"Close your eyes and hold out your hand."
Rensai's laugh was soft against the back of her neck. Jimaya should have worn her hair down.
"Come on. You liked it last time."
"You're lucky I didn't slap you last time."
This time his laugh was muted by the gentle press of lips against the nape of her neck. His warmth withdrew before she could lean into it and he came around to the opposite side of the low table between them. There was no tea setting atop it tonight. A tea setting usually meant they'd go through the motions of a cordial, civilized evening until the air in the room became too thick to breathe and one of them dove over the table at the other. No setting meant no pretenses. Rensai kept his hands behind his back.
"What are you hiding?" Jimaya leaned warily across the table to see but Rensai mirrored her, blocking her gaze and bringing their faces close. He smiled.
Jimaya sat back on her heels. "I don't want it."
"You don't even know what it is yet."
"But I know you, so I know I don't want it."
Rensai's face fell. Jimaya knew his feigned injury routine well, but still she had to haul her heart back up from where it had instinctually sunk.
"Fine," she huffed. "What is it?"
His gloom cleared quick as a flash of teeth. He was insufferable like this, alight with the certainty that he had her attention whether she wanted to give it to him or not.
"I want you to keep an open mind, Jimaya--"
A predictable and unencouraging start. Her pulse quickened anyway. "Show me," she interrupted. An open mind. Rensai's concept of an open mind was about as dangerous as a fox's open jaws.
"It's only for your pleasure and mine--"
"Show me," Jimaya repeated. He drew his hands from behind his back and laid a long coil of thin, tightly woven rope atop the empty table. It lay there, useless and harmless, while the weight of Rensai's gaze seeped into her skin.
Jimaya tightened her hands in her lap. "You want to tie me up."
"For your pleasure," he said again. "And mine."
His tone sent a shiver rippling through her. Low, indulgent, affectionate. It didn't match up with what he was asking of her.
Aggravation flared hot in her chest. Of course she was nervous, she'd be foolish to be anything else. She knew he still rejoiced in having an Empress in his bed - even if he never said it explicitly, she could feel it in the way he touched her, in the smirk at the edges of every kiss. Jimaya's advantage lived beyond walls of his tiny cottage: her word was law there, and if she wished it, he'd die by it. He wasn't the only one motivated by the unlikely union of a ruler and warlord.
But the war could be decades behind them and he would still be him.
"I'll need your trust."
He had it. Mostly. Enough for Jimaya to assume he wouldn't poison her tea whenever she came to visit. Enough to fall asleep beside him. Enough to know that if they were ever to come to blows, the days when he would have aimed to kill were long behind them.
But he wanted her defenseless. And somehow they'd arrived at a place where Rensai could not only ask her to give it willingly, but could ask her to enjoy it. Jimaya stared hard at the rope. She pictured herself bound by the wrists and ankles, suspended from the ceiling, her body framed in an intricate array of knots and cord. Crimson robes spilled out in luscious silken folds. Would he even want her clothed? She supposed there were merits to both. But then what? What was there to do when he had her bound? He would admire her? He would fuck her?
She thought of his hands ghosting over her skin, his breath on her ear. "Imagine what your brother would think," he'd say, or something else disturbingly shy of unpleasant. Under the right circumstances anything he said in that warm, viscous voice made her head swim. He'd catch her chin in his hand and force her eyes to meet his, and he'd smile. Maybe it didn't matter whether he fucked her. Maybe it was enough to be like that for a while, held in stasis, his, until the moment broke like a fever.
There wasn't nearly enough rope for all that.
"I only want it if you want it, Jimaya." Rensai's voice scattered her thoughts in all directions. She was yanked back to the hazy cottage, his eyes on her, the rope lying between them. "Your interest is key."
"I'm not disinterested," she said, and meant it, but the beginning of a blush was heating her cheeks. Jimaya beat it back as best she could, eyes averted. She didn't need to see his smile to know the way it tugged at the corners of his mouth.
"Would it help if you tried it on me first?"
Her breath caught. She looked up again and found him as inscrutable as ever, his eyes a dark glint. When he didn't elaborate she could only shake her head in confusion.
"Why? Then what?"
"Then whatever you like." Rensai's easy shrug stood in infuriating opposition to the intensity of his gaze. Jimaya felt weak beneath it, but deeper, something else stirred. "I wouldn't mind being at your mercy for a little while. You wear it so well in court."
Recognizing his provocation did nothing to diminish the annoyance that kindled in Jimaya's chest. She visited him to leave her crown behind, not to have it manipulated and repurposed for his pleasure. His smile stretched as he went on.
"There are more than a few dangerous things between these walls if you wanted to do some real damage. But it's not my place to decide." Rensai leaned close again, his voice hardly more than a whisper. "Besides, I trust you to be gentle with me."
For an inflamed flicker of a moment Jimaya thought she might like to be anything but. She snatched up the rope, breaking his spell. "Show me."
He removed his gloves and cowl first. So he could feel it properly, he explained. Jimaya swallowed. Something about Rensai's bare throat and arms always signaled an intimacy she was rarely prepared for, and the feeling only heightened when he knelt in front of her and pressed his wrists together behind his back. The effortless fluidity of it suggested thorough practice: she'd paused a second to try to imitate it, but her wrists only just touched.
Rensai's instructions came soft and patient. There was a more beautiful way to do this, he told her as she worked, but too complicated for her first time. He described knots that made mosaics of the human body, geometric and perfect, and others that accentuated it in all its organic asymmetry. "I'd love to see you like that," he said lowly, glancing over his shoulder.
"Be quiet," Jimaya snapped, still sour from his earlier baiting. "Eyes forward."
Rensai's breath changed. With a flash of venomous indignation Jimaya thought it might have been a laugh. But he only faced obediently forward again, silent.
Jimaya finished - at least as far as she could tell - and tugged on the rope's trailing tail to be sure. Rensai made no sound of protest, and satisfied, she got to her feet and paced around him to see her handiwork from the front.
Rensai remained on his knees. He stared up at her, eyes dark, expectant.
Then whatever you want.
"I'm going to make tea," Jimaya declared, and turned her back on him.
The weight of the kettle settled the tremor in her hands as she placed it on the fire. Behind her, Rensai's presence loomed, a more persistent heat than even the hearth in front of her. What did he expect her to say? Ask him whether he wanted tea too? Jimaya let her aggravation settle like a cape over shoulders. It had prickled against her skin from the moment he'd offered himself up, stealing away her chance to do the same. She felt strangely cheated, vindictive. It warmed her from the inside like water in the kettle, a slow, building simmer.
Still she felt his eyes on her back.
Ignoring Rensai at court was second nature. Sometimes it was the only way to keep his affection for the spotlight from derailing every meeting he attended. She'd grown adept at it over time, and Jimaya called up that same cold focus as she set the tea tray for one. Don't look at him. Don't acknowledge him.
But of course she looked anyway, and Jimaya found Rensai exactly as she had left him when she rejoined him at the table. Balanced on his knees, back straight. Guilt lapped at the edges of her committed irritation. It had taken a while for the water to heat - surely it wasn't comfortable to hold that position for so long.
"You can relax," she muttered. Only then did Rensai sink back onto his heels without a word.
A bud of curiosity blossomed.
"Actually, come back up."
He rose to his knees again. An unexpected thrill of satisfaction skittered down Jimaya's spine. But she contained her shiver, conscious that any visible reaction could break the low hum of tension that had begun vibrating in the air between them. To be safe, she dropped her gaze to her tea.
On the way down, she noticed Rensai was hard.
Unease twinged - not enough to put her off, but enough to call a chilly attention to the reality of the situation. The responsibility of it. Somewhere between pulling the bonds tight and settling across from him with her tea, Jimaya had done something he liked and she could only guess what it had been. Usually he liked her gasping, vocal, clinging. She'd been none of those things.
Yet here they were. The minutes stretched between them measured by Jimaya's controlled, deliberate sips. When at last she set down her empty cup, she took a breath and pictured a lake, still and placid, and let calm coat the last of her jittery nerves. "Is that uncomfortable?"
Rensai shifted in his bonds. He cleared his throat before speaking. "Not unbearably so."
Jimaya got to her feet and joined him at the opposite side of the table. His gaze tracked her, but she declined to meet it. He bloomed so easily under attention that there was a fluttering pleasure in denying it: her eyes swept over him and she tried to see him not as a person, but a decoration, divorced of his reputation and accomplishments. A carved and painted accessory. Her hand hesitated, then traced a finger over the curve of his shoulder and up his bare neck. Rensai closed his eyes, leaned into her touch when it passed over his jaw, but she took him by the chin and jerked his face forward again.
He let out what might have been a gasp or a sigh, his breath warm on her wrist. Jimaya passed her thumb over his lips once, then again, firmer. The skin stretched and settled, pliable under her touch, and for a fleeting moment she thought about how easy it would be to hurt him. On the second pass his tongue reached out to catch her, tentative. She smiled and knelt down too so they were chest to chest, hands gripping either side of Rensai's face. At last she managed to meet his eyes. They blazed back at her like burning coals.
"Is this what you wanted?" Jimaya asked.
Rensai's hair fell forward in a curtain as he leaned over her, closing her in, his back bowed to bring their faces close. A crease had formed between his brows, his lips were parted - Jimaya had never seen someone so desperate to kiss her, nor so resistant.
"What I want," he breathed, "is immaterial."
Jimaya let her hands fall from his face. She pushed him back so that he straightened up again: he opened himself to her without resistance, shoulders relaxed, watching as she mapped the curves of his tattoos with her fingertips. Downward, downward, deliberately slow and teasing, until she reached his erection and the even rise of and fall of his chest went still. She traced the outline of it through his pants.
"I could leave you like this." She picked at the laces at the front of his pants idly.
"You could." There was a smile hidden in his voice. "Are you so cruel?"
She dug her fingers into the laces and jerked them looser, taking Rensai's cock into her hand. It lay heavy, hard, precum already smeared at the tip from being tightly bound for so long. Jimaya squeezed and Rensai hissed through his teeth. "Maybe. I'm still deciding."
But she kept her touch delicate after that, the gentlest brush of fingers and thumb. Any other time she'd been in this position there had been a great deal more to occupy her besides watching his breath change when she traced the head with her thumb or feeling him squirm when she ghosted a tickling finger up the length of the shaft. She laid her head on his chest and felt mounting impatience beat in time with his pulse. She wanted to wrap herself up in it, luxuriate in it, let every shaky breath he drew be a reminder of the release she withheld or bestowed at her whim. For all his cleverness, charisma, and control, Rensai was still just a man.
"The next time you bend a knee to me in court," Jimaya said, "I want you to think of this."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
Jimaya bent and slid her lips over his cock. Rensai's balance faltered: he let his head fall back with a groan, fatigued hips finding the energy to rise for more. She deigned to indulge him and sucked in long, firm pulls that dragged breath after ragged breath out of him. No fingers wove into her hair, no words of encouragement or salacious compliments filled the space between gasps like usual. Instead when Rensai spoke again, it was in a gravelly, desperate rasp Jimaya had never heard before.
"Please, Your Majesty, I--"
Jimaya stayed right where she was and Rensai went rigid, coming down her throat hardly a moment later. She swallowed once, twice, three times before letting his cock slip from her mouth. She swiped the back of her hand across her lips and looked up to find him shaking.
He dropped back onto his heels and seemed to cave forward, shoulders slumped and head bowed as he fought to catch his breath. His spent cock lay softening in his lap. But Jimaya's every nerve was electrified - Rensai hadn't issued a challenge but she reveled in her victory anyway, her endlessly aggravating prize panting in exhaustion across from her. She reached forward and pushed his hair out of his face to better admire him.
Rensai looked up, eyes hazy with lingering pleasure, and tried to lean into her. His bonds or fatigue or both kept him from drawing more than a few inches nearer, so Jimaya indulged him one more time and met him in a kiss. She let him lead and he dragged her deep as only he could, his kiss shot through with a wild sort of desperation and no small amount of respect. Jimaya accepted her unspoken accolades and wound her arms around him.
Some morning to follow shared its dull gray with that day's court agenda. Omare yawned loudly; ever aligned with her brother, Jimaya yawned a second later too and put the back of her hand to her mouth to hide it. One by one the courtiers filed in and took their places along the columned walls to begin the day's proceedings. None looked insulted by the twins' boredom, though one of the last to arrive did look amused: Rensai bowed to them both, one knee bent and a hand laid over his heart. He locked eyes with Jimaya, a smile curved at the corner of his mouth.