His “owner” was in a foul mood when she chained him to the bed. Still, she’d given him time to brush his teeth and use the john, and she made sure the chains weren’t cutting into his skin.
Amrit couldn’t quite figure her. She didn’t like him. She didn’t trust him. She didn’t want him here – hell, they agreed on that, at least. She got pissed fine when he taunted her, but then she tucked him in like she was gonna give him a teddy bear and a bedtime story.
He pulled on the chains holding him. He wasn’t going to get out of them, not short of destroying his hands. He’d wait. Eventually, he could cut the shackle she used when he was working. A quick dash for the trees, and he’s never have to think about this place again.
The pie’d been good, though. All the food was good. The bed was comfortable. The gag was even comfortable, even it it sucked. The truth of the matter was, even with hard work, even with chains and a gag, she was giving him a better berth than anyplace he’d been since the world ended.
But there were chains. And a gag. And he really didn’t like being a slave.
“Uggit,” he muttered around the gag. He’d be gone as soon as he could. Someone else would give him a berth in return for food. Somewhere.
The next three days passed in relative peace. Amrit did the work he was offered – plowing, chopping down trees, splitting firewood, He worked hard, and earned his hours without the gag in every evening.
She didn’t have much to say to him, after the first night, but the food stayed good and she kept her word.
He slept hard, chains or no. She was working him to exhaustion – he’d wonder if it was on purpose, to keep him docile, but she worked herself every bit as hard as she worked him, and then some. Amrit looked for openings to escape all day, but at night all he did was sleep.
Finally, four days after their first conversation, he had a moment where she was communing with her bees. The axe went down hard on the chain and split it in two strikes. Amrit started running the moment the chain split, leaving the axe where it had fallen.
He was out of practice, running, but it hadn’t been all that long that he’d been in chains. He stumbled once, caught himself, and was off again, as fast as he could move and as silently as he could make that speed. She was way on the other side of the clearing; he ought to be able to make it to the trees before-
He ran into a wall and fell backwards, sprawling. He pulled himself up to his feet and moved cautiously forward. There was nothing there, nothing visible, at least. But when he reached out his hand, just before the treeline was a wall as hard as rock.
He felt the grip around his neck before he noticed she was coming towards her. He held up both his hands in surrender.
“You’ve got an impressive swing. But you know what comes next.” She pulled him towards her as she walked to him, tugging on the invisible tether around his throat. “I warned you.”
She looked sad. For a moment, Amrit almost felt guilty. But she had … shit. His leg. And she was picking up the axe he’d dropped. Amrit bit hard on the gag. This was going to suck worse than getting kidnapped had. She was lifting the ax already, getting ready to swing.
The back of the axe was going to shatter his leg into pieces. Even with his healing, it was going to be a bitch to put it all back together, and it might never heal properly. She didn’t look like she liked the idea. She looked like she was steeling herself as much as Amrit was.
He took a gamble and held up both hands, grunting out the closest to wait he could manage.
She set the axe down. “I warned you what would happen,” she repeated.
He nodded. “Eh. Uh…” He whined in frustration. Making himself understood through this thing was frustrating in a good situation, and this didn’t count as good. He tapped at the gag. “Eee?” he pleased.
She frowned. “All right,” she allowed. Her telekinesis was still holding him firmly, and Amrit wouldn’t have tried moving even if it wasn’t, but she still circled him carefully, as if afraid he was going to attack.
He supposed it was a reasonable concern. Amrit held very still and tried to look as nonthreatening as possible.
“This is not the time for anything stupid,” she warned him, as the gag came out.
“No, I know, I won’t.” Amrit stayed still. “It’s… I heal fast?” he offered with a sigh, “so things heal bad really easy. And if you, well, here,” he held out his hand, where his pinkie finger had healed wrong years ago. “An axe, a hammer, anything, it’s going to be awful.”
He held up his hands to forestall whatever she was going to say. “Look. You said it, I did it anyway, I don’t mind taking my punishment. I’ll even fix the chain, if you want me to. But uh, I can break it. With a Working. And it’ll still be broken and it’ll still hurt like hell and… it won’t hurt for the rest of my life, is all I’m saying.”
Her face had softened, a bit, until he said Working He’d feared that would happen. “And if it’s a trap?”
“Then you knock me unconscious with your power there and smash my leg. Or both of them. You’re the boss. But it’s not. It’s really, just, I get freaked out by things like that because when they heal bad, it really sucks.” He rubbed at the side of his mouth surreptitiously.
Not subtly enough. She winced. “The new gag…”
“The new one’s nice. It doesn’t cut at all. The old one, that was bad.”
“If this is a trick, any sort of trick, then I am going to break both of your legs.” She looked him in the eyes. Amrit was suddenly glad that it wasn’t any sort of trick. “But you can do it.”
“Thank you.” He sounded a little pitiful. He was okay with that. “Can I, uh, may I sit down?”
“Yeah… yes. go ahead.” The TK she’d been holding at his throat loosened.
Amrit sat gingerly and stretched his left leg out straight in front of him. He said the Words carefully, so she didn’t have any question what he was doing: first an Idu, a Know, so he knew exactly what he was doing, and then a Tempero, shattering the bone in two places.
He got through the Working before he swore, loud and without shame, a long line of ”Fuuuuck, fuck fuck fuuuuck.” He slammed the ground with both fists and leaned back, trying to find a position where it didn’t hurt.
“Can you set it?” She was crouching in front of him, her hands near but not touching the break. “Or do you need me to?”
Setting it, shit. “I… Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck… yeah. I can…” He gritted his teeth, pulled himself together, and did another Tempero Working to set it in place. “‘Bout… five days,” he told her through gritted teeth. “If it’s splinted or held together somehow. Longer if I jostle it.”
“Okay. Here, hold it still for a minute.” She picked up two boards from a stack near the door and muttered a Working on them, then shaped them around his leg as if they were putty. In two minutes, she’d entirely immobilized his left leg. “You really thought you could make it? Or you wanted to see if I’d do it?”
“Thought I could make it. You were… unh. All the way on the other side of the clearing. Talking to the bees. You go all not-there when you’re talking to them.” The splint took a little pressure off, and his body was already trying to repair the damage. “Gods. How’d you even see me?”
She stood off, brushing her hands off. “You’re going to need crutches… I didn’t. See you, that is. You’re right. I got buzzy when I’m talking to them. One reason I don’t talk to people much.”
“…You didn’t?” She was already Working some wood into a pair of crutches. He noticed when she faltered halfway through the Working, and put two and two together. “Have you been keeping up some sort of…”
“Shield. Here, try these for size.”
“That’s nuts.” He took the crutches and began pulling himself to his feet. It hurt; he bit his tongue and hissed. “…That’s fucking nuts.”
“You weren’t exactly cooperative.”
“No, I mean. Well, I mean it’s nuts. I wasn’t cooperative, sure, but you had me chained.”
“And you broke the chain the minute I stopped paying attention.”
“Well, yeah, but… how much energy have you been pouring into that?” He got himself onto the crutches and tested them with a couple steps.
“It doesn’t seem all that wise to tell you that, now does it?”
“I mean… this is a good height on the crutches. Shit. Okay.” He leaned against the woodpile to get his weight off his leg. “I, uh. Well, I can’t go anywhere for a few days, but for…. the next month, I promise not to leave the clearing without your permission, okay?”
She stared at him. “What? Why?”
“Because you’re swaying on your feet from a minor Working and that’s dumb! And, uh. I don’t want to be here, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not going anywhere until I heal up anyway.” He looked at the woodpile. “I guess you can put the gag back on me and I can try splitting some more wood.”
She hadn’t stopped staring at him. “All that fighting and you just agree, like that?”
“Well…” Amrit glowered. She wasn’t going to stop talking about it. He was going to have to explain.
He really missed living out in the wilderness. Alone. In the cold, with the bugs and the rain. “I lost, right? You won. I’m stuck here. And I even did it to myself.” He shrugged shortly. “And you need your energy. That’s why you were looking for a Kept, right? Because you need more energy than you have in a day?”
“Right, I don’t care.” He raspberried. “I don’t like being bought and sold. But I’m not a total asshole, all right? You feed me, you shelter me. Eventually, I’m going to escape. But until then, I mean, why should I be an actual drain on your resources?”
Was that enough? She was still frowning. Amrit shut up and hoped she’d accept it.
“You… have an interesting way of looking at the world. I accept your promise. Want to throw in one about not attacking me, and I can leave the gag off?”
He studied the gag, studied her. “Hrmff… put the gag back in for now. I’ll think about it tonight.”
She didn’t look disappointed, which was interesting. “All right.” The gag went back in, with the now-familiar mouth-stretching feeling and the slight sensation like he’d eaten too much. “Take a break for the rest of the day. Give your leg a little time to heal before you try to chop wood on it.”
He wanted to complain, but he’d already let her put the gag in. He gestured, to the gag, to the woodpile.
“You heal in record time,” she pointed out. “There has to be some punishment to trying to run away.”
Amrit huffed and agreed, or at least nodded at her.
“Find a place to sit down. Have no fear, I’ll have enough work for you once you’re healed up.”
Fuck you, Amrit thought, but he didn’t bother to vocalize it this time.
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