August 18, 2015 by Lyn
They’re out to get me
They won’t catch me
They won’t break me
When Emrys deposited her at the doorway of her first class Monday morning, the urge to follow after him was overwhelming. Only her ironclad façade of calm let her keep the longing off her face as she walked into class, her steps measured, far more forced than they seemed, her chin at just the right angle to look proud without looking as if she was showing off the thick collar. Ignore it. It was just a fashion accessory, like the matching leather bands around her wrists, just a slightly inappropriate decoration.
Ignore it. Ignore it though people were staring, older students, people so far off the back end of freakish that they were hardly human, people who had never deigned to look when she was just dark and creepy. “Who…” one person asked, a leonine man with beady red eyes and black hair styled like beetle wings, but since he didn’t finish the question, she didn’t have to answer.
The staring grounded her, brought her back to herself. Not a possession. Not a pet. A freak, to be sure, but when had she ever been anything but? By the time she reached her Trig class, she felt almost human again – fortunate, because she shared that class with Yngvi and Aelgifu.
They came in just after her, and flanked her, twisting in their desk chairs to look at her. While the strangers staring at her in the hall hadn’t bothered her, her friends studying her like a strange type of insect made her skin crawl. She let it show, just a little bit, hoping they would stop, or at least say something.
“Is Shahin in there?” Yngvi finally asked, “or am I just talking to Emrys’ porcelain doll?” His voice was harsher than she’d ever heard him, angry enough that she actually winced.
“I’m still Shahin,” she assured him, turning to take in Aelgifu with the same look. “Still me, warts and all.”
“You’ve never had a wart in your life,” Ayla chuckled. Shahin allowed herself to relax a little. The tension was broken.
“Well, no,” she agreed. “Not even a freckle.”
“You’d have to go out in the sun to freckle, Sheen. Have you even seen the sun?”
“The daystar? I’ve heard of its existence,” she teased. It was nice to be able to joke like that, without fearing Ayla would take her seriously. But Yngvi was still glaring at her. She turned to him, her expression apologetic, hoping he’d say something, ask something, even yell at her.
“You sound like my friend,” he allowed, “but what’s that appalling thing you’re wearing around your neck?”
She touched it, lightly. “This thing?” She shrugged, trying to make it seem like nothing.
“Is that what marks you as his… property?” The word still dripped with disgust. She wasn’t going to get out of this easily.
“I talked to Ioanna, like you suggested,” Aelgifu added quietly. “She said this sort of thing is common around her? Something to do with the thing that makes us monsters, some sort of Law. She also said that it normally lasted until graduation.” She was nearly pleading with her, tell me you’re not leaving me to fend for myself, and maybe, tell me you’re not doing this, because if you gave in, how can I not? Shahin felt suddenly guilty for leaving her friend in the lurch.
“We agreed on a week each,” she answered quietly. “I, um…” only to Ayla and Yngvi would she let herself sound this silly. “I got caught up in the moment, I suppose. And we challenged each other to live it for a week.”
“So, for a week, he gets to…” he trailed off, blushing, as if his brain had finally caught up with the righteous indignation his mouth was spewing.
“Yes,” she answered simply, having no real way to soften that one, and not sure why she should be softening it for him. “But it’s only for a week.” She turned back to Ayla. “Just a week, Ayla.” She took her friend’s hand in both her own and squeezed it gently. “And then I’ll be back, good as new, even without the warts.”
“But until then?” Ayla asked quietly. Shahin hid the wince that came unbidden.
“Until then, it’s going to be iffy. Classes, at least.” She frowned a little. She hadn’t anticipated the complete monopolization of her time. “And maybe he’ll get bored with me.”
“We all know he won’t. Not when he can… whenever he wants…” Yngvi trailed off, letting the obvious conclusion go unspoken. Shahin blushed, unwilling to admit even to them that the Fate Worse Than Death he was suggesting was, all in all, the best part of this slavery.
Professor Solomon saved her from further discussion with a long and complicated lecture on mathematics such that even Yngvi, brighter than her by far at such things, had to pay close attention .
“So,” Ayla said as they were leaving, one head-spinning hour later, “we really don’t get to see you except classes for a week?”
“Sounds more like two weeks,” Yngvi pointed out dryly.
“I’m sorry,” Shahin said, sincerely, more to Ayla than to Vi. “I’ll still be around.”
Emrys turned the corner then, approaching them with a distinct swagger. “Nice of you to keep my pet company while I’m away.”
Shahin stiffened, just a little bit. He was only this bad around her friends. Was he trying to burn all her bridges for her?
But before Yngvi could say anything else horrid, Ayla wrapped her arms around Shahin in a spontaneous hug. “We wouldn’t want her to get cold.”
“Thank you, dear.” He smiled warmly at Ayla, in distinct counterpoint to the look he’d given Yngvi, and reached out for Shahin’s hand.
She set hers in his, seeing no reason to fight him.
“See you tomorrow,” Ayla said sadly, stepping back, and Shahin spared her one moment of warm grin.
“Tomorrow,” she agreed, and offered Emrys a sweetly blank smile.
He smiled back at her just as vacuously. ”Lunch, then? Or does that look mean you’re not hungry?”
She conceded the point with a tiny smirk. ”If you don’t mind, I’d prefer lunch. I’m a little hungry.” Not that she’d eat much. Eating in front of his friends was an exercise in willpower, rather than appetite.
“Let’s go to the dining hall, then.” He began walking, still holding her hand in his.
“As you wish,” she murmured, following along, a half-step behind because he’d started walking first. It wasn’t a bad feeling, holding someone’s hand in the halls – his hand. The maddening fires seemed to have died down, so that, while his hand felt unnaturally warm, there was not, at least for the moment, a mind-destroying inferno rushing through her veins.
He led her to his usual table, seating her as he had the previous morning. They’d missed breakfast entirely, which no doubt had added to Ayla and Yngvi’s consternation; he’d made simple but good fare in his own room, somewhat to her surprise, and much to her pleasure.
She slipped into her role easier today, her head demurely down, her lips in a polite smile that gave away nothing. She would eat what he told her she could eat, and hope that she could keep it down; she’d focus on his presence, and try to ignore the repugnant personalities of his friends.
The big one, at least, offered her a sympathetic glance when the wicked doll wasn’t looking. He was also the only one who didn’t have his own slave, for that was clearly what the other two Kept at the table were, in attendance. Curious.
She shot him another look, very discreetly, when the conversation drew the attention away. He looked… sad. Not tragic, or pathetic, but just tired, and a little bit out of place.
He didn’t return her gaze, however, and Emrys swept him into a discussion of the Russian lesson they’d both just come from. Shahin, ignored and unimportant, ate delicately and stayed quiet, like the doll Yngvi had accused her of being.
Finally the lunch period began to draw to a close. The giant stood first and left, taking the creepy boy’s pet with him, and Agatha – she had to start remembering that these people had real names in case it came up – dismissed hers with a flick of her wrist. The creepy one – Dysmas – departed with him, leaving her alone with Emrys and Agatha.
She struggled to stay blank and pretty, hoping that Agatha would continue to ignore her. If the girl challenged her, it would be hard to stay still, and harder still to win, tethered as she was.
Somehow, she didn’t think Emrys would defend her against a poison tongue. She wasn’t entirely sure he’d defend her against someone like Barem. He hadn’t, last time.
Agatha stood, smoothing her skirt in an affected gesture, and for a moment Shahin dared to hope that she would be left in peace today. Then the girl’s eyes settled on her. ”She’s pretty enough, I suppose,” she said to Emrys, “in that pallid sort of way, though you two do look a little too matchy to be fashionable. Couldn’t you put her in something bright, so you two don’t look so much like the Bad News Brady Bunch?”
Emrys flushed a little, but just shook his head, otherwise ignoring her comment as he stood. ”Let’s get to Lit. Sheen, you’ll have some special events after your last class, but when you’re finished come straight back to my room.”
Special events? She didn’t frown at him, and she certainly wasn’t going to ask him, not in front of Agatha – Bad News Brady Bunch! – but her “as you wish” was frosty as they parted.
She made it through Biology on nerves and the borrowed strength of the three toughs that sat behind her – girls as sharp in appearance as switchblades, with all the casual threat of prison gangs or lions lazing in the sun, girls she thought were probably bullies, but who had never raised an eyebrow at her and steadfastly continued not to today. She used their studied indifference to bolster her own, at sat straight-spined and still casual, a queen in her own court, through the class.
She wasn’t going to get that lucky with Phys Ed, and she knew it. Locker rooms were hellholes in normal circumstances, and nothing about Addergoole resembled a normal circumstance. She picked a back row of lockers, but not the very back, and tried to change quickly and out of sight.
“Nice collar.” Her back was to the girl, and she couldn’t quite place the voice, but from the slight lisp underlying her words, it was probably Xaviera, the world’s creepiest cheerleader.
“Thank you.” She slipped on her T-shirt and turned around; yes, it was Xaviera, wearing the sneer that went with her tone of voice, and yes, her eyes were on the horrible – it wasn’t that bad, if only she’d had any say in it. At least it was black and not pink, as he’d threatened – thick dog collar that didn’t need a lock, because she couldn’t have unbuckled it if her life depended on it.
“Who put it on you?” There was an odd challenge in the words – as if she was asking if Shahin’s boyfriend was cool enough, even though, in this place, “cool” didn’t seem nearly as important as it had in high school. She wondered if there was a collaring pecking order, or if that was too weird even for here.
“Emrys,” she answered, cool and nonchalant but perhaps a little tender, just as the realization hit her: she had no idea what his last name was. She kept it off her face; she would deal with it when she wasn’t engaged in battle.
“Emrys?” Xaviera laughed. ”That little poser? I wouldn’t rely on him to keep you safe from a bug, much less the monsters that walk our halls.”
Shahin ruthlessly suppressed her urge to defend Emrys’ manhood – he was just the window dressing here – and smiled pleasantly at the other girl, while she imagined the bitch’s perfect blonde hair failing out at the roots and her agile snake tongue tying itself in knots. ”I don’t imagine it will be a concern.”
“Then you’re as stupid as they say you are.”
That one went so far from its target that Shahin was hard-pressed not to laugh at the girl. They said a lot of things about her, but stupid was the last refuge of the uncreative. “I prefer to think of myself as blindly optimistic,” she said, with just the right note of wry humor.
“Right. Because optimism is brilliant around here.” She shook her head in mock-sympathy. “Good luck with that.”
“Thank you,” Shahin said politely, vowing bloody death on the girl… and, as Xaviera walked away, she wondered if even sarcastic good luck wishes counted towards positive karma. She was going to need all the luck she could get.