He stayed exactly where he was. The hand on his neck felt like it was protecting him. Encompassing him. Holding him, but not restraining him.
“You’re very good. I want you to know that. I am very happy with you.”
He felt like he might float away, if it weren’t for the strength of the hand on his neck. He pressed his forehead a little closer to the carpet and said nothing.
“Ctirad. Okay, come on, my darling. Sit up and let me cuddle you a little bit. I’m sorry. I’ve been pushing you too far. Come here, Ctirad.” Warm arms enveloped him as he sat up like he was on strings. A forehead pressed to the top of his head. “I’m sorry.”
“You said. You said you liked me.” That hadn’t been what he said, Ctirad corrected himself. He’d said he valued him. He’d said he valued him more than Ermenrich did. “You called me… no. You likened me to the Hope Diamond.”
He felt like the floor was coming out from under him. He felt like he was just flopping all over the place, with no bone, no structure.
He was afraid he was going to cry, and that this would all fall apart like the lies some of it had to be.
“I am still learning to know you, Ctirad. Like you’re still learning who I am. But so far, you have been a lovely and wonderful Kept, a strong and entertaining partner, and an asset to my business. Yes. I value you. Yes. I want to help you be better, to improve in all ways so that you can be even a better asset to yourself. Of course I want you to be better – because I want people that I value to be able to be better. Okay?”
“I…” He could not sink any lower. He swallowed hard. “So… you don’t like me?”
He could live with not being liked, he told himself. He had lived with it before, after all. Ermenrich certainly hadn’t liked him, but he’d learned to live with being useful, when he was, and learned to survive when he wasn’t useful anymore.
“Oh, oh Ctriad.” Timaios sounded so pained that Ctirad had to peek up and see what was wrong. That caused Timaios to take his chin and, much to Ctirad’s surprise, to kiss him.
It was a brief kiss, a very gentle one, but it was also very affectionate. “I do not sleep with people I don’t like, Ctirad. Which isn’t an answer, but might help you more than an actual answer. I like you. I say ‘we are getting to know each other’ because we have a lot to learn, still, not because I don’t already like you. Yes. I have enjoyed having you in my household, and I have enjoyed having your company.”
Ctirad flushed. He wanted to look away, but he was still held. “I know I’m being stupid-”
“No.” Timaois put a finger over his mouth. “No. I forbid you from calling yourself or your actions stupid.”
“I-” He waited.
Timaois quirked an eyebrow at him and removed the finger. “You?”
“I feel like I’m being foolish, sir, needing all this reassurance. I’m…”
“Ctirad. You are also not being foolish. What you’re being is bond-whiplashed, Kept, and confused. You’ve been abused. I know that doesn’t fit with your mental image of yourself-”
“It doesn’t, sir?”
Timaios coughed and turned away, but not quite quickly enough to hide a smile. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “You tell me. Does it?”
You tell me was an order. “I… I don’t know,” Ctirad admitted. “It’s starting to feel like there’s two of me in here. There’s uh. There’s Ermenrich‘s bitch, and then there’s someone who … I don’t know, might have been there before? Or trapped inside him?” He shook himself. “I don’t know,” he repeated. “I’m feeling a bit shaken up.”
“That’s not surprising. I’ve shaken your life up quite a bit in the last couple days. Why don’t you take an hour to yourself, and then we will go meet with some people I know.”
An hour to himself still sounded like a huge luxury – or like a threat, like he was going to be put aside in a cage. He couldn’t decide which reaction he wanted to have, pleased or worried. “Sir?”
“I think it’ll do you good to have the run of the house. You asked about the gym, and that’s all available to you. You could sit in the back yard and take in some sun, or watch some tv. I won’t tell you what to do – but I will leave you alone for an hour. After this.” He took Ctirad’s chin in his hand and kissed him, gently and slowly. “You are wonderful, Ctirad. I’ll see you in an hour.”