Beloved by furrygreen

General warnings: it contains slash (guy/guy) though it might have worked better with gurl/guy. I'm certain, also, I could flush this whole thing out and make it longer. It might be better that way. I wrote this a couple years ago and I still kinda like it. XD! I guess there's no accounting for taste.

Disclaimer: I own the characters and idea and all that kind of jazz. XD!!

Part 1

The forest seemed to close in about him. Richard couldn't distinguish one tree from the next, and he felt a terrible headache coming on. This had to be the stupidest thing he'd ever done. Hands down. Going off into the forbidden forest all by himself (well, no one wanted to come with him and they needed to find out where the animals were going.) Albeit, he was in it deep either way, he had at least thought he'd find something. Anything. But there was nothing. Nothing but trees and more trees, and the forest pressing all around him.

As he stood, back pressed against of the trees, all the possible consequences ran through his head. It was like some sick side show, proving how idiotic he was and just how he deserved his early death. His mother always told him she wouldn't cry at the funeral -- she had all her life to prepare and weep for it already and he wasn't going to suck up another tear from her.

There was just something about this forest, this whole mountain. He couldn't stay away from it. Ever since he could remember, he watched it like a hawk for anything. He would chase down any animals that strayed from its protection and would go all the way up to its foot. Something just propelled him. He had always wanted to know what this mountain was like. And when the animals seemed to withdrawal into the forests, it was only logical that they would check this mountain as well.

The rest of the village didn't seem to agree with his theory. Said it was protected by an ancient mountain spirit, some kind of ancient God. And of course, because of this, death and damnation was said to reign down on anyone who dared to venture into the woods. No one believes in mountain spirits or Gods these days anymore -- except my town. He didn't believe a word of it. This place... there was no describing it.

Besides, at this point, he was so sick of eating corn that maybe meeting his maker at the hands of some "horrible" mountain spirit wouldn't be so bad. At least he could probably get away with eating some meat for a change. There were a lot worse things then death. Corn was beginning to climb his charts as one of them.

And if he did manage to come back, with something other then corn and fruit, he was sure to be the toast of the town. He could just imagine what he'd get if he came back a success. Surely free rounds at the tavern, and the Gods only knew how long it had been since he'd been drunk. His Lord would certainly be proud of him, and maybe he could get up residence as his personal butler like before.

He bit his lip. Confessing to Lord Orson had been a stupid mistake -- he hadn't meant it and because of the slip-up, he'd been thrown out. Richard knew, without a doubt in his heart, that his blonde Lord loved him with all the intensity in his own heart. They were just in a tricky position. There wasn't any other option but to kick him out.

This would serve to woe him. Lord knows no high born woman will want to marry him and be forced to live in the boonies somewhere. Lord Frank was already a strong presence in the courts and Orson hadn't the least bit of inclination to follow him.

The smiling face of his lover made him happier. His heart lightened and it seemed like the beginnings of panic dissipated. He wondered what Orson was doing at this moment.

Yesterday he'd come to this mountain and nothing had been amiss. In fact, there were happy birds chirping in the trees. He hadn't seem any wild animals and had left once the sun threatened to cave into the ground, but he felt much better for just being here. There couldn't be anything wrong with woods that made him feel like that. Nothing. And he'd made it off yesterday. Why would today be any different?

Although his friends had gotten a kick at seeing him alive. They had even been so kind to buy him a beer. Mina kept him at the bar, long after it closed (Joe had the habit of letting his friends stay while he cleaned up, provided they weren't too drunk and rowdy) to grill him about the forest and he knew Samuel was saying prayers for his lost soul long into the night.

Stupid, superstitious idiots, he thought to himself, but he couldn't keep the smile off his face. He kicked off the tree and swung the pack over his right shoulder. So what if nothing looked the same as it had yesterday. So what if everything seemed to claw at his soul. He'd been careful and watched for landmarks, and he hadn't covered his travel behind him. Besides, if nothing else, there was one sure what to get off a sloped mountain: go down.

He squashed the quiver of fear that threatened to overcome him and started down his trail. It was obvious that he wasn't going to find any animals and he just wasn't in the right mind frame to be out here.

Richard was careful and slow on his way down. He checked each landmark out and made certain that he had passed it on the way up. But again, when he kept walking and there was nothing but more forest to be seen, the fear came up.

A fools quest in the Spirit's forest. Mortals shouldn't tread on the land of Gods. Every village child knew this. Hell, he knew this. But they needed food for the winter… And no one else was willing to try. It was okay to starve in the winter, as long as they didn't disturb this place. That was just wrong in his book.

He stopped walking and took a deep breath in. There was only one thing that anyone could do at times like this: eat! He took care to brush thorny ground cover from his chosen seat and swung his nap-sack in front of him.

He opened the pack and took out today's rations (or more correctly, the things he'd managed to steal from his mother before he left.) This included dried fruit originally meant for pies, fresh fruit he'd picked on the outskirts of town, and cornbread. More cornbread. They seemed to always have more of this, and was more then willing to give it out to anyone who asked. He dug in, but was careful not to waste anything. And it did make him feel better; it was his ultimate solution for all things.

His hand stilled, a couple inches from his mouth, the cornbread soft in his hands. He shouldn't eat the rest, thought after a moment. He had managed to sate the worst of his hunger and who knew... It might be best to have a bit of lunch left over, in case he gets a bit hungry later on. It felt a bit awkward to pack the food back into his pack but... he'd just have to get over it.

He took a long drink out of his water skin and stood. The forest seemed to close in around him, with long woody fingers grabbing at him. The sun had just gotten overhead, noon, so he still had time to get out before night closed in behind him.

With a high moral, he headed back down the trail. He'd not felt the need to conceal his trail (as this was uncharted for the village and it would help to have some guide back), but it was obvious that after four or five hours that he wasn't going anywhere. The trail was there and he'd been sure that he wasn't passing the same place over again.

Richard stopped to catch his breath. He hadn't realized when it started taking over, but this panic wouldn't take him. The woods seemed to overwhelm him; he felt dizzy and leaned up against a tree for support. He could get out of this place. Maybe he'd just gotten lost or crossed his trail. It was possible, seeing how he was beginning to panic. He took big gulps of air. Maybe it wasn't the best of ideas to continue on tonight; he could find some place and make camp. By the morning, he'd be in a clear enough mind-frame to get out.

Of all the stupid, stupid, fucking stupid things to do! I just had to go into the woods and get fucking lost – even though his trail was right there – God damned stupid fucking moron, I deserve to die an early death!

He turned slowly, studying his surrounding. There didn't seem to be any natural indentation or hidden cave or anything to take shelter in. Just trees, some large rocks and fallen trees, and that eerie feeling. He supposed it could be worst: at least he had stopped on a relatively flat area. It sucked turning over and tumbling down the hillside. Not the best of ways to wake up.

Damn it! I should be home already! Damn it! Damn it! Fucking, god-damned… He sank into the ground, next to a tree and pressed his back against it. His breaths became more strained. Warriors don't cry, he tried to remind himself. Then again, warriors don't believe in superstitious ghost and hauntings and all that and look where it got him!

He sniffled and hugged his knees to his chest. Stupid! Sitting here isn't going to do anything – but these are haunted woods and I'm going to die! They're going to kill me when they see me! – Stupid, that's just superstitious!

His stomach growled, and he held a hand to quiet it. But he couldn't eat anything tonight. He didn't know how long it would take him to get out. Maybe a little nibble, but that always seemed to make the hunger worse. That, and it made him thirsty, and his water skin was almost dry.

He ran a hand through his hair. No fire tonight, but that was okay. He had a blanket in his back. Richard brushed as many leaves and pine needles as he could (within reach) to make a bed. If he was lucky, no wolves would find him. He sighed, looking at the half-asses bed. But, for some reason, it just feel like too much to get up and move. And anyway –

Distant sounds of someone walking behind him. His ears ached at sudden melody, reminding him how much he missed other people. Richard stood and jumped out from behind the tree. The woman took a step back, startled. Upon closer inspection, he wasn't sure if she was... well, a woman. She was wearing pants, for one. No respectable woman wore pants, not even those who worked in the fields. And anyway, just calling her a woman seemed off.

The person blinked, large luminous purple blue eyes, and he was struck by their eerie beauty. His eyes were framed by long, upturned lashes; his face by a fan of dark purple hair that made his complexion all that more pale. He'd never seen someone so pale before; usually, people turn a crisp coopery tone by the age of one, from all the work outside.

Richard drew a deep breath in and tore his eyes away. "Er, I'm sorry, I got lost and I can't seem to find my way home." He considered walking closer to this stranger, but he had the odd feeling that she might run away. The thought of being left alone out here again was terrifying. "Could you take me down? I don't have money on me, but I can pay you when I get there."

The woman considered. Something passes across her face and she took a moment to look downhill. When she turned those huge eyes back on his -- full attention, held eyes, capture like a rabbit in a snare -- she smile. Weird, Richard couldn't stop the silver that passed over him and he had to remember to breath.

"It'll be dark before we get to your village," she said, but now Richard could hear it was definitely a man. While the voice was soft and almost feminine, it held just enough roughness to not be confused with a woman. There was just something about him, besides, the way he walked? No, that couldn't be it. That smile? No, women can smile like that. He couldn't put his finger on it, but for some reason this stranger was now a man.

"But you're welcome to stay over at my house tonight. I've got soup on the stove, maybe it'll be ready when we get there?" The soft voice broke him from his thoughts. It almost tugged at him, easing him into comfort. This person couldn't hurt him -- no, wouldn't hurt him. It was safe. Warm food, a warm bed, something other then the alien woods closing around him.

He found his head nodded on its own accord and he stepped in pace with the other. Something was wrong here; he couldn't quite put his finger on it. But he was tired and his stomach growled, reminding him how hungry he was. Never go with strangers, his mothers voice rang in his head.

The man stopped after a moment, a look making his shake his head. "Where's my manners? I'm Ken."

Richard nodded. "Okay. Richard." He bit his lip. This 'Ken' looked like a stick. No muscles. He wondered how someone like this could've survived out here, but he pushed them away. It was better then sleeping in the woods, with wolves and god knows what (ghosts!)

Ken took step towards him, this time his smile was different. More… gentle. More coaxing. More like he expected Richard to run away. "My house is just up this bank. Not five minutes away."

He nodded again. This sounded logical. No need to get this person lost with him. Richard fell into step just behind Ken, giving him ample view of the graceful arch of his back. His eyes trailed down, and he blushed slightly, when he found himself admiring his ass. He forced his gaze away.

True to Ken's word, the house appeared over a small hill. It sat on a rather last area of flat land, and Richard had to push the doubt that echoed in his head. So what if he'd missed this house? (How could anyone miss a house like this?) Ghosts weren't real. And to prove it, he traced the weaving design on the doorway with his fingers. You can't touch ghosts, but this was solid.

"Beautiful." The carving was some kind of vines and flowers. They were smooth to the touch and he found pleasure by running his fingers in the crevices. He looked up. Ken was watching him with a strange smile on his face. "They're beautiful," he said again, taking his hands off the carvings. He scratched his head with sudden abashment.

Ken nodded and slipped off his shoes, before moving into the house. "Yes, my father did all the carving. He was very good at it, before he passed."

"Sorry."

Richard followed him inside and slid off his own shoes. He set them in the doorway, next to Ken's. The house was pleasantly warm and it seemed larger on the inside then the out. He might not be the sharpest tool in the shed but... There was a large-ish living room with a kitchen area connected to it, much like his own house. Off to the right was two rooms or something: the doors were closed. Another door sat alone on the left, closed as well. He tried not to think of it as he set his pack down.

"Don't worry." He had crossed into the kitchen when Richard turned back to him. With a rag, Ken opened a simmering pot of soup. It only took a couple seconds for the delicious smell to assault him. "Please have a seat," Ken said with a smile, pushing him down onto the chair and hand lingering over his own.

Ken let go of his hand, almost regretfully. He moved back into the kitchen and around it with slow, masterful movements; first dishing out a large portion for Richard, saying something to the effect of "you must be very hungry, after being out there all day", and then got a bowl of his own. He returned a minute later with spoons and a couple glasses of water.

It smelled wonderful. He dipped his head downward and inhaled deeply. It smelled better then anything he'd ever had at home. Almost as good as the things they served at the Estate.

He waited until Ken had sat down at the table, to be polite (and maybe to show off his mother), before he tore into his share. It tasted much better then it smelled. He doubted anything the estate had made would ever compare. He finished before his new friend had even finished a fourth of his own. Feeling ashamed, he asked, "May I?"

This brought a brilliant smile to Ken's face. "Of course! I'm glad you like it!"

"It's the best soup I've ever taste," he said as he got up. "What's in it?"

"Oh, just the vegetables from my gardens," said with a tilted of his head and the same pleased smile.

The rest of the meal was eaten in quiet peace. Richard got up for a third helping, finding his savage hunger only calmed with the last bowlful. To make up for being such a pig, Richard insisted he clean the dished. (Though, Ken didn't put up much of a fight.) It became a bit disconcerting after a while. He had the distinct feeling of someone watching his back, yet every time he turned back around, Ken was sitting (just as he'd been the entire time) with his back to him, quietly reading a book. Stupid... His cheeks flamed at the silly thoughts.

He carried the heavy bowlful of dirty water outside, cradled in his arms and with careful steps. The water sloshed and slipped on his arms a little, but nothing hit the floor. It took but a second to dump it and he was inside again, wiping off the counter and placing the bowl on top (unsure where it went.)

"All done," he said, with a bemused look at the bowl. He shrugged a little and turned towards Ken with a smile.

Ken, however, was doing something else. He couldn't tell what, nor did he let his curiosity butt in.

Instead, he turned his attention to the living room-ish type area. It was huge compared to his one room home. And if he pushed the chair closer to the wall, and the small rectangle table closer to the other side, he'd have enough room to sleep.

Yes. He nodded. This would be the best way for tonight. The least imposing on his host.

"Here," the soft words startled Richard to attention. He turned around to find Ken not a foot away from him, and watching him with humorous eyes. He pushed a bundle into Richard's arms, and before he could say anything, pushed another small thing onto of the pile.

"Cloths and some soap and a towel. Go. Get clean."

"Er, okay," he mumbled, looking down at the bundle with his brows crossed. When he looked up, Ken seemed close to laughing at him. He blinked and scrunched up his nose. "I'm not that bad. I know what a bath it."

"Could've fooled me," he said, waving a hand in front of his hand.

Richard arched a brow. "It would help if you'd be kind enough to tell me where some water it."

"There's a little spring and stream that runs out back," he said that with a wrinkle in his nose.

Richard sighed deeply and trudged out the back of the house. It took half a minute to hear the stream and maybe another five or so minutes to locate it. It seemed good luck for have a stream so close to the house, but he wondered what Ken did if it rained and the stream flooded over.

Night was fast approaching. Richard stifled a yawn and set the bundle. The sky was various hues of yellow and orange and purple, all blending into the other. The air was getting cooler and crisper, and the hum of night insects relaxed him. This place was almost like home, with the sweet night air and symponthy around him.

It can't be too bad, he mused, stripped down slowly.

He cast off the clothes in a heap and walked into the water, soap in hand. It was cold, but not freezing as he had excepted (as the stream was by his house). The stream looked shallow enough, but there was a deep spot, in the middle-ish, and the water went up to his waste.

He took his time bathing, feeling the cold set into his bones but not caring. The soap smelled fancy and flowery, and he liked it. In fact, he found himself stopping and smelling the bar of soap more then once. He was reluctant to leave the water, but it was getting too dark to be out.

Maybe this water is his secret to that wonderful soup? he thought absently, dressing in soft cotton leggings and a louse cotton shirt. He bent down to gather his old clothes and the soap and wet towel, and walked back to the house.

The house was darkened, illuminated by only a couple of candles. He closed the back door and latched it behind him. He was shivering and his wet hair sent little droplets of icy water down his back. The bundle became a tool to clench and stop himself from shivering.

"Ken?" he called out, looking around when he didn't see the other man. One of the doors was open and there was light coming from inside the room.

It was hard to set down the bundle and his hands came up to clench his forearms when he managed to do so. He stared at the door, the idea of going inside turning over his head. He finally decided against it, and truggled to his packet. He tried to bend down, but ended up falling, unable to stop from shivering.

"Richard?" Ken had come back, from somewhere (nowhere?) and was kneeling down next to him. "What's wrong?"

"'S 'Kay." His teeth chattered loudly. "Jus' trying to get my blanket out." He looked up, into Ken's face. An apologetic smile flashed across his own face. "Help?"

"Little idiot," Ken said under his breath, just loud enough that Richard heard. He was going to protect, when he felt the warm around him, heaving him up. "How long didn't you stay out there in the water? Have you no sense for the cold?"

He was still shivering and his teeth chattered together, which made it hard to argue, but he muttered, "It felt good." When he turn himself, he realized how stupid that sounded. "'S 'Kay. 'M fine. Just need to get my... b, b, blanket." He was ashamed at the stutter.

"Then come to bed," said the gentle voice. A tug followed it, and he was led away. "You must be tired."

Richard's eyes were fixated on his bag, words of protest in his mouth, but he was horribly cold and now the tiredness was getting to him. He had to blink to keep his eyes up and he leaned heavily into the embrace of Ken. He was lead to a bedroom, one of the two doors on the right. It was large and had a big oak bed pressed up against one side.

"What kind of person would I be if I made a guest sleep on the floor?" Ken let go of Richard and turned over the side of the covers.

Richard climbed in, watching Ken walk out of the room. The light went from dim to blackness in the living room and kitchen area. He laid down and pulled the covers up to his chest. Ken walked back into the room, with a lone candle. He placed it on the dresser and put out the other candles.

"Besides, my bed is big enough for the two of us," Ken said, climbing onto the bed. He paused only to blow out the remaining candle and scooted near to Richard. "It's nicer sleeping with company."

Richard's cheeks blazed fire. The closeness of Ken was making him forget all about his sleepiness and he had stopped shivering a bit ago. He ached to get just a bit closer, but thought about Orson and that stopped him. But... his Lord wasn't here and even if he was, how could he deny that this was the only thing he could do?

The soft bed and blankets cradled him, making him feel a bit light headed. He could hear the soft, even breathing and thought Ken was sleeping. He scooted a bit closer. He didn't realize he was holding his breath until he gasped for breath. And Ken didn't notice; he seemed to be sleeping. Breathing in deeply, breathing out deeply, eyes shut, face lax; beautiful.

He settled down and closed his eyes.

"Still cold," came a very quiet voice. Richard opened his eyes to stare into soft purple ones. A smile teased the corner of his lips up. "Tired?"

"Mmm." Richard ducked his head into the pillow.

Ken chuckled as he pulled Richard into the circle of his arms. "It's warmer this way. You won't be cold if you sleep like this." He rubbed up and down his forearms, chin resting against his shoulder. "See? I don't bite. No need to be so skittish."

***

Richard whimpered and shied away. He tried to run, but his little legs didn't seem to want to move. And he had to run! He knew more then anything, he had to run! His basketful of mushrooms lay overturned behind him, and he had to get them to his Mama. She'd be so happy when she saw him; she's be normal again.

Mama's going to kill me! That is, if this thing doesn't first!

He gulped and rubbed his eyes on the sleeve of his arm. He sniffled a couple time and gave up trying to move. Whatever it was that... that thing was -- he eyes the black blob in front of his wearily -- was laughing at him. It was obviously not letting him go. It must be some kind of evil witch or monster. The holy book warned of such things.

He nodded slightly and took a deep breath. He'd stand his ground and, if he had to, beat this thing up. The Father said he was a child of God (he wasn't quite sure what that meant.)

It moved, masses of waves going through the black body, squishing and squirming. He fought bravely to keep a straight face. It wouldn't get him; he'd stand and be brave, just like his mother always said.

It opened its huge mouth, fangs dripping, and roared. Richard fell to the ground, covering his head. "Don't eat me! Don't eat me!"

Richard woke with a start, sitting straight up and in a tangle of blankets. He looked around, eyes wild with fear. It left slowly, and he was able to calm himself. The first thing he noticed was that he was alone, though he heard noises coming from outside the room. The door was slightly ajar and he slipped out of the bed.

The dream faded. They were his usual nightmare variety that he got once a month or so. His mother figured it came from the time he'd been lost in the woods for a couple days. In these very woods. Ever since then, he'd had a strange obsession with the mountain.

Silly, childish dreams… He pressed a hand against his chest, trying to calm the still racing heart and ease his breathing.

He paused for a moment. He could hear Ken out in the other room, doing something. The wonderful smell of food wavered in through the opening, and his stomach growled. Whatever it was, it smelled awesome.

He slid off the side of the bed and stood on shaky legs. He was incredibly hungry and almost weak. Maybe sick. He hadn't remembered being so weak since he had been sick, a couple years back. With shaky arms, he fixed up the bed to the best of his ability and wobbled out of the room.

Musta stayed out too long in the cold, he thought. Stupid. How am I supposed to get home now?

He leaned against the doorframe. Ken turned to him, a smile on his lips. Richard pushed off the doorframe and hobbled to one of the chairs. He leaned down against the table, on folded arms.

Ken walked over to him and place the back of his hand on his forehead. "How are you feeling?"

Richard grumbled and rubbed his forehead on his arms. "Like shit. Shouldn't have stayed out there last night." He sighed, letting his eyes close. "I'm always doing things like that."

He could almost feel Ken smile, even though he couldn't see it. It was a warm feeling that wrapped around him. He felt a hand pass over the top of his head, lingering gently, almost not there.

"It's almost ready," Ken said, moving back to the stove. "You'll feel better once you've had food in your stomach. I'm sure you'll bounce back. You strike me as that sort of person."

He grumbled his disagreement and sat up when Ken placed a bowl of something in front of him. He was back a minute later with a plate of vegetables, a glass of water, and a fork and spoon. He drank a spoonful of the soup, under the watchful eye of his host. It was good. It seemed to warm his insides, making a fiery trail from his mouth down to his stomach. He loved it.

"This is awesome," he said sitting back, after he finished the bowl. He still had the plate of vegetables to eat and he eyed them with more then a bit disgust.

The look on Kens face told him everything he needed to know. He was to eat the vegetables. And he was going to like it. Richard gulped and dug in.

Okay, okay, he thought munching on a mouthful. Not as horrible as I would've thought. But still... vegetables.

Ken cleaned up the table, giving Richard a nice view of his back. The shirt that Ken had dawned on this morning was nearly skin tight and thin. It was of an off white color and it draped down his back, hugging his ass.

He was wearing nondescript brown slacks, not the overly loose kind the villagers wear nor the overly tight ones he'd seen some of the party goers at the estate wear. A nice balance.

His hair was combed and tied back in a little pony tail. It gave a nice view of the curve of his smooth neck. As beautiful as that was, he found his eyes going back down to the region of his ass.

It was shameful, he knew. He just couldn't help himself. Once he took his eyes off that particular region, they always seemed to make their way back there.

Ken turned to him, pulling a piece of hair behind his ear. "How're you feeling now? Any better?" He was leaning up against the table, sleeves rolled up.

All the possible answers flew out of his mouth, leaving it wide open. Yes, he was okay. He felt a lot better, but he couldn't quite get the words out. The way Ken's eyes roamed his face, so sensual. Those thick black lashes, protecting huge purple eyes. A pink tongue licked a line along the bottom lip.

But he couldn't look away.

Ken walked over to him, pulling his sleeves down. "Maybe you should take a nap?" There was a little quirk in his lips.

Richard nodded, finally free of his stare. He stood, wobbling a bit. Blood rushed to his head and his vision flashed black for a couple seconds.

"Yeah, maybe you're right," he said, loosening his death grip on the side of the table.

Ken followed him into the room but stayed at the doorway. "Have a nice sleep," he said, finally, after Richard had gotten settled. He disappeared into the other room, closing the door behind him.

Richard settled down on the bed, one arm resting above his head. He'd kicked the blankets off him once Ken had closed the door, but he wasn't feeling particularly tired.

He thought about his family, thought about what they would think now that he'd been gone for the day. Probably nothing, he decided after much mulling. His mother would be angry and his father would probably knock him around for worrying his mother.

His sister wouldn't care. She's too busy with what's-his-name? And their kid. He was fond of the kid. Not so fond of the husband. Grace could've done better, he found himself thinking with a grin. Lucky bastard, that one.

He sighed, more of being tired then bored, and rolled over on his side. He studied the door. He could practically feel Ken moving around on the other side. Cleaning, reading, doing whatever he does out here in the boonies.

He closed his eyes for a moment and drifted off.

Part 2

He woke slowly. Moving from the dream seemed more difficult then it should. He didn't quite remember what the dream had been about, but he had enjoyed it.

It was still nice, as it was. He sighed and blinked his eyes open. "Mmm."

Ken lay on his stomach, a book propped open with one hand. His other hand against next to Richard's head, playing aimlessly with his head. He closed the book and turned to side, smiling.

"Feeling better?"

Yes, I am, he wanted to say. But didn't. He smiled instead and yawned loudly. "How long have I been asleep?" he asked instead.

"A couple hours."

Richard indulged himself. He brought a hand to his chest and ran his hand through a bit of his hair. When Ken didn't protest, he weaved his hand down the length of his hair. It was incredibly soft and it smelled of the lavender soap.

Ken's foot dug into the bed as he leaned into the touch. His eyes were closed and a slight smile touched his lips. The book fell to his side.

"Opps," said Richard, scooping up the book. The place had been lost, but he held it over him and opened it, and stared at the foreign words. He looked down to see Ken watching him intent. He turned back to the book, lips pursed, and turned the page.

"You read this? Like..." He bit his lip. "How does that work? How do these make words and how can they have meaning?"

There was that weird look, those lips curving downward into a small frown. His blue eyes hadn't turned unkind and he wasn't accusing Richard of being stupid but. But.

His cheeks burned and he said hurriedly, "I think I understand the concept and all. Orson reads all the time. I just... I dunno. I can't see how it works."

Ken sat up and grabbed the book from Richard. "Well, you've never learned, have you?" There was that smile again, as he climbed off the bed and tugged his clothes back into place.

Richard raised up on his elbows. "Never." He smiled back.

"Come on, lazy bones." Ken opened the door, hand lingering on the frame for a moment. "I'll show you around. Then maybe dinner?"

His stomach cried out in despair, which annoyed him. He'd remembered just eating and now it was making him look like an idiot. But the prospect of food was enough to get him up.

***

Dinner was a simple affair. He helped Ken chop different vegetables, more then a few that he hadn't seen before. While he did know how to cook, Richard still had to have Ken show him how to prepare these vegetables.

Ken stood close to him, behind him or slightly to one side. His hands would touch Richard's hips to angle him away, every now and then. When he cut wrong (and he did on more then one occasion), Ken's hand would ghost his own to the correct way.

Maybe it was bad of him. He thought on that for a minute and shot it down. He enjoyed the gentle pressure and there wasn't anything wrong with that.

Was there?

Richard fidgeted and grumbled to himself. Ken either took no notice or didn't bother to ask.

"Thank you for the food," he said, once they were seated at the table.

Ken tilted his head downward and smiled.

Richard ate in silence, thinking. Why did Ken live so far up the mountain? No, that didn't matter so much, he thought a bit later. What was it about him that made Richard feel so...? He had no words to describe it.

His eyes raised to the pale face of his friend. He was eating slowly, like he always did. Chewing thoughtfully, chin resting on the back of one hand.

There was something wrong with him. Richard frowned for a moment, but couldn't keep the cold shiver. It didn't feel right to be afraid or weary of this man. It wasn't possible. All this made him want to do was stay closer, and that was even worse.

He sighed and set his fork down, pushing the plate away. He crossed his arms and sat back.

No, he had to get home as soon as possible.

His gut wrenched at the thought. How could he stand to leave this place?

Ken looked up from his own plate. Again that calming smile. It made him feel better. "What to go out for a bit?" He stood and motioned for Richard.

"Huh? Where?"

"Outside." Ken paused, looking to the door for a moment. "I love the night here the best. So many stars. Quite beautiful."

He nodded.

Ken guided him, with a hand over his own gently tugging. He moved through the dark house with a quick deftness, while Richard blinked to get his eyes adjusted. The touch was light but it burned his wrist, in a nice way.

Outside, they moved to a side of the house and climbed a ladder to the roof. Ken crawled to a flat spot, turning back to wave him forward. He couldn't see the smile, but Richard was sure it was there.

It was beautiful, the thought struck him when he laid down. And it made him feel, if nothing else, that he could just live like this forever. Staring up at the stars, in God knows where with God knew who.

"Why do you live out here?" he heard himself ask. He hadn't been thinking about that, it just somehow came out.

A sweet breeze blew over them. Richard could hear Ken rustling about next to him, though he didn't turn to look.

"I just – I don't like people much, I guess."

He shifted to his side, back facing Ken. "Get lonely?"

"Sometimes." A hand ghosted over his shoulder and down his arm. "Not too lonely now, Richard. Why do you ask?"

His cheeks burned and he ducked his head into his arms. He bit his bottom lip and chewed on it. What was he supposed to say to that? Sure, he felt good here and stuff but...

He did want to stay here. Even more so then wanting to see Lord Orson, he thought with sudden flare. His parents wouldn't be pleased but... what else did he have going for him?

Richard sighed and turned towards Ken.

His pale companion was laying on his back, hands laced behind his neck. He stared out into the dark night sky; dark eyes studying something. Ken sneezed and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.

Maybe this isn't so horrible?

***

The trip down the mountain seemed to only take five minutes, but by the time he got down, it was almost dusk. He headed through the village, amidst all his friends. One, Mina, was outside her small bakery, putting all the unsold loafs inside. She stood and practically screamed when she saw him.

"Richard!" She threw herself at him, hugging him tightly. "I thought you were dead, you jerk!"

Richard blinked. "What do you mean? I can handle myself."

Mina's eyes were filled with tears when she looked up at him. "Three weeks! What the hell were you doing for three weeks in God knows where?" Her grip tightened and she rubbed her nose into his chest. "Damn it! I was so worried!"

He was careful to detach himself from the sobbing woman. "What? Three weeks?" Confusion wavered over him. But it had only been a night… hadn't it? He'd only been there one night. That couldn't have been a dream, could it have?

Mina drew him out of his thoughts by dragging him down the road. By this time, people were poking their heads out of the building to see what the raucous was. All seemed surprised with him being there, he noticed with a strange sense of detachment. Had he really been wandering aimlessly over the mountain for three weeks?

He shook his head. That was so… stupid! So impossible! Mina was just trying to confuse him and make him feel bad for being gone over night. She always hated those woods, always had something to say about the spirits that lived there. She probably couldn't live with herself that he'd come out alive.

But them why, when he was pushed into his house, were his parents crying? Why were they hugging him, not scolding? He bit his lip. "I'm sorry," he murmured against his fathers shoulder. Maybe this wasn't the best time to tell them about his adventure?

His mother pushed him down and made him eat a hearty bowlful of her homemade soup, and it almost shocked him when he tasted the meat in it. It was strange and foreign now, but he wasn't sure why.

He finished it, vaguely sickened, and handed it back to his mother. They didn't ask for any details, but he could tell they thought the worst had happened. She hugged him, tightly, and made him go to bed.

The next morning he received a summoning for that night to Lord Ishida's estate. He gulped tightly. Here is where he was going to get it. Fleeing surfs were always beaten, at least (if not out right killed for their insolence.) He still didn't believe three weeks had gone by but the prospect of being in that place once again made his skin crawled.

He had thoughts of fleeing to the mountain again, but his mother kept a watchful eye on him the entire day and was frantic if he was gone for more then five minutes. God, he wanted to see Ken again. There was a pit in his stomach that seemed to grow with each minute.

Night fell and his father accompanied him to the estate, waving a quick fare-thee-well at the front door. A guard greeted him with a curt nod and led him inside. Strangely, they bypassed the royal chamber and went straight up to the back.

His heart fell when he saw himself in front of Lord Orson's door. He knocked quickly, but it opened a minute later.

"Richard," Orson breathed in. He opened the door wider and gave him room to squeeze through.

Oh God, Ken. He found himself thinking, wishing, praying he was at the house in the mountains. Orson closed the door behind him, that feral look in his eyes. Strange how that used to excite him so. Now it seemed as much a death sentence as anything. He took a step back, but he knew what was going to happen and there wasn't anything he could do about that.

"Richard," the blond Lord said again, softly – caressingly – seductively.

***

I have to get back, Richard thought, absently as he wiped the dish free of its soupy bubbles and placed it back on the rack. How long had it been? A couple of days since? A week? Hell, he hadn't even had a chance to get back home and see his family again (though, that didn't matter as much as seeing him.)

He bit his lip. The sky was beginning to color its nightly hues and he knew what that meant. He hated it. Lord Orson had never been so… needy before and he couldn't possibly get away when he was expected.

Maybe not tonight, he thought. The same thought that he had the entire time he was here. Just one night and he could go back. He hated it here. The other servants refused to talk to him. He was village-trash. Besides, he must have been doing something up there with the Devil to survive so long.

What was worse, after a small reprieve, the animals of the forest had taken off again. And the crops had begun suffering, despite the hearty beginnings and the perfect rainy season. It wasn't too hot or cold, it couldn't be frost (it was the middle of summer), and there hadn't been an outbreak of insects. There was no explanation it.

"Ken." He breathed the name, loving how it spilled so easily from his lips. Oh God, came the lingering sadness. What an idiot he was, for coming back here. What a fucking idiot. He shook his head.

And in another hour or two… He shuddered to think.

He finished up the last plate and headed for the back gardens. The other servants he passed seemed to hug the walls as he moved through the halls. He was diseased. They probably think he was the cause for all the hardships. Stupid idiot, he thought as one of the women broke a potted when she dropped it out of surprise.

He spent a lot of time outside, staring off into the distance. Most of his nights were spent here, sitting in the quiet. The air freshed him; when he sat just so sit and took a deep breath, it was almost as if none of this had happened. It was an escape from this place.

But he didn't feel like resting tonight. With aching feet and a heavy heart, he decided to pursue the dying garden. Even in death, the strange shapes of wilting flowers made the garden an awesome sight. Not only that, but no one wanted to come out here.

Richard made his way around the edges of the garden, and back to the center. There was a large fountain here that usually held water, but it was dry this year. No use for water when it didn't seem to grow anything.

He looked at the amorous house that loomed out in front of him. It was had a beautiful design and was pretty to look at. He had to give it that. The lights of the great hall were one and he could see figures there, though he couldn't make them out.

Was there something going on? He tried to remember, but he never paid any mind to the activities that went on. He just did what he was told. Maybe Orson wouldn't need him tonight?

He turned back to the mountains. It was strange how a week could make so much fade from your memory. It almost felt like a dream; a very vivid dream. He sometimes wondered if he made his 'Ken' up. He smiled at what he could remember and walked closer to the iron gates. With a sigh, he pressed his forehead into the cool metal and yelped when it gave.

Upon closer inspection, he found the gates to be unlocked and not a guard in sight. Lord Orson had stepped up the guards posted around the estate, scared of whatever that was out there. From what he'd seen, he was still "frightened", so this was just weird. But Richard wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

He opened it just enough to slip through and shut it again. He wouldn't be "needed" for another hour at the least. It would give him enough time to get into the mountains. From there? Well… He didn't give much to hope. Some things just aren't worth trying to live for.

Well, he hoped at least.

***

It was dark by the time Richard made it into the safety of the mountains. He had no idea where he was and the light of the half-moon did nothing to penetrate the darkness. It chilled him to the bones. Every where, the deep, sticky darkness clung. It felt unnatural.

He wandered aimlessly before giving up and let himself fall against a tree. Weariness clung to his bones, he'd been up since six that morning and it had to be a good three or four the next morning. There was no sign of the house (of course, he told himself ruefully.)

He's mad, Richard thought suddenly, staring into the night. He didn't return the next day. He'd promised and he broke that. Tears welled up in his eyes and closing them only made the flow stronger. He didn't deserve to be rescued. He had lie and that should be punishable by death.

Richard drew his knees close to his chest and hugged them. Probably wasn't real, he sniffed. Orson seemed to think that whatever happened out there was just a dream and God knew he wasn't half as smart as the young Lord.

He closed his eyes and let sleep take him.

***

Warmth surrounded him and he took greedy advantage of it, cuddling in it as much as it allowed. He sighed and rubbed his cheek in the soft pillow under him and brought the blankets up to his nose, inhaling.

Wait.

He opened his eyes, blinking to get the blur of tired out. He distinctly remembered being in the woods – unless that too had been a dream. His head hurt and threatened him with a wobbly world when he tried to sit up. Richard ignored it and sat up slowly.

A short scan of the room made him realize one this: he recognized the house!

Ken! He almost squealed in delight. But when he stood, it drained all his energy and he had to grab the night stand for support. It took a minute to right himself before he could make it out of the room.

Tears sprung to his eyes and unknown emotions bashed up against him as he saw Ken making something that looked delicious. He stumbled out into the kitchen and was lucky when Ken whirled around to catch him.

"Ken," he murmured, suddenly tired again. "I missed you." He brought a hand up to touch the other's hair.

"Richard!" He could feel himself being lifted up and not a bit later, he was set back onto the bed. "You're too weak to be up and about!"

Richard grabbed his wrist when he turned to go back into the kitchen. "I'm sorry," he murmured, finding it hard to keep his eyes open. "I lied. I didn't mean to be gone for so long."

Ken sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. He ran a light hand through the hairs on Richard's forehead and leaned over to press a soft kiss there. "It's okay, Richard." He ran his hand through the hair with the utmost of gentleness. "I know you didn't mean to be gone for so long."

There was reassurance in those eyes. Richard caught Ken's hand and brought it to his cheek. "Don't hate me?"

"Nah. Well," Ken was considering, "maybe for not eating but I know they couldn't make food as well as I can." It was said in a gentle, teasing voice.

"Wasn't hungry," he stated and dropped the hand.

"Hungry now?"

Richard nodded. "Very much."

"Well, just wait for a bit and I'll get some for you." Another quick kiss and he was off the bed. Richard turned his head and watched Ken leave, letting himself drift off with images of Ken in his minds eye.

***

No fucking way! Not after two fucking years! Orson had to rub his eyes to believe what he was seeing: his Richard Smith picking flowers at the base of the mountain he'd been lost in. At the base of the mountain which had supposedly killed him.

Unknown feelings welled up in him. A tightening of his stomach, his breathing became labored, and a horrible sense of rage filled him. Rage and relief. Sadness and relief. A hundred million emotions, and the feeling of tears in his eyes.

He shook his head. Stupid. He had never felt anything for him. Maybe he was more exciting then the others and maybe they'd spent a lot more time together. And certainly, Richard had been his favorite. Hands down. But love such a low-life? Him?

Richard hadn't noticed him. He was bent over his task, singing some strange song he didn't recognize. Orson clicked the horse forward a bit then dismounted and approached him.

Anger propelled him forward. He wouldn't allow him to slip away again and look so happy and healthy when he felt like he'd been through the water works. "Richard," he said, giving the man his only warning before bending down and grabbing his hand. He hauled him up, amused at the scared look. He better be damned afraid!

"Wh, Who are you?" he said, struggling to get his arm free. "Let me go!"

Who am I? Who am I? That fueled the rage that filled him. He jerked Richard around and pulled him to the horse. With a little bit of struggle, he managed to get him stomach down on the horse and jumped on behind him.

Richard screamed and fought him as Orson dragged him through the hallways of his estate. He was only thankful that his older brother had decided to move closer to the city and leave the estate for him to take care of. The only people who would talk were the servants and they didn't count for much.

He threw Richard down in the arms master's chamber. "Fifteen lashes," he stated coldly, pointing down to the shuddering man.

Richard tried feebly get away. He pushed at the arms master but he was too weak to get out of the other's grip. The arm master tied his wrists together and then hooked them on a piece of rope that hung down from the ceiling. He drew out a knife and cut away his shirt.

"Don't scar him," Orson said, walking around to face Richard (who was by now making vows that he didn't know him and begging to be let go.)

Richard bit his lip, drawing blood, when the first stroke hit. Tears wet both sides of his face and he wheezed and refused to meet Orson's cold stare. This annoyed him.

"Will you escape again?" Orson asked, chin captured in his fingers, as the tenth stroke hit. Richard's murky stared at him, dazed and not completely there. He passed out.

Orson let go of the chin and ordered him to be taken down and sent up to his room. A healer was sent for a minute later.

***

"Damn, Richie, eat!" Orson sat on the ground, right next to the bed. He brushed a hand through the sweat-dampened hair and placed a kiss on the forehead.

After two weeks, Richard's wounds didn't seem like they were ever going to go away. He seemed to hang in limbo; the fever had broken out the day of the beating, which had been expected. But he refused to eat, and now after two weeks, Orson didn't think he was ever going to recover.

Richard's large brown eyes were open and he stared unblinking ahead. He didn't seem to recognize him or anything around him. That made his blood run cold.

"It's chicken soup," he whispered, holding the bowl close. "You love chicken soup, remember?"

No response but… had he expected one?

There was banging on his door. Orson set the bowl down and stood up with a sigh. One of his foot guards looked anxiously back at him when he opened the door with a scowl.

"What is it?" he hissed.

This made the guard shrink half his size. "It's, um, it's wolves, my Lord! They're attacking the village and we've been requested to go out and help them!"

Orson growled. "Of course you can go out and help them! What's next, you asking me if you can wipe your own ass? Jesus!"

The guard yelped and fled out of his line of vision, and Orson felt a wave of sympathy for the guard go over him. He never used to be so mean. He was just frustrated by the whole thing.

Richard finally comes back and… and…

He shouldn't have beaten him! Then none of this would've happened. Richard was alone in the woods for two years; he was bound to be dazed and confused. It was natural. He felt like such an idiot.

Orson closed the door and leaned up against it, pressing his forehead into the cool wood. Damn it! So stupid getting worked up over someone so insignificant. Should just leave him to die, since he seems to want to…

No, he'd never be able to do that. It had been hard enough on him, these two years. And even with Richard dying on his bed, at least he was with him. He knew what was happening, he wasn't left in the dust. Most of all, he could reassure him and keep him safe and as comfortable as possible.

"Richard!" came a startled gasp behind him. He whirled around to find a pale man kneeling by his bed, cradling his Richard against his chest.

"Who are you?" he asked, then a second later demanded: "Get away from him." But one look from those hard purple eyes froze him in his place.

The man turned his attention back to Richard, his face losing all its hate. He carefully picked him up, cradling him to his chest. When he turned his attentions back to Orson, his face once against held the hate and hardness that made him gasp. "He's mine," he stated. "You have your animals and good farming seasons, and I have my Richard."

Orson tried to protest, but his mouth didn't seem to want to work. He blinked and watched the man disappear out onto the balcony. Suddenly, he was able to move. His legs gave out under him and he clenched a hand to his chest.

When he caught his breath, he bounded up and ran out onto the balcony. There was no sign of Richard or that man. An overwhelming sense of pain waved over him. He'd lost him again.

The GLORIOUS end - LOL