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CHAPTER 8 ~ ONCE
You seem confused, my friend. I am many things to all that know me, but some things I cannot change. My hair and my eyes remain always the same colour, and this ring stays on my finger.
Of course I have noticed you looking at the ring. Your gaze has been drawn to it many a time during our conversation. It is a beautiful thing, and very precious to me.
No, I cannot remove it so that you can take a closer look. Did I not just tell you that it stays on my finger? However, if you move closer you may see it.
Ahh, you have noticed the subtle glow in its depths and wonder if it is the source of what I am. No, no, do not protest. I am far from stupid, and your eyes give away your curiosity. In short, it is part of what I am, but more than that; it holds what I was. Shall I show you?
It may take a short while-- ah! I had thought my gift somewhat faded of late, but it still works admirably well. Stand back a little, my friend; allow him some room...
There. Oh, my heart, he still looks as beautiful as the day I met him...
Sit down. He cannot harm you. He is merely glad to be able to manifest. Bonjour, mon chéri, we are in the modern world, still. Yes, the same home as before. Nothing has changed, and all is well, as you know.
Who is this? Another who is curious and seeking the truth, of course. There have been several since you, my dear one, but only one who captured the palace of my heart as you did, and... *sigh*... he is long-lost to me.
What?! Well where is he? I have searched for decades! I have... I... oh Dieu. I thought he was lost, even to my abilities! Je pleurais. Par les étoiles, je pleurais. I... you speak the truth? This is not an elaborate joke? Because, if it is, then—
You have... oh, by all that is— you have a photograph? Show me!
Ohh... oh mon Dieu there he is. My beloved, blessed boy. His hair... a little changed, but still so beautiful. And with a small friend, I see. You know where he is? He has lived in that place for some time? Many decades... so he is settled then. Good. He won't be moving any time soon, so I have the luxury of continuing my story for our friend here. By all means enjoy corporeality, my dear one. We have hours before I must pay Gunther a visit, possibly days. Much though I would run to him now, courtesy demands that I finish my tale first. My library is yours, as always.
Now, where were we, my friend? Ah yes, your confusion, this ring, and my abilities. What a tangle to explain, but explanations you shall have; or, at least, those that I am willing to give at this point in my story.
You wonder at my changing faces, as did Gunther. You wonder at the rockstar persona and the piercings and the tattoos when you see none on this face or body that you know belongs to the same man. As did Gunther.
Give me your hand again. Ahh, so much more eager than before. Your trust is precious, and I thank you for it. Now, close your eyes...
...and open them again.
Yes, it is still me. Your perception of my clothing and our surroundings is simply changed. It is one of the easiest manipulations to learn, if one has the aptitude for it. Gunther took to it easily, but he could not hide his true self from me. One cannot hide from the giver of one's gift. At least, so I thought for many a decade.
Close your eyes again...
...and now open them.
*chuckle* Yes, still me. And finally, again...?
Now look upon me once more. Yes, my friend, I can be many things, all in the space of a moment. But, as I said before, my hair and eyes retain their colour, and I cannot change the features of my face. It is merely adornment and setting that I alter.
You wonder about so many things, and so loudly that it makes my head hurt. You ask yourself how I can change your perception of me and of our surroundings. You ask yourself how I can make parties stop and cars mysteriously appear outside motels that they never visited. And you ask yourself, also, why Gunther felt no pain when I fucked him.
Oh, my friend, your jaw still drops when I can pull your thoughts from your head? Have I been too subtle in telling my tale to you thus far? There is a great deal of me yet to be explained, and I had thought to entertain you by teasing it out, yet I have given you certain clues already that should surely have made you wonder exactly what powers I can call upon. I do not wish to reveal all of my story so soon, thus it must suffice for you to know that yes, I can see your thoughts quite clearly, and I can control - to no small extent - what is seen and experienced by someone else.
No, I have only thus controlled what you have seen. Nothing more. And, I may say, I do dislike the word 'control'. I prefer 'determine'.
As to the motel photograph, ah how poor Gunther struggled to understand that! It was not a faked photograph. Indeed, it was a photograph that I took myself... of the empty front of the Sunset Motel. No parked car, no sneaking Mr Goth; those were both in the minds of all who viewed the image, no matter whether on the internet or in the newspaper.
Illusion, my friend. It is so simple to manipulate what the mortal eye sees, and when the eye transmits that image to the brain, well then that is what the brain remembers. Belief is a powerful thing, as I can attest. Priests wanted to burn me once, you recall, because their god's word told them I was an abomination upon the world.
Shall we return to our hero and his rockstar?
"Dude, not again!"
"Oh, honey. We're on the eve of a fuckin' tour and you're puttin' it around already? Can't you wait for the groupies, you old slut?"
"Mrrf! What the...? Fucking hell, can't you two knock or something?!"
"You're the one who gave us a key, sweetcheeks. Hi, cutie in the bed. Was he a great fuck?"
Gunther opened his eyes, staring blearily over the covers. "Huh?"
Valois was already out of bed, trying to herd the two gatecrashers out of the bedroom when Gunther sat up. The covers slid off his body and he scrubbed a hand over his face. "The fuck's going on?" he mumbled.
"Ooh, nice," the spiky-haired one cooed. "Never mind cherry-top here; are you a good fuck? Because I would totally--"
"Ten, close that mouth of yours before I find something to put in it." The other, long-haired guy dug an elbow into Ten's ribs hard enough to make him squeak.
"Okay, okay. You're only jealous because that little tart at the club turned you down."
Valois palmed a hand against his forehead. "Cal, could you just... get him the hell out of my bedroom? Please? We'll join you in a minute."
"Only a minute? Honey, if I had him in my bed, it'd be longer than a--"
"TEN! C'mere!" Cal grabbed a handful of Ten's hair and yanked him out of the bedroom, much to Valois's obvious amusement, and Ten's distress.
"Not my hair! Jeez, you vicious bastard. You know how long this takes to do every day?!"
The bedroom door slammed behind them and Valois sighed, turning to face a bewildered Gunther.
"Welcome to my bandmates," he said sheepishly, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. "I guess they got too drunk for the club - well, Ten did, at any rate - and they were booted out."
"So they decided to pay you a visit at--" Gunther looked at the alarm clock by the bed, "--two-thirty in the morning?"
"Not for the first time. I've had the pair of them crashed out here more times than I've slept here myself, I think. Sorry, I should've warned you."
Gunther shook his head. "S'okay. Just wondered what the hell was going on. I guess we, uh, should make ourselves presentable and go out there?"
"I wouldn't even bother with 'presentable', to be honest." Valois laughed. "They've seen me starkers more times than you've had hot dinners, and you've already given them both a lovely eyeful."
They finally left the bedroom, following the sounds of, well, what could only be described as drunken caterwauling. They found Ten sprawled on the couch, his feet up on the coffee table, hugging an acoustic guitar to his chest, playing and singing. If you could call it singing.
"Oh guiiitaaaaar! I love yooooouuuu, if only because you love meeeee baaaack!"
Cal was crouched at the end of the couch, watching over him and shaking his head. "Jeez, you are so fucking drunk," he muttered.
"Tell me he didn't get papped in that state." Valois rubbed a hand over his eyes with a sigh as Gunther shuffled up behind him, self-consciously covering his crotch with his hands. Cal glanced up and grinned.
"Nah, I got him out the back way. Hey, dude, no need to cover up. You're hot; deal with it."
Valois twisted his neck to glance behind him at Gunther and grinned. "Don't make him blush," he said. "I like it far too much."
Cal's response was a raised eyebrow, and as Gunther couldn't bloody well help blushing, the eyebrow was swiftly joined by a wicked grin. "Ahhh, I see. Been a while since you, uh, indulged those little proclivities, isn't it?"
"Oh hush. Nothing like that."
"Yet." Cal winked, then grimaced as Ten's 'singing' got louder. "Hey, uh, you want me to move him into the conservatory where he can annoy the moonlight or something?"
"Yeah, best do that. It's a warm night, no rain forecast. He can sleep it off under the stars."
"He can hope for a downpour," Gunther remarked. "Might sober him up a bit."
"We can all hope for that." Cal sighed, prising the guitar from Ten's fingers and hoisting him up in his arms.
"You jus' wanna show off me arse," Ten slurred, wiggling said arse as best he could.
"What arse?" Valois gave it a resounding slap, which made Ten shriek. "You ain't got one, pal. Straight up and down with nothing worth poking in the middle."
"I wouldn't say that, exactly," Cal grinned as he carried Ten off into the middle of the house to the open-air sun room.
Valois sank onto the couch, righting the guitar and settling it into its stand.
"I'm sorry about all this," he sighed. "Bit of an eye-opener for you, I guess, but if you're gonna be with me then it's something you gotta get used to."
Gunther moved to sit beside him, tucking his feet up. "I don't mind," he said. "But Ten said you were on the eve of a tour? Does that mean...?"
"Yeah. Kinda. Not quite the eve of it; he's a melodramatic little shit sometimes. We've got a few more weeks of rehearsals yet, but we're going out on the road in about a month or so." Valois cocked his head. "You wanna come? Or does that wife and kid thing mean you can't?"
Gunther opened his mouth to reply, but found that he didn't know what the hell to say.
"I want to," he whispered. "I just... I don't know."
"S'cool. I understand. You'll come to rehearsals though, yeah? I can get you a pass, no problem. And I promise those two won't bother you."
"Yeah, I'll make it to rehearsals." Gunther smiled. "Some of them, anyway. And those two are kind of sweet, really."
"They're kinda quiet, too. It's never a good sign when they go quiet..."
Gunther put a finger to his lips and stood up, tiptoeing on bare feet until he could see into the sun room, peeking through one of the windows. Cal was on the floor, leaning back against one of the loungers with Ten cradled in his arms.
"'m so fuckin' drunk," Ten slurred.
"Yeah, you so are," Cal said softly. "Wish you wouldn't get this bad sometimes."
"It won't be fun in the morning."
"You'll look after me, though," Ten said, with great assurance. "You always do."
"Yeah, I will. I'm always lookin' out for you, you adorable little brat. Mending shit you break, clearing up after your post-boozing puke sessions... always lookin' out for you."
"Love you too, kid. Now get some sleep."
Gunther tiptoed back to the living room and settled onto the couch again. "They're fine," he murmured. "Cal's got things in hand."
"He usually does. Someone's gotta have a sensible head around here. Listen, you want something to eat? It's early, but I could do with something. I can rustle up some breakfast, or I'm sure there's a pizza place still open around here somewhere."
Gunther shook his head. "I'm going back to bed. I'll see you when you've eaten, yeah?" He got to his feet and yawned.
"Ohh, breakfast in bed sounds even better."
"Oh god, not toast crumbs on the mattress..."
"I don't plan on eating food. Bedroom. Now!"