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Gunther blinked into awareness the next morning, although he had no idea whether it actually was morning or not. The candles in his tiny cell had burned down and extinguished and the only light came from the dim wall lamp at the far end of the long room outside; just enough for him to be able to make out the bars that kept him from his master. He shivered, not through cold, but from being alone... and it was so, so quiet.

He choked down a soft whimper and curled into a ball beneath the covers. He was perfectly warm, perfectly comfortable, and perfectly alone. There was a hollow place somewhere inside him that ached, and his master's words from the night before rolled back to him like a soothing tide:

I want you to think of me, and cling to those thoughts as your comfort. Just the thought of me will bring you peace. Do you understand?

"I understand," he whispered into the darkness, calling to mind a vision of pale skin and red hair. He closed his eyes and focused on that vision. The pale skin formed into gentle hands that caressed his face, the red hair brushed against his cheek as a soft kiss ghosted across his lips, and oh! he could smell that beautiful incense scent...

He opened his eyes, expecting to see his master right there beside him, but the cell was as empty as it had been before. But he'd felt it. God, so strongly! It was as if Master had been right here, crouching beside him to soothe and comfort him, and he closed his eyes again quickly.

There. A smile curved his lips as the vision returned, and he whispered, "I love you so much."

"I know, mon cœur," said a voice, close by his ear. His eyes snapped open again, and this time the vision was real. Master was sitting on the edge of the bed, smiling down at him and caressing his hair. The candles were fresh and burning brighly, and Gunther could see Master's beautiful face so clearly.

"I love you, too. You see, my darling boy?" he was saying softly. "You are never truly alone if you have me in your thoughts. Come now; up with you, and I will care for your needs this morning."

The covers were pulled back, and Gunther carefully slipped out of the bed, going to his knees as gracefully as he could. A warm hand cradled his cheek to Master's thigh, and he breathed out slowly, nuzzling and pressing eager little kisses to it.

"A nice hot bath first of all, I think," Master said. "And then a comforting breakfast. And then... hmm. Maybe a cuddle on the couch."

Gunther raised his face, smiling. "I'd like that, Maître," he murmured. "Especially the cuddle bit."

Master chuckled. "Yes, I thought you might. How is your arse feeling this morning?"

He hadn't even noticed it, so he wasn't sure if it still hurt or if he was now used to it. "It feels fine, Maître."

"Good. I think I would like to warm it up again a little later on." Master's fingers sifted through Gunther's hair. "Follow me back upstairs, there's my good boy."

Some fifteen minutes later, Gunther closed his eyes and gave a blissful little sigh. He was sitting in a deep, hot bath, and Master's soap-slick hands were gently moving over his wet skin. The deep silence of the room was comforting—unlike that of the cell—and Gunther sank into it, listening to the gentle slosh of water as Master sluiced it over his body.

Reluctantly, he got out of the bath when told to, and was enveloped in a huge fluffy towel. Master dried every inch of him meticulously, and then pulled him into a loving embrace.

With his heart on his lips, Gunther returned Master's kisses, clinging to him and whimpering into his mouth. He felt like he'd been resurrected from hell into heaven, and when Master walked into the kitchen, Gunther happily crawled at his heels and knelt at his feet to be hand-fed at the table.

"My name is lost, is it not?" Master said softly, holding out yet another morsel of breakfast in his palm, as Gunther bent his head to eat it and then pressed a grateful kiss to Master's fingers.

Confused, Gunther looked up at him, but all he received in return was a tender smile and another handful of food.

"Tell me, mine," Master said, taking a few mouthfuls of breakfast for himself. "Would you like to be given a few chores around the house? While I enjoy having you sit at my feet, it is not healthy for you to be sedentary for so long during the day."

"I can do chores, Maître," Gunther replied, nuzzling his cheek against Master's thigh. "I would like that."

"Good." Master carded long, pale fingers through Gunther's hair. "I know that, in your everyday life, you like to keep busy, so a few chores will do you good. They will comprise simple services, such as cleaning and polishing my boots, making my bed, airing and brushing down my clothing, setting my place at table before meals, and generally making the house pleasant and comfortable for me. These are things that you can do both here and in the mortal world, hm?"

Gunther looked up again, smiling broadly. Oh, those all sounded easy and so nice. Making everything perfect and comfortable for Master, and serving him in those small ways? He nodded, eagerly, and was rewarded with a kiss to his forehead and a, "Good boy."

The cuddle on the couch came next, and Gunther nestled down blissfully as Master's arms encircled him, holding him close. The loneliness of his cell was forgotten as he buried his face in Master's throat and just breathed.

"You go so deep, don't you, mon cœur?" he heard Master say, very softly. "It surprises me, but it also shows me how desperately you have needed this, and for how long."

A hand gently stroked his hair, and he let his mind drift, listening to Master's soothing voice.

"I think, though, that once you have made up for all those lost hours... we might find a way for you to serve me without sinking so far into submission, hm? Right now, you need this. But, some time down the long road that we will walk together, you and I will speak and behave on a more equal footing, but with you still going to your knees and serving me. I should like that, of all things, my darling boy."

Gunther nodded. "I didn't realise how much I needed this, Maître," he murmured. "It feels so good, so right." He looked up. "But I trust you with my life, and I know you'll guide me to be what I need to be."

Master was watching him with those strange, ruby-dark eyes of his, and Gunther ducked his head a little, wondering if that had been the right thing to say.

"Mon cœur," Master eventually said, "I wonder sometimes how I came to be so lucky that the world dropped you in my lap. You were like an apple growing on a tree in the shade, and I am honoured to be the one who opened the windows and let the light shine on you, who fed and watered you, and who could finally reach up and pluck you off the branch so easily and sweetly. And now, my darling boy, I am the one who polishes you and makes you shine."

Gunther stared at him for a moment, and then his lips curved into a shy smile. "I hope," he said softly, "that I taste good after all of that work, Maître."

Master just laughed and pulled him down into his arms again. "You are delicious," he said. "Now, be still. Just be, for a while. And then, a few chores, hm?"

With his face pressed against Master's chest, Gunther just replied with a contented little nod.

The rest of the day passed in pleasant and quiet service. Master's boots—a small cupboard full of them, in different styles—all had to be polished until they gleamed. His bed needed to be made, and the pillows plumped up. His clothes needed to be removed, one at a time, from the ornate wardrobe in the bedroom, given a little shake, and brushed gently down before being put back.

And then, there was setting the table for dinner, and kneeling at Master's feet to be hand-fed; something which Gunther had come to truly love. Master always gave him just enough food to sate his hunger, but never so much that he felt stuffed. It was possibly not quite as much as Gunther normally ate—maybe half a plateful, rather than a full, normal plateful—but he didn't feel the loss of the extra food. Quite the opposite, in fact: he relished the smaller amounts because they were presented to him from Master's hand, and Master selected the best pieces from his plate for him, too. And if he lost a pound or two here and there from his already-slender frame... well, it was only a long weekend, and he would go back to eating normally when they were in the real world anyway.

Finally, it drew close to bedtime. Master indicated that he wanted Gunther over his knee, and this time Gunther went without a murmur. Deep in his heart was the fear of another night in the cell, but he reminded himself of what he already knew: he could think of Master and not be truly alone. Still, after the bliss of service and being so close to Master all day, he wasn't looking forward to it.

Each slap painted his arse redder and redder, as it had done the night before. He whimpered and squirmed as the stiffness and soreness was re-awakened, but tried desperately to hold it back—

And then Master stopped for a moment.

"Non," he said. "I want to hear and feel you, mine. Show me your suffering."

And, with that, he landed a slap so hard that it made Gunther whine and stretch his body out in a writhe of shock. Two more like it followed, before that hand rested gently on his blazing hot skin, stroking and warming it even more as he sniffled and sobbed.

"Not a punishment," Master reminded him gently. "I do it simply because I enjoy it. And now, it is time for bed. Down you get."

Slowly, Gunther let himself down onto the floor and bent down to press a kiss to the toe of Master's boot. Inside, his belly was sinking at the thought of the trip downstairs, so when Master began to walk in the other direction—towards his bedroom—he hardly dared hope that he might be allowed to sleep in Master's bed again.

"No, mine. You will not be sleeping in my bed." Master gestured to the floor at the side of it, and a soft fur rug appeared. "You will sleep there, instead."

Gunther swallowed. On the floor? He looked up at Master, who smiled down at him.

"Oui, mon cœur. On the floor, but in my bedroom. Is that not better than being alone in the room downstairs?"

Oh god, yes. Yes, it was! Gunther nodded fervently and crawled onto the rug, then he hesitated.

"Can I help you to get ready for bed, Maître?" he ventured.

"Thank you, but no. Just settle down and go to sleep, mine. Goodnight."

Again, Gunther bent to kiss Master's boot, then raised his head to nuzzle his cheek against Master's calf. "Goodnight, Maître," he whispered, looking up at him, before he turned over and made himself comfortable.

He listened for a while to the sounds around him. He knew the sound of Master undressing and folding his clothes—clothes that Gunther would brush down, and maybe launder the next day—and then the sound of Master getting into bed. A moment later, the lights went out, and the only sound was Master's soft, slow breathing. Gunther followed it, matching his own breath to it, and soon enough he drowsed into a deep and peaceful sleep.

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