"You shouldn't be so sad."
I look over at the boy with a frown. "We are about to be sold as slaves"
He scoffs, "Where in the world did you come from?"
"Well at the Capital slaves got basic rights."
"I must have been unconscious for that part," I drawl.
"Trust me your master here will be a hell of a lot better than if you were sent further out."
The boy must be crazy or something if he can swing his chained legs while whistling carelessly. I hate even the thought of being treated like an object.
"You're looking sad again," the boy accuses.
I grit my teeth. "We are being sold. Does that mean anything to you?"
The boy frowns. "You seriously don't know about the system."
I snap, "People are sold, end of story."
"Of course an Ender wouldn't get it," he cries.
"Don't insult my home!"
His small frame sidles closer and he whispers, "Like I said, the Capital is different. Everyone connected by the chain are in the same Lot. Lots are sold together and are usually made of people who are paying off debt or have no family since the more prominent ones go at a high price separately. But follow the chain to the corner and then tell me you're still sad."
My eyes travel the course of the iron chain holding our shackled ankles together across the floor. Attached at the end is a woman leaning against the corner with a tiny smile and an air of nonchalance.
"I'm still sad," I state flatly.
"Damn are you dense. That's Elle. She's so famous as a sex slave that there have been duels over her. Nobody knows why she hasn't paid for her papers yet, but everybody wants her in one way or another. I don't know how she was put in our Lot, or any Lot, but she will get us into the best household a slave can hope for."
I really don't like being talked down to by such a young boy, but I am grateful for the information. The slave trade in the outer rims is much rougher, at times extremely illegal, and the rules of the Capital's auctioning always sounded like mere rumor.
"Will we really have rights?"
The boy must have heard the nerves in my voice because he answers softly, "Yeah, we will. Stevenson used to be a slave from North End and really cracked down on the trade. Merchants who sell unhealthy slaves don't last long, and owners who mistreat us are banned from the auction. I know that things like branding are popular up North, but here, a damaged slave loses market value. Once you're out of the End, being a slave is not a bad thing."
I stare for a moment before asking, "How old are you?"
"Just turned thirteen," he states proudly.
I muse, "This really is a whole new world."
"Bet your ass it is."
I extend a shackled hand. "My name is-"
"No! You have to keep your birth name safe."
"Thanks for the advice," I concede with a smile.
"Lot fifteen!" the auctioneer bellows.
Our chain is pulled, commanding us to walk onto the large stage for showing. It doesn't matter how good of a life this is supposed to be, disgust at being sold swells up inside my chest.
"Keep a blank smile," a mild female voice suggests.
I don't need to turn to know who spoke. The very sound compels me to try smoothing out my scowl. Then the auctioneer starts his sales pitch.
"On your far left is a Second boy with experience in the kitchen, stables, household, and comes with a secretarial recommendation. Beside him is a First girl, East End repossession, and standard rules apply. Next is a Matron, experience in the kitchen, household, and certified tutor of persons under ten. Finishing Lot fifteen is.... Elle."
The crowd breaks out in shocked whispers and heated debates. The boy gives me a pleased look that I can't seem to return. Although some of my agitation comes from not knowing the standard rules, what tips my expression from tight smile to an unguarded frown is the last woman on the chain.
She didn't get an announcement at all, but with a single word sent the room into chaos. 'Elle' barely registers the buyers talking about her, throwing out numbers, rumors and insults. Her stance is exactly the same reflection of her neutral yet welcoming face.
"Sold!" the auctioneer bellows.
The old woman glares at Elle snapping, "This is what happens when your kind is brought to the Lot."
"Did you have a master set up? I thought that was illegal here," she replies coolly.
With a huff the Matron leads us back into the slave room, tugging hard at the chain in an attempt to make her trip, but Elle glides easily while the boy and I stumble. Embarrassingly he keeps me on my feet.
"Is something wrong?"
The boy's face scrunches up in thought. "I don't know what he'll be like."
"Fun," Elle answers with a wicked grin.
Neither of us is particularly comforted.
He grabs my chin to move my face for his appraisal. I want to spit, stomp on his toes or something, but he didn't hurt the boy or old woman with their inspections. When his hands begin their journey down my body though, I instinctively tense. I know he didn't spend this much time checking the others. Then fingers brush against my chest yet again and my cheeks burn with anger and shame.
"Are you a bad little Ender girl?' he teases.
I feel damning words rise to my lips.
Elle gives a pouting sigh. "Master, I'm jealous. I so desperately want to serve."
He jerks away from me with a flustered look, quickly moving to touch Elle while mumbling reassuring words. I doubt he heard the condescending tint to her voice or her smile at how easily he was manipulated. Over our new master's shoulder, Elle grins and motions with her eyes to the door. Practically running from the room, I catch her seductive giggle, cheeks turning just that much redder.
"Don't sneak up on me like that!"
The boy rolls his eyes. "Whatever. So, what did he say?"
I glare. "You couldn't hear?"
"The door's too thick," he replies before flushing at his mistake. "That doesn't matter anyway. Why is your face that ugly red?"
"He was touching me."
"Yeah, owners always check before giving full payment."
"No I mean he started touching me. Then Elle…. distracted him."
The boy snorts. "You're going to end up seeing a lot more than just a little distraction. Lucky she saved you since we don't know what he's like."
I absently help with the laundry while replaying Elle's actions. In a strange way she did save me from his advances then and in the future. At least for a few nights I'll be free from his hands while she invites them. The part of me that had a home and freedom finds her revolting, but the part growing since the holding cell is in awe. Advice like the boy gives me is one thing, but to put oneself into that kind of situation willingly is something else entirely. The worst part though is that I don't know how to thank her, or even if I should thank her. Still thinking, I pass the master's bedroom and nearly drop the linens hearing the sounds inside.
I'm going to thank Elle the moment I see her.
I frown at the blurring ceiling as I stare up from my bed.
"Is laundry that hard?"
She flops on her mattress with a teasing smile. "Then again I've never done it so I shouldn't judge."
Everything I had prepared to say sticks in my throat leaving just a strangled, "Uh…."
"You aren't going to thank me are you?"
"Well…" I drift off, blushing even harder.
She waves it off with a smile. "Okay, but only this time."
"Oh, uh, thanks for today."
Humming in acceptance Elle begins to undress. Of course I've seen other girls before, but the way her fingers play along the buttons, the perfect arch of her back and slow movements of her hips as she slips off her pants is completely different.
"You'll catch flies like that."
I snap my mouth shut, not daring to look at her. Elle laughs softly to the rustle of clothing. Just out the corner of my eye I catch her grasp the hem of her shirt and have to shut my eyes.
"I'm guessing you're from East End. They tend to make shy girls and scared boys. No offense but if you're from up North keep to yourself. You have no idea how many times I've had to explain that a sex slave is different from a whore. Then again if you are from East End -"
"Yes," I interrupt, sensing that she wouldn't stop talking otherwise.
"Ah in that case I'll be kind and turn the light off now."
There can't be any harm in looking at her back so I reopen my eyes. Her skin is smooth right until her shoulder blades where what looks to be lashings crisscross in angry red welts with a few breaking the skin. I must have gasped louder than I'd thought.
"I'm so sor-"
"Finish that sentence and you won't get to see me undress again."
I choke in embarrassment.
"He likes to think he is powerful and all, but these will be gone by tomorrow morning if I so much as wash my back. I wouldn't normally care all that much, but he might try for you."
"I….. you were screaming…"
Elle snorts. "Annoying as hell that was, but it got the job done."
"So it didn't really hurt?"
"Nope. Now go to sleep already. You need energy to do laundry."
In the dark she can't see my cheeks turn pink.
I open my eyes too soon and catch Elle sliding into bed. It doesn't seem to matter how many times she's changed clothes in our room, I still can't look at her. Nudity wasn't tolerated back home, and two girls got harsh beatings when found naked at the same time, even though they were just swimming. If nights like this happen often amongst slaves it makes sense that they were treated so poorly.
"Am I really that disgusting to you?" Elle teases, but there is a note of bitterness underneath.
"Then you shouldn't look away like that. I don't know what you were before this, but get used to the slave life."
"I was a waitress."
"Ah, something of respectability. Never saw the point in that myself since-"
"What were you?"
She cocks her head in confusion. "When? I've been a lot of things you know."
"Before you were a slave."
"Oh then," she replies while tugging the blankets higher on her body.
I hurry, "If you don't want to talk about it I won't ask again. I'm just curious."
Elle gives me a rare soft smile. "I'll tell you, but only because you're cute."
A rush of excitement spreads through my body at the compliment, and I'm again thanking the darkness for hiding my blush. I mumble something incoherent in return, cursing myself that Elle can affect me like this.
"The first time I was sold, I was five or something on an illegal sex block. The man that bought me though had recently lost his granddaughter and took me as a replacement. The only difference between me and the other girls was my slave papers. He was planning on freeing me when I became legal to take over his little bookstore, but he died and I was sent to a distant relative.
"I ended up being more of an assistant than a slave since that man was working on research. Still, he was lonely and my papers marked me for pleasure. I think it was shame that made him sell me. He was never really comfortable with having a barely legal lover.
"My next owner was a former sex slave. She was very well known, but getting too old for the market. For years she showed me how to be unbreakable. Unfortunately a bitter owner ruined her financially and I was sent someone else. That master would have been given the death penalty if anyone called her on it, but she was above the law and no one dared. Even at her worst though, she never broke me because I'd been taught well. The way I danced the line of perfect obedience always pissed her off.
"I don't remember how many times I was handed off from one master to the next, all with the goal of breaking me. The last one of her friends was careless and I got him on abuse charges. After that I was sent to the really expensive markets with quite the reputation. I knew how to play their status games so there's a small fortune hidden away from the gifts they gave me."
In the pause I ask the question on every slave's lips, "How did you end up on the Lot then?"
She grins wickedly. "My last owner was very powerful and managed to convince the previous one to give me to him for free. He was so angry, and I'll admit that I wasn't too pleased either. His last words were 'Elle is too much for you'". He managed to take me into his possession, but I knew this new owner wouldn't be able to keep up because he was so old. Then he came back from an extremely stressful meeting, and made the mistake of demanding my company. In my anger I pretended that he was one of my previous masters and rode him hard and fast. His heart literally stopped after he finished. You can ask his personal assistant if you doubt me. Neither of then found it funny, but let me tell you, that was the most hilarious rigor mortis ever. In order to cover up the scandal I was sent to the Lot."
She laughs softly to herself while I lie there unsure of what to say. When I finally manage to fall asleep my dreams are plagued with Elle's skin, sex, blood, and death. I can only manage to hate half of them.
The boy leaps in front of me, making me drop the laundry basket. Luckily I no longer scream.
Gathering up the sheets I growl, "What does it look like I'm doing?"
"Listening to Elle moan," he happily chirps.
I drop the basket again. "Excuse me?"
His grin is far too lewd for his young face. "You've been standing there for ten minutes, what else could you be doing?"
"Resting?" I supply weakly.
"With your ear to the door?"
My glare isn't very effective with a heavy blush. Anything I say would only be more incriminating so I remain silent.
"It's okay, everyone touches themselves at night thinking of her."
He huffs, "You keep saying that like it's a bad thing."
From behind the door Elle gives a loud cry.
"Just help me carry this," I snap.
The boy takes one side of the basket, but doesn't stop teasing me.
I pretend to be reading while Elle undresses. Somewhere along the line I'd given up on trying to keep my eyes off of her body. There are faint bruises scattered across her neck, but nothing too violent this time. Still, her slight frown and slow movements worry me. She slips out of her clothes with the same grace as always, but her fingers seem absentminded. Ignoring the tingling along my skin I openly watch her climb into bed.
"I can't love him."
"A good sex slave loves their master for something. Loving a certain part of their personality, the sound of their moaning, the gifts given, or even something as silly as the sheets on the bed makes everything easier. You have to find that one thing. I've seen slaves fall sick of misery for months at a time. One man finally confessed to liking the shapes on the ceiling and became healthier. But I still haven't found something to love. You're doing better than before, have you found it?"
I whisper, "Yes."
The boy scrunches his nose at me. "You seriously need to ask that?"
I grumble, "I can't exactly ask her."
"It won't offend her. You are so weird."
I crack the wet towel at his side. "Just tell me why she laughed when I mentioned pajamas."
"Sex slaves always sleep naked so that their master can use them in their sleep."
"While unconscious?" I ask incredulously.
He looks at me strangely. "You usually wake up when someone starts sticking things in you, but some like that way too."
"And you call me weird."
"You mean he hasn't done it yet?'
I roll my eyes. "Would I be asking you if he had?"
He just sticks his tongue out at me.
I've always been a light sleeper, so the creaking door wakes me up instantly. Groggily I try to make out the figure that hovers over Elle's bed. Despite being told about it, anger and jealousy race through my veins as he rips the blanket off of Elle.
"Master we aren't alone," she protests softly.
He growls, "Then be quiet. If she wakes up…"
His hand smacks her cheek, but she stays silent. If only I could turn away without getting Elle into trouble. I don't want to see him climb on top of her, or the rough way his hand grips her hair. Even with the shameful twisting in my stomach I follow his fingers down, unable to shut my eyes. His body shifts over her.
Then she gasps.
It doesn't matter that the sound is probably faked. I watch her spine arch, hips meet his, body rocking, and lips parted. That wet sliding beneath soft pants and skin hitting skin sends electricity through me. Elle's entire body tightens as a moan escapes her lips, quickly followed by his own.
"You're a mess," he says smugly.
The door clicks shut. With an annoyed sigh Elle turns to face the wall. It probably doesn't faze her because she's back asleep within just a few moments. I however feel sick as my hand slides down to chase away the heat.
The boy scoffs, "Are you going to try and tell me that's not the reason you've been avoiding her?"
"I'm not avoiding her."
"It's nothing to be embarrassed about. I saw her perform once and had my hands in my pants for a week."
"And which one of us is getting worked up over personal activities?" he teases.
I storm back to my room with cheeks infuriatingly red.
"Oh there you are."
I scream, "Don't do that!"
Elle raises a brow. "You're rather jumpy. Mind if I join?"
It then occurs to me that I'm sitting naked in the large bath.
"I'm almost done if…"
She drops her towel while stepping in beside me. I stare resolutely at the warm water in front of me, ignoring the soap in my hair for propriety's sake. Then pale red ribbons float before my eyes and I can't help trailing it back to her.
"What happened?" I demand while wading closer.
She absently touches the red marks. "His wife is coming back soon."
I stumble, "But he, wait, how does that, what is she…. Why?"
"It's common for sex slaves to be used especially hard before the owner's spouse returns. Doesn't matter if they're open about it because once she gets back, his attention is supposed to be for her. I'll probably get more tonight."
"Your back is bleeding…."
"Is it now?" She turns to see the colored water before grinning at me. "Sorry to ruin a perfectly good bath."
Pink water ripples around her arm as she moves to leave.
"Wait!" My cheeks are bright red, but I continue, "Those uh, need to be cleaned."
"I can take care of it," she replies lightly.
Underneath the smile and careless tone a strange sadness echoes. Only because I have stared at her face for so long, memorized every detail, can I see the confused frown in her eyes.
"I uh, I can help with your back since it's behind you…" I trail off to keep from saying anything stupider.
The longer she stands there, the more aware I am of her body, my body and the spaces between. In silence I wash her back in gentle circles. I expect hisses of pain each time the washcloth passes over a lash, but none pass her lips. It doesn't take long to cover her back in soap. Still, I trace her shoulder blades, the ridges of her spine, the curves beneath her ribcage and cannot bring myself to stop. There are stray marks scattering her shoulders so I follow them over and across to her collarbone. Head tilted in fascination I let the washcloth slip from my fingers, freeing them to dance down the bruises of her neck. My soap-covered hands linger on every break in the smooth skin, but have somehow lost their focus and wander along her body. It is only when she sighs with contentment that I realize what I'm doing.
"I, I'm so, I mean-"
Her lips press against mine just enough to make it real.
"Thank you," she whispers.
Even with her gone I forget to rinse the soap from my hair.
I spin around shrieking, "I said don't sneak up on me like that!"
Instead of the boy's head my open palm hits Elle's bare shoulder.
"Ah, no! I didn't mean to, there's this boy and I thought-"
"Not like that! I mean, you…. with the bath…"
She sighs, "I shouldn't have kissed you."
"….Shouldn't?" I repeat weakly.
"You should be kissed by people more like that boy. I just ruin love. Please forget about everything," she pleads before running off.
In my shock I can only think to shout, "He's thirteen!"
The boy sits there, spraying the windows and watching the cleaner drip down.
"You have a towel for a reason you know," I tease with a light smack to his head.
He flushes and quickly wipes away the liquid. "I know that. I was just distracted by what the cook said."
"Oh?" I ask suggestively.
"Elle has corrupted you."
I give a small shrug. "Maybe. What did the cook say?"
"To get ready for a party," he responds gravely.
Something tells me this isn't going to be fun.
"Elle are you still awake?" In the silence I hear her breathing change. "I really need to ask you something."
She rolls over to look at me. "Yes?"
"Do you remember what you told me about finding something to love?"
"Have you found yours yet?"
Silence stretches between us.
"…. yes." she whispers.
Elle practically throws me on my bed and slams the door.
"Do you trust me?"
I search her wild eyes in confusion. "What?"
"Do you trust me?" she asks again with an edge of panic.
"Yes, yes of course."
"Take off your pants."
"What's going on?" I demand harshly, slapping her hand away.
"The party. He's a talker and kept mentioning dinner. I didn't think anything of it, but then he started telling me who is invited. I know some of those people and I love you too much to let them break you. Look you can hate me all you want, and if nothing happens then you can hate me even more, but please trust me just this once."
Veins shot with adrenaline, I gasp in time to her whispered apologies.
"Here's a pretty one."
When he grabs my shoulders to slam me onto the table I don't scream in surprise. The only sounds that escape me are the words of protest Elle told me to repeat. Everything the man tries to break is safe with her protection. He does not make me bleed out my sense of self because her fingers taught my muscles how to relax. His skin does not rip into mine because of the oils she rubbed into it. Most of all, he can't drown me under his heaving because she holds me afloat.
In, the first time she undressed.
Out, her wide and wicked grin.
In, light catching the water on her skin.
Out, the frown she thinks no one can see.
In, her lips pressing into mine.
Out, "- and I love you too much –"
The sun is just beginning to peek above the horizon by the time we're done cleaning. My limbs are sore as I retreat to my room and even when sprawled out on my bed everything aches. Suddenly the door opens with a crash, chasing away all tiredness in a rush of panic.
"Elle, are you okay?"
She weakly shoves my hands away. "Of course I am."
"You can't stand up straight," I point out.
"Yeah, walking might be a bit difficult. One of them was a bit over enthusiastic about seeing me again."
I help her undress since she has to lean on the dresser and nearly carry her into bed. Even as she lies there, clearly unable to form any protest, my hands ghost over her body. It takes a long time before I force myself away, stomach in cruel knots at taking advantage of her.
"Doesn't it hurt? Being touched."
"Yes, but I like it. You're so gentle," she says, voice painfully vulnerable.
Something must have went wrong after being sold because even knowing that I'm going too far I continue to cover every inch of her skin with my fingertips, and ever so slowly all lingering shyness from before burns away, giving me the strength to finally dot her skin with butterfly kisses.
"I thought of you."
Mindful of her bruises, I cover her mouth with mine just hard enough to make it real.
"I told you not to love me," she protests despite the way her arms pull me closer.
"I never agreed to listen."
She breathes between kisses, "How can you trust the love of a sex slave?"
"I'm more than a slave. Are you?"
Tears well up in the corners of her eyes as she forms that beautiful arch against me. Everything is soft curves, gentle friction, sincere sounds and perfect motion. Amid the heat her lips form the syllables of that one piece of her that no one has taken. Her name presses straight into the beating of my heart and I'd like to think that mine finds its way into hers.
A/N: Much different than my other stories, but I've wanted to use the subtle vignette style for a while now. I hope everyone enjoyed!