So this just came into my head as I was trying to wrap up "Sieges Weathered" which will have a new chapter should be up soon (for real this time)! I couldn't find a home for it in my other stories so made it a one shot.

T rating but it might be borderline M. There's nothing too explicit but there are brief flickers of sex and mentions of assault.


A single lantern was lit in his bedroom. Shadows danced across the stone ceiling and walls as the flame flickered within its cage. Cold, crisp condensation dripped down the polished balcony doors and the moon made its bold appearance through clear skies and drifting clouds. The night was still young.

A weight had been lifted off my chest and I still felt its effects hours later. For the first time in months, there was no need to be careful. Irys had assured me that being Liaison would get easier the longer I did it, but, wisely, had never promised that I would ever be comfortable.

Yet, this was comfortable. Being able to be together for so long a period without imminent danger hanging over our heads made it all worth it.

I turned over in the bed and curled my arm around Valek's, resting my chin on his shoulder.

My hand was abruptly snatched, locking me in place. He pressed his lips to mine before I could make a sound. "Much better." I shivered and tasted the brandy on his warm breath as he kissed the corner of my mouth and the curve of my jaw. "What do you want to do now, love?"

It was not a difficult question. "Kissing contest."

Still holding my hand to his chest, he raised a single eyebrow. "Go on."

I grinned. "First one to pull away loses."

His eyes lit at the challenge. "Loser has to go downstairs for the water pitcher."

"And no cheating. Hands have to stay above the shoulders at all times."

"Sweet of you to decide to play fair tonight."

When I ultimately lost, Valek smirked even as he was catching his breath. He held the blanket up to me and I snatched it. "At least I get the first sip."

"And I get to miss you while you're gone."

I couldn't keep from grinning even as I had to brave the cold - downstairs and out on the balcony, where the jug was set nightly in the cooler months. But my mission was soon accomplished and I wasted no time crawling back into bed.

I lay on my stomach beside him and closed my eyes. The pitcher landed on the nightstand softly and the sheets rustled as Valek turned toward me.

Warm hands landed on my shoulders, sweeping my hair aside.

A content sigh escaped me when he began to massage my strained muscles. "Winner's guilt?" I teased.

"You did have a long week, Liaison Zaltana."

"As did you, Adviser Valek."

He laughed as he pressed his thumbs into the base of my neck. "I wouldn't complain if you ever decided to return the favor, love."

I relaxed deeper into the bed. Even as his hands moved liberally down my arms and my lower back, the contact wasn't inherently sexual. It was just comforting and familiar.

A kiss was pressed to the back of my neck. All lethargy melted away as anticipatory heat coursed through my veins again. I stayed still, allowing arousal to return, as his lips traveled across my shoulders and began down my spine.

But I made the mistake of opening my eyes to see the emptiness beside me, abruptly breaking the spell.

Something tightened deep within me, preparing and commanding me to run. A hand rested on my shoulder, near my neck. With slightly more pressure, he could easily pin me down and enter me wherever and however he saw fit. I shut my eyes again to smother the reaction, but a strangled noise from the back of my throat and a sharp flinch ultimately betrayed me.

A cold draft skipped across my back when he yanked himself away. I propped myself up on my elbows to explain or to apologize or to…I never managed a word.

Somehow, I ended up on my back, snatching at air and sheets; fighting to breathe. My hands were gently pried away before I could draw blood. Warm fabric was draped over my bare chest. A calm, patient voice was counting for me, encouraging me in between sets to come back. I shut my eyes and remembered how to breathe again.

The aching thuds in my chest subsided with the shaking. I forced myself to remember where I was and who I was with. There was no pain here. No whips. No chains. Only safety. Only love.

I gradually breathed in through my nose again. No smell of blood and waste. Only musk and home.

I found the courage to open my eyes again and was promptly rewarded with the sight of Valek's smile.

He still held my hand. "Let me help you, love." He made sure I stayed properly covered with the blanket before he pulled me up into a sitting position.

He released my hand briefly to hand me the water pitcher. I took it and drank gratefully as he covered my back with a discarded shirt.

Mulling over the panic attack, I wish I could say that this was the first time something like this had happened. But it wasn't and I doubt it'd be the last.

"I'm sorry, Yelena." Valek was saying as he smoothed the hair away from my face. "I should have asked first."

I buttoned the shirt closed and leaned against him. "It's not your fault. It came out of nowhere."

When I looked at him, I saw the honest compassion that he may never be known for, but which grew within him all the same. That's when it struck me.

"I never thought of it this way. But it does make sense."

Valek kissed my cheek and wrapped an arm around me. "What does, love?"

"When I'm facing you, I can see what you're doing and it makes me feel more in control. But when I was lying on my stomach, somehow I felt…too vulnerable."

"It is a vulnerable position." Valek replied simply. "The back is the most opportune place to strike."

"There shouldn't be any opportune place to strike here." Fierce determination welled up inside me and I collected it.

"I agree. But we can't change who we are and where we come from simply by taking our clothes off. Being hyper vigilant is how people like us manage to stay alive for so long. I would have probably reacted in the exact same way."

"In that case, I think this is just another sign that we shouldn't ever give each other massages."

"At least not when brandy and spontaneity are involved." Valek leaned back and glanced about the room. "…or maybe it's really just this suite."

Our now revised inside joke prompted an instant burst of companionable laughter, dissolving any remaining tension.

"It might have worked out differently if you didn't take that glass of brandy with the Commander before you came in here." I said between giggles.

"A case could be made. And…" More laughter. "…maybe we shouldn't have mentioned our jobs."

When our mirth subsided, I took his hand. "I do trust you. You know that, don't you?"

Valek only wrapped me in his arms. "Of course I do, love. But you will never have to prove anything in that respect, least of all here. That burden rests with me."

He never expected me to feel unconditionally safe. And that's why I never felt safer anywhere else.

I pulled away and hugged my knees. "I thought of Reyad – just now."

He squeezed my hand, inviting me to continue or to remain silent. "I never told anyone in detail what happened. How he…raped me. And it's probably because, for a while, I could hardly remember."

"It still happened. Don't ever doubt that." He stroked my hand softly in support. "And you never deserved any of it."

I nodded, a stone lodging in my throat. But the tears stifled themselves, as if they'd have nothing to do with something so dirty and defiled. "I was face down and my hands were chained behind my neck. He took his time, saying he'd make me 'ready' for him. I couldn't see what he was doing. And that's why the anticipation was so much worse."

Valek tugged on my hand gently just as I felt myself losing my mind in reliving the nightmare. "But it is over, love. You're no longer there. You're safe now."

"I know. But I hate how little things can remind me."

He tilted my chin towards him. "Which is why there was nothing wrong with how you reacted. You will never owe me an apology when there's something you won't do."

I smiled. "There will be quite a few things that I won't do then."

"Whatever they are will immediately lose their appeal for me by that virtue." He caressed my face. "Besides, there are plenty of things that I already like to do with that pretty face of yours. Including this." He leaned in and kissed me deeply.

We lay back down. I nestled against him and he stroked my hair softly in the stillness. My mind continued to mull over this several heartbeats later.

"It did feel good, though." I remarked as I sat up again. The determination came back again and this time the image of Reyad in my mind only reminded me of how much I wanted to reclaim what had been stolen from me. My mind worked through the trigger again. "And I think it would be fine as long as you don't take me by surprise."

Valek turned to me, his blue eyes searching me intently. "You don't have to do this."

"I know." I met his gaze and reached out and held his face. "But I really want to. I want to be vulnerable with you. That's the whole point."

He pulled my hands down and kissed them. "There are different ways. They're enough."

"Precisely." I replied as my cheeks flushed. "That's why I'm going to tell you exactly how I want this to happen."

The determination in his voice matched mine. "Tell me when you want me to stop. Anytime, anywhere."

I nodded gravely. "And I trust that you will."

Still holding my hands to his chest, Valek told me exactly what he planned to do and when he was going to do it. We discussed the act in detail; in the same grave way we would plan for a mission, exactly where he was allowed to touch and made it clear that nothing, under any circumstance, would ever penetrate me.

Our lips met again as if to endorse our agreement.

I removed the shirt and it fell back onto the ground as I lowered myself back onto my stomach. My eyes were open, but now comfortable with the blind spot and Valek's shadow looming over me. His lips came down across my skin again, tenderly tracing each scar as he murmured affectionately. He paused at several instances when I remained too quiet or still. I smiled and encouraged him each time.

Before long, I turned onto my back and reached up for him. He leaned over to extinguish the lantern and pulled me into his arms once more.


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