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CHAPTER 42 ~ APOTHEOSIS
I think the term that you mortals use for the situation I just described is 'dodged a bullet'. When Gunther ran from the house I was powerless to stop him. Oh, you might think that I could cast a spell that would root him to the spot or prevent his car from starting, but then you probably have little notion of time and causality.
I had known that the moment I told him of his immortality would cause him great upset, which I will admit is why I refrained from doing so for so long. I had hoped to bind him so closely to me that his desire to be with me overrode all else. But it seemed that I had not accounted for the love a father bears for his child. Hardly surprising, I suppose, given the lack of love in my own childhood.
When he ran I could not move. Not because of some spell, but because for the first time in centuries I did not know what to do. Yes, I could have conjured up something, but my instinct instead was to give Gunther the free rein that a bolting and frightened horse needs. I slipped briefly into the Veil and saw that already it was preparing to receive him; that in his distress he had foolishly driven off without his phone or even a jacket, and the weather was such that he would have died to the world before the night was out. Having only just been told of his immortality, that night was not a good one to try his first experiment in leaving his earthly existence!
I will confess that I was shocked at his distress upon seeing me in the Veil. I was hurt, too. I recognise that it was simple mortal emotion, that he had run and run and put his life in danger to get away from the very... thing that now stood in front of him. I had heard all of the thoughts going through his mind as he drove for hours: the sobs and pleas, the cries of anguish and pain. And, oh, the guilt!
Do not mistake me. I do enjoy seeing Gunther in some small distress and discomfort. It is something of a pleasure for me to watch him whimper and struggle and turn to me for comfort and security. But not to that level, Dieu, non! His distress as he sank to his knees in my home was beyond anything I would wish for him to feel, and it tore me in two.
The Veil, though, is loving and forgiving. It took him down into a healing sleep, giving me time to settle my own emotions so that I could offer him the quiet kindness that he would need. For a while, at least, his master had to become his loving boyfriend again. Only when I could sense him beginning to slip into clinging submission once more did I dare to begin changing my manner with him back to the firm comfort and guidance that he so desperately needs in his life.
And then, later, when he admitted I had lost his trust...
You know, of course, that Gunther's family is everything to him. And I had done worse still to him than force him to one day bury his own son. He knew nothing of the daughter I had given to the Lords in exchange for his immortality, so when I swore to him that I would lie no more—
Yes, my friend. I understand why you look at me in that way. But a lie of omission is not as severe as a blatant untruth. At least, that was my thinking back then. *sigh* Now, however, I am of a different mind.
No matter. I have another chance now, so shall we return to the Veil?
Rising from a deep sleep, Gunther lay quietly and just listened for the longest time. The room around him was lit by a soft golden glow, he was warm beneath comfortable blankets, and he could hear the soft scratching of someone - of Valois - writing with what sounded like a fountain pen.
Slowly, the nib looped and swirled across crisp paper, and in his mind he could picture it: rich black ink and Valois's beautiful, elegant handwriting covering pages and pages. God, he still felt half-asleep, and he closed his eyes again so that he could picture it more clearly.
"Good evening, mine," he heard Valois murmur, as the sound of the pen continued. "Are you enjoying the lucid dreams of the Veil?"
"You're not actually writing?" Gunther mumbled, so loose and comfortable that he forgot the deferential deserved by his master.
Valois chuckled softly. "Yes, I am writing, my boy. But you are experiencing in a small way how the Veil affects dreams. You are seeing what you hear, and most vividly, too. Am I not correct?"
Gunther smiled. "Yes. You have beautiful handwriting, although I don't recognise the language you're using. I thought it might be Latin, but it's not."
"It is based on Latin, but it isn't a language that any mortal can translate. I am writing in the language of the Veil. Furthermore, I am also using the witch's dialect. Neither a fae, nor an elf, nor a were could read what I am writing. Only a witch could do so."
"Do I have a dialect for the Veil?"
The sound of the pen stopped as Valois pondered. "You know, I'm not sure that you do. You are the only human to ever enter it, so it has had no reason to create a human dialect thus far. But I am sure that, if you ask it nicely, it will give you a dialect." He chuckled again. "I suppose yours would be a truly secret diary, for nobody but you would be able to read it."
"I'd love my own dialect," Gunther murmured, snuggling down even more under the covers. "Sounds fun, like the secret diaries and postboxes in the stories I read when I was a kid."
Slowly, the pen began to scratch again. "The Veil has heard you," Valois said softly. "Be patient and you shall have what you wish for."
Gunther opened his eyes. "Really?" He sat up, and only then did he realise Valois really was across the other side of the room, writing at his small desk. He was wearing that gorgeous suit again; the one he'd worn when Gunther swore his earthly promise, and the slow realisation that he'd been forgetting his deference came over Gunther.
Pushing back the covers, he climbed off the bed and got down on his hands and knees on the stone floor. It was surprisingly-warm, given the wintry weather outside, but then he hadn't actually felt cold at all since he'd walked through the door. Not even now, out from under those covers and naked in the room.
Carefully, trying not to scrape his skin, he crawled across the floor on his hands and knees until he'd almost reached his master. Looking up, he saw Valois gesture to the floor by his side and a pile of comfortable cushions appeared there.
Gunther smiled as he knelt on them. "Thank you, Maître."
In reply, one pale hand touched his cheek and then slid into his hair for a brief and loving caress. He tilted his head, the better to allow it access, a contented smile curving his lips. Everything else flew from his mind; only this moment existed. On his knees at his master's side. Home.
The pen hesitated, then scratched another word or two, and finally stopped.
"I think that we are both ready, don't you?" Valois murmured.
Gunther looked up. "Ready, Maître?"
"To finish what we have begun, and what the Veil is waiting for."
~ The promise. ~
Momentary fear stuck Gunther's breath in his throat. When he found his voice again, he whispered, "What will it do?"
Valois's hand sifted and stroked Gunther's hair. "A promise made in the Veil cannot ever be broken," he said gently. "Two creatures thus bound may indeed live apart in the world, but the bond between them will ever be there. It is a deep ache always in the background, driving a constant need to return to each other."
"Kind of like phantom limb pain?" Gunther frowned, and Valois smiled.
"Yes, mine. Something very like that, but deep inside. It is an emotional thing, not a physical one. Like a lost love that will never be forgotten." He kissed Gunther's forehead softly, adding in a whisper, "You know something of that, my darling boy. You understand that pain and longing."
Fighting back tears, Gunther nodded. He still missed Lolita more than he had the words to articulate, and he looked up at Valois, searching his face.
"I made another promise," Valois continued. "One of truth. A Veil promise lasts for the lifetimes of those entering into it. If one dies before the other, that other wanders the earth in a grief you cannot imagine until they, too, die. Most often, the one left behind begs the Veil to bring them to it because they cannot bear the loneliness. But us, my darling boy; we are different."
"We won't die," Gunther whispered.
Valois nodded. "Our promise will be eternal. I am ready to make it, but you must be certain that you are, also."
"I'm never going to do anything more important than this, am I?"
Valois's smile for him then was tender. "No, you are not. Fatherhood, marriage, mortal love; all those earthly things pale into insignificance beside this. No matter how significant they are to you right now, in a thousand years they will be but fond memories."
In a thousand years...
For a moment, Gunther couldn't speak. Then, tremulously, he said, "I'm going to live for those thousands of years anyway. I don't want to do it alone." A long, long pause. "I love you. I trust you. I'm ready."
Gunther stood by the door, shivering at the thought of what Valois was expecting him to do. Go outside? In that snow? Naked?!
Valois's hand stilled on the doorknob, and he turned to look at Gunther. "Trust me," he murmured. "As soon as we leave this house with the intent of the promise in our minds, the Veil will hold us and we will feel no cold. You will kneel in the snow and it will feel like a soft cushion beneath you; nothing more."
"That's how it'll feel. What about how it'll actually be?"
Valois smiled. "It will be the same as it feels. Darling boy, the Veil will not allow you to come to any harm or discomfort. Trust me, and trust the Veil. Do you have any doubts about this?"
Gunther shook his head. "Just, y'know, learning to ignore my own instincts that tell me snow is really bloody cold and going out in it in bare skin isn't a good idea," he said, with a rueful smile.
With a soft laugh, Valois opened the door wide, but instead of the gust of icy air that Gunther expected to feel, there was nothing except the same warmth he'd been experiencing all the time he'd been in Valois's home. That calmed down his nerves, and he smiled.
"Okay," he whispered. "I'm ready."
In reply, Valois walked up to him, leaving the door open. "I must carry you there," he murmured.
"Uh, won't I be too heavy? How far is it?" Gunther's eyes widened as Valois lifted him up into his arms as if he weighed nothing at all.
"There is this little skill that I have." Valois quirked an amused eyebrow at him. "It is called 'magic', you know?"
Gunther buried his face in Valois's neck with a giggle, kissing the soft, pale skin there in penitence as he was carried out into the snow.
With his cheek pillowed on Valois's shoulder, Gunther allowed himself the luxury of gazing up at the hypnotic snowflakes that melted out of existence just before they touched his skin. The night was indigo-black, the stars were diamond points when he could see them between the trees, and the scent of Valois's skin - that familiar incense - was a comforting constant amid the strange beauty of the scene.
Valois stopped in the middle of a clearing that was lit by lanterns similar to those in his home. Mist swirled around his feet above the snow, and Gunther had the uneasy feeling that they were being watched.
"'tis merely the Veil," Valois murmured. "It is both witness to and keeper of our promise. Now, kiss me, darling boy, and I shall set you down."
With his heart on his lips, Gunther kissed his lover and master. His brain was still trying to poke him into thinking the snow would be freezing on his bare skin once Valois put him down, but he snuffed the thoughts out with a little inner snort. He hadn't been cold thus far, after all.
"Good boy." Gently, Valois let him down, holding onto him with one hand cradled behind his head. "This promise is made in silence," he added in a murmur. "I will guide you, as I did before, but aloud this time."
Valois seemed taller again, and Gunther knew it was to comfort him and ease him deeper into his perfect place; the devoted submission of his master's beloved boy.
"On your knees, mine. Hold me as you did before, when we made our earthly promise. The words that we vow here will be different than those we spoke back then. They are not specific to our situation; rather a simple binding pledge."
Sinking to his knees, Gunther barely registered the snow. It was, as Valois had promised, just like a soft cushion under his knees, and he cradled Valois's hips in his hands as he arched his back and gazed up at him.
To his surprise, Valois's eyes were wet, and as a pale hand cupped against his cheek he could feel the fingers trembling finely.
Valois opened his mouth, but nothing came out for a moment.
"I have—" He gave Gunther a shaky smile. "—I have waited lifetimes for this, for you," he whispered. "Forgive me my tears. I cannot find words to express what this moment is to me, nor what your love means to me."
He hung his head briefly, then when he looked back at Gunther he was calm once more. His eyes glittered in the lantern light and his skin gleamed almost as pale as the snow. And, from deep emotion, Gunther realised they had now entered the solemnity of the promise.
It was broken by a smile. "Ready?" Valois whispered, and Gunther smiled back, nodding as Valois began to speak silently in his mind.
~ Before the Veil I make this vow: that I bind myself to thee in the realms of earth and mist, through time and all it brings us to. These words are my promise; let the Veil hold them for eternity. ~
As the words flowed, a green mist swirled out of the trees toward them. Gunther could see it in his peripheral vision, but he gaze was fixed on Valois's face.
"Can you remember that?" Valois whispered. "I will guide you if you falter."
Gunther took a breath, centering himself. And then...
Before the Veil I make this vow, he thought, as firmly and clearly as he could. That I bind myself to thee in the realms of earth and mist, through time and...
"..all it brings us to," Valois said softly.
...all it brings us to. These words are my promise; let the Veil hold them for eternity.
With a soft exhalation, he slipped both arms around Valois's waist as the green mist closed around them. Trembling—though with emotion and not cold—he clung tightly until he felt a firm hand grasp his arm.
"Up, my darling boy," he heard Valois whisper, and without any effort on his part he was rising to his feet. Magic; it had to be magic, he thought as he felt Valois's arms encircle him. He heard a choked sob close to his ear, and then he was pulled crushingly-tight against Valois's body as his lover wept and kissed him over and over.
"Mon amour. Mon tout. Merci. Oh Dieu, je vous remercie."