Where There's No Frost (Part 1)

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An experiment in skirting expectations; two friends develop a deeper relationship, but not in the way of most. No sex per se, but some pretty heavy M/M contact. Unfinished. 8344 words.

Hi guys! This is actually my first upload since 2.0 went live. Terrible, I know. Anyway, this is a little number that I've been working on, in between school, for about a year now; this is Part 1. There will be more, but I want to post something. My venerable watchers have waited long enough, while I dicked around with school and responsibilities and that sort of bullshit. More is coming, hopefully relatively soon.

"You didn't seriously wait out here for me this whole time, did you?!" came an appalled undertone.

Drawn out of his reverie, Jim blinked at the german shepherd, black and tan in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, and a dark blue beanie. "Oh... are you done already?"

Howard grabbed his coat from the bench quickly. His tail was flicking in annoyance... but was also uncharacteristically low, in embarrassment. "It's been four hours. Don't tell me you've been sitting out here for four hours." He shrugged the puffy garment on, sat, and began snapping up his snow pants.

Jim looked at his watch. It was nearly noon. "Hm," he remarked.

"Why didn't you go catch a movie or something? At least whip out your handheld game thinger, I know you have it with you. Instead of sitting there staring off into space like a creeper."

The older male, who was a more ambiguous canine and looked to have a majority percentage of wolf in him (as well as some dog, and a bit of fox in the ears and nose), grinned slowly. "Who needs that when I have you to think about?"

Cheeks pinkening under his fur, Howard's paws slowed as they laced up his snow boots. "You did not just say that."

"I was wishing you luck the whole time, so if you get a good score, you can thank me, you ungrateful mutt." Jim stuck his tongue out.

"Did you even take off your coat? Aren't you hot?"

Surprised, Jim blinked and realized he was still wearing all his outdoor gear. "A little," he admitted.

"Dolt," Howard offered, donning his pawmitts.

The wolf hybrid licked his nose. "Well, in all honesty, I wanted to be here when you got out. I was going to read a book, but I really did get to thinking of you and time just - "

Howard groaned as he stood up. "Gaaaawd, you're such a sap."

Jim grinned proudly as he followed, the shorter german shepherd leading the way out of the school building, buttoning his coat's hood as he went. They pressed out into the parking lot.

The weather was temperate for the season. The wind was only gusting up to thirty or so miles per hour, and Jim hazarded a guess (as he squinted and held up a paw to keep ice out of his face) that the temperature was nearly positive. Well, in the old Fahrenheit scale. It wouldn't last, if the forecaster had anything to say about it; the snow now falling would thicken before long, and tonight the wind would pick up as the temperature plummeted.

They hopped up into Jim's truck, heavily modified to run in the cold, and the wolf cranked the engine until it caught, his breath puffing in the air. Jim was broad of shoulder and quite tall; even in the roomy cab of the truck he had to hunch forward. He had the coloration of husky or something similar, dark and white, but muted and blurred, with a lot more gray in it. His fur was coarser, shorter, and dusted with brown, particularly where it grew slightly longer on his head and jawline. Howard liked the tufty jaw-beard his friend had going on, fading out about halfway to the tip of his chin; it was a relatively new, adult look for the wolf. Jim had been out of high school for four years; Howard was in the middle of his last year.

The truck had serrated tires and was too heavy to be blown around, but Jim still drove cautiously, out of habit; any wheeled vehicle was untrustworthy this far north. It was a toss-up between safety and speed, if he were to consider getting it fitted with treads, repurposed from old military tanks.

They cruised down to the closest operating food joint and bought burgers, munching as the older male negotiated the meandering streets of oldtown, where abandoned buildings loomed over them, interspersed with frozen trees long since dead. Some of the steeper slopes were too icy to manage even with the serrated tires. Treads would fix that too, the wolf thought to himself.

Finally, they came to one of the more populous neighborhoods, where the inhabitants had adapted, rather than fleeing the enroaching cold; it had once been a wealthy commercial area. Coasting to a stop in the snowdrift-filled alley behind a small concrete building (which had not been built a house, but now served as one), Jim killed the engine, and they both plodded inside, still chewing fries.

Jim slammed the door behind them and threw the bolts. "So, how was it?" he asked, finally.

Howard snorted a little. "Piece of cake. You kidding? I was all over the geometry section. Science took too long, but I almost finished it, so I think I'll do okay." He shook snow off himself, pulling the snaps of his coat apart in one fierce tear.

Jim unzipped his own, smiling mildly. "That's good."

A slight blush returned to the german shepherd's features. "I still can't be-lieve you sat out there for four hours waiting for me."

"Ah, what can I say?" The wolf hung his coat up and set his boots neatly beneath it, while Howard tossed his things in a heap on the floor.

Howard paused, fiddling with the snaps on his snow pants. "What were you thinking about so much, anyway?"

The wolf shrugged. Now that his gear was mostly removed, he was somewhat less imposing, though still tall. He wore a long-sleeved plaid shirt that was, surprisingly, too big on him, and jeans that were likewise. "I don't know. Just... makes me happy that you're so smart. You'll get chances I never had. The chance to get off of this godforsaken icicle."

The german shepherd smiled, kicking off his boots. "Assuming I want to."

"Why wouldn't you? I'd kill to be out of here!"

"Well..." Howard turned around, blinking. "I'd have to leave you."

The wolf stared, and slowly smiled. "Who's the sap now?" he asked, voice low.

"Shut up," Howard said, exasperated, and paced halfway across the room.

"Where are your parents, anyway?" Jim asked with a grin, following absently.

"...Gone," Howard said. "For two whole days. Had to go to Nordabbey to do some banking." Unexpectedly, he came to a halt, quiet, and the other male stopped as well.

Suddenly, the dog turned around. "I've been... thinking. About what you said a while ago."

"What's that, now?" Jim asked, mildly.

Howard scratched his head, embarrassed. "You know, when we were talking about... What we were going to do about settling down. With some girl or other."

"Ah, yes," Jim replied, it had been a few weeks since that conversation. "I remember. What of it?"

"I want you to tell me more about it."

"About what, exactly?"

"You're... really not planning on marrying someone?" the german shepherd asked quietly, tail flicking curiously.

"Planning and doing are two very different things, Howie," Jim said, returning to the closet with his folded snowpants. "I may end up finding some girl I like, starting a family with her. I haven't met her so far. And I'm not planning on it, no." He fingered the doorknob. "I don't think a family, a wife, are really things I want."

"What do you want?" his younger friend prodded.

"I don't know." Jim murmured, sounding less confident than his usual cool monotone, and then paced into the kitchen; this time, it was Howard who followed absently. "I don't think I've really had a chance to find out. I'd like to, though." The wolf began making tea - it was technically Howard's house, but he had spent as much time there as at his own.

"What do you mean?"

The wolf hesitated, very quiet, as he filled the kettle from the ice-melter, and then placed it on the convector and switched the fan off. "Well..." He turned around, and formed a tall, lanky silhouette in front of the lamp above the cooktop. "...you know, the whole... idea of it, is based around just 'some girl,' and having kids with her. I'm... just not sure if that's really what I want. Is all. I've thought about it and... it doesn't seem all that appealing. I want to think about it more, maybe try some other things too. I mean, what if there's something I like better?"

"Better than sex?" Howard put bluntly, a small grin rising in his face.

Jim hesitated, and then shrugged. "Well, yeah, maybe so. I mean, sure, it feels good... But it's not the only thing that feels good. Just in a different way."

Howard's grin had fallen as quickly as it appeared. "Oh." He chewed on his lip a little, watching the wolf watching him. "What... what do you think feels better, then?"

Jim scuffed his feet on the floor, ears dropping back slightly; he trusted Howard like no one else, but even with him, divulging such information was hard. "I don't know. Physical contact, for instance."

"Like hugging?"

"...More... prolonged, I guess."

Howard tilted his head, and then smiled a bit. "You mean... you like cuddling."

Jim spent a while studying the baseboard, and then turned abruptly, taking the hissing kettle off the convector. "Well, yeah," he said, a little gruffly. "And... and other things too."

"You can do plenty of that after sex."

"Yeah? And when was the last time you did?"

Chagrined, Howard opened his mouth, shut it, opened it again. "I've... uh, actually never had sex before."

"Neither have I," Jim said quietly.

Howard was stunned into silence, watching the wolf bob the teabag gently; his flicking tail came to a dead stop. Jim was several years older, very handsome, and possessed of an easy, confident, reliable nature that had always seemed to charm the other sex. In Howard's mind, he was a model adult male, an archetype which clashed starkly with this new aspect of connoted innocence. Certainly, Howard couldn't remember him ever having a girlfriend, but the idea that he hadn't...

"Why not?" he wondered aloud, unable to hide his surprise. "It's not like you couldn't find a girl who'd..." He fell silent, a new thought occurring to him: Jim had always been somewhat reserved, but he'd never considered that the wolf might be hiding a shy side.

Jim, however, gave a characteristic shrug, pouring himself a mug. "I just don't really want to. Tea?"

The younger male blinked, hesitated. "Yeah..." he said, bemused, taking the mug when it was passed to him. A silent moment passed, as the two doctored up their tea to their respective tastes (lots of sugar for Howard, lemon for Jim). Howard leaned against the table. Jim switched the convector fan back on, so it would circulate its heat through the house instead of the cooktop.

No, not shy, he knew Jim too well. There had to be another explanation. "So... why don't you marry a girl and cuddle with her, then?"

Jim pulled a chair out from the table, spun it around, and sat backwards on it, knees jutting out on either side of the backrest. His tail stuck out behind him, swishing occasionally. "Well... That's not really the objective, for me. I mean - " He took a sip of tea. " - most guys are like, well, I want to get with a girl, have sex, marry her, have kids, in one order or another. I don't care about any of that. I might end up doing all that, and I'm not saying I won't like it... but I want to try some other things, too. Not necessarily charging toward sex, you know? Not necessarily getting married and starting a family, or having a romantic relationship, none of those 'normal' things, they just aren't all that interesting."

"What's interesting, then? Describe it to me." The german shepherd stirred his tea slowly.

Jim seemed a little embarrassed; he spoke hesitantly. "Just... being with someone, holding them... relaxing or sleeping or whatever, especially without clothes... running their fur through my paws..." Jim held up a paw, and shivered a little; his breathing increased in pace.

"A girl?" Howard asked, noting the ambiguity.

"Doesn't have to be a girl. Just anyone." Jim swallowed more tea. "I mean, it's not about having sex, so being straight has nothing to do with it."

"You are straight, though, right?"

The wolf considered for a long moment, slurping his tea. At first, Howard was a little surprised as the pause stretched on, though he knew he shouldn't be; the question would have provoked some hesitance on his part as well. As Jim considered, though, staring at the table, he began to see how hard the wolf had to think about it to come up with an answer at all. "I'm... not sure, really. Either I am, or I'm not. Right now, it... isn't important. Considering what I want to do with someone isn't really sexual. If it becomes important, I'm sure I'll find out."

Howard 'saw' him putting the issue on his mental back burner, where it had likely resided for longer than the younger male realized. "But don't you want to be in love with someone? Be romantic and everything?"

"Why? I'm not lacking friends, they give me all the emotional fulfillment I need."

"But... Don't you want to have someone special? Care about them? Make them happy?"

The wolf blinked. "If that's how you define love, I rather think I'm in love with you, mutt." He met the dog's gaze as he sipped his tea. "Orientation doesn't matter much between us, does it? I have close friends, you in particular, that make me feel that way. Happy. I don't need romance for anything; it doesn't add anything I don't already have."

Howard spent several minutes mulling that over, drinking his tea. He'd been meaning to tell Jim something, somehow, but these revelations had completely sidelined him; he wasn't even sure if he knew what to say, in response to all that. "I guess I never though of it like that," he remarked, finally.

Jim smirked a little. "Sometimes I think I'm the only one who has," he muttered somewhat darkly, draining the last of his tea. He rose and put his mug in the sink. "I'm going to the bathroom."

"Okay," Howard responded idly, still deep in thought. He finished his drink slowly and retired to the adjoining living room, struck by what his friend had said. Jim had never talked about things of this nature before. It seemed odd to the dog, but Jim's deliberate, unassuming approach to the matter left him feeling particularly foolish and immature. He certainly hadn't put as much thought into his future as Jim had, he'd just assumed...

And why? Did he really have any more idea what he wanted than Jim? With no more experience, and even less time to consider it?

He heard the other male return more than he saw him. "Tell your mom I like the new towels," Jim smirked; it was an old in-joke between them.

"Listen, Jim." The shep swallowed, focusing on the tall wolf. "What you said, about... all that, just now... Did you really mean it?"

Jim's expression sobered; he met Howard's eyes and considered the nervousness hiding there, behind his veil of nonchalance. "Of course I meant it."

Howard scratched at the tan patch on his muzzle. "Okay... well..." He huffed. "I've... never really thought about it like that before. And now that I am... I guess I kind of see what you mean." He rose slowly from the couch. "Um... You said you don't mind... doing... what you said, with a guy..." He hesitated for a long moment. "Well... have you considered... me?"

The wolf looked at him, seeming to grow more intent and fixated second by second. "Well... I... have. To be honest. I wouldn't ask it of you myself. It's not that important, compared to our friendship. I'd be afraid it would... damage that. But..."

"Do you want to try it?" the german shepherd mumbled, a little shyly.

Jim had moved closer to him, unconsciously, and seemed more nervous now. "O-only if you're sure you want to..."

Howard gulped. "Well... I've been thinking a lot, about... I know I like girls. Or, well, the idea. But... I've been thinking, about... whether that's really... all I like." He blushed a little, the tip of his tail curling between his shins nervously. "That's why I wanted to talk about this more, I wanted to tell you... that." He hesitated; that hadn't been how he'd planned to reveal it, but there it was. "Um, I mean, I don't think I'm ready to try anything... serious... I'm still straight, I'm just... thinking..." He met the wolf's eyes; Jim was watching him carefully.

"I... understand." The wolf chewed on his lip, dropping his gaze for a moment, looking back. "I've thought a lot about all this stuff, I know how confused it makes you feel."

"But, now that I think about this, what you said... It seems... different. Okay. ...Safe. It's not like having sex or something." He lingered a long moment, gazing at his friend, before looking down. "I think it would be... a good place to start."

Jim inhaled slowly, and then exhaled. "Okay... Um... Well, let's see... Uh, your parents won't be back until..."

"Day after tomorrow, in the evening."

"Plenty of time, then." Jim hesitated, trying to shake the feeling of doing something illicit, and then reached out, one paw landing on Howard's shoulder. It was a familiar gesture, but the conversation gave it new context; the contact made the younger male look up and move slightly in response. "As long as you're... sure."

The dog chewed on his lip. "I think... yeah. Yeah. I mean, as long as I'm... who you want..."

"I told you," Jim said slowly, "It doesn't matter that you're a boy; gender doesn't factor into it. If you'll let me... try this... I'll be happy. Very happy. Maybe most guys don't think of it like that, but, well... I like it that much, I guess." He smiled, a little awkwardly. "And... More than that, you're my best friend and I care about you, and you're definitely not hard on the eyes. That's a nice bonus, for... the first person who's considered doing this with me."

Howard fingered his collar. "Do you, uh... do you want me to take my clothes off?"

"You... can if you want..." the wolf said, though his eyes gave a much stronger affirmative as he surveyed the obstructing cotton. "If you're comfortable with it."

Still, Howard lingered. "It... it doesn't make us gay, does it?" It was a silly fear, especially for him, but shedding that social more was difficult.

Jim blinked. "No, it doesn't. We're not going to have sex, after all."

"Yeah," the german shepherd muttered, blushing; that did reassure him some... as long as he didn't think too hard about whether he might want to. Thoughtfully, he removed his hat, pointy ears springing up, and then began pulling his shirt off over his head, more decisively. Jim slowly followed suit.

Where Jim was muscular, Howard was up-and-coming; he was smaller and slimmer, but growing less so. His fur was glossier, black and caramel dancing across his chest and stomach, growing slightly shaggy down his back. He didn't have the tuft of longer fur in the center of his chest, as Jim did, and the stripe of longer fur running up from his waistband was thin and petered out before it reached his navel, while Jim's extended considerably above that, and was much longer and thicker. Taking his cues from the younger canine, Jim began to unbutton his jeans as well, at first hesitant, only certain once Howard had shyly pulled his down to his knees.

When Howard was sitting in his socks and boxers (black pinstriped with different shades of green), he stammered, "L-let's just, um, start here, okay?"

Jim hesitated, paws on his waistband, white cotton flashing between his open fly. Slowly, he pulled his jeans down. "Okay." Kicking them off, he sat down gingerly beside his friend.

"I just... need to adjust to it first," Howard said, not even trying to hide the gaze that was roaming all over his best friend's body, naked except for socks and a pair of plain white briefs. "Let's... just start like this." He shifted back and hiked his legs up, and then lay down on the sofa.

Jim followed suit, lying beside him, and pulled the thick, warm blanket down from the back of the sofa, over them both. At first, the two males were awkward and hesitant to touch, but then Jim slowly pulled his arms around the dog, and soon they were pressed close, fur rubbing against fur, holding each other. Cuddling. And Jim's breath had taken on a strange cadence, rough and shallow; he nuzzled gently against Howard's neck, and the german shepherd shut his eyes and basked in the feeling. Both shivered a little, realizing they had been cold until their body heat began to pool, and sank into the sofa, losing their inhibitions and snuggling closer and closer. Soon their stomachs were touching, their legs; soon Jim's pelvis was resting against Howard's, and neither felt any sense of discomfort about it. Both were too far gone in the simple pleasure of holding another, of being held.

Howard had curled his head to press his cheek against Jim's collarbone, his nose against the wolf's firm, muscular chest. Jim was holding him gently, strong arms possessively around him, paws buried in the thick fur of his upper back. Howard's arms began curled up near the wolf's neck. Both had shut their eyes and were breathing shallowly.

Jim's soft fur was touching one of the german shepherd's digits. He moved it slightly, felt the fluff slide over the tip. A smile began on his muzzle; he moved it back, wiggled it in a little bit. Added another digit, running them gently through the fur on Jim's neck. The older canine had noticed, now, and moved ever so slightly, shifting imperceptibly toward the soft touch. A deep rumble bubbled up from the depths of his chest, as Howard succumbed and gave his neck a soft stroke. It was tentative, a trial gesture, to see how it felt, to see if it was okay. Howard felt like this new experience was full of unexplored options. He wanted to try one.

One stroke slowly became another, and those strokes became a meandering, tactile petting, often pausing to allow the dog to work his digits into his friend's sleek fur, relishing the silky texture and warm skin under it. Jim shivered when he did that, arched his back slightly and made soft noises of contentment; his breath grew heavy and affected. If Howard paused, his breath would stall in anticipation, followed by a soft inhalation, the hint of a gasp, when next he sunk his digits into the wolf's thick mane. It made the german shepherd smile, being able to predict it, elicit the response reliably.

Jim would occasionally return the favor with a gentle pawsweep, seeming to marvel at the fur running through his claws, but for the most part he kept his paws buried in Howard's fur, working them slowly through it. That felt nice, Howard admitted, and he couldn't say petting his friend wasn't enjoyable as well. The feeling drew up a memory from when he was very small, something he hadn't thought about in years and years - in grade school, he'd once had a friend, a raccoon, who liked being petted on the head and having his ears scratched like a feral, and didn't mind if his friends did it. It had been sometimes a joke or game, sometimes just something fun and different to do; the feel of someone else's fur under your paw was rare and intoxicating, even as a child. Now, as an adult, the contact had a different connotation, a different meaning, but the same pleasurable aspect. And it was entirely fair to say that he liked it.

He noticed Jim's hips moved, whenever he ventured down toward the small of the wolf's back, and that got an idea started in the back of his mind. After a while of thinking about it, he gathered the courage to inch down to the wolf's waistband, and then slide his paws over Jim's backside, on top of his underwear. To some part of him, it was definitely strange to be feeling up his best friend. To some other part... he felt a stirring in his stomach, a twitch in his sheath. And Jim certainly seemed to enjoy it, rolling his hips a little and letting out a soft sigh.

Howard took to playing with the wolf's tail, then; a bit of a break from the more serious petting. He massaged the base of it, sometimes daring to even poke his fingertips into the hole in the back of Jim's briefs to reach the very base. Jim arched his back when he did that, and made that deep rumbling noise when he squeezed the first vertebra, the solid one fixed to his pelvis.

It was fun. Howard accepted that after a while, smiling softly, eyes closed. It was fun making Jim feel good, feeling good in response. And when he thought about that, he thought, too, that he would probably say the same exact thing about sex, when he had it. But it was different - they weren't going to have sex. It felt so nice, worked the same, and was okay to do with his best friend... When that occurred to him, a lot of things seemed to make sense.

Or maybe he was just getting sleepy. Lying like that, content and warm with his eyes closed, was drawing the dog further from consciousness over time; his petting slowed, and at length he just wrapped his paws more securely around the wolf's lower back, and held him. Jim seemed to be content to just lay there, too, totally relaxed in his arms. Howard's brain worked, spinning over all the things that had happened today, spinning, spinning... slowing down. And after what felt like a long time, the two males fell asleep.

The sleeping dog woke to warmth; the deepest, softest, most fulfilling warmth he could imagine. Warmth... and happiness. Happiness was the first thing he knew.

He lay there, content, for a while - alarm clocks and appointments rarely allowed him the luxury. He realized, after a short time, that he was holding someone, and his memory reminded him, after a moment, that it was Jim.

Content to remember the reason when it came to him, Howard simply enjoyed the feeling for the moment. He liked Jim. Of course, they were best friends, but that was a high, intellectual way of describing it. On the deeper, more intrinsic level he was in touch with now... it was more truthful, and more real, to say just that. He liked Jim. A lot.

Ah, right. He remembered the conversation, now, what had transpired before they fell asleep. The memory jogged his brain into a higher level of action, and he became more aware of his body. He was crunched uncomfortably back into the space between the back and the seat cushions; his arm (still around his friend) had found its way down into the crack between the cushions, mercifully saving its circulation. They were lying much as they had been before, but both had shifted a little; Howard had rolled partway onto his back, while Jim had rolled toward him and curled up a little. Howard realized that his sheath was pressing firmly against Jim's front, just aside his hip and above his thigh, and that warm, soft bulge next to it must be...

He slitted his eyes open; however this had started, the contact made him a little nervous out of the blue like that; he had to remind himself they hadn't had sex or anything. It was surprisingly dark, the window barely standing out against the gloomy walls of the room. This building had once been a small bank; the interior had been partitioned into rooms when it was converted into a house. The living room had once been the space behind the counter; the large window had its transaction box boarded up and sealed.

Howard had shifted back, his head now lying on the couch's cushion, neck compacted a little uncomfortably because of the armrest. Jim's nose was about a quarter-inch from his own; the wolf was still asleep, breath whispering across the shep's face. Jim was twenty-two, now, Howard was seventeen, to be eighteen in a couple months... but he could have sworn, from that shadowy glimpse of the wolf's face, that Jim was younger than he was. Some line or tension the dog never noticed had eased out, and it was... beautiful.

It was funny to think, as he passively surveyed his friend's head, what this creature meant to him. The brain inside this skull, buried under the (rumpled) headfur before his very eyes, the brain attached to those (slightly small) ears and dark, wet nose... there was something in there that mattered, a lot, to the german shepherd. Somewhere all those neurons stored a person, a someone, all those little synapses carried little things with which he was familiar. Where did Jim keep the way he held his tail? Still and temperate... until he looked at the dog, and it started that slow swish that always accompanied his smile. What part of him stored his laugh? That little chuckle that burst out, the deeper one that rumbled and echoed... the faster, higher-pitched one that emerged when Howard was tickling him, as he squirmed and struggled to defend that spot on his sides. Where was his intelligence? That immutable aspect that had earned him only Bs and Cs in school, but had given him such a clearheaded, thousand-foot view of matters that always left Howard befuddled... The conversation that had gotten them into this had been classic, the canine realized - where Howard struggled nervously for months to define his sexuality, Jim had thoughtfully considered the matter at a level so far above him that his response to the fateful question was a serene 'I don't know. It doesn't matter.'

And here they were, sleeping together. Thinking the phrase made Howard blush, though this was clearly different from the situation it connoted. They hadn't had sex, but even so... Was he right to wonder if he might be bisexual?

Maybe Jim was right. It didn't matter.

The dog felt a surge of affection as he looked at his friend. So often the wolf fit into that unconscious social role, 'the elder'. Perhaps a mentor, a father figure, or perhaps more of an older brother... or perhaps something else entirely, something closer to a mate. And yet, when he was asleep... He was just a person. Not wiser, not an authority, no longer commanding the slight, unconscious respect that Howard had for him, the tendency to defer to the wolf's judgment and do as he said, or suggested. He was just a person. A person that Howard cared about... a lot.

The dog, breathing softly, watched the face of his sleeping friend... and then slid ever-so-slightly closer, turning his head just a little, and kissed him. A small, gentle kiss, no passion or theatrics, on the mouth, but dry. It was the sort of kiss with feeling in it, emotion. The sort that meant something words might take hours to fully express. Howard's eyes slid shut reflexively, feeling like he'd figured something out...

When he drew back and opened his eyes, Jim's dark gaze met his. The wolf was awake.

Howard blushed as he realized what he'd just done, ducking his head a little. Why had he done that? The moment of clarity he'd felt shattered, and he was even more confused than before. And what would Jim think?

"Hey there..." Jim rumbled softly. "'Morning to you too..."

Howard chuckled a little, mortified. "Sorry. I dunno why I did that... Just, ah, got to thinkin'."

"Big ole' softie," Jim teased, tenderly licking him on the side of the nose. "Well... next time you feel like doing that..." He paused, and the dog met his gaze nervously. "...you don't have to apologize."

The dog whined. "No, really, I dunno why I did that. Just... just forget it happened..." He drew back a little.

The wolf studied him, at a loss. "Okay," he said, finally.

The tension slid off of Howard slowly; he sighed. "I just... wouldn't be able to tell you what I meant, by that, just now. I don't know why I did it, it just happened. So it's not... it shouldn't mean anything."

Jim nodded a little. "All right. Well... maybe, when you figure out what you mean..." he hesitated, and smiled a little. "You'll know better what you should do."

Howard couldn't fathom exactly what his friend meant by that; he stopped trying after a moment. He'd cross that bridge when he wasn't lying in the arms of a mostly-naked man.

After a moment, Jim glanced away, upward. "What time is it?" He rolled half-over. The younger male had grown used to the physical contact; losing it brought a chill.

"Um..." Howard peered over him, out at the room. "Looks like... Wow. Nine at night." He did some quick mental math. "We slept for... about seven hours," he whispered, amused, awed, and slightly embarrassed.

"I had work last night, what's your excuse?" Jim teased.

Howard grinned slightly, considering. "I did get up early. And it's Saturday. Guess I was just tired from the week."

"Heh. Well, don't think I'm complaining..." Jim snuggled back up against him, holding him tightly; Howard felt the wolf's sheath press against his own through two layers of fabric. It felt full and thick, probably stricken with a bit of morning wood.

Thinking about that made Howard blush again; his own loins stirred readily in reaction. Pressed together like this, Jim would surely feel it if he started getting a hard-on. He tried not to think about his friend's sheath... or the way he'd been rubbing Jim's tail earlier... or the way Jim had wanted him to take his clothes off...

Howard ducked his head a little as he peeked, feeling the cotton of his boxers in an abruptly different way. Then he shifted slightly as he slid out a little more. Jim didn't react, though he had to feel the penis poking him directly above his own. Howard tried to move so it wasn't jabbing him like that, but the motion and release in pressure just felt good, and he was almost halfway out, knot just starting to swell.

"Sorry..." he said; there was no way Jim couldn't've noticed.

"It's okay, nothing wrong with it..." the wolf murmured. "Just ignore it."

Howard breathed out, and tried to. Instead, he started wondering about what it meant, and that was distraction enough. Jim's statement that it didn't matter was all well and good, but getting an erection when a male was pressing his sheath against you clearly started meeting some medical definitions. He couldn't pretend like it was a coincidence; he knew what he was thinking about.

He tried to cultivate that cool indifference. He could figure out what (exactly) he liked later; it wasn't like he needed to make a move on anyone any time soon.

This line of thought was not going to make his boner go down. He reassured himself: What had happened so far didn't constitute enough to change his orientation. He was still straight. The dog stirred a little and drew his paws back, indicating his desire to get up. "That felt... good. Did you... uh, like it?"

Jim looked at him across the pillow, loosing his grip a little. "Yeah. I did." He considered. "A lot. ...Thank you, Howie. It was... wonderful. Thank you for doing this with me."

The german shepherd smiled, one paw sliding through Jim's thick chestfur; the wolf rumbled pleasurably. "I liked it too. I've never felt so... safe."

The wolf gave a small nod. He spoke quietly; Howard realized he was embarrassed after a few words. "Uh, was this a... a one-time sorta thing, or..."

The dog ducked his head a bit, ears flicking. "I... wouldn't mind doing it again, if you want."

"How soon?" Jim jumped on the opening, sitting up partway.

"Whenever you like, I guess... Just, uh, don't tell anyone. I don't think most people would believe two straight guys do this."

"Of course, I won't say a thing."

Howard watched the wolf consider him, and then slowly sit up and rise to his feet. "I suppose we have a while yet, days until my parents get back. You wanna stay?"

Jim looked around, silhouetted, his faint musculature highlighted in the low light from outside. "You want me to stay?"

The shep gulped and sat up; something about this whole situation made him feel like Jim was more than just a friend, now. That 'something' was probably 'waking up with a good-looking wolf in his underwear and asking him to stay longer'. "Yeah, I do."

"Okay." Jim reached down and grabbed his shirt from the floor, slowly pulling it on and buttoning it. It wasn't like he didn't stay the night relatively often; the two had even crashed in the same bed before, the big king-size in the spare bedroom. Howard wondered, then, how many of those nights Jim had spent awake, thinking about how close he was to living out his fantasy; all he would have to do would be to inch closer and scrunch against his friend, or (if he was bold) wake him up and ask... The dog wanted to ask about it, but wasn't sure how.

Instead, he voiced one of the other things spinning around in his head. "So, do you feel... any different? I mean, I guess this was kind of like losing your virginity, considering what you're interested in."

Jim smirked a bit. "Kind of. Not really the same sort of pleasure... but in the ways that count, yes." He sat down on the chair across the room, in just his plaid shirt and underwear. "I feel... like I've gotten some answers I've been looking for for a long time. There's so much there now, so many new thoughts and feelings... It'll take some time to process."

"I'm sure..." the dog mused. "Tell me about some of it."

"Well..." Jim considered. "For instance. That, um, that thing you did, where you started... petting me? That felt... really good. I liked that a lot more than I would have expected."

Howard smiled a little. "The way you were moving, I thought you were going to start moaning any second..." he teased, gently.

Jim grinned, teeth gleaming in the dull light. "Yeah, when you were rubbing my tail there for a bit? ...Let's just say you weren't the first one to get a little excited, heheh, heh..."

Howard chuckled, trying to remember how exactly the wolf had been positioned at that point - it had obviously been a luckier pose than the one the dog had been in a moment ago. "So... Do you want to lose your virginity? The other way, I mean?"

Jim shrugged. "I imagine I will eventually. Whether it's sooner or later remains to be seen." He met Howard's eyes in a way the dog found very intriguing indeed. "...But I'm in no hurry. I can make myself feel better than anyone else can, that I'm sure of." He grinned.

"If you did end up having sex with someone, though... what do you think you would do? Like, what would you want to do?"

Jim considered. "I dunno. Depends on what they wanted. I'd just have to try them and see if I liked them.."

"But, like, are you a top or a bottom, you think? If you were with a guy, say."

The wolf frowned. "Howie, I really haven't thought about this very much. It's not what I care about." He paused. "I guess, intellectually... I could see myself doing either. I'd be more nervous about topping, though."

A thought occurred to the dog, then, and he blurted it out, a little more incredulously than he intended. "How can you not have thought about it? Do you... paw off to pictures of people hugging, or something?"

The wolf grew very quiet; Howard watched his ears dip back, and back, and back. Berating himself, the dog dithered for a second, and then stood. He paced hesitantly closer, put one paw gingerly on Jim's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that."

The wolf sighed a little. "It's... weird. I know." His voice was far more mournful than Howard had ever heard it.

"No it's not..." The dog dropped down to one knee, sticking his arm around Jim's shoulders. "I'm just... trying to understand. I did it with you, after all. I didn't think it was weird."

"I guess." He didn't sound convinced.

"...You don't have to answer. Never mind." The shep felt stupid, and guilty.

The wolf studied the floor in front of him. "I... usually... fantasize. Not look at pictures."

"...About... holding people, or being held?"

"Both." He grew embarrassed, tail dropping behind the chair.

"Is it... about people you know, or..."

Jim shook his head. "That always feels awkward. Though..." He hesitated, deep in thought, and then let the silence drag on.


"...Well, it might be different for you, now that we've..." Jim looked toward him, stopped.

Howard's heart leapt. "That's okay... I don't mind."

"Okay." The wolf shuffled his paws. "Um, thanks."

"Sure." Howard smiled. "Thanks for telling me... all this. I just want to understand you better." He chuckled a bit. "Been a long time since there was something I felt like I knew nothing about, about you."

"I am glad someone's... interested. Cares about what I think. And..." Jim looked up at him tentatively. "...that you accept it."

Howard smiled, reaching up and stroking Jim's cheek. "I do. It's not weird, really. Just... new. I've never thought about... you know, what if there were someone who..."

"Got off to cuddling?" the wolf finished, somewhat disparagingly.

"Well, it's not like you're popping boners every time someone so much as hugs you."

Jim shook his head. "Right. It's... it doesn't arouse me, really, being held. I just... like it. In a certain way. And sex is just boring, in that same way, even if it feels really good. So, when I paw..." He shrugged. "It seemed pretty clear what to think about when I was a teenager. But you'd have to start playing with me if you wanted me to get a boner while we were doing it." He grinned a little, and then grew embarrassed. "Um, not that I'm... suggesting that."

"I'll keep it in mind..." Howard said, a little dryly, and that made the wolf laugh. The dog left his side, then, moving across the room and picking up a pair of jeans. "What do you want to do now?" he asked, tossing them to the wolf when he discovered they were several sizes too large.

Jim caught them and pulled them on over his briefs. "Oh, I dunno... I guess I'll head out and stop by my place, pick up some things, if I'm gonna stay with you for a bit. You wanna come?"

"Yeah," Howard said, pausing with one leg into his own pants. He looked at the wolf, feeling a little strange; he wanted to go with the wolf just about anywhere, right now.

"We can pick up a movie or something, too," Jim continued. "I figure we'll be up late after sleeping so long."

"Heh. Yeah." The two finished getting dressed, donned their outdoor clothing again, and ventured outside.

As forecasted, the wind had picked up, and a blizzard had descended on the area; the two stood close together and pushed their way through the gale, holding coatsleeves over their muzzles. Jim opened the door of the truck and let Howard get in, giving him a boost when he slipped. The dog considered for a moment how odd it was that Jim's paws on his ass could be blush-inducing one moment, and practical the next.

The truck started with no trouble; it was built to run well below any temperature they would get at this latitude. Jim turned on the floodlight mounted on the roof, serving as an indicator of their position to anyone else out in the night, and drove carefully, never getting above ten miles an hour. Visibility was poor, but not impenetrable, and the wind was too strong for the roads to ice badly. Both had driven in worse weather.

After half an hour, they came to a halt in front of Jim's house, and the two dashed inside. His mom was there; Howard said hi, and followed Jim into his bedroom, where the wolf threw a couple sets of clean clothes into his old backpack, along with his toothbrush and deodorant, and a couple of his video games. Then they left again, Jim waving goodbye and giving him mom the shortest explanation of their plan: "Stayin' at Howie's for a few days."

"Okay," she replied, not even looking up from her book - it had become almost routine.

The video store was a bit further out of the way than either wanted to drive on a night like this, more for time's sake than anything else - it took another half-hour to get there, and it would be forty-five minutes or more to get back to Howard's house. When they arrived, the lights of the store were burning brightly - it lay in the second level of an old office building. This weather was no reason to close the business, not around here - when frigid and gusty was the norm, people did their business when they pleased, regardless of mother nature's ideas.

Howard picked an action flick with a muscular reptile stud in a tight t-shirt on the cover; Jim gave him a small grin he would not have a day before. The canine blushed a little. "Shut up. It looks good." He left until later any consideration of what exactly about it looked good - add it to the pile, or something.

The wolf, meanwhile, perused for a while, and finally picked a supernatural thriller that he had seen and liked, and the dog had never heard of. They paid, and went out.

The drive back was uneventful, though Howard found himself distracted by a new thought which occurred to him. He had not yet considered what this new development meant for them - by all indications, his offer earlier had had permanent repercussions. To him, it was just something new, but to Jim... it might mean a lot more.

It was too loud, between the gusting of the wind and the rumble of the engine, to ask Jim about it now. The german shepherd sat in the center of the bench seat and thought. Jim had been his best friend for a long time. They were still just friends... right?

Did Jim want to change that? How did this work, anyway, with something so... nonstandard?

Jim coasted to a stop in the old bank's drive-through area, which would afford at least a little protection against icing, and they ventured out and trekked around the building, Howard carrying Jim's backpack. He fumbled with his keys, opened the door, and they stumbled inside - the clock on the mantelpiece read 11:45. But they could stay holed-up, now, with supplies and entertainment; there was plenty of food stockpiled, and the convector had enough oil to run for months, even powering extravagances like the video game system and TV.

Howard removed his coat and snow pants slowly. "Jim?"


He still wasn't sure how to word it. "Does... what we've been thinking... would it... mean... we're... kind of leaning towards... being... in a relationship?" He reflected on how butchered that sentence had come out. "I mean..."

Jim had grown still. "Well... I don't know..."

"I'm not saying I want to be..." Howard clarified hastily. "I'm just... wondering... what to call you, I guess."

The wolf smirked. "How about 'Jim'?"

"That's not what I mean..." Howard said, smiling and swatting him with his coat, before hanging it up reluctantly. "I mean..." He sighed. "I don't know what I mean."

"You mean, if we keep doing what we tried today, does that imply we are, or want to be... more than friends. You mean, what do I want from you."

"Yeah." Howard gulped; he couldn't've imagined having this conversation yesterday... and yet, it seemed a strangely natural progression, mentally. "I mean... I'm just your friend. That's all I want. But this is a big deal for you. If it's the sort of thing that makes you want to... have something more serious... I mean, if we're not having sex, it doesn't bother me, I'd be okay with... calling you something more..."

"Well..." Jim finished putting away his things, and picked up his backpack. "I guess... I dunno. I'm okay with just being your friend, like I've always been. This is... new... and it is the sort of thing that would... be able to change things, you're right in that." He shrugged. "I'll have to think about it. In the mean time, let's... just say we're still best friends, and... we agree on the other things." He hesitated. "And, I mean, we can talk about it, of course..."

"Do you want to try it again when we go to sleep tonight?" Howard asked plainly.

The tension that had risen in Jim's eyes faded again. "Yeah. That's exactly what I want."

Howard smiled. "Good. I'd like that too."

And it was as simple as that.

This had its roots in a short piece, with pokémon characters, that I wrote around the time Windows 7 came out (I remember because I originally wrote it in the new version of WordPad, hehe, just to try it out). I liked the original so much that I decided to rewrite it and make it longer and more developed, as well as change the setting a bit to a more traditional furry universe. Then, along the way, it picked up a bunch of thoughts and ideas that I've been wanting to work with, and things just snowballed. Hope you enjoyed; I'll try to get the second part (I anticipate only the two) out in short order, but you know how that usually goes for me.