~~~Wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?~~~
Keil hated hearing that he was too young. Fourteen is plenty old enough to do a lot of things! Stupid Brenner wouldn't let him, though.
"Hey! Clutz! Watch what you're doin'!" Brenner warned before pulling Keil towards him, keeping him from the path of some cascading rocks.
"Sorry, Brenner," he said contritely, shifting his pickaxe to the opposite shoulder.
"Idiot," Brenner scolded, grabbing Keil by his broad but bony shoulders and shaking. Keil twisted himself out of the large man's grasp. His light brown eyes narrowed at Brenner.
"I'm not an idiot, jackass," he shook his head, shoulder-length tawny hair whipping about dangerously. Then he yelped as Brenner grabbed him by that same hair. Ice blue eyes threatened terrible things from under auburn brows.
"Bren, cut it out," Link demanded, pulling himself from the pit of the mine. He stretched his muscled arms above him, head of brown-black hair thrown back. Keil sighed in relief and admiration. "Leave the poor kid alone."
"This brat's tryin' to get himself killed," Brenner insisted. "And then he called me a jackass for saving his skinny little ass."
"Do you need me to do anything else in the mine Link?" Keil was in love with him. The only problem was that Link was with Brenner, but Keil was convinced he could win him away. All he needed to do was get a little older, bigger, and stronger.
"Nah, it's getting late anyway. The others are all finished and will be bringing out the last of the ore from today in a just a bit." Link smiled at Keil. He knew about the boy's infatuation; it made him happy to be admired, but he didn't want Keil to get his hopes up.
Klinge was the next to leave the mine. Except for Keil, his was the slimmest build of the men he lived with. Even his face was narrow, with narrow green eyes to match. He shook some of the dirt out of his pale brown hair before reaching back to take the sacks of ore from those still in the pit.
After Klinge lifted out four full sacks, he stepped away to allow Adlar to pull himself up. Keil was jealous of Adlar's strong broad shoulders, firm chest, and trim waist. If he wasn't so in love with Link, and if Klinge wasn't so in love with Adlar, Keil might've gone for him.
"Trouble again, Keil?" Adlar laughed when Keil just grumbled.
"He can't help it, Adlar," Herz said as he brushed the dirt off himself. Donner came up right behind him.
"He damn well needs to help it," Donner glared at the teenager who, to Brenner's amusement, tried to hide from the largest redhead behind the redhead who had just been shaking him.
"As fun as tormenting Keil is, why don't we head for home? I don't know about you ladies, but I'm beat." Klinge heaved a long sigh in demonstration. Keil gave him a small smile of thanks. Klinge was always making the other guys stop teasing him without making it obvious, like Herz did. Herz meant well, Keil supposed, but the others, especially stupid Brenner, teased Keil for going to 'Mommy Herz' all the time.
On the way home, Keil was constantly reminded that he was alone. He loved the other men like family, except of course for Link, who he loved only as a fourteen year old boy can love someone. Still, when they walked home, and the others would happily mention something or do something to remind everyone that they were in love with each other, Keil felt left out. Donner had Herz, Adlar had Klinge, and Brenner, for reasons Keil didn't hope to understand, had Link. There was no one left for him.
"Troubles little brother?" Klinge slung his arm around Keil. They were cousins, not brothers, but that didn't make a difference to them. Keil just shrugged.
"It's just, well, everyone's so damned happy and in love and I'm," he paused, before deciding that he might as well finish saying what he was saying. "I'm not. Well, I'm not happy, but I am in love."
"You're still a kid. No matter how much you think you love Link, that will prevent him from acting on it. Just be happy with your youth and enjoy it while you got it. Worry about love a little later." Klinge ruffled Keil's hair and walked the rest of the way to the cabin next to him.
When they arrived at the cabin, all of them were hungry and impatient to reheat the stew that sat next to the fireplace. As Keil went to start the fire and place the pot over it, the other men got quiet.
"What's wrong?" Keil turned, looking at them quizzically.
"Someone's been here," Donner told him, inspecting the plates on the table. "We need to check the bedroom, see if he's still here." The others nodded in agreement. They would not take lightly to a thief in their home. Fire started and stew warming, Keil joined them.
"Someone's in Keil's bed," Adlar observed, sneaking to the farthest bed, candle in one hand and pickaxe in the other. Instead of crushing the head of the intruder, however, Adlar lowered his axe, his face a picture of surprise.
"Who is it? Why aren't you killing him?" Keil whispered loudly.
"It's a kid. He looks like an honest-to-blazes angel or something, though. Creepy," Adlar stepped aside to let the others see.
The small boy lay curled on his side, hand serving as an extra pillow. His long dark eyelashes brushed the porcelain cheek. Wavy black hair lay across his forehead and the pillow. His lips formed a red bow under the perfect button nose.
"Would you look at that," Klinge remarked.
"Brat may have a cute face, but he's gettin' dirt and mud all over my bed," Keil complained.
"Shut the hell up, Keil," Brenner snapped. "Poor kid looks abandoned and half starved. 'Course he's gonna get your damn bed dirty."
"I think I've seen him before," Donner thought about it for a second, before barking out a laugh. "Oh! That's right. I think he's the little bastard who stowed away in the cart when we were coming back from that damn village. Remember, Herz?"
Herz laughed, face turning pink. "Oh, yes. Poor boy. He interrupted us at an unfortunate time. I've never seen someone run away so quickly!"
"Ouch," Keil sympathized. "A cock-blocked Donner is a force to be reckoned with."
The boy stirred in his sleep, prompting the other six to give Keil dirty looks, telling him with their glares that he nearly woke the kid up. Keil just stuck his tongue out at them.
"So where are we gonna make Keil sleep tonight?" Brenner looked happy with the idea of putting him somewhere uncomfortable and drafty. He nearly choked when Donner answered him.
"I was thinkin' he could sleep with you and Link tonight. 'Course that means no fuckin' for you this evening, but your bed's got more room. And that way we'll all be able to sleep better without the damned racket you two make every night." His eyes dared his nephew to point out that Donner and Herz's bed was the biggest. Brenner wisely stayed quiet.
Keil was torn between ecstasy at spending the evening with Link and terror at spending it with Brenner. He hoped he could sleep on the edge of the bed next to Link and away from Brenner, but he didn't think Brenner would let him.
"Well, this will be interesting," Link commented optimistically. He just laughed when Brenner and Keil glared at him.
"I'm sleeping between the two of you. I don't trust you not to grope him in his sleep, you damn horny teenager." Brenner frowned at Keil, who tried very hard to look offended and like he hadn't been planning just that.
After dinner, Keil hoped that Brenner forgot about the arrangement. He hadn't. So Keil ended up sleeping on Brenner's left, while Link slept on the big man's right. Keil tried not to pout and vowed to make that brat sleeping in his bed pay for this. It was bad enough to hear the men he lived with going at it, even though they usually tried to be quiet. It was a thousand times worse having to sleep in the same bed the man he loved made love in.
He drifted off to sleep thinking of Link and Brenner and how much he wanted what they had. His dreams were surprisingly calm, full of peace and that strange and wonderful feeling of being loved.
In the morning, Keil came to himself slowly. The first thing he noticed was how comfortably warm he was. Then as he snuggled into his breathing pillow further, he wondered at how good it smelled. Finally, memories of the evening before crashed through him, making him fling himself from Brenner's chest onto the floor. Adler, who had breakfast duty this week, chuckled as he helped Keil up.
"You sure you're just in love with Link, lad?" Adler said softly, so as not to wake the rest of the sleepers. Keil ran his hands through his hair in distress.
"Yes," he hissed back, ignoring the way he wanted to crawl back in bed and go to sleep. He was just tired and cold, he told himself. That was the only reason. Sleeping next to Brenner hadn't been wonderful at all. He glared at Adler as he chuckled again, before following the brown-haired man out of the bedroom.
As the seven men ate breakfast, they heard some noise coming from the bedroom. After everyone silently nominated him as the best possible person to deal with a small child, Herz went into the bedroom. He wasn't exactly a small man, none of them were, but he was the gentlest of them.
They heard a small panicky voice coming from the bedroom, followed by Herz's calm and steady one. Then they watched as Herz led the boy into the dining room to meet them. His eyes were cautious, but they lingered on the plates of warm eggs and toast.
No one moved until Keil, feeling bad for the unkind thoughts he'd had now that the poor bedraggled kid was in front of him, walked over to the boy, grabbed his hand, and pulled him to the table. He sat the hungry boy down in his place and shoved his fork into a pale hand.
"Eat," he ordered, before going to a cabinet and pulling out an extra plate and filling it with food for himself. The child, seeing that there was more than enough and not wanting to be contrary with so many large men around him, obediently started shoveling the food into his mouth. Herz smiled at Keil, who shrugged from the stool by the fire.
Everyone stopped moving when the boy gasped. They looked up to see him staring at Donner with terrified eyes.
"Don't worry about it," Herz soothed, reaching over and patting his hand. "We know you didn't mean anything by it." The kid didn't look convinced, but he slowly resumed eating, eyes on Donner.
Once breakfast was finished, instead of heading to the mine like usual, they watched Donner for a cue to start questioning the kid. They didn't mind having him around, but they weren't going to take in just anyone. Donner, especially, was known for being particular about who lived with them. When he had moved to the mountain, it had been just him and Brenner. Over time, he'd accustomed himself into taking in some runaways, but it was still his home, and he wanted to make sure anyone who lived there deserved to.
"So what's your name, brat?" Donner asked, actually trying not to be intimidating. The boy stared. "Well? Can't you talk?" He nodded slowly, looking around for support and finding it only from Keil, in the form of sympathy.
"Finnian," he said softly, staring at his empty plate.
"Like the prince?" Keil asked. The seven men all raised their eyebrows at the violent jerk that prompted from the boy. "Wait, you're not the prince, right? He's up in his palace, sittin' on gold bars, with twenty servants ready to wipe his ass at any given moment."
"Language!" Herz scolded, glaring disapprovingly when Keil just rolled his eyes.
"She tried to kill me," Finnian whispered. His knuckles paled even further on the fork. "But I ran away. Wylie told me to cross the mountains so she couldn't hurt me anymore. He said he'd find me, but he hasn't. Somehow he couldn't. But I know if I do what he told me to, he will one day."
The men exchanged glances with one another.
"So you're the prince?" Adlar kept his voice soft. He had been in the royal court of the neighboring country before he left and came to the mountains. The boy didn't look like a prince on the surface, but Adlar noticed the quality of the clothes he wore and the precision of his words. Finnian nodded hesitantly.
"Would you like to stay with us until Wylie finds you?" Herz's eyes looked softly into Finnian's, noticing the fear and weariness there. Finnian looked down and nodded slowly.
"Well, let's think of a name for him. We can't call him 'Finnian' or 'Prince,'" Klinge pointed out.
"That's certainly true," Adlar agreed, absently reaching up to brush a stray hair from Klinge's face, making Klinge and Finnian turn red.
Keil, who had finished his dinner and now stood behind Finnian, snickered at the boy's discomfort, whispering, "You'll get used to it." Finnian looked up at him with round eyes, unsure about these strange men.
"What about 'White?' He's certainly pale enough," Link remarked. The men thought about it.
"That's too boring," Keil protested, surprising everyone with his rejection of Link's idea. When he realized what he'd done, he became embarrassed. Deciding he'd already done the damage, and still believing that he was right, he continued. "I mean, it's just a color. It's not very descriptive. Why not 'Snow?' It's also really pale, but it's all, I dunno, pure and stuff. Like him."
"I like it," Finnian whispered. "They said my mother wanted a child that was snow, blood, and ebony. And she got me. Then she died. I think my mother would like the name 'snow' for me."
The seven men stared at him for a moment, decision made.
"Well Snow, you'll have to share a bed with the ba..." Donner looked over at Herz before clearing his throat and continuing. Herz smiled at him. "With Keil there until Link can make you your own. And you'll be eating on the stool until he builds your chair. Do you know how to cook?" Finnian shook his head. "Clean?" He shook it again. Donner took a deep breath and squeezed the bridge of his nose. "Well, you'll learn. If you stay here, you gotta work. When you get a little bigger we'll teach you about mining and cutting down trees."
Finnian looked at the seven large men around him. The smallest was Keil, who would probably grow to be as big as Adlar. They all looked rough and strong, but none of them looked nearly as harsh or cold as his stepmother. And if he stayed here, he knew Wylie would have a better chance of finding him.
"Thank you for your hospitality," Snow said formally, smiling at them. Keil thought the smile was the sweetest he'd ever seen, and he wondered how in the world anyone would want to kill a kid like Snow. He promised himself that he'd be an older brother to Snow and protect him no matter what it took.