A/N: Experimenting with first-person, which I'm not exactly an old-hand at and a sizeable number of readers tend to dislike. I know I didn't necessarily capture Cassandra's canon voice (in the vein of SC dialogue—which, let's face it, can be pretty unimpressive), but I was far more interested in developing the darkly romantic atmosphere. Hopefully I succeeded, if only in part.
Oh, and fair warning: this one's arguably a tiny bit smuttier than "Dreams of Candlelight". That said, enjoy.
Romania is cold at night, colder than Athens, colder than anything I've ever felt, harsh and piercing, almost burning. These are the nights I'm almost grateful when I hear him coming, that soft, predatory step that's right beside me before I even know how to react. He wraps his arms around me from behind, not letting me see him, just hearing him as he moves his lips along my neck, up to the hollow behind my ear, a beautiful night, love, isn't it?, and there's that shiver down my spine, the prickly feel of gooseflesh, but not from the cold, not when my heart's beating faster than anything and my blood feels like it's on fire.
Some nights he stays, and that's somehow easier to handle, when all I feel is soft lips gently pressing against my jugular, bared teeth scraping lightly over the skin, just hard enough to feel, just hard enough to remind me where I am, who I am, who he is. Just enough to scare me, if I were stronger, if I weren't me, if he hadn't become what he is to me now.
Worse are the nights when he whirls me to face him, so quick I barely see him, hair silver-blond in the moonlight, eyes flashing with feral desire, crushing my lips to his, hands rough and possessing against my skin. He moves his fingers to grip my chin, curve against my jaw, bruising, demanding, and I can't help but surrender, struggling to meet the passion of his kiss, even though my lips sting as he catches them with his teeth, spilling blood, a metallic tinge upon my tongue as he meets it with his own.
But the worst—Athena grant me strength, I can never stand against him on nights like this, when he takes my hand and holds it like some fragile, precious thing, and he stares at me, just stares for long moments, and I forget everything I've ever known until he silently brushes his thumb across my cheek and kisses me gently, so painfully sweet, lips moving soft and slow, almost loving, and I forget everything except the one thing I should.
I ran out of oil to light my lamps three nights ago. The last wick dimmed slowly before going out completely as I sat reading a loosely-bound collection of Greek myths he'd given me from his personal library. Leda and the Swan. Hades and Persephone. Cupid and Psyche.
Very late at night, the servants long asleep. I should have woken them, I know I should have, but my treacherous legs led me to his chambers, where he observed me curiously as I greeted him in a fairly immodest shift of pale silk, shorn to impressive height above my knees, arms and hands pale and bared to his sight. His eyes fairly shone with lust, desire, even as I began to stammer my need for lamplight, failing to finish as he swept me up into his arms and carried me off to bed.
I'll never be married now, no doubt, but I can hardly complain, not when it was so perfect. His beautifully-tailored shirt and trousers were draped across a nearby chair, soon joined by my meager shift, as we lay entwined, his bared skin burning-hot against my own, lavishing attention upon my breasts with lips and hands, fire burning in my veins, and I knew. And it was painful, when he sheathed himself inside me and took my maidenhead, and I gasped, sinking my fingernails into his shoulder blades even as he kissed my lips, my cheeks, my eyes, whispering something soft and beautiful in a language I couldn't understand as tears slipped from my eyes, until he moved, slowly, so slowly, and a strangled cry caught in my throat and I shut my eyes tightly against the feeling.
And I still remember, I'll always remember, bringing my legs up around him, grasping, desperate, the feel of his hand around the curve of my hip, holding me steady as his thrusts came faster, harder, until I nearly began to cry from the overwhelming sensation of it all, shuddering and gasping quietly until I felt his hand dipping low, fingers moving in a light caress that left me breathless and dizzy until I heard his voice, low and seductive, telling me to scream for him, and I fell to pieces, hearing his name as a broken cry and finally, faintly realized that it was coming from me.
Three nights ago.
I wake now in his arms. The swell of my hip is visible in the lamplight, always burning so brightly here. The bruises from his fingertips still haven't healed.
A handful of soldiers breached the northern wall today. I watched him from the battlement.
He moves so quickly; I could see his enemies moving with their broadswords, standing dumbly as he feinted and dodged before returning with a deadly trompement or swift flèche. They never even saw him coming.
I counted seven dead before I had to turn away. To see those same eyes that stared at me with something so close to adoration glinting with madness as he smiled—Athena protect me, he smiled—and ran his sword through another soldier's heart, oblivious to the smear of blood across his cheek, that was too much for me to bear.
It's times like these when I can't help but remember, keenly, painfully, what he is.
One of the kitchen maids has been studying Greek. A very nice gesture on her part, I thought, until she pulled me aside this evening and told me that my soul was in danger, that he'd steal it from me, destroy it, and I should run from this hellish place while I still could.
He is silent now as he lays his head upon my breast, hair smooth and silken against my skin, so quiet as he listens to my heartbeat, one arm wrapped possessively about me, and I know that if she could see me now, see us, she'd see how I can't, maybe I never could, not lying here in his embrace, all damp, sweat-slicked skin, willing myself not to cry as I fight to reconcile the image of the man before me, so loving, tenderly kissing my breastbone, with the madman gripping a bloodstained blade and carelessly moving to behead an enemy soldier without a moment's hesitation.
Two sides of the same coin. Turn it this way, see his tender gaze, watch his lips form honeyed words, watch him hold my trembling form tightly, so tightly, stroking my hair, calling me a precious thing, his precious thing. A flash, a new slant of light, watch him slit the throats of those careless enough to stand in his way, watch him slaughter his family, watch him stand before me, even me, blade drawn, anger flashing through his eyes as I move quickly, just quickly enough to parry his attack…
I wish I were stronger, strong enough that I didn't have to cry. When I feel dampness against my cheeks, he's quick to embrace me, and I distantly hear him telling me not to cry, but I can't stop, I can't stop crying, anymore than I can stop loving him, all of him, no matter how hard I try.
Another visit from the kitchen maid. A village merchant is making a trip to Athens, a rare event. She takes my hands in hers, and I feel a twinge of pity at the rough calluses, but she merely tells me in swiftly-moving broken Greek that I now have an escape, and to take it, quickly, for I'll never survive here, not like this. Before I dismiss her, I offer her heartfelt thanks for her concern, and I can see that her eyes are red-rimmed from crying.
So many nights now. The bruises still haven't healed. A dappled dark-purple stain lays stark against the pale skin of my neck, teeth marks faintly visible if you look hard enough. I try not to.
The cold comes as a shock now after so many nights spent in his warm embrace. His cloak, draped about my thin shoulders, provides so little warmth. Flagstones worn smooth from centuries of use send a sharp chill through my bare feet. My teeth chatter slightly, a familiar chin running up my spine. My eyes drift helplessly to the mythical tales of my homeland, resting innocently beside a slowly-dying fire.
He stands wordlessly before me, softly caressing my cheek. He loves me dearly—he's said it now, said it for the first time, darkened eyes holding me whole, and twin tears slip down my cheeks, because yes, I know, and I wish it weren't true, for him or for me.
He presses a tender kiss to my forehead before brushing aside my tears. The merchant doesn't leave until morning, he reminds me, and I wonder if he too wants me to run until I see the look in his eyes, that look, my look, and I know that he can't let me anymore than I can.
The pomegranate in his hand has grown golden in the dying firelight.
My traveling clothes are hung on a peg by the door, neat, crisp, freshly-laundered.
What should be the most difficult decision of my life is surprisingly the easiest. I've finally come to realize that I made it long ago.
My gaze meets his, steady, unbroken, a tear falling from one eye as I pluck a seed from the rich, ripe fruit, its flavor bursting upon my tongue, painfully bittersweet.