A/N: Something I've been wanting to experiment with for a while (which does say a lot about me). A series of single-scene 'multi-shots', for want of a better description, which are essentially where my own twisted mind took the natural progression of all Henry's shoving of Cromwell up against walls during the series, but which ended up far darker than I ever intended. With this in mind, I should probably point out that I love Cromwell as a character, and I pretty much put him through hell in this story, not through dislike but because I apparently like to torture my favourite characters...and hey, judging by the Season 3 finale, James Frain suffers very prettily.
Warnings: PWP, smut, general kinkiness, twisty darkness and the shameless fetishization of Thomas Cromwell's neck. Contains themes of non-consensual sex that some readers may find disturbing.
Cromwell looks at the papers clutched in his nerveless hands, as though their tangible presence can enlighten him in some way. Ink is worn into the hardened skin around his fingernails, and he can still trace the work of an errant letter-opener against the flat pad of his thumb from several weeks ago. He runs his eyes over the words again and again, numbly, until they become meaningless, a wave-break, no more help to him than a riddle.
Finally, bereft of anything else to do, he says, the words sticking like sand in his throat: "There is no other way."
This morning he had been almost fainting with exhaustion. He has scoured every inch of documentation he possesses, every contusion of the law, every oversight and possible loophole, every potential for manipulation and avenue of escape. He has read until his eyes smarted and his back sang with pain, until his German translations were indistinguishable from gobbledegook, as far as he can tell, and he has enough paper cuts to suck the blood from his fingertips. All has evaded him. Even with the full muster of his clerks set like hounds on the heels of a solution, none has been caught. He wants to weep with frustration, or to crawl into bed and never emerge again, miserable with humiliation and hopelessly dashed plans. Instead, he must stand here and admit to his King that Anna von Kleve is his bride into perpetuity, for worse or for worse still, for the poorer of His Majesty, unto the death of someone, at least.
But that is not all, of course. More than anything, he feels the weight of dread gathering on him, the knowledge that his every stumble and hesitation further chips away the final clarity of his epitaph, leaving him bound to a doom that he knows is almost sickeningly inevitable.
More than anything, he fears the King's silence.
At last, like the coda to a curse that has long been threatened but always agonisingly with-held, the King makes a muffled sound from where he stands with his face averted, as though he is dragging his hand across his lips as he speaks:
"There is always some other way."