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CHAPTER 16 ~ HOME
"I would've thought you'd be used to flying," Gunther teased as they stepped off the tram and into the warm afternoon sunlight of Champs Les Sims. "I mean, don't you have a broom to fly on, or something?"
Valois just looked at him. "Of course, but it does not fly to thirty thousand feet."
Gunther blinked, then caught the glint in Valois's eye and nudged him, provoking both of them into a fit of laughter that turned the heads of those walking past.
"Evil!" Gunther shook his head, wiping his eyes. "Absolutely fucking evil. So... where are we staying? Did you book us a hotel room?"
"Non. I have a home here, though I have not returned to it for several years. I pay someone to air the rooms and keep it fresh, though, so I thought it would be a romantic and relaxing place to spend our time at while here. And there is a river close by. Do you fish?"
"Papa showed me how to when I was a kid, but I haven't done it for years now. Too busy working." Gunther palmed a hand to the back of his neck and looked around. The town was small and peaceful, sunlight streaming down and birds wheeling overhead on updrafts of warm summer air.
"God, what a beautiful place," he sighed, turning to look at Valois with a happy smile.
"I am home, and I have you with me," Valois said simply. "It is the most beautiful place in the world, because of that."
"You'd better get me to this house of yours," Gunther said. "Otherwise I'm going to shock the residents of this sleepy little place by kissing your face off in the middle of the street."
"Alas." Valois's lips twitched. "My broom will not carry two people. Will a taxi suffice?"
With a muffled snort, Gunther stepped to the kerb and raised a hand as a yellow taxicab drove into view with its 'For Hire' sign lit up. The car slowed for them and popped its trunk so that Gunther could load his luggage inside.
He'd been a little surprised that Valois had no suitcase with him, as had the young woman at the airport check-in desk, but Valois had reassured both of them that he had clothes aplenty in France. Gunther suspected that reassurance was more for the check-in girl and the ubiquitous armed policeman standing nearby than for himself. He was fairly certain that Valois's skills included manifesting different outfits at will.
They sank into the back of the taxi, and Gunther closed his eyes as he listened with a smile to the familiar exchange of, "Where to?" and its reply... except in French. He didn't think he would ever tire of hearing Valois speak in his native tongue. His own ability with the language was limited to schoolboy French that he had mostly forgotten, but he found he could understand far more of it than he ever learned back then. Maybe it was a kind of osmosis from being around Valois so much?
The drive through the sleepy town of Champs Les Sims was slow and comfortable, almost a sightseeing tour, and - despite his tiredness from the flight - Gunther wanted to see everything. As they drove, he tried to guess which of the houses belonged to Valois, but every time they kept moving past his guesses he wondered how many houses were left, because they were running out of town.
They reached the outskirts, having driven over a bridge that spanned the sleepy, slow-moving river. Two or three more-isolated houses on the waterfront later, and then a long drive up a gentle slope dotted with a couple more homes. And suddenly...
"Oh my god, Valois. Seriously?!"
Valois chuckled. "Oui, seriously. I may have forgotten to mention that I am, how shall we say, not exactly short of money?"
"You have got to be kidding me," Gunther said, as he stepped out of the taxi and Valois paid the driver. "It's a castle! You live in a fucking castle!"
"Well, sometimes I do." Valois hefted Gunther's suitcase out from the trunk of the taxi and set it down on the ground. The cabbie drove off and Valois pulled up the handle on the case. "I haven't returned for many years, although I called ahead, so the kitchen will be well-stocked and there will be fresh sheets on all the beds."
"Best news yet." Gunther turned to wink at him. "Although, with this much money, I don't know why you took that small home in Sunset Valley when there are some beautiful ones up on the hill overlooking the ocean."
Valois shrugged. "Since there is only me, what use would there be in having a mansion? I have one here, and that is far too big for me, though I adore it and have spent many happy hours here. For all that," he sighed, "it has been empty for too long. One of many reasons why I moved away, I suppose."
"Well, I'm sure we'll fill it nicely while we're here." Gunther took Valois's hand and leaned in close to whisper, "How about we fuck in every room, just for starters, hm?"
Valois chuckled and squeezed his hand. "You've been counting windows already? I fully endorse that idea. Come along, let's go inside."
The entryway was exquisite, panelled in pale marble and blue. Ornate bracketed wall sconces lit the room with artificial candlelight, and a huge staircase rose in front of them. To his left, through a huge marble archway, Gunther could see a large room - decorated in the same tones as the entryway - with couches pushed against the wall and a bare wooden floor. A ballroom? To his right, what looked like a dining area.
"Perhaps a post-flight snack before we begin to christen each room?" Valois teased. "My housekeeper always has coffee and fresh pastries waiting for me whenever I return here."
On cue, Gunther's stomach growled, and he gave a sheepish grin. "Much though I'd like to get on with that christening, I have to submit to your wisdom there. I'm fucking starving."
"I aim to be the perfect host." Valois took Gunther's hand again. "Leave your suitcase here. We can pick it up later. The kitchen is this way." He tugged gently on Gunther's hand, leading him to his right.
Yes, it was a dining area all right, but what an example of one it was! Huge, panelled with old stone and the most exquisite, exotic wood marquetry, with a long table and many chairs, and Egyptian sculptures all around.
"You've been to Egypt?" Gunther asked, as they crossed the inlaid wood floor towards a set of double doors.
"Once or twice. I had the privilege of accompanying Monsieur Champollion on one of his expeditions. Some of these antiquities date from that time in my life."
Gunther stopped in his tracks. "Champollion? The man who made the first translation of the Rosetta Stone?"
"Oui." Valois turned to look at him. "Mon cœur," he said softly. "My life is measured not in decades, but in centuries, so yes I was in Egypt in the 1820s."
Gunther had no words in response to that. Instead, all he could do was close the gap between them, wrap his arms around Valois, and hold him. Returning the embrace, Valois kissed the side of Gunther's neck, whispering, "Je t'aime. Do not be sad."
"You said your life was measured in centuries," Gunther said ten minutes later, after a few mouthfuls of an exquisitely-sinful French pastry and a couple of sips of the best coffee he'd ever tasted. "I didn't know that witches were so long-lived. Vampires, yes, but not witches."
"And you would be right. This witch, however, is different." Valois heaved a sigh. "Perhaps I will tell you about it someday, but it began before I was born and I had no say in the matter."
Glancing around the kitchen - which was large, but much less opulent than the rest of the house - Gunther let his gaze rest on a portrait of Valois in the small alcove where the breakfast table nestled. On the walls either side of it were two strange circular symbols, looking for all the world as if they were standing guard over it.
"What do those mean?" He gestured at them with the pastry before biting off another mouthful.
"Hrm? Oh, those are the Maori symbols of longevity. I found them in a tiny souvenir place when I was in New Zealand, and thought them rather aptly amusing."
Gunther took another sip of coffee, then grinned. "I'm surprised you don't have an horrifically-aged portrait in the attic."
"Ah, well there are several portraits of me extant in the world," Valois mused. "But none in such a condition. Let me think. One is in the vineyard house here in Champs Les Sims. Another somewhere in a palace in London. A third is--"
"In a palace?"
"Mmhm." Valois looked at him over the rim of his coffee cup, his eyes glinting.
"You get around, don't you? Egypt, New Zealand, London, Sunset Valley..."
"What else is there to do when one has a surfeit of ennui? Travel at least changes my surroundings. It can be somewhat dull seeing the same walls around you for centuries."
Gunther began to reach for another pastry, then stopped himself. With a smile, Valois picked it up and put it onto Gunther's plate anyway. "They have to be eaten tonight, or they will be stale tomorrow."
Oh. Well, in that case...
Gunther picked up the fresh pastry and bit into it contentedly, watching as Valois dipped the end of a croissant into his coffee and finally began eating.
"So, which is your favourite out of all the places you've been in the world?" Gunther asked. "Is there anywhere you didn't like?" He paused. "Shit. Sorry. I'm full of questions."
"It's fine." Valois briefly rested a hand on Gunther's wrist. "My favourite place? That would be anywhere you are. As to my least-favourite... that would be the place where I grew up."
"You're flattering me," Gunther mumbled, but nonetheless he felt warm and happy inside. "Did you want to talk about... that?"
Valois sipped his coffee, his gaze on Gunther's face. "Now why would I want to spoil such a perfect moment as this, hm?"
That bad, huh?
"Oui," Valois whispered. "That bad."
The pastry hesitated, halfway to Gunther's mouth, and he put it down on the plate again. "Uh, look... this is kind of awkward and difficult to say... but can you read my mind or something? I mean, several times now you've answered questions that I've only asked in my head."
Valois studied his plate for a long moment, then replied, "I have some small skill in the matter, yes." He looked back up, his gaze bright and piercing. "Does it upset you? I do not mean to intrude, but sometimes your thoughts are so clear..."
"Well, I sort of wondered as much when I first visited you at your house in Sunset Valley. When you told me my thoughts were loud enough to make your head hurt. I thought it was just a figure of speech or something."
"You have not answered my question, mon chéri," Valois said softly. "Does it upset you?"
"It's... weird, but no. Not really. I, um." Gunther could feel a blush rising on the nape of his neck, and the grin that was curving Valois's beautiful mouth wasn't helping with that.
"Yes," Valois murmured. "It has its advantages in that I can second-guess you when you are under my hand. Is that why you blush, mon cœur?"
Gunther could only nod and offer a sheepish smile.
"How is the cage?"
Gunther hadn't really thought much about it in the hours since they got off the plane and made their way to Champs Les Sims. "It's... there, but it's not uncomfortable. I can feel it, but I'm sort of used to it?"
"Good." Valois seemed genuinely pleased at that. "We can add other things later. Now, once we have finished our coffee, do you wish the cage to remain in place while we begin to christen the house?"
Other things?! "Uh... Well, maybe? But not all the time, right?"
"Then we shall strike a deal. I will remove it every third room and replace it thereafter for another three rooms."
Gunther stared at Valois. "Just how many of these rooms are you planning on christening tonight?"
"Oh, just the one." Valois's eyes gleamed at him over the rim of his coffee cup. "Maybe two tomorrow, so then the cage will be released for the fourth room, and replaced on the fifth."
"Wait a minute! You mean I have to go for three fucks without--"
Part of Gunther felt uncomfortable at that. Another part of him whined that it wasn't fair. But a third - admittedly much smaller - part of him curled up and hugged itself happily, so he tried his damndest to focus on that part as he whispered, "All right."
The smile that he received in return was worth it, as Valois palmed a hand to his cheek and leaned across the kitchen counter to kiss him. "It will be worth it, I promise," he murmured. "You have never experienced such a sense of belonging and home as you will experience under my hand, mon cœur. This is my promise to you."