"Jim?" Blair sounded both plaintive and aggrieved, a beggar with a grudge. "My tent is leaking, man, water pouring in."
Jim grunted, turned on his side to face Blair's tent, and raised his voice over the patter-strike of heavy rain. "You took the new one."
"No leaks. You touched the side, didn't you?"
"I'm not a camping rookie, Jim."
"You touched the side," Jim repeated and smiled at Blair's soft-voiced mutter of, "Did not" because it was laced with doubt.
There was a pause filled with a rustle and then the beam of Blair's flashlight spun in crazy spirals. Jim watched it illuminate the canvas of his own tent, a splash of yellow on green, piss on grass, and waited.
"Okay, I might have. There's something--oh, goddamn it, my book, my library book. I was reading it before I went to sleep and it got wedged between the sleeping bag and the side and it's soaked. Pulp. Damn. Damn."
A wet book didn't rank with earthquakes, fire, and flood on the disaster scale for Jim, but he made his next grunt sympathetic, even if Blair probably couldn't hear it over the rising howl of the wind.
"My sleeping bag is wet," Blair offered next, dispirited, a sniff implied. "My socks are wet."
"Always keep your feet dry. Old army saying."
"I thought that was powder: always keep your powder dry. That dates back to the time when guns were--"
"Save it, Mr. Colt; I know."
"Way earlier than Samuel Colt. Oliver Cromwell. And the actual words were--"
Jim rolled his eyes. "Sandburg, it's three in the morning and I don't care. Put on your spare socks, get your ass out of the wet patch--" Okay, he could have phrased that better."--and go back to sleep."
"My spare clothes are wet, too. In fact--" Blair shivered: Jim heard the clack of his teeth meeting and the muted creak of the airbed. "I'm lying in a puddle. In a fucking lake, Jim."
"Lake's a three-minute walk away, Chief, and it's only been raining for an hour; it's a puddle."
"My ass is wet," Blair said sulkily. "Big puddle."
"Big ass," Jim said, because, really, how could he pass that one up?
He heard Blair open his mouth, think twice, and shut it. Through the wind and the rain and the grumble of thunder, he heard it happen with a certainty that didn't require actual empirical evidence.
Blair wanted something. Wanted it more than delivering a stinging, scathing comeback that would kick off one of their fights, all bluster and banter and bullshit.
Wait for it….
"Could I come in with you? I can't stay here."
"Two of us in a one-man tent? Won't work, Chief; you'll shove your elbow or your knee in my ribs--"
"I swear I won't. And just how far down do your ribs go anyway?"
"Then you'll touch the sides of my tent and we'll both be in a puddle. Bound to happen."
"Lake. And I'll be really, really careful."
"And you're wet. You'll get me wet." Jim's smile was wide enough to make the skin on his bottom lip feel like a blown-up balloon in the instant before it popped, tight and stretched.
"I--" Blair fell silent. "I'll strip off," he said. "Down to my T-shirt and shorts."
"'Down to'? Just what do you wear when you go to bed, Chief?"
"Out here? Pretty much everything I wear when I'm awake. Well, not my boots."
"I'm naked," Jim lied with great satisfaction. He wasn't, but if he heard the zipper on Blair's tent hiss, he could get that way fast enough. "It's humid. I'm hot. Change your mind?"
"It might be hot, but wet is wet." Blair chewed his lip, gnaw, suck, nibble. "Hell with it. I'm coming over."
Jim smiled up at the roof of his tent and eased out of his shorts. "If you must."
"Hell, yes, I must." He heard Blair undress with frustrated puffs of breath punctuating the removal of each sodden item. "This is all your fault, anyway," Blair called over.
"I made it rain? I don't think so."
"You said you would check the weather forecast, Jim. You said. We could have come next week, if we'd known there was a storm forecast." Blair tugged at the tent zipper. "You said you'd do it," he said, more in sorrow than in anger.
I did, Jim thought as a half-naked, damp, chilly Blair squirmed in beside him, hands in all the wrong places, his breath mint-sweet, cuddling up close to avoid touching the side. Twice a day until I was sure the storm was coming. I did, Chief.
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