Goddamn, he hurt. He lay on his back, trying not to writhe in agony with every twinge of his skin. Every move he made sent his nerve endings into an uproar, and it was all he could do not to tear into his own flesh. He lay naked atop the smooth sheet, the rest of the bedding having been pulled off and left in a heap on the floor by the bed. He couldn't stand the feel of even the lightest material touching his agonized skin, the gentle air swirling from the ceiling fan above was even becoming an irritant. He shuddered as a tiny bead of sweat rolled down the inside of his thigh leaving a burning trail of fire in its wake. Moaning softly, he shifted and tried hard to resist the urge to tear apart his own flesh.
The light from the television flashed like a strobe light around him in the darkened room. He had muted the sound, not being able to concentrate on any one program. Besides, the constant noise was giving him a headache... as if he needed any extra discomfort.
Suddenly, light from the hallway pierced the dark room as the bedroom door was abruptly opened. His hand quickly covered his eyes, shielding them from the harsh intrusion.
Shit, Buck. Close the fuckin door, yer killin m eyes. Anyway, dont ya know how tknock? Vin grabbed at the pillow by his side and quickly covered himself. At least the important parts. His fingers flared in pain at the abrupt movement. Damn', he thought. This cant get much worse.
No, Vin. Its me, Chris.
Ah hell, it just got lots worse.
Jesus Vin, what the hell happened? Chris glared down at him, his voice a mixture of concern and...
And what, Vin thought, trying to read the piercing eyes. Anger? Irritation? Sympathy? Humor?
JD happened, thats what. He was not in the mood to discuss this again. Hell, why couldn't everyone just leave him alone? He sighed and grimaced as he shifted his legs to find a more comfortable position. Any comfortable position.
You've seen a doctor, right? Or Nathan, at least? Chriss voice sounded harsh, strained almost. Vin sighed again. Hed already been through this with Buck. And Nathan. And Josiah. Now the leader of the pack was looking to demand the same conversation.
Nope. And I dont wanna, not gonna, wont hafta. 'Sides, I been through this before, aint nothin much they can do, just gotta wait it out. It just takes times all. Vin hoped his voice sounded convincing to Chris, because it sure didn't to his own ears.
"Look at yourself, Vin. You look miserable. Christ, just looking at you is making me feel miserable."
Vin glared at the figure standing in appraisal above him. "That s'posed to make me feel better? That what you're tryin' t' do'?" Thing was, he was miserable... but damn, if he was going to let on to anyone else. "Hell, Larabee, I got nicer words outta the lady at the drugstore."
"Drugstore? You have been to the doctor, then? What did they prescribe?"
Vin rolled his eyes. "Nothin', 'cause I didn't go to the damned doctor. Didn't I just say that? Weren't you here when I just said that?"
"How the hell are you going to manage to get to this meeting tomorrow? Can you even sit up?" Chris couldn't believe what he was seeing. He knew he should be more sympathetic, but it angered him that, once again, JD and Vin had managed to get themselves in some kind of strange predicament on the eve of an important multi-agency meeting.
"Hell yes, I can sit. I can stand. Hell, Larabee, if ya ask nice, I might even roll over and play dead for ya, too," Vin sniped to his less than sympathetic boss, who remained standing and glaring at him from his position by the bed.
Chris closed his eyes for a moment and began the breathing exercises that the stress-management counselor had recommended he try whenever one of those times occurred that he felt himself about to explode. This was quickly becoming one of those times.
"Vin--" he started before being quickly interrupted by a clipped southern drawl.
"In Heaven's name, Mr. Tanner. Does the word melanoma mean nothing to you?"
Vin groaned as the familiar voice sounded by the door.
"Sunburn ain't the half of it, Ezra," Chris volunteered as he watched the well-dressed man pace warily toward the man on the mattress.
Ezra peered through the darkened room, his eyes shifting over the body lying on the bed. One eyebrow raised as he commented, "Now that's funny."
Vin raised his head as he watched the man watching him. His eyes shifted to Chris who spoke to Ezra.
"Funny how? Funny strange? or funny ha-ha?"
Vin's eyes shifted back to Ezra.
"Funny strange," Ezra replied and took to walking himself around the bed to the other side, his gaze never leaving the body lying supine.
Vin sighed and eased his head back onto the pillow. "It ain't that strange, Ez. It happens."
Ezra looked to Vin and with one hand, gestured over the younger man's body. "I beg to differ, my young friend. It most certainly does not happen like that. Has never happened to me. At least not in those generally--unpublicized--locations, mind you. I cannot for the life of me fathom just how you managed to acquire such an infirmity in such a particularly--delicate, shall we say--area."
Chris stepped forward as he flanked the other side of the bed. "Yes, Vin. Enlighten us... just exactly how did you happen to get yourself covered from head to toe and mostly in-between?"
A loud voice announced it's owner's presence as it reverberated around the room. "Hell, I'll tell ya what happened," Buck boomed as he neared the bed.
Vin threw an arm over his eyes as he tried to shield out yet another 'concerned' member of the team. Three down, three to go.
Chris and Ezra watched as Buck hooked a chair and pulled up near the foot of the bed. The tall man lowered himself to sit backwards, long legs straddling the seat as his arms folded over the back of the chair.
With a thrust of his chin, he indicated the recumbent figure trying to hide itself in the bed. "He and that other juvenile delinquent are what happened. They tried to pull a fast one on ol' Buck, but it backfired. Didn't it, Hell-on-Wheels?"
Vin groaned and mumbled a response as he pulled the pillow out from under his head and plopped it over his head. The other pillow remained firmly ensconced in his lap, his hand maintaining its protective clutch to ensure it remained in its place. He would put nothing past these people.
Chris was becoming annoyed. He wanted to know the full story and he wanted to know it now. He looked to Buck and then turned to glare back at the pillow on the bed.
"See," Buck began. "See, ever since the day Nathan invited all of us up to his wife's uncle's cabin in the mountains, this one," he pointed with his finger, indicating Vin, "and the other one, " he jerked his thumb toward the door, indicating the other young man down the hall, "have been in cahoots plotting some... some... half-assed practical joke at my expense. As usual."
Another voice chimed in as Nathan entered the room. Another groan was heard from under the pillow.
"You see, Chris. Ezra," Nathan continued as he took over the story. "It's kinda funny."
Ezra looked to Chris, then back to Nathan. "Funny how? Funny strange? or funny ha-ha?"
Chris rolled his eyes.
"Funny strange," Nathan said. "See, as you know, we all received this little RandR time for a job well done, and Rain had offered the cabin to everyone for these past four days."
"Yeah, and Ezra flew to New York on a shopping spree to buy more of those outrageously expensive designer suits he's so enthralled with... which, by the way, Ezra," Chris said and turned to the man with a knowing grin, "are not in any way claimable as work-related expenses. I'm on to you, Standish."
"You wound me," Ezra replied, feeling not the least bit chagrined. He made a mental note to himself to rewrite his monthly expense report later.
Buck nodded and continued the tale. "Right. Ezra was shopping and you, Chris, had that conference in Washington with Travis... and the rest of us decided to take Rain's uncle's cabin for the days off."
"Ah, I see we're recounting the tale of the lost weekend." Josiah stated as he entered the dimly lit room.
"Also known as 'Vin and JD's not so excellent adventures'," Buck added.
"You know," Josiah said as he leaned on a bedpost. "It's funny, really--"
"Funny?" Buck asked. "Funny strange? or funny ha-ha?"
Ezra looked to Chris again. Chris grinned and shook his head.
"Funny strange. I had no idea two such seemingly capable young men could manage to find themselves immersed in such a ridiculous predicament so quickly."
+ + + + + + +
Faint mumurings of protest sounded from underneath the percale pillowcase. They were ignored.
"Okay," Chris said, wanting to get to the bottom of the story once and for all. "Ezra and I were not around. The rest of you got to this 'cabin by the lake' of Rain's uncle's, where--and I am not the least bit surprised by this--idiot 1 and idiot 2 pool their collective talents to try and outprank poor, unsuspecting Buck here."
"Trying but failing to outmaster the master," Buck beamed.
"Yes," Ezra prodded. "This much we have ascertained. Do, go on."
"Okay. Well, day one? No problems. We arrive, get groceries--"
"And if that ain't a tale in itself," Nathan began to digress as he interrupted and pointed to Vin. "The daily amount of sugar that boy ingests has got to be an indicator of some sort of abnormal body chemistry make-up. He would do well as a lab rat for the FDA, I swear. I have never, ever seen anybody inhale fried fruit pies at the rate he does. And JD, he ain't much better. Why, Rain told me she was terrified to serve either of them plates for fear she'd lose a finger during the feeding frenzy. Waving a candy bar around anywhere near those two would be akin to throwing a steak into a pool of piranhas."
Chris grinned. "Okay, so we all know of their questionable eating habits. But, how... how did he end up like this?" He looked again toward Vin who remained lying very still on the bed. Chris bent down and retrieved one of the sheets from the floor. He shook it out and lightly placed it over the young man's body.
"That okay?" he asked with a whisper.
The hand gave a small wave and Chris turned back to the conversation.
"Day two, we went swimming. There's a platform out in the middle of this good-sized lake and the terror twins and I decided to take the rowboat out to it. We tied the boat off, and set out to catch a few rays on the platform. Well, I end up falling asleep out there, and those two delinquents thought they'd be funny an' take off with the boat. Leaving me stranded."
"Y' forgot about the part with you naked," JD called from down the hall.
"You were sunbathing... nude?" Chris asked, not at all surprised.
"Yeah, well, see... the platform's pretty far out there... and you know how I enjoy an all over tan."
"Good Lord," Ezra commented. "As if anyone need be subjected to that sight."
"Nobody asked you to look," Buck sniped and continued his story. "Okay. So, I wake up. No Vin. No JD. No boat. No clothes... and you'll never guess what happened next. I turn around and find myself face to face with the largest, loveliest pair of blue eyes--"
"I thought you said Vin wasn't there," Chris cracked.
Buck rolled his eyes. "Hell, Chris. That ain't even funny. No, I was--"
"Wait, allow me," Ezra interrupted. "You were then found by a mermaid, who offered to you her assistance, which you accepted. All the while, no doubt, entertaining the poor creature with your charm and wit which was heavily laced with sexual innuendo and double entendres as is your usual m.o. But then her father, the king of the lake, rose up from the murky depths to intervene on behalf of his daughter's maidenhood, and you were then forced to submit to a trident wedding. Where is she now, Buck? Stashed in the bathtub?"
Complete silence filled the room as Ezra finished and he glanced at his fellow teammates, all of whom were staring back at him with raised eyebrows and wide eyes. No one blinked.
Buck looked to Josiah and whispered. "Maidenhood?"
Chris cut in. "Alright. Getting back to the current situation, without having to listen to anyone else's secret fantasies," he paused and pointedly glared to Ezra who merely shrugged in response. "I'll bite. Whose blue eyes did you find out there in the middle of the lake?"
"Her name's Jillian... and she's--"
"A cop," came the voice down the hall.
"You've got to be kidding," Chris said and sat gently on the side of the bed next to Vin.
"Yes, do tell, Mr. Hawaiian Tropic."
"Okay. Well first, she gave me the slow once-over--" Buck began before being interrupted, once again.
There were groans all around. Buck looked at each of them, eyebrows raised in question. "What?"
Vin slid the pillow from his face and raised his aching head long enough to seek out the tall man's eyes. "Shit, Bucklin. Just tell 'em how she just about dragged your tanned self down to the local lock-up."
"Just about being the operative phrase, here. That vision in blue took one look at my 'tanned self' with all its other tanned accessories and thought, 'Damn the torpedoes, it's full-speed ahead'. Hell, I think I stunned her."
"I think you've been watching too many movies."
"Geeze, Buck. You're lucky she didn't 'stun' you. Get a ticket?"
"Nope. After I explained to my future Saturday night date what these two adolescents did, she empathized immediately with my plight and offered me her full assistance in their apprehension."
"You just sounded like Ez," Nathan offered as he listened to the story for the third time.
"You lie," Buck good-naturedly expressed and smiled toward Ezra.
"You used the word 'plight'."
Ezra grinned. "I humbly offer a veritable cornucopia of wisdom and vocabulary, any of yours for the taking."
Buck stared at the man and chuckled. "How generous Ez. You slay me."
Vin raised his head once again, removing the pillow for clarity. "I'm gonna slay you all if y' don't hightail it outta my room."
"Your room? This here's my house, boy. Tanner, you are one grouchy SOB," Buck commented and shook his head. "For someone who tried to one-up me for most of the better part of three days, you'd think he'd act a little nicer."
"Nicer? You threw me an' JD into the woods stark nekkid, Buck."
"Ahhh, so that's how you got it all over your--"
"You can't say you didn't deserve some of it, y'now. Besides, I didn't know at the time that's what that was. Should've seen it boys. Behind the cabin lay a field of green, beautiful to behold, deadly to touch. Had no idea."
"I'm finding that hard to believe, Buck."
"Oh, c'mon, Vin. I told you I didn't know. It was dark, I couldn't see..."
"Yeah? Tell that to my fuckin' blistered --"
"Uh, yeah. That I do feel sorry for. But you gotta lighten up here. 'Member when Vin had chicken pox? He's acting just like that. You are, Vin," Buck said, quickly trying to change the subject of just where the worst of Vin's poison ivy seemed to be located. "You're acting just as nasty as you did when you had the pox."
"Yeah... you don't see me complainin' about my all over burn, now do you?"
"Hell, Bucklin. Least you got a date out of it."
"Well, you got..." Buck started, trying to think of some silver lining for Vin. "Well, you can--" Nothing came to mind.
Vin stared at the man then groaned and placed the pillow back over his head. He was feeling irritable... and miserable. And he wanted them all to leave him be so he could be miserable on his own, without the usual audience in attendance.
"Okay, boys. I think it's about time we let Vin try an' sleep. Sunburn and poison ivy make for a nasty combination, and I think it's obvious he's tired of company."
Vin peeked out from under the pillow and looked to Nathan, wondering if his words were leading to some sort of joke being played out at his expense. With surprise and just a small amount of remorse at their so readily doing what had been asked, he watched the others file their way out of the room. It was quiet again. They were all gone.
Vin recovered his head with the pillow, then rose up as he felt it being tossed away from him. He glared up to the blond man now leaning closely over him.
"What the hell y' want, Chris?" Vin asked of the man whose face was mere inches from his own. He was sure a lecture was coming at some point, but hoped it wouldn't be now. He was just too tired and itchy to deal.
"This," Chris said and bent down to cradle the shaggy head between his hands as he pressed his lips to those beneath him, his tongue seeking and gaining entrance into the warm mouth of his lover's.
After a deep, lingering and passionate kiss, they parted, each panting heavily as they relaxed onto the bed together.
"I ain't much to look on right now," Vin said softly as he tried not to rub his horribly aching skin.
"Seen you worse," Chris replied, trying hard not to press against Vin's bumpy and blistered flesh.
"That's the truth."
Chris handed Vin the bottle of lotion Nathan had just given him as he had walked from the room. "Got something that should ease the pain and misery. Rain sent along some meds, too. She said you should've told her right off, she'd have started you on this stuff right away."
"Been through somethin' like this before."
"I know," Chris smiled. "I was there, remember?"
"Can't hardly forget."
"Want to make a new memory?"
"Huh. I ain't 'xactly kissable at the moment, Larabee."
Chris grinned. "That a challenge?"
"I guess, Jim, should you choose to accept--"
"Well, since you aren't likely to self-destruct. I say..." Chris stated and moved to kiss the man again.
"You say what?" Vin murmured as he slid closer to the warm body next to his, allowing the man access to whatever and wherever he chose.
"I say, 'Damn the torpedoes, Tanner, it's full-speed ahead'".
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