The Bargain (S2, E3)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN ending

As long as Mattin didn’t think of the glamourhame, the next week went… well. He started getting up early and helping Cook with the day’s baking. The old half-fae was becoming a real friend. So, to Mattin’s surprise, was Jahlene. Brit had always shown him a strange kindness. And, whenever he had time to himself, Jaffrey or Elose welcomed his company. It was as if he had gained a new family to replace the one he had lost.

Jahlene was surprisingly fun, and interesting to be around. He often forgot for hours at a time that he was her property. She treated him more like a possible advisor, someone she wanted to rely on. He, in turn, did his best to be someone she could trust.

Yet he could never get comfortable. Something always unbalanced him—like the issue of titles Parlen brought up one night.

~~~

Mattin was pouring tea for the three friends after dinner. Jahlene told him to go prepare her bath when he finished, and Mattin replied, “Yes, Lady.”

Parlen winced, “That is going to be a problem.”

Brit sighed and rubbed the scar on his face. “I told you not to bring it up.” Mattin finished pouring tea for Brit and took a discrete look around. He had no idea what Parlen was referring to.

“Which problem is this,” Jahlene asked, “and do you have a solution?”

“No,” Brit said. He waved off the tea and stood up, beginning to pace.

Parlen smoothed her skirts, “Mattin has been here over a month, Mistress, but still calls you ‘Lady’. It’s obvious neither you nor Brit has said anything to him, and you know the problems it will cause in court.”

Mattin froze, then carefully set the teapot down without pouring the last cup.

“No,” Brit growled. Mattin winced–Cook would be sporting new bruises by morning. “We hadn’t mentioned it. For a reason, by the Mare!”

Jahlene held up a hand, stopping Parlen’s retort. “Mattin, sit down, please.”

Mattin sat, on a chair rather than on the floor. His insides clenched as he waited to find out what was going on.

“Parlen, you’ve forced the issue. Which is what you planned. We will discuss this later.”

Parlen bowed her head, “Yes, Mistress.”

Brit rubbed his face, then looked at Mattin, “You’re not a fool, lad. Ride, boy, half your trouble comes from too much thinking.”

Mattin couldn’t think of anything to say, so he said nothing. He forced his hands to relax, not clench into fists.

“You know well and good that all of us call Jahlene ‘Mistress’—even me who spanked her bottom as a girl! You don’t. Here, as long Jahlene doesn’t care—”

Jahlene shrugged, “It’s complicated, but for this discussion, no, I don’t care.”

“—but at court, it’s a problem.”

About to demand why it mattered, Mattin stopped himself. He took a deep breath and ignored the way his stomach churned. They didn’t have time to waste with pointless questions. “You’re saying I need to call the lady—you—Mistress.” He choked on the word.

“Yes,” Parlen said. “Frankly, I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”

“You’re a fool.” Brit shook his head and stopped pacing. “Boy, you tell me what calling Jahlene ‘Mistress’ means.”

Mattin swallowed and fumbled to find words. “I… it means that the lady is your owner… but you say it the way my father would say ‘my wife.’ Like she is…” He ran out of words, unable to find a way to say what he sensed so clearly.

Brit rescued him, “Like she belongs to me as much as I belong to her. She is my Mistress, and I am proud of my place in her life.”

Mattin nodded. “Yes. I can’t understand that. I don’t want to understand.” He turned to Jahlene. “Lady, you own me. I made that bargain.” The collar felt tight on his neck. “I… damn it, I like you, and I never expected to. I… when I can forget the collar, I think of you as a friend. But…” Her face was a rigid mask, and he stumbled to a stop.

When Jahlene spoke, her voice was cold and distant. “But first, you must forget you wear my collar. You cannot understand how Brit wears my collar without resenting me for the loss of his freedom.”

Mattin met her eyes, resisting the urge to drop his gaze to stare at the floor. “No, Lady.” It hurt, that coldness.

Parlen shook her head “It’s a word. You use it. Or at least, you had better.”

Brit smacked the back of Parlen’s head.

“What!”

Jahlene’s mask broke, and, for a moment, her eyes pleaded with him. “I hoped that your feelings might change in time. Brit and I haven’t discussed this, but I suspect he has been avoiding the issue for the same reason.”

Mattin looked away, not wanting to see her pain. Was that why she acted so distant? “I’m sorry.” He swallowed, facing her again. “So I need to call you,” he braced himself, “Mistress at court?”

“If you don’t, it’s a slap in the face.” Parlen put in, “Lady and lord are for nobles you aren’t bound to. Call the Mistress ‘Lady’ at court, and you announce to the world that she has no authority over you.”

Mattin barely kept from wincing. Each time he did it, he was also rejecting her.

Jahlene nodded, oblivious to his thoughts. “Unfortunately, she’s right. At best, I would be shamed before the other nobles and my position damaged. At worst, the Emperor might decide to take offense.”

“Forcing yourself to say it won’t work, though. Not really.” Brit rubbed his nose as he spoke, “It’s too obvious that it’s forced. Which at court is a sign the slave hasn’t been properly trained and would also shame the Mistress.”

Mattin clenched his hands, “What if… Court is two months away. If I start … by the time we go, it will be a habit.” He swallowed and looked up at the lady. “I don’t want to—” don’t want to hurt you, he couldn’t make himself say.

“I would rather not feel your resentment and despair grow stronger every time you speak with me.” The tart amusement in her words didn’t match the shuttered look in her eyes. “They are heavy enough now,”

Mattin did wince this time. “Lady, I…”

Jahlene shook her head, “It is who you are, Mattin Brenson, and you told me as much when you took my collar. Now we cope.” She stretched her mouth into a feeble copy of her bright grins, “I know you don’t mean to hurt me, Mattin. We will find a way through this.” Mattin managed to return her smile, though he suspected his was as weak as hers.

Parlen groaned and rubbed at her skirts, “You are all being ridiculous.”

Jahlene ignored Parlen and returned to the politics of the situation. “Older protocols exist. I had planned to ask Cook for his thoughts in a week or so.”

“Cook?” Mattin blinked.

“He grew up in court; his father was on the Emperor’s council.”

“Oh.” The idea of the plain-spoken half-fae growing up in the center of the Empire’s politics made his head hurt.

They sat in silence. Parlen seemed to be sulking, Brit thoughtful. Mattin didn’t even try to figure out Jahlene’s mood. She was usually free with her feelings, but often it seemed what he saw was only the surface of a deep pool. That sorrow…

Jahlene broke the moment, “Enough for now. Mattin, go lay out my things for the night. And try not to worry. We have two months to figure this out.”

Mattin stood and bowed, “Yes… Lady.” When he gathered up the tea things, Brit stopped him.

“Leave it. I can bring it down later.”

So Mattin left the tea, with a wince of sympathy for Cook, and went to get the lady’s bath ready.

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