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Gunther hovered uncertainly in the kitchen, very much aware of his naked state while Valois stood before him, fully-clothed and cooking what smelled like a delicious salmon dish. Valois had insisted on having him close by as he prepared their meal, and occasionally he brushed an affectionate hand against Gunther's cheek, ghosted soft fingertips across Gunther's hip, or carded his fingers through Gunther's hair as he worked around him. It was the most odd, yet loving thing anyone had ever done for him, and every touch reassured him each time the unease of his nakedness began to reassert itself.

What puzzled him, though, was that Valois only served one plateful of food, and why he had a knife and spoon instead of a fork. He gestured for Gunther to sit at the table, and then set the plate in front of himself.

"What about mine?" Gunther asked, his belly now growling as the scent of the lightly-steamed salmon and vegetables reached his nostrils. God, that smelled so good. Wasn't he going to get--

Valois was holding out the spoon to him, a delicate chunk of salmon cradled in the curve of it.


Slowly, he leaned forward just a little, his uncertain gaze flicking to Valois's face, seeking confirmation that this was what he wanted. The spoon remained still, waiting, and so he parted his lips and carefully eased the salmon into his mouth, sitting back with a weird tingling feeling somewhere near his solar plexus.

"Good?" Valois smiled, taking a bite for himself.

Chewing, Gunther nodded, still feeling very, very odd indeed. He swallowed, then murmured, "Very good. Your cooking is beyond anything I've ever tasted before."

Again, the spoon was being held out to him, this time with just a sliver of salmon topping a carefully-chosen selection of vegetables and drizzled with the fine white wine and lemon butter sauce that had made Gunther stare so curiously into the bowl earlier as Valois was mixing it up. He'd wondered what the heck that tasted like, but as he leaned forward once again and took the mouthful from the spoon, his eyes closed as the combination of flavours hit him.

He took a moment to savour them, chewing slowly, and when he opened his eyes again Valois was watching him, eating his own similar mouthful. Gunther swallowed, and said a somewhat lame, "Wow." Then he laughed at himself. "Okay, you've got me speechless with that. How the hell does that taste so good?"

"Experimentation, and an appreciation for beauty that covers all the senses." Valois held out another spoonful - this time of salmon alone - and Gunther took it without hesitation, now that he felt more confident in doing so without making a mess.

"Does this feel strange?" Valois asked as he drizzled a little more of the sauce from the china bowl onto the plate.

"It does, yeah. Well, it really did, at first. But now, only a little." Gunther was ready for the next mouthful, seeing that it contained the same melange of flavours as the one he'd just thoroughly enjoyed.

"Sometimes," Valois held out the loaded spoon, "we shall do this with you kneeling at my feet, mon cœur."

Gunther hesitated, his mouth half-open as he flicked his gaze from the spoon up to Valois's eyes. He could feel his face growing hot, could see Valois watching him closely, could feel the small tingle of... something in his solar plexus again. Silently, he took the mouthful of food, casting his gaze down to the table as he sat back and chewed.

"Do you wish to try that now?" Valois murmured, and Gunther's nod was almost instant. He watched as Valois reached an arm over the back of the couch to pick up a cushion.

"I will place a rug here for future use, but for now this will suffice." Valois placed the cushion on the floor by his feet. "Down as gracefully and carefully as you can, my boy."

Shivering slightly, Gunther rose from his chair and sank to his knees on the cushion, trying to be graceful, as he'd been told to. What to do with his hands was the next dilemma. Clasped behind him? Resting in his lap? On his thighs?

"Hands wherever they feel most comfortable for you," came the gentle command. "I do have a preference, but for now simply be at ease with where you are."

In his lap felt awkward, as if he was hiding himself, so Gunther let one hand rest on his thigh and the other down by his side, feeling awkward and hoping he was doing it right. Part of him felt shivery-excited, and part of him felt strange, but part of him also felt utterly at peace, and that was the part he focused on.

"You are such a natural," Valois murmured. "Normally I would not give this kind of meal in this manner, so we will have to get a little messy now. Open."

Obediently, Gunther opened his mouth, unable to hold back a small whine of pleasure as he saw Valois's hand waiting for him. A chunk of salmon was balanced on his fingertips, the sauce trickling over his skin, and Gunther took it eagerly, licking the sauce from Valois's fingers before sitting back on his heels to chew on the mouthful, lowering his gaze respectfully.

"Good boy." The murmured praise lit him up inside, and he honoured an instinct to rest his cheek against Valois's thigh in a brief nuzzle of thanks and love. The gesture was met with momentary silence, then a hand cradled his cheek and brought his head back to rest there again. The pad of Valois's thumb stroked gently down Gunther's cheekbone, over and over, and he closed his eyes so that he could better sink into the moment, feeling so loved and safe.

Yes. Tears. Would you not weep if you had such devotion? In that moment I was his entire world. I held him in my hand; his trust and love given so simply. I had known he was my aeternus - the Veil does not lie - but I had no inkling until that moment just how perfect he was. If I had been asked to describe the one I would spend eternity with, I could not have hoped for someone as beautiful, as devoted, as loving as Gunther.

I have cracked myself open for you, shown you more than anyone before you, save him. Now do you understand that, for all my little cruelties, I need to love and be loved as much as any mortal?

There is always time. There is always hope.

They spent the remainder of that evening quietly, with Gunther still naked and curled up against Valois on the couch, processing the whirlwind of emotions that he'd experienced over the day.

"Your mind is racing like a fast car," Valois murmured, pressing a kiss to Gunther's temple. "Have I not taken you slowly enough through this?"

"It's not that." Gunther settled even more comfortably against Valois. "You've taken me slowly enough that I've not stumbled. When I find the rare things that excite me so much, I have a habit of falling headlong into them, full-pelt, and then I trip myself up. I'm just trying to make sense of all this."

"Ahh, oui. The realisation of a thing that, until very recently, you could not admit to yourself that you needed so desperately."

Gunther nodded, then looked up. "Was it all right?" he asked. "I didn't disappoint you, did I?"

The answer was a caress of his hair and a tender smile. "You did not disappoint, mon cœur. You will learn, in time, to recognise my signals of approval, just as you will learn to tell when I am displeased; although I think those times will be very few and far between with you."

"Tell me some of them? You said earlier that you have a preference for things like where my hands go when I'm on my knees." Gunther kissed Valois's neck, nuzzling close. "I want to learn what you like."

"I will teach you my preferences as we try new things, my darling boy. But, as to approval, look to my touch for that. A caress, a kiss, even the slightest brush of my fingers; all are signals of my approval. In like manner, the clear withholding of such things signals my displeasure, although do not take it that - simply because I do not touch you twenty times a day - I am unhappy with your behaviour, bien? Judge my mood by my general behaviour, not solely by how many times I reach for you."

"Yes, Sir," Gunther whispered. "I understand. And, um, is that okay, too? Me calling you 'Sir'?"

"It comes more naturally to you than the French 'Maître', which is what I would expect and prefer. For now, 'Sir' is acceptable."

"I'll try to remember that. It might take a week or two, but I'll remember it, Maître."

Valois smiled, his eyes lit with pleasure yet again, and Gunther could feel something inside himself singing with happiness. Oh god, he wanted to keep bringing that look to Valois's face.

"Your accent is good," Valois murmured. "I may teach you more, at some point."

"I would like that." Gunther looked around, sliding his arms more comfortably around Valois's waist. "Do you want me undressed all the time?"

"Yes, when we are in this house, as I keep it at a comfortable temperature. But only after we have made the final contracts both in reality and in the Veil. Until that time your state of dress is up to you, although I will request it whenever we are here. It is your decision whether to obey."

"What about at home? I mean, at my house?"

"Your home must remain your safe place, mon cœur. Even after the exchange of contracts, when we are there it is entirely your decision whether you remain clothed or not. Only in this house will I expect your clothing to be left at the door."

Gunther nodded. "Can I ask for something, Maître?"

"You may ask, boy, and I shall consider it."

"Please put the collar and the cuffs back on me, so I can experience them for more than a few minutes? Maybe for the rest of the night?"

"If they go back on, they will remain on until we go to bed. At that point, you will be given a choice: to have them removed or to keep them on while you sleep. If you keep them on while you sleep they will then be removed in the morning before you leave for work. Do you understand this?"

"I understand, Maître. Please put them back."

Valois kissed him, and with his murmur of, "My good, obedient boy," Gunther slowly felt the pressure return to his neck and wrists. Again, it was a simple sensation of something wrapped snugly against his skin, and when he swallowed or spoke it tightened enough to remind him of its presence. His wrists, too, were held in the firm grip of deep leather cuffs, although a quick glance told him what he already knew: nothing was visibly there.

"Thank you," he breathed. "I promise I'll be worthy of these."

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