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Keys and Cages

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Their first memories would the same, and yet completely different – so distinctly different that it would seem only the passage of time was similar between them.

Raven remembered fear and panic that melted into appreciation and newfound strength in herself.

Erik recalled hesitation and skepticism that turned to love and the need to protect something more precious than a kingdom and a memory.

Charles could recount only darkness punctuated by brushes of much needed warmth.

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SEPTEMBER

Erik couldn't say he approved of Shaw pushing ahead without him, but then again, Shaw did a lot of things that Erik didn't approve of. He'd gotten used to it over the years.

The Westchester Kingdom, nestled in the east and, quite possibly, the outermost reaches of Shaw's growing territory, wasn't going to be an easy place to take. It was small, yes, but it was backed by mountains that provided an excellent place to hold ground even if he should be able to push past the defenses of their plain strategies. Quite simply, despite it's small formation, Westchester knew what it was doing. It had for years, which was why the kings who attempted to take it in the past were not successful. Its people were loyal and its soldiers well trained, if anyone should have accompanied him then it was Erik.

Unfortunately, their last battle had resulted in an injury too grave to simply ignore—which was his preference for these sorts of things, ignoring them—and he was told to stay behind. Shaw sounded good-natured about it when he gave his reassurances, chiding Erik for thinking he'd be of any use when he couldn't rise without soaking numerous rags with blood, but Erik wasn't convinced. Brian Xavier wasn't going to be like so many villages and other kingdom's they'd taken, and they both knew it wasn't just arrogance that drove Erik to be there.

The only small condolence was the fact that the offensive wound—a clear stab through his right side by a short sword—was earned in protecting his liege’s life. If he was going to be forced to recuperate, he didn't think he could have had a more honorable excuse for it.

His recovery seemed to span the extent of his king's absence – much longer and he would have been able to go after him. It was a few short days after he had considered doing just that when the news arrived that there would be no need. Shaw had succeeded – Westchester was theirs and he would be back in Lourdes within a few weeks.

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The trip from Westchester to Lourdes, the re-named capitol of Sebastian Shaw's growing empire, was agonizing for only one reason: She hadn't had the chance to apologize to Charles.

They weren't kept together. It seemed like from the moment Shaw—and she refused to call him “King”—had seen her brother, he was determined to keep them apart. Something terrifying came over his dark eyes, she could see it even from where she was peering around Charles' side, and she couldn't put a name to it. She wasn't sure she wanted to.

For a split second time stopped, freezing the three of them in her bedroom. Charles stood in front of her defiantly, just seconds after twisting around from trying to push her towards the secret passage behind her dresser, despite being unarmed. He knew how to fight, he had a sword, but everything had happened so fast. It hadn't even occurred to him that he would be fighting that day, despite knowing that it was inevitable. They'd been expecting months before Charles or her father should have had to go to battle – what they had gotten was an ambush. And yet all he'd thought about was her, helping her to escape with the other people they'd been evacuating through the secret passages in the mountains.

But then time started again, as it always had to, and it did so with the steady dripping of blood from Shaw's blade on her stone floor. Their father's blood, it must have been, because he was the last person they'd seen fighting Shaw. She felt sick, but nothing compared to the ill-ease that Shaw's eyes filled her with.

Suddenly soldiers were flooding into the room, their red blades matching Shaw's, and she didn't think they said anything. Or if they had, she couldn't remember it. Her ears felt like they were full of cotton and all the words were muffled, though she swore she could picture Shaw speaking to her brother. Then he was grabbing Charles by the throat or the chin—she wished her memory wasn't so unclear, like her mind was full of tears that mottled the vision—and two guards were grabbing her.

She hadn't blacked out, she knew that, but the rest of it seemed like lost time until they ended up here, separated and silenced. That had never happened before.

Charles wasn't far from her at all, the guard she was riding with stayed close to Shaw's horse at the head of their march back to Lourdes. She could see him and probably even call out to him, and that was the strangest part.

She could see and speak, if she wanted to, but Charles couldn't. Sometime after she'd been dragged from the room and all the soldier's followed, Shaw had bound Charles' eyes as well as his wrists and gagged him. She supposed her incoherent sounds of fury and fear had been the only thing to keep him placid. He certainly wouldn't have been so calm if he hadn't known that she was there and, indeed, she had seen Shaw murmur something into Charles' ear when he was first passed up onto his horse. For a second her brother had looked in her direction, as though trying to see through the blindfold, before turning forward again.

She didn't think it was disregard for her strength or cunning that had her let off so easily compared to her brother. It wasn't as though the trail to Lourdes' was a secret, either. No, it was the look in Shaw's eyes that had done it. She knew that with every fiber of her being.

Charles' hadn't 'looked' in her direction again since the first time, and, despite the fact that she knew he had no reason to assume it had anything to do with her, she felt guilty. She wanted to apologize for not listening to him and cooperating. If she'd helped him move the dresser, if she hadn't been so insistent that they could save their father, then they wouldn't be there now. Then Charles wouldn't have to endure whatever those horrible eyes were planning for him.

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Shaw had sent someone ahead to inquire about something, something that Charles couldn't make out when he'd been busy blindly sliding off a saddle into waiting hands. They were large hands, with fingers that easily managed to spread along his hips and hold him steady. It might have made him feel safe if it was anyone but Shaw, but the fact remained and Charles was glad when those hands left his waist, even if they did so in a languid manner.

He was guided forward by his arm, still forced into blind and muteness, with the cloth of his bonds digging sharply into his wrists. He'd been struggling with them the entire journey to Lourdes but nothing came of it except sore wrists and the aching reality that they wouldn't be free until Shaw wanted them free. He didn't think that would be an occasion to look forward to, really.

When he nearly tripped over the entryway, he heard an exasperated sigh from his right and was pulled to a stop. Suddenly the binding was gripped and his hands were being lifted over his head—no, not his head, Shaw's head—the crook of his wrists barely found a hold against the back of his neck before he was hefted off his feet. He thrashed out of instinct, his heart jumping to his throat, and Shaw warningly pinched the side of his thigh, one of his arms hooked against the back of his knees while the other braced his back.

“Behave or I'll yield to the suggestion of having you branded,” he snapped. Charles stilled despite the searing indignation at the mere idea of being treated like farmer's stock. He felt Shaw's face brush against the hair just behind his ear, a hot, moist breath teasing the flesh of his neck and igniting the bites and bruises from the past few weeks' attention. They responded like flame to oil. “Good prince.”

Charles wasn't sure if his cheeks or his temper was burning brighter.

Wherever he was, it was warm—hot, even—and he could sense that it was cramped. He heard someone shuffling around after the sound of Shaw's boots stopped thudding across the wooden floor. The dull clank of heavy metal and shifts of something like leather sounded around them followed by the sound of wood scraping wood—a chair being dragged across the floor, he guessed.

His feet were lowered to the floor slowly at first, until he caught on and then hurried to the task. Shaw's calloused, disgustingly familiar hands found his wrists again and lifted them from his shoulders, but kept them suspended in the air until he turned around in a move far too similar to the pirouettes he'd seen Raven practice in the dance halls when she was younger. When Shaw's heat was pressed to his back instead of his front, he was permitted to drop his hands again.

“I want it to lock and fit as closely as possible,” Shaw explained. Whoever they were, they weren't standing close enough for Charles to sense them. “Can you handle that?”

“Yeah, right, no taking it off without the key,” a male voice replied. He sounded bored and, perhaps, something like five feet away. Charles had a small feeling of pride at how good he'd gotten at navigating without his eyes over the past few weeks of travel and staying at inns.

“Don't test me, John. I'm still your—”

“King,” he finished. Now his voice was a tad more respectful, though it was a begrudging respect. “I know, Your Highness.”

“Then behave like it.”

With no word of warning he was guided and maneuvered, nearly bumping his shin into something as he was led around it. Two hands clamped on his shoulders and pushed him down and for a moment he thought he'd hit the floor until he realized that it was a chair he'd nearly knocked himself into. In front of him “John,” he could only assume, had been migrating in their direction and now was close enough for Charles to feel. He dropped to at least a kneeling position in front of him, about eye-level, he was guessing. Shaw's grip remained tight on his shoulders.

A hand lightly touched his jaw and he jerked, but Shaw didn't miss a beat. His fingers were digging into his collarbone and the gag between his lips caught the startled sound as it slipped.

“Be still,” he growled, an echo of the earlier warning in his tone. Charles bit down on the cloth, a poor substitute for grinding his teeth.

The hand returned a second later, the touch was surprisingly soft with rough fingers, and found his chin. It guided his head forward again and this time he obliged, Shaw's fingers threatening bruises into his shoulders as a reminder to be complacent. What followed was a series of strange, disconnected touches and it wasn't until he felt the sides of his nose pinched lightly that he realized they were measurements.

But measurements for what? There were any number of torture devices situated about the head, he'd read about them in his required historical studies, but none that required such specific details. And Shaw's didn't sound like he was commissioning such a thing, though he was going off of the fact no mention of pain or suffering had been involved. They seemed like things that would come up when commissioning a torture device.

His behavior when they were alone in his inn rooms over the past few weeks also hadn't implied any intention to kill him. Unless Shaw had a tendency to molest his soon-to-be torture victims. His stomach twisted when he decided it wouldn't be that surprising.

The continuing conversation jerked him from the peculiar thoughts.

“About a week to make sure it's right,” John said. Charles felt the air in front of him shift as the stranger pulled away, only now noticing the flutter of parchment that went with him.

“That seems a bit long,” Shaw replied coolly.

“You want to be sure he can't pry it off then I need a week.”

Displeasure washed off of Shaw in waves, hitting the back of his neck and making his skin prickle to attention, but then the pain in his shoulders eased. John seemed to sense he wasn't about to lose his head.

“One key, Sir?”

“Naturally.”

“You'll have it in a week, Your Majesty.”

Shaw's only reply was to grab his arm and tug him out of the chair. Within seconds Charles felt the cool September wind against his face once again.

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During his last stop, not so far from Lourdes, Shaw had sent ahead a messenger with news that he should be ready around the time of his return in something suitable for a formal affair. It wasn't unlike his king to be in a celebratory mood upon returning from a successful campaign—particularly one that had taken this long—but sending ahead a message for it was certainly strange. It implied something already planned, where Shaw usually preferred spontaneous parties and drinking upon his return.

Still, their meeting didn't yield any immediate answers. Shaw had a way of not answering things.

“Erik!”

The call drew his attention away from the book he'd been reading on the palace steps, bringing it up to Shaw's approaching form. He stood, feeling an irritating sense of relief at actually seeing that his king was safe. Rumors and messages, even official reports, didn't compare to seeing the man himself.

“My liege,” he replied, but the attempt at formality was swept away by a tight arm wrapping across his shoulder. He managed a somewhat awkward return gesture, still caught off guard by the motion every time. “This must have been quite a victory, I take it?”

“The most successful yet,” Shaw replied. He stepped back and kept a grip on his arms, looking over the clothes or, perhaps, just the knight that he hadn't seen in almost six months now. “You look well. How's your wound?”

“Healed.”

“Glad to hear it.”

Shaw clapped him on the arm before turning to head up the stairs to the expansive estate. There was a quickness to his steps that Erik knew had very little to do with the fact that he was home. Shaw could never stand being home when there was territory to claim.

He wasn't entirely sure what to do however, and followed after him slowly. He couldn't imagine that his king was finished with him given the message, but that didn't mean he intended to explain it right now either, he supposed—

“Come to my chambers.” As much as Erik hated how well Shaw could read him, he knew it had saved both their lives in battle. “I'll explain there.”

And that was precisely what Shaw did as he changed from travel garb to formal clothes.

He detailed mostly the tail-end of the campaign—which, after so many battles himself, was all Erik cared to hear if it was all that pertained to him—and the defeat of Brian Xavier. The death that gave them their victory, he'd assumed, was the cause of Shaw's good mood. He was wrong.

“Naturally, I've arranged for you to marry Princess Raven,” he explained, adjusting his sleeve as though he was discussing their plans for dinner. “Consider it a thank you for your loyalty.”

An uncomfortable sort of tension borne of awkwardness squirmed its way into his stomach and back. A bride? He'd never pictured himself married, much less so soon (alright, well, he wasn't exactly young, but he was still too fit to settle down). The idea of leaving someone widowed had never set well with him, not after he'd seen the toll it had taken on his mother.

But, then, he couldn't very well outright refuse either, could he?

“She's perfect for you,” his king continued. Erik watched him check himself over in the mirror of his en-suite bathroom. “Nearly took out three guards before we could get her set to bring back here.”

Well, Erik had to admit that did sound somewhat appealing. The women who usually took interest in him seemed to be the giggling, blushing virgin type. Not that there was anything wrong with virgins explicitly, so much as the giggling and blushing. He was never sure how to behave around someone so...delicate. Sometimes he swore looking at them was going to break them.

But the king was pressing on and he didn't have time to waste his thoughts with faint-of-heart brides.

“Unless you don't trust my judgment and intend to refuse? Is that what I should take your silence for, Erik?”

There was a danger in his voice that Erik recognized not because it was a threat but because they both knew very well when he had a corner at his back. Shaw was his king. As much as they may have acted otherwise on occasion, that was still the reality that formed the base of their entire relationship. There was servitude and respect and a healthy amount of biting down how much it annoyed him when Shaw did things like this to maintain that relationship.

“No, my Lord.” He bowed his head slightly, placing a hand over his heart. “Of course not.”

He felt Shaw observe him for a moment, as though he didn't quite believe him, before he was moving past him towards the door, now fully dressed in an ensemble of black, deep red and gold. Appropriate and yet not, Erik decided when he finally looked up.

“Excellent. Then shall we proceed?”

He didn't really have to answer that, so he didn't. He just followed Shaw out the door, not having an ounce of surprise (but perhaps a but of curiosity to why) left in him for how quickly this entire thing was taking place.

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The most he knew about his bride was that she had lovely hands and that she was, unsurprisingly, shaken by the events of the past few weeks. He hadn't seen her under the veil, nor had he seen Shaw's betrothed, only Raven's hands while he held them, trying to calm her down. It didn't seem to work and he was sure the only reason she stayed so close to him through dinner was because she couldn't see the other boisterous people around her.

Erik supposed she wanted to run, but she didn't, for one reason or another. He knew Shaw's new spouse didn't because Shaw kept whoever they were in his lap the entire time, arms secured around their waist. He'd given Raven her own seat beside him, at least up until a few servants came to collect her and lead her to his suite in the castle. A quick look towards Shaw told him it was his doing.

He might've left sooner if everyone wasn't demanding his attention and giving their congratulations, or what little congratulations could be warranted from a surprise engagement and, now, matrimony. It wasn't until this moment he considered himself old-fashioned, but there was something to be said for seeing a woman before taking them as a wife.

The mixture of wine and Shaw's assurances had his spirits at least a little more uplifted by the time he retreated to his suite for the night, casting another curious glance over the person his king was keeping so close. The robes were indiscernible but the hands and posture looked male. Erik was rather surprised, given that Shaw already had a late wife to his name, but he didn't want to speculate. Gossip had never been his driving force and it wasn't going to be tonight either.

The main floor of his suite was a welcome sight, illuminated by several bright, warm flames. He almost had a second to appreciate it, too, before something was colliding with his jaw from his blind spot just behind the door.

Pain cracked through his face, but he was a knight and a life of battle left him with a certain resilience to that sort of thing, which the person who hit him didn't seem to know. They bolted behind him for the cracked open door but he caught their waist, a wave of blonde hair obscuring his vision as he spun around and tossed her to the floor. She grunted, but it wasn't the sort that implied she was going to give up, and within seconds she was back on her feet attempting to run around him.

One time an assassination attempt on Shaw had led someone into his suite instead of the king's, giving Erik a very high adrenaline rush when he returned from dinner to be attacked. This was similar, except the woman running at him now wasn't nearly so well-trained. He easily pinned her to the ground after the second try, holding her wrists to the cold stone while she thrashed.

“Get off me! Get off!” Her voice was strong but panicked, curtains of yellow blocking her face. “You're not taking me, do you understand? Get off!”

His heartbeat was thudding in his head and the forming bruise on his jaw. “Calm down!”

“I won't let you do this!”

“I'm not doing anything.”

“Yet,” she argued back, and the mere idea seemed to scare her even more. She sounded young—she was young, he noted, her body couldn't have spoken to an age much over twenty years—and afraid. “I know what you're going to do.”

“Do you? Astounding, would like to tell me, then? Because I haven't got a clue,” he replied. He could feel her pulse pounding in her wrists when she stopped thrashing, fluttering like so many trapped birds beneath her skin. His stomach twisted into uncomfortable knots.

“You're going to rape me,” she whispered softly, her voice cracked.

“I'm—” He relaxed his fingers a little. “I'm not going to rape you. Why would you think—”

Then she started thrashing again and he remembered why he had kept his grip on her to begin with. “Then why are you pinning me to the floor!”

“You hit me!”

“Are you going to cry about it? You're a knight, aren't you?”

He felt a surge of anger cut through him. “I'm not offended or hurt, I just wanted to remind you that it's a perfectly logical reason to—did you chew through the restraints?” How had he missed the strips of torn, white cloth on her wrists?

“It was an emergency!”

“Well it isn't now,” he snapped. “I won't hurt you, but you have to calm down.”

It took her a moment but she stilled again. Her breath was coming in heavy pants and he still couldn't properly see her face, but something told him she wasn't going to lash out. Or maybe his curiosity about Shaw's new spouse was compounding his curiosity about his new bride, and he didn't care if he got hit again because he wasn't a curious man, usually, which made this ridiculous.

She flinched when he first made contact, but he hushed her. “I just want to see your face.”

She seemed to relax, at least a little, and he brushed back the thick threads of hair. The face beneath was just as young as he suspected, perhaps younger because she looked so terrified of him. He pulled both hands back, holding them up where she could see. She just looked him in the eye, uncertain.

“Raven, I take it?”

She nodded, licking her lips uncertainly. “It's...Erik, right?”

“Yes.” How amusing that they had to double check their own spouse's name.

She swallowed and looked around the room, probably taking it in for the first time, before looking back at him.

“Could you get off of me?”

He quirked a brow. “Do you promise not to hit me or try to run?”

Skepticism passed in her eyes, as though she was expecting him to go back on his words, before she nodded, likely figuring that she didn't have a choice even if he did. She was a smart girl, at least, and he couldn't say she was a blushing, giggling virgin.

He got up, taking her hands and pulling her to her feet after him. She snatched them back immediately, but at least she wasn't fighting him anymore. She was rubbing at her wrists while she eyed him and he held out his hand for one.

“I can cut that off for you,” he offered. She shook her head. He sighed but let her have it. She'd want it off eventually, he figured, may as well wait it out.

She took a few steps away from him, looking around the room decorated in purple and black. Her fingers ran along one of the chairs, the white dress shifting with each slow movement. “This is yours?”

“My suite, yes.” He started to unfasten the belts of his half-cape. “The castle is King Shaw's, of course.”

She twisted around to face him, eyes wide. “My brother is here, then? In this castle?”

“So it was your brother?” It was nice to have that question answered. The proceedings had been vague enough in their addresses—likely from the King's request—that it was impossible to tell what gender was under that veil. She nodded, wringing her hands in front of her as she waited for his answer. He frowned, not wanting to lie but neither did he want to encourage her to go running about in an attempt to find him. He removed the cape, folding it over his arm, deciding she'd figure it out anyway. “Yes. I imagine he's on the floor above this one.”

“I need to—” She moved towards the door and he felt his muscles tense into action, stepping in her line. She stopped, took a step back, and the fear returned. “You said you weren't—”

“And I'm not. But you won't be seeing your brother tonight even if I did let you go looking for him,” he said. The question flashed in her eyes and he knew for sure now that she was far too young and naïve for him. “The King will intend to consummate the marriage, naturally.”

“He's...” Confusion passed into denial and then to nausea. Erik dropped his cape to the floor when her hand clamped over her mouth, catching her waist and pulling her towards the en-suite bathroom. Whatever she'd eaten that day was lost in the nearest basin and Erik held her hair away, stroking her back as soothingly as he could managed only because he recalled his mother doing something similar when he was ill. He didn't know if it actually helped, and he felt more than a little bit foolish.

Maybe it was the shock, or maybe it was the naivety, but Erik felt like he was seeing a moment of incomprehensible weakness in her. She was normally stronger than this, but all the sudden the past few weeks were crashing on her young shoulders.

“Charles would never...not willingly...” But she couldn't seem to say the word she was dancing around, wiping her mouth with the back of a shaking hand.

He couldn't think of anything to say—whoever Charles was before tonight, his political, social and personal obligations were to Shaw now, whether he wanted it or not—so he didn't say anything. He just slid his hand against her trembling back until she turned around, burying her face into his chest to sob and he eased her to the ground when her legs gave out. Not since his mother had been killed had he felt so uncertain of what to do.

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It was disorienting to see again; that was Charles' first thought when Shaw took off his blindfold. He'd gone through nearly two weeks now based entirely on his other senses. The only time he was permitted to see was at the various inns they had stopped in during their journey back, when he was alone with Shaw. Now that he could see where he'd been led, it seemed like that pattern would be repeating itself.

The suite laid out before him was large, to say the least of it. Three rooms branched off of the one they were standing in now, each guarded by a curtain that was swept aside and, in the light, would have offered more to see. For now they were just lingering, dark places to echo the ones forming in Charles' mind. As large as it was, he knew it was too small, unearthing a sense of claustrophobia in him that he'd never felt before. It was a luxurious prison, and one that he wasn't given much time to consider.

Without the blindfold, he was permitted to properly see Shaw, who stepped around him only after the door was locked. Small lines of tension curled through Charles' muscles, following the trail that Shaw's eyes left across him. Appreciating, considering – Charles' didn't allow his back to slouch in the slightest, kept his jaw set and stared straight ahead. He wasn't going to crumble so easily.

“No one outside of your demented kingdom will recognize this farce as a union,” he said.

Shaw stopped in front of him with a brow raised as though inquiring, arms neatly folded behind his back. “And what does that matter to you?”

Fingers dug into his palms. “When I escape, or when someone kills you, because you're a tyrant and tyrants have short and turbulent rules at best, this ceremony won't matter.”

He forced himself to remain still as Shaw stepped closer, the smooth leather of his glove stroking across his cheek in a slow gesture that Charles twisted away from. A frown formed on Shaw's lips – he took a minor victory in that.

“And what makes you think that will ever happen?” He asked, tilting his head as though he was challenging someone's politics rather than implying he'd stripped him of his free will. “Better yet, what makes you think you'll want to escape me?”

He almost didn't believe what he'd heard. “You killed my father and kidnapped my sister and I, not to mention just married her away like she was your property—”

“Politics,” he replied.

“It was murder. You ambushed us in our home, that isn't politics. Politics is treaties and negotiations and compromise—”

“And war,” Shaw bit back, stepping closer. “And death and blood and tears.”

“Only for greedy, violent, warmongering—”

The sudden impact of Shaw's hand to his cheek was muffled by the glove, but the pain was not. It slammed into his cheek like a rock. It wouldn't swell to red or sting, just bruise, and he could feel that bruise forming under his fingertips when he moved his hand to it. For now his head was swimming, he hadn't been hit since he was a child, and that was two decades ago by now.

“That is the one and only time I will hit you in the face for making me lose my patience,” Shaw explained. Sterile and cool and so unlike the man he'd heard talking with John earlier who had gotten angry at the idea of waiting for a week. “I suggest you remember that, because I now own the rest of your body.”

He looked back at him, his face aching and the cool of his fingertips being sapped quickly by the pain. “You don't own me.”

“Our marriage arrangement would say differently. I own you, and your sister, and your entire kingdom now.”

He swallowed the words but couldn't digest them. The entire past few weeks had happened in a dream, distant, black and unreal. Shaw's touches in the guarded rooms, the marks on his skin that responded to each of his terrible breaths as it rolled over them – none of that, none of this, could have possibly been real. How could it have been real if he couldn't have seen it?

He moved his fingers to his neck, palming at a bite that hadn't faded. “No. That's—”

Politics.

Shaw was as quick as he was impending and Charles felt fingers biting into his arm before he even saw him move. He was shoved, not guided, into the door at his back and pinned by Shaw's larger frame. He pushed, a sense of panic washing over his mind when the dizzy denial cleared. Shaw's other hand found his, prying it away from where it was gripping and shoving at his shoulder to hold it high over his head. He froze when hot air tickled his ear.

“This can be easy, my prince, or this can be difficult.” He gasped out of instinct as Shaw's hips rolled against his, pressing him against the door. “But either way, you will consummate this marriage tonight.” Another rough grind, he was pushed to his tip toes. “You will submit.” Another, he squeezed his eyes shut, each inhale pressing his chest tighter to Shaw's. “You will be mine.

The protest died on his lips when Shaw's claimed them, mouth already parted and an easy target. His tongue slid inside, tasting and taking every inch of him. It felt like he was trying to draw the air out of his lungs and suck the very heat from his body, messy and dominating. He pulled on his wrists, struggling so hard to ignore the way he couldn't move an inch without creating friction between them.

Their lips separated with a wet, heavy sound and his lungs flooded with air at the first gasp, prickling spreading in his chest and head. He'd never been kissed like that and it sparked an unwelcome heat through him, one that he didn't want to give the opportunity to persist. Shaw nuzzled his neck, breath leaving moist plains across his skin, before pulling back to look at him—that same possessive, dark look in his eyes that he'd had when they first met face-to-face.

“What will it be?”

“You don't have to do this,” he panted, mind frantic.

Shaw laughed. “No, I do. You do not have to make it difficult.”

“I will not let you do with me as you please. Just...let me go, don't do this—” He grunted as Shaw's hips thrust against his, driving him higher up the door and forcing his thighs apart. He pressed his head back into the wood, arching his neck and squeezing his eyes closed. Shaw took advantage, his teeth scraping against his bobbing Adam's Apple when he spoke.

“As I've said: I will have you, one way or another.”

He was pulled from the door, both wrists now pinned to his back, and led to the bedroom, feet barely keeping up with Shaw's pace. Moonlight spilled across the bed, large enough for three, at least, and neatly made, the rest of the room save for a thin strip of floor and a speck of orange light on what he could only assume to be a bedside table was cast in darkness. Shaw didn't waste time letting him get his bearings, instead pulling him back against his chest and moving his free hand to unfasten the front of his robes.

The muscles in his jaw ached as rough fingers slid beneath the layers of material, marking his skin with foreign touches. Each inhale pressed his hand into Shaw's caress, each beat of his heart pushed their skin just a bit closer, and he could feel Shaw's erection pressing into his backside. His fingers moved back up when enough clasps were undone, brushing across the line of his collarbone in such a feather-light gesture that the cloth seemed to slip from his shoulders out of fear more than anything.

He hissed through his teeth, the cool air of the room biting across his newly exposed body like ten thousand mouths. It was enough to make him shudder, pin-pointing the spots where Shaw's warmth shielded him—his hand resting now on his hip and moving down to his leg, the scratch of his clothes against his shoulder-blades—despite the fact he'd prefer the cold.

“Will you still make this difficult?” His fingers teased the crease of his thighs, slipping between them and stroking the skin affectionately. It was only then that Charles realized he hadn't stopped shaking.

He didn't unclench his set jaw, if only because doing so would make his chattering teeth obvious. “Always.”

Shaw shoved him forward, and he nearly tripped over the pile of clothes at his feet. He was pushed high onto the bed, against the pillows, weight pinning his hips and he struggled anyway, ten times harder when he felt cloth brush against his wrists and he knew what was coming. The burst of strength that came with his fear was enough to yank one wrist free, but it didn't matter. Shaw paid little attention to his desperate attempts to shove him off, enduring whatever pain he caused with a few grunts and sheer focus. When his attention left one wrist he immediately pulled on it, forgetting that it was bound, and let out a frustrated grunt because this couldn't be happening.

Soon both arms were strung above his head and, though he could move them separately, he could not move them far. Shaw slid off his hips, between his legs, and it wasn't anger or cold that was making him shiver anymore.

“Don't do this,” he pleaded, because he didn't have anything else to do. The restraints, soft from what he could tell, still bit into his skin when he pulled on them, arching his back and trying anything to get away. His face flushed at the spectacle he must have been making of himself, naked and squirming, but fear lingered on the edge of his mind. “Please, don't. You don't have to do this, you can be better than this.”

“I thought I was a greedy, violent, warmongering tyrant?”

And his voice was so aloof and unaffected that Charles felt a helpless sound leave his throat because even if Shaw had the capability in him to be better than this, he was never going to use it.

Nothing happened at first, not to him, but there was the sound and feel and slight shift of shadow across Shaw's form above him that said he was undressing. Charles felt his muscles burn with the dissipation of adrenaline and the onset of resignation. He pressed his head back into the pillows, closed his eyes as tight as he could and sank his teeth into his lower lip. He didn't realize the movements had stopped until Shaw's thumb was tracing his lip and he released it out of shock.

“Open your eyes, Charles.”

His pride screamed at him not to, to choose death and Shaw's rage over this, but his mind was on self-preservation. Raven was somewhere in this place and he'd never see her again or be able to protect her if he didn't pick his battles with the utmost care. Even then a cynical part of his mind argued back You'll never win.

Shaw was right in the stream of silver across the bed, illuminated and defined by ghostly light and shadows. He was well muscled and sleek, as battle-ready as any knight or soldier, with lines of dark hair merging into the abyss surrounding his eyes. A set jaw, firm and carved by the pale glow, while the other half of him was nothing but ambiguous black. His stomach twisted into tight knots and Shaw smirked as though he could sense it.

“I'm not so repulsive, am I?” He asked, his hands sinking the bed on either side of him. He could feel Shaw's erection press to his hip and clenched his fists.

“Worse.”

Once again he was silenced, Shaw's tongue ravaging his mouth hard enough to bruise as his lips were crushed. Their teeth clicked together, muffled by the wet siege and Shaw tilted his head just enough to keep their jaws locked. The cramped, hot space left no room to breathe, no room to avoid the onslaught, and Shaw twisted and pulled and sucked on his tongue sending flares through his body. Fingers curled around his thighs when he attempted to squeeze them shut, prying them apart and Shaw swallowed the sound that came as he thrust down into his hips, grinding against his groin.

A steady pace picked up, rocking him higher onto the bed with each jarring motion. The friction of his hips and the moist burn of their mouths forced his cock to attention. His cheeks fevered and his head was swimming by the time Shaw pulled back, dropping kisses and bites across his neck and shoulders. Puffs of air hit his skin and he shuddered again, tilting his head against his arm.

Shaw's hand found his cock when he sat back and he choked in surprise, the restraints digging hard into his wrists when he jerked. His strokes were light but rough, thumbing the head and its underside in a way that made his hips squirm involuntarily. “Mmm, seems like you're ready to move on.”

He wanted to ask but his mouth was numb from the kiss, his mind burning, so he just watched as Shaw leaned forward to pick up one of the pillows beside his head. For a moment his hand stopped lavishing his erection and Charles felt his hips lifted, the pillow stuffed under them, and he was set back down. His spread legs and the new angle did nothing but give the facade of invitation. A small trickle of panic started in the back of his mind as he watched Shaw reach over to the small, orange glow he'd forgotten about. He thought he vaguely saw something glistening on his fingers when they passed through the moonlight but they soon disappeared between his legs.

The second he felt the oil—warmed by the flame beneath it and not by Shaw's fingers alone—press against his entrance he knew what it was. The small trickle turned to a burst dam.

“No!” He bucked his hips and jerked on his restraints, starting to pull away even if he really had nowhere to go. Shaw's placating thumb on his erection wasn't nearly enough to calm him, and he soon felt his fingers grabbing thigh again, pulling him down the few inches he'd crawled away. “Please, no, no.”

“Relax,” Shaw replied, and his voice was probably supposed to be soothing but Charles could not fathom being soothed. Shaw fingers were massaging a fine coat of oil against him and he almost missed the way he was moving his leg, pressing his knee up towards his chest and forcing him wider. “It'll be much easier if you relax.”

“I don't want to relax! God. Stop!” His head fell back against the pillows, tears burning behind his eyes and stinging his throat. Shaw had touched him during the journey back, he'd teased and molested, but he'd never done this. And yet he knew he should have seen this coming. How had he not seen this coming?

“I'm not going to stop.” Blunt and honest and what was the point in fighting if there was no humanity in Shaw to be appealed to? “So, relax.”

“I won't,” he choked, except he also couldn't. No part of him wanted to allow this.

“You can and you will.” There was a little more danger to his voice now. “Or you will tear and I'll tell you right now that you will heal, and because you will heal I do not care if I tear you.”

With anyone else he would have called their bluff, because he strongly believed that no individual human could have been capable of this level of cruelty. Not without driving forces or pressure or something behind it to push them to such an extreme. But Shaw had proven already that he was not an individual human, he was shadows and ruin and cold, calculating want. He was known as the Black King for a reason.

He pressed his eyes shut as he sucked in a trembling breath and let it out. Shaw's fingers hadn't stopped moving, like a hungry animal waiting for its meal, but he hadn't entered yet. For the life of him, his body would not stop shaking, but he pushed it to relax. This was happening, this would hurt, and he couldn't stop it, but he could make it easier for himself. It was the best he could do.

“Good, my love,” Shaw encouraged, and Charles felt his thumb start to stroke calming lines against his pinned thigh. He swallowed, cinched his jaw, and turned his face into his arm again.

For a brief second Shaw's fingers left just to return with a little more oil slicking them and no warning was given before one slid in with unsettling ease. He arched his back and clenched on the intrusion instinctively, but that just solidified its presence inside of him, made it hurt. The digit started to move in impatience, curling against the walls of muscle before he properly relaxed and forcing him to do so despite it. He pushed himself to ease, all the while humiliation seared the back of his mind and his face burned against his arm.

A pattern started when he relaxed, Shaw's finger sliding out, never completely, before pressing back in. He wished there was any other sound in the room besides the greasy 'schlick' of his body being violated. Even his heartbeat seemed to quiet in his ears so he could hear it, and when one finger became two it got even louder. They twisted inside of him, feeling along the sensitive walls as though trying to memorize him. When they spread apart they stretched him, sending an ache through each nerve that he couldn't ignore. Everything was worse when two became three.

Shaw's fingers left his thigh, positioning his legs so they were still wide open, and found his cock again. He picked up his light-but-rough strokes, thumbing his head and slit in time with the fingers pumping in and out of him. Blood and heat rushed to his revived erection, swelling into Shaw's skilled hand despite the fact that a trapped part of him was screaming for this all to stop. He had no control, every nerve sang for Shaw's abuse, called for the thrust of his fingers as far inside him as they could go and hummed for each swipe of his thumb across the tip of his cock.

The bed shifted beneath him and Shaw's slicked fingers smeared oil against his thigh when he found it. His knee was pushed up towards his chest again, the other leg still bent with his toes curled into the duvet, before he felt the blunt pressure of Shaw's dick against his entrance. Before he had time to tense he was screaming, Shaw taking him in one powerful, filling jerk of his hips. Violent shivers ran rampant through his entire body, arched and pulling as hard on his binds as he could. It stretched and burned and filled in a way that the fingers didn't compare to.

Shaw didn't move above him, staying seated deep inside as his lips brushed against his neck and jaw and he murmured things that were quiet and Charles couldn't quite understand them because his world was spinning and nothing made any sense beyond the thing penetrating him. He could feel Shaw's pulse through his cock, pressed so tight inside of him that he wished it hurt Shaw just as much as it was hurting him. It didn't, of course, if Shaw's heavy pants of 'so tight,' punctuated by pleased grunts and 'perfect,' were any indication.

Somehow he relaxed enough for Shaw to move, and he took full advantage. His thrusts were slow and deep, marked by the wet sound of lubrication and skin hitting skin. His thigh burned from being stretched, but there was no part of him that didn't burn anymore. Shaw had been thumbing his cock all through the pain, muddling the agony with the pleasure of being touched and teased in areas sensitive and neglected. He didn't know which parts of him were aching for what reasons.

The thrusts got quicker and harder, riding him up the bed again and he craned his neck back into the pillow, panting and gasping as his inner walls were stuffed, stretched, and defiled. Shaw hit something inside of him that made him cry out in alarm at first because he swore against logic that he was going to explode, but he didn't. Lightning zapped through his veins and the only reason he didn't come was because Shaw was gripping his cock so hard that it hurt.

He squirmed and writhed, yanking on his binds, so lost in whatever this convoluted mess of sensations was that he didn't realize until his orgasm was smashing into him that he'd been saying 'please, please, please' under his breath. Shaw's fingers had relaxed just enough that the next deep thrust to hit that spot sent him over with no chance of looking back. He came with Shaw rammed inside of him, his traitor of a body practically pulling him deeper and within minutes he was flooded with the new sensation of liquid fire as Shaw's come coated his insides.

And alongside the feeling, hidden behind the haze, were his dignity and pride banging against the cage inside his mind.