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CHAPTER 38 ~ RUN

"Here's your coffee." Natalie smiled at Gunther as she placed the cup and saucer on his desk beside the photo of Valois that he'd finally been able to put there. "Did you want to go through your schedule before you get stuck into your emails?"

She watched as he took a sip and settled back in his chair with a relaxed ease that she'd not seen in him before. He looked up at her and nodded, so she sat down on the chair opposite him and opened the leatherbound organiser she was carrying.

"Well, Mr Alto has the press release ready for you to look over. The, er, one about... the thing from the meeting. I penciled him in for ten o'clock, if that's okay?"

"Sure." The reply was quiet and somehow contented; a marked difference from how her boss had looked at the end of that meeting. She'd thought he was about to collapse back then, so what the hell had happened in the meantime?!

"Um, I don't mean to pry or anything," she began, "but what's happened? You're so... so bloody zen!" She laughed. "God, sorry. It's just that, after the meeting, I wasn't expecting to see you again for a few days. You looked so stressed, and now you're sitting here like some contented little Buddha, all at-ease with the world."

Gunther raised his cup in a salute. "Meditation," he said. "So I guess you hit the nail somewhat squarely on the head."

"You've taken up meditation?"

"Mmhm. Well, my own version of it. Just sitting quietly and simply being."

"And it's chilled you out this much? Bloody hell, I think I should try it, then."

He just smiled at her, raising the cup to his lips, and she looked back down at the organiser.

"Right. Well, there's also an international call tentatively marked for eleven-thirty, assuming-" she gave him a mischievous grin, "-that you've not slid off your chair by then."

He chuckled, the fingers of one hand idly stroking the side of his neck. "No fear of that. Who's the call with?"

"Oh! Um, it's with our Champs Les Sims office. Sorry, I know Monsieur Henri tends to ramble and I know you're busy catching up on everything, but he insisted on speaking to you personally."

"Not a problem."

"Okay, well I am definitely taking up meditation, then." She laughed. "Normally the thought of talking to him brings you out in hives! Anyway, um... oh, that's about it for today. Afternoon off, maybe?"

Gunther pursed his lips. "Not today. I need to catch up on the backlog of email from the past few weeks. I thought about seeing how Mortimer's getting along, but I'll leave it a couple more days." He chuckled. "He's been staying with a friend of his for almost a week, so most likely he won't want Dad spoiling his fun with a visit."

"Ooh, so you and your man have had the house to yourselves, then?" Natalie gave a wise nod. "Ahhh, that makes sense."

One arched and questioning eyebrow was the response to that.

"Well," she grinned, closing the organiser. "He's a nice subject to meditate on, isn't he?"

To her never-ending amusement, Gunther actually blushed at that, waving a dismissive hand at her. "Go and do some filing, woman!" he chuckled. "Get outta here!"

~ TWO DAYS LATER ~

"Afternoon, Gunther. Nice to see you looking a bit better."

"Hey, Ted. Thanks." Gunther gave Edward Jacobson a broad smile. "I thought I'd call in and see how Mortimer's doing, and to say thanks for taking him at such short notice. I really do appreciate it. Although--" He cocked his head as shrieks of childish laughter emanated from the upper floor of the property, "--if he's proving to be a handful I can soon bring him home."

Ted just laughed. "Ah, he's no hassle at all. He's a good kid, and it's only teenaged high spirits. He and Esther get along famously. Both of them the arty type, y'know?"

"Yeah. I've been looking into art colleges for when he leaves school, actually." Gunther shoved his hands in his pockets and looked around the quiet street before he turned back to Ted, who was still standing on the doorstep and holding the mail he'd just picked up.

"Come in, if you've got a minute. I've got a brew on, and I'm sure Mortimer would like to see his dad."

"Thanks." Stepping into the hallway, Gunther grinned as Ted yelled for Mort to shift his backside downstairs. Moments later, the thundering of two pairs of feet came down the stairs, and then Mort threw himself into Gunther's arms for a hug.

"Hey there. Miss me?" Gunther held him tightly, giving Esther a wink over his son's shoulder.

"We've been roleplaying Dungeons and Dragons!" Mortimer said as he pulled away, his face all smiles. "I got to kill five Orcs!"

"Orcs? I thought those were Tolkien, not D&D." Gunther ruffled Mortimer's hair.

"Shut up. They're our Orcs." Mort poked out his tongue, elbowing Gunther in the side. "Esther's the Grand Witch of Emercale. She's the most powerful witch in the world, and she rules the dragons."

"I'd better make sure I stay on her good side, then," Gunther chuckled. "Hi, Esther. He's not being too much of a pain, is he?"

Esther cast a shy look at Mortimer, then back at Gunther. "No, he's fine," she said. "I'll just magic him into an hour of being quiet if he gets annoying, but he's not been too annoying yet."

"Well now, that's got to be a useful skill to have," Gunther murmured, watching them as they both headed into the living room, their heads together, whispering. He raised an eyebrow at Ted, who grinned.

"Aye, I know what you're thinking, and it's crossed my mind, too. Are you okay with that? I can nip it in the bud, if not."

"I'm fine with it. Esther's a lovely girl. I just feel really fucking old all of a sudden!"

"I know what you mean. I aged about ten years when my eldest got her first boyfriend. C'mon, I'll make you a cup of tea."

"I, uh, saw the paper this morning," Ted ventured as he poured hot water into the teapot. "I guess both commiserations and congratulations are in order?"

Nick had done a masterful job with the press release, that was true. It had hit the front page of the Sunset Valley Herald, and the media coverage of the divorce had been altogether positive, with the Herald even going so far as to write an opinion piece hailing Gunther's coming out as a positive step and calling him a role model. That had both amused him and pleased Natalie when she'd waved the morning papers under his nose at 7:15am.

"Thanks," Gunther smiled, glancing behind him to where a noisy game of Skate was ongoing in front of the TV. "It's been a difficult year for me. Well, a difficult few years, really, but this year has been especially hard. I don't know what I would have done without my partner."

"Mortimer's mentioned him a few times, especially what a good cook he is." Ted chuckled. "Seems your fella has really made an impression on the lad. I suppose the press will be trying to get photos of you both out and about together now." He tsked, stirring the leaves in the pot. "Bloody intrusive paps."

"I did think about that, actually." Gunther leaned back against the counter with a grin as he heard Mortimer's groan at losing a level. "Thought it might be a good idea to have some official photos done, so the press have something to use. Though that's not to say it'll stop the paparazzi. They'd sell their fucking grandmothers for a shot of me kissing a guy."

"You could always pre-empt that by making it one of the official shots. You want sugar with your tea?"

"Just milk, thanks. Yeah, that's not a bad idea, actually. And hey, changing the subject a bit: you know that I mentioned I was looking at art schools for Mort? While I was doing that I found some information about a kind of summer camp for young artists. I'll email you the details, because I think it's something Esther might like to go on."

"Especially if Mortimer's going, too." Ted handed him a cup of tea with a grin.

"Well yeah, there is that." Gunther chuckled as Mortimer lost yet another round.

"Valois? You home?" Gunther called as he let himself into the house on Water Lily Lane, setting his briefcase and car keys down on a side table.

"Bedroom," he heard Valois say, and with a smile he headed in that direction, shouldering out of his jacket and draping it across the back of a chair.

Valois was lounging on the bed, blinking sleepily up at him, and Gunther perched beside him, bending down for a kiss.

"Sorry," he murmured. "Were you having a nap?"

Valois shook his head. "I was walking in the Veil all morning while you were gone. It leaves me a little disoriented when I'm pulled out of it. Come here." He pulled Gunther down into a close embrace, kissing him.

"What's it like there?" Gunther mumbled against the warmth of Valois's throat. "Can I see it?"

"Humans are not allowed in the Veil." Valois nuzzled his hair. "You, however, are different. You are bound to me, and I am the only Supernatural who could get a human into the Veil."

"You're kind of a big thing there, huh?" Gunther grinned up at him, receiving a smile in return.

"Mon cur, I think you do not realise just what I am in the Veil," Valois said softly. "I am not only a powerful witch; I am the most powerful witch. There is no other that can do what I can do."

"What can you do?"

"My darling, innocent boy." Valois pressed a kiss to Gunther's forehead. "I am outside time and death. I walk where no other can."

"Outside time and..."

Outside death?

"You mean... you mean you can't die?"

"That is precisely what I mean, mon cur. How else did you think I had lived for so long, hm?"

Gunther felt something welling up inside him: a deep and terrible fear that threatened to consume him.

"I don't want you to be alone," he whispered. "And you will be alone, one day. I'm not getting any younger. You'll have to--" He swallowed, realising he was clinging. "You'll have to bury me one day."

Valois closed his eyes and was silent for the longest time. Then, eventually, he murmured, "No. No, I won't."

Slowly, Gunther levered himself up onto one elbow and looked down at him. "Explain?"

Another long silence bloomed in the air between them, pushing them apart a little. And then:

"You cannot die, either."

"What?"

He saw Valois's hand go to the ring that he always wore, twisting it slowly around and around his finger. Valois still hadn't opened his eyes as he whispered, "You, too, are immortal."

Gunther sat up, staring at the wall. "This is a joke, right? You're kidding me. That... that can't just happen."

"It has happened."

"It was a spell or something?" Slowly, Gunther edged away from Valois, his heart racing. Oh god, what the hell is happening? Why didn't he TELL me this?!

"Something, yes." Valois's fingers were now twisting the ring over and over, and Gunther's eyes were drawn to it. He'd never seen Valois this agitated. His face was calm, but those fingers on that ring belied his emotions.

And then, then the realisation hit Gunther like a brick wall at 100mph.

"You... you did something to me. You didn't even ask me. And now... oh god. Oh my god. I'm going to have to watch Mortimer get old and..." Stunned, he crawled away from Valois across the bed, whispering, "I'll have to bury my own son! How the hell could you do that to me?!"

He'd reached the edge of the bed and slid off it onto his hands and knees on the floor, unconsciously putting space between himself and what Valois had done, between himself and Valois.

Finally, Valois opened his eyes and held out one hand. "Please hear me," he said, so softly that Gunther could barely make out the words. Valois's pale hand was trembling, and that frightened Gunther even more. Never in the year that he'd known Valois had he ever seen his lover so uncertain, so out of his usual assured depth.

"What could you say to me to make me forgive this?!" he groaned, hauling himself up onto his feet and leaning against the wall. "You've done this... this thing, and now I'll have to do what no father should ever have to do. You did it without thinking, without asking, without caring! I can't... I can't..."

And, with that, he bolted.

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