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The Meaning of Things

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It seemed they were always finding themselves in the vineyard these days, if not for the sweet and plentiful fruit that they might steal, then for how easy it was to hide amongst the vines. Ernst knew that if anybody was to find them, then guilt and misbehavior would be assumed from the beginning, but surely nobody would ever suspect the kind of trouble they were really getting up to. At least Ernst hoped not.

It was a warm day, nearly summer, and Ernst lay still on the ground, using his arm to lazily shield his eyes from the sun that beat down upon him. He was sweating, just a little. When he came home, and his mama asked him why he looked so strange, he would tell her that the heat (and most especially the itchy woolen sweater she insisted he wear, even though it was May), had made him lightheaded. He wouldn't talk about being in love, because at worst his family would cast him out for it, and at best they would try to save him from it. Ernst wanted neither.

When Hanschen's hand came up to trace Ernst's hip, Ernst wasn't exactly surprised. He'd thought they were already both too sated for it, but this was Hanschen after all, and one never could tell with him. Ernst had been learning a great deal over the past few months, and one of those things was that he could often get everything he craved just by being open to it, and within easy reach. What he wanted now was a kiss, so he turned over onto his side so that his mouth was near Hanschen's, and sure enough that kiss came, long and lingering, and tinted with the taste of fruit. Ernst tried to lose himself in it, especially when Hanschen pulled him in closer, but for some reason he couldn't quite manage.

"You're looking thoughtful today," Hanschen observed. "Should I cure you of that?"

There was something in Hanschen's lilting tone which made Ernst think he was being teased, or very subtly made fun of, which was nothing new, and if Ernst was to be honest with himself (to reflect), it drew him to Hanschen just as much as it frustrated him at times.

"You could try asking what's on my mind," Ernst answered. The words came out sharper than intended, but Hanschen just grinned.

"Say whatever you want." Hanschen's smile was amiable, but from the way his finger traced circles on the small of Ernst's back, ever threatening to move lower, Ernst figured Hanschen expected him to give up and find something to do other than talk. "I like listening to you," Hanschen said.

"Do you really?"

"Of course!" Hanschen sounded almost offended. "So talk."

Ernst was beginning to worry, really and truly worry that he had nothing to say, especially faced with Hanschen, with his mouth and his hands and how dumbly in love Ernst was.

"This sort of thing," Ernst blurted out, "is how Melchior got sent away, and Wendla..."

Ernst didn't need to finish his sentence. Hanschen stopped what he was doing, and propped himself up by the elbow to really look at Ernst.

"Are you afraid that something bad will happen to us?" Hanschen asked. He wasn't teasing now, though he didn't look afraid himself.

"No." Ernst answered.

"There's no need to be. You're not so naive as she was, and I'm smarter than him."

"You really think so?" asked Ernst. He'd seen the grades that Hanschen got on his essays and things. Sure, Hanschen knew how to make a game of academics and come out on top, but everyone had agreed that Melchior's mind was glorious.

"Absolutely," Hanschen answered without pause. Then he frowned, as if thinking something over, his brow furrowing in a way that was almost tender, if Ernst wasn't mistaken.

"If anything goes wrong," Hanschen said, "I'll protect you."

Now, that was exactly the kind of phrase that one might expect to hear from a lover, but Ernst wasn't stupid, even if he might have been when he and Hanschen first started this thing of theirs. Ernst had taken pains to learn about Hanschen, to understand. Whatever else Hanschen was, he was no lier, nor was he somebody who would ever say anything that he wasn't absolutely sure about. That was why he returned Ernst's I love you's not with I love you too's but with and so you should's. That was why he listened when Ernst said he wanted them to be together forever, but did not respond with similar dreams of his own. When Hanschen had started to call Ernst mein Schatz, it had meant something, and now that he was speaking of protecting Ernst, well, that meant something too.

Even so, Ernst didn't ask Hanschen what it meant. He did, however, lean in for another kiss.