by Akane Arisu (赤音アリス)
Jin. The name whispered through his dreams like nightmares or nostalgic memories. A laughing, “entertain him,” as Asa was pushed to the next man where, at best, he’d be expected to dance. At worst, he’d wake up with cramped shoulders from being tied in an awkward position for hours. After unknotting, he would be asked to go to Jin. It was such a familiar pattern that he wondered when it would begin again with Donncha, until Donncha kissed him and he knew that he’d never have to do that again.
He should have been broken from his time with Jin, from his years of being trained as a slave. From his lifetime as a slave for being born something as natural and uncontrollable as a mage. It wasn’t until Donncha that he could claim it as a title, a compliment, something to be proud of.
He shouldn’t have needed Donncha in the ways that he did, but after that much time, you stop asking why you want it, why you need it. The simple fact that he did was all that mattered to him at that point. Kerian, Donncha, and Callisto, the three healers of this huge inherited extended family wondered why he wasn’t. Asa wondered why he wasn’t.
He asked himself these things when he had the fits of nostalgia about faces he remembered. There were very few he remembered with fondness, and sometimes, all he missed was something like a smile, the beauty of his own people. Not that Donncha’s didn’t have their own, but the erotic mystery of his was something he missed.
He remembered, he would never forget.
He had to make himself pretty, with kohl carefully around the eyes and oil on his lips to make them shine. Jin had delighted in tormenting him by dragging the bristles of a flogger across his skin as an artist had made elegant patterns across his back and torso. The scrape of the artist’s tools across his skin and the almost tickle of the flogger that changed into soft or sharp, yet lovely, pain when Jin would flick it against his skin. He wanted to ensure that his mage would be in the perfect state for this celebration.
A pair of mysterious blue eyes before the crashes of fireworks, he remembered with a deep breath. A water mage. They had been beautiful together. It was with the instinctive knowledge of beauty that had been bred into him that he realized that, not vanity. They had worn nothing more than their collars, chained or laced, and hair, long and crow-black that glinted blues and greens in the cool light that they worked under. It felt like a spell, an accidental blessing or a curse of the marriage that they celebrated.
Their actions had been carefully coordinated, each movement practiced and graceful for the ceremony. Another wedding of Jin’s, he dimly remembered, that he had been given a week to know the body that he would be moving with.
They danced. They moved in sexual manners, in fertility charms and spells, that this marriage would be as blessed as Jin’s other three wives, that children would result and not be given the curse of magic, given into slavery for their many uses.
Asa’s illusions swam across the stage. He dimly remembered the lily, the lioness and the tiger queen that he’d set to pad across the stage between them, narrating the story. It was a story of control and lust, the submission of one mage to the next. He knelt before the water mage and was lifted up before they both slid onto the dais made for this purpose. It could only end in one way. That’s how the story always went.
He remembered the way their braids, so many delicate braids that seemed almost to be three individual strands of hair woven together, intertwined like chains. It had been all he could focus on until Jin’s hands had stroked his cheek gently. Jin who he’d never loved but needed, because he never hurt Asa to see him cry — he just wanted to see him scream.
He and the water mage had intertwined for the last part of the dance, no longer pantomiming but doing a display, where the pale hands of the one above him and his own soft golden skin mixed together and they appeared as one mass of movement. A finger stroked across the arched line of his neck, the sometimes cruel hand of Jin. It felt like one of Asa’s dances: satisfying but not quite complete. It felt like something basic and biological, lacking what had been trained into him as pleasure.
The water mage writhed within him with motions like waves, but Asa was breathless with attention on Jin, when Jin’s petting hands found their way up his arms to the gold embossed leather. The last fireworks display was about to begin, he knew because he was getting close, because Jin was leaning down to whisper, “Come for me,” against his ear. And he did, wordless and silent gasps while the water mage above him followed, cool blue eyes no longer so calm.
Jin’s hands dropped, and Asa was told to clean himself up while the rest of the viewers were amazed by the fireworks.
By the time the fire show was over, both of the mages were ready to do another round of dancing before they fell into an exhausted half-sleep, both waiting for their names to be called once again.
“If you weren’t a mage,” Jin muttered to him nights after that one, after the marriage had been consummated and the newest wife likely pregnant with yet another child that would join the monstrosities that Jin had already bred, “You would be more beautiful than my wives.” He told him so as he used the same cuffs as at the ceremony, before leaving bruises that made Asa beg for more.
He had never expected to be saved. He had never contemplated needing to be saved. It was his place to be in life. Mages were made for collars as much as the collars were made for mages. They had to be controlled. Then Donncha had come. A lucky throw of the dice or a cheat, Asa had never cared to ask which, and he had been thrown forward to be traded away as a commodity. He had been something to be won and lost in something like a weighted game.
If he’d ever imagined a savior, he’d never imagined that it would be a blond, pretty man several inches shorter than him. One of Donncha’s uncles defined what he’d thought a savior would look like, but by then, Asa definitely preferred his own.
Donncha had been a challenge because he didn’t want a broken lover. Someone who had been broken and formed into what Donncha wanted, even on accident. Asa had few challenges in his life and he had sought to make Donncha his because he recognized his type. Donncha wanted to make someone hurt, but to Asa’s surprise, he wanted to make them writhe. Donncha demanded nothing less than utter adoration, which Asa was more than happy to provide, truly and deeply. Not because he was trained to adore and worship, but because Donncha loved him and he loved Donncha.
When he had met Donncha’s family, he didn’t know what to think. He and his father looked exactly the same, only different marks on their faces from different experiences, and his mother a far more quiet woman. Each relative had seemed like someone that Asa would never be like.
Sometimes, he wondered, now, if he would have been able to match Donncha, had it not been for Jin and his ropes and cuffs and the sadism that made Asa writhe. It didn’t matter, because Asa knew that even with Jin, there were times that he wanted it, that he had craved it.
With Donncha, it was okay to want and need, that it wasn’t simply trained into him. He’d wanted Donncha instinctively, but had fallen deeper and deeper into love with him.
He would never be like any of the others, but Asa was Asa, and as long as that was enough for Donncha, that was enough for him. He never missed Jin, much less the many men he’d been told to entertain. He didn’t even miss cool blue eyes above him. Donncha was all of that and more. He was love, teaching Asa how to kiss and read, willing to let him leave even as his heart broke into a thousand pieces. He was Donncha who hated it when all Asa would wear were his illusions, that snaked like fabric over his skin, and Donncha who hated the millions of braids that Asa had been forced to wear as a mage-slave. He didn’t miss anything of his old life because he had all of it and more in his new one.
Asa simply wished he’d asked the water mage’s name.