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CHAPTER 12 ~ REUNION
"Good morning, Mr Goth. Nice weekend?"
"Hm?" Gunther looked up as he walked through his secretary's office at seven o'clock on Monday morning, only to find her already getting stuck into some filing. "Oh, morning, Natalie. Yes, it was... restful." He paused, one hand on the door to his own office, then turned back. "You're in early. Any reason?"
Natalie stuffed a rather thick file into the cabinet, wedging it in with a determined grimace, then pushed the drawer shut. "Oh, just woke up early and felt like making a head start," she said, rather too cheerily. "Would you like coffee and the morning papers now, or once you've attacked your inbox?"
"Best bring it in before," Gunther replied with a wan smile. "Time and tide and business wait for no man. They're no respecters of weekends, either. Oh, and bring my schedule in with you as well, would you?"
"Of course. Five minutes and a cup of my soon-to-be-patented Inbox-Clearing Assistant will be in your shaking little hand." Natalie winked at him, sending him into his office with a grin curving his lips. If there was one reason why he'd hired that woman, it was for her sense of humour.
He set his briefcase down by the side of his desk, hung his jacket on the antique stand just inside the door, and powered up his computer. As he waited for it to sing into life, he shoved his hands in his pants pockets and wandered over to the floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out over Monday morning Sunset Valley.
The door opened quietly behind him and, moments later, the scent of caffeine nosed its way across the room. He turned and beheld Natalie, leatherbound organiser tucked under one arm, cup of coffee in that same hand, and a pile of the day's papers balanced on her other hand.
"I should get you a trolley," he said, taking the newspapers from her and dumping them on his desk. "Thank you," he added, as he took the proffered coffee. "Now, what's the schedule for today?"
Making herself comfortable in one of the chairs that faced his desk, Natalie thumbed through the organiser as Gunther sat down and opened his email client.
"Well, you have a conference call with our offices in Shang Simla and Champs Les Sims at ten." Natalie's perfectly-manicured finger glided down the page. "A meeting about the Simbionics merger at two-thirty, aaaand... Oh! Yes, I almost forgot. The Mayor's secretary left a message after I went home on Friday. Wanted to know if we would be willing to offer some sponsorship for the summer festival this year."
"That's a 'yes' on the last one," Gunther said, wincing as his inbox finally displayed. "Oh god, do these people never sleep?"
"Blessed be the timezone," Natalie laughed. "Should I keep the java coming?"
"You're a saint."
As good as her word, Natalie kept the coffee coming. By the time the conference call was due, Gunther had cleared his inbox, drafted half a dozen letters, given the once-over to the list of new products coming up from the R&D Department, and was sitting back in his chair feeling rather satisfied with himself.
Natalie poked her head around the door. "Brunch?"
At that moment the phone rang and, as he picked it up, Gunther nodded and mouthed, 'the usual'.
Natalie popped back out with a grin and returned fifteen minutes later with a paper bag that oozed the belly-rumbling aroma of a hot toasted cheese and ham panini with roasted bell peppers and red onion. Gunther inwardly groaned, wishing that his counterpart in Champs Les Sims would quit droning on about quotas and annualised hours so he could finish the call and damn well eat something.
At a quarter to four, as the merger meeting broke up over coffee and biscuits, the attendees drifting off to their respective offices, Natalie came back in to gather up the detritus of the discussion, washing up the crockery and re-filing the paperwork. Gunther put down the notes he'd taken and watched her.
"All done?" he asked, when she appeared to be almost finished.
"Not quite." She smiled at him, but she looked tired. "Got to finish that presentation for tomorrow's boardroom shindig. Looks like I'll be pulling a late one."
"I could wing it without the slides." Gunther walked over to give her a hand with drying up the coffee cups. "Or do them myself. Don't worry about it. You were in early enough; get home so your husband can remember what you look like, okay?"
Natalie fumbled a cup, and Gunther hesitated, then took it from her.
"Anything you want to talk about?" he asked softly. "Off the record, that is. And this is Gunther from down the pub after work talking to you now, not Mr Goth your boss."
Natalie sighed. "Well," she mumbled, "things aren't so great at home. Charlie wants me to give up work so we can start a family, and... I'm not really ready for that yet."
"Well I would be very sorry to lose you if that were the case," Gunther said. He wanted, oh god he wanted so badly, to tell her that fuck, he knew how she felt with that whole 'things going to shit at home' situation. But he daren't. Hell, no.
"Do you need to take some time off?" he asked.
"...I'd rather be here, to be honest." Natalie stacked the cups quietly, arranging them so that their handles all pointed neatly in the same direction.
Gunther placed the cup he'd been drying on top of the stack, watching as she neatened that one, too. "Odd, isn't it?" he murmured, "how we bury ourselves in work when things go wrong elsewhere?"
"I'd noticed that, yes." She looked up at him. "You're always here when I get in, and you're always here when I leave. Sometimes, when I drive past late at night, the light is still on in your office or in your suite."
His eyes widened slightly. Shit. I've said too much. I shouldn't have--
She rested a hand on his wrist. "I won't say a word," she said, giving him a warm smile. "I'll just give your words back to you: if you ever need to talk, etc. Okay?"
He gave her a weak smile and nodded. "Okay. Now get out of here so I can work on that presentation."
She smiled up at him and nodded. But, just before she left the room, she turned around. "Hey, boss man?"
"You're good people. Anyone hurts you, they'll have me to answer to." She gave him a fierce look and clenched her fist, then grinned as she closed the door behind her.
At just after 9pm, Gunther leaned back in his chair and yawned. He'd been working on charts and presentation slides for almost four hours and he could swear his eyeballs had dried up. Saving his work, he powered down his computer, then looked around him.
The club across the road was beginning to come to life, the early arrivals queuing up for a chance to cross the red rope barrier. Huge bouncers guarded the doors, and every now and then a faint clamour arose as a black-windowed limo pulled up and some celebrity or other got out. Gunther watched for a while as the cars arrived, disgorged their famous occupants, and left again. He wasn't looking for red hair and tattoos. No, of course he wasn't.
He heaved a sigh. There was no way he was going back home tonight. It still startled him to wake up in that scarlet-coloured room, to the point where it didn't even feel like his own room any more. Valois had taken it over, and everything in it reminded Gunther of him. Which, he knew, was the point.
They had barely left that room all weekend after Valois had turned up so unexpectedly. Cornelia had booked a weekend away at the spa, driving off early in the morning for two days of pampering, and Valois had barely let Gunther leave the bed, let alone the room.
Gunther had lost count of the number of times they'd fucked, but he could still feel the ache of it this morning when he woke up. Valois was not gentle, and Gunther's thighs were stiff and sore; his muscles protesting when he stood up from his desk.
Rockstar Valois was different. They'd fucked once, and Gunther hadn't felt any pain at all. Hell, he'd been so far gone into it that he hadn't even realised until they were finished! He liked the rockstar version, with his crazy friends and his wild lifestyle, his tattoos and love of guitars, and the gold records dotted around his beautiful home, but--
I'm not going crazy. I'm not. I... I don't even know who is who anymore. I have three of them: the rockstar, the bookseller, and... and my beautiful original; the one who saved me. I miss him the most.
His suite of rooms adjoining the office was dark, but as he walked in the sensor switched on the lights; a soft golden glow emanating from the delicate glass tulip globes above his bed. He turned with a slow sigh of relief, then froze.
"Mon chéri," a gentle voice murmured. "I have missed you."
Gunther's hand went to his mouth, clamping down on the helpless whimper that he was sure he was about to make. Oh god, which one is this?!
Valois rose from his supine position on the bed, and Gunther took him in, in a blatant once-over. There were no tattoos or piercings, and the cold face of the bookseller wasn't there. Oh god, was this actually...?
"Where did you go?" Valois was holding out a hand to him, his expression pained and clearly hurt. "I gave you my number after we spent that weekend together, and then heard nothing more from you."
In a heartbeat, Gunther was in his arms and clinging to him, raising his face and silently begging for a kiss that would prove this was his Valois.
It was given with a full heart behind it, and Gunther could feel tears welling behind his lids. They spilled over and he choked down a sob as Valois drew back and wiped them away with the back of one finger.
"Mon chéri, what has happened?" Valois whispered. "Come, get those working clothes off and we shall climb into the sanctuary of this bed, where I will hold you and you will tell me what has happened to make you weep like this."
Gunther could only shake his head, even as he fumbled to undress. Not negating the need to be held; merely trying to show that he was incapable of speech at that moment.
His touch as gentle as a mother's, Valois helped Gunther out of his clothes, and then Gunther pressed against him again.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I... I'll tell you tomorrow. Tonight, just hold me? Please?"
"For as long as you need," came the tender reply, and Valois kissed him again and again and again.