He was startled and then terrified to find Timaios’ hand at the back of his neck. He was going to be hauled off to a cage. He was going to be locked away like the miserable bad thing that he was. He was –
“Ctirad. Look at me.”
He didn’t try to the fight the order. He looked up, unable to control his expression and barely even thinking of trying. “Sir?” A surge of misery struck him. That was wrong, that wasn’t what he was supposed to call his master. “Timaios?”
The hand was still on the back of his neck. Timaios was crouched next to him, looking down at him. “Ctirad. My kitten. Were you telling me you wanted to submit to me? To kneel at my feet for dinner?”
“Yes?” He fought against the misery and, once again, lost. He lowered his head, only to find Timaios’ other hand on his chin, keeping him in position.
Why. Why? Ctirad swallowed. He could answer why, he thought. “Because, sir. Because I have been – pretending to be a person all day and I am exhausted.” That hadn’t been quite what he’d meant to say, but he thought it was probably honest.
“You are a person, Ctiard.”
“Sir, yes… yes, sir, but – no? I haven’t been a person in a long time. I can fake it, but it’s not a set of skills, it’s not – I don’t know how to do it without pretending, anymore.” He swallowed. He sounded ridiculous. “Sir, please, just – I’ll drop my Mask if you want, I just want to be a thing for a while.”
Oh gods, what was he saying? Why was he saying it? He couldn’t look away, but he let his eyes drop to Timaios’ chin instead of looking his master in the eyes.
Suddenly, he was enveloped in a giant, firm hug. “Oh, kitten, I’m sorry. You don’t have to drop your Mask until you’re ready; I won’t hold it against you if you’re actually going to ask for something. Yes. If you want to just relax into the collar for a bit, that’s fine. You can be a good kitten for me, can’t you?”
“Sir? Yes, sir, I can.” Tension that had been holding him stiff and tight went out of his shoulders and he felt himself smile a little bit. “I can be as good as you want me to, sir. Master.”
“Ooh, temptation, thy name is Ctirad Some day when you are not feeling so overwhelmed, I may ask you to pretend to be bad for me. But today, down on all fours, kitten. I’ll get the leash.”
Ctirad dropped to all fours as Timaios released him. In the moments when his master wasn’t touching him, he focused on his posture, making his back straight, his arms nicely held. He looked, he thought, good. If not a kitten, then perhaps a nice tiger cub.
He felt Timaios’ hand on his head a second before he felt the leash clip on to the back of his collar and the unfamiliar feeling of a tug on the back of his neck, pulling him forward. He moved with the pull, not even trying to stop a rumble of pleasure.
“That’s a good kitten. Right here, that’s good, kneel by my side. And wait.” Timaios seemed to pause for a moment as Ctirad got settled, keeping just enough pressure on the leash that Ctirad could feel it pulling on his collar. “I do believe kittens don’t talk, so when you’re leashed, don’t speak unless commanded to. Stay where you’re put. That’s a good boy.”
The praise was washing over Ctirad like a warm drink. He knelt where he was put and ducked his head, silent, content. There was nothing wanted of him except in very specific ways and the rules were very clear. Ctirad relaxed.
“That’s my good kitten. There you go. Now, hrrm…” A moment later, a hand appeared in front of Ctirad’s face, holding a morsel of food.
“Good kitten. Eat.”
Ctirad nibbled on the morsel and licked his master’s hand clean. He waited, was given more food, waited, and ate. The praise made him sway a little bit, and the food settled happily in a stomach that he hadn’t realized was hungry until it had been given something to remind it.
“That’s a good boy. And here’s the plate.” The plate was set down in front of Ctirad, mostly empty but with a few morsels left.
He waited, glancing sidelong at his master.
“Go ahead,” Timaios assured him, “but only if you want to.”
He whined deep in the back of his throat. Want was a people thing. Want was not a slave thing. Want was…
He wanted to be Timaios’ kitten sometimes. Right now. He wanted to be a good kitten. He wanted.
He leaned down carefully and licked the plate clean, every bit the cat he was being called.
“That’s a good kitten. Good boy.” Timaios’ tugged on the leash, pulling him back upwards, and his other hand settled in Ctirad’s hair, petting, pulling lightly. “You’re a very good kitten for me, aren’t you?”
He licked his lips and made a soft miawling noise. Yes. Yes, he was a good kitten.
“Good. I like you being a good kitten.” The petting and the pulling, the praise and the warmth of Timaios’ thigh right next to him, all of it conspired to put Ctirad in a drunken, pleased state. His master was happy with him. His master liked the way he was. Ctirad closed his eyes and leaned into the hands and the thigh. Everything was right.