While not sexual nor particularly explicit, this fic features themes of Dominance/submission, with Attolia as the dominant party. Please don't read it if such themes bother you.
She still had dreams—nightmares—of it. He at her feet, filthy and infected and bleary. She cupping his chin in her hand and he shuddering at her touch before turning terror-filled eyes towards her.
A cold demand: "Tell me that you love me."
"I love you." But the look in his eyes was anything but love.
In their waking life, he seemed to show love. In public he kissed her cheek and in private her lips, and he gazed at her in a way that poets might sing of. And yet at time there was a strange deference in his attitude. When he came to her rooms after a trying day, often he sank to his knees beside her and spoke with his head bowed. He called his love unshakeable, but at times like these she feared that that love was nothing more than brokenness, his loyalty that of a dog resigned to a cruel and inescapable master.
It became too much, finally, the night after she arrested two barons for passing information to the Medes. Eugenides entered quietly and knelt next to her, and her heart leapt into her throat.
"I have enough of people throwing themselves at my feet without my husband doing it, too," she snapped, and he stood at once, concern and contrition on his face.
"I'm sorry, Irene."
She stared at him, emotion writhing within her, and he must have realized before she did that she was close to tears because he drew her into his arms.
"Irene…" He enclosed her, his lips soft against the side of her throat as the tears began to overflow onto her cheeks. "I'm sorry. I didn't think."
He coaxed her to her bed and lay down with her, wiping her tears with his hand. On his face was a pained smile that spoke of embarrassment and regret.
When her throat loosened enough for her to speak again, the words that fell out were, "You are afraid of me."
"No," he said at once, too quickly for her to believe it. He, too, knew it rang false, so he ran his hand over her hair and said, "I am in awe of you, my beautiful queen. I am entranced by your power."
"I cut off your hand," she said harshly.
"You did," he said without flinching. "And now we are married."
"And you think that a fair trade?"
He kissed her gently on the lips and then buried himself against her chest. "My Queen, you fight and fight to keep the respect you deserve, and no matter how much you hurt or frighten them the fight will never end. I thought—"
His voice caught, and she pulled him back to look at his face. Conflict hung in his eyes like a fever.
"I thought it might help you to wield a power absolutely and freely given."
"No," she said, even as something tense inside of her shook loose. No because her power hurt too many people; no because she had hurt him, and how could any power he offered her be freely given when she had so nearly broken him not long ago?
And no because something inside of her craved what he spoke of, because it would take from him and not look back if he kept talking. What she needed—what her country needed was a strong king, and Eugenides could be that. Had to be that. She could not make him bow further to her selfishness.
"My Queen, please," he said, the intensity in his voice bringing her back to the present. "I want to do this. Let me live in the palm of your hand and I will never struggle against you. I swear, Irene—"
"Eugenides," she cut him off. He stopped as if startled; then he blinked and a flush crept up his face. He bowed his head against her chest again.
His sincerity frightened her. She had heard him beg before, pleading shamelessly and hopelessly for a mercy she had not granted. And now this was the same but different; he was begging without fear, and it evoked neither anger nor shame nor cold hard-heartedness. Only the alluring promise of peace.
"You're a fool," she told him, and he gave a laugh that was muffled against her gown.
"Yes, My Queen."
"I have already hurt you enough. I will not risk crushing you again."
"There is no risk of that." He pulled back to look her in the eyes. "Am I frightening you?"
Distractedly, she traced the scar on his left cheek. "I am frightening myself," she confessed. "I thought I had had enough of forcing you to my will, at least."
A sly pride flitted across his face, the look of the Thief. "You cannot, nor have you ever, forced me to your will." Then his eyes softened and he stroked her hair. "But I am not afraid of bowing to it. And I am no longer afraid not to. This is a choice I make freely."
She did not speak. Eugenides regarded her for a moment before kissing her once more and slipping silently out of her bed and back to his own room. The Queen of Attolia spent some time in thought before closing her eyes and welcoming sleep.
The next night, when he came to her, she was at her mirror and he stood at her side, waiting. There was a long moment during which she did not turn towards him, lost instead in exhaustion and longing and self-reproach. Finally she released a soft sigh and looked at her husband. His eyes were full of love and a peace born of deep trust.
"Kneel," she said softly, and he plunged to his knees.