“Ctirad. Ctirad, my darling.” A click; the screen went blank. Another moment; there was a hand over his eyes, another hand on the back of his neck. “Ctirad. Hear me.”
He swallowed. He could breathe. “I. I hear you, sir. I hear you. Master.”
“No, my darling. Not that. Your sir, I will take that. But Master is a title I haven’t earned, not from you.”
That was strange enough to shake a bit of the fog away. “Sir?”
“Ah, well.” Timaios’ tone was… rueful? “I did say I’d accept that. Ctirad. I’m going to move my hands. Can you tell me what happened?”
“I…” He closed his eyes, even as the hand moved away, letting him see. “I know him. I don’t want to know him. I don’t want to…” He cleared his throat. “Timaios?” He opened his eyes to look into his master’s – Owner’s – face. “I don’t want to talk about it. He’s friends – not quite that. Business partners with Ermenrich.”
“Then you don’t have to speak of it any more than that. Are you up to looking at two more pictures with me?”
“Yeah… Yeah, I can do that.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t think anyone else will hit me quite like that.”
“If it does, that’s okay. Here we go.” He clicked twice quickly, and another picture came up.
Ctirad shook his head. “I don’t know them.” He didn’t know whether to be relieved or to feel guilty – or possibly both all at once.
And then again.
“No.” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen him before in my life.”
“Good, good. Thank you.” Timaios wrapped both arms around him and pressed him against his chest. For a moment, Ctirad could feel the stone that he always knew was under the Mask, then there was nothing but flesh and comfort. “Thank you. You were good for me, and that helps a lot.”
Ctirad let his head on his owner’s chest and let the praise wash over him, the warm feeling like sunlight and a good buzz of alcohol and the touch of a lover and a success all at once. He couldn’t remember ever feeling like this with Ermenrich. After a moment, he found himself snorting in a bit of amusement.
“Hmm?” The sound was a rumble against his ear, a warm feeling, a pleasant question. Ctirad snorted again.
“I’m just realizing… if this is what Keeping is supposed to feel like, supposed to be like, then I don’t think Ermenrich had any idea. He liked things that felt good. He liked pleasure. Maybe I could convince him to wear a collar if I told him he could feel like this.”
“I think,” Timaios said carefully, “he would not enjoy being collared by me one-one-hundredth as much as you do.”
Ctirad choked on a laugh, remembered that he could laugh, and guffawed. “Sir, if a third of what you’ve said about him since you got me would be like you treated him – no. No, I don’t think he’d like that at all. And I might like watching that – but not enough to share you.” He realized his voice had dropped into a low growl and blushed.
Timaios kissed the top of his head. “I’m flattered that you feel that way. Now, my handsome man, I’m afraid that we’re going to have to take you upstairs and get you dressed. We have people that we need to meet and, while I love looking at you like this, I think it probably sends the wrong message to take you out in public like that – at least today.”
Ctirad ducked his head while he tried to sort out the muddle of warm feelings. “As my … as Sir wants,” he murmured, thinking something between yes, please, take me to a club like this and oh God what happened to me?
“For now, unfortunately, your Sir would like to dress you. Which I admit has its own appeal. Stand for me, handsome?”
Ctirad stood. He was erect already, his face was on fire with blushing and as he folded his hands behind his back, he could only think This. This is what this is supposed to feel like.