First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
Mélanie held her breath as the woman tried to slow down the horses. Did she need another Working? Did she need a weapon? The last time she’d tried defending herself properly – well, that had ended up with her in this situation, if she was looking at the big picture.
“Damnit…” The smaller woman muttered. “I left something back in town, I’m sure of it.”
“What?” The bigger woman asked through a yawn. Yawning was good. Yawning meant that the nothing to worry about, just rest part of Mélanie’s Working was getting through to at least one of them. “What made you think about that now? We’ve been on the road for an hour, haven’t we?”
“I don’t know. I just – you know, sometimes I get this sense?”
“Your spider sense. I remember. You’re not a spider though. At all. You’re sort of…”
Mélanie mouthed a curse. Of course the awful woman with have some sort of magic power against being tampered with. It couldn’t just go smoothly, could it?
She glared up at the seat above her while she considered her options. More mental suggestions would probably not work any better than the first load had. What about just knocking both of them out? It might trigger the woman’s “spider-sense” but on the other hand, if she was unconscious, it might not matter.
Or she could just kill them, some dark mental voice whispered. Mélanie ignored the voice: it might sound easy to say, but she knew she couldn’t’ go through with it.
What she was planning on doing was hard enough. Not just the Workings – she kept expecting them to fail, and every time she used one, it was like pushing through molasses – but knowing that she might be permanently damaging these people.
These awful people, who wanted to get Jasper drunk and hurt him, who had tied him up and done something to him. She looked over at her Owner and swallowed, reminding herself that this was the first nice master that she had ever had, that he was going to be hurt, badly so, if she didn’t do this, and that she was only facilitating the things she hoped would happen.
She hoped the house wouldn’t mind.
First, she had to deal with Short and Cranky.
“You know, don’t bother remembering, either, it just makes everything even worse. Okay, if we go back to town, it will take too long. I guess we just go forward. Maybe we ought to ditch the damn horses altogether. They don’t like us, and I swear I caught one of them looking at me like it thought I might be dinner.”
“Horses don’t eat people. Do they?”
“There you go, thinking again. We should leave the wagon.”
No, no they shouldn’t. They would be a lot harder to steer than the horses were.
The big one looked back at Jasper again. “And carry him? And all his loot?”
“Why not? Isn’t that what I keep you around for?”
Melanie didn’t like either of these brutes, but she was beginning to feel bad for the big one. Maybe if there was some sort of distraction, she could just knock out the short one?
“I’m pretty sure,” the big one rumbled, “that you keep me around to hit people and get things off tall shelves.”
The horses continued to clomp along. The branches slapped against the wagon. Mélanie held her breath.
The shorter one snorted. “Keep being a smartass like that, and you’re gonna be getting things off all the shelves.”
It was a weak threat, and everyone listening — probably even the horses — knew that she was just covering instead of apologizing. Mélanie stifled a laugh. Showed you. In a situation that might have lasted longer that a
The shorter one fussed with the reins. “Anyway,” she managed, like nothing had happened, “once we get this asshole and his asshole horses back home, we can take him down to the mud room.”
Jasper shifted and groaned. Mélanie flinched. If he noticed her, if he was too drugged to control himself, he could give her away. He could give her to these assholes.
The big one twisted and looked back. “We’d better hurry, then. Looks like he’s starting to wake up. And we don’t want him awake and trying to get away, do we?”
“Damnit, he shouldn’t be awake yet.” The little one huffed. “Come on, you blasted beasts, hurry up!”
Yes, Mélanie thought. Hurry up. Go as fast as you can. Right back home.
Jasper’s mouth worked around the gag. He groaned again, his eyes shifting this way, that way, before they landed on her.
Some small part of Mélanie quailed while the rest of her very, very quietly lifted a finger to her mouth – directly telling her Owner to do something. Do be quiet. To hold still and let her save his life.
She hoped the message got through. She hoped he wouldn’t punish her too badly for it, but if he did, whatever he did, it would be worth it if she could just keep him alive.
She shifted again and he moaned, his eyes closing, as if he couldn’t quite manage to stay awake. The big one looked at him again. “Not really awake,” she determined. “He’s still got the shakes. And he can’t keep his eyes open.”
“Good.” The short one bit the word off like it’s a weapon. “Good, because after the shit he put us through last year, I want him helpless when we start digging into him.”
Oh. Oh. Mélanie swallowed and considered what this meant. Not for her plan – no, her plan means the same thing – but for letting Jasper go out on his own. For the number of times this might happen. For the chance that he might actually already have a planWant more?