Nicholas Black and Robin White were best mates, had been since infancy. They went through school together and once they were old enough to travel on their own on the bus they spent much of their free time together too. They got called 'the black and white thieves' – or 'the thieves' for short. The origin of the nickname has been lost with time, but Robin's Dad says it's because they were always thick as thieves. Robin himself, though, says it's because of their names – Nick and Rob.
The two boys roomed together at University, and although they developed a wide social circle they did everything together, so if a group of their friends wanted to include one of them it was accepted that they'd have to invite them both.
When Nick got engaged to his long time girlfriend their friends began to talk of the end of an era, assuming that the forthcoming marriage would split the boys up, although he asked Rob to be his best man. To everyone's surprise the engagement was broken off, quietly and without fuss, and soon Nick resumed spending his evenings and weekends with Rob. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings they went to the gym. On Saturdays they watched the sport on Rob's big screen TV. On Sundays they played Sunday league football. Tuesdays and Thursdays it seemed there was usually something to bring them together – a film the boys wanted to see or a group of the lads meeting at a pub somewhere. The thieves,
They were twenty-eight years old when they went off for a weekend's camping, intending to climb Mount Snowdon. It was Rob's idea, partly because he'd bought a new lightweight tent and he wanted to try it out.
They took Rob's car, got to Snowdonia mid-evening on the Friday and drove the last leg of the journey in the light of the setting sun, which showed off the majestic landscape beautifully. Their campsite, just a farmer's field but with a shower block and rudimentary toilet facilities, was nestled right under the mass of Tryfan, a steep conical mountain which although not nearly as high as Snowdon looked far more difficult to climb.
The two men chose their spot, Rob manoeuvred the car into position and they got to work unloading and pitching their tents. Both tents were erected and equipped with sleeping bags and all the other necessities by the time the sky became fully dark. They zipped the tents up and drove off to find a pub that served food.
When they drove back two hours later it was raining and the wind had got up, but they didn't worry, their tents were well pegged down and they'd camped in much worse conditions before. The tents were still in position, Rob's tiny new one and Nick's rather larger, older one that he'd bought while at uni. It was raining quite hard so although it was not yet ten o'clock they decided to turn in and get an early start in the morning.
Nick woke suddenly in the night, with the impression that something had woken him. He lay for a moment collecting his thoughts. The tent fabric was rattling as the wind whipped past it and the rain seemed to be hitting the tent in sheets. He felt for his head torch in the mesh pocket on the wall of the inner tent and turned it on without bothering to put it on his head. He played the beam around the tent checking for any water leaking in. The groundsheet was dry everywhere. He checked the time on his watch. Half past one. He turned the torch off, put it back in its pocket and lay back down, drawing his winter weight sleeping bag around his shoulders and pulling the draw-cord a little tighter to pull the hood down to his face. He lay there listening to the wind howling and wondering how Rob was getting on in his new tent.
The friendship of the two men had endured through all the traumas of their teenage years, Rob's fights with his parents over motorbikes, alcohol, music, when he felt he had to challenge his father's authority on everything; Nick's sullen period when his parents' marriage was failing and he found himself expected to spend alternate weekends in his Dad's new flat, although there wasn't really room for two and his Dad had no idea how to cook. In practice he spent most of those weekends at Rob's place like he'd always done.
Unable to get back to sleep, Nick lay there listening to the wind howl, and thought about the thieves. Considering how much of their lives they'd shared, they were quite different in some ways. Nick was thin as a rake but wiry and graceful. On the dance floor he was a force to be reckoned with. Rob knew that his stockier frame wasn't built for dancing, but he made up for the deficiency on the rugby pitch. Nick's taste in music was wide and eclectic, Rob found most of it just a noise, preferring to stick to Genesis and Phil Collins. He played a mean air guitar.
The tent's rattling and shaking suddenly took a new form as a freak gust of wind rolled off Tryfan and hurled itself vertically downwards at the field below. Nick's tent flattened under the onslaught and he lay in his sleeping bag with the fabric of the tent pressed flat across his face until after a second or two the wind abated and the hooped tent poles sprung the tent back into shape. He played his torch beam around the tent again, but there appeared to be no damage.
He cautiously unzipped the inner tent and then a few inches of the flysheet opening, so that he could poke his head through and check on Rob's tent. At first he couldn't make it out. There was a lot of fabric flailing in the wind. The little tent had ripped open like a banana and Rob was fighting his way out of the shredded remains. His sleeping bag, already completely waterlogged, was hampering his progress but eventually he managed to shake it off his legs and stand up. Nick clambered out of his tent and went to help. He had to lean against the power of the wind and shout and gesture to Rob to make himself understood. Between them they got Rob's sodden sleeping bag bundled up and stowed in the car boot. Then they retired to Nick's tent, which was large enough, just, to accommodate two. Once the zips were closed again they had some respite from the wind and rain.
Nick rooted around in the pile of clothing at the foot of his tent and found his microfibre towel.
“Here. Get your wet things off and dry yourself off.”
Rob was only wearing a t-shirt and underpants but they were wringing with water, so he removed them and deposited them outside the tent under the flysheet. Drying himself off in the cramped space of the tent felt odd but they'd seen each other naked a lot over the years and he persuaded himself there was nothing different about this. When he was satisfied that he was acceptably dry he handed the towel to Nick who took his turn stripping and drying himself off.
“Fight you for the sleeping bag?”
“Don't be a pillock – we'll have to share.”
Nick climbed into the sleeping bag and held the opening for Rob to join him.
Rob paused for a moment, then replied: “If you breathe a word of this I'll kill you!”. But he slid his legs and then the rest of him into the bag. He tried to keep a space between his torso and Nick's, but Nick reached around him to ease the zip back up, and got half way up and the bag wasn't big enough to zip up around them both. So Nick simply wrapped his arms around Rob's waist and pulled until their groins were mashed together, and then pulled the zip until it stuck again at their shoulders. He wrapped his arms around his friend's back and pulled him close, chest to chest, and now he could close the zip fully.
There wasn't any room for movement, they were squashed together and Nick could feel warmth building in the confined space. Soon Rob stopped shivering and the down insulation did its job so that before too long they were both warm and relatively comfortable.
Nick was lying with his arms around the waist of his friend but he kept his hands clear of Rob's back, you don't cuddle your mates. He tried shifting a little, one arm was under Rob and beginning to be uncomfortable. The movement, slight though it was, brought him the realization that he had a problem. A developing erection, and the sensation of it shifting against the body of his friend only accelerated its growth until it was rigid and protuberant. He tried to pull his groin back from contact with Rob but there was nowhere to go, they were pinned together by the restriction of the sleeping bag. He felt the blood drain from his face. What could he do – if his friend felt the incriminating stiffy their lifelong friendship would be over? He lay there, not moving a muscle, willing his hard-on to go down. After several minutes he gradually came to realise that Rob was in much the same predicament. Something pretty rigid was poking him in the stomach. He risked a slight movement, rocking towards the middle of the bag. His stomach felt a firm poke and at the same time a quiet whimper from Rob. He only heard it above the noise of the storm because his ear was only an inch or so from Rob's mouth.
Nick's mind whirled. He wasn't a gambler but he decided just this once to risk everything. He knew what was at stake – who better – and he knew too that one way or another his life was never going to be the same. He took the plunge.
He folded his hands down against the small of Rob's back and pulled, gently. Their groins mashed together. His senses were so heightened that he could have believed they were on fire, the sensation of contact was so vivid. He felt Rob go even stiffer and begin to shake so he knew he had to signal his acceptance more clearly. He kissed him. Rob gave a squeak into his mouth and then melted into the embrace and kissed him back. The relief for both of them was physical. Their legs entwined, their chests against each other, skin to skin, they lay there at peace despite the storm.
The next morning the storm had blown itself out and sunlight lit the tent a bright yellow. Rob opened his eyes to a pair of brown eyes looking back at him.
“Well, Bugger me!” he said.
They were still wrapped together. Nick's right arm had gone to sleep so Rob had to wriggle round so he could unzip the bag and sit up so Nick could take possession of the arm, but it wouldn't behave so they both rubbed and massaged it until the feeling came back.
It might have been extremely embarrassing, but they found that the strength of their relationship was up to the challenge. Catching each other's eye, they began to giggle.
© Bruin Fisher March 2013