Erotic in tone, but with no sexual acts. Implied slavery of the consensual sort.
“You understand everything I’ve told you?” The docent’s voice was gentle, her expression neutral. Andrew nodded, gulped, and cleared his throat.
“I understand.” This wasn’t the sort of thing you could enter not understanding. They made sure of that. It might have been easier if he could have pretended, shut off some of his brain. It was a major commitment, after all. Five years. In five years, that would have been a fifth of his life.
“And you consent, as per the forms you have signed?”
That was the kicker. Other places took you unwilling. Other places didn’t always put time limits on it. The Museum only took those who walked in willingly, only took those who consented.
Andrew gulped. Saying the words was harder. “And I consent, yes.”
“Drop your Mask and strip your clothing off. Leave it here. You’ve put your affairs in order?”
“Such as they are, yes.” He pointed to the safety deposit box. “All my cash, my only belongings.”
“We will hold them here for you until your term is up. We swear to is, as per the paperwork.” The docent’s voice didn’t change in inflection, nor did her eyes stray from his face as he peeled off his clothing. Not until he dropped his Mask to reveal his true form did she look down.
“Nice.” Her voice never changed its infliction. “You should have no trouble attracting an Owner. Here.” She brought forth a blindfold. “This remains on until your new Owner removes it. To try to remove it yourself violates your contract. Do you understand?”
There had been nothing about a blindfold in the briefing. Andrew considered panicking. He considered backing out. But he’d come this far. He could keep going. He nodded. “I understand.” He bowed his head so she could slide the blindfold over his hair, and set it in place over his eyes. The world went black, the so-carefully-neutral layout of the waiting room gone.
A finger touched his lips. “You will do no Workings until you are under the care of your new Owner. Now walk forward. I will be by your side. Continue walking forward unless you are told to stop.”
Completely unwillingly, he licked his lips and, once again, he nodded. “I understand.” Now it would begin.
“You begin walking now.”
Andrew had been to the Museum before; anyone who had any interest on the … obscure… eventually visited here, no matter how far they had to come. He had lived across the street for years, in a tiny walk-up, working up some cash and working up the nerve, visiting the outer sanctum every Friday, visiting the bar almost every night.
He put one foot in front of the other, steady, slow, regular. The floor was cold under his feet, and very smooth. In front of him had been a wall, before the docent blindfolded him. He kept walking anyway. He wasn’t going to fail, not before he even started.
For all the time he had spent at the Museum, he had never been back into the Archives. You had to be buying or selling to get back there – or a docent, and they went wherever they pleased. The Museum itself – its exhibits, its classes, its collections – spawned rumors and whispers across the world. But the Archives? Andrew had only heard of its existence three months ago, when they had sent him a request for proposal.
The air whooshed across his face, and he kept walking. The docent’s gloved hand was on his shoulder, neither directing nor urging him along, simply there. The air changed, growing several degrees cooler, cool enough to be uncomfortable for his bare skin. The floor changed – a grating of some sort, not painful to step on, but not pleasant, either. It swayed, ever so slightly, under his feet. There was no sound, except a faint mechanical noise, muffled, as if a long way away.
“In three steps you will turn left.” The docent’s voice was closer than he expected; Andrew fought not to jump, and, this time, won.
One, two, three steps. He turned left, feeling another whoosh of air. And then, just at the edge of his hearing at first, voices. Murmurs, conversation, all in polite whispers, as at a golf course or a museum opening.
Museum opening. Of course. And he was on display. He nearly hesitated, nearly stopped. But it was too late to back out now. It had been too late when he signed the papers. Too late, if he was being honest, when he received the request for proposal.
Though he kept walking, the docent saw or sensed his moment of weakness. “I can tie your hands,” she whispered in his ear. “Or leash you.”
He didn’t shake his head, but he knew he pursed his lips. Consciously, carefully, he put one foot in front of the other. The voices were getting closer. He felt as if he could feel their breath on him, their gaze on him. How many? Was anyone he knew here? Would they tell stories, and, if so, to whom?
And would any of that matter to him, in five years? Step, step. The grating seemed harder, sharper. The voices seemed louder, and no more clear; he thought he heard an upturn of Russian, off to his left. The hand on his shoulder seemed firmer. Step, step, step…
“Stop.” That was the docent’s voice, in his ear again. He stopped, and did not ask questions, hard as it was.
“Turn to the left.” He almost turned, before realizing it was not his handler speaking. The voice was somewhere near his navel, male, deep, and warm.
“Turn,” the docent repeated, and Andrew turned.
“Lovely body. Kneel.”
Again, Andrew waited, and again, the docent repeated the order.
He dropped carefully to his knees. He expected the grating to be uncomfortable, and it was, but the moment was more than the discomfort, almost more than his fear. There was a hand on his chin. He wanted to pull back, to complain, but he didn’t. If this was against the rules, the docent would tell him.
“Lovely. I’d like to see that mouth stretched around a gag.” The voice was chill, colder even than the hand on his chin. “I bet we could stretch him out and peg him from all ends, and he wouldn’t make a single complaint. What do you think, dear?”
The second voice was a level alto, genderless to Andrew’s ear. “He’s pretty. He’s very pretty.” The speaker made it sound like a bad thing. “I’m in the mood for something more rugged.”
“I think this one is tougher than he looks.”
Andrew fought against an urge to lick his lips. These two were frightening him. There were rules, oaths one had to swear if one was going to buy a slave from the Archive. He had seen the contracts as part of his orientation. Nothing they were describing was against those rules – and he still wasn’t certain he could handle it.
This could have been a very, very bad idea. This could have been just a slow form of suicide. He gulped despite himself.
“Not this one,” the man decided. “Move on.”
“Stand,” the docent murmured, as she put a hand under Andrew’s armpit to help him to his feet.
Not this one was echoing in Andrew’s ears as he was steered along the path. Kneel, bend, turn around, stand, pose, open your mouth; he obeyed every command without flinching, withstood every touch without shying away, and was rejected, time and time again.
“Stop.” The voice made the docent stumble, and that, more than the chill in the order, made Andrew halt. He felt as if he was becoming numb, lost. They had not told him what happened to slaves who weren’t sold. He was thinking, now, that it would have been a good question to ask. “Kneel.”
He dropped to his knees, wondering if voices had always been this genderless, or if this was a feature of the blindfold, stripping away cues, or a feature of the audience, as fae as he was and more so in many cases (or so he’d been told. Only Fae could be so bound to their promises, after all).
“They see your fear.” A hand touched his cheek, and Andrew was suddenly, completely, bone-shakingly terrified. “And they think they could break you, until they see the set of your chin. Or they fear you will shatter, which is not the same thing at all.”
He couldn’t be the only one who was afraid? He licked his lips and did not speak, but the voice answered anyway.
“They’re all afraid. We’re all afraid. This place requires commitment, which is anathema to our souls. No, pretty one, it is the particular flavor of your fear they find problematic.”
He knew what words were coming next, but Andrew still held his breath, waiting to hear them.
“And it is that fear that I will take home with me. Bend your neck down here for my leash, boy.”
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