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Beekeeper – in which pennies are discussed

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which There are Second Thoughts – and Third.

🐝

Her eyes were closed. He liked that; it let him watch her face. Her hands were on him like she was trying to pin him down – who was he kidding? She could pin him down without any hands at all – and her expression was somewhere else, somewhere reaching for bliss.

He brushed his lips against hers, then kissed her properly. He was on his back, and she was on top of him and…

He closed his eyes and stopped thinking for a while. She was moving above him and that was, for the moment, all that mattered.

When he opened his eyes, it was to kiss her again. Like this, he could feel the press of her collar against his neck. Her collar. Would it be so bad…?

Not the time to think about such things. He ran his hands up and down her back. He wondered, in a way he hadn’t for a while, what her Change was. He hadn’t Un-Masked for her; wouldn’t have if she had demanded it, might have if she’d asked it. She’d done neither, and her Mask was up, too. He kissed her collarbones, wondering.

“Penny for your thoughts,” she murmured. He grinned at her.

“Pennies, really? Those are pretty valuable now, all that copper.”

For a second, he thought he’d flustered her. Then she stroked his hair – gently, he couldn’t remember anyone being that gentle with him – and smiled.

“So’re your thoughts. Valuable, that is.”

He kissed her, his hand low enough down on her back that it wasn’t holding her and high enough up that she knew what he wanted. And for a while, he didn’t have any thoughts to give, for a penny or for a whole hive of honey.
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In Which There are Second Thoughts… and Third

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which They Stop Kissing Long Enough to Talk.

🐝
She lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. As far as she could tell, Amrit was still asleep. His breathing was even and he made little noises, sometimes, that did not quite sound like speech.

He was warm next to her. It was a petty concern, but she liked it. He was warm — and it was stupid, but she was coming to trust him.

Not stupid, she argued with herself. He’d made promises. Oaths. He hadn’t had to do that. And here they were…

Here they were, in bed together. Warm together, although it would be months before that was a real necessity.

She shouldn’t let herself get attached.

Too late.

She shouldn’t let herself trust him. He might be wearing a collar, still – he hadn’t said a word about that, and maybe he understood that it helped her relax – but he wasn’t Kept and he was far too fae to accept slavery without Keeping.

Too late.

She found herself thinking with his help, maybe I could sell some food at the market and not just honey, and wouldn’t it be nice to have fresh meat more often? and even hot baths. Hot water and what he’d said the night before,

If everyone could heat things up like I can, they wouldn’t need firewood.

He’d be useful. That was why she’d bought him, wasn’t it? Because she wanted someone useful around the place. Because she wanted someone to keep her company and it was hard to get a cat to do enough work to balance out their keep, and besides, cats weren’t great conversationalists.

He rolled over and looked at her, eyes still half-lidded with sleep. “You’re thinking very loudly,” he commented, his voice a soft rumble, like there was someone he didn’t want to wake up.

“Don’t tell me you’re a telepath, too.” She smiled a bit, even though he had no Keeping bond pressing on him to think that might be an order, no reason for her to need to soften it.

He smirked back at her. “Ha. No, it’s just something about your body language. Something’s saying ‘deep thoughts’. It’s kinda early in the morning for those, isn’t it?”

“Best time for ‘em,” she countered. “Before it’s light enough to get anything done, when it’s still a little chilly even most of the summer and I don’t feel like I have to start moving yet.”

“I suppose you have a point. Me, I never woke up before I had to until — well, I suppose even here I woke up when I had to.” He smirked and waved his far arm around demonstratively. “Nice to not be tied down. Nicer to be here with you.”

“Glad you approve.” She hesitated and then, because it was honest if not kind, “I’m glad you made the promises. I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to trust you, otherwise.”

“I’m not sure you would’ve. I’m not sure I would’ve trusted me,” he admitted. “I was pretty nasty when you brought me here.”

“You were pretty angry when I brought you here. You haven’t told me to fuck off in days.”

He smirked at her. “Well, I was pretty sure you’d gotten the point. So… I’ve still got almost three weeks on that set of promises. What do you want me to do with that time?”

“Oh, do I have to plan three weeks ahead?” She smiled lazily at him. “I was thinking more about the next ten minutes.”

His eyebrows lifted and he grinned widely at her. “You don’t say? Only ten minutes, though? I think I could fill at least the next hour.”

“I suppose the woodpile will still be there in an hour.”

“And the bees, and the garden. Yeah.” He leaned towards her to kiss her – and froze as he was suddenly half-over her.

Mieve froze as he did. Was he – no, he was frowning. She caught the back of his neck, above the collar (the collar, they’d have to talk about that sometime) and pulled him down. “You were saying?”

He grunted, startled, his lips barely an inch from hers. “I was saying that the chores would wait.”

“You know, I think you’re right.” She held on to the back of his neck and kissed him, long and hard and not at all scared.

He didn’t move when she released him, just stared at her for a moment. Then his tongue darted out and he licked his lips, letting a short laugh escape him. “You’re something else. And you know what? I like it.” He rolled onto his back and held his arms out for her. “Come here, boss. Chores can wait, right?”

She could kiss him for that. She should kiss him for that. Mieve straddled him and did just that, one hand on his shoulder and the other behind his neck.

He ought to be swearing at her and trying to get away. He ought to be worried, or nervous, or angry or…

No. He wasn’t the least bit submissive. She didn’t think he’d ever be. But he was under her, and he was moving under her and…

“Oh…oh.”

And for a while, she wasn’t worried at all.
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In Which They Stop Kissing Long Enough to Talk

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which The Kissing Continues.

🐝
He didn’t carry her to the bed, but not for lack of offering, trying, and offering again.

“I’m not a blushing bride,” she complained, “and, besides, I like my feet firmly on the ground.”

Amrit might’ve been – not exactly offended, but put out at how brusque she could be, considering where they’d been and what they’d been doing, but she kissed both his cheeks and then his lips, the affection clear in the gesture and her expression, and he gave in.

She liked him. Amrit didn’t know what to do with that. Sure, girls had liked him before, but not like – “You’ve really got no illusions about me, do you?”

“You like to work and like to keep busy but hate authority?” Something in her smile was challenging. It wasn’t made any less so by the casual touch of her hand on his chest. “You’re overprotective of people you care about but aren’t that familiar with the concept. You have a foul mouth and no tolerance for rules.”

“…I’m not a sweetheart.” He didn’t know what motivated him to say that. Some half-forgotten long-ago girl, perhaps?

Whatever his reasons, it made her smile. “I know. Are we going to bed or do I have to carry you?”

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In Which the Kissing Continues

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which They Have Nerves.

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The kiss was meant to be a promise, but it turned into an invitation. She liked the way he kissed, like he was taking he time with it, tasting her. She liked the way it felt when he put a hand on the center of her back to steady himself.

She twisted the rest of the way around, hands on his shoulders for support. His shoulders were tense; his brow was furrowed. His hands slid down her wet sides to her hips and held her there, delicately, like he was holding an egg, like he was afraid she might break.

She hadn’t lived this long in the end of the world to break easily. She ran her hand up the back of his neck, pulled him to her, and kissed him again. There was nothing delicate about her grip, and from the sound he made, he approved.
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In Which they have Nerves

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which They are Dirty.

🐝

Some part of Amrit’s brain was still trying desperately to remind him she bought you at a slave market. She kept you chained and gagged and collared. She wants you to be her slave. Her Kept.

The rest of him was being pretty clear that those things were irrelevant. Certain parts of him — not his brain, no matter what the jokes said — were very intent on everything being irrelevant.
And some part of him was tied up in knots that made him feel young and stupid and very out of his element again. But he had her in his arms, he was not going to drop her, and he wasn’t going to conk her head into anything.

Her hallways were narrow. She was not a short woman – compared to him, sure, but not compared to other women he’d encountered and the one he’d carried once. He held her close to him and tried to ignore the way she was grabbing on to him. Holding his neck. Holding his shoulders, yes, that was far safer to think about. Amrit swallowed a noise like a growl, not wanting to frighten her again, and maneuvered her into the bathroom.

There was a water pump. He glared at the pump as if that would make it start working.

“Tempero Yaku,” Mieve started, and then followed it with a string of Greek he barely followed. Control Water, though, that he knew, and it quickly became obvious, as water gushed out of the faucet. The tub appear to plug itself, so Amrit took advantage of the moment to start heating the water up as it poured in.

“Eventually you’re going to have to put me down,” Mieve pointed out, when he had completed the Working. “Since you can’t take your clothes off while you’re holding me, and vice versa.”

“I might be able to,” he admitted, “but not and still have clothes when I was done. All right. I suppose I should put you down.” He was surprisingly reluctant to do so. It wasn’t like she was going anywhere, he knew, and yet… Slowly, he set her on the feet.

And now he had to strip in front of her. He turned his back a bit, not sure where this modesty was coming from. He had nothing he was ashamed of, nothing he wanted to hide. He pulled off his clothes slowly. He wanted to turn and look at Mieve, but somehow that seemed like it would be wrong.

He growled. He wasn’t fifteen, damnit.

“You can turn around.” Mieve’s hand landed on his shoulder. “It’s not like we’re not going to be in the tub together in a minute or anything. I’m not going to be offended.”

“I know,” he grumbled. “I just… this is. It’s new. Different.” He twitched his shoulders. “Don’t want to end up fighting again.”

She made a small noise, a worrisome noise, and that was enough to finally make Amrit turn around. She had her hand over her mouth, and it was a moment before he realized she was laughing.

“It’s not funny,” he grumbled, but he couldn’t bring any real heat to it.

“It’s not,” she admitted, still laughing, “and… yet… it’s a little funny?”

“It’s a little funny,” he grumbled agreement. Under the clothes, she had a much more shapely figure than he’d thought. A little skinny — they were all a little skinny, and anyone who wasn’t, you had to wonder a bit at their secrets — but gorgeous nonetheless.

He bit back whatever noise wanted to come out of his throat, not entirely sure what it would be, and only then noticed that she was looking him up and down too.

“Liking your purchase?” Some bit of ridiculousness made him lift his arms and suck in his stomach — not that he had a gut anymore; he was skinny like the rest of the world — and pose for her.

She ran her hand over his chest, sending shivers through his body. “Quite a bit,” she murmured. “Forgiving me for buying you?”

“Better you than Fineus the Whoremonger.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead tenderly. “But there’s this tub waiting for us…”

“It looks kind of tempting, doesn’t it? I’m glad you can heat water up. I haven’t had a properly hot tub in quite a while…”

“The tub isn’t what looks tempting.” He swung her up into his arms again and kissed her. He was fiercer than he meant to be, but he wanted to get it in before she stopped him. Before she came to her senses and remembered that she’d bought him.

“Mmm. Well, both you and the tub are pretty hot,” she teased, when they came up for air. “So let’s combine the two and see if it multiplies hotness.”

“Now you’re just being silly,” he murmured. “I’m not all that good-looking, you know.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t point out how rarely I see another sentient being, should I?”

“No… no. Let me have some of my pride, please.”

She chuckled. “You have nothing to worry about when it comes to your looks. But if you don’t get in the tub soon, I might second-guess the second half of this plan.”

“There’s a second half? There’s a plan?” He stepped into the tub and very carefully sat down, setting her in his lap.

“Maybe more of a concept or a hope,” she admitted. She shifted around for a few moments and leaned back with her head on his chest. “Although this is quite a nice result, I have to admit.”

He touched her arms cautiously. “You wanted this? Really?” What was wrong with him?

“You’re… yes. Let’s just go with yes, all right? You may be mulish, but you’re kind. Also,” she teased, “you really need the bath.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but so do you.” He picked up a sliver of soap she’d left on the side of the tub and started washing her neck and shoulders. “You know how good you’ve got it here, right?”

“Half of that is magic. I mean, if everyone could make water flow with their minds, they wouldn’t need running water quite so badly. And… ooh. That feels nice.” She leaned forward as he soaped up the back of her neck up into her hairline. “If everyone could heat things up like you can…”

“They wouldn’t need firewood. But you’re safe here, you’ve got food and water and shelter and, oh, man, I can’t tell you the last time I took a bath.” Much less one with a lovely woman. He moved his hands up into her hair. “It’s a pretty sweet set-up. I don’t blame you for not wanting to lose it.”

“I got lucky.” Her voice was quiet, and she seemed stiller, almost stiff. “A lot of people didn’t.”

“I know.” He kissed the top of her head. “I know. Me, too. I won the Change lotto, and then even when I was stupid enough to get caught by slavers – I got bought by you, and not by some asshole.”

“You could’ve gotten free from some asshole.” She looked as if she wanted to relax, but her shoulders were still stiff. He ran the washcloth over her shoulders gently.

“Not if he kept me in hawthorn. And anyway, this place is better than – well.” It was his turn to go still, his hand on her shoulder. “…This place is the best place I’ve been since the world ended, and maybe before it.”

She twisted in his lap to kiss him. “Just you wait,” she murmured. “It gets better.”

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In Which They Are Dirty

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which There is a Kiss.

🐝

“So,” she murmured, her head against his chest, his heartbeat pounding in her ear, “what next?”

“You’re asking me?” She could hear the way his chuckle rumbled and then caught. “Well. I think we could start with another kiss.”

“That sounds very nice.” She sat down on the floor and tugged on his arm, encouraging him to sit next to her. The carpet was soft here – two layers of throw rug criss-crossed. It made for uneven walking but kept the place warm.

Not what she should be worrying about at the moment, either. She looked at Amrit, considered the logistics, and squirmed until she was sitting in his lap, straddling him.

He pressed his hand against the small of her back, holding her close, and gave her a wry smile. “This, I admit, I never thought would happen. Not with you, maybe not ever again anywhere. Not that I’m complaining…!”

“Well, that’s a first,” Mieve teased. She saw his expression start to darken, his nose wrinkling, and ducked in to plant a kiss on his lips. “I’m glad you’re not complaining.”

“Me too.” He looked a little startled by that, enough that he repeated himself, a little more slowly. “Me, too. I’m glad I’m not — I’m glad I’ve got nothing to complain about.”

“There will still be work tomorrow,” she warned him — reminded herself, same thing, in the end.

“I’ve never minded the work. Keeps me busy. I mean, if you wanted to keep me busy some other way…” He grinned down at her.

“I imagine I could manage a little bit of that,” she allowed. “If you think that would hold your attention.”

What was she doing? Well, she suggested to herself, maybe she was kissing him. That sounded like a good idea, so she twisted in his lap and kissed him again.

He made a warm, throaty noise in the back of his throat that she found sent little shivers up and down her spine. His hand snaked inside her shirt and for a very brief moment, Mieve had a very pre-war sort of I am not dressed to be undressed sort of feeling.

Neither was he, and still a bit stinky from the exertion and the woods, she reminded herself. WHich gave her an idea. “You said you needed a bath… I could use one, too.”

“You can go first.” He sounded a little hurt. She suppose it sounded like she was trying to cut things off here. “I’ll get the water all heated up for you.”

“I was thinking… it’s quite a large tub. Bigger than you’d expect, in a cabin this size.” She forced herself to sound casual, even as worried as she was that he’d take that wrong, too.

“I can heat up a lot more than a tub… oh.” He looked at her face, and then looked again. “Oh, really?”

“Even for your gigantic height, yeah. Plenty of room for two.” Now she grinned at him, because his expression looked anything but reluctant.

“I’d like that.” His voice had gotten husky again. “If you would…?” He brushed his hand lightly against her cheek. It was a surprisingly tender gesture from him, and it made Mieve’s stomach flip-flop oddly.

“It’s not the sort of thing I’d offer if I didn’t want it.” She didn’t want to sound snappish and forced her voice level and friendly again. “So… shall we?”

“Yeah. Yeah, let’s do that.” He scooped her up in his arms and stood up all in one movement. Mieve clung to his neck.

“Amrit!” She did not squeal. Her dignity insisted that it wasn’t a squeal. “What are you doing?.”

“Going to the tub.” His grin was far too mischievous for her liking. It made her cling just a little bit more tightly to his neck. “I would’ve thought that much was obvious.”
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Beekeeper bonus interlude: In Which there is a Kiss

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which Amrit Explains Something..

🐝
She was doing it. She was really doing it. She was…

Her lips touched his and her hand went around his back to steady herself — when had he gotten so tall? Was that part of his power? Magical healing, grow an inch every time he broke a bone?

His lips were chapped, but after a moment, that didn’t matter. His hand found her back and splayed there, fingers leaving five warm places just below her neck.

He kissed like he was going to fuck her, rougher, more intent than anyone she’d kissed in a long time, maybe ever. He kissed like she was the only thing in the world, and, for a few moments, he was the only thing in hers.

She pulled back ruefully only when her toes complained. “You,” she murmured affectionately, “are far too tall.”

“I could be shorter,” he offered. “But I like being tall.”

She chuckled and, much to her surprise, hugged him, arms around his waist, pulling him in as tight as she could. He grunted once and then hugged her back, not loosening his hold until she released hers.

“I think,” she whispered, “I like having you here.”

“I think,” he admitted quietly, “I like being here.”
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In Which Amrit Explains Something

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which Mieve Actually Says Something.

🐝
Amrit wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing. A couple hours ago, they’d been arguing. He’d been angry, fed up with her. She’d been angry, hurt that he didn’t give in enough.

She should have known, some part of him still wanted to point out. She should have had a pretty good idea that he wasn’t the sort to give him. He’d been gagged and chained when she bought him; it wasn’t like he’d come willingly.

Here they were. They’d eaten turkey leg and casserole for dinner, and the meat had tasted better than any turkey he could ever remember eating. They’d had cake for dessert — cake! Before he’d come here, Amrit couldn’t remember the last time he’d been anywhere that had the luxury of regular desserts.

And now they were sitting in front of the fire, her reading, him staring out the window at the night and ignoring a book, and he was thinking about what happened when they went to bed.

He’d told her he would stay until the winter was over. That should be enough. He didn’t need to go getting tangled up.

He looked at her over the book he was pretending to read and found himself growling.

Brilliant, asshole, that’s exactly the right thing to do.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” She looked up from her book, looking for all the world like she hadn’t heard him.

He shook his head. “Just thinking…” He trailed off.

“Oh. Sorry.” She looked back at her book, and the moment where he could say something was lost.

Amrit stood up, far too abruptly. He was going to spook her. He didn’t want to spook her, and not just because she might gag and shackle him again. He moved more slowly, walking over to the window.

He could feel her eyes on him. Was she going to tell him to sit down?

Was he going to sit down if she told him to?

“I miss the world, most of the time,” she said, so quietly he wasn’t sure she was talking to him. “But the stars – it’s nice to be able to see them. As long as I don’t think too hard about why I can.”

Amrit thought about that for a minute. He stared out at the stars. “It’s so much darker now. When — so, the last place I was living, they, well, me and them didn’t get along that great. So I left. I was looking for another place when I got snatched. But I remember thinking, when I was a teenager, there was almost nowhere you could walk where it was truly dark. And I was trying to stay out of sight, and walking the roads at night was almost impossible.” He smiled crookedly. “Broke my ankle twice and my knee once.”

“Your healing power really is impressive.” She didn’t have any tone to her voice. What did she mean by that?

“I’d be dead without it.” He said it easily, but his heart pounded a bit anyway, remembering when he’d found out how fast he healed. “Spear through the heart tends to do that.”

“Spear through — oh, departed gods, that’s…” She stared at him, actually lifting out of her chair for a moment like she was going to rush over and hug him. Then she sat down slowly. “You really can heal anything.”

“So far? Nobody’s attacked me with hawthorn or rowan except the slavers, and that’s healing a lot slower.” He touched his neck, where the hawthorn had touched. “But I’m pretty durable, yeah.” He found himself smiling crookedly at her. “So, careful. If it’s cozy here in winter I might just tie myself to a tree and stay here until you knock me out.”

She raised her eyebrows and smirked back at him. “I don’t see how that follows, but I’ll take it under advisement.”

“Well, it’s just…” Amrit stalled. “I guess it doesn’t really follow. But I might do it anyway?”

What had he been thinking? …shit. He was flirting with her. Had she noticed? Why was he… Amrit looked back at the window and hoped he wasn’t blushing or anything else quite that stupid and childish.

“Well, if you’re going to tie yourself up, you might as well do it someone cozy, is all – since you would be doing it to get to stay nice and comfortable, right?”

“Nice and cozy…” Oh, departed gods, she was flirting back, wasn’t she? “Like that chair I was sitting in?”

Way to go, Amrit. Take a perfectly good opening and ruin it.

“Well, I know you haven’t tried it yet, but my bed is a lot more comfortable than that chair.”
Amrit turned slowly to stare at her. “You’re flirting with me.”

She looked nervous. “I’m making an offer,” she countered. “If you were making one.”

Amrit found his shoulders relaxing. “You’re not scared because you’re worried I’m going to hurt you, are you?”

“I wouldn’t be inviting you into my bed if I was scared you were going to hurt me,” she snapped. Oh, good, he was back to her yelling at him.

He took a step towards her, hands in front of him in as non-threatening a position as he could manage. “You’re not worried about me hurting you. So you’re worried…”

“Who said I was worried at all?”

“I’m not an idiot, you know. I can read body language well enough. Facial expression. Tone of voice. I’m saying you said you were worried.”

Shit, his voice was getting louder. That wasn’t helping at all. And he had actually moved closer to her again. He moved his hands back into a calming position and smiled crookedly. “I guess you being worried worries me,” he offered.

“And you’re not even Kept.” She stood up. Amrit did his best not to wince, but he couldn’t help thinking oh, shit, now what? “I think I’m beginning to grow on you. Either that or you’re scared of little old me.”

Amrit went for broke. “A little of both. You cheat,” he added without heat, even smirking a bit. “You can beat me in every fight, ‘cause you don’t have to have a fight at all. You don’t need the collar, you don’t need the gag, even.”

“When I’m awake and around you,” she pointed out. He thought she’d probably given that way too much thought.

“Hey, you stopped me from running away when you were on the other side of the clearing talking to your bees. Anyway, I just mean — I’m not Kept, but you’re, um. You’re still in charge.”

His hands went up to the collar. If this place had laws, they would probably say that the collar meant she was in charge legally. But she and he both knew that he could get this thing off without much effort. If he wanted to.

“I’m in charge.” She smiled at him. It was a more open expression than he’d seen on her, perhaps ever. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me that didn’t start with ‘I promise.’”

Amrit shifted a little. Was that… good? Did he want her to think it was nice? “You’re welcome.”

He hadn’t noticed she’d stepped closer until she did it again. That put her right in front of him. “Thank you.”

She stood on her toes and kissed him.
🐝

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In Which Mieve Actually Says Something

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which Neither Amrit nor Mieve Communicate.

🐝

If there was any forgiving to happen, you have it.

She didn’t know whether to feel dismissed, pleased, or worried. She felt a little bit of each.

“I had a Kept. I had a lot of Kept, but I had one, well.” She caught her breath, counted to ten, and tried again. “I thought things were fine. I treated him well and we were even sharing a bed. But when I released him, he attacked me.” Her lips twisted. “That was the last Kept I released here. After that, I took them miles away first.”

For a minute, he didn’t say anything. Then Amrit smirked at her – which had not been the reaction she was expecting at all.

“You know, that makes it sound as if you took them off and shot them in a field somewhere.”

Mieve was startled into a chuckle. “No.” She shook her head, trying to make the giggles go away. “No, nothing like that.” It wasn’t really funny, but she snorted again. “More like ‘go now, you’re free, fly, you’ — oh, I can never remember the quote.”

“Something like ‘magnificent creature’ or something.” He smiled crookedly at her. “So catch-and-release?”

She found herself snorting again. “Catch and release, yeah. Because…” Just like that, her good mood was soured.

He looked serious. “Because the one attacked you. You don’t mean ‘said bad things’, do you? Swore at you, called you a bitch, that sort of thing?”

“No.” Mieve bit her lip, thinking about it. “No, I don’t. He tried to kill me. Nearly succeeded, too.”

Amrit gave her a considering look. “You didn’t sleep with ‘em again after that, hunh?”

“Ha.” This time the laugh had no humor. “No. Well, for warmth, sometimes, but not like regularly. Not as a lover.” She looked out the window, thinking about it.

“What did you do? To the one that tried to kill you?”

Mieve winced. “Something stupid.”

“Stupid would be slapping him on the hand and sending him away.”

“Sort of. Knocked him out, drove him hours away,and left him there with a day’s worth of food.” She remembered the way she’d felt, the knot in her gut, driving away with him still unconscious.

“Why didn’t you just kill him? It would have been fair. Would have been safer.”

She gave him the answer she kept telling herself. “There’s too few of us left to go killing them.”

“That didn’t stop him, did it?”

“Yeah, well.” She rolled her shoulders and sniffed at the turkey. “Cooking nicely. I…” She made herself look at Amrit. “I was fond of him, okay? Couldn’t bring myself to kill him.”

“That’s not stupid, you know. It’s just human — well, it’s part of existing, I guess.” He patted her hand a little awkwardly. “Okay. I promise you that, unless you attack me with intent to cause me real damage, I won’t ever attack you.”

Mieve stared at him. “Really?” She processed that. “… wait, ever?”

“Ever.” He nodded solemnly. “You have my word.”

She sat, stunned, for a moment, watching the turkey in the pan, watching his face. He looked uncomfortable — nervous? No, he had no reason to be nervous. Did he?

Mieve licked her lips. “If I promise not to attack you, I don’t have any defense against you trying to run away, you know.”

“I guess I’m just going to have to not run away, then.” Amrit gave her a crooked smile. “Okay, look. I’ll stay — I’ll stay here with you, under your terms, until the last snow has melted — here in this clearing — from this coming winter. I promise it, okay?”

Mieve just stared at him. “I wasn’t…” She worked her throat and dug for words that made some sense. “Thank you. I — why?”

“You always ask that,” he complained.

“You keep doing strange and wonderful and completely surprising things! And acting like — I don’t know. You’re angry and you hate being here but you promise not to attack me, you promise to stay here, you’ve promised not to run off once already. It can’t just be because you hate the gag…”

“It helps,” he admitted, looking embarrassed. “I don’t like the chain, I don’t like the gag. But come on, I was never going to attack you more than I had to, to get away. I’m not that sort of ass. And you’ve been fair and kind when you didn’t have to, and you don’t treat me like a thing.” Suddenly, he glowered. “You would not believe how many people can’t say the same.”

“I probably would, actually,” she admitted. “The people out there, well, there’s more than one reason that I don’t go out all that much. And a lot of it is just people.”

“It’s a nice place, here.” He frowned. “Your Kept, did you ever find out why he attacked you?”

“He was, uh. He was angry that I’d Kept him. He didn’t like the idea of being enslaved.” It sounded a lot like Amrit, enough that she eyed him sidelong. “He said he wasn’t a thing. And that putting a collar on him meant I thought of him as a thing.”

“Did you? Consider him a thing? Like your footstool or your shovel?”

He looked alarmingly intense. Mieve met his gaze. “No.” She gave the question a little more consideration, still looking him in the eye. “I considered him a subordinate. Some people, I know that’s how they treat their Kept. Maybe he’d had a Keeper like that before me. But I, heck, I live out here all alone.” She smiled at him, feeling it stretch her mouth with a sort of humor she hadn’t felt in a while. Maybe that was unwise, with him staring like he was trying to read her soul, but she couldn’t help it. “If I wanted someone to help out and not be a person around me, I’d have gotten a dog. I mean, I have the Words for animals.”

He smirked slowly. “That’s really why you took the gag off every night.”

“A little,” she admitted. “But it motivated you to work harder, didn’t it?”

“You’re kind of clever, in a scary way,” he admitted. “So, you get lonely? That makes sense, just you and your bees.”

“That sounds a little bit pitiful.”

“No.” He shook his head, a thoughtful, considerate gesture. “No, I don’t think it makes you sound pitiful. I think it sounds reasonable, all things considered.”

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In Which Neither Amrit nor Mieve Communicate

First: A beginning of a story which obnoxiously cuts off just before the description,
Previous: In Which Mieve is Uncertain and Unhappy.

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Amrit stalked to the garage behind her — behind his captor, because she refused to be something else. She was scared. He could tell. He ought to be happy about that, but it was just making him more angry.
He handed her the turkey piece by piece and snarled the Workings at the fridge that would keep the inside cold for a while, adding three large blocks of ice to the freezer. The thought made him smirk, even through his fury. “Icebox,” he muttered. “Height of Betty Boop technology.”

(https://youtu.be/uCIYIhDRTG0?t=294)

She snickered. “At least you don’t have to carry it up the stairs.”

“Yeah, well.” He shifted his weight uncertainly. “What now?”

“Now, I’m going to cook up the leg I put aside, and we’re going to have that with dinner. And cake.” She sounded defensive about the cake. Who was defensive about cake? Who was defensive to their slaves? “Thanks… for the turkey. It’ll be good food.”

“Yeah, well.” Was she mad at him or happy with him? Amrit rolled his shoulders. “What do I need to do for dinner?”

“Just clean up. Unless, uh. Unless you want to play heat source for the pan?”

“You’ve got the stove, right?”

“I have a limited amount of stove fuel. I could heat up the wood stove, but…”

It wasn’t that cold out, not really. “I can do it Just give me a couple minutes to clean up?”

“Yeah, of course. I’ll get everything prepared.”

What was up with her, anyway? She was pleased with him, she was apologetic, she was angry, she was… Amrit eyed her sidelong. She had hormones, he was sure, but he was pretty sure this wasn’t some sort of fae PMS.

He washed his hands like he was prepping for surgery, and then washed them — and his arms, all the way to the shoulder — again, just to give himself something to do. His shirt wasn’t all that dirty, but he left it off to let his arms dry off.

She had everything waiting for him, so he sat down at the table, ignoring her far-too-thoughtful gaze on him. “Low, medium, high?”

“High at first, and then the best all-over medium you can do. Do you need a new shirt?”

“What, you keep a clothing store in your garage?” He’d been in her garage. He hadn’t seen anything of the sort.

“I have a few shirts and such in my closet. There’s some in your closet, too,” she answered, a little uncertainly. “Most of it ought to fit you okay.”’
Amrit didn’t want to think too closely about that. He did the Workings to make the pan hot just where he wanted it hot, and held it in the air, the turkey leg sizzling.

“You have people just run out naked?” The more reasonable answer was she killed them and buried them in her garden, but that didn’t really seem like her.

“Not naked. But.. Sometimes they don’t stop for a change of clothes.” She looked away. “And, uh, sometimes I trade for stuff and it doesn’t fit me well or at all, but I know there’s going to be someone new that it might fit eventually.” She swallowed. He watched her throat work, and wondered what she was worried about.
“And… when people attack here, I mean, it doesn’t happen often, but I make sure they don’t tell anyone else about this place.”

Amrit looked at her over the crackling turkey leg. “I’m not going to be bothered by wearing dead man’s clothes,” he told her levelly, “as long as there’s not still blood and bullet-holes in them. It wouldn’t be the first time. Hell, these pants, I got them out of someone’s house. Not sure if they’re alive or dead. It’s the end of the world, you know?”

“I know. Most of the stuff I trade for, it’s about the same, you know, might be something from a store, more likely something from a house. I don’t ask where the scroungers get their stuff. And they don’t ask me questions, either.”

She was babbling. She was nervous. Amrit stared at the pan for a moment and muttered a series of fine-tuning Workings. He didn’t need to do them, but it let him concentrate on something other than her worried voice.

He rolled his shoulders, stared at the pan some more, and did a couple more Workings. “I’m not great at, you know, repairing Worked things. If I was, I figure I’d either be set for life or chained up in a sweatshop somewhere, which, I suppose, is also set for life.” He smiled crookedly at her. “I could use a shirt. I could use a shower,” he admitted. “Or a bath. I kind of smell.”

For some reason, that got her to smile. She turned away for a moment, as if she didn’t want him to see her smile – did she ever make any sense at all? “You get used to it. But bath, that’s easy, especially seeing as you can do the whole heating thing.” She settled down into a chair and seemed to force herself to look at him. “Thank you. For the turkey.”

He rolled his shoulders. “You said that already.”

“Yeah, well. It’s important?” She took a couple breaths. What was wrong with her? “Thank you for the promises, too. I know you didn’t have to do it. And I know you didn’t do it just to get the gag off.”

“Not gonna keep the gag off anyway, is it?” She was making him antsy. He made himself look at her.

“Well.” She smiled crookedly. “I could ask you to be Mine again.”

“You know what I’d say.” He knew what he’d say, too. Didn’t he? He cleared his throat. “I’m not the rules sort. Not the Keeping sort.”

“I know. But you’ll make promises?”

“Easy to make promises not to attack you.” The turkey was almost done. Good. That would give them something else to talk about.

“Even though…” She looked down at her hands.

“Look.” Amrit sighed. “You didn’t enslave me. You bought someone you expected to be already Kept, nice and wrapped up in a ribbon for you. I wasn’t, and I’m not going to be sorry for that but I get why you kept the gag on and the chains and stuff. And the leg – relax about the leg. I’ve had worse than that. Seriously. I forgive you, if there was any forgiving to happen, you have it. You don’t need it; you told me exactly what was going to happen and then you did it.” Now he was babbling. What was wrong with him?

She looked at him for a minute. “Time to take the turkey down to a very low heat, okay?”

“What… yeah.” He did the Workings and surrounded the turkey in a ball of heat before setting it, carefully, on the stove. “That should hold it.”

“Thank you.” She shifted in her seat, staring at him.

Amrit sighed. It might just be easier for her to put the gag back in.

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