Deline looked Carrone up and down, in part because she needed to buy herself a moment to think.
That hadn’t really been what she’d meant to say.
“You’re strong, clever, and good-looking.”
He cleared his throat. “Thank you.”
“If you don’t want to hunt bounties anymore, those skills have any other number of uses,” she continued.
“You don’t have any idea what to do with me when we get back home, do you?”
“I have ideas,” she protested. “It’s just that having ideas and having good ideas or even plans are different things. And-”
“So what are those ideas?”
She cleared her throat again. She should have expected this sooner. She looked off at the stone wall of the cabin and considered her words for a moment, before deciding that this was not the time for considered words and she might be better off just diving in.
“There is … setting you up with a job doing whatever you want in the capital, just close enough that the Bear-Stone doesn’t start to bother you but not so close that I start yanking you around by it. And there is, ah.” She looked back at him with effort. She was a Claw of the Bear, blast it! She should be able to handle this without acting like a nervous child! “There is taking you to my bed, either just into my bed or into my life as a partner as well.”
He looked as if she’d slapped him. Not once, but three times. He swallowed twice, and then dug in his pack until he pulled out a thick stoppered jar.
She watched him, feeling as if she was frozen in place. She didn’t want to stop him. She didn’t want to, to make him feel like she’d taken away even more choice.
Which was stupid, the last choice he’d made on his own had been to try to kill her.
He uncorked the jar and took a long swig and then a second one. “Could you, ah. Could you repeat those options more slowly? Because I think there’s something going on in your dialect again. I think I misunderstood you.”
“I could-” She couldn’t actually believe that he hadn’t heard her, but if she could say it once, she could say it twice, right? She cleared her throat. “I could set you up with a job and let you do as you want in the Capital, near me but not suffocated.”
“All right. I heard that one the first time.” He took another swig of the jar. She grabbed the jar from him and took her own more-cautious sip.
It burned going down and then burned in her nose and all the way into her stomach. She handed him the jar back and did not, did not choke on the stuff.
It wasn’t easier the second time around. She was still a Claw of the Bear. She could still handle this. She still looked at the top of his head and swallowed like she was working on the burning stuff she’d swallowed. “I could take you to my bed. There’s nobody in it right now- literally or metaphorically.”
“The Emperor.” This time the swig he took looked like it ought to be half the bottle.
“Well, yes. You’d occasionally have to share the bed with my husband. Or sleep elsewhere.”
“You’d want me in your bed with the Emperor there.”
“What are you doing to do? Glare him to death?” That was unkind, and she winced. “I’m sorry, I mean. If I want you in my bed, then I want you in my bed unless I want private time with another lover. So perhaps there would be times I would ask that you slept in your own bed. But there were three options.” She forced herself to look him in the eye. “I could take you into my life as well as my bed. And then we would discuss together whether you were in my bed or somewhere else when the Emperor visited.”
He took another drink. “Do you,” he asked after a moment, “call him Your Imperial Majesty when you’re in bed with him? When you’re under him?”
“Bold of you to assume that-” she coughed on a laugh and couldn’t continue. “No. Not unless we’re, for some reason, not alone, and I don’t really like having company. Even then, he’s My Imperial Husband or Husband.”
“…The job of the Emperor is really never done, is it?”
“We joke that he gets to sleep for three hours a night, and sometimes he chooses to spend one of those three hours with one of his wives awake instead. Sometimes he has to do two or three things at once, and doing them while sleeping doesn’t quite work.”
“It doesn’t really sound like a pleasant life.”
They had both relaxed into the topic, which was a strange one but, Deline suppised, not the strangest they’d talked about.
They had both relaxed into the topic, which was a strange one but, Deline suppised, not the strangest they’d talked about. But that, that made her pause and think.
“I don’t think it always is. I think – well. I think people who want to sit on the Imperial Throne have never seen what an uncomfortable piece of furniture it is.”
“So… what about the Imperial Bed?”