---------

Bann, Germany.

Picnic Place

Oliver, concealed in a hidden garden far in the forest, strummed a tune for the birds, unaware that the world had changed. "Remind me why I drag this thing all the way up here for you." he murmured to the birds that had stopped listening the moment he stopped playing. He put his guitar carefully away in its case knowing that the birds didn't think one way or another about his playing; but they didn't judge. He looked up into the waking sky, sniffed the air: fresh. Then he strolled across the lawn; perfect, green and smooth and opened the gate to the little garden and left.

When his family woke up hours later to find their early morning doughnuts from the bakery (it was a deal; if Oliver bothered getting up so early, he would be charged with breakfast for the rest of the family), Oliver had already trekked all of Horse Hill, and was making his way back to the village.

Vague urban noises echoed as he strolled along the cobblestone sidewalks; cars rolling smoothly over paved roads, and few people on the streets. Oliver tilted his head and considered the structures of Bann, each with at least one balcony and loaded with flowers, but it was so different from the quiet and the silent dignity of the horses, the fields, the spring meadows, and the trees sheltering the peace.

"Guten Tag," Oliver received a nod from the elderly couple as he passed the house built like a V from the two roads, the main one heading right and the other, a side road, left. The Schlecker, the general store, waited down the calmer street and the bell jingled when he went inside.

The cashier nodded to him - he was a regular, then glowered at the boy at her register. He was piling a plethora of candies on the counter, his arms full, and his curly brown hair hanging in his face. Oliver looked him over and decided he'd been there a while, enough to tick off her. The Germans had a tendency to get a little grumpy. He eased himself down one narrow isle packed with candy and chocolate and took his usual.

Stepping into line, the boy quirked his head to look over his shoulder at Oliver, and gave him a friendly smile.

"Go ahead, I'm going to be a while." He offered, American accent revealing a piece of his identity

"Thanks." Oliver skipped to the front; the Frau seemed glad for something to do, ringing off his things at once.

Oliver's eyes fell to the boy's pile of candy: Kinderschokolade (children's chocolate), numerous chocolate eggs, gummi bears, and all manner of cookies. How do you manage to eat all that and still stay skinny? as on the tip of his tongue, when one item caught his eye: a box of raisins.

Instead his mouth spit out, "Yuck."

The kid looked up from eyeing the hitchies hat Oliver held in his hand, and the bag packed with tiny candies wrapped in fruity paper that Oliver was reaching for.

"I'm sorry?" he asked politely. Excuse me? His brown eyes said, a little wide. Candy and yuck?

"Raisins," Oliver pointed at the box lying innocently under a pile of kinder chocolate, "They're disgusting. They remind me of squashed flies."

He raised an eyebrow, smirking, "How else will I manage to watch my form without them?"

Oliver looked a tad surprised, "Oh? I thought you were trying to buff up. No offense, man, but you're a stick." He jabbed the boy in the ribs unapologetically.

He smiled, rubbing a finger over his side absently, "We just moved here, you know the air force and all, so my mom sent me down to get as much authentic German candy as possible so we could get onto the experience ASAP. We only have three years to enjoy it." He pointed at Oliver's candy, "What's that?"

"Only the best candy in the world. They're chewy and fruity."

The boy nodded, "Well, if you like them, then they must be good!" and he ran around the corner, Oliver guessed, to fetch some for himself.

"Bitte, macht schnell!" muttered the cashier, wanting him to hurry up, and rolled her eyes in annoyance. Oliver shook his head, the bell jingling after him as he left. Outside, he paused to rip the package of hitchies open, and pulled out one of the long, brightly colored candies. He chewed thoughtfully. Where do I want to go next?

Idle in his thoughts, he didn't notice the bell jingling, or a package being torn open. Oliver peered down the street, his back to the Schlecker, when something small collided with his cheek.

"Watch out for the squished fly!" shouted a voice behind him gleefully. Oliver turned around, and was pelted again with a small raisin.

The boy from inside held up his box of raisins when Oliver glared at him, tipped his head back and swallowed half the box. Oliver decided now was a good time to walk away. A raisin flew past his head; he watched it land on the stones of the sidewalk then rolled his eyes skyward. I've got a barnacle. He thought with some irritation to himself, using the word his mom used to describe clinging kindergartners.Snickers erupted from behind, and another raisin bounced off his backpack with a light thud.

"Man, these squashed flies are vicious!"

Oliver pivoted to face him; "Would you stop throwing those things at me?" he crossed his arms. The fellow tossed a raisin in his mouth. "Mmm, delectable squashed fly. I suppose they're too good to throw any more at you."

"Good." Oliver huffed and a raisin bounced off his nose.

"Except that last one," the boy said cheekily. Oliver looked at him crossly and an amused face looked back. "Alright, whoever you are, don't you-"

"Prosper," he interrupted.

Oliver looked at him blankly.

The boy pointed to himself informatively. "Me. I'm Prosper." Prosper cleared his throat, "From the Roman name Prosperus, which means 'successful and fortunate' in Latin." His voice took on a prideful tone, "and I am successful, considering my good grades, and," he spread his arms, "fortunate, since I've already made a friend!"

Oliver took a half step back to save himself from the enthusiasm. "That's fine; just keep your excitement to yourself." Prosper beamed. "I'm an exciting person."

"You're weird," Oliver resumed his stroll down the street. Prosper jumped in step beside him. Oliver looked at him darkly. "Just how old are you? You're like one of my mom's kindergartners."

Prosper looked at him, affronted, "17. Doesn't mean I have to act my age. No fun."

Oliver looked ahead. "I 'spose. I'm not friends with people who throw raisins at me." He added, as an afterthought.

Prosper peeked in the box. "There's not much left. 'Sides, I already threw the last one at you."

Conversation ceased then and Oliver began to feel a little awkward. Prosper didn't seem to notice. He began to hum to fill in the silence from Oliver's side when he suddenly turned to Oliver and threw out, "So, what's your name?"

Oliver opened his mouth to answer but Prosper was already shouting, "Oh, let me guess!"

Oliver frowned, "How many raisins did you throw at me?"

"Um, four- five?"

"Five guesses then." figuring Prosper would get a kick out of it.

Prosper eyed him critically, "I think you look like a Ben. No? Well, how about William? Drat, am I close? Um…uh, what about Sydney? Fine…Austin! Oh, fudge! Alright… another nice name, this one's my favorite: Deyna."

A smile spread across Oliver's face, despite his earlier annoyance with Prosper, "its Oliver."

Prosper reached around and snatched up Oliver's hand, nearly tripping Oliver when he stepped slightly in front, effectively stopping them. Oliver leaned away from Prosper to avoid collision.

Prosper pumped his hand up and down enthusiastically, "Pleasure to meet you, Oliver, I like that name. Let's start over, shall we? You didn't seem to like my squished flies."

Grinning, he nodded, "Alright, nice to meet you." And he paused, waiting for him to reintroduce himself. He did, with the same amount of gusto.

"I'm Prosper, self-acclaimed Gemini Republican Caucasian Teenage Stud Chess Player and Social Caterpillar."

Oliver moved around Prosper and started walking again, wrapping his head around the words.

"Why caterpillar?"

Prosper looked at him as though he'd just asked the obvious. "Because I'm not grown up yet. Now, since I'm new and you're old, why don't you show me around? By the way are you in the air force too?"

Oliver liked the sound of that idea. He'd never had anybody to share with the places he kept close to his heart.

"Yes, and the bakery's this way." He jerked his head down the road. Not that the bakery was close to his heart, but it had Prosper rubbing his hands together with devilish intent, "Oh, good, that was the next place me and mom are going to ransack."

Oliver looked at him sideways, "By the way, I think you should remove 'Teenage Stud' from your list of introductory adjectives."

------

Several Adventurous Days Later

"Why are we leafing through a corn field?"

"Corn fields are mysterious and much more exciting than walking on the road," Oliver answered, putting much derision into his voice on the word road, "besides; we're not actually in the corn field we're between two separate fields."

Prosper peered around, his eyes just grazing the top of the young corn. They were in Bann's outskirts, so to speak, where Prosper had a strong suspicion Oliver spent most of his time. He'd explained to him, eyes bright and intense and with his hands whipping everywhere in description, all the things there were to do outside of Bann.

"So, what's over here?"

"I don't know yet. This is unexplored territory." They came out of the corn field, directly into a small grove of trees.

"Good! I love unexplored territory!"

Oliver nodded, and voiced something he'd always wanted to say, but had no one around to say it too before, "It's known by someone. By exploring it, it's sort of like we're adding a piece of someone else's life to ours." Prosper looked at him cryptically. "'Cause we're seeing something they see every day."

Prosper looked away and inspected the trees around him critically. "So everything you've shown me, it's a piece of your life too." He murmured, making it sound like something special; at least the observation made Oliver feel unique. "It's like you've made your life from small pieces of others'." Prosper voiced thoughtfully.

Exactly. Nodding, Oliver led them to the edge of the grove. A dark forest of evergreen trees grew far to the left, beyond a small field and another corn field lay almost in wait of them, straight ahead. Prosper looked behind them and saw, just over the maze of corn rows, sparsely through the foliage, the red roofs of the village Bann.

Oliver tugged on his sleeve, "Here, there's always adventure in a forest. You'll never know what you'll run into."

"Sound's like you've run into some interesting things before." Prosper replied agreeably. They were strolling idly up the field, Prosper nearest the corn. He stretched his hand out, the tips brushing the spring corn stalks, "What an odd color for corn. Whoever thought it would be silver?"

Oliver made to answer but a flash of brown dashed out of the corn, straight in front of them. Prosper shrieked and swerved into Oliver, who tripped over his own feet in the confusion. They fell hard to the ground. Prosper craned his neck to see the hindquarters of a deer disappear among the thick branches of the forest.

Oliver pulled himself up, using his friend's shoulder as leverage. "What was it?" He shook his flaxen hair straight. Prosper, breathing quickly, blurted out. "A wolf!" Oliver quirked an eyebrow, "Really?" he asked doubtfully.

Prosper waved his hands around, "Well, yeah! It was big, and brown, and fluffy-"

"It was a deer, wasn't it?" Oliver nodded to himself knowledgably. Prosper shook his head roughly, sending his glossy curls jumping. "It was definitely a wolf. Nobody would be scared of a deer," he sneered.

"Whatever. What would a wolf be doing in a cornfield?"

Prosper paused to think of a legitimate reason, his face skewed in a frown. Oliver sniggered at him.

"Because," Prosper's face smoothed into a mocking snarl, as an idea came to mind, "Because, the wolf was looking for innocent little boys like yourself to pounce on. Like this!"

Prosper lunged across the grass and knocked Oliver down, tickling him mercilessly across the stomach. Oliver gasped, and pushed at Prosper hard, but his muscles were weak from laughing, and all he managed to pull off was a playful shove.

"Okay—aahh, alright, Prosper gasp that's—enough." Prosper let off when he sensed Oliver getting uncomfortable. He sat up, blushing, and attempted to straighten out his clothes. "That was very unmanly." He said accusingly.

Prosper shrugged, grinning. "You never have any fun when you act manly. So don't expect me to.

Oliver dragged himself up, attempting to look decent, as though he hadn't been rolling around on the grass, squealing like a girl.

Prosper slapped his back, brushing off stray grass. "Well, are you ever going to show me those interesting things you've found in forests before?"

---------

A few tense school days later

3rd Hour (Computer/ Free Hour)

Emails

Prosper: Oliver! I found the most gigantic blackberries between horse hill and the one behind your house. They're all the way at the top far away from society you'll like it. We could bake a pie. Meet you there?

Oliver: Sorry, Prosper. I'm booked. Maybe later?

Prosper: Another date with her?

Oliver: Yeah, don't be angry. She got pissed the other day b/c I spend too much time with you and not her. So I promised her this afternoon. And I've been busy with school. I'm going to fail that math test for sure.

Prosper: Too much with me! I'm your best buddy. I don't like her. You never have time for me anymore.

Oliver: I know. I've gotta go. See ya later, okay?

--------------

"Thought I'd find you here."

Prosper glared over his shoulder and turned back to the sky. A small remote control airplane was hovering in the blue, Prosper's grip on the control tight. They stood silently for a moment on the windswept top of Sheep Hill, the flat expanse lush and serene stretching out before it curved steeply to the valley below.

Oliver shoved his hands in his pockets and turned to look up at the plane. They hadn't flown them in a while. He told Prosper so.

Prosper snapped out of his silence. "Finally dragged yourself away from sugar lips? Tongue worn out from tonsil tennis? Sick of her cling-"

Oliver threw an arm around his friend's shoulders and squeezed him shortly in a one arm hug. "I'm sorry."

Prosper switched the controller to one hand and hugged Oliver back, tightly. He wouldn't let go for a moment, longer than Oliver expected. When he did, Prosper didn't let Oliver escape without ruffling his hair first.

Oliver looked at him contritely, "Don't be so bummed out. I wasn't that neglectful."

"You were," Prosper snapped, "We haven't done anything in ages because you've been so busy with her- and school, too, I guess." He shrugged moodily.

Oliver put a hand on his shoulder, "C'mon, the blackberries are waiting." He tugged on his sleeve insistently, "C'mon."

-----------

They reached the hill behind Oliver's house an hour later, dropping off Prosper's plane, navigating through the village using side roads to avoid traffic (Oliver liked the quiet) and finally all the way up to the top.

"I love the lime green of the leaves," Oliver said. Prosper tilted his head back to see. Warm light filtered through the foliage, illuminating the leaves until they glowed almost lushly. Delicate branches interspersed here and there grew in thin shadows between and over the leaves. Prosper was about to agree, but Oliver had already moved on.

"And I love the leaves from all the falls from before; it makes cool patterns on the ground." He looked down at the checkered colors from several harvest seasons before, all spread out to leave the ground permanently in autumn. Prosper spoke some colorful words when he slipped on the slick leaves.

Oliver shook his head, snickering.

They reached a long barrier of prickles and stinging nettle. They were high stepping through, Prosper ripping half the plants out when their thorns caught his pants. He growled, "I suppose you love the stinging nettle and thorns too?"

"I love the forest! It's quiet, and I can think out here."

Prosper merely looked at him. "Sometimes I wonder why we're such good friends, since you're such a hermit and I'm-"

"A social caterpillar?"

"Yeah- crowds, parties are great, but I spend most of my time hanging out with you."

"That's because I'm more interesting than a whole group of stupid people."

"Must be it."

Prosper felt pleased when Oliver found no end of exclamations over the size of the blackberries.

"These are huge! We could make ten pies with only a handful, they're so big!"

Prosper laughed, "So pick em' before the birds do!"

Oliver looked around to inspect the area: the bushes grew in messy clumps along the line of trees; a thick field grew behind them. Across the horizon, Ramstein base could be seen far away.

"Germany's great." he said in satisfaction, he turned to Prosper, who was eating half the berries he picked, "What do you think?" Prosper threw a handful of berries in his mouth and munched. "I like the berries." He said at length.

"No, seriously."

Prosper looked at him carefully, "You."

Oliver waved it off, "Yes, well, there has to be something you like about being out here."

"I like the outdoors part, and running around in it with you." Oliver joined him at the bushes, "Me too."

----

"I'm so hungry." Oliver groaned, leaning over and clutching his stomach. He looked at his bag of blackberries in a new light.

"Don't eat the blackberries!" Prosper shouted and snatched Oliver's bag.

"You ate half of them already!"

Prosper grinned, "I know, that's why you can't have any."

Rolling his eyes, he went back to picking, dropping the berries dutifully in Prosper's bag. A low, guttural growling came. Prosper poked him in the stomach, "Still hungry?"

"Yes!"

Prosper dug in his pockets. He tapped Oliver's shoulder "Here, have a squashed fly." And set the raisin on his shoulder.

Oliver looked at it in disgust. "Prosper, ew." He flicked it off.

"Beggars can't be choosers!"

He gave his friend a long suffering stare. "Fine, then I'm not hungry anymore."

"Doesn't matter. That was the last fly." Oliver rolled his eyes.

"Let's just go to the Stork's Nest."

"You want to eat stork eggs?"

"What? No!" Oliver chuckled. "It's a restaurant!"

------

Oliver decided he much preferred to eat in the calm of the forest, or in a breezy meadow; or it could've been Prosper's continuing grudge. He pushed his Späzle, German noodles, smearing them in the sauce from his Jägerschnitzel, not saying much. Prosper had been fine with blackberry picking, but now they were back on Sheep Hill, and Prosper had yet to comment on the people or on the food. Oliver didn't understand it, they'd been fine a second ago out in the country.

"We still have a couple hours. What'd you want to do?" Oliver asked, glancing up at Prosper, who turned away to feign interest in the restaurant: it was simple and talk was kept to a gentle murmur.

At length he turned a resentful gaze on him; Oliver cringed. Prosper's sudden attitude reminded Oliver of the past week and he wondered at the attachment he must have, to take a few days on his own so hard. There were still places he'd yet to see; it wouldn't be hard to make it up to him later. Oliver asked him again, "What do you want to do?"

"I found a trail behind my house, ages ago," Prosper bit out, "I'd wanted to show you, but you were so busy screwing around with her-"

Oliver sighed in exasperation and some dismay, "Look, Prosper, I'm sorry-"

"I know."

"I mean it." Prosper swirled his coke around in its glass.

Sensing the soberness in his friend, Oliver swallowed his pride and reached across the table and grasped the wrist of his turned down palm.

"Don't be stupid. Things have been a little messed up for me for a while."

Prosper's expression eased. He didn't pull his hand away, though the table nearest had glanced at them twice already.

"School's been a pain. I can't really concentrate on it." He didn't mention that his mind had been preoccupied with Prosper, and his own girlfriend, Maggie. He smiled, "If it makes you feel better, things didn't work out between me and Maggie. I dumped her earlier today, when we were supposed to be at the movies." He pulled his hand away, feeling stupid.

Prosper glanced away moodily, but when he faced Oliver again, he smirked. Oliver felt his foot brush his leg accidentally. "That's why you found me at Sheep Hill. I thought you were just going later. Good. Her name reminded me of maggots anyway."

Oliver smiled back. Prosper shifted again, restlessly. "Sorry," he muttered, when his foot bumped into Oliver's leg again. Each found more interest in finishing their lunch then, both relieved that some invisible weight had left their shoulders. "Bratwurst is the killer, man." Prosper noted, "Much better then whatever that is" he stabbed his fork in the direction of Oliver's schnitzel.

Oliver snorted at him. He poked at his schnitzel thoughtfully. "Why were you so uptight about Maggie? I know I really was forgetting you too much, but, boys have girlfriends all the time and best friends don't care."

Prosper's face turned a little sour. "Guess I was jealous." He murmured, "I think I added too much ketchup."

"You're not supposed to put ketchup on a bratwurst. Mayonnaise's the way." Oliver punched him lightly in the shoulder, and handed him the bottle of mayonnaise on their table. "You're so mental sometimes. You're such a good friend, you need to learn not to be so possessive!" he teased.

Prosper smirked. "Yeah, I suppose."

"So," Oliver waved his fork in the air. "Show me that trail, then."

----

The Weekend

"Where are we going?" Prosper asked, wondering at the excitement in his friend.

"Kinsbach. It's great. The trail is awesome. You'll love it." Oliver replied, hurrying on up the street.

"You always say that."

"You always do."

------

They were standing on what Oliver described as a "patchwork quilt of fall colors," followed by, "Quilts are great. If I were a girl, I'd make you one."

"You can make me one anyway." Prosper replied, looking up into the open air, up into the towering supple trees, growing their bright lime leaves. The sun's rays filtered through to light them up, adding the luminous stretch of color. The hill was horseshoe shaped, with Prosper and Oliver at the u-turn. The ground slid steeply down in front of them, a valley of colorful leaves and mossy stones, sheltered by the trees, almost cathedral-like in their lofty height.

Propser couldn't find words to describe how he felt for the place, and they hadn't even reached their destination. Oliver, as usual, had plenty to exclaim; and had already exhausted his like for the fall leaves.

"Isn't it great, Prosper?" he gazed around with delight sparkling in his eyes, "Wouldn't you rather be here any day then out at the movies or the mall? Does the mall have trees like that?" he jabbed his hand up towards the trees.

"It wouldn't be as cool if you didn't' have someone to share it with." Prosper acknowledged. Oliver frowned at him. "Really, it's awesome. There's nothing like this in Florida."

Oliver began to lead the way down a windy path that zigzagged down the side, "All Florida has is palm trees." He said derisively.

Prosper finally spoke up. "It's just nice to do something with you again. Something special like this. I really missed it."

Oliver looked at him apologetically. "I know. I'm glad I saved this to show you. The whole place is amazing; Bann doesn't have anything like it." He gestured to include the strong trees and quilted hills, and the brook that had suddenly appeared by the path, gurgling in a comforting way.

Oliver showed off the pond, thrumming with metallic blue dragonflies, skating water bugs, and nimble tadpoles that spread out in wild directions when startled. He displayed the lake and park at the end of the trail, beyond which was the village of Kindsbach. They spent hours swinging, wrestling in the sand box, and pushing each other off the dock into the cold lake water, just for kicks. Eventually, they both made their way into new, unexplored territory. It would be the first adventure that Oliver himself hadn't already been prepped for; every sight would be new, and shared, as usual, together.

They traveled in easy silence, red roofs appeared through the gaps in the trees to their left, where the trail sloped, and endless forest grew against the hill to their right. The trail curved, and a smaller path broke off down toward the left and this is where Prosper turned, and Oliver followed.

It wasn't obvious at first. Prosper stopped. Oliver contemplated him questioningly and put a foot forward. Prosper held out his hand. "Wait." Stop. "Listen," he breathed. Oliver listened.

"What?" he whispered. Prosper tilted his head, "Don't you hear that?" Then Oliver heard it, too. Slight, barely perceptible scratches, the hustling of many small things moving at once, a delicate sound came from all around. Oliver couldn't pinpoint where it was coming from, or what was making it.

Prosper looked over with slight disbelief on his face, "Ants," he affirmed, "They're everywhere!" Oliver followed where he pointed to the ground.

"Oh, wow." All around their feet, the earth teemed with ants. Not an inch of space was left uncovered; ants rustled all across the path, over the roots of nearby trees, and even crawled up the thread of Oliver's shoe laces.

"It's like," Prosper began, "Like, uh, the pepper shaker! Like it tipped over and all the pieces of pepper started moving."

"It's hard to tell the difference, if they weren't moving, you wouldn't see them because they're sort of the same color as the ground. It's like the earth it's is shifting." Like a churning stream of earth, he thought to himself.

"This is so cool!" Prosper burst, "I bet their ant hill is like- like this big!" and he held up his hands, as far out as they would go.

"Well, c'mon." Oliver shouted, and took off running down the path. An odd run, as his conscience reminded him how many ants he was trampling, and he started high stepping quickly on his toes. He could hear that Prosper was postponed from laughing at him.

"I don't want to step on them!" he cried by way of explanation, finally going around the corner. Prosper jogged by, shoving Oliver in the shoulder so that he stumbled, and trampled more ants than if he had run. With a ready retort, Oliver regained his footing, and saw the ant's creation squatting, hulking like some immovable bolder, in the very center of the trail. It came up to his knees.

"I was right, it is this big!" Prosper flung his hands apart and chuckled with pep, "This is one of those things you said you could find in a forest, remember? You said there was always an adventure in a forest, and here it is!"

The ant hill's base fell off the side of the hill, and crawled up the hill on the other side, and oozed at least three feet out on all sides. The sides of the ant hill were even darker from the multitude of tiny critters, hustling and so close together it was like a shadow shimmering with boundless energy.

Prosper took up a stick, and poked it into the hill. Oliver batted him away, "Don't." the ants swarmed to the site, an angry black mass.

Oliver cocked his head and thought aloud. "To think, all these ants were here, the whole time, right under our feet, and we didn't even notice! Not right away, and we had to listen for it, and even then we didn't know they were here! Not even until we actually looked, did we really see them!"

"Man, I wish I had a camera!" was all Prosper replied.

-----

(Monday, 3rd Hour)

Email

Oliver: Heard the rumors?

Prosper: Don't listen to them, it's just shit.

Oliver: A friend of Maggies asked me. Now everyone thinks I'm gay. They even asked me if we were fucking!

Prosper: They asked me too. I told them I didn't care if you were or not, that we weren't together, and that it wasn't any of their business. Don't worry about them. Fuckers. They do anything for gossip.

Oliver: I told them I wasn't.

Prosper: What do you want to do this afternoon?

----------------

Picnic Place

"I love this place. I always come here when I have to be alone."

"How come you never showed me your guitar before?"

"I don't like playing in front of people, I'm not very good."

"Better than me, I don't play at all!"

"I like to come up here and play in the morning on weekends; wakes me up."

"Like a cold shower?"

"Only nicer." Oliver played a song, nervously, his fingers shaking. Damn stage fright. It was only Prosper. And the birds.

---------------

(Wednesday, 3rd Hour)

Email

Oliver: I think you're the only one that knows the truth. People won't leave me alone about it!

Prosper: Gives them something to do, picking on people. Can you believe them? I've heard some of the things they've been saying. I don't think that way about you, you know? They got so pissed when I told them. It was worth it!

Oliver: I failed my english grammar test. Life sucks. English sucks. Thanks for standing up for me, but they'll hate you too, now.

Prosper: Oh well. Your welcome, that's what friends are for! Sorry about your test, meet me at the picnic place? Bring your guitar.

-----------

Picnic Place

"You made me a pie?"

"'Course. I had some blackberries left over, remember? I saved them for a special occasion." Prosper gestured to the pie grandly, where it sat on one of the cylindrical stones in the picnic place.

"And this qualifies as a special occasion? Coming here, after school? When I failed another test, and with everyone giving us shit?"

"Yep."

"Whatever. Give me that piece." Oliver pointed to a slip of pie loaded with whipped cream.

-------------

Friday, 3rd Hour

Email

Oliver: Thank God for free periods. Those dumbasses in my chemistry class wouldn't leave me the fuck alone!

Prosper: That sucks. I'll pummel them for you later.

Oliver: Shit, Prosper, you can pummel them now for me.

Prosper waited to respond; Mrs. Hendrix was yelling a new proposal about turning in prints of their flash projects. Apparently, someone had been cheating.

What you mean? He typed back. What Oliver responded left Prosper staring at the screen in some amazement. Oh Prosper, my night in shining armor, save me from the horrible boys! Don't leave me to their evil ways!

What the hell? Getting a little melodramatic, are we, Oliver? He typed back, a little amused.

Oliver responded instantly. Then we can skip class and go make delicious hot man love. Prosper's eyes widened as he was jolted out of his sense of security. What? Was all he could think of and clicked send.

What? What do you mean what? Is there someone else? You don't love me anymore? Oh, what will I do? How will I live? Prosper stopped reading Oliver's response. He should have realized what was going on the moment he received the first message; this was the kind of crap kids had been pulling on Oliver, and even a little on himself. He clicked out of hotmail and raised his hand, looking for Mrs. Hendrix expectantly.

"Yes, honey?" she drawled in her southern accent. Prosper tried to look innocent, "I have some bad news, Mrs. Hendrix. I have to pee, really bad, and I can't concentrate when I have to pee-"

Mrs. Hendrix chuckling, the other kids snickered, "Well, for Heaven's sake go to the restroom!" And Prosper leaped out of his seat and dashed out the door; it swung shut on the classrooms' amusement.

He pelted through the hallways, all the way across to the other side of the school. Damn Oliver for choosing the most neglected computer lab…

He slowed enough to open the door and enter somewhat quietly, but his feet pounded on the ground in rapid footfalls when he saw that he was right. A river of cusswords gushed from his mouth with the force of a waterfall: Get the fuck away from my fucking friend you fing motherfuckers!"

The group of tough guys surrounding Oliver stepped back, loosening their hold on Oliver, more in shock than apprehension of what Prosper would do to them if they didn't. Oliver jumped away when their grip slackened. He shouted at Prosper through a cut and swollen lip, "I didn't mean any of it!" He pointed erratically behind him, "It was them-" but he was pushed from behind, falling against Prosper.

"Go on and give your lover a kiss- he came to save you after all! How sweet!" the guy growled derisively. "Don't be shy, fag!" another voice shouted.

"Shut the fuck up before I break your face!" Prosper snapped, keeping a steady hand on Oliver's arm. His face was red and his fingers shook.

They all came closer, boxing them both in, when one of them grabbed Oliver and shoved him to the ground when he resisted. Prosper lunged forward and hurtled a fist in someone's face- he didn't care who, as long as they left Oliver alone. A fist smashed into his jaw.

Limbs were everywhere then, running into whatever they could reach with a force powered with hatred and something stronger than indignation. They were all shouting- ridiculing them both, Prosper spouting furious obscenities; Oliver couldn't get up.

No-one noticed or paused when the door burst open, a teacher shouted for them to stop, screaming at them to stop, drawing the attention of other teachers, and students eager to see the fight.

Prosper fought to attack the bloke holding Oliver down; but someone wrenched him away from him, away from his enemies, to the outskirts of the fight.

"What the hell were you thinking?" the school administrator bellowed at him, and Prosper saw out of the corner of his eye the antagonists being restrained as well, Oliver being led away with his cut lip and a black eye. His clothes were ruffled and his hair roughed up; his face red and he wouldn't look at Prosper.

------

Going home, afterschool

It was a quiet afternoon.

"What happened?" his mom asked kindly, glancing at her son from time to time.

"They were teasing me." Oliver muttered to the window, his breath fogging the pane.

His mother looked at him with concern, "What did they say?" she pressed.

Oliver sighed and rolled his eyes irritably, "they got this lame idea that Prosper and I are gay and screwing each other."

Out of the corner of his eye, Oliver fancied he saw his mom pull a double take; she stared out at the road and kept her grip fierce on the steering wheel.

"Well," she said after a slight pause, "Prosper is really affectionate- always ruffling your hair and giving you one armed hugs and you are always going places together." She stated matter-of-factly.

Oliver jerked up from where he lay slumped against the window. "So? Propser's a good friend. It doesn't make him gay! Besides, they just had nothing better to do then screw with someone else's life."

His mom looked at him blankly. "Do you- well, is there…something else between you?" she asked hesitantly. Oliver shrugged. "I dunno. Prosper's a good friend."

His mom nodded. "It's just a phase, Oliver. Don't worry about it." Oliver stared out the window, and tried to ignore the new feeling of hurt in his gut. It didn't matter what she thought, he told himself.

-------

"They deserved it! Don't try to tell me otherwise!" Prosper yelled when his parents asked about the suspension.

His father poked a finger at him, "Son, I've told you- if some sonofabitch hits you, you just ignore that God-damned rule them nutcases have and hit him back. I'll have none of this crap that you can't hit back without being suspended."

"Well, I did." Prosper stated. He grew angry thinking about what happened,

"They were calling Oliver fag and stuff and they wouldn't let him up off the ground, and they kept talking shi- "he swallowed at the look from his mom, "talking crap about Oliver being gay and they'd hit him- so I punched the fu- er, the suckers out!" he shouted.

His mom put a hand up to her face, looking mildly concerned, "They were calling him a-" she colored, "A fag," Prosper finished, "Which he isn't, but even if he was, he doesn't deserved to be treated that way."

His mom nodded, "Oliver's a good friend-"

"That's not what I meant! I mean, even if he were gay, it still isn't a reason to hurt someone!" She looked confused; but his dad shook his head, his face clearly displaying an emotion that clashed with Prosper's attitude.

"Look, son-"

"There's nothing wrong with gays!" he threw up his hands, irrationally angry with the situation and his parents for bringing it up.

"All those people ever focus on is sex. Their love," his father sneered the word, "is artificial. It's all about lust with them and I don't want you mixing-"

Prosper raised his voice and talked over his father's authority. "You don't need to be like that! They love too."

"Prosper-"

Prosper jabbed himself in the chest, "My love isn't artificial." He stressed, and the impact of his words felt like a vice on the atmosphere, squeezing, with no room to breath.

His dad was shaking his head at him, trying to talk, "Prosper, what- er what," he sighed, and looked him for a second in the eye, "Are you trying to say that you're- you're uh-"he raised his palms up in question, but not at all ready to receive the information Prosper wanted to give; his mind closed with his disapproval.

Prosper glared, "God, Dad, just jump to conclusions, will you?" His eyes smoldered when he saw the relief on his father's face and gave strength to his courage. "Yes," he snapped and crossed his arms. They simply looked at him. "What?" his mom asked.

"I am. Gay. And I like him. There." What are you going to do about it?

His mom crossed her arms and looked at the ground, "Well that's okay-"

"No, it isn't!" his father exploded. He stormed away and slammed the door to the kitchen behind him.

Prosper glanced at his mom. She smiled, "I meant what I said. It's okay." She reached over and gripped her son's shoulder. "I know what good friends you are."

"Thank you," Prosper acknowledged, "Dad's just, he-"

"Don't worry about him, I'll talk to him."

"Mom," Prosper called before she could leave, "You know the camping trip we were planning, Oliver and I? I was wondering if I could push that to tonight."

--------

(Friday evening)

A cool breeze, carrying bird song, ruffled green grass in the meadows. Wildflowers- daisies and foxgloves, poppies and flax- grew in bright splotches. Prosper splashed childishly in the small stream beside the path, shaded by full trees.

"Prosper, have you been lying to me?" Oliver smirked, looking pointedly at his wet shoes. Seventeen and jumping in puddles?

"Now, Oliver, I know how I said you had such good looks, but is it true you've finally got in touch with reality? Prosper laughed. "Shut up!" Oliver shouted, and grinned. He ran his hands through wavy blonde hair and threw his head back exaggeratingly, "You're just jealous of my good looks. Anyway, I meant about your age."

Prosper dashed enthusiastically in the small stream. "You're never too old to have fun, and that includes jumping in puddles."

They reached a small grassy plateau; trees ascended further up the hill to the left. Oliver headed over to the bench at their roots and sat looking out over the valley, "I'm tired. Get over here and sit down for a sec." He did. The plateau eased into a gentle slope where the sheep were quietly grazing. They looked over the red roofs of Bann, to the hill across the valley- the one directly behind Oliver's house and to the left side of the valley- Horse Hill and far away to the right, where the black forest leading to Kinsbach lay. They sat for a long time, enjoying the fresh air, the smell of green things growing, and watching the sheep.

"Look," Oliver pointed across to the hill on the other side, "There's my house."

He jumped when Prosper took his hand out of the air, held it in his, and simply looked at it. Oliver lost interest in anything else then, and his heart jumped when Prosper started talking.

"So." He ran a finger down the back, "What'd your parents say 'bout that?" he pointed at a bruise on Oliver's cheek.

"They didn't like that you were involved, but I told them you stuck up for me. They almost didn't let me go to the sleep over, but I'd have sneaked out and met you anyway."

Prosper nodded. I think I know why. His eyes swept over the field of sheep, but his mind was caught with the hand still gripping his.

"My parents- my dad was happy I fought back- but it kind of went downhill from there." Prosper looked into Oliver's hazel eyes carefully.

Oliver couldn't look away; he gripped Prosper's hand tighter, anything to make what he had to say, easier.

The squeeze seemed to bolster Prosper, "Oliver, I told them that- please don't hate me for saying this." His eyes pleaded with Oliver to hear him out, and Oliver felt his heart jump again in anticipation.

"Ever since I met you- it's like we connected." His other hand reached for Oliver's. He gripped them in his, raised them to his chest, "I've never felt so close to someone before- "His voice failed when Oliver began to laugh.

Oliver was laughing hard and his cheeks were tinged brightly red. Prosper tried to pull his hands free of Oliver's grip, but Oliver suddenly sobered.

"Don't," he said softly, and saw the Prosper's furrowed brow and bright eyes. He pulled Prosper's hands more closely to himself, "No, no. I wasn't laughing at you-"

Prosper let out a nervous chuckle, "Geez, Oliver, I spill my heart out and you laugh at me, man that was mean-" he murmured somewhat light heartedly.

"I wasn't!" Oliver protested, "Really! I'm just so happy-" he broke off. He sensed rather than felt Prosper's pulse quicken, where he held his hands so tightly. Prosper was leaning closer; Oliver bent his head, and they both hesitated. Then, Oliver covered the small distance between them and pressed a kiss to Prosper's cheek.

It came easily after that. Prosper embraced Oliver possessively around the waist, curled a hand to cup his neck, and brought their lips together. Oliver ran his fingers through soft curls, pulled Prosper closer. He sighed when Prosper turned his head to press against his cheek. They remained that way; senses tuned toward the warmth each brought, and the comfort the other's presence brought. The knowledge that they wanted the same thing; it sent a flutter through their veins.

"Hey," Oliver whispered, his lips brushing the shell of Prosper's ear.

"What?" Prosper whispered back, kissing Oliver's ear.

"I just thought, this is just like the ants." He pressed his nose into Prosper's neck when he laughed, and grinned. "How's that?" his friend asked, still chuckling lightly.

"We didn't know at all that they were there, even though it was obvious. We didn't know until we really paid attention, enough to hear them. It's just like us."

Prosper rubbed a hand over Oliver's back, and pulled away, where he could see the hazel in Oliver's eyes.

"It was always there," Oliver told him, "We always liked each other, we just didn't know it until we listened-"

Prosper smiled, "You always have to think in terms of nature." He brought a hand up to ruffle Oliver's hair. "Then again," he murmured, somewhat ruefully, "It's the only place where we'll be truly accepted." He thought back to school, and his father.

Oliver eased his head down on Prosper's shoulder. "We'll work it out." He grinned widely, and nipped the flesh of Prosper's neck, gently. "I can't wait to start our camping trip."

"It's beginning, right now." Prosper eased them off the bench, keeping a gentle hand close to Oliver. Holding hands, not afraid to glance at each other with their love plainly obvious in their look, they gathered their bags and trekked up Sheep Hill.