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CHAPTER 59 ~ HEALING
Gunther hadn't been too worried when he'd not heard from Valois during his working day, but when he got home only to find his lover still wasn't back, doubt began to gnaw at him.
He'd cooked dinner for himself and Mort, plus an extra helping for Valois, but as the day waned towards sunset, he turned the oven off, covered the extra plateful, and placed it in the fridge. Mort refrained from asking where Valois was, for which Gunther was profoundly grateful, but he noticed his son's anxious gaze landing on him more than once as he paced the house, looking for things to take his mind off his increasing worry.
Eventually, Gunther decided to head into the garden, crouching down to weed the small vegetable plot. The setting sun was golden warm on the earth, and the simple task—so reminiscent of the tasks he performed for his master—soothed him... to a point.
He'd just tugged out a particularly tenacious dandelion, when he heard a faint hissing sound behind him. He froze. He'd never heard of snakes being found in the suburban areas of Sunset Valley before, but there were foxes aplenty, and wild deer sometimes nosed their way out of the surrounding woods near his home. There was no reason why snakes wouldn't be found here; he was, after all, on the very outskirts of town.
There it was again. Slowly, he rose to his feet and turned, trying not to startle whatever it was into biting him. He checked the ground closest to his feet first of all, in case he needed to run, but there was nothing. Nothing anywhere.
"Hsst! Up here!"
Okay, well snakes don't talk. That much I do know.
He looked up into the apple tree... and blinked. Something small and white and shimmering was hovering in the branches closest to the trunk.
"Can you hear me?" it said, in a faint and silvery voice. Then, it sighed. "Oh, Gaia. You humans are such huge and lumpy creatures, and your hearing is terrible."
Slowly, it fluttered to the ground, then grew in size. Gunther took an awed step back as it floated towards him, its huge white wings pulsing softly.
"Okay," he said, nervously. "I, uh... you're from the Veil, right?"
"I am." This time, he could hear the creature's voice perfectly clearly.
"And you're... a fairy?"
"A fae, not a fairy." The creature raised an eyebrow. "Just as your aeternus is a witch, not a wizard. My name is Elsanine, and I have a message from him."
"From Valois?" Now Gunther stepped forward again. "What's happened? He said he wouldn't be long, but he's been gone for ages. I've been worried sick."
"He is... hm. How to put this so that you will understand it? He is... not quite ill, but he is in need of healing, and that will go much faster if you are there with him. You must come with me into the Veil."
"But my son—"
"Already taken care of. He is no longer in the house. You drove him to his friend's home, there to spend the week, not some half of a mortal hour ago. Now, come closer. I need you within touching distance for the binding aura to work..."
The snowy silence of the Veil was as familiar and comforting as Valois's arms, and Gunther followed Elsanine into the large building that loomed up before them.
To his surprise, Natalie greeted them, hovering anxiously by a curtained area in the... well, it looked a bit like a hospital ward, but it was like no ward Gunther had ever seen. The flowers in the room were alive and growing up the walls and across the beds, not sitting in vases, and Gunther recalled what Valois had told him about being close to nature when replenishing his magic.
Natalie stared at Gunther, then at Elsanine. "My mum told me no mortal can get into the Veil," she murmured, as Elsanine drew back one of the heavy silken curtains and gestured inside.
Gunther went into the small room beyond, stifling a sharp intake of breath as he saw Valois lying in the bed, surrounded by flowers and ferns, with his hands resting in two stone bowls of clear water.
"This mortal is different," he heard Elsanine mutter. "Different in that he is not."
"Huh?" Gunther could picture the confusion on Natalie's face, but he was too busy worrying about Valois. So quiet and so still. Maître? Can you hear me?
An elegant wooden chair was drawn up beside the bed, and he sank into it, leaning forward to stroke Valois's hair and look down at his beautiful face, paler than he'd ever seen it.
"That is exactly what he needs," he heard Elsanine say softly. "Without your presence, the healing might take days; with it, perhaps he will be up and about by tomorrow."
"What happened?" Gunther asked hoarsely. He'd thought Valois was indestructible. Seeing him like this was both shocking and frightening.
"He almost entirely depleted his power saving your friend's life," Elsanine replied. "Her magic is anomalous, and was so loose and unchecked that it would have begun to consume her within a matter of hours. We had to work together to save her, and Valois needed to reach into the highest levels of his craft to do so."
Elsanine perched on the end of Valois's bed, while Natalie stood by the curtained arch, a mixture of guilt and worry on her face.
"Most magical levels only drain a witch's power to a certain point, before the power ceases to flow," Elsanine continued. "Think of it as a kind of failsafe; a kill switch. It prevents the witch from going too far. Crystal magic is different. It's very dangerous, and no witch reaches for it unless they absolutely have no choice. It drains their power indefinitely, to the point of death if a powerful healer is not present to reverse it. Valois gave almost everything he had, and only his immortality saved him."
Oh shit. Slowly, Gunther turned his head to look at Natalie. She was staring at Valois, her mouth open in a perfect little 'o' of astonishment. Then, she stared at Gunther, and her mouth opened a little more as she clearly finally understood Elsanine's cryptic words of a few minutes before.
"That's how you got into the Veil?" she whispered. "You're both immortal?!"
Gunther winced. "That... was not a conversation I planned on having with anyone," he said, his voice strained. "Yes, we are."
"Oh my god." Natalie reached behind her, grabbed a chair and swung it around so she could plunk herself down in it. "How?"
Gunther shot a look at Elsanine, who simply smiled at him. How much did this fae know about what had happened?
~ I know all. Valois and I go back centuries together. He is my dearest friend here in the Veil. ~
Gunther lowered his gaze and nodded faintly. You hear me, here?
~ Of course. ~
Then forgive the lie I'm about to tell. She mustn't know the truth.
~ A lie for love is not the worst thing that one can do. The Veil forgives much, for love. ~
"I gave up mortality to be with him," Gunther said softly. "Valois is already ancient, and the thought of him being alone for eternity was something I couldn't bear."
Natalie sniffled and wiped her eyes. "Always knew there was something bloody amazing about you," she mumbled. "And not the immortal thing. I just knew... you were someone who... who people were drawn to for some reason."
Elsanine raised an amused eyebrow at Gunther, who had the grace to look embarrassed.
"Don't be daft." Gunther tried to keep his voice cheerful. "You've been reading too many romances again. There's nothing special about me."
"Actually, she is right," Elsanine said. "The Veil has been watching over you for a long time, since before Valois knew of your existence. It knew you and he were destined for each other."
Gunther turned back to Valois, again stroking his hair back from his deathly-pale forehead. "But he had to wait a thousand years for me," he whispered.
Elsanine chuckled. "He wasn't alone through all of those centuries, you know. He has loved and been loved many times, but not with the intensity and totality with which you love him."
"He mentioned an aristocrat in the French Revolution," Gunther murmured. "But he's never said anything about any other lovers."
"Ah, I remember him. A marquis, no less, for which both paid with their heads. Tch! That was a messy business indeed. He was here and healing for weeks after that, although it was nothing compared to the fire." Elsanine sighed. "The fire was the only time I feared I could not help him, but luckily he was stronger than I thought. He would not have died in the Veil, only in the mortal world, but he would have been... diminished."
Gunther shuddered. "I don't want to think about that."
"How can he die if he's immortal?" Natalie interrupted.
"He never grows old, Nat. Never changes." Gunther bent to kiss Valois's cheek. "How else can he move on when everyone around him grows old and he doesn't? He has to die in the mortal world and live in the Veil until people have forgotten about him."
"Indeed." Elsanine stood and passed a hand over the flowers at the head of the bed. They bloomed a little more brightly, their petals brushing Valois's hair. "It is something that you, too, must consider, Gunther. After the initial shock, those otherkin like your friend here will come to understand it, but most mortals will not. Valois is powerful enough to weave the illusion of age around you both for a time, if you are out in public, but you must begin to plan for your future soon."
"I don't really know what to do about it," Gunther admitted. "It's not like we can will ourselves to apparently die of old age, so whatever happens it'll have to be drastic and sudden."
Elsanine sat back down. "You do not have to die. Valois did it a few times, and then he found that simply moving to a new country gave him a fresh start."
"Well thats pretty hard to do now, without being tracked," Natalie said. "There's passports and visas and all that stuff."
"The Veil will help. You saw how you came here, hm? You will leave in the same manner, and the Veil will send you wherever you need to go. Should Valois and Gunther desire to be in France or Egypt or America, that is where it will send them."
Natalie giggled. "Well that sure beats spending five hours at Sunset Valley Airport!"
At that laugh, Valois stirred, and all attention in the room immediately went to him. Gunther shifted closer, cradling Valois's cheek in his hand and whispering his name, and Elsanine got to his feet again, moving to the side of the bed.
Slowly, as if it took a great effort of will, Valois opened his eyes. Gunther was right there, gazing down at him and smiling.
"Hey there," he said softly. "Welcome back."
The rippling sound of water came from the bowl at the side of the bed as Valois tried to raise one arm, but Elsanine stilled him with a gentle hand. "No, my friend. You must lie still. The lake water is restoring you."
"Mh," was all Valois could manage, but his gaze never left Gunther's face. In return, Gunther simply caressed his lover's cheek, stroking the soft skin over and over.
"Love heals almost as much as nature," Elsanine murmured, and Gunther understood, leaning forward a little more and kissing Valois softly and deeply.
"I'm right here, love," he whispered into Valois's mouth. "Right here, as I always will be."
A faint smile curved Valois's lips and he nodded, then his eyes drifted shut again and he fell back into that deep, healing sleep.