First: Purchased: Negotiation
“I know you wear this.” Sylviane ran her finger around the outside of Leander’s collar. He stayed frozen. He couldn’t come up with another option. He wasn’t sure if he had thought of something else, he’d have been able to do it. “I know why. I know you’ve been wearing someone’s collar for a long time.” Her hand settled on his shoulder. Leander thought about breathing again. “But – but that’s not you, and you are not a dog.”
He let himself breathe. “It is me. It’s in my Name, baked into my being. It’s how the fae do it, Sylviane. I am a pretty good attack dog. And I’m okay with that. Your father is a good master. We’ve talked about that.”
He realized he sounded like he was pleading. He thought he’d be okay with that in this situation.
“We have. We have. But I hate hearing you thinking about yourself as – as -”
“Hey. Easy, easy.” He twisted until he was looking at her and took her hands. “Easy, Sylviane. Look. A long time ago I was a guy, a person, okay? I know that. And then for a long time it was easier to be a dog. And now. Well.” He took a breath. “Now, look, I don’t know how to explain how much – how much the things you’ve given me. Class. Homework. Grades.” He snorted. “You know, I never thought of grades as a good thing before, but you helped me figure out, you know, not getting bad grades. But more than that.” He squeezed her hands lightly. “Do you have any idea how much that hour a day – how much it means to me?”
“Half the time you don’t even do anything,” she protested.
“Yeah, but that’s okay, because for an hour, I can just choose to sit there and do homework. It’s not because someone’s telling me to, I mean, other than the professors. It’s not because I have an order. It’s just – because I want to. Do you-” He looked at her face. “I don’t even know how to start explaining how strange that was at first. And how much it made me think.”
He gave her a tug until she came down onto his lap and cuddled her close. “Even attack dogs like a soft place to sleep and a little time to rest, you know.” He kissed the top of her head, her forehead, her cheek. “No matter how long this lasts… I want you to know. I don’t mind being called Mr. MacDiarmad’s attack dog. I don’t mind being your guard dog. I don’t mind being here and collared . It’s the best gig I’ve had in – in ever. And that’s even before – even before everything you’ve given me.”
That had been a stupid amount of talking. He huffed out a laugh at himself. “Woof. Thank you.”
She scooted closer on his lap, until she was pressed up against him shoulder to hip. “I’m just- just being a decent person, you know?”
“Well… thank you for that. Maybe it seems like something that’s uh, just, to you?” He was still talking. He wrapped his arms around her as firmly as he could without hurting her and kissed the top of her head. He wanted some way to express it all without words. The safety he felt with her. The way he wanted to make her feel protected, warm. The fact that she could have done just about anything to him – and what she did was kiss him and cuddle him and get angry on his behalf.
He pulled away just enough to see her face, then kissed her head again.
He dropped his Mask without moving, without making a noise. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that willingly. Hell, he’d fought the last owner who’d ordered him to so badly they’d given up.
It took a few heartbeats – long heartbeats, where he felt like he might never breathe again – until she looked up.
She blinked a few times, while he held his breath and tried not to panic. Then she reached out and brushed her hand over his cheek.
“Leander,” she murmured. “Hello.” Her lips curled up and she smiled. “I see.”
“You see?” he whispered. He hadn’t looked in a mirror in a while like this. He knew what he was, of course. But he didn’t know what she saw.
She petted one of his ears. They stood up on the sides of his head – Husky ears, they’d been called. They were his ears, that was what he knew. “Attack dog?” she murmured. He couldn’t feel when she touched his horns, but he could guess from where her hand had moved that she was. “A very attack dog.”