The problem was, Leander had no idea what Sylviane wanted, what she meant, or what she was thinking at any given moment.
That had been the case with almost everyone who had owned him, of course, but on the other hand, most of the other people who had owned him hadn’t wanted him to act like a person. They certainly hadn’t cuddled him, with one notable, unpleasant, hopefully-forgettable exception.
And she was definitely cuddling him. But she was also not stupid, and eventually she noticed that he’d gotten tense. Or that he was tense. He wasn’t sure, really, if there was a moment when it had started.
She patted his arm and pulled away, muted the tv and looked at him. “Speaking of an owner’s manual-“
He looked over at her. “The off button is usually ‘go to sleep,’ but since you can’t, since I’m not, since-“
“Since the bond doesn’t force you to listen to me, that won’t put you to sleep,” she filled in. “I wasn’t asking for the off button, but if that was your way of telling me you’d like to go to sleep-“
“When you’re ready,” he told her, automatically and without really thinking about it.
She patted his shoulder again. “I was going to ask, I need a troubleshooting guide for when you go all military and worried.”
“‘All military and worried?'” He quirked his eyebrows at her.
“Stiff and short formal answers and not really looking at me. Like right now.”
“I’m-” He leaned against the headboard. “Yeah. Military and worried. That’s not a bad way of putting it.”
“So if there was a troubleshooting guide…?”
He closed his eyes. “Right. Okay. Your slave-“
“Can we call you something else?”
“It’s an owner’s manual.” He didn’t open his eyes. If he didn’t open his eyes, he could just… pretend he was a person.
“Okay. Okay, if it’s an owner’s manual, we can call you a slave.” She huffed quietly.
“Okay. Thank you. Your slave is-” He tried to picture a troubleshooting guide. “You slave is military and worried. Possible causes: Orders that he can’t follow or can’t understand. Rephrase your orders until they’re direct or rescind the order.”
“Really. Um, there’s more.”
“Okay. I hope so, because I didn’t-“
“I know,” he offered quietly. “Second possible cause: a lack of orders or a lack of understanding of what he’s supposed to be doing. Make sure his current position is clarified. There’s a third,” he added quickly, just to move past the truth. “Your slave has a physical need: food, water, bathroom, sleep. Make sure he has been fed and watered, walked and given a bed.”
Shit, that was, that was the truth too. He opened his eyes slowly.
She was looking… thoughtful. “Okay, the bathroom is right there and I’m never going to stop you from using the bathroom. I mean, literally, if you need to pick me up and carry me somewhere so you can use the bathroom, you can, but that one’s definitely within the range. You don’t even have to ask.”
He stretched a little. “Probably should take a – use the bathroom,” he allows.
“While you’re heading that way I’ll grab you a toothbrush from my cupboard. You don’t have any clothes,” she added with a frown. “I’ll steal a pair of dad’s sweatpants.”
“I can – I can sleep in my boxers,” he offered weakly.
“If you’d be comfortable-“
“Miss.” He cleared his throat. “Look. The truth is, if I have a place I’m allowed to sleep and I’m not sleeping in chains or on concrete, I am going to sleep like a rock. That’s just – that’s just the way it is. So boxers are fine. I guess I probably need clothes and stuff, but not tonight. Toothbrush is nice though.”
“Okay, okay. Sorry, here we go.” She bounced out of bed and vanished into the bedroom. “Okay, I laid out a toothbrush. You can use my toothpaste. If you want, uh, you can take a shower if you want, there’s towels out, or tomorrow is fine. And.” She took a breath. “I’m talking too fast. Okay, bed. You’re going to sleep in bed with me tonight, because I’ve given you too many choice already today. Look, I can learn.” She smiled crookedly. “We’ll try like three different solutions and then we’ll decide after that. Boxers are fine, skin’s fine, and sorry, that has to be your decision, but first. Bathroom.” She pointed. “I’ll be here when you get out. I’ll stay here so you don’t have to worry while you’re in there, either.”
“Thanks,” he mumbled. He had this sinking feeling something was going on that he didn’t quite follow, but she’d pointed him at the bathroom, so he went.
And after that, he looked at the shower and – he was exhausted. He was ready to fall asleep on his feet.
And there was a really nice-looking shower and he could take a hot shower without anyone else there, without anyone watching him.
He showered until he nearly did fall over before he finally dried off. He headed into Sylviane’s room with a towel wrapped around his waist, only now starting to worry he’d taken too long.
The tv was off; she was lying in bed, a tablet propped up on a pillow. “Hey.” She waggled her fingers at him.
“I’m sorry, I just-“
“No. Don’t be sorry, okay, I told you that you could take a shower. Besides, I like reading in bed.”
“I. Okay.” He looked at the bed, looked at her. It really was big enough for three people.
“Yes.” She patted the bed next to him. “Into the bed, come on. You need sleep, I need sleep, and there’s a nice comfortable bed here. Come on, lie down.”
“Well, I can’t argue with that.” He slid into bed, staying as far on his side as he could.
She aimed a look at him he couldn’t read. Then again, he couldn’t read most of her looks.
“Sleep,” she told him, and even though it wasn’t an order, he found himself falling asleep.