Some part of Amrit’s brain was still trying desperately to remind him she bought you at a slave market. She kept you chained and gagged and collared. She wants you to be her slave. Her Kept.
The rest of him was being pretty clear that those things were irrelevant. Certain parts of him — not his brain, no matter what the jokes said — were very intent on everything being irrelevant.
And some part of him was tied up in knots that made him feel young and stupid and very out of his element again. But he had her in his arms, he was not going to drop her, and he wasn’t going to conk her head into anything.
Her hallways were narrow. She was not a short woman – compared to him, sure, but not compared to other women he’d encountered and the one he’d carried once. He held her close to him and tried to ignore the way she was grabbing on to him. Holding his neck. Holding his shoulders, yes, that was far safer to think about. Amrit swallowed a noise like a growl, not wanting to frighten her again, and maneuvered her into the bathroom.
There was a water pump. He glared at the pump as if that would make it start working.
“Tempero Yaku,” Mieve started, and then followed it with a string of Greek he barely followed. Control Water, though, that he knew, and it quickly became obvious, as water gushed out of the faucet. The tub appear to plug itself, so Amrit took advantage of the moment to start heating the water up as it poured in.
“Eventually you’re going to have to put me down,” Mieve pointed out, when he had completed the Working. “Since you can’t take your clothes off while you’re holding me, and vice versa.”
“I might be able to,” he admitted, “but not and still have clothes when I was done. All right. I suppose I should put you down.” He was surprisingly reluctant to do so. It wasn’t like she was going anywhere, he knew, and yet… Slowly, he set her on the feet.
And now he had to strip in front of her. He turned his back a bit, not sure where this modesty was coming from. He had nothing he was ashamed of, nothing he wanted to hide. He pulled off his clothes slowly. He wanted to turn and look at Mieve, but somehow that seemed like it would be wrong.
He growled. He wasn’t fifteen, damnit.
“You can turn around.” Mieve’s hand landed on his shoulder. “It’s not like we’re not going to be in the tub together in a minute or anything. I’m not going to be offended.”
“I know,” he grumbled. “I just… this is. It’s new. Different.” He twitched his shoulders. “Don’t want to end up fighting again.”
She made a small noise, a worrisome noise, and that was enough to finally make Amrit turn around. She had her hand over her mouth, and it was a moment before he realized she was laughing.
“It’s not funny,” he grumbled, but he couldn’t bring any real heat to it.
“It’s not,” she admitted, still laughing, “and… yet… it’s a little funny?”
“It’s a little funny,” he grumbled agreement. Under the clothes, she had a much more shapely figure than he’d thought. A little skinny — they were all a little skinny, and anyone who wasn’t, you had to wonder a bit at their secrets — but gorgeous nonetheless.
He bit back whatever noise wanted to come out of his throat, not entirely sure what it would be, and only then noticed that she was looking him up and down too.
“Liking your purchase?” Some bit of ridiculousness made him lift his arms and suck in his stomach — not that he had a gut anymore; he was skinny like the rest of the world — and pose for her.
She ran her hand over his chest, sending shivers through his body. “Quite a bit,” she murmured. “Forgiving me for buying you?”
“Better you than Fineus the Whoremonger.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead tenderly. “But there’s this tub waiting for us…”
“It looks kind of tempting, doesn’t it? I’m glad you can heat water up. I haven’t had a properly hot tub in quite a while…”
“The tub isn’t what looks tempting.” He swung her up into his arms again and kissed her. He was fiercer than he meant to be, but he wanted to get it in before she stopped him. Before she came to her senses and remembered that she’d bought him.
“Mmm. Well, both you and the tub are pretty hot,” she teased, when they came up for air. “So let’s combine the two and see if it multiplies hotness.”
“Now you’re just being silly,” he murmured. “I’m not all that good-looking, you know.”
“I suppose I shouldn’t point out how rarely I see another sentient being, should I?”
“No… no. Let me have some of my pride, please.”
She chuckled. “You have nothing to worry about when it comes to your looks. But if you don’t get in the tub soon, I might second-guess the second half of this plan.”
“There’s a second half? There’s a plan?” He stepped into the tub and very carefully sat down, setting her in his lap.
“Maybe more of a concept or a hope,” she admitted. She shifted around for a few moments and leaned back with her head on his chest. “Although this is quite a nice result, I have to admit.”
He touched her arms cautiously. “You wanted this? Really?” What was wrong with him?
“You’re… yes. Let’s just go with yes, all right? You may be mulish, but you’re kind. Also,” she teased, “you really need the bath.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but so do you.” He picked up a sliver of soap she’d left on the side of the tub and started washing her neck and shoulders. “You know how good you’ve got it here, right?”
“Half of that is magic. I mean, if everyone could make water flow with their minds, they wouldn’t need running water quite so badly. And… ooh. That feels nice.” She leaned forward as he soaped up the back of her neck up into her hairline. “If everyone could heat things up like you can…”
“They wouldn’t need firewood. But you’re safe here, you’ve got food and water and shelter and, oh, man, I can’t tell you the last time I took a bath.” Much less one with a lovely woman. He moved his hands up into her hair. “It’s a pretty sweet set-up. I don’t blame you for not wanting to lose it.”
“I got lucky.” Her voice was quiet, and she seemed stiller, almost stiff. “A lot of people didn’t.”
“I know.” He kissed the top of her head. “I know. Me, too. I won the Change lotto, and then even when I was stupid enough to get caught by slavers – I got bought by you, and not by some asshole.”
“You could’ve gotten free from some asshole.” She looked as if she wanted to relax, but her shoulders were still stiff. He ran the washcloth over her shoulders gently.
“Not if he kept me in hawthorn. And anyway, this place is better than – well.” It was his turn to go still, his hand on her shoulder. “…This place is the best place I’ve been since the world ended, and maybe before it.”
She twisted in his lap to kiss him. “Just you wait,” she murmured. “It gets better.”
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