Hi again! Little angst going on in this chapter but next chapter is back to normal. Or as close to normal as it gets, lol.

Hope you enjoy!

Granite Years

Chapter 3

They spent the next few days in much the same way. Reading, occasionally talking.

Working quietly about the house together and a few times, late at night, Ailen snuck Riagan outside for a look at the stars.

Every morning Riagan chose the same cup, the one the color of the night time sky. It jarred Ailen every time he saw him holding it, bringing up memories he'd buried for years. He thought he covered it fairly well but occasionally he would notice Riagan looking at him oddly over the rim of the cup.

He would quickly look away or leave the table altogether. They never spoke of it though, and Ailen was thankful for Riagan's tact.

And his odd moments at the breakfast table weren't his only lapses; he would catch himself offering Riagan tea with three sugars, not just once but a few times. He would surprise him with fruit, tangy tangerines and sweet oranges, neither of which he liked.. Ailen would shrug and take the tea away, pouring it down the sink and eat the fruit himself but soon he made the same mistake again. Riagan ceased calling him on it, choking down the overly sweet tea and toying with the fruit a bit before dropping it into the bin.

These odd little moments passed quickly though and they spent most of their time together harmoniously enough.

They spoke of the future rarely, not wanting to attract bad luck by dwelling on the possibilities. This didn't keep them from taking a few precautions though.

They discussed the various disguise ideas and Riagan finally decided that he couldn't bear to be changed in any permanent way. Ailen didn't push him; he did help him dye his hair, tails and ears though. The smell of the dye made Riagan sneeze and once it was done he stared into the mirror, distraught.

"Blond. Blond?"

"It's not a bad look for you. Really."

"You put spots on my ears."

"Well, yeah, had to change them somehow."

He reached around and pulled the end of his tail into view, eyeing it mournfully.

"And my tail. Is spotted. Or blotched. More like blotches I think."

"Hey, it still works, right? Come on, it could be worse."

Riagan gave him a level glare and Ailen shrugged.

"We could always shave it down and leave a little pom pom on the end. Maybe perm the fur on your ears? What do you say?"

"I am back to not liking you."

"That's too bad, and just when I was going to pick up some pastry. Oh well, I suppose you wouldn't want any then?"

Riagan fought a grin and lost.

"You don't fight fair. But I suppose it could have been worse. It's just a bit of a shock. I'm sure some pastry would help me recover in no time."

"Glad to hear it, right back."

Every night Riagan climbed into bed with Ailen as if it were a given and he never said a word about it. He thought about saying something, more than once, but it seemed too awkward a matter to debate really. And it was comforting to have him there, a warm presence in the dark. There seemed to be no lascivious overtones to it, although several times Ailen woke up in embarrassed confusion, plastered tightly against his companion.

He would move away quickly, roll to the furthest reaches of the bed and fall back to sleep. Only to wake up back against Riagan again. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

And apparently not only for him.

After one such incident Riagan spoke from the darkness, startling Ailen.

"I do wish you'd either continue or stop that entirely, it's getting annoying."

"I'm sorry! I won't let it happen again!"

"You needn't sound so hysterical; it's not that big a deal."

Ailen shot out of bed.

"It's wrong."

Riagan sat up and looked toward him.

"It's not as though it never happens."

"It's, it's against the law."

There was a second of silence before Riagan burst into laughter. Ailen stormed out, with as much dignity as he could muster. He went across the hall into the bathroom and slammed the door.

He leaned against the door; eyes shut and tried to let his mind go blank. He was shaking and wished he had grabbed his robe but he was damned if he'd go back and get it now. He took a few deep breaths, knowing he was acting ridiculous and unable to stop.

"Ailen?"

The voice so close made him jump.

"Hey, I'm sorry for laughing. Come on, you have to admit that appealing to the law is a pretty silly thing for you to do."

"I know."

"Then come out, I'll sleep in another room if you want."

"I would think that it's more a question of what you want. You're the one who's 'annoyed'."

He heard a sigh and then a soft thump on the floor. Riagan seemed to have settled in for the long haul.

"I was being nasty, I'm sorry. I get that way sometimes. Especially when I'm sleepy. And, well, it's unsettling, you cuddle up and then lurch away as though you're revolted as soon as realize it's me. After a few repeats I think you can understand I'd begin to take exception. I like to cuddle, and if you wanted something more I wouldn't say no. But don't act as though I were venomous or something."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. I didn't realize I'd woken you up that often. I'm sorry. I'm sor…"

"Ailen, are you crying?"

"Of course not. I'm cold. I probably sound like that because I'm cold."

"Ailen, sometimes when you look at me, I think you're confusing me with someone else. Are you?"

"Maybe. A little. Ancient history, I see no need to dig it up."

He waited for a reply to this but none came. He could damn well feel Riagan sitting on the other side of the door, just waiting. He sighed, might as well get it over with, better now than when the others were about.

"Someone I knew when I was a kid. He's dead."

"Ah, a chimera? That's why I make you so uncomfortable sometimes?"

"I suppose. I haven't really spent time with a chimera for ages. I don't run into many of them and it's not as if we have servants of any kind, let alone chimera."

"But you used to, when you were younger? At home?"

"Yes. My father liked them, or liked owning them is more like it. Thought they were more dependable. And expendable, come to that."

"Your father is not alone in his views of us. We were created to serve, after all."

His voice sounded brittle and Ailen gave a bark of laughter.

"Somehow I don't think you were, you must be the exception that proves the rule."

"You'd be surprised, just because we're created to follow a set pattern doesn't mean we have to keep to it. Not all of us and not all the time."

"I never thought much about that possibility."

"Good, you aren't supposed to. It's not something we advertise, as a rule. Now, tell me about this chimera you used to know."

He searched for words while Riagan waited quietly.

"He grew up with me, my personal servant. His name was Berry. We were, I don't know what we were. Friends? When you're little you don't understand you're not supposed to be friends. He wasn't smart, not like you. He wasn't dumb or anything, just closer to the animal side of things I guess."

"I understand. Go on."

"We were really close when I was little, then we started to grow up. And grow apart, or I grew apart from him. Not totally, just…you can't stay close when your lives are so different. I guess I kind of left him behind. I was thoughtless."

"You hurt him?"

"Yes. I didn't mean to, I was just…young. And he was so forgiving. I'd go off to school and get involved with other friends and he'd sit and wait for me. Just wait, not angry or anything, just patiently waiting for me to remember him."

"And you felt guilty?"

"I was careless with him, with his safety, with his feelings. I should have felt guilty. But I resented him too; my feelings were all tangled and messy. I don't know how I really felt about him."

(Home from school, jogging through the kitchens on his way to other things, Berry cleaning dishes, looking up with welcome and hope. Jostling by him, trying not to see the hurt on his face. The delicate cup tumbling from his hands, shattered bits of night scattered across the floor. The cook advancing, fire in her eyes and Berry shrinking back, looking to him for help.)

(Later, hearing him snuffling, spreading salve over his back, fingers tracing the welts and feeling sick. The apologies, more empty apologies. Eagerly accepted, believed, and trusted. Even when it happened again. And again.)

"He officially slept on a pallet by my door, but he usually curled up with me. It was our time, no matter what had happened during the day, no matter how far I'd drifted from him. I knew we weren't supposed to be close, especially after I began growing up."

"What happened?"

"I was curious, wanting to experiment. He seemed to like it, we both liked it. But one night we went too far and it got…it fell to pieces. I was yelling I guess, it hurt and he wouldn't stop and …"

"You got caught?"

"Yes."

(The noise, the confusion and the shame. Berry being dragged off, hands reaching for him, reaching for help, for the old promises to be kept. Ailen hiding his face, silent.)

"He was punished? The law was carried out?"

"Yes. Privately of course. In our courtyard. I did try to explain, finally. When it was probably too late. It didn't change anything. At least for him. It changed everything for me."

(The shock of pain when his father slapped him, the disgust on his face. The demands for silence. The sick chill settling around his heart, his mind. The time afterward, the empty space in his bed, in his room, in his life. Moving beyond it, locking it deep inside. Burying the images, the cries, the guilt. Rationalizing the betrayal. Cultivating distance.)

"You must have been pretty young."

"We were. Too young. Anyway, it was a long time ago."

There was an odd sliding shuffle against the door, as though Riagan was running a hand over it. Ailen couldn't be sure about this but on impulse he placed his own hand on the door, palm flat on the wood, imagining that he could feel the warmth of Riagan's hand through the barrier.

"How did things change for you after that?"

"My home became a place I was staying, a house, nothing more. My family shunned me, I wasn't acceptable anymore. They made plans to place me in a boarding school of sorts, the kind of place you send younger relatives who are embarrassing. So I ran, taking as much as I could carry with me. I assume they were more relieved than anything else."

"And you started a new life?"

"Yes. I like it, most of it. And I'm good at it. Betrayal is something I'm good at."

"I think you're being too hard on yourself. Yes, you were young and thoughtless. You were partially responsible for something terrible. But that hardly damns you for all time. Your father could have ignored the whole thing; he could have sent Berry away or sold him. There were any number of options. You're not the same person now, in any case. And while you do steal I wouldn't say you're all that horrible, even so. You don't steal anyone's last cent; you don't steal from poor people. You don't kill people."

Silence.

"Ailen, come out. How about if I tell you I like you? Will that help?"

"I like you too."

"Good, now either come out or let me in, it's cold on the floor."

"Okay."

The door opened and Riagan scooted away to give him room to step out. He leaned down, offered a hand to help Riagan to his feet. They walked back to the bedroom and stood beside the bed.

Riagan gave him a little shove.

"Climb in, are you sure you don't want me to sleep elsewhere?"

"I'm sure."

He climbed in and lay down, carefully arranging his limbs into an approximation of relaxation. Riagan climbed in next to him, gave him a small smile and then moved closer, throwing one arm over his chest and snuggling down with a sigh.

Ailen stiffened for a second and then let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

They were asleep in seconds.

XXXXXXXXXXX

Review replies:

Afk-I'm so glad you're liking! And floppy ears, I have to try a drawing soon. I do have a problem with a one track mind, I did manage to update SC though! Ha, we'll have to get back to the other venture soon though! Thanks for the kind words!

Kurimja-You and me both, cinnamon rolls are the best! Thanks for reading!

Xanthofile-Ah, raison bread is good! I wrote it when I was hungry, you could tell huh? And the long journey from here to there…well, it's usually a fun trip though.
Thanks!

Ulfr-Thanks, I'm happy you're liking them, I'm pretty fond of them myself, which is silly I guess, but I can't help it! I'm trying to update fairly regularly but….well, I promise to try?