The field was so beautiful, lit by sunlight. Satoshi laughed out loud and plunged into it, feeling as careless as if he were only 10 years old again. Grass seeds caught on the fine pale blue and white clothing, but he didn't care. What did it matter that he was supposed to be a Prince? Everything *he* needed was out here.
There were wildflowers growing in the field. *I wonder if Joi would like some wildflowers?* Grinning, Satoshi made his way through the field, gathering up flowers for the woman who had been almost like a second mother to him. *She could put them in a vase by the window... I'll bet they'd look nice there.*
As the boy occupied himself with those thoughts, other eyes watched him. Blix glanced away in disgust, to look at her companions -- one, a pig-faced creature with greed and hunger in his eyes; the other, a younger one with a large helmet covering his face. Both had been more than willing to join her mission.
"Maybe innocent," Blix growled, speaking of Satoshi. "Maybe sweet. Not half as nice as rotting meat." She spat on the ground, as her companions made affirmative noises.
Unaware of his followers, Satoshi finished his gathering and looked up to the cabin just past his field. A plainly-dressed woman with a kind face hummed to herself as she hung sheets to dry on a line. The scent of fresh food wafted from within, and Satoshi immediately felt hungry.
A mischievous smile spread across the young Prince's face as an idea came to him. Hurrying to one side of the woman, he gave her line a sharp yank, bringing it down. She hadn't noticed him yet, so he darted to the door of the cabin and watched.
She put her hands on her hips, annoyed. "Blooming fairies!"
So she hadn't guessed it was him. Grinning, Satoshi ducked into the cabin, and to the table piled with her cooking. In the cradle by the window, a baby slept. Satoshi smiled. This place felt so comfortable... more like home than the palace ever did. He grabbed a biscuet and paced around the table. Then something caught his attention.
The clock. Of course, Satoshi had noticed it before -- he'd more than once spent hours watching it, waiting for it to chime and send the little wooden figures out to wonder around their path leading from and back into the clock's mysterious depths. But today, when it chimed, it seemed... different. Satoshi crept toward it, watching the familiar carved figurines begin their journey. Somehow, it almost seemed... He saw frost settling around them, little crystals of snow falling onto the frame, and whipping into a frenzied little mini-blizzard. And the figures still continued to move...
"Satoshi!" The boy's head jerked up, as a beaming Joi came toward him. "One of your visits is enough to lift my spirits!" She planted a motherly kiss on his cheek. "Come on, have another biscuit."
Satoshi glanced back at the clock. The chiming had ended, and it ticked away as usual. No snow. He must've imagined it. With a smile for Joi, he tossed the matter aside and concentrated on his reason for coming. "I don't have time to stay for a visit today, Joi," he said mysteriously.
"Oh?" Joi raised an eyebrow and smiled, gently teasing him. "Do you have a sweetheart waiting somewhere?" she guessed, all too accurately.
Satoshi blushed, then smiled. "Of no, of course not. I just want to take a perfectly innocent little trip into the forest. That's all."
Joi's smile turned sad. "Satoshi, you're almost like my son, but... you're high-born. You shouldn't be out here visiting poor folk like me. It's high time you started acting like more of a noble."
Satoshi sighed. "Come on, Joi, this place is so much more full of life than any palace. You don't know how much I envy you. Your life is so much richer than mine will ever be."
"That's so very sweet of you, Satoshi," she smiled.
He grinned, then stood. "I really don't have time for this. I need to go." With a hasty peck planted on Joi's cheek, he was out the door and racing down the hill toward the forest.
"You be careful out there, Satoshi!" she called after him, a warning note in her voice. "Stay away from toadstool rings, and willow trees! And old oaks!"
He laughed at her words and kept going. She didn't know how perfectly safe it was for him in the woods. Nothing could possibly go wrong. "Geru-chan!" he called, turning in a circle as he walked. "Geru-chan, where are you? Shigeru?" No answer.
Blinking in puzzlement, Satoshi continued walking. "Geru-chan?" A shadow passed by overhead, through the trees. "Shigeru! Come on out!" His heart started to pound rapidly as more unidentifiable sounds came from the surrounding forest. "Shigeru, please say something, please..."
Something dropped abruptly from the trees, and Satoshi yelled and fell back. "Shigeru!" he said indignantly, recovering. "That wasn't funny!"
The older boy grinned. He was dressed in rags and his firy red hair was raggedly cut, but he was the most beautiful thing Satoshi could imagine. Even *with* the smug little smirk on his face. "I thought it was," he answered, extending an arm to lend a perch for a wild bird. He whistled at it, and it replied sweetly, then fluttered away.
Satoshi beamed, anger forgotten. "You're so cute when you do that, Geru-chan," he said, moving forward into his lover's arms. "I love you," he added, kissing him quickly.
Behind the concealing bushes, Blix snorted derisively.
"You're always cute," Shigeru smiled, gazing affectionately at the shorter boy. He didn't add 'I love you, too'; he never did. But, Satoshi thought with determination, he will. And I know he does love me, he just can't say it.
With a smile, the younger boy broke from Shigeru's hold, running to step across the stream. "This way, Geru-chan, come on!" he ordered, glancing back to make sure he was being pursued. He knew exactly where he'd slow down enough so that his lover could catch him.
It was in a grassy patch just by the overhanging ledge above a small pond where Shigeru finally grabbed hold of Satoshi by the waist, turning him around so their faces were close together. Gently, he lowered his Sato-chan down onto the soft earth, leaning down over him to press a kiss onto his willing lips. Satoshi's arms wrapped around Shigeru's neck and they lost themselves in each other, deaf and blind to the world around them.
* * *
"Just like that," Shigeru whispered, watching his love's face. Satoshi nodded, a look of intense concentration written across his features. He whistled softly to the bird on his hand and it trilled a response. Satoshi whistled again, then lowered the bird to the ground and looked back at Shigeru for approval. "How was that?"
He was so very beautiful... Shigeru smiled, watching sunlight catch on and glint off of Satoshi's ebony hair. Even under the now-rumpled fine clothes, his form was lithe and perfect. His luminous brown eyes were soft and full of life. "That was good, Satoshi."
Satoshi smiled brilliantly and leaned forward, tilting his head enticingly as he studied Shigeru. Light reflected off the gold pendant hanging around his neck, and Shigeru watched in fascination. Satoshi followed his gaze. "You like it?" He pulled the object over his head and held it out. "It's yours, Shigeru."
Shigeru shook his head. "I couldn't..."
"I could." Satoshi grinned and hung the pendant around Shigeru's neck. "There. Now you can have something to remember me by when I'm not here."
Shigeru's heart melted. "I could never forget you, Sato-chan..."
"Let's never be apart," Satoshi said suddenly. "Shigeru... Tell me what you have planned for us. Tell me what we're going to do with the rest of our lives."
A smile tugged its way across Shigeru's face. "Not today," he answered, shaking his head.
Satoshi pouted. "Why not?" He was so beautiful... Shigeru wanted to show him something just as beautiful... So he could see.
"Because," he answered. "I've got something special I want to show you." Satoshi's eyes lit up with curiousity, and Shigeru pulled him to his feet. "But we have to go right away, or they'll be gone before we get there." He folded a piece of cloth lengthwise a few times, and held it out toward Satoshi's face.
"Don't you trust me, Shigeru?" Satoshi asked teasingly, as the older boy tied the blindfold around his head.
"I trust you, Satoshi," Shigeru answered, with conviction. "But I don't want anything to happen to you." He left it at that. *And I shouldn't be doing this, but I have to... because I love you. Because I want you to see them.*
Blix's beady eyes never left the pair. As they started to move off, she gestured to her companions to follow.
"Here we are." Shigeru sat Satoshi down in the bushes by the stream, and gently untied the blindfold. The younger boy blinked for a moment, then gasped in awe at his surroundings. A crystaline stream ran lightly over smooth rocks, barely whispering as it did. The scene was highlighted by the sun and set off on all sides with flowers and trees. It was a painter's dream, unmatched in its perfect, natural beauty.
Satoshi's eyes were full of wonder. "Shigeru..."
"Shh." Shigeru smiled. "They're coming." He pointed upstream where two figures danced, coming closer. Their pure white coats glistened in the sunlight, and the sounds they made sounded very much like the laughter of children.
Beaufitul, of course. Shigeru felt a familiar sense of peace drifting over him as they drew closer. At this close distance, one could see the graceful, white horses' bodies, splashing playfully through the water. A feeling of happiness radiated from them as warmth did from a fire. Their proud, gold horns sparkled in the light, adding the right touch to the silvery droplets of water that scattered the air.
"Do you speak their language?" Satoshi asked, in a hushed, almost reverent whisper.
Shigeru shook his head, smiling. "I've never heard them speak. They just... express. Usually things like light and laughter. I'm sure they've never known darkness or evil."
Satoshi stood then, and Shigeru glanced at him in puzzlement. "I want to see them up close," he breathed, and hurried down toward the unicorns eagerly.
Panic coursed through Shigeru. "Satoshi, no!" he hissed. "You can't!"
His love was already stepping into the stream. Shigeru watched fearfully, frozen in place. His heart pounded hard as Satoshi approached the closest of the two unicorns -- the male, Shigeru noted, through his fear. *Oh, please no, Satoshi...*
Behind the bushes to the side, Blix pried open a grotesque-looking plant. She dipped the tip of her dart into the poisonous liquid within and made a satisfied noise -- in anticipation.
Shigeru watched Satoshi reach his hands out to the unicorn, eyes wide with an innocent joy. It stepped toward him, drawn by something -- perhaps an element in his soul. As if hypnotized, Satoshi moved forward slowly. The scene was so achingly beautiful that Shigeru nearly cried. But he couldn't watch this. It wasn't right.
Blix slid the dart into her weapon. Beside her, the pig-faced goblin -- Pox -- snorted in excitement. "You'll spook the beast and spoil the trap!" she hissed at him, readying the weapon.
Satoshi's eyes softened in absolute contentment as the unicorn's muzzle fell softly onto his fingertips. It was the loveliest thing Shigeru had ever seen. But he couldn't watch this. Turning, he faded back into the woods.
Blix took a deep breath and sent her message of death on its way.
The unicorn jerked abruptly under Satoshi's hand, then bolted back toward its mate. As the boy watched in confused alarm, they galloped away, all remnants of their previous happiness gone, to be replaced by fear. Satoshi looked after them sadly. He didn't understand. Why were they leaving?
More hooves pounded into the ground as the goblins' beasts took up the chase.
Unsettled, Satoshi ran back to where he'd left Shigeru... but Shigeru was gone. "Geru-chan?" he called, racing blindly through the woods. "Geru-chan!" Looking around, he realized that he was back in their original spot by the rock hanging over the pool.
"Do you have any idea of what you've done, Satoshi?"
The boy whirled around, but Shigeru was nowhere in sight. "Shigeru!" he cried. "Please come out! What did I do?"
"It's forbidden," Shigeru's voice said fiercely, "to touch them!"
"Who says it is?" Satoshi asked, puzzled.
"It's known, Satoshi." Shigeru's tone was ominous. "Those creatures are *sacred*. You risk your immortal soul."
Satoshi turned, and then found Shigeru standing behind him. "But... I only wanted to touch it," he protested, confused by his lover's serious expression. "There's no harm in that, is there?"
Shigeru glanced worriedly at the grey clouds swirling in the sky, then back at Satoshi's face. "This is not good..."
~The two unicorns tossed their heads at each other, and a silent agreement was formed. The female bolted on ahead, whiel the steadily weakening male headed in a different direction, leading the goblins onward.~
"I didn't mean it." Satoshi leaned close and looked earnestly into Shigeru's eyes, desperate to find love there still. "I'm sorry, Shigeru. Please forgive me." He put his hands on Shigeru's shoulders and tilted his head up to kiss him. Shigeru did not respond, and Satoshi smiled appealingly at him. "What's the matter? Afraid to kiss me?"
"I'm afraid you're going to break my heart," Shigeru answered flatly, his eyes unreadable as he gazed at Satoshi.
Satoshi grinned. "Don't be silly, Shigeru. I love you more than anything -- more than my own life, even." Inspiration struck, and he pulled the gold band off his finger. "See this? It could be like our wedding ring, don't you think?" He looked up at Shigeru, who had longing written all over his face as he gazed at the ring.
Satoshi's smile grew wider. "Well... I can't just up and *give* myself away, you know. You'll have to earn me. I'll spend my life with... whoever finds this ring!" He tossed the ring over toward the rock, where it bounced off and into the pond. He glanced back to Shigeru.
The older boy pulled away from him abruptly, and ran toward the rock. "Shigeru!" Satoshi cried, in suprise, but his lover didn't falter, diving off the platform and into the cool waters below.
~The unicorn's legs gave out beneath him, and he fell to the ground, made helpless by the poison that ran through his body. The goblins advanced on him, sniggering in anticipation of the kill.~
Satoshi ran over to the edge of the rock. Cold winds swirled around him, but all he was aware of was the hard icy surface that had begun to form with abnormal speed across the water. "SHIGERU!" he shrieked, in horror. Then something tugged at him and he coudln't think any more; he just ran sobbing back into the woods, too frightened to even question where he was going, just that he needed to get help. *Geru-chan... Geru-chan...*
Shigeru gave up searching the floor of the pond, and rose back toward the surface. Before he could get out of the water, his head smashed into something smooth and hard.
~Blix raised her sword, readying the final blow...~
Frantically, Shigeru beat at the ice, punching and kicking at it with all his strength. He felt something give...
~The sword fell, severing the horn from the unicorn's brow. Blix snatched up her prize and raised it high over her head, releasing an ungodly shriek of triumph.~
Shigeru burst through the ice at last, gasping for breath. Snow fell all around him, winds swirling it about in a rough blizzard. The ground and the ice were both coated with it.
But Shigeru had only one thing in mind. "SATOSHIIIII!!!" he cried, into the dark silence of winter.