This is an older story, set in a world where humanity is long gone, and the world populated by genetically engineered animals. It's a short story, and there are no sequels. Fair warning: If you know, or think, you shouldn't read a story containing sex between an adult male and a teenage boy, then please don't read this one. As always, thoughts and comments are most welcome to
Story and characters are (c) to Lars Hellberg (Winter), do not re-distribute without permission.

The Rose Fox
by Winter

On the outskirts of the town of Oak's Root, there lay a small house, run down with age, but with a perfect garden. There were low, well-kept fruit trees; whitehearts, apples, pears and plums, some freshly harvested, others with their branches weighed down with fruits; there were patches of the most beautiful, exotic flowers and tiny herb gardens. But most of all, there were roses. From the tiniest of flowers, to huge, seemingly wild-growing bushes, all of which were kept in meticulous order by the gardener. Tobey stopped outside the fence, his desire to reach town centre before the grocer's closed forgotten. Taking in the beauty, the young skunk couldn't help reaching out to stroke a large, pink rose, feeling its soft petals run between his fingers.

"They are lovely, aren't they?" The soft voice made Tobey start, and he very nearly pulled the flower off its stem. "Oops, sorry if I scared you."

The soft giggle that followed, as if coming out of nowhere, made the skunk step back. Was the place haunted? Then a red-furred head appeared from behind a currant bush, a shy smile playing beneath large, friendly green eyes, in a small face surrounded by a tousled halo of long, red hair. The fox stood up, putting down a bucket of ripe red currants, and walked over to the fence.

"Do you like flowers?" He asked, in a soft voice, and Tobey nodded. Searching the pockets of the well-worn shorts that were all he was wearing, the fox found a pair of scissors, and snipped off the flower Tobey had touched. "Here. You can wear it on you shirt."

"Thanks. By the way, my name's Tobey." He reached out to shake hands. "Nice to meet you."

"I'm Adrian." The handshake was as velvety soft as the voice. "This garden is mine."

"It's lovely. So beautiful."

"Thanks." Laying his ears back, Adrian blushed. "I've worked hard with it."

"So I see. Is it harvest time?" Tobey pointed at the bucket. "I'm not interrupting you, am I?"

"No, not at all!" The fox's eyes lit up. "And yes, it is time to bring in the currants. I use them to make jelly, or cordial."

"Can I try some? Walking makes you thirsty."

"Sure. Come on in." Adrian trotted over to a gate in the fence, opening it for Tobey. "I haven't any freshly made, of course, but there's some left from last summer."

"It stays fresh that long?"

"Yes, if you bottle it well enough."

"Oh. You're sure I'm not interrupting you?"

"Absolutely. Come on."

The fox lead the way down a gravelled walkway, lined with daisies and pansies, to reach a door in desperate need of paint. Knowing that the skunk had noticed this, Adrian blushed again.

"I know it doesn't look like much, but it's my house. Maybe I should take more care of it, but I'm too busy with my garden." He opened the door, ushering Tobey inside. "Sorry it's not so tidy. I don't get many visitors."

"No, it looks fine."

"Take a seat, I'll be right back."

Strolling into the living room, Tobey took a look around. True, it wasn't the neatest kept of homes, but not exactly untidy, either. Some dust in the corners, and the windows might do with a good cleaning, but otherwise the house looked cozy from the inside. The walls were covered with paintings, mostly of flowers and trees, where bookshelves didn't take up space. In the middle of the room were two comfy-looking sofas, with a low table in between, and Tobey sat down in one of them, mildly surprised to see that they weren't dusty. So he does keep the place clean, he thought. He's just not too good at it. A couple of logs were burning in a fireplace, adding to the late afternoon light, and also making the room comfortably warm. Adrian returned, bringing a pitcher and two glasses. Setting them down on the table, he poured a glass for Tobey, then sat down in the other sofa, pouring a drink for himself, as well.

"Try it, it's already diluted."

"Thanks, I will." Tobey sipped some the bright red liquid, then smacked his lips, sighing contentedly. "Mmm, that was so sweet! Delicious!"

"Thank you." The fox blushed, as he drank from his own glass. "I like sugar, so I make it sweet."

"You live here alone?" Tobey asked, receiving a nod. "Really? You seem a bit young to be on your own."

"I'm fifteen." The skunk's ears perked with surprise. "I bought this house two years ago, and I've lived here since."

"On your own?"

"Yes. The garden looked terrible back then, a haven for weeds and fieldmice, but I'm getting it into shape, don't you think?"

"You certainly are. I've never seen such a beautiful garden." This brought another blush, but also a look of quiet gratitude, and Tobey sensed that by letting the fox change the subject, he had avoided stepping on a tender toe. "These paintings, are they yours?"

"Yes. There's not much to do here, during the winter. So I paint, and I read."

"They're beautiful." Adrian looked away, but Tobey could still see a happy grin spread across his muzzle. "What do you read?"

"Oh, mostly novels. Romance or adventure, something to dream along with. I read some poetry, as well. What about you? Do you read?"

"Some. I left my books behind when I left home, but I visit libraries as often as I can."

"Are you a roamer, Tobey?" The fox refilled their glasses. "A wanderer?"

"Well, yes. I've always been restless, and when I turned eighteen, I just packed some things and left. That was two years ago, and I don't think I've stayed on the same spot for more than a couple of weeks at a time. I just love walking from place to place, it makes me feel so free."

"I can understand that." Sipping his cordial, Adrian got a dreamy look in his eyes. "Me, I guess I'm perfectly happy here. As long as I have my flowers."

"You really love them..."

"Yes. I'm glad you understand. Not many do."

They sat talking for a while, until they suddenly seemed to run out of things to talk about. Tobey knew he wasn't too good at conversations, and the shy fox didn't offer much help. Instead, the skunk finished his drink, thanking Adrian politely as he made himself ready to leave. He could detect a hesitant ambivalence in the fox; it seemed that Adrian was both relieved to see him go, yet reluctant to have his guest leave. At the gate, Adrian pointed the way to the town's only inn, then returned to his currant bushes.

Waving good bye, Tobey set up a fair pace. It was later than he'd guessed, and he was afraid he might not reach the town centre before the shops closed. He was in luck, however, and was both able to shop for some groceries and leave his spare boots to a shoemaker. Stomach growling, he then made his way to the inn, the Star and Horseshoe. It was a busy place, filled with customers and noise, and the smell of alcohol nearly made Tobey choke. If it's bad enough to turn a skunk... he thought, chuckling to himself as he made his way to the counter. The manager was an equine, who flashed him a winsome grin as he introduced himself as Buck.

"If you're after dinner, I can help you, but it'll take a while. Place is sure crowded today, for some reason. Now, if you want a room, then sorry. Sold the last one two hours ago."


"But on the other hand, if you're about an ale, you can have it right away."

Tobey nodded, and traded a coin for a tankard. Eyeing the frothing liquid, he licked his lips, the sweet taste of the cordial reminding him of the timid gardener. He fingered the flower he'd been given, something that Buck noticed.

"I take it you've met the Rose Fox."

"Who? Oh, you mean Adrian."

"Well, at least I think that's his name. Nobody calls him by it, though, for obvious reasons."

"Rose Fox... He showed me the way here."

"He did, eh? You'll find he's not the most well-liked boy around. Personally, I don't think he bothers anybody, but some people can't stand him. The rest of the school youngsters... ah, but now I'm talking local problems, nothing that'd interest an urbane chap like yourself, eh?"

"They don't like him?" Tobey thought about his meeting with Adrian, and tried to find a reason to dislike the fox. "Why's that?"

"Well, you see, he hasn't been right in the head since his parents' death. Oh, he goes to school and all, does fairly well, at that, but he has alienated himself, never hangs around with the rest of the kids, just tends to his garden."

"I don't see how anybody could take offence at that." The skunk thought for a while. "Well, at least I understand why he didn't want to tell me why he lives alone. What happened?"

"Nothin' earth-shattering. They got on a boat, it capsized, no one got ashore. He bought that house with the money he inherited. And as for taking offence, it's just... well, he doesn't talk to people. You could walk by, saying hello, and he just keeps to his flowers. You've no idea how that ticks some people off."

"He talked to me. Seemed a little shy, but not at all unfriendly."

"Oh, he isn't. More timid little fellow you've got to look for. If he talked to you, I'd take it he liked you."

"Maybe so." Irritatedly, Tobey sat down his empty tankard. "I thought he made good company, but then again, I've always preferred straight-forward people, before those who talk behind the backs of others. I will take my meal elsewhere, Mr Buck, and my night camp as well."

"Oh, now, please! I didn't mean..."

"Good night!"

Tobey stepped out of the inn, frowning. How could he talk like that? Adrian was still a kid, but already it seemed everybody had condemned him. And with the hardships he has endured... Losing his parents. Tobey thought back to what he had been like when he was thirteen. Seven years ago; it didn't seem very long. He'd had the wanderlust back then, already, but chose to stay at home. He had been very close to his parents, and the thought of losing them made him cringe a little. I'm not sure I could have lived through that, at such a young age. A chill wind suddenly played with his fur, making him shiver. During the warm day, he had worn only his shorts, and now he felt himself freezing slightly. I'm close to the mountains, he thought. I should've known it might get cold at night. He almost regretted his choice to sleep outdoors, and for a moment, he thought he would return to the inn, to see if someone would share room and rent.

"No way!" He shook his head. "Not back to that place."

"Didn't you like the inn?" The soft voice startled Tobey, who dropped the sweater he was about to pull on. "Oh no, did I scare you again?"

"Not really, Adrian, I just didn't hear you."

"Nice of you to call me that. Nobody ever does."

"So I heard." Tobey bit his lip, wishing he hadn't said that. "I mean..."

"No, you don't have to worry." The fox's chin drooped, and the large, green eyes got a sad look to them. "I know they talk about me. I know what they say, too."

"Don't listen. The words of idiots should be ignored."

"It's not always easy. Words hurt more than when they hit me."

"Who hits you?"

"Erh, I shouldn't..."

"You shouldn't let them do that." Tobey realised that his voice was more stern than he had meant it to be, and suddenly there were tears in the fox's eyes. "Adrian, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

"No, it's all right. I know what I should and shouldn't, it's just hard to do it." He looked away, turning around. "I should be going home."

"Adrian, wait." The fox stopped, waiting nervously. He jumped as Tobey touched his shoulder lightly. "Can I ask you something?"


"You were right, I don't like the inn. They have no room, anyway. Adrian, could I put up my tent in your garden? Somewhere where the wind can't get to it?"

"Certainly not!" Adrian spun around, with a defiant look in his eyes. "I won't let you do that."

"Why not?" Were they right? Tobey thought. Is he so obsessive with his flowers, that he won't allow anyone in the garden? "If I made sure I didn't touch any plants..."

"Oh, don't worry about the plants. I was only joking a little. I mean, you can't sleep outside in this cold weather, Tobey!"

"Then what..."

"You can sleep on my sofa, if you want to. For as long as you stay in town."

"Thank you, Adrian. That's very nice of you. Very trusting."

"Well, you seem so nice, and you didn't make fun of me because I grow flowers."

"And I promise I won't, either. I accept your offer, my friend, gladly."

Adrian insisted on treating Tobey to dinner, and as the smell of roasting steaks filled the house, they sat down to talk some more. During the meal, and afterwards as they relaxed with another pitcher of cordial, the young fox opened up like a book, telling Tobey about the accident, and his life afterwards. It seemed as if talking about it lifted a weight from his shoulders, and he was actually able to smile as he recalled his happier childhood. Tobey talked about his travels, about the people he'd met and the places he'd seen. The sun set, but neither of the two seemed to be getting tired, and as they began to run out of things to say, Adrian brought out a deck of cards. They didn't play about money, and soon enough, Tobey thanked his luck. He lost almost any and every game, but hardly cared as they had much fun, laughing and chatting while the stars came out. Somewhere in the small hours, the two of them yawned, as if on a given signal, and both apologised for keeping the other from getting any sleep. Laughing at this, Tobey helped the giggling fox clear the table, leaving the dishes for the morning. Adrian brought out blankets and a pillow, turning one of the sofas into a comfortable-looking bed. Saying good night, he left the skunk to get ready for sleep, but he left his bedroom door open. Either he's very trusting, Tobey thought, or he just did that out of habit. Unable to think further; the pillow screaming his name, Tobey dressed down to his underwear, the crept in between the blankets. Within minutes, he was asleep.

When Tobey woke up the next morning, the sun was just peeking up above the horizon, and birds were singing outside the living room window. Living room? For a couple of seconds, he didn't quite know where he was, but then he remembered Adrian, and that he had gone to sleep on the cozy, soft sofa. Yawning, he sat up, stretching his muscles. It had been weeks since he slept so comfortably, and even though it was still very early, he felt thoroughly rested. Reaching for his backpack, he thought to see if he could find himself a morning snack, when his nose woke up, twitching as it detected the smell of frying bacon. Closing his eyes, he laid his head back down, licking his lips as he detected fried eggs as well, and some other smell he didn't quite recognise. Unable to stop himself, he yawned again, loudly this time, and a fox face peered in through the kitchen door.

"I didn't wake you up, I hope," Adrian said, and there was a smile on his lips that Tobey felt certain hadn't been there the day before. "Would you like some breakfast? I've cooked for two."

"Sure. I'd love some."

Slipping into his clothes, once the fox had returned to the stove, Tobey suddenly realised that there was something odd about the way the sunlight shone into the room. The window seemed to break up the light, making tiny rainbows here and there on the ceiling and walls, even on the floor. Looking closer, he saw minute crystals, attached to or embedded in the glass, creating this stunning effect.

"Do you like it?" Adrian asked, and Tobey jumped. The fox giggled at this. "Are all skunks this jumpy? Or are you a particularly scared one?"

"I didn't think I was," Tobey said, indignant. "How can you walk so quietly?"

"Practice..." Once more, his eyes turned sad. "There are times when it's better not to draw attention to yourself."

"Oh." At a loss for words, Tobey turned back to the window. "How did you do this?"

"Diamonds." As the skunk's jaw dropped, Adrian lit up again. "My father had lots of them, even though nobody knew. I've cut some of them into prisms. Isn't it neat?"

"It's beautiful," Tobey agreed. "You've made this house into something very special."

"It's the only thing I've ever really owned. Everything else is just stuff I've inherited. But the house is mine, and I love it."

"It shows. I've seen both beauty and luxury before, but this house is different. Almost as if it's alive. You make it alive."

"Thank you." The words were little more than whispers, and Adrian suddenly had tears in his eyes. "You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear that."

"Well, it's true." At the same time, the two of them started sniffing the air. "Maybe you should see to that bacon."

"Oh no! It's getting burned!"

"So, where are you going next?"

After breakfast and some kitchen chores, they had settled down in the living room again, Tobey sitting on his makeshift bed, and Adrian in the opposing sofa. The fox had surprised him by bringing out a hardwood pipe, stuffing it and then lighting it, and Tobey still hadn't found his voice when Adrian uttered his question. Puzzled, the fox followed his gaze, the burst into a short laughter.

"This? It's my own mixture. It's really quite mild." Puffing again, he reached it out to the skunk. "Want to try some?"

Nodding, Tobey put his lips to the mouthpiece, then sucked at it. To his surprise, the taste that filled his muzzle was quite pleasant, and he dared himself to inhale the smoke. Coughing slightly, he held his breath for a couple of seconds, then blew out a thin cloud of smoke. Nodding to himself, he took another puff, then handed the pipe back. Exhaling, he coughed again.

"You're right, it is very mild, compared to what I've tried before."

"Well, my nose doesn't like the smellier stuff, so I've mixed it with some mild herbs. Did you smell the mint?"

"Yes, now that you mention it."

"I grow the tobacco myself. With some hunting, I'm pretty much self-supporting. The only things I need to buy are seeds and seedlings."

"You're so resourceful," Tobey said. "I'm impressed."

"Erf!" Blushing, Adrian turned away, but he soon looked back at Tobey again. "Like I said, there's not much to do during the winter. School's always closed during the snows."

"You must be on your last compulsory year, right?"

"Yes. But I'm not moving on."

"Why not?"

"Well, you already know I'm not too fond of school, and besides, I can't afford it. I spent my inheritance to buy the house, and all the money I have comes from what I can sell from my garden."

"But those diamonds..."

"I know. I just don't want to sell them. I don't really need much money."

"I see. Thanks!" Tobey accepted the pipe once more, this time without coughing. "No school today? Or is today Sunday?"

"It is, but that doesn't matter. There's still two weeks left of the summer holidays." Adrian laughed. "Don't you know what day it is?"

"Who cares, on the road? Are we doing some gardening today, then?"

"We?" The fox frowned slightly, but he couldn't hide an amused smile. "Are you looking for a job?"

"Yes, I am. You've been so nice to me, treating me to bed and board, and since you don't need money, I'll have to find some other way to pay you back."

"Oh, you don't have to..." Blushing, Adrian giggled softly. "But I guess I wouldn't mind a hand with the currants."

"Very well, then, let's get started!"

In the garden shed, Adrian rummaged around to find a small bucket and a stool for Tobey, who peered in curiously, spotting a couple of tin cans.

"Are those paint for the house?"

"Yes," Adrian said, blushing again. "I bought them last summer, but I never got around to using them, before it got cold."

"Well, I'm not an expert, but I do think the job needs getting done. You don't want those boards to swell, do you?"


"So, find me a brush and a ladder, and I'll do it."

"You will?" The fox's jaw dropped, and he looked like he would hug Tobey right then and there. "You're so kind! But, that's too much..."

"Adrian, can't you feel the winds? The first frosty nights aren't much more than a month away. I've never been this far north before, but I guess it gets very cold, very quickly."

"It does. Autumn's just a couple of cold, rainy weeks before the snow comes."

"So, will you let me paint your house? I promise to do a good job!"

"Oh, I never doubted that! Please don't think I'm being impolite, I just..."

"You think I'm being too nice to you?" The fox nodded. "Well, the shoemaker said he'd need a day or two to get my boots done, then I guess the pair I'm wearing will take as long. How `bout letting me stay until then?"

"You're so welcome."

"And I pay for my stay by painting your house."

"But you don't need to pay me! I just like having some company."

"Okay, so I don't pay you, but paint the house just because I'm so nice." Tobey laughed heartily, and Adrian couldn't help joining in. "Just a little favour, between friends."

"Friends..." The fox suddenly seemed fidgety.

"Yes, friends. Aren't we friends?"

Tobey touched the fox's chin, lifting his muzzle up until they looked into each other's eyes. Adrian shied away slightly at the touch, but he couldn't help smiling as he met the skunk's gaze.

"I'd like to be your friend, Tobey," he said shyly, blushing. "Really, I'd like to."

"So, where do you keep a brush?"

"Just a moment," Adrian said, running into the house. When he returned, he was holding a tiny artist's brush, which he handed to Tobey with an impish grin. "Here you go! Take your time."

"You comedian!"

Tobey tried to put on a stern face, but couldn't, as he broke out with a fit of laughter. Adrian's soft giggle joined in, and it was a while before any of them could find his voice again.

"Ooh," Tobey moaned, clutching his aching stomach. "It's been too long since I laughed like that. Did you have to get the smallest one you could find?"

"Sure. That made it funnier, don't you think?" They laughed again. "No, seriously, there are a couple of real brushes here in the shed somewhere."

"All right. Here, this seems like a good one."

"You didn't answer my question, you know."

"What question?"

"Where you're going next."

"Oh. Well, I don't really know. As I said, I'm further north than I've ever been, I don't really know where to go. Why are you asking?"

"Oh, just curious. I was hoping you weren't in a hurry, that I wasn't delaying you."

"Not at all. A roamer is never in a hurry."

"What a life that must be," Adrian sighed. "I almost envy you."

Save for a quick lunch break, they worked through the day. Tobey was no stranger to physical labour, and scampered up and down the ladder with a speed that surprised even himself. Came twilight, more than two-thirds of the house had changed from the dull, plain wood to a pleasant off-white, slightly tinted with grey. By that time, Tobey was tired, and he welcomed the onset of night like a desert would a rainstorm. Adrian, meanwhile, had finished harvesting his currants, and spent the afternoon picking ripe, juicy apples from one of the trees in front of the house, pausing only so they could share one of the sweet-tasting fruits. As Tobey cleaned off the brush, he the fox walked into the house with another basketful of apples, smiling as he passed the skunk, who had droplets of dried or drying paint all over his chest and arms, having worked shirtless in the warm afternoon sun. Coming back out, Adrian brought with him a steaming bowl of hot water, as well as a sponge and a bar of soap. Lathering up, he started cleaning Tobey's fur, a task that proved to be time-consuming, since the ticklish skunk would occasionally start giggling, refusing to calm down until Adrian had splashed his face with water. After a while of fussing, Tobey was clean, and while the fox poured out the water, he wiped himself with a towel.

"Oh look, the Rose Fox has caught himself a fieldmouse!"

The sudden voice made Adrian jump and tense, and Tobey looked around. The one who had spoken was a large wolf, but something in his movements told Tobey that he was young, perhaps even younger than Adrian. He had a scowl to his face that looked like it had grown there, and his eyes radiated malice. With him were two other boys, a badger and a racoon, both of whom laughed heartily at the joke.

"Or did you grow him in your garden, Rose Fox?" More laughter. "A skunk-flower?"

Tobey clenched his fist, getting ready to defend them, but Adrian touched him lightly, pulling him back towards the house.

"Don't, please..."

Followed by more insults and profanity, they went inside, the fox blushing, but whether it was from embarrassment or anger, Tobey couldn't really tell. Just before Adrian closed the door, Tobey heard a last shout from the wolf.

"Better sleep on your back, skunk boy!"

"Why did you stop me!?" Tobey asked, shivering with fury. Adrian's ears lay flattened to his head, and he cringed from the skunk's stern voice. "I'm sorry, Adrian, I didn't mean to yell at you. But I could have scared them off."

"Tobey, please don't! You don't know... It would just get worse for me, once you're... once you're gone."

"You shouldn't have to put up with this, Adrian."

"As long as I don't yap back, they'll let it pass." The fox turned away. "I'm mostly used to it."

"No, you're not!" Roughly, Tobey grabbed Adrian's shoulder, spinning him around so their eyes met. "You're crying, Adrian."

"Th-that's because they put down on you as well. You don't deserve this, Tobey!"

"But you do, is that what you say?"

"I think you should go, Tobey." Tears were running down his cheeks, now. "There might be a room at the inn tonight."

"I don't want it."

"Please, Tobey! Just... just go..."

"Adrian, no! Don't do this!"

"If you stay here, they'll never stop putting you down."

"Adrian, what did he mean? About me sleeping on my back?"

A shudder went through the fox, and there was a look of pure pain in his eyes. Sobbing furiously, he turned away again, running into his bedroom. When Tobey followed, he found Adrian face down on the bed, his shoulders shaking as he cried. Uncertain, the skunk sat down on the bed, stroking Adrian's hair. The fox shied away from the touch, shivering as if in fear. Tobey refused to give up, however, and he grabbed Adrian's shoulders, pulling him closer until he lay in his lap, the tear-streaked muzzle pressed against his jet-black chest fur. Tobey held him closely, stroking his hair as the fox cried. Rocking the pain-racked, lithe body, Tobey whispered soothing words into his ears, trying his best to calm Adrian down. For the first time since they had met, he could see clearly just how young the fox was. The calm maturity was gone, now, and all that was left was a crying cub, in desperate need of comforting. Outside, the sun set, and the bedroom got dark as they sat there. At last, the fox's sobbing subsided, and he sat up, his head hung low. Tobey reached over to stroke his cheek, running his fingers across the tear-wetted fur, and Adrian responded by nuzzling his hand, smiling weakly.

"Nobody's held me since my mother died," he said, the voice just a cracked whisper. "Thank you so much, Tobey."

"This is what you deserve, Adrian. Not scorn and taunts, but a friend. Please don't run me off!"

"I won't. Tobey...?"


"Oh, nothing..." Blushing, Adrian looked away. "Nothing."

"Come on, tell me."

"If... if you'd like... I mean, the winters are harsh here. You could..."

"Are you offering me to stay? Through the snows?"

"Yes, well... I know you care a great deal about your freedom, but... it gets very cold."

"Okay." The fox's ears perked, as if he couldn't believe what he heard. "If I'm welcome, I'll stay."

"Really!?" Again, Adrian's eyes were brimming with tears, and he lowered his gaze. "I mean... I never thought you would..."

"I'd like to stay with you."

"But you don't know... That thing Rickie said..."

"Adrian, it's okay." Tobey laid a hand on the fox's shoulder. "You don't have to tell me."

"No, I don't want to lie to you. There's a reason they hate me." He was shivering now, and cringed away from Tobey's touch. The skunk refused to let go, however, and soon Adrian felt steady enough to try again. "It started a year before the... the accident. My class went on a field trip, and we stopped to swim in a lake just outside town. At that time, I had... I had a crush on Rickie. He caught me staring at him."

"And got angry," Tobey filled in. "Figures..."

"No, you see, he didn't. At least, I didn't think he did. He just asked me if I liked what I saw, and I couldn't help nodding. So he hugged me, and asked me if I wanted him as a lover. Then he kissed my cheek, and I told him I loved him, that I wanted him to be my lover." Adrian's tears were flowing freely now. "Then his eyes turned all cold, and he called out to his friends. Told them to come and see what a freak he'd caught."

"How cruel." Tobey felt his own eyes burn, tears of anger and sympathy welling up. "What a bastard!"

"It got worse after the accident. When nobody defended me anymore... I'm just not strong enough to beat them."

"You poor thing." Almost without thinking, Tobey reached over to embrace Adrian once more, and the fox leaned into the hug. "Such a harsh life."

"But it isn't harsh, Tobey! I love my life. I've got my house, and my garden, and as long as I keep to myself, I'm usually not bothered. And now I've..."

As if suddenly burned by Tobey's embrace, Adrian sat up quickly, moving away from him. Blushing furiously, he tried to hide his face in his hands. Once more feeling his heart ache with sympathy for the young fox's situation, Tobey moved after him, renewing the hug. This time, Adrian only struggled slightly.

"Y-you mean you're not... offended? I thought... I thought I shouldn't tell you, that you would leave in just a couple of days, and that maybe you could have a happy memory of me. But then you said you wanted to stay with me... I just couldn't lie to you."

"No, Adrian, I'm not offended. Thanks for being honest with me, I really appreciate that. So, can I stay?"

"You still want to? B-but everyone will think..."

"Let them think. I don't care. Adrian, I've heard all that before."

"Before? What do you mean?"

"Adrian, it wasn't just wanderlust that made me leave my hometown. When my parents wanted me to marry into a wealthy family, I had no choice but to tell them I fancied males. They were stunned, but then they told me it was okay." While Tobey spoke, Adrian managed to relax, and began returning the hug as he saw remnants of pain in the skunk's eyes. "But not everybody agreed, and like that awful wolf, some were quite violent. When they attacked my kid brother, I'd had enough. He was just eleven, and they gave him such bruises... One night, I wrote my family a letter, saying I just wanted them to be safe, then I packed some things in my bag, and just walked away."

"That's so sad. Haven't you heard from them since?"

"No. It's been two years. I wonder what my brother looks like now."

That thought pushed Tobey over the edge, and he couldn't help but start crying. Distressed, uncertain as to what to do, Adrian sat up completely, holding the skunk like he himself had been held, just a little while ago. Remembering his mother's soft touch, he ran a hand down Tobey's back, over and over again, while his other hand just rested on the skunk's chest. While he was soothing the sobbing Tobey, Adrian suddenly realised what Tobey had been saying; that he fancied males! Did this mean he himself wasn't the only one? Suddenly, Adrian felt much less alone, a thought that made him happy. The next moment, though, he silently scolded himself. Tobey's misery was making him happy; that just wasn't right! Biting his lip, he returned his thoughts to the skunk, doing his best to comfort him. Time passed, and a soft moonlight lit up the bedroom, chasing away the total darkness. Adrian wanted to light a candle, but at the same time, he didn't want to let go of Tobey. In the end, though, the skunk seemed to run out of tears, and he smiled weakly as he caught Adrian's gaze. The fox returned the smile, a warm feeling coursing through his body. It felt good to know that he had made Tobey feel a little better, just by being there, by being his friend. Without really knowing where he found his courage, Adrian asked a question, the answer to which he dreaded, yet craved.

"Tobey, have you ever met anyone? Anyone you could love, I mean."

"No. At least, not yet." He smiled again. "But I hope I will."

You already have, Adrian wanted to say, but he couldn't make his mouth form the words. The warm feeling spread, and he knew without a doubt that he loved the skunk. He wanted to, yearned to kiss that short, black muzzle, to run his fingers through Tobey's hair, while they pressed their bodies together. Still, he was afraid to even open his mouth, afraid to say or do something that would offend the skunk, that would make him go away. The silence between them was turning awkward, and Adrian sought desperately for something to say. I think you will, he wanted to say, but the words came out differently.

"I think you have."

Seconds stretched out to minutes, while they just sat there, watching each other in the moonlight. Tobey could hardly believe his ears, yet the fox looked like he would bite his tongue off, like he had just said something that repulsed him. No, he corrected himself, Adrian had meant what he said, but he hadn't meant to say it. The feeling on the fox's face was fear; fear that Tobey would be offended. But I'm not offended, far from it. Obeying the first thought that sprung to his mind, he pulled the young fox closer, gently brushing their lips together. Adrian reacted as if he had been hit, starting violently at the touch, but soon he returned the kiss, his slender arm reaching around Tobey's waist to pull them even closer. Slowly, softly, as if afraid to make the other shy away, their tongues met, and Tobey felt Adrian sigh as a shiver coursed through his body, removing his tension as it went. When they broke the kiss, they took each other's hands, and Tobey couldn't help blushing as he saw the hungry need in the fox's green eyes.

"Oh, Tobey," Adrian whispered. "Is this really true?"

"It is. I can hardly dare to believe it, but it is true. Adrian, I think I'm falling in love with you."

"Tobey, please stay with me tonight. I don't want to sleep alone."

"You don't have to ask."

"I'm hungry," the fox suddenly said, just as Tobey was about to kiss him again. "We were so busy fussing, we forgot to have dinner."

"You're hungry?"

"I'm getting myself an apple, you want one?"


Tobey watched the young fox bounce out of the room, and he couldn't help smiling. Adrian was so full of life, so full of a potential that he had been denied. Searching his feelings, he found that he hadn't been lying. He really loved the fox. Tobey licked his lips, savouring the taste of Adrian's kiss. He tastes like his fruits and berries, sweet and fresh. When he returned, Adrian brought with him a bowl of apples, and he handed one to Tobey, who bit into it, feeling its succulent taste fill his mouth. Suddenly, he felt his own hunger, and he helped the fox finish off the bowl, filling it with cores instead. Yawning, Adrian undressed, surprising Tobey by removing his underwear as well, smiling coyly as Tobey drank in the sight of his slender fox body. Wagging his tail, Adrian crept in beneath the bed cover, beckoning Tobey to join him. After a slight hesitation, the skunk got up, slowly slipping out of his clothes, all the while feeling those green eyes all over him. When he got down to his underwear, he hesitated again, but decided to follow his host's example. He more felt than heard the nearly suppressed gasp that ensued, as well as a disappointed grunt, as he quickly slipped in beneath the bed cover. They kissed good night, but as Tobey tried to draw out this sweet contact, Adrian broke away, grinning slightly as he turned to face away from him. Snorting, Tobey slapped the fox's bare rump, earning a squeal and a giggle, as they settled in, snuggling up to each other. With his arms wrapped around the slender fox, Tobey felt him fall asleep. Poor guy, crying has really worn him out. Closing his eyes, relishing in the feel of Adrian's soft fur against his hands, as well as the fox's pleasant scent, which filled his nostrils, Tobey also drowsed away.

When he opened his eyes again, Tobey felt his usual uncertainty. Where was he? And what were the grunting noises he could hear? Adrian's bed! But the noise? Then he felt movement against his arm, the same arm that lay across the young fox's side. Clearly, Adrian was trying to ease his way out of bed without waking him up. Closing his eyes, pretending to be still asleep, Tobey moved closer, purring as he tightened his grip.

"Ah, no!"

The slight protest was followed by an increasing struggle. Tobey felt Adrian turn to face him, trying to duck down towards the foot end of the bed. Again, he tightened his grip, putting much drowsiness in his whisper.

"Love you..."

"I love you too, but you have to let me go," Adrian whispered back, but to no avail. "Tobey? Are you awake?"


"Then let me go. Please!"

"Why? I feel so good, cuddled up like this."

"You won't in a second, I promise you. Tobey, I have to make a run for the bathroom!"

"Oh." Releasing his grip, Tobey watched the cringing, blushing fox for a couple of seconds, smiling at his predicament. "Aren't you going?"

"Erh, would you look away? Please?"


"I'll wet the bed!"

"I'll spank you if you do."

"Ooh! Tobey, I swear I'll get back at you for this!"

"What's the matter? You weren't this shy last night."

Gritting his teeth, Adrian pulled back the bed cover, his ears laid back and his skin burning. Tobey knew at once what he had been fidgeting about. It was one of those mornings. Grinning, the skunk licked his lips as Adrian got up, hurrying across the floor. His attempts to cover himself up weren't very successful. Tobey leaned back, laying his head down on the pillow, playing the scene over in his mind. The young fox really was beautiful. His fur was so red, reminding Tobey of sunsets, except for the pure white area that went from the underside of his muzzle down to his crotch, where a patch of darker red pubic hair took over, just above his... Smiling, Tobey licked his lips again. Like with most foxes, Adrian's hands and feet were a dark, near-black colour, and he had the cutest, white little tail-tip. Oh dear, Tobey thought. Seems like I've fallen head-over-heels. A flushing noise surprised him slightly. He hadn't expected such a small town to have running water, but apparently, it did. Maybe there would even be a chance for a shower, once the day's work was done. Still blushing deeply, Adrian returned. He seemed to have taken care of the immediate emergency, but his morning wood was still more than his hands could quite hide. Seeing the skunk's smug grin, the fox gave up, demonstratingly stretching his arms out, while he stuck his tongue out, making a grimace at Tobey. Tossing his head back, the skunk started laughing, and it wasn't long until Adrian joined in. Returning to the bed, he slipped in next to Tobey, kissing the still laughing skunk's cheek.

"It's still very early. We could sleep a while longer if you'd like."

"After that show, I sure can't sleep," Tobey said, grinning at the way Adrian blushed. "But I don't feel like getting up, either."


"Mmm, I'd like that..." Purring, Tobey pulled the fox closer, and they shared a deep kiss, not breaking apart until Adrian yelped with surprise. "Need a hand with this?"

Pulling back the bed cover, Tobey stroked the fox's erection, gasping as Adrian returned the favour. Kissing again, they kept touching and caressing each other, soon nearing their peaks. Adrian moaned into the kiss as he came, pressing himself so close to Tobey it almost hurt. The skunk was not far behind, and soon they laid down, snuggled closely to each other, enjoying the afterglow. The fox yawned widely, and Tobey thought he looked so irresistibly cute. Pulling Adrian on top of himself, Tobey started kissing and licking his face, ignoring the squeals and giggles this brought. Soon, though, their eyelids began to get too heavy to keep open, and they drowsed off.

The next time Tobey awoke, the sun told him that is was about halfway to noon. Gently easing his way out of the sleeping fox's arms, he went into the kitchen, and fired up the stove. It took him some time to heat water, but then he could wash his sticky stomach and hands, as well as his slightly sweaty face. Bringing the bowl, he sat down next to Adrian, rolling him over to lie on his back. Then he proceeded to clean the lithe body, using a wetted piece of cloth to remove the traces of the morning's joy. Halfway through the washing, Adrian woke up, and just laid there, his eyes closed and a grin on his muzzle, his tongue lolling out as he murred with pleasure. Once he was done, Tobey used a towel to dry the fox off, then pulled him out of bed. Both of them kept smiling at each other as they got dressed, and as they made breakfast together. They spent the rest of the morning working, and by lunchtime, Tobey had finished with the house. While he scrubbed himself clean, Adrian was bouncing with joy, and he didn't wait for the skunk to get dry before he tossed himself around his neck, whooping happily.

"Tobey, it looks so great! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"Hey there, little guy, take it easy. You're choking me."

"I'm sorry, Tobey, I just can't help myself." Grinning, he kissed the skunk, then cart-wheeled around the front yard. "I don't think I've ever been happier!"

Sitting back against the ladder, Tobey found that he just couldn't take his eyes off the fox. This spontaneous show of gratitude and happiness had him grinning, unable to stop. The simple joy in Adrian's eyes made him feel all warm inside, knowing that he was the source of it. Yup, he thought. I'm in love all right. No doubt about that. As Adrian ran past him, he stretched out an arm, catching the fox. Squirming, Adrian found himself locked in a steady grip. The curious, green eyes gazed into Tobey's, expectantly.

"I love you, my little fox. I'm so glad you're happy."

Not bothering to answer, Adrian simply burrowed his face into Tobey's chest fur, his leg twitching as Tobey scratched him behind the ears. They stood there for a while, enjoying the warm sun and each other, until a stone landed at Tobey's feet, startling them both. Angry at the interruption, Tobey snarled as he looked up, his eyes catching Rickie's two companions, both giving them hostile stares.

"Freaks come in pairs these days," the badger scowled. "Don't they look like a couple of pretty little girls?"

"Get out of here!" Tobey shouted, his stern voice making the two of them back away. "Go back to the pond you crawled out of!"

"Stinky's got voice?" the badger asked, his voice taunting. "Bet you don't use that mouth of yours often, skunk freak. For talking, that is."

"At least it's not full of manure. I can smell your breath all the way here."

"Watch your lips, freak You might get hurt."

"By a bunch of kids? Go home, boy, before your mommy grounds you."

"C'mon, Seved," the racoon said, grinning. "Face it, man, you lost this one."

"Shut up! You cheering for the freaks?"

Turning, the badger walked away, angrily, and Tobey waved him good bye, grinning. Only then did he realise that Adrian had crept up to him, and was shivering. Softly, he embraced the fox, stroking his hair to comfort him.

"If you'd just keep that kind of stuff inside, you wouldn't get into trouble," the racoon said, his tone almost apologetic, but contradicted by his look of disgust. "Just keep it out of everybody's face."

"You don't have to come looking for us, you know," Tobey answered. "Stay away from here, and you won't see it. This is Adrian's garden, you know."

"Yeah, whatever."

Tobey watched the racoon leave, then he led Adrian inside. The fox was crying quietly, and they sat down in a sofa, Adrian in Tobey's lap, leaning his chin on the skunk's shoulder. Tobey held him gently, stroking his red hair while he whispered into his ear.

"Those guys are idiots, Adrian. You don't have to worry about them anymore."

"Wh-what do you mean?"

"I don't... I don't want to leave, Adrian. I want to stay with you."

"Oh, Tobey!" Smiling weakly, Adrian hugged the skunk. "Tobey, I want you to stay. I don't want you to leave, ever."

Returning the smile, Tobey licked at Adrian's muzzle, and the fox opened his mouth, his own tongue meeting the skunk's. They played like this for a while, then kissed deeply, leaning against the backrest. Breaking the kiss, Adrian caught Tobey's gaze, and his tears had stopped running.

"How come you can just take away all my worries?" he whispered. "Are you some kind of magical creature?"

"No, silly," Tobey giggled, while he stroked away the last remnants of tears. "I'm just me. Disappointed?"

"Not at all." Grinning, Adrian licked Tobey's cheek. "You're perfect, and I love you so much."

"I love you too, Adrian. You're the sweetest man I've ever met."

"Man?" Adrian giggled. "You just called my classmates a bunch of kids."

"Well, the sweetest kid, then. Better?"

"Noo, that's not what I meant!"

"My sweet lover, then?" Tobey whispered. "My little Rose Fox..."

"Are you going to call me that, as well?"

"Don't pout. I think it's cute. You are red like a rose, you know. And beautiful as one, too."

"I never thought of it that way. To me, that name is just a bad one."

"I can stop using it, if you want me to."

"No, Tobey, it was different when you said it. It felt good. And I do love roses."

"So do I, Adrian. Roses are so pretty, just like you."

"Please..." the fox giggled. "You're making me blush! And I haven't said anything nice about you."

"But you called me magical, said I was perfect."

"So I did..." Grinning, Adrian kissed the skunk's nose. "But you're so romantic, I can't top that."

"Then don't. Just kiss me."


As their lips met again, Adrian played with Tobey's chest fur, running his fingers through the dense, soft coat, lightly pinching a nipple as he went past it. The skunk gasped into the kiss, intensifying it as he began to return the caresses, his hands finding their way into the fox's slightly sweaty shirt. They lay there, kissing and cuddling, until at last they fell asleep, worn out by emotions.

That afternoon, they went into town together, to pick up Tobey's boots from the shoemaker's. The old ermine looked up when they entered the store, smiling happily as he recognised Tobey, but his features darkened when he spotted Adrian. The fox had not wanted to go, but after Tobey insisted, he had relented. Now, though, business was suddenly slow. The shoemaker wanted to charge extra, claiming that the boots had been very worn down, and he showed no interest in repairing Tobey's other pair. Realising the reason for this, the skunk got angry, and demanded the service he had been promised. Grudgingly, the shoemaker agreed, his face twisting into a snarl as Tobey decided to push him, by holding Adrian's hand. As they left the store, the fox was upset.

"You see? This will happen to you everywhere you go. They will all know, soon enough."

"Adrian, I will fend for myself. They have no right to treat any of us with disrespect."

"I'm afraid."

"Don't be, my love."

"But you just don't understand! You might get hurt, if you keep rubbing people the wrong way. It's better to stay quiet, to pretend you don't hear them. They'll think you're crazy, then leave you mostly alone."

"How can you stand it? They all treat you like this, and you just take it?"

"They feel sorry for me, Tobey. For my parents, I mean. So they allow me to exist, as long as I don't step out of line."

"You're changing the subject, Adrian. They have to respect you, and I'll make them see it."

"Tobey, no! I want peace!" For the first time since they'd met, the fox raised his voice at Tobey, and this surprised him. "Not respect, not friendship. Just peace!"

"At the cost of yourself?"

"If necessary."

"That's just not right."

"Maybe not, but I don't want to get run out of town. If I had to leave my house..."

"You won't have to. I'll be here for you, Adrian."

"Forever?" The fox leaned against Tobey's shoulder, as if to find new courage and strength there. "Can you promise that?"

"Yes, my little love. I promise I'll stay with you forever."

"Thank you."

They stopped to buy some groceries, and Tobey insisted on getting Adrian some new clothes; everything the fox owned was old and well-worn, some of the garments hardly even fitting his still growing body. Everywhere they were met with the same half-open scorn; not exactly hostility, but an unwillingness to accept. When they left the clothes store to head back to the house, Tobey had made up his mind. Adrian's life would change. The poor boy shouldn't have to suffer this way! Whatever it took, he would make the Rose Fox happy.

After dinner, the fox held an ad-lib fashion show, trying on everything new, showing off to Tobey's applauds and cheers. All the while, his eyes were shining, positively radiating happiness and gratitude. The last garment he tried on was a pair of tight black swimming trunks, that Tobey had insisted to buy him. Blushing slightly, Adrian took a few dance steps, wagging his tail to some imagined music, before sitting down on the skunk's lap. Tobey embraced him gently, and felt the young fox snuggle up to him, enjoying the closeness. They sat like that while the sun went down, holding and touching each other, sometimes kissing or just nuzzling one another. After a while, Tobey could feel Adrian's excitement, noticing the straining bulge in front of the swimming trunks, and the fox's shy grin told Tobey that his own condition had been revealed as well. Still, Adrian said nothing about it, just seemed to accept the fact that they were both aroused. In a way, Tobey was relieved. He was five years Adrian's elder, and no matter how mature the young fox seemed, he was still little more than a child. A young boy. A part of his mind screamed at him to stop, that it was wrong of him to be with someone that young, but he silenced it. We love each other, that can't be denied. He knew that if Adrian insisted on having sex, he would not resist it. The young fox had been rejected so many times in his life, and Tobey felt absolutely certain that rejection from him, as well, would hurt Adrian to no end. But he didn't insist, merely sat there, cuddling and caressing his skunk lover, and Tobey made sure to return every touch, hugging the fox tighter to him as he whispered in his ears.

"I love you, Adrian."

"Mmm," Adrian murred. "It's so good to hear. Love you, too."

"I... I've been thinking..."

"I know, Tobey. I know what you're thinking, what you're worrying."

"What? How could you...?"

"That's easy," Adrian giggled, wriggling his butt against Tobey's lap, making the skunk squirm with a mix of discomfort and delight. "Your body is not as subtle as you are."

"Comedian," Tobey muttered, placing his hand on the fox's crotch. "Neither is yours."

"I guess not." Adrian blushed, then squealed as Tobey softly stroked him. "Tobey, I just want to say it's okay."

"What is?"

"I can tell you're hesitating, and I think I know why."

"Your age..."

"Mhm." The fox nodded. "I just want to say it's okay to wait. To take our time. There's really no hurry."

"D-does that mean you don't want me?" Tobey sniffled, deliberately overacting his despair over being rejected. Adrian giggled at this. "D-don't you love me anymore?"

"Stop, please!" The fox all but howled with laughter. "You... you're making me split my sides!"

"I'll split them for you!"

Snarling, Tobey tossed the fox off his lap, landing him in the opposite corner of the sofa. Immediately, he pounced him, tickling his sides and stomach until he screamed for mercy. Once he thought Adrian'd had enough, the skunk laid down on top of him, kissing him passionately.

"I'm glad you're patient with me, my Rose Fox."

"There's no hurry, Tobey. Just let it come."

"Here? Now?"

"Noo, silly! Don't make me laugh again, or I'll puke all over you! My stomach's cramping up!"

"All right, I'll stop teasing," Tobey said, laughing. "When did it turn dark?"

"While you tickled me," Adrian pouted. "That felt like it went on for two ages!"

"What are we going to do tomorrow, honey? Now that I'm staying, I'll need some chores to do."

"I never thought about that. Tobey, I can hardly think about it! I can hardly believe you're going to stay with me!"

"I can, my love. Do we finish bringing in the apples?"

"Yeah!" Grinning, Adrian licked Tobey's cheek. "Then you can scrub the bathroom, and mop the floors. The attic needs cleaning, as well. And you could use the left-over paint to make the fence match my beautiful house. After that, you could... Tobey, no!"

Growling, Tobey pinned the screaming fox down on the sofa, while nibbling at his collar bone, just hard enough to cause some pain. Adrian squealed and giggled, squirming in vain against the tight grip. Running his teeth against the fox's throat, Tobey felt him calm down, then shudder as he ran his tongue up the side of his neck, to end with gently kissing the large, red ear, nipping it to cause another yelp. Soft hands went around Tobey's neck and head, pressing the two of them closer, and he went back to kissing and nibbling at Adrian's neck, making the young fox shudder with delight. Then he broke away, standing up next to the sofa. Adrian looked up at him, his eyes slightly misted as he smiled warmly. Picking up the lithe body, Tobey carried him into the bedroom, the fox grabbing the candle that was their only light source. Grinning at Adrian's smile, the skunk gently laid him down, then proceeded to remove the fox's clothes. Quickly undressing himself, Tobey crept into the bed next to him, and pulled the bed cover over them, while he started his kissing and caressing again. Adrian blew out the candle, letting darkness descend upon them, before he turned around to face the skunk, finding soft lips to kiss. Before very long, they fell asleep, wrapped in each other's arms.

They got up early the next morning, breaking their fast in the garden with some bread and cheese, and a bottle of soda Tobey had bought in town. Adrian, used to his home-made fruit juices, couldn't help giggling every time the sparkling drink tickled his nose. The sun had just parted with the horizon, and the entire garden was glimmering with dew. Birds were singing, hidden from view by the leaves of the fruit trees, and in the distance they heard the barking of some wild dog. Leaning back, not minding that his clothes got wet, Tobey silently regarded the fox as they ate. Adrian hadn't tasted cheese in years, and kept smacking his lips, murring contentedly in the perfect calm they had.

Once the food and drinks were gone, Adrian got up to clear away the dishes, while Tobey attacked the tallest of the apple trees, starting off by picking the apples that were within his reach, but had been too high up for the shorter fox. Unable to resist the fragrant aroma, he bit into an apple, and stood there munching when he felt a hand roughly touch his shoulder, a hand far too large to be Adrian's. Reacting instinctively, he whirled around, ready to strike the badger in his face, but before he could do so, his hands were pinned to his back, and he could hear Rickie's hissing voice in his ear.

"Listen up, freak," the wolf whispered, his voice so filled with malice it sent an involuntary shudder down Tobey's spine. "By sunset, you're gone, clear? We can tolerate the Rose Fox, since some of us feel sorry for him, losing his folks and all, but this town of ours isn't gonna be a haven for freaks. So you get the hell out, or you'll get thrown out, is that clear?"

"You can't scare me, kid," Tobey murmured, adding threat to his voice. "I will be staying with Adrian."

"No, you're not. Best would be if you took him with you and just went as far away as it's possible. I don't care. But by tonight, you are out of town, you hear?"

"I hear, snot-nose, but I don't listen. Like I said, you don't scare me." Thinking he had played along enough, Tobey simply broke Rickie's grip, and grabbed the wolf's throat, squeezing lightly. For a second, fear lit up Rickie's eyes, and Tobey tossed him to the ground. "I don't want to see you kids around here again, or I just might beat you around the front yard. Get the hell out of here!"

Getting up, the wolf snarled and growled at Tobey, but he didn't say anything. The skunk managed to suppress a sigh of relief as the two boys left. He had partially been bluffing; the two boys were well-built, and he doubted he could take them both on in a fist-fight. Looking around, he noticed the racoon's absence, and wondered if he had been run off from the pack. Tobey decided not to tell Adrian about this little incident, since he now felt sure that they had seen the last of the wolf for a while. So he went back to picking apples, until the fox returned from the kitchen, bringing with him a stepladder. Laughing, Tobey tossed it aside, and instead he swooped the puzzled fox up on his shoulders. Adrian laughed, all but whooping with joy as he started filling the basket Tobey held with apples. This way, they reached almost all the fruits of the tree, leaving only the apples at the very top, which they climbed up to reach. The sturdy branches held them both, and when they were finished, they leaned against the trunk, each munching on an apple.

"I saw you through the window," Adrian said. "What did you say to them?"

"I told them to stay away. I think I managed to scare that filthy wolf."

"He's persistent, Tobey. We might get into trouble."

"I'll handle it. We'll handle it. He said you can stay, since they feel kind of sorry for you, but I have to leave."

"Oh no..."

"Don't worry, I won't leave. Those kids can't boss me around. They were just two this time, you know. The racoon boy wasn't there."

"Martin. He can be nice sometimes, when he forgets what I am."

"Who you are matters, not what you are. I learned long ago not to let other people label me."

"Maybe I can learn that. Maybe you could teach me. It's hard to be scared all the time."

"You could come with me, you know. Up north, they say, people actually accept male to male love, even encourage it."

"Tobey, I can't leave my house, and my garden. I'll be heartbroken if you leave, but I'll stay anyway."

"Then I'll stay with you." Smacking his lips, he dropped his apple core on Adrian's head, making the fox yelp. "You're not on your toes, Adrian."

"Watch your own!" Adrian growled, pinching at Tobey's naked foot. "What did you do that for?"

"Just to see the look on your face. You're so cute when you're surprised."

"Tobey, let's go hunting!"


"No, after lunch. I'll take care of the apples, if you cook us something, then we go hunting."

"All right. But consider this, I've never hunted in my entire life. I'm a civilised skunk, I prefer meat from the market, or from the grocer's."

"I like mine fresh out of the forest. So newly-killed the heart's still beating."

"You really are a predator. Adrian, that grin of yours is almost scary."

"Sorry, it's just... I like to hunt. Oh, don't give me that look! I have got a gun, you know. I don't leap onto the backs of animals, biting their necks!"

"You could've fooled me."

"Silly skunk," Adrian giggled. "You are cute when you're puzzled."

Tobey felt his entire body tense with the excitement. They had been tracking a roe deer for a couple of hours, and now they were so near he could hear the leaves rustling as it moved, ahead of them. He could smell its strong musk; Adrian's calm whispers had told him it was a buck, and that it was probably a large one. Now, he signed at Tobey to stay still and quiet, and headed off into the undergrowth. Adrian had made it clear to him that they were coming up to a water hole, and that the buck might stop there to drink. Suddenly, a loud crack split the near-silence, and Tobey's heart nearly skipped a beat. He could hear the buck scream shortly, then thrash about until all got still again.

"Come over here, Tobey," the fox called. "Help me gut him."

"Never in this life! Carry yes, butcher no!"

"Wimp. All right, wait a couple of minutes, then get here."

Tobey felt queasy. Gut him? He had a fair idea what the wet, tearing sounds coming from the water hole meant, and it made him feel slightly ill. Still, he was curious, and decided to take a peek.

When they reached the house, Tobey was still pale. He had nearly fainted at the sight of Adrian, holding a blood-covered knife while removing unwanted parts of the roe buck. To his dismay, the fox had laughed at his predicament, calling him a city boy and asking if he'd never wondered where meat came from. Pride had enabled Tobey to help him carry the buck home, but now he went to lie down on the bed, doing his best not to listen as Adrian cut up his prey, preparing to smoke, salt or freeze the meat. After more than an hour of nauseating sounds from the kitchen, Tobey heard the shower turn on, and before long, the fox came in, a towel wrapped around his waist.

"How are you feeling, city boy?"

"Would be better if you stopped teasing me."

"Sorry. It's just too funny, tough Tobey, scared of a little blood."

"Not just the blood, it's the... rest, as well."

"Don't you worry, my love." Adrian sat down on the bed, and started rubbing the skunk's chest. "It's all gone now."

"Where to?"

"The compost. Next spring, it'll fertilise my flower beds." The fox laughed as Tobey paled again. "C'mon, lets get the table set for dinner!"

"I can't eat."

"Yes, you can. Tonight's luxury, my friend. You just set the table, then lean back, and I'll treat you to something extra."

"All right. You sound excited, Adrian."

"I am. I love cooking, even more so, now that I've got someone to cook for." He kissed Tobey's forehead. "Maybe you should shower first, though. You're quite sweaty."

"Did I ever tell you you're cute when you wrinkle your nose?"

"No, you didn't. Now get into the bathroom, while I light the fire."

Obeying, Tobey got to his feet, stepping out of his clothes. Adrian, meanwhile, dropped his towel, and started rummaging around for something to wear. They both used the opportunity to take a good look at each other, and Tobey licked his lips. Something tells me dinner won't be the only treat tonight. Teasingly slowly, the fox got dressed, and on his way out, he winked at Tobey, pausing to tweak his nose. Grinning, the skunk went into the bathroom, turning on the shower. While hot water laid his fur flat against his body, rinsing it thoroughly, he thought about Adrian. He had been in love before, or at least, he had thought he was, but nothing got even close to what he felt now. As his mind's eye conjured up the image he had just seen; that lithe, naked body, on display just for him, he felt a warmth spread out from his chest. He felt himself react, and automatically began stroking himself. As his climax began to build, however, he changed his mind. I don't want to spend myself just yet. Instead, he started singing, his powerful baritone filling the tiny room, spilling out through the half-open door.

"To the sea! To the sea!

My love, let us go to the sea

Become one with the water...

My love let us go to the sea

To the sky! To the sky!

My love, let us soar to the sky

Become one with the clouds...

My love, let us soar to the sky

To the stars! To the stars!

My love, let us fly to the stars

Become one with their glow...

My love, let us fly to the stars

To the heart! To the heart!

My love, let us look to the heart

Become one with each other...

My love, let us look to the heart"

While he sang, he took a bar of soap, and lathered himself up, finishing rinsing off just as he reached the last verse. As he turned off the water, he also stopped singing. Grabbing a towel, he started drying himself off, looking up with a smile on his lips as Adrian's fox-red head peeked in through the door.

"What was that song? It was beautiful."

"An old folk song from my home town. It's a mixture between love song and lullaby."

"Mmm. Like I said, beautiful." Hugging the skunk, Adrian surprised him by softly stroking his buttocks. "If you'd like, you can sing it to me tonight. Sing me to sleep."

"I'd love to, my little Rose Fox."

Leaning into the embrace, Tobey licked the fox's lips, and they kissed deeply, while Adrian intensified his caresses. When Tobey started pulling at the fox's shirt, though, he received a giggle and a slap to his fingers, as Adrian pulled away, landing one last kiss on his nose-tip.

"Tobey, don't make me burn dinner. Afterwards is snuggling time."


"I'm not the one who's teasing, skunkie."

Grinning, the fox patted Tobey's half-rigid member. Blushing, the skunk tried to cover himself up, but Adrian's giggles gave him another idea, and he simply let his hands fall to his sides. The fox's gasp was a fine reward, as were the hungry eyes that followed him as he slowly walked back to the bedroom. Without needing to look back, he knew that Adrian followed him, unable to quite keep back tiny, excited yaps and barks.

"Don't burn dinner, my love," Tobey said, lacing his voice with honey. "I'm so looking forward to it."

Yelping, the fox turned and ran, returning to his pots and frying pan. Once dressed, Tobey followed him, stealing a quick kiss as he brought out plates, glasses and cutlery, and started laying the living room table. He opened a bottle of red wine he had bought in town, and poured two glasses to give it time to breathe. When he was ready, he sat down in front of the fire, enjoying its warmth. For a second he thought about borrowing Adrian's pipe, but decided to keep his taste buds alert for whatever made that mouth-watering smell coming from the kitchen. Feeling perfectly at ease, he let his thoughts wander, and he jumped a bit when Adrian came rushing in, carrying some potatoes. Before curious skunk eyes, the fox placed the potatoes in the fireplace, as close as he could get to the flames, then used a rake to cover them with glowing ashes. Tobey's quizzical glance was answered by a smile, and then the fox was gone again. Oh well, I guess he knows what he's doing. This conviction faltered somewhat when a burned smell spread from the fireplace, and Tobey wondered whether or not to call for the fox. Those thoughts were interrupted, however, as Adrian called for him, instead.

"Tobey? Could you help me carry some things?"

Soon everything was set, and Tobey let his eyes wander, his mouth watering at the thought of the feast. There were thin, tender-looking slices of venison, that looked as if they had barely touched the frying pan, an assortment of fried or boiled vegetables, a sweet-smelling cream sauce, mashed apples and currant jelly, as well as bread and cheese to go on the side. With a pair of cooking tongs, Adrian removed the potatoes from the ashes in the fireplace, laying them on a plate as easily as if he had done nothing else in his life. Cutting an X through the skin of each potato, he proceeded to fill those cuts with pats of butter, which slowly melted as he served them both liberal helpings. Sitting down, they raised their glasses, smiling at each other as Tobey proposed a toast.

"To the art of cooking, and to the beautiful artist."

Adrian blushed, grinning slightly as their glasses clinked together. Carefully sipping the wine, he licked his lips, smacking.

"This was good. More smooth than I had thought."

"I asked for a wine that wasn't so strong on alcohol, since I didn't know how much you could take."

"Nothing. I never drink. Why, are you trying to get me tipsy? You're not planning to seduce me, are you?"

"Weeell," Tobey fidgeted, reaching over to touch the fox's hand. "Maybe, but not with the wine. I was hoping for my good looks and charm."

"Should have stuck to the wine," Adrian said dryly, tasting a piece of carrot. "Now it won't work."

Tobey laughed, and the fox followed suit. They kept talking as they ate slowly, occasionally commenting on the food. Tobey found the potatoes, against which he'd been slightly suspicious, to be a fine treat. Roasting in the embers had made the skins crunchy, leaving the middle soft and tasty, enriched by the melted butter. The meat, too, was nothing short of delicious, tender enough to almost melt against his tongue, and seasoned with Adrian's own garden herbs. The fox lapped up all the praise he received, smiling happily whenever Tobey would close his eyes and smack his lips contentedly. While they ate, day turned to night, and soon the only light inside the room was the orange-red glow from the fire. In this dimness, they finished their meal, leaning back in the sofa, arms around each other's shoulders, sipping their wine. Adrian's eyes were slightly glazed, and the way he would sometimes giggle at nothing at all made Tobey guess that the fox had drunk too much. Truth be told, so had he. They had finished the wine bottle, and he knew he had drunk at least twice as much as Adrian. It had been a long time since he'd had more than a mug of ale, and he felt his head spin a bit. Mentally shrugging, he emptied his glass, then laid his head down on the fox's lap, closing his eyes. He heard a low giggle, then more felt than heard it as Adrian drank the last of his wine, putting the glass away. Soon, soft fox hands were all over him, tousling his chest fur, caressing his face, the same face that was covered with licks and kisses. Tobey dropped his empty glass, hurrying to return some of the cuddling. Raising his head slightly, he ran his muzzle through Adrian's chest fur, stopping to lick at a nipple, earning a gasp from the fox. Adrian's strokes and caresses intensified, and Tobey could feel his hands moving lower, lower, only to come to a halt at his waistband. Frustrated at the teasing, he sat up, only to find that the fox had fallen asleep.

"You poor thing," he smiled. "Can't take your wine?"

As gently as possible, and far more unsteadily than he would have thought, he carried the young fox into the bedroom, undressing him and tucking him in. Then he sat there, stroking the red hair and the cute, sleep-softened face. Adrian smiled, muttering something unintelligible, then opened his eyes.

"Is it morning a'ready?"

"No. No, it isn't. You go back to sleep."


Grabbing Tobey's hand, the fox closed his eyes, snuggling a little closer. On an impulse, Tobey started singing the lullaby again, even though he couldn't quite remember all the verses. Adrian looked up at him briefly, then started drowsing away. Once the fox was sleeping deeply, Tobey stopped singing and got up, walking into the living room. He rescued the left-overs, munching on a piece of roasted parsnip, but decided to leave the dirty dishes for tomorrow. Instead, he went to bed, snuggling up closely to the fox, who moved in his sleep, turning so they faced each other. Tobey kissed his forehead, then took him into a tight embrace. Closing his eyes, he let the dizziness behind his eyelids carry him away, and soon he, too, fell asleep.

It was still dark when Tobey was awakened; only a tinged stripe of crimson on the eastern horizon told of the coming dawn. He felt Adrian stir next to him, and suddenly he was blinking against candlelight. The fox laid back down again, and Tobey felt a hand slip around his waist.

"Oh, you're awake?"

"Yes. What're you doing?"

"Tobey, I want... I want us to make love."


"Yes, silly, now!" The fox giggled nervously. "I would've said it last night, but you got me too drunk."

"Are you sober now, then?"

"Almost..." He kissed Tobey's cheek. "Sober enough."

Tobey nuzzled the young fox, then kissed him back. Meanwhile, Adrian's velvety hand had reached his crotch, and was now stroking the base of his erection. Moaning slightly, Tobey shifted his hips to allow the fox better access, then returned the caress. Adrian sighed, breaking the kiss, and instead he started kissing and nipping the skunk's neck. He moved on down, gently scraping his sharp teeth against Tobey's nipples, while the skunk first sighed disappointedly over losing the grip he'd had on Adrian's length, then moaned loudly at these new sensations. All the while, Adrian kept stroking him, and soon he felt ready to explode. Then it all stopped, and he opened his eyes again, only to stare into those large, green eyes, now filled with lust and desire.

"Tobey, take me. Please?"

"Are you sure?" Adrian could only nod. "All right, then."

Yipping with delight, Adrian turned around, standing on all four on the bed. Smiling at his eagerness, Tobey pulled the fox to him, laying him on his back. Adrian spread his legs, then laid a pillow under his buttocks, watching Tobey eagerly.

"I want to see your face, love," the skunk said, his voice strained. "I want to watch you as we make love."

Licking his fingers, Tobey started rubbing them against Adrian's anus, making the fox shudder and squeal with delight. Gently, he pushed a finger inside, and another, then he had to pause to add more saliva. Adrian was squirming, his eyes closed and his muzzle cracked in a joyous grin. Touching himself, Tobey found that he was already slick with his own juices, so he removed his fingers, despite the fox's mild protest, and instead he pushed himself against his lover.

"Are you ready?"


It was more a breath than a voice, but the desire in the fox's eyes was unmistakable. Slowly, gently, Tobey pushed himself inside, while he leaned down to kiss the fox. Adrian fiercely returned the kiss, moaning and gasping into it, until the skunk was finally all the way in. Feeling Adrian's tense body and understanding that he was feeling some pain, Tobey stopped, allowing the fox time to relax, to adjust. Opening his eyes, Adrian giggled softly, stroking Tobey's cheek. The love shining from his eyes nearly made the skunk choke.

"Oh Adrian, my love..."

They started to move, Tobey thrusting slowly, while Adrian wriggled his hips, placing his hands on the skunk's buttocks, urging him to move faster. Tobey replied by leaning down until he almost lay on top of his lover, nuzzling his neck and kissing his face. Adrian closed his eyes, overwhelmed by both the emotions and the physical sensation. His breath was ragged, his body tense, as he tried to kiss the skunk back, but failed. All he could do was enjoy what was happening to him, panting and squealing as Tobey brought him towards heights he had never dreamed of. Tobey increased his pace, now, thrusting harder and faster, as he felt his own peak approaching. Just then, Adrian's fingers found their way in beneath his tail, playing with his anus, and this brought him over the edge. Sighing deeply, he came, sensations flooding his mind as he shot his semen into Adrian. The fox felt his lover tense, and knew the skunk was close, that his new game was paying off. Then Tobey stopped thrusting, and he could feel his innards fill up with the skunk's juices. Raising himself off the bed, he kissed his lover's neck, gently scraping his teeth against the skunk's collar bone. Still at the peak of his orgasm, Tobey looked down to see that Adrian still hadn't reached his, and almost without thinking, he strained his back and neck to reach the rigid fox member with his muzzle, taking Adrian in to the root. Gasping, the fox fell back onto the bed, his body suddenly aflame with sensations as he came almost at once. He felt the skunk's throat muscles contract around him, as Tobey swallowed his semen, making him see stars. Once emptied, he all but pushed the skunk away, now too sensitive to withstand further stimulation. So Tobey withdrew, leaving Adrian with a feeling of emptiness that soon passed, as his arms were suddenly filled with Tobey. The skunk panted in his ear, and he couldn't suppress a giggle.

"Did you wear yourself out, my love?"

"Very... nearly..." Tobey gasped. "That was... the most... wonderful thing... I ever felt..."

"Yes, it was." Adrian stroked the skunk's head, licking at his muzzle. "I always dreamed it would be like this, but I had almost given up hope."

"I love you, Adrian, my Rose Fox."

"I love you too, my Night Skunk. Thank you for everything."

Before long, Tobey fell asleep in Adrian's arms, and he felt himself, too, drowse away. He kissed the skunk's nose, giggling at how it twitched. For a while, he just lay there, enjoying the smell of Tobey's sweaty body, as well as the scents of arousal that filled the room. A trickle of his own semen ran from the corner of Tobey's mouth, and Adrian licked it away, finding that he liked the taste. One day he would do the same to Tobey, he decided, as he reached out with a hand to pinch the wick off the candle. As the room went dark, he closed his eyes, letting sleep carry him away.

It was a light tapping against the bedroom window that woke Tobey up. The sun told him that almost half the day had passed, and a dark shape outside told him that the racoon boy was the one who made the noise. Tobey had a slight headache, and he felt a rising anger well up inside him. What the hell does he want now, can't they just leave us alone? Easing his way out of Adrian's embrace, he got out of bed, not bothering to covering himself, actually enjoying the way the racoon cringed and looked away. Opening the window, Tobey let his eyes bore into the boy's skull, taking good care to show his dislike for one of Adrian's assailants.

"What the hell do you want? Surely you could manage to stay out of our bedroom?"

"I'm not peeking at you, if that's what you thought!" The racoon did his best to equal the hostility in Tobey's voice, but failed miserably. "In fact, I came to warn you."

"Warn us?"

"Yes. Rickie and Seved are all fired up, after they found out that you didn't leave town last night. They're planning something nasty, I'm sure of it."

"And you're scouting the terrain for them?"

"No! I... I've backed out. They're insane, I don't want anything to do with them. You see, Rickie has this crazy idea that the Rose Fox is his own little toy. Something he can torment, just for fun. In a way, he's jealous with you."

"What a sick bastard." Tobey kept his voice low, in order not to wake up Adrian. "Tell him I'll kill him, if he ever goes near Adrian again."

"You tell him! You can't see it, but I've got a serious black eye, just from telling him I wouldn't help him throw you out. If he finds out I've been here, he'll kill me."

"I'm curious, Martin," Tobey said, tilting his head. "Why won't you help him? You made no secret that you hate us."

"I don't hate you, not like he does. I hate what you are."

"Hmm. At least you're honest. Thanks for the advice, but he won't scare us away."

"Whatever. I did all I could." The racoon turned to leave, but changed his mind. "How did you know my name? Wait, he told you, right?"

Tobey nodded, then watched Martin walk away. So those two were up to something. Sighing, he went back to the bed, sitting down next to the sleeping fox. Why won't they ever quit? For a second, he thought about secretly loading and hiding away Adrian's hunting rifle, but he decided against it. They're just kids! Besides, I've already shown them who's the boss. Smiling, he turned to his young lover, stroking away a tuft of hair that lay in his eyes. Unable to resist, he kept on touching and caressing the beautiful face. Soon, a drowsy smile told him that Adrian was waking up.

"Good morning, love."

"Mmm. Looks like noon to me. It's good, anyway."

"Breakfast or lunch?"

"Neither. I think I'm sated for life. I've never felt better."

"So I see. Did I ever tell you how cute you are when you smile?"

"Tobey, you say I'm cute no matter what I do!"

"Well, you are."

"You're not," Adrian said, sitting up. "Not cute at all."

"I'm not? You're hurting me, boy."

"Handsome, good-looking. Pretty, even, but not cute."

"Well, you're cute. The cutest guy I've ever seen."

"Tobey, have you had other boyfriends?"

"No. I've been seeing other men, but I've never been in love before. Never made love before." He hugged the fox closer to him. "You're the first to steal my heart, Adrian, my Rose Fox."

After partaking some bread and cheese, they lay basking in the sun, both dressed in no more than a pair of shorts. This day, nothing gave away that autumn was approaching; even the birds were quiet, not bothering to sing or fly in the midday heat. Tobey lay on his back, with Adrian resting on his out-stretched arm, idly tousling his jet black chest fur. They both felt too happy and contented to even move, much less care about any real work. Tobey's mind was still on the night before, and the love they had shared. The ecstasy that had coursed through him had left him drained, powerless, and he could sense that Adrian experienced something similar. Work was just not on the agenda for the day. When a small rock hit the grass right next to Tobey's head, though, he sprung up, his body tense with rage. Yelping, Adrian shied back, as there was a loud crash at the gate. As they turned their heads, they saw that Rickie and Seved had torn it down, and were now entering the garden, armed with tall clubs. Growling, Tobey took a defensive stance, wishing that he had indeed brought out the gun. The wolf stopped a few metres away from them, with the badger right behind him.

"I told you to leave, yesterday," he growled. "Why didn't you?"

"So you did," Tobey answered. "And I told you to stay away. Why didn't you?"

"You think you're better than us, don't you, freak?"

"I know I'm better than you, kid. Get the hell out of my friend's garden!"

"You get the hell out! Out of here, out of town!"


"Then we'll make you go!!"

The last words were little more than a mindless scream of rage, and once they were said, the wolf lunged, his wild swing barely missing Tobey. The skunk stepped back, ushering Adrian to run, but the fox only took a couple of paces back. Then the badger struck, as well, landing a blow on Tobey's shoulder. Through the pain, he heard Adrian scream his name, but he had no time to react, before he saw the grinning Seved's face again, his arm raised to strike. Kicking out, he caught the badger's knee, causing him to fall over, dropping his club. A whooshing sound made him duck, and Rickie's swing bounced off his temple, still with enough impact to make him dizzy. The wolf stood over him, glaring as Tobey tried to regain his focus. Smiling, his eyes cold, Rickie raised his club to strike again, when he suddenly disappeared, replaced by Adrian's worried face.

"Tobey! Tobey, get up! We have to get inside!"

Struggling to his feet, he saw Rickie lying on the ground, just a heap of unconscious fur. Beside him lay the stepladder, bent from the impact. Adrian must have smashed him with his full strength, and Tobey vaguely wondered if the wolf was still alive. Yes, he was moving, moaning as a limping Seved helped him get up. As the two of them stepped over the broken gate, Rickie had regained enough strength to snarl viciously at Tobey.

"Just you wait. You won't stay here, be sure of that."

"Adrian doesn't want you, Rickie-boy," the skunk taunted. "He's with me now, happier than you could ever make him."

"Damn you! I won't let you get away with this!"

The wolf tried to rush Tobey, but Seved held him back, dragging him away. Soon, the angry barks and snarls disappeared from hearing range, and Tobey sat down on the grass. Immediately, Adrian was there, shivering as he examined the skunk's head.

"Tobey! Tobey, you're bleeding! Oh no, did he hurt you? Do you need a doctor?"

"Calm down, love," Tobey whispered, cradling the fox, holding him as he began to cry. Whimpering and whining, Adrian buried his muzzle in Tobey's shoulder fur, shaking with sobs. "Clam down, it's over. They won't be back, now."

"I wish I could believe you," Adrian said, once he regained his voice. "I wish I could believe we would be happy, but I don't. It isn't meant to work out."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'd like you to go, Tobey. They won't kill me, I'm sure, but if anything happened to you..."

"Nothing will happen to me, Adrian. They're gone, now. They know they won't stand a chance against us. I will not leave."

"Even if I ask you to? This is my property, I could throw you out."

"Will you?"

"No... I should, but I can't. Tobey, I love you too much!"

"Then it's decided. My love, I won't leave you."

"Your wound! Come on in, we need to bandage you!"

That afternoon, once Adrian had cleaned and dressed Tobey's wound, the skunk made his plans. He loaded the hunting rifle, and placed it just inside the front door, so it would be easily accessible from both inside and outside the house. When he saw the fox's concerned look, he explained that he would only use it to scare them off, in case they returned. Firing into the air. Still nervous and fidgety, Adrian heated up the left-overs from the previous night, and they had an early dinner. Not really in the mood for anything, they sat down to play cards, sharing a bottle of soda. As usual, Adrian won almost every game, to Tobey's only half faked frustration. When night fell, they went outside, to watch as the stars came out. Tobey pointed out the constellations as they appeared, even named the planets that were visible. Impressed, Adrian told the skunk that he had missed out a lot of school, just after his parents' death, and that he knew only what he had read about the stars. As they talked, clouds moved in, covering half the sky and obscuring from view whatever stars weren't drowned out by moonlight. Going back inside, they decided to go to bed. Tired from the day, they didn't make love, but went straight to sleep, wrapped as usual in each other's arms.

Tobey woke up with a start, sitting straight up, while Adrian moved over in his sleep. Some sort of sound had awakened him, and as he got out of bed, he heard it again. The clinketing of broken glass. Standing still, he localised it, coming from the living room. A cold shiver ran down his spine. They were inside the house, between him and the front door. Between him and the gun. He decided to make a run for it, but he had only got a few paces into the moonlit living room when something hard landed on the back of his head, and he went down, too dizzy to get back up on his feet. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Seved, holding the rifle by the barrel. The butt was covered with blood. My blood.

"Looking for this, freak?"

The taunting laughter was drowned out by Adrian's scream from the bedroom. The sounds of struggle were heard, followed by Rickie's howl of pain. Then there was a dull thud, and silence.

"Little bastard bit me," the wolf grumbled as he dragged a semi-conscious fox into the living room. "You grab that one, let's go outside."

Tobey felt himself being lifted from the ground, still too weak and disoriented to fight back, and soon he was tossed to the ground. It was light outside, and it took him a couple of seconds to realise that a row of lit torches were placed on the lawn. Rickie came out, too, dragging Adrian, who was now struggling to get loose. The wolf slapped him across the nose, but the fox refused to stay still.

"I've decided," Rickie growled, "that we don't need any freaks here. You're both getting the hell out of here. Right now. Get dressed!"

He threw Adrian to the ground, the tossed their clothes to them. Still trembling, Adrian slipped into his trousers, while Tobey refused to move.

"I said, get dressed!" Rickie raised the rifle, firing a shot between the fox and the skunk. Afraid for Adrian's sake, Tobey put his clothes on, then stood up, shakily. "Aren't I good? At first, I thought you'd get to run away from here naked, but I realised you'd just mate right on the street."

The badger chuckled, then handed Rickie a torch. Turning towards the house, he raised it high above his head. Tobey froze, his muscles tensing, as he readied himself for attack. Before he could move, however, Seved hit him in the head again, and he toppled over, nausea paralysing him for the moment. Kicking the skunk away, the badger grabbed Adrian, holding him in a tight grip as he turned the fox's face towards the house.

"Now watch and learn, freak!"

"Like I said," Rickie proclaimed, "your kind isn't welcome here anymore! Without a place to live, maybe you'll stay away from good, honest people!"

"Rickie, calm down," Seved said. "We were just meant to scare them."

"But they won't listen, won't stay scared, will they?" He leaned down over Tobey. "Will you, skunk-freak? They need to be taught a lesson!"

"Rickie, no! I won't stand for this!"

"Then go home and cry, you shit!" Snarling, the wolf waved his torch at the suddenly shivering badger. "First Mart, then you, am I the only one with guts around here?"

"Rickie, he's right, don't do this!" Martin stood a couple of paces behind Seved, looking on with fear in his eyes. "Are you completely mad?"

"Oh, the chicken racoon, as well. Clearly, I'm alone, convicted! Well, stand back, cowards! I'll show you how to smoke out freaks!"

Roaring, he threw the torch through the bedroom window, then moved on to grab more torches, throwing them into the living room, into the kitchen, into the bathroom. Within seconds, the old wooden house caught flame, black plumes of smoke welling forth from the open door and the broken windows. To Tobey, the world seemed to come to a halt, as he heard a blood-curdling scream coming from Adrian. Like the badger had been nothing but air, he broke Seved's grip, pouncing Rickie. Clawing and biting, hitting and kicking the wolf, he proceeded to run towards the house. Somewhere, Tobey found strength enough to stand up, despite the pain in his head and the dizziness, and he moved to follow when he felt Martin grab him from behind.

"Don't, man! You'll get burned alive!"

Tobey struggled to get free, as he saw Adrian reach the house. The fox hesitated for a second, his tear-filled eyes meeting Tobey's before he went in through the smoke-filled door. The skunk screamed, a wordless howl as he struggled in vain to get out of the racoon's grip. Seved tried to reach the door, but had to turn back, shaking his head and shouting something to Rickie. The wolf had stood up, touching his blood-streaked face and chewing his thumb claw while he stared at the burning house. Then the roof collapsed, sending sparks everywhere, and soon the smallest of the apple trees burst into flames, the fire now spreading rapidly.


Screaming with rage and fear, Tobey elbowed the racoon in the face, then ran towards the collapsed house. As he got close, though, the heat forced him back, and instead he turned to Rickie.

"I didn't mean this. I never meant for this to happen," the wolf kept saying in a low, hushed voice. "This was not supposed to happen."

Snarling, murder in his eyes, Tobey pounced the wolf, pinning him down to the ground while he kept hitting his face. Then he leaned down over the trembling Rickie, tearing at his neck with his teeth. Warm blood filled his mouth, and he could feel the wolf's carotid artery pulse against his tongue. Just a little bit more pressure, and he would end the wolf's miserable life. It was only right, a life for a life, his life for Adrian's. The thought of the fox made Tobey hesitate, and when he heard one of the walls of the house collapse, he released Rickie, kicking him away. Clutching his damaged neck, the wolf turned to flee, Seved joining him. Tobey stayed there, until Martin led him out of the garden, as the fire was still spreading. From afar, he heard shouting voices, as people approached, wondering what was going on. They were too late, he knew, far too late. Sinking to his knees, he watched the inferno that had been Adrian's garden. The image of the Rose Fox hovered before his eyes, and only now did he realise that his young lover was gone. Hiding his face in his hands, Tobey started crying.

He was still sitting there, when the sun came up. He wanted to shout at it, faulting it for giving life to another day, when he felt his own life was over. In the light of day, the house and the garden were little more than smoking ashes, the pathetic remains of what Tobey had come to see as home. During the night, people he hardly knew, like the town's florist, one of Adrian's few real friends, and some he did know, like the ermine shoemaker and Buck, the innkeeper, had come up to him to pat his shoulder and say they were sorry. He paid them no heed. Someone, he never knew who, put a blanket over him, but he refused to acknowledge anybody. Sometime at dawn, Martin left, and he was alone, until the town's policeman, an old bull, approached.

"We've taken care of Rickie and Seved. Poor boys, they're all but destroyed. It all went out of their hands"

"Poor boys?" Tobey got to his feet angrily. "Poor boys!? They're murderers! I don't give a damn what they thought they were doing! They! Killed! Adrian!!"

"Didn't you hear me? They are so racked with guilt and grief it breaks the heart! Punishing them won't do any good. Won't bring the Rose Fox back."

"His name was Adrian, didn't you know?" Tobey made a grab for the policeman's collar, but changed his mind. "You don't mind, do you? You don't care that he's gone. You didn't care while he lived, and you don't care now that he's dead."

"Now, that's unfair, I just think we ought to see to the living."

"You sicken me! Every single one of you. Everyone but Martin, he showed at least some backbone. The rest of you, just go to hell!" He turned, and started walking down the road that would lead him out of town. "Just go to hell!"

"Won't you stay for the funeral?" Tobey shook his head, too choked with tears to speak. "At least let us equip you!"

Refusing to look back, Tobey broke into a run, not stopping until late that day, when he fell to the ground, exhausted. Finding shelter beneath a fallen tree, he curled up, crying himself to sleep. When morning came, he started walking north, his head hanging low and his eyes glazed with sorrow.

It was late spring when Tobey returned to Oak's Root, on his way back south. Unable to resist visiting Adrian's grave, he sat through the morning, alternately crying or talking quietly to the fox. Some leaves had gathered on the headstone, and he gently brushed them away, remembering the way he had brushed away Adrian's tears. Thinking about the fox still hurt, but it didn't tear him apart like it had, during the last few months.

When the sun had passed its zenith, he got to his feet, bidding the now forever young fox good bye, and turned to leave. Somehow, his feet led him back to the ruins of the house, now just a pile of blackened wood, the ashes carried away by the wind. The garden, once so lovingly cared for, was an equally sad sight. The largest apple tree, the only one still standing, was dead, its branches no more than charred stumps, and the once so colourful bushes and flowerbeds were all burned beyond recognition. Still, Tobey walked through the garden, crying as he could all but feel Adrian's hand in his. Then a spot of colour caught his eye, a tinge of red in all the black, and he went to examine it. It was a rose. Just a single, red flower, and he knelt down to pick it up. His fingers around the thin stem, he hesitated, then let go of it, leaving it as it were.

"You're still here, aren't you?" he asked the rose, wiping his eyes, and wetting the tiny petals with his own tears. "The house is gone, the garden is gone, even your body is gone, but you are still here."

Closing his eyes, Tobey thought back to the few, but happy, days they'd had together, and he sighed as he felt tears run down his cheek, dripping to the ground next to the flower. Somehow, it all made sense, now.

"They couldn't kill you," he whispered. "They could never kill you, because you're still here. The garden will live again, just as beautiful as it was, because you will always be here, caring for it, loving it. This little thing, it's you. It has the same red colour as your beautiful fur. Soon, everything here will come to life again, and you... you will live within it all. My little love, then you truly will be the Rose Fox."