Two weeks later, Mitch found himself on Route 60 at Echo Summit, just outside of South Lake Tahoe. The cell phone chimed on the seat of the rental truck. "What the... ?" All during the drive, Mitch had been thinking pleasant thoughts of the days ahead. Days he would spend with Walt, hoping to be able to deepen their friendship, days of skiing mixed with nights of passion. Although the truck was more comfortable than Mitch had expected it would be, more than once he had gotten uncomfortably stiff thinking of Walt's furry body and had to pull over and walk it off. And more than once the little voice in his head spoke of his fears of not being able to make that connection that lead to friendship. Worries of going too fast or pressing too hard and having Walt back off.
For the past two weeks, Mitch had thought of little besides Walt and the coming weekend. Work was a struggle, and even normal household tasks had been sidetracked by thoughts and worries about Walt and friendships and the weekend to come. The email and chat with Rusty and Moose had helped fill the hours and had drawn them closer. He was impressed with how much Moose had changed as a person. Their invitation to spend Christmas with them was a very pleasant and welcome surprise. He had gotten out of the habit of celebrating holidays.
The phone chimed insistently. "OK, OK!" Mitch pulled over at a turnout and flipped the phone open. It was a message from Walt's home number. The little voice in Mitch's head began to speak pessimistically, 'See?', but Mitch pushed it down and listened to Walt's voice over the tinny speaker. "Hey buddy! You wouldn't believe the day I've had. Whatever could go wrong has gone wrong. Stuff at work, late deliveries, and now a flat on the bike. Don't worry, I'll be there, but it's a four-hour ride, not good at night. I'll leave early tomorrow morning and be there between 9 and 10, OK? Make yourself at home there; the key is in a notch on the top of the third post on the right of the porch. Sorry I won't be there to greet ya." There was a pause. "I'm really sorry, buddy. But I'll make it up to you when I get there, OK? See ya soon."
Mitch closed the phone and looked at the directions Walt had emailed him. So far, so good; it looked like only a few more miles to the turn off. Then he would have to watch the odometer carefully. The last turns were based on mileage. He eased the truck back onto the state highway and struggled with his disappointment. He had been looking forward to a hot night with Walt, maybe in front of a fireplace; but at least it wasn't the blow-off the little voice would have predicted.
He reached the turn off and swung the truck to the right onto a rather narrow paved road. Watching the odometer, he drove slowly, his headlights illuminating the tall conifers in the darkness. Occasionally he caught a pair of eyes in his beams at the roadside, and once a deer bounded across the road. Turning left at .6 miles, he bounced along on a dirt road, for a further half a mile, then turned left again and after a short ways, saw the cabin.
Cabin was a misnomer. From the outside, it appeared to be a substantial older house, a classic rock and timber dwelling with a wide porch and steps, more like a lodge. On the left side of the house were large windows that would give a magnificent view of the rugged mountains and trees. Mitch parked the truck and stepped out, inhaling the clean cold air. "Damn, that smells nice."
Mitch climbed the steps and found the key Walt had mentioned. He opened the door, then returned to his vehicle and opened the door. He shouldered his skis and poles and climbed back up to the porch and leaned them against the wall by the door, and returned again to the truck and pulled out his bag and a box of groceries. Walt had said there was no need to bring anything, but Mitch hadn't felt right showing up without contributing to the food larder. He locked the truck and wearily took the rest of this stuff his stuff inside.
Several Tiffany shaded lamps sprang to life when Mitch flipped the switch inside the door. "Wow," Mitch breathed as he looked around. The interior of the lodge certainly was much more comfortable and stylish than the outside had promised. It was plain that whoever owned this place had put a lot of money into its furnishings without having relied on glitz or trendiness to make an impression. Soft leather and good sturdy Craftsman style furniture invited relaxation. Thick area rugs softened the floors, and yes! a magnificent cut stone fireplace dominated one end of the living room. Soft thick drapes covered the wide windows to keep out the cold, but would open to provide a magnificent vista. Several beautiful paintings were on the walls and shelves by the large chair by the fireplace held an array of well-worn books. Upon Mitch's examination, a number of them proved to be signed first editions. Two bronze sculptures of bears, looking very much like the work of Remington sat on other shelves. A large floor lamp by the chair promised good light for reading, comfortably close to the fire. Another equally large chair was across a rug from it, and a large couch completed the arrangement in front of the fireplace. Mitch took the groceries into the kitchen and saw a much more modern galley than he expected. Again, it wasn't 'fashionable' but obviously designed by someone who valued convenience. "And someone who likes lots of food," Mitch said out loud, seeing the large pantry and the equally large refrigerator. "Sub Zero... nice!" Mitch put the perishables in there, and stacked the rest of the provisions, noting ample counters and a variety of utensils, all readily available to hand.
"Time to explore." Walking into the first bedroom, he wondered where he was to sleep. This one was obviously the owner's. It had a huge bed, covered in what looked like bearskins, and another one of the comfortable large chairs he had seen in the living room. More books lined the walls and another fireplace filled a corner, and a closed door, presumably the bathroom. He walked down the well-lit hall and did a double take as he looked at the spotlit painting on the end wall. He moved closer and looked carefully. "Oh, my ears and whiskers... that's... that's a Monet!" Mitch gazed in wonder at a pair of haystacks, partially covered in snow and shimmering in pale winter sunlight. The small masterpiece hung proudly alone on the white wall. Mitch turned and looked in another bedroom, this one also filled with a huge bed with a large painting of William Beard's 'Bear Dance' over it, more books, a thick area rug, and what looked like the back side twin of the fireplace in the first bedroom. This room was smaller, though, and Mitch took it to be a guest bedroom. There were other rooms opening off the hallway, but their doors were closed and locked, so Mitch decided that the second room was intended for guests and slung his bag on the bed and started to unpack.
Stripping and padding into the bathroom to take a badly needed leak, he noted that this, too, was larger than he expected, with a huge walk in shower. He shook off and stepped into the enclosure, turned on the water and jumped. Water cascaded out from multiple shower heads embedded on the walls as well and the main one extending from far up on the wall. "Better and better," thought Mitch as he soaped his hairy body and let the hot pulsing spray rinse off the road fatigue. His cock swelled as he soaped it, but he resisted the urge to jack off to the images of him and Walt at the motel. The real thing would be there soon enough.
Stepping out of the shower and toweling off, he padded naked around the house, making sure doors were closed and locked and lights were off. He gazed again at the painting in the hall. "Wow." He turned down the covers (more bearskins?), wondered about the painting over the bed (original? it certainly looked like it) and crawled into the huge bed. "This guy's guests must all be basketball players," Mitch thought. "BIG basketball players." He had wanted to think of Walt and plans for the weekend as he fell asleep, but the hot shower, the oddly pleasant musky smell of the bed, and tiredness overtook him and he fell almost instantly asleep.
Mitch woke and stretched the next morning, comfortably buried in a mound of pleasant smelling sheets and covers. He couldn't quite place the scent, but it reminded him of musk and spice; and oddly, of Walt. He crawled out of bed and went into the bathroom and relieved himself, washed his hands in the large sink, and went naked to the kitchen. He set coffee to brewing and fixed himself a bowl of cereal. The place was cold but not unpleasantly so. The pale light from outside drew him out onto the porch. His balls immediately snugged up tight against his body and he felt his cock shrink, 'Shit, its COLD out here!" He stepped to the railing of the back porch and sipped his coffee and he look out on the small meadow that spread out before him. "This is beautiful." He turned but stopped as he caught a slight movement out of the corner of his eye. He gazed intently at the dark trees off to the left of the back porch, forgetting the cold for the moment. He thought he had seen a shadow move. There it was again, the slight movement. A bear? This close to Tahoe? It certainly looked like a bear. He looked again, but the shadow had vanished. He waited to see if it would return, but it didn't. He turned again and went back inside, shivering, and poured another mug of coffee and looked at the clock. Walt would be here in less than two hours, he thought. "Enough time for a hike, I think."
Mitch padded down to the bedroom and put on clothes for a short hike. He strapped his watch on so he would know when to turn back in time to meet Walt. He stopped at the kitchen table and wrote a quick note to Walt that he was going on a short walk and would be back by 9:30, 10 at the latest. Grabbing his bright blue ski parka, he walked out the kitchen door.
Walking across the meadow, he gazed around him. Thick pine and deep green fir trees formed the vegetation off to either side of the meadow, along with granite, glinting gray and mica. Tall mountains provided the backdrop to a rugged landscape. "Whoever owns this place sure picked a prime spot." Mitch thought has he strode off across the meadow towards one of several trails he spied. He scanned the sky. A thin layer of clouds screened the sun and cast a pale cool light on the trees and patches of snow. The path he chose climbed, slowly at first, them more steeply as it angled off through the trees. Mitch found himself listening to the wind sighing in the trees, a sound he hadn't noticed crossing the meadow. As he climbed, the sound increased, and Mitch noticed that the sky had become noticeably grayer. The path was steeper, too. Puffing, Mitch sat on a log for a minute. "I must be in worse shape than I thought." He rose, checked his watch, and resumed walking. Suddenly, the path leveled out and the trees dropped off to his right. A ridge opened out and gave him an impressive view of a ravine and the rugged Sierras beyond. The climb had winded Mitch more than he expected and he stood there looking, catching his breath and sweating. "Parka might have been too much," he thought, and unzipped it, intending to tie it around his waist. The sweater and shirt would be enough for a bit. He looked out across the ravine and noticed that the sky now had black clouds scudding in from the north east, and the wind was more insistent than ever. "Maybe I should keep the parka on," he mused and untied the sleeves from his waist.
A sudden strong gust of wind tore the parka from his hands and blew it up and away across the ravine. Mitch watched and swore as the errant gust deposited it in a snow bank on the other side of the ravine. "Damn it to hell!" he cursed. He stared at the ravine, noting the steep side and pockets of snow and what looked like ice. "How the fuck am I going to get down there?" He walked across the ledge, looking for an easy way down. Nope. He walked a ways further. Still no joy. The temperature was beginning to drop rapidly with the wind, and Mitch anxiously scanned the sky. He continued to walk along the ridge, hoping to fine someplace to cross over the ravine and walk back up to get his parka. He looked again at his watch. "I can just make it back if I can get that parka now." He spied what he thought was a path leading down to the bottom of the ravine. He began to step carefully among the rocks and snow. Patches of ice made the going slow and difficult.
"Don't want to fall and break my fool nec..." Mitch's foot suddenly bent nearly double under him as he stepped on a patch of unseen ice and slipped. He began to topple over and flailed his arms in a vain attempt to right himself. He tumbled forward and sideways and landed hard in a pile of small rocks. Loose and unstable, they gave way and pitched him down the side of the ravine. He landed on the broken branch of a dead pine tree. The broken, jagged splinters of the branch pierced Mitch's side, gashing open his sweater and shirt and rapidly soaking them with blood. He tried to lever himself up off the branch but a splinter of wood broke off and stayed in his side. His hand slipped on the blood-slicked rock and he rolled over into a small puddle of melt water that covered his chest and legs. Searing pain shot up from his badly twisted ankle and around from his side and collided together, making him gasp for breath. Something was terribly wrong, he thought. He gasped again and again in spite of the heavy pain each time he did so, but he still felt as if he was suffocating. He stared up at the heavy snow-laden clouds gathering. His vision blurred and then saw only black.
Walt reached the lodge a little after 9:30, and was pleased to see that Mitch's rental was parked there. He bounded up the steps and reached to open the door. It was locked. "That's odd," he thought. He reached for the key in its hiding place, but it wasn't there. Mitch's skis and poles were there, so Mitch obviously had gotten there and unloaded gear. He walked around the porch to the back and tried the kitchen door. "Ah." Walt opened the door and stepped in, shedding his old leather jacket as he did so. He looked around and sniffed the coffee in the pot. Pouring himself a mug, he called out, "Mitch? You here?" Receiving no answer, he walked through the familiar rooms, looking for his buddy. "Well, he's been here," he said, looking at the rumpled bed. "Wonder if he's out exploring?" Walt walked back into the kitchen to get a refill on his coffee and noticed the note on the table. "Well, that explains it," reading the note.
Walt took his mug out on the back porch and sat on one of the chairs there, sipping and looking at the sky. "Damned if that isn't a storm blowing up." A sudden feeling of deep unease passed over Walt. It wasn't just the pending storm; this was a feeling of almost dread. He'd had these feelings before and had gradually learned to heed them. Something was wrong. He paced, went inside, and reread Mitch's note. "He says a short walk. Its just 10 now, so he's not really late... not yet." He paced more, then went back out on the porch and sat. Restless, he rose and paced some more. His unease grew. The neglected coffee quickly chilled as the temperature dropped and the cold winds increased. Walt went back inside, through the living room and out the front porch and un-strapped his bag from the bike and took it inside. He went to the room Mitch had slept in and hung his few clothes in the closet. He peed, then brought wood in from the front porch and occupied himself laying a fire in both the living room and bedroom fireplaces for later in the evening. He checked the reefer for food, and then let himself into the basement and check the large walk in freezer there for more supplies. He took out a couple of large steaks to thaw for dinner. His feelings of 'wrongness' hadn't abated. He looked at the clock, seeing it was nearly 11. He grabbed his jacket and fanny pack and stepped outside into the cold and wind.
The weather had deteriorated in the hour he had been inside. Thick, heavy snow clouds now filled the sky, and a vicious wind cut across the back meadow, bending tree branches and grass. Now deeply worried, Walt looked around him carefully and then, satisfied, willed his body to change. He pointed his face into the wind and took in a great lungful of frigid air, questing for scent. He moved off toward the back of the meadow and stopped, confused, at the multiple paths leading off in different directions. He carefully went out a ways on one path, scanning the ground for any sign of Mitch's passing. Finding nothing, he retraced his steps and went down another path, each in turn. His search yielded nothing. Frustrated, he knelt to the ground and examined it at eye level, then sniffed. A wisp of something called to him. He set off at a lope up the last path.
Taking the rising path in stride, he reached the level area that opened to a ravine. He turned this way and that, squinting his eyes against the stinging wind. He inhaled again, deeply. There... the faintest tinge of blood. The winds were making this very difficult. He headed down the ridge, scanning the terrain as he moved, looking for any sign. Suddenly, he spotted what looked like a patch of blue... bright blue, there, across the ravine! He focused on the color and made out a sleeve. A parka of some sort. Mitch's? Walt stepped carefully down the rocky side of the ravine, placing his feet with care. He reached the bottom of the ravine and reached into the snow bank and retrieved the parka and sniffed. Yes, definitely Mitch's. His head swiveled up and down the ravine. Where was he? Frantically, Walt tried to focus his hearing against the wind. He inhaled. More blood scent, this time from down the ravine, the wind now working in his favor. Walt moved as quickly as he could in the rocky icy ravine bottom, picking his way among the fallen branches and boulders. His boots crunched through thin ice on puddles. Suddenly, he saw a blood-soaked form on the ground ahead, half in a puddle, leg at an awkward angle. Unable to see its face, Walt stumbled rapidly forward. Yes! Mitch. He knelt and placed his hand against Mitch's neck. His skin was icy cold, his face drained of all color except for a blue tinge to his lips. He detected a shallow, fluttering pulse. Walt lifted his head with a silent 'Thank you' and lifted the limp nearly frozen body, wrapping it in the parka. Snow started to fall.
Walt hefted Mitch's weight in his thick arms and slowly walked down the ravine to the same broken path Mitch had started to use nearly two hours ago. His powerful legs steadied them both as he climbed the side of the ravine, carrying Mitch's body as gently as he could. Cresting the ridge, he looked around. Snow was falling faster now, whipped by the winds. The cold cut through his jacket like a knife. Walt bent his head close to Mitch's mouth and nose and felt faint shallow breaths. His face looked utterly bloodless. He rapidly considered. "He's going fast, who knows how much blood he's lost. The cold will have slowed that some, but it also lowered his temp. Lying in the icy water saw to that. I can't get him back to the lodge in time... he'll never make it." His eyes scanned the immediate area. Nothing. He moved as quickly as he could back down the path along the ridge and then down into the trees.
He moved on, snow blinding him at times, legs churning through the blowing snow. When the wind shifted, he could see better, if only momentarily. But, yes... there, up a ways on the path. Surely a ledge, maybe an opening of some sort. Walt struggled up the slope and was rewarded with the low opening to what might be a cave. He carefully set Mitch down on the rock ledge, fully expecting to have to do battle with some animal for the right to shelter there. Senses alert, he crawled into the opening.
Inside, the cave opened up, allowing him to stand nearly upright. The cave was dry, but more important; it was empty, with no signs of recent occupancy. The back of the cave angled off to the right, providing some shelter from any gusts that might blow in the cave mouth. Walt quickly returned to Mitch and gently moved him inside. Stretching him out, he made a pillow of the parka and placed it under Mitch's head. He looked carefully at Mitch's inert body. The shallow pulse was still evident when he placed his fingers against his neck, but he was SO cold. He saw Mitch take a very shallow breath and heard a bubbling sound. Gently lifting the torn sweater and blood-soaked shirt, he dislodged a large clot and saw fresh bleeding. He also saw the jagged splinter of wood embedded in Mitch's side.
"Oh, shit!" Walt knew he had hard decisions to make. Removing the splinter would likely cause more bleeding. Not removing the splinter would make moving Mitch without causing more injury nearly impossible. Walt felt sure Mitch's lung had been pierced by the wood, the bubbling sound when he tried to breathe making that a certainty. Walt knew little of first aid. "He's going to die," Walt thought as tears welled in his eyes. "I can't get him to safety in this weather, and if we stay here, he will die, I know it." He bushed tears away savagely and thought hard. "I'll leave the splinter in place for a bit... he's so terribly cold. Shock, I think, and loss of blood. He needs to be warm."
Walt hurried outside in the snow and looked around. Struggling to see in the blowing snow, he spied some deadfall a few yards form the mouth of the cave. He broke several branches into smaller pieces and tossed them onto the rock ledge in front of the cave. He then took the log and tore it into medium size chunks, and tossed those, too. He scrambled back into the cave, dragging the wood in behind him. He opened his fanny pack and took out the knife, safety matches and the fire starter sticks. He quickly shaved some bark from the smallest branches and broke the fire sticks in pieces. He laid the larger pieces of kindling on top and lit one of the safety matches. It flared and went out. Walt, big hands trembling, lit another. This one stayed lit and the kindling caught. As the flames grew, he stoked the blaze. He felt heat begin to penetrate the cave. He stripped and lay down next to Mitch and curled his body around his friend, willing his own warmth into his dying buddy. Gently hugging him, he closed his eyes and growled softly and hummed, tying to get as much of his own fur covered skin in contact with Mitch as possible.
He looked again at Mitch. His skin did feel a bit warmer. He felt his pulse. It was more erratic than it had been, nearly undetectable. He carefully eased Mitch over on one side, put one hand on Mitch's side and with the other tried to ease the splinter out as carefully as possible. It came out surprisingly easily, but was followed with a slow welling of dark blood and an increased bubbling sound. He sniffed carefully at Mitch's wound and then his breath. There was the faint but unmistakable scent of impending death. Mitch was dying. For a moment, Walt stared at his friend, weeping silently. He took a great gulping breath and bellowed. He knew he had no choice, no hope for rescue in time or a miracle. He stood above Mitch naked in the cave. He bent by the fire and reached for the knife and raised it in one hand.
He moved his arm over Mitch's wound, and slashed at his wrist. His own blood, hot and red, spurted and ran down his arm and dripped into Mitch's dark blood covered wound. Walt's flow rapidly slowed, and the cut began to close. He cut again, and once more the bright fluid spurted and ran down onto Mitch. A third slash and more blood. In spite of the fire, it steamed in the cold air. The flow slowed, then stopped altogether. Walt leaned back, tears once again in his eyes. "Forgive me, buddy." He reached out and put a warm paw on Mitch's forehead. "Forgive me, Mitch."
Walt watched the miraculous process he had seen before. The hole in Mitch's side began to close slowly. Walt bent down and began licking the wound clean. He knew the saliva would help sterilize the wound and increase the speed of healing.
He watched the wound close and knew that where his blood had found its way into Mitch, the healing would be as rapid. Mitch's lung would repair soon, and his blood loss would stop; but if he didn't get warm, he could still die. All of it would be for nothing if he didn't get Mitch warm.
He stripped Mitch out of his wet clothing and moved him closer to the fire. It was blazing now. He took the clothes he'd stripped out of and draped them over Mitch. Walt had long since ceased to actually need clothing in all but the most extreme cold. Walt to shifted more deeply into Werebear form, but still short of the full transformation. Half form still allowed for bipedal movement and use of his larger clawed hands. He'd be able to bring back larger logs and tear them apart with his paw-like hands. He looked at the cave, realizing there must be some sort of opening at the other end because it was not filling with smoke. It was a natural chimney.
Out into the snow Walt strode. He'd need to work fast. He looked around, seeing plenty of fallen wood lying round, some of it fairly dry. With ease born of hulking ursine musculature, Walt pitched large branches toward the cave mouth and after about thirty minutes had enough firewood to last through two nights. If Mitch survived through two nights, he'd survive period.
Walt pulled the wood into the cave and shook the snow out of his fur. He walked over to Mitch, knelt down and checked his pulse. It was weak, but still there and Mitch's breathing was steady, if shallow. Some color had returned to his face, but he was still pale and a little blue. Walt looked at the wound; it was gone, completely, as if it had never been. Walt's eyes welled up with tears. "I'm so sorry buddy. I didn't have much choice and it looks like you have none at all because of my choice," Walt whispered.
Walt turned back to the woodpile. He needed the fire to be bigger. He began breaking the wood it into smaller bits, strong claws gripping the wood, rending it down the grain. Walt had also taken the opportunity to throw a few stones into the cave. He'd set them by the fire to use them as heat sources later. He turned from his work and checked on Mitch again. No change, that was good, it meant he'd stabilized.
Walt went back out into the snow, looking for bedding, something to put between the cold ground and Mitch. He knew where he could find some, too. Under some of the branches, he'd seen pine needles mixed with bracken. In three trips, Walt had enough for a small bed about four inches deep. It wasn't a feather bed or fiberglass insulation, but it would have to do. He'd taken as much of the snow off as possible before gathering them up, but there was still some that clung to the stuff. Walt arranged it around the fire far enough and thin enough to dry, but not catch fire. Again, he checked on Mitch; he actually looked better and his breathing seemed a bit stronger. Walt wondered how much of it was wishful thinking and how much was actual perception. He sniffed Mitch's breath. A little blood scent but that was to be expected; his lungs wouldn't reabsorb it for awhile. The best part was that the smell of death had vanished, which meant that Mitch's systems were no longer shutting down. He worried about the persisting bluish cast to his skin, though.
Walt placed Mitch's naked body on his furry belly to keep him warm while the bedding and Mitch's clothes dried. Walt's clothes didn't provide much of a blanket and he curled his furry legs and arms around Mitch. An hour or so later Walt checked the bracken and pine needles. They were dry and ready. They were even warm, which would be good as long as it lasted. They were a bit sticky from sap, but beggars in these situations couldn't be choosers. Walt gathered up the bedding into a thick pad and laid Mitch on it. The bed was between the cave opening and the fire so any wind blowing into the cave would be to Walt's thickly furred back.
Walt knew Mitch had to have his core temp raised soon, before nightfall. He rolled Mitch over on his side, facing him toward the blaze. Walt lifted Mitch's leg and began rubbing his cock head against his puckered hole and was thankful of the penis bone that formed when in this shape. Soon, precum coated Mitch's opening and Walt started pushing into his unconscious friend.
Normally, Walt would never consider taking advantage of an unconscious man, but this was a desperate situation. If Walt could put his very hot cock up inside of Mitch, the warmth would radiate out. Mitch's insides felt cool, not warm; and that worried Walt. He very gently pushed his tip inside Mitch, but even in his unconscious state, Mitch gave a weak moan. Weak or not, Walt took that as a good sign.
Soon, Walt's longer Werebear cock was buried deep inside of Mitch. Mitch's back was firmly against Walt's belly and chest fur. Walt curled around Mitch and drew Mitch into an energy conserving fetal position and then Walt changed completely into his full grizzly bear form. Mitch was completely surrounded by Walt except for small portion facing the fire, which was covered by Walt's clothing. Inside, Walt's growing cock stretched Mitch further and again, there were moans, these stronger but only because the were likely due to pain. Walt cried for the pain he caused his love, but knew this was likely the only way he would survive the night.
Mitch's backside was against a very warm Werebear and his front was facing a large warm fire. Inside, Walt's cock was radiating heat deep within him. Walt could feel warmth returning to Mitch's skin. Walt closed his eyes and concentrated on generating more heat. He'd taken meditation lessons and if a Buddhist monk could dry a wet cloth on his naked back in the Himalayas, he could increase his body heat to warm his love to save his life.
Slowly, Mitch's breathing grew steadier as his skin warmed. The bluish cast slowly, ever so slowly, receded. Walt lay holding Mitch though the afternoon and into evening, dozing. The cold in this form was bringing out a hibernation response in Walt, but it would take several weeks for him to go into full hibernation. Walt would occasionally wake and see that the light had faded a little more. After the third hour of lying with Mitch, Walt felt he was warm enough inside to disengage and did so carefully. He inspected Mitch's hole and saw that it had bled some. Walt spread Mitch's legs and began licking into the hole deeply, cleaning and lubricating it with healing saliva. If there were any tears inside from the growth from half to full bear, the spittle would close them. Walt shifted to half form, piled more wood on the fire, curled around Mitch, and shifted back to full form. This time, he did not enter Mitch, but did pull him into the fetal position and wrapped as much of his bulky form around him as possible. It was seven in the evening, pitch black outside and the snowstorm still howling. All the while Walt had been keeping Mitch from dying, he'd also been considering how he had taken Mitch's humanity from him, had changed him forever and how none of it had been Mitch's choice. His sleep was fitful, marred by concern and troubling dreams.
Early the next morning, with the fire burned low, Walt was woken by the sound of someone coming toward the cave. The howling wind had ceased and all was quiet except he sound of someone plowing through the snow on foot. Quickly he roused, and pressed his nose against Mitch; his temp had improved and he could tell by smell that Mitch was on the mend. He moved toward the cave mouth. He gave a low growl and was answered back by a low growl he recognized. He sniffed; the smell was familiar. It smelled like bear, and human, but very strongly of cigar and a particular kind of cigar. Walt knew that brand very well, had smoked it with someone he loved dearly many times.
Into the cave strode a tall man with a full blond gray beard wearing heavy winter clothing, mirrored sunglasses and a stocking cap covered by a hood. He was, of course, smoking a cigar.
"Boy, you had me scared out of my wits; not so much for you, but for your buddy. Found you by following the smell of smoke. What happened?" The man asked.
By this time, Walt had shifted to half form and was standing. He turned, bent down and scooped Mitch up in his strong furry arms.
"Oh, Papa. He almost died." Walt said.
"Almost??... you mean you saved him, didn't you boy?" The man asked. He pulled the cigar out of his mouth, unzipped the clothing and buried his face in Mitch's clothes and began sniffing. Half a minute or so later, he pulled his face out, zipped the clothes back up. He looked Walt square in the eye and gave him a cold penetrating stare.
"I suppose there wasn't any other choice, was there? I can smell the change on him; it's faint yet, but there as sure as the sun. By all that blood I see on his clothes it looks like he had some sort of wound, a bad one. What was it, liver, lungs, spleen?" The blond man said, putting the cigar back in his mouth, rolling it around in his mouth.
"It was his lungs. He's lost a lot of blood, but that should rebuild fairly quickly... now." Walt's eyes were bright with unshed tears.
"Yes it will, boy." The man chewed thoughtfully on his cigar. "Can't say as I'm displeased with you. Looks like you did all you could without resorting to transformation and used that as a last resort... and you loved him. I can't fault you for that, but it does complicate things... for me." He drew deeply on his cigar. "Don't worry, Mitch isn't like Eddie, Mitch is a lot like you inside. Eddie was a mistake,” he said.
He unzipped his thick parka, revealing that he was dressed in a heavy sweater beneath. "Take this, wrap him up in it. I'll bring back the truck, but you're going to have to carry him. I suggest you get dressed. You'll want to be human when you take him out of here."
The blond man turned to leave and then stopped and turned back and said, "I love you son... I'm sure I'll love my new grandson just as much... even if his disappearance will cause me a headache and a half.
"I love you too, Coach." Walt said.
Coach Franklin chuckled and walked out of the cave, saying he'd be back within the hour.