Layers: Predator and Prey

Story by Nex_Canis on SoFurry

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This story and image is a collaboration between myself and kensukethecat

He did the art and I did the story! I absolutely LOVE how the image came out and I am simply left breathless by the amount of detail Kensuke put into it. I do hope my story does the image justice.

This is actually my first foray into pure romance. No crazy magic, no supernatural craziness, no transformation. Just two guys working things out in a world where everyone needs a few extra layers to protect themselves from the harshness of the world.

I hope you enjoy!

Layers: Predator and Prey


It was that time of year. Leaves were turning from their emerald greens and bright jades to vibrant arrays of sunset orange, dusty brown, bright crimson and even some lemon yellow. Roads were covered in blankets of fallen leaves, temperatures were dropping and days shorter. Clouds were more common these days in the skies and rain was starting to pelt the countryside, giving the farmers their much needed water.

There was a certain serenity just rolling up the countryside that Brian Huffington really had to appreciate. The chill in the air would've been unbearable for most other furs but Brian's thick fur even for a wolf allowed him to survive and was even somewhat refreshing as the winds whipped through brown and white fur. Speeding down the gently curving country road in his sleek, red convertible, his aviator sunglasses sitting nicely on his muzzle to keep the wind out, Brian was at peace.

Without the hustle and bustle of the city, he found himself calm, relaxed and free to be alone with his own thoughts. Usually, in the city there were gruff, grumpy people bumping into him, shoving past him, throwing papers everywhere or calling to follow up on an email they sent less than five minutes ago. Now that he was well and away from the honking horns and angry furs shaking their fists at random bystanders he realised...

... he hated it.

Oh my god, he mentally screamed, this is so boring!

For the tenth time since he left the city, he tried the radio and all he picked up was static. His client lived so far away from the city that there weren't even any radio signals! The last place he passed that had any signs of civilisation was a small gas station about half an hour back and the guy there had been so slack jawed and knuckle dragging that Brian felt like he was losing IQ points just by breathing the same air as the brute.

His phone which sat mounted on the dashboard showed just one bar for its signal. If he wasn't careful, he would be driving straight into a slasher movie. There was nothing but farmland as far as the eye could see and maybe the occasional forest. If the only means of communication was through an old landline, there would be no way he could go for help if his client decided to hack him up into little bits and eat his flesh. Or perhaps hunt him like a wild animal just for sport because there was no other form of entertainment out here.

Brian sighed and checked his watch. At least he had timed his arrival well. He rolled up to Manning Farm located at 98 Cornwall Road. The entire property was fenced off by a wall of wood, almost looking like a military fortress with the pieces stacked on top of one another and kept in place by vertical, metal bars. A large archway with the word 'Manning' etched on a wooden plaque stood over the entrance. It honestly looked quite well kempt so Brian couldn't understand why the owner would be in any sort of financial strife.

He fully expected to see rows wilted fields or overgrown paddocks and malnourished, half-dead cattle but as he rolled up the dirt driveway, he found lush, green farmland ripe for the picking, dew glistening on the leaves of the lettuce, carrots and trees in the orchards. It looked like a rather prosperous farm. Brian rolled up to the large, double-storey farmhouse with its quaint red roof and wooden frame. A little wind chime hanging from the veranda rang out as greeting.

He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out the file he had been given about his client.

Troy Manning was just 33 years old and he was the sole owner of this massive piece of farmland that had a history of being well kept and being rather profitable. Recently however, Mr. Manning had incurred a significant amount of debt. The banks became concerned and contacted their client to arrange a financial advisor to meet with them. Brian was the lucky duck to be assigned to assit Troy Manning with his finances.

Though from what he could see, this was not turning out to be a very strong case.

He looked up towards the farmhouse and stepped out of his car, carrying his 5'9'' athletic frame up to the bright, green screen door. There was strangely no doorbell so he was forced to knock. Again, he checked his watch. Still ten minutes early for their meeting. He waited patiently for another minute before knocking for a second time.

"Yeah, yeah! I'mma comin'. Hold yer horses!"

Great, Brian thought bitterly. Another red-neck knuckle dragger.

Despite these thoughts, he tried to look bright and pleasant by putting on a smile. That smile instantly dropped off when the door opened and a huge hulk of a man stepped out. The first thing Brian noticed were those powerful, proud antlers; six proud prongs standing tall and proud through a messy mop of dark brown hair. The stag's features were rather rough and unkempt with a messy stubble over his brown - almost reddish - short coat. The male's strong neck led to a powerfully build chest that was covered in a light white coat of fur but interrupted by thick, dark brown chest fuzz. Despite the thicker hair, the lines of his strong, abdominal muscles and torso glistened in the morning sun. The thing that caught Brian's attention was the golden nipple ring mounted on the man's left nipple... that and the thick crest of crotch fur poking out from the lines of the man's white briefs.

"Yeah?" growled the stag. "Whatdya want?"

Brian snapped himself out from his gawking and cleared his throat. "Mr. Manning." He held out his paw, the paw that had his expensive gold and silver watch showing. "My name is Brian Huffington. I'm from Huffington Accounting. I'm here to assess your financial situation and assist you with your finances so that you avoid bankruptcy."

Manning frowned at him. "Bankruptcy. I dinna file for no bankruptcy."

It was Brian's turn to frown in return and reached into the folder. "Uhm... no, that's not what I meant, sir. I merely meant that in order to _avoid_bankruptcy and help with your substantial debt..."

The stag growled and ran a big, calloused hand down his muzzle. "Fuck Trey..."

"I'm sorry?" Brian asked, flicking his ears forward. "Aren't you Troy Manning?"

"Yeah, I'm Troy. An' my brother is Trey. Fuckwad prolly got 'imself inta trouble 'gain. I dun trust 'em banks and dun even have a loan. He's the one with the shit tonne of debt. Prolly signed my name thinkin' it wud solve all 'is problems."

Brian looked towards the court documents. "You'll forgive me if I don't believe you, Mr. Manning. It says here that Troy Manning appeared at the regional branch of the Bank of -"

"Well I dinna do that," Troy growled. "Now get offa my property!"

Thanks to being at least a little taller than Manning, Brian took a deep breath and puffed out his chest. "Mr. Manning," he growled firmly. "I'm just trying to help. Your assets will be frozen and seized if you at least don't let me assess your situation and verify your identity. If you indeed claim that your brother was impersonating you, then I will need proof that we can take to the proper authorities. I don't have the power to make an arrest or whatever is needed but I do have the ability to kick start the process and that will involve me having a look at your finances."

Troy squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his muzzle. "Ya know whut? I got no time fer this bullshit. Fine. Come in. Dun touch nothin'. Imma gonna make some calls."

Glad to at least be making some progress, Brian said. "Thank you."

Asshole, he mentally added.

The interior of the house was simple, homey and certainly had a warmth about it that Brian likened to Christmas or Thanksgiving at his grandmother's. There was an amber glow that seemed to hang around in the air giving everything an almost honey-like colour even in the dreary, grey morning like somehow every wall and corner was illuminated by firelight. Ornaments hung on the walls with pictures of a happy family of five, two proud parents and three kids, two male and one female. There was certainly a very rural feel to the entire house.

Brian took a step inside.

"Take of yer shoes," Troy growled from down the hall. "What are ya? Sum sorta barbarian?"

It was always hard to tell with hoofed species whether or not they preferred to go around barefoot or not. In this case, it seemed Manning preferred not treading dirt into the house. Brian could see why. It was rather well maintained and clean. He removed his expensive, polished black shoes and stepped into the house, shivering slightly at the sudden increase in temperature. Compared to outside, the interior of the home was quite warm.

"So Mr. Manning," he began, wandering down the main entry hallway. "Do you live alone?"

"Yeah. Jus' me ever since Trey up an' went ta the city an' Trish got o'nna 'em college degrees."

Okay, so clearly he didn't go to college... Did he even go to high school?

Brian already knew that that the parents were long deceased and had divided their assets amongst their three children. Clearly Troy had gotten the farm. He followed Manning to the kitchen which had the same amber glow about it and appeared very rustic. Fresh herbs were hanging from the ceiling just drying and there was even a walk-in pantry. Most people would love a house like this... if it were in the suburbs and not so far out in the sticks.

"How many people do you have working with you?" Brian asked.

"None. I manage this farm all b'myself."

There, the timber wolf frowned and quickly checked his papers. "All by yourself? Isn't this land at least 2,200 acres?"

"Yep," Manning grunted, turning his broad, muscled back to Brian. "Can't afford any help. Trish can't settle onna major an' just keeps on studyin' while taking part-time jobs. I gotsta send 'er tuition money every year an' shit. Trey keeps pullin' shit like this an'..." The stag sighed and shut his eyes. He lifted a big hand in Brian's direction in apology. "Look, I'm sorry. Yer jus' doin' yer job an' my jackass of a brother got me inta this mess. Lemme jus' call Trey, get this sorted out an' ya can be on yer way."

"If it's all the same with you, I will at least need to have a look at your bank account and make sure that you have adequate funds to support yourself," answered Brian.

"Fine. Jus' lemme call my brother." Troy went over to his refrigerator, a surprisingly old model, and pulled out two cans of beer. "Ya want one?"

It's ten in the morning!

"No thanks," Brian answered politely.

He let Troy pick up the phone - thankfully a modern cordless version - and dialled up a number. Letting his eyes drift and wander, Brian took in his surroundings. In the back of his mind, he envisioned a family of five making this place rather busy during meals before rushing off into the farm to do whatever it was that farmers did. It was cute but he didn't think it'd be a life for him.

"Yer what!?"

He jumped and spun back towards Troy in surprise. There was a look of fury on the stag's expression, his brown eyes blazing and his teeth gnashed together in anger.

"Ya fucked up, irresponsible, drugged-up piece of shit!" sneered the stag. "Ya drag me inta yer mess an' then ya get yerself and yer car wrapped around a fuckin' telephone pole!?" Troy's fists were shaking in fury. "If ya think Imma gonna help ya outta this one -"

Suddenly, Troy's expression widened and his muzzle went slack like someone had just punched his diaphragm and all the wind had been knocked out of him. All the fury and rage faded from his face, replaced by guilt. "Yeah... Yeah, fine. I'll send ya bail. Yeah. Fine. Rent too. Whatever. Bye."

He hung up and turned to Brian. As if realising he was still in the room, Troy froze and nodded. "Oh yeah... Sorry ya had ta see that... My brother jus' pisses me off..."

No doubt brother dearest is the troublemaker of the group and the parents' dying wish was for Troy to take care of him. Poor guy.

"Think nothing of it," Brian responded with a shake of his head.

"Imma gonna send some money my brother's way," Troy said, hiking a thumb over his shoulder. "C'mon. I can show ya my bank account ta prove I ain't got no troubles."


Guy has a hell of a lot of family troubles, apparently. At least I can get this off his back.

Troy led him up to the second floor which was just as rustic as the ground floor. There was a glass cabinet full of trophies from what appeared to be a high school. Judging by the name on them, they were clearly Trey's. There were no such achievements for Troy. They entered Troy's bedroom and that was where the homey, welcoming feel of the farmhouse ended.

Troy's room was what Brian could only consider as a 'man cave'. There were clothes strewn everywhere. The bedsheets were ruffled and a mess and it stank of sweat and male musk. The curtains were closed, leaving much of the room in mystery but he could still make out the dumbbells, books on agriculture and a football just lying on the ground. Worn posters from some band he didn't recognise hung on the walls.

A desk in the corner had a rather aged computer and monitor already on. It was one of those large backed monitors and the computer was so loud that he swore there was a hive of bees inside just waiting to get out. How Troy managed to squeeze his massive frame onto the tiny chair was a beyond him. The stag clicked through several sites before gesturing with a paw at the screen.

"See," Troy grunted. "All good."

Truth was, Brian was fully aware of the Manning's bank account. But the fact that Trey Manning had apparently impersonated his brother or at least handed over his debt to his brother had made him doubt his information. Unfortunately, the same dismal account that he had been made aware of was the same one shown on screen.

"I'm sorry sir," he murmured softly. "But that's far from 'all good'."

"What? Yer crazy! I got a solid ten grand in my account! An' I dun have any debt!"

"You don't but your brother does," answered Brian as he straightened. "And someone has to pay for that amount. Not to mention, as you've mentioned, bail and rent." He nodded towards the screen. "If you don't have a loan, that's not going to be enough."

The stag's ears folded back in sorrow. "Jus'... how much did my brother cost...?"

It tore up his hear to admit the figure but Brian had a job to do. "Fifty."

Troy's eyes widened and he sank in his chair. "Fuck me..."

Brian regarded his notes one more time. "Look, it's not my place to say, but your brother is a grown man. I'm sure he can take care of the debt himself. I've got proof of your identity. You are under no obligation to pay off his debts."

"Ya dun get it," Troy growled, stamping his foot angrily. "I hafta... City folk like you wouldn't understand." He got up and ran his hand down his face. "Whatcha need? Do I gotta see summa my dad's books? Strip the house bare or sumthin'?"

"No. No, not at all." Brian gave Troy an encouraging smile. "Look, I'm not a tax collector. I'm a financial advisor. I'm here to assess your situation and advise you to make some changes in your life to help you pay off this debt and become far more financially secure." He flicked through his notes again. "The banks have said that as long as you make a payment of at least one thousand per month, they won't start seizing your assets. Of course, interest will kick in every month as well which but that should be manageable."

"A grand per month!?" Troy exclaimed. "I ain't got that kinda money!"

"Which is why I'm here to help," Brian answered. "So why don't we get started? If I could just have a few hours of your time -"

"I ain't got a few hours, fluffy," growled the stag. "I gots a farm ta maintain. If I dun check mah crops every day, I might not be able ta sell any of 'em fer this year's harvest. So I ain't even gonna have any money ta pay off yer fuckin' interest."

Okay... I know you're pissed, but still...

"Look, Mr. Manning, I'm sure this is a stressful time but if you want to keep your farm, you need to sit down and seriously consider your financial situation!"

Troy sneered at him and stormed over, looking so much bigger now that he was up close. "I ain't got ta take order from no pencil pushin' city slicker like you, fluffy. This farm has been in mah family fer generations!" He thrust a thumb against his chest. "Yer bank ain't got no claim on it! I'll be damned if I'm gonna sell any of it because some greedy pack of shit fifty miles away ran outta hundred dollar bills ta wipe his ass with!"

Okay... Okay, keep calm, he's just mad... And he can break you like a twig but still...

"Your brother -"

"Is a fuckin' retard an' a fool but he's still my brother!" Troy bellowed. "I dun expect some suit-wearing, manicured show dog like you to understand anythin' 'bout family." Troy's big hand shoved Brian back, nearly pushing him completely out of the door. "So why dun ya go back to yer fuckin' boss, tell 'im I ain't gonna take no financial advice from you shitheads an' I'll be takin' care of this myself!"

Brian growled back but fought back any inclination to snap. He was on business and he couldn't let this guy's attitude piss him off. Brian Huffington was, if anything, a professional. He straightened his suit and even made a show of readjusting his tie.

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Mr. Manning. Thank you for your time. Good luck with your finances and your brother."

He only got a grunt from the stag and wasn't even escorted out of the house.

Not that I'd expect manners from a redneck, inbred hick anyway.

Once outside, he flicked open his phone and was glad that the one bar of signal still managed to maintain itself. He leaned against the hood of his car and hit speed dial. It took only three rings before someone picked up.

"Brian," came the gruff, gravelly voice tarnished by years of smoking. "Problems?"

"No sir," he responded. "It seems that Mr. Manning's brother signed his name onto the debt and has basically put all responsibility of said debt onto his shoulders."

"That hardly warrants a call. I am very busy."

Brian took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Mr. Manning doesn't want our help managing his finances. He outwardly refused our offer."

"I don't want excuses, Brian. We are a consultancy agency and we don't get paid if we don't manage people's finances. Your last debacle is still on your record and I would rather not have to let you go given our history."

"I can't help him if he doesn't want it."

"He has no choice!"

"Sir, with all due respect, his brother has no choice. Mr. Manning seems more than capable of managing his own finances. He has done so for several years alone while supporting his sister through college and his brother's wanton spending. I am sure that he will -"

"I don't care Brian. This is your last chance. Either you secure this client or you're fired!"

Brian squeezed his eyes shut. "Dad..."

"No excuses. Family business or not, I am not handing anything to someone as incompetent as you. Don't come back here until you've at least got a solid week's worth of work, is that understood!?"

His tail tucked between his legs, Brian could only lower the phone and stare at it. Left speechless, he wasn't sure what he could do.

He said that I needed to get a solid week's worth of work... but not necessarily with this client. I've got a few leads elsewhere. I'm sure I can -

"Your old man is a jackass."

He jumped and spun back towards the farmhouse. Troy was leaning against one of the support poles, big, powerful arms crossed and now wearing a denim vest and a hat that allowed for his antlers to poke through.

"You heard that?" Brian asked.

"Nope," grunted the stag. "But ya talked business an' then called 'im yer pop so I figured ya work fer yer old man. Then ya got that look on yer face like ya just got gutted so I figured it ain't goin' well."

He's more observant than I gave him credit for, Brian thought with a soft snort.

"Let's just say I'm on thin ice with him as is. I'd rather not bother you with the details." He turned towards his car, gripping the doorhandle. "Have a good day, Mr. Manning. Sorry we couldn't do business."

"What's yer fee?"

His ears perked and he glanced back towards the stag with surprise in his soft, blue eyes. "Pardon?"

"How much do I gotta pay ya to give me financial advice?"

Brian straightened, utterly puzzled. "Well... my commission comes from the bank where the debt is currently sitting with. So long as the minimum payment is made per month, I get a paid. I just have to charge how many hours I work and make sure the payments are made on time."

"Good," Troy grunted, pushing off the pole so that he stood at his full height. "Long as I dun gotta pay ya nothin'. But if yer gonna stay 'ere and I gotta feed ya, yer gonna have to pull yer weight. Ya ever worked on a farm befer?"

The blonde-haired wolf jerked his head back in surprise. "Stay here?" He laughed softly. "You misunderstand, Mr. Manning, I'm just going to need you to send details of your daily expenses, whom you sell your produce to, what prices you get and where your time goes so I can make suggestions and rationalisations to -"

"Whatever," interrupted Troy. "Listen, I get one day a week where I dun get up at the crack o' dawn ta tend ta my fields. That's today an' I'm wastin' it talkin' to ya. Bottom line, I ain't got time ta give ya all that shit. If Imma gonna may yer payments, I gotta work my ass off an' yer not gonna drive all the way from the city ev'ry day ta get jack shit from me. So either ya drive 'ere once a week afta getting' yer tail ripped off by yer old man or ya move inta o'nna my spare bedrooms an' do yer shit while helpin' me 'round the farm when ya ain't crunchin' numbers."

Brian lifted his paws into the air and shook his head. "You must be jokin'."

"Yer call, fluffy. I'm throwin' ya a bone 'ere. Way I see it, ya either go back ta yer dear ol' pop an' get written outta the will or you buck up an' get yer pretty little manicured paws dirty fer once in yer life. I dun need ya managin' my funds but if ya do, I got more time ta tend ta the crops which means more money."

Brian bit his lower lip and lowered his paws.

Rock and a hard place here, Huffington. Either go back to dad with your tail between your legs, admit defeat and likely get kicked out of the company... or stay here, yank a few potatoes out of the ground and live with a redneck hick for a week or so until he's got a suitable financial plan to see him through his debt...

The young wolf took a deep breath and straightened. "Alright, Mr. Manning. You've got a deal."

"Jus' call me Troy."

"Okay Troy," said Brian with a smile. "Let me just get some change of clothes and some basic supplies and I'll be back here to start work."

Troy turned his back to Brian, waving a hand over his shoulder. "Nothin' fancy, ya here? I got bills ta worry 'bout now."


'If ya see someone in need, ya do the right thin' an' help 'em, ya here me Troy?'

Those were the words of Gerard Manning to his youngest son and Troy had carried those words throughout his life. He mentally kicked himself when he felt a twang of guilt after pushing Brian out of his room and then following him out of his house. Hearing the blonde wolf's blight, his father's words had echoed in his mind. As much as he hated the idea of someone coming in and telling him how to manage his money, he had to help Brian out.

Besides, the fluffy prince wouldn't last a week with him anyway. Just a few days of hard farm work and he was sure Brian Huffington would have had enough, called it quits and headed out. That would hopefully satiate the wolf's asshole of a dad. Seriously, any father that would cause their son to wear that expression of defeat, hopelessness and hurt was not worth being a father. Troy had only seen that look once before and it hadn't been good.

It was already well past noon when Brian's overly expensive car came rolling back up to his driveway with two suitcases in the back. Troy was just cooking lunch when he spotted the wolf hefting his luggage over.

"Ya've gotta be fuckin' kiddin' me..." he growled and turned the stove down to a low heat.

He met Brian at the door and stared at the large, sturdy looking bags beside the sweating wolf.

Yeah, ain't gonna last a week, he thought to himself. The prince can't even make it up the driveway with his own bags without smellin' like a sweaty sock.

"I thought I told ya ta pack only the essentials," Troy grumbled.

"These are my essentials," Brian said, gesturing towards the bags. "A week's worth of clothing with a few extras just in case, several documents on your case that I've managed to dig up as well as the history of your brother and sister's finances from the banks." He patted one suitcase with his paws as he spoke. Then he tapped the next one. "And this one contains my toiletries, computer and my coffee maker."

"Yer what?"

"Oh, I can't function in the morning without coffee," Brian laughed. "Trust me, I am a total zombie until I get a cup or two in me."

Rich city-slicker shit...

"Right. Whatever. Lemme show ya where yer gonna stay." Troy easily hefted the bag with the clothes in it over his shoulder. It was ridiculously light to him and he easily bounded up the stairs two at a time to the rooms. By the time he reached the top, Brian was still at the base of the steps, panting as he was carrying his luggage.

"Do ya even have any muscle beneath all that fur?" he mocked.

"I work out!" Brian protested. "This thing is just heavy, that's all! It's got a lot of stuff in it!"

Troy rolled his eyes and set the suitcase he was holding down. He bounded down the steps to Brian and hoisted the case over his head. Admittedly, it was a little heavier than the other one but really not by much.

"Careful! That's got delicate equipment in it!" Brian exclaimed.

"Right. Yer coffee maker."

Back at the top of the stairs, he led Brian to the spare bedroom. It was mostly barren and just had a desk, a lamp and a bed inside. "This used ta be Trey's bedroom. Then he left. Make yerself at home."

The suited wolf nodded in thanks. "Thank you. I'll set things up and get straight to work."

"Nah yer not. We're grabbin' lunch first then yer gonna help me with the crops."

Brian spun towards him in shock. "Wait, what? Don't I get an orientation first? Maybe a day or two to get settled in?"

Troy grinned a little maniacally. "Half the day's gone, fluffy. I dun have much time ta teach ya an' I can't be wastin' my time second guessin' ya. 'sides, I ain't cookin' lunch twice."

"Oh... Well, I sort of grabbed something before I came back here so I'm good for lunch."

"Then ya can watch me eat. Unpack then get ready. Gonna get ya workin' the barn today."

Troy turned, trying not to grin too brightly.

This is gonna be fun.

Lunch was a simple mean of bread, eggs and some greens. He could tell Brian was taking his time in 'coming down' simply because he had the time to finish cooking and eat his meal before the wolf descended the stairs. The moment Troy saw him, he mentally groaned.

"Well," Brian said, lifting his arms. "Do I look the part?"

Brian had lost the suit and slacks, at least, but he was now dressed a ridiculous pair of tan shorts, a pair of bright sneakers and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up in what had to be the most ridiculous attempt at machismo that Troy had ever seen.

"Ya look like a fuckin' boy scout," Troy said, rising from his seat. "Fuck, ya look like a boy scout that never grew up. No, yer worse. Ya look like the guy that dresses up like a fuckin' boy scout to fuck boy scouts."

Brian's ears folded back. "I'm dressed for the outdoors, aren't I?"

"Fuckwad," growled the stag. "Ya know why farmers wear overalls or pants out in the field?"


"It's cuz out there in the fields, there's a fuck tonne of shit out in the fields. An' I dun mean that figuratively. There's fertiliser out there. Ya wanna know what can happen if ya get cut an' summa that shit get in the wound?"


Troy sneered and stormed past him back up the stairs, all the while yelling. "It gets infected, yer leg looks like Christmas fuckin' pudding an' then ya gotta get it hacked off! An' why the bleedin' hell would ya wear a white, fuckin' shirt!? Ya know we're gonna be workin' in dirt, right?"

Brian followed him upstairs and into his room. He entered just as Troy tossed him some denim pants and a red, plaid shirt.

"Here," Troy grunted. "Ya can wear these." He dropped a pair of dirty boots into the pile in Brian's arms. "An' ya'll need these."

Brian regarded the big, black boots still with mud and dirt caked onto the bottom. "I need to wear boots?"

"Yer sneakers ain't gonna do ya any good in the field. Now put 'em on an' don't take a whole fuckin' hour."

I dun think this'll be as fun as I thought... Idiot is fuckin' clueless... A fuckin' clueless city boy.

At least Brian only took fifteen minutes this time to get changed. The lupine looked utterly ridiculous in the oversized clothes and Tory could've sworn he had gotten shorter but it must just have been the clothes he was now wearing. Still, it was much safer than what he had on previously.

He guided Brian over to the barn. His tractor was still sitting inside as he had spent most of the morning checking the broccoli and bean crops as they would need to be harvested soon before it got too cold. There were large bags filled with those crops that he had deemed were ready for picking already but they needed to be washed, sorted and then properly stored.

Troy showed Brian how to clean the vegetables and then how to sort them. At the very least, the wolf was a quick learner and his eagerness was likely in part to the fact that he wasn't doing any actual hard farm work. Troy figured that if the wolf was used to crunching numbers, he wouldn't mind counting beans and broccoli.

Once Brian had the system down, Troy headed over to his tractor to collect the rest of what he could harvest. But as soon as he started it up...

The tractor let out a miserable splutter and a boom, black smoke rising from the engine.

"What the fuck!?" Troy shouted, slamming the wheel with the heel of his palm. "Come on, girl! Not now!"

"Problems?" Brian asked, heading over.

"Nothin' ya shud be mindin'," Troy growled, leaping off the tractor. He popped open the hood, a cloud of black smoke rising and making him cough. "Fuck..."

The accountant looked over the hood. "Maybe I could have a look?"

"You? Seriously?"

"Why not?" Brian responded. "I'm good with cars."

"Riiight..." Troy shook his head and headed towards the barn door. "Imma gonna call my Merl. He knows how to fix this."

"Do you have a tool box somewhere?"

He glanced back over his shoulder at Brian. The wolf was looking at him earnestly like he genuinely wanted to help. With a sigh, Troy pointed over to a large tarp. "Somewhere underneath there. Jus' dun go makin' things worse."

"I know what I'm doing."

Right. Like some spoilt city-slicker knows how to fix a tractor.

Troy headed back towards his house, jogging all the way there. He couldn't waste any more time teaching this spoiled brat. Now with his tractor broken, he would be out at least a couple more days and he was not looking forward to wheeling around a cart for his harvest. Winter was fast approaching and he had to get all the crops that wouldn't survive the cold weather protected or sold.

This is some fuckin' day. First this fuffball in a suit shows up at my door, Trey dumps fifty grand o' debt my ass and now my tractor is broken!

Not to mention I now have another mouth to feed...

Fuck, this must be what being a parent feels like...

Once back in his house, he kicked off his boots and headed straight towards the kitchen. He picked up the phone and dialled Merl's number.

"Hey Merl, tractor's broken," he grunted. "When can ya come over?"

"Hey Troy. Shitty luck. That's the second time this month!"

"You dun know the half o' it," he grumbled.

"Well, I can't come in today. Little late an' I got the missus ta think 'bout. First thing tomorrow mornin'?"

Troy tried to subdue the sigh building in his chest. "Sure. Thanks, Merl. I'll -"


He spun back towards his barn, eyes wide in terror. "Oh fuck me... I gotta call ya back, Merl."

Panic in his veins, Troy bolted back out of his house at full speed. Though he never had to worry about money that much, he began to fret about how much an ambulance would cost and what he'd have to pay to get that stupid city-bred wolf patched up for being so arrogant that he thought he could fix a tractor. Hopefully the idiot had health insurance and he wouldn't sue. Then again, being a city guy, he probably would sue anyway.

That's all they do to grab money anyway... Fuckin' leech off someone else's hard work even if it's their fault... Fuck...

He didn't even make it halfway to the barn before his red tractor came rolling out of the barn, Brian sitting astride with a proud smile on his muzzle.

"Da holy fuck!?" Troy exclaimed. "Ya fixed her? How!?"

Brian held up his phone and waggled it smugly. "It's called the internet. You should try it sometime. You do get one bar out here."

Smug son-of-a-bitch.

But Troy couldn't be too mad. This now slightly greasy accountant had managed to fix his tractor saving him at least a day of work. Merl wouldn't have to come over either. He was also impressed. Internet or no, Brian still needed some skill to be able to fix the tractor. You don't just learn how to use a wrench or a how an engine works just by reading it off the internet.

"Get off yer high horse an' get back to work," Troy growled, trying to fight the grin on his muzzle but losing. "I got work to do."

Brian gave him a mocking salute.

"Sure thing, boss."


Sorting, cleaning and packing beans and broccoli was not exactly what Brian had in mind when he was had come to the Manning farm but at the very least he wasn't trudging through fertiliser and uprooting plants. It was long, tedious work but he was an accountant and financial advisor. He was used to the numbers game and his attention to detail served him very well. By the time the sun was starting to set, he had a good four crates of broccoli and beans sorted.

Troy came rolling in with his tractor again with even more sacks full of his produce. They worked together to make sure that they were secure and protected. Mice and bugs could easily get in and ruin the harvest if they weren't protected. Once that was done, the sun had set and it was time for dinner.

"Ya know how ta cook?" Troy asked.

"Bare basics," answered Brian. "I mean, I know how to make a mean chicken roulade. Or if you're into vegetarian, I know a recipe of okonomiyaki."

"Da fuck is that?"

I suppose it was too much to expect for him to know Japanese cuisine.

"It's this vegetarian pancake, basically."

"Pancakes are vegetarian." He held open the door to the farmhouse for Brian. "Unless you're one of 'em vegan types that ain't gonna eat eggs or sumthin'. Shoes off."

Brian removed is boots and stepped inside, glad for the warmth. "No. It's a pancake-like batter that's has vegetables and other sorts of stuff filled inside. It's a Japanese dish."

"Japanese. Like those puny little rice balls with fish on 'em? Waste o' time. If yer gonna have a meal, it better be big, meaty an' fillin'. I ain't try scoopin' some dainty, pretty lookin' thin' inta my mouth that ain't gonna fill me."

"Even if it tastes good?"

"I dun care how it tastes. Food is fer nutrition not fer tastin'."

"Actually -"

"Whatever," Troy said, waving a hand over his shoulder. "Why dun ya wash up an' I'll get started on dinner. Steak an' mash with sum of the peas we harvested today."

Brian kept the sarcasm from dripping from his lips. "Oh I can't wait."

With that, he headed up stairs and tore off Troy's big, heavy clothing. It smelled like him. A lot. Earthy, musky and like it hadn't been washed in weeks. He was just glad that his sensitive nose had been too busy immersed in broccoli and beans most of the day that he didn't notice. The aroma of fresh produce was actually quite nice. He removed the clothing, folded it neatly to the side and then threw on a couple of casual pieces of clothing. Once he was ready, he headed out into the bathroom just to wash his paws, conscious that he had been handling crops most of the day and some of that likely was immersed in pesticides or fertiliser.

The bathroom was rather small and he couldn't imagine a family of five sharing it. There was a bathtub/shower, a single toilet and a sink and mirror. He doubted that Troy could actually fit in the tiled area. Mornings were certainly going to be fun. Turning his head from side to side, he noticed that his five o'clock shadow was starting to show. For a blonde wolf like him, it was rather prominent as the blonde fur was starting to spread across his muzzle. Some furs didn't have too much trouble as their hair and fur colour tended to match but he got his blonde hair from his mother.

"So much for the All-American son you wanted, eh dad?" he muttered softly.

As if on cue, he heard a soft ringing. Ears perked, he immediately bolted to his room and checked his vibrating phone.

It was his father.

Taking a deep breath, he hit the 'answer' button and lifted the phone to his right ear, careful not to tap the golden stud placed there. "Evening, sir."

"Brian," was the answer. Not 'son', not 'hello', not even a 'good evening'. Just 'Brian'. "Your timesheet hasn't arrived today. Am I to assume that you have failed to secure Mr. Manning's consent to managing his finances and have thus resigned?"

Of course you'd assume that. Not like you've ever given me the benefit of the doubt.

"No sir. I have, in fact, been hired by Mr. Manning as his financial advisor and accountant. An arrangement had been made wherein I will be staying at his residence for the foreseeable future in order to get a better understanding of his situation and assist him in making a profit."

"You must be joking."

"I assure you, I am not."

"Brian, this is highly unprofessional. Having intimate relationships with a client -"

"With all due respect, sir," Brian said sternly. "This is not that kind of relationship. Mr. Manning is managing an entire farm by himself with no help whatsoever and has no time to assist me or even provide me with the facts I need to ensure that he makes his monthly repayments of a debt that his _brother_forced upon him. I am here to not only save myself a three hour drive whenever I need to speak with him but also to assist in his daily work when I am not managing his finances."

There was silence on the other end. It was seldom that Brian had ever stumped his father but it was those times that he dreaded greatly.

"I suppose this could work to our benefit. I can dispatch someone else to speak with the brother so they can manage his finances while you work with this Manning, the one who has the debt. Both can charge to the bank as consultants. I'm sure the brother is a liability."

"He is, sir. He has several loans with the same bank that are dangerously high. I can send you the details tomorrow morning."

"See that you do." His father let out a soft laugh. "I suppose some good old fashioned farm work might actually do you some good, Brian."

Like you've ever encouraged me to go out and be a farmer.

"The fresh air is certainly nice."

"Submit your timesheet ASAP. You are still on my payroll, after all."

"Yes sir."

Then his father hung up. No 'Good evening', no 'see you later, son'. Just dead silence. Brian put down the phone and sighed.

"Still an asshole."

He jumped and spun towards the door where Troy was standing.

How the hell can someone so big be so quiet!?

"Shit! You scared me!" Brian exclaimed, clutching his chest. "What the hell? Were you eavesdropping again?"

"Couldn't help it," answered Troy with a shrug. "Yer phone rang, I heard the water running an' thought ya were in the shower or sumthin'. So I came up to check on it. Ya run fast, though." His expression darkened. "Is Trey really in deep shit?"

Brian sighed and ran a paw through his hair. "I just did a cursory glance over his history and when I spoke with the bank representative, they're not that fond of him. He makes all his payments and seems all good but these 'accidents' he gets into and the number of insurance claims he makes just puts them on edge. He hasn't broken any contracts or laws."

"That cuz he knows how to work the system," Troy grumbled with a shake of his head.

"What does that even mean?"

The big stag shrugged his broad, mountainous shoulders. "I dunno. I ain't good with that sort o' shit. All I know is he barely works, parties all night an' comes ta me if he need bail money."

Brian shook his head in confusion. "Why do you enable him? What's forcing you to send him thousands of dollars and pay off his debts when from all appearances he never gives you anything in return. I mean, does he even come over to Christmas or send a gift?"

Troy's expression turned hostile once more, a stern, scowling face of stone. "Mind yer own business, fluffy. An' yer one to talk. It ain't like ya went anywhere fer Christmas."

"That's because I didn't have a choice! I can't... " He trailed off. He wasn't going to give up that easily no matter how big and threatening Troy looked. "Look, if I'm to manage your assets, I'm going to need to know everything about where your money goes. I need to know why you keep sending money to him and shouldering his debts or you'll never get out of the red."

"I got ma'h savings dun I?"

"I'm not stupid, Mr. Manning," Brian growled. "You've got a large piece of land here and your produce can sell for thousands. I haven't had a look at your books in detail yet but I know that the average farmer can make at least 250 bucks per acre and you have 2,750 acres on last count. Doing the math, that's at least 700 thousand per year provided you don't have any bad crops. You should have much more than just ten thousand dollars in your savings."

The scowl on Troy's face grew even more furious. "It's still my money. I can what I want with it. Ya can give yer advice but I dun have ta follow it." He waved a big hand absently in Brian's direction. "I mean, what's it in fer ya anyway? I'm not payin' ya. Yer getting her money from the bank an' fer advice I dun even need. Why are ya even stayin'?"

Because I don't have a choice...

Brian's shoulder sagged and he averted his gaze, his blue eyes falling upon the phone in his paws. "To be honest? It's because of my dad."

"The colossal asshole?"

That made Brian smile a little. "That's the one." He flicked open his phone and shook his head at the image shown there. It was the only one where his dad ever smiled at it was the one where they were stepping down from the courthouse. "A couple of months back, a client I had sued the company I work for based on bad advice I gave. My dad's company. Thing is, the law was on our side. We gave our advice, we were paid and the client took the advice. They didn't have to take it and it was explicitly written in the contract that we couldn't be held responsible for any damages done for taking said advice." He lifted his gaze. "I'm going to need you to sign that same contract, by the way."

"Yer givin' me a hell of a lot of confidence, here."

Brian let out one bitter laugh and sat down on the offered bed. It was nice, warm and rather feathery. Just the way he liked it. "Then this might help you." He lifted his gaze to meet Troy's. "We were on the verge of winning the case without issue. I was called to the stand. Our lawyers told me what to say and I had practiced it throughout the entire trial." Brian wrung his paws, clutching his phone tightly. "Then the prosecutor asked me if I thought the client should get some money back."

Troy was silent for a long moment. "What did ya say?"

"I said yes." Brian sighed heavily. "Deep down in my heart, I really felt responsible for the advice I gave. The circumstances couldn't be predicted and the guy had a wife and kid. They were on the verge of being homeless. The question was whether or not they should get some money back. Not that I was wrong, they were right or that my dad's company should be made responsible for what happened to guy as a result of our advice. But that's how everyone interpreted it. I tried to correct myself but those lawyers were brutal."

Brian looked at his phone again, at that picture where his father was standing proudly in victory while he was just right behind him, head bowed and dejected. "We still won the case but it cost a lot of money. My dad told me I wasn't cut out for court and lost faith in me. He gave me this case because it's far from the city, it has minimal impact and I'm pretty sure if you tried to sue, my dad's lawyers can run circles around you if given the chance. And..." He sighed and shut his phone. "... it'd give him an excuse to fire me."

The menacing growl on Troy's face faded. "Fire his own son?"

"He backed me into a corner on this one," Brian responded with a wry smile. "He threatened to fire me if I didn't come back with some work. He probably did his research. Didn't sound at all surprised that your brother was the one that sent you the debt. He probably knew I'd try to back out of this one so he gave me an ultimatum. Either try and convince you to have me on board or get fired."

The more he thought about it, the more he realised what he said was true. A bitter laugh left his lips and he slapped his forehead in defeat.

"And the fact that we're being paid by the bank and not you just adds icing on the cake! He still gets to make money and if you do decide to sue, you'll have less ammunition because you never really paid a cent!" He raised his phone for Troy to see. "That was him calling me to ask if I had decided to quit or not. Not ask me how I was doing or if I had gotten that account. He actually started with, 'I assume you've quit'. Not his exact words but you get the point."

Brian threw the phone onto his bed in disgust. "He really is an asshole..."

"Why'dya even work for him then?" Troy asked, genuine concern in his voice.

"Probably the same reason you give money to your brother," Brian answered with soft smile. "Family."

The stag let out a bitter laugh and shook his head. "Ya got it wrong there, fluffy. I ain't giving Trey my hard heard cash cuz he's my brother. I hate his guts. Though I suppose yer kinda right. I'm doin' it fer my pop."

Inclining his head to the side, Brian said, "Your father? Why?"

"He always told me that if I see anyone that needs help, I need ta do the right thin' an' help 'em out. When my mom an' pop died, they left most o' their money to Trey cuz he needs it the most. They knew I'd be fine cuz I know how ta take care o' myself an' I have the farm. They gave Trish 'bout half o' of what they gave Trey so she can find her callin'. Left me with just the farm an' whatever was left over."

Brian's lips curled upwards slightly in a smile. "They named their kids Troy, Trey and Trish?"

"They ain't poets," Troy growled though his sneer quickly vanished. "I support my brother an' sister cuz they need it. Don't mean I like 'em. It's jus' cuz the need it. Jus' like ya needed a break from yer old man."

Huh... I guess you're right there, Troy.

"Thank you," he said.

"Dun mention it. Now c'mon down fer dinner. We got an early mornin'."


In all honesty, Troy had fully expected to wake up well before dawn and drag Brian out of bed, getting complaints about how the sun hadn't risen yet and that there was no such thing as a five in the morning. But he was genuinely surprised when he knocked on Brian's door, pushed it open and found the wolf already up and hunched over his laptop.

"Yer up?"

Brian lifted his gaze from where he was seated. "Yeah. Got up an hour ago. Why? What time is it?"

"'Bout five in the mornin'... Do ya always get up this time?"

"No but given that I didn't get any work done yesterday, I thought I'd cram some in this morning before we went to work on the farm."

Seriously...? Damn...

"Yer not sleepy?"

Brian shook his head and lifted the mug he had beside him. "I've got my coffee. I'm good."

Yuck... Coffee. I fuckin' hate that stuff.

He could smell the foul brew from where he was standing and it actually made him take a step back. "Okay well... why dun ya take a shower? I'll get breakfast ready. I'll shower afta ya."

"Sure." Brian stood up and stretched. His brown and white fur was pouring over the white shirt and boxers that he wore. Despite the thickness and fullness of his fur, he still had a rather athletic, defined body showing through. Troy inclined his head to the side as the wolf rolled his shoulders and stretched his arms over his head.

He caught himself staring and turned away with a huff.

"Oh hey! I've got some money saving ideas I'd like to run with you while we work," Brian said. "I mean, I've got some connections with some retailers that would pay top dollar for farm grown produce and I'm sure they'll be able to cut us a deal with transport and stuff."

Troy glanced over his shoulder just as Brian carried a tray of his toiletries to the bathroom. "Aren't ya jus' meant ta be my financial advisor? Ya aren't meanta be makin' deals fer me an' shit."

"Are you turning down the help for a little extra money?"

Troy gave it some thought as Brian's tail vanished into the bathroom. "I suppose not..." he muttered.

He went back down stairs and went to work on breakfast; something hearty but not too filling. They weren't going to be eating again until a little past noon and that was a long time away. Brian still had a lot of produce to sort and that wouldn't take him all day. Already, Troy was planning a sort of 'lesson plan' for the rest of the day and figured he'd at least give Brian the evening off to work on whatever it was that he did.

Breakfast was ready shortly but Brian had yet to come down. He couldn't hear running water and wondered if the wolf was soaking in the tub or doing something utterly ridiculous to maintain his image. Troy rolled his eyes and trudged upstairs.

"Hey, ya done in there?" he asked, rapping his knuckles on the door. There was a faint buzzing noise coming from beyond.

"Almost... Just give me a few minutes..."

"Minutes? Food's getting' cold." He twisted the doorknob. "What the hell are ya doin' in here?"

Brian gave him a glance as the accountant gently trimmed the blonde hairs growing on his chin.

"Yer shavin'?" Troy said incredulously. "You? Shavin'. With yer fur?"

Brian set down the electric shaver. "Why is that so ridiculous? Furs in the city shave all the time. It's a sign of professionalism and rather neat." He turned back towards the mirror. "Besides, with my hair colour on my fur colour, any stubble really shows and I can't grow a beard at all. It always comes out splotchy."

"But..." Troy scratched his head in utter confusion. "I just dun get it. How'dya even know what ta shave an' what not to?"

"Haven't you ever shaved?"

Troy rubbed the stubble across his cheeks, that darker shade of red and brown that grew over his nutty fur. "Naw, I dun grow longer than this. All the fur is down here." He pointed at the thick chest fur showing past his denim vest. "Dun ya ever shave a little too close?"

His guest and accountant rolled his eyes. "Once back in middle school just as I was starting to grow facial hair. I got a little paranoid about my looks and ended up shaving a little too close. I had this pink spot right here." He pointed at his left cheek. "With thick fur like mine, it was fairly easy to comb over but it wasn't perfect."

"And that little heart there?" Troy pointed at Brian's right cheek. Just beneath his eye, there was a patch of white fur that was shaped conveniently like a heart.

Brian's fur began to turn a little red. "That's just my fur pattern. Nothing else."

Well fuck me. He actually blushes. This is too good to pass up.

"Awww, what? All yer high school buddies tease ya fer having a mark like a pretty princess?"

Brian shot him a piercing look. "Please don't go there, Mr. Manning. That is highly unprofessional."

"Fine, fine," shickered Troy. "Though do ya mind if I call ya 'Fluffy Princess' now?"

"Yes! I do mind!" Brian snapped angrily. "That is far from professional and grounds for sexual harassment!"

"Ain't like you got me under contract or nuffin'," Troy answered smugly. He saw Brian's eyes widen but before the wolf could snap at him, he lifted his hands. "But if ya dun wanna be the Fluffy Princess, fine. I ain't gonna call ya that. Just hurry up an' come down fer breakfast."

"Thank you," Brian huffed. "I shouldn't be too long."

Just as the wolf turned back to shaving his barely visible facial hair, Troy got a wicked idea. He slowly closed the door but was very sure not to close it entirely. He waited a few moments and just as he started to hear Brian letting out a soft hum...


He jumped back into the bathroom and shouted at the top of his voice. Brian's eyes instantly widened and his paw jerked... right into his fur. There was a loud, resounding grinding noise as the shaver bit into Brian's cheek ruffs, leaving a rather prominent, pink patch of bare fur.

Troy broke out into laughter_,_ whooping and pointing as Brian stared at him in absolute shock.

"You asshole!" shouted the wolf. "That's going to take months to grow back!"

"Now, now, Mr Huffin'ton," Troy laughed while waggling a finger. "Such language ain't professional."

"Get out!" Brian roared and shoved Troy out the door, slamming it behind him and locking it.

Troy, wearing a grin strode proudly down the stairs.

This is gonna be fun.

_ _


It never snowed where the Manning Farm was located but temperatures got cold enough that frost could easily set in. Rains became very heavy as well which could flood the fields and kill crops with ease. Thunder boomed in the distance. Troy glanced up at the ominous, dark clouds above him, already feeling the drizzle of rain on his fur.

"Shit..." he mumbled. "Better get a move on, fluffy! Storm's a' comin'!"

"I am trying!" Brian shouted from where he was stuffed under the hood of the tractor. "If you'd just followed my advice and gotten a new tractor like I suggested, we wouldn't be in this mess!"

"A tractor is fuckin' expensive. I know we got plenty saved up but it ain't gonna be enough if shit hits the fan."

Brian's tail suddenly lifted, a sign that Troy had realised was a tell with the wolf. It meant that the surprisingly mechanically inclined lupine was either about to deliver a crippling blow or on the cusp triumph. "It's called an investment, Mr. Manning."

And there it was.

Whenever Brian was pissed at Troy, he would get super-polite and professional and started referring to Troy as 'Mr. Manning'. Of course Troy had his own counter for that. 'Fluffy Prince' always got Brian to clam up but considering how they were on the verge of being drowned out by a storm and they had only barely harvested half of the crop, he couldn't afford a mutiny. So Troy just gave a grunt and banged the side of his tractor, urging Brian to hurry.

The engine suddenly let out a spluttering cough and black smoke emerged from the hood. However, the entire vehicle began to rumble awake and Brian straightened, face stained with soot but otherwise a triumphant smile on his muzzle.

"There!" he exclaimed. "Now let's hurry up before the rain rusts this bucket of bolts any more than it already has!"

Relief washed over Troy as he jumped back into the driver's and pushed on the gas. In the past month and a half, he and Brian had made some amazing progress not only with the farm but with his finances as well. With Brian as an extra farmhand, some of the more menial tasks such as sorting and cleaning the crops that Troy harvested were handed over leaving the stag more time to invest in harvesting and replanting. On clear days, Brian was more than willing to help with the replanting though he often complained about how it was torture on his back. Ultimately, that meant less of the harvest was vulnerable to pests, more was harvested before bad weather and he had more to sell.

Though the payments to the bank for Trey's debt were still a pain in the ass, they more than made up for it with what they were selling. As Brian had promised, he had used his connections to find them a seller at the farmer's market in the city. Though that meant that Troy had to make long trips in his pickup truck to said seller and pay for the gas for the trip to and fro, the money they were making more than made up for it.

There were still improvements to be made, though, something that Brian constantly nagged Troy about.

'You should hire more hands.'

'I've got an idea about the crop distribution'

Or, most prominently these days, 'You should get a new tractor.'

Brian said he would take them all into consideration.

The rain had started to intensify by the time he and Brian had harvested the last of the crop for the day. As it stood, they were in a good position once winter was over. From what he heard, it was going to be a short winter anyway. Hopefully, by spring, they would have plenty to sell especially in the orchards.

He drove the tractor back into the barn just as the storm had intensified into a heavy rain. Brian, riding in the back in one of the trailers, immediately got out and started shoving the harvest into crates, secure and away from any pests that may decide to nibble on them while they were away. Troy naturally assisted and when they were done, he was amazed that the sun was still up - even if it was hidden behind thick clouds.

"So, are we done for the day?" Brian asked.

Troy couldn't help but eye the little spoke on Brian's cheek where he had scared the wolf into accidentally shaving himself bare. The fur had grown back but there was a slight discolouration there. He still remembered the few weeks when Brian went around with a bandage over the spot to hide it even though it really was only himself and Troy on the farm.

"Yeah, I guess so," Troy grunted. He glanced out of the barn to where the rain had started to really come down. There was a curtain of water just outside of the barn doors. It sounded like hail was pelting the barn's ceiling. "C'mon fluffy, let's get inside b'fore it gets worse."

They both hurried out of the barn, with Troy locking up. There was a time when Brian would've complained about how much mud he tracked and got on his clothes but he had since stopped after realising it was futile to argue against nature. Troy still insisted that they take off their boots inside the house, of course. Once inside, Troy glanced up at the clock mounted on the wall and realised it was still fairly early in the day, just a little after noon.

Well now what?

Days like these he usually didn't finish until well into the sunset and sometimes even then. With Brian around, he had a lot more free time. And free time was not something he normally had a lot of before the accountant's arrival.

"I'm going to go dry off," Brian said, flicking his wrist and tossing some droplets out of the door.

"Jus' dun do that shakin' thing ya canines do all the time in the bathroom. Ya splatter yer dog stink everywhere."

"That was only once. And I do it in the bathtub these days anyway." Brian rolled his shoulders. "Speaking of which, a nice, long, hot bath does sound nice right about now. My neck is killing me."

"G'ahead. I guess I'll do a couple sets in the gym."

"See you at dinner?" Brian asked, already halfway up the stairs.

"Sure. Yer cookin'."

Troy didn't want to admit it but he looked forward to the days when Brian cooked. The wolf came up with some surprisingly wonderful dishes with layers of flavour that Troy's palette sang for despite his limited pantry. It was a far flung change from the usual hearty meals that the stag usually cooked up though Brian never complained about it. Apparently, Brian learned some of his tricks when he had enrolled in culinary school before he went to work for his dad.

Despite still being somewhat wet, Troy headed down to the basement, a door situation right beside the stairs. He flicked on the lights and entered the 'gym'. It wasn't really that much of a gym as it was a collection of some weight machines like a bench press, pull up set and a rack of dumbbells. Nostalgia filled him as he recalled the days when he was gunning for that football scholarship and worked out every day with his dad.

Troy squeezed his eyes shut and took a ragged sigh. It had been a long time since he had actually come down here and he could smell the dust in the air. After all, he hadn't had that much free time before. But with Brian around, he had been coming here more often. Perhaps another reason was that the gym reminded him of his dad.

He grabbed a towel from the rack, dried himself off a little and then headed over to the bench press. Before the memories of his father could fully set in, he began working his muscles. The mind numbing rhythm of working his chest over and over, the pumping of his heart in his ears and the strain across his torso was enough to drown out the ghostly image of his father's voice urging him to push himself over and over again. Whenever he could almost see his dad looming over him, smiling in pride and with his eyes crinkled ever so slightly, Troy just let out a grunt and that dispelled the image from his vision.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed but he worked even harder as the voice grew stronger and stronger, more insistent.


He jerked as that voice become so loud that it stunned him. The momentary loss of concentration caused him to drop the bar and it came crashing against his chest.

"Fuck!" he cried.

Suddenly, there was another pair of paws gripping the bar and for a second, Troy thought his dad had actually materialised and come to help him in his hour of need. But the he realised that the fur was a little thicker than normal and the forearms they were attached to, while quite lean, were not as thick or muscular as his dad's. He followed the arm up to its owner, tracing the bicep straining against the thick coppery fur and with a vein pushing up against the skin to Brian's face.

With the wolf's help, he set the bar back.

"The fuck are ya doin' in here?" he grunted.

"You said I should join you sometime," Brian growled, rolling his shoulder. "Remember?"

He did remember. It was really a passing invitation, more out of politeness than anything else. One day, when they had some free time, Troy said he would head down to the gym. Brian expressed surprise at a 'gym' and Troy then invited him down. Naturally, the wolf had rejected the offer politely as he had 'some work to do'.

Seeing Brian in those ridiculous tennis shorts again and that white shirt made Troy roll his eyes.

"What? Am I not dressed the part again?" the accountant scowled.

"Ya look like yer 'bout to head out fer mornin' tea," Troy said.

"Fine." Brian tore off his shirt and tossed it aside, revealing his white singlet beneath and the tight, compact figure he bore. Troy had never really seen Brian naked before and he couldn't help but twisted his head to the side a little to take in the curve of the wolf's flanks, forming a rather nice V-shaped torso.

Huh... nice.

"Please don't make me take off my singlet," Brian murmured, crossing his arms and turning away.

"Why not? Ya got a good figure."

"Right," came the sarcastic reply. "Look, you need a spotter or what?"

Troy glanced at the bench press and hiked his thumb towards the bar. "Why dun ya give it a shot? I got a few good reps in."

The athletic wolf's ears perked up the light glimmering off the little stud he had in his right ear. "Might need to take off a couple of weights. I'm not a powerlifter like you."

That's... kinda flattering...

Remaining otherwise silent, Troy took off a good fifty pounds off the bar and positioned himself to spot Brian. His accountant lay down on the bench and gripped the bar with the expertise of someone who was quite familiar with the exercise. There was something comforting in knowing that the wolf knew how to pump some iron and his physique didn't come from lucky genetics. Though it did raise the question as to what Brian's dad looked like.

In the back of his mind, he imagined this big, bruiser for a man with bristling muscles, towering over Brian with his arms crossed and veins popping against his forearms. A voice like thunder, a quietly menacing stare permanently etched on his face and with a chest so big and wide that he had to shuffle sideways through doorways just to fit.

Whoa, fuck! What the hell am I doing?

Huffington Senior was a total jackass and Troy couldn't very well start drooling over some figment of his imagination. He forcibly repainted the image of the huge, muscular titan into a fat, balding man in a suit that barely fit him. It made him snicker.

"Look, I'll do it okay?" Brian sneered in response to his soft laugh.

"Naw, jus' thinkin' 'bout sumthin' else."

Brian's cheeks began to turn bright red, showing through the white underside of his jaw. "I work out, okay? Just not as often as before... And I used to do varsity track!"

"I believe ya. Yer pretty fit."

"Right. So says the football player." Brian let out a soft 'hup' and lifted the bar. He kept his breathing nice and even; his motions controlled and well-practiced. He had definitely done this before. Troy couldn't help but watch the ridges of the wolf's chest as they relaxed and contracted. In the cold weather, Brian's nipples were pushing up against his singlet like twin peaks poking through a snow-covered mountain range.

Damnit Troy! Dun ya start!

He was glad for his denim pants as they constricted the growing erection in his pants. Plus Brian was too focused on the bar to really notice. Troy tried to think back to the last time he had actually gotten off.

Last time wus jus' befer Brian came along... Fuck, it was that mornin'... 'swhy I wus grouchy... Couldn't even get a second ta relax befer I had this buttsniffer knockin' on mah door...

Even with all the free time he had, he still felt somewhat awkward pulling out his dick in his own house even in the privacy of his own room. It was like being a teenager again; one ear in his headphones, the other constantly scanning for the tell-tale tapping of someone's feet on the floorboards just outside of his room. One of the reasons he actually had his computer and desk where it was positioned now was a legacy of those old times; it was the farthest away from the door and anyone coming in would have to look around before seeing him with his pants down.

"Spot! Spot!" Brian exclaimed.

Troy snapped himself out of his memories and seized the bar, effortlessly lifting back into position. Brian sat up, panting heavily and wiping his brow with the back of his paw.

"I'm not... really built for this kind of thing," the sweaty wolf admitted. "Wanna call it a day?"

Troy smirked and leaned against the bar with his eyes half-closed tauntingly. "C'mon fuffy. Ya just did one set. If yer gonna improve, ya gotta push it. Get up, mah turn. Then it's yers again."

He got a groan in response for that.


While farm work had provided Brian with some good form of exercise, the young wolf missed the structure and routine of going to the gym. He got 'accidental' exercise from hefting bags, picking crops and doing whatever needed to be done around the farm but he felt he didn't get as much of a good workout as he did back at the gym in the city.

Many times he had been tempted to head down into the basement and lift a few weights with Troy but he had always been a bit a lone wolf when it came to training. He always went at 7 AM in the morning on his gym days when most of the facility was open, never used the showers, changed clothes in one of the bathroom cubicles and never once strutted around without a shirt on like most furs with an adequate build did.

Though Troy's little basement gymnasium didn't have all the amenities of a full gym, it still felt good to work on his muscles again.

"I don't suppose you have some protein powder around, do you?" Brian asked as they headed back up to the ground floor.

"Course I do," Troy grunted, his chest, arms and shoulders pumped with so much blood that they were bulging out of his shirt and Brian could actually see one of his veins pushing up against the fabric.

Brian followed the stag back into the kitchen, his eyes following the mesmerising movements of Troy's rippling back and the sway of his buns of steel topped with a cute, short, fluffy tail. A bit of envy bubbled up inside of him as Troy absently tapped the ceiling with his big hand, the muscles in his arm momentarily bulging with the gesture. It was clear the manly stag still had a lot of energy pumping through his veins.

Troy pulled out a large tub of protein powder and set it in front of them.

Brian cocked his head to the side in curiosity as he read the words 'Workhorse' on the side. "Isn't that stuff used only by professional bodybuilders? As in, it's dangerous if you use too much of it or something?"

"Yer jus' listenin' ta all the shit ya city folk spew out about the stuff," Troy grunted. His large hands deftly measured out a cup of the white powder for each of them and tossed them into a glass. "Coach's been usin' this stuff fer years an' he's both huge an' ripped. It's 'bout making sure ya use the shit yer puttin' in."


"Mah high school coach. I get this stuff offa him. In exchange, I give 'im some natural produce. None of that mass marketed shit."

Brian tapped his chin absently as Troy handed him the glass now filled with water and stirred. "That explains that expense then. So you went to a local high school then? Played football?"

Troy shrugged his massive shouldered and took a swing of the shake, easily gulping it down in that one movement. Brian dared a sip and gagged. It was a weird lemony, milky taste that reminded him of orange custard. Showing any sign of weakness in front of Troy was not a good idea. He didn't want another nickname like 'Fluffy Princess' sticking. So he stifled his disgust and downed half of the brew. His eyes began to water.

"Yeah. Kinda thought I might've had a shot at a college team back in the day," Troy said, setting down the glass. "Dinna work out."

"Why not?" Brian asked partially out of curiosity and partially to buy time before he was obliged to finish the disgusting brew in his paws.

"Shit happened."

"What shit? You break your knee or something?" Brian's eyes widened. "Oh... is that when your parents had their crash?" He immediately lifted his paws in apology. "Sorry if I pried..."

"Naw. That dinna happen fer a while. Relationship stuff."

"Ah..." Brian felt he could stomach the rest of the shake and gulped it down. He choked it down even as his stomach severely protested. Once he was finished, he set it down and offered Troy a broken grin. "Sorry if I brought up bad memories." He hiked his thumb up the stairs. "I'm going to get to work. Based on what we've managed to harvest, we're in a good position to get some good sales in. I've got a contact who's been killing for peas."

The distant look on Troy's face contradicted the smile he gave Brian. "Sounds good. Imma gonna head upstairs too. Jus' call me if ya need sumthin'."

"Sure thing." Brian turned to leave but stopped midway. "If you need to talk or anything..."

"I'll be fine, fluffy. I ain't broken."

So you say... but I've seen that look all too often...

... it's the one I see every time I look in the mirror...

Brian headed on upstairs, tossing off his sweaty singlet and changing into some more casual clothing. As tempted as he was to take a shower, he knew that with the rain around, the internet connection around here would suffer. If he was to get any work done, he had to get it done now before the storm got any worse. He switched on his laptop, parked himself on his bed and began tapping away, balancing numbers, sending emails to potential buyers for Troy's produce and researching markets where they could sell for more profit.

He also jumped onto the job listing site he had been visited for the past few days. Today they had barely managed to get the crops in before the rain began. But they would've been able to get a lot more done if they had more help. Troy was adamant about not letting anyone else help on the farm but Brian knew that for the sake of productivity, they needed more help.

Day in, day out they were generally focused on a single area of the farm. They had no time to check on how the other fields were doing or to really tend to them. Based on what Troy told him, if they gave more time to each of their fields, they could produce much more. As it stood, the two of them could only really devote about a week or two per field to a particular crop and that was just before the harvest. Essentially, Troy's life consisted of planting a seed and then moving to the next field that either needed tending or was about to be harvested.

More hands meant more love for the plants.

So Brian had drafted the job listing.

For what seemed like the hundredth time, he had gone over the description of the job, made a few edits, checked their budget and then frowned. He drummed his fingers on the edge of his laptop, wondering how he'd sell the idea of letting more people work on the farm to Troy this time. It had been a mantra he had been repeating for the past few weeks on top of getting a new tractor. They had more than enough in the budget for it.

The weary wolf shook his head. After giving his muscles such a long workout, he wasn't in the mood to put up with some mental or verbal conflicts. He was exhausted and the rain outside was playing a rather soothing lullaby. Back in the city, the pitter-patter of rain was usually interrupted by the angry horns of motorists followed by a string of colourful profanities. The silence of the farm was something that Brian was still getting used to. But it was nice. Calming. Things here weren't so hectic.

He figured out quickly that he didn't need get all his work done in such a hurry. Time was something he could appreciate now. Every second ticked by and he could actually feel it. It was a luxury he couldn't afford back in the city where he constantly lost track of time.

It was... nice.

Brian stretched, his shoulders popping in their sockets. The rush of blood and warmth flooding his body coupled with the general coolness of the atmosphere added some weight to his eyelids.

"Aw what the hell..." he mumbled.

He shut his laptop, set it aside and slipped beneath the covers. Warmth flooded through his veins and the gentle pump he felt from his workout was like a soothing massage throughout his entire body.

Whether an hour or more passed, he wasn't quite sure but he was awoken by an incessant buzzing. He straightened and glanced bleary eyed, searching for the source of the noise. His paw groped around in the darkness. The sun had set, leaving him in darkness. He overreached and in his delirious state, tumbled over the edge of the bed with a cry. Stars flashed in front of his eyes but one of those stars brought his attention to his phone which now sat just inches from his nose.

The number on screen and the name flashing beneath it made his blood run cold.

The door sprang open and Troy stood in the doorway, illuminated by light from the hall, completely shirtless and just wearing a pair of boxers like the first time they had met. Brian held up a finger before the stag could utter some concern and picked up the phone, immediately answering it.

"Evening, sir."

"Brian," his father said, that perpetually disappointed tone echoing through his voice. "Mr. Manning's bank called us today. They have sorted the debt with Trey Manning and considering how the payments were made from Troy Manning, they are confident that the debt can be settled particularly since the payment made was more than double the minimum repayment."

That was exactly the kind of response that Brian had been hoping for. It had only been a month and a half but they had already made two sizeable payments, enough to put a good dent in the debt. By showing the bank that they could meet the deadlines, they would get off Trey's case and relieve some pressure from Troy.

"Good to hear, sir."

"To that end, they have terminated the contract with us on the Manning's accounts."

Brian's blood ran cold. "They... They have?"

"Yes. Today was your last day working for Mr. Manning. I expect you in the office in two days. Take tomorrow off."

He caught Troy's concerned look but he kept his finger raised, indicating silence.

"Sir, I still believe there is a lot of work to be done here."

"Be that as it may, we are not going to get paid for any further work that you do there. I do not want you wasting any more of your time in there. You are a financial advisor. Not an accountant. Not a farmhand. You are there to make money and any further dalliance with that inbred plebe will not make money."

Hearing his father call Troy an 'inbred plebe' ignited a fire within Brian. Although Troy couldn't hear the insult, it felt like Brian's father was standing right there, throwing stereotypical slurs into the stag's face or, worse yet, to Troy's back thinking that the honest farmer wouldn't understand such 'educated words'.

"I cannot leave my client abruptly."

"Your client has terminated the contract," his father answered sharply. "You were never working for Mr. Manning. You were working for the bank that holds his finances."

Technically true but...

"No sir," he answered sharply. "As you recall, I was working for Mr. Manning for room and board. As an accountant I was working for his bank. As a _tenant_I was working for him."

There was silence on the other end of the line but it wasn't the silence of his father about to deliver a crippling blow but one belonging to someone who was stunned and cornered in shock.

"Be careful of what you say next, Brian," his father warned, sharp as ever. He saw where Brian was leading even though Brian was just making it up as he went along. "You have a life here. You have a stable job. Can you honestly say you will be happy working as some blue-collar farmer_?"_

And there it was.

The moment his father began asking about his 'happiness', he knew what he had to do.

"While I cannot be sure that I will be happy working on a farm, I can tell you one thing, sir. I am not happy working under you. Consider this my resignation. Goodbye."

Then he pressed the 'end call' button and threw his phone onto the bed.

Every blood cell in his body had frozen stiff, turning into ice that crept into his very bones. He turned stiffly towards Troy who was regarding him with the same stunned expression he was sure the proverbial deer in the headlights.

"Did ya jus'...?" Troy began.

"I think I did," Brian answered.

"Are ya sure 'bout this...?"

He glanced back towards his phone, to where it sat cushioned within the folds of his bed sheets. In the back of his mind, he could hear it calling to him, urging him to pick up. Brian immediately turned away from it and let out a huff. "Yes, I'm sure."

"Are ya really sure?"

Damnit! Why did he have to ask a follow up question!?

The suddenly panicked wolf spun back around, eyes wide. "Fuck! If I call him now I can tell him I was drunk or something! No!" He lunged for his phone and seized it, glad that it was still warm. That meant he wasn't too late. "He'll never believe me. You have some alcohol right? Some moonshine? Get me drunk! Really drunk!"

Troy's big hand suddenly snatched the phone from his paws and lifted out of reach.

"Give it back!" Brian pleaded, leaping towards the phone but Troy was slightly taller and bigger. With his other hand, Troy easily shoved Brian back into the bed.

"Nothin' doin', fluffy. Yer commited ta this."

"No I'm not! I just need to call him back and say that I had a momentary lapse in judgement and that I'll be back in the office tomorrow!"

I know he said to take tomorrow off but if I show him how hard working I am...

"Listen, yer ol' man is an asshole," Troy said. "So I ain't givin' this back. Ya said it yerself. Ya ain't happy workin' fer him."

"And working for you is any better?"

Brian let out a soft 'yip' and clasped his paws over his muzzle. Troy gave him a hard stare and he felt like he was in the presence of his father again.

"Is it?" the burly stag rumbled.

Brian pursed his lips. As the seconds ticked by, he knew his father was getting more and more pissed. Within moments, that resignation would be final. Given that, he decided to at least get some good done on this farm... even if that meant insulting Troy and getting him kicked out.


Troy was stunned and nearly dropped the phone in his hands.

"No because your tractor is a worn down piece of shit that, frankly, I'm tired of fixing every fucking week!" Brian stamped his foot and pointed furiously in the direction of the barn. "You're so_stubborn about not letting anyone else work on the farm that all the free time you now have after having me help around is such a culture shock to you that you're not even smart enough to _masturbate! Oh! And don't get me started on your business sense! You sold ten crates of cabbages to a guy at half price just because he gave you some sob story!"

Troy regarded the phone in his hands and seemed to mull over those words. "So... If I get more help an' stopped givin' out freebies, ya'd be happy?"

Brian averted his gaze. "I don't know... Maybe."

"What if I jacked one off once in a while, that'll do the trick?"

Fire erupted in Brian's cheeks and he spun back towards Troy who was giving him a coy smile.

Is... Is he flirting with me?

"What you do in your spare time is your own business, Mr. Manning," he said sternly. "My point is that you have a large property here and you need help. We certainly have the budget for it. It would be a great return on our investments as more the crops will be ready for harvest."

"Fair 'nuff'." Troy waved the phone in his paws. "But I'm keepin' this."


"Ya can't be trusted not ta call yer ol' man an' beg fer yer job back. So I'm keepin' it."

"That's not fair!"

"Well, I'm letting ya work out yer own pay an' livin' an' eatin' from my home so I think it's fair."

Brian leaned back, a little stunned at the imposing stag's words. "That's still my phone..."

"An' yer living on my property. So why dun ya get cleaned up and then come down fer dinner? Yer cookin' remember?"


There was suddenly more to cooking dinner than just feeding them both. The idea of being unemployed didn't settle with Brian very well and though he tried to rationalise it by telling himself that he was employed as Troy's accountant, he still couldn't help but think that he had taken an enormous step down from where he had been previously. He knew what Troy's finances were and though he had free reign to decide his own pay check, he was nonetheless rather apprehensive about how much to take.

The equation became even more complicated when he considered the debt Trey had placed upon his brother plus the expenses of the farm and their daily lives. Things like making a soufflé or getting some white truffle oil for some of the fancier meals he prepared were no longer something frivolous and decadent that he could indulge it. That was an expense that was eating not into his own savings but into Troy's as well.

Taking that into consideration, he became very aware that his source of income was highly dependent on whether or not the weather, the ground and the crops decided to pay off their hard work. Thousands of variables flooded his mind.

What if a drought hits and we can't water the crops?

He glanced out into the storm outside.

What if it rains too much and the winds rip up everything we worked for?

What if our buyers find someone else with better prices?

"Hey fluffy, you okay there?"

Brian turned sharply towards his employer, eyes wide and panting heavily. "I... I um..." He forced a grin. "Y - Yeah, of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

Troy frowned at him. "'Cuz yer standin' over the stove, yer paw on yer chest an' pantin' like it's the dead o' summer." The stag got out of his seat and navigated around the kitchen counter to stand beside the hyperventilating wolf. "What's got ya bothered?"

"If we're being honest?" Brian whimpered. "Just thirty minutes ago, I had a cushy six figure job that had some sweet benefits, a one bedroom loft apartment in a busy but relatively crime free area of town just a few minutes' walk from the nearest subway and nice car that's admittedly a fuel guzzler. All that came with the big string attached which is my asshole of a dad but still, it was my life.

"And now, I find myself in the employ of a farmer in the middle of nowhere. I'll have to sell all my things back home, tell my landlord that I'm no longer living in that place, change my address, my online profiles and probably sell my car! Hell, I'll need to buy some new clothes to suit my new job and... And what will happen in the summer? I'm not built for working out in the sun! Do you see this fur!?" He clutched a handful of his fur. "It's like a freakin' oven in here! What if I pass out in the fields!? There's thousands of acres out there! You probably won't find me until I'm dried up and half-eaten by maggots!"

Troy's strong hands seized his shoulders and pulled him away from the stove. He didn't even realise that he was inches away from the open flame until the stag gently guided him to the side. "Calm down, fluffy. It ain't the end of the world. Ya got ta make some adjustments, sure. But it ain't gonna kill ya."

"If you tell me that tired old mantra about what doesn't kill me only makes me stronger..." Brian squeezed his eyes shut. He was tempted to say he would call his dad and apologise and beg for his job back but that ship had sailed. His father had no time for second chances. The fact that 'Mr. Huffington of Huffington Accounting' hadn't called back his employee even though that same employee was his own son spoke volumes.

"Look, I get yer scared," Troy said comfortingly. He wrapped one big arm around Brian's shoulders and guided him over to the counter. "If it'll help ya, I hadta make a pretty big change in my life too."

"What? Decide you wanted to go into crop farming instead of cattle?" Brian instantly regretted his words and lifted his paw in apology. "Sorry, sorry. You're trying to help, I know. Just... This is hard... Every inch of me is just _itching_to run off up stairs and call him, begging on my paws and knees."

Troy let out a soft snort. "Would ya believe that's exactly what I wus gonna say?"

Brian answered with a soft chuckle then those words began to slowly unravel in his mind, their meaning becoming apparent. "Wait... What?" he asked, regarding Troy with a startled stare. Suddenly, the arm around his shoulders took on a different meaning.

"Reason I never went ta college or got that football scholarship," Troy answered. "It was wus a guy. My best bud. We were both gunnin' fer the same scholarship. Both of us knew we ain't gonna make it cuz of our brains so only way was ta get through to football. We got pretty competitive. But he was still my best bud. An' after we were done beatin' the shit out of each other on the field... we kinda... played a little more off field."

Brian began inching away from Troy. "You mean...?"

"We fucked, fluffy. I'm gay."

He stopped moving away. It became painfully apparently that he couldn't afford to really tick off Troy at this point. There was little doubt that he would not get a dazzling recommendation from his former employer and if Troy wasn't willing to vouch for him either, his prospects of rebuilding his career were down the proverbial tube. "Oh..."

"Does that shock you?"

It was an honest question and Brian let out a soft sigh, his ears folding back. "Honestly? Yes. I guess I had it in my head that you were this All-American farmer boy that's so straight that we have to measure the straightness of rulers against your sexuality. You're this rough and tumble man's man that just _screams_straight. Plus... I guess back here, you kind of get this idea that everyone is straight..."

"'cept those folks that live alone."

Then the pieces all fell into place. "You live alone... because everyone knows you're gay... Your brother and sister...?"

"They had bigger dreams than bein' on the farm. Ain't related. But my folks loved me for who I am. Rest of the place though... Not so much. They're decent 'nuff. Ain't gonna lynch me or nothin'. Jus' their 'dun ya go pokin' round my ass' or 'look but dun touch' jibes kinda get old pretty fast. 's why I dun like havin' anyone else on the farm. People will be willin'. Jus' hearin' all their shots at my back ain't fun."

Brian felt an almost satisfying bolt through his body knowing he had somewhat defended Troy from his father's insensitive slurs. Part of him imagined what would have happened if he had yelled, 'Well guess what, sir, Troy is gay! So you can take that and stuff it up your stereotyping ass!'. The stunned silence his father wouldn't suffered would have been well worth the lashing retort he would've received.

"Getting' off topic," Troy grunted. "My bud an' I were competin'. On an' off the field. But when the letters came, he got the scholarship an' not me. I wus heartbroken but happy fer him. Then he offered ta take me with him. Joked 'bout havin' a workout partner."

"Why didn't you take it?"

Troy wrung his big hands together. "I wus tempted. But it woulda meant I'd be playin' the woman in the relationship. I'd be there ta clean the house, do shit all until he got him from practice or school an' then offer up my ass for him to plough whenever he felt like it."

"You're a bottom?"

"Fuck no!" Troy puffed out his big, proud chest. "I ain't gonna lift my tail for no one! 'Specially to someone whose gonna treat me like his fuck toy!" The stag snorted angrily. "We left on bad terms. Fer the next few days, I kept thinkin' I should apologise an' go with him. I could get a part time job in the city cuz that's where he's goin' ta college. Help pay rent an' shit. Save nuff fer my own education. Sumthin' like that."

Wow... He's really given this some thought...

"So why did you stay?"

Troy gave him a sad look. "You know why."

"But I thought you said your parents died a while after that."

"That's how long I wus thinkin' 'bout it. Every day, fluffy, every day since he left. I kept regrettin' not goin' with him an' thinkin' I coulda been better off if I just swallowed my damn pride. But life ain't like that. Ya can't undo what ya've done."

"Reap what you sow..." Brian murmured softly. He sighed and slumped forward, setting his chin down on the counter and his arms stretched across the table. "But you didn't have to make a particularly big change, did you? I mean, you were already living on this farm."

"I still had dream. Wanted ta be the next big football star. Ain't gonna happen. I wus gearin' up ta get a real college education. Then..." Troy made an exploding gesture. "Poof... all gone. No warnin'."

"No one would want their parents dead..."

"It aint that. I wish they were alive. More than anythin'. I wouldn't care if I wus stuck here fer the rest of my life s'long as they were around. They were what made this please bearable. But I still gave up on my dreams cuz I was too proud to suck it up."

Brian frowned at Troy. "It seems like the moral of your story is that I should swallow my pride, go back to my dad and admit I was wrong."

"What? No! Ya think I'm miserable? I'm fine, fluffy!" Troy gave him a rather convincing smile. "Fine, I got my problems. But ya gotta make do with what ya got. I told ya, I regretted not goin' to college up until my parents died. Then I turned my life around an' stopped livin' in the past. I live fer them now. I keep the farm alive fer them. An' I regret nothin'."

"Even if you are alone and your brother keeps sending his expenses your way?"

"Hey, I got you don't I? Plus yer dealing with Trey's bullshit so yer the solution to both."

Brian laughed softly. "Mr. Manning, are you flirting with me? You do realise that is inappropriate workplace behaviour."

"Yer off the clock," Troy replied with a predatory grin. That smile faded almost instantly. "But if yer worried I'm gonna rip yer clothes off an' tell ya to 'squeal', ya have nothin' ta worry 'bout. Ain't gonna force myself on the unwillin'."

A sigh of relief escaped Brian's lips. "Thanks. I really want this to work, you know? My life is now dependant on this farm. We can't make it work if we can't work together."

"Fair nuff." Troy held out his hand. "Partners?"

Brian smiled and shook the paw in return. "Partners."


Sleep had eluded Troy for several reasons. Brian really had turned the farm around and they were making more profits now than never. Perhaps it was a bit of selfishness on his part that he wanted to keep Brian here. He heard and listened to all of Brian's suggestions and told himself consistently that he'd eventually get to it... eventually.

But when Brian had quit his job, Troy suddenly realised that he ran the risk of losing his accountant. So he did everything he could to keep Brian here... even divulging his deepest secret. Relief washed over him when Brian didn't call him a faggot and decide to leave at that moment though he saw how the wolf had been edging away from him.

Troy closed his eyes for the tenth time that night, momentarily indulging in the fantasy of wrapping his arms around that fluffy wolf in a way that was certainly not professional. But just like the other nine times, he brushed it aside. He was just pent up, in desperate need of company and, admittedly, a little lonely. It had been a very long time since he had any sort of male companionship, friend or otherwise.

It would be nice to have Brian there, if just as a friend.

In the darkness, his door opened ever so slightly.

Troy's heart froze. He caught the faint scent of Brian's aftershave and the soft whumps of Brian's bare paws creeping into his room.

Oh fuck... Oh shit! It's happening! He's actually... Oh hell... Fuck!

He swallowed loudly, every part of his body rigid - every part. His mind was racing. Was Brian actually sneaking into his room to... to seduce him!? Was he actually gay!? Maybe bisexual. It didn't matter. Troy's heart was racing and his loins were aching. He wasn't thinking straight - definitely not straight.

Do I snore when I sleep? Shit... Do I?

He let out a clearly fake, strained snore and heard Brian freeze. Troy mentally kicked himself as he calmed down his breathing and shuffled in bed, turning his back to Brian as if he had just been stirred slightly from his sleep.

Then he caught himself.

Wait... This is Brian.

He's a friend. I dun want to break that. He must be confused. Learnin' I'm gay... just quitting his job then me offerin' him a place ta stay an' a partnership.

He must jus' want to make me feel good... So we ain't awkward 'round each other.

Troy let out a mental sigh, realising that for the second time in his life he was about to let another man go.

Then he heard his drawer slide open.

Wait... is he lookin' for condoms?

He immediately sat up and turned towards Brian. The wolf froze, clutching the phone in his paws.

"Oh hell no!" Troy exclaimed.

He lunged forward, very awake. Brian let out a yelp and dodged away but tripped on a discarded piece of clothing and collapsed to the ground. Both men scrambled to their feet but Troy's old football instincts kicked in. He crash tackled Brian, seizing the wolf's waist and lifting him off the ground. With a roar, Troy flung around and tossed Brian boldly onto his bed. And as far away from the door as possible. He seized the phone that was lying by his foot and immediately switched on the lights.

"What the fuck are you doing, fluffy!?" he roared.

"It's my phone!" Brian protested. "I've got all my contacts there! How am I supposed to get us better deals on our sales without it?"

Oooh, that's clever fluffy. Clever. But it ain't gonna fly.

"So yer gonna call yer contacts at twelve fuckin' AM in the mornin'?"

"Some of them live overseas."

Damn... That's good.

"S'why dinna ya jus' ask me?"

"You were asleep."

"Did ya even check?"

Brian froze. "Erm..."

Gotcha, fucker.

"You were gonna call yer old man!"

"So what if I was?" Brian snapped, jumping to his feet. "Props to you for making a big change in your life and letting go of your dreams and settling down but that's not me, Mr. Manning. I have my own aspirations and I'm pretty sure I can't do that stuck here in the sticks taking care of the finances of a single farm!"

Troy, strangely, found himself rather calm in the situation. Mostly because this was exactly how the scene played out back with his former boyfriend only reversed. He had been the one standing where Brian was now, yelling, shouting and talking about how he had dreams and weren't willing to put them aside for someone else. He remembered his boyfriend's words, those hard, cutting words that sent him tumbling back into his bed and resigned to his fate.

'I ain't askin' ya to come with me, Troy. But if ya ever wanna get outta here, ya only got one choice cuz ya certainly ain't gonna make it without me.'

Those words, tailored for Brian's situation, would lock the wolf down with him forever. Trap him in years of regret and self-hate until something eventually came by and gave him purpose again.

But I ain't like that...

The phone dropped beside Brian's paw.

"I ain't gonna stop ya," Troy said with a heavy heart. "I ain't gonna lie. I like havin' ya around. Ya really helped me an' my farm in the short time ya began pokin' yer head in here. I feel like ya can make a killin' here if ya stayed. But ya gotta choose yer path an' if ya feel ya wanna go back ta yer dad, ya have my full support. Fuck, if ya want, I'll go inta the city with ya, break down yer dad's door an' give 'im my testimony."

Brian was stunned by his words. "This isn't some courtroom drama, you know."

"Well shit. If ya want, I'll write ya a recommendation. Ya can put me as yer reference if ya want. But ya can do way better than living under that asshat. Fuck, I bet ya can open yer own firm an' make more money than 'im."

"You've said that before."

"Cuz I mean it. I mean, look at it this way, Brian. Ya have no_expertise with farmin', no trainin' in how to plant crops an' the first day ya came here, ya thought ya could trudge out into the fields in _shorts!"

Brian laughed. "Yeah... that was pretty stupid... First time I fell in the dirt, it took hours to get the stink of manure out of my fur... And I was going to walk around in shorts in that shit."

"See?" Troy exclaimed, gesturing at Brian. "An' despite that, ya fix my tractor at least once a week, helped make more money for this place an' ya cook fer me. Ya can do anythin' an' turn it inta yer favour. That's jus' the kinda guy ya are." He nodded towards the phone. "I ain't gonna tell ya what ya should do. Ya just gotta do it."

Brian looked at his phone... and picked it up. Troy watched as the wolf switched it on... then suddenly turned towards the window. Brian marched towards the window, pushed it wide open. At that moment, thunder boomed and a gust of wind blew a torrent of water straight into Brian's face. That didn't deter the lupine however whose piercing blue eyes were afire.

With a cry, Brian pulled his paw back. Troy caught on to what he was doing at the very last moment and shouted for him to stop but he was too late. Brian flung the phone out the window, sending it sailing into the storm and vanishing into the night.

"Holy shit..." Troy gasped. "Ya jus'..."

"Yeah... I just..." Brian murmured, standing in front of the window, the rain pelting him. "You're right. I can do whatever I want. And what I want, is to help you work off your debt and make this farm really successful." He turned around, his fierce eyes burning straight into Troy. "My dad reprimanded me for helping my client, for feeling for them and following my moral compass. That isn't the kind of person I want to work under and if he's telling me that I shouldn't be like that, then I shouldn't be working for him. I want to do what's right by my clients not just to make money for myself."

"If ya help me 'round the farm, ya'll kinda be doin' that."

Brian shook his head, a smile on his muzzle. "I suppose so." He took a deep breath and spread his arms wide. "Well, Mr. Manning, I'm sorry to say but you're stuck with me for the foreseeable future."

Troy grinned. "Welcome aboard, fluffy."

Suddenly, Brian's grin faltered and he glanced back out the window.

"Oh no... yer not having second thoughts again, are ya?"

"I just tossed my phone out the window..." Brian murmured.

"Yeah, we established that."

"My phone with all my contacts..."

Troy frowned. "Oh... Oh right..."

"I should..." Brian reached out towards the storm just as another gust blew more rain into his face. "Close this window..." He shut the window with a grunt and flicked his wrist, tossing water droplets at the floor. "It's probably ruined by now anyway."

Troy glanced out into the storm and grimaced as lightning flashed followed shortly by the peel of thunder. "In a storm like this an' In the dead of night? Yeah. It's gone."

"I'm going to go dry off," Brian said, nodding towards the door. "And... thanks."

"Welcome." Troy grinned at his partner. "An' if ya charge out inta that storm tryin' ta look fer yer phone, ya can bet Imma gonna tackle ya inta the mud and drag yer sorry ass back into this house no matter how many times ya do it."

Brian returned the grin. "Thanks. I appreciate that."


Spring was the busiest time of year for most farmers. It was that time of year when the winter crop was ready for picking, most plants were sprouting and preparing for picking and they were in that delicate stage of their life where they needed to be carefully cared for. It usually meant double work.

Which was why after months of nagging, Troy finally relented and let Brian hire some guys to work for him. They were working holiday people, backpackers and the like who were paid a wage from some agency that Brian cut a deal with. They didn't have to set the guys up for rooms or board but breakfast and lunch were provided. The agency managed their own transport to and from the site and, in turn, Brian paid them a sizeable wage.

For the first time in his life, Troy actually felt like he had some disposable income. However having been so prudent with his finances up to that point and having a brother who was prone to severe lapses of judgement, he didn't want to go out buying a jewel encrusted shovel or something. Still, it felt good to have some financial security.

And he owed it all to Brian.

Dawn was just approaching and both men were already up. It was Troy's turn to cook breakfast and just as he was flipping the pancakes, he heard the shower upstairs switch off. He had a good ten or so minutes before Brian decided to come down from upstairs after his morning ritual of shaving, drying and applying some aftershave.

Five minutes later, Troy pressed the button on Brian's expensive coffee machine for a latte.

Three minutes after that, he set the stack of pancakes and bacon on the kitchen counter while setting the latte down for Brian. His accountant and partner didn't like his coffee too hot after all.

When he heard the soft padding of footpaws on the stairs, he smiled. Brian stepped down, wearing the denim overalls that he had bought since he was now officially working on the farm. Though they had been loose when he had first bought them, he was starting to fill out, adding a little more muscle mass to his lean structure. It helped that with the warmer weather setting in, his thick fur was shedding so that his figure was less of a fluff ball.

Still, that left one thing that still irked the stag.

"Nice shower?" he asked.

"Of course," Brian responded, parking himself in front of his stack of pancakes.

"Did ya clean out the drain?"

The blonde wolf rolled his eyes. "Yes, mom."

"Cuz I better not find any clumps o' yer fur down there, yer gonna stuck countin' beans."

Brian hated counting beans. It was all he did for the past few months during fall and winter and he was sick of it. Troy was actually rather pleased that his partner was far more eager to be out in the field and working the earth than locked up in the barn sorting through their produce. The complaints about how there was little ventilation, it was mind numbing and there was little company never ended.

"It's fine," Brian said, stuffing his muzzle with some pancakes. He drizzled some syrup on the stack, melting the butter. "So, I hear tomorrow is a pretty special day for you."

Troy lifted his eyebrows and just let out a grunt. He grabbed a pancake with his bare hands and then a strip of bacon. Like he did every time they had pancakes and bacon, he twisted the pancake around like a cigar, wrapped the bacon around it and then began to eat it like it was a roll. He took the time to puzzle over what made tomorrow so special.

We gonna hit the farmer's market again? Wus there a sale? Naw... that ain't it... I got that all on the calendar.

He glanced over to the refrigerator where Brian had drawn up a calendar for them and posted it there. It helped them both remain organised on the days they would bring their harvest to the local farmer's market for some extra cash when they weren't selling to major supermarkets. There were no events flagged for the following day. Today he had to go down to the market to deliver some goods but that was it.

New guy comin' onboard? Naw, we got full staff now. Dun need anymore...

"You really have no idea, do you?" Brian teased. "Wow... and it's an important day too."

"Fine, smartass," Troy growled. "What is it?"

"It's your birthday."

Troy froze in mid-bite.

My birthday... I'm turnin' 34...

"Guess yer right," he said with a shrug. He bit down on his pancake/bacon roll and chewed down on it thoughtfully. "Go figure."

"What? You're not excited?" Brian asked. "Come on! It's your birthday! We've got to have a party! At least drinks at the local bar. I've been making some friends down there."

So Troy had heard. Brian was surprisingly social with the rest of the small community. The little bar that sat a couple of miles down the road was mainly for travellers to sit and rest and some place for the farmers to gather on their nights off. With nothing for miles around but farmland, it was the closest thing any of them had to a gathering place. Troy only visited it to buy some beer when he had to make a very long trip to the market to buy other supplies. But Brian had made a point to go there every Friday night and socialise. It was where he managed to convince some of the locals to send their kid to work on the farm for the next few months.

But Troy still avoided it.

"I dunno, fluffy. Ain't my scene. B'sides, I've lived alone fer years an' I never dun nothin' fer my birthday. Afta a while, ya just ferget about it. Jus' 'nother day."

"Well where I come from, we celebrate the births of our friends. At least let me get you a gift. What do you want? And don't say a new shovel or clothes. Birthday gifts aren't meant to necessarily be practical."

Troy rolled his eyes. He knew Brian too well at that point. This was going to be another 'more help for the farm' or 'new tractor' deal. The lupine accountant would hound him about it until he relented. And so far, the scoreboard was in Brian's favour. Though Troy had yet to get a new tractor, with the farmhands arriving in an hour or so, the record spoke for itself.

"What do ya city slickers get each other fer yer birthdays then?"

Brian regarded the watch he wore and held it up. "Well, for my twenty-first, my father gave me this."

Troy inclined his head slightly. "Ya still wear the watch yer dad gave ya? Even afta what a total dick he was?"

Brian hadn't spoken with his father since that fateful night about three months ago. He sold what he could in his apartment and hired some movers to bring over what he thought could help around the farmhouse. Their large flat screen TV and the computer that Brian now used were all his. Effectively, he had moved in with Troy. It only seemed practical. Throughout the entire ordeal, Brian's dad hadn't even tried to get in contact with him. Not even an email. Perhaps he tried to call but with Brian's phone lost somewhere in the farm's fields, it went unheard.

"It's my only watch at this stage," Brian said with a shrug. "I still haven't gotten as good as telling what time it is based on the sun like you." He glanced at the watch again and sighed. "Besides, it has no sentimental value. Even back then, my dad was all about results and profit. The only reason he gave this to my for my birthday was because I also graduated from college at that time. If I didn't get good grades or achieve anything less that spectacular, there was no party, no gift and not even a 'Happy Birthday Brian'."

He slapped his paw on the table. "Which is why we're going to celebrate your_birthday! I _lived for other people's birthdays! Only reason I ever had for eating cake!"

"No cake, please," Troy said, patting his chiselled stomach. "It ain't good fer my figure."

"You're fine," Brian said. "So come on, birthday boy! Tell me what you want?"

"I jus' want a simple dinner an' a small cake, okay? Jus' us and the other guys. Nothin' big. I ain't fer big parties."

"Alright, alright. No big parties then." Brian got up and stretched. "Well, we better get to work. The others will be arriving pretty soon."

Troy waved him back down. "Hang on. When's yer birthday?"

Brian shrugged. "Still a while away. December 4th." He cocked his head to the side slightly. "Why? Are you thinking of getting me something?"

"Ya clearly like birthday parties so why not? What d'ya want?"

His friend and partner frowned and looked off to the distance. It was a look that Troy had seen many times before, the same look he got that night when he threw his phone out the window. There were dreams, ambitions and desires behind his cornflower blue eyes.

"I want this far to succeed," he said fiercely. "There's a hell of a lot of space past the fences of this place. I want to clear your brother's debt and then start saving so we can buy that land and expand."

Despite the ferocity of those words, Troy could sense that Brian was lying. Perhaps not lying per se but more like telling half-truths. He could see that Brian genuinely wanted that for the farm but it wasn't what he wanted for his birthday.

"Ya know, if ya want ta really expand, why dun ya open yer own accounting gig? Yer own company or some such? Ya could make a shit tonne of money."

"It's not about the money," Brian answered. "That's what my dad would want. I'm after client satisfaction. I want to help small businesses and people sort out their finances and not have to live pay check to pay check. I want them to have the success this farm has."

Troy smirked and leaned forward. "So ya want that fer your birthday?"

Brian turned to him and gave him a shrug. "If for some reason I could raise enough capital to start up my own company by my birthday and then sure, why not? But for that to happen, this farm has to expand. My salary comes out of what you earn, remember?"

"We, fluffy. I ain't the only one workin' here."

Brian laughed softly and started heading for the door. "Fine. You got me there." He snatched one of the hats off the hat rack beside the front door and slipped it on, his ears poking out through the holes. "Well, come on then. Let's get going. Lots to do today."

Troy nodded in agreement and finished the last of his pancakes before setting the dishes in the sink.

He would get to them after their morning chores.

Just like he'd get to Brian's birthday present.


Farm work was tough but Brian found that he genuinely liked working his muscles. During the day, he gave his body a good workout and from the afternoon to evening, ran his brain through its exercises as he worked out their finances and made plans to further expand their growing profits and where to invest said profits in.

He calculated that by November, they would have Trey's 'debt' completely paid off. He had already calculated for Trish's tuition for the next semester and had a good amount of money squirrelled away for when - not if, when- Trey did something stupid again. Just last month, he was hit by a shock when Troy told him Trey had gotten arrested and they needed to send some bail money. He didn't question Troy's loyalty to his brother and just complied.

Since then, he learned that he needed to keep their funds nice and high. It put a damper on his plans to expand the farm by another thousand acres and the possibility of expanding into the cattle industry for at least another year or so but at the very least, the money they had saved was garnering interest.

As he sifted through the cornfields, checking the ears for ripeness and pests. Beside him was one of the farmhands, a young hyena by the name of Chuck. Like all these farm grown types, Chuck was big, with broad shoulders and a thick build. However, unlike Troy who was lean, Chuck had a bit of a belly that strained his overalls around the gut. Still, he had very big arms and equally large shoulders which he used to heft the crates of corn that he was carrying.

"So we still on for the surprise, Mr. Huffington?" Chuck asked in his bright, cheery tone. He always had a skip in his step for some reason and his energy was infectious. One of the reasons why Brian liked having him around.

"Definitely," Brian answered, checking a stalk that was a little brown around the edges. "And just call me 'Brian'. He won't be back until about seven tonight so if you can deliver it before then, that'd be great."

"Sure thing, boss," Chuck answered with a toothy grin. "It's a big package, after all. Ya hoping to get a go at his package?"

Brian flicked his ears towards the hyena. "I'm sorry?"

"C'mon, boss." Chuck nudged him with an elbow suggestively. "You been living with him for months now. Now you're getting him that big old thing? Your balls must be blue by now!"

Brian let out a soft yelp. "It's nothing like that, Chuck!" he exclaimed. "Troy and I are business partners and this gift will not only double our productivity but also it's a really nice gesture. I'm just looking out for the farm. Plus it'll save me a couple of hours a week of work..."

"Uh-huh," Chuck replied, unconvinced. "You're seriously telling me you're not hoping for a little something 'extra' as reward from Troy? You weren't hoping that he'd 'blow out your candle'?" Chuck nudged him with an elbow again. "You didn't want to have a 'cream pie for dessert'? Make his wish 'come' true?"

Brian's cheeks began to burn in embarrassment. "Enough! Okay? Enough!" He set the basket of corn he had been carrying around down firmly. "This is not_that kind of gift! I don't care how he interprets it either. I am _not going to sleep with him or do any sexual favours for him! Troy and I are friends. Business partners. I would never do anything to compromise that."

He turned his back petulantly against the grinning hyena. "Besides, the point is moot. I'm straight."

So why am I blushing...? And why can't I get the image of Troy's firm abs smothered in cream out of my head...?

"Ya sure? I mean even I'd hit that tight ass if I could."

"For your information," Brian said fiercely, "Troy is a top and -" He spun... and froze.

Chuck stood there, his overalls hanging around his waist and his sheath and balls out, basking in the warm, spring sunlight. Brian's eyes widened as he traced the gentle curves of his thighs up towards his belly which had the vague shape of his abdominals showing through his soft, tawny fur. Like building blocks of a tower, he followed each solid, firm square up to the powerful pectorals topped by round, black nipples, partially hidden by the hyena's crossed arms.

"Chuck! What the hell!?" he exclaimed, leaping back in surprise.

"You lingered, boss," the hyena snickered.

"What? No!" Brian lifted his paw, blocking Chuck's body from view and making a point to avert his gaze elsewhere. "Please put your clothes back on!"

"Alright, boss. If you say so." There was a sound of shuffling. "There. You can look again."

Brian lowered his paw and let out a cry. Chuck hadn't put his clothes back on.

"God, Chuck! What the hell is wrong with you!?"

"You say you're not gay, boss but we can all tell you like Troy. Like, a lot." This time, Brian peeked through his fingers and watched Chuck slip his overalls back on. "It's almost painful watching you two. You're all, 'Well done, Mr. Manning' and then he ups the testosterone whenever you're around to make sure he's the alpha male. And we all see you eyeing him when he shows off his ass and flexes whenever he's lifting stuff."

Brian's cheeks were burning.

God... this kid...

"Whatever signs you think you're seeing, it's only in your head. I am in no way attracted to Troy and I am sure the feeling is mutual. We are friends and business partners."

"Whatever you say, Mr. Huffington. But let me ask you something."

"As long as it stops this ridiculous interrogation, fine." Chuck buttoned up the straps of his overalls, letting Brian pull down his hand. "What is it?"

Chuck got a mischievous look on his muzzle. "Troy stripped down to nothing but a jockstrap, hot, sweaty, oiled up and running his hands over those washboard abs of his, tweaking his nipples as he gets hard and straining that strap..."

Brian suddenly weakness in his legs and his ears folded back. There was a sudden heat emanating from his groin, his heart racing madly in his chest. "Oh hell..."

"You don't have to be gay to know you like a man, Mr. Huffington," Chuck said with a snicker. "And if you have any doubts, know Troy's reputation is pretty well known around these parts. And it sticks. Guys like me agreed to work here because we're okay with that shit. It isn't something to be ashamed of."

"Wait... does that mean you're...?"

Chuck laughed and waved a paw absently. "Naw. I got a girlfriend. But trust me, no one cares. If you and Troy end up hooking up, it'd probably be better for him. Hell, you have no idea what good you've done for him."

Brian inclined his head to the side. "What do you mean?"

"Before you came around and started pulling this place out of the gutter, we thought the Manning farm was haunted! No one even saw Troy that much! He was like a ghost or something! But then you came along and started making contact with the outside world again. It's good to know that he's alive."

A soft smile touched Brian's lips. "Well... He needed it. And he helped me as well."

"And now you live together, work together and from what I hear, you take turns cooking. You're basically already married!"

"Whoa! Let's not go crazy!" Brian laughed, holding up his paws. "One step at a time." Still blushing he leaned forward, speaking in a whisper like he was afraid Troy would hear. "You really think he likes me like that?"

The surprisingly wise hyena began listing off points with his fingers. "He gets all growly and macho whenever you're around, he always puffs out his chest whenever you make lunch, the only time he ever stretches is whenever you're close to him and if you leave the place, he stares off at you and kind of gets googly eyed."

Oh... Oh wow...

He would've bene lying if he said he hadn't noticed such things though he always took it as Troy just being his usual growly self, trying to maintain the status quo so to speak. If he was actually flirting...

"Okay, okay..." he said, holding up his paws. "Let's not get carried away, alright? Let's just focus on getting him his birthday gift. Whatever come afterwards, I'll deal with but priority is his gift."

"Sure thing, Mr. Huffington."

He gave the hyena a pointed stare. "What did I say about calling me that?"

"Would you prefer 'Mr. Manning'?"

Brian's cheeks began to burn so much that the white fur on the underside of his jaw nearly matched the coppery red of the rest of his body. He spun on his heel, picked up the basket of corn and walked stiffly away.

All the while, Chuck was laughing.

And his tail was wagging.


The drives to the local farmer's market were always a pain but since Troy was the only one that could drive a manual and had the pickup truck, he was the only one that can make the deliveries to his distributor. Still, it was a good four hour drive there and another four hour drive back to get to the 'local' market. His farm was just that remote. At least he only had to make the trip one or twice a week and with the rest of the guys back at the farm, he didn't have to worry about lowering productivity.

And the money was good. Why he hadn't thought seeling to the farmer's market before, he didn't know but he was certainly glad to have Brian around. The intelligent wolf's entrepreneurial attitude really kicked the farm into gear.

He's gonna flip, Troy told himself with a soft chuckle.

He arrived back at the farm just as the sun was setting. The last of the farmhands was just leaving and he waved at the guy as he parked his pickup. Brian was naturally standing on the porch seeing them off. He was professional like that.

"Welcome back," Brian greeted. He looked past Troy's broad shoulders at the crates still left in the pickup truck's tray. "Daryl didn't need the entire stock?"

"Naw, jus' empty crates," Troy said, hiking his thumb over his shoulder. "He had so many o' 'em that he unloaded 'em on us. I ain't gonna argue with free stuff."

"Great, I suppose. Come on in, dinner is ready."

"Jus' a sec. Imma gonna put these in the barn."

Brian suddenly whirled around and screamed, "No!" The cry made Troy jump. Brian let out a soft cough and tried to brush away the sudden outburst. "I mean, just leave it in the truck for tonight. There's no rush to put them away right? Besides, it's getting dark."

What's got him so riled up?

"Kinda why I wanna get it in the barn straight away," Troy said. "If it rains again, I'm gonna have water in this stuff. B'sides, it ain't gonna take long if ya help."

"You're right," Brian said, waving him over. "You've had a long day. Why don't you rest up. I'll sort out the crates."

It occurred to him that his business partner didn't want him to go to the barn and he eyed the wolf suspiciously.

"Okay fluffy, what the 'ell is in the barn that ya dun want me ta see?"

"Nothing! Trust me. It's nothing."

Troy turned and started for the big red doors. "So ya won't mind if I take a peek."


Ignoring Brian's protests, he headed straight to the Barn and pushed those red doors open. His eyes widened at the hulking mass that stood before him. Though it was dark, he could still make out the shiny new coat of pain, the brand new tires and the new seat.

"Holy shit..." He turned to Brian in shock. The busted wolf's ears were folded back and a sheepish grin on his muzzle. "Ya bought me a new tractor?"

Brian lifted his thumb and forefinger an inch from one another. "Technically, no."


"I had your tractor hauled off to a mechanic I met at the bar one day. In the span of the day, he applied a new coat of paint, replaced some rusty components, replaced the engine, added new wheels, fixed the seat and... well... It's still your tractor... mostly."

Troy glanced back to the magnificent beast that stood before him. He was simply stunned. While he was a little irked that Brian did this without consulting him, he was still amazed that the tractor that had been with him for years was practically as good as new. "Why...?"

"For your birthday," Brian answered.

"Ya got me this fer my..." He trained off and his jaw went slack.

Fuck me... I think I'm gonna cry...

"I... Dun know what to say..." Troy said, trying to fight the grin on his face. "It's jus'... jus'..."

Then another voice erupted from the barn.

"Aw, go on and kiss him, bro!"

All the blood in his veins went cold and his heart stopped. A familiar figure stepped out from behind the tractor, leaning one arm against the big tires with that cocky, teasing grin on his muzzle, the gold tooth to replace the one he had lost a few years back glimmering in the dim light. His naturally brown hair had been dyed a bleached blonde that was so bright that it was like a bonfire in the darkness.

"I mean seriously," Trey said, patting the tractor's tire. "If you don't put out after this, I'm going to call prude."

The rivers of icy blood in Troy's veins melted... and then burst into flames. He spun slowly towards Brian, eyes blazing.

"Surprise..." Brian whimpered weakly.

He seized Brian's arm roughly and shot a piercing stare at Trey. "Dun ya move."

"Not going anywhere, little bro," Trey laughed. "Didn't think you'd want to get busy so soon but I respect you for it. If you want a condom, I've got a few back in my pack." He hiked a thumb over his shoulder. "And now that the surprise is over, can I stay in the house now? Sleeping back here isn't really uncomfortable though God knows I've done it many times. Though never alone if you get my meaning."

Troy slammed the barn doors shut and spun towards Brian. "Ya brought my brother here fer my birthday!?"

"It's your birthday," Brian replied as if that was the answer to every question in the universe. "And you two have a lot of bad blood between you so I figured what better time to reconcile than now." He lowered his voice. "Besides, if you can be nice to him, maybe he'll stop throwing his debts on you."

"That ain't Trey!" he barked. "He's a fuckin' user! All this buddy-buddy shit he's pullin'? It's so he can 'call in a favour' later on! Fuck, he's been holdin' my dad's words over my head fer years tellin' me that dad would want me ta help 'im out of whatever shit he's gotten himself inta! Ya let him get close to ya, and he's jus' gonna call ya up one day an' ask fer a favour."

"You're exaggerating." Brian yanked his arm away from Troy's grip. "Look, birthdays are a time to celebrate and it's a time where families should be together. I tried to call your sister but she said she couldn't make it. But her present arrived today. I just figured that considering how you three are all you have, you'd at least want this time together."

Troy scowled. "Ya invited them over fer Christmas next year, didn't ya?"

Brian puffed out his chest defiantly. "Yes, yes I did. In fact, Trish has already RSVP'd."


"It means répondez s'il vous plait. 'Reply if you please' in French. Basically she's already said she's coming."

"Then why didn't ya say that!?" Troy bellowed, throwing his hands into the air. "Fuck!"

"What's your problem?" Brian demanded. "Last year Christmas came and went and we barely noticed it! I want the next one to be special! Most people would be thrilled to have their family over for Christmas or their birthday especially after being apart for so long."

"My problem is that my remaining family are fucking shitheads!" Troy spun around angrily and stomped a few feet away. Then he turned back around and pointed a finger back into the farm. "Didya hear what Trey said back in there? He_knows_ I'm gay an' he's never shut up about it since I came out! Fuck, he's the reason I dun have any friends! He jus' reminds everyone that I'll bend 'em over an' fuck 'em if they 'drop the soap'! Plus he's a drunk an' uses drugs! He actually roofied that guy I told ya I was datin' back in high school an' said he wus doin' me a favour!"

"And Trish?"

"Trish doesn't know what she's gonna do with her life! She's two years older than me an' she's still in college! She tried ta be a dentist but quit half way cuz she ain't good with blood! She wanted ta be a vet but got bit by a dog once an' dropped that! When she ain't studyin' she's travellin' all over the place doing shit all! Both of 'em ate through their inheritance an' are now relyin' on me ta support them!"

Brian's tail slowly lifted; that tell-tale sign that he was on the verge of triumph. Fear shot through Troy's body.

"You're jealous... aren't you?"


"You're jealous that you're here, stuck taking care of the farm and supporting them when in reality, you want their life. Trish is constantly going to different colleges and you've never gone once. Trey has all the friends and you don't. They both travel a lot and you're stuck in the same place. You want their life or at least a semblance of it but you can't because you have to support them."

Troy was shaking, his hands balled into fists. His breathing was ragged, each breath a lung full of fire. The rage in his chest was more than just this one offense. Brian had stripped off the layers of emotional armour built over years and now, all that anger had to go somewhere.

"Yer full of shit."

He stormed past Brian and straight into the farmhouse. Not even the delicious aroma of Brian's grilled beef with red onion compote could ease the fury in his chest. He charged all the way up to his room and slammed the door shut, nearly shattering the doorframe with the force.

Troy stood still, rage barely contained. He wanted to punch something. He wanted to break something. Hell, he wanted to find Trey and run him over with his tractor. But he couldn't do anything rash. It wasn't what his parents would have wanted.

What he needed was space... and time.

His eyes settled on his bedside drawer.

Barely thinking at all, he pulled the top drawer open and pulled out the phone with a slightly cracked screen on it. He switched it on and opened the contacts, dialling the most recently called number.

Thankfully he didn't have to wait long for an answer.


"Hey. It's me. Sorry ta call ya so late. Can ya make it here tomorrow instead?"

"Why? Did something happen with Brian?"

"Ya could say that..."

There was a pause on the other end.

"I'll clear my schedule."


Troy had not come down for dinner the entire night though Brian thought he had heard the burly stag head down sometime during the night to fetch something. The accountant and former financial advisor honestly didn't think Troy would react as badly as he did. He had hoped that Trey's presence would at least be smoothed over by the new tractor. Clearly, not.

He was preparing breakfast with Trey sitting on the kitchen counter when he heard Troy's heavy footsteps stomping down the stairs. Both of them turned as the farmer turned the corner. Troy barely even registered Trey's presence and tossed a bag a duffel Brian's feet. It was partially open but inside was an old suit, tie and polished black, business shoes.

Oh shit... He's kicking me out!?

"Get dressed," Troy grunted. "Ya got an important guest comin'."

"A guest?" Brian repeated. "Who?"

Troy didn't respond and turned towards Trey. "Get outta my house."

"This is my house too," Trey protested.

"No it ain't. Mom an' Pop left it all ta me. Ya spent all they gave ta ya in the first year since they died. Get. Out."

Trey huffed and picked up his cup of coffee, downing it in one gulp. "Your boyfriend makes awesome coffee, by the way. You shouldn't be so pissy at him."

"I ain't gonna take relationship advice from the asshole that had crabs twice."

Brian flinched at that. Trey left, slamming the door behind him. That left him with Troy. Alone. Suddenly, it felt like he was the prey of a much bigger predator.

"He'll be here in an hour," grunted the stag, turning his back. "Better be ready by then."

Unwilling to push the topic, Brian merely finished up breakfast and got ready. He was somewhat relieved that Troy hadn't decided to kick him out but he was still rather worried about who their special guest was going to be. As he began dressing himself in his suit, his mind raced through all the possibilities, coming only to one, logical conclusion.


He wouldn't!

He was almost tempted to tighten the tight around his neck to the point where he would asphyxiate himself. If Troy had called his father, it would be the far better option even given the eternal damnation he'd suffer for suicide. When he heard the knock on the door, he nearly threw himself out the window of his room.

Stiffly, he headed out of his room and marched downstairs.

Troy was already at the door.

But the person he was greeting was not Landon Huffington.

"Joey?" Brian asked.

"Well hey!" the tiger exclaimed with a big grin. "If it isn't the Big Bad Wolf! You still huffing and puffing, Huffington?"

Brian shook his head partially to answer the question and also to get rid of the shock.

Joseph Tenor was his college roommate and best friend throughout all of high school. They had remained in contact even after graduation and Joey was usually the person he could vent to concerning his father. The feline's brown hair still retained the youthful spikes that he had worn since they had first met though he had gotten rid of the gaudy blonde streaks as he was now a professional. Like Brian, he was dressed in a suit that hugged his slim figure.

"What are you doing here?" Brian asked.

"Your client called me," Joey said, nodding towards Troy. "Originally, I was supposed to come here next week but apparently something went down. May I come in?"

"Ain't gonna stop ya," Troy answered, stepping aside.

Joey kicked off his shoes and stepped inside. "So what's been happening with you?"

"I... I..." Brian stammered, completely unsure how to respond.

"I'm gonna go work the farm," Troy grunted. "You two have fun catchin' up."

Then he was gone. To where, Brian could only guess but he sincerely hoped he wasn't about to murder his brother.

He became aware that Joey's black eyes were watching him expectantly and he immediately offered some coffee. Like him, the feline was one of those people who couldn't function well without caffeine though from what he remembered, Joey much preferred the zing of energy drinks than smooth blend of a cappuccino.

His friend was at least polite enough not to reject the offer.

"You seem to be doing well," Joey observed as he took the offered cup. "From what your client told me, you've really turned this place around. I always knew you were more for the small business than those corporations."

"Thanks," Brian said, sitting down opposite to Joey with his own mug. "I guess..." He regarded his friend curiously. "So why did Troy invite you here anyway? I mean, it's a long ride from the city. You wouldn't have come here unless you had a really good reason."

Joey shrugged. "What, can't a guy visit his bro after said bro went through some pretty rough shit with his dad?"

"Troy told you about that, huh?"

"No. Your dad has been telling everyone. Questions were going to be asked, you know."

Of course dad blabbed. He's got his reputation to uphold, after all, and the longer it went unnoticed, the more damaging it would be when the truth came out.

Bravo, father, bravo.

Joey broke into a grin and lifted his mug as a slight toast to Brian. "But you're really looking good. You've filled out. Your suit barely fits you, dude! Real buff!"

Brian laughed softly and had to admit that his suit was a little tight around the chest and shoulders. He also had to constantly adjust himself as the fabric was strained somewhat against his thighs. "Farm work, I guess. Plus Troy has a miniature gym downstairs and he pushes me like hell..." He shook his head and glanced back up at Joey. "But you haven't really answered my question, Joey. Why are you here? The real reason?"

The tiger took a sip of the coffee and nodded. "I would have thought your client would have at least told you. Good coffee though. I guess I could get used to it if we're going to be partners."

His ears perked in surprise. "Partners?"

Joey set down his mug and folded his paws together, being very professional. "Your client only spoke your praises, Big Wolf."

"How'd he even get your contact details? I know I lock my PC every time I leave it..."

"He called me."

"Called you? I don't have your contact details on file. The only place I have it is on my..."

... my phone...

Joey laughed softly. "It was actually a surprise. I got this call from your phone one day and I fully expected you to answer. Instead, I get this deep, rumble with a thick accent and I'm like, 'da fuck'!? I had heard that your dad sent you to a farm before he fired you and I was thinking, 'Holy shit, those rednecks have Brian hostage and they're calling me for ransom!'." Joey laughed and slapped the table. "Imagine my surprise when Troy told me just how much good you were doing for his farm and that it would be a really good idea if I formed a partnership with you and founded our own accounting firm, one geared towards small businesses and individuals like him particularly in the agriculture industry."

Brian's mind was reeling.

He did that?

Joey laughed, pointing at Brian's face. "I had that same look too! I told him he was crazy and hung up. Then, you remember Rene Spelling?"

"That cheetah you had a thing with during college? Doesn't she work for a bank now?"

"Yeah. We caught up one day and she told me about how this crazy redneck called her using your phone and proposing a business venture."

Wait... Did Troy go through my entire contact list calling people with this proposal!?

What the hell!?

"And it got me thinking," Joey continued. "If a client is so willing to vouch for you to the point where he's calling everyone and anyone with this proposal, you must really have impressed him. So I called him back. Once I was sure that he wasn't some axe-wielding murder trying to lure me into his murder site, I agreed to come over here and talk to you about starting our own firm." He beamed, flashing his fangs at Brian. "So what do you say?"

Brian was again left utterly speechless. His heart was racing, his mind working at a million thoughts per minute. His own accounting firm. It may not be as big as his father's but it would be his own and he could run it the way he wanted to run it. Accountants that prioritised the money that their clients made instead of the money they pocketed.

But he still had his doubts...

"I don't know, Joey... That's... That's going to take a lot of time. I mean, we'll need some start-up capital, some clients..."

Though I know a lot of guys down at the farm that have been asking me to look at their books...

... and I'm sure others at the farmer's market would want some help as well...

"Way ahead of you," Joey said, holding up his paw. "I've got a few of my own clients itching to work with me personally and I know some businesses in the city that could use a bit of our magic. As for the start-up capital, I've got a bunch of cash saved up but I figure that with the severance package you got..."

"Severance package?" Brian repeated. "What severance package?"

His friend gave him a quizzical look. "The one you got after you were fired by your dad."

"I wasn't fired. I quit."

Joey gave him a knowing smile and laughed softly. "Oh, I know what this is. Come on, bro, don't be like that. That cliché is over and done with."

"No. Seriously. I quit. I didn't receive a dime from my father. Hell, I was so pissed at him when I quit that I threw my phone out the window."

And Troy found it...

Joey slowly got out of his seat. "Are you serious? If your dad didn't give you a severance package, then that's a serious breach of contract. You could sue."

The idea of suing his father excited him. To shatter that impassive mask and see anything resembling emotion behind it even if it was outrage would be worth any price. Even if it was disappointment again, at least it wouldn't be because Brian failed at something but rather that he succeeded.

"You know, I just might," Brian answered with a grin and a glint in his eye. "What are you doing for the rest of the day?"


Barely an hour passed and Troy was just pulling his new tractor out of the barn. He had wrestled with the idea of even taking it out as it reminded him of the previous night's events. Wrestled with it for a good forty-five minutes. It didn't help that Trey - who had slept in the barn - was watching him. His brother's silence was unnerving. Eventually, it became a decision between whether or not he wanted to endure Trey's judgmental gaze or not.

Then he saw Brian jumping into his car.

He hit the brakes, put his tractor into neutral and dashed towards the convertible.

"Where're ya goin'?" he demanded.

I... I dun want ya to leave... Jus'... Jus' wanted some time ta myself...

"I've got some business in the city," Brian answered, that distant, fiery gaze in his eyes again. "Don't wait up. It's a long drive."

"But -"

Without another word, Brian was zooming out of the driveway, Joey right behind him in his own sedan.

Troy just stared. He felt terribly empty even though he knew he should've felt hurt, perhaps even betrayed. The only reason he had called Joey was to help Brian with his career and he hoped that having that dangle in front of the wolf's face would distract him from prying into Troy's life... But now...

"You're a fuck up."

Troy spun around. That emptiness in his gut was instantly filled with rage. Trey's eyes stared back at him, full of judgment and criticism.

"Yer one to talk," he growled, storming past his brother.

"I am," answered his brother. "But at least I admit it. You're too busy sitting on that pedestal of yours and looking down on the rest of us that you can't even see just how much of a fuck up you are."

Troy's hands curled into fists. "I ain't listenin' to yer crap, Trey."

"Bullshit. You're going to listen because I'm your older brother and pa always said to listen to your elders." Trey followed him, so close that he could almost feel his brother's breath on his neck. "I heard what you and Brian talked about last night, Troy. I know you think I'm full of shit and we're wasting your money. I won't deny it, I come to you for help but there's a lot about me that you don't know."

"I know enough."

"What you know is the bullshit I've been through. You think your life is hard? Try being me! I've been arrested multiple times, Troy. Try getting a job with that kind of record!"

Troy spun around, looming over his brother by a good few inches. "Then ya shouldn't have gotten in trouble in the first place!"

Though Trey wasn't as built as Troy, he still grew up on a farm and kept fit. He bumped chests with his brother with enough force to make Troy stagger back one step. "It's called taking risks, dickwad! You should try it sometime! But no! I forgot!" He stepped back, arms crossed. "You're daddy's little boy, aren't you? You don't take risks. At least you won't do anything you don't think mom or dad would've done while they were alive!"

"Ya dun get to talk 'bout them that way!"

"For fuck's sake, Troy!" shouted his brother. "Mom and dad weren't some old timey couple that never changed! In the five years before you were born, they _expanded_the farm multiple times! They had dreams, ambitions and kept on growing! But all you've been doing is living in this image of the past, trying to ignore the problems of the world and pretending we're not changing!"

"Ya haven't been changin'!" Troy bellowed. "Ya keep getting' arrested, chuckin' yer debt my way -"

"Did you even think to question any of that 'debt' or 'arrests'?" Trey scowled. "I should've gotten the chair by now or at least life in prison. But you're just so stuck in your own little world, constantly believing that I'm the bad guy and a lost cause, doing drugs and petty crimes that you can't get through your thick skull that I've got my own business, I have a six figure salary and that all the money I've been asking you for is for a fucking term deposit in your name!"

Troy froze. "Wh - what...?"

Trey sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Your boyfriend picked up on this pretty early. You really think that I could've signed your name of a debt and gotten away with it? No. Brian contacted me pretty early on. Ask why the 'debt' was actually for a term deposit. I didn't realise you had an accountant."

"He wus my financial advisor... said that the bank sent 'im over cuz of yer debt..."

"Fun." Trey shook his head and let out a soft sigh. "I know you, Troy. You don't make any investments, you don't expand and all your ambition died when Pete left you. So over the past few years, I've been tricking you into sending money to me which I've put in a term deposit just for you." Trey reached into his jacket and handed him an envelope. "Details are in there. It's all yours. It was going to be my birthday gift to you."

Again, that emptiness came back. Troy was just utterly unsure how to react.

He... He was jus'...?

"An' ya wanna know something funny?" Trey continued, taking out another envelope. "Trish is getting married. She's graduating this year. Settled on biomedicine. She's already got a job in a pharmaceutical company with her husband. I'm guessing her birthday gift is your invitation to her wedding." He handed Troy the envelope. "The world moved on without you, Troy. You've just been so busy locked up in this little world of yours, wrapped in layers upon layers of the past that you refuse to see everyone's grown up. You should to."

Troy regarded the envelopes in shock. Just looking at them burned his retinas like he was looking straight at the sun. Tears were welling up in his eyes. "Why'd ya lie to me then?" he asked, lifting his gaze from the envelopes.

"Do you know how many times I've tried to explain?" Trey said angrily. "Last night, you didn't even give me a chance to say happy birthday before you stormed off and yelled at your boyfriend. Hell, I had to sleep in the _barn_because you were homicidal. I honestly thought the fact that you had another man living under your roof meant that you were growing up too. Moving on."

Troy glanced off into the distance in the direction that Brian had departed. "He's not my boyfriend..."

"Seriously? Why not? The guy is totally in to you! He got you a frickin' tractor... well, sort of. And he even tried to reconcile the two of us! How can you not see that?"

Guilt began gnawing at his chest.

I dunno...

"I jus'... dun wanna get hurt again..." He sighed heavily. "But it might be too late... He jus' drove off with his best bud..."

Trey reached over and gripped his brother's shoulder. "Look, I've spoken to Brian at length. I've never really met him in person except for yesterday but from what I gather, he really does like you. If it's really something special, he'll be back. Trust me."

Troy was shaking again but for an entirely different reason. "Okay... Thanks, Trey."

The older of the two stags grinned. "You're my little brother. It's the least I could do."


Brian parked in front of Huffington Accounting. The imposing, grey building was so drab and lacked any sort of life. In comparison to the Manning Farm, which even on the gloomiest, rainiest day, had the scent and colour of life in it, the building just seemed so... depressing.

He took a deep breath, wondering exactly what he would say.

"So..." Joey said, coming to stand beside him. "This is a thirty minute parking area. You sure you don't want to find somewhere else to park?"

"No," he said firmly. "This shouldn't take long."

"Really? I would've thought you'd have a lot to tell your dad."

Brian wrung his paws together. "I honestly just want to get this out of the way and get back to the farm."

"Really? Unfinished business with Mr. Manning?"

"Yeah." He took a deep breath and let it out softly. "I've never really been one to believe in destiny, Joey, but after you told me what Troy did... I think I'd like to believe."

Joey gave him a quizzical look. "What're you saying?"

"I'm saying... that even if I get that severance package, I'm going to ask if we can postpone the idea of setting up our own accounting firm for a bit. I want to invest it back in the farm."

His friend grinned. "Awww... I knew it. You really are a Fluffy Princess, aren't you?"

Brian rolled his eyes and the feline a friendly shove. "Troy is special to me. He put a roof over my head and gave me a job when by dad practically kicked me out. I want to give something back." He gave Joey a lopsided grin. "Besides, I'd think a hundred grand would make for a decent dowry, don't you?"

"Dude, do dowries even apply to two dudes? Besides, aren't his parents dead?"

His expression soured. "Not cool."

"Sorry, sorry," Joey laughed. He clapped Brian's shoulder. "I'm happy for you, man. But what'll you do if you don't get the severance?"

Brian looked towards the building and sighed. "I think that's destiny telling me that it really isn't meant to be between us. I'll wrap things up with Troy, use my savings to start up our firm and move back into the city."

"You do realise I won't accept those terms, right? I am not going to trust your love life in the paws of your father."

He laughed softly. "We'll see. Just stay here. I got this."

Brian stepped into the building through the same rotating doors, down the same marble floor and up to the same receptionist desk.

"Brian Huffington to see Landon Huffington," he announced to the otter behind the desk.

"Do you have an appointment, Mr. Huffington?" she asked kindly.

"No. I don't need one to see my father."

She gave him an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, Mr. Huffington. Your father is extremely busy and -"


Brian slammed his paws on the desk, catching the attention of everyone in the lobby. "Damnit, woman! I want to see my father. Now!"

She lifted her paws into the air. "I'll see what I can do, sir! Just a moment." She picked up her phone and whispered quickly into it. Her eyes darted back and forth from Brian to her screen. A few moments later, she set it back down and gave him a shaky smile. "He'll see you now. It's on the seventh floor, first -"

"I know the way to my father's office," Brian answered, adjusting his tie.

He turned and headed into the elevator, glowering. No one took the same elevator as him even though many were waiting. The few moments before the elevator let out a ding were excruciating. The doors slid open and he marched straight down the hallway into his father's office. His first instinct was to knock but if there was something he learned from Troy, it was that he had to be direct.

With one swift movement, he pushed open the door and stepped inside.

Landon Huffington sat behind his desk, a phone to his ear. He gestured to Brian that he would be one minute and indicated that his son should sit. The sun glimmered off the grey fur on his muzzle and the terrible comb over that he sported over his blonde hair.

"Yes, Michael. I will have the report to you within the day. Thank you. Good day. Bye." Landon hung up and then turned towards his son, blue eyes cold and unemotional. "I am surprised, Brian."

"Let me guess," Brian growled. "You expected me here sooner."

The faintest lift of his eyebrow was the only sign of surprise Landon allowed. "Correct. I fully expected you to come storming in here the moment you learned I had 'fired' you. In better attire, might I add." He appraised his son with a soft scowl. "I can smell the farm on you from here. And how many times have I told you to take off that stud, boy?"

Brian flicked his right ear, the one with a golden stud in it. "You can tell me all you want, father, but I'm never going to do it."

Landon's other eyebrow rose and he leaned back in his seat, seemingly taken aback by his son's sudden show of backbone. "Close the door, Brian."

To that, Brian complied. He could feel the eyes of the others on the floor trying to not-so-subtly peer in on what was happening in the large office. He stepped further inside but refused to sit down opposite to his father's big, brown, oak desk.

"I have a theory," Landon said coldly. "Three, actually. All pertaining to why you would throw away your life, your job and indeed your very future for some hick in the country. The first and foremost of them has to do with that earring of yours." The older wolf tented his fingers. "I am aware that you were called 'Fluffy Princess' all throughout middle and high school for your rather dainty appearance. I believe it had homosexual undertones, am I right?"

"So far, yes."

"So in line with your defiance to take that piece of jewellery off with severely undermines your professional appearance, you have taken it upon yourself to be a 'princess' and found yourself a big, strong, strapping man out in the farms to cuddle with. Cute. But ultimately stupid. This man is in serious financial debt, Brian. Putting your trust with him is incredibly foolish."

Brian crossed his arms. "As is putting your trust in me, at least according to what you've told people."

Landon let out a dry chuckle. "Quite. My other theory is that this is some form of juvenile rebellion wherein you believe that by attempting to embarrass me, you can undermine my credibility and all the hard work I've put into my career and this company. All in some vain attempt to 'win'."

Smug, cold-hearted bastard...

"And your third theory?"

"That you were overcome by temporary insanity and had a momentary lapse of judgement."

Brian let out a similar dry chuckle to his father. "That's almost funny."

"No, it is not." Landon rose form his seat, his cleanly pressed suit hugging his slim figure. Brian realised that for the first time, he was bigger than his father, at least in the size department. "What you've done here, Brian, is incredibly idiotic and foolhardy. I don't care for your reasons. They are your own. But you are going to stop this immediately and come back to work Monday. I'll give you time to sort out your affairs but after that -"

"Three theories."

Landon stopped, giving his son a cold, hard stare but otherwise remaining silent.

"Three theories," Brian repeated. "That's all you could come up with? Three? You didn't consider... say..." Brian shrugged absently. "I just wanted to make you proud? Or that I'm just sick and tired of your bullshit 'professionalism' and cold shoulder? That I'm sick of how you treat your clients as just sources of income and care more about how much money you're getting from them instead of actually helping them earn money. What about how you've always treated me as one of your employees_instead of a _son? Huh? Have you considered any of those 'theories'?"

The older wolf was silent, unmoving.

"I did everything I could to make you proud," Brian continued. "I used to live_for the times when you would actually give me a birthday gift or get something decent for me for Christmas. All because I knew it meant that, in your eyes, I deserved it; that I had done something to earn your respect and that warranted a reward." Brian spread his arms and let out a bitter laugh. "Well guess what, dad? Family don't treat each other like that. Sure, they may lie, cheat and maybe even deceive you once in a while but ultimately, they love one another. But even when you treat them like _shit, they'll still do whatever they can to help you out even if you call them names, shut them out and only ever call to call them fuck ups!"

He thought of Trey and their first ever phone conversation and the truth behind Trey's 'debt'. Brian had sworn never to tell Troy about it, at least not until Trey was ready. It was a hard thing to reveal to someone, after all.

He still loved Troy. No matter how badly Troy treated him, he still saved thousands for him, even contributing to that term deposit on Troy's behalf...

"But that was never the case with you," Brian growled. "You never once_told me you loved me. You never said you were proud of me. Not once. The only reason you ever gave me anything was due to some social obligation to save face! And that's what this is." He jammed a finger at the desk. "You told everyone that you fired me just to save face so that no one would question why I would quit! You called me 'incompetent', 'unprofessional' and 'untrustworthy'! To my _back! I had to find out from Joey!"

Brian straightened and shook his head. "Well guess what? If you 'fired' me, you owe me a severance package."

Landon's eyes widened for a brief moment. "I owe you nothing."

"It's in my contract, dad," he scowled. "So what's it going to be? Stick with the story that you fired me and we can go to court, admit you lied about my termination or give me that severance package which I _clearly_don't deserve."

The elder Huffington took a deep breath... then let it out slowly. He sat back down in his big, high backed, leather chair. "You do not have the funds to hold a case like this up in court."

"Probably not but it doesn't matter. Your credibility will be shot. Think about it. Landon Huffington's own son, taking him to court over whether or not said son was 'fired' or not. I'm sure your clients who trust their money with you would love to know the details."

Those cold, steely blue eyes narrowed. "I am not giving you a dime."

"Then that just leaves you with one option, doesn't it dad?"


When the convertible rolled up to the driveway, Troy leapt off the bench sitting on the patio and bounded over to Brian.

"Brian!" he exclaimed. "I'm sorry fer callin' Joey over. I jus' needed some time alone an' I thought -"

"It's okay," Brian laughed softly, pushing his door open and stepping out of his car. "It... it actually was a good thing. Seeing Joey again..." He nodded firmly. "It sparked something in me. Something I needed to get off my chest."

"What?" Troy quivered, scared of what the answer might be.

"I... I went to see my dad."

Oh shit...

"Oh shit..." Troy said aloud. "Why?"

Brian shrugged. "Turns out, my dad told everyone that he fired me. All to save face. I mean, if people heard that his own son quit his firm could be damaging to his reputation, you know? So he said he fired me." Then the wolf got a sheepish little grin. "But if he fired me, he owed me a severance package."

"A whut?"

"A big payout. I basically get a lot of cash." Brian laughed soft and ran a paw down his face. "You know, I told myself that if I did end up getting the package, that I'd invest it back into the farm. Get this place really started up."

Troy shook his head. "Why? Ya could use that ta startup yer own business..."

"I could but then I'd be away from you."

His heart skipped a beat. "What... what are ya sayin'?"

Brian took a deep breath and shoved his paws into his pockets. "We've known each other for months now, Troy, and I have got to say that while you be both infuriating and stubborn, I've never had more fun or felt closer to anyone else in my life. While I would love to start my own business someday, I would much prefer to make sure when I come home every day, you'd be there to greet me." He shrugged absently. "I've honestly gotten quite used to it and don't want to give that up. I like not having to cook every other day."

Troy's throat went dry. "Yeah... well... Yer kinda anal, sneaky an' ya think yer doin' everyone a favour with whatever yer doin'. An' yer kind of a pervert."

"Me?" Brian laughed. "So says the alpha male who stretches and flexes every time I show up!"

Troy dropped his gaze, a goofy grin crossing his features. "Point is, I like havin' ya 'round too an' when ya drove off like that, I was scared ya weren't comin' back... Oh and ya look stupid with a tie. Fergot to say that."

The coppery wolf laughed and shook his head, blue eyes shining. "Maybe. But I don't think I'll be wearing one for a while. At least not now."

Troy brightened. "Does that mean yer dad paid out?"

There, Brian's features fell. "No... He admitted that he lied. I gave him hell about it, though. Marched right out of the office, yelled at the top of my voice that he lied and got him to confess in front of everyone on the floor that he was wrong."

The stag broke into a grin. "No shit! Really?"

"Yeah. Just wish there were more people there. It was about lunch time when I got there so everyone was out." Brian's shoulders sagged. "Still..."

"Still..." Troy repeated, his mood starting to darken. "Does that mean ya dun plan on stayin'?"

Brian closed his eyes briefly, a smile on his face. Then, he curled his paw around the back of Troy's neck and pulled him close. Their lips met. Troy's chest seized up and a lump formed in his thought, like his entire body wanted to push his heart right out of his muzzle and straight into Brian so that the wolf could have and hold it forever.

The kiss seemed to last forever and then Brian just pulled away.

"Mr. Manning, what did I just say?"

Troy smiled and wrapped his strong arms around Brian's waist, pulling them close together.

"Shut up, fluffy. Jus'... shut up."


The summer sun beat down on the back of Brian's neck. He was sweating through his shirt but after having gone through three summers in the same kind of situation, he really didn't mind. In fact, he relished it. Only in summer could take out his favourite steed - simply named Mustang - out into the large paddock behind the farm and ride him. The air brushing through his thick fur offset the heat. That and the company was always quite welcome.

He glanced off to his left where Troy rode his own horse, a painted stallion who was the alpha of the herd. Not too surprising since Troy was the alpha of the farm after all. With the heat pelting down on them, Buck opted to go riding shirtless, showing off his fantastic muscles glistening with sweat. Neither of them had to worry about being unprofessional or anything. It was well past the time that the other farmhands had to leave for the day and the sun was just starting to set.

They rode up to the small manmade lake at the back of their vast property and dismounted. They let the horses have a drink and tied them to a nearby tree so they wouldn't get too far. Then, with his paw tightly clasped around Troy's large hand, they headed over to the oak tree on a little hill overlooking most of their property.

Together, they just sat down in the cool shade, where Troy let out a content sigh and crossed his arms behind his head. Brian got a whiff of his body odour but after three years of being up close and personal to that musk both professionally and sexually, he felt that he could no longer go through the day without at least a small sample of that scent.

He took a deep breath and leaned back against the tree, a smile on his muzzle.

His blue eyes washed over the farm. The vast fields of crops had never been more prosperous especially since Troy was finally hitting the books and going to college. It was awkward at first but he was now in his second year as an agriculture major. The commutes to the local college were still terrible but he was learning a lot. Brian naturally had to take up more responsibility on the farm but he didn't mind. Farming and managing their accounts was second nature now.

In only one short year after they had officially become a couple, Brian had expanded their property to allow for them to have a couple of horses and a large herd of sheep as well. With the horses, they could herd their sheep easily and, in Brian's mind, it was sort of like having a big pet with Troy. One day, he dreamed of adopting a kid but he told himself to take it one step at a time. Troy was still in college, his accounting firm was still just starting off and they had really just recently expanded into the wool industry.

His phone suddenly rang and Troy gave him an exasperated stare. Brian mouthed an apology before answering it.

"Joey, hey."

"My man!" exclaimed the tiger. "How's the rural branch of Huffington and Tenor Accounting going?"

Brian laughed, running a paw through his hair. "It's going well, Joey. Everyone down here wants us to do their accounts, you know. I've barely got enough time to take care of the farm. Thank god Chuck is such an awesome guy. I can leave most of the work to him while I crunch numbers."

"Yeah, yeah. That's all nice and all. You know what I called about."

He rolled his eyes and lifted his left wrist where a new watch glimmered in the sun. "Yeah, I got your gift. Thanks."

"I figured you could do with a new one so the old doesn't remind you of the Royal Asshole."

"Come on, he isn't that bad. At least this year he 'politely declined' my invitation to attend my birthday party. Though I suspect that came from his secretary and not him."

"Still a Royal Asshole. Still got a room for me this weekend?"

"You bet. Bring Rene as well. Or would you prefer to keep the soon-to-be Mrs. Tenor at arm's length."

"Are you kidding? She'd kill me if I didn't bring her over for horseback riding again. She loves_riding Griffon. Bareback even. I know I should be insulted at my own innuendo there but, what can I say? She loves you guys!"_

Brian snickered. "Yeah, I know." He glanced over at Troy with a smile. "Every girl needs a gay couple as a friend."

"True. Anyway, I got to go. I'll see you this weekend, bud! Oh and congratulations!"

Congratulations? Shouldn't that be 'happy birthday'?

Before he could ask, Joey hung up. He stared at his phone in confusion before shrugging and tucking it away.

"They doin' okay?" Troy asked.

"Didn't get a chance to speak to Rene but from what it seems like, they're going strong. You okay about flying up to New York for the wedding, right? You've never flown before."

"Still think we could drive," Troy grumbled. "But yeah, I'll be fine. Gonna be weird on a plane..."

"Just promise me you'll wear the shirt and tux I got you."

"Fuckin' penguin suit..."

Brian nudged Troy playfully. "It's for Joey and Rene's wedding! You love having them around!"

Troy smiled but didn't respond mostly because it was true. While Chuck and the farmhands were fun to have around, the visits from Joey and Rene were what really brightened his day. Rene was surprisingly competitive with her horseback riding and often challenged Troy to races. The current score was 15 to 9 in Rene's favour.

"Hard ta think that they hooked up cuz I went 'round callin' for ya."

One of the many reasons Rene absolutely loved Troy. It was the stag's rather persistent brand of insanity that had gotten Chuck and Rene to make that initial connection after so many years apart. She simply loved telling the story of how 'this random stranger called her up with a business proposition on behalf of Brian Huffington and she talked about it over coffee with Joey, comparing notes and theories on Brian's potential kidnapping'. The story would get bigger or smaller depending on who she was telling it to but her punchline would always be, 'and here's that stranger now with Brian. They're couple.' For some reason, having a gay couple as a friend was some sort of status symbol for her and whenever Brian could convince Troy to take a trip up to the city with him to visit Rene, she would always flaunt them both off. It might be because none of her friends believed her and she could rub it in their faces when the truth came out.

"Funny how things turn out, huh?" Brian said. "I came to your door because of Trey's little lie and then, here we are."

"After we got rid o' all the bullshit, here we are," Troy agreed. "Like the reason why ya dun like bein' called 'Fluffy Princess'."

Brian turned to his boyfriend and smile. "Or why you're so loyal to your brother and family."

Troy returned the smile and leaned towards him. "Or your baggage with yer dad."

"And your baggage with being gay."

Their lips met, tongues freely exploring one another's muzzles. Brian felt so safe, loved and warm in Troy's arms that he let himself lean down onto the big stag's powerful, bare chest and lay there even after they broke the kiss. He let out a content sigh and closed his eyes.

He let out a soft chuckle. "You know, looking back we've come pretty far. Still, we got plenty of places more to go. Lots of room to grow."

"I hope so," Troy agreed. "An' I wanna grow with ya fer the rest o' my life, fluffy."

Brian smiled and nuzzled Troy's chest. "I know. I feel the same way about you."

Troy suddenly let out a cough. "Erm... no. Get up, fluffy."

He frowned and opened his eyes, regarding Troy curiously. "Huh? Why?" Despite his questions, he still rose to his feet. Strangely Troy remained crouched... or at least with one knee bent.

His heart suddenly began racing as Troy reached into his pocket.

Oh god...

The stag, cheeks bright red, pulled out a blue, velvety box from his pocket and lifted it up for Brian.

"Brian Huffington, will ya marry me?"

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