First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
Jasper was still laughing. Mélanie was staring at him with something between horror and worry. Had she broken him? Was he going a little mad? Was this what happened right before he finally got angry with her?
“Easy, easy,” Jasper managed through a chuckle. “Oh, my dear, easy. Telling me that you think I’m doing something wrong. Being a little difficult? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have laughed at you.” He draped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to him. “I do apologize. I know you were serious. And I take it seriously — I do! — that you feel strongly enough about this that you’d tell me you thought I was doing something wrong. I know that’s hard for you.” He squeezed her a little more firmly. “It’s just that if that’s what it takes to get you to give me your opinions more often, it’s tempting to go find the nicest little old couple I can find and bilk them out of their life savings.”
“Don’t do that!” Mélanie twisted in his hold to stare at him. “No, don’t — please, I mean —”
“Easy, easy,” he repeated. He rubbed her back lightly. “I’m sorry, I’m doing it again. Damnit. And the House isn’t here to throw things at me. “No. I won’t do that. And you and I can discuss targets. We’ll have to come up with some sort of signal, if we do it in public, but I am more than willing to let you be my moral compass, since I seem to have been born without one.”
“I don’t believe that.” Maybe it was all the apologizing, but Mélanie felt like she was on firmer footing with Jasper than she could remember being with anyone since the world had started to fall apart. She was safe with him. At least, that’s how it felt.
“Oh, I am serious!” he assured her. “I would absolutely let you be my moral compass.”
“Oh!” She blinked at him. “Oh, I meant that you absolutely have a moral compass already.”
“And yet here you were worried about my actions. I assure you, I’m quite a selfish and greedy individual.”
“You have complete control of me,” she pointed out — and was surprised to find that it didn’t distress her at all to say it. “You Own me. You could do anything you want. You could have done anything you want with any of the slaves you’ve owned — and don’t tell me that the House would stop you, because you could have owned any house you want, not a sentient house. And the House can’t stop you from any orders you give me out here, like ‘act happy about whatever I do to you when we’re in the House.’ Instead, you just release Kept that aren’t happy and go steal another one.”
“Act…” He stared at her in horror. It was a good thing, she mused, that the horses knew where they were going. “That would be awful.”
“You do have a moral compass,” she reiterated. “You do. See?”
He harrumphed. “I’m not a horrible human being.”
“I think,” she teased, “that you’re not a human being at all. But you’re not a horrible man at all. But that doesn’t mean I like stealing from poor people,” she added hurriedly, “or tricking kind people into giving you what they need.”
“So I’m not horrible but I need some work.” He smiled broadly. “I will take that, Mélanie dear, I will take that.”
The horses were trotting cheerfully past a bright, functioning farm, where a man was working a horse-driven plow. Mélanie’s attention shifted to the mechanism — two broad shaggy working horses pulling something that still had bits of John Deere Green paint on it. She could see where the tractor hitch had been replaced with a connection to a stripped-down driving platform made out of part of an old truck.
“Hard work,” Jasper commented, and then, more quietly, “but they do amazing work. Getting themselves up and running again when the gas ran out — some fae can Make gasoline, of course, but that’s asking for trouble when a lot of people are still pretty prickly about the fae. And you have to find the fae that can do it, and they have to be willing, and—”
“Or buy a fae slave.” Mélanie spoke very quietly, her mouth dry.
“Tricky for a human. You have to get one you can force into a promise, since you can’t Keep them. Or you have to hope you have enough fae blood to hold the Kept bond, and then it’s shitty for the Kept involved…. oh. Oh.” He put his hands over his face. “That was that slaver, wasn’t it?”
“And…” she swallowed, trying to wet her mouth at all. “My last two owners. They were scared of me. And it, ah. It didn’t go well.”
“Oh, Mélanie.” Jasper wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close as they passed another farm. “Oh, my dear. I’m sorry. They were idiots, I assure you. And none of that should in any way reflect on you or your abilities. You have been, so far, an amazing partner and assistant, and I very much enjoy your company.” He kissed her cheek. “They were idiots,” he repeated, “and I can say that of the slaver, at least, with absolute certainty. Now. Here we are almost at town. Is there anything you’d like me to buy while we’re there?”Want more?