"DADDY!" Grimmjow looked up with a smile as a little boy ran up and hugged him tightly on the leg. "You're home! Daddy!"
"Yes I am." He said with a laugh, picking up the child and giving him a rough hug. The boy was only four years old and looked a good deal like him. "Have you been good, Pantera?" He asked and the boy nodded before squirming to look at Shiro. The pale man was watching, wide eyed.
"Wow! Is he a demon?" The boy sounded appropriately awed and Grimmjow laughed, running a hand through light blue hair.
"No more than you are." He said and the boy blinked, just examining the white man. Shiro examined him right back, clearly a little speechless. "He's my nephew. My sister's son." He said as Shiro frowned. A nurse ran up then, huffing and puffing a little. She was a heavyset woman and chasing after a very energetic child wore her out a touch.
"Sir! He got away from me, I'm terribly sorry." She sounded worried and rightfully so. Grimmjow could get very upset about that after what had happened to Nel. But he waved it away with a small smile.
"Just eager to see me. I would have gone to see him but I…" Grimmjow struggled for a moment to find a phrase for it. He'd known Pantera would be able to tell he was upset and the little boy would want to know why. "Was out of sorts. Has he been a good boy while I was gone?" He tickled Pantera, who giggled and wiggled happily. The nurse smiled, relieved that her master was not upset.
"Very good, sir. Of course he's had a few tantrums and such, but less than you might expect." She said with the ease of long experience. Grimmjow had picked her because she'd raised three children of her own and they'd all turned out well. She had a great deal of patience.
"Really good! Did you bring me something?" Pantera asked and Grimmjow laughed before fishing the last of the chocolates out of his pocket. The little boy grabbed it and popped it in his mouth, sticking it in his cheek like a squirrel. "Num!" He said happily and Grimmjow smiled, ruffling his hair.
"How's your mother been?" He asked and got a very imaginative account of what Nel and Pantera had been up to. He highly doubted they'd gone to see if the moon was really made of cheese. They probably had tried to open a hair salon, though. "Who did you give a haircut to?" He asked and Pantera pouted.
"No haircuts! Foot massages." He said firmly and Grimmjow grinned. "Mama liked it a lot."
"Yes, she would." Grimmjow smiled a little sadly as he regarded the boy. Right now, Nel was his best friend. How would that change when Pantera got older? Nel would live in a land of imagination forever but he would grow out of it. He resolved to himself, not for the first time, to make sure Pantera was kind to his mother. That was all he could really ask. "Want to go down to the river?" He asked as the nurse smiled. He really had plenty of things to do, but making time for his little boy was very important. Pantera nodded.
"White should come too!" He said, pointing at Shiro. Grimmjow could see that the pale slave had been a little lost, unable to follow the little boy's rapid fire chatter. The little one didn't enunciate clearly either, which would make it doubly difficult.
"Of course he should." Grimmjow agreed although he'd never have brought a slave with his boy before. But they hadn't interested Pantera… or even interested him too much, beyond their skills in bed. Shiro was different. His odd looks had captured his interest and his nephew's, too. It was more than that though. Shiro seemed so young. Grimmjow thought it was only partly his age… a lot of it was his lack of experience. Who knew how long the poor lad had been kept in that room, collared like a dog? He had no idea and the thought made him shiver a bit. But everything about Shiro inclined him to be gentle and considerate towards his new slave. Grimmjow smiled as Pantera jumped down and tugged on his hand. He stood, letting the boy pull him along as Shiro and the nurse followed.
He wasn't going to think about Shiro now. This time was for his boy.
Shiro adjusted his hat and watched his fishing pole, waiting for any sign of a fish. As he did he glanced at Grimmjow and Pantera. The little boy had a tiny fishing pole and was beaming as he thrashed it through the water, no doubt scaring any fish away. No one had the heart to tell him he wasn't doing it right. Then Pantera looked at him, bright blue eyes meeting black and gold.
"Why do you look like that?" He asked innocently and Shiro smiled before answering.
"I was born this way." He explained and the boy giggled. "Um?"
"You talk funny!" He chirped and Shiro felt his cheeks heating up. He did have an accent, he likely would for a long time. Grimmjow growled a little, displeased.
"Pantera, that's rude. Apologize." He said shortly and the boy looked surprised before looking at Shiro.
"Sorry." He said shyly and Shiro fought down his blush before smiling again.
"S'okay. I am from far away. Just learning to talk like you." He said carefully and the little boy smiled. It was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. Then suddenly Pantera rushed at him, hugging him tightly.
"Let's play tag!" He chirped and Shiro laughed before standing and chasing the little boy. "Wee!" They both had a great time, running around and just generally burning off energy. Shiro paused for a moment, glancing at Grimmjow and grinned. He'd taken the opportunity to fall asleep, his pole caught neatly between his legs. Shiro was willing to bet the fish had cleaned off the hook. He knelt down beside Pantera, pointing at Grimm.
"Maybe you should wake him up?" He asked and the little boy grinned. Then he ran over to his uncle and jumped right on his chest, making Grimmjow's eyes flare wide in surprise. He caught the little boy by the scruff of his neck, making Pantera giggle.
"Daddy! Shiro said I should wake you up!" He chirped and Shiro tried to look innocent as Grimmjow glared at him. The glare quickly turned into a smile, though, as he looked at the little boy.
"He did, hey? I bet you're both feeling hot. Want to take a swim?" He asked and Pantera nodded rapidly. His nurse glanced towards the castle before looking at Grimm and he nodded to her. She began trotting away and Shiro blinked, wondering what he'd missed. Then Grimmjow began disrobing and Shiro's attention was fixated on toned muscles and warm, tanned skin. "Well? You want to swim too?" He asked as he got down to his underthings and Shiro stared, shocked by the idea.
"I – I can't." He said haltingly, looking at the water. "I don't know how." He said as the blue man looked at him quizzically. He'd been too young when he'd left his mother and the priests had never taught him. There was a brief shock in those beautiful blue eyes, then gentle sympathy.
"You should learn. This land is full of rivers." He said and Shiro nodded. "Come, I'll show you." He said and Shiro blushed lightly before he began disrobing. He'd been provided with more clothing, simple things but well made and fortunately, he had underthings. He stepped into the water, not removing his straw hat.
"Why are you wearing that? You look silly!" Pantera said with a laugh and Grimm frowned. But Shiro responded before he could tell the little one he was being rude.
"I don't want a burn on my scalp. That's the worst." He said with a smile. He'd learned that the hard way, on the ship. That kind of burn itched and itched and he'd scratched himself almost bloody. The little boy looked a bit mystified, but he was clearly following after his uncle. His skin was a warm, sun-kissed shade. Grimmjow rumbled a chuckle and began showing him the basics of swimming.
Shiro got the hang of dog paddling immediately, but floating took longer. Part of it was the way Grimm's hands felt, as his master showed him how to stay straight and relax. It was hard to relax when those warm hands were on him and Shiro looked at the blue man through his lashes, wondering if he felt the tension too. From the warmth in those eyes he probably did, but he wouldn't show it in front of the boy. Then Shiro looked up and lost his grip on floating, dog paddling instead as the nurse walked up with a smile. She was carrying a sturdy basket with a handle over her arm.
"Lunch time young lord!" She said and Pantera shot out of the water with a squeal. Grimmjow and Shiro followed and she smiled, handing them light towels to dry themselves off. Shiro did before putting his clothing back on. Head burns were the worst, but he'd rather not collect them on the rest of his body either.
Lunch was very tasty. Sandwiches made out of heavy rye bread, stuffed with cured meat, something tangy that looked vegetative, and mustard. Shiro recognized the mustard and the bread but the rest of it was foreign so he decided to ask.
"What is it?" He said, pulling out a bit of the tangy stuff.
"Sauerkraut!" Pantera chirped and Shiro nodded. "The meat is pastrami! Want a dried apricot?" He offered and Shiro took it, chewing on the bit of fruit leather. "We have baby carrots too! An' some green stuff!"
"Dandelion greens." Grimmjow said easily. "Try putting them in your sandwich." He suggested and Pantera did that, stuffing the bread with green shoots. Shiro did the same and it did make the bitter greens far more palatable. "Everything a growing boy needs, right Pantera?"
"No!" He said indistinctly, his mouth full of food. "Needs chocolate!" He said, getting bits of food on the blanket. Grimmjow scowled at him, but not in a particularly angry way.
"No talking with your mouth full." He said sternly and the little boy nodded. "And don't be greedy. Chocolate is too expensive. The one I brought you was a war prize." He added and Pantera's eyes widened.
"Like Shiro?" He said innocently and Shiro almost choked on his sandwich. He hadn't thought of himself like that… Grimmjow laughed and ruffled the boy's hair.
"Close. But Shiro is a much better prize than a bit of chocolate." He said teasingly as he glanced over at his slave. Shiro met his eyes, feeling the heat between them, the sexual attraction. But Pantera just nodded.
"He's fun to play with." He said in an approving tone and Shiro smiled. That was sweet.
"Yes, he most definitely is." Grimmjow said in a warm, insinuating tone and Shiro felt himself going pink. He gave his lover a glare but the blue man just grinned. The innuendo went right over Pantera's head but the nurse giggled, to his embarrassment. "Well, we really should be getting back. You have lessons Pantera." Grimmjow said with regret and the little boy pouted.
"But you've been gone so long! Can't we take a break? We could go play in the orchard!" He begged and Grimmjow hesitated before caving in.
"You're right, I've been gone over a month. We can go play." He said and Pantera squealed in glee as the nurse just smiled. Grimmjow took the little boy's hand in his larger paw and they went to the orchard, Pantera skipping with happiness. Shiro walked behind with a smile, enjoying the sight. They really did look like father and son. Although that made him wonder what had happened to Pantera's real father. Perhaps he would ask someday, but not just yet. He was still learning about this place.
The answer to his question might be sensitive and he didn't want to cause Grimmjow any pain.
The next day, Grimmjow was woken to his manservant drawing back the curtains. Bright light hit him in the face, waking him in the most comfortable way possible.
"Starrk. Good morning." He said with a yawn and the older man flashed him a smile. Shiro rolled over with a sleepy protest, burying his face in the pillow. Grimmjow slipped his legs over the side of the bed, rubbing his eyes. He was entirely naked but that didn't bother him a bit. Starrk had seen every inch of him a thousand times over, it was part of a manservant's duties.
"Good morning Milord Wizard." Starrk said and Grimmjow scowled at him, slightly annoyed.
"Let me guess. The armsmen told you about how all the sea dogs insisted on calling me that?" He groused and Starrk laughed. "Well, don't start or I'll slap you."
"Of course sir." Starrk said agreeably. "Your usual bath?" He asked and Grimmjow nodded. One of the great things about being a wizard were all the luxuries involved. He'd managed to harness a minor fire sprite and it kept a great tank of water heated. Pumps and plumbing were known things, although retrofitting the castle had been a pain in the arse. Still, it was worth it. Now he had the kind of creature comforts that usually only Kings enjoyed. So did most of the staff at the castle, although several of the armsmen thought that bathing daily had to be unhealthy.
Leaving Shiro to his sleep – he wanted to talk to Starrk privately anyway – Grimmjow went with him to the bathroom. The bath was already drawn and steaming, since Starrk knew the odds of him turning it down were nearly negative. He settled into the water with a sigh and let his man tend to him. He didn't really need a manservant but it was a mark of the gentry to have one. It made for light duties for Starrk, but that was fine. He enjoyed just lazing around.
"I'll want you to train the lad." He said and Starrk gave a long suffering sigh as Grimmjow grinned. "Sorry to cut into your sleep time, but…"
"I know." Starrk said, lathering his hair before gently lowering him for a rinse. "Does he have his letters, at least?" He asked it like he thought there was no hope and Grimmjow snorted.
"He does, but only in his own tongue. However, learning to read a foreign language is actually easier than learning to speak it. He should do fine." He spoke from long experience. He'd had to master the trader's tongue and also two other languages besides. His old master had insisted. "What's on the agenda?" He would have detailed notes in his office but Starrk could give him a general overview.
"Well, the rents are due in a month." Starrk said and Grimmjow nodded. That meant he would have to go on a trip through his estates and at the same time, he would see to any cases of capital justice that had piled up. It wouldn't be anything too interesting – for a major problem the village headman would send an urgent message – but there might be a prisoner or two awaiting his signature on the execution writs. "And you got back just in time for the harvest sacrifice."
"Ah, joy." He sighed a little at that. Not that the ritual itself was arduous, he just had a few bad memories concerning it. It was done well before the harvest, to gain Odakka's favor and spare the crops from any unseasonal frosts. "Who will the 'victim' be this year?" He asked and Starrk shook his head with a smile.
"Well, Nel wanted to do it." He said cheerfully and Grimmjow growled. "It's a shame we can't allow it, I'm sure she'd have a wonderful time. It's going to be one of the girls from the village of Andero." The villages all fought to have the honor of providing the sacrificial maiden. They might not have if they'd seen what he had. "Their champion trounced the others in the toboggan race." That had been in the winter games the season before. Prizes were randomly assigned to each contest and Andero had gotten lucky this year.
"Good for them." He said without really feeling it. "Anything else? Any local scandals?" Grimmjow asked, just enjoying the heat of the water. There was no need to leave it too soon. Starrk was entertaining him with a story about the doings of one of the local midwives when they heard a shuffling from his bedroom.
"Grimmjow?" Shiro sounded slightly worried and Grimmjow pulled himself up. The water was starting to get cold anyway. He stepped out and let Starrk dry him off, calling to his lover.
"In here." He said and the door opened. Shiro looked around, seeming to be puzzled by the room. His eyes widened as he saw the tub full of bubbly water. Grimmjow used a special solution of essential oils and powder to make those bubbles. It wasn't magic, but his old master had taught him the ingredients. "Good morning. Want a bath?" He asked with a smile. Shiro hadn't bathed at all on the ship – sailors could be a smelly lot – but he'd cleaned himself off with a bucket of water at the villages and inns, so the lad was no stranger to cleanliness. The white man nodded.
"I would love a bath." He said with so much longing that Starrk laughed. Shiro blinked as he noticed the other man. A good manservant could fade into the walls and Starrk was very good at his job. "Who is… who are you?" He asked curiously but Grimmjow was the one to reply.
"He's Coyote Starrk. He prefers to be called Starrk." He answered and Shiro looked at him, his black and gold eyes questioning. "He's my manservant and he will be training you in your duties here." While sleeping with him was delightful, he expected a bit more of his pleasure slaves than just that. And having Starrk train him was a kind of gift, an investment in Shiro's future. If Grimmjow tired of him and decided to sell him, the pale slave would have a reasonably secure position with only gentle work. That was the kind of thing slaves dreamed of, when they weren't dreaming of being free. "Consider him your second master here." He said and Shiro swallowed before he nodded. For the first time he was looking a bit apprehensive but Grimmjow really didn't have time to sort it out. Starrk was good at dealing with new slaves, anyway. "I can dress myself. You take care of him." He said to his manservant and Starrk nodded.
"Yes sir." He said and Grimmjow let himself out, going to the wardrobe and smiling as he saw that Starrk had rather pointedly hung a shirt and pants combination in front of everything else. Shrugging to himself, he took it down and put it on the bed before getting his underclothes.
Starrk definitely had a better sense of style than he did. He would take his manservant's recommendation.
Shiro watched Grimmjow close the door and for the first time, he felt a bit lost.
He was a slave here. Until now, that hadn't felt real to him. Being Grimmjow's lover and… friend?... had been so nice that he hadn't really thought about it. Hadn't thought about what it might mean, being a slave. The priests kept slaves and they did all the dirty work, the things that were beneath even the novices. Disgusting things like cleaning out the latrines and handling sick livestock. Would he be expected to do that here?
"Come here Shiro." Starrk said and he went dutifully to the man's side. "See these? This is for the hot water and this is for the cold. You use them like this." He watched curiously as Starrk manipulated the knobs. "Does this feel good to you?" He asked and Shiro tested the water with his hand before nodding.
"It's fine." He said with a small smile and Starrk smiled back. Then he picked up a little box. It had been sitting on the edge of the tub.
"This is something Grimmjow made. It don't know all the ingredients but it's easy on the skin and very pleasant. You put in a spoonful." He opened the box and pulled out a spoon from inside. The powder went into the water and Shiro was surprised to see it bubble. "The bubbles are just for fun. Pantera loves them, you should see him in a bath." He sounded fond of the little boy and Shiro smiled at the thought.
"Pantera is a great kid." He said as he watched the bath fill up. "Is this for me?" He asked just to be sure and Starrk nodded. "Okay." He hesitated for a moment before disrobing. He was wearing his old white linen robe, he'd thrown it on when he'd realized Grimmjow wasn't in the room. Then he slipped into the bath and grabbed the soap, intent on giving himself a proper wash. Starrk sat beside the tub, resting an arm on the edge and Shiro glanced at him curiously. The other man seemed completely indifferent to his body, but he wasn't leaving him to wash alone. It was a bit odd.
"Now, Shiro. I will be training you to be a manservant like me. I'll also be teaching you to read, write and do basic sums." Starrk said and Shiro frowned, mildly insulted. He knew his sums! "If you work at it, you'll be a qualified manservant when I'm done. Then if the time comes when Grimmjow decides to sell you, you'll have a good set of skills beneath your belt. Slack off and the only skills you'll have are the ones in the bedroom."
"I'm not lazy!" Shiro protested, stung. He hadn't understood the word 'slack' but he'd gotten the gist. Starrk was speaking at an even pace and enunciating clearly, which helped his comprehension. "I have my sums." He knew that word from the ship, when Grimmjow was doing his accounts. "What is 'manservant'?" He asked, knowing he was mispronouncing the word. But he'd never heard it before. Starrk looked taken aback.
"You… how long have you been learning our language?" He asked and Shiro thought about it for a moment before deciding it had been around two weeks, maybe a bit less. He told Starrk that and his eyes widened slightly. "You are smart then. Good, this should be easy." He sounded very pleased and Shiro felt proud of himself. He'd thought he was doing a good job of learning to speak this tongue but he couldn't be sure. "A manservant helps his master. He draws a bath, helps him bathe, picks out his clothes. He runs errands and manages the other servants." He explained and Shiro nodded. "How hard it is depends on the master. Some masters keep their manservants very busy, others do not. But it is easy work and can be done even in old age. Manservants can be quite elderly." He said and Shiro nodded again, lathering his hair. He'd never heard the word 'elderly' before but he had the idea. "Now, being Grimmjow's manservant is very easy, so I'll have plenty of time to teach you. When you're done we'll start teaching you to read our language. The master said you know how to read in your own tongue?" He asked and Shiro nodded before dipping down into the water, rinsing his hair. Starrk waited until he was up again before speaking. "Good. We'll start with that."
"Yes Starrk." Shiro said obediently as he pulled himself out of the water. He didn't want to linger while the other man was waiting for him. He got out of the tub and grabbed a towel, noting again that Starrk seemed to be indifferent to his body. The other man was probably into girls, like most of the men in the world. Shiro suddenly wondered if he liked women and just as quickly decided he didn't. He hadn't been able to tell until Grimmjow released the geas, but the thought of touching a woman's breasts just didn't do anything for him. While the image of Grimmjow's chest… He pulled his mind away from that thought hastily before his body could do something embarrassing and pulled on the clothes Starrk had fetched for him. They were new but plain, simple workman's clothes.
"I'll take you to the tailor in the afternoon. As Grimmjow's pet, you'll be travelling with him. You'll need to be presentable in mixed company." Starrk said and then had to explain the term 'pet.' Shiro bit his lip as he got the gist. Was that all he was to the other man? "If it makes you feel better, Grimmjow likes you. I haven't seen him since… well. We don't talk about that." He said, looking as though he regretted saying anything. Shiro blinked at him and gave him a quizzical look but Starrk didn't expand on it, just opening the door. "Follow me. We'll work in the library."
"Okay." Shiro said, a slang term he'd picked up from the sailors. Starrk flashed him a smile and he followed the other man out. The library was extremely pleasant, full of the dusty scent of books and filled with windows to let the light in. Shiro and Starrk took a table beside one of those windows, looking out over the orchard. If he stood up, he could see the river. Shiro smiled as he paid attention to his lesson, concentrating on learning.
Even if he was a 'pet', he would learn everything he could.