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CHAPTER 25 ~ SAFE

"Bit small, isn't it?" Mortimer eyeballed the FOR SALE sign in the garden of the bungalow as Gunther parked the car outside early the next morning.

"Suits two young gentlemen on their own, then, doesn't it?" Gunther killed the engine and grinned at him.

"Pfft! You're old!"

"Brat. Get your arse out of this car so we can take a look inside."

After getting out, he locked the car and they stood on the path, looking up at the admittedly-compact home with its odd flat roof and ancient doors.

"Well, it's in a great location," Gunther said, hopefully. "Edge of town, open fields opposite, and a huge plot of land to expand on, if we want to. Oh, and hey, look! Vegetable garden, already planted!"

"But it's only temporary, right?" Mortimer looked up at him.

"Hrm." Gunther palmed a hand to the back of his neck, looking at the sign. "Well, I'd planned on buying it, actually, not renting. I've been considering investing in some property for some time now..."

"You just want a love nest for you and your boyfriend to hide away in. I'M GOING!" Mortimer ducked his father's playful swat, running through the gate and coming up short at the door.

"Yeah, you're not getting in without this, now are you?" Holding up the key, Gunther approached, readying his other hand with a wicked grin.

"I'm too old for a spanking. Cut it out!"

Gunther laughed. "Just kidding. Here." He gave Mortimer the key. "You do the honours."

"I take it back," Mortimer said, once they were in the hallway. "It's not 'a bit' small; it's tiny!"

"Compact and bijou, as the estate agent described it." Gunther opened the door to his right and smiled. "Now look. See?" He walked inside. "This is a huge room!"

"It's all brown."

"There is such a thing as 'paint', son. Try that room on the left."

"Oh hey, this one's kinda blueish. That can stay. Can I have this for my bedroom?"

"Bit big for one young man to rattle around in. I think that can be the lounge. C'mon, let's look at the rest of it."

They wandered through the house, with its clean and homely little kitchen and its slightly-dingy bathroom. And then Mortimer opened the final door.

"My bedroom!" he exclaimed, running into the small, blue/grey-painted room.

"Is it big enough?" Gunther peeked in. Bathroom-excepted, it was the smallest room in the house.

"Sure it is! I could have my bed here. And my desk could go there. Hey, wait a minute. There isn't a bedroom for you, is there?"

"I'll take that big brown room that you don't like."

Mortimer grinned at him. "Bit big for one not-so-young man to rattle around in."

"Bedroom and study," Gunther reminded him. "I need to inventory what we can get from the old house and what we'll need to buy new."

"Just as long as I get my teddy and my bed, I'm fine."

Gunther ruffled his son's hair, earning himself a grimace, and looked around. "So. Shall we call this one a 'yes', then?"

Mortimer nodded. "I like it. I could live here."

"Me too."

One quick phone call and a drop-in to the estate agent's later, and SOLD was being pasted over the FOR SALE sign. The sellers were so grateful for such a quick payment-in-full that they knocked a couple of thousand off the asking price, which appealed to Gunther's bargain-loving heart. And now, he stood outside his new home, opening the trunk of his car while the engine of the moving truck clanked as it cooled beside him in the late afternoon sunlight.

"MORT!" he hollered. "Quit dancing around your new bedroom and come help me unload the car!"

"Here. I'll help."

He froze as a pale hand raised the trunk lid and reached inside to take the first small box of belongings.

"Oh god," he whispered. "I... I'm sorry. I've been so busy. I--"

"Hush." Valois smiled at him. "You've had a lot on your mind, mon cur. I'll not deny that I've missed you, but right now we have to get you moved in to your new home."

"I'm here!" Mortimer skidded to a halt as he rounded the truck and saw Valois. "Oh."

Gunther and Valois exchanged looks. Right then, Gunther thought. The introduction comes sooner rather than later.

"This is Valois," he said gently. "Valois, this is Mortimer. My son."

"Pleased to meet you, Mortimer." Valois smiled at the boy. "I would shake your hand, but my own hands are rather full." He gestured with the small pile of boxes that he was carrying.

"Hi." Mortimer looked him up and down. "I like your hair. Do you dye it?"

Rolling his eyes and grinning, Gunther ducked back under the trunk lid, leaving Valois to field the Hundred Questions. That had gone considerably better than he'd dreaded it would.

Between them, they unloaded the car and most of the moving truck before night fell. Gunther and Valois took the heavier items, while Mortimer ferried the lighter stuff. Mort hovered in the hallway as Gunther's double bed was carried in, with many a "be careful" and a "mind the ceiling light!", but he didn't know what Gunther knew: the bed weighed next-to-nothing, thanks to a little assistance from Valois's magic.

Finally, the last of the items was in the house. There were boxes and crates piled up everywhere, but the moving truck and the car were both empty, and Mortimer flopped onto the double bed with a huge sigh.

"I ache!" he moaned, and Gunther laughed.

"Go and have a bath and get some rest. I'll call your school in the morning and make arrangements to have your stuff brought home."

"Do I get some time off before I have to go back to school here?" Mortimer propped himself up on his elbows, giving his father his very best wheedling face.

"A couple of weeks, maybe. Depends on how long the application process takes. Now get in that bathroom. The soap and things are in a box in there. Just make sure you hang the towel over the rail!" he called, as Mortimer left the room.

"He'll leave it in a soggy heap on the floor, I know it." He sighed, turning to face Valois. "I missed you. Why didn't you come to the hospital?"

"I did." Valois slid both arms around Gunther. "They told me 'immediate family only' and so I went home. I knew you'd call me or come to see me when you were ready to."

Gunther leaned against the inexpressible comfort of him, resting his cheek against Valois's chest and closing his eyes. "I'm sorry. I should have called," he whispered.

"You had your family to worry about, and then finding a place to live. Had you been alone, I would have offered you my home, but that would not have been fair to your son."

"I let him down so badly." Gunther nestled closer, as if he could burrow inside Valois and ease all the guilt and pain. "I even forgot his birthday. God, I can't believe I did that."

"Hush." He felt lips brush across his temple, and he smiled.

"You always make me feel better," he murmured. "Will you stay over tonight?"

"I think, mon cur, that for the sake of your son I should not do that so soon. You have only recently told him of us, oui?"

Gunther nodded. "Yesterday evening. We spent the night in the family room at the hospital. He'd travelled all the way down from boarding school and he was exhausted."

"How did he take it?"

"Surprisingly-well. So well, in fact, that I'm waiting for the catch." Gunther sighed.

"He has an old head on young shoulders. I sense this in him. I think there will be no catch, and I think he will be content to see his father happy, even though his mother is unwell."

"You heard what happened?" Pulling away slightly, Gunther looked up at him.

"Sadly, lips were not sealed at the hospital. The local newspaper had it on the front page yesterday. The whole town knows that your wife is mentally unstable and has been committed to a secure unit. I am sorry to bear such sad news, mon cur."

"Shit," Gunther whispered. "Can't you... can't you do that thing where you make them forget?"

"I could, but is that fair to her? Or to you and your son?"

"I guess not, no. I'd just do anything to stop Mortimer from getting hurt."

"You're his safe harbour, I know."

"As you're mine. God, I love you." Gunther raised his face, and Valois kissed away all of the guilt and pain.

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