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Flowers Come From Stony Places

Chapter Text

 

 

They were going to kill Baron John Reese.

 

Harold spared a second to feel annoyance at the oaf for blundering into the castle, and ruining his carefully made plans, before deciding to save him.

Stripped down to his pants and tied to a post, Baron Reese was forced to watch as his thick winter garments were laid before him in the snow; he could look at them as he froze to death.

Harold could see that there were more than a dozen men, circling and yelling insults. One of them spat upon the baron's face, laughing as he did so. Harold clenched his fists, looking closely. He'd remember who it was.

For his part, the baron appeared as if he couldn't care less, not even flinching. From his vantage point hiding behind a cart, Harold could see that he was doing a good job of pretending that he was somewhere, anywhere else.

'Fat lot of good that would do you when you're dead,' Harold grumbled, knowing himself well enough that he recognized the annoyance was a cover for fear. There was a chance that the men would succeed, and that the Baron would indeed die today.

Not that he looked like he was dying. He wasn't shivering or anything, not that Harold could see. Skin darkened by the sun was free from goosebumps, if scarred, and he wasn't even stomping his bare feet to keep away the cold, as the men in boots were doing.

Time passed, and the men grew tired of watching their captive, talking amongst themselves. Harold looked at him closely, waiting for the right moment to act. Baron John Reese was not the largest looking alpha Harold had seen, but there was something about the way he held himself, his stance, or the look on his face; it suggested that this was merely an inconvenience to him, and that the jeering men were beneath his notice.

In almost no time at all, the men began to leave the baron to his fate. Their voices carried in the wind to Harold's waiting ears,

 

"No point in freezing along with the bastard, eh?"

 

Perfect.

 

---

 

John didn't notice anything amiss until the hooded figure was standing almost directly in front of him.

 

'Stupid,' John berated himself, even as he braced himself for more punishment.

 

The figure stopped just outside the reach of his unbound legs to fish out a handkerchief and a knife. The figure pulled down their hood and, for a moment, John thought that his eyes were playing tricks on him, because in front of him stood the most beautiful man he'd ever seen.

 

"Don't make a sound," the vision said. John could only nod. "I'm going to untie you, and then we're going to walk to that doorway over there," he pointed, but John's gaze remained fixed on him, "It leads to the library, where no one will look for you. Do you understand?"

 

John found himself nodding again, this time with more purpose. His rescuer's voice was hypnotic, with an odd cadence John found enchanting, but it was when he stepped forward to wipe the spittle from John's face (softly, gently, handkerchief leaving a trail of sweet omega scent in its wake) that John was well and truly lost.

By the time John came back to himself, his rescuer was kneeling awkwardly, picking up John's garments from the snow. John rushed forward to help, but the omega was standing again before he could do more than take a step. Which worked out for the best, because John was a little unsteady. He looked down at his feet. He couldn't feel them.

 

"Lean on me," whispered his savior, draping John's arm around his shoulders. It wouldn't do a lot of good, the omega could probably only reach John's chin on tiptoe. but it gave John an excuse to lean close and breathe in more of the omega's intoxicating scent.

 

Part of John wanted to tell him that this was pointless, that even as they made their way slowly across the courtyard, John's soldiers were scaling the castle walls. But curiosity stayed his tongue. A soft whistle from the battlements signaled that the troops were in position, and John let more of his weight fall on the omega's shoulders to distract him, and to raise his other hand to reply in code.

 

Wait.

 

He wanted to see the omega's plan to the end.

 

---

 

Harold didn't breath easy until they were in his quarters beside the castle library. It was a drafty place, and no fires were allowed to keep the books safe, but it had been a safe place for Harold in his time at Lord Greer's castle, and he would be sorry to see the last of it.

Currently though, Harold was cursing the lack of fire and warmth as he barred the door as quietly as he could. With luck, everyone would continue to assume that he was still ailing, and not come to look for him. 

 

"What's your name?" came a voice from behind Harold.

 

Baron Reese was much larger up close and sitting on his pallet on the floor, Harold decided. He seemed to fill the room, and his gaze felt piercing, as if he already knew everything Harold could care to say, and was merely waiting for Harold to say it for politeness' sake.

 

"Harold," was all he said, then, "Put on your shirt."

 

The baron complied, putting on his hauberk as well, before Harold could question the wisdom of a supposed serf giving orders to nobility. By the time baron Reese's head was visible again, Harold had knelt beside him, blankets ready. One went around the baron's shoulders, and another Harold started wrapping around the baron's feet, before he got a good feel of the ice cold limbs.

Harold weighed his options carefully, aware of the baron's eyes on him. Before he could change his mind, Harold shifted so that he was kneeling at the baron's feet. In one swift move, Harold yanked up his own winter clothes and pressed the baron's feet to the warm skin of his soft belly.

 

---

 

Both of them gasped as soon as John's icy skin touched the omega's (Harold's).

 

It was the most unselfish act John had ever witnessed.

 

Harold seemed to draw the chill from John to himself, teeth starting to chatter as what felt like a thousand pins and needles stabbed the soles of John's feet.

 

"S-serves you r-right," blue eyes glared at John, "you're l-lucky to fe-feel anything at all."

 

Experience told John that they were past the most dangerous point, that blankets would suffice, now that the worst of the chill had been chased away, but when he tried to move his feet away, Harold clutched them tighter to himself.

 

"D-don't go t-trying to undo m-my hard w-work!" Came that enchanting voice again, this time sharp with annoyance.

 

John could only smile, thankful that Harold appeared too occupied trying to keep John from moving his feet away from his body to notice the grin. He didn't seem to mind when John wiggled his toes. A wonder, that. John himself tolerated a punch to the belly better than a soft touch, which rendered him hysterical with laughter.

 

"What were you thinking, walking into this castle alone." Harold said after a while. He seemed to have regained control of his voice.

 

John felt a small pang of regret as Harold wrapped his feet in blankets and started putting himself to rights. He was just starting to get comfortable.

 

"I have come to destroy this castle, leaving it in ruins." John said, opting for honesty as he put his boots back on, "And I have decided that you are coming with me."

 

John was not a man given to superstition, but he was fairly sure that, had curses been real, he would have been dead on the spot for a while now, for all that the little omega was suddenly glaring at him.

He didn't understand; many other servants and villeins had been grateful, for his offer of protection. It was widely known that he, Baron Reese, was a fair lord to his subjects, as opposed to other lords who worked their subjects to death when it suited them.

But this one, this omega, just said one word that John did not hear very often, due to his good looks, charm, or noble lineage. John had offered him safe haven from this hellish place, and the omega replied,

 

"No."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"No."

 

Clearly, the cold had addled the baron's head. Harold felt a little bad for the baron; his annoyance at having his plans derailed fading. It was hardly Baron Reese's fault that Baron Greer, nobility of equal rank, had so little honor. It was a bit naive of him, perhaps, to go anywhere with no guard, especially in these troubled times, but perhaps this experience would leave him wiser.

It was quite the untimely inconvenience, though. After helping Baron Reese escape, Harold would need to remain here for weeks yet, instead of leaving today, to avoid suspicion. A servant leaving by himself, an unvalued one at that, would have been easy to forget. One that helped a baron escape the clutches of certain death would be infinitely more memorable, which is what Harold was trying to avoid. So he would have to wait it out.

But it was worth it, to save Baron Reese's life.

 

"There's no need to be angry," Harold said to the alpha, carefully modulating his tone, his voice losing its edge. "I'm nobody, I'll tell no one you were here, and you shall maintain your reputation."

 

That neither Baron Greer nor his men would say anything, lest they implicate themselves, didn't need to be said. Harold went on.

 

"I have a friend, he can get you as far as the border of Baron Greer's territory." He flashed a quick smile. "We'll do our best to get you home safe." 'And hopefully, you won't do something this foolish again,'

 

Instead of the thanks Harold expected, Baron Reese's face was... doing something... Harold didn't quite understand. What kind of expression was that?

'Oh dear,' Harold thought, 'Have I offended his pride by offering protection? Alphas are such fickle things, sometimes.'

 

Baron Reese opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again without having said anything. Harold waited. The prolonged silence, however, allowed the far away sounds of battle to reach them.

 

They both listened for a moment, then Baron Reese cursed.

 

"I told her to wait for me, damn it."

 

Harold didn't get the opportunity to ask who 'she' was, because the Baron was suddenly grabbing his hand, dragging him along. Moving much faster than they did going in, Harold and Baron Reese made their way back out to the courtyard, following the sound of shouts and clanging metal.

The sight that greeted them... Harold had read extensively on war, among other things, but he'd never seen it up close. Looking out into the courtyard, Harold wished that was still true. The battle looked like a scene out of hell.

 

There was so much blood.

 

Harold was so transfixed that he didn't notice the Baron walking him to a post, the kind people tied their horses to. He didn't notice anything, not even being tied up, until the baron took him by the chin, standing close enough to Harold that he occupied Harold's entire field of vision.

 

"Stay here, out of danger," Baron Reese said, soft voice a horrible contrast to the carnage Harold knew was happening behind him. 

 

The Baron turned away and whistled, to Harold's confusion. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a young boy ran up to them, bearing a sword nearly as long as he was. The boy gave Baron Reese the sword after a quickly whispered conversation that Harold couldn't hear. To Harold's dismay, Baron Reese left moments after, vanishing into the melee.

The young boy (Dark skin, short curly hair, lively face, Harold catalogued, brain on autopilot) kept guard over Harold for as long as he could. But before long, the draw of the battle proved too powerful. Then he too vanished, pulling out his own much shorter sword, and Harold found himself still tied to the post, alone now and unprotected, but calm enough to consider his options.

 

'Clearly,' Harold thought, 'Baron Reese does not-- did not need my help.'

 

He shivered a little, feeling a phantom coldness on his torso.

 

('Ridiculous.')

 

Maybe this battle was for the best. No one would notice if he slipped away during the fight, and it would be weeks before things became calm enough for someone to wonder where an aging omega was, and even then, everyone would assume he had perished in the fighting.

He looked around carefully, looking past the carnage. No one had disturbed the stables, and no one would notice a missing horse in this chaos. Excellent. The only complication right now was that he was currently tied-up. The remedy for it, the dagger he'd used to cut the baron free, was in his pocket, and currently quite inaccessible to him.

Before Harold could figure out how to get to it, he became aware of someone's gaze on him. He looked around.

 

'There!'

 

Harold felt relief down to his bones. Lionel Fusco, a beta game-hunter for Baron Greer, was moving quickly towards him, skirting the edges of the battle. Lionel was the only friend Harold had made in the time he spent here in Baron Greer's keep, him and his son Lee. A good boy, sharp, and he liked listening to Harold's stories. Harold hoped he was safe, far away from this madness.

 

"You okay?" Lionel asked as soon as he reached Harold. Harold presented his tied hands in response, and Lionel wasted no time. He grabbed a dagger from his belt, cutting through Harold's bonds carefully. The omega felt a rush of gratitude, both for his help and the careful handling. While not tied tightly, the rope was rough against his wrists; It was meant for bridles, not human skin.

 

"Ready to go?" Lionel asked as he cut, hands shaking. He was putting on a brave face, Harold knew, despite his fear of the battle nearby.

 

"My things are in that cart, over there," Harold gestured with his chin, not that the hunter could see. "Where is Lee, is he safe?"

 

"Western gateway," grunted Lionel, "He's got the supplies and the horse. We're still leaving today?"

 

"The horses are unguarded," Harold said by way of explanation. No sooner had Lionel cut away the last of the ropes, than Harold took Lionel by the hand began to lead them to the stables. It was clear across the courtyard, and they'd have to be careful to avoid the soldiers as they crossed. Every instinct told Harold that they should head in the other direction, but no.

 

"We'll make much better time with three mounts between the three of us than just one, don't you think?" said the omega. Never mind that horses terrified Harold; he would do what was necessary, as he'd always done.

 

But they hadn't taken more than a dozen steps before the were intercepted by a woman in shining armor.

 

"Run." said the alpha.

 

Before Harold could process anything, Lionel pushed him to the side, drawing a long dagger as he did so. It looked laughable next to the knight's longsword, like a child's toy. But it did not waver in the beta's hand.

Lionel locked eyes with Harold for a quick moment before returning his gaze to the knight, clearly about to say something preposterous, like "Take care of my son," but Harold was having none of it. Calm as he could, Harold walked back to the beta's side, grabbing the hand that wasn't holding the dagger in his.

 

"What are you doing?" Lionel asked, voice low through gritted teeth, not taking his eyes off the alpha. Across from them, the knight removed her helmet. She was striking, Harold noted, and looking at them with respect.

 

'Good,' Harold thought. Lionel was small for a beta, smaller than Harold even, though a touch wider, and Harold often heard Baron Greer's knights speak ill of him. Harold thought that was unfair, and was glad to see his friend respected, even if it appeared from an unlikely source.

 

"I have heard that Baron Reese is a fair lord, dear friend, and that he treats all people with honor and mercy." Harold said, speaking to the alpha as much as he was to Lionel. "Today, we find out the truth together."

 

---

 

John had been fighting his way back to Harold the moment he saw the unfamiliar beta make his way towards the tied omega. It had been poor judgement on his part to tie the omega to a post, John decided. What had he been thinking? It served no purpose, except make sure that the omega would be unable to defend himself. Not that he was in any danger. John's soldiers knew better than to attack innocents, and why would Greer's men attack their own? Still, it was a relief to see Harold talk to the beta, indicating that they were at least acquaintances.

John watched the unfamiliar beta free Harold with approval, no doubt in his mind that they were about to make their way to a safer place to wait out the battle. But, to John's horror, Harold then proceeded to lead the two of them towards the fighting.

He fought with renewed vigor, dispatching enemy soldiers left and right. Many of Greer's soldiers were actually merely mercenaries, and they had begun to flee as soon as the tides of the battle had turned. They outnumbered John's soldiers three to one, yes, but the soldiers under John's training were unparalleled.

John breathed a sigh of relief as soon as he saw Carter intercept the two clearly daft men. He saw her make a threatening gesture with her sword.

Of course, Carter was just bluffing, trying to get the beta and the omega to run away from the fighting, not become part of it. John was familiar with her oft used tactic, so he wasn't alarmed when she drew her sweord. But he was marginally concerned the two men might hurt themselves, Harold mostly, trying to run away, and continued to make his way towards them.

To his surprise, Harold and the beta stood their ground. John was amazed to see the other servants of the keep come out of their hiding places to join the two of them standing against Carter.

By this time, John was almost there, the battle dying down. Most of Greer's soldiers had run, leaving the slow, the injured, and the servants to their fate. John was just within earshot when Harold announced to all that he planned on seeing whether John was a fair lord or not.

 

"Are you hearing this?" Carter asked umder her breath as John moved to stand beside her. She lowered her sword. With the fighting finished, John could feel the everyone's eyes on him, on them.

 

Harold must have felt the scrutiny as well, particularly from the people who had gathered to stand behind him and the beta.

 

"These are good people," He said, stepping forward. "Every person here has done their best to serve Baron Greer. Do we go from one cruel lord to another, Baron Reese, or are we now free?" Harold asked

 

John's voice was filled with authority as he answered. Yes, they were free. In addition, they were welcome to go to Blackstonbury Castle, in one of his territories to the north, where they would be given work for fair wages as free people, and be under his protection. John called for two of his knights, Lawrence and Michael Pope, to escort any who wished to take him up on his offer.

John wasn't surprised to see all of Greer's servants follow the two knights to wait near the gates, including Harold and the beta.

"Except you, Harold." John desperately wanted to say, "You stay with me." But that would be unfair. He'd wanted to keep the kind omega safe, and that was why he offered to take Harold away with him (his...attraction notwithstanding), and safe he woulde be at Blackstonbury. It made sense that the omega would prefer to remain with familiar faces, John reasoned.

The alpha told himself to calm down. Harold going to his lands in the north would be just as good, keep him just as safe, and if John found himself in that area soon after his business with Greer was concluded, well, it was time for him to visit Blackstonbury anyway.

 


---

 

Harold's mind raced, thinking, looking for a way to escape. He had to get back to Nathan, not go gallivanting across the countryside. He wondered if he should enlist Fusco's help in evading their escorts en route to Baron Reese's castle. Perhaps Harold wouldn't need to tell him why? No, of course not, he wouldn't do that to the beta. A much better life awaited Lionel and his son in Blackstonbury, which was the opposite direction of where Harold needed to go. Oh, curse Baron Reese anyway!

 

With the spectacle over, everyone turned to their own tasks. Some dragged (thankfully few, Harold noted) dead bodies to the side, to be buried later, while others tended to the wounded. Lionel left to fetch his son, relief pouring from every pore. Everyone was soon busy, and Harold almost missed it when Baron Reese spoke to the female alpha who appeared to be his second in command.

 

"Burn everything."

 

'Oh no.'

 

Harold's thoughts immediately derailed, focusing on the books. He made a run directly for the library, hoping to get some of the rarer books out before they set fire to the keep. The library was a separate building, connected only to the keep by a covered wooden walkway. It would catch fire not long after the keep was set on fire, but Harold was hoping that he'd be able to save the more important books before then.

Harold didn't make it very far before he was stopped by the baron.

 

"What are you doing?" Baron Reese asked, bewildered, as he held the omega back easily.

 

"You'll burn the library! The books!" Harold whirled around, a touch frantic.

 

"What about clothes, or do you want to wear your books on the journey?" Harold could see that Baron Reese was amused. Harold didn't appreciate that, and didn't bother telling the baron that his clothes were already packed, and in that cart over there.

 

They looked at each other for a long moment, before Baron Reese sighed, smiled, and easily agreed to spare the library. Harold didn't know what to do with that; He'd been expecting more resistance. Not a lot of the nobility valued books, aside from using them to broadcast excessive wealth. That Baron Reese thought the books valuable enough to spare was... pleasant information, Harold decided.

 

"How about we go get your clothes and things instead?" the alpha suggested, and Harold thought about it for a moment before deciding that the baron had proved himself trustworthy enough.

 

Harold made his way to the cart filled with hay where he'd left his things, thankfully getting there before the cart was emptied of its contents, to be used to transport the old and the injured. The baron watched with surprise as Harold fished his pack out of the hay.

 

"You were already planning on leaving." spoke Baron Reese. It was more statement than question, but Harold answered anyway.

 

"Yes, my lord." Harold made sure to be properly deferential. It was probably too late, but maybe the baron would dismiss his earlier behavior as stress-induced.

 

"Where were you going?" he asked, throwing Harold. He had been expecting the baron to ask why he was leaving, so he fumbled for an answer. Before Harold could make something up, though, the alpha continued.

 

"I only ask because I have a castle to the east, Caverson, which is where I'm going." Baron Reese said. "You're welcome to come with m- us."

 

Caverson Castle was much closer to Nathan's than Blackstonbury. Harold couldn't believe his luck. Weighing his options, Harold decided to push his luck a little further, asking if he could get some of his favorite books from the library. Seeing as Harold was the reason that the library would remain standing, surely that wouldn't be considered theft? Baron Reese agreed.

Two trips later, the second one with Lionel along for help, everyone was ready to leave. Harold watched as the walkway attaching the library to the main keep was destroyed, so that the latter could be burned to the ground. Harold thought it was a pity, but the thought had no teeth; he had no love for the place.

 

"It's not Carthage," Baron Reese murmured under his breath, referring to the ancient Greek city that had been sown with salt.

 

"If only Alexandria had been as lucky," Harold replied. Baron Reese was well read, something else Harold did not expect. The alpha was full of pleasant surprises.

 

Soon enough, the only structure left standing was the library. Harold was under no illusions that it would remain standing for long, nor that the elements would be particularly kind to the books that remained inside. But, with luck, scavengers would come soon after Baron Reese's army left, and a few of the books would survive.

It was only as they were about to leave that Harold remembered that, to travel, he was expected to ride a horse. His earlier bravado in the face of danger fading, the omega cast his eyes around to look for an alternative. The cart caught his eye. Maybe...

 

---

 

John offered Harold a horse, one he had brought and not one of the sorry creatures that Greer kept, but the omega declined, saying he didn't know how to ride. Which, John granted, was entirely expected and he didn't know why he thought otherwise. Why would a servant know how to ride.

Lionel Fusco, the beta Harold had introduced to him a short while ago, could ride as part of his duties as a game-hunter, and offered to share his mount with Harold. John was extremely suspicious of the way that the beta had just assumed that Joh's offer extended to him also, but said nothing. Harold appeared to appreciate his company.

 

"It'll be fine," Fusco said, urging the omega to mount his horse.

 

John noted with not a little satisfaction that Harold was reluctant to share the beta's horse, still eyeing the cart where he had put his books with longing. The alpha assessed the cart, deciding that the omega would no longer fit upon it, not comfortably.

 

'It's getting late,'  John observed.

 

Making a decision, John rode over and simply scooped Harold up onto his own steed, signalling Carter to begin moving everyone out.

 

"If I may be so bold as to ask," Harold said after a while on the trail. "Why did you attack Baron Greer?"

 

"Later," John grunted, tightening his hold on the omega.

 

Harold must have noticed that the topic was an unwelcome one to John, and proceeded to chatter about the ancient ruins they are passing by, to make John more comfortable.

It was at this moment that John knew, whatever happened, he wouldn't let this omega go without a fight.

 

 

Chapter Text

They rode through the night, stopping only to feed and water the horses. The pace was brutal, and Harold was so tired that he almost didn't notice the contingent of other servants who were formerly under Baron Greer's employ separate from the main bulk of Baron Reese and his knights. No doubt they were heading for Blackstonbury. The baron hadn't left them without protection or resources, which was good, because there was no telling what harm could have come to them without Baron Reese's protection.

Although they'd been riding non-stop, progress was slow, and the knights were well served by their shields, which protected them from branches and other vegetation.

Harold made a note of the roads' extreme disrepair, much more extensive than he would have thought.

 

More to tell Nathan.

 

By the end of the second day, even the horses needed rest, and so camp was set up. Harold was almost sick with hunger, and excused himself to a secluded area to eat while everyone put up the tents or cared for the horses. Unused to riding in the saddle, Harold had merely hidden away all of the food that the baron had given him, not wanting to delay their arrival at Caverson. The sooner they arrived at their destination, the sooner Harold could slip away unnoticed and begin heading back to Nathan.

 

(Never mind that the roads farther from the capital were in much worse shape than Harold or Nathan had imagined. He'd find a way; he had to.)

 

Darren found him some time later, ushering him back to camp. He saw to Harold and Fuscos needs, joking easily with Fusco and his gentle alpha son, Lee. 

Harold listened to Lee tell the baron's squire how he had managed to hide in the woods nearby, running back to his father only after the battle, when it looked safe. When Darren began telling Lee about the battle he had missed, in more detail than Harold cared to remember, Harold wandered off, thinking.

Nathan's closest Holding should be only a few days west. Would he make it on his own? Probably not, if all roads in the area were as bad as this one (and they probably were, or worse. This was a main road.)

Still, Harold would have to try. Would Fusco and his son come with him? Between the three of them, they would probably make it to Nathan's, and Harold could make it worth Fusco's while, guarantee that they be treated fairly, and receive a hefty amount of monetary compensation besides.

They'd have to borrow a horse, of course; maybe steal some provisions. Would Baron Reese notice if they just disappeared? They were just servants, after all...

Bah, of course he would. Best plan would be to go alone, no need to drag Fusco with him when the beta was already assured a cushy life with Baron Reese (cushy compared to Greer's, at least)

 

What to do, what to do...

---

 

For two days, they had ridden. John had made sure keep Harold away from the worst of the brambles, using his shield, cloak, and own limbs, but he could do nothing about the relentless pace. Even now, John was keeping careful time. If the horses were rested enough by sun up the next day, then they'd have to continue riding.

Normally, the large number of soldiers, flying his banner, would be enough to dissuade even the most foolhardy of bandits, but who knew in these troubled times? He'd wanted to send more soldiers with the group going to Blackstonbury, but well, circumstances had forced his hand, and he had faith in the Pope brothers to keep their charges safe.

 

"Lawrence and the others must be moving twice as slow on this forsaken road." Joss remarked crossly as she hammered a wooden stake into the ground, for her tent.

 

John silently agreed, nodding as he hammered as well. The brothers would have to clear the road for the cart, not to mention the frequent stops that traveling with the elderly and with children demanded.

When they finished, John waved Darren over from where he, with the help of the game-hunter's son, was putting up the baron's own tent. He'd had his people bring Harold's things from the cart when the group had split, and he wished to return his personal effects without being.. unseemly.

 

---

 

It took Harold a while to remember that his things were in the cart. The one that was currently headed for Blackstonbury. That would have been a nightmare, to have to go to Blackstonbury before heading back to the capital. He couldn't be zigzagging across the countryside when he had urgent matters to attend to. But before he could get into a proper panic about it, Darren approached him, bag in hand. The squire told Harold that his books had been parceled out to the knights for easier transport, and that he'd make sure to get them all back once they made it to Caverson Keep. Harold was touched.

 

"That was very considerate of you, Darren, thank you."

 

'What a lovely thing to do,' Harold thought to himself. The young alpha would make a fine knight one day.

 

"It was the baron's idea, Harold," Darren said, nodding before he went off to look for Lee. He couldn't recall the last time he'd had someone his age to horse around with, and was determined to make the most of the rest stop.

 

Darren left Harold standing there, bag in hand, a warm feeling making its way through him. Harold remembered the last time someone had cared about him this much, to remember the little details Harold often forgot. Nathan had not been someone Harold had expected to be friends with. A big, blond alpha with a big, effusive aura, and an even bigger ego. But the only heir to the Ingrams and their many holdings turned out to be splendid company, not to mention smarter than he seemed, and Harold missed him terribly, almost as much as his father, who was ailing and often did not notice that Harold was away.

 

'How maudlin!' The omega thought to himself, as he headed back into the nearby forest. 'Concentrate on the problem at hand! Go, splash some water on your face.'

 

Darren and Lee came to fetch him some time later, just as the sun was setting, to eat dinner and turn down for the evening. Harold spent the night sandwiched between the two children for warmth, with Fusco dozing nearby to keep them safe.

 

(And if John kept his tent open, to keep watch over them too, well, no one needed to know that.)

 

 ---

 

It was barely light out when John moved to wake up Harold. Exhausted as he was, the omega hadn't been awakened by his two sleeping companions leaving to play in the hours before dawn.  With the camp slowly coming to life, John was loathe to wake Harold up, but it had to be done.

Looking down at the sleeping face, however, John found that he couldn't do it. So, as gently as possible, he carried the still sleeping Harold to his tent. He could put off packing up his tent to the last possible moment; there was so much else to be done before they could continue moving on. John knew that the ride hadn't been kind to Harold, and the omega could use as much sleep as he could. As long as he made himself visible in camp, to make clear that the omega had not spent the night with him, there would be no problems.

 

The inside of the tent was still dark as night, especially with the entrance closed to keep sunlight away from the sleeping Harold. John moved to lay him down as slowly as he could. He inhaled deeply. The air inside tent was already beginning to smell wonderfully like the omega.

John put him down on the warm furs, but before he could pull away, a pair of lips pressed softly against his. The touch sent a shiver down John's spine. Everything suddenly seemed covered in a haze, like the air was suddenly thick as water.

 

'Am I dreaming?' John thought, a bit dazed by the sensation.

 

But then Harold pulled away, and it took all of John's willpower not to pull him back and deepen the kiss. As it was, he couldn't help a sound of offense, at the soft touch being taken away, from coming out.

 

"I'm so sorry, my lord!"

 

'What?' John asked dimly in his head, but the thought moved slowly, sluggishly. The alpha felt intoxicated.

 

"For what?" he managed. Eventually.

 

"For taking advantage of you, my lord."

 

It took all of John's considerable willpower to keep a straight face.

 

'Don't you fucking laugh, Reese.' John said to himself, wanting nothing more than to sweep the other man up into a hug and just. hold him for a minute.

 

"It won't happen again, my lord." More ridiculousness.

 

Under the cover of darkness, John allowed a smile to slowly make its way across his face as he left.

 

'I think it will.'