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If You Need To, Keep Time On Me

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In the weeks after our trip down the Cahulawassee River, I tried to return to a normal life. Time went by and I found myself missing Lewis with a burning need that would not leave me. I would always miss my friend after our trips, but the feeling was worse this time, deeper.

I wanted to call him, but I didn’t think I could get the words out over the telephone. I wrote him a letter instead. I told him about a little cabin in the middle of nowhere where we could spend some time alone. We could fish and hunt and be outdoors without, well… Usually Lewis was the one inviting me on these trips, asking me to come along on whatever his latest adventure was, but I painted a pretty picture. I knew I wouldn’t need to ask. Lewis would come.

*

A week later, a postcard arrived in the mail addressed to Ed Gentry. Lewis didn’t need to sign his name; I recognized his familiar scrawling penmanship. The postcard had only three words on it other than my address: I’ll be there.

*

I was the first one to arrive at the cabin, a small, traditional wooden structure located in a little clearing among the long leaf-pines. The car’s tires crunched on the gravel as I pulled up to cabin. It looked small without being claustrophobic - cozy. I felt it would do nicely.

I took in my duffel bag and a camping lantern, along with some basic supplies. No bow; I didn’t think we would need one this time.

I was exhausted from a full day’s work and the drive on top of that. I decided to lie down and rest my eyes while I waited for my friend to arrive. Some indeterminate amount of time later, I could feel someone watching me. I stirred, opening my eyes and seeing that it was Lewis who had snuck up on me.

“You,” I said, sublimely happy to see his face. I knew right away that it had been the right thing to do to write him the letter.

“It’s me,” Lewis grinned. He squeezed my arm. “I’m going to make you dinner. Wake up.”

I decided to rest for a few minutes more as Lewis unpacked food in the small kitchen. It was the sound and smell of the skillet sizzling that woke me up.

He seized me by the shoulders in a mighty hug once I climbed out of the bed.

Dinner was superb. It was no surprise that Lewis’ talents and interests had led him in this direction; I knew he’d been trying open-air cooking among other things. He was always trying something new, pushing himself in some way.

All through dinner, I could tell that Lewis was itching to get outside and see the land. I convinced him to wait until the morning when the sun was up and things were born anew. Mostly because I was tired; partly because I wanted to selfishly keep Lewis to myself.

We sat cross-legged on the bed, and I listened as Lewis talked.

*

Lewis was always taking up new sports, mostly ones he could do alone, and his newest focus was martial arts.

I took notice of him shadowboxing, and I watched him from across the room. He was quick, his fists cutting through the air. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.

Lewis’ muscles flexed as he dodged his imaginary opponent. His physique was excellent; he was a strong and attractive man regardless of any of my personal inclinations.

I noticed that he was favoring his left leg, a result of his broken limb from our canoeing trip, no doubt. I was pleased to see that he didn’t let it hold him back too much, and another man might not have noticed.

Lewis finally caught on to me watching him. He finished off with a flair and approached me, perching on the edge of the bed.

“So tell me where that lake is,” Lewis started.

I sat up on my elbows. “For a swim? Or you feel like fishing?”

“Why does it have to be one or the other?”

We unpacked the fishing rods from the car and hiked about half a mile west of the cabin to the small lake I’d seen on the map. I thought we might start with that, but Lewis was the first to dive into the water after stripping off his clothing. I followed.

I floated on my back in the cool, still water. Soon the lake would be too cold to swim in as the seasons shifted.

I felt something touch my fingers, and I was startled, but when I looked to my side I realized it was only Lewis floating in the water beside me. He too was on drifting on his back, limbs spread out, basking in the sun.

I closed my eyes and floated on.

*

“This is funny,” I said, messing with the portable AM/FM radio. The old thing had been working just fine up until this afternoon. The power switch seemed to not do anything at all. I pressed a few other buttons and rotated a knob or two, but nothing appeared to work. The radio only emitted a low buzzing sound.

I opened up the radio, shaking the batteries into my hand.

“What is it?” Lewis asked from over my shoulder.

“The radio. It’s busted.”

Lewis took it from my hands and began adjusting the antenna.

“It worked fine last night,” he said, stumped. Unable to restore the radio to working order, Lewis set it down with a frown. Our only form of entertainment and source of news was gone.

*

A massive storm hit that night that shook the cabin down to its foundation.

Lightning illuminated the cabin, and the sound of the wind was deafening. Rain leaked in at the edges of the windowpane.

“This came out of nowhere,” I said to Lewis. “Yesterday’s weather report said nothing but blue skies today.” It must have been a fluke.

We stayed up talking again, almost the whole night this time. Despite the storm outside, Lewis and I chatted with a closeness we’d missed, a closeness we hadn’t seemed to possess in years.

“Do you remember sneaking out of the window on Saturday nights to go to the drive-in? I would sit down the street in the Buick and wait for you.”

“I almost broke my leg,” I cringed. “I didn’t sneak so much as fall out.” He remembered that part more fondly than I did. The part I remembered with the most affection was the sight of Lewis in the red Buick, leaning over the side of the car with one of his madcap grins as I limped my way over to him.

A great flash of lightning lit up the window, followed by the sound of thunder. It rolled and rattled the windowpane.

“That was… what movie? You knew all of them.”

The Bridge on the River Kwai.”

“There's always got to be a river, huh?” he asked.

“Seems like it.”

There was another bright flash of light, and the cabin shook. It felt like the whole earth was shaking.

“The hell is that?”

Lewis and I went to the window. The smell of sulfur filled the air and what appeared to be meteorites fell from the sky. They were small, raining down in a visible shower, and rocky debris scattered the land. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

One chunk landed on the hood of my car with a loud crunch.

In the distance we saw an orange glow burning in the sky, though neither one of us had any clue what it was.

*

Two more days passed and two more bad storms hit before we decided to check in with the Forest Service to see about getting some news, maybe a bag of ice.

After the winding drive through the forest, we finally came up to the wooden bridge that led to the front of the park. We crossed the small stream and approached the log cabin. It appeared to be empty.

Lewis jiggled the door handle and forced the door open. We made our way inside, and it felt more abandoned than empty.

“Now how about this?” Lewis was already over at the forest ranger’s desk, searching the abandoned post. After checking the phone and hearing nothing, not even a dial tone, he picked up a newspaper and held it up to show me. “What date did we come out here?”

“Friday.”

“Friday the what?”

“The 8th of October.”

“Look here, Ed,” Lewis said, laying out the newspaper on the counter. I followed him and looked to the date on the newspaper - October 15. The newspaper was a few days old by now.

“October 15, so? We’ve been here for a week, at least.”

Lewis moved his hand so I could see the headline underneath.

SOUTHEASTERN US EVACUATED AFTER MASSIVE METEOR STORMS

“How can that happen?” I asked. It sounded incredible. “The entire Southeast?”

Lewis had no answer.

By the time we finished reading the newspaper article, something in Lewis seemed to flip into gear. He found an empty milk crate and started loading it full of supplies.

Lewis piled stuff into the crate, pausing to look up at me. “Don’t just watch me,” he said, although he’d have been okay if I had done just that. “Look for food.”

I nodded, obeying his order. Sure enough, there was a small kitchenette for the Forest Service on the other side of the Ranger Station. I dug through the cabinets and pulled out a tin of beans, two jars of peanut butter, two loaves of bread, and three cans of Campbell soup, packing them all into a brown paper bag.

I checked the refrigerator - it was bare except for a half-empty six-pack of longnecks. I started to close the door but on second thought, I grabbed those, too, stowing them in my bag.

By the time I got back to Lewis, he had gathered up every item that could possibly be of use. He nodded at me and we took our things back to the car.

The ride back to our cabin was silent. We unpacked Lewis’ Jeep and I noticed for the first time he had brought his bow; it was sitting on the backseat.

Lewis set up his atlas on the rickety table inside the cabin, along with a flashlight and the newspaper. He started comparing a map of the forest to the state map.

“If they shut the roads down, we’re not going anywhere, even if we try.” I listened. “We’ll need to start rationing food. And hunting what we can.”

Lewis was meant for this, I, not so much.

“Surely they don’t mean everything is closed,” I said.

“Read it yourself,” Lewis said, pushing the newspaper toward me.

I thought about what we had seen in the newspaper. The article had been days old but had conveyed a sense of danger. What else had happened? What were we missing because of the broken radio? My imagination had always been worse than reality.

“Should we go back? What if Martha survived?”

“What if there’s not anything to go back to?”

Something seemed to loom ahead of us, something large and mysterious.

What we figured, eventually, is that it was damn near close to the Apocalypse. Everyone seemed to treat it like such.

Days turned into weeks.

Lewis insisted on working the land for our survival in addition to hunting and catching fish. We would plant corn and squash and radishes. Lewis taught me how to forage for wild mushrooms and blackberries, and how to hunt for wild ginseng, rare but valuable.

With the bow and arrow, Lewis had always had a steadier hand than mine, though sometimes he insisted it was not so. He was ten times more likely to come back with a pair of rabbits in hand than I was, although that had been getting harder lately even for him, but he always asserted that I try.

I felt I was better in the garden.

*

The sun was going down, so I sat on the front steps to the cabin with a bottle of water and looked out at the few acres of land we’ve started to call our own. Lewis was on his hands and knees gathering various roots and stems: lavender, mint, sage. He had the crazy idea he could take some cuttings and expand the size of the herb garden in just a short time.

I watched him work. I noticed a shadow pass over the garden; I looked up and saw a bluebird. It felt like a sign.

Lewis finally saw me and wrapped up his labor. He joined me on the steps, sitting beside me. He set his afternoon’s work beside him on the ground so he could wipe his dirty palms off on his pants. Lewis reached for my water bottle and stole a sip, handing it back to me with a smile.

If there was anything good about the end of the world, it was that Lewis no longer felt like he needed to wear a shirt.

“Do you ever think of home?”

“This is home,” I said, meaning the cabin, our little plot of land, the life we’ve built together out of all this death. Meaning Lewis. “Least it is now.”

Lew looked surprised, but then he leaned forward and took my face in his hands and kissed me until I forgot the world was ending.

*

Some nights I was able to forget the horrible things that had happened to us on the Cahulawassee River; other nights I woke up to horrible memories of dead things, or things coming to life under the water. Those nights I couldn’t take it, and those were the nights that I couldn’t manage to fall asleep or even close my eyes.

I had the dream again - the same one I always did - and startled myself awake. I moved nearer to Lewis, who lifted up his arm without a word. I crawled into place beside him.

It wasn’t a moment later that I started crying, trying to stop the tears in my eyes, trying to stop the heaving of my chest.

Lewis just held me tighter.

I reached out to take his hand.

On all of those camping trips, we had been close, but not like this. I felt like he knew me now, really knew me, inside and out. More than that he knew, he had been on that same river in Georgia, he had witnessed the things I had seen, or most of them, anyway.

“Lew,” I said out loud.

Lewis ran his thumb across my cheekbone, a gesture that felt unbearably intimate.

“I have you,” was all he said, and I knew it. I knew he did.

*

I reached for my pipe and placed it in my lips out of habit. As I did, the gold wedding band on my left hand caught the light.

I missed Martha, but this was a relic from a life that was long behind me. The more Lewis took my hand, the less I liked seeing the flash of gold on my finger. I couldn’t stand to look at it. I couldn’t stand to remember.

I opened the pouch that contained my tobacco, and to my dismay, it was empty. Disappointed, I placed the pipe down on the table.

I looked again at my hand. After a long moment, I pulled my wedding ring from my finger and set it down beside the pipe.

I wouldn’t need either of them anymore.

*

Lewis started teaching me things; how to tell the time of day from the sun, how to tie different knots, how to build a fire out of basically nothing. I learned whatever he had to offer me, studying with a resolute determination. I was a city boy. I had no chance out here without Lewis. While I would never be like him, I could at least learn some of his tricks.

The world was changed; it stormed with an alarming frequency, sometimes rain, sometimes something stronger. We did what we had to get by.

I followed Lewis into the forest on a bright afternoon. I found it enjoyable to watch him stalking through the forest, a quiet, creeping thing. There was so much to learn, things that came naturally to men like Lewis.

We happened upon a young buck. Lewis quietly motioned to me and I raised the bow. I took an arrow and put it on the string of the bow in as swift a motion as possible.

The deer bowed its head, and I took aim, and let the arrow loose. It struck the deer in the chest and its legs stiffened, falling into the brush.

I tried not to grin too hard, lowering the bow.

Lewis came up behind me and clapped me on the shoulders with enthusiasm, beaming and proud of his protege.

“That’s more like it!”

Lewis showed me how to pull the arrow from the deer without damaging too much of the meat. I looked away when he brushed his thumb against the feathers, reminded too much of the wound to my own skin.

He carried the deer back to camp on his shoulders.

“We’re getting along, aren’t we?” I was pleased with myself, and hoped Lewis was too. Maybe we could get through this.

*

The night I killed the deer, Lewis fucked me for the first time.

I couldn’t tell which he liked more, the fact that we would be eating meat, or the fact that I had been responsible for the kill myself. I felt Lewis’ eyes on me, taking me in the same way I usually studied him.

I wanted him, wanted Lewis the same way I always did, with everything in me whether I knew it or not. There was no better person to be with at the end of the world than him.

I pushed Lewis against the door of the cabin, kissing him with all the force I could muster. Sex didn’t always interest Lewis, but I wanted to make Lewis happy, something inside me bound up with the need to please him.

Lewis always tasted sweet. No matter how much I kissed him like I needed him as much as air, he found a way to temper my fevered passion, slowing everything down and showing me how impatient I was. Lewis kissed like we had all the time in the world. His hands on me were firm but gentle, his kiss slow and mellow.

Still impatient, I brought our hips together, and I could feel his developing interest. I started to go down on my knees, but thought better of it, unbuttoning Lewis’ shirt first. I pushed it from his shoulders to reveal his chest.

I had never done this before. I had never wanted to, and after our experience down in Georgia, I thought I never would. I was in good hands. I trusted him.

I took in the sight of him for as long as I thought I could get away with it and then I knelt down. I unzipped his pants and his member sprang free. I wrapped my hand around it, for the sake of familiarity, before leaning in.

I swallowed his cock, bracing my hands on Lewis’ thick thighs and pressing my nose into the dark, curly hair surrounding the base of it. My senses were overwhelmed with the scent of Lewis, and I thought, this wasn’t so bad.

“Oh,” Lewis moaned. I never knew his voice could go so high. “That’s it,” he said, and I felt a stirring to work harder, spurred by Lewis’ encouragement. The sound of his voice turned me on, and I thought there might not be a single thing I wouldn’t do to hear that satisfaction in Lewis Medlock’s voice.

I let Lewis do what he wanted. I wanted everything he wanted. How a thing could feel safe and thrilling all at once was a mystery to me.

Lewis fucked my mouth until he came, one hand fisted in my hair. He seemed embarrassed, but I got up to spit the load out before returning to kiss him soundly. Lewis kissed the taste of his orgasm from my mouth, salty and bitter, before walking me backward toward the bed.

Lewis playfully pushed me down. Lewis had big hands, hands that made me feel like I was being touched by someone else for the first time. He moved them over my skin in such a way that I wasn’t sure if he was learning the shape of my body or getting his hands on familiar terrain.

The way he held me made me feel more like a man, somehow. I wondered how many times he was destined to save my life. We kept saving each other, didn’t we?

“I want to touch you,” Lewis told me, a hand on my belt buckle. He got rid of the belt in one swift motion.

I pressed the palm of my hand against his chest, feeling his heartbeat under my skin. It was a steady thump.

Lewis peeled off my pants and kneeled before me. He nuzzled my erection, my cock springing to attention. Lewis slid his devilish tongue across the tip of it and then took me into his mouth, pressing down further until his nose was pressed against the dark blonde hair at the base of it.

When he pulled off, I watched him suck two fingers into his mouth, wetting them, before slipping one inside me.

My eyes flew shut. I sucked in a breath as he worked a finger inside me; it was unlike anything I’d ever felt. He added another finger; I felt so stretched open on two I didn’t need a third.

After teasing me to a point of his own amusement, Lewis replaced his fingers with his member. I could feel his breath on my cheek as he slid inside me.

Lewis began to move, fucking me, holding me down. I shook with Lewis inside me. He was powerful, and I could feel it. I could feel every inch of him.

Lewis held his strong body against my own, kept my hands pinned to the lumpy mattress as he kissed my mouth and made me his.

“Please, Lew,” I begged. I didn’t know what I was begging for.

Lewis wrapped one of those sturdy hands around my cock, pumping his fist as he fucked me through an orgasm.

Lewis seemed satisfied after I came, and he wiped his hand. He grabbed the wooden frame of the bed with his free hand and began moving faster. The bedframe squeaked as he thrust again and again, deeper each time.

Finally, his thrusts became staccato, and I could sense him nearing the edge. Lewis leaned his forehead against mine and came inside me with a strangled gasp. He didn’t move right away, but stayed put. I skimmed my hands across the broad expanse of his back.

Lewis eventually pulled out and laid on his side, eyes focused on me through his dark eyelashes.

I didn’t know what to say to him, so I reached up and stole a kiss instead. I had always cared about Lewis, but now it seemed like I deserved that right, in some way.

Lewis drew me nearer as we kissed, his mouth saying the things he couldn’t find the words for against my lips.

*

The next morning, Lewis gave me no time to sleep in. I felt the bedsheets stir and out of the corner of my eye I saw Lewis rise. He stretched his arms, shaking off sleep, and I could see the muscles shift underneath his skin. His shoulders were broad and tan. Lewis dropped to the floor of the cabin and started to do push-ups.

He must have done about fifty, pushing his body up with practiced ease, barely breaking a sweat.

“Rise and shine,” Lewis said to me. He stood beside the bed naked but unashamed. Lewis had the body of a Greek god, an Adonis or Apollo. I realized I subconsciously hiked the sheets higher up around my own waist and let them go, hoping Lewis hadn’t noticed the gesture.

I closed my eyes and pretended to go back to sleep. Suddenly, my legs felt cool and I could feel the air against my skin. Lewis had stripped the sheets from the bed, yanking them away from me. I let out a groan.

Lewis was on top of me in an instant, covering my body with his own. He kissed me, lips as warm as the sunshine streaming in through the window.

“Got to do this the hard way, hmm?” Lewis asked me.

I grinned at his teasing. We moved together, and I slid a hand up his muscled bicep.

We had nothing but time. So Lewis spent his learning my body, mapping my skin with his fingers, running them across every freckle and scar. His hands moved over every inch of my bare skin and I felt him committing the touch to his memory.

After a lurid kiss, Lewis flipped us over in one easy move, so that his back was flat on the bed and I was astride his thighs. He got in a solid grope before I sat up.

For once, he seemed to be taking me in, instead of the other way around. I watched him watch me.

“Can I fuck you like this?” Lewis asked, arching his hips off the bed and into mine.

I could tell that my face flushed at his question but I nudged my hips forward. I nodded.

Lewis was starting to grow a thick crop of stubble. It didn’t make him any less handsome. I leaned down to press a kiss to his jaw.

I felt Lewis’ cock nudging at my entrance. He thrust forward, and he was inside me. I clung to his biceps.

Lewis’ capable hands gripped my hips, his thumb pressing against my hipbone, and he rocked his hips into mine. “Come on, Ed. Ride me.” Lewis rocked his hips up harder, and I could feel him inside me, hard, firm.

I thought of the way he fucked me last night, working my hips faster, rolling them against his. My hands scrambled at Lewis’ chest as I reached for some kind of leverage.

Lewis let me control the pace, the intensity. I understood his craving for dominance when he allowed me to fuck myself on his cock.

“Touch me, Lewis, come on,” I urged. He grinned and shook his head.

I groaned, half from his antics and half from the way his cock was splitting me apart. He looked smug, sweat lining his chiseled brow.

Lewis laughed that high-pitched laugh of his and drove his prick in harder when he realized I was faltering. He slid out torturously slow before punctuating his words with thrusts.

“You’re going to come from my cock,” he commanded. “Nothin’ else.”

I worked harder. With no help from Lewis, I came with an embarrassing whimper, one I didn’t want to admit to making.

Lewis looked up pleased anyway, his eyes half-lidded and dark. His hand went to that spot on my side, the ugly scar from our previous trip. Both of us bore scars as memories of our time on the river, seen and unseen. He caressed the pink-white skin with a sort of fascination.

When Lewis was finished observing me, I took up a spot beside him, settling my head on the pillow.

“I think I’d like to go back to sleep,” I said, exhausted. Why was any activity with Lewis Medlock a workout?

“Don’t waste the day,” my lover said.

“We have nothing but days to waste.”

“Suit yourself,” Lewis said, and he climbed out of the bed.

I watched with one eye open as Lewis performed his usual stretches and then put on a pair of pants before I drifted back off to sleep.

*

The rains came, and they came more frequently than ever. One foggy night it began to hail, hailstones the size of chicken eggs dropping onto the roof. The sound was deafening; the wind and rain and hail beat noisily against the wooden cabin.

I moved closer to Lewis out of habit, and he tugged me to him before I had to ask him for any kind of closeness. He pulled the sheet up over our heads as if we were children playing games, leaving us both shrouded in in the dark.

We didn’t sleep for a long time, just held each other in the darkness and listened to the sound of the weather. Eventually Lewis and I fell asleep, but I couldn’t tell you who was the first to succumb to the night.

*

It was still raining the next morning. I stayed in the bed and watched as Lewis looked out the window with a worried face.

“It’s rained every day for the past week,” he said, his brow set. “We haven’t been able to hunt in days, and if this keeps up, that’s not liable to change.”

“We’ll figure it out,” I said, cautiously optimistic. “You always do.”

Lewis didn’t eat anything the rest of the day, even when I pulled out a handful of trail mix to snack on for dinner.

“You think I won’t notice,” I told him, only mildly annoyed. I passed him the trail mix.

Lewis huffed but took a few handfuls at my behest. It wouldn’t do him any good not to take care of himself. If either of the two of us were to go without, it should have been me.

He chewed the trail mix thoughtfully.

“What are you thinking?”

“We need to find a way to collect the rainwater,” he said. “We should have been doing that all along.”

“Whatever you say,” I agreed.

We waited the rain out. The sky finally turned orange, and for the first time in over a week, the gray clouds began to dissipate.

We took our chances and took to the land. Lewis carried his bow and I followed like a disciple.

We saw no animals, save for a skinny squirrel, but we came to a clearing that bore a few small fruit trees.

“Hey, creature,” I said, almost afraid to disrupt Lewis’ focus. “Take a look at this.”

Standing before them was an apple tree, shining red apples bouncing among the green leaves.

Lewis lowered his bow with a soft sigh.

I walked up to the tree and plucked an apple from it. Drops of rainwater were still beaded on the top, so I polished it against my sleeve before taking a bite. It was juicy and fresh, and I passed it to Lewis for his approval.

His eyes closed when he took a bite, savoring the fruit.

“How long do you think we’ll be here?”

Lewis’ eyes are dark, and I see in them the answer I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear out loud. The time we’d spent here already was nothing compared to what lied ahead of us. I knew that even if we made it out of the forest safely, we’d still be pressed to find a gas station that actually had anything left after the massive scale evacuations that the newspaper had reported. It made more sense to stay here and to stay together.

I peeled off my shirt and laid it out beneath the tree so that I could pile apples into it and tie it up like a rucksack.

“Will you remember how to get back to this place?” I asked Lewis, although I knew what his answer would be.

“Of course,” came his confident reply. That was my Lewis.

“It’s a miracle,” I said, pleased with my sack full of apples.

“No. Just nature,” Lewis rebutted.

Indeed it was.

*

The cabin was small, and the longer Lewis and I lived in it, the smaller it seemed to get. There seemed to be no good place to hide my wedding ring, and besides, I had accepted that it was a life I couldn’t go back to. It was a life that didn’t exist anymore, in a home that didn’t exist anymore, in a city that had been obliterated.

I took the ring and the pipe to the edge of the woods, where the grass gave way to the brown underbrush of the forest where bright green ferns began to curl up at the edges of the trees. There was a little spot where wildflowers grew, crested iris and milkweed and Queen Anne’s lace.

I dug a little hole and placed both items inside, covering them up with dirt. Some things should stay buried, I thought.

Lewis didn’t say anything, if he noticed at all, but once they were gone the air felt different inside the cabin, like there was space for something new.

*

Autumn gave way to winter, and the cabin picked up a chill that neither of us had been prepared for. We did our best to keep heat in the cabin and warm each other up when we could, lighting a fire in the fireplace daily.

We had no way of correctly guessing time, but Lewis seemed to be keeping track in his own way. He somehow had an idea of when Christmas might be, and though we had abandoned many trappings of the civilized world, we decided to celebrate.

I had kept a secret from Lewis; it was free from ill wil, just an attempt to ration supplies. I had brought enough with me to make s’mores, a stupid, childish gesture, but now it seemed like a godsend. I had marshmellows, graham crackers, and chocolate, enough for both of us to have our fill. I’d stashed them in a cabinet under the sink and forgotten about them until Lewis had mentioned the holidays.

I brought everything out on “Christmas” morning, earning a wide smile from my dearest friend. He hadn’t gotten me a gift but I didn’t need one.

After we gorged ourself on sweets, we retired to the bed. I laid my head on Lewis’ chest, feeling sweet on him.

Lewis played with my hair in a distracted sort of way. It was not the sort of loving gesture I’d normally associated with him, in fact, it was something my wife used to do. I liked it; it made my body tingle and relaxed me at the same time.

I skimmed my fingertips across his ribs, moving lower, tugging at his boxers so that I could pull them down his thighs.

Lewis grinned when he realized what I was doing. He reached out to divest me of my own clothes, and then we were both completely nude.

I moved forward and brushed our hips together. I took us both in hand, my fist loosely fitting around both our members.

Lewis’ eyes fluttered shut, but he reached down and placed his hand atop my own.

We tried to make it work, but it was a mess of hands. I couldn’t get any momentum built up, so I tried to focus on Lewis.

Lewis just laughed, and he sucked a red mark onto my neck, kissing it and gently biting down. “Lie back,” he instructed, nipping at the skin.

Lewis looked on as I obeyed.

Lewis kissed his way down my chest before taking me in his mouth. It was more than good, it was unbelievable. I had always felt a little funny about asking for this from women, and here Lewis was, doing it for me unbidden.

Lewis’ mouth was sensational. He seemed to know what he was doing, or maybe this was just yet another thing he mastered with speed and skill. He sucked me off like it was another special sport of his.

I could not recall what I had done to deserve this.

A noise somewhere between a sigh and a moan caught in my throat when Lewis made a particularly adept move.

He made me come harder than I ever had in my life, a fact I kept to myself - no need to let something like that go to his head.

The look on his face was the closest thing to bashfulness I’d ever seen him display. I kissed the look off his face and pushed him down so that I might return the favor.

I pressed my lips to his muscled thigh, where the skin was supple and toned, before directing my attention to his cock.

I happened to glance up at his face. Lewis was looking down at me with such a soft, tender look that breath seemed to leave my body. I felt at once like the only person left on earth, maybe the only person who’d ever existed, ever.

“Fuck me,” I said,

“Yeah?” Lewis breathed.

I nodded. I’d never been more sure of anything in my life. “Yeah. Come on, Lewis, fuck me,” I repeated, trying to keep it from sounding like I was begging. In that moment, I would have.

Lewis pulled me back up to him. We shared an open-mouthed kiss, a filthy one, and when we split apart he continued to look at me in that peculiar way.

“Quit it,” I murmured, and it had the opposite reaction of what I intended.

“What?” Lewis froze in place like he’d done something wrong. His hands stilled on my waist.

“No, I… You have to quit looking at me that way,” I managed to get out. Stupid, handsome man.

He grinned at me, relieved, and kissed me again.

I started to move onto my hands and knees, but Lewis caught me by the wrist and maneuvered me onto my back.

Lewis pressed kisses along my collarbone as he pressed inside me, slow and even. His weight was solid against my own, and he started to move, steady thrusts in and out.

My body rose up to meet his; our hips crashed together. Heat and something more - want - swelled within me and I gripped his back, my palms sliding over the muscles of his back.

Lewis cupped my cheek; his thumb slid across my lower lip and into my open mouth.

My tongue flicked against his fingertip, and he held his hand against my lips. I licked his palm, and he reached between us to wrap his big hand around my cock.

Lewis smothered me with kisses, and his pace gentled. Our throes of passion started to feel something more like making love. Maybe this was more than just getting by. Maybe this meant something to him too.

His touch surrounded me; he was everywhere, holding me down, stroking my cock, fucking me with a unbidden focus.

Lewis’ thrusts became deeper and deeper, and he groaned when he bottomed out. His cock felt thick inside me, and I could feel his release as he pressed his body firmly against mine.

I came with Lewis’ name on my lips.

After we both lied there sated, Lewis passed his fingers over my knuckles. “Thank you,” he said. I didn’t know if he meant the s’mores or the sex. “You’ll have yours tonight,” he promised. Maybe there was something for me, after all.

We stayed like that for some time, and I thought we might sleep until Lewis pressed a kiss to my temple. He linked our hands and tried to pull me from the bed.

We ventured outside together; Lewis was wrapped in the quilt and practically nothing else. He was a sight, almost six feet tall and wearing the heavy pink and white patched fabric like a cape.

He must have noticed me shivering, for he wrapped his strong arms around me, taking the quilt and spreading it around my own shoulders, too, wrapping us both in the fabric. It had the result of bringing us closer together, his chest pressed against my back, to which I had no complaints.

“Look up,” he said in my ear. Lewis pointed toward the heavens, and I saw a shooting star, and then another. “The Geminids. Totally normal. At least I damn well hope so.”

I couldn’t help but smile. Of course Lewis’ gift outshone mine by far.

I leaned my head back onto his shoulder, and he tightened his arms around my waist. We watched the stars together until snow began to fall.

*

The cold seeped through the walls, and we had no choice but to nest beside each other in what little clothes we had. Lewis probably regretted not taking the skin of that deer that we’d - I - had caught in the fall.

The wind wailed outside as the storm raged on, and I could see white flurries dropping outside the window.

We lit a candle for warmth. The candlelight made Lewis look handsome and regal.

Lewis and I moved closer like magnets. I wanted to keep him warm, something stirring in me not unlike that feeling that had constricted around my heart when he was bleeding out with a broken leg on the banks of the Cahulawassee River.

The storm became a blizzard, and to avoid our teeth chattering we huddled close together. I wrapped myself around Lewis, trying at once to suck the heat from him and restore it to his body.

We fell asleep that way, unable to wait out the storm after the candle burned out, and I was pleased that Lewis let me hold him.

*

The snow didn’t get any better overnight, and I woke to the sound of Lewis prying a wooden cabinet door from its hinges so that he could prop it up against the cracks in the front door of the cabin, blocking some of the chill.

I always felt like I was the one keeping watch on Lewis, but his concerned look upon seeing me unable to rise from bed that morning proved that he was more observant than I previously thought.

“You don’t look so hot,” Lewis said, and I believed him. He pressed the back of his hand to my forehead to check my temperature. Lewis ran his thumb across my lower lip. I could feel the dry, peeling skin crack. “We need more fresh water. You’re dehydrated,” Lewis diagnosed.

“I’m fine,” I said, but I was fatigued and thirsty, and my headache had been getting worse. Water sounded good, but we were running low. There was only one jug left to split between the two of us.

“I hope there’s no infection,” Lewis said. He saw that I was sweating through my shirt and helped to peel it away from my skin.

Lewis brought me a cup of water and held it to my lips. Then he spread the map out on the bed. He studied it, deep in thought.

“We need to make a supply run,” he told me.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Leaving the cabin?”

“The Jeep has half a tank of gas. There’s a town maybe twenty miles from the entrance to the forest.”

I tried to sit up. “I’m not letting you go without me.”

“You need medication. Antibiotics.”

“No,” I disagreed with a frown. I couldn’t bear the idea of splitting up, the idea of Lewis not coming back. The fever would run its course eventually.

Lewis folded up the map and slapped it on the bedside table. “You are being pig-headed, Ed,” he said to me, standing up.

I rolled over on my side. I didn’t want to have a disagreement. Lewis had mastered the art of the filibuster and argued for sport.

Unexpectedly, I felt his hand at my temple, brushing the sweat-slicked hair from my brow. “You’re sick,” he said, less angry now. “Let me do this for you. I owe you.”

“You don’t owe me nothin’, Lew,” I murmured. I closed my eyes, surrendering to his touch. Amidst the haze of my fever, his fingertips were a familiar and calming. I gave in, maybe more than I should have, and let Lewis’ touch guide me to sleep.

*

Lewis was more than aware that I didn’t want him to go; he was determined to bring back supplies anyway. Said I needed it. He silently packed a bag and left for the next town over the next morning when the sun finally showed its face.

Lewis paused at the cabin door to look back at me. He didn’t have to say he was coming back; I knew.

Despite the blue skies, the wind howled as the door slammed shut behind him, and I waited for his return.

*

I saw the snow begin to come down outside the window about an hour after Lewis’ departure. I hoped it wouldn’t slow him down too much; I closed my eyes and tried to think of anything but Lewis, knowing it’d be hard to get him off my mind.

He returned that evening, during the sun’s last light. His figure struck an imposing silhouette in the doorway.

I watched as Lewis carried in two bags. He pulled out batteries, a few box of matches, bottles of medicine, several tins of food, and Vaseline. He’d even managed to scrounge up a first aid kit and another blanket.

I flushed thinking that Lewis had thought to grab something like Vaseline, that he would remember something like that at the end of the world.

He was proud of his cache, though, and hinted that it wasn’t everything. “There’s a few more jugs of water in the back of the Jeep.” Lewis brought me a bottle of water and some antibiotics. He unscrewed the cap and handed me two pills. “Let’s get you sorted.”

*

The two of us didn’t talk much during my brief sickness. It was hard to give Lewis space in the small cabin, but I tried my best. My fever got worse before it got better, but Lewis checked on me regularly, a fact he tried to hide from me but one I nonetheless sensed. I sweated the fever out, and Lewis kept me plied with as much water as I could handle.

Lewis made repeated trips to the nearby lake to wash out my shirts, and he had used a length of nylon rope to fashion a clothesline that went from one edge of the cabin to the trees. I sweated through them faster than he could wash them.

I took the antibiotics prescribed by Dr. Lewis Medlock and showed signs of improvement three or four days later. Soon enough I was feeling better, healthier, and within a fortnight I was tending to the garden again and cooking with no complaints.

*

“Ed,” Lewis called my name.

I turned to face Lewis. His eyes were hungry, and he looked me up and down.

Lewis took me in his arms and pressed his mouth to mine. I could feel the heat behind his movements. Lewis kissed me again, his tongue darting against my tongue. After he got his taste, he spun me around, his hands on my hips. It had been weeks since we’d been together, even though it always felt like there was something there, some palpable tension.

Lewis pushed me against the frame of the window. I bent over and gripped it tight, feeling him pressing up against me.

“Do you ever feel like you’re losing control?”

I was too distracted to answer his question. Lewis started nipping at my ear and my neck, and he reached around to the front of my pants to unfasten the belt buckle and tug them down. I could hear the clink of his own belt buckle behind me.

I started to move my arms, but he reached up and put them back in position, clearly meaning for me to hold them there by my head. He rucked my shirt up around my waist and scratched his nails down my chest. Lewis felt like a wild thing, suddenly. With a hand on the back of my neck, he pressed me closer to the window roughly.

Lewis didn’t bother with much preparation. He shoved himself inside and I heard a growl, unsure if it came from me or him.

My arms shook as Lewis fucked me. Lewis was animalistic, he was raw.

I arched my back.

Lewis groaned, the movement changing the angle into something more pleasurable. “Fuck, Ed, baby,” he murmured into my hair. I could feel his hands on my hips, my sides, holding my forearms against the windowframe. I could feel him everywhere. “You’re mine, aren’t you?” Lewis asked, driving his hips into my own.

“Of course, Lewis,” I breathed, and his movements slowed. I felt his arms wrap around my waist, and he pressed his chest to my back. Inside me yet, he stilled, and for a long moment we stood together.

He started moving again, his movements slow and deliberate.

Lewis pulled out and pumped his fist a few times, his cock erupting over the back of my thighs.

For a single moment I felt dirty — used — and then I felt him wipe a rag across my skin. He cleaned the mess he had made then checked my hands for, I don’t know, bruises or splinters, maybe. Satisfied, he let me go.

I moved for the sink, still feeling sticky, and when I looked up Lewis was gone.

*

Lewis offered no explanation for his strange behavior or his mercurial mood. I neither needed nor expected him to.

When he came back to the cabin he had the recurve bow in one hand and a dead quail in the other. I hoped he had fulfilled some masculine urge by killing dinner with his own two hands, released whatever tension he had been building up inside his body.

I still had no passion for skinning deer, but I had become proficient with preparing smaller birds after Lewis had showed me what to do. They were easy for Lewis to catch and easy for me to cook.

I took his kill from his hand, and asked him if he wanted to rest instead of telling him to.

Lewis nodded and left me to nap on the bed, not even pausing to take his boots off before swinging his legs up on the bed and crossing his ankles.

I tried to work quietly. It felt like a strange, warped version of a domestic scene, a wife cooking dinner for her husband as he dozed, though I was nobody’s wife.

I finished preparing the bird and set out two plates. I sank into a chair, waiting for Lewis to wake up, but to my surprise he was already up and moving, silent as a mouse.

Lewis came up to stand behind me, and rested a hand on my shoulder. He seemed unnaturally tired, though he said nothing. He lifted a hand and grazed his fingers through my hair.

The moment passed, and Lewis took a seat. We began to eat and he hummed his approval of the meal.

“I’ll fry up as many as you bring home.”

“Just you wait,” Lewis said eagerly. “The bird’s not the best thing I found.”

My interest was piqued. “Well?”

“I happened upon a freshwater spring about a mile west of your lake.” It wasn’t my lake, but it might as well be ours now. “Did you hear what I said? Fresh running water.”

“That’s wonderful.”

“Sure is.” He smiled, and I knew he was pleased with his discovery. We were saved. “Sure is.”

*

Lewis got the car radio working one afternoon after fiddling with the thing for a week. He sat in the Jeep and switched from station to station, trying to pick up news. The local stations weren’t broadcasting.

I could see him from the porch, adjusting the dial. Finally he found a news report, but I could only hear garbled pieces from my place in front of the cabin. None of it sounded good.

”Meteor storms on a massive scale… evacuated populations wiped out… Hundreds of remaining survivors scatter…”

After the report ended, Lewis found a station playing a tune, and he ratcheted the volume up. “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers was just about the only thing he could find.

Boldly, I walked up to the driver’s side of the Jeep and held out my hand for Lewis.

Lewis hopped out of the car, and he took my hand.

It was too cheerful a song for the end of the world, but I held my lover and we danced between the Jeep and the little cabin. His arm was steady around my waist as we swayed in the grass. I had never been much of a dancer, so - as I did with nearly everything else - I let Lewis lead.

*

That day wouldn’t leave my mind. The image of two men in each other’s arms played endlessly over and over again in my head like it was an ad layout.

I was reminded of the mornings I used to wake in my bed with Martha. Maybe what bothered me the most was how easily I now found myself turning to Lewis instead of my wife, how quickly I had adjusted to sleeping with another man in my arms.

“Do you ever wonder if we gave up too soon?”

“You saw the papers… heard the news…” His voice was a low rumble in my ear. He pulled me even tighter to his chest. Lewis was right; the papers had reported that the city of Atlanta was nothing more than a gaping crater. We'd been lucky to avoid the worst of the damage.

The meteorite showers had seemed to subside, and while the weather was still rougher than it had ever been, the storms had started to come with less frequency, at least for the time being.

“Still…”

“Nobody gave up on anybody. And nobody blames you,” Lewis said. “You hear me, Ed?”

“There must be someone else out there somewhere. If we survived, maybe someone else did.”

“Maybe.”

I didn’t like the way Lewis looked at me then, like he wasn’t enough.

We needed to decide if we were going to stay here, in the cabin, or press on and search for other survivors. It had nothing to do with happiness.

*

“Do you smell that?”

“What’s that?” I turned to look at Lewis, who was poised and alert. As soon as I spoke, I started to smell something like smoke.

“Something’s burning,” he said. I could see him look around, trying to pinpoint the odor, and then he dashed for the doorway.

I followed as fast as I could.

When I stepped outside, I saw the striking image of his Jeep on fire. Flames surrounded the truck and thick black smoke spewed out from the hood in a rising column.

Lewis looked frantic, and it was the first time I could remember seeing him that way. He surveyed the scene and I could see the gears turn as he tried to think quickly.

We needed to put out the fire before it spread to the cabin, I thought. Was it worth it to use the last of our water? I started to go for one of the jugs, but I felt Lewis’ hand on my arm holding me back.

“Let it be, Ed,” he said, and sank to his knees. “Let it be.”

I stood behind him and we watched the car burn.

Some time later, I finally dragged Lewis off his knees and back into the cabin.

Lewis dug in the cabinets without telling me his aim, but he emerged with a bottle of whiskey that I had never seen before.

“Supply run,” he grinned. “Worth picking through the wreckage, huh?” He always had something in his back pocket. He poured us each two fingers worth of whiskey as we took our chairs.

I could feel the liquor go to my head; it had been months since we’d had anything to drink.

“Suppose that’s a decision that’s been made for us, then,” Lewis said over his glass. We’d used up the remaining gas in my car on one of the last supply runs, and the Jeep had been our only reliable mode of transportation. “You’re stuck with me.”

“How did it happen?”

“Exposed wire? Some kind of fuel leak, maybe?” Lewis didn’t seem to have a real answer, something that appeared to bother him more than it bothered me.

So we drank. The liquor hit me quicker than it used to without any tolerance built up.

Lewis seemed lost in thought.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Lewis admitted.

“You could have fooled me,” I replied, leaning in. My voice was a little slurred. “You think I do?” That seemed to make him feel a little better, at least.

We drank and drank, and he refilled our glasses each time, until the bottle was nearly empty and we were half-drunk. It was almost like the old days, until you remembered it was the end of the world and our only mode of transportation had just burned away to a crisp.

I must have been staring again, as I was wont to do, for he took a long swig and set the glass down on the table resolutely and looked into my eyes.

I could feel his frustration at being stuck in this bizarre new world. I might have missed my family but I was happy to be here with Lewis; I knew there was no place safer. Lewis had killed for us before - killed for me - and that was the type of thing to bring people together, if it didn’t pull them apart. Our trip down the Cahulawassee River had brought us together in ways I couldn’t name, in ways that I was still figuring out.

He cupped my cheek in his palm before pressing his mouth to mine. He kissed like he needed air.

I forgot everything I was thinking. All I knew how to do was kiss him back.

Lewis’ hands were in my hair, tugging and pulling and bringing me closer to him until I was leaned forward in the chair at an awkward angle. If I leaned any further forward I’d have been in his lap. I had to do something about the angle - I slipped out of the chair and onto my knees between Lewis’ legs. I braced my hands on his thighs.

Lewis leaned back in his chair and blinked at me. “Fuck,” he said at the sight, before leaning down and seizing my mouth in another kiss.

It was easier to kiss him from my position between his knees, but his mouth was distracting me from the real goal. I reached for the buckle on Lewis’ leather belt, clumsily managing to unfasten it, stripping it away and unzipping his denim jeans before taking Lewis into my mouth, inexperienced and clumsy but eager nonetheless.

His thumb traced my cheekbone.

“Bed?” Lewis managed, and we scrambled there together in a drunken fog.

I pushed Lewis onto his back so I could crawl on top of him, sitting astride his thighs.

We pulled each other’s clothes off, hands working frantically at buttons and fabric. I smoothed my hands over his broad shoulders once I ripped his shirt free.

Lewis slid his hand down from my waist and over the swell of my ass, groping me with a firm hand. His hands were big; I liked the way I felt in his arms. I bit his lip, teasing him, trying to incite a reaction, and he squeezed harder, bringing our thighs closer.

I ran my fingers through the dark hair that covered his chest and over a nipple.

He flipped us over so that my back was on the bed and he was above me. He nipped at my jaw and I turned my face to meet his mouth, laughing into the kiss.

We took our time kissing, drunk and silly and high off the taste of one another. Buzzed on liquor, we fooled around, too drunk to make any serious moves but enjoying our hands all over each other just the same.

Lewis caught my hand and pulled it down to his cock.

I wrapped my fist around him, feeling him throb in my hand, and started working my hand rhythmically. I pumped my fist around him until his eyes slipped shut.

I felt his uneven breath against my cheek. I stroked him until he spilled over my hand with a groan.

I wiped off my hand, and Lewis pulled me back to his side. Half-asleep, he pressed drowsy little kisses against my jaw until we passed out.

*

It was rare that I woke before Lewis, but he seemed to be sleeping soundly, so I extricated myself from my friend, my love, though I hated to leave the comfort of his embrace. I pulled on a pair of pants and a shirt, though I didn’t bother to button it.

The sun’s rays were starting to peek through the window, and it seemed to be a bright, warm day. I slipped on a pair of shoes and stepped outside for a morning walk.

I stepped past our garden, which now sometimes seemed like a small farm, though we were still limited in our selection. We took shifts tilling the land and planting seeds, and I found I enjoyed working the earth; I felt connected to it in a way that I never had with advertising.

I saw a blur at the edge of the trees. I looked up, not sure what I was looking for.

The leaves shifted just so, and I saw that the motion was the bluebird I had glimpsed above the garden weeks before. It was a beautiful bird, and I held very still as to not disturb it.

The bird hopped from branch to branch, and it was then that I spotted her nest. It was small, built from thin twigs and pine needles, but a nest nonetheless, that I could spy two small heads peering out of.

I watched the bird return to her children. If seeing the bluebird the first time had been a sign, this felt positively lucky. It was some small proof that we weren’t the only ones left trying to make a go of it.

So much of my time with Lewis had been about survival, about thrills and thinking fast, but this was a different kind of survival. There was no need to push ourselves, just the need to make do. To get by.

I only felt a little foolish for wanting to tell Lewis about the nest, but I was determined to share the news about our new neighbors. I hightailed it back to our cabin.

I was certain that Lewis would be awake, as the sun was already high in the sky by the time I returned, but Lewis was sleeping, his hands tucked underneath his pillow. He normally faced the day with so much gusto that I had been astonished to find him still asleep. He must have truly needed the rest.

I studied the handsome outline of his body, the curve of his broad shoulders, the firm swell of his backside. His dark eyelashes brushed against his cheeks. I watched his chest rising and falling as he slept.

In my wildest dreams, I’d never expected to end up at the end of the world with Lewis Medlock. I missed the comforts of civilized life in the city, but there was an extraordinary freedom to our current lives.

I loved him. In one sense, this wasn’t a new revelation. I’d cared deeply for Lewis for years.

As I gazed, one of his eyes opened, catching me in the act. He didn't say anything about it; he never did. Knowing he was being watched, Lewis stretched his arms out over his head, his muscles rippling underneath his tanned skin.

“Get back here,” he said to me, and he tugged the quilt away from the edge of the bed.

There was a place for me by his side. I wanted to take it.

I stripped off my shirt and crawled back in bed beside Lewis. It felt right.

“All right?” Lewis asked, checking in the way he so often did.

I nodded, and Lewis lifted his head off of the pillow to give me a sleepy kiss.

“I think we’re going to be just fine.”