If Tyler had been anyone else, if he’d been able to sleep at night, he might not have noticed the strange light. But he wasn’t and he couldn’t. He was Tyler and he was wide awake at nearly one o’clock in the morning, standing at his bedroom window, staring absently at the large expanse of woodland that hugged his backyard.
His brows furrowed in confusion as he stared at the strange light, deep in his personal stretch of forest. His sanctuary. If his best friend had been there, Josh would probably have insisted the light was something otherworldly. Aliens, probably. Tyler smiled at the idea of bug-eyed aliens frolicking in his woods. The smile didn’t last long, though. Tyler wasn’t the dreamer Josh was; he was more inclined to go straight to worst-case-scenario. At that moment, his worst-case-scenario was fire.
Oh, God. His forest was burning. Tyler went cold all over as he started to sweat. Even at his distance, Tyler could make out the distinctive red, yellow, orange hues of a fire.
I have to call someone, he thought. Before he could reach for the cellphone on the dresser, though, another thought struck him.
It hasn’t gotten any bigger. He’d been staring out the window at the strange light for several minutes, but it appeared to be roughly the same size and shape as it had when he’d first spotted it. Tyler was willing to put money on the light being a fire – but a controlled one.
The high, wire fences and “keep out” signs were supposed to ensure his and Jenna's privacy. There was no way a camper could accidentally wander into Tyler’s forest without realizing they were on private property. If they weren’t there by mistake, it could only mean something bad, something sinister...
To his shame, Tyler’s first thought was, Stupid Clikkies! How dare they invade our privacy! His rage was immediately doused by a wave of guilt. Even when they crossed the line, Tyler still loved and appreciated his fans. After all, he wouldn’t have his house or the property that it sat on without those fans.
He might have chosen to deal with it in the morning, had Jenna not sighed in her sleep at that moment, rolling over in bed. The guilt beating at Tyler’s shore was dashed away in a surge of protectiveness. He wasn't particularly fierce or frightening, but Tyler would take down anyone who threatened his wife. He'd go to bat against the whole damned Clique, if he thought she was in danger because of them.
Blood singing with anger, Tyler hastily threw on some clothes and stormed from the house in a protective rage. He only slowed when, reaching the forest's edge away from the light of the house, he realized he'd left his phone in the house.
The small woodland was one of Tyler's favorite places on earth. He'd spent hours losing and finding himself under its green canopy but, at night, it was a completely different world. Tyler stumbled over roots he was certain hadn’t been there during the day, grumbling at himself for forgetting his phone.
Never mind falling on your face, he thought grumpily. How are you going to call for help if it does turn out to be some dangerous thug?
His step faltered, then picked up again, even more determined than before. It didn't matter who it was; Tyler would defend his home, his wife – even if it meant getting his scrawny butt kicked in the process.
Which, to be fair, it might.
Tyler's trek through the dark forest earned him enough scrapes and bruises to look as though he'd already been in a fight. His protectiveness had nearly been overshadowed by annoyance by the time he finally caught sight of a light through the underbrush. He was just annoyed enough to burst through the trees and shout at the trespassers – and he might have, if not for the music.
Okay, maybe music wasn't the right word. There was a kind of drumbeat, but the sound came from the slapping of hands on thighs and the stomping of feet on the ground rather than any machine. Some sort of pipe sang out a shrill, airy tune over the top. Voices spoke in a rhythmic rise and fall that was mesmerizing. Tyler tried to make out the words, but they sounded like gibberish to him.
Something about that chanting made Tyler forget his anger. He moved forward more cautiously, careful not to do anything that might interrupt the captivating sound. His first glimpse of the clearing beyond the trees confirmed his suspicions: there was a bonfire burning in the middle of his forest. Suddenly, though, that unwelcome fire seemed the least interesting thing there because it was surrounded by people in the most outrageous garb he'd ever seen.
And there'd been a fan dressed as a vulture at their last concert.
Tyler stared in awe at the strange creatures before him. Some wore robes that reminded him of the Bishops in their music videos, but these were in shades of moonlight, gemstones, and growing things. Others wore crowns made of flowers or had tiny bells woven into their hair. None of them wore shoes; their bare feet kicked up dirt as they moved in unison around the fire.
I'm dreaming, Tyler thought, squeezing his eyes shut. There was no way the scene in front of him was real. He shook his head to clear the image but, when he opened his eyes, it was still there – and even more surreal. The dancers fell back as a lone figure, moved in front of the flames.
Now I know this isn't real.
The man had his back to Tyler. Firelight danced across the curves of his toned flesh. It illuminated the wide swath of leaves hanging low over his bare hips and the horns nestled in his dark, curly hair. Tyler had the impression that the man had stepped right out of the forest, like he was some sort of woodland god. The thought shook Tyler's hard-won belief in God.
An uneasy shiver raised the hairs on his arms. He rubbed them to chase the feeling away. Then the horned man turned, and it was all Tyler could do to keep from gasping aloud. He knew that strange figure; knew it as well as he knew his own reflection.
There was no doubt it was the drummer. Tyler could draw those tattoos in his sleep. He knew that aquiline nose and the powerful shoulders; recognized the sculpted chest and the pointed jaw, despite the distance between them.
But the creature haloed by the fire wasn't the Josh he knew. It was something... else. Something wild and powerful, without the constant worry and Anxiety that made Josh retreat into the background whenever he could. This Josh was full of an energy, a purpose that commanded every person in the clearing to take note.
Tyler took note.
He watched, almost too afraid to breathe, lest it break the strange spell, as Josh-Not Josh crossed the clearing. The others had fallen into a wide circle where they sat swaying to the rhythm that had stopped but somehow still lingered in the air. Josh held out a hand to one of the seated women. She rose. Her cloak fell unnoticed to the ground.
Beneath the cloak, the woman wore a simple shift dress of flowing white. She took the hand Josh offered with a knowing smile and followed him to the middle of the circle. Josh spoke to the woman in a voice too low for Tyler to hear over the chanting that had resumed or... never stopped... or... he didn't know. Where was that noise coming from?
The woman nodded and – Tyler missed how – the fastening on the back of her dress was released. It fell, pooling around her. Josh followed it down, kneeling at the woman's dirty, bare feet. He said something that the circle of people echoed before bowing to kiss them. To Tyler's amazement and chagrin, Josh made his way up the woman's naked body, placing a kiss to several spots – some quite intimate – until he reached her lips.
Although both were nude, the kisses were somehow chaste. There was no arousal, no sexuality in them but there was something deeper. Something older. Something Tyler was afraid to think about for too long.
After kissing the woman's lips, Josh took a step back. Tyler found himself inexplicably glad the odd display was over… until the woman knelt at Josh's feet and began the process all over again.
It was a kind of torture, watching the woman work her way up his best friend's body – especially when she got to his penis! Tyler found his own clothes suddenly uncomfortable and, irrationally, wished he could also be rid of them. He adjusted the growing bulge in his jeans but found that touching himself only made matters worse.
Tyler didn't know how the others could sit and watch the... performance? without reacting. It was driving him mad! By the time she reached the organ half-hidden by a cluster of leaves, Tyler couldn't bear the constraints of his jeans any longer. Both excited and ashamed, driven nearly mad with longing, Tyler freed himself from the too-tight pants and took hold of himself. If any of the strangers or – God forbid! – Josh saw him masturbating, there in the woods, Tyler would die of embarrassment. But the dancers were on their feet again, moving around the nude figures. No one so much as glanced in his direction.
Oh, how Tyler wished he could pretend his arousal was due to the naked woman in the circle! But truth be told, he couldn’t take his eyes off Josh’s nude form. He was mesmerized by the way the light of the fire danced across the other man’s flesh as the woman placed a kiss to each of his nipples. How Josh's strong hands splayed across her hips to help steady her as, rising on tiptoe, she pressed a kiss to his lips. How the horns rising up from his riotous curls seemed to belong there, as if they had always been there and Tyler was only just noticing them for the first time.
Under the moonlight, dappled with shadow and flame, Josh was a primal force – one that called Tyler join the strange celebration. He had to grab a nearby tree branch with one hand to keep his... desire from pulling him forward. How he managed to stay quiet and in one place as he pleasured himself to the beat of their tribal chanting was beyond him.
Their exchange completed, Josh and the unknown woman joined the dance. Watching Josh as he twisted and writhed, bent and rose, Tyler let himself forget about right and wrong. He forgot to be ashamed that he was getting off to the sight of his best friend dancing nude by the light of a bonfire – a fire that sparked and grew to a deafening roar that did nothing to dull the chanting filling Tyler's mind. Finally, when he couldn't take another second, when the music reached fever pitch, Tyler let himself explode.
Across the clearing, the fire fell back to an easy blaze as the dancers collapsed together, laughing joyously, their energy spent.