Senga showed Ezer the back staircase for his side of the rooms, made certain Allayne was doing something reasonable and not fighting with anyone, and then, after a couple deep breaths, headed back to what had been her grandmother’s suite with Erramun.
After a brief reconnaissance, Senga opened up the room next to her newly-redecorated bedroom. “It’s not the biggest room, but I think it will hold your things and anything else you want to bring here.” She gestured in. “All yours.”
She was not expecting Erramun to freeze, nor the very slow movement he made towards the room after searching her face for – for something she couldn’t quite guess at. After a moment, he growled quietly. “Three exits.”
“Two. And the windows. That door is a closet…. no, three,” she corrected. “The closet has a stairway up to the attics.”
“Four exits.” He moved slowly into the room, as if trying to keep an eye on her, and opened the windows. They opened – it made a little noise of protest, but her family had always been pretty good at Preserve Workings – as all the second-floor windows did, more than wide enough for his wide shoulders and lanky body.
He left the window open and went to the door on the far side of the room. It opened into, as she had said, a closet. He found the stairway and left that door open as well. Then he paced to the door to the hallway, opened that, and left it open.
The look he gave her was pure challenge. She looked back at him, held his gaze.
He was terrifying.
He was hers.
“I sleep with you.” It wasn’t quite a question, but it wasn’t quite a statement, either.
“You share my bed.” She nodded. “At night, and – if we’re both in the mood – during the day. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your own space.”
“Someplace for you to put me away.” His voice was harsh.
“Someplace for you to get away from my crazy crew.” She refused to match his tone, but she knew her eyebrows had gone up.
He stepped back out of the room, and that was another question, another challenge.
She did not back up, and she did not back down, but she had no intention of keeping him in “his” room. She waited until he had closed the door, leaving him standing just a couple inches away from her. She watched him, not letting herself hold her breath.
“Kneel for me,” she murmured – an order, but her voice was gentle. The way his knees hit the plush carpet, she didn’t think he cared how gentle she’d been. The stricken look on his face made it clear that he was expecting something negative.
She leaned down and murmured into his ear. “You’re too tall for me to reach otherwise,” she pointed out, and his cheeks flushed. He growled deep in his throat.
She stroked his hair. The door was closed; they had privacy. She never would have had him kneel otherwise.
“You don’t like the feel of the collar, you said.” She walked around in front of him and put her hands on his shoulders.
He looked up at her with another growl. She thought he might consider attacking her, if he didn’t have orders against it.
He looked like he was considering not answering. “You have me on my knees,” he snarled.
“I do,” she agreed quietly.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like the collar. Being a pet. Being a thing. Damnit, why did Mirabella think this was a good idea? What could have possessed her-” He cut himself off with a snap of his jaw.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But here we are.” She met his eyes. “I am going to mark you. I’m not going to put a physical collar around your neck, leather or steel or silk. You’re not my pet.”
He worked his jaw. “Mark me.” One arm lifted and then dropped, as if he thought about touching his throat. “Why?” Another gesture, this one clearly a dismissal. “I’m yours. I Belong to you. You can put steel around my throat if you want to.”
“I can,” she agreed. “I can lock you in a room if I want.” She regretted it the moment the words were out of her mouth, the way that he tensed and his face lost all emotion. “I won’t. I want –” She was still looking in his eyes. At that, she could see that he was actually looking at hers in turn. “I want you as a partner.” She made a face. “I know, you’re like seventeen times my age.”
The exaggeration made him smile. “Hardly, unless you’re amazingly tall for your age and gained your Name far too early.”
“Well, some people would argue… Anyway. I don’t want you as a pet. I don’t want you as -”
“You can’t say you don’t want me kneeling at your feet,” he pointed out.
“I figured you’d appreciate that more than being told to take off you shirt and lie down face-down on my bed,” she countered. “I have to – you have to be my …. junior, status-wise, as stupid as that is, or we’re going to get eviscerated by the high-blood people like my family. And you, I can imagine, don’t really want that. Neither do I. So-”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” he interrupted. “I said it already. You can do anything you want to, to me.” This time, his arm managed a whole gesture, touching her shoulder. “You can do anything you want to me.”
She stared down at him. “You don’t trust me that much. Not yet.”
“No.” He shook his head. “But I trust you enough. I’ll figure out the rest as I go.” He rolled his shoulders. “You want to mark me? Instead of steel?” His lips twitched, although it couldn’t be called a smile. “Steel comes off.”
“We’re fae. So does ink.” She put one hand on the top of his head, not knowing why, and then used her other hand to work out the ponytail holder pinning his hair back. That let her run both hands through his hair for a moment while she brought the picture she wanted to mind.
And then she started the Working. It was not a long one, but it required concentration to hold the image in her head and transfer it to his skin, one twisting line at a time. When she was done, she fluffed out his hair with both hands and looked down at the collar she’d inked around his neck.
Sparrow on the Mountain of War. Death Comes Silently. They were not Names that led themselves to pretty images. But she didn’t want something ugly around his neck. So she’d gone for something that, at the first glance, looked abstract, twisting lines dancing over and under each other until you couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended.
It was only if you stepped back and looked, if Erramun had his shirt off and was willing to hold still to let you look, that you’d see that they were a bone and a sword, crossed at the back and wrapped around at the front, the point of the sword aiming at his heart.
Senga smiled. “There.” She bent down and placed a kiss at the place where the two touched in the front. “Now you’re collared.”