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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
Yeah, so this is a short chapter, but I don't really want to poke at it any more to try to make it longer; I think it's just... a short chapter. :P

Hanna didn't see Gwen again until the next evening, after Gwen was finished with work, for their regularly scheduled appointment. Hanna planned to suggest that they take a lunch the next day and go to the bank to set up Hanna's account.

One minute after the time Gwen was supposed to arrive, Hanna unexpectedly panicked. Gwen was never late; why was she late, where was she? There were no words to the panic, just an overwhelming terror and guilt and anxiety, for the next four minutes until Gwen arrived, looking pale and unhappy.

"Are you okay?" Hanna asked quickly, and Gwen nodded.

"Fine, thank you," she said. "But I want to apologize for last night."

"There's nothing to apologize for," said Hanna, surprised.

Gwen shook her head. "I was much too forward. I think it must have been the alcohol. That's no excuse, of course."

"You weren't too forward," said Hanna. "I appreciated your honesty, really."

"It's not my place..." Gwen began, and Hanna interrupted.

"Listen, Gwen," she said. "Please sit down."

Gwen sat down, slowly, on the very edge of the couch. Hanna spoke carefully.

"Your place," she said, "is something that gets talked about a lot, when you're a slave. Mostly it's not your place to do anything, then. To say things, to do things-- that you haven't been ordered to do. Your place is whatever your owner says it is. He-- or she-- puts you there.

"But you have to make your own way in the world, when you're a free person. We all... take up space, and we all have a place in the world-- relative to each other. As your counselor, I can help you figure out some things, in general, about the world-- and since you and I also have a personal relationship, a friendship, I can also tell you how your actions towards me make me feel. And from there, you can determine whether your actions were inappropriate, whether they were something you personally regret, or not. That's not something I can determine for you. Does that make sense so far?"

Slowly, Gwen nodded.

"But I can tell you," Hanna continued, "that your actions last night didn't-- that I certainly don't think less of you because of them. You were honest, and what you said to me-- it made me feel-- good, about myself, and about you, and about our relationship as it stands, personal and professional. You showed great trust in me, and I'm very happy to think that I've inspired that. And I want you to know that it's justified."

"I know that," said Gwen. "Last night-- I know that."

"Last night, you were vulnerable," said Hanna. "You're in a vulnerable position right now, in general. Emotionally, and... logistically. That isn't your fault. It would be very much my fault if I were to take advantage of that."

"I understand," said Gwen. "Thank you."

"Thank you," said Hanna. "For your trust. It means more to me than I can say, as a counselor and as a friend."

Gwen smiled, finally, and relaxed a little in her seat.

"I wanted to ask you," said Hanna carefully, "and please don't take this as any sort of-- as anything negative. I value your friendship very much, and I want it to continue, regardless of anything else. But I was wondering if you would prefer to be transferred to a different counselor."

Gwen sat up again, taut, and went pale. "What? No!"

"Okay," said Hanna, quickly. "I just thought that maybe, because of-- because you've noticed that I find you attractive-- you might be more comfortable with someone else."

"No," said Gwen, very definitely. "Anyone else might find me attractive, too-- I'm a sex slave. Was a sex slave. I know I'm attractive."

Hanna grinned. "Yeah, I guess you do."

"But anyone else might not--" Gwen paused. "I trust you."

"Okay," said Hanna. "Good. Oh, I also wanted to ask you if you'd like to take your lunchtime tomorrow to set up your bank account."

"Sure," said Gwen, relaxing again.

Hanna nodded, making a note in her planner. "How was work today?"

"Fine," said Gwen. "I didn't have a very good day, though. I felt terrible, about what happened last night. I felt afraid of coming to see you tonight, after... what happened."

"And that feeling," said Hanna, "was it at all familiar?"

Gwen blinked, and didn't say anything for a minute, and then said, "Yes."

"When have you felt it before?" Hanna asked.

"When I was going to be punished," said Gwen. "When I'd displeased my owner, and I knew I was going to be punished."

"Any owner in particular?" Hanna asked.

Gwen paused again, for a while, looking at Hanna, and then said, "My first mistress."

"It wasn't the same feeling, with other owners?"

"No," said Gwen. "I-- no, because when my masters punished me-- and my second mistress-- I was mostly scared of-- getting hurt. Or being hungry, or... whatever... they were going to do."

"And you obviously knew I wasn't actually going to punish you," said Hanna. "So what were you dreading?"

"You being angry," said Gwen, in a small, uncertain voice. "I-- just like-- I hated it when-- my first mistress-- was angry with me."

"You cared what she thought of you."

"Yes," said Gwen. "I didn't care-- not really-- what my, my other owners thought of me-- whether they--"

Hanna waited, but Gwen didn't finish the sentence. Hanna was pretty sure the ending should have been loved me, but she wasn't going to supply the word; the trick of counseling was to get them to spit it out themselves. Gwen didn't, though; she finally just said, "I just didn't want to get hurt. With them, I mean, with my masters, and my second mistress. I just wanted to-- not get beaten. Or whatever."

"But it was different with your first mistress," said Hanna. "When you were younger."

Gwen nodded. "So-- what-- that means-- I'm getting less mature?"

"Regressing is the term we use," said Hanna. "But it's not a bad thing. When so much of your emotional development happened in the context of slavery-- a lot of that conditioning needs to be undone. Sometimes that can mean you start feeling-- younger. The way you felt before you figured out how to be a successful slave. You go back to a time before you knew all that, and you-- start over."

Gwen grimace. "That sounds-- arduous."

"Nobody ever said freedom was going to be easy," said Hanna. "You're doing amazingly well, but it's just hard, you know?"

"I suppose it's better than the alternative," said Gwen.

Hanna nodded. "You're damn right."

"I miss slavery," she told Quen, later, on the couch; she'd dropped in uninvited again, and he'd sweetly put aside his latest textbook and was listening with every appearance of interest. "Everything was so much easier."

Quen laughed. "It was? Do tell."

"Well, maybe not easy," said Hanna. "But simple. I knew exactly what I wanted."

"You wanted to die."

"Right," said Hanna. "Very simple. Very straightforward. Blessed peace and nothingness. Nonexistence. It was just about figuring out how."

"But you didn't."

"I would have," said Hanna. "Eventually. If Larssen hadn't stuck his nose in."

"You could have killed yourself once you were free," said Quen. "If that was really what you wanted."

"There was no point, then," said Hanna. "There's no honor in death when the other option is actual life."

"So you didn't just want to die," said Quen. "You wanted to be honorable."

"Well, sure," said Hanna. "Doesn't everybody?"

"The evidence would suggest the contrary."

"Everybody decent," said Hanna impatiently.

"That's quite a leap from 'everybody," said Quen. "But you're certainly doing the honorable thing when it comes to Gwen."

"I know," said Hanna. "It's just a lot more complicated being honorable when honor doesn't equal sweet, sweet oblivion."

"Poor Hanna," said Quen. "We need to get you a girlfriend."

"I don't want a girlfriend."

"Why not?"

"I'm too young to have a girlfriend," said Hanna. "I'm just now having my first fucking crush! On a seventeen-year-old client! I am emotionally fourteen years old!"

"Now, now," said Quen imperturbably. "If that were true, you'd be writing a lot more poetry."

"Don't think I haven't been tempted," said Hanna. "Did you notice that her eyes are actually golden?"

"Oh, Hanna," said Quen, and put his hand on Hanna's shoulder; she collapsed against him, resting against his chest, his shoulder, trying not to flash back to anything, trying just to let Quen be her friend. "You've got it bad."

"I know," said Hanna. "Quen, you need to start charging me for these sessions."

"Sure," said Quen. "What's the going rate? I take cash, personal checks, or the fact that you got me into med school."

Hanna smiled wanly up at him. "Just doing my job."

"You're good at your job, Hanna," said Quen. "And you're a good friend. And I wasn't actually joking when I said we could have sex, if that would help anything about your personal hormone crisis here."

"I don't think it would," said Hanna gloomily. "Not that I'm not grateful, and please don't take this personally, but honestly, the idea of having sex with a man kind of turns my stomach."

"Fair enough," said Quen. "I'll make a list of nice girls to introduce you to."

Hanna sat up. "Since when do you know any nice girls?"

"There happen to be quite a few nice girls in my program," said Quen.

"Medical students?"

"No, my other program, the circus one. Lots of attractive tightrope dancers and trapeze artists."

"Shut up," said Hanna. "I don't like medical students. Overprivileged little snots."

"Do you actually know any medical students?" Quen asked mildly. "Other than me?"

"I don't like people who aren't ex-slaves," said Hanna. "They don't get it."

"Ah." Quen leaned forward and steepled his fingers together. "What don't they get?"

"What it's like," said Hanna. "Being this fucked up. And don't say I'm not fucked up."

"I wouldn't dream of it," said Quen. "But I'm still going to make a list."
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