"Commander, I don't believe we require your presence any longer. I can fetch the counsel on my own." Zyn's voice is firm, strong, surprising. Zyngar opens his mouth to protest, his arm still wrapped around my neck, but a look from Zyn stops any argument from coming out. He releases me and the bands of hatred cinched tight around my chest ease somewhat.

"Very well, Grzyndigaldrx.  I cannot help you anymore." Zyn gives a small snort, as if Zyngar's words are meant to be funny. Zyngar gives a low growl, and I'm not entirely sure if he is speaking in their native tongue or not. He continues down the stair, his back stiff until he reaches the last step. "I'd be careful, human. I'm not sure if Grzyndigaldrx has told you, but we are not kind to all of our 'pets'. Zyn growls at him, and this time, I'm sure it's a response.

I wait, quiet, hidden within myself until I can no longer hear the crisp strike of Zyngar's boots on the tile before I speak. "Is that what I am to you? A pet?" I spit the word from my mouth as if it were dirty, my mind going back to the ragged, starving dogs back on earth. I see their snarling, feral teeth nipping at one another for food and the enjoyment of their masters. The image makes my stomach twist.

"No, Azra, no." Zyn pulls me to him, kissing the top of my head, resting his cheek against my hair. "Ignore him. He thinks that, because he found you, you should be his." I frown, my eyebrows knotting together as my brain tries to pick out the logic in this sentence.

"Shouldn't I be? His, I mean? After all that's happened, I never thought... I always assumed." He stops me with a finger pressed to my lips. I'm reminded of melting butter once again.

"No, Azra. You're mine. I won't let him, or the counsel, take you away." I can tell from his voice that he's smiling, but I am not. A sick feeling has gained force in my belly, pushing against his words with a force all its own.

"Mine." He says. "His." No matter how much Zyn denies it, I am still owned. I am barely better than that girl in the holding bay, no better than Kairim, stuck on this ship for the rest of his days. I am still a slave, a play-thing for Zyn's enjoyment. I back away, my feet going higher on the stair, closer to the place the dreaded counsel awaits.

"I want to see the counsel now." My voice is firm, steady, a ship that's pulled taunt against it's anchor. I do not want to belong to Zyngar, or Zyn, or anyone else. I will not be a pet. Zyn tries to cover his surprise, his confusion. He shakes his head.

"We will. It would be best if we waited..."

"No, Zyn. Now. I want to see them now." There is pain in his eyes, mixed with a touch of confusion. I let my voice soften. "I don't want to be afraid anymore." Tears trickle down each syllable. He nods.

"Alright, wait here. I'll...I'll fetch them." He moves past me, hesitating as his feet travel past me, carry him away. I sink on the stair, trying to remember how to breathe, counting the seconds it takes for me to make my head return to my body. I am going to meet the counsel. This thought brings me little joy. I do not know what to say to them, what it will take for them to decide I am not worth "pet" status.

I do not let myself think what this decision will mean for me; for Zyn; for the frail thought of "us" that has seeped into my thoughts when I think of him. I wait on the stair until I hear his footsteps approaching. I wipe the tears that have sneakily made their way down my face. I am ready.

Zyn's face isn't composed like mine is. He's worried and he's letting it show. He doesn't want me to do this. I don't want to do this. But I have to. I cannot live knowing that at any moment, I could be sent away. I climb the stairs after Zyn just like the pet Zyngar accused me of being, trailing behind him like a silent shadow. I wonder if shadows are even possible in this light drenched place.

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