Chapter 100: Shahin
What binds a fabric together
When the raging shifting winds of change keep ripping away?
Draw a line in the sand and then make a stand
She wouldn’t admit to nerves, but she found Emrys’ hand even more comforting than normal as they walked to the gym. He hadn’t exactly been thrilled with her when she confessed she’d challenged Xaviera – shocked, stunned, and distressed was closer to the mark – but he was with her nevertheless as she walked to what she was still fairly certain wouldn’t be her doom.
She squeezed his hand a little tighter, and broached, a little hurriedly, something she’d been thinking of for days. “You mentioned mutual Belonging.”
“I’ve mentioned it,” he said slowly. “Have you put more thought into it?”
“Quite a bit of it,” she admitted. Most of the thought had been, admittedly, what’s the catch?. But she’d thought about it.
“So have I,” Emrys nodded. The boy was as infuriatingly inscrutable as ever.
She could suck up an iota of pride-loss; she was, apparently, going to be with this infuriating boy for a long time. “I’d like it.”
He stopped, just outside the gym, turning to face her. “You’re sure about that?” He took her other hand as well, holding them both in his as he studied her face.
She studied his face, in turn, willing there to be something there, showing him, in return, a little of the nerves that were twisting her stomach, biting her lip.
“I’m really not sure about this,” he admitted. “I know what we’ve been told, but it seems like words just can’t really sum it up.”
“Well,” she smiled faintly, “we could always try it out for a week.”
“We could,” he grinned. Was that all he’d been angling for, with all that caginess?
Well, so had she, so she supposed it worked out. She smiled back at him. “Let’s, then.”
“What, right now?” Finally, some genuine surprise from him!
She didn’t laugh, or show her relief, but she did smile a little bit more broadly. “Well, among other reasons – I’m more comfortable when there’s an Owning between us, sadly,” she admitted, very quietly “– it does provide some insurance, in the off chance that Xaviera is smarter than I think she is.”
He frowned for just a moment, but then nodded. “That’s true. We certainly wouldn’t want something like that to happen.”
“No, no we wouldn’t,” she replied quietly. “I’d miss you.”
He shifted uncomfortably, the silence as his hands gripped hers providing more assent than his words could.
“So. How do we want to do this?”
“How does it work? One of us says we belong to the other, and then the other one says it back?”
“I’m not a hundred percent sure. To be on the safe side, I think we should both say that we both belong to each other.”
“Safe side.” She smiled faintly at him. “All right. For the next week, Emrys cy’Drake, we Belong to each other.”
He nodded his assent, only his grip on her hands betraying any nerves as he echoed her words. “For the next week, Shahin cy’Pelletier, we Belong to each other.”
The feeling, for a moment, threatened to overwhelm her; her breath caught in a stutter and caught again, until it leveled into a steady pace.
She felt as if she was inside Emrys’ skin, as if he was inside hers, as if she needed to be touching him more, more than clothes allowed for. She gulped, swallowed hard, and touched his cheek with her fingertips.
“Mine,” he whispered softly, his eyes so wide as he gazed at her that they seemed to drink her in, pulling her into those portals on his soul and enveloping her, except that they couldn’t, she couldn’t be any more inside him than she already was.
“Mine,” she agreed. The word sounded like it meant ours. “God. Emrys.”
“Let’s go,” he said thickly, opening the door.
She caught her breath, realized she was catching his breath, and forced herself to breathe evenly and calmly. This was going to be fine. This was going to be… oh, glorious. They had an audience. And there was Xaviera, smirking and ready for a fight.
“My, you actually showed. I didn’t think you’d have the guts.”
“I could hardly back out and leave you hanging and disappointed, could I?” She felt stronger, more smug, Emrys’ strength backing hers.
“Let’s get on with it, then. The terms?”
Terms. Hoping Emrys would fill in the blanks, Shahin wracked her brain for the right words.
“The goal is to make the other person cry uncle. The first person to ask or tell the other one to stop loses. The loser owes the winner five consecutive minutes of doing whatever the winner tells them, collectible at a time of the winner’s choosing.
“Agreed and sworn,” Xaviera said, spitting contemptuously at the ground. Shahin could feel the latent energy in the air crackling around them, almost a tangible force awaiting her assent.
“So sworn.” The air snapped with the oath, and then again with the speed of Xaviera’s strike. Shahin hadn’t been in a lot of fistfights, but she’d figured on stepping forward and squaring off with the girl. Xaviera clearly had other ideas. The lunge continued almost past Shahin, and a short, sharp jab rocked her head back. By the time she was preparing to defend herself, Xaviera had dropped bonelessly to the ground. Her thigh impacted Shahin’s ankle solidly, and she rose smoothly from the sweep into a crescent kick even as Shahin fell. It caught her in the ribs and she found herself hurled back several feet, collapsing painfully to the ground.
Well. She stared at the ceiling for a moment, hoping Emrys could hold his temper in check long enough for her to do what she had to. The pain was... annoying, but she’d been given new definitions of pain recently. Now, all she had to do was stay conscious long enough to find the proper vision.
And find her opponent. She kicked off against the ground to spin around, narrowly dodging Xaviera’s heel as it descended. Well. Shahin grabbed the other girl’s ankle and pulled sharply. She was just too damn fast on her feet. Of course, that also gave her the chance she needed to make skin contact.
Skin was all it took, scales or no. She was flooded with images, pain. Humiliation. Acceptance. More pain. Death? Ah, the scales.
“Even in a little pond, you’re not all that big, are you, Xaviera?” she murmured. Taunting wouldn’t do it, though. “Imagine what’s going to happen out in the world. No, don’t imagine. I’ll tell you.” The images were searing, bloody.
Which could be her in a moment, as Xaviera writhed over her, pinning her with a knee on each side.
“Not big enough to handle the real monsters. I mean, you can barely handle the little pissants we have here. And do you know what the real demons will do to you, Xaviera?” Don’t flinch, dear gods, even though the snakebitch was going to break her face any minute now. Don’t think about what happens if you lose.
“Just shut up,” she scowled, and punched Shahin in the nose. That hurt worse than she remembered; the dull, empty ache at the back of her consciousness throbbed with the blow, from the same place that quietly reminded her a little pill would make it better. She tried to bring her arm up to block, but her position was too weak, and she couldn’t stop the bigger girl from raining down blows.
She could keep talking, though, and she did, through the pain, through the urgent little voice demanding pills. “Skin you,” she gasped. “Strip off your scales and sell the leather.”
That sounded more like a threat than a prediction, she realized. She needed clarity. She needed time. She needed breathing space. She needed...
An earsplitting crack shook the gym, and Xaviera flew off of her as if backhanded by an invisible giant. Shahin craned her neck... ow... to see Emrys standing behind her, arms outstretched. Xaviera tumbled to her feet with a look of shock.
Breathing room. She stood, pretending it didn’t hurt. Xaviera was going to complain; that took no predictive abilities. She talked over the girl before she could speak. “They tell me, as my Kept, he’s my weapon,” she smirked. “And weapons were allowed in the terms of this challenge. As I was saying…”
Xaviera’s mouth worked a few times, but no sound came out at first. Then, “Tempero Intinn Emrys oro’Shahin!”
Hunh. Shahin didn’t waste time thinking about whether or not that would work; she talked instead. ”They are going to skin you, Xaviera, for your leather, skin you and heal you and skin you again. They’ll keep you in a dank little basement room, not even a locked cell. No need for that. And one day, they’ll get too lazy about the healing. Ellehemaei can get infections, you know.”
Xaviera hissed and came at her again, fast and hard.
She pretended she wasn’t worried. She was getting really good at pretending she wasn’t worried. ”It’s a gruesome way to die. Gangrene will set in in one leg, and they’ll amputate with fire and rowan. But they’ll wait too long...”
“Shut up!” Xaviera spat, and the world flashed red for a moment as she struck again. Shahin tasted blood, felt something rolling around in her mouth as she talked.
“…they’ll wait too long,” she repeated, “and the rot will have spread already. They’ll keep skinning the other leg as many times as they can, while your body is eaten up from the inside, torture you to get every last penny out, while even breathing becomes an agony…” That was a tooth, wasn’t it? Could Caitrin heal that?
And that was a rib, but it didn’t matter, it couldn’t matter until she’d won.
“Shut up!,” the other girl screamed, hitting her again, reopening wounds from the dragon. She was having trouble breathing, but it couldn’t matter.
“Stop it!” And now it didn’t matter.
“All right,” she smiled. “All you had to do was ask.”
Only then did the snake-girl seem to realize her mistake. “Shit! You little bitch!”
“Yes,” she agreed. “But there was nothing against that in the challenge, either.” She would have stood up, but she was still sat upon. “I’ll see you Sunday to collect my five minutes.”
“Fuck!” Xaviera spat on the ground and jumped back, storming away.
Shahin smirked faintly and pulled herself to her feet, looking for Emrys.
He was already by her side, putting an arm around her shoulders. “Let’s get you to the clinic. And I want to talk on the way.”
That sounded ominous, but his arm felt so good. “All right.” She leaned into his embrace and let him steer the way, everything Xaviera had done to her beginning to hurt all at once.
“I can’t do this.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, fearing she knew all too well.
“We’ve been together like this less than half an hour - seeing you like that, feeling you, with you - and I already know I can’t have it be for a week.”
She caught her breath, felt it falter, felt something that threatened to be a sob welling up. “All right…” she said, her steadiness failing her.
“Shahin, I release you from Belonging.” He turned, hands on her shoulders, watching her expectantly.
She swallowed hard, her hands trembling. Well, it had been good while it lasted. “Emrys, I release you from Belonging,” she whispered.
“It couldn’t be a week,” Emrys repeated as the world shifted dizzyingly around them. He took a deep breath. “Shahin cy’Pelletier, we Belong each to the other, for all time, unending.”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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