They sat there for a moment. Leander was trying to come up with something to say that wasn’t sir, you’re weird, and that terrifies me, and Mr. MacDiarmid seemed to be trying to come up with anything at all to say on his end.
It was like that, sitting on the floor, one of Mr. MacDiarmad’s hands on Leander’s and the other on his shoulder, that Sylviane found them.
Leander tensed. He didn’t— But — how was he going to explain—
“Oh, good.” She plopped down on the floor near both of them. “This looks like a good start. Did you two work out all the like testosterone stuff?”
Leander cleared his throat. “Testosterone stuff?”
“You know, I figure there’s some – some thing – two alpha male sorts do when they have to work out who’s on top—”
“Sylviane!” Mr. MacDiarmad huffed at his daughter – but did not move his hands. “You might want to consider your phrasing.”
“Yeah.” Leander cleared his throat. “This collar makes it pretty clear who’s on top.”
He was proud of himself for how collected he sounded with that one, almost like he was making a joke.
“Men,” she huffed right back at them. “You got it worked out?”
“We got it worked out,” her father assured her. “Try to be kind to him, Sylviane.”
“I’m not the problem here, Dad. I’m not the one that went and bought someone like they were a special at the deli, remember?”
“Actually—” Leander kept speaking up when it would be wiser to stay quiet. “—I don’t mind. It was gonna be him or someone else.”
Sylviane blinked at him, opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, and closed it. Leander kept himself braced for the feeling that would come, the dismissal at best, the insults, the way it would try to knock him down, to make him feel small and shitty and unimportant. He was surprised when, before Sylviane said anything, Mr. MacDiarmad’s hands squeezed his own.
Finally, the woman managed words. Well, a word. “You—” She blinked again and sat down. “You had no choice about being there.”
It wasn’t a question, and yet somehow it was. It was one of those traps. Leander watched her carefully, but she didn’t look like she was about to spring an a-ha! on him.
“Any choice I had in where I went, that went away a long time ago. Where I go,” he added, because even if she was being nice and giving him a nice long leash occasionally, he was still Kept and still under orders. “I mighta had some choice then. Wasn’t a good choice, when it was. I don’t think I made the right one…” He trailed off. “Never thought I made the right one,” he corrected.
“They were going to sell you. No consent on your part, no — no choice on your part.”
“Your dad here, he asked me,” he corrected. Reminded her, sort of. “Sometimes people, they ask, ‘can you kneel?’ or ‘can you-‘ things I don’t wanna talk about. Not a choice, but an answer you can give. Your dad here asked me if I could be your bodyguard. If I was willing to be your bodyguard.”
She looked like she was both getting more riled up and less. “How is this – how do they exist?”
“Because.” Her father’s voice was dry and serious. “I’m not big enough yet. And because the world is a poisonous place, sometimes, Sylviane, and they are far less poisonous than some of the things that might spring up to take their place, if they were removed but not — mmm. The earth not salted.”
His hands had tightened on Leander’s. A warning? No, not looking at the stress on his face. Leander tightened his own hands in the only response he could guess at.
Mr. MacDiarmad looked up at him and nodded, then turned his gaze to Sylviane. “It’s not an easy path, but we’ll get there. And the things you’re studying in school, those will help. Okay? So just be patient with me, and with Leander, and learn as you go, all right?”
“Hrrmph. Okay, I guess that’s…. Okay.” Sylviane looked at Leander, then back at her father, then back to him. “Okay, I…” She cleared her throat. “Okay, Dad. Okay. But – but, shit. Shit, Leander. I don’t know everything about you, and I acknowledge that. Keep telling me if I put my foot in it?”
“Like father, like daughter,” he muttered. He looked up at her and smirked wryly. “I will. It’s gonna be weird, but I will.” He titled his head at Mr. MacDiarmad. “Are we – are you done with me? For the moment?”
“I think Sylviane wants your attention. Make sure to stop in some time tomorrow, and I’ll get someone on your ‘official’ papers while you’re here. Have fun, kids.”
“Bye, Daddy.” Sylviane’s bright and vapid wave was almost worrisome. Leander followed her out of Mr. MacDiarmad’s office and hoped that things weren’t about to get strange all over again.