Having Dara with them certainly made the remaining half day's ride to Sarasen more interesting. Dara was a pretty thing to look at, and whenever silence fell among the men Maric found his mind wandering to all the things he could do with Dara. In a way, having to work around Dara's inexperience and limitations was fun. It was a challenge. And the idea of slowly pushing those barriers until Dara opened up to him fully... well, that was certainly an idea that appealed. He would have to be careful, though. Seeing Dara shaking and crying that first night due to Maric's carelessness was not an experience Maric wished to repeat.

Maric was visiting the city of Sarasen for diplomatic purposes, which meant lots of smiling and putting on his charms and no time to spend dallying with Dara. Well, not until later on that night, anyhow. Sarasen used to be a kingdom of its own like many of the cities in this area, but after Maric's ancestors had conquered them they had been demoted to cities. They still had palaces of their own, though, and nobles who oversaw the general running of the cities.

Maric moved to ride at the front of the group as they approached the city, ready to put on a show for the people who had come out to line the streets. He waved at the people and threw copper coins for them to squabble over, stroked the heads of infants held up to him and smiled at the pretty young ladies who had put on their finest dresses to come and see him. Overall, it was attention he could have done without.

When they reached the palace Maric brought Dara up to his rooms before leaving Dara in the main room and going alone to the washroom to take a bath. He didn't need Dara tempting him into distraction when he had things he needed to be attending to. Once washed and dressed in finer clothes, he headed back into the main room to speak to Dara.

"There's a banquet tonight, so make sure you're washed up and dressed in your spare uniform by dusk."

Dara's eyebrows raised almost imperceptibly. "You're bringing me?"

"I can't think of a good excuse to smuggle any of my men to the end of the table I'll be sitting at with the nobles, but a slave kneeling next to me on the floor won't cause any controversy."

Dara looked concerned, but he made no complaints, so Maric headed down to face his hosts.

He didn't like this part of his role at all. He preferred the military. Here there were so many rules he had to follow and so many things he was expected to be. Conversation was dull, but he was obligated to feign interest.

Maric was relieved when he was finally able to return to Dara to bring him down to the banquet. When he returned to his room, he found Dara dressed and ready to go and looking rather nervous.

Dara frowned down at his uniform. "I suppose I just look the same as I always do. Is that okay?"

If Maric had wanted Dara to fit in with the other personal slaves who would be there, Dara would have been wearing fewer clothes and perhaps have paint on his face. The paint he could definitely do without, and while fewer clothes certainly would have appealed to Maric's eyes he was sure that would have only made Dara feel more vulnerable. Besides, he preferred Dara's exposed body to be for his eyes only.

"If there was something else I thought you'd look better in, I suppose I'd just get you to wear that all the time instead," Maric said flippantly. "Come along."

Of course, that wasn't entirely true. Maric knew very well that complete nudity suited Dara far better, for one thing.

From the moment they left the room Dara was sticking unnecessarily close to Maric, and he only drew closer as they descended the stairs and entered the crowd. Honestly, Maric didn't mind at all. If it had been someone else with different intentions he might have, but he knew Dara was simply unaccustomed to all the attention and was responding genuinely. Dara didn't know how to bluster and fake like the slaves of other guests who were following their masters about.

As soon as he could extricate himself, he led Dara over to the banquet table. Maric sat in his chair, and Dara knelt on the floor to his right. The lord sitting in the next seat over on Maric's right had a slave of his own with him, and he moved his slave to his left side so that the two slaves could speak. They didn't. Dara seemed too tense for conversation, and the other slave seemed to have sensed that they were not alike.

Dara watched the other slave, though, and how he interacted with his master. When Maric offered him a piece of dried fruit he took it with his mouth, and his lips dragged over Maric's fingertips. Good boy. He was learning. Maric gave his hair a quick stroke, but it soon turned into a not-so-quick stroke when Dara leant into the touch. It wasn't just an act, either, like it might have been from any one of the others slaves in attendance. Maric's touch simply reassured him.

Maric made sure to reassure him at every opportunity throughout the banquet. It made the conversation he was forced to partake in far more tolerable. Of course, it was a little distracting. By the end of the evening all he could think about was stripping Dara out of his uniform and... and anything, really. Anything, everything. Maric didn't care as long as it ended with them both satisfied and covered in sweat and other bodily fluids. He excused himself from the banquet as early as politely possible.

He shut the door to his room, locked it, and turned to Dara. "I have had a very long night and am badly in need of some relaxation."

"Should I... undress you?" Dara asked.

It was adorable, sexy, and promising. He was learning. Maric grinned. "That's an idea I can certainly get behind."

This time, Maric didn't interrupt or rush Dara's undressing of him, instead enjoying the careful, gentle touch of Dara's fingers as he worked at buttons and slid fabric from Maric's skin.

"Do you want me to take my clothes off, or...?" Dara asked once Maric stood completely naked. There was a slight flush to Dara's cheeks and despite the fact that they'd done this before, his eyes flicked over Maric's body like he wasn't sure he was allowed to look.

Maric considered Dara's offer. A strip show did sound appealing, but he rather wanted to return the favour of a gentle undressing. "No, I think I'll take care of that."

Dara's skin was warm and pliant beneath Maric's fingertips as Maric picked open buttons, unbelievably soft for someone with the body of a grown man. Maric could feel the rise and fall of Dara's chest under his hands, too heavy and never quite even. Maric hoped it was mostly arousal stirring him up and not a return of his fear.

"Um," Dara said once his shirt was off and Maric was just about to start on his pants. Maric paused. Whatever he wanted to say, Dara sounded nervous about it.

"I think I could — if you want — I think I could do something. With my tongue. I mean I think I would respond badly if I put it in my mouth, but my tongue…" Dara let out a long breath and took another in before continuing. "I know it's not much by comparison, but I thought maybe you might want to try it anyway."

Maric grinned so wide it made his cheeks hurt. "Yes, I think I rather would like that. Let's get these pants off you first, hm?"

Once they were both naked and on the bed with Dara braced on his elbows between Maric's spread legs, Dara stared down at Maric's erection like it was a puzzle. He didn't seem quite sure what to do with it now that they'd reached this point. Maric was just about to offer some instruction when Dara leant forward, grasped it loosely, and slowly swiped his tongue over the head.

The intensity of Maric's reaction was unreasonable. He'd had far more skilled mouths on him before, but somehow Dara's slow uncertainty aroused him beyond belief. Not getting whatever he wanted whenever he wanted made what he did get more valuable.

Encouraged by the way Maric had arched his back and exhaled sharply, Dara repeated the action. He was carefully watched Maric's face for reaction, wide blue eyes meeting Maric's.

Dara's hand began slowly working Maric as his tongue and soft, pink lips roamed. Maric wanted more so badly, something that ramped up tenfold when Dara's lips covered the head of his member and sucked gently. He never went any further down than that, though, and Maric resisted the urge to encourage him. It would likely undo the progress they'd made if Maric did something to scare him.

As Dara continued and Maric's responses were overwhelmingly positive, Dara began to gain confidence. The tension bled out of him, and he started to look like he was having fun eliciting reactions from Maric rather than fearing he would fail to. He seemed to have remembered what Maric had shown him about how he liked to be stroked, too, because as Maric drew closer to the edge Dara's hand gripped him tighter and pumped him faster.

Dara had gone back to suckling on the head of Maric's member when Maric finally reached his peak, and it was an act of sheer will to push his face away at the last moment. He didn't know how Dara would have felt about Maric finishing in his mouth, but it would have been the absolute worst time to upset him. Maric came on his own stomach instead.

There were pieces of cloth draped over the bed frame for exactly this purpose, and Dara used one to clean Maric up as Maric lay panting. When sexual desire had temporarily been abated, Dara's gentle touch was pleasant in entirely different ways.

Maric was bone tired and sated, but Dara wasn't and Maric was a good lover. "Come here."

Maric carefully positioned Dara until he was holding onto the top of the bed frame and kneeling over Maric's face so that Maric could blow him without having to get up. He was a responsive lover, every brush of lips or fingers eliciting a whimper or a twitch. Only a few sucks in, Dara was breathing harshly and his thighs were shaking.

It didn't take Maric long to realise that Dara's problem wasn't just arousal. He was in a position where thrusting was very much the natural response to being engulfed in something tight and warm, but he didn't dare to. Maric encouraged him into a slow, manageable thrust. He was still trembling slightly, but now it was pure arousal. When Dara came, Maric pulled him deep inside his mouth and swallowed around him.

Dara let out a low, satisfied groan as he flopped down on the bed next to Maric. For a while they just lay like that, side by side, relaxing, and then Dara rolled over and curled into Maric's side. It felt good, having him there, and knowing he was cuddling because he wanted to cuddle, not because it was part of some training. Maric wrapped his arms around Dara and pulled him closer.

"Mm cold," Dara mumbled eventually, and Maric shifted around so that he could pull the covers over them. Eventually they fell asleep.


There was time for a quick dalliance in the morning, just hands on skin in the bath until they were both satisfied. Dara went with Maric down to breakfast and sat next to him on the floor, but this time instead of hand feeding him Maric passed a plate of his own down to him. Nobody seemed bothered by it. They understood that in smaller gatherings early in the morning rules could be relaxed to make things easier.

Not that there were any strict rules as such, especially not for someone of Maric's status. It was simply a matter of expectations, and when it came to these diplomatic assignments his father would be displeased if he kicked up too much controversy. Not that Maric had ever cared too much about what his father thought. His respect for the man had only decreased since childhood until he'd eventually simply left with the military when he was sixteen. He had returned only a few times since, and never for more than a few days.


Dara wasn't sure if he was glad to be leaving this palace behind and heading on to the next one. On the one hand he found being in a palace surrounded by nobles intimidating, but on the other he had grown extremely tired of travelling. Perhaps if he asked the prince nicely he would find a book for him? Would that be too big of an ask? Maybe next time. By the time he thought of it they were already outside preparing to leave, and Dara didn't want to hold things up.

They spent the whole of the next day travelling, not stopping until there was no light left to ride by. Dara had hoped to be able to retreat immediately to spend private time alone with the prince, but today the prince chose to eat down in the tavern with his men. Dara sat on the floor and leant against the prince's leg, fatigue making it hard to stay alert even in such chaotic surroundings. His dinner was a collection of morsels from the prince's plate hand fed to him.

By the time they were finally alone again, Dara was exhausted. Maric did all the work as he stripped Dara out of his clothes and then pushed him down onto the bed and took care of him with his mouth. It wasn't until Dara woke the next morning that he realised he'd fallen asleep without doing anything to return the favour. He remedied that with his hands while they bathed before leaving.


Dara had been eating an apple, and as the prince stood next to his horse and spoke with a fidgety stable boy Dara fed the core to the horse. The horse might not have suited the prince, but he was certainly a magnificent thing. He nuzzled Dara's chest gratefully and Dara wrapped his arms around the horse's neck.

"I might just get jealous if you keep that up," the prince said, and Dara looked up to find that the stable boy had left.

Dara bit down the urge to apologise, since it hadn't been a genuine scolding.

"Would you like to ride double with me for a while?" the prince asked when Dara responded only with nervous shuffling.

Dara's face immediately lit up. "Yes."

"Have you ever ridden before?" the prince asked as he mounted. He held a hand out to Dara.

"Yes." Dara allowed himself to be pulled up onto the horse in front of the prince. "I used to have a horse of my own. She was beautiful. But then, after what happened, the horse was worth more than I was, so they took her away."

"Slaves wouldn't usually be given things like horses of their own," the prince noted. "They must have had high hopes for you."

"Yes, well..." Dara couldn't think of an explanation for that abnormality other than the truth and didn't want to actively lie, so he stopped there. The prince didn't seem to notice. He was too busy sliding his hand under Dara's shirt to stroke the skin of his stomach.

The next few hours of riding were far more interesting than riding in the wagon ever had been. The prince's touches remained idle, teasing but never vulgar, and were making Dara look forward to when they would stop for the night even more. The steady gate of the horse relaxed him, and the view was far better from atop the horse.

Dara was just nibbling on the last of his bread from lunch when something ahead of them in the undergrowth that ran along the side of the road brushed against his mind. He may have lost the most important part of his ability, but he could still sense even the slightest of injuries. Normally he hardly noticed the tiny scratches or bruises most people bore as a part of daily life, but it meant that he didn't need to be able to see someone to know that they were there. He leant back to speak to the prince quietly.

"There's someone there." He nodded to a cluster of bushes. "At least one person... No, two at least."

The prince slowed his horse, and as he was currently leading their procession everyone behind them slowed too. He made a clicking sound with his tongue to draw Brayan's attention and signalled to him.

"Arms!" Brayan shouted, and all at once the hiss of metal as swords were drawn could be heard.

Suddenly Dara was very much in the way. The prince had reined his horse around and was starting back towards the wagon when Dara heard the thwick of an arrow being released. For a moment all Dara felt was the force of the arrow pushing him backwards as it pierced his chest, but searing pain quickly followed. Beneath the agony of his own injury Dara could feel where the arrow had breached the other side of him and cut into the prince shallowly.

The prince navigated his horse through the chaos of fighting men, and as the battle began Dara was deposited into the wagon. He immediately set about trying to dislodge the arrow from his chest. It couldn't be pulled back through whole, and Dara's fingers only slipped on the blood slickened shaft as he tried to snap the end off. He could feel his body healing around it.

He did his best to push away the battle raging around him, to remove himself from it, but he felt every single injury. Initially it was just nauseating and disorientating, but at the first death Dara's mind shut down. He curled into a ball, the arrow forgotten, and shook.


The moment the last bandit fell, Maric did a quick inventory of his men. A few minor cuts and bruises, and Raedon had a deep gash on his upper arm that would need to be tended, but none were at risk of death. The bandits had been counting on superior numbers and the element of surprise to overpower Maric's men, but Maric's men had better weapons and training by far and Dara's warning had allowed them to raise their defenses in time. Maric estimated that there were about thirty dead bandits littering the road and set his men to clearing them immediately.

His duty done, Maric's mind went back to Dara. Dara had his healing ability, but could he survive an arrow right through the chest? It hadn't been the left side, thankfully, as Maric was quite sure an arrow to the heart would be deadly even to Dara, but a lung full of arrow was still no laughing matter.

Dara lay on the floor of the wagon curled into a ball and shivering. He didn't respond to his name or to Maric's touch. There was blood, but not as much as Maric would have expected from the same wound on any other man. When he sliced away Dara's shirt he found that Dara's flesh was well on its way to healing around the arrow.

Maric had one of his men hold Dara while he broke the end of the arrow off and pulled it out, opening the wound anew. It bled sluggishly for a few seconds, and then slowed and stopped. He had to explain Dara's ability to his baffled men, but he couldn't explain why Dara was so unresponsive. Dara had inhaled sharply when the arrow had been pulled out, but that had been the extent of his response.

Maybe it just took a lot out of him to heal himself, Maric reasoned. It had been quite a serious wound. He really ought to have asked Dara more about his ability and the extent of it, but it hadn't seemed relevant. He had fully intended to keep Dara safe, and so it hadn't mattered. How arrogant of him to assume he could bend the rest of the world to his desires so easily. There was danger everywhere.

Maric rode in the wagon with Dara, stroking gentle fingers through his hair though he showed no sign of even being aware of the contact, and they stopped at the next inn they came across. As soon as a room was arranged Maric carried Dara, still shaking and catatonic, into it. He ordered a bath and washed both Dara and himself and cleaned and bandaged the small wound on his chest. It probably ought to have been stitched, but he couldn't bring himself to leave Dara to do it. At some point Dara had stopped shaking, but his eyes still stared vacantly ahead of him.

It was after dark before Dara showed the first sign of response, shuffling closer on the bed towards the heat of Maric's body. He sighed his approval when Maric wrapped an arm around him.

"You awake?" Maric asked. It wasn't quite the right question. Dara had always been awake, his eyes open and staring. He simply hadn't been aware.

"Mmn?" There was a slight pause, and then, "Oh. Yes."

"Do you remember what happened?"

He heard the sound of Dara swallowing thickly, and a slight tremble ran through Dara's body. "Yes. I do."

"You healed up fine within a few minutes, but you wouldn't respond. Does it take a lot of energy to heal yourself like that?"

Dara let out a humourless huff of laughter. "I've walked away from worse, believe me. This was more in the nature of my response to that whipping you took me to. It's been a long time since I've felt death like that."

He'd clearly been aiming for flippant, but Maric didn't miss the fear that tightened Dara's throat as he spoke the last sentence.

"I hadn't thought of that," Maric admitted. "I don't know how your ability works."

"I feel pain like anyone else, but injuries heal rapidly. I can feel the injuries of others — that's how I knew there were men hiding in the bushes, as a couple of them had a few scrapes. Feeling people getting injured is extremely unpleasant, and death... Well, I suppose you've seen what that does to me now."

"I wish I had magic, even if it does sound like it's as much strife as benefit," Maric said.

"But then you'd be a slave instead of a prince, and it's unlikely you'd find that fun," Dara pointed out. He should have sounded bitter, but he didn't. He was just stating a fact.

Maric buried his hand in Dara's hair and gave his head a rub. "Things always sound better in theory, don't they?"

"Mmn." Dara shut his eyes, enjoying the sensation. "Do you want me to do something...?"

"Not tonight," Maric told him, and continued rubbing Dara's head because he seemed to like it. "Tonight, I think you just need to rest and relax."


Despite what the prince had said about Dara needing to rest, and despite Dara agreeing, he was still awake well after the prince had fallen asleep. He almost wished, now, that the prince hadn't released him from his obligation of sexual fulfilment for the night. But on the other hand... Well, he felt a lot better for it. It was good to know that the prince cared more for his well being than the pleasures he offered.

He hadn't felt quite so relaxed in a long time, in fact. A very long time. Not since... Well, he didn't want to think about that. But he was slowly coming to realise that he felt okay. That he felt safe.

The prince's injury was blipping at the edge of his mind, and he shifted his focus to it now. He'd never stopped feeling the injuries of others no matter how much he would have liked to, but it felt a little different now. There was a thread of potential linking Dara to the wound.

He rolled over in the prince's arms and slowly, carefully wedged his hand up underneath the bandage covering the prince's chest. The prince grunted annoyance in his sleep, but otherwise didn't stir. He seemed quite alert to the smallest of sounds or touches when he needed to be, but Dara had found the prince could sleep through just about anything that didn't demand his attention.

Dara's hand was pressed against the wound, which wasn't ideal at all, but at least he could thoroughly feel the potential. Dara wasn't as completely broken as he'd thought. There was something hidden inside him, some small ember the prince had flamed, and now it was on the verge of growing into something he could use.

Over the years Dara had forgotten most of his lessons. It took him almost an hour to remember how to properly clear his mind, how to relax his body and control his breathing. At one time he'd been able to switch into healing mode with hardly a thought, but now the slightest shift from the prince kept pulling him out of it.

It got easier, though, the longer he worked at it, and eventually he was able to begin pushing his power outside of his body, into the prince's. It was just tiny amounts, barely effectual, but it added up. Little by little tissue was rebuilt until, just before dawn, the wound closed over and shortly after vanished as though it had never been there in the first place.

And... Dara had really not intended to do that. Not without telling, not without asking the prince first. He'd just needed to test it, and he'd feared any kind of involvement from anyone else would have destroyed the fragile progress he'd made.

He sat in the gentle glow of dawn and stared down at the prince, waiting for him to wake.

Author's note: Good job, Maric. Good job turning a healer into a bed slave. Classy. Today is my birthday! I have an ENTIRE CAKE to myself.