First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
The towel dropped down and the house shook for a second. Mélanie jumped; Jasper reached over and put a hand on her arm.
“That’s a laugh. It’s okay, it just means your joke worked. I mean, I hope it was a joke. And… you’re right and wrong.”
“Sir?” Mélanie found that that worried her more than the house shaking.
“It’s to your credit, not mine, that you get along with the house. I’m just really glad that I found you. We’ve had a few, ah. There’s been a few false hopes and a few that were obvious bad fits from the first day, but you — I think you will be happy here with us.”
Happy here with us. Not well-behaved or even well-suited. Mélanie found she wanted to smile, so she did, slowly but genuinely.
“I think I probably will be too, sir. Jasper. And House… Does House have a name?”
“If she does, she’s never shared it with me.” Jasper shrugged apologetically. “I’m sure she’s had several, but I don’t know if any are hers, if you know what I mean. From what I’ve seen, she’s been a home to many, many families over the year.”
“Is it – is she the house, or is she a ghost, or…?”
“I honestly don’t know,” he admitted. “She is, and she has resisted any attempt to know her better than that. I try not to push, because I know I’m living here on sufferance. She could easily decide that she wants to kick me out, and my only hope would be that she let me take a horse and enough loot to start again. She could probably keep you here and send me away if she really wanted to…”
Mélanie tilted her head. “how many of your previous Kept did she kick out?”
“Only one. She was, ah. That one, it was probably best. She was sharp, in a lot of ways. And she was very subtle with some of her powers, which I hadn’t realized she was using until…” He shook his head. “Anyway. Sometimes they leave because they can’t quite handle living in a haunted house. I’m quite glad that you seem to have none of those problems.”
“I…” Mélanie swallowed. “I worry, because you’ve said the rumors are true and the house – or you – really do delete-”
“Pause. We pause some memories. And I think the house knows. I don’t think she meant to hurt that thug as badly as she did – but you’ll notice they left with their minds intact.”
“They’re nasty minds,” Mélanie muttered.
“They are. And I thank you for touching them enough to handle-”
“Sir. Sir, please stop thanking me. I’m going to be drunk and not able to do anything at all if you keep that up, and I would like to-”
“You don’t need to do any work- hey!” The towel had hit him in the face again. “She doesn’t!’
“I really like doing things,” she protested. “And anyway, I wanted to show you how far House and I had gotten on the sorting your loot room. And possibly, uh. I cleaned some.”
“I wasn’t gone that long,” he offered, a little weakly, presumably because the towel was still hanging in mid-air too near his face.
“I like to be busy,” she told him – again, but it seemed a concept that he was having some trouble with.
“I’m beginning to understand this. Breakfast first?”
He was asking her, she realized. He was not all that good at this master thing, but perhaps he was used to far less obedient slaves. Or far less obedient… women? Partners? She was becoming less and less sure what her role was with him.
“Breakfast as you wish, sir,” she offered, suddenly reminded that, whatever he might act like he still owned her. There was no getting around that.
“But do you wish?”
“Sir… Jasper.” She was quickly growing exasperated with him again, and there was no helpful towel to remind him to act reasonably. “You own me. What I wish is for you to be happy. Also, you have been a very good Owner and I wish for you to continue to be a good Owner, which means if you want breakfast, you should have breakfast, because that will make you happy.”
“I.” He coughed. “I have to admit, your logic confuses me a little bit.”
Mélanie wanted to take a step back, but she was sitting. “Sir?” she tried, as respectfully as she could.
“You – you want – you actively want, not passively not having an opinion – for me to do the things I want?”
“Yes, sir.” How did that confuse him?
Where was that towel when she needed it?
“But – where does that end?”
“At what point does me doing something that I want become something that you don’t want?”
“So.” He sounded very patient. Mélanie fought down a surge of panic. “Right now, I want breakfast, and you want breakfast. That’s fine. Later, I might want to go walk around the house with you, and you don’t really want to, but you don’t dislike it. After that, I might… want to go wrestle giant spiders with you…” He stopped with a smile as Mélanie shuddered. “Good, you’re still showing dislike, that’s a good sign.”
The surge of pleasure was confusing. “.. Thank you?”
“So at what point does your desire to do what I want take over, err, at what point is it overcome by your… active non-desire, don’t we have a word for that? Your desire not to do something that I want to do with you?”
“Oh!” Mélanie blinked at him. “Well. Ah, sir, that depends a lot on you. And on how you treat the things that you want me to do. If they are a punishment – I imagine giant spiders would be a punishment?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I find it entertaining once in a while.”
“Mélanie. Lo-” This time, the towel hit him in the face. He took her chin and tilted it upwards. “What happened? You went from being a person to back to being…”
“An owned thing? Sir, I remembered that I am an owned thing. You bought me, you own me. I was there for the transaction and I remember it quite clearly. I’m yours. I’m glad that I’m yours and not someone else’s, I really am, but I am yours and no number of sweet words and no lack of collar is going to change that you own me and bought me.”
“Oh.” He sat back and looked as if she had slapped him. Mélanie, his hand removed from her chin, sank downwards into her chair.
“I-” His voice sounded lost. “I had not thought you would see it so… transactionally, and that was my stupidity. Mélanie, I am very, very sorry.”Want more?