Some weeks later, Mitch and Rusty were sitting on a log, overlooking the canyon where Mitch had had his accident and nearly died a few months earlier. The weather was still cold but the evergreens gave scent to the air as the sun hit them. Mitch never tired of the view, the negative associations with the place long since submerged in the beauty of the place and his love for Walt. Now, it reminded him of just how much Walt loved him, and to what extremes his mate would go to for that love.
Rusty had found Moose's exuberance and eagerness to try out his new bear strength tiring at times, and he found a quiet walk with Mitch every now and then was just what his still-anxious mind needed. The long walks also helped burn off the increasing energy and restlessness he felt as he sensed the beginnings of his own changes. Mitch was more than glad of the exercise himself, and he was pleased to change to half or full form at Rusty's request. It let Rusty see in a less personally-involved way what to expect, and Mitch frankly enjoyed practicing his were abilities.
"You're quiet today." Mitch paused and when Rusty didn't say anything, said, "Want to talk about it?"
Rusty turned to Mitch. "Promise you won't say anything about this, OK? I don't want to worry Norman. Anything having to do with potential problems and me, he worries. So, just between us, OK?"
Mitch wasn't sure he wanted to be a part of a secret. He knew that sometimes they were necessary, even best for all concerned; but he didn't feel comfortable with them. He slowly nodded.
"Well, about a month before we came up here, before Christmas, I had my physical. I'd let it slide so it had been, oh, I guess, five years since the last one. The doc found something." Rusty looked out over the canyon and inhaled deeply. Mitch waited for the smaller man to continue.
"Two of my arteries are pretty heavily blocked. Heart ones," he said, tapping his chest. "The doc says he thinks they could be taken care of with stents, but he also says there is a good chance it might take bypass surgery. It depends on what they see when they go in. He wanted to do it right away, but I asked for it to be postponed until after Christmas. He agreed, but only if I was very careful and didn't exert myself." Rusty kicked at a small stone, sending it skittering over the edge of the trail and down into the canyon. Mitch waited for Rusty to go on, and heard the soft plash of the rock landing in the stream below.
"Mitch, I'm worried about changing. The doc seemed to think exertion was a bad thing for me. I'm afraid to tell Norman, he worries SO much if I'm sick or anything like that. If I have a cold, he's always sure it's going to develop into pneumonia or something. I know I have to tell him, but I don't know how to, especially now that I'm about to change, and..."
Mitch was smiling as this last part tumbled out. Rusty mistook the smile for levity and his temper flared.
"Damn it, this is serious! I was going to ask for your advice about all this, but I see..."
"Oh, no! Rusty! Easy, easy... I wasn't laughing. But there's no need. No need to worry, I mean." He reached over and attempted to hug Rusty, who pulled away, almost pouting.
"Look, Rusty... here, let me try to explain. Walt or Vic should really be doing this; they know more about all this than I do." Mitch looked down at the angry bear who all but turned away from him. "This is all new to me, too, you know; but from what Vic said, any imperfection, any injury, any congenital problem gets repaired as you change. You essentially get a new body in perfect order and, barring massive injury, it stays that way."
"But I'm not a were yet, I could still be at risk, couldn't I?"
"Maybe, but I doubt it. The process has started and since everything has to be in good working order for your first change, it's likely those arteries are clean as a whistle now; and if not, they're on their way to being that way. I've noticed you've seemed to have more energy of late."
Mitch looked at Rusty carefully. "I can see development already, you're more stocky than you used to be. You're thicker and it's not fat and it's not my imagination, either. Others seeing you probably wouldn't notice unless they were looking for something specific, but I've been through it and can see the signs. You're getting that soft fuzz like we did when we were teenage boys before getting body hair; and you can't tell me your stamina hasn't increased, I've heard you and Moose going at it late at night.”
Mitch smiled and opened his arms and this time Rusty accepted the hug. Rusty's look was inquisitive.
"So, you mean I don't have to worry about my heart or getting sick any more? I don't have to be careful of what I eat and watch my weight?" Rusty's expression was a mixture of disbelief and desire that it should be so.
"Well, yes. As far as I know, that's how it works. So, tonight when Moose makes his mac and cheese, eat all you want; and when I make eggs Benedict, you can pig out."
"Woo hoo!" Rusty breathed, his eyes lighting up. "I can eat all the tasty stuff I make for Moose again!" Mitch smiled at the stocky man's delight; Rusty was truly a bear at heart and always had been, with that deep love of good food so many bears shared.
Suddenly he paused, thinking out loud. "What about colds and flu and such? Will I be immune? What about accidents?"
Mitch nodded. "Don't get crazy and go sky diving without a parachute. We can't exactly take you to a hospital, and there are limits to what even a were-enhanced body can repair. You still need to be sensible. The way Vic tells me, you can't recover from massive injuries, the kind that will kill you before you have a chance to repair them. But essentially, your body will truly take care of itself from now on, inside and out." Mitch smiled again. "So, don't worry, OK?"
A chill wind had kicked up while they had been talking. Rusty shivered. Mitch had grown indifferent to it, but the smaller man looked cold.
"Let's head on back, get you in front of a nice roaring fire." Mitch said.
"Mmmmm... and hot cocoa!" Rusty said and Mitch smiled down at his shorter companion.
They got up and headed back down the trail towards the cabin. As they walked, Rusty looked at the backs of his hands, examining them closely in the sun, seeing the brand new fine hairs on them glowing in the light. "Will I change much?"
"You mean as a bear, or as a human?"
"As a human." Rusty picked up a rock and threw it watching as it sailed out down the length of the trail. "I'm getting stronger, I know. Look how far I threw that. And I don't get nearly as out of breath walking. I can hike a lot further with you now, but what am I going to look like? Will I still be... “ He paused then said quietly, “...me?"
Mitch looked with affection at the short man beside him. When he first met Rusty, he struck Mitch as a little too prissy and refined. But the way Rusty behaved with Moose around, as well as his enthusiasm in bed, had changed that initial impression. In spite of some irritating habits, Rusty kind of grew on you, Mitch reflected. He was still a very 'proper' man, but he seemed more relaxed and not nearly as uptight.
"Coach says there really isn't any real way to tell ahead of time. But it's odd you mentioned that, I've been thinking about it. I'll bet that there is some way of knowing, at least generally. Knowing something of the genetic makeup of the potential were might give some pretty good clues. Maybe I could look into that. Anyway, in human form, you'll likely be a bit bigger, taller maybe and certainly hairier, too. Your face shouldn't change much, though."
Rusty looked up at Mitch. "I know I can see a difference in you from when I first saw you. It was obvious to me that you'd kept in decent shape as you got older, but you're taller and you filled out... you're bulkier." Rusty grinned. "From what Norman said, you were already pretty hairy. You don't seem to have as much gray in your beard now."
Mitch squeezed Rusty's shoulder. "I've got no other information. Remember, I'm kind of new at this, too. You might get a lot bigger and taller. You might look much the same. Does it make a difference? You know Moose won't care. Why the interest?"
"Well, there's my sister."
"Ah, that's right. I'd forgotten you have living relatives. Walt and I don't, and Coach says there is no one living who ever saw him before he changed … well, other than Sam. Are you and your sis close?"
"Not really. I think the last time we saw each other in person was at dad's funeral." Rusty thought, then nodded. "Yes, that was it. We mail each other and call sometimes. Pictures at Christmas, that sort of thing. She might notice a change in me. How will I handle that?"
"Rusty, it all depends on how much you change in your human form. You may not change that much and that small change could be passed off as being the result of you hitting the gym with Moose, and the passage of time." Mitch paused. "You're lucky, you've retired, so there's no one who sees you regularly at work to worry about."
Rusty started. "Oh, my God! The neighbors! What are we going to do about the neighbors?" he blurted out. The sudden change in topic didn't phase Mitch.
"Oh, we'll have to kill them, of course. No choice there, I'm afraid." Mitch gave Rusty the most serious face he could muster.
The look of utter horror on Rusty's face told Mitch his joke had sailed way over the bear's head. Rusty's mouth dropped open, and his expression was too much for Mitch. He couldn't maintain his grim countenance a second longer. He burst out laughing.
Rusty quickly caught on and stood there glowering as Mitch laughed himself out and when he'd finished Rusty spoke, "I suppose you think that was funny?" he said with an icy, highly polished tone.
"Relax, man; I was teasing." Mitch said, catching his breath. "You should have seen your face, though."
Rusty maintained his scowl a moment or two longer and then relented, smiling back at Mitch. "I must admit, you did that very well. You got me good."
Mitch grinned back. "Really, about your looks... one step at a time. You've got bigger things to think about now. Time enough for that later. Your neighbors know you guys went away for Christmas, right?"
"Yes. I told them that Norman and I were visiting relatives for the holidays, then going to Tahoe for skiing and a long vacation. Norman took vacation time owed him. They won't be expecting us back for a couple of months or so."
"Good. That gives you some time to work out a plan with Coach."
The pair continued walking, chatting away and soon found themselves at the base of the trail. They made the last turn and saw the cabin sitting at the end of the large clearing. It was clouding up again.
Mitch sniffed the air carefully. "Walt's better at this than I am, but I think I smell snow coming; a late last storm of the season. Seems that way, anyway… “ Mitch dropped the pose of sniffing the air. “Well, that, and the weather on the radio this morning." He grinned at Rusty, who smiled back, a sign he was relaxing again.
"I hope Norman's made extra mac and cheese. I'm so hungry I could eat a bear." Rusty said over his shoulder, oblivious to the double meaning of his words as he picked up the pace and reached the steps to the cabin before Mitch. Mitch looked at the hungry bear's quick movements and thought to himself, 'He's showing more of the signs. He'll be changing soon. And he's not half-bad looking from behind!'
Mitch grinned, and followed Rusty up the steps.