Erramun shifted on his knees but didn’t stand. He didn’t look at her, didn’t move to touch the ink. He seemed to be staring off into space.
Senga walked around behind him and brushed a feather-light touch over his shoulders.
He twitched and leaned forward, away from her touch. She moved her hands and moved back around in front of him.
His hands had come to clasp behind his back. His eyes looked blank. Senga frowned. “Errmun?”
“Yes, mistress?” His voice was rough and very quiet. He looked like he was holding himself forcibly still.
“Senga,” she corrected. “Erramun, what’s wrong?”
“Everything is fine… mistress.” His shoulders were tight. She wanted to touch him again, but it seemed like it was hurting him.
“Erramun,” she repeated. “Sa’Death Comes Silently.”
He, if anything, grew more still, only his eyes flickering up to look at her. “You collared me.” His voice was flat. “I belong to you.”
“Come sit with me on – on this chaise here.” It was a silly, finicky piece of furniture, but it was big enough for two. When he started to move without standing, she offered him a hand. “You don’t need to be on your knees anymore.”
He looked at her hand as if it was going to grow a head and bite him, but after a moment, he took it, stood, and walked to the couch without releasing her hand.
Senga squeezed his fingers gently as they sat down. “Erramun. You’ve Belonged to me since the minute we agreed to it in the lawyer’s office. Why is this different?”
His free hand lifted towards his neck then dropped again. He twisted his lips in something that was too awkward to really be a frown. “You collared me.”
“I told you that I was going to.”
“Yes.” He studied her face. “And if you told me that you were going to visit the moon, I’d react when you started the trip, not when you told me.”
He sounded a little more like himself. Senga smirked at the analogy and touched the lines she’d inked into his neck. “It’s not a dog collar,” she offered. “It’s not steel. It’s-”
“It’s a collar. You want to make sure everyone knows that I’m Owned.” His voice lashed out, but a moment later he dropped his head. “-Mistress.”
“It’s a collar. I want to make sure everyone knows I’m not being controlled by my Bond Servant.”
“The same thing,” he grumbled. But his shoulders stopped being quite so hunched. “Controlled?”
“You’re older, smarter, more powerful-”
“-you just said the same thing three times.”
“Glad to know your sense of humor is coming back. And Great-Aunt Mirabella decided you should be Mine. If you were in my shoes -”
“I’d fall flat on my face.”
“-wouldn’t you worry about that?”
He managed a little laugh. Senga smiled at him. “…Yeah. I mean, I’m a little worried about it in my shoes. Uh. That is, I’m worried about why Mirabella decided to blackmail me into being Yours. There’s a lot of reasons I can think of, and none of them work out very well for me.” He rolled his neck and shoulders and looked away from her. “I appreciate that it’s not steel. Or a dog collar. I just – You marked me. You want to be sure I know that I’m yours, don’t you?”
“Well, as a tertiary need, yeah. And that I remember that you’re mine, too.” She touched his shoulder lightly. “As I said. You’re older, smarter, and stronger than I am. This isn’t the way these things normally shake out. So.” She took a breath that was shakier than she wanted it to be. “I wanted to make sure we both remembered.”
Now, he looked at her. “You’re afraid of me.”
“Sometimes,” she admitted.
“Don’t be.” He reached up again and ran his hands over the tattoo around his neck. “You Own me. You control me. I’m no danger to you, none at all. And if you’re worried about what happens after, well. I walked into this, knowing how young you had to be and knowing you were Mirabella’s family. So I’m not going to come after you afterwards.”
“Great-Aunt Mirabella didn’t leave you a whole bunch of choice,” she countered. “You might want to come after me, since I got the better end of this deal.”
“You Own me,” he repeated. “You are Mirabella’s family, and you Own me. Because the choice was dying for you and…” His hands fell to his lap. “I made a decision that this would be preferable to the alternative. Don’t be afraid of me. I can’t hurt you.”
“Are you honestly telling me that, if you decided you wanted to hurt me, you couldn’t come up with a way around the orders to do it?” It was almost a relief to say it instead of having it gnawing at her mind.
“I’m telling you…” He huffed and looked away. His voice dropped down to a mutter. “I’m telling you that I can’t hurt you.” He turned to look at her. Something in his eyes looked rather vulnerable, a look that made Senga simultaneously want to pat his head so he felt better and run away from the wrongness.
She took his hands instead. “I believe you,” she told him. She found that, sitting there like that, his hands in hers, her mark around his neck, she could, for a while at least, stop being afraid of him.