Chapter 28: ShahinDiscuss
And I'll take the truth, at any cost
As the Director’s Assistant escorted her friends away with manners as archaic as her own, Shahin watched, not her departing friends (although she made a note to thank Ayla profusely and with gifts at a later date), but Emrys, his face a case study in sour expressions – he was almost good enough at hiding emotions to pull off nonchalant, but the meeting with Ambrus, and the latter’s subsequent shanghaiing of Shahin’s friends, had left him shaken, and, if his hand on her waist was any indication, possessive, which was almost cute and strangely pleasant.
“How do you know Ambrus?” she asked him, once the others were out of sight; his response was a twisted, sour expression that he tried to banish.
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
That was obvious, but she was willing to let him get away with it. “That’s all right,” she told him, smiling brightly, “I think you need to talk to me about collars, anyway.”
Direct hit. His fingers twitched, tangling in her corset strings. “Collars?” He regained his composure quickly. “Why, did you want one?”
She smiled up at him, trailing a finger along the line of her neck and throat. “I’m pretty sure you’d like that. The question is, why?”
“Why what?” he grinned, clearly stalling, as he determined his approach to this unexpected conversation. He was better than she’d expected him to be.
“Why is the collar so important? I wouldn’t have expected even as strange a school as this is to be playing by dungeon rules – but the bartender doesn’t wear her collar as a fashion accessory, does she? And Allyse, in the hall, didn’t mean Finnegan was her boyfriend, did she?” She twisted gracefully, making it almost a dance step, setting her left hand on his right shoulder, so that she was facing him now, looking him straight in those red-brown eyes.
“They don’t, no,” he admitted, fiery eyes boring into hers. “It’s not a game. They really mean it.”
“And so do you.” She resisted a small gulp. That certainly raised the stakes. She moved her gloved hand up his shoulder, setting her fingertips on the vertebrae of his neck, her thumb on his pulse. Leaning in close to his other ear, she murmured. “You want to own me.”
His pulse quickened, both at the thought and her touch. “And you can’t say you wouldn’t like it,” he breathed.
She couldn’t deny that the thought had some interest for her, in equal measure with red-flag caution. “Of course I can,” she whispered. “But owning you…” She circled his neck with her other hand, her lips a fraction of an inch from his ear. “…that, I’d like.”
“Do you think you could handle me?” He arched a brow with a devilish grin, and pulled her body tightly against his with the hand still on her waist.
She was glad for the thin layer of insulation her gloves provided her. If they were off, if her hands were naked against his neck, she might lose control. As it was, with her corseted breasts pressed against the stiff leather of his coat, she was finding it a little hard to breathe.
She returned the favor, her thumbs pressing so very lightly against his windpipe. “That’s the wrong question, dear,” she replied, resisting the urge to run her tongue over his earlobe. “The question is, could you handle it?” She exerted just the tiniest bit more pressure on his throat, wondering how far she could push him.
He growled lightly, playfully, his hand on the back of her waist sliding downward. “I can handle anything you can give me and then some. Care to make a challenge of it?”
“A challenge?” she raised an eyebrow, despite her stomach twisting. Was he really going to go there? Was she really going to go there? And where, exactly, was there?
“We'll try it. Both of us. You first, since it was my idea, of course.” His insouciant grin almost masked the trepidation he felt as well; was he really going to do this? And then, that?
“And by ‘it’ you mean exactly what?” she asked, wondering if her hands would be shaking if her fingers weren’t so firmly set on the back of his neck.
“Say you belong to me,” he smiled at her. “We’ll try it this way first.”
“‘Say you belong to me,’” she quoted back at him, smiling sharply in lieu of a frown. “Just like that?”
“Well, I suppose you could make it conditional. If you don't think you can handle it otherwise.”
She laughed at him, making it short and sneering. “You’re transparent. The agreement was, after all, that we’d both try it. How long do you think you can handle it for?”
“Okay, we'll take turns. Be mine for a week, and then I’ll be yours for a week.” He maintained his grin as his inward composure crumbled... was he really going to do this? Well, it was only a week, how bad could it be?
She smiled back at him, even as she wondered what she was getting herself into. He was still trying to hedge his words – did he really think she was that stupid?
“Swear to it,” she said firmly. “I want your written word on this, that if I am yours for a week, that you will be mine for the week immediately afterwards.”
“Written doesn't help.” He waved his free hand dismissively, even as the other squeezed her possessively. What the hell, he’d already decided... “But I swear, if you are mine for the next week, I will be yours for the following week.”
The air around them grew thick, and a heavy breeze came out of no-where, ruffling her skirts, teasing curls of her hair out of its updo. Her ears popped, and, acting on an urge she knew it would be wiser to ignore, she slid her gloves off, and rested her hands on his collarbones. For once, the contact gave her no visions, simply a sense of closeness beyond their physical proximity. “What was that?” she asked softly.
“I swore.” He smiled wryly. “I told you this isn't a game.”
She studied him for a moment, refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing her flinch. “So if I say that,” she frowned, and rephrased, “if one was to say that they belonged to someone – the world around them would react?” She would never admit, even to herself, to being freaked out, but this was more disturbing than men with wings, or horns, or a tail. This was the actual world changing, again.
“The world. The people. Everything.” His tone held a dangerous edge, almost as if he were warning her off, even as he pressed her forward. “Try it and find out. Just for a week.”
From his words, from her slowly dawning comprehension that this was a far different world than the one she knew, she would have expected the cold, panicky, frozen feelings she’d gotten so many times before, the terror and falling sensation that had echoed through her first week here. But with her hands against his neck and her body pressed against him, she saw instead, a door opening.
Between her and the door, coals, landmines, and caltrops; it would be torture. Behind her, ice, numbness and peace. But past the door…
“Then if I can make it through a week,” she smiled at him, “I get to own you for another week.” It was worth it, to have him in her control.
“One week each,” he nodded. “And then... we'll see.” The flames dancing behind his eyes seemed almost to taunt her, teasing, daring her to take that step.
“One caveat,” she said, knowing she was dragging this out, enjoying the anticipation, refusing to admit she might be stalling. This was important. “One thing I need you to swear to.” She held her right hand between them, palm-up, the sleeves still all the way to the first joint of her thumb. “My wrists stay covered. Nobody, including you, gets to see them. Not yet,” she added, wondering about the “yet” as she said it. “I’m not ready.”
He nodded, slowly, clearly wondering what it could be that was more than what they were already about to do. “I swear that I will not uncover your wrists during the next week, if you Belong to me.”
The wind this time was warm, pleasant, and intense, blowing her skirts, tugging his hair nearly out of its ponytail. When it subsided, she looked for a long minute into his eyes, which had burned down to a dark, smoldering red. She allowed herself a gulp, now, finding it a little hard to breathe.
“For the next week, then,” she said carefully, “under those conditions, I will Belong to you.”
“And for said time, I will Own you and Keep you, protect you and take responsibility for you,” he intoned, his face suddenly serious.
A week. She could do this. He wasn’t unpleasant, after all; she liked him. She didn’t have any choice, anyway, she’d promised.
She didn’t have any choice in the matter. There was no swirling wind this time, just a calm silence. The background noises of Hell Night that she’d already grown used to were gone, and there was nothing in the world but Emrys, and her.
Emrys caught her quickly, arms around her, holding her gently but firmly. “Easy, easy... can’t have you banging yourself up, now that you’re mine,” he chuckled, trying to lighten the intensely serious mood he felt within himself as well. What had he done?
She looked up at him, a blush coming over those pale cheeks as if someone had slapped her. “I,” she started, and swallowed hard, clearing her throat, looking small and fragile in his arms. “I’m yours,” she said softly.
“Yes, you are.” He nodded, smiling softly at her blush. “Now let’s go shopping.”
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