Samantha knows enough to be afraid.
He is watching: her lover, her commander. His silence is profound: no audible breath, no rustle of cloth or clank of armor, not a murmured sound of comfort or of chastisement. She closes her eyes and his presence surrounds her, ubiquitous, omnipotent. Neither of them have spoken of it, but she knows-- she is awaiting his judgment, surely as any disobedient squire, or an infidel.
He stands at her side unmoving as a statue, and he is close enough that Samantha knows he sees her trembling. But this, after all, was her choice, and she will not yield. She has not yet been tested on the field of battle, but she is determined not to prove a coward. And so she says, "I am ready."
With a gesture too slow to be merciful, too quick to be compassionate, he pulls her shift down over her shoulder. Three seasons now, she has known his bed, and he has had her at his whim. She has never before felt so naked as this: fully dressed but for her right breast, rising pale and eager from her blood-red corsetry.
Romeo Guildenstern nods at the boy with the needles in his hand. "Do it, then."
The needle slides in, and she steels herself for--
--heat, sharp and-- sweet?--
Her vision blurs and her whole self rushes headlong to the surface of her skin. Her breath catches, and it's too noisy, she knows; she senses her lover's silent disapproval. But she gasps again, and this time it's nearly a laugh; she's shaking her hair back off her shoulders, leaning into the needles' touch.
She looks up at Romeo, and for a tiny, unguarded moment, he is startled. She breathes again, this time for him, holding his gaze and feeling the air moving like fire across her lips. This, here, now, only, focused in miniature pinpricks over her delicate skin; it is intensity and intoxication, but it is not pain. (Pain is Romeo's frown, pain is not having the skill to do, or the words to say.)
She has been afraid for nothing.
Already there is half a rose blooming on her breast, ink commingling with her blood across her fair skin. It is more beautiful than she ever imagined. For the first time, she knows: The Order of the Crimson Blade is my Order. My body, my heart. Here I belong, and here is the stain of myself to prove it.
When their eyes meet again, he is ferociously proud, and-- envious, that it is not his hands illuminating the parchment she presents. She surprises herself a little, that she is glad there is more to come. That he, who authors so much, must content himself to watch.
Her breath catches again when the boy's fingers brush her skin, but it is not a sound of pain. This time, Romeo himself makes a sound in the back of his throat, and she smiles. She bares her throat to him, that he might better see the flower on her flesh, that he might appreciate that which he must not touch. Her commander takes a restless step closer, and never has Samantha felt such power. She begins to understand: herself, her man, her footing in this war.
The boy clears his throat. He meets her eyes only briefly, as though connecting her face with her bared, proffered breast is more than he can bear. "How-- how are you holding up, miss?"
Romeo speaks, for the first time, and the desire in his voice tastes finer on her tongue than any Leà Monde vintage. "You will address the Lady as Commander."
"I am fine," Commander Samantha says, and it is truth. There is no tremor in her voice. She feels like the earth, deep and unflinching at the till; like the cathedral dome, high and unassailable. She smiles at the boy, and pities him. Gently she touches his hand, and stills his shivering. "Please continue."