Title: White Tiger
Warnings: Shibari kink. BDSM.
Summary: Goujun has a vision of his future.
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer thingee. Kenren as dragon catnip is mine.
Series: Part 6 of the Dream of the Butterfly Series. Follows after String Theory.
I had mentioned to a few who asked that I was working on another OT3 in the current series. Well, here it is. Finally. Derailed for awhile by String Theory and general rl issues. There was quite a bit of work which went into it, but once the basic concept came to me I decided it was worth working on even if the results took some time, which technically has been the lion's share of 2008. The recipe? Take one part mythology, a smidgen of Japanese military history, add a hearty dollop of kink. Top with a very drunk and rather stoned dragon's POV.
This is the result: a 9,020 word sex scene- that isn't remotely about sex.
I have to say I've been a bit afraid to put this one out there. We'll see what you think.
There was that strange energy surrounding them at the beginning of the evening that said in no uncertain terms that tonight was to be one of those nights. Tenpou's body held that odd tenseness that always seemed to be a precursor to them; Kenren was wilder, his attentions more scattered than was entirely usual. By now Goujun knew exactly what these signs meant, what was to come later on, and he had to admit that if this odd turn in his sex life should suddenly stop tomorrow he would not mourn its passing. Still, he begrudgingly accepted it, and when the two of them arrived with the bag in tow he was not particularly surprised. As was usual on these evenings the odd mood was ignored and the bag was set aside, and as was usual they went about their routine, buried deep in each other's bodies. It was all too soon that the dragon found himself as he was now, sated with pleasure and sleepy from the night's activities. So as was usual on these evenings he curled up nearer the edge of the bed and contented himself to simply drink wine and drift while Tenpou brought the bag back out and the strange play between them began. He was sorry to say he becoming somewhat accustomed to it.
To be honest, he was not sure what else to do. It was not something he felt he understood, nor did he wish to understand it. It was both disturbing and compelling to witness and he found he had no will to stop it once the thing had begun. As he poured himself a cup of wine from the service tray he could barely hear the whispers between the two of them, but he knew it wasn't the words themselves as much as the language of their bodies that held the true story. He propped his head up on some pillows and laid back to watch as Tenpou's hands slowly became bolder; they teased and stroked their demands across the flesh laid out beneath him, calling out to a shared desire. It wants you, aches for you, his fingers pleaded. Kenren's body slowly opened itself up to their song and it arched into those greedy hands, his blood awakening to the insistent need behind the touch. I want to let it out. Tenpou lifted himself up and looked down hungrily into the General's face. His body twisted and rubbed itself along Kenren's belly. You have the key. Let me open its cage.
At first he had thought he understood the compulsion Tenpou had to try and control the man. Kenren had entirely too much freedom as it was, and some of it had to be taken back and for lack of a better word, tamed. But it did not take Goujun long to realize this wasn't what was happening between them. Tenpou wasn't so much attempting to enforce rules on the General as focusing on the act of control itself. It was the feel of the submission that Tenpou craved like a drug, and on nights like this he swore Tenpou would become drunk on the power of it. Goujun reluctantly admitted that if shunga prints were anything to go by then what they were doing was rather mild in the realms of what was possible in such circumstances, but it still disturbed him that he had never once seen a whisper of this side of the man before this. Not until after they had brought Kenren into their bed. Since he had always been the dominant one in their relationship he supposed he should not have been surprised; yet, he had thought he had known his lover better. Known the man's capabilities. His… tastes.
Be careful your dog doesn't bite you… Kenren had once taunted him with such, and at the time he had scoffed at the man. But here, in this bed, he had finally seen his dog's teeth. He began to wonder if some day he might indeed be bitten by them. If perhaps, that what the two of them did together wasn't feeding that beast, allowing it to grow and to thrive. At the moment it seemed content to remain in the bedroom with the General as its plaything; he had no misconceptions as to believe it would always be so contained.
He had once attempted to broach the subject of his concerns with the General, but found it difficult at best to try to say without saying that which was troubling him. When Kenren finally thought he understood the implications behind the stilted, tentative questions, he turned a sudden shade of pink and looked almost as embarrassed as Goujun felt. The man attempted to dismiss his worries with a shake of his head and a few mumbled apologies.
"Naw, it's OK. It's just that Tenpou really gets off on it. I mean, he's fucking flying when he's doing that shit."
The General fidgeted for a bit longer, scratched his head, and laughed at his own discomfort. "No, it's better than OK. Hell, sometimes its pure fucking magic."
He gave Goujun a shy smile and a fleeting glance before he shook his head and went back to studying his shoes.
"We don't do it that often. Don't worry, it ain't a problem."
But it was a problem, at least for Goujun. Even if it rarely happened when he was a party to it, he knew it was happening in Tenpou's bed when he was not there to see. Not that often the General had insisted, but it had to have been often enough that even someone as unschooled in such things as he could see the improvements in Tenpou's technique. At some point there was gained a greater surety in his movements, an ease in the rhythm with which he twisted and wrapped the ropes. It spoke of long hours of practice. Practice that had not happened in this bed.
The first time, he had been surprised by it. That evening Tenpou had brought both the General and a sack along with him, but the bag had been abandoned along with their clothing and Goujun had quickly forgotten about it as they took to the bed together. It wasn't until later, after he had been lying there content and happy, that Tenpou had brought the bag back out. From it came a good length of 'white tiger' hemp rope, well made, soft and flexible. It was even more surprising when he found out what it was meant for; he was amazed that Tenpou had ever managed to convince the once skittish General to even allow it. During the first tentative attempts, long before either of them realized the deeper significance behind Tenpou's requests, the man had refused anything but the loosest of restraints. But as time passed and the bonds of intimacy between them grew stronger, Tenpou was able to push the boundaries ever further until at some point he was able to convince Kenren to submit.
After that first night the bag began to be brought along more often. He supposed it was understandable; with this new hobby of theirs there came a need for both time and privacy, and the two were rarely found quite as perfectly matched as when in his bed. So as long as the frequency of these evenings did not increase substantially he allowed this disturbing little game of theirs to be played through once in awhile. There were a few early attempts at coaxing him to join in, but watching was as much as he was comfortable with. While the two of them played Knots and Lashes together they had to content themselves with nothing more from him than what Kenren called their 'royal audience.' Since these nights happened rarely enough, it never annoyed him to the point that he objected to it. Truthfully, he wasn't sure how Tenpou might react if he should complain. He wasn't particularly interested in finding out.
Though the ropes were still a rarity, the games of submission were not. Often times Tenpou used nothing but words. He would lean in close to the man's ear, and the bindings would come pouring out of his mouth to wrap themselves around the General. A dark, vicious pleasure to which he would give voice and form and Kenren would submit to the words, offer himself over to whatever Tenpou wanted of him. They were things Tenpou had never before said, never before hinted at; and although in their many years together he had never said such things to Goujun, he never seemed to tire of whispering them to Kenren. He could see now that this thing in Tenpou had always been there, lurking below the surface, waiting for the one who had the key to its cage. Now that it had tasted its freedom it no longer wished to lie hidden beneath that soft and pretty face, and Goujun saw it more and more often.
Be careful your dog doesn't bite you… he let the disturbing echo of that warning fade as he rolled over and reached for the wine. Surely it was the strange energy of these evenings that brought on this paranoia, and nothing more. Goujun had never taken well to a disruption in his routine, so naturally this new quirk in his life would take some time for adjustment. In the meantime, this vague uneasiness over it would be the rule of law, at least in the bedroom.
Be careful… no. He knew his Tenpou better than anyone in Tenkai, and Tenpou was a man of honor and intelligence. Goujun knew for a certainty that Tenpou would never betray his trust. Peculiar bedroom habits aside, he had nothing to fear from the man. He refilled his cup again. The wine was sweet; he let it roll around in his mouth to wash away the last of those bitter thoughts. He paused to study the dregs of the pale liquid cradled in his hands. This wine… it was one of Tenpou's favorites, often brought to the bed when they lay together. He closed his eyes and let it linger on his tongue. With the sweetness of the wine there came a familiar memory of Tenpou smiling up at him, lips glistening, wrapped up in nothing but sheets. The flavors of Tenpou and this wine filling his senses. It was but one night of so many like it throughout the years. He wondered what it was about that particular night, so long ago, that gave it such a resonance in his mind that it should return to his thoughts time and again. That single moment, so very long ago… perhaps that was the night Tenpou first became his. He tried, but found he could recall nothing more of it. A dragon's memory was long, but not long enough. It might as well have been that night. That was the feeling he associated with that first night. And the taste.
The other two on the bed shifted. Goujun opened his eyes to find coils of white tiger hemp lying a few feet from his head. Nights like this when the binding words were not enough to please Tenpou, the more formal restraints would be brought out. It took no small amount of time to wind the complex pattern of the rope; around the torso, under the carriage, up the chest. Tenpou was always quite specific in the placement, following the meridian lines, intricate knots tied at key pressure points. While he worked his concentration seemed absolute. Occasionally he would stop to pet the subject of his attentions, whisper encouragements, kiss him gently. Mostly he remained silent. Kenren too was quiet, though Goujun found that the man actually talked very little in bed even under normal circumstances. It was a strange quirk he found somewhat puzzling but rather endearing; he at least knew how to shut the chatterbox General up should he ever truly need to do so. He need do nothing more than unzip the man's pants, and reach in.
He lay there placidly watching as Kenren patiently knelt on the bed and Tenpou carefully imprisoned him. Ankles were now tethered to thighs. Knees wrapped above and below. Halfway through the process the General's eyes drifted shut, and after a few minutes his breathing slowed considerably. He looked as if he were in meditation. Goujun could feel the shifting of their energies from across the bed, intensifying with each twist and turn of hemp. It was so strong tonight that even Goujun was affected by it, his skin flushing as if it were he being caged beneath the ropes. His groin began to tingle and the bedroom seemed somewhat hotter than was usual. As he had no desire to be pulled in yet again tonight by Kenren's scent, he shook off the budding arousal and called for the windows to be opened and a chilled wine to be brought. He kicked off the sheets to further cool himself down. The two kneeling on the bed seemed quite unconcerned as to the growing heat in the room. Then again, on these nights they were always oblivious to everything but each other.
It took the remainder of the stick of incense for Tenpou to finish the painstaking process. The chambermaid had already brought the new wine and as Goujun refilled his cup he noticed with a small amount of curiosity there was a variation of the usual routine in the bindings. Normally Kenren's arms were bent behind his back in a standard hojo jutsu tie, but tonight they were left in front of the body, the ropes spiraled around the wrists as if they were a pair of gauntlets. This was definitely something new to Tenpou's technique, and as Goujun sipped the cool wine he idly wondered if it were changed for any particular reason beyond a simple boredom with standard prison ties. As far as he could see there were no other changes in the pattern of the ropes, and when Kenren was finally crisscrossed to Tenpou's satisfaction the work was sealed with a deep, searching kiss. Goujun tried to imagine the flavor hidden in that kiss. It should taste of sweet wine and sake, of silk and iron. Domination and submission. It should taste of Tenpou's soft lips and the General's sharp tongue...
Goujun frowned into his cup. His attempts at poetic flights of fancy never seemed to live up to what it was he was trying to say, especially on nights in which he had been drinking. Best then, to leave poetry to the poets, war to the warriors. Wine to the wine makers.
All this talk of wine… he reached out to pour himself another cup. Better to drink it while it was still cool.
Lastly came the blindfold. The bound form was then gently laid back onto the bed. Tenpou stretched the arms tight above the man's head and anchored the rope before he settled down to admire his handiwork. Goujun had to admit it was indeed a beautiful thing, very beautiful. The pattern of the ropes were laid in perfect lines against the taut, sculpted body, blinded and turned in on itself. The aesthetics of it were at the same time both vulgar and transcendent. Still, that Tenpou found quite so much pleasure in this was difficult for him to comprehend. Kenren was a stranger creature still, to be able to enjoy such a thing. To be so open and exposed, and at the same time so enclosed. He imagined the ritualistic vulnerability of the bindings to be a rather singular experience, but could not imagine it being a pleasurable one for anyone, let alone for Kenren. The General was such a strong-willed man, contrary by his very nature. It made no sense to the dragon that he would ever allow anyone such absolute control over him, and yet he watched the evidence of it in his bedroom often enough. He knew it wasn't solely libido driving it; after all, this was Tenpou's kink, not Kenren's. If all the man was searching for was another orgasm there was certainly no lack of comers at his doorstep willing to oblige. It could be that he just enjoyed having Tenpou's undivided attentions during these evenings, but that seemed far too simplistic an answer for what was in reality an immensely complex question.
Goujun stared blindly through the two of them while he once again struggled to understand it all. Was it the rare gift of being able to trust another so implicitly; was that what made this appealing to a man like Kenren? That might be a possibility. There was so little trust in Tenkai, so many vipers in paradise. Perhaps that was what Tenpou ultimately saw in this, too. The safety found in someone so completely willing to give themselves to him, body and soul, with the trust of a child. He could see the seduction of a thing like that, especially to Tenpou. But one would think that they could find that deep level of trust between them without quite so much rope work.
Tenpou was now leaning over the General's body, absorbed in the worship of his creation. It seemed a strange thought, that Kenren rendered powerless should have such a power over Tenpou. It was confusing to say the least as to who was truly in control of the situation. It seemed to Goujun as if it were a snake swallowing its own tail, no beginning or end to it. Tenpou's voice was a low and constant murmur as he cooed his pleasure over the intricate patterns, praising the beauty of the submission in front of him. His fingers traced aimlessly along and around the path of the ropes as he fervently kissed the spaces between them, licking and nipping along their edges, savoring the taste of the exposed skin. Tenpou seemed almost hypnotized by his own actions. It made Goujun wonder as he often did on these nights if kami were not somehow affected by Kenren's scent in a similar way as dragons. If it might not invade Tenpou's senses, call to him like a drug. It was something he wished to believe, he wanted to blame Kenren for Tenpou's peculiar behavior; yet at the same time he knew it to be a lie. If it were solely Kenren it would happen without the ropes, yet Tenpou was very much in control of when and where this thing in him came out. In a way he was jealous; this seemed so profoundly intimate that he wished he could be a part of it. He wanted to affect Tenpou as deeply as this affected him. At best, he could be but a witness to it. A dragon king could never bow to a subordinate in such a manner, nor to anyone. He told himself that this is why he allowed this thing to happen in his bed; if it were the only way they could be joined together in this, then so be it. Tenpou brought this need to him so that he might share in it, and he accepted that precious gift, and he watched.
Attentions had since shifted towards the General's head. Tenpou's hands worked in counterpoint to one another; one tugging on the short black hair, the other tracing an unending pattern about the lips and chin. A lean leg straddled the ropes, his excited member rubbing a glistening trail along the bound torso. They smelled so exquisite, even from this distance; and the scent of it called out a tease of scattered memories which cascaded through the dragon's mind. Goujun smiled and stretched as past hedonisms slowly played out and faded into the background of his thoughts, leaving behind the traces of their remembered arousal. He relished their taste for a few moments longer before he propped his head up again and reached for more wine. Tenpou was whispering, ghosting his mouth over the exposed areas of Kenren's face, touching him with lips, tongue, leaving light kisses and gentle nips between the words. Tenpou wove his spell ever so softly and Goujun closed his eyes and simply drifted, allowing himself to enjoy his growing intoxication from the drink and the scents and the light sounds of arousal filling the room.
He swam in that warm sea for awhile, lost in the pleasant sensations. When his mind at last returned to the bedroom he found his lover was watching him. Tenpou smiled when he saw he had the dragon's attention, and still smiling leaned in close to Kenren's ear. Tenpou was talking about him, reminding the General that he was there in the room, the danger of a dragon's teeth and nails so close by. He strained to hear but could not catch the soft whispers over the sound of his own heart beat. He returned the smile after they made eye contact again and noticed Tenpou's eyes then wander to a spot somewhere beyond him. The dragon's smile broadened further as he realized Tenpou was looking at himself in one of the bedroom mirrors. He finally understood why the glasses were left on during these evenings. He had never noticed before how he too was watching their game. The exhibitionist was also his own voyeur.
Tenpou returned his attentions to the ropes. Kenren's body arched into it as blunt nails dug into his flesh, leaving trails of red in counterpoint to the white hemp. After adding a few more welts along the belly and legs Tenpou's focus wandered up to the bound arms, sinking his teeth in hard enough to mark the flesh. Kenren moaned long and low as Tenpou began to suck up the bruise. His mouth slowly worked its way up to where the ropes were spiraled around the wrists. Goujun's body again began to respond. He laid his head back onto the bed and began to touch himself lightly, stroking in time to the grinding rhythm of Tenpou's hips rubbing against the ropes. Kenren hissed in pleasure as the attentions to his arms continued. Goujun growled a low response to it as he thrust harder into his own hand. He could still see the marks from their earlier lovemaking, a scattering of reddish bruises standing out vividly beneath the ropes. Marks of a dragon's teeth. The ache in his body recalled all too well the taste of that flesh.
Kenren keened again, high in his throat. That the man had no small dose of masochism in him Goujun knew by experience. Though he was no stranger himself to the pleasures that could be found in a well-placed love bite, the General seemed to have an amazingly high tolerance for pain when it came to the bedroom. Goujun had to confess he had quite seriously marked the man more times than he'd like to admit, though he could quite reasonably claim to have been not wholly in control of his own actions when he inflicted them. However, Tenpou had no such excuse, and at times he seemed to truly enjoy putting that pain threshold to the test. Though Kenren laughed them all off as 'a good kind of hurt' the thought still disturbed him. Still, the marks never lasted, Kenren seemed to enjoy them, and so no one had anything to complain about. No one but the specter of his brother, reminding him of what might happen if he ever let it go too far. Warning that the day might not be far off when the marks would be too deep to heal.
Kenren's little noises of desperation brought Goujun back to the game still in play. Tenpou was now sprawled between the man's legs, concentrating on his member, licking along its length. The room was flooded with the scent of their excitement. Goujun's body again started calling for it, urging him to breathe it in; he closed his eyes and at last gave himself over to their lust. It felt so very different on nights like tonight, when he had already sated his body and the compulsion to mate was no longer so insistent. It was the times like this when he found the headiness of it all so very exhilarating. He continued to slowly tease and stroke himself, lost in the beautiful ache of it. It quickly brought him to completion for the fourth time that night, perhaps once too often in such close succession; it had almost been painful. He began to lick his hand clean, happily basking in the afterglow. His sight had again shifted from taking in Kenren's scent so deeply, and as he felt his pupils dilate even further from it the bedroom began to sparkle about him, the dull gold patterns on the pillars shimmering in his eyes. He smiled, awash in a feeling of happy contentment. He supposed this little game of theirs had its uses after all. He so rarely had the opportunity to simply lay back and enjoy this feeling.
He returned his attention to his lovers and they too glittered in his eyes. Their qi could be seen so much more clearly with his new vision; they were almost swallowed up in its light. He was so beautiful like this, his Tenpou. A smoldering, burning sun. Tenpou should always be so beautiful, glowing with the inner fire flowing from within him. The visual effect of it was so strong and Goujun's fascination of it so complete it took him quite some time before he had taken any notice at all as to what was happening with Kenren. The form on the bed had stopped its little sounds; he had become so still and so quiet that Goujun had all but forgotten about him. It wasn't until Tenpou shifted himself to allow for better access that the dragon could see the strangeness in the energy gathered about the man. From his vantage point it looked as if Kenren's qi was following the path of the ropes, swirling about him and returning to channel back inside of his body. Goujun lifted his head higher so he could better see the effects. The sight was so very strange, almost bizarre. He began to wonder if too much wine and scent had him hallucinating, but upon inspection nothing else in the room seemed out of place. He blinked a few times to clear his vision. The effect remained. It was amazing; not only was Kenren's own energy contained, but it was pulling in some of Tenpou's as well. Strands of red joining in, twisting along the ropes and into the body trapped within them. He was quite sure this had never happened before, at least not when he had been a witness to it. Never before in this bed. Goujun sat up in wonder as he began to dimly realize the implications of what he was seeing. All that internalization of qi meant that Kenren was likely at an altered state of consciousness by this point. This had to be the reason Tenpou was so careful with the ropes' placement along the body's meridians; it wasn't simply some obscene ritualistic compulsion on his part. The man had to have known that this potential was hidden within his actions.
He could smell fear, but not strongly. Desire. Lust. Elation. There were other, deeper energies he could not identify. It was a curious mixture and he couldn't quite tell which one of the men any one sensation was coming from. Pain. Anticipation. There was something else there, something darker, impatient. Needy. Goujun shook his head to clear the confusing jumble of impressions crowding his senses. There was too much information coming too fast and his mind was too intoxicated to make much sense of it. While he watched the qi continue to loop around Kenren it suddenly struck him that he had been wrong all this time, that this was not some childish bedroom game. There was some sort of alchemy at work within it, and he understood it even less than the silly play he once believed it to be. Whatever was happening had to be the magic that Kenren had alluded to long ago; the ropes were somehow transforming their sexual energies into a spiritual essence, and Kenren was being swallowed up within it. It was not sexual submission they sought in this act so much as sexual sublimation.
Tenpou moved to untie the rope anchoring the bruised arms, then gently brought them down and set them on the bound stomach. Kenren seemed totally withdrawn, outside of his body, or perhaps so deeply inside as to seem entirely gone from it. He still showed signs of arousal but the ropes continued to draw that energy inward, away from any potential of release. Tenpou allowed him to rest awhile, stroking his sides, his face, the energy field vibrating around them. After the pause Tenpou began to reposition the still form. Kenren was gently rolled onto his belly, the blind face pointing somewhat in Goujun's direction. The body was pliable but not limp, so the dragon guessed there was still some sort of consciousness connected to it, though as to what that might look like he had no guess. Tenpou added some pillows under the hips to support the torso and Kenren's arms were carefully guided out in front. The eyeglasses were removed. Some of the ropes were readjusted along the bound legs while Tenpou began to push them farther apart, preparing the inert body to be mounted.
Kenren smelled…wrong, somehow. There were strange unidentifiable scents coming from them both that made Goujun uneasy. This all seemed extremely dangerous; he wanted to tell them to stop it, to end their little game, yet he was afraid of what might happen if he should. He wasn't sure he could interrupt the energies already released in this process without some sort of serious damage occurring to any one of them. Instead he held his tongue while Tenpou positioned himself and ground against the body stretched beneath him, taking in the sensations of skin and sweat as he rubbed his face against the ropes. The low moan from the intimate contact between them told Goujun that Tenpou was pushing in. The bound hands clawed the sheets and Kenren's breath hitched, body arching into the penetration. There was a deep, satisfied growl from Tenpou. His eyes fluttered shut with the pleasure of it and after he had sunk in he remained there a moment, unmoving, relishing the feel of the body wrapped tightly around him. His hands slid along the ropes until they found a hold and he slowly pulled out. Goujun could sense a change in them again, another shift in their energies as Tenpou slowly sank back in. The shimmering stripes of the ropes began to wrap the qi around both of their bodies while they found a slow, lurching rhythm together.
Then Tenpou's movements stilled once more. They lay joined, trembling within the rope's fluctuating energy. There they remained, unmoving. After a time Goujun began to worry that they had both gone deep inside themselves, caught together in this alchemy of theirs and unable to break free of it. Long minutes passed with nothing to fill the space but their harsh breathing and his own heartbeat. He could smell nothing off of them but the odd metallic scent of the energy which surrounded them. Their stillness went on for so very long that Goujun finally felt compelled to reach out his hand, to touch one of them, to make sure they were still responsive to the outside world. He leaned towards them but stopped dead when he found himself staring into a pair of bright, burning eyes. Tenpou bared his teeth at him and growled a deep, guttural warning from the back of his throat. The fierceness in that gaze pinned him to the spot; it dared the dragon to move again as Tenpou slowly and deliberately withdrew and pushed back into Kenren, as if to stake his claim. Goujun stared back, transfixed by what he was seeing. He ever so carefully withdrew to his original position on the bed. The eyes followed his every movement, cold and harsh and predatory. They showed no recognition of him at all; he had the uncanny feeling that he was not being seen as a bedmate, as much as prey. He did not know whose eyes they were which were staring back at him, but he knew they were not Tenpou's.
Goujun felt his heart stop as the thing growled low in Tenpou's throat again. He kept very still in his place near the edge of the bed while it glared at him from within an easy striking distance. It seemed coiled and ready for any further movement he might make. As it eyed him closely the dragon began to weigh his options should it attack. He wasn't as strong in this kami form; he had no idea if he was fast enough to outrun the thing in time to reach the short swords he kept in the dressing room. He was intoxicated enough that he would most likely trip over his own feet on the way to his weapons. Call the guards, and it would certainly attack well before they arrived. It snarled at him again, and its bound claws flexed into the sheets in warning. He dared not even breathe as he watched the thing watch him, the ropes pulsing with an immense energy that wasn't Kenren's, wasn't Tenpou's. It was a power that seemed greater than the sum of its parts and Goujun knew he had been wrong again, so very wrong all this time. The ropes were neither a game of submission, nor were they an alchemy for sexual sublimation. They were never meant to imprison, to hold something in. They had been meant to let something out. Something he was now staring in the face.
For the first time in centuries, Goujun felt true fear. He had always called this thing in Tenpou 'the beast,' but he had never meant it literally. He nearly jumped when Kenren suddenly gave out a ragged moan. The piercing eyes continued to hold him in place as the creature resumed its rough coupling. He kept still, wondering what it was that he should do. If he should not try to kill it somehow, whatever it was. The ropes shimmered again, the boundless energy gathered in the white tiger ropes and Goujun's breath caught abruptly at the thought. A distant memory called out to him, crying to be heard, and as he stared into the beast's eyes a sickening feeling of dull recognition sank into the pit of his stomach. When he had been young his father told stories of this thing. That mighty general of the beasts, great protector of the animals. Ancestral nemesis of the dragon kings. It was at this time of the year that its constellation was at its zenith, and its power held dominion over the western heavens. Goujun had heard the fairy tales, but in all his years he had never seen a hair of the White Tiger of the West; he had always assumed it to be nothing more than a metaphor, a child's fable. He no longer had any doubts that the thing was in fact real. It was as the legends had said; it had been sleeping all this time, waiting for its day to be reborn. They had somehow awakened the beast from its rest by bringing its mind and its spirit together in these two men.
The Tiger growled at him again as the coupling sped up, and Goujun could smell its joy as it neared its completion. Their bodies moved in unison as if they were indeed a single entity. He should strike it now, while it was so occupied. Kill it before it killed him. Yet though he knew he should strike, he found his hand unable to move to action. Goujun could smell its arousal, smell its body, and it smelled of the kami, not of the beast. It smelled of his Tenpou. That this should stay his hand he knew would be his downfall, but he still could not kill the man. A few more thrusts and the beast roared out its victory over him, the predator's eyes closing in the strength of the orgasm and Goujun could already tell that when those eyes opened again the White Tiger would be gone from them. It had already gone back into hiding; he had missed his opportunity to kill the thing while it was out in the open and exposed. Now that it had retreated into the safety of its lair he did not know how to kill it, or if he even could. He had missed his chance. He doubted it should ever come again.
Goujun sat as if paralyzed, shaken to his core by what he had just witnessed. Time passed around him but his mind was still shrieking out its alarms, drowning out the world. When he once again gained some control over himself he looked about for the Tiger but found only Tenpou, who had already pulled out and had begun to take care of the General. He showed no signs at all that anything unusual had just occurred; he was simply going about the tedious task of unwinding the ropes, as was usual at the end of these evenings. Goujun stared insensibly at Tenpou's efficient movements as Kenren's legs were unbound and slowly stretched back out, carefully rubbed to return the blood flow. He began to feel as if he had just awakened from a nightmare. The terror that was so very real only moments ago was a quickly fading memory, and the world around him looked the same as it always had, with no trace of the beast. At the time he had been so very sure of what he had seen, but even this soon afterwards the doubts had begun to set in. Goujun felt dazed, his head spinning, and at least part of the reason for it was from the drink. Could it be that he truly had too much wine this evening, and that is all this had been? Were his senses as untrustworthy as that? Yet if this thing were real, there should be signs of it somewhere. He saw nothing. Smelled nothing. Felt… nothing. Nothing but Tenpou, as the man finished gathering up the length of rope and laid the coils of white tiger at the far end of the bed. It looked no different tonight than it did on any other night they had used it. All names aside, the thing was not kept in the rope, then. He wondered if the evidence of what he had seen could be found anywhere at all beyond his own wine-tinged memories.
There were a few whispers of warning as the blindfold came off. Tenpou leaned over and kissed the General one last time. Deeply, almost reverently. He brought the sheets halfway up over the newly liberated body. Kenren remained unresponsive, heartbeat and breathing still elevated. Even from this distance slight jerks were evident in his limbs. Goujun scented the air more closely, but found no trace of the odd smell of the beast's energy from either of them. Satisfied that it was not lying in wait for him in their shadows, he shifted himself across the bed towards where Kenren lay. As the dragon moved in closer Tenpou looked up and smiled tiredly, leaning back to allow him room. Goujun looked down into the glassy, dilated eyes. They tracked him briefly but were not registering what they were seeing beyond the movement. They blinked a few times before rolling back into his head and drifting shut. The entire body twitched. He looked to be in a mild state of shock.
"Is he alright?"
"He'll be fine; it just takes awhile for him to come around sometimes," Tenpou answered softly. His hand gently stroked a few wayward spikes of black hair away from the sweaty face. Kenren blindly turned into the touch like a flower would turn to the sun.
"He's off-duty tomorrow, you needn't worry this will affect his performance."
"It takes him that long to return from this?"
"Not really. But he won't be back to full functionality for at least another day. He tends to be spaced out for a while afterwards."
Tenpou sat up straight and stretched his arms above his head. A joint popped. "I should be able to move him in about an hour or so. I hope you don't mind if we remain here until then."
"I see no need to move him tonight. You should stay until morning."
"We wouldn't wish to impose."
Goujun felt himself bridle at Tenpou's use of the word we, then silently chided himself for the knee jerk reaction. He had to admit this budding jealousy in him was not becoming in the least.
"You are not an imposition, Tenpou. It was my suggestion."
The dragon continued to study the quiet face for a few moments. Kenren was still somewhere deep inside of himself; perhaps the animal's possession of him was not totally relinquished. Tenpou began rubbing the man's wrists, helping the circulation to return. Finding nothing of note in the face Goujun moved on to inspect the body. Sets of angry rope welts ran across the torso in red tiger stripes. The dragon felt compelled to touch one, fingertips following its path much like Tenpou's did in what seemed like centuries before. It was slightly warmer than usual, but otherwise felt like Kenren's skin and nothing more. The strange overload of energy still buzzing through the man's body was quickly diminishing. Goujun next searched the limbs, watching the body jerk lightly under his wandering hands as the General slowly began to return from wherever it was he had gone.
No answers there, either. There was nothing at all that he found in the man to tell him the truth of what he had seen. The thing was not kept in Kenren's body, it seemed; though he was possibly some sort of conduit for it. So it was not to be found in the corporeal, then. Still, he needed to know what it was he had witnessed this night, if they knew about the White Tiger. If they had knowingly conjured the beast with their alchemy. He doubted that Tenpou would outright lie to him, but the man was stubborn if he felt cornered. Stonewalling or misdirection was not out of the question. He needed to tread lightly in this. He chose to ask the first and most obvious question.
"I take it this has happened to him before?"
Tenpou paused, frowning as he considered his reply. He began to stroke along Kenren's shoulder and chest distractedly. The body jerked again under the touch. "A few times, though I believe it's the first time we've managed it here. I'm afraid your presence tends to distract him somewhat. That, and the servants waltzing in at the most inopportune times."
Tenpou twisted himself around, searching for his ritual post coital cigarette. Exactly as he did every night he lay in this bed. Such a reassuringly familiar action; everything was so grossly normal as to seem totally surreal.
"I was surprised he managed to ignore the maid tonight, but I think he was already far enough gone by that point that he never even heard her come in."
"Where is it that he goes?"
Tenpou paused as he lit up. He took a few drags on the cigarette before continuing.
"Basically, it's a qi-induced state of euphoria. Much more intense than that blissed-out high he occasionally gets from sex. The literature suggested it was possible to achieve something like it using a combination of correct rope placement and mental concentration, so we decided to experiment with it. We had to push the sympathetic nervous system response a bit harder, get those endorphins really pumping before it clicked for him. But as you can see, click it did."
Tenpou drew in another lungful of smoke as he studied the unresponsive body for a few more moments. He smiled as he reached out to pet the placid face.
"Kenren calls it a 'super subspace,' if that helps at all. To be honest, I was quite surprised the first time it happened. I had to quickly dig the book back out to find out what I was expected to do when he became like this. Since I never thought it was literally possible, I hadn't actually read the thing all the way though."
He leaned over to tap his cigarette into his abandoned wine cup. Somehow it surprised Goujun to find out Tenpou had a book on such a subject. For that matter, that anyone had bothered to write one beyond simple pornography. He wondered where the man kept it in his library, under what category. Tenpou shifted himself so that he was lying along Kenren's side, head propped on his hand. It felt like a bookend to how the evening began, with their lying side by side, only now the soft conversation was between Tenpou and himself across the General's prone body. Tenpou's hand and cigarette joined with Goujun's in tracing along the tiger's stripes which separated them. Goujun wanted to ask him about the other thing that had happened between the two of them, the beast. He wasn't sure where to begin with it. After a few pensive moments Tenpou began talking again to no one in particular, thinking aloud.
"I have to admit the effects of it were much stronger tonight than it has ever been previously. He must be getting better at sublimating himself. I could even feel my own qi being drawn in, mixing together into it… for awhile, I became somewhat lost in the sensations it produced. It was a rather… singular experience, I would say. It's quite impressive, really. I'm rather jealous he can manage such a thing."
Lost in it… Tenpou seemed to be unaware of what had just happened to him. While he smoked Goujun watched the emotions on the man's face fade one into another in close progression. It looked as if he might be struggling with something, as if he had no point of reference from which to put words to what it was he had just experienced. The silence from him continued and the dragon felt compelled to say something to keep the conversation going.
"Have you ever tried it yourself?"
Tenpou met his eyes briefly, then quietly shook his head. Goujun looked to Kenren again when the man's head abruptly rolled to the side. With a stuttered sigh his whole body seemed to relax all at once. The odd jerky movements were growing fewer and farther between. He could see the man's eyes moving under the lids. The lamps fluttered as a gust of wind blew through the open windows, and Goujun could not help but think of the adage as the rain follows the dragon, so the wind follows the tiger.
"So is that the reason you do all this binding, then? To alter his state of consciousness?"
Tenpou snorted and took one last deep pull on the cigarette before he stretched out to deposit the butt into his makeshift ashtray.
"Hardly. To be honest, I just like tying him up."
He briefly paused to tuck his hair behind his ear before continuing in his random petting of rope welts. "This is only an added benefit for him, really. I felt compelled to give him something for being such a good sport about these things."
Tenpou's skin flushed as he spoke. He was blushing, as if he had just realized they were suddenly speaking so candidly about something they had always religiously avoided discussing. Goujun knew this thing in him sat uneasily at best, that Tenpou tried not to think about it too deeply. This was the first time he had openly admitted to any of it. After a moment of staring into Kenren's tranquil face Tenpou suddenly snorted again in derision, and his moment of embarrassment passed as quickly as it came.
"Then again, this is Kenren we're talking about. The man will do pretty much anything you ask as long as you can convince him an orgasm is involved in it somewhere."
Goujun scowled at the blatant lie. Tenpou had found his emotional out, and had used it. Goujun was quite sure that if he had asked the General to do many of the things he'd seen the man do willingly for Tenpou, the answers would have been quite different, and would most likely have been delivered at the top of Kenren's lungs. Such a statement might be true for Tenpou, but for Tenpou alone. He pushed down the growing discomfort that followed that thought in order to take advantage of the sudden openness of their conversation.
"May I ask, why 'white tiger' rope? Is there a reason behind the choice?"
After the briefest pause a devilish smile crept across Tenpou's features. He continued to map the General's chest with his fingertips. All and all, he seemed quite reluctant to look Goujun in the eyes tonight. Perhaps the embarrassment over his aberrant sexuality was not as banished as he would have wished it to be.
"It's because I picked it up during an autumn incursion, that's why. We had brought along more rope than we had prisoners that day, and it had been left behind. No one's missed it." Tenpou snickered at the thought. He seemed to find it rather funny he had just unapologetically admitted to his commander that he had stolen his favorite sex toy from the army. "If it had happened in winter, I suppose I'd be tying him up in 'black tortoise' ropes right now. Though I'm happy with the serendipity of it. White tiger suits him. He wouldn't look nearly as attractive in the other options."
Goujun stared at him in disbelief. If Tenpou's story was true, it was nothing more than random chance that had brought all the elements together, and the white tiger rope meant nothing at all. The sexual perversity of it aside, it all seemed too innocent, too implausible. He simply could not accept that there was no reason behind this other than serendipity. There had to be more to it than that. He had seen the beast's face.
"You seemed changed tonight, Tenpou. For a time you did not recognize me."
Tenpou frowned. He still refused to look up at the dragon; instead he stared blindly at a place somewhere beyond his fingers as they compulsively moved back and forth along the stripes.
"Really? I don't seem to recall that."
He could smell no lie in the man; it was possible Tenpou truly did not know anything of the beast that lay somewhere inside them. It made Goujun again doubt, and wonder if what he had seen was nothing more than a drunkard's folly. His attention was drawn away from his unsettling thoughts when Kenren made a light noise in the back of his throat. His eyes fluttered open briefly. Tenpou's face lit up in an indulgent smile and he leaned in to kiss the man lightly on the lips. The lips responded as best they could and a hand jerked up to rest where Tenpou's fingers had just been stroking. The General blinked and grunted again. Tenpou gave a low laugh at the poor man's tentative attempts to regain control of his own body.
"Hey there, pet. Has our chew toy finally started to come down?"
Pet? Goujun shot a glance towards Tenpou's affectionate smile and his eyes narrowed at the easiness of the familiarity. Though the epithet 'chew toy' had been bandied about before, he had never heard Tenpou use such endearments as 'pet' to anyone. Such an intimacy had certainly never been directed towards him. So it ran both ways between them after all. He understood that Tenpou deserved more attention than his own position allowed him to give the man, that his basic needs would send him searching for it elsewhere. But to actually see the evidence of such a strong emotional attachment to the General was grating to say the least. Tenpou might deny it, he might laugh off Kenren's devotion to him as an eternal quest for sexual release, but it was only a smoke screen as to the growing depths of the intimacy they shared. It was a smoke screen that was easy enough to see through. He wondered who Tenpou was trying to fool with it.
"Goujun suggested we stay the night, so no need to rush things. You can just sleep it off."
Kenren grunted at them again, and with an immense and rather clumsy effort rolled himself over and buried his head into Tenpou's chest. The Marshal seemed to be expecting it; he opened his embrace to allow the man in, and then pulled the sheets up about them both. He wrapped a protective arm over Kenren's shoulders before quietly laying his own head onto the pillows. Tenpou's eyes were shining, smiling triumphantly at the dragon. Goujun stretched himself out as well, and reached out his hand to interlace his fingers with Tenpou's. Tenpou squeezed lightly in response. They lay joined there together like that, with the General caught between them, for quite some time. There was a soft knock before the maids came in to extinguish the lamps; otherwise all was quiet in the household. Tenpou's breathing evened, he seemed to drift off. Goujun watched the two of them sleep, entwined like children, as the tiger's stripes slowly sank back to lie hidden beneath Kenren's skin.
Be careful your dog doesn't bite you… So, it seemed that the man had been wrong with his warning after all. It was not his dog which Goujun needed to worry about. Instead, it was something which was far more dangerous.