First: Purchased: Negotiation
“I want to see you,” she murmured in his ear.
Leander blinked sleepily at Sylviane. The blankets had ended up on the floor. The pillows had ended up somewhere else – the couch over there, he thought.
“I’m right here,.” He’d never been more naked with someone, he thought. Unless she wanted into his mind, which –
which maybe he would not mind all that much, as long as she stayed out of the dark places. “I can’t be much more naked,” he joked.
“I want to see you,” she murmured. “Your Mask down, your face. The way you really look “
Leander blinked. “Oh… oh.” How many times had he thought that about her? And now, when he was faced with it. “It’s nothing beautiful,” he warned her. “And nothing really all that out there, either,” he added, just in case she was worried he was a dragon or a centaur or something.
“I won’t push it if you don’t want to show me.” She kissed his collar bone lightly. “I won’t. But I’d like it, even if you don’t think it’s pretty. “
“Nothing about me’s pretty.” He couldn’t help it; it came out nearly as a growl.
“Mm, I beg to differ. Those eyes – are they real?”
“They’re real,” he assured her. “Are you trying to butter me up? Because I’d rather butter you up, ah-” he snorted. “That came out a little stupid.”
“I forgive you.” She smirked at him. “If you want to butter me up, feel free. I seem to recall you said something about the noises I make…”
“Oh, yeah, those noises.” He rumbled in appreciation. “Woman, you make the most amazing noises. They’re good for a man’s soul, you know that? And for his ego…”
“Yeah? You’re pretty good for my soul, too.” She pressed a kiss to his lips. “And for other things, excluding the part where you saved my life, which is pretty good for, well, my me.”
He chuckled a little. “Just doin’ my job, ma’am.”
“No.” She looked at him, suddenly serious. “No, and do not let anyone tell you that, either. Your job is to protect me. What you did is above and beyond, and I appreciate it.”
He looked at her, letting the tone shift his own mood – and trying not to show how grateful he was that they weren’t talking about his skin behind his Mask anymore. “So, please don’t take this the wrong way. I can’t imagine being told my only job was to protect someone’s daughter – child, adult child – and not doing my absolute best, even if the person giving me the job hadn’t already treated me better than anyone has treated me in years, never mind – never mind the way you talk to me.” He hesitated again, not sure he should say the rest. “I would never not go above and beyond for that. That’s – that’s important. But…” He trailed off for a moment.
He was already as caught as he could be. It wasn’t like they could put a collar on him and enslave him again.
“But so are you,” he finished, feeling like an idiot. He couldn’t look at her. He didn’t want to look at anything.
She climbed on top of him, a move so out of tone with what they’d been talking about that he looked up to see what she was doing. That meant she was looking at his face – and he at hers. He swallowed slowly at the serious set of her lips and eyebrows.
She leaned down gracefully and kissed his lips, barely more than a peck. “Thank you for saving me, Leander. I’m glad that it’s important to you. And I’m glad I’m important to you. I really appreciate – I really appreciate all of it.”
He put his hands on her hips, not knowing where else to put them, and cleared his throat. “You look at me,” he muttered. He didn’t know how to explain it better than that. “You look at me. At me.”
Good job, he taunted himself. Just keep saying the same words in the same order over and over again. I’m sure that’ll make her understand just fine.
She stroked his cheek. “I don’t know how much of you I see yet,” she admitted, “but looking at people, learning them, it’s a sort of – it’s intimacy? And it’s really, really private. I hope you don’t mind me trying.”
He blinked. “People mind that?”
“Some people are incredibly private. Some people aren’t really private, or rather, they don’t think of themselves as private, but they do have a strong aversion to people knowing things about them that they didn’t admit out loud, or to people guessing wrong.” She made a face. “I don’t mind people guessing wrong, but so many people treat their guesses like gospel truth. That I don’t like at all.”
He was still in the afterglow, possibly still drugged, maybe still stupid from the adrenaline rush hours earlier. That was, those were, the only possible excuses for what he said next.
“Better than people just telling you what you are and having it – having to be that.”
He blinked at her. She was already spending too much time complaining about how being Kept was wrong. And he’d –
He didn’t want her to think of him as a victim, damnit.
He was here to protect her, not the other way around.
“I mean. Ah.” How had he ended up so stupid? “That is…”
He was not doing better.
She stroked his arm gently. “Some day, perhaps, we can hunt down the people who hurt you -” she shook her head before he could argue with the term. “Who used and abused you, they did that, I’m sure. And we can…” She hesitated. He wondered why, at first, and then he saw a sort of plotting look in her eyes he was sure he hadn’t seen before. “We can hurt them.”
He found he absolutely wanted to kiss her. He never wanted her to be involved with that sort of thing. He didn’t want her to get her hands dirty.
But it pleased him she thought of it.
So he kissed her, long and hard, and finally got smart and said nothing at all.