ah, yes, this is a rewrite of something old. i can only hope that i have taken something with potential and only made it better. i'm still working on those reviews from Stepbrothers, but as always, it's a slow process. forgive me.
not beta'd, as i didn't have the chance before posting this in time for my sister's birthday. happy sixteenth, shannon!
saturday, 26 july, 2008. 1:11 am.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
"Have you heard?"
"…The bastard broke the kid's heart."
"Yah, I heard he told him off right nasty first…."
"Nah, he'd actually have to talk for that…you know how that guy is…."
"Yeah, all he ever says is 'leave me alone.' No wonder he's by himself all the time…."
"Well, maybe that's how he really wants it."
"Who could live like that?! Everyone has to have human contact sometime. He just thinks he's too good for the rest of us, but I bet he still finds someone to fuck every now and then."
"Oh yeah? Who? Nobody here would keep it a secret if they shared his bed at night! Use yer head, Dane."
"…Well, where else could he find release? Your hand only goes so far…."
"…I really don't think he does. I don't think he even wants to anymore."
"You know what they say, about how someone died with him before he came here…maybe a lover or something…?"
"I think he's just a cold-hearted bastard, Luwin. You didn't see Barlon crying himself sick after the bastard told him off; I did."
The voices in heated discussion weren't more than loud whispers, but the sounds easily carried through the communal dwelling occupied by the eligible young men of age. Including the topic of the conversation. He was curled up in his corner, a spot where the light and warmth from the fires never seemed quite able to reach.
He'd monopolized this spot ever since the first night he spent in the dwelling, a little more than a year previous.
He had arrived in the village just barely alive, staying in the healer's lodge for more than a week as he recovered. It was true that he had received his fair share of advances of all natures during his stay, but he'd coldly refused until people eventually stopped attempting to do so much as even strike up idle conversation.
That hadn't deterred young Barlon from fancying himself in love with this silent man; he'd publicly approached him and declared his heart-felt emotions, only to receive cruel heartbreak when the object of his affections simply turned and left during the middle of his speech. Yet, it was only a few days after the incident that the young man proclaimed to have fallen in love with another man, who not only received his attentions but promptly tumbled the lad into bed.
Whether the change in feelings was affected by revenge, lust, or simple young whimsy, it didn't matter. It hadn't changed the gossip flying against the man who first spurned Barlon; not that the older man had shown any indication that the harsh words spoken about him ever caused him any harm.
Truth be told, he'd rather the villagers thought of him as horrible and despicable, as it wasn't far off the self-deprecating view he'd held since before his rescue and arrival into the Quarter.
The notorious society within which he'd been forced to settle was split into two separate factions; men, and women.
Each group appointed its own leader, second, and medic.
The factions, while separate, worked closely together as they shared the same interests and compound, a common goal that kept them a community despite the wide-range mixture of people and cultures that made up their inhabitants. The current medic of the male faction was acknowledged to be the superior of the two factions, and he was often busy looking after his own and various women whose problems were beyond the skill of the female medic.
This medic was the one who cared for Zacharias when he first arrived.
"Sean…someone is coming up the path."
The blond haired man in question turned from his work in helping with the raising of a new hut for a recently-mated couple; he looked in the direction of the lesser pathway into the community, the one normally reserved for those coming in from the fields or river. A one-horse cart was making its way down the dusty two-track.
Sean wiped dust from his sweaty forehead and turned to the man with flaming orange hair standing next to him; "That looks like Tim, but he's not meant to pass through for at least another month, is he, Port?"
Port shook his head in negation, hair floating about his face; "Not until the summer Solstice. Wonder what he's doing here so early, like."
A slight frown of curiosity marring his brow, Sean started towards the cart, followed closely by his redheaded second-in-command.
Upon reaching conversing distance with the two men, Tim reigned in his horse, slowly coming to a halt before them; "Sean, I got a powerful injured man wi' me…he's going to need a healer, and right quick, like."
Without question, the blonde turned to his second and merely commanded, "Port…."
The man nodded and loped off in the direction of the medic, and Sean turned back towards the driver of the cart. Tim was a dark-skinned and friendly fellow, if a bit broad in stature, and he often passed through the Quarter an average of two or three times a year. He typically brought with him news from other communities and greetings between friends and family, as well as the odd person or two; people in desperate need of the hospitality and home the Quarter had to offer.
The Quarter had been founded nearly fifty decades prior by a group of men banished from a selection of various tribes, banding together for their common interest. It was true that while general sexual curiosity was tolerated to some extent in most societies, full sexual perversion was usually not. Thus, these men set up a society in which they could exist, and as time went on, they gained more members; among them were a growing group of females who shared the same perversion. Eventually, the separate factions emerged, and with it, the system that effectively ran the entire community.
One of the most important was the system of child rearing. From the early beginning, it was decided that in order to keep their numbers from dwindling, children would have to be produced, rounding their community and continuing the cycle of life. Thus, every month two individuals were chosen from each faction for a ceremony of procreation…in the event of a child from such unions, that child was raised by the entire tribe, each member taking some part in rearing. Once grown, children had the choice of whether to stay or leave to search for mates and lives elsewhere. Not all of those who stayed preferred the company of their sex over the opposite, but chose to stay because the Quarter was their home and they did not want to leave it.
There was a communal dwelling which housed the children and young adults, but once into adulthood, they went on to live in the communal adult dwellings. These were the lodgings for single men and women who were free to partake in any sexual activities with any of those of the same free status. But there were also private dwellings built for couples who had chosen to commit their lives and bodies to just one other…sometimes, two or three couples chose to live together in one dwelling, if they happened to have a particularly strong bond.
There were also separate lodgings provided for the medics and leaders, but the seconds didn't normally have a separate lodging unless already mated; Port, despite being Sean's second, also happened to be his mate.
As a rule, the leader and their second were not allowed to be involved or run the risk of corruption through biases, but their relationship had developed after being elected to their offices. The people let it be, as Sean had proven to be a levelheaded creature of logic, not easily influenced by emotion.
"How bad is he, Tim?" Sean asked, seeing that the man appeared far wearier than he could recall ever before.
Tim sighed and gave a sorrowful shake of his head, "'Tis powerful bad, Sean…they did a number on 'im, that's for sure. Lucky ta still be alive, this one."
"My home is closer than Ret's."
Nodding at the simple directive, Tim clicked his tongue to get his horse started again, knowing the way as he drove to the dwelling Sean had referenced. Sean watched as Tim picked up a limp form from the back of his cart and carried him inside the dimly lit building. They had just set the unconscious man onto some spare bedding when Port arrived, followed by an aging medic.
Everyone waited as Ret approached and began his examination of the man, and Tim pointed, "His back…received lashes from neck to thigh."
Sean was eyeing the man with some interest, seeing how dirty and unkempt the strangely cut garments were; they covered skin from neck to foot, the only bit of flesh visible being gray swatches of face and hands. His hair was undistinguishable in color due to the amount of dirt and grime it had accumulated. Sean had never seen a man so dirty and ungroomed, nor one who wore such clothing. Tim must have come quite a distance to bring him here.
"His back, you said?" the medic confirmed, and Tim gave a gruff nod.
Producing a small stone dagger after rolling the man onto his front, Ret deftly slit the strange shirt down the middle of the back, peeling aside the material and baring the extent of his wounds for the first time. Everyone reeled back in mute horror, taking in the shocking sight of raw flesh, old and new blood, and rampant amounts of muck and infestation.
Port made a slight choking noise as he turned away, the back of his hand pressed tightly against his lips to keep back his rising gorge. The battle with his stomach was lost as the thick smell of infection wafted heavily to his nose, and he had to scramble outside before his innards could repel their contents.
Also nauseous, but for different reasons, Sean joined his lover outside, gulping in vast amounts of fresh air and wishing he could dispel the image of human cruelty inflicted upon another. When the noises broadcasting Port's vomiting had ceased, Sean went over and helped the man cover his mess with dirt to keep down the smell. Moving away from the spot, they hovered near the doorway to their home, still greatly disturbed.
"Who could do that to someone," the redhead finally whispered, echoing the thoughts spinning through his lover's mind as well.
"I dunno, luv, I just…don't know."
After a moment, the blond looked up and said, "Port, I'm going to go inform Marsh about his arrival. Do you mind staying here, in case something happens?"
"I'll stay. …I don't know if I've ever said it, but I sure don't envy Ret's job."
This brought a faint smile from the leader, and he leaned forward to press a light kiss to the other's cheek before he left to find Marsh, the female leader. If the injured man happened to survive and stayed on, then it was only proper to involve the other leader in the decision as well. They might be separate in government, but as they coexisted within the same community, such a decision involved everyone.
Port was the only one present when the stranger regained consciousness. Ret had long since cleaned the man's wounds and wrapped them well before joining Sean as he talked with Marsh and her second. Tim was with them as well, as he knew the most about the circumstances behind the injuries, so Port was the one to stay and keep an eye on the man. It was the deep groan that alerted him that the patient was awakening, and he crouched down nearby with a skein of water in case it was needed.
Fevered eyes blinked open, dark and glassy as they roved until finally settling upon him; the reaction thereof greatly startled him. With just one look, the injured man began swearing out vicious words in an unknown language peppered with more familiar words spoken with a thick accent. Eyes wide, Port backed off and prepared to run for either Ret or Sean--except the stranger fell abruptly silent, eyes closing as he breathed deeply.
Port was still ready to run for help when he realized that the deep breaths were dissolving into quiet sobs, the cries punctuated by a repetition of two words he barely managed to recognize; "Kill me…."
Compassion bled into the redhead's heart, and he slowly crawled back over and laid a gentle hand upon the man's bared arm.
The kind touch caused the sobs to become more severe, words robbed until there was just one, "Jules."
Tim revealed to Sean and Marsh that he'd come across the man while passing through a tiny and relatively secluded village a fair distance away. He'd been publicly flogged and left to die from the extent of his wounds and exposure. After a moment, he mentioned that there had been another man who had received the same fate but had already succumbed by the time Tim happened upon the pair of them.
He'd been forced to leave that man as he was, unable to stop and bury the unfortunate soul…but he'd taken the time to grab the one left alive and flee before anyone could stop him. Although, he later reflected, he wasn't sure if someone would have cared enough to stop him…he'd seen the pained and drawn faces of some of the inhabitants whenever they caught sight of the men who had been left out for the scavenging birds.
It was only once Zacharias recovered that anyone learned his name, and he never uttered the name of the other man…never spoke of the situation that led up to his predicament. If it could be helped, he never spoke at all.
It was as if it never happened. If Port remembered the name spoken just the once, he never let on to anyone else.
-- -- --
Port hummed a tuneless little melody beneath his breath as he went about doing some of the day's everyday errands. It was getting warmer, and seeds needed to be brought from storage for spring planting out in the fields. Sean was off meeting with Marsh to discuss the month's ceremony of procreation. How Port hated the ceremony; he was always glad that as he was mated, he was no longer required to partake in the uncomfortable situation. He'd had to do it twice, and the experience was something that rather made him queasy in recollection.
He balanced a tightly-woven basket filled with grains against his hip, idly recalling how long the intricate pattern woven into it had taken him; Sean had repeatedly teased that he'd grown far more obsessed with the project than their lovemaking. That had eventually led to quite a row; Port had taken offence and let his temper get out of hand, leading to Sean losing his usually unflappable cool in response. Of course, both realized the spat was basically over nothing, but Port wasn't known for his hot-blooded temper when provoked for nothing. Still, Sean's apology for riling him had been rather wonderful…and then his returning gesture had been most pleasurable as well….
Port slowly came to a standstill, a dreamy sort of smile on his face as he remembered the bout of heavy lovemaking that had resulted from that little blowup. That portion of his relationship never suffered despite everything else, of that he was certain. Although, he was still somewhat amazed at how much his blonde-headed mate seemed to love him despite his peculiar idiosyncrasies. He was younger than Sean by a good three years, which wouldn't be a great deal if not for the fact that Port was still only seventeen.
He'd been elected to position as second when he was fourteen, which is something in and of itself, as he'd migrated to the Quarter just the previous year before that. It was strange for two such young adults to both be elected as leaders for the village; usually those with more life experience were the most likely to be chosen.
A situation had cropped up not long after he'd arrived to the Quarter, one in which he was plunged into the thick of a jealousy battle between two inhabitants. He'd been unwittingly used to smite and enflame one against the other, and it wasn't until an outright brawl occurred that he became aware of the war. Using his common sense, he waylaid the scuffle and talked the two from the bitterness; the couple split in result, but no longer harbored the feelings of aggression and hatred they once had. Sean later confessed that his feelings for the younger man had stemmed from then.
Still lost in his thoughts, Port's eyes wandered the scenery, pausing only when he saw two figures walking down the main road leading into the village proper. One of them was tall and lanky, while the other moved in a stiff fashion…as if he believed himself walking into a village of thieves or lepers. There was only one person Port knew to act in such a manner…but it couldn't be.
Both figures had flaming orange hair.
He didn't noticed when his numbed fingers let the basket slip to the ground, the contents spilling about his feet. Nor did he notice the way he began to walk closer, his heart ratcheting inside his chest and his eyes becoming bright.
It was only when the taller figure stopped and cried out, voice deep but childlike in tone, "Port," that he stopped disbelieving. A brilliant smile lit up his face as he ran to meet up with the figure barreling towards him much like a runaway horse and cart; they clashed, and he found himself swept into the air and spun around. A shriek of pure delight escaped him, as it always had, but then he was lowered and crushed against the gangling form, his oxygen supply severely limited.
"Ollie…I can't breath…," he gasped, and the taller man let go in an instant and backed off, an anxious expression etched onto his face.
"I hurt Port?" the man worried, and Port forced a smile--more of a grimace, really--to pull at his mouth.
"No, of course not…just go easy on your brother, okay?" Holding his arms out, Port immediately had a clinging man to his chest.
"Missed Port. Sorry I hurt; accident," he murmured, sounding more like an eight-year-old than the mid-twenties man that he was.
Softening, Port stroked his palm down the curved back, "I understand. I really missed you too, Ollie. …Ollie…squeezing…." Again, his breath was being pressed from him, and he wiggled as he tried to extricate himself from the overly tight grip.
"Ollie, back off!" The harsh reprimand had no sooner been issued than the tall man leapt backwards, a chagrined and guilty expression on his down-turned face.
Port seethed, turning his attention to his second-eldest brother; "Damn it, Robin, must you always shout at him like some mongrel dog?!"
Robin was two years Port's senior, and Ollie was five years older than Robin. Yet it had been the second-eldest who had taken up the burden of caring for his two brothers when their father died more than ten years prior. He had promised the dying man that he'd do his best, that he'd never let them come to harm.
It had been that promise, and that promise only, that had forced his hand in allowing Port to be merely banished from their tribe. The normal punishment was physical disfigurement before banishment. If not for that oath, Robin very well may have been one of the leading forerunners against his own brother, physically holding the knife slicing off an ear and scarring the face from hairline to chin.
It had been Robin who told a certain young man that the only place left for him was the Quarter, the only suitable home for 'mistakes of nature.' But, he hadn't allowed his brother to be harmed beforehand, and had even arranged something of a guide to ensure that Port made it without dying.
"What are you doing here?" Port finally asked, certain that it wasn't a mere friendly visit. Ollie had already forgotten he was supposed to be contrite, his attention taken up by avidly staring at the setting around him; he visibly vibrated, and Port could only guess that severe restraint kept him from flying off in the first direction to go explore.
"I brought him," Robin replied stiffly, not needing to elaborate on whom they were discussing.
"I thought you were going to take care of him…you promised me that when I left!" Port's cry was accusatory, his bearing straightening up with menace.
Anger flashed in his brother's eyes when the man bit out, "I have. But there's nothing I can do to save him anymore, not after…. He attacked a boy."
"No…he can't, he wouldn't…." Port was horrified.
"He can, and did. You know how he's not aware of his own strength…he really hurt Arvi before I managed to pull him off. He's lucky they didn't kill him for his crime!"
"I said sorry. Accident." Both men turned towards the sulky voice, Ollie standing there with a bit of a glower and childish indignation in the way he crossed his arms over his chest.
Robin stepped closer and made as if to backhand him, and the taller man dropped his act of anger in lieu of flinching backwards, clearly afraid of being hit by a man a full foot shorter than himself.
"Robin, don't be that way, please…," Port wearily interjected, and his brother shot him a short glare before he tersely relaxed and stepped away.
The older man rolled his shoulders; "Anyway. I give him back to you to care for. He's not allowed back now."
Robin's declaration was followed by a tearful, "Robin leave me? You hate me now?"
Wincing at the accusatory tone, Robin made the mistake of looking at his brother…who was freely allowing his tears to fall, large drops streaking his miserable face.
"Robin hate me! You hate me!"
Port was amused at how fast his brother emotionally backpedaled, unable to stand firm against their brother's tears. Neither of them ever could, and he wasn't so sure that Ollie didn't in some way know that.
"Ollie…I don't hate you. But you have to stay here with Port now, and be good for him, okay?"
Sighing at the sight of the tears still falling, Ollie's fists rubbing his eyes as he began to hiccup, Robin reluctantly held out his arms in invitation. It nearly caused Port to laugh aloud to see his stiff older brother being smothered in the embrace of the taller man, allowing himself to be mercifully squeezed.
"Don't want Robin to go…Ollie never see again," Ollie whimpered, his words mirroring exactly what he'd said to Port when he'd been forced to leave.
Tears prickled the youngest brother's eyes at the painful memory. Up until that point, it had been him who had cared for Ollie and made sure he stayed out of trouble, looking out for the simple-headed man. It had been him who had been Ollie's guidance and constant companion. When he left, he supposed that Robin had been forced to try to fill that role, even though he had never had been as patient as Port had always managed to be.
Ollie finally rubbed an arm across his eyes and managed a sad little smile, "Kay. Promise to be good."
Robin patted his brother's shoulder with veiled affection before turning to the youngest of them. "Keep a close eye on him, Port…he seems to suffer the same bout of perversion as yourself. I managed to get the leaders to let him stay, but this last time…it was simply too much for me to smooth over."
Then, his voice tight as the words were forced out, "It's…good to see that you are well. Even if you're a…."
"Mistake?" Port's voice was wounded, the pain at hearing those words from his brother years before still open and raw.
The mistake when he was born, killing their mother. A mistake when his perversion became evident, when he allowed another boy to…. A mistake that he was ever related to his own brother. All the things that Robin had shouted at him the day he left, the words that had never failed to eat away at his heart ever since.
His brother heaved a sigh; "No, not a mistake. I was…I was wrong. Even if you malfunction in…that way. I won't pretend I don't think it's wrong and unnatural, but…I was wrong that I hurt you. I'm sorry."
Port shuffled his feet in awkwardness at hearing the words that sounded as if they had been aching to be said for some time, and it eased some of the ache he'd felt at wanting to hear them for even longer.
Robin was the first to break the silence by glancing upwards and then muttering, "Taller'n me too; simply not fair."
That brought a smile to Port's face, and he finally looked at his brother. "Thank you. Ollie will be fine here."
Nodding, Robin turned and began walking back out of the village, not even able to look back when Ollie cried out behind him, "I love you!"
His feelings hurt, Ollie snuffled and willingly buried his face against Port's comforting shoulder. "Ollie bad, but say sorry," he mumbled, and Port soothingly rubbed his back.
"Come on…let's go see where I live, huh?"
Taking the man's bigger hand into his own, he proceeded to lead him to the home he shared with Sean, hypersensitive and aware of the stares aimed at the both them as they walked. He chose to ignore it until things had been sorted out with his lover and leader. Ollie appeared to have partially recovered from before, his chipper mood sliding back into place.
"Thirsty," he brightly declared as he ogled his new environment and eagerly tugged on his brother's hand.
Port smiled at the childish enthusiasm, and said, "There's a water pouch inside."
He let go of his brother's hand to duck inside the home, hunting for one of the leather pouches they had for storing drinking water. When he found one, he turned, only to discover that he was alone; ducking back outside, he groaned as he realized that his brother had already disappeared from view.
"Damn it, I used to know better than that," he swore, anxiously using his eyes to search for where his brother might have gone. He walked around the side of his home and froze, his eyes horrifically widening as he finally spotted the tall redhead…planted down on the ground next to Zacharias and obliviously blathering on about something or other as the other unemotionally continued on with his work.
Rushing over, Port admonished, "Ollie, you were meant to stay with me!"
Then, to the quiet man, he hastily apologized, "I'm so sorry, please don't mind my brother, he didn't mean you any harm."
Zacharias was in the process of gutting and cleaning some fish he'd hooked earlier in the morning, and Ollie seemed to be fascinated with the process. And with the man himself--especially by the mass of braids adorning his head.
Once he'd sufficiently healed from his extensive wounds, the quietly anti-social man had been forced to bathe himself well, and was given new clothing quite unlike the ones he once owned. He wore an armless tunic cinched at the waist, and trousers that stopped just below the knee, displaying more skin than he ever had before. The bath and clothing had transformed him from being filthily nondescript into a mildly handsome man. His shoulder length hair was dark brown in color, almost the shade of a grizzly's coat, and he had light brown eyes. His features were strong and sharp, nearly all angles except for his weak chin and short nose. It could almost be said that it was as if his face had been pressed flat, but not so much as to have an unpleasant effect.
His fingers nimbly worked as they labored with the hooked stone blade meant for shaving the scales from fish, the bones and muscles of his hand clearly flexing beneath tanned skin.
A pleasant grin splitting his face, Ollie reached out and gave a good-natured tug to the end of one of Zacharias' braids.
"Ollie," Port severely reprimanded, and the man shrank back and hung his head, but not before Port caught sight of the deeply hurt expression on his face.
"It's alright. As you said…he means no harm," Zacharias quietly spoke, startling the redhead standing before the two.
There was an awkward pause while Port searched for something to say, and finally, he settled on simply directing towards his brother, "Ollie, are you still thirsty? I brought some water for you."
Ollie lit up and eagerly nodded, holding his hands out in a greedy fashion. Port chuckled as he handed over the careworn pouch, his smile fond as he watched his brother drink his fill and plus some. Zacharias looked up and gave a thoughtful frown, astute perceptions flitting through his mind. It was rather easy to read Port's thoughts.
"I'll watch him here while you go find Sean, if you want."
The offer surprised Port the most of all, and he blinked a moment before incredulously asking, "Seriously? I mean…he needs nearly constant attention." It was a lot to ask of someone.
"I said I would. You have no need to worry; there was a girl I knew once who was the same."
Filled with reluctance and misgivings, Port was unsure as to why Zacharias would suddenly be so…socially helpful and upfront, but it would be easier on his mind to leave his charge here while he went over the line into the female faction.
"Ollie, you'll be okay here? You promise to be good?" he finally asked, and his brother nodded his head in solemn promise.
"Ollie be good, Port. I like the nice man."
Nice man? Zacharias…? Port's mouth twitched slightly, but all he said was, "Okay. Don't you leave Zacharias' side, you hear me? I'll be right back."
"Kay. I be good like you said."
With that amiable agreement, Port walked off, uneasily glancing over his shoulder…somehow, he felt that he could trust his brother with the other man. How he knew it, he couldn't say, but he let himself go with his instincts. They'd rarely failed him before.
There was a long pause afterwards, the remaining redhead appearing to be deep in thought as he continued watching Zacharias. He could do both, much as people were led to believe otherwise, and he enjoyed both pastimes; the braided man was interesting.
"Port look like Momma afore she die," he finally commented, his brow creased; the worry lines disappeared as he abruptly smiled.
"Big now, not like small when left. Taller than Robin. …Look nice, my brother. You think so?" He tilted his head towards the man seated beside him, the man who seemed able to capture his unfailing attention without even trying.
Zacharias didn't look up, his voice bland as he replied, "I suppose," while continuing to gut his catch.
Ollie hummed. "Not pretty as you. Why hair so many?" he asked, curious and reaching out to lightly tug on one of the many numerous braids.
The man was quiet a moment, but then finally replied, "They mean I'm sad."
On cue, Ollie felt sadness, asking, "Why? Someone yell at you? I get sad, when I'm bad."
"No…something much worse. I…," he sighed, looking up at Ollie with those brown eyes, "I lost someone I cared deeply for."
"Lost? …Like when I can't find way in woods?" Ollie pressed, perturbed and unable to explain how he could see veritable pain in Zacharias' gaze.
Zacharias looked away, "No, they died."
"Oh. Never wake up again…that sort of lost?" Ollie clarified, and the other man nodded.
"Momma died, I 'member. But there was Port. He like Momma sometimes, take care of me," he stated, grinning as he heard soft laughter escape his companion.
"You laugh at me," he gaily accused, pointing a long finger at his new acquaintance; he didn't know why the man was laughing, but he joined in anyway.
"Port is very mothering, yes. Some of the children will call him Ma'ta," Zacharias offered, not realizing that for the first time in months, he'd allowed himself to feel a spark of amusement. Even if momentarily, he forgot his reason for wearing braids and maintaining a stony distance from anyone who might open up a barely scabbed wound.
"Aha ha! Port like woman!" Ollie crowed gleefully, cracking up at the childish hilarity of the thought.
The mental image of his brother in skirt or dress, or makeup around the eyes like the women of his tribe, had him collapsing into giggles, his countenance bright and cheerful. And, he was glad to see Zacharias' teeth when the man smiled at him; a bare flash, straight and white. Ollie thought the man was the prettiest person he'd ever seen, many times more so than any woman; he decided then and there that the man was his new friend, and rather hoped the man felt the same for him.
Finally calming, he pointed towards the task nearly completed during the interim; "What kind fish?"
"River trout, mostly, a bit of crappy too. Ever tasted trout?"
Ollie frowned in thought; "Brown and green?"
Zacharias nodded, and Ollie admitted, "Yes, sometimes catch 'this' many," he held out his arms, "I like fish. My favorite."
Smiling once more, his friend turned his face towards him and asked, "Oh? Do you like catfish?"
"Live in holes along bank? …Try to bite if you reach inside hole with whole hand?"
"Yes, river catfish."
"Hard to catch, much trouble for me. You catch before?" Ollie asked, leaning forward in eagerness; his blue eyes were wide and interested, taking in every word.
"I have caught and dried some, yes. Actually, I know a special trick that gets them to come out of their holes. I could show you sometime. Would you like that?"
Ollie's eyes lit up bright, and he eagerly vibrated in place before allowing himself a bounce; "Oh please, oh please, oh please!"
Another smile flashed his way before it quickly died when Zacharias' eyes shifted over the shoulder of the redhead, seeing Sean and Port approaching. Ollie turned to see what he was looking at, and lit up anew at the sight of his brother returning.
Scrambling to his feet, he bounced in place and cried out, "Port! I be good, very good, see?" His brother grinned deeply, making Ollie feel warm and happy. He had been good, and Port was pleased.
"I'm very proud of you, Ollie." The tall man beamed from the praise, lapping it up unconditionally, as if a small child.
Port's smile dimmed a bit with nerves, but he turned a bit towards his lover and said, "Ollie, this is Sean. He is my mate."
Ollie frowned slightly, mulling it over in his head. "Like…Momma and Da?" he finally asked, and Port gave a faint flush even as he nodded in affirmation.
"Um…Sean like…brother, then?" Ollie guessed, his excitement barely checked.
When Port again nodded, Sean didn't even have a chance to blink before he was swept up and into a hug with a low 'oomph!' Ollie wasn't much taller than the blonde and weighed a good deal less, but his strength was almost shocking. Sean had never met a man who could pick him up with as much ease as the redhead who squeezed him and laughed with abandon.
"Brother Sean, brother Sean…gots a brother Sean!" Ollie sang out before releasing the winded man, who stumbled back and rubbed his side with a rueful grin. Sean shared an amused glance with his lover, who appeared both chagrined and trying to hold back his laughter.
Meanwhile, Ollie dropped into a crouch and jabbered at his new friend, "I gots a new brother! …Port like woman, after all." He snickered, gleefully amused when his brother blushed and spluttered indignantly, much to the low ribbing of his lover.
Zacharias was more reserved now that there were witnesses, but his tone was still mildly warm as he replied to Ollie, "I heard. Lucky you, eh? Brothers are special." Never mind that both of his had died young.
Ollie nodded in agreement, changing the subject by asking, "When you show me trick for fish?"
Both men still standing were amazed as Zacharias easily answered the man, his words too low for them to catch but his open manner apparent. It was a bit of a shock, really, how he acted towards the child-minded redhead.
"You didn't believe me," Port murmured o his lover, who was still recovering from his hug and loss of contact with the ground, not to mention witnessing the newest behavior of one of his people.
Shaking his head, his tone was rueful; "Never would have believed it if I didn't see it with my own eyes."
A slight smile crossed his face; he'd been surprised when he found Port looking for him in the women's faction, a place Port never felt quite comfortable wandering through. He was aware of how the procreation ceremonies still weighed heavily on his mate's thoughts; there was a small redhead in the children's dwelling, and there was no doubt as to who fathered the girl. What he couldn't understand was Port's inability to approach that child as he did any of the others; a fear was there that Sean couldn't soothe, much as he wished otherwise.
Once Sean was informed of the circumstances involving Ollie's stay in the Quarter, he had not hesitated a moment in offering that the man be brought to live with them instead of the communal dwelling. The swelling love in his mate's eyes had only reminded Sean of just why he cherished the lean man.
And now, here was the childish yet likeable fellow who was talking rapidly with Zacharias--who was replying in kind, albeit far more reservedly, but still talking. It was something of a relief to witness, to know that perhaps this simple man could thaw the heart of Zacharias, giving him back his emotion and want for humanity. Too long had Sean been forced to watch Zacharias suffer in silence, watch him close off from nearly all pleasures of life. Zacharias needed a friend, and it appeared only too obvious that Ollie had taken to him quite nicely. With any hope, the friendship would force the quiet man from his shell long enough for him to realize that there was something in this life still worth living for.
He sympathized with the poor fellow, after all; if he were to lose Port, his outlook could very well turn bleak and shrouded in misery.
"Ollie…we have to show you where you're going to be living from now on," Port spoke finally, and the crouched man looked up at him with a bit of hesitation before turning back to his new friend.
Zacharias didn't need to read minds to know what he was thinking. "Go. We will talk later," he quietly promised, and the redhead finally nodded and decisively stood. His brother automatically clasped his hand within his own and began walking away. Ollie looked backwards just once as he followed Port, pleased when he saw that his friend was looking at him as well.
Long after the small group had departed, Zacharias sat in thought--his cleaned fish lay forgotten in front of him. There was something impossible to not like about the tall redhead, something that he instinctively found himself reacting to. Ollie was so earnest in nature and obviously goodhearted, that much was for certain. But there was a depth to the man that many people wouldn't be able to understand or even notice. He couldn't even be certain that Port himself would be able to recognize it; he seemed to love his brother, that much was obvious, but he still treated him as one would a small child. Not just in his words, but his fatherly actions, as if Ollie was nothing more than a toddler to be coddled and corrected.
Zacharias knew Ollie's mind was childlike in many ways, but he had sensed that the man was much brighter than he let on to be. It had first become apparent when Ollie's attention had been riveted by their conversation about fish; the way his eyes lit with knowing and intelligence. Even his overall grammar had improved the more serious his tone became. This led the man to believe that perhaps Ollie had been treated as a child for so very long that he'd come to revel in continuing to behave that way…even when he was clearly brighter than he seemed.
Vaguely, Zacharias could recall the case of a similar child he had known, many years ago. The girl had been pitied and spoiled for most her life, and she gradually learned that childish antics would cause others to indulge her whims. Zacharias had been one of precious few who had never given in to such actions, and upon the realization that such antics wouldn't work with him, she'd curbed the behaviors. While not on the same level of intelligence as even Ollie, he had been able to hold mature discussions with that girl. …She had been a friend.
Finally shaking himself of his musings, Zacharias cleaned up his mess and silently went about his business, thoughts on the adorable redhead shunted to the back of his mind. If they had been in the forefront, he might have noticed that when it came to Ollie, his hard-built defenses had already crumbled.
He got up and went to ask Ret for a loan of a specific dried herb he didn't already have in his packs.
Darkness pervaded the compound late that night, but a group of men laughed as they ate their communal meal around one of the fires inside their dwelling; the smoke twisted up and flowed through a smoke hole specifically put into the ceiling, joining the tendrils sent up by similar fires. They didn't pay much attention to the quiet man sitting within their midst, a bowl of forgotten stew sitting near his feet as he stared into the coals with concentration; they never paid much attention to him at all, anymore. It was how he liked it. But tonight was one night he didn't give it much thought.
When he certain the moment was right, he used sticks to remove a wrapped bundle from the coals, silence falling as they watched him unwrap one of the fish he'd caught earlier in the day; it was specially prepared in an obviously time-consuming manner…as if made for a special occasion or gift.
They remained silent for the entire time he went about transferring the meal to a bundle of large leaves, the fish tied carefully to prevent meat or steam to escape, and they were still watching as he quietly stood and left the dwelling…an event that had never happened, that they were aware. Once darkness fell and the Quarter inhabitants retired to their dwellings, Zacharias stayed inside and kept to himself. He was not known for going on social callings.
Whispers broke out the moment he exited, rumors spreading on what he could be doing and who he was going to see. Everyone knew that when you visited a person, you bore a gift.
Long after he was gone, conversation buzzed with his name and speculations on the lucky bastard he'd deigned worth his company.
The paths were dimly lit by stars just barely beginning to peer down from the night sky, but Zacharias knew his way well enough that he had no difficulty making it to the leader's dwelling, having gotten wind that Ollie was staying with his brother. Hesitating only slightly as he heard muted voices coming from inside, he nonetheless gave a light knock beside the open doorway. Sean's face appeared after a moment, momentarily strained at the thought of what could pull him away so late at night, only to show shock as he saw his visitor.
"I've come to see Ollie, as I promised," Zacharias murmured, and the blonde blinked, but stepped back and motioned the man inside.
Ollie was seated next to his brother and rapidly chattering away at him about something or another, but Port was as anxious about the reason for the knock as Sean had been. Nothing could have prepared him for the man who ducked inside and latched eyes immediately to his brother, who in turn practically glowed once he saw who had come to visit.
"Zacharias! Ollie miss you!" he cried, and Sean and Port were shocked to see the unabashedly pleased grin flicker briefly across the brunette's face in response. He moved over and crouched beside his friend, laying out the bundle as Ollie copied his position.
"I brought trout," Zacharias pleasantly announced, and Ollie's eyes went huge and round, the blue of his irises darker in the dimmer light of the dwelling.
The brunette nodded-- again smiling at receiving a blinding grin--only to be knocked off-balance by the taller man's intense hug; his eyes widened as both fell over. Ollie took the opportunity to snuggle against the man's chest with joy, giving off a joyous--if tuneless--humming.
Port was shocked beyond words, but Zacharias didn't once make a move to stop the cuddling that was being forcibly inflicted upon him. Finally, Port coughed and gently stated, "Ollie, you should let the poor soul back up…that can't be too comfortable for him."
Somewhat reluctant, Ollie was nonetheless apologetic as he backed off and pulled his friend up, biting his lower lip in anxiety that he'd hurt him. Zacharias brushed off the apology, indicating the fish with almost gleeful impatience as he asked, "Aren't you going to try it?"
Ollie appeared to have forgotten all about it, but set into the fish with gust; he picked up a tender sliver of flesh and popped it into his mouth, chewing before he slowed. A wondrous expression came to his face, and he rapidly swallowed.
"It's good! I never eat like that!" he honestly exclaimed.
Zacharias was pleased, and his faint smile showed it as he proudly proclaimed, "My uncle taught me the technique for fish when I was but very young. It's all in the herbs and just the right amount of time in the fire. It's always been my favorite."
"You would teach me?" Ollie asked, his eyes wide and eager, chewing on another sliver of fish.
Hesitating just slightly, Zacharias nonetheless gave a slight nod, "Yes. I will teach you to cook a fish the way I was learned from my uncle."
Ollie seemed ready to explode before he entire countenance suddenly fell. His tone was one of misery as he shook his head, saying, "I can't cook."
Zacharias leaned forward, voice fiery as he argued, "Yes, you can."
The redhead again shook his head; "No. Ollie not smart enough to get it right."
Port had never heard his brother speak such of his own intelligence, knowingly acknowledging that there was something less than normal about the way he thought and understood. Above all, it was a first he'd ever heard Ollie say something so adult in delivery.
He blinked when Zacharias wasted no time in leaning forward, gripping Ollie's chin as he stated firmly; "Yes, you can. If you can catch the fish, then you can most certainly learn to cook it. I know you can do all this, Ollie; all you have to do is trust me. Can you do that?"
Ollie's eyes were wide and openly trusting, borderline worship shining behind those irises as he nodded and promised, "I try."
Again, the rarity of Zacharias' smile was flashed, catching the other two occupants of the dwelling off guard; Sean would never have guessed that the man possessed such a charming dimple in his left cheek, but it was beyond obvious just then. Not for the first time, he marveled at the difference in appearance one smile could make. When Zacharias smiled, Sean could see the depth of his beauty fighting to come out, that depth he'd always known to be hidden somewhere beneath that forced cold exterior.
Upon Zacharias' verbal confirmation to Ollie's promise, the redhead grinned and returned to his fish, digging up another sliver of fish with his fingers and popping it into his mouth before seeming to finally remember that there were others present as well.
He held his gift out to his brother and Sean, asking, "You try? Very good."
Port shook his head, saying gently, "That is your gift, brother," but the taller man frowned as he looked down at the food nestled within his large palm.
"But I want to share," he protested finally, looking up again with a hint of stubborn fire in his eyes. Not being able to argue the logic, both Sean and Port took a small portion of the fish, their expressions just as wondrous as Ollie's had been once they tasted of it.
"That's simply fantastic," Sean commented, never knowing to have tasted trout that well done. As a rule, he cared more for small game and birds than fish, but the sample he'd just ingested was nearly enough to make him change his mind.
Ollie beamed at the praise, as proud as if he'd made the fish himself. He went as to offer a piece to the benefactor of the light meal, but the man gently pushed the bundle back at him, saying, "No thank you. I will have the first piece to come from your hand rather than mine."
Light flared into Ollie's eyes, and he easily promised, "I try very hard to do it right, then!"
Allowing a fond smile to grace his mouth for a few moments, Zacharias nonetheless visibly retreated back within himself once more as he announced, "I will retire now," causing Port to tense at seeing the frightened horror on his brother's face.
"Zacharias leave me now?" Ollie pressed, and the other man nodded. Ollie accepted the situation without throwing a fit--as he had in the past--and Port was relieved. It was difficult to calm a grown man who could rail and rant and toss someone off as easily as he could water from the river.
Instead, Ollie's voice was timid as he asked, "You see me tomorrow?"
Zacharias bowed his head slightly in agreement; "Of course. Hersha' le dun."
"What that mean?" Ollie asked, brow furrowed at not understanding the strange language.
Blinking, having not meant to speak the phrase, Zacharias nonetheless translated, "It means, 'sleep well and dream light'."
Having spoken, he bowed his head in respect towards Sean and Port; "I apologize for my untimely intrusion; I will take my leave of you now."
Thus said, he got to his feet and ducked from the dwelling, leaving Ollie to stare after him, melancholy etched clearly upon his face as he used one long finger to poke at some the leftover bits of his fish. Somehow, he was certain it wouldn't taste quite as delicious as it had when his friend was still there.
"You will see him tomorrow," Port soothed, and the other redhead sighed.
"I know. Just want to see now."
The stars were a bit brighter as Zacharias walked back to the communal dwelling. He was lost in his thoughts, trying to figure the exact reason he'd taken the time to prepare the trout the way he was taught years ago. At the time, he hadn't thought about the 'why', just the knowledge that Ollie would enjoy it; that had been reason enough.
But growing up, that particular method was only used during ceremonies or momentous occasions--the birth of a child, or achieving adulthood. There was much time and effort involved in order for the more delicate fish used to turn out the way it was meant. Zacharias' uncle's version of the delicacy had been much desired throughout the village, and the man had passed it down to his only surviving nephew in the hopes that it would continue to live through the family line.
Zacharias' family had fallen ill to a widespread, deadly disease when he was barely of the age to walk, killing his parents and two older brothers while sparing his life. His uncle had raised and cared for him, taught him the ways of being honest among men; for the first time since he'd arrived in the village, Zacharias wondered how his uncle fared without him. If he ever wondered about him in return.
Not that it would matter, regardless. The majority of his punishment had been in the death of his memory; whether he had lived or not, his status would have always remained in that of the departed. Even if he returned to his village some day, they would never recognize him as one of their own.
Such a thought made him pause, bitterness searing deep within his gut as he glared into the darkness around him; there was that odd prickle behind his eyes that was easily blinked away, his frown chasing away the bleaker things.
So engrossed in his internal battle to keep himself from remembering too much, Zacharias didn't notice how conversation halted once he'd stepped inside the communal dwelling, nor did he give notice when it buzzed back into existence as he made his way back to his sleeping pallet.
He did, however, notice when a spiteful voice spoke, "I heard he's not right in the head. Acts a fool…even worse than the youngest child. There isn't any intelligence there at all--rather pathetic, really. A waste."
"Aw, Jerick, that's cruel. A body can't help the inflictions they're born with."
"But does that mean the rest of us should be forced to take on the burden of his survival? My father always said that a child as can't grow up to be useful to the tribe wasn't meant to live. Why should we have to put up with him, huh?"
There was audible disgust; "Do we have to put up with your ugly nature? 'Cause that seems to be an infliction upon us."
"The man's an idiot and drain upon all of us! If he can't do anything for himself, he'll never contribute anything worthwhile! Surely that must mean something to the lot of you, having to work harder to feed the mouth of some feeble moron!"
Unadulterated rage and righteous fury held Zacharias' spine rigid, his hands curled into white-knuckled fists as he turned from where he'd stood frozen during the speech; he stalked over to the group of men, eyes seeing just one. Hatred lit his eyes as the gaze of the one who had spouted all those foul words against his friend rose up and spotted him.
Jerick startled to his feet, but was unable to react when Zacharias stormed over and delivered a resounding blow to the side of his face. He stared at the brunette, mouth open in shock and not even noticing the red-welted handprint rising on his cheek.
The moment of silence following seemed to boil Zacharias' rage even further, his mouth twisted into a sneer.
"Lenoya trildar e ti!"
He didn't even noticed he was spitting out an insult in a language they didn't recognize, but followed it with a gesture they knew more about--he rudely spat at Jerick's feet, glaring at the man before abruptly turning and stalking off for his lonely corner once again.
Only after he was seen retiring to his bed did people finally shake themselves from their near-stupor, retiring to their pallets with unnatural stealth. There was normally much ribbing and talking going on, and other 'activities', but this night, not many felt up to doing more than falling asleep.
Jarick was still at a loss as to what had happened exactly, but the throbbing now encompassing the entire side of his face wouldn't allow him to forget the look of fury that had overtaken such a usually cold-mannered visage.
Whatever those strange and guttural words Zacharias spoke had been, they made him shiver with unpleasant disquiet.
If the display of Zacharias' temper hadn't been a clue as for the strength of his feelings for the simple-minded redhead, the following day's events would definitely have been something to behold. Almost immediately upon seeing the braided brunette hair of his friend the following morning, Ollie bounded over and knocked the poor man from his feet to the dirt below.
Zacharias went down with a pained 'oomph!' and silence fell as everyone anxiously awaited the foul slew of curses that had been known to pour from the man whenever his ire was raised--instead, they heard the odd sound of a rusty laugh, low and obviously unused for a long time.
Port sighed in relief, unaware he'd been holding his breath in the first place. That laughter wasn't something that should have been able to shock all inhabitants within hearing distance, but it did--coming from a man who never smiled, never laughed.
That man was sprawled in the dirt beneath the weight of a hyper, chirping redhead who acted as though his best friend in the world was within his proximity. Looking away as Zacharias laughingly convinced Ollie to roll off so he could get back to his feet, Port figured that perhaps the man was his brother's best friend. For as long as he could remember, nobody had ever taken to Ollie quite so well, immediately accepting the man for who he was.
It had always pained Port that people could be so cruel towards his brother, as the kindly fool didn't have a mean bone in his body. But Zacharias…this man who Port would have bet would be the least likely to even withstand his brother's presence, was patient with him. Laughed with him--as if he truly cared for and liked him.
It was perplexing, to be sure, but who was he to complain?
The memory of fevered sobbing still haunted Port at times, that one simple phrase searing his heart with ache. It took utter desolation for someone to wish for death with such bitter certainty. In a way, Port harbored some guilt for having been unable to honor that request, even though Zacharias had never given any indication that he ever regretted surviving his wounds.
It was still obvious to anyone perceptive enough that the man had lost everything he valued worth living for.
As Port watched Ollie drag his unresisting new friend towards the river, he could only wonder if perhaps Zacharias might find something worthwhile in the unlikely friendship.
-- -- -- -- --
A/N: end part one.