Copyright © 2016
By Elin Peer
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author, excepting brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.
The Accidental Slave – part 1
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons or organizations is coincidental and not intended by the author. Recommended for mature readers due to adult content.
Graphic Design: Jaclyn Hicken
Editing: Martin O’Hearn
Table of Contents 3
Books in the Slave series 6
Please Notice 7
CHAPTER 1 1
CHAPTER 2 23
CHAPTER 3 25
Love or lust 25
CHAPTER 4 32
Masi Warriors 32
CHAPTER 5 38
CHAPTER 6 46
The Apartment 46
CHAPTER 7 54
The Return of the Tormenter 54
CHAPTER 8 58
Blood and Stitches 58
CHAPTER 9 70
Too weak to touch 70
CHAPTER 10 73
Under water 73
CHAPTER 11 76
Growing a pair of balls 76
CHAPTER 12 79
CHAPTER 13 91
CHAPTER 14 103
Dangerous Temptation 103
CHAPTER 15 106
CHAPTER 16 114
CHAPTER 17 120
Why me? 120
CHAPTER 18 126
Hot showers 126
CHAPTER 19 130
The last letters 130
CHAPTER 20 141
CHAPTER 21 144
About the author 149
The Slave series consists of four separate, but intertwined, stories.
For the best reading experience, this is the recommended order to read them in.
The Accidental Slave (Aya’s story)
The Healing Slave (Sybina’s story)
Never a Slave (Sofia’s story)
The Feisty Slave (Uma’s story)
**]This book is intended for mature readers only as it contains graphical language and sexual scenes of violent nature.
All characters are fictional and any likeness to a living person or organization is coincidental.
Consider yourself warned!
Before you start searching Google Maps to locate Spirima, don’t! The country is fictional and used to represents religious fanaticism across our world and throughout human history.
The Accidental Slave is for my grandfather Peer – one of the greatest storytellers I ever knew.
Thank you for guiding me on wonderful journeys into the land of imagination.
I will see you on the other side!
“The lives of the dead are placed in the hand of the living.“ Quote Marcus Aurelius
Aya walked from the small plane and into the arrival hall of the airport.
A large sign with golden letters stood in stark contrast to the rest of the place where several windows had been replaced by plastic, secured with yellow duct tape around the window frames. The walls had a faded brown color, similar to that of cardboard boxes, and they were full of stains, holes, and scratches.
Aya wrinkled her nose and looked up. After the water leak in her parents’ basement, she knew what mold and rot smelled like; and sure enough, the ceiling had large black stains in the corners.
Unlike most airports this one was unnervingly quiet. Spirima was not a tourist destination but a country with a civil war raging between the government and Masi warriors, and Aya was here to work as a nurse in a refugee camp for former slaves.
Aya had been jumpy and nervous since she left Heathrow, but now that she was here and couldn’t see anyone waiting for her, fear made her heart race and her palms sweaty. In her mind she once again went over the briefing she had received over the last week in London, warnings ran through her mind: You’ll never be allowed to leave the refugee camp without armed protection. Don’t trust anyone, not even the local police; they might be loyal to the Masi warriors.
The only people present in the arrival hall were a man sweeping the floor in the corner, two police officers at a counter, and a few other passengers leaving the building quickly. Aya looked discreetly at the two police officers and noticed that they were looking at her and seemed to be talking about her. She was aware that she was a rarity here as a woman on her own, not to mention a blond foreigner.
One of the officers lifted his chin and looked straight at her as if silently asking her if she needed his help.
Aya quickly looked the other way, hoping he would get her signal that she didn’t need anything from him. In an attempt to look busy and unapproachable she pulled out her phone and pretended to make a phone call.
“Are you on your way? Brilliant, two minutes… yes, I understand, that’s fine. I’m here. Thank you,” she said loud and clear.
Five minutes passed with Aya crossing and uncrossing her arms while fidgeting with her bags and internally chanting, “Come on, come on.”
But no one came and in her peripheral view she saw one of the police officers walk towards her. He took his time and for every step he came closer her body tensed up.
Finally he was too close to ignore and Aya turned to him with a polite but strained smile.
“Who are you waiting for?” he asked in broken English with a curious smile and eyes sliding down her body.
“My driver will be here any second. I just spoke with him,” Aya lied and took a small step back.
The officer took a bigger step forward and entered her personal space, making Aya extremely uncomfortable. He had a sweet and suffocating odor of cinnamon and other spices that she couldn’t point her finger at.
“Really, sir, I’m fine.” She tried again and turned away from him to break off the contact.”
“May I see your passport, miss?” he asked and shot an unnerving glance back at his colleague, who nodded discreetly. Never give your passport to anyone. Ever! her instructor’s voice warned in her mind.
“Excuse me, I have to take this one.” Aya pulled up her phone again, pretending it had been vibrating. “Oh, you’re here now… I’ll come meet you then.” She nodded politely at the officer, still with the phone to her ear, and started walking towards the exit doors.
“Come on, driver… please, please,” she muttered anxiously through gritted teeth, fearing that she had been forgotten about.
The second she stepped outside she was hit by a wall of dry heat making it even harder to breathe. And now what? Aya was tapping her Converse shoes and rubbing her sweaty palms down her white jeans. Christ, it’s hot here. She considered removing her white long-sleeved shirt; but that would only leave her with her purple tank top, and she had already attracted too much attention. She would just have to endure the heat.
She took a quick glance over her shoulder, and through the glass door she saw the police officer walking towards her again… No no no… damn it! Her heart was still racing and she looked around, desperately hoping for a place to hide, but there was no time.
“I would like to see your passport, miss,” the officer said, now standing next to her and looking impatient.
With a sigh Aya put her bags down and started going through them. “One second, I’m not sure where I put my passport,” she lied, and saw the man tap his foot rhythmically.
The sound of a vehicle approaching made them both look up, and with a pasted-on smile Aya pointed to the jeep. “That would be my driver.”
The police officer didn’t look pleased but didn’t pursue the matter of her passport further; he just waited next to her while the Jeep pulled up.
Aya held back tears of relief when she saw the logo of Spread Life on the side of the vehicle. This was her ride. She was saved.
A tall man jumped out of the jeep and nodded to the police officer and her.
“Miss Aya Johansen, I assume,” he said with a perfect British accent.
“Just Aya,” she said and couldn’t help her beaming smile.
The man shook her hand. “Welcome, my name is Aston. Did you arrive early?”
“I don’t think so,” Aya answered and shot a displeased side-glance at the police officer. Aston spoke a few reassuring words to the man, who finally retreated back into the arrival hall.
“I apologize that I’m late. On my note it says you’ll land in twenty minutes.”
Aya curved her lips and in a too-jolly voice she said: “I’m here now.”
Aston raised an eyebrow, clearly not finding this jolly at all. But he was courteous enough to take her bags and place them in the jeep.
When he opened the passenger door for Aya to get in, it gave her the chance to get a better look at the man. She estimated him to be around thirty which would make him seven years older than herself; and although he had handsome features, his formal and stiff way made her categorize him as boring and much too serious for her taste. His blond hair was cut in a short military style and he was wearing a uniform with a gun on his side.
“Thank you,” Aya said politely and noticed how he kept scowling around. She couldn’t see his eyes clearly because of his sunglasses, but with his blond hair she suspected them to be blue like hers.
“Are we in danger?” she asked.
“Public places are never safe in Spirima,” Aston murmured.
“I’m happy they warned me about that at the briefing because I’m pretty sure those police officers were up to something,” Aya said conspiratorially.
Aston raised an eyebrow and scoffed before he got in on the driver’s seat.
“No, honestly, you should have seen the way they were checking me out and insisting that I give them my passport… something was not right.”
“Hmm.” Aston pulled out and they took off at high speed. “Not everyone’s a Masi warrior, and you can’t blame a man for checking you out,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone that annoyed Aya.
“No, it wasn’t like that at all. The guy was really scary.”
Aston shook his head slightly. “Listen, Aya… you, arriving in those tight jeans and long blond hair, probably made their month. Don’t put more into it than it was, alright?”
Aya narrowed her eyes and decided she really didn’t like Aston at all; he was far too arrogant and sure of himself. He thinks I’m a fragile paranoid little flower… but I’m not!
“How would you know? You were there for thirty seconds, and it sounds to me like you were busier assessing my ass than the situation.” This was far more aggressive talk that Aya was used to, but she was angry with him for being late, for doubting her judgment, and for being so condescending to her.
“As I said, you can’t blame a man for checking you out,” he said dryly.
Aya rolled her eyes. “You’ve been too long in the desert. You need to get out more.”
“Well, they don’t exactly have strip clubs and night life here, if that’s what you mean.”
Snide replies were forming in Aya’s head, ones pointing out that his pumped biceps were probably a side effect of too little female attention and too much masturbation. But she couldn’t possibly be that vulgar, so instead she searched for non-offensive things to ask.
“How long have you been working for Spread Life?”
“About a year,” he replied.
“What do you do at the camp?”
“I’m the cook.” His sarcastic tone of voice revealed that he found her question ridiculous, as his uniform said it all.
She was offended by his lack of patience and friendliness. “I’m trying to make polite conversation here. There’s no need to go all Rambo on me.”
He didn’t answer.
“Isn’t there a rule about being nice to the newcomer for at least twenty-four hours or so?” Aya asked while bumping in the seat because of the holes in the road.
“I’m the Director of Security.”
Aya nodded. It explained his soldier look with the short hair and serious expression.
“Okay. Do you like it?”
Aston made a sound that she couldn’t quite hear because of the noise from the car. It sounded like a snort.
She continued, “When I left Norway we had lots of snow, so it’s quite a change with this heat.”
“I’ve never been to Norway,” he answered shortly.
“It’s very beautiful with mountains, lakes, and woods… if you like that sort of thing…”
Aston didn’t reply so she continued her small talk.
“I’m a ski instructor and I hike and kayak in the summer, so I love nature.”
He gave her a side-glance. “Do you like stones, dust, and sand too?”
Aya shrugged. “I hope I can get used to it.”
“But you didn’t fly in from Norway.”
“No, I had the mandatory introduction week in England.”
Aston nodded and for a long time he didn’t speak.
“So what brought you here?” Aya asked him.
Aston shrugged. “I was in the first troops that Great Britain sent when the war broke out five years ago. I’ve been back several times and speak the language, but I was getting tired of being a soldier, so when Spread Life recruited me for this position I accepted.”
“Because you love living in a dusty desert so much?” Aya joked.
“No,” Aston said impatiently. “Because I want to make a difference and keep some very vulnerable people safe.”
“Oh, I see.” No wonder Aston was so serious if he had spent almost five years in a war zone.
“So you are an expert on Spirima, are you?”
“You could say that.”
“So what’s your take on the war? When do you think it’ll end?”
Aston looked straight ahead when he started talking: “It’s hard to say really. What you see now is a country destroyed by war, but even when we first arrived five years ago Spirima was a crippled land on the burst of collapse. The country was far behind on technology, education, and infrastructure because of decades of sanctions from the outside world. The king was forced to give in to pressure from abroad that human rights should be honored if Spirima were to receive any loans or trade with other nations.”
Aya chipped in. “From what I understand they are fighting because the king banned the Masi religion?”
“But couldn’t the king let people have their religion and then regulate their behavior with laws instead?”
“He probably could, but I think he wanted to send a signal that this was a new beginning and Spirima was leaving slavery and human sacrifices in the past.”
“So what went wrong?”
“The rich and powerful people didn’t want to give up their privileged life, so they started a rebellion to overthrow the throne. It’s been very bloody.”
Aya didn’t ask more questions after that and Aston didn’t talk to her either. If everyone at camp were as stiff as Aston, Aya would be very lonely.
When they arrived at the camp Aston showed her the way to her tent, and it seemed that the closer they got the more tight-lipped he became.
“This is where you will be staying.” He pointed to a tent in front of them. “Your roommate’s name is Tara.” He put her bags down and left quickly. Wow, he can’t get away fast enough.
“Thank you,” Aya called out to him but he didn’t even turn around; he just raised a hand to signal that he had heard her.
The tent was going to be her new home for the next year, and eager to see the inside, Aya entered. The tent wasn’t big, but tall enough that she could walk around at her full height. There were two beds and on one of them lay a young woman. Aya guessed her to be her own age and assumed she was Tara, her new roommate. The girl jumped up from her bed but instead of greeting Aya, she popped her head out of the tent.
“Didn’t Aston pick you up?” she asked, and looked disappointed that she couldn’t see him outside.
“Yeah he did,” Aya confirmed.
The girl closed the tent door and looked at Aya with large green eyes, framed by brown hair that only just reached her shoulders. She was very pretty.
“Was he mad?”
Aya frowned. “I wouldn’t say mad, but serious, I guess.”
Tara rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s Aston. Always so damn serious. But hey, don’t take it personally if he seemed a little upset. It’s because of me.”
“What do you mean?” Aya tilted her head.
“We had a major fight just before he left… he’s my boyfriend.”
“Ohh.” Aya flushed, thinking about how Aston had admitted to checking her out, but Tara didn’t seem to notice her red cheeks.
“Yeah, it’s no big thing. We fight all the time.” Tara shrugged.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be.” Tara lit up in a genuine smile. “The make-up sex makes it totally worth it.” She stretched her arms in the air and made a slow sway with her hips. This girl was well-shaped, with generous proportions in a Marilyn Monroe kind of way, and Aya could see why men would find her sexy.
“Right.” So much for my masturbation assumption. Aya smiled internally. Tara was such a contrast to gloomy Aston. If he was reserved and stiff, Tara was chatty and without a filter. It was hard to see what they had in common.
“Make-up sex… really… that’s… ehh, great… but I thought relationships between staff weren’t allowed.”
Tara arched her eyebrows disapprovingly. “Ah, don’t tell me you are one of those rule followers. You are not going to tell anyone, are you?”
Aya shook her head. “No, of course not.”
“Good. Besides, we’re all human… we have needs, you know.”
“Sure,” was Aya’s only reply.
And then Tara broke into a loud laugh. “My God, I don’t think I introduced myself, did I? I’m Tara, your new roommate.” She held out her hand for a formal introduction.
“My name is Aya.”
“Aya and Tara… it almost rhymes, and I like short names, it’s easier to remember, right?”
“Yes, short names are great.” Aya hid a smile and concluded that rhyming wasn’t Tara’s strong side.
“If you want I can show you around the camp. There’s not much to see, but I remember when I first arrived. I got lost all the time. Everything looks the same.”
Aya had already gotten a first impression from her walk with Aston but she was eager to see more.
“I would like that,” she said.
The camp was big and had more than six thousand refugees living in tents and portables. Tara showed her the kitchen facilities where the refugees worked under supervision from staff. She pointed out washing facilities that were very primitive and explained the division of the camp.
“Okay.” Aya nodded and looked at the many refugees walking pass them. Her attention was caught by staring eyes at a distance. A group of refugees sat crouched down outside a tent with nothing else to do than stare shamelessly. Aya seemed to be the most interesting thing they had eyed all day. One of them was a young woman who tilted her head and shot Aya a curious look. She was dirty, her hair was greasy, and she had a big scar on her leg that looked too symmetrical to be caused by nature. Someone had burned her.
“Come on, I’ll show you the infirmary where we work,” Tara pulled Aya along. The young female refugee got up and followed them, and it made Aya a bit nervous.
“The mark on her leg… what is it?”
“Oh, that… it’s slave markings. They all have different ones depending on who owned them; some have several.”
Aya could feel the woman catching up to them and stopped to face her with a pounding heart. But there was no threat in the woman’s eyes, just curiosity as she reached out and touched Aya’s hair.
“What did she say?” Aya asked unfamiliar with the word the woman had spoken in Spiri, the local language.
“She said Angel,” Tara translated.
“Ohh.” Aya smiled at the refugee.
“Long blond hair is a rare thing here,” Tara continued matter-of-factly. “Maybe you better think of braiding it or something.”
Aya stood still, allowing the young woman to feel her hair, and forced herself to not move when the woman leaned forward to smell her hair. “Angel,” she repeated in awe.
“Okay, that’s enough. We don’t want to start a religious fan club of yours. Come along.”
Aya waved at the young woman and followed Tara to the infirmary. Only one doctor and two nurses were on duty, and they were happy to see a new face.
“So glad you’re here,” the doctor said politely. He was a middle-aged man with a kind smile. The nurses were both with patients but they looked up and nodded their heads in greetings.
Tara brought Aya along to see the rest of the camp and pointed to a portable. “That’s the security station where Aston and his team works from. Come on, I’ll introduce you to a few cute guys.”
Aya took a step back; she was tired from the journey and felt sticky from the heat and sweat, but Tara ignored her reluctance and just pulled her along.
Inside the portable a ventilator was working overtime to cool down the room, and Aston and two other men in their mid-twenties sat spread out around the room, working on computers. They all looked up when Tara rang a little bell on a counter and spread her arms in a theatrical manner. “Hey, guys… you’ve got ladies in da house.”
“Oh, hey, Tara,” a big red-haired man got up and approached the counter.
“Christian and Jimmy, come and meet my new roommate,” Tara demanded.
The two men came around the counter and shook hands with Aya.
“These guys are some of the best-looking men at the camp,” Tara exclaimed in a light chuckle, positioning herself in the middle of them and hooking her arm under theirs.
“Aston, come over here,” Jimmy called, but Aston just scowled and stayed focused on his computer.
“We already met,” he murmured.
Tara laughed and lowered her voice slightly. “Don’t worry, Aston is just in his big bad wolf mood today. Let him huff and puff a bit, then he’ll come around again.”
Aston narrowed his eyes and hardened his jaw but said nothing. Instead he got up and moved to the other side of the room, opening some file cabinets with rough movements. When he found what he was looking for he smacked the cabinet door, making a loud noise.
“I can see that you’re all busy and I really need to go and unpack, but I look forward to getting to know you both later,” Aya told the men with a polite smile.
“Sure. We’ll see you later, Aya,” Jimmy said in a friendly fashion while Christian glanced towards Aston, who had returned to his desk and was now typing uncommonly loudly.
“Do you think you can find your way back alone?” Tara asked. “I think I’m gonna hang out with the boys a little more.”
“Ehhh, sure,” Aya said and left the room. Gosh, couldn’t Tara see that Aston wanted her gone? Aya shook her head, and went back to her tent and started unpacking. She didn’t have duty until tomorrow and it was only five in the afternoon local time. The unpacking went very quickly, as uniforms would be provided at the camp and she’d only brought the essentials – a few sets of casual clothes, her toiletries, and a few good books. The last thing in her bag was the information folder from the introduction course she had attended the past week. It had been a crazy week with fourteen other young health professionals from around the world, all leaving to different camps in Spirima like herself. They had been drilled by instructors for five days and learned about Spirima’s history, culture, political situation, language, and the most common dos and don’ts; and on the last evening the fifteen had gone clubbing, knowing it was their last chance in a year. Aya was tired from yesterday’s party and today’s traveling; but she opened the folder and looked through the checklists provided, and then her eyes fell on the pamphlet written in Spiri and the paper inside translating the text into English. She immediately felt sick knowing she was going to have to read it. The pamphlet offered directions to slave owners on how to treat their slaves. The instructor had insisted they read it through as they would be meeting many former slaves in the camps and needed to understand what that meant exactly, but Aya had procrastinated because the whole concept of slavery was so repulsive to her. With a sigh she opened the pamphlet and started reading.
Only the following three categories of slavery
1: The infidels who do not believe in Masi as the true God.
2: Born slaves. It is every slave owner’s right to breed slaves with his current slaves.
3: Children sold by their parents.
A slave owner can at any time:
1: Sell a slave
2: Trade a slave.
3: Lend out a slave
4: Use the slave for sexual needs
5: Use the slave for domestic needs
Punishment and discipline.
Every slave owner determines the level of
discipline he wants to enforce.
Punishments are encouraged if the slave is not
obedient and submissive.
Slaves are equal to property and therefore should be treated as such. Should a slave owner die, his property including slaves will pass on to his next of kin.
Should a slave try to escape, the slave owner is free to decide how to punish the slave.
Should the owner decide to kill the slave, then that is his right.
If a slave is captured on the run, the slave is to be returned to the rightful owner immediately.
It is forbidden, and punishable by death, to help another man’s slave escape.
Every Masi warrior is entitled to a minimum of one sex slave to satisfy his physical needs.
When a slave has been claimed by a warrior, his ownership must be sealed instantly through a sexual act.
It is forbidden to touch another man’s slave – unless granted permission.
If the girl is a virgin the warrior needs only to make sure she is ready in his opinion.
It is not recommended to have sex with children under the age of six and if a slave owner does it anyway he should treat the child gently during sex.
The following things are NOT permitted.
To have more than five sex slaves at a time.
To have sexual relationship with boys above the age of sixteen.
To separate children from their mothers before they reach puberty.
Basic rights of your slave.
As a slave owner you are obliged to feed the slave at least once a day and make sure they get at least four hours of sleep every night.
Aya turned the pamphlet around and looked at the picture on the front. It showed the symbol of the Masi religion – a symbol that the rest of the world knew as the one for the star Mercury but with a ring around it. It was simple and looked like a stick man with devil horns. How fitting, Aya thought and put the pamphlet down. She was disgusted by the content and would never understand what possessed someone to think they could own another human being. Her mission to make life better for the victims burned more passionately than ever.
The two first months at the refugee camp flew by.
Aya involved herself in healing the sick and pouring out empathy to the many wounded souls she met every day. The pamphlet had given her an idea about what her patients had gone through, but nothing had prepared her for the dead eyes she met in their faces. She wanted to shake them and shout you are free now and have them laugh and dance, but most of them seemed apathetic and lost. It filled her heart with pity when one of the older doctors commented on it one day: “Freedom is a state of mind, not a purely physical thing.”
If that were true then maybe these former slaves would never experience freedom in their lifetime.
Her Spiri was improving day by day. The intensive language course she had taken while still back in Norway, combined with two months of long work hours in the refugee camp, made Aya able to communicate in Spiri. As long as her patients spoke clearly and slowly she understood the basics.
Aya had gotten to know most of the staff at camp and found them to be a diverse group of people with very different backgrounds. She hadn’t bonded closely with anyone but friendships were starting to sprout, and oddly enough Aston had become one of her preferred people in the camp. She had gotten to know him better when he escorted her to the local marketplace once a week. Typically they went in groups of four or five to get away from camp, but they always brought a security guard for protection and most of the times Aston volunteered.
Aya had quickly admitted to herself that she’d misjudged Aston at the airport. In fact he was actually not only charming but had a wicked sense of humor when he wasn’t upset and angry from fighting with Tara.
Aston and Tara were still together, although in the two months Aya had known them they had broken up several times. The level of drama was unmatched by anything Aya had ever witnessed before. She was beginning to think of them as the daily entertainment, since Tara told her everything uninvited. More than once Aya had tried to tell Tara that Aston probably wouldn’t be happy about Aya’s knowing such intimate things about him, but that didn’t stop Tara. She was a talker and gladly gave away the most delicate details to her roommate, who had no choice but to learn about Aston’s sexual preferences, his sweet spots, his level of expertise, and how addictive his hard body was to Tara.
“Don’t you miss sex, Aya?” Tara asked one night.
“I try not to think of it.”
“How can you not think of it?” Tara pondered out loud. “Sex is such a fundamental need. Oooh, what about Jimmy?”
“Who?” Aya asked distractedly, feeling a lack of interest.
“Oh, you know… The blond guy with the big abs who works for Aston. He’s been sending long glances your way. Want me to set you up?”
Aya raised her brows. “Are you serious?”
“Yes. He’s a yummy treat, isn’t he?”
“I think he’s gay, Tara, and even if he isn’t, I’m not interested.” In an attempt to close the subject Aya tried a strategy that had worked before. “You really have the only man worth snatching. I’m happy for you.”
Tara was silent for a while, and Aya closed her eyes with a smug smile. Finally I can get some sleep.
And then Tara’s voice flowed towards her in a low husky tone. “You know, I’m sure Aston wouldn’t mind a threesome if I asked him.”
Aya lifted her head to look at Tara, hoping she was joking. But even in the dark tent Aya could tell that Tara’s expression was adventurous and serious. Like you guys don’t have enough drama between the two of you.
“Uhm, that’s… nice of you, but I’m sure Aston has more than enough in you. You’re quite the woman, Tara.”
Tara sat up. “You sure? I really wouldn’t mind asking him.”
“Absolutely. Aston and I don’t see each other like that. I mean I like him and all. He’s funny. But not in a sexual way.”
“Funny?” Tara narrowed her eyes. “I wouldn’t call Aston funny, and I thought you said he was the only catch in this camp… so now you’re saying he’s not sexy enough for you?”
Aya rubbed her forehead. This was so typical of Tara, to always dramatize and misunderstand. “Listen, Tara, Aston is your boyfriend, so I don’t look at him as anything else. I don’t see him as a potential lover, I never have. And I don’t want to. He’s yours.”
“Fine!” Tara said with a pout, but only minutes later she launched into a report on how wonderful a lover Aston was. Aya considered covering her ears and humming but that would be too childish. She had no need to learn about Aston’s tongue, penis size, or what words he whispered to Tara when he took her, but Tara was happily sharing anyway.
The next day Aya flushed when she saw Aston. If he knew what I know of him, he would be furious with Tara, Aya thought and gave him a friendly smile.
Aston picked up on her embarrassment, and had an amused expression on his face when he took Aya to the marketplace. It was the first time they were all alone since the time he’d picked her up from the airport, and she was trying to make the conversation light. When they got to the marketplace Aston asked her to stay close to him at all times. It was easy to forget the danger when looking at the lively stalls where locals sold vegetables, fruit, candles, honey, clothes, and much more.
“Something is up with you this morning, Aya; what is it?” Aston asked, curious.
“Nothing.” Aya tried to dismiss him.
“Don’t even try to fool me. I’m trained to read your body and I know you are lying to me. Something is embarrassing you,” Aston pointed out with a grin.
Aya turned to face him, surrounded by locals going in both directions.
“If I tell you, will you promise not to laugh or be angry?”
Aston shook his head. “Just spill the beans already.”
“But you can’t tell Tara that I told you… Promise?”
Aston nodded, smiling. “I promise.”
“Well, I’m just embarrassed because Tara took pity on my celibacy and offered to ask you for a threesome.”
Aston’s eyes widened in surprise and then his face split in a grin. “Did she now? How generous of her to share me.”
Aya grinned from ear to ear, relieved that Aston was taking it so well.
“Yes, very generous of her.”
“So what did you tell her?” He looked down, kicking some stones on the ground and still smiling.
Aya looked up and took in the marketplace. It was such a wonderful change from the refugee camp. It was still dusty and the poverty was evident, but these people were Aya’s image of Spirima with their earth-colored clothes, their olive skin, and their small houses painted in brown and red colors.
“I told her that I’m sure she is more than enough woman for you.”
Aston broke into a roaring laugh. “You told her that?”
“Well, it’s the truth, isn’t it?”
“She certainly is over the top sometimes.”
Aston and Aya were attracting much more attention than they’d realized. They were in their own bubble laughing and smiling, and so out of place with their foreign appearance.
“Oh, I think Tara would love one of those,” Aya said and pointed to some braided wristbands in beautiful colors. She picked up a few and handed them to Aston. “Which one do you like the most?”
He decided on a blue one and paid the woman while Aya continued to look at the other stalls around them. Her eyes fixed on some small art pieces of glass and she headed straight for them, not looking up to see the man walking fast through the crowd of people. In a collision they smashed against each other, and she would have fallen if he hadn’t grabbed her in a quick reflex. Instead of falling she was pulled close to him. Without thinking Aya grabbed his upper arms to stabilize herself and felt his hard muscles through his dark T-shirt. She looked up and met a pair of amber brown eyes gazing down at her with annoyance that quickly changed into curiosity.
“I’m sorry,” she said in Spiri and took him in. He was paler than most locals with unruly brown hair, stubble that was at least a week old, and dark circles under his eyes making him look tired, but even that couldn’t disguise that he was attractive.
“My fault,” he murmured back slow enough for her to understand and without releasing his grip on her. Damn, he’s strong.
There was something about this man that seemed familiar and yet Aya couldn’t remember ever meeting him before. “Have we met?” she asked and tried to remember.
He didn’t answer her but kept staring into her eyes.
“Are you Italian?” It was one of those situations where her mouth had spoken without a filter; she was referring to his light skin color. She smiled, fully aware that she should pull away from him; but her body refused, and they were still standing close with his arms around her lower back and her hands resting on his upper arms.
“No I’m not Italian,” he said.
Step away from him, her mind shouted but like a curious child exploring, her hands moved on their own to touch his shoulders.
He didn’t move but she felt his muscles stiffen and saw his eyes narrow slightly while his mouth curved up in a small smile. “What are you doing?” he asked in a low voice and tightened his grip around her waist, making electric impulses shoot through her body.
Aya spread her lips to speak and saw his eyes fall to her mouth. “I don’t know,” she whispered truthfully, and held her breath when his head moved slightly closer to hers.
“Aya, are you alright?” Aston asked and pulled her away from the handsome stranger, who didn’t move or take his eyes off her.
Aya turned her head and looked at Aston. “Yes, I’m fine.” But she didn’t feel fine. She felt out of breath, and energized at the same time.
She returned her attention to the stranger. “Thank you,” she said with a small smile and reached her hand out to the man. It was like her body was a magnet seeking physical contact with him. Yet it was completely out of character for her to act this way. He shook her hand and stroked his thumb on top of Aya’s hand before Aston put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her with him.
Looking back at the stranger, Aya saw him looking after her with a hint of a smile on his face, and then people were blocking her vision so she couldn’t see him any longer.
Aston and Aya continued their browsing in the marketplace, and Aya found herself scouting discreetly for the young man. Why did he seem so familiar and why had she felt such a physical pull towards him?
“Don’t even think about it, Aya.” Aston said casually.
“Getting involved with a local.”
Aya shook her head in dismissal. “What are you talking about?”
“I can see your eyes searching the marketplace for him, but you are looking in the wrong direction. He’s behind you to the left.” Aya spun around and saw the man looking at her from the direction Aston had described. He was leaning against a car with his arms crossed, not even trying to hide the fact that he was observing her, and now that she could see him in full scale she estimated him to be in his mid or late twenties. Their eyes locked and she felt her heart pound faster again. God, this guy was really something. Nothing like she had ever been attracted to. He was too ungroomed for her taste with his unruly hair, his stubble, and torn t-shirt and yet her whole body reacted to him. His eyes expressed sadness, danger, and curiosity, and not even all the warning signals flaring in the back of her mind could suppress the unexplainable pull she felt towards him.
Aston stepped in front of her, forcing her to look away from the man. He cupped her face with both his hands and kissed her.
“Hey, what was that for?” She asked confused.
“I was doing you a favor. Don’t ever get involved with a local, Aya. It’s dangerous and always ends badly.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t even know him.” Aya forced a chuckle, wondering if that statement was meant for her or Aston.
“Well, at least now he thinks you’re with me,” Aston looked happy with himself. “You know, if you’re truly desperate I could be persuaded to that threesome. After all, I’m the security officer and if a roll in the hay is what it takes to keep you safe from alluring locals, then I would be forced to offer my services, wouldn’t I?” Aston grinned, took Aya’s hand, and pulled her with him again.
“Thank you, Aston. But I think I better avoid getting entangled in the crazy love circus that you and Tara have going.”
“What a shame,” Aston teased.
Aya couldn’t help looking toward the car that the stranger had been leaning against, but he was gone now. The feeling of disappointment surprised her, and she shook her head as if she could physically shake off the feeling of having met someone significant that she should recognize, but didn’t.
Kato watched the blond woman move away and scowled. She had just looked at the car where she last saw him, but he had moved, trying to get closer to her. He considered walking up to her and asking her what she was doing here, but from the guy’s uniform he already knew they were from Spread Life, so she was most likely either a doctor or a nurse, and her name was Aya. At least that was what the man had called her. Kato tried to understand what had just happened and why he was so shaken by his encounter with her.
At first when he bumped into her he had only seen a swarm of blond hair but then she had lifted her pretty face and looked at him with the clearest blue eyes he had ever seen. They had been full of innocence and goodness, and he hadn’t been able to stop looking at her while taking in her fresh scent and the feeling of softness from her body. It had been like something from a different lifetime, something so far from the darkness he was surrounded by lately, and it had taken him back to better times of peace and tranquility.
Kato was trying to guess the woman’s origin and remembered her low melodious voice when she had asked him if he was Italian. He guessed her to be Scandinavian of some kind and a few years younger than him. Why had she touched his shoulders like that? He could still recall the fascinated look in her eyes, so full of wonder, and she had been in no rush to pull away from him. He felt his blood pump faster at the thought of her closeness.
And the man. Who was he? Kato had seen him put his arm around her and kiss her, so he concluded they were more than colleagues – although he hadn’t seen any rings on their fingers. Kato stared after Aya as she walked on with the other man holding her hand.
It was unexplainable and irrational to Kato but he felt a burning jealousy towards that man. He tried hard to stop his own hypnotic stare at her, but he just couldn’t. The best he could do was stay out of sight and not approach them. He wouldn’t even know what to say to her anyway. He had nothing to offer someone like her; she was a dream from a different life and he would only be torturing himself by speaking to her.
As soon as the couple got in their car and left the marketplace, Kato sighed and collected himself, and then he remembered what he was here to do. At a quick pace he pressed through the stream of people. He didn’t like places like these. There were too many people and too many things happening at once for him to have control of the situation. He needed to pick up some supplies and head back to the Masi headquarters right away.
The rest of the day Aya thought about the man from the marketplace. His amber eyes, his good looks and the pulsating connection between them. Why had she reacted so strongly towards him? Had he felt it too?
She hadn’t told Tara because really… there was nothing to tell, and Tara was so restless that night and kept pacing the floor between their beds.
“I wish Aston would admit his feelings to me,” Tara complained.
“What do you mean?” Aya asked, suppressing the need to say, “Here we go again.”
“I mean, we’ve been seeing each other for four months and I’ve told him I love him, but he just won’t say the same to me.”
“Are you sure he loves you then?”
“Of course he loves me. I mean he’s horny all the time. He can’t get enough of me and I feel the same way about him.”
“Okay… but love and lust aren’t always the same thing… you know that, right?”
Tara snorted at her. “Don’t be stupid. I’m twenty-four, not fourteen; of course I know the difference. But Aston loves me all right, he just won’t admit it to himself.”
Aya waited for Tara to continue, knowing that she soon would.
“I’m leaving in two weeks and I want him to come home to England with me. God knows he’s been in the war for long enough…”
“So what’s the problem?”
Tara rolled her eyes and with a high-pitched voice she pointed out the obvious: “That he won’t go with me, of course.”
“Because he’s scared.”
Aya frowned. Scared was not something she connected with Aston. He was incredibly tough to look at with his army hair, his muscled body, and his sharp intelligent eyes. There wasn’t anything that signaled fear about him.
“Scared?” Aya repeated as an invitation for Tara to elaborate.
“Yeah, he’s scared of loving me. I know he is. But I’m going to ask him to marry me.”
Aya swallowed air. “Really? Do you think that’s wise?”
Tara pouted. “Why not?”
“I just worry that…”
“That he’ll reject me?”
“I don’t think he will. I think he needs to see my commitment and then he’ll allow himself to love me back.”
“But Tara, why would you want to marry someone who isn’t crazy about you?”
Tara raised her voice. “Aston is crazy about me. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
Aya wasn’t so sure, but she wished Tara good luck when she left the tent.
Half an hour later Tara came storming back, sobbing and cursing Aston to hell. Aston came storming after her and Aya left the tent with big eyes. The level of drama between the two really was extreme. Aya had nowhere to go and didn’t feel like wandering around the camp at night. It wasn’t safe. She stayed outside the tent and waited, trying to distract herself from the heated discussion inside the tent, but their loud voices made it impossible.
“I’m sorry Tara, it’s not you.”
“Right, the good old ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ phrase!”
“Honestly. I’ll never marry anyone. That’s just the way it is.”
“Who made that stupid rule?”
“I did,” Aston said firmly.
“Why?” Tara demanded.
“Because I don’t want to marry.”
“So what do you want, Aston? What happens in two weeks when I leave?” Tara was sniffling.
“I don’t know, Tara, but if you are looking for a long-term relationship I’m not your guy.”
“Screw you, bastard. You love me!”
Aya could hear Tara break down crying and then something was thrown around the tent.
“Stop it, Tara.” Aston’s voice was low and commanding. It sounded like muffled rumbling. Are they fighting?
“Please, Aston. I need it.” Tara’s voice was low and begging.
“Don’t! Tara, stop it, this is a bad idea. I can’t give you what you need.”
“Yes, you can. You just don’t want to.”
“Tara, stop. Please stop… Oh, fuck… that’s not fair.” Aya could hear a low growl from Aston, and from the sucking sounds coming from the tent she had a good idea why Tara was suddenly so silent.
Aya rolled her eyes. Why can’t they do that in his tent?
The soundtrack of a live porn performance inside the tent made Aya’s thoughts go back to the guy from the marketplace. She remembered his masculine fragrance and his calming voice, but most of all his amber brown eyes connecting to hers so electrifyingly. How many men had she met in her life? Thousands if not tens of thousands, and yet this type of reaction was a first-time experience for her. She had read about it in books and seen it portrayed in films, but she never believed it was possible in reality and had always sworn she needed to know a man well before she could be intimate with him.
But her reaction to this guy was purely physical. She didn’t know his name, his age, his preferences, his beliefs, or anything else. Her attraction to him was raw and animalistic, and she felt grateful she would never see him again. A desire so primal was surely dangerous.
From what she could hear from the tent, Aston had given up resisting Tara and was instead ordering her into different positions, something that Tara had revealed he liked to do. Another piece of information from Tara suddenly annoyed Aya when she remembered Tara bragging that Aston could go on all night.
It was late, Aya was tired, and she wanted to go to bed and sleep. She considered going to Aston’s tent and crashing in his bed, leaving the tent to him and Tara; and she considered sneaking in and hoping they would be so captivated in their lovemaking that they wouldn’t realize she was there, but eventually she heard what sounded like a climax and five minutes later she politely called: “Are you done now, can I go to bed?”
She heard giggling from Tara, and Aston’s deep voice called her in.
Tara looked happy again and Aston had that glow of sex around him.
“Sorry for keeping you out of bed,” Aston apologized. “But to be fair, we did offer you to join us.”
Tara giggled again but Aya ignored them both and snuggled into her bed. She just wanted to sleep and maybe dream of amber brown eyes.
Two weeks later, on the morning of Tara’s departure, the love circus was on an all-time high. Tara wanted Aston to commit to her and he simply wouldn’t. Tara tried pleading, crying, and throwing a major tantrum but Aston remained grounded in his decision that this was it.
“I’m not making any promises I don’t intend to keep,” he said honestly, and it made Aya respect him and Tara hate him.
Tara made a dramatic exit and refused to let Aston drive her to the airport. He seemed more relieved than disappointed about it.
“Are you going to miss her?” Aya asked him.
Aston shrugged. He was not prepared to discuss his feelings with her and she didn’t want to pry.
Aya went to the infirmary and worked. She had been in the camp two and half months and things were becoming routine now. Every day new patients came in, but she knew her colleagues, she knew where to find the tools she needed, and she knew enough Spiri to communicate with her patients. Like in a normal practice the patients had all sorts of problems; today she helped operate on a young boy with appendicitis and she took out stitches from a patient that had been operated on ten days before. A father brought in his daughter who had severe bellyaches, and even though Aya had only been in the camp for a few months she knew that body aches were a common symptom of the immense emotional pain these people carried. Aya examined the girl and went over all her symptoms when a suspicion hit her.
“How old are you, sweetheart?” she asked the girl, who had large timid eyes.
“Thirteen,” she answered in a small voice.
“Did you get your bleedings yet?” Aya asked her but the girl didn’t understand what she referred to so, Aya repeated to the father.
“No, not yet,” the father explained.
Aya called for the doctor, who came over, and the expression on Aya’s face and a few implied words between them told him of Aya’s suspicion.
“We’ll need a urine sample,” he murmured with lips formed in a hard line.
Aya had the girl pee in a cup and the test confirmed her suspicion. She showed the result to the doctor, who sighed. “Let me handle this.”
The doctor sat down next to the girl and the father and introduced himself in a warm and friendly manner.
“How long have you been at the camp?” he asked.
“About two years,” the father answered.
“Do you have more children than your daughter?” The doctor smiled politely.
The father looked confused. “I don’t have any children.”
Aya saw the doctor make a small nod and look down. “So this is your…?” he waited for the man to say what he already knew.
“She’s my wife,” the man said to clarify.
“Alright, well, congratulations then, she is with child.”
The girl looked at her husband, who smiled at her and patted her hand. He looked genuinely happy and it seemed to please his young wife.
Aya knew that it was not uncommon to marry off young girls to adult men, but this girl was just the youngest she had met so far. She was just a child and looked so small and fragile compared to the man, who had to be in his thirties. This part of the Spirima culture, Aya would never understand or condone.
While the doctor gave instructions and advice to the parents to be, Aya closed her eyes and tried to hide her emotions. Her two and half months in this camp had taught her that rape, incest, and child brides were common in this country, and it made her sick. Some of the people didn’t even seem to understand how wrong it was. They had never known any different and just did what generations before them had done.
That night Aya wrote a letter to her friend Sofia.
Coming to Spirima took only a few hours in a plane but some days I feel like that plane was a time machine taking me twelve hundred years back in time. Fundamental human rights are nonexistent here and human life has little value. The longer I stay here the more I think that innocence in this country is for babies and toddlers only. These people are so disturbed in their lack of distinguishing right from wrong. How many generations will it take to enlighten this country?
Kato got up and went to the kitchen. It was impossible to see the sink what with all the dirty dishes, and he rubbed his eyes, feeling exhausted.
Jonul was still sleeping; it was getting harder and harder to get him up, and most days he worried that Jonul would end his own life with a bullet. The brother he had once looked up to had become a cynical stranger with little pleasure in life other than to fight, drug out, and cause pain.
Kato roamed the cabinets looking for something to eat. He found some crackers and stuffed his mouth on his way to the shower. He could hardly see his own reflection in the mirror because it was so full of toothpaste splashes. This place was absolutely filthy, and the fact that he lived here made him sick.
After the shower he walked into Jonul’s room and pinched his ribcage. Jonul reacted by threatening him with murder. Kato shrugged; he was used to it and didn’t take it personally.
“We’re late, just get your ass up and moving.”
“I’m staying in bed,” Jonul yawned.
“Explain that to the general,” Kato said dryly.
Jonul stretched and pulled on some clothes from the floor and walked into the kitchen looking for food. When he didn’t find anything tempting he opened the fridge and grabbed a beer.
“Healthy breakfast,” Kato commented and shook his head.
Jonul shrugged and produced a loud burp. “I’m sorry, I would have chosen bacon and an omelet, but the kitchen chef didn’t turn up this morning, did he?” His voice dripped with sarcasm.
“At least take a shower… you really stink.”
Jonul smirked. “It’s the smell of a warrior, brother. Masculine and raw.”
“No, it’s the smell of rot and death and it’s disgusting. You’ve got blood on your clothes, stinking breath, and both your hair and beard are long and greasy.”
“So?” Jonul rubbed provocatively against Kato, who jumped away disgusted.
Jonul snorted and rolled his eyes before exiting the kitchen and walking into the bathroom with another major burp.
Kato listened, but from what he could hear Jonul spend less than ten seconds brushing his teeth, and when he came out he hadn’t even splashed water on his face.
“Let’s go,” Jonul said and rubbed his eyes.
“What happened to taking a shower?”
“I’ll do it tonight… or something.”
Kato opened the door and didn’t say anything further. He was living in a pigsty but he would hold onto his personal hygiene as long as he could. It was one of the few things reminding him of who he used to be.
They walked to the headquarters in silence. The streets were desolate, as this whole area housed only Masi warriors. It was a ghost town, and the twenty-minute walk to the headquarters took them through streets completely in ruins from the many attacks this area had suffered.
When they arrived at the Masi headquarters they met their uncle, the general, a hard man feared by everyone. He was ruthless in his punishment of his enemies and people who displeased him. His only soft spot seemed to be Jonul, whom he treated like a son now that his own three sons had been killed in the civil war.
He didn’t show the same affection for Kato, who had only been a warrior for a year. Kato had been given the same treatment as all new recruits and achieved a high-ranking position only due to his skills.
“Join me in my office.” The general led them to an elegant room and took a seat.
He signaled for them to sit down too and they did as requested.
“We are under pressure,” the general started. “Too many are dead and our position is weakened. Last night two soldiers tried to flee; our army is crumbling.”
Jonul squared his chest. “And where are the soldiers now?” he asked.
“In the basement. Waiting for their execution.”
“Is that necessary? Couldn’t we use them for something better?” Kato suggested.
“No. We need to stick to our rules, and I wouldn’t trust them even if they promised never to run again. We’ll give them to Masi. It will be a worthy sacrifice that will secure our victory.”
“As you please.” Jonul nodded earnestly.
“We need more funding too. Too many of our supporters are losing faith in us and less money is coming in.”
“What do you need us to do?” Jonul asked.
“What we always do. Find slaves we can sell and make a profit from, or hostages we can get a ransom for. I want you two to do patrols today and go scouting,” the uncle ordered. “Take two others with you and see what you can find.”
“And the two deserters?” Kato asked.
“Don’t worry about them. I’ll take care of their executions and make sure every soldier sees it and understands that escape is not an option.”
Kato nodded and left with Jonul to find a car. Going out of the secured area was always a risk, but he was relieved that he didn’t have to stay and watch the executions. Last time he had been out he had seen the blond woman and it had been the highlight of his week, maybe year even, as nothing in this black hole of civil war gave him any pleasure.
They took off in a van with two other Masi warriors picked by Jonul and headed for the outskirts of the abandoned city that was now the Masi territory.
Forty-five minutes later they were at the marketplace, keeping a low profile. They watched from the car as people walked to and from the shopping area.
“What happened to you last night?” Jonul asked Kato while yawning again.
“What do you mean?”
“You went home so early, brother, and you missed out on the best part.” Jonul smirked and elbowed the warrior on the passenger seat. Kato knew him a little; his name was Mika and he was a twisted psychopath with a short fuse and a heavy use of drugs. Kato tried to keep away from him if possible – the guy was simply bad news – but Jonul wouldn’t listen. He seemed so determined in his self-destruction and self-hatred that he sought out the worst among the Masi warriors and tried to top them. It was painful to watch.
“What happened?” the fourth warrior asked. He was young, not more than seventeen or eighteen, and fascinated by the hardcore grown men that went to the edge and far beyond.
“Oh, the usual game of pain, a little wrestling, and some hardcore live porn.” Mika laughed in a low hoarse voice.
Kato had attended his share of those gatherings and he had the scars from the pain game that was mandatory for all newcomers and used as a way to pass the time and show off testosterone. The game varied, but most often it was simply putting your lower arm against another man’s and leaving them resting on the table. A lit cigarette would be set burning slowly in the groove between the two arms, and whoever pulled his arm away first, lost.
Most Masi warriors had long burning marks on their forearms because they were too proud and doped to pull their arms away. Kato found it primitive and unnecessary; he wasn’t here to prove himself to the other warriors. No, pain was Jonul’s game, and he loved to sit and watch his opponent suffer. Kato figured it was Jonul’s distraction from the chaos he carried inside.
The wrestling that Jonul mentioned was the Masi word for brawls, a common thing among the bored warriors who missed their families and wives. They were constantly on edge and fights broke out over nothing.
“I wish I were there,” the young warrior said enviously. “I could have used a live porn show.”
Kato could hear them describe the details of slaves being raped, but he shut them out and focused on watching the people walk by. And then he saw her. Aya got out of a car with the same guy he’d seen her with last time. They walked closely together and once again they were smiling and laughing. She was so different from any other woman here. So free and happy and so casual in her tight blue jeans and t-shirt. Women here wore dresses and skirts, never pants, and even though he could only see her back, he was transfixed by her tight little butt and her long blond hair swaying around her and reaching down to the middle of her back.
Kato was completely focused on her and ignored the other men in the car. His staring glance made Jonul turn his head in that direction and whistle slowly. “Beautiful.”
Mika growled. “I think we have a winner.” And before Kato could react they jumped out of the car.
“No, wait,” Kato tried to object, but he could see that this was not a discussion. They had come to collect and when a prime target walked in front of them, the men acted. Jonul gave short commands to the others, and before Aya and Aston reached the marketplace they were attacked. Before Aya even got a chance to turn around Jonul put a bag over her head and pulled her with him while Mika and the young man jumped Aston, who fought back fiercely. Aston managed to punch out the youngest warrior easily but Mika was high on drugs and didn’t stop when Aston fired his gun and shot at him. Aston turned to pursue Jonul, who was half carrying, half pulling Aya with him towards the van, and he would have reached them if Mika hadn’t knocked him down from behind. Aya was kicking and screaming for help, but the locals looked the other way. No one dared intervene when Masi warriors were around. The danger of being shot was too great. They just hurried away.
Kato saw the scenario and was acting on default, making sure the doors to the van were open and getting up in the front seat preparing to set off before police arrived.
Jonul threw Aya in the van and knocked her hard on the head before shouting at her to lie still. She froze, and Kato couldn’t tell if she had passed out from the blow or if she was too afraid to move.
“Go, go, go,” Jonul shouted and Kato drove towards Mika, who was dragging Aston to the van. Jonul helped get him in the van and then they quickly collected the young warrior who was still passed out from the beating he had taken from Aston.
“Drive!” Mika yelled and Kato stepped on the pedal and hurried away. He was doing what was expected of him and pushed away the feelings of resistance.
“Move!” Aya was forcefully pushed forward, and stumbled to the ground. A strong grip pulled her back up and someone repeated the command with a growl. Aya tried to comply, terrified of the men and their brutality. She tried to walk faster but the bag over her head challenged her equilibrium. With her hands tied behind her, she had nothing to support her if she fell, and she had nothing to protect her from bumping into any sharp or dangerous object.
Aya felt another push from behind.
“Ahh.” She whimpered, frightened. All her senses were on alert and she was trying to figure out who her kidnappers were. Maybe local treasure hunters thinking they could get a ransom because she was a foreigner, or maybe it was Masi warriors, who called themselves freedom fighters. She heard talking from several voices, all speaking Spiri fast and too mumbling for her to understand. Aya tried to organize her thoughts and stop herself from going into an anxiety attack. Focus, pay attention. Listen, she ordered herself. Panic won’t do you any good right now. A few minutes ago she had been carried down some stairs, and the way the men’s voices carried an echo she felt sure they had taken her to a cave or a tunnel. As she moved and stumbled forward Aya tried her best to stay calm and avoid panic, but mental images of worst-case scenarios played out in her mind and she couldn’t stop crying or get her legs to stop trembling. What do they want with me? To kill me? Try to get a ransom? How far are they willing to go… chop off my fingers one by one until someone pays for me?
A sob escaped Aya. She knew the chances of getting a huge ransom for her were unrealistic. Both her home country, Norway, and her employers, Spread Life, had strict policies of never paying ransom. Aya knew this. It would put everyone at risk of being a target. The kidnappers would be disappointed that the only people Aya could imagine would pay anything for her were her family and friends, and none of them were rich or able to raise millions for a ransom.
“Stop crying, bitch.” Someone snarled and a fist hit her face. Even through the cloth bag she felt it burn on her cheek. She swallowed her scream of fear.
“Stop,” the man behind her ordered and pushed Aya harshly to the ground.
She lay still, listening to the men talk and sensing them moving around her for five or ten minutes.
“It’s ready… hold her down,” a hoarse voice commanded, and immediately a pair of strong hands pinned her down. Aya felt her T-shirt being pulled down over her shoulder and before she could react a burning pain made her scream out in pure agony.
“Ahhrrgg!” It only took a few seconds but the pain and the smell of her burned flesh made her almost pass out.
Someone pulled her up into a sitting position and with a rough movement the bag on her head was removed. She looked around to get a sense of where she was. She wasn’t in a cave or a tunnel as she had suspected. She was in a basement. The floor was cold concrete and the walls were all bare except for the splashes that looked like dried bloodstains. The room was not much bigger than a standard bedroom and full of instruments that looked like tools of interrogation and torture; on the table lay a glowing hot iron with the Masi symbol. Aya knew before she looked down at her shoulder that she had just been branded.
Three men were standing only a few feet away from her. They were all dressed in dark-colored uniforms and leather boots. The oldest of them was around fifty and projected authority with the way he stood and talked. He was of medium build with a round belly, and had gray hair and cold gray eyes that she didn’t like. On his black uniform she saw the name Mantonis. Aya knew that name. This was the man most hated in the refugee camp, and she had learned about him during her briefing in London. Mantonis had been the biggest slave owner in the country and one of the primary forces behind the revolution. In camp he was mostly referred to as Satan’s Son.
Aya’s eyes moved to the other two men. One of them she couldn’t see clearly because he had his back to her, but the third one was the one that scared her the most. He was in his late thirties, and Aya recognized his rusty voice; he was the one who had pushed her and growled at her. The man was tall and had a big beard that was probably meant to distract from the fact that his face had many ugly scars. The lines were still pink so the wounds couldn’t be more than a month or two old. It wasn’t marks of a knife; more like bite marks and scratches from claws. Maybe he had been attacked by an animal. Whatever it was, the wounds weren’t healing well.
“Search her,” Scarface grunted, and the third man turned and bowed down in front of her.
A pair of amber brown eyes locked with hers.
“You!” Aya gasped.
This was the man from the marketplace. He was withdrawn and cold but definitely the same man she had collided with a few weeks back – even his scent was the same – but this time her anger towards him overshadowed the strong attraction she had felt earlier.
Scarface growled impatiently behind them and it made the man from the market pull Aya up. He was half a head taller than her and once again they were standing very close, Aya with wet and scared eyes and he with an impassive expression that was so different from the curious glance she had met the first time she saw him. He leaned closer and slid his hands to her behind, feeling her jeans pockets, and then to the front, where he searched her front pockets. Aya turned her head away, disgusted that she had actually had sexual fantasies about this man’s hands on her body. Now she wanted nothing more than to spit at him and knee him in his balls for touching her without her consent, but her body was still in so much pain from the burning and the hitting that she decided to stand still and wait. Not that she had much choice; she was well aware that she couldn’t fight off three grown men with or without her hands tied behind her back.
When the young man didn’t find anything, his hands slid up her hips under her T-shirt and stopped when he found the pouch around her belly. It only took seconds, but every stroke of his hands on her body felt like a violation and she shot him a hateful glance.
With a quick jerk he pulled her against him while he unbuckled the pouch on her back. Aya tried to pull back to avoid her body’s physical reaction to his warmth and masculine scent but the surge in her stomach was instinctive and made her flush with shame.
“Here.” The young man released her to hand the pouch to Mantonis, who reached out with a smug smile while Scarface stepped closer with a raised hand, hissing for Aya to sit down. She quickly complied to avoid being smacked again.
A sound from the doorway made all three men turn to face the door. They automatically held up their weapons, but lowered them when they recognized a short and bald man entering. Aya took only one glance at him but immediately looked down when she saw his eyes. She had seen dilated pupils like his before and they always meant trouble. The man looked high, crazy, and unpredictable, like a walking time bomb that could blow up in rage any second.
The newcomer brought Aston with him and pushed him down beside Aya. With a rough movement he pulled the bag from Aston’s head.
Aston looked relieved to see her again and forced a small smile, probably meant to calm her; but seeing him so dirty, bruised, and bleeding made Aya’s heart ache and her tears pour out again. Aston had clearly taken a severe beating and Aya was scared beyond anything she had ever experienced, fearing that neither of them would get out alive.
“What are they going to do to us?” The sound of her whisper made the man from the marketplace look back at her. He frowned, shook his head, and put a finger to his lips. “Shh.”
Aston whispered back and moved closer to Aya. “All I know is that we are at the Masi headquarter.” And then his eyes fell on the Masi symbol branded on her shoulder. He closed his eyes and lost all color in his face.
His strong reaction affected her and the pressure in her chest became heavier, making it hard to breath. “What if they kill us?”
Aston couldn’t touch her with his hands tied together, but he leaned towards her and tried comforting her. “Don’t worry, Aya, we are worth more living than dead. They won’t kill us.”
Aya wasn’t convinced, and whimpered when the little bald guy kicked Aston to keep him quiet.
The old man squatted down in front of them with a sadistic smile on his face.
“Where are you from?” he asked Aston.
“England,” Aston answered shortly.
“Ah, England. The country that is fighting against us.” The old man spit on the floor before Aston to signal his disgust.
“And you, blondie, where are you from?” He was looking at Aya, who blinked with her frightened big blue eyes.
“She’s from Norway, she speaks only a little Spiri,” Aston explained and received a growl in return. Thoughts of beautiful Norway filled Aya. All her family and friends had warned her not to go to Spirima, and for the first time she really wished that she had listened to them. She wished she were back in Norway.
“Why are you here?” The old man looked down to the logo on Aston’s uniform.
“Aya is a nurse at the refugee camp. I work with security,” Aston said almost fluently.
The old man barked orders at Aston’s captor, and only now did Aya see that the man was bleeding from his shoulder. The short bald guy immediately kicked Aston again and shouted at him to get up. Aston moaned in pain and Aya screamed when Aston was brutally pushed out of the room. She called for him and tried to kick herself off the ground. It only resulted in Scarface’s instantly smacking her with his hand and pushing her back down again.
Sitting on the cold floor, Aya cried heavily and cursed them all for doing this to her and Aston. “I came to Spirima to help. I’m a nurse. I’m not the enemy,” she cried. Her words were few but she was too scared to think straight and form any long complicated sentences in Spiri.
Scarface kneeled down beside her and stroked her face. “Just do as we say and you’ll be fine.”
Aya pulled her head away, feeling repulsed by his touch. “Don’t touch me!” she hissed at him, and he instantly smacked her across the face again – this time making her taste blood on her lip.
“What’s your last name?” The old man was looking straight at her.
Aya didn’t know if she should cooperate or not, so she didn’t answer. The old guy opened her ID papers and looked through them.
“Ah, Aya Johansen, and you really are Norwegian,” he stated. “And let’s see how old you are… twenty-three.”
While Mantonis was still searching through her things, Scarface was looking at her like he was enjoying the show and found it amusing to see her so frightened. Everything about him repulsed her. Especially his nasty smirk and his small staring eyes. There was no kindness coming from him. He made a low comment to the old man that she couldn’t hear, but Aya understood what he had said when Mantonis leaned closer and asked: “Aya Johansen… are you a virgin?”
Aya swallowed air and her heart stopped. What was the right thing to answer? Would she be spared if she were an innocent virgin? She didn’t know, and she could feel panic setting in as the old guy repeated his question louder and more impatiently.
Aya hesitated, but when Scarface stepped towards her with a raised hand and rage in his eyes, clearly about to smack her again, she cried out, “I’m a virgin” hoping it was the right answer and that they wouldn’t have a way to check.
Scarface licked his lips and ogled her while making a comment to the man with amber eyes, who looked away with knitted brows when Scarface kneeled down next to Aya again, touching her long blond hair. Aya held her breath and closed her eyes to avoid his closeness but she could still hear him sniff her in and feel him touch her face. With a rough grip he forced her mouth open to inspect her teeth. I’m not a fucking horse for sale, get your stinking hands off me! Aya screamed internally and pulled away from him. Her resistance only made him laugh condescendingly and force her head back to him, making the smell of his bad breath overwhelming. She was disgusted and froze when he licked her earlobe and laughed. With his demonstration of power he stood up and pointed at her. “I’ll take her.” Aya understood enough Spiri to know that the most disgusting man she had ever met had just claimed her as his.
Aya hardly noticed the young man from the market place putting a large bandage over her burn mark on the shoulder. “It’ll keep the wound clean,” he said in a low voice but she was completely focused on Mantonis, who nodded and patted Scarface on the shoulder when he pulled out money and paid the old man.
Pure panic made Aya crawl backwards pressing herself towards the wall and screaming “No, No!” She would rather die than ever be close to Scarface again. Her reaction only made Mantonis and Scarface laugh and joke about her being a wild thing. Now she understood why Mantonis was called Satan’s Son; he truly was evil. Aya turned her face and appealed to the young man from the marketplace. “Please help me,” she begged and saw pity in his eyes.
He turned away when Scarface leaned over Aya and pulled her up. “You are coming with me,” he commanded, but Aya didn’t want to follow him anywhere and kicked him as high as she could from her position. Her attempt to fight him only made him pull her up on his shoulder with a hoarse laugh. Aya wriggled all she could and shouted for Aston to save her. She heard Aston shout back from somewhere close by, followed by a gunshot, and then his voice was gone. NO! They shot Aston? Oh please, God, spare Aston, and keep him safe. Let him live! she prayed as Scarface carried her away.
There was no way Aya could fight Scarface from her position lying helpless over his shoulder. Her hands were tied and he had a firm grip on her. Aya had wriggled all the way up from the basement, and her heart was racing with horror that Aston had just been shot. She wanted to get down and run back to see him. Maybe he’s not dead but just wounded, a hopeful thought whispered internally.
A growling greeting from Scarface to another warrior passing by made Aya look up to see men with machine guns smirking at her from a distance. They were guards posted by the barbwire fence that surrounded the headquarters she had just been in. The old mansion looked huge, with peeling paint, some shattered windows, and bullet holes.
Scarface threw her into the backseat of a worn-out car. “Stay down,” he growled and slammed the door. She didn’t dare to sit up as the car took off but as they exited the gates of the headquarters her eyes glimpsed two heads dangling from a tree.
They’re not real – they’re not real… Aya kept repeating in her head, but she knew she was lying to herself. The two bloody and gory heads had belonged to real men who had died here hours or days ago. Masi warriors were known to use decapitation to kill their hostages and deserters.
Do their families know what happened to these poor men and will they be allowed to bury them?
Not likely… Probably their heads would be left to hang here for the birds to feed on.
Aya swallowed a sob… soon her parents would learn about her own kidnapping, but would anyone tell them if she was killed too?
Shit… is this it?
What if I never see my mom and dad again?
My life isn’t supposed to end like this!
Disturbing images of her parents breaking down crying made her unable to breathe and she tried to distract herself by focusing on what she could see from the back seat as they drove through a ghost city with empty buildings and desolate streets, but the depressing ruins only made her fears worse.
They drove less than ten minutes before he stopped the car. Scarface came around, and once again he pulled Aya up on his shoulder and started walking. “Lie still or I’ll kill you,” he threatened and brought her into an apartment building, carrying her up the stairs with decisive steps. On the second floor he sat her down to unlock the door. Aya thought about escape but with her hands still tied she wouldn’t be fast enough. Before she gathered the courage to make a run for it she was pushed into the apartment, landing on her knees inside the door.
The apartment was dark and smelled of old dust and smelly socks. With a flick of a switch Scarface turned on the light, and Aya quickly scanned her new surroundings; she counted three doors from the tiny entryway she was in. On her left was an open door to a bathroom. She could only see the toilet and the sink, and it looked simple and dirty.
To her right there was a door leading to a narrow and very messy kitchen that was just as filthy as the bathroom, with a window covered with black fabric at the end wall.
While Aya had quickly observed the two rooms, Scarface had locked the door behind him and was now leaning over her like a massive black cloud blocking out all light.
“My name is Jonul, but you will call me Master.” He let his hands fist through her hair and pulled it hard backwards, forcing her face up. “You are mine now. I bought you.”
Aya jerked away with a scream, not caring about the chunk of hair ripped from her head. With adrenaline pumping through her body she didn’t even feel the pain; she just crawled on her knees over shoes and bags lying around the entryway, to get away from this monster of a man.
“There’s nowhere to run, blondie, you are mine,” he hissed behind her.
“You can’t buy a woman,” she managed to cry out in Spiri and pushed herself forward through the third door, leading her into a basic living room with faded wallpaper in a light beige color, starting to peel off in the upper corners. There were no weapons she could use to fight him, only two bookshelves and a coffee table with four wooden chairs around it. Aya headed for the chairs, wishing her hands were free so she could use a chair to fight back.
Jonul laughed, amused. “Woman… you are no woman. You are my slave.”
His strong hands on both her shoulders stopped her movement and the pamphlet flashed before Aya’s eyes along with faces of the many former slaves she had spoken to in the refugee camp – their lifeless eyes and their bodies with bruises and scars telling her that beatings and abuse were part of slavery. Aya opened her eyes again and scowled at Jonul, who was now in front of her. He will never be my master and I’ll never be his slave… Never!
“Take off your clothes,” Jonul commanded and untied her hands. Aya rubbed her wrist but otherwise didn’t move. I would rather die, you scum, she thought and shot a side-glance at the chair. It was wooden but didn’t look very heavy, and she wasn’t a trained fighter.
“Take off your clothes now,” Jonul repeated threateningly.
Aya turned her face away, clearly demonstrating her refusal. Her exhibit of resistance made Jonul explode in anger and with force he dragged her into a bedroom adjacent to the living room, where he threw her on the floor and turned to close the door. Under her was a large stain of something dark. She lifted her head and saw more splashed on the wall, and her innards froze to ice. Someone had been bleeding copiously in this room, and the thought of lying on top of the spot was enough to make Aya get up on her feet. Instantly Jonul knocked her onto a simple box mattress. Aya kicked him as hard as she could and he smacked her face again, making her turn her face down on the mattress. The stench of old sweat from the bed sheets ripped into her nostrils and she closed her eyes in disgust.
Like a predator Jonul ripped her t-shirt off and tried to remove her pants, but Aya wasn’t giving in without a fight – and now that she had her hands free it was easier to fight back. She managed to stop him with a well-placed kick.
“You fucking bitch,” he shouted at her and touched his bleeding nose.
The tension in the room was thick, with both of them panting loudly. Aya’s eyes were blazing with rage and she got up on her knees, raising her hands to defend herself.
Jonul licked the blood off his finger with a smug smile. The sound of his wet lick and the evil grin when he slowly reached under his bed and triumphantly pulled out some rope made Aya scream “No” with panic.
The mattress was up against the wall and the room was so small that it only had the bed, a closet, and a night table. Jonul was blocking the only way to the door. Aya got up on her feet and pressed herself against the wall while frantically looking to the window. It was blocked like in the kitchen and offered no escape. Jonul was closing in on her and with a vile grimace he reached for her. Aya sneered like a trapped jungle cat fighting for survival, and every time he got close to her she kicked and scratched him. It didn’t take him long to catch her kicking leg in the air and pull her down with great force. Aya screamed as she looked up into Jonul’s angry eyes and saw his fist coming straight at her face.
When Aya regained consciousness Jonul had stripped her naked and just finished tying her to the mattress. Her legs and arms were spread out to all four corners of the bed and Jonul was leaning over her with a devilish grin. He just stood there soaking up her fear and enjoying her powerlessness.
“Look at me,” he commanded and because Aya was so afraid, she did. She needed to see what he was up to.
“Call me Master.”
“Never!” Aya cried.
Slowly he moved to the side of the bed and stuffed her panties into her mouth, making it impossible for her to speak and hard for her to breathe.
“You belong to me,” Jonul snarled and grabbed her breast with a painful squeeze. His hands moved over her body and he bowed down and licked her belly with a growl like a beast about to devour its prey. “We are going to have so much fun together, and you will call me Master.” As he spoke he got up and moved back to the front of the bed where he stared at her with horny eyes while taking off his black uniform.
Aya tried to scream but only dampened sound came out because of her stuffed mouth, and her nostrils worked overtime to help her breathe. Her resistance only seemed to arouse Jonul, and as he stood still watching her squirm he started touching himself.
“Don’t worry, doll, I will make you calm. I’ve broken in slaves before, and you will surrender to me.”
Aya was horrified by the sight of Jonul pleasuring himself and the thought of what was to come next. She closed her eyes to block out the sight of his big hairy body and heard him laugh in a low, hoarse, and cruel way.
“Soon you will be a good obedient girl, Aya Johansen, and you will learn to do exactly what I ask you to… when I ask you to. We can do this every day, as many times as it takes for you to surrender and accept that from now on, my wish is your command.”
Jonul was now completely naked. Aya felt him crawl onto the bed between her legs, and with a strong grip around her thighs he pulled her closer to him and lifted her slightly. “Let me see what is mine.” He touched her pubic area and made a satisfied moan.
Aya couldn’t see him as she was still squeezing her eyes closed, but she felt him move up her body and kneel over her chest. She opened one eye and saw his hard erection staring her in the face. The man clearly had never heard of grooming, and because Aya was forced to breathe through her nose the acidic smell of him made her turn her head with disgust. The odor from his cock and balls was unbelievably rancid, like old cheese, and it automatically set off her gag reflex. With him on top and no way for her to turn around and the panties blocking her mouth, she was afraid she was going to choke on her own vomit. Aya couldn’t get air into her lungs. Her eyes watered and her face turned tomato red with all the veins on her neck standing out.
“What the fuck!!” Jonul squeezed her chin and shouted angrily into her ear while removing her panties so she could breathe again. Even without the panties it was hard to breathe properly with him on top of her.
Jonul looked at the panties in his hand and with the other hand he pushed Aya’s head down into the mattress, forcing her to lie completely still. For a second she was sure he was going to put the panties back into her mouth.
“Please… I need to breath,” she begged with her eyes wide open.
“Which should it be…?” he said slowly and leaned forward, letting his cock slide down over her face. Aya closed her eyes, and even though she had just been struggling to breathe she held her breath and felt him move his cock over her tight-lipped mouth, her nose and forehead. He was rubbing himself against her and then his thumb started pressing down on her chin.
“Open your mouth, slave,” he said and pulled back.
Aya kept her mouth closed but opened her eyes and pinned him with a decisive glance that told him what she was thinking: If you come closer I’ll bite as hard as I can.
The hatred in her eyes made him grin. “Maybe I’ll wait with that part. That’s okay, you have two other holes we can start with”
Aya was powerless when Jonul leaned down and kissed her face and licked her neck.
“Uhm, you smell good, slave,” he moaned and twisted her nipples painfully while working himself into position to take her. He was rough, and because her legs were already pulled apart and tied to the bed all she could do to fight his rape was wriggle like crazy, making it impossible for him to penetrate her. Jonul’s breathing got faster as he tried to get a good grip on her hips, and he cursed her for not lying still while he searched for the right place to enter. Aya could feel his dirty cock press against her entrance and realized she couldn’t avoid what was going to happen now. He would rape her and she couldn’t stop it. Every particle in her body screamed NO and she shouted for him to stop.
In that moment a loud explosion from the outside made the house shake and instinctively Jonul threw himself down on the floor, covering his head. He stayed down for a few moments and Aya could hear loud shouting and shooting in the streets. Jonul got up with a growl and quickly started to dress himself. Aya couldn’t hide a huge sigh of relief.
“Don’t look so disappointed, doll. I will be right back to continue where we stopped.” He leaned down and got close enough for his nose to touch hers. She tried to look away but with his right hand he grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him. “You will call me Master, do you understand?” he hissed.
The gunshots were getting louder. Instead of waiting for her reply, Jonul ran out the door, leaving Aya helplessly bound to his bed.
Aya couldn’t do anything but lie there waiting and listening to the fighting in the streets, wondering, worrying, and praying.
She prayed Jonul would be killed and never return. But an inner voice worried that if he was the only person who knew she was here and he didn’t come back she would die of hunger and thirst, tied up and naked. The same voice told her that if Jonul survived he would return and rape her today, tomorrow, and every day after that. Both scenarios filled her with horror and she sobbed and shivered with extreme fear.
The fighting went on for hours. To Aya the sound of shouting and gunshots seemed to move farther and farther away. She couldn’t tell what time it was. The windows were barricaded, making it impossible to see if it was day or night.
Aya was thirsty, she needed to pee badly, and her legs and arms hurt from being stretched so uncomfortably. This day was the worst in her life, and she almost wished she would die from dehydration because of all the tears she had cried. In the end she eventually dozed off from her exhaustion.
Aya didn’t know what had woken her up – the pain of her pressing bladder or the sound of footsteps on the stairs. At first she held her breath, listening to the steps coming closer. She could hear him just outside the bedroom door, and the closer the footsteps came the more rigid her body got as she laid helplessly stretched out and tied up on his bed.
Her terror sensitized her further to every creaking floorboard and his rasped breathing. He had been running and was out of breath, but Aya knew that wouldn’t be enough to keep him from raping her.
He was by the door now; it was a matter of seconds before he would bring her pure misery. Aya held her breath and squeezed her eyes tight, like a small child hoping that the monster in the shadows would go away if he couldn’t see or hear her. But this monster wasn’t going away. The door creaked open, making Aya turn her head away to avoid what was coming.
He didn’t speak but she could feel his presence as he stood there observing her quietly. What is he waiting for?
Aya forced herself to turn and look.
It wasn’t Jonul staring back at her. It was the man from the marketplace, and he just stood there with an incredulous glance.
“Please don’t hurt me,” Aya sobbed and wished she could dry away her tears and running nose.
He didn’t speak but blinked a few times before he started walking towards the bed.
“Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me,” Aya screamed.
The man narrowed his eyes as he reached the bed and bent over her. The last thing Aya saw was his hands moving up, and then she gave a high-pitched scream.
“Shut up,” he hissed and put a hand over her mouth.
Aya’s nostrils were flaring, and her eyes were wide open and looking straight into eyes that were almost black now. His face was very close to hers and he looked intensely into her wide-open eyes. “I won’t hurt you.”
Aya made a muffled sound under his hand.
The man started to untie her left arm and made a frustrated growl. “I need both my hands to do this. You have to be quiet… all right?“
Aya nodded eagerly.
He untied her left hand and then he looked at her right hand. The bed was pressed against the wall and he would have to climb across her to get to it. He turned his attention to her feet instead and worked on them while Aya kept repeating “Thank you!” in a low voice. Her tears of terror had changed into tears of relief.
As soon as she had both legs and her right arm free she got up in a sitting position and tried to untie her right arm.
“I can’t get the knot undone,” Aya exclaimed in frustration.
The young man climbed onto the bed and tried to push her aside so he could work on the knot, but there was nowhere for Aya to move. She looked up at him and saw him assess the situation. He couldn’t avoid touching her naked body, but at this point she didn’t care as long as he freed her from the gnawing rope around her wrist. She didn’t know if he would understand English, but she didn’t have the vocabulary to explain in Spiri. “Just do it quickly. I’m about to pee in the bed or die with a ruptured bladder.”
He nodded and eight seconds later she was free.
Aya ran to the bathroom, and the release of her bladder made her sigh. How fundamental a joy, she thought. She flushed her mouth and washed her face to remove the smell of Jonul’s genitals before she returned to the bedroom looking for her clothes.
The man from the marketplace was still there and as soon as he saw her enter he turned his back on her. It took Aya by surprise. It was such a small gesture but at the same time significant. He respected her privacy. Respected her. What a difference from the violent and aggressive behavior of Jonul, who hadn’t shown her any kindness or sympathy.
Aya dressed quickly and tried to make the destroyed t-shirt cover her by tying it in front where Jonul had torn it.
“You can turn now… what’s your name?” Aya asked, feeling gratitude for the man.
“Kato,” he answered and turned to look at her like he wanted to say something. But before he got to it, the sound of heavy, dragging steps on the staircase made them both turn and stare at the door.
Aya knew it was Jonul before she could see him. She felt his dark, eerie energy and her body reacted with tension right away. She stepped behind Kato hoping he would help her against her tormenter. Kato took a step forward and had his eyes on the door, where Jonul appeared with his face and hair smeared in blood. He looked like he was ready to drop on the spot.
Kato reached Jonul before he fell, and pulled him to the bed. Aya pressed herself against the wall to avoid any contact with Jonul, and was relieved that he looked in no shape to rape anyone.
“Jonul, can you hear me?” Kato called. “We need to get you to the headquarters… you need the healer.”
Jonul had his eyes almost closed but reached up and grabbed Kato’s wrist. “Let me sleep a few hours, then I’ll be all right.”
“No, I think you need stitches,” Kato insisted.
“You worry too much.”
“Come on, I’ll help you to the healer.” Kato tried again and pulled Jonul up to a sitting position.
Jonul pushed Kato away and sneered. “I told you to leave me alone.” And then he turned his head to look at Aya. “You’re a nurse, so stitch me up, slave.”
Aya stood gaping, not able to respond.
“She doesn’t have needle and thread here,” Kato pointed out.
Jonul pointed at Kato. “Get her what she needs and makes sure she doesn’t run. She’s mine.” He sank back into the bed and passed out.
Kato shot an uncomfortable glance at Aya. “Stay here, I’ll go to healer and get what you need.” He left for the door and then he turned. “Beside needle and thread, what else do you need?”
Aya couldn’t think straight. She knew he was referring to a medical kit, but all her brain was screaming was I need to get out of here.
Kato brought back basic remedies from the healer: needle, thread, a red fluid to disinfect the wound, some healing balm, and gauze to wrap Jonul’s head with.
He handed it to Aya, who was now sitting in the living room.
“I won’t do it,” she said and refused to take the kit.
“I also brought you clean bandages for your burn wound… here.”
Aya snapped them out of his hands. The last thing she needed was an infected wound.
Kato held out the needle and thread again but Aya raised her chin and looked away demonstratively.
“But he could die if you leave him like that.” Kato’s voice was raised and his eyes blaming her.
“I want him to die. I hate him,” Aya sneered back with anger sparking from her eyes.
Kato paced the floor and then he squatted down in front of her. “Aya, listen to me.”
Aya looked up at him and saw his amber eyes glowing with worry, but her brain was trying to catch up to the fact that he had just spoken to her in flawless English.
“How do you know my name?” she said, suspicious.
He frowned. “We found your passport, remember?”
Aya nodded. How could I forget that? But everything was blurry to her.
“Besides, your boyfriend called you Aya at the marketplace.”
Aya didn’t care to correct his assumption that Aston was her boyfriend, she was still entranced by the fact that he suddenly spoke English. She was looking up at him from her sitting position with her arms crossed and her eyebrows creased together. “Who are you?”
“It doesn’t matter who I am. All that matters is who you are.” He paused but didn’t break the deep eye contact with her. “I know you are a good person, Aya. I saw it in your eyes the first time you looked at me. You’re not someone who leaves a man to die.” Kato’s voice was so different now. Calm and pleading, and with the familiar melody of English making him seem more like a friend than a Masi warrior.
Aya was relieved she could express herself more freely in a language she was much more familiar with than Spiri.
“I can’t touch him. I won’t!” She pressed her lips into a hard line.
Kato’s head fell forward. “Please, Aya,” he begged.
She snorted. “You want me to help him back to strength so he can rape me?”
Kato ran a hand through his hair and then he grabbed one of Aya’s hands and bent down in front of her. “Can you at least tell me how to do it? That way you won’t touch him.”
Aya felt conflicted. She was seriously afraid of Jonul, but Kato was right, he really needed stitches, and she did pledge to help all in need of healing when she became a nurse.
Aya leaned forward so her nose almost touched Kato’s and with gritted teeth she hissed, “If that monster wakes tomorrow and rapes me, I will find you and kill you… do you understand?”
Kato eyes widened and his mouth opened. He was holding his breath and then he pulled back a little, closing his eyes like he was restraining himself from saying or doing anything.
“If I do this, you have to let me go.”
Kato shook his head and got back up to a standing position in front of the chair Aya was sitting in. “I can’t do that.”
“Why not?” Aya hissed.
“Because helping another man’s slave to escape will get me killed… and even if I did help you, you wouldn’t get far. The area is crawling with other warriors and they would catch you and they would…” He didn’t finish his sentence but they both knew what he was hinting at: rape, murder, and slavery.
Aya swallowed hard. “Then I want something else.”
“What?” He said frustrated.
“Information. You will tell me everything I want to know.”
Kato crossed his arms. “I’ll answer five questions,” he said and there was a hint of a smile on his face.
“Ten!” Aya pushed her jaw forward, signaling that it was all or nothing.
“Okay, whatever, just get going before he bleeds to death.”
“My first question is, what happened to Aston?”
“I’ll tell you after you’ve helped me,” Kato said, but Aya wouldn’t hear of it.
“You’ll tell me now!” she demanded.
Kato looked cross and snapped his answer at her: “Your boyfriend is injured and in the infirmary with the healer.”
Aya sighed with relief that Aston was still alive. “Will he survive?”
“Is that question number two?” Kato asked and looked annoyed.
“No! It’s still question one, and you better stop with that attitude or you can find someone else to help you.
“Yes, he’ll survive his injuries.”
Satisfied for now, Aya took the medical kit and walked to the doorway of Jonul’s bedroom. She didn’t enter until Kato did, and even then she kept her distance while guiding him through the steps.
Kato couldn’t thread the needle, he was too nervous; Aya took pity on him and did it.
“Can you hold him steady so he doesn’t move while I stitch him together?” Kato asked.
“No, I told you, I won’t touch him,” she growled.
Kato growled back, “So how do you suggest I keep him still?”
“He looks still to me,” Aya pointed out.
“Yes, but that’s because I haven’t started yet. What happens when he feels a needle going in and out of his skin?”
Aya nodded to the rope on the bed. “You could always tie him up.” Her voice was sardonic, and Kato ignored her.
“How many stitches should I make?” Kato asked, and Aya suspected he was dragging it out, hoping she would give in and take over. Sewing someone for the first time was unpleasant for most people.
She sighed. “The biggest cut is by his hairline, so try to position yourself with your knees on each side of his head. That way you’ll keep him steady. Cross his arms and restrain them by pulling his t-shirt over his head. But you’ll need more light to see clearly.”
Kato pointed to the living room. “Get the lamp, will you?”
Aya didn’t like being ordered around but she got the lamp and watched as Kato made the first stitch. He was holding his breath for every stitch, and wrinkled his forehead in concentration when he made the knot Aya had taught him. It took twenty-five stitches in deep silence before Kato was done.
“Maybe I should’ve become a doctor,” Kato murmured, taking pride in his work.
“What? And save lives instead of taking them?” Aya snorted.
Kato applied the disinfectant fluid and the healing balm before Aya left and went back to the same chair as before.
“Thank you, Aya,” Kato muttered from behind her, but she didn’t answer.
A minute later she heard him make noise in the kitchen, but she was too deep in her own troubled thoughts to care about food. She didn’t know how long it had been when Kato came into the living room.
“Here, eat something.” He pushed a bowl of rice into her hands.
Aya shook her head. Just the thought of the kitchen it came from made her lose her appetite.
“Eat,” he ordered impatiently.
Aya raised her head to look at him. He was standing in front of her, clearly frustrated that she wouldn’t eat, and part of her took joy in this last piece of control that was hers.
“I’m. Not. Hungry,” she said slowly and firmly.
“Eat the fucking rice, Aya.” Kato bent down over her, making her pull back in her chair.
“No!” she insisted, hoping it sounded braver than she felt.
He narrowed his eyes. “Do you want me to force you to eat?”
Summoning all her inner strength, she rose to her feet, making Kato pull back just enough to give her room to stand. “I said no,” she told him with a cold stare.
Once again they were standing in close proximity with eyes locked. The vibrations between them were loaded, and no matter how much she hated it, there was a primal sexual desire for him. Instinctively Aya understood that this was a power struggle that would set a precedent between her and Kato. She refused to back down and submit to his will.
They didn’t move an inch until Kato placed his hands on her hips and pulled her closer while letting his glance slide down to her mouth.
Aya reacted instinctively and shoved the bowl of rice she was still holding into his chest while snarling: “Don’t even think about it.”
Kato stiffened but didn’t pull away from her. With eyes searching hers he let his warm hands wander higher on her body. Aya tried to take a step back but the chair was behind her.
“Don’t tell me you don’t feel it too?” he murmured in a low seductive voice.
“Get your hands off me,” Aya growled, angry at herself for feeling so aroused by him and determined to never show him.
Kato stood his ground and with a quick movement he tucked her close again. “I’ll back off if you eat the rice, Aya.”
“Eat the bloody rice yourself. I’m not hungry.” She looked away but Kato leaned in again and this time he bit her earlobe gently. “What will it be? Me or the rice?”
Neither! her inner warrior shouted, internally flipping a finger at Kato, but Kato’s gentle bites were moving down her neck, starting a series of fires inside her, and she was afraid it would ignite a major one – making her do something she’d regret.
With Jonul she had fought physically but with Kato it was different. She wasn’t afraid of him, and her fight was more with herself than him. Of all the men in the world, why did the one man with a direct link to her libido have to be a Masi warrior?
With a scowl she took the bowl and pushed him away. This time he withdrew with a small smile. “You chose the rice over me, and here I was hoping you would pick me.”
“Never!” she snarled and took a spoonful of the rice, eating in silent protest.
Five minutes later she put the bowl down empty. “What time is it?”
“Why?” Kato asked.
“I’m losing sense of time in this place with all the windows barricaded.”
“It’s about ten in the evening.”
“I thought it was much later. This day feels endless.”
“Are you tired?” Kato asked her.
“Yes, and worried about Aston.”
Kato ignored the subject of Aston and took a seat in one of the other chairs in the room. “Do you want to go to bed?”
“Yes, but I won’t sleep in Jonul’s room,” Aya said firmly.
“You can sleep in my room if you want,” Kato offered.
“Where is your room?” Aya said but already knew the answer. There was only one door she hadn’t been through in the apartment, and that was the room adjacent to the living room and next to Jonul’s.
“That one,” Kato said and pointed to the door she had guessed at.
“Where will you sleep then?”
“In my bed,” Kato said with an innocent smile.
Aya wrinkled her nose. “Then no thanks.”
“As you wish.” Kato got up and walked to the bathroom. She could hear him shower, and ten minutes later he walked through the living room with a towel around him revealing a trim torso. Stop looking!
Aya pretended to be completely unaffected by him. “So where do you suggest I sleep then and what about a toothbrush?” she asked, annoyed.
“You can use mine until we get you a new one, it’s the blue one and you can sleep anywhere you want to.”
Aya knew he meant anywhere in the apartment and resisted giving him a sassy answer that the only place she wanted to sleep was at home or in the refugee camp. It wouldn’t help her to provoke him.
“Can I at least have a pillow and a blanket if I’m to sleep here on the floor?” The room offered no comfortable furniture and the thought of sleeping on the cold and dirty floor wasn’t appealing.
“Sorry, I only have the ones I sleep with, but as I already told you, I’m happy to share with you.”
Aya rolled her eyes. “And as I already told you, I’m not interested in sleeping in your bed. I’ve been in enough Masi warriors’ beds for one day.”
Her words changed everything. Suddenly Kato looked disturbed, and she wondered if he saw the image of her tied up in Jonul’s bed.
“Listen, Aya, I promise you that if you sleep in my bed tonight, I won’t touch you unless you ask me to.”
She snorted. “I’ll never ask you to. And I don’t trust you,” she muttered.
Kato looked tired and she noticed the dark circles under his eyes more clearly now.
“It’s your choice, do as you please; but if Jonul wakes up, my bed will be a safer place than this floor.”
“Would you protect me?” she asked with hope in her voice.
“I’m sure I could talk some sense into him.”
“And if you can’t?”
“Then he’ll probably kill me for thinking I slept with his slave.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Kato shrugged. “I’m going to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Aya watched him leave the door to his room slightly open and then she lay down on the floor. It was cold and hard. There were no pillows or blankets to warm her or bring comfort. She tossed and turned for half an hour and when she heard a quiet snore from Kato’s bedroom she made a decision. She was going to make a run for it. Her parents, friends, and family would be worried to death – and she wouldn’t be anyone’s slave. She had to at least try to escape and now was her chance. Quietly she got up from the floor and internally cursed the creaking floorboards. She tiptoed to the exit door and silently grabbed the doorknob, only to find that the door was locked from the inside and could only be opened with a key. Her face turned to the kitchen and she moved as quietly as she could, searching for a weapon to defend herself with. She found a bread knife and took it out of the drawer.
“Are you planning to stab us in our sleep?”
Aya jumped and gave a scream in horror. Her pulse was racing as she turned to face Kato standing in the doorway behind her. How did he sneak up on me like that? She swallowed hard.
“I just wanted something to defend myself with in case one of you decided to rape me.”
Kato raised a brow. “And you thought two large male warriors would be defeated by a small girl with a knife?”
Aya lifted her chin. “I’m not a small girl, I’m a tall woman and I’m stronger than I look.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt it, but I already promised you I won’t rape you. It’s not my thing anyway.”
“You never raped a girl?” she asked suspiciously.
“Nope, I like my women willing.” He shifted his balance and leaned against the doorframe, crossing his arms in front of his naked torso. Aya found it distracting that he was wearing only boxer shorts and looked so relaxed while she was still feeling her heart race like she had just sprinted for her life. “The whole force thing is a turn-off for me,” he continued, and her instinct told her he was telling the truth. “I don’t blame you for trying to protect yourself from Jonul, but he would unarm you in a second because of his training and, worst case, he would use the knife on you instead.”
“And you would let him?” Aya’s voice was shaky.
Kato looked down. “It’s complicated. There are laws and rules that make it impossible for me to meddle too much. You do belong to him.”
Aya’s lips were pressed in a thin line and she hissed, “You are wrong. The laws in this country clearly state that it’s illegal to keep slaves. In fact I believe that’s the main reason for this civil war.” She was so angry at him for being on the wrong side and fighting for the Masi warriors. “I belong to no one but myself!” she stated firmly.
“Aya, it’s late. I don’t want to discuss politics,” Kato yawned. “Come on, let’s just get some sleep. You can sleep on one side of the bed, I’ll sleep on the other.” He looked sincere and held up both his hands. “No touching, I promise.”
Aya thought about it for a while and because she was so unbelievably tired she ended up nodding. “Okay.”
Kato looked as surprised as she felt when she walked past him into his bedroom. This was madness… it wasn’t like her… she would never do such a thing. Sleep with a stranger. Never!
But it was her, and she was doing it, relying on her instinct that he wasn’t dangerous.
The room was as simple as Jonul’s but with a very different scent and feel to it. Kato hadn’t lied; he only had one pillow and one blanket. He slid over towards the wall and turned his back to Aya when she scooched in beside him, keeping as much distance as possible in the small bed. “Have the pillow,” he offered, but she declined. The bed wasn’t big but it was warm and soft and in her tired, cold state Aya fell asleep almost instantly.
In her dream Aya was being chased by a bear. Full of fright, she ran as fast as she could through the woods. A quick glance over her shoulder told her the bear was close. Then with its big claws it smacked her to the ground. The bear had small angry eyes and its face was covered with scars. A sound made the bear look up, and the short distraction was enough for Aya to jump back up and run again. There was nowhere to run to. Only a cliff, but she knew staying meant being devoured by the bear. She couldn’t do that, and without slowing down she jumped over the cliff… screaming as she fell. And then she was in water. Dark, suffocating, drowning water. She couldn’t see what was up or down. She was surrounded by complete darkness and surrendered to dying. Strong arms pulled her out of the water and she gasped to compensate for the lack of air… “You’re safe,” a faceless voice said before she passed out on the shore.
When Aya woke up she found herself wrapped up in Kato’s arm like a small child. He was breathing calmly with closed eyes. For a moment she lay still, watching him. He was so beautiful and relaxed; with the only hand free to move she touched his hair. It was thick, dark, and felt as soft as she had imagined it would. Aya looked down at herself; she was still fully dressed in her jeans and t-shirt but she wondered how she’d ended up in this position. She was on her back but with both her legs swung over Kato’s and he was on his side with his arms around her, holding her in a protective grip. This was the horizontal version of sitting on his lap. At first she thought he was naked, but by lifting her head she found that he had boxer shorts on. His closeness made her too warm and she tried to push him away gently, but it only resulted in his tightening his grip further.
“Kato,” she called, but he didn’t react.
She pinched his nose and called again, “Kato, wake up.”
He bashed her hand from his nose, opened his eyes, and looked at her. He didn’t move away, he didn’t let go; he just looked at her with concern. She noticed that there was a glimpse of green in his amber brown eyes. They were almost hypnotic to look at and so close.
“How do you feel?” he asked and brought her out of her short trance.
Aya wrinkled her nose. “What do you mean – and why are you touching me when you promised you wouldn’t?”
“You had some bad nightmares, Aya, do you remember?”
Aya shook her head and wondered why she wasn’t pushing him away. “I normally don’t remember my dreams, but I’ve been told that I talk in my sleep and sometimes I sleepwalk too. Did I scare you?” she asked.
“No, you didn’t scare me, but I couldn’t wake you up either. It was strange, and all I could do was try to calm you down and tell you that you would be okay.”
Aya had felt calm when she woke and even though she would never tell him, she did feel a touch of safety in his arms. “Okay, then I forgive you for breaking your promise.”
Kato released his grip and sat up. “Just so you know, you were the one clinging to me.”
“I did not cling to you,” Aya said, embarrassed.
“Whatever you say… but unlike you, I was awake and I remember it very clearly.”
Aya was worried that she might have told him things in her dreams that she could never tell him in reality, so she got up and walked to the bathroom.
When she returned to the living room, the door to Jonul’s room was open. Aya immediately took a step back.
“Jonul, wake up… wake up. Come on…” Kato called.
There was a low growl from Jonul.
Aya walked closer to the room and was hit by a stench of blood, sweat, urine, and gas. She covered her nose with a grimace.
Jonul rolled over and opened his eyes and spotted her looking at him from a distance.
“Come here, slave,” he ordered but Aya shook her head and took a step back. Nothing in this world could make her go to him. He was the most disgusting human being she had ever encountered, and she was only sad his injuries hadn’t killed him.
While she heard him call for her she ran to Kato’s room and hid in his bed praying like she hadn’t prayed since she was a small child. “God, if you can hear me, please keep me safe and bring me home.”
Aya wasn’t a religious person but she had been baptized as a child, and if there ever was a time to claim membership in a club of higher power it was now. She had nothing to lose and kept mumbling prayers for protection.
Jonul was cursing at Aya for running away from him.
“Shut up and let me help you,” Kato barked. “Come on… get up, I’ll help you to the bathroom.”
“I don’t have to pee,” Jonul growled.
“No, you already did that in your bed,” Kato pointed out, annoyed.
“I can get up myself,” Jonul claimed and tried, but was forced to reach for Kato when he lost his balance.
Kato helped Jonul to the bathroom, where he guided him into the shower. Jonul was too weak to stand so he sat on the floor instead. Looking at his brother, Kato felt both pity and disgust. The man was a shadow of the brother he remembered from his childhood. He hosed him over with the showerhead while Jonul sat impassively unable to do anything himself. Kato didn’t know if he could shampoo Jonul’s hair with the stitches, so instead he just gently washed some of the blood away.
“Here, hold the shower head. I’ll go and change your sheets and then I’ll be right back,” Kato instructed.
The sheets were ruined with blood and urine. Kato threw them in a trash bag, wondering how he should clean the mattress that was stained. He gave up before even beginning, and laid out a towel to soak up the urine before changing the sheets. It was an improvement compared to before and the best he could do for now, but he feared the place would always reek of urine. They would need to find a new bed for Jonul.
Kato headed back to the shower and handed Jonul his toothbrush. Jonul made a weak attempt to brush his teeth but it would have to do. For a moment Kato considered shaving his brother and cutting his hair, but he looked so fragile and sick that Kato decided it was best to get him back into bed. The cosmetic needs would have to wait until he felt a little better.
It was hard to both hold him and dry him, and Jonul was still partly wet and completely naked when Kato got him back into bed.
He fetched a glass of water and some crackers for him to eat and placed them next to his bed.
“I have to go. Will you be okay?”
Jonul waved a hand at Kato. “Just go, the slave will take care of me.”
Kato raised an eyebrow thinking of Aya searching for knives in the kitchen last night. “About that, could you maybe just leave her alone today?” Kato suggested.
Jonul smirked. “Not likely.”
“I think you need to gain your strength before you do anything, so sleep the day away and leave her alone, okay?”
“Whatever,” Jonul muttered and went back to sleep.
Kato sighed, relieved. For now Aya was safe, and hopefully he would find a way to convince Jonul not to hurt her when his strength returned.
He found Aya hiding in his bed.
“Hey, Aya. Don’t worry, Jonul is still very weak and I think he’ll just sleep all day.”
Aya nodded, pale with fright, and Kato felt a pull towards her. “Come here for a second,” he said and spread his arms in a protective hug. But Aya didn’t move towards him like she had last night when she had her nightmares; instead she moved away from him. His face fell when he understood that to Aya he and Jonul were both monsters who had kidnapped her and held her captive.
“I have to go to the headquarters,” he murmured.
Aya’s eyes shot open in disbelief. She opened her mouth to speak but then she closed it again.
“What is it?” Kato asked.
“Are you really leaving me with… him?” she asked, horrified.
“He won’t touch you. I told you, he’s too weak,” Kato assured her.
A tear rolled down Aya’s face and then she whispered to him, “And tomorrow when he’s stronger. What then?”
Kato moved away from her, feeling overwhelmed with a desire to protect her and hold her. But he knew that if he touched her he would increase her fear and she wouldn’t like it.
“I told you it’s complicated,” Kato said and pulled back to the door. “I’ll bring back food but I’m going to be gone the whole day. I’ll see you later, Aya.”
As he left he heard her crying in his room. It made him question what he was doing here in the first place.
Aya heard the front door slam and Kato run down the stairs. He had left her with Jonul. Panic crept back into her body. She hyperventilated and pressed herself against the wall. It was evident now that Kato’s calm presence had been the biggest component in keeping her above water. Now that he was gone she was lost, vulnerable, and drowning in anxiety with worst-case scenarios circling around her like hungry sharks. She kept staring at the door and dampened her sobbing in the pillow, afraid the noise would attract Jonul’s attention and make him come for her. But he didn’t, and for a long time she heard no sounds from his bedroom.
Her sobbing ceased and her thoughts became clearer, and with shaky legs she dried her eyes and stepped out on the floor, taking one step at a time out of Kato’s bedroom. All her senses were on alert. She peeked into Jonul’s bedroom and saw him sleeping soundly. Then she proceeded to the kitchen, where she collected the biggest knife she could find. She desperately needed to pee, and so snuck out into the bathroom. While peeing she held the knife in front of her and pressed her muscles, making the jet as tiny and silent as possible. She didn’t flush but allowed herself the luxury of washing her hands quietly with the knife lying securely beside her, and then she tiptoed back into the living room. With shallow breathing she raised the knife in front of her and walked slowly into Jonul’s bedroom.
He was lying on his back with a blanket up to his stomach. His chest was naked and from anatomy classes Aya knew exactly where to place the knife. To find strength she looked at the bloodstains on the floor and wall. It’s you or him, Aya, you have to do it.
Aya raised both hands with a firm grip on the knife and took a long last deep sigh. 1… 2… 3… now!
But her hands didn’t move.
Tears ran down her face and her hands trembled uncontrollably, making her drop the knife. It landed on top of Jonul, who made a small grunt, and then it slid down onto the mattress and landed just underneath his armpit.
Aya gasped and stepped back with a heart pumping so fast that it felt like it was trying to escape her body and would run the hell out of here by itself, if it could.
But Aya wasn’t running. She couldn’t. Her body wasn’t cooperating and she was dizzy. All she could do was stare at the knife and hold her breath.
Breathe, come on, breathe or you’re going to pass out. The sound of her first sharp intake of air was loud, and her chest pumped up and down to pull in the air her lunges needed so badly.
Jonul uttered a loud snore and his eyes flickered. He was waking up.
It was the signal Aya needed to focus again, and in a quick movement she grabbed the knife and fled to the living room, where she grabbed a chair and brought it back to Kato’s room. Quickly she closed his door and was relieved to see she could lock it from the inside; and then she tilted the chair under the doorknob, making the barricade more solid.
Jonul must have gone back to sleep without realizing she was in his room. The minutes felt like hours in Kato’s bedroom and gave her too much time to think about her family and friends, who would have been notified by now. Their concern and worry for her would be great. She was her parents’ only child and they had begged her not to go. Why didn’t I listen?
Tears of anger and powerlessness streamed down her face, and then suddenly she heard sounds from the other side of the thin wall that separated her from Jonul.
“Slave,” he called. She didn’t answer but pulled the knife in front of her and moved back into the corner of the bed, pressing her back against the wall farthest from Jonul’s room.
“Come here, slave,” he shouted angrily, and then she heard him slam his fist into the wall between them. She blinked with the loud thud and kept her eyes fixated on the door.
“You will come now or I will beat you senseless,” he threatened her, and when that didn’t make her come she heard him stumble out of bed and to the bathroom. He was in there a long time. Too long. But then Aya heard him stumble back into the living room and she closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable. He reached her door, and from the thuds Aya was sure he was leaning against it. She saw the doorknob wiggle and heard him call again. “Open the fucking door, slave.”
Aya didn’t make a sound, and after several attempts at calling her out Jonul lost his temper and screamed with fury while slamming into the door. “Let me in, bitch, or I swear I’ll cut you up in slices.”
Aya covered her ears and started humming loudly to cover the vile threats that kept coming in a steady stream. When she stopped he was quiet. Everything was quiet.
Her sense of time betrayed her without the chance of knowing if the sun was up or down, but after an eternity of fear she finally heard the front door open and noises coming from the entry, and then Kato’s voice.
“What the hell are you doing on the floor? Jonul, talk to me, what happened?”
“The slave won’t open the door. It’s your fault. You are hiding her from me.” Jonul’s voice was low and angry. “I told you, she’s mine!”
Kato snapped back, “I told you to leave her alone for today.”
“You fucked my slave?” The accusation was raw.
Kato shook his head. “No, I didn’t.”
“Come on, let me help you into bed. Lying here naked will only make you sicker.” Kato squatted down and tried to support Jonul.
Jonul took his hand but frowned. “I’m not sick, I told you I just need to rest a little.”
“You are deluded. I gave you twenty-five stitches yesterday and you lost a lot of blood. You are sick and need to rest, Jonul.”
“Why the hell did you give me the stitches when I told the slave to do it?”
Kato pulled Jonul up and answered at the same time, making the words strained. “She supervised.”
Jonul was cursing with pain. “Fuck the slave. I don’t like her, she’s a bitch!”
“I’m sure you’re not her favorite person in the world either,” Kato said dryly.
“You better not be fucking her. You hear me?” Jonul was walking slowly back to his bedroom, leaning on Kato.
“I hear you. Come on.”
“Tomorrow, I’ll be fit again, and then I’ll finish what I started. I have to break her in and consummate my ownership.”
Kato felt his belly muscles clench thinking about the sight that had met him when he found Aya bound in Jonul’s bed. “I thought you already did.”
Jonul grunted. “No, I was distracted.”
Kato led Jonul to his bed and let go when his brother sank back into the sheets.
“Why the hell did you let her loose? I had her tied up and ready for me,” Jonul murmured with eyes closed.
“Jonul.” Kato felt torn between his fundamental love for his brother and his anger about his actions.
Jonul opened his eyes and grunted, “What?”
“Why do you take pleasure in hurting others?”
There was a ghost of bitterness on Jonul’s face. “Because I’m a freak like our uncle. He trained me well.”
“You were not always like this… you have a choice.”
Jonul turned his face away. “No, I don’t.
“We could run away together and leave this hell behind.”
“I told you to stop saying that. It wouldn’t matter. I’m a dead man anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I just said,” Jonul said dismissively. “Now tell my slave to get in here. I want her in my bed.”
Kato felt nauseated. He knew Aya wouldn’t go voluntarily. He would have to force her and he didn’t want to. He wanted to protect her as long as he could.
“I’ll tell her, but I won’t force her… it’s not my thing.”
“Ha, you really need to grow a pair of balls,” Jonul said and turned on his side. “Give me a few hours of sleep, then I’ll come and get her myself.”
As Kato was leaving he looked back. “What if I bought her from you?”
Jonul lifted his head and looked at him. “I thought you said you would never take a slave?”
“I know… but would you sell her to me?”
Jonul arched a brow. “That depends… would you share her with me?”
“No!” Kato said firmly, knowing in his heart that the only reason he would buy Aya would be to protect her from Jonul.
“Well, she is older than I like them to be; I prefer mine to be teens. Let me think about it.”
Kato closed the door and made a deep sigh. There was no way he could stand by and watch Jonul rape Aya. He had numbed himself to look the other way about most things concerning the Masi way of life, but Aya was special and brought out feelings in him that he hadn’t felt for a long time.
He tried to open the door to his bedroom but it was locked.
Aya had heard every bit of the conversation in the living room, but only muffled voices from the bedroom.
She heard Kato try to open the door.
“Aya, it’s me, you can open the door now,” he called out.
With the knife still in her hand Aya moved to the door and removed the chair and unlocked the door.
Kato walked in and closed the door behind him. Aya immediately locked the door again and turned to face Kato. He was looking at her in awe.
“What?” Aya asked
“You amaze me.”
Aya wrinkled her forehead and moved back to the bed.
“Would you mind putting the knife down?” Kato said calmly, waiting by the door.
Aya put the knife on the nightstand and pressed back against the wall.
“I find it oddly flattering that you lock out one warrior and lock in another.” His tone was flirtatious, and Aya narrowed her eyes.
“I’m not scared of you, that’s the difference. And you can wipe that smug grin off your face now.”
“Okay, so the locked door is not a signal to me that you want alone time with me?”
Aya shook her head. “Of course not. All I want is to get as far away from here as possible and until then keep as far away from that creep as possible.”
“Fair enough!” Kato said and sat down on the bed. “Are you hungry?”
Aya tensed her jaw. “Is this a joke to you, Kato? Kidnapping someone, holding them captured? I’m terrified and you act as if this is all normal to you.”
Kato pulled back.
Aya’s voice was emotional. “How many slaves have you and Jonul had? And where are they now?”
He didn’t answer but looked gloomy and withdrawn. The flirtatious Kato was gone, and the fact that her words had such a clear impact on him only encouraged her to go on: “I’ve spend my day hiding from Jonul in here. Do you have any idea how many crazy questions and thoughts I have gone over? I’m going to die in this filthy little apartment raped and murdered by the most repulsive man on the planet, and you are going to stand by and watch it happen.” She was speaking fast and releasing her fears on him. “Why did you even bother comforting me when I had nightmares yesterday, when you won’t lift a finger to protect me in real life?
“What is that man to you? Did you not see what he did to me? How can you sympathize with someone so monstrous? And why are you fighting for the Masi warriors in the first place? What makes you so into slavery and human sacrifices?”
The speed of her questions and the anger in her voice made him blink and widen his eyes. He didn’t try to interrupt her but allowed her to vomit all her harsh questions onto him. Her angry words were followed by angry tears.
Kato waited for a second before he spoke. “Aya… It’s no joke to me,” he muttered and reached out to touch her. She moved back, looking repulsed, and he pulled back his hand as if she had burned him.
“None of this is normal. I’m sorry if I offended you by trying to lighten up the situation; I think it’s a survival technique I’ve acquired since I got here.” He rose to his feet and headed for the door.
“Wait!” she called after him, and he froze with his hand on the door handle.
“You owe me answers, Kato.”
He didn’t turn around to face her, but looking at his shoulders she could tell he was taking a deep breath.
“Let me just get something we can eat and then I’ll answer your nine questions.”
Aya waited, pleased to see that Kato wasn’t as shallow as he had pretended.
Kato returned shortly after with some bread, olives, grapes, and cheese.
“Here you go.” He handed her a plate. When she didn’t immediately start to eat he growled low. “Don’t test me again, Aya, just eat.”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m a child. I’ll eat when and what I want to. It’s my body!”
Kato closed his eyes and took a deep breath, calming himself.
“A question for a bite,” he offered.
“Don’t be an idiot. I’ve already paid for my nine questions, and you have nothing to negotiate with.”
“Maybe nine questions won’t be enough.”
“We’ll see. First question. Who are you?”
“That’s too wide a question. You have to be more specific.”
“Answer my question, God dammit! Who are you?” Aya hissed at him.
“You know who I am. I’m Kato.”
The tension between them was electrifying.
“Don’t play games with me, Kato. Tell me how old you are, where you’re from, how long you’ve been a Masi fighter, why you are defending slavery and human sacrifices. Tell me if you have siblings, dreams, a girlfriend, children… tell me who you are.”
“Are you sure you want to use all your nine questions on me? I’m really not that interesting.”
“I asked you only one question. Who are you?”
“And I answered, I’m Kato. If you want the whole story, you will have to eat. One bite per question.”
“Argghh,” Aya cried out, frustrated with him.
He patiently waited until she calmed down and took a bite of her bread.
“My name is Kato Mantonis. I grew up in England, where I led a normal life with my family.” Kato held up one finger to signal that he had answered her first question and he was keeping count.
“I came here a year ago.” Another finger went up.
“I don’t believe in slavery and human sacrifices.” A third finger went up.
“I have a mom and dad and two brothers.” A fourth finger went up.
“My reason for being here is complicated, but I suppose my father has a lot to do with it.” He raised a whole hand, signaling that she had used five questions.
“No way!” Aya shook her head and pulled his thumb back down. “I want the whole story about your father and what he did to make you come here.”
Kato crossed his arms and pulled back with a tilted head. “Why do you want to know so much about me?”
Aya pursed her lips. “Let’s just say I find you fascinating,” she said sarcastically.
“Right!” Kato raised a brow and gave her a tight smile before he looked away as if to make up his mind about how much he wanted to tell her.
“My father was born and raised here but went to England to study at Oxford when he was nineteen.”
“Oxford… that sounds fancy…” Aya interjected.
Kato brows shot up. “Are you going to interrupt me all the time?”
“My father’s family were wealthy and he was apparently very academically gifted, so he was accepted to Oxford and meant to return to Spirima with his degree, except he met my mother, who refused to move here. I grew up taking pride in the stories of Spirima that our father told us. My dad has done well for himself in England. He’s a talented businessman but he always dreamt of going back to Spirima for nostalgic reasons. It made sense to me, because I remember visiting our family here as a child and feeling very loved and welcomed.
“Anyway, five years ago, when King Kopilus gave in to the pressure from abroad and banned the old Masi ways, he took everything from our family, who lost their factories since it was no longer legal to have slaves and they couldn’t afford to pay them. My uncle became the leader of the revolution and most slave owners joined him to fight against the injustice, but it only resulted in the King’s confiscating all assets they still had left. In less than three months my family went from being among the most privileged and powerful to being stripped of everything.”
Kato took a sip of water. “My father couldn’t talk of anything else. He cursed the international newspapers every time they celebrated the changes in Spirima. Our family was losing everything and he was angry. He supported his family with money and would have gone to fight the injustice himself, but he just turned fifty-three and wasn’t in any physical shape to go to war…” Kato raised his thumb, signaling that he had now answered five questions. Aya took another nibble on the bread, realizing that her nine questions were soon running out.
“So you went instead?”
“Not at first,” Kato said hesitantly. “For four years my family here in Spirima fought while I stayed passively back in England. Even when my cousin’s eight-year-old son was brutally murdered by the King’s soldiers, I did nothing. The poor kid was playing outside his house when a group of armed soldiers came to arrest my cousin. They ended up shooting not only my cousin, but his wife and young son too. We were all heartbroken and grieving but that wasn’t the end. Several more of our family members have lost their lives in the fight to regain what rightfully belonged to them.”
Aya stopped eating and expressed her sympathy. “I’m sorry for your loss. It’s a shame that money has so much power.”
“It’s not just about money. It’s about the religious persecution against all Masi believers. Did you know that my uncle used to be one of the King’s closest advisors?”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“My uncle was the biggest factory owner in the country, and he was there when the king decided to ban Masi even though he knew it would start a civil war. You have to understand that to many it’s all they’ve ever known. And they believe that Masi has always secured their happiness and wealth.”
“Is that why you joined them… religious freedom?”
“I’m not sure anymore. It was an impulsive decision.” He sighed and changed position on the bed. Aya sensed that she had hit a nerve and gave him time to answer.
“It was an escape in a way.”
“Escape from what?” Aya asked, intrigued.
“From my fiancée.”
Aya’s throat tightened and her pulse started racing. “You’re getting married?” The irrational feeling of dislike for Kato’s getting married confused her and she pressed on for more information.
“I thought I was,” he said
“What happened?” Aya was feeling frustrated with his slow pace of giving information. She sensed he didn’t feel comfortable talking about it, but she didn’t care. They were far beyond comfort.
Kato inhaled deeply and scratched his upper arm. She noticed his arm hair was raised; he had chills speaking about this. Shit, I’m on to something here!
“I walked in on her and my best friend.”
“Ohh.” Aya bit her lip. “I’m sorry.”
Kato focused on the food and continued talking. “It’s okay, it’s been a year… I’ve moved on.” His tension and drifting eyes told a different story.
“Then you won’t mind sharing what happened.”
Kato looked down and took time before he spoke. “I came home on a Wednesday night, thinking Diana would be happy to see me home early. She was always complaining that I worked too much. But she wasn’t alone. She was with my childhood friend Oliver. She was in the shower, he was in our bed, naked.” Kato stopped talking. His eyes were glazed with memories.
“How long had you and Diana lived together?” Aya asked.
“Four years, but we had been going out since we were both eighteen. I proposed to her only five months before it happened.”
“So what did you do?”
“I asked them how long it had been going on… Diana tried to pretend that I misunderstood the situation and that it was nothing. She told me I was overreacting. But at least Oliver was honest enough to admit they had been seeing each other for three months.” Kato paused and threw his hands in the air. “It just happened… That was Oliver’s excuse.”
Aya listened while enjoying the grapes and cheese; she was secretly happy that her hunger could generate information from Kato. Kato hadn’t eaten much. He was deep in his memories, and she wondered if this was maybe the first time he had talked about it with someone else.
“My life just stopped that evening. I felt betrayed and so full of rage. I still can’t believe Diana would do this to me. I really thought she loved me… you know?” His question was rhetorical and Aya didn’t answer. “I couldn’t think clearly after seeing them together. I was so hurt; I wanted to escape and never see them again. I wanted revenge and the only thing that came to mind was becoming a Masi fighter.”
“Because Oliver was always trying to make me see that Masi was wrong. We would debate into the late hours. I mean, he had some good points about freedom and equality, but to me it wasn’t about reasoning; it was about family and feelings. Until that night, we had managed to stay friends despite our different opinions, but after the betrayal I decided to go all in. I would not only defend Masi with words, but join my family and help take back the power of Spirima.”
“Wow! So you just picked up and left?”
“More or less.”
“And did it do the trick? Did you find what you were looking for?” Aya hoped that he would say no, and rejoiced in the fact that Kato had stopped counting his answers.
“When I arrived here a year ago, I was honestly shocked by the condition of the country. I mean my father had glorified it, but it was a war zone, a hell hole.”
“And yet you stayed?”
“I don’t think I understood that once you join the war you can’t leave. The Masi fighters who try to leave are killed. This is not something you do for a while and then return to your normal life. Once you’re in it, you’re stuck.”
“So do you still believe in the cause?” she asked him.
Kato looked away and tightened his jaw.
“Do you?” she repeated, and the tension between them grew when he ignored her question.
“I think your questions are up, Aya,” he murmured.
“At least tell me if you have any news on Aston,” she begged.
Kato stuffed a handful of grapes into his mouth and looked away. “I will answer that question if you allow me the same courtesy and answer a few of my questions.”
Aya nodded. She had nothing to hide.
“Aston is with the healer; I saw him today. He was sleeping, but she said he will heal in time. That’s all I know.”
“Is this healer a real doctor?” Aya wanted to know.
“No, she’s a slave.”
Aya threw her arms in the air. “Great, so what does she even know about his chances of recovery?”
Kato narrowed his eyes. “Sybina is no ordinary slave. She’s a trained healer, and I know many soldiers who owe their life to her.”
Aya calmed down. At least Aston was in the care of a healer and not just left to die. Part of her wanted to yell at Kato for not knowing more.
“My turn,” Kato said. “How long have you been with Aston?” The question was loaded.
“What makes you think I’m with Aston?” Aya replied.
“The way you flirted with him in the marketplace and the way he dragged you around and cupped your face and kissed you gave it away.”
“Really?” Aya said, amused at how certain Kato seemed to be and how wrong he really was.
“It looked very intimate.” Kato was scowling, and Aya wondered what his problem was.
“He kissed me to make you believe he was my boyfriend but he’s really my friend and colleague.”
“Aston wants to be more than a friend,” Kato stated.
“I doubt it, and besides, you don’t even know him, so you can’t possibly know that.”
He arched a brow. “Don’t insult me. I’m a man, I can tell that sort of thing.”
“Sure, then maybe you can also tell me what happened between you and me when we collided that day on the market.” Aya instantly regretted asking and wished she could take it back. Her question revealed far too much if she didn’t want Kato to know that she found him attractive. Kato looked surprised by her question.
“Actually no, I can’t tell you,” he answered.
“Oh, I thought you were an expert… or does that only relate to Aston?”
“I can’t tell you because I’ve never experienced anything like it.” His honesty was disarming and made Aya momentarily unable to come up with anything better than a low “Ohh.”
“What do you think happened?” Kato wanted to know. He set down his plate of food and moved slightly closer. Arghh, here it comes again, that stream of pulsing energy – how does he do that without even touching me? Aya noticed the warning signals and felt flustered by Kato’s closeness.
“Just forget it,” she said, “It was a stupid question.”
“Why?” Kato’s voice was seductive. “Do you remember what you asked me that day?”
“Of course. I’m not senile yet… I asked you if we had met before.”
“And what did I answer?”
“So… do you want my answer?”
“I already know the answer. I’ve had time to think about it. We never met.” Aya spoke with authority.
“Are you sure about that?”
His lips curved. “Then how come we both had a feeling of instant connection?”
“I didn’t say I had a feeling of instant connection,” Aya objected.
“But you felt you knew me and you couldn’t stop staring into my eyes.”
Aya shrugged. “I was confused.”
Kato smiled. “Listen, Aya, I have no problem admitting that I was blown backwards by you… but you already knew that.”
“Stop it, Kato.” Aya held up her hand.
“Stop what?” He smiled innocently.
“Stop trying to seduce me. Whatever physical attraction I might have had for you at the marketplace disappeared when you kidnapped me and I found out whose side you’re on.”
Kato pulled back. “So you admit that you were attracted to me?”
“Was is the key word here.”
“Yes, really,” Aya said firmly. “And anyway it was a purely physical thing… silly, really.”
Before she could think, Kato was kissing her. His lips were insistent and hungry and Aya kissed him back. It was one of those things where mind and body are completely out of sync. The raw desire she had felt for him since their first meeting overruled every rational thought. He tasted sweet from the grapes and his skillful tongue was playfully distracting her from any coherent thought. After a long, deep, and passionate kiss Aya gasped for air and heard Kato chuckle. “Just a silly attraction, you say… I don’t think so.”
And then Aya stiffened when an unwelcome thought struck her.
Kato tried to caress her face, but the passion from before was still pumping through her veins and now she used it to push away from him. She got up and crossed her arms to create distance from him.
“Aya, what’s wrong? It was just a kiss.”
“That’s why I was kidnapped, wasn’t it? Because of our attraction?”
“What?” Kato stiffened too.
“You wanted me that day, so you took me. Like I was nothing but an accessory you could pick up in a marketplace and own.” She shot him a disgusted expression.
Kato shook his head and gave her a strained “No” in response. “It wasn’t my idea to kidnap you, it was Jonul’s. I wanted to talk to you that day in the marketplace. I was so drawn to you, but you were with Aston and I knew you wouldn’t want me once you understood I was a Masi warrior.”
“So you kidnapped me instead… Wow! I’ve been so blind that I didn’t see what you were doing. I was never Jonul’s slave, was I? You wanted me so you made him almost rape me to make you look like the good guy that I would come to trust. You manipulated me from the beginning,” Aya accused him.
Kato stared like he was unable to understand how only a few seconds could take them from the most passionate kiss to heavy accusations and mistrust.
“If you think I would ever come up with something as elaborate as that, then you’re greatly overestimating me, Aya. I wish I had influence over Jonul, but I’m afraid he really did intend to rape you because you are his slave.”
“I belong to no one,” Aya snarled.
“You’ll have to explain that to Jonul tomorrow. Right now it’s time to get some sleep.”
Aya was confused and upset when they went to bed. Kato kept to himself and didn’t speak to her; instead he turned his back to her and moved as close to the wall as possible.
Aya couldn’t sleep and thought back to yesterday when Jonul tied her to his bed. Kato was right. There was nothing pretend about it; Jonul had wanted to rape her and he would have done so if he hadn’t been interrupted. All the fear she had felt earlier today returned and she couldn’t hold back her tears. Her body was shaking in suppressed sobs, and it made Kato turn to her and place a hand on her back.
“Aya,” he called softly.
Aya moved her shoulder to shake off his hand and succeeded. “I want to go home,” she cried.
Kato didn’t answer but he stroked her hair, and it gave her the courage to turn and look at him with huge pleading eyes. “I’m so scared, Kato.”
Kato instinctively reached for her and pulled her close to him. He kissed the top of her hair and whispered calmingly to her: “I won’t let him hurt you.” Aya remembered his words from before when he said that he didn’t have influence with Jonul, but for now she chose to trust that he really could help her. They slept entwined in each other with Aya resting her head by his neck, taking in the masculine scent that had such a calming effect on her.
The next morning Aya and Kato were awakened early by loud banging noises on the door.
Kato didn’t let go of Aya but they exchanged looks of concern, and then he kissed her forehead as a silent promise of protection.
Kato got up and walked over to open the door. Outside stood Jonul, still not in the best shape but remarkably better than yesterday. He aggressively tried to push his way past Kato, but Kato wouldn’t let him.
“I want her back in my bed.”
“I know you do,” Kato said coolly but didn’t move an inch.
Jonul snorted. “I’m not asking, I’m ordering, so you better step aside.”
Aya pushed herself backwards against the wall, pale with fear.
“I can’t do that,” Kato said calmly.
Jonul took a moment and looked like he was weighing his options. Kato squared his muscular shoulders, signaling that he wouldn’t back down without a fight.
“You can’t be serious,” Jonul sneered. “You would fight me over her?” He spit the last word like Aya was a piece of trash. And then he grinned. “I’ll make you a deal.”
“You can buy her from me on one condition.”
Aya held her breath. She hated the idea of being a slave to anyone, but of the two men in front of her she would take Kato any day.
“What’s your condition?” Kato said in a controlled voice.
Jonul looked past Kato to Aya on the bed. “You share her with me.”
Aya closed her eyes to break the connection with Jonul, who was looking at her with horny hunger.
“You already know the answer to that,” Kato sat firmly.
Jonul growled at him. “All right, but then I want to watch when you break her in.”
Aya kept her eyes closed, unable to comprehend the cold business transaction that was taking place in front of her. They were trading her body and her life, and none of them even bothered to involve her.
The long silence made her open her eyes again. Kato was tense when he asked: “You won’t do anything but watch?”
“Don’t worry.” Jonul held his hands up and grinned viciously. “I’ll just watch, nothing else.”
“Okay.” Kato reached out his hand to strike a deal.
“No! I’m not letting him watch anything,” Aya protested.
“Give us half an hour,” Kato said in a far too calm voice.
“Fine, but I want you to fuck her in the living room.”
“Okay,” Kato agreed shortly.
“And I want 10,000 for her.”
Kato nodded before he closed the door.
Aya looked at him with an open mouth, unable to articulate the many ways this was unacceptable.
Kato shot her a direct glance and with a no-bullshit tone he said, “It’s your choice, Aya, you can go to his room or we can meet his demand and you can become mine. What do you want?”
“I… I…” Aya was shaking her head. “This is absurd. This is so sick and twisted. Don’t you see that, Kato?”
He nodded. “I know, but I’m working with what I can to protect you here. If there was a third option of getting you safely home I would pick that one, but for now there’s not, so your choice is between going back to Jonul’s bed or having sex with me in front of him.”
With a distant voice Aya whispered in disbelief. “You want to rape me?”
Kato frowned. “No, of course not, I told you I’m not into that shit. If we do this you have to do your part and play along. Just pretend it’s only you and me.”
Aya shook her head, forcing herself to think… “You say that like it’s a given – that I would want to have sex with you if it was just you and me.”
Kato raised a brow. “Your body does, Aya, you admitted that yourself.” And then he sighed. “Listen, I know this is not on your top-thousand list of things to do before you die, but in case you haven’t noticed, we are both in a shitty situation and I’m trying to help you out here.”
Aya’s limbs felt heavy as all her energy was rushing to her brain trying to come up with a solution. She doubted she would even be able to move from the bed. “Isn’t there another way? One that doesn’t involve sex?”
Kato took a few seconds before he squatted down in front of her. “Is the thought of having sex with me so repulsive to you?”
Aya shook her head slowly. “No, but the thought of being forced and having sex in front of that creep is repulsive to me.”
Kato looked down. “Yeah, well, it doesn’t excite me either.”
“So why are you doing it?” she whispered and dried a single tear away.
Kato looked up again and tugged a strand of her hair behind her ear. “To keep you safe from him.”
For a moment they looked at each other without speaking.
“So what do you choose, me or him?”
Chills ran down Aya’s spine. She was faced with a choice between brutal rape or forced sex, and she felt like suffocating with panic. “I can’t move. I’m so scared,” she whispered.
Kato pulled her up from the bed and into his arms.
“It’s going to be all right. I won’t hurt you, Aya, but it has to be your choice. Me or him?”
The situation was nightmarish, like choosing between swimming with sharks or crocodiles when she really didn’t want to swim at all. Aya closed her eyes and took a deep breath… she knew very well what her answer would be, she just wished she was free to choose a third option and walk away from both men and this horrible place.
With tears pressing she looked up at Kato. “You.”
Kato bowed down, then he picked her up in bridal style and carried her to the bathroom.
Jonul scowled after him as he passed his door. “What are you doing?” he called out but Kato just ignored him.
Inside the bathroom they brushed their teeth before Kato started undressing Aya, who had been wearing her jeans and t-shirt for the last forty-eight hours. She stood passively but whispered, “What are you doing?”
“We are having a shower together, nothing else. I want you to feel safe with me.”
Aya watched as Kato stepped out of his clothes and realized that he too had slept fully dressed.
Kato took Aya’s hand and pulled her into the shower, where warm water hit her. He guided her with his voice to get her hair wet, and gave her shampoo. She was detached from her body and working with mechanical movements washing her body and hair.
Kato was standing behind her, and when she was done washing out the shampoo she felt him lift her hair and kiss the back of her neck. He removed the bandage from her burn mark and washed it gently. The reminder that she was a branded sex slave combined with the fact that she was about to have sex in front of an audience and that she had just been sold a second time made her knees weak. She let her head fall forward while leaning her hands against the wall for support, with tears flowing freely. The abyss she was in was surrounding her with complete darkness, and she desperately needed something to grab on to that would keep her from spiraling down into the blackness. She felt Kato’s strong arms pull her close to him and remembered her father once telling her that when the house is on fire you want to look at the calmest person and follow their lead. Her whole world was in flames now and her fundamental survival instinct told her to follow Kato. He will lead me to safety.
Slowly she turned around and faced Kato. He was half a head taller than her and gently wiped away her tears and kissed her forehead. Aya stood still and felt Kato move his hands down her arms. She looked at his body and realized how gorgeous he was with his light brown color and perfect shape. She didn’t want to look at his crotch but she did and noticed that he didn’t have an erection. Maybe he had been right when he said he didn’t want to do this either.
What if he can’t do it? The thought made her dizzy. What if Kato backs down and Jonul takes me back to his room to rape me?
“What is it?” Kato asked and lifted her chin to make her look at him.
Aya raised her hands and placed them on Kato’s strong and muscular chest. “What if you can’t do it?”
He gave her a puzzled look. “What do you mean?”
She didn’t answer at first.
“Aya, what do you mean?”
Aya didn’t know how to ask him. “You’ll need to be aroused to go through with it.”
There was a small smile on his face and then he leaned in to kiss her. Aya didn’t return his kiss at first but his words from before played in her mind.
If we do this you have to do your part and play along. Just pretend it’s only you and me.
She let her hands slide up over his shoulders and around his neck and he pulled her closer with a hand around the small of her back and another behind her head. Hesitantly she opened her mouth and he took the invitation and let his tongue slip into her mouth. Kato was gentle but explorative, and Aya couldn’t ignore that her body was responding to him when his hands slid around to cup her breasts and his lips went down to suck her nipples.
He soon returned his lips to her mouth and the kissing got deeper. He was letting his hands run through her hair and nipping his way from her lips along her jaw to gently bite her earlobe.
“When we go in there, I want you to imagine this,” he whispered in a hoarse voice. “Just you and me and our first time making love together.”
Aya looked into Kato’s eyes and found protectiveness and lust, and his poking erection against her belly told her he would have no problem doing his part; but his words reminded her of what was about to happen and brought the fear back.
“I don’t think I can do this,” she whispered when he kissed her again passionately.
Kato didn’t back down; instead he lifted her effortlessly against the wall so she was leaning on his hips. “Aya, just keep your eyes on me and trust that I won’t hurt you. Okay?”
“Okay,” she murmured. “Promise you won’t come inside me.”
“Don’t be scared, Aya, I’ve got you,” Kato said, resting his forehead against hers.
Gently he put her down and handed her a towel. They exchanged looks in the mirror and then they went into the living room, where Jonul had positioned himself on a chair by the wall with an expectant look of lust.
“I want the money first,” Jonul said and Kato got it from his room. The minute alone with Jonul had Aya almost freaking out.
“Drop the towel, slave,” he growled and licked his lips, and it only made her pull the towel tighter around her.
“Don’t be shy, you’ll be naked in a second anyway.” He was ogling her, making her extremely uncomfortable.
“Are you ready to be fucked?”
“No talking! Just looking,” Kato said with an icy voice from his doorway.
Jonul grinned and threw his hands in the air. “I was just having some fun.”
Kato moved closer to him and handed him the money. The sight of the pile exchanging hands made Aya sick to her stomach and she closed her eyes.
She felt Kato come closer, removing her towel and caressing her arm.
“What are you waiting for, break her in already.” Jonul’s rusty voice spoke and made Aya open her eyes again only to see Jonul eating her up with his small prickling eyes. Kato was naked too and standing calmly in front of her.
“Bite her tits,” Jonul growled, making Aya shoot him a look of murder, but Kato cupped her head and forced her to look only at him. And then he kissed her, slowly and intense. Aya stood frozen with closed eyes, repulsed by the knowledge that Jonul was there. She could smell him and feel his dark energy.
“Just bend her over and force her,” Jonul called out to Kato with a rusty and horny voice that made Aya’s blood boil with the desire to claw Jonul’s eyes out in fury.
Kato whispered into her ear. “Ignore him and remember… just you and me, babe.”
With one arm movement Kato cleared the wooden coffee table and lifted Aya down onto it. Then he started kissing her from her mouth down to her breast, and further down to her navel and inner thighs. Kato was confident and didn’t allow Jonul’s presence to hurry him. He took his time, and Aya understood he was trying to make the experience pleasurable for her. She closed her eyes and tried to think back to their first meeting at the marketplace. The intense glance into his beautiful brown eyes, the feeling of excitement and butterflies swarming around in her stomach, the racing of her heartbeat, the delicious tingling between her hips from the electric current running through her body, and the feeling of his strong upper arms and shoulders. Among thousands of men Kato was the one she felt most sexually drawn to, and she had fantasized about him after their first meeting.
That was before he kidnapped me, her inner voice reminded her, but she pushed the voice away and for the first time since the kidnapping she allowed herself to focus on her attraction to Kato, and gave in to the image of his toned naked body from the shower and the feeling of his kisses. If only we were alone! Her disgust with Jonul was so overwhelming that it was impossible to enjoy Kato’s attempts to make her relax. She shot a glance at Jonul and thought: Die, die, die, but Aya’s hate-filled thoughts didn’t keep Jonul from pulling out his cock and rubbing it while licking his lips. She turned her head back to Kato and saw his head between her legs. For a moment she lay stiff as a corpse and then a persistent thought grew in her. Revenge! She couldn’t kill Jonul, she already tried and failed, but she could make him suffer. If Jonul was going to watch, then she wanted him to see what he could never have. The one thing that no man could ever take with force. She wondered if he had ever experienced a woman wanting him. Impossible!
Aya would give to Kato what only a woman giving herself freely could. She would torture Jonul’s brain with the sight of something completely out of his reach. That would be her revenge!
With deep breaths to calm her pounding heart she visualized a white light forming an impenetrable bubble around her and Kato. The bubble was a place of safety and love, and the nature of it repelled Jonul’s dark energy; slowly she pushed his presence out of her mind. It’s just me and Kato. The thought made her relax further, and she focused on Kato’s touch and his mouth on her sex. She could tell he was an experienced lover from the way his tongue first circled her clit and then licked her with wide, soft licks as if he were enjoying an ice cream. It was slow and pleasant.
A soft moan escaped Aya and she merged her fingers with Kato’s, seeking the connection and closeness that would strengthen the bubble around them. Aya rose on her elbows, looking down at Kato, and she smiled at him – a glowing, inviting smile that made him stop and look at her in awe. He sat back on his heels and she slid down from the table, positioning herself on Kato’s lap and kissing him deeply. Kato closed his eyes and pulled her closer, hugging her tight like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Then she pushed him gently down on the floor, taking in his delicious body, and with a playful grin she started kissing him, licking him, teasing him. Kato watched her with amazement and pulled his hands through her hair.
Even in this extreme situation her body reacted to Kato in a way that was alien to her. The current between them pulsated back and forth and made her braver as the bubble grew to an immense strength. Aya gave Kato an intense look of desire, and with a last deep tongue kiss she moved down to suck him. Kato’s mouth dropped open and then he closed his eyes. “Wow,” he moaned with equal parts surprise and pleasure. In that moment she felt so powerful and completely in control. Kato’s pleasure was hers. She licked and sucked him for a few minutes, and with every sound coming from him her confidence grew stronger. She tossed her long blond hair over her shoulder, got up from the floor, and stood at her full height, looking down at Kato with a breathless smile of seduction.
With slow movements she played with her sensitive nipples and placed a foot on either side of his hips. The energy between them was pulsating with anticipation, and Kato slid his hands up against her long legs and marveled at her. Aya took his hands and once again they merged their fingers before she sank down sitting astride him, never losing eye contact. She felt how hard he was and how his oral skills had made her wet enough for him to enter her effortlessly. Kato didn’t let go of her but placed their joined hands on Aya’s hips, keeping her still, like he wanted to savor the moment of his first penetration. He exhaled slowly with an expression of delight, and the feeling of him filling her made her close her eyes and arch her back in enjoyment.
“You feel so good,” she moaned softly, and then Kato started moving slowly and rhythmically. Aya smiled with half-closed eyes and met his slow thrusts. She could see his eyes shining with admiration and lust for her, and then he pulled her down and kissed her hungrily, nipping on her lips, sucking her tongue, moaning into her mouth that she was perfection. Aya’s body was burning with a powerful sexual desire that she hadn’t known she was capable of. It shined from her eyes and radiated from her entire body, making Kato gasp in wonder. “Fuck, Aya, you’re amazing.”
A tingle started in her belly, a light feeling of euphoria that grew until she couldn’t contain it inside her anymore. She burst into a laugh that was sensual and intimate and made Kato grin back at her. It was just the two of them. She didn’t care about anything else. The perfection of being with Kato was far greater than her desire for revenge. They were born to be lovers and no man had ever woken this type of passion in her; it was effortless and so right being with him. He made her feel worshipped like she was the incarnation of a love goddess.
“God, you are beautiful, Aya,” Kato groaned and turned her so he was on top of her, pulling her legs over his shoulders.
“So are you.” She smiled and with a lazy movement she raised her hands above her head in an erotic gesture of surrender. “I want you, Kato.”
Her words made Kato bite down on his lip and push deeper into her. He looked like he wanted to devour her raw but was controlled enough to circle her slowly, filling her completely. Aya smiled and watched him kiss, lick, and bite her calf and ankle playfully, and then she arched her back to meet him, signaling for him to pick up the pace.
Kato complied, and his rhythmic friction combined with the deep eye contact and his fingers massaging her clit pushed her over the edge and into a warm orgasm that made her body shiver with delight. Kato followed her and groaned her name when he pulled out and came on her belly. For a moment they were both watching his cum, and then he grinningly spread it across her stomach and breasts. They were like two giggly teenagers only just discovering the wonders of lovemaking and claiming each other. Their white bubble was a mile thick and neither of them worried about Jonul; he was irrelevant.
Kato sank down over Aya and buried his head in her hair and stayed there. Aya wrapped her arms around him with one hand casually stroking his shoulder, back, and buttocks and the other hand moving up to play with his neck and hair.
Kato was the first to look up and notice that Jonul was gone and then they heard the shot.
“What the fuck.” Kato jumped up and ran to Jonul’s room.
Aya followed but was pushed back by Kato before she could see anything. “You don’t want to see this,” Kato said with a tight jaw.
He was right; she didn’t need to see it. The shot and Kato’s reaction told her what Jonul had done, and she was suddenly flushed with guilt.
“It’s my fault,” she said in a shaky voice.
Kato turned to look at her. “You didn’t do anything, Aya. Jonul pulled the trigger.”
Aya was pale and spoke fast. “Kato. I pushed him… I wanted revenge and I thought that if he insisted on watching, then I would show him what a poor substitute violence and force is for true lovemaking. I wanted to rub in his face what he can never have unless it’s freely given.”
“And you think seeing us made him want to kill himself?” Kato pondered out loud.
“Yes, I think it made him crave affection and devotion, and I think it felt so far out of his reach, that he just… ”
The silence between them was unbearable. Aya needed Kato to say something. Anything.
He looked lost and was stiff when she tried to hug him.
Kato was overwhelmed with the sight of his brother’s suicide. It was indescribably gross, with half of his face missing and his brains splattered on the wall and ceiling. Kato hadn’t even known Jonul had a sawn-off shotgun.
And now Aya had just told him she had pushed Jonul to do it. Kato had expected to guide her gently through an awkward sequence of sex to satisfy Jonul’s need to see Kato break her in, but she had completely surprised him by taking initiative, showing passion, and transforming from a woman paralyzed with fear to an erotic goddess of sensuality. Her presence, her sweet moans, her movements, and the way she made him feel like the most important person in the world were without comparison. Not even with Diana had he ever felt this level of connection and intensity. It had been such basic sex, and at the same time so unbelievably satisfying and mind-blowing.
He wished Aya hadn’t told him that it had all been nothing but a show to torture Jonul. She had used him to get revenge and brought his brother to suicide. Rationally Kato understood that she wasn’t to blame – Jonul had been suicidal for months if not years – but there was no denying that her demonstration of what Jonul could never have had been the trigger of his suicide. Not for a second had Kato thought that Jonul would react so strongly. Jonul was into force and pain, or was Aya right? Were those things a poor substitute for connection and love? Had their “show” brought back his longings to be desired by a woman?
Kato released Aya. He needed a minute to think. He would have to call the general and get a team to collect Jonul’s corpse. He needed to focus on the practical steps in front of him, and he tried to push the hurt away – that Aya had apparently been pretending when he had genuinely made love to her. He couldn’t understand how anyone could be that good an actress.
“Kato… I…” Aya was trying to get his attention.
“Wait for me in my room. I need a minute,” he said dismissively without looking at her.
Aya left him with her head down.
Kato found his phone and called the general, who picked up on the first ring.
There was silence and then the general spoke again. “What a shame. Where is he?”
“In his room.”
“I’ll have someone collect him.”
“Could you send a cleaning team too?”
The conversation was short and concise and left Kato in a waiting position. He would need to dress before the general’s men arrived; but to get clothes he would have to go to his room, where Aya was, and he couldn’t think with her around.
Kato crouched down and buried his head in his hands. His mind was in chaos, and memories of Diana’s deceit came flushing back. Aya had deceived him too and made him believe in a lie; she couldn’t be trusted, she was dangerous. He sighed and realized that ever since he touched her the first time in the marketplace he hadn’t been able to think straight. She made him hope for freedom and… happiness. Those were the things that got Masi fighters killed, and he needed to create distance from her to protect himself.
Kato entered the bedroom and started roaming through his closet looking for clothes. Aya was naked under the blanket and watching him. He was so incredibly well-shaped, and her body remembered every little touch from the living room. Sex with Kato was levels above anything she had ever tried, and it wasn’t because of the technicalities but because of him and the way her body reacted to his touch, his kiss, and his scent. The electric vibration between them in the marketplace was merely a weak current compared to the shock effect that having sex with Kato had on her.
“Kato, can we talk about what happened?” she asked, still trying to understand it.
He didn’t turn but pulled on a Masi uniform, and then he grabbed another t-shirt and tossed it to her. “Someone’s coming to take Jonul away. I need to take care of it and you need to stay in here.” He hardly looked at her, but left the room with a gloomy energy that made her feel small and insignificant.
Aya stayed in the room and after twenty minutes she heard voices of men. There were several, from what she could hear, and they were moving furniture from Jonul’s room and walking with heavy steps through the apartment. She tried not to picture what they were doing when she heard scrubbing sounds from the other side of the wall.
After an hour Kato returned, only to tell her that he needed to go to work at the headquarters and that he would be back later.
Aya was disturbed by Kato’s new indifference to her. He could hardly look at her, and she explained it with the fact that she had pushed his friend to suicide. He resented her now; she could see it on his face.
When Kato left the apartment Aya curled up in a fetal position and went over every detail of what had happened to her since the kidnapping. She hadn’t seen daylight for days, and she was worried for Aston and for her family. Her psyche felt like a rubber band stretched too thin and on the verge of bursting. On one side Jonul had pushed her into the darkest corners of her mind with levels of fear previously unknown to her, while Kato was pulling her in the other direction with his fundamental connection with her and gifts of sexual arousal and pleasure that brought out hidden parts of her.
Her image of Kato was clouded because of their first encounter. He was a Masi warrior, and she hated everything that symbolized, but her first impression of him had been formed without that piece of information and it was without doubt the strongest physical attraction she had ever felt to a man. Aya was torn between feeling dirty for having had sex with a Masi warrior and not regretting it one bit because it was with Kato.
Time in the apartment was endless. She stayed mostly in Kato’s bed, and moved out of it only to use the bathroom and look for something to eat. Since she didn’t have a clock she had no idea if Kato had been gone five or ten hours, although it felt like the latter. When Kato finally returned she was eager for his company.
Aya heard him move around the apartment, but he didn’t come to her as she had hoped he would. She got up from the bed and walked into the living room, still wearing the t-shirt he had lent her this morning.
Kato stopped when he saw her and swallowed hard before he looked away. Oh no, he’s still mad at me.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” was his short answer.
“Did you see Aston?” She knew he didn’t like to talk about it, but she was so worried.
Kato lifted his chin a bit and finally looked straight at her. “He’s still with the healer, but at least he’s alive!”
The accusation of Jonul’s death in his tone made her gasp. “I’m sorry, Kato. I didn’t think that…”
He gave a blank stare and walked back in the direction of the kitchen. Aya knew better than to follow him. Instead she went back to bed feeling small.
She wanted to sleep and dream of a happy place. Dreaming was her only escape from her horrible reality, but every little sound that Kato made in the apartment had her attention. She was so tuned into him, longing for him to comfort her like he had these last days.
After a while the door opened and Kato walked in. He handed her a plate with a sort of pie. “I brought you some food from the headquarters,” he said emotionlessly.
“Thank you.” This time Aya didn’t resist eating; she didn’t want to fight him, she wanted him to like her again. She took a bite and found the pie surprisingly good.
“It tastes good,” she muttered.
Kato didn’t respond but turned and walked away. A minute later she heard the shower running and thought of how he had kissed her neck in the shower. She wondered if he would reject her if she went to him now, but she was willing to risk it to have back the connection with him. Their connection was the only white light in this dark, filthy apartment and she was starving for it. She took the last bite of the pie and moved to the bathroom. Standing outside, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Here goes, she thought and put her hand on the doorknob. It was locked! Had he expected her to come to him and taken precautions?
Aya felt like she had been kicked in her stomach and returned to the bedroom thinking, He really doesn’t want me anymore.
She hoped he hadn’t noticed her trying to get in, and curled up close to the wall. I can’t face him, please let me fall asleep before he comes to bed. But she was still awake when he entered.
A scent of soap and toothpaste met her when he crawled into bed beside her. They shared a blanket and the bed wasn’t big, so he couldn’t avoid touching her a little, but she was stiff as a board pretending to be asleep.
Kato didn’t speak but turned his back on her. Aya closed her eyes and dried away a silent tear. She felt miserable.
When Aya finally fell asleep dreams of being trapped shook her body. Ropes were holding her down and she wriggled and fought to get away. As if by a miracle the ropes gave way and became loose enough for her to escape. She ran as fast as she could and then she was free. She recognized Aston and realized he was okay. She hugged and kissed him with joy and he hugged her back. They wouldn’t let go of each other. “We are going home,” she told him, smiling. He took her hand and kissed her again – this time differently. She looked at him and suddenly she didn’t see Aston, she saw Kato and he looked so sad and distant. She wanted to bring back the connection between them and pleaded for him to like her again. Kato leaned into her with his intense amber eyes and kissed her slowly and softly. She smiled and relaxed when she recognized the look in his eyes. Kato wanted her as much as she wanted him and with a sigh she spread her legs, inviting him to take her again. He was gentle and took his time to bring her pleasure. “There’s no one like you,” she whispered and arched her back with a soft moan.
Aya woke up and found Kato staring at her. He was lying next to her with his head propped on his elbow.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“You tell me!” Kato said.
Flashes of making love to him came back to her and she sat up feeling flustered. “Did I touch you?” she asked and looked down her body. She was still wearing his blue T-shirt.
“Touch me?” he asked, confused. “No, I couldn’t make out what you were saying, but it sounded like you were rambling about freedom and someone being like no other.
Aya sighed and lay back down again. Nothing happened – good! It was just one of my stupid vivid dreams.
“I’m sorry for waking you. I’ll be quiet now, I promise,” she said.
“Tell me about your dream,” Kato said.
She wasn’t going to reveal that she had just made love to him in her dreams after he had rejected her by locking the door.
“I told you, I don’t remember my dreams,” she answered instead.
“What a shame,” he said dryly.
“Why, what else did I say?”
He shrugged. “It wasn’t so much what you said. It was how you moved and the sweet moans you made; it sounded like you were having an erotic dream. Did you dream of me?” he asked bluntly.
“I told you, I don’t remember,” Aya snapped. “But if you want me, then why did you lock the bathroom door when you showered?” She could have bitten her tongue off but it was too late, and Kato just tilted his head and smiled a little. “How do you know I locked it?”
Aya felt flushed and hoped the darkness hid the tomato-red color on her face.
I’m not answering that question, she thought stubbornly and noticed that Kato looked different in the darkness; he had shaved his stubble and looked much younger somehow.
Kato continued without her reply. “I didn’t know you wanted to shower with me.” There was something strange about his voice. An edge of vulnerability hidden under the sharp sarcasm.
“Kato, can I ask you something?” Aya asked in a soft voice.
He sighed and lay back down on his back. “What?”
“I just wonder about you. I’m trying to understand how someone like you, who grew up in a modern country with democracy, came to live like this. I mean who were you before you became a Masi warrior?”
“I already told you,” he said dismissively. “I lived in England, I was engaged. I worked a lot.”
“What did you work with?” she asked.
“Did you like it?”
“It’s the thing I miss the most. My job was my hobby and I loved it.”
“What did Diana look like?” The question surprised even her.
Kato looked at her with a suspicious look. “Why do you want to know?”
“I don’t know,” she answered honestly.
“Diana is pretty and very…” He stopped talking.
“Sexy?” Aya suggested and met Kato’s surprised eyes.
“I was going to say classy, but yeah, she’s sexy too. Aya, what are these questions about?”
“Have you been with anyone since Diana?”
“I don’t like these questions. I would rather have my own questions answered.”
Aya turned and mirrored his position on the bed, propped on her elbow. “Alright, then let’s exchange answers. You go first.”
Kato seemed to be thinking and then he asked, “How long has it been since you had sex?”
Aya smiled innocently. “I wouldn’t know exactly because I don’t have access to a clock, but it was early this morning.”
Kato smiled wryly. “Before me, Aya.”
She counted in her head. “It’s been almost a year now.”
“Who was he?” Kato asked.
“Did you love him?”
“I thought I did.”
“He moved to another city and it just faded after that.”
“Do you miss him?”
“No, Kato, I don’t miss him. I don’t have any past that I need closure on if that’s what you’re asking. There is no Diana in my life.”
Kato was quiet.
Aya let her hand caress his face; it felt and looked so different without the stubble. “What’s going to happen now?”
“I don’t know.” Kato ran a hand through his dark unruly hair. “I didn’t exactly plan this and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with you.”
“You could let me go. I would never tell on you.”
Kato frowned and sat up. “I already told you, it won’t work. Others would find you.”
“But there must be a way out, for both of us. You don’t seem to be the slave-owner kind of guy.” The minute Aya said it she could see the absurdity of her statement, since they had just sealed his ownership of her this morning.
Oozing with discomfort, Kato lay back down on his back again. “I’m not expecting you to understand.”
“But I’m trying to…” Aya watched him.
“Well, don’t! It won’t make a difference.” He sounded upset.
“Did you have other slaves?”
“No, I never had a slave and I never wanted a slave.”
Kato sighed. He clearly didn’t like this conversation. “He had one when I arrived. She was younger than you.”
Aya swallowed hard. The way Kato avoided looking directly at her told her that this was a story with no happy ending “What happened to her?”
“She got pregnant and Jonul didn’t want the child, so he punched her in the stomach until she miscarried. She died from the loss of blood.”
Aya felt overwhelmed with grief. Her eyes filled with tears. “Did he at least take her to the hospital?”
Kato shook his head. “What do you think, Aya?”
The stain on the floor in Jonul’s room. That was her.
“It could have been me,” Aya whispered and tears started running down her face. Kato pulled her down to his chest and caressed her hair with soothing strokes.
“Can I get you anything?” Kato asked.
“You can get me home,” Aya said with a sigh and waited for his answer. It never came; instead they both drifted back to sleep.
The next morning Aya was craving fresh air.
“Can’t we open a window and get in some fresh air?” she asked optimistically.
Kato just shook his head as if her question was plain stupid.
“This is a war zone. I don’t want any unwelcome visitors, and the windows are barricaded so light won’t give the pilots a signal on where to drop a bomb.”
After that Kato didn’t say much. He would soon have to leave for what he referred to as work, but for now he sat in the living room in deep thought. Aya didn’t mind. She was trying to process and to think herself. She took time to scan the apartment and found manifests and books claiming Masi to be the only true God.
Kato watched her touch things and pick up things but seemed to register it only from a remote place where his mind had taken him.
She recognized the pamphlet on slave owners, rights and obligations.
“Did you read this?” she asked, breaking Kato’s deep thoughts.
Kato looked at her and then his eyes dropped to the paper in her hand.
“No,” he murmured.
“I have, and it made me sick. I dare you to read it and tell me you want to defend this kind of belief.”
“Aya, don’t.” Kato held up his hand. “I don’t want to discuss politics with you. I have to go, so stay away from the windows and, Aya… please stay here.” And then he left, closed the door, and locked it from the outside.
So much for “please,” Aya thought. It’s not like I have a choice, since you trapped me in here as a prisoner.
Kato had been right; peeking out through tiny cracks in the window she saw only a handful of people throughout the day, and they all looked like Masi fighters. No one in this area would save her.
Aya was going crazy with worries and thoughts. I need something to do. She thought and paced around the apartment like a trapped animal in the zoo.
When she entered the filthy kitchen the second time she stopped. If I’m going to eat any food from this kitchen I have to clean it. She searched for cleaning supplies and found a broom, a bucket, some sponges, and a bottle of liquid soap. It’s better than nothing, she thought and got started by doing the dishes. But once she had a stack of clean cups, plates, and pans she realized that every cabinet was greasy and dirty as well. In the end she washed down the whole kitchen. And then she proceeded to the fridge that was almost empty with only beers, some fruit, and a bowl of old food that stank horribly. With her nose wrinkled in disgust she flushed the food in the toilet and washed down the fridge before she moved to the oven. It felt good to do something with her hands, and it helped her stay active and sane and focus on something familiar. Taking a step back, Aya looked at her project. Every surface was clean; she had even scrubbed the walls.
When she was done with the kitchen she continued to clean the bathroom, transforming it from unsanitary to decent. She couldn’t do much about the cracks in the tiles or the mirror, since she didn’t have any remedies to clean them properly. The soap she used to clean away the toothpaste splashes left a foggy layer on the mirror. But at least all the splashes of toothpaste were gone.
To Aya the act of cleaning was healing. With every bucket of dirty water she threw away she felt she was removing the ghost of Jonul. It was like she scrubbed his presence away from walls and surfaces. It made perfect sense in her mind, and was the best alternative to setting this whole place on fire. Several times she looked at the door to Jonul’s room, but she was scared that if she entered into it, she would be transported back to the rape scene and the feeling of being powerless. She couldn’t risk that, now that she had reclaimed a bit of control by washing him away.
After the bathroom she went on to the living room. The room was small, so it didn’t take her long to wash away the dust, sweep the floors, and wash them. She threw away the empty cans and other trash that was lying around. With the trash from the kitchen, she now had four big bags of trash that Kato would have to deal with when he got home.
Aya had no idea what time it was, but she felt hungry and went to get some crackers she had found when she cleaned the kitchen. She wasn’t sure if she could drink the tap water and there were no more of the plastic bottles of water that Kato had provided her with so far, so she drank a beer for her thirst. It felt good and gave her energy to continue her manic cleaning project in Kato’s room. She removed all the linen from Kato’s bed and searched for clean sheets. She found them in the completely unorganized closet. Aya put fresh linen on the bed, washed the floors, and folded all Kato’s clothes neatly and put them back in his closet – and that was when she saw the letters. There were five hidden in the back corner.
Normally Aya was very respectful of others’ privacy but normal was long gone, and without hesitation she took the letters and sat down to read.
I miss you. I truly do. And it surprises even me. Who would have thought I could miss my annoying younger brother?
Do you remember when I took you on my motorbike and you promised you wouldn’t tell Mom? I’m sorry I got so mad at you. I know you were only eight and it slipped out.
It wasn’t your fault that Mom grounded me. To justify my insane anger with you, I want you to know that it was because Diana had told me she was ready to have sex that night.
I guess anyone who gets in the way of a hormonal teenage boy and his sexual debut will be in trouble, but I always regretted being so hard on you. You were so little and I couldn’t possible explain it to you.
If you get this letter, it’s because something has happened to me. Don’t be sad, Aidan.
Just know that you, my brother, are everything I always wanted to be. I’m proud of you and I will always, ALWAYS love you.
Aya put down the letter.
She knew Kato had brothers, and if Aidan had been only eight when Kato got a motorbike, it meant there was around ten years between them. Kato had told her he was twenty six, so Aidan would be sixteen now.
Why did Kato want to be like his brother? She pondered and continued to the next letter.
This is the mandatory letter. My last words in case I die.
I know you are proud of me for fighting this war.
Myself… less so.
Spirima isn’t what you remember. At least not anymore. Jonul has changed too. He is not the happy, joyful person I remember from my childhood. He has become bitter and hard, and I see him inflict pain on others.
The war has scarred him and I fear it will do the same to me.
Even if we win the war, what will happen to us?
I doubt there will ever be a normal life for us again.
I know you want what’s best for me. But Dad, this isn’t it.
Please take care of Mom and Aidan, and despite the cruel things that happens in a war I hope you will remember me for who I was and not what I’ve become.
Aya swallowed hard while her subconscious was scolding her. These letters are very personal. You are sticking your nose in Kato’s business without his accept. It’s unacceptable. STOP IT! But her curiosity made her open another letter.
I know my departing will break your heart and that pains me. But don’t cry for me. I want you to live your life. Make that amazing tomato soup of yours, put basil on top, and bake the bread loaf I adore.
Fill your kitchen with the scent of homemade food, because that is how I remember you – smiling, dancing to your favorite tunes while cooking for the people you love. I feel so privileged that I am one of them.
Never stop loving me, Mom, because I will always love you. ALWAYS!
These letters were short and concise, and yet they expressed so much of who Kato was and the kindness he held. Aya felt bad about prying into the deepest part of him – his last words to his family. She had no right, but she wanted so desperately to know more about him. If she was to convince him to help her escape, these letters could prove very powerful. It wasn’t right of her to read them, but Aya was in an extreme situation. She had always known there was more to Kato than a hardcore Masi warrior, but reading his private letters and seeing in black and white that he was also a brother and a son who loved his family, missed his mom’s cooking, and regretted being too hard on his little brother made her like him even more.
She opened the fourth letter to read it when she heard the key in the door. Shit, Kato is home. She quickly put the letters back.
The minute Kato walked into the apartment he knew something was different. The smell of old dust that he was so used to had been replaced by a fresh citrus scent. Kato was looking down at the four bags of trash in the entryway when Aya approached him.
“Hi,” she said with a small smile.
“Hi,” Kato answered without looking at her. He had spent the whole day trying to block her out, but she was like an obsession to him and memories from yesterday morning kept running through his mind. He couldn’t forget the look of desire on her face, and he kept blaming himself for interpreting her signals so wrongly. He had felt loved by her and he knew it was ridiculous. They barely knew each other and to her, he was the villain who held her captive. Being in a war zone for a year had clearly made him delusional, and so hungry for love that he couldn’t trust his own judgment.
He was staring into the kitchen now and took a few steps inside.
“Sure doesn’t look like the same kitchen I left this morning,” he said and put down a bag of food. ”You’ve been busy.”
“Go check out the rest,” she said behind him, and he rewarded her hard work by making the rounds to first the bathroom, where he gave a whistle and arched his brows in respect, and then to the living room before he entered his bedroom, noticing the clean sheets and tidiness.
“Check out your closet,” Aya said with a certain pride and he did so, still without looking at her.
The sight of his closet with everything organized and folded neatly made him take a step back. His eyes quickly fell on the letters in the corner. They were copies of the ones he had made for his personal files at the Masi headquarters, the ones that would be mailed to England if he died. Jonul had written letters too. One had been for Kato, and the general had given it to him today, but Jonul’s other three letters wouldn’t be sent home. The general had decided to keep Jonul’s death quiet for now.
Kato wondered if Aya had read his letters but he didn’t want to ask her. There was nothing dangerous in them; it wouldn’t make a big difference to him if she had.
“You didn’t have to do this,” he told her and finally allowed himself to meet her eyes.
“I know.” She smiled with that irresistible mouth of hers. “But I couldn’t just sit still and let my mind go crazy.”
“It’s nice though.” Kato smiled back, until the pull to kiss her raised a warning flag in him. “I brought food,” he said and turned away from her. “How does pancakes and fruit sound?”
“Good.” Aya followed him to the kitchen. “Any news of Aston?”
Kato frowned. He hated her questions about Aston. The man was clearly on her mind a lot and she cared deeply about him. Despite her claims that they hadn’t been intimate he wasn’t sure, and the thought of Aya with another man made him uncomfortable. The jealousy he had felt towards Aston in the market place was nothing compared to how he felt after having spent the last days with her – the protectiveness he felt about Aya, his desire to be intimate with her again, and his longing to be the only man she would ever look at with desire. Kato forced himself to hide his emotions and focus on her question.
“He’s a little better and I let him know that you are alive and well.”
“Thank you,” Aya said softly.
Kato unpacked the food he had brought home from the headquarters. The slaves in the kitchen had packed him a bag, and now he pulled out plates from the cabinets, enjoying how clean everything was. He had forgotten how good it felt and it made him miss his apartment in England.
This place was a dump even when clean, and he was wasting his life fighting for a cause he’d never really believed in. His brother was dead, all his cousins were dead, and the only living family member he had left here, fighting this rebellion, was his uncle the general, who he honestly didn’t like very much. His uncle was a sadist, and only in the last few days with Aya had he started to admit that to himself. When Kato first arrived he had been so full of anger towards Diana and Oliver for their betrayal that he just accepted everything his uncle and Jonul put in front of him. Once he started asking questions he was too deeply involved and couldn’t get out, so it had been easier to follow along and suppress his feelings and doubts.
“Kato, how long did you know Jonul?” Aya asked him, breaking his deep thoughts.
Kato hadn’t told her that Jonul was his brother. He knew how disgusted Aya was with Jonul and he couldn’t bear for her to think they were the same. For Aya to see him as a monster was something he would avoid at any cost.
“Since I was a child,” Kato said and tried to change the subject by asking her about her day. It didn’t work.
“Were you related to him?” she asked directly and he panicked and lied.
“No. He was just a friend of the family.”
With a patient look that covered for the uneasiness he felt inside, Kato encouraged Aya to eat and was happy to see her dig into the pancakes and the fruit with great appetite. At least they didn’t have to fight about food tonight.
“What do you do all day?” she asked.
Besides fantasize about you? he thought and looked down. “What do you mean?”
“Your work? What do you do at work?” Aya was still wearing his blue t-shirt that went down to cover her upper thighs, and his mind kept wondering if she was naked underneath. He wanted so much to slide his hands up and feel her smooth skin.
He pulled his thoughts together and tried to answer her question. “It depends. Sometimes I help translate things or type things in English, sometimes I help out with computer issues or help make ID papers, and other times I go on patrols or transport things from one place to another. And then of course there’s planning attacks and carrying them out as well as defending the headquarters when the government attacks.”
“What happened when I was kidnapped?” Aya asked with big serious eyes.
Kato shifted in his seat. “Are you sure you want to talk about this?”
She nodded. “I just don’t understand why this is happening to me. Why I was targeted?”
Kato sighed. “I get that, Aya, but it really was very random and not because of our meeting.”
“Can you at least try to explain?” she pleaded.
He looked at her with troubled eyes and then he started to talk slowly. “We were on a patrol and you were spotted from the car. You drew attention to yourself and Jonul decided we should take you.”
“I drew attention to myself… how?” Aya wanted to know. She looked so innocent and sweet.
Kato swallowed hard again. He didn’t like this subject.
“You looked… happy.”
Aya opened her mouth in disbelief but sat quiet for a while before she started talking in a low voice. “Actually I did feel happy, because the marketplace is my favorite place in Spirima and Aston and I were joking around. You know, Kato, I felt safe with Aston and I guess I thought that because I had come to help people no one would want to hurt me. Pretty naïve, huh?”
Kato didn’t answer.
“So I was kidnapped because I looked happy?“
“Yes, you looked happy and… beautiful.”
“But there are many beautiful women here,” Aya argued, and it made him run his hand through his hair again, frustrated that they were having this conversation that he had tried so hard to avoid. “Not like you, Aya, there are no blond women with blue eyes and a gorgeous body walking around this country. You didn’t exactly blend in… and you looked so happy and free.”
“And that was my mistake?” She said it out loud but it was more a statement than a question.
Kato nodded. “I’m sorry, Aya!”
Aya looked lost and just sat there looking at him. “Did you never question whether or not this was right or wrong?” she asked quietly.
Kato took a while before he answered, going over possible answers that could all open up doors he didn’t want to enter. “What do you think?” he finally said, and tried not to sound angry but more insistent and defensive.
They sat in silence for a while and then Aya spoke again. “Who found me beautiful, you or Jonul?”
Kato thought back. “We were four men in the car and everyone understood we were scouting for anything of interest. Foreigners are by definition ‘of interest,’ because you are nonbelievers in Masi and therefore fair game as slaves. When someone is beautiful as well then no discussion is needed. Jonul rarely took a slave. He chose you because you are a rare beauty.”
“Kato, why don’t you tell me what you think of me?”
Kato felt resistance. He couldn’t possibly tell her the truth. It would give her too much leverage over him. He needed to keep his head cool and figure out what to do about this situation.
“I thought you were beautiful too,” he said and left it at that, leaving out the fact that he had been awake last night just looking at her and wondering how he’d got so lucky to spend time with someone as pure and good as her. He didn’t want to tell her that every particle of his body was longing to sleep with her again and that her close proximity was sometimes pure torture of longing and sometimes pure delight of closeness, depending on the way she looked at him. He wished he had a magic wand and could transport them out of Spirima with a magic spell and make Aya his girlfriend instead of his slave, but he was smart enough to know that if he helped her escape she would run as far away from him as possible, and he couldn’t blame her. He was her kidnapper and her prison guard; he was by definition the villain.
For Kato the thought of losing Aya was horror. He would be left alone in this miserable war where the only beautiful thing that had ever happened to him was her. The way she snuggled up against him in the night, showed him trust by sleeping in his bed, or asked him questions like he was interesting reminded him of who he used to be. In those moments he could almost forget their circumstances and feel normal. He would do anything for her, except let her leave him.
Aya sat quietly in the kitchen, watching Kato. “What are you thinking about?”
“Don’t lie to me, Kato.”
His eyes were dark and his shoulders slumping but he shook his head dismissively.
“I’m going to take a shower,” he said and swallowed half a pancake in one big mouthful while carrying his plate to the sink. For a minute he paused and she half expected him to ask if she wanted to join him, but he didn’t. He walked the twelve steps into the bathroom and closed the door. There was no sound of him locking it.
It took Aya only a few minutes to wash the dishes and bring the kitchen back into the same spotless order it had been in before their dinner. Then she went to the living room and sat down waiting for him.
When Kato came out of the bathroom he was wearing a towel around his hips and his normally unruly hair was falling down his forehead, making him brush it back with his right hand. He stopped and watched her for a second, opening his mouth as if he wanted to say something, but then he closed it again. Aya had a full view of his magnificent body. Apparently his work as a Masi fighter was physical, because his body was toned and strong. The pull in her belly made her crave to touch him and she couldn’t help staring at him. Kato caught her looking at him and she saw a frown of confusion on his face.
“Would you mind if I shower too?” she asked and was suddenly very confused about their strange relationship. The attraction between them was so loaded and sexual, and yet there was a new distance between them of guardedness that hadn’t been there before they had sex. She didn’t want to be attracted to her kidnapper but if she had felt anything for him before they had sex it had multiplied after. It’s simple chemistry, her brain reminded her from biology classes. But with Kato it had been an instant connection from the beginning, and he had been so clear about how attracted he was to her. But that seemed to have faded. It was hard to believe this was the same man who had told her yesterday morning that she was perfection.
“Sure, do you need anything?” he asked her.
“Just a towel, please,” she said and tried to look away from his tempting six-pack.
Kato went to his room and brought back a towel. “If you need more, you will find them sorted and stacked in my closet,” he said in a friendly tone and she gave him a small smile.
The shower did her well. She was wondering how she could have been so obsessed about cleaning walls and floors to get rid of Jonul’s energy and yet have managed to go without scrubbing herself in boiling hot water. She had showered yesterday with Kato, but now that she was alone she cleansed in a different way by scrubbing her skin until it was red from the heat and the scrubbing. She washed her hair twice and enjoyed the feeling of cleanliness.
When she came out of the shower she dried herself in the towel she had brought and put Kato’s blue t-shirt in the pile of dirty clothes. There was no washer and drier in the apartment, and she wondered how he washed his clothes. Jonul’s toothbrush was gone and a new one had been added. It was still in the packing; she ripped it open and brushed her teeth. She missed a hairbrush but ran her fingers through her long hair in an attempt to comb it a little. It was the best she could do for now.
She couldn’t sleep naked or wrapped in the towel. It only just covered her breasts and bottom and would be uncomfortable during the night. She needed to ask Kato to lend her one more of his t-shirts.
Kato was waiting outside the bathroom, holding a small pile of clothes. “Here, this might fit you,” he said.
Aya took the panties and the soft, feminine dress in a dark purple shade.
“Did it belong to Jonul’s former slave?” Aya asked hesitantly.
Kato nodded. “Yeah.”
Aya didn’t like the thought of wearing the dead girl’s clothes. “What was her name?”
“I don’t know. Jonul only referred to her as ‘slave’ and she never spoke to me.”
“She never spoke to you?”
“No.” Kato sounded dismissive again.
“But you lived here, right?”
“Yeah, but Jonul didn’t allow her to speak and I didn’t want her to get in trouble by asking her questions.”
“How long was she here?”
“I’m not sure. She died about two months after I arrived.”
“Did he have other slaves?”
“Yes, before her. But I told you, he was very picky with his slaves and hadn’t found anyone he wanted for a long time until… he saw you.” Kato’s jaw tensed and he turned and walked into the living room. He was done talking.
Aya followed him. “Kato.”
He stopped and turned.
“Would you mind if I save the dress for tomorrow and sleep in one of your t-shirts?”
He looked away. “Suit yourself… you know where they are.”
Aya wanted to ask him what his problem was but she was tired and upset.
“What?” he asked
“Nothing… are you coming to bed?”
“In a while,” he answered and turned away.
Aya went to his room and picked out a clean t-shirt; this one was gray and bore a company logo. She climbed into bed and found that she missed the comfort of lying close to him. She wondered what he was doing in the living room. There was no TV or radio and from what she could see, no books of interest. The only plausible explanation would be that he wanted to avoid her.
Aya didn’t know how long she had been sleeping when gunshots woke her up. They were far away and Kato was already awake. He sat quietly against the wall watching her with big eyes. “It’s okay. They’re not close to us,” Kato comforted her, but she could see fright and sadness in his eyes.
“Are you okay?” she asked, concerned.
He didn’t answer but just sat there with a heavy head. Clearly a year in a war had given him scars not only physically but emotionally too. Aya felt herself reach for him. She was a nurse and it was her natural instinct to care for someone in pain. “Come,” she said, and despite his initial resistance he allowed her to pull him into her arms. Aya started humming to block out the distant shootings, and then she kissed him soothingly on the top of his head like she imagined his mother once did when he was a young boy. She could feel him relaxing and after a while the shooting could no longer be heard.
“Thank you” he whispered but he didn’t move away. She kept humming until his breathing became heavy and she was sure he was sleeping.
The next day Kato woke Aya up. He was already dressed and had made her a cup of tea.
“Do you have to go?” she asked, dreading one more day boxed up in this sad place with nothing for her to do all day. Except read the last two letters, her inner voice reminded her, and she blushed with shame.
“I have to get to the headquarters. I’m expected there,” Kato answered with a shrug.
Aya felt desperate. He was her only link to the outside world. She put down her tea and moved closer to him, touching his arm. “Kato, please help me get home. Please.” Her eyes were begging.
Kato frowned but he didn’t get mad, as she had feared he would.
“It’s not that simple, Aya,” he said slowly.
“I know they will punish you, but we could go together. Don’t you miss England? You don’t belong here, Kato. Please…”
“The Masi fighters kill anyone who tries to escape. Both slaves and warriors. Even if we got away from them we would need money and false ID papers to get out of the country.”
Aya was bubbling inside with adrenaline. At least now they were talking about it. That was a huge step in the right direction. “We just need to get back to the refugee camp, then they can help us,” she exclaimed but Kato shook his head.
“Not me, I’m a Masi fighter. They are obliged to hand me over to the government and I’d be executed within a week. I can’t go near that place.”
Aya realized that she had never met a Masi fighter in the refugee camp. She had never considered that for a Masi fighter there was nowhere to run.
“Then where will you go?”
“Who said I was going?” he asked. “I don’t want to talk about it, Aya. Leaving would be suicide.”
“But… we can’t just stay here, Kato. This is not a life.”
His lips pressed into a fine line. “It’s the only alternative to death right now,” he hissed.
Aya wanted to shake him and remind him of all the wonders of the world. “No, Kato, you are wrong. I want to see mountains again, ride a horse again, hear birds singing, row a boat, and laugh with my friends. Hug my parents and go to the movies. Don’t settle for this, Kato. They don’t own you. You are not a slave and neither am I.”
Kato blinked and then he looked deep into her eyes. “And what would you do if you got out of here, Aya?”
“I would go home to Norway,” she said in a soft dreamy voice. “What would you do?”
He took his time before he spoke. “I would go back to England. Officially I’m not here. I traveled across Hunish and crossed the border to Spirima undetected by car.” Kato looked grave. “Jonul failed to do the same and he was denied entry when he tried to return home three years ago. They even took away his citizenship because they had evidence of his being a Masi fighter.”
“Jonul was from England too?” Aya was surprised.
“But he always spoke Spiri, even to you.”
“He had been here for five years and he avoided anything that reminded him of England. I think he was devastated when he lost his citizenship.
“Can they do that?”
“Yes, when you join a terror organization like the Masi fighters, they can.”
“But I thought you said it’s impossible to leave for a Masi warrior; why would they let Jonul go three years ago?”
“I’m not sure… I wasn’t here back then, but he was very close to the general, so maybe he convinced him.”
”And you, Kato, if you aren’t here officially, then where are you?”
“In Hunish, working with computers and getting over the loss of my fiancée. But if I ever get out of this place, I’ll have to be careful and re-enter the same way I left.”
“Not if, Kato. It’s when you get out! We need to go back!” Her voice was full of hope and pleading.
Kato’s eyes gave him away; he was homesick too but still uncomfortable discussing escape.
Aya didn’t want to let it go. “I could show you Norway… it’s so lush and beautiful… Do you ski?”
Kato broke out in a chuckle. “Do I ski – what kind of question is that?”
“I could teach you,” Aya tempted with a smile.
Kato shook his head, grinning. “Nice try, Aya, but we both know that you just want to get me onto the highest mountain to push me over the highest cliff.”
Aya’s raised her brows and pretended to be offended. “I thought you said you saw goodness in my eyes, and now you are accusing me of contemplating your murder?” She felt a bit of sunshine in her heart from this light and playful interaction. It gave her hope that they could bring back the connection between them.
“Are you a good teacher?” Kato asked with a sly smile.
“The best… you’ll be in safe and competent hands. I’m a certified instructor, you know!” Aya felt energized talking about a happy future. It gave her a needed break from her reality.
“I’m not sure I can afford that level of competence, sounds expensive,” Kato jested.
Aya moved closer again and bored deep into his eyes with such intensity that they widened. “I’ll make you a deal, Kato. If you can get me home then you can have as many ski lessons as you want.”
Kato pulled back and narrowed his eyes. “Tempting, but in your current situation I think you would promise me anything to get what you want.”
Aya’s heart was pounding. The conversation had shifted and she sensed this was now a real negotiation – one she couldn’t afford to lose. She needed him to say yes. “You are right. So tell me, Kato, what is your price?”
Kato frowned and shook his head.
“What do you want, Kato… money?”
He snorted, offended. “No, I don’t want money, it was never about money.”
“Then what can I give you to make you help me escape?”
There was pain written in his eyes and she saw sweat on his forehead when he turned away from her with a hiss. “Stop messing with my mind, Aya… I have to go to work.”
Aya fell back in the bed when she heard the front door slam.
“So close and so far away,” she murmured and then an inner voice encouraged her. Don’t give up, keep planting seeds and push him. Kato wants it too; you just have to be patient.
She sighed and thought about what he had said. We both know that you just want to get me onto the highest mountain to push me over the highest cliff. Aya closed her eyes and took a long breath. It wasn’t true! Aya felt connected to Kato and grateful that he had saved her from Jonul. She didn’t want to hurt him, and if she could she would make him go back to England and give up being a Masi warrior. It wasn’t his fight to begin with.
The scar on her shoulder was starting to itch and she pinched her arm to distract herself from the need to scratch with her fingers. She hated that she had been branded.
And then she remembered the letters. It made her jump up and go to Kato’s closet, where she was surprised to find not five letters but six. One had been added since yesterday.
This is wrong, Aya, her inner voice warned her, but she was determined to learn everything she could about Kato and opened the fourth letter.
We never said goodbye.
Maybe you worry about me. I don’t know.
But if I die here and you get this letter then I want you to know these facts about me.
I never lied to you.
I never cheated on you.
I worked hard because I wanted to give you everything.
You were my first love and I thought we were happy.
Your betrayal tore me apart and left me doubting not only you, but myself as well.
I suppose you already know these things but now you have them in writing.
If you find love again, I hope you will treat it with the respect it deserves.
Aya read it twice and noticed that Kato didn’t address Diana as dear and didn’t sign with love like he had in his other letters; he didn’t even wish her all the best. This was a letter from a bitter person and she wondered when he had written it. When he first arrived or recently?
Aya opened the other letter and started reading.
I was very angry with you. Now less so.
To be angry at you, you would have to matter to me.
Friendship is a peculiar thing and trust is fragile.
I know that now.
I wish I could tell you I forgive you for sleeping with my fiancée, but I don’t.
These are my final words to you, my childhood friend. And yet I find I have none.
No wishes for your future.
No sweet memories to share.
It’s all gone… and so am I.
Wow. Just wow, Aya thought and turned the letter over. Not that Oliver and Diana deserved any better, but the level of resentment in these letters were dramatic. Aya was happy Kato had explained what happened with Diana. If she had read the letters without knowing who Diana and Oliver were, she would have probably thought of Kato as cold and unkind. Now at least she knew why.
The letters had given her an insight into his mind. A hardworking, loving guy who had been brutally stripped of all trust in love and had made some poor choices that he was now paying a high price for.
Aya put the two letters down on the bed and turned her attention to the last letter, which hadn’t been there yesterday. The envelope had a darker color and on the envelope it said To Kato.
Aya opened it.
I was never good at writing letters and this one in particular is difficult to write. I pray you will never get to read it because if you do, it means I’m dead.
Even though I’m twelve years older than you, you seem superior to me in many ways. I’ll never admit it to your face, I wouldn’t want you getting cocky or anything, but the way you so effortlessly simplify the most complicated things around you is unique.
I used to tease you about being a nerd, you know, with your passion for computers and all, but you are no nerd, just a smart guy. I envy you for having something you get so excited about and enjoy so much. You even made your hobby your job. I wish that was me, but I never found my “gift,” if I even have one.
Did you know I tried to hook up with Diana before you knew her? She wouldn’t even look my way, of course – maybe I was too old for her or maybe she was already in love with you like all other beautiful girls seem to be. I don’t know how you do it, but you are everything I wish I could be. Kind and clever, successful and handsome.
There was a PS that seemed to be written at a different time with a different pen.
PS: I think I found my gift, Kato. It’s not one I would have chosen myself, but I’m really good at being a warrior. I’m fierce and dangerous and capable of inflicting great pain on others without letting it affect me. Many of the other recruits are too weak – yesterday my partner vomited when we had to cut off a few fingers of a hostage. I seem to have the stomach for it though. Not quite as glamorous as working with computers perhaps, but being good at something makes me feel significant and special. In fact this might be the one thing you can’t do better than me.
Aya read the letter again and again. If Jonul had written it five years ago then Kato would have been only twenty-one at the time.
So Jonul knew Diana. Aya tried to remember what Kato had told her about their relationship. Hadn’t he said that Jonul was a friend of his family and that he had known him since he was a child? Yeah, something like that, but the level of respect and almost adoration in this letter indicated they had been really good friends.
She found it very disturbing how Jonul had taken pride in inflicting pain on others, and looked at his description of how it made him feel significant and special. Together with the first part of his letter it reminded her of basic psychology at nursing school. If you can’t get your needs met through positive behavior you will go for the negative. It’s simple human nature. Apparently Jonul hadn’t always been a monster, just someone feeling insignificant and unimportant. He had believed causing pain in others didn’t affect him, but how could it not? Did he even stop to notice how callous he had become, or had his need for significance spiraled out of control to make him a sadist that took pleasure in others’ pain? Chills ran down her spine as she remembered his horny prickling eyes feeding on her fear when he tried to rape her. No, there was no excuse for his behavior, and the world was a better place without him.
Aya put back the letters where she’d found them.
The day felt endless and gave her too much time to think and worry, and when Kato finally returned she had come up with a new plan.
“Kato, do you remember when you asked me to choose between you and Jonul?” she asked before he even got his shoes off.
Kato wrinkled his brows. “Yeah.”
“Well, you also said that if there was a third option of getting me home safely then you would pick that one, right?”
Kato entered the living room, where Aya sat on a chair facing him. He sat down on the chair next to her. “Right.”
“So I was thinking. Couldn’t you contact my family and ask for a ransom? If you don’t care about money then you could accept a small fee and drop me off at the refugee camp, or just the marketplace. That way it wouldn’t look suspicious to the other warriors. More like you got tired of me or something.”
Kato clenched his jaw. “It wouldn’t work.”
He sighed. “Because there’s a special team that takes care of negotiations and I would never let you into their hands.”
“Ohh.” Aya thought of Jonul’s letter and suspected that torture was used to pressure the families. She wasn’t interested in losing body parts.
“I want to keep you safe, not put you in danger, Kato growl in frustration. “Why can’t you see that?”
Aya’s eyes grew cold and her voice malicious. “So you would rather let me sink into a deep depression in this horrible place than risk getting me home. For what? So you can have sex with me in the evening to distract you from the boredom and loneliness you feel?”
Kato looked hurt. “Screw you, Aya,” he hissed and stood up.
“Alright then.” Aya got up too and without hesitation she took off the dress he had lent her. He stared with his mouth open as she continued to impassively pull down her underwear so that she was completely naked. Her eyes were frosty and full of anger.
“Screw me, Kato… I dare you.”
Kato took a step back. “Aya, don’t.”
She arched a brow. “What, Kato? Am I not beautiful enough for you anymore? Do you need a new slave to satisfy you now that you had me… what, Kato?”
He swallowed hard. “I don’t want you like this.”
“Like what? I’m offering myself to you… isn’t that why you keep me here, to satisfy you sexually? Isn’t that what sex slaves do?”
“Don’t call yourself that,” he said, disgusted
Aya’s tough façade cracked and she started crying. “Fuck you, Kato. You are such a hypocrite. What do you think we are doing here? Playing house? Pretending to be a normal loving couple? You kidnapped me and you are keeping me hostage. I’ve spent four nights in your bed and for every day you keep me here you are crossing the line closer to becoming like Jonul.” She sank to the floor and sat naked and vulnerable, crying with her long hair covering her face and her arms hugging herself.
“I’m nothing like Jonul,” Kato exclaimed, shocked.
“You are keeping me here as your slave, Kato. You bought me from that psychopath and you keep me as your prisoner.”
“But…” Kato took a step towards her.
Aya was still crying and hiding her face in her hands. “I haven’t felt fresh air or seen the sky for five days, Kato. I’m scared and so are my parents and friends.”
Kato stood for a second and then he sank down beside her and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Aya,” he called softly, willing her to look at him. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
With teary, pleading eyes she begged him, “I need you to be my hero, Kato.”
He swallowed hard and blinked. She could tell she had hit a nerve.
“I want nothing more than to be your hero,” he whispered.
Aya reached out for him and he scooped her into his lap, holding her protectively in his arms. She leaned her forehead against his and with tears still streaming down her face she whispered, “Then take me home, Kato, please.”
Kato heart sunk into his chest. He couldn’t say no, but he was certain that escape would get them both killed. Maybe it’s better dying as her hero than living as her prison guard, he thought and kissed Aya’s forehead. He hated seeing her so broken and vulnerable. “We’ll figure something out,” he whispered and carried her to his bed. Aya sniffled against his neck and her nakedness and softness made every cell in his body long for her. He lowered her to the bed and covered her with his own body. If she refused him now he would go crazy. He needed her so much; he kissed her softly and dried away her tears. Aya didn’t speak or react except to look at him with her gorgeous blue eyes. There was no anger in them anymore and he kissed her again. Aya kissed him back.
“I want to be your hero, Aya,” he whispered and she nodded seriously. His hands were needy and pulling her close to him like he never wanted to let her go. She swung her legs around his waist and clung to him too, and for a moment they just held each other tight.
Slowly Kato pulled back and looked at Aya. He was searching for permission, looking for desire in her eyes. She answered him by starting to remove his clothes, and with eager hands he helped her, feeling the strong sexual energy between them building explosively.
Once again, the deep looks and panting sounds between them when he entered her and started moving created an alternate universe where none of their other problems existed. “I don’t want to let you go, Aya,” Kato moaned and she responded by placing her hands on the small of his back and pulling him further into her.
“Then come with me.”
He bit her lower lip, softly swiveling his hips to fill her completely. “Are you serious?”
Her eyes were shining. “Yes, Kato. Let’s run away together.”
The sex was a powerful outlet of suppressed emotions between them. Kato closed his eyes. Breathing in her feminine scent, he thought about changing position but he needed her closeness, and never had missionary style felt as healing as now. In that moment he had no fear of rejection and no doubt that Aya wanted him. He opened his eyes to take in the wonder of her: looking so beautiful with her head leaning back and her eyes half closed, and begging him for more. She lifted her hands and made fists of them in his hair, pulling and tugging him closer into a deep kiss, and then she moaned into his mouth. “Yes, Kato, take me.” It almost made him come but he wanted to wait for her and enjoy her longer.
“Aya, please tell me I’ll see you again if we make it home.”
She smiled at him and reached up to cover his mouth. “Let’s focus on the now. I want you right now. Show me that you want me too?”
Kato pushed harder into her and picked up his pace while moving his skilled fingers in circles to pleasure her. It didn’t take long before he felt her whole body stiffen, and her ragged breathing told him it was time to release and come with her. “Yes, Kato, yes,” she cried out, and he couldn’t hold back anymore and pulled out to ejaculate on her stomach.
For a long time they lay wrapped up in each other’s arms and then Kato spoke.
“If we are going to do this – escape, I mean – then I’ll need to prepare a few things. I can make us false ID papers at the headquarters – I’ll use the picture from your passport,” he thought out loud.
“Why not just use my passport – why bother making a false one?” Aya asked with a heart doing somersaults just hearing Kato plan their escape.
“Because the minute you cross the border with your passport, there is a chance the police will recognize your name and take you aside to question you… honestly I don’t want them asking questions about me as I’ll be traveling on a false ID.”
“We’ll need money too. I know Jonul hid a big stack but I don’t know where.”
“I can search for the money while you get the things from the headquarters,” she offered.
“Alright, but it’ll have to wait until tomorrow; it will be less suspicious for me to snoop around my uncle’s office then.”
Aya squeezed him as a signal of her joy. “Thank you, Kato,” she whispered.
“Don’t thank me yet,” he murmured. “There’s a lot of danger ahead of us and it’s doubtful that we’ll make it out alive. If my uncle suspects anything he won’t hesitate to shoot me and sell you to a brothel, and he’ll probably rape you before he does.”
The next day Aya searched for Jonul’s money. The 10,000 Kato had paid him was easy to find, as it was back in Kato’s room. But according to Kato Jonul had had more, and Aya looked through every book, searched in every corner, high and low. She even cut up the upholstery of the wooden chairs in the living room but there was nothing hidden there. Her eyes kept wandering to Jonul’s bedroom door; she was certain the money had to be in there. It’s just a room, get in there, find the money, and get out. You can do that, her inner voice tried to persuade her. She wanted to just get past her fear of the room, but as soon as she put her hand on the handle, mental images of Jonul smacking her and touching her came flooding back and she could hear his hoarse voice commanding her to call him Master. She couldn’t enter.
When Kato came back he found her on the floor in the living room. She was happy he was back sooner than she’d expected.
“Did you get what you needed?”
“Yes, when we leave this place we’ll be Mr. and Mrs. Oppulas,” he informed her.
“And what’s our story?”
Kato looked despondent. “Our story?”
“Yes, why are we traveling? How long have we been married?” Aya clarified.
Kato shook his head. “I don’t know… can’t we just be traveling?”
Her eyes told him that was too thin.
“Okay.” Kato thought for a second. “How about seven years then?”
Aya raised her eyebrows. “I’m twenty-three Kato, then I would have married you when I was sixteen; that’s not likely.” The thirteen-year-old pregnant girl from the refugee camp entered her mind but she pushed the thought away. They would be traveling out of the country, and outside Spirima people didn’t marry as teenagers.
“Then three years,” he suggested.
“Alright, and why are we traveling?”
Kato frowned. “I don’t know, Aya, why don’t you come up with something?”
“Okay, why not say that we are on our honeymoon? That would make an excuse for us traveling.”
Kato looked skeptical. “Honeymoon in a war zone?”
Aya placed her hands on her hips. “Outside this Masi ghost town people actually continue their life. I know the war is all around you, but believe it or not there are parts of Spirima where people still live close to ordinary lives and marry and have babies. Even in the refugee camp I saw people marry.”
Kato shook his head in disbelief. “Alright, if you say so!”
Aya nodded, content. “Okay, honeymoon it is, but how come they let you off the hook so early today?” she asked.
“Because I told my uncle I had trouble getting you to behave, and he gave me a few tricks and sent me home to rein you in.” Kato said it in a matter-of-fact way. His eyes were dark but the sadness she often saw in them was less apparent now. Now she saw hope and determination mixed with fear and even doubt.
“What tricks?” she asked but Kato shook his head.
“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
She nodded and felt grateful that Kato was different from his uncle and friend Jonul.
“Did you find any money?” he asked and looked around at the trashed place with the chairs cut up and the books in piles.
“No, just the money you paid him. I’m thinking the rest must be in his room,” Aya answered quietly.
Kato followed her eyes to Jonul’s bedroom door and frowned. “Then why didn’t you search his room?”
“Because the room terrifies me,” she said honestly.
“Don’t worry, I can do it myself,” Kato assured her.
Aya got up. “No, we’ll do it together.” For the last few hours she had thought about it. She wanted to confront her fears. She needed to, if she was ever going to heal completely. It was like that doctor from the camp had said. Freedom is a state of mind. And that room still had part of her imprisoned with memories of what took place on her first day here. She needed to go back and claim her freedom.
Kato nodded and entered first. She followed him slowly. He went for the closet and started going through Jonul’s clothes.
Aya stood stiff as a board and looked around the room. The bed was gone. All there was left was the closet and the nightstand. The walls had been washed – she could see the marks – but the floor was left with the large stain where the former slave had bled to death and the ropes Jonul had used to tie Aya with. The smell in the room was disgusting. It reeked of Jonul and his acidic sweat and urine… Aya felt nauseated but tried to focus on her breathing and calm herself down. It’s just a room. It has no power over me… Jonul has no power over me.
”Are you okay?” Kato put his hand on her shoulder. She nodded, but she could see that she didn’t fool him. “Let’s get this over with quickly,” he said and in a swift movement he lifted the night table to look underneath. There was no money hidden there either, and Kato made a frustrated sigh.
“How about up there?” Aya pointed to the top of the closet. Her mind had finally got past her fear and she could breathe normally again. Kato’s presence was soothing because clearly nothing scared him in here. When they first walked into the room the images of Jonul had come back but with Kato in front of her, Aya’s mind had skipped to the part where Kato freed her and respectfully turned his back to her, offering her privacy. That was the only mental image she wanted to take with her from this room.
Kato nodded. “Let’s check.” The closet was too high for either of them to be able to see the top. “Do you want to climb on my shoulders or should I just lift you up?” Kato asked.
“Whatever works for you… let’s just find the money and get out of this place,” she said determinedly.
Kato pulled her close and turned her around so she was facing the closet. She could feel his body brush against hers, and then he squatted down and lifted her onto his right shoulder. With her new height she quickly spotted a box on top of the closet. Aya picked up the box and handed it down to him. Kato grabbed it and let it fall to the floor so he could focus on helping her down. She steadied herself with a hand on his other shoulder, and instead of squatting down, Kato reached up his arms and with a firm grip on her hips he guided her around so she slowly slid down the length of his body, facing him. It was an intense feeling of closeness that gave her a rush of butterflies bashing their wings and creating a whirlwind in her belly. She closed her arms around Kato’s neck and hugged him tight. “I’ve got you,” he whispered and kissed her nose as he sat her gently on the floor.
In a swift movement Kato picked up the box and lead Aya back into the living room where he opened the box and pulled out four stacks of banknotes.
Aya moved nervously. “Is it enough?”
He counted and shook his head. “I’m not sure, but it will have to do.”
“When are we leaving?” Aya asked impatiently.
Kato looked up at her with fire burning in his beautiful amber eyes.
”We leave now!”
To be continued in the Accidental Slave – Part 2
Thank you for reading the first part of Aya’s story.
You can download part 2 on Amazon or get it for FREE by visiting
If you like the story please, please, please leave a review on Amazon.
Want to connect? Great, just go to: elinpeer.com
Elin has traveled the world and lived in different countries. She has studied psychology and worked in both the private sector and as a successful entrepreneur.
When Elin was a little girl she lived in Scandinavia and was trained to be a certified troll hunter by her granddad, who told her it was a family tradition and that he himself had been trained by his grandmother. As an adult he could no longer see the trolls, (as you might know, only children can do that), but he was still sharp on pointing out their tracks, and for Elin the adventures they went on together every summer became treasured memories from a childhood full of fairies, trolls, and goblins.
With a vivid imagination and a thirst for great stories, she emptied the library as a child and continues to be a voracious reader still. Now she is providing fellow readers with great stories that will entertain, shock, and excite you.
Today Elin lives in the United States, and troll hunting has been exchanged for the study of people as inspiration for her books… if you find a blond lady watching you closely from a distance… that might be her; trying to decide if you are a hero or a villain.
What would you do if you had your morals tested, your values violated, and your boundaries broken? How many of your own rules would you break to survive in a world beyond your worst nightmare? Who would you become then? Young nurse, Aya Johansen, is working with refugees in a war zone when she is captured by fanatic religious warriors, fighting for their right to keep slaves and perform human sacrifices. Their violence and brutality shocks her and her panic rises when she discovers the most terrifying man she's ever met has bought her as his personal slave. Aya is determined to break free - or die trying! She quickly realizes that her only chance of escape is to navigate a forbidden attraction to a man fighting on the wrong side of the war. Is he only out for himself, or can she trust him? This is the second part in Aya's story. Aya's story is broken into 3 parts of around 40,000 words each. The Slave series consists of separate, but intertwined, stories. For the best reading experience, this is the recommended order to read them in. The Accidental Slave (Aya’s story) The Healing Slave (Sybina’s story) Never a Slave (Sofia’s story) The Feisty Slave (Uma’s story) This series is intended for mature readers only as it contains graphical language and sexual scenes of violent nature. All characters are fictional and any likeness to a living person or organization is coincidental.