Dragon Soul by JB McDonald
Everything was supposed to work out. They had the dragon under control, they
were back with the mercenaries - things were supposed to be good now. That
was the plan. Then word of plague in Katsu's country arrives, and with it
knowledge that will shatter everything Ashe thought he knew about his lover.
When Katsu has to make a choice between Ashe or sailing overseas to a
country that abandoned him to save a beloved sisterWell, some choices are
harder than others. Some are nearly impossible to make.
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The wind whistled around the edges of the building, creeping in through
cracks in old brick and the wooden shutters. Below them, the kitchen ovens
blasted heat, sending warmth to ease through the inn and combat the wind.
Katsu was, at last, pleasantly warm.
He lay stretched out on the straw-filled mattress, his arms under his head,
muscles liquid with the afterglow of sex. A fine sheen of sweat was drying
slowly, while Ashe traced the swirls and loops of Katsu's tattoos.
"Are the tattoos common among healers in your land?" Ashe's voice wasn't
quite like the other human voices Katsu had heard. Probably because Ashe
wasn't human. It had something just under the surface that hinted at deep
forests and hidden pools. It had annoyed Katsu when they'd first met; he
couldn't categorize it neatly and shuffle it away in a mental box.
Katsu cracked an eye, watching Ashe's long fingers -- one fewer than a
human's -- trace the patterns. Ashe's hair, neither blond nor brown but
something in between, was tucked back behind a pointed hear, his braids in
disarray. He looked thoughtful, watching Katsu's chest as if it might hold
answers to deep questions.
There had only been one question asked, though. Katsu regarded Ashe from
under the veil of black lashes, weighing and discarding ideas. He couldn't
distract Ashe with sex; they'd just finished. Perhaps a partial answer and a
diversion would be enough, though.
He caught Ashe's pale hand in his golden-skinned one, sitting up as he
brought Ashe's knuckles to his mouth. In the traditions of this world, he
kissed wind-roughened skin. Then he nipped at long, graceful fingers. "Some
do." He sucked on one fingertip, glanced up to watch Ashe's pupils dilate,
and gave a tiny smile before leaning in to catch full lips with his own. He
lingered before pulling back just enough to murmur. "We haven't practiced
with the dragon today."
"Really?" Ashe chuckled, a little breathless. "That's what you're thinking
"You're supposed to be practicing under stress. This is stress." He stroked
a hand down the bare skin of Ashe's back, enjoying the softness over lean
muscle. "Can you feel him?"
"Her," Ashe corrected, twisting to look at the dragon.
The creature opened one eye, sleeping in a curled ball of silver hide and
nearly translucent wings.
"I can..." Ashe frowned, concentrating. "Just barely."
"See if you can take her--" Katsu stopped himself just short of using his
own term, struggling to find the one Ashe used. His term, he had to admit,
wasn't quite accurate for a non-human being. "Magic."
"I don't think I can." Ashe gave a little laugh, turning to look at Katsu.
"Maybe you could. With your tattoos. If, I guess, she was bonded to you."
Ashe's gaze was searching. Katsu didn't meet his lover's eyes, willing Ashe
to believe he was truly oblivious to Ashe's interest. The less Ashe knew
about Katsu, the better. "I couldn't," he said briskly. "But try it. You
might be able to. You never know until you try."
It took a long time for Ashe's gaze to pull away from Katsu. Long moments in
which Katsu could imagine Ashe asking for more information.
Then Ashe gave up, turning to stare at the dragon as if pulling magic
required him to see his target. Katsu relaxed ever so slightly.
"I don't think anything's happening," Ashe said finally.
"She felt something," Katsu pointed out. "She was staring back." He gave
Ashe another stroke, silent praise as Ashe looked pleased. "I'm going to get
us some food. I'll be back." He stood, pulling on trousers and a coat over
his bare skin. It would be colder in the common room, but he'd just have a
platter sent up. No reason to get properly dressed.
There was a quick breath, and rapid words. "Maybe when you get back you can
tell me what kinds of healers have tattoos in your land."
It took a great deal for Ashe to ask anything, Katsu had learned over the
past months. It was all too easy to push him into backing down. Often, Katsu
found himself counseling Ashe on standing up for what he wanted.
Now he gave Ashe a wry smile and a slight lift of one shoulder, putting Ashe
off with two words. "Good healers have tattoos." He turned and walked out of
the door, conversation over. Ashe wouldn't pursue it now, Katsu was sure.
Katsu pretended not to notice the hurt he left in the room, or the ache he
carried in his chest.