First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
“I still think you should take the silk dresses to sell.”
Mélanie had been losing this argument for three days, but she was still determined, if not to win it, to lose it having fought her battle very well.
“And I think they look delicious on you, or will with a little taking in.”
“But what possible reason do you have to dress your – your partner -” She didn’t dislike the phrase so much as still think Jasper was lying to both himself and her a little bit, but it was growing on her. “-in silks? They’re not all that good for mucking out the stable.”
“And you know the stable mucks itself. And you don’t have to clean the whole House.”
“The House likes being clean and you know it. She’s been a lot happier since I swept the front porch, and I don’t think it ruins the effect at all.”
“You’re right,” Jasper allowed, with a little huff and a smile that told her he wasn’t actually upset. “You are. But I still like you in silk, and, besides, there’s other things to sell.”
“Half the dresses.” She was definitely giving in. She’d always known she was going to give in, after all. But she was going to make him think before she did so.
“A quarter of them.”
“That’s … a dress and a half,” she protested.’
“One dress then. I want to know where someone got silk this fine anyway. And you, you wear the other one to town with me.”
“If that’s what you want…” Mélanie let herself smile, because she’d gotten him to agree to one! “Good advertising.”
“And I get to show off my lovely partner. Which I find a very nice added side benefit.”
Mélanie’s hands went up to her neck – her neck that was still bare – and she froze. SHe cleared her throat after a moment. “You-“
“Oh, oh no.” His arms went around her in a hug that seemed to take him as much by surprise as it took her. “Oh, no, beautiful sweetheart, did I hit a nerve?”
“It’s just-” She leaned into the hug. Beautiful sweetheart. “It’s just that you… show off…. You didn’t….”
“I’m not going to collar you,” he assured her firmly. “I’m still tempted by the idea of a piercing, but unless you feel a strong need for something marking you as mine, I don’t think it’s a good idea. You are – I am – together – uh.” He cleared his throat. “You are my partner who belongs to me right now, and I am proud that I have you and glad that I have you with me and is that okay?”
She didn’t quite manage to stifle a giggle. “If House isn’t hitting you, I imagine it has to be okay. So what else do you want to sell?”
“Well, now that you’ve sorted everything out, I was thinking some of this pile here, the men’s clothing that won’t fit me without a lot of work. A lot of this stuff is more serviceable. And a couple of the pretty dresses that really won’t suit you.” He picked out a few things and added them to a pile. “That’s enough for us to get some good trade in without it being so much that we look like someone ought to club us over the head and take our money. Hopefully. And then – then we’re going to trade for some information, which will probably be this little pile of goods you sorted out for us.”
“What did you do before me?” She was teasing him – she thought. On the other hand, it was very nice to be acknowledged for the work she’d done.
“Generally I would spend a day working on finding useful things, maybe more, sometimes helped by a Kept, often very much with complaining by her. You didn’t even complain about cleaning all of this.”
“Well, the House helped a lot.” Mélanie giggled, although it was a little weak feeling. “I remember – I remember when I first came here.”
“The house – and the property, and the area around it – does have a bit of a reputation. A little more than a bit. I’ve never really asked the house if she minds, I suppose. Maybe I ought to-“
“Maybe you ought to,” Mélanie agreed. “She might enjoy being clean and pretty again, don’t you think? I know she has it in her. She’s beautiful. We could spruce her up like she’d never been abandoned at all.”
“But the people -“
“You can have a house with a reputation for eating people that happens to be beautiful,” she countered. “I mean, that’s almost more insidious. Maybe we’d have to have a couple more people… experience something scary but not fatal-” was she really suggesting this?Was she really saying we? “-but if someone’s going to try to attack the place or loot it because they think that it’s ‘safe’ because it’s pretty, I imagine giving them a fright that sticks isn’t a horrible thing. You don’t have to eat their minds,” she added, a little more hurriedly than she’d really meant to.
“I won’t eat anyone’s mind. Even when I did that, it was never permanent. It was just a way to make everyone frightened.”
“It worked.” Mélanie shuddered. “I’d heard of this place and I lived – it must have been two days’ travel away.”
“That close.” He clucked. “Have you been that close to your home all this time?”
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “My last two owners, I wasn’t allowed off the property at all. The one before that, sometimes I was allowed into town, but it wasn’t a town I’d ever been to, although I’d heard of it. And I didn’t ever – well, there was once.”
She looked away. She was closer to home now. “I might see someone I used to know,” she muttered.
“You might. If you don’t want to go, that’s fine. Or if you want to talk to your old friends and tell them how you’re doing, that’s fine, too. I’m sure some of them are worried about you.”
“Maybe,” she muttered. “Maybe we can, I can play it by ear?”
“That seems like a brilliant idea. And for now, let’s get these things packed up so that we can display them. Perhaps in that valise…?”Want more?