Notes: A reworking of the originally posted "The Blade" story for the sgaflashfic Harlequin challenge.
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue!
*Thanks to my beta superfox!*
Summary: Someday, you will be sold...
These were words spoken to John Sheppard when he was six years old.
Someday, you will be sold
These were words spoken to John Sheppard when he was six years old.
He had been taken into the Jade House, a place of training in combat and the ways of the world. John had been the fifth son of a noble family who had their name but precious little else.
The Jade House had taken him because he was the prettiest of the sons born to San Aremis Sheppard. They saw potential in his gangling grace and knew that a noble name, no matter how worthless, would earn him a higher price.
Someday you will be sold
The representative of the Jade House had roughly removed him from his mother’s arms and she had wept, the sound scarring John’s heart in a way that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
He didn’t cry because his Father had taken him aside the night before and had said, “I send you out into the world, a man. You must be one now.”
When John was ten, the Jade House tested the boys of his age to decide what position they would be trained for. Those that were deemed worthless, either losing their pleasing looks with age or of a displeasing nature, disappeared overnight. There were sixteen boys left of the original twenty-three he had been housed with and he was told that those had been palmed off to the workhouses.
There was talk of training him as nothing more than an attendant, to serve at the whim of the master that bought him, but the first time John picked up a sword it fit and his Masters were pleased.
That was the first time John heard the term Blade.
He asked what that was and his Master, a man known only as Yijnai, explained it as best he could.
“You will be a knife under the pillow, a last line of defense. You will stand between your Nasu and death when nothing else does.”
At twelve, John was roughly woken and dragged into the courtyard of the main building. Yijnai had watched John stand at attention for two hours before he had approached the boy and without precursor, had backhanded him across the face.
The blow was unexpected and ferocious and sent John sprawling into the dust at his feet. With a strangled cry, John launched himself at Yijnai, who caught him easily and held him aloft, kicking and screaming. He turned the boy; this way and that, watching him struggle, before dropping him unceremoniously at his feet.
John sat again in the dirt, panting roughly and with murder in his young eyes.
“Spirit we need for a Blade,” Yijnai sighed. “But you have something else about you. I fear we may not be able to break it, but in time you will learn to hide it.”
“What is that?” John asked, smarting and humiliated.
“Will,” Yijnai replied, shaking his head. “We need to hide your strong </i>will</i>.”
On John’s fourteenth name day, he was being punished. He crouched on only fingers and toes as driving rain soaked him through to the bones. He shivered and his lips were blue but he dared not move.
His fingers and toes slid as the usually compacted earth of the courtyard turned to mud and John struggled to stay upright, knowing that if he allowed himself to drop to his belly, he would spend another night in the same position. He flicked water out of his eyes and looked towards the main house and the impassive figure of Yijnai, highlighted in one of the doorways, ever watchful.
Instead of fighting it, John sunk his fingers and toes in deeper, thereby anchoring himself. He looked up but Yijnai was now gone, knowing that even though he had left his young charge, John would still be in exactly the same position in the morning, until he was released.
John had a friendship of sorts with another boy of sixteen, named Acheron. They were of similar social standing, both lower born sons of an impoverished house. Acheron, older and thereby wiser, was whom John would ask his questions from.
John had never really understood the meaning of the word Nasu although he had heard it over and over again.
He had asked and Acheron had smirked at John in a way that made his skin crawl. “It’s a dignified way of saying owner,” he had answered and John had grown cold inside.
He had always been told he would be sold someday, but it was the first time he had truly realized that he would be owned.
At twenty-five, his Master came to John and said, “Today, you will be sold.”
He’d gotten used to the rhythm of life in the Jade House and was terrified of the outside world. He had heard from Acheron of Nasu's that were cruel and hurt their property for mere pleasure. John was not naïve, having been trained properly in all aspects of his responsibility, but he was not sure he could stay his hand against those that would mistreat him, and that, he had been assured, would mean death.
More importantly, it would dishonor his family name.
He was of a late age to leave the Jade House, but up until then Yijnai had always hidden John away when prospective buyers would come calling. John saw each of the sixteen boys he had originally been housed with taken away, all large eyes and broken faces, fearful but resolute. Yijnai had explained that to release John at such a young age would have been a waste and John had not understood until his potential buyer arrived one warm, summer afternoon.
When he saw the impressive black carriage pull up in the courtyard and the man step out that would become his Nasu, John was afraid.
The man was large and his face was cruel. He had the look of a warrior that had gone to seed. John had also seen this man before, many times. He had bought many boys from the Jade House, but his taste was usually for younger males.
John was presented to the man and his large, fleshy hands immediately shot out, gripping John’s face cruelly and turning it this way and that.
“He is certainly fair of face, but I need him to be strong. He looks scrawny. Do you not feed your charges?” the man demanded, meaty fingers digging into John’s side and feeling along his ribs.
Yijnai bowed his head in deference before speaking. “His strength lies in speed and agility, not in brute force. You have a household guard if you wish to show strength. For a Blade you want him to be lithe and hold no fear.”
The man grunted, a disgusted sound. “I think I might be paying too much.”
Ah, John realized, the man was merely bargaining.
“He is the price we have set. This is not a market stall.” Yijnai’s own tone now belied his impatience. The man slapped his generous belly and regarded John critically.
“Why have I not seen him before? He would certainly have been fair when he was younger.”
Yijnai’s eyes never wavered but John saw a tiny tightening of the skin around them, the only sign that he was nervous.
“He was a recent purchase and has been trained well.”
“Fine,” he snapped. “Have him delivered to the Estate. He should be waiting for my son when he returns from the ceremony.”
It was only an hour later when John finally summoned the courage to ask Yijnai what that had been about. “Why did you lie to that man?” he asked, not really sure whether he wanted to know the answer.
“I could not give you over to such a man for himself,” Yijnai sighed, touching light fingers to John’s face, trailing his jaw lightly before pinching his chin. “The boys that he buys seldom survive.”
John couldn’t help but finger the fabric he was draped in. He had become used to the rough-spun training robe he had worn day in and day out at the Jade House and had never been dressed in anything like what he was wearing now. The attendants who attired him had been careful to choose colours that flattered him and John was now wearing a deep blue overrobe and soft black pants that felt like the skin of a fawn. His hair, always kept carefully short, had a sweet smelling paste rubbed into it that made it stand up and away from his face. Lastly, a collar and matching bracelets of a metal the colour of old blood that looked like intertwining leaves and brambles had been placed around his throat and wrists, marks of his station.
The Patriarch of the McKay house stepped into the dressing room and the servants who had been attiring John fled without a word. John stood passively, hands lightly clasped behind his back and head bowed, waiting. He knew he was being given over to the son of this man but precious little else. He dared not speak first but waited to be allowed to speak so that he might ask his questions.
“They hid you from me,” the man sneered and John felt his skin grow cold. “That old goat didn’t want to give over his precious star pupil but I have you now.”
John’s surprise overrode his training and he blurted, “But I thought-“
The hand that struck him was lightening fast and John fell to the plush carpeting, braced on his hands. His first instinct to fight back had been overridden long ago with the strictest training but was always going to be there, a tickling at the back of his skull that whispered fight, bring this man to his knees. John tamped down those thoughts and merely came to his knees and then rose to his feet, ignoring the stinging sensation that had bloomed across his cheek.
“You are to be my son’s and serve him well you will.” The older man’s hand struck out again but this time snagged John around the neck and dragged him forward, holding him close. “He will fight this gift I give him but you will either please him or die, those are the only two options for you.”
John winced, the pressure on his throat cutting off his air. His vision was graying at the edges and still he fought down the almost overwhelming urge to fight back. Despite the man’s girth, John knew he could probably win free, but to what value?
“I am no stupid warlord, power-mad and singularly focused. I did not claw my way to this position and power without realizing that information is a valuable tool, like finding out that your two youngest brothers were accepted by the Faith and are therefore spared the life you will lead.”
John’s heart tightened. He had known nothing of his family since taken from them but they were always close to his thoughts. He knew they would have only slipped further into debt and despair and his closest kept hope was that something would have pulled them out, some twist of fortune or lucky turn of fate.
He was shaken roughly and his eyes met the dark orbs above him. “If you fail to entrance my son and he does not kill you, I will declare you an unfit purchase and demand your value from the Jade House upon your return. They will take it out of your family and I will ensure that those two boys be dragged from their protective Faith House and be sold to the lowliest Skin Palace I can find to do so. I am a good customer of theirs and they will do as I wish.”
John was tossed roughly aside and he hit an overstuffed armchair and rolled to the floor. When he opened his eyes, the gentle, round face of one of the servants was looking down at him.
“Come,” she bade. “It is time.”
When a young man of approximately John’s age bustled into the room he had been placed in and stopped dead, John was at a loss. He bowed at the waist formally, waiting to be asked to rise before he would do so. He waited a few minutes before he risked raising his eyes enough to see that the other young man was still standing stock-still before him, a large stack of papers clutched to his chest.
John wondered if leaving him in this position was merely for the other man’s amusement until he heard a throat clear. “Ah… uhm… who might you be?”
Taking that as his permission to speak, John rose again. “I am at your service, Sir. I am your Blade.”
The other man’s face clouded and his brows drew down. He looked angry and John feared he had done something incorrectly. He bowed again, lower this time when a voice startled him into rising.
“Rodney!” The voice bellowed and the young man also jerked as if he’d been punched.
“In here, Father!” he called.
The man’s father, the heavy-set buyer, bustled in, looking annoyed. “You were supposed to meet me at the stables. I wanted to present your Blade to you properly.”
“My… what? Father, you know I didn’t want-“
“Rodney! I will hear nothing of your objections. Your station dictates that you hold to certain traditions and having a Blade at your side is one of them. Use him how you wish but you will obey me.” The Father’s face had gone beet red and it looked as if Rodney were properly cowed, but John noted that from the set of his shoulders, his apology and acceptance were not truly meant.
“Of course, Father.”
Rodney almost yelped when he entered his bedroom and John was already there, standing impassively by an open window. John turned and bowed at the waist again and Rodney made a frustrated sound. “You can stand. What are you doing here?” he snapped.
John rose and blinked. “I’m supposed to attend you, Nasu.” John said, canting his head slightly. He wasn’t sure if it was just he, but the reaction he had gotten so far was nothing short of odd. He had been told what to expect of Nasu’s and so far he was not getting any of it.
He’d spent the day in the massive McKay library, having been banished there by Rodney and told to "read or whatever". He’d been happy to do so but wondered if he’d done something to anger his Nasu. When dusk came, an attendant fetched him, stating in worried tones that Rodney’s father was displeased and ushering him into Rodney’s bedroom. John had felt awkward and out of place and even more so since Rodney entered the room.
“I have everything I need. You can… go.” Rodney made a dismissive gesture with his hand but his brows furrowed when he saw the look of pure confusion on John’s face.
“I’m supposed to attend you, Nasu. I’m not sure where you wish me to go as my place is in your chamber.” John, a boy originally from the Southern reaches of the land, winced when his drawl tinged his words. Many a time he'd had his knuckles wrapped when the Southern lilt to his speech crept back in and still it was there, no matter how he tried to quell it.
Rodney looked at him for a few beats and then seemed to physically shake himself. “Oh… I… no, I don’t need any…ah… attending.” Rodney held his hands up.
It finally clicked to John what the problem might be and a chill ran up his spine. He knew what would happen if the son of the McKay house merely rejected him.
John cast his eyes down; devastated that this was to be his fate. “I’m sorry I am not pleasing,” he apologised.
Rodney just gazed at him for a moment, frowning. Then his eyebrows shot up and he made a strangled sound in the back of his throat. “Oh, god no! You’re-“ he flicked a hand, encompassing John. “all kinds of pleasing. I just… ah hell!” Rodney dropped onto the end of his bed. “You just don’t understand.”
John risked stepping forward, taking the stack of papers out of Rodney’s arms and placing them on a desk by the door. He then returned to Rodney and dropped to his haunches so they were eye-level. Rodney gazed at him for a few beats and then snorted. “Did I say pleasing? Wow, that word just doesn’t do you justice.” His hand had drifted out towards John's face but clenched into a fist and dropped to his side.
John canted his head, raising an eyebrow. “I’m here for your pleasure and protection,” he stated simply. He stood and undid the sash that held closed his overrobe. Rodney watched, mesmerized as the smooth fabric gaped open and slid down John’s shoulders and off, pooling about his feet on the floor.
“Okay, wait!” Rodney yelped, standing up so quickly that John was forced a couple of steps backwards.
“I’ve been trained well in all manner of pleasure. If you’ll-“ John started forward and Rodney shunted backwards quickly, his hands up.
“Hold it!” His voice was higher pitched still and John froze where he was, waiting. He watched as Rodney’s gaze flicked down to his bared torso, the tip of Rodney’s tongue touching his top lip, before skipping back up to John’s face. “Dammit, you’re not making this easy. My father is a clever, clever man.” Rodney’s voice was full of loathing and a little awe at that last sentiment.
John retreated to the window again, not really sure what was going on. Rodney scrubbed hands over his face and stood, stooping down to pick up John’s robe and then holding it out to him. John took it and shrugged it back on.
“Look, yes, you’ve been bought by my Father and you’ve been trained as a Blade. I get that, I do, but the motivation behind your purchase was not a selfless one on my Father’s part. You’re not simply a gift.”
John crossed arms over chest, waiting patiently.
“I have a place on the Senate because of my Father and he thinks I’m squandering my position. He is very much entrenched in the old ways and likes the way our social structure works now, as do many of the other older men. I and a few others, unfortunately a very few at the moment, are trying to abolish…well… you.”
“Me?” John’s eyebrows shot up.
Rodney snorted and touched a hand to John’s shoulder. “Not you personally, but the whole idea of being able to buy people. It’s barbaric and backward and I’m working against it. Do you see why the idea of me actually having a… a… you would suit my Father’s purpose?”
“It would be seen as hypocritical for you to own a Blade and be working against the owning of humans as property at all.”
Rodney blinked for a second and then a smile rose on his face. “Yes, exactly. I can’t…well, I can’t keep you.”
John frowned and Rodney touched his shoulder again. “What?” he pressed.
John’s eyes met Rodney’s own. “If I’m rejected I’ll be returned to the Jade House.”
Rodney looked pained. “I could free you,” he offered.
John smiled tightly. “That would be seen as just as great a sleight as if I was merely rejected. I cannot return to my ancestral home and their name would be disgraced.”
“How can I fix this?” Rodney was concerned but didn’t want to destroy the man before him. He was surprised and intrigued by his Blade and even angrier with his father for choosing someone so, well, perfect for him.
John looked about the room for a second and then his face cleared. He approached the opposite wall and took down one of the elegant swords above the mantle. He returned to Rodney, holding the sword out, hilt first. “It is honorable to die in service,” he said.
Rodney took the offered sword in hand, staring at it for a moment. When John moved the tip of the sword to his chest Rodney let the sword go with a cry. “No! Are you crazy? I’m not going to kill you!”
John stepped away, wringing to fabric of his robe through his fingers. He looked so distraught that Rodney automatically stepped forward and brought arms around him. Rodney couldn’t help his body’s response to the lean frame in his arms and he felt John’s hands dip under his shirt and stroke up his back. Rodney tried to step away but John’s arms had come up and around and he felt some of his resolve cast adrift when a warm mouth grazed the hollow of his throat.
“I can’t… keep you,” Rodney breathed as John’s tongue traced a path up his throat and behind his ear. Rodney groaned, his hips stuttering forward and grinding into John’s.
“You won’t kill me and you can’t free me,” John supplied as he mouthed a path along Rodney’s jaw.
Rodney insinuated fingers into John’s thick hair and pulled his head back forcefully so they were eye to eye. “My Father did this on purpose. He chose you because he knows me too well.”
John’s hands found the clasp of Rodney’s pants and undid them, dipping under the waistband and finding his cock, which was already betraying his protests. John’s grin was lazy when he saw Rodney’s vision cloud as his hands stroked along the length. Rodney’s fingers tightened in John’s hair and colour crept up his neck. “I will not be the cause of my family’s ruin,” John growled, the words an oath, his hands stroking harder.
“They sold you into slavery,” Rodney protested breathlessly.
John’s hands stilled and his face hardened. “They had no choice,” he denied. "You wouldn't understand."
With a mighty effort, Rodney pulled away and stepped back. “I can’t keep you,” he repeated firmly. “No matter how much I might want to.”
John stooped and retrieved the sword from the floor. “Then you know what you have to do,” he said, his tone carefully neutral.
Rodney slammed out of the room and John sunk to the floor, cradling the sword to his body.