“I can’t believe how clear everything’s today.” Brandon and Dainen left Toto’s Café and walked through Taylor Square towards Oxford Street. “Is there a tunnel under us? I’m hearing traffic.”
“Yeah, the M1’s down there.” Looking up, Dainen smiled. “The rain cleared the remaining smoke out. Seems like forever since the sky was blue.”
“So where are we going first?”
“It’s a surprise. But I think you’ll like it. I’m glad we’re on foot. This is Oxford Street, which you saw a little of last night.”
“With that rainbow painted building and flags everywhere,” Brandon winked, “I’d never guess we’re in the gay district.”
“That’s Adult World. I doubt they’d have anything you’d be interested in.”
“Like hell they wouldn’t.” Brandon’s eyes went from the store sign above the sidewalk to the display picture in the window. He pointed at one that caught his attention. “After the touristy stuff today, we’re definitely stopping in Dailyjocks. Does anyplace around here sell leather? I may need something new for The Underground. This is like West Hollywood or Hillcrest back home.”
“It sucks sometimes not having anyplace close by when I want to go wolf, but I lucked out getting an apartment in Alpha Sampson’s building. I love being in the middle of all this.”
After a couple of blocks, the pair neared a green space. The trees and open paths were in stark contrast to the buildings and traffic of Oxford Street.
“This is Hyde Park.”
“A deck gun?” Brandon pointed at the object on the south east corner of the park.
“That’s Emden Gun. In 1914, a German raider, the SMS Emden, and the HMAS Sydney got into a shooting match. The Sydney won. In 1917, the Commonwealth Government gifted the gun to the city. The monument was unveiled later that year.” Dainen reached for his friend’s shoulder. “Over here’s what I wanted to show you.”
“Wow. It’s hard to believe we couldn’t see this from back there. Cool building. I like the Art Deco design.”
Dainen chuckled. “This is the Anzac Memorial.”
“What’s that name mean?”
“Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. It was what our troops were called during World War One.”
After touring the museum, the two walked down the steps in silent reflection.
“I need to bring Austin here.”
“It’s a special place. Just like our next stop. That’s at the other end of the park.” It was a leisurely walk as Dainen pointed out various sights of interest. “Here we are. The Hyde Park Barracks.”
“I think this was on the list of what I wanted to see. Another military museum?”
“Not this time. That’s the place that housed the men and boys England sent over as convicts. It was completed in 1819. The building’s had a lot of uses over the years. We’re lucky, they just reopened it a couple days ago, after doing a yearlong restoration. The alpha scored us some tickets. Come on.” Dainen grabbed Brandon’s hand as they crossed the street.
The two put on headphones as they began the tour. Brandon had heard the jokes about Aussies being convicts, but this put things in a different perspective. Seeing the hammocks where the men and boys slept, and the rope and chains that bound them, was a powerful experience. More than once he felt choked up.
“Thank you for bringing me here.” He pulled Dainen into a bro hug.
“How about if we grab our packs from the apartment and head to Manly Beach for lunch at the club. After this heavy stuff, some fun, sun, and surfing, would be a good way to relax.” The corner of Dainen’s lips turned up. “After I help you relax in another way. Just so we’re ready for what we talked about.”
“Race you back.”
Dainen and Brandon hopped off the ferry at Manly Wharf after a nearly twenty minute ride across the harbor. The Aussie guided his friend down The Corso, a pedestrian boulevard leading towards the beach.
“In here.” Dainen pointed to a door on their right. “This is Surfers Haven.”
“Last chance to say don’t do it.”
“I’m a little scared, but I trust you, Brandon.”
“No matter what, I’ll make sure everything’s okay.”
The pair walked into an expansive space. Floor to ceiling glass lined one side facing the ocean. As Brandon took in his surroundings, he realized three quarters of the wall was missing. “Cool, it opens up.”
“Yeah, it’s great on days like this. Upstairs does that too. Makes it feel like you’re on the beach instead of across the road from it. The place’s quiet now. You should see it at night when the alpha’s DJing. He stands up on that stage working his magic while the floor’s packed with dancers.” Dainen pointed towards the upper level. “Looks like the guys are enjoying the view.” He flagged down one of the servers and gave an order for two sandwiches. Grabbing Brandon’s hand, Dainen pulled him up the stairs towards a group taking up two tables. His scent shifted from nervous to calm and happy as an arm wrapped around his waist.
“Brandon, good to see you again.” Ethan rose from his chair and held out his hand. “Nice seeing you too, Dainen. You look great with that smile.”
“Hey Brandon, Dainen.” Cody bumped fists with the guys.
“You’re just in time. We’re discussing a mud wrestling match on the dance floor.” Casey waved.
Darius shook his head as he and Trevor offered a hand to the new arrivals.
“Hello, Alpha Tucker.” Dainen seemed to retreat to his shell around the other wolves. “Alpha Samson, Alpha Jacobs, Thorin, betas, enforcers.” He dipped his head and waved at the others.
Glancing back and forth between the two, Brandon slapped Ethan’s arm. “Stop intimidating my best bud.”
“I’m not. Is that why you were always so quiet? I’m sorry. We didn’t mean to…”
Dainen nodded, but a smile formed as Ethan reached out in a friendly gesture.
“And Dain, we’re not in the U.S. where he’s an alpha, so the whiny bitch’s just Ethan.” He winked when he saw the glare directed at him.
“Well fuck you too, Bran. Now I hope you stay hairless. Come on, we’ve got extra chairs at the table.”
“We’re all fucked now. Those two are playing off each other.” Aiden shook his head. “Brody, we may need reinforcements.” He pointed his finger at his mate. “The last guy who called you a little bitch became one of your closest friends. Dainen, if we can, let’s start over. Hi, I’m Aiden.” He extended his hand. “I’m sorry we got preoccupied with business and weren’t more welcoming to you. Even with my training as a sheriff’s deputy, this experience with firefighting has been beyond overwhelming for me.”
“What’s in the rucksacks?” Thorin glanced up from his laptop as he went over the club’s books. “You two look cozy together.” The smirk irritated Brandon.
“Wetsuit and towel, but I don’t see any waves. Looks like no surfing today.”
“Yeah. Today’s one of the rare days everything’s calm. Guess that’s typical for after the storm, ehh Ethan?” Brody grabbed an item from one of the food platters. “Help yourself, guys. There’s plenty to snack on.” He bumped his husband’s shoulder. “Guess you won’t get to see Brandon parading around the club in his fetish gear.”
“The hell we won’t. Go get your arse changed. I’ve been waiting to see this since Christmas.” Thorin’s Cheshire cat grin had the whole table laughing. “And if you want waves, Ethan, you’re on. Give the sexy fireman something to ride.” He leaned forward with that smirk again and scented the air. “When you’re ready, we’ll take you to the surf shop, and let them know the board rental’s on the house.”
“Thanks. I’m used to changing in just a towel in a parking lot, but where can I put this on?”
“In that case,” Thorin licked his lips, “wrap the towel around yourself and change right here. If it happens to drop to the floor, we promise not to ogle your hot body, you sexy little muscle stud.”
Brody’s face showed surprise as he glanced at his mate.
“Follow me, Brandon. There’s lockers we can leave our stuff in.” Dainen led the way back downstairs.
A few minutes later, the two returned in sleeveless, short wetsuits, earning whistles from the group.
“Now that’s what I’ve been waiting for. I do love a man in neoprene, or latex, or leather.” Thorin’s eyes raked up and down the smaller body as he patted the chair next to him. “Sit here, Bran. I haven’t had a chance to get to know you like they have. Would be hot seeing you wearing that to Underground. It’s a fetish club we have under Darlinghurst. Maybe with the upper part rolled down as low as it can get, to show off your chest and abs.”
“So you can give us something to ride?” Brandon faced Ethan and noticed the golden hue in the eyes. The giggle from Thorin caused him to rest his hand on Dainen’s leg under the table.
“Yeah. It shouldn’t be a problem. I’m starting small and letting them build. Anyone out there will think it’s natural.” Ethan reached for dark glasses on the table. “And if I wear my sunnies, no one but you guys should notice.”
With the sandwiches delivered, Brandon grabbed his. “Eat up, Dain. I’m raring to ride.”
Thorin burst out laughing. “From Dainen’s scent, you already have.”
Brody sat up. Ethan and Aiden stared between Brandon, Dainen, and Thorin.
“That is what you hoped would happen, isn’t it?” Brandon’s voice remained calm and his scent did not give any hints of his mood.
“What are you talking about?” Thorin appeared annoyed.
“When you implied I was single, all alone here, and in need of companionship. You know, your suggestion to Dainen? About giving me a full massage in hopes of embarrassing him when I’d tell him about my husband?” Brandon cast a glare at Thorin. He could feel Dainen shaking.
“I didn’t. How dare you… We thought it would be nice if you had a tour guide while you’re here. If he tried to whore himself out, that’s on him.”
“Thorin?” Brody crossed his arms.
The trembling body concerned Brandon. “Dainen, kneel.” The Aussie pushed back from the table and knelt, resting his head on the American’s leg. Brandon stroked the dark hair to comfort his friend and was pleased when the shivering stopped.
“Wow, he is trainable.” The flippant comment earned Thorin more glares from around the table.
“Dude, not cool. He’s a hell of a nice guy.” Cody rested his hand on Dainen’s back. “Hate to think what you’d have to say on a day I smell like my guys plus Aiden and Ethan.”
“Seriously?” Brandon’s head snapped around towards Cody before he leaned over his friend to whisper in the other American’s ear. “I couldn’t believe when you said you had two mates. But all five of you? Damn. Sounds fuckin’ hot.” After a wink from the coyote, he refocused his attention on the Australian alpha pair. “Kinda rude for someone wearing a padlocked collar to treat another sub like this. I mean no disrespect if he is or isn’t your sub, Alpha Sampson. Ethan and Aiden explained to me that I’m an alpha, no different than them, except I don’t have a pack. Dainen may be one of your wolves, but you assigned him to me for the rest of my visit. I would have asked for him anyways since he’s such a great guy and I already knew him. As such, by mutual agreement, I’ve marked him with my scent while we’re together.
“How I did it is no one’s business but ours and my husband’s. Everyone at the table can smell it, but one person had to point it out to try and embarrass Dain, again.” Brandon glanced down at the muscle stud nuzzling his leg, keeping his hand on the thick hair. “Intentionally or not, someone tried to put Dainen into a situation to humiliate him or cause trouble. I’m pissed I was used to do this to my friend.” Brandon glared at Thorin and enjoyed watching him squirm. “Alpha Sampson, I’d like to ask for your assurance that won’t happen anymore. This was going to be discussed privately, but now that the issue’s been forced, here we are.”
“Explain yourself, Thorin.” Brody’s voice was low with a growl to it. “Correction, explain yourself, boy.”
Unable to resist the command voice of his mate, Thorin started babbling. “He’s always around offering to do jobs. Started as a busboy and flirted his way to a server. Getting a prime job in the clubs before ending up running errands for you. I wonder what he did to get his apartment since it wasn’t discussed with me. His reputation for nude massages makes us look bad. Especially since you put him in positions people see him with us.”
“Wait. We could have gotten massages from him? And in the nude?” Darius reached over Cody to rub Dainen’s head. “Even I wouldn’t have said no to that.”
Casey and Cody stared opened mouth at their usually proper husband.
“He’s got incredible hands.” Brandon stroked his friend’s hair. “If you ask nicely, he might still give you one, Darius.”
“Whatever. Finally, him getting placed as their driver, where he gets an all expenses paid vacation to sit on his fucking ass while everyone else is working… All the while, he probably pined away silently, being separated from you. I know he’s always sniffing around for another root with you, and I can’t blame him. But you’re mine.” Thorin was seething. “He barely talked to our friends as he took them around. I said we should’ve picked someone different for the job, but you’ve got a soft spot for your trick. Surprised he didn’t come onto them with his reputation as a cheap whore.” Thorin crossed his arms defensively.
“He didn’t talk much because our presence intimidates some people who aren’t pack leaders or know us well.” Aiden did not look happy. “Dain was always polite and friendly, just quiet. He busted his ass fighting the fires right beside us when he didn’t have to. He never shied away from anything the Mutts asked of him.”
“I bet he didn’t.” Thorin rolled his eyes. “Bunch of horny tradies and an available cunt that’s always in heat.”
“Enough!” Brody grabbed the lock on Thorin’s collar, yanking it down to table height. “Not one more word from you.”
The yelp when Thorin’s chin hit the table made Brandon bite his tongue to avoid smiling.
“If Ethan and Bran hadn’t explained things,” Aiden glanced towards Dainen before turning a hard glare at Thorin, “even I’d have missed it. Fuck dude, he’s obviously a sub. And a good one apparently, since he spoke only when spoken to, was never mouthy, and always followed instructions. Oh, and he was never rude to anyone.” The American alpha growled. “Dude, you’re our friend, but shit… Dain, who isn’t even trained as a firefighter, volunteered to work on the line and busted his ass while you sat on yours, safely at home.”
“Are you okay, Dainen?” Brody directed his attention to the mound of dark hair resting on Brandon’s leg. “Being put in the center of this, I can’t blame you for possibly wanting to hide. Though I’m pleased two people are showing you comfort, and others rapidly jump to your defense.”
“Stand.” Brandon tried not to smile as the man did as instructed and took his position beside him, head dipped respectfully, and hands clasped behind his back. The front of the wetsuit bulged out more than it previously had.
“I’m a little nervous about what happens now, Alpha. But thanks to Brandon, Cody and the others, I think I’m okay. I know I have options if I’m asked to leave the pack. Newcastle and some of the others from the Mutts offered me a home if I need one.”
“Dainen, I’m sorry for my mate’s actions and words. He and I will discuss this in private. But my boy will be punished for what he did. And not in a way he enjoys.” Brody turned his eyes to Brandon. “Thank you for looking out for one of my wolves. I should have seen what was happening, but perhaps it was too close to home. You have my word, nothing negative will happen to your boy as a result of this. His job with me is secure as is his place in the pack. Not because of any perceived flirting, hero worship, or accusations he’s my secret fuck toy. But because he’s damn good at what he does.
“He listens and focuses on completing his tasks quickly and thoroughly.” Brody turned a sharp glare on his mate. “I never hid that I used to root him before I ever met you. If you hold a grudge against any guy I’ve had sex with in the roughly thirty-five years I’ve been getting laid prior to us meeting, there’s a long fuckin’ list you’re mad at.
“Oh, and Thorin,” Brody released his grip on the collar, “with what you suggested Dainen did, what the hell do you call your comments about Brandon getting into his wetsuit? And hoping for a chance to see him naked? If that wasn’t flirting, I don’t know what is.”
“Yeah, but you and I both know nothing would come of that. I’m just friendly that way. Being flirtatious is part of running a successful club.”
“Enough! We will discuss it later, in private. I’ve apparently been lax in my responsibilities with you. We are true mates and will always be together, but make no mistake, that is my padlock on the collar I allow you to wear. Boy.” The look Brody gave left no doubt the topic was closed for now.
“Dainen, sit and finish your lunch. Then we’re going surfing. Looks like there’s some nice waves now.” Brandon smiled at the adoring look and nod he received. “Thank you, Alpha Sampson.
“I didn’t realize how fuckin’ sexy it is seeing someone Bran’s size being all Dom with a larger muscle stud.” When Casey stood, his budgie smugglers bulged. “I ah… need to use the bathroom. So do you, Cody.”
“Subtle.” Darius shook his head. “Very subtle.”
“That was fuckin’ awesome. I never thought I’d get inside the greenroom. I wish Austin could have seen it.” Brandon’s excitement was contagious after successfully riding inside the barrel of a wave. “I’ve ridden some nice ones before, but nothing like this. I’m borrowing him when I go on surf vacations, Aiden.”
“Does this mean we’re friends?” Ethan looked hopeful. “Oh, and they got videos of all your runs.”
“Yeah. We’re friends. But it had nothing to do with surfing. I can see you really are a great guy.” Brandon pulled Dainen alongside him. “And thanks for helping him build his confidence out there.”
“It rocked staying on my feet this time. I didn’t grub it once.” The younger Aussie was all smiles. “Thank you, Ethan.” Dainen pulled the small blond into a hug. “And you,” happiness was etched on his face, “that was gnarly riding the board with you, Bran.”
“We’ll have you hangin’ ten before I leave.” Brandon was proud of his friend. “We’re doing this again. Maybe Bondi next time? But I fuckin’ love this beach.”
“Be better if he hangs eleven instead. Though with how excited he is, I doubt it’s hanging.”
“Ethan! Stop trying to get everyone naked.” Aiden buried his face in his palms and laughter erupted around them. “And after what happened earlier, behave. Though I wouldn’t object to seeing that.” He reached out to fist bump Dainen.
In the shade of a palm tree, Brandon watched the video of his last couple of rides. “Are those sharks?” Two dark silhouettes in the wave traveled parallel to him, only a matter of feet away. A dorsal fin occasionally broke the water’s surface. “Holy shit. They were close.”
The door opened a few moments after knocking. “Brandon! Welcome to our home.” Lucas pulled his friend into a hug. “G’day, Dainen. Cool to see you again.” He extended his hand and when it was accepted he pulled the younger man into a hug as well. “This is my husband, Matty.”
The blond, scruffy faced man smiled at their visitors. “G’day, mates. Come on in and relax. Can I get ya somethin’ to drink?”
“I think we’re good for now. Thank you.” Brandon squeezed Dainen’s hand as they entered the house. “This is nice.” The room was open and spacious.
“We got it because of having the woods behind us.” Matty pointed to the windows at the back of the great room. “After the summer you guys had, maybe it’s not the best idea.” He guided them to a door on the left side of the room. “Here’s your bedroom. I hope it’s okay having you share. We’ve only got two. Ours is over there.”
“I think it’ll be fine.” Dainen’s scent made Brandon happy. He liked seeing his friend calm and relaxed.
“Wow, looks like a lot of people are coming over for dinner.” The American nodded towards the set table.
“I suggested something easy like going out.” Lucas wrapped his arm around Matty. “He said no way in hell was his first dinner with my new brother gonna be anything but home cooked.”
“Jax and Noah should be here in a little bit.” Matty picked up his drink and headed for the back door. “It’s nice out. Let’s sit on the patio. Luc’s brother and his wife are coming. So’s my sister.”
“And Lachie was about an hour out the last time he called. Our alpha wanted to come, but we had to say we ran out of space at the table.” Lucas pulled both visitors into another hug. “It’s so fuckin’ good to have you guys here.”
Brandon and Dainen sat with Lucas and Matty in the Liston Winery’s tasting room. After taking a ton of pictures with his phone while on the tour, he jotted down notes about the décor and food served in the bistro. He occasionally picked up the glass in front of him and held it to the light, mesmerized by the color. He passed it under his nose and inhaled the sweet aroma.
“You look kinda young to be a wine critic.”
“Huh? I’m sorry. I was kind of lost in thought.” The American focused on the muscle bound man behind the counter. “What was that you asked?”
“I said you look kinda young to be a critic.” He pointed at the notebook. “I see you writing things down each time you set the glass down. I’m curious what you’ll think when you finally take a sip. I’m Spencer, my family owns the place.”
“Oh. I don’t know anything about wine. I’m Brandon. I’ve had some before, but I’m pretty sure it came out of a box. I’m an amateur writer and trying to think of something happy to describe my experience in Australia.” He waved his hand around the room. “What could be happier than a winery.”
“You’re a Yank? We haven’t had many of you since before the fires hit this area. Nice to see the vacationers are coming back. I almost felt guilty about going tourist and partying it up in New York City for New Year’s, while everything was going on here, but I needed to get away for a little bit.”
Brandon nodded. “I stayed here on and off for about two weeks between Christmas and early January.”
“Bloody hell. Why didn’t you say you were a firefighter when you and your mates parked your arses on those stools?”
“Fuck. I didn’t mean to say that.” Turning first to his friends he returned his attention to his host with a shrug. “It’s not that big a deal. People have been doing nice things if they find out, and I don’t want to take advantage of anyone’s generosity.”
“Depending where in the States you’re from, you traveled at least twelve thousand kilometers to help keep this place from burning down. To every winery in the valley it’s a pretty big fuckin’ deal.” He pointed his finger at the three people Brandon was with. “You guys were all on the same crew?”
“The Yank and me were fighting the fires here, my husband was home making sure there was still money coming in to pay the bills. I’m Lucas and he’s Matty. And Dainen there joined our crew after we left the valley.”
Spencer eyed the other firefighter. “I recognize you. You two stop in every month or so to buy a couple bottles.” He crossed his large arms, directing a faux glare at the men. “As some of our loyal customers you should’ve said something when you were bedding down here and when you got here today.
Spencer whistled and everyone turned their attention to him. “Ladies and gentlemen. Liston Winery’s proud to have a couple firefighters with us today. They protected the valley and our establishment from going up in flames. We’re honored they stopped in to taste our product. Without people like them, this entire valley would likely be ashes. Hell, the entire country would’ve burned to the ground.”
Claps and cheers erupted around the room and several patrons patted the men on the back or shook their hands.
“Brandon here wanted to see the valley without all the smoke, and we told him this was the best place to try the local wine. We know your neighbors put out good ones, but we’re partial to yours. He already knew how good the food from the bistro is.” Lucas paused to sip from his glass. “Like he said, we didn’t want to make a big deal about it, and figured this would be a relaxing trip.”
“Any idea yet how much damage the ash caused to this year’s grapes?” Matty accepted the new glass placed before him. “Luc was saying something about contamination?”
“Yeah, smoke taint. We’re running tests and all that.” Spencer wiped down a section of the counter. “Estimates are likely eighty percent loss of the harvest. All the wineries in the valley are trying to decide if we’ll produce anything this year. We might do a small run to see how it turns out. Maybe a smoke flavored vintage will catch on.”
Brandon finally brought the glass to his lips and sipped a small amount of the golden fluid. “Oh, that’s really good.”
The compliment brought the muscular man back to the happy host he was earlier. “If you like that you should try some of the others we have open today. Find the one you like best, I’ll send you home with a couple bottles, and throw in one of our special reserves also.” Spencer appeared to beam with pride. “You’ll be one of a handful of Yanks to have a bottle of Liston wine.”
“I can’t accept that. I was here to do a job and did it. Besides, I’m not sure I can take them through customs when I go home. If you wouldn’t mind, I do have one request.”
“If I do end up writing about my time here, can I mention the winery by name?” Brandon looked hopeful. “I write fiction, but sometimes use real locations. Anything I say will be about how great this place is. I really want to come back here with my husband once he’s home from his deployment.”
“Definitely. I have no problem at all. Is he also a fireman or like Army or something?”
“Nope. Marine Corps.” The grin showed how proud he was of his man. “He’s in Iraq now. Should be home in August if all goes well.”
“No shit. One of my brother-in-law’s dads is a Marine Captain. Think he served a tour or two over there.” A smile crossed Spencer’s face. “My granddad and dad would be pissed if I didn’t send you home with at least one bottle. You did come a long way to fight our fires. And it will give you something to celebrate with when your Marine gets home. We ship some every month to my brother and his husband. I’ll take a bottle or two out of their stash and add it to yours.” A devious smile grew as he laughed. “Be fun to see if they notice or how much yelling they do about getting shorted. When they hear who it went to, they’ll be happy about it. I know how to get our product safely through the post, and you won’t have to carry it through customs.”
“Mate, if he’s offering you some of their wine, take it. This stuff doesn’t find its way out of Oz too often.”
“He’s right. We’re not like Yellow Tail or some of the other big places. We don’t produce enough to export. The Yanks who have any got it as a gift from my brother-in-law. You can say you’ve got something only billionaires and former presidents received.” Spencer crossed his arms once more. “I’m not taking no for an answer. Give me your address and a date you’ll be back in the States.” Once he had the information he slipped the piece of paper into his pocket. “What do you plan to do the rest of your stay?”
“I spent a couple days resting up in Sydney after we came off the line. Did some surfing and went walkabout with Dain. I want to go back and see some more of the sights. I’m already booked for climbing the harbour bridge. That’s free to firefighters. I found a travel blog from a guy back home I follow on Facebook and Instagram. He’s a couple years younger than me, but has been here several times and listed a bunch of must see places. I’ve already been to several. Not sure I’ll manage to get to all of them, especially with Mardi Gras starting up soon, but I want to hit as many of the spots I can from CJ’s Australian Tour Guide for Americans.”
Spencer spit out the water he was sipping and coughed several times. “Did you say the guy’s name’s CJ?”
“Does he give his full name or say where he’s from?”
“I think he’s from Washington D.C.”
“Any idea if he has a husband named Owen? Might also list him as Ozzie.”
Brandon scrolled through his phone. “I never noticed this. He has your winery listed. Is it someone you know? His bio says CJ Abelló.” His pronunciation emphasized bell in the middle of the name. “He does have a husband. Owen “Ozzie”…”
“Liston. Yeah, I know him.” Spencer finished with a hearty laugh. “CJ’s my brother-in-law. By the way, the L’s in his name are silent.” He moved to walk off before stopping. “Don’t go anywhere. I’m gonna grab my dad and ol’ Jack, my grandad. Know they’ll both want to say hi to you. Here’s my card. It’s got my email and mobile. I’d like it if you stay in touch. If you and your Marine do come back, my fiancée, Tilda, and I would like to have you over for dinner.”
Brandon donned the blue bridgesuit everyone was required to wear. After sitting through the climb briefing, the group double checked to make sure all their pockets were empty before going through the metal detector. A short walk through a tunnel and everyone was ready to climb.
“Okay people. One final check. Can you hear me through the headsets? Give me a thumbs up if you can.” The climb leader nodded in satisfaction at the response. “Clip your safety harness to the cable and under no circumstances are you allowed to remove it. Let’s get started. It’s only one thousand, three hundred, and thirty-two steps. We’ll be back in about three and a half hours.”
Out of the twelve people on the climb, Brandon was one of two lycan. The humans huffed and puffed by the time they reached the summit of the bridge. A light breeze had the Australian flags fluttering while giving those on the catwalk just enough air movement to be comfortable.
“We’re one-hundred, thirty-four meters above the water. Thanks to some people here today, we can do these climbs again, and have this wonderful view without smoke.” The guide pulled out her camera. “Stand close together and I’ll get a shot of the group. Then I’ll get some individual photos for our three local heroes and one from the States.”
Back at the visitor’s center, as they removed the safety gear and climb suit, one of the humans approached Brandon and the female firefighter he was chatting with. “I don’t know how you two did that without breaking a sweat.”
The two looked at each other and shrugged. It was Brandon who spoke. “This was easier than the Giant Staircase at Katoomba in full fire gear.”
The group thanked the guide as they picked up copies of the photographs. Brandon looked forward to sharing it with Austin and smiled when he thought about bringing his mate back to try it.
“I’m so glad we got a wolf up there.” The guide smiled. “Not enough of you make the climb into avian territory.”
“I want to do that again. Thank you for the great tour. All the information you gave was awesome.” Brandon shook the guide’s hand one more time. “My kind doesn’t do this? I guess no one told me.” The crooked smirk brought a laugh from the woman.
“The sky’s where I’m most at home. I know the canines prefer the ground. We get some up there, but not enough. It’s wonderful to share my world with the other species. And it was nice having another avian up there with me.” The guide nodded to the other lycan firefighter who had made the climb. “Our flock would enjoy if you stopped by. We’re having a group flight this weekend for several visiting firefighters.” She turned back to Brandon. “And there’s a reception for our ground-based cousins. I hope you can join us.”