The Bargain (S2, E5)

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, mind fuck

Mattin had a routine for readying Jahlene’s rooms in the evening. The hard part was guessing when to start filling the bath. Luckily, drawing the bath was easier than he would have imagined before coming here. There were pipes carrying water throughout the manor. Jahlene’s washroom had a copper boiler, where the water heated during the afternoon. In the evening, he opened the spigot, and her tub filled with hot water.

He laid out her nightdress, put a warming pan in the bed, laid a fire for the morning, and did everything but fill the bath. When he ran out of other things to do, he waited. He couldn’t say how he knew when to start filling the tub, but he’d become familiar with the lady over the past several weeks. Lately, he’d started developing a sense of what she’d want, when.

Given how angry Brit and the lady had appeared, he figured he could wait to fill the bath. He hadn’t seen the lady when she was in a temper, but he knew Brit. And he would not want to be in Parlen’s shoes at the moment.

So he had time to think.

The lady and Brit were angry with Parlen for some reason, but that didn’t concern him. He shoved his confusion aside to focus on what mattered.

Mistress.

The word still stuck in his throat, heavy with meaning. Why did it matter? As Parlen said, it was just a word.

He couldn’t say it.

If he could say it, he would be hurting her.

He didn’t understand that. Didn’t understand why his feelings affected the lady. He had heard her sorrow, but he didn’t understand…

Her voice echoed in his memory, “My people serve me willingly, Mattin Brenson. Each one came to me because they wished to enter my service. I did not seek them out nor do I use coercion or glamour on my family.”

My family, she had said. He had derided it at the time, yet hadn’t he been thinking the same earlier?

A flash of insight came to him. She wanted him as part of her family and saw his resentment and fear as rejection. He couldn’t explain to himself why they weren’t. Why he could hate the collar and her power over him so much and yet… love… his family here. Which included Lady Jahlene.

Some instinct interrupted his thoughts, and he started filling the bath just in time. She entered the suite as he turned the water off.

She started stripping off her clothes, not waiting for his assistance. Her hair, which had been neatly styled when he left, was a mess. He tried to pick out her hairpins without pulling. He didn’t think he succeeded–she winced several times–but she didn’t say anything. As he worked, he tried to turn his confused thoughts into words.

But the lady’s hair was down, Mattin got his first good look at her face. She was drawn and pale, her eyes glassy. Her smile, when she caught his eyes, seemed forced. He winced. Her sorrow earlier had been bad enough, but this? His chest grew tight—had he hurt her this badly?

“Are… are you alright, Lady?”

She tipped her hand back and forth.

Mattin bit his lip and plunged ahead, “Lady, I know I have not—I mean—”

She looked up, “Oh. Not you, Mattin. Yes, you cause problems at times but isn’t that part of being alive? Court and its protocol are annoyances. We’ll find a way to deal with them.”

“Will… will you tell me what upsets you?”

She shrugged, “I expect you can guess part of it. Parlen should have brought her concerns to me, in private or with Brit. Not ambushed both of us. She was trying to control me.”

Mattin led her to the bath and tried to absorb this sudden change in focus. He’d known Parlen had done something to displease the lady, but… “How could she expect to control you? You have all the power here.” His normal resentment of her power didn’t stand a chance against his astonishment—thankfully. The lady was hurting enough without his adding to it.

Jahlene laughed, “You put too much stock in legends, Mattin. Nobles have been controlled by humans in their households in the past. It will happen again. There is more than one form of power.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

Jahlene stepped into the bath and stretched.

“To you. Don’t worry about it. She won’t try again.”

Mattin didn’t reply. Instead, he began soaping up her hair. For a few minutes, neither said anything.

Communal baths had been a part of Mattin’s life for as long as he could remember. Being around a naked female was nothing new or uncomfortable. But there was something especially intimate about helping the lady wash like this.

She preferred soaps scented with pine. Their crisp smell was a sharp contrast to her hair slipping through his hands. Most nights, Mattin hated himself for how much he enjoyed touching her. Tonight… tonight his fears and mistrust seemed small and foolish besides her pain.

Cautiously, he worked his hands down to her shoulders. She stiffened but didn’t say anything. He began rubbing at the muscles of her neck and shoulders, willing her to relax. Instead of pulling away as he feared, she leaned back into his hands. His shaft grew hard between his legs, but he ignored it and pushed aside his self-doubts. For a few minutes, he focused on her needs.

She relaxed a bit at a time. When Mattin finished, she reached up and touched his hand. “Thank you.” Her voice was strangely husky.

Several more minutes passed in silence before Jahlene said, “Parlen was given to me by a friend of my mother’s.”

Mattin froze. “You can do that? Give a person away?”

Jahlene shrugged and patted his hand in reassurance, “The human has to be willing to trade collars. It doesn’t happen often. She was happy enough to come. I have a reputation for coddling my people, and Erebeth is what you would expect from someone my mother liked.”

“Oh.” From the little Mattin had heard of Jahlene’s mother… He pushed the thought aside and stared hard at the back of the lady’s head.

“She had a hard time adjusting. She thought of fae as the enemy, but she loved the game of politics,” she sighed. “I thought I could win her over. I thought I had.”

She said nothing else as Mattin helped her rinse her hair and get into her night clothes.

As he bowed himself out, she said, “Good night Mattin. I hope… sleep well.”

The wistfulness in her voice stayed with him, and he fell asleep wondering what she had started to say.

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