They’d named the creature — the fae, the sentient being Bruce was now Keeping — they’d named the thing Bjorn, or, at least, Bruce’s niece Kikyo had offered the name and it had stuck.
Bruce couldn’t get another name out of the thing, but, then, he hadn’t been able to get much at all in the way of language out of — out of him, out of Bjorn.
That made it harder to remember that the creature, that this Kept Bruce had now, that it was sentient, human-ancestried just as Bruce and his kids were. The fur everywhere didn’t help, either.
Bruce counted children three times, and then got them lined up in front of — in front of Bjorn. “All right. These children here…” He rattled off their names one by one. “You are not to hurt them. You may stop them from hurting you, but as gently as possible. Do you understand?”
Bjorn nodded. It cleared its throat once, twice. “Not hurt,” he offered.
“Good. Bobby, start filling a tub. Not for you,” he added before the children could start whining. “But I don’t think Bjorn should wait until our Saturday baths.”
Bjorn twisted its face into something that looked like a grimace. “Bath…” it started.
Bruce cut it — him, he was fairly sure the thing was a he — off, perhaps too brusquely. “If you live under my roof and my name, you bathe at least weekly. More if you end up stinky from something. And we start today, because I don’t want fleas in my house.”
Bjorn wrinkled its nose but did not complain. “Good boy,” Bruce muttered. What was he supposed to do with a semi-sentient housepet?
“Kikyo, Dolores,” he called. “You wanted to bring him in. You’re going to help get him clean. Kiya, go get a comb. Dol, get the scissors.”
The thing flinched away at the word scissors. Bruce waited until the children had run off on their errands before he patted Bjorn lightly. “To trim your hair — fur — whatever,” he explained quietly. “It doesn’t hurt if I cut it, does it?”
Bjorn stared at him, clearly trying to follow the words. “Fur.” It tugged on the hair on top of its head. “Fur doesn’t hurt.”
“Good, see? So. You understand children? They’re children, Bjorn, so be very careful what you let them know. They’re safe here, and their mothers trusted me with them. Don’t… I don’t want you to betray that trust.”
Bjorn was watching his face intently. SLowly, he nodded. “Children,” he agreed softly. He seemed to be remembering words as he went. “I… I’ll? I… will… be careful.”
“Good. That’s the right comb, Kiya, good. Bjorn, she’s going to comb you, all right? I’m going to go check on the tub.”
Bruce felt like every sense was on high alert, listening, even sniffing for trouble as he left his nieces alone with the creature.
The tub was filled, room left for Bjorn to slide in, and Bobby had added a couple drops of oil. “Is he… Is he a person?” he asked softly.
“That’s what we’ve got to find out,” Bruce sighed. “Come on, Bjorn, clothes off, get in the tub.”
Cleaned, his hair trimmed and away from his face, and dressed in a pair of Bruce’s cast-off pants, Bjorn looked — not human; he had a tail and his pointed ears were tufted — sentient and aware. He was gentle with the children, and protective, like a sheepdog, enough so that after a few days Bruce was comfortable leaving him alone with even the younger girls. But he had to be taught even the most basic table manners — the kids found it hilarious — and preferred grunts and gestures to words.
Bruce tried for patience, but when he caught Ryuu and Cherry communicating in grunt-and-gesture while they were supposed to be learning math, his temper had reached its limit. He held it in — he didn’t yell at the kids unless they were in danger, by long-established precedent and a lot of practice — but when Bjorn answered a basic question with a shrug and a whine some hours later—
“You,” Bruce said, his voice carefully quiet, “were born human, same as the rest of us. You are a person, not an animal. Talk like a person.”
Something lit up in Bjorn’s eyes that had not been there before. He ducked his head, and for a moment Bruce thought he was going to have to deal with a whimpering, miserable Kept. Then Bjorn turned the head-duck into a bow, deep and very precises.
“I Belong to you,” Bjorn said carefully, as if picking the words out of his memory. “You wish me to be a person?”
Bruce rejected the formula. “You are a person.”
Something that could have been relief came over Bjorn’s face. “Then I will be a person again.”
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