Warnings: The following is a yaoi story (involving male/male romantic and sexual themes/situations), it also contains implied rape and abuse, angst, and graphic violence.

(Approximately 20-25 pages in length)
Originally completed October 2000
Gilded Cage By Lady Tempest

He had no name. Not one that any one used at least. His people had called him Aia but that was a long time ago. A world and a lifetime away from all he had held dear and called home. He was a thing now. A pet. For the pleasure of kings and nobles and whoever else won the honor of using him. None were ever kind or gentle, treating him like a toy that existed merely for their pleasure.

He lay on the cold, marble floor of the gazebo in the center of the royal gardens, his opalescent white wings covering him like a soft, translucent blanket, a faint rainbow of colors glimmering in the broken light as they quivered with this raspy breaths. A gold chain shackled to his slender ankle ran across the floor to a thick ring embedded in the polished stone. Gold gilded iron bars locked him in what to him was a cage. A beautiful cage which trapped him in a life of endless sorrow.

Never allowed release from his prison, he knew he would never soar on his iridescent wings again. He was a well-guarded treasure, though the abuse his lithe body received nearly daily could convince otherwise.

Yet another vibrant red pool of his own blood stained the pristine white marble. Soon a servant would arrive like they always did to attend him and clean his prison. He knew his owner barely cared about his condition past not wanting his property permanently damaged or unattractive. It was his owner, the king himself, that had left him like this. King Rioja had prattled on about his wife, the queen, having a `headache' for the third time this week as he raped Aia mercilessly.

The king didn't seem to consider the act rape. Apparently, in his mind, Aia was his property to play with however he choose. Not a being with feelings and a mind of his own. Perhaps the king found it easier to think him a thing, since he never spoke and wasn't quite human.

He lifted his head, the long fall of his silver-white hair cloaking his pale battered body. The sunlight stole through the gold bars, glinting in shifting, pale rainbow highlights throughout his ankle-length hair. His deep indigo eyes flashed pale as he turned wearily to the quiet creaking of the golden door.

" Oi! Looks as bad at the other day," a gentle voice said sympathetically. Adam, the servant usually sent to clean his cage stood hesitantly at the entrance. The barred door clanged shut behind him. The young boy, no older than fifteen, smiled sadly, brushing his fingers through his light brown hair to tuck his errant bangs behind his ears. Shuffling towards Aia, he set down a bucket of water, a clean white rag hanging off the side. This had become a routine for both the blue-eyed boy and Aia. Every day usually; every other day if he was lucky.

Adam was the only kindness in his bleak life. Though his time to ease Aia's pain was brief. The guard stationed outside his cage while Adam tended him always made sure of that.

"Can you move today?" he asked placing a caring hand on Aia's frail shoulder.

Aia's delicate face twisted in pain, his eyes bright white-gold, as he attempted to stand. His slender legs trembled violently as he collapse to the floor, not having lifted himself more than a few inches. Aia shook his head slowly.

"You'd think they'd give you more time to heal. Do they think it's instant magic or something? Or do they even care?" Adam growled, low so the guard couldn't hear.

Aia just stared at the kind boy, his eyes flaring with a pulsing dark blue as the pain slowly ebbed away. He narrowed his pale brows and shook his head.

"Bastards!" Adam whispered angrily. "I'm sick of seeing what they do to you!"

Aia bowed his head and sighed. The words were only slightly different than they were just about every day. He supposed somehow it made Adam feel better, or perhaps the boy thought it made Aia feel better. In a small way it did. Knowing that someone was concerned about him, but he had suffered for too many years for it to really matter anymore. He was the king's prized whore, and nothing Adam or anyone said would change his miserable life one bit.

Adam eased his shoulder under Aia's arm and helped him to his feet. The boy knew the movement would be painful, but the frail beauty had to be cleaned of the blood that dirtied his finger bruised skin. The boy led him to the gold bars for support and soaked the washing cloth with water.

Gingerly, like a practiced routine, he wiped away the blood from Aia's pale thighs. Rinsing and repeating the process until the cream skin was clean, then Adam lifted the filmy white loincloth and washed away the blood and semen staining the cleft between Aia's smooth buttocks. Aia hissed in pain, his legs quivering, but he held tightly to the bar of his prison.

"Finished," Adam muttered with a splash of the cloth into the bucket as he rose.

Aia clung to the bar while Adam completed the last of the routine. A splash against the marble floor and a sloshing, scrubbing sound as the boy rinsed away the blood. A gold drain had been conveniently installed a week after Aia had been imprisoned here exactly for the purpose of keeping the gilded cage clean. King Rioja was very particular about displaying his pet as attractively as possible.

The cage door creaked twice, then another splash. And then another. All part of the dreadfully familiar. A clank against the marble. Then gentle hands grabbed at his waist, removing his soiled loincloth. The warm hands brushed against his hips, dressing him in a clean cloth, then were gone.

"I will never understand why anyone would constantly try to break something as beautiful as you." Adam sighed as he helped Aia from the bars to a dry section of floor. He slid a metal tray of half a loaf of bread, a small block of cheese and a flask of water next to the ethereal creature.

Adam sighed again as he rose. "Well that's all I can do for today. I have to go now."

Aia glanced up at the boy, his eyes a warm blue. His lovely pink lips curled sadly in the closest to a smile he ever displayed.

"I hope I don't have to see you for a while," the boy muttered.

Aia nodded. He clasped Adam's hand and squeezed it gently, trying to convey his thanks. The boy flashed a weak smile, then turned away and left. Aia was alone, but considering the alternative, he was grateful.


"I hope you found your accommodations to your liking?" King Rioja said as he nervously wrung his sweaty hands. He led his taller companion across the tree-lined courtyard, giving the dark-haired young man a tour of his palace.

"They are passable," the handsome, much younger man replied with a deep, disinterested voice. He brushed part of his violet silk cape back over his shoulder, the sun, through the trees, glittering on the gold threading intricately patterned along its edges. His black velvet boots padded softly in an even rhythm on the cobbled stone. "But perhaps I am merely accustomed to my own palace's comforts."

The graying-haired king nodded. "Anything to make your stay here more comfortable, Emperor Thaelin, you have only to ask."

"I will keep that in mind,' Thaelin replied blandly. He slid his royal blue eyes to the ever-present, stalking shadow to his left. The dark figure bowed and saluted, continuing to keep pace with the pair of nobles. The young emperor turned back to the path King Rioja led him along, masking a bored sigh.

"We are almost there, your Eminence," Rioja said quickly, visibly excited.

"And what again is it you are going to show me?"

"You shall see."

"I do detest secrets, Rioja." Thaelin's sapphire eyes narrowed as he cast the smaller ruler an irritated glance.

"It's is more of a surprise. A very pleasant one. Please bear with me, your Eminence," the king rushed, dabbing the sweat from his brow with a gold-embroidered handkerchief.

"For now." Lips a pale, pink line, his chin tilted in an aloof lift, the handsome emperor returned his gaze straight ahead.

"Thank you, your Eminence."


King Rioja led the young emperor through a white-marble archway opening to a vast garden, leaves, vines, and winding branches delicately carved into the polished stone. A tiled walkway curved past the manicured shrubs and beds of exotic flowers in vibrant blues, reds, golds, and violets. Small finely crafted statues of the gods of pleasure, beauty, and prosperity marked the intersections in paths of concentric rings. A cluster of trees heavily dusted with fragile, pale pink blossoms stood at the center of the circular design.

As they neared the copse of snowed petals, glimpses of gold glinted brightly through a few breaks of the thick branches.

"Your Eminence, I think you will very much like what I'm about to show you. It is my most prized possession," the king twittered, urging his guest towards the narrow path through the trees.

"Indeed," Thaelin replied mildly, trying to remain polite. He tired of these petty kings and their petty pride in gaudy shows of their meager wealth. They all lacked taste and sophistication. He would humor this boor for the sake of diplomacy for the moment. Thankfully, his stay would be brief, as would his dealings with this self-glorified peasant.

They stepped past the trees to a small grassy clearing, a large golden gazebo at its center. Thaelin's cold blue eyes lazily roved along the structure. The craftsmanship slightly surprised him, simple, yet fine, with delicate molding and metalwork. It almost resembled an elegant cage, a large birdcage fit for all but the most exotic of birds. Though nowhere near superior enough to grace his own gardens, it wasn't the eyesore he would expect.

"Isn't it lovely?" Rioja asked, beaming with pride.

The handsome, young emperor fought back a groan of disdain, grasping for a polite though truthful response, when his eye caught a movement. He took an unconscious step forward and lost his breath and thought and tongue at the sight before him. Dappled sunlight streamed in ribbons of gold onto the cage floor, revealing the most magnificent creature he had ever seen in his life.

An endless veil of fine, silver-white hair shimmered with kisses of thousands of tiny rainbows; Gorgeous white wings, fragile and nearly translucent, like opalescent frosted glass faintly mirroring those vivid hues, fluttered lightly in the cool spring breeze. A delicate, pale face, more beautiful than any other woman's gazed at him with haunting amber eyes.

Thaelin stepped closer. "What is your name, lovely?" he asked, running his hand absently along one of the golden bars.

"He doesn't have a name," King Rioja replied and clasped his sweaty hands at his chest, a proud grin curling his lips. "So, you are pleased?"

Bristling with irritation, his royal blue eyes flashed and narrowed, and his lips thinned and paled. The insolence! Then Thaelin realized. He? The emperor glanced over the ethereal winged beauty. Though slight and willowy, the smooth chest and lack of womanly curves showed him to be indeed male. The exquisite face and stunning golden eyes had been too distracting to have noticed before.

"I did not ask you his name, I asked him," Thaelin hissed.

Rioja coughed, dark eyes gone wide, setting his hand over his mouth. "I humbly apologize, your Eminence. But..." he trembled.

His shoulders stiffening, Thaelin glanced coldly at the flustered king. He couldn't take much more of Rioja's impudence. Diplomacy or no, he didn't have to suffer such treatment by a mere vassal. And a insignificant one at that. If not for his desire to keep his empire docile, contentment meant obedience, he wouldn't be here at all.

Rioja waved his hands imploringly. "...Esteemed Emperor, he can't speak."

Thaelin's eyes, like chips of ice in the blue of moonlight, narrowed. "And why is that? Have you harmed this lovely creature?"

Nearly choking on his own breath, the king waved his hands even more frantically. "Uh....no...no... of course not, Your Eminence. He has been this way since I acquired him."

"Is that so?" Thaelin returned his attention to the ethereal beauty caged and chained before him. Their eyes met for the barest of moments, his carrying the true weight of his dismissive question. And the question was more than the shining gold eyes could answer, or were willing to. The enchanting creature's gaze dropped to the floor, soft white hair falling to veil his elegant face.

Ignoring the sputtering king altogether, the emperor circled the cage until he reached the door. "I would speak alone with this beauty," he dismissed with a flick of his sword-calloused hand and no expectation of disagreement.

Rioja opened his mouth to protest, but stopped, leaving it hanging for a moment before clapping it shut. "As you wish, your Eminence."


Aia kept his eyes on the wispy folds of his loincloth as the door to his cage creaked. It didn't matter if he looked on his newest tormentor or not. The results were always the same.

Far easier to envision ugliness to ugly acts than to witness one as handsome, beautiful, as the young emperor violate him as all the others had. He knew the state of a body and state of a soul had little relation to each other. But all he had left to cling to was the simplicity of life. Kindnesses were too spare and wretchedness too common to want more than simple pleasures: The bloom of a flower at sunrise; the dance of gold and silver light across the floor of his prison; the gentle voice of a servant boy; a handsome face. Wanting more would be greedy, and foolish.

And reality was too harsh. He would go mad dwelling on the painful and loathsome existence his life had become. The burden of knowing he was the last of his kind heightened his suffering to levels almost beyond his ability to bear. Only by accepting his fate with detachment and dulling its bite by asking so little of the world could he survive it.

Soft footsteps padded towards him, then circled inside the cage. Not a surprise. Often his `visitors' had done the same, examining their toy before deciding which sick game they wanted to play. But the rustling of fine clothes behind him, not in the act of removal, rather, an unfamiliar sound instead, did surprise him.

"Look at me," the young emperor commanded gently.

The forcefulness of authority he had come to expect carried an intense weight and light tone he had not. Though, alone, the smooth voice demanded compliance, and he would have obeyed, without question, Aia's stunned wonder urged him to act.

Slowly, Aia lifted his graceful head and silver-blue eyes. The handsome young man sat casually on the marble bench, lean legs crossed. A stray lock of sable brown wisped over his intense blue eyes as he studied Aia.

Aia shivered. The emperor's scrutiny frightened him in a way no one else's leers ever had. Yes, desire lingered in those proud eyes. Desire he had witnessed far too often not to recognize it in an instant. However, he saw much more in the eyes before him. So much more. And none of it familiar to him.

He longed to turn away, to enfold himself in the shelter of numbness, like his warm wings enfolded his slight body with their illusion of protection. But the emperor's piercing gaze held him paralyzed, leaving his only movement the erratic color-shifting of his eyes from blinding silver-blue, to searing gold, to stormy gray, even flickering a moment to flame red.

Why was the emperor just watching him? Why not take him like everyone else? Well, almost everyone else. Adam wouldn't. Adam would never hurt him. But he was the only one.

Aia wrapped his slender arms around himself, reinforcing the sheltering embrace of his wings. A desperate plea fluttered in his watery blue-green eyes, but quickly smoothed to dead gray. He knew it to be hopeless. No one cared to understand him, and cared even less to consider the feelings he so futilely attempted to express. Numbness was all he needed. If he didn't feel, he couldn't hurt.

The emperor's lips parted slightly, then his dark brows furrowed. Aia couldn't read the emotions flashing across the handsome face and he wasn't sure he wanted to. He just had to hold to the numbness and nothing would hurt. Not even the unknown.

The young man leaned forward, and rested his arms casually over his knees. "No need to be afraid" the emperor said mildly without losing the power and command that surrounded him in every tone, in every gesture, in every way.

Aia held himself tighter, even more frightened.

"Come here," he softly commanded.

Aia glanced down at his legs and shuddered. Still weak from the morning's abuse, he knew standing would be difficult, if not impossible, without help. But he also knew disobeying the emperor was not an option. With as much grace as he could gather, he pulled himself to the emperor's feet, half crawling, half dragging himself, the gold chain, snaking from his ankle, rattling against the smooth marble floor.

A warm, lightly tanned hand lifted his chin and drew his gaze to cool blue eyes. He trembled, again clutching his arms around himself.

"You are very beautiful," the emperor whispered. A barest hint of a smile crossed his lips.

"A living work of art," he continued, as if he sensed Aia's growing fear, sensed Aia's racing heartbeat through his fingertips; As if he intended the low, smooth tones of his voice to calm Aia.

"Do you have a name?"

Aia blinked silver-gold eyes. A name? Why would so powerful a man want to know his name? He was only a lowly toy to whoever King Rioja allowed to have him, and even some who weren't given such permission. Far beneath the notice of someone of the highest status, at least for anything other than being the plaything he was. Objects didn't warrant names. And for as long as he could remember he was merely an object that didn't warrant much at all.

No need for courtesy to a thing. No need to torment him with tastes of humanity, of being treated like a person. A silver tear spilled down his cheek as he nodded his head slowly.

"Ah. As I thought." The emperor leaned forward, brushing strong fingers over the tears staining Aia's cheek. "I am sure it is as lovely as you are."

Aia's silver lashes flickered over warming blue eyes, his trembling breaths puffing against the frighteningly gentle hand touching him. More shining tears streamed freely down his face.

"And, it is true you cannot speak?" The emperor brushed his tear-damp fingertips across Aia's parted lips, his sapphire eyes following the path his fingers explored.

The caress was more then Aia could bear; more than the numbness could bear. A sudden gasp found, with the warmth of the emperor's fingers, the saltiness on his own lips. As shifting violet-gold eyes fluttered closed, Aia nodded.

Only Adam was as gentle, and only to ease the sting, pain, of his wounds. No one ever touched him in such a way for no apparent reason...

"Cannot or will not?" the strong voice breathed. Another hand rose to his face, caressing his cheek, brushing his hair behind his ear with strangely gentle warrior's fingers and soft strokes.

...Which meant there had to be a reason. One Aia just wasn't aware of yet. One which could destroy him like no other. With a taste of the tenderness he had forced himself to forget to desire, it would rob him of the protection of numbness he needed to survive.

He shuddered, his lips quivering in a voiceless whimper.

The emperor suddenly withdrew his hand. Aia's eyes flashed open, shifting erratically between soft violet, water blue, and searing gold. At the coldness in the handsome ruler's royal blue, blinding gold dominated Aia`s own.

Arms stiffly at his side, the emperor shot to his feet, awkwardly for one so obviously of noble grace. Without giving Aia a second glance, he stormed towards the door.

His quivering hand resting on the golden latch, he spoke with an icy calm, marred only by a thread of a quake. " Perhaps..." He stopped, his shoulders lifting in a quick breath. "...perhaps I will speak with you some other time."

A clank of his prison's gate, and a swift breeze whisking any warmth the few moments with the bewildering emperor had brought, Aia was again alone. But, for once, he wasn't sure if he wanted to be.


Thaelin strode across the garden barely keeping to the path. His ever present dark shadow flowed behind him with the silence and grace any bodyguard worthy of protecting an emperor would be expected to possess.

Lost in his thoughts, Thaelin stalked toward the palace halls. He had to get away from the beautiful caged boy. A boy. Yes, he was the most magnificent being he had ever seen, male or female, but he was a boy, a man. No matter the beauty was hundreds of times lovelier than any woman to ever grace his court. He was still a he. And he had been heartbeats away from... kissing the gorgeous boy; from savoring the petal pink lips which promised to be softer than silk...

Thaelin growled, startling several servants scurrying about their duties. His own living shadow raised a blond brow, a dark mask hiding the rest of the man's reaction to his master.

How could he want another man? He was no common soldier, taking what the day brought because there may be no tomorrow. He could quench the desires of his flesh on any lady in his court he chose. Power alone afforded him the opportunity, adding his own attractiveness guaranteed pleasure at his every whim.

Not that his whim arose at all often. The responsibilities to his empire occupied most of his time. Even his touring of all his realms was just another responsibility. One made tradition by his father, the first emperor of the Sanian Empire.

Perhaps he just needed a real respite, his mind overburdened by dealing with sniveling boors for almost three months. He had been so eager to escape their company, he hadn't thought to partake of his own choice. Surely any pretty face would be tempting to even him after so much time alone?

But the winged beauty wasn't just any pretty face. Not only was he exquisite beyond all description, his eyes, his very breath, the vulnerability in his delicate body, the shy pout of his infinitely kissable lips, everything about him enchanted.

His eyes. His unforgettable eyes. They tore at Thaelin's soul like nothing ever had , or could. So hauntingly expressive, yet he knew so much more flowed beneath their mesmerizing surface. And he had been on the brink of plunging into the depths, blissfully drowning...

No more. He would continue about his day, and forget the pale beauty in a golden cage. He controlled his own actions. Others obeyed him. To let anyone else alter his behavior, control his feelings, have any sway over him in anyway, was unthinkable. To let an angelic, mute boy do so, and so overwhelmingly, was inexcusable.

He swung aside the large door to the chambers King Rioja had provided him, his cape billowing with the force of his stride and the sweep of his arm. His elderly manservant appeared from an adjoining room carrying a silver tray stacked with letters.

Bowing a gray head, the man knelt before his emperor and master with surprising grace for one so old. Thaelin absently snatched a letter from the tray and sighed. Well at least if he occupied the rest of the day accepting the meaningless invitations to visit meaningless lords and ladies, he would have little time to think about the ethereal boy threatening his sanity.


In the evening, as the warmth of the sun dropped into the purpling horizon, the palace's grand hall filled with throngs of nobles and servants. The nobles, many those Thaelin had visited earlier in the day, chattered, picking demurely at the extravagant plates of food before them and washing it all down with endless glasses of wine.

Thaelin, perched at the head of the long row of tables, rubbed the bridge of his slender nose hoping to ease the mounting headache pounding behind his eyes, Seated arrogantly on his right, King Rioja talked and talked about... well, Thaelin wasn't quite sure anymore. He had been listening only enough to follow the general flow of the conversation not long after the irritating little man began boasting of the collection of rare birds he had obtained for his wife. Across from her husband, the queen smiled with mock shyness, touching a excessively bejeweled hand delicately to her breast.

He made a mental note to consider raising taxes. The luxury which afforded not only acquiring such rare creatures, but more so, he could not encourage the expense of crafting their dead bodies with precious metals and jewels; And, judging from the pathetic king`s taste, a most likely gaudy display which definitely would not meet his approval. Rioja would be wise to hope to be merely exaggerating to impress him.

He would have chastised the foolish king, but his mind began drifting to another, infinitely more rare, bird. One whose eyes already were jewels, hair fine silver, and skin of ivory, or perhaps cream silk or velvet. The desire to touch the winged beauty's skin and discover which was true brought a warmth to his own.

Suddenly, his heart tightened, a tenseness pinched behind his eyes. Did Rioja intend the same fate for his rarest bird? Thaelin gazed narrowly at the irritating man, watching thin lips flap meaningless words and beady eyes glitter in greed and self-importance. If Rioja hurt the lovely boy in any way, he'd kill him. With his own hands if necessary.

His hands clenched the arms of his chair, knuckles whitening, his tanned cheeks flaring red. Enough! Enough of the dreadful dinner, enough of the wretched little king and his simpering wife, and enough of the uncontrollable feelings towards a captive boy who couldn't even speak.

He rose quickly to his feet, tossing the cloth napkin from his lap onto the table. Brushing a shaky hand he struggled to still over the slight wrinkles in his black velvet jacketed tunic, he turned to his host.

" I thank you for a pleasant meal," he ground into a civil tone. "But I must call an end to my evening. I shall see you at morning meal."

King Rioja's dark eyes widened, his mouth paused, open, in mid-sentence. " Uh. Oh, of course," he finally stammered. "We will miss your company, but I look forward to it in the morning." He appeared sincere in his words, unlike Thaelin.

Thaelin inclined his head, dark hair wisping across his forehead. "Good evening." He turned, nodding in barest respect to the queen, then strode from the dining hall, his dark shadow closely behind him.


Aia shifted on the marble floor, trying to sleep. Little comfort could be found on the hard stone, but he had become accustomed to accepting lesser pains as a form of comfort, the closest he would ever be. He knew his restlessness had nothing to do with his surroundings. Though the floor was cool, his cheeks still burned with the warm touch of the beautiful, nameless, and very confusing, emperor.

He had spent the entire day attempting to erase the gentle caresses from his memory, from his skin. Unsuccessfully. The tenderness had been like water to a man dying of thirst, sight to a man unable to see, balm to a man who only knew pain.

In a way, he found the gentle touches more cruel than his most severe beating or brutal rape. The pain he expected; the pain was all he really knew. Even Adam's kindness could never separate him from it. The caring had become a part of the cycle, a part of the pain. Without the agony, there was no comfort. But the young emperor violated the rules. He had brought tenderness and warmth without pain. At least none yet.

Aia lifted his head to approaching voices. His eyes widened and flared to gold, vivid even in the silver of moonlight. Not daring to breathe, he listened, hoping the voices would leave, hoping he hadn't recognized the one sending shivers through his skin.

The voices came steadily closer. More than three and drunk. The slurred words and uncontrolled volume a sufficient indication. Drunk meant his abusers would be less aware of the level of torment they inflicted, not that it mattered to them what happened to him, yet also left the hope they would pass out far sooner than the sometimes hours of torture he had suffered when they were sober.

Dark shapes passed outside his prison. His lungs straining for air he dared not take, his bright gold eyes followed the figures, as he prayed to a god he could no longer remember to just once let them pass by, to forget he even existed. But at the squeak of the cage's golden door, he knew he wasn't the only one to not remember. The god had forgotten him as well.


Thaelin couldn't sleep. Staring into the deep blue shadows of the silk canopy over his bed, images of the winged beauty locked away in a golden cage clouded his mind. Those sad eyes, always wisping through the colors of sunrise and sunset, never settling to one for more than moments. Except, the blinding gold, so entrancing and yet so overwhelmingly pained.

His arms ached to hold the slight body, soothe the boy's fears to nothings, banish whatever pain tormented the beauty's mind, soul, heart. He growled, his hands bunching in the satin sheets draped loosely over his lean body and cooling his bare skin.

Why the hell was he still feeling such things? Why had he felt them at all? Not only was the boy a boy, but not even human as well. One of a mythical race which little was known about and no one had heard from in centuries, no less seen. Well, until whenever Rioja had discovered the boy, or however he came to own him.

Rioja. The tightness in his chest and ache behind his eyes from earlier returned. Stronger. Something about Rioja, beyond the man's grating personality, bothered him. The queen's collection of jeweled birds fluttered through his mind.

In a flash of moon-silvered skin, Thaelin threw aside the sheets and shot off the bed to his feet. He knew he was probably paranoid, but his heart moved his body without his mind's consent. In a whirl of mindless motion, he tugged on the dark trousers neatly draped over the armchair by the bed, pulled on his black velvet boots lying at the foot of the chair, and loosely threw on a billowy, dark shirt. Quickly belting his sword onto his hips, he stalked from the room.

Just knowing the boy was safe was all he needed. Though seeing the delicate beauty again would do little in the struggle between his mind and his heart over how a brief meeting with a mute angel could so possess him. Could overwhelm him so intensely he longed for another man. And regardless of his resistance, his heart pounded with each moment until those mesmerizing, rainbow eyes looked into his once more.


Aia drifted on a gray haze. A numb fog where none of the brutalizing of his body reached him. Or so he hoped. Immeasurable years had dulled him to the emotional pain. He had been humiliated too many times beyond remembering for it to degrade him further. There was no further left to fall.

But even the numbing of his mind couldn't distance him completely from the physical agony King Rioja and the three noblemen inflicted on his fragile body. His flesh, ripped, stretched beyond what it could bear, bled red and thick, slicking the violent thrusts that violated him.

They ravaged him like the animals they were. Animals in silk, velvet, and lace. A clammy cold seeped along his skin, as the warmth of his blood seeped from his torn body. Metallic, like a sweet copper, some trickled down his throat, threatening to gag him as much as the hardened flesh rocking into his torn, blood-smeared mouth.

He desperately clutched at the two men before him, his slender, trembling fingers curling around the velvet of their jackets, pushing at them, trying to force them away so he could breathe. He shuddered uncontrollably, from the chill in his skin and his lungs straining for air, then his teeth accidentally scraped their hot, slimy flesh.

Aia nearly choked on the flood of his own blood as the two noblemen suddenly pulled themselves from him. One slapped him, swirling his mind into a fuzzy dizziness of near unconsciousness. His head fell and he spat the blood that had threatened to drown him, letting it dribble from his ruined lips. Too weak to steady himself, the next thrust from Rioja drove him flat to the floor. His forehead smacked onto the warm marble, flashing sparkles of silver and gray mist to his vision. And he faded into darkening gray.


The dew clinging to the midnight-shadowed grass of the garden glittered in the moonlight like a dusting of millions of tiny diamonds. Thaelin's soft boots scattered the watery gems into a fading mist as he strolled toward the ring of trees guarding the golden gazebo. Pale glints flickered through their leaves lightly rustling in a faint, cool breeze.

The night was beautiful. Only a wisp of deep blue clouds in the star- speckled midnight sky, like lace on jeweled velvet, and the moon was full and bright. Quiet and peaceful; some might say, even romantic, though the path of such thoughts Thaelin avoided quickly before he stepped too far.

Many times he considered turning back, returning to the relative comfort of his bed, and the safety from confronting feelings he couldn't explain or remove. Yet, the solitude of his room and the churnings of his mind were what brought him out to the night and the lonely garden in the first place. And the nagging, and he knew, irrational, notion that the object of his turmoil might be in danger.

Ridiculous, surely. But he couldn't escape the image of the queen's birds, and the lovely boy, already a jewel in and of himself, defaced with gaudy trinkets and displays of frivolous wealth. And more disturbing: dead.

His pace quickened, his feet, detached from conscious thought, beating against the slick grass in rhythm to his heart and breath. Ahead, the dark, silver-lined trees gave teasing gold glimpses of his goal. Silent and still, but for the rustling leaves. Peaceful.

Likely, the pale beauty slept. It was rather late, after all. But until he looked upon the boy's lovely face, he wouldn't convince a small but determined part of himself. Probably the same part which craved the boy's company, to discover his mysteries, secrets, even just his name.

He shoved aside a branch hanging in his way as he pushed through the trees, having broken from the marble path in his haste to reach the gazebo. Entering the clearing, he froze.

Moonlight shone in silver bands across the deep blue shadows of the cage's floor. But even the striped, pale light revealed the still figure at its center to not be merely sleeping. Not peacefully. And not willingly. A dark puddle surrounded him, too stark a contrast to ignore.

Thaelin was unaware of when he started running, but before the thought occurred to him, he was already flinging open the cage door with a silence shattering squeak.

Trembling with a warring of rage and fear, Thaelin dropped beside the pale body lying so deathly still. Up close, the dark halo smudged and pooling on the floor was heart-stoppingly ominous. Black-red swirled with a paler substance, too thick and too plentiful to have expected the faint heartbeat and shallow breaths Thaelin's desperate fingers found along the boy's slender neck.

The beauty's skin was cold, thickly splattered and smeared dark red with blood. He gathered the brutalized boy into his arms. Raising a hand, he gently caressed a soft, cool cheek, each stroke igniting a rage as red as the blood, smeared and sticky, on his fingers. The once lovely mouth, with lips as pink and perfect as rose petals, slowly oozed red between a darker crusting of blood, too dark to determine more than the boy bled.

Cradling him against his chest, he began to rise, when a jangling of metal reminded him of the chain shackled to the boy's tiny ankle. His cheeks flared hot with searing anger. Planting a gentle kiss on the beauty's cold forehead, he lowered him to the floor then rose, drawing his sword.

"No!" a young voice behind him screamed. "Don`t hurt him!"

Rage fueling the downward slash of his steel sword, he struck the golden chain with a resounding clang, denting the softer metal and chipping the marble floor. The ringing of metal against metal and stone nearly drowned the pained yelp at his back. Another stroke. And another. And another, until the chain finally severed.

Ignoring the muffled whimpering from near the door, Thaelin tossed aside his ruined sword with a loud clank as it clattered across the floor. Whipping off his shirt, he knelt beside the still unmoving angel and wrapped the soft silk around the boy's naked form like a blanket. In a sweeping motion, the tenderness of which surprised even him, he cradled the battered body into the warmth of his arms. He held the pale head against his shoulder, careful to not crush the scarlet splattered wings as he rose and stalked toward the door.

His storm blue eyes glanced over the squirming servant boy clutched securely in his bodyguard's arms.

"Grey, you can let him go now," Thaelin growled, finding keeping any semblance of his usual calm difficult under the fire of his anger. The warm breath ghosting onto his skin, though faint, anchored him from completely plummeting into blind fury.

He didn't stop to ensure his command was obeyed, he knew it would be. Besides, he had more important things, or rather, an important someone to focus his attention.

Pale gold lashes bowed over steady, ice blue eyes as Grey nodded. He merely released his hold on the boy, dropping his arms casually to his sides, and the young servant sprawled to the floor

A metallic, grating shriek and a crash of metal bounding against metal, Thaelin slammed open the cage door with a swift kick.

"Milord, please!" the boy cried. "Don't hurt him!"

Ignoring him, Thaelin turned sideways to leave his precious burden's former prison without snagging the luminous wings in the golden bars.

The servant scrambled to his feet. "Please!" he begged. "He has already suffered too much."

Thaelin halted for the barest of moments, sliding thundering blue eyes to the anguished boy. "You know what happened to him?" he breathed, like crackling ice.

The boy swallowed, his soft blue eyes wide but his lips set with determination. "Yes, milord. I have a good idea."

Grunting, Thaelin returned to his hurried pace. "Then you are coming with me, boy. I want to hear everything you know."

"So you won't hurt him too?"

"No," he said, unconsciously nuzzling the soft, blood-matted, silver-white hair drooped against his bare shoulder. "I will not harm him." Not ever.


Thaelin leaned against his bed, his arms braced above his head, gripping the carved mahogany frame of the canopy so tightly his knuckles whitened and his fingers numbed. He stared, a haunted haze in his blue eyes, at the ghostly pale form lying too still among the dark satin sheets. A healer tended the frail beauty's many wounds, which the servant boy had so expertly, too expertly, cleaned.

The emperor glanced to the wide-eyed boy shifting nervously from foot to foot, cradling himself in his own arms as he watched the unconscious figure on the bed. Thaelin's eyes narrowed. The boy definitely knew something. If out of innocent observation or participation, he couldn't distinguish.

Either the servant boy's anxiety came of some sort of genuine concern for his pale angel, or some sort of complicity in his condition. Or there was a third option: the involvement of someone he would fear. Such as a lord. Or... a king. His lips thinned into a tight frown. He wasn't sure which possibility offended him more, a volatile mix of jealousy and cold anger churning inside his chest and rising into tense, fiery knots in his broad shoulders.

Willing a distraction from what was beyond his control to what certainly was not, he straightened away from the bed, his gaze remaining intent on the young servant.

"I would speak with you now, boy," he commanded, focusing every fragment of calm into his smooth voice.

The boy's head jerked, raising awkwardly to meet him. For a moment, the servant merely blinked soft brown lashes, his blue eyes bright with surprise.

"N... now, milord?" he finally stammered with a quick, pained glance to the bed.

"Yes," Thaelin seethed. "Now!"

"Of course, milord." The boy bowed his head in compliance and followed the emperor to a far, empty corner of the room.

"What is your name, boy?" Thaelin folded his arms across his chest and stared down at the nervous servant.

"Adam, milord."

"Well, Adam, speak. I want you to tell me everything you know."

The boy bit his lower lip, his soft blue eyes tensed and watering. "Milord, I..." he began, his voice tightened and quivering to almost a squeak.

"Are you afraid?"

Adam's head drooped. "Y...yes, milord."

"Of me. Or someone else?"

"Both, milord."

"You do not know who I am, do you?" Part of him wanted to be patient with the boy, but his desperation to identify the walking dead man who brutalized his angel consumed all his energy to control. A fragile tone of neutrality was the most he could summon.

The boy swallowed, then shook his head, his eyes respectfully downcast. "I'm sorry, milord."

Thaelin sighed and took a deep, focusing breath. "Well, as I am Emperor Thaelin Ardos Sania, the only one you have to fear is me. No need to let concern for your standing here or for your hide bind your tongue. Anything you say to me will not bring you punishment unless you are deserving of such by your own deeds. That said, what do you know?"

Adam's brow furrowed over startled, wide eyes. "Uh, your...majes ...uh... eminence..."

"I have no time for stumbling over titles, just tell me plainly," Thaelin snapped, the edges of his neutral calm fraying.

Adam shuddered. "Of course, ...milord. Well, I...I don't know what to start with."

"Tonight. What happened?"

Clutching the hem of his shirt, Adam fidgeted with the seam. "Well I can't say exactly what, milord..."

"You refuse to tell me?" Thaelin growled, his fingers twitching.

"No. No, milord. Of course not. I meant to say I didn't see what happened this time. I only know what usually happens..."

The emperor`s eyes flashed into cold, blue fury. "What?" he hissed through grinding teeth. "This brutality has happened more than once?"

Adam flinched, but with a quick breath, replied quietly, "I'm sorry to say, milord, it happens quite often. Though usually not this bad."

"How often is `quite often`?" Thaelin gazed over his shoulder to the bed, his dark brows narrowing as rage, sadness, fierce protectiveness, warring on his handsome face, fought being calmed.

Adam shook his head with disgust, a similar sadness in the boy`s own blue eyes. "Mostly, several times a week. Though, sometimes every day. Depends on the king's mood."

"Rioja is behind this?" Thaelin's gaze snapped back to the young servant, his hands clenching into tight, white fists.

"Yes, milord. He came to me tonight, as is usual after one of his `bouts'. Three noblemen were with him, drunker than a mouse in a barrel of ale. I saw blood on their fine clothes. More than usual. I was afraid they had gone too far and killed him this time and were too drunk to know..."

"Why would he come to you? You're not a healer."

The boy shrugged. "No, milord. But I suppose he didn't want to waste a healer's skills on a broken `toy'. Or maybe just wanted few people to know of his sick games, and a healer might cause him more trouble than just a simple servant boy like me."

"Not that I am sure I want to hear more, but continue." Thaelin's eyes slitted to twin shards of blue ice. He had his own suspicions what the bastards had done to the beautiful, winged boy, but he had no idea if he could handle hearing them possibly confirmed. A protectiveness he couldn't explain had possessed him from nearly the moment he had seen the silvery beauty. And now it consumed him. "What, precisely, have Rioja and his vermin nobles done?"

"Well, milord, to say they rape him would be too mild."

"What? Rape?" Thaelin growled. "That..." His arm swung wildly to point at the bed. "...that is the result of rape?"

"Yes, milord. The worst I've seen in a while but not by much. I think his majesty enjoys testing the limits of Angel's healing power." A tear fell down Adam's flushed cheek. "I hate seeing what he's put through, all because he's beautiful."

"There is no excuse for such brutality! None!" His heart thundered with cold fury, coursing a searing combination of ice and fire through his veins.

The servant boy let out a muted yelp and jumped as Thaelin angrily swung his fist solidly into the wood-paneled wall. Jagged splinters of pale wood exploded against the dark mahogany in an impressive fist-shaped crater.

The emperor stilled. His fist remained planted in the wall, his head bowed, as he breathed heavily, his soft brown hair hanging wildly in his face.

"How long has this gone on?" Thaelin hissed and slowly pushed himself from the wall. He needed to regain control of himself. Blind rage was never wise, and wouldn't undo the horror Angel had suffered. Only closing his eyes for the span of an exhaled breath, he then forced his gaze to the pale angel in his bed. Still so dreadfully pale.

"Ever since I can remember, milord. Since he was brought here. About..." Adam paused, his watery gaze dropping to the floor in apparent concentration. "..about eight or nine years, milord. He was so small when I first saw him, though I was too."

"Eight or nine years," Thaelin breathed, staring at the ethereal beauty. Eight or nine years. Years? Of that sort of suffering? Of that sort of violation? And still the lovely boy lived? His beauty enchanted Thaelin even more knowing its frailty disguised such strength; And also stirred his protective instinct to an unfathomable depth. His eyes tightened, blurring his vision for a moment.

"Angel?" Thaelin said distantly, trying to pull himself from the swirling flood of his emotions and finding himself awash in a haze of his own tears. "You called him 'Angel'. You know his name?"

Adam blushed. "Sorry, milord. I don't, so to me, in my heart, he's `Angel'."

Thaelin nodded, understanding the need to name him, to make him more real, more tangible, more... intimate. And a name made all the agony the lovely boy had endured in forced silence and solitude all the more terrible, all the more inhuman, since it gave him humanity. And oddly, the likeness to such an ethereal creature named him even more human, more a person and not a thing. How could anyone hurt someone so vulnerable, so gentle, so innocent?

His father had always taught him that power was not about lording your strength over others, but using your strength to protect those weaker. His ocean blue eyes followed the soft curve of his angel's face, pale skin bruised and lips torn. Yet, still so beautiful. And despite all the torment he had seen, surely more than Thaelin cared to imagine, still so innocent.

A shining tear rolled down his tanned cheek. His eyes lifted, willing the weakness away, and met the studying, pale gaze of his silent shadow looming amongst the curtained cover of a bedpost like a dark sentry. And he knew Grey understood. Thaelin was helpless to do anything for the beauty. Whether the lovely boy survived now was beyond even his power. But, there was at least one more thing he could do for him.

He brushed past Adam, his boots grinding against the embroidered carpet, shoving it into wrinkles and furrows with each hasty step. With a quaking hand on the hilt of the dagger sheathed at his side, he stormed from his room, his shadow loyally behind him.


The door to the king's bedchamber banged against the wall, denting the wood paneling, and Thaelin raged into the room, a dangerous fire in his thunder blue eyes.

"Rioja!" he shouted as he strode toward the king's bed. "Get your pathetic self out of bed and stand before me. Now!"

Having bolted awake and upright the moment his door slammed open, Rioja fumbled to turn up the light of his bedside oil lamp. The flame fluttered in rhythm to his quivering under his red, satin sheets as his dark eyes found Thaelin.

"Your....your Eminence. Have I done something to offend you?" he stammered as he slid from his bed, hastily throwing on a red, velvet robe and tying it tightly about his waist.

Thaelin stalked toward him like a wolf cornering his prey, a feral glint in his eyes. "Most certainly!" he snarled. "I have seen what you have done to the boy, your... " Then sneered, "... treasure. And it will not be tolerated!"

"Uh, your Eminence!" Rioja cowered, wiping the dripping sweat from his forehead with a velvet sleeve. "I apologize! I had not idea you wished him only for yourself. You may have him to do what you will. My gift."

"Fool!" Thaelin took a step forward, and Rioja staggered back against his large bed. "He is already mine and I will never let you near him again! Even now, he is in my chambers, barely grasping onto this life, from what you have done to him. In my empire, I do no tolerate such treatment of others. If he dies..." His lips thinned into a snarl. He wouldn't let himself wander down that road. Somehow, it hurt too much and would unravel his control.

The king swallowed, blinking in confusion, sweat beading above his quivering lips. "But, your Eminence, he is just a slave."

"Just a slave? Just a slave!" Thaelin took another step closer, unsheathing a dagger from his belt. "You nearly kill him and all you can answer with is `he is just a slave'? Am I hearing you correctly? That you are not denying abusing him to near death?"

"I did nothing wrong!" Rioja whimpered, his dark eyes locked to the silver blade of the emperor's dagger flickering brightly in the guttering light. "It was within my right of ownership!"

"You disgust me! And even more so, that you possessed the most singularly beautiful being I have ever seen, ever met, and yet seek to destroy him, to destroy his innocence, his spirit. Even to destroy his lovely shell as you destroy his soul." His grip on his dagger tightened to a quaking white. "Beauty so rare should be cherished, not destroyed!"

"Y...your em...Eminence? Please." With his feet finding nowhere to retreat, Rioja's hands fluttered nervously at his drawn face in a defensive parody.

"Easy, is it not, to beg for mercy when you have a voice. But for him, it would not have mattered, would it?" Thaelin's dagger glinted in the light as he tapped the flat of the blade against his palm. "From what I have seen, he would have screamed until he had no voice."

The hand holding his dagger dropped to his side as he took another step forward. "Perhaps we shall find out how many screams a voice can withstand." The glacial ice in Thaelin's eyes was enough to freeze Rioja where he stood, but a strong hand on his shoulder reinforced the paralysis.

"No! Please! What are you going to do?" the king squeaked, fear and desperation rolling off him in a vile stench which fueled Thaelin to near blinding rage.

"Far less than you deserve!" Thaelin hissed. A flicker of silver and Rioja's agonized scream burst from his throat as a spattering of red flowed onto the carpet from the depth of his robe. Another flicker of crimson-tinted silver, and the scream jumped to greater agony.

Rioja stumbled against his bed, clutching his groin, blood oozing through his fingers. Then he fell, curling into himself on the floor. "Help me. Please, help me!" he wailed, blood spreading in a black-red stain through his velvet robe and the once fine carpet.

Thaelin towered over him, devoid of sympathy, his eyes cold . "Do not think that the worst of your punishment, vermin. I take your kingdom from you as well as your manhood. Everything. Gone."

"M...mmmercy," the writhing figure croaked.

"Mercy?" Thaelin sneered. "Mercy like you gave? ... Perhaps." He crouched to send Rioja the full force of his words as closely as he could stomach. "I leave you hope that your death may be slow. For it would mean you have found death as escape. That is my mercy," he whispered, his voice an arctic wind.

Thaelin rose, turning without a backward glance and stormed from the room, leaving Rioja writhing on the floor.

He passed the stand of Rioja's former personal guard just outside the door of the royal bedchamber. With a slight turn of his head, Thaelin addressed the guard nearest him. "Chain him in his beloved cage. Unclothed. And show him the same consideration he showed," he breathed in command, and received prompt nods from all six men. Then added over his shoulder as he continued down the hallway with his shadow stalking behind him, "...Which is none at all."


The fog of sleep slowly rolled away. A softness and a warmth melted into the cold darkness of Aia's awareness. His heart jumped. Was he finally dead? He frantically sought the feel of hard marble against his skin which would confirm he was indeed alive. But it wasn't to be found. Only comfort wrapped his body.

He sighed at the forgotten god's ironic joke: to be remembered finally, in death, when he had so easily been ignored in life, where it mattered more. But who was he to question the way of the gods? At least, for the moment, he was being given a portion of what he craved in life. He wriggled deeper into the softness surrounding him, content to savor the unfamiliar sensation on his weary body.

Another warmth grazed his arm, settling against his cheek. Aia nuzzled into it, even the coarseness brushing his skin more soothing than anything in life. Well most anything. There had been...

His blue-violet eyes shot open, wide and seeping to gold. Royal blue and a handsome face gazed down at him. Aia trembled, his eyes darting wildly around him. Where was he? If it was indeed the afterlife, it was stranger than he expected. Too much like a worldly place. And why was he here? And touching him so tenderly? Was the afterlife designed to fulfill his earthly dreams?

The emperor's other hand grasped his shoulder, drawing his attention.

"Shhh. You are safe now," the heavenly, deep voice assured him. The hand caressed his shoulder with a gentleness that sent tingles through his skin, then slowly traveled along his neck to his hair.

He calmed and snuggled into the otherworldly touches. If only he had known death would be so wonderful, he would have sought it with more determination sooner.

A slightly euphoric hint of a smile curved his lips as he suddenly grasped the front of the emperor's black tunic and pulled him to him, removing the short distance between them. With a quick surge upward, he wrapped his slender arms around the strong neck, ignoring the ache of his muscles, and pressed his lips to the startled emperor's in an indulgent kiss. They both fell back onto the bed, the emperor's broader body blanketing his with blissful warmth.

A sting of pain threaded through the sweet pleasure caressing his slicked lips. But he ignored it as well.

His. The heavenly apparition was all his. So real and so wonderful. An apparent reward for his suffering which he could have never truly dreamt to hope for in life.

For moments which felt like eternity the handsome dream returned his kisses eagerly, while the sting intensified. However, in his life he had withstood greater pain.

But suddenly, strong hands clasped his wrists, breaking his embrace and breaking the kiss. The emperor pulled away, his brow narrowed and his parted lips red with blood.

"You should not have done that," the emperor said, slightly breathless. He reached to a bedside table, grabbing a white cloth and gently dabbed Aia's lips. The cool wetness both soothed and stung. "See, you have aggravated your wounds."

Wounds? But...? Wounds, pain. The dead weren't supposed to have wounds or feel pain. Aia squirmed under the careful attentions of the emperor and the bloodied cloth, gold again flashing wildly into his eyes.

If he wasn't dead, then what was he? Where was he? And why was an emperor caring for him, tending his wounds and being... kind. He had to be dead. Had to be. Or else nothing made sense.

"Calm, lovely. There is nothing to fear from me." The emperor's voice was soothing and so frighteningly gentle. A lightly tanned hand caressed his face and hair as the handsome noble gingerly continued his care.

Aia shivered, but allowed the touches, sinking into the softness of silk and satin. He watched the emperor with wary silver-gold eyes, then slowly raised a shaking hand to the face that had brought him dreams: Dreams of a life beyond what it was, beyond pain and only pain; beyond fleeting bittersweet comfort and tenderness; beyond the numbness that had been his only means of survival.

His fingertips lightly touched a tanned cheek, marveling at its warmth. As his fingers brushed along the smooth skin, the emperor's thick lashes fluttered, a gasp gusting against his palm. For a moment, the thrumming of the young man's heartbeat and quickened breaths sung against Aia's hand.

He raised his gaze to the emperor's endless blue, millions of questions swimming in Aia's eyes as silver and gold bled into soft violet. But foremost was 'why'. Why was he not dead? Why was he not in a cage? Why was he safe? Why did his shielded heart scream to trust? Why him? ...Why...?

... And `who'? Aia slid his hand down the emperor's neck, past broad shoulders, stopping with his palm pressed flat against the strong, silk-clothed chest. His pale brows furrowed, gilding violet eyes with silver-blue.

The emperor quickly wiped the blood from his own lips, then laid aside the cloth and settled at the edge of the bed. A small smile blossomed across his handsome face. A smile which stole Aia's breath, for it wasn't a leer or a malicious smirk, or even one of pity; it was the nearest to a genuine smile he had ever seen. Well, that he could remember. And since he wasn't sure what genuine even looked like anymore, it very possibly was. It didn't really matter; it was close enough to send a tingle through his skin and a flutter within.

"You are full of questions, correct?" the emperor asked quietly, the slight smile still on his sweet lips. Warm, calloused hands adjusted the sapphire-blue satin sheets to cover his chest, and tucked him snuggly into its slick, cool, comfort.

Aia nodded, blinking. How did he know? Did the emperor truly understand him? Or, maybe more importantly, truly care to? He waited, watching for what the young man would do next with wide, shifting silver-violet eyes.

"I have taken you from that vile dog, Rioja. He can no longer harm you. Nor will I let anyone else harm you. You have my complete protection. As I said, you are safe now."

So, he was finally free of Rioja. Safe. Even promised protection. Aia sighed, his breath stuttering past his lips its only sound. His eyes slid closed and he lulled his tired body and weary soul with the peace, safety, he had been given; with the freedom from the tormenter, the animal, that had been his life for so long. So horribly long.

A strong, warm hand smoothed the satin soothing his skin. "I will keep you safe, lovely one. Always." The strength of the deep voice echoed through his entire being.

But what would that portion of freedom cost? What would safety cost? More than Rioja had tortured him, so he knew pain had more than one face. More faces than he could remember. Could he ever truly be free?

Aia curled slightly to his side, his range of movement limited by his long wings. His slender hands covered his face to hide the anguish and fear twisting their way up his body to choke him.

"Shhh.." The hand rose to caress his bare shoulder with calming, circular strokes.

But how could a touch erase all the agony of his life? When would it, too, turn brutal? He shuddered. Hands bunched and tucked the soft, cool satin higher to cover his shoulders.

"Shhh, what is wrong?" Fingers threaded through his hair, their warmth soothing his skin as their gentleness attempted to soothe his spirit. "I will not hurt you. Ever. It is my promise."

Touches and words and promises, how could they be enough? How could they ever be enough?

"You wished to know my name?" the emperor spoke quietly, but full of assurance.

Aia's silver-blue eyes flashed open, pulsing with violet. He.. he had understood him. The emperor had understood him. Him. A lowly toy. Aia blinked, tears welling in his eyes., then nodded.

"Can you write?"

What an odd question. The winged boy's silver brows furrowed, but he gave another nod.

"You are indeed full of surprises, lovely one. Well, then, I will tell you my name if you tell, well, write, me yours. Agreed?"

Aia blinked again, stunned, his eyes freezing for the barest moment in a mottled rainbow. Another nod, almost eager.

"I am Emperor Thaelin Ardos Sania. But I would be most pleased if you thought of me as just Thaelin." The smile returned, comforting, secure, and something he couldn`t define but lightened his spirit. "Now, your turn."

Easing himself up to sit, he leaned against the headboard, his fluttering, white wings spanning its length. Aia glanced at the table beside him, then at Thaelin. Before he could protest that he had nothing to write with, the strange emperor grasped his hand gently and directed Aia's index finger to his own broad palm.

"Use me."

Lowering his head, Aia blushed, silvery hair, cascading over his slender shoulders and wisping down his chest, hiding him. Without looking up, he traced his finger along the strong hand. A stroke down, then another angled from the point of the first, and a last crossing both.


Aia nodded, head still bowed. A straight downward stroke and he covered Thaelin's warm hand with his own, hoping he understood.

"An `I'?"

Aia's lips twitched with a hidden smile. He repeated the strokes of the first letter, then took the emperor's hand in both of his and glanced up into royal blue eyes expectantly.

"'A'..." Thaelin paused.

His heart hammered in his chest. Please understand. Please.

"Aia? Your name is Aia?" Thaelin's rich, smooth voice floated like music, singing a heavenly song he never thought he would ever hear again.

Aia smiled, tears streaming down his cheeks. He wasn't alone anymore. Wasn't just a thing. He had a name again. Thaelin brushed the backs of his strong fingers along Aia's face, tenderly wiping away the silver, glistening trails of tears.

"Shh..No need for tears."

His warm blue-violet eyes overflowing, Aia touched his fingertips to Thaelin's wonderful lips. Then clasping the gentle hand at his tear-soaked cheek with his other, he drew it to cup his delicate ear. Again, he gazed at the emperor expectantly.

The emperor's concerned frown melted into an understanding smile. "Aia," he said softly, his breath tickling Aia's fingertips and sending a shiver along his pale skin. "Is that what you want, lovely Aia?"

Thaelin grasped his slender hand, then placed a kiss to his palm. "Aia." His intense blue eyes gazed over his fingers as he breathed a warm, trembling heaven into Aia's skin. "Sweet, beautiful Aia."

Tears ran freely down Aia's face, but his eyes lit with pure bliss, sparkling like amethysts, their facets catching reflections of a peaceful sea. He smiled. A true smile he thought he had forgotten. A smile which radiated with a joy he couldn't contain.

"I was right," Thaelin whispered. "Your name is beautiful."

( The End ...leading to a new beginning...)

Author's notes: This story is the first of a 2 part story arc. However, the second story has yet to be written. Yes, there are loose ends left to be resolved, but I tried to bring at least some degree of a major resolution to this half. The second story will go into greater detail of Thaelin's character and the political, and other, repercusions of the events of this half.

Hoped you enjoyed the story and the characters. It was a challenge to find ways to effectively have a mute character communicate and do so uniquely. I hope I succeeded.

I would like to deeply thank Lady Sakura for her help in beta-reading this story. Her input, ideas, and mostly her support have been greatly appreciated. Thank you!