In one moment, he went from his soft smile to a steely stare. Gripping the ring in his hand, he yanked her close. "What is this, Vendetta?" Where he once was warm and kind, now he spoke cold and bitter.
Vendetta felt herself pulled to him by her throat, eyes widening in shock. She had to stand on tiptoe, to maintain her balance. Where did this come from? What was he thinking?.. She bit her tongue, keeping her silence.
"I asked you a question, Vendetta- what is this?"
"...We both know what this is. A point of contention."
"Why are you wearing it?"
The sudden shift in demeanor disturbed her. She bit her lip, trying to compose herself. ...I should have known better. When she finally spoke, though she tried- her voice trembled, reflecting her anxiety. "I felt it appropriate, given the circumstances..."
"Appropriate. In what context?"
"...It befits one who is owned by another. I make no illusions to this situation. I was given to you, like anyone gives a thing to another. If I'm not yours... then what am I?"
Lord Taco released the ring, turning away from her. "We had best get going." Vendetta, caught off guard, dropped to her hands and knees. He strode off, to begin take-down of their camp. She regarded him, stiff in anger. What was the problem? She spoke the truth... and it wasn't anything unusual to her. Yet, the fact he seemed so angry and upset... it left an emotional impression.
Sunshine in the three days following this did little to dispel the dark moods. Lord Taco led the way. Vendetta stuck far behind- and to the shadows. Come sundown, she kept well away- busying herself with trap-setting, scouring for vantage points. Lord Taco was busy cooking, staring moodily into the fire. As per their new usual, they ate in silence. Vendetta went to her chosen vantage point, to begin her watch. Tonight really bothered him- not only did the collar persist, it seemed... tighter. Cutting into skin. And he could smell blood on her- despite the fact they'd encountered nothing at all.
Lord Taco's voice held venom, as he strode over to her. "Vendetta. You're going to cause yourself harm if you keep that up."
"...Then I am doing what I intended."
"And what would compel you to do such a thing?"
"...I have displeased you, through my choices." Here, her head tipped downward. She was wounded, inside and out. "I had to come up with a punishment. However, I could not think of one appropriate, so I decided..."
"To displease me further." She looked up, in horror at his venomous words.
Tears welled up in her eyes. "I never intended- forgive me, I don't know what would be suitable..." Here she looked away, shrinking back. "I just want to be good, tell me how... I'll do whatever you want, I don't know how to please you..."
Her soft tone, and the sudden sadness/fear... it caught him off guard. He never expected her to admit it. Nor for this to run that deep. Softening, Lord Taco crouched down to where she knelt before him. "Vendetta, please... try to hear this. Slavery is something we stride to exterminate in my Order. I would never own another; such a concept is revolting. All people should be free to make their own choices. That said, I... have acted out of line."
"You are free to act in whatever manner you see fit, my Lord. I'm the one who needs to behave, and follow orders. Besides... You are the kindest person I've ever met."
For the second time in as many minutes, Vendetta said something that threw Lord Taco off guard. "Tell me. What have your... Masters... done to you, when you... displeased them?"
"...I've been whipped fairly often. Forcibly stripped down, and... taken against my will. Cut open, bound and left to the elements. Poisoned more times than I can count... Once I was thrown onto a bed of hot coals, though I recall not why. I could go on... But I really, really don't want to remember these horrors anymore..."
"Vendetta, I..." He took her hands in his. And felt her trembling, forcing herself to hold still. To endure his touch. Her eyes were closed, but he could see tears sliding down her face. She really believed that he would... No words could be said, that would make this right. Or even better. It would take time, and considerable effort. He hated them, for reducing her to this. And one day, he would bring them all to justice.
His hands moved to the collar around her neck. She tensed, but kept mostly still. He undid it... then re-fastened it, so it was as loose as it could be. Then his hand slid down her arms; she winced again when he touched her wrists. Drawing the sleeves, the red rivulets of recently-dried blood... deep cuts and scars... Immediately he healed her wounds, his heart broken. He wanted to make this right...
Rising, he sighed. All he could do was leave her alone now. They were near their destination anyways. Turning away was the hardest thing he ever did.
Vendetta watched him walk away, and the tears slid down her face. I don't know what all that was... what am I thinking, letting myself be so vulnerable? I can't. That will get me hurt again... Or worse. She got up, drying her tears. And resolved to keep her real self locked up as best she could. Their moods were as stormy as the skies above...