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I should really get around to figuring out what Ahouva’s Changes are.
Basalt sat down under the shade of an apple tree, at the edge of a beautiful little orchard, and patted the ground next to him. “So, that list. Let’s talk about it, okay?”
Ahouva sat down where he indicated, smoothing her skirt under her. A little dirt would come out in the wash, and she didn’t want to make him any unhappier. “Okay?” She wished she could just burn it. She wished he’d never ordered her to write the stupid thing.
“Let’s start with that last one.”
She winced, and pulled her knees to her chest. “I’m sorry! It’s…” It wasn’t fair, forcing her to be honest like that. She could do so much better if he let her keep things to herself.
“It’s fear. It’s a natural emotion, but it’s not exactly a fun one. And I can’t blame you for not liking it.” He took her notebook from her and looked at that last item again. “‘I don’t like being scared of my Keeper.’ I wouldn’t, either, Ahouva.”
She peeked up at him. He didn’t look angry. Yet. “I can’t imagine you scared of anything.”
“I was scared when I was Kept. I wasn’t scared of Brydan, but I was scared of not having any control over anything. I get angry when I’m scared, though.”
She nodded, gulping a little bit. “I just get worried.” That was almost true, at least. She could remember, Before, getting angry about it. But that was another world.
“I don’t blame you. So…. how can I help you not be scared?”
“You could order me not to?” she offered in a tiny voice. The don’t-feel-this-way orders were the worst. But it would stop the problem, right?
“No, honey.” He was frowning, but it was gentle somehow. “I mean, why do I frighten you?”
“Oh.” She quailed, but the truth bubbled out. “Because you’re scary!” When he didn’t yell at her or even frown, she hurried on. “You’re big and you’re stronger than anyone I know and I have no idea what you’re going to do or when this kid-gloves thing is going to be over and Basalt, I don’t know what you want!”
As soon as it had been said, she regretted it, slapping both hands over her mouth and flinching back. But he, he was smiling.
“Okay, that’s fair. I’m kind of big and rock-headed, I know that. Hunh. If I promise that I will tell you if you are doing something wrong, and give you a chance to fix it, before grumbling, will that help?”
She moved her hands away from her mouth, peeking at him. “You’d do that?”
“Honey, if it will help you relax, I’d promise a lot more than that.” He patted her shoulder. “I don’t like making you scared either.”
She relaxed a little, feeling as if she’d managed another hurdle. “Okay. Okay… yes? Yes, please?”
“I promise,” he smiled. “I’ll tell you and give you a chance to fix it if you’re doing something wrong, before I get angry with you. Okay?”
She blinked at him, feeling as if a giant weight was lifted off of her chest. “No secret mistakes? No tests?”
“None. I’m not bright enough for that.” He offered her an arm and, relieved, she cuddled into it, pressing against him, thinking her new master might be a lot brighter than he thought he was.
She relaxed, there, snuggled against his warmth for a bit, thinking maybe he’d stop there. And for the nicest five minutes she’d had in weeks, maybe months, he did. And then…
“So, the rest of the list.”
“Um?” She peeked up at him. “I’m fine.”
“I know you don’t like talking about it. Can you tell me why?”
“Because you don’t like it,” she answered quietly. “You’re always frowning.”
“Oh.” He frowned, and then, catching himself, made a gruesome grimace, and then another, before settling on something like a smile. Catching sight of her expression – she couldn’t tell whether to laugh or be terrified – the smile turned real. “That’s the face I make when I’m thinking, Ahouva, that’s all. And you make me think, a lot.” He pressed a finger to her lips. “That’s a good thing.”
She nodded, blushing. “So…” she offered, as he moved his finger away, “you aren’t angry when you do that”?
“No,” he shook his head. “No, not at all. I’m trying to figure out how to get to a place where we’re both happy.”
“Oh.” She blinked at him. “You could tell me what you want. That would make me happy.”
He laughed. “I want you to be my girlfriend, Ahouva. I don’t want you to just do what I want all the time.”
“Then let me go.” She slapped her hands over her mouth, but it was too late, the words were already out. And he… She peeked over her hands. He was smiling. Grinning.
“Atta girl,” he laughed. “That’s my Ahouva back. C’mon, let it out.”
Let it out was a very vague order, so, since he was smiling, and since he’d promised to warn her before punishing her, she poked him in the chest. “If you want me to act like myself, you can’t order it. Ordering is all about being a good pet. Being an obedient Kept. Ordering me to think about myself is counter-productive and it’s confusing.”
He looked startled, but he didn’t tell her to stop, so she didn’t.
“If you want me to be myself, Basalt, stop worrying about being a good Owner and just be a good person around me. You want to date your Kept… date me. Or something. Talk to me like a person and not a project. I’m not a broken window.” She wrinkled her nose, as her brain caught up with her mouth. “Or just Keep me,” she added, flinching a little bit, “but not like… ordering me to be honest. It sucks.”
He blinked. “Brydan…” He shook his head. “Right. That was different. And you… all right, Ahouva. I’ll try. May I kiss you?”
That seemed like a nice start. “Can I stop letting it out?” she countered, feeling more like herself than she had in a long time.
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