They rode on for a while before Jasper broke the strange silence again – not with anything related to their previous conversation, but just to tell Mélanie more about what he’d found and who he’d spoken to while at the market. After a few minutes, Mélanie realized that he was giving her notes on his business – the people that he knew to talk to, the ones that he avoided, the ways that he tried to drum up more business. She found herself snorting.
“Networking. It’s the end of the world – as we know it – and you’re networking.”
“But of course. That’s the way that these things go. You talk to a few people, make a few contacts, and hope that those can parlay into more sales and more, well, jobs. You’d be surprised the number of people that want to hire someone who’s unscrupulous.”
“I probably wouldn’t be surprised,” she admitted. “There’s a lot of questionable stuff going on out there. But you–”
“Me?” He endeavored to look innocent.
“What about the woman you gave away things to? Or your friend with the, ah, the herb business?”
“Two very different questions. The nice lady on the run, well, I was honest with her. If she gets on her feet – she’s the sort of person that managed to run away and leave everything behind. So I think she will get on her feet – she’ll remember me kindly. Us kindly. And – well. I can afford to lose a little money here and there, since it’s not really losing money.”
“You still work for the stuff you sell,” Mélanie protested, a little surprised to find that she was protesting this in specific. “It’s not, say, threading the loom or sewing the stitches or dying the fabric or even using a well-placed Meentik to create things – but there’s work involved.”
He raised his eyebrows at her. “You are not the person I would expect to say that to me.”
“I’m not the person I’d expect to say that, either,” she admitted, “but I worked with those things, and so did the house, sorting them all out, so you must’ve, too, for them to be there. If scavenging is work, so is stealing.”
“You know,” he mused, “I do think that I’m corrupting you, Mélanie. I can’t imagine you saying something like that even a week ago.”
“A week ago, I might have been terrified to have an opinion around you. I don’t think that’s the same as corrupting,” she answered sharply.
He laughed. “All right, all right. You certainly are willing to have opinions now. And I love it.” He kissed her cheek. “Almost home. Is there anything that you’d like to do when we get there?”
She raised her eyebrows. “If you’re coming on to me, you might try a different tack. From this angle, all I can think is I wanted to scrub the outside of the House and see if she needed a paint touch-up.”
“Well, I wasn’t quite trying to come on to you, so I’m, ah, well, I suppose if I wasn’t trying too hard, it can’t have failed too miserably, right?”
Mélanie giggled quietly. “Okay, that’s — what were you trying to do?”
“Well, mostly, I was – ah – um. Trying to determine what you wanted to do when we got home. And if that happens to be scrubbing the House, well, then I’ll be hap – that would be a lie, I will be willing to help you.”
“You don’t have to help!” She blinked at him. “I’m still the slave. Remember?”
“My Kept, remember? And that means, if I want to help you clean the outside of the House, then I can. I don’t have to, of course. But I might want to, as you are quite nice company and, ahem, a little bit of a bad — good — influence on me.”
“You keep saying things like that.” She rolled her eyes at him. “As if you couldn’t manage being a good person on your own. And yet….”
“And yet I think you could manage perfectly well on your own. I think you could manage to be good on your own. I think you are, actually.” She smiled at him.
He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “You are lovely and adorable and a little bit biased by the bond, I think. I know that you’re fond of me and I do try to be a good Keeper, but I think that you’re a little colored by the whole thing, especially by having a Keeper who isn’t a horrible asshole.”
“I – that might be a possibility,” she allowed slowly, although she didn’t really want to admit it.
“You don’t seem to like that?” He tilted his head. She struggled with an urge to say anything, anything that would make him not look slightly worried.
She swallowed hard and looked away from him for a moment. “I don’t like thinking that my opinion of someone is — is fake. I never felt like that about any of my previous masters.”
“I have it on good authority that if you think your owner is an asshole and they are generally horrible to you, the part of the bond that suggests you like them and that colors your impressions of them never has a chance to fully grow. On the other hand, I’ve heard suggested that it forces other parts of the bond to stretch to cover that feeling.”
Mélanie blinked at him. “Do you have some Grigori pure-blood friend I don’t know about doing a scientific study on the bond of belonging to someone?”
Surprise made her tart and the grin he responded with meant she didn’t have a moment to panic about her response. “No, not exactly. But I’ve mentioned I’ve had a number of Kept over the years? And I’ve been asking a couple pertinent questions here and there. I’m pleased on some level that you like me enough that your opinions are colored, but–“
“Don’t you dare try to release me again.” She thought her voice was amazingly steady for the panic she was feeling. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He bowed to her. “I won’t. I was going to say something more like but I do think your opinions are a little colored.”
“And yet you’re a nice enough guy to color my opinions,” she countered cheerfully.
“I — cannot argue with that,” he admitted. “…thank you?”
Mélanie found herself smiling broadly. “You’re welcome.”Want more?