If there was any forgiving to happen, you have it.
She didn’t know whether to feel dismissed, pleased, or worried. She felt a little bit of each.
“I had a Kept. I had a lot of Kept, but I had one, well.” She caught her breath, counted to ten, and tried again. “I thought things were fine. I treated him well and we were even sharing a bed. But when I released him, he attacked me.” Her lips twisted. “That was the last Kept I released here. After that, I took them miles away first.”
For a minute, he didn’t say anything. Then Amrit smirked at her – which had not been the reaction she was expecting at all.
“You know, that makes it sound as if you took them off and shot them in a field somewhere.”
Mieve was startled into a chuckle. “No.” She shook her head, trying to make the giggles go away. “No, nothing like that.” It wasn’t really funny, but she snorted again. “More like ‘go now, you’re free, fly, you’ — oh, I can never remember the quote.”
“Something like ‘magnificent creature’ or something.” He smiled crookedly at her. “So catch-and-release?”
She found herself snorting again. “Catch and release, yeah. Because…” Just like that, her good mood was soured.
He looked serious. “Because the one attacked you. You don’t mean ‘said bad things’, do you? Swore at you, called you a bitch, that sort of thing?”
“No.” Mieve bit her lip, thinking about it. “No, I don’t. He tried to kill me. Nearly succeeded, too.”
Amrit gave her a considering look. “You didn’t sleep with ‘em again after that, hunh?”
“Ha.” This time the laugh had no humor. “No. Well, for warmth, sometimes, but not like regularly. Not as a lover.” She looked out the window, thinking about it.
“What did you do? To the one that tried to kill you?”
Mieve winced. “Something stupid.”
“Stupid would be slapping him on the hand and sending him away.”
“Sort of. Knocked him out, drove him hours away,and left him there with a day’s worth of food.” She remembered the way she’d felt, the knot in her gut, driving away with him still unconscious.
“Why didn’t you just kill him? It would have been fair. Would have been safer.”
She gave him the answer she kept telling herself. “There’s too few of us left to go killing them.”
“That didn’t stop him, did it?”
“Yeah, well.” She rolled her shoulders and sniffed at the turkey. “Cooking nicely. I…” She made herself look at Amrit. “I was fond of him, okay? Couldn’t bring myself to kill him.”
“That’s not stupid, you know. It’s just human — well, it’s part of existing, I guess.” He patted her hand a little awkwardly. “Okay. I promise you that, unless you attack me with intent to cause me real damage, I won’t ever attack you.”
Mieve stared at him. “Really?” She processed that. “… wait, ever?”
“Ever.” He nodded solemnly. “You have my word.”
She sat, stunned, for a moment, watching the turkey in the pan, watching his face. He looked uncomfortable — nervous? No, he had no reason to be nervous. Did he?
Mieve licked her lips. “If I promise not to attack you, I don’t have any defense against you trying to run away, you know.”
“I guess I’m just going to have to not run away, then.” Amrit gave her a crooked smile. “Okay, look. I’ll stay — I’ll stay here with you, under your terms, until the last snow has melted — here in this clearing — from this coming winter. I promise it, okay?”
Mieve just stared at him. “I wasn’t…” She worked her throat and dug for words that made some sense. “Thank you. I — why?”
“You always ask that,” he complained.
“You keep doing strange and wonderful and completely surprising things! And acting like — I don’t know. You’re angry and you hate being here but you promise not to attack me, you promise to stay here, you’ve promised not to run off once already. It can’t just be because you hate the gag…”
“It helps,” he admitted, looking embarrassed. “I don’t like the chain, I don’t like the gag. But come on, I was never going to attack you more than I had to, to get away. I’m not that sort of ass. And you’ve been fair and kind when you didn’t have to, and you don’t treat me like a thing.” Suddenly, he glowered. “You would not believe how many people can’t say the same.”
“I probably would, actually,” she admitted. “The people out there, well, there’s more than one reason that I don’t go out all that much. And a lot of it is just people.”
“It’s a nice place, here.” He frowned. “Your Kept, did you ever find out why he attacked you?”
“He was, uh. He was angry that I’d Kept him. He didn’t like the idea of being enslaved.” It sounded a lot like Amrit, enough that she eyed him sidelong. “He said he wasn’t a thing. And that putting a collar on him meant I thought of him as a thing.”
“Did you? Consider him a thing? Like your footstool or your shovel?”
He looked alarmingly intense. Mieve met his gaze. “No.” She gave the question a little more consideration, still looking him in the eye. “I considered him a subordinate. Some people, I know that’s how they treat their Kept. Maybe he’d had a Keeper like that before me. But I, heck, I live out here all alone.” She smiled at him, feeling it stretch her mouth with a sort of humor she hadn’t felt in a while. Maybe that was unwise, with him staring like he was trying to read her soul, but she couldn’t help it. “If I wanted someone to help out and not be a person around me, I’d have gotten a dog. I mean, I have the Words for animals.”
He smirked slowly. “That’s really why you took the gag off every night.”
“A little,” she admitted. “But it motivated you to work harder, didn’t it?”
“You’re kind of clever, in a scary way,” he admitted. “So, you get lonely? That makes sense, just you and your bees.”
“That sounds a little bit pitiful.”
“No.” He shook his head, a thoughtful, considerate gesture. “No, I don’t think it makes you sound pitiful. I think it sounds reasonable, all things considered.”
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