“Ctirad. Come on, kitten, come back to me.” The voice was gentle. Ctirad blinked. He had – he had dozed a bit, hadn’t he? He’d floated on the praise. He cleared his throat and miawed carefully, a question, an indication that he was aware, what does my master want of me?
“That’s a good kitten. Are you ready to be a boy, a person for me again?”
Was he ready? No. He started to shake his head and then looked up at his master’s face. Was there a right answer?
“Answer honestly, Ctirad.”
He shook his head no, swallowing a little lump of worry. He’d almost done the wrong thing. He’d almost been bad. He made a small noise he couldn’t quite control, deep in the back of his throat.
“It’s all right, kitten. You’re being a very good boy, and I’m happy with you. Come over to my couch, and you can be a good boy while I watch the news and handle some paperwork, all right?”
That was good. He nodded a little bit, just enough to indicate his understanding, and slunk over to the couch as Timaios led him, tugged along by the leash. If he could have purred, he would have. His master was pleased with him, and his master liked him being a cat.
He curled up on the couch where Timaios indicated, his head on his master’s lap, and settled in comfortably. Timaios pulled over a lap desk and worked with his right hand on a laptop while the news played in the background. His left hand trailed over Ctirad’s back and hair, his neck, back down his spine, and up again.
“Will you show me what you look like without your Mask?” he asked lazily after a while.
Ctirad looked up at him. Was this a test? No. No, his expression was curious and that was it. Was it an order? No. It was – he was just checking? Ctirad shook his head, barely moving it.
“Ah, not yet then? That’s all right. You’re a good kitty anyway.”
Ctirad set his head back down and snuggled in. It was all right. He didn’t know why it was all right, or how, but it was all right. He’d be okay.
He floated in and out of a content drowse, basking in sensations that he hadn’t yet gotten used to: the way his Owner’s hands felt touching him, when he had pleased his Owner and would not be punished. The way praise felt when it didn’t come with insults or blows or little knives and orders hidden in the praise. The way if felt to relax in the presence of another person.
“…demolition paused today at the McCurdy building downtown when a group of protesters chained themselves to the historical monument.”
Ctirad leaned up and blinked at the news. “Mirrrrp?” The McCurdy Building?
“What is it, kitten?”
Ctirad made a soft noise and ducked his head. Shit. He was being a kitten now. He wasn’t supposed to be paying attention to the news. He was a good kitten, and good kittens didn’t speak. He licked his lips and purred quietly, a rumble in the back of his throat. I’m a good kitten. You like your kitten still, right?
“You’re not in trouble. You’re a good boy, Ctirad.” Timaios’ hand settled gently at the back of Ctirad’s neck. “I need my good kitten to tell me what got his attention all of a sudden, all right?”
Ctirad nodded slowly, barely moving, wanting to press back into the hand for reassurance.
The fingers closed around the sides of his neck. “Good boy. Speak.”
Ctirad licked his lips. “The McCurdy Building. Ermenrich, he talked about that building a lot. There’s supposed to be something – something inside it, I think, or under it. We went in there once and he paced around a lot, but then he ordered me to forget most of it.”
“…That’s pretty shitty, but that’s good. Tell me, Ctirad, how would you feel about having someone find those memories you were ordered to forget?”
“Um. From the feel of things, sir, they’d be there for a long time.”
“But would you mind?”
“I’d like my mind back. Sir. I mean.” He ducked his head and looked at the couch, frozen. Shit. He’d let himself get far too comfortable here, and there he was, saying things no good Kept ought to say.
Timaios’ hand was in his hair. He didn’t move, didn’t lean towards the touch, couldn’t speak. Couldn’t apologize.
“I think you should have your mind back, Ctirad. I think it never should have been taken from you. You may speak at will now.”
Ctirad didn’t move. “Sir? My mind belongs to you.”
“That, well, that is a matter of some argument. Yes, it does, we’ll go with that for the moment. But it pleases me to give it to you, because I have found that it does not work well to alter someone’s mind. At best, you can rarely do what you were intending. And at worst, you can seriously damage your target. So: It is perfectly fine to want your mind back. This is a good want, and one that I endorse.”
“Not gonna get used to that,” Ctirad muttered.
“Get used to what? To being encouraged to have wants? It can take some time, I imagine.”
“But that and still not being bad, not being spoiled. Gonna be tricky.” He could have moved enough to look up. He decided it was best not to. “Sir.”
“Mmm. Maybe I want you spoiled, hrrm, did you think of that?”
He was pretty sure Timaios was teasing. He wasn’t, however, certain. “Sir?” This time he peeked up.
His owner was smiling at him. “I want you to want things, and I want you to express those wants to me. If you would like your mind back, that is a good thing. And I will have it done.”
Have it done. It finally sank in that Timaios wasn’t talking about doing it himself. “Sir?”
“Timaios,” he corrected gently.
“Oh, yes. That is important, isn’t it, when they’re going to be in your mind. Sal? My driver? Nobody I employ has only one skill, you see.”
“Sal.” He tasted the idea and nodded slowly. “I would not mind Sal finding my memories. I feel like a lot of them are gone.” He shifted position, suddenly uncomfortable. “I shouldn’t – I shouldn’t have let him do that. I shouldn’t have-”
“Easy, easy. You couldn’t have stopped him. And as for the rest, you were tricked fully and thoroughly, set up for it far too well. It would almost impress me, that Ermenrich had planned that much, if he hadn’t done something so reprehensible with it.”
“Ermenrich is good at planning. The problem is only that his plans are sometimes too much. And he’s not always good at working around surprise elements.” Ctirad ducked his head. Something still felt wrong about criticizing his former owner, and something felt strange about praising him.
“That’s a good assessment. Thank you. So – do you think you’re up to having Sal look at you tonight, or would you rather wait?”
“It’s going to take a while to get used to that.” He was hedging. He knew it; he was fairly sure Timaios would know it, but he couldn’t bring himself to come up with an answer.
“I know. But I’m going to keep doing it. Shall I give you a little more time to come back from the kitten, first?”
“Please? Maybe if I-” Damnit. He ducked his head and waited.
“Sit up, that’s a good idea. Yes, come on. It might be good to give yourself a little physical space, but you don’t have to.”
Ctirad sat up, moving a half a hand-width from Timaios, and pulled his legs up into a tailor’s seat, one knee barely bumping against his owner. He closed his eyes for a moment and found some peace inside of him.
Quietness. He had forgotten how much he missed quietness. The TV was going, yes, but there was nothing he had to do and no feelings of disappointment pressing on him. “I think-” he offered after a moment, “I think I can handle Sal now, if it would please you, sir.”
“Some day, you are going to manage to say my name casually. All right, I’ll call for Sal.” There was the sound of a phone being picked up. “Danny, send Sal up, if you would, and some finger foods. We may be burning calories tonight.”