“Mistress, may I ask what you needed to hear from Elder Mara?”
She sighs. “You may not. At least not right now. Ask me later.”
“Theta,” she says, “what have I told you about pouting?”
“‘It’s unbecoming to a thrall of your station.’ Also, ‘Freeze like that, I need to see what this lipstick looks like on you anyway,’ and once, ‘Come here and I’ll wipe that pout right off your cute little face.’”
“And yet I never actually told you to stop.” Cora snorts. “My mistake, clearly. How about I distract you with some mango sticky rice?”
“Mistress!” You blush. “You must have been busy for hours! Please, this is too much. I should be cooking for you, Mistress.”
“My precious Theta. You have such a good memory. Do you recall last time I allowed you to cook for me?”
You shrink in your seat. Her disapproval is the mildest possible, but she’s right; it didn’t exactly go well. You and kitchens just don’t get along. “Yes, Mistress. I recall.”
“You were supposed to take the plastic wrap off the frozen pizza first…” she says, in a mock-cruel voice.
You shut your eyes. “Yes, Mistress, I recall!”
“And you do so much for me already. You’re such a good girl.”
The sudden praise is totally undeserved, you think. But the words have an effect on you that you can’t help. You feel small, soft, appreciated, cared for, generally melty.
“I could learn…” you protest, weakly.
“I like cooking. It makes me happy to see you so happy. Please know that.” She reaches across the table and takes your hand in hers. She squeezes it. You squeeze back. “I also made iced coffee.”
It pleases her to feed you a few spoonfuls of chilled mango over warm sticky rice, drenched in sweet coconut milk. You’re so lucky that she has claimed you. Others have, briefly; none so gently nor so completely.
In such a state, she barely has to prepare you to recall codeword Tangerine.