Erron dropped his cigarette, grinding it into the gravel road with the heel of his boot. He looked up at the sky, taking in the vast blue yonder, appreciating the sight of large white clouds that moved along lazily. He leaned up against the door of the buick, watching the cigarette smoke dissipate.
They had been in earthrealm for two days now, the memory of their meeting with the special forces now fading in Erron's mind. He had expected them to leave after the day, Kotal's desire to stay longer and “explore” earthrealm had blindsided him. Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs quick to encourage the idea with a strange zeal, suggesting places to visit and sights to see. “How about you girls just show him around, I'll stay here” he had proposed, honestly not interested in the idea.
They shared a glance, Jacqui stifling a laugh “Maybe some other time, you two need to bro-out”
“What the hell does that even mean?”
The next day they were provided an abundance of items; maps, a road atlas covered in sticky notes referencing areas of interest, a falsified drivers license for Erron and a suitcase each stuffed with clothing. “Uh, we got you covered Erron, size wise” Cassie rested her hands on her hips “Cowboy chic right?” Erron rolled his eyes.
“Kotal, your stuff might be a bit, well let's just say we'd need a tailor"
“I'll make due Cassandra” he smiled up at her from behind a tattered map he was examining. Jacqui handed keys to Erron “The car is a bit testy, just try to bring it back in one piece” He sighed, behind his mask a scowl was steadily forming. “Roadtrip tunes, we picked out some bangers” Cassie tossed a cd case to him “Isn't it just John Denver's Country roads on repeat, Cass?"
"Shhh" nudging Jacqui with an elbow, she fought back a laugh "you guys have fun, don't forget to send a postcard!"
And now here they were, in the middle of nowhere stopped in an empty side road. Kotal insistent that Erron was driving in the wrong direction. He had been quick to retrieve a map from the glove box, before reconsidering and hastily exiting the car and striding a few feet into the grass.
He caught sight of Kotal through the cars side mirror, quickly looking away. An urge to stretch his legs moved him, combined with the discomfort of the car's exterior pressing heat into his back. He crossed the narrow road and found a trampled path through the knee high grass and weeds. He looked behind him, Kotal surely wouldn't mind if he left for a few minutes...
The path meandered down, tall grass eventually giving way to hard packed earth. An indented furrow in it continued the trail, leading up to a scant grouping of trees and vegetation, their green leaves shuddering in the light breeze. He grinned to himself when he came to a dip in the path leading down to a small embankment, water lapping gently at it's shore. It was a modest sized swimming hole, not too deep, Erron able to make out the rocky bottom from where he stood. The water shimmered green, reflecting the color of the trees surrounding it, he closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. His nose was filled with the smell of grass and wet earth, the buzzing of insects and the occasional bird call providing a pleasant melody.
He promptly undressed, folding his clothes and setting them down at the base of a nearby tree, placing his hat and boots beside them. The thought of returning to the car did not pass his mind, simply content to focus on this little slice of heaven.
Tentatively he dropped down from the shallow embankment, his breath catching in his chest and his muscles tensing at the cool touch of the water. He dunked his head under, embracing the sensation of shocked nerves, now starting to relax and ease into the water's caress. He resurfaced with a gasp, wiping his face and brushing back his wet hair. Kicking himself back he floated, arms and legs outstretched. He focused on the clouds again, following them as they drifted past, their forms billowing and stretching.
The energy around him changed in a moment, feeling his skin tingle slightly, he frowned, trying to place the sensation.
“Erron” A deep voice broke through his contemplation.
“Holy shit” he lost his balance, sinking down beneath the water before finding his footing and righting himself. He tried to rub the water from his eyes, catching a warped sight of a figure standing at the embankment.
“Damn it Kotal, what in - I thought you were going to look at the map” he fumbled over the words, brushing the hair out of his eyes.
“I did” Kotal gazed around at his surroundings, face pensive “You took the incorrect off ramp, Erron”
Erron frowned, “Shit, did ya see how to get back?”
“I believe it would be best if I drove, your navigation skills are not as sharp as I had expected” he turned his gaze down to look at Erron, raising his eyebrows in mock surprise.
“Nah, I've got it handled...” he felt his cheeks flush red “by the by, you've got your fly down” Erron regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth, watching Kotal's arms come uncrossed and his hands reach down to unbutton his jeans. Kotal kicked off the sandals he was wearing, pulling his jeans and briefs down. Erron's eyes shot back up to the sky as Kotal continued, shucking off his button down and then his white tee. A familiar twinge of excitement shot through his stomach, his skin tingling all over again. He thought he had pushed these feelings down, when they first made themselves known two months ago.
“Kotal, we've got to get goin' if we want to make good time” he bit at his upper lip, his voice an unwelcome interval higher, he cleared his throat “I don't like driving when it's dark”
“You did not seem to be concerned about the time when I found you...” Kotal entered the water, displacing it in front of him as he closed the distance between them.
Erron grunted, placing a hand over his crotch, now treading towards the embankment “Yeah, well, I thought you'd take longer with the map” he lied.
“Is that so?” Kotal chuckled, rubbing at his chin, his gaze downcast below the too clear water. “I never pictured you as a modest person, Erron”
Erron feigned laughter, his face growing hotter by the second “enjoying the water or are you just having fun ribbing me?”
“Both” he sent a spray of water at Erron with with a broad sweep of his arm.
“Oh, that's nice” Erron grimaced, the cool water stinging his face. He returned the favor, hiding his smile with a scowl when Kotal dodged the splash.
They spent the next half hour in the water, Erron settled near the small shore, enjoying the sensation of small waves breaking around his chest, Kotal swimming on his back and absentmindedly humming a soft tune. He exited the water first, casting a look down at Erron “Are you happy to be back?”
“Huh?” Erron stared into the water, looking at his legs, distorted by the light and liquid. “Sure, I reckon you could say that” A sharp snap of a waistband was his cue to turn around and make his way out, Kotal stood before him, back turned, he stopped dressing himself, evidently content with just the briefs and made his way back up the path. “Goddamn it, Erron” he grumbled under his breath, slipping on his boxer shorts with some difficulty, the fabric eager to soak up the droplets on his skin, sticking uncomfortably. He shoved his arms into his sleeves of his button down, leaving it open. Draping his pants over his shoulder he grabbed the rest of his belongings, stopping to cast a look over his shoulder before trudging up the path.
A sense of disquiet formed in him, realizing that he was truly dreading the next few days. They had grown close over the years, learned about one another and had come to enjoy each others company. He'd be quick to admit that Kotal was one of the few, if not the only person whom he trusted most. But now in the light of spending time with him here - in a more intimate setting, combined with the feelings he couldn't seem to successfully push away, it sent his head spinning.
He settled himself into the car, arching his back at the contact of hot leather against him, tossing his clothes to the back seat where they joined Kotal's. He turned to look at his co-pilot, reclined in his seat, bronze skin still covered in water droplets. Erron tracked one as it slipped down a pec and rolled over his stomach “All set?” drawing his attention back to the road, he turned the car on, fingers reaching for the radio dial. “Yes, drive back out onto the main road, I'll direct you from there”
“You got it” twisting the keys already in the ignition, he stepped on the gas pedal. The car lunged forward, tossing up gravel and dust as they set back out to their destination.
“Damn” he tossed the empty thermos into the back seat “all out of coffee”. Kotal clicked his tongue in acknowledgment, his eyes focused on the terrain that passed by them. With Kotal's direction they had easily found their way back to the highway, now sitting in a comfortable silence as neither had cared for the small selection of radio stations that had warbled through the car's old speakers.
“Erron” he started, turning his gaze onto the speedometer “your driving speed is... unnecessary”
“No it's not” Erron tightened his grip on the steering wheel, pressing his foot gently onto the brake peddle to ease down a notch “we've got.. what, three hundred miles to go?”
“Correct” Kotal leaned back down, draping an arm over his eyes.
“Ah damn it, are you fuckin-” more pressure on the brake, dropping their speed considerably as he pulled off onto the shoulder, red and blue lights flashing in the rear view mirror. Kotal scoffed, raising his arm and resting it behind his head, shooting a look of discontent at Erron. Face searing and stomach sinking, he thrust open the center console, grabbing the sheets of paper inside “Can ya hand me my wallet? It's in the glove-box”
Kotal dug through the glovebox, quickly removing his driver's license from the wallet, pressing it hard into Erron's open hand.
He took a deep breath before rolling down the window, watching the officer walk towards them in the rear-view mirror. “Good afternoon gentlemen” the man leaned his head down, pushing up the brim of his hat as he looked them over “you mind turning off the car for me?” Erron reached out for the keys, unexpectedly making contact with Kotal's hand, he pulled back. Kotal turned the keys and pulled them out of the ignition, clenching them in a fist as he stared at Erron.
“License and registration, Sir” the officer's eyes darted between Erron and Kotal, one eyebrow raised slightly. Erron handed over the documents, settling his hands back on the steering wheel. “Hold tight, I'll be back in a minute” Erron nodded, he couldn't help but think they must look peculiar, both sitting in the car barely clothed. He ran a hand nervously through his hair, the silence that permeated the air now tense.
The man returned after a short time, a wide grin on his face. “Alright fellas, here's your registration and your license” Erron promptly took the items back, shuffling them in his hands “So here's the deal, we clocked you at near a hundred” he paused to wipe away the sweat forming at his forehead “you can't exceed eighty-five here in the state-”
Kotal let out a heavy sigh.
“Right, I wasn't thinking about the speed, Officer-” he glanced at the stitched name above a chest pocket “Tohen”
The man nodded, his eyes drifting over to Kotal before directing himself to Erron once more “Right, well seeing as your record's spotless... consider this a warning, Mr. Black”
“Watch that speed, oh and uh... your boyfriend has to buckle up” he patted the roof of the car “you two take care now, drive safe” he turned heel as Erron sat agape. “Hold up, he is not my-“ he belted out the words, only stopping when he heard Kotal's deep rumbling laughter “goddamn it” he mumbled to himself, rubbing his face with both hands.
He threw open the door, pants in hand. Roughly he pulled them on, looking up to catch sight of the patrol car pull into the road and drive past him.
Sitting back down in the car he kept his eyes on the road before him, watching the black form shrink into the distance. Kotal leaned forward, thrusting the keys into the ignition and turning, the car sputtering back into life. “Surely we are making good time now, Erron?” a small smile formed on his lips as he sat back, reclining his seat further.
Erron turned to Kotal, feeling the heat in his face leave and seep into his neck. He flashed him a forced grin “Get that damn belt on”
Kotal burst into laughter again, his shoulders bouncing up and down as the sound rumbled out of his chest. Erron joined in, unable to stop himself, now ignoring the uncomfortable heat in his neck and focusing on the pleasant warmth growing in his stomach.
“As you wish” Kotal sighed, readjusting his seat upright and drawing the belt across his chest.
“Lord almighty...” shaking his head Erron punched the throttle , a loud bang erupting from the exhaust as they accelerated down the highway.