The Tiber Septim Hotel was the Imperial City’s finest establishment for its finest men and mer. Contracts had occasionally drawn Lucien in and around the place over the years. While working the City as a fledgling murderer, he often lingered in the hotel’s common area, eavesdropping as he sipped wine, sampled the day’s fare, and casually drifted amongst the patrons. The Imperial City boasted countless places in which one could gather information. Few were quite so clean, though. Or comfortable. Combing through filthy alleys had its drawbacks.
Since becoming a Speaker, his duties to the Black Hand either herded him across Cyrodiil or chained him to Fort Farragut’s cool, crumbling walls. Two years had passed since he last visited for pleasure. Little had changed. Nobles still plotted in plain sight, and talented thieves still discreetly picked their pockets. The wine and food were still good, if somewhat overpriced. Gossip, some true and most fabricated, still saturated the air, and the perfectly rehearsed smiles were as black as ever. Strangely, he wasn’t sure if the predictability comforted or disappointed him.
It didn’t help that his town clothes left him feeling vulnerable and grossly out of place; the gold embroidery on the black velvet doublet was touch too fine for his liking and the starched shirt a touch too stiff across his chest, but Tatiana, his beloved Listener, had bought them for him, and he’d not complain.
As Tatiana towed him through the colorful sea of lords and ladies, she flashed a mischievous smile over her shoulder. He answered with a dangerous smirk. Part of him missed her shrouded armor, too, familiarity and functionality winning out over the rich crimson and black ensemble she’d donned for the evening. The lacy, fitted blouse, embroidered bodice, and dove-gray breeches looked lovely on her, but they, like his own garments, would soon be no better than rugs.
As she led him upstairs and unlocked the door to their room, Lucien imagined Vicente waiting inside, arms crossed and needling them with the weary, disappointed stare that had kept him in line as an adolescent growing up under the brotherhood’s thumb. Business and pleasure make for a deadly poison, the vampire would’ve said.
Yet scarcely an hour later, lying beside her and savoring the chamber’s warm, delightfully dark stillness, those thoughts of gossip, fancy clothes, and Vicente’s lectures might as well be lost to Oblivion. Were he and Tatiana to die there in that silk-draped bed, they’d go to Sithis happy.
Lucien inhaled deeply. Still, he scarcely believed what they’d become. He was nearly ten years her senior—a scarred and vicious killer-for-hire that laired alone in a derelict fort, devoting his days to arranging contracts and his nights to training and alchemy. She’d been Cyrodiil’s Champion long before joining the Dark Brotherhood; she could have virtually anyone she wanted. Even if that weren’t the case, by the time they’d begun working together, she’d made coin aplenty to buy the company of younger, more handsome men if she wanted to be touched or taken. Yet despite his perceived shortcomings, she’d wanted him and only him. Why, he doubted he’d ever understand.
More puzzling still was the effect she’d had on him. He’d known many women over the years—casually, of course. Tatiana, though…their first night together never left him: mere days after the Purification, hasty and rough, raw with fear and grief and desire neither of them wanted to acknowledge, let alone disclose. He’d wanted her again soon after. He’d feared for her when he left her in Anvil. Prayed that the Night Mother would lead her to the traitor and shepherd her to safety.
Enough, he told himself. She is yours and you are hers, your vows spoken in silence. That is what matters. Why become snared in the tangle of emotions and feelings he’d sworn he locked away decades ago? There were better things to dwell on. Sweeter things.
Lucien twisted onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow. His gaze washed over her, her expression content and curves soft and youthful, skin like ivory against the blue silks. Her cheeks were still flushed, her inner thighs still slick with spent need. She yawned and lazily stretched her arms, gazing up at him through half lidded eyes.
And her hair, by Sithis, her hair. It draped Tatiana’s chest and pillow like spun gold. Day after day, she plaited it tight at the base of her neck. Tonight, he’d scarcely locked the door before she shook it loose and threw her arms around him, crushed her lips to his and clawed at his robes. A smile threatened his lips.
Fingers feather-light, he brushed her hair aside to reveal the dark blotches he'd kissed onto her throat and shoulder; the scratches she’d raked over his back still stung, pain that he savored.
Ironic, he thought, that such things could be marks of a struggle or affection, depending on the manner in which they were given. Proof that Sithis and the Night Mother touched all things.
He kissed her, then, their gives and takes slow and tender and all they should never be. Lucien’s hand stilled on her hip, calloused thumb caressing the long scar slanting toward her ribcage. It was still red and puckered slightly at the edges. They’d been stripping to swim when he’d first seen it, and he burned with the need to slaughter the sorry fool that put it there. Evidently, his expression had spoken volumes, for not two seconds later, she’d laughed and tugged him into the lake, promising she'd given far worse than she’d gotten.
With effort, he forced his attention back to her face. "Have you grown weary of Fort Farragut?"
She quirked a brow. "Of course not. Why?”
He surveyed the room, noting all he’d missed when they entered: the chest and dark fireplace against the far wall, the desk and table and chairs in the right-hand corner. The paintings, expensive rugs, and surely counterfeit curios. He sniffed, nose crinkling at the hints of lavender. Craning his neck, he discovered a porcelain bowl of potpourri on the nightstand. "Curiosity, my dear. You paid handsomely for this chamber. There are many rich fools whom the world wouldn't miss and who could not object to their beds being taken. Practice does make perfect."
Giggling, Tatiana tucked a few loose threads of hair behind his ear. She cupped his cheek. She’d once told him his robes had a dangerous charm to them, like dagger in moonlight, then gone on to say the garment made it frightfully easy to miss the man cloaked in its shadows. Easy to forget how candlelight and shadow danced across his face. His bloody little poet, he mused, tilting his head to kiss her palm. “Or would you disagree?”
"Not at all. Murder just makes for heavy pillow talk.”
“Business and pleasure can mix.”
“Indeed.” She brushed the tip of her finger down the center of his lips; he stifled a shiver. “But a bit of rest would be nice before we get back to the business part, don’t you think?”
With the same finger, Tatiana traced the slender scar at the corner of his mouth—a scar that would’ve slashed over his jugular had she arrived at Applewatch a heartbeat later. A second one streaked from the inside corner of his eye to the edge of his jaw. Her smile vanished. She withdrew her hand. Numerous others marred his body, some faint with age and others angry and fresh, but none shamed him.
"Farragut is a lovely place,” she went on. “Cool and quiet, safe from prying eyes. But after what happened to the brotherhood-," she caught herself as her voice wavered, tears glistening in her eyes, "to you, I just wanted to take you away from all of it. Just for a few nights.” Gently, she squeezed his hand. She blinked her tears away and swallowed hard. When she found her voice again, it sounded weary, hoarse with memories and regret. “That's not so wrong of me, is it?"
Lucien looked away. He’d accepted their colleagues’ apologies and resumed his duties as Speaker without rancor. And why shouldn’t he? The Black Hand had been led to believe he was a traitor and was merely doling out a traitor’s punishment. In their place, he would’ve done the same.
With proper evidence, he reminded himself, only to furrow his brows when he remembered that he had done the same. An entire sanctuary had been purged on his order, dear friends one and all. Just then, something ached deep in his chest, a thorn buried deep beneath years of conditioning and duty. He set his jaw and swept the feeling back into the void where it belonged.
Her concern and gentleness were unnecessary. Unwanted, to a certain degree. Blood, gold, and blades were all he knew and understood anymore. Sex was simple, physical, and natural. But these softer sentiments were ghosts of their former selves—weaknesses forgotten, never learned, or willfully ignored. No matter how he ached for her in the night, how he yearned to hear her laughter or see her smile when she modeled stolen trinkets, her compassion always baffled him. Sat like a heavy foreign thing in his hands. How was he to respond? What was he supposed to do?
This, in Lucien’s mind, was heavy pillow talk, but he could not and would not silence her. She’d brought proof of Bellamont’s treachery to Applewatch on that frigid, snowy night two weeks ago, abused her meager healing abilities to nurse his beaten, broken body back to health. The least he could do was humor her.
At last, he shrugged, feigning sympathy. "No, I suppose not."
Before Tatiana could respond, he rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, smoothing his hair back over his head. She left lingering kisses on his neck before slotting against his side. She snaked her arm over his chest, and for Sithis knew how long, they basked in mutual silence, content with hearing only whispers of breath as they drifted toward the edges of sleep.
Several men stumbled up the steps and tromped down the hall boisterous enough to stir the dead despite their supposed nobility. Farragut’s creaking, skeletal guardians sounded more graceful. With any luck, they’d pass out or trample each other up the next flight of stairs. Tatiana and Lucien’s eyes flicked open. They exchanged a vexed look.
And because nothing good ever lasted, the next door over banged shut. The walls only muffled the din of clinking bottles and crude, pathetic stabs at comedy.
“By the Void,” Lucien whispered, pinching the bridge of his nose. Old men hunched over older bars would sip their ale until the crowds thinned, then smile and whisper that silence was golden. Wise words, he’d always thought. Wise enough that he decided the next person to remind him would have their lips sewn shut.
Sighing, he slid his arm around her shoulders. "To be fair, the bed is softer than mine.”
“A little bigger, too.” Tatiana moistened her lips and trailed slow, wet kisses down his neck. He set his jaw, heat rekindling in his core. When she reached his collarbone, she licked her fingers one by one, then curled them around his cock, teasing him with painfully slow strokes. He chewed his lip, stifling a groan. “More often than not, you get what you pay for. This one doesn't even creak."
His breath hitched as her thumb rolled over his crown, setting his every nerve afire. Gooseflesh peppered his thighs and arms.
A wolfish smirk tweaked her mouth. “Are you well, Speaker?”
Another ache woke in him then, lower, hotter, and worlds more pleasant than the one he’d stamped out in his chest. In one fluid motion, he pushed her onto her back and locked his mouth with hers. She spread her knees for him and moaned softly as he ground his hips against her.
He bit her lip as she dug her nails into the small of his back. Abruptly, he broke the kiss, panting. She blinked in confusion when he swung his legs over the side of the bed and rifled through the heap of discarded clothing. Seconds later, he returned with her belt and the wide cotton sling she kept in her hip pouch for emergencies. Without another word, he blindfolded her and bound her wrists to the headboard.
“Funny,” she whispered, testing her bonds, “I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Were you, now?” He tightened the belt, then slipped one long, calloused fingers inside her. He grinned when she rolled her hips into his hand, her silent gasp a plea for everything he wasn’t ready to give. Huffing a low chuckle through his nose, he slid alongside her and nibbled the shell of her ear, breath a hot cloud on her skin. “Well, you always were a sharp girl.”