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[personal profile] jessara40k_lj
Title: So Much Help?
Pairing: referenced F/f
Rating: PG
Warnings: reference to slavery
Word count: Approx 2,300
Summary: Antoinette is helping Jasmine study for her Basic Diploma, but Jasmine is worried about how Tonio is performing.
Feedback: Welcome as long as all criticism is constructive

“Ah...Antoinette, why are you bothering to give me so much help with this?” Jasmine put down her pen as she spoke, glancing over the list of words and definitions to see if any mistakes leapt out at her.

“So much help? I’m giving you less help than I remember even my mother giving me with my homework as a child.” There was a wry smile on Antoinette’s lips as she answered. “But anyway, you’re mine, and I owe you protection and guidance. This is part of that. Are you finished checking your work?”

“Yes.” She handed it over to Antoinette, and reached for a book and another sheet of paper to start her handwriting practice. She wasn’t that good at reading yet, but she could still talk while she did this. “It’s just...I don’t think Terese is helping Tonio the way you’re helping me.”

“I see.” Antoinette was frowning when Jasmine glanced up at the disapproval in her voice. “Well...I’m not as ambitious as she is, so I can do a better job of making time to help you than she can for Tonio. Also, I don’t want our relationship to just be about sex, I want a friendship with you, at the very least.”

“I...knew that, you told me so before.” And it made sense. Antoinette had explained that Jasmine would belong to her for at least five years, and that was a long time to spend with someone you disliked. “It’s just...I’m purpose-bred, and you told me you’d take care of me, or your Family would if I needed it after you freed me. So...I don’t quite understand why you feel I’m worth so much effort.”

“When Terese doesn’t seem to feel the same way about Tonio?” Now Antoinette sounded amused. “I’m not stupid, none of my siblings are, even Jean is smart - he’s just too lazy to use his brain for anything he doesn’t enjoy. But Terese is a genius, and she isn’t particularly empathetic, so she just doesn’t get that some people need all the help they can get. That learning is hard for a lot of people, not almost intuitive. How much trouble do you think Tonio’s having?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but it seems like a lot. He’s slower at reading than I am, and he seems to make a lot of mistakes when Mr Edmonton asks him to read something aloud, unless it’s a poem he memorised when we were training. He doesn’t volunteer much during our lessons anymore, not like he did at our literature lessons at the Facility.”

“Do I need to talk to Gerard then?” The question felt as if it had come out of nowhere, and it took Jasmine a moment to remember that Antoinette used Mr Edmonton’s given name.

“I don’t know. Why would you?” She looked up from her copying, gathering as many clues as she could to Antoinette’s mood.

“You said Tonio isn’t comfortable speaking up during his lessons now. Do you think that has anything to do with how you’re being taught? Is Gerard missing problems, or even causing them?”

“Oh, no. Of course not. He has to make an effort to draw Tonio out in discussions, that’s all. And...Tonio isn’t working on calligraphy the way I am, so that gives me something to do if I finish the exercises before him.” Was that wrong? She’d just assumed they were meant to be learning the same things, and there was no point in her being bored so Mr Edmonton had given her something else to do that would be useful, even if it was outside what she was supposed to be learning.

“I see. I’m glad he’s responsive to your needs, and that explains why your handwriting is improving so fast. You had a couple of unclear definitions; I’ve marked them for you, and corrected the three inaccurate translations. You can look at them later.” She laid the sheet down with a smile, something a little uncertain in the way she held herself. “Did you mention Tonio because you want to help him then?”

“Do you think I could?” She’d resigned herself to watching her friend fall behind - she wasn’t in any position to influence his owner, and she was a little scared of Terese and how she might react to a pleasure slave interfering in her household. Jasmine put her pen down - she wasn’t going to improve her handwriting by working on it while she was distracted after all.

“It depends what you want to do, and how Tonio reacts to it.” Antoinette leaned forward, focusing her full attention on Jasmine. “I take it he’s been obeying Terese’s orders to do all the homework Gerard sets you both?”

“And all the supplementary exercises we’ve been given. I...sometimes it’s still hard for me to learn things by reading them, even when I copy them out again in my own words. Could I lend Tonio some of the educational cards and discs you bought for me?” Jasmine felt almost ungrateful to be asking that, when she knew Antoinette had gone to some trouble to find them for her, but...her owner had asked what she wanted to do for Tonio.

“Of course you can. You can do whatever you want with them. I bought them for you after all.” Antoinette leaned back in her chair now, lips pursed in thought. “But I had another idea. The original plan was for the both of you to take a basic diploma with a literature bias together. Would you mind doing the extra work to take a standard basic diploma, and maybe a secondary certificate in literature instead?”

“No, not if that’s what you want me to do, but...I don’t understand, how does that help Tonio?”

“It gives him more time before he has to take the exams. I can’t insist that Terese wait if she doesn’t want to - and she will demand Tonio take his exams when you take yours if she hears about it.”

“Is it some sort of pride thing where she doesn’t want her pleasure slave studying for longer than yours?” It couldn’t be the money after all - Antoinette had said Louis could easily live independently and provide for his pleasure slave on the income he received from his trust fund, and that was only a quarter of what Antoinette and Terese received.

“Not exactly. Terese doesn’t see why Tonio needs any formal qualifications - either she’ll support him for the rest of his life if he needs it, or the Family will - and she only agreed to have him join your lessons because I believe people learn better if they have at least one other person to study with.” Antoinette had done even more than Jasmine had thought for her then.

“You mean he’s only being educated because it will help my education? I...that doesn’t make any sense.” Jasmine found herself shaking her head in stunned disbelief.

“He’s only getting the chance at formal lessons and qualifications because I asked. Your need for a companion in your lessons was the only reason I could use to justify my request.” Antoinette shrugged, a distant look on her face, and Jasmine reached across the table to touch her wrist to draw her back. She understood what Antoinette was getting at now, how difficult it was for her to interfere with how Terese treated Tonio, and she could feel the heat rising in her cheeks at how long it had taken her to understand. “Terese would have made sure Tonio learned how to read and write anyway, but after that she would have expected him to educate himself for the most part - she’d have provided books, and whatever other resources he thought to ask for, but it wouldn’t occur to her that he would really need a teacher.”

“Oh, but...if your mother helped you with your lessons then surely she helped Terese with hers?”

“She did, but...once Terese learned how to read she almost never needed help with the material we were supposed to be studying. Mother made sure Terese was allowed to study ahead, and once Terese was ready she began teaching her about the business side of our companies.” Antoinette smiled wryly, and shrugged one shoulder. “I tried asking Terese to explain things to me once, but she went too fast and had no patience with me at all.”

“So she probably wouldn’t be able to help Tonio much, even if she was willing to.” She didn’t really feel that switching her diploma to extend the time before she took it and sharing her discs and cards with Tonio was enough to help Tonio catch up with her, but she wasn’t sure what else she could do for him, and she certainly wasn’t going to ask Antoinette to risk her relationship with Terese by interfering further. “That will be hard on her children though, if she has any.”

“I don’t think she will, not unless she becomes Family Head. She isn’t really interested in children at all, and if Armand finds his children aren’t suitable heirs then he can look through the whole Family for a successor.”

“Might I ask if you intend to have children if you do not become Family Head then?” As Antoinette had just implied that doing so was part of a Family Head’s duties.

“I don’t know. I probably won’t carry them, since my consort will most likely be a woman if I don’t become Family Head, given how hard it would be to find a man who fits my tastes among the Families. And given that I’m courting a woman right now. On the physical side I doubt I’d find a man who fit my tastes outside the gladiatorial circuits, or maybe from the Primacy Armed Forces - and I expect most of those are too aggressive to submit to me the way I need. Besides which he’d have to be intelligent enough to be worth breeding with. And socially I’d need to let people see me with him for a while, to demonstrate my consort’s comfort with my choice, even if I ended up visiting him away from my household. It’s acceptable for my consort to have a child fathered discreetly, maybe by one of my Family, or some other man I approve of, in a way that it isn’t for me. So, I’ll probably let my consort decide if she wants to have children - especially since she’ll be mostly responsible for raising them. Sarah says she’d rather focus on her career, but she might change her mind if she finds herself with a secure position.” Antoinette leaned forward again, focusing on Jasmine in a way that mixed hot desire with a cool calculated appraisal. “And do you want to have children, carry them, raise them?”

“I...don’t know. It isn’t something I’d really thought about.” What could she offer children after all?

“Then think about it. If you want children I will free you to have them if you ask me to once I have a consort. If you are certain you’ll never want children I can arrange for you to be sterilised. And remember I’ve made sure you got the anti-aging nano-treatment, so you should still be fertile at forty, when I’ll have to free you.”

“That was how old your mother was when she had Louis, isn’t it?” Jasmine hesitated before asking the next question, aware of how personal it was. “Could she still have children now, if she wanted to?”

“I don’t know - I do know she could still have children naturally five years ago, but her ancestry is purely of the Families as far back as we’ve had the anti-aging nano-treatments. They’ve been getting more effective over the past few hundred years, but that doesn’t explain the difference in how well they work for the older Families and the newer ones. Or how much better they work for freed gladiators - the purpose-bred ones I mean.”

“You’re implying something, but I’m not quite sure I get it.” Or that she wanted to understand it.

“We’re all human for now, and we’ll stay that way as long as the gladiatorial enhancement complex is added to create gladiators from normal human stock and the Families welcome new blood. So long as we can interbreed we’ll be the same species - not like the Primacy Armed Forces. But...we’re developing into three distinct strains of humanity. The differences can’t be explained purely by lifestyle, or by medical care, or anything else.”

“I...should keep quiet about that, shouldn’t I?”

“Yes. I don’t know how many people have put all the facts together, but I don’t want to give people reason to see gladiators as monsters, or for the more arrogant among the Families to start seeing commoners as less than human.”

“The way they already see pleasure slaves and other purpose-born? I understand.” Why Antoinette wanted her to keep it quiet anyway. But Jasmine wasn’t sure why she’d revealed so much information to her in the first place.

“Good.” Antoinette stood and stretched as she spoke. “I’m probably going to outlive everyone I know now.” What? Why was Antoinette so certain of that? “But I believe I can trust you, and Sarah doesn’t want to talk about social issues with me.”

“I’ll strive to be worthy of your trust.” And to educate herself so that she could at least ask Antoinette intelligent questions when she wanted to talk about that sort of thing. She glanced over the table at her books and her work, running through it in her mind. “I’ve finished everything I need to do tonight, and I don’t think it would hurt if I missed one day practising my handwriting, so would you like me to come to bed with you now?”

“Yes, and I want to hold you while we sleep.”

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