It was the time of year Eli Vanto liked best, when summer turned to fall. He drove his old truck through the hills heading back to his farm and smiled at the changing leaves on the trees. He had the windows down, and a cool breeze blew through the truck.
Suddenly there was a loud thump and his entire truck jounced. Eli braked immediately-what the hell had he hit? He hadn't seen a deer to a badger...
But when he got out of his truck there was a man laying in the road behind him.
Eli cursed up a storm as he ran to the man. How had he not seen him?
As he got closer the man- tall, Chiss, wearing strange dark leather clothing- he jumped to his feet looking startled. Well at least he hadn't killed the man.
“Hey!” he called. “You alright?”
The man locked eyes with him for a moment, and then tried to run away. He made it only a few steps though before his legs went out from under him and the man went down again.
Eli ran up to the man. He was clearly confused and didn't seem to be able to get back up though nothing was obviously broken. He wouldn't- or couldn't- answer any of Eli's questions but Eli could hardly leave the man confused in the road.
Eli helped the man into his truck and drove him back to the farm. He settled the man on couch in the living room and went to call the doctor.
“Thank you for coming all the way out here.” Eli told the doctor after he had examined the injured man.
“Well when you said you'd hit someone with your truck I feared the worst,” the doctor said. “But he's mostly alright. He's got a bump on his head and doesn't seem to remember who he is, but he doesn't have a concussion. Let him rest here for a few days and he should get his memory back and be just fine.”
“Do you have any idea who he is?” Eli asked.
“I know there's some hermits who live out in the woods- they come in to see me form time to time- but I don't recognize him.” The doctor said.
As he was leaving Eli called the doctor back, he'd left his thermometer behind.
“Oh you can throw that out,” he said. “It's broken, the mercury is stuck at the bottom.”
Eli found some clothes that would fit the stranger and gave them to him to change into. The stranger seemed to have some trouble with buttons, but once Eli showed him how they worked he managed to dress himself.
That night Eli made a hearty beef stew for them both. Eli served the food, and settled down to eat.
At first the stranger just watched the stream rising from the hot food, seemingly entranced. Then he watched Eli blow on a spoonful of the stew before eating it. The stranger took up his spoon and mimicked Eli's movements exactly.
When he blew on his stew Eli shivered, a draught of cold air seemed to have descended from nowhere. He glanced around the kitchen, but all the windows were closed. Strange.
“Mmm!” The man hummed, and dug in to the stew.
Eli had set the stranger up in the guest bedroom, but the next morning when he woke up he glanced out the window and saw the man was outside. Eli watched as the man walked right up to a fox that had been bold enough to venture onto the lawn.
The stranger bent down and picked the fox up. The fox was calm and seemed happy as the stranger stroked his fur. After a moment the man put the fox down. It bounded away into the woods, pausing once to look back at the stranger as if it was expecting him to follow.
After breakfast Eli looked the man over, “Well,” he said. “I'm heading out to the fields. You should probably come with unless you want to stay here alone.”
The stranger tagged along. He wasn't familiar with a pitchfork, but he picked it up quickly. He was a good worker and the pair worked hard. Eli occasionally had to stop and rest, but the stranger never tired. He didn't even seem to break a sweat.
Things continued much the same for a few days. One evening after dinner Eli came out on the porch and found the stranger leaning against the railing staring up at the sky.
Eli joined the man and saw he was watching a flock of geese flying in a V formation heading south. They stood watching until the geese were out of sight and the sun was nearly down.
“They'll be bedding down soon.” Eli said. “As should we.”
“Yes.” the Chiss said.
As Eli turned to head inside the man grabbed his hand, stopping him. Eli turned to face him.
“Thrawn.” the man said, and it took a moment for Eli to put the pieces together.
“Thrawn? Is that your name?” he asked.
The stranger's eyes kept tracking down to his and Eli's joined hands, but he nodded.
“Do you remember anything else?” Eli asked.
“No.” Thrawn said, meeting his eyes at last.
Eli sighed, “Well something is better than nothin' I guess. I'm sorry you know, I didn't mean to rattle your brains around so much you forgot your own name.”
“It's alright,” Thrawn said. “It was an accident.”
This was the most words the stranger- Thrawn- had ever put together at once, and Eli couldn't help but grin.
“That's kind of you to say. Let's head inside.”
Eli stopped just inside the door to take off his coat- Thrawn had not been wearing a coat.
He could feel Thrawn's eyes on him as he hung up his coat.
“Something on your mind?” Eli asked as he turned back around to face Thrawn.
“Anything you want to share?” Eli asked.
Thrawn leaned down until they were eye to eye and stared. Eli stared back. And then, gentle as a cool breeze, Thrawn leaned in and brushed his lips against Eli's.
If you had asked Eli if it was wise to go around kissing men you'd just met Eli would have told you no, of course it wasn't.
But Eli kissed Thrawn back, because he knew himself well enough to know he wanted to and he'd regret it if he didn't.
“We should head for bed,” Eli murmured when they pulled apart.
Eli took Thrawn by the hand and led the man up the stairs to his bedroom.
Two weeks passed and Thrawn remembered nothing else of his past. But Eli didn't mind. Thrawn was excellent company once you coaxed him into a conversation, and even when he wasn't talking Eli enjoyed having him around. He helped out on the farm and eventually in the kitchen as well. He seemed so happy to just pass his days with Eli.
Sometimes Eli thought the doctor must have been wrong about Thrawn being a hermit. He was too fond of company- Eli's company at least.
And if at night they curled up together in Eli's bed he wasn't going to complain, Thrawn was excellent company there as well.
Another week passed and Eli couldn't help but notice how odd the weather was. That day, almost a month ago now when he had found Thrawn it had seemed like fall was well on it's way, but now summer seemed determined to linger. His pumpkins had responded to the unseasonable warmth by growing to a ridiculous size, he and Thrawn had had to lift them together they were so big.
One day Thrawn was alone out on one of the highest points of the farm, he noticed the trees on the hills to the north had all begun to turn to yellow and red, yet the trees on Eli's farm and to the south were still plain and green. It felt wrong, somehow.
That feeling of unease lingered the next several days, until one day after they returned from the fields he reached up and plucked a leaf off a tree without stopping to think why. He blew on the leaf, and watched it change colors from green to a rich orange in his hand.
That night Thrawn came to Eli dressed in his old leather clothes.
“You're going,” Eli said.
Thrawn nodded, unable to speak. He hugged Eli tightly, tucking his head into Eli's hair to hide his tears.
“Will I-” Eli started to say.
Thrawn cut him off with a deep kiss. Then, before Eli could recover Thrawn was out the door.
Eli ran out, to wave or yell at the man or both- but he was gone. Thrawn was nowhere in sight. There was a cold bite in the air, and all the leaves on the trees around the farm were no longer green.
Eli stayed on the porch until the light had nearly died, even though he knew Thrawn would not be back.
As he turned to go inside the frost glittering in the front window stopped him in his tracks. Etched in the glass it said, 'See you next fall.'
The leaves on the far hills had started changing. It was Eli Vanto's favorite time of year and he'd found himself staring at those trees a lot recently.
That morning Eli had done his chores and then decided to head into town.
He'd gotten a haircut, gone shopping for groceries, and even gone into the clothing store and bought some clothes- slippers, pajamas, some nice shirts- in a size much too big for him. He felt a little silly, but he carried on.
He kept the windows down on the drive home. A cool breeze blew through his window. Eli sighed and glanced at his shopping bags in the back. Either something would happen or he was just being cautious. Nothing wrong with that.
He pulled up to the house, and hopped out. As he was opening up the tailgate to fish his bags out he noticed the trees again- he stopped and considered, even more of the leaves on the far hills had changed. Hues of gold and orange had crept all the way to the base of the hill.
A pair of strong warm arms wrapped around him from behind.
Eli relaxed back into the man holding him, a grin plastered on his face.