A/N: I thought I was getting away from fluffy schmoopy fic. And then the last two lines of dialogue happened. Sigh.

Not Forever, For Always
By Ace Ryn Knight

Corus appeared in a riot of color, quite unlike anything Tobe had ever seen before. Banners of a dozen different colors blazed across the mid-afternoon sky as the sinking sun painted the Oloron river a shimmering white-gold. Decorated squares of blue, bronze, and red danced atop the palace walls, whilst pennants of purple, green and white waved from the rigging of ships moored along the river's banks. Everything in the little valley seemed almost unnaturally bright and lush, the faintly gleaming walls of the palace, the mottled browns, tans, and grays of the lower town as the buildings pressed tight together, then loosened, like the shifting tones on a bird's wing, it was like something from a child's daydream.

He hated it more than he can remember hating anything

"Tobe?" Riding slightly ahead and to his left, Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan was half-turned in her saddle to look back at him. Just beyond her, Sir Nealan of Queenscove peered at him with concerned green eyes.

Maybe it was the horse in him, the part that feels a kinship with every passing mare and stallion, from eager young colt to snarky old gelding, but the next thing he knew was wheeling sky, flashing trees and thundering hooves.

Dimly he was aware of the far-off cry of his name, but it was lost amid yells of alarm and protest as he and Hoshi raced past others on the road back north. The normally peaceful mare carried him around one bend in the road, then a second and a third, before prancing to a halt in a small meadow, just off the main trail.

He slid from her saddle loose limbed and shaking. Unthinking he dashed into the dense undergrowth of the trees at its edge, leaving Hoshi's reins wrapped loose about the saddle horn. Leaves and pine needles crackled underfoot. Heart pounding in his ears he collapsed at the base of a towering oak, back against its base, his arms wrapped about his knees.

Time seemed to stretch as he sat there. Jays and robins chased each other through the branches above. Squirrels chattered. Sparrows cheeped. Somewhere off to his right her heart the tremulous cooing warble of startled quail.

From the trail behind him he heard the rhythmic crunch footfalls growing closer. Jump appeared first, black eyes grimly reproachful as he nosed his white wedge-shaped head insistently under one dangling hand. Though he kept his eyes downcast, intent on examining the dog's only whole ear, he could not ignore his lady's scuffed black boots as they edged into his vision.

"Tobe?" Kel's voice was as soft as he'd ever heard it, hesitant almost.

Tobe felt his face heat with shame.

He'd said often and loudly in the last four years how generous his lady was to any who cared to listen. She'd taken good care of him; fed, clothed, and shod him when she truly didn't have to. Granted, she'd done as much for New Hope's lot of orphans. She'd taught them arms and how to defend themselves. She'd taken time to help them that had trouble with their letters and numbers- she'd even taken special care to see none of them went without gifts at midwinter or on their birthday.

She was good folk, his lady, always doing what she thought was right.

And here he was, running off on her, when all she wanted was to do right by him.

He shut his eyes tight against the tell-tale burn of tears about to fall, heart pounding painfully against his ribs.

There was the light sound of something settling on the forest floor, and then a gentle hand settled itself in his hair, threading through the errant blonde strands with care.

His lady's voice, when she spoke again, was softer than before, "Tobe, please look at me."

"Can't." he answered, struggling to speak around the growing lump in his throat. "Won't." he added.

"Tobe." Hearing the way her voice cracked around his name made his eyes fly open.

"Lady," he breathed, heart constricting, "Oh, lady. M'lady no."

She knelt in front of him, one arm wrapped about her middle as her shoulders shook. Her face was tear-streaked and blotchy, trembling lips twisted together in a frown.

He dislodged Jump as he came to his knees in front of her, one hand fishing in his breeches pocket for a handkerchief.

"Don't cry," he begged, pressing the cloth into her hand, "please. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to run, honest." He watched her dab at her eyes for a moment, remembering how ridiculously proud she'd been when she realized where he'd picked up the habit of keeping them.

She sighed into the cloth. Seeing she was about to speak, he rushed to cut her off.

"Can't I stay with you?" He entreated, "Aren't things good as they are?"

"Oh, Tobe," Kel sighed, "I want more than anything to keep you with me, you know that. But you deserve so much better than a life of fetching my armor and minding my horses. Daine will help you learn your gift better or she'll set you up with someone who will."

"But lady-"

"No," Kel's voice was scratchy, but firm as her hands came up to cup his face. "Sweetheart, you can't be my servant forever, but you will always be my boy."

"Promise?" he asked, meeting her eyes.

Her gaze was level, as serious as he'd ever known it to be. "Promise."

"Okay," he said, and wilted into her waiting embrace, "I guess I can live with that."

A/N: Realistically they probably would have had this conversation at New Hope, I know. Meh, hindsight. That would have been far less dramatic too. Anyhow. If you can think of a better title for this, you'd be my hero because I don't really know if/think that the current one fits.