Time Away from the People Who Frustrate You Never Hurt Anyone
“I’ve had no luck tracking down whoever was being represented by those two,” said Abigail Greentide, over lunch.
Theodore nodded. “Nor have I. I have looked into most of the city’s upper class and could not find any indication that they were behind the opposition to the market’s repurposing.”
“Whoever they are, they’re hiding themselves very well,” agreed Greentide.
Daniel sighed to himself, keeping it quiet.
“We shall find them,” said Theodore. “I’ll proceed with my purchase of the market as planned, and meet with these two representatives again. If I consistently refuse to deal with them, eventually they will have no choice but to reveal their employers to me.”
Well, that seemed unlikely to Daniel. They could easily just stay hidden, keep sending agents to screw up Theodore’s business ventures, funnel money to people and remain anonymous. That was what they’d have done already if Daniel hadn’t stalled them. He was playing idly with his soup, spooning it up and then letting it fall back into the bowl.
“Good. It’s not as though we can do anything to these backers, but they can’t be allowed to threaten people into not doing legitimate business. Especially not when it’s important business that will help Merket and its citizens. Including its enslaved citizens.”
Daniel just barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. Theodore didn’t care about Merket’s enslaved citizens. He was saying that to make Greentide happy.
“I believe Daniel has something he’d like to say,” Theodore said, eyeing Daniel.
Daniel looked up. “No, Master.”
“Are you certain?” Theodore asked, not sounding amused in the way he usually did when Daniel was annoying. “I can hear you not saying it from here.”
Theodore stared Daniel down, and Daniel stared back, before giving into the temptation to roll his eyes and turning back to his bowl. “They’re not in Merket.”
“Gertrude and Dwight’s employers. They’re not in Merket, that’s why you can’t find them.”
Theodore was looking contemplatively at Daniel, but Greentide didn’t hide her skepticism. “What reason would anyone outside the city have to care for the fate of a slave market?”
“Money doesn’t care about the city’s walls,” Daniel told her. “And even if it did, I can think of a lot of reasons why someone might want to make sure the slave market keeps running the way it does.”
“Other northerners who are going to see what the Master is doing and think he’s giving into southern pressures to limit or even end slavery,” Daniel said. This was obvious and he shouldn’t have to explain it, but he tried not to sound annoyed. “Southerners who want it to stand as a perfect example for why slavery is evil. People from the empire who don’t want foreign gladiators showing up and upstaging their own.”
Greentide looked at Daniel funny, and then at Theodore. “Sharp boy you’ve got here, Theodore.”
“Oh rest assured,” said Theodore, with a smile. “I’m well aware of that. I’m very often on the receiving end of it.”
Greentide laughed. “Well, he could be right—it’s something to look into, and if it is outside interference, that definitely can’t be allowed to stand.”
“I agree. I will task some of my employees with following those threads just in case. We’ll find them.”
That was the end of the conversation, though not the end of the words exchanged. They just got even more empty and pointless for the next fifteen minutes before finally Greentide left. Theodore walked her to the dining room door, then came back once she was gone. “Would you like to tell me what is angering you so, Daniel?” Theodore’s voice was mellow in that way it was when he was trying hard to be patient.
Daniel flashed a glance at Theodore. “I’m fine.”
“Ah, that explains why you were sullen the whole meal, why you’ve barely eaten, and why you’ve not spoken to me in two days.”
“I’m speaking to you now,” Daniel told him. They’d talked plenty. Daniel had spent the last two nights in Theodore’s bed. It wasn’t his fault that Theodore never wanted to talk about anything important when they were alone in the bedroom, and Daniel spent most of it with his mouth too full to talk.
“Yes, and your joy in the face of that fact is clear.”
Daniel sighed, dropped his spoon in his bowl, letting the cold soup splash onto the tablecloth. “If you don’t know why I’m mad then you’re stupid.”
Theodore raised an eyebrow, sitting next to Daniel at the table. “I can surmise it has to do with my releasing Trevor and Al. I am sorry that you didn’t get to say goodbye to them; I didn’t realize that you weren’t there when they left.”
Bullshit he hadn’t. “It’s not about me.”
“That,” said Theodore, “seems exceedingly unlikely.”
Daniel got up and walked away.
“Daniel!” Theodore called, real emotion entering his voice. “Come back here.”
Daniel did not, storming out into the hallway, back to the slaves’ room. The others were still stuck in a mess of emotions. Fucking Theodore. Did he really think that Daniel was so selfish he’d only be upset about something because it had hurt his own feelings? Why was he so stupid?
Daniel leaving had clearly been an invitation for Theodore to leave him the hell alone, but Theodore chose not to accept that invitation and followed Daniel, his damnable long legs closing the distance too fast. He took Daniel’s wrist to stop him walking. “Daniel. I cannot read your mind. If something is upsetting you, tell me what it is.”
“Why do you keep them for so long?” Daniel demanded. If Theodore wanted to argue in the hallway, they could argue in the fucking hallway.
“After you’re finished with them. With us. Why do you keep us for years after that? You weren’t interested in Trevor or Al, you hadn’t been for years. Why did you make them stay here so long?”
Theodore looked baffled at the question. “I can hardly put them out on the street at such a young age, Daniel. Not everyone is as smart or competent as you.”
“Don’t,” Daniel spat. “Don’t you dare pretend it was because they were too stupid to be on their own.”
“That isn’t what I said. It is safer for them to be released once they are old enough to take care of themselves, and of each other. I care about you—all of you. I appreciate that this is hard for you to understand, but I very much do. I cannot…do what I do to you and then simply discard you like an object. I want to take care of you as best I can.” Theodore was pleading, it was in his eyes.
He could try not raping people if he wanted to protect them. “I’m teaching Marcus and Hugh and Simon how to read,” he said.
Theodore blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Because you never did. You taught me, because you thought it was cute when I sat in your lap and struggled to say the word cat. But you never taught them. It’s such an important thing to know how to do you and you ever even thought about teaching them. You’re not preparing any of us for anything. You’re breaking our knees so that we can’t escape from you, and then letting us go and expecting us to walk like everyone else.”
Now Theodore looked like he was in pain. “Daniel, that’s hardly a fair analogy.”
In the time it had taken him to blink, Daniel could have knocked Theodore down and made him choose between his legs and his eyes. But instead he took a breath and shook his head. “You don’t see. You don’t see how cruel it is. You don’t see how they have to sit there and watch you replace them over and over again. You don’t see how they can’t do anything because they can’t leave, so they waste years of their life just waiting for you to remember they exist. You don’t see what…” Daniel caught himself getting emotional again, and he closed his eyes, looked away. “You didn’t see what it did to Hugh, when you just took his friends away without warning.”
“Daniel, I’m…” Theodore sounded like he was going to choke.
Let him. “You don’t understand how much we mean to each other,” Daniel said quietly, knowing Theodore would have to shut up to hear him. “You don’t understand that all we have is each other. Each other and this big house. And then you just…take that all away at once. How is that taking care of anyone?”
Theodore stared at Daniel, the strength of Daniel’s quiet dulling his gaze. “And what do you propose I do instead, Daniel?” Theodore asked, sounding lost.
Daniel shook his head. He’d been thinking about it for days, and he didn’t know. “How should I know? You’re the one who’s been doing it for years. Haven’t you ever tried to think of something better?”
“No,” said Theodore, sighing. He let Daniel go. “I’d never realized the hurt I was causing. Perhaps you and I together can come up with something.”
“I…” Fucking Theodore didn’t realize that Daniel wanted to be mad at him. He wasn’t helping by being all understanding and shit. “Not right now.”
“I understand. If you need some time to spend with your friends until you’re all less upset, you’ll have it, as will they.”
Oh. Daniel blinked, an idea coming to him. He looked up at Theodore. “Okay. I will.”
“Good. And if you think it will help, tell Hugh…”
“I’m taking them out of the house,” Daniel interrupted. “All of them, Marcus and Hugh and Simon. We’re going to leave.”
“Daniel,” said Theodore, his eyebrows raising. “You can’t simply decide to do that.”
“Yes I can. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of them. And we’ll come back. But I think they should be away from the house for a while. I think that…when you let them go in a year or whatever, it shouldn’t be their first time out of the house.” This was a good idea. The more Daniel thought about it, the better he felt.
“And where exactly do you plan to go?” Theodore asked.
“Doesn’t matter. Somewhere.” Ozzy would come with them. He knew where stuff was in the city. It would be fine. “Just…somewhere.”
Theodore sighed, deeply. “You know how I feel about you leaving like that.”
Daniel did. “And you know I’ll come back.”
“I do. Very well, if you think that’s best for your friends. Make sure to keep them safe.”
“I will.” He’d do a better job protecting them than Theodore ever had. “I’d say thank you, but I wasn’t really asking permission.”
“I know you weren’t,” Theodore said with a smile. He touched Daniel’s cheek. “You never do.”
Daniel smiled at him. “I’ll see you when I get back, Theodore.”
“I’ll be waiting for you, Daniel.”
Daniel wondered about that. He could probably trust that, this time. But Al had trusted Theodore, and Trevor before him. And no matter what Theodore said about how important Daniel was to him, he’d already replaced Daniel once and he’d do it again. This had to stop, and Daniel had to be the one to make it stop.