It started, as always, with a dream.
“Tell me about the waters of your homeworld, Wanyin.”
It was never voiced as a question, but he always found himself answering it if it was. But the answer was not given by rote nor by protocol. This was an answer as intimate as the body he always felt pressed up against him, skin soft and warm; powerful arms curled around him, cocooning him in a protective embrace. The stray thought of continuing to make love always went unvoiced, but hovered in the air between them, their minds buoyed by the activities that happened before the question was voiced.
“We lived in the palace called Lotus Pier. Lakes as blue as the spice-eyes of the Elders, even lighter ones like the young children who have eaten it their whole lives. The purple skies a glow against the sun as it gave way to the night sky, reflected like twin mirrors. You could see your own face in such clear waters at times, the water so clear that one could drink and not be thirsty anymore. We had green leaves, large as one of the plates off of a sandworm. Those were lotus leaves...with petals and buds pink and white like your tongue and teeth...”
He always nipped at this part, teasingly at the skin before him. Depending on, the dream of the arms around him laughed lightly, shying away, or drew him closer, letting him hear the thump-thump of a warm heartbeat.
Golden-yellow eyes, amber-soft and gentle, would stare at him through the spice-blue that overlaid them. But he always knew even though he had never seen it, that such eyes could be hawk-like at times, like a predator hunting prey. They were the eyes of a desert creature.
He only knew those eyes were golden-yellow because he had seen them so many times in his dreams, had discerned the color variation past the spice-blue that was inevitable among the people who ate too much spice.
Once, the nip was returned, waking him immediately to find a mark on the inner portion of his wrist, like the dream-person had answered back...
There was no nip this time and instead, the arms relaxed a little around him, letting him see the fullness of the chiseled face of perfection in his gaze. A warm hand brushed down his body, traveling lightly over skin to gently hold him, making anticipation tug at his navel. The hand, stroked him twice with languid sensuality that was unlike the passion he knew they shared earlier, but could never remember in the dream. The warm honey-gold eyes stared at him, the curiosity that had sparked something with him to originally pursue the owner on full display.
“What do you see, Muad'dib?”
“You, my love, only you...”
The smile was impish and the head shook. “I know you see more.”
The hand retreated, sympathy now lining the face of his lover.
“I see a great hand, reaching out to the stars, and the people crying.”
He stopped as he knew the words that would come next. But he did not want to say it as it always left a sour taste in his mouth. But this time, the dream persisted and nudged him.
“They cry in awe?”
“They cry in awe until it becomes terror. They cry because they see their destruction for their wicked ways and there is nothing that can stop it. They see the power of the desert and they know they will have to submit or face annihilation.”
This time, the dream relented and he woke up, eyes snapping open at the buzzing of the door to his quarters.
“Come in,” he croaked out as he swallowed, finding his mouth bone dry and swallowed, trying to get some moisture in it. He groaned and rolled to his side, only to realize he was half-hard from the dream again and cursed silently as the doors slid open. He did nothing to hide his shame as the only person that truly understood him bounced in eagerly.
“Jiang Cheng, Jiang Cheng!” The speaker was a few years older than he, but acted childishly at times. But such childishness was forgiven as the man had been his companion and friend for as long as he remembered. The speaker had strong, handsome features that sent many men and women's hearts a flutter. He was not immune to it, having a crush growing up with said man. But he had gotten over it quickly after the one time that he had asked the older man before him to teach him the art of making love and to take his virginity.
His instructor – in more ways than one – had been gentle with him for his first time, but afterwards told him that he already pledged his love to another and would not sleep with him again. The man said it would not stop him from pledging his heart, his loyalty as not only his weapons teacher, but as his future spymaster on the battlefield when he inherited the mantle of his father's Dukedom.
“Can it wait? I have a slight problem,” Seventeen-year-old Jiang Cheng, courtesy name Wanyin, said as he swung out of the bed, his state clear in the thin night clothes he wore.
“Ah,” the speaker stopped short before gesturing with an exaggerated grandness to the bathroom attached to his quarters. “Best get to it then, My Lord.”
Jiang Cheng grunted and hurried to the bathroom, the door hissing close behind him. In such a confined space, he could hear the hum and vibration of the spaceship around him some more. It had grown louder since he had fallen asleep in meditation.
“Are we leaving soon?” He called out as he quickly turned on the shower, shedding his clothes and stepping in to wash himself of the inevitable mess he knew he was about to make. He hurriedly stroked himself to fullness, finding release as he imagined the golden-yellow eyes and the way the questions had been whispered to him in his dream. He clamped down on his own tongue to stop the groans from escaping as he finished, leaning against the wall and letting the water pound against his back, spent.
He noticed that his shouted question had not been answered.
“Not yet. The Spacing Guild has yet to arrive, though I am here to escort you to your Mother, the Lady Yu Ziyuan, per her request.”
Jiang Cheng was actually glad that he had finished as the answer would have more than likely lowered any of his ardor or desire like any cold water upon him. “What does my Mother want?”
“I do not know, milord.”
Jiang Cheng sighed, finished with the shower and toweled himself off. He put his underwear back on, but forwent the rest of his clothes as he exited the small bathroom attached to his room aboard the spaceship that would eventually take them to their destination.
Yunmeng was a relatively warm planet covered in oceans and lakes and so most people who lived there were used to seeing a lot of bare skin and near-nakedness. Modesty was preserved, but it was not unusual to see so much skin. People were not judged by how well they wore the clothing of their people, but for the most part, it was by their personalities; looks were secondary, though Yunmeng was considered home to some of the most beautiful people in the known universe. Jiang Cheng knew the rumors that called those from Yunmeng – and by extension, his House's members – promiscuous or uncouth for showing that much skin, but it was just rumors that had no bite. House Jiang, one of the Four Great Houses of the Known Universe, was in favor with the Emperor and nigh untouchable.
Jiang Cheng walked over to the dresser installed in the room and pulled on a fresh set of clothing, the material light, but sturdy. An audience with his mother meant he had to present himself in respectable clothing instead of the ones he wanted to wear at the moment and spar with the man that was in the room with him.
“Which one?” he spun around and showed his weapons instructor the two types of robes that would go over his clothing.
“Mnnn, the martial-looking ones. Those always make a good statement and we both know Lady Yu is more martially inclined.”
“My mother is a Bene Gesserit, they are always militarily inclined,” he put the other robe back into the dresser and finished changing into the one that gave him a more military look.
“Aye, that she is, milord,” Wei Wuxian humored him and he rolled his eyes as he finished with the robes. He pulled his long hair into a topknot and crowned it with a more appropriate headpiece of his station as the Duke's son rather than the ones he normally wore around the palace. His mother usually never summoned him for audiences, so this one, so close to their departure, must be important.
“What do you think she is looking for this time?”
“I cannot speculate, milord,” Wei Wuxian's tone was respectful, polite and Jiang Cheng threw a look at the older man he called his sworn brother.
“Can you drop the formalities for a second, Wei Wuxian?”
The other man sighed and nodded, raking a hand absently through his hair. It was pulled up in a martial topknot, but instead of tucking the loose strands into a respectable knot, the top was loose, letting the hair hang in the back, giving Wei Wuxian an air of more youth than the early twenties age he was. The corner of Wei Wuxian's eyes and lips always retained a hint of a smile even when he was being serious. The man loved his duties as much as he loved the men he took to bed. He flirted with women, but it was never serious and was always polite to them even if they tried to get him to their beds.
“I know your mother was agitated not even two hours ago. It was about the same time a ship requested permission to dock along side ours.”
“A House ship? One of the Four?”
“I was not able to see the emblem, but I don't think it belongs to any of the Four Houses.”
“Spice Guild? Mining Guild? Perhaps smugglers...”
“We are fixing the Baron Jin Guangshan's mistakes on Arrakis, milord. If not by Imperial Decree. It would stand that the Guilds all curry favor with us...”
“Yes, but so close to our departure time. Was Father involved?”
Wei Wuxian's brow knitted together and he frowned for a second before shaking his head. “I do not think he was, but...” He shrugged. “Jiang Ziyi was with your father last I saw.”
“Probably discussing the situation on Arrakis then...” Jiang Cheng half-wished he had been summoned to that discussion. Jiang Ziyi was the chief officer of House Jiang, having adopted the Jiang last name after she was saved from the Wen slave pits by Duke Jiang Fengmian years ago. She was also another of Jiang Cheng's weaponmasters, teaching him the way of her people in using the whip while Wei Wuxian focused on the sword forms of the Houes of Jiang.
“Cheer up, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian reached over and slung a friendly arm around his shoulder, pulling them close together. Such an act in public would have immediately gotten the other man's arm chopped off for such breach of protocol, but with the two of them together like this, Jiang Cheng allowed it and liked it. He knew he would never have Wei Wuxian's love – that was made perfectly clear that the man loved a distant figure that he would never name – but at least he had this.
He did not know whom the golden eyes belonged to in his dreams, but he also knew that the voice was deep, soothing and more than likely male. Taking male lovers was not unheard of in the Empire, but Jiang Cheng knew he would have to eventually take and wed a female; if anything, to perpetuate and continue his bloodline. It was his duty and it would be chosen by his parents. Love did not need to happen between him and his eventual wife, but for the sake of political alliances, he could not marry without political gain.
Sometimes, he envied his older sister, Jiang Yanli. Though she was already bound to marry the Baron Jin's only legal son, Jin Zixuan, she genuinely loved the arrogant son of the Baron whom had the unflattering nickname of the Golden Peacock. She was in the rare position of being utterly happy with her arrangement whereas, Jiang Cheng still did not know how he felt when he would take a wife.
He had only lain with men a couple of times since losing his virginity. Women were completely off limits due to the danger of pregnancy even if protection was used. Hand-fasting was not even an option as his mother had long taught and warned him of ways men and even women could try to blackmail him in bed. Even the men he had slept with were vetted for their loyalty to House Jiang and were even examined afterwards to ensure that nothing would be used against the House. All by his mother's strict hand.
Such things had put Jiang Cheng off of sleeping with anyone or even considering taking a lover at this point. It was better to help himself than to be under such close examination. Wei Wuxian was the only one who had escaped such scrutiny, by virtue of his already sworn loyalty to House Jiang and by the Duke's intervention.
“Hey...” The shake of his shoulders pulled Jiang Cheng out of his thoughts as he let his head lean against the taller man's shoulder in an attempt to comfort himself.
He sighed, pulling his head up and nodded. The arm was retracted before it reached over to straighten his lapels and then Wei Wuxian stepped back. The other man did not say anything about his brief moment of weakness, of his own lingering yearning for the man before him, and instead, smiled kindly.
Jiang Cheng squared his shoulders, putting all thoughts of the dream, of his childish crush into the back of his mind, securing it with a metaphoric lock and key before exiting his room. He walked down the hallways, nodding absently to the Jiang soldiers, servants and personnel that bustled about, getting the ship ready for departure.
He arrived shortly before his mother's suite of rooms aboard the spaceship and saw Jinzhu and Yinzhu, his mother's handmaidens and personal assassins, standing guard. The two were Bene Gesserit like his mother, but were assigned to her when she left the order to marry Duke Jiang Fengmian.
They stared coolly at him for a second before one of them knocked on the door. “He is here,” Yinzhu called out.
“Enter,” the muffled voice of his mother returned and the doors slid open.
Jiang Cheng left Wei Wuxian standing at the threshold as he entered and the silver doors slid close behind him. His mother's suite of rooms were of a simple décor, militaristic and elegant in a spartan way. In the middle of her room, he saw both his mother and a woman who had ageless eyes, but a youthful face staring at him. Those eyes were sharp, like a predator, the bright blue of her eyes heightened by the film of deep spice-blue that overlaid it.
“Bene Gesserit,” he stated quietly as he stood at attention.
The woman's smile was cruel as she glanced up at Lady Yu Ziyuan who stood next to her. He noted that his mother looked stiff, almost afraid. “He is a smart one, Third Lady,” the ageless crone's voice was melodic, almost hypnotizing as she turned back to stare at him. “Tell me, little one, how much do you know of us?”
Jiang Cheng's guards immediately went up and he frowned. He felt the tantalizing command push at his mental barriers, encouraging him to say the words, whispering in the ways that any lover would. It pulled at him, compelled him to answer-
“Why don't you tell me, why you're so interested?” He let his training take over and returned, taking a step forward, letting his muscles relax, uncoil and loose like a predator ready to tear this new threat apart.
The ageless woman smiled, all teeth before she looked up to Lady Yu. “You've trained him in the arts.”
“It was needed to protect him from assassins and those who would take advantage of the Duke,” Lady Yu Ziyuan replied, demurely.
“Tell me why is the Lady Yu Ziyuan treated like a servant-”
“Silence boy!” The crone's eyes flashed, her command like a snap of a whip, but there was no power behind it. But it startled him out of the compulsion he was using. “The Lady Yu was my servant before she was your mother, boy. I will treat her like she is, because she is one.”
“The Lady Yu is-”
“A Bene Gesserit sister, no more no less. Not even a wife to Jiang Fengmian no matter the two children she pushed out between her legs.” Her blue-on-blue gaze glared up at Lady Yu. “You were to give only daughters and here you have a son.”
“The Duke wanted a son to carry his line-”
“Daughters, Lady Yu. Only daughters. One daughter for the Jins, the other for the Wens. This son is useless-”
“How dare you-” Jiang Cheng's anger roiled, but he stopped as he saw his mother minutely shake his head at him, to back down and not anger the woman whom she stood next to. For what reason, he did not know, but he pulled himself short and shut his mouth, fuming as he glared at the ageless crone.
The crone smiled again, all teeth as she looked at him. “Well, he seems healthy enough, supple and I can see strength. I will test him. You may leave.”
“As the Reverend Mother wishes.”
Jiang Cheng was treated to the shocking sight of his mother bowing of all things, to the ageless crone before leaving without a second word. He looked at her as she passed by him, but she did not even meet his gaze. He did catch her pinched lips, the way the corner of her eyes crinkled, but his mother's slate blue eyes seemed turned inward. As soon as the door closed, he turned back, staring at the old woman who sat in before him.
“Come here child,” the woman reached out a hand and curled a finger at him.
He frowned, wondering if he had to listen to her.
“Come here,” the command was repeated and he felt the compulsion nip at him. However, unlike the previous time, this one felt powerful, almost oppressive as it pressed upon him, suffocating him-
He took his steps towards the woman and the feeling died as he obeyed the compulsion. He stopped two steps before the woman, staring down at her. She raked him with a look that sent shivers down his back. It was as if she was suddenly appraising him like something to be sold at market. Her gaze was heated, studying him and seemingly picking him apart that he felt like he had to go take another shower just to get rid of such a feeling.
“She molded you well, young Jiang,” the woman stood up, revealing her full height to be as tall if not just a hair taller than he was. She slowly circled him. “Gave you her looks and your father's body. You would have done well as a stud for breeding if we needed one.”
He bristled. “Do not compare me to such animals-”
“As a woman, you would have been fully trained by us and done your duty. But you are male and your mother arrogant enough to think that she could produce the Kwisatz Haderach in this generation. Pah! I will test and we shall see...”
“What kind of test-” He immediately froze as he felt something sharp and pointed lightly brush the edges of his skin at his jugular. He had not even felt or seen the woman move, her skill with the Weirding Way far greater than he had expected. He swallowed nervously, feeling the light brush of the needlepoint against his throat.
“Do you know what this is?” The old crone's voice had taken on a breathy, dangerous quality.
“G-Gom jabbar,” he whispered, barely moving his lips or his throat in return. He dared no move or say any more even though he wanted to swallow.
“So you understand the weapons of assassins then, young Jiang,” the woman replied. “The gom jabbar, a weapon that can instantly kill if I just need to prick your skin. Poisonous neurotoxins flooding into your body, you would die in mere minutes with no way of saving yourself.
“No,” he felt the brush of her head so close to his own, her voice a whisper against his ear, breathing air onto the shell like a lover would before being sated. There was a flash of color and his eyes darted to where she had produced a box-like contraption to hold in front of him. “Put your hand in this, young Jiang...”
“Put your hand in or I will cut you down with the gom jabbar.”
“What's in it?”
“Pain,” she breathed out.
He drew in a sharp breath. The box looked quite ordinary, but its solid black color seemed to suck the light out of everything. There was definitely fear in the box itself. I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
“That's right young Jiang, repeat the mantra. It will get you through this...” The old woman breathed into his ear.
Jiang Cheng took another deep breath and stuck his hand into the box. And there was pain.