There are baths and slaves just for this task, but Rodney learns it. He learns to kneel on a soft rose-colored rug in the middle of the pale-tiled floor, with the morning light white through the windows of the room they've been given as their own. He mixes the dye in a blue porcelain bowl. He uses a brush with a carved stem and soft brown bristles, shaped to a fine point.

John kneels before him, head bowed, neck bared, and Rodney paints patterns on the palms of his hands, held out like a supplicant, and on the soles of his narrow feet. He folds forward and Rodney traces intricate curves and knots over the long bow of his spine, curling into a Fibonacci spiral at the small of John's back. The dye is the color of dried blood and John's skin glows pale gold by morning light.

He puts aside the bowl and the brush silently and returns with the little pots, the finer brushes, setting them in a row beside him. Each pot is glazed in a different color. Each one fits in the palm of Rodney's hand. John waits without moving. Rodney strokes his hands through sun-warmed dark hair. The strands slide silken-slick between his fingers, the sun finding embers in the glossy dark.

The first pot is shining black, filled with kohl.

Rodney smoothes his hand along John's cheek, waiting one heartbeat. John lifts his face, his eyes still lowered.

He paints the kohl around John's eyes with hands that have grown sure with practice, drawing out curving lines from the corners, a curling pattern at one temple, the Selket glyph for 'treasured' and on the opposite side, a winding tear track ending in another spiral.

The second pot is red for rouge.

Rodney smudges it over John's closed eyelids and his soft, dry lips. He touches John's shoulder, once, and John sits up, his eyes open, green, filled with light. A touch to his thigh and John obediently spreads his legs wider, still balanced on his knees, his hands still open and empty. Rodney dips two fingers into the pot and circles them over John's nipples. Again and this time his fingers trace down the length of John's soft cock, already blushing and growing heavier at just that touch. He waits, just his fingers brushing over silky hot skin, listening as John draws in an unsteady breath, only continuing when John's breathing evens again. He begins again.

The third pot is white and filled with an adhesive. The yellow fourth holds tissue-fine leaves of red-gold.

John's hands are smooth, manicured until his calluses are faded and nearly gone. Rodney paints each nail with adhesive, then carefully presses the gold into place, smooth as a mirror.

John twists with slow, amazing grace until he is sitting instead of kneeling, never once setting hand or foot to the floor, and extends first one foot, then the other. Rodney applies glue and gold to each toenail in turn.

He cradles his hand around John's ankle, his thumb rubbing over the vulnerable jut of an ankle bone. John's rouged lips are parted. Rodney glimpses the tip of his tongue, caught between white teeth. He runs his hand up John's calf, over sleek muscle, skin, dark body hair, to his knee. His fingers curl round and caress the delicate skin behind John's knee. John quivers.

The fifth pot is turquoise. The heady scent of the unguent within blooms through the room as Rodney stirs his finger through it: juniper, sandalwood, musk, smoke, and narcissus. It fills his lungs. He traces it onto John's pulse points, smoothing the salve into warm skin.

He tests the dye on John's foot, a soft dry brush running over the pattern on the sole. John shudders and Rodney rubs the tickle away, earning a quick smile before the mask slips back into place.

One last pot waits.

Rodney hesitates with his fingers on the jade green lid, looking a question into John's eyes.

John nods. He folds himself onto his knees again, bowing until his forehead rests on the rug, his hands laced over the back of his neck.

Rodney opens the last pot, setting the lid aside with a tiny click against the tiles.

The contents are clear jelly, tinged faintly with green, and scentless. It warms on Rodney's fingers, making his skin tingle, slippy-slick and frictionless. He centers himself with a deep breath and runs two fingers between the cheeks of John's ass. The muscles in John's back are tight. With his other hand, Rodney rubs a circle over the spiral he painted earlier, until John relaxes.

He slowly works the slick deep into John, keeping his touch gentle and almost impersonal, using more than any of the body slaves would use. He can't stop this, so he tries to make sure John's body doesn't return to him ripped and torn.

The third bells are ringing from the minarets, calling the slaves of the seven-walled city to their next tasks. The sunlight has crept all the way across the tiled-floor to the arched, open doorway beyond the filigreed screen that offers a mockery of privacy.

Rodney puts away each pot, gathers the brushes on a strip of linen, wrapping it around them loosely. He will clean them when John has gone.

He rises and gathers up the semi-transparent silks and gold-bangles.

John hasn't moved.

Rodney locks the delicate, intricately-made anklets with their tiny golden bells around John's ankles. He slips rings over long toes. A fine gold chain wraps three times around John's waist, the strands run through the gold navel ring the Haralim 'gave' John for pleasing her.  She had his ears pierced at the same time. Rodney slides the wires of the earrings into place, so that the two slender bars of etched gold hang from the lobes to John's collarbone. A serpentine armlet is clasped around one bicep.

He hesitates for a breath then picks up the bracelets.

The bracelets that aren't bracelets, but elegant, exquisite manacles made to fit John's wrists so perfectly they might be part of him.

He lifts John's arm and kisses the bare inside of his wrist with all the sorrow in him, then locks the first one in place. John keeps his eyes closed. Rodney repeats the motion with the second.

The bells are still ringing, hiding the sound of a sob.

John rises and steps into the loose, black silk pants just as wordlessly as he ever does. His toes, the nails gleaming, flex against the rose-colored rug.  Rodney kneels before him and ties the silk cords at the cuffs tight. Slipknots that can be pulled open with no more than a tug.

He rises then too, and sets his hands on John's shoulders, looking into eyes so full of despair the air in his lungs disappears. He leans forward until their foreheads rest together and holds there for a heartbeat.

Then he steps back and lifts the last item, the swathe of transparent crimson silk. It feels lighter than air, except for the gold coins carved with Selket charms weighing down the corners.

John bows his head and Rodney drapes the silk over him. The little gold weights clink against the floor.

The city is silent again.

Lost beyond the veil of silk, untouchable, John turns and goes to the Haralim, the tiny bells at his ankles crying with each step.



  • Summary: He paints kohl around John's eyes.
  • Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
  • Rating: mature
  • Warnings: none apply
  • Author Notes: out take from In the City of Seven Walls
  • Date: 2.15.06
  • Length: 1239 words
  • Genre: m/m
  • Category: angst, vignette, character study
  • Cast: John Sheppard, Rodney McKay
  • Betas:
  • Disclaimer: Not for profit. Transformative work written for private entertainment.

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