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CHAPTER 40 ~ THAW

Gunther drew back the heavy curtain and peered outside. Snow was falling thickly, and even the ground beneath the dense forest was now ankle-deep. His car was completely covered and barely discernible amid the white.

"I thought the Veil was this esoteric place that you visited only in your mind, not a physical thing," he murmured, tilting his head to look up, hypnotised by the inexorable falling flakes.

"It is both, and neither," came the reply. Valois was curled up on the couch with a large book, clearly immersed in the words and esoteric diagrams on the pages. The curtain fell back to cover the window and Gunther returned to the couch.

"You're talking physics again, aren't you?" he sighed, sitting down at the other end of the couch. "It is, and at the same time it isn't. Schrdinger's cat, and all that stuff."

Valois chuckled, turning a page. "Would it help to think of it in terms of a dimension that a mortal cannot see?"

"Well... yeah. Still doesn't explain the weather, though. You said something about Ages, too."

"The Veil has seasons, cycles, and Ages." Valois closed the book and put it on the table. Gunther wondered if he'd invite him into his arms, but clearly there was still a distance between them, and Valois wasn't going to push things. "The seasons are Renewal, Heat, Fade, and Death, and they correspond with the earthly spring, summer, autumn, and winter."

"And you were born in Fade?" To Valois's nod, Gunther frowned. "But you said something about Resting Fade. Is that different?"

Valois's smile was tender. "Your curious mind is just one of the many things that I adore about you, mon cur. Would you like me to explain?"

Gunther nodded, feeling lonely. A small, sad little ache had set itself up inside him as he watched Valois so far away at the other end of the couch.

"The seasons are of three kinds," Valois began. "Brief, which lasts for seven months, Long, which lasts for seven years, and Resting, which lasts for seventy years. They cycle through these times consecutively. Thus we have Brief Renewal of seven months, followed by Long Heat of seven years, Resting Fade of seventy years, and then Brief Death of seven months."

"And then it starts again?" Gunther edged a bit closer.

"No, it continues. After Brief Death we have Long Renewal, which is followed by Resting Heat. The seasons turn fully after just over three cycles, and this is what we call an Age in the Veil. An Age is a little over three hundred years."

Gunther was silent for a long time, gazing into the fire. Valois didn't pick his book up again; instead he simply sat quietly, watching Gunther.

"Why do I feel so weird?" Gunther eventually murmured. "It's like something is horribly wrong. You know that feeling? Like... when you've gone on vacation and you can't remember if you locked the front door. You want to fly home again and check it, but you know you're being irrational."

"Mon cur, you are in the Veil," Valois said gently. "It knows that you have bound yourself to me in the earthly realm. It did not expect to see you until you bound yourself to me here. And so it is waiting."

"I didn't mean to come here!" Gunther turned to face him, his eyes pleading. "I had no idea I was--"

Valois held up one hand. "Hush. I know that. Let me explain. But first... would you like to come closer? Hm?" That silencing hand turned to become a welcoming one, and Gunther was flooded with relief. He took it and slid across the couch into Valois's arms.

And, suddenly, everything seemed right again.

"The Veil is where I go when I am away from the earthly realm," Valois murmured, pressing kisses to the crown of Gunther's head and wrapping him up in an embrace that made him feel warm, safe, and loved. "If I suffer hurt or danger in reality, the Veil reaches out and takes me."

"I thought you said you can't die?"

"Oh, I can be mortally-wounded, have no doubt of that. Indeed, I have been, in the past. The Veil brings me home, and here I remain until the world has forgotten my 'dead' self, or until I find a place to move on to."

"I don't want to think about you being killed, even if you come alive again." Gunther shuddered. "But that still doesn't explain why I ended up here."

"Mon cur, you were alone in your car, in clothes unsuited to the weather, with no way of calling for help and with very little fuel left. You would have succumbed to hypothermia within two, maybe three hours and very likely died before the night was out. The Veil knew you were in danger, and so it brought you to me."

"So what is the Veil?"

"It is the Supernatural realm. Mortals cannot enter it at all. Yes," Valois smiled as Gunther looked up at him. "You are the one exception, for you are no longer mortal. Even Supernaturals cannot all enter it whenever they wish. The witches and the fae are the only ones who have access as they need it. The others must wait until the Resting times."

"What season is it now? Are those others here? Who are the others?"

Valois laughed. "Your questioning mind! Let me see. We are in Long Death right now, with approximately two years until Resting Renewal. So, in about two years, the others may arrive here. As to those others, well you know: werewolves, vampires, goblins and pixies, some of the elvenkind."

"Elves?" Gunther chuckled. "I thought those were just Tolkien."

Valois smiled. "Tolkien dreamed of the Veil, I am sure of it," he murmured. "Mortals can do that, you know. There is so much that the earthly realm does not understand, that it ascribes to cranks and charlatans. My kind would have been burned once, and the women ducked into village ponds until they drowned. Witches, contrary to popular opinion back then, do not float. They drown, just as humans do."

"You're like a walking history book. When I think of everything you've lived through..."

"And died through." Valois slid his fingers into Gunther's hair, stroking and tousling it slowly, and Gunther all-but purred as he continued. "Let me see now... I lost my head to la guillotine during the French Revolution. My own fault, apparently, for taking an aristocrat as a lover. I was robbed and stabbed in a filthy back alley in the time of Queen Victoria. And, hm... oh yes. My home - with me in it - was flattened by a bomb in World War Two."

Gunther twisted around to stare up at him. "You've died three times? But... couldn't you have used magic to avoid all of those? I mean, robbed and stabbed?"

"My darling boy, think what happens to those around a man who never ages. They grow old, hm? And yet he remains the same. The time comes when an immortal must move on, and what better way to have the world forget him than to 'die' in the mortal realm? In earlier times it was far simpler to be forgotten. Move across country and - with travel being so rare a thing - those that once knew you would never know that you still lived. In more modern times, however, one's exit must be final."

"Mine almost was," Gunther whispered. "God, I can't believe I was stupid enough to have driven off like that, without even a coat or anything. Mort would have lost his Daddy, and--"

"Hush, mon cur. The Veil would not allow that to happen. You will not 'die' until you are ready to, and that should be when Mortimer is of an age when he might expect his father to leave his life, hm? Mortals can live for ninety years. A hundred, even, and a little beyond."

Gunther looked up at Valois. "But my face won't age, will it? Yours hasn't. And your hair isn't grey."

Valois gave a slight shake of the head and his characteristic little shrug. "Tell them that you are vain and indulged in plastic surgery and hair dye?" he offered.

That earned him a playful thump and a laugh. "They'd never fall for it. I suppose I could always dye my hair grey or something, but a smooth face will look suspicious."

"Ah, it is possible to give the illusion of age, but it is difficult to learn. One lifetime may not be enough to understand its technique."

"Oh well." Gunther sighed, nestling down. "I'll just play on the joke of being the Peter Pan of Sunset Valley."

"Or," Valois said softly, "we could move away. 'Retire' somewhere peaceful where family can only visit rarely. France, for instance. I could maintain the illusion of age for both of us, for maybe a day or so if we had visitors."

Gunther shook his head, not negating that fact; simply unable to comprehend it right now. "I don't know," he mumbled. "If Mort had to travel to France in order to see me he'd want to stay for a week or something. It's a long way to go just for one day."

"Well, maybe something could be done." Valois slid a hand into Gunther's hair, caressing and soothing. "We have a lot of time before that day comes. I will think of something."

Nodding, Gunther smiled, loving that touch. "I think he's got his first girlfriend," he said. "Now that made me feel old!"

"Oh?" Valois chuckled. "It wouldn't by any chance be the daughter of the family he is staying with, would it?"

"Esther, yeah. She's a lovely girl, so I'm happy if Mort's happy."

"Mmm. She is a little like Natalie, you know."

Gunther looked up at him. "In what way?"

"She carries magic within her." Valois smiled. "More than Natalie does, in fact. With training, she would be a formidable witch."

"Does she know that?" Gunther stared at him. "Should she know it?"

Valois shrugged. "If her father does not know - and I have reason to believe he does not, for her mother died young before her abilities could manifest - then how could she know? Without training it may manifest itself on occasion, but those times could be dismissed as 'just one of those things', after all."

"She's a very talented artist," Gunther mused. "Very like Mort. I think they met in art class at school."

Valois watched him for a while, and then smiled. "I think they will be very happy together, if they are so well-suited in their love for art."

"Mmhm."

"Tired, mon cur?"

"No," Gunther smiled. "Just comfortable." He tucked his face against Valois's throat and closed his eyes, breathing in the familiar scent of him, adding in the softest of whispers, "...so comfortable."

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