From rix_scaedu‘s commissioned prompt.
Ceinwen scrambled for a handhold, anything to grab onto, her fingers finding nothing but water and more water, her feet finding nothing at all, even though she’d been on solid ground just a second ago. A pond. A sinkhole? This was ridiculous. She scrambled some more, flailing and trying to keep her head above water. She couldn’t see anything except the water and, what looked like a long way away, the hall. She couldn’t see the man like a tree at all, even though, even now, she wasn’t sure she wanted his help.
A strong hand, nothing like branches at all, grabbed her wrist and pulled her out. She flailed, trying to get her other hand around the wrist, managing just as she felt as if her arm would pop out of its socket. Thus hanging from a very strong-feeling wrist, dripping, over the impossible endless pool, she looked around.
She knew the guy holding her. Unlike everyone else around here today, he still looked human, normal, for a certain definition of normal; Thorburn was a big guy, especially for someone still in school, tall and broad-shouldered. In a school with sports teams, he’d probably have been a football player. Right now, he, dressed in a long-sleeved button down rolled up past his elbows, appeared to be playing fisher, with her as the fish.
“Easy, easy,” he murmured, pulling her to solid ground and setting her down next to him. Paying no attention to how wet she was, he held her against him, his hand settling across her lower back. “The halls aren’t safe during Hell Night.”
“I’m beginning to see that,” she panted. The guy with the pine needles was coming closer, walking around what looked like a very small sinkhole. Just small enough to nearly drown her.
“She looks tasty, Thorburn. Let us have a nibble?”
“Come on, Curry, you’re a herbivore. You’re not gonna chew on the girl.” Nevertheless, he was holding her tighter.
“I never said I’d eat her, but I might like a bite. She looks tender…”
“I’m not dinner,” she protested angrily, glaring at the guy… tree… thing.
“You’re already marinated and everything,” he leered. “Good thinking, wearing white.”
“Oh… Oh!” She clutched her arms over her chest, blushing, backing against Thorburn’s safe, human warmth.
“She does look good enough to eat.” And this was another voice altogether, gravelly, rocky… yes. She glanced up to see another big guy, and didn’t this school have any nice, skinny, small guys? She’d seen them, in her classes; they couldn’t have all Changed into monsters. She shrank further into Thorburn’s big-but-human strength as a walking statue, rough-cut of some black stone, thumped towards them. “Come on, Thorburn, cut us a piece.”
“No.” His voice was so very loud, this close to his chest. “No. Ceinwen is mine.”
“I’m what?” She twisted to look up at him; he was looking down at her very solemnly, very seriously. “Um… Ceinwen is Ceinwen’s.” Ug smash. Barbarian take girl. No thank you.
“You heard the girl,” the tree-man urged. Was that really Curry? He hadn’t seemed that nasty before. She stepped carefully away from Thorburn – the water was still right behind her – and glanced at the other men. Creatures. Maybe their nastiness was just hidden along with their weirdness.
“Yeah,” the stone guy agreed. “You heard her. If ‘Ceinwen is Ceinwen’s,’“ he quoted with a sneer, “then Ceinwen is fair game.”
“Fair game,” Curry echoed. “Come here, pretty girl. I wanna show you my cones. Then Basalt can show you his stones.” He giggles as if the horrible rhyming pun was the cleverest thing he’d ever said. Maybe it was.
“Um, no.” She stepped back towards Thorburn, just a little. “Not interested. Not big into the landscape features thing, sorry.”
Thorburn pulled her close again. “She’s mine, guys,” he repeated. More softly, he murmured to her, “It’ll make them go away. They’ll leave you alone if you’re mine.”
Basalt laughed loudly. “She doesn’t want to be yours, big guy. She wants us. She wants a real hard man.”
“A real guy,” Curry echoed, “not some cy-” the second man’s hand hit him hard across the jaw. “Ow, goddamnit! A real man. Send her over this way, big guy.”
Basalt glared at his friend for a moment, then turned back to Ceinwen, leering, beginning to come closer. “You’d have fun with us, pretty girl. And when we were done with you, well, there’s plenty of creeps wandering the halls. Plenty of guys who’ll want to have fun with you.”
“And some of the girls,” Curry leered, moving closer and closer, reaching out for her with an arm that seemed to grow.
“Leave her alone,” Thornburn rumbled. His hands were heavy on her shoulders. “I’ll take care of you, Ceinwen. Protect you from these creeps. From all the creeps.”
She turned to look at him, putting more distance between herself and the encroaching monsters. “Yeah?” she asked nervously. “You won’t let them touch me?”
He stepped forward, not sheltering her, but putting himself between her and them. “You’re mine,” he murmured. “I’ll keep you safe.”
“Aaw, don’t do that,” Curry whined. He was just a pine-needle away from her now; she backed up, scrabbling away from him, and found herself between Basalt and the water. Her foot slipped, and Basalt and Thorburn both grabbed for her.
Pulled between their two arms, she swung, scrabbling, over the pit. “Come on, pretty girl,” Basalt leered through a face like a landslide. “Come play with us.”
“She’s mine,” Thorburn yelled. “Let her go, Basalt.”
“I don’t hear her saying that.” Basalt tugged a bit, pulling her arms wide apart. Ceinwen bit back a whimper. “Come on, Thorburn, let go. Let us have our fun. You can have her when we’re done.” He licked his lips, even his tongue black and rocky. “Unless someone else outbids us.”
She lost control of the whimper, and it slipped out of her lips. “You’ll really protect me from them?” she asked, in a tiny voice. This was the twenty-first century; she wasn’t supposed to need a freaking chaperone. “I mean, I should be fine after today, but I’m… ow… sort of stuck.” She bit her lip, humiliated.
“I’ll protect you from all the creeps,” he assure her. “You’re mine.”
“I’m… ew. Ug Tarzan, me Jane.”
“You can swing from my vine,” Curry sniggered.
“Nothing like that,” Thorburn assured her. “Just… you know, think of it like an upperclassmen taking care of a younger student. Sort of a big-brothers little-sisters program.”
“Yeah, I’ll.. nevermind.”
“It’s not brotherly you’re looking for,” Basalt laughed. “But we sure as hell aren’t looking for a sister sort, either.”
Ceinwen, her arms beginning to go numb, looked between the two of them. “Thorburn,” she gasped, feeling his grip on her slip and fail. “I’m yours!”
Basalt swung her into his arms with impressive strength and surprising gentleness, her feet barely touching the water. Just as gently, he passed her over to Thorburn. “All yours, bro.”
Thorburn gathered her into his arms. “Now,” he murmured, “let’s you and me go have a talk.”
“I’d really like to eat first,” she protested. “I appreciate the rescue and everything, but breakfast…?”
He smiled gently, but it seemed to have an edge to it. “Shh,” he warned her, and put a finger over her lips. “we’ll talk, and then you can have lunch. But there’s some things you need to understand first.”
“…” It looked like she really did. Her mouth wouldn’t open; sound wouldn’t come out. She struggled upwards in his grasp, staring at him, gesturing angrily: what the hell?
He patted her arm. “Calm down and stay still until we’re in my room. You’ve said you’re mine. Now I have to explain to you what that means, and what it will entail.”
She calmed down, her lips still pressed together, and settled in his arms, still. Her mind was running in little circles, but they refused to be even all that upset of little circles. He had told her what to do, and she had done it. There hadn’t been any choice involved. There hadn’t been any… anything involved. She was… his? What the hell did that mean?
Two of the older students had been having a talk the other day, just them and her in the beginning of a class. The words “be careful what you say” had come up no less than four times. At the time, Ceinwen had thought it odd. Now, she wondered if it had been a warning.
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