The House was waiting for them.
The wagon ride back had been – well, strange. The former slaves had spent a lot of time looking at Jasper — and then at Mélanie — as if they were some sort of strange creature. Which, Mélanie supposed, was not all that unfair.
“So…” one woman had asked, maybe twenty minutes before they reached the house, “what’s going to happen to us?”
They really had been slaves for a while.
“That,” Jasper had told her — told all of them — “depends on what you want to happen. I am not your master. But when you figure out what you want to do or where you want to go, I’ll help you get there.”
Mélanie had been worried that it might be a little crowded, that the House might object to the company, or that with them living in the same house as them, they might have trouble accepting that they were free. She was worried that the gates might not let them in, to be honest, or that the House might attack the strangers.
The gates swung widely open on a yard that looked rather different than when they’d left.
The house – the main house? – House looked smaller, although not much so from the front, just heading further back. To the back corner of the yard, next to the formal garden but separate from the pasture — which seemed to have scooted over to the left somewhat — a tidy cottage had sprung up. House was still obviously the Main House, even though the cottage was nearly the size of the proper house — it looked like she’d sort of split herself in half.
And the front porch of the cottage had two adorable rocking chairs.
“Welcome.” Jasper recovered faster than Mélanie had. “The guest house is open to you I’m going to warn you — we are fae, and as such, our house has a personality and a, ah, a person of her own. Be kind and polite to our home while you stay there.”
The fae who had come with them looked at Jasper a little strangely, but still walked towards the guest house, pausing about halfway there. “Are we-” The woman of the pair cleared her throat. “May we –“
“Welcome to my home. If she opens the door for you, you can consider that an invitation into the cottage. – as long as you do no harm to her or hers. You’re welcome to stay as long as you need with that caveat. And I hope you choose to stay long enough to get comfortably back on your feet.”
Mélanie smiled. That, she thought, was clear enough. She took a step forward to encourage the rescuees, only to find herself swaying on her feet.
Jasper caught her. “Easy, easy,” he murmured. “I’ve got you. Lots of magic today, mmm? I know you’ve been using it around the house, but not like that, have you?”
She leaned into his arms. She ought to move, but she didn’t want to. “It was – it was a lot,” she allowed weakly. “Did you see what House did?”
“I think I need to thank House very sincerely. Let’s get you into bed and then we can talk about that, okay?” He swept her up into his arms before she could think about arguing.
“My lady and I,” he told the gathered strangers, “need to recuperate, or at least she does. If you need anything that can’t wait and the House can’t provide it, come up to the front house and knock, all right? Until then, Mélanie and I will be inside. Be welcome, be safe. Nobody is going to bother you here.”
That made Mélanie giggle. Not many houses would protect you as much and as clearly as the House would. “You don’t have to-“
“I like it. I wish you’d let me carry you more often,” he murmured into her hair.
“You’re still the boss,” she murmured back. The kitchen door opened for them as Jasper took the stairs.
“Thank you, House.” He paused. His voice grew sincere and a little strange. “Thank you very much for accepting all these strangers — ourselves included — under your roof, roofs, and for being willing to accommodate our refugees.”
The tablecloth on the kitchen table fluttered. A napkin hit Jasper very lightly in the head.
“I’ll take that to mean that I’m an idiot but that you like me anyway. I need to get Mélanie into a bed – to rest, to rest! – and then, perhaps, we can talk some more?”
The napkin seemed to make some sort of shooing gesture. Jasper chuckled again and carried Mélanie up the stairs.
The upstairs was smaller than it had been; Jasper peeked into the rooms while holding Mélanie. “House? Where’s the loot room?”
A doorway opened – stairs up to the attic.
“Ah-ha. Thank you. I didn’t think you’d have done anything bad with it, of course – I love the remodel. Makes you look trimmer.”
Mélanie thumped him sleepily on the arm. “Don’t say that.”
“What? Why not?”
“Implies she wasn’t trim to start with. She had a lovely figure, and now she has a different lovely figure. Right, house?”
The door to Jasper’s bedroom swung wide open. Mé;anie giggled. “I think she wants us both to shut up. Bed?”
“Bed. Do you think you’re feeling up to telling me what happened in the barn?”
“What – oh! Oh, you were treating them like free people.”
“They are free people.”
“Legally, yes. We stole them, they’re free. But it’s not a switch in people’s minds, Jasper. You can’t just go from being a slave to being free. It takes time.”
“It does, mmm?” He studied her with far too considerate of a look. Mélanie shifted backwards in his arms.
“Easy, easy.” He put her down on the bed. “You’re not in any trouble. Thank you for helping out with that — I guess I’m not all that good with slaves.”
“Not really, no.” She blinked. Had she really just — “I mean, that is, ah. Oh, departed gods.” She put both hands over her face.
“Hey, hey. Thank you. It’s stupid, I know, but I always thought just – just treating them like people? But even House seemed to think I was wrong sometimes.
“Well, that’s… that’s the problem.” Mélanie peeked at him. “Two problems. First. Your definition of people and theirs might be different. And second, the more someone treats you like not-a-person, the more that becomes normal. You don’t know what to do when people treat you – well, ‘normally’. It seems strange and weird.”
“I…” He looked away. “Thank you, Mélanie. I really needed to hear that.”Want more?