surrender, and his gift.

If she wants revenge, she will have it in time: over the courses of so many other nights, when she pins him and plays at menace. Only in the last moments does she seem to decide on mercy—touching him everywhere, but especially where she knows he likes it. Tracing his scars, but not lingering on them. It is better, now, than when she tried to ignore their very existence: as she plays at conquering him, scratching lines in parallel to those wounds, she is able to watch them heal.

But in mercy she also learns not to always be gentle. As her hand strokes his cock, her teeth pinch at the flesh of his shoulder and neck. As she caresses his face and throat, kisses as sweet as ambrosia, she also gropes and ruts against him with the instinctive roughness of something wild.

She learns tactics—along with wrestling grips, and chokeholds, she learns kisses that choke off his breath as fully (and also to choke off his breath with her thighs, and the space between him). She learns to grasp him by the wrist or neck and pull him where she wants him. She learns to lay him on his back and crawl over the length of his body, as he did hers that first night, letting anticipation be torment as much as bliss. And she teaches him how to scratch, and takes pride when she drives him enough to leave the first red lines lingering down her back and arms. They fade within a day, and are only where her modest garb already covers. Once again, he is ceaselessly careful with her.

Even when he returns from facing Tullus Aufidius. She never again has to invoke their signal, and he never does either. But one night…

It is a test. She sometimes thinks she is learning Aufidius through his impact on her husband, and cannot decide if she hates the man, her enemy, or…

Just as she cannot decide if Caius Martius wants to defeat the man, or…

And Virgilia cannot always be sure if, in these joyful fights, this play at war and warlike play, she should take Aufidius’ part or her own. Which Caius wants. Which she does.

This night is a feast in honor of yet another victory. She sits beside her husband, both of them enduring it as long and as well as they can. Then Virgilia rises. She never leaves banquets early enough to be impolite; she feels a few glances touch on her. And her husband’s eyes. She makes a small gesture towards the door, and when she goes out, he follows. If they need to answer for it, tomorrow will be soon enough.

They don’t make it back to their chambers on the far side of the house, just to a small, dark room. Torchlight from the courtyard shines through a window and forms the only illumination as she pushes him towards the wall. She catches him up against it, kisses him with thirst no festival wine could satisfy. He melts into it, inclines into the pressure of her body forcing him back. His weight, and the way he lets her so easily direct it, sends another flush of pleasure through her.

He wears his breastplate; even in the shadows her fingers find its fastenings and release them. Before pulling it over his head, she first takes off the laurel wreath, petting down hair the vines have tangled and fluffed. She offers the wreath to him, but he shakes his head, and lets it fall to the ground where she drops it.

She does not feel reverent tonight.

She likewise lets the breastplate drop and actually kicks it away. Her teeth catch his lower lip and pull at it. Caius growls, welcoming her bite.

Virgilia’s hands close on his shoulders and she starts to force him down. He resists, enough to fire both of them. But he does not struggle much or for long. He must be curious to see what she’s going to do.

At last she wrestles him to the floor. She reaches for the cloth he’s worn this night around his neck and unties it, drawing the soft fabric slowly across his throat. She pins him with a knee to the chest as she grasps his hands, raises them above his head and uses the neck cloth to bind them together there. Not bothering to strip him entirely, she does let him feel the touch of cool air and hard floor below his hips. 

Then she slides down his body, pulling up the ornate skirt of her formal gown just enough to straddle him and take him. Inch by sweet inch, slow enough to torture—he has always been a generous lover, letting her take the lead in their joining, but now it happens more by force than choice. All the while, Virgilia meets his gaze, letting him feel her domination, drinking in his surrender. But also watching for the slightest signal that she should stop—not one he can make with his bound hands, but as he said, she is always watchful of his expressions.  There is nothing there but bliss. She degrades his victory, seizes and takes him from the midst of his highest honors, and she sees in his face that although he will never be able to beg for it, it is something he exalts in.

She uses him. Fucking, that’s the word for what she does—brutal and unintimate, as if he is a thing to serve her, a toy. And yet her ruthlessness has a very personal edge. If he were not who he was, her every thrust says, if he had not had this victory to steal, she would not be bothering with him.

And how can it truly be unintimate, when she takes him apart like this?

After a time she begins to lose herself in the motions of sex, of fucking—losing a sense of what they’re doing or pretending to. Just being, feeling the shift in the depths of her, friction and pressure building pleasure without any particular urgency. Violence without any particular desperation. She is jolted from unthinking physicality at his climax—as her husband cries out and shudders beneath her, as she feels the pulse of his release inside. She has always loved to feel him come, and she rides him these last few moments to her own orgasm. It is powerful enough that she collapses across him. They lie like this, spent, she never knows how long.

Suddenly he lets out a burst of breath that blows strands of her hair from where they settled over his mouth. She and Caius laugh together—perhaps a little shaken. She kisses him tenderly and unbinds his hands. He hadn’t struggled against the bonds, she doesn’t think, but they were tight enough and her motions had jarred him within their limits enough to leave the imprint of embroidered flowers on the flesh of his wrists. She traces them with her fingertips until he tells her he can feel the touch. His fingers spasm as feeling returns to them. Virgilia clasps and kisses them, but she does not apologize.

She wishes, then, that it were not so natural for her be silent. And that these things were not so natural between them that they rarely talk of them. She wants to ask him…what he felt, what he thought that was, who he thought she was.

For all that, she cannot answer those questions herself.

“I don’t know about you,” Caius says a little hoarsely, “but I am gasping for a drink of water.”

She jumps to her feet. “I’ll fetch some. You, ah…”

“Will wait right here for you.”

When she returns, he has pulled the breastplate on and is starting to lace it. She helps. But he would have forgotten the wreath if she had not found it in the shadows of a table.

The questions return to her in the gray dark before dawn, while Caius sleeps peacefully beside her—as peacefully as she has seen him sleep in a long time. She watches him, wishing that for once his calm would seep into her. When she strokes his cheek, he turns to her even in the depths of dreams.

And so even without answers, she is able to continue. Because whoever she may seem to be, she knows who she is, and she is not Tullus Aufidius by far. And Caius lets her do what he will never permit Aufidius. Whether he fears it, or desires it, or both.

Under her hands, he is mastered utterly in all ways. And afterwards, she will be kind. Will unknot the bonds and gently rub the circulation back. Will lie beside him on the tangled sheets, on the cushions where she threw him, on the floor where they fell, caressing him soothingly. They’ll each massage away the other’s aches, and she will toy with his hair as he rests with his head on her thigh. She will release her choking grip and space her kisses between the deep breaths he needs. Will fetch water and watered wine, will wash and bandage the wounds that reopened, will hold back from fussing only because she knows he will tease her for it. Perhaps he thinks it hypocritical of her to worry. But she will worry anyway, and she knows, even if he does not, that such concern in the reason why he lets her pin him down, steal his breath, scratch red welts across his silver scars.

Lets her remove the sling he comes home in, so that his left arm falls limp and mostly useless at his side, not even needing to be bound.

Answers her question, whether he is sure, with—“He would not be sparing of injuries.”

But I am not him, she does not say, she never says. Caius knows. She does not make love to him like an enemy would. Hers is not the passion of hatred. She admires his strength without envying it, and she knows the limits of her own without fearing it.

Because she knows what he permits her.

He lets her straddle him, careful of the injured arm, pinning the whole one; riding him until he’s half-dead beneath her, choked and used on their bedroom floor.

 As always, he lets her conquer.