Jason watches as the potter shapes the clay with care, slapping the ball down on the wheel, then setting it spinning with his foot as he carefully coaxes a vessel out of the earth, bringing it tall and wide, with graceful curves and solid sides. Unlike many of his fellows, this potter is skilled enough to create nearly the whole vessel on the wheel from start to finish, only having to add handles after the fact to those that need it.
Watching those talented hands mold and shape the clay always sends a shiver down Jason's spine as his thoughts inevitably stray to how it would feel to have those same hands on him, pushing, pulling, kneading him to heights he's never dreamed of.
He squeezes his eyes shut and shoves the thought away. The daydream is a futile one, since their peoples are so different that the most he can ever hope to enjoy with this talented young man is the simple business arrangement they already have. Timόtheos finds and prepares the clay, using his earth sense to shape it into beautiful forms, while Jason takes the finished pieces and paints them, inscribing myths and legends, hopes and dreams. The stories of people both near and far, so all may have a little bit of wonder in their lives.
Tim glances up from the krater on his wheel and smiles at him, blue eyes twinkling. "You watch me so closely, it makes me feel like I'm in the wrestling yard instead of simply sitting at my wheel."
"There is nothing simple about the magic you work on that wheel," Jason assures him before he can think better of his words. A flush creeps across his face from the edges of his scales and he glances away, rubbing a hand through the black ruff on his head that many humans mistake for hair. "I mean—your earth sense is so strong and you wield it with such delicacy! There are many who could not do the same, and even among potters your work is respected far and wide. I am honored that you allow me to set my brush to it."
Now it is Tim's turn to have his cheeks turn pink, though the color is surely more striking against his golden brown skin than it is beside the red scales that litter most of Jason's skin in this form. "It is kind of you to say so, when you are certainly the most skilled of painters among both our peoples. Perhaps you could sing your praises where my father might hear them next time? It may do much to convince him that the work I do with clay is just as invaluable as the walls he would have me use my power to raise."
Jason's heartbeats quicken in his chest. "Is he still speaking of war between our peoples? What reason would there be for such a venture, when the dragons keep to the mountains and the humans to the coasts, only ever meeting in the middle? We are both few enough in number that there is no need to encroach on one another's territory." A war would mean an end to this partnership, and with that he would lose any excuse he might have to stay in the presence of this wickedly clever man.
"And yet the dragons range ever further down the mountains each year and more and more livestock go missing from the grazing lands, while my people multiply in number and outgrow our sea-side towns," Tim gently reminds him. "I too wish our peoples could live in harmony all our days, but war will continue to loom on the horizon as long as humans and dragons covet one another's lands, and my father will see my earth talents better suited for battle than beauty."
Reaching out, Jason takes his friend's clay-slick hands in his, squeezing and trying to offer some form of reassurance. "I wish it was not so. In the past, there were other forces that could keep us all in check. Now, even a friendship such as ours is looked at in askance, and we must conjure excuses just to spend time with one another." And even then, he dare not give voice to the feelings that grow inside, threatening to overwhelm him and spill out at any moment.
"I know, you have told me many times," Tim says softly, raising their joined hands to his mouth so he might brush his lips over Jason's knuckles, sending the dragon's hearts racing once more. "But the balancing power of the Amazons has been withdrawn from our world, and we are left with man against dragon, with no hope of a middle ground to be found in between."
Jason's hearts pulse in his chest and his voice sounds raw and ragged to his ears when he at last finds words to speak. "I would search out that middle ground for you, if such a place truly existed. A land where a friendship such as ours might grow and flourish rather than stay bound as it is now."
"A friendship only?" Tim asks, and he tugs harder at Jason's hand, pressing his lips to the back of it in what is unmistakably a kiss—and not the chaste, pure kind shared between brothers or close friends. "I fear if that is all you would seek, you would leave me gravely disappointed."
"Surely, 'twixt a dragon and a human—even in the best of times, such a liaison would never be condoned by either of our peoples," Jason croaks, his eyes riveted on where Tim's mouth remains against his skin.
"How fortunate it is that only the opinion of one person aside myself matters to me in this, then." Tim lowers their hands and, inexplicably, bites his lip as if unsure. "Unless I have misunderstood your intentions all this time, and friendship is your only aim between us?"
"No, truly you are not mistaken!" Jason assures him, overwhelmed at this unexpected gift that has been offered to him against all odds and expectations. "I never dared dream—I mean. I know that such flirtations between grown men are not always the most welcome among your people, so I didn't think you might…"
Tim laughs, pushing away from his wheel to lean against Jason's chest, his hands dirtying the dragon's tunic, though he hardly finds it in himself to care. "I am young enough and considered pretty enough among my fellows that such a dalliance would not be looked down on for many years to come, particularly with one who is akin to a shield-brother, we work so closely together."
"And if I told you I wished to seek something that was more than a brief and passing sharing of passions?" Jason asks against his better judgement. Considering all the obstacles they face between their different races and their shared sex—he should know better than to hope for more. And yet—with Tim against him like this, clinging to his chest like he might protect the seemingly frail human from the word—he feels stronger than the largest and most powerful of his kind, able to withstand even the mightiest of blows.
"Then I would say that our desires are in agreement, for surely there is nothing brief nor passing about the affection I hold for you," Tim whispers. "That you must leave at the end of each day to return to your rocky peak fills me with such despair that my heart aches, and I must admit I live in fear of the day you do not return to me. For if war does indeed break out, my father will have me see my duty to my people, and there will be no amphorae for you to paint, nor any reason for a lowly potter-turned-builder to sit beside the enemy's greatest magician-general."
A dreadful cold shoots through Jason's gut, and he unconsciously clutches the other man closer. "I would not call myself the greatest," he says, trying to deflect and deny his own duties he has ignored for too long, so taken he has been with the flourishing of the arts.
"Do you think we of the shores do not know of the reputation held by the ebon-and-scarlet serpent among the peaks? There are still tales told among the sailors of how your magicks helped to turn the last great wave of invaders from the east, lo those many years ago," Tim says, his fingers pressing against Jason's tunic, apparently unconsciously tracing the muscles there.
"Does that excite you?" Jason asks, hearts in his throat. "That a human might gain some measure of mastery over a magician of such magnitude? You are not the only one educated in tales of the past, and I am well-acquainted with the stories of how weak humans have used their sex to manipulate one more powerful than them into behaving dishonorably against those they would otherwise protect."
Tim jerks back, a horrible, wounded look on his face. "I would never! I loved you before I ever realized your identity, back when I thought you nothing more than a skilled painter, compassionate and caring, with hearts large enough you would protect the whole world and everyone in it from pain and hardship, were you only able. I love you for you, Jason, not your power or your nature, but for the way you turn my pots from simple vessels into true works of art, for the way you always have a smile for the children in the streets, a treat for the birds in the fields. I love you so much my own heart aches at times, it comes so close to bursting—and if anything, I hate that you were forced to go into battle in the past, when surely it must have pierced your very soul to hurt others even as you were so desperate to protect those you care about."
Jason stares wide-eyed at this amazing, impossible human. Never before has he heard anyone, man or dragon, successfully put into words how he feels about his military past. The past he has tried so hard to forget, but his own people will inevitably try to drag up—more and more these days, as the humans range ever further inland, closer to the hills and the peaks that have long been the domain of dragons.
"If war comes between our peoples, mine look to me to help lead them once more," he admits. "But I fear I shan't be able to bear it a second time, certainly not for so silly a thing as squabbling over lands that rightly belong to neither and can easily be shared between us both, could we but agree to live and coexist in harmony instead of viewing each as fundamentally separate and unique."
"Neither of us wish to have our magicks pressed into the service of war," Tim observes. "Could we not simply find such a land as that which you spoke of, one where you and I might live in harmony, away from the squabbles of our peoples?"
"You would abandon your father and your family, foreswear your duties for such a thing? Surely, if you did so, I doubt they would ever take you back, should you grow weary of such a lonely existence with time," Jason warns him, even as his mind races and he struggles to think of all the lands he has had the pleasure to visit in his not inconsiderable lifetime, trying to recall which might best suit their purposes.
"How could I ever be lonely, with you by my side?" Tim turns and stretches up on his tiptoes, pressing the sweetest and gentlest of of kisses to his mouth.
"It will not be the same as living among humans," Jason warns. "And I will not always take this form, as it is hardly my natural one." Not even for all the love in the world will he change his fundamental being, not permanently.
"Nor would I wish you to," Tim reassures him. "Did you not hear me when I told you I loved first your compassion and kindness? As pleasant as I find you like this," and he pauses, stroking a hand down Jason's chest, a smile playing across his lips that will surely be the death of Jason one of these days, "it was your mind and your hearts that I first fell in love with, not the form they come in."
"Oh. That is. That is quite reassuring to know," Jason manages, distracted once more by those far too clever hands.
"Truly, were it in my power, I would take the form of a dragon to put you more at ease regarding my affections."
"Then I am glad your talents remain firmly rooted in the earth and not any of the more illusive elements, for I also love you as you are—a cunning and cleverly talented human, more able to see me than all of my peers."
Tim laughs and slings his arms around Jason's neck, drawing him down into a kiss that shares nothing with the previous one, save the mouths and lips involved. "My heart sings to know my affections are returned so completely. Will you steal away with me, then, my love? To a place where this threat of war cannot reach us anymore than the disapproving looks of our peoples?"
"Yes, of course," he answers immediately. "Though I suspect it will not be as easy as you make it out to be, not when both of us possess talents much desired by our respective sides in the coming conflict, and duties that we are honorbound to perform."
"Would that we had some way to overturn such duty, a means by which to make them all understand that love and unity will always stand stronger and more solidly than the unsteady ground of conflict and strife," Tim laments.
Wrapping his arms around his wonderful, impossible human, Jason's eyes land on the krater that stands forgotten on the wheel. The shape is not quite what it should be—it requires a longer stem, a wider mouth—but theirs is not the most traditional of pairings in any sense, and perhaps that makes it all the better. "There may be a way to guarantee that they can never force us to act against one another. A means by which to forge a duty between us that precedes any we might have to our peoples."
"Truly? Do you such a thing might be possible?"
"Aye, my hearts' own. It is a bit of draconic magic, so old none can rightly say its origin, and powerful enough not even the greatest mages in all the land will be able to break it." He hesitates, gently stroking Tim's golden cheek, wondering not for the first time at how smooth it is despite its lack of scales. "It is a truly awesome spell, and not one that has ever been done between any who are not dragons before. If you do this, you must be fully committed, for there will be no turning back, after. You and I shall be totally and completely bound to one another, body and soul, always."
"Bound to you always?" Tim laughs, catching the hand on his cheek and turning to gently kiss the palm of it. "Of course I agree to such a thing, my love. Spellbound or not, I am already yours. Always and forever."
Between their combined talents, they are able to finish the krater in less than a week, with Tim throwing a new vessel to Jason's specifications and Jason inscribing the spell, its wording carefully modified to allow for non-draconic participants. After, he uses his weak water sense to draw the last of the moisture from the clay, bades Tim to move off a ways, then fires the krater right there in the potter's courtyard, using the enchanted flame so many of his kind produce to make a vessel far sturdier than any human lacking fire sense can ever hope to create.
"The kiln would have sufficed, mine own," Tim tells him when he finishes. Despite his words, there is a light in the human's eyes, a spark of excitement lit perhaps by the sight of Jason so deftly commanding such a strong and dangerous elemental force, and the dragon must fight down his natural inclination to preen.
"And taken a month or more to do it, between curing and wood-chopping and firing," he argues. "Come, we have not a second to spare—it is as I said, and someone is sure to have noticed the use of dragon fire at this one small homestead and come to investigate." He unfastens the blade that hangs at his waist and hands it over before removing his tunic entirely. "For this I must be as my true self—"
"Yes, yes. I am well aware of the trappings of blood oaths, just as I am aware you are something far more awesome than what you normally allow me to see. Do not fret, my love, I will not run screaming from your form."
Such reassurances are all well and good, but still Jason takes several steps even further away, to be certain that no harm will come to this all-to-delicate man.
The change is an easy and natural one, an unleashing of the huge being held in check by the smaller, weaker form he favors in Tim's company. His body multiples in size, his scales flow, and his ruff grows downwards, following a spine that becomes longer until his tail is realized once more, lashing excitedly at its renewed freedom.
"Oh!" Tim exclaims, his head tilting back and his eyes wide—with fear or wonder, Jason cannot rightly say.
"Do not be afraid," he begins to caution, then stops when Tim laughs and throws his arms around his giant neck.
"Afraid? But you are absolutely magnificent! Far more beautiful than anything my feeble imagination could have ever hoped to conjure." He leans his head against Jason, stroking the sensitive skin along his jaw with those slender fingers that never fail to distract him. "Were but I a magician and capable of great feats of magic, that I might take on draconic form and have you thus without fear for my well-being."
The thought of what Tim might look as one of his kind—lithe and perfect, with luminous blue eyes and glorious scales, perhaps a beautiful shining gold just like his skin—is so distracting that it takes Jason several moments to recall himself when Tim releases him and steps back to offer him his sword. "Ah, no, my love. That is for you, for only a blade forged in dragonfire has any hope of piercing my hide." With the utmost delicacy, he takes Tim's small hand in his large one and unsheathes a claw. "You are certain? There will be no going back, once the ritual has begun."
"A thousand times over a thousand lifetimes you may ask me that question, and my answer will be the same every time—yes, my heart. I am certain this what I will always want."
"It will come to that and more," Jason warns. "This is a binding that will never be broken."
"As long as your heart is pure and your intentions true, I shall tell you yes, no matter what face I wear or tongue I speak."
"Oh, so now there are stipulations—"
"You know what I mean, you ass," Tim snaps, kicking him in one great shin. "My answer shall always be yes."
"Forever," Tim affirms.
He does not even flinch when the huge black claw slices open his palm.
The dragons from the peaks and the men from the city arrive at almost exactly the same time, as Tim is settling himself on Jason's back, his small satchel fastened across his back and the krater inscribed with their wedding vows clutched to his chest.
"What is the meaning of this, that a lowly human thinks to sit astride his better?" demands the dragons' leader.
"Neither he nor I am anyone's better, for we are equals in all sense of the word," Tim replies, though Jason can hear the pounding of his heart at being confronted with so many.
"What are you doing, my son?" cries the ruler of the humans. "I have indulged your fascination with the dragon for far too long if you think nothing of consorting with one in such a manner."
"You have indulged nothing," Jason snaps. "For Timόtheos is a grown man and has long been plenty capable of making his own decisions and knowing his own heart. Now he is mine and I am his, and we shall never be separated, no matter how much all of you shout and flail."
"Jason—don't tell me—" The dragon leader surges forward, though they are brought short by a growl from Tim and a snap of Jason's jaws. Still, the leader's attention is clearly focused on Jason's back and, he doesn't doubt, the krater clutched in his beloved's arms. "Tell me you haven't bound yourself to this human!"
"And what if I have? He knows me better than any of you have ever tried to do, knows both my mind and my hearts, and he has never betrayed me or sought to trick me into some loathsome task he knows runs counter to my nature."
"'Bound'?! Timόtheos, what is the meaning of this?" the human ruler asks, though he makes no attempt to move closer, showing better judgement than his counterpart—or perhaps, greater fear.
"I am married, my father, both body and soul. My duty is no longer to you or your people, but to myself and my spouse. As such, I will not remain here any longer to see long-time allies bicker and squabble like children over sweetcakes simply because your hearts and minds have been clouded beyond reason by avarice."
"Married? To a dragon?"
The man sounds so utterly confused and appalled by the idea that Jason can't help but laugh in his face. "Aye, we are wed, and in the manner of my people, so that we may never be parted or thrown asunder—not with magic or malice or any other means."
"We'll see about that," Tim's father snaps, gesturing a hand and causing one of his crowd to step forward, a woman who radiates power enough that Jason does not doubt her to be a formidable foe for most.
Among the dragons there is murmuring and a quick shuffling back and away, prompting a pleased smile from the king.
"Do you think the dragons fear your magician?" Tim asks from his perch. "I tell you now that it is not so. Rather, they fear lingering too close to two angered mage-magicians and being caught by fire gone astray."
"You are a mere warlock, my son," scoffs the king, "and the dragon a magician. Powerful, to be sure, but neither of you commands mage abilities as well."
"Perhaps we did not when you saw us last, little king," Jason rumbles, "but now our talents are joined and shared, both in type and power. We will not be torn apart, nor will we be forced to fight your pointless war." He lifts his head and sweeps it from one side to the other, taking in the crowd before raising his voice to address them. "We are leaving to seek a life far from this madness, in a place where people have not forgotten that once dragon and man worked talon-in-hand for a better, brighter future. If there are any here who wish to live such a peaceful life, speak now and we will gladly welcome you."
They wait patiently, but all that happens is the magician raises her hands and begins to weave her spell. "That they might show some sense was a lovely hope, but I fear they are too blinded by greed and the need to possess something simply because they can," Tim says, gently stroking Jason's neck. Then his tone turns to steel and grows louder. "You wished for fortresses to wage war from, your majesty. And you, Lord Dragon, wished for great displays of power that would leave your enemies quaking in their boots. Very well, both shall have what they want, in a way." Then he twists his fingers into Jason's ruff, the pre-agreed upon signal between them.
With a bugling cry, Jason takes to the air, wrapping magic through his newly acquired earth sense, a gift from his beloved. He can feel Tim's magic weaving in as well, guiding the earth with his years of long practice, calling out to it and begging it to listen.
When they finish, a new mountain range splits across the peninsula, right through where Tim's small house once stood, leaving dragons on one side, humans on the other. "There!" Tim says with a laugh, shouting to be heard over the wind, "I'd like to see them fight a war over that!"
"I feel sorry for the animals stuck on one side or the other," Jason admits, "though I suppose living in a war-torn land would not have been much better either."
"Nay, it would not. Now, my heart—take us to this middle ground you spoke of, that we may live in peace without a looming threat of war. I believe I promised you a wedding night, and after such a great show of strength and prowess, I am eager to deliver."