Characters: Ryo, Dee.
Setting: After Vol. 7.
Summary: Ryo drags Dee out into a remote part of New England to see the trees in all their fall glory.
Word Count: 2228
Written For: Jae’s Monthly Drabble Challenge # 152 – Enjoy The Sunshine.
Disclaimer: I don’t own FAKE, or the characters. They belong to the wonderful Sanami Matoh.
The fall color in New England never failed to amaze and delight Ryo. Everywhere he looked, the trees were ablaze in countless shades of yellow, orange, gold, red, pink, purple, and russet, with a few splashes of green thrown in for variety. How anyone could fail to be moved by the spectacle was beyond him. Mother Nature was incredible, with more colors in her palette than even the most talented artist could boast. In his opinion there really was nothing that could compare to such natural glory, he only wished it could last longer; it was there and gone in a matter of a few short weeks. The only thing to do was make the most of it while he could, which was the whole reason behind this trip.
He turned to Dee, his eyes shining with happiness and excitement; this just never got old. “Isn’t it spectacular?”
Although Dee was nowhere near as big a fan of staring at colored leaves as his lover was, even he had to admit it was quite an impressive sight. “Yeah, it’s really beautiful.”
The sky provided a wide, crisp blue backdrop to the vivid colors of the trees, with not a wisp of cloud visible to detract from the striking contrast between cool and warm tones. The sun had quickly erased the early morning chill from the air, leaving the weather pleasantly warm, enough that Dee was already thinking of maybe taking his jacket off and shoving it in his backpack. He was even starting to wonder whether his long-sleeved sweatshirt would be too much, although he’d definitely needed it, and his jacket and gloves, when they’d set out from the guest house an hour ago. It had been quite nippy then, and although Ryo had assured him it would get warmer, he’d been fervently wishing his lover hadn’t dragged him out of their warm, cosy bed at the crack of dawn to go hiking. To Dee, vacations, even short ones, were designed for long lie-ins. What was the point in taking time off from work if you still had to get up early?
They only had three and a half days before they’d be returning to New York and work though, and Ryo had been determined not to waste a single minute. This was a once a year trip, and something Ryo had been looking forward to for months, Dee might even say his lover preferred it to Christmas, so it wouldn’t have been fair of him to complain; he was determined not to do or say anything that would spoil Ryo’s enjoyment of his annual treat. Ryo always indulged him when it came to Halloween, which was Dee’s favourite seasonal pleasure.
Autumn was his baby’s element; crisp mornings, the fall colours, rusts and reds and browns that suited Ryo so well with his fair complexion and honey colored hair… How he, a city boy through and through, had managed to fall for a man who liked nothing better than to head off into the great outdoors, Dee would never understand, but despite their differences he wouldn’t want to change anything about the man he loved. Ryo was perfect just the way he was, even with his love of hiking, and trees, and colourful leaves. The world would be a boring place if everyone liked the same things.
“So, which way?” Dee asked. They’d parked their car off the road maybe fifteen miles from where they were staying, because just seeing and photographing the trees wasn’t enough for Ryo. He wanted to get right away from civilisation and walk among them, enjoying the fresh air and exercise, watching the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks hunting for nuts among the falling leaves, and drinking in the unspoiled beauty of the region.
“We should go that way,” Ryo said, pointing up the slope on the other side of the road. “Up to the top of the ridge, so we can look out across the treetops. We can have our lunch up there in the sunshine. Should be able to see for miles on a day like today.”
Their backpacks contained everything they’d need for a day out; not only a packed lunch, snacks, and drinks, but also a picnic blanket, spare batteries and memory cards for Ryo’s digital camera, wet wipes for sticky fingers, and a couple of towels, plus hats, scarves, and sweaters in case it got chilly later. Dee doubted they’d be needed; he and Ryo would surely be back at the car before the sun dropped below the horizon, but Ryo liked to be prepared for every eventuality. He’d even packed a couple of powerful flashlights and a compass; it was easy to tell he used to be a boy scout. If necessary he could probably start a campfire by rubbing two sticks together.
Stowing his jacket in his pack, Dee straightened up and slung it over his shoulder. “Up it is then!” He turned in the direction Ryo had indicated, flashing a wide, cheerful grin at his lover. The warm temperatures, the beautiful scenery, and the company were all he needed to put him in a good mood; not even the prospect of the long hike ahead was going to dampen it. Besides, Ryo’s enthusiasm and obvious happiness were infectious; how could anyone feel down in the face of that? The chilly air earlier had brought Dee fully awake, and to his surprise he realised he was actually looking forward to stretching his legs.
They set off through the trees, a scatter of dry, fallen leaves scrunching beneath their hiking boots. There weren’t all that many yet, they were changing colour but it would be a while yet before they started to drop in earnest. Still, in woodland like this there were bound to be a few; certain tree species shed their leaves earlier than others, and the sound they made took Dee back to childhood. He almost wished there were more so he could kick his way through great piles of them.
It was cooler in the shade beneath the trees, though still far from cold, and the sun filtered through the branches to lay swathes of golden light across their path, where a few butterflies fluttered, soaking up the warmth. Every so often they passed patches of late-blooming wildflowers, buzzing with busy bees, while birds sang and squirrels chattered in the branches overhead. The city seemed a million miles away, another world that had nothing to do with the peaceful sounds of nature and the fresh, clean air that filled their lungs with every breath.
Dee felt the stresses of work melting away and he breathed deeply, fully able to appreciate the country air for the first time, having only quit smoking a few months before. It was so much better than the aromas of traffic fumes and garbage. He could feel the strain in his leg muscles as the slope grew steeper the further up they went, and found he was actively enjoying the walk. It was getting his blood pumping and warming him so effectively that by the time they were halfway up the ridge he had to stop and strip his sweatshirt off, folding it and tucking it in his backpack on top of his jacket. Ryo followed suit, taking off his button-down shirt, leaving both men in just t-shirts and jeans. Slipping their backpacks over their shoulders again, they continued upwards, striding along for another mile or so, until they came out above the tree line.
The ground here was rough grassland dotted with rocks and hardy bushes, and the slope soon became so steep they were forced to scramble up the last couple of hundred metres to the crest of the ridge practically on their hands and knees. Reaching the top, breathless with laughter and exertion, they straightened up and surveyed the view spread out all around them. It was like being on an island in an unearthly sea. The tops of the trees stretched out as far as they could see in every direction, resembling a lumpy, overstuffed patchwork comforter, the colors somehow even more striking when looked down on from above, lit by the sun. Some distance off they could see a wide lake, the sky and the trees reflected in its surface with crystal clarity. Even further away the roofs of buildings were faintly visible and Dee wondered if that was the small town where they were staying.
“Wow!” Ryo breathed in an awed voice, turning slowly in a circle. “What an incredible view!”
“Yeah,” Dee agreed, voice low, not wanting to disturb the peace and quiet more than he had to. “You’re right; this is pretty amazing. Definitely worth the climb.”
Ryo tugged on Dee’s arm and pointed. “Come on, that rocky outcropping looks like a good spot for a picnic. We can sit there and enjoy the sunshine while we eat. Just be on the lookout for sunbathing snakes.”
“Snakes?” Dee had a confirmed phobia of the reptiles. “No way, count me out! I’d rather sit here and leave the rocks to the snakes.”
“How about if we make our way over towards the rocks, and if there aren’t any snakes we can spread our blanket on that big, flat rock. If we see snakes, we’ll find somewhere else to sit.”
Dee chewed nervously on his bottom lip, but nodded; it was a fair compromise. “Yeah, okay, but you can climb up there and do the checkin’ for snakes while I stay below with our packs. If it’s clear I’ll pass the packs up and follow. Deal?”
“Sounds fair. Okay, deal,” Ryo agreed, setting off along the ridge. It was quite wide, maybe twenty, twenty-five metres, and covered in short, browning grass that clung to the thin soil. The few bushes managing to survive on the ridge top, exposed to the elements, were stunted and twisted. This was a very pleasant spot on a mild, sunny, windless day but during a storm, with gales and heavy rain sweeping across it, there’d be little shelter other than the rocks. It was amazing that anything was able to eke out an existence here; if the local snakes had any sense they’d stick to the lower slopes, among the trees and undergrowth, out of the worst of the autumn and winter weather. Dee would if he was a snake.
Reaching the massive slabs of rock, Ryo slowly walked around the outcropping, peering into cracks and crevasses as he went but not seeing anything snakelike. Around one side, the rocks formed a sort of natural staircase, making climbing to the top relatively easy. Once up there he walked to the edge of the biggest rock and looked down on Dee from above.
“Come on up; it’s safe.” Lying on his stomach he reached down to haul up the backpacks, one after the other, as Dee held them up to him. “There’s an easy way up around the back. By the time you get up here I’ll have the blanket spread out.”
“We’ll see about that!” Dee jogged around behind the rock pile, found the ‘steps’ and scrambled up as fast as he could manage, watching out for snakes just in case, because the slithery reptiles had a reputation for being sneaky.
He was fast, but not fast enough; Ryo did indeed have the picnic blanket spread out across the warm rock by the time Dee got there, and was already starting to unpack the food they’d bought at a deli in town before driving out to the middle of nowhere.
“What kept you?”
“I took the scenic route.” Dee didn’t stand on ceremony, just knelt down and leant a hand setting everything out. There were freshly made sandwiches, generous slices of apple pie, non-alcoholic sparkling apple juice, peaches, chocolate brownies… Buying the food it had seemed they were getting enough to feed an army, but after the long hike Dee was ravenous and starting to wonder if they’d bought enough.
As soon as the food was unpacked, Ryo tied the backpacks tightly closed, a precaution against the possibility of snakes, and settled down comfortably, picking up a paper plate and helping himself as Dee did the same. For several minutes there was silence as they ate, both of them too hungry to make small talk, but after they’d taken the edge off their appetites they started to pay more attention to their surroundings again.
“Didn’t I tell you this would be a good spot for a picnic?”
“You did, and you were right.” The panoramic view looked like something off a picture postcard, or a calendar.
Setting his plate aside and wiping his fingers clean, Ryo took the lens cap off his camera and took several pictures of the scenery before turning the camera on Dee, getting a candid shot of his lover propped on his elbows, head tilted back, eyes closed, enjoying the autumn sunshine.
Dee didn’t even notice; he felt relaxed and drowsy now he’d eaten, ready for a post-lunch nap to make up for the early start to the day. After this they had another two and a half days to explore the region, but Dee would lay odds that no matter how hard they tried they wouldn’t find anywhere to beat this sunlit ridge, looking out across one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
Sequel: 'Heading Home'