I can do this.
Also, I have to do this, no choice. But I can do this. I can get through this.
Stop yelling at me to go to Min! I’m going, I’m going! It’s not my fault I got held up and missed the bus and had to wait for the next one! I texted her with why, she knows I’m not trying to cheat!
The bus felt like it took forever to get to the stop nearest Min’s apartment. The nagging pressure in her head had started shortly before the time she normally left work. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d caught her usual bus. But this was distinctly uncomfortable. Yes, she was scared—this time, not because she had no idea at all what was coming, but because she had just enough idea to be certain it would be difficult. But not impossible. That faith, that Min and Nikandros, Dagrun and Henry and the others, would keep her safe, that made all the difference.
Even if they were being their full-on fae selves with her as their consenting human toy, rather than just being slightly odd but friendly.
Min buzzed her in the building door. The apartment door, unsurprisingly, was ajar—Min had told her to come directly in. She hardly even thought about hanging her purse on the coat-rack and dropping her overnight bag under it on her way to kneel at Min’s feet.
With the gentle caress of Min’s fingers on her cheek, the insistent nagging stopped.
A drawback to this apartment, one Jillian had considered a reasonable trade compared to how much she otherwise liked it, was that there were no laundry facilities in the building. That meant a short walk, only about four blocks, to the nearest laundromat.
Right at the moment, however, it felt like the safest place to be—aside from with Min or Nik—was behind her own locked door, with Henry’s protective cord around it and the windows. A block or so to a quiet little curry place wasn’t so bad, but a longer walk, to sit in the relatively exposed laundromat, felt more alarming.
Jillian paced around the apartment, deeply unsettled. She hated the idea of cowering indoors, but…
Did that mean Brett won? Did it matter, since a moral victory could still be an ultimate loss if she got hurt? A passing comment or two from Min on the phone made her strongly suspect that whatever Nik had learned, it wasn’t something Min liked, and that was worrying.
On the other hand, Min had repeatedly told her that she should go about her life and not be afraid, and she didn’t believe Min would say that unless she could back it up. She had the silver serpent ring on her hand…
Despite Min’s promise of protection, she remained apprehensive on her way to work. Brett would still be there, still be creepy, and she needed to act normally.
She couldn’t let on that the collar he couldn’t see meant that the clock was ticking on his freedom to behave badly.
That collar was also a pledge of protection, though.
Broken toys are no fun. You’re valuable to us.
Min was her friend, and on a colder note, they’d want her able to pay her debt. Flair had assured her that the fae got something precious to them out of bargaining, though she couldn’t explain exactly what—only that it was something much deeper than she’d yet been able to work out. The superficial theme varied, and she thought that sexuality and gender were common largely because humans in many cultures attached so much importance and complexity to them. She’d seen one person, who’d made only two bargains and then fled, whose religious fanaticism had been challenged and tested, and another was a poet with rather arrogant ideas about True Art, and she thought she remembered one with a previous owner whose obsession with honour and pride and social standing had been called into question. She’d warned Jillian that themes tended to continue, though, so hers would almost certainly continue to be sexual—but while some fae delighted in pushing humans into complete self-destruction, Min and her closest were not among them. As evidence, she’d offered Dagrun’s trio, who had at least three bargains each behind them and were unquestionably not broken.
Flair had also promised her fervently and repeatedly, in response to Jillian’s apprehension, that absolutely nothing that happened during a debt payment could interfere with their being friends. Since the alabaster-and-metal fae pet had become a trusted and valued friend, even if as much of that was by phone as in person, Jillian very much hoped that was the case. Flair might be able to disregard things, but could she?
The collar gave Min greater power to protect her. She needed to remember that.
What the fuck am I doing?
I have to do this.
At this hour, Jillian probably should have chosen something else to wear. Something safer, like loose jeans and running shoes and an oversized t-shirt.
Somehow, lately, the thought of going out while dressed sloppily made her wince—not that she couldn’t do it, on lazy days or period days or extremely active days, but it just didn’t feel right if she was going to be interacting with others.
Invariably, since moving a month ago, she’d been wearing the new sort of underclothes, always a matched set of bra and panties and garter belt, and nearly always, she had one of the simple underbust corsets on as well. She was comfortable wearing one all day now, and getting better at tightening it; she loved how it felt and how it looked, looked forward to being able to lace it more tightly. She really needed to ask Min about more serious ones.
Maybe because of how that felt, her work wardrobe had been gradually shifting away from generic anything-acceptable towards things that looked good on her, suited her in style and colour, made her feel good in person and when she looked at the mirror. She kept it appropriate for work, of course, and after work, switched to snug stretchy jeans or more interesting skirts with close-fitting tops. Colours were drifting away from neutrals and pastels into more vivid hues—jewel-tones, she’d thought in amusement a time or two. If her heels were higher on her own time, the colour of her lipstick more creative and bold, well, it was her body and her time and it made her feel just a bit sexy.
It’s okay to feel sexy. I won’t feel bad about feeling good.
Jillian walked through her apartment yet again, checking cupboards and drawers.
“We got everything,” Flair said patiently. She was dressed, in her cut-off shorts and a bright tie-dyed tanktop, in anticipation of Min needing to hide her appearance in public. Jillian had, in fact, told Gary to arrive a bit later than she expected Min, in hopes of avoiding an awkward moment, though Flair assured her that Min could handle it even retroactively. Perched on the edge of the kitchen counter, she looked calm and sensible—everything Jillian currently did not feel. “We’ve been through every corner and nook in the whole place. It’s going to be okay. I know you said moving usually makes for an exhausting and stressful day, but that isn’t going to happen this time. I promise. Mistress and the others won’t let it.”
Jillian sighed and slumped against the wall. “I just want it to be over.”
“I know. C’mere.”
Jillian straightened, and obeyed the gesture to come into reach. Flair laid both hands on her shoulders from behind, and began to knead gently. She knew what she was doing—she’d learned from multiple sources, she said, including Nik, and Dagrun’s midwife friend—and Jillian felt even what felt like overwhelming tension give ground. Only Flair’s massage had gotten Jillian to sleep the night before, instead of being up all night fretting and rearranging and trying to anticipate everything.
The intercom by the door buzzed, and Flair let her hands fall so Jillian could answer.
“Hi! I’m Clara. Dagrun’s just helping Madame Min out of the van. We’re here!”
Flair leaned past Jillian to press the button to talk. “Hi, Clara! We’re upstairs in two-oh-three! Come meet Jillian!”
“That’s the idea,” a different woman laughed, as Jillian pushed the Unlock button.
Having modelled the new black bra and panties, black garter belt and stockings, on Monday evening for an appreciative Gary, Jillian knew that all of it was surprisingly comfortable. The bra fit better than any of her regular ones, and if it gave her a bit more lift and more dramatic cleavage than she’d tended to want in the past, well, so be it. And Flair was right about mundanities like going to the bathroom actually being simpler with the stockings than with pantyhose. Probably it was even healthier, letting everything breathe more easily. The panties over the garter belt certainly covered less ground.
So, on Tuesday, she wore the white version to work, with neutral-coloured stockings.
It gave her a faint naughty thrill, knowing what she was wearing under her usual drab clothes and that no one knew.
I won’t feel bad about feeling good, she heard in a whisper any time she began to wonder whether she was out of line.
On her way home after work, she stopped by the same shop and bought two more of the bras, one soft rosy pink and one red, with panties to match, along with extra panties and enough stockings to make sure she wouldn’t have a crisis when they developed a run. As an afterthought, she bought garter belts in pink and red, to make sure she matched. When she got home, she shoved all her pantyhose into a plastic bag and tossed it into a box.