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"I don't think I've ever seen you looking so relaxed."

Gunther couldn't keep his eyes from Valois's supine form, as his lover lounged in loose pants, bare feet, and an open shirt on a picnic blanket behind him. Carefully re-baiting his hook, while paying as much attention as he could to not spearing his own fingers, he let his gaze roam freely over Valois's body as they both sat on the small island in the middle of the lazy-flowing river that afternoon.

"Nor I you," came the reply, as Valois wiggled his bare toes in the warm breeze, smiling gently up at him. "Have you caught anything for supper yet?"

"Not unless you fancy sharing a minnow, but I'm getting there. And will you stop doing that thing with your feet? It's adorable, and I can't think of you as adorable."

"Oh? How do you think of me?" Valois propped himself back on his elbows, watching Gunther with interest.

Gunther tested the bait gently. "Intense," he murmured. "Loving, but intense."

"That is a good thing, non? Do you see it as a bad thing?"

"Oh, no. No, it's a good thing. I love it. It's just--" He gave Valois a sheepish grin. "It feels weird when I see you do something cute or adorable. Like it doesn't fit."

"Ahh. Well I am wearing my adorable clothes today, instead of my intense clothes, so I am permitted to be adorable." Valois let his head drop back on his shoulders, turning his face up to the sun, and Gunther just stared at the beauty of him.

"I wouldn't say those clothes are adorable," he muttered. "Fucking hot, more like."

The only reply was a soft chuckle, and he got to his feet again with a sigh, casting out into the slow-moving water where he could see the occasional slap of a fish breaching the surface.

"Le derrière de Gunther Goth dans des jeans serrés n'est pas une si mauvaise vue, soit," Valois murmured behind him, and Gunther turned with a bright blush and a boyish smile, but then his attention was wholly distracted by a bite on the line and he had to return to what he was doing, all the time listening to Valois laughing.

"Shut up," he groaned, becoming more and more aware of the cage as he battled with the fish. "You're messing around with it again. Stop it, or I'll lose our dinner!"

"I cannot help it." He could all-but hear the Gallic shrug in Valois's voice. "It makes your arse wiggle so temptingly..."

"Fine, but not while I'm trying to... ah! GOT IT! Grab the net!"

In one elegant swoop, Valois scooped the landing net under the fish and brought it safely onto the ground. They both looked down as the fish flopped around helplessly, then Gunther knelt and very gently removed the hook from its mouth, resting a hand on its flank as its mouth gaped and its spasms died to stillness.

That's how I feel sometimes, he thought. Out of the safety of my water and on the strange, dry land where I can't breathe as I normally do.

And, suddenly, Valois was there with him. Right there with him, his hand gently cradling Gunther's cheek. Turning his head, Gunther nuzzled Valois's belly, the thought fading almost immediately into a feeling of safety and belonging as that pale hand threaded into his hair.

"You simply need to re-learn how to breathe, mon cœur," Valois said. "And then, unlike our little scaly friend there, you will live as you have never lived before."

"Can we go and sit on the blanket?" Gunther whispered. "I want to... I just need..."

"I know, and of course we can. Let us just secure our dinner, and then I will hold you for as long as you need."

With the fish - which Gunther had to admit was impressive; the biggest he'd ever caught in his life - safely stowed in a bucket, they both settled down on the soft picnic blanket; Valois on his back and Gunther immediately curled up against him, on his side. With Valois's arm tucked around him, holding him close, Gunther could rest his cheek on his lover's shoulder, and finally enjoy the relaxed feeling of being on vacation.

His mind was a churn of questions, from the plane and the cage to the learning to breathe thing, and he didn't even know where to start. Eventually, he settled for 'at the beginning' and voiced the question at the base of that pyramid of curiosity. Or, at least, he tried to.


"Ask it," Valois said, into the awkward silence. "I have been waiting."

"Damn it, you know everything." Gunther's smile was sheepish as he turned his face up to look into Valois's eyes. "Why do you want me that way?"

Well, that was some awkward phrasing right there, Gunther. Way to go.

"By 'that way', I assume you mean on your knees and giving over complete trust to me?"

He nodded.

"Because it gives me the simplest, yet deepest joy to care for you and take the worries of the world from you; to offer you the safe haven that you so badly need." Valois sifted his fingers through Gunther's hair. "Now, may I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"Do you have any doubts about that? Does any of it worry you? Make you feel 'wrong' or uncomfortable? Talk to me of your feelings, mon cœur."

Gunther smiled. "That's three questions." Closing his eyes, he turned his face down until his nose was nuzzled against Valois's chest, and he breathed in that by now so familiar incense scent of him, blended with the warm, sweet air of the afternoon.

"The public stuff," he began. "I worry that people will know, or find out. I mean... I have a reputation to keep up, and the most uncomfortable thing for me is the panic that it will fall."

"You know that I can keep you from this fate," Valois said gently. "If, even inadvertently, anyone discovers any tiny portion of this, I will know and I will ensure they immediately forget it."

"I know you can, but that's such a new concept to me that I can't--" Gunther sighed. "See, I've had ghosts visiting me, and all kinds of stuff like that, but I'm struggling with the whole erasing memories and making people see stuff that never happened kind of thing. I know you're a witch, and I know it's a magic thing, and I don't understand all of that, but--"

The hand in his hair continued to stroke as Valois waited for the rest of his confused outburst, and Gunther began to feel guilty for ever starting this.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm rambling."

"Non. You are answering a question that I asked of you. I wish to know what worries you, so that I might allay those fears. Mon chéri, I would remove those troubles from you, but to do so I would need to begin teaching you magic, so that you could understand its workings."

Gunther opened his eyes and looked up again, something oddly excited fluttering inside him. "Can that be taught? Would you teach me?"

"Of course it can." Valois's smile was tender. "Every mortal has his own magic; he simply doesn't know how to free it. The stronger magic, such as I possess, is inherited, but that too can be trained, and I may pass some of it to others without losing it for myself. Mon chéri, do you wish to learn?"

"I... wow, yes. Really? You'd do that? I mean, don't you have secrets to protect, like the Magic Circle or something?"

Valois laughed, and it was like the sound of bells ringing in a forest. "Oh, my beautiful boy. The magic that I practise is not that of the stage. Tricks and illusions, yes, but the deeper magic is not that which you will ever see performed in return for money or an audience. My magic is time itself, older than the earth and stronger than the rocks beneath our feet."

"I'm sort of learning from the master, right?"

"The grand master, oui. There is none more powerful on this earth than I, and-- Was that your stomach growling, Monsieur Goth?"


Valois chuckled, then held up one hand. "A trick so simple, yet you will never go hungry," he murmured, and something shimmered in his palm, curling up in a golden cloud, before a juicy apple appeared there. Valois handed it over, and Gunther turned it around several times, examining it.

"It's real," he said.

"Of course it is. Freshly-picked, too, and still warm from the sun."

Gunther bit into it, and it was both sweet and slightly tart at the same time. Crunching the mouthful happily, he mumbled around it, "It's gorgeous. How did you do that?"

"Manners!" Valois teased. "Did your maman never teach you not to speak with your mouth full?"

Swallowing quickly, Gunther pulled a small, sorry face. "She did, yeah," he murmured. "Uh, so... how do you do that? Do you summon elements and turn them into an apple, or something?"

Valois looked down at him, a delighted smile curving his lips. "You have a wonderfully-creative mind," he murmured. "That would indeed be a skill, but no; I picked it myself. From the orchard over there, just across the river."

"When? I didn't see you open the picnic basket."

"Just now."

"You picked it just now? But... you didn't move!"

"That you saw, no. I held you in a small suspension of time, which I slipped out of. Then, it is a simple matter to open up a small niche - just enough to slide through - and exit in the orchard. Select an apple and pick it, re-open the niche, and enter the suspension again. Settle back down on the blanket, resume my earlier position, rely on a little trickery and old-fashioned visual magic to cover the sleight of hand as the time suspension ends and you see me 'magic up' a freshly-picked apple for you."

Gunther blinked. "... come again? Suspension? Niche?"

"In the simplest of terms, mon cœur, I stopped time and used what you might call a small wormhole to reach the orchard. Though that is a gross over-simplification and not scientifically-correct, it is, however, language that you will understand, non?"

"I thought wormholes were massive things, crossing vast distances in space." Gunther stared at the apple.

"They are, but the niches that I have the ability to open are... hrm, well the wormhole is the only equivalent word that you would understand. Can you picture time as a closed book?"

"I can picture a closed book, yes."

"Then imagine taking a knitting needle and sliding it between two pages while the book is still closed. The pages are parted in just that small area, and the needle is visible at both the top and bottom of the book, yet the book remains closed. The book is time, and the space occupied by the needle is the niche that I travel along. Does that make more sense?"

Gunther's brows furrowed. "It makes sense with regard to time, but not location. If you'd rowed across the river, walked to the orchard, got the apple and then come back... that would have taken, what? Half an hour? An hour? So, you froze time for that long?"

"Clearly your tutors did not include Relativity as part of your curriculum. Time and space meld together and become space-time. Move through time and you can also move through space. I froze time for perhaps two minutes; the time that it took to select and pick the perfect apple for you."

"I never thought magic lessons would be as hard to follow as physics was," Gunther muttered, biting into the apple again, and Valois laughed.

"Mon chéri, it will all make so much more sense once your lessons have begun," he said. "And I promise they will not make your beautiful head hurt as much as physics clearly does."

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