Monday, February 8, 2010

Charred

Title: Charred
Authors: Rolf and Ranger
Warnings: A really SHOCKING outburst of temper. Appalling. Someone ought to do something about it.


"I said it wouldn't fit on the grill."
"Yeah well it wouldn't if you did it, dumbass."
"If you do it like that we're going to end up eating ashes anyway."
"Why don't you try grilling your head?"
"Why don't you two quit it before you both end up looking at corners indoors?" Joe's voice interrupted.
Todd, meeting Stephen's amused glance over the car roof, rolled his eyes and locked the car. Stephen hefted the crate of wine he'd brought with him and followed Todd through the side gate into the garden. Eric, Joe, Matthew and Chris were all settled in the shade of the porch where Matthew and Chris between them were watching the grill. Stephen waved and headed into the house to put down the wine. Todd accepted Joe's hug as he passed him, grinned at Eric and flopped down on the steps, hot and tired after several hours dealing with the Saturday morning delivery at Stephen's bar.
"I could hear you two bickering out on the street."
"You think you can talk him into cooking properly you go right ahead," Chris said acidly, digging Matthew in the ribs. Joe folded his paper and dropped it on the deck.
"That's it. Chris, come here."
"He's the one screwing up the grilling!" Chris protested.
"And you're the one arguing after I warned you to stop." Joe pointed at the deck near his feet. With very bad grace Chris went to him and sat in the shade. Rolf emerged, with Michael who was carrying towels and Stephen who was carrying one of the bottles of wine.
"We're sorted," Rolf announced, "I'll check the chemicals in the pool in a minute and we can swim as soon as lunch has a chance to settle."
"Hi!" Mike said as he walked gingerly across the deck with his load of towels.
"Let me help," Todd said, grabbing several and walking down the steps with Mike. "Have they been at it since Chris arrived?"
"YES," Michael said expressively, waiting for Todd to open the fence so they could drop the towels on a chair by the pool. "They're both in a great mood, which means a ton of highs and lows for the day."
"Great."
"The food won't be ready for a little while, want to see if we can get a badminton game going?"
"That'll at least keep them quiet about the grilling. I'll take Chris if you want Matt and we'll try to keep them separated by the net."
"It's about fifty-fifty on who's in the mood to play better," Mike replied, walking back up to the base of the deck. "Matthew! Get the gear out and let's see if we can beat Todd and Chris while lunch cooks."
"Be right down," Matthew said, heading inside to the garage to get out the net, rackets and birdies. He came back out a minute later with four cokes, tossing one to Chris who was still sitting next to Joe.
Chris caught it neatly and gave a pleading look to Joe. "I need to help him with the net; he's not tall enough to fit it."
"He does," Matthew added, keen to get Chris released.
"Since he's a shortass." Chris said, grinning at him. Matthew flicked coke in his direction and Rolf took the net.
"I'LL put it up. Todd, I'd lose some clothes and put some sun lotion on if you're playing, you'll fry like that."
"It’s in the car." Todd got up and held out a hand to Stephen. "I'll take your shirt too if you want; you've got a t-shirt in the car, I saw it."
Stephen pulled his shirt over his head and surrendered it, watching Todd head for the car as Rolf quickly with Matthew set the nets up.
"Go on," Joe said to Chris, helping him up, "And settle down, we're done with the arguing."
"All right, that should hold up," Rolf said, pulling the final knot tight. "The first sign of a disagree-"
"We'll be FINE," Matthew said, pushing Rolf away as Mike and Chris started batting the birdie back and forth, waiting on Todd.
"We're watching," Rolf said ominously as he walked back towards the deck and a much-needed glass of tea.
Todd slapped sunscreen on his arms and nose and wiped the rest off in the grass, tossing the bottle towards the pool for later, and the somewhat-lotioned t-shirt across to his partner. He took his racket and joined Chris on the far side of the net.
"Nooo," Chris protested at once, "I want Matthew on my side-"
"If you two play on the same side you'll spend the whole time scrapping," Mike said exasperatedly. "Matthew, get over here."
"I want to play with Chris too!" Matthew objected, going to Chris's side. "We always team up!"
"And you ALWAYS fight," Mike pointed out.
"Well, if Rolf kills you I get your CD collection," Todd said resignedly, going to join Mike.
On the deck, Stephen pulled on the t-shirt Todd had brought him and put sun lotion on his own arms, watching the game get going on the lawn below.
"It's a scorcher today; this must be the hottest day of the year so far."
"How was the bar?" Joe said, passing him a glass of wine from the bottle he'd opened. "You took a while this morning."
"The delivery was late, and it was a big one. We were glad of the air conditioning, that's a lot of boxes to pull around."
"Thanks for the wine." Rolf resumed his own seat, one eye still on the badminton game. "That's much appreciated."
"No problem. You might as well order through the suppliers for the bar as buy in bulk from a wine merchant; the discount's well worth it. Let me know when you're ready for another crate."
"That'll take some months; I'm the only one that drinks it," Rolf said dryly. "Matthew likes his vile- MATTHEW, I'M WATCHING."
Matthew waved in the direction of the deck, then turned back to the game. "I feel like a friggen exhibit at the zoo. Watch me do THIS," he said, dancing a jig.
"Would you just give it up, Mocoso? He's not even looking anymore."
"Whose serve anyway?" he asked, picking up the birdie.
"Ours," Mike replied, holding out a hand for it. "We're ahead 10-7."
"No, that last one was out of bounds," Chris replied.
"There ARE no out of bounds here, we don't have lines," Todd said exasperatedly.
"Not THAT way, stupid. It didn't go over the net."
"It did too!" Mike and Todd said at the same time.
"No, it didn't. Matthew, did it?"
"I don't know; I was fighting off the bug."
"It did go out, I saw it."
"FINE," Todd said, grabbing the bird from Mike's hand and throwing it at Chris. "Your serve then.”
"My pleasure." Chris tossed the bird into the air and whacked it hard, dodging around Matthew as Mike walloped it back.
"Kahlua," Rolf continued on the porch, sipping wine. "It's disgusting stuff."
"It isn't a common thing at the bar," Stephen agreed. "Although some of the University kids ask for the weirdest things. One of the most popular is vodka, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Curacao  with draft coke, which turns a kind of muddy green with scum on the top. Called a 'nuclear waste', would you believe? My barmen took awhile to get used to that-"
There was a scuffle at the net as Chris and Matthew collided both after the same shot, and the pushing looked set to take some time. Todd, waiting for his shot to be returned, gave up with a look of irritation and looked at Mike who whacked the second bird at Matthew's head. 
"HEY, you two! Are we playing or what?"
"Ow!" Matthew said, pushing Chris away and rubbing where the birdie connected. "Ok, that's it. Chris, it's time to kill them. Just STAY on your side!"
"You weren't going to get that," Chris replied, getting into position.
"I was so!" Matthew said, tossing the bird in the air to serve.
"No WAY, Mocoso."
Matthew caught the birdie, then aimed for and hit Chris in the back.
Chris promptly swatted him with the flat of the racket, Matthew swatted back, and Rolf yanked the racquet out of his hand as he reached them, having seen the battle building from the porch.
"Ok, ENOUGH. If any swatting needs doing around here I'll do it and this is too hot a day to listen to you two bickering. Porch. Mike and Todd, you finish your game if you'd like to."
"We weren't doing anything!" Matthew protested. Rolf didn't answer, just swatted him firmly, not using the bat, and herded Chris ahead of him with a second sound swat.
Todd watched the two of them settle on the porch where they were sent, Matthew with Rolf, Chris once more at Joe's feet, looking severely fed up. And pulled a face at Mike.
"What they really need are muzzles."
Mike dismissed Matthew and Chris's familiar foibles with a shrug and tossed the bird up once more.
"Want a game? We might as well."
"I guess," Todd said, scowling back at the porch. He went to the other side of the net and the two of them were able to finish one spirited match before lunch was ready.
"All right, Matthew, you can serve yourself," Rolf said, pulling the last dog off the grill and putting it on the serving plate.
Matthew stood up, running his shirt across his forehead to get the sweat off. He grumpily served himself then settled in the grass under a tree by the porch, joining Chris who had already escaped Joe's watchful eye. Mike and Todd joined them a few moments later, dropping into the cooler grass. Todd took his shirt off, tossing it to the side.
"Don't blind me!" Chris said, feigning a bright light from Todd's light chest.
"Sorry, I know it hurts to look at my beautiful pecs," Todd replied, flexing his muscles.
"Put the arms down, your b.o. should be declared an illegal weapon," Chris retorted, laughing.
"FunNY." Todd settled back on the grass to eat his hot dog. "You're only jealous, Stephens."
"Of what? Your biceps?"
"You'd need a microscope to see his," Matthew said, flicking bread at Chris, who just as promptly flicked it back. Todd rolled over onto his back. The sun was bright overhead, the tree rippled gently with a soft rustling sound. And with an effort it was possible to blend Matthew and Chris's voices into the background.
"I can't wait to swim," Mike said, stretching out next to him. "It's the perfect day for it."
"Yeah, then we can admire him in trunks," Chris said cheerfully. "WITH the mi-"
"Let's NOT go there," Mike said, grinning.
Matthew pushed Chris, who pushed back a little harder. Mike rolled his eyes and grabbed the two empty plates that had been his and Todd's and scooted out of the way. Matthew and Chris were arguing good-naturedly and each trying to tickle or outpin the other. Todd was working hard at blocking their voices until he was kneed in a very sensitive spot. "OW!" he yelped, rolling away with his hands between his legs. It took him a minute to catch his breath, Chris and Matthew paying him no attention.
"Knock it OFF!" Mike said irritably, shoving the two of them as they rolled onto him.
"For Pete's sake, pack it up or go somewhere else!"
Taking a deep breath, Todd sat up, grabbed up his plate and went back to the grill. Joe gave him a sympathetic look as he came up the steps.
"You look hot."
"I'm fine." Todd leaned on the rail beside Rolf who was turning over another set of steaks and put one across on his plate.
"There's plenty of iced water there. And a seat on the steps if you want somewhere to eat without being wrestled. If they get too much tell me."
"They're only playing." Todd gave him a smile of thanks for the steak and went to pick up the water jug.
When Chris rolled into Mike a second time, Michael jumped on him, pinning his arms to the ground. "WILL YOU GIVE IT UP?" He didn't get a chance for an answer as Matthew tackled him to the ground and both Chris and Matthew tried for a couple of minutes to tickle him.
"GET OFF! Come on, get -STOP!" Michael yelled, in no mood to be nice any longer.
"SorrrREEE," Matthew said, sitting up with hurt feelings.
Michael stood up, dusting grass from his shorts before stalking away.
"What's his problem?" Chris asked, crawling back over for his drink.
"I don't know," Matthew said, picking up his coke only to find it empty. "I need something else. You?"
"Yeah, I'd love another." Chris bounced up beside him, heading back across the grass, and ran up the stairs of the porch. Matthew headed inside for the fridge and Rolf leaned back to watch.
"NO alcohol........."
"Oh come ON, it's hot!"
"Coke or water. Or tea."
"You're no fun."
"I'm not licensed to be fun."
Chris slung his arms around Joe's neck from behind, leaning heavily on him where he sat on the swing.
"Can we swim yet?"
"Not yet. Let that delicious lunch settle and then we'll swim," Joe replied leaning back for a kiss, which Chris happily gave him. "Don't lean too hard on the swing, we don't want to land on the porch."
Matthew came back out with two more cokes, tossing one to Chris over Joe's head.
"Matthew!" Rolf yelled, pulling Matthew back by his shorts to sit in his lap. "Be a little more careful."
Matthew had the grace to blush, then kissed Rolf before popping the top on his drink - which promptly fizzled over and ran down both his and Rolf's legs.
"Matthew!" Rolf grabbed Matthew with one arm and the coke with the other, holding it away from them both as it streamed. Then leaned over to grab a cloth from the grill table.
"Wipe yourself off. And calm down before something gets broken. Like you if that happens again."
Matthew stood up and wiped his leg down. "It's all sticky now, yuck."
"You can stay RIGHT here," Rolf said, grabbing him and pulling him back down. "Sticky or not. Is anyone else going to finish those steaks off? And there's plenty more salad."
"I'm going to get some salad, anyone else?" Mike asked, putting a small amount on his plate.
"I'll have some more." Joe held out his plate and gave Mike a smile of thanks for the spoonful put on. And pulled Chris down on the swing beside him. "Have you had enough to eat, Christopher? Where's your plate, I haven't actually seen anything go in your mouth yet."
"I ate a hot dog and salad earlier. I think the plate’s out in the grass."
"It is," Michael said as he sank down on the wooden deck at Eric's feet, leaning his head back against his partner's legs.
Eric ran a hand through his hair, shaking grass out of it. Joe gave Chris a gentle nudge. "Go and get it then." 
"I'll just use another one and get that later," Chris said, going over to the table.
"Now please. Before someone ends up mowing over it," Joe said firmly.
Chris sighed but turned and headed down the steps to collect his plate. He also picked up Matthew's before returning to the deck. Piling on chips and a little salad, he headed back over to sit with Joe.
"Ow," Todd said resignedly, picking up and shaking the hand that was stepped on. "I AM here you know!"
"Sorry," Chris said cheerfully, eating a few chips noisily.
Stephen mutely held out a hand to Todd and took a quick look at the stepped-on fingers, drawing him up off the steps. "Come and sit up here, you'll be safer."
"I doubt that," Todd said under his breath, sitting down in a lawn chair next to Stephen.
"AhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhH!" Matthew yelled, jumping off of Rolf and running for the stairs.
"NOW what's the matter?" Rolf demanded, getting up. "Matthew!"
"BEE!" Matthew yelled, running down the steps and over to the pool, wanting to wash his leg off.
Rolf shook his head and followed. "Are you stung? You are NOT getting in that pool straight after a meal."
"I'm not getting IN it, I'm going to wash my leg off," Matthew said, plopping down on the side of the pool and putting his legs in. "Why don't you check the chemicals so it can be ready for us?"
"Half an hour absolute minimum." Rolf took the not-too-subtle hint and went to get the kit, stooping to take a water sample. "And you can sit here if you want, but the first time I see you get in or fall in or in any other way get wet above the knee, you're spending the rest of that half-hour back on the porch. Got it?"
"Yes," Matthew said shortly, washing his leg off, wanting to be in the cool water now that he'd touched it.
"Yes what?"
Matthew smacked the water towards Rolf. "Yes, I got it?" he said, grinning.
Rolf Looked at him, eyebrows raised with a very clear "Would you like to think fast?" Expression.
Matthew looked up under heavy lashes, "Yes, sir."
Rolf shook his head, checked the chemicals in the sample he held and shut the kit. He tipped the contents of the test tube neatly down Matthew's neck as he walked away.
"CHEATER!" Matthew yelled, trying to throw a handful of water at Rolf's back with no success.
Rolf walked serenely to the gate, leaning on it. "Anyone else want to come sit down here? No swimming yet but you can sit and paddle if you like."
Michael, Todd and Chris all got up and quickly moved towards the pool, hot and more than ready to swim. Eric got up to follow. "Looks like the party's moving down there."
"Do you REALLY want to get wet?" Stephen asked, cradling a glass of wine.
"No," Joe agreed frankly, watching his partner jog across the grass. "And if I sit down there, I give it two minutes. Eric, tell Rolf I decided we desperately needed ice cream."
"GREAT idea," Stephen replied, stretching his legs. Should we do Baskin Robbins or Graeters? Graeters will take us longer, a perfectly good reason for not swimming so quickly."
"I'm all for that. We're both going. A LOT of ice cream needed, I feel."
Steve waved at Rolf and headed inside to get his shoes on, Joseph following.
"Mike, are you all right?" Eric asked, stopping by his partner who was sitting on the edge of the pool in the sun.
"Yeah." Mike gave him a quick look, wincing a bit on the light.
Eric squatted down to get a better look at his partner. "You don't look all right. Headache?"
Mike nodded reluctantly. "Not bad. Just came on while we were out on the grass."
"Why don't you get some aspirin from Rolf and lie down inside until it's time to swim. Try and kick it so it doesn't ruin the rest of the afternoon?"
"I'm fine here......." Mike said with forced positivity. "I'll be ok once I can swim."
Eric stood up, holding out his hand. "It's not going to go away sitting in the sun. Let's go. Rolf? Aspirin in the downstairs bathroom?"
"Our room'll be cool," Rolf said gently, coming to join them, "The ACs on highest up there and there's aspirin in our bathroom cabinet. Why don't you settle up there for a while?"
"Thank you, we'll do that," Eric said, taking a reluctant Michael by the hand and heading inside.
"What's wrong with him?" Chris asked from the other side of the pool.
"A headache, he's probably got a bit too much sun." Rolf came to sit at the deep end of the pool, like the others sitting with his legs over the edge into the water.
Matthew tried flipping water towards Chris with his foot. "Almost got you!"
Chris ducked and leaned over for one of the pool toys, using it to swipe water in Matthew's direction. "You want to be wet, Mocoso-"
"I want to be soaked!" Matthew retorted. "I'm boiled!"
"Mind OUT!" Todd protested as he got caught in the cross fire and ducked backwards. Rolf got up as the phone rang, pulling it out of his pocket.
"We forgot to ask what flavor you and Matthew wanted from Graeters," Stephen said a moment later, heading back across the lawn. Rolf moved out of the immediate pool area, for both a quiet and a dry place to talk. "Mocha chocolate chip for Matthew, and I'll take black raspberry chip."
"We have everyone covered-" Stephen paused, nodding at the phone. "Ok?"
"Yes, just a neighbour. See you in a while." Rolf held the phone to his ear again. "Yes- Ok. Yes, that's fine. If you can give me just a minute? Ok."
He shut the phone and headed back to the poolside where the three brats were sitting on the side- once more pushing and splashing, Rolf actually doubted they'd done anything else all day.
"Hey. I need to go lend the mower to Mrs. Anderson over the road. I'm going to be two minutes and I want you to SWEAR to me that not one of you will get in the pool until I'm back."
"We won't!" Matthew said, splashing water again at Chris, laughing.
"I mean it," Rolf said firmly. "Come away from the side. Matthew, make sure, NO ONE near the water. I won't be long."
"Promise!" Matthew said, getting up to go sit with Chris. As he passed Todd he shook his head, showering him with the cool droplets.
Todd ducked resignedly, getting up to follow them. Rolf jogged up the lawn towards the garage.
"Why does he have to be such an ass about the water?" Chris groused as soon as Rolf was out of earshot. "You'd think we were about six."
"Hey!" Matthew said, jumping immediately to Rolf's defense. "You know he's always been like that, and why. You don't need to call him an ass."
"It's NOT like we're kids, and he's neurotic about it," Chris said stubbornly. "Where's the harm in us wading? It’s not even a DEEP pool."
"It's deep enough to drown in," Matthew said heatedly. "I don't like it much either but that's the way it is, so just shut up about it."
"Why? Because he's being a twit and you don't want to think about it?" Chris dug straight back. "He's not THAT perfect, get over it."
Matthew's temper snapped almost audibly and he gave a mighty push to Chris who had been perched on the end of a lounge chair. The chair legs folded beneath Chris and he did a decent impression of a windmill as he fell, catching Todd beneath the chin on the way down.
"For goodness sake!" Todd said angrily, getting up and hurriedly getting between them as Chris got up with a distinctly ugly look to his face, "Matthew, he didn't mean it and Chris, don't be mean, come on-" He paused, rubbing his smarting chin, well aware that Matthew's furious face was equally matched by Chris's.
"Oh come ON, stop it! Do you two WANT to get killed or do you want to swim?"
"What I WANT is for HIM to take back his comments," Matthew spat, pressing hard against the hand that Todd was using to hold him back.
"I didn't say one word that wasn't true, dickhead," Chris spat straight back.
"LOOK!" Todd said despairingly. "NO ONE meant it, you know no one meant it, let's calm down PLEASE before Rolf comes back here and one of you-"
Matthew slapped Chris's head, catching Todd's head with his elbow as he was in the middle.
Todd was thrown back with a yelp and a hiss and nearly knocked off his feet.
Neither Chris nor Matthew had noticed, and Chris was about to shove Matthew back with goodwill, when he found himself blocked by Todd, whose face had turned a very bright red. Todd shoved Chris down into a chair, yelling.
"Sit the FUCK down and SHUT UP!"
He turned to face a very surprised Matthew, poking Matthew repeatedly in the chest.
"WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE SUCH AN AGGRAVATING BASTARD?"
Matthew's mouth fell open. In many years of knowing Todd, he'd never heard his voice raise like this, never mind this full-blooded bellow. Todd's eyes were blazing, his face was growing red and far from backing away as Todd always did in any kind of conflict, he was advancing, his finger drilling with real energy. Matthew involuntarily took a step backwards, away from him, and Todd stepped right after him.
Chris scrambled back up out of the chair on instinct, ready to push back. He stayed where he was though, unsure of what had happened to the normally quiet and non-aggressive Todd.
"I'M SICK TO DEATH OF BEING CAUGHT IN BETWEEN YOU TWO IDIOTS, PUNCHING, ARGUING, BITCH-SLAPPING, FIGHTING WITH EACH OTHER. CAN'T YOU TWO JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP FOR ONCE AND BEHAVE LIKE A NORMAL PERSON WOULD?"
Todd had continued advancing on Matthew, whose mouth was nearly dragging on the ground by this time. Todd didn't even flinch as Matthew stumbled over the small lip of the pool, arms waving as he fell back into the pool with an almighty splash, drenching Chris who was at exactly the right angle.
Todd, unmoved by the loss of one of his audience, simply swung straight around on Chris. His face was now scarlet, his voice was showing no sign of dropping and his language made even Chris blink as Todd advanced on him.
"YOU NEVER STOP FUCKING PICKING AT EACH OTHER! I HATE IT! PISSING ABOUT LIKE NO ONE ELSE IS AROUND, MAKING SURE WE'RE CONSTANTLY BEING BLOODY YELLED AT AND WATCHED, KNOCKING AND FALLING IN TO EVERY OTHER POOR SOD ANYWHERE FUCKING NEAR YOU-"
Rolf, at the far end of the lawn, had looked around at the first yell, not that surprised. Chris and Matthew left alone together never took that long to reach conflict point. He apologised to the neighbour, handed over the mower and started the jog back, aware that the voice was not falling and as he got closer, hearing the choice language being bandied around. He was grimly quickening his pace when suddenly he realised who it was. Todd. TODD was doing all the shouting.
The sounds of someone in the pool quickened his step even more.
Matthew, having swallowed a fair amount of water from his untimely entrance into the pool, came up sputtering and coughing. His surprise at Todd was now turning to active anger, particularly because he was now screaming at Chris, and you didn't mess with Matthew's friends unless you were going to mess with Matthew too.
Matthew skipped the stairs, instead swimming back to where he'd just fell in. He put both hands on the deck and pushed himself up, stepping easily onto the deck, dripping water in all directions.
"Hey, YOU!" he said, wiping a hand across his face to clear his stinging eyes as he stepped to where Todd was still in Chris's face.
Chris saw Todd's eyes flash a second before Todd swung around, arm raised and fist headed straight for Matthew's nose, his voice hitting an entirely new volume that shook the fencing. Less a shout than a flat-out scream.
"SOD OFF, MOCOSO!"
It was too sharp and sudden for Matthew to see it coming or suspect what Todd would do. Todd's fist landed hard and accurately, Matthew crashed to the ground and Rolf, sprinting through the gate, saw in shock Matthew sprawling at Todd's feet and Todd, his face now nearly purple, turn and kick a pool chair off the side and into the water.
Chris, now looking actively scared, was backing away. Todd turned his attention to a second chair, kicking it viciously over and towards the poolside, perilously close to Matthew who looked stunned and was sitting up slowly, his nose starting to bleed.
"HEY," Rolf thundered, intending to shock Todd into freezing. It didn't help. The pool chair was kicked straight at him instead.
"AND YOU CAN PISS OFF TOO!"
That was not Todd.
Rolf stopped where he was, aware of Chris scrambling towards him for protection and his lover sitting on the poolside, apparently wary of moving. He dropped his voice, speaking quietly and firmly.
"Chris, Matthew, go up to the kitchen. Matthew, get some ice on that."
"Yeah, GET OUT OF MY FUCKING SIGHT!" Todd screamed after them. There were no questions. Chris and Matthew moved with alacrity. Halfway down the lawn they met Eric, jogging towards the pool area and looking annoyed. His expression changed to surprise as he saw them.
"Who's doing all the yelling? What's going on? Matthew, what on earth happened to your nose?" he added, seeing the blood and grabbing for a handkerchief. "Come inside-"
"It's Todd," Chris said, looking back towards the pool with a look of shaken disbelief. "He's gone totally nuts-"
"I DON'T WANT TO FUCKING CALM DOWN!" Todd's voice, echoing, came from the pool area.
Todd was screaming at Rolf. Matthew, who probably could impugn Rolf with more confidence than anyone else on the planet, looked aghast.
"Inside," Eric said, reaching a decision and putting an arm around Matthew to hold the handkerchief to his nose. "Come on you two, move it."
Michael was looking out the master bedroom's window, having seen the punch Todd landed on Matthew's nose. His headache forgotten, he watched in morbid fascination at their usually calm and collected friend saying things everyone had wished to yell at Rolf at one time or another.
Todd was close to bouncing with rage. Rolf for the first few seconds didn't really hear what Todd was spitting at him, just seeing his colour and the wildness of his movements. This was not a simple tantrum, and Todd's tantrums from the very few he'd seen, usually consisted of a stamped foot and tears. This was, to his knowledge, something completely out of Todd's repertoire. Keeping his voice level, moving slowly, he circled the fallen pool chair and went to him, hands held out.
"Todd, stop it. Quiet down and listen to me."
"I'M NOT A FREAK OF NATURE!" Todd continued, stepping backwards. "I'M JUST FUCKING TIRED OF THEIR SHIT!"
"I know, they can get onto each other's nerves and-"
"THEM! IT'S ALWAYS ABOUT THEM! WHAT ABOUT ME? DON'T I FUCKING COUNT? CAN'T I EAT A FUCKING MEAL WITHOUT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT WEARING IT? CAN I?"
Rolf swallowed hard, not seeing any signs of abatement in temper. He realised his mistake and changed gears. "What would you like to happen now?"
"I'm going home!" Todd grabbed his keys from his shorts pocket and Rolf mutely sighed, well aware this was not going to diffuse him in any way.
"No," he said firmly, "There's no way you're driving right now."
"I'LL GO WHEREVER I FUCKING WANT!" Todd spun around and hurled the keys into the pool, following it with another lash out at a table nearby. That was it. Rolf took the last few steps quickly and grabbed him, wrapping both arms around him tightly enough to contain him, and drew him back out of reach of the table. Todd promptly threw himself backwards, hissing and spitting until Rolf with some awkwardness sat down on the poolside with Todd between his knees, hugging him tightly enough to prevent Todd's thrashing braining them both.
"MIKE!" Eric yelled from downstairs.
Michael nearly flew down the stairs, having seen everything from his bird's-eye view. "What?" he asked before he'd even made it into the kitchen, breathing hard.
"Get me some ice?" Eric said calmly. "Where's the fire?"
"Todd's out there smashing seven bells out of Rolf and you want to know where the-" Mike looked at Matthew who was still gushing blood and Chris who was looking distinctly shaky. "Wow he REALLY flipped."
"Ice, Michael." Eric steered Matthew further over the sink, rubbing his back soothingly.
"HE HIT ROLF?" Matthew exploded.
"There is no way he's going to hurt Rolf, he won't be able to reach for a start." Eric took the ice from Michael and wrapped it in a tea cloth, holding it on the bridge of Matthew 's nose. "Mike, put the TV on; you and Chris go in there."
"I don't want to," Chris said tightly in a tone Eric recognised as portentous.
"Christopher, that wasn't a request. Joseph isn't going to be happy with your behavior while he's been out, and he'll be LESS happy if I tell him you ignored me. And you, young man, had a headache. Downstairs, on the couch. Both of you," Eric finished, hoping that the Tone of No Argument was going to cut through any further reactions.
Michael grabbed Chris's hand and headed towards the stairs, eager to dish on what he saw. "Come on, it's ok."
Matthew's eyes were still watering a little but the sting was going away.
"We didn't do a thing!" he protested thickly through the ice. "Honestly, Chris and I did NOTHING, Todd just went totally nuts."
"No, leave it be," Eric said when Matthew tried to remove the ice. "What set Todd off?"
"I have no clue; he just suddenly went absolutely ballistic. Chris and I were talking and -"
"Just talking?"
"Yes!" Matthew looked at him with wide and innocent eyes above the handkerchief. "Just messing around while we waited for Rolf."
"And if we ask Todd what you were doing, he'd say the same thing?" Eric asked, eyebrow raising in disbelief.
"Yes! We were just messing around and Todd went absolutely crazy, started screaming at us and pushed me in the pool, and then he started screaming at Chris so I got out and started to tell him to back off and he hit me!"
"Messing around," Eric said, catching onto the language. "Is that the same thing as talking?"
"Well....." Matthew, who was, unwillingly, an extremely honest person, flushed slightly. "We were having a bit of an argument, but nothing major."
"What was the argument concerning?" Eric asked, still holding the ice to the bridge of Matthew's nose, and wondering what was going on outside.
"Rolf went to lend the mower to our neighbour and said stay out of the pool until he got back; you know how he feels about the pool?" Matthew's voice garnered indignation in defence of his partner
"Yes, and I'm sure that the three of you were sitting and waiting for him to return."
"Of course we did! But Chris got sniffy about it and I argued back, that was all."
"All right," Eric said, taking the ice away from Matthew's nose. "How is that feeling?"
"Sore." Matthew probed it gingerly and peered out of the window. "What IS with Todd? I've never seen him go ballistic before, I didn't think he knew how!"
"Look at me, please," Eric said, looking carefully at Matthew's nose to ascertain whether it could be broken and if the bleeding had indeed stopped. "You can head downstairs with the other two, and I want you lying down. Stay quiet and relaxed, you can't afford to get the nose bleeding again."
"What about Rolf?" Matthew edged towards the door. "I ought to go and see if he's okay, this is my house too-"
"I am going to check on Rolf. If Todd's upset with you, you don't need to be around and chance getting anyone injured. Downstairs, please," Eric said calmly but firm.
Matthew pulled a face, but recognised Eric's tone. He went downstairs and flopped on the sofa, prodding experimentally at his nose. "What did you see from the window?"
"Oh my GOD, you wouldn't BELIEVE it," Michael said, fairly bouncing. "He kicked a chair into the pool, knocked another one over, kicked at the table, even said fuck about ten times to Rolf!"
"He is going to DIE," Matthew said in disbelief. "What is he thinking? Did Rolf clobber him?"
"I couldn't tell, Rolf wasn't yelling, but he finally grabbed him and they both sat down on the ground."
Matthew blinked on that. "What? Rolf should have killed him on the spot! Hey-" he added as the back door shut. "Eric's gone down there- keep an eye out? I'm going upstairs to have a look. If anyone asks I went for Tylenol."
"I'm coming too!" Chris said, getting up.
"I'm not staying down here by myself!" Michael added, following the other two slowly up the steps.
Matthew reached the upstairs window first, craning to see out over the poolside. Eric was walking down the lawn. Rolf was still sitting on the poolside, arms wrapped around Todd.
Rolf struggled with Todd for a few tense minutes before the frustration bubbled up and out in a torrent of tears. Rolf pulled Todd closer to him, keeping him firmly wrapped up, rocking and talking soothingly.
Eric reached the pool gate and stood for a minute, taking in the situation, two floating chairs and an overturned table. "Rolf? Can I do anything?"
Rolf smiled gratefully but mouthed no, still holding and rocking a very distraught Todd.
Eric nodded, returning the smile with a look of sympathy towards Todd and walked back towards the house.
"Shhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiit!" Matthew hissed, darting out of sight behind the curtain.
"What?!" Chris asked, intending to look out the window himself.
Matthew yanked him back. "He's coming straight back, come on!"
"You coulda said!" Michael hissed, jogging down the steps into the basement, Chris hot on his heels.
The three of them shot back onto the sofa and Michael whacked the TV volume up with a quick and guilty glance at the kitchen. They were all blamelessly watching TV when Eric came downstairs to them.
"Rolf's got things under control outside, so no one needs to worry," Eric said, sitting down for a moment.
"What's happening?" Mike demanded. Matthew shot him a quick warning look. A tap on the door at the top of the stairs was followed by Joe's voice, somewhat puzzled.
"Hi? Where is everyone? There's ice cream up here!"
"Stay," Eric said firmly to Mike and Matthew. He was too late for Chris who was already halfway upstairs and had flung himself into Joe's arms by the time Eric reached the top of the stairs. Joe hugged Chris tightly, putting down the ice cream.
"Chris? What's wrong? Eric?"
"Hi - nothing to worry about. Just an altercation at the pool. Rolf's keeping Todd company and I was keeping everyone else downstairs.
"Todd?" Stephen cast a quick look down the steps, starting to look concerned.
"Chris and Matthew were arguing, and Todd got rather a bit upset. He's fine, Rolf's seeing to it."
Stephen's frown was barely controlled, he was already moving for the door.
"Pool you said?"
"Yes," Eric said as Stephen headed straight out in that direction. "Chris, why don't you go back downstairs, please."
"Go on," Joe confirmed, giving Chris one last, tight hug and letting him go with a gentle swat. Chris hesitated, hanging onto his arm, not at all keen to let go or to leave the conversation about to take place, but Joe's eyes became warning, and pouting, Chris went back downstairs.
"So who hit who?" Joe asked as soon as Chris was out of earshot.
"I actually missed it," Eric said, putting the ice cream into the freezer. "It seems that Matthew and Chris were doing their usual thing and Todd just flipped. He punched Matthew square in the nose, that's the only blow I know of."
"TODD?" Joe said in disbelief. Eric gave him a 'shut UP there are ears flapping' look and Joe hastily lowered his voice. "TODD flipped?"
"Yes. Seriously flipped. I haven't heard language like that since the last time I ran the training course," Eric replied, leaning against the counter. "There were also a couple of pool chairs floating in the water."
"TODD?" Joe shook his head in disbelief. "What on earth were Chris and Matthew doing to him?! He HIT Matthew?"
"I tried talking to Matthew and all I got from him was they were arguing, he and Chris. How it went from that to a punch in the nose we'll have to wait on the interrogations."
"And Rolf's out there cooling him down? Did you see any of this?" Joe peered out of the window, somewhere between amused and seriously curious.
"I know," Eric said with a small laugh. "Michael had a headache, so I was busy trying to get him to settle down upstairs. I was just heading back out to the pool when I heard Todd yelling like a drill sergeant, and Chris and Matthew running up the lawn towards me as if they'd seen a ghost." Eric had to laugh again, remembering the surprised looks on their faces.
Joe grinned, shaking his head. "I never though Todd had it in him. Poor Chris and Matthew!"
"I'm guessing Todd just....had enough," Eric said, looking up as the door opened and Rolf stepped through. Feeling a kinship with his younger lover, Eric eagerly asked "What happened?"
Joe slung an arm across Eric's shoulders and said in his best courtroom voice, "What Eric really means is how is Todd doing? And you?"
Rolf smiled, headed for the kettle and snapped it on. "He's upset. Happier with Stephen being there- or the fact he flung me off and nearly knocked Stephen over to climb into his arms suggested to me that he was pleased to see him. Poor kid, he's still shaking."
"What set that off, did he say?" Joseph asked, stepping around Eric to take a look at Rolf's arm. "You're bleeding there," he said, wetting a paper towel under the tap and handing it over.
"I had to hold him to stop him kicking out every piece of furniture down there, and he did a lot of thrashing around, I must have grazed it." Rolf mopped at the drying blood around his elbow. "He didn't say anything much. All I got out of him at first was screaming and obscenities, although a lot of that was about him not mattering and Chris and Matthew dominating everything, and then once I grabbed him he broke into tears and melted down completely. I've been trying to calm him down enough to talk, but I didn't get very far- to be honest I'd say that was less a tantrum than a meltdown."
"The most I've ever seen from him in any sort of tantrum was a yell or two and a stamped foot.  As soon as you make it clear that was too far, he usually melts at that point," Joseph replied as Eric came back in the room with a band-aid, which he handed over to Rolf.

"I wonder whether he's been in the sun too long. Thanks." Rolf bit the casing off the band aid and covered the cut. "Steve's sitting with him; I'd think they'll want to go home as soon as he's settled. Is Matthew ok?"

"Yes, he's fine.  We got the bleeding stopped within a couple of minutes and he's supposed to be resting and quiet downstairs.  I think he was more shocked than hurt."

"How about we put some coffee on, take that ice cream and go and be quiet on the porch?" Rolf suggested, heading downstairs with a need to check the facts for himself regarding his partner's nose. "I'd think swimming is probably off the agenda for this afternoon."

"No swimming?!" Matthew asked indignantly, standing up as Rolf entered the room.

"Your nose, Michael's head, Todd's nerves...?" Rolf gave him a pointed look, sitting on the arm of the couch to look carefully at his face. "That's swollen. How does it feel?"

"My head's fine," Michael added sulkily.

"It's OKAY.  He got a lucky punch, that's all."

"Why was he punching you in the first place?" Rolf let him go and folded his arms. "What set Todd off?"

"I don't know, he just went nuts," Matthew said, more inclined to cover his ass than Todd's at this particular time. 

"What was being said?" Rolf looked from him to Chris. "He was fine when I went to hand the mower over."

Chris couldn't hold eye contact.  "We were just arguing about swimming.  It wasn't anything more than that."

"Apparently," Eric said calmly, dropping heavily into an armchair, "Chris wasn't pleased with your decision that no one went in the pool until you got back. And Matthew wasn't pleased with Chris criticising you."

"Is that so, Matthew?" Rolf asked, returning his gaze to his partner.

Chris looked seriously uncomfortable, Matthew less so which gave clear evidence to the balance of blame, but Matthew was still flushing.

"Well..."

"What happened?" Rolf asked firmly, pulling Matthew to him by his waistband.

Matthew wriggled, not at all sure he wanted to explain that, although he was happy to settle into Rolf's lap and get away from Chris's eyes.

"We were talking about that- that was all- and maybe it got a bit heated, but nothing awful- and then Todd shoved me in the pool and started screaming at Chris."

Rolf looked at Chris who was finding a thread on the couch very interesting. 

"Christopher, stop that.  What caused Todd to get that upset?"

"I don't know." Matthew gave him a look somewhere between pleading and innocent. "I really don't. We were sniping a bit, Todd was saying to calm down and back off and then he flipped."

"Do I need to go with what Todd said, or is one of you going to tell me what the actual trigger was?" Rolf asked, hoping his gamble would pay off.  He looked sternly between his partner and Chris.

Chris, aware of Joe's eyes burning the top of his head, broke first, mumbling.

"We were shoving each other and Todd got knocked. Not hit, I swear, just knocked."

Rolf felt Matthew deflate and knew he had his answer. 

"The two of you were about to punch each other, and Todd, being the peacemaker that he is, tried to step between you two.  Instead of being thanked for keeping the two of you out of serious trouble, he got it across the head himself?  Is that it?" Rolf asked in very unpromising tones.
Chris managed a kind of half-hearted shrug. Matthew met his eye for a fraction of a second and nodded unhappily, wondering how Rolf always got such an accurate visual fix on exactly what he did when he was nowhere in sight at the time.

"I guess so."
"Do you two have ANY idea of how upset Todd is?"
"We didn't do anything!" Chris protested. "We were just messing around!"
"Didn't I speak to you earlier about that?" Joseph added.
"We were mucking around!" Matthew defended Chris, "That was all, nothing would have happened-":
"You and Chris were about to come to blows, you call that nothing?" Rolf asked sternly, looking at both young men.
Michael, even though he was blameless in all this, felt caught on the couch. He stood up and slunk over to where Eric was sitting and buried himself in his partner's arms.
Chris looked as though he'd like to do much the same thing, except Joe's expression was no more comforting than Rolf's.
"It wasn't!" he said hotly, starting to feel cornered. "No one MEANT Todd to get knocked and that was all that happened, it wasn't our fault- nor our fault he went nuts about it!"
"Christopher," Joe said quietly. "What exactly would you do if you got 'knocked' by Matthew and Todd battering each other?"
"Push 'em back! It's not like it's the end of the world and I SURE wouldn't throw a four star fit like that!"
"And you think you and Matthew bickering all day had nothing to do with bothering him? IS it all right to make your friends uncomfortable and stressed?"
"We were JUST messing about!" Chris said, putting a fist into the couch cushion for emphasis.
"Upstairs," Joe said quietly, getting up.
Christopher's voice got plaintive and he looked up with wide eyes. "We were just messing."
"Now." Joe stood at the foot of the stairs, waiting.
Chris stood up and walked slowly over to Joe, heading up the stairs ahead of him. It had been bad enough having this conversation in front of four other people, but it felt like it was going to be worse with just Joe.
Joe steered him upstairs and into the kitchen out of earshot of the others. Rolf turned his glare back to Matthew.
"Do you have anything to add?"
"We didn't mean him to be upset," Matthew said in a small voice.
"I'm sure you didn't, but I think probably he was pushed to the end of his tether," Rolf said sternly. "Don't you?"
Matthew nodded before dropping his head.
"You're going to owe him AND Stephen an apology when Todd's feeling better. Right now you can go upstairs and get ready for bed; we've all had enough of the bickering between you and Chris. You've been repeatedly warned and it went on until someone got hurt. If you can't be pleasant company we'll do without your company altogether."
Matthew slid off of Rolf's lap, his lip slipping out into a huge pout. He'd have at least tried begging if Eric and Michael hadn't been sitting there, even knowing he wouldn't have gotten anywhere. He kept his head down and walked quickly through the kitchen and ran up the stairs, the bedroom door slamming harder than necessary confirming that Matthew had indeed made it to the bedroom. He flung himself face down on the bed, thinking just how unfair life was and at the very least, Todd was going to be murdered for what he did.
Rolf got up, taking no notice of the crashed door. "I'll have a walk down and see how Todd and Steve are doing. Why don't you two start on that ice cream?"
"Thanks," Eric said as Rolf headed upstairs.
Rolf found Chris in the corner and Joseph perched against the counter. "Want to see how Todd's doing?"
"Not a bad idea," Joe straightened up, giving Chris a steady look. "Not a move or a word, Christopher."
Chris didn't answer, but from the drop of his head he was very far from happy. Joe fell into step with Rolf, walking slowly down the garden towards the pool.
The chairs had been fished out of the water and were drip-drying in their usual places. The pool area was tidied and Todd, curled on one of the loungers, was lying with his head in Stephen's lap. Stephen, relaxed against the seat back and stroking his hair, paused at the sight of Rolf and Joe, and Todd jerked upright. Pale still, very red-eyed and a little jittery, but calm.
"Rolf, I'm REALLY sorry for what I said and did," Todd said quickly, hiccupping in the middle of the sentence.
"I don't think you were yourself at all," Rolf said gently, sitting down on the lounger beside them. Stephen shook his head, once more running his fingers through Todd's hair.
"I think the sun's to blame as much as anything, he was very hot. Cooling down now though."
"Is Matthew ok?" Todd asked, worried.
"He's fine. Both he and Chris are upset at how far they provoked you." Joe gave him a faint smile. "I don't think they meant to."
"No, they never do," Todd said graciously. He turned back to Stephen. "Can I swim now?"
"You want to swim?" Stephen said, a little shaken. "Todd-"
"I'm okay," Todd implored. He still didn't feel well, but being the absolute center of attention was not a place he enjoyed. "Please?"
"I'm not so sure you should; I still think you've had too much sun." Stephen said unwillingly. "I'd feel better if we headed home and you rested. And I'm guessing Matthew and Chris by now are past wanting to join you in the pool."
"Matthew is spending the rest of the day in our room," Rolf said as he stood up, squeezing Todd's shoulder on the way. "There's no reason why the rest of us can't enjoy what's left of the afternoon."
"Please?" Todd said appealingly to Stephen. "I'm really sorry about freaking, I feel horrible about it, I'm going to feel worse if I wreck everyone's afternoon too. So long as Rolf isn't mad about it and doesn't mind, I want to stay?"
Stephen looked at his partner long and hard, then up towards the house where Eric and Michael were sitting. He returned his eyes to Todd. "Okay - SO LONG AS you're feeling up to it. We leave without argument if I think we need to. Deal?"
"Deal," Todd said at once, thankfully. He cast another, slightly apprehensive look at Rolf.
Rolf gave Todd a very genuine smile, his eyes sparkling. "I'm fine, sweetheart." Turning around to Joe he said, "There are several rooms available in the house for Chris if you'd like to stay as well."
"That sounds good, I COULD use a swim." Joe said at once. "It's not getting any cooler out here."
"Great." Todd promptly peeled off his t-shirt and headed for the side of the pool, glad to escape the eyes on him.
"He seems to be settling down well," Rolf said softly to Stephen, once Todd was out of earshot.
Stephen gave him a wry smile, looking after Todd. "Seems to be. I don't think he's 100% but he's a lot cooler than he was and I guess the water will help. I'm sorry you got beaten up on, are you ok? He was pretty upset about what you'd think of him."
"Just a scratch on my arm that I'm aware of, and anything else won't be bad if it does show up. I just wanted to make sure he didn't injure himself, and a few bumps and bruises come with that territory. I'm really sorry that Chris and Matthew got him that upset."
"Several years’ worth of frustration accumulating." Stephen shook his head. "I still can't believe it, I've never really even heard him yell; he just doesn't have that kind of a temper! I'm glad you were there with him. Thank you."
"You'd have done the same if it were Matthew," Rolf said with a hand on Steve's shoulder. "I'm going up to the house for my suit and some of that ice cream. Can I bring some back for you and Todd?"
"I think we'll stick with water if that's ok," Stephen said, looking back at Todd who was swimming slowly across the pool. "Until I'm a bit more sure of how he's doing."
"Water it is," Rolf said, following Joe back up the lawn to the deck.
Stephen slowly undressed and slid into the water, standing for a minute to get used to it before he swam slowly over to Todd, getting hold of his arm and pulling him over so Todd floated with his head on Stephen's shoulder.
"How are you doing?"
"Better now," Todd replied, eyes closed against the sun and relaxing in the cool water.
Stephen ran his hands slowly over Todd's chest, making the most of the two of them being alone. "Better or ok?”
"Betterish?" Todd twisted to see his partner's face and kissed him. "I feel better in here. Really."
"You two are going to join as at the pool, aren't you?" Rolf asked as he climbed the stairs, getting a quizzical look from Eric.
"Yes- if you're going back in?" Eric nodded discreetly at the pool area.
"Definitely. Just need to get my suit and my ice cream," Rolf said, giving Joseph a moment alone with Chris in the kitchen.
"Is Todd ok?" Chris said at once, turning around from his corner with open relief. Aware of Eric on the porch with Michael he hadn't dared to move, but was heartily tired of the paintwork there.
"Yes, no thanks to the two of you," Joe admonished quietly. "Come here."
Chris went to him slowly, far from encouraged by his tone. "We DIDN'T mean to, he's seen us argue plenty of times without minding."
"Just because he doesn't yell back, or even talk back to the two of you, doesn't mean that he doesn't mind, does it?"
"He knows we don't mean it," Chris pleaded. "He's never SAID he minded; he's never REALLY gotten upset-" he trailed off, knowing that wasn't true. A few times where Todd had left, upset in mid-battle between him and Matthew came uncomfortably to mind.
"He's very shaken and upset, and believe it or not he's worried about you, and particularly Matthew's nose. He is a wonderful friend to have and you should be ashamed of provoking him into getting that upset," Joseph said gravely.
"We didn't provoke HIM; we weren't doing a thing to him!" Chris said hotly, stamping. "It wasn't anything to DO with him!"
"Would you like more time to settle down in the corner?" Joe asked sternly.
Chris opened his mouth, about to yell back, then subsided. Joe would stand him in a corner for the rest of the evening if need be; nothing further would happen until he calmed down and dropped his voice.
"No," he said eventually, and quietly. "But it wasn't."
"Your actions affect more than you and those you are directly interacting with. Todd and Michael were sitting down with the two of you. You completely tuned the two of them out while you bickered with Matthew. That's rude in and of itself, not to mention the scuffles that you constantly get into with Matthew. It was either get out of your way or get hit, wasn't it?"
"I suppose," Chris muttered, flushing. "We didn't mean it like that."
Joseph toned his voice down a notch, seeing that some of his points were going home.
"Todd didn't have to get between you two poolside. He could have very easily stepped out of that argument and let the two of you fight it out. If he hadn't been between you two, what would the outcome have been?"
"Matthew would have hit me instead of him." Chris said very quietly.
"It wouldn't have ended there, would it?" Joseph asked knowingly.
Chris shook his head.
"Rolf would have returned and mass murders would have taken place, as one or both of you would have probably ended up in the water. Todd stepped up, into a situation that he detests, in order to keep you two from getting yourselves in that position, when neither of you were in the frame of mind to realise. Rolf said it well earlier; Todd should have been thanked for that, not thumped on the head.”
Chris was very red now, and mostly looking at the floor. He dug his hands into his pockets, not keen to look at his partner, and shrugged one shoulder. "It- it wasn't really Matt's fault we got into it. I started it, mouthing about Rolf. That always winds the hell out of him and I knew it would."
"Why?"
"I was mad about not going back in the pool and I knew Matt was going to be a pain about it too."
"That didn't work out too well for you, did it?"
"No kidding," Chris muttered.
"You'll apologise to Todd, Matthew and Rolf before we leave today. In the meantime, you can make yourself comfortable in the living room."
"Joooooooooooooooooooooe..........."
"You disrupted everyone's day already. Todd deserves a few hours of peaceful swimming, don't you think?" Joe asked sternly.
"He won't be that mad about it!" Chris protested.
"I am," Joe said, turning Chris around and walking with him into the living room, "and that's all that matters right now."
There was no answer to that. Chris went unwillingly where he was led and plonked down onto the sofa with a scowl that should have burned a hole through the carpet.
"I don't want to hear a word from you," Joseph said sternly, "and if I find you off that couch, it will become the last comfortable seat you'll have for a while. Understood?"
"Yes sir," Chris said with bad grace.
Joseph gave him a long look before heading back out to the kitchen, where Rolf was ravaging the freezer for the ice cream, already dressed in his shorts.
"I'll have the butter pecan, if you don't mind."
"There you go." Rolf passed him a tub and a spoon. "Chris settled? Where did you hide the TV remote?"
"I spotted it on the television, and I hope I made it perfectly clear he wasn't to leave the safety of the sofa," Joseph said, popping the top on the container of ice cream and leaving it on the table. He helped Rolf get a couple of drinks together in between a couple of dips into his butter pecan and followed him out of the house and down to the pool.
Chris, slumped on the sofa, gave a seriously longing look at the TV. Sitting here for an hour or two while everyone else swam was not an attractive possibility. Dropping back full length on the couch and crossing his ankles, he glowered at the ceiling. Todd was a pain. He was a wimp and a pain. The one consolation was that having sworn a blue streak at Rolf and smashed up the pool area, Rolf probably killed him. And Stephen had probably finished what Rolf started.
Matthew, sprawled out on the bed, thought he could hear something outside. Wondering if Todd was getting his dues, got up and looked out. His mouth fell open when he saw everyone around the pool except for Chris. Todd, Michael and Stephen were in the pool while Rolf, Eric and Joseph were eating ice cream, from what he could tell.
Steaming, he paced in the room for a few minutes and threw both pillows against the far wall. Life was NOT fair, he thought angrily. Looking out and seeing everyone still occupied, he decided to try and find Chris. He opened the bedroom door and walked quietly down the hallway, stopping to listen at the top of the stairs.
Chris, lying flat on the sofa, jerked quickly upright at the sound of the footsteps, expecting Joe or Rolf checking on him. Looking suitably miserable and abandoned, he sat upright and turned around to face the door.
Matthew took a few cautious steps down, nerves on the jagged edge.
The creaks were coming from the landing. Chris turned around, peering. "Matthew?"
Matthew jumped a mile without leaving his feet.
"SHIT!" he said, breathing hard when he realized it was Chris. He dropped down on the steps, barely able to see Chris on the couch from where he was. "What're you doing there?"
"Three guesses," Chris said sourly. "I got parked here while Joe went swimming. The one consolation is that dear little Todd's probably parked in the basement. And he can stay there; I hope Rolf paddled him black and blue."
"He's SWIMMING," Matthew said expressively.
Chris stared. "You are KIDDING."
"You and I are the ONLY ones not out there, can you believe that?"
"WHAT?" Chris threw himself back against the cushions. "Rolf should have murdered him!"
"No shit. ANYONE should have been murdered after throwing a fit like that, no matter WHAT the reason! At the VERY least he should have been sucking on soap for a few friggen hours."
"You HEARD what he said? He was spitting at Rolf like a drunken pirate, and I saw him kick at least one chair in the pool, not to mention push you in!"
"I'd have been killed on the spot, even if I was PLAYING and pushed someone in. How the hell did he manage not only to not get killed, but to be swimming as if NOTHING happened??
"Maybe Rolf handled him when we left- bad enough that Stephen let it go," Chris suggested.
Chris probably heard the roll of Matthew's eyes in his voice. "If Rolf handled that like he SHOULD have, Todd would have been hiding in the basement, NOT swimming."
"You know Steve's a wimp. And Todd cries if you look at him," Chris said sourly. "I WON 'T believe he got away with that scot-free!"
"What's that??!" Matthew asked, poised to run back to his room.
"It's one of your damn cats, relax." Chris flopped back on the sofa again, putting his feet up. "So what ARE we going to do for the next - however long?"
"Can you get to the ice cream?"
"Not a chance," Chris said flatly. "Joe is NOT happy, I'm already dead when we get home; I'm not pushing it. You want it, you get it."
"I have a hell of a lot farther to go," Matthew groused, arms across his knees on the steps. "We're stuck in this damned house, while everyone ELSE has fun."

*

It was nearly five pm when Rolf brought the last of the towels and plates into the kitchen and the goodbyes started. Chris, grim and unhappy, apologised shortly to Todd, Stephen and Rolf and left with Joe. Mike and Eric said goodbye and left. And Todd, in the kitchen, accepted the two Tylenol Rolf took out of the cupboard along with the sweet tea Stephen handed him.
White faced with shadows under his eyes and shivery now he was out of the water, he looked more than ready for bed.
"I'll get him straight home," Stephen said, sitting on the arm of his chair to rub his neck while he drank. "This isn't anything awful, the water's cooled him off; he'll be fine."
Rolf looked with sympathy at Todd before putting the tea back into the fridge. "Matthew owes you an apology as well, let me get him."
"It's ok," Todd said pleadingly. "I yelled a lot more than he did; it's all right, honest. I just want to go home."
It was very clear he wasn’t ready for this discussion and was in no fit state for it. Rolf looked down into Todd’s appealing face and relented, brushing his hair back from his forehead.
"Alright, sunshine, another time. Don't you worry about what happened today. I'm not angry, and you know Matthew and Chris, neither one holds grudges."
"I am sorry." Todd got up and gave Rolf a hug, hanging on to him for balance since he was feeling more than slightly shaky now from the after effects of the sunstroke.
Stephen got up, and with an arm around Todd headed out to the car after saying goodbye to Rolf. Rolf took his time cleaning up, somewhat tired after being in the sun himself. He made a large salad and topped it with chicken and cheese and put it back into the fridge. After securing the pool outside, Rolf headed upstairs and entered their bedroom.
Matthew, lying on the bed, gave him a somewhat jaundiced look.
"Why was Todd swimming?"
"Good evening to you too," Rolf said as he headed into their bathroom, leaving the door open.
"It's not fair," Matthew said flatly. "I HEARD what he was screaming at you, you'd kill me for saying ONE of those words! And what's the band-aid for?"
Rolf stopped his shower preparations and came back into the room. "Todd was upset enough that I restrained him until he had control of himself again. It's just a small scratch. And what I expect from you is very different to what I expect from Todd, not to mention the extenuating circumstances.”
"He HURT you?" Matthew demanded.
"No, he didn't hurt me. I scraped my arm when I was restraining him. There's quite a difference there," Rolf said bluntly.
"I don't believe he raised enough hell to hurt you and you let him swim! You don't let ANYONE swear, I know you don't! And he pushed me in the pool!"
Matthew flared, not picking up on the change in tone.
"Come here," Rolf growled, hoping that would be the only warning Matthew would need to settle down.
The tone alone got through quickly. Matthew stopped, aware he was more or less shouting, and that Rolf was not looking happy. Slowly, without enthusiasm, he edged into Rolf's reach, not daring to refuse.
"Have you EVER seen Todd that angry before?" Rolf asked when Matthew was within reach.
"No," Matthew admitted. "But Chris has flipped like that plenty of times-"
"Chris is a different person, just like you're different from the two of them. Todd does NOT get angry like that. You only saw the beginnings of that anger - you didn't get the full picture."
"What happened?" Matthew asked, curious in spite of himself.
 "He was shaken, Matthew. Shaken badly. As soon as the anger passed he was in tears, upset because he got that mad, upset because he hit out at you, and upset because he didn't understand even what had really happened. He left here with an awful headache, white and shaking."
"I get mad all the time!" Matthew protested, shaken himself by Rolf's seriousness. "CHRIS goes totally nuts when he tantrums, you don't let us chuck chairs around and swear!"
"Does Todd?"
"He did this afternoon, I heard him! You'd have killed me for acting like that; it's not fair you're all sympathetic with him! Chris and I spent the whole afternoon in here and HE got to swim like nothing at all happened!"
Matthew's sense of injustice rose along with his voice.
"Yell again, and I'll finish this conversation while you suck on a bar of soap," Rolf said firmly, waiting a moment for Matthew to settle down. "Stop and think. Have you EVER seen Todd that angry before? Ever?"
"No," Matthew muttered, with a scowl that should have burned a hole through the carpet, not at all pacified by the threat of soap.
"If that's never happened before, don't you think I should make an exception?" Rolf asked.
"You didn't let ME off the first time you saw ME flip," Matthew muttered, folding his arms.
"You were very well aware of what you were doing, brat," Rolf replied, pulling Matthew to him for a hug.
Matthew stiffened in his arms for a moment with outrage, then an afternoon alone and having been thoroughly chewed out won and he wrapped both arms sulkily around Rolf, cuddling up. "You don't know that. I might have been all shaken and helpless too."
"And had you been, things might have turned out differently," Rolf said, hands clasped comfortably in the small of Matthew's back. "Every situation is different, and decisions are made based on those facts. Todd was handled as we saw fit, period. You landed up here because of your actions, and those are the only ones I'm interested in."
Matthew looked at his chest, pouting, fingers twisting at the nearest button. "I didn't mean to make him go nuts."
"I know; it's not something any of us expected. You just need to remember that your actions can have consequences you're not aware of. It WAS rude of you to leave Todd out of your bickering conversation, then let him get between you two only to involve him in the fisticuffs. Had you thought about that, then maybe you and Chris could have enjoyed a much happier day for all of us," Rolf finished, lips brushing Matthew's forehead.
"I'm sorry," Matthew said softly and apologetically. "I didn't mean to spoil your day either."
Rolf smiled warmly, all the gruffness and seriousness gone from earlier. "You've got the evening to make it up to me," Rolf said, his hands loosening to slide down and cup Matthew's bottom, pulling him forward for a much deeper kiss.

~ THE END ~
Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010

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