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When Gunther woke he was naked and snuggled up to a fully-clothed body that was holding him firmly, yet comfortingly. Nuzzling his face into the warmth of Valois's neck, he breathed in the incense scent of him and sighed softly.

His head still felt fuzzy; the hangover from his earlier migraine lingering like an unpleasant echo. He couldn't remember much after he'd thrown up. Valois had given him a few minutes alone, then walked in and crouched beside him. A gentle hand had rested on his shoulder, then helped him up. A few sips of cool water, with - again - one pale hand steadying his own shaking hands as he held the glass, then he was guided to the bedroom and - apparently, to judge from the darkness outside the window - he had slept for hours.

"How do you feel, mon cur?" Valois murmured.

"Shaky," he whispered back. "I've not eaten all day. Just had coffee at work, and a whisky with Nick."

Valois turned his head and pressed a kiss to Gunther's forehead. "I know." His voice was tenderness itself. "I wanted to let you rest first, to ease the headache. I did what I could for the pain, so that you could sleep."

"You used magic?"

"Bien sr. While I am not a healer, I am able to assist with things such as headaches by simply drawing the pain out of the body. It is an energy transfer, as with all magic. With the negative energy of pain removed the body is able to re-balance itself." Valois chuckled, the sound warm and amused beneath Gunther's ear. "The human body is a remarkable instrument."

"I suppose I should eat something." Gunther didn't move, despite those words.

"Are you actually hungry at this moment?"

"... no."

"Then water will suffice. Sit up, but slowly."

Carefully and reluctantly, Gunther sat up. His head swam momentarily, but Valois palmed a hand against his cheek and his vision cleared.

"There you are." Valois smiled. "I have found you again. Now here, drink this in slow sips."

"It's just water?" Gunther took the glass, while Valois's hand hovered beneath it, ready to guide or catch it.

"Water, with a little lemon and honey, to cleanse your system. Nothing more than you would drink for a sore throat, mon cur."

The drink tasted like more than that, but not unpleasantly so. It was cool and slightly sweet, and more refreshing than anything he'd ever drunk before. There was magic in it, of that he had no doubt. But he still felt weak and shaky, and he trusted Valois to look after him. After all, hadn't Valois told him he would care for his every need?

"That's it," Valois murmured, and Gunther stared at the empty glass. He'd drunk it all already? Looking up at Valois, he started to speak but closed his mouth when he saw the look of peaceful happiness on his lover's face.

"You really love caring for me, don't you?" Gunther ventured, as the glass was taken from him and set down on the nightstand. "I mean, when you said once that it gave you pleasure to do it, I thought--"

"That it was just a platitude?" Valois kissed him. "No, it was not. To know that you need nothing more in this world than that which I can offer, that I have given you peace and contentment; this brings me the simplest, yet deepest joy."

"It's just..." Gunther bit his lip. "It's not something I've ever come across before, but I wish all relationships were like it. That everyone who needed caring for could find the one person who got the most out of caring for them." He sighed. "That came out all wrong. I'm sorry."

"Non, non, non. I understood." Valois laid back down, pulling Gunther down with him into a tender embrace again. "The world is a selfish place, and few people find such peace. I am a little different, also, having lived far longer and sought such peace for so many years."

"Did you always know you'd find it?"

"One day, yes."

"With me? Did you know it would be with me?"

There was a pause. "For most of my life, no. But, once I became aware of you, then yes."

Gunther looked up. "What do you mean? Became aware of me?"

"When I came to Sunset Valley and saw you," Valois said, gently pushing Gunther onto his back and moving over him. "I saw you one day, not long after I arrived. You were walking through the park with your head down, lost in thought. They were not happy thoughts, and I knew then that I could bring you the peace and contentment that you needed; the love that you craved."

"When was this?"

"About three months before you hosted the party where we met."

Gunther pondered this for a moment, then whispered, "Is that the reason why you gatecrashed?"

Valois smiled down at him, his hand sifting through Gunther's hair. "Yes. The day that I saw you, you reached out to me. You didn't know it at the time, nor was it a physical thing. But, in the Veil through which all magic works, you reached out and begged for help."

"I... I didn't know that."

"Mon cur, how could you know? You were so lost, turning around and around in your head, buried in endless emotional pain. I spent sleepless nights trying to think of a way that I - a stranger to the town - could introduce myself to you, until I heard of the party you always threw at that time of year."

"So you already knew Cornelia and I were fighting? That our marriage was over?"

"Yes, but how could I tell you this without frightening you? You had to come to me naturally, to wish to see me and to talk. To tell me those truths yourself. I cannot force these things. The Veil will not allow it."

"I... I don't know how to feel about that," Gunther admitted. "You... targeted me?"

"Non! Not at all. Dieu, never think that, mon cur. Never! I am trying to explain as simply as I can, for the Veil is not a thing that is easily understood by mortals. Let me try again. You know of destiny, yes?"

Gunther nodded.

"The best way, then is to describe our meeting as destiny. Our relationship was destined to happen, no matter what. I simply knew this before you did, because the Veil told me."

"So you know everything about me?" Gunther whispered. "Every single thing?"

Valois's smile was tender. "No, of course I don't. I know many things, but mon cur I am not you. Only you know all of you. I sense your emotions, your needs, and oftentimes your thoughts. And I sense things that you do not even know that you need. You recall that this morning in your office you told me I always know what to do? That is this sense in action."

"Is that..." Gunther hesitated. "Is that why you like me on my knees? Because you found out I sometimes wanted to do that?"

"I would like that anyway," Valois chuckled, then grew serious. "My darling, beautiful boy. You have more than a simple 'want' to go to your knees. You need to belong. You need the safety of someone else between you and the world; you who must be so strong and make such important decisions in your everyday life. You need to return home and put yourself in hands that take all worries and cares away from you. Your need to submit is at your very core, and it is very, very strong."

"I never felt that, though. I didn't know. It was just something I enjoyed doing sometimes."

"The conscious mind rarely does know, mon cur. It is your rational side. Practical and everyday. Now, tell me of your subconscious mind; of your dreams..."

Gunther coloured up to his hairline, and Valois smiled, touching the backs of his fingers to Gunther's hot cheek.

"Beautiful," he murmured. "Yes, those dreams were not so unaware, were they? Nor, I think, were they such a 'sometimes' thing as you have convinced yourself. At first, while your marriage was in a good place, it was your wife standing over you. And then, when you lost the desire to think of her that way, who stood over you then?"

Gunther could feel himself coming apart again; that horribly exposed feeling that made him feel turned inside out and flayed open. "Anyone I fancied," he whispered. "Anyone I liked the look of."

"And you felt ashamed for thinking that about them, did you not?"

Closing his eyes, Gunther turned his head to one side, clinging to Valois with tears trickling down his face. He nodded.

"And when you saw me?"

"When I saw you... it was you."

"Because the Veil told you that you had found the one who would help, although you did not know it. All those years your dreaming mind jumped from one face to another, unable to settle, and then it was me standing over you."

Biting his lip, Gunther choked down a sob, but Valois just kissed his cheek.

"It has taken your whole life, mon cur, to understand," he murmured. "But now, you are home. I am going to do something now, for a few minutes. It will be like the cage that you are familiar with, but I want to show you what I can give you, all right?"

Gunther could only nod.

"Do not be alarmed. You will feel slight pressure at your wrists and neck. I will not let any harm come to you. Simply lie still and focus on the pressure. It is formed of my will, just like the cage that you have already experienced. Understand that it is home and that you are safe."

The pressure came to his wrists first, like thick cuffs of leather encircling each one. He wanted to raise one hand, to look and see if anything was there because it felt so real. But no sooner had that thought been and gone than he then felt something resting gently against his throat. His eyes flew open, but all he could see above him was Valois's beautiful face, watching him intently.

"No harm, I promise," Valois whispered as the pressure increased just a little. Now it was wrapping around his neck, an inch or so thick, maybe. It was snug, and as he swallowed nervously it tightened almost uncomfortably, loosening back to the snugness as he relaxed his throat again.

"Good boy," Valois whispered as Gunther stared up at him. "Now you will feel a little weight at the front, beneath your chin."

He did, and a moment later he whispered, "It's a buckle." Again, whatever was around his throat constricted just a little, and he swallowed reflexively.

"Yes." Valois was still watching him closely. "It is done. Now, be still and tell me what you can feel."

"I feel... I feel cuffs around my wrists." As he spoke, the constriction of his throat started to feel less alarming, more... comforting.

"Details," Valois gently reminded him.

"I feel leather cuffs around my wrists. Thick ones. And... and a collar. A leather collar buckled around my neck."

"Tell me whose collar it is, boy."

"It's... mine?"

"Who put it on you?"

Again, Gunther swallowed. "It's yours," he whispered. "It's your collar around my neck."

"It is a collar of my will, yes. When it is real and made of leather it will have my name embossed on it, marking you as mine, mon cur. Now, look inside your heart and tell me how this feels."

"It feels--"


Could he? Oh god, he could.

"It feels right... Sir."

Valois kissed him. "Welcome home."

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