Fair Trade 4.1 Quandary: Negotiation

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.

That voice no longer sounded like Nikandros. She suspected, in the odd moments she thought of it at all, that it was her own. No effects were supposed to last, but it wasn't particularly intrusive. All it did was make it a little easier to do what she wanted to do anyway.

Right now, despite the hour, she'd made a particular effort to look good. Showing respect mattered with fae.

So, she was walking from her apartment to a park, after moonrise. She'd decided on jeans, faded blue stretchy ones that fit like another layer of skin but remained comfortable. She'd been delighted to find a black sleeveless knit top that had a vaguely scaled pattern in shiny red across the entire surface; under it, she had her black corset laced as tightly as she could tolerate. Even though it was crazy at this hour, she was wearing the red faux-snakeskin four-inch pumps that she adored but rarely felt appropriate wearing in public. She'd done her lips dark metallic red and lined her eyes black, and had in black earrings that looked like snakes dangling in a spiral. Her nails, now growing out somewhat like her hair, were painted the same red.

Show respect was part of the basic formula. Baggy jeans weren't going to do that. Making sure she looked good, pushing her own comfort zone just a little, and offering some acknowledgement of her patron—Flair said that was the proper term, patron and favourite—was a better idea, even if she usually saw said patron two or three times a week.

So, she was strolling along the street, her heels clicking on the pavement. Her small black purse held only minimums: phone, keys, ID, a bit of cash, lipstick and a mirror, and the black and green snakeskin collar. She didn't want to hurry. Looking anxious drew attention, and rushing was only going to mean she got there stressed. On the other hand, looking uncertain or lost also drew attention. So she aimed for confident and self-assured with a goal in mind.

It's okay to feel sexy. It's okay to look sexy. It's okay for other people to know you feel sexy.

Even if this might be a little much for this hour around here.

She reached the park, and followed one of the asphalt paths to the bench where she'd met Min by moonlight, some three months before.

Am I even the same person?

Sometimes I don't feel like it.

She sat down on the bench, ankles crossed, and took the collar out of her purse to play with.

Déjà vu... same bench, though under less moonlight this time. But three months ago, she'd had no idea what she was getting herself into. Now, she knew what the collar in her hands felt like. She knew that whatever price she paid was going to push her to the limits of her tolerance, though she had faith that it wouldn't be beyond them. Beyond what she thought they were, that was pretty much a given.

She could still back out. Up until Min actually agreed, she had that option. It only disappeared once the bargain was made. She could tell Min that she'd changed her mind since texting her to ask her to meet her, and Min wouldn't be upset, might even have ideas that didn't depend on a bargain.

Flair, mostly by phone, had helped her work through how to ask for what she needed, pointing out loopholes and ambiguities, and had made a suggestion that would not have occurred to Jillian. She'd promised to say nothing to Min, whether Jillian chose to do it or not.

“Jill.”

Jillian looked up, straight into Min's eyes.

“Talk to me,” Min said gently. “You've been very quiet for over a week now. Flair said you talked to her and she asked me to let you be and let you speak up when you were ready.” She laid one hand over Jillian's, which were knotted around the collar. ”I'm not agreeing to anything that I think is going to be bad for you. Don't offer anything yet. Just tell me.”

Jillian took a deep breath. “I've told you before about Brett. My supervisor at work.”

“The one who uses pet names for you uninvited and feels free to make sexist and excessively personal comments. Yes, I remember.”

“And he used to watch me a lot. That was bad enough. But lately... he seems to have decided that I dyed my hair and started thinking more about feeling good and looking good all for his sake. I was sort of distracted with moving and all, but it's getting worse. Every time I turn around, he seems to be trying to get as close to me as possible. Not, like, a reasonable distance, but right in my personal space, and if he can manage to brush against me, he does. Especially his groin against my backside. And the personal comments are starting to sound more and more like sexual innuendo. Monday, he grabbed my ass, and when I called him on it, he laughed at me and told me that a skirt that tight is an invitation and if I don't want attention, don't dress that way.” She wrapped both arms around herself, shivering.

That had been infinitely more degrading than anything she could remember, far more so than standing meekly bent over while Henry fondled her. Brett had dismissed her objections as hypocrisy on her part and mocked her anger as being trendy feminism. She'd never felt more impotent rage. The skirt she'd been wearing was a perfectly respectable dark rose one that stopped just above her knees, a knit that hugged her body a bit more than a typical woven one, but still of a weight and fit that avoided lines from panties and garter belt.

Min sighed. “Yes, because everything a woman does is about and for men. This is much more extreme than before. Can you speak to his supervisor and make a complaint?”

“I could try. I mean, it's all-out sexual harassment. The problem is that it comes down to he said-she said. He doesn't do it with an audience, and his emails are perfectly proper. But... I ran into him less than a block from my apartment yesterday. He acted all surprised, maybe it really was an accident, but I don't know. But, again, if I go to the police, what've I got for evidence? Nothing. Just my claims that he says inappropriate creepy things no one hears and tries to touch me when no one's looking and I saw him, once, near my new apartment. At this point, I'm not sure I'd feel safe anymore even if I dyed my hair the flattest ugliest colour I could find and stopped wearing anything that feels good. And if he'll do this to me... has he done it to other women? Will he do it to other women after me? How far does he think it's okay to go? Has he ever hurt someone... and is he willing to hurt me and say that I asked for it?”

“Shh.” Min moved from her chair to the bench beside her, and wrapped an arm around her. It felt protective as much as reassuring, Jillian thought. “It's quite understandable to be afraid. I detest and despise men like that, and I can think of several ways to deal with one that have been effective in the past. The simplest, which would not take a bargain, would be to ask Sigrun to have a word with him and inform him in detail of what she'll do to him if he ever touches you again or you ever see him near your apartment. I imagine she'd be happy to do so.”

“That... that might protect me, but it won't keep him off other women. I'm probably not the only one ever. I'd feel horrible thinking all I did was get him off my back so he could find a new target. And there still might be ways he could get at me at work.”

“Fair enough, and I believe you're right. There are other ways I could protect you alone, but I can't think of anything that would protect all women from him that doesn't need a bargain. But, as I said, I'm reluctant to agree to anything that can lead to bad consequences for you. You're already struggling with the ripples across your life from your first bargain.”

“It would be worth it, to make sure that he can't do this anymore. But... twenty-four hours, right?”

“Yes. It doubles each time.”

“I made it through twelve. I think...” Jillian closed her eyes, made herself say it. “I'm not thinking that it's going to be easy or I'll be able to just walk away the next day like nothing happened. That would be stupid. Nothing's free, and this isn't something small. I'm not exactly the most adventurous person in the world, and yeah, last time shook me up pretty badly and yeah, I'm still trying to come to terms with the effects. But they aren't all necessarily bad. I'm looking at dressing to look and feel good differently. Gary seems to be liking the new look and what we do in bed, even if my interest in sex seems to be exponentially higher and that's frustrating with him working so much.” She stopped, licked her lips. None of that was what she'd worked out in advance with Flair; it was just naked truth. But fae liked truth, Flair had said more than once. The more deeply buried it had been, or the more difficult it was to say, the more compelling they found it. Min waited patiently.

“I think... afterwards, I'll probably be scared and it'll take me a while to cope with, well, whatever. But I can do that, and it'll be worth it. That scares me much less than he does. And I know you'll keep me safe.”

“Absolutely.” Min stroked a hand soothingly over Jillian's bright red hair. “I very much do not want you to stop feeling safe exploring and dressing and acting how you wish. However. I don't know any way to explain what it is that fae get from humans in this particular context. Suffice it to say, it is not simple or obvious, and asking you to spring-clean the villa will not do it.”

“I didn't really think it would.”

“I don't believe, realistically, I can make a broad blanket statement like 'no sex of any kind' a second time. But specific acts we can negotiate. In the interests of staying at least technically monogamous, no actual penis-in-vagina intercourse would be an acceptable limit.”

“I was... kind of afraid you couldn't even do that. I can live with that.” She didn't particularly want to think about Gary. Fae bargains weren't exactly normal reality, and she wasn't sure how normal definitions applied. But she was very sure that she had to do something in order to feel safe again.

“Good. So.” Min shifted her weight away and rose. She didn't exactly stand up like a human did, just sort of flowed off the bench upright, and she was now dressed in shiny black that blended into a long skirt that spread wide around her, covering a considerable expanse of grass and asphalt. That probably meant she'd just shifted to her real form and under that skirt was a long powerful snake tail, though the details that went with that were hard to make out in the poor light. “You have previously proven that you repay your debts with honour. You speak truth to the fae and you have made a clear effort to demonstrate your respect. Ask for exactly what you want.”

Jillian knelt in front of her, fear and trust warring for dominance.

“I want... with no one innocent suffering for it, I want my supervisor Brett to stop treating anyone as objects instead of people and equals. I want him to not be rude and condescending and inappropriately sexual, and I want him not to touch anyone who hasn't invited it, and I want him never to rape or hurt or kill anyone at any point in the future.” Flair's influence, pointing out that it cost nothing extra to include the possibility of children or vulnerable males, not women alone. “Killing him is an absolute last-ditch option if nothing else works.” Wanting him to be an example, she and Flair had concluded, was a lost cause—others like him would learn nothing, and it would limit options as far as removing the current threat. “I don't want him or anyone else to connect it to me specifically or have a reason to retaliate against me.” Given Min's protectiveness, Flair thought it was unlikely she'd allow that anyway, but just in case. “Other than that, I don't care how you do it. But if it can be timed so that I can repay it on a weekend, so I don't have to skip work right at a time when he's maybe having bad things happen, that would be better.” She hadn't thought of trying to negotiate the timing of her share; Flair had suggested she toss it on the table.

“This one will be complex and it will take some time, certainly days, possibly more. We can agree on a date in advance, since you've previously proven yourself. The bargain remains in force until both debts are complete, regardless of when. If we have agreed on a date, you will not feel that same compulsion to come to me until that time, even if everything falls into place early. And I must complete what I have pledged, even if you have already paid. When would you prefer?”

That was a relief. “I promised Gary I'd go with him to his cousin's wedding this weekend. I was going to wait until after that, but I got scared when I saw him on my street. Next weekend?”

“Done. So. One man no longer a potential source of inappropriate behaviour or verbal or physical violence, dead only if there is no other course of action, the innocent unharmed, and you not implicated in any way. In return, next Friday when you finish work, you'll come to me, and for twenty-four hours you belong to me, with the sole provision of no penis-in-vagina intercourse.”

Jillian nodded, and wrapped the collar around her neck, buckling it by feel.

When Min ran a finger along it and touched the buckle, there was really no need to check what she'd just done.

The knowledge that there was no way to remove the collar and that it was a symbol of having locked herself into an unbreakable bargain made her squirm a little, feeling herself getting wet. She tried her best to pretend otherwise and ignore it. Normal women did not get turned on by such things.

“It will not come off until both sides are satisfied and the bargain is complete. I couldn't even if you asked. However, no one will notice it, Gary included, I can do that much. While you wear it, you are in a grey area, and I have more freedom to actively protect you. I need to consider exactly how I will do that. For the moment... I'll walk you home.” In between one blink and the next, Min was once again a human woman, in blue denim capris and a metallic gold short-sleeved top with gold sandals on her feet and intricate jewellery all of blue beads. She took a couple of steps to her chair and sat down. “Come along, dear. And try to let go of the fear. I will not allow you to be harmed, you matter too much to me.”

Neither spoke on the way. There really wasn't anything to say. The silence was comfortable, though, without any trace of strain or awkwardness, Jillian's heels on the pavement the only sound.

Jillian's new apartment was at the side of a broken-up huge old house. Min could handle the couple of steps, if someone brought her chair, but tonight, she stopped on the street.

“I'll make certain you're safe. You can sleep without fear, I promise.”

Fae never lied. Jillian nodded. “Thank you. It's been scary, feeling so... exposed, I guess, and knowing that being a woman up against a man, everything would be against me.”

“I know. If I had the power to make certain that no woman would ever be in such a position, I would do so in a heartbeat.”

“Are you sure you aren't Lilith? Wasn't she supposed to have refused to lie under Adam like a good obedient wife, and got associated with the serpent in Eden? You're even sort-of married to a guy with hooves and horns.”

Min laughed. “I'm sure only that human interpretations and dramatizations of events are endlessly creative and can be inspired by anything, and sometimes take on a life of their own in a more real way than I can explain. Off you go, dear. I'll wait until you're inside.”

Jillian followed the walkway to her door, unlocked it, and switched on the light. All normal. She glanced back and waved, and went inside, bolting it behind her.

The apartment was a lovely bright one-bedroom of comfortable size with the bonus of a tiny windowless den that was too small to be a second bedroom. For the moment, she was keeping anything she hadn't unpacked yet in it. Despite only two steps outside to reach the door, she didn't feel at all bad about claiming it rather than leaving it for someone with mobility limitations, since the bedroom was at the top of a flight of stairs.

She'd made certain that all windows had curtains, colourful ones she could draw back during the day to let sunlight fill it, but thick enough that she could drop them into place and have privacy. She hadn't pulled them back at all since seeing Brett in the area.

She climbed the stairs to the bedroom, flipped on the light, and regarded herself in the mirror. She wasn't sure whether it was narcissism or vanity or something else, but she kept finding her own reflection fascinating—at least some of it was disbelief and appreciation that she could look like that.

That collar is effectively a part of me until this is over. Until after I've spent a full day, twice as long as before, doing and being whatever my mistress and her friends want. I'm scared. Not as scared as I am of Brett, at least I know I'll come out physically okay, but oh god, what else is going to get stirred up? Even with no direct lasting mind control, am I still going to feel like me in another three months?

Crap. Didn't negotiate any limits on the mind control thing.

And I am going to be wearing this collar 24/7 for at least a week and a half. Maybe longer. Possibly even much longer, depending how long it takes them.

Is that actually getting me turned on? Seriously? I am not a fae pet! And I am not the kind of person who gets turned on wearing a collar!

She pulled off her top, unbuckled her shoes, wriggled out of her jeans.

Well, there was a solution to being aroused with Gary unavailable. Flair had helpfully emailed her the list of all the commands and functions she'd been able to find, along with several examples of increasingly complex series of commands. She was still experimenting, and had concluded that some of the sensations were ones that didn't do much for her, and devising a program that worked perfectly for her was going to take even longer. Even if she wasn't in the mood to try something new, she had half a dozen she knew she enjoyed, all fine-tunable by verbal command, to give her a considerable range to accompany her fantasies, and she was even getting more comfortable talking to it. She no longer feared giving it the wrong command, and several times, had spent hours around home with it snug inside her, always dressed in ways she'd never dare go outside. It definitely helped keep her physically satisfied beyond any other point in her life. She needed a chance to thank Nikandros for it.


Next time: a satyr in the office, as Min recruits Nikandros to help.





 

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