A/N: NSFW chapter. This is also probably the most awkward sex scene you will ever read. I apologize.


IV| A Whisper and a Prayer

Each step reminded Daja of his bare feet.

The ground wasn't objectionable—hard, dirty, or cold—but the knowledge of his clumsiness made his cheeks warm with shame. Thus, he kept his eyes downcast as he trailed Asseo, following the sweep of his master's robes, ears trained to the barely audible swish it made on the varnished wood floors that came after the base of the steps.

In his distraction, it took Daja a moment to note an unexpected change in direction. The room which normally facilitated such lessons lay to the left, in a separate wing of the temple. Instead, Asseo turned right in the direction of his masters' chamber hall.

Daja kept quiet, but stole surreptitious glances as they walked, drinking in the high walls and long, unfamiliar passageway before him. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been invited into the space where his masters slept, and curiosity breathed inside him. How far did the hall go on for? Was there only one, or more?

Were the rooms different for the more seasoned and honored priests, or did they all share equivalent quarters? Did they sleep in groups, or alone as Daja did?

Asseo stopped a dozen or so doors in, and Daja quelled the disappointment at losing the opportunity to further sate his curiosity. Fortunately, Asseo overlooked his distraction and turned the knob with a clack. The door opened without resistance—for they needed no locks or keys here—and Asseo stepped inside. Still puzzled, but not deeming it his place to ask, Daja followed.

Beyond the door lay a small room. Simpler even than his own, Daja realized with surprise. Nothing adorned it but a single, low-to-the-ground cot covered in a plain beige sheet, one table, one chair, and an open window that reached from the floor nearly to the ceiling. Simple brown curtains—only a shade or two darker than the bed sheet—hung half open, only one of the curtains strung back with a thin rope tie.

"Is this alright?"

Asseo's soft inquiry drew Daja from his thoughts, and he refocused his attention on his master. After a moment's consideration turned up no obvious answers—whatever his masters chose for him, it wasn't Daja's place to pass judgment—he opted to avoid the question altogether.

"This is where you sleep?" Daja asked instead.

The light from the open window spilled in over the floor, framing Asseo's face as he nodded. "It is. It doesn't make you uncomfortable, does it? This room instead of the usual…" Asseo trailed off.

"Whatever pleases you, master."

Instead of comforting Asseo, this seemed to further unnerve him, and Daja watched with quiet fascination as Asseo's fingers darted up to tug a the single looped gold earring and stud in his left ear. A habit of his Daja had noticed on more than one occasion. Asseo resorted to it when hesitant or anxious—when he wanted something, but decided against asking for it a moment too soon.

The loop and stud themselves, standard in varying amounts according to age among the priests, marked Asseo as at least ten and five years, respectively. A novice. He would replace the stud with a second loop on his twentieth year, but he was the only priest Daja had seen worrying them in such a way.

As predicted, a second after opening his mouth as if to speak, Asseo frowned, shook his head, and turned from Daja to move to the window.

Daja watched him pull the curtains in. Asseo's skin was darker than the curtains. Rich, deep brown like garden soil after a rain, but smooth as carved stone, polished by the wind and sand. Darker than Daja's skin, which looked more like burnt honey. Sometimes Daja wished he looked more like priests—that his skin were less gold and more deep brown, that his nose were broader, his lips fuller, and his frame more like a rock and less like a reed.

But he would just as quickly banish those thoughts, for his body was not his own to be ashamed of. His body belonged to this temple and to the priests within it. It belonged to the wind and the earth, to prayer and meditation. And in nine days time, it would belong wholly and absolutely to Vhaki.

The tips of Asseo's toes appeared in the line of Daja's downcast vision.

With the curtains shut and only a soft glow creeping from between and beneath the lines of fabric, the entire room felt more intimate somehow. Private and hushed in a way Daja never felt in the room which usually housed such lessons. If he let himself think on it, he would have to admit that many things felt different about this particular 'lesson'. But Daja didn't think on it, either unwilling or unable to face the thought's conclusion.

Instead, he sought out the familiar and lifted his fingers to the front of his robes.

Deft, practiced motions unfastened the simple garment, and it easily fell open. With one casual roll of his shoulders, the cloth dropped low, caught once briefly at his elbows, and then finalized its decent with a silent billow to the floor, where it pooled at his feet. Already devoid of shoes, Daja stepped out of the pile of cloth and reached.

Never show shame

Lightly at first—using his fingers like the bristles of a paintbrush on the canvas of his master's skin—Daja touched. Asseo never initiated, but he always shivered under Daja's hands. All soft skin and parted lips; slim wrists and small hands.

When Daja dared to move further, clasping gently around said wrists, stepping in, and dipping his lips to tease the curve of Asseo's jaw, his master's lashes flit shut: shy and uncertain as a new butterfly, fresh from its cocoon. Daja always marveled at this oddity.

Asseo was the only one of his teachers who never expressed an interest in taking the lead.

Daja always gave himself over in the end, of course. What use was there for him to learn a dominant role when no god would bend before a slave? But sometimes he wondered…

Daja kissed lower. Letting the tip of his tongue flick to taste his master's neck, he guided Asseo's palms with his own and settled his master's hands low behind his waist, on the naked rise where the small of his back ended and his arse began. When his mouth reached the dip of Asseo's throat, Asseo's fingers clutched and his chin tilted up.

"Daja…" Asseo made his name sound like a prayer. Like a whispered confession, deserving only of gods' ears, and Daja felt a blush of shame rise up his neck.

Because he did not deserve prayers.

Forcing himself back to the moment, Daja moved his fingers on, lifting them from Asseo's wrists to a tentative perch at the clasp of his master's robes. He raised his lashes; just enough to meet Asseo's eyes beneath him.

"Master?" A quest for permission.

A twitch of a nod answered him, and moments later, Asseo's robe fell undone. At Daja's push, it slid from his teacher's shoulders, rippled like ribbon silk down his narrow body and gathered in a twin pool to Daja's own robe at their feet. Though the room was warm, Daja felt Asseo's skin prickle under his fingertips. He lowered his hands to Asseo's hips, cupped their tapered shape before drawing his right in further still.

A choked sound toppled from Asseo's lips, breathless in the moment before he clamped his lip between his teeth to stifle it, and his throat convulsed as Daja watched. Daja always made a study of Asseo—the exception to the norm, the one teacher who did not seem to want as all the others did—and he struggled to gauge him as his fingers moved.

'Do I please you?' lingered unspoken on Daja's tongue when he dipped his head, this time catching Asseo's lips in his own, providing him with an excuse to muffle his sounds against Daja's mouth. An excuse Asseo greedily took him up on. 'Tell me how you want it to be…'

Asseo never told him in words of course. Only shuddered and pressed up into Daja's grip; buried a gasp and an embarrassed whine against Daja's lips as his knees quivered. Daja supposed in some ways, these were answer enough. He guided them back to Asseo's cot—humble, low-to-the-floor and unadorned—and in minutes they were upon it: Asseo on his back and Daja over him.

Asseo's hands lingered at his sides, pressed flat against the sheets as if hesitant to venture elsewhere. Daja perched above him, knees to either side of Asseo's hips and hand between his legs, providing a constant tugging, twisting, coaxing that kept Asseo's breath coming in encouraging chops and groans.

"Daja–"

"Shhh," Daja murmured into the dip of Asseo's collar bone. Immediately after, remembering his place, Daja's eyes darted up in anticipation of reprimand for his gall.

But he found none. Only Asseo, eyes shut, lower lip making a game of disappearing and reappearing between his teeth amidst his shudders. Before any belated reprimand came, Daja sidled lower and arranged himself between Asseo's legs, allowing himself to glance up only as he brought his lips down.

Daja did not mind this task.

Even Kaffir, who taught him to fear many things, had not taught him to fear this—never forced or choked him—though he had been trained not to gag. Contrary to what some might expect, Daja found the practice empowering. To have a man trust him so utterly as to let one of his most vulnerable assets pass between Daja's teeth—was that not a remarkable leap of faith?

He also knew its effects, what it could reduce a man to if used skillfully. Daja's mind flicked momentarily to a memory of himself under Ramal—Ramal's mouth, and Ramal's tongue—and he shuddered. For Ramal had not limited himself by any means. He'd licked Daja open in ways far filthier and more private than this. And made Daja beg for things he knew not the name of.

Daja pushed his attention to the present and for the first time wondered about the availability of a slickening agent. The room designated for such lessons carried it, and all his teachers—save for Kaffir on several unpleasantly memorable occasions—made liberal use of it. Here, however…

The sound of scrambling drew his eyes upwards, and he looked just in time to see Asseo draw a corked vial from beneath his pillow. An unspoken anxiety in Daja relaxed. While he would do so at his master's request, he dreaded the prospect of having his body taken of without something to ease the way.

Before passing it to him however, Asseo hesitated. Daja, anticipating—if not precisely looking forward to—the next step, let Asseo drop from his mouth and spared his master a glance. "Something the matter, master?"

"This time could we—could you–" Asseo swallowed, uncertain, and this Daja thought. Whatever it was, this was what Asseo wanted but hesitated to ask for.

"Yes?" he prompted.

"This time I thought, since it might be the last, you could…" Asseo finished the sentence, but so quietly that Daja lost the last few words.

"Master?"

"You could use this on me," Asseo said at last. Daja started, his immediate reaction to think that Asseo meant to use it only on his arousal—and deny Daja the chance to prep himself—but his teacher soon assuaged that fear by adding, "As you would use it on yourself."

That threw Daja. His only experience was in submitting. What use was there for him to learn any other role? And yet, Asseo was asking.

"Does it not please you to have me, master?" Daja asked before managing to curb his tongue. Instantly after, he regretted his words and silently chastised himself. "I am sorry, I did not mean to presume–"

"No," Asseo cut in. "It's…" He definitely blushed. "It's alright. No fault of yours."

Puzzled, Daja frowned. "But–"

"It pleases me to have you," Asseo said. "But this time…I would like to give myself to you instead."

He meant it, Daja realized. Asseo wanted to give himself over—to have Daja take of him as others had always taken of Daja—and it baffled him to think it, because how could someone want that? Sometimes it brought some pleasure, he supposed, but taking their own pleasure had always been the goal of his other masters, never giving it to Daja, and Daja was at a loss as to how he could make it pleasing to Asseo without experience.

Seeing him hesitate, Asseo diverted his gaze. "If it is too much–"

"No," Daja blurted. Then he tempered his words, dipping his eyes. "No, master. It is your wish, of course I will serve you. However, as I have never attempted it, you must–" He cleared his throat. "If you could guide me, tell me if—when I make a mistake, or if I hurt or displease you–"

"I will." Relief had sprung into Asseo's face as soon as Daja's words of compliance left his lips, and he waved the rest of Daja's comments off. "You won't hurt me."

When Asseo pressed the vial into Daja's palm, Daja felt no such confidence, but he trampled his doubts. The oil slicked his fingers when he dipped in one, then another—the opening only wide enough to allow a single digit at a time—and his face heated abashedly when Asseo parted his legs. Determined, Daja drew upon his memories of Isoba. His first master's patience. His gentleness. His care as he eased Daja into this realm of learning.

Daja knew not whether Asseo had ever given himself over this way. It was not strictly forbidden for the priests to engage in such endeavors—whether it be amongst themselves or with visiting outsiders—but their main pleasures, the height of their concerns and passions, were to be devoted to their gods. Regardless, Daja's greatest fear was causing Asseo pain in his clumsiness, so he moved with as much caution as he dared—not wanting to bore his master with his hesitation either. The latter concern quickly receded into the periphery.

Asseo's body clutched at him. Heated and tight, the feeling was at once intimately familiar—in that Daja had prepared himself often in such a way in the past—and yet utterly foreign, since Daja had never touched another as such. When he slid a second finger to join the first, Asseo's mouth fell open with a stuttered mewl of a sound, nearly prompting Daja to withdraw in panic.

"N-no, don't–" Asseo started, halting Daja in his tracks.

"Master…have I—?" Daja started to ask, but Asseo tossed his head, fingers fisting and unclenching in cycles in the sheets.

"Please…" Asseo's voice had taken on a notably ragged quality, "don't stop…"

Daja flushed at the word 'please', embarrassed that his master felt the need to use such a humble word with him, but he obliged. And Asseo's body opened to him. Gradually, as his own had once opened to Isoba's, Asseo's muscles relaxed, the taut muscles in his arms calmed, and his sounds of endorsement dropped in pitch: less pained and more encouraging.

Soon Daja had worked three fingers into him, each buried past the knuckle and earning him a soft moan each time he twisted them. Daja watched, transfixed by Asseo's responses—the curve of his lips when he gasped, the loose flutter of his lashes, and the way his knees trembled at Daja's sides, but ushered him back to rock onto Daja's fingers regardless. As if Asseo wanted more of this. As if he truly did find pleasure in it.

When Daja withdrew his fingers, wiping them on the square of cloth Asseo fumbled to hand him before oiling his own member, he wondered if he ever looked like that to the masters who took him. Did Daja writhe like that? Did he coo and clutch? Moan and sigh words like praise for the heavens?

Perhaps for Ramal, he thought. Perhaps even on brief occasions for Isoba. Yet it wasn't the same. Ramal made his body want it. Made it buck and cry even when Daja himself wanted nothing more than to withdraw from the process entirely. To remain simply a vessel.

Asseo was no vessel.

As Daja bent forward, carefully notching Asseo's knee up and aligning his body into place, Asseo reached out to him. He carded his fingers into the hair at Daja's nape and then clung when Daja gave a tiny, testing press of his hips.

"Daja–"

Daja kissed him. He held his mouth to Asseo's as he rocked his hips in, swallowed Asseo's flinty whine of pleasure and shuddered with the whole of his body as Asseo's heat clung to him—raw and foreign and impossibly tight at every angle. When Asseo's lips parted against his, seeking to invite a tongue, and his legs wound up to cinch around Daja's waist to hold him in, Daja thought, 'I will never be like that.'

Even as he slid his body tight into Asseo's, senses alight with the overload of sensation, Daja knew he would never look like Asseo in that moment. Never want and give himself over to another with such trust and abandon.

It was also the first time Daja wondered if he were missing something. Some crucial element of this process that had escaped him. Or been robbed from him. But that, he figured, was a thought for another time.

In this moment, he focused on Asseo.

He felt unforgivably clumsy. Like a beached fish trying to teach itself to walk without example. Or a newborn elephant, strange and awkward in the new world presented to it. But he persisted, and whatever his mishaps, Asseo did not seem to mind them. Daja learned by doing, and when Asseo found his finish, bucking and muffling the cry of his climax against his palm as he spilt into Daja's fingers and across his own stomach, Daja felt intense relief. The passing of some unspoken test.

He relaxed over Asseo's body, still holding himself aloft but waiting for Asseo's shivers to recede and his attention to return. When Asseo seemed more himself, Daja made a slow, careful withdrawal and reached for the square of cloth used previously to make quick work of cleaning them. Halfway through the process, Asseo tossed him a conflicted frown.

"Daja…"

Struck with sudden doubt, Daja's eyes darted up. "Did I displease you, master?"

"No." Asseo instantly waylaid his fears. "It's only, you never…" Asseo's frown deepened, and Daja's fears returned threefold, his stomach twisting sickeningly.

"Master, if there is something more you would like–"

"Daja." Asseo surprised Daja by sitting up and resting his palm on Daja's hip. Did he want to go on again so soon? Daja hoped otherwise, but if that was how it was going to be… "You never found your own pleasure."

Daja frowned, but diverted his gaze when Asseo looked, eyeing the closed curtains and wishing for an excuse to disappear. "I found it pleasurable, master."

Asseo's sigh of disappointment wounded the pride Daja was not supposed to have. Pride was vanity and vanity was a stain on any slave's character. "What I meant was that you did not…" Asseo cleared his throat, embarrassed by his own statement, "…finish."

This puzzled Daja. "I often don't, master. In our previous lessons, I never did."

Asseo eyed the sheets, abashment growing. "Yes, but those were merely lessons. They weren't…"

Daja cocked his head at the implication. "And this was not a lesson?"

A more resigned sigh. "I suppose it was. No…" Asseo shook his head. "Of course it was."

Something hung in the air. Something tight and unspoken. Something fragile. Something Daja could not begin to understand, and it made him itch under his skin. Restless. Anxious. Uncertain. He opened his mouth.

Like a god send, the temple bells rang out: five smooth, low peals.

They stayed whatever Daja might have said, and he slid his legs off the side of the cot instead and rose. "We should prepare for Third Prayer, master." Stepping over to the single water basin in the room to the right of the curtained windows, Daja stooped to a kneel and made quick work of washing his hands before turning back to fetch his robes.

"Yes," Asseo agreed, but his words sounded far off. His eyes trailed Daja as he moved, and he accepted his robe mechanically when Daja handed them over.

Sliding his own robe onto his shoulders, Daja wrapped and fastened it. When he finished, he found Asseo still sitting idle. "Master?"

Asseo's attention flicked up. Catching the nature of Daja's look, he pushed a smile into place. But Daja recognized that smile, for it was the same one he forced often onto his own lips.

"I have displeased you." Daja knew it instantly, but Asseo jumped with the accusation. As though he were the one at fault.

"No," Asseo said. "It's not–"

"But–"

"I will miss you," Asseo said, speaking with uncharacteristic persistence over Daja's objection, and he stood when he said it. He shrugged into his robe. Then, with hesitating hands, he settled his grip gently on Daja's forearms, eyes on Daja's face. "I will miss you," he repeated, "when you leave us. That is all."

Was that all?

Daja frowned down at his teacher. Questions fought for a place on his tongue. Did Asseo doubt? Was he so selfish—so rash—as to want to deny a god his prize? Or was this somehow a fault of Daja's? Had he unintentionally seduced Asseo? Muddled his mind and clouded his faith? It was the duty of the Channai priests to raise, teach, and care for the Gift. But not to grow attached. Never to grow attached.

Daja ushered the thoughts aside and scolded himself for flattering himself. Surely, Asseo meant the words as a kindness. Nothing more. Thus: "I hope wherever I head is better," Daja said. "But if I remember this life, I will think of you with gratitude. As I will each of my teachers."

Asseo wavered, but at length said nothing, and together they moved to the window. Each of them pushed aside one curtain, opening the room up to the evening light, and with it open, Daja moved the water basin to the center between them. They knelt at each side of it.

What followed was instinctive—ritual drilled tens of thousands of times—until it became muscle memory: wet the hands to the wrists, clean the palm and back and between each finger. Repeat three times. Next, dip the three middle fingers of each hand into the basin, usher water up onto the face and bend the head with the sweep of the fingers: over the forehead, down either side of the nose, over the eyelids. Then wash the cheeks, under the chin, and around neck. Repeat twice.

When they finished, cleansed and kneeling to face the window and the setting sun, they began Third Prayer.

In my god and his mercy I seek refuge from Evil

o

That night in his cot, Daja dreamt.

When he woke, quivering like brittle earth after a quake and drenched in sweat, he remembered nothing but the face of a man. A strange, pale skinned man with eyes like a maelstrom—steely, tumultuous, and dangerous—and hair black as parchment ink but fading to a paler grey in streaks. He rode a white mare that reared in a desert sand, her whinny cutting the wind like a battle cry as her hooves sliced at the air over Daja's face.

With the fading image—the details of it sifting away like too many fine grains through his fingers even as he tried to scramble them together—came a sense of dread. Deep, overwhelming dread. And the feeling that something would soon go terribly, irrevocably wrong.

Daja slept no more that night, and hours before sunrise, he found his feet leading him out of his chambers, down the cool, familiar halls of the temple he'd called home all his life, and back up the winding steps of the Tower of Songs. There, he knelt and prayed in earnest before the horizon that would welcome the rising sun. He did not rise until long after its yellow rays bathed his face in gold and the morning winds were warm with the desert's heat.


A/N: Updating at four in the morning? Probably a bad idea. But the good news is most of the cleaning up was done while I was more awake, so hopefully it's presentable. Thank you for reading. :)