Nathan isn't good with goats at all, but when his grandfather ends up in the hospital, he needs to step up and take care of the herd.
Two weeks before Christmas and Nathan is stuck taking care of his grandfather's herd of goats, including an ornery buck Nathan can't stand. He's managing to some degree, but when a coyote shifter comes around, it's just one more kind of trouble Nathan definitely doesn't need this holiday season.
Sam has an agreement with Nathan's grandfather, one that has been working out well for decades. Only no one bothered telling him that Nathan was staying over, and when the goats end up in the wrong pasture Sam finds himself on the business end of a rifle. Once Sam explains who he is, Nathan seems less inclined to shoot him, but Nathan is far from trusting him, and Sam isn't sure what to think of the human either.
Can Nathan overcome his suspicions to make way for an unexpected connection?
It was two weeks until Christmas, and Nathan did not feel like fighting with an overly affectionate buck. Leroy was only sixty pounds, and absolutely the favorite spoiled child of his grandfather's small herd of Nigerian dwarf goats.
"You're nasty, stop that," Nathan chided as Leroy sprayed himself with his own urine in front of one of the does in heat.
She ignored Leroy. Maybe she thought he was being nasty, too.
"Go out in the pasture please." Nathan tried to shoo them out of the heated barn. As much as he sided with them all and wouldn't have gone out into the snow either, his grandfather had given him clear instructions that the goats had to go outside for at least a few hours each day. It helped keep them acclimated to the ever-shifting Missouri climate.
When none of them went outside after half an hour of attempted herding, Nathan broke down and decided to call his grandfather.
"How are the goats?" he asked instantly.
Nathan snorted. "I'm good, thanks. And hi too, by the way. They're fine. They're not leaving the barn. Do they have to go out every day? It's cold." Even through his heavy jacket, the cold nipped at his skin.
His grandfather groaned and the bed alarm started beeping even over the phone as it always did when he adjusted himself without a nurse there to help. "Get the bucket, put some grain in it, and they'll follow you. Some time outside will do them good. How's my boy?"
It would have been nice if his grandfather asked about him, but Nathan knew who he was really asking about. "Leroy is fine. Peeing on himself. As usual."
"That's a good boy. The does love it."
Nathan really wasn't so sure about that. They certainly didn’t act like they loved it. From the looks they shot Leroy when he did it, they weren’t about to let him mount them any time soon.
Overall, Nathan tried to not think about mounting, as it reminded him of the year since there had been any mounting in his life. The way things were going with his grandfather, it was going to be a while before he could get off the farm and go find himself a nice man.
"Let them out into the pastures for an hour to stretch their legs a bit. It's not so cold out there. They'll be fine. Just not the field closest to the woods. Sam lives there," his grandfather warned.
Nathan rolled his eyes. He'd heard his grandfather's stories about old Gods and spirits in the woods for years. It used to be a game to him as a kid, leaving honey out in the woods for the fae. But he'd grown up, and he didn't believe in fairy tales anymore. "I can't believe you named the coyotes. And gave them human names too. But sure, I'll keep them out of the pasture by the woods."
"Good boy." His grandfather coughed loudly. "I need that nurse back in here. My ice cup is low. Maybe the cute one will be working today."
"You're just as gross as Leroy," Nathan joked with him. He didn’t remember his grandfather being a dirty old man, but it had been a few years since he’d been around him very often. Holidays and a week every other summer were the longest he’d stayed around since he’d gotten out of college. Nathan considered it lucky he’d ended up unemployed just when his grandfather needed him.
His grandfather laughed lightly. "Be good to them. Remember to milk them in the evenings and keep their water from freezing, and there's a rifle in my bedroom if you need it."
"Yeah, yeah.” It had been years since he fired a rifle, but back then, he’d been a pretty good shot. Nathan really hoped he wouldn’t have to use the rifle. “You get some rest. I'll stop by and visit you later this week. Seriously, I've got this."
His grandfather said his goodbyes, and Nathan was once again faced with dozens of goats the size of big dogs who simply did not want to get cold. Sighing, he grabbed a bucket and went to the feed stall. They all tried to climb on him as he led them out of the barn and into the fresh snow, but at least he'd been able to get them out while only getting a little dirty himself.
He checked the water, made sure they still had hay left, then went inside to watch TV for a few hours.
* * * *
The cold bit into him. Sam frowned and shivered as he crept out from under the bush that had been enough to shelter him during the spring, summer and fall. He was thankful winter was warmer in Missouri than the Colorado mountains where he’d grown up. When his pack had cast him out with nothing more than his fur, the simple answer had been to stay that way, go feral and become human just often enough so he didn’t totally forget how it felt to walk on two legs.
Nearby, the goats bleated. The sound gnawed at Sam’s stomach, but he turned away from the fat easy meal. He had an agreement with Old Man Tom. If he stayed away from the goats, Tom wouldn’t shoot him. Most of the time, there were enough rabbits and pheasants to keep him fed, but sometimes in winter things got skimpy. Normally during those times, he’d go and talk to Tom to get a meal, and last year, when the nights got close to zero, Tom had called him in to spend the night near the woodburning stove. Since there weren’t any other coyotes in the area, the deal worked well for Sam.