Life’s Journey #1-5: The Crumb Trail…..

Matt sat in a daze; the sound of the tractor trailer wheels and whistle of the air had lulled him into a very relaxed, meditative mood. As the miles and hours passed memories seemed to wash over him. He thought of his parents, children, friends, and his husband. He remembered his military career and both the good and bad that came along with it. Finally, he settled into a self-loathing pit of doubt and worry, but he knew he had to shake himself out of it and get back on track. He had to stay focused, sharp, and prepared.

In life, whether it be destiny or fate, everyone is working toward their eventually end; all parents hope to prepare their children for whatever may come in the future, hoping to equip them with some skill or talent that will help them achieve a higher step in the staircase of their lives. Matt had often thought of and thanked his parents for the skills they had gifted him in the past, whether it was learning the importance of meditation from his mother or sparring with his father. His thoughts drifted to the long hours spent training on Saturdays, followed by their father son trips to the local pub where he would play ‘fight’ with his father’s friends. These friends often included foreign ex-patriots who hung around after WWII to marry local girls and start their own families; they formed Matt’s extended family and he mourned each of their deaths. The lessons they had taught him stuck with him throughout his many years and saved both his and many other’s lives on more than a few occasions. They had earned him many accolades throughout his military career, however, now that career was over, and it was merely another grain of sand in the hourglass of time.

 He slowly delved deeper into the pit of his mind, dragging him back with frightening clarity to his last injury. It was the injury that finally placed him in the Unable to Deploy category and forced his exit from active duty much faster than he had planned; there was no need for a soldier on active duty who couldn’t keep up with his squad. His inability to keep up and his removal still caused a lump to form in his throat; it had been debilitating, internal, and hard to describe to his fellow soldiers; the hardest injuries are on the inside under the skin, beneath bone, sweat, and pride. These are the worst to recover from. He tried to dig himself from the pit he had begun to wallow in and focus on positive thoughts but, even though his send off at his retirement had been nice enough it still left a gaping hole in his life. He always knew he wouldn’t be able to stay in the service forever but he loved what he did and the difference he made. He had protected people, he saw to their needs helping them through whatever their struggles were. It had been motivation enough to power him through multiple severe injuries including twelve titanium screws, several plates in numerous major bones, more stitches than he could count and enough sprains that it had become a running joke between co-workers, friends and family.

From outside the squeal of brakes snapped him out of his reverie and back to the present. His ride had finally stopped at the Petro Canada truck stop in Chase. After the rig found a parking space the driver let him out of the trailer, wishing him well. He had been riding in the empty cattle car since the truck’s cab was full of the driver’s family; they were planning on continuing their vacation after dropping of their load of cows with Chase being their final destination. In a short stroke of luck in Matt’s favor the driver was also a retired military veteran who had recognized the sage colored fleece he has been wearing, along with the tattered, dirty chevron still affixed to it. It turned out that they had both been deployed to the same locations, albeit at different times. They shared stories over coffee at the truck stop café, shedding tears for their lost brothers and sisters. They also talked of the beauty of the people they had met and the places they visited. It was as if Matt had been reconnected with the family he had formed with his fellow servicemen, and he realized that without that family he was having a hard time finding his way in the world. The search he was on, in his mind, was his last shot at happiness.

He stood slowly, his body cracking and snapping from sitting so long, and stepped out in the cold air. It cut through him to his bones, causing deep aches wherever the pins that held him together were. It reminded him of every fall, bruise, break, and sprain he had ever had. After grabbing his pack and slinging it over his shoulders he made his way across the street toward the service station office. The area around the station was pretty, fairly typical of what he had seen in the other Canadian towns he had visited; the grass was well trimmed and lush green and the people were friendly.

 “Hi, I’m looking for maps of the area and lands to the north of here,” Matt asked the very burly, hairy attendant.

“Over there under the coffee counter,” remarked the attendant, not even looking up from his texting as he pointed.  Inside being dismissed like that angered Matt.  He stuffed it down and just let it slide.  Getting upset was a waste of energy and unneeded in this situation.

“Thanks!” Matt smiled and walked over thinking that the politeness that the attendant gave him was mixed with some guile and repulsion.  Its easy to forget how ragged you look when you haven’t shaved in weeks and showered even less.  A little chuckle escaped Matts lips as he walked over.

 After looking over several of them, he chose a forestry map that showed logging roads and trails.  This would be very helpful.  He also picked up a small tube of toothpaste and a bottle of hand sanitizer while he was there.  “Hey, is there a local job board in this area and a shelter I could crash in for the night?” he asked the clerk, locking he gaze, determined to not be the first to break the eye contact.  That was a sign of weakness and this was not Matts way.

 Looking up at him, the clerk smirked, “Up the street six blocks, take a left.  The job board is part of the shelter.”  “Thanks, hey one more thing … have there been any bear sightings recently or within the past year?” Matt locked eyes with the clerk, determined to win. “Bears, you say?  No … no, I’ve lived here for a long time; we haven’t seen any bears in this area for some time. Why do you ask?”  “Oh, I’m searching for a location mentioned in several stories I read.  I guess I’m on a fact-finding journey,” Matt said, never breaking eye contact.  They smiled at each other; the clerk wished him well and told him to be safe as he exited the store, looking down at his phone, tapping keys loudly.   After exiting the store and walking a few hundred feet, Matt turned and looked back at the clerk.  The guy was husky, to say the least, looked to be in his late 40’s maybe early 50’s, and wore a red button down shirt with black suspenders. He was handsome and reminded him of Luke.

As Matt walked he thought back to the argument with Luke a few months before.  It was bad, the worst they had ever had.  Luke was upset with Matt’s obsessions over finding locations and people mentioned in the stories.  Luke dismissed the stories as online-fiction and passed the whole thing off as coincidence.  He thought Matt’s focus needed to be on their business, not this silly search. Finding these locations and people had led Matt to call in favors and shrug off his household responsibilities.  He would spend hours online looking over the data and cross-referencing every fact he could.  It would have been easy with the tools and resources he had before he retired, but being a civilian had its drawbacks.

 Matt gathered land sale data from open records searches across the United States and Canada.  He even cross-referenced animal sightings in relation to the mentioned locations, using them to determine bear movements.  He poured over aerial photographs and forestry survey charts.  Matt contacted a friend that worked at the CDC in Washington to gather death statistics for missing persons.  Matt went further; contacting park rangers and animal control officers to inquire about bear sightings and unexplained deaths.

Matt did as he was trained to do; he extrapolated the data into core facts, adjusted for human error and displayed the data out into a visual model format.  Even after seeing all the evidence and validated data that Matt gathered, Luke would not even consider believing him.  He had begged Luke to come with him during their seasonal work break to visit the locations to see if it was fictitious or if Matt had really followed a trail and found something.  Luke had harshly refused.

 A passing police car snapped Matt into the most painful of the memories from the last few months.  He remembered Luke telling him to leave, saying he was going to take his daughter, Susan, and raise her since her father was a nut case.  Luke told Matt that he had lost his mind and that the military should have committed him two years ago, and then told him to leave.  Luke had exploded, shoving Matt into a wall.  A momentary flash of anger had crossed Matt’s face.  Luke yelled again, told him that it was only a matter of time until he cracked.  Matt, as a defensive mechanism, shut off his emotions, became stoic and gave in.  Luke was everything to Matt.  Luke was the reason he survived his last tour.  That night, Matt left.  He took his laptop, bug-out bag, passport, all the cash he had and walked out.  Matt knew he would return eventually, vindicated or dead, but either way he was going to find the truth and see where the crumb-trail ended.

 Matt arrived at the shelter and checked in.  The attendant was nice, and Matt had another light conversation about why he was in the area.  After he grabbed a bite of hot food he was shown to his cot where he slept fully clothed, with his pack strapped to his chest.  It was peaceful, but still he felt vulnerable in this space.  It reminded him of so many transient deployment-holding areas.  Lines of cots, no security, and people piled on top of one another.

 When Matt slept, the dreams came.  The dreams had been more and more intense since Matt left home.  Matt had rationalized it was the separation and intense focus on survival and discovery.  Although it had been a horrible experience, it was a liberating one as well.  He was becoming self-confident again.  Matt was gaining back his physical prowess, and it felt good.  His mind and senses had sharpened, and he actually felt his body being re-tuned.  In the dreams, bears of all shapes, sizes, and colors would walk past him, look over at him and then continue walking. They were always walking away from him, leaving him behind.  As the bears passed, he heard the jingle of bells.  The bells would become louder and louder until Matt woke up.

 The morning came, and Matt woke rested, but somehow deeply restless.  Something was tugging on Matt to go faster, to go search, to be anywhere but where he was. After thanking the shelter supervisor, he left to find an ATM.  On the walk over to the local bank, he was struck with the feeling he was being watched or followed.  Matt pushed that thought away, looked behind him a few times and kept walking.  Finding the ATM he withdrew his last $20.  It would be that way until his pension hit the bank.  He would have to buy staples, and stretch the funds as far as he could.  It would seem that trapping, catching, or scavenging the remainder of his food would have to suffice.  It was going to be a long nineteen days.  Taking out the local town map, he oriented himself and started to make his way out of town.

 Along the way, he stopped at several diners and service stations, asking if anyone had seen the pond he was looking for; or if any Bears had been seen in the area.  At the edge of town he spied a coffee shop nestled beside a service station, almost unnoticed except for the sign, which was a tree of life with two Bears walking under it. Curious!  Entering, the waiter looked up and motioned for the small man to sit at the end of the counter.  Walking up, the waiter looked directly into Matt’s eyes and asked if he needed to eat.  Matt nodded but said nothing.  The waiter brought back a large bowl of cereal, whole milk, fruit and coffee.  The waiter asked a few more questions about Matt and why he was in such a remote part of Canada. The waiter’s voice was soothing him, calming him, putting him at ease; the scent in the shop was inviting and somehow nearly intoxicating.  Through the conversation, the waiter was pulling much more information out of him that he would have usually given up.

At the end of the conversation the waiter grabbed Matt’s hand tightly locking eyes with him, “Whatever you are looking for, I hope you find it.” Matt nodded smiling but kept his silence.  Matt noticed that the waiter was actually the owner and was an average height, hairy guy.  His beard was closely trimmed, and his hands had just as much hair as his chest and face.  Something about the man put Matt at ease.  Matt’s crotch twitched, and he had to reposition himself, blushing as he did so.  In the months since Matt left Luke, he had not had a single orgasm.  He only had eyes for Luke, but something about this man piqued his interest. Before his mind distracted him further, he finished his food and quickly got up to leave. Grabbing a pen from the counter, he wrote “Thank You!” on a napkin, laid $10 under it and left.

Outside the air was cool and crisp; which brought Matt back into focus.  While making his way out of the town and toward the mountains, Matt passed a grocery store where he noticed that he was being watched by a local police officer.

“Hello Sir, do you have a few minutes to talk?” Matt asked, bending forward so he could look into the window of the cruiser, deciding to make the first move before the officer could question him.

“Yes, let me get out so I can talk to you,” replied the officer. Matt noticed two things; the man was just as hairy as the men he had met in the diner and service station, and just as attractive.  He was at least six feet tall, broad shouldered, and had a belly but he carried it well.  “So what can I do for you?”

“Um … I’m looking for a pond, stream fed and clear, with a sand beach around its perimeter … it might be on someone’s property.  Also, I’m curious if there have been any Bear sightings over the past year or so?”

 The officer looked Matt in the eyes silently, before answering his question.  “I don’t recall any location fitting that description, but I’m not an outdoors kind-of guy, so I wouldn’t be the best to ask.  Bears … well, we haven’t seen any close to town in a long time,” said the officer.  He was about to speak again when his radio chirped to life.  The officer hastily excused himself, climbed into his patrol car, and sped away.

As he left, Matt watched the car intensely.  He was struck that the answers he had gathered through the day were similar and expected.  What bugged him was that of the three places he visited the answer’s seemed to match almost exactly, like they were rehearsed and part of a cover story.  A car honked, and Matt realized he was standing in a daze, in the way of parking lot traffic.  Blushing, he excused himself and walked into the store.  His last $10 would not go far; hopefully it would be enough for some dried meat and beans.

The Ascent

  Matt cautiously left town, after the morning’s activities his nerves were on fire and he found himself suspicious of every shadow. He found his way to a deserted rest area with only a few empty cars parked along the road.. He took a few minutes to reset his gear, checking both his maps and laptop. Matt lived by one very simple rule, always check twice. Rustling through the maps and scrutinizing his years of collected image data caused memories to resurface of his hunt for information. A conversation with an old friend, and brought a smile to his face and a pain in his heart.

  “Jason Mathews please,” Matt waited on hold nervously tapping his notepad with a pencil. He was calling on an unsecured line and he knew that every one of these calls was logged; someone would have a record of this for sure. As innocuous as this was it made Matt wish he was still in the military. 

“This is Jason,” a familiar voice came on the line. Matt caught the telltale clicks of the recording device clicking on. 

 “Hey Kangaroo-Cowboy, what’s shaking?” he quipped not wanting to use names or anything that would send any analyst a red flag. He waited patiently to see how this was going to unfold. A debt was owed to Matt by jason, but even after the war ended many just went their separate ways. The things that were done, the missions that were accomplished, just  too distasteful for most of the veterans involved. 

 “Matt, you f-ing asshole, you still owe me big for the last time you called!” Jason laughed heartily, “That’s it, I’m tracing the call and I’m going to collect the cash myself!” Matt noticed the clicking of the recorder had ceased..

 “The same place as last time, Jackass. You can trace the call if you want but you know where I live,” he retorted, a little more at ease now that he wasn’t being recorded. The number would come up but nothing more. He sighed internally his nerves relaxing a bit.

 “I know, I know, just screwing with you. So, to what do I owe the honor of speaking with the infamous Raven Security Specialist? Wait! Don’t tell me; you need something, am I right?” Jason asked, the line crackling with his soft chuckle. Matt cringed as Jason called him out; good thing he wasn’t being recorded. Those words would have definitely set off an internal investigation on Jason’s end and at least a drive by of an agent on Matt’s.

 The Ravens were the dirty ones, long forgotten at the bottom of the barrel. Not on any official radar or budget document and stationed all over the country and world.   They were called in quietly to be back up crew on missions. Totally invisible to the laymen in uniform; all the while they had targets and most often, a fairly wide discretion to get the job done. They were the lowest paid and lowest ranked of any of the special operations forces in the military, and the most expendable.  A throw-away group. Matt had been part of this group for most of his military career.  A ragtag bunch of killers that would never be remembered, always expendable, and always outnumbered. 

“Um, yeah. I need topographical and image data on a few locations. Before you ask, all of them are unclassified. Yes, I can find them on Google and yes I have already searched NOAA and SAT-TRAK,” he kept his voice direct and calm. Matt knew what he was asking for. They spoke in code, asking in a manner that indicated exactly what the intended outcome was.. Matt knew that he would get much more than what he asked for if Jason came through. 

“Well, now that those bases are covered;  MAP data, huh? Tell me the locations. Wait no, just send the locations to my email, I’ll pull what I can find and send it your way when I get into research time this afternoon,” Jason said in a hurry. He caught the message and he would do what he could. Sending them to his personal email meant that Jason would be going off net to get the info and send it. MAP data meant Mission Action Parameter, reserved for information that could could get someone killed. 

“Okay, it’s on its way. I owe you brother, I really do,” Matt spoke with a little tremble in his voice. He knew exactly what he was asking Jason for but he was out of options. The pieces just would not fit with the data that he could gather on his own. He needed a little help. 

 “Not even a little bit, brother. A life saved is a debt owed. Giving you some map data will hardly make up for my debt but it’s a start,” Jason answered, his voice bland, making it obvious to Matt that it was time to go. 

“Thanks brother. Give lots of hugs to Anna and Justin, see yah!” to avoid the question and answer session that was sure to start, Matt hung up the phone sighing loudly. His hands trembled from the anticipation, hopefully Jason would be able to find him what he needed.

 The data Jason collected and sent was invaluable in locating the landmarks mentioned in the stories. It contained more detail than civilian maps and provided up-to-date geographical information; Jason’s data had been the key and the stroke of luck that gave Matt the needed connections allowing all the pieces to fall into place. It showed locations that Google had missed as well as revealing smaller details and landmarks that weren’t on the current maps. The stories had intentionally left out key points, but he had spent hours reconstructing and sometimes fabricating them from what he knew. It was finally time for him to get moving.

 After surveying the maps and calculating the walk time he concluded it was going to be at least a two day hike. Not wanting to waste any more time on nostalgia he repacked his gear, rigging both the pack and gear for an aggressive ascent. He hung his solar charger out the top and filled both the back bladder and his extra water bottles. The charger would ensure life for both his laptop and flashlight, while the water would be needed the higher he climbed if he was unable to locate any water along the way.

 He cast one final glance up at the mountain, “Here I come. Whatever you are, whoever you are … here I come.” He felt himself slide into mission mode; a quiet focus that he developed as more of a defense than an offense. It helped him block out the pain in his legs and hips, while letting his focus on direction and safety remain sharp.   

The ascent was surprisingly pleasant he found that there were several foot trails which helped him make much better time than he had previously thought he would. The trails were wide with hand holds on the steep parts and gravel paths wash outs on just about every stream head. Several of the people he met were kind, curious folk surprised by his interest in such an obscure location. He had turned on his charm and let the excitement he was feeling come through. He asked them a few questions in these conversations, mostly about the people they had seen in the area, but he had no luck matching any of the other bits of information from the stories. In the back of Matt’s head, a little doubt had started to creep in; this was the only shot he had and it was time for him to make it count.

 As the day rolled by at a very nice pace Matt let himself enjoy the mountain and the beauty it held. The first night in the woods came quickly so He found a suitable location and started striking camp. As he gathered wood and kindling for a fire he could feel the wildlife in the area. He had always been a little bugged by this radar he seemed to have. He could tell when anything living was around him. He thought to himself, ‘I am the intruder it’ll be an interesting evening.’ Along the way his training kicked in and he decided to tie a few sound signals, Jingle-Lines. He placed them in a rough circle around him about fifteen meters away. If anything large approached he would at least be able hear it coming before it ate him. He chuckled audibly and talked to himself as he went about his task, another of the little nervous habits that Matt was prone to. Talking to himself when alone helped his focus his actions, calm his mind, and relax his internal fight or flight response. 

 Matt wasn’t carrying any weapons but he did however have his utility hunting knife, field saw, multi-tool, and spade. They were the extent of his available defensive capabilities. His father had always taught him to think outside of the box and that everything could be used for defense if it was used correctly. Dad was fond of bringing home boxes of miscellaneous items and giving him the task of building or creating objects from the contents of those boxes, something he missed greatly.

 The night passed in three-hour blocks, Matt would wake to put more wood on the fire and then fall back to sleep again. In the late morning he broke camp, and went about the task of collecting his Jingle-Lines. While inspecting and removing them, he noticed several animal tracks outside of the lines but none inside the perimeter. He thought it was odd, but it wasn’t unheard of for local wildlife to find something new and avoid it. He assumed that his scent had warded them off, he hadn’t showered at the shelter and was sure he smelled like road kill.

 After re-packing his gear he continued his ascent. Along the way he picked berries and nuts to soothe his hunger; the meal at the coffee shop had long worn off and his tummy had stopped growling and had instead started to bite. Along the way he found some wild cabbage and a potato in a abandoned garden; he ate the potato as he walked but saved the cabbage to add to a future meal. He still had some food and materials put away but those were all he had left and he didn’t have any money left to buy more. ‘Heck, it’s not like like there is any way to buy more up on the mountain.’ Matt did notice the air was becoming much thinner than he was used to as he ascended. He was quickly winded and had to stop quite often to catch his breath. 

Along the way, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched or followed. It wasn’t an uncommon feeling and is actually considered normal when isolated or alone; at least that’s what his field survival instructor had kept saying. He did, however, take out his monocular and scan the area each time he stopped, just to be sure. At one stop he thought he saw movement across a gully but could not make it out with the trees and ground foliage blocking his sight. He found tracks along the way as well but he was no good at identifying them. Some things Matt could recall from memory with ease but for some reason animal tracks had always eluded him. A few looked as though they could have been dogs and larger animals, he thought a couple of the larger prints may have been Bear but he wasn’t sure. Still he snapped a few pictures for later and made a note on the pad he always kept handy. Matt wrote just about everything down,. He had developed a code, a shorthand of sorts to mask the scribbles.    

 Cresting the summit of the first mountain his lungs were on fire. He could no longer ascend more than a hundred meters without having to stop and rest. He was sure that a normal healthy person would not find this hard at all but his lungs were damaged during his last mission and sometimes simple tasks were a major effort for him. Looking back he could see why people fell in love with this area, the majesty of the ancient towering trees, the breathtaking mountains, sighing wind, and a gentle peace that beckoned to your soul. It was magical. Looking at his watch he noticed it was only half past two in the afternoon. He checked his map, his current location was about three-fourths of the way to his goal so he decided it would be good to find a base camp to fall back to incase of an emergency. He walked a bit further and found a slight clearing surrounded by trees to the north and south but cleared to the east and to west. He thought it curious but was not going to let this bit of luck go. He dropped his pack and went about making camp preparations. 

 Tonight a shelter and with a proper fire pit could be built. Sometimes the extra effort makes all the difference in comfort. Finding what he needed was pretty easy. He stripped branches for the supports and ribs of the shelter and tied them with stripped bark and vines. He used branches that had fallen and the leafy ground clutter for the back and sides. They would provide good insulation. The fire pit was next. He dug a shallow pit and connected a longer narrow hole to the bottom of it. It would allow air to enter at the base of the fire which meant it would burn both cleaner and hotter. This way he could have the pit closer to the shelter. It was pushing six in the afternoon when he stopped to survey his work. The shelter was made, an ample supply of firewood had been gathered and separated, and water was drawn from a little brook. Matt decided it would be a good night to cook his food.  He took out his mess kit, a couple small pots, and measured out his rice and beans. He decided against using the dried beef and instead used the cabbage he found. He would save the meat until he needed it. He started the meal cooking and made a little hot tea. Even if he was roughing it, Matt would still have his tea. 

 While dinner was cooking Matt unrolled his sleeping bag and laid it out on the ground cover he had made. Then he took out a solar sheet and attached it to the underside of the shelter. This would further reflect the heat forward and down onto him as he rested. ‘The Devil is in the details.’ 

Sipping his tea, he was once again struck with the feeling that he was being watched. He shoved the feeling back and surveyed the area again. It was getting dark so he quickly rigged some Jingle-Lines around the camp, hoping they would help calm his worked up nerves. He remembered what his instructor told him many years ago, “Fear is your friend and your enemy. You must learn when to hug him or slap the living shit out of him. When you do, do it quick.” So there he sat behind the fire with his back to the shelter it was very warm and helped him feel more secure. He pulled out his laptop and started to catalog the day, taking note of the tracks he spotted and what had happened the previous night. Since leaving home Matt had made it a point to journal his thoughts, feelings, and the happenings and details of his journey. As he worked, a subtle scent wafted in. The scent of pine mixed with leathery musk floated on the air. As pleasant as it was, the hair on the back of his neck still stood up. But then, as suddenly as it had come, it was gone. He tapped a few more lines and studied the maps again, he made several location marks to gauge his pace confirming he was still going in the right direction. Tomorrow he would visit the place that had drawn him here, the place that had caused such a terrible split in his relationship, the place that turned his life upside down, chewed it up, and spit it out again. 

After making a few more marks on his map he looked up and surveyed the ascent ahead of him. He hadn’t packed any hiking poles so he would have to find something that could work in their place. Matt searched just outside the Jingle-Lines and found a fairly straight, thick branch. He broke it free of a downed tree and took it back to camp. He stripped the bark from it and used the cable saw to smooth out its surface. He dug around in his pack until he found some parachute cord; the cord would do nicely for end wrapping. He notched the ends and used the fire to heat and treat the wood. When complete, the staff would be harder on the ends and flexible toward the center; making it a good walking staff as well as a defensive tool if needed.  When he was done with the staff, he powered down his laptop and stowed it securely back in his pack. He snapped a few pictures of the awesome sunset, then stowed the digital camera as well.

While he was eating his dinner the feeling of being watched passed. He thought it must have just been a sugar imbalance in conjunction with the thinner air. The warm food, full belly, hot tea, and fire were just what Matt needed. He had washed up in the brook after dinner and left his clothes to dry by the fire while he sat, almost nude, relaxing as a cool breeze blew over him. With the warm glow from the fire radiating down from the solar sheet, Matt quickly drifted off into a light sleep. 

In his very relaxed sleep state the dreams came again, this time the Bears were walking toward him. A man stood before the Bears; tall, naked and furry, holding a staff. The tall man would raise the staff and hit the ground jingle, again he raised it and let it drop, jingle. Again and again, louder and louder. The dream faded away slowly as he woke to cold feet. The fire had almost died out and the site was dark. In his groggy, sleepy state he threw more wood in the pit, warming his toes as the fire began to come back to life. As the fire grew and the area was easier to see he could tell that the ground had been disturbed around the site. None of his gear had moved but beside where he had been sleeping were smudged prints. ‘I could have made those when I was walking around. I did have my boots off and the majority of my clothes were drying by the fire.’ Still, it was curious. As the fire grew and warmed him again he snuggled into his sleeping bag and drifted back to sleep.

The morning came without incident. Matt had slept peacefully throughout the night getting the best night’s sleep since he had left home. He thought he must have been exhausted to have slept so long, but he wasn’t going to complain about his newfound energy. He left the fire burning and packed up his gear. If he didn’t return the pit would let the fire burn itself out without a problem and the next traveler would have a great head start on a pleasant campsite. He checked the map orienting himself again and off he went. He found himself rushing almost as if he was in a hurry to reach his destination. Matt was excited but also deeply scared. If this was all a figment of his imagination then he was crazy and Luke was right. If it was true he couldn’t help but wonder how was it going to turn out. He had no idea so for now he stuffed down the excitement and instead thought of caution first.

 As he made his slow but steady ascent it struck him that he may be trespassing on someone’s property or even into a completely different world than the one he left in the city below. There had been no sign of power lines or roads for the better part of the ascent. Also, it was becoming apparent that what he was searching for might not want to be found, this one fact  scared him more than anything else. Was the crumb trail he had followed a hoax, was it really just fiction? Had his already fractured mind latched onto and connected random details in an attempt to make a coherent picture? Matt was starting a downward spiral that wouldn’t end well.

 “Stop it, the maps and data points don’t lie.  It’s there, you need to find it.”  he spoke aloud, almost shouting at himself as a means of stifling the negative speech. After a short time, he realized that he was about to emerge from the trees and enter a small clearing that preceded a rocky outcrop. He stopped, took out his monocular and surveyed the area. Then a familiar scent wafted around him; the same subtle hint of pine and leather he had smelled before. He did a full turn and then the hair on the back of his neck stood up. Another turn. Nothing. His gut was telling him to get ready, that something was coming and his mind was screaming for him to run. He stood his ground. Whatever was here with him had tracked him and he was going to confront it. He mentally noted that he had not tried to be stealthy or covert, never bothering to hide his trek up the mountain. He thought back to the prints he had found around the Jingle-Lines and inside the camp. He was not alone. He licked his pursed lips and kept turning slow circles, letting his vision vary from near to far taking in the details and looking for differences.

After a few minutes of tense waiting and turning circles the scent vanished taking with it Matt’s feeling of panic. He froze and listened for any hint of a noise. Whatever that feeling was it must have been a warning. His inner guide was telling him to run. Rather than the direct entrance Matt skirted the trees around the pond picking a spot to seat himself and waited. He was on edge and knew he needed to dial it down and calm himself but his left hand continued shaking as if reaching for a weapon that was not there. He silenced himself and analyzed the area around him, took in the smells, the sounds, everything. He tried to memorize and catalog each of them so he could pick out any differences or changes, a survival technique he had learned many years ago.

 Standing, he took out his compass and checked the directions. He took off his pack and reconfigured his gear. He moved the utility knife to his waist pack which he secured on the outside of his coat. His nerves were up and his gut was tight. They told him to be prepared. He also added his trauma kit, quick clot bandages, fire starter, water purification tabs, and signal flare to the waist pack. Everything else was stowed inside. There were no dangling straps, all his gear was quieted and snuggly strapped down. He hefted the pack and proceeded on leaving the shelter of the trees.

He made his way into the clearing keeping the tree line on his left. He walked around the rocky outcrop bringing the pond within his line of sight. Taking out his compass he confirmed the pond was stream fed and lead off to the south. He saw a formation of rock that could have been used as a cooking area. It was real, this place was real! It was real and he was standing in it. Excitement exploded in his mind. He had found it. He had found it! Though, just as quickly as the excitement came, it left. His gut tightened again causing a panic to shoot through him. He looked around and although he didn’t see anything his mind was screaming for him to run. The panic he was sensing clashed strongly with his excitement. He walked gingerly around the pond, absorbing it all and locking in the data points, becoming increasingly excited. If this place was real, what about the Bears? Were they real too?

Slowly he realized that he was standing right in front of a major clue from the stories. He stood staring at the manmade eating area which from a distance would have appeared as just another rock formation. It was the barbeque pit and eating area from the stories. The charcoal had long since been used up but there was evidence of food lying around as well as several beer bottles scattered across the ground. They were old, their labels barely legible and almost completely worn off. The grass had grown long around them, swallowing up the trash, completely untouched by any man or beast. This place has been used before but by whom and where did they go?

 Matt’s mind started to stack all the facts just like he had been trained to do. Several items fit the stories but there were no trails to speak of in or out of this place causing him to question how all this was built without the help of any heavy machinery. The pit was made from a solid piece of rock. As he looked around he noted that the trees were too close to the water for a helicopter to touch down and they were uncut and looked to be between forty and eighty years old. Whoever had packed the tools in would have had to pack them out again but still, there were no cleared trails to speak of. An ATV or 4×4 could have made it in but with the snaggle of brush and trees around the lake even that was pushing it. Looking around he noticed several areas that had been dug up and then filled again; the grass and ground lichen were much shorter in these areas. The pit kind of resembled early native grave sites but it wasn’t uncommon for trash and debris to be buried or burned in remote areas like this. Still it was curious.

 As he made his way around the pond it was obvious to him that this was the place from the stories, but there were parts that didn’t fit. First, there was no house within ten miles; even at his most brisk walk it would have taken several hours or more to reach the nearest homestead, a home was on the image data he had gathered but had not shown on Google. “Thirty minute walk, my ass,” Matt snorted. He took a seat on the pond’s sandy bank so he could take it all in. This place was beautiful with stunning trees and the pond, which was cool and clear. This was a magical place.

As he looked up and watched the passing clouds, the wind changed directions and the scent assaulted him again. This time it was strong, almost overpowering. He jumped to his feet and began turning circles, training his eyes on the surrounding trees ready for a fight. Gathering his nerves he yelled out “OK! Whatever you are, if you want me come and get me! I’m not running anymore!” At the pit of his stomach he knew that something was about to happen. Stillness came over the pond and silence filled the air around him. He could hear his heartbeat echoing in his ears. Everything stopped. The wind, the sounds of nature, even the clouds seemed to have stopped moving. It reminded him of the eerie, tense, few seconds before a firefight broke out. He had felt it many times in his travels, but this was somehow different, primal, this felt … unexplainably real. 

 SNAP! — a sound from the trees behind him. Matt instinctively reacted, whipping his makeshift staff in front of him and lowering himself into a semi crouched low defensive posture. Three Bears came out of the tree line toward him at a rapid pace, not quite running but fast enough to close the distance between him and them. His thoughts faltered, “What the heck? How could they get this close without me hearing them, or … even seeing them for that matter? I’m seriously losing my edge,” He had to think fast – he knew things were going to get ugly quick. ‘The rocks!’  He knew he had to make it to the rocks if he wanted to survive.  He took off at a wide angle toward them, gaining distance away from the Bears; his training was quickly taking over. ‘Increase the distance from the enemy and lessen the chance of a direct hit.’ In his life Matt had relied on his training to save him, now that was going to be tested to his limit. Inside he knew what was happening. He had written and thought through a Bear encounter a million times during his Journey. Now, here it was.

As Matt ran, his mind registered sounds from behind. Barks, growls, and grunts made it to his ears. Another advantage of being brought up by a WWII Vet were the lessons in awareness. His father taught him from a very early age to always gather information on the situation and that often the smallest detail could be the one that save your life. He knew it was communication, and not normal Bear vocalization. He had listened to hours of Ursine sounds, this was different. ‘They’re talking to one another? Freaking hell, Bears that communicate? I’m seriously screwed.’ He ran giving it all he had but he could tell that one Bear or, hell, maybe all of them were closing the distance fast. ‘Plan B? Did I even have a plan B? Or even a plan A for that matter? I’m so screwed!’ He grunted as he ran, his stride stable with his pack. He had done well to rig it for an ascent, another totally automatic response was that Matt configured the pack where he could run with minimal bounce or movement.

Before he got a chance to turn around to confront them, one hit him with a swipe from its paw. It caught his pack and attempted to throw him to the ground onto his left side. The pack’s straps held, but its contents spilled out onto the ground around him. He rolled with the impact, keeping his grip on his staff. Coming out of the roll onto his feet he turned just in time to see the large brown Bear lunge at him. He planted one end of the staff in the ground, and ducked. The staff impacted the Bear, just to the right of its chest on the inside of the its shoulder. To Matt’s surprise the staff held and didn’t break, it was a small token of luck. The Bear’s momentum catapulted it over him and into a tumble. Matt snapped erect and turned to face the other two bears that had begun circling him. ‘Bears aren’t pack-hunters, what’s going on? Okay … stay calm. I got one Bear down, only the smaller white one is between me and the rocks, time for offense.” He charged straight at the white Bear, a battle scream roaring from his throat. He watched as it took a few steps back looking a little puzzled, swung its head left and right, and then returned Matt’s charge. ‘The bear is unsure of what to do, it hesitated.’ A quick glance over his shoulder told him the other darker colored Bear was almost on him, ‘Just a few more meters.’ Matt grunted internally as he readied himself for action. This scene had been written in his mind long ago, and it was happening pretty much as he was expecting, but much faster.  He jumped left, right, and left again, then spun with all the force he could muster bringing the staff around in a close ark, as though swinging a baseball bat, turning his back on the white bear. CRACK! He scored a lucky hit square on the Bears nose shattering the staff. As Matt tumbled backwards to a stop both bears collided, getting tangled together.

His lungs were on fire; the thin air was wreaking havoc on his body. He looked up to see the two Bears getting up while the first Bear starting to charge him again. ‘Damn it! Still not close enough to the rocks to climb, plan C it is,’ he slipped further into survival mode. His mind quickly worked out the angles and the vectors that he could use for his defense or offense. His options were limited … fight or flight? ‘Fight!’

Dumping what was left of his pack Matt took out his knife and signal flare from his waist pouch. “This will only work once. I don’t have a plan D,” he spoke aloud, crouching down and digging in with one foot. He charged at the Bear with the loudest scream he could manage. He fired the flare at it when they were within meters of each other. As it turned its head up and away to avoid the flare, he plunged his knife upwards into its neck as hard as he could. His five-inch utility blade wouldn’t do much damage to its thick fur and hide but he only needed to slow the big Bear down. As he tumbled away and came up, so did it. Matt caught a heavy paw across his left shoulder. It threw him a few meters to the ground and shredded the sleeve of his jacket. 

The impact knocked him closer to the rock. ‘Almost there,’ Matt scrambled to his feet.  Wobbling, he made a dash for them. As he ran his vision began to blur and tunnel. The sound sounds of the Bears became distant as the only sound that filled his ears was his own heartbeat and gasping attempts at breathing. Running, he felt the blood from his wound trickle down his arm and onto his hand. He could tell it was bad, his fingers were already tingling from the blood loss. Reaching the rock he climbed as best he could but his hands were slick and his feet felt heavy. He knew that the tunnel vision was from the lack of oxygen in the thin air. He was losing blood and by the looks of the blood smears he was leaving, it was happening pretty damn fast. Climbing, he made it to a ledge, pulled himself up and rolled into a seated position, pulling his knees to his chest. .

He didn’t bother to look over the ledge, but he could hear the Bears growling and whining below him. Then from below his feet came a roar that scared and shook Matt to his core. He closed his eyes and hugged his knees backing as far into the rocks as he could. Then his fear took hold of him. He shivered and coughed uncontrollably, cried and screamed. In the cold, ensuing quiet and calm his fear passed slowly leaving him a mess on the ground; the bears below him had stopped their roaring and silence filled the air. He opened his eyes, looked up at the waxing moon and exhaled deeply, bringing his body and mind to a place of calm. He had survived the encounter, he had made it this far, he was not about to give up. As he sat quietly, breathing deeply  the moon seemed to glow brighter, pulsing in time with his pounding heart.

“Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of the forest, give me clarity of vision and resolve this night,” he muttered just above a whisper. His vision had started to clear, but the pain and bleeding from his arm hadn’t.  It was time for some first-aid. He reached down and patted his waist pack. A long sigh escaped his lips and he was overjoyed that is was still intact after the encounter. Taking it off Matt clipped it around his neck and removed his jacket. Pain shot up from his arm and shoulder. Nothing felt broken, but fractures and breaks can be deceptive at times. ‘Go easy, if its already clotted, let’s not break it loose.’ It a miracle he had even managed to keep hold of his knife. He cut off his blood soaked shirt sleeve and surveyed the damage. Wincing and grumbling he slowly took stock of his injuries. From what he could see he had a deep gash in the meaty part of his shoulder and several smaller cuts on the front side of his bicep. From below him another roar echoed up the rock face. Aggravated, Matt yelled back. “No, I’m not dead you freaking asshole Bear! I didn’t come here to hurt any of you, you freaking assholes! When I finish patching myself up I’m going to go down there and kick all of your furry ASSES!”  then he gave them a roar of his own. The sounds from below promptly stopped.

Taking out his first aid kit, he popped the top on the single-use antiseptic spray. Hands shivering, he knew this was going to hurt and it was going to hurt badly but the risks from not using it were too high. His hand trembled as he held up the little aerosol bottle and engaged the spray. His mind washed in colors as the spray hit the open, bleeding wounds. He thanked the Gods for the numbing agent that was included in the spray. However, he still leaned over and vomited the contents of his stomach over the rocks. After he recovered, he opened one of the gauze pads and cleaned around the wound the best he could. The bleeding was slowing from the spray, but it was still pronounced. Next was the quick clot bandages; these came from a trauma kit that he lifted on his last tour before retirement. “Something told me these would come in handy,” he spoke aloud. These quick clot bandages were designed for one-handed use, an ideal application in this situation. They would do the trick and stay in place, but he still secured the bandage with the duct tape he always kept in his kit. He used the cleaning wipes from the kit to clean the smaller wounds on his arms, gut, knees and hands and covered those with Duct-tape as well. 

Sitting with his back against the rock, looking up at the moon, Matt sighed long and deep. With most of the bleeding stopped and the first aid complete he slid the bloody, shredded jacket back on and surveyed his options. It was almost dark. Had it not been for the moonlight it would have been impossible to see. Surveying the rock ledge he sat on, he calculated that it was about four feet wide and ten feet long. It was covered overhead by a small outcrop about five feet up. He had to crouch to walk, but could stretch if needed. If it rained the outcrop above would provide some shelter. A few sticks and leaves were in the corners and some dried grass and plant life were on each side of him; several dried trees hung over within his reach. He also noted that the Bears below didn’t pursue him up the rock face. He thought it was curious, but it wasn’t out of character for Bears to climb up rock faces or trees. 

He knew he wasn’t going to climb any higher or leave the safety of the rocks without some form of defense. He eased towards the edge of his ledge and looked down at the ground. The big brown Bear, a Grizzly, was still below him sitting on its rump, looking up at him as though it was waiting for him. Matt cursed the Bear and sat back. ‘I won’t be your dinner that easy, you asshole.’ Slipping further into a survival and combat mode, Matt’s mind started to look at his situation, void of emotion, fear, and doubt. He always seemed to find himself involved in intractable tactical situations and he remembered what several instructors had said to him over the years. ‘The choice to fight or take flight is a simple choice to make. Living with the consequences of that choice is often much harder than you think. Take time, look at all the possibilities. Examine all the angles, find the best avenue and take it. When you do, commit to it, give it your entire effort and you will succeed.’

Sitting quietly he considered his options. Running was out of the question. The Bears were faster than he was and could track him at night. They had the natural territory advantage, night vision, and hell, they were Bears; they are the Alpha predators in this area. His defensive options were limited; distance, time, and terrain were all Matt had, unless he could improvise something. The compass and maps were lost somewhere in the scuffle and most of the gear that was in his pack was now scattered on the ground below. He would have to wait until first light to move and make a run down the mountain toward the campsite. He had a general idea where it was and what direction he had come. It would be a rapid descent down the mountain and he would move better and faster on his way down than he had during his ascent. It wouldn’t be the first time he had to run for his life; humans were one thing, but Bears were the complete opposite side of the spectrum. “Here I am again, fighting to stay alive in a hostile environment, why does this always happen to me?” Matt spoke to himself, just over a whisper. Defending himself against a Bear attack was something he was NOT trained for, but he never backed down from a fight or a challenge. “This was definitely going to be an adventure.”

  The situation stood with the terrain and natural advantages going to the Bears. However, Matt was lucky and managed to sneak away. It was odd, the Bear still sat below the ledge as though waiting for Matt to come down; this couldn’t be normal behavior. The three Bears seemed to be acting in a coordinated effort. If this were true, Matt would have to break that coordination and create an opportunity for action. The larger brown Bear and smaller dark Bear seemed to be the aggressors while the white one acted as an observer. It was either acting as overwatch or unskilled in this setting. In any case, that would be something Matt could use. 

It was time to dial up all the lessons his dad taught him, everything he had learned in training, and in his travels. He leaned back over the ledge and saw the Bear again, still sitting looking up at him.  “Asshole!” he yelled again over the side. He needed some light and warmth. He reached over and grabbed a few small branches, some pieces of kindling and anything else he could find that would burn. On the right side of the ledge he built a small fire. On the other side, he found some larger, thicker branches; he shredded his already ripped up shirtsleeve from earlier to fashion three torches and set them aside. Then, he unearthed several stones from the rock wall behind him Searching his pockets he found a few lengths of parachute cord, a small bottle of hand sanitizer, rescue sugar tabs, a power bar, a plastic wrapper from a sandwich he had several weeks ago, and a small spool of fish line.  Not much with these odds but it would have to do; he settled down to work.

He took the rocks he had found and chipped at one until it became a rough square shape, with a small point to one side; he also cut branches from the trees above and using the parachute cord he bound the branches together, lodging the square stone at the top. He secured it all down with the parachute cord and ta-da! Now he had a club. He didn’t want to kill any of them, just get away. His defensive weapons were now plus one. He took several rescue tabs and crushed them in the hand sanitizer. “Look Mom, napalm,” he chuckled and worked it back into the bottle and placed it in his outside coat pocket. This could be used as a sticky fire type weapon. The sanitizer would catch fast and the sugar would crystallize and stick to whatever it was on. Sitting back he put more branches into the fire and took the time to rest his body and mind. The adrenaline from earlier had passed and his body was insisting that now was the time for rest. He took out the power bar, broke off a piece and chewed it slowly. It was nasty and had been in that pocket for a long time, but it was nourishment. Then he popped several rescue tabs to keep his sugar up. With all the blood that he had lost in the last exchange, the higher sugar levels would help him stay focused, if only for a short time. It would also help clear his head; the release of insulin in the body was a natural anti-inflammatory that helps with pain. Looking up at the moon again, Matt made the decision to move and to commit to his course of action, to take whatever outcome would be dealt him. He would move with purpose and clarity. As he looked at the moon, it seemed to pulse again in time with his heart. Something was happening, things were moving, the world was coming into focus. His hearing intensified as the light of the moon grew brighter and Matt was set into fight mode.

Leaning over the ledge again, he saw that big brown Bear was looking up at him and licking its lips. “Asshole,” Matt cursed again. Looking to his right, he noticed that the ledge he was a lead up to a gentle climb to the top of the outcrop; either the other Bears were waiting for him up top or they were in the woods waiting; either way it was time to speak his mind before he moved.

Gathering his things, he stood on the edge of the ledge looking down at the big brown Bear below him. He gathered his nerve, cleared his voice and spoke to the Bear below, “I came to find you and your kind. I followed the crumb trail in the stories; I followed the trail here, to this place. I destroyed my life to find the truth. So, when I arrive, this is how you greet me … your kind tries to kill me? You assholes! I’m not looking to expose you. I want to join you!” Emotions long buried came to the surface as the compartment of his mind they were locked in broke open. “I have searched my entire life for something, for anything to fill the void in my heart. I have tried to find a people and a group to call my own. I have a partner that I love dearly, I couldn’t bear to lose him, but I put everything I have on the line to find you. I have to find the end of the trail.” Matt spoke through angry, fiery sobs, teeth clenched, muscles tense. “You know … I’m out of place with my own blood family. I traveled the world searching for that closeness, the sense of family that I found in those stories. I put the clues together and now I’m here … on this ledge. I’m about to fight for my life and prove that I’m worthy.  Let me draw a line in the dirt. If this is a test let me tell you, I’m so going to kick your furry asses!” Matt roared, the emotions, heat, anger, pain, longing, loss edging up with every word he spoke. He stopped, took a step back and realized the other two Bears were just to the left of the larger Bear, just at the edge of his sight. “Good, stay there,” he growled, his mind lapsed fully into fight mode.

He gathered the last of his things, he stowed the club in his waist strap and put two of the torches in the rear pouch of the coat. Lighting the third, he stood up, turned, and kicked the fire down toward the big Bear. “Let’s go asshole! come and get me!” he yelled and started climbing. From below, a mighty roar echoed up the rock face. Matt climbed with everything he had. He reached the top, and eased himself up slowly. Not seeing any Bears, he quickly got to his feet and made his way in the direction of safety. As he strode across the top of the outcrop, he found a picnic table. He walked over to it and surveyed the area the best he could. Distracted, his mind locked in a few more of the details. The table had scratches in it, deep ones. It was sturdily built to withstand and support a massive amount of weight. The grass was grown up over the legs further proof that it had not been used in some time. A sound snapped him back to his surroundings.

The sound had come from behind him. Turning torch in hand … the glint of wild eyes caught his own. Damn they were fast. The large brown Bear walked into the torchlight and stopped. To its left the smaller white Bear and dark colored Bear emerged. Matt edged his way backward and bumped into a fire ring. He quickly glanced down into it; it was loaded with logs and dried wood. Taking the second torch, he lit it and then laid it inside the fire ring. The wood must have been totally dry since the fire took off quickly and further illuminated the area. As the area lit from the light of the growing fire, he could better see the Bears. The brown Bear was massive and the other two were smaller, but still formidable. He swallowed hard taking in the situation and working out the possible angles for him to escape.

  He eased back behind the fire ring as the three Bears made their very slow approach. They spread out to a loose line, the big brown Bear in the lead, the smaller white Bear in the center and the dark Bear on the far left. ‘Standard fire-team pattern, what the hell is going on?’ From behind him he heard a sound and spun around on his toes. A black Bear was standing on its hind legs almost on top of him. For the second time that day a Bear had got the drop on him.

“Crap …” he muttered as it raised a paw high above him. 

“Oh no you don’t, I’m not that easy to kill. You may have numbers but I still have some tricks.”  He dropped backward and rolled over as the Bear swiped at him. He lunged forward with the torch and the black Bear, now back on all fours, turned its head to avoid the fire. He swung forward his other hand with the back of the stone club. The weapon smashed into the Bear just behind its right ear. The impact stunned and dropped the Bear to the ground where it moaned and pawed at its head.

Matt wheeled around the fire pit as all three Bears started to advance toward him.

  With the fire in the ring burning brightly, Matt ditched the torch and took out his blade. It was time for some offense; he charged at the big brown Bear knife in hand ready to strike. Matt had studied Bear combat tactics and movements while he was gathering up the breadcrumbs from the stories. From his study he learned that a running Bear had to stop and push off with its front feet in order stand upright. They could swipe with their front paws while on all fours, but only as high as their head. He needed to even the odds and separate the Bears from each other so he could fight with better odds and break up their coordinated effort. 

As the Bear ran toward him, Matt ran for the picnic table. When the two met he took a leap off the table and over the advancing Bear. The big brown Bear collided with the table and took it over toward the fire with it. As Matt landed, he could hear growls and grunts from the brown Bear as it tangled itself in the upturned table. 

The dark one charged forward next, but Matt kept the ledge on his right and let the Bear close the distance. As it closed Matt tried to jump over the smaller Bear, but it moved faster than him and smacked him out of the air. He hit the ground hard, but swung his arm around with the stone club and caught the Bear at the elbow of its forepaw. It yelped in pain and crumbled into a heap on the ground. Scrambling to his feet he grunted in pain, and looked down to see the bottom of his coat shredded at his left thigh and hip with some blood mixed in. His waist pack was missing along with the last torch… this was not going well.

  He struggled to stay on his feet, turning just in time to see the big Bear charging. He kept the ledge at his back and with his club and knife ready, he screamed and charged at the advancing Bear. He only made it a few meters before they met. He attempted to slide under the massive Bear and brought the club down as he slid, hitting the Bear in the muzzle. He sunk the knife into its neck stunning the Bear. It crumbled and tumbled on top of and then over Matt. As the Bear went over, its rear paw and claws came down and into Matt’s chest, shredding his jacket, clothes, and skin. Matt screamed as he was stomped into the ground. The world blurred, his ears hummed and the world seemed to slow down…

Struggling to get up, Matt could see the shreds of his jacket and the blood coming from them. His vision was blurry and his right arm was not working, instead it just hung by his side, twitching. He still had the club in his left hand and looked around, gasping for air. The Bears were circling, grunting at him. The white one stopped and started walking toward him. Growling and snapping at the others as it did so. Matt’s eyes met the eyes of the white Bear. “… Kermode,” Matt whispered to the white Bear. The Bear seemed to glow in the moonlight and light from the fire. 

Matt had given it everything he could muster, he brought all his energy to the table. He had used all his skills to survive but the outcome was really never in question, it was written before the first scent of pine and leather wafted by Matt’s nose. This was not a fair fight, four large Bears against one loosely armed human. As skilled as Matt was Bears would always be different than humans. His body was just too weak to match the Bears in a one-on-one fight. He doubted if he had been armed that it would have mattered the way they came after him. Whatever the Bear’s intentions, Matt had nothing left.

As he stood watching the white Bear approach, the shivers started. He knew it was the blood leaving his body and the exertion, he knew he wouldn’t be conscious much longer. He could see his breath in the air, coming in rasps. Mustering the last of his strength, he stood as straight as he could and spoke to the white Bear. “I meant you no harm by coming here. I came to join you …  not harm you,” his voice faded as he dropped the club, dropped to his knees, and then to the ground. The world went black. He could hear sounds of the Bears around him, grunts and growls, roars and barks. He was being sniffed, moved and then … nothing.

The Void

Time stops in the void of nothingness, awareness drifts in and out like a feather on the wind. Matt’s trained mind was trying to bring him back; to shake him from the state he was in. His awareness came back in sparks, feelings, and jolts. It was like he was being shocked repeatedly by an unknown force. He was being prodded back to the land of the living, pulled back across the river Styx, and thrown back through the gates of Valhalla into the reality he had only just left. It was not his time, this was not where he would meet his end, and he would not join his family at the dinner table today. 

He could feel his body being moved, hear the crunch of his bone, and feel the warmth of the animals around him. It was warm … so warm. The pain he had felt before was drifting away like a dream. He could see Luke and Susan, the dogs, and the home they had just built. They were waving at him. He saw his father standing before him. He had his staff in his hands. Then the jingle of bells came … louder and louder … in the void Matt reached to cover his ears, but his arms wouldn’t move. Louder, the bells continued to chime … he felt something wrap around him and felt himself being rolled over. He felt his arms and legs being moved and twisted again; felt his head being rolled around and something close around his throat. He smelled pine, leather, earth, and blood.  Then the void came again … blissful nothingness wrapping Matt in its consuming embrace.

Time has no bearing in the void; sounds came back to Matt as whispers, ghosts in his mind. As feeling came back to his body, he focused on staying still. He tried to control his breathing. He also focused his awareness on his body parts and tried to get a reading on how badly he was hurt and what was going on. The voices he was hearing sounded familiar, but it was hard to place them. It was like an itch he couldn’t scratch, a memory just on the edge of remembrance.

“No, you can’t change him.”

“You heard him just like I did; he said he wants to join us.”

“I said no, you are not changing anyone. Not until he wakes up and can talk with us.”

“Not even then am I’m going to let you change anyone. Maybe one of the others wants a new Cub, but not you two.”

“Is he stable?”

“Yes, he is. His body is badly damaged, he’s lost a good amount of blood, but his aura and life energy are strong, they seem to be sustaining him. I have never seen this before in a human. In Bears yes, but never a human.

“He is still human. It’s going to take some time for him to heal. You three beat the hell out of him.”

“The human started it. Not us.”

“That human did not start this. You tracked him since town; you three wanted to see what he was up to. So you didn’t come and get me first and now this guy is beat to hell and you three need to have your asses kicked for it. Damn Cubs all of you.”

“He feels like a Bear, but he’s human. He needs to be changed before he dies.”

“That human is strong, his scent is that of a Bear, but he is not one.  We need to talk to the Elders.”

“I thought you were an Elder?”

“No, I’m not. Any clue who he is?”

“I have his wallet. He’s an American living in Virginia. Looks like he is retired United States Military. He only had $2 left, I see receipts for the grocery store in town and the gas station where you know who works. Also, there seems to be a trail leading from California to Montana, and then north.”

“This human came looking for us, but why alone, why like this?  It was like he was searching for something. The way he moved through town … who he talked too.”

“Gather his things from the field and bring them here. The way he fought, it reminded me of something.” 

“What did you say he called you?”

“He called me an asshole.”

“That’s about right.”

“Okay, I have his laptop; give me a few and I’ll see what’s on it. Nothing is too badly damaged from his pack. He had the important stuff in the center. So when he got whacked nothing was really damaged. Whoever he is he’s smart and he’s skilled. “

“You do that. Now tell me again how it started and why you decided to kill him rather than run him off like the others.”

“Hey everyone, I have something. It’s the only file on his desktop; its title is “Bears, Read This First.” 

“Well? Go ahead and read it.”

‘Ok, here we go- Hello, I have been searching for your kind for about a year now. I mean you no harm, I have come unarmed, and in search of the truth. I feel compelled to find you from the stories I read online and the tug in my heart. Contained in several files on this hard drive are the journals of my travels and my background. If I’m worthy, I hope to join you. I have considered the ramifications of giving up my humanity and have already made the choice to either find you or die trying. That is my choice and this is my life to give. So, if you are reading this, either I have given it to you or you found it after something happened. Please read the rest of the files. Thank you. Matt Owens.’

“There you have it, he wants to join us.”

“It’s not that simple, we need to talk with him before any of us do anything else.

“Okay, looks like we are staying where we are for the night. Let’s gather more wood for the fire and settle here. If he survives till dawn, we will take him back with us.”

Despite the stillness Matt was attempting to maintain, his heart leapt and the smallest of smiles creased his face. He quickly re-attained stillness and let himself drift back into the void. It was so warm, so incredibly warm and safe. 

In the void, the dreams came again. These were starkly different than the last. His father and mother visited him; Dad was dressed in his Military Uniform and Mom in her jeans and button down shirt and they beckoned him toward something. As he walked along with his parents, they led him through a forest and into a cave. The sound of ringing bells was ever-present and getting louder as they walked. The cave was vast and as they walked, Matt could make out paintings on the walls. They depicted great battles with Bears and men, sometimes fighting beside one another and in others against each other. As they walked, the cave opened into an alcove within was a Bear, sitting on an outcrop. The ringing stopped as they entered the cave and the Bear raised its head looking at its visitors.

Looking back at Matt, his parents smiled. Turning, they bowed to the Bear and pushed him forward. The Bear rose and lumbered toward Matt. When it reached him, the Bear inhaled deeply. Its green eyes seemed to penetrate Matt and stared deep within him, as they looked, they saw fear, longing, and respect. They saw sacrifice, strength and a thirst for knowledge. They saw a fractured soul that needed to be healed, commitment and love; they saw mistakes, wrong turns and strife. They saw a human. They saw a human in search of its destiny. 

The Bear roared in Matt’s face and reared back raising a mighty paw above its head; Matt accepted this action and took a step toward the mighty creature. As the paw came toward him, time slowed and morphed. Matt could make out every muscle in the Bear’s body, he could hear the Bear’s heart beating, and he could feel the heat radiating from its body and breath. As the paw reached Matt’s chest, it passed through him. The Bear looked once more at Matt, then turned and walked away. The cave was becoming brighter, its image fading. Matt turned to look at his parents, and saw that they were smiling at him. He started to move but found that he could not. He started to speak, but no words could escape his lips. They faded from sight, as did the cave. Voices reached Matt’s ears.

“His energy and aura are even stronger now. What’s going on? His wounds aren’t healing, the blood isn’t stopping, and it’s beginning to ooze through the bandages.”

“I’m telling you both, he feels like a Bear. He feels like you and I. Why don’t you understand that?”

“He is still human, but he smells like one of us.”

“We need to speak with an Elder.”

“No one is around, we will have to call.”

“Okay, go as fast as you can. Go now and make the call, have the Elder come ASAP.”

“He’ not going to last that long.”

“No. You are not changing him.”

“Damn it! You read the entire journal, this guy found us, he is alone, and he wants to be one of us. He fought all three of us, and damn nearly won! If this guy doesn’t have what it takes to be a Bear, then let it be my responsibility. He spoke to me like he knew me.”

“No. You are not doing that.”

“Listen, it’s been some time since we changed and how we changed is clouding our judgment. All of us were changed accidentally. This human wants it. He has searched for it. He has prepared for it. Are we really going to let him die?”

“Yes. Yes, we are. If we do this without permission of the Elders, it will make everyone’s life harder.”

“I think it’s time we grew up.  If this human is not worthy of being our Cub, then who would be? Some scruffy human off the street?”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.  It’s a one-way ticket to Beardom; there are plenty of responsibilities and things we have to do.  This is not a free ride.”

“Look. I never said it was. This human traveled largely on foot, scavenged food, hitchhiked, and did whatever he had to do so he could find us. Become one of us. Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Both of you need to stop. I don’t think he is going to make it till nightfall. We need to speak to an Elder now, while we still can.”

“You see? He’s not going to make it. We need to change him.”

“I said NO! You are not going to change him, unless we speak with him. Now stop it, if he cannot wake up and speak with us, then this is his fate.”

The voices faded again as the void pulled Matt back into its ever-consuming embrace. This time it was sudden, a violent shift in environments. Matt found himself in a high altitude free fall like he had been kicked out of an aircraft. He could tell it was high as he passed through the layers of the atmosphere. He could feel the rush of air pass him, the whistle of the air as it changed density and the crackle of static electricity as it passed through his body. He could tell the ground was coming up as night turned into day; while he looked at the stars naming the constellations. The ground was getting close, the chute alarm started to chirp and Matt reached for the ripcord. There was none. He reached for the reserve chute that should have been there but that too was missing. The alarm chirped higher. 

Matt had a two choices, life or death. He chose life. Glancing at his feet, he noticed he was wearing a wingsuit. He flipped over and attempted with all his strength to flatten his body. He pulled his knees up slightly to change the angle of his fall from a line to an arc; this would help slow his descent. He scanned the terrain; it was mountains, trees, streams, and small lakes.  Damn … Ah-ha … off in the distance Matt spied a pond or a small lake with a wide stream leading into it.  That would have to do. He needed to stall his descent; he curled into a ball and flipped in the air, then opened up his arms and legs as wide as he could.  He thanked the gods for the reinforcement in the suit, if not for it his arms and legs would surely have been torn backward on his body like an action figure. He completed this maneuver twice more as the lake loomed closer to him. Exhaling as much air as he could, he lined up on the stream and tucked into a ball.  IMPACT! Pain seared through his body as every nerve ending lit up; he skipped across the water like a smooth rock on a still pond. 

The pain washed over him in waves and arcs of light, blackness and bright flashes.  Matt’s body would not move as he gasped for breath trying to stay afloat on the water. He gulped in air-attempting desperately to stay afloat.  His legs dangled under him and his arms hung at his sides, not answering his calls for action.  Slowly, water filled his clothing and pulled him under the water. It was in those last moments that he summoned all his energy into a single effort.  Matt screamed, ‘NO!’ he roared from the deepest parts of his being. He screamed for his life, bellowed that he was not ready to walk through the doors of the great hall, that he was not ready to speak to the boat master and he was not ready to join the gods among the constellations.  In a blinding flash Matt was back; he escaped the void and once again he heard the voices.

“I think he’s awake?”

“Did you feel that rush of air?

“Yes, the wind is picking up what’s going on?”

“Guys? His aura is getting stronger, and he’s hot to the touch.”

Matt could hear them; if this were his last chance he would take it.  Exhaling deeply, he focused all his energy on waking up.  He must regain awareness; he must shake himself from death’s grasp. The reaper would not be claiming him this day. 

“You fight like Bears …” Matt whispered with a smile.

“Um … yeah.  Who are you?”

“I’m Matt Owens, I came to join you, not harm you.  I want to be one of you.  I hope I have proven myself worthy of your company,” his human voice was cracking; his eyes were covered with something.  As he attempted to move, the pain returned.  In a violent jolt, pain shot from his shoulder to his navel and radiated throughout his entire body. 

“Stay still, you are badly hurt.”

“You see? He wants it. Now that we have talked with him?”

“NO! I said no.  Not until we talk with an Elder.”

“He is not going to make it that long.”

“If I’m to die this night, let it be after you hear my plea to become one of you,” Matt said as he went through the events that had led him to this place.  He spoke of the entire trial he had gone through and what it meant to find them.  He spoke of love and loss.  He spoke of understanding and commitment.  He spoke his heart to the beings that were in his company.  The Bears asked no questions. 

  

Choices

Matt finished his story and the Bears watched him silently.  He could feel his energy ebbing away and his body was starting to cool off.  He had laid everything out as clearly as he could, now all his of life force was used up.  The choice rested in the hands of the Bears around him.  In the growing silence, Matt could begin to hear the bells again.  They were growing louder as feeling faded from his body.  He couldn’t focus his awareness on his body any longer; he could not force himself to remain conscious. He slipped quietly back into the void, following the sounds of the bells.

“His aura is cooling; as is his body guys. He is dying.”

“I need to change him.”

“No you are not, this is his fate.”

As the Bears argued with each other, the wind picked up around the clearing.  It circled them, bending trees and throwing debris.  A swirling vortex of wind and electrical static enveloped the Bears and Matt’s unconscious body.  They looked out into the wilderness searching for the source of the disturbance.

On the wind a scent came to the Bears, all of them perked up noses to the air. It was powerful, old, and wise; with it the scent carried an air of respect.  It commanded the respect you would give an older family member; a reverence that demanded obedience.  From the trees stepped a Grizzly Bear of epic size who moved with stealth unmatched by any creature.  It moved silently through the campsite, leaving no prints in its wake.  As it approached it looked at each of them, peering at the Werebears as they stood in awe.  As it approached the others backed away from Matt; all but one Bear, Rusty, who stayed by his side refusing to move. Approaching without sound, the Grizzly Bear stopped at Matt’s dying body. It sniffed him intently, and then laid a paw on his chest.  Looking back at the Bears the Grizzly Bear chuffed at them and then leaned down, pointing his nose at the Bear who stood by Matt’s sided.  It chuffed softly once more and the Bear at Matt’s side nodded and bowed.  The Great Bear turned and walked back into the woods.

The wind calmed as the Grizzly Bear vanished into the woods, a ghost on the wind.  The Bears stood silent for a few moments, unsure of what to do.

Breaking the silence Rusty turned to his family, “I am Kermode, and I will change him!  The Great Bear commands it.  This one is destined for his service,” His body began its transformation as he spoke in a voice that demanded respect from those around him. He was a Spirit Bear, and he would be respected. 

The Great Bear had called Matt to this place and chose these Bears to be present at his change. A Spirit Bear would change this human. The others stood back as Rusty poured his essence into the human, none dared to come close to them. As Rusty changed the human the sky cleared, the wind picked up, and animals of nature came to the clearing. None of the Bears understood what was happening or why, but inside his soul Rusty knew Matt was special, the Great Bear told him so. 

Matt followed the bells as they increased in volume. He walked through a dense forest, over trees and around rocks picking his way through dense brush. The bells grew louder the deeper he delved into the forest. Almost frantic to find the source of the sound he ran, tripping and flailing over the terrain. As he burst through a clearing, Matt found himself facing a tall man holding a staff. He had hair of golden blond, body of matching fur, and eyes that were a deep midnight blue. Beside the man walked a Grizzly Bear, with deep green eyes that seemed to reflect the canopies of the trees above them. Together they watched Matt as he walked toward them. As he reached them the man stopped dropping the staff, finally ceasing the ringing of the bells. They stared at Matt and the man smiled while the Bear lowered itself into a bow before him. In a smooth motion, that Matt could not counter, the man struck him in the chest with the staff, sending him back into the brush. He jolted awake suddenly to the smell of bacon cooking and the gentle sounds of nature.

“Great, you’re awake! I’m Rusty and we have a lot to talk about.”

Homecoming

~~

//Two Bears stood a few stone throws away, downwind and out of sight.///

“You know that changing Matt into a Bear is only going to complicate his life.”

“Dont be so dramatic cub, I can already see you like him, and when you showed yourself, look what happened, you get whacked with a club behind the ear.”

“Okay Papa, but why does it still hurt, it has not healed up all the way.”

“Oh it will, its going to take a while.  Matt is special, and this is just one of the things that comes with it.  Okay, come on.  Time for us to leave this place.  You have stood as a stoic guard for long enough.”

“Papa…..I want to stay and see what happens when he meets his elders?”

“Nope, thats not for your eyes, and this is his time, not yours.  Now, move that furry ass.”

~~

It had been several weeks since Matt was changed.  On that day the Spirit Bear, Rusty, had forever changed Matt.  He had awoken with Rusty’s partner and lover Norman by his side, to discover that his body had accepted the initial change and was already starting to heal his wounds.

There was lengthy conversation about how he found them, how he put the pieces together, and what it would mean for Matt to return home.  It was obvious that Matt had given much thought to his humanity and what it meant to be a Werebear. He broke down when he spoke about Luke and how he loved him; how he missed his family and the sacrifices he endured to find the Bears.  He recounted his journey through forests and over rough terrain, navigating towns and police, the disdain and angst from the humans he encountered.  He explained to the Bears how he cared for Luke, and how it tore him up inside when he was told to leave. His homecoming would be bittersweet for everyone.  Through all this conversation, he never once spoke negatively about how he was treated when he found them; Matt considered it a natural reaction and a learning experience for all.

“So, how do you feel this morning?” asked Rusty.

“I feel very warm all over, and I still ache a lot; but I’m eager to move and explore … without getting up …” replied Matt.

“That will pass, I’m sure it’s just part of your change,” Norman smiled down at him earnestly…

“You really do need to get up and move around though, to work out the stiffness.”

“I think I will,” Matt smiled, sitting up from the bed he had been laying in. He noticed that the gashes on his body had almost healed, but he could tell internally he was still not ready for much.

“Have you given any thought to how you will tell Luke?” questioned Rusty.

“Yes, from my experience with him it’s best to just come at him head on and let the pieces fall into place on their own.  If he rejects me in my new form then that is fate and I’ll press on alone.  If he welcomes me, then the change needs to be offered to him as well.  If not, it will create a liability, a loose end if you will.” He spoke in a very matter of fact tone; both Bears could tell that Matt was set in his way and had made up his mind.  Even though this was a tremendously emotional issue, he was still handling it with caution and respect. 

“What do you mean loose end?” questioned Rusty.

“I’m aware of the great risk that you took changing me without the consent or knowledge of your Elders; I’m also keenly aware that I’m walking in a minefield, and I must navigate it very carefully. One option that I have is that I could just not come back, but that’s not the option that I would like choose.  I would sooner sacrifice myself for everyone’s safety than expose you,” He spoke, detached, staring at the Bears.

“I see your point,” Norman nodded watching Matt closely.

“I think you need to get some rest, go lay down by the fire while dinner cooks, you will feel much better after you eat.  I’m surprised that you haven’t already complained about being hungry,” Rusty said his eyes seeming to look deep into Matt’s soul. He knew Matt was special. Matt did lie back down, instantly falling asleep in front of the warm fire.  The scent of the two Bears around him was calming, but it was still hard for him to relax.  In the next week or so he would meet the other Bears, and their Elder; he accepted this as his final test.  He was still in the forest, not far from the pond.  If he was going to sacrifice himself, then this was the place to do it.  It was remote and his remains could be disposed of without much trouble.  As negative as this thought was it did not scare him, he was at peace with it.

The time before the Elder arrived was magical for Matt.  His body was repairing itself from the fight, but he was still not back to fighting shape.  He still limped and his arm was troublesome.  If he had to run he could, but it was not going to be very fast.  He spent most of his time at the pond; sitting for hours, immersing himself in the sounds and energy of the forest.  He could feel the flow around him and almost sense the animals, trees … everything that was alive he could feel just at the cusp of his senses. Time moved forward, and the day he was supposed to meet the Elder finally arrived.

Walking back to the camp he used a path worn in by him traveling back and forth to the pond; he could almost close his eyes and go all the way back to the campsite. As he approached he heard voices; stopping, he felt his body tense as his gut tightened and fear crept into his mind.  He recognized two of them, but not the rest.  The speech was pointed; he could tell Rusty and Norman were trying to explain things.  Matt realized that they were being confronted for changing him; it was not their fault, he had come looking for them not the other way around. He briskly walked forward making as much noise as he could along the way, making sure his presence was known.

He stopped on the edge of the clearing and watched, waiting.  The Bears looked back at him, two with pride and three with questions. He exhaled deeply and walked forward.

“He is small,” remarked the very tall, blond Bear. 

“Hello,” Matt said, extending his hand.

The big Bear just looked at Matt, his eyebrows raised slightly.  He took a few steps forward in a fast motion that was intended to intimidate Matt, but he stood his ground.  The blond Bear sniffed at him; out of instinct Matt returned the action with vigor.  The big Bear looked down into Matt’s eyes and smiled.  Then he turned back to his papa Bears. 

“Looks like you two have a Cub, bout time you grew up,” he smiled teasingly at Rusty and Norman, and then turned back to face Matt.  “Hello, I’m Vic.  Nice to meet you.”

As the other Bears came and greeted Matt, Vic leaned in and whispered in Matt’s ear.  “Sorry if I hurt you when I smacked you in the chest.”

Matt turned to face the huge Bear and time slowed.  The pieces snapped into place and the dreams came rushing back into his mind.  It had been Vic in his dreams all along.  It had been Vic who had led him to this place.  Vic was a Dream Walker, one who leads without being seen, who advises without being heard, and the omnipresent voice of the Great Bear Spirit that had accompanied Matt in the void.

In that moment, Matt fought his hardest not to break down.  He did not notice that he had been holding his breath and had taken on an almost defensive stance as Vic had approached him.  Over the rest of the afternoon, the Elder and Vic spoke quietly with Matt.  Matt once again told his story, just as he had to the others.  Vic had filled him in on most of what he was to expect from the change; he also cautioned Matt about offering the change to Luke explaining what it would mean if he refused.  At the end of that conversation, Vic and the Elder were assured that given any situation, Matt would do what had to be done to protect the Werebears.

After a few more introductions and short conversations, Vic, the Elder and another Bear that had kept his distance left.  That Bear had been nervous around Matt; he had watched the sky and kept watching the trees and surroundings. 

“So, I guess it’s time to make our way back to the civilization,” Norman said, giving the much smaller Matt a hug. 

“Yes, but I doubt I’ll remember how to interact,” Matt shook his head smiling sheepishly.

“Don’t worry; we’ll be with you all the way home; you won’t be making this journey alone.  Actually, you will never be alone again,” spoke Rusty his chest extended, a proud Papa.

Homecoming Part II

Rusty and Norman led Matt back down the mountain he had ascended almost a month earlier.  The trip down was pleasant, but painfully slow for the Bears.  Matt could still tell he was still healing slowly; he had to stop several times just to rest and needed help navigating most of the obstacles on the trail.  When he did Norman was always there helping him, and apologizing for what he did. Matt would just smile and respond with “You were forgiven before you did it”. 

Eventually they reached what Matt would come to know as the Lodge; it was located exactly where his image data had said it would be.  The times and data listed in the stories had been written for Bears not humans, no wonder it didn’t match his own.  For Bears, distance could be covered at a much faster speed and larger loads could be carried with ease and without the need of equipment.  Matt was excited when he reached the lodge more of the details he had discovered snapped into place and everything was proven real.  Inside Matt was overjoyed; he had finally found what he was looking for.

They walked straight to the vehicle and loaded both their gear and Matt securely inside.  Standing on the very top balcony overlooking them, a majestic black Bear stood in half Bear form watching, clutching a cup between its paws.  As they climbed into the vehicle to make their departure Matt waved farewell to the Bear; a gesture that it returned as they drove off away from the lodge.  Settled in, the trip home began bringing with it feelings of nervousness, dread, sadness, and longing.

“You’re awfully quiet,” Rusty said after several hours of silence from Matt.

“Yeah … guess I’m just lost in thought today,” he responded.

“Don’t worry. If you treat Luke half as good as you have treated me on the trip down the mountain then you have nothing to worry about,” Norman chuckled, winking at Matt in the rearview mirror. 

He nodded, sighing and sat back quietly.  A few hours later they stopped, pulling over the car, for a rest break.  Getting out of the car, Matt’s legs audibly cracked loud enough for both Bears to hear. 

Norman came around to Matt’s side of the SUV, “What was that?”

“It’s my knee and ankles, the plates and joints get stiff when I sit for long periods; they always crack whenever I start to move.  Sorry to alarm you,” He blushed and hung his head.  Norman leaned down and pulled Matt’s chin up so he could look into his eyes.

“When you change, all that will be gone; you will never know that pain again,” said Norman as he lifted Matt up and out of the car.  He let Matt take his weight slowly and realized that even though Matt was healing, he had beaten the hell out of this Cub.  Matt had not been like the others.  He had come in search of the truth.  He had followed a path and had connected all the pieces to find them.  He was not like the others; he was not just a human.  He was special, he was their Cub and Norman would protect him.

“You can stop beating yourself up anytime now.  I promise, I’ll be fine,” said Matt as he reached around Norman with his left arm; his right arm was still not working quite right. 

“Stop apologizing.  You both reacted as you thought proper, so did I.  Given a few different circumstances, I would have won,” He looked up and winked at Norman, a wide smile on his face.  Norman returned the smile and hugged Matt close.

“If you two are done, let’s get fueled and back on the road,” Rusty looked at them pointedly, raising his eyebrows. 

“Yes dear … Whatever you say dear,” responded Norman letting go of Matt and moving to the fuel pumps.

Matt stood and walked around the car, trying to work out the stiffness he was feeling.  He had fallen asleep in the car and his whole body was achy.  He was hungry, but nothing smelled, sounded, or tasted good lately.  As Norman finished pumping the gas, Rusty came back with sacks full of fruit, water, juice and sweet breads from the roadside vendor.  He handed a bag to Matt, who promptly put his face in the bag, inhaling deeply.

“Well Papa-Rusty, I think you found something that the Cub wants to eat,” Norman joked winking at his lover.  Matt had nibbled at the food in the forest; it was mostly meats and some grains.  He would pick at it and just eat enough to curb the hunger, but nothing more.

They loaded back up and took off; in the back seat of the SUV Matt was tearing through the fruit and juice at a Bears pace. “Well, we finally found something you want to eat.  It’s a sign of what type of Bear you are becoming,” Rusty said while turned around in the passenger front seat, smiling from ear to ear. 

“Is there any more up there?” asked Matt as he burped happily.

“Yes!  Here, keep eating; we will stop when we cross the border.  There is an IGA we can grab more at if needed,” Rusty passed back the next sack. He nudged Norman who looked over; they smiled and winked at each other.  Locking hands and squeezing tight, they knew everything was going to turn out okay.  They had become quite attached to Matt in the last month; he was just a nice being to be around.  He was kind to a fault, gracious, and completely forgiving of others.  To Rusty, Matt felt like cool water flowing in a river; it was a shame the military had taken and used his other skills rather than these.  From the few stories Matt had told, he had been asked to walk through Hell for his country.  It had left him broken in more ways than just physically.

The trip back would take several days so the trio stopped at a motel for the evening.  This would be the first shower they would have had in over a month.  For Matt it had been a bit longer.  They made a quick stop at a corner drug store and purchased the toiletries they needed.  At the motel, Matt and Rusty sat in the SUV and Norman went into the lobby to make the necessary transactions.

“You seem nervous; what’s bugging you?” Rusty asked while turning around in his seat to look at Matt who had a death grip on his cap and was wringing it in his hands, his right knee bouncing.

“Oh … I’m sorry. Guess I’m all keyed up; I don’t know why.  I just feel anxious and need to move.  I don’t want to be sitting still,” Matt replied in a tone that told Rusty he was more scared than anything. 

“You will be fine no matter what happens over the next 72 hours.  If Luke loves you, as much as you love him this won’t be an issue in a few days.  Just relax; you were destined to find us.  You were destined to be a Werebear and nothing can change that now.” Their conversation stopped short as Norman walked back from the motel’s front office.

“We got their last room; it’s around back in the quiet part of the motel.  The young lady said that all the people around us are out on an overnight boating tour and shouldn’t be back until tomorrow so we have the whole side to ourselves.  Best part, there is just one extra large king size bed!” Norman bubbled with obvious excitement. 

Matt sat and took it all in.  In the month or so these Bears stayed with him, he had only heard them having sex a few times.  When he did, he would go back to the pond so he wouldn’t disturb them.  He knew by the way they were looking at each other that sex was on the agenda. He nodded and smiled as Norman started the vehicle and drove around back and parked it in one of the many open lots. As he was climbing out the Bears heard loud cracks and pops as he hauled himself out of the back seat and up the stairs towards their room.  The other Bears were already in the room when Matt finally entered a minute or two later. 

“Ok, it’s time for showers and fun!” Norman shouted and padded naked to the shower. 

“Matt, you can either join Norman and I or not. Those are your choices, but know that we would really like you to enjoy our company tonight.  You are safe, you are with Bears that will let nothing harm you,” Rusty spoke as he got undressed and took the shampoo into the shower room. 

Matt stood there for a few seconds, not really knowing what to do.  All he wanted was to be close to Luke and to smell him, to touch him, to taste him.  Matt was torn between the human version of Love and relationships, and the Werebear.  Looking up into the mirror across the room he spoke aloud to himself.  “I’m no longer human, these Bears are my family, and they’re my kin. I’ll enjoy their company this night”.

He took off his clothes and walked into the shower room.  As he did, the curtain slid back inviting him to step in between the two soapy Bears.  The three enjoyed each other’s company and Matt was more than satisfied that night.  After, as they were settling down to sleep he was perplexed.  He was sad that it wasn’t Luke he’d just had fun with, but he was also excited that sex was now so free.  It felt so right, and it was just what he had wanted.  Sleep came easily that night; dreams were care free and bright. 

The morning came and Matt was not the first to rise this morning; he was snuggled between the two larger, furry Bears.  Each had shifted to their half-Bear forms before sleep took them and nestled down with Matt in between. They were much larger in this form and dwarfed the newly changed Cub.  Their scent put him at ease and let him rest.  In the outdoors it was barely noticeable, but here in this confined space it was strong.  He was sleeping deeply when Norman jostled him gently from sleep.

“Time to get up Cub, it’s almost ten in the morning,” Norman spoke, while sitting on the side of the bed.  Still in his half Bear form, he leaned down and licked Matt on the face and kept licking until both his eyes were open and he was semi-wrestling with the larger Bear to stop. 

“Okay you two, let’s get going.  Time to shower, dress, eat and depart,” Rusty said, standing in the entrance to the shower drying himself off. 

“Yes, dear,” Norman replied. He stood up and padded to the shower, changing back to a human as he went. 

The three finished and headed to the café across the street to eat.  Entering, Matt eyed the huge basket of fresh fruit; the smell of biscuits and honey hit his nose and a light bulb went off. 

“I want fruit, honey and biscuits,” Matt blurted out, before they had even sat down. 

“The Cub is hungry after his adventures,” Norman winked. 

“It would seem that we have found the food grouping of his Bear,” Rusty said as the waitress came to the table.

Norman ordered for everyone.  The waitress thought it was odd that he asked for three pieces of each of fruit from the basket and six biscuits with honey just for Matt.  However, when the food arrived not a word was spoken until they pushed away from their plates.  The two older Bears looked over at Matt who was still working through all the food at a slow but steady pace.  He was rolling the fruit in his hands, inhaling its scent deeply as he ate.

“Yep, you are becoming a Bear,” Rusty spoke with pride.

Matt looked up puzzled, his mouth full of mango, the juice running down his chin.  “You are eating like a Bear, silly Cub,” Norman winked at him and rubbed his shoulder, then wiped his face.  Matt was double handing the food and had not noticed the state he was in.  He smiled, cleaned his face and regained his human composure.  The two Bears at the table laughed, as did the passing waitress. 

The rest of the day progressed in blocks of eating and sleeping for Matt.  The Bears escorting him home seemed to take their time on the drive; they were in no rush to deliver Matt however, Matt was eager to see Luke.  And to prove to Luke he wasn’t crazy.  To show him what he was to become and to also offer the same to him.  Both of them could tell Matt was anxious, nervous, and deeply, deeply scared.

“What’s that smell?” Matt asked groggily from the back seat. 

“We are passing a cattle farm of some sort,” replied Norman.

“I smell peaches and honey.  Please can we stop? If you see an ATM, I’ll pay for it,” Matt said almost drooling, leaning forward in the seat. 

“It’s up there somewhere.  Gosh, I didn’t even smell that with the other smells. Whatever Bear you are becoming it looks like you are a fruit eater, not a meat eater,” replied Norman, with his head half out the window.

“Norman, get your head back in the car.  You’re not a dog,” Rusty huffed at him.

“There it is!” Matt excitedly pointed to the roadside farmers market stand; he all but jumped from the car when it stopped and hobbled over to the stand. 

“We need to stay with him, he’s acting like a Bear-Cub, not knowing there’s anything wrong with it,” Norman said, getting out the SUV.  They both followed their Cub and helped him fill a large paper sack with fruit.  Matt’s right arm was still not working right; he could lift it now and had some better range of motion, but it was still painful to use his hand to grasp things tightly or pick up small items.  Norman still felt horrible but every time he went to say something Matt would hush him, smile and give the large Bear a hug. 

Matt’s eyes were beaming when they got back into the car.  “Wait, put this towel over your lap, you can get quite messy,” Rusty teased smiling at the Cub who was about to dive face first into the bag. 

“You know … the behaviors he is displaying are not common to any North American Bear,” Norman whispered to Rusty as they drove.  The Cub in the back was making enough noise eating and rustling about he did not hear them. 

“I know, I have been thinking about that a lot.  Let’s just let the Gods work that out, we will love him no matter what,” Rusty said while looking over at Norman.  They clasped hands again and squeezed tightly.

The rest of the day hummed along and soon the Bears stopped for the night at another motel.  They were closer to their destination, but the slow pace was letting Matt adjust to being around humans again.  His angst was easing away.  He was feeling very safe and secure with these two Bears.  That evening he was more than willing to enjoy the company of the Bears without hesitation; once again he fell soundly asleep in between them.  He had not yet fully imprinted on Rusty and Norman, and that was good.  From talking with Matt, he desperately needed to be close to Luke;  Rusty could tell Luke was who Matt wanted to bond to, whom he wanted and desired to be with far beyond the Bear sex he was having.  He wanted his mate, in much the same way as Rusty desired Norman.  He and Norman had never been apart for more than a day in the past thirty years. Rusty understood Matt’s needs.

This morning was pretty much a repeat of the last.  Matt was still fast asleep after the two Bears around him had risen from slumber.  This was a stark contrast to the time in the forest.  There, Matt was always awake, he was always alert, and he was always on guard, so to speak.  Here he was being a lazy Cub, and the two Bears knew it was a good thing.  Matt’s body and mind were healing.  In the night, Rusty could feel the muscles moving in his right shoulder and heard a snap as something put itself back in place.  Matt had moaned audibly in his sleep, and then curled back up between them.

“Do we have to wake him?” Norman asked looking over at the Cub curled up in a nest of blankets, sheets and pillows.

“It’s almost checkout time, so yes.  Let me do it,” Rusty spoke, just over a whisper.  Both were still in half-form; Rusty pulled the sheets gently back and started to sniff and lick Matt from his feet, up his backside, stopping at his neck.  This produced a little giggle from the sleepy Cub.  He grabbed a pillow and pulled it over his head, but Rusty was not going to be denied. The Bear ended up curled up behind Matt with his arms wrapped around him, licking his ears and neck as Matt struggling, well not struggling to hard, to get away. 

“Okay, Okay, Okay!  I’m up,” proclaimed Matt looking back at the Bear holding him and then the Bear standing at the foot of the bed. 

“In the shower little Cub, get cleaned up, and let’s get a move on,” Rusty spoke through his muzzle still holding tightly.  Rusty let him go and Matt bounced out of the bed.  He paused at Norman, who was standing with his arms crossed looking left out.  Matt stopped, looked back at him, then ran back and hugged him tight around the middle.

“Hey! My arms fixed!” Matt shouted, as he held up both arms, put them through full range of motion, flexed his fingers, and picked up some things with his right hand.

“I’m so glad that it’s healed.  You know I …” Two hands stopped Norman short with a soft grip around his muzzle. 

“Hush Bear, you were forgiven before you did it.  Now, give me a kiss and get dressed I’ll not be long,” Matt said, releasing Normans muzzle.

“That Cub is kind to a fault and totally forgiving,” Rusty said looking up at Norman as Matt danced off to the shower.

As the three dressed, packed and loaded up; it was amazing to see Matt be able to move again without aid.  This would also be the day when he would arrive home.  This would be the day that would be his end or the happy beginning of a new life with his mate.

Later that day they did arrive home; Norman and Rusty had gone to the door first and talked with Luke while Matt waited in the vehicle.  Susan had been away with the Grandparents for the rest of the month. Rusty had expressly made Matt promise that he would let them handle the initial contact. They had to determine if Luke was kin.

As the Bears spoke with Luke he was ecstatic that Matt was alive and well, but deeply regretted that he had told him to leave. Luke had searched, but Matt left no trail or trace to follow him by.  He had simply disappeared.  Luke still didn’t believe that Matt had been right all along, until Rusty had gone through a complete transformation.  After that moment, conversations were much deeper between them.

Rusty spoke of how Matt searched from town to town, slept in shelters, hitched rides and then finally found them.  Rusty had read Matt’s journal several times and related it all to Luke.  All the hurt, all the pain, and all the love was made known to Luke.

Norman related how they had tracked Matt, tried to scare him away, and when it didn’t work had hunted him.  Norman admitted this was a mistake and went on to recall every detail of the fight.  How Matt never gave up, how he never gave into his fear, how he fought so hard to live, to get back to Luke, and how he would have won given a few different circumstances.  They both told Luke about Matt almost dying and being saved by the change.  Rusty told Luke of Matt’s approval by the Great Bear and how he had healed since the encounter.  In the end of the conversation, Luke spoke a few words and begged for the chance to be like his lover … forever.

“Matt went through all that for me?  He came back to his family when he did not have too.  It’s obvious that you two would have taken great care of him, but he came back to take me with him.  Matt, I’ll follow you anywhere.  As long as you are with me, I can handle anything.  Yes, I want to be like you. I want to be changed,” Luke spoke almost sobbing, tears in his eyes.

Later that day, Norman changed Luke after the group retired to enjoy each other’s company.  Afterwards, all Luke wanted to do was to touch Matt, hold him, and to be close to him. Norman and Rusty knew they were a mated pair, just like they were; the Papa Bears looked at their Cubs with pride.  They were both special.  They were both kin and destined to be Bears.  They had found each other through all hardship, they had walked through the doors of life together and now they would never be apart. 

Rusty and Norman stayed with the newly changed couple for the rest of the month, leaving a few days before Susan was to arrive home.  In that time, Matt had adjusted and wrestled hold of his Bear like mannerisms.  He was aware of them and was starting to eat more, but still it was just fruit and honey.  He was not growing very fast, but he was still taut with muscle. 

When it came time to leave Rusty and Norman were sad, but excited for the couple.  They had charted out when Matt would change and would be back for that event.  Secretly, they had rented a small-furnished apartment only 20 minutes from them; they had to be close to their Cubs!

Beer and Pizza

Luke was watching Matt sleep.  In the two months after Matt arrived home, his body had healed completely but gone though none of the changes that Norman and Rusty spoke of.  The increased hunger, enlargement of the body, and the fur and hair growth was non-existent in Matt’s change.  These changes were needed to accommodate being a Bear, but whatever kind of Bear Matt was becoming must not have needed it.  This was a major concern for Luke.  Lately, Matt had been achy and lethargic most days.  He was running a constant fever and could not seem to get warm.  As Matt shivered in his sleep, Luke pulled him close. He glanced at his watch; 3:30am, ‘damn I’m still awake’.  Matt stopped his shivering and curled his nose into Luke’s chest.  The morning would come too quick for Luke who had lost a lot of sleep after Matt left, and it would seem even more now.  He was afraid of losing his little Bear all over again.

When he did sleep, Luke’s dreams were awash with visions of ice and water, fish and streams.  He had always wanted to be more of an outdoors person, but being a guy of comfort stopped that.  Matt in contrast would take weeks at a time in the wilderness in stride.  Several times Luke had dropped Matt off at a park and he would hike in, and hike out a few weeks later.  He wondered if this was part of the process, part of his change.  The dreams weren’t negative at all, just a warm walk in the wilderness, transitioning to ice and snow. Wonderful!

He still had a hard time taking it all in.  He never believed in creatures other than humans, and the animal kingdom of empirical science.  Matt on the other hand had believed there was always more to life than just human form.  Matt was not a Sci-Fi geek, but he always said his gut told him there was more.  Luke was the more grounded, he was a button down shirt and overalls kind-of guy; they were polar-opposites.  However, after Matt came home accompanied by two Bears, it was hard to not believe.  It was a mistake for Luke to not listen to him.  Over the years, Matt spoke rarely on topics and was the quieter of the two in most settings, but when Matt did speak, it held weight.  Luke cursed himself for passing him off and putting his lover through such a life altering ordeal.  However, the ends may have justified the means because they had embarked on a new life together where they would never again be apart from each other.

When Luke was offered the change it had been after Matt came home, his homecoming was a rough time for Luke.  He had returned or … been escorted by two men.  Norman and Rusty took Matt home almost nine months after he had left.  It was hard on Luke because after so many years of Matt following Luke, it was time for Luke to follow Matt.  11 years ago they had fallen for each other after only one meeting they had felt destined and pulled together.  They called themselves life mates, but it was the Bear within them both that glued them together.  They fought like any couple, they made mistakes like any couple, but the two of them being together was never in question. 

“Morning my Bear,” Matt nudged Luke gently. 

Luke proceeded to grumble and roll over.  “10 more minutes, please?”  He begged. 

“Ok, I’ll get Susan to school then come back and wake you,” whispered Matt.  He kissed his lover on the head and walked out of the room, shutting the door he hurried to get their daughter to school.  Matt was hurting, but he looked forward to the time when he would be a Bear.  It is what kept his spirits up; he still walked with pops and cracks, but he could tell there was some improvement though nothing like Rusty and Norman described.

“Susan? Two minutes love,” Matt spoke as he poked his head through her bedroom door. 

The response was expected.  “Dad! Get out, I’m getting dressed!” she shrieked and punctuated that with the tossing of a bed pillow.  Matt shut the door and headed down to find his shoes and keys.  Susan being the younger of the couple’s two children lived with them.  She was a typical teenager with all the sass to go with it; she was nothing like her brother and had taken after Luke in mannerism, wit, and charm … the charm of a 15lb sledgehammer.

At the bottom of the stairs he was greeted by his dog, Sterling.  A silver and black Schnauzer that was slightly larger than a teacup, and smaller than a standard.  That dog loved Matt and they were just about inseparable.  Matt recognized the dog’s vocalization, “Okay, okay, let’s go for a quick walk before I take Susan to school,” He spoke to the dog like a person.  Sterling danced a bit and went to sit on his crate, waiting for the snap of the leash. Matt grabbed his coat, clipped the leash and they were out the door.

In the meantime, Susan came down and found that Dad had set the breakfast table.  He made toast in the shape of hearts today.  Susan smiled, devoured the oatmeal, coffee, and toast and then headed for the door.

Matt and Sterling met her at the entry door, “Hey, all ready to go?” 

“Yeah, let’s go, I need to get there to work on my art project,”

“Okay,” Matt responded.  He quickly grabbed his keys, and made sure the dog gate was in place. They jumped in the car and took off towards school.  Matt noticed an odd car down the block but passed it off as one of the neighbors. 

“Do you think they’ll be able to manage this?” asked Norman as they sat in a car up the street, watching the daily hustle.  It was a lazy New England town, small streets, sidewalks, and kids riding bikes to school.  Not really the ideal place for two newly sired Bears to make a change.

Rusty responded, “They’ll be fine.  Matt and Luke are a mated-pair.  They were before we changed them and they’ll still be one after they transform.”  Rusty knew they were mated just like he and Norman.  It was a genetic marker that brought some Bears together either as humans or Bears.  They may flutter off to sniff around once in a while, but they will always end up together.

“I can see that, but what about all the details?  They have a daughter and a full life with children, work, social activities, and charity events.”  Norman was frightfully aware of the challenges of being gay and having children.  He admired the pair for raising them.  Their oldest child, Steve, was still in Kansas working on being his own person, and their youngest, Susan lived with them.  She was a handful from what Matt had told him and took after Luke in most things.

“They’ll be fine.  Trust me,” Rusty said, rubbing Norman’s thigh.  They winked at each other and looked at the clock on the dash. 

“We have a few minutes,” Norman shyly grinned.  They smiled at each other and reclined both seats.  The windows in the car steamed up and the car shook a little.  Grunts and growls could be heard, but this went largely unnoticed with the hustle and bustle of the waking street.   

Be a Big Bear

Luke woke with a jump and looked at his watch; Matt would be back in a few minutes.  He rolled over and inhaled the new scent coming from Matt’s pillow.  “Damn I love that,” he said aloud.  Matt was developing a scent that made Luke excited, aroused, and deeply in-need of him.  Matt had always told him that he had a scent that drove him wild.  Matt called it Luke’s Bear-in-the-Woods scent.  He got up, scratched his belly, stretched, and grabbed the clothes that Matt had laid out for him.  “I love that Cub!” He spoke aloud.  Luke had been more than clinging to Matt after the last few months.  It had been hard.  Luke admitted to Matt that it had been a mistake when he told him to leave.  It was not until the next morning when Luke awoke alone that he felt the full weight of that action; with all that had transpired, he was reflecting more on the times he hurt Matt than the times he loved him.

His cell beeped, it was a text message from Rusty asking if was ok to come inside.  Luke responded with Yes, come on in! and continued to dress.  In a few seconds he heard the door open and dogs start to issue love and kisses to the guests.  They were an Ark shy of being Noah, with dogs, cats and various wild animals that Matt would tend to.  Matt had always had a way with just about any kind of animal he came in contact with.  It was amazing to just see him in the yard.  Animals just came to him, more so now than before.

After brushing his teeth, he headed downstairs to greet his guests.  Seated at the kitchen table were their Papa-Bears, all a-beam with smiles.  He had not bonded so quickly with the pair; they were very friendly, protective, and very supportive, but Luke was not in control of this, and it was hard for him.  Luke’s reaction was to keep them at a distance, and be weary of all action.

“You two look freshly cleaned and pressed,” a smile came from Luke’s lips, while he walked to the coffee pot. 

“No kissing and telling, I got the picture,” Luke was quick with the follow up. 

“It’s good to see you, but why the early A.M. visit?” Luke questioned while pouring his coffee. 

“Just checking on you both.  We communicate with Matt via email and cell, but we wanted to come by and see you both …” Rusty let that last word trail off. 

Luke sat down, “Bullshit.  Now tell me the truth!” he said in a very matter-of-fact tone.  He was weary and trust came hard for Luke.  He lacked Matt’s gut sense, so it was hard for him.

Norman chimed in, “Seriously, we just want to make sure that you are both OK.  Usually Cubs are under the care of their Papas in the time before the change; this is a situation new to everyone and it has more than a few concerned.”  Rusty waited, while Luke drew a long sip of coffee.  Rusty was very worried about them.  They were carrying on with their human lives like nothing had happened and nothing was going to happen.  It was the duality of the situations, which many thought impossible to maintain.

He looked directly at the pair and with a very deep tone proceeded to unload on them; “If you want my impression, this sucks.  I’m watching the man of my dreams go through hell.  He’s not having any of the nice parts of the change that you both spoke about.  Actually, he’s a mess.  He aches all the time, spends hours in the hot shower or bath.  The only relief he can seem to get is swimming or floating in a pool.  He’s running a constant fever and will hardly eat.  He has lost almost seventy pounds and I have to force him to eat and drink.  I’m watching him suffer and I’m starting to hate you both for it.”  After he was finished, they sat in an awkward silence.  Luke was used to being in control, always being the boss, in this situation all he could do was wait, powerless.

Rusty was the first to break the tension.  “We’ve asked the Elders about this.  They have no explanation.  You are both Kin, you’ll both change to Werebears.  No one has seen this type of reaction to the change. We’re sorry that we have no advice to offer.  We’ll have to just ride it out and see what happens.” 

“Really, that’s all you both have?  Ride it out.  GET OUT of our home! Just get out!”  Luke almost yelled at them as he got up and left the room, slamming the door behind him.  In the living room, he shook his fists and stamped his feet.  He was mad, but he could not focus his anger on any one thing.  He wanted to throw something, but did not.  He wanted to hold Matt and he was not there.  All the mistakes he had made with Matt flooded back over him.  Every unkind word said in anger, every snide comment, and every bit of pain he had ever put his soul mate through came rushing back to him, washing over him like a winter storm.  It was a raging blizzard that he could not stop; one he couldn’t find solace from.

The two Bears sat for a few seconds, and then left. “We need to find Vic,” Rusty whispered, closing the door behind them.  In the car, Rusty made the necessary calls and within a few hours a gathering of Bears was en-route to meet and hopefully help Matt and Luke.

“I hope he can help,” Rusty whispered.  He wanted to help them; he wanted to be able answer all their questions, but some things were just beyond him.

About 10 minutes later Matt bounded through the door and into the house, hugging the puppies as he went. 

“Where’s my Bear?” Matt shouted as he came into the kitchen.  Luke emerged from the living room with a smile, truly glad to see him.  They hugged and held each other in a long kiss.  Luke felt Matt and he was still feverish, but also slightly cold to the touch. 

“Are you cold?” Luke asked.  Matt nodded and put his head on Luke’s Chest.  He wrapped his arms around the big man and just hugged him close. He had healed from his encounter with the Bears, but now his body seemed to be breaking down and it scared him.  He had been a heavy guy when he left; when he came back he was taut muscle and now he seemed to be wasting away.

“I’m fine. This will pass … you’ll see,” he said looking up into the eyes of his Bear, his soul mate, his everything.  He tried to sound upbeat and cheery even though he was scared.  Nothing that Rusty said was going to happen was happening.  Actually it seemed to be the opposite.

“Are you sure you’re ok?  I could take today off and take you to the Float Spa, you could soak for a few hours,” Luke blurted out in tone that said, I’m worried and want to help, but I don’t know how. 

“Bear, I’m fine.  I’m going to the gym for a swim in a little while.  I’ll be fine, you’ll see,” He spoke to his Bear as upbeat as he could. 

As he turned he noticed the extra cups in the sink, the chairs weren’t where he had left them, and there were extra sets of wet boot tracks in the entry room.  “Who was here?” Matt asked. 

“Rusty and Norman stopped by, but I asked them to leave,” Luke said looking down at his feet.  He knew he had done the wrong thing, but he didn’t know how to fix it.

“What? Why? I would love to see them again,” Matt quipped.

“I lost my temper; I got mad that you are in so much pain and they can’t offer you any help.  Forgive me?” The big Bear huffed and let the last few words escape him like a long sigh.  He wanted so badly Matt to be okay; he deeply needed for Matt to forgive him for what he did.  Matt had never mentioned that day since he returned.  Sometimes Luke wished Matt would get mad at him, but he never did.  He would just smile, hug him and move forward with whatever was happening.  That was what made Matt special; he forgave everything, loved everyone, and moved forward, never looking back.

Matt smiled and spoke to his Bear, “You were forgiven before you did it. Grab your phone and ask them to dinner.  Susan wants to meet them.”  Luke smiled, kissed his lover and started tapping away on his cell.  Matt wished Luke was not so hot tempered.  However, he knew that for Luke to change he had to want to change, not be told to.

Help from the West

On the opposite coast, seated at his well-worn kitchen table, Vic hung the phone up and looked over at Mitch.  “Go get Walt; we need to make a trip.” He said and went back to reading the paper. 

“Umm… Ok?” Mitch trotted off to find his lover and mate.

When they’d gathered Vic filled them in.  “Guys, we’re going to Virginia.  Rusty and Norman’s Cubs are having a very hard time.  Matt isn’t changing like any Bear I have known and Luke is defensive and does not want anyone around.  We need to meet them and decide if they’re salvageable or need to be dealt with.”  He let last part sink in.

Mitch was first. “What do you mean dealt with?  Is this like when we dealt with the rogues all those years ago?”  He hoped it wasn’t; the time since that incident had been magical for everyone, he didn’t want it to change.

“Not exactly, Matt is going through the stages getting ready to change, but it hasn’t been like yours at all.  From speaking with Rusty, he’s not growing … actually his body seems to be breaking down, getting smaller, more compact,” Vic spoke kindly. 

“Ok, so this is a first-aid mission!” Walt chimed in. 

“Yes, you could say that.  Now go pack some things, we need to leave today,” Vic said in a commanding Papa-Bear tone.

The two hurried off to make preparations while Vic sat silently, wishing above all else that they didn’t have to be dealt with.  Some Bears went insane and became animals when they changed and some didn’t.  There was already too much blood on his hands, both Bear and Human.

The ride to the airport was quiet; in the car they were all a little lost in thought.  After security they sat at the coffee shop, waiting for the plane to board. “So how long are we flying for?” asked Mitch. 

“We’ve got a 4 hour flight directly into Virginia.  We’ll pick up the rental car and be at Matt and Luke’s home in about 40 minutes,” Vic rattled like recorded instructions.  Actually, the directions Norman had given him were pretty easy.  They lived in a quaint little village; it was very romantic.

“Are Norman and Rusty there?” questioned Mitch.

“Yes and no.  Luke was upset enough this morning that he told them to leave.  Then called, apologized, and invited them for dinner.  They’ll meet us there,” said Vic, his gut churning under his smile. 

Overhead the airport boarding announcements were heard.  In line the three were a head taller than most and found it a little difficult to get into the seats.  When they settled Mitch and Walt were asleep before the plane even took off.  Vic on the other hand, was gripping the seat and holding on.  He hated flying!

Fruit and Honey

“Okay, that was Rusty; they’ll be back at 6:00 P.M., and they also said three Bear friends of theirs would like to meet us.”  Luke looked at Matt as he finished the statement.  The look on Matt’s face was filled with shock and the panic of a caretaker that was just told guests would be arriving.

“Honey-Bear, there is no way we can fit 8 people at our table.  Let’s make reservations at the Inn.  They’ve a great dinner menu,” Matt asked a little hopeful.

Luke’s phone rang again; “Hello, this is Luke?  Yes, hello Norman.  Just order Pizza! Ok, I’ll tell him.  Yes, he’s glaring at me.  Yes, I’ll give him a hug.  Ok … bye,” Luke hung up and put a finger on Matt’s lips.  He knew that Matt was a caretaker, one who takes care of others to the point of his own detriment.

“Not a word from you.  Order the pizza and the drinks, I’ll go get beer.  Do not, I repeat, do not cook anything or try in impress anyone coming to this home.  Do you understand?”  Matt nodded, but still glared at him.  Left on his own, he would have prepared a four-course meal complete with all the finery.  It was ingrained into him to take care of the people around him.  Right now, he was the one that needed to be taken care of.

Luke grabbed a hold of Matt, pulling him close and kissed him very deeply.  “You need to eat more; you’re wasting away.” Luke said as he broke the kiss.  He hugged and touched Matt as much as he could.  It was like Matt was a positive energy source and touching him made Luke feel better.  He was watching Matt become more compact, if that was possible.  It seemed that whatever type of Bear he was becoming, a smaller frame than most was needed.

“I know, I know; I just have no appetite. I thought Rusty said I was going to be ravenous but all I want is honey and fruit.” Matt said, his head resting on Luke’s shoulder.  Actually he was hungry, but he couldn’t place his mind on what it was he wanted. The fresh fruit and honey seemed to be the best thing; it was what snagged his nose at the market and he had eaten little else in about a month.  He was finding it increasingly hard to go to the grocery store.  The smells, sounds, and people assaulted his changing senses making him uncomfortable.

“Ok, I have to get to work.  Promise me you’ll eat something and rest today.  Promise?” Luke held Matt’s face in his hands, looking into his eyes. There was nothing in the world that he wanted more than for Matt to be okay.  He still wanted to be forgiven for what he had done and for how he had treated his lover, but Matt never brought it up.  Matt was like that, mistakes were never brought up again, and they would never be drug up in anger or a fight.  Matt lived to move forward, not to muddle himself in the past.

“Yes Bear I will.  I will,” Matt said, just over a whisper. He was hiding the pain today, he felt hot all over.  He could feel his body and muscles moving under his skin.  He noticed some hair growth on the back of his neck that morning, but nothing more. 

After Luke left, Matt called Rusty.  He invited them back over.  “Just let yourselves in, I’m going to grab a shower.” Matt wanted the Papa Bears to be proud of him.  He searched for their approval in most things.  The odd thing was being a Bear brings with it a standing-approval of all things and an acceptance of what you become and the directions you take.  As he went upstairs, stabbing pain wracked his body.  The pain washed over him like hot wax in an open wound.  It dropped him to his knees, hard to the steps.  His legs would not work and his hands seemed to contract on their own.  Blackness came to Matt on the stairs as the pain faded into the void.

Floating

Blackness fading to smells and sounds. 

He must have passed out, and tumbled backward down the stairs.  When he came around Rusty was holding his head at the bottom of the stairs.  “Are you okay?” He asked.  Rusty was more than worried about his little cub. 

“Yes, what time is it? Where’s Luke? How long have you been here? Where are the dogs? Is Susan home?” Matt rattled the questions in a panic …  Rusty felt and saw the panic rise in his eyes.  The look of a caretaker that was somehow not able to perform that duty.  As much as Matt took care of others, he had a hard time being take care of.

“Stop… It’s about 1:30pm, Luke’s still at work, you’ve been out about an hour or so, they’re in the kennel, and no.  Did that answer all your questions?” Rusty spoke while looking down at Matt, one hand on his chest the other rubbing his head. 

“Thank you.  I need to get up,” Matt talked just over a whisper.  As Matt moved he could feel the plates and screws in his body.  The crack and pop of movement was audible to the two Bears in the room, they looked at each other concerned.

They could tell he was still in pain, but let him get up and move around.  He hobbled a bit, but otherwise seemed functional.  As he moved the stiffness went away and the ache stopped.  He had been unconscious for about an hour, which made him very uncomfortable.  He was pacing in the kitchen when Susan got home.  Matt was worried about the visitors that were coming. 

“Hey, Susan-Susan.” Matt spoke in an upbeat tone that washed away the anguish from the day.  He hugged their daughter, pulled her close and up off her feet. 

“I’m good dad, who’re these guys?” Susan asked, locking eyes with each of them as they spoke.  Luke taught her that; she had taken after Luke.  The way she dealt with people, the way she spoke and handled herself.  Like Luke, Susan was getting used to being in control and she liked it that way.

“Susan, this is Rusty and Norman, two close friends of Luke and I.” Matt took a few steps back and sat down in the kitchen chair.  He was hungry.

“It’s good to meet you,” Rusty spoke first followed by Norman.  Handshakes were exchanged and Susan excused herself to do homework upstairs. 

“Too many men down here for me to concentrate,” she smiled, winked, and scooted up the stairs.  It was nice being around all the manly, furry, beefy men, but she could tell they were a couple like her dads.

“She’s such a flirt,” Matt murmured. 

“She must be a handful?” Norman spoke up.  Quietly missing his children and proud that Matt and Luke had taken on the challenge of raising them.

“Yes, yes she is a total flirt handful. We’re already beating the boys off with sticks; I cannot imagine what the next few years are going to be like.” Matt trailed off.  Everyone laughed, a much needed tension breaker in the day.  As the three settled in to wait for Luke to arrive home they chatted.  He related his dreams, how they were of a cave, the ringing of bells, and the Great Bear. They discussed their dreams leading up to their change and how different they were.  Matt would dream of locations like forests, deserts, fjords, and valleys.  It was like his dreams were leading him somewhere.  Trying to show him a path, places he needed to be, something he needed to follow.  Toward the end of the conversation, Matt excused himself to lie down. He had eaten more fruit and honey, but he felt extremely tired and he was feverish.

  Remembrance

As the day progressed it was clear that something was terribly wrong with Matt.  In the midst of all this, he arranged for Susan to go to a friend’s house.  She was excited; hanging around the house with a group of large, furry, gay men was safe, but not as much fun for her.  Matt put up an honest show for his daughter.  He never let on that his body was writhe with pain and he just wanted to curl up in a ball. 

He was on the couch when Luke arrived home.  He was feverish, shivering and pretty much out of it.  “What’s going on with him?” He pleaded with Norman and Rusty.  In sharp flashes of flashback, every voice raised in anger, every snide remark, every hurt Luke had slung, washed over him looking at his mate helpless on the couch.

“Please … help him,” Luke pleaded and repeated, grabbing hold of Matt and rocking back and forth while kneeling by the couch.  Luke easily hefted his weight.

Matt’s breathing was going shallow, but his fever and shivering was slowing.  As Luke cradled Matt, a knock came from the back door.  Norman went to answer it.  It was Vic, Mitch and Walt.  They came in and Vic headed straight to Luke and Matt. 

“Luke, you don’t know me, but please trust me. We’ll figure out what’s happening to him.  This isn’t normal.  Please lay him back down and let me take a look at him.”  Vic said all this, looking straight into Luke’s eyes, never breaking contact, full of concern.

In a daze, Luke put Matt on the couch and stepped away.  When he did, Norman wrapped him in a big hug. 

Vic leaned down to the couch, and sniffed intently at the now passed out Matt.  He sniffed, and sniffed then he turned to Rusty, “How long ago did you sire him?” 

“Three months ago today,” Rusty replied, ashen faced and starting to pace.

“Well, he’s about to make his change, tonight by the smell of it,” Vic looked up at Luke. 

Hearing this, Luke locked eyes with Vic and managed to shudder a short question, “Will he be ok?”

“Yes, I would think so. But we need to move him somewhere bigger and more private.  Things may cascade out of hand; every change is different,” Vic said, real concern and genuine fear on his face.

“We can go to the Terminal. There’s nothing in the shop; it’s plenty big and we can secure all the doors from the inside.  It’s the down time, no one is working tonight or this week,” Luke responded. 

“Good, let’s go now!” Vic replied.

In short order they’d loaded Matt into one of the vehicles.  He was talking in fits, calling Luke’s name and the words run and don’t hurt him were heard more than a few times. 

Up to this point Mitch and Walt had been silent.  “What’s happening Papa?  Why is he changing so fast?” they both asked in unison. 

“I don’t know … I don’t know.  All I know is he’s about the change.  Did you notice how he smelled when we loaded him?  I have the feeling something special is about to happen,” Vic let his words trail off, knowing that Rusty had changed this human and with that came worry. 

They arrived at the Terminal and unloaded Matt; they secured all the doors and found a few pallets and pieces of cardboard for him to lie on; Luke took a seat beside him. 

“Luke, you need to let him lie alone and change.  You might get hurt; we’ve never seen anything like this before.  He could hurt, or even kill you,” Vic said in the warmest tone he could muster.  Luke looked up at him.

“I won’t leave his side.  What you don’t know is that in the case by my foot is a revolver Matt had made for me.  He was well aware that he or I might go insane during the change.  The last promise we swore to each other was that before he hurts anyone or hurts himself that I was to put him down.  The greatest love I can give him is to protect him, not only from others, but also from himself.  He would do the same for me,” he looked back down at Matt, who’d opened his eyes.

“It’s about to get crazy lover, I can feel it about to happen.  Please lay me down, take out the gun, and step back … please,” Matt spoke softly and tenderly to his mate.  Even in all the pain he was in, and about to go through, he thought of Luke first. 

Luke nodded laying him down, grabbed the case, and stepped back.  The others had stripped off their clothes and shifted to half Bear form, in this form they would have some extra strength.

From the floor the change started. Matt was on his back, in and out of consciousness.  He body began to elongate, and then retreat.  His fur would start to show only to retreat.  Thrashing and crying, he clawed at the ground beneath him.  His fingers were bloody, arms, elbows, knees skinned to the bone.  It was like his body was trying to push out or expel something.

Luke raised the gun and a small red point of light could be seen on Matt’s head.  “I have to stop this, I cannot watch this,” Luke said as he pulled the hammer back. 

Vic stepped in front of the gun.  “Not yet,” Vic said and turned back around.

From the floor the thrashing reached a climax and stopped, Matt became still, deathly still.  The scent in the shop was thick, even in this large space it was pungent.  Everyone froze for a few seconds.  As they watched, his wounds started to heal themselves.  What little hair Matt had on his body totally retreated as he woke up, shook his head, and stood up.

“That was a bit strange,” he said. Matt looked over at Luke and smiled, then looked around the room. 

“Wow, my sight is sure as hell different, so is smell.  Damn this place stinks,” Matt exclaimed like a kid working out the kinks on a new toy. 

“Matt, you need to change into your Bear.  You have to, or you’ll always have trouble,” Vic said in a commanding yet even tone. 

“Please let me hold Luke, while I change. I won’t hurt him,” Matt’s voice was cracking and he was tearing up a little. Luke took a few steps and was blocked by the Bears in half form. 

“Matt, you have to change, it’s part of the package,” Vic spoke in a caring almost fatherly tone. 

Matt looked up at Luke and started his transformation. It was steady and progressive.  He went to all fours as his body morphed.  The popping and cracking associated with changing forms were not there; it was smooth, like liquid flowing in a stream.  During the change all of the metal plates, screws, fillings, steel wire and joints that held him together were pushed out of his new body.  His human teeth were pushed out and all the deformity in his joints repaired.  At the end, an assortment of bloody metal parts lay around him as he panted now in his full Bear form. On all fours, Matt sniffed the metal parts and the teeth, chuffing softly.  Looking up, he stood onto his hind legs.

Everyone just stopped, silence filled the room around them.  What stood before them was a Bear of odd size.  Matt was a pitch black Bear with a blond muzzle and streaks running down his chest as well as up across and around his eyes.  He had the roundest ears of any of the Bears.  The Streaks on his face connected in lines to his forepaws; his paws were narrow and the claws were very long.  His eyes were a bright shade of crystal blue; they hadn’t changed to brown like the other Bears.  His size as a full Bear was small compared to the Bears around him, he was not much taller in his full Bear form than he was as a human.  He was calm, but Vic could tell he was working out the kinks, as he stretched, leaned his head back and roared as long as he could.  The sound of his first Bear vocalization was music to the Bears in the room. 

“What … is … he …?” asked Rusty.

“Andean … he’s a freaking Andean MoonBear!” Vic muttered excitedly.

  A chuff of amazement came from everyone but Luke, who didn’t understand. 

“Go to him, go hug your Bear,” Rusty said. Luke dropped the gun, and ran toward Matt.  The new Werebear had sat on his rump with an audible plop and held his arms outstretched.  They hugged.  Matt didn’t hurt Luke in any way. He scooped him up and held him tight, hugging and licking Luke all over. They stayed that way for some time. 

Vic turned to Rusty and Mitch, “That was special.  I don’t know what just happened, but we need to watch these two.”

Matt did turn back to his human form and they cleaned up the shop before they all headed home.  Matt was neither hungry, nor angry.  He was just…well just Matt.  It was like nothing had happened.

Later that night, they made love and Luke had his first taste of Bear Sex or Cub Booty, however you want to think of it.  He was hooked.  They worked on each other till the wee hours of the morning.

As the visitors ambled outside the house, they heard a few growls and “Bite me damn it” from Matt; besides that only simple sounds of lovemaking could be heard.  Their new family took over Matt and Luke’s RV and crashed there for the night.  It was a good thing that Matt kept it maintained, powered and well stocked; the visitors were very well taken care of; there was beer, wine, soda, snack food, and of course lots of lube and towels. 

“Mitch, Walt take the bed in the back.  Norman, Rusty take the pullout up front.  I’ll take the bunk in the nose,” Vic said as he opened up the fridge. 

“Ok Papa.  Do you think Matt will be ok?” asked Mitch.

“Yes … Yes, I do.  Let’s get through the first night and we will see how tomorrow goes; stay alert tonight for disturbances.  However, I think all is well,” Vic said as he grabbed Beer for everyone.

Cub Steps

In the morning Matt rose early; Luke was still fast asleep and snoring loudly, or at least it seemed incredibly loud with his new Werebear senses.  He eased out of the bed and noticed right away that his body no longer snapped and cracked as he moved.  For the first time in as long as he could remember his movements were quiet and fluid.  It was as though his body had suddenly developed both a deeper and faster connection to his brain.  As he made it to the bottom of the stairs his dog came up, sniffed the air and retreated to the other room.  He didn’t push it; he was sure that it was going to take some adjustment for everyone in the house Bears, humans and canines alike. 

Making his way outside, he looked over to the RV where his guests had crashed for the night.  Sniffing the air he could tell there had been some fun times amongst the occupants; his ears picked up their soft snores and he padded quietly past the RV to the storage shed at the rear of the property.

The shed sat at the back of Matt and Luke’s property and acted as a storage place for all of Matt’s military gear and possessions that couldn’t fit in the house.  It was as if he had collected an array of stuff that had not seen the light of day in some time.  Also, in that pile of random items in a corner were a few things his father had left him.  Given what had happened in the last few months, he needed to hold onto those things, to take solace in them being real and reaffirm his connection to his parents. He dug around for a bit and finally found what he was searching for, three bō-staffs his father had made for him before his death.  As Matt drug out the nylon carry bag it crumbled and fell apart in his hands; the contents were wrapped in plastic with desiccant packs. 

“Dad thought of everything, he always did,” spoke Matt, just over a whisper, to himself, no-one was around.

He lifted one of the staffs out of the plastic gripping it tightly.  It was handmade like many of things his father had owned, he could almost smell his father on the staff and feel his presence as he held it is his hands.  As he walked away from the shed he let the staff twirl expertly around his hands. He repeated a few practice patterns with the staff and then stopped abruptly.  His senses were on fire, he noticed right away that he could move much faster than before. Both his balance and his spirit seemed to be renewed.  None of the pesky injuries and quirks that had haunted him for years existed anymore. 

He smiled and spoke aloud to himself, “Let’s see what this new body of mine can do!”

He exhaled deeply, centering himself, and thought back to the many training sessions with his father.  After his change, the world was alive to him in ways that far exceeded human perception.  Colors were brighter, objects had a different hue, smells were more acute, and sounds were crisper. 

Finding his center was easy now.  His mind quieted and his senses came to the forefront of his perception.  Matt closed his eyes, allowing the world to explode into his mind, allowing its ever embracing arms to reach out to every nook and cranny of his being.  He moved through a pattern that his father had taught him just before his death; the patterns and movements came back easily, smoothly connecting his thoughts to action.  The pattern brought with it the energy of his body, the strength of his soul, and the life force of nature.  These parts were now part of Matt in ways he could never have imagined.

He heard his father’s voice in the air as he moved.  “Emotions are powerful.  Through focused thought and applied motion, emotions will become tangible.  Anger and fear become stone as you move.  Happiness and love become the wind.  Each has a specific use in combat and in life.  In most cases these two are the same.  You must learn where and when to apply them.”

His father had called the pattern “Gathering the Wind,” and Matt would do just that.  He found that pattern and movements were easy and just felt right; never before had he been so in-tune with his body and his mind. The pesky lag between thought and motion was gone. As he moved, his emotions came forward crashing over him like waves on battered rocks.  He was remembering his father, his mother, and his entire line. As his emotions intensified so did his movements, they became faster as he pushed himself further than he had ever been able to before. All the hardships of his life, all the happy moments, all the death and destruction he had seen washed over him; the emotions were unstoppable and urgent, like a leaking dam that was about to give way. All the compartments that the memories had been locked in were suddenly dissolving,  flooding his mind.

Round and round in the pattern Matt moved, repeating it over and over.  He moved with a liquid grace that had always eluded him before the change.  His father had moved with this grace just like his mother.  He had tried so hard for years to move with their speed and fluidity; however, until now it had been impossible for him.  He was finally able to achieve what he had always dreamed.

Entranced by his memories and the liquid movement of his body, Matt didn’t notice his visitors emerging from the RV and stopping to watch him. The Werebears, who had come to Matt and Luke’s aid, stood watching air and earth become one around Matt as he stepped and brought the staff around his body. He seemed to be commanding the energy around him, gathering it and pushing it out in the directions of his movements.  The wind had picked up and the air had a static charge to it.  Vic stepped forward, grabbed one of the staffs, and stepped into Matt’s path. 

CRACK! The sound was deafening when the big Bear locked staffs with Matt and brought him to an abrupt halt.  A noticeable rush of wind pushed past Vic, gusting out in all directions, moving the leaves around them.  Matt’s breathing was heavy and there were tears running down his face. He growled softly, eyes closed tight, ursine teeth barely visible from his panting mouth.   

“You need to get a hold of yourself before you change,” Vic spoke evenly.

“Back off I’m fine, just working out the kinks,” growled Matt as he opened his eyes.  His eyes were a brighter blue than before.  Matt was sweating and his whole body was tensing and releasing as he stood there.  The staffs bent and creaked as each Bear applied more pressure.

“No, you’re not in control, you are about to change forms,” Vic spoke evenly, trying an even tone to hopefully get through to him.  He knew from the description of how Matt found the Bears that he had skills and training, but he had no idea how much until today.  He would be a hard one to handle; most humans never come close to this level of connection to the world around them.  Most merely exist in the world.  Matt seemed to be a part of the earth’s energy itself and was able to command it, able to see it, able to feel it.  Vic had known that being changed by Rusty would have an effect, but this was unexpected. He was sure that at some point Matt’s human body was strong and he had connected to the world.  From the brief stories he had told it had only been in the most extreme conditions that he could do this.  Now that he was a Bear that connection was heightened, making it a constant in his life instead of a last resort.  If Matt wasn’t careful, he would be lost to his Bear and to that flow of energy unable to return to his human self. 

“I just want to work out for a while. Now leave me alone!” Matt growled and slammed the end of the staff into Vic’s chest; the impact took Vic off his feet and landed him on his back a good five feet away. Matt took a few steps back, brought the staff around him and slammed it into the ground, roaring a challenge.  Even though he was still human, Matt roared his challenge as though he was in his Bear form.  The other Bears stood stock-still watching from a distance and waited.  Luke had woken with the sounds and made his way outside; the Bears stood with him, holding him back out of the way.  Mitch wrapped Luke in a hug and held him close knowing he would have to keep him out of the fray.  Whatever was about to unfold Vic would have to handle it, but the others stood ready.  They were worried.  Matt was small compared to everyone else, but it seemed he made up for his almost diminutive size and stature in strength, speed and raw fury.

Vic shook his head to clear it and looked up at the panting, growling Werebear who was standing in a defensive stance looking for a fight.  “Ok whelp, you want to work out? Let’s see what you got.” He leapt to his feet with a liquid grace and speed that was unnatural, even for a Bear, and launched himself at Matt.

He thrusted toward Matt in a downward arc from the air and caught him in his mid chest.  Matt reacted flowing with the impact, letting it push him over.  He brought his feet up and kicked Vic’s staff away as he landed on his back.  He came around and up with his staff, attempting to impale the huge Bear. Defying gravity and the laws of physics, Vic glided over Matt in a smooth motion, rotated and landed on his feet. 

Matt, missing with the staff, pin wheeled to his feet and commenced to attack Vic.  The give and take of the match was a spectacle to watch.  Vic’s Cubs were impressed with their Papa’s martial skills, something that they’d never seen their Papa Bear display.  They were equally impressed with Matt; he was holding his own with the older Bear.  However, it was apparent that the older Bear was a much calmer fighter, compared to Matt who seemed to be lost somewhere between rage, his primal nature as a Bear, and sadness.  Tears were rolling off onto his cheeks like a burst dam.  The Bears knew that whatever he was going through or remembering, it had to have been horrible. Rusty started to cry, and almost crumbled to his knees, he could feel the waves of emotions coming off the new Bear. 

“Are you okay?” Norman asked Rusty, grabbing hold of him as he collapsed to his knees, then slumped to all fours looking out at the fighting Bears.

“Matt’s in a dark place … it’s so sad … so dark. Please, we need to help him,” Rusty almost cried as he spoke.

“Vic will have to handle it. We will be here if needed,” Norman hugged Rusty, looking out on the match unfolding. 

As they went after each other the air around them started to gust; trees were starting to sway and the air had a visible electric charge to it.  The clouds above them had started to gather and darken. Whatever type of Bear Matt had become, he was special, something none of them had experienced.  Rusty and Norman looked out at the match unfolding; both worried about their Cub.

“Please come back to us little-Bear …” Rusty spoke just over a whisper.  The darkness was getting stronger; Rusty could feel it come to this place.  The light was retreating as Matt slipped deeper into whatever he was battling.

Norman leaned in; hugging his Bear close “He will come around, you’ll see.”

After several exchanges, Matt was left panting, and Vic stood calm and collected. “Matt, get a hold of yourself. Calm down please,”

Although he was still in his human form, Matt spoke to Vic in Bear-like noises.

“No, you need to calm down and ease your mind.  It’s not going to get easier; you are going to have to work on control.  Get a hold of yourself, please.” Vic was speaking to Matt in a very even, slow tone. 

Matt stood there, panting, tears rolling down his cheeks.  It was apparent to everyone that he was in conflict with himself.  Whatever Matt was battling, the larger blond Bear was not going to leave until it was beaten.  Matt exhaled deeply, took a few steps back and dropped the staff behind him.  Looking over to Vic, he stood straight up and bowed to the older Bear.  He held a hand out to him beckoning to follow.

Moving to the center of the clearing, Matt faced a quarter turn away from Vic and started breathing deeply, he moved through a mediation pattern his mother had taught him.  It was called “The Song of the Four Elements.”  To everyone’s shock, Vic started the pattern with him.  As they moved they seemed to sync; every motion, stop, exhale, weight shift and punch was perfectly timed.  The pattern was repeated until the ground beneath their feet was worn down.  At the end, both Bears stood facing each other.  They stayed this way for some time, standing motionless, breathing deeply.  The clouds had cleared and the sun was coming through.  Both Bears were bathed in the sunlight and soft wind that was now blowing around them.

When Matt opened his eyes, he was standing in front of the much taller, much broader, much hairier Bear.  Vic put a hand on his shoulder, squeezed hard and walked away. 

The other Bears still stood, watching.  When Vic reached his Cubs he spoke to them.  “Matt is rare, just like you Rusty.  He is tapping into a lifetime of training and bringing it all forward into the present.  Combine that with being a new Bear and it could be disaster.  He needs our understanding and care, not a sparring match.  What happened today was the first step for him.”

He then turned to make eye contact with Luke, “He’ll be ok, but he needs much more training and guidance.  Little exists to slow his mind from reacting and his human training from taking over.” Luke nodded knowing exactly what he meant. He flashed back to the times when Matt had protected him; it was scary for him to that such a loving person could be completely un-remorseful when confronted with aggression. At times Matt acted as if he was two completely separate beings.

“Papa? He was just as fast as you, how’s that possible?” questioned Walt.

“Matt … Matt is a special Bear.” He smiled proudly at his Cubs and hugged them close. Inside Vic knew what Matt was and what he would become.  He knew this was not the end of his change, and that it would likely destroy the kind, loving, and jovial Cub. What they had all witnessed the night before was a birth, but just as a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, so would Matt.

As they looked back, Matt had returned to his patterns.  The wind had started to pick up again.  “I think I’ll give him a try; let’s see if his ground game is as good as high game,” Walt said, turning.

Vic grabbed him by the arm. “No. He has too little control. Matt is much stronger and faster than he looks.  He would hurt or even kill you without even knowing what he was doing,” with that, Vic held up the palms of his hands showing the Bears the remainder of the blood bruises that had not yet fully healed/

“He was hitting that hard?” Walt asked, his mouth open wide in surprise.

“Yes, now leave him be.  He will work out the kinks and come back inside in his own time,” Vic hugged his Cubs close as he tugged them away from Matt, Luke in tow.  Luke looked back his lover, who was continuing his patterns, the ground already worn down beneath his feet. 

In the days following Matt’s change, it felt as though his senses were on fire and the couple had to make several adjustments to the house.  However, as a whole his change went without incident, strange but without incident.  Even after the sparring match with Vic, Matt was happy.  Luke thought it bizarre, but the other Bears loved the positive vibe that Matt radiated, not to mention his extremely alluring scent. 

Several weeks later, when everything had settled, the visitors left the couple to return to their own homes. Vic returned home, immediately contacting Boris; they spent many long hours speaking about Matt’s change and what it meant.  The sparring session presented itself as quite a concern for Boris.  At the end of the conversation they agreed that Matt would need support during his transition to his new life as a Bear, not supervision.  The new couple had proven both very capable and committed to one another.  The older Bears would be close by to ensure that Rusty and Norman were proud parents and that Matt and Luke were doing well while they adjusted. Everyone agreed that there was something special about the pair.

There were still a few months before it would be time for Luke to make his change, this lag time leading up to his change was emotionally hard on Luke.  Seeing what Matt went through, he was saddened to his core that his change was going so well.  He was also delighted that all the things Rusty and Norman spoke about were coming true.  The growth, body changes, sex drive, and appetite were the best parts.  Luke could finally eat whatever he wanted without worry. He had always been nagged with a body that did not match his desire for activity; mow he was becoming stronger, faster and more confident.  He noticed that he was a little less than graceful, but thought it was part of the change and shrugged it off.  The couple made it a point to have sex everywhere they could.  A few times people almost caught them in the act, they were an insatiable pair. 

Old Wounds

Matt had changed into his bear a few weeks earlier and was now out romping with Norman, romping was the wrong choice of words. They were shopping and Norman was attempting to keep Matt from buying the whole grocery store.  On the deck overlooking the backyard, Luke and Rusty were having a conversation.

“So, tell me why you are so territorial with Matt; last night in the bar you were literally guarding him.  I mean, it’s not like he can’t take care of himself? Now even more so than before,” Rusty asked as he brought out a fresh cold beer for Luke and pulled up a lounge chair.

“I don’t think I should be the one to tell you.  It’s a big part of a promise we made to each other,” Luke said taking a long draw on the bottle.

“Okay, but I am hard pressed to think of anything bad enough to have you both in this state, especially with brothers and kin around,” Rusty pried just a little.

Luke looked right at Rusty, a little fire lit his eyes. He sighed, “As badass as that little Bear is a situation got the best of him.  It crushed him, destroyed his self-confidence, broke his trust in men, and just about killed me.  It took over a year for things to get back some sort of normality between us.”

Rusty could feel the anger well up in Luke; he saw his hands start to tremble as the memory took him again.  “I’m sorry I dug up something this painful, but I just want to know if I can help.”

“Help me? No.  I am not the one with blood on my hands, Matt made sure of that.” Luke threw his beer across the deck and stood up.  “Damn it … wait here. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Rusty sat in shock and nervousness.  What could be so bad that it would cause such a reaction in these two?  Luke never once let Matt out of his sight last night.  The little bear did take the time to walk around and see friends, but he was never out of sight, not even to go the restroom.  What could it be? Rusty was still lost in his thoughts as Luke emerged from the house.

“What I am about to show you, only one other person has seen. I ask that after you read it, you don’t say anything to Matt or act differently in any way.  You know that Matt sits and writes in his journal as a means of therapy and to keep his mind in order. This is him at his most vulnerable and injured.” Luke handed the manila envelope to Rusty, and walked away. 

Rusty sat there for a few minutes not knowing if he should open it or just give it back to Luke.  He decided that he needed to know and to understand, so he could help, mentor, and guide the pair.

Inside the envelope were three pages of handwritten parchment paper.

‘Luke, this is for you, so you know what happened.  This is all I can remember, but I still get flashes in dreams and nightmares.  When you hold me at night, the dreams wash away.  I love you. I always have and always will—Matt.

….

It’s Hot

Scent of Asphalt, Earth, and Piss.

It’s still dark.

My body hurts. What the hell happened?

Where is my shirt?

I roll over, the moon is full.  Where am I?

I sit up, and searing pain racks my side, back, and my butt cheeks.

“Fuck…..” I scream.

Panic starts to take over.

I start my body recon, training kicks in, and panic subsides.

Wallet gone, shoes gone, most of my clothes gone…wait, there is my cell….How did it get over there?

I am injured.  Blood from my back and right butt cheek.

What the fuck happened?

Recall spotty, not sure where I am or what happened.

Cell phone, no charge…..Damn…My battery is gone, and my SIM chip…. What. The. Fuck.

I curl up and sit there for a few minutes.  Letting my vision clear, soaking in the surroundings.

Highway noise.  Busses stopping and starting; voices from the other side of the trees and brush.

Where am I?  I look around.  There, a water spigot.  A park, I am in a park.

I stand, pain from my right hip, thigh and my ass.  WTF happened.

Hobbling over, I turn the water on and kneel to wash myself and drink.  I drink lots of water. I wash my face, and upper body.  I see blood washing off from me.  Nicks and cuts all over my hands, arms…..ouch… Fuck, my shoulders are all skinned up…What .The. Fuck…

Vision clears, less wobbly.  I look around the spot where I woke up again; I see a table against the fence, under a tree.  There is my shirt….WTF happened.

I wobble over, look around.  My clothes are all over…My wallet is there, no money or cards, just my ID.  Was I mugged?

I start to get dressed.  Condom wrappers are everywhere.  My mind starts to rack and stack the details, the fog I am in starts to lift.

Everything but my shoes and socks….Okay, I can deal with this.  I hobble back to the water spigot and take another drink.  My mouth is pasty and dry, like I am dehydrated.

Walking down the path toward the sounds of people.

Pass a few and they take a step to the side.  A few more and the same happens.

I am in the park, adjacent to the Bar district. Where is Luke?  What time is it? What the Fuck happened?  I start to panic again.

Walking through the parking lot, looking for his truck.  Please let him be here, Please!

I catch my reflection.  My face, there is something written on my face.  “Cock Whore”.  WTH happened?

I can see the bar, it’s still going.  Still music, still people.  I see Luke’s truck.

Made it.  Doors locked, damn it.

I crawl up in the bed, horse blankets, something to lay on, safe.  There. My go bag in the locker.

My vision is off, can’t focus on the numbers of the lock.  I try several times. Finally I close my eyes and open the lock.

Backup Cell….Call Luke….Voicemail.  I leave a message, I am in the truck, and something has happened, please help.

I pull the drapes in the back, engage the 12 volt lights and start to really survey the damage.

I am cut all over.  Was I dragged across the pavement?  Wait, how did I get there?  I was in the bar with Luke, then nothing.  WTF.

First-Aid Kit, Rescue Tabs. I eat a handful, drink more water, and eat a Power Bar.  Open large kit; wipe face and body with anti-bacterial towels.  Pull mirror down from vanity, yep, I have been marked.  I get that off as well.  Notice that I have dried CUM in my hair, and smell remotely like urine.  Vision clear, mind clearing.  More antibacterial towels, I clean myself.  Grab the mouthwash and brush my teeth.  There is still a weird metallic taste in my mouth and it’s dry.

Memory kicks in.  Symptoms of Ruffie-ingestion.  Why?  Who? Anger builds.

I clean up all the way; use the mirror to look at the damage on my back and butt.  Yep, I was dragged.

I open and use the large area trauma covers for my shoulders, butt, thigh and arm.  Whoever did this is fucking dead.

Cell rings, its Luke.  He is coming to the truck.  I have been gone for about 4 hours.

Luke arrives, sees me, and starts to dial police.  I stop him.  “Too many questions, remember DADT is still in place, it’s going to cause more trouble.”  He gets mad, knows the guys that walked through the bar and talked with me for a few minutes.  Thought I was just bar hopping and talking to other friends.  He cries, says he should have watched closer.

I pull him into a hug and tell him, I will handle it.  My way, in my time.  He cried again and takes me home.

Next day through the next week, I recover.  Luke is a mess.  He wants to hurt them, wants them to pay.  I settle him, and tell him that I will be the one to handle it.  In my time, in my way.

Med check, clear of STDs and HIV, no detectable signs.  Recheck in 90 days, same, recheck in 90 days, same.  I am clear.  Now it’s time for my plan.

I found each of them.  Followed them, tracked their movements and patterns.  Jocks and bravado filled assholes all.  There were four of them that raped me.  Four of them that took advantage of a bouncy small cub that just wanted to dance and have a good time on the floor.  They took away my right to choose.  In the end I took away theirs as well.  The four of them no longer go out, and have moved away from the area to start life anew.

Within each person lies the capacity for evil and for good.  Most never look at the evil side of themselves and see what they are capable of.  Few ever carry through with that capacity.  I did, I have, and it felt good.

Rusty just sat and cried. It made sense now, why Matt was a bit weary of Bears; they were all much bigger than he is.  Why he was very hesitant with sex, why Luke watched him so closely, why they went to the bathroom together; it all fell into place.  The Spirit Bear sat for a few more minutes, and then walked to find Luke.

“When?” Rusty asked when he found Luke. 

“Seven years ago.” 

They stared at each other for a few tense seconds, and then Rusty handed the envelope back to Luke, hugged him, and then went out to his car, got in and drove away.  He had to clear his head.

~Interlude~

Even at a distance, Norman felt some of the emotional turmoil Rusty was going through; but he also knew Rusty well enough to know it was no sign of current danger. That same disquiet from the Spirit Bear caught the attention of others as well, and the deep-rumbling of growls filled a distant den.

“Shh Cub, it’s ok” cooed a very large tawny Grizzly Bear, who was slowly running his paw down the back fur of a Black Bear, calming him.

“Why didn’t we know about this, Papa? Why didn’t we stop it?”

“Bad things happen to good people sometimes.”

“But we should protect them …”

“We can’t protect everyone, nor would that be right. Everyone deserves to make his or her own choices, good or bad, those choices impact others. How do you choose whom to protect? The ones who did this to Matt, do you know all about them, what drove them to this?”

“It is still just WRONG!” exclaimed the black bear, the muscles in his body twisting as if he was about to go through a shift.

At the outburst, an immense white Grizzly, even larger than the Great Bear, looked up from his book. “You’re right, it is wrong. That doesn’t make it our place to fix it.”

“Why not?”

The Great Bear spoke again, “Because if everything is fixed for everybody, then there is no free will. Without bad things, there are no good things. No joy without sorrow. What sort of existence is that? It would be like putting everyone in a box to keep them safe. To live life, every being experiences a variety of things, which helps make them uniquely themselves.”

“Still, why not protect those we care about?”

“There are times to protect, and times to let others learn. By overprotecting, you stifle the other’s growth. We aren’t Gods to know what is best for everyone all the time, I don’t think even the Gods know that.”

The Black Bear thought in silence for a moment, “Well then, how ‘bout I just go teach those men another little lesson  …”

“And belittle the effort Matt put into it? Make his struggles less worthy? Because that’s what you would be doing, deciding that his way of handling it wasn’t good enough. Matt looked his fears and his tormentors in the face, bared his teeth and chose the path that was best for him.  Don’t diminish that, he is worthy of our respect.”

The Black Bear hung his head, “I didn’t think of it that way. I’m sorry.”

The white Grizzly padded over and placed his hand over the tawny Grizzly’s on the black bears back. “Don’t be sorry; it’s by expressing our feelings and thoughts that we learn and grow together. When we stop caring about others, we stop caring about ourselves.”

“Do you think I could at least go and check on him, make sure he really is all right?”

“There’s enough complexity in this new little bears’ life.  Let his sires and mate nurture him, that’s their right.”

“But, if things go really wrong, with how Matt is connected into both the spiritual and natural world, they wouldn’t know how to cope with that or help him.”

“And maybe it’s those connections that will give him peace and wisdom now.  He must control his own power; otherwise it will control him. Trust him, Cub. There are others who will help teach and guide him when he is ready. His story will unfold in its own way and in its own time.”

The three sat together in silence, digesting the events in their own ways, supporting each other with their companionship, waiting to see how the small bear evolved as this new chapter of his life progressed.

~~~~~

Dreams

Two month to the day after Matt changed, Luke made his change. Luke’s change went surprisingly well.  Like Matt, he changed into his Bear with ease and with little if any of the nasty or Bear-like chaos.  As it had been for Matt, after his change he was … just Luke; only a little taller, broader, and hairier.  The couple had time to plan where Luke would change.  They’d picked a remote camping spot that Matt had found on his adventures.  It was quiet and far removed from the public, but close enough for a cell signal and emergency services if it was needed.  At the couple’s request Vic, Norman, and Rusty were the only other Bears in attendance.  After, the group had a great weekend in the woods and returned to the human world as five Bears, not four and a human.

As time passed, the couple’s home life was growing increasingly more complicated in terms of feeding and clothing the household.  Luke ate like a Bear, no pun intended, and would pack away food at three and four times the rate of Matt and their daughter Susan.  This was putting a tremendous strain on their finances; both knew it would get better, but it was still penny-pinching time for them.

The couple had rebuilt a portion of the house to accommodate Luke and his need to be full Bear.  They decided to keep their home, a small cottage in the Virginia landscape.  The hobbit home hid quite a bit of space; albeit small for Luke, it was lavish for Matt.  Luke stood at six feet three inches after his change; his head just about touched the ceiling in the house.  He had to duck to go through all the doors and had to almost crouch in the bath.  It was amazing to see how Matt worked so hard to make sure Luke was always alright.  He bathed Luke and watched after him.  He lavished the same affection of Susan and the few Bears that came to visit.  He was truly a caretaker spirit and that was magnified by being a Werebear. 

A few years had passed and the couple avoided attending their first two meetings of the Werebears at the Lodge in Canada.  However, they pretty much got the ‘you both really need to come’ message.  Still, Matt had his reservations about meeting the large groups of Bears. He found himself uncomfortable in large groups and preferred smaller settings; Luke knew that this was something he just needed to get over.  There was nothing to fear anymore.  He was not in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bolivia, or any other place that put him in danger.  Neither Matt nor Luke was really a party all the time Bear, but being a were-creature changes a lot more than your sex drive.  It magnifies everything; your desires, your internal lust, your fears.  Everything! They were both coming to terms with that.

“Okay … okay, I give.  We’ll go,” Matt almost swore as he threw the dish towel in the sink. 

“What’s your problem today? You need to bring it down a notch, a big damn notch,” Luke scolded firmly. 

“Look, I’m really nervous about going to the gathering, and you know why,” Matt crossed his arms looking defiant.

Susan came bounding down the stairs, greeting them as the argued, “Morning, Pops and Pops!” 

In unison, “Morning Susan-pig,” the Bear-dads spoke.  Hugs were exchanged around the room and she sat down.  The two Bears just glared at each other. 

“Ok Dads, you two need to go to this camping thing; I’ll be fine in New Mexico with the grandparents for the whole month, so there is nothing to stop you.  Besides, you know the shop-folks said they would watch the dogs and house.  So what’s the deal?” She said matter-of-factly, while eating her Oatmeal. 

“Well, dear Susan … it has to deal with sexual partners and the swapping of such partners,” Luke said, while glaring at Matt in that ‘I love you, but you need to stop being a baby’ look. 

“Seriously? You two covered that like … years ago … What’s the deal, you can’t get it up?”

“Susan, stop taking his side.  No, that’s not it.  I just don’t love anyone but Luke,” Matt said in a defeated tone.

“Whatever … you need to let it go.  No one said you didn’t love him, but you have to want to have sex with some of the hot men I see stopping by.  God, my friends think Rusty and Norman are HOT, I’m sure you think the same,” said Susan as she got up, hugged them and left to catch the bus.

“From the mouth of babes,” Luke smirked drinking his coffee, listening for the closing of the back door. 

“We’ll fight more about this later,” Matt said. 

“OOOH … You know what fighting leads to?” Luke growled low at him and smiled.

   “No. No makeup Bear-sex for you. NONE!”  Matt was smiling as he returned to doing the morning dishes. 

Luke knew that Matt had been wrestling with the Bear urge to have sex.  Luke hoped that time would change that.  Matt never denied him from playing when he wanted or with whom he wanted.  Matt had played a few times, but was somehow less fulfilled by the sex.  If it wasn’t Luke, Vic, Rusty, or Norman, he was just not interested.

Luke came up behind Matt and snuggled him.  Now that Luke had changed, he easily towered over his pocket Bear; it was easy to lean down and snuggle the smaller man.  As Luke shifted to half Bear, Matt braced for what was coming.  Luke bit Matt hard on his shoulder; his massive maul covering most of it, he clamped down hard, lifting Matt off the ground. Matt moaned and relaxed into his Bear.  Luke mounted him there in the kitchen standing up with his teeth still sunk into Matt’s shoulder, nursing on his lover.  Both came to orgasm at the same time.

Afterward, Luke sat down in the kitchen chair and held Matt close.  He licked the marks as they closed, and watched as the bones in Matt’s shoulder realigned and healed. Matt was in a trance.  The smell of blood and the heady scent of Bear musk was mind blowing.

“Love you,” Luke said, licking at the wounds and cleaning up his mess. 

“I love you too Bear, I love you too.  Can you come home for lunch?  I’ve been bad and need a good spanking.”  Matt said with an evil grin. 

Luke twitched.  “Of course. For you, anything,” Luke gently stood Matt up, caressing him softly.  With a hard swat to Matt’s rump, he left to start getting dressed for work.

Outside, their papas had arrived and were ambling around on the patio.  “I hate that we’re spying on them,” Rusty said a little nervous. 

“It’s not spying … We parked and walked over, heard the sounds, and stopped.  If it hadn’t been for our enhanced hearing, no one would have been the wiser,” Norman replied. 

“That’s right, Matt added a whole bunch of sound proofing and window coverings,” Rusty let that trail off as the door opened. 

“Hey guys … what brings you all down to our little corner of paradise?” Luke asked as he loped out the door and over to the truck. 

“Matt invited us for coffee as we traveled through; it’s a good time to come say hi and check up on you both,” Rusty said, turning a few shades of red. 

“Okay guys, not a problem. I would stay for coffee, but I need to get to work.  See yah,” Luke gave a quick hug to his brothers, got in the old Ford truck and sped off to work.

Matt came to the door, “Hey guys, come on in,” he said in a very happy tone.

When they got in and settled, Matt fired off some questions that were bugging him a little.  He would have used email, but a face-to-face conversation over coffee was much better.  They discussed the Werebear opinion of casual sex not being a part of love or relationship, as humans would define it.  It was how Bears bonded and became comfortable with one another’s company.  It’s also how the Bears know who’s compatible with whom, and who’ll play well together. After all the talk about sex, the three piled into the living room and enjoyed some playtime with each other. 

Just Get Dressed

After some coaxing from their papa-Bears and a few more fights, Luke and Matt did attend the gathering in Canada.  On the way up, they stopped with Rusty and Norman to meet another group of Bears that were on their way to the same location. They met at a resort hotel just over the border in Canada.  The two weeks at the resort was awesome, and acted as a much needed break for Matt and Luke.  The Bears did all the tourist stuff.  It was kind of odd that a large group of burly bearded men were so into history and art, but they were.  Some had actually been present when some of the history was made or art was created.  Matt found them fascinating and ended up talking most of the afternoon with several of the Bears about the differences between history books and real life.

“Excuse me, was that Latin?” asked the curious Cub.

“Yes… Yes it was.  Who are you?” a large furry Bear replied.

“Hi, I’m Matt,” the curious Cub said, extending his hand almost bouncing on his toes.

“I’m Pat, and this is Alec,”

“Nice to meet you, sorry if I took you off guard.  I caught a few words, and spoke before I could think.  Please forgive me if I intruded,” said Matt a little embarrassed; he had barged into their conversation.

“Not at all.  It’s just a shock that someone picked up on it.  Do you speak the language?” Pat asked. 

“Sadly no.  In school it was a required language; but that was years ago,” Matt said as his nose twitched.  The Bears he was standing with were olive skinned and furry, they both had green eyes and hair that was pulled back and braided. 

“Well, little one, give me a hug and let’s sit and chat for a while,” Pat said as he reached for and engulfed Matt in a Bear hug, lifting him off the floor and sniffing him deeply.  Alec joined the hug and sniffed, Matt did the same.

“Damn you smell good,” both Bears said.

“So do you two.  Are you going to the gathering?” replied Matt.

“Yes, yes, we try to not miss it.  Boris is such a delightful host, and the eye candy is a spectacle,” Alec responded.

“This is our first time going, I’m a bit nervous,” Matt said, lowering his eyes.

“Don’t be.  There are some groups that hang close, but for the most part it’s just a couple weeks of Bears romping around in the woods,” Pat replied.

The conversations between the three lasted the rest of the afternoon; they spoke of art and history.  Through the conversation Matt knew they were very old Bears, he could smell that on them, but had no idea how he knew it.  Later, Luke found the trio sitting in the café.

“Hey Cub, where have you been?” asked Luke.

“Right here, talking to Pat and Alec.  Pat, Alec, this is Luke,” Matt stood as he made the introductions.

“It’s nice to meet you both, but our ride is about to leave.  We have to go,” Luke said as he looked around at them.

“Okay, not a problem, we will catch up with you both at the gathering,” Pat replied.

The two couples parted company with the promise to chat again at the gathering.  Luke whisked Matt away from the Bears and into the vehicle.  Luke was still very protective of Matt and did not let many Bears get close to him; he was a bit territorial in that regard.

“Did you see how the Cub was escorted away by his mate,” Alec said looking over at Pat.

“Yeah, I caught that.  Seems that Luke is worried about losing his Cub.  But, after talking with Matt all afternoon, that’s not even part of his equation.”

“I know, but did you smell him and see how his eyes glowed when he was excited?” Alec asked.

“Yep.  Sure did.  I don’t think anyone has told him yet.  It’s not our place to tell him, that’s his Papa-Bear and Elders’ job, not ours.” 

“I know, but he was cute.  Hell both of them were damn handsome,” Alec chuckled as they got up, kissed and walked out the door.

The ride back was a little tense between Matt and Luke.  Matt was excited to have met new Bears. He looked at the world with a childlike fascination and excitement for discovery.  Luke was still protective of Matt, obviously over-protective. 

“They were old Bears. I just know they were old.  They were at the fall of Rome, they speak Latin. Luke, Luke, they speak Lati-.” Matt was cut short with a paw placed over his mouth.

“Shh, all I want to know is that you will not play with them,” said Luke, looking over at him.

“What? Are you seriously going down this road again?” Matt asked his annoyance obvious in his voice.

“Yes.  You know I worry about losing you again,” Luke replied.

“Bear, we are a pair, a mated pair.  You’re my mate, and I’m yours.  No Bear will get in the way of that.  Now, we can both play if we want, that’s part of who we are.  You need to relax.  Besides, who else would deal with my snoring,” Matt teased, and winked at the brooding Polar Bear.

“I’m sorry for pulling you out like that; it was wrong.  Forgive me?” asked the Polar Bear with sagging eyes and pouting lip.

“You were forgiven before you did it.  Now, where are we going tonight?” Matt asked.

At night the Bears come out to play; tonight they were going to a large Gay Leather Biker Bar.  This was a culmination outing, since the other nightly trips were for food, theater, art and things of that nature.  However, Bears will be Bears, and the Bear has to come out to play.  Every Bear understands the need to blow off steam; to stomp around and rake their claws down a tree, to mark territory and eat raw meat.  This was no different, just more subdued.

“Just get dressed, please,” Luke begged. 

“Bear are you sure this will be ok?”  Matt asked like a little kid waiting to be told no.

“Yes, just get dressed; the others are waiting for us.  If you’re good I have something special for you, but I’ll give it to you outside,” Luke winked.

Matt smiled wide and started to dress.  Dark jeans, black thong sandals, white polo shirt a size too small, black leather bracelet on the left, gold cuff on the right, hair pulled back in a leather hair cup and secured with a steel pin.  Matt looked in the mirror, sighed and hurried for the door.  His ginger-blond hair was long and was developing steel gray streaks.  Luke made a few catcalls as they made their way out of the hotel room and downstairs. 

The others were waiting outside and continued the catcalls as Matt made his way down the steps towards the group. There were many ass slaps and Bear hugs. He stood out in contrast among the Bears.  He was safe with his brothers, but still a stark contrast in size. Matt while not as big or hairy as the rest was working on putting beef on his bones.  He looked damn good in that white shirt.  His nipples were erect and huge. His chest filled out and the shirt stretched around his small belly.  The low cut jeans and sandals gave him a jock-boy look that he pulled off well.  His bubble butt was straining the jeans and his package was defined without being obscene.  He was indeed a good compliment to the Bearish Daddy Bear that Luke had become.

  

Luke grabbed him, hugged him close, and turned him around as the group of Bears formed a close circle around them.  Luke cleared his throat, “Friends, I’ve come here today to present my lover.  He’s coming out of his shell and experiencing his true nature as a Bear.  Tonight, watch over him and protect him.  You can slap him.  You can pinch him.  You can bite him, but his ass is ALL MINE.”  The group erupted in barks, growls, hoots, and hollers.

With the last words, Luke produced a leather collar with ornate silver and gold inlay with a single stainless steel loop.  It was beautiful.  Actually, it looked more like jewelry than leather gear.  As it snapped into place, the group again erupted in woofs, catcalls and obscenities that would have made a sailor blush. 

Just outside the group, Norman looked over at Mitch and Walt who were a bit speechless.  They had arrived late to the resort, and had just dropped their bags and ran out to meet everyone.  Norman leaned over, “Don’t worry guys; that Polar Bear tears him up on a daily basis.” 

Mitch started to mumble, but Norman held up a hand.  “There is more in that small package that you can believe.  Don’t think for a second that Matt isn’t a predator and able to take care of himself.  Not for a second. Trust me, it’ll be ok.”

Rusty followed and filled them in: “Matt loves Luke deeply. He has been dealing with the casual Werebear sex trait since he changed and Matt is not overly comfortable with it.  He likes to flirt and have a good time, but always runs back to his Bear. This way, Luke can protect Matt and let him have space to grow.  Also, the collar lets him feel like Luke is with him.  Let’s pray that no one tries to cross the line Luke put in the sand.”

“I really hope we can get to know them more, they are such a low-key Bear-couple” Mitch responded.  Walt nodded in agreement.  They wanted to spend some time with them, but their home was super small and most did not want to create stress with their home life.  They were still raising their daughter and working full time. 

When the group broke up, a few of the Bears took Matt and led him to another big truck.  He looked back at Luke who winked at him and gave him their I Love You sign.  Luke jumped in the next available vehicle and headed out as well. 

“Ok, I just saw Matt get thrown into that truck.” Mitch said, obviously worried. 

Norman sighed, “Don’t worry about Matt.  I would worry about the Bears. The collar on his neck is a symbol of control, safety, and caring.  As long as it’s on, Luke has control. If someone tries to push it, they’ll get a little more than they bargained for.  If it gets really wild, which I doubt it will, it may take all of us to bring him down.”  The others in the car just sat quietly. 

“How ‘bout them Yankees?” Rusty said and the tension broke; a hearty Bear laugh was heard as the vehicle peeled out of the parking lot. 

On the ride over, Luke got a little attention from one of the Cubs.  After, he tamped down and lit his pipe.  He was a son-of-a-bitch when it came to this; Matt would have the tenderness, everyone else would have the Bear.  He was sure that Matt was riding in another vehicle, surrounded by other Bears and was safe. With a grin, he leaned his head back to enjoy the ride, he was sure he would find out later what went down.

Good Time Charlie’s

In another part of town, two Bears were making their way to the same bar.  One Bear knew Matt and Luke well, the other didn’t. 

“So what’s this Vic, a recon trip?” Robert asked while riding behind Vic on his Harley.

“Yes, I want to do some spying on the new ones. Besides, it’s easy to spy on them when we blend in.  There will be too many other Bears there to single us out. “Vic spoke fast as he gunned the Harley into the traffic circle.

The big trucks and other cars screeched to a halt in the parking lot, and Bears rolled out like swat teams.  Matt was grabbed and slung over a shoulder like a captive.

The place was truly a Bear-biker bar; smoke, stale beer and urine were common scents.  In contrast to the outside appearance, the inside was nicely laid out, ornate, and tastefully decorated.  A very well stocked bar on each of the far walls.  Entertainment was a central runway with a dancing pole in the center.  Carved Bear heads on the walls, Harley and other bike memorabilia completed the décor.  Not a bad place at all.

“Look what I got.  I got me a little Bear to play with,” a very, very, very burly Bear said.  This Bear walked around and let Matt get his ass swatted.  He lost track of the amount of swats before he was put on his feet.

“Thanks big-un,” Matt said and kissed him on the cheek and darted off to find his friends. 

The Bears turned to each other. “Do you smell that? I don’t know what it is, but I want to tear that little Bear’s ass up,” the burly Bear said to his friends.  After that brief exchange they slammed back some drinks and settled into a few games of pool.

Later, Vic and Robert walked in and instantly noticed the scent.  “What the hell is that?” Robert said, while his nose twitched. 

“It’s like Bears are getting ready to rut, but it’s so damn strong.  I want to find something and breed it.”  Vic said in a low growl. 

The two made their way into the main bar area, found a spot where they could see everything and turned to watch the action on the bar floor.  They had a vantage of the lower floor where the majority of the patrons were gathering.

The bar patrons were taking the normal courses of action; shots were being passed around, juvenile dares exchanged, jokes made, and bets lost.  It was slowly becoming more Werebear than human in the bar.  It was natural.  In large groups; Bears are intimidating.  Not that they mean to be, it just is.  It seemed to be something instinctual in humans; they know predators, even after millennia, genetic responses are strong.

Matt was moving around from one Bear group to another getting to know everyone.  He would come over and they would sniff him and work him over a little.  Nipples were tweaked, ass slapped, hair pulled, he was in heaven.  It was good for the other Bears to get close to Matt, and good for Matt to let go.  He was very apprehensive about the gathering and he would feel better if he knew more Bears, if not by name then by scent for sure.

What Matt didn’t know is that his scent was making the Bears crazy.  With his change had come a musk that was more of an aphrodisiac than territory marking.  Cubs bond to the scent of their daddy Bear.  Matt had bonded to Luke’s, and Luke to Matt’s.  In their solitude, it went pretty much unnoticed by the few Bears that dropped by for a visit.

Vic returned to the table with fresh beers and shots. 

“Damn, I’m horny.  What’s that scent?” Robert said panting a bit and rubbing his ever-expanding crotch.  “I tried to get a fix on it, but it’s everywhere.  It’s like someone sprayed Werebear musk in the bar. “

“The other Bears in here are getting very worked up,” Vic said before taking a draw on his beer. 

“There are only a few humans in here,” Robert said while looking around. 

“Humans can’t smell it, but they’ll leave soon enough,” Vic was quick to add.

   “Who’s that in the white shirt? Damn, he’s grinding on that tall Bear … talk about wanting it dirty.  Damn!” Robert said, pointing with his bottle of beer. 

Vic turned his expression priceless.  “Holy shit and hog feathers.  That’s Matt!”

“Who?” asked Robert. 

“Its Matt, Luke’s other half.  Looks like he’s getting used to being a Bear, but damn if that’s how he likes it … shit!” he said with a grunt. 

In the midst of the music and activity, Matt and Vic locked eyes.  It was like Matt knew he was being watched.  Matt lifted his hands and signed to Vic, ‘Are you Bear enough to take me down this time?  Come and get it old Bear,’ he punctuated it with a wink.

Vic paused and looked around the room; he looked back at Matt, who, while being handled and pawed, was still looking directly at Vic.  Matt blew a kiss at him, smiled and danced off.

“I want me some of that!” Vic slammed his shot back and headed for Matt.  Vic knew that Matt was playing.  He knew that Matt was mated to Luke and he was not going to mess that up. However, if he wanted to tussle in front of a crowd of Bears, this would be the place.  In the few years since Matt had changed he was always timid in groups, but in small settings he was energetic, alive, with no inhibitions.

Matt had his back to Vic as he approached, grinding on another Bear in time with the music.  Vic walked up and grabbed Matt by the back of the hair and pulled his head back and up so he could see him.  Growling, “What’ve I got here? A Cub in need of some rough and tumble? Let’s see if this old Daddy Bear came make you squirm …” he let his words trail off.  He grabbed a beer from one of the other Bears and poured it down Matt’s throat.  Matt gagged and tried to swallow it all.  Vic threw him down across the room.

“You want it rough little Cub?” Vic growled. 

Rising like a cat, “You really shouldn’t try to take what’s not yours, but if you want another shot at taking me down, here it is,” Matt let a shy grin escape his lips as he sauntered back up to Vic. 

He reached up and laid his arms loosely around the blond Bears neck and started to sway and move to the music.  The scent seemed to become instantly thicker; he wrapped his arms up, locked his hands around Vic’s neck and continued to grind and move around him. Catcalls and obscenities could be heard, but Matt was lost, somewhere in a trancelike state.  He could hear the music, but the rest was like background noise. When Matt closed his eyes, another world lit up. One of color and shapes, clouds and motion.  The energy around him led the way.  He was realizing he had an extra set of senses. 

Vic growled and attempted to grab hold of him.  Matt moved just out of reach and proceeded to dance away.  They were both fast, and both had stood paw to paw with each other on the wrestling mat, in the sparring ring, with various weapons, and in all types of situations.  There was a constant sexual tension between the two of them.  Neither knew where it came from, but both respected it.  Both saw the line and did not cross it.  Vic huffed, and went after him; Matt smiled and egged him on. 

Vic grabbed him in a Bear Hug and lifted him off the ground.  “Got yah, I’m going to drill that ass,” he growled out loud to cheers from the crowd that was gathering.

Matt broke the hug, dropped to the ground, grabbed Vic’s leg and took his feet out from under him.  “Told you once old-Bear … you can’t take what’s not yours.” Matt said, while on all fours, scooting across the floor like a feline in heat. 

“No house-rules here. Remember old-one, to control a thing, you must master a thing,” Matt looked back at him and winked.

The game was ON.  The two Bears were locked into a match of sorts.  Sparring with more than brute force, more than weapons; they were sparring with their nature and their desire.  They were tossing aside caution and letting the chips fall where they may.

Werebear’s Tale:  Life’s Journey

Part Four

Lap Dance

Rusty, Mitch, Norman and Walt had finally made it to the bar after a few wrong turns and failed attempts at finding the place with their smart phones.  Inside, they found Robert and settled at the table. 

“Where’s Vic?” Norman asked. 

Robert pointed with the beer bottle. “Out there, trying to get a piece of Bear ass from that Cub in white.” 

“Oh shit,” the four said in unison.  As they turned, they saw a tussle unfolding between a much smaller Bear and an older, much bigger Bear intent on meeting Matt’s challenge.

“Come here Cub!” Vic growled. 

Matt just smiled at him and continued to grind on some of the Bears he’d met earlier.  Matt was fast and countered the grabs and holds that Vic attempted.  He was not even looking at Vic as he did so.  Matt was lost in his second set of senses, it was intoxicating to him.  The colors and energy flow was like alcohol.  He was drunk on it, getting lost in the warmth, feeding on it.  He was starting to glow. 

In the few years since his change, he had listened to Vic’s advice and was now applying it.  He was dancing with his inner music.  Hips moving, like a belly dancer feeling his way around, sensing the energy in the room, reading the movements of Bears around him.  He was moving with a grace on par with Vic, still a little bumpy, but he was starting to master it. 

The scent was becoming thicker on the dance floor.  Vic had tunnel vision.  He was solely intent of getting a hold of Matt and staking claim to that little Bears tight ass.  He finally got a hold of Matt at the base of the stage. 

“Got yah,” he growled, slamming Matt against the stage with his body.  Vic was easily a foot taller than Matt and engulfed the smaller Bear.

“Told you twice old-Bear, you shouldn’t try to take what’s not yours,” with that Matt slid down, turned grabbing Vic by the waist and slammed him up and onto the stage.  Matt was on top of him, knees on his shoulders, grinding around, pinning Vic down.

“How the heck did Matt just throw and pin Papa that fast?”  Walt said mouth agape. 

“Did we not tell you in the car? You need to worry about the other Bears, not Matt,” Norman and Rusty retorted. 

Leaning down to the pinned Bear, “The show is about to begin, you want a ring side seat, or you want to be the circus master?” Matt grinned.

“You decide,” Vic relented seemingly in a daze and rose up on his elbows to look at Matt.  Matt’s eyes were bright; there was a light green luminescence around him, barely visible.  The music changed and someone turned the lights on the stage.  Hoots, hollers, catcalls; all forms of strip club obscenities erupted, as the area around the stage was crowded with Bears.

   Matt grabbed the pole and started to grind, dance and move, like water over a waterfall.  Undoubtedly it was the muscle control gained from his change, but a few knew that in a life far removed, he had danced to put food on the table.  The crowd grew; small shoving matches started below the stage as the scent reached a thickness that could almost be seen.

As Matt moved, he motioned for Vic to get up.  “On your knees,” growled the smaller Bear.  Vic complied and came over. 

Matt started to give him the Bear equivalent of an on stage lap dance, Vic kneeling down with Matt moving around him, grinding and rubbing on Vic’s ever expanding erection; tweaking his nipples, rubbing his chest and head.

Vic grabbed Matt’s shirt. “Tear it off,” Matt said in a low growl.  The crowd went nuts and Matt worked both the stage and Vic for all they were worth. 

It was obvious that Matt had put some ample beef on his small frame since he changed.  He was well muscled and compact.  The small belly that showed through the shirt was the extent of the fat on his body, the rest was hammered steel.

Water was thrown on stage, which made the show even better.  The crowd grew from all corners of the bar; they were the center of attention.  As Vic ripped and clawed and Matt grinded away on him, the older Bear had an orgasm in his pants.  The crowd went nuts again.  Matt looked down and grinned wide. 

“Took you long enough.  Had you right where I wanted you … Silly old Bear, remember Tricks are for kids!” Matt leaned down, kissed him deeply, turned and loped off the stage leaving Vic on the stage, soaking wet with a load in his pants. 

Luke and Matt spotted each other; Matt smiled wide and ambled over to his Bear.  They kissed long and Luke lifted him off the floor.  Matt wrapped his legs around him and the crowd went nuts again.  Luke ripped what was left of Matt’s jeans off, slammed him down hard on one of the tables, loud enough to bring the bar to silence, and proceeded to stake his claim to his little Bear’s ass. 

Vic made it back to the table a few minutes later.  Everyone just looked at him, Vic looked at them and turned his hands up and hunched his shoulders in that I don’t know what just happened, but I’m not complaining look.  The table erupted in laughter. 

“Papa got pinned, Papa got pinned,” Walt chanted.

“Yes I did,” Vic replied while looking back over to the couple making out in front of the crowd.  He thought to himself ‘I’ll never underestimate that Bear again.’

Luke finished with Matt, to the delight of all who watched.  He held his little Bear close and kissed him.  “How was that lover?” he whispered.

“It was great big Bear, can we do it again?” With a shit-eating grin Matt laughed and hugged his Bear.

The barkeep came out with a towel and Matt wrapped up. Matt rode back to the hotel on Luke’s lap, curled up wrapped in a towel, rubbing the collar as he sat.  Luke went to take the collar off.

“Leave it.” Matt said.  There it would remain for 15 years.

Go To the Principal’s Office

The next morning, downstairs, Matt and Mitch were having a conversation, “Ok I understand that we’re all in the Ursine family, but what do you make of our Phylum or Suborder?” Matt asked. 

“I’m trying to work that out, but without making tests that would cause some suspicion it’s just a guess.”  Mitch responded, holding back a little from the new Bear.  Mitch felt his fascination and thirst for knowledge was a positive trait, but Matt still resembled a Cub in mannerism.

“I think it’s a genetic marker that decides who is a Bear and who is not,” Matt said, obviously excited.

They sipped espresso and ate some sweets from the hotel buffet.  “I’m really looking for a comparison of how we come out the way we do.  Is it a recessed gene that’s awakened by the change?  Does everyone carry that gene?  I’m sorry, since my change I’ve started to consume as much material on genetics as I can.”  Matt said with a bit of fluster in his voice. 

“Don’t worry, we have forever to figure it out. “ Mitch replied, knowing that the Cub was onto something.  He marveled at the young ones ability to consume information, process it, and use it. 

“I’m also searching for our history, our lineage.  Do you have any idea where I can begin?”  Matt asked, brimming with excitement.

“No, I’m searching for the same thing.  My best guess would be to find the old ones; speak with the older Bears,” Mitch said as his phone beeped.

“Well, it looks like everyone is up and ready to go.  Give me a hug I’ll see you at the gathering,” Mitch whined, getting to his feet.

“Sure, looking forward to it,” Matt replied, hugging him tightly and inhaling his scent deeply.  Matt sat back down to make a few notes in his phone.  He thought to himself, ‘must find the old ones.’ 

It was time to leave and pack; Matt hurried back up to the room and started to pack their things.  Luke was still asleep, but opened one eye when he entered the room.  He was still in full Bear form with all four paws hanging off the bed.  The bed was king size, but it was consumed under the massive Polar Bear.

“Hey, time to get up Polar Hubby. Rise and shine!”  Matt said, tugging on Luke’s paw. When he didn’t move Matt walked over to the window and threw open the curtains.  The light instantly flooded the room inciting a grunt and an attempt to roll over from Luke.

Matt got a chuff and grunt from Luke’s massive form, “Bullshit, you are no more hung-over than I am!  Get your furry ass out of the bed and into the shower, NOW!” with that Matt thumped his Bear in the nuts. 

That got him up; there were more chuffs and growls, but mostly growls.  “Whatever, in the shower,” Matt said while he hauled him off the end of the bed by his hind paw.

A knock came from the door, and Vic announced himself outside.  “Come on in,” Matt said. 

“Hello Luke,” Vic remarked as he entered.  Luke changed back, hugged his brother and padded off to the shower. 

“I wanted to ask you about last night,” Vic said, turning to face Matt.

“Last night is the past, all is forgiven, no hurt feelings.  I’m glad that we got to play a little, you’re pretty fast,” Matt rattled while tossing things in a duffle bag. 

“I’m more curious as to how you are so fast and how you moved like that?” Vic questioned. 

“Hey, you’re senior Werebear don’t you have all the answers?” Matt retorted.

“No Matt, you weren’t even looking at me last night.  How did you get away so easily?” Vic questioned, annoyed.

“Um … I don’t know. I just went with the flow; I can feel it when something moves around me,”

“Like Rusty?” Vic asked taking a seat on the edge of the bed.

“Not quite, I have no determination of what it is just that it’s moving.  When I center myself and relax is when it explodes in my senses,” Matt said while trying to pack, bending over in front of Vic, wiggling his rump a little

“Stop that,” Vic snapped, “What do you mean sense things?”

“I can feel you, okay! What do you want me to say?  Huh? That I can feel every freaking living thing around me from dogs to the humans.  You want me to tell you that it’s maddening.  You want me to tell you that it seems to be getting more acute?  You want me to tell you that the only peace I get is when I’m around Luke?  HUH, what do you want me to say?”  Matt’s nostrils flared as he spoke.

“I think we need to talk to the Elders a bit more.  You seem to be changing, even after you changed.  I know that sounds crazy, but it seems that way,” Vic let the last part roll out. 

“You go right ahead and do that.  Go right ahead and do that,” Matt was almost snotty to Vic, his frustration evident in his voice. 

Vic got up, walked over to Matt, hugged him tightly and walked out of the room without saying a word. 

Not long after this conversation the groups of Bears had packed and checked out of the resort.  Matt and Luke were going to stay the night in the city and see a few more museums and art galleries.  Matt had seen a few thrift stores on the way to the bar the night before and wanted to check them out as well. 

They were both relieved after their night out; it cemented their bond and allowed Matt to grow.  He kept the collar Luke gave him and wore it with pride.  The single metal ring actually had a recessed pocket that it slid into, so the collar looked like a very fashionable choker necklace.  On further inspection Matt realized it had the names of their children engraved on the gold and silver plates with an inscription on the inside, Forever and Always your Bear —Luke.

They were both still very, very apprehensive about the gathering.  Even though this week went fine the Bears still had to act semi-controlled because of the humans in the area.  They both wondered how they would act around just Werebears.

Vic walked aimlessly, lost in thought.  He found himself on a top balcony of the hotel watching the procession of Bears loading up and leaving the resort.  He stood there watching until he saw Luke and Matt leave, and then he made a call.

“Boris, it’s Vic.  Matt has started to change.  Yes … it’s begun. No … no, I didn’t tell him.  We’ll have all the time during the week; I think it’s best for us to do it together. Okay, I’m headed out I’ll see you soon,” Vic huffed as he closed his outdated flip phone and made his way to his bike.  Matt was changing; it was part of the process.  Vic was deeply worried about what keeping the truth from Matt would mean.  How would it change the bright, compassionate, loving Bear that he is?

When Bears Cry

The proud parents of their human child, Matt and Luke were beaming as they listened to the holiday concert.  Seated to their right were their sires, Rusty and Norman, and to their left was Vic.  It was the height of the holiday season and all the bears were stuffed from a lavish dinner, lulled into a full belly, nap time mood by the music and warm surroundings.  That is, all of them except for Matt; this pocket bear was radiant in his excitement. During the concert, each Bear would rub the other gently. The physical contact was a sign of great affection in the group, and an outward testament to their commitment to each other.  They all stood as the audience took part in the last holiday carol.  At the end deep, warm, snuggling hugs were issued in the group.  They all remained in their seats until everyone had gone and Susan found them.

“Hello Dads and Uncles how’d you like the show?” asked Susan, grinning from ear to ear.

“It was as if angels were heralding the coming of the babe,” replied Rusty, giving a short bow as he did so.

“Thanks! I’m glad you liked it, but let’s get home I hear the snow is falling hard, and the highway will probably be closed soon.”

All the Bears made some light talk and hugged Susan as they gathered coats and headed for the door.  Walking back to the vehicle the snow was falling hard, but the wind was almost non-existent.  This gave the drifts an almost angelic, web like quality as the snow fell from the sky.  Matt and Luke were leading the group, ahead by a good ten paces and the others were trailing behind.  Susan had Vic on one arm and Norman on the other.  She was telling them all about the college she picked out and how fussy her Dads were being about her living arrangements.

“Uncles, can you please get the papas to ease up a little on the arrangements?  They already found the apartment, but they want steel doors, alarm systems and cameras put in,” Susan pleaded as she hugged them even closer.

Vic chuckled, “I’ll see what we can do, but you know your Dads better than we do.  I’m sure they are only trying to watch out for you.”

“I know, I know … say, Uncle Vic, would you dance with me?” she asked looking up at him.  In an instant Vic spun her around and started to dance down the sidewalk with her.  It was an old dance, ballroom by today’s terms. It was elegant and gracefully done by the largest of the group; for Vic’s size, he was graceful and articulate, polite, mannered, and devilishly handsome.

Arriving at the car before the rest of the group, Matt popped the hatch of SUV and started hauling out his pack and two other large duffle bags. The duffels were stuffed full, but could easily be carried by the Bear. Before the others could arrive Matt hefted his pack, snapped the latches, grabbed the other duffels and hurried away across to the park that they were parked adjacent to.

“Where’s he going?” Rusty asked.

“He’s on a mission, the same one he has been on for a long time,” Luke responded, his chest popped out with pride and adoration.  Matt had never quite cut ties with his military background; he attempted to keep a low, non-descript profile, and help wherever he could.

“Explanations in the car please, it’s cold out here,” Susan quipped.  In truth, she was the only member of the group that was cold.  The Bears around her had partially shifted under their clothing, an added layer of fur always helped keep warm in the snow.

In the suburban they all chatted as the vehicle warmed and the windshield cleared.  Vic and Norman took the keys and settled in to drive the group home.  Luke and Rusty were in the second seat and Susan sat in the rear. The Bears chatted in amongst themselves, and Susan immersed herself in returning an avalanche of emails and text messages.

“Okay spill it! Where did Matt go?” Rusty nudged Luke as he asked.

“I’m not really sure.  This time of the year he scavenges every thrift store for three towns around for winter clothes and then gives them out.  He makes blankets with a core of insulator material and gives them out on snowy nights.  I think that’s where he is now.” Although Luke spoke with pride in his voice inside he was hurting, he wanted to be with Matt, but doing this kind of work was hard for him.  Luke still carried painful memories of his human family, which brought with them feelings and thoughts that were almost crippling.

“How will he get home?” Rusty asked as he looked out the clearing window at the snow as it fell heavy on the ground, covering Matt’s tracks.

Luke chuckled softly, “Um …  Matt will more than likely beat us home. That Bear knows all the paths and can move around this city easier than most.”

“Hmmm, I want to follow him and see what he’s doing” Rusty said and shifted in his seat.

“Okay, you have fun with that.  Remember, there is cider in the warmer and toffee for nibbles, make sure to hurry home!” Luke said and leaned back to hug Susan.

Rusty leaned forward and whispered something in Norman’s ear, they looked at each other for a few seconds and shared a smile; Rusty leapt from the vehicle and started off in the direction he had seen Matt leave in.  He hurried hoping to beat the snowfall that had just about covered the tracks.  After a few blocks he spotted a homeless person wrapped in a silvery lined blanket.  Following a trail of blankets, he looked up at the street signs.  They were headed toward a veteran’s hospital located on the outskirts of downtown.  The area was prone to some level of violence and many of the homeless people living on these streets were veterans.  These men and women served in various wars, in all services, and in all conditions.  However, for whatever reason they had all found their way here, to the hospital and treatment center.  Adjacent to the hospital was a shelter and soup kitchen, which was where Rusty finally caught sight of Matt; in a side alley a block away from the soup kitchen.  Matt was leaning down over someone; something deep inside told Rusty to stay back and watch.

Matt reached down and cradled a limp form to his chest, and started rocking back and forth.  First Rusty felt a tug in him, a deep sorrow that he had never quite experienced.  Then he felt a burst of emotional heat.  He saw other homeless people come to Matt, each reaching out to touch him.  They each laid a hand on him and then on each other, forming a living chain.  Then something amazing started to happen; soft wisps of light formed around the group, moving to Matt and then towards the form he was holding.

Rusty instinctively stepped forward to stop Matt; he must not do this, not publicly like this.  These people were not kin they were humans.  As he eased nearer the others watched him closely.  The homeless people in the alley rose and moved, looking at Rusty as he made a slow advance on Matt.  As he got closer he saw Matt, who was almost fully into his half Bear form, tears streaming down his muzzle as he was licked the face and neck of the elderly man he was holding.

Rusty made it to his side as he released the man and laid him down.  The man was breathing and conscious, but Rusty could tell he was dying.  Matt took his hands and licked the knuckles that were skinned and bruised, the cuts closed as he did.  The man looked up at the half-bear/half-man, smiled and spoke softly.  “Let me go home, I miss my family.  Just let me go home.”

“No. Not like this … not like this.  Who did this?  Who … why?” Matt muttered through his tears and clenched teeth. The wisps of light grew stronger and began to circle around the two.

“Let me go, I just want to go home to them. I’m tired of living,” the man whispered again as he reached up and caressed the muzzle of the Bear.

Matt gave a soft chuff and one by one the people took their hands away until it was only him and the man lying in his arms.  Slowly the light faded from around them, centering on Matt’s single paw, rested on the man’s chest.  As Matt looked into his eyes he turned his paw over and the light floated up away from them, disappearing as the man took his last breath and left this world. Everyone in the alley knew what had happened.  They all started a low hum, which built into a drone of sadness punctuated by a low roar from the little Bear kneeling on the ground.  Then, as the hum faded, the people that had gathered around slowly meandered away.  Matt shifted back to his human form and looked up at Rusty; there was a burning in his eyes, something had snapped inside him. The heat Rusty had felt earlier blistered in the air, building like water gathering behind a dam before it burst.

“Mind telling me what the fuck just happened?” Rusty demanded.

“A veteran died at the hands of some street punks, and I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t save him. He was injured too much … my skills not developed. I failed him,’ Matt looked away from Rusty and down at the body of the human.

“What do you mean help? What are you talking about?” Rusty’s confused voice steadily raised in octaves, he could not grasp what he had seen before him.  “Why were you in half form?  Why did they not run away from you?  Matt, what the hell is going on?”  Rusty’s voice was starting to rise into a yell. Drawn in by Rusty’s voice the people in the ally started to gather around them again, pushing closer and a woman stepped forward from the crowd.

“Stop yer yelling, Chief helped us through this winter; can’t ya see someone just died? You need to show some respect!” The small woman scolded as she looked up at the Rusty, her eyes bright and devoid of fear, determined to stop Rusty from making his racket. 

“Stay out of this. He does not need to be here, he doesn’t need to do this.  Come on, we need to leave,” Rusty reached down to grab Matt’s shoulder and two people moved between them, blocking Matt from his reach.

“We said he goes where he wants to go, and how he wants.  You’re the intruder here not Chief,” said the woman as others came forward and formed a human blockade between the two of them. 

Matt looked up over his shoulder then reached down and scooped up the lifeless body walking out of the alley toward the rear of the Hospital. He didn’t say a word to Rusty, not really caring what he thought or what he did at this point; a friend had died, a comrade.  The person he was holding had served alongside Matt many years ago.  He had saved Matt’s life, pulled him from the wreckage of a vehicle after an IED hit it. Here. Matt had found him a few days before, homeless and alone, he had brought him to the hospital hoping he would find the help he needed. But, instead this was his payment for the service he had done for his country.  To be beaten to death by some punks looking to videotape a, Hobo Fight’; it sickened him to his core.  He arrived at a small door at the rear of the hospital.  He laid the lifeless body down on the stone bench, crossing the man’s hands across his chest, and straightening his dirty worn clothing.  Standing, Matt came to attention and rendered a slow final salute to his fallen friend.  Then, nodding his last goodbye he walked over to the door and keyed the intercom.

Rusty had found Matt, but stood back just close enough to hear.

“Hello, can I help you?” a crackly voice came over the intercom box.

“Joe, it’s Matt.  Let me in, a warrior has fallen and needs to be at rest … can you help?”  Matt asked resting his forehead against the cold brick wall.

“On the way,”

A few seconds later the door opened and the two conversed quietly; a hug was exchanged between the two and then Matt walked away toward the park in front of the hospital.  Snow was falling again, and the humans were retreating for cover. However, the Bears were not hampered by the snowfall or the cold.  By the time Rusty caught up to Matt he was sitting on a park bench, under one of the park lights, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, rubbing a set of dog tags.

Rusty sat down beside Matt, choosing to speak first.  “I don’t know why you are doing this for these people, but you need to stop.  They are not kin, and you run the risk of exposing yourself and us,” he paused, waiting for Matt’s reply. After a gap of silence, “Are you listening to me?”  Rusty said getting annoyed with Matt’s almost stoic, detached, and seemingly cold nature.

“Why did you change me?” Matt asked coldly, gritting his teeth, his eyes closed tight.  His body tensed gently under his cloths. The world around him erupted in color through his closed eyes.

“The Great Bear told me too.”

“Did he ever say why?” Matt questioned, his head still down, his fingers still rubbing the dog tags; feeling the energy of the man that had just died, smelling the scent left on them, determining which scent was his lost friend and which was his prey.

“He said you would help and protect our kind. He said that we would need your skills,” Rusty spoke softly as he moved closer and leaned down in an attempt to meet Matt’s eyes.  For a brief second he thought Matt was crying, noticing a single drop of blood at the creased corners of his eyes.

“Well fuck me! Bears only, huh? Is that what you really think?” Matt chided, shaking his head from side to side like he was trying to get the words out of his ears. 

“Listen, what I saw back there was, well … weird even by our standards.  You cannot do that anymore, you are taking too many risks. We need to get you home,” Rusty’s face and demeanor quickly shifted to aggravation at his Cub rather than understanding of what was going on.

“I’m not going anywhere, I still have business to take care of tonight,” Matt whispered as he grabbed the dog tags tight, pressing them into the palms of his hands while bringing them up to his forehead.  Rusty watched this thinking it was an odd prayer he was whispering in a different language, but he waited until the Moon Bear was done. 

“No.  You need to go home and think about things, you can’t just help everyone!  You’re Bear; you should take care of our kind.  That’s what you are here for, remember?” Rusty yelled at Matt, who had turned to look at him.

“Fuck you, and the pompous horse that brought you here. We are Human and we are Bear. We are both, or have you forgotten that?” spat Matt as he sat up, his back against the railing of the bench.

“Settle down Cub, you need to back up and see I am just trying to help. Trying to make sure you don’t do anything stupid,” Rusty growled as he too sat up and turned to stare into Matt’s eyes.  It was then that Rusty felt it; a deep, deep darkness was buried within this little Bear.  The darkness was hidden under the surface, just beginning to edge up.  Matt’s face grew taut as the emotions washed over him. 

“Stupid …  stupid …? So, helping someone is stupid?”  Matt spun partially to his left to face Rusty, leaning in as he did so.  “Healing where you can, giving shelter and protection to people that cannot do it for themselves is stupid?  Get the fuck away from me, before I kick your ass across this park,” Matt growled back.  He was already partially shifted internally, his voice had changed, his musculature already taut under his clothing. 

Rusty stared at him for second and then engaged him.  “Who do you think you are?  You little whelp … cub … birth-ling? … I am Kermode, a leader and guide.  Who the hell do you think you are?” bellowed Rusty, now angrier than ever; his own Bear starting to take over. 

Matt stood slowly never breaking eye contact, turning completely to face his sire, nose to nose, they looked in each other’s eyes.  Matt reverted back to his human form to speak. “I was Matt Owens, but that person is gone, he was replaced by something that I am struggling to understand, to comprehend.  Rusty, helping these people feels right. It’s good work, and a positive contribution to the world.  When I look at you I see a Bear that is hiding within himself and what he is, not relishing in the gifts he was given.  Rusty, you are like so many of the Bears I’ve met.  You are scared of losing what you have when you should be worried about the world around you crumbling, and you have skills that could help. I actually pity you, and wonder every day why you changed me. I guess … I guess I’m starting to hate you for it.  Now, Spirit Bear, you need to leave me alone and let me take care of my business tonight.  Now leave. The bus stop is behind you, $2.75 will get you to bottom of the hill by the house then it’s just a short walk home. Goodnight Rusty.” He turned his back to Rusty and walked away unable to look him in the face any longer.

‘Wait a fucking minute,” Rusty growled, jumping to his feet.  Enraged he reached for Matt; he would teach the cub a lesson.  However, before Rusty could even register the movement, Matt reached back, grabbed him, and flung him over and down on his back, knocking the wind out of the Kermode.  Matt kneeled beside him and shifted again.  His teeth glistening in the soft light from the streetlights, his black and silver fur flowing smoothly over his face.  His body shifting under his clothing, claws extending from his partially covered hands.  Matt was small and he could shift without shredding his clothing; another advantage of being the smallest of the bears. 

Leaning down beside the semi-conscience bear, Matt growled threateningly in his ear, “Like I said, you need to go home.  You can’t stop me … you never really could.” Matt finished and rose to his feet, walking off into the falling snow.

Rusty carefully picked himself up after his breath returned and his vision cleared.  He brushed himself off and walked to the bus stop.  Just like Matt said, he found his way home.  When he arrived he told the Bears what had happened and that Matt was taking care of some business.  Luke and Susan seemed totally unconcerned.

“He’ll be back, besides, I can still feel him and he’s close. Matt hasn’t left or gone away,” Luke responded as he sat threading popcorn for the tree.  This year the tree was decorated with small pictures, stuffed animals, and popcorn; every year the tree changed themes, this year’s theme was ‘Memories’.  The three bears and Susan kept on with their preparations and the holiday; both Luke and Susan knew Matt was okay and would be back whenever he finished.

Several days passed without Matt returning home.  On the third day, Norman was channel surfing and stopped on a local newscast. It reported that four known gang members had been killed, after having taken part in the beating and death of a Gulf War veteran in a video posted to the Internet. “I think Matt will be home soon. It seems his work is done,” Norman said relieved. He was starting to worry about the little Bear; he had so much heaped on him lately it was a miracle that the little Bear hadn’t already snapped.

“I think so …” Rusty let his words trail off as he went to the kitchen for more coffee.

The shelter had a very small dining area; the tables had benches that were set up and when sitting if someone leaned back they would touch the person behind them.  Matt was sitting quietly, picking at the plate of fruits and juice sitting in front of him. He was lost in thought, absorbed in what he had just done.  Trying to find his way.

A vaguely familiar scent wafted to Matt’s nose as he sat up, alert.  At the same time someone leaned back against him. Matt’s strength was matched in the push, so he relaxed; this was not the place for a fight.  “So, you going to brood over the loss of your friend or honor him in your actions?”

“Who are you, and why are you here?”

“I am here to help you get back on track; actually I’m tired of seeing you like this.”

“Whatever. I am just lost.  I don’t know what direction to go.”

“Who said you had to go anywhere?”

“My Sire and Elder keep pushing me to do things and go places. I just want to be left alone.  What I feel is so dark. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

“You will be fine, they are your guides.  No one said you would agree with them all the time, and besides why should you?”

“So, I should just let it all go? Go back to being a lap-dog?  Because I can see where this is going.”

“No, you need to pick the path for yourself, don’t let anyone do it for you.  Your path is NOT set.  Don’t you get that?”

“Why am I here?  Why?”

“That’s your question to answer, but you need to stop all this damn self doubt and angst.  You are better than this. Stop all this mopey shit and get on with living.  The Great Bear did not change you so you could doubt who you are.  Damn, suck-it-up-buttercup.  People need you, both Bear and human.”

Before Matt could turn around, the pressure behind him vanished along with whoever or whatever was speaking with him.  Matt stood looking around, threw his trash away and left the shelter to go home.

Outside the snow was still falling, but a figure sat on the park bench watching Matt get on the bus.  “I’m sure to get swatted for this one.” The figure mumbled to himself.

On Christmas Eve Rusty woke to the sounds of wood being split.  The rhythm of the work told him it was Matt.  In his short life, he had only known one other Bear that could split wood with that rhythm and accuracy.  He rolled over and snuggled up to Norman drifting back to sleep.  Matt was home, and that’s all that mattered. He still saw Matt in his dreams and kept a question in his mind. Is this what happens when Bears Cry?

  

Loose Ends

One of the best parts of being a Werebear is having time to learn and enjoy things at a much slower pace.  In the time before Matt and Luke would fade away, they spent time learning and playing.  Well, honestly, Matt spends time learning; Luke spent time enjoying himself.  They contrasted each other even in leisure activities.  Fading away was just a fact of life for a Werebear; people start to talk when the same person has lived in the same place for forty plus years and not aged. 

Their daughter had graduated from College and started working in Toronto; she’d met a wonderful young man and they’d had a set of twins.  They were both girls of course and she named them after Norse goddesses.  Their son was happy in Texas, he had met a wonderful young woman and they were traveling the world working for the Peace Corps.  They were both very proud of their children, often bragging about them to other Bears and comparing notes.  It was funny how the network of furry family watched out over each other’s children; it was one great perk of being a member of the Werebear family.

Luke’s wanderlust had taken hold after their nest was empty.  He would meet up with fellow Bear bikers and take long rides to well traveled Werebear watering holes. Matt had one built for him for their 20th anniversary; while it looked badass, it had many creature comforts that he enjoyed and a GPS locator so Matt could check on him.  Matt had accompanied his Bear a few times, but was somewhat out of place amongst the biker-Bear crowd.  Matt, being a virtual pocket Bear, was often the odd Bear out and did not like the way he stood out from the rest.  Not that anyone would have said anything to him.  His reputation and name was known among the Bears, especially since Matt had stood paw to paw with Vic.  That had earned Matt some incredible street cred.

In the off-seasons from work Matt would learn new skills.  Boris and Vic introduced him to blacksmiths, gunsmiths, survivalists, weapons experts, martial arts masters, mechanics, trauma doctors, and hackers. He was a sponge; his thirst for knowledge seemed to be sated only by mastering of something new.  It was like he was wired to learn and be ready for anything.  He was always prepared, always with a backup plan.  He always had gear tucked away in odd places, just in case.

This season, he had come to a quiet bluff in New Mexico to learn tracking and spirit walking from his Native American Werebears cousins. They taught him to track without using his enhanced senses and then how to track with them. Knowing both sides of the equation allowed Matt to spot false trails with ease. He felt complete and right.

These Bear cousins had led his spiritual journey; they aided him with making a very deep connection with his Bear and the world around him.  He had connected with the Bear within and learned control.  He learned that his gifts were part of that deep connection.  He learned that he could control his change much better than most.  This allowed him to use all of the Bear’s strength in his human form.  He learned that, like Rusty, he was connected to the energy found in all living things and with practice he could learn to use that.  In the last session it became clear that he was destined for another purpose and he should prepare himself for it. 

Matt’s vacation time had drawn to a close as he made his way back to the train station.  He rode in bed of an old pickup and bumped along the dirt back roads all the way to the reservation train station.  When the truck stopped he hopped out, there was a small gathering at the station.  Bear brothers were waiting for him; the Elder presented him with a few small gifts and thanked him for spending time on the reservation.  Hugs were given to his cousins and he boarded the train. He sat back, sighed and turned on his cell waiting.

The barrage of text messages and emails poured in.  As he sifted them he noticed 10 voicemails from their son-in-law, Todd.  Listening, Matt’s heart sunk.

“Matt, this is Todd … um … Susan and the kids are missing.  Please call me back. Bye,” the voicemail ended.  Matt sat for a few seconds collecting himself before making the call.

“Todd, what’s happening?”  Matt asked. 

“They’re gone. We were camping at the lake.  I went to draw some fresh water and they were gone … please come … please,” Todd said his voice trembling 

“I’m on the way,” Matt hung and sat quietly for a few seconds.

He dialed Luke, “Answer the damn phone Luke … crap voicemail … Honey it’s Matt, 911 in Toronto, Susan and the kids are missing, and I’m headed there now.  Make your way there when you can,” he hung up quickly. 

It was Tuesday and depending on where the wild Bear was it would be a few days before he checked in.  He tapped the locate Luke icon on his phone and a few seconds later a blinking icon appeared in Louisiana. ‘Making the I-10 run again, damn he’s going to be a rowdy Bear when he gets home.’

He looked at his phone again, there was a voice mail from a number that he recognized but didn’t remember. He listened, “Hello, Matt, this is your old buddy, Wayne. If you’re wondering where your precious kids are, well I have them. You and I have unfinished business. I’m in the mountains, come and get me.” the message ended abruptly. 

Matt flashed back to over twenty years ago a few things fit, but why this extreme? He sat and did the math.  Wayne was Luke’s age twenty years ago; he’s either pushing sixty-five, a Werebear, or something else. Boris had mentioned other shape shifters similar to them before, but what the hell was going on. He sent some rapid text messages and then made a few calls; all he got was voicemail.

“Unfinished business?” Matt said aloud.  ‘What the hell is this about,’ he wondered. 

There is a reality of Werebear life.  There is an inescapable truth; we don’t have very many enemies.  We just outlive them.  However; what if an enemy happened to be another Werebear? 

Boris called back and Matt filled him in. He gave him all the details of the contact and his interaction with Wayne before he and Luke came north; this contact was before Matt had retired from the military.  It was before they left Virginia, it was way before Matt had searched for the Bears.  At the end of the conversation Boris agreed to meet him in Atikokan. 

The train rocked along.  Matt would get off at the next stop and catch a plane home; from there he would head to Atikokan. What is happening?  Matt’s mind raced and ambled to different outcomes, playing out every possible scenario. He jolted with a start when the conductor touched his shoulder. 

“This is your stop,”   

“Thank you sir,” Matt nodded. He leapt from his seat, grabbed his gear and jumped from the train. He didn’t bother using the steps.  His mannerisms had shifted he was set in fight mode and he knew it.  Hailing a cab, the driver looked almost scared when he looked through the rearview mirror. 

“Where to?”

“Airport and don’t spare the horses,” Matt said. The driver turned, pushed the button for the meter and pulled out into traffic.  Next stop the airport.

The Storm

Matt had to mail his duffle home. His Ursine cousins had made several traditional stone daggers and arrowheads as departing gifts; he was sure that the gifts wouldn’t have made it through airport security and even if they had, it would have caused more attention that he needed. Clearing security proved to be a little difficult; Matt had not showered and wasn’t wearing clean clothing.  He was searched twice, hauled into an interview office and interviewed by police security. It ended with them asking him to be strip-searched. Of course, the Bear complied; to the security guards’ surprise Matt’s body was smooth and hairless compared to his long hair. He was allowed to clear and go to his gate, walking by a mirror on the way down the concourse, Matt looked down right angry and in need of a bath.  He wasn’t carrying anything with him so he decided to clean up since he still had two hours before his flight left.

Stopping at the newsstand, he picked up some toiletry items and undergarments.  Then he stopped over at Brooks Brothers to buy some new clothes.

“May I help you?” asked a very snotty looking woman, as she peered over her glasses.

“Yes, I need black slacks and a black button down shirt, and that leather jacket on that display, socks, shoes, and a belt.  Before you ask, I’ll write down my sizes.  I don’t care how I look or how I smell, just get me the items I need and I won’t grace your presence further. Understand?” Matt said glaring at her with his crystal blue eyes. 

“Yes sir, okay,” the female stuttered and moved around the store.

Matt paid with cash, left the change, and walked out the store.  He headed across the way, checked in at the members lounge and headed to the showers.  Inside, he started to clean himself.  A good scrub and shower can settle the mind and order the body.  As he showered, he shifted to his half form and cleaned his fur.  He noticed that his fur was starting to change; it was still black, but had much more gray than he would have expected.  He hadn’t changed forms in a few months, but it wasn’t this gray last time. Matt changed back, shaved his face, washed his hair, trimmed his nails and scrubbed his body.  When he emerged from the shower room, it was like a completely different person walked out.  A rough looking homeless person had gone in, a sharp dressed businessman walked out. This way, he would blend in and not cause alarm.  Grabbing a quick bite at the café, he went to the gate, boarded, and settled into his first class seat.

After landing he took a cab home.  On the ride he again ordered his thoughts and tried to remember every detail of the house. He had been the last one to leave and lock up since the group of biker Bears claimed Luke a few days after the seasons ended.  Getting out of the cab, he noticed the back door had been pried open, but left semi-closed. ‘No wonder no one saw it,’ Matt thought as he walked in, he noticed a few things. One, the house had been ransacked.  As far as he could tell nothing of great value was taken, the safe was not opened and no one had found the false wall or floor in the basement. Two, current pictures of the kids, everyone’s travel plans, and all the pocket cash that was in the desk was missing. 

“They came looking for Luke and I, found the travel plans and went after the kids,” Matt said aloud.

This just didn’t make sense. Matt’s phone rang, “Hello, this is Matt. Yes Todd, I just arrived. I’ll be gathering some gear and then I’ll be on the road in an hour.  Yes … I’ll find her … see you soon.” Matt hung up and shuttered as an unfamiliar feeling came over him.  It was as if all his rage suddenly washed over him at once. He felt himself begin to transform into his Bear; it took everything he had to contain himself.  ‘What the heck was that’, he thought, panting and sweating all over

After, Matt checked over his SUV and then went to gather his gear. Looking back at the house, Matt’s mind washed in memories of Susan and her growing up. He saw her on her first date, at her High School Prom, and then when Todd came to meet the dads.  Matt let a long sigh escape his lips and shifted mental gears. He had to shut off his fear and worry so he could focus; whatever happened earlier was in response to rage or anger. As he walked into the house and down to the basement he felt like this was a turning point for him, like things were moving around him, drawing him toward an inevitable conclusion. 

In the basement, Matt pulled out cases from under a blanket.  These cases contained his gear.  First was his body armor; it was handmade out of titanium and Kevlar lath. It would protect his vital parts from a knife or bullet. Weaponry was next. Opening a concealed wall in the basement that held an array of weapons, he chose two custom-made, silenced and compensated side arms. Each held 15 rounds and could stop just about anything.  For his rifle he selected two, a 7MM Remington with night view scope for the long work, and a trusted silenced M4 for close up nastiness. An assortment of knives and bladed weapons completed his load out. 

Closing up the gear bag Matt flashed back to his interactions with Wayne.  Nothing matched, nothing seemed to fit. When they had parted ways their friendship was on shaky ground, but not shaky enough to earn physical strife or the harm of loved ones. This seemed off.  It seemed like a trap, and he was being drawn right into it.

Matt grabbed his bug-out bag that contained a water purifier, advanced trauma kit, and assorted food.  He could go longer than humans without food or first aid, but the kids would be a different situation.  He opened the safe and grabbed both cash and passport documents.  On the way out, Matt turned and grabbed his GPS Navigation system and handheld police scanner.  Matt was known for being over prepared, but it seemed right given what was happening.  As he locked the house and got into his SUV, he was again struck with the sense that this was a trap.  ”The first step to avoiding a trap is knowing it exists,” he said aloud to no one. 

He reached down and grabbed his phone; he tapped the locate Luke icon and found him in South Texas.  He tried his phone again and got his voicemail.  “DAMN!” Matt yelled, and slammed his fist into the roof of the vehicle producing a sizable dent.  Again the anger took hold of him; as he looked down his hands started to change, his talons were emerging and his teeth began to form.  Struggling to attain his center again, his vision blurred.  The world around him washed in intense color, and swirls of darkness.  The darkness felt like a living thing, it moved around him, flowed through the vehicle and tugged at his body.  Matt struggled to bring himself to center, to tuck the anger down and gain control. 

“Damn …” he said as he sat panting, sweating and waiting for his vision to clear.  After a short time he put the vehicle into gear and headed out.

A world away, a Bear awoke from slumber and walked out of a long forgotten cave.  The Bear put his nose to the air and watched the clouds. As if drawn by a gravitational pull, it started to walk away from its cave. A Guardian would be born soon, the mantle of responsibility would be passed, and this old Bear would finally take its place among the stars. It walked toward its willing death.

Ten hours later, Matt pulled into the Atikokan Provincial Police Station parking lot.  He parked and took in the area; it was a rural Police station in a town similar in size to Chase, but more remote. The police carried light arms with pepper spray and the common vehicles were trucks and SUVs. He tuned the scanner and listened, it was general traffic nothing out of the ordinary. A few traffic stops, a drunken homeless person, nothing too extreme or crazy. There was no mention of search parties or missing persons. He reached down and turned off the scanner.

“How odd …” Matt muttered.

He dialed Todd, “Todd? Yes, where are you?  Ok great … I’m about forty five minutes away; would you meet me at the police station?  Good. I want to get moving as fast as possible … yes, I’ll find her. Bye.” 

He rolled the windows down and opened the sunroof in the SUV. Closing his eyes he relaxed and took in area, scents, and sounds. He was in tracking mode. As he sat quietly the scents wafted in; people, cars, small animals, fresh bread baking, and Bear-musk touched his senses. What the heck! Finding new Bears was not uncommon; the family and den lines ran across the globe, this was no different. Finding a brother Bear while traveling was not uncommon and was one of the best parts of being a Werebear. Finding a Bear and sniffing each other so-to-speak was something primal and core to being a Bear. Getting out of the vehicle, Matt secured it and made his way through the parking lot, he was following the scent of the Bear it ended at a police cruiser. As he leaned in the cruisers window, he noticed the scent was stronger on the driver’s side. 

Ah, I have a brother on the force. This could be a good thing; this could be why everything was being kept quiet. His and Luke’s names were known amongst the Bear community, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to think Todd had dropped his name. Still, it was curious. 

Matt circled back around the parking lot and caught sight of Todd talking on his cell phone.  As he approached, Matt sidestepped behind a vehicle and came up beside the very distracted man. “Todd.” Matt spoke firmly.

“Oh crap, you scared me,” Todd replied visibly shaken. 

“I need you to give me information about the disappearance, with times. Do it now.  Write on this map,” Matt rattled the instructions, never breaking eye contact with the human.

“Yeah, sure …” Todd replied, took the map and leaned over the hood of a parked car. 

As he spoke aloud Matt listened intently. He was memorizing all the details, racking and stacking them into order so he could examine them later.

“Please find them, please!” Todd begged, looking up at Matt as he finished. 

“I will. Now go into the station, tell the officers in charge that you spoke with me. Tell him that I’ve gone to drop my gear at the hotel and will be back in a few minutes. DO IT NOW!”  Matt commanded looking directly at Tom, never blinking.

“Sure …” Todd replied, looking puzzled, and walked toward the station. 

On the way out, Matt noticed Todd’s car; it was the Land Rover Luke and Matt had given them as a wedding gift.  Matt opened the door and went through the luggage Todd had brought with him. Nothing was Susan’s or the twins … strange. 

Making it back to his SUV, Matt turned the ignition, opened the map to orient himself and left in a hurry. On the way to the campsite, he punched the data Todd gave him into his Navigation System; he loaded a topographical map of the area and layered in river, stream and home locations. He called up the weather report for the past week and the forecast for the next; he was gathering data, looking for anything of interest.

Parking, he noticed the police tape. No one was around. They’d picked the furthest most point on the lake, away from prying eyes or was it planned? Matt made a survey of the campsite. As he sniffed and scanned, he noticed trails leading in and out of the camp. Common animals to the area and human … wait, there you go … under a bush a deep boot print and one of the twins’ socks. Matt reached down and picked up the tiny baby sock, his vision started to blur again.

“Oh you son-of-a-bitch. You have messed with the wrong Bear.  Not big enough to come after Luke or me head-on, you came after our kids,” Matt growled again.  The anger washed over him in a tidal wave, the blackness swept up around him and engulfed him. The world erupted in waves of energy and light. Darkness swirled about Matt, slapping at his body.  He reacted, trying to defend against the assault, but it was no use. The darkness quickly took him to the ground, holding him down. He could feel his life draining from him and being replaced with cold and dark. Through all this, he heard Vic’s voice, “Werebear emotions are stronger than human. They’ll manifest in your actions unless you control them. Anger, hatred, and sorrow are the hardest to control. Always keep that in mind.” Vic was right, he could feel himself starting to shift forms and roar.  He looked to the sky, the stars shone bright and flashes of light started to beat back the darkness. He could see a flicker of a white Bear on the edge of his vision, the source of the flashes of light. The darkness ebbed and the anger subsided. The young Bear sat on the ground on all fours panting, holding his emotion in check. Slowly his vision cleared and he stood up, looking around. 

Matt made his way back to his SUV and started to get undressed; he stripped down naked and started the mental process of shutting down all his emotions. Emotions were a liability in this situation, given the developments over the last few days he could not afford to have this happen in the presence of their daughter or anyone else. Once he had calmed he began dressing again pulling on a body suit was first.  It would allow him to move silently, stay warm and dry, and blend in. His body armor was next, followed by boots and gloves; a simple balaclava and hat were last. This gear was familiar to Matt, as he slid the weapons rigs and holsters into place he felt a familiar calm come over him. It was like he was back in the military and everything seemed right. 

He loaded his weapons, secured his pack, and started to leave. In the distance the sounds of a vehicle barreling up the path toward him halted his departure; as he looked down the path he could hear it was a police cruiser. He put the weapons back into the vehicle quickly and stood waiting, hands at his sides dancing over the two blades tucked into his rig.  Matt felt the familiar tense feeling before a firefight broke out, the eerie few seconds where time seemed to stand still and then speed up at blinding speed toward inevitable action. Breathing deeply, he centered himself and waited. 

  As the police cruiser approached he noticed only one occupant, a police officer jumped out.  The scent hit his nose a few seconds later; a very, very large, burly Bear stood before him.  He was taking off his gear and stripping as he approached. 

“Boris called, told me to stop you and to have you wait for him, told me that you’d need to be persuaded,” the larger Bear growled and went through a full transformation. 

“Elder-Bear, I wish you no harm. You’ll not be able to stop me, please, stop your advance, or I’ll defend myself.” Matt spoke in an even, detached, stoic tone; he was already in fight mode.

This Bear was truly an Elder. Huge, massive, as big a Bear as Matt had ever seen. “I’ll stop you from leaving, Boris said you were tough, but I’m the biggest Bear in these woods,” the Elder-Bear chuffed and lunged. 

The outcome had already been written in Matt’s mind.  As the Bear lunged, Matt dropped to his back, grabbed the front paws of the Elder and kicked him in the gut with both feet.  The larger Bear’s momentum took him over Matt and into a nearby bush. Coughing and spitting the Elder got to his feet.

“Elder … please stop your attack. You cannot win this battle,” pleaded Matt kneeling on one knee, head down, begging the Bear to stop.

The Elder snorted blowing snot from his muzzle, roared and charged again.  Matt let the Elder advance and close the distance between them. As the two entered close combat, Matt backed away avoiding the massive paws as they swiped at him. He managed to get beside the massive creature and grab a paw as the Elder swiped again. He locked the joint and kicked into the shoulder socket; the crunch of bone and snap of tendon rang through the air. The Elder howled and snapped at Matt.

When the Bear snapped Matt delivered a punch to the side of the massive Kodiak’s muzzle, it would be equivalent to having someone break a human’s nose. Almost instantly, the Bear’s eyes started to flicker and its vision blurred. Matt jumped back after the blow and waited for the Elder’s next move. The Elder snorted and coughed as he stood on his hind feet. He was easily 10 foot tall standing erect.

“Please … please stop. You cannot win. Please stop, please, please stop. Bear, I wish you no harm, please, “Matt begged, almost in tears his hands upturned.

The Elder coughed, blood pouring out of his muzzle.  He locked eyes with Matt, roared and lunged forward for an attack. Matt closed his eyes and moved; he could sense the Bear without seeing it. He seized the Bear’s remaining paw and pulled him off balance, as he rocked forward Matt kicked the Elder in the hip socket. With the same pop and snap as before the Elder was immobile and howling in pain. He grabbed hold of the Elder around the waist and held him up so he did not crash to the ground.

Holding onto the Bear, he kneeled down laying him gently on the ground. Rolling him on his side into the recovery position, he grabbed his parka for a head cushion. Inside, Matt was dying; he’d tried to reason with this magnificent Bear, but it was no use, this regal creature was set on stopping him and there was no other choice. 

“Elder-Bear, I honor your strength and your commitment to a friend.  I’m sorry that I had to deliver pain to such a mighty and majestic Bear. Please accept my apologies, I’m going to give you an injection of Morphine; this will ease the pain and allow you to sleep through the healing. I need you to deliver a message to the Bears that will follow after me.  Tell them, ‘I’ll protect our secret at all costs, but my family will be saved. I walk the path of death, and I wish no one else to follow.’  As proof, take this and give it to them,” Matt spoke softly to the Bear, holding its massive head in his lap.

He reached up and unsnapped the collar that Luke had placed there some 15 years ago and laid it on the paw of the Bear. Rubbed his ears gently, he smiled and injected the Morphine.  The Bear eyes flickered a few times, and then closed. The mighty Bear was asleep. 

“Sleep great one, I wished you no harm. I would love to meet you again and make up for this,” 

He gently laid the Bears head down and grabbed all his gear, loaded up and loped out of the camp. He left behind everything, set on a course to save their children and end whatever mess was about to unfold.  Making good time, he stopped a thousand or so meters from the campsite and took out the baby’s sock.

Leave No Enemy Behind

Boris raced down the Canadian Highway. Robert and Rick were in the back, both making phone calls.  “Ok, we found Luke he was en-route already. He cannot raise Matt either,” Rick said. 

Robert followed “This Wayne guy isn’t a Bear, but it appears that someone close to him is. Rusty and Mitch went to Matt and Luke’s house and confirmed that there were pictures and cash taken. They also found a small arsenal; we can conclude that these are Matt’s. It also appears that most of the weapons were made as gifts. We found some marked with our names on them as well as other Bears, there were items missing. They also found a hidden floor vault with an assortment of bladed weaponry,” Robert finished and silence filled the vehicle. 

Boris asked, “So who’s Matt, really?  We have a few hours left to drive, start digging.”  They both went back to making phone calls and tapping on laptops. Boris thought: ‘You don’t make enemies like this easily. They didn’t go after them directly. That was either wise or foolish, but judging by the skill set Matt had before the change and the skills he’s gaining after… it’s not a far stretch…’

Boris’s cell rang, “Yes, hello? Yes … we’re en-route, E.T.A about 2 hours. Good, everyone is on the way. No, I have no idea why, but we have an idea of whom. Looks like a Bear is out for them and thought it would be easier to go after their Cubs. Yes … see you then.”   

“Who was that?” asked Robert. 

“A very old friend …”

The old Bear started to run, gathering speed using the energy of nature to lift and move him. He had to reach the young Guardian. The darkness almost took the Cub; he could not allow this to happen again. Silently, the Bear called on the old Gods, the Great Bear, and all his remaining inner strength. He must reach this Cub.

On the mountain, Matt took the baby sock and held it to his nose. Inhaling deeply, his Werebear senses exploded and began identifying, cataloging, and memorizing the individual scents. He took the sock, sealed it in a bag, and stowed it then climbed up a tree and sat.  Centering himself, he smelled the air, waiting for the faintest trace to come in. Time passed as Matt sat physically and mentally still. The wind changed direction and the soft smell of baby skin wafted down from the mountain. He growled low and long, his Bear itching to come out. It took all he had to control the rage he felt.  Matt stood and looked up the mountain. It’s a trap and I’m walking right into it.  Dropping to the ground he unslung the M4, checked the magazine and breech and then proceeded up the mountain. 

“Um Boris? … Found something,” Robert said a little startled. 

“Go ahead,”

“I’m looking at Matt’s military service record.  It’s too clean.  There isn’t anything here; just times and dates, rank promotions, a few medical profiles and doctor visits, but nothing.  I mean NOTHING. All his assignments were spaced the same, all his supervisors were very high ranking within the organizations he worked.  It’s just weird, he’s a ghost.” Robert responded, concerned. 

Boris sat thinking, ‘Who are you Matt?’

A few hours later the Bears arrived at the campsite; the Elder-Bear had just about healed and was waking up. Everyone huddled close as the Bear told them what happened.

“He moved so fast, I couldn’t even lay a paw on him. He told me to give you this.”  The Elder-Bear finished and handed the collar to Boris. 

“What’s that?” asked Robert. 

“It’s the collar Luke gave to Matt, it’s a symbol of control and closeness between the two and it’s Matt’s most prized possession. Now I fear the worst; he’s cutting ties to have a clear purpose and resolve,” Boris said kneeling down to speak to the Elder-Bear quietly. 

“What did he say to you? Anything?” Boris looked deep into the eyes of the Bear. 

“He referred to me as Elder-Bear, he said that he would protect our secret at all costs and that he was walking the path, the path of death, and we weren’t to follow. Boris, he spoke to me like he knew me … like he knew us.  The way he regarded me, and took care of me after he beat me to a pulp. He spoke with reverence and remorse in his actions. Does he know how old we are?” the Elder-Bear trailed off. 

“I would suspect that his perception is far more acute than most, but yes, I think he does. Matt is a warm soul, a caring Bear. He does what he has to, but does not relish doing it,” Boris said and stood.

“Grab your gear, we leave in ten,” Boris ordered the other Bears and went to Matt’s vehicle. 

He noticed a note on the back seat, opening the door it read:

“Boris,

Thank you for coming.  The area is prime for a trap; they’ll draw me up the gully and into the opening at the summit of the mountain. They’ll have the high ground and the tactical advantage. I ask that you not follow, but I’m sure you won’t take my suggestion. Allow me to handle it, but top cover is needed. I suggest that you circle around from either side and use me as a center.  They’ll be looking for Luke or I; they wouldn’t suspect that I brought friends.  Here is my hat; it has my scent use it to follow me. – Thank you, Matt”

“Very wise young-one, very wise,” Boris spoke to himself.

Robert came over, “What’s that?”

“Matt’s scent. Here, take a whiff and get going; I want to split up Robert the east face, Rick the West, and I’m going right up middle after Matt.” They nodded and lopped off.

The Elder-Bear had gotten to his feet and started to dress. “Buck, what do you make of Matt? The way he moved, did it remind you of anything?”  Boris asked while wiping the blood from Buck’s face. 

“Sure did. Reminded me of the Guardians. But, I haven’t seen nor heard of them for centuries.” Buck said pulling his shirt on, obviously sore. 

“He has the coloration and his eyes don’t change when he transforms. He exhibits the signs and the thirst for knowledge that Guardians would need to become proficient before their second change.” Boris said, wiping the blood from Buck’s nose. 

“Does he know?”

“No, not yet. We were waiting for him to start developing, but it would seem that nature has taken a different course,” 

“I have missed you Buck, I’m glad you are ok,” Boris let that last part out as he kissed the big Bear gently and cupped his face. 

“I missed you too little one, I missed you too,” Buck said returning the warm gentle kiss.

Up in the mountain Matt stopped at the smell of a campfire.  He retreated a few hundred feet and took to the trees again.  As he climbed he could see a dot of fire and the smells were stronger. He unslung the Remington and looked through the scope.  Two prospector tents were about ten feet apart; several men were walking around but there was no sign of the kids. 

“Hmm … let me just watch for a bit,” Matt mumbled

He looked at his GPS; there was only about 300 yards or so to the summit.  That would be the open area, just past the campsite indicated on his GPS. There was a re-entrance formation on each side of the camp sight; this provided a nice hiding spot for a shooter. Then, the unmistakable smell of a soiled baby diaper hit Matt’s nose, he looked though the scope again.  From the left tent a male emerged with a diaper and threw it in the fire. Well there are the babies, but what about Susan? 

“Hmm … five males on the outside. I have a five round magazine,” Matt talked to himself aloud as he checked the breach and magazine. He connected the drop line to the front sight post and let it hang off the tree. “I’ll take out the five, drop down and go in on the rest.  The frangible rounds will kill humans and slow down a Werebear long enough to get Susan and the kids out.”

Matt was down the tree and moving toward the right side of the site before the last target fell. He made it to the little hiding place and found a very surprised young man; two silenced shots impacted the young man in the face and neck. Not stopping, Matt made a tight arch around the back of the tents to the second shooter. Again, two muffled shots ended his human life. Matt made his way back to the entrance of the encampment; holstering his side arms, he unslung the M4 and preceded to the tents, he stepped into one on the left. He saw the twins and a very nervous young man, Matt didn’t hesitate. Single round through the left eye, one through the neck. The twins were safe. He backed out and went to the other tent, empty except for a note:  “Missed me, Missed me, Come and Get me.” In Matt’s mind, suddenly the pieces fell into place like dominoes falling in a line. His heart sunk and his anger welled up again.  He struggled to maintain control.

Scooping up the twins he took them back to the tree where he’d shot the first five. He laid them at the base of the tree in their carriers. Good kids, they aren’t crying.  Matt took their blanket and rubbed it under his underarms and crotch; the strong scent would bring the other Bears to the twins first and not him. The kids would be safe. Matt kissed them both, unslung his weapon and loped off. 

Robert was the first to find the children, followed by Boris. “Take them to safety”, Boris ordered. Robert nodded scooped them up took them down. They were safe. 

Boris picked up the baby-blanket; Matt covered the blanket with his scent so we’d find the children first, not him. Smart young-one, very smart.  You’re a Guardian; you just don’t know it yet. Boris advanced slowly.  Reaching the campsite, he surveyed the bodies; they were all human, precise, clean, and efficient kills, all five killed by center mass chest shots. Boris doubted that they had even known what was happening. He also noticed that the shots were to the right of the heart, if they had been Werebear it wouldn’t have killed them, but it sure as hell would have hurt for a while.

Then the smell hit him. Blood. Werebear blood. Boris moved quickly and carefully, following the scent.

Crystal Blue Eyes

“That had to sting a little,” Wayne said, holding Susan by the back of the head. Wayne had shot Matt in the left thigh, just above his knee. Matt writhed around in fake pain.

“Daddy!” Susan screamed. Two other men picked Matt up and proceeded to beat him.

Go ahead everyone, show yourselves. I need to see everyone before the show starts, Matt thought to himself, completely aware of everything around him.

They were beating Matt, while Wayne gloated, “I finally got you. Billy-badass and all, I shot you. I’m going to kill you. You ruined my life; I have nothing because of you. Take his mask off and show him to me, he has to be as old as I am.”

Matt smiled under his balaclava; this is going to be fun. He would wait until they yanked his mask off. His leg had already healed and the blood stopped; the body armor had done its job and the blood that seeped through was largely just a contusion, nothing more.

They drug Matt closer and lifted him up; Wayne reached up and pulled his balaclava off. Matt lifted his head, opened his eyes and smiled. Wayne stammered, “You …you. You look …”

Matt didn’t let him get the chance to breathe another word; with smooth grace, he broke free, unsheathed a blade and sunk it into Wayne’s throat, turned and sliced the throats of the men that had been holding him. At the same time, roars were heard all around as Bears came out of the forest, descending on the clearing. Shots rang out as the unprepared men tried to defend their already forfeited lives.

Grabbing Susan he held her down and out of danger. All around the sounds of men being eaten were heard; Susan tried to look but Matt kept her eyes covered and her head in his chest.

“It’s over, you’re safe these brave creatures won’t harm you,” Matt spoke evenly.

When the sounds had subsided he let her look. There was blood, but the bodies had been dragged off. Several of the Bears came lumbering back into the camp. Susan froze.

“Little one, they’ll not harm you,” Matt knew they were Boris, Robert, Rick, and the Elder-Bear from earlier.

Susan was terrified, and clung to her father. They all came forward and sniffed Susan and nudged the two, rubbing on them; one of the Bears came to Susan and nudged her hand.

“What does he want?” she asked.

“He wants you to follow him,” Matt responded, she looked scared.

Matt spoke softly, “Susan, this Bear won’t harm you. He will protect you, please walk with him. The twins are waiting.” Susan looked at her father saying nothing, and walked away slowly.

She left with Rick. Partially down the hill, Rick led her to the twins who were safe under a tree. Then he ambled off, changed to human form, dressed and came back up the hill to retrieve her. Rick and Susan waited at the bottom of the hill for hours, but her father never came down. However, a group of burly men accompanied by a Police Officer did; about the same time, Luke arrived with Vic, led by Todd.

The couple was reunited and introductions were made. Boris pulled Luke aside, “Luke, Matt won’t be coming back with you. He asked me to give this to you, along with a message.” Luke was stoic as he looked down at the collar he had given Matt.

Boris spoke for Matt, “Bear, I must tie up the last loose end of a life that should have ended 30 years ago. It would seem that a grudge has been held and I must end it. I’ll meet you at Boris’s gathering in April. Keep the kids with you or in the company of brothers. If I don’t return, consider me dead and move on.”

Luke walked out to the edge of the campsite and screamed and howled Matt’s name. The sounds of his lover in pain reached Matt’s ears as he crested the southern mountaintop. It pained him, but this loose end had to be dealt with. The other Bears eventually calmed Luke down and took him home; Boris spoke to him at length about his suspicions about Matt, what was going to happen to him, and that he should be ready to accept Matt when he returned. No matter what he was.

Ancient Secrets

The Journey south would take several weeks by foot, the first couple of nights were fairly pleasant being in the woods. It had been a while since the young Bear had gotten the chance to be by himself. Since his change, all of the off-season time had been spent in training. He had picked up various skills and Matt was thankful, but he didn’t realize how badly he had needed a break. Matt replayed the events of the abduction and the rescue of the kids numerous times in his mind. Every option he chose just didn’t make sense. Boris had given him Intel that a Bear was behind the abduction, and it needed to be solved by whatever means necessary. There were details about the letter that linked a few threads in Matt’s past, but it was sketchy to say the least. He had asked Boris if any Bears were members of any Foreign Legion or military force. The reply was evasive; prudent and polite, but evasive. After a full day of worry and analysis, Matt let his mind slip a little and enjoy the time in the woods.

Over the last few years he had come to realize that Bears are normally solitary creatures only clinging to one or few partners. However, in recent centuries they had started forming small pocket communities or dens so resources could be pooled and protection could be given to those who needed it, but as with any group, there were always bad apples. Shortly after Matt’s change had asked him to become a protector of sorts and ensure the wellbeing of all his kin. The Elder had asked him to use his skills for the protection and safety of all Bears; because of his similar experience and exposure in the military, he agreed without hesitation. In that moment, something clicked inside him. Matt pledged his skill to Boris and to whatever task needed to be accomplished. This time of solitude seemed to be just what he needed.

He was kneeling down at a steam to drink when a scent hit him; it was familiar, but his gut tightened and his instincts warned him to keep his guard up. He finished drinking, crossed the stream and picked up the pace. He could feel something; it was as though the presence was getting closer. It wasn’t a negative feeling, but something told him to be ready. As the day progressed whatever it was seemed to be getting closer, it was closing the distance no matter how fast Matt tried to move. It just kept getting closer; the scent he’d caught earlier was getting stronger. It was somehow familiar, like a relative or family member. It lingered on the edge of his perception, just out of reach. Deciding that caution was his best option, Matt took to the trees; he found a clearing with a ring of trees and scaled one until he was about 60 feet up with a clear view of the ground below him. He had left his pack below with his sleeping bag open beside it, whatever was tracking him would be drawn to that scent and he would be able to catch it unaware. Waiting, he brought the rifle up and looked through the scope. He noticed movement on the far side of the clearing but couldn’t make out what it was. There it was again, just to the left of his gear. Movement again, to the left of the tree. He could not track the movement; it was too fast for him. Matt swiveled on his feet using his toes to balance on the limb, trying to get a fix on whatever was beneath him.

All at once the tree shook violently underneath him, as an impact at its base tipped Matt from his perch and tossed him to the ground. He landed hard on his side, wincing as a fallen branch embedded itself in his flesh. Howling with pain, Matt rolled over and up onto his feet placing his back against the tree. His vision began to blur as his drew his knives, colors danced through his field of sight. He shifted to his half Bear form, forcing his body to push the branch out and heal itself. In front of him appeared a large Polar bear, but as soon as he made eye contact it disappeared again. It seems to slip in and out of his sight, coming closer and then backing away again. Whatever this Bear was, it seemed as though it was testing him. It was a Bear, but it was unlike any he had come across before. Suddenly it appeared in front of him again and swatted Matt to the ground. As he tumbled, he threw a blade at the Bear. Unfazed, the Bear disappeared as the blade soared through the air where it had previously been missing it completely. Rolling to his feet Matt drew his sidearm and attempted to draw a shot on the Bear. It reappeared in front of him and once again slapped him to the ground.

Rolling with the hit this time, Matt came up and fired. The rounds missed, but he managed to push the larger Bear away. As the anger rose within him, the world was washed in color; this time Matt didn’t try to shut it off. In the color he could see the Bear, he could see it clearly.

“Gotcha,” Matt fired at the Bear, but once again hit nothing. It seemed to have moved out of his line of fire just as he had squeezed the trigger.

Suddenly, the Bear appeared in front of Matt and slammed him into the ground pinning his arms. Trying to kick the Bear away was useless; the massive creature just laid on him, pinning him to the ground. He was defenseless.

“You are too slow for a Guardian,” growled the Bear inches from his face.

“What do you mean?” Matt growled back, trying in vain to wiggle free.

“You haven’t been trained well enough; you’re useless as a Guardian. How do you expect to protect the Kermode with those skills?” scoffed the Bear, getting up and walking backward as he did so.

“What do you mean?” Matt scrambled to his feet, keeping his sidearm aimed on the Bear.

“Do you not know what you are little one?” questioned the Bear, sitting on its rump, in a stately and regal manner.

“I’m a Bear,” said Matt, as he shifted back to his human form, still holding the weapon on the massive Bear.

“You are much more little one, much more,”

“What do you mean?” Matt said as he looked around; fear was creeping in, and he was beginning to back away. Whatever this Bear was its skill far surpassed his.

“You, young one, are a Guardian. Have your Elders told you nothing? Have they not prepared you?”

“No? They never mentioned the word Guardian. But, I have been pushed to learn various disciplines over the years. Why?” asked the little Bear, now scared and backing further away.

“Well now, young lad, take a seat; let us speak of our history and let me tell you what you are to become,” spoke the massive Bear. Matt complied, and put his side arm away; not that it would have done much of anything to the massive Bear anyway.

As they sat and talked it became clear that this Bear had not meant to harm Matt, but he did mean to test him. It was also apparent to the small Bear that this massive creature could have killed him at any time without exerting even a fraction of his true power.

“What do they call you little Cub?” the Polar Bear asked.

“Matt … they call me Matt. And you?” replied the small Bear with a lump in his throat. He was nervous around this Bear, as if he was in the presence of an older relative.

“They called me Dante’ once, but that was a long time ago,” he said, lowering his massive head as if remembering something terrible.

“Well Dante’, it’s nice to meet you,” Matt said as he got to his feet and approached the Bear, extending his hand for a handshake.

“Little Cub, that gesture is for humans, not Bears. Come here and let me smell you,” Dante spoke in an alluring tone that put Matt at ease.

Matt approached; hesitating as he looked up into the eyes of the massive Bear then leaned in and hugged him around the middle. The Polar Bear put his head down and sniffed deeply. Gently he wrapped his paws around the smaller Bear and gently lifted him off the ground as he rolled backward onto his back so that Matt was snuggled into the Polar Bear’s fur. Both Bears sniffed each other for a long time, gently rubbing and stroking each other.

“In my time little one, warriors wore nothing into battle; I would like very much to feel your skin and to see you as your Bear,” Dante spoke, his tone a whisper against Matt’s skin. Matt nodded and pushed himself off of the Bear.

“Why don’t I build a fire and we can enjoy each other’s company? I have many questions for you,” Matt said looking down at the massive Bear, who was still lying on his back. The Bear chuffed and whined an approval. Matt went about opening his pack and making preparations; as he worked, Dante’ watched him intently as though still evaluating the small Bear. When he was done with the fire pit with wood gathered for the night, and water heating for tea or food Matt turned to face the Bear. The sun had just dipped below the horizon and night was overtaking the clearing wrapping the two into a dark, cozy embrace.

“Shall I undress now? I hope I’ll be to your liking, ancient one,” Matt spoke in reverence to the older Bear.

“Young one, I’m impressed by your perception. Please, let me see you in your Bear form. Come lay with me, and let me show you what you truly are.” Matt looked over at the Bear and started to undress with the light of the fire behind him; as the last of the body armor and weapons fell to the ground Matt stood naked in front of the ancient. A chuff came from the large Bear inviting Matt to join him, where he was engulfed in large paws and Polar Bear fur. As Matt shifted forms the larger Bear stroked him gently. The night was magical; the ancient Bear enjoyed the young Bear and the young Bear enjoyed the ancient. Many hours later Matt was left exhausted, sated, and at ease; he slept soundly through the night.

Morning came and Matt awoke to the soft sounds of a Polar Bear snoring; the light of the sun had just begun edging out of the night sky’s darkness. As he started to move, the larger Bear tightened his grip and hugged him closer. He reached up with a free paw and scratched the side of the Dante’s muzzle, waking him gently.

“Little one, you need to learn to sleep like a Bear. Okay … off with you,” Dante’ grumbled, releasing the smaller Bear. Matt rose to his feet, shifted back to a human and went to the fire to stir some life back into the embers. With the fire coming back to life, he rummaged around in his pack and found a few tea bags and packages of instant coffee, these would have to do. They would need something for breakfast too; there wasn’t enough food in his pack for more than one meal. He set out to create a meal in two metal cups, a mess kit and a few sheet of aluminum foil. In short order he prepared a cup of coffee and tea with grits and bacon bits, looking back over his shoulder he noticed that he was being watched intently.

“Ready to eat?” the small Bear asked.

“Eat … eat … human food? It’s been ages since I’ve had human food. Well, if you count the human I ate as food, then it actually hasn’t been so long,” Dante said with a smile and wink at Matt, who was standing in a daze trying to work out if he was serious or pulling his leg.

“Joking young one …. I’m joking. Come … come. I’m honored that you could prepare a meal from the contents of that satchel you wore,” Dante spoke as he sat up on his rump.

“Are you going to change forms?” Matt asked.

“No young one; I lost that ability many, many years ago,” replied Dante’.

“No worries, I’ll help you.” Matt sat the cups down and spooned the hot food into the Bear’s muzzle.

“Whatever that is, it’s good, but not as delicious as raw meat,”

“Well, I haven’t gone hunting yet, and your approach spooked me so I didn’t gather anything along the way. I’m sorr-” a paw was placed gently on Matt’s lips, interrupting him.

“Hush, young one. You’re such a giving Bear. We will hunt along the way to your destination. It’s time to tell me what you’re doing traveling like this,” said the ancient Polar Bear.

Matt gathered his gear and they both started the trek south. As the day progressed, both Bears chattered endlessly. Along the way Matt told Dante’ everything. He described the Bears in his keep, his change into a Bear, and the weird things that were happening to him. In the back of Matt’s mind he was working out how old this Bear was. Dante listened intently as they walked and watched with marked curiosity when Matt pulled out and engaged his GPS to confirm their direction. Toward the end of the day, the two stopped at a stream that was brimming with fish that were swimming up river to spawn. Matt went about setting up camp and the Polar Bear did as Bears do, he started to hunt for fish. After a short time Matt had finished setting up the campsite and he strolled over to the river to watch the magnificent Bear fish. Dante had already caught two average sized fish and was going after more when Matt plopped himself on a rock to watch.

“Don’t worry about me, I’m fine watching,” Matt said as he started to clean the fish. The large Bear looked back, snorted at him and went back to his hunting. Before long six large fish were cleaned and ready for cooking in the fire; the brains, liver, and smaller parts Matt kept for the large Bear. He knew these parts were higher in fats and the Bear would need to replace some of the stores it had expended tracking him. As Dante’ lumbered over to the bank Matt reached up to hug the massive wet Bear and then held up the smaller fish parts for him to eat. With tender care the big Bear lapped up the high fat parts and then seemed to look deeply into Matt’s eyes; deep into his soul, all the way to the core of his being.

“You remind me of my Luther,” said the large Bear as his bottom lip quivered. Sensing Dante’ had tumbled onto a very painful memory Matt sat all the stuff down, and wrapped his arms up around the Bear. Dante’ sat on his rump with a thud. Matt could feel the big Bear shudder as he sobbed; the waves of heat and emotion were flowing off the Bear as though a dam had suddenly broken. They stayed this way for a while until the large Bear pulled back from Matt.

“Young one, forgive me. You remind me so much of Luther, that I was lost in his memory and his death,” the big Bear spoke quietly in remembrance.

“I’m no one special, not like Luther must have been,” Matt said as the big Bear looked him in the eyes again and put both paws on his shoulders.

“Young one, you don’t look like him. You are him,” Dante spoke, and then let sink in.

“What?” Matt looked up at him, confused.

“Matt, you are the re-born spirit of Luther.”

Who I Am?

The two Bears sat wrapped in each other for a short time then both looked in each other’s eyes, let go of each other, and made their way back to the camp. The fire was burning nicely and the smaller Bear had fashioned a ground cover for them, large enough to accommodate the larger Bear.

“Hold on old one; you can plop yourself by the fire and dry off. I love the smell of Bear just as much as the next Cub, but wet fur sticks to everything,” Matt said with a smile and a wink. Dante’ chuffed and gave Matt a soft chuckle as he sat by the fire and started to scratch his matted fur so it would dry. Looking over at the big Bear, Matt saw that he shared some resemblance to Luke; both were massive Polar Bears with the same long nose, flat ears, and wide paws, a semi gray streak down the back. Magnificent.

“Raw or cooked?” he asked the larger Bear.

“Cooked.”

As the he dug out some of the coals from the fire, laid the fish on top and covered them up Dante’ watched at him, puzzled, like he was still working some things out. While they waited for the fish to finish Matt reached over and started to scratch and rub the big Bears fur, helping to dry him; this produced a long loan moan from the larger Bear.

“Why don’t you get out of that odd clothing you wear, and let me scratch you as well?” the large Bear teased with a wide grin.

“Sure,” Matt replied as he came around to let the large Bear look at him. That’s when he saw the red dot dancing across Dante’s chest; without hesitation he stepped in front of the laser and looked back toward the forest. Matt felt the impact, but nothing more as his vision blurred and went black. He could hear the larger Bear roar and bellow, could hear more shots being fired and then more bellowing. Then, the faint cry of humans as the old guardian killed them. Matt’s Werebear body was trying to heal; he was trying to force his body to change, but he was hurt too badly. Matt gurgled and coughed as he tried to move, but his limbs wouldn’t answer his call. As his vision came blearily back, the Polar Bear was over top of him sniffing deeply.

“You will not die today, little Guardian,” the large Bear whispered as he hovered over top of Matt. Dante’ called upon all his life force and called upon the old Gods; he would sacrifice himself to save this one if he had too. He would give all his knowledge and skill as well as give his life. His long existence had come to a conclusion; in a selfless act, with an ability held by the Guardians and ancient ones he would give up his life to save another.

The wind blew hard, pushing in dark clouds as the Large Bear howled and barked summoning himself for his final act in this lifetime; he had walked this earth for many centuries. He had lived countless lifetimes, he had loved many. At his end he would save the re-born spirit of his lost love, his everything, his mate; the Bear was now at peace. Sitting back on his rump he turned a paw up and bit his wrist tearing the flesh and veins. Blood washed over the smaller Bear, sizzling and smoking in the cool air. Underneath the old Bear Matt’s body started to heal, the gaping holes that the bullet produced closed, his shattered spine reformed, bones mended, and vessels became as new. However, Matt’s heart had stopped. Gathering his life force, a bluish glow formed between Dante’s paws. He tilted his head back and roared to the sky, bellowed to the gods that this was his time he was ready to take his place among the stars. Dante’ reached forward and slammed his life into the small Bear. Matt jerked as his eyes snapped open and his lungs filled with air. Screaming, he added his voice to the Bear’s final roar. Then, there was only silence. Dante’s eyes fluttered as he collapsed beside the small Bear. The ancient one laid a paw on the smaller Bears chest, exhaled, and closed his eyes for the last time.

With his last breath, Dante’ had given Matt the sum of his knowledge and his abilities. Dulled by the older Bear’s age they were now renewed in this Cub, this new Guardian. Matt stayed on the ground as the visions came, washing over him in waves. He looked back over Dante’s life, like it was a movie playing in his mind. He felt his emotions, his sadness and now anger. He saw the darkness and knew what it was. Matt saw what he was, what he had become, and the responsibility that was placed squarely on his small shoulders. He was a different being now, a different Bear. Sitting up, he admired his new world; new colors, shapes, and energy flows were now visible to him. He could see and feel everything; it wasn’t intrusive or painful anymore. Standing, the little Bear had spread his wings. The butterfly had emerged; a new life had begun for him.


Miles away, sitting in his chair and enjoying a book by the fire an ancient Bear stiffened. A great sadness erupted within him. Rising to his feet he walked outside and transformed into his full Bear form. Looking up into the sky, he knew a brother had passed and the next Guardian had been born; he stood on his hind feet and bellowed to the Gods, he bellowed his loss at the passing. Afterwards the ancient Bear returned to his human form, wiped his watering sad eyes and returned to his seat.

Matt had no idea how much time had passed. The moon was high in the sky, the fire had gone out completely, and Dante’s body was cold to the touch. He looked around and smelled the air; calm had settled over the forested area, like nature itself knew to give the Bears distance. Matt went to the river and walked into the icy water submerging himself, he could feel the cold but somehow it felt distant. As he looked down in the water, he could see scars on his chest and across his body, no doubt transferred from Dante. When he walked out of the water, the blood was gone and with it the Cub Matt had been. What stood in the moonlight looking down at the lifeless body of the ancient, was a now a Bear. He could tell he had changed; something had fallen into place inside him. He felt connected to the world and to the limitless energy that was now all around him. As his eyes surveyed Dante’s body, the feeling of loss took hold of the young guardian.

Gathering wood from the forest, he erected a funeral pyre. There on the pyre he placed the body of a great Bear. As Matt reached down to light dried wood, a gentle breeze washed over him; bringing with it a scent, old and wise. The fire took off quickly as the guardian stepped back. He looked over to his left and saw the Great Bear had come to pay homage and to his right stood another Bear, Matt knew this one, but somehow the memory escaped him. As the fire grew and finally engulfed the last of Dante’, Matt turned; hefted his pack and weapons and walked silently away. It was time to close this loose end by whatever means were necessary.

Reunited

The time after the mountain was tough for everyone who had been involved. It was decided that Susan, Todd, and the kids would stay in Toronto with Rick standing watch; in the meantime Luke was frantic. He called Boris everyday asking if Matt had been seen or if anyone had come in contact with him. Each time no was the only answer he received.

Boris knew a few things. First, Matt would only be seen if he wanted it that way, he had developed a stealth that was only common to a few Bears. Two, Matt had cut all ties and left no remembrance of his life in order to keep his mind clear. And three, even if Matt succeeded, it would be a struggle for him to come back and not stay a Bear or give into the animal that he was becoming. This Elder knew exactly what Matt was, he had felt the passing of another ancient like himself, and this could be the only explanation.

After a month or so, the Bears standing watch were alerted by a newscast of a natural gas fire; in the newscast a reporter was holding one of the breastplates from Matt’s body armor that had been found in the fire. It was burned but for the few Bears that knew Matt, it was all they needed to mark his location. Everyone feared the worst. Luke was distraught with the news. Robert had made a trip to the site of the accident, posing as a government safety agent; he found no Bear markings or bodies that would reveal the existence of Werebears.

Keeping Matt’s wishes, everyone was to attend the annual gathering and he would meet them there. As time drew closer for the gathering Luke dreaded going, fearing the heartbreak it might hold. Everyone understood; Norman and Rusty picked him up and accompanied him, but he was distant and distracted along the way. He barely ate and was just a sad Bear. At the gathering, Luke was on edge; he would sit outside and sniff the air for hours, waiting for his lover to come home. On the third day, Luke had been dragged down to the pond and out of the lodge. Several of the Bears retold the story of how Matt had found them. How he fought like a Bear in human form and they talked of his spirit and his honor. Luke was amused, but still he was distracted. He moved away from the gathering to a spot where he could sit alone, sniffing the air.

Then it came, a faint trace of musk, a familiar scent. He bellowed Matt’s name, the scent was faint but it was there. Matt was somewhere in the woods. The other Bears came to Luke who was rapidly transforming into his full Bear form. Luke put his powerful nose to the wind trying to get a direction, something, anything. He frantically paced back and forth.

About the same time Boris, Rick and Robert caught the scent as well; Boris yelled and pointed. On the far side of the clearing, just on the edge of the trees barely visible next to the foliage stood a now completely silver Bear, waiting as if not sure of what to do. Slowly, Matt came out of the woods and ran toward the group.

“Is that Matt?” asked Vic.

“Yes, he’s changed again,” spoke Boris, relieved but also curious.

Luke bounded towards his Bear and once again all was right with the world. They rolled and hugged for some time, then came back to the group. Matt had gone through his second change; he was now a completely silver Bear with a black mask around his eyes, down his chest, and onto his forepaws. His eyes were bright blue like the sky on a clear day. His claws were shorter and totally black, compared to his fur. After a bit of greeting and hugs from all around, Matt made his way up to the Elders.

He changed back to his human form and stood before Boris, Buck, Robert and Vic. His human body was scarred deeply from his neck to his feet, he had no fat on his body and his musculature was taut and hard. There was a tense few moments as Matt watched them. He stared at them with those drilling blue eyes. Robert took a step back, ready for a fight.

“Elders, thank you for watching over my family and for taking care of my beloved. The loose end has been tied and I’m glad to be among brothers again. Thank you,” Matt spoke in marked reverence. He bowed to them, turned and walked back to Luke. When he turned they could see scars marking his body, Matt now carried the mark of a Guardian.

“What now?” Vic asked.

“Burgers and beers,” cheered Boris, who smiled and went back to attending the grill.

The Annual Gathering concluded without incident, Boris, Luke and Matt spoke at length about his second transformation and how soon it would be time to move on. All agreed that they needed to do some things first and everything would be ok.

Gift Wrapping with Bear Paws

Human holidays eventually fade from the lives of were-creatures and just become another moment in passing time. That is, unless you’ve found a group to be a part of or someone to love. The very young Bear couple went through the change, and yet chose to keep their lives. They had a daughter to raise and obligations that couldn’t be dropped. So they carried on. As their daughter graduated and left the nest, the two Bears accepted many others into their small home and were host to many gatherings. The couple’s home was small, but their hearts were large. Matt was super quiet in these settings. He was reserved, but attentive at the same time. On the other side of the coin was Luke, at times it would seem he was the life of the party. This year they had three dens of Bears with them for the holidays. The RV was full, and bedrolls had been laid out in just about every available space. This was all fine; the guests were a close circle of friends that Matt and Luke held very dear.

Matt had taken over the front of the home for gift wrapping and kicked everyone from the living room, ensuring no one would see him wrap. This was his special time, his tribute.

“Hey, these gifts are works of art. By the Gods, who made these?” Walt asked as he walked in from the kitchen to look at the decorated tree.

“Matt did. Wrapping the gifts is his tribute every year,” Luke responded as he hung the last of the Coke ornaments on the tree; Coke and anything related to the Coke Polar Bears was the theme this year.

“Um … okay … tribute? I’m confused,” Walt stuttered as he looked around at the gifts scattered around the room. They were hanging from the ceiling on mobiles, floating in mid-air by some magical force or nestled under the tree. Each was perfectly arranged to compliment the one next to it.

Shaking his head, Luke held up his hands to quiet the larger Bear, “Okay, grab a cup of coffee and meet me on the back deck then I’ll explain. Just leave Matt alone for a while; he’ll come around in his own time.”

“Wait, he’s sobbing and I just watched him shift to half form. I think-” Walt was cut short with Luke holding up a paw to him.

“Just grab your coffee and meet me outside,” Luke insisted and winked. He knew Matt was okay; he had watched this same scene play out for years. Each year the creativity of the little Bear was expanded to top the previous. This year seemed to somehow be special. The gifts had a color theme to them. Dark gold, warm brown, silver balls, a black shiny element, and then the ribbons were all spectacular. The ribbons were made from every material imaginable; some were wood, fabric, paper, and even brushed metal.

“Okay,” Walt stuttered and made his way outside.

Once outside, the two Bears settled in for Luke’s story to be told. On the way out, they gathered the other Bears in the house who had also noticed the state Matt was in. They were all a little more than worried about the little Bear, but they all heeded Luke’s wish and just left him alone. Once outside the story started.

“Well Bears, have a seat and listen to a tale of remembrance and the public omission to all of you about a big mistake I made when Matt and I were first together,” Luke started.

“You see, Matt is the last of seven children. He had several cousins and extended family, but for the most part his family has passed away. When we changed we made the decision to keep our lives going and bring them to a natural end. This has caused Matt more heartache than most. He misses his family and it hurts even more because he knew that three of his family were Kin and could have been saved by the change. He still struggles with that but, I digress-” Luke was interrupted.

“Wait, we knew that you two kept going, but Matt’s family was Kin? How is that possible?” Stew asked. Stew and Burt were young bears, even in relation to Matt and Luke, and had quickly become a pretty steady feature in their home. They were smaller Bears like Matt, but with hearts of pure golden sunshine.

“Soon after Matt’s first change, his sister passed away. Attending the funeral was very hard for him; that’s when he was close enough to his siblings and made the connection. His family was Bear. Soon after he returned, his brother committed suicide, his second sister became a total recluse and the oldest sister shunned him for not helping the family more. This devastated him because the one thing he held onto, and still does, is wrapping the holiday gifts,” Luke paused to take a drink.

“So, he’s missing his human family?” Burt asked as he snuggled into Stew on the patio floor cushions. Even though it was snowing around them Matt had constructed a covered fire pit that let the bears lounge around enjoying the cold, but still keep their paws warm by the fire. It was snowing after all and soon the roads would be closed. The only way to get around would be in half-form.

“Yes and no. Let me go back to the beginning of this story and then we’ll move forward. Way back before Matt even left home, before he graduated High School, this is where it starts. You see, Matt’s parents were more than human parents. They were spiritual guides and teachers, they were coaches and scientists. They both prepared Matt for what he was to become. Being older parents, their health started to fail when Matt was in his junior year of High School. Both of them went from active, attentive, nurturing people, to being cared for around the clock. Matt stepped up and helped, but he was struggling with his own life and the Bear that was coming out within him…” Luke paused to drink. The questions started to fly.

“You mean he was Bear before he was changed?” Stew asked.

“I would say yes, he was. He was more closely connected to his inner self than most would have been; his parents raised him that way. He would spar with his father, and meditate with his mother; he learned early on that life was a circle and everything is connected. He was never the greatest fighter and had often been beaten up on by his older brothers, but he always held back. He knew early on that he could kill if needed, but that was never the option to take first … ahh … I’m getting way ahead of myself though, let’s get back on track.” Luke’s voice raised a bit as he repositioned himself.

“His parents fell ill and for whatever reason, his siblings were too involved in their own lives to help. So it fell to Matt to take care of the estate, pay bills, buy groceries, while still trying to have a life and grow up. It all came to a head when he was in his senior year of High School at Christmas; for many years wrapping the gifts was something that Matt’s mother took pride in. Matt would spend hours helping her wrap gifts. Nothing was ever super expensive, but the act of wrapping became their way of transferring love and affection. Each gift took on a magical context and each almost life of its own,” Luke paused, looking around at each guest.

“I think I’m starting to see now. He puts effort into it so he can remember and pay homage to his family,” Burt said hugging Stew even closer.

“Yes, but there’s much more. The last year of their lives, his mother and father were both too ill to even shop for the holidays; so Matt took on the challenge of finding a special gift for each member of the family, wrapping it, and then delivering it. That year, he was the one who set up the tree and decorated the house. His siblings were almost never present; they would come by, but as Matt tells it, only to tell him something was wrong, or that he had forgotten to do something. Anyway, the holiday came and Matt had shopped, wrapped, decorated, cooked, and presented the whole holiday for his parents. When the family arrived, he greeted each of them at the door like his Father would have and had the Cider out for them on the stove like his Mother would. However, the cider was not quite right and the rest of the things were just not quite like his parents would have done. The remarks followed, but Matt just smiled. Inside it crushed him and became the first Pillar of his self doubt that he has struggled with his whole life,” Luke stopped and looked at the four Bears. They were just watching him, Walt with tears in his eyes, Mitch gripping his hand even tighter, waiting for the next part of the story.

“I don’t get it. Matt is most capable self-assured Bear I have ever known. There’s nothing he can’t do. I have seen him … I … I … I don’t get it,” blathered Stew.

“It’s okay we’re only partially to the end of this story. After the holiday gathering was over, all the food put away, lights turned off, doors locked, and his parents settled in beds; Matt took the time to walk through the estate. As he looked at everything he’d put in place; his mind started to rewind through the day. He revisited every comment, every partial smile, the looks of disgust when opening gifts, no words of joy at the wrapping. Matt found himself on the sparing mat, looking up at the full moon. Then he cried, cursed them all; he vowed to never again let any of them hurt him like this. The next day, his mother was rushed to the hospital where she would stay for a few months. She healed enough to attend his High School graduation, but fell ill and died days later leaving the estate to Matt and his father. Matt, like many other teens that lost family took it hard and acted out. Without his mother to calm him and his father unable to work with him, he was lost. His father, knowing that leaving was his only and best option had Matt fired from his job. He entered into the military and started traveling the world. He would always send postcards and call his father; no matter where he was he would call, write, or send something small back home. Every gift had a story and everything held meaning,” Luke threw more wood on the fire, the snow was falling harder, the drift had covered the walkway from the house, vehicles were just blobs of white, and the light of the day was fading into night quickly. From behind them Matt appeared with a hot pot of coffee and a small tray of cut sausages and cheeses.

“Are you telling my story again?” Matt asked, looking down into the eyes of his mate, his lover, his world.

“Yes, yes I am. These Bears deserve to know. They need to understand the quiet one, the one that moves without sound, the one that heals everyone, the one that cares more about others than himself. Yes … I’m telling them your story,” Luke said while looking up into Matt’s eyes after he sat the tray down.

“Then I’ll leave you to it, I’m going to walk to the market. I won’t be long,” Matt said as he rose pulling the hood of his jacket over his head and walked into the snow storm.

“I didn’t hear him approach, I didn’t even hear the door open from the house,” Burt muttered, while filling up coffee cups and passing the trays around.

“That’s how Matt moves, you’ll get used to it,” Walt added and patted the young Bear on the shoulder.

“Please continue,” Mitch begged, warming his hands by the fire. All the bears were snuggled in the little hut around the fire with snow falling all around them.

Luke took a deep breath, “Okay, lets fast forward a bit; Matt spent a full 20 years in the military. As he traveled, he continued to wrap gifts and send them home. His father would save them throughout the year and then give them to the family on the holidays. Each one was made with whatever Matt had handy, airline barf bags, local newspapers, bar coasters … the list goes on and on. When I met his sister early on in our relationship she told me of the gifts. Grass from the river Jordan, a piece of Marble from the Parthenon, earth from his father’s birthplace or a small basket from Africa. These little gifts held so much meaning that it’s hard to comprehend the depth of it sometimes.”

Luke paused and closed his eyes gathering himself, sighed, and continued the story. “Now we come to the big mistake I made with Matt. It was one of the few holidays where we had the whole family in one place at one time. Between shuttling the kids to one set of grandparents or another, and Matt traveling it was a big deal to have everyone in one spot. Knowing this, Matt went into super holiday mode; he decorated the house, everything was pulled out of storage, and he even put garland and lights everywhere; the tree was a work of art and the gifts were just like what you have seen inside. But … I screwed up. On Christmas day Matt had no gifts from me under the tree; you see Bears, I had gotten so wrapped up in business, work, and my own self absorbed life I had forgotten to wrap or even purchase anything with meaning. What I got for him was last minute, and a toss-off in relation to what he did for me that year. To make it even worse, he said nothing, and didn’t even let on to what had happened until much later that day, after everyone had left, the kids were asleep, and the animals tucked into kennels,” Luke stopped, sniffling, holding back his tears.

“You can stop; I think we get it,”

“No, let me finish then you can decide for yourself,” Luke replied as he coughed and cleared his throat.

“That night I found him in front of the fireplace, curled up with tears rolling down his face. He was holding a small white box with silver and blue ribbon; simple in comparison to everything else that day, but I could feel the heat coming off him. I sat by the fire and reached for him, but he withdrew deeper into a ball clutching the small box. I asked him what was wrong; then through tears he told me the whole story from the start, and I knew that I had hurt him deeply. You see Bears, by not caring enough to wrap a gift you don’t give it weight. This hurt Matt a lot. After we talked, I apologized and Matt told me I was forgiven before I did it, but he just needed to cry and get it out.”

“What was in the box?” asked Stew.

“I don’t know. All I know is that it was Matt’s last gift to his mother. She never opened it; he found it after she passed away and kept it as a reminder. He places it under the tree every year.” Luke finished and looked out on the Bears; there was calm among them. A deep understanding of what being a were-creature was, a full acceptance that every individual makes sacrifices for the ones they love. They all exchanged firm hugs and quick kisses, drank the last of the coffee and headed inside. The snow was easily a foot thick as they waded through.

When they all got inside, took off snow-covered cloths and piled into the living room, each was taken aback by what they found. They marveled at the gifts Matt had wrapped. They walked around and examined each one; each gift was a work of art. Ribbons, bows, multicolored paper, paper animals, and candy adorned them. Suddenly, Stew called to them.

“It’s here, there’s the box! By the gods, there’s the box!”

Nestled at the bottom of the tree behind all the larger boxes, almost invisible next to the shiny surfaces and colors of the other gifts, laid the small white box. It was almost yellow with age, the ribbon crushed down and hanging off the sides. As they all looked closer they could see written on the top right corner, ‘To Mom, I love you. Matt’. They all hugged each other, looked at one another and without saying a word, paired off and started to wrap gifts of their own. It would seem that a new tradition had now been formed among Bears, one that would hopefully carry on forever.

Mitch and Walt took over the kitchen, Stew and Burt went upstairs, and Luke went to wrap in the front room. He sat down in Matt’s chair at his worktable, looking down he could still see the wet spots from the tears that had fallen from the little Bear as he worked as well as subtle claw marks on the edges of the desk, “I love you Matt, this year I’ll give you what I never could, a new family to love,”

Matt’s gift this year was a family portrait with a hand carved frame, made of metal from a steam locomotive. Luke had made it with his own hands. The picture held the most meaning. Matt, Luke, Susan, Steve, Vic, Rusty, Norman, Walk, Mitch, Burt and Stew were in a pile at the lake when the picture was snapped; this would carry the weight of love and wrap the little Bear in the warmth of family.

Moving On

It had been some time since Luke and Matt were changed, almost forty five years in fact. They’d settled in Virginia, with Luke eventually running a Railroad as its president. Matt worked for the rail line as well, but he stayed clear of all the operational stuff and tried to stay under the radar. The small jobs he did for them suited him well; it was a life of good work, good food and quiet living.

It was no secret that Matt was very protective of his Bear and everyone at the railroad knew it. They could be seen on any given day having a quiet lunch at the picnic tables just out of the hustle of the terminal. Matt was often waiting for Luke along the track if he was on the train to make sure he was okay. He often brought lunch in for everyone, just so he could make sure his Bear didn’t need anything; it masked the guttural need to be close to him. Most thought it was strange but passed it off as great affection, which it was.

They’d made preparations over the past few years for their first move as Werebears. They’d made a trip to visit Boris about 30 years before and received the advice they needed. Boris brokered the sale of a small parcel of land, far but not too far from his Were-Lodge in British Columbia. Matt and Luke built a quaint two story Colonial Home with all the Werebear features. It was large enough to give Luke his Bear room and had small areas for Matt. Both were full Werebears, but Matt hadn’t change like normal bears and still liked small closed spaces. Luke being a rather large man in his human form was even larger as a Bear needed the space.

At night, a single blue light could be seen from the lodge which served at the ‘we’re here, come over for coffee’ sign for visitors. Many times that small cottage in the woods was a favorite spot to visit and relax. They would often speak of their first move and what had helped them through it, as well as play poker, gin, or 42.

This small home would be where the pair would escape for ten or so years and then restart their lives after they’d adjusted to new identities. They’d chosen to keep names that were similar to their original ones; Luke was to become Kyle and Matt was to become Jonathan.

They’d made plans to take a Canadian backpacking adventure where they would be lost and not return; in these types of adventures you have to sign waivers and post your travel plans. It would be 48 hours before a search team was sent out and a day before they would find the tattered clothing and campsite. They would use cadavers and a portable heater to fake their deaths; the tent was to catch on fire and burn the cadavers beyond recognition. Personal effects were to be left to provide sufficient evidence that it was the couple. This would provide the necessary evidence to complete the Certificates of Death. The wild animals would clean up the bits and pieces and their tracks wouldn’t be noticed leaving the campsite.

Afterward, they would make the trek as Bears, crossing the mountains and meeting their new family of Werebears on the other side. They would literally show up naked. For both of them it was symbolic of a complete break and walking away from the past.

Over the years many had come in contact with the pair and left quite changed. Vic met the pair when Matt changed, but had really begun to know them on vacation trips with Rusty and Norman; Rusty and Norman having sired both Matt and Luke. Vic was impressed with Matt’s immense strength even with his small size and Luke, for his graciousness and love for Matt. Matt and Vic formed a very close teacher and student relationship that always seemed to have a bit of sexual tension. Boris met the pair when they’d traveled for his advice; during that visit with Boris; Matt was very reluctant to change into his full Bear form, content to walk alongside with Luke instead. They never left sight of each other; they would wake from deep slumber if the other left the vicinity. Boris found this odd, but not troubling.

When they were changed, Matt had been first; his change was anything but normal; it was hard and very painful for him. He didn’t grow a pelt in human form and remained largely like he was before the change, a little beer belly, almost no body hair and long locks of ginger-blond hair. His eyes however became the clearest and brightest blue, and would stay that way after he changed to his full Bear. He was often mistaken for a Cub before the change.

Luke on the other hand, changed into a Polar Bear of massive size and proportion. When he changed, his hair and pelt turned stark white, almost luminescent, and large paws with large equipment filled out the package. He was on par with Norman in size and speed; much like Norman and Rusty, they also would pet each other and nuzzled for a long time before they even had Bear sex.

“It’s almost time, my Bear,” Matt spoke in an almost trembling tone.

“I know, I know,” Luke quipped.

They were both a little on edge; faking your own death was hard, but faking two when both were in a very public eye with children and grandchildren was another story.

Luke looked up from his bowl of soup, “Everyone is wishing us well on our vacation and telling me to be safe, to hurry back. It’s scary; I don’t really want to go.”

“Bear, I know. I don’t either, but it’s time to move on. Everything is ready; Boris called a little bit ago and so did Vic and Rusty to offer their support. Walt and Mitch are traveling through New York today and want to travel out with us.” Luke nodded, but didn’t reply.

He was starting to tear up, his mighty hands trembling at the table. “Please help me, be strong for me. This is going to kill me,” the big Bear of a man started to sob.

Matt reached up, cupped his chin and smiled. “Bear, I’ll be with you forever,” he said in a hushed tone, almost a chuff. Bear speak always soothed Luke.

They hugged and Luke got a grip on himself. Matt’s ears picked up someone walking to the tables so he quickly dried Luke’s eyes.

“Sir, everyone is here for the staff meeting,” one of the new office employees spoke.

“Thank you, I’ll be right in,” replied Luke.

“Are you going to be ok?” Matt asked. Luke chuffed at Matt in that ‘I’ll get over it, but I don’t like it, kind of expression.’ Sometimes Bear speak carried more information than human language ever could.

As Luke walked off, Matt cleaned up the table shoving all the stuff in his backpack and headed for home. On the way he stopped to top off the truck with fuel and pick up his favorite snack, Little Debbie Cakes and a Mountain Dew and then headed for home.

It was a short drive up the street and he caught himself in a daydream missing the place that had been home for most of his human life. The home they’d bought and later remodeled was close to the railroad and offered Matt closeness without panic.

Inside this was tearing Matt up; the pair had living children and now grandchildren. The two Bears bore witness to their son mature into a fine man with several kids. Their daughter had gone on to be a scientist and was working on an underwater living project. She’d had two daughters and they’d just had children of their own; leaving all of that behind was like daggers stabbing him through his chest.

When he got home, he sat in the truck and just cried a long loud cry.

As he was getting hold of himself, Walt and Mitch arrived. They hopped out of their rental car and quickly noticed the state Matt was in.

“Matt … what’s the matter?” Mitch moved in and hugged the smaller man close.

“Everything … nothing … this is our first move,” he sobbed again.

Walt reached the pair and engulfed Matt in a tight Bear hug. Their scent was calming. Their body heat warm. Matt felt himself relax and calmness returned to his body and mind.

“Ok, come on in. Enough of this emotional stuff,” Matt huffed, drying his eyes.

Once inside, coats were hung, coffee was warmed and they sat at the kitchen table. “Wow this is a small place,” remarked Mitch.

“Its home,” Matt said with marked sadness.

In contrast to most Werebear dens it was very, very small. Minimal furnishing; a large chair and couch for Luke ample enough to support his weight. It was obvious that Luke made due with the small space to accommodate Matt’s smaller frame. To compensate, Matt lavished attention on his Bear, so Luke wouldn’t have to get upset that he could not fit or reach something or find things that were tucked away.

Every inch of wall space was used up. Art, pictures, and treasures from a lifetime hung with care around the house. Walt and Mitch had only been to Matt and Luke’s den once, and it was really not the ideal place for gatherings. It was a hobbit home that two Bears lived in. As they looked around it was clear that they loved each other deeply and had forged strong bonds with Rusty, Norman, Vic and Boris.

At the table the conversation was more jovial. Mitch and Walt really wanted to get to know Matt and Luke, but they were a very solitary pair and kept largely to themselves at the gatherings.

“Who changed you?” Walt asked as he looked over the wall of pictures.

“Rusty changed me, and Norman changed Luke,” Matt spoke in a semi-trance.

“So, are all your preparations ready?” Walt asked, giving Matt another Bear hug around the shoulders.

“Yes, I have shipped out some small items to the new house, things we wanted to keep. All the paperwork is in order, the fridge is cleaned out, and utilities are paid for six months. Wills, Powers of Attorney, and trust documents have been updated. The insurance policies are all here and waiting for the kids to find them. The house is cleaned out. No Werebear DNA to find, no stone left unturned. The computers have been cleaned; all the paper files have been shredded and burned. No trace of our life going back fifty five years is left in the house, outside of what we wanted to leave. I feel so strange that this is the last night in our home…” Matt trailed off the last part of the sentence and his eyes started to cloud over again.

“It will be OK, you have a new family waiting on you and everything is ready,” Mitch blurted out in an attempt to keep Matt’s spirits up.

Walt chimed in. “The other Bears put the last of the supplies in your pantry and stocked the fridge, freezer and cellar for you. Boris picked up your truck and it’s in the garage. I would say you’re all ready to move into your new lives.” When Walt finished it was apparent that Matt had already known all this and it wasn’t the problem, it was the leaving part, not the preparation that was getting to him.

“I know what you need; you need another Bear hug,” Walt said as he winked at Mitch. They led the now completely sobbing and shaking Matt into the living room.

The two large Bears removed their clothes and pulled Matt’s off as well. He was a mess; weeks, months, and years of stress were pouring out of him in waves of tears, emotion and heat. He was almost glowing. The two hugged him close and shifted to full Bear form with Matt in the center. They knew that the scent would calm him and if he lost it they could handle him in this small space.

While listening to Matt sob and throw his emotional tantrum, Walt flashed back to the first time they got to really visit with this pair. It was at Boris’s annual gathering. This would have been the fourth or maybe fifth year after they changed. The new Werebears would enter in Bear form, and their sires would present them. Matt, who was always more comfortable in human form, decided he would walk astride his Bear to honor him. This caused more than a few eyes to lift. A very callous Bear at the entrance told Matt he had to change or he could not go in and be presented with Norman and Rusty greeted them. Matt was polite and tried to explain, but the Bear shoved him, saying that he had to change before they could enter.

What happened next still defies logic. Matt being nervous and on edge with new surrounds and new Bears, snapped. If it was the fear that Luke was in danger or a threat that had presented itself; no one ever really found out. In a smooth motion, he grabbed the Bear and tossed him head over heels into the center of the arena. He was still in human form. Others, seeing this jumped in without knowing what they were getting into. It was like an expansive vortex of wind and force as he did hand to hand battle with the Bears in their full forms; two or three of which were seriously injured. When Norman and Rusty made it to them, Matt was between Luke and the advancing Bears. He bellowed, “I’m one of you, I’m Were … why have you treated us this way?” Luke came to Matt and chuffed at him. Matt reached up and wrapped an arm under the big Polar Bear’s chin. They turned to walk away from the arena; then Matt hopped on top of Luke and they took off at Polar Bear speed into the woods, to safety and solitude.

Several hours later Boris tracked them. They were high in the wilderness, sitting quietly together. Matt had built a fire and they all talked at length. Later all three rejoined the gathering and were welcomed.

Mitch licked Walt’s muzzle. Matt had stilled, quieted. The heat coming from him had subsided. Mitch chuffed at Matt, ‘it will be ok.’

As they sat holding him, Mitch noticed the large wall in that room covered floor to ceiling in framed photos and art. It was Matt and Luke’s Wall of Life, a history of their life together. He noticed a sort of pattern in the pictures, but he made nothing of it.

They heard Luke drive up in his Model-T; it was hard to miss that sound. The car was older than several of the Bears combined. Walt shifted and left Mitch holding onto Matt, who was passed out. Mitch gently rolled back into the Bear corner of the room. Matt had created a corner where Luke could relax in full Bear form. Mitch was sitting pretty much upright, just holding Matt like a baby.

Walt changed back, pulled on his pants and shirt and headed to meet Luke.

Fur Family
“They’ll be here in about a week,” Boris said, blowing the steam from his coffee. Rusty nodded and put his head on Norman’s shoulder.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them. They’re a dynamic couple; quiet, but when we needed help, they were there fast,” Norman remarked.

“I know, I know. That’s not what has me concerned. It’s Matt. In the all the years since he changed, I don’t think he has ever came to terms what he’s become. I think it frightens him. That’s why he’s so shy in some settings and doesn’t change unless he has to. Not that Luke is a party Bear, but they’re low key for sure,” Boris said taking another sip.

“Then what makes him so damn strong in human form?” Norman asked a little anxious.

“I think you need to ask Rusty, the essence of a Kermode the white and orange Spirit Bear, is strong and has changed Matt for sure,” Boris spoke with trepidation in his voice.

“I don’t care what anyone thinks, Matt is one of the most caring Bears I know. When I’m close to him it’s like a soft wind is blowing over snow or cool water running down a stream. Luke is just a warm glow of sunshine. They make a good pair.” Rusty smiled and shook his rump a little to get Norman excited.

“I hope you are right,” Boris said taking a sip of his coffee.

Rick walked through the door, “Ok, their place is set up, heat is on, wood stacked, pantry full, boxes placed where Matt said, truck is fueled and in the garage. The lights are on, now when will they be here?” The report rolled off Rick’s tongue as fast as an auctioneer.

“A few days. Mitch and Walt are with them,” Rusty blurted; a little more than excited to see the pair again. Over the past twenty five or so years, it was Rusty and Norman that had gotten close to the pair over summer vacations and meetings at Boris’s. They’d come to love them; actually they fell in love with Matt first, he was the one who found them, Luke took a little time to warm up to.

“Luke is a great mechanical engineer, and Matt is just … well Matt,” Norman smiled.

“He’s just a wealth of abilities, all wrapped up in one small package,” Rusty rambled, just as excited.

“I tried to arm wrestle Matt once, he was in human form and beat me,” said Norman, rubbing his wrist remembering the playful encounter that turned painful.

“Do tell, do tell,” Rick remarked while sitting with a cup of coffee.

Rusty began the story, “We settled in a cabin on the outer most point in the Great Lakes for a long vacation. Matt likes the quiet places. He will sit and listen to the sounds of nature for hours. Luke likes to fish as a Polar Bear and Matt spends hours just watching over Luke. He will roughhouse and wrestle with Norman. He is incredibly fast for his small frame. He started to wrestle with him a little, Matt was ok with it and he gave just as hard as Norman did. They romped and played, but never too far from Luke or me. They would arm wrestle and just play; he never did change into a Bear though.

A few days later, Luke was fishing and Matt was cleaning the fish as fast as they were caught. I think we ate fish three meals a day for a week. Anyway, Polar Bears can stay underwater for quite some time. Matt took a break when he could not find Luke and started to pace back and forth looking for him. He was calling his name and getting more worked up as the seconds passed; he changed to his Bear form. Guys let me tell you, his coloration is frightening; he’s a silver Andean MoonBear. The streaks on his face, chest, and forepaws are frightening, his fur is coarse and his claws are a bit longer than most and his pads are just odd shaped. Anyway, Luke had swum upriver a bit and changed back, he came lopping back along the bank and threw a fish at Matt. It missed of course, but when they saw each other, Matt ran to him and they rolled around for a bit. He was cooing like a newborn Cub to Luke. It was very sweet. Matt actually stayed in Bear form the rest of the weekend. He was agile as a Bear, just as a human would be. He was silent when he walked. He just followed Luke around. He did go hunting and brought down an elk. It was fun to see him dragging the elk back in Bear form.”

“Oh, and his eyes … his eyes stay blue in full Bear form,” Norman blurted.

The others just sat listening; a little slack jawed, but listening.

The phone rang and Boris went up to get it. “Hello Walt … yes … yes … all done? Good. How are they? Well just hug them; it’s hard the first time. Ok, see you all in a few days. Hug them for us; we’re all waiting. Goodbye!” Boris hung up and came back to the table.

“Matt is having a very hard time with their first move. He cried it out and collapsed. Mitch is rocking him like a baby,” Boris stopped and just looked around the room sensing an explanation was needed.

“You see brothers, not everyone has an easy time letting go of a life they’ve built. It will get easier for them, but right now they need our support. They have children and grandchildren that they’re leaving behind. They’ll want to see them, to spy on them. We must watch them carefully and help them adjust.” When Boris finished, all were in a daze of understanding. No one said another word they just hugged each other and went about their chores.

Polar Bear Teeth

“Hey Luke,” Walt met him at the door with an outstretched hand. 

Luke looked up at the house, “Where’s Matt? I came home, something is wrong, I felt it,” Luke took a step toward the door.

“He’s fine, he’s resting on Mitch,” Walt said, half blocking his entry. 

“Either get out of the way, or I’ll rip you in half,” snarled Luke in an uncharacteristic tone that was so deep and earthy that it shook the door. Walt could see Luke’s Ursine teeth.

“Whoa big fella … he cried himself out … he’s fine, just resting … calm down please,” Walt pleaded in a very low tone. 

Luke shook his head a little.  “I’m sorry, I’m just on edge.  I had to escape work. I told them I was just excited. They shoved me out the door,” Luke blurted in short bursts.

Walt could see he was on the verge of tears as well. He opened his arms and grabbed the big Bear, who started to cry softly into his shoulder. This lasted a few minutes before Luke got a hold of himself and went inside. 

Once inside, Walt closed the door between the kitchen and living room. “I can see that you’re both having some issues with the move.” Walt spoke in an even tone. 

“Yes, this is just so damn hard,” Luke said, just above a whisper. 

“Matt told me that all preparations have been made and that you both are packed and ready to go,” stated Walt.

Luke just looked at the table, tracing the pattern on the table with his finger.  “Yes, it’s all ready,” Luke was lost in thought and only half answering. 

A little rustle was heard from the next room.  The door slid open and Matt walked through, locked eyes with Luke and grabbed hold of him. 

“Ok … now that you’re here I’ll be fine,” Matt’s mood seemed better. Back through the door Mitch padded over in Bear form, and stopped. 

“You are not going to fit though,” Matt said over his shoulder. Mitch changed back, dressed and came to the table.

As they sat over coffee, “If you’re all done, why not go ahead and leave with us now? We can drive in shifts and get you to B.C. in no time,” said Walt in an upbeat as possible tone. 

“We’ll leave in the morning as planned, I would like to make love to my Bear one last time in the first house that was truly ours,” Matt said in a very loving tone. 

“So, you guys can either take our bed upstairs or the Inn up the street, but the living room is ours for the night,” Luke quipped while looking right at Matt. 

All broke out in laughter and it was decided that Matt and Luke would have the house to themselves for the night. 

Walking Away

The sun broke through the open window as Luke lay snoring on his back. The big Polar Bear, in full Bear form was sprawled across the entire length of the room. Matt was laying on Luke’s belly, propped in between his legs nestled into the soft belly fur, his favorite spot to rest.

They’d made love that night; strong, passionate love. The bites that Luke had given him were healing; just a few lines could still be seen. 

Both were scared of the future and saddened at the hurt that their leaving would cause, but they’d worked hard to minimize the pain and trouble for everyone. 

Luke had put a death clause in at the Railroad. This would name his successor as president and outline decision-making in the interim. The insurance policies would cover the children and give each a good amount of cash and small assets. Matt had moved all the assets around, cleaning out storage rooms and drawing down the house to a manageable level. Who knew that two Bears could collect so much stuff? 

A yawn and a chuff came from Luke. “Hey lover,” Matt said and went to scale the mighty Luke and hold his massive head in his hands. 

“I love you, but it’s time we need to get moving. Mitch and Walt have been outside drinking coffee for about an hour,” he said and continued to nibble and kiss Luke’s muzzle and rub his ears.

A small chuff and whine came from Luke. The Bear equivalent of ‘Ok, ok I give.  Go let them in’. As he proceeded to scratch his belly as he changed back to his human form. 

Matt opened the door and stepped out in the cold. “Come on in guys … it’s time.” 

The accident worked as intended; the two Bears walked their way into a new life and left the old one behind. 

All their plans had worked without a hitch. The Railroad survived. The Kids came to divvy up the household items. Insurance policies paid out in record time, trusts were transferred quickly with no hassles, no roadblocks, not a word, or stroke of negative from any agency the kids dealt with.

There were about 200 people at their memorial service; including Rusty, Norman, and Vic. They paid their respects to Matt and Luke’s children, shook hands and spoke highly of them. 

Later that week in the old house, Steve and Susan were sitting in the living room. “It was odd the way dad built this house. Luke had his romp area and Dad his small spaces,” remarked Susan. 

“Something is off,” Steve almost screamed. “Dad just doesn’t go out to camp and have a fire start in the tent. Everything is to … set-up. Susan, this is too easy.” He was pacing back and forth in the living room. 

“What do you mean?”

“Everything. Everything Susan, it was neat and tidy. As good as dad was, this is too neat and tidy. Even this house has been cleaned and organized from top to bottom; there are no files here, no paper trail, nothing. Crap, even the pictures on the wall have been organized.” He was frantic.

Susan chimed in, “Hey look at this. Are these the same guys from today?”

“Yea, those three were very big men, like Luke,” responded Steve. 

“Look at the picture, that was me in 9th grade on a camping trip with them,” Susan said.  “We were in the mountains, it was a nice time; they were very protective of me.”

“Look at this; this is when they all came to my wedding. That was 25 years ago. None of them have aged,” Steve remarked. 

“Here’s another, and another,” Susan said just about in tears.

Matt and Luke committed a great sin among the Werebears. Matt left the smallest of trails so they could be found. Just a glimmer of hope, a message in code and pictures; in directional markings, distances, and times; placed lovingly on their Wall of Life.  If their children could decipher the code, it would be time for much explanation. 

Secretly they wished they would……….They missed their Cubs, so, so, so much!

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