This is the fourth chapter of `Bear Hunter'. A new chapter will come out every week. Any comments or questions can be directed to the author at nothlit(at)hotmail(dot)com

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental.

Bear Hunter
Chapter 4

    "OW!" I yelled.
    The pellet Matt had shot out of his tiny BB gun hit me right in the left shoulder, hard enough to rip through my jacket and puncture the skin. A stab of pain raced up my arm after the impact.
    I saw Matt take aim again, but I sprang out of the chair and knocked the toy out of his hand. It clattered to the floor, out of his reach.
    "What the fuck was that!?" I demanded. "Are you insane?"
    I touched my shoulder and brought my hand up to see if there was blood.
    "I was aiming for your face," Matt said, his voice like steel.
    "I'm bleeding!" I exclaimed, looking at the smear of red on my palm. "I'm fucking bleeding!"
    "I'm glad."
    Something snapped in my head. The tension, the fear—it just exploded like a red flash bomb before my eyes. I made a fist with my right hand, bent over Matt and swung it savagely, focusing all my rage into that punch.
    "Shut UP!"
    My fist slammed against Matt's face and knocked his head sideways. When I drew my fist back, shaking with fury, I expected him to retort with one of his damn wisecracks, or taunt me again. Maybe pull yet another weapon on me. Instead his head lolled back, limp, his chin resting on his chest. He was unconscious.
    A sobering rush of regret fell over me like a pail of cold water dumped on me from above. I took a step back, shocked at what I'd done.
    A thin trickle of blood ran down the corner of his lips. A second passed. Then another one.
    Matt jerked awake suddenly, looked around, confused, then spotted me looking at him. He winced at the pain in his mouth and spat out some blood.
    I didn't know what to say. I half-reached out to him, but he threw his head back as far away from me as he could, bound to the chair as he was. I drew my hand back. I felt bad enough to apologize, but something stopped me. Probably the scathing look he gave me, even bleeding and in pain as he must have been. I suddenly had to get out of there. I bent over to pick up the BB gun, tightened the rope quickly to mend the damage Matt had made when he cut it. Then I left, going upstairs and leaving him there. He didn't say anything, but I could feel his eyes on my back as I climbed up to the second floor.
    I went to the bathroom and took off my jacket, then pulled my shirt off, too. There was a small, round puncture wound where the pellet had hit. It hadn't penetrated too deep thanks to the thick jacket I wore, but the wound was bleeding. I washed it automatically, using the soap I found nearby to clean it well. I wondered briefly if I should get Matt something for the bleeding where my punch had cut his lip, but I discarded the idea immediately. He'd probably spit in my face.
    I washed my face with cold water and looked into my own eyes in that big bathroom mirror. I couldn't believe I'd done that to Matt. I'd never had any trouble looking at myself in the mirror, but now for the for time I didn't like what I saw. The realization stung, but there was also anger in there. I'd had no choice, dammit! Or had I?
    I stomped out of the bathroom, banging the door shut. He'd shot me. I'd reacted on impulse. Only... it was wrong, and I knew it. It was one thing trading punches with a guy who could fight back, on even ground. It was another thing entire to hit a bound and helpless guy and knock him unconscious.
    I turned on the wall suddenly, made a fist and punched the wood, hard. I let out a wordless growl as my fist hit it, releasing the anger I felt even as the walls shook with the force of my punch. The impact hurt, but that was good. I closed my eyes and leaned my forehead against the wall, forcing myself to breath slow and deep. I had to get a grip on myself. I couldn't afford to lose it now.
    After a minute or so, I walked into Matt's room feeling slightly calmer. I really didn't have anything else to do. The rain was still pounding against the window, and the bedroom was dark in the gray, washed-out light from outside. The room told me a lot about Matt now that I looked at it carefully, taking in the details I had missed the night before.
    It was a neat room, for one. Nothing out of place. The only smudges on the floor were those I'd left from yesterday night, when I'd come all dirty from the fight on the beach. My footprints were visible as patches of mud and sand on the otherwise clean floor. The bed covers were rumpled from last night, too, but everything else was in its place, spotless and well-ordered. There was a bookcase with books of many shapes and sizes neatly arranged on each shelf; some were about hunting, others were novels and a few were about movies I'd never heard of. There was a sizeable DVD stack by the wall opposite the door, with little labels identifying movies by genre. The posters on the walls were of old sci-fi movies, just like I'd noticed last night. I saw posters for The Thing, Tarantula, It Came from Outer Space and so on. The closet was closed, so I didn't open it. On a shelf by the bed were the first framed pictures I saw in the house, next to the telephone.
    I sat on the bed to look at them better. The mattress creaked under my weight. One of them was a really old, black-and-white photograph that had turned almost yellow with age. It showed an old bearded man holding a shotgun and standing with one foot up on a log in a very uncomfortable, stiff position, obviously posing for the camera. A low log cabin was visible in the background, and I realized with a shock that it was the same cabin that made up the main room below us, only many decades ago, when it had just been built. I briefly remembered that Matt had mentioned his great-grandfather had built the cabin and wondered if that was him.
    The other three pictures were of Matt. A man and a woman appeared in some of them; his father and mother, most likely. In one of them Matt couldn't have been older than ten or eleven. He was holding up a salmon that was almost as big as he was, a wide grin on his face and standing next to his father bearing a proud smile for his son, his hand on Matt's shoulder and giving the thumbs-up to the camera. The second picture showed a teenage Matt, his father and his mother, all of them wearing formal clothes, posing for a Christmas card picture; I could tell by the Christmas tree in the background. The last picture was of Matt holding something that could have been a high school diploma, holding the camera with his other hand by the looks of it, hugging his father and both of them smiling with huge grins as the picture was taken.
    I wondered what had happened to Matt's parents, since he lived here alone now. Looking out through the open door to his room, I saw the locked door on the other side of the hallway. That was probably the master bedroom, but why had Matt locked it?
    I stood up, crossed the hallway and tried the lock again. It wouldn't budge.
    I tried watching the TV for a bit, half-consciously postponing the moment where I'd have to go downstairs again. The reception on the TV was awful, though, and all I found was a blurry infomercial channel that didn't keep my attention for long. Outside, the rain kept falling. I'd never seen it rain so hard, or for so long in my life. I wondered if it would ever stop.
    I thought about what I'd do now. I was having second thoughts about my impulsive plan to stay in this house against its owner's will, but there really was nowhere else to go right now. I was trapped in here with Matt, and he was trapped in here with me. I toyed with the idea of letting him go, but I knew that wouldn't work. I was in too deep to back out now, and the only thing I could do was keep going as I had, hoping the storm would end soon so I could leave. By then, hopefully, the cops would have stopped looking for me and I'd be able to go somewhere else entirely. Coming to Alaska had been a stupid idea. Like Matt had told me, if I really wanted to get lost so people wouldn't find me, the best place to do it was in a big city where nobody looked at you twice—not a small town where I stood out the minute I arrived.
    Eventually I found the DVD remote and hit play to whatever was in it. A movie I didn't know began to play, and I half-watched it, lost in thought. About two hours later the movie ended and I stood up, stretching. I was hungry again; it was almost dinnertime. I turned off the TV and went back downstairs at last, still angry at myself for earlier. Matt had been dozing from the looks of it, but he snapped back to alertness when he heard my heavy steps come down.
    Seeing the bruise that was already visible on Matt's left cheek, I felt another stab of regret.
    "Hey," I said as I approached. "I'm hungry. I'll make something for dinner."
    All I got in reply was silence.
    Shrugging, I went into the kitchen and rummaged around the drawers. I found some cans of tuna and a jar of mayo. I dumped the contents of four cans in a big bowl and added the mayonnaise, stirring a bit. I've never been a great cook and that was about as much I could be bothered to do regarding a meal, but for me it was good enough. It worried me a bit that I didn't see that much food in the fridge or in the pantry, and I remember what Matt had said: he'd just been bringing in supplies on his boat when I'd forced him to come straight here. Judging by what food there was, I guessed we'd be good for three or four days more. After that... well, I'd have to see.
    I served some of the tuna on a plate, poured water in a glass and took the things back to the main room.
    "Here," I told Matt, placing the plate on his lap and the glass in his hand. "I'll loosen the rope up a little so you can eat."
    He drank the water first, so quickly that I realized he must have been really thirsty—but he didn't say a word to me or ask for more. I worked on the knots quickly, loosening the arm portions just enough to allow Matt to move them and eat, and I took the glass away after he'd emptied it. I filled it back up in the kitchen and took it to him, putting it in his hand without a word.
    Matt seemed surprised I'd noticed he was thirsty, but he didn't thank me. He ate in silence and made it clear I wasn't welcome there, so I ate my food in the kitchen. It didn't taste that good, but it was food and that's what counted, so I finished my portion until nothing was left. When I was done I washed my plate and went back to where Matt was. He'd finished already and let me take the plate and glass away without a word. I realized, surprised, that I'd given him a fork this time, but he didn't try and stab me with it or anything, even though his arms were basically free. He just stared straight ahead, rubbing his hurt cheek softly and wiping away the dried blood on his chin which had been there all the while he'd been tied up. I bound him again quickly and left him there, going back up to the upper floor as soon as I could.
    I wandered aimlessly for the rest of the evening. I couldn't concentrate, and I simply didn't feel good with myself. I admired Matt's fighting spirit, but I'd played dirty and it burned. Last night on the beach, he'd have won if I hadn't lucked out with the gun. He was a good rival. I didn't want to just win like this.
    I tried to watch some more TV; couldn't focus. Tried reading a book but I gave up after I'd spent an hour on the same first page. When I realized it was almost time to sleep I grudgingly went back down to untie Matt so he could go to the bathroom. He saw me coming, but again he gave me the silent treatment.
    "I'll untie you so you can go upstairs to the bathroom," I said as I loosened the knot on the rope. "Don't try any more stuff like you did in the morning or we're going to have a problem. I mean it."
    When he was free, Matt stood up slowly. He rubbed his arms, his legs, and stretched every which way with slow, methodical motions. He didn't once look at me. When he was done, he went upstairs and I followed. He went right into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. I didn't protest.
    I heard the sound of flushing soon after, and then heard him brushing his teeth. A few minutes later he came out and went back down with me having to tell him anything. He headed right for his chair and sat down.
    "I can set you up on a couch upstairs so you can sleep," I said. "You don't have to spend the night sitting down here."
    Matt stared straight ahead and ignored me. He even assumed the position so I could tie him up more easily. Shrugging, I did it, as quickly as I could.
    "Fine. Be that way," I said to the back of his head. I went upstairs.
    His silence made me feel bad, and I missed all the insults and tricks he'd tried to pull on me before. I wanted him to fight; I wanted another chance to prove that I could best him on equal ground. Lying on his bed, I tossed and turned for a long time, trying to sleep. I simply couldn't. The steady drone of the rain didn't lull me to sleep like the day before. I was too uneasy, my mind too conflicted for me to sleep. I ended up going back to the couch and watching TV until late at night, at which point I fell asleep right there, the TV still on. At some point the remote dropped from my hand.
    The next morning came too soon. I yawned, remembering where I was right away this time. The rain had let up somewhat, but it was still falling. I stood up and glanced at the alarm clock in Matt's room as I passed by. It was ten thirty. No wonder I'd woken up all sore and stiff—I'd spent ten hours on that couch.
    As I took a piss in the bathroom I thought about how sore Matt must be after an entire day in that chair. I had to think of another way, another place to put him. I couldn't keep him down there forever.
    Going downstairs, I saw Matt was still asleep in the chair. He looked peaceful as he slept, and disarmingly attractive, too. The bruise on his cheek was more noticeable today, and the shadow of his beard was darker today, giving him a haggard appearance that I liked.  I approached him quietly, trying not to wake him up.
    He awoke before I had taken three steps, though. His eyes sought and found me right away.
    "I'll untie you for a bit," I told him.
    It was almost routine this time. I untied him, he stretched, massaging his muscles thoroughly. Then he went up to the bathroom while I followed and was in there for a while. A long while, actually. Eventually I heard the water running and knew he was taking a shower. That was unexpected but I decided to let him. I needed a shower myself.
    When he came out nearly half an hour later, he was freshly shaven and wore only a towel around his waist. It was the first time I'd seen his bare chest and I couldn't help staring. His pecs looked rock-hard and were clearly outlined against his smooth, pale skin. His nipples were two round, perfect circles, a bit darker than the surrounding skin, and slightly furry with twin short, dark patches of hair that ran lengthwise and met at his sternum. He had powerful-looking shoulders, well-defined and obviously gym-sculpted. His arms were big—probably about as big as mine. There was a scar on his left forearm which I hadn't seen before: three parallel marks, wide and nasty-looking. They looked like claw marks, but I couldn't be sure. I hadn't really noticed when he'd had his clothes on, but Matt was really ripped. I felt a throb of desire for him that I tried to hide by backing away from him a bit. I wished he'd try to punch me, or tackle me, or something. He did no such thing.
    Coming out into the hallway, Matt nodded in the direction of his room.
    "Can I go change?" he asked me.
    "Sure. Go ahead," I said, letting him through, disappointed and a bit hurt that he didn't even think it was worth fighting me anymore. Matt nodded and went into his room. He didn't close the door this time, and I couldn't help following, looking into the bedroom from the hallway as he changed. I told myself I was checking on him so he wouldn't try anything again, but what I really wanted to do was watch him. I couldn't help it—he was hot, attitude or not.
    He dropped the towel with his back to me, opening his closet and offering me a full sight of his smooth, round ass. I couldn't tear my eyes from it, and even got a glimpse of Matt's hole when he bent over to pick up the towel. I was getting a raging hard-on in my pants, and I had to adjust my crotch with my hand so the bulge wouldn't show so much. Not that Matt was looking my way. He was busy getting some clean clothes out of the closet.
    I watched him get dressed, my eyes missing little as he put on clean boxers, a pair of jeans, and finally a T-shirt that fit him snugly. He had a powerful-looking back, a perfect V-shape that led down from his wide, muscled shoulders to his narrow waist. Every muscle was well-defined, which told me Matt worked out regularly, and hard. If I hadn't known any better, I'd have guessed he was a bodybuilder from the way his body was sculpted. When he finally turned around, fully dressed, I stepped back. I was sure my boner was painfully obvious from where I stood.
    Matt's gaze didn't linger on me long, though. His sullen attitude was still there, and he headed back downstairs, sat on his chair, and waited for me to tie him up.
    "You can walk around a bit if you like," I told him, standing nearby. "I'm not keeping you tied up to that chair any more than I have to. As long as we're in the same room and you don't get wise again, you can move; just don't get too close to me and don't pick anything up that could be a weapon."
    At first he didn't react, but then he looked at me with a mixture of mild surprise and suspicion. He stood up experimentally; I backed away and sat at the table further back, next to the door to the kitchen. I had my gun out, just in case.
    It was an awkward couple of hours. Neither of us could really relax, waiting for the other to make a move or do something dangerous; in the end, Matt voluntarily sat back down on his chair, silently telling me to tie him up again. I did it and left him there to prepare breakfast. This time the eggs I made ended up tasting worse than the ones I'd made the day before.
    The rest of the day passed by in a tired, grinding blur. Matt wouldn't talk to me. I didn't have anything to do. I kept fighting with myself over what I was doing, feeling worse with every hour that passed, and Matt's stubborn silence made it worse. It made me angry; it made me uneasy. I watched some TV, tried to read again. I was bored, and getting angrier by the second, and also feeling uncomfortable with myself. Even that time I'd killed the man who'd shot my grandfather I hadn't felt this bad. That time I had fought back in self-defense, a fair fight. This time I was just being an asshole.
    But there was nothing to be done about it and Matt and I kept to the routine, and come night I untied him again for a couple of hours. I offered to set him up in his own bed for the night and this time he accepted. I had to get creative to tie him up there, but I managed. I could tell he was much, much more comfortable lying on his back after so long on the stupid chair. I even caught a look in his eyes that might have been gratitude, but it was gone too quickly for me to be sure, to be replaced by sullen apathy.
    We slept, Matt in his room and me on the couch. By the time I woke up the next day, the rain had finally stopped.
    I set up Matt back in the chair for the day, made breakfast. We ate it. After that I just couldn't take the silence anymore. I felt like I was going insane.
    "There's almost no food left," I said.
    Matt looked at me, his eyes darting to my face and back down. At first I thought he wouldn't answer, but he did.
    "I know. That's why I was bringing in supplies."
    "Maybe they're still in the boat," I suggested.
    Matt shook his head in a tired gesture. "No, Sven. The boat's most likely long gone in all that rain. You didn't let me tie it up to secure it, remember?"
    I winced. That was true. "It's too late, then? Maybe I could go look."
    Matt sighed. "I don't know. I just... What do you want from me, Sven? You come into my house, wreck everything, and now all of a sudden you have a change of heart and you want to help? What's the matter with you?"
    "That boat was important to me, in case you didn't notice. It's not only the only practical means of transportation I have between this house and the town—it's part of my livelihood. My father gave me that boat before he died. Now it's probably lost out at sea, the supplies gone with it, and all because of you. So forgive me if I'm suddenly suspicious of your good-natured offer to go look for it."
    "I know. I screwed up, okay? I didn't think this through. But if there's a chance that boat's still out there, I'll go out and look. We need those supplies, and I do want to help."
    "I don't believe you."
    "I'm still going."
    Matt looked steadily into my eyes. A bit of the old anger was coming back into his look, replacing the apathy. I was glad. "Then I'll come with you."
    "You wouldn't even know where to look. I know the waters around these parts. I know where the boat's most likely to have washed up onto the shore, if it ever did."
    I hesitated, but only for an instant. Matt's claim was fair. I'd have to take my chances—and I was tired, too. Tired of this whole kidnapping thing, the constant wariness, the feelings of regret. This wasn't who I was. My grandfather would have been ashamed of me to see me behave like this.
    I was done with it. Done. I realized it with sudden, relief-tinged clarity. If I could help, I would... and when we came back, I'd let Matt go. He'd decide what to do about me then.  
    First, though, we had to get that boat back.
    "Okay," I told him. "We go together."
    He was too surprised to hide it. He was even more surprised when I loosened the rope and yanked it off him.
    "Lead the way," I said.
    Matt looked at me warily, and at the gun in my belt. He seemed about to say something, but he thought better of it and simply stood up. He rubbed the places where the rope had dug into his skin.
    "Follow me," he said, walking to the door carefully, like he half-expected me to tackle him from behind.
    Matt opened the door and cool, moist air blew in immediately. We stepped out into a world that had been transformed by the rain.
    I hadn't really had a chance to look at the place on the night I'd come here; I'd only seen rocks, the beach and the house. Now the air was clear, the sky a uniform shade of light grey, the sun partially hidden by lingering clouds. The sea mirrored the color of the sky, with small, choppy waves that broke the surface of the water everywhere I looked, stirred by the brisk morning wind. Under the light of day I could truly see where the house stood, the forest just beyond, the bay and the sea all around us. The view was simply breathtaking.
    The house was set on the tip of a narrow strip of land, the very tip of which was raised a few feet above sea level on a low, rocky cliff that quickly fell down to the rocky beach on either side of the miniature peninsula. The house stood at the highest point on the low cliff, well above the reach of the waves and protected on three sides by a semicircular stone barrier that kept the spray away from the building. Further down, the land widened as it reached the forest just beyond, and it got lost in the maze of solid green that stretched left and right as far as the eye could see, maybe half a mile away. The forest rose and fell with the lay of the land further back, with rolling low hills covered with evergreens set in the distance. To the right of the house, the bay was clearly visible, the gentle curve of the coast dotted with rocks and pebbles, with tall pines and other trees growing just a few feet away from the rocky shore. Far away, at the other end of the bay, a tiny concentration of blocks marked the town, several miles away. To the left there was only sea and the shoreline receding into the distance, with several low hills dotting the horizon further inland.
    I followed Matt as he walked down to the beach, his footsteps crunching in the rock-strewn sand of the beach. A couple broken-down logs had been washed up on the sand, bleached white and smooth by long exposure to the elements. I looked out over the sea, trying to spot the boat somewhere. There was no sign of it above the waves.
    "This way," Matt said, walking purposefully towards the mainland. There was a break in the curve of the bay where a few large boulders were strewn around, blocking the view. A large tree had been torn out by its roots in the heavy rain, the soil on which it had stood washed away in the downpour. The tree had fallen sideways onto the rocks, part of it submerged, part of it sticking out above the boulders. A strong current swirled around it, apparently, because the half-submerged branches kept whipping back and forth under the force of the water.
    "There, at the river mouth," Matt said, pointing at the boulders. "That's the most likely spot."
    As we approached I saw the river Matt spoke of. It was not visible from the house, but once we got closer I saw that there was, indeed, a river emptying out into the sea at the mouth of the bay. It wasn't a large river, but it looked deep. Its course was flanked by trees on either side, and it got lost into the forest beyond. The rain had made the river swell to the point where it had flooded its banks, which explained the uprooted tree. Several of the large boulders framed the river mouth on our side, and on the other side as well. Where the river met the sea, visible eddies disturbed the flow of the water. The fallen tree lay right across the middle of the river, resisting the flow of the current—and tangled in one of its massive branches was the boat.
    "Yes!" Matt exclaimed, vaulting over a boulder to get a closer look. The boat was there, but overturned. Any supplies it might have carried would have long since been lost under the waves.
    "How do we get it?" I asked Matt, approaching carefully. The boulders were still wet, and the river looked deep—and cold.
    The boat was way out of reach, nearly the entire tree length away from the shore.
    "I'll swim there," Matt said. "Get it back. I just need to turn it over."
    Matt kicked of his shoes and took off his pants. "You said you wanted to help? When you see me turn it over help me tow it back to shore. You don't need to go in the water. Just pull it in when it's close."
    Matt nodded, turned for the water, and dove in.
    Some of the water splashed in my face—it was cold. Really cold. I wondered how long Matt would manage to be in that freezing water. That boat must be really important to him.
    I watched him swim with deft, powerful strokes downriver until he reached the tree. It took him maybe two minutes, fighting against the current. The boat was tangled on the other side of the trunk, so he had to dive under it to reach it. I saw him take a huge breath and then disappear under the water.
    He was too far away for me to make out his shape well, but after ten seconds had passed I saw the white hull of the boat begin to sway back and forth in long, rocking motions as if someone was tugging at it from below. I counted to fourteen before Matt surfaced, sputtering.
    "It's s...stuck!" he yelled, stammering involuntarily, being obviously really cold. "I'll have to break the branch!"
    He took another gulp of air and dove back down. I saw the boat begin to rock a little more vigorously and wondered if should go over there and help. I owed it to him, I guessed... rather reluctantly, I kicked off my shoes and pulled off my socks. The rocky beach was cold under my feet.
    I was unbuckling my belt when I saw the boat being rocked much harder and faster than before from below. A burst of bubbles broke the surface of the water, and the boat began to float away, free from whatever branch had snagged it, going out to sea. Matt had done it, even without my help.
    But he wasn't coming up.
    "Matt?" I called.
    No answer but more bubbles and a violent disturbance below the surface of the water.
    I took off my shirt and pants hurriedly. I counted all the way to twenty, and Matt wasn't coming out. The disturbance below the water ceased abruptly.
    "Oh shit!" I exclaimed, and jumped right into the water.
    The cold was like a kick in the face. It numbed me, confused me, and for a second I lost my bearings. The brackish water stung my eyes, and I had to surface to orient myself. Then I saw the tree, and I dove back in, swimming with quick, strong breaststrokes right for the spot I'd seen Matt last. I looked around in the water, forcing my eyes open, but all I saw was murky water everywhere. I began to get anxious.
    I'd forgotten all about the cold by the time I swam up to the tree trunk. Several branches were underwater, jagged and broken. I felt my way around, saw a dark shape below me and gasped with surprise, but I was running out of air and I had to surface. I kicked up and broke the surface, coughing and gasping, and dove again. I headed straight for the dark shape, not six feet away. It was Matt.
    His shirt had gotten stuck in one of the branches, and he'd tried to free himself unsuccessfully. He wasn't moving when I got to him. I yanked the shirt free, having to tear the branch off the tree to do so, and pulled him up, using all my strength to kick up fast, my lungs burning for air. I saw the surface right above us, and I took a large gulp of air as soon as my head was out of the water.
    Matt didn't react, though, and he was heavy. The current was strong at the mouth of the river, too, and I had no way to swim against it with Matt in tow. I panicked for an instant, shivering, now beginning to feel the cold in earnest, until I saw the boat floating several feet away. It was down the current from us, easy to reach. I just had to turn it over.
    I kicked off the tree with all my strength, keeping Matt's head above the water. I'd never swum carrying someone and using only one arm, and it was hard. My muscles were burning with the effort of keeping a steady course by the time I reached the boat, and I had to let go of Matt to dive under the water, grab the side of the boat and heave it up with the little strength I had left. It resisted—it was heavy. Really heavy.  I realized with a sinking heart that I wouldn't be able to turn it over on my own, much less pull Matt aboard after I'd done it. I abandoned the boat and grabbed Matt out of the water again. I used the boat as leverage to keep us afloat and clapped him of the back, hard.
    "Wake up! Damn it, Matt, wake up!"
    I didn't know if it was possible to give mouth-to-mouth with the person still floating around in the water, but I had to try. I pinched Matt's nose shut, braced him against the boat and put my lips over his mouth. I breathed into him, hard, pushing the air in. Then I did it again. Matt was turning blue.
    On the third try Matt vomited out sea water, coughing it out everywhere. His eyes snapped open and he looked around, confused. Then he took another shaky breath in and coughed up some more water.
    He was shivering from the cold, his teeth chattering. He looked at me, then at the boat, confused.
    "Can you swim?" I asked him.
    He looked at me like he didn't understand what I was saying.
    "Matt. Can you swim?" I repeated, holding his head in my hands.
    He nodded jerkily. I pointed back to shore. "Let's go. Lean on me."
    "Th... the b... boat..."
    "Leave the stupid boat! Come on, move!"
    I grabbed him with my left arm and used my right to swim forward, back to the shore. The current had carried us out into the sea disturbingly fast, and even with Matt helping, swimming as much as he could, it took us more than fifteen minutes to make it back to the shallow end of the bay. As soon as my feet hit bottom I stood up, wading through the water, Matt leaning heavily on me. I was panting, not sure if I was sweating or shivering or both at the same time. My clothes and my gun were back by the tree, but I left them there. I had to get Matt to the house.
    The more we walked, the more Matt revived, and his body ceased shaking so violently. When we stumbled into the house, dripping wet, he could almost stand on his own again.
    "Upstairs," I said, my bare feet slipping on the floor at one point. Matt helped right me up. He nodded, and we climbed together, right for the bathroom.
    Matt guessed what I wanted to do and got into the shower as I turned on the hot water to full blast. His torn shirt clung to his body, and I helped him take it off. We were left in our underwear, shivering together in the shower. Then the hot water hit with its blessed, near-scalding touch.
    I'd never been so thankful for hot water in my life. My own violent shaking stopped as the water fell on my skin, and I held Matt close to me to warm him. I wasn't thinking of anything when I did it; it just seemed the natural thing to do. His skin felt cold to the touch, and he shivered slightly in my arms until, little by little, he too stopped shaking. As the water warmed us back and both of us regained our senses, though, I became conscious of the fact that Matt was practically naked next to me, and I stepped back to give him some space. I avoided his eyes and turned around under the pretext of warming my back under the hot spray of water. In truth I didn't want him to see the hard-on that was suddenly tenting my boxers.
    I heard Matt take a shaky breath behind me.
    "What happened?" he asked. "I remember getting tangled in that branch... then swimming..."
    "You were stuck trying to free the boat," I said. I was busy fiercely focusing on a random, non-sexual thought—shoveling manure from the stables back in the farm—until my erection subsided. I turned around when it had gone down, to look at Matt. Bad move. His ripped body was less than an arm's length away, the water running down his smooth skin. My dick stirred again, but I was distracted by the look in his eyes. It was different from any other look he'd given me since I'd pulled a gun on him. He seemed... surprised. But in a good way.
    "You pulled me out," he said, his voice nearly a whisper. Almost as if he were admitting it to himself. "You took me back up."
    I nodded. "You had passed out in the water when I found you. I tried taking you to the boat, but it was too heavy to overturn."
    "I don't remember that," Matt said. "I remember swimming. Clinging to you. Then we were at the beach."
    "It was good you revived when you did, or I wouldn't have been able to carry you all the way back. It was too far, you were too heavy, and the current at the river mouth is very strong."
    Matt nodded slowly. "It is. I'm surprised you managed to get me out at all... thank you, Sven. You... you saved my life." He said it as though the words surprised even him. "I would have died there if it hadn't been for you."
    I blinked. I hadn't thought of it that way. Matt looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time then. I saw his eyes go over my mostly-naked body, and then look back into my eyes, an intense and new expression on his face. I ran a hand over my beard, nervous under his scrutiny, which was weird; I was never nervous with a guy. The bathroom was full of steam from the hot water, and I couldn't shake the thought off that he was so damn close to me. I felt my dick begin to get hard again.
    "What do we do now?" he asked me.
    I grinned, a bit self-deprecatingly. "Now? Now I let you go."
    I took a long, deep breath. I had to say it—now was the time to come clean. "I'm sorry about what I did, Matt. I was an asshole. I'm sorry I've kept you tied up these last few days. It was a cowardly thing to do and I'm ashamed of myself for giving in to the fear of getting caught so badly that I ended up becoming a criminal. I don't expect you to forgive me but I want you to know I won't try anything else again. I just can't live with myself knowing I'm becoming more like the scum that killed my grandfather, harming people unprovoked. So I'm done. You can call the cops and you'll be rid of me in no time. They can help you get your boat back if you're quick; it's still within reach, I believe. Tie me up while they come so you'll know I won't try and get away. And again, I'm sorry."
    I turned off the hot water. There was a long, drawn-out silence while Matt and I looked at each other, sizing the other one up. I'd meant every word of what I'd said, and I hoped Matt would see it in my eyes. I really was done being a criminal.
    "Okay," Matt said at last, hesitant, wary. "Dry yourself and I'll tie you up in the bedroom."
    Once we were dry, I walked into Matt's bedroom and lay down on the bed, holding my hands above my head. I was still naked. Matt came in with the rope, tossed me a pair of clean boxers which I put on, and then he bound my hands to the bedposts expertly, and then did the same with my feet. I didn't resist him. I could tell he was really surprised I'd gone through with my word, but his knots were firm. Now I couldn't get away even if I tried.
    When I was bound tight, he took a last look at me and walked over to his nightstand, picking up the telephone slowly.
    I saw him dial 911.

The next chapter will come out next Tuesday!
If you like this story, make sure to check out my other Nifty story, `Learning with a Man' at: