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Old 12-07-2014, 05:54 PM   #26
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Default Oh my Goooooodddd

SO hot. I've become basically obsessed with this story, so I need you to post a new chapter every day continuously for...the rest of my life?
Seriously though, this story is fantastic. It's my favorite one of yours, which is definitely saying something because they're all pretty great. Thanks for the amazingly hot update!
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Old 12-07-2014, 06:16 PM   #27
Xyantha Reborn
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DERP. Certainly not his brother = Certainly not his FATHER.
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Old 12-08-2014, 10:05 AM   #28
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This is a great story so far. I love how you portray the self esteem issues and the conflicts regarding sexual attraction. I hope that when they finally do have sex there's nothing bad about the experience for either parties, and that (just a personal preference) it is as explicit as possible, especially if any area is so fat that it gets in the way of penile penetration.
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Old 12-09-2014, 03:58 PM   #29
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Another excellent update! Only way to make it more excellent is more!

I love Khorg's and Hadd's contrasts.
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Old 12-09-2014, 07:36 PM   #30
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Aside from having all my favorites in one story, this is really excellent writing. The characters are such *characters*, you know? Like Hadd, he's not just shy and depressed and down on himself--he has this streak of hope and strength, even if he tries to deny it (like when he was oggling Khorg in the beginning and then had to remind himself to cut it out 'cause he was about to die-- that was a LOL moment for me). And Khorg, with his social deficits and the way he makes up that deficit through the study of others--just really interesting and unique.

I decided to give more than my usual OMG I LOVE IT in hopes of inspiring even more rapidly-posted chaps. And in case you're wondering, the only reason I can write something semi-coherent here is 'cause this is the 3rd time I've read the new part. Usually after one time I'm just staring at the screen crying for more.
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Old 12-09-2014, 11:08 PM   #31
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Xyantha, this story is fantastic! Thank you!
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Old 12-12-2014, 10:37 AM   #32
Xyantha Reborn
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Your tactic is well played...here is the next update
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Old 12-12-2014, 10:43 AM   #33
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Chapter 6

“It’s ok.” Loras said quietly as he removed the hand that he had briefly placed on the younger man’s shoulder, moving towards the opening.

It didn’t feel like it was going to be ok.

Hadd felt odd. He would have called it anxiety, but it wasn’t like what he felt when he had heard his parents footsteps or anything. A more accurate description might be that he felt restless and nervous. The past couple days had been pretty relaxing – shockingly so. There seemed to be a sort of peaceful rhythm to the days and nights with these two men…a quiet solitude.

The cave had provided a sort of dreamy bubble – that was now about to burst. Somehow, the prospect of the other men imminently arriving seemed to promise it. What would they be like? What would he do? Would Khorg and Loras be as nice to the fat kid, once the others were watching?

Khorg was on his bed, his naked, muscular chest rising and falling as he napped. He had enough chest hair to be visible without being a pelt, and a single, fine line descended down his torso, disappearing under his pants. He had raised his arms, pillowing his head with his hands, and tufts of dark fur in his arm pits contrasted sharply with his paler skin.

He was so gorgeous. Hadd was becoming familiar with all those planes – something that continued to surprise him every time he reflected on it.

Small, pert nipples topped his well sculpted chest, slightly rigid against the breeze that had just slipped through the cave. Khorg immediately opened his eyes, waking instantly and sitting up effortlessly. Hadd couldn’t help but sigh at his casual pose; one long leg stretched before him negligently, the other bent closer to his chest. The older man rubbed his hand along the top of his thigh, a grimace flitting over his face. When he saw Hadd looking, he cast a dangerous glance his way, locking eyes with an almost daring intensity.

Averting his eyes, Hadd saw the other men filing into the cave around the heavy hide flap that was stretched to minimize the cold air seeping in. His stomach dropped, and dread filled him. Taking a calming breath, he tried to slow his heart down. None of the men seemed overtly aggressive; they cast him some curious looks as they came in, but didn’t threaten him.

The knot in his stomach loosened. Nothing seemed to match his expectations; he expected his leaders to be harsh and demanding; instead they were calm and patient. From what he had been told, he fully expected that these men would be aggressive, domineering, and generally assholes – but even that didn’t seem to hold true. As they settled the mood grew lighter and they began joking amongst themselves as they helped stow each other’s gear. As they filed past towards the pool, they would casually introduce themselves.

Beside Khorg and Loras, there seemed to be eight men. As they doffed their equipment, Hadd recognized the angry, short one named Gus, but didn’t know any of the other men. Gus immediately swaggered up to Khorg and began talking to him quietly but fiercely, legs spread, arms crossed, looking down at his leader. It seemed like some sort of intimidation strategy, but instead of meeting that aggression, Khorg reclined back on his muscular arms, tilting his head back with a cocked eyebrow and a sardonic expression that somehow retained authority. It seemed to say – and?

Returning his gaze to the others, Hadd examined each one. The one who caught his eye was a large, very dark skinned man, who winked at him saucily as their eyes met. His face heated, and he looked away…but when he returned his gaze, the man was still casting a roguish grin his way.

He was tall – even taller than Khorg, but nearly twice as wide with heavy muscle. He dropped onto his heels beside their newest member, resting his elbows on his knees and his face on his upturned palms. “So, you’re Hadd.” The other’s voice was deep and he spoke with an almost lazy slowness. Sleepy but intelligent eyes examined him from behind lowered lids “I was wondering if you were going to make it. You know, if you wanted us to look at you, you didn’t have to show up only half dressed.” And he winked again.

Hadd’s cheeks began to tingle from all the blood rushing to them. This one was cute, too! Not as handsome as Khorg, though. Normally, Hadd would have been flustered, but something about this man made him curious, and a little bolder. The tone was gently teasing, and allowed Hadd to hold eye contact instead of looking away.

The other man’s eye’s crinkled at the corners, and he swept a warm but critical glance down the other’s rounded body, back up to his eyes, then offered another broad wink.

To say that Hadd was astounded would have been an understatement, and only grew at the other’s next action.

Leaning forward, the man slid his large, dark hand into Hadd’s small, pale one. “Rory. And I think we are going to get along just fine.”

“W..what?” Hadd squeaked, taken aback.

“Well, you are too,” Rory returned comfortably, settling back and picking up his bag.

Now he was lost. “One what?”

“Gay,” Rory said even more slowly, rolling his eyes.

“N-n-n-n-no!” Hadd gasped, fanning his hands in front of him rapidly, eyes darting to see who had heard. Oh god, he was going to get the crap beaten out of him. Suddenly, the words finished going through his brain. Wait. “What? You…”

“Mmhmm,” the other returned, gaze open and friendly. “It’ll be nice to have ‘boy talk’ again. The others will give or take a handy shandy when they are desperate, but it’s not the same, you know?”

“No, I don’t,” Hadd confessed awkwardly, compelled into honesty by the other’s frank gaze.

Rory cast him a glance that plainly spoke his laughter at his reticence. “Sorry, was it supposed to be a secret? Look, if you don’t want people to know, you should probably tone down the ‘screw me’ vibe when you look at a hot guy.”

Oh god. Was it really that obvious?

White teeth flashed against his dark skin. “Yeah. It’s pretty obvious.” The other spread his bedroll next to Hadd and extended a hand, inviting him to sit with him. “So.” The tall man probed his form with his eyes. “Damn, you got some curves on you, don’t you?”

There wasn’t really much he could say to that, but his cheeks reddened again and he looked down.

“Hey, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. More cushion for the pushin’ ya know?” And smirked.

“Careful,” Khorg rasped from behind him, making surprise and guilt ripple over Hadd’s skin. “He will fuck anything that moves. Give him the opportunity and he will be in your pants faster than you can blink.”

Rory raised his hot gaze and raked the other’s form blatantly - and yet almost indifferently. “You offering, Khorg?”

Khorg seemed emotionally and physically unmoved. He actually grabbed the edge of his pants and peered down. “Mmm….Nope. Sorry, bud. Got nothin’ for you.”

“Ah, drat.” Rory sighed theatrically, pouting.

Khorg transferred his gaze to his newest member. “Once everyone has settled in we will do introductions. Are you hungry?”

Always. “Yeah, a little.”

Khorg knelt down and took Hadd’s hand, placing a piece of meat in it.

Instantly, heat shot through Hadd, his senses perking at. Now that they were all bathed, the spicy scent coming off the other man’s skin was delicious. Keeping his gaze down, he took the proffered meat, trying not to stare and lick his lips.

Although the dehydrated meat was thin, it was still about the size of his palm – a generous portion. Hadd stared at it in undisguised delight. After throwing a shy gaze towards his benefactor, he tentatively but eagerly brought it to his lips, nibbling at the edge ecstatically. Flavour burst over his tongue and a little moan escaped his lips.

Their leader abruptly turned away, thrust some meat at Rory, and left.

Rory accepted his own piece with a smile and then alternated his gaze between Hadd and the retreating back with a solid gravity. Suddenly, he grinned. “Well, I never!” He exclaimed, fingers excitedly shredding a sliver off and inserting it into his mouth.

Hadd stared at him, lost. “What?”

“I never would have suspected,” Rory murmured, then laughed out loud. He seemed mightily pleased, occasionally large rumbles of laughter rising up. “Nothing, nothing, don’t worry about it,” he reassured the boy. “Don’t be so nervous,” he complained as Hadd flushed and shifted. “You’re making me twitchy.”

“Sorry,” Hadd murmured, still nibbling on the meat. He was tempted to ask this friendly stranger what the Outliers did, but was afraid of revealing his ignorance. “How long have you been here?” He asked instead. The other seemed confident and comfortable, as if he had been here before.

Rory blinked, returning his gaze to Hadd’s own. “This is my third rotation.” He shredded a little more of the meat with his nails, nibbling carefully.

And rotations lasted how long? “How long has Loras been here?” It was safer than asking the question he really wanted to know.

“Uhm, well I think Khorg’s been leader here for about nine years, and Loras started the year after, so about eight? But Khorg was born here, so rotations don’t exactly count for his total experience.”

“Really? Here?” It was impossible to keep the incredulous tone out of his voice. Who – how? Who would raise a child here? And with who? He hadn’t seen a single woman.

Rory seemed like one of those people who was incapable of not grinning every few minutes. “Well, not here, here – but on this mountain range. Actually, at Home Base.” He must have seen the curiosity on Hadd’s face, for he continued readily enough. “Khorg grew up here. This is his home. He went to the army for a while, but came back to lead the teams here.”

Hadd digested that for a moment. Khorg’s dead serious expression as he told him about the dangers seemed to gain additional conviction in his memory. He would know, if he grew up here. “How many teams are there?”

“Three.” A derisive baritone announced from behind him.

Immediately, irritation crawled up Hadd’s spine, and he turned to glance over his shoulder. Suddenly, the feeling of anxiety over a confrontation faded, now that the moment seemed to have arrived.

Gus stood there, sneering. “Didn’t they teach you anything? Obviously not how to diet.”

It was Hadd’s natural instinct to turn away. He didn’t want to start anything, and as always; there wasn’t anything he could do to deny that fact. He was fat – what was he supposed to say? Though less fat. He had felt delight yesterday when he had realized he kept having to hike his old pants up to keep them from falling. Khorg had taken one look at the material and told him to throw them out because they would only get wet and cold.

“Look at me when I am talking to you,” snapped the shorter man, bringing his attention back to the present.

Something in that tone, in the words, made Hadd snap. “Screw off,” he snapped before he had a chance to think. The edges of his vision darkened, little bursts of light going off in his peripheral vision.

The other man seemed wholly astonished at the aggression. He had obviously expected to utterly cow the object of his bullying. Recovering, he stepped forward threateningly, bowing out his chest and raising a hand. “What did you..?”

“Go on then, hit me,” Hadd grated out, twisting back to face him. At that moment, nothing else existed but him and Gus. The circumstance was too close to home. Somehow, all the rage he had been feeling towards his ‘father’ settled on this stranger. He hadn’t even know how angry he was, until that moment.

There was silence for a long moment, except for breathing. Gus seemed to recall himself, casting about on both sides. Finally, he took a step back and snorted. “I don’t hit girls, and only a girl would have tits that big.”

Relief went through Hadd, and he inhaled shakily, casting an akward look at Rory.

The swarthy face split and white teeth flashed. “For the record, I think you have great tits.” Rory informed him, loud enough to be heard by half the team.

Gus, who had fancied he had gained a victory with his parting shot, stumbled a little as raucous laughter rose, but raised his head higher and stalked off to the pool.

Hadd, gaze clearing, looked around. Suddenly feeling weak, he swallowed, dreading what was going to come next. But nothing really did. The other men took themselves off to the pool, even Rory. Loras, unperturbed, was rationing the meat and tying it for travel. The only one paying any attention to him was Khorg.

Still shirtless, the other man padded over and sat on his bed again. “So the little Rabbit’s kick broke the hawk’s wing?”

“What?” Hadd mumbled, half crawling over to Khorg’s pallet. He felt utterly drained, and half curled up, half fell into the blanket.

“It’s not important,” Khorg sighed. “I could have hoped that you and Gus would have gotten off to a better start…but then,” Thick shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. “Who does Gus ever get along with? At least you scored a victory.”

Hadd buried his face in the blankets. He didn’t feel victorious…he felt ashamed for losing control.

There was silence for a long moment. “And so you have hit it off with Rory. What do you think of him?” The tone was light, the words casual.

“He seems alright,” Hadd muttered absently, wishing he could sink into a hole and die. Great way to make friends, he told himself bitterly, curling up into a ball. His berating himself might have continued for a while, but halted as he felt Khorg’s hand slide down his back.

The gesture repeated twice more before the hand was removed. Raising his head, the younger man looked up, astonished.

Khorg gave a little grin. “You did fine, Hadd. Smile.” He reached over and gave the younger man’s chin a little chuck. “I haven’t seen you smile once since you arrived.” The voice deepened a little. “Smile, Hade-ween.”

Hadd couldn’t help but smile at the other man’s mock threatening tone, and his cheeks heated at the touch. His lips almost felt pouty, aching to be touched. “You said my name funny,” he said instead of begging him to do it again. Instead of ‘Hadd-win’ with emphasis on the last syllable, Khorg had pronounced it like ‘HaD-eH-ween’, with the emphasis on the end of the first syllable, tripping it into the next.

The other man was also looking at him oddly, and rubbed a hand across his lower ribs and stomach absently. “In my language ‘hade’ means hare. Ween is the…cutsified version of a thing. So Haddwin sounds very similar to ‘little bunny’.”

“Is that why you call me Rabbit?”

A cautious nod answered him.

“I like it,” Hadd said after a moment, blushing. He pressed his hot cheek into the blanket. “Does your name mean anything?” he asked after a long moment.

A line had appeared between Khorg’s brows, but he shook off the emotion, nodding. “Mountain goat.”

“Does everyone here get named after an animal?”

Khorg looked at him suspiciously for a long moment, but then jerked his head. “Children are named after an animal until they hit their second naming year – when they are less likely to die. Some who have been here long enough adopt a name.”

“So what’s your other name?” Hadd regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth. Khorg immediately stiffened, gaze hardening. “Sorry,” Hadd whispered.

“Why?” Khorg snapped. “You have done nothing.”

Hadd sat up, looking down. “I offended you.”

The other man exhaled after a long moment, flopping down. “No. Continue.”

“Why…why were you named after a mountain…” Hadd noticed Loras watching them closely, and stuttered to a stop.

Khorg exhaled through his nose. “I was a climber as a child. It was a natural choice, given my behaviour.”

“Loras…?”

“Loras adopted his own name. It is…” he seemed to search his memory for a long moment. “The noisy ones who scream. Elk.”

Hadd grinned in delight, trying to imagine the stoic Loras screaming and carrying on.

Khorg breathed funny, coughed, and grabbed his chest, muttering something.

*~*~*

The boy’s smile had lit up his face like a beacon. That mouth, a little too wide, grew, turning up at the corners and parting a little in delight. Those doe eyes suddenly sparkled, his chubby cheeks rising up into little mounds. And it made something in him start to ache acutely.

His chest almost felt tight and burning, his stomach flip flopping. He wanted the boy to smile like that often. His sister had used to sit him down as a child and try to explain empathy to him; that making others happy made you happy. He had never comprehended it then, and had never felt that reciprocal feeling that others seemed to feel so easily. But now, ensuring Hadd’s smile seemed of the utmost importance to his own well being.

Loras was gazing at him in mute inquiry.

Khorg had pulled him into a side passage, but now didn’t know what to say. “I think I’m getting sick,” he mumbled. He had never needed to confide in anyone, and had no idea how to start.

The other twitched a brow, crossing his arms over his chest. His whole demeanor seemed to scream, oh yeah?

“I keep getting this pain in my chest, and my stomach is flip flopping.”

Rolling his eyes, Loras leaned against the wall, resting his foot against it. “Yeah?”

Flippancy was not something he appreciated, even from his Second. “You have something to say?”

“Does this sickness happen only around Hadd? Come now,” he said in answer to the other’s frozen expression. “I’ve known you for what? Fifteen years now? I’ve never seen you get emotional in all that time. Your sister swears you don’t even have any. Even when we lose boys to an avalanche or other mishap you are more irritated about how it impacts the team, and the annoyance of retraining. You don’t actually feel any pain for them. You don’t think I’d notice when you started becoming obsessed with this boy?”

It took a moment to make his tongue work. “I am not obsessed.”

“Ah, well, that’s good. It will make your life easier when Rory fucks him.” Loras stabbed a finger in his direction as a low growl rumbled deep in the taller man’s chest. “Ha!”

“This isn’t funny! It hurts! How do you make it stop?”

The expression on Loras’s face chilled him.

“You can’t. I hope you suffer. I hope that you finally feel all the anger, and pain, and joy. I hope you finally get the pain I feel every time you drag me away from your sister on another rotation, refusing to try and find another Second. I hope you feel the god damn pain of watching and waiting, hoping that the person you love doesn’t find someone else because you are never there!”

He had known that Loras felt a bit of resentment, but hadn’t known how much venom was there. He opened his mouth, closed it. “I didn’t know.”

“You knew,” Loras spat. “You just didn’t care. So don’t talk to me about pain. I hope you suffer for once - like the rest of us.”

After the other had gone, Khorg wondered if his emotions were all becoming fixed. Did he suddenly feel sympathy towards Loras, and feel bad for causing him pain?

No…he was more worried that the negative emotions the other had would impact his ability to function. And what if Loras took out his obvious anger towards Khorg himself, on the boy? After due consideration, he dismissed that thought. Loras would do what needed to be done, and would stay impartial.

Another thought struck him, this time smarting. He was used to being considered deficient emotionally…but would Hadd consider him as much of a social exile as the others? He growled in frustration. Why did the little Rabbit’s opinion matter so god damn much to him? When he had been called nice the other day, a warm glow had started in him. When the boy had smiled, he felt almost giddy, and would have broken the arm of any who tried to stop it.

What he hadn’t told Loras was the total red out he had experienced when Gus threatened the boy. He hadn’t experienced anger like that in years. And for what? What damage could Gus have really caused, even if they had gotten into a fist fight? It was only Hadd’s daring expression, screaming ‘bring it!’ that had allowed him to hold back. He was genuinely concerned over what he might do, if the boy was threatened.

“Khorg?” Hadd asked shyly from behind him. “Loras said to ask if you had anything else you wanted done today, or if everyone can tuck in for bed?”

Turning slowly, Khorg rubbed his face with his hands. “Uh, no. They can all settle in.”

The chubby thighs shifted. “Are you coming?” Hadd asked eventually, when Khorg remained stationary.

The hope in the boy’s voice made him shiver. “Yes, little Rabbit, I will come.”

Hadd walked beside him, head tilted up as he talked. But it was the expression that made Khorg stumble. Implicit trust shone from the boy’s eyes. It terrified him. Although he was trusted to do a good job, he had never been trusted. In fact, he would go so far as to say people personally mistrusted him. Would he break that trust? The last few days had seemed so long, and so short. In a few days they would be back out into the cold. Would the boy even make it? Pain lanced through him.

Rory waved at Hadd from his blankets as they past, and Hadd waved back, smiling shyly.

Although Khorg was pleased Hadd seemed to be generally welcomed, with the prospect of a friend…he placed a possessive hand on one of the boy’s jiggling sides, casting the other a look. Mine.

The large, sleepy eyed man winked slowly, a lopsided smirk spreading across his face.

The one he was really concerned about was Gus. As the longest standing member after himself and Loras, he had been chafing to move up to the position of Second. The Second’s responsibility was to not only to be the next in the line of succession, should the First fall, but also to assist in gathering supplies, fixing gear, and facilitating group cohesion.

Unfortunately Gus was an intensely competitive, abrasive person who was completely unable to charm. The men listened to him, but given the slightest bit of power, the man was prone to abusing it. Khorg didn’t think Gus could hold the men together for longer than a few months. Unfortunately, he had used the past few years to eke out a sort of grudging power with the others. The only one who regularly and joyfully knocked him down a peg was Rory, who couldn’t give a shit about what people thought of him. If Gus turned against the boy…

He tried to remain tense, but Hadd’s rolling over and throwing an arm over him in his sleep instantly quieted his thoughts, tension draining out of him as that round belly pushed into him with gentle insistency. There would be time to think about it tomorrow…

Last edited by Xyantha Reborn; 12-12-2014 at 10:48 AM.
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Old 12-12-2014, 11:16 AM   #34
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I love it!
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Old 12-12-2014, 05:54 PM   #35
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Great chapter, thank you
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Old 12-13-2014, 02:25 AM   #36
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Ack! I'm internally yelling 'just kiss already!' ...but I'm actually so on board for the delicious torture.

Yay for Haddwin standing up to Gus, but doing it in a Hadd way. Like it's still not that easy for him, but he's getting there. I thought that part was really well written (like the rest, lol, but particularly there) w/ the little details about his vision darkening, etc.

I've never been super into the 'gay for you' thing...but for some reason I'm totally digging that Khorg is Haddsexual.

And oooh, Loras gettin' sassy with his commander! "I hope you suffer." Yes, suffer like the rest of us waiting for the next chapter =P
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Old 12-13-2014, 07:13 AM   #37
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I was wondering if you see Khorg and/or his sister as being abused as kids? Because based on everything I've read about abuse, especially physical abuse, it can cause some people to become empathy stunted. Often times they become desensitized or immune to a great many emotions but particularly emotional and physical pain, both their own and that of others. The lack of empathy and reaction apparently develops as a kind of coping/survival mechanism. If Khorg did suffer abuse during childhood and developed this then it would explain a lot about his present behavior and inability to empathize.
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Old 12-13-2014, 10:43 AM   #38
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Khorg most definately has his own history that will be coming out over the next few chapters!!
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Old 12-13-2014, 11:04 AM   #39
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Which will be here this weekend, right?? =P
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Old 12-15-2014, 10:42 AM   #40
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I am enjoying this SO much! Thank you, Xyantha!
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Old 12-18-2014, 08:52 PM   #41
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There are so many feelings. So many. I love it (:
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Old 12-20-2014, 12:39 PM   #42
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Okay I've really tried hard to restrain myself. But I need more. Please. XD
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Old 12-20-2014, 01:02 PM   #43
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Okay I've really tried hard to restrain myself. But I need more. Please. XD

DAMN i thought there was a new chapter! (
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Old 12-20-2014, 01:29 PM   #44
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DAMN i thought there was a new chapter! (
LOL! Sorry! I feel like I need to join a support group for people obsessing over getting another chap of this.
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Old 12-20-2014, 07:37 PM   #45
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Sorry!!!

I am hoping to post the next chapter (maybe even more) tomorrow...Monday at the absolute latest!
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Old 12-21-2014, 03:03 PM   #46
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Sorry!!!

I am hoping to post the next chapter (maybe even more) tomorrow...Monday at the absolute latest!
please do and thank you in advance
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Old 12-21-2014, 04:39 PM   #47
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Sorry!!!

I am hoping to post the next chapter (maybe even more) tomorrow...Monday at the absolute latest!
Hurray! Thank you, it's wonderfully written.
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Old 12-21-2014, 05:43 PM   #48
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Now I thought the new chapter was up. :-/ lol. Hope it's soon! Thanks Xyantha
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Old 12-21-2014, 07:58 PM   #49
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Chapter 7
Normally, Loras didn’t interfere in the personal workings and issues of the team.

Khorg was usually the one who handled them. Despite not being an empathetic person, he managed to keep his team both functional and emotionally stable.

There were going to be problems with this particular individual, though. One was that he had problem taking instructions from others. Another was that he didn’t care about people liking him. Because it was Khorg himself.

On their first meeting, Khorg had seemed quiet, withdrawn, but intelligent. It wasn’t until they got into skirmishes that Loras realized he had no empathy. When part of their unit disobeyed an order and got shot down, Khorg had merely shrugged and turned to Loras with a shake of the head. “I guess that’s what happens when we mess up, eh?”

Loras couldn’t pinpoint when it started, but over time, the other man seemed to adapt more – in behaviour. When something similar happened, Khorg would look grave and ask if the others were ok instead of looking bored. He began offering the behaviour that was expected. For those who knew him before, the change was astounding but also creepy. For those who only met him in passing, the façade was good enough to fool most. It was only when you spent extensive time in his presence that you began to understand there wasn’t a real person being that smokescreen.

So it was more than a touch flabbergasting to see Khorg attach himself to anyone. Loras hadn’t seen him get attached to a single person in all the years he had known him in the army, and later out here. When he had followed him to the Outliers, he again saw that Khorg had no one he would proudly call family or friends – and more importantly, did not seem to need any. He treated his sister with bare civility, only following the forms, customs, and social niceties out of what he called “social obligation”. Now, he seemed doggedly obsessed with a mere boy.

Not only was the boy young, he was also unattractive. Loras didn’t consider himself particularly judgy, but Khorg was a good looking man – and Hadd was, to be blunt, not. His features were unremarkable, and the sadness that accompanied him everywhere made him seem glum and flat. Beyond that, he was also fat. Not just big belly fat, but obese. Now, time out here would melt those pounds away – but it was how Khorg could consider Hadd attractive that blew his mind.

Having been the closest thing to a friend the other man had (which wasn’t saying much), Loras had seen women and men throw themselves at his leader. His careless attitude seemed to draw them like honey. Rarely Khorg had deigned to sleep with one…and Loras secretly doubted he actually did anything with them. How could Khorg make love to someone else when he loved himself more than anything?

Hadd also had no training, which Khorg usually found intolerable and frustrating. Loras was under no misconceptions as to why Khorg valued him – and one key component was training the team. Khorg had no turn for it, having a difficult time articulating concepts into speech and no tolerance to patiently wait for the others to grasp the concepts. To Loras’s amazement, he had seen Khorg spend hours patiently teaching the lad the simplest of tasks, offering congratulations and seeming pleased with the results, even if minor.

He was happy that Khorg seemed to have attached himself to another human being.

Truly he was.

But Khorg was also dangerous, and Rory didn’t seem to understand what he was playing with. It was like watching a child pick up a poisonous snake and think that it wouldn’t bite because it hadn’t yet.

Admittedly, he wanted Khorg to feel some of the pain he had inflicted on others other the years…but he certainly didn’t want him to murder anyone.

Year after year, he had to go back out. Time and again he trained someone up to the level of Second, only to have Khorg refuse to take them on. And as time went all, the continual dead refusals began to gall. Instead of having the opportunity to rotate like the others, Khorg dragged him out every single time. Which, if he hadn’t been attached, wouldn’t have been so bad.

It was having to leave Mave, every single time that had begun to make him secretly hate Khorg. That and the way Khorg treated his sister. Loras didn’t like it, even if Mave seemed guilty of the bad behaviour too – they had a coldly contemptuous relationship. Khorg would barely speak to her, and not about her at all. Mave would bad mouth him to anyone who would listen, saying things that Loras couldn’t begin to comprehend as true based on his experience…but had no foundation to say it wasn’t true, either.

He still regretted losing his temper with the man – but really! What did he expect? Sympathy? It might be petty and vindictive, but watching him gnash his teeth and stress for the first time was pretty damn enjoyable.

Their leader seemed unwilling to make a move on the fatty – either from social obligations, fear, or something else. But he seemed to continue to try and piece information together. At intervals, when they had opportunities of sending messages out, Khorg sent note after note. This wouldn’t be strange – after all, many of the others did – except he never really had before. The only reason that would make sense given the context, would be that Khorg was still trying to find out information about their newest member.

Loras himself was curious too – how Hadd had shown up, and why, was a mystery. The boy continued to be closed lipped, offering no real information about his past. What seemed the oddest thing to Loras was the boy’s complete lack of training and comprehension about what their job was. Whoever had sent the lad here must have wanted him to die; because no one with his level of training had any right to survive here. Young men didn’t want to come out here; this job was a political necessary evil. There was nothing glorious, nothing that one could proudly write home about. Most men ended up here as a punishment or because they couldn’t integrate back into society.

That being the way of things, the only thing Loras could think to do was to try and talk to the concerned parties, starting with the easiest. Something had to change, because this whole situation was making everyone edgy.

“Come on, boss,” Rory had said to him with a grin after having listened patiently to the other’s warnings. “I’m just having a little fun!”

Trying not to make the subject to serious, Loras had tried to respond in kind. “Baiting a snow bear is fun until it bites your face off.”

Rolling his eyes, the swarthy skinned man had laughed. “Khorg isn’t into anybody, we all know that. He’s as asexual as it gets. Besides Hadd’s cute – what’s the harm in a little bed play?”

It was impossible to describe it to someone who hadn’t been in that position. Society taught you that harming other people was wrong. The army taught you harming others was necessary to survival. Part of what made Khorg so good at his job was the fact he didn’t get emotionally attached, always making the best strategic plan despite short term losses.

Khorg would never harm someone or hurt them for personal gain; because despite being bat shit crazy, he didn’t really want anything. Loras had been sure of this. At least until Haddwin had showed up.

Now, the way Khorg was looking at Rory made the hackles on the back of his neck rise. The looks that Khorg were casting were not the typical, emotional aggression type of jealousy. They were the flat, promising stares of predator, guarding its mate.

Loras had always reassured himself that Khorg would do right because the man wasn’t emotional. Now uneasiness was rising as he began to wonder what someone like Khorg wouldn’t do to get what he wanted.

“Rory, you’re going to catch it in the teeth,” he now told the giant firmly. “Stop it.”

Flashing a smile, Rory shrugged nonchallantly. “Look, if Khorg was really into him, he’d make a move!”

Loras felt his brow knit and tried to smooth it. “They have been sharing a bed for weeks. What clearer sign do you need?”

Rory frowned, a vertical line appearing between his brows. “They aren’t actually doing anything.”

Like hell they weren’t. There was no way that Khorg would have kept his hands off the boy this long. “It’s none of your affair. Walk away.”

Crossing brawny arms across his chest, Rory lifted his chin defiantly. “Like I said - Hadd is cute. Khorg either hasn’t made a move in weeks – or he has and Hadd doesn’t want him. Either way, it’s a free shot to anyone who can take it. If Khorg wants me to stop, he can tell me his own self.”

Utter failure to make any mark on this front forced Loras to turn his attention to the other two.

Hadd proved to be a total loss as well. Although he was the most receptive of the three, he was painfully ignorant.

“Careful, boyo,” he warned the obese young man as he struggled to keep up one day. “You don’t want to be playing Rory and Hadd against each other.”

“Sorry?” The vacant brown eyes had widened, round face tilting. “Playing what?”

Oh god. Was the boy daft? “You are sharing Khorg’s bed but spending time with Rory. Why?”

“Oh!” Hadd said, brightening. “Khorg told me I needed to socialize with the rest of the team.”

And yet Rory was the only one that he spent time with? The total incomprehension that met every subsequent attempt almost made him suspicious that the boy was playing with him; but he didn’t seem like the type.

Further observation, however, showed that Rory might actually be right - the boy seemed to be a total innocent. Khorg probably hadn’t done anything. How was that even possible? No wonder the man seemed like a powder keg ready to go off!

“Claim him and be done,” he had finally snarled at Khorg, irritated at his lack of success on the previous fronts.

Khorg, at least, held no pretense of not understanding – beyond what he knew would irritate the other. “I beg your pardon?” His leader asked, raising a brow.

“You heard me. Claim him and be done. This had to stop!”

The taller man smirked. “What has to stop?”

“Khorg,” Loras warned him in a low tone.

“Loras,” Khorg mimicked.

Throwing up his hands, Loras walked away a few steps. Returning, he placed his hands on his hips and glared. “Just know, if you do something stupid, I wont be there to help you!”

Those dark eyes narrowed, shutters dropping down behind them. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to haul myself up by my own bootstraps, Jody, and I doubt it will be the last. One bloody and painful step at a time - all the way home.”

The use of his birth name made him start. “What do you mean?”

Instead of answering, Khorg curled his lip, refusing to talk to him for two days.

Despite his efforts, nothing changed.

Hadd continued imperturbably stupid to the consequences of the game he was playing.

Rory continued his unrelenting pursuit of the boy – Hadd’s indifference seemed to launch him to new heights, if anything.

And Khorg remained as inscrutable as ever. He didn’t kick the boy of out of his sheets, but neither would he claim him. He didn’t scare Rory off, or fight him.

The ratcheting tension left the entire team on edge, and was making Gus intolerable.

“That man is going to end up dead,” Loras grumbled to himself as he watched Gus jump into a deep pile of snow from about six feet – without knowing if there were buried rocks, or water. Or if his action would start a slide and kill them all.

You could always tell a person who had experienced true pain – that memory didn’t leave easily. Even Hadd moved with the consideration of someone avoiding pain. Gus moved with the violent, spastic motions of a child, assuming he would land correctly…and with no thought to the consequences if he didn’t.

Without Khorg riding him and keeping him in check, Gus was pushing for Second position relentlessly. Loras hadn’t realized how much Khorg was keeping Gus in his place until he stopped. Now, the annoying little bugger was constantly questioning him, causing trouble in the team, and…plotting. He didn’t have any other word for the whispered conferences, and the downright evil looks.

There were few people that Loras could honestly say he despised – Gus was one of them. He didn’t have any redeeming qualities as far as he was concerned, and the sudden onslaught to undermine his authority was infuriating.

Never having had a great impression of their newest member, the older man’s opinion of Hadd suddenly rose a little one day when Gus ordered him to do a make work task, circumventing Loras. It was something he was attempting more and more often. Instead of moving to obey, the boy turned inquiring eyes towards his Second.

It was a subtle move that clearly said ‘You, sir, are not my superior.’ Filled with satisfaction, Loras shook his head minutely. “Continue on, lad. Inspect the gear.”

Moving away with an easy nod, Hadd tried to squeeze by Gus. Instead of allowing the boy to pass, Gus snatched at Hadd’s arm. “Hey! I told you to do something, boy!”

For some reason, Gus seemed to irritate even placid Hadd. The boy’s quiet voice rose clearly above a sudden lull in the winds. “The Second gave me a job to do,” he responded firmly. And in a heretofore unseen show of strength, added, “I think he gave us all tasks.” Turning back to Loras, Hadd raised his chin. “I’m getting faster. If I am done my work soon, I will come help with anything else you need.”

Mayhap the boy wasn’t as dull as he thought. Pleased, Loras rubbed his chin, considering. The boy was patient, quiet, and neat. He wasn’t a genius by any stretch of the imagination, but he did work diligently and carefully, once shown how. Now that the lad had some skills, Hadd had regularly started assisting he and Khorg in all the team tasks – something that Gus should have been doing. And Hadd obviously was aware enough to pick up on the atmosphere within the team.

The boy was actually showing some promise.

Interesting.

How charmingly unexpected...
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Old 12-21-2014, 08:08 PM   #50
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Chapter 8
This ‘leg’ as they called it, didn’t seem as bad as the first. Hadd couldn’t tell if it was because he had food, was better dressed, or had a more positive outlook, but it was better.

This time, Loras was leading while Khorg scouted ahead. He would have felt utterly alone while he trailed along behind, but Rory seemed to have adopted him. The large man looked positively gigantic, layered for warmth. When the wind whistled, he often had to bend or crouch down just to hear his companion.

“Ah, puppy love,” Rory murmured into his ear. “Your eyes follow him wherever he goes. Do you think you can turn him?”

“Turn him into what?” Hadd asked absently, admiring the almost feline grace.

Rory tugged at his arm, forcing the shorter man to look up at him. “Seriously, boyo, I honestly don’t think he is gay. Maybe you should try out someone who is.”

Hadd chuckled, awkwardly trying to shake off the other’s seriousness. “And seriously, I’m really not interested.” His first impression of the man had proved partially correct. While he was happy go lucky, he also had an edgy sense of humour.

“You are so mean! I’m into you! And it’s just a bang – you can still moon after the man when we are done!” Rory complained.

That was the problem. Hadd might have been tempted, but Khorg was right. The man literally did stick his dick into anything that would willingly hold it.

The first few days had been pretty awesome. Hadd had never felt sexy before, or flirted with. If someone had told him a year ago that he would be surrounded by a bunch of hot guys, hiking every day, and being relentlessly hit on…he would have punched that person for being cruel.

At the outset he had been so enamoured with the attention paid to him he had almost convinced himself that he fancied the man. Rory doted on him, attended to his comfort, made him smile…and then, a few weeks ago, Hadd had walked in on him and another of the men, pleasuring each other.

Hadd, forgetting to scratch at the tent flap entrance, had pulled the flap aside. Rory had been standing, hips and buttocks clenched as he was sucked off by the other. The big man had locked gazes with him, his lazy eyes dreamy as he ran his large hands through the kneeling man’s hair.

That was all he had seen before he fled as fast as he could. When he had found himself in the entrance to Khorg’s tent, he had quickly yanked off his clothes, blushing furiously. Crawling onto the bed, he had buried his face, pretending to be asleep when Khorg arrived.

When Rory had scratched at the tent later, he had pretended to be asleep. Khorg, beside him, had gruffly told the other Hadd was sleeping – and he was trying to as well.

Since then, Rory’s attentions had been even more assiduous and marked, as if to make up for it somehow. It was making him more than a little uncomfortable. On the one hand, he wished he could be like Rory, and just…do that sort of stuff. However…the idea of actually trying anything with Rory made the poor boy squirm. It wasn’t that he wasn’t attractive – if anything, he was too attractive! It just didn’t feel right…

Although some of the men kept to themselves - doing the needful as Loras called it - others seemed perfectly willing to ‘help a guy out’ with no strings attached. He just couldn’t do that sort of stuff with just anyone. Wasn’t sex supposed to be special? Hadd willingly took care of himself, but the idea of having someone touch him who wasn’t really ‘into’ him was a little off putting.

There was the initial shock of not only walking in on their amorous activities to contend with, but also the shock of realizing that Rory didn’t really like him. All that attention - had been for nothing! And if Hadd had given in, Rory would have walked out the next day with a shit eating grin on his face.

At least he no longer felt shy and awkward around the other man, and felt no thrill at his attentions. However, it also depressed him, and made him more conscious of his weight. Which, although shrinking, still made him look like a beached whale. No one wanted him except Rory, and he only wanted him as a notch in his bedpost.

Rory tugged at him again, and Hadd spun around, exasperated. “What?” he demanded, irritated. He was tired of being poked and prodded and tugged!

“You seem to be holding out for Khorg, but I can honestly tell you I have never seen him show the slightest interest in any guy – ever.”

Frowning, Hadd continued on without looking at his companion. True. The only one he wanted was Khorg. And if he couldn’t have him, he didn’t want anyone else here. Yes, he grimly acknowledged. He would cut off his own nose to spite his face.

“Are you really going to just be alone, for all the years you are out here? ‘Cuz although there are a few of us, there aren’t that many around here.”

Glaring up at the other man, Hadd shook his arm loose and trudged after the others. The fact that it was true made it sting. None of the other men had shown the least bit of interest in him.

Rory tried another tactic. “Look, I didn’t want to say this, but look at it this way…how many guys here do you think would be willing to screw you? I think you are cute and edible as a chubby little éclair, but your prospects are pretty limited - what with your weight and all.”

It was probably the worst thing the other could have said. Resentment and pain warred for dominance, and Hadd felt his face rapidly heat. He moved faster, spurred forward. Habitual silence and fear of being alone kept him from saying anything back. Don’t worry, he consoled himself. Khorg will be back soon. Thoughts of him were sometimes the only thing that pulled him through.

His inner voice perked up. Isn’t it sad that you are in love with a guy who obviously doesn’t love you back? Why would he want you when he could have someone like Rory? You really think Khorg WANTS to touch you? It’s just an obligation he is under…As soon as he can make your own blankets and tent you are going to be on your own, forever, in this cold hell.

Hadd’s eyes were brimming with tears by the time Khorg loped carefully towards them over the frigid ground. “Holding up?” He asked Hadd, breathless from his exertions.

“Yeah!” Hadd said, forcing his mouth into what he hoped was a smile, keeping his eyes down like he was looking at where he was going.

“Good, good. We will be resting soon.” He eyed Rory up and down, then loped towards Loras to report on the conditions ahead.

Rory made a growling noise in his throat. “Why do you like him so much?”

“Jealous?” Hadd sighed, morose. If only there was something to be jealous about. Briefly, he wondered if he had offended Rory…but then, it was hard to give a damn out here, when you were tired and cold and hungry.

The corners of Rory’s eyes, so white against the dark skin, crinkled and he sighed. “Horribly. I guess you are a white meat sort of guy, not a dark meat sort of guy...”

Hadd had hoped that Rory would let up, but the next day he was at it again.

“Comon,” Rory prodded. “Sixty nine?”

Heaving a sigh, Hadd shook his head, looking skyward. He would have died to have someone as hot as Rory after him a few months ago. Now, he wished someone – anyone else - would walk with him – even Gus.

“How about sixty eight and I’ll owe you one?” he said suggestively.

“I don’t even know what that means…”

“Come on, Khorg has to be sick of you taking up all his blankets by now. Why don’t you give mine a try?”

Khorg turned his head, looking at Hadd.

His expressions were often so neutral, Hadd probably wouldn’t have been able to discern his expression. With all his gear on, it was completely impossible to tell what he was thinking. Although Hadd knew that he was going to eventually get his own blankets and tent, the idea of leaving Khorg’s for Rory’s almost made him gag. There wouldn’t be any more peaceful, quiet moments, that’s for sure.

Catching all of the other’s attention with his stillness, Khorg raised his voice. “Step lively, men. Can’t be late! We wouldn’t want the women folk to think we were more tired than they are, now would we?” The tone was sardonic, but the men seemed to perk up.

What women? What was going on?

Trotting up alongside Khorg, Hadd gave a little cough. When his leader looked down at him, he blushed. “Sorry…”

“I’ve asked you to stop saying that.”

“…but, what’s happening?

Raising a sardonic eyebrow, Khorg sniffed. “As Gus so kindly told you all those weeks ago, there are three teams that travel through the Outliers. Currently, there are two teams of men, and one made up entirely of women. Our circuits connect at several points; we are about to meet up with the ladies.”

“Oh.”

“You seem nonplussed, lad. Aren’t you excited?”

He wasn’t sure what nonplussed meant, but he wasn’t excited. If anything, he felt awkward. Khorg wasn’t gay, so he must be into ladies. Where would he have to go when Khorg was having his pleasure? Would he have to watch? He gagged a little at the thought, falling back into his position.

*~*~*

Khorg was both pleased and dissatisfied. Rory’s interest in the lad was galling, but Khorg couldn’t help but be pleased that the boy hadn’t abandoned his bed for Rory’s…yet.

“You need to learn to scout,” he murmured into the boy’s neck. Hadd’s scent was…well he smelled like Hadd – fat, warm and comfortable. Inhaling deeply, he closed his eyes, savouring these quiet moments.

“Mm,” Had murmured sleepily. “Ok.”

He had taken to exploring that sea of pale, soft flesh when the boy fell asleep each night, almost unable to stop himself…but then again, he didn’t want to stop himself. Just when he thought the other was asleep and was about to slip his hand down to feel that bulging belly, the lad abruptly spoke.

“Khorg? Do you want me to not sleep here anymore?” The tone was plaintive.

Khorg opened his eyes, looking at the dark shape beside him. The boy was hardly wasting away, but the past few weeks had made an obvious difference on his weight. New muscle bulged through the chubby arms and thighs, and even his back seemed firmer. Although pleased that the lad was no longer at constant risk of dying of extreme exposure, he resented the material between them each night.

Hadd broke into his thoughts, snipping, “Rory said you were probably getting sick of me…Who would want some fatty taking up all the blankets?”

“Shut up,” Khorg responded sharply, annoyed that the boy was once again talking about himself that way. The past few weeks had seen a significant increase in his confidence, but he still had moments of severe negativity. “If I wanted you to leave, you can rest assured you would hear it from my own lips.” A thought occurred to him. “Do you want to leave?”

Hadd shook his head, pressing his chubby cheek into Khorg’s arm, where it was pillowed.

An undeniable and almost panicked emotion rose. If he didn’t do something with the boy soon he was going to lose it. The only problem was…he had no idea what to do.

What did people do, when they liked someone and wanted to show that emotion? He obviously could figure out the mechanical and physical ways to please the lad… Or could he even do that much? What if he didn’t? What if he couldn’t get an erection, or blow? Shame rose up, and was immediately thrust away.

The question was, how did one start? How did one…initiate something more than sex? The idea of asking Hadd was ludicrous and terrifying…surely there was a more subtle way?

He struggled to recall any gesture of affection, but couldn’t think of anything. It had never really registered, apparently. Dimly, he recalled Loras holding Mave’s hand as he walked with her. He recalled Loras had slipped his hand into hers, and she had pulled him close, rising up to kiss him.

That would do. Give a gesture that Hadd could respond to – that would be his signal. If the boy responded, he would know. And if he didn’t…well, he would know then too. Sliding his shaking hand up the chunky thigh, Khorg carefully entwined his fingers with the boy’s, feeling his entire body tremble.

But the boy didn’t make any reciprocal move, staying almost perfectly still except for a slight twitch of his fingers.

Staring into the darkness, Khorg had waited with baited breath, blood thumping against his neck. The boy’s breathing was deep and even – he was totally unaffected.

When Hadd eventually rolled away, Khorg lay very still, his hand feeling achingly empty and cold. He stared up at the roof of his tent with burning eyes. When the lad once again rolled closer in his sleep and murmured softly, Khorg despised himself for his own weakness. If the lad was really interested, he would have done something back. At least he knew, now.

It was obvious that the boy had affection for him – but more like a brother. It was Rory who made him laugh, and who seemed to have fixed his attention. Rage rose up, keeping him awake into the morning hours.

The next day he rose, his chest and throat still aching. “Get up,” he told Hadd roughly.

“Mughn?” The boy spluttered, bolting upright.

He missed the days that the boy was forced to go naked; the slipping sheet clutched against the chubby chest… “I told you last night that you need to learn how to scout. Or would you rather stay here with Rory?” Keeping the spite out of his tone wasn’t possible, so he clamped his mouth shut around the other words bubbling up.

Struggling out of the sheets, Hadd got dressed and helped pitch their tent, mumbling “I’m coming!” every time Khorg glared at him. It was still dark out when they set off. This was some of his favourite time. The world seemed bigger, the air crisper, and the sounds magnified when you were alone.

But he wasn’t alone. The boy’s ragged breathing reminded him of that. He had to give some grudging respect to the little Rabbit – he had quickly built up enough endurance to keep pace with the others. This, however, was different. They had to cover the entire distance for the day and return in time for the main camp to move out, and make periodic forays if the weather changed.

It wasn’t something every team did, but Khorg had found it useful. Too many times he had been forced to have the entire team turn around and take another route, and far too many times had they almost been caught in a snow slide that could have been avoided if one person had looked around the corner.

“We have to continually look for resting places,” Khorg told his companion brusquely. “Sometimes the old ones collapse or are unreachable. The best location would be one that has a hot spring in it, but any cave of the right depth and position will do.” After turning to make sure Hadd was attending, he continued. “The best caves are set a little into the mountain face so that the entrance is less likely to be crushed if there is a slide. If you can, it is even better to get one where the entrance is higher than the surrounding area. At worst, I like sheltering in the lee of a cliff face so that if there is a slide it has a higher chance of going over us.”

Stepping over a stone, Khorg turned to offer his assistance to the boy. Firmly taking the gloved hand in his, Khorg helped the boy mount the boulder, stepping off the other side.

Don’t go back to camp and rip Rory’s tent to pieces.

Don’t punch a rock.

Don’t kiss the boy.


*~*~*

During their rest, Hadd sat in front of a little baby rabbit, watching its little whiskers move busily as it nibbled on a stalk. It eyed him back boldly, unafraid and highly curious.

He had only meant to lay down for a moment but when he raised his head, the little creature was only a few feet from him. Stilling his body, he had watched with delight and bated breath as it scurried closer by increments, its shiny black eyes blinking. Now, it was almost nose to nose with him, its little whiskers wildly moving as it stuffed its cheeks with whisps of grass, its black eyes roving around his face.

“It looks just like you,” Khorg said from behind him.

Stifling his jump at the sudden noise, Hadd chuckled aloud, surprising himself. If only he was this cute while he stuffed his face! The little cheeks bulged absurdly, and it regarded Khorg for a long moment before darting away to a hole. Turning his head, Hadd glanced at his companion.

He was regarding him oddly. The lean face was inscrutable, but with a distinctly gloomy air. “I’ve never heard you laugh out loud before,” was the only thing he finally said. The tone was almost accusatory.

Well, it had been a while. But it finally wasn’t too cold, he was properly equipped, the sun was shining, and he had a new furry friend…and maybe Khorg did like him? The way he had helped him over that rock… What wasn’t there to laugh about? He flipped over onto his back on the rock and cushioned head with his arms, a smile crossing his face. And no Rory. Thank heavens.

He heard the rustle of cloth as Khorg sunk down into a crouch beside him. When he opened his eyes a crack, he saw that Khorg was frowning as he looked down at the ground. “What’s up?” He asked.

“We should head off again in a few minutes. I’ll be scouting around.” He responded in a monotone, standing up.

Hadd sat up, pleased to feel the strength in his arms and legs, and how much easier it was without his huge gut in his way. It was still big but not as bulky now. “No, I’m good!” he announced, eager to show how much stronger he was.

The older man hesitated before giving a curt nod and striding off, barely slowing to hoist his pack onto his shoulders. His long legs devoured the ground, forcing poor Hadd to pump furiously to keep up.

At first, Hadd was feeling too good to notice. After a while, his muscles began complaining, and he was too proud to throw in the towel. After an hour of the brutal pace, he finally halted. Sweaty, a burgeoning headache throbbing in his temples, and legs shaking, he threw down his pack angrily. “What is going on?” he asked between gasps.

Khorg halted as well, unslinging his pack. “This is part of scouting,” he said evenly, turning his gaze on his companion, who was heaving for breath.

“But..” Hadd began, confused. Khorg seemed almost angry with him. Had he done anything? His brain raced over the events of yesterday. “You aren’t even talking to me about what I should be looking for like usual, it’s just go, go, go.”

The older man appeared equally taken aback, mouth opening. He closed it resolutely a moment after. “Then by all means, you set the pace, and I will contrive something to talk about.”

“You’ve been pissy with me since the morning – what did I do wrong?” Hadd demanded, tugging his shirt open to let a breeze in. “I thought I was doing ok…what did I do wrong?” He thought he was doing better!

Khorg sneered as only he could. “I am not ‘pissy’.” He fished out his canteen and took a sip. “And you are doing fine,” he commented grudgingly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Then why are you mad at me?” Hadd blurted desperately. His feet took him a step closer.

“I’m not mad,” was the irascible response. “And even if I was, who cares. If you want to talk about emotions, why don’t you go talk to the girlies when they arrive? You can bond.”

Those hawk eyes glared down at him as he found himself covering the remaining distance. “Is it because Rory keeps talking to me?” He cut off as Khorg swung around on his heel and walked away, snatching up his pack again.

Seizing his own pack, Hadd doggedly plodded after him. “I mean, it’s not like anyone else likes me here…” He swallowed his words.

The pupils that regarded were dilated, the cheek twitching from his clenched teeth. “Shut up,” the older man dropped his voice in a threatening growl.

Hadd swallowed. He raised his chin, pain and resentment spreading. What right did Khorg have to be mad at him anyway? What was his deal? “I think - ”

“Shut. Up. Haddwin.” Each word was clipped through a clenched jaw. At his side, Khorg’s hands clenched and unclenched.

“Why? It isn’t –”

“I SAID SHUT UP!” Khorg roared, throwing up his hands in frustration.

Hadd found himself flinching in expected pain from a blow – something he had grown accustomed to back home. No blow came. When he cracked his eyes, he companion was regarding him with an aghast expression, hands grasping the sides of his head as if to hold the two sides together.

“You…you thought I was going to hit you?” His tone was horrified.

It didn't look like he was going to...but... “Don’t worry, if you need to hit me you can.” Hadd swallowed, straightening doggedly. “I’m used to it.”

“I…” Staring down at his hands, which were now twitching spasmodically, Khorg took a step back. “I can’t…” He swallowed, appearing nauseated. “I can’t be here right now. I...I have to go. Now.”

Hadd lunged forward, grasping at his shirt. “Wait!”

His grasp was easily evaded by a twitch. “Don’t worry. Stay here. I’ll be back. It’s not like I have a choice.” The last was said with extreme bitterness.
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