Time passed quickly, after that fateful day. It barely felt like moments before it had been an entire year since Lily had been bought at the auction.
When they woke up that day, checking the date, they were overwhelmed with complicated emotions. Everything they had been through over the past twelve months. All the memories they made, all the things they came to terms with, all the skills they learned and connections they made. All the friends they made. All the people who stood by them.
If they had told themself five years ago that they were going to sell themself and be bought at an auction, they were certain that young Delta would have a heart attack that would put them in the ER for months. But that was their situation. And even though it was often stressful, they could say for sure, without hesitation, that it was the best thing that had ever happened to them. That she was the best thing that had ever happened to them.
Was she the best person they'd ever met? Maybe not. But was she the most important person they'd ever met? Important to them?
They didn't even have to think about it.
Lily woke up and sat at the TV as had become routine, grinding levels in online play. They were becoming a well known name in the community, at that point. People occasionally reached out to them for tips on playing Darkrai and countering Gardevoir. Of course, they did their best to help, and they even reached out of their area. It wasn't just the Gender Gang anymore. They'd made friends in other parts of the country, and even other parts of the world.
They eventually did start going back to ASZ, though not nearly as often as they used to. When they went back, they and Rye nodded to each other. They had talked. Lily wasn't sure if things would ever be the same between them, but Pierre had played mediator, explaining that - as hard as it was to believe - Rye legitimately hadn't known what he did was wrong. It wasn't enough to forgive him. But it was a start.
"We've taught you so well," Pierre had said through fake tears when they came back, giving them a cheap plastic medal that all the regulars had signed. "They grow up so fast..."
Thankfully, Asher hadn't come back to the cafe. Magnolia had said she made sure of that, and that he would never get close to them again. And as long as he was keeping his distance, they were okay.
Jenn and Lily were hanging out about as much as they used to, before everything went sideways. Lily had gotten quite good with painting, though they could only dream of ever being as good as Jenn. They showed Jenn the painting they had done of themself and Magnolia - which was framed in her office - and, while Jenn had some pointers, they were overall impressed with Lily's progress. Their Mistress had never asked for any favors again, though the offer had been extended, and Jenn had said it wasn't out of the question. They did still have a thing for Lily, after all.
Crimson had left them alone, too. Lily assumed that she probably moved away, not wanting to even risk Magnolia's ire. Maybe she was gone for good. They hoped so.
Jenn had gotten a job through Magnolia's connections - minimum wage office work, which was still something - and offered Lily a position there. Lily declined, of course. They had more important duties.
Lily didn't think anything was particularly missing from their life, anyways.
As Lily finished up a match, they heard the door swing open, and they shut off the game immediately. They stood up to greet Magnolia, her footsteps unmistakable.
"Hello, Mistress," Lily smiled. "How was your day today?"
"Half-way decent, for once," Magnolia half-grinned. "People were useful, for once. I even nearly considered giving someone..." she shuddered, "a raise."
"Oh. I suppose they were very useful, then?"
"Very much so. Essentially did all my work for me."
She approached Lily, and put a hand to their face, rubbing their cheek affectionately. Lily purred, basking in the sensations and warm love they were getting more frequently.
"Ah, yes!" Magnolia said, retracting her hand. "I almost forgot. Happy... one year anniversary, I suppose you could call it."
Lily smiled again, a big, dopey, toothy smile. "It has been a year, hasn't it?"
"And I take it you've enjoyed it?" Magnolia asked. Lily barely had to think about the answer.
"Good. Me too. I, actually..." she blushed, and tried to cover it with a smirk, "got... something, for you to celebrate."
Lily perked up. What would she possibly be embarrassed about? They hummed in curiosity as Magnolia reached into her bag, then pulled out what seemed to be a collar, although it had no visible way of opening it. It was a solid piece of metal with two hinges, tinged white with pink and blue accents tracing along it. The back was engraved and enameled in black with 'Property of Mistress M.' From the front, a small loop stuck out, with none other than their Darkrai charm from the necklace they had gotten Magnolia on their 'business trip.'
"I was tired of getting asked questions as to why I had mine on at work," she explained. "And, I figured I could put your half to better use... on you, obviously."
Lily eyed it, almost lifting their hands to grab it greedily. They stopped themself, though, not wanting to seem like they were asking for more than their Mistress was willing to give.
"I can see the look in your eyes. Of course you want it. I had it specially cast, forged, and plated for you. I'm sure I don't have to ask you this, but... are you ready to accept it?"
"Yes, Mistress," Lily said genuinely. "Thank you so, so much."
"Of course you are," Magnolia smiled, stepping towards Lily to snap the collar around their neck, then fiddling with something at the base. They gave it an experimental tug, and found that it was locked on. "You deserve everything I give you."
Lily giggled happily, a warm feeling almost hugging their soul. The collar was snug, but not tight enough as to choke them. Of course, they loved the charm too - what a creative way to use it!
"It's... kind of a ring, I guess," Magnolia said, looking away.
"Is... does that..." Lily stammered.
Magnolia sighed, giving them a tired smile. "No. The idea of tying myself down formally like that still feels wrong. I've spent my life fighting for independence and mastery, and something in me doesn't want to be beholden to anyone." She chuckled. "But think of it as a promise, plaything. One day, I will."
They blinked, taken aback, flushing. How were they supposed to respond to that? Anything they'd say would just be a jumbled mess. Thankfully, something else occurred to them, and they changed the subject.
"W-what about the other necklace?" they asked.
"Ah, yes. Of course, I had to keep my half. That was the entire point, no?"
Lily nodded - though they felt a little sad she wasn't wearing it now.
"Don't look so downcast," Magnolia smiled. "I think you'll appreciate where it is. And I do have it on me." She reached into the pocket of her work suit and pulled out something very familiar - the custom-made pocket watch that Lily knew so well.
The soft ticking alone was enough to get them sinking into a light trance, soothed by the relaxing sound. But... Why was Magnolia showing them the watch? To distract them?
She turned the clock around, revealing a small acrylic window that hadn't been there before. And beneath it was the other half of the necklace. Lily's eyes widened, and they smiled like the idiot they were.
"I trust you enjoy what I did with them," Magnolia sighed. "They are a tad childish, but I suppose I'll have to forgive you for that. I quite enjoy what I've done with them myself."
"I love it... I love it so much," Lily whispered.
"Before I drag you into the bedroom to... give it a test run, so to speak, I have a question for you, and I want you to answer honestly." Magnolia's face grew solemn. Lily froze, worried. "Where has Kassandra been?"
Lily unfroze. They had been waiting for that question, though the answer wasn't a painful one. Just one that took some thought to explain.
"I don't know. She hasn't come up in months," they said honestly. "I don't feel like... she's gone though, you know? I feel like she's still here, just in a new way. She's just kind of existing as part of me in a new way, one that's a lot less stressful for everyone." They paused. "She's not gone. And if she comes out again, I don't think it'll be a problem. She... stopped hating you, a while back. And even if Chain comes out... I think I can handle it."
"I commend you for getting a handle on it," their Mistress said, and Lily's smile widened. "I'm sure if something happens again, we can both deal with it."
They nodded. She was right. She was always right about these things.
"Oh... one last thing." Magnolia pursed her lips. "I had a question for you."
"Y...yes?" Lily stammered, instantly nervous. What could a conversation like that have made her think of?
"This apartment is beginning to feel a little cramped, isn't it? What with all the gifts I've gotten you over this year... Seems you're not living out of a suitcase anymore, plaything."
Lily cocked their head. "Um... I suppose?"
"I'm asking you," Magnolia chuckled, amused, "if you'd like to move into my house."
Lily froze. She was... actually offering that? For real? Right here, right now? "Um, y-yes?" they sputtered, unable to hide their excitement and confusion. "B-but is... is that really okay?"
"Of course, you ditz. I offered, didn't I?" She extended a hand to ruffle Lily's hair, letting the moment sink in slowly. "I'll call my movers and ask them to stop by sometime next month. Does that sound good... plaything?"
Lily nodded, their heart racing in glee.
"So, I take it you want to try out my clock with its new... accessory?" she smirked. Lily nodded again, enthusiastically.
"Good. Then follow me into the bedroom," Magnolia ordered, then chuckled. "I trust you can keep up with my pace?"
Lily smiled wide as they followed her in. "Always."