Maxfield has very mixed feelings about leaving the city and all his tech behind to spend the summer after graduation halfway up a mountain in the family’s backwoods cabin—just him, his dad, and a whole lot of secrets.
He tried to find something to focus on that might put Glenn Sheridan, whom he’d just hugged under his shirt, right out of his head, only to have that thought replaced by a worse one: that man-mountain, Eamon, might still be lurking around here somewhere.
His dad had chased him out of Wentworth’s, but the truth was he could be anywhere, waiting to pounce on him with more cryptic pronouncements and flip weird switches in Maxfield’s gonads. And Glenn had vanished on some mysterious “errand,” though god knew what that could be. If they were anywhere else he’d guess it was something to do with the cabin, but there was nothing about the cabin that required any kind of setup—no power to turn on (what electric power the cabin had was from the generator, and it used propane tanks like the spare they had tied down in the truck bed); no phone to reconnect. In fact there was nothing much at all to link it to town other than the two or three back roads it took to get there, if you knew where you were going. The cabin was there in the forest, and you lived in it, and that was it. It was almost like camping without a tent, though there was a stove and an old fridge, at least, the latter more a concession than an amenity.
It was a place apart, nestled in the mountain forest and more a part of it than an outpost of man. At least, that was how Maxfield remembered it. Maybe they’d go bow-and-arrow hunting like they’d used to when they’d come up here before, back when Maxfield was in middle school. Almost certainly they would, if they were up here for the summer. He wondered what kind of game was in season. It had been a long time. He hadn’t even touched a bow in four years, and as for tracking—Christ, did he remember anything his father had taught him?
The thought of tracking game reminded him he’d wanted to look around for the beastly stranger, Eamon. Maxfield walked around the truck to the back, his eyes raking the shops and businesses lining the town’s wide Main Street. Glancing down long enough to lift the lid to the small cooler, he stuffed the bags of trail mix in and closed it up tight, returning his gaze to the local downtown businesses. No sign of Eamon in the outdoor gear shop, the bank, the post office, or around the dark stone tavern that stood apart just beyond the main row of shops. None of the other trucks parked abutting that side of the road had anyone in them, though most were heavy-duty enough to accommodate anyone from Glenn’s size up to Eamon’s and beyond. You needed serious axles to live up here.
He turned to examine the other side of the street. His eye caught on the old-fashioned butcher’s shop that sat more-or-less opposite the dry goods store. Laramie’s, the sign over the doors said. Maxfield had forgotten it was there, though he knew Mr. Laramie was a pillar of the community, his red, smiling face the center of every barbecue and the first to lead volunteers in any search and rescue. A sign in the window promised Venison, choice cuts!, so maybe it was deer season, at least. At any rate the place was doing as good a business as the ice cream shop next door, with two or three older ladies inside perusing the meat on display and gossiping with the counter boy and each other. And that wasn’t counting the hale-looking and unnervingly broad-shouldered old timer eyeing him attentively from a bench situated directly under the butcher’s wide plate-glass window. Maxfield looked quickly away and resumed his search, but there was nothing much else to see on that side of the main drag, either.
The shops accounted for, Maxfield checked the road itself, first down-mountain, the way they’d come, and then up-mountain. As soon as he looked far enough up Main Street he caught sight of his quarry at last: a bulky, dark figure against the faded pavement stalking straight up the center of the road at a surprising pace, almost a lope. That had to be him. He’d already reached the abandoned mill and was soon past it, heading straight up the mountain on his own booted feet, as if cars and trucks were for the weak and feeble. Then, just as he was getting too far away even for Maxfield’s exceptional vision to make out, it seemed as though Eamon’s tiny, dark figure suddenly turned off the road and started right up the slope into wild country, vanishing into the trees.
“Whatcha looking at?” came a voice from behind him, causing Maxfield nearly to jump out of his skin. He whirled to find his father standing a foot behind him, loose shirt tails flapping in the light breeze.
Maxfield grabbed his chest. “Jesus, Pop, you scared the fuck out of me!” he said, glaring at him accusingly. He hadn’t heard his father creep up behind him at all. Was he that much of a rube after four years in the city?
Glenn seemed surprised and more than a little amused at having spooked his son, but he clapped Maxfield’s upper arm reassuringly. “Relax,” he said. “I’ve snuck up on a lot better than the likes of you. What held your attention so tight?” he asked.
Maxfield glanced over his shoulder at the now-empty road, then back at his dad. “Just making sure that Eamon guy was on his way,” he said darkly.
Glenn nodded, biting his lip. “Good,” he said, looking up the road past Maxfield. “Though I know where he’s headed, this time of year and this time of day.” He met Maxfield’s eyes again. “It’s a good instinct, though, keeping track of potential… conflicts.”
Maxfield mulled this over and decided to file his dad’s rivalry with Eamon away for later. “You finish your ‘errands’?” he asked.
Glenn’s eyes twinkled. “Matter of fact I did,” he said. “My old friend Clement down the road was keeping a certain item safe for me, until I needed it again.” He reached behind him and pulled something out of his back pocket, holding it up for Maxfield to see. Maxfield drew in a breath—it was a wood-gripped fixed-blade hunting knife in a black leather sheath. As he watched, Glenn pulled off the sheath, revealing a wide, gleaming steel blade that had to be a good seven inches in length from crossbar to tip. The top third or so of the unedged side dipped inward in a shallow but elegant clip point.
Maxfield whistled—it was a thing of beauty. “‘Now that’s a knoife’,” he drawled.
Glen wiggled his dark eyebrows. “That it is,” he said, eyeing the blade with something like affection before sheathing it again. “This is my grandpappy’s knife. He killed his first buck with it, back when… well, he was barely older than you are. And it’s seen a few things since then,” he added. He presented the knife, grip first, to his son. “It’s yours,” he said.
Maxfield eyes widened in alarm. He actually took a step back. “What? No!” he said, holding up his hands as if to ward off such a momentous transfer of a family heirloom. “I couldn’t take your grandfather’s—”
Glenn held him pinned with his gaze, and Maxfield stopped, staring hard between the knife and his father. “It’s a tradition, Max,” Glenn said softly. “You’re going to be finding out about a lot of traditions on this trip.”
Maxfield’s heard thudded in his chest, and not because of the knife.
Though guys at school tended to call him by the shortened version of his name, his father had never done so. He’d asked him about it in tears, long ago, when Maxfield was still in grade school and some kids had teased him for having a silly name. His father had told him then, when he was just a child, that Maxfield was his father’s name and his own middle name, and he would never call him “Max”—not, he added when Maxfield kept pleading with him, until he had grown up and become a man. So he’d accepted his father’s words, as he always would, and he’d clung to Maxfield from then on, because it was the only name his father called him by. Even moments ago, he’d named himself Maxfield to Eamon, defiantly and proudly. And now, here, in the middle of the street in the no-stoplight, back-of-beyond mountain town of Stark, New Hampshire, the place where more than anywhere else Maxfield felt his blood run deep and the land spread wide around him for him to run in, his father had finally called him Max… and he was offering him his great grandfather’s deerkiller knife.
He met Glenn’s clear, honey-brown eyes, and saw nothing but serious intent, almost blinding pride, and love more intense than he could bear. “Take the knife, Max,” Glenn prompted with the ghost of a smile, affection bleeding into his voice.
Max licked his lips and nodded. Willing his hand not to shake, he reached out and took the knife. Not knowing what to do with it he stowed it behind him in his back pocket, as Glenn had done. Glenn nodded. “You ready to head up the mountain?” he asked, eyes still glinting.
“Sure thing,” Max managed to say, trying very hard to present himself as the man Glenn had just recognized him to be.
“Then let’s git,” Glenn said with a sudden grin, moving around Max with a swat on his ass. He was gone before Max even had time to react, and only now, in this moment, with the heat of Glenn’s handprint still burning on his cheek even through his jeans, did Max remember the still-raging boner laying pertly against his hip. Fuck! Did he see? Glenn, who’d already climbed into the driver’s seat, tapped the horn, making Max jump. All thoughts of decorum gone, he scuttled around his side of the truck and darted into the passenger seat, pulling the door closed behind him and making sure to drop his hands into his lap at the earliest possible moment. Glenn grinned and put the truck into gear, reversing out into the road before shifting back into drive for the last leg of their trip together. Max had known that this trip would be transitional, but he now had a distinct sense that he’d already left his old life behind, back there by the truck in front of Wentworth’s Dry Goods.
They drove in silence for a while. When the town was left far behind, Glenn pulled onto first one private road and then another, this one with a gate that had to be opened and closed behind them, which Max jumped out to take care of without being asked. When he got back in they started moving again, moving slowly along the side of the mountain on what felt to Max like a gentle switchback. The tall hardwood trees were dark and silent overhead, the sunlight dappling through them to warm the cool underbrush and paint the truck with welcoming light as they passed.
At last Glenn cleared his throat. “So, Max,” he said. “You ready to live it rough for a few weeks?”
Max grinned. “I think we already established it’s already too late to ask me that, Gl—Pop,” he said, catching himself almost in time.
“Glenn’s fine,” his father said off-handedly. It was all Max could do not to turn and stare at him bug-eyed. Instead he kept his eye on the dirt track ahead, half-hidden with patches of long grass as it was. He was looking out for animals and obstructions like he’d been taught to do out here since he was little. Yeah, that was going to happen. Glenn. Uh huh, sure. His heartrate sped up again, and his still-hard cock twitched in his jeans. Fuck, how was he going to get rid of this god-damned boner? For some reason he thought of Owen, and how Max had been working his alpha jock up to being willing to return the favor and not leave Max to finish himself off moments after he had got done expertly blowing the beefy football hunk. He hadn’t quite made the sale, and now here he was, still painfully ignorant of the taste of a man’s mouth around his hefty, man-sized tool. Max imagined Owen up here on the mountain, interacting with the wild, and he couldn’t quite picture it, though he came closest out of anyone he knew back at school. Maybe a few days running through the trees with him and his dad, chasing after a proud buck or a wily red fox, his blood really coursing through his veins for the first time like it was supposed to, would be enough to turn party-boy Owen into a real man. Max shook his head.
“My point is, we’re going to do this right, this time,” Glenn was saying, his tone playful. “No half measures. We’re two men, living in the wild. And just to bring that home for you, there’s going to be a few hard and fast rules.”
“I know, no cell phones, no electronics, no nothing,” Max recited.
“Kid stuff,” Glenn scoffed. “I’m talking the real deal. You live in the wild, you respect the wild. You make gestures that show you understand being here, communing with the powers and forces of the world beyond men.”
Max turned to look at Glenn, intrigued. Glenn’s comments were meshing closely with Max’s own musings about being out here, being a part of what was around them. “Like what?” he asked. “What kind of rules?”
Glenn counted off on his right hand, starting with his thumb, while keeping his left hand on the wheel as he watched the track ahead. “First,” he said, “no shaving.”
Max huffed. He could barely grow the ghost of a beard in a week. “No problem,” he said. “I’m not a frickin’ bear like you are.”
Glenn looked sharply over at him. “What?” he asked, sounding alarmed.
“Jesus, watch the road, Pop!” Max exclaimed, grabbing Glenn’s shoulder instinctively. Blinking, Glenn turned quickly back to the narrow road. “Christ!” Max said, taking his hand back reluctantly. “If you plow the truck into a birch tree it’s going to be a fuck of a walk back to the Sunoco in town.”
Glenn let out a laugh that sounded relieved. “Right,” he said. “Sorry. Okay.” He held up his hand again, extending the thumb. “So: rules for committing to living in the wild. First, no shaving.” He extended the index finger. “Second: no shirts. We’re men, and—”
“I know how you feel about shirts,” Max broke in, amused. “They’re a conspiracy to prevent real men from showing off their raw, alpha potency.”
Glenn grinned at Max’s teasing. “You say that like you’re joking,” Glenn shot back, “but it’s the god’s honest truth, I heard it from Clive Standen himself.”
“Ugh,” Max said. “Don’t start about him again. You and your obsession with Vikings. Rule two, no shirts, got it.” He took a deep breath, glad he’d filled out enough to be less self-conscious than he might have been a few years ago. At least they were keeping their pants on. That, at least, was critical. “What else?”
Glenn glanced over at him for a second, that mischievous glint back in his eyes. He extended his next finger. “Third rule: you must have a stein of beer at nightfall every night.” He tossed another glance over at Max, and he could see the corners of his lips were twitching. “No exceptions.”
Max eyed him dubiously. “You’re sure these are the rules for what we’re supposed to do, right?” he asked. “Not what we’re not supposed to do?”
Glenn didn’t answer, though he still seemed to be suppressing a smile. Suddenly the cabin appeared, on the shoulder of the next rise beyond the one they were on—the brief switchback had given way to a more direct track up the uneven mountainside. They both saw it at the same time, but instead of commenting, Glenn extended one more finger. He was serious now, the suppressed smile gone. “Fourth rule,” he said. “No leaving the camp after dark.” Without warning he stopped the truck, and though they weren’t going very fast, and Max had his seat belt on, Glenn still reach across with “rules hand” and pressed his palm against Max’s chest. Without the noise of their tires biting into the dirt and leaves of the track it was eerily quiet, and Max heard his heartbeat and the sound of his breathing as he stared into Glenn’s hard, intent haze. “I’m serious, Max. Unless and until I say otherwise, once night falls we do not leave the camp. Are we clear on that?”
Max felt almost like Glenn was literally holding his heart in his hand. He didn’t dare move. These “rules” had seemed like goofy bonding stuff, but now it was very clear that something more was going on, with these rules, with this trip, with the decision to come up here straight from graduation and spend his first summer as an adult away from everything but the primeval wilderness. “Pop,” he began, “what’s—”
“Are we clear?” Glenn insisted, interrupting.
Glenn’s honey-brown eyes bore into him. Agonizingly, the word “kiss” floated through his mind, and the word “fuck” close behind it. His achingly hard dick strained against his jeans in his lap, only inches from the hand Glenn had pressed against his chest. “Yeah,” he said, roughly. “Yes. Sure thing, um—”
Glenn’s eyes did not waver. “What’s my name?” he asked, low and quiet this time, his affection revealed as they gazed into each other, and though it was still penned, held back like a caged beast, what Max saw now was so patently carnal it was melting things deep inside him.
“Gl—Glenn,” Max said. Christ, Max thought, struggling to hide his own feelings and admiring his father’s reserve. If he only knew what he was doing to me.
Glenn nodded. Then, abruptly, the moment was over. Glenn turned away, retrieving his “rules hand” back to the steering wheel, and got the truck moving again, up the rise toward the cabin. Max began to wonder how much of the preceding few moments he had imagined, and how much of it was real.
A short while later they were parked a little behind the cabin by the equipment shed, which also housed the propane generator. Max got out of the truck and walked a long arc around past the back of the truck to get a good look at his new home for the next couple of months.
It wasn’t a shack, and it wasn’t a primitive shelter knocked together out of a few dovetailed logs and a bit of mortar, like the Abe Lincoln’s birthplace type places he’d seen pictures of out in the midwest. This was a basic, handmade house, sturdy enough for New England blizzards and nor’easters, captivating in its simplicity. They were high enough up now that the hardwoods had largely given way to the fir, spruce, and hemlock characteristic of this part of the White Mountains, but the one-story cabin’s outer walls were round boles of oak, regular and tightly fitted, though the raised deck and railing that embraced the front and sides of the building was solid pine. Everything but the windows and the modern shingled roof spoke of being knocked together here, in this place, in the midst of the wide, grassy clearing they were standing in. He could feel the forest around them, smell the bite of needles and the heady musk of loam. Somewhere nearby he could hear the cold mountain creek babbling, waiting to greet them on its way down the windy slopes. He was alone out here, him and Glenn. No Owen, no brothers to share this with, no one but them.
“Look like you remember it?” Glenn asked, walking over to him, his boots crunching on the dried bank and grass underneath. He’d already shed his shirt and tossed it into the cab, and was now striding toward him, shirtless and manly, looking like a citizen of the forest.
Max averted his eyes and instead stared fondly at the sturdy, familiar-looking cabin in the mid-afternoon light, Glenn moving to stand beside him and doing the same, wrapping an arm around Max’s shoulder. Max nodded in answer to Glenn’s question, but what he said was, “How come you and Mom didn’t have any other kids besides me?”
Glenn looked at him in surprise. As he often did of late when they were standing close, Glenn seemed to have to remind himself that Max was now slightly taller than he was. Max withheld a smirk. After a beat Glenn said quietly, “Your mother and I didn’t think we’d be able to have kids. You were… unexpected.” Max tore his eyes away from the cabin to meet Glenn’s eyes, not having heard this before. Glenn gave him a tender smile. “You were also a gift,” he added.
Impulsively, maybe because he already had Glenn’s arm around his shoulder, Max pulled his bare-chested dad into a tight hug. His emotions were all over the place, and he wasn’t sure what it would take to sort them out, but he let himself have this. He felt Glenn’s soft beard against his neck, and was shocked to feel a hint of burning behind his eyes. He squeezed tight and let go. He told himself he’d kept his crotch and his troublemaking erection enough away from Glenn’s tightly-packed junk to avoid detection, but if he was honest with himself he wasn’t so sure of that.
Glenn clapped him twice on the upper arm. “I’ll tell you the whole story sometime,” he said shortly. “Now, why don’t you go check out the generator and see if you can get it up and running.”
“Got it,” Max said, making to head for the equipment shed, but Glenn pulled him up short.
“Wait,” Glenn said, and Max turned back around to see that Glenn had his “rule hand” up again, three fingers and a thumb extended. “Don’t forget the rules,” he said, nodding meaningfully down at Max’s favorite blue and white baseball tee, the one he’d worn just for this trip because he thought he looked halfway decent in it.
Max had decided to make the whole scary first-name-basis thing easier by turning it into a joke, and now seemed like the right time to implement that plan. “Sure thing, Glenn,” he said archly. In one swift move he grabbed the opposite hems of his tee and hauled it straight off over his head, exposing his defined, not-very-hairy torso for all the birds, beasts, and Glenn to see. Then he stood there in front of Glenn as square shouldered as he could, the balled-up tee in one hand, and faced his dad like he’d fucking invented shirtlessness.
Glenn looked him over, lips curving, and when he met Max’s eyes again his were twinkling in the clear blue mountain daylight. “Better,” he affirmed. With a tilt of his head toward the equipment shed Glenn dismissed him to resume his chores, and Max, smiling and shaking his head, trotted off, tossing the shirt onto the seat of the truck cab alongside his dad’s flannel as he passed.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. He and Glenn unloaded the truck and laid in the supplies. Before he started hauling Max was careful to set his new knife aside on the table by the door—he was already petrified of losing it and needed to find a belt sheath or other secure way to carry it before it could become part of his life. The cabin wasn’t too big inside, but it was large enough for a main room with an old couch and the two extra-long twin beds opposite a stone hearth and fireplace; a kitchen with the old stove and fridge, a chest freezer, a sink, and a hand-crafted table with three chairs obviously made by the same hand (Glenn, or someone further back in his family tree?); a musty, decent-sized pantry; and a linen closet with a cedar chest. Though there was pumpable water at the sink there were no facilities—the outhouse was lower down in the clearing (downwind), and the manually operated shower pump was outside behind the house. The pipes had been vacated to prevent freezing, and it took a good bit of labor at the kitchen pump before they had clean, clear mountain water available on demand.
Once everything was stowed and the house swept and opened up for some cool, refreshing cross-ventilation they got started on dinner. Their choice of first meal was a no-brainer: the beloved chili mac recipe Glenn had promised him every time they’d come up here when Max was younger. They didn’t talk much while they cooked, but they didn’t have to. Max was starting to relax a little, his hard-on even partly relenting, as he got into the groove of moving around the cabin and working together with Glenn, sharing space with him like they sometimes had back home, when Glenn wasn’t busy working, though it was even better and easier up here. Max marveled at how the simple, symbolic act of both of them doffing their shirts and working together without them made him feel at ease with his dad, like they were both just men who were doing this trip together. He knew it was not quite that simple, but there was truth in it regardless.
They sat down to eat as night started to close in, a simple lamp mounted on the wall their only source of illumination beyond the reds of sunset painting the cabin rooms through the wide windows. They talked about the daylong hike they had planned for the next day to reacquaint them both with the areas around the camp. They’d also be looking for tracks and other signs of local fauna, hoping to get a good idea not only of what kind of game was out there but the general sense of what animals were around here now and how they were doing. Max told him he couldn’t wait, and he meant it.
“Missing your phone yet?” Glenn needled him.
“I’m still too excited to be back up here,” Max admitted. “Ask me again next week and I’ll probably bite your head off.” Glenn laughed and stood up, collecting the plates. Max followed suit, grabbing the chili pot and re-covering it to stow in the fridge—there was still enough for another meal or so. When Glenn cooked, he prepared for the present and the future, as Max well knew.
Max moved to help with the washing up, but Glenn held up his rule hand with the four fingers. “Uh uh uh,” he said, tipping his head toward the sunset just visible through the trees, leaving a sky of purple, indigo, and black in its wake. “Almost nightfall,” he said. “Time for your daily dose of my… special brew.” Glenn wiggled his eyebrows playfully.
Max laughed outright. “Christ, Glenn,” he exclaimed, leaning on the name to keep it supposedly sarcastic. “It’s Kinsman Mountain IPA! They sell it in Hannaford’s back home! Heck, I bet even the Walmart has it.”
Glenn shrugged, smile crooked behind his beard. “Still special,” he said placidly. “Go out on the deck and I’ll bring you yours, and we’ll watch the stars wake up.”
Still chuckling, Max went out and headed for the side of the deck where there were a couple of weather-worn but apparently indomitable deck chairs. Max eased himself into one, feeling the work he’d done that afternoon hauling boxes and pumping water. He felt the first urge in a while to check his phone, even starting to reach for it to pull it out of his pocket, but he forced himself to relax. His games and his twitter feed might make a useful barrier between him and his too-distracting dad—they certainly had in the past—but this trip, seemingly, was the end of that. He stared out at the darkening forest, already shifted most of the way from towering greens and browns to shadowed silhouette against an increasingly starlit sky, and worried about an uncertain future, alone with a man who could never find out just how much he loved him in all the wrong ways.
It took Glenn longer to come out on the deck than Max had expected, though he suspected he himself had kind of lost track of time out here in the deepening twilight. Glenn came out carrying two glass steins of beer, one of which he handed to Max. The glass was unexpectedly cold. Max remembered seeing the steins in the freezer, before they’d started loading it up with the meat, ice, and other provisions they’d brought with them—soon to be added to, Max hoped, by the meat they caught themselves. He vaguely remembered his dad drinking beer from one of these, on earlier trips. Now he was drinking with him. Another rite of passage.
Glenn eased into the other chair, carefully keeping the stein level, and then started drinking his beer without preamble, looking not at Max but out at the inky forest and the slowly emerging stars as he drank. Okay, maybe not a rite of passage. Max began drinking his. He frowned, looking down at the beer, though there was not much to see in this light. Glenn had let him have a few glasses of this beer before here and there, and he knew the IPA’s taste. Normally it was bitter but smooth, but now the taste was subtly altered; not a lot, and not in a bad way, but enough for Max, who’d always been good with tastes and smells, to notice. He almost asked if Kinsman had changed their formula or come out with a new line, but Glenn seemed wrapped in quiet contemplation, and Max decided not to disturb him. He drank his beer, and so did Glenn.
Max had the idea that if it was a “rule” he was supposed to have a beer at the end of every day, he should do the thing properly and drink the whole thing. It was a comfortable night, an agreeable coolness settling in with the dark, and Max was in no mood to disrupt anything. So he drank. As he was someone who didn’t drink often, the buzz came quickly—a nice buzz, as reassuring as the night sounds of the forest and the three-quarters moon just starting to climb past the trees in the east. He thought of all the drunk guests at Owen’s party. He remembered Natalie Shirker spilling two cups of piss beer down his pants and snorted. If they’d had this stuff at Owen’s party, Max thought, he might have stayed.
As he got close to the bottom of the glass stein Max was feeling a weird combination of very relaxed and strangely stimulated. The stimulation, though, wasn’t really like the stimulants he was used to—it didn’t feel like caffeine or anything that acted on your mind or sped your pulse. If anything his pulse was slow and steady as a universal clock. But it felt like his skin was softly prickling, like the edge of some faint, barely discernible process was percolating in him just below the surface, hardly there at all. What was most obvious about it was how it was amping up his own natural horniness, even as the buzz melted away inhibitions and fears. His cock thickened and returned to its full hardness in his jeans like it belonged that way. Without thinking he reached up and felt his own bare chest.
“If you need to take care of that,” came a calm, matter-of-fact voice from his right, “you can.” Max nodded. Made sense. He tossed back the last of his beer and set the stein down on the deck. His cock was all the way hard. The beer said it was okay. The beer, and the voice.
Slowly, Max pulled his hand down from his chest, across his taut but undefined, mostly hairless abs, to his crotch where his raging cock waited for release. His hand touched the zipper, his fingers grasping the key and ready to pull it down, before some part of his brain remembered where he was. “Fuck!” he spat, sitting up. The world around him swam.
“Anything wrong?” Glenn said from somewhere beside him.
Without answering, Max jumped out of his chair and bolted unsteadily into the house. He ran into the bedroom and closed the door behind him—softly, not wanting to alarm his dad.
Now it was a race. He had to get rid of this thing before Glenn came back inside.
He yanked open his zipper and hauled his fat, uncut erection out with some difficulty, until it stood before him, tall and defiant. He wrapped his hand around it and began stroking. He was buzzed, though, and his mind was wandering, and his skin and body felt very slightly weird. He needed something to focus on. Not for the first time he used his vivid imagination to picture an eager, stubble-jawed Owen kneeling before him, hairy chest bare like Max’s, eyes wide at the sight of Max’s erection. Max drew in a breath as his fantasy Owen wrapped his mouth around Max’s big tool, and Max was almost instantly close, verging along an edge he’d been riding all day. Max closed his eyes, reveling in the sensation of near bliss, and when he opened them, the fantasy man kneeling between his legs wasn’t Owen. Not even close.
Max came so hard he had to clap his free hand over his mouth to stifle the sounds he was making. His release came again, and again, flooding him with pleasure, and Max fell back on the bed close to passing out from the wild intensity of it. He lay there for a long time, trying not to think about how impossible it would be to make it through the week, much less the summer.
Out on the deck, Glenn Sheridan nodded to himself. Slowly he pulled his own prodigious erection from his pants and began methodically stroking. He began picturing his own fantasies… fantasies he would very soon see converted into real life. They had to. He had to make this work out the way it was supposed to, or things could go wrong—very wrong.
He put the thought out of his mind. Patience was the key. It would be another month before Max would have to choose. And it was Glenn’s job to make sure Max was ready.
They were around each other constantly, from sunup to long past sunset, when they took their beer together on the wide porch under the stars. They hiked endlessly through pathless forests, fished the deep, rushing streams that seemed alive with trout, took turns in the pump shower, cooked and ate together… and every moment Max was acutely conscious of how this man—Glenn Sheridan, his goddamned dad—was every inch the ideal man.
Glenn wasn’t just hairy, he was alive with hair from face to ankles, every inch seeming to attest to his father’s raw, incomparable virility. It was like he had so much manliness it was bursting through his skin in the form of endless lush swaths of short, dark brown hair. Max had had a dream once—well, more than once—where some brutish divinity, half beast and half god, had taken a young, naked Glenn somewhere deep into the woods until they found a depression filled with rich, wet, mossy mud, and the beast-god had smeared almost every inch of him with the mud—only the mud sank into his skin like it was absorbing its potency, and in moments everywhere the mud had been was springing forth with dark, thick, curling hair, while Glenn himself roared with delight. Max had awoken from the fantasy cumming violently all over his own mostly hairless torso. He hadn’t been able to shake the imagery ever since. His father was so manly he could almost believe his hairy masculinity was a gift from the forces of nature itself.
And it wasn’t just the hair that turned Max on. Glenn looked like his muscles were made to tear things apart. His shoulders were broad and thick, his chest was hard and packed with muscle, and his arms looked ready to grasp any object with an iron grip and rip it to pieces. Unhidden by clothes thanks to the no-shirts rule, his torso was a positive distraction at all times. His legs were almost as distracting. Usually Glenn wore only abbreviated cargo shorts that barely reached halfway to his knees, and between his calves and his mighty thighs he looked ready to run a thousand miles without breaking a sweat.
He didn’t just look powerful, either. Max was sure that he was even stronger than he looked. Once, on the third day, they were hiking one of the marked trails for a change (the one they were on led to a large field of wildflowers his dad wanted him to see) when they encountered a decent-sized boulder that must have crashed down the side of the mountain and landed smack in the the middle of the narrow trail, effectively obstructing their passage and everyone else’s. He and Glenn could have climbed over it easily enough, of course, but they decided the right thing to do was to be considerate to the other hikers and try to shift the rick to one side if they could. Max moved in to help, but before he could get into position Glenn had his hands under the boulder and was lifting it without any apparent effort. Suddenly he gave a mighty heave and basically hurled the rock end over end all of the way off the path toward the downhill side of the trail. Gravity added to momentum and the boulder started to pick up speed as it barreled down the slope, carving a swath of destruction as it smashed heedlessly through trees and brush and setting birds panicked flight, until at last it stilled somewhere below them, the sun-dappled forest suddenly quiet and at peace once more.
Max gaped after the boulder in disbelief. When he turned to look at Glenn in amazement, though, he was surprised to see Glenn’s eyes were as wide as his, and when Glenn looked over to meet Max’s gaze he saw an unnerving hint of trepidation in them, as if he was worried how Max would react. Max knew one thing in that moment: he never wanted his dad to worry about him like that. He decided to play it off like it was no big thing. “Now you done it,” he admonished, giving Glenn’s hairy, rock-hard shoulder a playful shove. “You probably just blocked a totally different trail down there. Nice job, Glenn.”
Glenn grinned and shoved him back just as playfully, and Max barely kept to his feet. “Hey, all I care about the path I’m taking,” he said in a sort of tough-guy, Stallone-esque tone. Max knew this as the voice his dad used to make fun of thick-necked brutes only seemed to care about themselves. For Glenn, being manly very much included not being an asshole to other people, and he seemed genuinely mystified by jerks who didn’t feel the same way. Max was a little more cynical. People, he figured, were basically no good; Glenn was the exception.
“You’re a poster boy for altruism,” Max snarked. He gestured to the now-cleared path ahead of them. “You going to hike or what?” He was desperate for Glenn to turn around and start walking again so he could adjust the massive boner he’d just sprung from his father’s display of strength; but when Glenn winkled at him and turned around at last, Max was reminded of why he’d been half-hard this whole hike: Glenn’s round, hard muscle ass in those snug cargo shorts. An ass he’d now have to look at with a full-blown, giant, unrelenting hard-on all the way to the high mountain meadow they were aiming for, and possibly all the way back and all the way through dinner, too, he couldn’t contrive a way to deal with it before then.
The boner thing was becoming a serious problem. He was throwing them all the time, forcing him to walk around with a huge erection throbbing again his hip like he had all that first afternoon. Back home he’d been aware of how hot his dad was and how badly he lusted after him. But back home there’d been a million distractions, and his dad had been busy and even distant at times, and Max had Owen to get his rocks off with. Here, it was just them. No phone, no school, no video games, and no one to help him find release when he’d driven himself nuts with dad-lust. This whole experience was like immersion therapy for someone who needed to discover how hot a man could be, only Max already knew that already. He knew in spades, and he was fucking drowning in it.
If anything it was getting worse, because the more days they spent together up here the more aware he was that Glenn’s manliness wasn’t limited to how amazing he looked, or the way he moved, or the strength he had locked away in those corded, powerful muscles. He was starting to notice Glenn’s scent. Or more accurately, his scents, because there were differences. Glenn after a long day roaming the mountains with him, earthy and sharp with sweat, was different from the clean manly smell he had fresh from the pump shower; and it was different yet again when he first awoke. All of them were distinctively Glenn, different sides of the same manly odor, and all of them went straight to his dick.
Fuck, everything about him went straight to his dick. The smallest thing seemed to flip his switch and give him sudden, painful insta-boners. Glenn smiling at the beauty of nature, then turning abruptly that bearded smile on him. His hard-muscled silhouette against the early, half-risen sun as he stood, his back to the cabin, sipping the one mug of morning coffee he allowed himself. Or, anything, really. He was done for. He was toast, and there was no way out.
He caught his dad humming to himself as Glenn kneaded bread dough on a rainy late morning two weeks into their trip, and stood in the doorway, arrested. His shoulder and arm muscles rippled as he pushed the heels of his hands into the yeasty mass in a relentless rhythm, folding the dough over and kneading it anew, again and again. Finally, satisfied, he straightened, rolling his shoulders and smiling up at Max, who’d been watching him, lips parted, the whole time.
“Looks good, right?” Glenn said. He turned and found a metal bowl and dropped the dough in it, covering it with a cloth.
Max gulped. “What kind of bread is that going to be?” he made himself ask. His hands twitched, wanting to touch… something. Himself, Glenn… anything.
“Actually, it’s pizza dough,” Glenn admitted. “The oven on that old stove still works, and with the rain and all I figured we’d do the the cookout I had planned for tonight another time and try this instead.”
Max was momentarily distracted from his own all-pervading arousal. “Pizza? Do we have stuff for that?”
Glenn shrugged his wide shoulders. “Some,” he said. “We’ve got the spices, and the dough’ll be ready in time. I set out some sausage from the freezer that will go well with it. You can go into town and pick up tomato sauce and cheese.” Glenn’s eyes seemed to glint as he added, “We can have it with our beer tonight.”
Oh, god, the beer. Max was awash in his own hormones again at the very mention of it. There was something about that nightly ritual that was doing him in. It was like the beer did something to him, amping up his lust while dulling his inhibitions. But there was something more to it, something he couldn’t explain. Every night they’d shared that beer together, and every night he wanted to grab his iron-hard erection and flog it, right there under the stars, Glenn sitting right there, eyes alight, his erection freed as well, standing tall and proud in his own hand…
To keep his hand away from his crotch he lifted it up and scratched along his breastbone idly. Glenn’s eyes followed the motion. “Country cooking putting some hair on your chest?” he teased.
“I have hair on my chest already, you dick,” he shot back, immediately dropping his hand. And he did, even if the beast-god from Max’s dream had seen fit to daub a thumb’s worth of the mud he’s covered his father with in a single smear along his sternum. Well, it had been itchy lately—maybe his hair was having babies and starting to multiply at last. It did feel like his chest hair might be growing out a little. His head hair was feeling long, for that matter, and he’d noticed his dad’s hair was growing out too. Any longer and it would start merging with the hair on his shoulders. Max still had a long way to go before he could even hold a candle to his dad’s hairiness.
Of course, Glenn knew this. He smirked at Max. “Yeah, okay,” Max said. “Not all of us can be big old black bears like you.”
Glenn’s smirk only widened. “Give it time,” he said easily. He slid his eyes across the rest of Max’s exposed shoulders and torso, which were, as Max had admitted to himself that morning with no small amount of wonder, already more defined and even slightly developed after only a couple weeks of exertion and constant physical activity. “Mountain life is agreeing with you,” Glenn added, with unmistakable appreciation in his voice.
Max actually blushed. Quickly he looked down, embarrassed. He caught sight of the bulge in his own cutoffs formed by his fat, unrelenting erection and felt his embarrassment triple. He turned away and mutely grabbed the keys from the hook by the door, slipped his knife in his back pocket and headed out into the warm, wet morning, his dad’s chuckles following him as he closed the door behind him.
The ride into town was long and lonely. Max was on edge. He’d spent the past few days getting increasingly riled up over spending all of his time with Glenn, morning, noon, and night. And yet now that he was on his own for basically the first time since they’d gotten up here, Max felt like he didn’t know how to be by himself. He tried distracting himself by fiddling with the radio, but he couldn’t find a station that wasn’t half static. He switched it off in frustration and focused on the road down the mountain and listened to the steady patter of the storm on the roof of the truck.
After what felt like twice as long a trip as it should have been he finally got off the private road and onto the little highway that led through town, and a few moments later he was rolling through the empty streets of Stark, New Hampshire, population… himself and that German shepherd snoozing on the sidewalk under the awning for the bar and grill, apparently. There were plenty of rain-dappled cars, pickups, and SUVs parked here and there along the street, just like before; but no people were in evidence anywhere, not even the bull-shouldered old-timers he’d seen parked in front of the butcher shop the last time.
Max pulled into a spot in front of the dry goods store and looked around as he flicked off his lights and ignition, feeling like he was missing something. Did the whole town of Stark stay in and Netflix on rainy days? Was the entire citizenry secretly made of sugar and liable to melt when it got a bit wet out? Somehow an outdoorsy town like this was the last place he’d have figured for being afraid of a little drizzle.
If he had his cell phone—which is to say, if he were allowed to have his cell phone—he’d text his dad and ask him if he knew what was up. But… no, it was probably a good thing he didn’t have his phone. He wasn’t a kid any more. He needed to show his dad that he was a man, capable of standing alone in his own boots and moving through the world, stolid and confident, without Glenn Sheridan as his shield and protector. He wasn’t weird little Maxfield anymore: he was Max, his father’s son.
He got out of the truck, looking around him warily. The storm had lessened considerably as he’d driven down from the cabin but a gentle rain was still coming down, and as he slammed the driver’s side door he realized he was feeling those cold raindrops on his bare, shirtless shoulders. He did a mental facepalm. Had he really driven into town just to walk into the store completely bare-chested like some kind of tool? Forget being a grown-up, he wasn’t even fit to be seen in public. Maybe, Max snarked to himself, there was no one out here on the streets because somehow advance word had spread through the village that he was coming down the mountain fixing to point his hairless nipples at them, and they’d all fled indoors and battened the hatches in disgusted terror.
He stood in the gentle rain a second dithering, uncertain what to do. Contemplating jumping into the truck and fleeing, though, made him remember the blue baseball tee he’d worn the first day, which he’d pulled off and tossed in the cab. He’d never retrieved it, and as far as he knew his dad hadn’t either.
For that matter, Glenn’s shirt was still in the cab, too.
A moment later, Max stepped up onto the covered porch in front of Wentworth’s, the dry goods store, wearing a red and black plaid summer flannel that smelled intoxicatingly like his dad. He wore it open, like Glenn did, and for the first time he was glad he was actually starting to look, if not buff, at least the beginnings of cut and defined after a couple weeks of hard work and hard fun on the mountain. He’d already had a bit of a six-pack, thanks to a fast metabolism and a longstanding, weird affinity for sit-ups (weird because he otherwise had no jock tendencies at all, but he liked the idea of showing tight ab muscles to whoever might be willing to suck his dick); now wearing Glenn’s shirt all unbuttoned and open made him feel like even if he didn’t measure up to his dad’s lush hair and hard, thick muscles he at least had something to show off he could be proud of.
He was about to pull open the glass door to the store when he paused, hand on the door pull, feeling unaccountably like he was being watched. He turned to his left, half expecting to see Eamon staring ominously at him, but it wasn’t Eamon. It was the dog. Max froze, uncertain what to do.
When he’d pulled into town, Max had spotted the brown and black German shepherd curled up outside the tavern, apparently asleep. Now, though, the dog was crouching low in front, ears up and hackles raised, teeth bared like Max was a predator come to kill the dog’s entire family. No, that wasn’t quite it. It was more like Max had strayed into a place he didn’t belong, a place that dog would protect and defend with his life from dangerous interlopers like Max. There was some distance between them—the bar and grill was five doors down from Wentworth’s, putting a good fifty feet of space between them—but Max knew you didn’t ignore an infuriated dog who had a bead on you.
Fuck, was that why everyone was off the streets—everyone was scared of the crazy alpha dog with a chip on its shoulder? That… didn’t seem right either. Not for this town. Something else was going on.
Max remembered his earlier thoughts about being a man and standing on his own two feet. Anger filled him. He had a right to be here, just as much as that ragey cur. “Fuck you, dog,” Max muttered, letting his lip curl like a movie badass. Heart thumping, he turned and planted his feet squarely to stared down the dog. The dog’s lips peeled back further, exposing more of his long, sharp teeth. Max took a step toward it. His hand moved back, ready to grab his knife if needed. He stood his ground and bared his own teeth, letting out a low, vicious growl.
The dog barked once at him, and then backed away—one step, then another, then another, never taking its eyes off Max. “Yeah,” Max sneered. “I thought so.” He held his stare a minute longer, then turned his head deliberately away and walked into the store, bells jingling overhead as the door closed behind him.
Max stood there a moment, his hands shivering with adrenaline and the shop’s unexpected chill, and let himself calm down a bit. A hundred conflicting thoughts and feelings swirled in his head without resolution. What the hell was that? Why had that dog decided to challenge him—and where on earth had that impulse to growl back at it come from? Criminy, what the hell was up with him? One minute he’s getting all turned on because he’s wearing Glenn’s shirt, and the next he’s facing down a goddamned German shepherd!
Max became aware of more eyes on him, and surfaced from his thoughts to see that a cluster of three middle-aged men were standing by the counter staring at him. Even the buff blond kid working the counter, the same one from when he’d first come to town, was gaping at him, his ever-present phone forgotten in his hand.
Max gave them a brief, uneasy wave. He thought about what he might say to these strangers, maybe to explain his presence in town (since it seemed to be unexpected, if not actually unwelcome?), but nothing came to him. The knot of men by the counter didn’t say anything, either, just watched him with the same unreadable expression. They were, oddly enough, all dressed for fishing, complete with thigh-waders, plaid flannels, and soft fishing hats—one even had a few colorful lures pinned to his, like he thought he was that colonel from M*A*S*H, not the hardass one but the first one that bit it over the Sea of Japan. Did people go fishing in the rain? Probably. He knew his dad liked being out in the wild in any weather, and maybe town folk here were like that, too.
Apart from the similar attire and a shared, watchful expression the three men could not be more different. The middle one was gangly and a little too tall, maybe around forty, with short, messy hair mostly hidden under his pristine hat. He looked to Max like someone who liked to keep to himself, mostly out of social incompetence. The one next to him near the counter was a bit older, with a craggy face and a bit of steel gray seeded through his dark, well-trimmed hair; below he was showing a bit of a spread, but he still looked hardy and capable. The third man was older still, his curly hair gone almost gray and receding in the center; his green and brown plaid was straining across a pronounced belly, and he had what could only the kind of bulbous, red-tinted drinker’s nose he had only seen in old screwball comedies. He looked like he laughed a lot, though he sure wasn’t laughing now. He didn’t remember any of them from his previous visits (not that he’d paid much attention to the town when he was up here as a boy), and he wondered very much who they were.
They all stared at each other for another beat, Max getting more and more uncomfortable. I should just… get what I need and go, he thought as the three older men and the cashier continued to watch him, as if for signs of sudden violence. Now… what the fuck did I actually come here for again? Between the dog and the townsmen’s staredown he was downright flummoxed. He searched his brain frantically. Right. Pizza stuff. Cheese and tomatoes. He still hadn’t thought of anything to say, so he just cocked his head in the direction of the dairy coolers on the other side of the store. Getting no reaction, he just turned and walked away, leaving their stares behind as he headed down one of the taller aisles.
Unfortunately it didn’t take him long to collect the things he needed, even with a few impulse grabs of some jerky and a few other small things he thought Glenn might like. When he came up to the counter the trio of older men moved back a few feet to let him lay down his stiff to the kid—he was maybe, what eighteen? Nineteen?—could start ringing up his purchases.
“Enjoying being back up the mountain again, young Sheridan?” the fat one said abruptly.
Max looked at him sidelong as he set his stuff on the counter. His interlocutor was favoring him with a jovial smile, as if determined to befriend someone he didn’t much care for. “I love it,” he said truthfully, without changing his own expression.
“Good, good,” the fat one said. That seemed to empty his supply of conversation, and no one said anything for a moment as the kid tallied his things on a cash register that, while electronic and not an old manual antique like he might have expected in a store like this, was easily a good twenty or thirty years old at minimum.
Finally, out of curiosity, Max asked, “You all going fishing today?”
“Yep,” the craggy-faced one said immediately. “Today’s town fishing day. Two weeks before the full moon, like clockwork,” he explained. “All the families in town head out to Crystal Lake today. To fish,” he added, as if to make their intentions transparently clear.
Max nodded. Something was very weird about all of this. “You know, my dad and I like fishing, too,” he probed. “Maybe we should come.”
“Maybe another time,” the fat one said genially.
“All the arrangements have already been made,” the craggy-faced one elaborated. “Spots assigned, bait parceled out—you understand.”
“It’s really for the town folk, anyway,” said the tall one, speaking for the first time. “Not, you know… the mountain folk.”
The fat one gave his tall friend a quick glance, then added in a friendly tone, “From what I hear, you’ve got great fishing up there anyway. Fish practically jumping into your hands,” he added, resuming that pleasant smile.
Max smiled widely back at him. It felt a little like baring his teeth again, like he had for the dog. “Sure thing,” he said. “It’s crazy. Say, I never caught your names.” He stuck out his hand toward the fat man. “Max Sheridan.”
The fat one seemed to hesitate fractionally before taking his hand in what felt like an effort at a firm grip. “Joshua Abbott,” he said. “Town doctor.”
Max shook hands with the other two men. The craggy-faced man turned out to be Jesse Fairchild, who ran the tavern down the way, and the tall, awkward one was Noah Paxton, who acted as the town’s lawyer and also served as the regional postmaster. “Glad to meet you,” Max said. “I’m here for the summer, so I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
This piece of information seemed to be news to the three townsmen, and they exchanged looks. Max was pretty much done with their mysterious exclusivity. He turned on the country boy, who started on receiving Max’s full attention. He looked strong and fit, with something approaching the defined, nicely proportioned swimmer’s build Max himself was sporting under his open shirt, but between his pallid skin, longish blond-white hair, and pale cornflower-blue eyes he seemed almost completely washed out, like someone had diluted all the colors out of him.
Stammering, the kid told Max the total. Max tried handing over his debit card, but the kid shook his head. “Eftpos is down today, sorry,” he said, with a quick, almost imperceptible glance at the three men. “Gotta be cash.”
“Is that right,” Max said evenly. They’d brought enough cash with them to last a while anyway, and he remembered his dad saying one of those storefronts along the main drag was a credit union or something similar, so they’d probably be able to get more if they needed. He handed over some bills from his wallet. As the kid fished out his change from the cash drawer Max said, “Hey, can I borrow your phone for a minute?” When the kid looked up at him in surprise he explained, “I didn’t bring my phone with me, and I haven’t seen my email in a couple weeks. I promise I won’t troll through your pics or anything.”
“Uh, sure,” handing Max his change. He pocketed it and then watched as the kid keyed his phone open and handed it over before busying himself bagging Max’s purchases.
Max thumbed open the web browser and opened up gmail, having to think a second to remember his password. It felt like a relief just to see email again, even if it was all junk. Wait—there was something in his “important” folder. He shifted to that window and felt his eyebrows jump in surprise. An email from Owen!
Hey, dude, it said. I know you don’t have your phone or anything, but I figured you probably were checking your email every once in a while if you got the chance, so I thought I’d say hey. So… hey. Ha ha, lame, I know. Hope your summer up in Stark started off great and that you’re having fun and everything. You can say hey back sometime if you want, or not, it’s cool. Anyway, have fun and I’ll see you sometime, or whatever.
Max was grinning by the time he finished reading. Owen missed him. He might as well have come out and said it. The thick, hairy man’s man was bored as fuck back in Vermont, probably working at his father’s drug store for college money and looking like a store-polo-shirted gorilla among all the ordinary-sized associates and cashiers, and missing their regular, secret happy times.
It occurred to Max that Owen would be completely at home up here, which would be kind of fun to see. He didn’t really want to fuck Owen, not anymore, or even exchange blowjobs the way they used to. Max’s mind and libido had become completely saturated with Glenn Sheridan from the moment they’d embarked on this trip together, and Max’s obsession had gotten so bad that even just standing here in the dry goods store and thinking about his dad, hard-muscled, shirtless, sweat glistening on his thick shoulders from a long hike or naked and streaming with water in the little pump shower out back, was threatening to take him from mostly soft to stiff as a board in under three seconds.
And yet Glenn was off limits to him. Totally and completely unattainable. That combined with constant exposure relentlessly jangling his libido was going to drive him positively nuts, no joke.
Maybe what he needed was a buffer. Something to disrupt the sex vibes he was drowning in up at the cabin. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a friendly face here in town, too, if today was any indication of how things lay down here. He thumbed out a quick reply to his best friend and former fuckbuddy. Hey back, he wrote. I’ll bet things are exciting back there, too, right? (smiley emoji) If things ever get too crazy you can always see how you like it up here some weekend—I’d love to have some relief on the wood-chopping detail
Max smiled at his own deviousness. It sounded like a joke, and would read as one too, but Owen loved physical activity of any kind, including chores that got his blood moving and gave him an honest sweat. No funny stuff, of course—my dad’s around 24/7—and he’ll make you obey his crazy rules, but could make for a change from toting boxes of saline solution at the strip mall (wink emoji). He made a few more jokes about their underwhelming hometown, sent the email, and signed out of gmail before handing the phone back to the blond kid. “Thanks,” he said, offering him a genuine smile. The kid smiled back at him, a little surprised, like a tree had just waved hello at him.
Max picked up his bag of purchases and turned to the three men, who were still there, watching him, like they had nothing better to do. “It was nice meeting you,” he said, and he found he meant that, too. However strange this town was, and whatever the secrets that were swirling around him, this was his home for the next two and a half months. That said, he was damn glad was one of the “mountain folk”, whatever Postmaster Paxton had mean by that. Weird folk like this were best taken in small doses—though, he thought with amusement, these men probably felt the same about him and his dad. He wondered what they thought of Eamon Conroy, if they were so leery of mountain folk, and found himself grinning widely as he strode out of the shop.
The dog was still out there, more or less where Max had left him. He stood stiff and alert, watching Max attentively as he climbed into the truck and drove slowly out of town.
But when Max got back to the cabin, what he saw there made his mind go completely, blessedly blank. He sat in the car, engine running, and gaped through the windshield as all thoughts of angry dogs, cryptically hostile town folk, jumpy, laconic cashier dudes, and lonesome hometown jocks fled from his brain. His dick, never completely asleep these days, stirred rapidly to instant hardness in his cutoffs. He heard his own breath loud in his ears as if he were huffing into a microphone.
His dad was out in the storm, in the middle of the lush, close-cropped clearing that surrounded their little homestead. That wasn’t too unusual—Glenn loved the rain as much as he did the sun, maybe even more. “Love” wasn’t even the right word—he reveled in it, as if the forces of nature recharged him somehow.
No, the thing that was strange, the thing that arrested Max and swelled his dick to a helpless, rock-hard tree-trunk in his cutoffs, was what Glenn was doing out here in the storm. Out there in the field under a dark, glowering sky, the cold rain beating down on him, Glenn was doing push-ups, absolutely and completely naked.
Max switched off the car and doused the headlights. He half expected to see Glenn jump up with a grin from his endeavors as Max’s return, his seldom-seen soft cock wagging as Glenn waved to his son in greeting and started striding across the clearing to him. Max could picture it, the rain sliding along his muscles like a million fingers carding through the hair that covered him neck to foot, caressing the tawny skin beneath, and Max’s commando hard-on bucked against the denim of his cutoffs at the thought.
But Glenn didn’t stop. As Max watched he continued his storm-washed push-ups, his head closest to where Max sat in the truck thirty feet away at the edge of the wet, grassy expanse, and Max couldn’t decide whether to stare at the powerful shoulders, or the bunching, relentless biceps, or the round, hairy, well-tanned, rain-pelted muscle ass that hove into view, begging for attention, every time Glenn lowered himself close to the ground like a steel piston, rising and lowering unstoppably.
Max could not have wrenched his eyes away from the sight if he’d wanted to. His vision filled with primevally strong shoulder muscles, sinewy back, strapping legs, perfect ass. His imagination made him wonder what it would be like if he were the rain, and Max shuddered, his coursing blood feeling like it was on fire.
He put himself in the place of the rain. Countless droplets smacking against that hard muscled body, each one feeling the impact, each one tasting that skin as it slid along his masculine contours, follicles of dark body hair bristling all around him, barely bent by the deluge of him. He washed over Glenn, touching him everywhere all at once, feeling his corded thews as he worked himself with relentless discipline. Max realized he was rivuleting not just over the muscles he was used to seeing these days, and studying, when he could get away with it, so that he knew them a little too well by now, but over secret places, too. He was sliding along the mounds of Glenn’s fantastic glutes, feeling curves he’d seldom even seen except through clothes, caressing the flesh with a thousand tongues. And more. He was slipping down, between them, into the hairy crack, cleansing with his countless tongues a place he’d never even dared to imagine…
Max suddenly grabbed the base of his dick through his cutoffs, squeezing it tight in a vice-like grip. Fuck, he’d almost cum in his shorts. Panting, he felt his climax reluctantly subside, but his dick remained indomitably hard, like a bout in the pantry with his hands and a bit of lotion wouldn’t even be close to enough.
Somewhere up the mountain there was a lick of light, and a moment later a roll of thunder. Max blinked. He couldn’t just sit here. His dad would know he was staring, and—fuck, he needed to move.
Leaving the bag of groceries on the seat beside him he retrieved the keys from the ignition and pocketed them as he got out of the truck. He was instantly soaked, but he barely noticed. At some level he recognized that it felt kind of good, a wash, scrub, and massage all at once. But he wasn’t really thinking about the storm. He stalked over to his father and stood near him a couple of feet away. It was like approaching a furnace, only the heat he was feeling was all inside of him, in his very core, and most of it was in his churning balls and the rigid, quivering erection trapped in his rain-drenched cutoffs.
Glenn glanced up at him with a grin, not breaking his rhythm in the slightest. “You’re wearing a shirt,” he observed genially over the battering noise of the storm.
Max glanced down at the dripping red flannel, still open in the front and exposing his defined, mountain-built swimmer’s pecs, his own proudly carved abs, and the smudges of wet hair that formed a line seeming to point downward toward his crotch. “Sorry,” he said. “Forgot I was wearing it.”
Glenn nodded. Carefully he repositioned himself so that he was balancing on one hand, his other folded behind his impressive back. His balance reestablished, he lowered himself and began doing one-armed pushups. Max’s dick strained against the denim, fighting to get even harder. Fuck, he thought, is he doing that to impress me? Or is he just so strong that a thousand regular push-ups barely do anything for him?
“Go take it off and come join me,” Glenn said, and Max, his thoughts on his own dick, almost choked at the words. Shirt, he thought, he means the shirt. “It’s important to go out and push your body every day, no matter what the weather’s like,” Glenn went on. “Every day, understand?”
It was oddly gratifying for his dad to be saying things like this in the middle of such a bizarre spectacle. Glenn was still Glenn. “Is that a new rule?” Max asked, needling him a little.
Glenn didn’t look up at him this time, but he could hear the smile in his voice as he said, “Sure, why not.”
Max blinked down at his dad as he continued pistoning up and down. Shit. He’d turned this thing into a rule. He was going to have to come out here and… “Just let me put the groceries away,” he said.
Glenn grunted his agreement, and Max slowly retreated, walking backward the first few steps before turning and running back to the truck. He retrieved the groceries, pushed the truck door closed, and hurried inside. He leaned against the door a second, newly conscious he was soaking wet, then put it out of his mind. Fishing the keys out and hanging them on the little hook, dropping his knife on the table beneath it by the door. He set the bag down on the table near the cloth-covered bowl that held the rising dough and took off Glenn’s shirt, draping it across the back of a kitchen chair. As he did so he found himself wondering if it would still smell like Glenn when it dried, or if there might be a little of his scent on it now too.
Did he have a scent, the way Glenn did? A scent that Glenn might… notice, like Max did his?
Max shook his head. He put the cheese away in the old fridge, set the rest of the stuff out on the counter and trashed the plastic bag, then he turned slowly back to the fridge. He opened the door and stared inside. On the top shelf were three of the large 22-ounce “bomber”-size bottles of Kinsman Mountain IPA they’d brought with them. Seeing them made his stomach flutter a little.
The nightly ritual of a beer out on the porch had become a welcome closer to the day, and thanks to the boner he always got while downing his it was closely associated in his mind with Glenn and with the slowly mounting arousal he’d been fighting since the days of his very first confusing erections, but especially in the last two weeks since they’d started life up here on the mountain. The beer calmed him even as it seemed to feed his dick, and in that moment the latter seemed like an acceptable consequence of the former.
Without letting himself debate it any further he reached in and snatched the nearest bottle. Letting the door close itself he stalked over to the sink and checked out the window. Through the rain he could just see his dad, this time in a side view, his body and round ass a sort of reverse silhouette against the darker grass and the blur of rain beyond. He’d switched to the other arm and was pumping methodically up and down like a machine. Max’s dick kicked in his cutoffs. Staring hard at Glenn’s form Max twisted the cap off the bottle and slowly started downing the bittersweet brew, thinking as he chugged that even straight from the bottle it still didn’t taste much like what he remembered Kinsman Mountain tasting like.
He downed the whole thing in one go, slammed the bottle down on the counter, and then turned toward the door.
He paused, wondering if he was really going to do this and discovering he couldn’t not do it. It was a rule now, he rationalized. He imagined him and Glenn progressing from the strenuous things they’d been doing—hiking, wood-chopping—and adding on sessions of deliberate exercise. Push-ups in the rain might be only the first day. Tomorrow might be swimming in the lake, or pull-ups on tree-boughs, or wrestling…
Max put that thought aside, knowing he’d return to it in the dark of night when he was sure Glenn was fast sleep. Now was just push-ups in the rain. He could do that—he was damn good at push-ups. He looked down at himself, now clad only in wet denim cutoffs and his boots. For a crazy moment he actually considered the idea that he really should be naked like his dad. Weirdly the idea of walking out there naked didn’t appall him so much as striding out there with this unyielding erection bobbing in front of him. The boots would have to go, though. Adjusting his erection more along his hip so he could sit down without stabbing himself in the guts, he lowered himself into the same chair he’d draped the shirt on and quickly divested himself of his boots. This was something of a relief, as they’d been feeling a bit tight the last couple of days. He studied his now-naked feet, looking for anything unusual, but they looked the same as ever—no blisters or calluses, just a dusting of dark hair along the very crest. His dad had a lot more, of course, but he was glad to have any at all.
Go out there, his dick said, twitching against his wet, heated skin. Go out there and be near him. Max obeyed. It was, bottom line, what he wanted.
He didn’t even remember leaving the cabin. It was like he sitting in the kitchen one moment, his warm, stiff cock wedged along his hip demanding action, and the next he was out in the summer torrent, standing near his dad in his cutoffs and bare feet and slowly climbing down to position himself alongside him on the flats of his hands and his bent toes, feeling the rain—which seemed warm and welcoming now—pattering incessantly on the bare muscles of his back, legs, and arms.
Consciously, he began matching Glenn’s rhythm, his two-armed push-ups exactly mirroring the cadence of the one-armed ones his workout partner was making look absolutely effortless.
For a while there was no sound by the percussion of rain beating on the cabin, the truck, and the world around them, a susurrus of the gentle wind moving among the trees a steady counterpoint. A soft grumble of distant thunder sounded, though there was no more lightning to be seen. The sky was still dark, though, horizon to horizon, the sun a forgotten memory. This storm was going to be here a while.
Max found himself enjoying the burn in his shoulders and arms. Maybe it was working out alongside the indefatigable potently muscled Glenn, but he was finding the exertion a lot less than he was used to compared to doing push-ups back home. Maybe it was the rain, he thought wryly. His hard-on wasn’t going away—maybe not ever, after this level of stimulation—but he and it seemed to came come to a detente. It liked when he tested his muscles, after all, at least lately. And it definitely liked when Glenn drove his own body to all it was capable of. He just had to keep himself from thinking about all the ways Glenn could be doing that besides push-ups in the rain.
“You should do videos of this,” Max said after a while, having to raise his voice only slightly over the clatter. “Glenn Sheridan’s Mountain Workout.”
A glance to the side told him Glenn was smiling as he worked. “Yeah? You want to film me, Max?” Glenn teased.
Criminy, why does he say things like that? “Uh—sure,” he said. Then he admitted, “I was actually thinking… if I had my phone up here, I could totally Instagram you walking around the woods all… you know, shirtless and stuff. Stills, videos… you’d have, like, a million followers.”
Glenn smirked, and Max goggled inwardly at himself as he effortlessly kept pace with Glenn. Had he actually said that? Fuck, he might as well admit he was following him around with a boner all day, assuming there was any chance that his dad hadn’t noticed. And he wanted to say more, come clean—fuck, he wanted to do more. His thoughts swam, and he remembered the bomber of IPA he’d chugged. What was in that stuff, anyway? Max was no stranger to beer, but no ordinary lager had every affected him quite like this, though Max knew the beer was only a part of the whole experience of him getting more and more used to being up here, alone, with the man he dreamt of whenever he jacked his needy, high-maintenance fucker of a cock.
“Think how many would watch if it was both of us,” Glenn said, and though he must have meant it innocently he might as well have said it directly to Max’s aching, pleading dick. “Too bad you don’t have your phone,” he added, and his honey-gold eyes met Max’s long enough for a wink that went straight to Max’s groin.
Oh, jeez-o-pete—if Glenn pushed him over the edge out here, there was no way he could grab himself and hold off an explosion like he did in the truck. Of course, thinking about the humiliation of clamping his hand around the base of his tool right in front of his dad was humiliating enough to stave off a climax for a while, though his dick stubbornly remained almost unbearably hard.
Glenn repositioned himself again, switching back to his left arm. He glanced over at Max. “Try it like this,” he urged, poised in the up position with his arm extended.
Max paused, both his arms extended and hands flat on the damp grass. “I’m not as strong as you are,” he said, willing his eyes not to skitter along his dad’s naked, powerful form.
“You’re stronger than you think you are,” Glenn assured him. He nodded at Max’s right arm. Reluctantly, Max balanced himself on his left arm and awkwardly bent his right arm behind his back, matching Glenn’s position. “Good,” Glenn said encouragingly. “Now, we’ll start slow and see if we can’t work back up to the rhythm we had before.”
Max expected to fall on his face after a few of these, especially after having already been at it for—how long? Fifteen minutes? Twenty? It felt like more, except his muscles told him he’d barely started. To his amazement, however, as he mirrored his dad’s slightly slowed pace he found the level of exertion barely felt like an advance on the easy-as-pie two-armed version. He looked over at Glenn, smiling, and his dad took this as a sign to increase the pace. Soon they were back at the pistoning rate of up and down Glenn had been doing when he’d returned from town.
Fuck, Max thought, this is easy! He couldn’t quite believe it. How did I get strong? He’d never be as mighty as his boulder-hurling dad, but he’d also never thought he’d be anywhere close to being able to keep up with him. It was exhilarating and, he was amused to realize, it was also a huge turn-on. Like he needed any more of that, though it was kind of cool that there was something amping his arousal that came from him, and not his ultra-masculine paragon of a dad.
After a while—Max wasn’t sure how long—Glenn stopped to switch back to his left arm, and Max followed suit. His left was his nondominant arm, and this time Max was feeling the burn more, but he soldiered through, determined to match Glenn as long as he possibly could. After a while the steady ache felt reassuring, like he putting in the effort it took to even out his strength. Fuck, he kind of wanted to keep doing this until he felt strong enough to hurl a few boulders himself.
It was noticeably darker, though the rain had subsided to a simple steady downpour, by the time Glenn finally wrapped up their workout, first slipping his knees forward as he straightened his torso and then climbing to his feet. Max did the same. His shoulders, arms, and chest felt like they were on fire, but it felt good, honestly, and the pattering rain seemed to want to ease his aches.
He must have been looking at Glenn with some kind of astonishment; anyway, Glenn reacted with a fond smile. “C’mere,” he said, beckoning. “I’m proud of you.” And before he knew it Glenn had wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close.
Just hug him back, he thought. It’s what he wants. He slid his own sore arms around Glenn’s naked back and held him, letting the rain wash over him. He felt Glenn’s damp, soft beard press against his neck and shoulder and, used to mimicking his movements, he pressed his own bristly cheek against Glenn’s hairy neck and round, firm traps.
His cock surged helplessly under wet denim. He tried to keep his heated groin and troublesome cock an inch or two away at least, but Glenn pressed them together head to toe, holding him tight. Max felt lightning-struck, and he wondered if he had been, and this embrace was the afterlife. He could live with that, he thought.
They were pressed close, no space between them, for a long moment. “You know, when I was your age,” Glenn said at last, slipping one hand comfortingly along Max’s spine, “I couldn’t control mine either.” Max stiffened and tried to pull back, but Glenn wouldn’t let him. “Relax,” he said, and after a moment Max did, letting himself settle into Glenn’s embrace. “That’s my point,” Glenn went on, his tone light. “Just let ’em happen. And don’t worry about it. Guys your age sport wood.” Max was amused—it was the appropriate term for a mountain man to use. “It’s what they do.”
Max sighed into his dad’s neck. “All the time, though?” he whined, admitting his now-obvious problem at last.
“All the time,” Glenn insisted with a chuckle. “I think I was sporting wood pretty much 24/7 from age 15 up till I was a little older than you.”
“Yeah? What happened then?” Max teased. “You stop being horny all the time?”
“Nope, not at all,” he said easily. “I just learned how to control my body better.” Max was aware of their crotches pressed together, his denim-covered erection pushing against Glenn’s hip, Glenn’s thick, mostly flaccid cock just perceptible through one layer of wet fabric, and Max tried not to think about how maybe Glenn was only soft right now because he chose to be.
Max held Glenn. He thought about letting his hands move, aping the reassuring caresses Glenn was giving him, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep his hands from veering off into dangerous places. He spent his daring instead on a single audacious act: he placed his lips gently against Glenn’s muscular neck and just barely pressed them there for a few seconds. It wasn’t a kiss, not really, but it might be as close as he ever got.
“This is nice, right?” Glenn said as they held each other, the gentle rain beating down on them. It sounded like it was a genuine question.
There was belated rumble of far-off thunder, and then it was just the rain again. It felt soothingly melodic around them, like music, and Max could almost imagine they were dancing as they held each other. Then his mind took him there: a jazz club, low light, live music, other couples dressed to the nines—men with women, men with men, women with women—and in the middle, softly spotlit, the two of them, storm-drenched, naked, dancing, heads on each other’s shoulders.
Jeez, Max thought. Jeez-o-pete, what sweet madness is this.
Max felt like he needed to clear his throat, but he just let out a hoarse “Yeah.” Like it was no big deal, hugging Glenn, not wanting to let go.
“Good,” Glenn said, still holding him. “Then we’ll do this.”
Max wasn’t quite sure how to deal with this without making a joke out of it, so he snorted, blurting out, “Another rule?”
“Definitely,” Glenn laughed, and Max couldn’t believe he’d set himself up for the same trap twice in one afternoon.
After another moment they pulled apart, Glenn clasping Max’s shoulders. “How are these feeling?” he asked, squeezing Max’s abused delts before sliding his hands down to Max’s upper arms.
“Sore as fuck!” Max exclaimed with a smile, rolling his shoulders. “I think I killed myself keeping up with you.”
“You’ll live,” Glenn said, his honey-brown eyes glinting as Max stared into them. Damn, Max thought, he is proud of me.
Breaking his gaze away from his dad’s, Max instead looked him over for a second, though he was careful not to look down too far. “You know,” he confessed, looking back up at him, “I can’t really picture you my age.”
Glenn pushed his lips up in the middle in what someone had once called an mouth-shrug. “Eh. I looked pretty much like this,” he said, letting go of Max’s arms so that he could inspect his own rain-dappled body, the rivulets of the still-pouring rain sliding through the hair along thick, solid muscle. When he looked back up at Max it was to add with a wink, “Just a little less hairy. C’mon,” he said, slapping Max on a pumped-looking upper arm as he passed, “let’s go make pizza.”
“Oww,” Max said, grabbing his arm with his other hand as he followed Glenn into the cabin, his grin as irrepressible as his dick.
The pizza turned out pretty well. To Max’s way of thinking it was all the better for them having made it themselves. Though he did miss his phone and computer, and the easy conveniences of stopping by a sub shop whenever he felt hungry or even water he didn’t have to pump himself, a couple weeks up on the mountain were making him appreciate self-reliance. Sure, pizza with store-bought cheese and tomatoes couldn’t exactly count as self-sufficiency, but it was big advance on taking for granted being able to grab a slice at Emilio’s on the corner whenever he felt like it. And they were providing their own food—fishing now, and hunting soon. At this rate, he thought with a wry smile, by the end of the summer he’d be wondering why they even had towns and cities.
Thinking along those lines reminded him of what had happened earlier in the day, and as they ate Max filled Glenn in on the conversation he’d had with the three “town folk” he’d run into in Wentworth’s. Glenn’s expression darkened, and he chewed thoughtfully as Max told him about “town fishing day.” He found himself getting riled up all over again as he relived the townsmen’s patent hostility and what he’d pegged as a sort of cool disdain.
When his father didn’t respond right away he prompted, “They’re not really all getting together to go fishing, are they?”
“No,” Glenn said. “It’s a kind of… town meeting.”
“Only, at the lake,” Max added dubiously. He took a swig of the beer he’d taken from the fridge to have with dinner. That had earned him a raised eyebrow and a smirk from Glenn. He’d offered the remaining beer to him, but he’d demurred, opting for a warm bottle from the pantry.
Glenn nodded. “At the lake,” he agreed. “Paxton’s right, though. It’s not for… mountain folk.” He took another bite of his slice of pizza. The mildly crisp crust crunched gently in the otherwise quiet room, the storm outside now having given way to damp early evening enlivened only by distant frogs and crickets.
Max frowned. He’d bristled when he’d heard the postmaster use the phrase, knowing the man had meant something unsaid by it. Hearing his dad use it, though, with the same sense of unspoken code, was just annoying. Once again he was being made aware of an undercurrent of things he didn’t know about, bigger and older than his own existence, and that it was being kept from him. He was eighteen, and an honest-to-Pete, card-carrying adult. He shouldn’t be left in the cold, not like this. With how close he and Glenn were getting, it felt almost like a betrayal.
“I really think…” he began roughly, and his harsh tone made Glenn look up in surprise, still in the act of trying to separate gooey cheese from his pizza slice. Max gathered his thoughts and began again, moderating tone. “I know there are things you’re not telling me. I—” He felt another surge of anger as he remembered Eamon, who seemed in on it too, and—criminy, even the damn dog seemed to know more than he did. He consciously settled himself again. He managed to say calmly, “I would really like to know what’s going on.”
Glenn gave him a long, measured look. “Do you trust me, Max?” he said at last.
Max hesitated only a second. “Yes,” he said, without reservation. Then, feeling guilty for hesitating at all he reiterated, “Yes, absolutely.”
Glenn nodded, as if this was the answer he’d expected. “If I say that I’ll tell you everything, but not yet, will you accept that?” he asked. “There are… things that have to happen first.”
Max narrowed his eyes at him slightly. “That’s not cryptic at all,” he said doubtfully. It was so jarring for Glenn to be putting up walls now, when he’d practically been begging Max for the opposite earlier. He’d thought the long, heart-pounding workout together had been intense, a shared physicality that felt like a taste of something more; but then, the hug that came after…. Max thought about the almost-kiss he’d placed on Glenn’s neck before they’d finally separated. It had felt like a gift, a token of his need if Glenn only understood it. And now he felt irrationally like he was being spurned.
In a weird mental shift, Max abruptly remembered the little kiss on the neck Owen had given him when they said goodbye at the party, just before Max had walked away from everything they’d shared, not looking back. He hadn’t even thought of that moment in weeks, but now there was Owen’s email and the transparent hints that he was missing Max. For the first time he wondered if Owen had the same kind of yearnings for Max that he did for Glenn—wanting something more than what their roles made possible. But Max dismissed the thought. Owen wasn’t about to pine for anyone, least of all his high-school beejay partner.
Glenn kept his gaze steady on him, forcing Max to stare into those honey-brown eyes. “Do you trust me, Max?” he repeated.
“Of course,” Max said. “But—”
“Soon,” Glenn interrupted. “I promise.” He took the last bite of his slice, leaving the crust to be tossed onto his plate alongside the matching remains of its compatriots. Glenn had got through his half of the pie in record time—Max was still on his third slice.
Max had to accept a promise from his dad, though he almost growled in exasperation. “Will you at least tell me about the dog?”
Glenn’s brows shot up in surprise. “What dog?” he asked around a mouthful of food, confused.
“Big German shepherd,” Max said irritably. “He was parked outside the tavern when I got to town. Started barking at me and raising his hackles like I was the damn antichrist.”
Glenn swallowed, his face breaking into as broad grin. “What, Tyrant?” he asked, wiping his hands on a napkin. “He give you a hard time?” he goaded.
“Yes,” Max groused. His name is Tyrant? What kind of a name is that for a dog? “So, what, does he hate ‘mountain folk’ too?”
Glenn’s grin seemed to widen even further, as if pleased the town cur had almost torn him to pieces. Though, Max thought, remembering the effectiveness of his growl, maybe it wouldn’t have come to that. “Naw,” Glenn said, poaching the last slice. “Tyrant loves ‘mountain folk’. He was just playing.”
“Playing?” Max repeated incredulously.
“Sure, he loves to play. He must’a pegged you as a new cub,” Max said, taking a bite of his stolen slice.
There wasn’t much more conversation after that. They washed up the dishes with only a few functional words, Max withdrawn while Glenn seemed amused but thoughtful; and their nightly beer ritual on the porch was conducted in silence, though it was more contemplative than contrary. Max understood that they both had a lot on their minds, and reluctantly he let his dad be. They went to bed not long after, and for the first time Max didn’t try to deal with the recalcitrant erection that had barely flagged since the moment he’d arrived back from town.
Max lay in his bunk, staring up at the wooden roof above him. He was physically comfortable in a fresh, dry pair of boxer-briefs, and the burn of his upper body muscles was reassuring, the promise of future strength. His mind was disordered, though, and he was acutely aware of Glenn laying curled up but awake only a few feet away, muscular, hairy, and (for the first time) completely naked. He thought he might find sleep elusive, like a wily fox darting through the fields. To his surprise he succumbed before he’d even been thinking about the metaphor very long, though afterwards he might almost have wished he hadn’t. That night, Max had his first bear dream.
Max found himself standing in a shallow spot of the cold mountain stream that danced back and forth down the mountain a few minutes’ walk from their cabin. The chill water lapped as his thighs, wetting the hems of his charcoal boxer-briefs. It was night, but a full moon shone luminously overhead. It was tinged with red—a blood moon, Max thought.
With the kind of echoing voice over usually found in cheesy melodramas, he heard one of the townsmen talking about the full moon still being two weeks off. “Two weeks before the full moon, like clockwork,” he heard the craggy-faced old tavern-keeper say again. Max understood that he hadn’t wandered off in his sleep and gone wading in the creek. This was a dream.
A loud lowing roar came from the dark, old woods to his left. With a crash of trampled undergrowth and splintered trees a massive shape emerged: a huge black bear, half again the size of any bear he’d seen in photographs or movies. It pounded toward the creek, eyes fixed on Max. Max stood in the cavorting stream, horrified and unable to move, though the closer the monster got the more Max understood that it was not going to attack him—it was laying claim to him. It approached the bank, glassy black eyes never wavering from Max, and it seemed to snarl, as if discarding everything in the world but its own will.
It placed a paw in the stream. Max watched, petrified but fascinated, thinking that now doubt he would be just as engrossed when the bear lifted a paw full of razor-sharp claws to tear him apart.
Just then a furious roar erupted from the other direction. Max swiveled and saw, on the other bank, a huge brown bear, not quite as big as the other but somehow, he knew, fiercer and more powerful. It was baring its teeth not at Max but at the black bear, confronting him as a potential enemy should he step any further. Beyond it, in the woods, were more eyes, here and there, high and low, though what kinds of creatures they belonged to Max couldn’t guess—the moonlight revealed nothing of what lay in the forest’s black shadows.
That his back was to the black bear terrified Max, but he found he couldn’t take his eyes away from the brown bear. Against all human instinct he wanted to touch it, to be with it, to be one with it. He wanted intimacy… closeness… consummation.
He lifted a hand toward it, though it was well out of reach. The black bear growled menacingly behind him.
“Look out, son!” called a voice, and Max turned to see the three townsmen all standing in a knot right in the middle of the creek, about fifty feet downstream from him. They were all decked out in their fishing gear including the waders, and strings of fish were draped across their shoulders, alive and gasping. The fatter one, Doctor Abbott, had a double-barreled shotgun aimed right at the brown bear; Paxton had a shotgun too, trained on the huge black bear behind him. Max wondered if being shot would even slow down a creature that size. Maybe it would only be enraged.
Behind the three older men Max now noticed the jumpy, pallid cashier, standing in the stream with them but without waders, fish, or guns. In fact he was wearing only underwear, like Max, the moonlight making him resemble carved white marble come to life. His expression was hectic and concerned, flitting between Max, the bears, and the men. Max thought he looked like he wanted all this to stop but didn’t believe anyone would listen to him.
“Stay put, son, and don’t move,” Abbott said. “We’ll save ya.”
Max looked back at the brown bear. He met its honey-brown eyes and knew he could not stand to see any harm come to this beast. He turned back to the men long enough to call out, “I’m not your ‘son’!” Then he faced the brown bear and, finding he could move after all, he began sloshing his bare feet through the thin mud of the creek bed toward it. Come to me, the bear seemed to be saying. Hurry.
He took another step. Behind him, the black bear roared in fury, splashing into the shallow stream. There was a loud gunshot that seemed to report endlessly through the moonlit forest, scattering birds and shaking the trees. The brown bear screamed, the black bear roared in utter rage. Another report, and Max fell, his feet nowhere under him as pain ripped through his shoulder and back, though from claws or buckshot he couldn’t tell. He submerged into the blackness of the creek, his last sight the frenzied brown bear rushing into the water toward him.
Max woke up to find wide, honey-brown eyes staring into his in the dim light, and for a moment he was confused. “Wha—” he began.
A loud, angry roar came from somewhere outside. He knew that roar—it was the black bear’s roar, and, worse, he could tell it was close, maybe in their clearing. He glanced up, his eyes catching on the starry, moonless expanse of the night sky through the open window.
The roar came again. Still disoriented, he felt himself starting to panic. Glenn shook him. “Look at me, Max,” he said, and Max did, lighting again on those honey-brown eyes and finding strength and reassurance in them. “Listen,” he said. “I need you to do two things. I need you to lock the door after me—”
“Pop!” Max objected.
Glenn spoke over him. “—and make sure it’s locked, and the windows too. Do you understand?”
“Do you understand?!” Glenn barked. He was still clutching Max’s shoulder in a vice-like grip.
“Yes,” Max bit out. His heart was thumping. There was some kind of danger, and going out into it seemed like the most ridiculous choice imaginable.
Those eyes were drilling into him. “What’s my name?”
“What’s my name?” he persisted, calm and steady.
Max gave an exasperated smile. “Glenn,” he said.
Glenn’s lips curved, but only for a moment. He knew how to defuse tension, Max had to give him that. “The second thing,” he said. “If I’m not back in thirty minutes—”
“What??!” Max shouted. He would have jumped up, but Glenn was holding him so firmly in place he might as well have been strapped down.
“Listen!” Glenn commanded, and Max pursed his lips. “If I’m not back in thirty minutes, that doesn’t mean I’m dead. What it does mean is that I’ll need you to go into town and find a woman named Virginia Clement. Repeat the name.”
Max blinked, but before Glenn could demand it louder he repeated, “Virginia Clement.” A small process in the back of his brain delved for any scrap of memory that told him who this person was, and in doing so managed to connect this name with Glenn’s mention of another like it—the old friend named Clement who’d been keeping an eye on the heirloom knife that was now in Max’s possession. The process spun crazily about this connection, getting nowhere, while another process nearby expressed surprised relief that he hadn’t been told to go find Doctor Abbott or one of the other “town folk”.
The angry roar came again, loud and low enough for it to feel like vibrations passing through his every muscle and bone. Max looked up, his eyes going unfocused. The roar was from a slightly different direction—Max felt almost like he could see where the monstrous creature was, though he wasn’t sure how. See, but in a way that involved smell and taste and sound as well. It wasn’t closer, but that was no reassurance—if anything, it was stalking them, making a circuit of the cabin and its environs.
Glenn was watching him closely. “You can sense him, right?” he asked perceptively.
Max met his eyes again and nodded, almost as unnerved by this as by the creature’s fury and Glenn’s insane urge to go out and meet it, even if it was presumably to protect Max. He remembered his dream and had a weird thought that seemed to come from nowhere: that the black bear had come for him, not waiting for the full moon like it was supposed to. Was that… could his dream actually mean something?
Glenn smiled fiercely at him, and then, unbelievably, he dove in for a forceful, full-on kiss right on the mouth, brief but heart-stoppingly intense. Glenn’s soft, bristly beard was a perfect counterpoint to his sweet, sweet lips, and Max opened for him instinctively, giving himself without thought to the man he wanted more than anyone else on earth. The taste of him was seminal, reminding him of the times they’d spent together—the workout… the hug… the beers they’d shared. Max breathed in his scent as they kissed, reveling in the arousal he smelled winding through it. For a perfect moment they were sharing the most passionate kiss Max had ever imagined, a kiss that seemed to seep into him and take up residence in his soul, never to be expunged.
Then it was over, and Glenn was pulling back, rising to his feet. Max sat up and grabbed his arm. “Wait!” he said. Glenn looked at him, and though he meant to say Don’t go, what he actually heard himself saying was “Take me with you!”
Glenn smiled. “Not yet,” he said again, and Max was about to argue when it suddenly registered that Glenn was still without a stitch on, just as he’d been when he’d gone to bed.
“You’re naked!” he exclaimed, flummoxed. “You’re…you’re going out there, completely naked?” he said, the objection somehow becoming a question.
“I have what I need,” he said with a wink. Before Max could ask how that could possibly be—what, was his grandpappy’s other knife up his ass?—Glenn added seriously, “Come on, come lock the door after me.”
He turned for the cabin door. Frazzled and upset, his pulse racing but uneven, Max climbed out of bed and followed. Glenn opened the door, but turned and smiled at Max. “I’m just going to go and have a… chat, okay? I’ll be back, I promise.”
He moved to turn and go, but Max grabbed him by the back of the neck and pulled him in for a hard, ferocious kiss. He broke it just as abruptly, rolling his bruised lips together and wanting to run his fingers over all the places he could still feel Glenn’s beard against his skin. “You better,” he whispered.
Glenn’s smile made Max’s heard pound against his chest. “See you soon,” he said, and then he was gone into the night.
Max pushed the door closed and turned the locks. He fell against it, wondering if his heart would ever beat normally again.
It wasn’t Glenn he was afraid for, not really. If the last two weeks had confirmed anything for him, it was that Glenn belonged out there. The ancient, grizzled mountain was his home, with its babbling streams and soaring primeval forests, not the ugly, impermanent dwellings of men. Glenn was literally in his element. What felt wrong to Max was for him to be in here, isolated in the cabin and unable to help.
Another intense, reverberating roar seemed to shake the cabin, the woods, everything in Max’s world. He froze, ice slithering through all his veins. His hand jerked toward the door’s low, round knob, and it was only with a singular effort of will that he stopped himself, mashing the flat of his palm hard against the door’s cool, smooth finish as if to root it there and keep it from further mischief. He ached to tear the door open and pelt out into the black night after his dad, but his deep-bred instincts about the wild were too strong to allow him to succumb to such irrational impulses. Glenn would need all his focus, all his skills, all his concentration. He wouldn’t thank his tenderfoot, city-bred son for rushing in and being an unpredictable distraction.
For the first time ever, Max wanted to curse whatever force had pulled him out of his father’s world and into the urban mundanity that had been his only normal for almost his whole life.
He sighed and tried to clear his mind of unhelpful thoughts. Resting his cheek against the steadying chill of the thick, solid cabin door, Max closed his eyes and attempted to recapture that strange, elusive moment he’d had before where it almost seemed like he could see, or sense, the intruder, even from inside the cabin. He’d been close to panic and the sensation had come to him unbidden and without conscious thought. Max’s brows drew together slightly, trying to make sense of it. Only… intuition was telling him that making sense of it was the wrong way to go. It was as if it came from someplace other than the reasoning mind, someplace where primitive nerve centers reacted to external stimuli as brainlessly as protozoa and as relentlessly as the beating a heart. It was… was it a sixth sense? But usually the sixth sense was something advanced and paranormal, a meta-capability that kicked someone to a higher level beyond what any human dullard could achieve. This was deeper than that, older, in the other direction. Primal, irrational, original—a zeroth sense.
He pushed his mind and thoughts away and focused on the endless, wild night outside the cabin, becoming one with it, the walls around him melting into meaninglessness. He heard the soft rustling of the trees in the gentle, imperceptible breeze. He felt the weight of the still-damp grass, roots digging deep in the wet earth after the afternoon’s long, hard rain. Overhead he sensed the vast, black sky, aware of the countless stars without being able to see them. He couldn’t see, but he could sense. He felt the woods, the clearing, the cabin and its outbuilding.
He sensed the intruder.
He couldn’t see it, except as a kind of dark shape against the darkness of the infinite night. He could feel it, though. He knew its strength, its heat, its intensity of purpose. What that purpose was remained hidden from him, but the intruder’s focus was in no doubt: it was here, this clearing, this cabin. It was him. Him and Glenn, maybe, but it could not be Glenn only. He could feel the intruder’s concentration as if it were pulsing outward from him, and it was divided, part of its purpose still fixed on the cabin where Max alone remained.
He held back from trying to push his sensations one way or another, chary of making the sensations vanish back into hidden recesses the id with unwanted direction from his bossy superego. This deep, animal ability felt almost alien to reason… though something told him that maybe with training he could learn to use it like a tool. He had no doubts that his dad would know all about this if he asked, and it was inconceivable that Glenn hadn’t learned to master whatever form of it he himself possessed.
He drew in a long, deep breath, trying to free his mind again, eyes closed but not squeezed tight. The vast, deep and dark world, momentarily buffeted into insubstantiality by his circling thoughts, reformed around him like a mantle. Endless wild. Cold mountain. Trees, tall and vibrantly alive. Damp, chill clearing under the infinite, moonless night.
He was in the clearing—their clearing, and Max wanted to growl deep in his throat at the violation. He was on the up-mountain side, north and a little west, the opposite direction from the little knot of humans, barely perceptible, far, far away down-mountain. Around them was nothing but untamed night: mountain, clearing, cabin. Intruder—and another. Dark being against dark night. Unseeable, almost, but sensed—powerfully sensed, much more powerfully than the intruder, like a heatsink in the cold night. It was moving with relentless determination toward the intruder in a wide, indirect arc meant to draw the creature’s attention away from the cabin and toward himself. Glenn, naked and alone, but far from helpless.
Max felt a warm thrill of pride and love rush through him. His dick had softened in all the anxiety and fear, but now, sensing Glenn in a way he’d never have imagined before, feeling his strength and purpose so much more potently than the intruder’s, aware now of a connection between them so strong and so powerful he could almost touch it, Max was unbearably aroused. His tongue and lips worked mindlessly, wanting to taste his father’s hard, muscled neck, his thick, hairy chest, his rampant, rigid, massively heavy cock. His hands, pressed almost painfully against the door, flexed spasmodically, dreaming of the bearded cheek he’d caress, the shoulders he’d squeeze, the hard, round ass-cheeks he’d grab. His dick swelled and hardened even more, twitching in his forgotten, unwanted boxer-briefs as it saw its home, its sheath, the tight, puckered, magma-hot ass that it was made to push deep, deep, impossibly deep into, all the way inside, into the innermost places reserved only for him.
This time, Max did growl, low and rasping, though he wasn’t even aware he was doing it.
As if in answer, the intruder roared again, and this time Max felt it through his primal senses, a disturbing vibration that shivered through every atom of his world. And then, unexpectedly, there came an answering roar. Higher-pitched than the other, but still loud, deep, and purposeful, it ripped through the night, a searing blast of strength, challenge, protection, defiance.
It echoed through Max as if it had erupted from within him, and his eyes flew open, wide and staring at the unlit blackness of the cabin around him. He pulled back from the door, pale and agape, his heart hammering in his chest. The connection with his primal senses was still there, nagging at his mind, latent where it had been insistent, but Max didn’t want to feel the world outside anymore. He glared around at the solid walls of the cabin as if reprimanding them for any intangibility. He licked his lips, trying not to know what he knew.
The intruder’s roar. The black bear’s roar. Stalking them, holding some secret, a secret that related to him to Max and Glenn. His primal senses whispered hints of what he already knew. Smell. Shape. Intent.
The massive, growling, black-pelted bear—he was, he could only be, the massive, growling, black-haired man. Eamon, coal-eyed and blackbearded, the only other member of the “mountain folk” Max had been made aware of, and the only one whose attention was somehow focused on Max for reasons he didn’t want to know.
Worse, though, was the second roar. The other beast he’d sensed. Only—no. No. Not just a beast. Max squeezed his eyes shut, but he could not stop himself from understanding. Little clues were coming together, like swirling red and gold autumn leaves falling to the ground at a maple’s foot, carpeting the ground in color. Not just a beast. It was another… it was another massive, unstoppable, indomitable bear, stalking the wild and living night. The roar, too… he knew the roar. His primal senses tugged at him, but there was something even deeper in him that had already understood, unconsciously, inhumanly. The second roar he’d just heard was the roar of the brown bear that he had connected to in his dream. There was a song deep within that roar, a song about Max. About being bound to him, loving him. And from that deep-inside inhuman place it was drawing forth from Max a furious answering song raging with a fathomless, fiery love of his own, one that was both ardently devoted and darkly, ruthlessly carnal.
That indomitable brown-pelted bear—he was…
He could only be…
Max was standing by his bed, chilled and nearly naked in the darkened cabin, no longer hard, his skin tingling. He didn’t remember moving there from the door, but now he dropped down onto the end of the bed and sat there, hunched over, the hairs on his arms and chest feeling like they were standing on end. He dug his elbows into his knees and gripped his head in his hands, and tried not to listen to the night.
Max was still sitting there, unmoving, when Glenn slipped silently back into the cabin an unguessable amount of time later. Max heard the door close, heard the lock being turned, but it was mostly with his other senses that he tracked his father moving across the cabin toward him. Smell. Heat. Intent.
He was standing in front of Max, now. Max opened his eyes. No light had been turned on, but Max could see anyway, not just with his primal senses but with his own, night-attuned eyes. Still bent, hands clasped around his head, what he saw first was Glenn’s big, strong-looking feet. They were tanned and dark like the rest of him, with a brush of dark hair along the heights and dusting the knuckles of long toes Max guessed were adept at gripping soil and stone as they ran. He half expected to see some sign of claws, but the nails were normal, trimmed and innocuous, though pale and thick like clouded ivory.
He let his eyes climb slowly up Glenn’s powerful, hairy legs. They caught for a split second on a thin white scar that cut across his right shin at a downward angle and resumed, keeping the same diagonal trajectory, across the other, cutting a swath through the russet hair like a crashing airplane ripping through a vast and ancient remote forest. He’d seen the thin scars before, whenever his dad had worn shorts on this trip and before, but they hadn’t been there forever because he didn’t remember them from his childhood trips. Before, he’d wondered idly what had caused them—a bicycling accident, maybe, or a fall across sharp stone? Now… now, he didn’t want to guess.
Max knew he was feeding himself trouble as his eyes slid up Glenn’s firm, developed calves and along the contours of his strong runner’s thighs, his lusty, insatiable cock twitching rapidly awake even before he’d left the man’s feet, but something in him needed to do this, to see him as a man. And Glenn—Glenn was a hell of a man. He kept his eyes moving, slowly, the sight of Glenn’s thighs already kindling the fires banked inside him. He’d always loved these thighs, his eyes lingering on them countless times in not-so-innocent admiration. They were naturally thick, and a lifetime of exercise and an athletic disposition hadn’t so much built them as honed them. When he wore jeans they showed off the delicious curves of powerful interconnected muscle; naked, the sleek, hair-coated quads in front and the hamstring and femoral muscles in back looked like components of a human engine. They were the legs of a horse spoiling to race to the ends of the earth, of a tireless Olympian ready to sprint a marathon. The hair, the lines, the power of them drew Max to them, and a need to touch them, to draw his tongue along them, washed through him, leaving a yearning in its wake. The large, capable, lightly callused hands hanging at rest near them to either side, hands that Max wanted to send on a tour of his own firm, sensitive flesh, compounded his arousal. His mouth was dry, and his fat member was already fully hard and straining in his thin boxer-briefs.
He kept sliding his eyes slowly up Glenn’s body, barely breathing.
Glenn’s heavy, uncut cock was flaccid, a thick tube of musky potential pleasure resting against impressively sized balls, dominating them with its own size and heat. Max stared at it, aware of its presence, and he wasn’t sure if it was his primal senses or his own imagination that made it feel like a feral, animal presence. It was right in front of him, inches away, its smell so intense he could literally taste that heavy, wide cock on his tongue and lips. He knew he had to wrench his eyes away or he’d start moving toward it—his muscles were already tensing to do so. Not now. Not yet.
He wanted to will Glenn to turn around, so that he could admire the most beautiful ass of any man he’d ever seen, hard, round, and firm, and with a prize in the center his leaking cock had already developed a craving for. Instead he pushed his eyes up a long stretch of tightly defined and very hairy abs, and once again his hands and tongue wanted to touch and taste and caress. Dark nipples that served as gate wardens to an expanse of hard, ponderous, hairy chest—
Max heard his own gasp in the silent cabin as he drew in a sharp breath, his hands dropping suddenly from his head. There, across Glenn’s left pec, were two ugly, livid red gashes. They were one above the other, maybe five or six inches long and curved like shooting stars. The lower one was thinner than the upper. The hair around both was matted with dried blood, though for some reason neither slash seemed to be bleeding now.
Max’s eyes jumped to meet Glenn’s. His amber eyes were full of love and reassurance. “I’m okay,” Glenn said softly. Max started to rise, despite the unflagging hard-on that he knew would make him self-conscious, but Glenn quickly dropped to his knees in front of him, taking both of Max’s hands in his own. “I’m okay,” Glenn insisted, his tone as calm and placid as Max had ever heard it.
Max took in Glenn’s handsome face, wreathed in its dark, trimmed beard and lush, cascading, just-past-shoulder-length hair. Memories flooded him unbidden of the kiss Glenn had offered him before going out to meet the intruder, and the fiercer one Max had initiated before he’d gone out that door. His dick jumped in its soft cloth prison. In fact his whole body seemed aflame with arousal, as if the stroking of his flanks, or the lathing of a tongue along his neck, would be no different from that hand or mouth caressing his aching, weeping erection. He could lean forward right now, he knew, and give his mouth to Glenn’s. His body wanted it, and his senses and his reason told him Glenn was burning for it just as much as he was.
But the churning tempest of love and carnal need whipping through every fiber of Max’s being was darkened with anger and fear. The anger had been building up within him with the certain knowledge that Glenn was hiding things from him—things that were about Max as much as they were about Glenn. And now? Now it was worse. Now that he’d guessed some of it, and the implications of what he’d guessed was expanding the revelations outward like a sinkhole taking more and more of the surrounding land—now his anger was building to rage, because what had been hidden from him was nothing less than what he was. And that brought fear with it, too, because suddenly the most basic parts of his identity were vanishing beneath his feet.
He stared hard into Glenn’s amber eyes, and he could see the moment that Glenn understood. Max had seen part of the puzzle, and he was angry and upset about it. Most of all, Max could see Glenn’s greatest anxiety—that Max’s trust in him was compromised. He could see and sense the pain of that worry, and knowing it was there made Max ache inside.
Glenn gave him a small, almost imperceptible nod, gripping his hands tightly as he did so. We will talk, the nod said. Max said nothing, but his eyes told Glenn he’d received the message. There would be a lot to talk about. In their argument before—had it only been that afternoon?—Glenn had said that the time to explain everything was not yet, that certain things would have to happen first, and Max did not think that had changed. Somehow, though, he guessed that Glenn was not displeased that Max had seen and understood part of what was to come.
Glenn clicked his tongue. “I should let you get some more sleep,” he said quietly, nodding his head toward the other bed, a few feet away to Max’s right. He made to stand, but Max gripped his hands firmly, keeping him where he was.
Glenn’s brows lifted slightly. Max swallowed, then, in a single, small motion, he bobbed his head to his own left, toward the other side of his bed.
Glenn held his gaze, trying to see into him, brows still lifted. “You sure?” he asked after a beat. For an answer Max stood, drawing Glenn up with him, their hands still clasped. After another moment staring into Glenn’s eyes Max let go and turned, moving up the side of his bed and climbing in under the cool top-sheet. Glenn followed him, moving up the other side, and without further hesitation got into the bed on the other side. As he did so Max turned on his side so that his back was to him, and after a moment he felt the delicious warmth of Glenn’s hard-muscled, hairy body molding itself to his. He sank into it gratefully as Glenn’s strong arm wrapped around him from behind. Max half expected it to find his rigid, unflagging cock where it lay throbbing against his hip, and he wouldn’t even have been too surprised to feel Glenn’s massive erection nudging against his ass. Maybe Max not removing his boxer-briefs before getting into bed had sent enough of a message (though Max was already wishing he had), or more likely Glenn correctly read the tenor of the moment they were sharing. They both needed the reassurance of intimacy, but the time for fucking—for making love—was not now. Not yet.
So the cock that pressed against Max’s ass was heavy and thick but soft, or at least, as soft as it got. Max knew Glenn wanted him—he could feel and even taste Glenn’s desire as powerfully as his own—so Glenn’s current unrampant state was a testament to the control he’d learned to exert over his body that he’d bragged about before. And the long, muscular arm and manly hand that wrapped around Max didn’t seek out his uncontrollable, rampaging cock. Instead, Max drew in a breath as those long, adept fingers found the thickening crop of chest hair spreading across Max’s pumped, still-sore pecs, Glenn’s fingertips gently brushing through the little hairs until Max laid his own hand across his, stilling both so that their hands lay together pressed over Max’s pounding heart.
Max felt a little kiss at the nape of his neck, under the hair that was growing out in what seemed like a race to match Glenn’s traps-tickling locks. “G’night, Max,” Glenn said, fond and a little uncertain at the same time. Max said nothing, but he squeezed Glenn’s hand against his chest as he settled a little more deeply against Glenn’s comforting, brawny frame. He was protected, he was loved, he was strong, and he was changing. He could accept all of those. The rest could wait. After a few deep breaths he settled his mind and somehow willed himself to sleep.
Breakfast was mostly silent the next morning. It wasn’t uncomfortable, not exactly. It was more the silence of two men with a lot on their minds, most of which concerned each other.
After the meal and dishes were taken care of, Glenn glanced out the window at the clear, brightening sky and announced he was heading out, and wouldn’t be back until nightfall. When Max started to object, Glenn laid a hand on his bare shoulder. “You need to spend a day or two, just you and the mountain,” he said, lips curling slightly, eyes glinting.
“What does that mean?” Max said, eyeing him narrowly. His gaze dropped for a second, but only for a second, jumping quickly back to Glenn’s glinting, amber eyes. The red slashes across Glenn’s chest were already closed and healing, and Max kept his eyes on his dad’s face to avoid staring at them, and eliciting again the horror at Glenn getting hurt, and the confusion at how two vicious claw-swipes across his chest was something to shrug off.
Glenn seemed oblivious to Max’s conflicted emotional state. “It means whatever you want it to mean!” he said teasingly. Then he drew Max into a long, tight hug. Max reciprocated, wrapping his arms tightly around Glenn’s wide, hairy back as his hard-on, still untamed from the night before, seemed to try to stab Glenn in the guts. The hug felt good. Amazing, really, easily calming his doubts and fears. It felt so perfect, so natural. He wanted to laugh at his reservations about the hug from the day before. Now that he and Glenn had kissed each other with undeniable, equal passion, and had even slept together nestled in each other’s arms, the warm, heart-stoking intimacy of the shared embrace seemed easy and perfect. He almost let a giggle escape at the idea that this was one of the “rules” now—that this kind of close, sensual hug was just something that they did every day, like shirtlessness and working out and sharing that stein of beer at the end of the day on the porch under the stars.
“I should be back by sunset,” Glenn said softly. Max felt a brief kiss on the side of his neck, and then Glenn was pulling free of their embrace and heading right for the door. He didn’t take anything with him—no knife, no supplies, just him, his jeans, and his boots. Max followed him out, really for no other reason than his dick wanted him to. He hadn’t forgotten the anger at the secrets kept from him about himself. He hadn’t forgotten his fear, too, about what those secrets meant for him. His trust was bruised, and they both knew it, but it wasn’t broken. When it came down to it he wasn’t that conflicted about Glenn. In fact the encounter with the black bear, what he’d felt and sensed about Glenn’s power, strength, and love, and, more than anything, spending the rest of night nestled close in Glenn’s arms, had brought them closer together, especially physically. Besides—if he was changing, he was changing into something more like his dad, and that had to be a good thing.
Outside the sky was a panoply of vivid color, reds and yellows and oranges streaked with a few lines of cloudy white in the east, deep cobalt blue in the west where the night was still being chased away and a few stubborn stars lingered. The tiny sliver of a moon just past new, itself not long risen in the east, reminded him that the moment of decision hinted at in his dream—a dream he now knew not to discount out of hand—was still two weeks off. Only two weeks? Either way, something in him had decided to let himself be for now, and wait. Maybe that was what Glenn meant about being alone with the mountain, Max mused, as he followed his dad out into the dew-drenched grass of the wide, slightly sloped clearing.
Once they were a few yards from the buildings he watched as Glenn spread his arms and took a long, deep breath, as if the clean, fresh air on a mountainside was the only air men were meant to breathe. Max had to agree. It was already hard to imagine going back to the city, even to a city as insignificant as Rutland. He wanted to text Owen about how awesome it was up here, only he’d managed to forget that he didn’t have a phone. Damn, that was still weird. There was enough twenty-first-century teenager in him to feel some not-insignificant anxiety at being disconnected from everything, though it helped that he hadn’t been eager to be besties with the idiots and fuckers populating his school and the other circles of his life. He’d feel it today, though. Without Glenn to entertain him, left to himself for the day he’d probably have fallen to noodling at various games on his phone or tablet, but not only was there no phone, there was almost certainly no wifi up here. Maybe not even down in the one-horse town that was their only tenuous link to civilization sat the moment.
And of course without technology he was cut off from porn. Glenn had probably been smirking before the trip about what a hardship that would be, but it turned out that the only hardship would be his unrelenting dick.
Glenn turned around to face him, and, as if sensing Max’s thoughts, he let his piercing gaze drop to Max’s huge and very obvious hardon, the damp tip of which was just poking out at an angle over his low-rise waistband, before looking back up to meet Max’s eyes, obviously amused. Max had given up trying to hide his nonstop raging boner, but he still felt his cheeks heat a little as Glenn called attention to it. “Don’t spend the whole day jerking off,” Glenn admonished, lips twitching. “I know you’re still technically a teenager, but—”
“Fuck off and go already,” Max groused, the red on his cheeks deepening, though he was barely suppressing a smile himself. His erection shifted and flexed, preening under all the attention.
“Fine,” Glenn said equably, starting to turn away as if to stalk off then and there, making Max regret his words. Then he turned and suggested, “Maybe you can catch us something for dinner. Some fish, or…” He snapped his finger and smiled, pointing at Max’s chest. “Coneys.” He lifted his brows a little. “How does that sound?”
Max grinned. He knew there was a decent population of New England cottontail on the mountain, though other species were more prevalent lower down. Glenn had shown him how to set up rabbit snares and taught him a few other secrets to hunting the animals, but he hadn’t gotten to act on it yet. “Sounds like a plan,” he said. “I’ll have a nice stew of… something… waiting for you,” he added. They’d joked before about rabbit stew hiding a multiple of sins, including meat that wasn’t necessarily rabbit.
“I’ll leave it to you then,” he said, and then he turned and headed off. Max watched him go. He’d thought he might be wistful at Glenn leaving after having gotten so close lately, but there was a lot that appealed about Glenn leaving him to a day of freedom. And at the moment, one of those things was watching Glenn’s amazing ass in those soft, heavy jeans as he made his way across the clearing toward the dawn. No longer able to help himself, Max gripped his hard, begging rod through his own jeans, eyes riveted on the retreating ass he was determined to plow with the firm, steel shaft he held tight in his fist.
There was a wide stump in the clearing not far from where he was standing, nearly two feet across and level enough they’d been using it to chop firewood as a reserve of fuel to supplement the generator. Max moved over to it now and perched on the edge, not taking his eyes off the increasingly tiny form of the man of his dreams. Soon Glenn would disappear into the forest, but Max had a good memory and plenty of mental material, starting with the last couple of minutes watching Glenn walk away. He unbuttoned his jeans, not without some difficulty as his spasming shaft was pushing hard against his waistband, and slowly peeled down his zipper to free his wide, quivering, uncut erection. He was now deeply grateful he’d taken the few seconds to ditch the interfering boxer-briefs this morning before pulling on his jeans and padding into the kitchen area to start breakfast while Glenn was washing his face; now, reveling in how liberating it felt and how awesome it was watching his rigid dick spring free of his jeans, he was seriously considering never wearing underwear again. Fuck, he really was changing. Even a month ago he would have gaped at the idea. But then, a month ago he hadn’t had a constant erection.
He wrapped his right hand around the shaft and started moving it up and down, enjoying the raw pleasure of the foreskin slipping back and forth over the precum-lubricated head. He’d been amazed to discover that not all boys could experience such a simple gratification. Apparently cut guys like Owen needed lube—or a hot mouth—do to anything at all with their boners, and Max found himself newly grateful both that he was uncut and that he produced what seemed to be an unusual quantity of pre. His dick felt stiff and heavy in his hand as he jerked himself slowly, and weirdly thick, like it was somehow getting the same benefits from being up here on the mountain with all the fresh air and constant exercise that his chest and arms and shoulders and legs and ass were experiencing. Every day he felt tight but swole, weird for a fit but unmuscular kid who steered clear of jocks and sports, and it seemed as though his dick wanted in on the act.
He wondered if he was too big for Glenn’s tight ass. Just the thought made him hot all over. Reason told him that Glenn had probably been fucked by all kinds of guys—probably big guys, guys bigger than both of them. Guys like Eamon. But Max wasn’t so sure. What if Glenn wasn’t accustomed to big, wide dicks? What if his tight, hot ass craved a truly challenging cock? Max used his vivid imagination to picture them together, right here where Max was stroking himself harder an faster, only with Glenn bent over the tump, grasping the sides, his jeans pooled around his boots and that perfect, tanned ass out and ready for Max. Max stood behind him, his cock even bigger and wider and harder than it was now, sliding along Glenn’s crack, teasing him.
“Do it, Max,” Glenn commanded. “Do it now.”
He’d only fucked a guy once before—Owen had wanted to keep things restricted to pizza, beer, games, shooting the shit, and stellar mutual beejays, but there was that one night after a huge win where Owen had gotten a little sloshed and had actually fucking booty-called his beejay buddy Max, begging him to come over. Max had snuck out to Owen’s, and, letting himself in through the back door using the key under the second garden gnome, he’d gone down to Owen’s rec room only to be greeted with a sloppy kiss and a plea to let him feel a hot hard cock deep inside him, just this once, because he’d proven he was a stud on the field that night and he’d never get the guts to ask again. Max fucked him hard, busting the condom in what in his head he jokingly chalked up to an excess of personal virility, and Owen seemed to love it, though after that night the conflicted jock sheepishly went back to mutual blowjobs. He hadn’t told Owen about the condom because really, their only partners were each other and there was nothing to catch. Owen had sworn he’d managed to successfully avoid fucking girls, and given the way Owen’s lip curled whenever a girl flashed her boobs (much less anything more intimate) Max believed him.
This one encounter had taught him something about topping, though. He’d read somewhere that fucking was about the bottom, not the top; the logic of it, that the top would enjoy it regardless, but the bottom’s pleasure depended on the top treating him right, appealed to Max, and so when he’d had the opportunity, a.k.a. Owen’s ass, unexpectedly presented to him, Max had decided to try out this random theory of anal dynamics. It made him feel good about himself, paying attention to Owen’s pleasure, because he was certain most guys his age thought about getting off and nothing else. Owen, for his part, was over the fucking moon, telling Max what felt hot and what he wanted Max to do. The article he’d read said some tops resented the bottom being “in charge”, but once he was able to experience it first-hand Max loved being able to give pleasure to Owen, and that made his own climax twice as satisfying as it would have been if he’d been selfish. To be an alpha, like Owen, like Glenn, wasn’t to fuck, because, hell, anyone could shove it in. To be an alpha was to be strong enough to get fucked, and smart enough to know who to trust to make it good for both of you.
Now, out here in the clearing, Max was able to clearly visualize what he wanted. He wanted to fuck Glenn. Yes, because he wanted to feel his hard cock inside him; but also because he needed to drive Glenn to a screaming, earth-shaking orgasm. He’d do every thing Glenn asked, obey every request, to make that happen. He pictured his fantasy dick, lubed and ready, pressing at Glenn’s tight hole, ready to shove in, and then meeting Glenn’s beseeching amber eyes, making sure he was ready. “Now!” Glenn ordered him. “Fuck me now!” Max pushed in, slowly, firmly. He watched Glenn’s face, his reactions, knowing his massive, bigger-than-normal fantasy dick was more than a lot for Glenn to take. He used his primal senses to attune himself to Glenn’s pleasure, knowing his own would come with it. He slid in further, relishing the tight heat, and felt Glenn squeeze hard around him. Mastering his impulses he held himself in place, feeling Glenn adjusting to his hard, round girth as their senses twined around each other. “Yes,” Glenn groaned as he finally relaxed. “Keep going. I need to feel every damn inch of you.”
Max tried to follow his fantasy all the way through to mutual release, but it was just too intense. He couldn’t hold back. He came back to himself just as his pistoning hand drove him to a sudden, violent orgasm, and he released with a shout, blasting volleys of hot cum all over his face, chest, and shoulders. He kept cumming, over and over again, as if he hadn’t shot a load in weeks, and his orgasm only started to flag after what felt like several minutes of convulsive pleasure. He sat listening to his ragged breaths in dazed euphoria, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun on his skin and the feel of his thick, still-hard dick in his hand, and contemplated not moving at all for whatever portion of the universe remained.
The verdant, grassy green of the clearing around him came into focus, and the darker greens and shadows of the forest beyond, and the vivid, pale blue of the morning sky, all dawny reds and golds shed with the maturation of day, and Max grinned at it all, happy to be alive, happy to be a creature of nature, happy to have a dick and a man who might let him use it. A beautiful, hairy, hard-muscled wet dream of a man, a man he’d been lusting after for months and whose piercing golden eyes had finally pinned him with their gaze. And if there was something about him that was more than man—well, at the moment, with his chest and face splashed with his own cum, his rigid cock in his hand and visions of Glenn’s amazing ass dancing in his imagination, Max was inclined to think that was pretty fucking hot.
Max felt like there was something watching him—not threatening, just watching him. With his heightened senses he was reasonably sure he could trust this kind of abstract impression. It struck him as kind of funny, because there was nothing up here but himself and a lot of forest animals. He felt a grin spread on his face as he let his eyes roam the edge of the forest, looking for Bambi or Thumper. Shit, that would be pretty hilarious: a bunch of curious, slightly appalled woodland creatures gathering to watch the weird human rubbing his junk in the middle of nature until he painted himself with spunk. Now there was a Disney movie that would never—
He stopped, freezing as his gaze caught a face that was definitely not a woodland creature. Just inside the woods on the south side of the clearing, a pale young man was crouched, watching him with wide eyes. Max knew him immediately—it was the buff, blond country boy who worked the counter at the dry goods store. They hadn’t exchanged more than a couple words, and Max didn’t even know his name, but his distinctive, chiseled-alabaster look had inscribed itself on Max’s curiosity even before he’d made an unexpected cameo appearance in Max’s bear dream the night before.
It occurred to Max that someone his own age might tell him more about what was going on than the closed-mouthed, cryptic adults (Glenn included). Forgetting he was holding his big hard-on he stood up and called over to him. “Hey!” he said. “What’s your—”
But Max standing up and calling out to him broke the spell that had frozen the young man in place. He bolted, fast as any hare, and disappeared down the trail that led down out of the clearing. Max went to follow him, only belatedly remembering the dick in his hand and his open trousers, not to mention all the cooling jizz on his cheek and mingled into his burgeoning chest hair. “Fuck,” he cursed. He let go of his cock and managed to shove it against his hip long enough to zip up, muttering to himself as he did so. What the hell, anyway? What was this guy, a spy? A pervert? … Though he had to admit that, were their positions were reversed and he’d come up here on some innocent errand, only to come across the show he’d just been putting on—well, he’d have done exactly the same thing. Maybe with a little sympathetic action of his own below the waist, if he was as horny as he’d been lately.
He got his jeans refastened finally over his crowbar hardon of a dick and peered down into the woods, but the guy was long gone. The southern trail out of the clearing eventually led around to the road into Stark, so there was not much doubt where he was heading. They’d catch up eventually, and Max smiled as he pictured look on the guy’s face when he marched into Wentworth’s the next time he was in town.
He headed back to the cabin to wash up and start the day proper. Next stop… rabbit stew.
Because it wasn’t just his rigid, throbbing, unsinkable uncut dick. His whole body felt like it was hard and throbbing for those thick muscles mostly covered in soft, strokable man-fur. His lips longed to meet Glenn’s again, and his eyes wanted nothing more than to stare into Glenn’s honey-brown orbs. His hands itched to cover every perfect inch of him—shoulders, chest, arms, hands, abs, ass, legs, feet. And—the cock. He’d never seen it fully hard, but he knew the sight would thrill him. His own member pushed and rubbed insistently against the rough, thick denim of his newest jeans. His mouth would have to fight his hands for that one. His ass wanted in, too, though cock clamored to act out for real the fantasy lovemaking that had made him spurt all over himself out in the field.
Max took in a shaky breath. He just needed to keep busy, or he’d be dousing himself with cum all morning. He chuckled abruptly, remembering Glenn’s amused warning not to spend the day stroking his pud.
Busy. He just had to keep busy. Laundry! That would keep him occupied for a little while.
Unfortunately for Max’s self-distraction strategy, Glenn’s rule number two—Max mimicked Glenn’s “rule-making hand” with a smile—meant that there was very little to wash. And what there was… the items that were most prominent to Max’s eyes in the small wood-and-wire basket in the corner by the beds were two pairs of Glenn’s shorts, one canvas and one cut-off denim, and Max wondered if he could pick either them up out of the pile without bringing them directly to his nose and drawing in Glenn’s primal, musky scent. Actually, the way his senses were sharpening up here on the mountain he didn’t even have to—he could catch Glenn’s distinctive scent from them without even having to bend over. Fuck, his awareness of what Glenn smelled like was so keen these days he was starting to think he could track his dad through the woods right now. Part of him longed to do just that—just drop everything and head after him up the mountain, unerringly trailing him through the dense, trackless forest even after a few hours’ head start. He shook his head at the ridiculous idea and bent to paw briefly through the basket. The small pile also contained a pair of his shorts and a few pairs of socks, with two pairs draped over the side where they’d been left to dry after their crazy-awesome workout in the thundering rain the day before. They were stiff, now, but mostly dry.
That, in turn, reminded him of the rest of their rain-soaked ensembles. Max grabbed one of the basket’s twisted-wire handles and rose easily to his feet, his muscles only a little sore from the previous day’s exertions, and headed over to the old-fashioned stove in the kitchen. It had been built with long bars mounted on either side a few inches out from the warmth of the stove proper. They were meant to hang towels and potholders, but they were also good places to dry wet clothes, what with the stove tending to stay warm even when it was dormant, as it was now. Max grabbed the cutoffs he’d been wearing in the rain when he’d gone to join Glenn in his storm-pummeled workout. The other rod was bare, because Glenn himself had been bare. He’d been proudly buck-naked as he pushed his straining body. Max shivered with arousal, and his cock, never shy about monitoring his most lascivious thoughts, gave a hard lurch in his jeans.
He stuffed the cutoffs into the basket, grabbed the enviro-friendly liquid soap from the pantry and dropped it in with the rest, and headed for the door, trying not to think about anything in particular. He spotted the red and black flannel shirt he’d worn back from town hanging on one of the thick, sturdy hooks by the entrance—somehow it had made it inside after he’d shed it in the storm. He looked it over, lifting his free hand to brush his knuckles over it. Like the cutoffs it was still slightly damp, like they were a little reluctant to let go of that moment in the storm.
Max felt a strange affection for this shirt. It was Glenn’s shirt, but yesterday he’d worn it, and there was something about that that made his heart thump. That memory, that moment, would never go away, not for him. He lifted the shirt from the hook and laid it in the basket carefully. He knew he was being silly—it was just a shirt, and he and Glenn weren’t even wearing shirts anyway up here. But he patted the old flannel anyway, letting a lopsided smile slip onto his face. Grabbing his knife from the table by the door and stuffing it in its usual place in his back pocket, he headed out of the cabin.
On the way past the truck he remembered the baseball tee and grabbed that, too, then kept walking. He was heading for the back of the cabin where they kept a big galvanized tub hanging on the wall nearest the outdoor pump for washing up clothes and other things. One summer the “other things” had included a dog, a big shaggy sheepdog named Maggie that Glenn had agreed to watch for a good friend in town while she was away. Max smiled wider as he remembered his dad teaching him how to wash and groom the happy canine and check it for ticks and other microbeasties. Ten years ago, that had been, and Maggie had been kind of old even then, so she probably wasn’t around for him to track down now and share another soapy afternoon with. He wondered fleetingly whether Tyrant, the growly brown and black German shepherd who supposedly was just playing with him, would conceivably let Max lather him up and rub him all over and rinse him with warm torrents fresh from the pump like he’d done with Shaggy Maggie (as the young Maxfield had insisted on calling him). Maybe he would, if only to get a chance at ferociously shaking himself off all over Max, covering him head to toe with doggy suds. No doubt staring at him and growling soft and deep the whole time, Max thought, vastly amused.
He’d stood there for a second, considering the tub and the pump with his laundry basked resting lightly against his hip. But when he moved, it was to turn toward the clearing, away from the cabin, and he quickly realized his feet were taking him to the cool, babbling, trout-filled stream a minutes’ walk from home. “Just you and the mountain”—that was the purpose of this enforced alone-time, Glenn had said, though Max didn’t doubt that Glenn wasn’t idle during his time away; and for his own part Max had other reasons for wanting to visit the stream besides simple communion with nature, away from his man-made dwelling.
The morning was waxing toward a blue and brilliant day, as sunny and pleasant as it had been stormy and dark the previous afternoon, and Max enjoyed both the warmth of the sun on his shoulders as he crossed the wide, sloping clearing and the dappled shade as he entered the trees and strolled the path toward the stream. The storm still resonated in the smells of the forest, its spruces, hemlocks, and firs still reveling in yesterday’s life-giving wet and sending their powerful scents far and wide. He drew in long, deep, happy breaths as he wound through the redolent woods, pondering for the first time how it wasn’t only animals that left distinctive smells the finely honed nose could track.
A few moments later he was at the banks of the dancing stream. Setting down the laundry basked he pulled off his boots and then, after a second’s hesitation, his jeans. Then, ignoring his exposed, stubborn erection, he stepped out in to the fast-moving water. The levels were high after the storm, and by the time he’d made his way slowly to the middle the water was lapping at his thighs and ass and tickling his balls as it rushed past him, the current just strong enough to carry him quietly downstream if he surrendered his footing and chose to float on the surface instead.
Alone in the middle of the stream in the midst of a vast, living forest, his dream felt like an immersive alternative to everything around him, like if he squeezed his eyes closed hard enough and opened them again he’d be in that moment instead, the night lit by the full moon now less than two weeks hence. To either side of him, massive, roaring bears, their scents filling his nostrils, his heart hammering as they confronted each other with Max, tall and strong but human, standing between them. Downstream, angry townspeople, guns in hand, eyes cold as flint, as insistent on claiming him as the primordial beasts on either side of him. And just beyond them, the carved-marble blond cashier, who now seemingly lurked on the edges not only of Max’s dreams but his real life, too.
Max frowned, enjoying the pleasant insistence of the cool current sweeping around and between his firm, round thighs. That had to be the part of the dream that confused him the most. He could understand the bears’ feral rivalry, and Max’s role as something between them was clear even if he didn’t understand how or why that had come to be. He could even understand the townspeople’s fear of the bears and the raw potential for destruction and death of which they were innately and inextricably capable. But what part was played by the pale, buff blond who looked like someone had brought an old Greek statue to life? And why was Max, literally, at the center of all of this?
And why did he feel like he belonged here, a place he hadn’t seen in years, a place far from everyone he knew, from video games and binge-watch streaming and any sense of connection to the rest of humanity? He knew there were, what, nearly eight billion people on this planet; but standing here naked in this stream, with the babbling of the water and the wafting of the spruce trees and the occasional chittering of sparrows and chickadees as his soundscape and no scent of any human for miles around, Max felt like this mountain was on some other Earth, one where this mountain was rose above an endless, infinite expanse of pure, unspoiled land. The mountain folk who lived here, connected by something deeper than social bonds, were the only true inhabitants, and even the men from the little town were somehow alien, intruders, maybe, from the other world. It was reassuring to feel that sense of belonging, while at the same time it was so different from what he’s known all his life, and so inexplicable, that Max was unnerved by it—and, for all that he felt that this place was deeply right, even a little afraid.
No humans for miles around, he thought again. Where was Glenn? What was he up to while he left Max to his communion with the mountain? Would he tell him more when he got back? Where was Eamon, and was he the only other “mountain folk” around? Why did he even care about Max? Why did any of them care?
Max looked up at the bright blue sky, framed by the soaring trees, as if expecting to see star-pricked blackness interrupted by a round, white moon. Something was going to happen under the full moon, he was sure of it—but what?
The water laughed and gamboled around his naked, lightly tanned form. He looked down at himself, taking in the hardening muscle, the gentle spread of still-sparse hair, his thick, relentless erection. He was subtly changing up here, and not just physically; and it now occurred to him that he might not have to depend solely on Glenn for enlightenment. Maybe, he thought, his growing awareness would guide him toward understanding who this man was who stood here, warm under the sun and washed by a playful stream, and what it truly meant for him to be of this mountain.
Laundering his and Glenn’s things in the stream was accomplished quickly and with little fuss, and before the sun had climbed much higher beyond the forest canopy he was sauntering back to the cabin, looking for the dead tree he’d spotted on the way out. He found it easily enough, a big old spruce a few feet off the path that must have fallen not in yesterday’s storm but sometime before then.
He set down his basket and considered it for a few moments. Thanks to him and his dad taking turns wood-chopping over the last two weeks, they had a decent supply of cut wood for the stove and logs for the fireplace, which they lit on the nights it got cool enough to enjoy a wood fire (Max had been pleased to rediscover how it did get a bit cold at night this high up the mountain, even in summer), but Glenn liked to say that folks living on a mountain thought ahead and looked for opportunities. Problem was, the bole of the main trunk was too long and thick to drag back to the cabin; but there were several thick boughs that would saw to good medium-sized logs and would split to a good size for the stove.
Wishing he’d brought a hatchet, Max bent and grasped the nearest of these thick boughs, looking to test the wood’s firmness. It stood straight out from the tree, maybe angled up fifteen degrees or so from the vertical when the tree was standing. Yanking hard on the bough, to his surprise he felt it give slightly before the trunk itself shifted instead. Frowning, Max braced one boot firmly against the trunk and wrenched the bough toward him—only to have the bough snap off the trunk with a loud crack that reverberated through the forest like a rifle shot, sending birds scurrying from the trees above in outrage as Max fell hard on his ass onto the needle-strewn ground, the seven-foot, hand’s-breadth-wide bough clasped in his long-fingered hands.
Breathing a little hard, his muscles flushed and burning, Max clambered to his feet, examining the separated end of the bough and the ripped-apart trunk for signs of rot that might explain the unlikely break; but the wood looked solid and pristine white in both locations. Feeling slightly dazed, Max tossed the bough into the path near his laid-aside wet laundry, then turned back to the tree. There was another, similarly sized bough a foot down the bole and fifteen degrees around. It seemed to be daring him to do the same thing again. Not sure what he expected to happen, Max repeated the procedure: he grasped the bough firmly in both hands, planted his boot firmly on the trunk just below the base of the bough, and yanked back with all his strength. A second later another loud crack was echoing through the forest and his ass was smacking onto the hard-packed earth, this time impacting on a slightly raised tree root that caused him to cry out in pained annoyance.
He sat there a moment, breath heaving and butt hurting, feeling the burn in his shoulders, arms and chest, and even a little in the leg muscles he’d used to brace himself with, while he stared at the seriously impressive bough he was holding tight in both hands. Numbly he turned the bough so he could see the end where it had broken off from the trunk, and once again, from what he could tell it looked as clean and healthy as the other one.
He stared at the bough, and then the tree. “Jeez-o-pete,” he whispered to himself. He got to his feet again and, tossing away the bough to join the other, he realized his hands were stinging a little. He looked them over, tsking to himself. They were seriously scraped up, though no actual blood was welling up anywhere. He really should be wearing work gloves when he was going around manhandling trees, he thought, somewhat bemused. The rest of the tree would have to wait for next time; and that would involve gloves and a hatchet and not a lot of extra thought. He returned to the path and, taking up the laundry basket in one hand and the two boughs under the other arm he made his way back to the cabin.
When he got back he cast the boughs against the side of the house near the woodpile to saw down later. Setting down the basket he went about reattaching the spooled clotheslines built into the side of the shed to the hooks mounted on the side of the house, ignoring his smarting hands as best he could. Grabbing the the little bucket of clothespins from inside the shed he then set about hanging the jeans, shorts, socks, and shirts to dry, glad today was turning out sunny and not too windy. For all he missed the basic modern amenity of a washer and dryer—and he did miss them, make no mistake—he had to admit that washing his clothes in fresh mountain water, and smelling the mountain on them after they’d dried in the forest breeze, was something he could kind of get used to.
He was pinning up the last item, the baseball shirt he’d worn all the way back on the day they’d arrived here, when the calm susurration of the forest was split open by the roar of an approaching engine. Max grimaced, annoyed at the unnatural intrusion—especially as, since it wasn’t the truck (and Glenn had departed on foot in any case), the noise must presage the arrival of a stranger. And since Eamon seemed to travel on foot as well—he remembered the big man loping up the highway out of town before abruptly sheering away from the road and into the trees—it was most likely one of the town folk, most of whom were solidly in the category of people Max was in no hurry to see again.
The noise cut off abruptly as Max rounded the corner of the big cabin, and his frown evaporated in surprise as he took in the source of the disruption. Climbing off a very sexy Ducati motorcycle parked a few feet from Glenn’s truck was a brawny, leather-jacketed gorilla of a man, with long arms, wide shoulders, a tight waist, thick legs, and a leather-clad basket that all put together made up a shape that seemed very familiar. Max stared as gloved hands removed a candy-apple-red helmet to reveal a grinning, stubbled face Max knew all too well, mostly from looking up at it from a kneeling position while training himself to be the best cocksucker he could be.
Max stood frozen where he was, utterly astounded. “Owen!” he said.
Owen had set his helmet on the back of the bike and was striding toward him, grinning wide and arms open. “Max,” he called back. Max recovered the ability to move, quickly closing the distance between them and clasping his friend in a fierce hug, pulling in a deep breath as they mashed themselves against each other. Owen smelled like nice department-store after-shave, strong coffee, sweat, and the man’s own characteristic, masculine scent. His coarse two-day beard rubbed abrasively against his neck and jaw, a sharp contrast to Glenn’s softer, pelt-like beard.
Max quickly pulled back, but they remained close, hands loosely grasping each other’s waists. “Fuck, you look good,” Owen said. “What are you doing here, O?” Max demanded at the same time. They both grinned, and Owen finally took a step back, looking around at the open splendor of the mountain clearing and the large, cozy cabin beside them.
“I was going nuts in the city, man,” Owen said. Max smiled inwardly—it was funny to talk about their little urbanized corner of Vermont as if it were a sprawling, sky-scraping metropolis. “Dad was riding my ass, and then—well, I got your email, and I just… waved sayonara at the old man, got on my bike, and made my way here.” He grinned at Max, looking him up and down like he wanted a taste. Max elected to ignore the fact that his stiff, thick erection must be incredibly obvious where it lay along his hip in his jeans. “And here I am,” Owen finished, his blue eyes rising to meet Max’s.
“Pretty impulsive,” Max said, feeling very conflicted. He happened to know that Owen was pretty methodical and plan-oriented—except when it came to Max. Their first encounter had been so spur-of-the-moment, Owen had still been texting his buddies he’d be a few minutes late meeting them at the burger shack when Max had first wrapped his lips around Owen’s cut, torpedo-thick shaft. Everyone knew he was gay; and Owen, finding himself randomly alone with Max in the halls after school, had decided those lips must know something about bringing a guy pleasure and had recklessly propositioned him right there in the empty hallway without a second thought. Max had accepted just as quickly, and a moment later they were in the nearest bathroom stall making history.
A few months later Owen indulged another impulse—reciprocation. But even alone with Max, Owen had never let it show that he actually wanted to taste Max’s cock. He always made it seem like it was just returning the favor, like a good bro helping out a bro. And when they hung out, challenging each other on Owen’s endless supply of FPS video games or vocally enjoying the game over beer and pizza, they always hung out like Owen would do with any other bud.
Max had been mostly okay with getting to blow this big, brawny, hairy guy, knowing that Owen was offering his dick to suck, not sensual affection. That hug goodbye at the party had really been the first sign Owen might be capable of more. Then came the email, with words that dripped with wistful yearning for Max. And now, here he was, showing up out of the blue, with a glint in his eye and seemingly ready to pounce.
Max nodded to one side, toward the side porch that faced the forest, and the two of them started walking aimlessly around the front of the cabin. “I like you with long hair. And the beard,” Owen added. “I wouldn’t have thought it, but it really suits you.”
Max shrugged. “It’s kinda patchy,” he said. He wished he was allowed to shave, so he could start it over. “Not and thick and solid, like—um, like yours,” he amended hastily.
“Looks fine to me,” Owen said, and this time the lust in his voice was unmistakable.
Mex wasn’t used to such open interest from his supposedly straight beejay jock. He decided to shift the subject back to what had sent Owen biking into the hills. “Your old man have you working one of the stores?” Max asked.
“Worse, the office,” Owen moaned. Owen’s dad owned a small franchise of five local drug stores, and the management office took up the narrow second floor over the original, and smallest, store not far from their high school. Max imagined Owen, who looked kind of like he was wearing shoulder pads even when he wasn’t wedged into that space with Owen’s short, gruff dad and Owen’s even more diminutive aunt, who handled supplies and shipping. Owen dropped onto one of the steps leading up the the porch on the west side of the cabin. Max dropped down beside him. “I was filing and answering phones and shit so Millie could focus on the ledgers,” he said. “And every fuckin’ day there would be some asshole who got nowhere yelling at the cashiers or the pharmacists or whatever about an expired coupon or some shit, and so they decided to ‘call corporate’ and bitch at us instead.”
Max laughed. “You’re kidding,” he said.
“God’s honest truth, man,” Owen said with a pained expression. “Wall to wall douchecanoes for two solid weeks, and my old man grumping that I hadn’t gotten this three-foot stack of files done because I was too busy being yelled at on the phone. Man, being here, in this place—” He gestured wide to the open wilderness. “It feels amazing. Free, you know? It feels like—like I belong here, in a place like this. I sure as shit didn’t belong in that shitty place.”
“No wonder you ran away,” Max chuckled, slapping him on the back. Owen grinned boyishly. “Did you at least tell him you were taking a vacation day or something?”
“Fuck, are you kidding me? I told him I was fucking quitting,” Owen said. “I went from giving everything I had on the football field, surrounded by friends, even enjoying a lot of my classes, to—that? Fuck, I was dying inside, and I think my old man wanted me to be doing that forever, until he croaked and I got to take over the whole business. Can you imagine?”
“Not even a little bit,” Max said. With four years of college locked in after this summer was done, Max had been able to mostly defer thinking about his long-term career plans in any kind of detail. He wasn’t sure what direction his life would take, but he couldn’t imagine being trapped in a little office like Owen’s dad’s—especially now that he’d discovered the connection he had to the wilderness. “You’re definitely better than that,” he added, meaning it.
“A rat’s better than that,” Owen huffed, staring out toward the treeline. “A serial-killing rat who fucks around and gives his girlfriend-rats STDs and laughs about it is better than that.”
Max snorted. “No arguments from me.”
Owen turned and met Max’s eyes again. Owen was plenty handsome, and the combination of his messy, dark hair, his thick eyebrows and short, dark beard, and his smooth olive skin made those full, red lips and especially those soft blue eyes pop, drawing Max’s attention and making his traitorous erection twitch. He was very close—close enough for Max to finally steal the deep, perfect kiss he’d been wanting from Owen for months and months. He forced himself to lift his eyes from those sweet lips and return Owen’s gaze.
“Max,” Owen said seriously, “I need—well, there’s a lot of things, but mainly I need to get away from my old man. Do you think I could… stay here a day or two? Just ‘til I figure things out.”
Max squinted at him, trying to sort through a hundred warring emotions. The past two weeks had forced him to accept feelings he’d never been willing to admit about his dad. The shirtlessness, the hugging each other close and tight, the ribbing about erections… and last night—criminy, last night they’d even kissed, and then they’d curled up together in the same bed. This morning he’d opened up a fantasy about making love to Glenn that was born of something shared between them, like it was a fantasy they both shared between them.
And yet—what was between the two of them was complicated, wound up with whatever was going on on this mountain. Half of it was beautiful, but half of it felt like it was all drama and secrets. And here was Owen, who was unconsciously letting his own gaze drift down to Max’s mouth, no doubt remembering the simple, serene pleasure it had given him. His dick flexed hard, panting for release, and Max could sense, and smell, that Owen was hard, too. His whole body seemed to flare with roiling want in a visceral, instinctive reaction to Owen’s arousal, like his hormones were on simmer and someone had suddenly turned up the heat. His breathing was getting shallow.
“I mean,” Owen was murmuring distractedly, still staring at Max’s lips, “it’s amazing here, and you look—fuck, Max, you like you belong in a porn video.”
“Thanks,” Max said archly, but he was smiling, and so was Owen.
“You know what I mean,” Owen said. “You look…” he trailed off, raking his gaze down Max’s bare, very defined and lightly hairy torso before lighting on the obvious thick bulge that was eagerly tenting up Max’s left pocket. “…delicious,” he finished finally. Then, his eyes jumped up to Max’s, concerned. “Wait—is your dad, like, around?” He looked around quickly, but there no was sign of anyone. He looked back at Max.
“No,” Max said steadily. “Gone hiking for the day. Won’t be back ‘til dinner.”
A slow, friendly, slightly lascivious grin spread across Owen’s face. Max swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. Max had to get on top of this. “There’s rules,” he said, glancing down at Owen’s leather-concealed torso. “I told you.”
Owen nodded. He’d caught the glance down and his grin brightened, as if he’d figured out from the look and Max’s own shirtlessness what one of the rules might be. Max guessed Owen would have no trouble with that one, and the truth was Owen’s shirtless body was very, very nice to look at, especially if your tastes ran the way Max’s did.
His dick was practically pushing him toward Owen, and Max was finding himself increasingly unable to resist. Maybe he deserved simple pleasure, one last time, before he got too wound up in whatever the mountain had planned for him. This… this, he could be in control of, at least. He could stand up to Owen the way he couldn’t, yet, over Glenn. In the beginning their encounters had all been about taking care of Owen, and even when Owen did start reciprocating sometimes it was always a response to the primary imperative. Max had known he was being used, and he was no longer okay with it.
He shook his head. “I’m not going to blow you,” he said huskily.
The grin faltered, but only for a moment, and Max saw in Owen’s eyes that he’d interpreted Max’s declaration as a very specific exclusion. When he spoke, his voice was soft, almost submissive. “That’s okay,” Owen nodded, those blue eyes boring into his. “I’ve been thinking it’s time I… stopped pretending.”
Owen leaned in then and kissed him. Max let him, even letting himself kiss back. He tried to push all of what was going on out of his head. The other stuff… unnh, this was so much simpler.
He broke the kiss and stared into Owen’s wanton, dilated eyes. They watched each other for long moments, just breathing, as the forest beyond the clearing drifted lazily in the breeze. At levels below conscious thought Max’s mind turned over all the possibilities, and Owen waited, patiently, his muscular warmth palpable from a few inches away even without touch.
Finally Max knew he’d decided the path he was going to take. Owen seemed to sense it, his blue eyes bright and eager, and Max’s lips curved in a small smile. “So—want a beer?” he asked.
Max didn’t know what it was about the beer—but he knew it was something. In retrospect he knew he’d felt it from the beginning. Every night they had the ritual of the stein of beer in the chilled glasses Glenn had brought up with them, and every night as they drank on the porch as the million of stars flared in the blue-black sky Max felt his arousal deepen, curling into his inner being like hot, microscopic fingers. His blood pumped hot and strong, stimulating eager muscles in every part of his body and driving his balls and dick to the brink of release, and his skin prickled, like fertile soil being nourished of sown with seed. His mind seemed to deepen, tendrils of awareness with stone and forest and water and animal winding their way into his unconscious. And with that came awareness of another connection—the strengthening bond between him and the man of his dreams.
It might have all been just his imagination. He and his dad were getting so much closer, and more intimate, just from being up here alone together. The changes in his body could easily be tied just to the physical exertion that was a big part of their daily life on the mountain. And as for the heightened senses and awareness… well, that wouldn’t have much of a natural explanation anyway, and Max was finding himself oddly willing to believe that the mountain itself was involved, and all the things that Glenn wasn’t ready to tell him yet.
All that was probably true, but Max’s gut told him that this beer—this slightly reformulated Kinsman Mountain IPA that didn’t taste quite the way he remembered—was mixed up with it too. He’d been watching for it, and he knew he felt the effect of something within him, infiltrating muscle and flesh and bone and neuron, all while he was drinking the beer that made him so horny that four nights back he’d finally stopped running into the cabin to do what Glenn must have known he was doing and just wrenched his rigid, fat, desperate cock right out of his fly and started almost instantly spitting long streaks of hot, thick cum all over his hard chest and abs, pretending that his dad wasn’t in the chair next to him, that he wasn’t doing exactly the same thing.
So now, an experiment. The deck chairs on the porch seemed sacred, so they were on the cozy old leather couch in the cabin that sat opposite the unlit hearth, a thin, simple chocolate rug marking out a square area that comprised the couch and the space in front of it as if it were a sort of unwalled room. Owen had already grinningly acceded to the Rules, shucking biker jacket, football jersey, and sweaty V-neck undershirt with almost unseemly alacrity and agreeing with an equally wide smile to not shaving, beer, exercise, hugging, and staying in after dark. Max had just shaken his head, smirking, as he’d parked Owen on the couch and fetched two of the big bombers from the steady supply in the fridge, knowing as he did that his beers always came from this source and not the backup supply in the pantry. He poured each into one of the chilled steins and brought them out to the the little pretend living room.
They sat together, drinking deep, talking about banal events from back home and the post-graduation plans of people Max knew only peripherally, all the time acutely conscious of Owen’s powerful, round, slightly hairy shoulders and thick, veined upper arms resting there the barest inch away from Max’s less impressive versions of same, Owen’s olive skin almost brushing Max’s sun-warmed flesh. Owen kept up a string of conversation, but it was obvious he was getting more and more distracted and increasingly aroused. The iron bar of his hefty, cut cock in his leather biking trousers was even more obvious now than Max’s had been when first he’d come around the house and drawn Owen’s eyes straight down to his crotch.
“Oh, get this,” Owen said, taking a long draft of the beer. He was almost to the bottom of the glass, and Max was not far behind, still eyeing Owen closely. His guest was a little flushed, like every inch of him was turned on, but he was trying to ignore it as he reeled off his own personal newsfeed. Max was genuinely grateful—he hadn’t heard anything from anyone since graduation. “Natalie Shirker is going to West Point! She got in months ago and didn’t tell a damn soul, ‘cause she was sure no one would believe her. Billy Z called her on it, though, and she showed him the letter. Totally legit. She’s gonna be a colonel or some shit!”
“Shit,” Max said, remembering the girl who’s poured beer all over him at that party that seemed like it had taken place years ago, on another planet. “I did not see that coming.”
“Yep,” Owen said. “She blew me once,” he added abruptly. “It—it wasn’t anything as good as yours.” He glanced furtively at Max.
“Thanks,” Max said dryly, watching him. He could feel the beer in him, like always, despite the deviation from the ritual. He thought Owen could feel it too. Certainly Owen, who’d arrived with wistful memories of Max getting him off, had blown way past horny and was rocketing toward urgent need, though he was trying like fuck to play it off. That big, fat bulge in his biker pants twitched and jumped uncontrollably, mimicking the maniacal copilot in Max’s own pants.
“Man, fuck, this beer,” Owen said edgily. He tossed the rest down and let out a sigh, slapping his tight, flat stomach and producing a small belch in response. “Fuck, this beer is wild,” he said. “It’s like… it puts hair on your chest or something.” He scratched his thick carpet of black chest hair as if he meant it literally.
“Like you need it,” Max said, allowing his appreciation into seep into his voice.
Owen gave him a slightly harried look. “Dude,” he said. Then he set the beer stein down on the rug and turned to face him. “Dude,” he said again. “You have to let me.”
Max was swimming with fierce, undeniable arousal, just like Owen, but Max was a little more used to it. He raised an eyebrow incrementally. “Let you what, O?”
“Suck your cock,” Owen panted, unashamed and full of desire.
Max licked his lips. He was already smiling. “What’s the magic word?” he asked.
This was an in-joke between them. The second time Owen had gotten Max alone and instructed him to suck his cock, Max had arched a brow at him and asked him what the magic word was.
Owen now replied with the same words he had then, only this time there was more hunger in his darkened blue eyes than Max had ever seen in them before. “The magic word,” Owen said, matching Max’s grin, “is ‘blowjob’.”
Max slowly set down his stein. It was his turn to be watched, Owen following his every move as he got to his feet and moved his hands to his waistband. Very deliberately, Max popped the button. Owen was leaning forward, his thick tongue was protruding past his full lips, and Max knew his crotch was all Owen saw now.
He grasped the zipper key and slid it down. It was actually a little difficult—his raging boner was stretching the zip a little bit. “Come on,” Owen coaxed in a whisper, sounding almost as if he was unaware he was speaking. Max got the zipper down and pushed his jeans down, freeing his dick as they fell to pool around his boots.
Owen gasped. “Fuck,” he said, reaching up to grasp the weeping, angry-red tool. Max hissed. “Fuck, Max, you’re huge,” Owen said wonderingly. “So thick. Thicker than me, fuck. Was it this big before?”
“Wrap your mouth around it and find out,” Max told him.
Owen needed no further instruction. In one swift movement he fell to his knees in front of Max and took Max’s steel-hard erection deep into his hot, eager mouth. Max almost came on the spot from the intensity of the sensation. “Criminy, O,” he whimpered, his head falling back. He slid his fingers through Owen’s thick, unruly hair, not driving him, just adding to the stimulation they were both feeling.
“I won’t last long,” he panted, then gasped as Owen slid his tongue deftly around the head as he sucked, mimicking a move Max had practiced on him more than a few times. “Unh, oh man,” Max said. “Get yours out, O,” he commanded. “Stroke yourself. You’re going to drive me—oh, fuck!”
Max was driven beyond words as Owen turned everything he’d learned about cocksucking back on his teacher. Wet sounds on hard flesh below told him Owen was bringing himself close to the edge, ready to explode with Max as soon as he was ready. Electric spasms shot through him, waves of head emanating from his groin and flooding through him again and again. “Fuck, O, yeah, like that! Oh, oh god, I’m going to—!”
Gripping Owen’s scalp hard he opened his mouth and let out a loud cry as torrents of hot spunk rocketed from deep inside him up his thick, hard dick and straight down Owen’s throat. Owen gagged, unused to the sensation, and Max pulled back, still shooting into Owen’s hot mouth. Owen was enthusiastically swallowing everything Max gave him, and looking down Max saw that Owen had indeed freed his torpedo cock from its leathery confines and was shooting considerable amounts of cum… all over Max’s jeans and boots. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or freak out. But them Owen suckled intently at his post-orgasm-sensitive dick, looking up at him with wide, grinning eyes, and Max sucked in a hard breath, almost hurled unwilling into a whole new climax.
Moving his hands down to grasp Owen’s massive shoulders, Max guided him off his cock and up Max’s body. Owen eagerly complied, kissing and licking everything he passed. He didn’t neglect to nibble at Max’s nipple as he rose, causing Max to gasp once again. Then they were kissing hard and deep, Max enjoying the novel taste of his own spunk on Owen’s tongue. They stumbled blindly back onto the couch, unwilling to break free of their kiss, and it wasn’t long before Owen had driven Max so crazy with arousal that a repeat performance was necessary. The cycle then repeated at least once more before Max fell back against Owen’s sweaty, naked, hairy muscle-gorilla torso and dropped into a deep black sleep like a stone released into a fathomless midnight lake.
Max snapped awake with a start. He sat up from where he’d been snuggling against the still-slumbering Owen and looked around anxiously, his instincts jangling with alarm. The room around them was completely dark: the afternoon was gone and night had fallen. His spinning brain first remembered guiltily the responsibilities he’d neglected. He’d forgotten the coneys, his brain told him. And the stew. He’d forgotten the dinner he’d promised he’d have ready. But it didn’t matter, because it was past dinner time now. Night had fallen, and Glenn hadn’t come home.
Max’s massive, ever-ready cock twitched, and Max shook himself angrily. He was suddenly second-guessing every decision he’d made today, and Owen was the worst of it. He’d taken Owen into their space… shared beer with him… done things with Owen he’d only dreamed of doing with…
He squeezed his eyes shut, hard. Glenn was gone. Not back yet. Missing? The word frightened him, and Max backed off from it. No, not missing. Just… not back yet. But it smelled wrong. Glenn could take care of himself, and yet it felt like him not having returned by nightfall was… was wrong. It wasn’t reason telling him this, it was instinct. And Max had been coming to learn that up here, on the mountain, instinct was not something you ignored.
Owen grimaced in his sleep, missing Max’s warmth, and after a moment opened his eyes. He blinked blearily at Max, and Max frowned down at him. I can see the blue in his eyes, he thought distractedly, even in this light. That felt new, somehow.
Owen’s lips curled into a soft smile. “We slept,” he said, like a man who’d earned his slumber as a reward for fellatio well-performed, and many times, too. He seemed to focus on Max in the darkness, though, or maybe he picked up on Max’s tenseness, and his smile faded a little. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Max shrugged his bare shoulders and looked away. “Glenn’s not back,” he said, trying to sound nonchalant.
Owen watched him closely. “Was he supposed to be?” he asked.
Max shrugged again, and Owen’s eyes narrowed slightly. “You’re worried.”
Max hesitated, then nodded.
In what seemed like a single, deft move, Owen had swung his legs off Max’s and leapt to his feet, and was now towering over Max, his half-chubbed dick and hairy balls almost in Max’s face like he was offering himself up to Max for yet another round of mutually exuberant release, the musky smell rushing over him like Owen had deliberately released it at him. Max looked up at Owen wide-eyed—surely he doesn’t mean to distract me from worrying by…?—but Owen was looking around for his clothes. Feeling Max’s stare, he looked down at him and said urgently, “C’mon, we gotta go look for him.”
Owen spotted his pants, flung aside negligently at some point in the afternoon and currently splayed like a murder victim across the kitchen floor. He moved to go and grab them, but Max grabbed his wrist in an iron grip.
Owen glanced at Max’s grip, then up to his eyes. “C’mon,” he insisted. “We gotta go find him. Fuck, Max, a bear could have got to him, or—”
Max’s stomach fluttered at the idea. “No,” he said, cutting Owen off. “We can’t leave the camp after dark.”
Owen immediately knew the source of this pronouncement. “Fuck ‘the Rules’,” he said. “We—”
Max cut him off again. “I said no,” he repeated, holding Owen’s gaze.
Owen stared down at him for a moment. Then he nodded at his own wrist, not taking his eyes from Max’s. “You wanna loosen your grip, there, Herc?” he said quietly. “I’m gonna need that hand.”
With a start, Max glanced at where he had his hand clamped hard around Owen’s forearm. Hastily he released his hold and all but yanked his arm back, as far it could get from Owen’s arm. He watched in horror as the white mark shaped like his hand in the pale flesh of Owen’s hair-darkened forearm suddenly filled with angry red. He swallowed. When he met Owen’s eyes again they were impassive and unreadable. “Thanks,” Owen said, still in a quiet, uninflected voice. “You got any ice?”
Max racked his brain. Ice—probably not. But there was something people did with bruises on TV, when other people punched or hurt them. Raw steak? He was pretty sure that was a myth. Then he realized they did have something the might help. There weren’t many store-bought goods (apart from the beer), but… “There’s a ziplock of cut corn in the freezer,” he said at last. Owen nodded and headed into the other part of the cabin. He was back with the bag a moment later. He plunked his bare ass down on the couch next to Max, pressing the frozen vegetables tight around the injured wrist with his other hand.
Max watched him nervously. “Did—did I break it?” he asked. He knew Owen must have had a lot of experience with injuries on the football field, his own and his teammates’, though he didn’t remember him mentioning any fractures or anything that serious.
To his relief, Owen shook his head. “No,” he said. “Just bruised, I think.”
“S-sorry,” Max stammered, still aghast at what he’d done. Owen’s sudden quiet was unlike him, and it was unnerving the bejeezus out of him.
Owen looked up and met his eyes, his face serious. “Don’t be,” he said. “I’m just kind of processing things. You’re—” His brows drew together slightly, and his expression became even more intense. “I’m just putting together everything I’ve seen, and… you’re stronger than I remember. A lot stronger.”
Max nodded fervently. “I know,” he agreed. “I’m sorry,” he added. “I mean, that I hurt you.”
Owen didn’t back down. “What’s going on with you, Max?”
Max didn’t hesitate. It all came out at once, like it had all been building up, waiting for someone he could confide in. He’d needed someone he could trust in this strange place full of cryptic strangers, and with even his father keeping secrets and acting mysterious he’d been perversely feeling more and more alone in some secret inner part of him the closer and more intimate he and Glenn became. “Something’s been happening to me up here, O,” he said in a rush. “I’m changing, everything about me is changing.”
Owen cast his gaze over Max, taking in the iron-hard, bigger-than-before cock, the thicker, hairier chest and shoulders, the long, dark hair and thickening beard. There was a glint in his eye as he said, “I see that.”
Max gushed a weird little laugh. He told Owen everything. He told him about feeling strange, not just strong, not just horny all the time, but in touch with the mountain and all the nature in it. He told him about Eamon, and the strange townspeople and their talk of town folk and mountain folk, and the weird blond boy he’d caught watching him, and the growling attack dog that was supposedly just playing with him. He told him about the dream, and the visit they’d had that night, and how Max had been able to sense it was the same bear from the dream. Unable to stop himself, he even told him about the mounting lust he’d been feeling for Glenn, about the knife that had been a recognition of his manhood, and the push-up session in the rain that had felt like fucking, and how his thoughts were becoming more and more consumed by him—his smile, his wink, the way he tucked his hair behind his ear, his long, perfect, muscled body, the need to hold him and be with him and—and protect him…
Owen listened to all of it, eyes intent. He was always a good listener, Max thought as he ran out of words and started thinking about how Owen would take all of this. Not that many people gave him a chance.
Owen set the bag from the freezer on the couch next to him and looked back up at Max. “You love him,” he said unexpectedly.
Max blinked. He thought of deflecting with a “Who?”, but there was only one “him” that Owen could mean. Instead he said, “Of course I do. He’s my dad.”
“No,” Owen said, undeterred. “You love him.”
Max’s throat was dry, and he swallowed painfully. “He’s my dad,” he whispered, this time defensively. But Owen’s stare never wavered, and Max caved quickly. “Yes,” he said. “Criminy, O, I fucking love him.” When Owen smiled, Max did too, even more relieved to get this off his chest than all the rest of it. His heart was still pounding. “I have so many dreams for him,” he said. “Him, me. So many dreams. And a lot of them—” he huffed out a laugh. “A lot of them are really dirty.”
Owen smiled, and it seemed like a knowing smile—like someone who’d had a few stray thoughts about Glenn Sheridan himself over the years. “I don’t blame you,” he said. “He’s a DILF.”
“Shut up, that’s such a stupid word.”
“He’s really fucking hot,” Owen said. He winked at Max. “So are you.”
Max smirked, then admitted, “I miss him when he’s not here. It’s like—I can feel him when he’s here, when he’s near, and when he’s not—” He shrugged. “It’s like there’s something missing.”
Owen cocked his head slightly. “You said something like that before. When you were talking about the other night, when the bear came?”
Max nodded. “I could feel it,” he said. “Or—it’s weird, it was almost like it could… I could smell it? Like it wasn’t just sensing a presence, but recognizing something from what it gives off, like the scent of an animal. Not just ‘bear’, I mean,” he added, still trying to sort it out in his head as he spoke. He looked out into the room with unfocused eyes, trying to get a handle on what he meant. “It’s… like the distinctive scent of a particular animal. How you’d know them, if you were one of them.” He bit his lip, considering. “It’s a part of my connectedness to the mountain, I think. It’s all a part of the same thing. I can feel it, the mountain, even as I sit here. I feel like it’s stronger at night, too. It’s all a little stronger at night.”
If Owen thought any of that sounded certifiably nuts, he didn’t say so. Instead he asked, “Can you sense—smell—other stuff like that? At a distance?”
Max looked back at him and crinkled his brow, not following. “Like what?”
“Like your dad.”
Max stared at him for a long moment. Owen watched him steadily, just as he had been doing through Max’s whole confession. Max opened his mouth to respond, but then, instead of answering, he just closed his eyes. He drew in a breath and consciously sought out his now-innate awareness of the mountain around him.
After a few false starts, his mind found where it needed to be, along the edge of the clearing, at the opening of the trail that Glenn had headed out on at the start of his journey that morning. Lingering there, allowing himself to really get the feel of the place, Max found ample evidence of his father. He could sense/smell his dad even more easily than he had the angry invading bear the night of the dream, despite the scent being most of a day old. With some effort, he found he could follow this trail as it headed out of the immediate vicinity of the camp in an unexpected direction. Tracking it swiftly became easier, as if this were a skill that came naturally to him.
“He went northwest, around the mountain,” he narrated after he’d been following it for a while, his eyes still closed as he pursued the scent in his mind. “We don’t usually go that way.” He was picking up speed now, until he was almost racing along it.
“Why, what’s up there?” he heard Owen ask. He was almost visualizing the trail as he sped through the forest, though it wasn’t so much sight as sense and smell, like the trail itself; so his friend’s question seemed to come from somewhere outside where he was.
“Don’t know,” he said. After a while he added, “The trees are really thin and tall.” He slowed, trying to understand what he was feeling. “The power of the mountain is… really strong up here…”
The trail turned aside so abruptly he almost missed it. “That’s weird. It seems to go—”
“Where?” Owen asked eagerly.
“The trail seems to go down, into the ground,” Max reported, confused. “Behind one of the bigger trees, there’s all these rock spurs coming through the soil, out of the mountain stone. And—okay, there’s an opening. The trail goes down into it.” He tried following it in, and found he could climb into the narrow opening he half-sensed under the tree without difficulty. It dove down and veered aside. “It feels like there’s a small open area. Wide and low, down under the rock spurs.”
“A cave?” Owen asked, sounding intrigued.
Max shrugged and nodded, concentrating on feeling over thinking for the moment. “He’s here for a while, but he doesn’t—no, wait, we went around down the other side.” He followed the trail as it swiftly veered right and sharply up, emerging in the thick forest some distance further along the sloping mountainside. His nose wrinkled. “There’s another man,” he said in a voice like a growl. “He smells like… like fish. Not fresh, good-to-eat fish from the creek. Like dead fish, but in something, like salty water.”
“Brine?” Owen guessed. “Wait—did Fish Guy hurt your dad?”
Max shook his head slowly. “They walk away together. Glenn—he’s… worried? Not scared, but definitely upset.” Max licked his lips. “They walk to someplace—it’s another clearing. Cabin, smaller than ours. A shack really. Dirt road. Gasoline—no, diesel.” Max opened his eyes wide, turning to stare at Owen with wide eyes. “That’s where it ends,” he said.
Owen looked seriously impressed. His dark brows were nearly up in his hairline. “Fuck, Sheridan,” he said. “That was beyond amazing.” He learned forward excitedly. “I have just one question.”
“What?” Max said, himself a little off-kilter with wonder at what he’d just done.
Owen pursed his lips. “Last week, I lost my favorite pair of motorcycle gloves,” Owen said seriously. “Can you tell me what happened to them?”
Max snorted and pushed at Owen’s thick, hairy chest. “Fuck off,” he said.
Owen laughed. “Any idea who lives up there? At that shack?”
Max shook his head. “I thought it might be Eamon,” he admitted. “But Eamon—he doesn’t smell like that.” Max shuddered. “And I don’t think he has a house, or a shack even, for that matter.”
Owen hummed. “It sounds like Glenn got put in a truck and driven somewhere.”
“Down the mountain,” Max agreed. “And the only road off the mountain goes through—”
“Stark, New Hampshire, population: 12,” Owen said. “I saw.” He eyed Max. “You sure you want to wait for morning? He could be hurt.”
Max hesitated. “I don’t think so,” he said slowly. “But—”
In that moment there was a sudden gale of barking just outside the cabin door, followed by loud scratching.
Max and Owen shared a look. What the hell? Max got up to check what was going on, Owen following behind him to hurriedly retrieve his britches from the kitchen floor.
Max opened the door to find more or less what he expected, however little sense it made: yet another cryptic townie, this one waist high with a black and tan coat, big pointy ears, and a very self-important expression on its doggie face. He looked bigger and fiercer in the twilit wilderness than he had in town.
“Hello, Tyrant,” Max said cautiously. Only Glenn’s reassurances about the dog’s friendliness kept him from instantly shutting the door on its dark muzzle. He still wasn’t sure the creature wasn’t about to lunge at him and tear his throat open.
The dog barked once at him. Max guessed that it meant either “Hello, stupid human” or “Come with me if you want to live,” or possibly both. Max was sure of two things, though: first, that this dog was here for a reason, and second, that Tyrant coming to him, now, was part of this bigger whatever that was half-unraveled and half-hidden around him.
Owen appeared at his side, having pulled on his heavy trousers, though he was still barefoot and bare-chested. On seeing who was at the door he immediately dropped to one knee with a huge grin on his face. “Hello, beautiful boy!” he cooed. “Aren’t you a big one!”
“Tramp,” Max said. “You used to say that to me.”
Owen snorted. Tyrant cocked his head at Owen, as if unsure what to make of him. Max thought it was adorable. Tyrant barked twice at the newcomer, and Owen grinned wider, leaning forward with wide eyes. “What is it, boy? Timmy fall down the well?”
Tyrant just looked at him coldly, then turned and trotted away, off the porch and down the steps to the grass beyond. Max burst out laughing. “I did not know that dogs could glare at people like that!” he said, still laughing.
Owen rose to his feet, unperturbed, and patted Max’s thick, sculpted shoulder. “I have a way with animals,” he said with faux smugness.
Tyrant was now standing by the truck, and had turned to look for them. He seemed annoyed they weren’t meekly following after him. He barked at the two humans in the doorway impatiently.
“Looks like he wants to go for a ride,” Owen said, amused. He stepped out onto the porch, looking back at Max with a teasing expression. “Guess he’s in charge, then,” he said.
“I guess,” Max said, rolling with it. He remembered the rule about not leaving the cabin at night, but something told him it didn’t matter somehow with Tyrant around, and without further hesitation he grabbed the keys to the truck and his knife, pocketing both, before closing the cabin door after himself. They took the steps down from the porch together, watching Tyrant follow their progress with a huffy expression. “There’s more to that dog than dog,” Max muttered.
Owen grunted. “Or maybe he’s decided we’re the sheep and he’s the shepherd.” The got to the truck and Max opened the driver’s side door for Tyrant, who leapt up into the cab. Max half expected the dog to get behind the wheel, but he positioned himself in the middle of the bench, while Owen and Max climbed in on either side of him.
Owen was still amused by the turn of events. “Look at us,” he said, gesturing to the two muscular, hirsute and shirtless young men flanking a big German shepherd, sitting in the cab of a big, old pickup truck. “We look like a photoshoot for the country queers calendar,” he said.
Max flicked on the headlights and started up the engine, grinning as he did so. “Shut up,” he said fondly. The boys pulled on their seat belts, and Max pulled them out of the little space by the cabin and made slowly for the track that would lead them down the mountain. “All right, Tyrant, old man,” he said, “tell us where we need to be.”
With Tyrant’s help, by way of pointed stares and brief, impatient yips, the two men found their way down a side street to a small, dark building that seemed to be directly in back of the large, two-story structure that housed the dry goods store. Tyrant gave two more staccato yips and nodded urgently at the boxy, unmarked edifice, and Max dutifully turned into the gravel parking lot beside it.
Owen turned to Tyrant, wide-eyed and grinning. “Is it in here, boy? Is Timmy in here?”
Tyrant bared his teeth, just enough to show Owen what he had, and growled faintly, deep in his throat. Owen’s grin vanished.
“Stop taunting the dog,” Max said playfully, parking and shutting off the engine. “He’s just doing his job, I reckon. Whatever the heck that is.” He put the truck in park and set the brake. “Jeez-o-pete,” he muttered, then opened the door and climbed out, turning to look up at their surly companion and gesturing toward their dark environs. “Lead the way,” he said.
Tyrant jumped down and quickly broke into a trot, and in a second he’d rounded the back of the truck and was out of sight. Max slammed the truck door and hurried after him, Owen following suit. Unsurprisingly, Tyrant was already at the other end of the concrete walkway leading from the parking lot to the front of the nondescript, unmarked building he’d guided them to, and was nosing at the door as if it might open at a push. Max and Owen rushed up after him. Belatedly it occurred to Max that if Tyrant’s idea of “playing with him” the other day was pretending to be about to tear him to pieces, maybe the dog’s strange sense of humor extended to leading him into abandoned buildings filled with—criminy, he didn’t know, poop or spiders or some shit. He met Tyrant’s gaze and saw only exasperated irritation, like the dog had things he needed to be doing other than this fool’s errand with a couple of mountain boys. Max smiled at him and tried the knob. It was unlocked, the knob turning easily in Max’s hand, and the heavy steel fire door opened soundlessly. The three of them entered together.
The interior was musty, not very large, and dimly lit. Immediately in front of them were two heavy steel desks facing each other, with outdated computers and phones and stacks of paperwork in manila folders. A couple of ancient-looking filing cabinets stood sentinel by one of the desks. At the other, feet up and snoring, was a sheriff’s deputy complete with uniform and flat-brimmed hat. He had earbuds in his ears and an iPhone laying face-down on his slightly pudgy stomach; Max guessed he’d fallen asleep watching videos, or something similarly distracting. A small flatscreen CCTV monitor sat to one side angled partly away from him, so that Max could only see the usual quartering into four indistinct monochrome images. Max’s attention was on the deputy, who was burly though not very tall. Something about him seemed familiar, but it was hard to make out his face—there wasn’t much more light inside the building than out, and though the single weak overhead fluorescent panel was lit the brightest source of light in the room was the banker’s desk lamp on the deputy’s desk. That, however, was positioned in such a way as to cast dark shadows from the wide hat-brim over the deputy’s slumbering face.
Max was just starting to wonder why they’d been led to what was apparently a sheriff’s substation, even the existence of which was a surprise to him in a town as small as Stark (though he reckoned the alternative put first responders too far away to be of any use should anything actually happen here), when he realized Tyrant wasn’t with them anymore. “Where’s the dog?” he asked, turning to Owen. Owen shrugged and seemed about to speak when they heard a happy masculine voice call out, “Tyrant! What are you doing here, buddy?”
Max and Owen exchanged a glance and followed the sound of the voice around an open entranceway at the back corner of the room, on the side wall beyond the unoccupied desk. A short hallway and a sharp turn took them into another squarish room like the first one, this one bifurcated by a wall of painted-white steel bars, set about six inches apart, with two crossbars at waist and shoulder height.
As Max trotted into the room, Glenn beamed and said, “Good job, Tyrant! You found my son!” Owen entered behind him, and Glenn added, “…And a stray!” To the dog he said, “You rounding up strays now, Tyrant?”
The dog sat down with a huff and said nothing.
Max rushed to his father, drawing as close as he could and instinctively lifting a hand to touch his bearded face. Glenn reached through the bars to take Max’s firm, muscled shoulder in his meaty grip. “I was worried,” Max said quietly. “I’m okay,” Glenn said, almost at the same time. Their eyes bore into each other, burning them, uniting them. Almost without thought their faces drew close, inches apart. At the last moment he remembered Owen, but without turning he could feel Owen’s intense gaze on him, like a nod of encouragement not to hold himself back. Staring into those honey-brown eyes, Max couldn’t have held back if he’d wanted to. Their mouths came together in a fierce, heart-wrenching kiss. Within seconds Glenn opened for him, and Max dived deeper into the kiss, drawing his tongue feverishly along Glenn’s, which was equally long and just as eager. Emotion seemed to pour through them, mixing and transforming. After several long moments they reluctantly broke apart, pressing their damp foreheads together, hearts slamming against their chests.
Glenn was stroking the side of Max’s face, just as Max was with him. Max stared into those sweet, beautiful eyes, and words welled up in him he just could not stop. “I love you,” he said earnestly, unable to look away, opening himself up completely just as much as if he’d pulled apart his chest with his own hands. He felt brash and inexperienced, blurting it out like that, and he was almost afraid that the older man would dismiss his words, murmuring something about how young men didn’t know what love truly was. He waited for disaster, past hesitance, beyond secrets.
But Glenn’s gaze was fierce with overpowering emotion, and he sounded just as exposed and achingly sincere when he spoke. “I love you, too,” he said with a soft smile, caressing Max’s burgeoning beard with almost infinite fondness.
Behind them somewhere a door slammed and followed by what sounded like heated discussion. Gazes still locked Glenn and Max moved apart, and Max took a step back. Embarrassed at having forgotten himself and made such a display, Max looked over at Owen, surprised to see a dazed, almost awed expression on his handsome face. “O?” Max said.
Owen blinked and focused on him. “I think I just came in my pants,” he said in wonder. “Fuck, you guys are the hottest thing ever. Seriously, that was about the hottest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.”
Not sure what to do with this effusiveness, Max turned to his dad. Glenn seemed amused. “Owen, right?” Glenn said.
“Yes, sir,” Owen said, admiration and raw, boyish lust saturating his voice. His gaze was now homing in on Glenn, drifting down his impressive, hard, hairy, half-naked physique. Max couldn’t help but be amused at his friend’s antics.
Glenn turned to Max, cocking his head toward the other man. “I thought you said he was in the closet?” he asked, his lips quirking at the corners.
“Oh, I think he rigged that door with explosives and blasted it to hell,” Max said. He was starting to grin.
At that moment the commotion they’d heard in the outer room came in and joined them. Max groaned inwardly as the tall, gangly postmaster-cum-lawyer, Noah Paxton, bustled in, his prized fishing hat slightly askew. He looked none too pleased to have been extracted from his home for whatever this was and was angrily berating the deputy, who was trailing him into the back room.
“I’ve told you a hundred times,” he was saying. “We’re going to get sued!”
“But, Mr. Paxton, Pawpaw caught him trespassing—”
“The old coot doesn’t have title to the land any more!” Paxton interrupted. “Anyway, he can’t just bring citizens into town with a shotgun at their back and—”
Max gasped, and Paxton froze, noticing him for the first time. His brow furrowed as he stared at him, like Max was a problem he’d let slip his mind for a bit. Max moved to face him, squaring his shoulders. Fury had overtaken him in a hot second. Paxton’s gaze seemed to slip down unconsciously to Max’s newly thickened, newly hairy chest, and he seemed to blanch slightly before hastily bringing his eyes up to meet Max’s.
With an effort Max banked his furnace-hot rage, holding onto it without letting it take him over. “Who put a gun to his back?” he seethed, low and quiet.
The tall old man blinked at him, staring hard at the younger man like he was an omen. “Relax, Max,” Glenn said soothingly, before the lawyer could say anything. “Noah here was just saying it was all a misunderstanding. Right, Noah?”
Paxton, who’d been on a tear at the deputy’s expense a moment earlier, now seemed completely wrong-footed by the presence of two Sheridans instead of one. His eyes flicked to Tyrant, who was regarding him coolly, then lit on Owen, whose presence seemed to completely throw him. “Who’s this?” he demanded uncertainly.
“Boytoy,” Glenn said blandly. Paxton looked sharply over at Max, then at Glenn. The older Sheridan shrugged. “We share him,” he said.
Paxton’s mouth fell open a bit, though he seemed unaware of it. He looked back at Owen, who grinned wolfishly at him and popped his thick, hair-darkened pecs a little. Paxton reddened and cut his eyes away. They fell on Tyrant again and he harrumphed. “What’s that blasted mutt doing here, anyway?” he asked gruffly, covering his discomposure with a bit of bluster. Tyrant gave him the slightly bared teeth and low-gear growl he’d given Owen, and this time Max could tell he meant it.
“He has his reasons,” Max said curtly. He filed away the townie’s evident dislike for the German Shepherd for later consideration. With steely politeness he added, “Will you answer my question, Mr. Paxton?”
Paxton cleared his throat and turned away awkwardly. “I’ll let your old man tell you,” he said dismissively, heading out of the room. Over his shoulder he ordered, “Deputy, release Mr. Sheridan,” and then he was gone.
Max looked over at Glenn, raising his brows in inquiry. “Later,” Glenn mouthed. Max frowned.
The deputy, who’d been hanging back out of the line of fire, now moved toward the door-frame set into the painted bars, a ring of large keys jangling in his hand. Max finally got a good look at his face and almost gasped again. He whipped around again to look at his dad, but Glenn only shook his head and mouthed “Later” again, a little more emphatically. Max gritted his teeth and turned away. So many fucking secrets.
The deputy unlocked the cell and gestured for Glenn to step out, locking it up again once he’d done so. He turned and shared a look with Glenn, and Max wasn’t at all sure what to make of it. “Sheridan,” the deputy said, nodding minutely.
“Van,” Glenn nodded, giving the short, thickly built deputy the same small nod.
Ignoring Owen, the deputy moved to stand before Max. His face was heart-shaped like a barn owl’s, his narrow nose was faintly freckled across the upper bridge, and his eyes were ice-blue, like a cold frost. Exactly like all the pictures and videos Max had ever seen of Tessa Rigby, the mother he’d never known.
“Maxfield,” the deputy said. Those ice blue eyes were steely and unfathomable. He gave him the little nod.
“Cousin,” Max said, a little thickly. He returned the nod.
The corner of Deputy Van Rigby’s mouth jumped. He held Max’s gaze for another moment, then turned and was gone. The tension level in the room seemed to diminish rapidly, and Max had the strangest feeling that, for all he’d discerned a blood relationship with Van, the companions he and Glenn were left with—Owen and Tyrant—were what felt like family to him.
He hadn’t quite let go of his annoyance at Glenn, though, which had come with the unwelcome reminder of how much of his life seemed to be a cyclone of other people’s mysteries and secrets. Instead he moved over to crouch in front of Tyrant. The dog eyed him, haughty and curious. For all his previous impatience, the dog evidently hadn’t had somewhere else he needed to be after all. Or maybe he was waiting for this.
“Thank you, Tyrant,” he said seriously. “I owe you one.” He smiled slightly and offered his hand. “Shake?”
Max had the distinct impression that if he could have, Tyrant would have narrowed his eyes at him. But he offered his paw, and Max took it with a grin and shook it. It was all he could do not to say “Good boy,” but Tyrant seemed to know he was thinking it. He retrieved his paw and stood, padding over to Glenn, who smiled warmly down at him.
“I owe you one, too,” Glenn said. “You’re a good friend.” Tyrant gave him a little woof. He glanced up at Owen, who grinned his goofy oo!-doggy! face at him, seemingly deriving endless pleasure from teasing the imperious canine. Tyrant gave him one last baleful glare before turning and trotting out of the room.
Max turned from watching him go, a fond half smile on his face, and saw that Owen had sidled up to them, bridging the little distance between him and Glenn. “So, I, uh, accept, by the way,” he said. The boyish, dark-haired jock was looking between them and blushing, but he was holding his head up high. Max found it kind of adorable.
“Accept what?” Max and Glenn said together, which made them both smile and share a look. Max’s heart skipped a beat as their eyes met, his irritation forgotten. I love you, Glenn had told him. He said I love you. Max’s ability to breathe seemed to be in danger all of a sudden.
“You know, what you said,” Owen answered them. Max forced himself to look at his friend. He seemed eager, hopeful, bashful, and incredibly turned on, all at once. “I promise, it’ll be awesome,” he gushed. “You’re both so amazingly hot, and together—fuck. Just—fuck!”
Glenn and Max were both staring at him now, and Max could tell his dad was entertained by Owen and his proposal, and not a little intrigued. “I mean, you could take turns,” Owen went on, babbling now as he looked from one to the other. “Or if, you know, you wanted to, um, gang up on me… that would be cool, too…”
Glenn aimed a sudden, feral grin at him, all his teeth showing, and Owen’s eyes widened. “Is that right?” he drawled, his voice low and deep and vastly amused. His honeyed eyes were positively alight with what Max could only describe as mischievous arousal. Owen stared into them and gulped, and Max laughed. Poor Owen had no idea what he was in for, and he would love every second of it.
The ride back to the cabin was quiet and meditative, like they all had things to think about. Owen, sitting between them, asked Glenn if he really had hiked into a strange part of the woods and gone down into a cave. Glenn, who’d retrieved the keys from Max and was now driving like no one else ever drove this truck, looked over at him, surprised.
“How did you know that?” he asked, sounding impressed. His eyes shifted to Max, who remained quiet.
“He tracked you,” Owen said proudly. “In his brain.”
“Is that right?” Glenn said again. He gave Max a curious look before returning his eyes to the road.
As they made their way slowly up the mountain, their headlights not showing much (though Max guessed his dad could see even better than he could in the dark), Glenn calmly explained that he’d gone up there so that Max would be able to find it later. “I thought you might be able to follow the trail,” Glenn said, glancing at Max, “but I figured it would be the usual way—you know, through the woods, like a tracker.”
“It sort of was,” Max admitted.
Glenn glanced at him, but Max did not elaborate. “Huh,” he said.
“So why did Fish Guy grab you and put you in his truck?” Owen persisted.
Glenn’s brows jumped up. “Fish Guy?” he repeated.
“He smelled like fish,” Max said shortly.
“In brine,” Owen added.
“Oh.” Glenn considered. “Yeah, the old man eats a lot of sardines. Uh, it wasn’t what you’re thinking. He just doesn’t like… intrusions.”
Well, that clarifies things, Max thought.
Glenn kept his eyes on the twisting road, but his gaze seemed to harden. Suddenly, Max heard—not a voice, but an idea, in his head. Talk later, it growled. Max whipped his head around to look at Glenn, leaning forward to see around Owen, who was asking another ridiculous question. Glenn’s jaw was set. Talk later, came the idea. It came in something almost like a voice, but it wasn’t quite Glenn’s voice. Promise. Trust. Love. Trust our love.
Max gaped at his brawny, beautiful man. This is being an adult. This is being partners in a relationship. This is us together. He leaned back and stared straight out the windshield, letting his mind find the mountain again like he had earlier that night on the couch with Owen, seemingly so long ago. He found Glenn. He, too, was on the mountain, with him. He shared his decision this way. Trust. Love. We will trust each other. Glenn relaxed, thought not all the way, and Max did the same.
“And when I saw you were behind bars, I was all, maybe Max would, like, bend the bars wide and bust you out,” Owen was saying. “Though I kind of forgot about that when you started—”
“Wait, what?” Glenn interrupted him. He didn’t quite jerk the wheel to one side in surprised reaction, but it looked like he almost did.
“Oh, it’s okay, I know,” Owen reassured him. “Max getting all strong and shit, that’s totally hot. Hey, are you strong like that?”
Glenn looked slightly dazed. “Yes… and no,” he said finally. Max’s stomach fluttered. He assumed that Glenn would know more about what was happening to him than he did, just because Glenn seemed to know a lot of things about the whole cyclone he was in than had been revealed to Max. But this—it almost sounded like not all of what was happening to Max was… exactly as expected. He’d sounded surprised about his inner connection to the mountain, and the mental tracking that came with it, too. Even the dream had taken him by surprise, for that matter, now that Max thought of it.
Was all that a good thing? Maybe that meant that what was happening to him wasn’t all planned out—maybe some of it was just his, and his alone.
“Okay,” Owen said, accepting the nonanswer. His content expression said it all: he knew he’d be seeing everything there was to know about Glenn and Max both soon enough, because they’d agreed to keep him around. Owen was pretty placid, when it came down to it. His number one strategy on the football field was to lull the other side into forgetting what he had to offer, and then diving in for the win when they let their guard down. Owen reached his hands out and placed them on his two lovers’ thighs, stroking the firm muscle underneath coaxingly.
He was right where he wanted to be.
Fuck, Owen was a horn-dog.
Max had kind of known that already, but over the next two weeks Owen showed both Sheridans a level of game they hadn’t anticipated. Being around Max and Glenn put him in a state of perpetual arousal more crazed even than Max’s own. He was ready for it, any time, all the time, and his intensity feed Max’s need, too.
It was crazy amazing, but Max was aware of an undercurrent to it all that he didn’t know what to do with. Owen joined them for their nightly ritual of beer and jerking off—Max and Glenn in the deck chairs, Owen with his back to one of the square posts, facing them, watching. Max and Glenn kissed a lot now, because whenever their eyes met they almost couldn’t help it, and sometimes they drew Owen in to join them, but most of the time Owen watched hungrily, stroking their backs and asses, often cumming spontaneously from his thick, perpetually peeking-over-his-waistband boner.
The first night after Owen came home with them Glenn and Max went to bed separately, and Owen stayed on the couch; something about his naked gaze from across the room, though, made Max want to act, to own up to his new relationship with Glenn, and sometime after midnight Max got up and, in a single deliberate motion, moved his bed across the room until their mattresses mashed together. Glenn raised his sheet, and Max climbed into bed next to him, the two of them falling into an incredibly natural spooning configuration, Max delighting in feeling Glenn’s furry chest and hard cock pressed hard against him from behind, and his war, strong arm clasped tight around him.
The next night, Owen, couldn’t bear it any longer, and he and his perfect jock body and insatiable stiffie joined them like he was a part of them.
Only then did they start fucking, as a means of release to replace the three-way solo jerkoff. It was beyond magnificent, it was a dream come true, but it wasn’t what Max truly wanted, because their fucking, when it happened, was always with Owen between them. Max would fuck Owen fucking Glenn, or Glenn would fuck Owen while he sucked them down, but it was becoming more and more obvious to Max that both he and Glenn were using the amazing three-way sex to put off what neither of them was quite ready for: lovemaking, just Max and Glenn, that would break and remold their very souls.
Something had to shift before that could happen, and both Max and Glenn knew it. For that matter, Owen seemed to know it too, and in his own randy way, through shared fucking, shared kisses, and that way he had of holding them together while they held each other, Owen was helping his lovers feel their tentative way toward the union they craved, and needed to grow together a little more to achieve.
No adventures happened other than the silly and frolicsome, like Glenn and Owen both teasing Max when they discovered Max didn’t know how to climb trees, and devising the handicap of having Owen or Glenn hanging onto his shoulders to minimize the advantage of his increased strength, so that he had to depend on agility, too, as he trained; or the time Owen grabbed what he thought was a fish out of the babbling creek, only to proudly hold up high a great big, flat, fish-shaped rock. They hunted, and prepped and ate food from nature as much as they could, so that Mex felt more and more like he was taking the animal and plant energy of the mountain into him. They exercised, running and doing push-ups and situps, and using each other as weights, and due to his strength training Owen could almost keep up with their long, grueling workouts. Sometimes Glenn went off alone, but it was always a challenge to Max—to find his trail, or to keep Glenn from finding his. And they kissed, a lot, all the time they weren’t working or working out, two of them or three of them at a time; and at night, after their beer ritual, they fucked, Owen serving as the connection between Max and Glenn, until they found a way to make their own.
It would happen, Max knew. It would happen soon, because the moment was looming when all secrets would be revealed and everything would change.
The full moon was coming.
Two days before the full moon
Max was jolted suddenly from his sex-sated slumber by loud banging at the cabin door. His eyes sprang open, meeting Glenn’s startled, warm honey eyes over the broad shoulder of a still-snoozing Owen. Max saw confusion in those eyes, and a trace of alarm. They took their solitude up here for granted, and the townies left alone if at all possible.
The banging came again, a heavy fist slamming against the stout oak door. Owen snuffled and mumbled into Glenn’s hairy shoulder, half-waking. He shifted, nuzzling his butt-crack against Max’s massive, always-ready erection. Max idly stroked Owen’s thick biceps with the hand that was resting on them, letting his dick throb between Owen’s cheeks, but his mind wasn’t on the eagerness of Owen’s insatiable ass. He thought a question at Glenn. Who?
Glenn shook his head minutely, likewise caressing Owen’s flank between them. Don’t know, he thought back. Then, with slightly curving lips, he added, You’re closer.
Max grimaced, but he didn’t take his eyes away from Glenn’s. Unexpectedly he was filled with intense desire, but not for sex. They three of them been doing a lot of fucking the last few days, and even now all Max needed to was back up a few inches and reposition himself, and he could once again shoving his thickened cock deep into Owen’s ready hole, inaugurating another round of meaningless three-way debauchery. But as he was staring into Glenn’s eyes in that moment he was, all at once, desperately hungry for something more, something real—a true connection with his dad. He needed, more than anything else, to make love to Glenn Sheridan. He needed to become one with him. He felt it as a burning, tangible fire inside him, and Max somehow knew or sensed that that fire could become something real and alive. There was another part of him waiting to be born, and it had everything to do with the love and passion he and Glenn shared for each other.
Glenn’s eyes came alive, seeming almost to be lit from behind, as often seemed to be the case when Max stared into them. Max needed to be closer to him, against him, and for the first time he realized he no longer wanted Owen between them. They stared at each other for another second, both feeling the tension and promise of what was not yet. Almost tentatively, Max moved his lips to gently kiss the air, watching Glenn. Glenn did the same, and—though they had kissed many times since that first time, the night of the river dream—this felt different, as though it reflected a new level of intimacy between them, one that needed only to be consummated.
Then Glenn glanced pointedly at the door, his faint smile emerging just a shade further. Max rolled his eyes at yet another interruption to his evolving relationship with Glenn and climbed to his feet. He stooped to retrieve one of the pairs of loose jeans on the floor, unsure if these were his or one of the others’. (That’s a sure sign you’re settling into polyamory, he thought wryly, if there’s a big pile of pants by the bed and you’re not certain who’s you’re putting on.) He stepped into them, shaking his head at how the low-riding jeans completely failed to obscure the big, rigid boner shoving rudely past the waistband.
He whipped open the door just as the man on the porch was preparing the slam his fist against it a third time. Their visitor was someone Max had never seen before. He was a good deal shorter than Max and looked sort of like Max’s idea of a Navy Seal: close-cropped black hair, clean-cut jaw, chiseled, scowling features, burning eyes, thick muscles, and absolutely no bullshit. His tattoo-sleeved arms were loose at his sides, but he was poised and obviously ready for anything. One of the hands held a clipboard.
“I’m here to repo to Ducati, possession of one Howard Banks,” the man said without preamable. “May I have the keys, please?”
Max blinked at him, astonished. “I’ll take the bike either way,” the man went on. “But I’d appreciate your surrendering the keys at this time.”
The man was wearing a smooth, midnight blue tee shirt that seemed vacuumed to his tanned, hard-muscled form and dark brown carpenter’s pants that did little to conceal stocky, powerful thighs. He took one downward glance, long enough to register Max’s mighty, just-exposed erection before looking up again.
“You must have some kind of paperwork to prove—” Max began, and the man immediately handed him the clipboard. Max flipped through copies of the ownership papers, Howard’s claim submission, and the man’s license, which listed his name as John Ford. The address on the license was not far from his old house back—well, not back home, but in the place he’d used to call home.
Max looked up at the guy, catching him in another fleeting glance at his raging erection before Ford’s eyes leapt back up to his. To his credit he betrayed no guilt at the surreptitious ogling. “Owen!” he called, not looking away from the curious visitor. “It’s for you.”
“Me?” Owen said muzzily from somewhere behind him. He sounded confused, which was reasonable enough, given how far they were from Owen’s usual haunts back in the little Vermont city they’d grown up in.
“Hey, how’d you even find us?” Max asked. His gaze shifted to the motorcycle, covered and parked to one side of the porch and just visible over the railings. It had to have something to do with the bike.
Sure enough, Ford thumbed behind him toward the motorcycle. “GPS,” he said. “A lot of them have a chip in them now.”
Owen stumbled to his side. He hadn’t bothered with jeans or anything else, his hairy, powerful muscles and blunt, cut stiffy on full, negligent display. “Whuzzit?” he said, squinting blearily at Max and then the stranger in the relatively bright early morning light coming through the doorway.
“Your dad’s taking your bike away from you, dude,” Max said, cocking his head in Ford’s direction. “Guy needs the keys.” He glanced at Ford, who was now staring straight ahead, as if he didn’t dare let his eyes get anywhere near the naked, aroused, and very sexy jock standing before him.
“Aw, man, you gotta be kidding me!” Owen growled. Ford stiffened, ready for rage or violence, but relaxed as Owen snatched up the keys from where they lay on the table by the door, next to the truck keys and Max’s knife. “I knew there was a reason he kept it in his name!” he groused. “He’s such a fucking tool!” But he handed the keys to Ford, who took them with a polite “Thank you, sir” while still trying not to look directly at Owen. They watched, Owen still muttering various imprecations against his father, while Ford stepped down off the porch and went around to the bike. With practiced ease he rolled the Ducati around behind Ford’s truck, ironically a Chevy Silverado where a wide rubber-coated ramp was already in place providing access to the bed.
“Ugh, he’s going to need help with that,” Owen sighed. He made as if to head straight across the porch and down to the clearing in his birthday suit, but Max put a hand on his meaty shoulder to stop him.
“I’ll go,” Max said, amused. “You’ve given him enough of an eyeful already.”
Owen looked down at himself, then back up at Max with a rakish smirk. “Ooops,” he said, not sounding at all repentent. He headed back into the cabin, while Max went out to help Ford manhandle the heavy motorcycle up the ramp and then secure it in the bed with a set of chocks and four cam straps secured to rings at each corner of the truck bed.
“You and him… boyfriends?” Ford asked casually as they worked, his eyes on the strap he was tightening.
Max smiled to himself, tickled by the tough guy’s cautious interest. He likewise kept his eyes on his work as he answered, “Nope. Just fucking.” Then, in the same casual tone, he added, “Want his number?”
Ford flashed him a quick, brilliant smile. “I know how to find him if I need to,” he said.
Minutes later the three of them were watching the heavy pickup and its payload trundle down the dirt road leading back to civilization. “My dad’s such a tool,” Owen said again. To Max he added, “Can I have yours? Please?”
Max was ready to say something schmaltzy like “No, he’s all mine”, but Glenn beat him to it. “One son is enough,” he said, with a wink in Max’s direction. Owen had put on pants too, leaving Glenn as the only one still naked, though he was hairy enough he almost seemed clothed in tight-fitting animal skins. “C’mon, I’m hungry.”
Max made huge piles of buckwheat pancakes with a compote of mountain berries they’d gathered the day before, and they all ate like starving wolves. Exertion during the day and sex at night definitely built up an appetite. Between bites Owen kept grumping about his dad and how he didn’t want his own son to be happy.
“Maybe he just misses you,” Glenn said unexpectedly. “Maybe the bike was his way of trying to get your attention.”
“That’s fucked up,” Max said around half a mouthful of pancake.
Glenn shrugged his wide shoulders. “Fathers sometimes feel like they have limited choices,” he said. Max glanced at him, but at this point he knew better than to try to decipher any of Glenn’s more cryptic pronouncements.
Owen glowered at his plate. A few moments before it had been stacked high with flapjacks; now it bore only a purple smear as evidence of what had once been. “What worries me,” he said at last, “is… it’s only going to get worse. We’re going to turn out backs on each other and have a sucky relationship forever, and all because he only sees me as, like, this extension of himself. He played football, I played football. He ran a pharmacy chain…” Owen sighed. Abruptly, he glanced up at Max, then at Glenn, his walnut-black eyes bright and clear. “I gotta talk to him, don’t I?” he asked. “Show him who I am.”
Max hummed thoughtfully. “That sounds like a good way to… build a new relationship with him,” he said. This time he deliberately did not glance over at Glenn.
Owen nodded, then nodded again more decisively. He jumped to his feet, but as he turned toward the door he froze, as if he could see through the door the place where his beloved motorcycle no longer waited for him, and his face fell in a way that Max found almost comical.
Glenn, Max noticed, was eyeing both him and Owen consideringly. “Max,” he said, “why don’t you drive Owen home? He can get started mending fences with his dad, and you can take a little break from the mountain.”
Max stared at Glenn. A break from the mountain? He couldn’t think of anything he wanted less. Especially now, with things so close to the moment of truth. He glanced at Owen, who was looking at him hopefully, then back at his dad. “But… don’t I need to be—I mean, isn’t it close to… ?” He wasn’t sure what he was asking, but he knew it needed to be asked.
“It’ll be fine,” Glenn said soothingly. “As long as you’re back tomorrow. Say, by mid-day or so.” Max watched him. He knew Glenn meant exactly what he said. He needed to be back on the mountain tomorrow. Max had to be here with Glenn, alone together in their secluded cabin, when nightfall came. But why did Glenn even want him to leave, when things were so close? No doubt aware of Max’s concerns, Glenn added, “Besides, I need to see a few people and make sure of the… terrain.”
Max pursed him lips, then looked up at Owen. “Well, buddy,” he said, “looks like we got us a little road trip!”
It was seriously strange to be in a city again. Not that Max was surprised. Over the last month he’d gotten so used to the mountain and its living forest and furtive creatures that even riding down into the tiny up-mountain town of Stark felt weird. Part of it was that his world had become a single building, the cabin, with a whole world of nature around it, and that this felt more and more intrinsically like where he belonged; more than that, though, the building was a base, a foothold from which he could reach the true vibrancy of nature that was masked in the human world. Stark felt like an intrusion on the complex, self-contained systems of the mountain world, which accepted Glenn and Max as its own; and so conditioned to the mountain was he that an actual city, even a little on in Vermont, felt almost like a violation.
He’d expected this kind of reaction, and he knew it was more the shock of surfacing from a deep monthlong immersion than anything else. What he wasn’t prepared for, though, was how different he felt, not just from what he’d been but from everyone else as well. As they got out of the truck and headed into the main location of Banks Drugs & Pharmacies, the descending sun still beating brightly down on all the metal and concrete around them and the various passers-by going about their afternoon business, Max got an increasingly bizarre sense that he and Owen were aliens walking among the human mundane. From the distracted frown on Owen’s face, Max thought maybe he could feel it too.
It wasn’t only them. He and Owen both were getting some odd looks and a lot of lustful stares, from women and men alike, even from people he knew or recognized. It was almost like they really were extraterrestrials, having descended from their remote outpost to test their ability to pass among the Earthlings, only to judge the experiment a mixed success at best. A trio of young women in their twenties, already juggling ice cream cones and smoothies from a shop up the road, stopped dead as Max and Owen walked toward them and watched them open-mouthed; as they started to walk past, one of them shoved her smoothie at the woman next to her, pulled out her phone, and started videoing them. As if that weren’t weird enough, as they approached the store’s entrance Max noticed one of Owen’s football buddies gaping at them. It was, Max realized, the curly haired, three-hundred-pound moose who’d huffed out a “Geez” when he and Owen had embraced at Owen’s graduation party, but he was staring open-mouthed at Owen like he almost didn’t recognize him. Maybe it was like a couple of weeks of buttfucking had altered his aura or something in a way everyone could see, Max thought. Only, no, it was more substantial than that—more physical than that. He and Owen were both that thing you knew, only not as you knew it, and that was a lot more unexpected than something completely unknown.
He and Owen entered the store and headed back toward the service counter, which was currently unoccupied. As they moved through the store, still attracting stares and licked lips and pinked cheeks from the customers and employees in the aisles, Max tried to get a handle on why both he and everyone else was experiencing such a visual disconnect after years of living here as a random skinny, unremarkable teenager. It was totally unnerving, like he’d arrived in an alternate universe. He glanced down at himself, brow furrowed. He half-expected to discover that he’d forgotten to put on a shirt and boots after all; but no, he was wearing the same half-sleeved baseball tee he’d had on when he’d first ridden up to the cabin almost four weeks back, only to strip it off and not look back. It was odd, though—the experience of simply wearing this shirt was not what it had been four weeks back. For one thing it was unaccountably tight, like it had shrunk somehow, though Max had only washed it the once and let it air dry in the high altitude sun. The shirt strained tight across his chest, and squeezed hard at his thick upper arms like it wanted to push the muscle he’d gained in the last month back in. And it rode up his belly a bit too, exposing almost an inch between the hem and the waistband of his jeans. Those at least were still loose, the way he liked them, though they did seem to be cupping his butt pretty tightly, like the denim had somehow become infused with Owen’s lustful dreams about him. And now that he thought about it, he could see that the cuffs were riding up a bit too, though his sturdy hiking boots rose high enough that no skin was exposed.
But that wasn’t the whole of it, Max knew. It wasn’t just that his clothes were tighter. He stared hard at the verdant hair erupting from around every clothing edge, from the forearms where the sleeves ended, to the bushy hair scrabbling over the ring collar and creeping up his neck, to the tight, furry belly his too-small clothing was offering tantalizing glimpses of. He shuddered, and his still-rigid cock, wrenched down to at least not thrust out of his jeans though it still made a long, massive, and very obvious bulge as it strained against the tight denim, throbbed and shook with excitement at his escalating hirsute virility, spurting just a mite of pre-jizz into his increasingly spunked underwear.
Owen had it too. Even in half the time, his experienced eye could tell Owen had tighter, harder, and subtly thicker muscles, as if he’d been training for definition but kept his workout pump every time. But more than that, Owen had the hair even more then he had before. Max had loved Owen’s furry chest in high school, but two weeks on the mountain had somehow amplified Owen’s impressive hairness. The hair on his head was even long now, though not as long as Max’s (which was sneaking past his shoulders lately and trying to edge down toward his shoulder blades); not only that, but, like Max, almost every inch of the horny jock was now covered in dark, thick, and (he knew from experience) soft and very snuggly hair. Max drew in a breath, pulling in a whiff of Owen’s faint, mainly funk with it, and his dick jumped again, as if just being near him was pure, unadulterated turn-on, like mainlining raw animal magnetism.
Was it just him responding this way because he was into that, or…? It sure seemed like everyone they passed was reacting to Owen going from junior alpha to mega alpha. And if that was the case, were the two of them together in one place, amidst all these people unaccustomed to all this, doubling the effect?
Jeez-o-pete, Max, he scolded himself. Get a grip! You and Owen just got a little hairier and a bit stronger… okay, in your case a lot stronger, but it’s not like you turned into a—
“Fuck, Banks! You turn into a fucking yeti while you were up on that mountain or something?” It was the curly-haired, round-bellied moose who’d spotted them outside—evidently he’d followed them into the store.
Owen tossed the meathead a grin. “Brewster!” he said cordially. “What’s up?” Brewster, however, was too busy knitting his brows and trying to stand straighter to respond. After a few seconds of this Brewster shifted up on his toes, apparently without realizing it, and it struck Max suddenly that Owen’s football buddy was subconsciously unsettled because they were no long the same height any more. And Owen was definitely perceptibly bigger as well. That unexpected size shift in someone whose shape he was probably very accustomed to probably freaked him out even more than the hair, Max thought.
Before Max could really process this, though, a weedy, balding man appeared behind the service counter at last. “H-hello, Owen,” he said. His eyes flitted between Owen’s face, his chest, his arms and shoulders, and his tight stomach before lighting briefly on Brewster, them jumping to Max and fixing right on his newly heavy pecs. Max suppressed a smirk and let the guy stare.
“Uh, hey, Dave,” Owen said with an aside glance at where Dave’s eyes were currently glued. His tone confirmed that the guy was acting a little strangely. “Hey, is my pop in today? Dave?”
Dave started and shifted his stare to Owen’s chest, then abruptly up to his face. He gave Owen a tense grin. “Sure, sure, sure,” Dave said. “I’ll, uh, uh, call him down for you.” As soon as he’d said the words he vanished, evidently declining to use the phone on the counter in front of him.
“Seriously, Banks, what’s weird about you?” Brewster cut in. He was still standing there, and if anything he was getting annoyed at the gap between the Owen he knew and the one standing before him. He was looking Owen up and down, as if he was trying to get a bead on exactly how many pounds he’d gained and the percentage of follicle acreage increase since graduation.
Owen faced him, and returned the up-and-down. “I’ll tell you my secret,” he told him soberly after a moment, “but you’re not gonna like it.”
Brewster narrowed his eyes. “What?” he asked skeptically.
Owen leaned toward him, as if to speak confidentially, but said in a loud voice, “It’s man-jizz, dude.”
Brewster’s eyes widened in comic horror. “Whaaaat?” he shrieked.
Owen stepped back and snuck an arm around Max’s waist. Max gave him a shit-eating grin of his own. “Man-jizz, I’m telling you,” he insisted. “You take your fuckbuddy’s spunk, right? And you rub it over your muscles, dude, all over—” He demonstrated with his free hand, running it over his shoulders and pecs like he was massaging a liniment in. “—and you won’t believe how well it works. Twice a day, and—”
Brewster literally clapped his hands over his ears. “I am not listening to this! I’m not listening to this!” he said hectically. He looked back and forth between Owen and Max, then he noticed the little audience of grinning shoppers they’d collected and abruptly bolted, high-tailing it right out of the store and pelting instantly out of sight around the corner.
Owen turned a mischievous grin on Max. “I wonder if he’s going to try it?” he asked.
Max laughed. “You’re completely nuts,” he said, trying not to notice that Owen’s arm was still around his waist.
It stayed there even when Owen’s father, Howard, appeared. He looked a lot like Owen, though with more pallid skin and thinning hair. He looked as though he’d worked at staying fit, but retained some of the fleshiness of a middle-aged man who’d been muscular once and hadn’t been able to keep it.
“You came back,” Howard said. He sounded unsure whether to be smug about it. He had clearly already noticed the arm he had around Max, and Max could see him processing the implications.
“Yeah, you kind of slapped me up the back of the head,” Owen said. He seemed to realize they still had a bit of an audience, and said, “Hey, pop, can we go get a pizza or something, and just talk? Man to man?”
Howard considered this. “Man to man,” he repeated slowly. Howard was no dummy, Max saw. He was already anticipating the whole chapter and verse of the standing-on-my-own-feet, me-doing-me talk Owen wanted to have with him. And Owen wasn’t a brainless jock, either. The arm around the waist was a signal, teasing Owen’s message that he wasn’t the boy he’d been, and he wasn’t an extension of his dad either—he was hos own man, and he was ready to make his own way as part of a family that did the same.
“Yeah, pop,” Owen said. He’d taken in all of the subtext just as Max had, he was sure. “Why don’t you go down to Ferrelli’s and get us started, okay? They can spare you here for an hour or so.”
Howard nodded. “I, uh—I’m sorry about the bike,” he said grudgingly. “I was upset. I wasn’t sure what to do.”
Owen smiled. “I know, pop.”
“I, uh—I’m glad you came down,” Howard said. Unexpectedly, he thrust out a hand. Owen took it and they shook, then Howard offered it to Max. “Maxfield, right?” he said as they shook. “Owen said he’d be with his friend Maxfield.”
“That’s me,” Max said. He was slightly thrown at the first use of his full name in weeks. Another reminder he’d been living in a different world.
Howard nodded. To Owen, he said, “Let’s walk down together.”
“Sure,” Owen said agreeably. He turned, still in their loose half-embrace, and, to Max’s surprise, give him a soft kiss. When he pulled back, his eyes were bright. “Thanks, Max, for everything. You and Glenn both.” With a sly grin he added, “Let me know when I can stop by again, okay?”
“You bet,” Max said with a laugh, struggling to ignore his dick trying to rip through his jeans for a last go at Owen’s ass.
Owen turned and walked out with his dad. As they passed through the aisles, Owen still attracting all kind of look and stares, Max head him ask, “Say, pop, that repo guy—you don’t still have his number, do you?”
The sun was red and already nuzzling the horizon by the time Max pulled into his own driveway. He’d flirted with the idea of starting back for the cabin straight from the drug store downtown, but he didn’t relish driving up switchback roads in the dark even under the silvery light of a nearly full moon. Reluctantly he’d decided to stop by the house, checking the mail and generally making sure the gangly neighbor kid Glenn had paid to keep an eye on the place for the summer hadn’t turned it into an opium den or anything. He turned off the ignition and considered the house he’d spent so many years in, feeling eerily alone. He felt like the man standing on his own feet that they’d nudged Owen into being, and there was a slightly melancholy sense of loneliness to it that Maxfield the teenager would never have imagined.
Gary, the neighbor teen a couple years behind Max, had indeed kept the place in order: the front stoop was clear of supermarket circulars and the other forms of detritus customarily hurled onto people’s porches, and the mail was stacked neatly on the kitchen table, though an empty glass with a residue of iced tea left negligently on the counter was somehow reassuringly boyish. Max flipped through the mail, but none of it was important; the bills were all paid up in advance, and everything else was routine. He stacked the pile and headed into his old bedroom, thinking he should shed his clothes and at least take advantage of being at the house by taking a long, hot, proper shower in an actual bathroom.
He stood there in his room for a while, feeling big and grown up. It had only been a month since he’d laid on the same bed, wondering if there existed a universe in which he could meet someone as hot and sexy and heart-poundingly perfect as his dad. And maybe, there might be that one special, unique and impossible universe where he and Glenn could touch, and kiss…
He smiled wistfully and sat on the edge of the bed to pull off his boots and socks. Once his feet were blessedly bare he shucked his too-tight shirt, then the jeans and pre-damp briefs. He stood a moment, marveling down at himself. There was no denying it now: he’d changed up on the mountain. He’d grown hair all over, enough to challenge Owen and even his dad. His pecs, arms, shoulders, legs—they’d all been just firm and defined when he’d last slept in this room, the product of good genetics and a fast metabolism rather than exercise; but in four weeks they’d blossomed under all the hair, swelling and thickening and hardening all over. He flexed his right biceps, stroking the hard peak with his other hand, marveling at the memory of the tree he’d practically ripped apart. He could feel the strength within him, like a latent energy, a potency lying in wait for him to use whenever he called upon it—whether it was to rend trees in half, or run forever, or hold tight the man he loved and never let go.
Something within him stirred and shifted, that inferno he’d felt before that was almost discernable, and almost aware. It was connected to his strength and power, as if it were the true source of the fire that infused his bone and muscle. What are you? he asked it, but the thing within him only settled into almost-stillness, poised and waiting. Max had always responded to strength and power, and there was something stimulating about this hot, powerful presence. It was not just exciting, but arousing too. His dick jumped. It had been stiff the whole time, and it had hardened even more than it already was as Max appreciated his own newly acquired strength and muscle. Now, as Max felt that fierce presence within him, he felt his dick strain, aching with the hot, towering arousal flooding through every inch of his strong, hairy flesh.
“What am I going to do with you?” he asked it, awed at its seemingly limitless fervor. Unbidden memories of his fantasy came to him, the one where in his mind he’d fucked Glenn in the clearing. It had seemed almost real then. He’d replayed it many times since, and though they’d never done it in reality it felt almost like they had. His dick tightened and shivered, spurting a little more precum onto the rug. Gazing down at it in wonder, he wrapped his right hand around the base… then, slowly, he raised his other hand and curled it around the shaft just above his other fist. A bit of shaft and his reddened cockhead, almost completely emerged from the foreskin, still extended beyond his left fist. “Fuck,” Max said softly.
The shower would have to wait. He climbed into the bed and lay on top of the soft, cool bedspread, feeling the burn of arousal all through his body as he gripped his rigid, uncut wang in both fists. He closed his eyes, and immediately an image of his father formed in his mind. Tall—almost as tall as Max; all covered in dark brown hair, hard thick muscle clear underneath, muscle Max growing just like him. A hard cock, but Max’s was bigger. There was a wry, carnal smile and a glint in those honey-gold eyes. Max drew close, and suddenly they were inches apart, then embracing, their increasingly comparable bodies pressed hard against each other, their pre-slick dicks plunging and shoving against each others’ hairy abs. They kissed, slow and deep, and Max’s body shook with the pleasure of it.
He wanted more. He cast his mind out for the real Glenn. They were linked, he knew it, and even with all the distance… He found a strong, hairy, muscled alpha, and felt his arousal as he, too, stroked himself somewhere close by, longing for Max’s amazing cock to plow deep inside him again—fuck. That was Owen, and the jock was so crazy with lust that it washed over the tentative connection between them and ramped Max up even higher. He pulled back, even as he felt his balls seem to swell with the influx of Owen’s raging libido. Sweating, his skin hot and tight, his dick screaming in his shifting fists, he sought beyond the city he knew, seeing that singular place on the horizons of his mind. His mountain, and the light that lived there. Glenn.
That was him. Max tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. That was Glenn. His world reoriented in his head, and Glenn became the center, the focus of all his awareness. Glenn.
Max. Oh god, Max.
He was stroking, too. He was lying in the cabin, in their bed, and he was stroking himself, and for all his vaunted control over his cock and what it needed he was as overcome and desperate as Max was. He was stroking with both hands, like Max. They stroked together, in time, slowly quickening their movements as they rocketed together toward a single, shared release.
Max was there with him, lying in his bed in the city next to Glenn in their bed in the cabin. They watched each other, admiring each other. He met Glenn’s eyes, and then he saw… he saw what Glenn saw. Max’s hard, manly, crazy-strong body. Max’s big, hard cock, which seemed almost to radiate power and potential. He felt Glenn’s soaring emotions as he looked at Max. Fierce, infinite love. Bottomless desire. And a need for union that would change everything. Glenn’s ass ached for Max’s cock, and not just because Glenn wanted to be fucked.
He imagined himself, seeing them from his own eyes and Glenn’s as Max straddled his man, dripping sweat from his chin onto Glenn’s furry pec-cleavage as they stared hard into each other’s eyes. Then, Max’s strong, glistening arms were under Glenn’s tree-trunk legs, his palms against the blanket at Glenn spread himself for him, his eyes never wavering from Max’s. And then, his dick, already slicked from massive amounts of pre, was sliding into Glenn’s ready hole. Max knew this was wrong, he should be prepping Glenn’s hole with his fingers, especially if he was as huge now ass he seemed to be. But Glenn was ready for him, like he’d jumped ahead in a video and skipped over the prep to the moment he soul hungered for.
He pushed in slowly… no, he was already in deep, his super-sensitive cock out of its mind with pleasure at being so far inside Glenn’s furnace-hot, incredibly tight, sublimely perfect ass. He didn’t ever want to move, and not just because if he did move he was certain to crest into orgasm and blow a gigantic release inside his lover. It wasn’t just that, because he wanted this moment, this simple moment of pure, universe-encompassing pleasure, to last as long as any moment could be made to last.
He bend down to kiss Glenn, though their position made it difficult to do for long; and then, somehow, Max pushed in even deeper, and suddenly it was okay, and Max and Glenn kissed languidly as Max prolonged the moment of being inside Glenn more and more and more. But his cock was almost bursting, and when Glenn’s ass squeezed it hard, all along its length, Max’s defenses burst all at once, and he was cumming spectacularly inside Glenn, over and over, and Glenn was cumming too, shooting huge gouts of jizz all over his hairy chest and beard as they kissed hard, panting around each other’s lips but unable to break free.
Glenn… fuck, Glenn, I fucking love you.
He pulled back at last, breathing hard, as he stared down at his dad. “I love you too, Max,” Glenn said, and Max could swear he head the actual words, even as he lay there, soaring, spent, and sated, on the sweat-damp bedspread in his old bedroom, miles from home, gripping tight to his messy, hard cock with both his mighty fists. Somewhere deep inside him his unknown presence shifted and settled again, a guttural sensation like a growl riffling through him as he drifted off into sleep.
On the way up the mountain Max stopped in at the so-called dry goods store, a.k.a. Wentworth’s, sometime in the mid-afternoon. He wanted to have a word with the pale blond boy who seemed to always be working the counter there, and who he’d also spotted spying on Max’s momentous fantasy fuck session in the clearing a while back. He was one of the pieces that didn’t fit, and bugged him a little that he didn’t even know the guy’s name. But as he pushed through the doors and looked to the left, he saw that the counter was staffed today not by the pale blond but by a round-faced, middle-aged woman who reminded Max distinctly of a female version of the old, rotund, and ill-tempered doctor, Joshua Abbott. Daughter? Cousin? Evil twin? Whatever. Max didn’t want to talk to anyone connected with the “townsfolk trio,” as he thought of the three senior townie meddlers he’d both met and dreamed about two weeks past.
But as he turned to go he saw with dismay that there was someone else in the shop he knew. Standing not ten feet away from him in the aisle with the self-serve barrels and staring down at him with impressive intensity was the dark, imposing figure of Eamon Conroy. If anything, he looked bigger than before. He seemed to be assessing Max, his coal-black eyes taking his measure inside and out.
In another time, another reality, Max might have found the man’s size and power attractive. In some ways it was the extreme form of the hairy, hulking, dominating figures like Owen that Max loved to twist to his own fancies, though Eamon’s untamed look was a bridge too far. But in the gruff, reclusive Eamon Max sensed a wilder, scarier version of the power of the mountain Max and Glenn had in common, and it unsettled him. The way Eamon felt to him, like a bad taste on his tongue, supported the sense he’d gotten from his dream—that Eamon was an opponent.
It was not lost on him that what Eamon opposed was his father’s cryptic plans and intentions for Max that Max himself knew nothing about, hadn’t signed off on, and for all he knew still might recoil from in horror. But he’d promised his father over and over again that he trusted him, and Max was bound to that. He did trust Glenn, secrets and all.
Either way, he wasn’t any more keen to talk to Eamon than with a townie, fellow “mountain folk” or not. He turned away.
“I need to speak to you, Young Sheridan,” the oversized mountain man rumbled.
“Too bad,” Max called over his shoulder. Passing the astonished Abbess at the counter he left the shop. He’d got through the doors and out onto the porch in front of the store when a large, meaty hand clamped down on Max’s shoulder. In a lightning move, Max whipped around, grabbing the man’s wrist in a ferocious grip and yanking the hand off his shoulder. He glared up at Eamon, holding the wrist tight, and thrilled as Eamon tried to pull away and could not immediately do so. “Don’t touch me,” Max said hotly.
“I need to speak—” the larger man began again.
“Too. Bad.” Max held fast to Eamon’s wrist, shooting daggers up at the man. “I’m not the same kid you loomed over a month ago.”
“Yes,” Eamon said, as if Max had made his point for him. “Exactly. And that makes what I have to say all the more urgent.” He leaned down, urgent and sincere, ignoring the wrist Max held. “Time is short. You are on the cusp of—”
“I know,” Max said, baring his teeth. “I know a lot of things now.”
Eamon’s black eyes blazed in sudden fury. “But you do not know not to interrupt your elders!” In a sudden move he ripped his arm free of Max’s grasp, causing Max to stumble forward slightly before he regained his balance. “Insolent cub!” Eamon growled.
“I’m not a child,” Max protested, though the words sounded petulant to his own ears. “I’m a man.”
“To become a man means choices,” Eamon countered, still urgent.
“I—” Max began, but Eamon spoke over him.
“You have choices, Maxfield,” the larger man said. “More than you know. More than your father will give you. There are more choices than the Sheridan way!”
Max kept the frown off his face, determined not to show Eamon anything, but the man-mountain sensed his surprise anyway. “Come to me tonight,” Eamon urged. “I can teach you the true way of our kind.”
Max blinked at him. He didn’t know quite what Eamon meant. But he could believe that whatever path Eamon represented was one Glenn Sheridan, and probably his pappy and grandpappies before him, had soundly rejected.
Max became aware of a sense of being watched. He turned and saw the dog, Tyrant, standing exactly where Max had first seen him, in front of the tavern up the street. He was watching the two of them with great interest, his tail stiff and unmoving behind him. Max wondered sardonically if Tyrant ever went into the tavern, and, if so, what his usual was.
He turned back to Eamon, trying to recompose himself once more as an adult conversing with another adult about a matter over which they had a difference of perspective. He spoke evenly and rationally. “I don’t know what ‘way’ lies before me,” Max said. “But if the paths my father knows don’t seem right to me, then we’ll find a new one. Together,” he added meaningfully.
Eamon was shaking his head. “Glenn Sheridan’s mind is closed,” he sneered. “He doesn’t believe in what’s better for you. For us.”
Us. Our kind. Was he really of a kind with Eamon? He remembered the dream. Snarling beasts, and men with guns. Right in that moment, Max wasn’t sure he had a “kind”. All he did know was that he loved and trusted Glenn. And Owen too, in a different way. Two people he trusted in the world, and Eamon Conroy was not one of them. His gut told him that Eamon’s mind was a lot more closed than his dad’s.
“I have to go now, Eamon,” Max said, deliberately invoking the larger man’s first name as an assertion of equal footing between them. He arched an eyebrow and added ominously, “Moonrise is coming.” Then he turned and marched down the steps to his truck, his footfalls on the firm boards sounding loud in the empty street.
“You’re making a mistake, Sheridan,” Eamon said to his back. Max got the weird sense that this was not the first time those words had been spoken in this town, and under similar circumstances.
Max paused by his truck and glanced up toward the tavern. Tyrant was still there, standing stock still, and watching him now, not Eamon. Max huffed in dry amusement as he remembered his and Owen’s adventure with Tyrant, and how they’d followed the dog without question. If that day was any indication, he had to admit that the list of those he trusted pretty clearly also had to include the imperious German shepherd. He raised a hand in greeting to the dog, and Tyrant swished his tail once in response. Max shook his head, smiling to himself, and climbed into his truck to begin the final part of his journey home.
I see you, he thought. I’m on my way.
Come on up, came Glenn’s reply. I’m waiting for you. Max smiled wide, and he could feel Glenn’s smile, too. His stomach fluttered. This was it.
Hurriedly Max changed out of the jeans and into cargo shorts. Just the cargo shorts, and nothing else. Actually, they were Glenn’s cargo shorts, a fact that made his dick throb with anticipation. He was grateful for that gift, the connection that he had with Glenn. It seemed to be all on his side—he remembered Glenn sounding surprised by it, when Owen had spilled the beans in the truck coming back from Glenn’s temporary imprisonment, and he was pretty sure whatever he could do with his mind was more than Glenn could. That just made him more glad he had it. And maybe a bit glad he was different, especially if it meant that his situation didn’t have to be whatever Glenn had decided for himself when he was Max’s age.
Still grinning, Max snatched up his knife, closed the door behind him, and headed out.
There was no direct route up to the meadow, and Max was torn between wanting to rush up there and enjoying this day rambling the mountain trails, feeling the afternoon’s stiff, cool, tree-scented breeze caressing his bare skin and ruffling his hair. As it was he kept a steady pace, and in less than an hour he was striding the edge of the meadow, watching as Glenn stood from where he’d been relaxing on the crags and dropped down to the loamy earth, moving toward Max with an eagerness that matched his own. Like Max, he was wearing dark cargo shorts and nothing else.
They were on each other in seconds, embracing hard and tight. Out of all the rules, this was Max’s favorite. Glenn, the shorter of the two by a bare couple of inches, nestled against Max’s neck as they clung to each other mashing hard pecs and harder cocks against each other as their strong arms tightened around each other’s broad, bare, thick-haired backs. Max kissed the shell of Glenn’s ear and murmured, “Love you.”
“Love you,” Glenn returned, in the same low, earnest tone Max had heard, or thought he’d heard, the night before in his old bedroom. Their bearded jaws dragged against each other as they moved as one to bring their lips together, and then they were kissing, inelegant and lurid at first, the kiss of two men ending a famine of not being able to feel each others’ mouths, lips, and tongues. Soon the kiss slowed and deepened, and they stayed like that, mashed together mouth, chest, groin, legs, and all, holding each other fast and making out like true soulmates, languidly now and with no sign of ever stopping, as the sun fell toward the west and the eastern sky deepened to a rich indigo.
Eventually they separated, though only partially, keeping their hands clasped and their eyes on each other. Glenn had brought up a rucksack with various items, and they climbed back up on the flattest of the cool crags and had a picnic of fruit, nuts, and cold sliced-venison sandwiches using Glenn’s homemade sourdough bread, looking out over the daisy-dappled meadow toward the scarlet sun sinking steadily toward the horizon. Glenn had also brought two of those special bottles of beer, so they could share the sunset together in the way they’d been doing on the mountain this whole time. Max felt jittery with anticipation, but he tried to stay relaxed and smooth.
Glenn relayed greetings from the mysterious Virginia Clement, the townie Glenn trusted and who had guarded the knife Max now possessed since the last time Glenn had spent any time up here. He admitted he’d gone to Clement for advice, which surprised Max, but when Max asked what he’d asked for advice about, Glenn just smiled and said, “We’ll get to that.” Max took that as a promise rather than a deflection. Max, in turn, caught Glenn up on what had happened in the city with Owen and his dad. Glenn wasn’t surprised; he hadn’t known Owen as well as Max had, of course, but he’d observed the young man sorting out his priorities during his two-week mountain interlude—in between all the fucking, of course.
“Hey, uh, speaking of which,” Max said, toying with his as yet unopened beer bottle, “last night, did you feel—?”
“I felt,” Glenn said. He’d already half-downed his own beer.
Max nodded. He twisted open the beer and took a long swig. “What did you feel?” he asked finally. He tried to look away, but he found his gaze meeting Glenn’s, the honey-brown eyes once again looking like a there was a warm light flickering behind them.
“Everything,” Glenn answered simply, his lips curving subtly as they both remembered. A cool, gentle breeze curled around their half-naked, arousal-heated bodies, and Max felt goose-bumps prickle along his arms and upper back. He sucked down more beer from his own bottle.
“And I want to feel it for real,” Glenn went on, his gaze locked with Max’s. “But there are a few things to square away first.”
Now that they’d come to it Max wasn’t sure he wanted to have a deep, dark conversation about the future, or the past, or whatever just now. He’d be happy to just go back to making out. Unexpectedly, though, Glenn broke their stare and turned back to the rucksack he’d brought. He started rummaging through it, and Max took another nervous pull at his beer. “You know what would be fun right now?” Glenn asked. Before Max could answer, Glenn pulled a series of items out of the bag: a pair of narrow barber’s scissors, a folding barber’s shaving blade of the kind Max associated with Mark Twain’s day, a new-looking little tube of what he guessed was some kind of cream or lotion, and finally the old-fashioned manual beard clippers with the spring-loaded handles Max had seen his dad use a couple of times on this trip to keep his facial hair from getting too out of control—probably to stop it from tangling up in his chest hair, Max had thought wryly the first time he’d seen it. Glenn held out the clippers for Max to take.
Max eyed him warily, not yet reaching for the clippers. “You want me to… trim my beard?” Max asked. It was kind of a hot idea, that his own beard was getting so long and thick that it was finally time to trim and shape it, like Glenn had to do all the time.
But Glenn shook his head. “I want you to shave me,” he said. He nodded toward the clippers. “You’ll need these first.”
Max’s eyes raked down Glenn’s incredible body, covered with magnificent hair from his cheeks to his toes, then met Glenn’s amused gaze with wide eyes. “Just the face,” Glenn clarified, brushing the backs of a few of his fingers against his beard-covered jaw for emphasis.
Max took the clippers from him, staring at Glenn in surprise and surging arousal. “W-why?” he asked. Max heard his inner voice telling him that shaving was totally against the rules, but that only made Max want to do it even more. There was nothing as sexy as an illicit intimacy, he realized in that moment—especially when the persuasive, lustful stare of the rule-maker himself made him complicit in a shared transgression.
“You’ll see,” Glenn said. “C’mon, you’ll need to get closer.”
Max gulped. He dutifully scooted along the edge of the rock they were sitting on, until their legs were pressed tight together from butt to knee to ankle. He looked over Glenn’s beautiful, dark, russet-brown beard, then met Glenn’s eyes. They were very close. “You sure?” Max asked, a quaver escaping in his voice. He wouldn’t have thought that he could get harder or more turned on, but in this moment all of Max’s love and lust for his dad seemed to be creeping higher and higher, almost exponentially. He was full of all kinds of energy and emotion, and the presence within him was somehow alert and aroused as well, watching Glenn’s eyes as avidly as Max was.
Glenn smiled, eyes dancing like there was a game involved, a playful bit of foreplay as they prepared to deepen their physical connection. Max’s lips twitched. Okay, then. He was so there for this. Taking Glenn’s right jaw in his hand and gently turning his head to get a better angle, Max lifted the clippers and began a methodical deforestation of the left side of Glenn’s face. So close like this he could feel the warmth radiating from every inch of Glenn’s heated skin, and every breath his dad took seemed to shiver through Max and down his spine. He tried to focus on the old clippers, how they’d obviously been build to last for centuries and what a great job they were doing of smoothly cleaving through the thick follicles of Glenn’s mighty beard, leaving behind a dark, millimeters-high lawn ready for a razor’s clean-making edge; but his thumb couldn’t help but brush along the slight smile of Glenn’s full, sweet lips. His breaths were getting a shade rougher with every minute he worked, pressed against his dream man and performing such an intimate task with him, and they were starting to sync with Glenn’s, so their warm breaths came together, in and out, in and out, as Max worked.
The cool breeze caressed their bare, furry flesh again, a little more forcefully. The goosebumps came again. Max felt like he was on the eternal cusp of a world-shifting climax, like the smallest thing would cast him over the edge and, at the sime time, like it would last forever, and this delicious, heart-pounding, not-quite-unbearable level of stimulation was his lot now forever, never to be resolved no matter how often he and Glenn shot their loads together. He paused and took in a shaky breath.
Glenn’s eyes met his. They were so close Max felt he should be able to peer into them and see his thoughts. “Go on,” Glenn breathed.
Max drew in another breath as the breeze continued to surround them, kicking up some the trimmed hair that had fallen in their bulging, jumping laps. He finished reducing the left side of Glenn’s to long stubble and then turned his head to the other side, stealing a brief kiss as he did so. He got to work on the right cheek and jaw, resting his other hand along Glenn’s thick traps where they met his hairy, wonderfully lickable neck, and carried on clipping away his lover’s almost-imperceptibly scented beard in long, careful swaths. In this position he could feel Glenn’s warm breaths, still synced with his, along his own bearded cheek, and every exhale seemed to go straight to Max’s dick. He swallowed, hardly daring to believe he was sharing this moment with him. “This is kind of hot,” Max admitted quietly as he moved the old clippers along Glenn’s jaw.
“Yeah,” Glenn said, in the same quiet, intense tone.
Completing his endeavors on the right cheek and jaw, Max moved on to the area under Glenn’s chin, the barest brush of the back of his forefinger below his chin enough to prompt Glenn to look up, exposing the vulnerable area to him without compunction and drawing it taut. Max shortened this part of his beard as well, making an arbitrary line above Glenn’s adam’s apple as his beard essentially kept going all the way down his neck, chest, abs, and legs to the tips of his feet. He nudged the chin back down and then, staring hard into Glenn’s honey-brown eyes, he finished the last part of the beard to be trimmed, working slowly and carefully around his man’s beautiful, beloved lips… until finally the beard was gone, leaving only long, dark stubble that could be cleared away with a bit of lather and a few shrewd scrapes of the straight razor Glenn had brought. Max pulled back slightly, taking in what he’d wrought in the red light of the dying sunset. His heart clamored against his chest as Glenn returned his ardent gaze. He’d been almost reluctant to crop away such a wonderful, sexy beard, but…
“Fuck, you’re sexy like this, too,” Max blurted out. Glenn grinned, but before he could say anything Max pounced on him, covering Glenn’s mouth with his in a fierce kiss. Glenn opened for him instantly, and in a single move Max had straddled Glenn’s furnace-hot lap, scattering all the fallen hair trimmings into the freshening wind, and was pushing him back onto the flat, cold stone. Max and Glenn kissed as though they might become one by this alone, and the dulcet bliss of their mouths’ embrace and their bodies pressed together wrapped around them like the gentle mountain breeze.
Time passed. The twilight insect chorus grew around them. Max thought of all their nights on the porch together, hard and aching for each other, as evening light became gloaming, and twilight, and finally dark, starry forest night. A month of shared moments leading up to this moment. Their tongues danced as Max took his place on top of his lover, their bodies writhing and bucking as one, and Max felt ready, finally and completely, to consummate their growing connection. He was ready to make love to his man for real.
He broke the kiss, panting down at Glenn, ready to propose just that. Glenn was staring up at him with want and desire in his glowing eyes. Max took in his handsome face, then stared at it, blinking hard.
“Am I… more sexy like this?” Glenn asked playfully. He took Max’s right hand where it was pressed against the stone near Glenn’s head, and brushed Max’s hand along the full, thick beard that once again grew along Glenn’s cheek and jaw. After a moment he took control of his hand and caressed it himself, feeling it grow and spread against his knuckles. The hair was as soft and thick as ever—maybe more so, Max thought, though that could be his mind telling him it was new growth.
New growth. The hair was growing. As he watched, as he touched, Glenn’s beard was pushing out, lengthening and thickening before his very eyes.
Max nearly came. He stared hard at his dad’s beard… his face… his almost-luminous eyes. “What are you… what are you doing?” He struggled to swallow. It wasn’t the right question somehow. His thoughts butted against each other, trying to align, to see the truth he was looking at.
Glenn’s beard was as long and thick now as it had been a half-hour before. It was red from one side as the lingering sun departed, and a subtle, monochrome silver-gray from the other. The full moon was rising at last. He searched his lover’s eyes. “What are you showing me?” he asked.
“Me,” Glenn said. “You.”
Max stroked the beard on the moonlit side. He met Glenn’s gaze steadily. “Our kind,” he said.
Glenn blinked, not expecting this turn of phrase. Max hadn’t told him about the encounter with Eamon yet. But Glenn nodded minutely. “Yes,” he agreed. “Our kind.”
Max almost couldn’t breathe. His fevered, expanded, fully-aroused body was pressed hard against his dream man’s, his huge, unstoppable erection shoved rudely against Glenn’s similarly needy joint through the unwanted fabric separation of their shorts. Animal lust raged in ever fiber of his existence. His flesh and soul yearned and ached for this man, and it seemed ironically perfect that this would be the climactic moment of their knowledge-jousting, too. The time was come for Glenn to bare himself to Max in all ways.
Glenn lifted the same hand he’d used to grab Max’s and pressed it firmly against Max’s newly muscled, newly hairy chest. “Do you feel it?” he asked seriously.
Max knew what he meant. He could feel it even now. It was stirring, responding to his arousal and to the connection deepening second by second between him and Glenn. And… for the first time, Max sensed something else. There was a presence within Glenn, too. It was strong—so strong—and aware in a way that Max’s wasn’t. It stared out at him through the same eyes Glenn was watching him with, and at the same time it was reaching out through the flesh between them to whatever coiled within Max.
Max was breathing hard again. He nodded jerkily. He wanted to ask what it was, but he was too excited and unnerved all at once. Glenn answered anyway. “It’s your beast,” he said. “He’s ready.”
Max nodded, just once. His shoulders and chest were subtly heaving, and he pushed his hand against the stone again by Glenn’s head to better support himself, though all he wanted to do was touch his man. His dick was still aching hard and shoving impulsively against Glenn’s of its own accord.
“I’ve been preparing you,” Glenn continued, watching Max closely. “Making sure that when this moment came, your body would be ready, primed to accept the change. Your beast is powerful, I think, more powerful than mine was at your age, and the change… well, I wanted it to be as easy as I could make it for you, when the first full moon of your nineteenth year finally came.”
Preparing. Primed. “The beer,” Max said huskily. He felt himself smiling. “I knew there was something in it!”
“Yeah,” Glenn said. “I was in it.”
“Unnnh,” Max grunted. He had to close his eyes and force himself not to cum. He knew it was partly from just who he was, his genetics, combined with the approach of this coming of age, the physical turning point of his shifter body, but it thrilled him to know that his dad’s spunk had been part of what had gotten him bigger and stronger and hairier since they’d returned up here to their mountain home.
Glenn went on. “There are different ways to complete the change,” he said. Max opened his eyes and met Glenn’s gaze. Glenn’s face no longer showed any red from the departed sun, only the silver of the rising moon. Could he feel it? Was that its pull? “There are different ways,” Glenn repeated. “But there’s only one way for us now.”
Max’s pulse was racing, and with Glenn’s hand still pressed his chest he knew Glenn could feel it, too. He could only mean… fuck, he could only mean the one thing that Max had wanted more than anything for as long as he could remember. “If I make love to you,” he said hoarsely.
Glenn’s honey eyes were twinkling. “Or I to you,” he countered, with a quirk of his bearded lips.
Max felt a rush of feral dominance wash over him, and he bent a little toward Glenn’s smirking face. “If you think for one moment that your ass is safe from me, Glenn,” he growled, “then you don’t know me very well.”
It was Glenn’s turn to shiver. He was still giving him that crooked, knowing grin, but what he said was, “Fuck, that’s hot.”
“Yeah,” Max said. “It will be.”
Glenn moved his hand to Max’s flank and began stroking gently, the other hand doing the same on the other side. Max gritted his teeth. He almost couldn’t wait, but he had to fully understand. “Tell me the rest.”
Glenn licked his lips. “When you join with me, my beast and yours will come together,” he said. “Yours will be freed. It will come to the surface, and you’ll feel for the first time what it means to shift. And then… well, then it will be all on you, Max. You will face the final choice.”
“Between what?” Max asked.
“You can embrace your beast,” Glenn said. “You’ll become a werebear, a shifter who walks with a bear-beast forever. Or, you can reject the beast, and choose to live only as a man. You’ll return to normal. More or less.” The last was said with a shift of one eyebrow and another quirk of the lips, as if to suggest that Max wouldn’t revert from this to normal life completely unchanged.
Max stared hard at Glenn, waiting another second or two before saying, “Or?”
Glenn’s hands stilled. He cocked his head at Max, eyeing him for a long moment. “You spoke with Eamon Conroy,” he said at last.
“He told me there was a choice you wouldn’t give me.” Max tried not to make it sound like an accusation, but there was still a residue of resentment at all the secrets and evasions of the past four weeks, and even before, because Max had always known there were things about Glenn his dad didn’t want him to know. But Max knew now Glenn had had to delay everything until this very moment… because now, under the full moon, he could feel his beast awakening within him, and all the words paled against that simple truth.
Glenn sighed. “The third choice, Max,” he said, resuming his stroking, “is to become the beast.” Max frowned, and Glenn tried to explain. “See, my beast and I, we’re peers. Partners. We share a life, and we respect and love each other, because we’re both… me. Right?” Max nodded uncertainly. He thought he understood this, at least in theory, though he knew the real test was experiencing it himself. He still couldn’t quite imagine it. “That’s the choice that I and all the Sheridans before me have made, to walk with our beasts. Not that you have to make that choice,” Glenn added seriously. “You have to choose whether to walk with your own beast, or not. But Eamon, and a lot of the Conroys… they’ve spurned their human side, seeing it as weak and useless. They revel in the beast’s power. Eamon lives his life as a wild thing, a great black bear who revels in instinct and the raw potency of the mountain and the forest.”
Max felt confused. “But… Eamon’s a man. I met him, I talked to him. You were there,” he added, as if Glenn had been neglecting the evidence of his own eyes.
Glenn shrugged. “He shifts when he has to,” he said. “He hates it. He despises humans and human life. I think that time we saw him in town was the first time he’d shifted to human form in years.”
Max still didn’t understand. “But… why would he even shift to human at all, if he hates it so much? Why now, after all this time?”
Glenn didn’t say anything, just raised his eyebrows a bit as he continues caressing Max’s flanks. Max blinked at him. “Me?” he asked.
“Eamon’s outlived the rest of his family. Our kind isn’t very prolific when it comes to children, so there aren’t a lot of us. And his own son completely rejected his beast and his father at the same time, and chose to be human. He left the mountain and moved to town, so now Eamon pretends he doesn’t exist and lives totally alone up here in the forest. In his eyes you, Max, are now his only chance to keep the tradition of all-beast existence alive.”
“His son?” Max imagined part of the Eamon-mountain breaking off, creating another, smaller one just like it.
“Graham,” Glenn said. “You’ve met him. Blond, about your age. Works in the dry goods store. Has a bit of a crush on you, from what I hear.”
Max took a second to process this, then barked out a laugh. “Wait,” he said. “Wait. The blond twink at the store is Eamon’s son?”
“I know, right?” Glenn grinned. “He’d never be as big as Eamon, but if he’d chosen to walk with his beast, or become it, he probably would have gotten all big and strong and hairy, like you did. But he chose to turn his beast aside, and live as a man.” Glenn met Max’s eyes searchingly. “You know it’s okay if you choose that too, right? You know I’ll still love you no matter what, right?”
Max bit his lip. He’d pretty much already made his choice, but he wanted to tease his man a little more after all the dancing around they’d been doing. “Will you still want me?” he asked.
“Always,” Glenn breathed immediately, his eyes showing limitless sincerity even as Glenn’s hips bucked gently against Max’s running their heavy, impatient cocks together through the now-damp fabric of their shorts.
“Will I still be able to make love to you?” Max insisted, narrowing his eyes.
Glenn’s lips twitched at the idea. “Anytime, anywhere,” he said, eyes darkening with desire.
The breeze had slackened, but Max still felt it twining around his limbs and sneaking up his shorts to play with what was still, for the moment, hidden from view. An owl hooted somewhere in the trees beyond them. Max dipped his head to nuzzle playfully at Glenn’s ear. His lover moaned softly. They both couldn’t put this off any more.
“I want to meet my beast before I decide,” he whispered. “Which means… you and I have to finish waking him up. And from what you tell me, that requires the intrusion of my big… thick… giant cock—” Max licked Glenn’s ear, and Glenn shivered with unstoppable desire. “—deep inside your hot, sweet ass.”
Suddenly Glenn’s teeth were pulling at Max’s own ear. Two could play at this game. “Make love to me, Max,” Glenn demanded softly. Then, with a deep growl, he added, “NOW.”
Though he was barely able to think with all the blood in his cock and the churning of his balls, Max did have enough mental clarity to realize he was pinning his man to a cold, hard rock slab. He wasn’t what you’d call experienced, but he doubted that was the ideal venue for lovemaking. “Let’s take this somewhere soft,” he purred. His dad was tough, but he wanted to do this right. “I assume you brought…” His brain seized at the last word, unable to say it aloud.
“Lube?” Glenn said, lightly teasing. Max nodded. Without looking, Glenn reached to one side and held up the tube he’d produced from the rucksack with the rest of the barbering gear.
“Shaving lotion?” he asked, wrinkling his nose.
Max took the tube and read it, noticing as he did so that his night vision had improved dramatically even over a couple weeks ago. He snorted a laugh. “This was lube the whole time!” he said, grinning at Glenn. “You sly dog.”
“Sorry, wrong animal,” Glenn said, adding a low growl for emphasis that went straight to Max’s dick.
Swiftly pocketing the tube of lubricant, Max clambered to his feet, extending a hand and effortlessly drawing Glenn up with him. Glenn grinned sat him. “C’mon,” he said, nodding the the meadow below. “There’s a spot down there I think you’ll like.” He started walking along the edge.
“Oh yeah? Is that where you bring all your forest friends?” Max responded, as Glenn leapt down to a lower crag and then to the soft, loamy soil below. Max followed, unable to stop smiling. The ground felt good on his trail-hardened feet.
“Only the sexy, hot-as-fuck werebears,” Glenn said easily, walking backwards as they pushed well into the canted meadow with its dark grasses and moon-washed daisies, apparently so he could toss Max a long leer. “This spot’s just for them.”
Fiery arousal blazed in Max. He didn’t know if they’d reached the spot Glenn had intended, and he didn’t care. In a sudden move he sprang forward and leapt on Glenn, pulling him laughing down to the soft, grassy earth. Without unbuttoning or unzipping anything he yanked Glenn’s shorts off him—he would have ripped them off with his teeth if he’d had too—and tossed them aside, exposing the most beautiful, thick and raging erection and heavy, tight balls that Max had ever seen or imagined. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen them, not after weeks of sharing the sex-crazed Owen; but it felt nonetheless like a revelation, and Max spared a moment to drink in the glory of Glenn’s magnificent, perfect junk before gripping the base of the fat shaft hard in his left hand and taking the head deep in his mouth, the tart precum making it seem like a ripe, ready fruit that was his to enjoy.
Glenn said his name, long and reverently, and that “Maaaax” soaked right into Max’s own heavy, aching balls. He took the cock deeper in, but only for a moment. Thanks to Owen, he know how to give pleasure to a cock, and he was going to make this moment count. He licked up the shaft from where he held it, then slid his tongue around the foreskin. With his other hand, he ran his fingers through the dense, heavy hair covering Glenn’s hard, flat abs.
“Geez, Max, I’m not going to last,” Glenn complained. “I told you to fuck me!” Max ignored him, though he loved that he’d already reduced him to begging. He drew the wide cock into his mouth and then slowly engulfed it, inch by inch, letting his tongue dance around every new portion of shaft as he went deeper and deeper. The hot, round head hit the back of his throat, then, with a level of control he’d only mastered with long practice on Owen’s sizable dick, he pushed it deeper, swallowing Glenn’s cockhead as he pulled his hand away to gently grasp Glenn’s ponderous, tight balls. “Oh, oh fuck! Oh, Max!” Glenn said, carding his own hands through Max’s long, thick hair. “Oh, oh, seriously, I’m not going to—oh, fuck!”
Max gripped the base again hard. He pulled back languidly, stimulating the whole top half of Glenn’s fat cock with mouth, lips, and tongue as he looked up, meeting Glenn’s lust-dark eyes. He pulled off with a pop, and, eyes still locked with Glenn’s, he let go of the thick shaft and stood, looming over his strong, hairy, hard-muscled dad where he lay in the meadow-grass. Max retrieved the tube of lube from his pocket, then, in a single motion, he undid his shorts—which were really Glenn’s shorts, he remembered—and pushed them down his long runner’s thighs to fall to his bare feet, draped across Glenn’s own powerful legs. He stepped out of them, mighty cock bobbing as he moved, and kicked them toward where Glenn’s own shorts lay. He stood over Glenn now as his alpha lover stared up at him with unbounded admiration, the two of them painted in grays and silvers by the incandescent moon. Max felt his beast within him responding to its light, pushing him to join with Glenn, but Max needed no encouragement.
“How do you want me?” Glenn said.
Max had seen porn enough, and had read a few gay romances as well, so he knew what the words meant and how significant they were. The mere idea then Glenn was willing to turn for him and present his ass to Max while he crouched down on his hands and knees very nearly made Max shoot wildly all over Glenn’s hairy chest and face. And they would definitely try it that way, but that wasn’t what Max wanted in this moment. “I need to see you,” he said gruffly.
Glenn nodded. Still with their gazes locked, Glenn drew his legs back and spread them for Max, giving him access and invitation. Max sank to his knees behind him. With a shaking hand he snapped open the lube and, squeezing some onto his left palm, he set the bottle aside and began lubing up the first three fingers of his right hand.
“I can take it,” Glenn protested. He was ready for it, but Max wasn’t going to just shove it in.
Max smiled ferally at him. “You’ve seen how big I am,” he said in a bantering tone. “I wouldn’t want to split you open.” He touched the pad of his slicked index finger against the entrance to Glenn’s hot, tight hole.
“Fuck, Max, split me open,” Glenn said, eyes rolling back. “I need you in me.”
Max pushed in with his finger, slowly but steadily. It felt tighter than he would have believed, even around just one finger, and Max’s dick throbbed with as much impatience as Glenn’s hole. “Don’t worry,” Max said, as Glenn grunted. “I need it too.”
Quickly, Max added a second finger. “Come on,” Glenn growled. “Come on!”
“Oh, you want it,” Max hissed. Their eyes met again, and he could see the blazing desire.
“Please, Max,” Glenn entreated him. “Please.” Max’s beast writhed within him, straining at its bonds, more eager than Glenn, or Max, or Max’s throbbing cock.
Max had had enough. He couldn’t wait through the third finger any more than Glenn could. He pulled his two fingers free and positioned himself hastily behind his partner. “I’m gonna do it,” he warned Glenn. He rubbed he head around the hole as he slicked up his too-big cock. “I’m going to do it. I’m going to be inside you, pop. All the way. Deep the fuck in you.”
“Yes,” Glenn pleaded. “Do it!” Even before he’d finished saying the words, Max pressed the head of his cock hard against the entrance he’d just primed. It resisted for a moment, and then suddenly the head pushed through, and they both cried out together. Max fell forward, planting his arms on either side of Glenn’s sweating torso, and bared his teeth down at his lover as he took him, inch by slow inch.
“Feel that,” Max gritted out. The sensations were becoming almost too much for Max. He tried concentrate just on Glenn’s handsome face. But as he focused on Glenn’s reactions, he realized he was feeling Glenn’s overwhelming pleasure too, flooding into him like a tsunami through the emotional connection they shared. He pushed his hard dick in further, driving deeper into Glenn, and Max’s eyes bugged. He felt his dick inside Glenn, and he felt Glenn’s tight, hot hole being filled with wide, thick, out-of-control cock. He felt the rapture of making love to Glenn, and he felt the soaring love and elation roaring through Glenn at finally being made love to by his precious, beautiful, strong and confident, new-made alpha muscle-lover. Max cried out again, louder. His senses were spiraling. “Oh fuck, Glenn, oh fuck,” he whined. It was too much. “I can’t—oh—oh——!”
“Look at me,” Glenn said, taking his face firmly in both hands. Max stared down at him, so beautiful in the harsh light of the risen moon. Max’s heart was galloping out of control. He felt like his soul was on fire. “Look at me,” Glenn repeated firmly. “Don’t feel you and me both. Feel us. Feel the joining, the union. Feel the completeness. Feel the love we share, Max. Feel us. Make our love in us.”
Yes, Max thought. Yes, I can feel it. Us, together. Pure pleasure. Pure love. He pulled his shaft back, only an inch or two, and drove it home hard, down to the root, into that exquisitely tight, furnace-hot hole. He felt all of it, all of what they were feeling together, and he cried out again, this time gladly. “I won’t… I won’t last,” he gasped out. The beast was with him, their pleasure feeding him and stoking his latent power. The beast was ready, too. Max pistoned one more time, thrusting his impressive, insanely eager cock deep into where it seemed so innately to belong, feeling the lovemaking between them both. “I won’t last,” he rasped again, meeting Glenn’s gaze.
“I know,” Glenn panted. “I’m ready. I’m here with you, Max, all the way. I’m here for all of what happens. Do it, Max. Do it! Do it now!”
Max thrust in again, his mind and all ability to think seared to a white blur. Pleasure, euphoric pleasure, was all. Euphoria and love, and beast. Primal animus. He was ready to release. “I’m going to—I’m going to—!!”
“Yes!” Glenn cried, though Max couldn’t see him any more. His body wrenched as he came hard, releasing gouts of cum deep inside Glenn, and he felt Glenn cumming too, as hugely and satisfyingly as if he’d never cum before. They came and came, and it was like fireworks exploding inside them. Max pulled out, and he was still cumming as he pushed his mouth against Glenn’s, desperate to taste him. Only it wasn’t working. His body was breaking, stretching, lurching into new positions and new forms. Hair erupted everywhere, covering his swelling, crazily bulging muscles. He was snarling now, but Glenn was snarling too, staying with him, sharing this moment with him.
And then, suddenly, there was stillness in him. Max had shifted. He and his beast were one.
“Babe, you okay?” a male voice asked. “Geez, your forehead is all sweaty.” Some amusement entered the voice’s intonation as it added, “You’re all boned up, too. What were you dreaming about?”
Graham’s dreams were pretty intense and tended to stay with him—not so much the details as the atmosphere and the emotion. Lately they’d been warning him about his father’s obsession with ‘true’ bearhood, but this one… He drew in a long breath and tried to focus on where he was. He wasn’t up the mountain—no starlight, no redolence of daisies and soft earth. He was inside, in a dark, cozy room he recognized instinctively. The scent of fresh-made burgers and bacon persisted, chased by a humming box fan in the window stirring the mild night air through the spacious little bungalow. The smell matched the pleasant memory of a tasty dinner and the straggling fullness in his belly. He was lying on his own couch, his head in his lover’s lap. He smiled up at the handsome young man looking down at him indulgently.
He should get up and herd them both to his actual bed, but he was admiring the view too much to move. His lover had taken off his uniform shirt, revealing a crisp white undershirt that lately was straining noticeably across his increasingly firm pecs. The shirt also hid all but the muzzle of the colorful dragon the coiled around his left deltoid, though Graham’s favorite part, the twin tiny licks of fire huffing from its flared nostrils, was still in view. With his head tilted forward like this, his thick, wavy hair tumbled over his forehead, and with the chunky, dark-framed glasses he wore when he took out the contacts he wore during the day, on top of the quickly accruing muscle and the slightly bad-boy tattoo, he looked altogether hunkadorable.
Most of all, though, Graham loved those ice-blue eyes. They were brighter than his own pale, cornflower blue, and Graham found they were very easy to get lost in—especially when they were glinting of sardonic amusement, like now.
“Sorry, must’ve dozed off. Were you talking about work? Return any stray goats to their owners today?” he teased.
“You didn’t answer the question,” Van pressed with a crooked grin, fondling Graham’s very impressive boner through his jeans. “Who’s got you all riled up in your dreams?”
Graham winked at him. He could give as good as he got. “Maxfield Sheridan,” he taunted cheerily. Well, it was half of the truth, anyway.
He and Van had only been dating a couple months, ever since the deputy, having caught him staring at his ass for the third time, had hauled him out back of the store, pushed him against a wall with a salacious smile, and whispered in his ear that his lips had better be ready to back up the smack his eyes had been talking. They’d rapidly discovered that they had three things they enjoyed in common: hot buttfucking, keeping a low profile and steering clear of stupid town stuff whenever their jobs allowed them to, and playfully baiting the hell out of each other.
At the mention of the younger Sheridan Graham’s hand did indeed still, but he didn’t pull away, though he did grip Graham’s fat erection a little harder through the denim. Graham half expected Van to go off on the Sheridans, seeing as how an antipathy for the little clan was the one thing his stupid relatives had in common with Graham’s stupid relatives; but instead his expression grew thoughtful as he returned his hand to sliding absently along Graham’s length. “You know, I saw cousin Maxfield the other day,” Van remarked, eyes alight with mischief. “Honest to Pete, he had to’ve put on another ten, fifteen pounds of muscle just since Paw Paw tussled with his pop a couple weeks back. Got a chubby just seein’ him drive past with that equally hairy buddy of his. His shoulders looked a mile wide, and his pecs!” Van whistled. “He must’ve been hittin’ the weights even harder than I been—or, I guess whatever it is you mountain folk do to work out?” he amended, barely suppressing a smirk. “Chop wood? Snap tree boughs off their trunks?”
Graham narrowed his eyes. “I’m not a ‘mountain folk’,” he retorted darkly, his voice low and rumbling.
“Oh, listen to that growl!” Van said appreciatively, squeezing Graham’s boner hard. “You are so mountain folk. Not to mention you being from the neck down probably the hairiest blond buff-twink I’ve ever seen, and I subscribe to twinkalicious dot com. Sure wasn’t expecting that when I caught you checkin’ me out! Anyway,” he went on casually, before Graham could respond to any of that, “you’re right about Sheridan, he’s totally hot. I was kinda thinking of asking him for a few tips—”
“Like hell,” Graham replied in the same low voice. He knew Van was trolling him, and he also knew that Van’s own push to work out hard started the day Glenn Sheridan had rolled back into town. Or, more accurately, that night, when Graham had dropped a mention of how good the man looked in that open shirt he was wearing. Then Graham told him about going up to the Sheridans’ cabin to warn them about his dad and surprising a very muscled and almost naked Max while he was jerking his big rod right out there in the open, and Van’s workout time had suddenly doubled.
Then Max and Van had run into each other at the sheriff’s substation, probably for the first time going by what Van had told him. That must’ve been an interesting stare-down.
It was time to let Van know that his hard work was very appreciated, and actions spoke louder than words. Van’s eyes were dancing as Graham added, “The only ‘tip’ you’re getting is mine, and it’s going straight up your tight deputy ass!”
Van leered down at him, his grin spreading from ear to ear. “Oh-ho, the gauntlet has been thrown!” he announced. “It really is the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” He arched a dark eyebrow and said, “Tell ya what, I’ll rassle you for who tops tonight. Two out of three gets the flip that counts!”
The idea turned Graham on even more than he already was. Van brought out his animal side, and in a way that for once didn’t scare him. If the townsfolk only knew what their quiet young shop clerk was like when there was no one else to see but the hot young lawman he’d craved since—
His thoughts were interrupted by a rapid succession of barks at the door. Graham and Van both froze. There was only one reason for there to be barking at the door.
Sure enough, after they’d scrambled to their feet and adjusted their boners as they hurried to the front of the bungalow, Graham opened the door to find the oversized German Shepherd, Tyrant, standing there on his doorstep looking up at them impatiently. “What is it?” he asked.
For an answer, the dog jerked his head toward Van’s blue Wrangler, which was parked in Graham’s short driveway in front of his garage.
He glanced over at Van, who already had on his serious deputy face. “What do you reckon?” Van asked.
“Trouble up the mountain,” Graham said with certainty. There were only so many things that would put Tyrant in action crisis mode… and the dog had come to him, not the deputy on duty, or old Clement, or the so-called Town Fathers. He had a sinking feeling that his cryptic dreams over the last few weeks were finally coming together.
Van frowned. “What kind of trouble?”
Graham grimaced. “I’m thinking Dad-sized,” he answered grimly. Graham wondered if Van had ever seen Eamon in his giant black bear form, but from the alarmed widening of Van’s eyes he guessed he probably had.
Without another word, Graham turned and snatched up his keys and wallet while Van slipped his uniform shirt back on and retrieved his belt with his radio and service weapon. Graham locked up the house, and the three of them hurried silently to the Jeep, Van rapidly buttoning up his shirt as he walked. There was no telling what lay ahead of them, but knowing his father, and especially how he’d been lately, Graham could only fear the worst.
“Which way?” asked the tall postmaster-lawyer, Paxton, as they approached a fork in the upmountain dirt roads that few used beyond the occasional hardcore tourist hiker and the very infrequent state forestry types. He was driving, as it was his four-by-four that handled the mountain roads best.
Abbott, the fat doctor, frowned, but when he answered he sounded as if there was only one possibility. “Road J,” he said, nodding toward the left-hand road, a half-grass-grown track between the high-elevation pines that was somewhat difficult to discern without the headlights pointed right at it, even with a full moon blazing through the canopy overhead.
“Why that way?” kibitzed Fairchild, though Paxton had already turned the wheel to the left and was starting to move with some speed up the curving road. The tavern-keeper was none too happy to have been pulled away from his comfy reclining chair at this hour of the evening on his night off, the less so for being stuck between his two younger companions in the cab of Paxton’s off-roader. Abbott sounded just slightly inebriated, Fairchild also noted, and not from a visit to his establishment. He happened to take a dim view of people getting drunk at home when they could be doing at his tavern, which meant that the knowledge that Abbott had clearly been partaking did little to help his mood.
He tended to express his vexation by being crabby, a strategy that sometimes successfully kept him from being volunteered for things like this.
“They’re at Witson Meadow, near the Upper Creek,” Abbott said matter-of-factly. “Road J gets us within fifteen minutes of there.”
Fairchild found that Abbott’s boozy confidence rankled him. “Yeah?” he challenged the man. “How do you know they’re at the meadow?”
“‘Cause that’s where the Sheridans do it,” Abbott said grimly.
Fairchild huffed. He supposed Abbott should know. He kept the town records, after all, going back two hundred and twenty-odd years—the secret ones, the ones outsiders weren’t to know about.
Wait—when Abbott said “do it”, had he meant…? Did that mean there was actual fucking involved in the transformation? And if so, was it necessary, or did it just help to… prime… things? That was the problem with trying not to be too involved in the schemes Paxton and Abbott cooked up over the years: he occasionally missed out on details that turned out to be relevant. He pressed his lips together as he tried not to wonder what that would entail… or, what it would feel like…
Paxton spared a concerned glance over at his doctor friend as he drove. “You sure you’re going to be able to make a clean shot, Joshua?” he asked warily.
“Of course,” Abbott said in a bored tone, staring ahead placidly at the winding, narrow road emerging into the headlight beams from the limitless dark.
Fairchild huffed again.
Eamon glared down at the scene in the meadow in disbelief. He felt like his great, ursine heart was exploding with anguish. He was too late. Too late to turn the boy himself… too late to show him the power of a fully liberated shifter beast under the full moon… too late for everything.
He crouched on the high crag they’d left only moments below, careful to remain downwind of the pair. His massive black form was barely discernable against the darkening, starlit sky apart from bright eyes and the flash of bared white teeth. He could still feel a wisp of their presence there on this spur of the mountain that meant everything to him. They must have lingered here. Sheridan explaining things in that smug way of his. Telling the boy that a real shifter kept himself divided, encumbered by their weak human side. Sneering at the generations of Conroys who knew better.
He’d been lurking on the edge of that ridiculous clearing of theirs all night, the one the Sheridans had carved out of the forest and planted an actual house in. Dragging the human city into the primal wilderness like that—it was disgusting. Offensive, even. But he’d waited there, watching for the moment when Sheridan would bring the boy out and show him the full moon. He’d been psyching himself up for this all month, planning and preparing, ever since the boy had first arrived. It was his chance. Challenge Sheridan. Fight him. Humiliate him. Show the boy how much stronger and better a liberated shifter beast was. Show him what he could become. He would be the future of the mountain, king of a wild domain. Some people chose to be weak—well, fuck them. They could be weak. Fuck them. This time would be different. Everything he’d seen of the boy told him that Max Sheridan would choose to be strong.
All the boy had to do was glance around him to see the truth. He didn’t have to look further than his own family. His own grandfather, Old Man Rigby, hated the shifters so much after his own daughter started dating one that he’d started a movement to reclaim the mountain from them. He’d moved way up the peak into the deep wilderness with his kin and a few other followers and refusing to leave even he lost title to the land in a legal dispute with the feds and folks started leaving him when the game got chary. Now he was up there alone, screaming at any shifters he saw and threatening them with buckshot if they didn’t leave the mountain. Rigby’d even shot at him once, when he was in bear form, and he had the marks on his rear flank to prove it.
The townspeople were just as bad. Eyeing him with scorn and mistrust, even amusement, when he had to come to town. “Animal,” he’d heard someone hiss once in the dry goods store, when he’d succumbed to heartache and snuck down in human form to see… He’d whipped around, but the usual troika by the registers—the doctor, the postmaster, the tavern-keeper, all the very prototypes of fat, weak, idiot humans—weren’t looking at him and were pretending to be absorbed in some fishing magazine. And still and silent behind the counter, looking away, not objecting to the insult, not defending his own blood, was…
Eamon closed his eyes, a low growl escaping him. The failure of the humans as a race was one thing. Their rejection of their own world, opting for concrete and filth over the power of mountain and forest, was repulsive, but that was what they were. But as son of his, deliberately choosing to be… that…!
And now his final hope was gone. Too late he’d realized that neither Sheridan nor the boy was in the cabin, and as the rising of the full moon approach it suddenly became clear to him that they weren’t coming back to the clearing for the big moment after all. Panic stole over him, and he’d torn through the forest, trying to hunt down all the places Sheridan and the boy might go. The stream where they fished—that seemed likely, and there was a weird resonance there like the echo of a dream; but neither of them had been there in days. That little den under the rock where Sheridan had loved to sneak away with the Rigby girl. That long path they were always hiking. He checked every place he could think of, but there was no sign of them anywhere.
Then, at the last moment, he’d remembered that sprawling daisy meadow way up on the far side of the mountain. He raced up there, smashing through young trees and sending birds and small animals fleeing as he galloped, certain now and chastising himself for not thinking of the upmountain dell sooner. He’d loved to roll around in that very meadow as a young, newly made beast, before that one full moon night almost a century ago when he’d happened unexpectedly on a handsome, twinkly-eyed, thick-muscled youth, naked, hairy, and on the very cusp on manhood, smiling wide as he pushed his laughing man-bear of a father down into the long, tall grass. He’d watched Sheridan making passionate, vigorous love to his old man, then making the choice Eamon, in tribute to his long-lost ancestors, had soberly rejected with an easy grin and a howl of celebration. He’d never gone back to that place, blocking it from his mind, and now… now he’d tricked himself out of his last chance.
No. It wasn’t right. There had to be bears on the mountain. Had to be. Real bears. True bears. Not half-bears like Sheridan, shackled to a human side that should have been scorned and spurned for the encumbrance it was. Bears were the kings of this mountain—he was the king of this mountain. The last of the Conroys, the last true bear. There had to be bears like him, protecting and dominating the mountain and forest. It would not end with him.
He realized he was growling again, watching the boy cavorting in the meadow below. He was fully shifted now into a big, beautiful brown-coated bear almost as massive as his similarly shifted father, and they were gamboling happily in the daisies and long grass like he had done. Like Sheridan had done with his old man, long, long ago.
In the cool early night air Eamon could feel the white radiance of the full moon as if it were beating down on his back and neck, sifting into his skin, infesting him with power and vigor. The magic of the full moon was still exerting itself on its cherished mountain.
It was not too late. The boy could still be made to turn. He could still see the way to choosing his beast and rejecting his human side. There was still time. It was possible.
They were under the same moon. He just had to get him away from Sheridan. He could teach him. Show him. Only Sheridan stood in the way.
Sheridan would fight, of course. But Sheridan was divided. Compromised and weak. Eamon was bigger. And he was stronger, filled completely with the uncanny power of his beast. Under the round white moon he was unstoppable. He felt his size and strength as if it bore down on the stone under his paws, pressing into the indomitable mountain. Hundreds of pounds of muscle, bone, teeth, and claws would prove to the boy what the only real choice could be.
He was still growling, louder now. A spike of adrenaline warmed his blood, and determination riffed through him. An animal, was he? Well, animals were to be respected. They did what was necessary.
With a sudden, ferocious roar he leapt from the crag and bounded down into the meadow, ready to decide the future of the mountain once and for all.
Only moments before Max had been running out of sheer joy, scampering through the meadow with Glenn at his heels, completely sated with searing delight at his climactic transformation. Or, rather, transformations, plural, because ironically the greatest measure of glee he felt came from finally, truly “becoming a man”. By his own half-unrecognized standards, at least. Making ferocious love to his dad, sharing that sweet and perfect extended, limitless moment they’d both been dreaming of, had pushed him in his own mind past the barrier of youth like a car finally shifting into gear. They were equals now. His adolescence was shed forever.
Of course Max realized it was kind of hilarious that his vaunted and long-awaited ascent to manhood just happened to coincide with the indescribable sensation of turning himself into an animal, embracing his inner beast as his permanent, lifelong companion. He’d never forget his first amazing shift into this massive, powerful, wildly exciting bear form. He loved it and wanted it and pitied everyone on Earth who couldn’t experience being a man and bear all at once. He felt impossibly alive, brimming with the infinite life energy of the forest around him. And beneath that, invested in every bone and sinew of his new body, was the unstoppable strength of mountain stone, like he himself was made from the mountain’s very bones. His blood ran hot with the fire of the transforming moon still ascendant in the inky sky above.
He’d felt joyous and invincible right up until the heart-stopping moment when he’d made a sudden turn in their frolicking (to see how close behind him Glenn had gotten) and caught sight of the monstrous, roaring, and visibly enraged black bear beast racing toward them at top speed, eyes blazing and fangs bared. The beast’s flying paws were eating up the scant yards between them as he bore down on Max and his dad, and even at a glance Max could see the behemoth was way bigger and more powerful than either of them. The sounds of the creature crashing through the growth and of his great weight thumping against the earth as he ran seemed deafening, filling the air around them.
Instinct had him turning instantly from the terrifying sight and pelting away out of the meadow even before he heard Glenn’s Run! in his mind. He tore through the forest, weaving between the towering pines and smashing through the undergrowth, his father close at his heels and gaining ground, pushing to remain at Max’s side as they dodged bole and boulder. The beast was alarmingly close behind them, and now Max could hear his snorts and growls on top of the clamor they were making as they hurtled through the upper forest.
Abruptly they exited the forest together and half tumbled into a wide, shallow, and very cold creek—the upper reaches of the same stream that coiled around the mountain to rush close by their cabin, providing them with a source of a source of food and wash-water and a lot of memories from this life-changing month in the woods. Glenn found his feet quickly and scrambled up the opposite bank, turning to urge Max to follow, but Max wasn’t used to his new form. He was already unbalanced when a paw set the wrong way on a loose, slippery stone in the creekbed caromed him fully onto his side with a loud splash. He scrambled to his feet just in time to see Eamon, the massive black bear beast, crash out through the forest edge and plant himself right in front of Max with a loud, defiant roar.
Max didn’t dare take his eyes off the seething predator. He took a step backward, unsure of his footing on the wide, slippery rocks lying under the fast-running stream. Then his dad was next to him, his great, brawny, brown-furred form standing at his shoulder, baring razor-sharp teeth at the menacing form that seemed to fill the narrow space between the forest and the riverbank.
This is it, Max thought. This is my dream. Eamon can’t bear our choices. He’s attacking what he doesn’t understand. And yet… not everything was the same. They were in a different part of the creek, he was pretty sure. They were higher up, closer to the peak and the center of the mountainlands. The shift felt significant. Glenn had been on the opposite bank from Eamon, too, not standing with him. And most importantly, in his dream Max had been… unready somehow. He’d still been the boy he’d been when he’d had the dream, two eternal-seeming weeks before. Now, Max was man and beast, a true bear shifter.
Glenn moved forward a step, eyes locked with Eamon’s. His heavy, muscled bear form seemed lithe and coiled for whatever action would become necessary. Get behind me, son, Max heard in his mind. I protect you.
Fuck that. Max stepped forward too and bared his own fangs at Eamon. Us, he sent to his dad. We protect us.
Emotion poured through their bond, and if he’d dared look away from Eamon Max swore he’d’ve seen a smile on his dad’s beary face. Proud of you, Glenn said in his mind.
Same, Max thought back. He sent him all the love and confidence he had in him. Max wasn’t even afraid, exactly. He was so bolstered by the thrill of his transformation and the power of this moment, them standing side by side under the bright moon and the countless stars and the towering trees visibly thrumming with the life-force of the mountainlands, that the unpredictable menace of Eamon’s mental break was almost beside the point.
If this all came to a real fight he’d rediscover his fear soon enough, Max knew. But this, here and now, facing Eamon shoulder to shoulder with Glenn, was easily the third best thing that had happened to him tonight.
They took another step forward together, their paws splashing as one in the shallow, rushing stream.
Graham ripped through the forest at an uncanny pace, leaving Van well behind as he wove through the trees and leapt over stone spurs, roots, and fallen trunks. He couldn’t even think about hiding his strength and speed in a moment like this, not that Van hadn’t already started to catch on. His dreams had shown him multiple possible futures, and he was terrified the one where his enraged father abandoned all sanity and viciously slaughtered the Sheridans, father and son, was about to become reality.
He emerged from the trees at the edge of the creek, instantly halting his progress before he tumbled into the water. He glanced upstream and his stomach dropped as he saw the alarming tableau: two powerful brown bears, one a young adult and the other clearly in its prime, were standing together in the middle of the stream, facing off defensively against a seething black bear so massive, and so obviously ready to use its claws and teeth to rend and destroy, that even in Graham’s mind the word monster could not help but form. Graham could feel its wordless, nearly insane wrath so intensely it was like a wind buffeting him. Van came out of the trees behind him, breathing hard but almost soundlessly, but Graham was too consumed with the upsetting sight of his father in full-on confrontation mode to acknowledge him or the dog that had silently joined them.
Graham marveled at his father’s size. He’d always been much larger than a typical black bear, but now… now he looked as big as a horse, and as massive as a rhino. He must have gained a couple hundred pounds’ worth of size and power since Graham had last seen him in bear form. That had been on the awful night of his eighteenth birthday and his final, devastating rejection of everything his father wanted for him, when Eamon had roared in anger and turned his back on Graham, loping swiftly off into the woods while Graham tried not to sense his father’s pain and humiliation. Where had all that size come from? A wave of nausea and light-headedness crept over him as he remembered. “When you embrace your beast,” Eamon had once said, “it isn’t just food that nourishes you. If you let it, every full moon makes you stronger. More unstoppable. Better able to dominate and master the woodlands and all its creatures.” His eyes had bored into Graham as he’d concluded, “Becoming your beast, son… it’s just the beginning.”
The irony was that though Graham had rejected his beast, whenever he went out under the full moon, wandering deep in the forest under the wide night sky and basking in the rounded moon’s silvery-alabaster light, he felt it anyway: the vibrant might of the mountainlands flowing through him like an endorphin rush, subtly firming him and strengthening him as if in preparation for some future need he didn’t think he had. It was unnerving enough to Graham, like the beastliness of his bloodline was still threading its way through his human form. He shuddered to think what he’d be like today if he’d chosen the path that had been expected of him.
Enough spectating. It was time to act. Graham took a step toward the bears facing off upstream, but in that moment, to Graham’s horror, Eamon reared up on his hind legs, towering over the two browns. He roared deafeningly at them, and the browns, undaunted, leaned forward and roared back.
He was almost lost to reason. Blood and death were seconds away. This had to stop. “Dad!” he cried into the tense silence that followed the roars. He put every ounce of desperate plea he could into his voice. “Dad! Stop!”
The massive black bear, still on its hind legs, turned to him and stared in wonder. The heat of Eamon’s rage fell away, replaced with palpable shock. Though no formed words or ideas came to him through their bond, Graham knew his father had thought that his son would never come to him again after that last, terrible night.
Dad. Stop. He send the words this time, hoping he could still make himself understood after all this time.
Eamon wavered. A weapon of some kind discharged quietly from somewhere behind him. An instant of sound as something tore through the air, a pfft barely audible over the rippling stream. Eamon jerked as if struck.
“NOOOOOO!” Graham screamed. Another discharge, a pfft, and Eamon jerked again. He wobbled and then crashed thunderously to the ground, his head landing with a slap in the shallow water.
The browns swiveled their heads to look downstream. Graham rounded on Van, who immediately raised his hands. “Wasn’t me!” Van said. But Graham already knew. That hadn’t been the sound of a nine-millimeter—or a rifle or a shotgun, for that matter. Either of those would have filled the forest with sound and sent all the birds fleeing for safety. He looked past Van and Tyrant to see that the most interfering of the older townsfolk, Abbott, Fairchild, and Paxton, had shown up here as well, as if they’d marked Max’s birthday on their fucking calendars, determined to stick their noses in. He seethed at the sight of them, especially Abbott, who’d waded right into the middle of the creek with a rifle-like weapon that was aimed straight at Graham’s father.
It was him. He had shot Eamon. Abbott had shot him. The silvery moonlit scene actually seemed to turn blood red all around him. He only barely realized he was actually growling. He moved abruptly to attack Abbott, intending to destroy him for killing his father, but a strong hand grabbed his shoulder hard.
“It’s a tranq,” Van hissed urgently in his ear. “Graham, babe, listen! It’s only a tranq.”
Abbott seemed only now to become aware of Graham, Van, and Tyrant standing further up the creekside from them, and he and the others stared up at Graham in dismay. Graham released his growl into an inarticulate cry of a thousand emotions, then turned his back on the gaping townsmen to see if it was true—if his father had not, indeed, been killed.
The elder of the browns was in the process of nosing Eamon’s large head out of the water, shifting it to muddy bank alongside the creek. Eamon was alive but groggy, emotions flooding out of him like water from a broken dam. Anger… fear… humiliation… regret… loss.
As if at the flip of a switch Graham was in motion, tearing himself free of Van’s grip on his shoulder and traversing the distance separating him from his father in seconds. Careless of the stones and mud he dropped to his knees and clasped his father tightly around the neck. Glenn, the older brown, stepped back, giving them space. “Dad, Dad, Dad,” he babbled. “What are you doing? What are you doing?”
Regret, he felt. Loss. The agony was so deep under that emotion, clear even through Eamon’s increasingly drugged state. It was the same feeling he’d sensed that night, when he’d made his choice, and his father had turned and run, back into the black darkness of the pathless forest.
He pressed his face into his father’s thick, coarse fur. “Dad,” he murmured. “Just because… Dad, I rejected my beast. I didn’t reject you.” He tightened his embrace around the massive bear as much as he could, willing him to understand him. “I’ll never reject you. I promise, I’ll never reject you.”
Eamon was rapidly losing awareness. In a last effort he shifted, and in the space of a heartbeat Graham was embracing the much smaller, completely unconscious human form of Eamon Conroy. He was still more than sizable, a mountain man in every sense, but nonetheless much easier to deal with than his bear-and-a-half-sized beast form. Graham fell back on his haunches, wondering what it would take to heal Eamon’s heartache from the injury Graham had done to it.
Van was standing behind Graham again. “We need to get him to your place,” he said quietly. Graham didn’t doubt he was thinking about the logistics of getting a nude, hairy, three-hundred-pound man, most of that muscle, through the steep-sloping woods and down to Van’s Jeep. It would definitely be a challenge.
“We’ll help,” Glenn Sheridan said. Graham looked up to see that the two browns had shifted as well, and were now standing there to one side, a little ways into the creek, tall and naked and glistening with life in the moonlight. Graham almost started to see just how magnificently muscled and impressively hairy Maxfield Sheridan had gotten since he’d first come into town a month back. Van hadn’t been exaggerating by much.
“And not just getting him home,” Max added. He nodded toward Eamon, biting his lip, as if mentally adjusting his next few days. “He needs time with family,” Max said. Glenn looked over at him, seeming like he hadn’t expected these words, but a warm little smile made the pride he felt in his son more than obvious.
Graham met Max’s dark eyes and nodded. Before he could say anything, though, Abbott came splashing up to them, the other two in tow. “Son,” Abbott started to say, but he was looking at Eamon’s human form lying on the creekbank, so Graham wasn’t sure whether he’d meant him or Max. It didn’t matter. He rose to his feet, turning to face the man and cut off whatever was coming next. Max moved to stand next to him, closing ranks, his face like a thundercloud.
“We’ll handle it,” Graham told him. He didn’t say, “this is for mountain folk to deal with”. With Max at his side, he didn’t have to.
Abbott looked at Max, clearly pained at the idea that another fine young boy had been lost to the “other kind”. “Son…” he tried again to Max, his eyes beseeching.
“Don’t,” Max said. His upper lip shifted, exposing just a bit of teeth. Abbott’s lips clamped together. Whatever appeal he’d been about to make, it was obviously too late. Max hadn’t just chosen—he’d become. He was kith and kin to the mountain and forest and all within.
Paxton harrumphed. “A thank you wouldn’t go amiss,” he muttered darkly. “Seeing as we saved you from—”
“This was no concern of yours,” Graham broke in coldly. “This was our concern. We were dealing with it, and we will deal with it. Tranq or not, you had no right to fire on him.”
“He could’ve attacked—!” Paxton tried, but this time it was Max who interrupted him. He took a step forward, past Abbott, and loomed over the gangly, fishing-hat-clad lawyer. They weren’t that different in height, but Max was built like a hairy Hercules now, and his nakedness revealed every ounce of his brawny size and power. He poked his finger in Paxton’s chest.
“If—and only if—a beast came down the mountain and threatened the town folk with tooth and claw, then that would be a problem for all. And if a man came up the mountain and threatened the mountain folk with weapons—” (this said through gritted teeth) “—that would also. Be. A problem.” Max punctuated his words by jamming his finger into Paxton’s chest hard enough to nearly topple him. He addressed the three townsmen. “Agreed? Or not?” he asked, shoving the choice of amity or hostility down their throats.
“This is our mountain, too!” Abbott sputtered. Max turned toward him, but this time it was Glenn who intervened. He’d remained where he was, still standing in the stream a foot or so from the bank, watching his son and Graham handle things with a smile.
“The mountain thrives in harmony,” Glenn said calmly. “It’s an interactive system. We’re all a part of it, and the town folk and mountain folk balance the system. Everyone benefits—if there’s trust and respect.”
“But—” Paxton started to say.
“Shut up, Noah,” Fairchild said suddenly, speaking for the first time. He sounded fed up, too, like he’d been dubious about the whole enterprise from the beginning. “They’re right. This was none of our concern.” He took a step forward, extending a strong-looking hand to Max, just as if they were meeting in the post office and Max was fully dressed rather than resplendently naked in the upmountain moonlight. “Mister Sheridan,” Fairchild said formally, but with warmth. “I look forward to getting to know you better.”
Max took the hand and shook it. “As do I, Mister Fairchild,” he said.
Max offered his hand to Paxton. He took a second to size him up as though to take a true gauge of his formidability as a man, then slumped his shoulders slightly. He took his hand as if it were a concession of defeat. “Mister Sheridan,” he repeated.
“Mister Paxton.” Max turned to Abbott, but his eyes were on the weapon.
Abbott frowned at it as if surprised to find it in his hands. He swiftly handed the long-barreled tranquilizer gun to Fairchild. Straightening his back, he offered his hand as well. “Mister Sheridan,” he said, with dignity.
“Dr. Abbott,” Max said, shaking his hand slightly more curtly than with the others.
Abbott cleared his throat and glanced past Max before meeting his gaze again. “Do you…” He pursed his lips. “Would you like any help with…?” He nodded toward the large, hairy form by the creekbank, now deeply asleep, though with the occasional incoherent mutter.
“We’ve got it,” Graham stepped in. “But thanks.”
“Come on, boys,” Fairchild said firmly. “Let’s leave them to it.” With that he turned and waded back down the stream-bed, the other two silently in tow.
Van moved to stand in front of Max, a huge grin on his face. “Man, cousin, you were fierce!” he said, stealing a saucy look down Max’s naked form as he did so.
Max stared at him, his mouth falling open slightly. Graham cleared his throat, and Van turned his mischievous eyes on him. “But not as fierce as my man,” he added, pulling Graham in for a deep and sloppy kiss while Max and Glenn looked on in astonishment.
Tyrant stood by the creekbank downstream where they’d first come out of the forest, and watched events unfold with definite equanimity. Now that there was no one paying attention to him, he allowed himself a few happy wags of his tail. Disaster had been averted. Sometimes the two kinds of folks messed up and forgot about the balance, but when you got the right people in the right places, things usually settled out satisfactorily. It seemed like that was his job lately, but he was content.
He snorted. Well, he was a Shepherd after all. It was probably in his nature.
At least with the Sheridan cub in place and safely transitioned there was a good chance Tyrant could relax. Maxfield was a little headstrong this side of the transformation, true. But he’d been remarkably quick to grasp that the strongest path was balance over an impulse to defend his own kind. And the elder Sheridan was back, and clearly they were even more tightly bound than he’d predicted. The mountainlands always benefitted from having two generations of Sheridans on hand. It had been a long time.
And there was young Conroy finally stepping up and pulling his father back from the brink to boot. That had been a gamble on Tyrant’s part, but not much of one—Tyrant had always known just how much inner strength the boy kept hidden. Choosing as he’d done, with that father and heritage, had been brave all on its own. Between the two Sheridans and young Graham, Tyrant’s only worry for the next few decades would probably be the mountain folk becoming too vibrant compared to the town folk. Usually not a problem, as there were so many more townsfolk than mountain folk, but the likes of young Sheridan and young Conroy might just upset the balance all by themselves, long-term. Well, there were a few prospects soon to come of age on the town side of things that he could probably nudge along, and young Rigby might have potential if…
Then, with an inward groan, he remembered. His tail stopped wagging and even drooped a little. No, there was still one huge vexation he still had yet to deal with. One cub on the cusp of his transformation choice remained—and from what Tyrant had seen, this one would be a bigger headache than Eamon, Graham, and Maxfield put together. Not only was he rowdy and unmanageable, but his transition would be far from normal or easy. Tyrant didn’t even need the mountain folks’ weird precognitive dreaming ability to know that getting to the next full moon would be a nightmare.
Tyrant huffed. It would probably be two weeks at least before he’d even have to deal with any of that. After tonight, he could be content for a while.
He glanced over at the mountain folk, but they were all busy trying to figure out the best means of hauling the sleepy but slowly rousing Conroy safely downmountain. From all appearances they’d forgotten all about him, which was a plus as far as Tyrant was concerned. He considered what remained of the night ahead, then took a couple steps forward to the edge of the babbling creek and lapped up his fill of the cold, delicious water before turning tail and vanishing quietly into the brush.
At least he was making an effort and trying to get along with his stodgy old man, Howard mused, as Owen made his way to the stove and dished out his own steaming pile of scrambled eggs, creating a mound ten times the one Howard had gotten and still mostly had before him. He was wearing a shirt, for one thing, which was a nice change and a notable concession to how most people at least tried to be normal; though the legend on the front—”Ask me how awesome it is being big”—and the way the snug gray tee strained and pulled at his heavy pecs and wide, thick lats made Howard more than a little uncomfortable. There was even a little tear on top of his gigantic shoulders where the seam had opened up from the stretch of his delts, exposing a dime-sized swath of the tanned muscle underneath.
Owen retrieved a pile of bacon and settled in the chair across the kitchen table from him, and Howard shifted his attentions to Owen’s face. He’d shaved off that scruffy beard, too, Howard was pleased to see. A shirt and a shave, and a smile for his old man at the breakfast table—all pleasant novelties. He looked better this way, anyway. Without his beard Owen looked like one of those superheroes they had these days. He was definitely more handsome clean-shaven. Maybe a little too handsome, actually.
Howard frowned, wondering where that thought had come from. His throat felt dry, but in the past Howard had managed to turn his own throat-clearing into a sign of rebuke, so he just took a swig from his morning glass of tomato juice.
Owen bit off a hank of bacon with one hand and brushed the backs of his fingers over his only slightly stubbly jaw with the other. “What do you think?” he asked Howard around the bacon, just as if he’d been reading his pop’s confused inner thoughts this whole time.
“Handsome,” popped out of Howard’s mouth automatically, for no good reason he could think of. He coughed and, looking down at his plate, started in on his eggs again, feeling oddly warm in his cheeks.
He could almost feel Owen grinning at him. “Sorry, pop, you’re totally not my type,” his son said. Howard’s face felt a little hotter, and he carried on steadily working through his eggs. “Now, Max’s dad, on the other hand…” He gave a wolf whistle. “I don’t mind telling you, pop, he makes me feel all gooey inside. In more ways than one, if you know what I mean!”
I wish you did mind, Howard thought glumly. It occurred to him, not for the first time in the last few days, that however gratifying it was to have Owen home and making an effort, it was obvious he wouldn’t be able to keep him here. Sooner or later he’d go haring off to that mountain of his—and if breakfasts were going to be like this, maybe Howard would be all right with that.
As Owen continued to extol the virtues of this paragon of mountain men, Howard scraped up the last of his eggs, pondering his fractured relationship with Owen. He hadn’t truly understood how much he’d been standing in the way of Owen’s happiness until he’d found it elsewhere. Seeing that was like a slap in the face. And his friend Maxfield—there was a young man who knew his own path to happiness and was bound and determined to take it. Mere days alone with him and Owen had discovered the captaincy of his own life, and had come home to show his pop without even needing to shove it in his gut. Hadn’t his own father scoffed at his dream of building a chain of stores with a reputation for selection and service, with his name over every door? What a laugh his younger self would have at him now.
Howard looked up, drawing a breath to ask Owen what he truly wanted in life, but he stalled, instead staring at Owen’s face in utter dismay. Owen, catching the look, sobered immediately. “What?” he asked anxiously. “What is it?”
Howard didn’t have the words. He just stared hard, eyes wide, fork frozen in hand with the last little bit of egg balancing on the tines. Slowly, matching his pop’s wide-eyed stare, Owen brought his hand up to where Howard was staring… at the day’s growth of dark beard Owen was now sporting, on a face that had been clean-shaven only moments before.
Owen drew his hand along the beard in wonder. Then Howard watched as the biggest, widest grin Howard had ever seen bloomed on his son’s handsome, hirsute face.
“I’m gonna need my bike back, pop,” Owen said in a low voice, still beaming with what could only be pure, honest joy.
Howard could only nod.