Jillian woke from sleep that felt like it had been too deep for dreams—at least, any that she could remember. Tired… there was a reason she was so tired. She stumbled out of bed, stopped by the bathroom, and continued on to the kitchen. Still not really alert enough for much conscious information processing, she ate a plateful of leftovers from the fridge and made her way back to her bed.
Instead of falling back asleep, though, she drifted lazily in between. It felt wonderfully relaxing, really. There was nowhere she had to be. She had permission to just do nothing. And the images strolling through her mind were intensely erotic—safely so, as long as they stayed strictly on the inside of her skull, where there was no danger of them becoming terrifyingly real.
What would it be like, being turned into one of Sati’s works of art, admired and appreciated, listening to comments and compliments, with those around her unaware that she could hear them and see them and feel their hands? Being beautiful and desirable with no need to feel vain or embarrassed, because for a statue, there was no other point to existence, no ambiguity, no responsibilities waiting?
I won’t feel bad about feeling good.
It’s okay to feel sexy.
It’s okay to like people looking at me.
She barely even heard the whispers, they’d become such a familiar part of the background.
What would it be like belonging to Nechtan? Being used at his whim and convenience as a remote-controlled tool, with no power over whatever part of her he had a use for at that moment? How long could it last, how much of a human could he control, and were there long-term consequences over enough time?
It’s okay to like it.
I won’t feel bad about feeling good.
What was it like for a satyr’s pets? Flair had said that after a bit of time they couldn’t think of much beyond sex, and Nikandros had mentioned that he gave them toys because they needed them. Was their whole existence washed out into an ongoing haze of arousal and sex? Was it always at that intensity for the one who was there permanently? No inhibitions, no shame, there couldn’t be with a satyr’s influence overwhelming all thought.
I don’t want you to feel bad and I do want you to feel good.
There is no shame in enjoying your own body.
She wandered contentedly in and out of consciousness, fingers stroking casually between her legs with no particular urgency. It just felt wonderful to be, for the moment, free. In a while, she could get up, find more food, contemplate anything else, but for right now… there was no hurry.
* * *
Jillian slapped at her alarm clock to turn it off, groaned, and threw an arm over her face.
She really did not feel like a day of repetitive and unpleasant work, co-workers she just couldn’t seem to warm up to, and a supervisor who patronized and insulted her.
Not that she had a choice. Or rather, she did, but the direct consequences of refusal would be ultimately negative.
As opposed to having no choice but trusting someone to look out for you.
Which she did not want. She wasn’t an animal, she was an independent and resourceful adult.
Coffee and a shower waited.
A short time later, clean, she contemplated her closet.
Ugh. All my clothes are so boring.
Of course they were. She had no intention of putting the extra effort into dressing up just for her co-workers to look at. Her closet was full of clothes that were tolerably comfortable, tolerably interchangeable, and met requirements at work with a minimum of effort. Trying to look like a model wasn’t in the job description, and she just didn’t care enough to bother. Her male co-workers were judged on their results, not their appearance beyond acceptable levels.
She got dressed quickly, and checked that she looked presentable.
That really doesn’t suit me.
Who cares? It’s acceptable for work. It is not my job to provide eye candy.
Irritated by the murmurs, she stalked back to the kitchen to throw together a quick lunch to take with her, before she headed for the bus.
It’s over, debt paid. So get out of my head!
* * *
“Oh my god, would you look at that?” Kaylee giggled.
“Jesus, have the decency to keep it at home, or stay with your own kind, freaks,” Christine muttered in disgust.
Jillian turned in her food court seat, far enough to see what her friends were looking at.
Just entering the food court were a man and a woman, both in black with a distinctly Goth-fetish look. He wore leather pants with extra straps that swung at the sides, and a black sleeveless leather top with a zipper all along the front, undone halfway to show blood-scarlet fishnet underneath. She was wearing a black and red corset over a black lacy top, a flouncy black skirt that was long at the back but not even to her knees at the front to show her ripped fishnets and high Doc Martens, and a heavy-looking leather collar around her neck with a chain dangling from the ring down to fasten at her waist.
It’s okay to feel sexy. It’s okay for everyone to know. It’s okay to like obeying.
Oh, shut up.
“Welcome to the twenty-first century and women’s liberation,” Kaylee said. “Geez. Does she not have any respect for herself at all?”
Jillian eyed the couple thoughtfully. The woman didn’t behave as though she were afraid of him or ashamed of herself. If anything, the way she moved was confident and self-assured. As Jillian watched, the woman slipped an arm around his waist, tucking herself under his arm; he glanced at her, tightened that arm in a visible quick squeeze, and let her stay there.
Under his wing, Jillian thought.
Part of her mind remembered, fuzzily, how a corset felt, restrictive and supportive as it smoothed everything into graceful curves. Part of her mind remembered a kind of peace in surrendering, although it was hard to bring up any details about what she’d surrendered to, or what else she’d been feeling, and she was fairly sure there was a reason not to put too much effort into the attempt to reach those details.
She shrugged and turned back to her chicken wrap. “Whatever. They aren’t hurting anyone and they look happy, so what difference does it make?”
“Oh, maybe the fact that men are already confused about the difference between a real woman and their porn fantasies?” Christine said acidly. “How are we supposed to reach a state of all women being recognized as people and being free to do what we want if people like that keep undermining it?”
“Maybe she does feel free to do what she wants and this is it, and we don’t have any right to tell her she isn’t allowed to.”
She hadn’t actually intended to say that, and didn’t realize she had until both friends were staring at her in shock.
“God, Jill, you still got a fever from being sick last weekend?” Kaylee asked.
Jillian shook her head. “Sorry. I… I’ve had some conversations with my friend Min that got kind of deep, and it got me thinking some weird things.”
“I don’t know why on earth you hang out with her. She’s a complete weirdo.”
Well, for one thing, she doesn’t make nasty judgements about complete strangers.
“She’s interesting and she knows a lot. It’s good to open your mind once in a while.”
“As long as you don’t let common sense leak out,” Christine snorted. “Okay, so, more important issues. I need to find a new blouse, nothing I have goes with the skirt I picked up last time I was shopping. And if I find shoes that’ll work better than what I have, that’s good too.”
I should’ve just gone straight home after work. I don’t honestly feel like being here. It feels so… meaningless. What is wrong with me?
Nothing was wrong with her, she was just tired and stressed and needed to look after herself.
It still felt like something was wrong. She’d been putting everything she had into living up to her responsibilities and being the person everyone expected her to be, but somehow, it wasn’t quite working.
During sex with Gary, she’d found her mind calling up memories of hands other than his on her skin, Min’s and Nikandros’ and Henry’s and Sati’s, memories lacking much of the immediate context but they were absolutely clear snapshots, with disturbing and exciting undertones of sensuality and objectification that made her body react eagerly. At least Gary’s only comment was that she was enthusiastic. But it made her feel guilty and dirty.
She’d been doing her best to be patient with her mother on the phone. Jillian had reassured her more than once that Doug wouldn’t go to jail. Obviously she couldn’t explain why, so she tried hard to remember that she’d been frightened for him too—but the memory of how she’d made sure he’d be safe was never far away, despite the blurred details.
She did her best to concentrate on work, but Brett’s offhanded patronizing put-downs and personal remarks felt like sandpaper against her nerves. Shouldn’t that feel relatively minor after twelve hours as literal property, enduring… what she’d endured?
She still had apartment-hunting to do, and with the clock ticking, she put as much energy as she could into gathering information and setting up viewings, gloomily aware of the packing still waiting. Still, maybe once she had a new place and had gotten settled in it, she’d feel less exhausted and distracted—and maybe then she could cope with the erotic daydreams that kept sneaking through her mind. They were at least partly memory-based, she was sure, but had foggy edges that made them hard to track down. They generally seemed to be extraordinarily erotic, typically far more about power and control and exhibitionism than about outright sex, and usually left her with her panties highly damp. That worried her.
She’d hoped that spending today at the mall shopping with her friends would help her feel normal again, but so far, it wasn’t working.
She’d found herself staring in fascination for so long at a relatively realistic mannequin, wondering whether it could see and hear and feel, that she’d had to try on that style of dress to cover—despite the unsettlingly wet spot in her panties.
And the semi-defence of the collared woman wasn’t the first thing she’d said that had gotten her sideways looks.
Maybe she could make an excuse and flee, tell them she still wasn’t feeling well, tell them she’d had a text about looking at an apartment, anything… alone at home she at least had some chance of accomplishing something. There was none, here.
She sighed to herself, and tried to act interested as they dumped their trays and left the food court.
Her eye was caught by a window display as they passed. In the very centre was a pair of glossy cherry-red shoes with a faux-scaled texture, the heels higher than anything Jillian ever wore, pumps with an additional strap to buckle around the ankle.
Those would look sexy.
It’s okay to want to feel sexy.
I don’t dress like that! I don’t even have any clothes I could wear those with, ever!
Muttering curses inside her own head, she hurried to catch up to Christine and Kaylee, reaching for her phone. “Hey, guys? I just got a text back…”
Next time: it’s not exactly a comfortable conversation, when Jillian talks to Min for the first time since you-know-what, plus we find out a bit about Flair’s peculiar history