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CHAPTER 37 ~ BOUND
"Be still, mon cœur." Valois's soft voice broke through the fog of panic that was enveloping Gunther. "Match my breathing. Slowly now..."
Struggling to find his way out, Gunther rested his cheek against Valois's chest, listening to his steady breaths and trying to settle his own breathing into the same pattern. Slowly, slowly, his pounding heart calmed down and the world righted itself, leaving him shivering and slightly woozy.
"What--?" he began, as he looked up at Valois.
"You had a panic attack," Valois said gently. "The stress of the meeting took a bigger toll on you than I thought it would, but you're out of it now, hm?"
"I feel sick," Gunther moaned, and then - suddenly - he didn't.
"It has passed." Valois stroked his hair and kissed his forehead.
"Couldn't you have just magicked the attack away, too?" Gunther still clung to him, breathing in the scent of him, trying to ground himself.
"I could have, but you needed to bring yourself out of it, or the sudden disappearance of it would have left you unsettled."
"I'm unsettled now!"
A firm hand grasped his chin and raised his face. He blinked. That was... nothing like Valois's usual way of handling him, and it kicked up those faint stirrings of fear again. One of Valois's fingers was touching the still-sore scrape on Gunther's cheek, and he tried not to wince.
"Be calm." It was gentle, but a command nonetheless, and he nodded, trying hard to control his breathing and shaking.
"Sorry, S-- Maître," he whispered, lowering his gaze and fixing his attention on the sensation of the collar and cuffs. As they seemed to always do now, they gave him a comfort that he clung to. And that, in the end, was what grounded him.
Valois's hand left Gunther's chin, soft fingertips ghosting up his cheek and into his hair.
"Good," he murmured. "All right now?"
It was all he could do to nod, but he scoured his tongue over his lips and managed a hoarse, "Yes, Maître."
Valois's searching gaze looked him over for a moment, then he sighed and said in the tenderest of voices, "Let's get you home, hm? You're in no fit state to work today."
"I-- What about Mortimer? Is he all right? I've not seen him since--"
"He's fine. I made arrangements with his friend's family for him to stay for a week. They were perfectly accommodating, and both he and his friend were excited for a week of sitting up too late and whispering to each other from beneath the covers."
He kissed Gunther's forehead and smiled. "All is well, my boy. Home with you now."
The drive home, with the car window wound down far enough to let in a refreshing blast of chilly winter air, soon restored Gunther's inner equilibrium. Safely back in Valois's home, they stopped in the hallway for a kiss. Gunther arched up into it, going almost on tiptoe; something he never normally needed to do, but somehow had to do whenever Valois was being especially dominant with him. One of these days he'd ask Valois about it, but not right now. Right now he was too busy being kissed until his knees practically gave way.
"You have noticed, then?" Valois murmured as he relinquished Gunther's mouth. "I wondered when you would."
Gunther looked up at him, all pout and reluctance to stop. "I was enjoying that. And noticed what?"
In reply, Valois nuzzled at Gunther's nose, making him laugh.
"No, seriously. Noticed wha--? Oh! Oh, the height difference?"
"Mmhm. It is deliberate."
"Well, you're taller than me anyway by an inch or so, but yeah... yeah, I'd noticed that sometimes I feel really small when I'm with you."
"And safe, hm?"
Gunther's puzzled frown turned into a shy smile. "Yeah, small and safe. Is that why you do it? It's an illusion, right?"
"Oui, it is an illusion and that is why I do it. To make you feel small and safe and loved. I also know that it brings out your natural submission, and that is a comfort to you."
Slowly, he let Gunther go and took a step back. "Now," he murmured, as he examined Gunther's face. "I caught a flash of pain from you earlier. It still hurts?" he asked.
Gunther nodded, then smiled ruefully. "It's all right. Grandpapa always used to say he'd give me something to really whine about if I ever complained about a scraped knee or anything when I was a kid. I was too scared to give him the chance to do that, so I shut up. I'll be fine. It's getting better every day."
Valois gave the little one-shouldered shrug that Gunther was beginning to associate with him, and smiled. "Well," he murmured, "I could indeed do something similar to take your mind off the pain, but you're not in the right emotional place to be put over my knee, boy. Will you strip or stay clothed?"
Colouring up to his hairline, Gunther started to fumble with his cufflinks, glad for something to do after that mental image had been given to him. His hands trembled as he undressed, and he could all-but feel Valois's amusement at his reaction to those words.
"One day, yes," was all Valois said about it, once Gunther was naked again. "There you are, in all your skin and your beauty. Go into the bedroom and kneel on the cushion at the foot of the bed, facing the door."
Tamping down his curiosity, Gunther obeyed, making his way into the room and going to his knees as gracefully as he could on the cushion that was already there on the floor for him, mindful of Valois's wishes even when he wasn't in the room. He settled quietly with his hands on his thighs, and waited.
When Valois entered, Gunther risked looking up, and - oh god! - his breath was almost taken away. Where had that outfit come from? And holy fuck, did Valois look stunning in it, or what?!
"Thank you," Valois murmured as he came to a halt in front of Gunther.
"Oh god, you look beautiful," Gunther breathed, gazing up at him. "I think my heart just stopped."
The smile he received in return was as tender a smile as Valois had ever given him, and his command - when it came - was firm, but loving:
"Eyes down, my boy. I have a gift for you."
A gift? Is that why he's wearing that suit?
"Oui, little busy-mind. That is why I am wearing it."
Gunther heard the sound of something being opened; it sounded for all the world like a jewellery box, or the soft leather box that he kept his most expensive watch in. And then, speaking of leather, he caught the faint scent of it.
His breath hitched.
"Head up just a little, but keep your eyes down," Valois murmured, and Gunther obeyed without question as Valois moved closer. A moment later, a cool strip of leather was laid against his throat, wrapping around his neck, and he tried desperately to quell the trembling that wanted to set itself up in his body.
"With this collar," Valois said softly, "I vow to thee in this world of reality that I shall love and protect thee for all eternity and beyond. No harm nor fear shall come to thee from the world, for it shall be stopped by my hand and my heart."
The buckle was gently fastened beneath Gunther's chin, and then he heard a second box being opened. A moment later, Valois took hold of his right hand, raising it up. A thick leather cuff encircled Gunther's wrist, and as it was buckled Valois spoke again:
"With these cuffs I bind myself to thee in this world of reality even as thou art bound to me. Caritas mea. Vita mea. Aeternus."
Tears rolled silently down Gunther's face as the other cuff was fastened on his other wrist. I don't know what to say. I don't know what to say.
"You do not have to answer yet, if you are not ready to," Valois said softly. "But, if you are, then I will guide you."
Biting his lip, Gunther sniffled and nodded. "I'm ready," he said hoarsely.
"My good boy. Up on your knees a little higher now. Give me your hands and look up at me."
Lost and falling and broken open, Gunther obeyed blindly, hardly able to see through his tears. Valois took hold of his hands and rested them against his own hips, cradling them. Then, with his left hand he reached to touch Gunther's cheek as his voice reached Gunther silently.
~ You will only hear me in your head, but you must voice the words aloud. Do you understand? ~
"Yes, Maître," Gunther whispered.
~ Then repeat after me. ~
The first words reached him, and he swallowed, determined to voice them as clearly as he could. God forbid that his voice cracked or went hoarse as he repeated the words of his earthly contract, with only short pauses as he listened for the next line.
"With this collar I vow to thee in this world of reality... that I shall love, serve, and obey thee for all eternity and beyond... No want or desire shall come to thee from the world... but that it shall be fulfilled by my hand and my heart."
He swallowed again, his body trembling, waiting. And then, the second part of his contract:
"With these cuffs I bind myself to thee in this world of reality even as thou art bound to me... Caritas mea. Vita mea. Aeternus."
He knelt in silence until his tears dried. Only then, once he could see Valois's face, did his lover - his master - smile down at him, and it was like someone opening the windows on an intensely beautiful summer morning.
"Mine," Valois murmured.
"Yours," Gunther whispered in return, wrapping himself around him and holding on.