First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
Mélanie stepped closer to Jasper and surveyed the area. There were people everywhere. More than half of them hadn’t seemed to notice the shouting at all. A few of them were looking across the market. A few more were looking at Jasper.
Was she going to have to do Workings again? Was she even allowed to?
Jasper waved enthusiastically with one arm, balancing the packages with the other. “George Ridges! I haven’t seen you in forever!”
Mélanie relaxed the smallest bit — he’d gotten himself kidnapped not all that long ago; her Master might not be the best at judging people — and tried to see who he was waving at.
She couldn’t make anyone out through the crowd. Jasper was giving her a nudge anyway. “You see that table? The one with the red banners on it?”
The banners had probably been red at one point, at least. Now they were a sort of sad mauvey-coral. Mélanie nodded.
“We’re going that way. Stay close, okay? I’m gonna try to clear a path for you.”
“You don’t have to—” He was already moving.
She stayed right behind him, unsure why he’d told her where they were going when he was leading her. Then someone bumped into her, and for a moment she couldn’t see Jasper at all.
She got her packages re-balanced — and checked to make sure she still had all of them — and looked around. She was shorter than two-thirds of this crowd. It would be easy for her to get lost here, just by not looking in the right direction.
There. There were the faded-red banners, and there was Jasper. She shifted everything again and headed towards him.
Someone bumped into her again, this time touching at a pocket. “Empty,” she told the pick-pocket, more amused than offended. “And don’t steal my mas — partner’s wares, or I’ll get in trouble.”
The kid froze, looked at her, and took a step back. “You’re not supposed to notice things like that.”
“I apologize for noticing something you’d rather I not. Tell you what, give me honest help and I’ll give you something for your work, how’s that?”‘
“I don’t need it. I’m not a beggar!”
“Nobody said you were.” She balanced her packages again and kept walking. “As a matter of fact, I think what nobody was saying you were was more of a pick-pocket and less of a beggar, and what I was offering was -” she made the same mock-shudder she sometimes did with Jasper “-honest work. For honest pay.”
“You’re making fun of me.” The kid wrinkled a dirty nose at Mélanie. “What’d I ever do to you?”
“To be entirely honest, I’m making fun of my partner, not you.” It sounded strange on her lips, but if that was how Jasper wanted to play this, she was obviously going to go along with him. “Are you going to help me, or just follow me not helping?”
“I guess I could carry this thing.” The kid took the top box from her pile. “You’re new.”
“I am. My partner’s been here before, but I never have. So I’m just lucky I’m not completely lost.”
“So if I ran off with this-“
“I’d have to shout ‘stop! Thief!’, and you might get away, but if you didn’t, you’d probably get in trouble.”
“You’d do that?” The kid sulked at her. “But I’m carrying things for you.”
Mélanie laughed. “You’re new at this, aren’t you? Yes. Please don’t steal from me, it would-” she snorted at herself “-it would ruin my good mood.”
As if that ever worked with a thief – did it?
The kid laughed. “Okay, okay. You asked so nicely, I guess I can just help you out.”
“Thank you.” Mélanie glanced over at them – a head shorter than her, with sort of weedy hair and a sharp nose; their clothes were shapeless and had a lot of room, if she was thinking in that direction, to hide their – gleanings, that was a good word. They were probably pre-pubescent, but the clothes and the height made it hard to tell. “Parents around?” she asked casually.
The kid flinched and nearly dropped the package. Mélanie wanted to hold up her hands to soothe, but she was still laden with packages.
“It’s okay, I won’t pry, sorry,” she said instead. “Look, do you have, uh. Lunch. It’s just, I packed too much…”
The kid laughed at her. “You’re transparent.”
“Well, I don’t have much call to not be,” Mélanie retorted. The thought made her think of her previous masters and the amount of lying that she’d done, either through omission or half-answers or just flat-out untruths. “That is, ah. Now.”
“Hey, sorry.” It was the kid’s turn to be apologetic and worried. “Sorry, I mean, I don’t mind, if you want to feed me and all. That would be dumb. I’m sorry,” they repeated. “All good?”
“All good,” Mélanie agreed. She smiled gently at the kid and added in a shoulder-pat. “Here we are. Jasper, this is – my friend? And we are going to give them a little something for lunch.”
“Thank you, Mélanie’s friend, for helping her carry her things.” Jasper winked cheerfully; the kid flushed.
“Kearney.” The kid held out a hand, juggling the box to do so. “She’s nice, your – partner.”
Jasper shook the hand solemnly. “That she is. I’m very lucky to be working with her.” His eyes narrowed and he suddenly grinned. “We’ve met before, Kearney. It was probably four or five times ago that I was here -”
“I don’t have it anymore. I used it to, uh, to buy my sick mother medicine.”
“Does that work on most people?”
“Most of them,” Kearney agreed. “Sometimes I have to turn on the tears. But you’re different.”
“Well, there’s reasons for that. Look, considering your sick mother still needs medicine, how about a deal. You help Mélanie and I watch the table all day – we wouldn’t want a thief running off with our stuff, would we? – and I’ll not only feed you, I’ll give you a cut of the profits. After that… after that, I may have a job for you. If you’re, ah, if you’re up to it?” He raised his eyebrows in challenge.Want more?