Mr. MacDiarmad raised his eyebrows at Leander. “Is there a problem?”
He shifted, setting his weight on his heels and doing his damnedest to meet his owner’s eyes. “No, sir. No problem.”
“Sylviane? You agreed that you’d take on a bodyguard. So what’s the problem?”
“The problem isn’t him, Daddy. It’s you. You! I’ll take a bodyguard, fine. If you insist that having him under your Name is the only way for you to be sure that he’ll do his job fine. Have him Belong to you. The problem is that you shoved him on me without taking to him. You know better. You ought to, at least. He’s on edge, he’s uncomfortable, and he looks like he’s waiting for the rug to be yanked out from under him at any moment.”
“I’m not…” Leander fell silent as she kicked him in the calf.
“I gave him orders,” Mr. MacDiarmad protested, but it didn’t sound very self-confident. “He knows what his job is. He knows what he’s supposed to do.”
“Dad. Father.” She flopped down in an armchair and pointed to the ground in front of her.
Without thinking, Leander sat. Sat, and his cheeks flushed and he found himself growling.
Sylviane leaned forward and murmured in his ear. “Sorry. Sorry, I really am. Try not to shout at me for a minute?”
He let himself growl again and said nothing.
“He’s been – he’s going to obey me, Dad, because part of his brain still says obey. And you told him that he was supposed to take care of me. But come on. I haven’t had a Kept, you have. I know you have, don’t lie to me. You’ve had a few of them. And that’s all you told him?”
Mr. MacDiarmad looked, Leander thought, perhaps a little guilty, which was not at all what he’d been expecting. He leaned against Sylviane’s leg and tried to blank out his mind. His owner was feeling bad and he was at fault; this never ended well.
“I gave him basic orders, but after all, it’s important that-” Mr. MacDiarmad sighed. “I thought it more important that he get to know you, and that he and I could handle the bonding later. I see that you two are getting along.”
There was some sort of edge to that; it made Leander tense. Sylviane, however, had no fear and no concern.
“Well, he’s going to be with me pretty much constantly for the foreseeable future, it wasn’t my idea, and it wasn’t his idea. Neither of us see any point in making it unpleasant on the other one. Which comes down to close enough to ‘we’re getting along.’ The question isn’t him and I, Dad. It’s you and Leander here.”
“Yes. I get the point, Sylviane.” Mr. MacDiarmad looked down at Leander. “How do you feel about this?”
“Sir?” Leander cleared his throat. “I’m fine. This whole thing is weird, no offense, but I’m fine.”
“Mmm. And if I told you not to lie to me?”
“I’d probably do a lot of not talking for a bit. Sir.”
Mr. MacDiarmad snorted. “Sylviane, give us a few minutes alone? Leander, you have permission to be away from Sylviane for the next half hour.”
“Harrumph. Don’t screw this up, Dad.” Sylviane squirmed out of the chair and flounced towards the door, mock-sulking. Well, Leander thought it was mock.
“Have a little faith in me, daughter.”
“Earn it.” She left with a slight slam of the door. Leander found it hard not to smile at her antics.
“So. Is she right?”
Leander cleared his throat. “I’m the slave here, sir. You get to say if she’s right or not. I’m just along for the ride.”
“Are you feeling off-balance?” Mr. MacDiarmad’s eyebrow went up.
“There’s not a half-ton of rocks on my back suddenly. Yeah. A little off-balance is to be expected.”
“Is there anything you need?”
“Shit. Uh. Yeah. You’re not going to like it.”
“Let me be the judge of that, why don’t you?”
“That sounds a lot like an order. Uh.” Leander cleared his throat. “Uh. Order me not to hurt her during uh. Stuff. Because uh. Sir.” He coughed again and looked at his owner’s knees.
“Because,” Mr. MacDiarmad said slowly, “you haven’t had many good experiences with ‘stuff’ lately, so unless someone ties you down so that you can’t fight or orders you not to fight it, your first reaction is to lash out. Close?”
Leander coughed again. Orders you not to fight it. “Uh. Sir. That’s pretty close.” His shoulders were tight. He wanted to hit something. He wanted to walk out of here and never come back.
He could, he realized, if he put Sylviane over his shoulder and brought her with him.
The idea had some merit.
“You’re not the first person I’ve bought from that place. It’s been a while, and my daughter is right – I made some assumptions and some mistakes. Could you please come here?”
Leander shifted closer to his owner, staying as far away as “come here” might reasonably be expected to mean.
It put him in arm’s reach, and Mr. MacDiarmad put a hand on his shoulder and the other one on his head. “I know you ‘don’t do guys.’ I have no interest in sex with you. I take it Sylviane has expressed some interest?
The touch felt… it felt weird. Leander didn’t move. “Yeah, uh. Yes. Sir.” Now he was fucked.
“And you’re worried that you’re going to have flashbacks and hurt her, and you – you don’t want her to know that, I take it?”
“I’m supposed to protect her! How the blazes am I supposed to do that if she knows I’m a monster? If she’s scared of me? I’ve put her off this long by letting her think I’m broken but shit, if she tries to heal me, I’m going to be fucked. And I mean, shit. If she fucks me, sure, I can bite the goddamned pillow and let her do it, that’s fine, but I don’t think that’s what she wants.” He caught his breath. “I don’t want her to romanticize what I am and I don’t want her to be scared of me and the only solution, sir, is for you to order me to not be the monster than I am.”
He took another breath and looked up at his owner. His heart was pounding and he was pissed, his hands clenched.
Mr. MacDiarmad looked far too fucking thoughtful.
“So you want an order not to hurt her.”
“During sex. I’m supposed to protect her, I don’t need an order any other time!”
His owner raised his eyebrows in challenge. “And you need an order during sex?”
“Departed fucking gods, don’t make this about some pop psychology bullshit! Look, I know my job. I also know me. I know what happens when you get me in bed. And I know why don’t even fucking go there. The problem is that I don’t want to hurt her. You’re in charge of giving me orders, right? You’re my owner. You asked if I needed anything and I told you. I need that order.”
His heart was pounding. He was nearly snarling. And he was shouting, he realized a bit late, at the man who controlled his fate.
Fuck. Well. He’d never been all that good at this sort of thing anyway.