August 18, 2015 by Lyn
Before I put another notch in my lipstick case
You better make sure you put me in my place
It took every iota of self-control Shahin had to keep her expression calm and her spine straight as she walked into the Dining Hall at Emrys’ side Sunday morning. The collar he’d bought for her was heavy around her neck, although she knew that, in reality, it was no heavier than the one she’d been wearing when she met him; it made her feel naked and exposed, despite being fully dressed in, thank whatever mercy he had, her own clothes.
He sat at an empty table, in the middle, directing her to his left with a wave of his hand. This was his usual table, she thought, but they’d left his room early this morning – after getting up very early. She almost blushed, remembering what he’d done to her in those early hours. As early as they were, his friends hadn’t yet arrived, and neither had hers.
She straightened her skirt, smoothed her sleeves over her mitts, taking the moment it gave her to compose herself. She hadn’t yet figured out how she was going to explain this to Yngvi and Aelgifu. She wasn’t yet sure how he would be, in public. How much damage her persona was going to take, and how much work she’d need to do, later, to repair it.
Truth be told, if only here in the privacy of her own head, she hadn’t given thought to any of that until they were nearly at the Dining Hall. There hadn’t been much space for thinking on anything but him since he’d buckled the collar around her neck.
She glanced over at him, now, finding that, even with a little space to breathe, mentally, he was still foremost in her thoughts. Of course, she’d just bound herself to him in a way she was just beginning to understand.
He smiled faintly, noting her glance out of the corner of his eye, and spoke quietly without turning to face her. “You will not speak, except to me, unless spoken to.”
She nodded, making the gesture almost a bow with a small flourish of her left hand. “As you wish.”
“And you may have breakfast,” he said, in a tone that implied this magnanimous gesture should not be taken for granted.
“Thank you,” she replied, neither an ounce of irony in her voice, nor the equal parts of amusement and terror she was still feeling. She knew, from experience, that she could withstand quite a bit of rough handling, social and otherwise. This, while not nearly as much as she could take, had no easy escape from, much like this school.
“Sheen?” She turned, almost startled into a squeak, as Ayla came up behind her, followed close behind by a glowering Yngvi. “You weren’t in your room this morning, and we were worried.” Her glance slid over Shahin’s neck, but, even as dog-collar-like as it was, it wasn’t all that different from some of the stuff Shahin had bought for herself, and she made no comment. Shahin wondered if Ioanna had told her about Belonging.
Emrys turned slowly to face them, a sly smile on his lips. “She stayed with me, where she belongs,” he replied for her.
She wasn’t going to slap that look off his face. Not yet. Unless he made Ayla cry.
But it wasn’t Ayla who responded; it was Yngvi, sounding as if he was ready to storm the battlements and destroy the invading army with the sheer strength of his indignation. “I beg your pardon? Who are you to say where she belongs? Shahin, come on. Don’t be foolish.”
If she weren’t so worried that Emrys was going to do something to upset her friends, Shahin might have been offended at Vi’s tone. As it was, she was scrambling for an answer that would explain enough to get Vi to drop it without irritating Emrys or upsetting Ayla.
She caught Ayla’s eye, and slowly and deliberately hooked one finger in the front of the collar. “Round two,” she told her, with her best approximation of a gleeful leer.
Ayla shook her head, seeming somewhere between amused and a little hurt. “Even at breakfast?”
“Do you think I shouldn’t have brought her to breakfast, then?” Emrys asked with a delicately raised brow.
“I’m sure she’s still more than capable of bringing herself to breakfast,” Yngvi replied, icily enough to lower the temperature of the room a couple degrees, “and enjoying it with her friends.”
“I think she’ll be enjoying it with my friends, for awhile. Or not, if you really want to make a point of it.” The smile he offered the younger boy was somehow both cheerful and vicious; Shahin suppressed a flinch but allowed a slight frown to crease her forehead and twist her lips.
Ygnvi’s smile was just as vicious and twice as smooth. “You wouldn’t be threatening my friend now, would you?” he asked casually, “The girl you’ve been trying so hard to impress?”
He furrowed his brow, adopting a confused look as his tone dripped sweetness. “Oh, do you mean my property? No, dear boy, I was threatening you.”
Property. Shahin could see the word hit Ayla; she could see the pain in her friend’s eyes. “Shahin?” she asked softly, cutting off however Yngvi had been about to make things worse. “Property?”
Neither of the boys said anything; indeed, both of them were looking at her, waiting for her response. She had never felt so on display. She nodded. “Property,” she repeated, trying to make it sound light-hearted, flippant, despite the leaden way it tasted in her mouth, “for the time being. It’s all right, Ayla,” she continued quickly, giving her friend a brief, tight hug. “Just… ask Ioanna to explain, okay?”
Emrys delivered a superior smirk to Yngvi as he draped his arm casually over Shahin’s shoulders. She leaned closer to him, not entirely consciously, and tried to convey by body language alone that this was all right, please don’t poke at it too hard, please don’t be angry.
Vi was determined to be angry, it seemed. “Shahin?” he asked her, his voice tight.
It was a risk, but she hoped he’d remember their earlier fight on the subject. It sounds sketchy. “‘I like sketching,’ remember?” she asked him lightly. Emrys’ arm on her shoulder felt both comforting and constraining, but she was certain nothing but her casual cheer showed on her face. “Bear with me for a while?”
His expression softened just a touch. “I can tolerate my friends being fools for a short while,” he conceded. “I’ll see you in class.” He took Ayla’s arm, gently, and turned her towards their accustomed table; with a worried look back, Ayla followed him.
Emrys turned to face Shahin, wearing a faint smile. “Protective, isn’t he? If I didn’t know better, I’d think he wanted you for himself.”
“I don’t think I’m his type,” she said blandly. She wasn’t really sure what his type was.
“I think you’re more the other one’s type,” he noted sharply. “But she’s not going to say anything.”
“Ayla trusts me to make my own decisions,” she answered mildly.
“And Yngvi doesn’t. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about that right now.”
“Of course not.” She snuggled a little more into the comforting tightness of his arm. “You’re responsible for all my worries now.” She smiled up at him through her eyelashes, sweet, innocent, and demure.
He chuckled softly, nodding. “Yes… so we’ll be keeping them to a minimum.” He leaned down to kiss her, but his lips had just brushed hers with the lightest hint of fire when they were interrupted again.
“Well, this is interesting.” The dulcet tones of Shirley Temple in her early movies cut across their kiss; Shahin looked up to see Agatha, looking no less doll-like in her everyday clothes than she had at the dance, pouting adorably in their general direction.
“It followed me home, can I keep it?” Emrys grinned at Agatha as he looked up, his fingers straying to the collar at Shahin’s throat.
“Well, of course, dear,” she smiled back up at him, “I would never deny you your toys. But you’ve wreaked havoc with our seating arrangement.”
Shahin didn’t move. She didn’t really dare; if she moved, she would react to the way she was being spoken of. But she did note that, while Agatha was so cheerfully complaining, the boy following her around, a curly-haired blonde boy wearing a narrow purple collar, had appropriated another chair so that Agatha could, it appeared, sit at the head of the table.
“Ah, you see, your own toy has already settled the issue. You do train them well.”
Agatha glanced back, and, outmaneuvered, shrugged with bad grace. “That he has. I suppose the matter is solved then.” Her eyes raked over Shahin critically. “You do have such interesting tastes, dear.”
She stood before the scrutiny as if it meant nothing, confident in her facade if in nothing else, pitifully grateful for the warmth of Emrys’ arm on her shoulders.
“Well, she may not be to your taste, but she’s luscious, I assure you.” Emrys grinned, letting his hand trail down Shahin’s body in a rather personal and possessive way.
Luscious. Well, it was very nearly a compliment. She smiled at him, just a little, enjoying his touch at the same time that it felt like he was stripping her naked.
“Hrmph. Well, to each their own, I suppose.” While she was aiming her darts, the rest of her crew came up behind her – Dysmas, as pallid as ever, with a slender girl on his arm, her chestnut-brown skin seeming a little ashen but her expression, although a tad dazed, cheerful, and Anatoliy, who eyed Shahin with a much sadder, more sympathetic look than Agatha was giving her.
“Shahin, you’ve met Agatha, Dysmas, and Anatoliy?” He indicated each in turn with a brief gesture of his right hand, his left remaining draped across her.
His gear-shift threw her for a loop; she nodded politely to cover her expression. “We’ve met,” she answered pleasantly.
He only nodded in response, glancing at the others as if to ask if they had any further comments to make. The boy and girl trailing behind Agatha and Dysmas seemed beneath his notice.
Agatha seemed content to take her seat, causing the rest of the table to rearrange themselves to suit, rippling out like the train of a dress. Shahin waited patiently for Emrys’ cue, while Anatoliy sat down across from her and Dysmas sat across from Emrys and arranged his pet in the chair to his left.
It bothered her, a little, how quickly she fell into thinking of these other people as merely walking dolls; at the same time, she hoped that was all he would expect of her during these meals. She wasn’t sure she could hold together if she was expected to make polite conversation with Agatha for a week.
Fortunately, it seemed that there was no such expectation. The other pets – no, the two pets, she couldn’t,wouldn’t think of herself that way – were barely regarded as their keepers made small talk over breakfast. Missing her friends already, Shahin ate her meal in silence, swallowing her food without really tasting it at all.
When breakfast was, mercifully, over, Emrys walked her back to his room. “We have some time to kill.”
Oh, good. Nodding, because she didn’t trust her voice not to betray her, she walked beside him gracefully and proudly. One week. She could handle this for one week.