One || By Mayor's Request

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Quinn uses they/them. Lorne uses they/them. They are nonbinary and use singular "they" pronouns. By all means, ask questions about them, but don't misgender them. Thanks.

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One

The metal is cold in my hands when I curl my fingers around it. Thick, sturdy, and as heavy as a tome, the collar is almost a familiar weight in my hands. The blacksmith regards me with a careful eye when I finally look up.

"This is the newest you've got?" I ask.

She arches a thick eyebrow and looks me up and down, as if to question what I could possibly need a collar for. Even still, she doesn't have the heart to ask, and I wouldn't have the heart to answer if she did. Finally, she plants both gloved hands on her hips. "Yep." Her voice is thick, like she's talking around a marble. "Best quality, too. Whatever – or whoever – is asking for it is getting their money's worth."

The sound of horses and carts outside fills the void between us. I can see my face staring back at me as I turn the silver loop around in my hands. A rectangle hangs from what I think is the front – presumably for a chain. Along one side is a latch.

I grab the loop in my hands and give an experimental tug. It clinks but doesn't come apart. Of course, I'm not as strong as Lorne is, but something tells me it would still hold.

"It's good, quality steel. Stainless. None of that sterling silver shit." She pauses to spit before continuing. "Sterling tarnishes fast and isn't as hardy. And silver and gold are too soft."

"I know." The last time I tried gold, it was a disaster. The memory digs its nails into the back of my neck and elicits a shiver from me.

"Well?" She sounds agitated – not that I blame her. She has better things to do than tend someone with a collar fetish, especially if said someone keeps coming back.

"I'll take it."

In an instant, a leather-wrapped hand is shoved under my nose. Its overwhelming aroma of oil and deerskin and smoke stings my nose. "Ten gold."

I blink, daring to look from my hands to her face. "Ten? For steel?"

Her stare is unwavering, the color of ice and just as cold. "It's stainless. Not carbon. It gets expensive." While I'm reaching into my pockets, she takes the opportunity to give me another once-over. "Besides," she continues, "I normally only sell this stuff to gaolers. You should consider yourself thankful."

"And I do." With that, my money pouch is in my fist. This week's savings – and last – are contained inside. I make a silent prayer it's enough.

"And by all means... I could take it back..."

"No." I fish through the pouch as I speak, coins clinking together. After a moment, I give a frustrated sigh and drop the pouch into her open palm. "There."

The blacksmith upends the pouch into her other palm, flicking her fingers through piles of gold and silver and copper. As the coins clink, she alternates between clucking her tongue and biting the inside of her cheek. She doesn't speak and, because I have nothing to say, I stand there and shuffle my feet. Anxiety gnaws a hole in my stomach. Though we're in the back of her shop, the heat of the bellows hits me harder now than it did a few minutes ago. Sweat breaks out under my collar.

She nods. Gathers the correct coins in one fist. The leather of her gloves squeaks with each minute movement. "There." She huffs before continuing. "It's all yours. Do I need to run through how to keep it in good condition or...?"

Faster than I probably should, I shake my head. "No," I say, fighting to keep excitement out of my voice. "I got it."

"Mmhm. Okay." She purses her lips, counts the coins in her palm again. When I don't move, she arches an eyebrow and waves me off. "You can leave now."

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