Leofric ushered his newly and accidentally acquired Kept into the suite, glancing around as he closed the door behind them. Thankfully, it was still empty; the rest of his Crew must still be out in the halls. Maybe he could get everything straightened out before the others even found out. (He didn’t even have the faintest idea how Zita might react… With luck, no one would get bitten.)
He flopped down onto the sofa with a heavy sigh, looking up at Gabriel. “Okay, explanation time. Sit down.” He started to gesture at the free half of the sofa, but stopped in chagrin as Gabriel abruptly sat on the floor. He’d completely forgotten; he needed to be careful what he said, now. Giving orders he didn’t mean would just make everything worse.
Gabriel spent a moment looking bewildered – a reasonable reaction to finding himself unexpectedly and inexplicably sitting down. At least for a brief moment, after which he quickly climbed back to his feet.
Leo cleared his throat softly, feeling embarrassed and a vague sense of dread, like when you know you’re going to get a lecture for something you did that you shouldn’t have. He finished the gesture, waving the other boy over to the sofa. “You can sit down if you want; this’ll take a while.”
“Please tell me this is where some portion of this morning is going to be explained and start making sense.” Gabriel sounded (understandably) upset, the request falling just short of a plea.
“I’ll explain things now, but I dunno if it’ll make sense… Sit down?”
There were a tense few moments as the dark-haired boy hesitated, looking warily at Leofric and the sofa (while Leo carefully watched him in return), before he slowly approached and sat down.
Leofric sighed in relief, leaning back into the sofa cushions and thinking hard about how best to put the situation into words. After a short internal debate, he decided that the best place to start was at the beginning. Definitions.
“Okay, so, as you probably noticed the past couple of days, we’re not really human down here. Not me, not you.” He gestured vaguely toward Gabriel. “We’re all part of this… species, I guess, called the Ellehemaei.”
“Given everyone around me,” Gabriel muttered under his breath, “if I wasn’t before, I will be soon.”
Leo’s mouth twitched slightly upwards at the corner. If only the other boy knew how true that was. “Yeah, but stuff like this,” he tapped a finger against his antlers, “is only one part of it. Another, more important part is that when we – and that means you, too – say… certain things, it has a special kind of power. Some of them are special words, like magic spells and stuff, but some are just… normal phrases.”
Gabriel had been listening thoughtfully, and at that moment turned to look at him. “What happened in the hallway,” he stated.
Leo nodded, feeling guilty and uneasy all over again. “Yeah. If you say you belong to someone, and they say you belong to them, then, well, you do. Which then means a whole bunch of other stuff.”
“Then perhaps I should learn what all that entails, given that I now, apparently, belong to you.” The English boy narrowed his eyes, his tone growing colder.
To someone particularly perceptive, it was clear that he was irritated at the thought of being “owned”, not at the person specifically in this case doing the owning.
Leofric was not particularly perceptive.
Assuming the exact reverse, he flinched, now fully regretting having ever even left the suite that morning. “Yeah. That… Well, basically, it means that I’m completely responsible for your well-being and everything you do. It… also means you have to do whatever I tell you. Not,” he added hurriedly, “that I’d make you do anything you didn’t really want.”
Gabriel noticed (and being much more perceptive, correctly interpreted) Leo’s reaction, looking distressed in turn in what could easily become a feedback loop of unhappy self-recrimination. “So…” he began, in a clear attempt to change the direction of the conversation, “and not meaning this to be derogatory to myself, but… In other words, it’s like having a well-trained pet: except one that must do what you want as opposed to should.”
As attempts to change the subject to something less negative go, it was a brilliant failure.
Leofric flinched again, every instinct going on the defensive. “It can be, but I wouldn’t– I mean, you can ask Zita, I don’t do that.”
Hadn’t, didn’t, and never, ever would. His Kept were not pets, they were people and entirely allowed to and capable of having their own lives and making their own decisions. He just made sure she was safe. They. He had two Kept now.
“I didn’t say you would,” Gabriel replied softly, then sighed. “I’m sorry, I’m…” He shook his head, removing his glasses to rub his eyes. “It’s all a bit much to take in. I blurt out something to avoid being killed in the hallway, and end up as property – answering to anything you might have me do. Having you held accountable is only half reassuring.”
This, Leofric decided, had been the worst idea ever. He should have just stabbed the other guy anyway, or beaten him with the back of his sword, or poked him in the eyes until he switched targets, or something.
Even if Gabriel had said the words first, he had no idea what he was getting into. And it was growing increasingly obvious that, unlike Zita, the dark-haired boy was not keen on the idea. At all.
But, now that Leofric Owned him, he couldn’t just let him go. That would be… well, it just wasn’t how things worked. It was wrong, like Tuesday being the day after Wednesday.
“I don’t doubt that you’d keep the ‘pet’ comparison far from you,” Gabriel continued, his voice still quiet and oddly calm. “You… don’t seem the type to keep pets.” He looked up slowly, his heterochromatic blue eyes finally meeting Leofric’s gaze.
The immediate progression of events that Leo’s ever-helpful sense of reality informed him was the way things were supposed to go from there was, in short, unexpected. Not bad, but… Unexpected. (They hardly even knew each other, protested a tiny corner of his subconscious.)
He glanced quickly away, a faint flush spreading across his face. “Well no, not… not that kind, no. I kind of wanted a cat, though. My mom never let me.” The red tinge deepened in embarrassment as he realized he was now babbling like an idiot.
Gabriel smirks slightly, running a hand through his hair and sitting back slightly. “I’ve always liked cats as well. …I suppose, at least it’s good to know we have one thing in common. I hope we’ll find we have more, as well.”
Fortunately (by some definitions of the word), he was saved from making himself look like even more of an idiot by someone stepping into the suite.