Story Title: Serin’s Secret Garden
Configuration: m/m, M/m
Characters: Kendrik/Yaden, Kendrik/Luca, Kendrik/Yuri Dracon
Warnings: slavery, prostitution, rape mentioned, violence, sex, sex on stage, various abuse, severe brainwashing, murderous flora, drugs, potentially underage sex.
Word Count: 4.800/59.000
Setting: 'Phoenix Empire' verse, see Phoenix Empire Timeline & Index and the Phoenicipedia
Summary: To wrap up his mission and leave behind a situation he can live with, Kendrik returns to the Secret Garden one last time…
Feedback: Yes, please! Constructive criticism welcome!
Author's note: This is the last chapter of Serin's Secret Garden. It's been the longest single piece of fiction I have written so far, and you all have made this a really great experience. So, I just wanted to seize the moment and say thank you for your comments, your questions, and all the fun! You are the best.
Oddly, Madam Tochka was pretty exactly how Kendrik had imagined her to be. A tall, elderly Lady of striking poise and little illusions, Madam Tochka seemed like a living avatar of her establishment. She didn’t really care about the fate of the whores working for her, but neither did she want to inflict more suffering than necessary. A good businesswoman, Kendrik found, though definitely not a good woman.
It had taken Kendrik longer than he had wanted to get a personal meeting with her. Even the only Ambassador of a neighboring Empire was just one of many dignitaries demanding a share of her time. So he had spent a whole, nailbiting day until he could return to the Secret Garden, this time under his real name, with all the political firepower that included.
But twenty-four hours were a long time, and a lot could go wrong in the Secret Garden in a lot less. If anything had happened to Luca, Kendrik would never forgive himself.
Despite having had enough time on his hands, Kendrik hadn’t yet visited the doctors to reverse the changes they had made to his appearance in preparation for this mission. He had grown to like the new Kendrik, and the reaction of his spouses had only cemented this feeling. Yaden and Colin had been... rather enthusiastic, Teagan somewhat dismissive, and Jenny had literally decided that she wanted his children, now. They would have to have a few firm words about this once the matters in the Secret Garden were settled for good. But none the less, he liked being pretty, and he liked the way his looks suddenly made his talents so much easier to use. His stay in the Secret Garden had changed him, and his new look was something he definitely wanted to keep.
Of course, this created a certain risk of someone noticing the similarities between Kendrik, the pet, and Lord Aquila of Caelius, Ambassador of House Aquila. Most probably, though, they would assume someone had modeled his pet after a foreign noble, or that said noble had modeled his looks after some pet. Either way, the chances that someone would end up suspecting them to be one and the same person were negligible.
So when he sat down on the comfortable chair opposing Madam Tochka, Kendrik was busy figuring out how to sit like a very handsome noble, and neither like a soldier or a pet. At least, his newly acquired pet skills were sometimes useful in real life, too.
“Ambassador Aquila,” Madam Tochka opened their conversation, her gray eyes keenly analyzing. “I have to admit I am a little surprised that a man wants to talk about buying one of my talents without ever having been here before. At least, as far as I know.”
The last sentence was ringing with the warning that she was extremely sure that she was well informed about anything that happened within her establishment. Kendrik’s request intrigued her, making her wonder what little fascinating detail she had overlooked.
“First of all,” Kendrik replied with a polite bow of his head, “I have to thank you for seeing me on such a short notice. And second, what a luck that the ‘why’ is of no importance once the ‘how much’ is settled.”
This brought a smile to Madam Tochka’s thin lips. “Oh, I see. A very professional attitude, if I may say so, Excellency. Now, who is it, then?”
“Actually, it is two of your talents.” Kendrik replied, handing her a small slip of paper with two names on it. “And just so we are on the same page here. I am not leaving without the papers for those two. I am extremely flexible about the price, though.”
Again, Madam Tochka gave him an intrigued smile, almost flirting with him. But her smile slipped badly once she looked at the paper and read the two names.
“What a bold request, Excellency.” Her voice had taken a steely edge that was more of a warning than a drawn dagger. “The boy, I think, we can easily reach an agreement on. He won’t be cheap, but he’s just one of many. The other one, though… Please don’t take this as an insult to your credit line, Ambassador, but I do not think you can afford her.”
Having pretty much expected this reaction, Kendrik only smiled.
“What about I tell you what I intend to do with her,” he offered instead. “And once you know, you make up your mind.”
“So you think you can convince me to sell her?” Madam Tochka, once again, seemed more intrigued than anything else. “Well, if you manage, I’ll throw in a frequent customer card just for managing to surprise me.”
“If you want to do me a favor, skip the card,” Kendrik replied with a pained smirk. “I’d rather not be connected to your establishment any more than necessary.”
This time, Madam Tochka laughed out loud. “I am listening.”
“Well, here’s what I am going to do…”
One and a half hours later, Kendrik settled into the plush purple upholstery of a wide armchair. Next to him, on a dainty coffee table, were two sales contracts, the ink barely dry. He had spent an ungodly sum on two slaves, a fact that would have seemed pretty unthinkable to him only a few weeks ago. The fact that he had bought a human being, that was, mostly. That he had paid more than a king’s ransom had only made matters easier for him. A human being shouldn’t be cheap, and paying anything less would have felt like an insult.
It had taken quite some talking to Madam Tochka, but in the end she had seen that Kendrik wouldn’t settle for anything less, and that there was no real loss for her involved. A significant risk, yes, but no loss. And it had seemed like the best solution to Kendrik to leave this place in a state that would allow him to sleep at night, so he had been quite inflexible about his demands.
So once they had hammered out the details of their agreements, Kendrik had shared a brief drink with Madam Tochka on the successful transaction. After that, he had been sent into this little room with its heavy purple settees and gilded scrollwork to wait for his purchases to be handed over.
Kendrik was so nervous his palms were sweating.
It was so ridiculous that Kendrik had to give an audible chuckle just to keep him from pacing the place. After all that he had been through, after all he had done and pretended to be, the one thing that made him nervous like nothing else was the prospect of meeting a teenage boy he had just bought.
The wait until his meeting with Madam Tochka had been harrowing already, but these moments were worse.
At least, they were over soon enough.
He could sense Luca even before he heard anyone approach the door. It took Kendrik a conscious effort to remain calm, to remain sitting and not to rush out both physically and mentally, trying to greet Luca and comfort him, telling him that all would be well now. But he managed, even if only barely so.
Luca was led into the room by one of the many, faceless servants of the Secret Garden. Luca’s expression had been neutral but it lit up both with joy and confusion as soon as he saw who was waiting for him.
“Kendrik!” he exclaimed, wide-eyed. “What are you…”
But immediately, he broke off, cocking his head in this wonderful gesture that told Kendrik the boy was thinking rapidly.
“I am sorry, milord,” Luca added almost immediately. “Have we met before?”
Kendrik could have jumped up and kissed him. What a smart, smart boy. But instead, he remained sitting, and merely shook his head politely.
“I am Ambassador Aquila,” Kendrik explained evenly, “and I have bought you from the Secret Garden. I am your new master.” Parallel to his words, he conveyed an intense feeling of joy and anticipation, of familiarity and excitement. Luca wouldn’t know exactly what it was he was sensing, but he would be quite sure it was Kendrik sending him those impressions, and that it was HIS Kendrik sitting in front of him.
“Yes, I have been told so, master,” Luca replied, only a split second hesitating. “What would you like me to do?”
Kendrik had always known Luca was a talented actor, but the extent of his abilities surprised even him.
Outwardly perfectly meek and calm, Luca seemed like a model slave. Only his emotions betrayed his curiosity, his confusion, and the burning urge to jump Kendrik and ask him what the hell was going on here. Kendrik had admittedly been a little worried about this moment, but now he was rather sure there wouldn’t be any particular risk to his cover.
“Sit,” Kendrik ordered. “I am still waiting for another slave I have bought.”
This time, Luca raised his eyesbrows, a fine smile in the corner of his mouth. He was dying to learn what was going on, but he also knew that there were questions rather not asked within the Secret Garden. He trusted Kendrik to tell him everything as soon as he could.
Still perfectly acting the meek slave, Luca nodded and walked over to Kendrik, kneeling on the floor next to the armchair Kendrik was sitting in, leaning against is so Kendrik could easily pat his head if he should want so.
For a moment, nothing happened.
“What about you fetch me a drink?” Kendrik asked as he couldn’t just keep on sitting there in silence. “Something refreshing, no alcohol.”
“I’ll see how the bar is stocked, here, master,” Luca replied, rising to his feet in a smooth motion. He walked over to the built-in cabinet and opened its heavy oak doors, checking the contents of the bar with a professional scowl. “I fear the only thing without alcohol I can offer you is lemonade, master. Or I would have to chime for room service, if you want.”
“Lemonade will be fine, Luca.” Kendrik replied, feeling rather silly. “Do we have ice?”
“No master, I fear not.”
“Oh never mind,” Kendrik replied. “Get yourself something to drink as well, we might have to wait for a little wile.”
“Thank you, master.” Luca poured them a glass of lemonade each, then walked back again to Kendrik. “I don’t think you’ll have to wait much longer, though,” he added. “They deliver slaves very swiftly, usually.”
“In this case, things might be a little different.” Kendrik replied with a bitter-sweet grin. “She might object.”
“Oh.” The expression was out of Luca before he could think. "I never thought a slave's objection was of any concern here, milord."
"She might be the one who knows how to make them so." Feeling Luca's burning curiosity like an itch in his soul, Kendrik took a long sip of his lemonade. "But let's not talk about other people. Did they tell you who I am?"
"No, master," Luca replied honestly.
"I am Kendrik Aquila of Caelius, Ambassador of House Aquila."
Kendrik could feel Luca's thoughts race, trying to piece together what little fact he knew.
"You are the husband of Sir Yaden," he replied after a few seconds, his dark blue eyes wide with wonder. "You're the empath he rescued out of the wreckage of the One Day War."
"Yes, that one." Luca's fascination was almost palpable. Of course, now all the weird sensations and their merging souls during sex made a lot more sense to him. Only, of course, it created a whole new bunch of questions.
"But how can you...," he wondered aloud, his head cocked slightly in concentration. "I thought empaths couldn't bear this place?"
Having pretty much expected this question at some point today, Kendrik smiled and pointed at the chunky necklace he wore. "I am wearing a blocker. Right now, I am as psionically active as a brick."
Not that that necklace was doing anything. But no-one would be able to tell otherwise, and why would they doubt him, anyway? It was common knowledge that empaths and telepath had to stay away from the Secret Garden.
"Milord, if I may ask, are you going to use me as your pet?" Luca asked innocently, jumping from one subject to the next, his curiosity burning behind his eyes.
"What? No, I would never - ", Kendrik started but broke off as he felt a wave of cold dread coming from Luca. Being a pet is a good thing, Kendrik reminded himself firmly. For Luca, it would be a position of safety, of being cherished and part of a family, even if this was a point of view Kendrik was struggling to share. So he forced himself to say it. "Yes, of course you are going to be my pet."
"Oh, master. That is very kind of you." There was that naughty undercurrent in Luca's voice again, this almost-purr that made Kendrik's mouth go dry, his palms go sweaty and his pants go too tight. Gods, it was so hard not to pull Luca into the closest of embraces right there and then and never let him go.
Luckily, this was also the moment they were disturbed by another knock on the door.
"Milord," the gray clad servant asked politely, "If it suits you, your other slave is ready now."
"Bring her in," Kendrik said, gesturing the servant get moving. "We've been waiting long enough."
Behind the servant, a curvy woman in a narrow green cheongsam entered the room, her hair piled onto her head in that artfully messy kind of updo that showed off her perfect neck to great advantage.
"Ondine," Kendrik said, smiling. "Please sit down, we have to talk."
At his side, Luca stared at her first, then at Kendrik, then at Ondine again, not even pretending to be anything but entirely speechless. Even though he had no idea why Kendrik had bought Mistress Ondine, he had a very clear idea of how much he had to have paid for her. And it was a sum he didn't even have thought to exist within the Empire. His new master had just gone from 'absolutely awesome' to 'slightly unreal'.
Ondine, on the other hand, didn't even for a second lose her perfect composure. As if she had been trained for this moment her entire life, she sat down in the armchair opposite Kendrik, as he had indicated, her long legs crossing with almost inhuman elegance. Kendrik was pretty sure she recognized him, but it didn’t show in the slightest.
"If they haven't told you yet, I am your new Master." Kendrik opened their conversation a little rushed, but he really wasn't in the mood to give her any chance to endanger his cover any more than necessary. "I am Ambassador Kendrik of House Aquila, and I have just bought you."
Ondine inclined her head, perfectly. "I am honored by your purchase, Master."
Even though she still had her emotions so firmly in check that Kendrik had a very hard time reading her emotions, he didn't really need to be an empath to know what she was wondering.
"I am sure you wonder why I bought you, since we have never met before," he explained, hoping that she would catch the drift. "but I am afraid the details are to remain strictly confidential. Let me just say that my contacts within the Secret Garden have assured me that you are the perfect person to turn to for the job I need done."
Her face remained impassive, but the tiny twitch of her hands, folded in her lap, gave away how nervous she was. And little surprise at that, Kendrik thought. For her, suddenly all her life had turned upside down, the enterprise that she had worked hard for and assumed to be her shelter had just sold her to an unknown man, to do with whatever he pleased. Though, Kendrik added with an inward grin, even Ondine's immense experience probably wouldn't have prepared her for that particular task he was planning on.
"I have been told you enjoy your work here at the Garden, don't you?" he asked politely.
"And you are good at it, good enough to maybe take over the daily work of the place once Madam Tochka decides to retire."
This time, she hesitated for a split second before answering. "Master, I am but a slave, and I perform the tasks I have been ordered to."
"Oh, that was no question," Kendrik replied with a wide smile. "I merely informed you of the facts."
Again, Ondine inclined her head, just the fraction of an inch, acknowledging his slight rebuke.
"But also, my contacts assured me that you do not merely perform the tasks at hand here at the Garden. I have been told from very reliable sources that, despite everything, you have a heart, and that you care very much for your charges. Much more than someone in your position is supposed to."
As it hadn't been a direct question either, Ondine remained silent, but now her eyes were moving restlessly, her confusion and worry strong enough to reach Kendrik even over the distance.
"So to make things short, I very much appreciate the work you do here," Kendrik continued. "And I would like you to continue your work here, yet not as a slave of the Secret Garden, but as mine."
"Milord?" Ondine blinked, twice, before she continued. "Master, that is very kind of you, but I do not think I will be able to work here any longer. As a slave not owned by the estate, I will be at a constant conflict of interests here, and before long, I will be of no use to this place, its slaves, or in consequence, you."
"This is a position much more suited to a commoner, isn't it?" Kendrik replied with a growing grin. "But alas, I am not the Emperor, so I can't set you free."
Both Ondine and Luca now looked at Kendrik, at different levels of cautious disbelief, both somewhat dreading whatever idea he was about to come up with. If Kendrik hadn't been so excited, he'd have laughed out loud.
"Lucky for all of us, I am married to a demon. Literally. And said demon assists me in legal matters." Kendrik dug into the chest pocket of his jacket and produced a small stack of notes. "And I think we found quite an elegant solution for all of us."
With an encouraging nod, he handed the notes over to Ondine, watching with fiendish glee as for the first time since he met her, he witnesses Ondine lose her perfect composure.
"But these are..." she started, her voice catching.
"Affidavits," Kendrik explained, mostly for Luca, who was close to jumping to his feet and looking over Ondine's shoulders. "A nice stack of affidavits, confirming that whatever you did, you did on my explicit orders, and that anyone seeking regress should take it up with me personally. All of them already signed, you only need to fill in a date to make them valid."
"Awesome;" it burst out of Luca. "Does this mean she can do whatever she wants and it's all your fault?"
At this outburst, Kendrik couldn't keep a straight face any longer, and broke into laughter himself. Damn, he was so very much looking forward to spending some time outside the Garden with Luca.
"Not quite," Kendrik replied once he had caught his breath. "Theoretically, she could, yes, but then she quickly would stop being useful to Madam Tochka, and she would send her away. So she will have to negotiate her standing very carefully, only now she will have a few real bargaining chips. Pretty much like a commoner in such a position."
"Master, I don't know what to say - " Ondine said softly, her voice close to catching. In her hands, she was still holding the affidavits, the expensive paper quivering slightly.
"Then don't say anything." Kendrik reached over to Ondine and took her hands into his own. "You have done a lot of good here with very little means, and I really would like to see what you can do once you have the right tools at your disposal. You are probably the best qualified person to make this place a little less of a hellhole, step by step, one encouraging smile at a time."
"You are giving me way too much credit, Master." Her eyes down cast, Ondine seemed genuinely daunted. Through the connection Kendrik had established when taking her hands, though, he could feel that she was both scared and excited by the future ahead of her, daunted and empowered, and willing to work harder than ever before. "But I will try."
"I knew you would." Gently patting her hands, Kendrik let go and sat down comfortably again. "If ever you need anything, please let me know. If it's urgent or delicate, get out of the Secret Garden and think of me, I should be able to pick up your thoughts as long as I am within the Empire. In an emergency, think of Serin Prime and tell him you're my property. He'll help you first and ask questions later."
Ondine gave a tiny, breathless laugh, her immaculate face struggling with excitement and disbelief.
"Yes, Master. As you wish."
"Good." Still smiling, Kendrik continued. "I want you to stay alive, and happy. If either of them is no longer possible here, I want you to take the first port to P2, and then we'll figure out a decent future for you."
"And until then, I want you to continue your work here. I think you will figure out a good way to get some slaves into decent homes, don't you? Some I particularly care for?"
"I think I do, Master." Slowly, Ondine was regaining her composure, only her brightly beaming eyes showing how excited she was.
"Perfect." Content, Kendrik leaned back and took a long sip of his lemonade. Then, he dug into his pocket and fished out a small jewelry box. "Here, these are for you, as well. I am still new to the customs of this Empire, but I have been told this will help you fend of anyone too stupid to listen to paperwork."
With a slightly exhausted smile, Ondine opened the box, looked at its contents and sighed deeply.
"What is it?" Luca insisted, craning his neck until Ondine tilted the box so he could see.
Inside, on a small pillow of dark velvet, were two earrings. One a creole of clear crystal, the other one a golden creole, with a tiny golden phoenix dangling down.
"Some people might see this as a challenge," Ondine said, softly, still staring at the earrings in her hand.
"Probably," Kendrik replied. "One, maybe even two. But no more than that, I think. Do you know why there are no earrings marking you as protected by any particular Phoenix Knight?"
"Because if you anger one of them, you anger all of them," she replied evenly. "But we're on Serin. It might take three until they learned the lesson."
"So what." Kendrik replied with a shrug. "Quite a lot of my husband's colleagues are itching to be let off the leash. Just make sure you warn any potential trespassers, if they still bother you after that, they're not worth saving."
"Master is too generous," Ondine said, her expression showing a lot more gratitude than her words would have let to believe. "I will try to be worth all this."
"I am quite sure you will be much more." With what he hoped would look like an encouraging smile, he concluded: "Do you need anything else right now? Money, anything?"
"No, Master. And if I do, I know how to contact you."
"Very good." Nodding at Ondine, he added: "Well then, be off, I think your shift has started already."
A beaming smile grew on her face, and she rose with effortless elegance from her position in the armchair.
"Your will, Master," she replied with a bow so deep it seemed acrobatic considering the high heels that she wore.
"And put in the earrings, they only help when you wear them."
"Yes, Master, I will." Smiling, she stopped in the doorway and turned around one last time. "I will bring your regular reports on my progress, Master."
"I am very much looking forward to that," Kendrik replied and watched as Ondine left with a last nod. Then he turned his attention back to Luca, who was still sitting on the floor at his side, his glass of lemonade completely forgotten next to him. "Ready to leave?"
"Oh so fucking ready, Master," Luca replied, giddy and just a little mocking. "Readier than I've ever been."
"Perfect. I need to get out of here." Offering Luca a hand, he pulled him off the floor and into his arms, kissing him playfully. "Come on, I don't want to spend a second longer than necessary here."
"Same with me, Master, same with me."
This was delivered with such deadpan humor that Kendrik laughed out loud again, causing Luca to snicker as well. Holding hands, they walked down the corridors of the Secret Garden together, not as employees, but as honored guests, and on the shortest way to the next porter platform they could find.
It took them only a few minutes until they were standing in the middle of one of the iconic red circles on the floor, still holding hands.
"Ready for port?" Kendrik asked, and Luca nodded, his lips pressed tightly together with excitement.
As Kendrik had already booked a return port to P2, it didn't take much more than half a thought for him to reach an operator of the local guild, and within less time than it took to take a breath, they were suddenly standing in the bright sunlight of Yaden's island, on a little patch of cleared ground near the path halfway between the manor and the servant's quarters.
Freed from the toxic background of the Secret Garden, Kendrik suddenly felt himself all but washed away with Luca's emotions, his mind suddenly flooded with brilliant streaks of blue and silver, sparkling with excitement and joy like fireworks in the night.
Before Kendrik could say a word, Luca jumped at him and hugged him fiercely, kissing him and cuddling him as if he had no intention of ever letting him go.
"Hey you little rascal," Kendrik said, gently tousling Luca's hair, holding him with all the love that he felt. "Don't rush. We got all of our lives."
Luca leaned back, chewing his lower lip, looking impish and stunningly beautiful at the same time. "You came back for me."
"Of course I did." Hugging Luca closely again, Kendrik added: "And just so we got this out of the way as soon as possible - yes, it was me all the time in the Garden, and no, I really think that you are better off not knowing why."
Connected as their emotions were by now, Luca knew perfectly well that Kendrik was not patronizing him in the slightest, but honestly trying to keep something rather ugly away from him. So he just nodded, one of his hands trying to find a way under Kendrik's shirt.
"But I can tell you that I was there for a reason,” Kendrik continued explaining, pushing Luca’s hand out of his clothes with gentle insistence. ”And that the whole thing ended up with the Emperor owing me a favor. Just a small one, but still. And I think I have found the perfect way to make him pay."
Reaching into his other pocket, Kendrik came up with another small box, pretty much like the one he had handed Ondine only moments earlier. "I can't set you free as you would deserve, but I can get you the best protection this Empire can offer."
With those words, he opened the box, revealing another clear crystal creole and a deceptively simple looking one of red-golden metal without any adornments. The symbol of Imperial protection.
"Nobody is ever going to lay hand on you again."
Luca gave a small choked sound and looked up at Kendrik, his eyes brimming with moisture. For a long moment, his lower lip quivered with words he couldn't seem to find, his heart too full with too many things to say them at once. Then, finally, he just gave a tiny shrug and a smile and whispered: "Oh god. I love you so much."
Knowing that this was exactly what Luca felt right now, and that Luca knew just exactly that the feeling was mutual, there was only one thing left for Kendrik to say.
"And I love you, too. So very much."
Kendrik pulled Luca closer again, tugging him under his chin in a heartfelt gesture of protection.
"Come on," he added after a while. "Let's go meet your family."
--- The End ---
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