Adam Benjamin stood at the door and looked out at the dusty street. He was almost through and he was tired. His eyes ached and he had the beginnings of a headache, something about setting line after line of type. Everything was locked down and the press was set. They would start printing the next edition of the "Shady Grove Express" in the morning; another week's happenings chronicled by the best little weekly newspaper in Ohio.
Adam sighed. This was going to have to come to an end soon. He and Duncan had been in and around Shady Grove for nearly ten years; time to move on. The first years had been good ones. Working together to make a new life for themselves, they had started out as schoolteachers. Mac still was but Adam had taken their savings and started a newspaper.
He went inside and turned off the gaslights, drew the shades and went out locking the door. Mac would be home by now. Good reason to hurry. He smiled. "Good evening, Mrs. Trawick. How is your daughter doing with her new baby?" He paused to speak to the matriarch. He really didn't know which daughter had had the baby. She had eight of them.
He or Mac had various of the Trawick daughters offered to them in earlier years. Adam had handled the burnt offerings by being inattentive; he would make a date then just forget to keep it. He earned the reputation of someone who was driven to succeed and not ready to settle down. It amused him just a little.
"She's fine. Adam. The baby is beautiful. You must come by and see them." She kept a smile on her face but behind it she was thinking how sad that he wasn't interested in one of her girls. She looked him up and down. Long and lean, he was dressed in good worsted pants and a dress shirt with a long coat. She sighed. It would have been a great catch.
"L will. See you later." He walked in down the street. Speaking to people as he went, he walked out of town. Adam put his hands in his pockets and started to whistle a nameless tune. He thought that to complete the picture all he would have to do would be to find something to kick.
This late fall day was warm with Indian summer. Soon it would be winter. He shivered a little just thinking about the long cold days. This was better than the long years after the plague. The running and hiding had been hard on them both. Everything had gotten better with the passage of the years. The long walk to work seemed to get longer the more snow there was. He was beginning to think more and more about going somewhere further south next time.
Adam went up the steps and across the porch. "Duncan? Where are you?" He knew he was here. The buzz was a welcome feeling of coming home. "In here." He hung his coat with his clanging sword up by the door. Adam walked into the kitchen and smiled at the man who stood cooking at the stove. Duncan had changed into jeans, a Henley shirt that had been washed so much it was almost threadbare and a plaid flannel shirt over it. To Adam's amusement and Duncan's disgust, he had to wear a tie to school. He couldn't get out of it fast enough.
After fifty years together Mac still had the power to take his breath away. As he looked up to smile at Adam, the clench his heart gave was the same one it had given the first time he saw Mac. They were both hot-tempered on occasion but this feeling of heart- stopping sweetness was the same then as now.
They had made it an unbreakable rule not to touch each other when there was a chance that anyone could see. After all these years it had gotten to be habit. But it was still difficult not to just sweep him up and hug him to death. A rueful smile showed for an instant. Mac offered the same smile. They let their eyes do their talking for them. Adam went to change his clothes.
Josh Hurley came in ready to eat. A son of a neighboring farmer, the weedy boy came every morning and afternoon to help feed and care for the animals and to do any chores around the house. Part of his pay was breakfast and supper every day that he worked. As Adam came in Josh went to the sink to wash up.
Adam dished up the peas and potatoes as Mac served the beef he had cut and got the biscuits out of the oven. With the pitchers of milk for Josh and beer for the men and a plate of pickles, they sat at the table for the blessing. Mac said, "Dear Lord, we thank you for your bounty. Amen."
"Amen." And Josh fell on the food.
Mac noticed that Adam wasn't eating. "Your eyes are bothering you, aren't they? Do you have a headache, too?" Adam smiled a little and nodded. "Why don't you go on and get ready for bed. I'll save you some beef and biscuits for a midnight snack."
Adam said, "Sorry Josh, we'll have to talk about things Roman another night. I think I will lie down and see if I can get rid of this headache. I know just resting my eyes will help. Good night." He went out of the kitchen towards the hall.
"Does he need glasses? He seems to see everything just fine." Josh said between bites. He had finished his portion of beef and was eating his way through a mountainous serving of peas and the rest of the potatoes. He looked with longing at the three biscuits that Mac had put aside for Adam. Usually he could take the leftover bread home for later.
"I don't think he needs glasses. It's just the strain of setting all that type. It seems to be getting worse, though." Mac noticed Josh's look of longing at the biscuits. Mac got through with his meal and stood up. "I think we're about through with these peas. Do you want to take them home with you?"
Josh brightened a little at the mention of taking something home. He was always hungry. With five siblings he felt there was never quite enough to eat. "Yeah, that would be great." Mac put the peas in a dish and began to clear the table. Josh put soap in the dishpan and washed the dishes. He got the peas and said good night. "Hope Adam feels better." Mac had doubts about all the peas getting home.
Mac turned the oil lamps off and went into the bedroom. Adam had lain down in his clothes with just his boots off. A single oil lamp flickered on the nightstand. Mac sat on the side of the bed and took his hand. "It's time we left, isn't it? You always react this way when you want to tell me something and you don't know how."
"Yes, it's time. I know you've enjoyed teaching. I'm sorry." He tightened his fingers around Mac's hand. "I have a feeling about this. I don't know-just a hunch. They're going to start talking about us-our age, the fact that we don't marry. And I'm not going to marry anyone else." His hazel eyes were very wide, looking directly into Mac's brown ones.
In this closed off room with the shades down tight, Mac dared to kiss Adam very gently. He laid his head against Adam's stomach. He raised it to speak. "Then we'll go. What will we tell everyone? Or are we just going?" Some moments were priceless. He had to put his head down and just savor it.
"I'd like to get something out of our work here. We'll try to be out of here by next summer. Let's go somewhere warm. I have a craving for warm winters and blazing hot summers." Adam stroked Mac's head gently. "Let's go downstairs."
There was a secret about this house. It was what drew them to it in the first place. A small house, it had been smaller still when it was first built. There was a stream on one side so they had built their root cellar on the other side. Dug deep into the subsoil, it ran the length of the house and was twenty feet wide. When the owners decided to build on, they had no choice but to go over the cellar.
The first owners had built a safe room in the center of the new section of the house. This small room without windows was connected to a section of the root cellar by a wooden ladder. Originally built as a hiding place from tornadoes and from civil disturbances, it was a perfect way to conceal two Immortal who needed time away from their neighbors.
Mac pulled Adam up and steadied him when he faltered. "Let's go get naked and cuddle. We'll use all the quilts and all the pillows and just cuddle." He ushered Adam into the room with the ladder. Adam gave a muffled groan as he went down. Mac couldn't do anything until he was down the ladder.
"What is it? Is something wrong?" He grabbed Adam and hurried to get around him. "You don't feel hurt. Why did you groan?"
Adam laughed, "I don't feel hurt? Mac, how do you know what I feel just by touching me. I don't have shoes on; I got some splinters in my feet as I was coming down the ladder."
Mac was a little apologetic as he guided Adam to the bed. "I just know how you feel." He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know how or why, I just know it's true. Let me get something to get the wooden splinters out and clean your feet." He went back up the ladder.
Adam leaned back on the bed and sighed. That was easier than he had expected. Mac might know how he felt but he didn't always know what he was thinking. How could he? Millennia of experience had shown him when to fight and when to leave. But how to explain the reasons was the problem.
Mac came down the ladder with a bucket of water and their swords, which he placed in the milk can by the door. He pulled a knife from his pocket and came over to the bed. "Let me see your feet." He sat down on the floor and pulled Adam's socks off. "Oh Adam, this one is bad. It's going to hurt when I dig it out." He bent his head over Adam's feet.
Adam saw Mac's bent head and thought how sexy a picture he made. The traces of pain that Mac was causing just added to his mounting excitement. He knew better than to interrupt Mac in his medical duties. Mac finished and washed Adam's feet off then slipped a pair of clean socks on him. "Your shoes are just at the foot of the ladder. Let me get things set up here. You just lie back and do nothing."
This section of the cellar had been transformed in the eight years they had lived here. The bed frame had been built in place. The spirit burner where Mac put the water on to warm was added later. The quilts and bedding were purchased over the years. Finally they had framed the walls out and added fabric. It was now a den for two Immortals surrounded by a mortal world.
After Mac was through he turned to Adam and smiled. He looked so beautiful. Long, lean and a little underweight, he had been worrying the pounds off. Adam said, "Come here. You said something about cuddling. I want you close."
Mac stretched out on the bed facing Adam waiting for him to make the first move. Adam reached out to caress Mac's face. Suddenly, there was the sound of loud knocking coming down through the open hatchway.
Both Immortals jumped. Mac swung off the bed and went up the stairs taking his boots with him. Adam was a step behind after he doused the spirit warmer and put on his boots. He brought the swords up and stood them in the corner. Adam closed and locked the door to the cellar then slid a chest over it. Mac looked around and said, "All clear?" Adam nodded.
It was Josh barely, on his feet. "Fire! Our barn is on fire!" He bent double so out of breath he was choking. "Adam, go with him. Get the buckets out of the milking shed. I'll be there as soon as I get my shoes on."
Adam and Josh ran to the milking shed for the buckets then to the Hurley farm. By the time they got there, the fire had come through the roof of the building. It looked like all the animals were out of danger but the barn was probably a lost cause.
Adam got in line to deliver buckets of water to the men who were fighting the fire. Adelaide Hurley came by crying and calling "Max, Maxie, where are you." So not all the animals were safe.
He stepped out of the line and knelt before her. "What's the problem, Addie? What happened to Maxine?" She leaned up against him and sobbed. Maxine was a large, elegant almost Persian dressed for a dinner party in black and white.
"She ran into the chicken coop. Daddy wouldn't let me go in after her." Adam turned and looked at the coop. It was not burning yet but it soon would be. The whole barn and the outbuildings were going to go and the bucket brigade wasn't going to make any difference.
"You stay right here. I'll see what I can do." Adam ran toward the coop as he heard Mac's despairing cry. He got to the door and saw Maxine sitting on a box surrounded by fire. Her eyes were orange saucers but she wouldn't move, frozen in place by the turmoil outside and now the fire around her.
Adam hesitated only a minute then plunged right in. He grabbed Maxine and ran back out. Just that little bit of time in the fire burned his feet and raised blisters on his face and arms. He fell into Mac's arms with a moan. Maxine let out a hiss but clung to him like a second skin.
Addie ran toward them with Addie's Mama right behind her scolding every step. "What were you thinking to tell Adam about that cat? What if something had happened to him? There he is; I hope he's all right. Max is awfully still. Please let her be all right. Oh Addie, I think Adam's all right. He's sitting up and coughing, but what about Maxie?"
Maxine peeked out from under Adam attracted by that beloved voice. She meowed silently and started to cough too. "Oh Maxie, Maxie. Thank you, Adam. Thank you. Oh come here, Darling. Let me see you. Maxie, you're singed and that cough sounds bad, so bad. Let's go back to the house. At least it's still standing. We'll have some nice milk and you can have a good wash. Or maybe I'll wash you then I can get a good look at your side." Maxine looked over the shoulder of Addie's Mama at her rescuer as she was borne away.
"Here I was worried she would notice my burned feet." Then Adam started coughing again. Mac helped him to his feet. The feet were healed but still very tender. His soles of his boots were gone in patches but the uppers still offered some camouflage. Leaving Adam for just a minute, Mac went to speak to Tom Hurley. Afterward he rejoined Adam and the two of them started back home.
They walked up on the porch. Mac stopped to look at the blisters on Adam's face; they were gone without a trace. Adam said, "I have to go in and get my new boots on. Hell of a way to break them in. Then I want to go to town. I have to reset the front page. And this time I think I'll bring my sword. Neither one of us was armed, Mac."
"I'll go with you. I'm too excited to sleep." Mac was still shaking from the fear of watching Adam run into a burning building. That he had run back out again did not mitigate the fear he felt. Adam was very precious to him. He couldn't stand the thought of him getting hurt.
"Come on." Adam went in. Getting the swords from the safe room, he picked up his coat from the rack and tossed Mac his as well. "I've got a scoop to get out though I'm not looking forward to resetting the type. My headache has just now gone away." He ushered Mac down the steps and down the path to the road.
They went down the road in step. The night had turned cold. The sky was clear and the stars seemed to come down to meet them. But it was time to go somewhere else. They couldn't risk touching each other though they walked for a way with their shoulders bumping. But they moved further apart as they got to town.
Adam unlocked the door of the office and lit the lamps. "We want just a half column. I'll take out this about the cow. How about you writing the story while I clean this out?" Adam gingerly began to remove the column in question.
Mac told just the bare facts. It was approximately the right size. He handed it over; Adam began setting it into type. He paused as he got to the end of the story. "I don't think Maxine needs this publicity and neither do I." Glittering hazel eyes looked levelly into warm brown ones.
"You wanted the story as I saw it, right. Your rescue of the cat was what I saw. Running into a burning building, Adam, I was so terrified." Mac was so solemn but his eyes were wild with remembered fright.
Adam wanted so much to hold him that he was shaking. But instead he turned and set the last lines of the story in type and set the type into the page and locked it down. "Let's print this now. Sleep is a lost cause for a while yet. Get that package of paper for me; I'll get the ink."
They printed an extra run of papers and set them outside the building with a sign on them saying "EXTRA HURLEY'S BARN BURNS". The sun was coming up and the town of Shady Grove was beginning to stir. Adam thought the papers printed so soon after the event would cause quite a stir. He saw the father of his hawker and told him that the papers were ready to sell; he'd leave them in the shed behind the office.
"Take me home, Mac. You're going to have a hard day with no sleep. And you need to change clothes. You smell like you've been to a fire." Adam's smirk seemed to be habit. He was doddering with fatigue. He sighed, smirk gone, and began the long trek home.
They had a horse and buggy because of Adam's increasing affluence. Mac couldn't afford to keep one on his teacher's salary. It wasn't as if automobiles had disappeared; there were plenty in the larger cities. But here in Shady Grove there was no gas and no mechanics. It went right along with no electricity and no running water.
When the plague had come and gone, it had knocked everything back to the early twentieth century in the industrialized world. In the third world, it was more like the seventeenth century. Most of the knowledge was still there, protected in universities for the most part. It was just waiting for the culture to gather itself together and bloom again.
Mac looked up as they walked up the path to the house. Maxine sat on the porch, feet all together and covered by her brush of a tail. She looked determined. Mac was amused by her persistence. She really was a beautiful cat, even in this half-singed state.
Adam had not looked up. In fact, he looked out on his feet. No supper and no sleep that night, the frenzy of the fire, the work of putting the paper out and the stress of healing his not inconsiderable burns had left him with no energy to spare. He walked up on the porch and started in the door. Maxine gave an inquisitive mew.
Adam stopped and looked down at Max. "Hey there, sweetheart. Do you have any burns or do you just have an unusual haircut?" He leaned down and almost fell. He caught himself and sat down beside her. "Why don't you go ahead and bathe and change your clothes, Mac. I'll just sit here with Maxine for a while."
Mac decided not to argue and went in to change. He hurried through a quick sponge bath and a clothing change then went into the kitchen to get the biscuits left from last night. He cut some slices of ham then went out to the porch and Adam.
Adam was still sitting but Maxine had moved over to sit up against him. He was petting her gently. He looked up as Mac came out and gave him a tired smile. "I'm too exhausted to get up."
"Here. I know these aren't fresh. But let me put the ham into it." Just then, Josh came round the corner with a bucket of fresh milk. Mac went and got three mugs and served the milk and the rest of the ham out. "We have enough to make cheese this weekend. Let's drink and eat and relax a minute."
Adam took the biscuit sandwich and mug of warm milk and just looked at them. He knew he had to eat before he went to sleep. He took a sip of milk when Maxine asked plaintively for some. He poured the milk into the plate for Max. He gently petted down one side; the other was dotted with singed marks where embers had fallen.
"You know she usually comes with me to do the milking. She doesn't like the hustle over at our place but she likes Blossom and Blossom likes her. You wouldn't think a cow would like a cat, but she does. I keep an old bowl out there and give Maxie a little every time I milk Blossom. She came with me this morning then she disappeared. I guess she was saying thank you to Adam."
As he talked Josh made two cups of milk; his biscuit loaded with the rest of the ham and the half that Adam gave him had disappeared. Then he bent down to pet Maxine and gave her a kiss. "I don't know what we would have done if you hadn't saved her, Adam." He hopped up and loped off, embarrassed by showing emotion so openly.
"Will you be all right? Make sure you lock the door. I love you." It was said in the same tone of voice. Mac got up and looked down at Adam. He looked exhausted.
"I'll go in just a minute. I'm going to sit here with Maxine and finish the milk. And I love you, too." Adam smiled up at Mac. His eyes were changing to green then back to hazel. Mac walked away to go back to town and the school.
He managed to get through the day without falling asleep. He knew that Adam's actions at the Hurley farm had had an impact when even the teen-age boys asked about Maxine. As he walked home, everyone commented about Adam's bravery and asked if he had been hurt.
Mac went through the door and closed and locked it. "Honey, I'm home." He came through the hall into the kitchen. Adam had been fishing instead of sleeping. He was deep-frying bream and had already fried some potatoes.
Mac pilfered a few potatoes as he hopped up on the table. "You've become quite a celebrity, you and Maxine. Everyone is talking about the rescue." He leaned over to pick up some more chips. "When did you go fishing? And why didn't you wait for me?" Adam had a mound of fish and potatoes waiting to be fried. The first fish came up and he put it on a plate with the chips and gave them to Mac. "You need to eat this while it's hot; here's the ketchup." He turned and added more potatoes to the pot. "I did it for Addie. If I had thought it out, I probably wouldn't have done it." He served himself a portion and asked, "Do you want more? I'm going to let Josh fry his own when he gets through outside."
"Yes. This is good. I don't know why we don't do this more often." Adam just grinned at him. Mac knew that if he wanted to organize a fishing expedition it had better be soon. Adam didn't do 'fishing' when it was cold.
Josh came in the kitchen door with Maxine. "She kept sniffing and sniffing. She knew there was something extraordinary cooking in here." He blushed because of the fancy word. "It's okay if she comes in isn't it? She was so determined."
"Hello, Maxine. Come in. Let me pick over this fish. You don't want any nasty old bones do you?" Adam smiled down at the cat and she smiled up at him. "You are so beautiful. Come here and get this. I guess the thick coat protected her from the embers; there are just two or three spots that got burned."
Duncan took his portion up and turned the cooking over to Josh who took the first portion of chips up before they were quite done and ate them while the first portion of fish cooked. He continued on like that until everything was gone including a bottle of ketchup and three cups of milk. Then, very full, he washed the dishes and left for home with an equally full Maxine riding on his shoulder.
Adam and Mac waited until they knew he couldn't hear them then began to laugh helplessly. "I thought that I had more that enough fish. I was going to finish cooking it and save it for breakfast. Josh strikes again." Adam said still chuckling.
"I don't guess that he ever gets enough food. He looks underfed yet I know how much he eats here. And I know he eats at home." Mac shook his head. "I don't remember being that hungry when I was a teenager and there was a lot less food then."
Adam was too quiet. Mac knew that Adam didn't remember but he had always thought that Adam's childhood had been one of too much work and too little food. "Do you want to sleep for a while up here?" They always slept apart in the house.
Adam looked so tired. "No, I need you tonight. But I need to bathe; I still smell like smoke." He sighed and slouched back in his chair. "I don't think I have the energy and neither do you."
Mac smiled at him. He made a lovely picture. Slouched in the chair, he was wearing jeans that were almost washed out, an old shirt with longjohns just showing and with his dark hair longer than he had worn it fifty years ago; he looked about twenty-five. "Let's compromise. Take a nap up here while the water heats for your bath. Then we'll go downstairs."
"All right. But you use the first of the hot water to bathe then call me when it reheats." Adam went to his bedroom and fell into bed. He was asleep before he hit the bed. Mac followed him and straightened his body out and covered him up. He put his sword on the floor beside him. Then he went to heat the water.
Adam woke up about midnight and felt for his sword. Mac always remembered but he needed to touch it. He got up and picked up his sword and went to the kitchen. The bath water was nice and hot; Mac was dozing in the chair by the fire with his sword lying across his knees. Despite the long years of peace, they maintained their vigilance.
He knelt down beside him and rested his head on Mac's knee. Mac woke up to find Adam was leaning up against him. "Let's go fishing down in the gulch next Saturday afternoon. I'll get the cheese molded in the morning while you do everything else." He grinned up at Mac.
Mac looked at the grinning imp in front of him and he could deny him nothing but decided to give him a hard time anyway. "You'll do the cheese, just the cheese while I'll do everything else. That doesn't sound like a fair division of labor to me."
"It takes work to make cheese and you do like the way I season it. It's a multi-stage process that starts tomorrow and goes for weeks. I've always made the cheese." Adam sounded very hurt but the twinkle in his eye gave him away.
"Just take your bath. You're delaying our trip downstairs." Adam came to his feet in one motion and was moving to the tub shedding his clothes along the way. He stepped in and sighed. "I'm going downstairs and get everything ready much as I'd like to stay here and ogle you, the neighbors would talk."
When Adam came down the ladder and dropped his sword in the milk can with Duncan's everything was ready. Water was warming, the oil lamps were flickering, the bed was freshly made and the quilts and pillows were piled on it, the kerosene heater was glowing, and they both were clean.
Mac turned around to find Adam naked and stalking him. There was no need to stalk him; he wanted to be caught. He stood still and let Adam grab him. Adam fell on his mouth and devoured it. When they came up for air they were both trembling.
"It's been too long, Mac. Too long." All the while he kept his hands moving, pinching, nipping, tweaking. "Mac, take me. Please." Mac's clothes melted away. Adam fell down on the bed. He was trembling. "Mac, please."
Mac stretched out beside him and began to feed on his neck. Adam arched and grasped Mac with desperation. "Mac, please. Oh please." Mac could not ignore the pleading. He spread Adam's legs and got the oil to prepare him. Two fingers went in without trouble. Adam was so anxious and Mac was so ready for him. Mac looked up at the beautiful sight. Adam was stretched out full length with his head thrown back, emphasizing the long lines of his body.
Raising up on his knees, he coated himself with oil then put his penis to Adam's hole and pushed. Adam was not quite as ready as he had appeared. He groaned with the pain of entry. Mac leaned forward and kissed him soundly. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You appeared so ready."
"I was. I was ready in my mind. Just give me a minute to get used to it." Adam stroked with increasing need up and down Mac's back, around to his nipples, up to his face kissing him with longing, then with need finally with passion. As the kiss continued Mac started to move an inch in and an inch out.
It only took a few strokes till Adam started to relax again. As Mac continued, Adam started to writhe with passion and need. His legs came up and around Mac pulling him even closer. "More, more, Mac." And Mac pushed deeper and faster.
The ability to talk deserted them both. They were caught by their passion and desire for each other intensified by the long periods of denial that their situation demanded. They moved closer and closer to completion driven by the steady rhythm.
Mac came first but Adam's orgasm was greater; he came and came until he passed out. Mac fell with all his weight on his lover and lay there winded and exhausted. He rolled off Adam and moved to get the warm water. He began to bathe his enervated, beautiful Adam. It wasn't unusual for Adam to pass out when he was a bottom.
As soon as he had washed off both of them, he got the quilts ready to cover Adam and turned the oil lamps down; Adam did not like to wake to darkness. He got into the bed and gathered Adam to him. Pulling the quilts up, he snuggled against the lean body. Adam sighed in contentment. And Duncan drifted to sleep.
He woke to the sound of Adam moving around the cellar. He was gloriously naked. He came back to the bed and said, "We have time for a quickie before we have to go up. Prepare yourself to groan." He threw the covers back and climbed up on the bed.
He leaned down to take Mac's penis in his mouth; it was flaccid but beginning to fill out. His own organ was turgid with more than a morning erection. Mac swallowed it down. Lying on their sides they continued to a completion not long delayed.
Adam sat up and turned around and hugged Mac and Mac hugged him back. They needed just a few minutes to relax before they started the day. 'We have to find a way to be together more often. This is killing me."
"You'll come back to life and we still won't be together, Mac." Adam got up and got a cloth to wipe the semen off; he moved to get his clothes and went up the ladder with his sword. Mac followed him more slowly.
"I think I'll start the soft cheese; Josh can help me until it's time for him to go to school. The goat's milk will be delivered this morning. Then I'll take a break and go to town and see about the newspaper business. It's Friday; are you going to give your students a break and let them out early?"
"Not early but I'm going to let them have the afternoon for independent study. I expect them to 'study' very little." Mac smiled at Adam. He always looked good but today he looked rested and relaxed and all together scrumptious. "I'll get breakfast ready. Then I'll run for a bit. How long will you be?"
"It depends on when the goat's milk gets here-about an hour or so from then. Let's have some sourdough for breakfast; it should go well with the cheese." Adam got ready to go out to the shed where the cheese making supplies were kept. He heard the milkman drive up. "An hour from now." And he hurried out to meet the man with the goat's milk.
He and Josh came in with two crockery pots full of herb flavored soft cheese. The kitchen smelled wonderful, redolent with the scent of bacon and fresh baked bread. The men all washed up then sat down. Duncan said grace. One crock was opened and the bread was sliced. "I've never had cheese like this and it's so easy to make." Josh said around bites. "Then you can help me tonight and tomorrow? We'll be through by noon. Tell your Mama to bring over any spare milk that she has. The more hands we have the quicker we'll be through." Adam was finished and rose to put things away. Josh had eaten twice as much as two large men and was looking around for anything left.
"I'm going into town as soon as I change into my town clothes. Josh be prepared to work late tonight." Adam left the room. Mac got up as well. Josh said, "See you at school." Adam wore khaki pant and a fine blue cotton shirt. They briefly clasped hands in passing. Then Adam left for work and Mac went on to his bedroom to change clothes. He thought he was the only man in town to have to wear a tie to work but custom said the schoolteacher had to wear one.
Adam went on into town. He paused in front of the window to the office. He had to make a decision about the 'Shady Grove Express Adam Benjamin, Editor'. He had enjoyed the hard work and the challenge of making it a success. The special edition had all sold out. He opened the door to find the money had been pushed through the slot.
As he turned to close the door he felt the buzz of an Immortal. It had been years since he had felt any other Immortal besides Mac. He was a little surprised. Though the plague had raised the proportion of Immortals in the population, they were rare out here in the middle of nowhere.
He closed the door and stood back out of immediate sight. There he was and he looked like a hunter. Very well dressed, he swaggered down the street leading a fine looking horse. Mac would eat him alive if he were allowed to meet him. Adam decided right there that that would not be allowed to happen. But meeting on the main street of town did not seem like a good idea. Let the hunter find him.
As he was finishing some paperwork there was a knock on the door. Then the hunter came in. "Adam Benjamin, I presume." Adam nodded. "Ethan Bradley, I challenge you." Adam got up and faced his challenger. He knew all he needed to know about his opponent in the first minute.
He was less than a hundred years old and a mediocre swordsman. He was brash and probably had taken one or two heads and now considered himself very dangerous. He probably had stayed around his original home until just recently then had decided to go hunting. Frequently younger Immortals stayed until there was no one they remembered then they left and in a fury started to hunt.
As often as not they met their death soon after. And Adam intended to make sure that this one was very dead in a very few minutes. He grinned ferally at the hunter who took a step backwards at what he saw peering out from behind the mask. "After you. There's a good spot outside of town." The hunter retrieved his horse then followed but more slowly; the beaky awkward looking young man suddenly flowed over the ground like a dedicated athlete. And his eyes were truly frightening.
The grove of trees was hidden from the road by a dip of land. The middle of the grove was clear since the matriarch that had produced innumerable children had succumbed to lightening. Adam shed his coat at the same time he drew his sword. Ethan Bradley looked more and more frightened. "You can walk away. I have no quarrel with you."
"No, I challenged you. Let's fight." Methos hung back and watched his opponent. Ethan really was a fool. In a few quick strokes he had him down and with a backward stroke, Methos beheaded him. For Mac's sake, to clear one poor fool out of the game and because he could. The quickening took him and he knew no more.
Mac heard the thunder on the other side of town. At first he thought it was just thunder but then he realized what it had to be. Adam. He trusted his lover to win but there were always accidents. He told the children to take the rest of the afternoon off and when they had gleefully gone home, he ran for their horse and rode for the grove. Adam had to be there. It was the right direction. They had sparred there on occasion.
He found Adam lying on the ground with his head firmly attached and his opponent a few feet away with his head most definitely not. He wished he'd stopped to pick up a shovel; he did miss the Watcher clean up squads. He got his hands under Adam and rolled him over. His eyes were fluttering. Adam came awake with a start. Lust bubbled up in him but just before it overwhelmed him he said, "He was so young, Mac."
He grabbed Mac and kissed him with passion. Mac had a fleeting thought about how bad an idea this was with a dead and dismembered body within reach. But he was soon overwhelmed by the lust that was coming off Adam in waves rolling him into a haze of action. The hunter may have been young but he had lit a fire under Adam.
They were almost blind with the passion of the quickening between them. Adam felt that he would explode if he didn't get inside Mac. Adam jerked down his pants then fumbled with Mac's. He had enough control left to him that he didn't want to hurt Mac but he didn't have any lubrication. The pressure was building to just do something when Mac took the matter in hand; he suddenly came all over both of them.
Adam growled as he took the semen and spread it on his penis then pushed it into Mac with one thrust. With a stuttering rhythm Adam pushed to completion and Mac came again. Adam fell forward unconscious. Mac rolled over and put his arms around him and just held on.
Adam came back to consciousness slowly. Mac was ready to take or be taken if that was what was needed. But Adam said, "Where do we find a shovel?" He pushed himself up and off Mac. Looking down he said, "I love you. Thank you." He got to his feet and pulled up his pants and fastened them still a little shaky.
"Let's move him down into the gully over there; I'll come back after dark and bury him. Who was he?" Mac and Adam dragged the corpse the fifteen feet to the little gully and rolled it in. Mac went back and got the head and the sword and sent them tumbling after the corpse. They covered it with brush.
"He said that his name was Ethan Bradley. I let him see Death and tried to let him walk away but he insisted on fighting." Adam picked up his sword and put it in his coat's sheath. "He never had a chance. On my worst day I was so much better than he was. He wasn't very experienced. Now he never will be." Adam took a deep breath and started to cry. Mac put his arms around Adam and held him tightly. "It's a hell of an epitaph, isn't it."
Adam was still a little wobbly. With the spare horse, they could both ride. They dismounted at home and put the horses in the pasture. As they went up the path to the house Adam said, "My head really hurts. I think I'll lie down for a while." They went in the house and through the hall into Adam's bedroom.
He sat down on the side of the bed and bent to take his boots off. He almost fell off. Mac knelt and took the boots off then swung his legs up and onto the bed. He covered him with the quilt and leaned over to kiss him. "Sleep well."
It was just dark when Adam got up and went into the kitchen. He found the loaf of bread and the pot of cheese, poured some beer and sat down to eat. There was a scratching at the door; he opened it to let Maxine in. Josh and his mother Serena were coming up the path; Josh was carrying two large buckets of milk and Serena was leading a horse with two panniers of milk on its back.
Serena was talking non-stop to Josh but she transferred her attention to Adam. "Oh bless you for thinking of us. I wasn't going to make cheese till Thanksgiving. You'll have to come over to make some then. You always have the best tasting cheese." Adam had picked Maxine up and was letting her lick the cheese off of the bread. Serena stopped to pet her. "Is this the cheese you made this morning? Josh was telling me about it. He wants to make some but I don't know."
Adam looked up at Josh who was looking everywhere but at him. "He should try it but with just a little milk to see if he likes it. It's not hard but he has to remember to follow the recipe and to keep everything clean." As he talked he unloaded the horse and moved all the milk into the shed. "Josh, get the milk cans out of the spring house and we'll get started."
"Where's Duncan? He will be here won't he? I can't believe he'd leave you here to do this by yourself. Where is he." Then she spoke what was foremost in her heart. "I know you love Maxie. But I don't think I could stand to give her to you. Please Adam."
Serena stood there a plain woman with a big mouth and a bigger heart with the tears running down her face. Adam decided to answer the question that concerned her most. "I don't want Maxine; she's your cat. I enjoy her company but never doubt that she is yours. But I do want a kitten out of her next litter."
"Oh good. I think that I'll mate her with that Himalaya tom over in China Grove. They had beautiful kittens last time. And Maxie liked him. That makes a difference you know." As she talked she was washing the big tubs that would hold the curds. "There's Duncan. I knew he wouldn't leave you by yourself."
"Duncan Maclain of the clan Maclain. You've come back just in time to cook all of us some supper." Adam smiled his greeting. Duncan looked particularly grubby; he had clearly been burying the hunter.
"Serena, Josh, Adam. It will be about an hour and a half. I have some sourdough bread and a ham. I'll find something else. Just let me change clothes. Then I'll get started. Adam and I made a deal that he would make the cheese and I would be responsible for everything else." Duncan ran up the steps and into the house.
"Well now, I guess that's fair. Doesn't he like to make cheese? Maybe he doesn't like the smell. It is kind of pungent wouldn't you say, Adam." As she talked the tools and pots they'd need to make the cheese were cleaned and laid out to dry.
They brought all the milk into the shed and poured the milk into the tubs. Adam went to each tub and added the rennet from a cow's stomach and the coagulant plus nitrate. Serena and Josh went behind him to stir each tub with long paddles whittled from hickory. After about an hour they let it set into curds. Adam would have to keep the shed warm through the night. The next steps were cutting then draining the curds and forming the cheese into shapes.
Mac came into the shed. "I hope you're almost ready because supper is served." Serena was cleaning the paddles while Adam and Josh were covering the tubs with cheesecloth. "Great I'm starving." "Josh, you can't be starving. We ate before we came over here. I don't understand how you eat so much and still look like your starving to death." Serena was rendered almost speechless by this artless declaration.
"And he ate with me at 4:30. I'll bet he can find a place to put some pot cheese. How about you, Serena? Would you like to try Adam's new cheese." Mac gave one of his winning smiles that no woman living had ever been able to resist. Adam rolled his eyes and ushered them all into the kitchen. "I don't know about Josh but I am starving; I was sleeping at 4:30. Why didn't you wake me?" Adam washed his hands and sat down at the table. Serena and Josh were not far behind.
"Since Adam sounds like he is the hungriest we'll serve him first. There's plenty for everyone." Adam looked with some dismay at his heaping plate: ham, a sweet potato with sweet cream butter, home canned beans, some tomato chutney and fresh sourdough bread with pot cheese. "Eat." Was all Mac said.
"This ham is really good, Duncan. Did you can the beans yourself? And what is this tomatoey stuff? Is it hard to make? Oh, Adam, this cheese is really good. What do you put in it to give it this flavor? What a wonderful meal! I don't know when I've enjoyed ham more. And the sweet potatoes are just perfect. And Maxie enjoyed her meal, too. Didn't you sweetness. Ham and cheese. Yum! Josh, that's enough. You've eaten almost as much as the three of us put together. I know that he eats six meals a day! But he's a growing boy. What are you going to do? We'll be back to mold the cheese tomorrow morning. I'll take Maxie home now and Josh can come when he does the dishes. Good night."
Not having got a single word in Mac was still well satisfied with the meal since Adam had eaten almost everything on his plate. "You have to keep the fires burning all night; why don't you split the watch with me. I'll take the second watch. Are you through, Josh? Good night. I'll sit with you for a few minutes though."
They got their coats and swords and went outside to sit and look at the stars; they sat on the bench at the side of the shed. Mac said, "Do you think he was a random hunter or have they found us." Something about the plague and the fears it set off had brought on a frenzy of hunting with Duncan MacLeod and Adam Pierson as the most sought after targets.
There had been some harrowing escapes and sudden disappearances before they had found a measure of peace in the small villages scattered across the country. Mac thought that the only reason they survived was the grumpy old soul sitting next to him. "I think he was just a hunter, Mac. So young and so stupid, I don't see anyone trusting him to be part of a group. But it makes our decision to leave that much more important."
They sat for a while longer not saying anything, just enjoying the night and each other. "I guess we need to see if that horse of his was stolen. It's a fine looking horse. He certainly looked like he could afford it. A second horse will be handy to have when we leave, though. Well I'm going to bed. I'll be up about midnight to stoke the fire. Good night."
Adam went into the shed and stirred the fires up and then came back out and sat down on the bench. He would build them up in about an hour and then go into the house and read. It would take some doing to extricate themselves from their situation here. Mac would want to finish the school year. He was a gifted teacher who had come to love his small group of students. But knowing they were going to leave should make it easier. He would offer a few hints about wanting to sell the paper and maybe Josh could be persuaded to talk about his headaches.
Just then he heard a purring coming down the path. Maxine had come back. "Maxine, my precious, you're out late tonight. Are you coming into heat? That would mean Christmas kittens." He reached down and got her and put her in his lap. Maybe he could get the kitten and go as the winter gave way to spring. Mac could stay until May when the school term ended. He might object but their relationship would be better for a little time apart. And now with two horses the problems of transportation were solved.
It was too easy. He didn't trust a plan that wasn't complicated. He sighed and hugged Maxine closer. With the money from the paper plus the money from the house and land maybe they could act a little richer. Just a little though, it wouldn't do to call too much attention to themselves.
Maxine was a warm presence in his lap.