He woke slowly, finding himself warm, comfortable, well-rested. There was a warm pressure on his chest and shoulder.
Leander opened his eyes slowly. There was a tumble of auburn curls on his chest. Sylviane was snuggled against him, her eyes closed, her breathing even.
This, this he could get used to.
The moment he had the thought, he wanted to slap himself. She was beautiful, sure. She was very nice. She also, more or less, owned him. He’d be an idiot to get attached. Eventually, she was going to get bored, and things were going to get difficult. He didn’t have the temperament to kowtow and keep her entertained.
Of course, he wasn’t sure he had the temperament to be a college student, either, or to pretend to be her boyfriend— and how would that work when she got bored of him and he still had to follow her everywhere?
Well, he figured, it still would be better than his last job. His last few jobs. It would have to get really awkward to be remotely as bad as that one before the last…
He stroked the hair across his chest. It was soft and it smelled a little sweet, that close to his face. She was still breathing easily. He could stay here for a while if he kept petting her hair, if he thought about the good things and tried not to think about all the ways this could go wrong.
A bed. He closed his eyes just to feel the softness of the sheets and the way the pillow was perfect for his head. A blanket, a woman. A relatively sweet woman, at least so far. An Owner who – well, what could he say about Mr. MacDiarmad? He’d asked if Leander could do the job. He didn’t seem inclined to be too rough or too impatient. He seemed like he was fine with Leander being treated like a person and not like a – a thing.
Your slave is confused. Possible causes: You are being too kind. Remember that your slave is not used to gentle treatment. Solution…
“Mmmm. You can keep doing that all day. Feels nice.”
Leander froze. He looked at his fingers, cursed himself silently, and made them move again. He’d snuck up to her head while he wasn’t paying attention and had been, more or less, petting Sylviane.
Speaking of treating someone like a person and not a thing…
“Morning,” he ventured. “You cuddle in your sleep.”
“Yeah I, I should’ve warned you. I am a clingy sleeper.”
“I don’t mind.” He put a little more thought into the way he was petting her scalp, making it a little bit more of a massage. “It’s nice,” he added slowly. “At least you don’t kick,” he joked. This woman. He kept saying things.
“I do steal the covers though.”
“That’s all right. I’m pretty much a radiator.”
And he was sleeping in a bed, inside. He was fine.
“You’re pretty easy to get along with.” She showed no signs of moving and so he didn’t move either, except to keep petting her hair and lightly massaging her scalp.
He snorted. “I’d wait at least a week or two before you decide that. I mean, you saw me last night.”
“You know, if I had been moved without my choice to a shop that sold sex slaves and then, from there, to a house full of strangers where I was told I had to hang out with a 20-year-old girl – I might be a little off my game, too. To say nothing of the whole changing-Keepers thing, which I’ve been told can be sort of whiplash-feeling, a new Keeper who just dumped you on his daughter-“
“You’re more fun to cuddle with,” he cut her off. “Anyway, I get like that when I’m cranky or sleepy no matter what the circumstance.”
“So you’re human. Well, so you’re a person. That’s to be expected. I wasn’t expecting a robot, you know, or like, a personality-less statue. And you’re warm.”
He moved the massage down to her neck, very carefully – some people didn’t like having their necks touched.
“I’m glad you like me so far,” he said carefully. “I’m just saying, uh-“
“Don’t get my hopes up that it’s all going to be sunshine and roses? I got it. That’s okay, I’ve, you know, had friends before. And I know, you didn’t sign up to be my friend, but you’re a person living in close proximity to me-” She snorted. “Roommate. Like the one semester I did do in the dorms, except I didn’t get – mmmmm – neck massages out of that.”
“Roommates,” he agreed dryly. “I didn’t get cuddles like this out of most of my roommates, either.”
“You really don’t mind?” She turned her head to peek at him, ending up mostly getting a faceful of hair.
He moved her hair out of the way and moved the massage to the top of her back. “Even if I did, I’d put up with a lot worse than that for a bed like this. And I like it,” he admitted.
“Mm. Me, too. Especially if it gets me treatment like this. You’ve got good hands. Softer than I’d expect.”
He tensed, released the tension, carefully went back to the massage. He was almost completely certain she hadn’t meant it as an insult.
“The place, uh. Where your father got me. They didn’t like my callouses.”
It felt weird, not having them. He’d earned them all the hard way, too, either training with weapons or moving rocks.
“They – they just Worked your skin smooth?” She pushed herself up to look him straight in the face. “That’s horrible!”
Leander shifted this way and that, not sure what to say, where to look. “It — I Belonged to them,” he reminded her.
“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t horrible!” She huffed and caught his hand, looking at it this way and that. They’d left a couple of the scars across his knuckles and the back of his hand, but his palms were fresh, soft skin. “I know, I know Dad thinks — and you probably think — that I’m naive, young. But it’s not naivete to say something is horrible.” She stared at him. “Just because they’ve also done worse doesn’t mean that there aren’t small things that are also awful. And it’s okay if you hate them.” She cleared her throat. “And uh. So I’m not a horrible hypocrite, if I do something horrible, or if Dad does, it’s okay if you hate us. Or if you tell me that it’s horrible so I can stop it. Or both.”
Leander watched her rubbing his hand. “And… I’m not going to call you naive, but it’s ah. It’s easier to say that when I’m not saying stop that thing you like doing, it sucks. Or, you know, ‘I don’t like wearing ties and I don’t care how important this dance thing is, I still don’t know how to dance.’”
She looked down at his hand and stroked it carefully. “Yeah. Yeah, everything’s easier in theory. I grant that. So I’ll try to remember that we had this conversation when I’m trying to get you to go to a dance with me.”
“You don’t have to try,” he reminded her, “you just have to walk there. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Stupidest order,” she muttered. “Absolutely stupid. What are you supposed to do if I’m kidnapped?”
“At a guess? Keep you from being kidnapped.” He put his second hand over hers. “Look. I — I, uh. I know I’m cranky, and miserable, and negative, and skittish, and—” He dug for other words that past Owners had used to describe him. “-recalcitrant and pig-headed and stubborn. But I, uh. What you’re trying to do. Thank you.”
He had not expected her cheeks to flush. She leaned up and kissed his cheek delicately. “You’re welcome. How does breakfast sound?”
“Is it pizza?” he teased.
“I was thinking a nice thick omelette and some toast, maybe bacon.”
Leander’s stomach growled, ignoring any worries he might have. “Sounds – good,” he allowed. Maybe there’d be a trap. The longer he went without one here, the worse it was going to be when it sprang.
Breakfast, he figured, would be a pretty safe trap.