By Tuesday, Ceinwen was beginning to get used to the collar, or, at least, to the way it felt around her neck. She didn’t find herself reaching up at every opportunity to touch it, and the movement it made, shifting with every move of hers, didn’t cause sudden, unwanted reminders of Thornburn and his arrogant, knowing smile.
She hadn’t yet gotten used to the way everyone’s eyes seemed to go to her throat, though. Sometimes it was other Ninth Cohort students, their own necks circled by something, looking lost, or still bare-necked and looking like they’d missed the memo. Sometimes it was upperclassmen and teachers with sympathetic looks.
The worst, however, were the other looks, the vaguely disappointed ones, especially from someone like Taliesin, who she’d really liked, who’d invited her to a poetry reading next weekend. Somehow, she didn’t think Thornburn would let her do that. Worse, she doubted the invitation was still open.
She didn’t mean to start crying about it – she’d been so good, holding in the tears, not letting Him see how upset he’d gotten her. She could have kept going, except the leer that Curry gave her as she walked into the Dining Hall, the whispered insinuation that he couldn’t wait until Thorn was ready to share her.
She fled before anyone could tell her to stop, relieved that He hadn’t thought to give her any orders about lunch yet, and kept running, choking on the tears she was trying to hold back.
She fell into the girls’ room almost accidentally, looking for a place to hide, somewhere He wouldn’t come looking. The bathroom seemed to fit the bill perfectly, so she slipped in, hiding in the last stall, and let the tears come.
She was his. She was a possession, and everyone knew it. Everyone who looked at her knew he’d marked her, caught her. From the leers some people were giving her, everyone thought they were having sex. And his friends thought, eventually, He’d get bored with her and share her with them.
Share her. The sobs bubbled up, and escaped, one after another. Things got shared. You lent your favorite CD, your favorite pants. Not your girlfriend. Not your friend. She gulped air, trying to calm down, and kept sobbing.
It felt as if every tiny thing since Saturday morning was coming out all at once. Basalt, who she’d thought was an okay guy, grabbing her arm and yanking her down a hole. Curry laughing and leering at her. Thornburn’s gentle, calm voice. “I’ll protect you. Be mine.”
His smirk, afterwards, as he showed her exactly what kind of power he’d given over her. The box where he’d locked a quarter of her stuff, then another quarter of it when she complained about the first bunch. The collar around her neck. The weight of it when she was naked, pressed against his clothed body for sleep. The darkness of his shadows, even in her dreams. The shadows all over this school. The light she’d shined on all of it.
She caught the next sob, swallowed it, and stood, slowly, remembering that light, and the warmth of it. She scrubbed at her eyes and stretched her back, talking herself into some semblance of calm. Curry was an ass, yes, but Thornburn had said, over and over again, that he Kept her (at least in part, and the “in part” worried her a bit) to protect her. Did she really think Thornburn would share her? Did Curry think it would happen? Or was Curry just trying to freak her out, to see how much he could affect her?
She scrubbed at her eyes in the sink, trying to work her mind around the uncomfortable feeling of being a possession, and the even more uncomfortable part of her that wanted to accept it, to accept Thornburn’s rule. She was so tangled in the internal argument, she didn’t notice the door had opened until, glancing in the mirror, she saw a face behind her.
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