Nate's thighs were beginning to burn from the steep climb, but he pushed on. Night was closing in fast and the air had a bitter chill to it that promised snow. He shifted the pack on his back and glanced behind him.
"It's getting fucking cold, man." Kyle hugged himself and shifted his feet, lagging behind. His pack was smaller but still sagged low on his back. "Lets go back to the truck and find someplace we can drive to."
"It isn't much further" Annoyance pinched Nate's face and squeezed his words. "Quit your fucking whining,"
Kyle scowled then tried to adjust his pack, revealing his inexperience as a seasoned hiker. "Are you even sure we're on the right trail?" He groaned. "How long has it been since you were up here?"
"I know where I'm going." Nate shook his head and released his own scowl. "I'm pretty sure this is the right way."
"Pretty sure?" Nate rubbed his hands up and down his arms. A purple tint darkened his lips. "You mean you don't know for sure? What if we get all the way up there and there's no cabin? What then?"
"Then we'll figure something out." Nate snapped. "Now move your ass. It'll be dark soon."
Kyle groaned and quickened his step. "Why did we come out here anyway?"
"I was hoping..." Nate stopped and turned to face Kyle. "...to knock some of that sissy city slicker out of you. Get you back to nature."
"Well I'm here." Sarcasm drenched Kyle's words. "And I think I like my city slicker persona. Nature sucks."
"You're such a pussy." Nate turned away and continued up the trail.
"What do you know about pussy?" Kyle quipped. "You fuckin' homo."
"I bet you'd like that." Kyle smirked. "You bitch about me being a city slicker...but I bet you fantasize about this little city slicker ass, don't ya"
Nate shook his head and kept moving, ignoring Kyle's ribbing. Even if he was a city boy and a total wuss when it came to the outdoors, Kyle was his best friend. The guy had known Nate was gay since they were both fourteen when Nate had opted for Kyle to be his first kiss. To Nate's dismay, Kyle had been uncooperative. Nate had walked away from that with a black eye. But he'd still gotten his kiss, even if it came with a price.
To Nate's surprise, his little stunt hadn't caused a riff between him and Kyle. The guy simply viewed it as something to hold over Nate's head and needle him with every chance he got...like any best friend would do. So that was their routine. Kyle fucked with him about being a homo, and he fucked with Kyle about being a city slicker sissy. It was all good.
"You wish you were my fantasy." Nate muttered. "Trust me, if I'm gonna take the time to fantasize, the guy's gonna be a hell of a lot hotter than you, you scrawny motherfucker."
"Scrawny?" Kyle snorted. "I'm not scrawny, I'm lean." He grinned and puffed as he climbed the trail behind Nate, his breath exploding in steamy plumes on the chilled air, his pack pulling at his arms.
"That's what all the scrawny guys say." Nate chuckled. "But I can still see your ribs and that's a fucking turn off." He smiled. "I like meat on my man."
Kyle cocked an eyebrow. "Yeah, I bet you like meat on your man."
Nate chuckled again, not missing the innuendo. "Damn straight, baby."
"I don't get you fags." Kyle shook his head. "Seriously, how can a guy prefer dicks over chics? It don't make sense."
"You ever tried it?" Nate glanced over his shoulder and winked at Kyle. "You might like it."
"Fuck you." Kyle laughed and flipped him off.
"Exactly." Nate grinned then turned around and walked up the trail backwards as he beckoned to Kyle, his voice ominous. "Come to the dark side, city boy. Join us."
"Go to hell, you fuckin' fairy."
Nate grinned. "According to preacher Tom that is where I'm going...might as well enjoy the ride."
The smirky grin on Kyle's face faltered a bit. "You really believe that shit?"
"That you're going to hell."
Shrugging, Nate faced forward again. "Maybe."
"And it doesn't bother you?" Kyle asked sincerely. "To think you might go to hell?"
"Can't do anything about it." The lightness was fading from Nate's voice. "It is what it is." He shrugged again. "I am what I am. Ain't much I can do about that. No sense in worrying about something that's out of my hands. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts."
Both men fell silent as they trudged up the steep trail. Kyle adjusted his pack again and stuffed his hands deep into the pockets of his thick jacket.
"Fuck, it's cold." He muttered low, his eyes on Nate's back. The man just grunted and kept moving.
* * * *
"Ha. Told you it was here."
Nate and Kyle broke out of the trees to find the tiny cabin nestled against the thick trunks of the tall evergreens. The place looked abandoned, forgotten. A thick layer of greenish brown moss covered the shingle roof which seemed to sag a bit in the center. Whithered briers wrapped around the small porch railing like dead fingers and grass and weeds stretched up to the bottoms of the windows.
"Nice." Kyle quipped. "Definitely in running with the Plaza. This is what we came up here for?"
"Don't be a wus." Nate smacked Kyle's shoulder. "Come on."
Nate walked through the dead weeds and grass towards the shamble of a cabin. Kyle hesitated then followed with reluctance. He stood back when Nate stepped up on the porch.
"You really trust that thing to hold you?" Kyle asked doubtfully. "The whole fucking place looks like it's about to fall down."
Nate tested the porch then stomped his foot on the weathered planks. "Solid as a rock-" His foot smashed through the porch, nearly dropping him on his ass. He swore sharply and jerked his foot out of the hole.
"Yeah." Kyle lifted his eyebrows. "Solid as a rock."
Nate grabbed the door handle and twisted. The door stuck. He slammed his shoulder against it and it burst open, snapping off a piece of the frame as he stumbled inside.
"Oh god." Kyle groaned and closed his eyes, shaking his head. "Why the hell do I let him talk me into this shit?"
"Get your whiny ass inside." Nate hollered from deep in the gloom and shadows of the cabin.
Groaning again, Kyle stepped up on the porch with caution, testing each board before he put his weight on it. He hopped over the hole Nate had made and entered the cabin. His nose instantly wrinkled at a vague stench that lingered heavily in the air.
"God, did something die in here?"
"Probably." Nate looked around. The place was fucked. He knew it might be a bit shabby after all this time, but he hadn't been expecting this. An old wooden table sat in the center of the floor in what passed as the kitchen area. The wooden counter was badly nicked up from multiple hunting seasons of having deer and elk quartered and cut up on its surface. And now a thin layer of moss was claiming it.
"You're fucking kidding me, right?" Kyle looked at Nate. "We are not staying here."
"Take a look outside, dude." Nate nodded towards the open door. "It's almost dark. And those little white things starting to fall...those ain't fluffy pieces of cotton, bro."
He stepped into the adjoining room. There was a small rock fireplace and an old crudely fashioned wood box still half full of chopped firewood. Across from the fireplace were two homemade cots with old, thin bare mattresses. Nate walked over to one of the beds and dropped his pack on it. Dust plumed up and he swiped at it with his hand, coughing a bit.
"Fuck." Kyle groaned and closed his eyes, shaking his head.
"Suck it up." Nate unfastened the sleeping bag from the top of the pack. "Living in the city's turned you into a pussy. You used to like to rough it."
"Roughing it is one thing." Kyle's face wrinkled with disgust as he glanced around. "But this is just fucking gross."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever." Nate mumbled and nodded at the other cot. "You can take that bed."
Slipping off his pack, Kyle dropped it on the floor and stared at the bed. "I'd rather sit up all night than sleep on that thing." He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans and shifted his feet, shivering. "Probably full of bugs and spiders."
Nate shot him a dull look. "Aww, is little Kyle scared of spidies?"
"Fuck you, man." Kyle grumbled, dancing a little to combat the chill in his body. "That's a legitimate fear. Creepy little fuckers."
Nate chuckled and shook his head. "Good god, what happened to you?"
"What the fuck you mean?" Kyle snapped. "I've never liked spiders. And don't try to shit me, neither did you."
Nate shrugged. "Yeah, when I was like five. But I'm a big boy now."
"Fuck. Whatever." Kyle rolled his eyes and looked around the darkening cabin. "What're we gonna do for light? Flashlights won't last all night."
"I'll build a fire." Nate said, speaking to Kyle like a child. "I know you're scared of the dark too."
Kyle grunted, glanced around then squatted down by his pack. He opened it, dug down inside then took out a bottle of Jack Daniels. "Aww, just the thing to cope with this shithole."
"What is that?" Nate squinted through the dark cabin.
"A litte JD." Kyle grinned and spun off the cap, taking a drink, then snapped his head sideways as a sudden, bright flashlight beam blinded him. "What the fuck, man?"
"You brought jack with you?" Nate said tightly. "You still drink that shit?"
Kyle licked his lips and replaced the cap. "What?" He set the bottle inside the top of his pack. "I'm not allowed to drink now? You my fuckin' daddy?"
Nate stared at him through the darkness, then chuckled.
"What?" Kyle stood up.
"Nothing." Nate mumbled, still grinning. "Just go easy on the sauce, all right?"
Nate looked at him, one eyebrow cocked. "You really have to ask?"
Kyle grinned and shrugged. "You don't like wild Kyle?"
"Not so much." Nate left his pack on the bed and went to the fireplace, squatting down. He used his flashlight to find some old newspapers crammed down the edge of the wood box then twisted them up and tossed them in the fireplace. He grabbed a few pieces of firewood, plucked off the dried out bark and used it as a substitute for kindling to get the fire going, then tossed on the small chunks of dry wood.
In just a few minutes, the fire was blazing, lighting up the small cabin. Nate looked at Kyle smugly. "Now ain't you glad you got a hillbilly homo to look after you?"
"Fuck." Kyle knelt before the flames and warmed his hands. "If it wasn't for the hillbilly homo I wouldn't even be here."
Nate chuckled. "You're welcome."
"Ok, mountain man, you built a fire. So what're we gonna eat?" Kyle asked smartly. "I'm fucking starving. Tell me you brought some chow."
Nate grinned and shrugged. "We could find whatever died and roast it over the open flame."
"You are a sick bastard." Kyle chuckled.
"Yeah, well...the bastard part's right." He laughed and returned to the cot. "Actually so is the sick part."
Kyle laughed and nodded his agreement.
"No, don't worry. I brought sustenance."
"Not a bunch of fag food, is it?" Kyle rubbed his hands together before the fire.
Nate chuckled. "I may be the homo, but you're the one living down in lala land where they stuff you full of fag food. I wouldn't touch that shit with a ten foot pole."
Kyle chuffed and shook his head.
Unzipping an outer pouch on the side of his pack, Nate tugged out a large ziploc bag of dried meat. He returned to the fireplace and sat down with his back to the warm rocks. Kyle glanced at him as he opened the bag, took out a few strips of meat and offered it to him.
"It's jerky, dumb ass." Nate said. "What do you think?"
Kyle took the strips of dried meat from Nate. "I know what the fuck it is." He bit into a piece and twisted off a chunk with effort. "I meant...is that what you brought us to eat? Your version of sustenance?"
Kyle gnawed on the chunk of jerky as Nate bit off a small piece and seemed to chew it with more ease. "It ain't fag food." He smirked. "And it'll keep you from starving."
Biting off another chunk, Kyle grumbled unintelligibly.
"This wood is pretty dry." Nate spoke around a chunk of jerky. "There may not be enough to hold through the night."
"We won't freeze to death." Nate assured. "But it may be one cold ass night nonetheless."
"Great." Kyle muttered. "I fucking hate the cold. That's why I live in Southern California. Thanks a lot for dragging my ass up into your winter wonderland."
Nate grinned. "Well, if you get too cold...we could cuddle. Zip our sleeping bags together."
"Fuck." Kyle shivered and laughed. "You just keep your homo ass in your own sleeping bag."
"Just an option." Nate shrugged. "Might be an option worth considering here in a bit."
"Yeah. I heard ya." Kyle snapped with a clear edge to his voice.
Nate cocked an eyebrow. "What's with you?" He asked. "I was just fucking with you. Why so touchy all of the sudden?"
"Nothing. Sorry." Kyle mumbled. "It's just...I'm not exactly having the time of my life, ok?"
"Pardon me." Nate ducked his chin down into the collar of his jacket. "Next time I'll leave your sissy ass in the city."
"Yeah, well, thank you. I'd appreciate it very much."
"Fuckin' pussy." Nate muttered low.
Nate raised his head slowly and looked at Kyle soberly. Kyle stared back him, eyes hard. Both guys burst out laughing.
"You got me there." Nate grinned.
"Fuck." Kyle shook his head, chuckling. "Why can't I get pissed at you? You drag me out here into this godforsaken place, make me freeze my ass off walking a thousand miles into the fucking mountains to spend the night in a broken down shack...I should be kicking your ass right about now."
"As if." Nate grinned. "Besides, you didn't have much of an ass to freeze off. So quit complaining."
"Fuck you." Kyle said. "I have a fine ass. Just ask the beach babes."
"Ask a chic?" Nate scooted up a bit. "Dude, a girl ain't no reliable judge of whether a man's got a fine ass. She's too busy trying to get the guy to look at her ass. Only another guy can judge the quality of your buttocks."
Kyle laughed. "Whatever, queer-bo. I ain't showing you my ass."
"Don't have to. I already know it ain't impressive."
Kyle chuckled and shook his head. "Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I know I got it going on."
"In your dreams, buddy."
"In your dreams."
Nate laughed and watched as Kyle sat down against the other side of the fireplace and huddled low in his jacket. Problem was...Kyle was right. He was the boy of Nate's dreams, the only player in his fantasies. That day, when they were fourteen and Nate had kissed him, Nate knew then and there that he was in love with Kyle and always would be. But Kyle wasn't like that. He was hardcore heterosexual and Nate knew it. He wasn't about to throw away an awesome friendship by telling the guy he loved him and longed for him like no one else.
"Tomorrow." Nate spoke low. "When we get back down to civilization...I'll treat you to the biggest, fanciest breakfast you've ever had. My way of apologizing for this shitty trip."
Kyle smiled, his face still stuffed down into his jacket. "Come on, man. It ain't so shitty."
"The fuck it ain't." Nate laughed.
"Ok, so maybe it is." Kyle chuckled then lifted his head and looked at Nate through the flickering firelight. "But I'm with you, man. And you can make even the shittiest trip fun."
"You're telling me you're having fun?"
Kyle shrugged and grinned. "It could be worse."
Kyle laughed. "I don't know, actually. But it can always be worse, right?"
"Well, I mean, we could be stuck without a fire and I would have to snuggle up to your fruity ass to stay warm." He glanced at Nate and grinned. "Now that would be worse."
"Uh huh." Nate pressed his lips together and smiled. "Don't kid yourself, city boy. You'd love it."
"Maybe if you had tits."
"I got tits." Nate smirked.
"Fuck." Kyle chuckled. "I like 'em a bit softer, squeezable, ya know."
"Whatever." Nate shrugged. "Don't know what you're missing, bro. Ain't nothing like sucking on a guy's chest."
"As a matter of fact, there ain't nothing quite like sucking a guy's-"
"Oh fuck. Shut up!" Kyle yelled. "Over share!"
Nate pressed his head back against the fireplace and laughed out loud. He wiped tears from his eyes and shook his head. "Oh god, you're so easy."
"Yeah." Kyle grinned, reached over, grabbed his pack and dragged it closer then took out the bottle of Jack. He looked at Nate - and winked. "Don't you wish, baby."
Nate chuckled and ducked his head lower.
Don't you wish, baby.
Yeah, he did wish...more than he would ever admit to Kyle.