By the time Tristin had led him downstairs, to the small hallway in the back of the house, Ctirad was second-guessing his choice to walk downstairs mostly naked. It was a uniform, yeah. But it wasn’t – well. Was it? Was Timaios going to…
Tristin patted him on the back. “You look fine. You’re doing fine,” he murmured. “This is the boss’s office.” He knocked on the door. “Sir? Ctirad is here, as you requested.”
Ctirad spent a moment mulling over that sentence. His name – his name, pronounced correctly, not “Sit” or “Sid,” which was, if Ermenrich‘s other employees had managed to call him by a name at all, what they would have used. Requested. Like he’d been called for, to come at his own leisure.
Which – he flushed a little at the thought of the kiss – he supposed he had done. Taken his leisure, that was.
“Come on in, Ctirad. Thank you, Tristin.”
He walked in, hands behind his back, head down. “Sir?”
“Ctirad, you haven’t been called into the principal’s office. You can look at me. You’re not in trouble.”
He looked up slowly, taking in the comfortable, wide, dark wood desk, the three computer monitors, the smooth and empty desk. It would be nice Timaios…
Down boy. They had business to take care of, too.
“You look particularly delicious like that. Are you comfortable?”
“I was…” Ctirad coughed. “I was thinking I sort of looked like a Admiral’s Pet Soldier Doll, sir.”
Timaios laughed, a nice bass rumble that made Ctirad’s toes curl. “Yes. Yes you do. Well, come here, then. I wanted to show you some pictures and let you know who we’re meeting with. I’d also like to know if you’ve already met them, so that we’re not unhappily surprised by someone.”
“That sounds easy enough, sir.” He walked over to Timaios’ side and snuggled himself into the arm his owner held waiting. “Do you think I might?”
“It’s definitely a possibility. As I said, there aren’t that many of us here – my little household notwithstanding – and we tend to like to talk to each other. It’s nice to be able to talk to someone who understands the life you’re actually living, to understand the issues of staying hidden, for example.”
He moved the mouse with his free hand, and on the middle screen, a picture of a petite-looking woman with short-cropped hair appeared. She looked far too casual to be Tim Kaprinsky’s acquaintance, with five piercings visible in the head-and-shoulders shot and two tattoos.
“She looks rough,” he offered. “Not dangerous-rough but hard-life rough. But I’ve never seen her before.”
“Niamh. Goes by the last name Handerson; her Name is, if she’s telling the truth, Bad Road.”
Ctirad couldn’t help but snort. “So she wants people to think she’s had a hard life?”
“Or her Mentor thought that she had, or would, or would be for other people. I’ve never been a Mentor; I’ve heard the naming process varies a lot from person to person, though.”
“Hunh.” Ctirad considered that. “Niamh.” He rolled the name around in his mouth and in his mind. “What does she do?”
“She’s an artist. She does big mural installations, among other things. I – that is, Tim Kaprinsky – hired her to do a bunch of work downtown. In terms of fae things, she’s the sort of person who always knows more than you think she ought to, and plays her cards really close to her chest – except that she’s always dropping cards.”
“Hunh,” Ctirad repeated, but he was processing the information. She sounded like someone he might not mind knowing; she also sounded like someone who might be dangerous to know.
Timaios clicked to the next picture. Another woman, this one tall and very slender, with perfectly straight blue-black hair that reached her waist. She looked … expensive.
“Sara Florentia. I don’t know her given name or her Name. I don’t know much about her at all. But I know that she is nearly as rich as I am – and that estimate may be off by an order of magnitude. Nobody knows how old she is. Nobody knows where she comes from. She involves herself only in matters that interest her; she speaks only to people that entertain her. And nobody asks too many questions. But sometimes,” he cleared his throat and his hand on Ctirad’s waist tightened, “sometimes I entertain her.”
Ctirad did not ask any questions. He nodded and waited for the next picture, which he had a feeling Timaios would be bringing on quickly.
He was right. The mouse clicked. The picture came into focus. He froze. He couldn’t move.
Honey-golden skin. Black curls. Muddy hazel eyes. A Grecian nose.
He couldn’t move; he was trembling. He wanted to scream. He couldn’t make a sound. He couldn’t even breathe.