4 parts Added Mar 2022 4,844 views 4.9 stars (11 votes) 7,551 words
Phil supervised the movers trooping sweatily in and out of his new apartment with glum resignation. He hadn’t wanted to move. He hated moving, even if he had finally steeled himself to vacate the rat-trap tenement he’d been living in since he’d moved here and get a real, safe, clean space for himself. He was willing to move; he wanted to be moved, or, more accurately, to have been moved. It was just the actual moving part of moving that he couldn’t stand. Just contemplating packing up his books had given him heartburn. Why did he even have books? Or DVDs? What century was he from? He didn’t read physical books anymore, and the DVDs sat there pining to be watched while he callously streamed everything they had to offer him. In the end he’d midnight-ditched all his old media in tall, frumpy piles in the dejected-feeling disused basement common room of his old complex next to a dust-covered ping-pong table and someone’s old Soloflex, shoved his clothes and dishes into collapsible banker’s boxes stolen from his best friend’s work on a quiet Saturday when no one was looking, and called the same random four-guys-and-a-van outfit his sister had used to move in with her girlfriend a few months back. Done, done, and done.
Now he stood leaning on the staircase bannister in the simple white-with-aqua-accents hallway outside his new fifteenth-floor aerie, pleasant early-summer air sifting through from open windows inside the flat as he watched his remaining worldly goods marching in procession through his propped-open doorway like animated candy in an old cinema refreshments trailer. The place was just what he’d wanted, if just outside his price range: an airy, large-yet-compact one-bedroom in a relatively narrow, newish, not-too-swank building away from the noisy climes he was used to, with a setup of only two apartments per floor above the first couple of stories that seemed to promise a very appealing sparsity of human contact. Phil figured that once he was unpacked he would be happy enough here. Or, content, anyway. He hadn’t done “happy” in a while, not since college. It didn’t seem to be an intrinsic property of the bland, sometimes frustrating, reliably uneventful version of adulting he’d ended up with.
As Phil was thinking this, he noticed someone sidling past Sebastián’s bulky, sweat-dampened crew as they headed the other way toward the elevator around the corner. At first he only got partial impressions of him through the train of movers. Tallish, lanky. A yellow tee and bright blue jeans, vibrant against the pallid walls and the darker clothes of the movers passing between them. Dark-haired and trim under an old, bent-billed maroon ball cap. Exposed arms showing warm sepia skin so healthy it almost seemed luminescent, pulled straight from the heavy-looking bags of shopping on either side. Then the stranger and the team cleared each other, and Phil stood abruptly in shock, pulling up from the wide, solid railing he’d been leaning his butt on as though the wood had somehow become electrified. He stared hard—increasingly in every sense of the expression—at the apparition that was his neighbor. It wasn’t just that the new physically-closest-person in his life was a serendipitously good-looking thirtyish guy, fit and lively and well-proportioned, with a friendly face, a trim goatee, and long sculpted limbs boasting with just enough muscle into be interesting. It was that he was—he was—
The other man saw him and waved cheerily as he approached his door, then easily shifted one of the hefty dark-green cloth grocery bags to join the other one in the lower of his left hands while he dug a set of keys out of his right pocket. Unlocking the door he shouldered into his apartment, leaving Phil standing there in the hallway gaping as the man passed through his doorway, hind legs following a second behind the front ones, before the big aqua apartment door quickly fell closed behind him and latched itself with a loud thunk.
Phil stared at the closed door for some time, while the movers, having finished hauling up furniture and mirrors and art and floor lamps and such, made a last run of boxes piled two or three high. Loose silverware and cutlery sloshed from one of the passing stacks as they finished their work, but none of it registered with Phil. The men were a blur. Finally Sebastián was standing in front of him, stocky and professional in his visibly pitted purple “Rainbow Movers” tee, and Phil mindlessly signed the tablet he handed him. The guys filed past him for the last time, accepting the cash tips he’d prepared for them with appreciative nods, and then Phil was alone in the empty hallway—an ordinary part in an ordinary apartment building, a forty-foot-long, six-foot-wide eggshell-and-azure space that had suddenly, somehow, become his own personal Loch Ness.
Had he really seen——?
He was completely turned on and fundamentally unnerved at the same time, which he found distressing. The two unlike emotions piling onto each other only magnified the unreality of the moment. He had no idea what to do. Just go into his new apartment and start unpacking, pretend it hadn’t happened? That seemed… unhealthy. His mother back in Tennessee was in loud denial about everything, from vaccines to the moon landing to gay marriage—not its morality but its existence as a real thing—and he’d seen first-hand how that had eaten away her reason and independence. Escaping her theater of delusions had been one of the spurs to him getting away and finding his own path at college as far from he as he could get. There was no way he could let himself start down the same road. He had to acknowledge what he’d seen: a handsome, well-put-together man who happened to have four arms and four legs, returning from his shopping like the sight of a four-legged man in the Key Foods wouldn’t cause pandemonium and a localized overturning of normalcy.
Because that was the thing, he told himself as he settled his butt against the railing again and crossed his arms over his skinny chest, eyes still on the pale-blue door his quadrupedal neighbor had disappeared behind. He adjusted his thick, stubborn, average-length boner unconsciously, his brain busy sorting through what he knew. The guy had definitely been to the supermarket, he knew that—the ponderous reusable shopping bags stuffed full of leafy green lettuce and soft rye bread and boxes of Crispix and what-all left him in no doubt on that score. More than that, he was returning calm and happy, not furtive or harried and aggravated like he’d created an uproar that would already have broken YouTube, Facebook, and PicThread in the time it took him to walk the three blocks home. Even if he discarded the guy’s no-news grocery trip as speculation, he’d seen with his own eyes how his neighbor had walked right past the movers and they hadn’t even batted an eye—and Sebastián and his crew weren’t local and so would have had no chance to acclimate to a four-legged guy roaming the streets of Phil’s leafy new demesne.
No, Phil hadn’t just seen a hot, four-legged, four-armed man—he’d seen a hot, four-legged, four-armed man being treated like being that way was as normal as blueberry pie and as everyday as lost socks, the rumbling of subways, and feline indifference.
He huffed. If the normalcy of a four-legged man was real, then if anything Phil thinking there was something was odd about his new neighbor was the real anomaly…
Maybe it wasn’t all real, though, he mused. Maybe he’d hit his head or developed some short-circuit in his brain, and he had totally imagined his neighbor. Or his neighbor was real, and his faulty noggin had supplied the extra arms and legs. It was like the guy in Life on Mars: Am I mad? In a coma? Or gone someplace where four-legged guys are real?
This new uncertainty made his stomach twist, and he felt an unwelcome prickling of heat on the back of his neck. His mind pushed him to do something about his sudden worry his own brain had betrayed him. Go, now, it told him. Go and knock, right now. See him. See him now. Prove it’s real.
The sense of urgency he felt was so strong, so visceral, that his feet shifted of their own accord and he actually started to stand; but he defiantly kept his butt firmly planted on the railing until the need subsided, at least somewhat. There was no way, he told himself, that he was stalking over there and knocking on his neighbor’s door just to gawk at him as though this were some strange sort of zoo where you had to politely ask the animals to come and exhibit themselves. What would he say? “Hi, I’m Phil Dinwiddie from next door, I just had to prove to myself that you’re really a four-armed human-legged centaur, how’s it going, any good Indian restaurants nearby”?
He frowned. “Four-armed human-legged centaur”? He definitely needed a better name for… whatever his neighbor was. For his… kind? Fuck, were there more like him? If there were, the internet would know, right?
Phil jumped on the idea. This was something he could do, something proactive that didn’t involve hiding his head in the sand or awkward introductions that cemented his status as an awkward, goggling dork with the guy he’d be living next to for the indefinite future. He marked into his new flat, nudged aside the brick he’d had propping the door open, and went to find and set up his trusty iMac. He had some internet rabbit-holing to do.
Two hours and a delivery burrito-beer-and-chips meal later (he’d scrutinized the short, yellow-vested food runner for extra limbs, reassuringly or not finding only the usual complement), Phil sat back from his hastily assembled computer setup in his largish bedroom, none the wiser about his new neighbor. He’d tried searching every way he could for four-legged men, guys with extra limbs, centaurs with human parts instead of horse parts, everything and every kind of resource he could think of. Nada. He’d even spent some time trying to figure out what the right word would be, just to improve his chances of a hit. Centaur, he learned, came from the name of a brutally sensual ancient tribe of Thessalian migrants from central Asia who’d supposedly introduced horse-riding and related practices to the Mediterranean world; they must have been so associated with their mounts, he guessed, that legend had melded them together, over time turning the concept of horseman as literal as it could be. There was no known etymology for the name, so it wasn’t like -taur had originally meant “four-legged” or “animal hybrid” or anything like that, though it was used that way much later with centaur as a template for other kinds of -taurs. Since centaur was ostensibly Greek he’d thought maybe an all-man version could be something like anthrotaur or androtaur, but he got zip for either, and humantaur only netted him some obscure websites devoted to a form of niche erotica he’d never imagined existed, all of it obviously disconnected from any kind of reality.
Through the open window a passing fire engine wailed distantly and then was gone, leaving behind the random urban hurly-burly of a normal summer evening. He slumped in his expensive desk chair, just about the only thing he’d splurged on lately apart from his new apartment, and considered his options. His eyes drifted from his big computer screen to the beige-painted expanse behind it, this room’s concession to the nifty three-walls-white, one-wall-color motif the previous occupants had left behind. Though his thick cock had finally softened partway into a sort of half-hard readiness he was aware of the layer of prurience and sexual optimism that underlay his interest in the man who was even now, he presumed, doing mundane four-legged-man things on the other side of this very wall. Movies and TV offered up ludicrous options, all of them smacking of that weird kind of frantic sociopathy that the entertainment industry insists on normalizing. Stalk him! Sit in cars and watch him through binoculars while drinking milky coffee and eating terrible sandwiches in messy wrappers. Creep on him! Climb through his windows and secretly watch him sleep, night after night. Hire a P.I.! Hack all his financials and illegally listen in on his conversations until you hear the unexpected clue that explains everything. Find his friends! Get hired at his job and observe him surreptitiously over cubicle walls! Seriously, what the hell had he been watching his whole life? Consulting his databank of mass media entertainment was turning out to be like asking his circle of friends for advice in a tough spot and finding out they were all pathological idiots.
The truth was, his possible paths to understanding what he’d seen had narrowed to a single one: getting to know the man himself. He just needed to find a way to do it that didn’t involve abjectly humiliating either of them.
He yawned. Climbing to his feet, weirdly conscious in his fatigue that he had only two (how did we manage to keep upright all the time without falling down?), he found his sheets and made his bed. He tracked down the toiletry kit he’d nestled in his messenger bag and brushed his teeth, then headed back to the bedroom and peeled off his clothes. Turning off the floor lamp by the desk he climbed into bed, enjoying the coolness of the sheets against his lean, naked body. It had been a full and busy day, and, though he’d expected his churning questions about his androtaur neighbor to keep him awake, in the end the constant murmur of the city outside his window soon lulled him into an inviting, all-consuming void.
He was in a sparse and fragrant grove of wild plum trees, naked and slightly chilled in the early morning air. The low sun was still orange, but the sky was bright and blue. He wandered the welcoming grove, enjoying the feel of the soft soil under his feet, and took note of the bounty of fruit hanging heavily from the branches.
After a while he moved part one of the larger trees and found his new neighbor standing on the other side. Though he still wore the bright-blue jeans he’d had on before, the taut outlines of his shifting thighs visible through the denim, his feet and torso were all bare, exposing his firm doubled pecs and flat, lightly carved abdomen. Phil stopped, drinking in the gently muscled expanse of light-brown skin and the handsome, smiling, neatly goateed face above. He was reaching up into the tree with the upper of his two right arms, his expression that of a man carefully selecting the most promising item from an already premium selection. At last he plucked the plum he wanted from his place and brought it near his face, closing his eyes and savoring its aroma. When he opened them again he was looking right at Phil, sharp brown eyes the exact color of his skin seeming to look directly into his soul.
Phil almost took a step back, embarrassed to be caught watching, but managed to hold his ground. “Hi,” he said.
The sexy, half-naked androtaur smiled, upping his already impressive beauty and compelling allure enough that Phil started to get hard in spite of his mortification. “Hi,” the other man said back. Then: “Have you come for a ride?”
Phil felt himself frown. “What?”
The androtaur still held the plum next to his face, like he’d forgotten it was there. In person he seemed to exude energy and virility, like his soul and presence were as augmented and magnified as his body. “I was going to go running through the field on the other side of this grove,” he explained, his voice a pleasant baritone that seemed to resonate in Phil’s insides. “Would you like to ride me?”
Phil did step back this time, shaking his head firmly. “I wouldn’t do that,” he said, as the four-legged man watched him, eyes glinting with amusement as he took a bite of his plum, licking the juices from his lips. “I mean,” Phil stammered, on the verge of babbling, “you’re not a beast, like a horse or a—you know. You’re a man.”
A part of him wanted to add, “Right?” but he didn’t.
The other man took another bite of his fruit, still watching him wryly as he collected the wayward juices with his tongue. He was taller than his two-legged interlocutor, and Phil felt a little awkward, like the other man’s superior height was proof that (far from being a beast) he was actually a more advanced breed of human than he was. “I respect you as a man,” Phil finished lamely, totally embarrassed, as the other man watched him.
The four-legged man finished the plum and spat the pit away. “What if I want you to ride me?” he asked calmly, wiping his hand on the bole of the tree. He turned slightly, facing Phil directly, making Phil’s insides thrill a little. “What if,” the other man said lightly, “I like being ridden?”
Phil blinked. “What?” he asked again.
The other man stepped toward him, lefts, then rights—back left first, he noticed. Phil lifted his gaze and met those light-brown eyes. There was a hint of gold in them, he saw now. Then time shifted. The grove vanished, and they were in a sunny green meadow, Phil still naked atop the other man’s hind ass as he ran agilely and effortlessly through the tall grasses, laughing and chasing butterflies as they flitted lazily over the field. Phil clung to the man’s long torso, at first self-conscious of his pale, defined skinniness compared to the bronze, idealized form of his companion, but he soon forgot himself and let himself enjoy the feel of the other man’s warmth and strength against him. His hard cock nudged rudely against the androtaur’s bare lower back, leaving wet smears on the smooth skin there, but the other man seemed not to notice; and Phil could somehow feel that he genuinely enjoyed this—running, feeling the world around him with Phil on his back and clasping him from behind. Phil rested his head on the wide, brawny shoulder, softly kissing the little crevice where his upper set of round delts met his sloping traps, and the other man laughed and picked up speed, his powerful legs thundering below them as he ran.
Phil woke in the dark of night, flushed and hard. The dream was vivid and oddly real, still, which was unusual for him. Even stranger, his mouth was echoing with the sweet, faint taste of juicy, fresh-picked plum.
The next morning was wet and rainy, filling the apartment with the sound of coursing water battering streets and awnings and a pleasant wash-the-world weight to the air. Phil sat on the edge of his bed, looking around at the clutter of boxes and bags he’d spent the night ignoring while he cyberhunted the elusive androtaur, and decided his healthiest option mentally for pursuing the mystery of the new neighbor was to stay alert while he lived his own life. He knew it was in him to obsess himself into an oubliette of his own making, like he had with Quora a few years back, or Power Rangers before that (while he was twenty, not ten), or Bill Lopez, the quirky nerd-jock soccer star with the floppy hair and round glasses who’d set every heart in Walnut Hill High School aflutter—Phil’s included.
He wasn’t going to do that this time. Though he did let himself wonder, just for a minute, what his neighbor would look like out on the soccer pitch, decked out in a well-filled, brightly-colored uniform as he exerted himself chasing the ball and playfully interacting with his fellow—Nope! Nope, nope, nope, not going there.
He set up his shower curtains, found his towels, soap, and shampoo, and took a shower, discovering as he did so the first test of this new policy of preventative nonfixation. Smiling, he resolutely ignored his stiff, insistent, spray-stabbing hard-on as he soaped his lean, ordinary body, knowing that giving in and jacking himself off to images of the neighbor, mixing the verité glimpses from the hallway with his gauzy bucolic dream and other easy fantasies—like the soccer thing, for example—would only solidify the guy’s already-firm foothold on his imagination. Instead he lathered and rinsed himself, treating his dick and heavy balls just enough to get clean, then shampooed his shaggy brown hair, lips quirking as his dick demanded action. Rinsing again he shut off the water, toweled, and padded back into the bedroom, his barely-moving erection still shouting at him as he went. In the bedroom he pulled on gray boxer-briefs and then his most beat-up old jeans over his legs, his butt, and, finally, his protesting stiffie. “Got the idea yet?” he asked it with a smirk.
His dick flexed obstinately, and Phil chuckled.
He spent the morning efficiently, setting up his kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, collapsing and bundling away the emptied banker’s boxes as he went in the deep second coat closet off the living room he otherwise had little use for. The place was clearly intended for people with a lot more stuff than he had, and he relished the openness and sense of space he was creating as he stowed and cleaned, while the storm incessantly drummed away outside. Around noon he took a break to make himself a PBJ and check his personal and work emails, the latter containing a couple of questions from colleagues about one of his web-design accounts he decided he could safely answer without feeling like his day-off was being impinged upon. The emails reminded him he’d meant to check if the forwarding service he’d set up well in advance on his regular mail had kicked in, so, ditching his plate in the sink, he pocketed his phone, grabbed his newly-updated set of keys from the tray by the door, and headed out of his apartment—remembering only as he stood in the hallway locking the door behind him that he was shirtless, shoeless, and in possession of a raging erection that refused to go away.
He shrugged. It was the middle of the day on a weekday. Most people were probably at work, and anyway there were only, what, forty apartments in the whole building? What were the chances he’d run into anyone on a five-minute round trip to the lobby? Pree-e-etty slim. Thus resolved he finished locking his door, stuffed his keys in his pocket (on the non-hard-on side), and headed for the elevator around the corner, the blue-gray carpeting of the exterior hallways feeling unexpectedly nice under his bare feet.
He was standing in front of his narrow mailbox in the cold-tiled lobby, sifting through a small stack of variously-sized envelopes with yellow USPS forwarding labels on them and lamenting the waste involved in moving so much junk mail over the highways of the earth, when he felt the prickle of someone’s eyes boring into him. When he looked up he was alarmed to see a peach-skinned middle-aged woman with a blonde pixie cut, square black-framed glasses, and a rain-speckled, trendy coral-red slicker standing five feet away and staring right at him—not just at him, and not at his shirtless chest or bare feet, but right at the admittedly-hard-to-miss eight-inch ridge of thick, rigid, ruler-straight megaboner lying along the left crease of his hip, helping shape the contours of the oldest, snuggest jeans he possessed.
Phil froze, cheeks warming as he gripped the little pile of mail in his hand, gaping back at this woman who was completely arrested by the barely masked presence of a hard dick in the mail vestibule of a decently midscale apartment building. A dozen emotions warred in his head, the loudest being the fight between “This was a mistake” and “Hasn’t she ever seen a dick before?”
Just as it was belatedly occurring to him that he was capable of motion—that he could, in fact, lower his hand with the mail downward in front of his crotch and obscure his distinctive condition that way—he heard the main doors open, followed by footsteps and what sounded like a dog shaking himself off. The next thing he knew his unmoving tableau had a sudden and unexpected intercessor: his new neighbor was now standing between him and the pixie-cut woman, tactfully placing himself between Phil and his apparently transfixed audience.
“How are you, Jessie?” said the androtaur, his voice a high, smooth baritone.
“Oh, hello, James!” the woman said, sounding like she’d been startled out of a trance.
As they were greeting each other (James! His name is James!), Phil noticed a new pair of eyes were gazing up at him: they belonged to a big, wet, grinning German shepherd, maybe two or three years old, with the typical black and tan coloring, tall, pointy ears, and a long, fluffy black tail that was currently wagging away madly like he’d just met his new best friend. Forgetting everything else Phil instantly crouched, grinning back at the dog and energetically rubbing its storm-moistened head with his free hand, delighted at the wider grin and butt-wiggle wagging he got in response. “Hey there, buddy,” he crooned, setting his mail down on the floor behind him so he could give the dog a proper two-handed scritch. In return the dog gave him a quick lick on his cheek, then shook himself again, spattering droplets of water all around him. Phil laughed.
“I had a feeling you and Pete would hit it off,” he heard James say, sounding amused.
Phil didn’t look up, feeling it was safer for the moment to keep his attention on the happy puppy he was aggressively scritching all around his head and ears, though he saw from his peripheral vision that “Jessie” had gone, and only the jeans legs and four matching black tennies of his neighbor were left in the mail vestibule. Rather than deal with that he kept up his interaction with the dog. “Are we hitting it off, Pete? Are we?” he burbled to the pup. Pete answered with another quick lick to Phil’s face, his tail flailing away behind him.
After a moment of this Phil knew he couldn’t put off human interaction much longer. He collected his mail in his left hand and stood, only slightly abashed at finding himself standing close to this man he’d been thinking about and trying not to think about since their brief encounter the previous afternoon, this man who’d casually saved him from the most awkward neighbor encounter since Darcy turned down Elizabeth’s offer of a dance. He raked his eyes quickly up the long legs and equally-long, double-pectoraled torso, his brain snagging the large, black J-handled umbrella James was clasping in his lower left hand. Though it was now furled it was obviously speckled with rain as if it had been just used, which got him wondering—was a regular umbrella enough for this guy? Phil fought an urge to peer around to see if the man’s rear ass was damp at all from protruding past the umbrella’s umbra of protection, and instead deliberately kept his eyes moving upward.
When they met that handsome face Phil made himself smile—not that he didn’t want to smile, but he wanted to stare more. Fuck, this guy was good-looking, even without all the stuff that boned him automatically and possibly, the way he was feeling, permanently. “Hi,” he said, his voice sounding breathy in his ears. He was wearing the maroon cap with the bent bill again. Did he always wear it? Did that mean anything? It would almost be funny if someone this vibrant and beautiful was hiding a big bald spot or something. He kept talking. “I’m Phil. I just moved in, next door to you,” he added unnecessarily. “15A.”
The taller man smiled at him. “Hi,” he said softly. “I’m James.” With a twinkle in his tawny eyes he added, “15B.”
Pete, seeking attention, pushed between them, tail wagging hard. “And this,” James laughed, “is my troublemaker of a roommate, Pete.”
“We’ve met,” Phil said, beaming down at the pup. “We’re best buds now. Right?” he added to the dog, who answered with a lift of his muzzle and a kind of unvoiced bark that sounded like “uff!”
“I guess so,” James agreed with a grin. To Phil he added, “You, uh, heading up?”
He was looking behind Phil, and he turned to see his mailbox still standing open, keys dangling from the lock. “Yeah, hang on,” he responded, hurriedly closing and relocking the mailbox while James waited, smiling and relaxed. The three of them walked around to the lift, Pete winding around them, Phil gripping his mail. In the elevator he pressed 15, feeling oddly domestic doing so, like they were going home together.
Pete dancing around their feet, happy to be going home, kept things from being weird. “So,” James said, a teasing tone in his voice, “I guess the rest of your shirts got lost in the move?”
Phil felt a weird mix of chagrin and happiness at being needled like this by his—crush? Geez, was he twelve? At least he had a respectable swimmer’s build these days, especially since skinny and unremarkable tended to run in his family. He adopted the same bantering demeanor and answered, “That’s right. I’ve got just the one shirt now. I decided to ration it out so it doesn’t wear out too quickly.”
“Very wise,” James commended.
The elevator arrived on 15 and they got out, Pete walking obediently at James’s side despite his excitement. He registered, a little later than he should have, that Pete had no leash and obviously didn’t need one. Was Pete that good and smart a dog… or did androtaurs have some kind special rapport with their canine friends?
Immediately Phil felt guilty for even wondering such a thing. The more he knew James the more wrong it felt for him to think of the guy as “other” or different in any way that mattered, though another part of his brain told him he was stupid for trying to ignore the fact that James was a four-armed, four-legged metahuman. “He’s such a great dog,” Phil remarked aloud, forcing down his inner confusion. “Very well trained.”
“He likes you,” James said, in a way that suggested that he took the dog’s opinion fairly seriously.
They crowded around James’s apartment door, James fishing out his keys as he’d done the previous day. Pete huffed and wiggled below them, filling the corridor with the smell of wet dog—a scent Phil had always found strangely comfortable and reassuring, though a lot of people hated it. “It’s mutual,” Phil answered honestly. “If you ever need a dog sitter or anything, just let me know. I work from home, so I’m pretty available.” He instantly wished he’d phrased that differently, but—oh, well, too late now. Anyway if he’d caught it in time he probably would have said “flexible” instead, which would have been even worse.
The deadbolt clicked open, and James looked over at him with a smile. “I’ll definitely take you up on that,” he said—seven simple words that sent Phil’s heart banging hard against his chest, his half-forgotten boner twitching in his shorts.
Phil blinked up at him. “Yeah?” he rasped.
James pushed the door open a few inches, hand still on the knob, his attention on Phil. “Sure,” he said. “I’ve had to work late a lot recently—I’m in IT and we’re in the middle of a big equipment upgrade—and I was fretting a little that Pete was sitting home alone. That would be a big load off my mind.”
James’s confession that he was an IT guru lodged in his brain for him to wonder about later, but Phil was too focused on this unexpected leveling up of their nascent connection. Their eyes were locked. “Just… say the word,” he heard himself say.
Pete, impatient with the humans’ flirting, was pushing his nose against the narrow gap James had opened, whimpering almost inaudibly, as though his noises were mostly just beyond the range of human hearing. James laughed and pushed the door all the way open, and Pete trotted eagerly into the flat. James turned back to Phil, eyes shining.
“Pass me your phone,” he said easily. “We’ll trade numbers and schedules and stuff.”
Phil nodded, wondering dazedly as he handed over his phone if all this was just another dream.
Their arrangement started the next day; both of them were back at work after Phil’s time off to move and James’s regular weekday downtime to allow maintenance and backup work over the weekends. The first few mornings James walked Pete over to Phil’s place along with a tote bag full of food, doggie bowl, toys, and gear, leaving Phil to assume that James was being cautious about letting Phil into his personal space—which only made Phil more curious about what it was like. Then on Saturday James surprised him with a key.
“I finally got around to getting it made,” he said as he lounged in Phil’s doorway, looking delicious in a glossy teal (four-armed) corporate polo, dress slacks, and four burgundy-leather ankle boots as he brandished the silver key between thumb and forefinger. Beside him Pete sat on his haunches, panting happily. “This way you can get any of his toys or food you need,” he said, rubbing the key over his goatee, “or take a break and let him nap in his own bed or whatever.”
“Wouldn’t a door between our bedrooms be easier?” Phil deadpanned.
James’s light-brown eyes twinkled. “Good idea,” he said. “Maybe we’ll try that later. Come see!”
Dutifully Phil followed James over to 15B, Pete trotting at his side. He scratched the little patch of hair on his sternum as they walked over—they’d both kept up the gag that Phil had lost all his shirts in the move, Phil maintaining a half-naked normalcy whenever James might turn up (which, as he saw James at least twice a day and sometimes a third time if he popped in for lunch, quickly devolved to no shirts generally). His now-constant James-boner twitched fretfully in his jeans, shifting and sliming his hip-crease as he walked, but Phil was already used to its companionship by now.
Entering James’s apartment for the first time was almost anticlimactic, in the sense that it was very much like his own place—not only was the floorplan the same (though mirrored), but despite his having lived there for some time he had even less “stuff” scattered about the place than Phil did. He did seem to like greens and browns, judging by the rugs, curtains, and the upholstery on his sofa and love chair set, not to mention the chocolate and pine-green plates and mugs in the drainer by the sink. There was a big, round oversized papasan chair positioned by the balcony doors, which Phil very much wanted to see James curled up in sometime.
James was showing him the second hall closet, which in his case was packed with Pete’s stuff, including food, toys, a couple of retractable leashes if necessary, and a spare doggie bed on its side. “Here’s all the supplies,” he said. “Any questions?”
Phil shrugged slightly. “Where have you been all my life?” he joked.
James laughed and seemed to look him over, like he wanted to do something to Phil—he could only imagine what. Then, to his surprise, James bent and wrapped him up in a big, squeezy bear hug, like that was something they did all the time. “Right here, baby,” James joked back in his ear. Because of the difference in their height he had slid his meaty arms around Phil’s bare torso both above and below Phil’s own arms, and Phil couldn’t help but enjoy the feeling of his arms and delts being sandwiched like this as he gave in and held James close, just as tight as James was holding him.
It was over too soon. James bent and rubbed Pete’s head a bit, tossed a smiling and oddly smug “See you later” at Phil, and then was off to the corporate trenches, leaving the apartment feeling cozy yet bereft.
Phil stared at the closed apartment door for a long moment. He resisted the urge to adjust the pair of straining, footlong hardons nosing rudely past his waistband—touching those leaky fuckers, he knew, would only make them greedy for more attention.
Instead he scratched at his chest again. He glanced down at the panting shepherd, giving him a wry look. “I am so fucked,” he confessed to the dog.
“Uff!” said Pete.
One night, just over three weeks later, the sun had already set and Phil was just wrapping up his work for the day when Pete, curled up by his bare feet, lifted his head up suddenly, sending a thrill of anticipation through Phil’s body—especially his three unstoppable wrist-thick boners, which hadn’t stopped yearning for James since the moment they’d met him. It was all he could do not to wrap his lips around his own fifteen-inchers ten times a day, but he knew holding off and letting James do it felt even better.
Sure enough, a moment later James knocked on the broad walnut door separating their bedrooms and poked his head in. “You ready for me?” he asked.
Phil grinned up at him from his desk chair. “Always,” he said. “You, mister, are very late.”
James stepped all the way into Phil’s apartment from his own, and Phil rose to join him. James had already doffed his work polo, revealing his perfect, radiantly sepia-toned double-pecced torso, a browner mirror to Phil’s own, and they laced their arms around each other like always, each loving the feel of four arms and hands stroking their long, strong backs. Pete stood nearby, watching with extreme canine intensity, knowing that evening walkies with his daddies would be coming next.
James pulled back in the embrace, happiness radiating off him just as it was for Phil, but as he stared into Phil’s eyes he swallowed. They were eye to eye, and James seemed to be searching Phil’s face, though for what Phil didn’t know. “Babe,” James said finally, like he’d been psyching himself up to this for days, “I have a confession—”
“I love you too,” Phil said immediately, grinning.
James let out a laughing breath. “Not that,” he said, then added, considering, “though, yeah, that. But—” He bit his lip, and Phil realized that James did have something serious to get off his pretty chest. To help ease his lover’s mind he leaned forward and gave him a soft, reassuring kiss.
“Go on,” Phil said when he was done.
James was actually blushing a little. “That’s kind of part of what I wanted to confess,” he said cryptically. “See, I should have told you before, but—” He paused, stalled again.
“Told me what, baby?”
James sighed. “See, I’m an Edusian witch,” he said. “It’s partly genetics and partly craft, you know? And there are, um, certain things I do kind of naturally, and certain effects we have on others, like…”
“Like us falling in love almost instantly?” Phil guessed.
James lifted an eyebrow. “You noticed, huh?” he asked wryly.
“I can count.” Phil just meant that he was aware of how close they were after only a few weeks, but this made James bite his lip again.
“Yeah,” James confirmed. He seemed to force himself to meet Phil’s gaze. “With us, mutual attraction with someone else quickly turns into deep, passionate, true love. We don’t even know why, it’s just this thing that happens.”
“Lucky us,” Phil drawled, though the truth was he meant it.
“Yeah,” James grinned, and Phil could tell he agreed, and was just as grateful. “But,” he added, “there’s also something else. My specialty—my gift—is transmogrification. Changing the shapes of things, and people.” He was watching Phil’s reactions closely. “And it’s a natural part of the spell that the end result seems normal and unexceptional to everyone.”
Phil nodded slowly. Where was James going with this?
“But there’s also a spell that exempts someone from seeing a particular change I’ve made as normal,” James said, his tone leading.
Phil stared into his eyes for a second, then grinned suddenly. “I knew it!” he said. Quickly he leaned forward and kissed James again.
“What?” James said in surprise. “What did you know?”
Phil laughed. Behind him Pete whimpered slightly, wanting to join in the fun, but Phil ignored him. “I was racking my brains this whole time, trying to figure out why I even registered that it was odd you had four legs, when none of us two-leggers besides me even cared,” he said. “I knew it was something about you, though!” He blinked. “Hang on—so you made yourself four-legged? And so your actual body fell under the I’m-nothing-unusual spell?”
James looked proud, like Phil was his witch-protégé and had just aced the first lesson. “Yep,” he said. “I did that. First eight-limber ever. Other than my uncle Steve, but that was totally an accident.”
“Wait, though,” Phil said, one train of thought interrupting another. “Why did you exempt me? And—no, before that, how? I saw you for the first time that day I moved in, and you were already an androtaur.”
“A what?” James asked, lifting his brows.
“An androtaur,” he repeated. “That’s the name I came up with when I was trying to Google more about you.”
“Aw,” James said, flattered. “You Googled me.”
“You didn’t answer my question. Spill!”
“Ah, but it’s very simple, my shirt-hating friend,” James said. “I saw you, the day you toured the place and signed the lease. And—”
“I thought you were cute.”
This earned James another kiss from Phil, which in turn earned both of them more whimpering from Pete. They turned to him in their embrace and chuckled. “We’d better take the boy out,” Phil conceded.
They separated reluctantly, though their bodies stayed close as they headed through the apartment, Pete running ahead to the door and then coming back to find them a couple of times. “So,” Phil said, finding James’s hands between them with his own, “just out of curiosity, did you ever transmogrify me at all?”
“I’ll never tell,” James said slyly, tossing him a wink.
“Because,” Phil persisted, “I would have guessed you’d have wanted to make me four-legged, too.”
They were finally out in the white-and-aqua exterior hallway. Pete was almost prancing at this point, but Phil took his time locking his door, savoring this teasing that was so natural between them, like verbal caresses, or friendly sparring in the ring between boxer-soulmates.
“That’s not fair, though,” James complained. “Maybe I like being the only one.”
“Hmmm,” Phil said. They walked around toward the elevator, two sets of fingers lacing again between them. “I can make it worth your while,” he suggested. “What do you want? Gourmet home-cooked meals? Extra blow jobs?”
James pretended to consider. “We’ll see,” he said. “Let’s leave it as, ‘payment to be determined later.’”
Phil snorted as the three of them got on the elevator, but his stiff, leaking cocks throbbed at the thought, his rear hardons even more hungry for release than the ones in front protruding brazenly from his jeans. He squeezed James’s hands and looked down at Pete beside him. “Sorry bud,” he said, “I think this is going to be a very short walk.” Pete lowered his head, and the two androtaurs laughed, each as horny and happy as the other.
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