The grapes smushed between Fumei's fingers and he gaped at Soma. The imp was watching him, a small, amused smile on his face and Fumei felt his own face hat up. How could he have known? Sorako had insisted the curve of the baby wasn't yet visible through his robes and no one else had seemed to notice. The secret was supposed to be safe still.

Soma laughed, no longer bothering to conceal his amusement. When he grinned, his perfect white teeth lit up his face and his ocean eyes danced with mirth. "Secret, is it?" He queried mirthfully, "Or did you not even know yet yourself?"

Fumei looked away, arms rising and wrapping protectively around his middle. Instinct was telling him to guard the precious little life of his child, though the redhead showed no intent to harm him. "I know about it." He muttered, staring at a patch of ferns.

"Hey…" Soma sobered slightly, "What are you so scared of?" His head tipped to the side as he studied the hunched form of the smaller man. Having been in the army, he could easily recognize when some one was scared; the stooped posture and failure to meet his gaze were sure signs of it.

There was a long silence, then the little lord's head rose and he glanced timidly at Soma. "You…" He paused, "You don't think it's queer." It wasn't a question and he half-surprised himself by not denying it. Soma didn't seem disgusted; if anything, he looked extremely curious.

A sort snort escaped the imp. "You're from one of those close-minded areas, aren't you? Where I come from, it's fairly common for a guy to be knocked up." He eyed the lord again, turquoise gaze assessing the situation. Fumei's clothes were finely made and he looked as if he'd never seen a day's work in his life. "Or maybe it's your rich family that's against it…"

Fumei blushed. "It's not at all common in the South. Men marry women, not other men. I'm probably the only disgusting-"

"Shit, those close-minded realms piss me off!" Soma cut him off, the easy-going expression wiped from his face by a scowl, "No one in the West cares…Pregnant men are pretty common. Some people get bent out of shape by it, of course, but they're usually people who have moved into the area, not natives." He folded his arms, eyes darkened by his annoyance, "What's happening to you is a miracle, not something to be ashamed of."

Fumei's mouth snapped shut, his eyes going wide. His mother, his grandmother, the servants at the palace…None of them had ever said it was something good, his condition. His mother was horribly shamed by it and his grandmother took far too much pleasure in teasing him over it. The palace servants seemed to be under the uneducated impression that pregnancy was contagious; those who knew tried to avoid him as much as possible.

Soma's expression softened. "No one's ever told you that, huh?" He scooted out of the hammock and plopped on the ground near Fumei's bare feet. "I think it's pretty special. I remember what it was like…Fascinating." He looked far away for a moment and the little lord couldn't help being curious.

"You've had a baby?" He asked shyly. Perhaps Soma could offer him some guidance or tell him what to expect.

Soma's face clouded again and Fumei wondered what he had said wrong. Soma had brought it up, after all. He fiddled with the hem of his robe as he waited for a response, half-figuring he wouldn't get one.

"I almost had one." The redhead said quietly, "I lost it." He was picking at the dirt, tracing patterns in it, "The baby's father wasn't happy about it and…" He took a deep breath before continuing, "Apparently, he wasn't as into men as I thought. I was just a cheap lay. He beat me within an inch of my life. Killed the baby."

"My Lord…" Fumei's eyes went incredibly wide. He couldn't imagine what that must have been like; what he would have done if Sorako hadn't wanted the baby. What could that have possibly been like?

Without even realizing what he was doing, Fumei leaned forwards and embraced the redhead. "I'm sorry…" He murmured. Soma stiffened at the contact and Fumei moved to let him go, but the imp's long fingers curled around the fabric of his robe. Unsure what to do, he awkwardly stroked the fiery locks, trying to be soothing the way Sorako was with him.

"No one's touched me in a long time." Soma sighed, "I've been on my own forever." As a cheerful, friendly person, he was pretty starved for contact. He hadn't seen his family in years. The other members of his squad hadn't liked him much, because he was so outgoing and anti-war. He didn't fit in with them. And since he'd been on the run, he mostly avoided other people.

Fumei felt a pang of sympathy and relaxed slightly. He knew how it felt to be alone, even though nothing so horrible had ever happened to him. He continued stroking the imp's fluffy hair, some deep-seeded parental instincts kicking in and telling him his companion was deeply hurt. "You can come back to the palace with me. Every one is always telling me to put my foot down and I'm going to about this. You don't deserve to be stuck out here in the woods after all you've been through."

Soma looked up at him, surprised. No one had ever been so kind to him. People always pushed him aside or wrote him off as a goofball. His family had seen him as a disappointment, even before his pregnancy scare. Who knew what they thought of him now; they must have gotten a letter when he went AWOL. "That's very kind of you…" He wasn't quite sure what else to say.

Fumei offered him a smile. "I could use a friend who will stand up for me, so I'm actually being quite selfish."

The redhead laughed, broad shoulders shaking. "You're all right, kid."

A sudden sense of ease washed over Fumei. Soma seemed like an all right guy and perhaps the first friend he would ever have, outside of Sorako. Like the sprite had when they met, Soma didn't seem to have any clue who exactly he was talking too, so the affection in his voice must have been genuine.

Both of them feeling a bit better, they set back about to having their lunch. Fumei was starving at that point and Soma felt much hungrier than he had in a long time. Though the fare was meager, both of them ate like it was a gourmet meal. Soma was right. Eating with some one else was always better.

Once he'd eaten, Fumei felt a bit reenergized. He wanted to do something, but wasn't ready to go back to the palace yet. "Is there anywhere around here to go swimming?" He asked shyly. He was missing home and the ocean and Higashikaze didn't have any kind of pool on the grounds.

Soma grinned. "There's a swimmin' hole through the woods a little way. It runs into a freshwater stream that goes to the palace. I take baths and do laundry there." He rose, stretching, "C'mon. I'll show you."

Fumei made his cumbersome way through the undergrowth, following behind the imp cautiously so he wouldn't trip. He was delighted with the crystal clear surface of the pool and his own reflection smiled back at him as he gazed through the surface at the fronds and aquatic life swaying below.

He hadn't been swimming in so long…His mother had forbade him to go to the beach; her paranoia about the nobility discovering his condition was more important to her than her only child's desires. Without even giving a second thought to his companion, Fumei stripped out of his clothes and splashed into the cool water.

Soma watched silently as Fumei's tanned body was revealed little by little. He was surprised by the size of the little lord's swollen stomach. He hadn't expected him to be so far along, but the bulge was larger than he had estimated. "When is the baby due?" He asked casually as he peeled off his tank top and stuck a toe in to test the water.

"What? Oh…" Fumei paused, the water coming up to around mid-thigh, and blushed, suddenly aware of his nakedness. One of his hands rose unconsciously to stroke the mound of the baby. "In about four months."

"Really?" Soma sloshed over to him, unconcerned with his own nudity and seeming totally at ease. "You look bigger than that. I'd thought you were farther along." He gently moved the lord's hand away from his stomach to get a better look at it. Yup. He definitely looked bigger than five months.

"Sorako is a sprite…We think the baby is going to be big." Fumei squirmed uncomfortably under the aqua gaze that was scrutinizing him and he found himself blushing again as Soma's long fingers stroked the smooth skin of his stomach. There was nothing sexual in it, but it just seemed so forward. He hadn't asked permission.

Soma was enthralled. The West had a high population, due to their men being pregnant almost as often as their women, and he had grown up seeing people with swollen middles, but he'd never been so close to a pregnant person before. His own pregnancy had been a completely different story, of course; he'd always been fascinated by watching as his neighbor's pregnancies advanced. "Does it kick yet?" He poked at Fumei's bellybutton, delighting when the younger man squirmed and giggled.

"Sometimes…Not really enough for any one else to feel yet, though." Fumei shied away, unsure how to act in the face of his new friend's curiosity. He waded out further in the water, dying to float on his back and relieve some of the tension there.

"That's how my baby was before..." Soma trailed off, looking forlornly down at the flat expanse of his stomach. Ever since that incident, he'd felt slightly empty. It had hurt him a lot; not just physically, but emotionally as well. It had been a blow to his heart, being rejected and having his unborn baby murdered, leaving him with a hollow that he'd not been able to fill as of yet.

Not knowing what to say, Fumei ducked under the water. As he broke back through the surface, he shook his head to get his hair out of his face. "Have you ever thought about having another one?" He asked softly and immediately regretted it, as the imp turned away, hugging himself.

"No one wants some one like me." His voice was tight, "I'm a homeless military deserter." He stared down at his reflection, taking in haunted eyes, a nose too wide and that hideous scar he'd gotten as a souvenir of Kei. He didn't mention what he'd been doing with himself since he left the service; he'd had to do what he could to survive and there weren't many options for some one with no real skills. Fumei didn't need to know he'd practically been prostituting himself; the smaller man seemed far too innocent to be subjected to that.

Dappled shadows fell across Fumei, caused by the leafy overhang of the trees sheltering the pool. He studied his body as he floated on his back, frowning slightly at the span of his rounded stomach which poked out of the water. His back did feel much better and he felt much more like his old self. "You just haven't found the right person yet." He murmured, one finger stroking over a spot where the baby seemed to be fluttering.

Soma was silent as he sat down at the edge of the pool, mostly out of the water. It made him a little angry; what did Fumei know? He wasn't there when Kei had beat him. He wasn't there when the baby died. He wasn't there when his parents sent him to that awful boot camp, when the other cadets had…He stopped that train of thought before it derailed in dangerous lands and sighed. Life wasn't fair. Everything hurt so much, even though he was very good at hiding it.

He looked back up when he felt Fumei's dark gaze trained on him and forced a smile. Time to slide the cheerful mask back in place…"I don't feel much like swimming. You enjoy yourself. I'll keep guard." He had a sudden desire to blurt it all out, every last sordid detail, but kept his tongue in check.

It was just much, much easier to pretend.