First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
“It’s weird,” Mélanie mused, as they settled boxes of goods into the back of the wagon, the sunlight coming down through the trees in dappled waves.
“Leaving? Seeing the house in the daylight?” Jasper guessed.
“Something like that, yeah. Leaving and just- well, just thinking about just leaving to go to town, I guess.”
“When I first met the House, I was scared to leave. She’d shown up exactly where and when I needed her. I was afraid that if I left, she wouldn’t be there anymore. When I finally left – when she finally convinced me that it was safe to leave – it felt like going out into the sun after spending months in a basement. Something like that?” He offered her his hand and led her back up towards the House.
She looked at him as he opened the front door. “I can’t imagine you being scared of anything,” she admitted. “Being too scared to leave?”
“I was scared spitless the other night,” he admitted. “When you rescued me. They had me pretty badly caught, and if I hadn’t come up with a plan, they were likely going to torture me for quite a while. I don’t – well, I’ve said thank you.”
“You were scared, though? I mean, you didn’t know you’d come up with something?”
“I might be good, I might be Fox-crazy, but I’m not infallible.” He grinned at her as if he didn’t quite believe that himself. “So yeah, I was scared. Are you scared now?”
“I’m… A little nervous. What if I do something that upsets you? What if I run into someone I used to know and they hate me now? What if-”
“You won’t upset me, and if you run into someone, we’ll deal with it when it happens.” The front stairs were wide enough to take two abreast; they did. She didn’t quite want to let go of his hand. And yet…
“You can’t know I won’t upset you! I mean it! You don’t know what I’m going to be like in public! I don’t know what I’m going to be like in public! There’s no way to know!”
He hugged her, suddenly and firmly. “Then we’ll handle that when we get there. What won’t happen, and I can know this, is that I won’t punish you for it. “
“Would you punish me for anything?” She peeked over at him, wondering why she was asking such a question.
“I don’t think so. I think, if you were a different woman, there might be something I was inclined to punish you for, but as it is, you enjoy cleaning, you work hard, I have no worries that you’re going to steal from me, you’re not rude – even when you’re yelling at me, you’re polite – and you’re a pleasure to be around. If I get to treat you like a partner all the time and never like an employee, I’m going to. But I will keep telling you *I won’t punish you* as long as you need to hear it.”
Mélenie breathed “Thank you, sir Thank you. That’s … Thank you.” She hugged him back, squeezing tightly and breathing in his scent. “You’re a good owner, you know. I think you get a little… confused? Maybe? A little strange sometimes, but you’re very good to me.”
“I really do try.” He kissed the top of her head. “Now, we should get going to town. Anything else you want to suggest we sell?”
“Well, just, ah.” She pulled out a small box of jewelry. “This was hidden in the lining of one of the suitcases. There’s a necklace, two pairs of earrings, and a couple bracelets.”
He thumbed through the jewelry with a low whistle. “Someone had really expensive tastes – mmm – Idu Eperu – oh, yes, these are real, too.” The Working flowed smoothly off his tongue. Mélanie eyed him sidelong and found herself mouthing the Working, although Eperu, rocks, was not a very good Word for her.
“Mmm? You can do Workings, remember? I’m not going to stop you from using a part of yourself like that.”
“I was just thinking it sounded good. And it was a really good Working for a thief.” Could she call him that? And if so, why not? He’d started their life together by telling her he’d stolen the goods he’d bought her with.
“It is.” He winked at her. “If I could make gems, I’d be set for life. Back before everything fell apart, I heard some stories of people who had been making money – gold, gems, just straight out making bills – and some elder pure-blood jerks came went all Cease and Desist on them. But now, now you can pretty much do anything you want. You might, uh, destabilize a local economy, but you’re not going to send the whole world market into convulsions.”
It had been a long time since Mélanie had heard anyone talk like that. Like there is no world market anymore. It brought her mind back to the Collapse, to the days when the news reports were going mad with reports of fae everywhere. “News Cameras. Now, if you do something fae-like, you don’t have to worry someone’s caught it on cell phone camera.”
“But there’s still a chance people will just think they’ve seen something and scream. It’s why I live in a haunted house and not, say, in the middle of town.”
Mélanie smiled back at him, feeling more sure of herself than she had in a long time. Perhaps since news cameras and cell phones. “I thought that was because you were a thief.”
He cleared his throat, still smiling at her. “right as always, my lovely Mélanie. Right as always.”
She thought that smile and the warm rush might be worth everything else, even the guilt that sometimes still came.Want more?