Mélanie brought both hands to her neck. “Obviously-” she started slowly, not sure how anything she wanted to say would be taken, “I can’t be considered to be on the wrong side of a collar, since I’m not on any side of it. Though I think you owe me a piercing of some sort, sir.” She cleared her throat. “And, ah. I want to be here, remember that? Please remember that?”
“Only if you call me Jasper again.” He brushed his knuckles very lightly against the side of her neck, just over her hand. “I haven’t upset you, then?”
“No, sir – Jasper. No, not at all.”
She caught herself just shy of a laugh. “I’m sure. I’m not sure – I’m not sure what I feel, but I’m not upset. I’m just confused and a little off-balance, I suppose.”
“All of those things make sense.” He shifted back into a position closer to facing the road, leaving Mélanie feeling oddly bereft. A moment later, a heartbeat later, he draped his arm around her shoulders and snuggled up close to her. “It’s funny,” he murmured, “I sometimes think the house interferes far too much, but then here we are, out here away from her, and I find myself wondering how I’m supposed to handle talking to you or anything at all without her.”
“Carefully,” she teased. “But no, really, you’re doing just fine.”
“You’re not just saying that?”
She snorted. “Okay, come on. When I’m just saying things because you own me, I say sir. You know that I’m not-” She trailed off. “I guess we don’t know each other all that well, do we?”
“Well, um.” He shifted in his seat. “Truth be told, I’m awful at that part. I don’t show myself and I don’t like figuring people I like out.”
“You – why not?” She stared at him in horror. “Why wouldn’t you-?”
“Because that’s what I do to people that I’m trying to rob. Or, I mean, people I am robbing. I figure them out, I learn what makes them tick, and then I lie to them until they give me what I want. And if I’m doing that to people I like – I’m manipulating them. I’m trying to figure out what they like so I can do the same thing to them.”
“Are you…” Mélanie discarded several questions, including are you trying to rob me, and then another set that seemed to involve mostly accusations, before she finally settled on something useless. “What do you want to take from me?”
“Your love,” he answered, sort of as if she’d surprised him into an honest answer. At least, the way he was looking at her looked surprised – and frank.
“My…” She cleared her throat. “And you figure me out because if you did that, you’d be cheating?”
How did this man even tie his shoes in the morning, with thinking that convoluted?
Could she even think that about her Keeper?
Well, she had, so clearly she must be able to, and she hadn’t felt bad about it – Mélanie looked away and tried to pull herself together.
“I figure,” Jasper began, pulling her attention back to him, “I think – I don’t know.” He put his hands over his face. “What do I do if I find myself manipulating you?”
“Well.” She cleared her throat. “Either you stop, or you keep going. I mean – I – you literally can tell me to do whatever you want. I am under your name. I am part of your household. I am yours. You don’t have to manipulate me to start with. You can just tell me to do things.”
He looked at her. “What do you want, though?”
Mélanie sighed quietly. “Quiet. Time alone with my own thoughts. I want enough to eat and a roof over my head, I want to be warm and I want clothes that fit. I want projects that are interesting, challenging. Animals to keep. I want – I want things I can do from start to finish, things I can think of and do and complete. I want conversation and jokes and maybe, sometimes, silly things like board games or card games. I just want to be a person, sir.”
Jasper was quiet and still for so long that she thought she’d either offended him or confused him in some critical way. When he finally moved, it was still without speaking. He pressed her against himself and kissed the top of her head, making a noise that sounded something like a hum and something like a strangled sob.
“I think I can do that.”
“I – thank you.” She peeked up at him, trying to figure out what was going on, but his face was unreadable. “Thank you,” she tried again, just to be safe.Want more?