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FLIPSIDE
AUTHOR'S NOTE
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI
CHAPTER XII
CHAPTER XIII
CHAPTER XIV
EPILOGUE

CHAPTER X

Mike spent the next few weeks writing. He finished the album the weekend before their trip to L.A. Gordon had the music printed and copies stashed away in his office vault while it was being copyrighted.

The commercial, when it aired, caused an incredible stir. All the news programs had stories, late night TV hosts joked about it, and every entertainment show ran a story. Chrysler watched happily as Talon sales, already strong, rose almost seven percent in just one week.

John got permission from Steve and had friends over constantly. Mike soon included them as his. They all adjusted to him rapidly and he entertained them with excerpts from the album. He often found himself feeling amazed that all of his friends were werewolves.

"I want to go to church." he said, completely out of the blue, one Saturday morning.

"Church?"

"Yeah, church. I haven’t been to church since April. It’s two days from September, for crying out loud. I miss it."

"Whew! That could be difficult, but I know what you mean about missing it."

"Why don’t I just call around and see what they say? It’s already been made clear to the public that I’m a Christian. Some might be wondering why I haven’t gone already. Bible study isn’t half as good with just the two of us and a friend or two."

"Sure. How about mine?"

"What kind is it?"

"Church of Christ."

"Goon enough for me." Mike said, picking up the phone book. John pointed it out to him and he dialed the number for the parish.

"Hello, Reverend Carson."

"We call him ‘Johnny.’" John whispered.

"Reverend, this is Mike Riggs."

"What can I do for...Mike Riggs?"

"The one and only." Mike said, gesturing for John to pick up the other phone. John jogged into the living room and picked it up.

"Oh. Uh, what can I do for you?" the Reverend replied slowly.

"Do you remember John Carter?"

"Yes I do. He’s been a member for a few years. He’s there with you, right?"

"Yeah, he’s helping me adjust to this place and so forth. Well, I don’t know how to suggest this, so I’ll come right out and ask. I told John that I want to go to church. I haven’t been able to since getting dumped here in April. John suggested we go to your church since he’s already a member. Do you think that would be possible?"

Mike’s request was met with silence. He could imagine what must be going through Reverend Carson’s mind.

"I’d really appreciate it if you’d let him come." John said from the living room. "I miss being there, too. It’s just not the same being home with a few friends."

A few seconds later, the Reverend spoke, sounding unsure of himself. "Well...honestly, I don’t see why not. It would be fine with me, but I’m not sure how the rest of the congregation would feel. Would you be bringing all of those guards with you?"

Mike sighed, thinking momentarily of how much of a pain it was having to drag guards with him every time he left the house. "Yeah, but one inside would be okay. I’m sure he’ll know how to be discreet."

"I’ll tell you what." Reverend Carson began. "I’ll call everyone I can get a hold of today. Tomorrow morning, I’ll let you know how everyone feels about it. Would that be all right?"

"I guess it’ll have to do." Mike said, feeling insulted. "Please let them know that in spite of how I look to you, I am a good Christian. I honestly feel that I am."

"I’ll do my best. I’ll call you tomorrow morning about nine. What is the number there?"

"Johnny, it’s an unlisted number, as you can imagine, so I need you to promise that you’ll keep it in confidence." John said.

"Of course."

John gave him the number, thanking him for his understanding. They hung up and John walked over to Mike. "I guess we just wait."

The phone rang promptly at nine the next morning and both Mike and John pounced on it.

"Hello." Mike said, unnecessarily holding the phone so John could listen in. The fur on his head brushed Mike’s, and John flicked his ear against it a few times.

"Is this Mike Riggs?"

"Yes, Reverend, how are you this morning?"

"I’m fine. I saw your commercial last night. It’s quite a sight."

"Thank you."

"I have good news."

Mike’s doubts disintegrated and he smiled. "They said yes?"

"Every one of the forty-three I could get a hold of. It seems they all would like to see you come."

"Great! I really appreciate this."

"My pleasure. I’ll see you at ten."

"See you then. Thanks again."

"Sure. See you then."

"Goodbye."

"Yes!" John exclaimed, hugging Mike with one arm. "Everyone?"

"Maybe people are starting to get used to the idea of me after all. I’ve been on TV enough." Mike said happily.

"Looks that way. Come on, let’s get ready."

They dressed, hopped into the van, and headed to church. As they neared the church, something about Reverend Carson tugged at the back of Mike’s mind; but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He brushed it off as John talked excitedly about their latest excursion.

When they arrived, three guards took up discreet posts around the church. Paul accompanied them inside, leaving his sidearm with another guard.

John had a semi-reunion with at least a dozen people. As he was introduced, most people stared at Mike shamelessly. Although they were obviously nervous, most of them seemed to be friendly.

Mike and John sat in the rear pew, surrounded by John’s friends. Paul stood behind Mike and tried to be invisible.

Reverend Carson needlessly introduced Mike to the congregation before beginning the sermon.

Mike felt terrific. He had failed to notice, until now, just how much he had been missing church. Most of the people managed to ignore him enough to involve themselves in the service.

He was genuinely sad when it ended. He felt better than he had in weeks. As they filed out afterward, John ran into another friend.

"Long time, no see, John Perkins." he said, shaking a tall wolf’s hand.

"Same to you, John Carter." the wolf said, returning the shake and slapping John’s shoulder.

In an instant, everything slammed into place. Reverend Carson. John Perkins. Mike stared at the wolf in shock. The familiarity of his features was unmistakable to Mike. "John Perkins?" he gasped, still staring.

The wolf looked at him uncomfortably. He wore a strange half-sad, half-indecisive expression.

Mike couldn’t speak.

"What is it?" John asked with a worried look. He moved toward Mike.

Mike snapped his eyes away, unable to look anymore. "Get me out of here." he said to Paul, turning to the door. Paul fell into step before him as Mike hurried out the door and into the van.

John Perkins watched the wereman go and tried to sort his feelings. He knew it was wrong to blame the beast, but it was hard not to. He’d have to pray about it yet again when he got home.

"What is it?" John asked again, putting an arm around his shoulder.

Mike’s eyes watered and he put his face in his hands. "I should have realized when you said Reverend Carson’s name." he said, sniffing and fighting the tears back.

"Talk to me." John said, giving him a squeeze. "What’s wrong?"

"John Perkins was the best friend I’ve ever had. We grew up together. He moved up here last year. We always kept in touch and stopped by once in a while."

"Well that’s great!" John said, confused. "Why are you so upset?"

"Don’t you get it?" Mike asked as they pulled away. "I’m not the Mike Riggs he grew up with! Didn’t you see the way he looked at me? The Mike Riggs he knew died the day I got here! He probably died to serve some kind of cosmic balance or something. I killed his best friend by landing here! I killed...myself. God, I can’t sort through this!" He paused to sniff loudly. "Everyone knows that a sudden aneurysm killed the wolven Mike Riggs because both of us couldn’t exist on the same world."

"Mike, you didn’t ask to come here. You can’t blame yourself for that."

"He was my best friend." Mike said, his eyes watering again. "Even if he is the same person here, he’ll probably hate me for killing...oh hell. He was probably at the funeral."

"Listen to me. You have no right to feel guilty."

"It’s not just that." Mike countered. "How can I ignore his feelings? You have no idea how close we were. I loved him like a brother. We knew each other for twenty-one years! How do you think he felt when the Mike he knew died? How do you think he felt seeing me?"

"I don’t know." John said honestly. "I don’t know him all that well. All I can say is that he’ll just have to work out his own feelings. He’s got God backing him up, just like us. He’ll sort it out."

Mike didn’t reply, and allowed John’s arm to remain around his shoulders for the ride home.

Once home, Mike spent the afternoon sitting in the den, staring into space and trying to understand this latest twist in his life. The shock of seeing John - and his expression - died down to a strange, quiet buzz in his mind.

John left Mike alone and called his dad to say "hi." After hanging up he puttered around the kitchen. He knew that Mike would have to deal with this on his own, although he had told him that he was there if he wanted to talk about it.

He was close to finishing dinner when Paul opened the front door and walked in. "John, do you know a guy named John Perkins?"

"Yeah, he was they guy at church this morning. Why?"

"That’s right," he said, snapping his fingers, "I never did get a whiff of him. Anyway, he’s out in the street, just beyond the property line. He wants to talk to Mike."

John thought it over for a few moments before making up his mind. "Go ahead and let him in." he said, going down to fetch Mike. "Mike, can you come up for a minute?"

"Sure." came Mike’s voice, soon followed by the rest of him. "What’s up?"

"There’s someone here to see you." John answered as the front door opened. John Perkins stepped slowly in, sniffed around, and met Mike’s gaze nervously.

Mike was surprised to see him and returned his stare with equal unease.

"Can we talk?" John asked from the landing.

"Uh, sure." Mike replied, waving him up and into the living room. John sat on the couch and Mike sat across from him on the love seat.

"I’ll get back to supper." John said, leaving them alone.

"I don’t know where to start." John Perkins said, eyeing Mike uneasily and continuing to sniff.

"I couldn’t believe it when I saw you." Mike said, pausing momentarily. "The resemblance is...uncanny."

"I know what you mean. They’re the wrong color, but you have his eyes..."

"Look, I don’t know what to say. I...hate to think that I was the cause of...well, that the Mike here died because I showed up. I could see your reaction. I was a basket case all the way back here. I know how it must have felt when your Mike died. We’ve been friends all our lives. Lord, I don’t even know how to refer to you and I!"

"I wanted to hate you, you know. Mike was more than just a friend to me. If I could have died instead..."

"I’m sorry. I can’t begin to tell you the things that have been going through my mind all afternoon. It never occurred to me that there were some of the same people here that knew me back home."

"What was John like? The one you grew up with, I mean."

"I can’t just come up with words for that. A lifetime friendship like that doesn’t lend itself well to concrete definitions."

"What did, uh, we get in big trouble for when we were ten?"

"A lot of things. We were ten."

"In the spring."

Mike smiled in spite of the situation. There could only be one answer. "We wrapped up a dead cat and gave it to Mark Huffman for his birthday."

John smiled at the memory and sighed. "It was you, wasn’t it?"

"In a manner of speaking, I guess. You know, I just thought of something. You’re not alone in this. On another world, a wereman that looks strangely like yourself is going through the same thing. I disappeared without a trace. We were supposed to meet the week after I got here."

"Yeah, I guess so."

"I know this is going to sound weird, but are we going to be friends?"

"I...don’t know."

Mike felt a now-familiar tingling behind his eyes and fought it off. "You’re gone, yet you’re here. We were best of friends, yet we’re complete strangers. I wish I knew how to act. I feel completely helpless."

"Maybe I shouldn’t have come."

"No, I’m glad you did. I feel...guilty. I know it wasn’t my fault. I was just jogging and minding my own business, but it’s hard not to feel somehow responsible."

"...In the woods behind Jerry’s house."

"Jerry?"

"Jerry Sillet, your fiancé’."

"Uh, her name was Debra. I guess I scared the hell out of my own fiancé’. God, this is weird. Who next?"

"You always say that." John mused. "I could never break you of it."

"I guess that’s another life I’ve screwed up."

"Stop feeling guilty." John chided as he came in from the kitchen. "Like you said, you didn’t ask for this. Supper will be ready in about ten minutes."

"Thanks." Mike said, turning to the other one. "Do you want to stay for dinner?"

"I’d better not, but thanks." he replied, standing. "I guess I’d better go. I don’t really know why I decided to come here. I guess I just wanted to know if it was really you. Sort of."

"Before you go, will you do me a favor?"

"Sure."

Mike asked if he still had the same phone number.

"Yeah."

"Will you let me give you a call sometime, maybe after we’ve had some time to think about it?"

"Okay." John said, heading for the door.

"I’m glad you came." Mike said as he ushered him out the door. "I think that I feel a little better. I’ll call you before too long."

"I think that I do too. Maybe I haven’t lost my best friend, only given him a new face. You know when I’m home."

"Until then." Mike said, watching him walk away.

After dinner they watched an NBA game before heading downstairs so Mike could keep his playing fresh. After a while he turned everything off and joined John on the couch. John immediately sat across his lap, resting his shoulders on the sofa arm.

"What are you doing?"

"Give me a belly rub? I can’t believe we’ve known each other for so long and never belly rubbed."

"Belly rub? Are you trying to seduce me?"

"It’s just a belly rub!" John said, tugging his shirt up and over his head.

"Asking me to rub your belly is making it very difficult not to form unfair opinions."

"Rub...my...tummy." John growled playfully.

"Since you put it that way..."

He started rubbing John’s belly, trying not to laugh. They made small talk while he ran his hand through the fur of his stomach and scratched underneath. After about ten minutes, John began a long, luxurious stretch. Mike used both hands to scratch his stomach and ribs as he did.

"Oh, oh, ohhhhhh." John groaned. "You are good at that."

He sat up and slid off the couch, crouching beside it. "Well, lay down, it’s your turn."

"I’m not letting you rub my belly."

"Come on, it’s a belly rub, not sex. You’ll make me feel selfish."

"Humans aren’t into belly rubs."

"You’ve never had a belly rub?" John asked in amazement.

"Nope."

John grabbed a shoulder and pushed him down. "Off with the shirt. You don’t know what you’re missing."

Mike gave in and John returned the favor. After about five minutes Mike was helplessly relaxed and wishing he had been doing this all his life. After another five, he was sound asleep.

John walked upstairs for a mug of cocoa. Joe looked up from the paper. "Where’s Mike?"

"He’s asleep downstairs. Would you believe that he’s never belly rubbed?"

"Never?"

"Nope. After I talked him into it, he turned out to be very good at it. I showed him, though, and put him to sleep inside of ten minutes."

Joe chuckled. "You’re seducing him."

"I am not! It was just a belly rub. Besides, Mike would never fall for it. I’m also sure that he would feel betrayed if I tried."

"You’re seducing him slowly."

"Well, isn’t it like that in any relationship? The entire dating process is just one long, mutual seduction. It’s not the same thing."

"So you two are really serious?"

"Mike doesn’t know it yet, but I think we are. I am."

"You are one lucky bastard, you know that?"

"I love the way people keep saying that to me." John said with a smug smile. He went to the living room and watched TV for a while, thinking about Mike too much to concentrate on it. He turned it off when he heard Mike awaken.

"I think I’m going to go out back for some fresh air." Mike said as he came sleepily up the stairs.

"Have fun." John said, having something else in mind.

Mike walked out back and breathed deeply, stretching and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He smiled at himself, shaking his head as he thought about their belly rub. What a joke.

It was a cool, dry evening; quiet except for the barking of a dog in the distance. A short, louder, deeper bark sounded and the dog stopped.

"Let me guess..." Mike thought aloud. He saw a van parked along the street opposite the back yard. A miniature satellite dish was mounted on the roof, facing up.

A light caught his eye and he looked at the house. It was the main bathroom and John was now standing in front of the mirror.

He walked stealthily over, planning to pop up against the window and scare John out of his pelt. He peeked in the corner of the window and saw John standing back from the counter, studying himself carefully.

He moved his ears; sometimes one at a time, sometimes both. He tugged at his whiskers a few times and opened his mouth, apparently staring at his fangs. He closed his mouth and bared them briefly.

He reached over and snapped the light out. Mike could see the eerie, greenish glow of John’s eyes in the mirror, appearing and disappearing as he moved his head around.

When John turned the light back on, Mike tapped quietly on the window.

As John glanced his way, he jumped against the window and roared. John’s eyes went wide, his fur stood on end, and he jumped backwards; nearly falling into the hallway.

Mike braced himself against the wall and laughed, hearing a nearby guard join in.

John came out the back door a few seconds later, his fur still standing on end. "You dick!"

Mike just kept laughing.

"I almost fell on my butt!" John complained, walking over to him. By the time he arrived his fur had gone back down and he was smiling. "I’ll get you for that. I should have been expecting it."

"What were you doing in there?" Mike asked between chuckles.

"Thankfully, I wasn’t jerking off." John joked. He leaned beside Mike and turned serious. "Actually, I was trying to find out what it is about us that amuses you so."

"I never said you were amusing." Mike said defensively, allowing one of John’s arms to encircle him.

"You didn’t have to. I can see you fighting off smiles now and then."

"Uh-oh." Mike thought. "How do I get out of this one?"

"See, I’m a zoologist. My job is to study animals, etceteras, etceteras, etceteras; but I never thought to stop and take a look at ourselves. We’re animals just like any other furry creature. You’ve given me a new perspective, so to speak."

"How’s that."

"I was trying to see myself from your perspective. I can see how we could appear strange; the way we move our ears, trim our snouts and ears, our glow-in-the-dark eyes. We grow up that way, so we take it for granted. No one ever stops to think that our ears move because we don’t do it consciously. Yet everyone knows what it means when someone pins their ears back, or moves them back just a hair. Glowing eyes are as normal to us as they are strange to you. It looks eerie to me when I see you at night and yours aren’t glowing. Grooming? I can see how it would be weird to watch someone trim their ears and snout, worry about how even their whiskers are, or want to dye their entire body blonde."

"Now you’re talking cosmetics. Society decides what’s attractive and everyone plays along, because they don’t want to be thought of as ugly or out of style. Every kind of people has things like that. Take you and I, for instance. You trim your ears, I trim around my ears. You trim your snout, I shave my cheeks and neck. What we do because of what we are may be different, but what we are doing is the same. We’re trying to make ourselves attractive."

"Yeah, but I’m talking about our fundamental differences."

"Okay."

"So, what’s so funny?"

"Nothing."

"You’re lying. Come on, I won’t be insulted. This kind of thing is my job."

"Going cross-eyed to look at your whiskers."

"Stop being obvious. Everyone knows going cross-eyes looks goofy."

"I don’t know."

"Level with me."

"Well, the flea jokes are pretty good."

John growled, the first sign that he was getting frustrated with Mike again. "Lame. No one has fleas. Every brand of soap has flea repellent."

"That was a joke, right?" Mike asked, fighting off a laugh.

"See, there you go, trying not to laugh. Look at me. If you had a coat of fur, don’t you think you’d need it?"

"Yeah, I guess you’re right. Lets head in."

They started for the door and Mike spoke up again. "Speaking of trimming your ears, how much effort do you put into all of that?"

"Oh, about once a quarter for the whiskers, ears, and body; only about semiannually for the body." John answered as they stepped inside. "What about you?"

"I just get a haircut about every month and a half or so. Here’s a thought: What’s a typical barber experience like for you?"

"You go first."

"I just sit in a chair and he trims. It usually takes about fifteen minutes for me."

"Man, do you get off lucky just having your head to worry about. We get to sit on a stool for our head and chest; but after that, we have to stand. You better be wearing underwear, too, because you have to take your pants off for the thighs. It all takes about an hour or so, unless you’ve neglected yourself for ages."

"Isn’t that kind of, well, public?"

"Oh, forgot. Once you get to that part he pulls a curtain around your area."

"Whew."

When they were in the hallway and under better light, Mike grabbed the front of John’s shirt and pulled open wider. "Does your fur taper in on your stomach naturally or does the barber do that?"

"Both. It grows in that way but the barber keeps it neat. Except for early spring, that is. That’s shedding season."

Mike successfully fought off another laugh, careful not to let it show. "How long does that last?"

"It depends on the person." John began as they reached their respective bedroom doors. "I start shedding early and usually finish by early April. Mark, on the other hand, has an thick and gorgeous winter coat and sheds all the way to the end of May. Most often it doesn’t take more than five weeks and isn’t all that messy if you keep brushing it out."

"Ah."

"What about you?"

"What, shed?"

"Yeah, from your head, pits, or you know..."

"No," Mike answered with a grin, "We don’t shed what we have. Well, we go bald, but that doesn’t count."

"Bald?" John asked in shock.

"It’s a genetic thing. Many men start losing their ha...fur in their thirties and most of it’s gone in a few years."

"Just bare skin on your head?"

"For all intents and purposes, yes. It happens in various degrees depending on the individual. Some don’t lose their fur at all. I won’t. Baldness never occurs in my family.

"Thank God for that."

"I often do, at the risk of sounding vain to the old guy."

"Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, unless you want to come in for a roll in the sack."

"You’ll just have to roll yourself. Good night."

"Spoil sport."

After a slow start, Mike and John began kissing regularly. The frequency of them increased without Mike being consciously aware of it. He still felt a little uncomfortable and guilty, but it was becoming easier.

In spite of the fact that John was a man, Mike surprised himself by enjoying how good a kisser he was. A deep kiss back home was nothing compared to what John’s tongue could do. He tried not to dwell on the subject, because it still somewhat bothered him.

On the other hand, he had let it start. They had kissed for the third time the night after John Perkins had come. He had just given John a good night belly rub when he kissed him lightly on the lips. When he tried to repeat the kiss with a little more feeling, Mike had let it happen. After than, Mike had let them come when they wanted to. He saw extreme satisfaction on John’s face the first time he initiated. That had been an especially close evening, and he had felt comfortable cuddling up with John. He wanted to hate what he was doing but he would only be deceiving himself. The irrefutable reality was that he liked it.

He still thought of Deb, and that was the main reason for his guilt. He felt terrible that it seemed so easy to leave her behind and start kissing a man. He missed her, and he knew that he always would; but the thought of her no longer made him miserable.

The nightmares he had been experiencing regularly for two months had stopped. He had dreamed of Deb twice more since, but the dreams had been nice; centering on memories of good times they had shared. Some were just bits and pieces of random situations.

He was healing. The guilt remained, though. He prayed regularly and knew that God was helping him to cope. How else could he not only be kissing John so often, but really starting to feel for him? A picture of a back yard kiss had made it into the papers. He had almost stopped it from happening at the time because he knew that it would end up on someone’s film, but something made him do it anyway. Afterward he had completely confused John by losing his temper.

John had acted embarrassed when he figured out what Mike was upset about. He was no more comfortable with the idea of kissing for a nationwide audience than Mike was. He had turned Mike’s mood around, though, explaining that the picture would probably do him good.

He knew that it was almost an insult to God to feel guilty about recovering from losing his fiancé’. After all, if God was helping him then he should be grateful and accept that help with humble thanks. It was just something he would have to overcome. He knew that God was patient, and he let the Lord know that he was trying.

John made no more demands of him even though it was obvious that he wanted more. Mike tried, but he could no longer deny the fact that John was in love with him. It was an odd feeling.

Occasionally, he allowed himself to dwell ever so slightly on the subject of sex; usually when he was altering obviously heterosexual song lyrics for their new audience.

He tried to sort out his feelings about John. He thought of him as a good friend at the least, that was certain. As a matter of fact, John was just as good a friend as John Perkins had been. He was always sensitive to his human friend’s feelings and was always fun to be around. Werewolf men do not suffer from the fear of being sensitive that plagues most human men, and any threat to their manliness never occurs to them.

He would think no more of it if it weren’t for the kissing. Each time it happened he felt something give a little. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but whatever it was, it was crumbling. What is it about a few simple kisses that has such an effect?

What would his feelings have been toward his friends back home if he had kissed them? Would he have possibly fallen in love with one of his male friends? A friend is a friend, but a kiss changes things.

Exactly what were his feelings for John beyond friendship? He would die for him, that he knew for sure. When someone proved themselves to be the best kind of friend, he felt they deserved that level of sacrifice. It was the best thing a human being could do for another, or a werewolf; heaven forbid it ever became necessary.

The doubts kept nagging, though. Was he falling in love with John? With each kiss, each cuddle, each belly rub, it became easier to believe. Each one felt less odd than the one before. They had already crossed the invisible line of restraint where kissing was concerned. It was different, but certainly pleasant. He had actually felt himself becoming aroused once or twice. That bothered him.

On top of that, here was something strangely comforting about holding a muscular, furry body. At first he had assumed that it was a product of his childhood. He had hugged Reggie at least once a day.

Now he was having trouble believing that. Had Doug been right? Was there something in him that wanted to hold another man?

He was beginning to realize something else about himself, too. He missed John when he wasn’t around.

Maybe, he thought, it was just because John was his only close friend and he liked to have him around. John was certainly the most continually happy and funny person he had ever met.

That wasn’t it, either. Wolves, as a people, had that unconscious, stronger-than-human need for physical contact. Given two wolves, whether they’re lovers or not, he noticed that they almost never stood or sat without some part touching. At first he had thought that John was being pushy, using the "animal magnetism" inherent in his kind to seduce him. But after having numerous other wolves do it, everyone from Gordon to the guards, and seeing them do it to each other; he had come to the conclusion that it was just the way they were. He found himself missing that when John wasn’t there. He missed the feeling.

There were also other things to consider. Was God teaching him to be a man in a wolf’s world? Was it Satan trying to turn him from God? He prayed for guidance constantly. Maybe he was receiving it, but refusing to accept it.

Damn this uncertainty!

What would he do later when John reached the point when kissing simply wasn’t enough anymore? What would he do when, in the middle of a kiss, John’s hand started wandering south?

He put himself in John’s position and imagined himself dealing with a woman. Wouldn’t he want to do more after all that kissing if he was in love? Wouldn’t he feel a craving from the depths of his soul for the love to be mutual? He couldn’t let himself forget that John was in love with him. It was Mike’s own fault that John hadn’t said so by now. Wouldn’t he himself expect more?

It was at that moment that he realized the extent of John’s empathy. John wanted to say "I love you," but wouldn’t for fear of driving him away. He could deny it no longer; John wanted him, and badly. Was it fair to deny him that?

Yes, if the feelings were not mutual; but he wasn’t sure of what his feelings were. He had never been confronted with the love of a man before. If "John" was instead "Jan," this whole matter would be over and done with. He knew that he would want more if he was in John’s position. If he felt the same way for a woman that John felt for him, he would have said so by now; and probably tried to seduce her. John was actually being better about this than he would be. That thought shocked him. Their good-natured banter notwithstanding, John was showing amazing restraint.

He stretched out on the couch and turned the TV off. He wasn’t paying it any attention anyway. John was visiting Karen again. Lately John was sure to visit at least once a week. Every time he seemed more nervous. He was obviously afraid of what lay ahead for him.

...And then there was sex, he thought as the TV winked out. Eventually everything would boil down to that. He had already gotten passed kissing. It was bothering him less and less.

In a moment of bizarre insight he realized that John deserved him.

"Oops, I wish I hadn’t thought of that." He added another twist by imagining the whole thing from a woman’s point of view, something Deb had made him do frequently. John did deserve him. What had John done but be a perfect gentleman? He laughed at the thought of calling a furry monster a gentleman.

Funny as it was, the fact remained. If he was a woman, he would probably think that he had struck gold. As the ultimate test, he imagined John with Deb in his place.

What would her feelings be? Would she fall in love with someone like John? The answer was obvious. She would be in love with him. He and John were actually a lot alike.

But sex? Up until now, when it had become necessary, he had masturbated. He avoided fantasization. To fantasize was to covet, and to covet was a sin. He tried to avoid sin when he could. He was far from perfect, and accepted that as part of his nature; but the duty of a Christian is to aspire to perfection, not achieve it. he did it only to relieve the physical need. It wasn’t easy keeping his mind blank, though. He longed for the touch of Deb’s body.

The arousal he had thought of earlier came back to him. He had actually become aroused kissing John. Again, was it God helping him to adjust or was it a purely physical reaction?

No comfort there; it would have been a physical reaction to another man. Did that mean that he, by nature, could feel the same desires as his newfound, furry friends? Was there something in the back of his mind trying to come forward?

If it was God helping him, he could accept that. He agreed with what John had said before; they shared the same God. He felt the same feelings of peace that he had always felt during prayer.

Guilt again crept in. He didn’t feel that he owed John what he wanted. That was a juvenile concept. Sex is not something that you owe anyone. But was he being fair?

Did he love John?

If John asked, and he said yes, would he be able to go through with sex? Would he see John’s nakedness and back out, disgusted? He already knew that wolves had formidably large jewels.

If he wasn’t disgusted - he was well aware of what a naked man looked like - would he be able to do what he would be expected to do? Would he get cold feet?

That would be worse than simple denial. To agree and then back out would probably hurt John. He didn’t want John to think that he was grossed out by a wolf’s body. He wasn’t, they looked kind of cool, and John didn’t deserve that. They were kind of sexy.

Mike shook his head. "Now where in the hell did that come from? They must be putting thoughts in my head."

His contemplation returned to his feelings for John. He had never kissed a man before, and he was unsure of how he felt. He tried everything.

He thought of John as a woman. What would he do then?

Dead end. With a woman the entire relationship would be completely different, even if it was a werewolf female that conformed to a human life cycle. Men simply relate to each other differently than they do to women.

He thought of himself as John. What would he say to Mike to make it all okay? Another dead end.

So he was stuck with what he had, and nothing to compare it to. What did he feel?

"All right, look at it this way; if he came in right now, kissed you, and asked you to go to bed, what would you do?" he asked himself.

"I’d say no."

"You’re lying." his mind argued. "Don’t make snap judgments."

The simple fact was that he didn’t know. Would he or wouldn’t he? Did John deserve him? Yes, no question. Did he deserve John? Yes. Did he love him?

He didn’t know. That was the bottom line. He simply didn’t know. There were certainly feelings there, feelings dangerously close to what he had felt for Deb, but he was afraid of what they would mean.

He let out a loud sigh. Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. He knew that it was only a matter of time before John found a way to seriously suggest they spend a night together. They hadn’t started petting yet, beyond a little back-rubbing, but John was definitely turned on by him.

He would hate to say no, but he’d have to be true to his own feelings first, just as John had said. If he felt it was right, he would...might. If he felt it was wrong, he wouldn’t.

"I guess I’ll just have to wait and see." he said to himself. He turned the TV back on and numbed his brain with a sitcom. Soon afterward he fell asleep on the couch.

"Mike." John said, nudging his shoulder.

He awoke and sat up, realizing he was still on the couch. "What time is it?"

"Ten thirty."

Mike smelled whiskey on John’s breath. "Where have you been?"

"Karen’s."

"You were doing shots with her?"

John blushed. "I stopped for a couple of drinks." he answered, sitting unsteadily beside him.

"You’re drunk!"

"I am not. I only had a couple."

"You’re lying. As often as you drink liquor you’d only need a couple."

John remained silent.

"Did you drive home?"

"No, I went to the bar down the street. I walked back and asked a guard to get my car for me."

"Why’d you get yourself drunk? We have to fly out to L.A. tomorrow."

"I don’t know. I didn’t plan on it. I just kept thinking..."

"...About Karen." Mike finished for him.

"Yeah. I don’t expect you to understand."

Mike put an arm around the furry shoulder beside him and gave a gentle shake. "I may not fully understand, but I can imagine. I thought about this sort of think a little earlier. I know that you feel obligated. It’s a big responsibility, but I’m sure that you can handle it. You don’t have to get yourself drunk. You can talk to me."

John huffed, a smile tugging at his lips. "That’s supposed to be my line. I guess you have the benefit of experience, eh?"

"You could say that. We might as well work both ways."

What on Earth made me say that? Mike thought. He regretted it immediately, hoping that John hadn’t caught it. Thankfully, he showed no sign.

"What’s it like?"

"What do you want me to compare it to? I don’t even know how you people go about doing it."

John explained, with marked discomfort, what he had been taught when he was younger. Mike almost laughed when John described the traditional mating position as being what he would call "doggie-style." It was hilarious to consider but he controlled himself. He did understand why; that position helped to distance the man from what he was doing. Eye to eye contact was probably unbearable to them. The way John described it, sex was performed with an almost clinical detachment. Whether the reality was so sterile he could only guess.

"Well, you seem to have all of the essentials already."

"Yeah, but that doesn’t tell you what it feels like, you know? Will I spend the whole time trying not to puke on her back?"

Mike had to laugh at that one. Even John smiled at himself.

"John, I’m not a psychiatrist. I don’t know if it will help to say this or not, but I think that you will find that it’s not going to be nearly as bad as you think. It’s only natural. Doug said that the female enjoys it. You may not have fun, but I doubt that God would make it such a horrible thing for you. If He did, how could he expect you to be willing to do it at all? I think you put too much pressure on yourselves."

"It’s that damn smell." John said, shuddering and leaning on Mike for balance. "The rest of the family usually avoids her like the plague. It goes away once she mates, so her parents usually try to get it over with as soon as possible. That’s why they were so worried when I stopped coming around."

"How soon do you think it will be?"

"I don’t know. It could be next week or next year. Mr. Lorrah says that she’s started her spurt."

"Spurt?"

"A figure of speech. Soon before mating the female starts a growth spurt. She gets taller, stronger, her hips widen, and her bones get stronger. Basically, it makes her able to...accept a fully grown man."

"Sounds like puberty. How long does that usually last?"

"It comes before puberty and continues through it. It’s never the same. There’s no way to be sure."

"Uh-Huh."

John turned to him, still nervous. "How does it feel? What’s it like to be, you know..." He blanched.

"...Inside her?"

"Yeah. Yuck."

"Well, assuming that your females are the same inside as mine, it feels pretty good."

"Pretty good? Are you kidding?" That doesn’t tell me much."

"Well," Mike started, uncomfortable with the subject, "It’s, you know, moist."

John grimaced and tried to stifle a burp.

"Don’t look like that. You lube yourself up for sex, right?"

"Yeah, unless there’s enough...well, you probably don’t want to know that."

"No, go ahead."

"You’ll say it’s gross."

"I promise I won’t."

"You know how we, uh, drip more than you do, right?"

"Stop right there, I know what you’re going to say." Mike said quickly. "So with a female the lube is already there. Of course, it feels different inside, but it’s not gross. It won’t feel as tight, I know. I’ve done both. It’s just different, that’s all."

"Yeah, but it’s a girl."

Mike sighed. "Are they all like this?" He spoke aloud to John. "I don’t know what else to tell you. All I can say is that there is no need for you to feel so afraid of it. Just let nature take it’s course. After that, you can forget about it."

"What if it doesn’t work the first time? Then, after a couple of days, I’ll have to go back; and back, and back, and back, until she knows she’s conceived."

"How does she know?"

"Everything stops."

"Everyth...oh, that everything. Don’t you think it will get easier if it comes to that? You’ll know what to expect."

"That doesn’t mean I’ll start liking it. My dad said that it took almost three weeks to get me and my sister started. He hated it. He wouldn’t even talk about it. He didn’t even want to touch himself to take a decent shower afterward."

"Oh boy." Mike thought. "I’m running out of assurances."

John interrupted him. "What did you mean when you said that you thought about it earlier?"

It was Mike’s turn to feel uncomfortable. "Oh, I just got to thinking about things."

"What things?"

"Just...everything?"

"What in particular?"

Mike sighed again, stretching. Might as well fess up. "You and me, mostly."

"Really?" John asked with a smile, the whiskers on his snout standing out.

"Yeah. I was trying to sort out some of the feelings I’ve been having trouble understanding. I don’t want to talk about it now. You’re drunk." he said, standing. "We both need to go to bed."

"Is ‘bed’ what you were thinking about?" John asked, following him and using the walls to keep his balance.

"Maybe when you’re sober we’ll talk about it. Right now you need to get to bed, and I mean to sleep."

As he undressed, John was unable to get Mike out of his mind; and was now fighting a losing battle with a certain bulge. He sat on the bed, dropped the damp underwear to the floor, and leaned back against the headboard. He moved his hands between his legs, seeing Mike’s naked body pressed against him, his stubby tongue teasing one of his nipples. He kissed his way to his navel, running his tongue in little circles through and around it.

John growled as he imagined Mike’s head moving down further, curling his own down to complete the illusion. Minutes later the scene was played out, and John fell instantly asleep.