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Shield of shame

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The first time he takes her is on the war table.

Pieces and markers scatter as primal need drives him into her. It’s not love. It’s not even desire. One moment arguing, her face red with frustration, the next he’s pressing her against the wall. Her lips find his. Or his find hers. One urgent desperate kiss and then no more kissing. No more tenderness. Only ragged breathing and fingernails and teeth.
She hates him, and he knows it.
But he’s the only one who would dare do this without expecting anything in return.
To them she is the Inquisitor, a paragon of virtue, a hero in shining armour. They will acquiesce to her every wish, no matter how foolish.
But he will not. He has no pride and no reason to impress her. He speaks to her in blunt sentences and refuses to kowtow.
She is of the Chantry and with every thrust he defiles her.

When it’s done, she dresses without looking at him. He leers. Her sandy hair is a mess. Her features, once smooth and delicate, are scarred by battles now past. It’s been a year since she’s used her mark, and now she wears it hidden beneath a nugskin glove. His eyes trail from her face to her body. He tries to feel some triumph in the act they’ve just performed, in his domination of her. But as he stands before her, manhood bared, it’s not pride but shame that creeps along his skin. She is not of the Chantry. Her title may be, but she was once a prisoner, a slave as he was. She is no Herald and never claimed to be. She is just a mage that found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He shrinks from her. But she does not notice. She scurries for the door without a backwards glance.

He worries whether he’s hurt her.

Then curses the thought and tugs on his breeches.

The second time is different but the same. She finds him in the dim, dank, room they’ve given him that is little better than his cell was. He’s reading. Some trash not worth the paper it’s printed on. She closes the door behind her, wordless. And she starts to undress.
He watches without moving, breath catching even as he forces it to remain even. He will not show her desire, he decides. He will not reassure her. Let her feel shamed by his gaze.
But his tongue darts out to wet his lips and he grows despite himself as she sheds her breast band.
Then she waits. The final move must be his.
Doubt flicks across her features so fast he almost misses it. Her body reacts to the cold. Tiny prickles of raised flesh. She folds her arms across her breasts.
“No,” he says.
The syllable hangs in the room between them. She obeys, dropping her arms to her side and he feels powerful.
How many of his commands will she obey?
“On your knees,” he says. The words stick in his throat and emerge like gravel.
For a moment he thinks she will not move. And then she does.
He unlaces himself before he thinks better of it.

From then on it starts the same. Sometimes she comes to him. Sometimes he goes to her. First she must be naked, exposed. And then she must be demeaned. And she takes it, like she takes his head in her mouth. Silently, without complaint.

One night, in her quarters not his, he makes her strip on the balcony. She exposes herself to the mountains and it makes him hard. But when she enters the room again she is shivering, teeth chattering. And when he enters her, he wraps her in his arms to keep her warm.

It’s not that night, but a few nights later, when he’s getting up to leave and she snags his hand.
He’s never stayed before. Their trysts are quick and dirty and never acknowledged. She hates him, and he is her prisoner. Except for sometimes, in the late hours of the night, when she is his. He’s tied her up before, he’s made her beg. And he knew without asking that was what she needed. To give someone else control, if only for a few hours. She didn’t ask for command of the world, not like his previous master. And some days it gets too much. Those are the days she kneels before him.
But this night she wants more. Her hand, wrapped around his, and a word. More than she’s ever said while naked within his reach.
He lies back down, for once obeying her.
Her blankets are soft and smell like her. An Orlesian bed, with drapes and silk and posts that he’s tied her to. He’s never slept in a bed such as this. It’s too big and too soft. But he pretends, for her.

Some time in the night, she starts thrashing. She cries out, “No, stop!” She whimpers. In the dim light of the dying fire, he sees her face contort. He has seen many expressions play upon that face in the last weeks, but none has struck him like this one.
“Shhh,” he cannot bear it. He wakes her with a soft touch against her cheek. “It’s all right. You’re safe.”
Her eyelashes part and she’s staring up at him. “Raleigh.”
She’s never used his name before. When she’s needed to speak of him, she’s called him Samson like the others do.

He leans down and kisses her.

The tenderness surprises him as much as it surprises her. But she responds. Her lips are soft and willing and warmth blossoms in his chest. He knows he’s crossing the line. This breaks every unspoken rule they have. And yet he moves himself between her legs and continues to kiss her. Her lips, her chin, her neck, her breast bone. He’s covering her in kisses and he can’t stop himself. And her hands are tangling through his hair and she’s arching her back for him.

 This isn’t like anything they’ve done before. He enters her slowly. His aim is pleasure and comfort, not domination. And she is not silent. This time she moans his name. Her arms wrap around him and she presses herself close. His tongue explores her as if he’s never tasted her before.
He’s emptied himself into her countless times, but never once has it felt like his whole existence crashing down on him. Lights explode behind his eyes.
“Oh, sweet Maker.”
And he’s lost. He knows it then. He’s lost to her and he never saw it coming.
She’s looking up at him again. Her eyes hold questions he has no answer to. So he kisses them away.

He wakes in the first cold rays of another morning. She’s still asleep, the smooth curve of her back turned to him. He is frightened of it, of what it arouses in him. Not base hunger but something else. He wants to cover it in warmth, or in more kisses.

 He hurries from the room before he can do either.

Cullen notices he’s not himself. Cullen notices everything.
“Something the matter?”
They’ve started sparring again, something they used to do in Kirkwall, before it all went to shit.
He owes Cullen his life. They both know it. They both resent it, at least on some level.
But for the most part, it’s unacknowledged. Cullen, his interrogator, became his counselor, became his friend.
Samson shrugs. He’s too rattled to try dishonesty. “Women.”
And Cullen chuckles. “I wish I could offer some advice. Unfortunately, I can’t even get them to notice I exist.”
It’s a lie of course. All the women notice he exists. He is perfect in every way Samson is not. All the women would gladly bed him, except one.
Cullen has had his eye on the Inquisitor for years.
The thought is uncomfortable. Samson bares his sword. “Shall we?”

She is waiting for him in the corridor, back against the wall. Her eyes don’t quite meet his.
“I was hoping we could talk.”
He is sweaty and breathless. Cullen passes, greeting the Inquisitor with a shy smile and Samson feels at once self-conscious. His hair hasn’t quite grown back from his time on the red stuff. He has the hairline of a man twice his age. What hair he has is long and dank. His teeth are crooked, his nose too pointed.
He swallows. “What about?”
Her eyes dart past his lips to settle somewhere above his head. “Need I say?”
They crossed a line. They broke the rules. She wants to set things straight.
“Alright,” he says.
Part of him dreads it, but a greater part yearns for clarity.
He follows her up to her room.

Behind the closed door she sighs. Her gaze finally meets his.
They’re in the narrow space at the base of the stairs and he wants to press her against the wall. That would be easier.
“I’m sorry I woke you last night.”
He shakes his head. “That’s not what you wanted to speak about.”
“No.” She folds her arms.
“What do you want, Inquisitor?”
“My name’s Evelyn.”
He moves away from her, up the stairs. “Ah, we’re on a first name basis now, are we?”
As long as he’s not facing her, he can pull off the cool demeanor.
After a beat, he hears her follow.
“You know as well as I do, Evelyn , that this can never be anything.” He focuses his gaze on the cold mountains outside. “For one thing, you’d be crucified if anyone found out. Especially now. Your enemy is a year dead. The sky is healed. They’re already beginning to question your power.”
She doesn’t speak. His words were too harsh. He closes his eyes and draws a breath. Then, face carefully controlled, he turns to face her.
She’s standing in front of the bed, arms still folded. She’s looking at her feet.
“If you want someone to hold you tight, and comfort you while you sleep, speak to Cullen. The man would walk behind you on a leash if only you asked him. Everyone can see how he dotes on you. He’s stable, honorable. A regular prince charming. Hell, marry him and find something dirty on the side. That’s what most women in your position would do.”
He waits for her response, hardly daring to breathe. He knows he’s right, but he’s hoping she’ll tell him he’s wrong. A crease forms between her eyebrows. Then she looks up.
“I don’t want Cullen,” she says.
“What do you want?”
The answer is obvious. It became obvious last night. And it’s there in her gaze.
“I can’t offer you anything.” His voice is an embarrassing whisper.
He remembers the night he held her against his warmth as she rubs her arms. She isn’t cold. It’s something else. The words she wants to say are stuck.
“What do you want?” he repeats.
“You.” It is so soft he almost doesn’t believe it.
His heart trips. He feels it fall. There is a surreal quality to everything as she stands gazing at her feet again, as a breeze catches loose tendrils of her hair. It’s a trick. It’s some bizarre game.
She’s confused.
He chuckles. “No, you don’t.” He closes in on her, falling into a familiar role. “You don’t want me. You want the freedom I offer.” He flicks hair aside to take her chin in his hand. “It’s addictive, isn’t it? You can shrug off the mantle when we’re together, when I make you cum.”
He’s purposefully lewd, willing to continue. But she pulls free and kisses him.

His senses come alive as he loses them. He cannot think of anything but  how good she feels. He drives her backwards, up onto her desk.
This is familiar territory. His hands know what to do. She tears at his clothing and he wants, needs, to let her.
It takes everything in him to pull away. He stumbles backwards, breathing heavily. His shirt is open.
“No,” he says.
She’s beautiful. Backlit by the large windows. Her scarf is hanging loose, her lips are red and waiting. She’s puzzled by this new development.
He rakes a hand through his hair.
His insides are squirming. It’s a gamble, a bet. The biggest he’s ever made. That time in the Hanged Man when he bet a month’s supply of lyrium, he’d wanted to throw up. That had nothing on this.
You’re being a fool.
If she’s too blind to tell lust from love, let her pretend. Take everything she’s willing to give. Sleep in her silken sheets and bosom. Make her pamper you. Be her pet.
“All you know of me is this,” he says, gesturing to his half naked body. “This and the creature I was when you had me brought here.”
And perhaps he is no more than a combination of those things. But she has a right to discover that.
“If you want a warm body to take you out of yourself, that I can provide. But do not claim it is me you want.”
“Something happened last night,” she responds. “You can’t pretend it didn’t.”
He could. But he doesn’t want to.
His mouth is dry. “No sex.”
“I’m sorry?” She doesn’t understand. Of course she doesn’t. He can’t even explain it to himself. Is it she who wants more or is it him?
“Three months. If you still want me after three months without our little games, I’ll believe you.”
She’s staring at him and he feels a different kind of naked.
“Am I allowed to see you during this time?”
“That would be sort of the point.” Why does he sound like a pathetic virgin now? Some Chantry boy. It’s the kind of thing Cullen might suggest.
She raises her eyebrows. “You wish to court me?”
“Is the thought so ridiculous?”
She slips off the desk. “But you said this could never… just now. Something about crucifixion?”
“I didn’t say anyone had to know. If we can shag in secret, can we not… talk in secret too?”
Talk . Sweet Andraste. What has become of him?
He expects her to start laughing, but she does not.
“Is kissing allowed?”
He can’t quite suppress his smile. “Depends where.”