First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
Previous: Be Our Guest
The back stairs took up half of the space between the dining room and the kitchen. “There’s also the grand stairs in front, but those are not safe to walk on. This place has an excess of staircases – not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he added hastily, as the stairs seemed to creak and shift under their feet. “This isn’t the full tour, not by far, but it’s enough for the time being, I think. You’ve had a long day, after all.” He brushed his hand over her sleeve. “Do you want to sleep in my bed tonight, Mélanie?”
She looked at his face. “What happens if I say no?”
“If you say no, then you sleep in your own bedroom, and both of us have slightly cold and lonely beds.” His smile took of the slight sting of his words. “That is to say, nothing bad happens. I’d rather you be honest with me and take your time about coming to my bed then do it just because you think I want you there.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” She looked over his face, but she couldn’t see anything to indicate that he was tricking her, or lying, or even just trying to see what she did. “Are you aware that you bought me? I know you bought me with stolen money, but still, you know that you purchased me and own me now, right?”
He chuckled. “I was there for that part, yes. You were there for the part where I told you I wanted you to be my partner, right?”
“Partner, sure, but – I mean. Junior partner. Subservient partner.” She touched her neck, where a collar no longer sat. “I didn’t think you meant, ah, independent, making my own choices.”
“Do you want me to make this choice for you?”
From some people, that would have sounded like a threat. From him, it sounded like a gentle offer, like he was trying to help her out. Mélanie swallowed and shook her head. “No. No, sir. I – I would like to spend tonight in your bed, please.”
“Excellent.” He smiled. “I do like it better when I’m not alone.” He crooked his arm and offered it to her. “If we squeeze, the two of us can just fit up this stairway.”
This back stairway was smooth wood, plain walls, and felt warm and homey. At the top, she could see the markings where three – no, four – children had grown. She measured herself against the wall and found herself a little shorter than the tallest son, back in 1959.
“What happened to this house, after the End? Before the End, even,” she corrected. “This seems like – like older than other houses.”
“I don’t think she wanted to be lived in, after her old family left,” he admitted quietly. “And so she started closing things up and being more and more… ah. Haunted. I did a lot of the Workings on the outside property, but she had already been scaring people away before I showed up.”
“Why did she like you?” She thought that was the way to phrase that, although this whole conversation was a little strange.
“I’m not sure. I think it’s because I talked to her when she tried to spook me. Now, I talk to horses, too, and cats, and babies, and for a long time, that’s the sort of talking I did here. ‘Now, now, don’t you try that nonsense with me,’ that sort of thing.” He pushed open the upstairs door and led her to his room. “Do you need anything from your room before bed?”
“No, I’m still – well, no. So you… sweet-talked your house into liking you?”
“I’m quite good at that sort of thing.” He grinned at her, inviting her to share in the joke. Mélanie gave him an uncertain smile in return.
“I… see.” She hoped it was clear enough from her tone that she didn’t really see at all.
He steered her gently into his bedroom. The bed looked blissfully comfortable, piled in a magpie’s collection of blankets and quilts. “One thing you will find after a while; the house is quite good at mending things. And a certain amount of cleaning, but she’s made it clear she expects me to do my own laundry. I’m a decent sweet-talker, as I said, but the house does have her limits. As I imagine you do as well.” He sat down on the edge of the bed and gestured for her to do the same.
“Is it… well. Is that your power? Some use of your magic?” she tried. “I mean… you make it sound like something I should understand.” She sat down just far enough away from him that she could look at him.
He chuckled and looked away for a moment. “Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself again. No, it’s just, I’m a thief. But I prefer that people end up thanking me for my work, rather than chasing me down. Thus, I sweet-talk people out of all sorts of things. And when they aren’t my people – or my house – I don’t tend to worry about things like their limits.” He smiled crookedly. “I mean, I don’t usually think about it that much, if I’m being honest, but you seem to be inviting some introspection from me.”
“Maybe it’s the house?” She offered her own careful smile.
“Maybe it’s you being so cautious with me – which isn’t a criticism, Mélanie,” he added hastily. She wondered what her expression had done that had made him go so quickly reassuring. “I knew when I saw you in that cage that you were likely to be skittish, and you’ve surprised me at every step by being strong and not bowed by what’s happened to you – I’m going to stop talking now, before my foot is in my mouth up to my thigh, how’s that?”
Mélanie giggled. “I don’t think – I don’t think you’ve said anything wrong,” she offered. “I think that I probably did look spooked. And I, well… I still am a little spooked. This, you, none of this is what I expected. Not in a bad way!”
“Except the house that eats people?”
“You shouldn’t say such mean things about her. I mean… I admit I’d heard some bad things. That was frightening. But I’m not really frightened anymore,” she admitted.
“I’m glad. Tomorrow, perhaps, I can show you around some of the places I frequent. I do believe that this is going to be fun, Mélanie.”
He lay down in bed so she did the same, letting him pull her against him but finding that, unlike with some previous owners, she didn’t mind at all.
She waited until his breath had evened out to whisper “me, too.”