//Here's a longer chapter to make up for Monday's half-assed attempt. Yay!// The next evening Lysander remarked that he had an errand to take care of that would take all day. Elliott inquired about it as he checked the temperature of what he was cooking, and only got that usual, mischievous grin that told him absolutely nothing. “You’ll see later, love,” Lysander replied, pocketing his phone and kissing Elliott on the cheek, “just something I’ve wanted to take care of for a little while. Anyway, I think I’ve got the hang of this. Wish I’d had you for a cooking instructor ages ago. I’ve never been incompetent, but still, I can’t say I’ve liked much of what I’ve made.” Elliott returned the kiss and reached for plates. “I think that we both have a number of qualities that we didn’t appreciate, realize, or improve upon until we met each other.” Agreeing with his statement, Lysander set about pouring drinks. Still wondering what it was that he’d been talking about, Elliott considered pressing further, but decided to let it be and finish cooking. If it was important Lysander would have given details, and from his reaction he had some sort of surprise or secret in mind that he’d likely find out about soon enough. Yawning, Elliott got out of bed himself, as Lysander had just departed a few minutes earlier for his run. As he’d see nothing else of his companion for the rest of the day, he ran through a list of errands and things that needed to be done as he stepped into the shower. He took his time, enjoying the heat and warmth that soaked into him, though he did miss having someone there with him. It had been such a recent change to his routine, but he had already grown accustomed to it. Am I asking too much, I wonder? This is a “honeymoon period” of sorts, and I am not certain how long this will last. Perhaps our mutual fascination with each other will taper off over the next few weeks. I certainly hope that it doesn’t, but at the same time, I cannot help but be realistic. I will not worry or look for problems, I will enjoy our time together and work toward a future that includes us both. It is a curse to be so pragmatic. Leisurely, he dressed and made his way to the kitchen, preparing a cup of coffee and checking his phone for anything important. There wasn’t. He took stock of his food stores and other consumables and perishables, and determined that a quick grocery run was needed. It was early fall, so the weather still retained its heady warmth, but the days already grew shorter and Elliott could feel the breeze beginning to chill. He didn’t feel the need to wear a coat, however, and walked with his hands in his pockets to Pierre’s, greeting people as he went. Knowing what he needed and where to find it, he was quick to fill his bag, and took a few minutes to catch up with Pierre. They didn’t have much in common, to be honest, but Abigail’s involvement with Sam’s band was enough, and Elliott was glad to see her father not only take interest in it, but approve of her activities. On his way back, he encountered Leah, who was just about to walk in. “Oh, Elliott, hi!” she grinned, “I haven’t seen you in, like, forever. Busy much?” “Ah, my apologies, I have been somewhat busy and- No, no excuses, I should have made time to see you again sooner,” he replied, now realizing how he’d neglected some of his previous contacts. Laughing, she waved him off. “It’s not a problem at all. I’ve heard of what you and everyone else are up to and you sound crazy busy. Though I don’t know if you’re still writing now that you’ve finished your book.” She glanced at the store and back at Elliott. “Hey, if you give me two minutes to grab something I can keep chatting, if you’re not off to do something else.” “It is no bother at all,” he chuckled, following her back in, “Lysander is busy today so I am left to my own devices. All that I have immediately is to put away my own purchases, which can happen at any time.” “Sweet! Awright, be right back.” In the promised two minutes, she returned with her own shopping bag slung over her shoulder. “Off to your place, I guess, is there anything you do want to do?” He thought about the question as they walked and shook his head. “This was all that I specifically needed to do. How about you? Is there anything that you would like to get done?” “Wellllll,” she thought out loud, tapping a finger to her chin, “I was gonna go foraging a bit, but I can do that tomorrow, the weather will still be good.” Intrigued, he led the way back to his cabin. “That actually sounds interesting. You forage for your own food?” “Yeah, not a lot, but I do supplement a lot of my diet that way. It’s so healthy and fresh, and it saves a lot of money. You wanna come with?” “I would like that. I don’t think that I will be of any help, but at the least I can be company.” She grinned and bounced in place, clapping happily. “This’ll be neat, I’ll get to show you so much cool stuff. There are so many good mushrooms this time of year.” “Mushrooms? Isn’t it dangerous to harvest those yourself?” “Only if you’re untrained,” she replied, gesturing for emphasis, “and I’m very trained. Plus, I’ve studied the flora of this place inside and out, and have actually been helping Gunther update and improve the books on the plant life here for a while now. Let’s stop by my place once we drop off your stuff so I can drop this off and get my other bags.” They conversed as they walked, and Elliott was glad for the opportunity. Leah was a good friend and he felt quite bad that he’d not reached out to anyone outside of the band in far too long. As they passed westward through the south part of town, they encountered Haley as she left her home, and she smiled with obvious glee. “You’re welcome,” she giggled, and Leah frowned in confusion as Elliott blushed in embarrassment. “I… Yes, that was…a surprise,” he responded, very vividly remembering what she had supplied for his partner. Leah shifted her look to Elliott, and his blush deepened. “Ah… She and Lysander collaborated on something, for my benefit.” He cleared his throat and looked away, trying not to think of what Lysander had looked like, but he couldn’t help himself from doing so, and both women laughed heartily at his expression. “Oh WOW. Tell me what it was,” Leah gasped, and laughed even harder as Elliott refused to make eye contact. “Awww, okay, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” “It’s no worry, it’s just that, well…” He cleared his throat again, and still unable to look directly at them, gave a brief description of the brief number of items that Lysander had worn. Trying to sound impartial and uninterested, he still couldn’t help getting descriptive, and trailed off when he saw their matching expressions of fascinated amazement. “You are such a lucky man,” Leah gasped, hands on her face and eyes wide. The embarrassed flush became one of flattered satisfaction, and Elliott coughed again, finding a smile. “You are interested in that sort of thing?” “Nah,” she replied, giggling as she imagined what the scene must have looked like, “I like something a bit more stylish. A three-piece suit is to women what lingerie is to men, you know. I’m just saying that he must really love you, ‘cause he put a lot of thought and work into that, and I bet he probably hasn’t done that for anyone else before.” Haley put her chin in her hand and sighed wistfully, thinking of something. “I wouldn’t mind seeing that. It would be a great chance to try boudoir photography or the like, I haven’t had the opportunity to do that yet.” She glanced over at Elliott and waved her hands as she tried to clarify. “I mean, it’s not that I want your boyfriend to strip for me, I want him to model some time. I’ve done a lot of photos with people, but I haven’t been able to do figure studies or specific posing. You know?” Amused, Elliott chuckled, feeling a bit better that the discomfiture had been shared. “I completely understand, and I am absolutely certain that if you ask he will happily comply. He is completely comfortable with his self and body, but he remains courteous of what others might think. And at the risk of appearing rude, I think we all have errands to attend.” “Yeah, I gotta run,” Haley remarked, checking her phone, “but it was great running into you two. See you tomorrow for practice. And again, you’re welcome!” Sighing and shaking his head with good humor, Elliott echoed the farewell and walked again with Leah toward the forest. “I’ll say it again, you are such a lucky a man,” Leah said, shifting her bag to her other shoulder, “and he has just been so good for you in every sense. You are just looking…wow, you know? Looks like your relationship going to this level has really been good for you.” She giggled again at the surprised look he gave her and shoved him playfully. “I’m being honest! And seriously, sometimes you just need to get laid.” He stammered an incoherent reply amidst her laughter, and she opened the door to her cottage to duck inside. “I am actually jealous of him, you are absolutely precious. But I had my chance last year, so I can’t whine about a missed opportunity. There, got my foraging stuff, let’s go!” She handed him a bag and strode off confidently into the forest. Her knowledge of the Cindersap Forest was almost staggering. Not only did she know the entire place from memory, but she also recalled where particular items could routinely be found, as well as where she had been recently, in order to not over-harvest or visit areas she knew to be empty. They walked for several hours, filling her bags and basket with berries, herbs, mushrooms, fruits, and the occasional tuber and root vegetable. In addition to the bags, she had brought along a satchel that carried digging and cutting tools, as well as a pair of heavy gloves (which came in handy when they got to the wild blackberry hedge!), and she only took what she needed each time around. As they walked and worked, she pointed out what was and wasn’t safe, as well as why and how. Fascinated, Elliott listened with rapt attention, asking numerous questions and examining her finds with scrutiny. “I think truffles grow here,” she noted as she harvested a particularly large brown mushroom, “but only pigs are really good at sniffing them out, and I’m just not that good with animals. Also, I just don’t have the space and all to keep one. Though I have considered talking to Marnie about it and just renting it for a day, but I’d be harvesting the truffles for myself and not for profit, so it would be totally one-sided.” She stood up and brushed dirt off of her knees. “Pigs are good for rooting out a lot of stuff, really, so it would be useful for a lot of things, but unless I went into business selling what I find, it just wouldn’t make sense.” Examining the mushroom, Elliott asked her how she knew that this one was safe to eat. “You said that one needs to be trained in order to know the difference between safe and toxic varieties. I trust in your knowledge, but you’ve never found a bad one?” “I took a class on the plants of the valley when I was at the community college, and I learned a lot there. When I came out here I read every book the library had, and damn near talked Gunther’s ear off. Even then, I took pictures and notes of everything out here and did research and talked to people before I actually tried any. For instance, I wanted to make sure that what looked safe elsewhere wasn’t actually toxic here. I’ve read about stories like that and didn’t want to be one myself!” When the shadows grew long they returned to her cottage to look over their harvest, and she bounced on her toes again when they set their cargo on the table. “Wow, I got a lot today. Having someone else to help made this a lot easier. And a lot more fun! We’ve got to do this again when you have the time. Oh! Maybe next time Lys can come, too. With all he’s doing at the farm up there I bet he’d love this.” “He most definitely would. He isn’t the outdoorsy sort, but he does love the opportunity to learn. I do not know when we will have this time again, but when we do I shall definitely let you know.” She returned his promise with a smile as she pulled out a small basket and began rummaging through their haul. “Sweet. So, what kind of fruit do you two like?” Caught off-guard, he thought for a moment, trying to remember his partner’s preferences. “I love pomegranates, but those aren’t found here. We are both very partial to strawberries, and as I recall he likes most of the sweeter berries, and isn’t as partial to the tart ones. Why do you ask?” “I figured I should share a bit of the love. Just packing a small basket for you to take back and share with him.” “Ah! That’s not necessary,” he replied, flattered but hesitant, “I don’t want to take away from your stocks.” “Whatever. You helped, you get a cut of the loot. Besides, I bet you’ve never had fresh forest berries before. Bake ‘em in a pie, serve cold with cream, whatever you choose, they’re delicious. There! Here y’go, take these with you. Thanks so much for your help.” Smiling, he took the basket with a variety of the berries that they had foraged, and immediately thought of a few things he could do. “My thanks as well. This was a good day out, and I am glad for the exercise, fresh air, and excellent company.” He accepted her friendly hug as he departed, and walked home feeling quite pleased with the day’s events, and wondered how Lysander’s day was going. He’d not heard from him at all that day, and he admitted to himself that he missed him, though he felt glad that he wasn’t worried. The basket was set upon the kitchen counter as he rummaged for a few items, then it was upended in the sink to wash and drain its contents. He set the fruit aside to dry and put the basket where he would remember to take it back to Leah the next time he was in town. Since he hadn’t heard from his partner yet, he decided to make a quick meal to tide himself over until the next day. He didn’t realize how hungry he’d been until he ate, and ate much faster than he had expected. The dishes were washed and put way, and the fruit into a sealed container in the fridge to do something with later. It had been quite a long day. Yawning, he unbuttoned his waistcoat as he walked to the bedroom and hung it up, then began working the ones on his shirt. He felt a little disappointed that Lysander wouldn’t be there, but then, it’s not as though they could realistically spend every- A motorcycle? He paused and turned toward the other room, hearing the faint sound of what was unmistakably a motorcycle engine, and walked back into the other room. The sound was getting louder, so it was coming in this direction, and now he was both confused and concerned. As he opened the door the sound stopped, as the bike had parked next to his home. “Sebastian?” he asked, peering out, “What brings you- No, you’re…” The bike was black like Sebastian’s, but the rider wore red and black mesh riding gear, not the leathers that Sebastian favored. Besides, both ride and rider were larger than his friend, and immediately Elliott made the connection and smiled broadly. “Dear?” The rider removed their helmet, shaking out their hair, and Elliott’s guess had been correct. “Hey love, what do you think?” Lysander sat astride a large black sport cruiser, of a similar style to Sebastian’s, but of a different make, and already Elliott could tell that he was comfortable with handling it. “I think you look amazing, and it suits you. That is a lovely piece of machinery.” He reached out to offer a hand as the other man dismounted, his helmet under his arm. “Come in, tell me all about it, I’ll have a better look at it in the morning.” “Sure. Ah, though I…” Lysander paused just inside the door to think about something, then sighed heavily. “Okay, I’ll just say it like it is, I kissed Sebastian tonight.” Some people would have become angry at hearing this, others hurt, but Elliott knew his partner well already, and from the look of guilt that Lysander wore, it clearly hadn’t been for any ulterior reason. “Did he enjoy it?” he asked as he took a seat, feeling quite happy that such a good day would end with them together. Lysander did a double-take and replied that he wasn’t joking, and Elliott smiled to take away the edge of his tease. “Then I imagine that you had a reason. You seem very torn up about it, so clearly it’s causing you trouble. Talk to me, dear, what’s on your mind?” Examining his helmet for a moment, Lysander set it on the table and rested his weight on the same, unable to meet Elliott’s eyes. “We had just finished the purchase at the shop when he suggested going to his favorite place to just…chill. It was a great ride out, I’ll have to take you that way some time. We went to a place that overlooks the city and just hung out a bit. He likes it there because it’s both near and far away from everything, and the view is amazing. I’m glad he shared it with me.” The flicker of a smile graced his lips, but only for a moment. “And then… You know I’m a bit of an airhead and just kinda zone out sometimes. I did, and just wandered back through some old memories with my last boyfriend, ‘cause it reminded me of then, and Sebastian of him, and… I just forgot where I was and who I was with. He suggested that we head on home, and like I always did with…him… I just…” Shifting a little, his gaze remained firmly on a point somewhere on the floor. “He wasn’t offended, at least. ‘Bas, that is. He actually found it a bit funny when it was all figured out. But still, I feel like I totally cheated on you and…” Elliott regarded him with a fond, soft smile. “What was his name?” Finally looking up, Lysander gave him a puzzled look. “Who?” Comprehension dawned and he looked away again. “Oh. Allen. Why do you ask?” “So I can better understand your past and help you move on. He was truly dear to you, and I cannot blame you for missing him and all that you did together.” He stood and walked over to his partner, putting his hands on his partner's waist. “Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me about all of this, that is what matters the most to me.” Lysander’s smile was weak, but it was enough. “But we must continue this conversation at a later date. Come, join me. It is late, and you can get home quickly in the morning now that you have transportation. I imagine that your mind will be assuaged by staying at my side, though I lack the energy to please you tonight.” Lysander’s smile returned completely, and he hugged Elliott in return and kissed him with relief. “That’s okay, love, I’m wiped too. Though I’m already feeling better for just being able to talk to you about it.” He asked for help in removing his riding gear, as he was barely able to stand on his own as well, and once divested of his safety equipment, began to discard his normal clothes as he led the way to the bedroom. He tossed his shirts in a pile on the floor and sat on the bed to take off his boots, then removed his pants and slid under the sheets. Elliott wasn’t far behind, hanging up his shirt with the waistcoat and removing his trousers to hang up with the same. Turning out the lights and joining his partner, he curled up around him, an arm under the pillow and the other around Lysander’s waist, the other man’s breathing already slow and even. He kissed his neck and drifted off, likewise asleep in just minute.