The Institute:Daddy Issues(10)

By: Evangeline Anderson

“Come on, Salt…” I put a hand on my hips. “You meant to tell me it doesn’t bother you?”

He shrugged, his broad shoulders rolling.

“Is just an­other term of en­dear­ment, I sup­pose. Would you prefer we use other names for each other dur­ing this as­sign­ment?”

“Can we?” I asked. “I never thought about that.”

“Why not? I am from Rus­sia—I think it would be nat­ural to use terms of af­fec­tion in my own lan­guage.” He frowned thought­fully. “I will call you mishka—my little mouse.”

“Why mouse?” I bristled at once. “Mice are timid and scared—I’m neither one of those things.”

“You’re little though,” he poin­ted out. “And you have soft brown fur.”

I laughed and put a hand to my hair. “Okay. If you say so.”

“You also have big brown eyes,” Salt said quietly. He put the plates down and came over to tip my chin up so that our gazes met. “I see your soul in your eyes when I look at you, Andi. Tih kra-sah-vee-tsa.”

“What does that mean? Is it Rus­sian?” I asked un­cer­tainly.

“It is,” he ac­know­ledged softly. “It means, ‘you are beau­ti­ful.’”

“Oh…” I didn’t know what to say. Salt was usu­ally all busi­ness but every once in a while he would come out with a state­ment like this that left me flounder­ing. I told my­self he was just act­ing as he had been raised—it was prob­ably just ‘the Rus­sian way’ to com­pli­ment a wo­man, even a coworker, on her looks. But still, some­times…

“But the ques­tion is,” Salt con­tin­ued after a mo­ment, fi­nally let­ting me go. “What should you call me? You do not wish to call me ‘Daddy’ I take it?”

“No, that’s what I called my own father. Well, be­fore he left.” I looked down at the soup again, which was sim­mer­ing nicely. Bet­ter not to think about that too much. “It just…creeps me out,” I said. “I mean, call­ing an­other man by that name.”

“Why not call me Papa?” Salt asked. “Would that bother you?”

I con­sidered it for a minute. “No, not quite as much, I don’t think.”

“Very well then, you are my little mishka and I am your Papa. Will this do, do you think?”

“I think so.” I sighed. “This is just so weird, Salt. I mean, we’ve had some strange cases be­fore but this…”

“This is just an­other as­sign­ment,” he said calmly.

“Easy for you to say. You get to wear a suit,” I poin­ted out. “I’m prob­ably go­ing to be wear­ing Hello Kitty panties and pig­tails.”

He frowned. “It should not mat­ter what kind of panties you wear as no one will be see­ing them.”

“You’re go­ing to be a strict Papa then?” I fluttered my eye­lashes at him jok­ingly. “You’re go­ing to pull down my Hello Kitty panties and spank me if I’m bad?”

“If I have to,” Salt rumbled and I sud­denly real­ized he wasn’t jok­ing.

“Hey.” I frowned at him. “I thought you told the Cap­tain you wouldn’t beat me be­cause I was too ‘del­ic­ate.’”

“I would not beat you with a belt as I was beaten as a child, no of course not,” Salt said. “But a spank­ing by hand…”

“Is not go­ing to hap­pen,” I said firmly. “And you never told me your dad beat you with a belt.”

Salt looked sud­denly guarded. “It was not some­thing you needed to know. Some things are best for­got­ten.”

Well, I cer­tainly knew how he felt. I would be happy to for­get my whole child­hood if it came to that.

“I don’t know,” I began but just then Salt’s door­bell rang. “I’ll get it,” I said and went for the door.

Pro­fessor Stevens was stand­ing just out­side the door­way with a drycleaner’s bag in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other.