Graduation Day, 2001
They’d watched Sheba and Magnolia graduate with all the appropriate fanfare, cheered them loudly and left Howard and Magnolia and Sheba and Zita to say goodbye as they wanted.
In a startling show of empathy, Phelen had wandered off, leaving Arnbjörg and Jaya alone, and they, in turn, had grabbed a blanket and headed out to the meadow.
The sun was bright and warm over them. The air felt just right, like you could lie out in nothing but skin and be perfectly comfortable. And Jaya was pressed against her, Mask down and not wearing a whole lot more than skin.
“This part is going to suck, and I’m sorry.” Jaya stroked her back. “Try to stay with me until it’s over?”
Arnbjörg had a feeling what was coming next. Sheba and Magnolia had done this earlier, rather than have the bond break at their graduation (As Phelen had so helpfully explained). She swallowed around a lump in her throat and nodded. If she said anything, she’d end up saying no, and…
…and would that be so bad, really? Conrad was in his third year and still wearing a collar, wasn’t he? And he was perfectly happy with Kailani, and she with him. Niki had worn a collar more than once.
Jaya put a hand over Arnbjorg’s mouth. “I can see your gears turning. Some of that is the Bond’s gears. But I promise you, if September First comes around and you want to be my Kept, I will say yes to that without hesitation.”
September first was a long way away. Arnbjörg nodded mutely.
“Arna, Arnbjörg cy’Doug, I release you. You don’t Belong to me anymore.” Jaya’s arms went around Arna tightly. “But. But I’m not letting go, okay? If you want to be my girlfriend, if you want me to be your… your ess-oh, I’d love that. I’d be thrilled. You can live with me, we can live with someone else, we can live separately if you want. But either way, I’m not letting go until you tell me I have to.”
Arbjorg bit her lip hard, until the pain was all she could feel, until she could pretend that she wasn’t crying. She swallowed something that threatened to be a sob, and then another one, but the third one hiccuped out despite all her efforts.
She turned her face away. “I’m an idiot,” she muttered. “You… You tricked me into being your, your slave.”
“And did I ever treat you like a slave?” Jaya countered. “I was a shitty SO sometimes, yeah. I didn’t tell you about Melchior and I didn’t tell you I was… well. What me being a Daeva meant. And I should’ve. But if you agree to be my girlfriend, even just for a little while — no magic, no commitment, just dating and sleeping together and—”
“Dates?” Arnbjörg raised her eyebrows. “Are you going to take me on dates?”
“If you let me. We can dress up, or, well, I can dress up,” Jaya faltered, “and go wherever you want. We’ve got all summer. My crew-mate can teleport and she said she’s sticking around for a month or two, or at least keeping her home base here. You tell me where you want to go and we’ll go there. And if you say yes, I promise I will never keep another secret from you.”
Arnbjörg blinked away tears. “Say that again?”
“If you agree to be my girlfriend, for real this time, as, uh. Together as equal people? I promise I will never keep another secret from you.”
“Sold.” Arnbjörg smiled, although it felt strange on her face. “I’ll be your SO, Jaya.” She hesitated, and then, because it was important, “No. You never treated me like a slave. But other people treated me like a non-person anyway. And that’s… that’s not me.”
“I understand.” Jaya’s hug, if anything, got tighter. “Are you doing okay?”
“I feel like I want to curl up and hide somewhere, but someone told me that Daeva can read emotions, so I’m pretty sure you know that already.” Arnbjörg headbutted Jaya’s shoulder lightly. “So distract me? Let’s talk about you being all of you? Because I mean, you don’t want to be my girlfriend, you want to be my, uh Daevafriend, right?”
“We really need a word for that that isn’t stupid long like ‘significant other’,” Jaya muttered. “Yeah. I want to be your everythingfriend. If you think you can handle that.”
“I think.” Arnbjörg swallowed. “I think it’ll be hard. But I think I’m willing to try just about anything to stay with you. Not because of this Kept whiplash shit,” she added in a hurry. “That kind of makes me want to punch you – sorry. I mean.”
“You can punch me if you want. I mean, you could always punch me, but I’m getting pretty good at the healing Words and I think you probably deserve to get in a hit or two.”
“I appreciate the thought,” Arnbjörg admitted. “But how about we do the seeing-you-naked thing instead? Might be more fun.”
“I like being naked more than getting punched,” Jaya agreed. “Try not to punch me anywhere sensitive? If it comes to that?”
“I’ll do my best. Shoulder, then? I mean, I’m not really going to punch you.” At least, she was pretty sure that wasn’t going to be her reaction, but her brain was busy filling in all the anyplace sensitive Jaya could mean.
“Shoulder’s fine. Okay.” Jaya waved her hands over herself for a moment and then, almost as an afterthought, pulled off her halter and shorts. “This is uh. Me.”
Arnbjorg let her eyes travel all of Jaya – “Jamian, right?”
“Uh, yeah.” Jaya – Jamian – cleared his-her-their throat. “Yeah. Jamian’s my name; Jaya’s my, mmn, girly name.”
“I like it.” Arnbjörg had been prepared to steel herself and found that she didn’t have to. She leaned forward and kissed Jamian.
As far as she was concerned, they could keep doing this all summer.