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Trigger warnings for this chapter:
Gaslighting, plus a character in strong emotional distress.


Valois held Gunther until his distress had subsided and his tears had dried. They listened in silence as Cornelia went to bed, closing her door and switching on the classical music station that she always played as she slept.

"I think," Valois murmured in Gunther's ear, "that it is time to go to your bedroom."

"Can't move," Gunther moaned, and it was true. God, he was sore. Valois hadn't gone easy on him, and while he was sure it should have actually hurt more - Valois hadn't used anything to ease his way, after all - it hurt enough that he didn't think he could even get to his feet, let alone walk the few steps to his bedroom.

"Nonsense." The heat of Valois's still-clothed body left his back and he heard the sound of pants being zipped up. "You're stronger than that. Now up with you."

Slowly, gingerly, Gunther got to his feet, rubbing the heel of his hand over his nose in a gesture that - were he aware of it - was very reminiscent of Mortimer when he was upset.

"Good." Valois smiled, taking his hand. "Now, come along."

"My... what about my clothes?" Gunther looked back to where they lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, kicked half under his desk.

"You won't be needing them." Valois tugged firmly on Gunther's hand and together they left the office, Gunther's nervous gaze going immediately to Cornelia's bedroom door as he was dragged into his own room.

"She will see what she wishes to see," Valois said, turning the key in the lock and pocketing it for good measure. "Come along. On the bed."

"Aren't you going to get undressed, too?"

"Whatever for?"


"Now, lie back in my arms. It's all right. That's it. Good."

It took a few minutes for the shivering to subside, but eventually Gunther was still and quiet, Valois's fingers gently sifting through his hair. He felt more vulnerable than he ever had in his life, lying naked and exposed in Valois's arms while Valois was still fully-clothed.

He closed his eyes, trying to will the feeling away, but it didn't want to go. He felt as if he'd been turned inside out and nothing was the right way up, like he was in an Escher drawing and trying to find a staircase that would let him out of the nightmare house. The ache of his body, however, was slowly easing with every stroke of Valois's fingers through his hair.

"This room really could do with a makeover," Valois remarked.

"Hm?" Gunther opened his eyes and blinked. Oh my god, what's happened to my room?! "Oh, no! No, please put it back. I liked it how it was!"

"This is more suitable. And it will remind you of me, will it not?"

"But what will Cornelia say?" Panic started welling again, deep in his gut, but it was arrested as Valois's fingers clenched suddenly, pulling on a fistful of Gunther's hair. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to shock him into silence.

"Your wife has no business in this room. The door is locked to her, and so she will not see it. And, since you sent your son off to prep school, he also will not see it."

"What?" Gunther tried to tilt his head back to look up at Valois, but those pale fingers were still tangled tightly in his hair. "I didn't send him off. Cornelia did."

"Indeed? She seems to think otherwise."

"It was her!" Why didn't Valois believe him? He was telling the truth! "I came back from the first time I was with you, and she'd sent him away!"

Valois shrugged one shoulder. "It is of little consequence to me. Now, let me see... My room. I will be needing a room."

He finally released Gunther's hair. Gunther's scalp ached, but he ignored it in favour of the ever-present panic that had been simmering ever since he walked in through the door and saw Valois sitting at his kitchen table, chatting away to his wife.

Oh God, he still doesn't believe me. That bitch has got him convinced it was my fault. She--

"A room?" Gunther tipped his head back to look up at Valois. "Where? I thought you already had a house?"

"A room here." Valois pressed a kiss to Gunther's hair. "I think the attic room will suit nicely. And I will take the small room up on the roof as well."

"But... Cornelia--"

"Does your wife rule this house, or do you?" Valois asked sharply. "Ah, yes. How foolish of me to forget, and so soon after I learned of it. Your wife does, of course. You just roll over and let her have her way every time."

Gunther could feel something inside him shrivelling up, small and miserable and shaky. He started shivering again, pressing one hand to Valois's chest. "I don't. I don't. Please," he whispered. "Make it stop."

"Make what stop? Her getting her own way? Only you can do that, and you're not strong enough."

Please! Make it stop, like you made the party stop.

"I... I don't know what's happening any more. One minute you're this, the next you're the rockstar--"

Valois snorted. "Rockstar? Whatever are you talking about?"

"The one with the tattoos and piercings. And the band; Cal and Ten. It's you; I know it's you. You even smell the same!"

"Gunther, mon chéri." Valois turned him so he could cradle him close. "You're delirious. I have no tattoos, and no piercings. You're imagining things."

Gunther huddled close, burying his nose in the warmth of Valois's throat above his shirt collar, inhaling the by now-familiar incense scent of him. "But we fucked," he whispered. "We... and it was you. I could feel it was you."

Valois's gentle sigh ghosted over Gunther's forehead. "Another one you have fucked since giving me your promise?"

"What promise? You've said that twice now." Gunther knew he sounded like a whiny little boy, but he couldn't make sense of any of this! "I didn't promise anything! It was you! I know it was you!"

"You don't remember?"

I never gave him a promise. I know I didn't! Oh God, did I? Maybe I did? I... I can't remember.

He shook his head.

Valois sighed again. "So faithless? I may have made a mistake with you. On the floor, if you please. I will not share a bed with you until I am sure of you."

That set the turmoil of panic churning up inside Gunther's belly again. Oh God, he couldn't lose this, no matter how confusing and fucked-up it was. No, he couldn't go back to trying to deal with Cornelia. Not now!

"Please." He arched up to press a desperate kiss to Valois's cheek. "I don't know what I've done wrong, but I want to make it up to you. I don't want to lose you."

"On the floor."

Choked and distressed, Gunther could only do as he was told, climbing off the bed to stand on the floor, feeling like he'd been flayed apart. He even covered himself self-consciously; something he'd stopped doing around Valois within a few hours of first meeting him.

There was a long silence that only deepened the hollow pit in his guts, and then Valois closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again and sitting up.

"I will not address you while you stand above me," he said calmly, his gaze expectant on Gunther.

What does he want me to do? Sit on the floor? Hesitantly, Gunther began to sit, watching Valois for cues. He was halfway down when a frown gave him pause.

"No. On your knees."

Oh my God.

Slowly, slowly, he sank further down, until he was on his knees. On his knees in front of this man, in his own bedroom.

"If it will help you, then I will join you." And, with that, Valois stood and pressed his hands to Gunther's shoulders to hold him in place, before sinking down behind him and wrapping both arms around him.

"I ask but four things of you," he said, close to Gunther's ear. "And, if you will give them, then I will give you something in return that you could not dream even existed."

I can't lose him. I can't! I'll have to go away if he leaves. I can't stay here with her.

"What are the four things?" Gunther whispered, ready to promise the earth if needs be.

"Your trust, your faith, your love, and your obedience." Valois's hand slithered up to Gunther's neck, pulling his head back. "Will you give those to me?"

Gunther swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing against the palm that was pressing just a little too firmly against his throat. God, that was asking a lot. "You have my trust," he mumbled.

"It is a start, I suppose. Will you also give me your faith?"

How in hell do I give him that? "Uh, we don't do church in this family."

Valois chuckled, and it was the tender sound he knew of the old Valois; his original Valois. The Valois who had played Beethoven for him and saved him. Gunther clung to that sound; its familiarity and warmth like a lifeline in this sea of confusion.

"I do not require religion of you, mon chéri. The faith that I ask is your faith in me to care for you and to know what is right and best for you. Now, will you give me that?"

His throat dry, Gunther hesitated, then nodded.

"Tell me."

"You have my faith," he said, hoarsely.

He was rewarded with a caress of that cool, gentle hand down his torso.

"Obedience..." Valois considered. "I think that is something that needs more work before we can say you have given that to me fully. But you have promise, that I can see. You are a natural for it, I will say."

Needs more work? That didn't sound good. "Uh, you won't ask me to do anything I don't want to, will you?" Gunther asked, not even questioning the fact that he was actually giving in. Right now he was so adrift that he would hold onto anything, promise anything, just so he could be pulled in to safety again.

"Believe me, you will want to. Always. So... your decision on that?"


Shit. I'm falling. I'm falling and I can't stop and I've got nothing to hold onto.

"You have me to hold onto." That voice was infinitely patient. "Now, tell me."

Why does he want me to actually say it? "You have... you have my obedience." He almost choked on the words; some of the hardest he'd ever said. It didn't even register that Valois had soothed the panic that he hadn't even voiced.

"Good. That's very good. I'm so proud of you, Gunther. And now, the most difficult of the four..."

"You have that, too," Gunther whispered. "I think."

"You 'think'?"

"It's hard to quantify--"

Valois's breath was hot as he laughed softly, close to Gunther's ear. "Your business head is speaking. Ignore it. Listen deeper."

Gunther was silent. I... don't know how to listen.

"Very well. Define 'love' for me."


"You have felt love before, yes?"

"Yes. Well, I thought I had."

"Then define what you thought you felt."

This sounded like some kind of high school comprehension exercise, but Gunther just ignored that thought and ploughed forward. Hadn't he just been told he needed to work on his obedience?

"Uh... well, you need to be with that person all the time, and when they're not with you, you miss them. God, you miss them so much. And when they are with you, it's like all the lights came on and you can see again, and it feels so... so right to be with them. And... you feel funny inside."

Valois smiled. "I like the sound of the funny inside part. So, tell me, do you feel any of that with me?"

"... Yes."


Gunther closed his eyes. Oh God.

"You have my love."


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