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The Gladiators

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Rai:

“Your selection seems a little limited,” I say, walking down the aisle of cages. They are crudely stacked, one level on top of the other. Some of these young cats barely have enough room to turn around. It's been many years since I've visited such a place and I'd forgotten how cruel it is.

“The games have been particularly violent and popular lately, so sales have been up,” the manager replies cheerfully, chewing on a stick of catnip, his eyes glossed over. This cat is the most well-known Sanga trader in the county, and his collection is known for being genuine and well-bred.

My Sanga, Haru, was tragically killed in my last match—I was unable to protect him, and I was devastated. I haven’t fought in over a month, recovering from my grief as well as the loss of my right eye. I would have liked to retire, but my funds are running dry and I have no other marketable skills. I need another Sanga to compete, but I don’t have much to spend.

“I can’t keep them in stock. And with your limited budget, well, your choices are limited. However, with your experience, I do have one with an excellent pedigree I might be able to recommend. I wouldn't recommend him to someone who hasn't paired with a Sanga before, though. But you, Rai—I'm sure you could handle him. He's a return.”

“A return? Why was he returned?” I ask. I didn't even know returns were possible. Further, why would a Touga even want to return his Sanga? Doesn't that just mean they haven't bonded properly yet? 

“He wouldn’t sing. He refused to perform for his master—at least, that’s what I heard from his owner.” 

“Which one? Show me.” I'm interested. A Sanga would won’t sing? The idea is absurd. They need to sing—not only because that is what they are bred to do but also because refusing to sing goes against their nature and is bad for their health. I’ve never heard of a Sanga risking his health to rebel against his owner.

“It’s this one.” He gestures to a small cat—no, a kitten, really—a pile of skin, bones, and fur, curled up in the cage at my feet. He looks a mess, and he is in bad shape. He must be ill, and he has obviously been isolated from the other cats in the warehouse.

“Gods." I can't help myself. He hasn't been grooming his fur and he hasn't been permitted to bathe. It doesn't look like he has been eating, either. "Is he sick?” I crouch down and take a closer look. The kitten is shivering, his fur bristled and unkempt—matted, knotted, and grayish brown but the color is hard to determine due to the filth covering him. He’s naked, or at least his torso is—his lower half covered in ratty clothing, his tail is wrapped around his body protectively. I hear his teeth chattering, despite the warm temperature in the room.

As I’m standing in front of the cage, I put my hand out, trying to touch even a small part of this cat—just to see if we might be at least partly compatible. Before I can even approach, however, he lifts up his head, bares his fangs, which are small but perfectly straight and white, and hisses.

His eyes are striking, like molten gold. They are gorgeous. The rest of him may be a disaster, but he has beautiful eyes. Right then and there, I’m smitten. My heart flutters in my chest, even more than the first time I laid eyes on Haru, in fact. I smile softly at him, holding his gaze. He looks surprised by my reaction, watching me warily. I see him examining me, nervously, especially my eyepatch.

“When a Sanga is returned to us, it is a ding against the house's reputation, so I try to keep it quiet. As you well know, I am personally involved in training our cats, and this one—well, he was pretty young when we sold him, but he was such a natural—he’s a genuine Sanga, I guarantee that. I don’t know why he wouldn’t sing, but he simply refused. He may have been mistreated by his first handler, but even if he was, it’s no excuse not to sing and he should have known better. Even if it was just for the sake of his own health! And he's changed since he's been back here the past two weeks, too. He won't sing for us anymore, either. He won't respond to discipline. I'm quite at the end of my rope and will give you a great deal.” 

I feel sick when I hear his words. They've probably been beating him and mistreating him, despite his illness. It makes more sense to treat a magical being well, I think, if your fate in the arena lies in his hands. He is much more likely to perform well for his Touga (or any owner) if he is well treated. Even more so if he is ill. Plus, he won't improve his health if he doesn't sing.

As I think these thoughts, the kitten glances up at me again, blinking his long, dark lashes—almost as if he read my mind. Haru could hear my thoughts if they were laced with emotion, but he was with me for over five years. This kitten's formerly fierce expression softens as he stares at me, continuing to search my face curiously.

“What are you asking for him?” I ask, unable to take my eyes off of him. He's sweet, and I can feel the power flowing from him, without even having to hear his voice.

“He’s within your budget. You’ll have some left over, too—for new clothes, for example, and food. And probably some extra, since you will probably want to train with him before diving right back into the arena. I heard your injury was substantial.”

“You’ll sing for me, won’t you?” I ask the kitten in a soft murmur.

I watch as his ears flatten, and a fearful look washes over his face. Singing is his purpose. Doesn't he realize? Why is he so afraid?

“I’ll protect you with everything I have. I promise you that.” I have sworn I will never lose a Sanga again. I would sooner sacrifice my own life than go through that grief. I reach my hand out to the cage, pushing my fingers in between the bars without forcing myself on him.

Hesitating another moment, he gives a barely perceptible nod, and his hand reaches out to mine, brushing my fingertips softly. I feel an electric current flow through my hand and up my arm into my shoulder and down my spine, sparking first like static electricity but then growing into a stronger current. This shows excellent compatibility as a fighting pair. It’s strong, despite his current state poor health. I’m pleased.

“Will you honor me with your voice?” I urge softly. “My name is Rai. What’s your name?”

“He won’t speak. He’s very stubborn,” the manager says. “We haven’t been feeding him since he won’t even talk.”

“You’re just afraid, aren’t you?” I press. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. You are coming home with me. I will take care of you."

“Konoe,” he says quietly, in a soft, beautiful voice that sounds like honey seeping into my ears. “I’m Konoe.” 

Even from those few words, I know he’s the real thing—and he’s the one I want. His voice sets something inside my soul ablaze, and I smile warmly at him.

“I’ll take him,” I say, getting back to my feet. 


Konoe:

Rai.

Who is this cat? This Rai?

I mean, I know he must be another Touga, but he’s different from anyone I’ve met before. He has a kind, calm voice, and that pale blue eye—it looked at me with kindness, not a demand to perform. He made me feel safe.

I haven’t felt safe in a long, long time.

My heart rate picks up when I watch his black boots walk away from my cage, feeling a sense of anxiety and nervousness when he leaves—though I can’t say I’m sorry to watch the manager depart. He is a cruel man and has only become crueler since I was returned by my original owner. He has beaten me—or subjected me to daily beatings—since I have been back, as though it was my fault I was returned! But he doesn’t understand what I have been through. He also won’t feed me what little food the other Sangas are being fed.

That other horrible Touga was a large cat with short gray hair, gray fur, and cruel green eyes. He called himself Sin but I was to call him Master. He frightened me. He said that he required my obedience in everything. I was made to kneel in his presence and I was punished for meeting his gaze, and I tried my best to obey his every command. But I feared him so much I couldn’t sing for him. I found my body didn’t want to sing for him. I wished for his death, not for his protection. Therefore, I didn’t earn my keep—I couldn’t earn my keep. He treated me cruelly, though he abused me in ways I didn’t know were possible. It makes me shudder to think about it, and so I don't except in my nightmares. I was relieved when he returned me.

The manager, however, was not pleased to see me again. He threatened to beat me if I disobeyed him, telling me I knew better than to disobey my master. He gave me another chance to sing for Sin, and I couldn’t. I could only tremble and cower in fear. The manager was appalled at my behavior and embarrassed that one of the Sangas he had trained had failed to perform. But I didn't know how to force myself to sing! I suffered daily beatings and starvation instead.

My former master chose another Sanga instead, and I was left in a cage as spoiled goods. The manager explained that Tougas like Sangas to be perfect and pristine, not used like I was. I would probably die here. And that is what I feared. While I didn’t suffer the same abuse as I did in Sin's household, I was still afraid. 

Then—the silver Touga arrived. Rai seems different. He seems sad and wounded. And he spoke to me as though I were a cat, as though I had feelings. He may not be as kind as I think he is, but certainly, he will be better than my last master. I will try to be a good Sanga for him. I will do my best.

I watched him walk away and it hurt my heart. I find that I want to go with him. And I felt a connection when I touched his fingers. Maybe he will feed me and care for me like those thoughts I read in his heart?

Within a few minutes, the manager returns and unlocks the door to my cage. I can’t keep myself from cowering from him. It's a natural reaction, based on what has been done to me while I've been here.

“Come on, kitten. No point in trying to get away. You’re leaving with that guy. You've been given a second chance. Get yourself together and let’s go.”

My bones feel like they are creaking, and I slowly unwind my tail from where it’s wrapped around my body. Bruises cover my back and shoulders, and my body is tender and sore. Yet the moment I expose my arm, I am roughly yanked out of the cage.

I keep my lips closed, and I don’t allow even a small sound to escape, however. I simply glare at the manager.

“Glare all you want, but I know as well as you do that you’ll be back here within two weeks. And you’ll get your comeuppance when you do, kitten—and then some. You know you won’t be able to satisfy that customer either, even as pretty as he looks on the outside. He’s vicious.”

My fur bristles and my claws draw reflexively in response to his cruel words. I’m sure the manager knows that Touga much better than I do, but I know what I felt from him was kindness—much more than anything I ever felt from my last owner. 

“You’re doomed to a life of a slave. You’d best get used to it, kitten.” 

He drags me down the hallway, and I try my best to keep up, still not making a sound. I don’t fight him, either, because I sure as hell don’t want to stay here.

I’m brought to another room, where my new owner is waiting. I know what is next won’t be pleasant. This is part of the sale, too. It’s an inspection, and it’s a complete indignity for me, but it's necessary for my new master to see what he is purchasing. I keep my eyes fixed on the ground.

“Take off your clothes, kitten,” the manager says, and I can't move at first. I’m too exhausted, first of all. My hands slowly start to obey, but I hear him sighing in exasperation.

“Look, I’m going to tell you now, he was trained well when he left here originally. But now—he’s in need of strict discipline. We’ve tried everything, but it’s as if he has nothing to live for,” the manager says, as though I’m not even in the room.

I’m fucking doing as he asks, for gods’ sake! What more does he want?

“It's fine. He’s obeying,” the silver Touga says. “He’s probably ill and exhausted. What has he been eating since he’s been here?”

“Well, um, let's see. He’s been refusing food,” the manager lies. To this, I raise my face. I’m shocked he would lie about such a thing. But I don’t speak.

“I can see he hasn’t been eating. I can see his ribs. He looks… starved. How long has it been since you’ve eaten, little one?” The silver cat uses a gentle tone when he speaks to me—like he is being kind to me. I am tempted to answer, and my mouth opens and then closes, almost like it wants to respond. But I don’t want to speak out in front of the manager and tell this cat that I haven’t been offered anything but water in the past week.

I slip off my ratty trousers after untying the waist. They slide over my hips—which have always been wider than the rest of my body, leaving me in my underwear.

“Keep going,” the manager growls at me, making my ears lower and my tail droop in shame. I haven’t been allowed a bath since I’ve been here, and I’m filthy after being beaten as well. I haven't groomed myself, either. I'm just too filthy. Then he speaks to the silver cat again. “You can see the results of his training, I’m sure.”

I flinch when I feel a hand brushing against the bruising on my back, but I continue getting undressed. How humiliating.

“How old is he?”

“I don’t believe he’s had his first heat yet. He found his song early, however. He is sixteen cycles and was bred to be a Sanga. He’s never known any other life.”

That is a lie, too. Two years ago, I was taken from my home in Karou—where I lived peacefully and alone and free—when someone heard me singing to myself and reported me to some slave trading hunters. My land was coveted by my neighbors, and I had no protector. I am of age, I think—but still, I have no family, and the traders came and collected me. I was overwhelmed by their numbers. Surely, there is no home for me in Karou anymore.

The silver cat doesn’t touch me, much to my surprise. I’d been told to expect a lot of touching during this initial exam since Tougas expect to “bond” with their Sanga physically as well as emotionally. I wonder if I physically disgust him since I haven’t bathed in so long. I hope I do not completely disgust him because he is attractive—especially compared to the last cat who owned me.

The thought terrifies me, however. And the fact that I am thinking of bonding with any cat terrifies me. A rush of fear flows through my body when I remember all those times I was held down by the grey cat and he forced himself on me. 

“Open your mouth, kitten,” the manager says.

I keep my eyes focused on the ground, feeling tears burn, and I open my mouth obediently. Rai looks at my teeth and tongue, humming slightly. He sounds slightly concerned.

“I’m going to touch your ears, your face, and your neck,” the silver cat says to me, very softly. “I will try not to hurt you.”

I nod shortly, keeping my face low, and I try to hold back fear along with my tears. 

His touch is soft—and there’s a singeing burst of electrical current that surprises me once again when his fingers connect with my skin. It doesn’t feel bad, but it surprises me. That never happened with my last owner. It’s almost as if this cat is magic. I jerk excessively and fearfully, but I remain obedient and still. I am afraid, however, and the tears I try to keep from falling leak from the corners of my eyes. 

The silver cat touches below my eyes, behind my jaw, my throat, and my shoulders, all of which are very sore. He also touches my ears, which I haven’t groomed in a long, long time. His hands feel cool, and I find I am pressing my head into the gentle touch. My chin is nudged slightly, and it startles me enough to make me look up just briefly.

I accidentally make eye contact. He only has one eye. His right eye is covered by a black eye patch. But the left eye looking at me is a beautiful icy blue, framed with long, thick eyelashes. His ears are rounded rather than pointed, and he is so tall. And he smells really nice.

“Don’t cry. But you are sore, aren’t you?”

My head gives another brief nod.

"And your throat hurts, too?"

I nod again.

“I think you may have an infection. It feels like you may have a fever, too. We can treat it, and you will feel better soon, all right?”

“Okay.” I’m shocked to hear my own voice responding, and so is the manager.

“Do you have any decent clothes for him? Something that isn’t so worn?” The silver cat hands me the clothes I have removed, allowing me to cover myself with something other than my tail. I appreciate the gesture more than I can say, a few more tears spilling from my eyes.

“Huh. I’ve never had a request for clothes, honestly. Most new owners just take their pets home naked. I can look, but he’s such a small breed.” 

“I realize that, but I’m not most owners. I’m also not a new owner. Please look.”

The manager sighs and leaves. 

“You’re going to be all right. You will be safe with me, and you will get well again. I will expect you to bond with me and fight for me, once you are well. Are you willing to do that?”

“Yes. Thank you,” I murmur softly. “You are very kind.”

“Not at all. I’m a Touga, and I need your support to make a living. It’s the logical way of things,” he says smoothly. 

Within a few minutes, the manager returns with a shirt and a pair of trousers. I slip them on, leaving the rags behind. While I get dressed, I watch as the silver cat pays for me with many silver coins. In exchange, he receives a certificate—probably my papers—and a collar. I dread that collar. He looks at me, noticing the moment I shrink from it.

“I’m sorry. It’s the law when we go out in public.”

The collar is black leather and buckles around my neck, and there’s a leash that he wears attached to his wrist. But instead of dragging me behind him, he scoops me up in his arms, which surprises me. 

“You know if you do that all the time, you will spoil him. He is already undisciplined,” the manager warns.

“He is ill,” the silver cat growls. “You can't spoil a sick kitten. But thanks for your advice.”

“Ah. And thank you for your business.”

I’m carried out of the trader’s warehouse—glad to be gone from there—into a new life. Whatever it may be, it really can’t be worse than where I have already been, can it? 

Chapter Text

He smells good—the silver cat—Rai. His hands don’t wander very much and he holds me securely as if he values me. I mean, he should value me. I saw how much money he exchanged for me, but surely, that had to be less than what Sin paid for me the first time I was sold. Back then, I was—what did the manager call me?—unused and pristine. 

A car stops outside of the warehouse—I didn’t see him hail it, but perhaps it’s a ridesharing service rather than a taxi—and he helps me into the car and confirms the address with the driver.

It’s not a long drive and he doesn’t talk very much on the way there. I try not to look up from my hands. However, he does say a few things.

“About your clothes. You aren’t my first Sanga, and I have a few items at home that you can use, but most are probably going to be too big for you. However, the loungewear should work. I’d like to get you up to weight and to pristine health before we invest in your wardrobe.” 

“Yes, sir,” I say quietly, trying to keep my face demurely bowed. I’m curious about this other Sanga. I wonder what happened to him. Of course, I don’t have the privilege to ask.

“You don’t have to address me as sir. Rai is fine.”

“Yes, si-, um, okay.” I struggle to drop the “sir” from my vocabulary.

“If you need anything or want anything, I’d like you to ask for it directly. I won’t know what’s wrong unless you tell me. When we get home, we’ll get you a bath and something comfortable to wear, and I’ll get you some food.” 

“Okay.” 

“I’d like to hear your story at some point.”

“My story?” I ask, flattening my ears, making brief eye contact with that pretty blue eye.

“I didn’t know Sangas could be returned.”

“Will you tell me yours?” I ask, timidly, looking back down at my hands.

“If it will help us bond.”

Bond. That’s right. He will want us to bond. I sigh quietly—but in the back seat of the car, my sigh sounds awfully loud. 

“Was that the problem? You didn’t feel anything for your last master? He was cruel to you and you couldn’t bring yourself to sing for a cruel master?”

I don’t look up, but I feel tears welling in my eyes.

“It’s all right. I won’t judge. But I have to know you to bond with you. You felt our compatibility, didn’t you?” 

I nod my head, daring to look at him now.

“I didn’t feel that with my last partner. I’ve never felt anything like that. And you’re ill—your mana is probably depleted because you haven’t been singing.”

“I will do my best,” I say quietly.

“It’s all I ask,” Rai answers. His voice is calm and even.

Soon, we arrive at a high-rise building in the city, and he climbs out of the car, helping me out as well. He picks me up as soon as I’m on the sidewalk and carries me with him. The building has a doorman, who opens the door for us, nods his head and greets Rai by name, calling the elevator for him.

There are no buttons inside the elevator. It just goes to the correct floor automatically. Several doors are in the hall—it looks like four apartments per floor—and he enters the door at the end on the right. The room is much nicer, much cleaner, much more modern than Sin’s place. Either Rai has been a fighter for much longer or he is from a wealthy family.

We are up high over the city—well over 20 stories, it seems—and the moon of light is starting to set. The building is oddly quiet—perhaps sound-proof walls? That makes me slightly nervous. He could punish me and not disturb the neighbors, I suppose.

I look around for a trace of the Sanga who was here before me and I don’t see anything. Has he put away everything that belonged to this other cat? I wonder what happened. Perhaps he feels it will interfere with our bonding.

I also notice that despite the modern decor—mostly white and grey furnishing, plush carpet—he takes off his shoes when he enters—and the spotless interior—a modern kitchen—I only see one bedroom. I wonder if he has a cage for me to sleep in somewhere hidden along the wall or in a closet, or if he expects me to share his bed. I had both with my last master. 

“The bath is on the right. Go ahead and make it to your liking. There are oils and salts, scrubs and brushes and cloths, shampoos and conditioners and soaps. I’ll come in and help you in a bit, and bring you a change of actual clean clothes.” He urges me on my way with his chin.

The carpet feels wonderful under my feet, but I feel like I do not belong here. I feel like I am dirtying up the place with my very presence. It’s awful. But I nod and obey, getting the bath started. 

I close the door behind me and strip off my clothes, surprised by my own reflection in the mirror. My skin looks dark—almost olive—but really, I'm caked with dirt. And my fur looks dull grey and brown, not white with caramel tips. My hair—it’s nearly brown and very stringy—and long and knotted. I look wild and feral.

What cat in his right mind would bring me to his house?

A small sob escapes my lips, but I get under the shower right away and start scrubbing—as though to scrub the filth of the last four weeks off my skin. I use both the brush and a washcloth, soap on my hands and feet, then shampoo my hair three times till the water runs clean. When my normally ivory skin looks pink from the hot water, I step out of the shower and sink into the bubble bath.

It’s an indulgent, rich feeling—and it’s relaxing. I was never allowed baths at my last owner’s. It was a privilege I never earned. And this is heaven! I can feel the steam loosening phlegm in my throat and I start to cough, and my nose starts running.

To my surprise, there’s a knock at the door. 

“Konoe, it’s just me. I’m coming in.” 

He knocked? My fur fluffs up. But my private parts are hidden beneath the bubbles, so there is no need to be shy. I'm just shocked he would bother knocking. I am his property, after all. Rai opens the door gently. 

“Are you all right? That cough sounds nasty, but productive. It’s a good sign, actually—it means—”

I look up when he suddenly stops talking.

The silver cat is holding a pair of sweatpants, boxer shorts, and a tee-shirt in his arms, and he is frozen in front of the sink, having closed the door behind him. He is gaping at me.

“Konoe?” He asks uncertainly.

“Is something wrong?” I ask. “Was I not allowed to take a bath? I’m so sorry.” Words start tumbling out of my mouth. “It’s just—it was so tempting after that shower, and I—” I try to stand up, and Rai rushes forward. 

“No, no! You’re fine. Sit—sit back down. It’s what I asked you to do. You’re fine. You’re doing very well, being very obedient. Thank you.”

His voice is soft, his hand on my back, helping me lower myself back into the tub.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Your fur—it’s white?”

“Oh. Um, yeah. Tipped with brown.”

“And your hair is blonde?”

“Um, yes. Is it bad?” I look up at him nervously.

“No. Not at all. You’re beautiful. I fell for your eyes—actually. I love your eyes. And now, it seems the rest of you is equally gorgeous.”

My heart squeezes tight in my chest. How can a cat as pretty as him—hair cascading to his waist in those perfectly straight layers, that sharp blue eye like the winter’s sky in Karou, and long, silky, plush fur—say something like this to me? I feel so shy all of the sudden! And heat dusts my cheeks and floods my ears.

“My gods. They turn pink! Your ears turn pink?!”

I feel just a hint of irritation, but I can’t let it show to such a kind master. 

“Ah, I’m sorry. It’s adorable. I didn’t mean to embarrass you, but I’ve never seen such a thing. Here, let’s condition your hair and see if we can’t comb out these knots.” 

“You don’t think we should just shave it off?” I ask, hopelessly.

“No!” Rai says. “It’s too pretty. I’ll help you.”

“My hair isn’t well behaved like yours.”

“Fixing things that aren’t well behaved is a specialty of mine,” Rai murmurs, and he squirts conditioner in my hair, and combing it through with his claws, starting with the ends and working it through to the roots. He doesn’t pull or force anything. It’s a hypnotizing touch, and soon, all the knots are out of my hair. 

“Let me see your hand,” he says. He is still kneeling by the bathtub, and his shirt is pretty wet now, sticking to his chest from combing out my hair. I obey, and he pushes gently on my palm, making me extend my claws. He gently scrubs them with a brush, cleaning them off one at a time. Then he asks for my other hand and repeats the process. 

He also scrubs my feet and toenails the same way, with a brush, and then also the bottom of my feet—which tickles like crazy. I try not to giggle or pull away, and he just smiles. 

“Put up with it for my sake, will you?” He says in a soft, teasing voice.

He shampoos and conditions the fur on my tail, combing conditioner through it as well, and also rather embarrassingly through the fur below my navel. I try not to think about it too much. I am very relaxed when he is finished with me and I feel so much better. 

“Would you like to rinse off in the shower?” 

“Please,” I say, expecting he will want to watch, but he leaves me some privacy.

“Go ahead and use the towels to dry off and then get dressed when you’re finished. I’ll have something ready for you to eat when you’re done.” 

I do as I’m told, and I emerge from the bathroom looking like a different cat. The apartment smells warm—like chicken and vegetable soup—and that is what is waiting for me, along with several slices of crusty bread with large pats of butter on them. It’s mouth-watering and delicious. I eat everything offered with gusto, and Rai watches me.

“You didn’t refuse to eat, did you?” He asks gently.

I shake my head.

“Were they starving you? As punishment?”

I nod, just once. 

“I’m so sorry. I don’t understand that type of thinking. You were already ill when you came back to them—from refusing to sing.” He pauses for a moment. “Did you—refuse to sing?”

I’m not sure what to say.

“Not exactly refuse,” I say. “I just couldn’t make myself sing. I couldn’t force out the song. It was like my body was saying it would rather die than protect my master.”

“He was cruel to you?” Rai asks.

I nod.

Rai sighs. “I can’t promise I will never discipline you. But I promise I will only ever discipline you when you need it. You will always understand the rules you are required to follow and you will know when you will be disciplined and why. And I do not use excessive force or withhold biological needs as discipline. Do you understand?”

“Okay,” I say, feeling tears in my eyes.

“I want you to feel safe here, Konoe.”

“All right.”

“Additionally, I need you to understand that I have a doctor coming by to examine you this evening.” 

A doctor?! Panic rises in my chest. 

“It’s all right. He is a kind person. He treats all cats—not just your kind. He treated my eye as well, and he will be kind to you. I will not leave him alone with you.”

“Please—don’t.” The idea of being alone with a doctor frightens me. I’ll have to be naked again, I’m sure.

“I know you were traumatized and I know you are ill now. I think I know what is wrong, but I want to be sure that we don’t miss anything. He will probably need to examine, um, all of you. It may be unpleasant, but this is what is best for you.”

“Okay,” I sob quietly. 

“Don’t cry,” Rai says. “He is coming to help you.”

“I know,” I whimper desperately, thinking of the doctors they had at the warehouse and what we were made to do for them. I try to keep calm. 

“Just breathe deeply and you will be all right.” Rai puts his arms around me—and his scent calms me down in an instant. “Ah—that’s good!”

When he praises me, it calms me down even more.

But soon, there’s a knock at the door. Rai gets up to unlock it, and the person standing there is even bigger than Rai himself. Well—older, perhaps, with a similar build. He has dark hair and a beard, and black and orange striped ears and a long matching tail covered in short, dense fur. 

“You must be Konoe,” the doctor says, his voice kind. “You can call me Bardo. And you can stay right in your cat’s lap if that is where you are comfortable.”

He takes out a stethoscope and listens to me breathe.

He also takes the temperature of my ears and then shines a light inside them, and also in my eyes and my mouth. He feels around my throat and neck, where Rai did earlier.

“Hmm. Do you have a sore throat, kitten?”

“Yes, sir,” I answer. 

“And a cough?”

“Not till after the bath,” I admit.

“Ah. The steam loosened up a bunch of phlegm, did it? I see. I think you have a slight upper respiratory infection. This is common in your kind if you don’t sing for a while. It makes you vulnerable. I will prescribe something for you. And as soon as you feel better, you should try to sing.”

“Okay,” I say, somewhat relieved.

“You have marks, too? On your back? Show them to me.”

I turn around on Rai’s lap, and Rai pulls up my shirt. I shiver slightly from being exposed, but I try not to think about it.

Bardo pushes around on my chest and ribs. It’s sore but nothing excruciating.

“There were violent but very careful,” Bardo says. “It looks like they beat you as hard as they could without breaking any bones. Kitten, I hate to ask, but I may need to see down below, too. You haven’t had your first heat? And Rai is your second master?”

“Yes,” I say miserably.

“Your first master, did he force you to bond with him physically?”

“Yes,” I sob.

“I am even sorrier to ask this intrusive question, but did he, um, enter you?”

“Yes!” I sob even louder.

“I need to see,” Bardo tells Rai. “Would you like to take him into the bedroom?”

“No. I don’t want him associating the exam with our bed. Here is fine. I will stay right here, don’t worry,” Rai whispers in my ear. I am pulled down into his lap, and my sweatpants and boxers are lowered, freeing my tail to wave around nervously.

“Ah—your tail. Was this broken?” Bardo fingers the tip.

“No. It’s always been shaped that way, as long as I can remember,” I say softly.

“Good. It’s quite pretty,” Bardo says. “This will feel a bit uncomfortable, but if it’s painful, let me know immediately.”

I hear the snapping of a glove, and that makes my ears twitch nervously. I find my claws digging into the arms of the silver cat holding me, and he allows this, saying nothing to rebuke me, simply shushing me and stroking my back in soft circles, telling me it will be over soon. 

Those sticky gloves part my cheeks below my tail and a cold lubricated finger or two slip inside me. It is uncomfortable, but not the searing pain I remember. I remember I screamed and cried the first few times Sin forcibly bonded with me, then ended up bearing the pain in silence, unwilling to let him draw any power from my voice at all.

I grunt slightly when Bardo sweeps his fingers inside me and then pulls out.

“You have no permanent damage, thankfully. However, I would highly suggest waiting until he is in heat to do any sort of bonding that requires entering him. You know my thoughts on the matter. Your original owner should have realized this as well. Mating season is just around the corner, and there are many other activities that can serve as bonding that are more pleasant and equally effective for young Sangas anyway.”

I am wiped down gently with a warm washcloth—but it must be Rai doing it since I hear Bardo disposing his gloves and searching in his bag for a bottle of pills.

“He is to have these twice daily till the bottle is gone, and serve him tea and have him use steam to clear out his throat. I'm also leaving you with a little extra something you can use to help him settle and rest. It should help his appetite, too. You know my view on treating these cases, Rai.”

“I agree, don’t worry,” the silver cat growls softly. 

“He needs a little more meat on his bones. Were they starving you?” Bardo asks.

“They wouldn’t feed me if I wouldn’t sing, and I couldn’t force myself to sing,” I explain.  

“I see. This happens to particularly sensitive Sangas sometimes, though it’s uncommon. So make sure you treat him kindly and he will respond to you.”

I think I feel the silver cat nodding his head. My shorts and pants are pulled up, thankfully.

“You will be in much better shape the next time I see you,” Bardo says. “You are in good hands here. I’m glad this guy found you. He has the unique gift of getting the unusual Sanga to thrive under his care.”

Rai doesn’t say anything, but I glance up at him again.

“I am very grateful,” I say.

Rai and Bardo say their goodbyes and Bardo leaves in a whirlwind of commotion.

“Why did you choose me?” I ask softly. “I was a mess. I wasn’t even speaking. You chose me even before you heard my voice. I only hissed at you, in fact.” 

“I believe I told you. Your eyes drew me in,” Rai says simply. He has prepared me a mug of something sweet in the kitchen—lemongrass tea with honey and something extra, I think, to help me sleep. I'm also given a tall glass of water and a pill. Rai gets a hairbrush from the bathroom and starts brushing my hair and fur while I enjoy the tea—combing out all the knots and water, making my fur shine as prettily as his does. “I’m glad I did, too.”

I’m purring before long and my eyes are getting heavy.

“You look sleepy, kitten. Let’s get you into bed.”

I am very relaxed—until he moves me into the bedroom and I am reminded that there is only one bed in here. 

“D-do y-you want m-me to sleep on the couch?” I ask, almost desperately. "D-don't you h-have a c-cage for me?"

“Of course not. I think our time to bond has already started. We should continue it, don’t you think?”

“Oh, um, of course,” I say quietly, but disagreeing silently. 

“You don’t look like you agree,” Rai says, the corners of his mouth quirking up. “I’m not going to do anything. I just want you to get used to the idea of sleeping here. With me.”

He pulls me into the bed next to him. It's soft and luxurious, certainly not for the likes of me. And while he says he won’t do anything, he does, in fact, start grooming my ears… which, as it happens, I don’t actually hate. It feels nice, though I feel a little strange in this giant bed—surrounded by high thread count luxury sheets and the large, warm body of this stranger. I’m sure I don’t belong here—he must have the wrong cat.

But even as I squirm just a little under his rough tongue, I eventually start to settle, and I allow myself to relax and trust, just a little bit. The tea and whatever was in it is working, and I drift off into sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, I get to spend my time in this plush condo. I wonder what the point of this time with my new owner is—but soon, I realize it’s to reestablish my health and a proper diet. I really haven’t been eating much at all. Rai is a surprisingly good cook, and at first, he makes light dishes—soups and things that aren’t greasy, things packed with fresh ingredients that are easily digestible. I can't ever remember eating food this good in my life, like, ever.

He also makes sure to keep me calm and relaxed. He does this by keeping calm himself and also establishing a very relaxed environment. He doesn't wake me up early and allows me to wake on my own. The apartment is neat and tidy, uncluttered, and he cleans up as he goes without being fussy. He is quiet when he moves around and he warns me before he touches me. Also, there is a soft natural light in the apartment that I enjoy that reminds me of guiding leaves, a pleasant clean smell, and though I don't realize it at first, very soft music in the background.

The next morning after breakfast, he allows me to soak in the bath for as long as I like, and when I get out, he has given me a plush robe instead of new clothes. Even at my last place, I didn’t get clean clothes every day, so I’m not surprised. But a robe and nothing else? Is he expecting physical bonding time now? I start to get very anxious, but he has been kind and patient with me so far. Sin basically forced himself on me the moment I walked into his apartment. Rai has been much kinder, so I need to be flexible. This is my purpose, after all. I steel myself, fixing my hair in the mirror, and come out of the bathroom.

To my surprise, he has a padded bench set up in the living room and the drapes open, so I can peer out the glass wall out into the city as he bids me climb onto the table, lying face down. He keeps the parts of my body covered in a sheet when he isn’t working on them, and the temperature of the apartment is warm. He covers me in minty-citrus scented massage oil, working out the knots and tension in my muscles, especially in my shoulders and neck.

As I lie on the table, feeling relaxed, I wonder what a strange relationship this is. He is obviously trying to make me comfortable, keep me feeling well-cared for and helping me bond with him. But no one has ever gone this far out of his way for me—at least, not that I can remember, and it’s a strange thing. Maybe he will expect to fuck me after this?

I've already decided I will submit if that's what he wants. His size frightens me quite a bit. He is much bigger than my last owner, but he is more gentle, too. I'm sure I can put up with anything he would like because of what he has done for me so far. 

That's when I first notice the strange, hypnotizing music. It helps distract me from worrying about sex, and I ask him about it sleepily.

“Ah, the music. I’ve heard it’s healthy for your kind to listen to music even when you aren't singing. This is more abstract than some music, but it’s meant to relax you. Is it bothering you? I can turn it off if you dislike it.”

“No. I do like it. I’ve never heard anything like it, though. It’s very strange.” It is weird. It feels like it’s recharging something within my body—like the mint and lemon does when it sinks into my nose, too.

I wonder if what we are doing right now could be considered bonding. If it is, this is much more pleasant than what Sin did to me. I shudder in revulsion when the memory flashes across my mind—and I’m sure Rai notices when that shudder crawls down my spine and fluffs out the fur on my tail. Especially when he asks, “Are you all right?”

“Um. Yes. I was just thinking—and my thoughts were wandering.” 

“You can talk to me. It could help you to get those thoughts out of your head. You could also do something creative, like painting. Or if you don’t like painting, perhaps you play an instrument? Do you draw? Write? Dance?”

My ears twitch. What is he asking? Is he asking me if I have a hobby? What sort of slave has the time to indulge in a hobby, I wonder? Did he allow his last Sanga to have a hobby? 

“I—um, I’ve never tried. Back home, I enjoyed listening to others play instruments, but I never had the time. I was so busy taking care of myself and my territory that…” I suddenly realize I’ve spilled something about my past that I was forbidden to speak of and the house tried to beat out of me. I press my lips together and my body stiffens. 

But Rai’s hands just keep moving, continuing to relax my body as though I’ve said nothing surprising or unusual. 

“Back home? Where was home? You weren’t raised at that warehouse, were you?”

I say nothing, now quite nervous. But those hands keep moving, tempting me to relax and talk. I don't know what to do!

“Konoe. You are mine now. No one can hurt you here. You belong to me and you are under my protection. You no longer live under that slave trader’s rules. I’ve heard rumors that kittens have been found in the wild with the gift of song—and the strongest Sangas are often among these kittens, not the ones bred for fighting. You were found somewhere else and brought to that house, weren’t you? Tell me. Where was your home?”

Fighting tears, I start to relax again. I might as well tell him, I suppose. 

“Karou.”

“Karou? The small village in the south?” I’m so shocked he knows its location! I can hardly contain myself!

“Do you know it? Have you been there?”

“Not precisely, but I know where it is. Before I became a fighter, I made a modest living as a bounty hunter until they were outlawed. I often found prey in the forests north of Karou. I heard a fierce breed of cats lived there, small, natural-born fighters. You fit that description quite well. When were you discovered?” 

“It wasn’t that I was discovered so much as given away,” I clarify. “I had a small piece of land and an old single-room house I’d inherited from my mother’s family. My father died before I was born, and I was raised hearing he liked to sing, but I didn't know he was a Sanga. Mama died when I was five, and I’d been on my own since then.” 

“Since you were five years old?” Rai’s voice is soft, quiet, tender.

“Yes. I protected myself and my territory, hunted small prey and found nuts and fruit and grass to eat, and took care of my own property for many years. But the neighbors on either side didn’t think I had rights to that property. One day, someone heard me singing in the woods, and they reported me to some slave-trading bandits. I was overwhelmed by their numbers, kidnapped, and sold into slavery. My property was probably split between my neighbors.”

“How old were you?” His voice is so gentle—sympathetic, even. 

“I’m not exactly sure, but I think I was of age. Perhaps fourteen cycles?”

“That old? You’ve only been enslaved for two cycles?”

“I was forbidden to speak of my past as a free person, and I was kept isolated from the others. It took almost a year before I was trusted not to speak of my past—but I was allowed to watch the others play with each other through the glass. They took care of each other as a family does, playing with and grooming each other. I was very lonely, though before that I’d always lived alone.” 

“But you were shown what you’d been missing. I’m sure it was a motivating factor for you to comply with the trader’s demands.”

“It was,” I agree softly. “And then, when he first heard me sing, he said I was very valuable. My first sale was by auction. I sang publicly and I was popular. My owner was from a family of Tougas—his father was a famous fighter and expected much from his son—setting him up in an apartment. Buying me was a gift to get him started.”

“But he was cruel to you,” Rai murmurs.

I don’t respond. I am simply quiet. I don't like to think about him, but he always appears in my thoughts unbidden.

“I think many young Tougas don’t bother to figure out what bonding means, especially with young Sangas,” Rai says. “I learned from my Sanga—he taught me.”

“Your Sanga taught you?” I’m surprised to hear this.

Rai laughs lightly. It's a nice sound.

“He did! He would use his song against me if I did anything his disliked, in fact.”

“What? Didn’t you punish him for it?” This is shocking!

“He wasn’t mean-spirited about it—not at all. He was a prankster. I could hardly be angry. Plus he taught me to cook, another way we bonded. He was a nice cat—a little older than me, too, and he saw me as his last chance to escape the trader.”

“You saved him, too?” I ask. To this, the silver cat sighs, and it sounds sad.

“I tried, but I couldn’t. He saved me. Though he never minded me. He was undisciplined and didn’t obey—which is what made him risk his life and got him killed, in the end.”

I get very quiet.

“I won’t let that happen again. I will be gentle with you, Konoe. But I do want you to obey me. I won’t ask you to do anything without a specific reason, however. Please keep in mind that I value your safety.”

“Okay,” I say quietly. The edge and regret in his tone frighten me.

He continues massaging my legs and calves—even my feet—but keeping me on my stomach. He doesn’t do anything strange or intrusive, and that makes me feel much safer. And I do feel strangely connected to him while he touches me. I can feel his care. It’s nice and comfortable. My feet are usually ticklish, but when he is massaging them—rolling the arches of my feet with his fists—it feels so amazing that I close my eyes and purr. I feel myself drifting off to sleep.

I haven’t slept so well in weeks or months or even years.

When I wake, I wake in his bed, covered in just the sheets, with a fresh set of clothes waiting for me. The door to the bedroom is partly open, and I can see Rai in the kitchen cooking lunch. At first, I wonder why he left the door open, but then I see him look up. Is it so he can check on me?

“You’re awake. Perfect timing, as lunch is almost ready. Did you sleep well?”

“I did. Thank you.”

“I’m glad. You carry so much tension in your compact little body. Make sure you drink lots of water today. We will have to add massage as a regular part of your care—if you enjoyed it.”

“It was very nice. I’ve never had someone touch me like that before. I didn’t know touch could feel that nice,” I say, looking away and feeling slightly embarrassed.

“Bonding should feel good,” Rai says, “for both of us. If it doesn’t feel good for you, too, it’s not working properly.” He looks up at me and smiles.

“Wait—that was bonding?” I am confused. I am naked and lying in bed, but I'm almost certain we didn't have sex. I'm sure I'd know if we had. Just to check, though, I put my hands under the sheets and feel between my legs. And no. We didn't have sex.

“It was, yes.” 

“But you didn’t—um, we didn’t, you know…”

“What?” He asks.

I’m not sure what to say.

“I touched you with my hands, and you received my touch through your skin, didn’t you?” Rai asks.

“Yes,” I say tentatively. I sit up in bed, taking the sheets with me.

“The way each Touga and Sanga bond is as unique as each pair. There are some pairs that bond simply by bringing their bodies together sexually and nothing else. But I find that slightly intrusive—especially if the pair is unacquainted or one of the parties has been traumatized in the past. I think that describes your past pretty well, doesn’t it?”

“Well, ah, yes. But that doesn’t mean that I’d, um, never…”

“What?” Rai’s pale blue eye is looking at me sharply now, expecting an answer.

“It isn’t that I would never connect with you that way.”

“I’m very glad to hear that. But you’ve never had a positive sexual experience. In fact, I bet you’ve rarely had a positive experience with someone touching you. You were afraid of Bardo yesterday, and he is a professional. Am I right?” 

“Well, yes.” That’s true. I didn’t know that being touched could feel nice until yesterday—when I fell asleep in Rai’s arms. And then that massage was close to heavenly. It’s the strangest thing.

“So, then, we can start slowly and go at our own pace. Let’s do what works. We can change what we do as things progress. Of course, there are some pairs that touch each other roughly to bond—but that is because it’s what both partners enjoy.”

“Wait—what?” I ask, flattening my ears.

“I know some pairs who are very rough, maybe even violent, with each other—but they each have the other’s consent to touch each other in that way. It works for them because they like it. I don’t think that would be good for you, however.”

I sit and think about that.

“Like—they hit each other?” I ask.

Rai smiles, lifting an eyebrow. “Not exactly. You sound strangely interested.”

“N-no, I’m not. I-I just c-can’t imagine it,” I stammer.

“Why are you trying to imagine it?”

“I’m n-not, really,” I lie. I am trying to imagine what on earth he is talking about.

“Oh no? Do you want me to tell you details?” I think Rai might be teasing me now, but I can’t exactly tell.

“N-no.” I look down, feeling a blush in my cheeks and my ears. I'm not sure what to say now.

“Come, get dressed if you like and sit down and eat,” Rai calls me to the table, still smiling. And he has such a pretty smile I can hardly stand it.

I slide out of bed on the side he can’t see through the door and pull on the clean clothes, then join him at the table. I'm not going to be eating naked. 

He’s made ramen from scratch. It’s delicious. I mean—everything is perfect. I cannot believe how good it is! We spend a lot of time slurping noodles, and he lets his noodles get soggy, to my surprise. It’s a little weird—he's acting almost like his mouth is sensitive to heat. I don’t ask, though. It’s not my place to do so. He teases a little, but I don't think he'd appreciate me teasing him about that.

I wonder, just briefly—is sharing meals considered bonding, too? I feel connected with the silver cat when we eat together. He cooked for me especially. It tastes good and the food goes in my mouth, intended to nourish my body. After I eat, I feel relaxed and full and cared for. It feels nice and I feel refreshed afterward.

 

Rai:

Konoe hums with a sense of satisfaction once his bowl is empty. It’s a musical sound and is incredibly attractive. I cannot wait to hear this kitten sing. Those small sounds he makes are teasers to his song, and each one makes me long to hear his voice.

“Would you like a nap? You still seem sleep deprived, little one,” I suggest.

“I can help you clean up first,” he says, looking up at me with that arresting golden gaze. When he looks at me, I wonder how long I will be able to hold myself back from touching him in a sexual way. After hearing pieces of his story, I know I will have to be patient and slow. I’m willing to do that—for this kitten and his voice.

“You don’t have to push yourself,” I say, clearing the plates from the table.

“I-I think I would like to,” he says, lowering his voice to a whisper. Even though I am in the kitchen, I can hear him easily. His voice carries and makes my ears twitch.

“If you would like to help, you may. But please, don’t push yourself.”

He stands up, showing off his curvy little waist and clears the rest of the table, brings the dishes into the kitchen, and then starts to scrub the dishes in the warm soapy water in the sink. It comes up to his elbows and he looks like he is indulging in the feeling. He always looks like he indulges in the small details. 

After that bath yesterday, when I saw him in my bath full of bubbles, I could not believe that was the same kitten. White fur tipped with gold, honey blonde hair to match his eyes, a curvy little body despite its frail shape—but I'm working on building that up, getting some meat back on his bones. He's absolutely adorable. I never thought the rest of him would be as arresting as his eyes. I'm dying to take him out, dress him up, show him off. Except for the collar. The way he acts about the collar—he abhors it. I have to do something about it, figure out a way to reward him for it so he doesn't hate it so much.

I remain standing behind him, lowering my nose to his ears—very gently so as not to startle him—and inhale his sweet scent, like honey, I think, nuzzling the base of his ears. I feel them heating up, deepening to a lovely pink. Then, my arms encircle his slim body and my hands dive into the dishwater. I hum softly as I wash dishes alongside him—getting my hands soapy and splashing the water everywhere. I’m not being very careful about keeping the water in the sink. 

His heartbeat flutters irregularly against my chest—just this small touch. I’ve been trying to get him used to me and my scent, covering him with it when he sleeps, in the clothes he wears, and in the apartment. He closes his eyes and leans back into my touch, sighing softly.

“You have such a lovely voice,” I whisper. “Even that sigh makes my body respond.”

My words make him shiver—and I have to confess I’m not being very helpful.

“I’d like to kiss you. May I kiss you?” I ask for his consent. I want him to be comfortable with me. Then I wait for his answer. I expect him to be confused.

It’s so quiet for a few moments—as if the kitten doesn’t know how to respond. His body surely would love to accept a kiss and desires my attention. But he is confused. He doesn’t understand his feelings, I’m sure. If he was mistreated and traumatized—treated like a piece of property without volition, this makes sense. More than anything, I want him to be able to choose—I want him to desire me. I don’t want to force him into anything.

“I-i-i d-don’t know h-how t-to answer,” he stammers, not looking away from the soapy sink.

“I’m asking for your consent. So if you want to kiss me, say yes. If you don’t want to kiss me, say no. Either is all right with me,” I try to assure him. 

“I don’t understand why you are asking for my consent,” he presses, slightly more urgently this time. “Don’t you, um, own me? Can’t you do whatever you like with me?” I can imagine he thinks I could just strip him bare and fuck him right here against the kitchen counter—and the thought thrills me, of course, and perhaps someday I will do just that—but only if it’s what he desired. I wouldn’t use ownership against him.

“In theory, that is the idea behind slavery,” I whisper in his ear. “But it doesn’t turn me on to bed an unwilling partner. I find it cruel and in poor taste. I’d rather take a partner who is begging for it—begging for me to touch him. That’s why I’m asking, and that’s why it’s all right for you to refuse.”

I wonder if he believes me—if he understands it’s really all right to refuse me.

He still seems so confused, and a few moments pass. I start to worry that I asked too much from him too soon—but the timing seemed right. And just when I’m about to take back my request, he turns around, squeezing his lithe body between my powerful one and the sink filled with bubbles. 

“Yes. You may kiss me.” He sounds committed, though slightly frightened. However, the look in his eyes makes me think he is more than willing.

Gently tilting his chin, I lower my lips to his, noticing he keeps his eyes partway open, but lowers his lashes slightly. He's watching.

“Mmm. You have the most gorgeous eyes and longest eyelashes I have ever seen. You are so beautiful, Konoe. Has anyone ever told you? I find you irresistible,” I murmur, just before touching his lips. 

My kiss is deliberately slow but firm. I kiss his top and bottom lip separately, and then run my tongue along his teeth. When he opens his mouth, I’m surprised by his taste. He is sweet. I slip my tongue inside his mouth and move my other hand to his nape to deepen the kiss—again, very gently. I search out his teeth, stroke his tongue, and induce his purr. The muscle of his tongue is soft and smooth—much smoother and wetter than mine. It makes sense since his fur is so much thicker and shorter than mine. I'd love for him to groom my fur, I think. 

He is wonderful—a delight for my senses. I would love to go further, but I don’t. I press him up against the sink, sliding my leg between his thighs, and he sighs again, letting his body melt against me. I can feel him submitting to me and it’s amazingly hot. It lets me imagine other things I might do to him. I wonder if he will be as submissive when I do take him to bed—much more so than Haru ever was, and that makes my fur bristle.

All this from a single kiss!

I try not to let it go on too long, and so I finally pull away, leaving him slightly breathless as I drop a kiss on his blushing cheeks, his nose, and his chin. He follows me, blinking his eyes closed as I drop kisses there. He looks taken—and so sexy. His ears are pink and his neck is flushed—and I definitely need to stop now.

“Thank you,” I whisper. “You taste as wonderful as you look, as gorgeous as your voice sounds. You are perfect.”

His blush deepens, and he shyly drops his gaze. It’s almost painful when he moves that powerful molten gaze away from me. I simply cannot imagine anyone treating him cruelly, except because he is adorable. Perhaps he looks sweet when he cries? Maybe his previous owner had no self-control and felt better about himself if he took control of a magical creature as well. It makes my chest ache.

“Let’s get you back to bed,” I say, and his ears flatten fearfully. “I only mean for you to rest for a bit.” He relaxes when I say that, and his body immediately releases the tension he has been holding. He still does not trust me.

I lead him into the bedroom and push him into the bed. I can tell he hasn’t been sleeping well—for months and possibly years. So my goal is to help him rest and heal. And also—to bond.

“May I hold you while you sleep?”

“All right,” he says—quietly. He sounds reluctant, but instead of giving me his back like he has since he has been here, he surprises me. He turns around and faces me, curling up on my chest, hugging me close. He pulls some of my hair to my chest and buries his nose in it, combing it through with his fingers—as though it comforts him.

I'm so delighted I can barely speak, and my body stiffens in surprise. But then he gets a little nervous and looks up at me. 

“I didn’t ask permission,” he whispers. “Is this okay?”

“You don’t ever need to ask if you may touch me,” I say. “It’s always all right, and it's wonderful.” I stroke his back gently and realize those large, pointed ears are within reach. So I have the urge to groom them. They quiver under my tongue for a little while at first but they don’t flatten like they did yesterday.

I feel a deep purr coming from his body—and my body responds in kind. He falls asleep quickly, with his hands curled up in my hair. He’s adorable. A strange fear is building up in my body, however. I was looking for a new Sanga. But I wasn't expecting to find one like this, nor was I expecting to find one I wanted so much. I feel afraid.

Chapter Text

I spend our first week accustoming the petite Sanga to my presence and scent—getting him comfortable with his new environment and restoring his health. His mana is slowly being restored. I can tell by his voice. He still doesn’t smile much, and I would like to see it more. His genuine smile is beautiful, the handful of times he’s shown it to me. It reaches his eyes, making them sparkle. He looks so young and innocent that I can't imagine bringing him into the arena. It’s painful, so I push the idea out of my mind, reminding myself that I’m doing this because I have to make a living somehow.

And speaking of painful, there are a few things we need to do as a new pair. According to the BoMB (the Bureau of Magical Beings), I have to register Konoe as mine and send in his registration within two weeks of his purchase. This means getting him “marked” at a sanctioned facility. I am sure I don’t want to return him—I won’t be able to, at this point. I’ve already decided he will sing for me—he will realize he wants to, once he feels safe and secure—but the marking process is permanent. I am not sure how much he knows about it, and it will be unpleasant. 

Haru was older when he did it, and he knew what was involved. It seems Konoe is slightly anxious, so I’m sure he is aware of at least some aspects of it. Also, I would like to get him his own clothes, as well as something to reduce anxiety—if he would like an instrument or art supplies—anything to help him relieve that stress.

Then, there’s the matter of when we make our first appearance in the arena. For practical purposes, it won’t be within the next two weeks, since the mating season falls in the middle of those weeks. I’m hoping if I’ve done a good job bonding with him, he may be interested in a little more intimacy with me. But I’ve already decided I won’t pressure him. I think I will let him approach me.

After that—either way—we will have established a pretty firm bond, and I hope I will have heard and felt his song. I’ve heard him humming when he thinks I am not within range. But his voice carries well—even if the door is closed to the bathroom and the water is running in the shower. It’s adorable that he doesn’t realize I can hear him, but it’s good for him to sing or hum, so I haven’t teased him about it.

Bardo stopped by last night and gave him a positive bill of health. And it was good that Bardo only listened to his chest and breathing and didn’t require another full physical exam. I think that helped Konoe realize we have his best interests at heart. Also, his weight is increasing, and he is filling in slowly but surely. And I’ve discovered he has a passion for kuim, that hard-to-find fruit that is grown in rural areas. I splurge on it and have it brought in with our regular grocery shipment.

I’ve waited a week, and we still have another week to complete the marking process. But I think I should bring it up and just do it to get it out of the way. It’s after breakfast, and he is helping me with the dishes.

“Kitten, what do you know about the registration process for Sangas? Did they tell you about these things where you were raised?”

“Um. Not very much. I do know if you plan to keep me, you have two weeks to decide. I never was registered as Sin’s Sanga. But, um, I haven’t actually sung for you. Are you sure that you, um, want to keep me?” 

He doesn’t lift up his eyes from the sink, and his ears droop slightly as though he is ashamed. 

“Yes. I’m sure. I hear you singing in the shower, you know.” I watch as his ears blush a lovely shade of pink, and I wrap my arms around his waist, and he flinches just a little bit. “You have a lovely voice, and you will sing for me when you are ready. If you realize that you are mine—and if you know I will not ever give you up—you will be much more comfortable.” 

“But… it wasn’t that I didn’t want to sing for my last owner. I really couldn’t. I couldn’t. What if I can’t—?” 

“Don’t worry about it,” I assure him. “Your last owner did nothing to make you feel safe or loved or wanted, so of course you couldn’t sing for him. I’m very pleased to hear you singing again so soon.”

I stop talking and start rinsing and drying the dishes as he washes, and I see him look up at my face shyly—and it takes everything I have not to return that golden gaze.

“So, do we have to go out?” He asks, his voice quiet and nervous.

“We do.”

“I have to wear a collar.”

“That is the law,” I reply neutrally. “I know you dislike it. May I ask—is there a specific reason?" 

He sighs softly. 

“I haven’t been raised to be, um, a slave. I was free and alone for a long time, and I didn't even know I had magic. I hate drawing attention to myself, and it feels like people stare at me when I wear that collar. And then, there’s…” He lets his voice trail off. I give him a moment, but then I prompt him.

“There’s what?” 

“Well, Sin liked to torment me with the collar. Choking me with it, pulling me with the leash. Making me act like a pet, making me kneel in public and act like a second class person or not like a person at all. Dressing me up in, um, very little when we’d go out, just to humiliate me.”

I feel heat surge in my body when I imagine this gorgeous creature in next to nothing—except that black leather collar—and I am slightly ashamed of myself. Perhaps that is something I can condition him out of. I’m good at that kind of thing. He needs positive associations with the collar. I bet I can do that during mating season, for sure.

“Well, I won’t take you outside naked or close to naked. I don’t want to share your charms with others. Also—others staring at you probably wasn’t because of the collar.”

“What? Of course, it was. It is basically announcing I am a magical creature. I’m different. Look at me.” 

“In some ways, it does say that. But that isn’t why people were staring.”

“You don’t think so? Why were they staring, then?” He sounds slightly annoyed, but he is doing very well to hide his emotions. 

“Konoe, kitten. They were staring because cats can’t help staring at beautiful creatures. They probably envied your previous master.” I let my hands travel down his slim waist, coming to rest on his hips, and he doesn’t shy away from me, though he drops his gaze shyly. He doesn’t flinch when I touch him this time.

“You are teasing me again,” he says, but I see a smile on his face. I wish he would look at me when he smiled.

“You are an enchanting creature. I brought you home—I chose you—because I loved your eyes. Look at me, Konoe.”

He glances up—and he still has part of that smile on his face. And he tilts his chin just slightly, expectantly, as though he is asking for a kiss. But I don’t kiss him.

“You are beautiful. I love looking at you.”

I see his dark lashes flutter slightly, a subtle gesture of submission, but I still don’t kiss him. I do pull him a little closer, though.

“So. Darling kitten. Remember how I asked you for permission to kiss you a few days ago?”

“Mmm. Yes,” he hums softly, tipping his face up, standing on his tiptoes, bracing himself, hopefully. It’s very cute and tempting. 

“I am worried about the trauma your last owner put you through.”

His eyes open and look at me. He is so cute, watching me curiously, still on his tiptoes. Then he opens his mouth.

“You aren’t going to just do as you like?”

“Konoe, if I was going to do as I like, I would have fucked this adorable little body of yours into oblivion when we first came home, and we'd probably still be in the bedroom today. I’m sure you can tell I desire you. Can’t you?” I can feel him shiver under my hands. He doesn't abhor the idea, at least, but he still seems slightly afraid. 

“Well…” he lowers his eyes demurely, sweetly. 

“I sleep right next to you—or you on top of me—every night and most afternoons—and some mornings, too. You can’t tell me you’ve never felt anything?”

Another blush dusts his cheeks and floods the ear I’m whispering into. I lick it, and he trembles, and then he looks into my eyes, putting his hands on my arms.

“You own me. Why haven’t you just taken want you want from me?” It’s almost a challenge or perhaps a demand. 

“Because I want you to want it, too. I don’t like to ravish those who don’t wish for my attention—it’s not my style. I don’t mind waiting until you are ready.” 

“What if I am never ready?” He asks boldly. 

I smile gently.

“You consented to my kiss, didn’t you?”

“That’s different,” he says. 

“Is it? It’s going in the right direction. And I will wait as long as you need to be comfortable. To be ready.”

“Won’t you become irritated? Annoyed? Doesn't this put you out?”

“Konoe. No. And you can touch me as much as you like. In any way you like. We can go as far as you like—and I will do whatever you like and no more. Or if we start something and you change your mind, I will stop when you ask. Do you understand?”

He nods, glancing between my eye, my overall expression, and my lips.

“But—why? What do you get out of this?” 

“Your trust. A bond. A real bond. In return, however—I require your obedience.”

Another little shudder rushes through his body. He is so responsive it's rather amazing. It’s such a sexy feeling under my fingers. I can’t deny it.

“But couldn’t you tell me to obey you… in the bedroom?”

“I could, but I just said that domain belongs to you, and I will give you complete control there—at least for now. You need it. I mean obedience outside of the bedroom. For example, when we go out today, I will require you to wear your collar, and I will need you to obey me while we are in public, even if I ask you to do something that frightens you.”

He looks down and discouraged and it’s quite cute. He almost looks like he’s pouting. 

“You will be dressed. But we need to get clothing for you that fits. Your figure is filling out, and you need clothes of your own. And we need to mark you.”

“I know,” he says, and he sounds so sad. His large ears droop expressively. So sweet. I want to lick them, and while I don’t want to encourage a fit, I allow myself a few grooming licks and whisper directly into them.

“Don’t you want to be mine?” I keep my voice low. 

“It isn’t that,” he admits, keeping his voice soft. “I know, my prospects were not good when I was returned to the warehouse. They got worse as each day passed, too. I was lucky when you came along. I was never even shown to another owner before you.”

“Then what is it? Are you afraid?”

“Yes. And I don’t know what to expect.”

“Do you understand the process?” I ask. I wonder if I should give him details or if that will make him worry more.

“Not really, but I’ve heard it has to happen. And it’s painful.”

“It is painful. But I will give you something for the pain. And I will reward you for good behavior. And afterward, you will be mine for life. Realize, no one can take you from me.”

His ears perk up.

“Reward me?” He looks so young. Again, I find I'm excessively pleased with my choice of Sanga. I can't believe my luck.

“Yes.” 

“How?”

“It’s a surprise.” I smile. “Let’s find something for you to wear and change how you see this collar.” 

I dig around in the closet and pull out a fresh pair of sweats and the slimmest tee-shirt I can find. Konoe needs new shoes. I have a single pair of Vans I ordered online that fit him, and I have him put those on. 

Once he is dressed, he looks like he is dressed in clothes slightly too large for him, but he is still very cute. 

“Come over here.”

He walks over to the couch, face lowered in shame. Of course, he’d hate the collar. He’s lived his life as a free cat for years, and now he has to wear a collar and a leash? I never have liked the practice. But it’s the law when we go out in public—mostly because the collar has magic imbued in it to prevent the Sanga's magic from spilling out accidentally. 

Before the invention of the collar, Sanga and Touga pairs could walk freely, and it wasn’t uncommon for fights to happen in the street or bars, and when magic was involved—for what Sanga wouldn’t protect his beloved partner?—deaths weren’t uncommon. Now, accidental deaths are rare. A Sanga can sing while wearing the collar, but his magic is limited. His mana stays focused on me, his Touga, and me alone. He can share his mana with me and heal me, but nothing else. 

I also have to attach a leash to the collar when we leave. It is probably humiliating to him since he hasn’t grown up a slave. However, it’s awfully adorable to see him wearing the collar and the leash. I try not to think about it too much, but the words accidentally slip out of my mouth just the same. 

“It looks cute on you.” 

He glances up at me, his eyes a mix of rage and horror. Gods—the same anger he showed me even on the verge of starvation back in the warehouse—and I haven’t seen it since he’s been here. It’s startling and powerful, and gorgeous. I have to smile, although I’d hate to let him think I’m making fun of him. I can’t help myself. He is a powerful being, and he knows it. But I am powerful as well, and I don’t let him intimidate me. 

“I was right. If you were nude—or close to it—of course, you would have drawn many other cats’ attention,” I smirk slightly.

He responds with an annoyed growl, and I kiss his nose. 

“I know I said I wouldn’t do this but in this case, I feel I must make an exception.” I pull him up to stand, close to my body, using his collar, and I feel him flinch—reaching up to the collar in reflexive fear. I’m gentle, however. I pull him in for a deep kiss—the one he was waiting for earlier in the kitchen. The moment our lips touch, he relaxes—and his body melts into mine. He relaxes his hands and soon enough, I feel them stroking my hair. 

The past week, I have woken with his hands in my hair—often in tight fists that I need to loosen so I can get out of bed. He loves my hair, and I love that he loves it.  

A small sigh escapes the corners of his lips and I turn my head a little to capture him even more deeply. He purrs in response. 

As much time as we’ve spent together this week, we haven’t been spending a lot of it kissing. This is perhaps the fourth time I’ve kissed him, and I’d planned on letting him instigate the next one. I am counting what he did in the kitchen as instigating. I love how his body feels, melted and soft in my arms—fitting like a puzzle piece against my own. I stroke his ears, his back, his tail, his waist and hips, and then I finally pull away, and I open my eye to see him blinking those long lashes slowly.

How does a blonde kitten end up with such dark eyelashes? 

“Collars can be quite useful,” I point out, waiting for a moment till the white of his ears fills with pink. And he looks up at me and smiles, his cheeks flushing. I think he realizes what I am trying to do, and he is happy about it. Not grateful—he doesn’t look afraid or thankful. I think he actually looks pleased.

And he doesn’t reply with his usual thankful tone or humble words. Instead, he rather playfully nips my nose with his teeth, and we get ready to leave with a bounce in his step. 

We walk out the door and onto business.

 

Konoe:

Wearing the collar isn’t so bad if I’m dressed, though I do get some looks. I think constantly about what the silver cat said about me being a beautiful creature, and he must have been teasing me—I’m dressed in clothes that are oversized and baggy, but I must admit that I am looking and feeling more like myself than I have in years.

I am sure to lower my gaze as I follow behind my master. He slows his gait, and he is easy to follow, keeping my chain slack. I watch his fluffy white tail—and feel a strange urge to pounce on it as I walk. I wonder what would happen if I did such a thing—right here in the middle of the street. 

I know what my last master would have done to me—and very publicly. He would have stripped my skimpy outfit from my body and belted me—right there.  

But I don’t understand where this urge to play is coming from, or why I am feeling it so much. I can’t remember having felt this playful in a long time—and I shouldn’t now, because I am afraid of whatever this marking process is.

Of course, I have heard rumors. I expect one of my ears may be pierced or tagged, or perhaps another part of my body, like my belly button or nipple—and which frightens me more, I can’t say. My ears are terribly sensitive, so I couldn’t say if it would hurt more to pierce one of them or my nipple. I’ve also heard of a practice called branding—and that scares me the most. I’d be marked with a hot iron on a fleshy part of my body, like my thigh or my ass, which would burn my skin. The very idea makes me feel ill. Then, there are tattoos. I’m not exactly sure how these work, but it’s basically marking Rai’s name on my body in ink, with a needle underneath my skin, and it will never wash off. It can be painful, I hear, but it isn’t as painful as branding. But there are only some of the options. 

I just keep my eyes on that fluffy tail, waving back and forth. I can smell my master's scent, even out among all these people, and it is very soothing. I concentrate on it—and that makes me want to reach out and at least touch his tail, if not catch it.

“You don’t ever need to ask if you may touch me.”

His calm voice from a few nights ago echoes in my head, making me shiver. And as we wait at the crosswalk for the light to change, I do touch. I’m not rough—I simply touch the tip of his tail, stroking his soft fur, letting it slip through my fingers. His fur is silky and smooth. It probably gets a little downier in the winter, and as it’s autumn now, it will probably start growing in that extra layer soon. I can’t wait to see what he looks like with a winter coat. I wonder if Setsura gets a lot of snow? Is that why he has such long, thick fur?

His tongue’s rough texture is made for grooming his own fur—not for mine—but when he grooms mine, it ends up feeling nice and smooth, even smoother than I can get it. And he doesn’t use as much saliva as I do. I like Rai. He is kind. He doesn’t feel like a Touga to me—well, he does. But he feels like a Touga who I’d want to protect and one who wants to protect me.

Before I realize what I'm doing, I am grooming the tip of his tail as we wait at the stoplight, and the light changes. He looks down at me—and at first, I am terribly embarrassed. I didn’t mean to lick him, especially not his tail and here in public. I feel myself blushing. I just wanted to comfort myself, and this is what happened. I stop what I’m doing immediately.

“Um, I’m s-so s-sorry,” I whisper.

“Don’t be. It’s all right. Don’t you remember I said you never have to ask if you may touch me?” His voice is filled with warmth. The chain is still wrapped around his wrist, but he takes my arm as well, guiding me across the street, keeping me close to him. He is warm, and I like how his body feels next to me. “Are you nervous?”

“Yes,” I say softly. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to speak in public. But he is asking me questions and it would be rude not to answer. My last master didn’t permit me to speak in public.

“You will be fine. I was going to tell you step-by-step what will happen to you, but I thought that might make you more anxious. Can I ask you to just trust me instead?”

I nod, looking up at him as we walk, letting him guide me as we enter a building. We head through security and into the elevator. The button marked “Registration” is lit. I start to feel slightly sick, and just as I start to notice, I feel his hand stroking the base of my ears.

“Don’t worry.”

Rai walks up to the desk and speaks to the receptionist there, and I can hardly understand what he is saying over the ringing in my ears. We apparently have an appointment, and the clerk takes us back right away.

There is only one chair on the side of the desk. I move to sit on the floor, but Rai pulls me into his lap, encircling one arm around my waist, another rubbing my ear. It’s comforting, and I lean into his chest to breathe in his scent. I think that is the result of spending so much time with him in his apartment this week—getting me used to his scent, comforting me, getting me healthy again, feeding me and caring for me. Now, he feels safe, like home—even in a scary place like this.

“All the paperwork is in order. So let’s get started. It says here you want to pay extra for the anesthesia?” The clerk says.

“Yes, please,” Rai says. 

“That’s generous of you, considering you’ve got yourself a return.” 

I feel Rai’s chest heave up and down in a sigh, but he says nothing for a moment.

“Is there a way to get this done as quickly as possible? There’s no need to draw it out, is there?”

 

Rai:

I notice the kitten is trembling the moment we leave the office and enter the next room. It’s set up like a doctor’s office, and I help him up onto the table. I try to comfort him, but he needs sedation and soon. 

The second clerk leaves us, and we wait for a few minutes before a female with red fur and an auburn bob dressed in scrubs enters. 

“You wanted sedation?” 

“Yes—everything possible for pain management, please,” I confirm.

“All right,” she smiles gently at Konoe and he relaxes for a moment. “Can you step up on this scale for me, please?” 

He does as he is told and I'm pleased to see how much weight he's gained. She measures his height as well and takes a few notes.

“I’ll be right back,” she says.

“You’re doing very well. You’ve gained some weight in the past week. Good job. I’m pleased,” I say, keeping my voice soft. 

“I’m feeling better,” he replies, and then he throws me a rather desperate look. “M-may I sit with you?”

“Sure,” I say. And in an instant, the kitten crawls into my lap, and I feel his hands in my hair. I stroke his back gently, inhaling his scent—it’s gotten stronger since he’s been with me, even more like honey. And I notice he is doing the same thing, inhaling my scent at my neck. I’m a little nervous, too, but I try not to show it. I feel better with him here.

The door opens and the nurse comes back in. Konoe looks up nervously, and she shakes her head.

“You’re fine right there in your master’s arms, sweetie. I just need an arm. This will make you a bit sleepy. That’s all.”

He obediently holds out an arm, letting go of my hair and turning his face away. I feel him flinch when she cleans it off with alcohol, and then I watch as she inserts the needle carefully. I hear a quiet hiss when she injects the medicine.

“It tastes weird in my mouth,” Konoe remarks.

“That is one of the side effects,” the nurse smiles. “Okay. It should work within a few moments. Let’s do the chip first.”

She pulls open a drawer in the rolling cabinet and confirms his name and mine, and I sign the electronic form. The chip will be injected underneath his skin at the back of his neck. When I sign my name, I feel Konoe’s breathing change, and he goes completely limp in my arms.

The nurse smiles and says, “It looks like it’s working. If you can hold him up against you, I’ll clean the site and perform the injection.”

I watch as she cleans off the back of his neck—I pull his hair up out of his way, tying it off in a ponytail with a holder I brought along. He doesn’t flinch or move an inch, even with the cold alcohol. 

Then, she injects the chip with the gun, and it’s embedded under the skin in the back of his neck. He doesn’t move, and his breath stays even. I think the sedation works much better on him than it did with Haru, which comes as a relief.

“Great,” she says. “Now, the tag.”

She cleans off his left ear, grabs the needle from the tray and scans the tag. It’s a tiny gold jewel with his identification inside it. As soon as I put my signature on the electronic form, she pierces his ear—which pains me to see, just a little—and then threads the tag through it. That should have pinched at least, but he hasn’t moved.

“There we go. He’s yours now. Seems like he was made for you,” the nurse says smiling. “He trusts you, doesn’t he? It’s rare to see new partners so trusting.” 

I don’t really respond, but just smile.  

“How long will it take for the anesthesia to wear off?”

“Oh, I would have guessed anytime now, but it may be a few more minutes. Here’s some water for him when he wakes. I see you’ve been through this before, so you understand how to care for both the chip and the tag, don’t you?” 

I nod.

“Great. Instructions are here, just in case. Usually, there are no problems with rejection or infection, but see a doctor if there are any unusual signs or fever, or heat at the injection site.”

I nod again, and Konoe starts squirming in my arms.

“He may be a bit sore, and the tag affects balance in some cats. It may affect him since he is so small.”

“Got it.”

“Make sure he doesn’t touch the tag. Some cats—especially young ones—play with them. He shouldn’t touch it. Discipline may be required to teach him to leave it alone.”

“I’m sure we can work it out between us,” I say, projecting my experience and confidence. I dislike having other cats tell me how to deal with my Sanga. He is moving around now, slightly confused. 

“Oh, I didn’t mean anything by it,” she purrs. “And if you ever have questions, you can call me personally, if you like.”

“I appreciate the offer,” I say cooly, but I don’t try to take her number. “I’m sure I can reach the center if I have questions.” 

“What happened?” Konoe asks, blinking his long lashes at me. “When will it start?”

“It’s already done. We can go. Would you like to see?” I ask.

There is a small mirror in the room, and I pick him up in my arms so he can look at himself. He gasps, twitching his ears.

“Now, you must not touch it or play with it. It can get infected if you do,” I say. “I will take care of cleaning it for you. You also have a microchip in the back of your neck. If either of these bothers you, please let me know.”

“It’s done already?” He asks, still confused. He twitches his ears again. I try letting him stand, but he is awfully wobbly. Instead, I scoop him up in my arms and carry him bridal style.

“Thank you very much,” I say briskly, and the nurse nods her head, slightly embarrassed. I want to leave as soon as possible. 

The first place I take the kitten—my kitten—my Sanga—is to the department store. I carry him in rather proudly, staring down anyone who looks at him longer than he ought to, and I find a sales clerk.

“I am looking for a few new outfits for my Sanga,” I explain. Eventually, he will need a new wardrobe, but I want to be sure he’s at his normal weight before I invest in it. I explain he’s been sick and is regaining some of the weight he’s lost. 

The clerk asks about my tastes and preferences, and I say I want something that suits him, something modern and comfortable, and something he likes to wear. The clerk looks mystified by that remark but gets to work in making selections. 

I’m shown into the dressing room—this store has dressing rooms designed for masters and slaves. Slaves are not allowed to dress on their own—or go anywhere alone in public, for that matter. Konoe knows this, however. And to my surprise, he doesn’t seem terribly uncomfortable. It may be from the sedation.

It bothers me when the sales clerk comes in when I am helping Konoe get dressed. He isn’t nude, but he’s wearing a pair of jeans and is nude from the waist up. I look up at the clerk and growl.

“Knock next time, please.”

“Oh, um, of course. Pardon me.” 

We end up with two pairs of jeans, four tee-shirts, a hoodie, a sweater and sweatshirt, a long-sleeved tee, a dressy outfit and two pairs of shoes. He will still need something for the arena, but I will probably have to see a stylist for that. I also pick up various underwear and socks, and some cozy sleepwear for lounging in the house—not for sleeping. I end up spending a little more than I’d planned, but he’s worth it and I think we got things we will use for some time.

Then, we head to the art department and look at supplies.

“Does anything appeal to you?” I ask. Konoe is walking on his own and I follow, and he is looking over everything carefully. “No pressure—I'm just asking if anything calls to you.” 

“Hmm,” he says. He touches a few items but shakes his head. 

I take him to the music store next. I hope he can find an instrument he enjoys. He picks up a few instruments—a guitar, which he has never before played and a lute, which he likes even more. And then he picks up a violin—and it makes beautiful music under his fingers. He seems drawn to stringed instruments in particular.

“Ah, has he been raised to play instruments?” The store owner asks. “I’ve never seen a Sanga adept at so many types of instruments before.”

Konoe shakes his head when I look at him. I lift my eyebrows, prompting him to speak, and he quietly replies, “I’ve never played an instrument.”

“Really? Fascinating. Which appeals to you most so far?”

“Oh, I love the sound this one makes,” he says, gesturing toward the violin. “But I like the lute as well.” 

“I may have something special, just for you,” the owner says, nodding his head knowingly. He walks to the back of the store, behind the counter and pulls out a slim, small two-stringed instrument with a bow. The box is covered in what looks like snakeskin, and the bow has hair on it—it’s a very strange-looking instrument, but the kitten looks fascinated. 

“What is it?”

“This is an erhu,” the owner says. “It’s played a little differently than a violin. You place the bow in between the strings like so and rest the box on your thigh, so you sit while playing. Come, try it.”

Konoe takes it eagerly, sitting down on the floor, and then makes a few tentative notes. It sounds like a voice. It’s hauntingly beautiful and quiet, and he quickly becomes absorbed in his playing—and I feel very warm and strange. Light surrounds the kitten’s body and flows to me. This is his song, only played with an instrument instead of his body, and it’s beautiful.

“He’s a natural,” the store owner says. “I can’t believe he’s never had lessons. And he doesn’t play an instrument to produce his song?”

“I don’t think so. I’m looking for something to help relieve stress—a hobby,” I explain. I simply watch and listen—and feel—him play for a little while longer. There is so much emotion in that melody—it’s gorgeous. It’s trying to bring tears to my eye, and I will not allow myself to cry in public. “Konoe, do you like this one? Does it feel good to play?”

He looks up at me for a moment, pausing his playing. 

“It makes so much noise. Wouldn’t it bother you?”

“I think it’s beautiful. And I want something that will help relieve your stress. Does it feel good?” 

“Yes,” he says quietly. He has a strange expression on his face. “But I couldn’t ask you to buy it, Rai.” 

I squat down next to him.

“I want to. This will be good for you. You need something for yourself—just for you. We can keep looking if you think you may find something you enjoy more. But this one seems to fit you very well.”

“Are you sure you won’t mind if I play it in the house?” His ears are slightly flat, and I brush the base of them gently, careful not to touch the new tag. 

“I’m sure.” I stand up and ask the owner if there are items we need for its care and if there are instructional videos or books, so I pick up a few other things as well. I pay for it, pleased that we were able to find something.

“M-may I carry it?” Konoe asks shyly. 

“Would you like to?”

“Very much!”

“Of course,” I say.

He takes the bag himself and hangs it over his shoulder proudly. I notice he stands up a little straighter, and his golden eyes are even brighter than this morning.

When we leave the store, I say there is one more place to stop before we can go home, and he seems slightly nervous. But there's no need to be nervous. The place I have in mind is an ice cream parlor.

There are many flavors to choose from, and I take my time, letting the kitten look over all the different flavors. I point out the kuim parfait on the menu, and his face lights up. I get a scoop of mocha and we sit down after placing our order.

They bring out the parfait—which is huge—and my single scoop, and Konoe lowers his ears. 

“What’s the matter?” I ask. 

“It’s just… this is too much. Yours is so small, and I ordered this huge thing—”

“Which I suggested,” I point out. “It’s fine. It’s your reward for doing so well today. Enjoy it.”

“It happened so fast—I don’t even remember!” I watch him dunk a macaron into the ice cream and take a bite. I can almost feel the little shudder of delight course through his small form, even from across the table. I wish I was sitting next to him. I love watching him enjoy himself. It gives me great pleasure. His tail fluffs up and waves temptingly behind him. I wonder at his innocence and find myself slightly amused. The way he enjoys his food is quite sensual—in fact, he’s quite a sensual creature. “Mmm! This is so good! Try a bite!”

Licking his fingers, he grabs another macaron and dips it in the ice cream and kuim syrup—and that gives me quite a few naughty ideas for the upcoming mating season. I make a mental note to include kuim syrup with our next grocery shipment. Then he holds it up to my mouth and opens his own. It’s adorable—as if opening his lips will open mine. 

It works, though. I smile and open my mouth—and I agree. It is quite tasty—very sweet and sugary with a hint of sour aftertaste from the kuim. 

“Would you like a bite of mine?” I offer him a spoonful and he accepts it. Mine is much less sweet and a little bitter. He makes a little face, flattening his ears—almost in surprise. 

“Um, I think I like mine better,” he says. “But do you like it?”

“I do. I think the flavor is nice. I don’t mind bitter now and then. It’s an acquired taste.”

“I see,” he says, taking another spoonful. I watch his ear twitch—the tagged one, and I see him move his hand up to touch it. I catch it before it does. 

“Remember not to touch the tag,” I say softly. 

He returns my gaze—and I realize even with my soft voice, he does not like to be scolded. It's no surprise, considering what was done to him when he disobeyed before, either by his last owner or at that warehouse. Poor kitten!

“I’m not going to hurt you,” I assure him. “I’m only reminding you. I’m sure it feels strange, especially since you weren’t even awake when it was pierced. It will take some time to get used to it. But you may not touch it.”

“You aren’t going to punish me? You told me not to touch it already and I disobeyed,” he whispers. 

“You forgot. It wasn’t deliberate, was it?” 

“N-no,” he stammers.

“Then that’s enough.” I take another bite of my dessert and take his spoon and dip it back into his dessert, prompting him to eat. “Konoe, I don’t want to scare you. I don’t know how you have been hurt before. But I don’t enjoy punishments. I don’t want you to be afraid of me. Do you understand?” 

“I’m trying,” he says, taking another bite. “You’ve been so kind to me. You make me feel strange. Very strange.”

“Do I?” I ask, smiling again. “In what way?”

“Well, you bought me clothes when there were clothes I could have worn. You gave me anesthesia for that marking procedure—and I think it’s so I wouldn’t be afraid, not so much because it was painful. And then—there’s the instrument. I don’t understand why you bought it. Do you enjoy the sound?”

“I do enjoy the sound of it when you play, very much, but that isn’t why I bought it,” I say. 

“It can’t be just for my sake,” Konoe says. “I’m a slave. I shouldn’t own anything.”

“You are mine,” I correct him. “What you can or can’t own depends on me, doesn’t it?”

He looks up at me again.

“You want me to own an instrument?”

I touch his hand across the table. It’s slightly sticky from his ice cream, which I find absolutely adorable. I have to force myself not to lick it.  

“It’s not that I want you to own an instrument. I want you to have resources to relieve stress on your own. Haru liked to draw and write and talk to me. You are different. And I want to work with you—on your own terms. I really want you to be happy, Konoe.” 

“Be… happy?” That dreamy look in his eye returns—the one he was wearing when he first started playing the erhu and I knew I’d buy it for him. It almost makes me think he doesn’t believe he is here right now. Is he dissociating? 

I squeeze his fingers, and he looks down at my hand. I squeeze them again and he squeezes back. He’s in there. Good.

“Regardless of what your life was like before, you have a new life ahead of you now, kitten. One with me,” I say. “Let’s make the most of it. Together.”

He raises his face to mine and his eyes sparkle. Slowly, slowly—a genuine smile spreads across his lips—and he has just a tiny bit of whipped cream on the tip of that adorable button nose of his.

My gods, this kitten is going to be the death of me. 

I lean across the table and lick just the tip of his nose. And he doesn’t move even an inch from where he is sitting, but he does blink his eyes in surprise. 

“You had a tiny bit of whipped cream there,” I say. 

“I’m sure I did,” he says snarkily.

That’s the very first time I’ve heard that tone from this kitten. He almost sounded bratty! I love it! And it raises my eyebrows and I find myself smiling. Is that who he really is? I wonder.

 

 

Chapter Text

Konoe:

He bought me an instrument—a beautiful, captivating one, and it was incredibly expensive, too. I don’t know how much money arena fighters make, but I know how much money I had when I lived in Karou and I never had even seen that much money. Rai didn’t even hesitate. 

Once we get home, I am eager to take it out of its bag and touch it and play it—so much so that I forget about the collar around my neck.

“You really want to play it, don’t you?” Rai's voice floats into my ear. 

“M-may I?” I ask, almost afraid he might say no.

My last owner had a few “treats” for me—a steaming hot bath filled with bubbles that show me and offer me in exchange for me doing something humiliating or degrading. And after I failed to please him (I always would), he would punish me by beating me and then forcing me to kneel on the tile, collared and leashed, and watching him enjoy himself in the tub. He once offered to share with me and I refused, which made him angrier. He beat me a second time once he got out of the bath. I shudder remembering it.

“What’s wrong?” Rai asks, watching my body shake. My face is lowered, but he can surely still see my expression. “You’re trembling.” 

“I-it’s n-nothing,” I say quietly. It’s not my place to complain. I understand this. I have been trained better.

“Your ears are flat. Your body is shaking.” My chin is lifted and he briefly meets my gaze before I quickly close my eyes. It’s as if he can read my mind. “Your pupils are dilated. You are afraid. Surely you don't fear me?”

“N-no!” I say, still not making eye contact, but unable to get a hold of myself. 

“Let me remove your collar. There’s no need to wear it in the house.” He keeps his voice calm and quiet. He is silent for a few minutes, and I am afraid I have disappointed him. This saddens me—and grief fills my very soul, spilling into my eyes, and tears leak out. He still doesn’t speak.

As he is unbuckling the collar from my neck, I grasp his hands with both of mine, almost desperately, my claws drawing reflexively. He doesn’t flinch or pull away, but he meets my eye. He looks sympathetic—no—something different than sympathy. It hurts my heart to see his expression. He looks pained—he looks… hurt on my behalf? Why? I’m like a piece of furniture. Why would he hurt because a chair is scuffed? Especially since he knew I was damaged goods when he purchased me!

“I-I’m so sorry,” I say, urgently but keeping my voice low. “I-I do not understand my place in this household. My last master made it very clear, and I do not understand my place here—yet. I-I am trying—b-but the m-more I try, the more confusing it is!”

A small sob convulses in my throat before I can stop it, and Rai strokes my ears gently, soothingly.

“You are doing just fine,” he encourages me.

“No! I am being very ungrateful!” I burst out. “I am… ashamed of myself—ashamed of my behavior! Y-you went out of your way—you k-keep going out of your way to treat me so kindly—you treat me like a person, like a real person—and n-not just that, b-but like…”

“I treat you like what?” I see the corners of Rai’s mouth curling up slightly. It’s confusing! 

“… Like s-something p-precious! Like s-something v-valuable! Like you care about me! Why are you doing all of this for me? Why did you pay for anesthesia? Why did you buy me clothes of my own? Why did you buy me this instrument and take me for dessert? I don’t understand!” 

“I think you do understand.” His voice is quiet, and it sounds so gentle and lovely in my ears. He is purring softly, and it vibrates deep inside me. 

“I am not a Sanga who plays with an instrument! I am the kind who makes his melody with his body!”

“So I’ve heard.”

“So why—?”

“You understand. You’ve stated my intentions with your own words,” Rai says, simply watching me, tilting his head.

There is a pause—I feel so anxious, so filled with angst, until I feel his fingers on my ears again, stroking softly at the base.

“I care about you. I think you are valuable. I think you are precious. And I need to clean your tag and your chip. May I? Then you can play the erhu if you’d like to get to know it a little and it will help ease your anxiety. I’ll be right back.”

His words sink into my ears and into my heart and into my soul. I watch that fluffy silver tail sway into the bathroom—and for just a moment, it’s my entire world, my salvation. My heart lifts and floats, and I feel like I am flying—and the thought it might disappear from my view, even for a moment, is too much to bear. Without thinking, I give chase, leaping after it, my heart thumping in my ears, and I catch it in my outstretched fingers. 

“You don’t ever need to ask if you may touch me.”

I think my pounce surprises him, but he isn’t upset or angry. 

“I was going to come right back. I can clean you here or in the living room.” He smiles at me, indulgently—but he looks pleased that I followed him, pleased that I touched him, pleased that I am choosing to be in the same room with him.

“I-i just want to stay with you.” I’m a little embarrassed at my hasty action. Am I being needy? Annoying? What is wrong with me? 

“That’s fine.” He pulls a few first aid supplies out of the cabinet in the bathroom and washes his hands. I watch as he puts alcohol on a cotton swab. “This may sting a little. Just bear with it, all right?”

There’s a cool sensation at the base of my neck—and I feel something there that I hadn’t noticed before. Something is implanted underneath my skin. It burns but it’s tolerable. It’s worth it because it is what designates the silver cat's ownership of me—assuming I don’t fuck it up. A fresh swab cools and then stings the tip of my ear. I try not to twitch, but I can’t help it. In response, I hear a low murmuring chuckle.

“If you move like that, I can’t clean it.”

I feel myself blushing, so I try to stop, but it’s ticklish. I can’t help it, and it keeps twitching.

“Um, it tickles.”

He is smiling.

“I’m glad it doesn’t hurt too much. You’ll let me know if it’s uncomfortable.” This isn’t a question, I realize. He washes his hands a second time, and then wipes the tears from my face and kisses my nose. “All done. Would you like to play your instrument?”

“You’re sure it won’t bother you?”

My chin is tipped up gently so I meet that blue eye. It looks open and earnest.

“I would love to hear you play.”

I can see my ears blushing pink with embarrassed delight in my reflection in the mirror—but I’m pleased with the compliment. I was playing—for him—in the store. I was just testing it out. But now I would like to play for him again.

I like this silver cat very much. I like his scent. I love how he looks. I adore how he treats me and how he makes me feel so special and loved. My heart feels light when I’m around him—and I feel confused about all these feelings—except when that instrument was in my hand. I knew when I was touching those instruments that I would be able to sing for him—that I would love to sing for him. A part of me wanted to protect him, just as he is protecting me. 

An added spring in my step, I hustle out to the living area and take a seat on the floor—sinking into the plush carpet, pulling the precious instrument into my lap and taking it out of the bag. I caress it gently, looking at it carefully—as though seeing it for the first time. I kind of go into my own little world for a while—I’m not sure how much time passes. But I’m looking at it like I would my sword. I took very good care of my beloved sword back in Karou.

Feeling eyes on me, I look up. Rai is watching me. He’s at the kitchen table, taking out the clothes and removing tags, getting ready to launder them. But he’s frozen in place, resting his chin in his hand, simply watching me. I feel a little self-conscious and embarrassed, and I look down quickly.

“I-i’m sorry. I’m just—”

“Don’t apologize,” he says, and I hear him smiling. “There’s nothing to apologize for. Take your time.” 

It feels good to have him watching me. I wonder if he finds me attractive. Like—does he find my body attractive? In the same way I am attracted to him? A flash of heat shoots through to the core of my being.

The sudden intrusive thought is startling. How could I be thinking about such a thing? After the experience I had with my last master, I cannot possibly be thinking of such things, ever! He is twice the size of my last master, and my last experience was traumatic and excruciating! Rai has given me permission to opt out of bedroom activities, even as far as kissing goes! So what am I doing?!

Well—did he actually say “opt out”? Or did he say I’d be allowed to lead? Or be in control? I can’t remember his actual words. It seems like important—or rather—essential information, so the fact that I can’t remember exactly what they are now is rather perturbing to me. My ears feel incredibly hot—burning on top of my head, and my breathing is elevated and strained.

What is wrong with me? This is supposed to be relaxing and stress relieving, isn’t it? Isn’t that what he said? I’m so incredibly worked up right now I can scarcely breathe. It was just this morning while I was helping clean up the breakfast dishes. I had expected him to kiss me—my gods! I think I wanted him to kiss me, and I was slightly disappointed when he didn’t.  

Now, I realize he was waiting for me to instigate it.

My cheeks feel as hot as my ears and I am filled with utter confusion. Also, a strange sensation floods my lower half—similar to when my last master would fiddle with my body to try to force my arousal—but this feels… pleasurable, I think. And I think I am slightly ashamed and terribly flustered, but I’m not sure why. 

Instead, I push the thoughts from my brain and refocus my attention on the instrument in my lap. It’s beautiful, finely made—a work of art. While I am collecting myself, I look up again, just briefly—keeping my face pointed at the instrument but raising just my eyes, hoping the silver cat won’t notice me looking his way. But I don’t sense much movement from the table. And he isn’t moving. He is simply resting with his chin resting on his hands, languidly swaying that fluffy white tail behind him in the chair, watching me—his blue eye focused on my face and my eyes, the moment I look up. He captures my gaze immediately and smiles softly, as though he can read my thoughts, making me even more flustered.  

What is wrong with me?! I want… I don’t know! I shift around uncomfortably on the floor, feeling like I want to flee his gaze and the room entirely and also like I am not close enough. I want him to touch me, and I want to touch him. I want to smell him. My body feels frozen and I feel very strange.  

I remember how comforting he was in the registration office this morning. In the past two years, I have never felt safer than I have in the arms of that silver cat than I did this morning—and I crawled up into them of my own free will. I also reached out to him and touched him while we were walking in that crowded street, despite the fact I was obviously connected to him with a collar and a leash. 

Scrap that. Let’s just be honest. I look down at the erhu again. Not even in my own home in Karou did I feel as safe, valued, and protected as I did in Rai’s arms this morning. Why? Something about his scent? Because he has been grooming me? Yet I know he purchased me—with money. I am his slave. I should understand this—my mind does not know how to make sense of this.

I am very disturbed by my own thoughts. So instead, I set up the lovely instrument on my thigh and enjoy the weight of its box on my lap. I carefully thread the bow between the strings and tentatively touch the neck with my fingers, plucking the strings and tuning the pegs gently, closing my eyes to hear the sound of each one. 

I look up one more time after I’ve tuned it to my liking—I have no idea if it’s tuned correctly or not, but I think I can play it like this, at least—and peek up at the cat sitting at the table. He hasn’t shifted or moved, sitting still except for his tail. He seems peaceful and patient and slightly amused.

Amused? I wonder. Is something funny? Me? He couldn’t have noticed how flustered I’ve become, sitting here with heat flooding my body, thinking about wanting to kiss him, could he? It’s not as though he can actually read my thoughts, I tell myself. But it’s unnerving enough to cast my eyes back down and watch my own fingers as I feel out a tentative tune on the new instrument. 

I start with scales—that is my intention—but it flows so easily, like a voice. The instrument has such a sweet, emotional sound that my third set of scales morphs into a melody. This melody is one that has been floating within my heart all day—since this morning at the breakfast sink, since I tilted my chin up at the silver cat, expectantly, waiting for a kiss. It’s filled with desire, shockingly—but once it starts, even as tentatively as it starts, it bursts forth and glows—I couldn’t stop it if I tried. I close my eyes and let it flow out of me and it feels so good! It is so satisfying and freeing to just be able to express myself in this way, and somewhat of a relief to know I can do this. 

It’s the sound of my emotions—my feelings for him in a musical form. It feels warm and soft, but powerful and imbued with the magic of my kind and my breed—and it occurs to me suddenly that Rai hasn’t heard this before. I hear a soft sigh—an amazing sound—a downright tempting and sexy sound that makes me open my eyes, and I’m shocked by what I see in the living room. Slim tendrils of light flow from my body—all around me—stretching out like slender threads, drifting through the air and creeping across the floor—toward Rai, who is enveloped in a bright, golden glow. He looks relaxed and happy—and amazed. And he looks like he understands the exact nature of the song I am singing. He is not embarrassed or ashamed in the least—and he looks very pleased. 

My cheeks flush, but I return his smile, and I keep playing—unable to keep my eyes off of him, though I try to look away. I’m not sure why I can’t, but I find I want to see his expression, and I want to see if he looks happy and pleased with what he hears. Does he like what he sees? Does he like what he hears? Is he happy with me? Am I going to be a good enough replacement for the Sanga he loved and lost? I realize as I watch him that I want to give everything I have to protect him—and that word, “everything” flows without hesitation. I trust him. I don’t think of the suffering I went through with my last master. What this cat is and how he is my master does not compare to the last cat who purchased me. This cat—he is my master, and he is the one I will protect. My soul knows this. My song knows this. 

My song lasts for a good fifteen minutes or so, and then I stop playing for a moment—feeling out of breath. Rai immediately stands up from the table—pushing out his chair and walking over to me, and it startles me. I wonder if I’ve done something to displease him and prompt his sudden movement so I flatten my ears—and then my vision goes gray around the edges. My nose is flooded with his comforting smell—clean, powerful, slightly sweet—and he gathers me up in his arms, taking hold of the erhu carefully. 

“Yeah, I thought that might happen,” he murmurs. “That was a powerful song from you, my little Sanga.” He is careful and delicate with the instrument—taking care to set it down on top of the case, but then he scoops me up into his arms and I feel like I am floating. I gasp in surprise.

“Ah—n-no, I’m all right—” 

“You’re completely exhausted,” Rai says. “Allow this. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to let you rest, kitten. You did so well. Come.” Gods, the sound of his praise is lovely!

I feel a soft surface under my body and I recognize the familiar scent and feel of the bed I’ve spent so much time in. I wonder if it’s just a matter of time before he makes me sleep in a cage like my last master did, but I push the thought from my mind quickly as waves of exhaustion cover me. He crawls up into the bed right behind me, pulling me in close to his chest on my side. I'm nervous because I cannot move anything except my ears and maybe my tail. I'm helpless.

“That melody—it was enchanting,” he purrs low in my ear, and my fur is tended gently. I notice this cat grooms my ears each and every time I am placed in bed, no matter what the circumstances. I’m not sure if he really likes my ears, or if he is trying to accustom me to his scent, or if this is a method of bonding. At first, it tickled terribly and was slightly uncomfortable. But even that first time, after the first few grooming licks of his strangely large, rough, dry tongue, it had a sedating effect on me. And now, it has the same effect—every time. It’s calming. Sometimes he will whisper or murmur to me as well, and I like that, too.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, though. I’m too exhausted to shiver—I think.

“I’ve never heard anything as powerful.”

His words sink in for a moment. Wasn’t he with his last Sanga for five years? They should have been quite powerful after so long.  

“Little Sanga, I couldn’t be more pleased. I knew your song was powerful, but I had no idea how powerful it would be. You are absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to hear your voice—when you are ready.” The tip of my ear is kissed and licked and nipped just gently—and that shiver I expected to be too exhausted to feel rushes through my fur and fluffs all of it up—all of the fur on my body stands on end, and I feel his lips curling up in satisfaction. “Hmph.” 

There is no denying it. I am afraid—terrified—of connecting with any cat physically ever again after what was done to me. But I am going to have to do something about these feelings for this silver cat. I am afraid I may have to kiss him today. I need to kiss him. Especially after such wonderful praise and if he isn’t going to do it himself. 

But for now, I just allow myself to drift off into satisfied sleep—the most peaceful sleep I’ve had that I can ever remember. Maybe I will be okay here…

 

Rai:

His breath is even and quiet, and his body is still heavy—nearly paralyzed. It may have been the first time he has sung for someone deliberately, it occurs to me, and I am truly honored. I just can’t believe he did it today after what he went through.

Even without using his voice—for I know he is a genuine Sanga who sings with his body—he used an instrument, not his natural medium, and he used another medium to communicate his adorable, flustered and frustrated feelings to me with that song. Oh, and I understood exactly what he was saying with that melody! The meaning struck me to my very soul—in fact, if anyone else were in the hallway at that moment, they too would have understood. 

They would have heard the following:

I wanted you to kiss me and you didn’t. I wanted to kiss you and I am afraid. I wanted to touch you and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand my feelings. I trust you—I felt safer in your arms this morning than I have in my entire life—and yet, where do we go from here? Am I going to be good enough? Am I going to please you? Will I be enough? What do you want with me? What is this relationship?  

Most of all, I heard and felt a burning desire—real passion—from this previously timid magical creature, and I am thrilled.

Actually, I am beside myself.  

I can hardly keep my hands to myself. In fact, as I was first holding him, I was rather deliberately trying to keep my lower half away from his—at least till I was sure he was asleep. I didn’t want to frighten him while he was at his most helpless and I was so aroused.

My gods, I haven’t felt such desire for another creature since—well, since Haru first stopped snapping at me, I think. His biting wasn’t a turn on, but I didn’t mind his scratching. Though—I never took him without his full will. Well, perhaps once—when I was very young—we both were—and we were in heat and desperate. I think he wasn’t exactly unwilling but was less than cooperative. He spoke to me about consent several seasons later and told me what he enjoyed—and that time came up and was never repeated.

This kitten is so much younger and less experienced, but Haru hadn’t been traumatized—well, beside whatever trauma we inflicted on each other as young inexperienced sexual partners. Now, as he sleeps so soundly, I allow my fingers to skate down his waist. I do this only when he sleeps—often. It seems to soothe his nightmares, much to my surprise, as does the grooming. 

I don’t want to press him to talk, but I am sure his experience didn’t involve being touched gently or lovingly. So I wonder if he knows what he can expect, or what he can ask for. Have I perhaps given him too big of a burden by suggesting he can decide?

As I allow my fingers to caress his gentle curves—the line of his waist and hip is delicious—probably I should stop soon, especially after hearing that song—I decide I should brief him on what he should expect from his own body during the mating season and what will help his symptoms, what his options are. And what my expectations are—very little, except that he is comfortable—and what I am open to—which is just about anything.

In that song, I realize he doesn’t realize I desire him. I wonder if he still thinks I pine for my lost love. I do miss Haru. Anyone would miss their lover of five years. But I’ve decided to move on, and I have always lived my life by looking forward. I did dwell on Haru’s loss longer than I thought I would—but Bardo told me this, too, is a natural part of grieving. However, I can never go back. I don’t have time to worry about the past; instead, I ought to be looking forward. The real enemy is me, losing my way.  

I do wonder how a creature with this level of power and magic could possibly have any doubt—except then I remember that he was returned. If he had this much ability, he must have been severely treated. I wonder if I need to know or get him to tell me what happened. Not for the sake of bringing it up but for the sake of his own comfort—to help him understand the difference between sex and violence—trauma and bonds—and what I want for him and for us. Even if he chooses not to connect with me physically, that’s all right. But his song was filled with doubt and grief.  

It hurt part of my soul I’d never expected when I heard it. I feel compelled to say something. But how? Without adding pressure? I don’t know.

I stay next to him indulging in his scent and the feel of him for as long as I can before it’s time to make dinner. He will wake ravenous if I know anything. So I don’t allow myself to sleep. Instead, I rouse myself and get up from the bed.  

The minute I get to the doorway and look back at that vulnerable form sleeping in my bed, I find myself padding back for another lick to his ears. Just once more. He is becoming an obsession. I can’t help it, and I can’t control it, and I’m not sure I like it. I’m acting like some lovestruck teenager. If I’m not careful, I will get my feelings hurt when the mating season hits full force.

Sighing deeply, I manage to tear myself away from him. But he enchants me. I can’t help but be drawn to him. And I worry every other Touga will be as well, and that terrifies me. The urge to protect him and bond with him and train him—how can I teach him to protect himself, learn that he can protect himself and be safe?—races through my thoughts.

As I’m preparing dinner, the idea comes to me. I’ve seen a Sanga armed when singing. It's uncommon, but it happens. I saw how capable he was—picking up instruments he’d never seen and was playing them. He has a gift. He can probably easily learn a weapon. Especially one that moves with the air, like a whip. It would give him power and distance—and make him and me feel more secure once we get into the arena, I think. I’m sure he knows I failed to protect my last Sanga. How could he possibly trust me with his life? If I allow him a weapon and train him—teach him to sing while armed—we will be unstoppable.

A palpable sense of relief washes over me as I finish chopping the veggies for the stir fry. I don’t add celery—I noticed he has struggled to eat it the last few days. I wish he’d just say something, but it seems he dislikes it. I use water chestnuts instead, hearing pan sizzle.

Chapter Text

Konoe:

I wake after a nice nap. I sang my song—using the erhu—to my master. I think of that silver cat as my master, I realize. I think I will be able to protect him. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to sing for anyone, especially after what happened with Sin. Also, I am afraid I will to have to tell Rai what happened.

I give a nice long stretch in the bed—pushing the sheets off my legs and arms—and my ears twitch. My newly pierced left ear feels weirdly heavy, though I saw the tag. It’s tiny. How can such a small thing make such a big difference in how my ear feels? I am tempted to touch it, and Rai’s voice startles me, drifting in from the open door.

“Remember not to touch that tag.”

I hadn’t, yet. I was just thinking about it, really! But I lower my ears and my hands back to my sides obediently. I feel ashamed of myself and slightly afraid—and my body starts to tremble when I hear footsteps approaching my bed. Is he going to punish me? He hasn't punished me since I've arrived, and I have earned myself a punishment now, for sure. I was definitely about to touch my ear after he told me not to.

Also, strangely, my body heats up and keeps getting hotter as Rai approaches the bed. What is this feeling? Am I sick?

“What’s this?” He asks softly. “You’re shaking.”

“I-I’m sorry,” I say softly. “I-i d-disobeyed.” I can’t even bring myself to meet his eye, even when he tips up my chin gently.

“Konoe.” His voice stays very soft. “Look at me.”

Feeling tears burn the corners of my eyes, I obey him, meeting his eye reluctantly.

“Is your ear bothering you? Does it hurt?”

“N-no.” I barely manage a whisper.

“You’re not in trouble. I’m not going to hurt you.” He sounds slightly annoyed, I think, and that makes me feel even worse.

“I-I’m so sorry,” I whisper.

“It’s okay,” he says, softening his voice even more. “You've got nothing to be sorry about.” He sits down next to me and gets quiet for a moment, simply watching me. “Listen. The food is ready if you’d like something to eat.”

I nod and follow him to the table, my body hot, sweaty and sticky. Maybe I will feel better if I eat. It looks delicious—so much healthier than at my last home. My meals were leftover scraps or gruel or nutrition bars. My master would often eat out and have me watch him from my place on the floor. Rai feeds me as much as I can eat—and it’s fresh produce and home-cooked meals. I didn’t even cook like this for myself when I lived on my own.

“There are a couple of things I want to discuss with you,” Rai says as if I have a say in anything at all. I look up across the table as he opens his mouth. “First is about the arena. I was thinking I’d like to arm you for combat.”

Arm me? I must not have heard him correctly. I blink in surprise.

“You defended your home in Karou, didn’t you?” 

I nod slightly, unable to finish the food in my mouth for a second.

“What weapons did you use?”

I chew my food and swallow.

“I considered it a longsword, but it was about the size of your dagger.”

Rai nods.

“All right. I’m thinking of training you to use something that will work defensively and at a longer range, like a whip.”

“Really?” I’ve never heard of a Sanga being armed before, but the prospect pleases me. The idea of being exposed and unarmed to another pair of fighters is intimidating to me. “I-is that allowed?”

“Of course. It’s unusual since most Sanga can’t sing and fight at the same time. But you sing with your body, don’t you?”

I nod again.

“Today, I heard you produce your song with an instrument. I’m not sure you’re aware, but that is highly unusual.”

“Is it?” I didn’t know that. 

“Yes. It indicates the blood of an ancient Sanga runs in your veins. It’s an unusual talent. Most Sanga can only produce the song with either an instrument, their voice, or their bodies—not all or any of those. There is very little crossover. I’ve heard you hum, and it too is imbued with power as well. That means you can multi-task in a way most others can't, making you a perfect candidate for a weapon.”

“Oh,” I say. I’m surprised. I’m also sort of proud that I can be useful to him, and I look down face flushing. I mean, of course, this is my purpose—producing a song. Why should I feel so proud? 

“I’d like to train you to use a whip. It will help in several ways. First, I think it will help you will feel safer—in case you feel you have trouble trusting me to protect you, you will have an extra layer of protection with which you can defend yourself. It will boost your confidence.”

What is he saying? I look up, slightly startled, and he will not meet my eyes. He looks guilty, probably thinking about losing his last Sanga. That thought has never crossed my mind: that he might not be able to protect me. Honestly, when I say want to sing for him, if he does his best to protect me, that is good enough for me. If I get hurt or killed, that’s all right with me. But does he think that is where my trust issues come from? Because that’s not it at all—that isn’t right! I’m afraid to trust anyone! And it’s with my person. And because of what happened with my last master—how he treated me... 

“If I train you, I will feel better knowing you can protect yourself against an unexpected quick attack—in case I can’t get to you in time, or if you have to stop singing for some reason.”

“Okay,” I say softly. I am feeling still quite warm. Is it from embarrassment? For a few minutes, I wonder how he is going to train me. Certainly, he won’t expect me to use it against him, will he? Like, will I sing for him and then will he attack me? That would be odd. Or will I just practice on my own? But how will target practice work? I’ve never even held a whip and know nothing about them. I stare down at my plate and move my rice into an obsessively neat pile with my chopsticks to help get my thoughts in order.

“Second, I’m sure you’re aware, but the season is upon us.” 

The season? I wonder about that, but I nod. He must mean winter and be talking about getting more meat on my bones. It must be working since the heat must be on in here. Why else would I be so hot? Do I have a fever? My body aches, too.

“You should feel the symptoms soon. And I know I said I’d let you decide what you wanted, but I wasn’t sure if you knew all your options and what I’m willing to do. I’m a proponent of having things out in the open.”

Symptoms of what? It almost sounds like he’s talking about what he said about our bedroom activities, but what does that have to do with approaching winter? I must look confused, so he continues.

“Konoe, you don’t have to tell me the details of your last experience, but I’m willing to listen if you want to talk. Sometimes talking helps. Plus if I know what you don’t like I will avoid triggering you, making sure I only do things you enjoy—or I can even recondition you to enjoy the things you’ve been taught to dislike.”

Okay, so, he is talking about sex. I’m utterly confused. Maybe he is nervous about me putting on too much weight before winter and he doesn’t like how I look? I don’t understand. He’s never said anything about my weight before and really, he has been forcing food down my throat. Or maybe I’m not gaining it fast enough? Though he doesn’t sound critical. I feel I’m missing something important.

“What does this have to do with me gaining weight?” I finally bring myself to ask. I feel incredibly stupid. 

“Excuse me?” Rai looks confused now, and I feel even stupider.

“You said something about winter,” I remind him. “I don’t understand.”

“I didn’t say anything about winter.” He looks only confused—not angry, not upset, not critical, though perhaps slightly concerned. 

I am incredibly frustrated like we are speaking two different languages. What the hell? It’s almost funny, except that I am so upset with myself.

“You said something about the season changing? Are you worried I’m gaining too much weight? Or not enough?” I start to worry now. Maybe he really doesn’t find me attractive anymore—though I know what I felt from him when I was singing was attraction, so unless he can fake it really well…

“Oh! Mating season. I meant the mating season is upon us. And you should feel those symptoms soon.” There’s a quiet pause and Rai looks at me carefully. “This is your first mating season, right?”

“Um. Yes. I think so.”

“...” Has Rai always had such nice full lips? Why am I just now noticing?

“Do you know what symptoms to expect from the mating season?” Rai asks, softening his voice. His eye is sparkling so prettily. It makes me feel a little strange—my heart feels fluffy, like my tail and ears—a weird sensation.

“Um. No.” Fuck it. What’s the point in lying if I don’t know? “I didn’t know males experienced symptoms from the mating season. Isn’t it just for females? A need to breed?”

Rai is suppressing the urge to smile at me—possibly the urge to laugh at me—and he is working hard to suppress that urge.

“Well, males get symptoms, too. You will feel feverish, sweaty, sort of an itchy nondescript feeling, maybe fatigue and aches. Maybe your pulse will race.”

A fever? Oh shit. Is that what this feeling is now?

“Um. How long does it last?”

“A few days, a week, more or less. But you can do something to improve the symptoms.” Rai looks at me carefully. “Many things. And that is what I wanted to discuss.” 

Do something—that I seem to understand right away… and then my body freezes. My fur fluffs out in fear and I drop my chopsticks. I can barely swallow, and my mouth is dry. I feel like I can’t breathe and my fingers go numb and tingly—even the tip of my nose and my tail and my ears get numb, and my vision shakes slightly. 

“Konoe—oy,” Rai says softly. “Oy!”

He gets up from the table suddenly, walking over to where I am seated and scoops me up in his arms. Just having him near me calms me down. Shouldn’t it make me more afraid? I feel like I should panic, but his scent calms me. He licks my ears a few times—slowly—and a strange electrical charge like static electricity shoots through my body, making my fur bristle. I twitch. He is ignoring the tag in my ear, I notice—and is simply licking it.

“It’s all right. We are just talking. I’m not going to do anything or expect anything. I’m just telling you what your options are, okay? Nothing is going to happen to you, okay? You are in complete control here. Just take a few deep breaths, okay?”

“Mmkay,” I hum softly, breathing in the pleasant clean scent at his neck. As soon as I relax, he releases me from his arms, and I twitch a little.

“Can we continue? This is important.”

“Um, okay.” I look down at my plate, but I’m not very hungry anymore.

“I wanted to let you know that you can decide how to resolve the mating season symptoms—don’t worry about me. But you have options available, all right? The first is that you take care of things yourself. If you do nothing at all, you will be pretty uncomfortable for two weeks. And I don’t think that’s healthy, nor do I want to see you in pain or discomfort when there is an easy fix. Even if you aren't comfortable with me, touching yourself will take care of that, er, need to breed.”

I’ve never heard of a master who would let his Sanga do such a thing. When I was in that warehouse, I saw another Sanga severely punished for doing just that, just about six months ago, I think. The owner said something about our bodies not being our own. I've never done this myself.

“Another option is to let me help you. I would like to help you, very much. It would help us both and be enjoyable, and I'm sure you can tell, I desire you. It will help our bond, too, but I will not force the issue. And there are many ways I can help you. I can help with my hand, my mouth, or my body. And when I say my body, I mean, um, I’m available either direction.”

“W-wait, wait,” I stop him for a second. Did he say his mouth? He would… take me... in his mouth? Sin forced me to serve him that way at least twice, but it was such a demeaning experience and so incredibly painful, I just can’t imagine Rai ever… 

Helpfully, my imagination kicks in upon request, in overdrive, probably as a result of my current symptoms. An image flashes in my mind—of the silver cat taking me in his mouth. In the same way he grooms my ears—he does it slowly, grooming all the fur below my navel and my lower half, gently, tenderly before he lowers his mouth on my cock... And oh, my gods!

It turns out I can imagine it, and very well, too! And it is so fucking hot! It makes my entire body flush with heat. I get incredibly distracted. Oh, shit! It's almost too much to imagine that I forgot what else he just said! His hand? He said he would also consider using his hand...

Then my mind switches the imagery a little, and I remember the massage he gave me when I first arrived. (He's given me more than one since then, about every other day in the morning, and I know when they are available when I find a robe in the bathroom for me instead of clothes, and they are always so nice!) The way his hands felt against my body—he covered me with that massage oil was so very nice and soothing—but thinking about my erect dick, lubed up in that oil, and his fingers wrapped around it, stroking—and his hand is so big and firm and gentle when it doesn't have to be—oh, my gods!

I swallow again, shocked. I look up at him, completely surprised. He is returning my gaze with a little bit of a smile on his face. He isn’t laughing at me, however. This look is much more heated than I have ever seen in the past. Is he… experiencing symptoms of heat as well? What about his needs? 

“Um, what did you mean when you said, um, either direction?” I ask quietly. I stop my imagination right there. I won't imagine that. I know what Sin forced me to do, and that was painful. But why would Rai want me to hurt him? I have to be sure I understand what Rai means about his body.

“I don’t know what your last master did to you, but I have a feeling it was unpleasant. The very idea of touch seems to frighten you. It makes sense if he didn’t wait for you for your first heat. Sex is painful if you are taken when you are not in heat, smaller in stature, and if the person, um, topping, doesn’t know what he is doing or isn’t doing his job preparing you, and even when you are prepared it can be painful. When you are in heat, however, things are very different. Your body doesn’t feel pain, so you can relax and do what feels good.”

“What?” I cannot believe that. “That can’t be true.” Because I have experienced it, and it does indeed hurt. It was awful. I wasn't in heat, though. And Rai... he hasn't lied to me about anything yet.

“Konoe, I would not lie to you. I would be willing to top or bottom. That is what I meant by ‘either direction.’”

“What?” I whisper. “You would let me, um, enter you?” I still don't dare even imagine that. I can't allow it!

The fur on his little rounded ears stands on ends when I say the words.

“Does that sound interesting? Enticing?” He asks, unable to keep an obviously heated purr from his voice. A small stroke against my back lowers slightly to the base of my tail, just gently. It weirdly feels sexy and not like pressure. "If it does, I will happily comply."

Hell yes! But I don’t know what the fuck I am doing! And I can’t even bring myself to kiss him—I really don’t think I could do that.

“I, um, I don’t really know,” I murmur softly, unable to drop my gaze. 

“Is that so?”

“I’m, well, a little—um,” I stop myself. “No. I’m a lot afraid.”

“It seems you may have reason to be. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“Maybe that would be a good idea,” I say, sighing softly. I take a drink of my water and then a sip of my juice, enjoying the sweet and then sour taste melt across my tongue. After I gather my thoughts, I move away again so I can look at Rai while I speak, and begin my tale. 

From the first day with Sin, I knew I was in trouble. From the way he ogled me, I knew he wasn’t primarily interested in my musical ability. He was looking for a young, fresh face and a kitten with a body like mine. He enjoyed the fact I was young and clueless, and he had been advised we start the bonding process slowly, but he ignored this advice.

After the auction, I was subjected to a horrible examination—including both Sin and his father—which lasted a half an hour. I was naked and examined in every orifice in a demeaning way. At the warehouse, they told us we would be expected to submit and bond to our new masters, that they would provide for our needs, and that our bodies were not our own. But they did not tell us anything about the bonding process or about sex. I had heard some things, of course, before my time at the warehouse, but didn't know what to expect.

The exam was a shock—have my all my orifices explored and my body felt up was horrible. I was brought to my home wearing nothing but a pair of skimpy underwear and a collar. I’d never felt so ashamed in my entire life—demeaned and degraded. 

But then, I saw the apartment. Sin showed me the bathroom and promised me a soak in the bathtub if I behaved for him during our first bonding experience. I was interested in obeying him—I wanted a bath! I knew that physical touch would be involved. But I had not expected what he had planned.

“What did he do?” Rai asks. I have become quiet again, gathering my thoughts.

He brought me into the bedroom and stripped off my clothes, held me down and raped me. He didn’t bother preparing me in any way that I can remember, so it was very painful. I had no idea how much it would hurt! Though I tried my very best to comply. He had a hard time holding me down after a while, so he ended up restraining me even before he had entered me all the way, securing my arms against the bed, and folding my legs up under my body. He outweighed me significantly at close to twice my weight.

I scratched and bit him reflexively, not because I was angry but because it was so painful. I screamed—it felt like I was being torn apart or ripped in half—and he seemed to enjoy the sound of my cries and tears. He said the pain was expected and I would "get used to it," but I never did. 

When he finished, of course, I hadn’t found it pleasurable. He rebuked me for not enjoying it, saying it was because I hadn’t submitted to him. Instead of letting me rest, he dragged me naked into the bathroom while he relaxed in the bath, making me kneel on the tile.  

“I remember the disgusting feeling of blood and his, um,” I stop myself to swallow back down the vomit rising in my throat, “his, um, leavings dripping down the insides of my thigh while I was made to kneel. It hurt to kneel—it hurt to sit. Everything hurt. I was devastated and I thought I had done something wrong. I begged his forgiveness, and he allowed me to sleep in my cage that first night, instead of making me kneel on the floor.”

Rai sighs, but the look on his face is a mix of horror and disgust. I hope I am not disgusting him, and he speaks up suddenly.

“Listen. Kittens are not mature—or ready for intercourse—until their first mating season. He took you too soon. If he expected you to respond in a positive way, it would have been a miracle. Perhaps you could have had you been extraordinarily compatible or he had taken care to arouse you and prepare you carefully. But it doesn’t even sound like he did even a little. What he did was very wrong. Konoe, you were severely mistreated and abused.”

“I am a slave. It wasn’t against the law,” I say. 

“It was still abuse!” Rai insists. “And he hurt you by those actions. What did you say his name was? Sin?”

I look up suddenly. Why is he interested in my old master’s name? 

“I want to know so that you will have a chance to face him in the arena and give him a taste of his own medicine. I’d like to beat the shit out of him for what he did to you. If we are in the arena, that is not against the law either, is it?”

A shiver goes down my spine at that thought—the silver cat is on my side? And he is actively fighting for me? What an amazing, powerful force! He is so strong and so confident! But wouldn’t I just freeze if I saw Sin?

“What else did he do? Was it just that one time? It seems he liked to punish you for minor offenses.”

“No. That bonding ritual was a daily occurrence. And yes, he would punish me for everything and be unpredictable. I wasn’t trying to disobey or be bad, but everything would set him off, and he would strip off his belt and strap me—no matter where I was. I would have to submit, for fear he would hit my face or my hands or my belly—or somewhere even more sensitive. If I submitted, he would aim for my ass and back and thighs—and that was painful enough.”

“He would do this at home?”

“Publicly, too. But mostly at home. If I failed to ‘please’ him in the bedroom, because I didn’t move enough or if I moved too much—worst of all, if like I acted like I was trying to get away—I’d get strapped. Soon, I just would lie there, not making a sound, and he would hold me down and just fuck me. I’d bit my lip or the inside of my cheek till I bled, not wanting to make a single sound. Still, I’d get strapped either way. I didn’t know what he wanted. I think he just wanted to punish me.”

“Did you ever actually fight alongside him?”

“He took me into the arena once—but we’d never even trained. I tried to tell him I’d never fought before, and that was the last straw. I couldn’t sing—I hadn’t sung in two weeks and was weak from that and not getting proper nutrition or sleep. I was always underdressed—naked at home, aside from that detested collar, and only some skimpy outfit outside, underwear or less. My teeth were chattering and the referee saw I was ill, but Sin insisted I perform anyway. When I tried to beg for mercy, he belted me—right there in the arena.”

“He punished his own Sanga in front of the crowd?” Rai can’t believe his ears. 

“I think that is what cracked me up,” I say quietly. “He had many other things he would tempt me with—'If you obey, I’ll let you wear clothes tomorrow.' But he never once followed through. Yet I still always tried. But that last whipping left me worn down to a shell of who I used to be—all my anger was gone. I couldn’t even sing against him. I couldn't sing at all. I could barely stand. I think he dragged me off the field knowing if I’d been hurt he wouldn’t have been able to exchange me.”

“So, to clarify—you were never asked what you desired or wanted him to touch you.”

“I was so lonely. But I couldn’t stand how he touched me. It was always about wanting something from me. It would drive me insane. I hated it."

“That truly sounds terrible,” Rai says, but I don’t see pity on his face. Again, I see a mixture of horror and anger—and something that looks like pain. Like he is hurting on my behalf. A few minutes pass, and I find myself feeling strangely “itchy.”

Rai smiles.

“Would you like to sit next to me?”

“Um…” I don’t want to be a nuisance, but I don’t know what else to do. “Um, yes.”

“Come, then. It’s never going to be my intent to hurt you. Even if I have to discipline you, the point is learning or discouraging behavior, not causing you pain. I don’t ever want to hurt you. Again—if it’s something you wanted me to do, of course, I would do it.”

I look up again. Would I want him to hurt me? I don’t think so. But I might not mind if it was him restraining me and holding me down. 

“Sorry,” Rai smiles again. “I just don’t want to take it off the table if you are thinking about it. But I think you’re thinking about it because I brought it up and it's only confusing you. For now, just ignore it. If it bothers you. So on to the options. The next few hours, I’d like you to consider them. And if you’d like to try a sample, let me know. We can play around a little just to see how it feels to you. Maybe we can try out a few things for five or ten minutes and see what you like. If not, you never have to do it again. I will not get my feelings hurt.” 

“You would do that?” I am surprised again. “Play with my, um, person for five minutes with your hand—with the sole purpose of finding out if I like it?”

“I would. Or my mouth. Or my body. And you have the option to extend the time or try more than one at a time. Most importantly, no pressure.”

I’m tempted.

“Konoe.” I do like hearing him say my name—butterflies flutter inside and shiver all over my skin. “What do you think? Would you like to try?”

“Right now?”

“Well, I was going to brush my teeth first, and then we can get started.”

“Um. Okay.” I hear my mouth agreeing before I can shut up. But oh my! What have I just agreed to?! Ribika help me!

Chapter Text

Rai:

It’s apparent I may have made a slight miscalculation.

In allowing Konoe control over the situation in the bedroom, I think I’ve made a mistake. I have greatly underestimated both the amount of desire I have for the naked kitten lying in my bed as well as the current strength of our compatibility during this season. I am setting myself up for major disappointment if I can’t convince him to let me fuck him tonight. 

This is not how I was planning the evening, but it kind of went that way as soon as we got naked. I thought, stupidly, that we should start slowly and after brushing our teeth, I suggested we take a shower together.

I had really only intended to let him “sample the options,” so to speak—while we were in the shower—but after he started singing, I lost the ability to stop or slow down. Maybe I should start from the beginning and you’ll understand what happened and where I went wrong?

So—after dinner, the kitten follows me into the bathroom to brush his teeth—and it’s cute that he has been following me since we’ve been home. He did this when I first wanted to clean off his tag and chip, too. I like that he wants to be in the same room as me. That’s a good sign. As we’re brushing our teeth, I ask if he will let me help.

At first, he bristles his fur but he lets me have his toothbrush after a second. I think he assumes this is going to be a little weird—which, I suppose it is—but I want him to know he can trust me even with his mouth. And I am very gentle, moving his toothbrush slow and sexy against his gums and teeth, and you’d better believe I can make a toothbrushing sexy as hell. By the time I’m finished, he’s got toothpaste dripping from the corners of his mouth and his eyelids are drifting closed, and he’s purring loud and wet, and his body is humming—literally vibrating.

I think that was my first mistake. I saw it then—that he was going to sing, and I heard that small vibration that was more than a purr—and I kept on going. 

When I pull the brush out of his mouth, his eyes drift back open and I lower my mouth to his, sucking up all that toothpaste and drool from his lips. He bristles out his fur in surprise and something like disgust—except for that sound that he’s making. It’s not disgust. It’s most definitely desire. And yeah, maybe kissing him with a mouthful of toothpaste might be just a little kinky.  

Then, I turn on the shower and strip off my clothes—letting him watch me—and the toothpaste is still dripping from the corners of his lips. 

“You can rinse your mouth, if you want,” I suggest, but he just watches me, his pupils blown wide and dark—so wide so only a slim ring of his golden iris is visible. He’s amazingly sexy. “Want to join me?”

To my shock, he does. After watching me step into the shower, he strips off his tee overhead and slips out of his sweats and underwear at the same time—not making the production I did—and he looks off to the side shyly as though I haven’t already seen him naked every day this week. Keeping his face lowered, he steps into the shower, and his body flinches just a little when I touch his arm to pull him under the water.

“Do you want to take a shower with me?” I ask. I’m confirming his consent. I want to make sure he doesn’t feel compelled to do this. It’s hard for me to read his expression with his face turned down, though.

“Yeah,” he whispers, and he glances up at me, the whites of his ears blushing pink, his cheeks pink—even before that gorgeous pale skin starts to warm up and flush under the water. 

“All right. Five minutes, okay? And if you want me to keep going, I will,” I murmur, after pulling him under the water with me. I soap up his body with shower gel—and it's lovely and minty. His skin looks gorgeous all flushed pink with water and heat, and his breath catches when I run my hands up and down his body.

I’ve touched him plenty of times—the first night he was home, I helped him bathe, I’ve given him full-body massages every other day for the past week and a half, and I sleep with him every night with my body right next to his. But this is different. It feels different to me, too—this is definitely a sexual touch. While he’s slightly intimidated, he doesn’t dislike it. I can feel he is slightly afraid, however, just like he was nervous about the collar.

He tilts his head up to mind, soaking his hair in the process, and it takes a minute for me to realize he’s trying to kiss me. He’s standing on his tiptoes, almost afraid to touch me. And then—I realize the difference. Maybe he hasn’t realized I’ve been naked in front of him before? He doesn’t actually see me under the sheets, I guess. As soon as I see him go for my lips, I respond—kissing him, lightly at first. But soon, things get a little heated. 

I have totally misread the depth of my own passion—and that soft thrumming coming from his body is intense. Plus, there’s more vibration wherever our skin touches. It’s amazing. It makes my fur bristle as well as his. He’s running his fingers through my hair and my fur—touching my ears, my tail, my body—and he’s not just allowing me to touch him, but actually participating as if he wants this.

Still, I move slowly.

I brought some lube into the shower, and I use it on him. I push him up against the shower tile, one arm wrapped around his waist, and one hand slowly running over his cock. As I work him with my fingers, I deliberately try to press as much of my body against him as I can. His fur bristles, his fangs poke through his plush lips, and his claws draw—but his eyes are half-lidded, and his breath is still even, though panting heavily.

He is noisy. My gods—I had no idea. It’s so fucking hot I can hardly stand it. The sounds leaking out of his mouth are incredibly sexy and they make my fur stand on end and make me purr. 

Just five minutes, though—right?

I try to maintain the thought and switch tactics.

“Five minutes, right?” I murmur into one of those pink, oversized ears and give it a nip at the edge. I can’t help myself. I suck the tip into my mouth, teasing it between my lips and another gorgeous, lewd moan escapes his lips. I can see goosebumps shivering down his body, too. He's so responsive—and so gorgeous. I want him.

 

Konoe:

“Five minutes, right?” I hear it murmured into my ear, just before he licks it and sucks the tip into his mouth, pressing it between his lips. I can’t keep my voice quiet. I didn’t know touching this way could feel this good, and I cannot control my voice. It’s as if he’s pulling all these foreign sighs and gasps and moans from me—and I can’t help it.

Goosebumps shiver across my skin and I flatten my ear against my head. I think I’m frightened of what he will do to me next, though I did enjoy him using his hand like that. I could easily be persuaded to keep going, but I want to see what’s next.

Instead of using just his hand, something hotter is pressed against my dick, making me gasp in surprise. Also, a hot breath spills into the ear that he is currently licking, and it sounds a lot like pleasure to me. It’s incredibly sexy.

My body feels heavy and light at the same time, and liquid like I could flow down the drain with the water and the touch of his hand. When he moves his hand now, he’s moving it around us both. It’s much hotter and much more intimate than what he was doing just a minute ago, and I gasp for air. I feel like I might pass out. 

“Raiiii…”

His name spills from my mouth and my ears tingle, my nose feels numb, the crooked tip of my tail twitches.

“Please,” I beg softly.

“Are you all right? You don’t like it?” He pants the question breathlessly into my ear without stopping the movement, and my moaning is getting louder and more obscene by the minute. This is nothing like what Sin did to me. Is it because of the mating season or because it’s Rai? I don’t understand. “I’ll stop if you don’t like it.”

“I-i l-like it,” I stammer. “I-i j-just f-feel f-faint.” 

I’m slightly ashamed, but probably the reason I feel faint is because of my exaggerated breathing and moaning. If I could quiet myself I wouldn’t sound so vulgar. I feel a little like a beast—like that out-of-control magical creature I have been told I am for the past two years. 

“Hou?” He whispers softly. “Can you wait another three minutes? Or should we move to the bed?”

“I-i d-don’t know.”

“All right. Let’s be safe, then.” He stops for a moment and switches off the water. I’m almost relieved when he stops touching me—not because I want him to stop but because it’s so intense. I feel exposed—and my body is doing something weird. 

I’m purring when he wraps me up in a towel, but it’s doing something else, too—vibrating or humming, only deep within my soul, like inside my bones. I wonder what the sensation is and if he can hear or feel it.

“Are you all right?” He asks, laying me down on the bed. He uses a towel to dry off his hair.

“Yeah.”

“Comfortable? Want me to stop?”

“N-no.” I don’t want him to stop. I want him to keep going, in fact.

Now that I’m lying in bed, I’m starting to feel more relaxed and almost sleepy after that hot water in the shower, but still very aroused—almost painfully aroused. My towel is ripped away from my body, which is still thrumming and purring softly. I wonder—does a Sanga usually sing during sex? I sort of feel I might.

I close my eyes when Rai climbs into bed. I am still shy to be seen naked—but when he looks at me like that, and the vibrations rushing through my body, I feel nothing but the desire to make me go out of my mind with pleasure. Well, that and a frightening lust from the silver cat in bed with me.

 

Rai:

Once I get him on the bed, his creamy skin is pink from the heat from the shower and probably also from blood rushing through his body. His eyes drift closed when I sit down next to him.

I think he was slightly uncomfortable with what we were doing in the shower—I don’t know if I frightened him or intimidated him. But in either case, I’ll switch it up. 

From the dresser, I pull out a squeeze bottle of natural kuim syrup. His ears perk up sweetly and he opens his eyes.

“Wh-what is that?”

I squirt a little on my finger and bring my finger up to his mouth. I see his nose twitch and he opens, taking my finger into his mouth eagerly. My gods—that mouth is so soft and sweet. The moment he’s finished licking off my finger, I remove it and kiss him—he tastes sweet then slightly sour—and he shivers.

“Mmm,” he hums. “Kuim syrup?”

“It is,” I say. I straddle his body, both of us naked. “I’m going to use my mouth now. Is that all right?”

His pink ears deepen to red, and they twitch when I squirt syrup on his chest and his nipples, then trail down his flat belly to his hips. Their color is accented gorgeously by the red syrup, and he cannot keep still.

“Wh-what are you—?” He sounds almost afraid, but his fangs are showing, indicating desire.

“I told you. I’m going to use my mouth. Just relax. You can try it for five minutes, right?” I cannot wait to get started. I lower my face to his chest, licking his nipples and the syrup together—and he shudders, a desperate, obscene sound escaping his lips.

“Oh, gods—Raiiii….” He calls my name and his purr deepens, and he melts.

The syrup coats my lips and tongue, and I occasionally lean up to kiss him, making him shudder when our lips meet, and my hair is quickly covered in the stuff. He tries to keep it out of the way, but I’m too excited now. I lick and kiss the trail down his chest and lap up all the syrup, dipping my tongue into his navel, watching as he presses his back against the bed. I notice his legs relaxing, as he raises his knees on either side of my body. They start to fall open against the bed.

Feeling his skin tremble beneath my lips and tongue, I wrap my hands around his slender waist and keep moving down—and his panting increases. He is watching me, so I look up to meet his eye, dropping kisses and licks along both his hipbones, tantalizing him and thrilling him.

“Please—just…” he starts to beg.

I look up and smile softly.

“Do you want to tell me what you want?” I ask.

“N-no—I c-can’t—I c-could n-never—” His protests are soft and sweet.

“You can. This is your show. Is this too much?” 

“N-no! It’s, um, n-not enough,” he whispers, lowering his gaze as though ashamed.

I drop a kiss on his erection, spilling thick transparent fluid from the tip and pulling a sigh from him. He throws his head back, but I don’t continue. Frustrated, he looks back at me.

“P-please—don’t t-tease me,” he whispers.

“Do you like it?” 

“Yes—please!”

That’s what I want to hear. My hands move lower down his back, cupping his rounded ass, and I lower my mouth around his cock. Once he sinks into my mouth, a musical sounding sigh leaks into my ears, making my fur ruffle. I suck gently, licking him and pulling him out of my mouth ever so slowly like I did his ear earlier. 

When I look up, his eyes are squeezed shut tightly, but he opens them to watch me. It thrills me to be the first to pleasure him like this.

As I have him in my mouth, I let my hands wander over his ass, pulling at his tail gently, and brushing over his entrance softly. He shivers each time, thrusting up gently into my mouth. I wonder if he realizes he is moving is body so seductively.

I concentrate the touch on the rim of his dick, tracing it with my tongue while increasing suction—and that’s when I hear it.

The vibration coming from his body changes from that soft thrum to a song. The song seeps into my ears and floods my heart and soul. My body feels filled with emotion—and strength. It’s a gorgeous song. It has an almost desperate tone, and I can almost hear lyrics, but more than lyrics, it’s more likely his intent and his feelings.

This feels like I’ve pulled the song from him—and that frightens me. Am I moving too quickly? And I frightening him? Taking his song without permission? Taking his body without permission? 

But it really sounds more like he is giving himself to me. And once it spills from his body into the air, the room fills with a gorgeous, bright golden glow, wrapping me up in its warmth. I feel our connection and bond—I can feel his trust, his desire, his lust, and his utter confusion. 

That confusion makes me hesitate. I pull his dick out of my mouth and lick the front of it from hilt to tip while looking up at him.

“Are you all right? Is this all right?” I ask, moving my fingers a little against his ass. “Do you want me to stop?”

“N-no—please,” he begs. “I-i j-just didn’t know…”

I smile again and take all of him in my mouth again. He shudders again, and he feels submissive—incredibly submissive and sexy—and that song is doing something to my heart and body. I have never felt this aroused during the mating season before, and I want more. I have to have more.

It’s almost as though my body takes on a life of its own. The fingers caressing his tail and brushing over his entrance circle his hole closer and closer. He shivers—but I don’t stop. I don’t even have a chance to think he might be nervous or afraid. My desire is to make him feel desired.

I let one finger slide inside, and a growl escapes my mouth. My fangs bare when I feel the heat of his insides wrapping around my fingers. He tightens up his body for a moment—perhaps in fear—but I keep going. It shouldn’t hurt—but he cries out. And it’s not a cry of pain. It’s a loud gasp of indulgence. It sounds perfect with the music emanating from his body, and it’s irresistible. He sounds shocked that the feeling is pleasurable.

“What is this?” He gasps. “I don’t feel like this is my body anymore…”

I realize then that my body wants to be inside him. I am filled with carnal desire and lust for the magical creature in my bed, coming undone under my touch, submitting to my caresses. I press around the soft tender flesh inside his body, making him shiver and tremble and gasp in delight.

I can’t be that patient, so it isn’t long before I add a second finger. I want to find the place inside him he should feel it the most. Still licking and sucking his cock, which is dripping precome by this time, I push in two fingers at the same time, making him curl his body slightly. He spreads his legs a little and then cries out again.

I stroke inside him—he’s silky and soft and so warm—and never have I wanted to be inside another cat as much as I desire him right now. Is it because of the song? Our compatibility? The season? Or because of his power? I scissor my fingers apart and he trembles. I hook my fingers slightly, and I find that special spot inside him. He gasps as though losing his breath.

“Oh, gods—Raiiiii…”

His gorgeous voice cries out again, with his body quaking beneath me. His knees that were open nearly flat on the bed wrap around my body suddenly, and I repeat the motion slowly, fucking him with my fingers and letting him fuck my mouth with his cock. He is rock hard and getting more desperate. 

“Wh-what…? ah! Huh—mmm…”

His soft sighs are as much part of his song as the music flowing from his body. I keep my fingers moving, adding one more and toying with his entrance, pulling at the rim, teasing him. I look up and take him out of my mouth.

“Are you all right?”

“Ah!” He cries, and he can hardly look at me.

Would it be all right—if I asked? It’s been five minutes, after all. 

Pulling my fingers out, he is left quivering, staring up at me. I touch his face and kiss his lips—he returns the kiss with fervor—saliva spilling from the corners of his mouth and trailing down his throat. He looks different, disheveled and desperate, fur bristled, ears and cheeks pink, but those eyes are so dark. I lick the tips of his fangs.

“I want to enter you,” I whisper. “Will you allow it?”

 

Konoe:

I didn’t know sex could feel like this. As soon as my song spilled from my body, something inside me changed. I still have a little apprehension and fear, but my song is expressing passion and desire, and it’s connecting us. That frightening lust I feel from Rai—he wants me—is spilling into me like it’s my own emotion.

And I wasn’t sure I’d like him touching me there—I wasn’t going to allow it—but I couldn’t bear to stop him. He has been so gentle and kind—and now this desire? I don’t know what to do with it.

Now—he is asking to enter me.

I feel my head nodding, but fear shoots through me. What am I doing? What is happening with my body? I don’t understand. The feelings are overwhelming and I don’t know which feelings are mind and which are Rai’s. I want to feel him inside me—I want him to feel the same pleasure I am feeling.

“Will you give me a verbal answer?” Rai prompts me, still gentle and patient, but his eye is glowing with need. “And you can say no.”

I know he doesn’t want me to say no. If I hate it, I’ll ask him to stop at that point. I haven’t hated anything he’s done anything so far, so I answer.

“Yes.”

He smiles softly. “Yes, what?”

I feel my ears get even hotter, but I meet his eye boldly.

“I want you inside me.”

“You can ask me to stop,” Rai says, but I don’t hear the confidence he had earlier. He is very desperate—and the fact that he is desperate for me makes all the difference. “Just relax. It shouldn’t hurt.”

I trust him—he’s the only cat I’ve ever really felt safe around. He props my butt up on a pillow, folding my knees up against my chest. His hot, hard heat lines up with my entrance, and I shiver again.

“It’s okay,” Rai whispers. “I won’t hurt you.”

And he slowly presses inside me.

I have been fucked before—but this is entirely different. Every time Sin fucked me, he held me down and forced himself inside me. It was excruciating as though he was tearing apart every time. Rai’s cock feels even bigger, but it doesn’t hurt—in fact, a strange purring gasp leaks out of my mouth that makes my tail shake and tremble. I don’t recognize the sounds coming from me, and my song changes.

It feels good. I relax, though as he advances inside me slowly, I feel incredibly full and tight—and taken.

My master, I think. The one I would die for, I think.

I wrap my arms around his neck and pull him close for a kiss. He tastes so sweet—and not from the syrup. He tastes like home—mine—and I can taste his scent. His body is sweating, and I hear a soft growling purr. Daringly, I touch the tips of his fangs with my tongue. 

He lets out a lovely sigh of his own as soon as he’s inside me, resting his hips and thighs on my ass. He strokes my body from the tips of my ears to my tail.

“Are you all right? Does it hurt?”

“N-no,” I answer, which dissolves into a sigh when he rocks his hips forward. “Ah—fuck!”

Light sparkles in my vision—and not on my eyelids. These show up in the corners of my vision when my eyes are open. Each time he rocks his hips, pleasure shivers up my spine and into my tail. And he’s not even thrusting yet. What is this?!  

For a single moment, I think about what Sin did to my body, and I’m flooded with a flash of rage. That is nothing like what Rai is doing to me. It’s as though my body has accepted him willingly—and continues to accept him.

Slowly, Rai starts making his movements a little faster and bigger. He also shifts his body around—watching my face. It’s a little embarrassing to be seen—I mean, it’s bad enough that I can’t control the sounds coming from my mouth. But when he brushes against that spot inside my body he was caressing with his fingers, I wheeze—unable to catch my breath.

I turn my face away from his soft smile.

“Don’t try to hide,” he whispers into my ear, licking it and making me pull up my shoulder. Even that touch is intense now, sending shivers all over my body.

“Show me everything, Konoe. Submit everything to me.” He licks the side of my eye—and when he calls my name, I have to meet his gaze.

Yes, I’m ashamed to be seen in such a state—but when I meet his gaze, he’s no better. His voice is husky, no trace of that dignified elegance—just lust and desire. For me. He wants me. And he wants me to feel pleasure

Tears prick my eyes reflexively—from my feelings, my song, and the sensations he is giving my body, and I submit to them—all of them. My song shifts again to something louder and more submissive. But it isn’t that I am submitting to him, per se—it’s that I am giving myself over to this pleasure he is giving to me.

I can’t help it. I am drawn to him and his body and his touch, his scent, his taste, the feeling of his body pressing into me.

And then he reaches down to grab my dick, squeezing the tip almost painfully, but I try to squeeze my legs together in response because it feels so good. My tail bristles and he grabs it by the base, pulling it up softly with each thrust, controlling where and how my hips move with his grip on my tail. 

My purr is so loud and wet it’s nearly as obscene as my song—and even when I try to press my lips together to prevent moans and gasps from escaping, they still escape, sounding in my throat reflexively. 

“Raiiiii…” 

I feel my climax approaching, and my song shows it. Just as I feel I can’t take any more stimulation and pleasure, I feel his mouth on my ear, nipping lightly. My fur fluffs out fluffy and my tail thickens. I pull myself up to his shoulder when my body jerks and stiffens. My insides stiffen around his cock. My claws draw and dig into his back and I bite down on his neck right when my climax hits. 

My mind blanches white—everything goes blank for a moment—and then waves of pleasure shiver through my body, one after the other. I feel come spill from my dick on his palm and between our stomachs. The gasping moans fade into a humming purr.

Right after me, I feel him stiffen and he spills inside me. I expect I might feel some disgust—just because of my past experiences—but it feels good. He rocks our hips together a few times to ride out his climax, and it extends mine.

He relaxes his heavy body, collapsing on top of me for a moment. I have a hard time breathing, but I love this scent. He pulls out of me all at once, and I gasp slightly.

I am relaxed and my body feels relieved. That strange heat is gone—and my song is fading. 

“Your song,” Rai whispers. “It’s so beautiful. I’ve never heard anything so powerful, Konoe. You—you are beautiful.”

“I love you,” I whisper. I’m shocked at the words that spill from my lips. Did I just say that out loud? Oh, my gods! I feel my ears heat up. But I can’t look away from Rai’s face. He looks so young and vulnerable—and his ears perk up in surprise.

“And I love you.”

He seems slightly bothered, however. He takes me into his arms, pulling me on top of his chest.

“I’m sorry,” Rai said. “I-i didn’t know your song would have that effect.” 

“What? Was it bad that I sang?” I ask.

“No—not at all!” Rai says, rubbing my shoulders and my ass gently. “It's just… I didn’t give you the control I promised you. I lost it. I lost all of my self-control. I took you, and I think I didn’t let you consent." 

“I consented,” I reply. What is he talking about? He checked with me every step of the way. “You asked me if it was okay each step.”

“I don’t think I could have stopped if you’d asked me to. I got a little carried away,” Rai says, and I glance up at him. He won’t meet my gaze.

“I didn’t ask you to stop.” 

“Still. It was… dangerous.”

“No.” 

“No?” I hear a soft smile in his tone.

“No. I consented. I liked it. Very much. I didn’t know it could feel like that.”

“Hmph.” A soft sound purrs in my ear. I’ve never felt Rai so relaxed before. “You felt perfect. That song, though—my gods. Konoe, you are amazing.” 

His words make all my fur stand on end and bristle. I’m still feeling a little shy, but I’m so proud that I was able to make him feel nice with my song—and with my body, too. I close my eyes and rest soundly exhausted on his chest.

 

Rai: 

Feeling the lithe body collapse against my chest, snuggling against me, fills me with relief. I did actually lose control—and that has only happened once before in my life, that once time with Haru in which he told me he’d be pissed if I ever did it again. I was a little frightened, but it was too late to stop. I couldn’t do anything to regain control.

I’m relieved he’s okay, though. 

He smells so good—really, nestled against my chest, his sweat only makes his scent richer and thicker. This is going to be an interesting season, I think. I give his ear a lick, making his body quiver, though he is exhausted. He sang for a full fifteen minutes—at least, I think. He should be exhausted.

It occurs to me that if we can keep this up, this will be a fantastic opportunity to train him a little and help him build stamina. His song is amazingly powerful, but powerful songs come at a price. It’s natural he’ll be exhausted till he builds more endurance. 

And my gods, what an experience connecting to him like that was. He really is a magical creature, sparkling with supernatural power—from his voice to his scent to the feel of his skin—I could feel the magic just beneath the surface. He’s amazing. And now, he’s soundly sleeping on my chest. I run my fingers through his hair and the fur on his ears and stroke his back gently. He is purring contentedly.

Once again, I’m amazed by his youth and inexperience—and how little that seemed to matter today. I sigh deeply, inhaling his honeyed scent. He’s just a little sticky from the kuim syrup, and I don’t mind how he clings to my skin. It’s kind of nice.

I close my eyes and try to rid myself of guilt and close my eyes. I drift off to sleep, returning his soft sweet purr with my own deeper one.

Chapter Text

Konoe:

What a surprise—being in heat when Rai is near me. We have sex often—and unbelievably, I instigate each time after last night. It feels good to connect with him this way, as though I am relieving anxiety in my body—and it makes me sing. Each time I am a little less exhausted, though my body is physically exhausted from the sex. I can’t remember ever having slept so well.

Two mornings after the heat has begun, I wake hot and amorous. I’m a little embarrassed because we haven’t really been out of bed except to eat and bathe (and Rai to cook) for the past two days. But my body is purring and thrumming with desire. I turn around in the bed and I look at Rai, who is still sleeping peacefully.

I never would have dreamed that a person who owns me would treat me so well and make me feel so nice and safe. And, well, horny. This is unreal! My ears flush with heat, and the blush floods my cheeks, throat, and chest as well. Of course, this would be an embarrassing time for Rai to wake—and sure enough, he does, a smile playing softly at his lips. 

“What do you think you’re doing, looking at me like that so early in the morning?” He reaches out his fingers and caresses my ears. “You’re flushed pink—again. Makes you so easy to read.”

He grabs my shoulders and pulls me in tight against his body, kissing me. A little shiver rushes through my back and shoulders.

“How do you feel today? I thought perhaps we’d get in a short training session this morning.”

“Training?” My ears twitch slightly and a sick feeling floods my stomach. I remember the last time I was in the arena, and how my last master treated me so cruelly. I’d much rather stay in bed, to be honest. 

“You don’t think you’re up to it?” Rai whispers. “You know, if I could quit the arena altogether, I would. But I haven’t saved enough to retire yet. I suspect that you will do very well once we get started. I want you to start learning to use the whip.”

That’s right. He said he wanted to arm me. He's a really strange owner. 

I nod my head, slightly disappointed to watch him get up from the bed. He has a nice back—and a great ass—which I can’t help noticing. He pulls on some clothes—leathers, it looks like, black and blue—very nicely styled and flattering, I can’t help noticing. He looks good in them. He turns around while he is zipping up his pants.

“I want to take you to a stylist, maybe today or tomorrow. But in the meantime…”

He pulls out a pair of slim-fit jeans and a snug tee-shirt for me.

“Go ahead and get dressed. I’ll fix us a quick breakfast.”

I comply, sighing softly when he leaves the room. Something has happened to me over the past few days. I don’t like to be left in a room without Rai. I want to be in the same space as him. The whole thing makes me feel so damned needy. So I hurry and dress and make my way to the table.

After a quick breakfast, Rai cleans my chip and my tag and laces himself into a pair of tall leather boots—and man, they make his legs look good. I wonder if we will train in the arena? Sin never took me to train anywhere.

He has me slip on a jacket and finally grabs the collar and leash. My ears still droop when I hear the buckle clink.

“Oh, that’s right,” he murmurs. “I was going to make you love this collar.”

My fur bristles a little and I see another soft smile on his face. He’s probably teasing me—but then he fingers the collar gently and gives it a gentle tug, pulling me up to stand. A feeling of panic surges through me—just for a second—before I melt against his body. He kisses me deeply while holding the collar—and I remember him doing this once before. This time… it’s so much hotter, his other hand groping my ass. I really think it would be better if we spent the day here, together… just like we did yesterday.

But I obey. I don’t even suggest anything that could be construed as non-compliance. I want to please him, after all, especially since he’s been taking such good care of me. I don’t feel quite as embarrassed when he attaches the leash to my collar and leads me out of the apartment. Of course, he takes his sword and dagger with him. We travel down the elevator, greet the doorman, and grab a car waiting outside.

“Do we train in the arena?” I ask, keeping my voice soft. I sound nervous. I am careful not to make eye contact with anyone other than Rai when we are in public.

“There’s a special training facility we can use, but no. It's not the arena,” he explains. “Are you nervous?” Rai asks. He leans back in his seat for a moment.

I nod my head. He nudges my chin so I will look up and meet his eyes. 

“You will be fine. There are a few rules, though. You must follow them, or I will be expected to discipline you publicly for breaking them.”

My ears flatten slightly and the fur at the base of my tail bristles. I can’t imagine him doing anything to discipline me. He’s been really soft on me about my tag and chip, for example. He lets me play my instrument whenever I like. I can bathe, eat, and sleep whenever I want, too. My newfound freedom is a little weird.

“I’ll do my best,” I say softly. I really do want to sing for him. I like this cat. No—I am pretty sure I love this cat. The thought of displeasing him is overwhelming. 

“First, you must obey my commands: anything I say, even if it sounds unreasonable. I’ll ask you to take my word for it that I have a good reason. Second, you are not to interact with anyone else here, unless I specifically direct you to. Even if they approach you first, you are not to respond or answer. Even if it’s someone you know, just keep your eyes down. Let me speak for you, all right? Third, you may not use your song for any purpose except for support. Do you understand?”

I nod again, keeping my mouth closed. He kisses my nose, chin, and both my cheeks before landing a soft kiss on my lips, too. I feel more relaxed as he runs his fingers through my fur.

“I don’t like these rules, either. But Haru got himself in trouble a few times, and I didn’t like what I had to do to him. I don’t want a repeat of that.”

“Okay,” I whisper. I swallow thickly—anxiously.

“The collar has to stay on until we are in the training area.”

It’s close—less than a ten-minute trip—and it’s a huge space—and it looks like a giant warehouse from the outside. Rai scans his ID card and the chip on my neck with a handheld device when we walk in the door. The cat behind the counter greets Rai in a friendly voice.

“Long time no see! Looking forward to seeing you fight again. I see you’ve got a replacement.”

I don’t look at him, keeping my eyes down. I can tell he’s dressed in some sort of uniform, but I don’t even see him long enough to judge the color of his fur.

“He’s something special,” Rai murmurs. “Come along,” he urges me.

We walk back into a locker room, and only a few cats are there. We walk into an aisle of unoccupied lockers and Rai uses one to store his keys, wallet, and my jacket. I feel incredibly nervous.

He stands up and pulls me behind him through the locker room. There’s a metal door he pushes open, which leads to a long hallway, and another cat is standing there. I can see his feet—but again, I don’t look up.

“Ah, Rai. Nice to see you back. How’s the eye?” 

I think Rai hums in response and turns to unbuckle the collar around my neck.

“Oh, this your new addition? He’s adorable! So small, though. I am looking forward to seeing you in the arena again soon.” 

He hands my collar and leash to the man, who lifts up my hair to scan my tag again. Rai leads me to a room full of equipment. He chooses a whip from the wall and hands it to me.

“How does it feel?” Rai asks.

“Fine. Maybe a little weird. I’ve never used one before.” 

“That’s all right. We won’t train very long today—but I think it’s important to get used to each other’s style.” I follow Rai obediently out into the hallway and through another door. It’s a large space—about half the size of the arena's field. Rai closes the door leaving us alone together. 

I’m not sure what I should do, but Rai turns to face me.

“First, let’s try your song. Do you think you can sing?”

I nod my head and close my eyes... And nothing happens! I’m so ashamed. I really want to sing for Rai, but nothing comes. I am terribly flustered and I’m not sure what to do. I strain, searching for that feeling inside me that comes so naturally when I'm with this silver cat, nervous sweat breaking out on my body, and then suddenly, Rai is at my side again.

“Just relax. This is no different than singing for me at home,” he whispers suggestively, and he licks the tip of my ear just once.

That small touch is enough to startle the song from my body, and it spills forth suddenly. I feel a huge sense of relief when it's released, too—and I like the feeling. It’s loud and strong—like it had been bottled up with a cork. The touch of Rai’s tongue moved it enough for the cork to pop out.

“Good boy,” he says, and he backs away from me for a bit. He draws his sword. “Now—can you handle the whip?”

“What do you mean?” I ask. I still have the whip in my hand, but he can’t possibly be asking me to hit him with it.

“See if you can snap it around my sword.”

Is he crazy? I’ve never handled a whip before in my life! He laughs loud enough for me to hear.

“Don’t worry. It’s all right. You won’t hurt me. Your song is protecting me, so I will be fine. But we need to start somewhere.”

“I-i d-don’t want to h-hit you,” I stammer.

“Try using your song—think of the whip as an instrument. It moves through the air the same way as your song. Think of it as an erhu.”

I close my eyes and my song gets louder and more powerful. I step back from Rai for a moment and snap the whip through the air in the opposite direction from where Rai is standing. The cracking sound it makes is incredibly powerful—and I don’t hit Rai. I wasn’t aiming for him.

“See how it feels? It looks like you have some control. Now direct it toward me.”

Ugh—this is so stupid—I’m so afraid I might accidentally make a mistake and end up hitting him, but I feel compelled to do as he asks. I do—and just the tip of the whip hits Rai’s sword, making him back up a little.

“That’s good! Now aim a little lower down my blade.”

I try again and this time, I manage to wrap the whip around the blade of his sword. He frees himself quickly, however, and I try again. 

Snap—crack—whoosh. The whip sounds empowering and I’m starting to like the feel of it. I realize that when I’m singing, I can actually control where the whip goes. It follows along with the melody of my song. I manage to wrap it around Rai's sword several times, reaching closer and closer to the hilt. Then—after long minutes of practice, I actually manage to disarm Rai—well, his longsword—with the whip.

He looks shocked—and delighted—when his swords spills across the floor with a clanking sound. I am pleased, too—but then my knees buckle.

Instead of going for his sword, Rai rushes toward me and manages to catch me before I hit the ground. My song has stopped—quite suddenly—and I am exhausted.

“You did very well. Your song is as powerful as it is beautiful. And you handled that weapon just right. I knew you’d be good at it—but I had no idea how quickly you’d learn!” 

His praise flusters me as he holds me in his arms, and I am completely paralyzed. I can’t do anything—I can’t even speak—and it is a little terrifying. I didn’t realize how much energy I used and I cast a desperate look at him when he picks me up.

“That’s fine. This is to be expected. You just need to rest now.”

He carries me—as though I am something precious—back down the hallway. He has his swords with him, of course, and we put away the whip. When we come back to get my collar, the cat who helps him says, “Wow. What a song from this little creature! I could hear you practicing out here! You’ve got some magic in you, don’t you?”

I don’t say anything. I am not allowed to say anything to him, and I can’t anyway. It’s not hard to obey at this point. Rai collects my collar and leash and brings it with him to the locker room. I am scanned again when I leave the training area, and I’m starting to feel a little like an item from a grocery store.

Rai lays me down on the bench while he collects his gear from his locker. He attaches the leash to my collar and wraps me up in my jacket. He doesn’t speak much, but he still looks pleased with my performance.

As I am lying on the bench, a different scent fills my nose. It sends a disgusting, visceral reaction through my body, and fear shoots through my heart. I am paralyzed and unable to defend myself—and I can’t even move closer to Rai, who is adjusting his boots.

“What’s this?” I recognize the voice, too. I still can’t move, but I feel him approaching. “What the hell are you doing here?”

The voice belongs to Sin, my former owner. What are the chances we’d meet here like this? Even as he comes closer, he grabs my chin and makes me meet his gaze, and I close my eyes.

"Look at how compliant you've become! It's like you can't even move!" 

Rai snarls and says, “Get your hands off of him! Who do you think you are?!”

Sin looks up at Rai, dropping my chin, surprised.

“It’s yours? You actually bought it? I wish you luck. You're going to need it! I never thought I'd see it again, frankly.”

Rai blinks slowly for a moment. I think he doesn't realize Sin is referring to me when he calls me "it."

“We won’t need your luck." 

“What? This isn’t really a Sanga. This creature is just some false-magical creature. It only pretends to be a Sanga, but it can’t do anything. In fact, it’s really only good for one thing.” His eyes look Rai up and down. “And shit, your new owner is even more terrifying than me. You’ve certainly gotten what you deserve,” he murmurs to me, into my ear. It feels repulsive.

“Step away from him. If I see you within twenty feet of him, I’ll report you. However…” Rai folds his arms against his checks and stares down at Sin intimidatingly. “I’d be more than willing to work out your differences in the arena.”

Sin’s ears flatten and his tail bristles. He also backs up two steps. Behind him, dressed in a skimpy pair of shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, I see another Sanga. His face is pointed down at the floor and he looks miserable. 

I want to say something to him—but Rai told me not to engage unless I was specifically ordered to. I bite my tongue to keep quiet.

“What do you say? Too scared to face your former Sanga?” Rai taunts.

“N-no! I mean, I just started training with my new Sanga—”

“You mean the one you picked up three weeks ago? Or did you return the last one and are now on your third? Ever think you’re not cut out for the arena?” With each question, Rai takes a small step closer to Sin, making him back up. Plus he towers over my former owner. Of course, Sin would be intimidated.

“N-no…”

“Get out of my sight and keep out of my way. I won’t hesitate to start something even outside the arena if I see you in the vicinity again.”

“I-i d-didn’t m-mean to o-offend,” Sin stammers, lifting up both hands in front of him.

“Then shut up and don’t poke your nose into things that don’t concern you.”

My former owner retreats, his tail between his legs, making a small huffing sound. He sounds frustrated and annoyed, but he can’t hide his fear. I could smell it on him. 

“What a piece of work,” Rai mutters under his breath. He scoops me up and walks out of the locker room. He scans his ID and my chip once more as we leave the building. It’s nice to be outside in the cool air while we wait for our ride. 

It’s not until we are in the car that I hear his praise again. 

“You did really well, Konoe. I’m proud of you.”

I find myself in disagreement—I should have been able to practice longer than 20 minutes, not to mention how nervous I was when Sin showed up. But I exhausted myself too soon while we were practicing.

“That’s normal. You did just fine,” Rai says suddenly—as though he can read my thoughts. “This was the first time you sang for me in battle, isn’t it?”

I look up at him, startled. Can he hear what I’m thinking? But he returns my confused gaze with a smile.

“It’s residual from the song. And, um, the season, I think.”

Oh. That makes sense. I do sort of feel in the mood for another kind of connection—and Rai chuckles again.

“Yeah. Me, too.”

Uwaa! I didn’t mean for him to hear that. I’m not even singing, so how does this even work? It’s intrusive… although, I suppose it shouldn’t be much more intrusive than when I sing for him. The bond lets me see his emotions quite clearly. Why wouldn’t it work in both directions?

“You know, I’m impressed you were able to obey those rules around that stupid cat. I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to get you in trouble. Just be wary of him, and I’ll do my best to keep him away from you. Just save it for when we meet in the arena.”

Even after practicing today, I can’t imagine fighting in an arena—in front of a crowd. If I did something to displease Rai there, I’m sure he’d have to punish me publicly… and that thought is too close to the trauma Sin inflicted upon me. I feel absolutely sick.

“We will practice lots more before we go into a live battle. Don’t worry. And you are doing great. You please me.”

My ears are stroked softly as I rest my head on Rai’s lap. It feels comforting. And I can feel his emotions through the touch. Delight, anticipation, and a little impatience. Impatience? What is that about, I wonder? 

“Oh. Sorry. I just want you to be able to move again on your own soon. I have plans for you when we get home,” he murmurs.

A flash of heat startles me, and my fur bristles. I hear him chuckling again, and he keeps petting my fur gently till we get back home.

Chapter Text

This is our new routine. After waking in the morning, Rai feeds me breakfast and takes me to train. We stay till lunch or until I can no longer move, and he diligently teaches me how to handle the whip while improving the stamina of my song. I improve quickly—at least according to Rai. I am able to disarm him sometimes, but I think he is going easy on me. Still, it works fine as far as I’m concerned.

After lunch, Rai sees to my care. He gives me a bath and a massage and then gives me time to myself. Even before I was enslaved, when I lived in Karou, I never had the luxury to learn to play an instrument or do anything just for fun. And it feels so nice to have something of my own that he let me choose and he purchased for me—both as far as the erhu itself and the consistent time to practice.

Then, we have dinner and spend time together afterward. Now, connecting sexually is quite normal and has become part of our routine for bonding. I can't believe I made him wait so long. It's slightly embarrassing. Whatever he has done to me does not compare to the pain I suffered every time with that previous owner. I can tell when Rai is interested—I can feel it in my body or almost hear it, like a soft whisper in the corner of my heart. I know when he approaches me that I am allowed to say no, but I never do. On the other hand, I don't approach him, either. At least, not other than sitting close to him (or on his lap) or doing more subtle things. And for the first five days, this is how things go. He is gentle and thoughtful… and I am getting tenderness from him as well. It really feels like he loves me and cares for me.

Then, on the sixth day, I screw up. Royally.

The morning goes as usual—we eat breakfast and head over to train. I’m slightly groggy from our activities last night, and weirdly, my body is slightly sore. This hasn’t happened before—even after more, say, vigorous bonding sessions, I’ll say. Rai notices I am limping when he puts on my collar and reminds me gently of the three rules I must follow when we train. But he doesn't mention my limp. We walk out to the car, and he pets my ears gently. He doesn’t say anything until we are in the locker room. 

“Is your body all right?”

Instead of answering directly, my body floods with heat. It feels like my cheeks and ears are burning, and I am unable to make eye contact. Rai doesn’t ask a second time, but he does touch my chin and makes me meet his eye. He has an almost bemused expression on his face.

“That’s normal. The season is probably almost over,” he says, keeping his voice low. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And I need to know.”

My ears twitch slightly and my tail lifts up in question. He simply smiles again.

“I’ll tell you more about it when we get home, okay?”

I nod—I’ve become accustomed to not speaking at all until we are alone in the training area. And even then, I try not to speak much. I don’t want to be a distraction, nor do I wish to use the power of my voice accidentally. I'm trying hard to obey those rules and have done well so far. If I’m honest, I don’t understand what Rai meant with that last rule—that my song should only be used for support. Can it be used for anything else, I wonder? If so, I don’t think I know how. 

Our training session goes very well. In fact, Rai is actually working up a sweat—so I know he must not be holding back as much as usual. It’s weird, almost like fighting myself—since I am singing for him, giving him my power, and also using the whip against him. Honestly, I think he may feel the same way. He claims my song boosts his strength, and he’s sure I’m a powerful Sanga. And then he assures me that this is a great way for him to train as well. When we finish the session, I’m beat to exhaustion. Rai suggests, as he helps me back to the locker room, that we start sparring during the next session—with another pair.

I feel nervous about that. But I have come to realize that, in my life as a slave, worrying about tomorrow isn’t helpful. Instead, I try to live each day fully, one day at a time, being fully present as much as possible, too. This makes bonding easier, and it's easier to communicate. And I don't have to worry about the traumatic things in my past. And so, this is where I am right now. I just let the nerves wash over me. 

Just before my royal fuck-up, I am lying on my side on the bench while Rai changes his clothes. Motion is restored in my legs and arms, and someone—another Touga, I think—walks up to Rai and starts talking to him. I don’t look at him. I figure he’s a colleague who just hasn’t seen him in a while. I keep my head down as I do in this place.

While I am minding my own business, I suddenly feel a sharp tug on my tail. It hurts—and it’s rough enough to pull my lower body off the bench. I fall to my knees on the floor, but I manage to dig my claws into the bench to keep my upper body in place.

A loud, angry hiss escapes, and I turn my head quickly to see who has done something so rude and bold. And when I see the cat standing there—medium build, short, choppy silver hair, and beady eyes—my stomach drops to my feet. 

“Look at you, so pretty and obedient waiting for your owner. Why couldn’t you have been so compliant when you were mine?” 

Sin’s scent makes me react viscerally—I hate his smell—and it adds to the utter disgust I feel in his presence. And I’m terrified. I haven't been this afraid in a long time. I didn't like seeing him the first time we trained, but I wasn't so frightened, nor did he take me by surprise. My claws draw, my fangs bare, and my fur bristles. Worse, I don’t bother to repress a loud, threatening growl. I notice his Sanga isn’t with him today—he is alone. He’s standing much too close, and he grabs my collar and drags me up to my feet. It feels exactly like he used to do, and I want to be sick.

Without even thinking about it, my body reacts on its own. I swipe both sets of claws at his face and chest and growl low. Additionally, my song tries to escape—in a burst of activity.

Suddenly, it dawns on me what that third rule was actually about. The song that is about to spill from my body isn’t designed for support or defense. It’s definitely a song intended for an attack. But something feels wrong. My song won't come out, and my body starts to shiver and suddenly, I can’t breathe. I feel like I am choking, but no one is touching me or holding my leash. And my throat is burning.

“Konoe! Stop!” Rai’s voice echoes in my ear. I didn't even hear him approach. “Oy!” 

He reaches my side and grabs my arm.

“Oy!” Rai is actually shouting at me—and he grabs my chin and makes me face him. “Relax—and stop your song before you pass out!”

It’s the collar. I’m sure that’s what it is now. That’s right—when I’m wearing the collar I can only sing in support, and not offensively. I am still gasping for air, and my skin is burning and tingling, and I try to stop my song. Having Rai next to me helps calm me down instead of panic. He keeps my chin in hand, using his other hand to stroke my fur. His expression is difficult to read—though as soon as I get myself under control, he looks a little worried.

“There. Good job. Is that better?” He sounds like he is soothing me or trying to soothe me, at least. Now, I’m concerned, too—especially when I see Rai’s face sharpen a little. 

“Oh—I’m s-sorry,” I stammer in a hoarse whisper.

“What the hell?! Your Sanga just tried to attack me!” Sin yells. It makes my ears flatten against my skull fearfully. I recognize that tone. When I lived with him, that’s the tone he’d use just before beating me or humiliating me. Hearing it again makes my fear rise irrationally. I cower as close to Rai as I can get.

“I’m sure you’re fine,” Rai says, and he glances down at me harshly for a second, as though trying to keep me from saying even a single word. “You probably just startled him. Haven't you heard that you should never touch them after training?”

“I did no such thing!” Sin retorts. “He just attacked me without provocation!”

I shouldn’t be surprised that Sin is denying that he yanked my tail so hard he pulled me off the bench. I open my mouth to explain and Rai moves his finger to my lips, giving his head a gentle shake. Oh. Right. I am still a slave here. And I am under those rules... 

“You saw it yourself—he’s dangerous! He tried to use his song offensively! He’s completely undisciplined.”

That's right. Those rules. I just flagrantly disregarded the one about not interacting with anyone, even if I were provoked. Oh, shit.

“Relax. There’s no harm done,” Rai urges, still keeping his hand on my shoulder. He is still trying to diffuse the situation.

Not only that one rule, either. I acted out against Sin. I tried to use my song for something other than support. I didn't know I could do it, and obviously, with the collar I couldn't. But anyone watching could see. Shit! Shit!

“That’s irrelevant! I want to know I’ll be safe from him when I next come in to train! I demand justice!” Sin continues loudly—and I notice he’s drawing a crowd. I would do anything to sink into a hole in the ground. “He’s bitter that I returned him! It’s his own damned fault!”

Rai clicks his tongue in irritation, but we are surrounded by a large crowd now. A cat dressed in uniform approaches.

“If your Sanga really did try to use his song offensively, you do need to punish him for it. It’s a danger to himself and others if you don’t discipline him.” 

I start to feel sick to my stomach, as every cat stares at me. My claws are still drawn and my fangs are bared, and it’s obvious my fur bristles. For sure, I would have been punished for this if I still belonged to Sin. But he started it! And I can’t say anything in my defense.

“I sincerely apologize for anything you construed as aggressive behavior, but he’s quite compliant, only very young and new to training. We’re still in the process of working all of this out,” Rai tries to explain. “It wouldn’t hurt his growth to show mercy.”

“It will hurt me to show mercy! I’ll be afraid to appear with my Sanga if yours is about to attack me!” Sin says. 

Rai sighs.

“Look, your cowardice is your own problem and has nothing to do with my Sanga! He’s been traumatized. I have worked hard to build up his trust enough to get him to sing again, as you yourself should realize. Punishing him for being afraid of his previous owner makes no sense at all.”

“He wasn’t afraid! He was attacking me! You heard him choking on his evil song yourself! He’d only do that if he were singing aggressively!”

I try to keep my face pointed at the ground, but I peep up through my eyelashes, just to watch Rai. He seems frustrated but doesn't lose composure.

“So, there’s no other compensation I might suggest?” 

“No! It’s my safety and the safety of others that are at risk here! You need to discipline him!” Sin turns to look at the other cats. “It was just this aggressive streak of his that caused his regrettable return in the first place!” 

A tiny meow of protest slips out of my mouth, and I feel Rai’s fingers tighten on my shoulder. I shut up right away, but what Sin is saying about me being aggressive is a lie. He returned me because I couldn't sing! I couldn't sing because I never felt safe. I risked my own health and life to protect myself from him... by not singing.

“I don’t see a way around it, Rai. You’ve been around long enough to know what comes next. I’m sorry if it interferes with your training, but I think a little discipline couldn't hurt too much.” This is the cat in uniform speaking again.

Rai closes his eye briefly, sighs again in irritated resignation, and then he nods.

“All right.”

With that, the cats back away a few steps for a moment, but they are definitely watching. Rai brushes my ears. He also lowers his head and whispers to me.

“I’m so sorry. Please—know that I understand there is more to this story and I believe you. Please forgive me.” 

Then he backs away from me and speaks in a slightly louder voice.

“Little Sanga, you’ve broken two of the three rules I warned you about. First, you interacted with someone other than me. Second, you tried to use your song for something other than supporting me.” 

Tears brim in my eyes, and I simply stare at him. My ears are drooping and blushing pink in embarrassment, my tail bristles nervously, and I am shaking. I eventually lower my gaze in shame.

“I warned you about these rules every morning this week, and you have been doing well so far. However, today, I’ll have to punish your disobedience.”

This entire situation was Sin’s doing! I didn’t start anything—I never would have done anything if he hadn’t grabbed my tail the way he did! But I can't say anything.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. I look away and tears of frustration spill down my cheeks. I suppose I have deserved punishment for something else—for not obeying quickly enough, not sleeping with him the first day I was home, or for touching my tag or the chip in my ear. Maybe if I think of this punishment that way, it won’t be so bad. It won't seem so undeserved.

But this is all Sin’s doing! I don’t even belong to him and he is still abusing me! I feel utterly helpless. I am, in fact, helpless. I have no rights. I am a slave

A quiet growl escapes my throat before I can suppress it, and Rai glares at me to silence me before turning to Sin. 

“I apologize for the inconvenience, and I appreciate your grace.” I’ve never heard Rai use such a fake-sounding tone before, but Sin just nods. Then he turns back to me. “Kitten, turn around and dig your claws into that bench.”

I close my eyes and let a small meow escape my lips. But I obey quickly—turning around and sinking my claws into the bench. This is Rai, I remind myself as panic quickly floods my body. I know he tried to get me out of this—and he warned me; in fact, every morning the past week he has reminded me. I just can’t believe I failed like this. I can’t believe I failed him like this. I must be a total embarrassment. I'm sure Haru would never have done something so rash!

He shushes me quietly, and I feel his hand sneaking around to the front of my hips. He unties my sweatpants and lowers them to my knees. A cool breeze hits the backs of my thighs and my face heats up. This is humiliating. I had forgotten how humiliating public punishments could be. And worse, my underwear slips down my hips, his hands brushing across my bare skin in a weird, business-like way. He’s never touched me like this, either.

Well—maybe once. During the medical exam at the trader’s place—he touched me very gently, but it felt so impersonal. At the time, it was nice, though—compared to the beatings and abuse I had been suffering. And this strange touch reminds me of that previous abuse.

Another sob escapes, and I hear a soft clinking sound. I’m afraid it might be a belt, and my knees start to shake. 

He shushes me again, as though to soothe me—but I realize his hands are tied. He can’t comfort me now—not when he’s about to punish me. I understand, and I feel terrible for getting the both of us into this situation. If I had just obeyed—if I had simply ignored Sin—I would never have gotten myself in this position.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry—please—I’m sorry…” Pleading whispers are escaping my lips, and I stare down at the wooden bench. My legs are moved a little further apart, and my tail bristles when he pushes it up out of the way. I keep it curled obediently, and I brace myself, keeping my torso low against the bench. 

The first snap of the belt cracks through the air. It’s certainly a fearsome sound. The sound of the belt hitting my ass is muffled compared to the sound the cracking of the belt. When the pain registers, my fur stands on end and a cry escapes my mouth—even after the very first blow. 

To me, it doesn’t feel like he is holding back in the least—this is a serious punishment. And he did tell me, in all fairness, that while he didn’t enjoy punishing me, he would discipline me if it was needed. He also said that I'd always know why I was being punished before and given a chance to obey. I did know and understand and I still managed to disobey. These are things he's said, and I believe him. I've earned this.

Before I can finish the thought, the sound of the belt cracks in my ears, and I flinch. This time, the belt strikes me a little lower than the fullest part of my butt. My skin jiggles and it makes an impressive snap. Another cry slips out along with a soft meowing plea.

The third blow comes even faster, barely giving me a chance to recover, and I can’t catch my breath. I’m shaking and trembling, and by the fourth blow—which lands on my upper thighs—I don’t bother trying to suppress my voice anymore. And by the fifth, I am sobbing even between the blows. And even after the blows stop. 

This is incredibly demeaning and agonizing, and worse, it’s hurting my heart. After the fifth blow, I don’t hear anything else coming, and my trembling knees finally buckle. Rai catches me easily, lowering me back to the bench. He brushes my skin—which is still burning and is surely welted—with his fingertips, as though to rub out the pain. 

“Are you satisfied?” I hear my silver cat speaking to the offender.

I don’t hear his reply, because my sobs are still filling the room quietly. Such a pathetic sound—and I am a pathetic excuse for a cat or a Sanga. I’m so distracted with my negative thoughts and my regret, I don’t even notice that Rai has kindly pulled up my underwear and pants. I do notice, however, when he gently unhooks my claws from the bench and pulls me into his lap. He is very, very gentle, and he takes my chin and guides my gaze to meet his. Once I meet his eye—and he looks gentle—he wipes my tears and kisses my nose.

“You did very well, kitten.”

My ears prickle at the sound of his voice, and I don’t understand. I try shaking my head gently.

“B-but I d-disobeyed you. I e-embarrassed you. I’m s-so s-sorry—”

“Shh. You pleased me. Let’s go and we will discuss this when we get home.” With those words, the silver cat scoops me up in his arms and walks me out of the locker room. I rest my face against his chest to avoid any other stares, and he strokes my fur.

We climb into the rideshare after waiting a few minutes outside, for which I am very grateful. The short ride back to the condo is silent. Then Rai carries me to the elevator. I still simply rest against his warm chest.

A sense of relief comes over me the moment we step into the apartment. Rai’s scent—and my own—mingle together in an enticing way. And finally, my collar comes off. I stand in front of Rai with my eyes down. As Rai unbuckles it, I notice he tenderly brushes my throat and neck. 

“Ah. I didn’t know you could sing offensively. I’m so sorry. Will you tell me what actually happened?”

I swallow thickly and explain how Sin yanked my tail and frightened me—and that I couldn’t help my response. I’m ashamed, however, and I keep apologizing for my behavior. 

“Hush. You acted like a cat. I know these rules are stifling for you. I am sorry I had to punish you.”

“You told me you would if I needed it. You said I'd always know what rules I'd need to keep to avoid punishment, and I do. And you were very fair,” I say quietly. 

“You don’t distrust me now?” Rai asks, and I notice he looks a little nervous.

“I think you were very fair, and you even tried to get me out of it.” His actions were confusing. “Rai, I deserved to be punished. I did actually disobey you. And that wasn’t the first time.”

“Oh? Do you think so?” He touches my chin again, making me lift up my face.

“Yes.”

“What did you do? To disobey me, I mean?”

“Well…” I hesitate to answer, flattening my ears. Will he punish me a second time? Maybe this isn't very wise...

“What? You think I will punish you again?” He asks, his expression wry. “I won’t. I figured that belting would cover most anything. Tell me.”

A small shiver courses down my spine. Shouldn’t I be more nervous around him now? Why don’t I feel afraid of him?

“Well, I couldn’t seem to stop touching my tag and my chip, even after you told me not to.”

“You’ve been doing just fine there,” Rai says. “You stop moving your hands when I tell you not to touch. You don’t play with it, and you do a great job keeping it clean.”

“And, um, well, I resisted the doctor when he came over.”

“That’s natural for someone with your history. I'm sure you were afraid. You behaved wonderfully.”

“And I didn’t want to have sex with you.”

Rai gives me a direct look, crooking up his eyebrow. But he doesn't interrupt. 

“I mean, um, when you first brought me home. I was ungrateful.”

“Are you actually going to tell me that you are having sex with me now because you are grateful?” Rai asks, and the corners of his mouth are curling up. “Really?” 

“Well… not exactly,” I say, shifting my gaze to the side.

“That little avoidant look of yours is giving your true feelings away,” Rai chuckles softly. “Come. Let me treat your skin.” 

He helps me onto the massage table, which has become a permanent fixture in the room. Carefully, he loosens my sweats and strips off my underwear, leaving my skin open to the air. I reach behind me to try to pull my tee-shirt down to cover myself, but he stops my hands.

“It’s all right. You’re safe here. Leave it open to the air for a bit, okay?”

He wanders into the bathroom and I hear him digging around in the cabinet. He returns with a small jar of some sort of cream or ointment, and he twists off the lid.

“Your skin is so fair and sensitive,” he says quietly. My ears deepen in color, along with my cheeks. “And lovely. I hated having to expose you to everyone.”

“You didn’t have a choice. I didn’t leave you a choice.”

“It’s fine. As long as you don’t hate me, I think we will be fine. You handled yourself very well. And, um…” his voice trails off for a moment.

“What?” 

“Well, it was very wise of you to cry so loud and so soon. I realized I hadn’t ever discussed punishments with you—nor public ones, either. They can go on a long time if you don’t cry. And you told me you wouldn’t use your voice even when Sin punished you. I should have spoken to you first.”

“I didn’t want to give him any power. I didn’t want him to feel anything. But I’m sure I couldn’t always suppress my cries."

“I’m glad you didn’t today. It’s the tears and cries that are important in public punishments,” Rai says. "So the offended party feels like he is getting his due."

“Wait a minute. Did you use your belt because you knew it would hurt more?”

He doesn’t answer me. If he had used his hand, it would have gone on a lot longer, I’m sure. It would have taken more time to warm me up. So perhaps it wasn’t cruel that he used his belt. 

“You cried after only five strokes. And now, you’ve experienced the worst of my discipline,” Rai says softly. “I’m truly sorry it was over something so trivial.”

He continues tapping the ointment on my skin—and his touch feels gentle and nice. 

“It was my fault,” I insist.

“It really wasn’t,” Rai says. “But my hands were tied, certainly. However, I do have an idea to prevent this from happening in the future. I have no doubts he will try something like that again.”

“Okay?”

“Let’s fight him. In the arena. I’ll see what I can do to get his schedule. If we kick his ass, he will surely leave you alone.”

My ears twitch and my tail fluffs out.

“Are you serious?”

“I’ve mentioned it before. I wasn’t kidding then, either. I think we kick his ass—and I’ll even let you have at him, too. I have to say, I had no idea what an asshole the guy actually was. Not that I didn’t believe you. It’s just his actions are unbelievable.”

Rai spends extra time rubbing down my shoulders, my legs, my arms and is exceedingly gentle. It really doesn't feel like he's angry, either. Perhaps I did manage to please him and earn his forgiveness. I'm relieved. And I take a short nap before lunch.

 

Chapter Text

When we get home, Rai has me lie down on the massage table. He spreads an ointment onto my backside and the back of my thighs, and it is soothing. I’m thankful, too—because I am sure I will be sore from that belting for several days afterward. 

“We are nearing the end of the season,” Rai murmurs as he rubs oil into my shoulders and neck. “We should probably take full advantage of it.”

I am not 100% sure to what he is referring, but his tone is enough to send a wave of arousal to my hips. I wonder if something will be different after the season ends. In some ways, my body is still pretty desperate for him, but not like I was the first few nights.

He strips off my underwear and leaves me sitting up naked on the massage table. I pull at his shirt, and he pulls it off overhead, standing in between my legs, pressing his hips against me. He is kissing my lips—our fangs clicking together softly, our tongues entwined—and he strokes my back and my tail playfully. I reach out and loop my arms around his neck.

He feels good. His touch feels so good. I am pulled up to stand and then he whispers low in my ear.

“Turn around.” 

Another flash of heat rushes through my body at his command—it’s low and deep—and I obey. He hasn’t fucked me from behind before—and I shiver when I remember the last time I was taken in this position. Sin was cruel and mean—and the memory of his scent repulses me. But this is Rai. He cares about me and treats me tenderly.

I have to remind myself that Rai is kind when he brushes the welts on my ass lightly with his fingers. I’m gently bent over the massage table, I feel incredibly exposed and vulnerable. My chest tightens fearfully, but I relax when I feel the familiar weight and warmth of his body pressing against mine, his hands stroking the fur on my tail, his lips against my ear. He is breathing hard—ragged and sexy. I hardly can contain myself—and I can’t believe that I could have this kind of effect on a cat like him. Even after all the time we've spent together, it feels like a dream. 

My legs are spread apart just a little more, and my entrance is caressed lightly, making me jolt with desire and pleasure. I just cannot believe that this—what we are doing now—was what my former master was trying to do. It just feels so different. This is tender, laced with a desire to arouse, please, and make me lose myself. And the other was violent and selfish. 

I relax and bristle my tail, lifting it up at the base to expose myself. It feels a little vulgar, the way I am moving my hips and trying to get him to touch me. I realize with shock that I want him inside me—I want to feel his hard heat pressing into me—and I want him to do it now. 

A quiet mewling whine escapes my lips, giving away my utter desperation. Even when he brushes against the welts on my ass, a shiver of pleasure and need rattles me to my core. 

“Please…” I can’t believe it, but I’m begging him. I begging him, the cat who paid for me, to take me. 

And he obliges, pressing inside me slowly—and this time, maybe it’s the position, I think—it feels much tighter. My body doesn’t resist him and it isn't exactly painful, but I feel out of breath by the time his thighs are resting against my ass. A low purr is emanating from him, making me tremble and making my own purr reflect loud and wet. Additionally, I feel a song rising from my chest.

I don’t ever mean to sing when he fucks me. It just sort of happens. It almost feels like he is pulling the song from me rather than me singing for his sake. But it feels amazing—a little different from how I sing to him in the arena. This is sexual and filled with desire—like every cell in my body wants to get closer to him. My song works a little like a magnet, too, making me pull him ever closer, making him touch me more, caress me, kiss me.

A trail of wet grooming kisses are laid down across my nape and my shoulders and across my back, and his claws draw against my sides, gently caressing my waist and hips.

“Rai…” I can’t help it. I call his name when he starts to move. He keeps my hips pinned against the bench, despite my efforts to push back and meet him, grabbing hold of my tail to keep me in place. But soon, he doesn’t resist my movement and he allows me to rock back against him, arching my back, my tail bristled and swaying widely. He catches the tip in his fingers and licks it—sucking it into his mouth.

At that very moment, I feel him drag his erection against that sensitive spot inside of me, and I feel like I am falling. I stiffen slightly to brace myself, and a loud cry fills the room. It makes me feel taken and submissive—and my heart aches a little when I realize I am taken—I am a slave in this relationship. So why should this feel so good? 

He moves his hand to my groin, encircling my dripping cock and fucking me with his palm. He occasionally squeezes the tip, releasing more precome and letting it drip against the table and onto the floor. For a second, I think of the plush white carpet beneath my feet—will I be leaving stains on it?

But I hardly have time to worry when he speeds up his thrusts and fucks me hard. My back arched, I feel vulnerable and desperate and completely at his mercy. My song changes again, reflecting this helplessness, and I hear him growling low and terrifyingly behind me when he brings me to climax. My insides squeeze tight around him, making him slow his thrusts to a near stop, and I hear him gasp and moan when he releases inside me.

I’m exhausted as the song fades from the room, leaning against the table and clawing into it to keep from slipping down to the floor.

“You feel so good,” he whispers softly, releasing my claws from the massage table. “Come.” 

He lifts me up, ignoring the liquid dripping between my thighs and my own leavings sticky on my stomach, and brings me to the bedroom. He climbs into bed, lies down on his back, and pulls me against his chest, gluing our bellies together with sweat and fluid. Turning my head to the side, he tucks me securely under his chin, and just holds me for a while. I feel the ticklish sensation of his fingers, caressing my back and my butt, softly tracing the welts.

“You’re perfect.” His tone is tinged with a strange, nostalgia and something that sounds a lot like grief. I wonder if he is missing Haru. Will I ever be enough to replace him in his heart? “Stop,” he commands suddenly.

My ears twitch. I haven’t been doing anything, so what am I supposed to stop?

“Your concerns are unfounded. I don’t compare you to him—not ever. I never have. The bond I have with you is different. Even from the first time I saw you—the warmth and anger simmering beneath the surface of your eyes—I knew you’d be different. You are perfect, just as you are.”

He has read my thoughts. I’ve noticed that the bond we have during sex is intense—and it lasts even after my song has finished. It’s an odd feeling. But I know he is telling the truth. Or at least, he believes what he says. The question is whether I believe him or not.

 


 

 

This is how our new routine begins. After waking in the morning, Rai feeds me breakfast and takes me to the training center. We stay till lunch or until I can no longer move, and he works with me diligently to teach me how to handle the whip and my song simultaneously. I improve quickly—at least according to Rai. I am able to disarm him every once in a while, but I think he is going easy on me. Still, it works pretty well as far as I’m concerned.

Rai made some calls to the training facility to reserve a regular room for us, and we start a little earlier in the morning than we were. I think he is aiming to keep out of Sin’s way, and it seems to work. Every once in a while, we do come across him and his timid little Sanga, but I do much better ignoring him. And it helps that Rai doesn’t ever leave my side when Sin is around. I've learned well from that last punishment. That cat isn't worth it.

Within a week or two we are sparring with another pair. Rai has set up several meetings, so every other day we end up practicing with another couple. They vary widely in skill, and it starts to dawn on me that Rai and I make a great partnership. We work well together, better than many—and I really am thrilled to be able to hold my own against them. I almost never use the whip when we spar with someone else—Rai told me to save it for emergencies in the arena and I don't want to hurt anyone, but he certainly makes me use it against him when we practice alone.

It’s very weird—to use the full force of my song to boost his power and then fight against him using the whip. It is exhausting, though—much more so than singing alone. I can easily sing for an hour now when we spar with someone else, but my time is decreased by half when I use the whip.

At one point, Rai talks to me about offensive versus defensive singing. I usually and naturally sing to boost Rai’s power and strength—and I can sort of aim my song at his feet to make him move faster, or his swords to make him hit harder. That’s what I do for defense and support. But Rai is pretty sure I also have an offensive song, and he wants to see it. He wants to teach me to use it.

“Getting you to expose this song is risky. We can practice here in the arena or at home, but I want to make sure you’re able to stop.” The offensive song cannot be sung when that collar is on me, he explains. But many Sanga don’t ever develop this song. Rai is sure it will be useful in battle—if I tired of the defensive protection or if I find myself in a troubling situation. He seems eager to teach me to use it, and it occurs to me that if Haru was able to sing offensively, he might still be alive.

Actually, using my song offensively against Rai is very difficult, however. It involves aiming my power and strength against him, rather than in support of him, and this is counter-intuitive to my training (and my heart) so far. Rai jokes with me when we are training in the arena that he might be able to force me to do something offensively—and he tries, again and again, when he attacks me. But I still feel his intentions underneath—even when he manages to disarm me with the whip and I end up on the ground. I know he doesn’t mean anything except to strengthen and protect me. And I don’t seem able to bring out that song that I tried to use against Sin.

“Perhaps we will see it in the arena,” he says softly. "I hope you won't need it."

After lunch, Rai sees to my care every day. He gives me a bath and a massage and then gives me time for myself. Even before I was enslaved, when I lived in Karou, I never had the luxury to learn to play an instrument. And it feels so nice to have something of my own that I can learn and use at my leisure. I’ve also started helping him with meals—he is teaching me to cook (I ate a raw diet in Karou as it was a little behind the times and I don't like fire), and it’s fun working with him in the kitchen. I might be chopping vegetables when his arms encircle my waist or stroke my tail. It’s nice to be able to spend time with him like this.

Since the end of the mating season, ever since the day he punished me, how we bond physically has changed. He seems slightly nervous when we connect sexually, as though he is afraid he will hurt me. I don’t understand this—since he hasn’t hurt me so far. He goes out of his way to make me feel good and safe with him. But sometimes, afterward, I feel a little self-conscious because I wonder if I am doing enough for him. He hasn't actually entered me since that day. Shouldn’t he want to bond with me that way, too? I don't understand why he is holding back.

One afternoon, maybe a week or more after that event in the training center with Sin, after a particularly vigorous morning sparring session, I get the courage to ask him about it. 

“Rai.”

He’s in the kitchen, marinading some meat and chopping up vegetables for dinner. I’m on the floor in the living room, erhu in hand, and I take a break from playing. Looking up at me across the counter, I see the ears on top of his head prickle. I know he enjoys hearing me play. I love to play for him, too. It isn’t exhausting anymore, either, and Rai says it will help build my stamina in the arena as well.

“What is it?”

I hesitate before I continue, and I find I can’t quite look at him in the eye.

“Um, it seems, um, how we bond physically is different now than it was during the mating season.” 

Rai doesn’t say anything. He just waits for me to continue. I feel incredibly flustered talking about this, but I figure I’d better just come out with it. I’ve learned that with this silver cat, it’s better to just say whatever is on my mind. Otherwise, I will be subject to his subtle teasing until I do get the courage.

“You often touch me with your hands or your mouth.”

I see a soft flicker of a smile on his lips, and I feel a flash of irritation in my chest. Does he know what I am going to ask? If so, why doesn’t he just answer? It’s almost as though he wants to make me ask.

“And?” He prompts gently. And yeah, that’s definitely a smile. I look away in embarrassment.

“You haven’t, um… Well, since the mating season ended, you haven’t, um…”

“I haven’t what?” I glance up at his face, and I’m sure he knows what I’m getting at. 

“Well, you know. Things are different in the bedroom.”

He doesn’t say anything, but he has stopped what he is doing in order to watch my flustered self. It adds to my self-consciousness. 

“Do you dislike connecting with me… that way?”

“What way?”

I click my tongue and look away, and that makes him chuckle. 

“You’d better not cop that kind of attitude any other time except when we are alone, little Sanga.”

My fur bristles and I look up.

“I think you know what I mean.”

“How can I know what you mean? You should just say it. I can’t always read your mind.” He walks around the counter and comes into the living room, kneeling on the floor in front of me. Taking my chin in his hand, he tilts my face up to meet his gaze and brushes through the fur on my ears gently. “It’s okay for you to ask for what you want. I want to know.”

My ears flush with heat, and I feel my cheeks warming up, too.

“It’s just… Why have things changed?”

“Have they?”

“Yes. You, um, don’t, um…” I cast my eyes off to the side and would turn my head away, too, were he not holding my chin. He’s very gentle. “… You don’t, um, enter me anymore.” It’s way more embarrassing to say out loud than I imagined.

“Are you saying you’d like me to?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Well. You’re right, I suppose.” He lets go of my chin, but I keep my eyes on his expression when he looks away. “I don’t want to hurt you. That’s why… You’re just working so hard for me in the arena. I don’t want to tax your body in other ways.”

“But you’ve never hurt me—I mean, in the bedroom.” I still don't like to think too much about that belt spanking he gave me.

“Well, mating season helps a lot.”

I quirk my ears and curl up my tail in question.

“What do you mean?”

“I am going easy on you. I thought… well, if you’re working so diligently in the arena, what right do I have to insist on using your body in the bedroom as well?”

What right? I’m shocked to hear these words. He has every right! He owns me, doesn’t he?

“Don’t you own me?” I ask softly. 

He smiles.

“Well. What exactly do I own? Your feelings? Your heart? Your power? I think those are things you can give freely.” He touches the tag on my ear. “In some ways, I suppose this indicates I own your body. But I’d hate to think you felt like this. I don't like to remind you. I don't like to be reminded. We may not always be like this, either.”

My ears droop for a moment. I’m slightly confused, I think, because I’m pretty sure there is a part of me that wants him to own me: my heart, my body, my feelings. And my song indicates exactly that when I sing for him. Even when I’m just sitting in the living room playing my instrument, the song that spills out is laced with the desire to… I don’t know. Give myself over to him? And what does he mean, we might not always be like this? Would he give me away? Leave me?

“I don't understand. What if… What if I wanted you to own me?” I whisper, unable to meet his gaze. “All of me, I mean.”

“Kitten, if you can’t even meet my gaze when you make that confession, I’m not sure how seriously I should take you.” I can hear a soft chuckle in his tone. 

That makes me jerk my gaze back up to his face, and he is wearing that soft, sexy smile, his lashes blinking slowly. His eyelashes are so perfect. They are long and thick like his fur. I want to groom them. 

“I think I want you to own me.” My voice is very quiet, but it’s firm and I am meeting Rai’s gaze directly.

Rai shifts on his legs for a moment, smiling and looking away almost shyly—and he never does that! Nothing he ever does is shy! He presses a hand against his chest.

“You make my heart flutter, little Sanga.”