They’d been hiking for days. The trip began with a torrential downpour that led to their tent and half their supplies being washed away in a flash flood on the first night and it disintegrated from there as the heat and insect swarms grew worse. The map, compass, and bug spray had all been lost and both of their moods had quickly deteriorated as the days passed.
All they had going for them was that their food had been hanging from a tree when the water swept through, so they weren’t starving, although they’d had to ration the food in case the worst case scenario happened and they got lost or it took longer for them to reach civilization than they planned.
The worst case scenario had happened.
It was a shitty way to spend their thirtieth anniversary. Sure, they’d never really bothered with a marriage license or any of that, but this weekend was exactly thirty years since Stanton saw Ward bent over a pool table, trying to make an impossible shot. He’d frozen, beer bottle still at his lips, at the sight of the stranger’s lean back muscles rippling under the black T-shirt he wore. The crack of the 8 ball had felt like a starter pistol, jolting Stanton’s heart into an uneven rhythm. And when Ward had turned and caught his glance with those blue, blue eyes? Stanton was a goner.
Now, he stared at that same back—mostly hidden by the pack on his back—as Ward walked ahead of him on the trail. The shoulders were a little wider now, the waist a little thicker, but Stanton would recognize it anywhere. Even when it was tense with anger.
They hadn’t spoken in hours after a stupid ass fight about whether or not Ward had managed to get a message through on the satellite phone and if they should stay put or keep going. Ward had opted to keep going and Stanton had been stewing for a couple of miles as he tromped behind. His feet hurt, his back ached, his stomach rumbled, and he probably looked—and smelled—like a mangy dog. But the memories of their first night together—a blur of hard fucking and soft kisses—had blunted his anger.
As he opened his mouth to tease Ward about something to break the foul mood, the soft, muddy ground beneath Ward’s feet gave way. For one heart-stopping second he was frozen in mid-air, and then he was gone.
“Ward!” Stanton bellowed, terror tightening his voice as he dropped to the ground and inched forward. His stomach churned as he reached the edge and looked over, his heart thumping with fear that he’d see his lover’s mangled body on the rocks below. Instead his was met with the sight of Ward’s anxious blue eyes peering up at him from a mud-streaked face. He clung to a tree root, his knuckles white with tension.
“Thank fuck,” Stanton whispered, carefully working his pack off before bracing himself and reaching down.
“Help me,” Ward pleaded, his voice shaking.
“Just grab my hand,” Stanton coaxed. “Brace your legs against the side and I’ll pull you up. Trust me.”
Ward froze for a moment, then carefully loosened one hand and stretched it up to Stanton. His knuckles were bleeding and his face was white and stricken. Their fingers slipped at first—Ward’s skin slick with mud and sweat—but eventually they got a solid grip on each other. Inch by inch, Stanton’s muscles screaming with agony at the strain, he pulled his lover up.
They fell to the earth, scrabbling through the dirt and vegetation to get further away from the edge. Stanton collapsed on Ward’s chest, feeling their hearts thumping in an erratic rhythm.
Breathing hard, Stanton closed his eyes and rested his forehead against Ward’s chin. The soft scratch of his facial hair tickled the skin there and the warm puff of his breath was reassuring.
“Don’t ever fucking do that to me again,” Stanton said through gritted teeth. “Never, you hear me?”
“What’ll you do if I mess up again?” Ward asked softly, a hint of a smile in his voice. Stanton claimed his lover’s mouth in a hard, angry kiss. The familiarity and relief made his eyes water.
After he’d reassured himself that Ward was safe, he rose up on his elbows and looked down into the face of the man he’d nearly lost.
“Push you off the damn cliff myself,” he said with a growl.
I went a little over the word count again, but it’s very hard to push someone over a cliff and rescue them in fewer words!
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I look forward to seeing you next Monday!