Riki already knew the surrounding well – had two days to study it profoundly. A hospital room. Quite big. Pale, softly green walls, two beds and plenty of medical equipment as the room main furnishings. And his gorgeous blonde roommate, right now sitting on Riki's bed and watching him intensely.
They survived. Or rather – they were forced back to life in an immediate rescue action. They were restored in the most exclusive clinic of Tanagura. Thanks to Katze, who called for help even before the explosion. Thanks to Raoul, who supervised the whole process later. The process took almost five months and was a crowning achievement of genetic engineering. There was not one new scar on them and – as they had been assured – after the rehabilitation they would not remember about Dana Bahn.
The question was whether they wanted to forget it.
Iason fidgeted a little, trying to find more a comfortable position. He had been awakened a few days before Riki and had some time to practice with his new legs already, but it was far from enough. His lower limbs were still rather clumsy and must have felt awkward.
"Hey," said the blondie as if he didn't sit in the same room for the whole day.
"Hey," Riki answered, smiling at the attitude.
Something was up. He knew it. He could sense it clearly in this calm serious gaze since the moment Iason had sat on his bed a few minutes ago. And he had a sinking feeling that he knew what it was.
The blondie slipped his hand into the pocket and when he pulled it out, there was a small shiny piece of metal between his fingers. Riki winced unhappily. Yep, he was right.
"I believe we have this little thing to discuss, Riki."
His pet ring. He had noticed its absence short after his awakening – when he checked whether he'd been fully restored. He had asked about it on reflex and was answered with two short words: "Later, Riki". So he had waited. Not that the matter absorbed him much – he was still too confused, too concerned with numerous treatments, examinations, and all that fuss around them. He almost didn't think about it. But somehow now he knew what to say.
He dropped his eyes. "Iason, I know you want to put that thing on me." The words were quiet and slightly muffled. "And... I want you to know that..." he frowned. It wasn't easy. "I won't try to protest."
"No?" one finely arched eyebrow rose slightly.
"No." Riki rolled his eyes. "Just don't get too excited about it." He sighed. "I guess... after what happened, there's just no point."
Somehow, after Dana Bahn, it seemed natural for Riki that he would stay with Iason. Especially now, when Jupiter finally declared she would no longer scold her favourite son about his pet. Now there was nothing that could stop Iason from keeping him. And surely no one would dare to call Iason a deviant anymore. Riki was still surprised with what the blondie had told him about his visit at Jupiter. "I know it will sound ridiculous, but she seemed... touched."
The ring disappeared in Iason's closed fist as he put his hand on his lap.
"And what if I told you that you could be free?"
Riki abruptly shifted his gaze back to the man.
"What if I told you I didn't come here to put the ring on you but to ask you whether you want to wear it or not?"
His eyes widened, he looked at the blondie stunned.
"What... do you mean?"
"I want to give you the choice, Riki. After what you did for me in Dana Bahn, I can't just put the ring on you. It wouldn't be right. You deserve something better. Thus I've decided to make you an offer. You will decide about your freedom and if you choose to be free, I'll let you go. Once and for all."
For a moment Riki just stared at Iason, unable to say anything. His stomach cramped.
"Iason!" he breathed, the sound came out half whisper, half gasp. The blondie remained calm.
"But I am afraid the offer is a bit limited."
"I can let you be free, but then you will have to leave Eos. You'll have to go, and we will probably never meet again. Or you can stay, but in that case you'll have to be my pet. With all that it involves. These are the only two options. And the choice is only one – right here and now. You won't be able to change your mind later."
There was a long silence. Riki was staring at Iason, his head slightly tilted, his brows slightly furrowed. Reproach slowly building up in him as he started to realize the weight of the ultimatum.
"Why? Why like that, Iason?" he asked finally, his voice quiet.
The answer was quiet as well. "Because that's how Jupiter wants it. Because that's how I want it."
"You... want it?
"That's the only way Jupiter allowed us to be together. And I agree with her, Riki. If you are to be with me, you have to be my pet. Because that's how I see you. Because that's what you are."
It hurt. Indeed, Iason had always kept repeating that Riki was his pet. Never had he called him lover – not even at those times when he risked his position to keep him, when he granted him so much freedom. It was always a pet thing, and Riki had already grown accustomed to that. But nevertheless today somehow it hurt.
Riki turned his head away and for some reason the blondie found it necessary to add, "I am her son, Riki. She created this world with all its rules. With pets, elite and all the restrictions. I am genetically and socially adapted so that those rules suited me. And they do. I am sorry, but I just can't see you otherwise."
"So," Riki snorted bitterly, "I am so much of a pet for you that if I choose to go, you don't even want to see me."
And he thought he could love that guy...
"No. If you choose to go, I don't want to see you not to torment myself with your presence. If you choose to go, I truly hope I will forget you. Otherwise it would be unbearable."
Riki shot him a glance. Iason was saying such thing to him? Never, ever before had he spoken of his emotions to Riki. Making such confession meant putting all his blondie pride aside. Was he really that grave to do so?
Still, it didn't make the offer any better. Riki shrugged off and averted his eyes again.
"Face it, Riki," Iason took on. "Even if Jupiter finally accepted us, even if she in fact gave us permission for sex, how do you think a mongrel and a blondie can live together in this world? A blondie can't have a lover. If you are my pet, we fit within the limits of norm at least formally."
With the corner of his eye Riki saw Iason reaching for him. He felt a warm palm on his chin. Turning his head back. Forcing him to look back into those blue eyes. He didn't resist.
"I want you to listen to what I have to say," the blondie said with that intense look of his. "You have to know what I have to offer so that later you could make a fully responsible decision. I want to be honest with you."
Riki shrugged. It was already all the same for him.
"Sure. Spit it."
Iason nodded and released his chin.
"I won't deceive you, Riki. If you choose to stay, everything will come back to normal. You will be subject to all pet restrictions. You'll have to wear the pet ring without possibility to take it off. And don't even start to think that I will hold back from using you. I will treat you exactly as I did before. As I treated you when you came back to me. Because it pleases me. And you won't be given another chance to leave. Pets don't have right to decide about their freedom."
Oh yes, Iason was honest. In that awful way one wasn't sure he wanted to be treated honestly. Riki immediately had the full view of the situation. He knew all this all too well. When you are a pet, only the will of your master matters. Your wishes and desires mean nothing. They take you when they want, how they want, and as many times as they want. They don't care if you are, by some means, tired, or sick, or sore (from the previous sessions, by the way). When they don't want to take you, they send you away and it doesn't matter that you want to be taken at the moment – Riki always hated this part the most. Not to mention those humiliating sessions of performing, and that nasty awareness of Iason's power over him through that stupid pet ring.
Of course Riki didn't miss what stage of their relationship Iason was referring to and it made some difference, but it was a question of choice between absolutely intolerable and bad.
"I am willing to make one concession," the blondie continued his tirade. "You were really good on the black market once, and I know that the magazine work didn't satisfy you. Thus I can allow you even more liberty in that field. I'll tell Katze to give you more responsible tasks. I can even let you leave Amoi on your own. For a day or two, when I decide you are not needed around me. But that's it. Nothing else can be changed."
Riki fidgeted, swearing at Iason inwardly. Damn! The blondie always knew how to annoy him. All this generous offer instead of making him happy only added to his frustration. How it was cunning. Giving him choice. Driving him into the trap of his own decision. All in the sweet envelope of gratitude and good intentions. But... what if Iason really was grateful? And thinking about it now, leaving him no choice after what happened indeed would be mean.
Dammit, it was some wicked circle with no way out.
"You're a frickin' bastard, you know that?" he exhaled.
"Yes, I heard that from you a few times," the blondie admitted with a smile.
Riki gave out a short helpless smirk. He was angry, of course he was. But somehow Iason managed to enchant him even now. Who could be so crafty that even being honest, he would be so tricky? Who would at the same time smile at you with the smile you could drown in?
Riki just shook his head and let it fall back on the pillow.
"It isn't fair, Iason."
"What isn't fair? Giving you the choice?"
"Giving me that choice isn't fair and you know it."
For a moment Iason watched him thoughtfully.
"I admit that now, after what you did, I do hope that you will choose being my pet by yourself."
"Otherwise you would never let me decide, right?"
"That's possible," the blondie allowed shamelessly. "Still, if you prefer your freedom, I won't try to stop you. I can promise you that."
"Yeah, right!" Riki grunted grimly.
No, it wasn't fair! He could accept being Iason's pet, all right. But it wasn't what he craved for. He craved for his freedom. And while he was ready to be forced to stay, choosing for himself was something entirely different. It was like binding himself instead of being bound. No one would be to blame except for him. And for that he wasn't ready.
"What is it, some kind of game?" he blurted out. "You hope that if I choose to stay, I'll stop fighting you, right? You will keep me and you'll get rid of the trouble. Right?"
"A game," Iason laughed, low, softly. "Yes, to some extent I count on that. But if you think all I want is to curb you, you are very wrong, Riki." And for some reason these words sounded truthful.
Riki shifted his eyes, giving Iason a long glance.
"I can't choose being you pet, Iason," he whispered. "Don't you see? I just can't!"
"Then decide otherwise." Iason's voice was calm, imperturbable, but Riki knew him too well to be fooled.
He closed his eyes. He perfectly knew what he should do and what was best for him. He was a mongrel, for crying out loud. He valued his pride and freedom most of all. And he finally had a chance to regain it. The only chance! There was absolutely no reasonable argument for the other option. So what that he would have to leave the guy before him? It was even good. That guy humiliated him, and abused him, and offended him. Constantly, even now.
...That guy loved him...
Riki shivered as the unwanted thought sneaked into his mind. Okay, so maybe that guy also cared for him, but mostly he was a nuisance. And Riki would only be glad he would never have to put up with him anymore. Now he would go; he would find a job on the black market, maybe even for Katze; he would buy a new apartment, maybe even in Midas. He would start a new life. He would be free! And about Iason he would eventually forget. Right?
No, he wouldn't. He would never forget – already tried. Shit!
His hands clenched compulsively on the blanket.
"Can't you at least give me some more time?"
"I would much appreciate if the matter was settled now." There was a delicate, but very clear insistence in Iason's voice.
And then Riki saw himself doing it. Quickly, as if lingering could only prove painful, he pulled the blanket down, revealing his thighs.
"Put it on," he barked, hating the sound of these words. He was all trembling. With anger? Frustration? He didn't know.
Iason asked no questions. If he was sure. If perhaps he wanted to change his mind. He just lifted Riki's hospital gown and reached to his crotch habitually. Riki felt tears welling in his eyes when the cold piece of metal clenched on his flesh. He didn't look at it, he couldn't.
"Just don't expect me to suddenly become meek," he snapped, trying to sound arrogant.
Iason's hand didn't pull back at once. It started to caress his flesh, immediately bringing arousal. A quiet groan escaped Riki's throat although he fought to remain silent. It was terrible – a clear proof of how badly he was conditioned.
"Let go," he moaned. Iason smiled.
"Always the same, isn't it, Riki? I don't expect you to become meek. I would be disappointed if you would."
The hand withdrew finally and Riki's gown was decently put back on his thighs. Only now did the mongrel risk a look at his master. His Master – once he could get mad at these words, he could deny them. Now he couldn't do even that.
"You'll never stop making me mad," he muttered sullenly.
"Always the same, Riki," the blondie repeated, smiling with an irresistible charm. He wrapped one hand around his pet and pulled him closer. Riki rested the top of his head against the strong chest, half yielding to the embrace, half resisting it. He smacked one fist into the blondie's ribs, but the strike lacked force. And Iason didn't even seem to notice.
"I'm glad that it is your choice," he whispered.
Riki's hands – as if finding nothing better to do – climbed around Iason without the mongrel's real consent.
"I'm glad too, you bastard," Riki whispered back.
Some time later
"Where's Riki, Iason," asked Raoul, looking around Iason's penthouse.
The pet wasn't in. It was surprising since the evening was late and whatever the mongrel was doing during the day, whether it was one of his black market jobs or something else, he should be back already.
"Didn't Katze tell you?" Iason, sitting opposite him at the cocktail table, was lazily playing with a glass of wine. "He's running an errand for him. He flew to Laocon today. He's coming back tomorrow."
"So, you really let your pet fly around like that. Really Iason, could he even be called pet anymore?"
Iason arched his delicate brow. "So you think he can't? Good," he smiled. "But don't you worry Raoul, he is my pet. He hits my criterions of being one, and that's absolutely enough." With that, Iason raised his glass to Raoul and ignoring his friend's gloomy gaze, sipped his wine, clearly pleased with himself.