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CHAPTER 26 ~ ACCEPTANCE

"Uh... Dad?"

"Hrm?"

"Can we talk? Um, about your... uh, about Valois?"

Gunther closed his browser and powered down the laptop, because this was a conversation that deserved his full attention. "Of course we can. Although if you're going to ask who does what again..." He grinned, trying to ease his son's awkwardness.

"I so don't wanna know that." Mortimer sat down on the edge of Gunther's desk. "I just... is he staying away because of me? Only, he came over that first night we moved in here, and it's been almost a week and he's not been back."

Gunther was silent for a moment. "Not because of you, no," he finally said, "but we both thought it would be best if he stayed away for a bit."

Mortimer slid off the desk and wandered over to the chaise in the middle of the room, plunking himself down on it. "But why?"

"Well..." Gunther sighed. "You've had a lot to take in over the past week or so, what with Mum being so ill, and then finding out... everything else. About Mum and me. And about, well, about Valois. So he's not staying away because of you, but because we both wanted to give you a bit of time to come to terms with everything."

"He makes you happy, though, right?"

"He makes me very happy," Gunther said softly, wondering what this was all leading to.

Mortimer sat very quietly for a long time, his cheek pillowed on his hand. Gunther could tell that he wanted to say something, but he waited nonetheless. Now was not a time to push for words.

"I saw you," Mortimer blurted. "I'm sorry!"

"Hey, hey, hey..." Rising from his chair, Gunther went to crouch in front of his son. "Saw us what? And when? And don't feel bad about it."

"That night we moved in here." Mortimer looked utterly miserable. "I didn't mean to spy on you, but after you said to go to bed, I crept back into the hallway. I wanted to look in the boxes in the lounge for my teddy, but I saw the door to this room was open, and I could hear you both talking quietly."

Gunther thought back, momentarily panicked. What had he and Valois been discussing? God, he hoped it wasn't anything that had upset Mortimer! He said nothing, though; merely stroked his son's hair and waited.

"I saw you kissing him." Mortimer sniffed and rubbed the heel of his hand over his nose. "I'm sorry!"

"Mort, listen to me. It's okay, all right? I'm not angry. You're not in trouble."

"You never kissed Mum like that. Not that I saw, anyway."

Gunther closed his eyes. "I did, at first," he murmured. "You were born from love, you know. Not from obligation or an accident. We both wanted you very much."

"Tell me about that time? Maybe just a bit?"

Gunther could all-but feel his son's insecurity bleeding from him, and he settled closer. "Well, you know, when your mum was pregnant with you, I'd play the piano for her. She liked to lie on the couch in the study, with her hand on her belly, and listen to me play."

"I didn't even know you could play the piano," Mortimer said.

"I played when you were very young, but I stopped after a while. Lots of things going on in my life. Work and stuff."

"And things going wrong... with Mum?"

"Yes, that too." Gunther carried on stroking Mortimer's hair. "I've thought about taking up the piano again, but we don't really have room for one here."

"You could get a keyboard thingy." Mortimer picked at the piping around the cushion on the chaise. "It'd fit into the lounge."

"Come on. Out with it, son. What's really bothering you?" Gunther asked gently.

There was another long, painful silence.

"You love Valois, right?"

"Yes, I do."

"And he makes you happy?"

"He does."

"So why is he staying away? It feels like he's avoiding me, or something."

Gunther closed his eyes. "He isn't. Not at all. We just thought it was for the best, for now, but if you're happy for him to come over, then I'm happy too."

"I'm just sick of sad stuff. I want us to be happy again, and if he makes you happy then I want that." Mortimer looked up at his father. "Does that make sense?"

"It makes perfect sense." Gunther smiled down at him. "And thank you."

Mortimer shrugged. "I won't even mind if he kisses you again. Like, even if he kisses you a lot."

"Well, that's good to know." Gunther chuckled. "Because I like kissing him a lot."

"You're still my dad, though. I don't want to know about the icky stuff."

"No icky stuff. Scout's honour."

"You were never a Scout, Dad."

"Fulcanelli."

"Hey, hi," Gunther said softly as Valois picked up the phone, clearly without glancing at the caller name.

"Ah, mon cur!" Instantly, Valois's tone warmed. "My evening is brightened already. How are you?"

"Lonely," Gunther admitted. "Um, listen... I've just had Mortimer calling into my study for a chat. He wanted to talk about you."

"...and?"

"He asked - several times - if you made me happy and if I loved you. When I answered 'yes' to both, he admitted that he was worried you were avoiding him."

"But we both know that is not true!"

Gunther sighed. "I know, and I tried to reassure him of that. Anyway, he wants us all to be happy, and he wants you to visit as often as you like. So... come over?"

"I will be there in a moment."

"Wait! Um, best do it conventionally. No holes in time or anything, y'know? He might be watching from a window."

"Je comprends. I shall arrive on my broomstick."

"VALOIS!"

The only reply was a soft chuckle as Valois cancelled the call.

Sure enough, the first person to reach the front door when Valois knocked some fifteen minutes later... was Mortimer.

"Hi!" he said, tugging the door open and looking Valois up and down. "Oh wow. You brought flowers?"

"Well, a little late to grace a new home, perhaps," Valois said, as Gunther walked up behind his son and rested a hand on his shoulder, "but I do not like to visit with empty hands. Bonsoir, mon cur." He leaned in to kiss Gunther and hand over the red roses, and then he drew back to look down at Mortimer.

"Ah, but you must not be forgotten, either. Hm. A small bird told me that you liked to sketch." He held out a beautifully-wrapped gift that seemed to come out of nowhere, and Mortimer hesitated before taking it.

"You brought me a present?"

"Mais oui. It would hardly be fair to bring something for the father and nothing for the son." Valois grinned at him. "Am I to be left standing on the doorstep?"

Gunther took his nose out of the flowers and smiled, giving Mortimer a nudge. "You said yourself how small the hallway is," he murmured. "Stand aside and let him in!"

"Sorry." Still tearing the wrapping paper off his gift, Mortimer squashed himself against the wall so that Valois could enter and the door be closed behind him. "Oh wow. It's French!" He examined the pack of watercolour pencils and the accompanying elegant leatherbound sketchbook embossed with L'art de Mortimer.

Behind his son's back, Gunther returned Valois's kiss and mouthed 'thank you', with a tender look that promised a more personal thank you later on.

"I took the liberty of sending away to my hometown for them," Valois said, slipping an arm around Gunther's waist. "I had a sketchbook such as that myself when I was younger, and they are still made there."

"Thanks!" Mortimer looked up at him, then winked. "I like you. You can stay."

"Well that's gratifying to know." Gunther laughed. "I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry..."

"Can we send out for pizza?" Mortimer gave him a hopeful look. "Please, Dad? You can't cook for crap."

Gunther's jaw dropped in mock-horror. "Hey, that's--!" he began, but an arm around his shoulder and a kiss to his cheek shut him up.

"If you will allow me free rein in the kitchen, it would be my pleasure to cook dinner tonight," Valois murmured.

"Can you cook?" Mortimer eyed him with suspicion.

"I am French!"

"Okay. You can cook, then."

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