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The Height at Five Nights

by TK Hoshikuzu (TK 星屑)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/342093.html)

Staring at the beautiful autumn sky helped Oscar space out and forget the tension in the car. He had given up trying to figure out Damien’s state of mind. Before they opened the doors of the Corolla ’02, his shaggy-haired lover voiced his enthusiasm for their first trip together. He specifically mentioned how excited he was to have a companion for his monthly camping trips, and Oscar grinned, relieved that he wasn’t imposing. But as they got closer to the campgrounds, Oscar noticed that Damien’s answers became clipped and nervous. He reached over and squeezed his knee, echoing the earlier excitement.

“Thanks for taking me with you. I’m so glad we’re doing this together.”

“Well, you wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Damien replied, laughing shortly in a pitch higher than normal.

Damien had been referring to the time when Oscar had tried to hide in the back seat among the usual assortment of camping supplies. It wouldn’t have worked regardless; he did not expect that Damien was willing to drive all the way back to drop him off, once he had been discovered. Even more surprising was his reaction throughout. While driving, he had sighed as if his puppy tipped over the garbage, and with a smile booted Oscar from the car.

“We’ll talk about this later,” he said, looking through the window of the driver’s seat. As he drove away, he had waved serenely, leaving Oscar feeling guiltier than if he had been scolded. Nonetheless, he hadn’t felt so chastened that he would drop the issue. As soon as Damien had returned, he wheedled his way into going to the next one, not that that had been difficult either. Damien had acquiesced immediately after Oscar insisted on joining him.

That memory sank to the pit of his stomach like a stone, and his guilt was peaking. Damien had always accommodated his requests, often with a reassuring kiss to the forehead. It took half a year – with the help of astute girlfriends – before Oscar realized Damien often gave non-answers to or deflected serious questions. He had never pushed for concrete responses before, since he was content to keeping their relationship simple and physical. He shot a glance at Damien, who staring at the road straight ahead. His unkempt hair and loose flannel shirt belied his fine features. He felt lucky to have such an attractive boyfriend, and warm-hearted to boot. Everything had been going so smoothly, so to date, this was their most uncomfortable moment. Oscar’s guilt was palpable.

“Do you need a break?” His voice cut through his thoughts.

“No way,” Oscar half-playfully quipped. “You’ll drive off without me.”

“I wouldn’t,” he said, sighing again. “I promised I’d take you with me.”

Oscar propped his elbow on the car windowsill, annoyed. A million questions chased each other in his mind, but he didn’t want to look distrustful, though he certainly was. This habit had gotten him in trouble with his exes multiple times, and he adored of this one, so he was set on preserving as much as he could. Yet there they were, pulling up to the base of a forested mountain.

———————

“You said every month?” Sheila asked, preparing for another one of her friend’s boyfriend woes.

“Yeah, he’ll go camping by himself.” Oscar was slouched over his cappuccino, his gloved hands wrapped around the cup. “Says it’s for his blog.”

“That sounds normal to me. I mean, it’s weird, but it sounds like something a camping blogger would do.”

“Then why only disappear for a few days? Why not just live in the forest? Why bother with city living? You know what’s crazy?” He emphasized by slicing the air with his hand. “It doesn’t even seem like he likes it. Every time he comes back, he throws everything in a closet and microwaves a fucking box of Hot Pockets. Aren’t camping people supposed to be into nature and shit?”

“Oscar, what’s your point? You can like camping and junk foods too.” She prodded, trying to nudge Oscar away from tangents before he got more upset. He frowned darkly at her question, his brows knitted with distress. Sheila didn’t have to look at Oscar to know he was tearing up. To save her friend’s dignity, she followed up with, “How’s he been treating you though?”

“Okay, I guess.” He sipped his coffee forlornly.

“I think that’s the most important thing, right? Has he done anything to make you not trust him?”

Oscar sighed. “He just never gives me a straight answer about serious stuff. Then when I try to get it out of him, we end up in bed. Then we get food.” He flushed despite himself, embarrassed to reveal that to his girlfriend. “But the sneakiness makes me so uncomfortable. I just wish he’d invite me to go with him.”

Sheila shook her head. “I hate to say it, babe, but I think you’re thinking too much into it. You sound insecure.” She paused. “Though I don’t blame you, he’s gorgeous.” She smirked.

Ignoring her comment – though Sheila could see his eyes begin to glisten – he asked, “What should I do?”

Sheila sighed sympathetically. “You know I’m on your side. You have to talk to him and help him understand that he needs to take your questions seriously. You can’t wait around for him to figure out what you want.”

“But what if I’m being paranoid and he’ll want to break up with me for being so nosy?” he fretted. “I mean, like you said, he’s so hot. He could have anyone he wants. He could dump me for coughing too loudly, fuck if I know.”

“So you’re just going to continue like this? Oscar, you know this isn’t you. If it’s bothering you, do something about it. Your happiness is more important than keeping the peace in the relationship. And if doesn’t work out, so what? You can find someone else. You always have.” She shrugged. “Do it for you.”

Oscar tried to take courage from his friend’s pep talk. “Yeah, I know I should do something. Maybe I’ll hide in his car.”

Getting fired up, Sheila continued, “So what if he’s hot? That doesn’t mean he can get away with everything, or treat people however he wants.” She planted a fist on the coffee table. “You need to get angry, Oscar!” she exclaimed. “If anything, do it for the rest of us average-looking folks.”

Oscar pursed his lips, familiar feelings of outrage stirring within him. “You’re right. This is no way to live. If it’s going to end either way, he’ll know he can’t walk over guys like me.” However, his expression crumpled. “But I’d rather not lose him.”

Sheila clasped his shoulder and spoke more gently. She had rarely seen him deflate like this over a boyfriend. “Hey now, we aren’t trying to break you guys up. In the best-case scenario, he’ll understand and try to make it work. If he’s as good as you say, then you can’t expect any other outcome. Just have confidence in yourself, and know that you deserve a little more than this.” She smiled.

Oscar reflected her smile and pulled her into a tight hug. “Thanks, Sheila. I needed to hear someone telling it to me straight.”

“Any time, babe.” She leaned into the hug, always happy to help. She suddenly recalled Oscar’s earlier comment and pulled back. “You’re not really going to sneak in his car, are you? Because that would be stupid.”

Oscar’s guilty silence prompted her to throw her hands in the air in exasperation. “It’s your relationship’s funeral, Oscar. Good luck.”

———————

1st

“Do you usually take this much stuff?” Oscar asked, standing still as he let his boyfriend load bags on him like a pack mule. He did a little hop to readjust the weight on his shoulders and unwrinkle his maroon bomber jacket.

“I take less, but you’re not used to dispersed camping.” He shut the trunk firmly and hoisted a large, army green pack on his back, which paled in comparison to his boyfriend’s burden. Oscar appreciated the sight of rippling muscles when Damien shifted the massive pack into a more comfortable position. He turned to the Oscar. “Let me know when you’re tired, because you will get tired.”

“I can keep up,” he said, puffing his chest.

Damien shook his head. “We’re going to go pretty far in.” He flashed a pretty smile. “I won’t judge you. I’ll still like you.”

Charmed, Oscar kept his mouth shut. The rest of the journey was spent in relative silence. They trekked up along the base of the mountain, with Damien pausing occasionally to point out the sights. Despite Oscar’s best efforts, the experienced outdoorsman was right; whenever Oscar slowed to a trudge, which was often, Damien insisted on resting.

“You know where we’re going, right?” Oscar asked, sitting back against a tree. This was the third time they stopped. He knew they had to have walked at least two miles.

Damien shrugged. “I’m trying to find a good spot for us.”

“Is there some way I could help look too?” he asked eagerly, wanting to be of as much help as possible.

He cocked his head to the side. “No, I have a feeling we’re close.”

Oscar had no idea what he meant, but he continued along without comment.

They wove through the trees and climbed moss-covered rocks, until they chanced upon a clearing. Damien perked and smiled at Oscar, who noticed that it was still tinged with apprehension.

“This is perfect. I knew we’d find it.” He snapped a picture with the camera that had been hanging around his neck. Oscar joined his side, and noticed that they were looking down at a secluded clearing from a small rock ledge.

Damien walked to the center of the clearing. “Do you see the stream over there? There’s a fire ring here too, which makes it easy for us.” With a thud, he set down his enormous pack. “Let’s get started before it gets darker.”

Oscar took a moment to take in the sights and take a much needed rest. His ears perked, recognizing the sound of running water and seeing the aforementioned stream glisten under the sun. He scanned the ground for the fire ring, and saw an old pit of ash and dead wood. Their newfound clearing was idyllic, as far as forests went. He looked up at the sky, and admired its crisp coloring. This was something he didn’t do often in the city, so it was something to appreciate.

“The nice part about this is that we get the whole area to ourselves. There’s no one to bother us, and you feel like the only person in the world.” Damien unwrapped the tent and drew out the tent poles. “This spot has everything we need.” He handed Oscar a handful of metal stakes before he wrestled with the rest.

“I feel like a pair of runaway kids.” Oscar grinned at his lover, who was holding the tent up to unfold it. “You know when you get in trouble with your parents, and you just want to run away to make them feel sorry?”

“Slide the poles through the loops?” he asked, though he acknowledged his comment with a knowing smile.

“You imagine picking berries and finding a cute stream to get water. You feel so resourceful and independent,” Oscar continued, reminiscing, as he connected the tent poles and obediently did as he was asked.

“I’m happy you have such a fond impression.”

“I’m not against camping,” Oscar shot back. He couldn’t bring himself to voice his wish that they had gone together sooner, but Damien stopped smiling, settling for an expression of calm concentration. He set the constructed tent on the ground.

“We’ll have a great time. I’m glad you’re here with me,” he eventually said, motioning for the metal stakes.

Reaching into his back pocket, Oscar handed him a few, but instead his arm was pulled forward, making him drop them. Damien pulled him into a hug and kiss. Oscar’s skin prickled at the sudden intimacy. He lowered his forehead onto Damien’s shoulder, loving the warmth of his arms. But his desire for security in the relationship made him stay focused. At the start of their relationship, he would have melted in his arms, and thrown all caution to the wind. Now that he wanted to know more about Damien, he had to keep a sharp mind.

In the end, Damien did most of the heavy work, but Oscar pulled his weight where he could. He marveled at everything that Damien had the foresight to bring and do. They tied the cooler to a nylon rope, and Oscar thoroughly enjoyed watching as Damien threw the rope over sturdy branch and hoist the box into the air, hand over hand. He was supposed to be clearing the area of large branches and other natural debris, but Damien took off his shirt, and all bets were off. Damien had to pinch his cheeks so that he could pay attention to the explanation that the box was meant to deter bears, or that the hole he was shoveling was going to be for their BM.

“I brought wet wipes for us to use when we need to clean ourselves, but we’ll definitely take a dip in the stream while we’re here.”

“I’m really impressed. I had no idea you were so competent.” Oscar’s hands were on his hips, surveying his boyfriend’s handiwork.

“You don’t read my blog,” Damien accused.

“You mean the blog you write while watching MTV and eating freezer pizza?” Oscar laughed.

He reached out to ruffle his hair. “You haven’t seen anything yet,” he smirked. “Let’s go set up the inside of the tent.”

With the sun setting, everything took a welcoming, warm hue. Oscar stole an admiring look before ducking into the tent. Damien had packed foam padding and blankets tightly into the pack that Oscar had carried. Upon being loosened, the backpack exploded in soft fabric. Oscar dove head first into the blanket pile and wriggled inside. Damien patiently peeled them off of Oscar one by one, scattering them around – at his boyfriend’s behest – like a nest. They finished by laying together in the snug tent.

“Now what?” Oscar asked, hands folded over his stomach.

“Now? We eat. Aren’t you hungry? No food in the tent though.” They stepped outside and Damien reached into his pack to take out two smushed sandwiches. Taking a seat on the nearby rock ledge, Damien motioned for Oscar to follow suit.

“This is the real deal, isn’t it? No running water, no electricity, no people, no god-fucking-damn Hot Pockets.” Oscar thanked his lucky stars that Damien didn’t bring them. “So why this? Did regular camping bore you?”

Damien shrugged. “Too crowded. Out here, you get to forget about everything else.”

Oscar looked at him as he stared straight ahead. He was surprised to notice that Damien was indeed relaxed. It never occurred to him that his smiles and quirks might be pretenses, but juxtaposing this man with the Damien he knew in the city, Oscar felt as though he was sitting next to someone different.

“Does the city stress you out?”

Damien closed his eyes, as if expecting the question. “It does, but I love it all the same.”

“Obviously,” Oscar grinned. “You’re the one-man market for home delivery services.”

Damien shrugged again with a grin. After admiring the sunset, he stood up. “Come on, let me show you the ‘amenities.'” He held up a handful of one large canteen bottle and another medium sized one to demonstrate. He led them to the stream, where he filled up. “We have to purify this. I have the tablets in my bag.”

When they returned, Oscar watched Damien fish out and open a large tin of nondescript pills and tablets.

“We need all of those?” he asked incredulously. He was boggled by the variety of sizes and shapes in the tin, but Damien quickly closed it shut.

“No, but I like to keep them in one place.”

“How do you know what’s what?”

“I’ve been doing this for a while,” he replied. He dropped a tablet in. “You can brush your teeth with the other water.”

“Oh, so we’re still doing that.”

Damien laughed. “I’m not sure how long we’d last out here if neither of us kept up with our hygiene.”

Having gotten ready for bed, they settled into the tent nest. The night had grown rapidly cold, so Oscar snuggled against Damien, who ran fingers through his hair.

“Thanks again for taking me,” Oscar said, not mentioning that it required significant pull on his part.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Damien replied in a tone that sounded like he were still trying to convince himself. Oscar was a little hurt, but was convinced that he could change Damien’s mind about his presence. He was intent on the trip strengthening their relationship. Exhausted by the day, Oscar passed out in the crook of his lover’s arm.

———————

“I didn’t know you were into camping.” Oscar had peeked over his shoulder to see pictures of camping gear.

Damian shrugged. “It helps keeps me calm.” He was engrossed in editing content for his blog. Occasionally he would take a gulp of his large soda. Oscar stared, unable to believe that his boyfriend was the outdoorsy type. His love for processed food was unparalleled, which made his fit body mystifying.

“So, out of curiosity, these monthly trips, have you been going camping?”

“Yup.”

Oscar set down his requested bowl of microwaved mac and cheese. “But you said you go out of town.”

“It’s not wrong.”

“But then why not say that you’re going camping?” He pulled a seat next to Damien, to signify that he wasn’t leaving.

Unfazed, he resized a photo, and pasted it into the blog entry. “Does it matter where I am, if I’m not here?”

“But you choose not to say it.” Oscar crossed his arms in annoyance.

“Then next time I will, no big deal.” Throughout the entire exchange, Damien had not looked up from his monitor. Oscar hated the way Damien was brushing it off. His blase reaction spurred feelings of mistrust.

“But you go every month. Then you’re off the grid for days. It’s a bigger deal than you think.”

Damien finally turned his gaze to Oscar. “It’s really not. You can handle not talking to me for a couple days, right?”

“It’s not that. I don’t know where you are. I’m your boyfriend, right? Don’t I have a say in this?” Growing upset, he clenched his fists and wrinkled his nose, trying to stave off his characteristic tears. Noticing his reaction, Damien got up from his desk and pulled him onto an embrace, smothering him in his arms.

“It’s part of my job, okay?” Oscar loved being spoiled, so he didn’t protest. “I go out camping and test out new gear. Then I write about it and make money.”

“But don’t you have other jobs? You don’t have to do all of it.’ Oscar’s voice was muffled in the hug.

Damien shrugged. “It’s expensive here.”

“I’ll help you out. You can even move in with me.” He buried his face into his chest unhappily. “I miss you when you leave.”

He patted his head. “I miss you too, Oscar.”

“Then let’s go together, the next time you go.”

“You’re so sweet.” He lifted his chin to kiss him. “But I need to focus when I go. And you distract me too much.”

The purposeful weight of Damien’s last sentence made Oscar become aware of the heat that had been forming between their embrace. Damien pressed a slow, deliberate kiss on the side of his neck, and lingered. Oscar hated that Damien knew what would get him to change the subject. Though Damien never turned down an advance from Oscar, he rarely initiated intimacy. Oscar didn’t mind always pushing for sex, but loved it when his boyfriend did. That meant that Damien knew how to push his buttons, and this time was no different. They were occupied for the next hour, but unlike in the beginning of their relationship, Oscar’s thoughts lingered on Damien’s hesitance. He was a little uncomfortable with his blatant manipulation and unwillingness to discuss the growing elephant in the room.

———————

2nd

Oscar woke up alone in the tent. Snuggling into the still warm blankets let him know that Damien hadn’t woken up much earlier. His senses, slow to return to him, alerted him that something delicious was cooking. Stomach rumbling, he dragged himself from the bedding and opened the tent flaps to see Damien cooking over a newly constructed fire pit. It was neat and it was clear a lot of thought went into it.

“Good morning,” Oscar greeted groggily.

“Oh, you’re up.” Damien smiled. “Hurry up and get ready, we have a lot to do today.”

He retreated back into the tent. “Like what?” He said through the nylon walls, as he changed.

“Hiking, mostly. Don’t you want to explore and see what’s out here?”

“I want to do whatever you do out here,” Oscar said, emerging from inside.

“Well, I do do that.” He handed him a fresh sandwich, which Oscar gratefully accepted.

“Wait, is that your sandwich?” Oscar pointed at a monstrosity that was more meat than bread.

“Yeah, I’m really hungry. I always get really hungry out here.”

Oscar laughed. “How are you going to eat that?”

“Carefully,” he replied, amused at his wonder.

Oscar stole glances, watching Damien tackle the cumbersome sandwich. Damien did eat a lot, but Oscar wasn’t sure if it was in such quantities or eaten so quickly. Oscar wasn’t a slow eater, but Damien had devoured his meal before he finished his own sandwich. Damien then went back into the tent to throw a hoodie on. He cleaned the area, as Oscar stuffed the last bite.

“Ready?” he asked, a backpack slung over his shoulders. Oscar nodded, and Damien handed him the camera. “You get to be my assistant.”

Oscar followed as Damien pointed out the scenery. He was struck by how knowledgeable he was. As they trekked, he pointed out things that the average person would miss. They saw poison ivy, rabbit holes, and a hawk nest. They picked wild-but-edible mushrooms and greens. Damien pointed out old fox dens under older trees, and a hidden cave among the brush. Oscar snapped a picture of everything remotely of interest. Whenever Oscar looked slightly tired, Damien stopped them for a break. WIthout asking, he presented him with a canteen of water and told him to roll his ankles. After the third break in two hours, Oscar protested, though he secretly enjoyed the attention. “You don’t have to be such a mother hen. I’ll tell you when I’m not okay.”

“I know, but I don’t want anything to happen to you. I can do some basic first aid, but we’re too far from the hospital if you do get hurt,” Damien replied matter-of-factly.

“My back is kind of sore. Can I get a massage later?” Oscar asked, batting his lashes with an impudent smile.

As expected, Damien smiled good-naturedly and nodded. Besides the two of them, the forest was silent, save for a few chirps and rustles around them. Even so, they didn’t speak about much else except the surroundings, which provided a lot to see. Oscar was impressed by the rocks that jutted from the landscape, and decided it was picture-worthy. He took a few minutes to get what he thought was a good shot. When he succeeded, he looked triumphant and proud, despite himself. He showed Damien the result by handing him the camera, but was pulled into a tight hug.

“You are so adorable when you try hard over little things.” Damien gave him a wet kiss on the cheek.

Flustered, he pushed Damien away half-playfully. “Why do you keep saying that? You’re the good-looking one. I’m just a giant, angry, red wrinkle.”

“That’s not all that matters,” Damien retorted.

“So you do think I’m ugly,” Oscar quipped with a grin.

Damien pulled him into him by the wrist. “No, but you’re definitely spoiled,” he laughed, aware of his part in the spoiling. He kissed the palm of Oscar’s gloved hand, and Oscar gave in to the flirting, throwing his arms around his boyfriend’s neck. He was delighted by Damien’s affections, and felt a small pang of guilt for doubting him. This was the same Damien that adored him, just a side that he wasn’t yet familiar with. This was a normal aspect of a growing relationship, so Oscar was convinced there was nothing to worry about.

After completing a wide circle around camp, they returned, exhausted but refreshed. Oscar marvelled at Damien’s stamina; he picked up an armful of kindling and went to stoke the dying coals. He himself collapsed in a foldable chair. They supped on hot sandwiches and hot soup. While preparing their meals, Damien had explained that sandwiches helped reduce the use of plates and cutlery. Oscar was rather touched by his concern for the environment. It seemed everything he did outdoors was in consideration of their natural surroundings.

Afterwards, he watched Damien set up a tarp under a nearby tree, and lie down a picnic blanket. Oscar felt guilty for just watching but he was exhausted from the day. Carrying a blanket from the tent, Damien cocked his head at Oscar to follow him. They snuggled against each other, enjoying each other’s warmth and scents. By then it was night, and with the firelight, their campsite assumed a more intimate atmosphere.

“Look at the stars. Aren’t they bright?” Damien looked up, pointing to the sky. His legs were crossed and Oscar was sitting in his lap, blankets wrapped around them. His head was rested against Damien’s shoulder.

“They are,” he agreed absently. He was paying more attention to their closeness, and was eager to play. He twisted and kissed Damien, pushing them both to the ground. Upon breaking it, he huskily asked, “Are you happy I’m here?”

“I am,” Damien replied . Oscar beamed at the response, and was ready to pounce when Damien, looking as if he remembered something, pushed him off abruptly. He trotted across the campsite and fished something from his pack. Miffed, Oscar watched him come back with something in his hand. He took a seat, and under the moonlight Oscar could see it was a small aerosol can.

“What the hell? Is that bug spray?”

Damien shook his head. “No, it’s bear mace. If you run into an animal as big or bigger than you, use this.” He pushed it into his hands. “Please keep it on you at all times.”

Irritated by this turn of events, as well as the dead mood, Oscar bristled. “You stopped us for this?”

“It’s important.” He held a steady, calm gaze. “I want you to be safe, and you’re not used to staying outdoors like this. You never know what will happen, so you should be prepared.”

Annoyance welled up in the pit of his stomach, but Oscar exhaled it out. “Come here, you stupid killjoy.” He dropped the can and embraced him.

Returning the hug, Damien replied with a hint of shakiness, “I care about you so much.”

Oscar brushed off his concern. “I’ll be fine. I don’t know as much as you do, but I know how to stay out of trouble.” He wanted to comfort the tinge of sadness in his voice. Lying together under the star-studded sky, Oscar rattled off all the aspects that made him a capable human being: “I throw a mean punch, and I’m scrappy. I run an under ten-minute mile, and I can talk my way out of anything.”

Damien listened throughout, and Oscar was elated that his mood was improving. Exhaustion slowed his mind, and when he couldn’t think of anything further, he stayed silent in contemplation. Rather, he tried to, but passed out a second night in a row. He felt Damien stroking his face and running fingers through his hair, and he unconsciously wiggled closer into his chest. The next thing he remembered was being picked up and tucked into the blankets in the tent.

———————

Damien had been a gentleman since their fortuitous meeting at the bar, but Oscar had no qualms with saying he wanted more. After they ended up at his place one night on the pretext of drinks – as if Damien drank – he pinned Damien on the couch and kissed him. His intent was obvious and Damien put his arms around him, almost as if he were waiting for Oscar to make a move. Oscar ran a gloved hand under his shirt to help him take it off.He then went straight for his own jeans as Damien unbuttoned Oscar’s shirt. Before Damien could remove it, Oscar stopped him to slide his jeans off. Damien paused, watching, then asked on a gut feeling, “Are the gloves staying on?”

When asked the question, Oscar’s chest tightened. He was seldom surprised by the reactions of others, but he still remained apprehensive. He straddled Damien’s lap, pantless, but softly replied, “I don’t mind if you want them off.”

Watching Oscar’s reaction, Damien slowly pulled off one glove, and then the other. Curiosity growing, he helped Oscar out of his long-sleeved shirt, leaving him naked. Oscar’s shoulders were blushing, but his face was both defiant and tender.

“I mean, you were going to see it sooner or later. It’s not a big deal.”

Damien kissed the palm of his pink, heavily-scarred hand. The scars occurred in splotches up his arm and clashed with his caramel-colored skin. His skin was mottled and wrinkled. It was clear the injuries had been severe, but the scars were old.

“I was a kid and fell arms-first into a pot,” he continued. Usually the revealing was a mood killer, but Damien seemed fascinated. In fact, his arms went around Oscar’s waist and pulled him closer. Oscar mistook it for pity, and pushed against his shoulders.

“You don’t have to play nice or feel sorry for me. I’m not embarrassed.” He flashed a smirk. “I got lucky that it was just my arms.” To make a point, he ground his erection into Damien’s stomach. Damien couldn’t help but grin at this. His hands slid up and down his waist, fondling his back. Oscar shivered, though he wasn’t sure if it was nerves or arousal. He’d never received this kind of reaction before. Damien was exploring his body with warm hands and lips. It seemed he was content to adore his body – which Oscar appreciated – but he wanted more, had demanded more. Damien was more than happy to comply.

Afterward, when they lay in bed together, Oscar was cuddled into the crook of Damien’s arm. His hands and arms remained bare. He watched Damien pick up his hands and examine them with an unwavering gaze. Oscar braced himself for the inevitable questions, but Damien seemed too preoccupied to ask. He didn’t mind the questions, but it was rare that a lover asked none. He felt increasingly self-conscious. His mind wandered, entertaining the thought that maybe Damien was fascinated in a way that onlookers were at freak shows. Nervousness peaking, he said, a little sullenly, “I bet this is the grossest thing you’ve seen in awhile.”

Broken out of his stupor, he turned to glance sideways at Oscar. “Not at all,” he replied, a little surprised.

“Are you for real?” Oscar replied, propping himself on his elbow to make sure he wasn’t being teased. “I have to be careful in the sun. It burns like normal skin, but the way it flakes is disgusting,” he revealed, challenging Damien to take back his words.

“Okay,” he shrugged.

“Okay what? What do you feel about them?” He wanted to play it cool, but this strange situation was bothering him.

Understanding Oscar’s discomfort, he picked up both of his hands. “I know this sounds nauseating, but I like them. They make you look even more beautiful to me.”

“You’re right.” Oscar agreed. “I’m going to throw up on your chest. And I am beautiful.”

——————-

3rd

Oscar woke up writhing. It took a while for him to realize that the delicious feeling between his legs was his boyfriend enthusiastically sucking his cock. When he was alert, he tangled fingers in his dark, shaggy hair and moaned his name. When he realized he was awake, Damien sped up. When Oscar bucked more quickly in response, and grew louder, Damien held his balls in the palm of his hand and gently rubbed with his thumb.

Taken aback by this gesture, he cursed, “Oh fuck, I’m coming.” Biting his lips in concentration, he focused on the atypical, lustful way Damien devoured him. Damien let Oscar thrust into his mouth until he was empty, then he sat up and swallowed. Oscar breathed raggedly, an arm thrown over his eyes, when he felt something warm and smooth poked the corner of his mouth. Opening an eye, he saw Damien’s expectant face and he smiled. He was happy to return the favor. He sat up and took him in his mouth. He felt fingers clutch his hair and Damien thrusted harder than usual. Oscar loved it and willing swallowed when he finished.

Licking his lips, he looked mischievously at Damien, who mirrored his smile. “That was fun.”

“We have to make up for two days without sex,” he replied, cupping Oscar’s jaw and kissing him deeply. They could taste their flavor in each other’s mouths. Oscar had a dopey smile on his face when they separated, forgetting that he was ever mad at Damien.

“Let’s go take a dip in the stream nearby,” Damien suggested.

“Sure, sounds fun too,” Oscar agreed. Neither had packed swimwear, so they wore old boxer briefs as they walked down toward the stream. Damien had thrown affectionately an arm around Oscar’s shoulder, to Oscar’s delight. It was a great start to a beautiful day.

The stream was shallow, but long, and disappeared into the forest. The sides were lined with large boulders, some of which provided a convenient pool for them. Oscar could appreciate why Damien liked such isolated camping. They were alone and free to enjoy their space however they wished. They waded into the stream, which was cold and mostly clear. Oscar grinned and fussed at the temperature, having a blast.

“It’s so cold. My balls are going to go back into my body,” he cackled gleefully. Damien, who had walked in without reaction, turned around and picked Oscar up by the armpits. He held him close to his body.

“Then I’ll keep you warm.”

Oscar squirmed. “I was just kidding. I’ll be okay.”

“It’s pretty slippery here too. I think you need more help than you think,” Damien ribbed as he set him down against the larger boulders that framed the deeper end of the natural pool. He cupped his cheek and Oscar leaned into it, eating up his affectionate gestures. They were almost the same height, but Oscar had been slightly elevated by the inclined floor. Damien used this to his advantage and angled his head to lean forward. eck. Surprised at his eagerness, Oscar squirmed as Damien proceeded to give hickeys along the side of his neck. Oscar shivered and braced himself against the jagged rocks, to prevent his back from knocking into it. Oscar briefly wondered if Damien had planned this. With his hands against the rock wall, he couldn’t stop Damien from also running his hands down Oscar’s back and slipping his boxer briefs off. It didn’t matter though, because Oscar wasn’t going to resist; to assist him, Oscar lifted one leg at a time and wrapped arms around Damien’s shoulders. Oscar was surprised to find his body so hot, though it could also have been the cold water flowing around them. Before he could contemplate the matter any further, Oscar found himself in the middle of a kiss. Swept away like a maiden on a cheap romance novel, he didn’t noticed a hand slide down to grab his ass.Oscar jerked when he felt a finger penetrate him.

“Damien,” he began, but was silenced by a second finger. Damien pushed him back against the jagged rock wall. Oscar hissed in pain, and felt a strong hand under his thigh, lifting it up for more access.

“The rocks are stabbing into my back,” he complained.

They stopped for a second only to shift him on a flatter, smoother wall, but Damien had not removed his fingers. Damien enveloped his mouth with his again, but Oscar couldn’t concentrate. His focus was on the slow thrusting and massaging in his ass. His head gradually tilted up as he moved against the pressure, and he shivered when Damien licked a trail from his collarbone to his chin.

“You like that?” he asked when Oscar whimpered at a deep, teasing rub. “I know I’m hitting it,” he purred into Oscar’s neck. Oscar felt the pressure of another digit, which was helping its companions stretch him out. His hips rocked against his fingers, movement still restricted by Damien’s tight grip on his thigh. His, his whole body was electrified by this unusually aggressive attitude. He could feel his fingers stretching him and loosening him to the limit, toeing the line between pleasure and pain. Damien took them out abruptly, and Oscar blinked. His arms were tight around Damien’s shoulders, and his thigh started feeling tight for being held in an unaccustomed position for so long.

“Damien, what the hell?” he managed. “I’ve never-”

“I don’t want to continue here,” he interrupted, and hoisted Oscar over his shoulder.

He easily stepped out of the stream without sign of strain, and Oscar realized he had no idea how strong his boyfriend was. He himself was of average build and height, so this feat was noteworthy. In any case, this was a opportune moment to fit a few of his million questions, while Damien marched them back to the campsite. He propped himself up so that he wasn’t flopped over like a dead animal, though his ass still mooned the entire forest.

“I didn’t know you were this strong,” he began, his head bobbing to his boyfriend’s steps.

“You know I work out.” Damien spoke with purpose, like he was intending to take care of business.

“Enough to throw me around like a doll?”

“I’ve never done this with you before.” He shifted Oscar’s weight in his arms.

“Yeah, that’s another thing. Who are you, and what have you done with my boyfriend?” He was half-joking, but hoped he made his point. “Tell him that he could learn a few tricks from you.”

Oscar could feel a wry chuckle rumble in his chest. “I’m as me as I can be,” he replied. He set Oscar standing on the blankets they had arranged outside, and smiled at him.

“You don’t want to continue?”

Oscar regarded him warily, but faltered when he understood that this hulking, near-perfect specimen of a man wanted to ravish him. He swallowed, and nervously mumbled, “I mean, what else is there to do?”

Damien grinned and meandered over to the backpacks. Rummaging, he pulled out lube and squeezed a glob into his hand. Oscar waited anxiously, a hand clasping his opposite elbow and back slightly hunched over. A breeze caressed his back, as if to remind him that he was stripped bare in the wilderness. He shivered as Damien stood in front of him, as if to inspect him. It was not unlike a predator ready to make its killing strike. Damien pulled him close and kissed from his lips, then down his jaw to his neck. He proceeded to bite down hard at his throat, which made Oscar gasp. Damien stopped and shoved him down with one hand.

“Ow! What the f–” The rest of his words were taken from his mouth when his boyfriend pounced on him with more kisses. He found himself pinned down with one of Damien’s hands, arms up over his head. WIth Damien’s other hand, he slicked his cock and rubbed the rest on Oscar’s. He hooked a leg over his own thigh and pressed against Oscar’s entrance. It became clear to Oscar that Damien wasn’t listening for cues, as he usually did, since he drove his cock in without warning. Oscar gasped and yelled, arching his back violently at the intrusion.

“God-fucking-dammit, Damien!”

“Sorry.” He started slowly thrusting, and leveraging his weight, buried himself to the hilt. “You feel good.”

Oscar closed his eyes and shuddered around him, trying to grow accustomed to his girth. Damien did oblige by proceeding, but was tortuously slow. Oscar knew that he was making sure he could feel the heat behind every single slip and rub. They rocked in a slow rhythm together. Damien released Oscar’s arms, which flew around his neck. His legs were hooked around Damien’s lower back, bracing himself for every hard thrust. After what seemed like an eternal second, Damien slid out and flipped Oscar over. Oscar propped himself up and clawed at the blanket, knowing to brace himself. True to his expectation, Damien dove in a second time, his hips slapping Oscar’s ass decisively. Oscar arched with a throaty moan. He felt fingers run through and curl around the hairs on the back of his head.

“Oh fuck yes,” Oscar managed before receiving the hardest pounding he’d gotten in a long time. Every impact made his toes curl harder and elicited a short grunt from his clenched teeth. He was loving every second, and thoughts of Damien’s strange behavior was blown out of his mind.

“Ready?” Damien hoarsely asked, a courtesy that seemed strange to Oscar, since he promptly ejaculated after a few rapid, but deep thrusts. Oscar’s thighs quivered when Damien pulled out, a lazy string of semen trailing after. Before Oscar could collapse on himself, Damien caught him with an arm around his chest and pulled him into his lap, Oscar’s back to his chest. Oscar faced him, tears and saliva trailing his face. Lips met lips and they engaged in a slow, sticky kiss, while Damien wrapped a hand around Oscar’s indignant, red cock. He pistoned with a tight grip and Oscar’s hips jolted to life, rocking desperately. His eyes clenched shut, he savored the touch while he could feel Damien’s seed warmly nestled in his ass. Oscar let out a ragged groan as ejaculate sprayed out, and his head flopped back.

After a brief silence, eyes closed, he whispered in Damien’s ear, “You fucker.” He could feel his lover’s muscles pull back in a smile. He felt himself being laid down and tucked in with a blanket. He held no concern about his current state, and passed out.

A loud snap had roused him awake. The concept of time was lost on him when he opened his eyes. Laying on the ground, Oscar squinting at the sun, its light at eye-level, and it occurred to him that he had no idea when Damien had first woken him. His hips ached and he winced between the sheets as he turned to look around for Damien. He was surprised to find Damien still sitting on the blanket with him, but wearing pants – albeit unbuttoned. He was holding a book, though Oscar noticed that it was upside-down.

“Hi,” he greeted, though eyeing Damien with suspicion. He was pretty sure that the snap was related to Damien and that book.

“Hey,” Damien replied, setting it down.

“What’s for lunch or dinner?”

“Didn’t feel like cooking. We have jerky.” He passed him an unopened bag, which Oscar accepted. Wrapping the blanket around him, he slowly tore open the bag and fished for a piece. As he gnawed a piece, he gave Damien a once over.

“Didn’t feel like putting on a shirt either?”

Damien shrugged with a faint smile. All of his attention was focused on Oscar, which made him self-conscious. With the blanket he covered his wrinkled, red arms. Oscar concentrated on the jerky, glancing periodically at Damien, who continued to stare. Oscar offered the bag to him, holding his last piece in his mouth.

“Do you want a piece or what?”

“Give me yours,” he said, pulling it out of his mouth without waiting for answer.

Wrinkling his nose, Oscar took another out of the bag and propped the rest against Damien’s knee. “Here. This one is mine, so you can’t have it. I’m going in the tent.” He got up and wobbled back, wrapped in the blanket and looking like a purple armadillo. Damien’s unsettling gaze reminded him that they were outdoors and exposed, and an animalistic instinct told him to retreat into shelter. Diving into their nest of blankets, he stretched and curled up with his phone to play a few games. Oscar welcomed, needed the mindless distraction from all the physical exertion from the trip. After a while, he heard the tent entrance rustle, and a glance confirmed that Damien had joined him. He settled down next to Oscar, who was on his stomach and propped upright on his elbows, absorbed in a puzzle.

Laying on his side to face Oscar, he kissed him at the temple. He ran a hand down his back, gently pushing his thumb and massaging circles whenever there was tension. Oscar melted at his measured touch, his elbows slowly lowering him until his chin was resting on the floor.

“Feel good?”

“Yeah, don’t stop. You promised a back massage, remember?”

Damien rose and moved the blanket aside so that he could straddle Oscar’s ass. He gave him a full massage, palms pressing and rubbing up and down his back. Eventually, Oscar dropped his game altogether and resting his head in folded arms, savoring the contact. He closed his eyes and his body began to relax. He would have no problems falling asleep again, and figured that he may as well, since this was supposed to be a vacation anyway.

Calculatingly, Damien moved his hands lower, letting his palms slide down the curve of Oscar’s ass. He bent over and pressed his lips against his shoulder, then wing, until he traced a winding trail over his back. Oscar had turned to crane his neck at Damien, about to ask him to continue massaging instead, when Damien stole the words with a demanding kiss. He pushed into Oscar’s mouth, slipping his tongue against tongue. Meanwhile, Oscar felt a hard lump against the cleft of his ass, and he broke for air.

“Seriously?”

“I won’t put it in,” Damien pleaded. “Just cross your legs.”

Regarding him silently for a minute, Oscar put his head back down over his folded arms. Damien was lucky he was so relaxed. He nodded and crossed ankles, sighing. Damien settled on top him without crushing him, resting his chest on Oscar’s back. Soon after he felt Damien’s cock, damp with pre-cum, slide between his thighs, slowly thrusting in and out. He was hypnotized by the slick sounds, and twitched when Damien shifted his body upwards against Oscar’s groin. Oscar felt Damien’s stiff cock start at the cleft of his ass and glide forward until his head was brushing against his balls and shaft. Oscar could feel him thrusting deeper until side of Damien’s cock was rubbing his sensitive entrance, teasing it. Oscar said nothing, though his hips kept positioning farther upward to meet him.

Oscar could feel Damien’s breath on his shoulder, his face nestled in the nape of his neck. Damien was holding his hips in place, and grinding against him, as if trying to wring every bit of sensation from Oscar’s body. The heat, the friction, and the sounds of Damien’s soft pants captured the interest of Oscar’s own cock. He could hear his heart pounding his ears, and lust overwhelmed him.

He lifted his hips up wordlessly, offering his entrance to Damien, who eased himself inside without hesitation. Oscar inhaled repeatedly, forgetting to exhale, resorting to shallow pants. He could feel his ass being fucked with slow, small thrusts – no doubt Damien’s attempt to be more sensitive. Oscar felt a warm hand enclosed around his length. His breathing devolved into bursts of quiet gasping when his hips thrust forward into Damien’s hand and backward against Damien’s dick. His eyes shut, the only thought in his mind was the motion of them undulating together, Damien gently fucking him and jerking him off. Oscar began to murmur a moan from deep in his stomach, signalling his climax. He bit bottom lip as he came into Damien’s hand, still feeling the force of Damien’s pistoning. He felt Damien release in him soon after. The last thing Oscar felt was the slight suction of him pulling out, and he collapsed face-first.
Oscar felt a rush of air next to him, where Damien had laid himself down. He moved away when Damien tried to lean against his shoulder.

“Damien, please. I need a few minutes,” he insisted. He had spent most of the waking day being touched by Damien, and he needed some relief.

“Sorry,” Damien whispered. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Oscar then chuckled. “You’ve officially made up for it. I think we’re set for the rest of the trip.”

Damien rustled his hair and rose to leave the tent. Oscar relaxed, though he hadn’t realized that he was tense. He had to address Damien’s strange behavior once and for all. He played out scenarios in his mind as he waited for Damien to return, but he began to doze. He turned over and fell asleep without putting his plan into action.

———————

Oscar stood away from the bar entrance. His hands were shoved into his jacket pockets and trying not to cry. The music behind him was muffled, but the base was pounding through the air and even the sidewalk. It felt like it was taunting him, reminding him that he was miserable and newly single, while everyone else was having fun and probably all getting laid. He felt silly for lingering. He hoped that Georgie would come out after him, but he knew it wasn’t going to happen. Sighing, he was kicking at a loose bit of concrete until it was freed from the sidewalk. Deftly, he kicked up the debris and shot it at a nearby stray cat that had ventured out of the alley next door. Startled, it jumped up and skittered back to the darkness.

“What did the cat do?”

Startled himself, he looked up at the source of the question. He hadn’t noticed that a man had been standing next to him, mimicking his hands-in-pocket pose. He was immediately striking. He was tall and had short, cropped, dark hair. His t-shirt was plain and black, but tight, accentuating his physique. His skin was a shade lighter than Oscar’s, but more yellow in tone. At a glance, it was difficult to assume his ethnicity. Oscar squinted at him. He realized that he recognized his face, but couldn’t recall where.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” Oscar asked.

“Actually, yeah, but I’ll give you a hint. It’s related to your boyfriend’s birthday present.”

Recognition struck him. “You’re the guy from the store.”

“Good memory.” He nodded and beamed at him.

At the moment, the doors opened to let more partygoers in from the line. Oscar happened to hear the loud, gleeful cheers of his now ex-boyfriend. Glumly, he turned to leave.

“I’m gonna go. He’s not my boyfriend anymore, and it doesn’t look like he misses me anyway.”

“But you were the life of the party a few minutes ago.” Damien sidled up to him, matching his walking speed.

“Oh yeah? You were in there?” He tried to put on a casual face to hide his embarrassment. . “Gay bars your thing?”

“Well, yeah.” Damien smiled, not afraid to hide his preferences. “I really enjoyed watching you lip sync to Beyonce while standing on the bar.”

Oscar chuckled under his breath. “Georgie loves her.”

“What about his gift? The monogrammed gloves and neckscarf?”

Oscar’s expression soured. “It wasn’t Beyonce, so…” He fell silent.

“But you put so much thought and feeling into it,” he replied sympathetically.

“It was kind of poetic in a cruel way,” Oscar added. “He forgot about them and literally crushed them under his foot, like a physical representation of my feelings.”

“They weren’t cheap,” Damien clucked.

“I guess they are pretty lame gifts though. Our friend got him two front row tickets to – you guessed it – Beyonce.” Oscar wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his arm. “But, I mean, if you complain about being cold all the time, and you know your clothes are crap, wouldn’t you want something like that?”

“I would.”

Oscar coughed, trying to hide a sniffle in front of Damien. “I don’t think he cared about me very much, but I always hoped that he would.” He looked somber. “It’s been a few minutes now, and he hasn’t called or come out looking for me.” He made a face. “But it doesn’t matter. As soon as I walked out of the bar, we were over, and if he did come out, I’d tell him off. But now I have to do it over the phone.” He glanced at Damien. “That’s a pretty shitty thing to do though, isn’t it?”

“It is,” he admitted.

“Well, it’s a shitty end to a shitty relationship,” Oscar ground out resolutely, jaw clenched.

Damien smiled, looking straight ahead. “So, where are you going now?”

Oscar gave him a sidelong glance. Of course he had noticed that Damien was following him. “Where are you going?”

Damien smiled more broadly. “I’m kind of hungry. Wanna go to a diner with me?”

“You move fast.” Oscar smiled wrlyly.

“Sorry,” Damien apologized. “You look like you need a pick-me-up, and you seem like a sweet guy.”

Oscar laughed loudly. “You’re right about one thing. That offer wouldn’t happen to come free, would it?”

“You coming with me is payment enough.”

Oscar rolled his eyes at the line, but followed Damien down the block. He was intrigued, and this stranger was hot. He could appreciate an unexpected adventure.

———————

4th

Obliterated from the day before, Oscar woke up in the early afternoon. Blinking and yawning, he felt groggy and slow-minded. He carefully pulled on yesterday’s pants and a sweater, wincing and groaning when he stretched too far. After yawning again, and his senses again waking up, he noticed a pungent smell surrounding him. It was strong and overpowering. Checking that it wasn’t the smell of sex in their tent, he stepped outside. The air was pleasantly warm, but the stink lingered. He didn’t see Damien, but instead a note on the foldable chair, kept in place with a rock on top of it. He picked up the note, which read: “forgot camera chargr & coupel other things i prmised to review. Be beack later.” Next to it was a can of soup, the kind one could open with one’s hands.

Frowning at the misspellings, he scratched his head and surveyed his surroundings. He figured that he would rest and relax as he waited for Damien to return. First, he was curious about the source of the acrid scent. He wandered around and realized that the the smell surrounding the entire campsite. Wrinkling his nose, he bent over to examine a suspicious dark spot in the grass, and decided that it was probably some animal marking their territory. He felt a little unsettled by the idea that some beast had claimed their spot as its own, and worried that it would return. Picking up the can of bear mace and shovel, he decided to mask the scent as much as he could. It would be a damper on what otherwise had been a good getaway trip, and he didn’t want Damien to return to it.

Given his soreness, it was slow going, but it was kind of cathartic and he felt comforted by the routine of it. Even with eventual odor fatigue, it seemed he had reduced the smell considerably. He stood up and stretched his back and squatted out of habit, but regretted putting strain on his ass. Groaning some more, he stood up to survey the scenery. The sun was already among the tops of the trees, and Damien hadn’t said when he’d be back. A nagging thought gnawed at the back of his mind, and Oscar started walking. He wove around the trees and lied to himself, that he was only curious about the side of the wilderness that was near the car. Eventually he “wandered” to the clearing near the main road, and was surprised to find the car still there.

Oscar paused for a second to collect this thoughts. It could certainly be true that he had just missed him, and Oscar had not been walking in a straight line. He took a deep breath and turned to return to camp, which took another hour. When it came into his field of vision, he couldn’t see any obvious signs that Damien had returned. He looked in the tent and walked around camp, in case he had missed something. After the second time, he stopped at the realization he shouldn’t have to look that hard to know if Damien had come back. He slumped on the foldable chair, growing more upset. He didn’t know where Damien was, and he didn’t know what to do next.

The sun was beginning to set, and the light touched the picnic blanket, still disheveled from when Damien had fucked him senseless. A lump was forming in his throat. He was blindsided by the fact that his fear had been realized: Damien was hiding something. He wiped away tears in frustration. He hated how he cried when he was emotional. He was furious that he fell for Damien’s ruse, furious at Damien for thinking he could get away with it. He stood up and paced the camp, cursing under his breath. Every minute he spent waiting for Damien became exponentially worse. Everything around him was a reminder of Damien’s elaborate lies – that he cared about him, that he wanted to get closer – so he started walking away. Devastated, he didn’t care where he was going at the moment. All he could think about was possible reasons why he had done this.

It had grown dark, and Oscar’s fury had mostly subsided and been replaced by sorrow. He figured that he had to return to camp after all. Fortunately, the moon was full that night and the sky was cloudless, so he could somewhat see the path. The light had reminded him, though, that he had no idea how to light a fire, and the campfire was surely dead by then. He walked forward and hoped that a lighter had been left behind. The darkness had begun to cause his body to tense up, and his hips and legs started to ache at the stress. He was increasingly aware of the noises he made as he stepped on twigs and rustled through dead leaves, and he held his breath. The background noises that were always in the back of his mind were at the center of his attention, and he constantly look around him. He didn’t remember owls hooting or crickets chirping so loudly, or so many unseen rustlings, but the silence that cushioned them was worse. He put his hands in his pockets and remembered the bear mace that Damien had given him. He wrapped his fingers around it, comforted by it and begrudgingly giving Damien silent thanks.

In his state of heightened awareness, he noticed a distinct smell. It was the smell of burning or roasting. He changed directions to find its source. Maybe Damien had finally returned and was cooking. He’d not eaten since he woke up, so his hunger and curiosity had drawn him to the scent, which reminded him of grilled meat. He saw a faint glow in the distance, but didn’t see the campsite nearby. He moved forward as quietly as he could, using every muscle to control his movements precisely. As he grew closer to the light, he realized that it was being obscured by bushes. Beyond the light, Oscar recognized the cave that Damien had pointed out to him, as it was illuminated by the firelight. He ducked behind the bushes and watched.

The well-contained fire was surrounded by a significant pile of ashes. Oscar squinted, noticing something else in the pit, burning. It was pitch-black from the ash, hairy and loose. It was glistening, dripping, and parts of it were crackling from the heat. His gut feelings kept him wary, but he couldn’t stop trying to figure out what was in the pit, as if the answer was on the tip of his tongue.

A soft rustling brought him back to attention. From what he could see, a fat branch with an unknown owner nudged the lifeless mass further into the pit, which briefly revealed holes embedded into it. In a snap, he fell backward, recognizing eye holes, nostrils, and a gaping slit for a mouth. As a whole the face was alien, and framed by firelight, the image burned in Oscar’s mind. In a split second he scrambled up in shock, both from the discovery of the skin and the presence of another being. As he stood, he faced whatever had been stoking the fire. He looked straight into the large, glowing red eyes, which stared back. It was difficult to tell whether it was humanoid, since it was crouched over, though was standing on two legs. But any resemblance to man or animal ended there. Like the flesh in the fire, it was glistening, slick with blood and twitching muscles. Oscar realized that some of the cracking came from the creature. It seemed like its whole body was palpitating; bones, nerves, and muscles seemed to be shifting on the surface, independently of the whole.

When it moved shifted forward,Oscar was startled into motion. In a burst of adrenaline, he was sprinting away, fumbling for the bear mace. Too frightened to scream, he instead panted deeply as he looked for some kind of sanctuary. After a few meters of running, he heard the thing shriek. He was started by the nearness of it, as if it was right behind him. It was guttural, but loud. It vibrated through his body and he pointedly ran away from the source. His eyesight had gotten used to the moonlight, but it was useless if he didn’t know what to do next. He heard periodic growls and grunts behind him, and he knew he was being followed. Bear mace be damned, he needed shelter.

Oscar thanked his lucky stars when the campsite came into view. Even in his terrified state of mind, he felt extremely stupid for zipping open the tent and diving in. He fumbled with the zipper as he closed it, and huddled in the center. There was no way a flimsy tent could withstand anything beyond heavy rain, and it was a matter of minutes before that thing would rip through to get him. He held onto the can of bear mace, deciding that he wouldn’t be easy to take down. Sitting in the dark, he was hyper vigilant to surrounding noises. Finally, he heard the sound of charging, growing louder by the second. Every muscle in his body tightened, and he flipped the cap of the bear mace, gripping it tightly. He waited, wide eyed and following the beat of the charge. He heard it stop some distance away. It wheezed and emitted a high pitched ululating whine, which it repeated for hours or minutes, Oscar wasn’t sure. He knew that everything in his being was set to spring.

The grotesque image was burned into his mind. It was definitely nothing he’d ever seen in his life. He recalled its visage, stretched tightly over its hulking mass. Its mouth was stretched into a gaping grin. He shivered involuntarily, knowing that it was outside. He thought about sprinting to the car, but he had no idea where the car keys were, and assumed that Damien had taken them. In any case, he wasn’t about to go outside to rifle for them or gamble on the car doors being open. So he waited in the pitch blackness. Eventually, the noises subsided, but Oscar had become attached to the idea that the tent was helping, so he did not leave. He remained tense and wide-eyed, playing with the idea that he was sleeping and dreaming a nightmare.

———————

It would have been a greater mercy in the long run if Damien had let him face alone the embarrassment and humiliation of that night. After watching him do a rousing and spirited lip-sync on the bar, Damien heard two men near him, sneering at the flamboyant gesture.

“Oh god, he just reeks of desperate,” one snickered to the other.

“Look at all the clothes he’s wearing. It’s July, and he’s wearing gloves and a sweater,” his companion pointed out. “He probably think he looks cool.”

Ignoring the pair, Damien saw him hop off the bar with a bold grin and bound into the arms of who he assumed was his boyfriend. Damien had recognized him as the young man who had come into the sporting goods store, looking for presents for his boyfriend’s birthday party. He had asked Damien, a store employee, for advice, on the grounds that he seemed like a ‘cool guy with good taste.’ Damien listened as the young man earnestly described his needs. He distinctly remembered the shining light behind his eyes, and caught himself wishing someone was as devoted to him as this man was to his boyfriend.

Swirling his glass to dislodge the grenadine from the bottom, he watched as that man presented a package to his boyfriend, who opened it and gave him a obligatory hug. The young man grinned brightly at him after they shared a kiss. Another man had sidled up to the two of them and handed the boyfriend an envelope. Releasing the young man from the hug, he opened it. Eyes wide after realizing his good luck, he screamed and flung arms around the third man. The gloves and neckwarmer had dropped to the ground in the excitement, and the two men both inadvertently stomped on the gifts.

The young man’s devastation had tugged on Damien’s heart strings. He alone looked dejected among the crowd of friends and well-wishers. When it looked as though the boyfriend had forgotten about him, the young man hunched his shoulders and stuffed hands in his pockets as he stalked out. Damien both thanked fortune for providing the opportunity and the boyfriend for his stupidity. As he followed the young man out, he thought of ways to catch his attention. He watched him skulk around in front of the bar before he took the plunge.

When he struck up a conversation with him and invited him to a meal, he was torn between two minds. Oscar, as he introduced himself, was as sweet and caring as he had seemed upon first meeting. As they conversed more, facing each other in the diner’s booth, Oscar displayed more bite when he cursed his no-good ex with unapologetic candor and sass. Damien could work with sweet and caring; they were easy to manipulate, and ultimately boring and temporary. Oscar was brimming with life and intoxicating positivity, and bold enough to flaunt himself, daring others to take him as he was. Damien wanted every bit for himself, though a nagging voice inside him said he should let Oscar go.

Damien could have ended it at the diner. He should have graciously paid for the meal, maybe give him a fun rebound fuck, and bid him a polite goodbye. Instead, he lingered and ignored that scolding voice. He couldn’t resist the adoring look that Oscar held for him, and when Oscar had revealed his disfiguring scars, he sucker-punched with joy. He believed he had found in Oscar a kindred spirit. He hoped that Oscar would leave his monthly absences alone, but he knew that the outcome was inevitable. What attracted him to Oscar was what would bring the downfall. There was no rational solution. Even so, he hoped.

———————

5th

Oscar was decided that he wasn’t dreaming when he saw faint shadows through the tent, indicating that the sun was rising. He couldn’t help but notice that Damien had not returned at all. He started at the sound of more rustling, a distinct sound of something stepping towards the tent.

“Oscar!” Damien called from the outside. Oscar froze. For a good minute he was unable to process what was happening. He heard the zipper opening and the tent flaps being rolled up to let the light in. Agape, Oscar turned to look at Damien, who looked as though he had just come from a refreshing jaunt in the woods. Damien held a hand out to him, who reluctantly took it.

“Baby, it’s okay. It’s okay,” he repeated, helping Oscar out of the tent. “It’s okay now. You’re safe.”

For a few seconds, Oscar stared blankly at him. Then, everything that had welled up in him from the day and night before had exploded.

He shoved Damien away with all his might, which made him stumble a few feet backwards. “What the fuck do you mean ‘it’s okay?'” He shoved him again, not caring about Damien’s pained expression. “Where the fuck have you been? What have you been doing? I saw the car, Damien. I saw it parked yesterday, didn’t see you anywhere! Did you even take the car? Do you know what I’ve been through?” He started crying, not trying to hide it per usual. “There’s this thing out there, like an alien or a mutant, or – I don’t know what is! It could come back any minute. I’ve been up all night, scared shitless, and we need to get the fuck out of here. But what have you been doing this whole time?”

He grabbed Damien by his shirt to look into his guilty face. “You just left me here, you bastard. What were you doing? Was this some elaborate plan to get rid of me? Did you know this thing was out here?” He released Damien, who had nothing to say. “Fuck it, I’m leaving.”

He stormed to find this belongings and stuff it in his bag. He wiped his tears, and looked at Damien again, and paused. His tears had blurred his vision before, but now he actually got a good look at him.

“Why is your face so red?” He sniffled. “Your whole body is red.” Damien’s face and body were deeply flushed, as if his blood were trying to escape through his pores.

Hands at his sides, Damien stared at the ground with an air of of misery, waiting for Oscar to deduce.

Oscar stood up, recalling Damien’s words. “You said I was safe. How did you know? Were you watching me this whole time?”

Damien continued to avert his gaze. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I never wanted this, but you wouldn’t let it go. I’m sorry.”

Oscar walked up to him. “Your hair is shorter.” Eyebrows furrowed, he hovered a hand over Damien’s head. Their eyes met for a brief second, but Damien’s glance darted back down. Oscar ducked down slightly to get a full look at his eyes. Heart pounding, he saw them emit a familiar glow, like dying embers in a fire. In an instant, he flew backward, but Damien grabbed his wrist. Both in high emotional distress, they spoke over each other.

“Let go, Damien! Let go of me!”

“Oscar, wait, just wait a second.”

“Fuck, you’re scaring me!” He wrenched his wrist just as Damien let go. He stumbled back and they stared at each other. Oscar was clearly scared and confused, but was surprised to find Damien as fearful and upset.

“You’re trembling,” Damien said mournfully. He was hunched, arms crossed into himself, a far cry from his usual laid back personality.

“Damien, just tell me what the fuck is going on!” Oscar pleaded, arms thrown open.

Damien paused in thought. Wryly he replied, “You wanted to know what I do every month. You insisted on coming with me.”

“Because I thought you were cheating, okay?” Oscar’s voice was going hoarse. “If my piece of shit ex was, then maybe it wasn’t so crazy that you were too.” He crossed his arms, embarrassed for having to admit that.. “You were too good to be true.” He didn’t want to say that he regretted following Damien. He wouldn’t have done anything differently, but he wasn’t sure about the result. He hadn’t expected anything like this.

Damien stepped toward Oscar out of habit to comfort him, but he stepped back, still scared. Hurt by his reaction, he asserted, “I would never do that to you. I don’t ever want to hurt you like that.” He wrung his hands, almost prayerfully. “But I’m so scared that I’m going to lose you right now.”

“You’re scared?” Oscar huffed. He was furious that Damien didn’t seem to understand the anguish and terror he experienced.

Damien was quick to reply, “Because up until now, everything has been like a dream. I’m so happy when I’m with you, that I wanted to preserve it as long as I could. I could pretend that I wasn’t…” He trailed off, as if unable to continue.

Damien’s reaction made the gears in Oscar’s head turn, until it clicked. “You can’t control it, can you?” he asked.

Damien shook his head. “I try, but I can’t.”

Oscar took a hesitant step forward. “Then how do I know I’m not in danger ?”

“I’ve gone a long time without hurting anyone. Not that that’s really a guarantee,” he added. He looked at Oscar, expectantly, and Oscar felt all of the fatigue from the last twenty-four hours weigh on him.

“I’m going to pass out,” he announced. He walked passed Damien toward the tent. Before he ducked down, he turned to command, “You are not coming anywhere near this tent.”

Without waiting for an answer, he zipped the door closed and collapsed into the blankets. He was in that state where he was so tired that he couldn’t fall asleep, so he lay quietly with his eyes closed and listened for Damien’s actions. He heard him rummage for things and do general work around the campsite, as if he hadn’t been missing for twenty-four hours and his secret hadn’t been discovered. Oscar was uneasy and still scared, but It was a small comfort that Oscar finally had a grasp of the situation. The word ‘werewolf’ kept emerging in his thoughts, but Oscar hadn’t seen a dark, but majestic animalistic beast romping through the woods. He opened his eyes, uncomfortable with the darkness, when he recalled the wet muscles, stripped of flesh, and the unsettling popping and cracking when the creature had disjointedly lifted his head. To associate that horror show with Damien was difficult, but the signs were there. He both trusted Damien not to kill him, and felt crazy for leaving himself vulnerable to someone whom he didn’t really know. In any case, he was terribly exhausted, so sleep soon took him.

He dreamed of black-furred bi-pedal animals dancing around a ghostly bonfire. Each was stripping their furs off, which revealed white-hot bright beings. They regrew their skins, but their bodies bent into new shapes. This happened repeatedly, and Oscar – who in this dream was spying on them and invisible – noticed their forms growing hunched, until they were werewolves, howling and screaming and bleeding from their eyes and mouths. They inexplicably found him and closed in on him. In terror he ran until he sat up, wide awake. Twilight was beginning to settle in the sky, but he could still see the shadow of Damien pause in front of the tent.

Forgetting for a brief second that he was scared of him, he called out, “Damien?”

“Yeah?”

Oscar slowly zipped open the tent flaps, and lifted them with the backs of his hands. He peered out to see Damien crouching over the fire and folding something into tinfoil. He placed it gingerly in the fire. Oscar’s stomach rumbled loudly, reminding him that he had only had a cold can of soup all of today and yesterday. Damien turned his gaze to Oscar, who noticed that all the irregularities had faded and he looked like his normal, handsome self, albeit distraught.

Oscar nodded toward the firepit.”What’s in that?”

“Just vegetables.”

Oscar took a moment to change his clothes, since by now they were filthy. He slipped into his usual long sleeve shirt and switched into a clean pair of gloves. He had become more comfortable exposing his scars to Damien, but now he felt the need to cover up. Zipping up his pants, he stepped out of the tent, careful to walk around Damien. He settled in the foldable chair nearby, and looked at Damien, who scrambled up to join him in the chair across. Both stared at the foil-wrapped vegetables broiling in the healthy fire. Oscar flinched when the fire cracked, and he couldn’t hold back anymore.

“So, are you a werewolf?” His gaze hadn’t left the fire, as if in a trance. He hated that he had to ask such a surreal question.

Unsurprised by the question, he answered frankly, “I don’t think so.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I don’t know. What is a werewolf to you?”

Oscar frowned at that answer, but entertained the question. “They turn into wolves at the full moon. Silver bullets are supposed to kill them. They are violent. Which of those applies to you?”

“The full moon part is right, actually.”

“But you were gone all day too.”

“Just because you don’t see the moon doesn’t mean it’s not full. It was full at precisely 9:34 AM yesterday.”

“What about the silver bullet?”

“Ahh…” Damien paused. “I don’t know.”

Oscar grumbled, “We can try it someday.”

“So there is a ‘someday’ for us,” Damien said, trying to start banter, which Oscar refused to return. Not once had he moved his gaze from the firelight. From the corner of his eye, he could see Damien squirm and stare at him.

“Are there others like you?” Oscar recalled that werewolves could turn others with a bite or scratch.

“I’ve never met anyone like me.” Damien sighed. “If there are, they’re probably hiding.” He crossed his arms. “Which would be smart.”

The more Damien spoke about his condition, the more Oscar understood the implications. Though he noticed they still danced around one issue. After a long pause, he asked, “Have you ever killed?” He spoke lowly, but with a severity that struck Damien square in the heart.

Damien rubbed his face, and exhaled hard. “Yes,” he spat out like a dirty word. “I have.” His voice broke as he continued softly, “Please don’t make me talk about it.”

At his tone, Oscar looked up. Damien looked as anguished as he sounded. His eyebrows were furrowed and his lips were thin from closing them so tightly. His hands were clenched into tight fists, and he trembled all over. Here was a person who looked as though his life was crumbling, and Oscar felt pity. He rose from the chair and situated himself on the spread-out blanket.

“Come here.” He pointed to the spot in front of him.

Obediently he rose and knelt on the ground in front of him. He still held that sorrowful, but expectant look. Meanwhile, Oscar’s heart was pounding in this throat, and he swallowed it back down. They regarded each other, as Oscar took slow, deep breaths. Oscar suddenly swung out a hand and stopped millimeters from Damien’s cheek, which flinched. They traded glances for a second, then Oscar pulled his hand back again to complete an earth-shattering slap. Damien took it square in the face, and faced Oscar, who shrank back slightly in fear of repercussion. Before this moment, neither had ever raised a hand against the other. Oscar noted that Damien hadn’t made a noise, but stared at him with the same despondent expression. It was a terrible look on him.

With great hesitation, Oscar reached out to touch his cheek. When his gloved palm touched his skin, Damien leaned into it. Oscar’s hands pinched his cheek, stretched his face, then released the mound of flesh. It settled back into place immediately, like regular human skin.

“Can you take your gloves off?” Damien quietly requested.

Oscar obliged, feeling a little more confident. This time, he grabbed Damien’s face with both hands. He continued to pinch and knead his face, and to his annoyance, Damen was leaning into him, obviously loving the contact, regardless of the pain it caused. Oscar kept looking for errant signs, as if his prodding would peel back a monster underneath. Oscar leaned forward to run his palms down Damien’s arms and chest. All the bones and muscles seemed as it should be. Even as Damien couldn’t resist cupping Oscar’s face in turn, Oscar held a suspicious gaze and then sighed.

“I really messed up the good thing we had going, didn’t I? Like how curiosity killed the cat.”

“No,” he replied. “No, I did. That was a stupid lie”

“Yeah, I didn’t say you didn’t mess up,” he quipped, but his expression softened. “But then again, I would never have believed you otherwise.”

Damien placed a kiss in the palm of Oscar’s hand. Oscar had always hated the image of such a handsome man caressing such grotesque hands, but he began to understand.

“Damien, honestly, I’m scared,” he said, almost a whisper. “What are we supposed to do now?”

He mulled over Oscar’s use of ‘we.’ Emboldened, he took Oscar’s bare hands in his. “Oscar, I’m scared too. I’ve been terrified this whole weekend that something could happen to you. I’ve tried to take every precaution, even gave you that bear mace, just in case. I took extra sleeping pills so that when I turned, I’d be completely passed out. I thought about buying a gun, but I was afraid you’d get too suspicious. I knew that it was a stupid lie, but I’ve been so happy being with you, that I didn’t want to think about lying until I had no choice. Finally, I pissed around the camp, thinking it would help.”

Oscar promptly snorted, and the mood slowly lightened.

“Oscar, you make me so happy. It kills me that I’d could be a threat to you, and I’d do whatever it takes to make sure that doesn’t happen. Even if it means trying out those silver bullets.”

Oscar was growing embarrassed by Damien’s profession, and bowed his head forward. Damien touched his forehead to his.

“When I’m with you, I feel normal. I feel human.” His voice trembled. “I’m so sorry that I did this to you. You don’t deserve any of this.” Oscar heard a ragged sigh and felt a hand tilt his chin up. “No matter what happens, know that I love you.”

Oscar’s eyes glistened, and he bit his lips, trying to hold back his emotions. He shoved Damien half-heartedly and wiped an eye. “What, no ring?” He managed to joke.

“Do you want one?” he asked seriously.

“Where’s that gun?” Oscar asked, pretending to look around..

Damien wiped the tears from Oscar’s eyes. “If you want one, I’ll give you one.”

Oscar closed his eyes, and leaned his forehead on Damien’s shoulder.”Just tell me you love me again.”

“I love you,” he obliged and kissed the palms of his hands.

Oscar silently laughed. “I knew you were too good to be true.”

Damien agreed. “Between the two of us, I’m the lucky one.”

Oscar paused for a thought, and lifted his head to meet Damien’s eyes. “Let’s try to start over. No secrets this time.”

“No problem.” Damien held out a hand to shake. “Hello, I’m Damien. I admit that I turn into a monster at the full moon, but I’ve heard that I’m pretty good guy otherwise.”

Oscar took his hand with a broad smile. “Hi, I’m Oscar. I’m spunky and will find out your secrets, no matter how hard you try to hide it, but I’m pretty good at taking it up the ass.”

Damien coughed out a laugh, and asked, “Would you like to join me for dinner?”

“Sounds good.”

They continued in such fashion during their meal, asking questions they pretended not to know the answer to. As they stood up to retire to the tent, Damien half-jokingly asked Oscar if he would go out with him

“Maybe,” he responded honestly.

A little hurt, Damien nodded and went inside. Oscar knew he was being cryptic, but he still needed time to process. Oscar remembered feeling flattered when Damien was interested in him, and even now he relished his confession. But he was humbled to know that Damien loved him because of who he was. It was an innate human desire to find that kind of connection, and Damien offered it to him in spades. At the same time, he knew that – regardless of how much guilt he expressed about the situation – Damien was looking for the same from him.

Before he followed Damien, Oscar gazed at the moon above. He heard whisper through the leaves of the trees, and he instinctively looked at the tent. He could make out Damien’s vague shadow. He peeked into see Damien laying in bed, covers tucked under his arms like a child ready for bed. He crawled next to him, laid on his stomach. Damien’s eyes were already closed.

“Damien?” he spoke softly, but he was already fast asleep. Oscar watched him doze, and though he was brimming with endless questions, he let him have peace. He examined his face again, still handsome.

His finger stroked a cheekbone, and Damien smiled faintly in his sleep. A deep feeling of affection bubbled in his chest, and his heart ached for Damien’s suffering. Despite their silly play earlier, Oscar knew in his heart that it would take some time before he could be comfortable with the idea that Damien was likely not human. He envisioned raising this concern with Damien, and knew that Damien would be happy to wait forever for him. What was most important was that Oscar had chosen to try. He laid his head against Damien’s shoulder and sighed. “We’ll get through this,” he whispered aloud, to Damien and himself. “We’ll be okay.”

 

Read this piece’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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