It was close to midnight when they finally stopped to make camp. There were four wagons in all, the other three carrying two or three occupants each, and two men riding on horseback. Nick’s mind drifted back to childhood, watching Todd ride through his village a few times a year, watching him grow from a skinny boy of twelve to the powerful man he was now.
A fire was built in the center of the wagon circle, and a meal was prepared. The night air was chilled and damp and Nick’s clothes, more suited for the southern climate, weren’t keeping him very warm. Nick wouldn’t have minded sitting near the fire to eat, even if he had to listen to John Ruger and his friends tell whatever stories they told one another. Todd, however, took his food and headed back to their wagon, so Nick followed.
He tried hard not to shiver through dinner. Everyone else had thicker coats and heavier clothes, much more prepared for the climate they were heading into than Nick. Glancing wistfully at the fire and its warmth, Nick huddled over his plate. He’d never dare ask for another coat. He was a slave. Who cared if he was cold? Slaves didn’t count in this world.
“You have any heavier clothes?”
Shaking his head, Nick murmured, “No, Todd.”
Todd set his plate down hard on the ground and stood abruptly. Nick flinched and looked up. Reaching into the wagon, Todd pulled out a heavy dark green pullover shirt. In his other hand he carried a few bottles and two glasses.
“Here, put this on. It’ll keep you warm enough for now. When we get home you’re getting the right clothes. I’m not spending the rest of my life watching you shiver.” He set the bottles and glasses down and resettled onto the ground beside Nick. Dark, amber liquid was poured from one of the bottles. “You ever had whisky before?” He started to hold the small glass out to Nick, but when Nick shook his head no, Todd chuckled. “Okay then. Not having this right now.” Grinning, Todd downed the liquid himself. Crossing his eyes, he shook his head as he swallowed. “Here, try this instead. We’ll start you off slow and work you up to the really rotgut stuff later.”
Nick laughed and took the small bottle Todd offered. He took a whiff; it didn’t smell bad. Nick took a short sip of the bottle’s contents. He pulled the bottle away and looked at it. “What is this?”
Todd had been watching him the entire time, looking almost boyish and hopeful. “Eh, you didn’t spit it back at me, so that’s good. Beer. You never had beer before?”
“No. Just water.”
“You like it?”
“Yeah, I do. It’s different. Sorta bitter at first.” He’d pulled the heavier shirt over his head; it was thick and made of a woven material that was warm and soft. Breathing in deeply, he was at once surrounded by the combined smells of gun oil, leather, and something he recognized from sitting beside Todd all day that was uniquely Todd. The beer made his throat warm, but it was the scent of Todd all around him that made warmth spread in delicate tendrils from his belly to his chest.
“Good, ’cause I don’t do bread and water. We do what we do and keep the good folks in the towns and villages safe at night, but they’re damn well feeding us good.”
Nick had no idea what it was Todd referred to. He’d thought since Todd and his father, and now Nick, were hunters, they’d simply track down and catch their own food if they needed to. Nodding, Nick drank his beer and finished his food. It was stew—tasty, hot, and filled with chunks of meat and vegetables in a heavy broth.
After mopping the remains of the stew from his plate with bread, Todd leaned back and grinned. “I want more. You want more?”
Looking up, surprised and knowing his face showed it, Nick blurted out, “I am allowed more?”
Todd snorted. “Yes, Nick, you are.” He held out a hand for Nick to pull up on. Once righted, Todd’s hand released his, moved to his neck, and patted gently a few times before he turned and went back to the fire.
The men there snidely asked why Nick was still wearing clothes and why they were wasting time eating. Todd ignored them. As he turned around, heading back to their wagon, Todd’s eyes caught Nick’s. He smirked and shook his head.
They resettled behind the wagon, out of sight of the others, and finished eating in silence. Then, leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees, Todd rubbed at the back of his neck for a few minutes.
“So, uh, you ever been with a woman?”
Nick stared at a point between his feet and shook his head no.
Todd shifted a bit. Nick thought he sounded nervous. “A man?”
“No.” His voice came out barely above a whisper.
“Got any preference?”
Nick drew in a deep breath and looked up at Todd, who wore that boyish, hopeful expression again. “I like watching girls sometimes, but they’re sort of skinny, no muscle. I think I look at men more.”
Todd nodded and seemed satisfied with those answers. It wasn’t as if Nick had a choice. He’d been bound to another male since he was five years old. Whether he preferred men or women as sexual partners was never a consideration. Maybe he’d always been that way, or maybe he’d just trained himself to like men more. He didn’t know. It didn’t really matter.
When Todd reached out and curled warm, strong fingers around his neck, Nick leaned into the touch. He decided it was something Todd liked to do, touch him that way, and it appeared to Nick the gesture pleased Todd and made him relax. Nick had decided back in the village, the first time Todd had touched him that way, that he liked it. Not even twenty-four hours later and Nick was craving those tiny touches and counting the minutes between them, hoping for another one.
This time Todd leaned closer and pulled Nick toward him. As Todd’s lips brushed the side of Nick’s hair, he moaned soft and low. Pushing his nose through Nick’s hair for a few seconds, Todd pulled him in even tighter, nuzzling his cheek against Nick’s, breathing in deep. “You smell good.” Todd’s hand moved from his neck up into Nick’s hair, turning his head toward Todd.
Todd pressed his lips to Nick’s, gently licking his tongue along Nick’s lower lip. It startled him at first when Todd’s tongue slipped between his lips and into his mouth. Todd’s other arm wound around Nick’s waist and gently, slowly pulled Nick completely against him. Todd’s tongue glided around his own and coaxed Nick’s tongue into his mouth. Todd sucked lightly on Nick’s tongue for a few seconds before pulling away. He looked at Nick, seemed to be memorizing every bit of Nick’s face before pulling him back in for another kiss. This time Nick mimicked Todd’s actions and sucked Todd’s tongue.
When Todd pulled away for the second time, they were both panting, and Nick was whimpering softly. Fingers raked tenderly through his hair and Todd kissed his nose and then his cheek, murmuring in his ear, “You taste so good. I’ve been waiting forever to do that.”
Nick felt a flush creep over him. When Todd’s arm tightened even more around his middle, Nick leaned his head down so his face was pressed to the crook of Todd’s neck. “I don’t… I’ve never….” This was so embarrassing.
“It’s okay, Nicky. You’ll learn. You’ll be just fine. Just us now.” Todd rested his chin on the top of Nick’s head and held him tightly. Nick had never in his life been held—not like this. He’d been held down and beaten a few times, but never had anyone simply held him. When he pressed closer and relaxed more against Todd, the other man drew in a deep breath and let it out slow. Nick liked this and he sensed Todd did too.
Laughter from the direction of the fire made them both start and pull back from each other. Laughing nervously, Todd ruffled Nick’s hair. “We’ll save the rest for when we can be alone.” He stood and stretched, throwing the cover back on the wagon’s opening. “Just us now,” he repeated. Nick nodded because he had the feeling he was supposed to respond somehow. “C’mon, Nicky. Get some sleep.”