The official clearly thought that Tavros was beneath any notice or mention. He wasn't really surprised when she was unable to suppress a shudder and sneer when she leaned down to snap the collar around his neck. Somehow she got it under control when she straitened and Gamzee could see her face again. Her obvious desire to please the highblood was extreme to the point where even Equius might think she was going overboard. While the thought that someone was even more of a purplenoser than Equius was disturbing on several levels, Tavros was grateful for it. At least she wouldn't dare ask an exalted indigoblood why he would take a lowly brownblood as a slave.

Tavros wished desperately that he could give his matesprit at least a reassuring glance, but it was impossible. Even if Gamzee was in Tavros's line of sight instead of being seated behind him, there was no way they could risk anyone seeing a shared tender look. The only reason why Gamzee was able to keep his composure at all was the flask of sopor slime he had downed before the ceremony started. Tavros had frowned at that; when the two of them got serious Gamzee started weaning himself off the slime, saying that he couldn't feel Tavros's skin against him as well when he was on the pies. He was still Gamzee, still believed that blood color meant nothing between bros, was still chill and still liked his Faygo. He was just significantly more aware of the world around him. Less numb in just about every field... including touch. Gamzee started 'waking up' not long after their relationship had gotten very physical. While this meant irritations like wearing sunglasses even in dim lighting because his eyes were so sensitive, it also meant he was so very sensitive in other areas. Areas which Tavros was all too happy to explore. Thoroughly.

Even though his very life depended upon this ceremony going off without a hitch Tavros still couldn't keep the ghost of a smile off his lips and the brown blush from his cheeks. Luckily his subservient posture—sitting on his legs, hands on the floor in front of him, slouched down in a bow—hid his face from view. He wasn't anywhere near as frightened as he thought he would be, in fact, he was very calm. He wasn't sure if he had just expended all his nervous energy in the various panic attacks he'd been suffering the last lunar cycle or if he'd just lost it. Even with the sneering official reading the list of freedoms he was about to lose and a culling fork leaning against the far wall he couldn't make himself feel worried. He couldn't make himself feel anything except resignation. It was almost as though he was the one numbed by a sopor pie.

His mental numbness helped him when the knives came out. He didn't mind at all when the sharp points cut into the back of his neck—being culled would hurt a lot more. But if he wasn't so out of it then he might have jumped at the pain and ruined the design and given them an excuse to bring the fork over. This was more than just a simple legal ceremony to take a new slave; it had quickly spiraled out of control into a giant political mess. Gamzee's habit of befriending peasantbloods hadn't escaped the notice of the others in his class. While he was widely considered an embarrassment there were some who saw him as a genuine threat to the status quo. This was made worse by the fact that he was such good friends with Feferi, whose plans for the crown had been discovered by the Empress's spies. With that information in hand Her Imperious Condescension started sending regular assassination teams to Feferi's hive ever since. None were successful, particularly since Eridan decided to abandon his ambitions to kill the land dwellers in favor of defending Feferi. Between Eridan and her lusus Feferi was well protected, and thanks to steady supply of assassins Gl'bgolyb was well fed.

Sadly the Empress hadn't tried to kill Feferi herself; if she had then they would already have a new ruler and Tavros wouldn't be bowed over while someone cut Gamzee's sign into his neck.

The audience was supposed to be there to show their distain for the new slave sitting naked in the center of the room, but in this case all eyes were fastened on the master to be. Even though he couldn't see any of it Tavros could feel their burning stares daring Gamzee to speak up when the markmaker was a little rougher than was necessary. Without the slime making his tongue heavy Gamzee might have done just that on instinct; ever since Gamzee started taking it easy on the pies he was able to acknowledge the hatred for high society he had always carried. Without the sopor clouding his emotions he started speaking out against those who denounced the lower bloods, particularly his friends. He would be another highblood standing with the heir apparent instead of against her.

Gamzee never went so far as to actively speak out against the treatment of the lower bloods; even when in a sopor haze he knew that doing so would only put his friends at risk. But the glares and cutting comments he made did not go unnoticed. In fact he was noticed enough to warrant a squad being sent to his hive in the middle of the day. Eridan, ever vigilant, was alerted by his sensor net to the movement in shallow water and went to investigate. He got there in time to hear the story from the one attacker who was still alive. Unfortunately for the assassins, Gamzee was in a cranky stage of stepping back his sopor intake. When he woke up to strangers in his room he had a psychotic episode. Cackling he advanced on them, saying that if they wanted a highblood then they would get a motherfucking highblood. He then proceeded to paint his walls with their blood.

Eridan ended up slipping into the role of Gamzee's moirail after that, and between his and Tavros's calming influence Gamzee hadn't lapsed back into that persona since.

After that, Gamzee and the rest of their circle realized that if they were to make this change take place the real trick was surviving long enough to see Feferi crowned. So Gamzee bit his tongue and did everything he could to make it look like the others were just his amusing playthings, pretending that the apparent affection he showed them before was just the slime talking. Gamzee hated having to pretend that the others were beneath him. He really hated the fact that he and Tavros had to hide their matespritship so thoroughly that they didn't even tell their friends. They couldn't take the risk of society finding out about their relationship; if that happened then it would put them all at greater risk.

As the indigo dye made of Gamzee's own blood was ground into the open wound Tavros gritted his teeth both in pain—it wouldn't surprise him to learn that they mixed salt into the pigment—and also to suppress a very out of character grin which was probably proof positive that he had lost it. But he couldn't help it. All these highbloods thought that this was a battle won against Feferi's rhetoric. It was almost too perfect; the indigoblood who used to embrace the peasants taking one of the gutterbloods as his bonded slave. And so they gathered in the ceremonial room so that they could show their smug contempt for Tavros who sat prostrate and naked in the center of the room. They not so quietly mocked the worthless cripple as the mark was painfully carved into the back of his neck. They cheered in whispers when Gamzee remained impassive and uncaring.

They could have their hollow victory. Gamzee taking Tavros as his slave was a solid win for the silent resistance. First and foremost it would save Tavros from being culled because of his disability; while he had dodged it for over two sweeps it was only because Sollux had hacked him off the list. But just after the last culling rounds Tavros turned 8 and so his records were transferred to the young adult system which was much harder to hack into. Sollux could still do it, of course, but they couldn't risk him being caught. This solution was much neater.

Secondly, if Gamzee took a slave then he would be in direct defiance of Feferi's plans. This would make it look like he was embracing his heritage as indigoblood and thus protect him from another attempt on his life. Gamzee's documented distain for the peasantbloods would also protect the others since it would make it look like he didn't care if they lived or died, so it would be pointless for the enemy to hurt them to get to Gamzee.

Lastly, and most importantly in Tavros's eyes, a slave lived in their master's hive. And that meant no more harrowing trips just to spend half a day with Gamzee. That meant he could touch his matesprit whenever he wanted. It meant they could be together in a way Tavros had barely dreamed of. Maybe that's why he was so calm. He knew that what he was gaining was more than worth the pain of the brand on the back of his neck.

Maybe he was just so scared that he couldn't feel it anymore.

The bandaged packed with more pigment was placed over the wound. Once he healed the scar would be in the design and color of Gamzee's sign—proof of who owned him. With the mark cut into Tavros's flesh and all the paperwork signed, it was finally over. Gamzee owned Tavros, the sign on the back of the brownblood's neck a symbol of humiliation and ownership. Or so the gathered highbloods thought. To Tavros it was a medallion of protection. Now that he was officially Gamzee's property no one would dare touch him. The indigo-dyed scar would promise a swift and harsh punishment to anyone foolish enough to raise a hand to Tavros. As long as he steered clear of irritable sea dwellers he would be fine.

All the swirling thoughts were starting to make Tavros giddy and he bit down on his lip. Defiantly not calm. Definitely needed to get the rising hysterics under control. Even though he belonged to Gamzee now he wouldn't put it past these people to cull him and say the slavery wasn't official until they left the room.

Tavros focused on his breathing as he waited for the markmaker's assistant to hand him his pants. He would have liked the shirt too but it had been thrown into the brazier as part of the ceremony; it symbolized how he had been stripped of his sign along with his freedoms. The only mark he could wear from then on was Gamzee's carved into his back; his shirts would have to be plain black from then on. The only part of Tavros's sign he could keep was the color so that everyone would still know he was a brownblood. His slave collar, a simple silver ring that rested comfortably just above his collarbone, was inlaid with a band of brown stone the same color as his blood.

So he would have to go without a shirt until they got back to the hive, but he would be dressed otherwise. Or so he thought. The minutes stretched on and the bundle of black fabric never came into view. With rising dread Tavros chanced a look at the small table where he had laid his clothes at the beginning of the ceremony. He had bundled up his underwear, socks, and shoes in his pants and had laid his neatly folded shirt on top for easy access.

The table was empty.

He bit down even harder on his lip and tasted blood. They couldn't do this! Except that they could. If questioned they'd probably say that he didn't separate his shirt from the rest of his clothes and therefore had no choice but to chuck the lot into the fire. Even if there was some way to prove that they did it on purpose, and if there was any chance the gathered highbloods would accept that proof, his clothes were gone. Gamzee couldn't afford to raise a fuss about this slight and Tavros certainly couldn't get away with it. There was nothing else to do.

Tavros took a long hard look at that culling fork and forced himself to keep it together before slowly turning towards the arc of the audience's seats. He kept his eyes down on the floor—if he looked any of these trolls in the eye they wouldn't hesitate in making him pay—and slowly looked around the room until he found his four wheel device. It was in the center of the room pushed up against the low wall dividing the ceremonial area from the gallery, right in front of Gamzee's seat. After what happened to his clothed Tavros didn't entertain any delusions about his four wheel device being brought to him.

Tavros closed his eyes and tried not to hear as the first in the audience chuckled with the realization of what had happened. Pretending his ears were as useless as his legs he lay down on his belly and started pulling himself across the floor to his four wheel device. He was halfway there when they started openly jeering at him and making all manner of lewd comments; after all, what use was a paralyzed slave if his duty wasn't to be on his back?

Tavros hated them. He hated all of them. A few sweeps ago he never would have thought he would be capable of such roiling platonic hatred but it was taking everything he had to bite back what he wanted to scream at the crowd. Maybe he was able to work up a proper blinding rage because the worst part wasn't what they were doing to him; it was what this demented show was doing to Gamzee. Tavros was doing his best to keep his eyes off the crowd but when reached up to grab his four wheeled device he caught a glimpse of his matesprit's face. To anyone else there Gamzee appeared the very picture of an impassive highblood completely unconcerned with his new slave's abject humiliation, but Tavros knew better. Just under the numb, slime fueled mask of disinterest was a tempest. Rage, fear, horror, all of it swam in Gamzee's glazed eyes. And the crowd just would not stop.

The way he had to wriggle to get into the chair of his device just made them louder. He tried so hard to not let it get to him, not to hear what they were saying about his disgusting blood, his legs shriveled in atrophy, how Gamzee surely would make his new toy stay face down so the exalted highblood wouldn't have to see his slave's ugly face. The tears welled up with the insecurity and Tavros fought to hold them back. He couldn't let Gamzee see how much this was getting to him. He couldn't give those malicious bastards the satisfaction of seeing him cry.

As soon as Tavros was settled Gamzee stood up. He offered up a vague goodbye to the trolls seated near him and then started towards the door without a backwards glance at Tavros, who followed as quickly as he could. Tavros knew why his matesprit wasn't even acknowledging him; if Gamzee actually saw the tears then he would probably lose it. Despite the whole humiliating situation Tavros felt near elated when the entranceway doors were opened. They had actually done it. They had succeeded in the ruse. They still had to wait for three hours for the next scheduled shuttle to Gamzee's part of the coast, and Tavros was sure it would be torture to have all those eyes trained on his naked form, but it didn't matter. He was Gamzee's and they couldn't do anything to him.

He was safe.