Purchase Negotiation 50: Evil Stepmonster?

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“A very attack dog,” Sylviane commented, as her hands brushed over Leander’s horns. She was exploring his Change more kindly, more gently than he could ever remember anyone doing before. But.

He chuckled, shifted a bit. He liked the way she touched him. Something about the way she said attack… “Your dog,” he clarified. “Your hound.”

“Mmm. My Leander,” she murmured softly. She wrapped her arms around him, pressed a kiss to his forehead, kissed the edge of one of his ears. “Thank you.”

“Thank… why?” He blinked at her in bafflement.

“Because I can see why – I can see why you might not want to show me this. So thank you. I know you didn’t have to.”

She closed her eyes. Leander wanted to make a comment about how, if she wanted to see him, she should look, but he stayed quiet.

When she opened her eyes, it was as if she had opened his eyes, too.

Her skin had a lovely green tint to it, just enough to suggest chlorophyll. Which he may not have thought, but her hair was brilliantly green with a few orange and red streaks. There were a few tendrils of what looked like vines trailing through her hair, and he could see a few lines that looked like bark peeking out of her shirt .

Her ears were point – elfin, he thought – and her eyebrows were pointed and orangey-brown. Her smile was green and, as she tilted her head at him nervously, he could hear rustling leaves.

He did the only sensible thing: he kissed her.

She tasted the same, sweet and innocent. She smelled a little more arboreal, as he breathed her in, but not so much that it was strange; he’d still know it was her. She felt the same. He opened his eyes and looked straight into stunning green eyes.

“You’re beautiful.”

She chuckled at him. “You’re smitten,” she teased.

“Well, yeah.” He grinned at her. “You’re beautiful, you’re brilliant, you’re amazing, you’re nice to me, you’ve given me things nobody else has – EVER – you’re beautiful, you smell great, and you don’t think my Change is awful. I think,” he added ruefully.

“Wait, what? No, of course I don’t think it’s awful. It’s lovely! Errr.” She ducked her head. “Sorry, don’t call big strong muscular guys lovely, I know. Or adorable. Even if you do want to go ‘puppy!!'”

“I am not a puppy,” he half-growled, but he was still smiling. “But if you want to call me a puppy, I’m not going to object.”

She hugged him tightly again. “Thank you. I really do like your Change. It looks dangerous – but uhh. The sort of dangerous that’s on my side? I wonder if that’s an evolutionary thing? Dangerous doggies are our friend?”

“I might draw the line at doggy,” he put in. He figured it had more to do with the fact that she had this particular “dangerous doggy” on a leash than any evolutionary theory, but he wasn’t going to point that out, not with as cranky as she’d been about the whole attack-dog matter not that long ago.

He ran a hand through her hair, considering the autumnal streaks in it. “Why don’t you ever drop your mask?” he asked quietly.

She shifted, nuzzled into his hand, and pursed her lips. “Weird reasons,” she muttered. “Mostly, I mean, it’s not like it’s safe.  Maybe here in my bedroom, but you never know when someone’s going to walk in and then shit you have to hope they have no fae blood at all or suddenly they know that you’re a dryad. I mean, that’s most of it. Some of it is, people see my Change and they think that I’m either like, Poison Ivy or… Poison Ivy. They think I’m either some sort of eco-terrorist or they think that I’m a biological scientist,” she clarified, which was good, because Leander had no idea who Poison Ivy was. “I guess – uh.  Like Melody was calling you an attack dog?  Probably like that.  But she didn’t even know your Change, did she?”

“She just thinks of me as a dog because I’m strong, I growl, and I’m clearly on a leash.  And loyal.”  Leander shrugged. “And she’s sort of got some issue with you…? That I think she’s transferring to me because she sees me as your live-in boyfriend or pet or both.”

Sylviane blinked at him, opened her mouth, and closed it again.  She did that twice before she showed him a wry smile. “I’ve spent a whole semester telling you that you were smart,” she commented. “You wouldn’t think I’d be surprised when you acted it.”

“Enh, it’s one thing to think I can handle spitting out facts when they’re given to me.  It’s another to think I can notice things.”  He realized he really wasn’t bothered by it. “You know a lot about me.  So – what is the thing with Melody?”

“It’s, uh.  She tried to be a mother figure for me a lot.  And when I was little, I didn’t mind it so much, because Mom had – well, left.  But after Mom and I reconnected, I think  – well, okay, I’m not going to deny that I was a little shit in my teens. But mostly when she’d get snippy with me.  And that’s what really started it… do I sound defensive? I sound defensive.”

“Only a little.” She actually sounded hurt, but Leander didn’t think now was the time to point that out. “So when your mother came back into your life, Melody…?”

“She started acting less like, uh, Cool Stepmom – she and Dad weren’t ever together or anything, that would be super awkward, it was just, that’s what it seemed like she was trying to be.  Like some of my friends who had stepmoms that weren’t that much older than them?”

“I know the type,” Leander agreed.  Not from personal experience, but enough to follow her story.

“So less like that, and more like, I dunno, Evil Nanny.  And I mean, she got really strict over stupid stuff, stuff that my dad never cared about, stuff that didn’t even make any sense.  And then it was time for me to go to college, and – well, I did my first year of school away.  Abroad, actually.  In Paris.  With Mom.  I came back last year, and everything was – well, you saw.  Awful.  She’s still talking to thirteen-year-me or something.”

“It sounds like she’s got some issues. But, Sylviane, you don’t have to worry about her because of me, okay?”  He stroked his hand through her hair, feeling its softness and the little bits of bark and leaves tangled within. “She’s not going to get to me.  She doesn’t have any power over me, and she -” he laughed shortly. “She doesn’t have it in her to really hurt me.  I pro-” He stopped, remembered that he was collared and it was safe, and considered his wording anyway. “I’m pretty damn sure she can’t hurt me.”

“You do have feelings.  I’ve seen it.”  She brushed her lips against his cheek. “They can get hurt.  They can get, um, damaged, injured, the way a limb can.  You’re human.  Well, ah.  You’re a person.  And she can hurt your feelings.”

You can hurt my feelings.  People I care about can hurt my feelings.  As long as Melody doesn’t have any hold on me – and she doesn’t  – I already know what she thinks of me.”  He shrugged, feeling surprisingly light. “She can’t hurt me.”

“Good.”  Sylviane squeezed him tightly again. “Good.”

Yeah, he couldn’t help but agree, if only in his head.  It was good.


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