I have a plan.
It’s not much of a plan. In a way, I suppose you could argue it isn’t a plan at all, but… well, the truth is, I am way too familiar with the psychology of abuse to not see it for what it is. When something truly traumatic happens to you, when you feel like a passive victim of life’s events, you will do something, anything, to retain control. Even if it’s stupid, or ineffectual.
You do it because you have agency. Because doing something is still better than not fighting back. You do it to prove that you are not a slave.
Which is where we get to the ironic part…
The terms of Sharpe’s game are clear. The word of a woman is worth nothing today, and I’m incapable of standing up to his threats. I can’t choose my employer, and I can’t try to sneak out by asking a friend from a nominal collaring. But… maybe that doesn’t exactly mean I can’t choose who collars me. Choose my owner.
It simply means I need to be owned by someone strong enough to stand up to Sharpe.
I’ve considered many names, all from inside the company, as they have to be if I want to retain a defensive perimeter in the office. Wolfe, maybe, but it’s clear he’d never accept me. And even if he did, he’s old and on the way out. I need someone who’s ultimately not that interested in me, but who has no qualms about shackling a woman with a collar.
Someone who’s willing to go toe to toe with Sharpe, and defend his turf.
It’s such a meagre victory… it doesn’t feel like a victory at all. How pathetic is it when the only way you can enforce boundaries, is to surrender them to another man? Like you’re a thing who needs to be owned to be safe.
Which, the payload helpfully supplies, is exactly what I’m supposed to be.
I shake my head. Everything I’ve done so far has been to delay the inevitable, waiting for a miracle fix, or a cure, or something. But I could only do it thanks to my relative isolation. Now, I have to commute every day, spend eight hours being made into Shannon’s literal and metaphorical footstool… and try to keep my composure, as Sharpe’s eyes drill straight into mine.
I won’t last. I know it in my bones. Shannon’s betrayal was the straw that broke the camel’s back, stripping me of all hope that I can find succor from anyone in that building. From any fellow woman in this world.
And that is why, ultimately, I have a plan.
And so, as the door before me opens, I step into Lance Fowler’s home, and into the unknown.
* * *
Lance Fowler fancies himself a man of refined tastes. His study looks like something from a different era, with plushy chairs and exquisite wooden furniture that wouldn’t look out of place in a British admiral’s office. He swirls whiskey in a glass as he considers me, each movement carried out with technocratic precision, the same way he delivers his chirpy reports and well-documented analyses. He is one to truly believe that excellence will carry him far in the corporate world.
A bit like I used to… except I never gave off such obvious vibes of being calculating and ruthless.
Before the payload, I would have laughed. Now, the mere idea of laughing at a man seems inconceivable to me, and that makes me feel incredibly small. How do you challenge power, when mockery and satire are taken away from you?
“Celeste,” he says, affecting the cool, rational demeanour he so likes to project. “I won’t lie, yours is an… alluring proposal. I certainly appreciate the kind of deal you’re trying to strike. I do have a question, though. Why me?”
Why him indeed. I could always ask a friend, beg them, push them through their refusals, explain it’s for my safety, but… that wouldn’t protect me at work. I don’t know if collarings can be undone, or transferred, but I’m sure Sharpe would find a way. Hell, with Shannon as my direct superior, I would eventually crumble and do what Sharpe says, even if he doesn’t collar me.
I need someone to keep me safe at work. A guardian angel. Someone to protect me. And that means… a man.
Not just any man, though. I need someone who’s willing to stand up to Sharpe, ambitious, confident… but also who isn’t as much of a raving mysoginist.
And I need this to happen fast.
“You’re not like others,” I say, my voice so mousy and small. By that of course I mean that he’s always been completely indifferent to me. Even when I was his direct superior, I had a sense that all he was concerned with was his career advancement. That’s fine by me. Give me a master who ignores me, if I really must have one.
I pray that I’ve read him correctly. That owning me is a status thing for him, a mark that his career is on the rise: the master and tamer of the previously uptight female executive who used to outrank him. A way to advance his career, not to titillate his sexual appetite… if he even has any.
It strikes me that in a way, we’re eerily similar. I’d never considered it, but he too places work ahead of everything else.
“Besides,”, I say in a soft whisper, “better you than…”
He eyes me, meaningfully. Then, he nods.
No words are spoken. None are needed. I know the ritual down to the tiniest detail, the payload’s made sure of it. Every twitch and contraction of every single muscle in my body, coordinated into a coreography tailored to a man’s tastes. A display of willing submission, surrender, acceptance.
Silently, accepting the defeat of my entire gender, I slide down to my knees.
There is a moment of significant silence between us, before he decides to stand up. Once again I feel the awe-inspiring experience of someone looming over me, except it’s a man this time, and he seems so impossibly large now—can’t challenge him, must do what he says, must conform to his will, let it shape me like putty in his strong, manly hands…
“Actually, uh, I don’t believe I have a collar on me,” he says, frowning. A distant part of me thinks that kind of kills the mood, but being here on my knees, the payload is deafening, drowning out every other thought. The idea of feeling anything but awe for this man seems completely impossible to me.
“I came prepared,” I say. The most embarassing purchase of my life, and a dangerous one too, but… here goes nothing. With trembling hands, I raise a collar up, like an offering to a blasphemous god. He gives a throaty chuckle at that, but picks it up, the merest brush of our fingertips sending jolts of electricity through me.
And then, he bends forward, and the leather is touching my skin, and that elicits a small feminine gasp out of me, a sharp jolt against my clit… Then the collar snaps it around my throat… and I know the joy of unconditional surrender. It’s like an orgasm of the mind, a rush of every chemical that makes a human feel good.
I bend forward to kiss his shoes, like I did with Shannon, except this feels different… right. It’s like I’m begging him for mercy, worshipping him like a literal god. Isn’t that what men are like in the world, now? Our gods?
“I consider myself owned,” I say, and I hate that I love every single word. Although none of them still come close to that cursed, devastatingly arousing word…
“Celeste, I will not use you,” Lance says, matter-of-factly. I… I almost feel disappointed by that, and that sends shame and disgust and arousal coursing through me. Of course my brainwashed feminine brain expects him to fuck me…
It would be his right, girls don’t get to say no, a woman’s consent is irrelevant in this new world. What is a slavegirl without a good fucking to put her in her place? It means she’s useless, that she’s failed.
That’s exactly why I picked him. I need to remind myself of this. I do everything I can to stay on top of my own thoughts, but it’s so hard….
“I won’t use you, but I do expect you to be subservient to me… and I have a first task to assign you,” he says. “We’re going to a party. More specifically… a Christmas party.”