Rolf and Ranger
"I've got to do the books at some point today, and I'd rather Matthew was in shouting distance while I did them, I may seriously need a tame accountant. They'll be fine- in this weather they'll swim all day."
"I know they much prefer that to fishing." Joe picked up the flask of coffee from the table and Stephen followed him out to the car. Eric was stacking the last few items in the trunk.
"Where are you headed this time?" Stephen asked, peering at the map laid out on the truck roof. Eric shut the trunk softly and picked up the map.
"Thought we'd try this stretch for a change. Its about twenty miles out, we should be back around mid afternoon."
Rolf emerged from the cabin, shutting the door quietly behind him.
"All four still dead asleep. Hope they give you a quiet day."
"They'll be fine."
"Can you remind Chris to take his antibiotics?" Joe added, half way into the truck. "And to rest around . I know it'll take chains to keep him out of the water but he shouldn't get himself too tired."
"I'll remind him. Have fun." Stephen waved as the truck started up and watched it pull out of sight down the track that led from the cabin.
He turned and headed back into the cabin, chilled from the early morning temperature. He settled on the couch and finished the warm mug, savoring the quiet of the cabin. As the sun began to creep over the horizon, he heard the birds waking up and dozed off, deciding he'd cook breakfast as soon as the house began to stir.
It was two hours later, close to eight, that Todd came downstairs. He sat down on the couch and curled up to Stephen.
"Morning Sunshine," Stephen said without opening his eyes.
"Morning. How long you been down here?"
"The guys left a little after four."
"Why didn't you come back to bed?"
"I wasn't sure I was going back to sleep. Sometimes after a cup of coffee I'm up for the day."
"Guess it wasn't strong enough," Todd said.
"No, I suppose not. Want to help me with breakfast?"
"Sure," Todd said, standing up slowly. "Bacon and eggs?"
"The usual," Stephen said as he stood up as well. "If you'll get the bacon going, I'll see if I can't whip up some omletts."
"MMmmmmm. Ham, peppers and cheese in mine, please."
"What about the rest of the gang?"
"Matthew wouldn't appreciate an omlette. Too much work for him, picking everything apart -"
"And thats a problem becaussssseeeeee.........?" Matthew asked sleepily as he pulled out a chair at the table.
"Good morning," Stephen said, turning around.
"Because you miss the finer eating done by the rest of us," Todd said as he put the bacon on the large griddle.
"I like my food the way it was MEANT to be. Simple."
"Simple is -"
"Simple is FINE," Stephen said pointedly, not wanting an argument to erupt first thing. "Why don't you go wake up Chris and Michael and I'll make all the omlettes to order?"
"Okay," Matthew said, heading upstairs. He went into Michael's room, and just the door opening woke him up. "Come on downstairs for breakfast."
"S'okay," Michael mumbled from under the covers.
Matthew then headed into Chris' room, finding him still sound asleep. When he saw that Chris's hand was dangling from the edge of the bed, his eyes lit up and his grin turned wicked. He walked back out quietly, finding Michael sitting up.
"Chris has his hand over the edge of the bed. Want to play some water games?"
Michael's look of confusion turned wicked also as he realized what Matthew wanted to do. He stood up and followed Matthew into the bathroom, filling a cup with warm water. They tiptoed back into the bedroom where Chris was still snoring, and manuevered the water up until Chris's fingers were resting in the warm water. It was everything Michael and Matthew could do to sit there without a sound.
A moment later, Chris's eyes opened in panic and he flew out of bed and headed straight for the bathroom, a little wet already.
Matthew and Michael fell back on the floor, dropping the cup of water as Chris breezed past them. They both had tears in their eyes when Chris came back into the room, naked from the waist down.
"Very funny you assholes," Chris said as he angrily grabbed a pair of sweats and pulled them on, slamming the door on the way out. He met Steve at the bottom of the stairs.
"What's all the commotion?" Steve asked.
"Nothing," Chris said forcefully, breezing past Stephen and heading for the kitchen.
Steve could still hear the guys laughing, and headed upstairs to investigate. Something had upset Chris, that much was obvious. He found Michael and Matthew still on the floor of Chris's room, and neither were hugely subdued at the sight of him. Stephen folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe, waiting for a steady look to pierce through the giggling.
"I thought rooms were private places?"
"You asked me to wake him up!" Matthew said sweetly. Stephen transferred his gaze over.
"And how did you do that?"
"Gently." Michael said, exploding into more giggles.
"Up." Stephen said shortly, starting to lose patience. "What upset Chris?"
Michael and Matthew clambered to their feet, still looking bewildered.
"I don't know, maybe he had a bad dream?"
"You two had better not have caused it." Stephen said sternly. "Get dressed, the pair of you."
He got two polite but not at all subdued "Yes sir"s, and the giggling resumed behind him as he went back downstairs, making Stephen hesitate, half inclined to go back and remonstrate further. Then he decided it was better to ignore it, and continued downstairs. Todd was sweetnatured enough that a look and a certain tone was usually enough to settle him down- Michael and Matthew were slightly harder nuts to crack. Some prank had obviously been played, but if neither they nor Chris wanted to talk about it, there was no point in getting into battle with them this early in the morning. Chris was talking to Todd at the table, and from the looks of things, calming down. Stephen pulled out the frying pan and bacon.
"Chris, Joe said to remind you about your antibiotics."
"I'll take them after breakfast."
"Take them with breakfast, that way they won't be forgotten. Todd, watch the bacon please?"
Todd got up from the table and went to the pan, turning the bacon over. Chris got out a glass and poured a healthy amount of orange juice into his glass and sat back down at the table. He pointedly ignored Matthew and Michael when they came downstairs. Stephen glanced around and gave him a smile.
"What would you like in your omlette Michael? I have onions, peppers, cheese and ham."
"Ham and cheese, thanks." Michael said.
"I'll skip the eggs," Matthew tried.
"One plain omlette for Matthew. And Chris, what for you?" Stephen asked as he started the first omlette.
"I'll try it all. I'm not picky like some people," he finished, looking at Matthew.
Matthew started to retort, "at least I don't piss myself," but before he could get it all out he had to duck a spoon that sailed over his head and landed against the refrigerator.
"Oi." Stephen said sharply. "Christopher, that corner now, Matthew that one there.
He got two identical pouts, but Matthew moved slowly towards the appointed corner, flushing.
"He's such a -" Chris started. Stephen clicked his fingers, still pointing at the corner. The pout grew more pronounced but Chris moved.
"Michael, set the table please." Stephen said firmly once two backs were turned to the kitchen, going back to the omlettes and Todd who had his head ducked over the bacon. "What about you sweetheart? Plain cheese?"
The nod he got was subdued: Todd never liked being caught in the middle of any disagreement. Stephen put an arm around his waist and gave him a quick hug, tipping the first omlette out.
"Give that to Michael."
He knocked up the omlettes quickly and plated them up, settling Michael and Todd down to eat before he sat down and called to the other two.
"Matthew, Christopher, sit down and eat. And I don't want to hear a word
from either of you."
Neither face was happy, but he had the requested silence. Stephen, with his experience and contacts, was no mean chef and his breakfasts were always appreciated: even Matthew ate well. Once they were finished, Stephen stacked the plates and nodded to Todd.
"Get your things together and go down to the lake, stay out of the water until I get there."
Todd hesitated, looking at the now embarrassed faces of the others, but was happy to get out of the situation. Stephen waited until the door shut behind him before he sat back, folding his arms.
"Allright. Matthew, explain to me exactly what happened between the three of you this morning. And I don't want any more giggling or snide comments, or you can all waste the sunshine this morning standing in corners until you
Matthew flushed still more, but managed to answer quietly. "Chris was still asleep, with his hand stuck out. We sort of dipped it in hot water."
Chris flushed pink as well.
"Do you THINK that was a kind thing to do?" Stephen asked, knowing what the result would have been.
"It was a JOKE!" Matthew tried valiantly to reduce the shame he felt.
"DO you think that was a kind thing to do?" Stephen asked again.
Matthew stuttered, but finally got out "No, sir."
"Do you think it was funny?" Stephen asked as he turned towards Michael.
"No, sir," Michael answered quickly.
"And do you think it was a smart thing to throw cutlery across the kitchen?" Stephen asked Chris.
"No, sir," Chris said, not looking at anyone.
"Then I think each of you owes an apology to the other?" Stephen said meaningfully.
Everyone managed to mumble the required apologies.
"The lot of you can sit on the dock for fifteen minutes to think about better behavior the rest of the day. Go get changed."
All three moved with alacrity, thankful it was Stephen and not Rolf or Joe who most likely would not have ended the matter with fifteen minutes sitting in the sunshine. Stephen waited at the door until all three made it downstairs in shorts and very little else, carrying towels, books any whatever else looked good to do on the lakeside all day, then followed them down to the lake. Todd was sitting on the end of the dock, feet dangling out over the water while he waited. At the sight of Stephen he slipped over the edge into the water and swam strongly out towards the island. Stephen took his seat at the edge of the dock and nodded to the other three.
"One on that side, one on the other and one on the bench. Go on."
The three silently moved to the nearest point and settled, alone and in the case of Chris, still scowling, but the sun was infectious- by the time Stephen glanced at his watch and called to them, they were more than ready to swim and the quarrel was forgotten. Stephen watched the three of them dive off the end of the dock and settled down to watch, always happier keeping his eyes on the water when all four were swimming together.
There was a lot of good natured horseplay going on between all four young men, before they decided to swim out to the small island. Once there, they spent the time searching for shells or just wandering around between the trees and rocks. They'd only been outside for an hour and a half when clouds started to cover the sun.
Stephen looked up when the sun disappeared from view. The wind had picked up a bit, making him suddenly wary. They were near enough the mountains here that the weather could change quickly and storms could come out of nowhere, and he had more than just his own brat to hold responsibility for. Making a quick decision, he got to his feet and grabbed up the scattered towels and books around him. "Hey guys! Swim back over here, please!" He yelled across the quiet inlet.
"It's not raining!" Todd yelled back a couple minutes later.
"Swim back now, if you want to keep swimming!" Steve yelled sternly, feeling a little better as he saw all four slowly get in the water and head his way. When the guys were halfway across the water, a gentle rumbling of thunder could be heard. Stephen headed down to the water's edge, trying to keep his anxiety out of his face and voice. He was well aware from the pace of the swimming picking up that he wasn't the only one worried about lightening.
Michael reached him first and he wrapped a towel round him, thankful to have any of them out of the water. Matthew and Todd made it into the shallows a moment later and Stephen waded out towards Chris, trying to sound encouraging rather than nervous.
"Come on Chris, not much further. Stand up, you should be able to wade from there."
Chris found his feet and walked through the water, starting to cough as he reached Stephen. Stephen put an arm around him and helped him onto the beach just as the first drops of rain fell. The other boys had picked up their belongings and Matthew and Michael set off for the cabin at a jog, carrying the majority of the goods. Todd waited for Stephen, half an eye nervously on the sky.
"This is going to be a storm."
"Only a mild one, it wasn't forecast." Stephen took the last towel, wrapping it around Chris, and steered both young men ahead of him up the hill.
He hurried them both up to the cabin, getting the door shut just as the heavens opened behind them. Matthew, glued to the window, saw the first bolt of lightening with a whistle. Stephen snapped the electric light on.
"Come away from the windows. Michael, can you check everything's shut upstairs? You lot get dry and changed while we still have power."
Matthew stepped away from the window and headed upstairs for dry clothes. Once in them, he gravitated straight to the window upstairs, watching as the rain bucketed down, the small rivers start to accumulate in the gravel drive, the path turning into a creek itself. He finally broke away and headed downstairs when he heard his name called.
"What?" he said, hopping down the stairs.
"I asked if you'd bring Chris's pills down, he needs another dose," Stephen said.
"Sorry, didn't hear," Matthew said as he plopped down into the nearest chair.
"Could you go back upstairs and get them?" Stephen asked pointedly.
Matthew squirmed in his chair, pulling a face. "Whhhhhyy? What's wrong with HIS legs, they're HIS pills."
"Because I asked you to." Stephen said firmly. "Now please."
Matthew flung himself out of his chair and headed upstairs, slowly and loudly, muttering quite audibly under his breath.
"What AM I? The slave of the bloody lamp?"
Stephen deliberately turned his back on the provocation and went on drying Chris's hair. He'd stopped coughing and more or less had his breath back but Stephen was starting to wonder about the wisdom of him having gone swimming at all. Todd reappeared from the kitchen with dry sweats and Stephen helped Chris into them, giving another quick look out of the window at the growingstorm.
"Todd, make some tea sweetheart, before the electrics go out. And see what you and the others want for lunch."
Matthew returned downstairs in the manner of a baby elephant in a bad mood and thrust the pills at Stephen.
"Thankyou." Stephen said, reading the label. "A glass of water might be helpful too."
Matthew turned to stomp off, then thought better of it. He grabbed a glass, and before Stephen knew what had happened, Matthew was on the porch, holding the glass out in the rain.
Wondering how Rolf coped with Matthew's mercurial temperament without a strait jacket, Stephen walked quickly over to the door.
"You wanted -"
Matthew took one last look out at the rain, then unwillingly came back into the house. Stephen shut the door firmly behind him and steered Matthew into the kitchen, away from the fascinated eyes of the others. Once there, Matthew's pout was well in place and he looked more than ready to justify the glass of rainwater in his hand.
"It's lightening out there. What on earth was that about?" Stephen said, crossing his arms and propping himself against the table.
Matthew handed him the glass. "You were the one who wanted water!"
"WHAT would Rolf have to say about being spoken too in such a manner?"
At the mention of Rolf's name, Matthew settled some, but the green eyes were anything but placid although the voice was sweet.
"I don't know, I haven't tried it."
That was far enough. Stephen turned Matthew around and swatted him, hard.
"Upstairs and to your room young man, right now. I'll be up to discuss your manners with you when you've had time to think a little.
Matthew moved. Although not with any hurry. Stephen shook his head, itching to slap him, and instead turned his back, taking no notice until he knew Matthew was out of sight and earshot. The three brats in the living room looked distinctly twitchy. Stephen handed Chris the illicit glass of water and watched him gulp his pills, then pulled the blanket from the back of the couch and shook it out.
"Lie down and stretch out for a while. This rain looks here to stay for an hour or two. We'll bring you some lunch here."
Chris didn't argue, curling up and coughing again as he changed position. Stephen discreetly ran a hand over his forehead and winced. Hopefully this was just a flare up of the chill Chris had had in the first place, but if he didn't improve soon, Joe was going to need to know about it, and they were going to need to know where the nearest doctor and pharmacy was. A bedroom door upstairs shut with something close to a slam, indicating Matthew's ongoing displeasure. Stephen ignored it and headed for the kitchen, determinedly sounding cheerful.
"What do you want for lunch guys?"
Michael and Todd trailed him, watching him unpack the food cabinet. Since there was only a small fridge out here, they pretty much lived on day to day shopping- hopefully tonight's dinner would be fish. Stephen, looking for something likely to hold the interest of his brats, came up with nothing more thrilling than a can of soup and some tuna.
"Looks like it's tuna sandwiches, I think we should probably feed the soup to Chris. Todd, ask him if he likes tomato?"
Todd peered out into the living room.
"In which case we'll leave him in peace." Stephen decided. "Ok, tuna sandwiches."
"Do you have pickles? I like pickles in my tuna," Michael said, sitting down at the table and starting to work on the bag of potato chips.
"Pickles? In tuna? YUCK," Todd said, settling down at the table as well.
Stephen looked into the fridge. "We have pickles, but you can put those on top of your sandwhich, Michael."
"But that doesn't TASTE right. They're...not covered in mayo."
"It'll have to do, because I don't think I could stomach pickles in my tuna either. And Mr. Fussbudget upstairs probably would agree," Stephen said, opening the can of tuna and dumping it into a bowl.
Michael thought about telling Stephen that Matthew would hate tuna.....but decided that it would provide far more entertainment coming directly from Matthew. Besides which, Stephen looked in no mood for further provocation.
Stephen quickly made up the tuna, put that and the bread on the table, before going in to check again on Chris. The blanket had slipped a little over him but he was still fast asleep, breathing somewhat heavily. Stephen pulled the blanket straight and paused to look at the window, still streaming with rain. The trees in sight of the cabin were lashing around in the gale and the sky was an unpleasant shade of yellowy grey. Trying not to think of the other three still outside with their fishing rods, Steve came back into the kitchen and sat down to eat with Todd and Michael.
"Want me to take that plate upstairs?" Todd offered, eyeing the extra plate Stephen had prepared. Stephen shook his head.
"I want a word with Mr Mocoso in a while, I'll take it up then. What are you two going to do this afternoon? Did you bring any cards?"
"I think there's a pack in the bookcase?" Michael offered.
"Then I'll get them in a minute." Stephen said before he could get up. "I want Chris to sleep as long as he can."
"I want my book." Todd added, "That's on your side of the bed upstairs."
"Ok. I don't know how long the storm will last, but I think you may as well settle in for the afternoon."
"Do you think Eric and the others will be okay?" Michael said a little anxiously, looking at the window again. "They're out in the middle of nowhere...."
"They're probably in the nearest cafe, drinking coffee and waiting it out." Stephen said easily. "They'll have seen this coming long before we did, they're further north. Don't you worry."
"Can I get the biscuits out of the cupboard?" Todd asked when the sandwiches were finished. Stephen searched the cupboard and tossed them across to him.
"There. Knock yourself out. Just stay in here the pair of you and keep quiet, I'll see if I can find you those cards."
Chris stirred as he walked across the sitting room, turned over and coughed uncomfortably.
"It's me sweetie." Stephen paused beside him and sat down, checking his forehead again. "Do you want to eat?"
Chris shook his head, curling up again. Stephen smoothed his hair back off his forehead, watching him drop rapidly back to sleep. Then he pulled out his cell phone and moved as close to the doorway as possible, checking for a signal. His phone dialled out without difficulty- but Eric, the only one of the three who had taken his phone- wasn't answering: the only reply was to say his cell phone was not responding. Stephen cast another anxious glance at Chris, found the cards and took them back to Todd and Mike, seeing them settled at the table before he took the plate of sandwiches and headed upstairs to deal with his rebel.
Matthew was at the window, watching the storm. He wasn't afraid of Stephen, but he wasn't happy about being upstairs when everyone else was downstairs. He didn't hear the tread on the stairs due to the wind and rain, and jumped when a knock sounded on the door. He debated not answering, then said "come in," without turning from the window.
Stephen opened the door and had to fight the urge to scream. "Matthew, get away from the window," he said firmly, putting the plate of sandwiches down on the table next to the bed.
"I don't -"
"SIT DOWN," Stephen said, pointing at the bed.
Matthew took one last look outside before moving over and sitting on the bed. He looked up expectantly.
"Matthew, you're really trying my patience here," Stephen said. "Lightening is dangerous stuff, and you need to stay out of it, and away from the windows."
"Okay," Matthew said sweetly.
"It doesn't matter to me whether you stay up here in your room for the rest of the day or not, but I'm NOT putting up with this attitude of yours. Your lunch is on the table. When you're ready to apologize and behave yourself, you can come down and join the rest of us. Otherwise, stay in here and away from that window." Stephen turned and went out, closing the door behind him.
Matthew flopped back on the bed. He wasn't about to apologize. Nor was he about to stay away from the window when there was a seriously GOOD storm to watch outside. Half interested, he stretched out a hand and lifted the top of the sandwich. And winced, utterly disgusted. Tuna. Of all the things to put in a sandwich..... no normal person ate tuna. He cast a quick look around for somewhere to get rid of it, both presence and smell, and opened the door.
Stephen halted, half way down the stairs.
"Ready to apologize?"
Matthew shrugged, plate in his hand. "I'm sorry Chris is such an ass?"
Stephen didn't answer. Just pointed back at the bedroom. Matthew let the door swing shut with a bang. The next available dumping ground was the sink..... turning the tap on, Matthew experimentally held a chunk of sandwich under the running water and encouraged it to disintegrate. It flowed happily down the drain. Sitting on the windowsill, Matthew picked up the rest of the sandwich, turned the tap on full and began with careful concentration, to feed it down the plughole.
Chris was still dead asleep downstairs. Todd and Michael were still playing cards at the table, but Michael looked up, less than happy as Stephen came back in.
"Steeeeeve- I'm freezing, can I get a sweater or something from upstairs?"
Stephen ran a hand over Michael's shoulders and winced.
"That shirt's drenched."
"I was wet through when I got dressed." Michael stifled a shiver. Stephen cast another quick glance at Chris and held out a hand.
"Come on. Quietly upstairs and get yourself a shower, put something dry on."
He saw Michael up the stairs, waited until the bathroom door shut and all was peaceful upstairs again before he went down. Todd had his chin on his arms, eyes on the dripping window. Stephen handed him a tea towel and began to wash up, waiting until with a sigh, Todd got up and came to help him.
"This is SO boring."
"It's only a storm, it'll blow out." Stephen said confidently, hoping he was right.
"What if the others don't get back tonight?" Todd said a little anxiously, glancing at him.
"You'll be the only one who's warm in bed. Or else we'll end up with the other three climbing in with us." Stephen handed him another dish- and they both jumped at the yell from upstairs. Todd backed up hurriedly, glancing upwards, and Stephen followed his gaze. Water was running through the boards of the ceiling in a steady trickle. And Michael sounded far from happy.
"STAY." Stephen said to Todd and fled. Chris was struggling upright on the sofa, confused and querulous. Stephen sprinted past him and took the steps two at a time. Michael was stark naked on the landing and the shower was flooding water back from the tray in bucketloads.
"Get some clothes on! Steve said as he sprinted past Michael.
Matthew opened the door, wondering what the racket was.
"Close that door,
Matthew slammed it closed just as Michael walked past.
"You didn't have to do that in my face!" Michael yelled from the hallway.
"You didn't have to put your face near my door!" Matthew said from the other side.
Steve managed to get into the bathroom and turn the water off on the shower, cursing soundly under his breath. He grabbed the nearest two towels and flung them down to stop some of the water from traveling downstairs. Then he took two steps out of the bathroom into the hall.
"Michael go and dress.
"Did you see-" He dove for his room when Stephen advanced towards him.
Matthew was standing right next to the door, listening to the commotion.
Chris was hot from being under the quilt, and kicked that off, confused with sleep and his climbing temperature and the commotion upstairs. Barely getting his eyes open, he staggered to his feet and headed for the front door, thinking only of finding some cooler air. The door slipped out of his hand and slammed hard against the inside wall from a strong gust of wind. Chris jumped back in shock, tripping over the corner of the rug and falling hard to the floor.
"WHAT was that?" Stephen demanded from the top of the stairs, pausing, hot, bothered, wet and in no mood to deal with any further crisis.
"Chris!" Todd yelled, sprinting from the kitchen. The front door slammed again, and this time glass crashed with it. Stephen ran his hand through his hair and headed for the stairs, shouting over his shoulder.
"Michael, get some towels on this water!"
"I'm DRESSING, you said get DRESSED!"
"WATER." Stephen ran the last few stairs, catching sight of Chris sprawled on the floor with Todd leaning over him, and broken glass spread far and wide.
"He's okay, he just-" Todd began and got pushed out of the way as Stephen dragged the front door shut and bolted it.
"WHO opened the door? Todd get away from the glass, go into the kitchen and shut the door."
"I didn't-" Todd began, hating Stephen's tone and the look on his face.
"I didn't DO anything." Michael said hotly, "I just turned the shower on and-"
"There's something stuck in the drainage pipe." Stephen said reassuringly, trying to find a calm tone. "All we have to do is put a wire down and clear it, it'll be fine. Matthew!"
"What?" Matthew inquired from behind his closed door. The tone grated on Stephen's last nerve.
"Get some towels, come out here and help clear this up please."
"You said to stay in my room."
Chris, damp, bewildered and still stunned from the fall, started to cough again.
"Matthew!" Stephen said again, louder, putting an arm around Chris.
Matthew decided the grass was greener on the other side of the door. He opened it and looked at the water in the hallway, Michael on his hands and knees mopping with the towels.
"Did someone forget to put the shower curtain INSIDE the tub?" he asked innocently.
"Oh, Shut UP," Michael said.
Stephen was just about to say something when the hallway was lit with an eerie light, followed by the instantaneous clap of thunder as a tree branch on the edge of the property was struck by lightening.
Todd had been looking out the kitchen window in the general direction of the tree when the lightening struck, and screamed.
Stephen rolled his eyes, gave another hug to Chris, checking to make sure Matthew and Michael weren't too freaked, and headed downstairs.
Matthew quickly took off down the hall to look out the nearest window. He was scanning the area when he felt a wet, stinging sensation and yelped.
"You ASSHOLE!" Matthew yelled, going after Michael who had just snapped a towel on his backside. He scooped up another one and the two circled in the hallway, snapping towels at each other. Chris, cheering up, moved as far back out of the way as he could on the chest and began a play by play of the action.
Todd was in tears in the kitchen. Stephen leaned over the sink for a minute, seeing the tree that had been hit. It was smouldering but there was no fire. He pulled Todd to him and hugged him, making his voice as matter of fact and unstressed as was possible.
"Stop that, it's just a strike of lightening, nothing's on fire, it's all fine. Finish the washing up for me and stay down here, the pipes have backed up upstairs, it's awash."
"You yelled at me." Todd said unsteadily, clinging. Stephen sighed and tightened his arms, leaning his head against his partner's for a moment.
"I didn't yell at you love. I DID snap at you, and I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault and you didn't do anything wrong. You were just very close to a lot of broken glass and a swinging door, and I don't like seeing you at any kind of risk.
Todd managed a faint smile at that, somewhat reassured. "Is Chris ok?"
"Yes, I think so. We just need to get the landing dried and everyone else dried, so you're better staying right here. At least then I've got one person dry and warm. And stay out of the sitting room, I don't want you getting cut. Allright?"
Todd nodded, pulling his head of Stephen's neck with an effort. Stephen took him at his word, picked up a couple of mops from the cupboard and headed back upstairs.
He heard the sounds of the towel fight from the foot of the stairs, and quickened his pace, swearing under his breath. Chris, coughing and breathless, was now standing on the chest and watching with serious enjoyment. Matthew and Michael had moved from open aggression to active playing: the towel snaps were a lot more accurate and a lot better dodged. They were however using very wet towels, and both boys were drenched to the skin. As now was everything on the landing.
Too annoyed to speak, Stephen yanked the towel out of Matthew's hand, turned him around and swatted him soundly. Michael, ducking hurriedly out of reach, surrendered the towel without question and Stephen jerked him over to receive his share of the swatting.
"I'm still cold too!" Michael objected. Stephen pushed a mop into his hands.
"And you're already wet. Clean up."
"In fact, you're a drip." Matthew murmured, taking the other mop. Michael shoved the end of his mop into Matthew's and the two tussled briefly until Stephen's bark made them both jump.
Rolling his eyes at Michael, Matthew mopped. Ten minutes later, the landing was damp but no longer dripping. Stephen chased both boys into their rooms to put dry clothes on and found a wire coathanger in his room. He then began to trace the pipes from the bathroom towards the outside drainage exit. The only other room with a sink was Matthew and Rolf's, and Matthew was half waythrough dressing when Stephen appeared and tried the wire down the sink trap.
"Matthew, you have nothing I haven't seen before." Stephen said irritably, poking about with the wire. Matthew came to look, peering with interest at the plughole.
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for a -"
The pipe coughed. A yellow/brown, sticky mess boiled slowly back up the plughole. Stephen winced and poked harder at the pipe.
"That," Matthew said with feeling, "Is DISGUSTING."
Stephen poked a little harder, peering at the result. Then turned to Matthew, voice very soft.
"TELL me you didn't put your sandwich down the sink?"
"Tuna belongs in the sea. I was just helping it be free," Matthew said as he backed away, the look of the sink assuring that he would never eat tuna again. Matthew looked up at Stephen's face at the sound of heavy breathing. He'd never seen his face look so red. He kept backing up, falling down on the bed when he backed into it.
Stephen growled out "Stay," then turned back to the sink to work more on the tuna clog. The bang downstairs shook the house. He looked up and out the window, finally cursing aloud and clearly when he spied Todd in the yard, in the pouring rain. He left the wire in the sink and headed downstairs, snapping his fingers at Michael and Chris before they could follow him into the glass scattered sitting room.
"NO, go BACK upstairs both of you! Matthew, I did NOT tell you you could leave your room!"
He had no more time to see whether they obeyed him. The back door was open and the wind was still strong outside. Stephen shut it behind him with
difficulty, raising his voice to a flat roar.
There was no response. As worried now as he was angry, Stephen headed at a fast pace for the lake, scanning as best he could through the rain.
"What was Stephen so mad about?" Michael inquired, stepping gingerly over the glass. The living room was freezing from the wind and rain pouring through the shattered window. Matthew followed him, peering out of the
"I don't know- where did Todd go? He's mental, it's pouring out there. Shut UP Chris..."
"I can't help it." Chris said, coughing again. "I feel awful."
"I'm STILL cold," Michael agreed, "If some TWIT hadn't screwed up the shower-"
Matthew dug him in the ribs. Michael pushed back, knocking Chris who collapsed on the couch, curling up away from the two of them, still coughing. Matthew grabbed Michael in a headlock, stumbling on the glass- and they both froze at the bang of the front door.
Eric, Rolf and Joseph looked more than slightly surprised.
There was a moment while three stared at three, like rabbits in the headlights of a car, then Chris began to cough again and Joseph dropped his coat, heading rapidly for him.
Matthew and Michael hastily let each other go and stepped apart, crunching on the shattered glass.
"Where's Stephen?" Rolf demanded, getting his breath back. "You two are right in the way of that window, go into the kitchen."
"He's looking for Todd I think-" Michael offered tentatively.
"Did he break the door?" Eric asked as he followed the other three into the kitchen, leaving Joseph fussing over Chris on the couch.
"It was actually Chris," Michael answered slowly.
"What?" Joseph asked from the living room.
"Eric? Help me with some tape and a plastic bag. You two stay put," Rolf said, grabbing a trashbag from under the sink and a roll of tape from the kitchen drawer. He and Eric made quick work of window, stopping the cold air from entering. Once that was done, they swept up the glass from the floor and tossed that in the trash.
Chris was lying in Joseph's arms, getting comforted as he dodged questions about the day.
Michael and Matthew were doing some fast talking between them as to what had happened. Just as Eric and Rolf were headed back to the kitchen, the back door opened and two dripping men walked in, one furious, one in a serious pout. Eric looked from one to the other of them, took in Stephen's expression and very sensibly shut his mouth, putting the kettle on. Stephen steered Todd ahead of him with a firm and very well placed swat.
"CHANGE. You lot must have gone through every dry article of clothing you own this weekend!"
"Can I help at all Steve?" Rolf said quietly, raising his eyebrows at Matthew. Stephen turned a flat glare at Matthew.
"Try looking at what's bubbling up out of your sink."
Stephen followed Todd upstairs, face still like thunder. Rolf folded his arms and looked at Matthew with interest.
"What IS bubbling up out of our sink, Matthew?"
"The- uh- the pipes backed up." Matthew said, indicating the still damp ceiling. "Mike went to have a shower and the water came down through the ceiling-"
"You weren't even there." Michael objected, "It just came back out of the
"Why weren't you there?" Rolf put in. Matthew flushed.
"I was in our room."
Matthew flushed more darkly. "Stephen told me to stay up there."
The sound of Chris coughing again drew Eric to the doorway of the sitting room. Joe was in the process of gathering Chris into his arms, picked him up and headed for the stairs, glancing back over his shoulder. "I'll be down in a minute."
"So why did Stephen tell you to stay in your room?" Rolf inquired, sticking to the point. Matthew shrugged a little, eyes on the floor.
"I sort of had an argument with Chris."
"Sort of? You either did or you didn't, now which is it?" Rolf asked sternly.
Matthew was feeling smaller by the second. "I did have an argument with Chris," Matthew said quietly, before adding on, "sir."
Todd, Stephen and Joe picked that particular moment to walk into the kitchen. Stephen guided Todd to the table, where Todd quickly took a seat, never looking up from the tabletop.
Rolf looked again at Stephen, who was still pretty upset.
"I'm starting to be afraid you've been given a lot of trouble today."
"Matthew and I have had an ongoing discussion about manners." Stephen said grimly. "We didn't manage to reach a conclusion before the shower trap overflowed, and I was removing THAT obstruction when Chris opened the front door and the window smashed."
"The landing is drenched, everything in sight is damp." Joe added. "Even the walls."
Michael and Matthew, surrounded by four tops, none of whom looked at all amused, were doing their best to become invisible. Todd, who'd been in the kitchen all afternoon and at least was fairly innocent, looked up with interest.
"The walls? The water came through the ceiling here-"
"Someone had a towel fight." Stephen said ironically. "WITH soaking wet towels, in the middle of the flood. While I was out of sight for two minutes, having left what I THOUGHT were two grown men with some understanding of the situation, cleaning up."
Rolf raised his eyebrows at Matthew who went still redder.
"I started that." Michael said heroically, aware that Matthew at this point really didn't need to be in any deeper.
"Then," Stephen said, still looking at Matthew, "I tried clearing the pipes. Which someone had fed a tuna sandwich."
"I don't like tuna." Matthew mumbled, not looking up.
"The explanation I was given," Stephen went on, "Is that tuna likes to swim free and he was repatriating it."
Ok, the funeral march started here. Stephen might possibly have accepted that as innocence: Rolf, Matthew knew, would regard that as sheer and blatant cheek.
There was a moment's silence, then Rolf said in freezing tones,
"Matthew, what exactly does a discussion about manners constitute?"
Matthew couldn't get any redder. Not with four older men all looking to him for answers to questions Matthew didn't want to admit to. He felt like..... Hamlet. Sick to his stomach from poison, standing bravely before Laertes, ready for the final sword slash to leave him bleeding on the floor. He finally found his voice around a dry throat when Rolf prompted him further.
"I'm sor.....sorry?" Matthew tried.
"If you'll excuse us gentlemen, I'd like to have a further word with my partner...upstairs," Rolf said, dropping his hand on Matthew's shoulder.
Matthew kept swallowing, trying to make sure his stomach didn't jump out of his throat as he stood up unsteadily and preceded Rolf up the stairs.
Michael and Todd were about to take a deep, soothing breath when Eric spoke.
"And you, Michael, you decided that instead of cleaning up the water quickly to minimize damage, to grab a wet towel to inflict pain upon Matthew and thereby soaking every other area of the house that hadn't yet been dampened?"
"Well.." Michael said, swallowing and thinking about it. "We were just messing around, the towels weren't THAT wet-"
Eric looked at him, eyebrows raised. Joseph waited until Michael was seriously trying to melt through the floor, then straightened up.
"I believe I'd like to see if Chris has anything to add to this fascinating tale."
"He took the mid day antibiotics." Stephen said, glancing at the clock. Joe nodded and took the box out of the cupboard.
"I'm amazed you had the time or energy left to remember. Thanks Stephen."
He left and Eric held out a hand to Michael, clicking his fingers. Michael silently got to his feet and trailed Eric out into the living room, letting the door shut behind them. Stephen surveyed Todd over his steepled hands for another long minute, then held out his arms.
"Come here horror."
Todd didn't move for a minute, somewhat wary of his welcome, then slunk around the table and buried himself in Stephen's lap. Stephen hugged him, collapsing back in his chair with a heavy sigh.
"YOU were totally blameless until your vanishing act out into the storm."
"I explained." Todd muffled into his neck.
"Just because everyone else is behaving like they ought to be in an asylum you do NOT need to get in on the act." Stephen said sternly. Todd didn't move, face still buried.
"I DID stay in the kitchen....but you were shouting and doors were slamming upstairs and no one would tell me what was going on...."
Stephen kissed his hair roughly. "Brat."
"And all I did was open the door for some air because I was hot, and it flew out of my hands and against the wall and the glass smashed," Chris said, coughing slightly after he finished.
Joseph felt Chris's forehead, somewhat warm. He stood up and went down the hall to the bathroom, finding the thermometer and sterilizing it before bringing it back into their room and shutting the door. "Open," he said, sliding it gently beneath Chris's tongue. When the required time had passed, he removed it and grimaced.
"You've got a slight fever. It's probably just too much activity today that's gotten it spiked, but I think we should head back home this evening."
"Noooooooo, I don't want to go hooooome," Chris moaned, curling up more under the blanket.
"Aside from not doing as I asked and trying to take it easy, you contributed to the general melee here and I'm not too happy with that. I want you to rest for now, and we'll head back home in a couple of hours," Joseph said as he picked up a book from the nightstand and settled down on the bed, pulling Chris up close to him, brushing the hair out of his eyes. He started to read, both to calm and settle Chris as well as keep them both occupied as the other three couples settled their differences.
"You did WHAT with the cup?" Rolf demanded, sounding less amused by the minute. Matthew by now was sitting on his hands on the edge of the bed, the colour of beetroot and wishing Rolf would just cut to the assassination and spare him the torture.
"Took it outside-"
Matthew jumped, wincing. This was another fact he would prefer to keep
"You DARED to flout Stephen like that?" Rolf demanded, still louder. Matthew looked at the floor, the tone involuntarily bringing tears to his eyes.
"WOULD you have tried that kind of smart alecking on me?"
"No sir." Matthew said quickly, trying to keep his voice steady.
"Then WHY did you think it would be appropriate behaviour with Stephen?! IF you were asked in a perfectly civil way to do something, what do I expect you to do?"
"Do it." Matthew said, still more softly, eyes on the floor.
"I most certainly do NOT expect to come home and find you've spent the day being as rude and difficult as you know how! What on earth possessed you to stuff the sandwich down the drain!" "I hate tuna..." Rolf's voice reached a soaring E flat that made the walls shake.
"MATTHEW CHRISTOPHER MOCOSO DO YOU FEED SANDWICHES DOWN DRAINS!"
As Matthew tried to melt onto the bed, he answered quickly "No, sir."
"Then WHY did you do it?"
Matthew's shrug only got his chin turned up into the icy gaze. "WHY?"
"I couldn't leave the room and......"
Matthew swallowed hard. "Because I was mad at Stephen," he said quietly, dropping his eyes down though his head was still tilted back.
"You should be ashamed, young man. VERY ashamed. I am." Rolf let that sink in, letting go of Matthew's chin.
Matthew ducked his head, the tears stinging his eyes. He could hear Rolf moving in the room but didn't even want to risk a peek to see what he was doing. He heard a chair scraping on the wood floor and his stomach tumbled, then threatened to tie itself in a knot when he heard Rolf.
Matthew wanted nothing more than to curl up under the covers away from the rest of the world, but he was going to be denied that until Rolf was satisified he'd learned his lesson. He stood up on unsteady legs and walked over to Rolf, lip out and trembling, eyes wide. He thought about the rest of the people in the house, and what bits and pieces they'd get to hear. He got to Rolf and stood there, shaking, as Rolf unbuttoned his shorts and pulled them down, his underwear joining the shorts quickly. Before he had time to get upset, Rolf turned him over his knees, wrapping one arm across his back and holding him firmly in place.
"You will not EVER treat anyone with the blatant disregard you treated Stephen with today, is that clear?" Rolf punctuated every third word with a sharp and painful swat to Matthew's upturned bottom.
"Yes, sir," Matthew choked out between sharp intakes of breath.
Rolf settled into a steady and increasingly painful rhythm, reddening Matthew's white bottom from the top of his buttocks to the more sensitive area where buttock meets thigh. Matthew tried to remain quiet and still, but didn't last long. The spanks were like gunshots in the mostly quiet cabin, richoting off the wooden beams that lined the ceiling, and were soon joined by the very sorry cries of Matthew as he tried everything to get his vulnerable backside out of the line of fire. No amount of squirming helped. Rolf simply caught his wrist when his hand flew back and held it out of the way. Matthew passed rapidly from desperate humiliation at the thought of six pairs of ears around the house to no longer caring what was heard or about anything much except wishing he hadn't so much as opened his mouth since breakfast that morning. It was a long, hard spanking and he was sobbing hard by the time that Rolf pulled him to his feet, radiating fire from hips to thighs.
"Get yourself ready for bed young man, I don't want to hear another word from you tonight. Move."
The tone only increased the tears. Incoherent and trying to see through the blurr, Matthew fled for the chest of drawers and found sleep wear, changing with shaking hands and frequent pauses to rub his eyes and much more gently, his backside. Rolf stood, arms folded, face still grim, waiting until Matthew reached the bed and dived in, about ready to pull the covers over his head and disappear. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed, putting a hand out to ruffle Matthew's hair. It didn't take any more encouragement than that: Matthew scrambled into his arms and clung, still sobbing hard. Rolf held him tight, stroking his hair and back in another, just as steady but much gentler rhythm.
"I'm sorrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyy......" Matthew blurted out between sniffles, turning his head in Rolf's lap so he could breathe. Rolf pushed damp hair out of his eyes, voice much softer now.
"Releasing it back to the wild......I'll give you wild if you ever do that again."
"I won't, I promise."
"Don't go making promises you can't keep." Rolf said wryly. "Sleep. If I catch you out of bed again tonight there'll be trouble."
"Don't goooooo-" Matthew pleaded, clutching. Rolf stooped and kissed his forehead, prising his hands away.
"I need to go and see what you've left of Stephen. He's the one in need of a bit of support and sympathy right now, isn't he?"
Matthew pulled the covers up over his head, still crying hard.
Rolf headed downstairs, hearing a quiet laugh from the kitchen. He walked in and straight over to the teapot to pour himself a cup before sitting down at the table.
"Repatriating, hmmmmm?" Joseph said, stifling a laugh. "That's got to be one of the more inventive excuses I've ever heard."
"If I hadn't been in the middle of the day from hell, I might have had to laugh at the time. I just couldn't manage earlier," Stephen said, smiling. There was no sign of Todd. Rolf cradled the cup in both hands, settling back in his chair.
"Who started it? It sounds like Matthew's jumped all over your last nerve all afternoon."
"It was the rain more than anything." Now the crisis was over, Stephen's natural good temper was reasserting itself and he no longer had the hassled look of earlier. "They all flipped, one after the other. Even Todd decided he wasn't getting enough attention as I'd pretty much kept him out of it, and he charged off into the storm without a coat."
"Was he allright?" Joe asked with concern. Stephen snorted.
"He didn't go any further than the lake, it was more or less a bid for his share of the attention and he got it. He was thoroughly swatted by the time we got back here."
"I can imagine. That storm was a doozy," Eric said. "I got the rest of the story from Michael's point of view, and he was more than swatted. He owes you an apology."
"Matthew owes you one as well, which he'll tender tomorrow. I can't believe his actions." Rolf added.
Eric gave Stephen a friendly nudge, trying to deepen the smile. "If it'll help at all, we'll do the day care tomorrow and you can go as far away as you like, I'm guessing you need a day off."
"I'd love to, but I've got work to do." Stephen said ruefully. "I didn't even get the books open today and I HATE the figures. It takes me hours to do at the best of times."
"Don't give it a thought." Rolf said dryly. "You said you needed a tame accountant- Matthew will be doing the books free of charge and to your complete satisfaction tomorrow before he sets foot out of the cabin. That's probably the least he can do."
Stephen put his coffee cup down on the table, finally starting to laugh. "Ok, THAT makes it all worth while!"