Dara's mind flickered in and out of consciousness. There was someone else's pain intermingling with his like a trembling flame next to a furnace, and every now and then conversation passed between the people in the room. Dara heard Maric's voice and knew that he was safe.

Dara came awake with a sharp cry of pain as the broken bone in his arm cracked back into alignment. He panted through clenched teeth as he waited for the pain to recede. When a hand stroked his hair, he knew it was Maric's without needing to open his eyes. Nobody else touched him the way Maric did.

Memories of what happened came back in a rush. A hungry, predatory grin and then falling.

Dara tried to speak, but his throat was too dry for anything but incoherent croaking sounds. His mind drifted as he was propped up against a warm chest. When a cup was pressed to his lips, he drank.

"Lord Nolen," Dara said as soon as he could speak properly again. "It was his slave. Under his command."

"Fraccus," an unfamiliar voice volunteered, and Dara blinked his eyes open to see Lord Nolen's other slave sitting next to his bed. Why he was there seemed like too long a story just then, so Dara didn't ask.

"Not this slave," Dara clarified. "The other one. From dinner."

"Standing behind him. I remember," Maric said, his voice a reassuring vibration against Dara's back.

"Mm," Dara confirmed. "Said Lord Nolen sent him. Lord Nolen wanted him to fuck me, but was talked out of it."

Maric's arms tightened around Dara, though whether out of protectiveness or possessiveness Dara didn't know.

"Don't credit Fraccus for that," the slave said. "If you were a girl, he'd have done it. Becoming aroused enough to take a man is challenging for him."

"I'm going to kill them both," Maric murmured into Dara's hair. Not hyperbole, not ill considered words spoken in anger. He meant it. Dara had never been one for violence, but somehow it made him feel safe. He was protected.

Dara didn't intend to fall asleep, but he must have because he awoke again some indeterminable period later. The pain was mostly gone, leaving hunger, thirst, and exhaustion in its place. Maric was still propping him up, or was propping him up again, and as soon as Dara showed his wakefulness he was offered soup. He let Maric spoon feed him before falling back to sleep.

When next Dara woke he was laying down, no longer in Maric's arms. He flailed his arms out and whimpered, desperate for the reassurance of Maric's company but too exhausted for speech.

"What do you need, sweetheart?" Dara heard Maric ask as a hand brushed against his cheek. Dara fell back to sleep.

The first time Dara awoke feeling more or less alert it was to Maric's arms wrapped around him. It wasn't until he felt Maric's arm against the bare skin of his chest that he realised he was naked. How long had he been unclothed? Who had seen? Dara had changed in front of other slaves many times, but being seen like this by free people, people who had power over him, disconcerted him. Not, he reminded himself, that he was expected to answer to anybody but Maric. Certainly if anyone else laid a hand on him without permission there would be consequences.

It was night time, though Dara suspected not the same night time he'd been pushed from the window. He took longer to recover from such serious injuries. The evenness of Maric's breathing suggested he was asleep, but when Dara cracked his eyes open he saw that Lord Nolen's bed slave was still there and awake, sitting next to the bed in a padded chair with his legs hugged against his chest. Given the situation, anxiety was understandable.

"He's a good man," Dara said, his voice quiet so as not to wake Maric. "He won't let you get dragged down with your master. Especially not after all that bastard has already made you suffer through. He wouldn't have you in here with us if he didn't like you."

The slave still looked uncertain, but he allowed a small smile to curve his lips. "Thank you. I'm Bug."


Bug's smile broadened. "Yes, I certainly know that. His highness has had little attention for anything else since you were injured. He values you a great deal."

"That's right," Maric murmured, his arms tightening around Dara. How long had he been awake?

Dara took hold of one of Maric's hands and squeezed it. "You'll make sure Bug is taken care of, won't you?"

Maric made a sound of affirmation around a yawn. "I was thinking about that, actually. Bug's an empath, which could be useful. Bug, you said you could feel your master's harmful intentions?"

"Yes, your highness."

"Can you do the same for others? Strangers?"

"Yes, your highness. It's easier to detect nuance from those I know, but I can sense who may be a danger and who is not."

"In a crowd?" Maric asked.

Bug nodded. "Perhaps in a chaotic crowd when many people are feeling very strong emotions like fear or anger it might challenge me, but I have become quite good at identifying threats."

"Well then, I could use you on my guard," Maric said. "There are many people who are about to be displeased with me, and I'm concerned for Dara's safety now that it's public knowledge he's a healer. I would feel better having someone close by who can point out those who might act against us. Do you think you could do that?"

"Yes, your highness, it would be an honor," Bug said. "Would I belong to you?"

"No, one slave is proving quite enough trouble for me." Maric gave Dara's ear a kiss. "You will belong to Brayan, the captain of my guard. He was the one who fetched you for me."

"He was kind to me," Bug said, though there was uncertainty in his voice. Anxiety.

"Brayan will kill a man without hesitation if it's necessary, and he does a fine job of keeping his men in line," Maric explained. "He also once found an abandoned kitten and kept it with us while we travelled across half the country, sacrificing part of his rations to keep it fed. He may certainly take fancy with you, but he wouldn't dream of causing you harm."

Bug bit back a smile. "He was very handsome. He wears his uniform well."

"He looks better out of it," Maric said, and an unexpected wave of jealousy surged through Dara. Bug's eyes cut to him and Dara dipped his head in embarrassment. He belonged to the prince, not the other way around. He had no reason to expect exclusivity. Sooner or later, Maric's interests would wander to others.

When sleep began dragging down on his mind again, Dara didn't fight it.


For a time Maric had been too concerned and tired to think much of holding Dara's naked body in his arms, but after he was confident Dara was fine and had slept for a while he couldn't help but start to respond to Dara's nudity. Maric had never met anyone with such a beautiful body, well proportioned and with soft, milky skin. Dara shifted in his sleep as Maric trailed a hand down his stomach. A few minutes later, Dara's breathing stuttered as he woke to Maric's hand on his dick.

"Good morning," Maric murmured against Dara's shoulder.

Dara made a sound of approval and stretched out, but a moment later he stilled. It took Maric a second to pinpoint the problem. Bug was still there, sitting in the chair next to the bed.

"You're going to have to get used to a lack of privacy," Maric said as he continued to stroke Dara. "There will be times when we won't be able to have it."

"Where's the blanket, can we at least...?"

"For goodness sake, Dara, it's only Bug. Relax."

"I won't watch," Bug assured Dara, his eyes aimed at the floor.

The tension in Dara's body didn't quite fade as they continued, but he remained hard and he responded to Maric's touch. The constraints of Maric's pants were beginning to feel uncomfortable, so he reached a hand down to unbutton them and release himself so that he could rub bare flesh against the cleft of Dara's ass.

Dara was quieter than usual, responding with nothing more than heavy breathing and gasps regardless of what Maric did. If Dara had been as vocally demonstrative as he usually was, Maric probably would have missed Bug's sharp, shaky inhale. Maric looked up to find Bug with his arms wrapped around his legs and his face buried against his knees, his shoulders tense and trembling slightly.

"What, Bug?" Maric asked, his voice coming out more impatient than intended.

Bug glanced up to show red, watery eyes. His voice sounded unsteady when he spoke. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disrupt you. I'm just raw right now. I'm picking up feelings more strongly than I normally would."

Maric's hand relinquished its hold on Dara's erection and slid up his stomach instead. "And arousal upsets you?"

Bug's lips tugged down into a confused frown. "No, he... he is just unhappy. With being watched."

Maric's stomach dropped. Dara objected to this enough that his second hand feelings were making Bug cry? Maric tugged a hand on Dara's shoulder to roll him over, and Dara complied without resistance.

"Dara, look at me," Maric said when Dara's eyes lingered on his chest. His gaze flicked up to Maric's face, but what Maric saw in them was more troubling than distress. There was no emotion on his face at all.

Maric bit back on his rage, but when he said Dara's name he found he still sounded angry, commanding. All it achieved was Dara lowering his gaze again, an act of submission as clear as a dog showing its belly.

Maric let out a frustrated sigh and sat up so that he could see Bug properly. "Can you explain this?"

"Has your mind never retreated from something you didn't care to experience?" Bug asked.

Maric's lips pressed together in a tight line as he remembered all the times he'd done exactly that. As a child, as a soldier. "He hardly seemed opposed. Just... reserved."

Bug stood from his chair and picked up the blanket that had fallen onto the floor. Maric took it and wrapped it around both himself and Dara. It was a relief when Dara wrapped an arm around Maric and hugged him close.

Bug hovered uncertainly next to the bed. "The body and the mind can sometimes disagree. Being on display makes him feel exposed, like a tool when he prefers to see you as a lover. I'm sorry I didn't stop you. I didn't realise you cared."

"Well he could have fucking said something!" Maric growled, and when Dara clung closer this time Maric wasn't sure if he should take it as a reassurance.

"He did," was all Bug said.

Maric's clenched his teeth together against the urge to lash out. "Get out, just..." He lifted a hand to point towards the door. "Go."

Bug nodded and quickly left the room.

Maric wanted to hit something, but all he could do was hold Dara's delicate body in his arms. He didn't speak, not until he could keep his rage aimed solely at himself, until Dara began to emerge from wherever he'd disappeared to inside of himself and started twining their fingers together.

"I won't make you do that again," Maric told the top of Dara's head. "If you had told me..." Maric sighed and shook his head. Dara had told him. Why had Maric expected any rejection of his affections from a submissive and obedient slave to be anything but tentative and yielding?

"You said I'd have to get used to it," Dara whispered against Maric's chest.

"I'd rather let you go entirely than take you unwillingly." Maric breathed out a sigh into Dara's hair. "My beautiful boy. I want to see you glow, not take your shine away. I want you to find comfort in my touch, not fear. I'll give you jewels and pastries, pleasure you on silken sheets and leave myself wanting if that's what you desire."

Dara let out a breathy laugh against Maric's chest. "You talk such pretty words."

"I mean it. My body is yours for whatever use you wish. My money, too, if you want gifts. Please forgive me my selfishness."

"Oh really? Just a few days ago you were telling me to get involved, but not presume. Now you promise me whatever I wish?"

Maric grinned against the top of Dara's head. He liked when Dara spoke to him as though they were of equal status. "I have done many things wrong with you. Bringing my status into bed with me has been nothing but a hazard."

"I think this is why you're really not supposed to have sex with healers," Dara said. "It can be a minefield, especially where power imbalance is involved. But when done right... I wouldn't want to be denied that."

"Then tell me what you most enjoy, what I can offer you in recompense." Maric trailed a hand down Dara's spine. "Ask and you shall receive."

There was a stretch of silence, and Maric half wished he hadn't evicted Bug from the room. He was now all too aware of the dangerous path he trod.

"I like... your mouth," Dara said eventually. There was hesitance in his voice, uncertainty, as though he was concerned there was a secret correct answer and that was not it.

"Mm?" Maric hummed as he applied that mouth to Dara's ear.

"Ngh. Um, yes. On..."

Maric reached a hand down and wrapped it around Dara's hardening cock.

"Yes," Dara said, half word, half exhale.

Maric kept the blanket over them as he trailed a line of kisses down Dara's chest, down his belly and lower. By the time he took Dara into his mouth, Dara was fully hard. The sounds Dara made, the way he could barely keep himself still, were the most satisfying things about being with him. He was so real, so genuine. Maric couldn't believe himself, couldn't believe he'd almost settled for reluctant acceptance rather than do what was necessary to get this enthusiasm. Never again.

Dara came with his hands clutching Maric shoulders. Not pushing him down, just there. Maric swallowed, pulled back, and planted a kiss on one of Dara's delicate wrists.

Dara gave a hum of satisfaction and tugged Maric back up to lay next to him. Once they were settled he asked, "What can I do for you?"

It was tempting to ask for a return of the favour — within the limits of Dara's boundaries, of course — or perhaps just a helping hand. He had been selfish and self centred, though, a bad lover, and Dara was too firmly aware of their respective statuses to be the one to punish him for it. Or perhaps simply too forgiving.

Maric gave Dara a kiss on the forehead. "It's not much of an apology if I accept something in return, is it? Tonight, perhaps. For now, if you're feeling up to it, you should wash up and get dressed so that I can take you to the markets."

Dara still seemed a bit tired, but mention of the markets gave him new energy. Seeing him wash himself and change into his only remaining uniform did nothing to cool Maric's desire. In the end he had to send Dara ahead with the guard he'd placed outside the door to give himself time to calm his arousal.


Dara felt nervous leaving the room without Maric, but he trusted Maric's men to protect him. Bug's company helped too, made him feel less conspicuous. He had previously been the only slave in their group, a lonely state despite all the attention Maric had offered him.

Brayan was waiting for them outside the palace, and when he saw Dara he grinned. The slight raise of an eyebrow but otherwise dismissal he gave Bug's presence suggested he had not yet been informed of Maric's plans.

"And where is our prince this fine morning?" Brayan asked as he turned Dara around, examining his form. He ran a hand through Dara's hair, checking his scalp for any breaks.

"He'll be down in a moment," Dara said when he realised he was the one being addressed.

"Very well," Brayan said before turning his attention to Bug. "Now, what's the story with this little one? Has his highness taken a fancy to him too?"

"Don't know," one of Maric's men who had brought them down said. "Maric kicked this one out of his room earlier, and then he followed us down just now. No official instructions on what's to be done with him."

"Um, I..." Bug fidgeted, took a step back. "He didn't say..."

Dara took hold of Bug's wrist before he could flee. "Maric will explain things when he comes down, I'm sure."

Brayan's lips stretched into a grin. "Learning to stand tall, I see. Or remembering, perhaps?"

Dara almost laughed at himself when he noticed he had dropped his gaze. He met Brayan's eyes again. "It's easier to raise someone to be self important than it is to teach someone to act it after they've seen the truth of the world."

Brayan shrugged. "The truth of the world is that it's complicated. It may seem hideous, but I can assure you it's beautiful as well."

Dara couldn't help but smile as he thought back to the loving attention he'd received from Maric, a prince of all things, earlier that morning. "I am starting to see the good as well."

Brayan clapped a hand on Dara's shoulder. "It's all about the company you keep, really. We're a fine bunch once you get to know us. Maric is very selective about who he allows close to him." Brayan's lips drew up into a smile and he nodded his head in the direction of the palace. "Speaking of."

Dara couldn't help his own smile when he spotted Maric. It seemed the prince grew more handsome each time Dara saw him. Or perhaps it was simply the way he looked at Dara that had been changing, that little smile that made promises of what would come later, and a certain softness he reserved for Dara alone.

"What's this?" Brayan asked with a wave of his hand in Bug's direction as soon as Maric was within speaking distance.

Maric came to a stop in front of them. "He's an empath. Useful for your guard, I believe."

Brayan turned to look Bug over more carefully, a frown of consideration forming on his face. "Not much good for fighting. Even if he could— Well, he's an empath, as you said. Threat detection, you think?"

Maric inclined his head in confirmation. "I've spoken to him and he believes he is capable of performing the role."

"Could be useful," Brayan agreed.

"He'll need a master, and I believe you to be best suited," Maric told him. "Any objections?"

Brayan gave his full attention to Bug as he examined him closely. There was so much tension in Bug's body that he was shaking as Brayan lifted his chin to examine his face.

"He's trained as a bed slave, but Lord Nolen was not a kind master," Maric explained. "His suitability for any recreational uses are not assured and would need to be explored with caution."

Brayan nodded distractedly as he stroked his thumb down Bug's jaw. A moment ago Bug had gone mostly ignored, but now that Brayan knew Bug was his he already seemed enamoured with him. "Pretty."

"There is damage, unfortunately, though Lord Nolen made sure to keep it in areas it could be hidden," Maric said. "Bug, take off your shirt."

Bug dropped his head away from Brayan's touch and set shaky fingers to work on the buttons of his shirt.

"Maric," Dara said, more reflexive than planned. When he suddenly had everyone's attention there was a stretch of silence where he didn't quite know what to do with it. "Maric, he... Do you not see how uncomfortable you're making him, or do you not care? It can be so difficult to tell with you sometimes."

For a moment Maric looked like he might be angry, but then he waved a hand at Bug to dismiss his command and turned his attention back to Brayan. "Anyway, he's yours now so you can examine him fully later. His true purpose will be on your guard, so it hardly matters."

Brayan gave a firm nod of his head. "He'll need to learn some confidence, of course, but if he can do what he claims I'm sure he can earn his keep. I want him in our uniform, though. Dressed by role, not status."

"We'll be staying here for several days while things get sorted," Maric said as he slowly started walking, leading them away from the palace. "I'll make sure to send someone up to measure him so that clothing can be made for him along with Dara's."

They continued talking a while longer as they left palace grounds, but before long Brayan fell back to walk alongside Bug and Maric gestured for Dara to join him at the front of the group. The smile he gave Dara was small and intimate.

"Sorry," Dara said. "For speaking out of turn before. I just... It's your right to have him do whatever you wish, to have anyone beneath you obey you without question. But... you didn't seem to realise when you upset me. I thought you should know his feelings, and issue your commands with them in mind."

"There will be those who are displeased if you're so lacking in subtlety in the wrong company," Maric warned. "But on this occasion I am grateful you spoke up. The boy's been through enough already. I'm used to slaves well trained with a gentle hand who aren't so easily troubled."

"I don't understand why you ever took me," Dara said. "You didn't know I was anything more than a failed bed slave. You could have had any slave you wanted."

Maric was silent for a moment, his lips pressed together in consideration. "Guilt was an aspect, I suppose. You were my responsibility, and my absence had allowed harm to come to you. There was curiosity, too, for you have always been a curious little thing. I suppose I mostly just thought it would be fun to have something I needed to work for. It didn't hurt that you're quite pretty, of course."

Maric gave Dara a smile. "Shallow reasons mostly, I suppose, but it's difficult to be anything but shallow with someone you've just met."

"I was driven by fear," Dara admitted as they turned onto the busy main street leading into the markets. "Perhaps there would have been lust or admiration, a sense of duty, but fear was too much a driving force to leave room for anything else."

Maric took hold of Dara's hand and entangled it with his. "You came with me in hope of escaping pain. Look how fine a job I've done of keeping you safe."

"I'll endure ten times the pain and gladly if it means waking up safe and warm in your arms rather than naked and bloody on a cold dungeon floor."

Maric came to a sudden stop, halting Dara by their joined hands. Dara's stomach clenched in fear, but before he could ask what was wrong, whether there was some danger, Maric had wrapped him in his arms. Oh. Oh. Somehow, despite how close they'd grown over the few days they'd known one another, the tight embrace of Maric's arms still surprised Dara. It still surprised him that somebody — a prince — cared about his wellbeing.

"Maric, come on," Brayan said from behind them. "People are staring. They won't respect you if they find out how adorable you are."

Maric pulled away but kept hold of Dara's hand. "Then they shall answer to your steel. I am sick of being a performer."

Brayan gave Dara a smile. "Every time time his obligations lead him to diplomacy he gets like this. He usually lasts at least two weeks before getting this obstinate, of course. This is a new record."

"Well, my apologies if someone I allowed to be in a position of power attempting to murder my lover makes me grumpy." Maric tugged on Dara's arm as he turned away from Brayan. "Are you hungry? I believe there's a place that sells apple pastries around here somewhere."

It was odd, having so much of Maric's attention as they browsed through the market stalls. The only attention Dara usually received from Maric when his men were around was brief flirtation and promises of future pleasure. This, though, had nothing to do with sex. Every now and then Brayan made a comment about something, but most of Maric's attention was for Dara, and Brayan, well... Brayan had Bug to keep him amused.

Whether it was a hand on his shoulder or back, Brayan always seemed to be in contact with Bug, keeping him close and away from the push of the crowd. They spoke quietly, but the few things Dara overheard either concerned Bug's ability or were simply casual attempts to make conversation on Brayan's part that Bug awkwardly blundered through.

Maric kept offering to buy Dara anything that caught his interest, up to and including womens' jewelry. Dara accepted food, accepted new boots and half a dozen books — which Maric made two of his men carry — but declined the rest. Dara was grateful to Maric for keeping them well clear of the slave markets, especially for Bug's sake. Dara was a healer, too valuable to ever have been sold in such a place, but it was most likely where Lord Nolen had come into possession of Bug.

It was only a couple of hours before Dara's energy levels began to fail him and he was left yawning and leaning heavily against Maric's side at every opportunity. Dara didn't want to spoil the trip for everyone else, but Maric insisted it was time to head back to the palace. Dara was just thankful he was able to talk Maric out of carrying him.

Maric got Dara settled in bed and then went to the door. "I have things I need to take care of, but I'll post guards at the door. If you require anything, ask them and they'll ensure it's provided to you."

It was a sign of just how spoilt Dara had become under Maric's care that he had to stop himself from asking Maric not to leave. Maric was a prince, an important man regardless of how easy his gentle attention made it for Dara to forget. There were things that needed Maric's time far more than a pretty slave.

Dara nodded his understanding as he fought back another yawn, and then rolled over and pulled the blankets up around his shoulders when Maric left. It didn't take long for him to fall asleep.

Author's note: I have a writing tumblr now! It's potatoewrites, and is linked off my profile. I don't have anything for this story on there yet, but my askbox is open and I'll be using it to post update notifications if for some reason you don't use fictionpress's alerts system.