Saturday, February 6, 2010

Cold Justice

Title: Cold Justice
Authors: Rolf and Ranger
Author’s Note: This story was written in response to an idea and request from Cris- thank you for the plot ideas, we had fun with them! Hope you enjoy the outcome! 

"Ah...AH...AHCHOOOOO!" Matthew sneezed at full volume, startling Chris who had been asleep.
"Do you HAVE to sneeze loud enough to wake the dead?" Chris said, scowling.
"You all right?" Rolf asked, checking out Matthew in the rear view mirror, while Joe turned to give Chris a look to stop the argument before it began.
"I'm FINE," Matthew said irritably. "Allergies, it IS fall. And I don't know HOW you can sleep with that glass shattering snore," Matthew retorted to Chris.
"It is not allergies." Rolf said for about the tenth time that morning, just for the record. Matthew gave him a flat glare back in the mirror. This conversation had been running for forty eight hours now and while the underlying meaning hadn't yet been mentioned, both of them knew exactly what it was about.
They were headed for the lake on the last forecast weekend of fall good weather, and the last chance of swimming at the lake this year.
"I wasn't snoring." Chris said calmly. "You're the one making all the noise."
Joe snapped the radio on to end the glaring match. "There. White noise. Matthew do you want to come and sit up the front here? Would you be more comfortable?"
"I'm FINE," Matthew replied again, short-tempered. He grabbed the jacket sitting next to him and pulled it up to his chin, settling back against the door and closing his eyes. He could breathe, he wasn't coughing, he was NOT sick.
Joe turned back around, the glance between him and Rolf confirming what they both knew. He was definitely coming down with something.
They were only about an hour out from the cabin and the time passed without any more problems, mostly because Matthew had fallen into a light doze. Chris couldn't get back to sleep but was able to read some in the car without getting sick - a trick Matthew had never managed to master.
It was about mid morning when Rolf drove slowly down the last stretch of the gravel and dirt road, always the worse for wear after a summer of higher traffic volumes. He steered around several particularly large potholes but had to hit a smaller one in the process. Matthew awoke with a yelp as his head connected with the window.
Rolf gave him a quick smile of sympathy, following the road around the lake that led to the cabin.
"We're pretty much here."
"And there's Officer Davidson." Joe added dryly. "I could swear he left ten minutes behind us, does he actually read the speed limits?"
"Maybe he knows a short cut." Chris opened the door and dropped to the ground, stretching as Rolf turned the engine off. Mike, sitting on the cabin steps, gave him a wave and a grin.
"Come on, get a move on, it's still warm enough to swim right now!"
"If you stretch a point." Chris yelled back. Rolf tossed the cabin keys across to Eric who was nearest to the door and went around the truck as Matthew climbed out, stiffly and still bundled in his jacket. The afternoon was bright enough but he clearly was feeling the cold.
"Sorry about that pothole," Rolf said, kissing Matthew's forehead. He discreetly checked his temperature as he made a show of feeling sorry for the bump. Satisfied there wasn't a fever he hugged Matthew, laughing as he overhead Mike's comments.
"Could you two at least wait until the rest of us can get inside!"
"You had the area to yourself for a few minutes. Don't blame us if you misused that time," Rolf replied, handing Matthew his duffel bag and grabbing his own.
Eric had the door open and Mike fled inside with his bag, Chris trying to follow before Joe called him over to take in his own clothes.
Chris came back without enthusiasm and took the two bags, shaking his head at his partner. "I worry about you. Nothing is going to evaporate, the gremlins really WON'T get you if we don't unpack right now, and the sunlight's burning-"
"Humour me." Joe shouldered the last bag and locked the truck. "Hi Eric. That was a fast trip."
"Just no mucking about." Eric said, straight faced. "Mike and I headed down to the lake while we were waiting, it's definitely warm enough to swim today and the water's clear. The weather's due to change tomorrow according to the guy at the gate house but today should be fine."
"I'm going to swim." Matthew agreed, running upstairs. Joe caught Rolf's eye, raising his eyebrows.
"Earplugs in place?" Rolf asked dryly, heading up the stairs. Joe laughed, carrying up his own bags to find Chris half undressed and searching for his suit.
"It's in my bag, remember?" Joe said, putting it down on the bed.
"That's right." Chris unzipped the bag and pulled his suit out before stepping out of his jeans. Joe had been watching but couldn't keep his hands off the plump cheeks that appeared as Chris yanked off his underwear.
"Must you go swimming so soon?" Joe asked, cupping a hand on each cheek and pulling Chris close for a long and deep kiss. They were deep within a second kiss when a door slammed shut followed quickly by Rolf's bark across Matthew's whine of 'it's not fair!' Chris and Joe gave that no thought as they continued necking.
Outside Mike paused on the steps, glancing up at the window. Eric shut the front door behind them, also in shorts, and pushed Mike down the steps ahead of him.
"Come on, that's nothing to do with us."
Shaking his head, Mike broke into a jog and followed Eric down the hill to the lake, where Eric walked out onto the jetty and dived off the end into the water.


"THAT IS RIDICULOUS." Matthew fumed, slamming his now empty duffle bag down into the wardrobe. "It's ALLERGIES, the water will probably HELP!"
"I'm not convinced it IS allergies," Rolf replied evenly. "I told you this morning that swimming was going to be out of the question. That didn't change on the drive up."
"Everyone ELSE -"
"Can do what they want. There is a lot more to be enjoyed up here aside from the water. You're lucky that we're even here," Rolf said pointedly, catching Matthew's eye.
Matthew huffed again but didn't reply. It had taken a lot of work to get actually get here in the first place. He'd figure out how to go swimming later, if that's what it took.
"Can I at least go down to the dock?" he asked, still bad tempered.
Rolf pulled him close and kissed the pouting mouth, snagging the bottom lip and pulling gently on it. Matthew pulled away, then kissed Rolf in return, softening a little. He turned and headed for the door when Todd's yell floated up the stairs.
"ANYONE HOMO?"
"Up here!" Matthew yelled back, opening the door. Todd bounded upstairs, grinning.
"Hi! I see Mike got a head start on us! Are you coming swimming?"
Matthew cast a brief and pointed look at Rolf who answered for him, calmly finishing the unpacking.
"We thought we'd go for a walk- and I don't know where Joe and Chris got to- but Mike and Eric went down to the lake."
"That's what we came to do." Todd said cheerfully, heading for his room.
"See?" Matthew said irritably. "EVERYONE."
"Except us. Come on, let's walk up through the woods, see if we can get up on the cliffs." Rolf picked up his jacket and took Matthew's out of the closet.
They passed Todd on the landing as he jogged downstairs, dressed for swimming, and vanished out of the front door. Stephen, in jeans, followed more slowly.
Matthew stopped in the kitchen, surveying the food boxes that Stephen had been in charge of bringing. He had just pulled out a bag of chips when Rolf's hand closed on his.
"You don't need that now. Let's go enjoy the day, it's beautiful out there," Rolf said, putting the chips back in the box. "Looks like we won't go hungry," he added with a glance at the rest of the boxes, steering Matthew out of the front door.
"Steve'd take that as a personal insult," Matthew said, stepping out into the bright sunshine. He breathed deeply, smelling the arrival of fall. The air was fresh and dry, unlike the stifling heaviness of the usual summers around the lake. There was barely a breeze; the only thing that kept the day from being too cold to swim. He looked longingly down the hill to the lake, barely able to hear an occasional splash
Rolf gripped his hand, tugging him gently towards the steep, pine needled hill that led towards the woods.
"Aren't there the deer tracks up here?"


They walked for most of the rest of the afternoon. Eric was sitting on the side of the jetty, drying off when they re joined the others. Stephen was asleep on the bench and Joe was reading in the last of the real afternoon sunshine. Mike, Chris and Todd were in view out towards a rocky outcropping, swimming in the shallows around it where the water had picked up some of the sun’s warmth.
"Good walk?" Joe asked, lowering the book to smile at Matthew with every sympathy for him.
"Yes," Matthew said as he waited for Rolf to settle down, before sitting in front of him on the wooden dock. He leaned back into the hand he knew was coming to knead his shoulders.
"It was lovely," Rolf added. "It's the perfect time to walk. Not too hot, no bugs at all. The squirrels were working overtime to gather and bury all the acorns. With all the leaves underfoot that was the only wildlife we were going to chance seeing."
"A little loud I'm sure," Joe replied, closing his book. "Hope it'll be nice enough for a walk tomorrow."
"I think this is going to be the end of the swimming." Rolf said regretfully. "It's only just warm enough this afternoon and I think this is the last really warm fall day we'll get."
He felt Matthew's response under his hands although his brat didn't voice his comments. Joe glanced at his watch.
"Are you two ready for lunch? We left it as long as possible to make the most of the weather and the water."
Rolf glanced at his own watch. It was nearly three pm , the sun was losing its intensity and it wouldn't be long before the swimmers would be driven from the water.
"That sounds like a good idea. We can have a main meal now, get everyone warm."
Joe stood up and walked to the end of the dock, checking on Stephen before he did so. He waved until he thought he had someone's attention and motioned for them to come back to the dock. "Hope that works. Thought I'd let Steve sleep as long as he could."
"I think they got that," Rolf replied as Eric came down the dock behind Joe, rubbing his arms briskly.
"That was definitely invigorating," he said.
"Well if you will swim in mid fall." Joe said, grinning at him. Eric leaned on his shoulder and looked out over the lake.
"And they're positively RUSHING to get back here.........."
"You can't blame them." Joe said, shaking his head. He waved again, but three heads were averted and it was clear little notice was being taken. Eric picked up a towel and began to rub his hair.
"Give them another ten minutes. If they don't wander back by then I'll go out and round them up. They won't get back in the water again this year, they might as well make the most of it."
"That means we won't start dinner for ages!" Matthew objected, glaring out across the water at the swimmers. "I'm starving if they're not!"
"You'll live," Rolf said, keeping his hand on Matthew's shoulder. "It's too nice sitting down here to go inside now anyway."
Matthew refused to comment, instead glaring out over the water at his friends.
"Steve still sleeping?" Eric asked as he removed the towel from his head. He stretched out on the sun warmed dock, using the residual heat to warm up his chilled skin.
"Yes. Guess he's had a busy week," Joe replied.
"Aren't they even STARTING to come back?" Matthew demanded. "Can we at least go and START a meal? It's going to be hours!"
"What do you want to do?" Eric said peaceably. "Grill? I know Steve pretty much planned for the whole weekend in case the weather turned."
"Grilling sounds good." Joe agreed. "And that won't take too long either."
Matthew, well aware when he was being distracted and not impressed by it, got up and brushed off his jeans, stifling the urge to cough.
"Well I'm starved and I'm headed back, I'll see you in a while."
"No, Matthew.” Rolf said without looking round. “You can wait here with the rest of us, please."
Trying not to stomp, Matthew headed down the dock. "Fine, but I want to walk on the shore."
"Don't go far."
"He's really not feeling too well," Eric commented without opening his eyes.
"No, I don't think so," Rolf replied, looking back over to the rocks. The boys had climbed up onto the rock surface and were taking it in turns to dive off. "I am beginning to feel as if we're being completely ignored."
Joe followed his gaze and agreed. Eric groaned, but sat up.
"Do you want to try yelling, or do you just want to see me get wet again?"
"Well Steve's going to have to wake up anyway." Rolf pointed out. Joe grinned and raised his voice, calling out across the lake.
"HEY guys, come in now."
He saw Chris's head turn towards him, heard an answering shout and then slowly the three out in the water turned and began to strike back towards shore.
Matthew, walking down the beach beyond the jetty, gave them a sour look as they waded up out of the shallows a few moments later.
"Take your time why don't you? Some of us are starving here."
"So go get a cookie," Chris replied before Joe descended upon them with towels.
"Here, dry off. Get over there, in the sun where it's a little warmer. Come on, the lot of you," Joe said, heralding them ahead of him. He waited a minute while the boys got the worst of the water from their skin. "Now, does anyone want to tell me why I was ignored when I asked you to come back to the dock the first time?"
"We came BACK the first time," Chris said easily, concentrating on drying his legs so he didn't have to look at Joe.
"Water in their ears." Matthew said shortly.
"Well you've not cheered up any." Mike said tactlessly.
"Screw you." Matthew snapped back.
"Enough." Joe said crisply. "Chris, Mike and Todd, I'm talking to you."
Mike and Todd looked to Chris, since it was his partner rather than their own.
"I just said," Chris replied into the silence.
"So no one saw me wave?" Joe said, watching them towel off as they reached the dock.
"I saw, but didn't know you waved us to come BACK."
"I was just waving at random to say hello?" Joe said dryly. "Christopher did you realise I meant come back?"
"No," he mumbled into the towel as he worked on his hair.
"Look at me." Joe requested.
Chris took a minute longer to dry his hair before pulling the towel off and looking at his partner with wide open eyes.
"Yes or no." Joe said simply.
"....maybe?" Chris said hopefully.
"YES or no." Joe repeated more sternly.
"Okay, yes," Chris capitulated. "But it's the LAST swim of the year, I didn't think it would be so awful if we were a little late."
"So, 'We came back the first time' I called you, was actually a lie." Joe said inquiringly.
Chris gulped on that and he could feel Mike and Todd shifting a bit beside him
 "Nooooo," Chris said slowly. "I must have misunderstood?"
"Michael, did you see and understand what I meant when I waved?" Joe said, moving on.
Mike tried nodding yes.
"Todd?" Joe asked, giving Mike a Look. Todd winced.
"I kinda guessed."
"I see. Go get dressed the pair of you." Joe dismissed them with a jerk of his head towards the jetty.
They escaped quickly, leaving Chris standing alone. "Sorry?" he said, looking at Joe, still with big eyes.
Joe turned him around with a sharp swat across the wet seat of his speedos.
"Get dry."
Chris shot over to where he had his clothes and pulled his shirt over his head. That swat stung like heck, but if that was all he was more than grateful
Joe followed him up onto the jetty, picking up Chris's dropped towel and his book.
"We'll head on up and start the showers."
"We'll be right behind you," Eric replied, towelling off Mike's head.
Joe waited for Chris pointedly and followed him up towards the cabin. Todd towelled the last of the water off his hair and stooped to shake Stephen who was still peacefully asleep on the bench.
"Steve."
Steve woke up, squinting sharply against the sun. "What time is it?"
"About ten past three." Todd said, giving him a sympathetic smile. "Are you going to come and eat or sleep the rest of the day away?"
"I've been sleeping that long?" Steve asked, sitting up.
"You've been out for the count." Todd pulled him up. Rolf got up too, watching Eric and Mike make their way up the hill.
"Matthew!"
"What?"
"Come on up, we're going in."
Matthew headed over towards the pathway, still aggravated, and preceded Rolf up towards the cabin.


Stephen had woken up enough in the kitchen to be unpacking the fridge and doing peculiar things with sauces and marinades. Rolf gave him an experienced look and left him alone. Cooking to Stephen was therapy. The shower was already running upstairs, he could hear someone- most likely Eric- whistling- and the heavy thud of his partner making his way upstairs with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. He was about to follow when he saw Matthew's jacket dropped on the table and the small brown leather wallet dropped on the floor under the kitchen table. And stooped to pick it up, taking it with him upstairs to their room.
Matthew was stretched out face down on the bed and in the process of kicking off his shoes.
"Do you know where your wallet is?" Rolf asked, shutting the door behind him.
Matthew felt his pockets first then rolled up on one elbow to look at his partner.
"My jacket pocket, I'd assume."
"You'd assume?"
"Do you WANT me to go downstairs and get my coat?" Matthew snapped back.
Rolf gave him a steady look and pulled the wallet out of his pocket. "As a matter of fact it was on the floor under the table, in clear sight of anyone who wandered through the cabin, and clearly dropped there without any forethought or consideration. HOW long were we looking for it this morning?"
"It wasn't THAT long," Matthew replied, putting his head down on his arms.
"I made it nearly half an hour." Rolf said, putting the wallet down on the dressing table. "And look at me please when I'm talking to you."
"Like I said, it wasn't that long," Matthew said again, leaning on his right side to look at Rolf.
"Half an hour is far TOO long to be looking for something you should put away and not drop wherever you happen to be. And it's less than a week since we LAST were chasing around before work while you looked for it."
"I don't know how it fell out of my jacket, but I knew where it was this time," Matthew countered.
Rolf fixed him with an extremely unpromising glare. "WHAT did I say to you this morning?"
"To keep track of it. I DID."
"You PUT it under the kitchen table?" Rolf demanded.
"Wasn't my jacket there somewhere?"
Rolf gave him a long and steady look. "The next time that wallet gets dropped, lost or left out in sight, I'll spank you. Is that clear enough?"
"Rolf! You don't have to get THAT dramatic!" Matthew said, sitting up.
"When we have to start cancelling your cards because you've finally lost it or had it stolen it's going to get a lot more dramatic." Rolf said shortly. "IS that clear?"
Matthew glared at Rolf before nearly spitting, "YES, sir."
"Then put it away." Rolf watched Matthew roll up off the bed with extremely bad grace and put the offending wallet away in a drawer, then caught his partner by the belt and drew him over, putting a hand against his face. Despite the cool breeze outside he was warm and his eyes were definitely red rimmed.
"What?" Matthew demanded.
"What ever you've not got looks like it's developing." Rolf let him go and went into the bathroom. "Did you unpack the cold stuff I brought?"
"No. I don't need any drugs."
Rolf dug through the bathroom cabinet and then his duffle bag and found the bottle he was looking for, filled the bottle cap to the measure mark and took it to Matthew, holding it out.
"Take that now and you can fit in another dose before you go to bed."
Matthew shook his head no, not reaching for the cup.
"I don't LIKE that stuff!"
"There's barely one mouthful there."
"It STILL tastes like sh...crap."
"Just drink it." Rolf said firmly.
Matthew shook his head no again.
"One."
"I don't NEED it!"
"Two."
"Rooooooolllllllfffffffffff"
Rolf held the cup out to him.
Matthew glared at him but finally accepted the cup but didn't drink it.
"ONE mouthful." Rolf said firmly. "Come on, you're not going to die from the taste."
"I need water," Matthew said, stalking past Rolf into the bathroom.
"Freeze,"
Matthew stopped just short of the door. "What?"
"Come here, drink it, I'll get you the water."
"No, I need it RIGHT after, you KNOW that."
Rolf went past him and brought a glass of water back with him.
Matthew mutely held out a hand for the water.
Rolf sighed, wondering why every single liquid cold medication sold in the US had this effect on his usually very sweet tempered partner.
"No. Drink it and you can have the water, this doesn't have to take the rest of the evening."
"Why can't I have the water?"
"Now Matthew, before this gets ugly."
Glaring, Matthew raised the cup up near his mouth, then drew it sharply away. "That is DISGUSTING."
"ONE mouthful, just do it."
"I'll be FINE without it," Matthew whined.
"NOW Matthew."
"I need to use the restroom," Matthew said, trying to hand the cup over to Rolf.
Rolf, out of patience and well aware this could go on for hours, took the cup away and swatted him firmly. "NOW."
"Ow!" Matthew said, rubbing the sore spot on his bottom. "Can I pee first?"
Rolf swatted him again, not answering that.
Matthew picked up the water glass and took a drink, then held out his hand for the cold medicine, closed his eyes and held the medicine up to his mouth and stood there. Rolf shook his head, put his hand over Matthew's and tipped, cupping the other hand behind his head before he could choke.
Matthew's eyes flew open and he nearly spluttered the medication over both of them. He quickly pushed Rolf's hand away and swallowed, nearly gagging, before chugging the water down in large gulps, medication dripping from his chin and the fingers of his left hand.
"If I have to do that again I'm going to sit on you first." Rolf informed him, passing him a tissue from the box on the side. "WHAT a performance. Go and wash that off."
Matthew wiped at the water and medication streaming from his chin, stalking into the bathroom to finish the job. He was breathing fast, face still contorted from the disgusting taste and still trying to get more water down to wash it away.
Rolf refastened the cap on the bottle and searched for a sweater. The sun was reaching the autumnal afternoon softness, beginning to sink behind the trees and from the way the temperature was dropping, he suspected they were going to need the heating on tonight.
When he was finally sure he wasn't going to throw up, Matthew put the glass down and stalked out of the bathroom.
"Put a sweater on," Rolf told him, pulling his own on and heading downstairs. "It's getting cold here."
"I don't need a flipping sweater," Matthew mumbled, carrying it with him out into the hall where Mike was standing.
"What's got up your nose?" Michael said impatiently. "Were you two making enough noise? I could hear you carrying on from downstairs."
"My stupid wallet fell out of my stupid jacket, so I got yelled at about that. THEN he topped THAT off with a chug of cold sludge. What's it to you anyway?" Matthew muttered, going on down the stairs.
"Are you going to be in this crap ass mood ALL weekend?" Mike demanded, following him. "No one's had a civil word out of you since we arrived."
"Yeah, right. All those mean words and rude comments I made while we all swam all friggen afternoon. I've had SO much time with everyone," Matthew fumed, storming out the door and onto the porch.
"You've got a cold, and the lake's freezing. Get over it." Mike followed him outside to where Chris and Todd were sitting on the steps and Eric was locking up the car. "We won't get to swim again, we were lucky we got in at all."
"SOME of you got that in," Matthew said, flopping down onto the swing and tossing his sweater next to him.
Todd caught Mike's eye and Mike pulled a face.
"Oh GOD are you still at it?" Chris demanded. "Did you expect us to stay out of the water?"
"Oh SHUT UP, would you?" Matthew spat.
"Yeah when YOU do!" Chris said sourly. "For pete's sake Mocoso, we're supposed to be on vacation."
Eric walked back towards the porch, carrying the book he had been looking for.
"What's going on here?"
Chris glared expressively at Matthew but the other two didn't answer, Mike just turning up the cover of the book.
"You found it?"
Matthew headed inside, letting the screen door slam behind him.
"Yes, I found it." Eric said, looking around the remaining three. "And you three can be patient with Matthew. He's not feeling great, he's limited in what he can do, he doesn't need jumping on."
"We weren't jumping on him," Chris retorted. "He's just being a bit - bear."
"Like any of us when we're tired and feeling lousy." Eric said firmly. "Give him some slack."
"All right," Chris said ungratefully.
"How long until lunch is ready?" Mike asked, trying to change the subject.
"Any minute." Eric said calmly. "And I mean it."
He went inside, leaving the three on the porch. Matthew was in the kitchen, picking at chips while Stephen finished grilling, and Rolf cut salad.
"I don't have to put up with that crap ALL weekend, do I?" Chris asked no one in particular.
"You can see Eric's point." Todd said a little guiltily. "Matthew clearly feels rotten if his eyes are anything to go by."
"Well he doesn't have to be pissed off at the rest of us because we don't feel like shit too," Mike agreed with Chris.
Todd shrugged, not arguing, since he had to agree. Matthew, in the wrong mood, could make his displeasure very strongly felt.
"What was all that yelling about anyway?" Chris asked Mike. "You could hear it from the window as if it were open."
"Cough meds." Mike said succinctly. "Either that or Rolf was killing pigs. Want to see if we can get Eric to take a boat out this afternoon? He told me there was a couple for hire from the guy at the site reception."
"I'd vote for the pigs," Chris said, laughing.
"Yeah! The boat ride would be nice, Mike. At least it'll get us away from Groucho Matts." Todd said.
"I doubt he'll get away from Rolf this afternoon anyway." Mike said, salving his conscience as Stephen yelled from the kitchen that lunch was served. The meal, as usual when they were all together, was noisy, leisurely and crowded, and occupied the porch since eight men did not fit around the cabin kitchen table. Matthew, picking at steak and salad, eventually gave up and Stephen gave him a sympathetic look.
"It's not THAT bad is it?"
"No." Matthew said at once, "Sorry. I just can't taste it anyway and I'm not that hungry."
"Try to eat a little more, hon. You don't want to feel hungry on top of miserable," Rolf said.
Matthew picked without enthusiasm. Stephen's cooking was always delicious, but as stuffed up as his nose was, all he could taste was warmth and wetness, and eating made him feel still more suffocated.
"We were talking about going out on the boat this afternoon." Mike said to Eric. "I'll go and see that guy about hiring the boat if you'll come with us?"
"We could do that," Eric replied. We've got a few more hours of daylight left."
"Sounds like a great idea." Joe agreed, glancing at his watch. "You've got plenty of time. Where do you want to go?"
"Just out and about," Mike replied. "Something that isn't right around here as we can walk that later or tomorrow."
"The island." Chris said promptly. "We couldn't swim that far out this morning, it was too cold."
"Do you want to go?" Rolf said to Matthew. There was a nearly audible groan from Chris who was promptly nudged by Joe.
"Yes," Matthew replied, trying not to look surprised that he was asked.
"Might clear your head." Rolf reached down for his plate, gathering it up with his own. "I'll wash up, why don't you lot go and hire this boat?"
"All right," Eric said, getting up from his spot on the steps. Rolf took his plate as well, trying to dodge the rest of the pack headed down the steps. Matthew hadn't yet moved from the swing and was trying to decide whether to go with the guys or not.
Eric waited, digging his hands in his pockets. "Come on Matt. At least you'll have got on the water once before winter. There'll be snow down here if we make it back again before New Year."
"Okay," Matthew said getting up.
"Oh brother." Chris muttered to Todd, setting off at a fast stride towards the site reception. Mike lengthened his own pace, just as Joe called after them.
"Matthew! I saw your wallet kicking around the kitchen earlier, did you find it?"
"We found it." Rolf said pointedly.
"It was IN my jacket, I don't know how it fell out," Matthew replied, walking fast to try to catch up to the rest of the group.
"What was that about?" Eric asked him, keeping pace with him since the other three seemed bent on getting to the office first.
"I misplaced my wallet this morning and he's going ape over it," Matthew answered.
"He's what?" Eric said mildly
"He's a heck of a lot more upset about it than I am," Matthew amended.
"I'm not surprised, it's pretty important." Eric lifted his voice to the other three walking ahead. "Guys wait please."
"Need to slow down for Mr. Butterfingers," Chris grumbled, slowing down but not stopping.
"What's he lost?" Todd asked, glancing back. "I heard Rolf making threats about something."
"His wallet," Mike replied. "For some reason he can't seem to keep up with it."
"Probably because there's NEVER any cash in it," Chris retorted.
They reached the boat house and Mike ran up the steps, smiling at the elderly man behind the counter. "Hi. We'd like to hire one of the boats this afternoon?"
Within about twenty minutes Eric had brought the boat back to the jetty by the lake and sent the other four back to the cabin for sun lotion and jackets, since the wind was cold but the wind burn and the sun behind it was still strong out on the water.
"Matthew, come here for a moment," Rolf said from the kitchen as the herd came in to collect their jackets.
Matthew climbed the steps and went into the kitchen, letting the other three shoot upstairs undeterred, since Joe and Stephen had both headed out for a walk.
"How was the walk?"
Matthew shrugged, trying not to sniff as the warm air promptly stuffed his head up again. "Not bad. Eric sent us up for jackets, we got the boat."
"Great. That should make for a nice afternoon. Has the cold medication kicked in at all?" Rolf asked as he pulled the kettle off the burner before it whistled.
"Yes, I feel fine." Matthew looked around the kitchen. "Did you take my jacket upstairs?"
"Yes, it's on the back of the door," Rolf said, pulling Matthew to him for a hug. "Have fun, but try not to sit out in the full blast of the wind? Please?"
"I won't. I like the wind, I can breathe in it." Matthew hugged him back. "What are you going to do?"
"I think I'll try settling outside in the yard to read before the sun is gone."
"Sounds nice." Matthew let him go and headed slowly upstairs to their room. His jacket was hanging where Rolf had said, and the pockets were unzipped. Matthew hesitated for a moment, then remembering his conversation with Eric, dug out his wallet and zipped it firmly into the jacket pocket. At least then he knew EXACTLY where it was.
Eric could be heard through the open window, yelling for them to hurry up. Matthew ran down the stairs, zipping up his jacket, and headed down the hill. He was the last one, the other three were on board and it was fairly clear to Matthew as he arrived that Mike at least had been trying to persuade Eric to leave without him. He and Chris both shut up and gave him faintly grim looks as he climbed into the boat. Eric however just smiled at him and gunned the engine, turning the boat out into the water.
The boat had seating in the bow, which is where Mike and Chris were sitting, feeling the full effects of the breeze. Todd was sitting in the single seat that sat across from Eric's chair, which left the entire back of the boat to Matthew. He plopped down into the corner directly behind Eric, stretching his legs out onto the cushion towards the front of the boat. Todd looked back to check on Matthew, and decided it would be the friendly thing to do to join him. He walked hunched over and sank into the other corner.
Raising his voice, he said "It's nice out here, isn't it?" to Matthew.
"You didn't have to sit back here. I'm the only one that's sick."
"I'm sorry." Todd said with genuine sympathy. "Are you feeling bad?
Matthew shrugged, not unappreciative but also not feeling talkative. The air blasting into his face was in some ways comforting and in other ways made breathing still more difficult. Eric reached the shallows of the island a few moments later and beached the boat on the sands, looking back into the boat.
"Matthew wait a minute, no need for you to get wet."
The other three, who were in shorts and had taken off whatever footwear they were wearing, simply dropped over the side of the boat and waded ashore, heading for the beach.
"I'm NOT going die with wet feet," Matthew said, stepping out of his sandals as fast as he could.
"You're in jeans and you'll get soaked." Eric checked the stability of the boat and took the painter, sliding over the side. "Stay."
Matthew barked twice, then bent down to roll up his jeans.
Eric tied the boat to one of the bushes on the shore, then waded back, holding out his arms. "Come on."
"I can jump from here," Matthew said, climbing up on the seat cushions.
Eric pulled him firmly over and picked him up, wading with him the few feet into the shallows before he put him down on the beach. "Put your shoes on and stay dry."
"My shoes are on the boat, and I'm fine without them," Matthew said, heading off down the beach. Eric watched him go with some sympathy, deciding that if his feet remained dry then he wouldn't complain about the shoes not being on the feet.

Chris looked up and wolf whistled as Matthew approached them, having watched the altercation in the boat with some amusement. Furious, Matthew stormed past him and up the beach to where the sand disappeared into sparse woodland.
"He is driving me NUTS." Mike said, skipping another pebble out to sea as Eric took a seat on the sand down by the boat, well out of earshot.
"You and me both," Chris replied, drawing in the sand. "He should have just stayed back at the cabin."
"I don't know why they even came if he's THIS sick. He's going to be a total pain all weekend and Eric and Rolf are going to be just as bad running around after him if he's going to make this kind of fuss about it." Mike peered after Matthew's trail, stooping for another handful of pebbles. "Although I think if I tried telling him that right now I'd get a black eye."
"Come on, give him a break. Neither of you are much fun when you're sick either," Todd tried to stick up for his friend.
"It's the song and dance he's making about it." Chris said sourly. "If he doesn't belt up soon I'm going to do something to take his mind right off it."
"What would you do?" Mike inquired. "If it would end things and we'd all get along better, then I'm all for it.
Chris shrugged, skipping a pebble after Mike's. "I don't know. I'll think of something if he doesn't pull it in soon."
Mike tossed the last pebble out to sea and headed up the steep sand bank into the woodland. The trees were thin here on the sandy scrub land, and it was only twenty or thirty yards before the scrubland ended and the opposite shore of the little island began. Matthew was walking down the beach, hands dug into his pockets, and his jacket was dropped over a fallen log.
Mike stopped in the tree line, watching him walk, not inclined to follow him or attract his attention. Then he saw the jacket and stifled a smirk. A quick rifle through the pockets gave him exactly what he wanted- he pocketed it quietly and headed back through the trees.
"Where's Matthew?" Todd asked, having gotten up to follow and find Matthew when Mike came back to where Chris was still lounging on the sand.
"Walking on the beach." Mike sat down beside them, slipping Matthew's wallet briefly out of his pocket and flashing it to both of them with a wicked smile before he re pocketed it.

"Rolf will KILL him, you heard that!" Todd said quickly, alarmed.
"Shhhhh!" Chris spluttered, looking around. "It'll serve him right and maybe straighten his ass up."
"I'm not going to keep it long enough for him to actually GET shot," Mike said patiently. "Twit. Only to freak him."
"Oh. Okay," Todd said dubiously. He wasn't appreciating Matthew's mood much either, but he wasn't quite sure about the plan. Since he didn't want to be exiled, he just kept his mouth shut. "I'm going to see if he wants company," Todd said, getting up again.
"Leave him be." Chris said impatiently. "You'll only get your head snapped off again. You've seen the mood he's been in all day-"
"Mike!" Eric called from the beach. "Go get Matthew please, time to make a move."
"I'll get him," Todd said, walking up towards the trees. Michael and Chris walked up to the tree line and made their way slowly back to the boat to take their seats in the front again.
"Matthew? They're ready to leave," Todd yelled down the beach. He found Matthew's coat and picked it up.
Matthew turned back, scowling. "It's EARLY, we've barely been here half an hour."
"It'll be nice to go somewhere else where we don't usually swim to, wouldn't it?"
Matthew gave him a sour look, but headed back up the beach, accepting his jacket with a mutter of thanks. He didn't check the pockets as Todd half hoped he would, and he strode ahead through the scrubland to the boat where he glared at Eric.
"It's way too early to be going back-"
"We're not going back, we're moving along," Eric said as Todd tossed the coat into the boat and jumped over the side to take his back seat again. He ignored the questioning looks from the two up front.
"Where?" Matthew said, not too impressed. Eric held out an arm to him, waiting on the beach.
"The reception shop for one."
"I can get into the boat on my own."
"If you get wet we're going straight back to the cabin." Eric said calmly.
Chris and Mike snickered, watching the drama unfold.
Eric, well aware that in this mood, they were likely to push Matthew into the kind of flat out paddy that would involve a real battle, simply scooped Matthew off his feet and deposited him in the boat before he had time to object.
Matthew glared at his two friends up front and flopped into his corner of the boat in a very bad temper. Eric grabbed the line and pushed the boat backwards before hopping over the edge himself and starting the motor. He backed slowly away from the island until he was in deeper water, then pushed the lever into forward and faster, looking out over the bow for any obstacles. It was starting to get cold on the water and he didn't plan on them being out much longer. The reception shop was the last stop of the day, there were a few basic groceries needed, then they could head back to the cabin
It was a ten minute ride, during which Mike and Chris kept up a lively conversation in the front of the boat, Eric was concentrating on the water, and Todd was trying to figure out what to say to help Matthew, but with little luck. He handed Matthew's jacket to him when he looked cold, which Matthew put on immediately and zipped up, digging his hands deep into the pockets. Todd watched him hopefully at that point, but Matthew appeared to have forgotten all about the wallet and he didn’t respond to not finding it under his hands. He had also put on his sandals which offered little protection, other than being warmer against the soles of his feet than the bottom of the boat.
Eric cut the motor at the reception cabin's dock and Mike climbed out to tie the boat to the mooring rings in the wall. Eric swung himself across to the dock and steadied the others as they climbed out.
"If any of you want to buy anything be quick about it. And not too much chocolate."
Matthew went quickly in and over to the racks of the packaged cakes and cookies, the food he usually wanted when he wasn't feeling well. He'd picked up one or two items before the thought he'd better check his cash supply. He put the items aside and felt in his pockets, getting increasingly upset as each pat revealed no wallet.
"Are you done Matthew?" Eric asked from the till where he was waiting, the few groceries the cabin needed being packed.
"I didn't want anything," Matthew said quickly, walking back out towards the boat, his heart hammering as tried to remember everywhere he'd been with the jacket. He jumped into the boat and looked around, feeling behind the seats to see if the wallet could have fallen out of his pocket along the ride.
Mike winked at Chris and followed him outside, hands in his pockets.
"Whatcha lost?"
"Nothing," Matthew replied hurriedly, sitting down so as not to raise the suspicions of Eric who would be out shortly.
The others assembled and Eric took the boat back to the jetty by the cabin, slightly surprised at the lack of protest.
"I'm going to take the boat back." he said when the four disembarked on the jetty. "If you go into the cabin be quiet, I'd bet at least one of the others will be asleep."
"Okay!" Mike said as Eric backed the boat away from the dock and took off at a slow speed back to the main dock.
"What did you do with my wallet?" Matthew snapped as soon as Eric was far enough away.
"Wallet?" Mike said blankly.
"Yeah dickhead, my wallet. It was zipped into my jacket, I KNOW it was. WHERE did you put it?"
"I didn't see it?" Mike said casually. He didn't look at Chris, hoping he didn't spoil the innocence by laughing. Todd, who was far less good at this kind of thing and knew it, salved his conscience by simply walking up towards the cabin, divorcing himself from the situation.
"IT WAS ZIPPED IN MY POCKET!" Matthew shouted at Chris as best he could with a stuffed nose.
"Sure it was zipped?" Mike said, sitting on the jetty. "Is it still zipped?"
"No, it's not still zipped, I was looking for it," Matthew said, taking the jacket off and feeling through the pockets yet again.
"Then it's dropped out." Mike said succinctly. "Want to go check the boat?"
"Ha ha, fucking ha," Matthew snapped. "Want me to just swim along behind it?"
"DID you check the boat?" Mike said with studied calm. "I saw you looking?"
"I did check the damned boat and it wasn't there!" Matthew said, throwing down his jacket on the dock. "Rolf is going to KILL me over that stupid thing."
"Then you must have left it on the island." Chris said with sympathy. "Damn. Maybe Rolf won't notice."
"The island?" Matthew said, looking over at it. "That's GOT to be it! It wasn't on the boat and it wasn't at the shop, I dropped my jacket on the beach while I was walking- it must have fallen out then, it's got to be there." He turned big eyes to Mike, then to Chris, his voice cracking. "Would you swim over there and check for me? Please?"
"SWIM?" Chris said, finally losing the battle with laughter. "Are you kidding? It was cold this morning when the sun was on the water, it's perishing in there now!"
Matthew immediately clammed up, angry again at his two friends. Eric was going to be some time coming back from the boat dock, and he may not even look down the hill to the water while he was walking back. The rest were up at the cabin and if he took thirty minutes to an hour to swim over there and back, it was worth it to keep from getting killed over the stupid piece of leather. As long as he could keep his hair dry, and lose his wet underwear, everything else would be dry.
"FINE, I'll go look myself. Just make sure no one comes to look for me," Matthew said, stripping quickly down to his briefs.
"Matthew!" Chris said, spluttering with laughter. Mike shook his head, getting in his way, laughing himself.
"Don't be such a drama queen. Why don't you go ask Eric to take you back over to look? If you tell him why he won't tell Rolf. Probably."
"Probably my ass," Matthew said, throwing his shirt on the dock and stepping out of his pants. "You don't understand, and I don't really CARE. Just keep your fucking mouths shut and I'll be fine!" Matthew turned and before either of the other two could stop him, dove into the water. He came up some distance later at a fast clip, breathing hard and fast against the slightly chilly water.
Mike was left standing on the jetty, absolutely aghast. Chris exploded with laughter, sitting down abruptly to splutter in peace.
"Oh God, he is going to KILL you when he realises-"
"MATTHEW!" Mike yelled, having a far quicker grasp on the situation. "MATT come BACK here!"
Matthew continued stroking for the island, in no mood to stop and listen, especially with Chris laughing his ass off. He was fighting off the shivers, hoping that by continuing the swim he'd heat up from the movement alone.
"MATTHEW you prat, I've got it here!" Mike shouted, cupping his hands round his mouth. Chris got up, still laughing.
"You're not going to stop him. Do you think he'll go the whole way over there?"
"He thinks Rolf will kill him, he'll kill himself first to save him the trouble!" Mike said, getting angry now that he was worried about Matthew.
Todd, having heard the shouts, ran down the hill and came out on the jetty, standing to look in shock out over the water. Then he shook his head, giving Mike a look somewhere between awe and reproach.
"You really did it now."
"Did what?" Chris said flippantly, "No one's watching, if he wants to drag himself all the way over there and back then let him-"
"He's sick, you stupid jerk! He wasn't allowed to swim earlier, do you THINK he's going to be feeling any better after swimming in that water?" Todd said across Chris.
"The water is freezing, it's a long way there and back, it ISN'T getting any warmer-" Mike said savagely, turning on Chris. "And oh shit, that's Eric-"
"Down on the beach." Chris said quickly, "We'll be harder to spot from there."
Todd flew down the jetty and ran up to the bench on the shore, sitting down quickly. Chris and Mike weren't far behind, Mike dropping onto the bench and Chris landed in the grass.
"Did he see us?"
"I don't think he's looking." Mike said, risking a quick look. "Have any of you got any cash? I'll go get the boat and go pick up Mocoso before he kills himself."
"I didn't bring my wallet," Todd said.
"I have mine, but only five bucks. That won't get the boat, besides, you have to walk past Eric to get it anyway!"
"And you and Matt will both be killed taking the boats out alone." Todd added. Mike growled.
"Do you think it's going to be any prettier if Matthew drowns out there?"
"He's got a cold." Chris said scornfully. "He's not going to stop breathing or anything else, you're starting to sound as bad as Eric. We've ALL done stuff with colds they wouldn't like us doing, we've all lived. He's swum that lake a hundred times, he'll be fine. And maybe when he gets back he'll be a little politer. It's only going to be an hour or so, quit panicking."
"Politer?" Mike exploded. "You think he's going to buy that he just overlooked the stupid thing in his pocket? Or do I just throw it in the sand? Because if I have to tell him I had it, polite will be the farthest thing from his mind!"
There was a brief and tense silence while Chris absorbed that. Then Todd glanced back towards the cabin, a twitch towards it Mike saw.
"Look, I'll go get Steve. He's the least likely to go nuts, I can tell him without the others hearing-"
"You will do NO such thing!" Mike said quickly. "We'll just have to wait for him to get back, and hope no one notices that he did that. I'll figure out how to make it work when he gets here. That's the ONLY option, got it?" Mike finished, looking at both Todd and Chris for confirmation.
Chris hesitated. Todd shook his head, looking steadily more anxious.
"You can't just let him get on with it-"
"He's GOING to be fine," Mike said firmly, trying to believe it as much as he wanted Chris and Todd to as well. "He's just been a drama queen to get attention since he couldn't swim earlier. That is ALL."
Chris shot him a guilty look and kept his mouth shut. Todd gave them both a frigid stare. "You hope."



"It's very quiet out there." Joe said, dragging himself out of the armchair where he'd spent the last hour napping under his book, worn out from the fresh air and the walk with Stephen. Eric was in the kitchen, making himself a mug of tea, and shot him a quick smile.
"Hopefully the arguments have died down to a dull roar."
"Has that ever happened?" Rolf asked as he took a handful of carrot sticks from the fridge.
"Well we can hope." Eric said cheerfully. "It wasn't too bad. They wandered all over the island. Matthew kept himself to himself, but there were no flat out confrontations."
"Did he do ok on the boat?" Rolf asked Eric.
"Yes, he seemed fine. It was getting cold out there, that was why I brought them back early. Didn't think you'd want him out too long."
"Thank you. I think I'll call them up, just a minute." Rolf headed outside and rang the bell a few times before heading back in. "Did you even manage a page, Joe?" he asked when he came back in.
Joe grinned. "I don't remember. But this is the first afternoon OFF in a long time. We've been spending the weekends trying to keep the garden from getting knee deep in leaves from those chestnut trees. I admire them all year until autumn, and then I'd cheerfully chop them down."
"Distinct lack of action in response to that bell." Eric commented. "You'd think they'd be ready to eat by now apart from freezing out there."


**************

"What are we going to do?" Todd asked, pacing quickly back and forth. "They'll come down here if we don't go up, or if we do, we'll have to explain Matthew's lack of appearance.
"Not much we can do." Chris said bitterly. "Can you see him?"
"No." Mike shaded his eyes, trying to see across the lake. "He's out of sight now."
"He had to have heard the bell, certainly. He's GOT to be coming back. He's just GOT to," Todd said, wincing as the bell sounded again.
"It'll take him the best part of ten minutes to get back here." Mike looked up at the cabin and swore. "Rolf's headed this way."
"We've got to meet him halfway. He can't find Matthew in the water," Todd said, heading towards the path up. He turned after a few steps. "Come ON, I'm not doing this alone!"
"What are you smoking at the moment?" Chris demanded, following him. Mike gave one more despairing look out at the lake and headed up the hill after them.
"Hi!" Todd was saying cheerfully, catching up with Rolf and getting in his way.
"Hi yourself," Rolf said, stopping. "Did you not hear the bell?"
"Yes, just now, we were on our way up." Mike said, taking a seat on the path. "I've got sand in my trainers- or a blister, it feels sore-"
"Let me take a look," Rolf said, squatting down, ready to inspect Mike's foot. "Having trouble with those laces?" he asked as Mike fumbled with untying them.
"Yes, I can't do anything with this knot..." Mike delayed as long as he could, trying not to glance down at the lake.
Rolf put his hands out of the way, jerked the knot loose and helped him take the trainer off, looking at the heel in question.
"No blister. You'll live. Go on up to the cabin and rest it, see how it feels then. And you two, it won't be THAT long before we start thinking about dinner. Where's Matthew?"
"Down on the beach -" Todd said.
"Getting some sun-" Chris replied.
Rolf looked between the two. "Which is it?
"I think he just went for a walk." Mike said, trying to compromise. "Clear his head, you know?"
"Go on up, I'll find him," Rolf said, helping Mike to his feet.
"I think he'd probably like some time to himself," Mike began
"We'll work that out when I find him," Rolf said, starting down the path again. "Get on up to the cabin before someone else comes to look for you."
Todd and Mike exchanged a look. Chris took a deep breath, praying for inspiration. "It's just that he might be a bit- further away -"
"I'll find him, thank you," Rolf's voice carried through the woods as he continued down to the lakeside.
"All right," Todd hissed to Mike, "YOU did this, YOU go tell him-"
"It's TOO late!" Mike spat back angrily. "It's too fucking late."
"Matthew!" Rolf's voice floated back to them, lifted to carry over distance.
"So what do we do!" Chris said plaintively. "We can't just go back and pretend we knew nothing about this-"
"Thats exactly what we HAVE to do!" Mike said. "Look, he's been acting like a prat all day. He deserves a little trouble, and he'll live."
Todd gave him a long and filthy look. Mike grabbed his arm and yanked him up the path, and Chris followed, flinching as they heard Rolf's voice again from the jetty, this time a lot louder.
"MATTHEW!"
Matthew had heard the bell and given up that he'd find his wallet. Knowing that before too long someone would come looking for them, he turned in the water and was paddling as fast as he could back towards the dock. He was tired and cold and breathing was next to impossible.
His head snapped up when Rolf bellowed from the dock.
His immediate response was to swear. And then stop his frantic pace and stay where he was, treading water and trying to get his breath back.
There was no point in trying to dissemble any longer, nor avoid trouble- it was inevitable. And at some level there was no little relief in seeing Rolf there. Matthew drew the deepest breath he could and shouted.
"Rolf!"
Rolf heard his name and changed his scans from one of the beach to one of the water, spotting Matthew about halfway back from the island.
"MATTHEW CHRISTOPHER GET BACK HERE THIS INSTANT!"
If a 'yeah, and what does it LOOK like I'm doing?' expression could cross water, Matthew gave it his best shot. Slowly, taking his time and trying to conserve energy he began to swim for the shore. Rolf climbed quickly down from the jetty to the beach, quickening to a jog as he watched his partner swimming in. He was clearly tired, his pace was slow and uneven and several times he stopped to breathe.
There were no life boats here, no life guards, not even anyone in earshot to yell to for help and Rolf was not about to go out of sight of the lake to get reinforcements. In the end out of desperation he waded into the shallows and out towards Matthew, trying to sound reassuring and not swear himself at the temperature of the water.
"All right, you're nearly there. Come on, take your time."
The swim was tiring on the best of days, and with a full nose and the water being cooler than normal, Matthew was long past done when he swam into the waiting arms. Tears came without bidding and Matthew wound himself around Rolf, shivering violently.
He was freezing. Rolf hugged him tightly, the rush of relief of getting hold of him quickly changing to anxiety at his uneven breathing and the chill of his skin. Moving as quickly as he could in the shallows he steered Matthew onto the beach, pulled off his jacket and wrapped it around him and began to hustle him up the path towards the cabin. Matthew managed a few steps on the sand before his legs buckled, partly from exhaustion but mostly from sheer numbing cold. Rolf bent down with him, thinking quickly over his options. Carrying his partner up the hill was going to be hard work, but Matthew needed to get warmed up quickly, and after that long and cold swim the walk up to the cabin would have been difficult.
"Stand up, here, I've got you," Rolf said, picking Matthew up and starting up the hill, hoping he wasn't going to hit any obstacles and send them both to their knees. He got about halfway and yelled for help, hoping someone would hear.
The other three brats had shot into the house and gone to ground, vanishing upstairs with no wish at all to be involved in the scene they imagined to be going on at the dock- and to be fair none of them had foreseen any real disaster other than Rolf's temper being lost. Joe, mooching around the porch and enjoying the last of the thin autumn sunshine, heard the shout from below and leaned on the rail, lifting his own voice. "Rolf?"
"I need some help, please!" Rolf yelled back, stopping and putting Matthew on his feet, rubbing his back through the jacket. He was feeling weak-kneed himself after the short climb.
The words were calm enough, the tone was unmistakeable.
"ERIC!" Joe shouted back towards the house, and vaulted over the porch rail, jogging down the hill. He found Rolf kneeling beside Matthew, whose knees had once more given way, rubbing his arms over the now dripping jacket, trying to get some warmth back into them. His look as Joe arrived was flat relief.
"Thank you. I think we need a hand up to the cabin."
"You were swimming?" Joe said in shock, coming to Matthew's other side. With Rolf he lifted Matthew to his feet, taking most of his weight as Rolf looked out of breath himself. Eric appeared on the run, took one look and turned to back to the cabin ahead of them in a fast stride that ate ground.
Matthew moved his legs but most of his weight was on Joe and Rolf's shoulders. His chattering teeth only quieted when he took deep breaths, unable to breathe through his nose. He had never been so thankful to see the cabin before in his life.
Eric was upstairs, having chased Mike out of the bathroom and told Chris he was going to have to wait. He was working on filling the tub with warm water when the front door banged open, Rolf once again carrying Matthew.
"I'll get some tea." Joe said, heading for the kitchen. "Do you need anything else?"
"Inhalers." Rolf said shortly, heading for the stairs. "They're in our room in the table drawer."
Joe switched the kettle on, hearing him start upstairs and wondering belatedly just how long it would take to get paramedics out here if they were needed. Rolf carried Matthew upstairs and into the bathroom where Eric took him, putting him straight down in the bath. Experienced at basic first aid, he’s made sure that the water was only tepid but to Matthew it felt shockingly warm. Rolf, out of breath and with his own knees starting to buckle, knelt by the side of the tub and pulled Matthew into his arms, hugging him tightly. He was still crying, quietly now and mixing sobs with sniffling and gasping that had a lot to do with his stuffed nose and a long time of battling the water while trying not to choke.
"It's okay, you should warm up quickly here. Thanks, Eric. Slide down in the water a little," Rolf said, taking a washcloth and rubbing Matthew's upper chest and arms, trying to draw more warmth into them.
Joe appeared with a mug of tea and the two inhalers, putting them on the floor beside Rolf.
"Do you want me to see if I can get a medic down here?"
"He's more than likely just cold and out of breath. We'll try the inhalers and the water, if that doesn't improve anything, then I'll think about driving him into the nearest hospital," Rolf said, picking up one of the inhalers and putting it against Matthew's lips.
"Deep breath hon."
Matthew managed two relatively controlled pulls at the inhaler and Rolf picked up the tea, holding it for him while he drank. He was starting to calm down. Joe, watching him with an anxious eye as Eric began to make the bath water hotter, thought he was a better colour. Leaving Eric and Rolf to carry on, he dug out several blankets and added them to Rolf and Matthew's bed, then went downstairs and turned the heating up. After which, he went into the kitchen and out onto the porch, where he found three very guilty looking brats and Stephen, who had been cooking when the alarm was raised.
"Chris, did you know Matthew was swimming?" Joe said without preliminaries.
Chris nodded unhappily, getting to his feet to go to Joe.
"Is he all right? We wouldn't have come back up if we thought he was in trouble-"
"He's going to be fine," Joe said, hugging his partner. "He just got seriously chilled and tired out from the swim. What WAS he doing, do you know?"
Chris shrugged, as did Mike, and since this wasn't the time, Joe didn't ask further. Stephen got up from the swing, sounding calm.
"How about I take everyone who’s free out for dinner? We'll go and find a steak house."
"Weren't you cooking?" Joe asked over Chris' head.
"It'll wait, I didn't get very far." Stephen said comfortably. "Come on guys, jackets and shoes, let’s go. Joe do you need to stay?"
"No, I don’t think so. I'll go let them know where we're going," Joe said, following Chris into the house. He knocked gently on the bathroom door before opening it.
"How are things going in here?"
"Not bad." Eric got up and came out to join him, leaving Rolf sitting with Matthew. "He's getting warm and he's breathing all right now, I think it was just the cold."
"That's a relief," Joe said with feeling. "Stephen's going to clear us out of here for a steak dinner. I can bring back some for you, or you can come if you'd like, unless Rolf needs the company."
"That's a good idea. Calm the others down and give Matthew some peace and quiet. I'll stay with him and Rolf, we'll find something here to eat. You go and have a good evening, no sense in everyone worrying."
"We'll be a couple of hours then," Joe said, heading downstairs. He slid into the passenger seat, checking over the three in the back. "Everyone got their seatbelts on?"
"What's the matter?" Stephen said quietly to Todd, who was sitting directly behind him. Todd gave him a tight smile and didn't answer.
"Don't worry." Stephen said firmly, to him and to the others. "Matthew will be fine, it was just a bad idea, that's all."
"He was warming up and his breathing is settling down just fine," Joe added, buckling his seatbelt.
Mike shot a look at Chris, who was staring studiedly at the knees of his jeans. This was going to be a long and uncomfortable dinner.


Eric was reading in the living room an hour later when Rolf came quietly down the last few stairs. He looked tired and he dropped into a chair, stretching long legs out in front of him. Eric folded the book and put it down.
"How is he doing?"
"Pretty much fine. Now he's just wired and worried about having gone swimming. WHAT was he thinking?" Rolf asked the ceiling.
"It probably seemed like a good idea at the time." Eric said mildly. "No ill intent, no deliberation."
"But to swim, on his own, with a cold, when he'd already been denied during the warmest of the day. The whole way over to the ISLAND no less. I've refrained from asking him so as not to worry him, but I DO want to know the reason."
Eric dropped a hand on his knee and got up. "Come and have something to eat. I'm surprised actually." he added, heading into the kitchen. "He seemed fine while we were out this afternoon- not in the best of moods but not simmering as he usually is if something's on his mind. I didn't get the impression he was waiting for my back to be turned, and he stayed out of the water as I asked."
Rolf got up to follow, puzzling over his partner's behaviour. It didn't make sense that Matthew would go against his wishes in the manner that he had. If he really had been that upset about not being allowed to swim, he would have thrown a fit and gotten it out of his system while he still had a chance at changing Rolf’s mind. Chewing on it, he began helping Eric to pull a small dinner together for the two of them.
Eric paused with the fridge still open, about to take the plates to the table. "What about Matthew? Will he eat anything?"
"I'll warm up a can of soup for him in a little while, thanks."
Eric nudged the fridge shut and sat down at the table, propping his elbows on either side of his plate. "What about the other three? Did they show any signs of knowing where Matthew was?"
Rolf thought back to meeting them on the path. "They told me he wanted to be alone and took off down the beach. He must have taken off a long while ago to have been on his way back - though I don't know where his clothes were dumped," Rolf said thoughtfully.
"He must have given them the slip." Eric said ruefully. "They were pretty fed up with his mood I think. Poor Matthew."
Rolf took a bite of pasta salad before answering. "I debated bringing him here. He was going to be miserable at home, at least here we'd be able to take a few walks in the woods and get some fresh air."
"And some distraction." Eric gave him a sympathetic look. "What are you going to do? Are you going to head home in the morning?"
"I think so," Rolf said firmly. "I don't want to upset the rest of the house, especially if the weather does turn and tomorrow is an inside day. Matthew and I have a long discussion about swimming to tackle, and that's probably best at home."
Eric didn't answer. In Rolf's position he would have done exactly the same. At the back of his own mind he had the image Rolf had told him briefly about- of seeing Matthew some way out, struggling in deep water- and he could only imagine how frightening that must have been. He finished his salad and got up to make coffee, glancing at his watch.
"The others must have gone into town to find a place to eat. They'll be back around midnight at the earliest. Why don't you take Matthew something to eat and get some sleep?"
"I'll get that soup on the stove," Rolf said, standing up and tossing his paper plate into the trash. "I wish cleanup were always this easy."
Eric swept up the last of the plates and scribbled a quick note which he pinned to the front door.
Joe took it down some hours later, signalling to the others to be quiet. Stephen took the note from him as Todd, sleepy, held the door, waiting for him.
"They're headed home? I'm not surprised."
"I'm just glad he's all right." Joe snagged Chris's hand, drawing him close as they headed upstairs.
Mike climbed up the stairs last, needing a quick drink of water before he got into bed. He opened the door to their room, using the landing light as a guide to get over to the bed to turn their small light on.
"Hi." Eric said sleepily. "Have a good time?"
"I didn't mean to wake you," Mike said as he closed the door to their room.
"I was listening out for you." Eric waited while Mike undressed, then moved over, pulling Mike down into his arms as he turned out the light and slid under the covers. "I missed you. Did you enjoy yourself?"
"It was okay. How's Matthew? Are they really going home tomorrow morning?" Mike asked, glad for the cover of darkness.
"He's fine. Sleeping." Eric said reassuringly. "And yes, they are. Rolf was pretty worried about him and I think too when Rolf is done with discussing this, Matthew isn't going to be wanting company."
"He...he was pretty mad, wasn't he?"
Eric rubbed his back, not wanting to worry him but also not sure just how conversant with the facts Mike was. "Matthew was pretty well out into the lake, and Rolf says he was struggling to stay afloat- he might have drowned this afternoon, no one even knew he was in the water. Yes, he's pretty mad, anyone would be."
Michael gulped on that picture, before asking quietly, "Matthew never said why he went swimming?"
"He didn't say much of anything love. He was too cold and too shaken up when he got to shore, and Rolf didn't want to push it. What he mostly needed was to get warm and sleep."
Burying himself against his partner, Mike tried willing the thoughts of Matthew from his head.
"Don't worry about it." Eric said comfortingly, settling down with him to sleep. "They'll sort it out. Thank God nothing dreadful happened and it won't happen again."
"Yeah," Mike mumbled as his stomach churned with guilt. It was only a few short minutes later that Eric's gentle breathing signalled he was asleep again. Mike tried to lay quietly so as not to disturb Eric, but sleep wasn't coming to him. Some time later he slid out of bed and made his way to the bathroom.
He passed Chris on the landing, looking equally tousled and upset.
"Can't sleep?" Mike said softly. Chris gave him a twisted grimace.
"Joe said they're headed home in the morning."
"I know. God, Chris, I feel awful about it," Mike admitted quietly.
"It wasn't THAT bad- he hasn't got pneumonia, it's not THAT big a deal," Chris pleaded.
"Rolf is flat out going to kill him. And he wouldn't have been in the water if I hadn't taken his stupid wallet."
"So he went swimming with a cold, big deal." Chris hissed back. "Most normal people don't fuss about this kind of thing, he isn't in THAT much trouble-"
"Eric said he was floundering, that he could have DROWNED," Mike said hotly and little more loudly.
Chris stared at him, shocked. "No! No way! He was fine when we left the lake, he only had a flipping COLD-"
Rolf rolled over, hearing voices on the landing.
"He's got asthma, which you KNOW always gets worse in the winter! So he's never been hospitalized for it, but it could STILL happen!"
"I don't believe it." Chris said, shaking his head. "He was FINE, this is just fussing. So he went for a swim, he's done that swim a hundred times, no one needs to get hysterical about this. Just leave it alone."
Rolf checked on Matthew, then slid out of bed, opening the door quietly. "What's going on out here?"
Both Chris and Mike jumped. Mike got himself together first, keeping his voice low.
"Just going to the bathroom."
"Chris?" Rolf asked when Mike nearly ran into the bathroom.
"Just going back to bed." Chris said, heading hurriedly for his room.
Rolf shut the door and headed back to bed himself, wondering what that had been about and listening for Mike's footsteps back to his room.
Mike headed back to bed a few moments later, feeling no better and now angry with Chris into the bargain. Whatever Chris thought about it, there was no way he could leave the situation as it was. Although the thought of explaining to Rolf what had driven Matthew into the water was not in the least tempting.
Knowing he wasn't going to sleep, he settled quietly into the chair, chewing on his lip and trying to figure out ANY way that he could get Matthew out of trouble without taking his place.
Stephen was up first in the morning, always an early riser, and was sitting on the porch waiting for coffee to brew when Rolf came downstairs. He gave him a quick smile, nodding at the coffee pot.
"Another couple of minutes to go. How are you doing? Sleep well?"
"Not one of the more banner nights, but I'll live. Where did you guys end up eating?" Rolf asked as he zipped his jacket up against the chill.
"Some steak house in town, just a small place, but it kept Todd and everyone else busy and their minds off Matthew. Todd's been really upset about it."
"Thanks for that, it was a nice idea. And that's also the reason I'd like to leave this morning so we don't upset everyone all over again." Rolf looked up as Todd, his hair sticking up in all directions, opened the door and went straight for Stephen, barefoot and without a coat.
"Hi sleepy. You're going to get cold out here, autumn's definitely come. We're going to pack up and go pretty much now Steve. There's no sense making a fuss and Matthew's not really feeling up to eating anyway."
Todd had stopped by Matthew's room on the way downstairs, finding his friend dressed, sitting up against the headboard and hugging his pillow, his face still wet with tears. Seeing how upset Matthew was, Todd couldn't keep quiet a moment longer. He had his arms wrapped around Stephen who was trying to pick him back up and get him more fully dressed and he mumbled more than said, "Matt didn't go swimming on his own."
Rolf looked at him, startled. "Were any of you swimming with him?"
Stephen sat back in shock at the revelation. "Todd?" he prompted when the silence lengthened.
Todd shook his head, courage failing. Rolf came back to the porch chairs and sat down. "Todd? The three of you stopped me on the path yesterday and you said Matthew wanted some time on his own? Did he ditch the three of you?"
"No. Eric left the dock and Matthew was looking for his wallet. I...I started back towards the cabin, I don't know what happened then."
"His wallet?" Rolf said blankly. "What did that have to do with it? Was he planning to swim?"
Todd shook his head no. He didn't want to point fingers at anyone else, he just wanted Matthew not to be in trouble.
Stephen caught Rolf's eye over Todd's head and put him down on the chair between them. "Todd look at me. Why was Matthew looking for his wallet?"
"He lost it...." Todd mumbled. Rolf shook his head.
"Again. Did he drop it on the island?"
Under two sets of eyes Todd's nerve began to crumble.
"I think Matthew thought so-" he began. Rolf sighed.
"Light is dawning. I made some threats about what would happen if he lost that wallet again- I'm guessing Matthew realised he'd dropped it and the best thing to do would be to swim out and get it before I found out."
Which just added yet more to the punishment Matthew would be facing. Todd stared hard at his feet before mumbling nearly too quietly, "I know where it's at."
"If it's on the island, it's going to have to stay there." Rolf said darkly, getting up. "Thank you, that's thrown a LOT of light on the situation. I'm going to get Matthew moving and we'll talk about this at home. After which I'm going to weld that wallet to a chain around his neck. Don't look so worried Todd, I'm glad you told me. I'd think Matthew will be glad too, you’ve saved him the struggle of admitting all that."
"It's not there," Todd said quickly, before Rolf could enter the house.
"Todd, go inside, please. It's too cold out here and you have a LOT of explaining to do. Go on," Stephen said, pulling Todd up and following him into the cabin.
"I'd think the worst those three did was keep quiet about Matthew going in the water instead of coming to tell me." Rolf said to Stephen, "That also explains a conversation I heard on the landing this morning, but they weren't to know he'd get in to trouble in the water."
"Wait a minute, Rolf. There's more going on here if I'm any judge of my partner. Todd? You've been spitting out bits and pieces - I want the full story from beginning to end," Stephen said firmly, eyeing his partner who had settled deep within the corner of the couch.
Todd gave him a despairing look, really not ready to embark on this tale on his own. Rolf stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked back at Todd and Stephen, waiting. To keep Rolf from heading off, Todd said,
“Mike has his wallet."
"What?" Stephen said, startled.
"It was a joke," Todd said sadly. "I left the dock before he went swimming. I don't know what was said."
Stephen stood up, looking at Rolf, then back at his partner. "I think we'll wait until the other two are downstairs to sort this out. You can stay put."
"I think I'll go round those two up." Rolf said, heading upstairs. Chris was on the landing, just emerging from the bathroom, and Eric and Mike's door was open. Rolf tapped on it, lifting his voice.
"Michael? A word please. And you Christopher. Downstairs."
Chris blanched, but turned and headed downstairs. He glared at Todd as he sat down next to him. Mike opened the door and slid past Rolf, swallowing hard and came downstairs to take his place on the couch.
"What's this?" Joe asked, following Chris downstairs. Eric, towelling his hair off, came out of his room after Mike, giving Rolf a quizzical look.
"There's more to yesterday than I thought," Rolf said, opening his own bedroom door to see Matthew still hunched up on the bed. "You can stay right there, please. I'll be up for you when it's time to leave." He shut the bedroom door firmly and headed downstairs and straight over to the couch.
"Michael David. Do you have Matthew's wallet?"
Eric's eyebrows shot up and he took a seat on the back of the sofa, looking down at his partner. Mike went scarlet and shot a horrified look at Todd.
"Michael!" Rolf snapped, trying to regain his attention.
Mike flinched and took a breath. "I think I've seen it-"
"You think?!" Rolf asked incredulously. "Either you have it or you don't - which is it?”
Michael forced his eyes up and dug in his jeans pocket, despairingly pulling out the wallet and holding it out to Rolf.
"Thank you," Rolf said, accepting the wallet. "Now I'd like to know how you came into possession of this," he asked, shaking it.
There was a brief silence while Todd, Chris and Mike exchanged glances, trying to elect a spokesman. Then Mike cleared his throat, trying to keep his voice at its usual pitch and sound collected. And vaguely like the adult he was.
"It was just a joke- Matthew was being a grouch, we were fed up with him and wanted to give him a scare- so when he put his jacket down I took it out of his pocket."
"When was that?" Rolf asked, leaning against the wall, arms crossed. Stephen went to collect the coffee pot before it burned.
Mike swallowed carefully. "Yesterday. On the island."
Rolf thought for a moment before asking, "So when you were done with the boat yesterday, Matthew thought his wallet was still on the island, and dove in to collect it?"
Mike gave him an unwilling nod. "He was looking for it and he was getting panicky about what you'd- what you'd think if he couldn't find it. We did try to tell him but he was out of earshot before we could make him understand-"
"You LED Matthew to believe the wallet was on the island?" Eric interjected quickly, stunned at his partner's words.
Mike flushed darker, looking at Chris for help. Chris cleared his own throat.
"We only meant to wind him up, he just moved too fast for us to stop him."
"You let things escalate, let Matthew swim over to the island and back when you knew he wasn't allowed to swim earlier?" Joe added, looking severely at his partner.
"It was a JOKE," Chris said plaintively, "We didn't SAY go swim anywhere, he just stripped off and dived in!"
"A JOKE has a punch line and is FUNNY. WHAT was funny about that?" Joe replied, looking at all three in turn.
"It was only meant to freak him out." Mike said quietly. "To get him back for being in such a rotten mood, that was all."
"You not only freaked out Matthew, you also freaked out Rolf. That was DANGEROUS, and NOT something I would have expected from any of you!" Eric said, coming around from behind the couch. "Matthew is not feeling well, and instead of understanding that, you've made him feel absolutely, utterly horrible!"
Eric stopped and let that sink in. "Not only is he battling a cold, but he's probably terrified of going home, knowing that Rolf was very unhappy with him yesterday. Have you given that ANY thought at all?"
"It was HIS stupid decision to jump in the lake!" Chris said hotly. "That's not our fault! We'd have given his wallet back before Rolf ever found out about it, HE was the one that made this go wrong!"
"Christopher Stevens, apologize at once to Eric, you do NOT raise your voice like that," Joe said firmly.
"I'm sorry!" Chris said sharply. "But it wasn't our fault!"
"Kitchen, right now," Joe replied, pointing.
"No, I'm done, I’m sorry." Chris said, subsiding.
Joseph walked over and pulled Chris to his feet, and with a very firm swat started him moving towards the kitchen.
"Is there anything else we're missing here?" Eric said to Michael.
"No, sir," Mike replied, eyes down. "It was a stupid attempt to get him back for being mean. I've felt bad ever since. I'm sorry."
"What about you?" Stephen said to Todd.
"I wasn't there when he went swimming. But I'm sorry too," Todd said, looking first at Stephen, then at Rolf.
Rolf didn't answer. Just turned on his heel and headed upstairs. They heard the bedroom door open, and then close, and then nothing more.
Eric looked to Stephen, then into the kitchen where Chris was currently getting his mouth thoroughly washed out. He turned back to his partner and held out his hand.
"Come with me, please."
Mike got up, very unhappily, and took the outstretched hand, letting Eric take him out of the front door and onto the porch. The front door shut behind them and Eric led his partner around the wide porch to the side of the house, where he leaned against the rail, folding his arms.
"What really puzzles me in all this Michael, is WHY you walked away and left Matthew swimming alone in the water. You're a qualified life saver. HOW could you think that was a good idea?"
Mike flushed and looked down. "We didn't mean for him to actually try swimming. I yelled for him but he wouldn't listen. At that point, I thought it better that we try to head off anyone finding him, and hope that he made it back without being found out. I didn't think about him having trouble swimming, he's done it hundreds of times."
"Why do you never swim alone Michael?" Eric said conversationally. "Is it something you'd advise someone to do?"
Michael was sinking faster than he thought possible. Shifting his weight, he answered. "It's dangerous, and.....no, sir."
"Cramps. Can hit anyone at any time. Anyone can get suddenly into difficulties. And Matthew had a cold, he was already managing on reduced breathing, reduced energy, he might very easily have drowned Michael! When you couldn't get him back to shore yourself what should you have done?"
"Come to find you, or someone else," Mike said, starting to sob. The more Eric talked, the more danger Mike realized Matthew had been put in.
"And NONE of you thought of that?" Eric said relentlessly, unmoved by the tears.
Stuttering, Mike said "Todd, he said to go get Steve. I really thought he could make it back saaaaaffeeee."
"So you stopped Todd from getting help?"
Knowing he was taking yet another step in the wrong direction, Mike answered "Yes, sir."
"And then all three of you walked away and left Matthew swimming, alone, all that distance."
"We didn't mean to," Michael sobbed harder still.
"And didn't think to TELL anyone about this?" Eric went on. Usually genial no matter what, his voice had a distinct edge to it this morning and was getting louder. "You KNEW what a state Matthew was in last night and how worried Rolf was, you KNEW Matthew was in very serious trouble and you left it to Todd to try and explain that Matthew ACTUALLY didn't start any of this at all!"
"I didn't know how to tell you!" Mike nearly shouted back, feeling about 3 inches tall and fighting against it.
"And your need to feel more comfortable about that was more important than Matthew feeling convinced he was in terrible trouble over something that hadn't even happened?" Eric demanded without sympathy.
"I didn't SAY that!" Mike said, stamping his foot.
Eric gave him a long, steady look. "Then explain. And lower your voice, right now."
"We didn't mean for Matthew to get into so much trouble," Mike said, trying not to blubber. "I hardly slept last night, trying to figure out how to get Matthew out of that trouble."
"It's very simple Mike, you TELL me." Eric said with exasperation rapidly being tempered with sympathy at his partner's very clear distress. "Like you should have come and told me yesterday. If Matthew won't listen to you he probably WILL listen to me or Rolf!"
"I knnooowwww," Michael said, leaning against the cabin and bringing up both hands to cover his face as he really began crying in earnest.
They weren't going to get any further with this: Mike was very clearly well aware of the dangers and the enormities of the situation. Eric stood for a moment, letting him calm down a little.
Mike seriously wanted his partner's embrace and forgiveness but knew there was a big penalty coming before that. Eric waited until the sobs had tailed off to sniffles, then took a seat on the porch chair, fixing Mike with a hard look.
"Drop your pants."
"Out...out here?" Mike squeaked.
"Now." Eric said firmly.
Mike looked around hurriedly, trying to clear the tears from his eyes. He stepped over towards his partner and started working on his jeans, his stomach twisting and turning. Just as he let go of his jeans and they fell, he could hear Todd or Chris getting their just desserts. Tears overflowed again and he was unable to do anything with his underwear.
"Michael." Eric said more sharply.
"Pllleeeaasssssseeeeeeeeeeeee, we didn't-"
"NOW."
Mike gulped and somehow managed to get the shorts to his thighs before letting go.
Eric unbuckled his belt, pulled it free of the loops and took Mike's arm, pulling him firmly down over his lap.
Mike tried balancing himself, constantly swallowing so his stomach wouldn't come up. He ducked his head and prayed there was no one within ten miles of their location or they'd know exactly what was happening in about two seconds.
Eric doubled the belt over and took a firm grip on Mike's waist, casting a quick look around. No one at this time in the morning was likely to be anywhere near their cabin, but he was sure Mike wasn't reassured as to that fact.
"What's this for Michael?"
"Eeerrriiiccccccc!"
Eric brought the belt down sharply across the upturned bottom over his lap. "What's this for?"
Mike jumped, hissing and breathing hard. The sound of the belt hitting his bottom sounded loud, even in the outdoors. Knowing Eric could continue for however long until he got he answer he was looking for, he bit his lip to gather both breath and nerve and answered. "For putting Matthew into a dangerous situation." He turned around, trying to catch Eric's eye.
"Yes," Eric agreed, bringing the belt down again, unmoved. "And?"
Mike's head snapped back around as the second swat registered. "Pleeeeasseeee Eric! I should have told you! Please - OOWWWWWwwwwww," Mike's yelp trailed off.
"Yes, I agree." Eric snapped the belt down several more times, moving steadily down Mike's fast reddening backside. "And?"
Michael was struggling hard to maintain composure, but knowing as soon as he gave his answer the belt would descend any number of times more, he couldn't come up with one.
Eric snapped the belt down again, not sympathetic. He wanted it clear in Mike's head exactly what the issues were here and he had no intention of making it easy for him.
"I'm waiting Michael."
Taking a few sharp breaths, Mike pressed his hands to the floor, trying to move to a more comfortable position, while saying quickly, "I shouldn't have left him swimming alone!"
"Yes, I'd agree with that too." Eric punctuated that statement with several sharp swats with the belt, waiting until Mike settled before he asked again. "And what else?"
Tears were streaking down Mike's face and his bottom felt like it had been attacked by a swarm of angry bees. These question and answer breaks were pure torture, he wanted nothing more than to get up right now. He started struggling, embarrassment and pain leading to anger. "I should have told you, given you the wallet!" he yelled, trying desperately to move.
What he got was the belt snapped down again, still harder, cutting off his temper before it was started. Eric didn't sound in the least moved by his tone.
"Yes, you most definitely should. And what about taking the wallet in the first place? Trying to worry and upset Matthew because you were fed up with him being out of temper? Provoking him INTO this in the first place?"
"I'm SORRY!" Michael said, sobbing.
"You're going to need to make that clear to Matthew and to Rolf." Eric told him sternly. "They both had a serious scare last night because of this joke. I know you didn't mean Matthew to go off at half cock because of it, but it wasn't exactly kind or acceptable, and your handling of Matthew going into the lake I am REALLY not happy with."
"I wiiiiiiiilllllllll," Mike sobbed harder, wishing he'd never had the brilliant idea in the first place.
Eric took pity on him at that point and said nothing further, just took a firmer grasp on his hip and finished the strapping, covering his ground several times from Mike's hips down to his thighs before he dropped the belt on the porch next to him.
Michael jerked and kicked, the belt biting into his already sore and tender flesh. If he'd had a harder strapping, he couldn't remember it. He struggled hard to slide from Eric's lap, landing on his knees, his deep and tearing cries buried in Eric's lap.
Eric cupped both hands over his head and held him, smoothing his hair and letting him cry himself out a little before he stooped and pulled Mike up into his arms. It was quiet out here but for Mike's jerking sobs, the cabin behind them still. Eric could only hope they hadn't disturbed Matthew too much: he'd had a rough enough night due to Michael and the others.
"I'm so sorrrrrrry" Michael sobbed into Eric's neck several times. His blazing backside hurt, but it did nothing to diminish how upset he was on Matthew's behalf.
"I know." Eric said quietly into his hair. "I know." He shifted his weight, settling back in the chair and took Mike deeper into his arms, settling with him on the quiet of the porch, looking out over the water.




Matthew looked up like a shot rabbit when Rolf came into the room, shutting the door behind him. He moved quietly as he always did, but Matthew, used to reading his face, took one look and blanched. Rolf looked furious.
Seeing his partner's expression, Rolf swallowed the anger towards the other three brats with an effort, and settled on the bed, holding out a hand to Matthew. "Come here Sport."
Matthew hesitated. Rolf hadn't spoken to him yet about yesterday's events- all he'd had this morning was a quiet and grim request to get ready to leave immediately, in a tone that made it very clear that any form of protest would be unwise. He wasn't at all sure of his reception now.
"Please?" Rolf asked gently.
Matthew moved slowly to him, head down.
Rolf pulled Matthew down next to him and wrapped both arms around him for a strong hug. "I love you," he said, pulling away and lifting Matthew's face to his. "I love you, and I owe you an apology."
Matthew's jaw nearly hit the floor. For a moment he stared blankly at Rolf, totally bewildered.
"I owe you an apology for thinking you went swimming for no other reason than that I'd said no. That isn't true, is it?"
Matthew's heart abruptly lurched. Unable to stand Rolf speaking to him that gently when he knew as soon as the facts came to light he'd once more be in serious trouble, he pushed Rolf's hands away, shaking his head.
"No. But I lost my wallet again, it was my fault."
Rolf leaned over towards Matthew and pulled the wallet from his pocket. "This wallet?" he asked, holding it out to Matthew.
Matthew's jaw dropped again.
"Did you go over to the island?" he said when he got his breath back. "Was it in the boat?"
"It was in Michael's pocket," Rolf said, a note of anger creeping back in before he let it go once more. "He thought it would be funny to take your wallet and make you worry."
"MIKE-" Matthew said blankly. "But he was on the jetty when I said I was going to- he knew I was going to swim over and look for it!"
"Yes, he did. He let the joke go entirely too far, not stopping you before you dove into the water. He'd had the wallet since you were on the island, he swiped it at some point over there."
Matthew looked down at the wallet, somewhere between shocked and hurt. And then angry as the initial shock began to wear off. "They KNEW I'd get into trouble if I lost it again, they must have heard me say to Eric-" he got up, more than ready to go and find Mike and put his lights out for him.
"NO Matthew," Rolf said, pulling him back down onto the bed. "All three of our friends were in on it at some level, and their partners are taking care of matters as we speak."
"He and Chris were standing there while I was looking for it! Chris was LAUGHING saying it wasn't a big deal!" Matthew said furiously. "They KNEW how upset I was! And they stood and LET me get in the water-"
"I know, I know," Rolf said soothingly, keeping hold of Matthew's hands. "It was a bad idea of a joke played on you, by three young men that didn't understand you weren't feeling well."
Rolf changed the sentence for Matthew's ears, when he wanted to call it a stupid joke played by three rude people he didn't want to call friends at the moment. Knowing that deep down none of the three young men meant serious harm to his partner, Rolf was able to slowly settle his boiling anger. Matthew could very well have been one of the three teasing another in the same situation, and he certainly didn't want to think of one of his friends holding onto that type of anger towards his partner. He knew each of his friends were discussing matters with their partners, letting them each see the whole picture, and what could have happened. He knew they were all learning the various lessons in the matter, the same he would have taught Matthew if the situations were reversed. That was enough for him.
He let go of Matthew with his left hand to pull his partner's face up again. "What should you have done when they began teasing you?"
Matthew swallowed on an equally unpolitic answer, which he knew Rolf read in his face anyway. "If I'd come and told you I'd lost the wretched thing you would have strangled me."
"If you would have come and told me you'd lost it, we would have gotten to the bottom of the problem quickly. If you had truly lost it, yes, I would have spanked you. Wouldn't that be a far better option than what you were facing when we woke up this morning?"
Matthew winced, thinking that one through. "I took it WITH me so I wouldn't lose it or forget where it was! And I shouldn't have gone in the water, I know."
"No, that was very dangerous. You were provoked, but you did have final say in whether you tried swimming to the island, didn't you?"
"Yes." Matthew admitted. "That was mostly panic."
"You scared me, a LOT," Rolf didn't mind to admit. "You might have had an asthma attack. A cramp. ANYTHING, and you'd have been in serious danger of drowning. I don't want to have to imagine my life without you in it."
Matthew's mouth twisted at that. He slid over and wrapped his arms around Rolf's neck, trying to stop himself from dissolving into tears. "I wasn't sure I was going to get back. I didn't realise how hard it is to swim when you can't breathe properly."
Rolf hung on tight, battling his own emotions for a moment. He growled roughly in Matthew's ear. "If you ever do something that ridiculous again, drowning will be the least of your worries."
"I'm sorry," Matthew said, meaning it. "Really."
"I am too," Rolf said, finding Matthew's lips for a deep kiss. "Are you ready to go?" he asked when the kiss ended.
Matthew looked at him for a moment, not sure how he felt about that. This morning it had seemed appalling to have to leave after only one day- and to go home to certain death. Now- now he realised, he had no wish whatever to see Mike or any of the rest of them. He was still tired, still aching, he had a head full of cement and he felt far from well. Going home seemed like the most attractive idea he'd heard in a while. He nodded, dropping his eyes as he got up. Their bags were packed and stood by the door. And the others- Matthew's eyes stung in spite of himself. Right now he didn't much care what happened to them or what they thought.
"I don't know where anyone else is and what they're doing. Straight out to the truck with you, not a word to anyone," Rolf said, slinging the duffle across his shoulder before picking up the suitcase and opening the door.
That suited Matthew. Grabbing up his jacket, he headed for the door and downstairs. Todd and Stephen were on the sofa, Todd quiet, but sniffling, and Stephen's arm was around him. Matthew avoided either of their eyes and headed straight out of the door towards the car. Stephen let Todd go and got up, coming to take the suitcase for Rolf.
"Are you two still going?"
"Yes. Matthew’s cold is worsening- which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone under the circumstances- and I'd rather he rested at home rather than stay here and wanting to throttle his friends. You sure it's no problem to take Joe and Chris home?" Rolf asked as he held the door for Stephen. He clicked his keys and watched as Matthew climbed in immediately, shutting the door.
"No, no problem at all." Stephen gave him a somewhat anxious look. "You know they none of them meant it? It seemed pretty harmless to them at the time, they're going to be shattered to think you and Matthew left because you were angry with them."
"While Matthew and I are angry, it's a passing condition. We're not leaving because of that - Matthew's health is foremost in my mind right now." Rolf had opened the tailgate and put his duffle in after Steve had set their suitcase into the back. He shut the door with a firm click.
"At least say goodbye to them." Stephen asked, putting a hand on the car to block Rolf's way. "There's no harm done, it could have been any one of the four of them this happened to-"
Rolf looked a moment at Steve, then relented. He at least needed to let everyone know he wasn't running away mad. Nodding, he opened the driver's door and put the keys in the seat. "I'll be right back," he said to Matthew, shutting the door. He walked back into the cabin ahead of Steve and turned into the kitchen.
There was no sign of Todd in the lounge. Rolf went on through, passing the kitchen where Joe was leaning against the table, arms folded, his eyes on Chris who from the look of his shoulders hadn't yet calmed down. Out on the porch Mike was still curled on Eric's lap and at the sight of Rolf, went from tearstained and miserable to extremely red faced, tearstained and miserable.
"We're heading out." Rolf said to Eric as he looked up. "We'll see you two back home. Enjoy the rest of your weekend."
"Thanks. I hope Matthew's feeling better soon," Eric added sincerely.
"Thanks." Rolf gave him a tight smile and headed back into the kitchen. Joe met his eyes there with full understanding and a wry nod that didn't need any words. Rolf gripped the hand held out to him as he passed, lifting his voice to the still stiff figure in the corner.
"Goodbye Chris."
Chris didn't answer verbally, but the sinking of the shoulders told Rolf he'd done the right thing. "We'll see you soon," Rolf said as he passed by, heading up the stairs in search of Todd. He knocked gently on the door. Todd's hesitation told him he had a good idea of who it was. There was some seconds of silence before an unsteady voice invited him inside. Todd was sitting stiffly on the edge of the bed, gripping the quilt. He had the look of a man fully expecting to be shot. Rolf shut the door behind him, sat down on the bed and put his arms around Todd.

"Don't look at me like that, you'll give me a complex," Rolf said over Todd's head before releasing him.
Todd managed something approximating a smile and hugged him back, trying not to break back into tears. "I'm really sorry. I hope Matthew isn't sick because of this, I'm so sorry it got dangerous-"
"Shhhhh, it's okay now. Thank you, your apology means a lot. Matthew's going to be just fine, he just needs to stay warm and get plenty of rest," Rolf said, patting Todd's leg.
Todd nodded and Rolf got up, ruffling his hair. "We'll see you at home. Enjoy the rest of your weekend."
Todd nodded, sniffling and then crying again into his pillow as soon as Rolf had the door closed.
Rolf headed downstairs, shutting the front door behind him. Stephen was standing at the passenger window talking to Matthew, and stepped back, giving him a last quick smile as Rolf got into the driver's seat.
"All right? Safe journey Rolf."
"Take care." Rolf turned the key over in the ignition and gunned the engine, fastening his seat belt as he pulled away. Matthew shot him a quick look, somewhat subdued himself.
"How mad ARE you?"
Rolf had pulled out of their driveway, but stopped and put the truck in park on the rarely travelled road. He turned to Matthew, serious. "I'm not mad. Those three pulled a stunt they didn't think through. They've paid their price. You scared me badly, but I'm not mad at you either. You ARE staying close to home for a while - you aren't getting off scot free for that bad decision to go ahead and swim. Does that answer your question?"
"If you'll stop grinding your teeth?" Matthew said, straight faced. Rolf snorted and turned his chin up, snatching a quick kiss.  
"Touche."
He smiled as Matthew laughed, put the truck back in drive and started down the road.
~ The End ~

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010

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