First: Purchased: Negotiation
“So, your first day of college.” Sylviane pointed a mozzarella stick at Leander; it seemed that, although she had a gourmet chef at home (or maybe because she did; Leander didn’t quite understand rich kids), she knew every good pizza and bar-food joint in the city. “What did you think?”
“That wasn’t a real day of college,” he protested. “That was just one seminar thing and one meeting with a professor. I mean, she was terrifying, but in a good way.”
“Terrifying, but in a good way? Explain.”
“She’s really tough, she knows her stuff, and she looks right through you and sees your meat. Your core, I mean.” He looked at her and, feeling brave, pointed a fry at her. “You’re pushy when you’ve been at school. Explain.”
“Oh!” She looked at the fry and wrinkled her nose at him. “Pushy?”
“Pushy,” he agreed. “Would you prefer ‘demanding?'”
“I don’t think I would, no.” She took the fry from him and ate it. “If I am – and I’m not conceding that I am, mind you – it’s probably just being in the mindset of being here instead of at home. This is my place where home is, you know, Dad’s place. Or maybe it’s just that you’ve relaxed enough that I think I can be a little demanding without you deciding that, uh.” She considered her words and, in the end, sort of waved a hand at him as if it explained it.
Leander ate another fry and let her hang. And then another. And then another.
Finally, she huffed at him. “You’re not acting like you’re my slave,” she muttered softly. “You’ve gotten a little more comfortable in your skin and I feel like, if I say ‘Explain’ to you, you’re not going to decide that I mean that you have to give me a treatise on your mindset or you’re going to be locked in – err. Sorry.” She ducked her head.
“No, I’m liking this.” Leander smiled a bit at her. “You promised, remember? But mostly, you want me to act like your boyfriend when we’re out, and your boyfriend probably wouldn’t be frightened that you would lock him in… wherever. Or otherwise have him end up in a really unpleasant situation just because he was chatting with you.”
“You’re acting?” She paused with a mozzarella stick halfway to her mouth and stared at him.
It was cute enough that he kept up a smug smile for a good few minutes before giving in and shrugging cheerfully. “Not completely,” he admitted. “I’m not that good. But it’s like, uh. You’re not going to get in my face when we’re out, either, so it’s a little safer? Because you want to act like I’m your boyfriend, too.”
“… Does your whole life require this much calculation? And if so, how do you manage?”
“Very carefully.” He smirked at her, but it even felt tired. “Welcome to being a slave.”
“You’re not…” She huffed. “All right. You are. You are, but that sucks! You go through that with every thought, with everything you do?”
“A lot of it isn’t like… conscious, and I’m not as good at it as, uh, people who are better at it…” He trailed off, glowering a little. “Yeah, that was a stupid sentence, but you get the point. If I was good at it, I wouldn’t have ended up…. where I was.”
“Rocks and so on.” She nodded slowly. “So it’s, uh. You have to keep in mind what the situation is and what your – what I want you to do and also how I want you to do it, and then there’s my dad, and everything he wants, and somewhere in there is what you want…?”
He knew he shouldn’t tease her; she really was trying to understand and he probably ought to help with that, but it was so open and obvious he took the chance.
“Oh, yeah.” He let his smile get all lazy and playful. He’d forgotten he knew how to smile like that when he wasn’t about to get into a fight. “Yeah, I want to not get punished, so I want to not piss you off or your dad.”
On the other hand, that might have been him trying to get into a fight.
There was a heartbeat of silence and then her eyebrows went up. Another heartbeat and she pointed a mozzarella stick at him. One more and he stole her stick, because she was going to keep pointing them at him unless he stopped that.
She picked up another mozzarella stick while a frown grew on her face. “I mean, I mean things that you actually want.”
“Look, not being punished is a pretty solid want. I don’t know your dad. I don’t know what sort of thing he’d do. I don’t know what you’d do if you were given, ah, the reins. But I do know that being Kept makes even the mildest punishment suck. And I know that right now I have good food, a warm and comfortable bed, indoor plumbing, clothes that fit, comfortable shoes, and an education. Are you telling me that I shouldn’t want to hold on to all of that? Because if you are, with all due respect, you’re nuts.”
“…When you put it like that….” She pushed him the little bin of marinara sauce that came with the mozzarella sticks.
He considered his options, dipped the stick in the sauce, and ate it slowly.