"Why did I let you talk me into this?" Mike moans, hefting the box of files up onto the desk in the camp office and giving it a mournful look.
Rudy makes a humming noise. "Because you're susceptible to bribery by chocolate and sex," he says, poking the decaying seat of the office chair with one long, tanned finger. The chair emits a faint cloud of dust, fabric unraveling, and Rudy's poker face goes the faintest bit more annoyed.
Mike sputters. "Rudy!" he says. "You can't say that!"
"No?" Rudy says, not looking up. "Was it inaccurate?"
"Well…" Mike hesitates, then finds himself laughing, as he always does. "No. I'm totally susceptible."
Rudy nods as if the matter has been settled, but Mike plows on. "But we're in public, at camp," he says, acutely aware of the cleanup crew outside, beginning the removal of the debris and dirt that had settled on the island over the winter. "If someone heard you—"
"They've only themselves to blame," Rudy says, this time with more finality. "Find me another chair."
If Rudy were anyone else, Mike knows that peremptory tone would irritate him, would make him stalk down the hallway, grumbling, and bring back the most uncomfortable chair he can find. Then again, if Rudy were anyone else, Mike wouldn't be here at all.
I don't know what possessed him, Mike thinks, opening the doors to each of the other offices in turn in the search for a chair that isn't rusting and doesn't have moth holes in it, taking over this old place for the summer when he could have been off with his parents to Italy. They've been friends a long time – and more-than-friends for long enough – that Mike thinks he ought to be getting a handle on what makes Rudy tick. But every time he decides he has it figured out, Rudy does something that sends all his preconceived notions flying right out of his head. Like deciding he wants to run Alcatraz.
He brings back the most solid chair he can find, and though it's half an inch shorter on the right front leg and has a bit of old water damage, it's at least dry, and when he wipes his hand over the seat nothing comes off or falls to pieces. He pulls it into the office, and finds Rudy standing behind the desk, going through the drawers, with the old chair nowhere in sight. Mike decides it's better not to ask.
"Your chair, Commander Miller," he says, with an exaggerated salute. "Or should that be King Miller, now you're actually in charge?"
Rudy's lips twitch. "Emperor Miller, I think you'll find." Mike hoots with laughter.
"And they'll start each day with a song to your glory?" He wishes he had his guitar, so that he could improvise something suitably mocking.
"Why, Mike, I had no idea you were so eager to return to garbage detail," Rudy says, but his eyes gleam a little and he's clearly amused. Mike grins back at him, but then he's suddenly struck with a horrible thought.
"Oh my gosh," he says. "The beaver! Is he still there? We have to make sure the crew doesn't ruin the dam!"
"Mmm, yes," Rudy says, deadpan. "That dam is an essential part of the camp experience."
"Aw, Rudy, I always knew you were a romantic," Mike teases, and is highly amused to see a faint blush sweep over Rudy's cheekbones. He leans in and presses a kiss to Rudy's mouth, and for a moment he forgets all about the crew outside and the dirty floors and the fact that he's let himself in for a whole summer of child supervision. For a moment, there is only Rudy's mouth, and Rudy's hand gripping his arm, and Rudy's breath sweeping hot across his face.
Eventually Mike breaks the kiss, panting, and they look at each other for a long moment.
"Well," Rudy says, not quite clearing his throat. "Luckily I've already taken care of it. The dam and the garbage dump are clearly marked as off limits to the crew."
"Good," Mike says, still a bit dazed. "That's good."
Rudy gives Mike his not-quite-smile. "You're going to finish cleaning in here," he says.
"Yeah," says Mike. "Um, yeah." After a moment he blinks, shakes his head, and reaches for the broom. "You don't care to help me out, I suppose."
"I—" Rudy says, and Mike finishes along with him so that they're speaking in unison, "—don't clean."
"Right," Mike says, trying to sound sour, but grinning despite himself. "Shouldn't have suggested it. Don't know what I was thinking."
"Don't let it happen again," Rudy says mildly.
Mike begins to sweep, slowly moving the dirt into one corner of the tiny office. He expects Rudy to sit in the chair, put his feet up on the desk, and take on his role as self-appointed Emperor of Alcatraz. Instead, though, Rudy ignores the chair, pulls the box of camper application files to him across the desk and takes off the lid. He stares at it for a while, and Mike sweeps without really paying attention to what he's doing, occupied by watching the faint traces of emotion run across Rudy's face. Some of the expressions are familiar – frustration, wariness, wry amusement. Others are completely new.
"So," Mike says, speaking softly, "why are you doing this? I mean, I know why I'm here. But you – you've never said."
Rudy is silent for a long moment. Finally, just when Mike thinks he isn't going to answer, Rudy lifts one hand to skim over the tops of the files, and says, "Somewhere in here is a Rudy Miller."
"Huh?" says Mike, but then a moment later he gets it. "Ah." He remembers what it had been like for himself that first day at camp, not knowing anyone, not fitting in, being forced to join in all sorts of wholesome, enforced fun and hating every minute of it. He can only imagine what it must have been like for Rudy, who had fitted in even less, though he'd affected very convincingly not to care. "You want to make it not stink," Mike says.
Rudy huffs out a laugh, then clenches his lips shut as if he can pretend he hadn't. A second later his face is blank again, but his eyes are twinkling. "Such a way with words," he says. "You should consider a career as a poet."
Mike snorts, then sobers. "We'll make it good," he says. "I promise."
"I expect no less," says Rudy. "Emperor Miller demands only the best." Then he says, "You'd better finish sweeping. Shape up, Webster, or you don't eat!"