First: Purchased: Negotiation
It might have been a dumb joke, but Inka giggled, at least. “Oh! Well, no, girls are jerks too, I don’t think … oh, that’s cute though.” She giggled a little more, and Leander felt less stupid. Maybe not all Sylviane’s friends would be hard to deal with. “Oh, no, I’ve utterly lost the thread of the conversation.”
“She does that,” Ripley assured Leander. “Not just when she’s drinking her weight in tequila, either; watch out, when these two go out drinking, it can get kinda of messy, and not just the way they shut down the boys that are interested. Although that,” he grinned, “that is a murder by burn sort of scene. Inka burns and Sylvie freezes them out and then they swap out, it’s amazing.”
Leander found himself smiling back. “I can’t wait ’till I can see that.”
“Oh, and you will. Once classes get started, it’s usually every Friday night-“
“Well, maybe not every Friday,” Sylviane demurred. “I mean, I want to have some time to spend with Leander when we’re not in classes, you know.”
“Bah, you’re no fun. Okay, every other Friday night. And then sometimes Saturday nights, we’ll hop the train and go north to hit some bigger bars – now that, my friend, that can get really, really interesting. I can’t wait ’till you get to see it, either.”
“Sounds fun.” Leander grinned at Sylviane. “This Friday?”
Much to his surprise, she was blushing. “Maybe this Friday,” she muttered. “I mean – yeah, maybe this Friday.” She squeezed his hand, another set of communication he was a little lost at, and kissed his cheek. “Well,” she added to Ripley and Inka, “I was showing Leander the campus. See you guys around?”
“Tomorrow, for sure. Lunch like usual?”
“Lunch sounds good. I’ll see you at the Terrace at twelve fifteen.” They made their goodbyes and she led Leander off until they were hidden from Inka and Ripley by a solid stone building. Then she stopped, hugging him suddenly with her face pressed against his chest. “Do you really want to see me get drunk?”
“I don’t know. Is it fun?”
Her giggle was muffled by his chest. “I have fun. But with you not drinking…”
“Oh, trust me, I can have plenty of fun around drunk people without drinking,” he assured her. “If you feel bad about it, at some point we can drunk at home. You can see what an idiot I am with two or three or seven drinks in me.”
Now why the hell had he said that? He still was bodyguarding her when he was home, at her home, after all. He cleared his throat. “I mean, if your father says that’s okay.”
She made a face. “At some point, we are going to have to draw some lines and get my father to put some things in my court. You can’t literally be on duty all the time. That’s ridiculous.”
“But I’ll have to be on duty when you’re out of the house. Otherwise he might want to get yet another bodyguard to watch you when I’m not on duty, and, uh.” Leander cleared his throat. “Then you have me and a professional, and I don’t win out in that deal.”
She looked up at him, started to say something, and then shook her head. “All right, pick a direction? We’ll just walk, if you want, and I’ll stop with the tour guide thing for now.”
“I like the tour guide thing,” he protested.
“Yeah? Thanks. That’s sweet. But on the other hand, this is supposed to be your time, and it’s not, if I’m just dragging you around.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’m doing an awful job of giving you your time, aren’t I?”
“I wouldn’t say awful,” he hedged. “It’s gotta be weird for you, too. And anyway.” He picked a direction but didn’t release her hand, not sure how he’d come to be holding it again but finding it was both nice and told him exactly where she was at all times. “This is more time to myself, time to pick what I’m doing, than I’ve had in a long time. Seriously.”
“That’s – that’s kind of awful.”
“That -” He lowered his voice. “That’s being Kept, being a slave. Even a good Keeping, you’re still at the beck and call of your Owner, that’s what you signed up for.”
He kicked himself mentally the moment the words were out of his mouth. Idiot. He didn’t want her pity. He didn’t want her thinking about signing up, he didn’t want-
She looked at him long and silently for a minute, another minute, while he kicked himself some more. What had he just started? What was she thinking? What was she looking for? What was she going to do?”
“Beck and call, yes,” she agreed slowly. “But you weren’t being a Kept, you were a slave that was tied up by orders. I – that’s different, a little, isn’t it? Is that, shit.” She huffed quietly and looked away.
Leander stayed quiet. Maybe if he just kept his yap shut, he wouldn’t say anything else stupid.
Finally, she looked back at him. “Are you a slave now?”
He looked at her and tried to consider his words, but her expression, her intentness, it pushed at him.
“Yeah,” he answered her quietly. Before she could even react, he hurried on. “I think there’s a chance, this job, I won’t end up being a slave, but it’s not something that changes because of a pretty collar or a different assignment. It’s in your head, my head, I mean. It’s in his head, your father’s. And I don’t know what will come out of it. I don’t know what I’ll end up being. But all I was trying to say,” he added, quickly, as her expression softened, “was that I like this, that you offer it, that you’re trying, okay? Look, if I ever just want to be alone for an hour, when you ask, I’ll just tell you I want to be on the other side of a door from you where nobody can get at you.”
She winced. “Yeah, that would do it. Okay.” She sandwiched both of his hands in hers. “Okay, I’ll, I’ll respect that. But seriously…”
“Seriously,” he cut her off. “I haven’t gotten to make many decisions that haven’t had a really bad end result either way in – in a long time, all right? So if this is what I want to do, this is, uh. This is about all the decision I can handle right now. Okay?”
Her smile now was sad but very – not knowing, exactly, but more like she’d finally gotten something. “Okay. So, ah. Let me show you over here to the sciences buildings. They’re not as pretty as the art ones, but they have more shiny equipment and, somehow, the best landscaping.”