Hours passed. The three had slept the day through. Vic woke, the cubs were soundly asleep. There weren't any bathrooms on this level and he needed to take a long piss. He rolled out of bed and padded upstairs to his bathroom. On the way he noticed the answering machine flashing. Two messages. "I'll get those later," he muttered.
Returning from the bathroom he pushed the button and the first message began. A distracted voice Vic didn't recognize at first rose from the machine:
"Hi Walt… Mitch…It's Rusty, if you're there, would you pick up? *pause* Guys, I'm…God, I don't know how to say this *pause* Look, I'm up here in Tahoe and I just don't know where to turn. Norman and I are at the Alpine View Motel, it's on the main drag, we're in room 'F', please, I need you to come, I don't know where your friend's lodge is and we need help. Please, if you get this message soon don't bother calling just come over. I don't think you'd believe it if I told you. Room 'F', Alpine View Motel."
Vic raised an eyebrow and hit the button for the next message. The almost panicky voice spoke:
"It's me again. Please, if you're there, please pick up. *pause* I've got a real problem and you're the only ones I can turn to. I don't have any family and Norman's family… it just wasn't an option. Please, come to the motel, Alpine View, room 'F' on the main drag here in South Lake Tahoe, it's the road that comes right out of the mountain pass. I've had to sedate Norman, he's gone wi…He's just not himself, look, I need some help. I gave him enough stuff to knock out a horse and he's still rousing on occasion. I can't handle him in this state. Please, short of tying him down I don't know what to do. God I hope you're there, I'm all alone and don't know what to do, I have no where to turn. Please…"
Vic hurried downstairs and woke the sleeping pair. After their heads were clear and they were awake Vic began, "Boys, we need to get upstairs and get dressed. Your friends from the reunion are here in Tahoe and there's something wrong."
"What's wrong?" Walt said, stretching out his furry, tattooed arm. Mitch listened, the look on Vic's face was grave.
"I dunno. Russ…"
"Rusty," Walt corrected.
"Yeah, Rusty said that he and Norman were at the Alpine View Motel, and that Norman, was acting strange. I don't know what the problem is, but I think we'd better get on over there. I know right where the place is, I'll hang back while you two see what's up… well, actually, while YOU see what's up, son; Mitch's looks have changed rather drastically since they saw him last. He'll hang back with me," Coach said.
"Right, I guess we better get over there." Mitch said.
Ten minutes later the three were headed over to the motel, Walt in one truck and Mitch and Coach in the other. Forty-five minutes later, Walt was knocking on the motel door.
"Who is it?" Rusty's tenor answered and Walt could hear the stress in his voice.
"Oh thank God!" he answered, "Just a minute." Rusty called back and Walt heard a muffled grunt. "Can't be too bad if they're having sex." Walt muttered under his breath.
Rusty answered the door, opening it a crack and looking around. "Where's Mitch?" He said as he opened the door just enough to allow Walt through and then quickly closing the door. Rusty was fully dressed in clothes that looked like they'd been slept in. The small, cheap motel room's single bed had a huge lump in the middle of it covered by blankets. The lump was breathing evenly and Walt guessed Moose was under the blankets.
"Now, before I take the blankets off, I have to prepare you. Moose is… different." Rusty said nervously. "I don't know what's wrong with him, but… I didn't know who else to ask. No one else I know has a place that's… secluded." Rusty said.
Walt felt like he was going to be sick, he felt a feeling of dread because he guessed what he might see under the cover.
Rusty pulled back the covers and was himself astonished by what he saw. Tears welled up in his eyes, "Oh no, it's gotten worse! I haven't looked since morning, since we made love and... he hurt me. I got the pills down him, and tied him and covered him, he was sleeping then and breathing ok..."
Walt looked at Moose, his body was covered in thick auburn bear fur, his features drastically altered to that of a grizzly bear nearly in full form. He was bound securely, but sleeping.
Rusty turned to Walt and wept into his chest, then he looked up into Walt's eyes, "What's happening to him?"
Walt quickly shushed Rusty, "Listen to me, did you take him to a doctor?"
"No, he refused to go. I tried but he said he was fine, never felt better, he was thrilled that he was growing hair on the top of his head again… but look at him," Rusty said, gesturing to Moose and starting to cry again..
Walt breathed a sigh of relief; no doctors involved yet, so no medical reports filed, no evidence.
"I gave him almost all the rest of the bottle of sedatives, he was acting… He was very aroused, Walt and it was hurting when he fucked me. I told him to stop, but… he was…" Rusty buried his face in Walt's chest and cried. "He's NEVER been like that before." Rusty was rambling, repeating himself in his anguish.
"Look, Rusty, get a grip. What did you give him?" Walt asked.
Rusty pulled a bottle out of his pocket, it had four large pills still in it. "I have a friend... never mind, it was the only way I could handle it. I've been slipping one of these into Norman's dinner the last couple of weeks and it's made him less… aggressive… in bed. He didn't mean to hurt me, he was so sorry the next day. He was just so… hungry. I didn't give him too much did I?"
"How many did you give him?" Walt asked
"Six, I think. Will he be all right?" Rusty pleaded.
"He'll be fine Rusty, he's just gonna sleep awhile. Look, you need to gather up your things. We're gonna take Moose out of here, we're gonna help." Walt said and Rusty gave him a look that screamed for reassurance, "I promise you, Rusty, he's going to be all right, now go on, get your things together." Walt knew that Rusty needed something to do to occupy his mind and hands.
Walt pulled out a cell phone and called Vic who was in the parking lot around the back.
"Vic, I need you to see this." Walt said, then listened. After hearing the reply hung up.
"Who was that?" Rusty said, pausing as he stuffed clothes into a suitcase.
"A good friend, don't worry, he'll help." Walt said.
There was a knock at the door and Walt answered it. He let Vic in.
Vic took one look at the unconscious werebear lying on the bed and cursed a blue streak. Walt put a restraining hand on his shoulder, and once calmed down, Vic briefly and gently interrogated the now terrified Rusty and learned that Moose had quit his job two months ago. He'd been working out for hours on end at the gym and staying home while Rusty worked. He had been eating tons of food but no one had seemed to notice that an already huge man was getting larger. The hair on his head had sprouted in the last month and his libido, already high, had increased incredibly. Rusty had become afraid; Moose's love making had become aggressive, wild, and had left bruises on the smaller man. Through it all they had withdrawn from contact with others. Vic thanked God that Rusty hadn't insisted more on Moose going to a doctor or getting tests.
On the bed, Moose was now completely ursine.
"Papa, I swear to you. I ALWAYS used a condom, and I never did anything that might have exchanged fluids with him... I swear it!" Walt looked pleadingly at Vic.
"Go get Mitch." Vic said to Walt. As Walt turned to go, Vic added, "And son... I believe you."
Walt smiled at his Papa. Vic was mad, but he still loved him.
Rusty looked again at Moose on the bed and was beside himself, crying. He was in complete disbelief, unable to cope, believing it all was a dream; a weird, impossible science fiction fantasy. Vic calmed Rusty down, he held him close and took a long deep breath through his nose, smelling the top of Rusty's head as he hugged him. 'Oh, fuck it all to hell... it's not just Moose, either,' Vic thought. The distraught chubby man's world was about to be turned upside down and shaken, hard. Vic began to carefully and patiently explain things to Rusty.
The next morning four very large men and a smaller man left room 'F' of the Alpine View Motel. A middle aged bearded man in his car with a striped bear paw sticker on the bumper in browns, black, gray and white growled 'Woof' to himself, seeing them emerge from the room together and grabbed his swelling erection as he drove by.
The bill had been settled and they were on their way. They squeezed into a Chevy crew cab pick up and a Ford F-150, the tallest and largest was a huge red bearded mountain of a man with a long red beard and bulging muscles and package packed into sweats that were too small.
As they drove back to the lodge, there was a little arguing, but many more questions and answers. When they reached the lodge, all came into the entry, having stomped the snow from their shoes and boots. Vic looked down at the two packages he'd left on the stout bench. He picked them up and handed them to Walt.
"Belated Merry Christmas." He said simply and smiled wanly. "I'm going to bed, I've got work ahead of me and I need to sleep now… I've got a headache." Vic kissed each of them and lumbered off to his den. Walt couldn't help but feel a bit guilty for what his Papa was going through.
Moose knitted his eyebrows and rumbled, "This is just… it's just so hard to believe." He had pulled up his sweatshirt and was looking at all his new fur and his washboard abs. "I haven't been this fit since I played football!" he thought, 'No,' his inward voice said, 'not even then.'
Rusty lashed out in his irritability. "Damn it Norman! Do you have to admire yourself like that? In case you hadn't noticed, we've got problems! Feeling yourself up is just a little self indulgent considering the situation, don't you think?"
There was a shocked silence from the others. Rusty's fears had only been partially allayed, and his worries served to make him waspish.
"Sorry love, it's just… I still can't believe this," Moose said. "I mean, it's just so... so..."
Rusty flared. "Norman, you have to believe it. You've got no other choice… and neither do I, God DAMN it."
Moose pulled his love to him and bent a little and kissed the top of his head. "I know, I know. I'm sorry. He looked deeply into the pocket bear's eyes. “ I love you and I'm sorry… this is my fault. I've dragged you into this mess and it's a wonder that you don't hate me for it."
Rusty resisted for a moment, then mutely hugged the big man. Moose's stomach rumbled loudly. "Well, at least that's still normal." It was a feeble attempt to return to his old satiric self.
Walt had remained silent through the exchange, but the growls from Moose's belly offered him the opportunity to interrupt.
"Hey, I'll get on dinner duty in a minute, but first let's get you two settled. This way." Walt guided the two down the hall to their room and showed them where the bathroom was . "Mitch will be here in a sec and show you where everything is." Walt left them to their unpacking. He knew Mitch would sit and talk and help them both come to terms. Mitch seemed to have a gift for that.
Rusty turned to Moose and said quietly, "I love you, don't forget that? Even if I snap at you, it doesn't change how I feel, OK?" He pulled Moose into an embrace and they held each other for a while.
Walt walked back down the hall and past Vic's room. He stood for a moment and listened.
Coach was back in his shower. He was happy and not happy and Walt understood why. This was his fault and it wasn't, but while Vic was sorting things out he'd be grumpy; nothing new about that. Walt now had two cubs; though Moose, because he'd bonded to Rusty, was more or less like a brother than a cub. Rusty, well, Rusty was his grandson or would be in the next four months. He was taking this hard and that was understandable. Changing species isn't exactly something one expects to happen to them, but Vic had given him a thorough sniffing and it certainly was going to happen. Vic guessed Moose was close enough during their last round of sex early yesterday, before he'd sprouted all the bear fur, that he'd changed him; Moose's balls must have changed first.
Mitch was already down the hall, getting his new 'brother' and 'nephew' settled in. Walt thought about Mitch. Through it all, he'd been the calm voice, the solid rock, the one who had talked quietly and at length with Rusty while he and Coach had alternately railed at and cared for Moose as he came awake and was baffled by his new shape. Mitch had made it easier for Rusty to accept what had happened and what was going to happen. Mitch was something else and Walt was glad he was his cub… his mate.
Walt went to the kitchen, set the gifts on the counter and began preparation for lunch. Mitch would be in to help and maybe so would Rusty and Moose; though now that Moose had settled down some, he expected the pair would spend the next hour or so in bed,... Moose had some making up to do. Walt sighed and looked around, "There's a lot of cooking to do," Walt thought, "the family just got a lot bigger."
Later that night, Mitch was alone in his 'den', taking a breather from all the turmoil of the last twenty-four hours. He was looking through the things of his parents that he had brought with him just over four months earlier. It seemed like a lifetime ago. He wondered how his parents would have taken his change, if he would have tried to conceal it or if he would have just quietly stolen away, never to see them again. His silent musings were broken as Walt entered the room and sat next to him; Mitch leaned into the man and bear he loved.
Walt had been standing, unnoticed, at the doorway for almost five minutes, two packages in his hands. He had been about to come in with the presents when he saw Mitch holding a framed photograph in his hands and gazing out the window. He could see that the picture was a family portrait. He remembered his own family and the ache his necessary disappearance had caused in his own life. The news a few years ago of his mother's death followed closely by his father's had severed the last thin bonds with his former life, but it hadn't closed the empty place it left. They had died not knowing what had happened to their boy. At least Mitch's parents had been spared that.
"Whatcha doin'?" said Walt, putting a heavy arm around Mitch.
"Oh, not much... just thinking, wondering."
Walt touched the picture in Mitch's hands. "Your parents, right?"
Mitch nodded. "And me, when I was nine; a neighbor took this and I've always liked it. My mom never liked having her picture taken. This one, she's smiling in and looks relaxed." Mitch put it back in the box and reached for another one. "All of us at my graduation. They were so proud. I was the first to go to college in either family. They sent announcements to every relative I had. I was really glad my dad lived to see that. He was sick even then. He died the next year when I was in graduate school."
"They must have been really proud of you, proud of your achievement and proud of the person you became." Walt gave Mitch a squeeze. "You should keep those out somewhere."
"You know, I think I will. Hey, what ya got there, Papa?" Mitch pointed to the packages as if he didn't know.
"Well, SantaBear brought us presents. Here, this one's for you." Walt handed the package to Mitch. Mitch read the tag, 'From Coach to the newest Werebear'. He tore the paper off the box, opened it, and held up a pale, floppy paperbound manuscript. He turned it over and looked carefully at the cover, his eyes widening.
"What is it?" Walt asked.
"I can't believe this." He held the manuscript out to Walt. "It's a proof copy of Crick and Watson's original paper, detailing their discovery of DNA. Look, it's got annotations in their handwriting! It's really rare, Walt... it adds another name for equal credit to the credit byline for Rosalind Franklin. Do you know how rare this is? It shows Watson and Crick wanted to give Franklin credit. The publisher deleted her name. They even signed it, for the love of God. This is like the Rosetta Stone of genetics!" He reverently turned the pages, then caught himself. "What did Coach give you, Walt?" he asked.
Walt took his package and rattled it, like any small boy at Christmas. "Don't break it, silly... open it!" Mitch teased.
Walt broke the string and tore the paper off the small box and opened it. Inside were a set of keys and a small note. It was Walt's turn to be impressed. He jingled the keys at Mitch. "Know what these are?"
Mitch shook his head... "Keys?"
Walt reached over and cuffed his cub. "Not just any keys... keys to a Harley. A 1952, side-valve K, vintage Harley. The note says I'll have lots of time to recondition it. AND, if I look carefully in the garage, I'll find a box of engine parts for the rebuild." Walt's eyes shone and Mitch could tell that Walt was already choosing what colors he's use on the gas tank.
They sat quietly for a bit, looking at their presents and each other. Walt had gone especially quiet. Mitch understood that his papa was working something out in his mind and stayed quiet, waiting.
"Mitch, I never asked this before, but all this today... and standing there, seeing you looking through your stuff..." The big man paused and looked away, then back at his lover. "Are you sorry? Sorry about... about this?" He gestured, partly to himself and partly to the lodge around them.
Mitch reached out to Walt and hugged him tight, hanging on for dear life, never wanting to let go and desperately trying to communicate his love. "NO!! Not EVER!! Not for a second. Oh, love..." Mitch gulped. "This is what I've longed for my whole life: connection, belonging, love. Even with my parents, there was always a… a distance, I guess. You and me... we belong… we belong to each other, we belong here. We love each other. I love you, Walt. Never doubt that, never."
Walt couldn't speak. Both bears clung to each other, hugging, for a very long time. Finally, they rose and walked down the hall and back to the living room, where they could hear a serious conversation was taking place. "You'll need new identities, and that will take time. Your finances will need tending to, and then there's..." Vic continued with a speech he'd probably made many times before and not just for his progeny. Walt and Mitch looked at each other and smiled.