Hank watched the city fly by through the tram's window. He held on to the rail across the roof to keep himself grounded, despite being unable to feel the movement as they soared through the sky. If he didn't, he'd get dizzy and that wouldn't help anyone.
He looked over at Ian, who stared out at the view with pursed lips and a furrowed brow. They were heading to Pasdar as part of Princess Alona's team of advisors. Her mission was to find how deeply the district had been corrupted by the former Duke Adrian – the man who'd kidnapped Captain Jensen Ackles and tortured her brother. She'd asked Hank because he was an outsider, hoping he could see what the Harmony natives couldn't.
Honestly, Hank was just thrilled to have a job. It wasn't that he didn't like being Ian's sex toy, Hank just wanted to be something more, too. He'd had an interesting and varied military career, and Hank couldn't go from full throttle to empty. Even though he'd chosen to stay with Ian, Hank couldn't stand the idea of waiting around for Ian to return home from work.
"What's wrong?" He kept his voice low, not wanting it to carry to the others on the tram. There was a group of guards towards the front, all with their subs kneeling at their feet. Normally guards wouldn't take subs on assignment, but since this was expected to take a while, they'd be living in Pasdar.
He caught some of the guards throwing nasty looks their way. They probably didn't like seeing Hank standing next to his master instead of kneeling as was proper. Well, Hank wasn't the typical sub, and Ian appreciated that if no one else did.
"Just wondering what we'll find in Pasdar. This mission is long overdue." Ian turned and gave him a wry smile.
There had a been a short briefing before they had left, but it only showcased to Hank how little they really knew about what had gone on. Adrian had used subs to access the city's technical network, causing their deaths in the process. He hadn't seen them as human, and hadn't felt a shred of guilt at what he'd done. The queen worried that his viewpoint had spread throughout the district. Hank hadn't the first clue as to how to fix things if that was the case.
He wished Karl Johnson was here for this mission. Karl was the anthropologist, the expert on civilizations and culture. But Harmony had brought back bad memories for Karl, causing the doctor to flashback to his time as a Confed slave. Unlike most collared subs, Karl had been forced to serve – sometimes sexually and sometimes not. If the UP hadn't rescued his ship, Karl would still be trapped in the mines doing hard labor. Hank thought that would make him all the more valuable for this. Karl understood better than Hank ever could. He clenched his fists, deciding he'd dedicate this mission to Karl, remembering that example as they worked through Pasdar.
"They've been without a leader for what, a week now? Do you think things have degenerated that much?" Hank frowned. He wasn't sure what to expect as they descended into the district. All of his experience in Harmony had been in the royal district – where the queen alone ruled. He guessed the dukes were sort of mayors of their own areas. He needed a better grasp of the political system if he was going to be truly effective.
This was what he'd done in the UP – as part of the Ground Corps he'd worked with the populations of various planets, some more alien than others – he'd never forget the pink skies of Vidrine or the strange orange seas on Zeta 5. Hank had a gift for assessing the situation quickly and suggesting solutions that were out of the box. That was how he'd made Major at his age despite not starting out on the officer track.
"The day to day business of ruling would have fallen to the four nobles just under the duke – in this case two counts and countesses. I'm expecting the princess will make choosing a new duke or duchess her first priority."
Hank nodded, filing that information away in the back of his mind with the rest of his info on Pasdar. He'd started a file, just as he did with any mission, and would update it when they had a free moment. Right now the tram was starting to descend toward the Ducal palace. It was nowhere near as ornate as the Royal castle in the very center of Harmony, but it was clearly the tallest building in this district. Hank could see the gardens that grew on slopes and terraces built into the side of the castle. There wasn't a single individual anywhere in sight.
Ian kept his eyes on the window, watching the other tram as it descended to the terrace before theirs. He avoided making eye contact with the guards who kept shooting glares his way. If he looked back, Ian was afraid his uncertainty might show on his face.
Last week he'd been just a guard, one of the lower professions in the hierarchy of Harmony. When the queen had promoted him to royal advisor, it had given him a jump in status that hadn't been seen in decades. No wonder the other guards shunned him. Ian couldn't blame them, not when he wasn't exactly qualified to fill this role. It felt wrong, and he couldn't help the guilt that coiled in his gut. He'd have to learn quickly, because he was not about to let the princess down.
"There's no one here to meet us." Henry gestured to the empty gardens.
It was because of Henry that Ian had been chosen for this role. Henry was the one with the expertise – having come from the stars and visited hundreds of planets. He was unlike any sub Ian had ever met before, being a soldier in his own right long before Ian had made him a sub. Hank had never learned to constantly defer to his Dom, and had a streak of independence that would drive other Doms mad. But Ian liked the idea of Hank as his partner, as someone he could share his life and work with and he'd done everything in his power to keep Henry with him. Ian thanked Harmony every day that Henry wanted to stay, instead of returning to his life on that starship.
"The queen freed the subs held prisoner by Adrian. I can't imagine any of them wanted to stay behind." Still, there should be others stationed in the palace, those responsible for the services required by the Ducal family – sub groomers, healers, tailors and the like. Had they all left when Adrian was exiled?
"I can't imagine what it was like for them." Henry frowned as they docked, but then turned and gave Ian a blinding grin. "Well, that's what we're here for, right? We'll get this place squared away, no problem."
Ian was surprised into letting out a laugh. He didn't doubt that Henry was determined – or stubborn - enough to do the job. For a moment he just looked at his sub, taking in Henry's rugged beauty – his electric eyes and hair that glinted gold in the sun. There was so much more beneath the surface of his independent, brilliant sub. Ian never regretted taking Henry as his. He only wished the contract term was longer than a mere two years. Still, he would enjoy every moment that Henry gave to him.
"Grab the bags. It's time to start work."
Hank scrambled with the other subs to gather his and Ian's luggage. One of the bags was far heavier than the other and he wondered what the hell Ian had packed. Ian had needed a whole new wardrobe for his new status – no more guard uniforms for him, no matter how cute he looked with the skirt and sandals. But new clothes couldn't weight this much, surely?
He followed the other subs out onto the terrace where all the other advisors had gathered around the princess and her sub, Dourdan. Alona was dressed for work - a pale blue shirt over tan pants and tall black boots. She didn't look like his mental image of a princess, lacking the elegance and finery that the queen displayed over and over. But this wasn't the time or place for that. Hank could appreciate a leader who understood how to read a situation.
Dourdan stood beside her dressed much like the other subs in a leather kilt that hit him at the knees and a pale green shirt that crisscrossed over his chest. Hank wasn't a big fan of wearing a skirt. He didn't think he had the knees for it. Luckily, Ian hadn't asked that of him and let him choose his own, slightly more modest bit of sub wear – usually loose pants that hung low on his hips.
The princess waited until everyone stilled before she began to speak. "We don't know what we're going to find inside. Mother tele'd my arrival, but I don't know how that will be received. Our first goal is to set up base in the palace."
The captain of the guard stepped forward. "We'll need to sweep the palace. There might be some guards still loyal to the old duke inside."
Hank agreed. His hand flexed, missing his sidearm. There was no reason for him to have a weapon here, but man, he missed having one.
"Remember, Captain Reddick, that there could also be subs with no master inside. Mother freed them, but this was their home. We will not be evicting them. If you storm the palace it would only frighten them." Alona waited for the captain to nod in acknowledgment before she continued. "I will use the tele to summon anyone inside to the Great Hall. Then you may patrol the palace and look for anyone hostile to our intentions."
Everyone nodded and waited as Alona put out her summons over the tele, which Hank considered much more efficient than using a bullhorn. He bit his lip to keep the laughter inside at the sudden picture in his mind of the princess issuing commands through one like his high school gym teacher. No one else would get the joke. Times like this, he really missed having someone from home with him. It only reminded Hank just how isolated he was, with the Mercury in orbit and the base far out of reach.
The group split up to utilize the lifts to travel to the Great Hall. Hank followed Ian, still carrying their bags. They emerged into a room that looked exactly the same as the last time Hank had been here, when Queen Michelle had used her power to change the colors and brighten the place up a bit. She'd gotten rid of the cages, and manacles on the pillars that ringed the room, and freed the subs trapped within them.
Hank touched his own collar, feeling the smooth leather warmed by his skin. Adrian's subs had worn the collar of the unwilling and had been forced into submitting to him against their will. He shuddered at the thought, remembering the one and only time Ian had used the training collar's choke feature on Hank. Of course, then, Ian had thought Hank had been escaping custody, and it had been before they really knew each other. This collar Ian had placed around Hank's throat and had been wanted by both of them. He couldn't imagine how terrible it had been for the subs here.
"There's no one here." Hank's voice carried across the room, causing most of the other advisors to turn and glare at him. Unrepentant, Hank just shrugged. "Maybe they all left."
"It's possible." The princess answered him, ignoring Hank's faux pas of speaking without permission. At least she seemed to value him for his experience, for something other than just being Ian's sub. "Harmony knows Adrian abused them enough to make them run."
"Mistress!" One of the advisors shouted.
A sub stood in the doorway. She was an older woman, dressed in a simple gray dress with short blond hair. Without a collar, all that marked her as a sub was her bright blue eyes.
Alona held up a hand to keep everyone back as she began to slowly walk toward the sub. "Hello there. I'm Alona."
The sub fell to her knees and bowed her head. "Mistress!"
"What's your name?"
"M-Martha." The sub stumbled over her own name. "I was head housekeeper for Duke Adrian."
Alona nodded. "Please stand, sub Martha. Please." She took the woman's hand and helped her up. "Do you know why we're here?"
"The queen said - to choose another Duke for Pasdar. Duke Adrian lost the way."
"Yes, Martha. He had. Will you stay as housekeeper for us? We need rooms for our stay and someone to show us around."
Martha's hand went to her bare neck in a familiar gesture. Hank felt a pang of sympathy for these lost subs. Their entire world was shifting and they couldn't even be sure it was for the better. "Will I be yours then, Mistress?"
"Oh!" Alona looked startled, showing signs of the young girl Hank knew was in there. "We would have to draw up a contract for that."
"I can promise you my services around the palace. Nothing more."
Alona squeezed Martha's shoulder. "I would be honored to have you in my household, sub Martha."
Martha smiled at her, finally looking less haunted. Maybe they'd get something decent done here after all.
Ian took in the quarters Martha had assigned him and Hank. The bedroom was a bit smaller than the chambers in the queen's palace, but it still put his tiny apartment to shame. The bed – large enough for Ian, Hank and another sub or two – stood across from a ridiculous fireplace with a marble mantle. There was a pile of pillows and cushions tossed before it, which let him imagine Hank, nude but for the reflection of the fire on his golden skin, lounging about waiting for Ian to return.
He smiled at the thought, knowing Hank would never sit around moping until his master returned. Ian had never wanted that type of clinging sub, who had no other purpose but to look beautiful and be a willing body. Not that Ian minded Hank's willing body.
Hank opened the glass doors that led out to the terrace. He stood in the sunlight, the blond highlights in his hair glinting gold. Ian wanted to go out there and strip the shirt from his back, revealing the planes of muscle beneath, just perfect for him to mouth and kiss.
Hank turned and grinned at him. "Not too shabby digs, huh?"
Sometimes Ian still had no idea what Hank was talking about. It was one of the hazards of having a sub from another planet. "The rooms?" He made a guess based on the way Hank gestured, flinging one arm out to encompass the bedroom.
"Yeah. Let me tell you, I've been on some planets where they weren't so free with the accommodations. Hell, once we were lucky to be able to dig a hole for the toilet."
Ian grimaced and Hank laughed. "You've never lived out of the city? Never went camping in the woods?"
Ian frowned. "Why would I?" There was no reason to leave Harmony.
"We should try it sometime."
Ian didn't understand why. He let the comment pass and picked up one of the bags left by the entrance. This one was filled with the equipment he'd brought from home – gear and toys that were too personal to borrow.
"Shouldn't I be unpacking?" Hank stepped forward.
"You can unpack the clothes. I'll take this to the playroom." Hank blushed at Ian's words. Ian liked having that affect on him. They'd come together so abruptly, yet fit together so well that Ian had to keep reminding himself how new his sub was – especially when he gave such delightful responses.
Ian found the playroom more than adequate. The equipment was clean and in good condition, leaving a fair amount of space in the center of the room for whatever scene he could devise. He stored his gear in an empty trunk along the wall. Adrian had abused his subs, but there was no longer any evidence of it in his castle, not that Ian could see based on the equipment. The queen had scoured the place clean.
When he returned to the bedroom, Hank was back out on the terrace, looking over the city. Ian joined him, the air cool against his skin. The weather would be changing soon, getting colder, though the city's temperature never dropped as much as it did outside the walls. "What are you looking for?"
Hank gave him a tight lipped smile. "Nothing I can see from up here."
"And that is?"
"We need to be down there, talking to the people. You know, the regular Joe who lived through Adrian's fucked up shit. If Pasdar is as broken as everyone says, then it's gonna take more than just picking the right guy to wear the crown." Hank slapped the stone rail.
This was something Ian knew he was capable of. He might never have advised a member of the royal family before, but as a guard, he'd spent his entire career in the city, keeping the peace. Ian had helped abused subs before, though never on the scale here in Pasdar. It was usually a matter of helping some redbands caught up by Doms who'd gone too far, never the extensive torture Adrian had indulged in.
"We can't talk to everyone today."
Hank chuckled. "No." He held up a hand and called up a tele screen which showed a map of the district. "We should draw up a grid system and work our way through the streets. I'm just a little antsy to get started.”
Ian thought about it. They weren't restricted to their rooms - the princess had, in fact, given them all this time to settle in while she worked with sub Martha. They weren't required to meet with her until later in the evening for supper. There was plenty of daylight to at least go to market. "I'll summon a tram. We can check out the main city square at least."
Hank's lips parted and he didn't speak for a moment. It was a rare moment that Ian startled him into speechlessness. Then he winked and said, "Are we dressed appropriately?"
It might have been a joke, but Ian considered it as a legitimate question. They weren't going as the princess's official advisers, and they needed to blend in with the rest of the people of Pasdar. "You'll do," he said, tugging on the blue shirt Hank wore. Later, he promised himself, he'd tear it off and break in the bed properly. "I need something more subdued." Scarlet was one of the primary colors of the Royal district, and Ian didn't need to draw attention to that. It wouldn't take long to change. "By the time I'm done the tram should be here."