This comes after Luke and Mike… Talk
“Done already?” Leo asked them. He looked startled.
Mike didn’t know what to think about that, that Leo had expected them to be in there longer.
“Didn’t want to be too long.” The Kept-skirting-orders feelings were coming off of Luke in palpable waves. Mike wondered if he knew it. She wondered how it would change him – this whole thing, the bond, twelve years under the collar, being away from Addergoole.
Leo snorted, with a headshake that looked far too amused. “I’m not even your Keeper.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t give me orders.” Luke’s shoulders were even hunched forward. It was very nearly adorable.
“I didn’t give you an order, baka.” Leo flicked Luke’s forehead lightly, grinning. Mike fought against her own grin.
Luke wrinkled his nose, his expression showing how much he was fighting against – being offended? Slapping Leo’s hand away? “In that case…” He glanced over at Mike and his whole countenance softened. Mike had no idea what to think about that. She was used to Luke being more scowl-y when it came to her, not less. ”I think we have more to talk about.”
Leo shooed them away. ”I’ll come get you when I need you.”
Mike couldn’t help her chuckle this time. ”Oh, gosh, Luke. You have New Kept Smell. It’s adorable.”
“He totally does,” Leo agreed.
“New… What?” Luke looked between the two of them, clearly lost.
Mike took his arm. ”It’s what some of the students call it. That feeling where you can’t quite tell an order from a suggestion, and everything that your Keeper says feels like it’s engraved in stone. They must be treating you with kid gloves,” she added, sotto voce, as they stepped back into Leo’s tent. She was pretty sure she approved of that. “If you’re still feeling it weeks later.”
“New Kept Smell.” He wrinkled his nose at her. “I’m not a new car.”
“Oh, but darling, you totally are. Come on, how many times have you given the lecture to your Students?”
Luke grumbled. “My Students don’t end up Kept very often,” he pointed out. “Not like…”
“Yours don’t end up Keepers pretty often. But you had three Kept last year, and you can’t tell me you missed it.”
He hadn’t, she knew. He’d only had four first-years; half of them and then one of the second-years had been collared. “I try,” he complained, clearly uncomfortable. He sat down on the floor of Leo’s tent and looked up at Mike.
“I know you try, Feathers, but you’re uncomfortable with — well, so many things. Bertholt, you were a lot better about him that you would’ve been back when we started this thing, but Perseus knew you didn’t like it, he knew why you didn’t like it, and it made things harder on everyone.” Mike sat down and leaned her head was on his shoulder. Much to her surprise, Luke draped his arm over her shoulders.
“I didn’t do bad with Bertholt. I mean.” He shifted a bit. “I don’t like it when they’re Kept.”
“You don’t like it when they’re Kept badly, and you don’t like admitting that they could be Kept well and enjoy it. Like Omarri.” She grinned at him. She was poking, but he was going to have to admit it eventually.
Luke’s wings twitched. The second-year Student who had ended up bending knee to a fourth-year cy’Fridmar, yeah, that had bothered him. Even Regine had noticed. “I’m raising warriors,” he complained quietly. Very quietly.
“I know. And warriors follow orders, don’t they?”
“Their commander’s orders. When there’s someone else…”
“Warriors have lovers, too. Children. Families. I know there’s a lot of pretense about not having connections, but warriors are people, Bird-brain.” She kissed his cheek. ”Tell Leo, by the way, that I’m the only one that gets to call you idiot.”
Mike wasn’t sure why she’d said that. She wasn’t sure why she’d done that. Kissed Luke? On the cheek, sure, but she hadn’t done that in nearly three centuries. She leaned back; even though she knew he didn’t like hitting her in female form, that wouldn’t stop him if he thought she was messing with him.
To be fair, the only times Luke had actually hit Mike, Mike had been messing with him.
He didn’t look ready to hit anyone. He looked a little disgruntled and a little amused. “I don’t think he’ll listen. He’s my commanding officer, you know.”
“But not your Keeper.”
“And neither are you.” He turned to look at her, catching her face in his hand. He’d never done that. She’d seen him do that to other women, but never with him. He’d never touched her like that. ”We’re crew, Mike. We’ve been friends for a long time. And… maybe, in twelve years, maybe we might talk about something else. But it won’t be Keeper and Kept. All right? I’m not going to go there with you… again.”
“Not even for fun?” Needling him was too old a habit; the words were out of her mouth before she considered them. So she batted her eyebrows at him and made sure he knew she was playing.
The look he gave her was far too considerate. Mike swallowed. This was not what he was expecting.
“I don’t know,” he said, slowly, like he hadn’t quite worked the thought out, “exactly how far I’ll be allowed to go. But I might want to try something… in private, of course.”
Mike froze. ”Say that again?” she asked quietly. ”Just… Um. Just say that again?”
He couldn’t mean… could he? After centuries of barely looking at her, at least not as anything but a friend and crewmate…
He should get Kept more often, if this is where it got them.
She blushed the moment the thought crossed her mind, but Luke was clearing his throat and, rather surprisingly obediently, saying that again.
“There’s something I want to try with you, maybe. In private, real private. If I can. We know, uh. We know she’s the jealous sort, but I don’t know. She’s in a… a thing, with Leo.” Luke cleared his throat a couple times. ”I’m not sure where their lines lie. Where her lines lie, when it comes to uh. What I can and can’t do.”
Mike was still mulling over we know she’s the jealous sort. ”You’ve been paying a lot of attention to her for a long time, haven’t you?”
“To Boom.” Luke’s wings shifted, but they were much stiller than they had been before he came here. Mike reached out on impulse and stroked the leathery tissue of the wing; Luke didn’t quite freeze, but he was holding that wing very still to Mike’s touch. ”To Boom,” he repeated, “and, well, yeah. To Cya. Think about it. A Kept a year for decades. At least once – no, twice – that I know of, she Kept in a generational stack. That was a lot of potential damage. A lot of potential good, too.” He sounded a little guilty at the last. Mike wondered if Cya’s lines on her Kept included passive emotional reading.
She decided it was worth the possible challenge, and dipped into Luke’s emotions.
Oh, the roil of defensiveness and worry, Kept-feelings and concern. “Luke – it’s okay for you to have been analytical about Cya when you were security and administration for Addergoole. We all should have been paying more attention.”
“I know that,” he growled. “It’s just this… thing in my brain….”
“The bond doesn’t like you thinking critically or negatively about your Keeper. No, it never does.”
She hadn’t had that problem when Luke had Kept her. She hadn’t ever thought critically about him, collared or no. “The question is – what does your Keeper think about it?”
“I don’t know,” he muttered. Embarrassment flooded through him. “I’m not good with that shit, Mike. With, you know…”
“Feelings?” she offered dryly. “It’s one of your best Words, bird-brain.”
“Talking about feelings,” he complained. “That’s different.”
“So don’t talk. Act. Come on, you’re good at acting…” Mike trailed off, wrinkling her nose. “I feel like I ought to be jealous.
“Were you jealous before?”
Before meant Kiara, meant Wil, meant way back, when Luke had first been married.
“Of course.” Mike’s lips twisted in amusement. “What? You expected me not to be? Of course I was jealous. More jealous when it came to Manira, though.”
“Because she wasn’t your daughter?”
He must be feeling better, he was teasing her.
She smiled sweetly at him, rather than give him a reaction. “Because she is a Daeva, love.”
Luke flushed. “I didn’t know that at the time.”
“I guessed. If I’d thought you’d known, I would have been quite hurt.” She kissed his cheek. “It’s not like I haven’t had lovers over the years.”
“I know,” he grumbled. Mike felt her eyebrows raising.
“Luca,” she asked, in a tone that was meant to sound mock-scandalized, in part because she was genuinely a bit shocked. “Are you jealous? Of my lovers?“
“Well, yes.” He half-sulked, half-glared at her, presumably for poking at a touchy subject. “Yeah. A little, sometimes. Not… well. Yeah.”
“No wonder you’re so cranky all the time,” she teased him, and was rewarded by a very nice sulk. She gave him a hug, for once feeling like she didn’t have to guess what was acceptable. “My darling, the only consolation for how ridiculous we are is that we’re not the only ridiculous ones.”
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