part two

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As the days of the season melted away, the initial bizarre sight of Zacharias and Ollie together became commonplace enough that the tongues had quit wagging with wild speculation. For the first time, Ollie found himself ingratiated into the good graces of nearly everyone within the village, and he especially loved the children.

The youngest of them found a wonderful playmate in the easy-going man, and were delighted that a grownup would whole-heartedly partake in their games and amusements without rebuke. The older ones enjoyed his company merely for the fact that he liked to talk and listen to them as individuals--they recognized that he was a kind soul, and a friend if they were ever in need.

Even if he could be easily distracted.

Ollie had never received such warm words and true friendship from so many in his life--before, people had treated him well enough, but they never saw him as a normal person worthy of time and attention. Now he had many friends within both factions; nobody was able to coexist between the men and women as easily as he, for he was able to freely come and go as he pleased without worry of hindrance.

He often found himself sharing meals with the female healer, who had a special fondness for his unabashed nature and friendly curiosity in the way things worked and why. She often answered his many questions with open candor, and laughed at his light-hearted take on life. He adored her very much.

But as much as he enjoyed being with everyone, he still regarded Zacharias with near-worship. The man was never harsh or impatient with him, and had never laughed at something Ollie might do that others would not. He smiled whenever Ollie was close, and he made things easy for him to understand and grasp.

Sometimes Ollie would sit and watch Zacharias work, eyes sharp as they followed every movement--as time went on, the redhead finally decided that he loved his very best friend with all of his being. The revelation didn't change his behavior, didn't change the way things were between them. But he felt it all the same, and it sometimes caused strange sensations inside whenever he sat too close, or saw a far-off sadness enter his friend's eyes whenever there was too much silence.

It hurt. As did seeing his brother and Sean when they thought nobody was watching, or hearing them at night when they thought he'd fallen asleep. He'd lay there, face towards the wall as he heard them whisper--and sometimes other things--and he'd pick at the swept dirt floor until he fell asleep with a growing dull ache somewhere in his gut.


It was several months after Ollie's self-revelation before the delicate issue finally came to a head. As promised, Zacharias had been teaching him his special preparation of fish, patiently going over the process often so that Ollie might manage to do it by himself without prompting.

"Now that you've gathered your herbs, what do you do?" Zacharias asked the redhead, who frowned down at the somewhat small catfish he'd pulled from the bank less than an hour previous. It was gutted and cleaned, and lay upon a few dock leaves as Ollie racked his brain before admitting, "Dun remember."

His frustration was evident in the tone of his voice and how his hands clenched up into fists, the knuckles turning red before flashing white. Zacharias reached out and withdrew a bit of a slender root and some leaves, going through the process once more, voice smooth and patient.

Tears welled up within Ollie's eyes, and he abruptly brought his large hands to his face as he wailed, "No good, I just stupid!"

"You are not, you're just frustrated," Zacharias reasoned firmly, and continued with his explanation.

With a sharp cry of denial, the taller of the men reached forward and pitched the fish into the dirt before knocking their supplies to the side and askew. A hand grabbed a firm, yet gentle, hold on his wrist, the reprimand of, "Stop that, it won't help anything," only serving to make him more angry.

"No! No more. I am stupid and…hate you!" Ollie spat, unseeing of the flash of hurt on Zacharias' face just before the redhead blindly lashed out with one fist. It connected with a meaty thud, and Zacharias' sharp grunt stilled Ollie's vengeful fit into shocked silence, the redhead turning pale to see blood shining in the silken split of his friend's mouth when fingers pulled from the already puffing lower lip.

When brown eyes finally met dark blue, Ollie's tears renewed as he turned and scrambled to his feet, running away from the blankness he'd seen within his friend's gaze. This had happened before--people liked him until he hurt someone, and then they were angry, made him leave and never come back and he didn't want to go. The thought that Zacharias might never talk to him again tore Ollie's heart open, and he kept running until he found a place he felt safe.

Sitting alone in the wake of the other's rapid departure, Zacharias nursed his tender lip until the coppery salt of his blood ceased to flow. Over and over, his mind replayed the brokenness of his friend's expression before he'd fled, and could only reason that the man was suffering more than himself at the moment. The pain wasn't a bother, now that it had settled into a throbbing warmth and gently swelling sensation. But knowing Ollie was upset niggled at him until he knew he'd have to find the other man and convince him that nothing had changed.

Even still, he took the time to clean up the mess and take the fish to the communal dwelling, giving it to someone who would eat for their evening meal. He handed it to a man without word and although he received an incredulous stare as a result, it was accepted just as silently.

Only then did Zacharias start off in the direction his friend had fled. Without having to give it much thought, given the direction and knowing Ollie well enough, he knew where to find him. They had been in the river earlier catching catfish, and it was a spot they often frequented.

Sure enough, he eventually found the redhead hunched over his knees as he sat within the tall weeds lining the bank. Ollie was rocking back and forth, his slim body shaking with low sobs and occasional shuddering breath.

Zacharias paused once he realized, overwhelmed with a peculiar aching sensation in his chest--it was vaguely reminiscent of the burn plaguing him for months after his arrival to the Quarter. Every quiet sob stung him enough that the corners of his mouth tugged downwards; Ollie wasn't meant to be unhappy, he so rarely fell from his lively chatter and laughter.

The brunette moved closer, the swishing of grass against his leggings finally alerting the crying man that he was no longer alone. When he looked up and saw Zacharias--the man he loved and had hurt--he flinched away, shuddering slightly.

"Leave me 'lone," he moaned hoarsely, but Zacharias ignored the plea and came closer, finally crouching down next to him.

"Ollie, please look at me. Don't cry," he said softly, one hand reaching out to settle upon a trembling shoulder. There was a shuddering sob, the only warning he had before the orange-headed man turned and threw himself against his chest, harsh cries again escaping.

"I so sorry, Zacharias! So sorry I hit!" he choked.

The brunette was a bit thrown, but as he'd grown used to rather sudden displays, it took him only a moment to recover and rub a soothing hand down the shaking back. For a moment, he considered pulling the man closer, wrapping his arms around his friend and holding the redhead for as long as he'd allow, but then he pushed the thought away.

"I know you're sorry, it's ok. You didn't hurt me badly," he murmured, unconsciously stroking his cheek against the soft head of hair hovering so near his face. He idly wondered how it'd feel to feel of it between his fingers; only one other person had allowed him the privilege, and for once, there was no pain behind the memory. Just a distant loss.

After a while, Ollie's tears tapered off and Zacharias pulled back, saying, "There now, are you done?"

His tone was friendly and teasing, but Ollie frowned, glaring off to the side as he said petulantly, "You promise I could learn, but you lied to me."

Despite the sting implied behind those hurt words, Zacharias recognized the adult tone to the statement and was pleased that he was at least affecting his friend in a positive way. There was a sense of accomplishment to that, a granule of personal affectionate pride.

"I would never lie to you," he admitted, fingers finding Ollie's chin when the other's frown merely deepened; he brought that blue gaze towards his and offered a slight smile.

"I would not, and I do not lie when I say that I believe you to be intelligent, Ollie. You are capable of many things, I promise you."

Blue eyes filled with an intense sorrow, looking away as they began to shine, "I never be normal, I know. Everyone…is just nice because they are sorry I born stupid."

Fingers abandoned Ollie's chin as Zacharias instead moved his hands up to gently cup his friend's face, solemnly stating, "You are not stupid, and I know you aren't normal. You are more beautiful than anyone else, made exactly as nature intended."

There was a brief moment's worth of hesitation, but then the brunette leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to Ollie's lips, pulling back before the other man could react.

Blood stained Zacharias' cheeks at the blatant display of his developing feelings--things he felt sure weren't right to harbor for Ollie. Not because of his lack of intelligence, but because… well, he wasn't really all that sure as to why, but there was something in his gut that whispered that such feelings weren't good enough when coming from him.

That was the reason he hastily withdrew, a soft apology on his lips before sudden warmth hindered the rest of his speech.

Brown eyes widened once he realized that the warm hindrance was Ollie's mouth pressed against his, engaging a desperate and needy kiss that bruised his swollen lip even as large hands moved to his shoulders to instinctively hold him into place.

He jerked backwards and fell onto his spine in his haste to get away, only to be dismayed that Ollie followed the movement until settled on top of him, trapping him to the ground beneath the taller man's weight.

"You love me?" Ollie asked softly, his eyes burning into Zacharias' with a powerful need to hear yes.

Instead, Zacharias pleaded, "Ollie, please get off me," even though he hated the hurt evident on the other man's face from the dodging response.

Ollie frowned, voice turning hard, "No."

Brown eyes widened at the adamant refusal, and he squirmed beneath the redhead, voice ragged with panic as he begged to be let free; the redhead greatly outweighed him in size and strength. As if Ollie knew that, he pressed downwards with his arms against Zacharias' chest, and the brunette felt true fear blossom as black began to blur the edges of his vision.

"Get off! Get off!" Raw panic overtook him as he struggled to breath, tears springing up as his fight to free himself proved fruitless.

"I wanna know if you love me," Ollie stated firmly, seemingly unaware that his friend was growing close to passing out from lack of air and fear.

Desperate, Zacharias cried, "NO!" as his nails flew up and scraped the redhead's face, causing Ollie to shriek with pain as the man jerked away from its source, rolling away and holding his eye.

Zacharias curled onto his side, sucking in choking gasps of oxygen as his wet face smudged into the dirt; he could dimly hear Ollie's tight sobs of pain, but his mind was far more preoccupied with his own. Eventually, some scrabbling noises alerted him to the fact that Ollie was once again fleeing from him and the riverbank, but couldn't find it within to care much at the moment.

He lay there in the dirt long after his erratic breathing tapered off, the feel of mud stiffening on his cheeks as he inhaled the smell of damp earth beneath his face. Despite attempting to do otherwise, he could still detect skin and blood beneath his nails, could remember exactly how it'd felt when he'd torn the flesh from Ollie's face.

That sickening, chalky, curling sensation of the skin made him cringe further against the dirt, fingers raking through the grass and digging up grit that only made the sensation even worse, reliving that moment a thousand times and feeling worse for it.

Squeezing his eyes shut, Zacharias lay on the ground and attempted to think of nothing at all beyond breathing and listening to the river playing along beyond him. He was aware of the encroaching darkness, and though he knew it wasn't wise to remain where he was, he couldn't find the energy to move.

Perhaps an hour passed before a rustle sounded, the noise jerking him upright before he could stop himself, eyes wide as they scanned the graying landscape; it had been a forced sound, something made from a moving being. There wasn't anything that he could see, but he nonetheless pushed himself up and over to the river, finally rinsing the caked dirt from his face and hands.

His upper body ached, particularly over his breast bone, as that had been where Ollie's arms applied the most pressure when he'd been atop him. Zacharias' damp fingers darted up and touched his chest, a momentary wince of pain crossing his features from the feathery touch.

Dusk was more rapidly approaching when he finally set out to return to the Quarter, and he unconsciously sped up, not having the desire to travel in the darkness if he could help it. The dark reminded him of secret pleasures, of fearful hiding from angry tribesman he once thought were his friends. It reminded him of the terror'd night everything had exploded around him and left him for dead, bird food for the scavengers.

The further he walked, the slower his steps became, a numb weariness creeping up that only doubled as he caught the first whiff of night fires--the lazy smoke instilled a sense of instant drowsiness straight into his system, the shock of his day finally catching up.

As he walked into the village proper, he kept his gaze to the ground, having stumbled more than once or twice otherwise. It was this reason he never saw the incensed redhead who descended upon him until too late, a fist snapping his face to the side and his body belatedly following along as he fell to the ground with a sickening thud.

He lay crumpled there, in shock from the pain radiating from the left half of his face--it rather felt as though he'd been belted with the largest piece of ash wood a person could heft. More of that coppery salt filled his mouth from where he'd bitten through his tongue during the blow, and Zacharias turned his head and let the liquid fall from his lips to the earth below.

"How dare you?!"

Port's voice was full of hate, his fists and teeth clenched and his body radiating violent tension. He shifted slightly, and Zacharias ignored the gut instinct telling to lay still, instead awkwardly gaining his footing and finally meeting the other man's gaze--Port's eyes were full of unshed tears of rage and pain, his pale face flushed a dark, mottled red.

Zacharias dully blinked, blood shining on his lips.

"You…! He nearly lost his eye!" Port raged, a vein popping against his forehead as he stared at the man he'd never have thought would attack his brother. His anger clouded his sense of reason, his ability to realize that Zacharias already appeared the worse for wear.

Zacharias said nothing to defend himself, his eyes sliding shut as his exhaustion teased along the edges of his mind, his body swaying just enough to make his eyes pop back open again. He had no chance to defend himself from Port's full-body tackle, sending the both of them to the ground.

The brunette curled into a defensive ball, but that didn't protect him from the rough blows to his head and torso, his consciousness only understanding mass pain and confusion before the blows abruptly ceased and Port was bodily yanked free of him.

Something warm encompassed Zacharias, and his mind finally slid into the comfort of unconsciousness, unknowing of the large hands that pulled him to a firm chest, clutching him tight.

"No! Don't hit no more!" Ollie sobbed, afraid of the unkind monster his brother had become.

Port snarled, baring his teeth in a feral grimace as he struggled futilely against the hold Sean had on him and demanded, "Get away from the scummy bastard, Ollie! I will murder him for attacking you!"

"No! Port will NOT hurt Zacharias!"

Port felt his breath catch in his chest at the furious roar from his brother, the rage and pain obvious in Ollie's voice. There was spitfire anger shooting from Ollie's gaze, and Port felt his own anger sizzle down, unable to cope with such vivid hatred.

Ollie swallowed and looked down, unconsciously rocking himself and the man in his arms as he hoarsely stated, "I hurt him first, he just fight back. It was…accident."

His left eye was nearly swollen completely shut, savage scratching running over the offended organ and eyelid before swiping down over the curve of his cheekbone. The blood had long been cleaned away and some antiseptic spread over the wounds by Ret, but it had taken some serious coercion for Ollie to finally admit who had actually caused them. And even then, he had only been able to whisper that name, tears thick in his voice as he went over the incident in his mind, only to come to the conclusion that he'd been at fault. He'd started it, hadn't he?

Ever since his brother's confession, Port had nursed a blind building rage, the sight of Zacharias finally returning to the village causing him to loose what little of his senses he'd still retained at that point. All the kind thoughts he'd entertained about the change in the brunette's behavior--especially the warmth he'd shown for Ollie--had disappeared in a split second, and Port had been determined to savage the man until he could no longer hurt anyone else again.

Whether that to be the death, or not.

But as he witnessed the pain on Ollie's face--the pain that he, himself, was causing--his anger disappeared completely, leaving only sorrow and guilt as he saw the limp way Zacharias' head lolled before Ollie corrected his hold to better support it.

"Ollie…he hurt you, far more than anyone before," Port finally stated.

The taller redhead looked away, voice reticent; "I know, but it my fault. I hurt, pressing--I just wanted to know if he…." He trailed off, red flaring across his cheeks as he sucked in a silent breath, his body giving off a muted tremble.

Curiosity caused the bodily-restrained brother to grow more lax, allowing Sean to take the chance of loosening his hold, although he was wise enough to keep his arms firmly in place around his hotheaded lover. He knew far too well how quickly Port could be set off again.

"What did you want to know, Ollie?" Port asked, slightly frowning.

His brother's face ducked further down, voice soft as he admitted, "If he love me like he love other man."

A collective gasp came from both Port and Sean, especially as they were unaware that Ollie even knew about the other man that had been in Zacharias' life before he'd come to the Quarter. It was something they were sure he'd never talk about, even with Ollie.

There were other words, but they were mumbled so that they couldn't make them out; Port slid down to his knees, numbly followed by his lover as they saw Ollie fearfully glance at them before he returned his gaze to the man he held in his arms.

"You what?" Port asked softly, and Ollie glanced up once more.

"I in love with him."

The couple was shocked, and Port obtusely said the very first thing that came to his mind; "That's impossible, Ollie."

"Why, 'cause I born stupid?!" Ollie challenged hotly, wounded tears filling his eyes as he met the contrite gaze of his brother.

His chin jutted out at a stubborn angle, voice vehement as he continued, "I know how to love--everyone know how to love! Zacharias say I perfect, not normal but right. You never like me this way, I know, but he say I more beautiful than anyone."

A soft groan directed Ollie's attention back down to the unconscious man he was holding, but there was no obvious indication that the sound was a signal of his arrival back into the land of he awake and sentient. Still, he took a moment to whisper something soothing, pleased when Zacharias seemed to turn further into his embrace.


Port was aware of the wheedling tone of his voice, but Ollie just frowned and stated, "I know. Let me 'lone--I hurt enough."

His brother's mouth snapped shut, hating that defeated tone even though Ollie shook Zacharias' shoulder until he'd pulled him from his sleep. A groan again sounded as the brunette stirred as if drugged, bleary eyes blinking a few times before drooping.

Without a word, Ollie got up and hauled his friend to his feet, pulling the man's arm over his taller shoulders and inducing him to start walking; he began to lead him to the communal dwelling, intent upon allowing Zacharias to go back to sleep once there.

It was hard work, he found, when he had a man curled against his side and practically asleep even though his feet moved along with the person half-carrying him. But the pair of them eventually managed to make it inside where, Ollie faltered just by the door; he had no idea where Zacharias slept, having never had a reason to be inside with the other man before.

Most everyone turned and stared upon their entrance, shocked visages taken in his disfiguration of the face and the poor state Zacharias appeared to be in--he couldn't even stand on his own.

"Where he sleep?" Ollie finally questioned, nervous and desperate to get from beneath the weight of so many stares.

Several people looked back towards a certain corner--one person actually taking the time to point out the way--and Ollie gave a brief nod before silently struggling to have both of them make it there in one piece. He could still feel the heaviness of staring on them, making him uncomfortable, but he managed to get them there without mishap.

Ollie paused once he'd reached Zacharias' pallet, hovering there as he tried to figure out what he should do next. Eventually, he figured that the best approach was to allow Zacharias to slide from his shoulder and to the ground on his own--which didn't end as well as he'd hoped, the man hitting the ground with a painful thud and low groan of pain.

Nevertheless, the brunette woke enough to blearily peer about him before rolling onto his bedding with a low grunt, again stilling into a lifeless slump even though he was about half on and half off. Ollie gave a rather fond smile before crouching down and shifting Zacharias into laying fully on the pallet, and then he took the time to gaze about curiously, aware that people were still staring at them.

Looking at the sleeping man a moment, Ollie finally sank fully to the ground, curling up at the other man's back, just barely touching him. Ignoring the hushed--and not so hushed--talking flying because of the entire incident, the redhead fell asleep there as well, his prominent knuckles resting against that warmth lying just before him.


Zacharias was the first of the pair to wake the next morning, hearing the noises of late-morning activities happening outside the now-empty dwelling. A weary sigh left him at the severe ache all over his body, and he gave a wince when he went as to stretch his back and limbs--only to freeze when he felt a solid object just behind him, a person's breath audible beyond his own.

Stiffly rising upright and turning, he was stunned to see Ollie asleep beside him--the grown man's thumb stuck beneath his teeth and loosely parted lips, like a small child.

He had no idea how or why Ollie came to be there--most of the previous night was a jumbled mass of nightmarish perceptions and pain--but he couldn't find much against the thought that Ollie had stayed the entire night by his side.

Jules had never had the luxury to do so, much as both had always wanted the chance. All Zacharias had wanted with his previous lover had been a chance to live happily--without secrecy, and without persecution. The night their relationship was discovered, the couple had been secreted away in the woods, Jules lovingly placing kisses all over Zacharias' face and neck as they lay entwined--for once, fully clothed--amongst the leaves and brush.

Their affectionate embrace had cost Jules his life, and Zacharias had been sure his heart had died with him.

Then had come a man who bypassed his barriers by merely existing--he couldn't push Ollie away, couldn't help but to love the man in some way. In so many ways.

In the beginning, it had started as a fuzzy tendril within his heart for the child-like man, caring for his innocence and cheery disposition. That caring morphed into honest affection once he became aware of the redhead's true nature--a sweet and warm kindness flecked with that reputable stubbornness that never seemed to cease. Ollie held such fresh ideas of the world and all that was in it, and Zacharias found himself able to experience everything with a new light when Ollie was there to point it out.

There was passion hidden deep within that lanky frame, a passion for life and living--and a passion for Zacharias. The depth of that passion wasn't clear to him, not really, but he could sense that there was most definitely something there. He had seen it in Ollie's face after kissing him, and he had some vague recollection of hearing it from the redhead's mouth already, though he couldn't say for certain exactly when.

It was a comforting and warm notion nonetheless, and one he found himself surprisingly eager to entertain.

After a long pause in which he stared down at the sleeping form beside him, Zacharias lay back in his initial position, cautiously moving closer to his friend so that his back was nearly curled against the front of the other.

As soon as there was contact, Ollie made a soft noise in his sleep and automatically pulled in closer, burrowing his face against the back of Zacharias' neck. The brunette couldn't help but to felicitate the motion by tilting his head forward to expose more of it, a smile playing at his lips as he felt the gentle flit of Ollie's breath against his skin.

An arm moved across his waist--dead weight, but surprisingly gentle in nature as Zacharias found himself cocooned within Ollie's sleeping embrace. The brunette's eyes closed in pleasure, and his hand reached out to softly stroke the skin of the arm resting against him, causing the appendage to twitch and jump. He heard Ollie's breath come faster and less rhythmic, signaling the man's approach to waking.

He waited, unsure of what else he could do, really; there was some movement and sleepy muttering as Ollie proceeded to snuggle against the form he held against his chest. As he grew more awake, the redhead abruptly realized that a warm body was within his arms, one that smelled suspiciously familiar.

Opened blue eyes were rewarded to the sight of skin and dark braids, and Ollie's small yelp of dismayed surprise startled them both, the taller man scrambling away once he'd realized that he was indeed holding Zacharias…who had been awake and letting him.

Zacharias winced as he rolled over, moving stiffly from his aching muscles and sore bones, but wanting to see the face of the other man; he was greeted with a tearfully nervous expression, the redhead obviously worried that he'd done something terribly wrong.

"Tinla'de," Zacharias greeted softly, unaware of his lapse in language.

Ollie blinked damp eyes; "What?"

Rethinking what he'd said, Zacharias flushed and offered a small grin in apology, translating, "Tinla'de…good morning."

Confused, it took a moment for Ollie to realize that not only was Zacharias not yelling at him, he was smiling that straight-toothed grin that usually bode well for the brunette's mood.

"I…not make you angry?" he finally pressed, unwilling to relax until reassured.

"Of course not. …If anything, I should think my actions would have incurred your wrath, seeing how badly I've hurt you," the brunette responded, his eyes drawn to the vicious wounds upon his friend's face. It was the first he'd had any indication the severity of his attack, and it disturbed him greatly. He just hadn't realized how much skin and blood had been beneath his nails.

Ollie brought his fingers up the marks, a wince flashing even though his fingertips barely even feathered across the wound. He dropped his hand and looked away, quiet with shame as he said, "No, it accident, I know. I hurt you and you hurt back."

Zacharias flashed another smile, one dampened with his own sense of shame and guilt as he amended, "We've hurt each other, but we're sorry, yes?"

Blue eyes flit to brown, and Ollie gave a slow nod, relieved to see the brunette's smile become less tight, but was still unable to fully relax.

"You not mad I sleep here, with you?"

Zacharias thought for a moment, but then replied honestly, "No, I didn't mind. I was glad to wake and see you here."

Ollie's fears melted completely and his face became bright, warm coppery glitter and spring green, and Zacharias found himself saying, "Come here."

The redhead grew hesitant, but when Zacharias waved him closer, he did as asked, even though he managed to keep a respectful distance between them. It had been a hard lesson for him to learn that people didn't appreciate having their personal space invaded, but it was a lesson he struggled to keep to heart.

"No, closer," Zacharias urged softly, reaching out and tugging the man's tunic even though he didn't quite understand exactly what he had in mind either.

But finally, Ollie allowed himself to be manipulated into moving as close as possible, and the brunette promptly curled into his chest, seeking his warmth even as the redhead unbelievingly wrapped an arm around the smaller man.

After a moment, Zacharias mumbled his name in question, and Ollie made some noise in response, his mind focused instead upon the fact that he was able to hold the object of his affections so close to him without reprimand. That head of braided hair was tucked up beneath his chin, tickling his collar bone with every slight movement between them.

"Ollie…do you love me?" Zacharias' question was soft and unsure, openly vulnerable, but it caused the redhead to still, heart thumping hard within his chest.

"You be mad if I do?" he whispered back, biting at his lip with uncertainty and somewhat wishing he could see his friend's face.


Ollie squirmed a bit; "Yes, I love."

There was a pause, and then a muffled, "…I think I love you too."

"Even if I stupid?" Ollie pressed, hope and heart leaping into his throat at the confession. He'd never felt so scared and happy at the same time before, funny niggles of ice and worms on his skin and within his stomach.

An arm snaked across Ollie's side and around his back, curling and squeezing him as the brunette laughing replied, "Even if."

Ollie basked in that simple statement for a few minutes before cautiously touching that mass of braids, voice soft and full of hope as he asked, "You let me kiss you now?"

A cheery laugh resounded against his chest even as Zacharias pulled back enough to look up, his brown eyes dancing with pleased warmth; "Absolutely."

The redhead followed through with allowance immediately, capturing the man's lips against his own, a tenderly rough press of mouths as Zacharias accepted his love of Ollie into that last painful ache, easing his loss of Jules with the gain of someone just as special.

Ollie pulled away some, mouth trembling with the swirl of unfamiliar emotions and sensations, which was only increased when Zacharias guided them back together before opening his mouth and pressing his tongue against the redhead's lips in silent question. Ollie froze, overwhelmed, but Zacharias was patient, allowing the other man to incorporate the new development into his brain before finally opening enough for the warm tongue to slide inside.

It was different and beyond what Ollie thought he knew, but it spread wild heat through his body more than their touch had previously, and he took to the deeper sort of kissing with vigor, causing Zacharias to shake with unsuppressed lust.

The brunette had had no clue he'd missed such a simple and familiar embrace, but now that he'd indulged himself with it, he knew he'd want the pleasure again and again, for however long Ollie would allow him.

It was during their third such kiss--not that Zacharias was counting--that a startled and slightly outraged cry broke them apart, unpleasant memories tearing through the brunette as he felt cold fear settle down his spine at the strangled look Port gave them both, standing nearly right on top of them.

Ollie recovered first, sitting upright and licking bruised lips as he stammered, "P-Port, I…."

His brother turned a viciously cold eye upon him, causing the taller redhead to flinch when he was told, "Go home."


"Do as I say!"

Tears of shame welled up as Ollie scrambled to his feet and fled, looking back near the entrance and jumping skittishly away when Port yelled a second, "go home," in his direction.

Zacharias had recovered by this time, stiffly forcing himself onto his feet and wishing he'd been able to unfreeze fast enough to keep Ollie from going; the tall man was in pain, and it hurt him even though he had some small comfort in the fact that at least he'd told the man his feelings. Ollie shouldn't doubt that, if Zacharias could get to him in time to soothe his tears.

He turned to Port, angry and frustrated; "What is the matter with you?"

"How could you do such a thing to him?!" Port demanded, sickened.

"What are you talking about?"

"Pretend. Ollie loves you the only way he knows how, and you jerk him around! I always thought better of you, but you're…you're a lying bastard!"

Zacharias was affronted, despite understanding that Port needed to see him as the villain, a savage monster taking advantage of the man's brother; "I do not pretend, and would not to anyone."

"He's…Ollie is different, and you know it! For you to…it's wrong."

"No, it is not. He is not a child anymore, and hasn't been for a very long time."

"His mind is a child's! He doesn't understand the differences that we do!" Port was livid, and the fact that Zacharias was so calm in the face of his temper didn't help matters.

The brunette advanced upon the younger man, taking thin shoulders beneath his palms as he zeroed a level gaze into blue eyes much like Ollie's.

"He is not a child, mentally or otherwise. You are young, very young, and I know that you've always seen a need to protect him from the world and its people…but this world created a man like Ollie for a reason. Most children who aren't meant to live don't survive their birth, and you know that, have seen it time and again. Would you tell your brother he is a mistake, unworthy to live or love? …Why can he love me, but it is wrong for me to love him?"

Zacharias looked away a moment and then turned back; "After a lifetime of people telling him what he can't hope to accomplish, he's grown to believe it, accept those words as facts. But nobody ever told him what he could do, and he's just now discovering that there is much out there well within the limits of his capabilities. Would you deny him that? …If you love him, will you always be the one to hold him back, his hands forever tied to yours?"

Desperate tears welled up in blue eyes as Port lowered his gaze, voice thin; "I would hate myself if I were to let something happen to him."

The brunette gave those thin shoulders a small shake, voice gentle yet authoritative, "You are not his father, and you are not his keeper. His life is his own responsibility, and he will come to learn that. But he loves you, and will always took to you as his guiding force, just as he always has. It must be you who lets go, you who must let him fall if he is ever to learn to get back up on his own.

"I love Ollie enough to allow him that freedom. What I must know is; do you?"

Port looked up, silent a moment before dumbly repeating, "You love him?"

"I would not tell him so if I didn't mean it."

There was another moment of silence, and Port sucked in a breath before asking the nagging question on his mind; "And the man that came before him? Does he still haunt your heart, tainting whatever love you offer Ollie?"

There was pain in Zacharias' eyes as he let go of Port's shoulders, stepping back and collecting his thoughts. When he spoke, it was slow and containing an ache that would probably always be there; "It is my burden to keep Jules alive in my memory and heart, to give him the honor of life so denied us both in our village. When they cast us into death, they did so in their minds more than their bodies, our spirits dead to everyone who once knew us. It would be wrong to forget him. …But I promise that my love for your brother is just as much…just as much."

It was such brutal honesty that Port had to swallow, uncomfortable even though he'd been the one to bring it up. This braided man was different than the one he'd known for so long, open and honest, and the redhead was certain that he'd never have had the privilege of seeing that if he'd not been Ollie's brother.

Still, he squared his jaw and managed to state, "If you hurt him the way you did yesterday ever again, nothing will stop me from personally gutting you."

Zacharias laughed, short and mirthless. His body still ached from Port's last attempt to murder him, and the threat was no doubt a valid one. Still, he nodded and turned away, heading towards the entrance before Port stopped him with the demand on where he was going.

Turning as if it was only obvious, Zacharias stated, "To find Ollie so he may finish what he'd started."

Port flushed; "You mean, he…?!"

Zacharias offered a one-sided grin--more of a smirk, really--and continued towards the entrance before pausing near the doorway.

"You know, you really ought to learn to curb that temper of yours. It just doesn't do to have a Second who's emotionally unstable."

Port blinked in shock, and it wasn't until the brunette had slipped outside that he realized it had been a joke, a teasing jab at his pride. The redhead hastened towards the entrance, of the notion to catch up and give the infuriating man a piece of his mind, but stopped short as he saw Zacharias crouch down near Ollie, who had hunkered down against the wall of the dwelling to wait.

Ollie's face was tear-stained, but Port saw the anxiety fade from his brother's gaze when the man looked up with Zacharias' arrival. There was a brief exchange between them before the brunette reached out and took a hold of Ollie's larger hand, placing palms together so that their fingers could curl down into an intimate gesture.

There was another brief exchange before Ollie moved up and pulled Zacharias' face to his, initiating their fourth open-mouthed kiss--not that Zacharias was counting--as Port looked on with a growing blush.

When the couple finally broke apart, both men sported pinked faces, although Zacharias grinned as he asked, "Hey, Ollie…how about we go for a swim where no one else can see us?"

Port let out a barking laugh, clapping a hand over his mouth and covering both actions with a cough, but he needn't have bothered; neither man paid him any mind as they rose and walked off for the river, Ollie's arm creeping around Zacharias' shoulders until the smaller man looked up and adjusted the arm holding him so that they were closer.

People stared as they walked, and tongues wagged with fiery gossip, but there was no recrimination. No anger or disgust.

Zacharias' heart grew even lighter, and he broke the embrace in order to race his lover, laughter ringing when he was overtaken and fell behind, a playful voice egging him on.

Port finally left to find his mate, certain that it wouldn't take much to convince the man to find someplace where people couldn't see them either.

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a/n: end