First: Purchased: Negotiation
“You know, for some reason I expected you to fight this sort of clothing.” Mr. MacDiarmad was helping Leander with his bow tie.
He didn’t actually need to help with the bow tie, but Leander wasn’t going to call his Keeper, his Owner, on something like that.
“What, the tux? If it was something really obvious, I might have complained a little. But it’s, uh. It’s tailored to me, it’s comfortable, and I will blend in – I mean – not like anyone’s going to see me next to Sylviane, anyway.” He looked away from Mr. MacDiarmad’s eyes as he thought about that dress, the way it fit her, the way – He shook his head.
“Strong fighter types I’ve known usually hate bothering with their appearance.” Mr. MacDiarmad, as it turned out, was wearing a really expensive-looking tuxedo out of something shimmering. He looked a little bit fancy.
He looked rich and sure of himself, too.
“People like that, they’ve got like three things I don’t. They’re maintaining their own reputation. All I’m doing is maintaining yours and Sylviane’s. They’re in charge of themselves, or they still think they are. I’m obviously not. And they’re probably dealing with suits that aren’t tailored this well. This thing -” he rolled his shoulders. “Pretty sure I could take out eight or nine people before I risked ripping a seam. And there’s a handful of hidden weapons in it, and armor.”
The armor was for Sylviane, but he didn’t mention that part. If he had to get in a fight, he wanted to be able to toss the jacket over her and give her as much protection as possible.
Despite all the problems, Melody had been surprisingly cooperative with that request. It might help that he’d gone to her alone and thrown in all the bowing and scraping she’d expected.
He’d walked away thinking about what Sylviane had said – you have feelings. They can get hurt – but acting like one more person was superior to him, he didn’t think that was going to do it, wound his feelings.
He’d still taken a long shower and scrubbed himself until he was red afterwards.
“Yeah, I’m liking the new armored cloth. I have a company working on it.” He smirked at Leander. “Don’t tell Sylvie – that’s not an order, that’s a request – but her dress has the same thing in it. And an armor Working, like your shirt and pants. And mine, of course.”
“An armor Working.” He stared at his Owner. “You did that for me?”
“You’ve already gotten shot once in protection of my daughter. And I know that your very presence – and the fact that you did get shot, and beat off those kidnappers – has protected her more than I can measure. Besides.” Mr. MacDiarmad patted Leander’s shoulder companionably. Leander let himself lean into it. It was taking time, but since his Keeper had not once even suggested he might ask for anything Leander didn’t want to give – anything – it had been easy enough to start relaxing into the comfort of touch. “I’m supposed to take care of you. Right? That’s my job.”
“I – I think that’s the other way around, sir. But uh. I really appreciate it, I do.” He patted the front of his jacket. “I hope we don’t need it at all, though. Too much of Sylviane isn’t armored.”
Too much of Sylviane was naked, and even though the dress was lovely, respectable, and floor-length, it still left Leander wanting to growl keep off at everyone else and keep her home while he slowly peeled that dress off of –
He shifted uncomfortably. The whole being-Kept-by-a-guy thing was getting easier, sure, but the whole part where he was Kept by Mr. MacDiarmad and sleeping with his daughter was not getting any easier at all.
“Not to mention,” Mr. MacDiarmad’s chuckle seemed to be designed to bring Leander back to himself. “If there’s shooting, it will ruin the party, and it isn’t the sort of press I’m really looking for. And all those unfortunate folks who don’t have you there to protect them – or my nice armored suits and dresses – are going to be in trouble.”
“Good reasons. But less important.” Leander smiled at his boss. “Remember, sir, that’s my job, my only job. Keep her safe.”
“It is. And you have done an amazing job so far. I have faith in you, Leander. Now.” He patted Leander’s shoulder. “Can you go make sure Sylviane is coming along fine without it ending up making us late? It’s all right, you don’t have to feel guilty,” he added quickly, but not quite quickly enough. “I’m her father, and if I didn’t trust you with my daughter, well, you would know it.”
“I don’t have a choice but to keep her safe,” Leander pointed out, a little amused.
“There’s that-” Mr. MacDiarmad’s voice went low and serious, “and then there’s the stuff I couldn’t give you orders for if I wanted to. Treating her with respect. Being careful with her emotions. Being good to her. Go on,” he added. “Just remember the car leaves in 25 minutes.”
“Yes, sir.” Leander went, which, conveniently, meant he didn’t have to talk about people who would give orders like that, and how hard they were to follow. He could think of things he’d less want to talk about, but there weren’t many. He took a couple breaths, realized he had been ordered to go on, and ducked his head, swallowing a brief surge of shame.
Mr. MacDiarmad patted his shoulder, then pulled him in for a hug. It had been long enough that he didn’t go stiff at the feeling, nor did he wonder about pulling away or giving the wrong message, but he still didn’t quite know what he was supposed to do back, so he kind of leaned into it for a moment.
“Sorry.” His Owner gave him a crooked smile. “So, uh. That ‘go on’ wasn’t an order, the hug wasn’t an order, and this isn’t an order, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell Sylvie that I screwed up on that one again.”
“You didn’t screw up,” Leander protested. “I mean – well, I mean, you didn’t screw up. You can tell me to go on, it’s not a bad thing, I’m supposed to be taking care of her. I just – uh.”
“You got stuck in a memory. It’s okay.” Mr. MacDiarmad patted his shoulder. “Look, I’m bad at that, so things that are never an order: anything that starts don’t tell Sylvie or Sylviane, anything that is like go on or go, and anything involving the word remember, unless I specifically say this is an order. Does that work?”
Leander was stunned into silence. He cleared his throat a couple times and then tried to sort through everything he’d just heard. “I mean. I mean, I don’t have to remember it, the orders do that. But… Uh. Do you want me to lean on the side of over-correcting or under? I mean, a couple of those are pretty open-ended.”
“That’s, ah. That’s a good question. Good thought.”
Leander had the inappropriate thought that Mr. MacDiarmad was kind of adorable when he was flustered. He put that thought away with several other similar thoughts he’d had over the months. Mr. MacDiarmad was attractive, he thought, but he was pretty sure the protective pat-the-man-on-the-head thoughts were a function of the Bond and the things that came along with it, the affection and the weird warmth for a Keeper that – like this – tried to be kind.
At least it was Mr. MacDiarmad and not Sylviane he was bound to.
He looked in his Keeper’s eyes and was a little surprised to find his Keeper blushing. Now that was not helpful.
Mr. MacDiarmad cleared his throat. “Let me see. Since I’ve already put in the caveat that I can say ‘this is an order’, then err on the side of assuming not an order otherwise. Does that work?”
“It’s uh. It’s weird. It’s kinda uncomfortable, but not in a bad way?” Leander shifted. “Thanks, sir. I should – Sylviane – I mean -”
“Yeah, of course.” Mr. MacDiarmad patted him again. Yes, he was definitely blushing. “I’ll see you two at the car. Twenty-” he checked his watch. “Twenty-two minutes, okay?”
“Okay.” He rolled his shoulders. He wasn’t sure he was ever going to get used to the feeling of a Keeper he didn’t want to kill. “Thanks,” he repeated, and fled.