Bodies of Water
by J.B. McDonald

Chapter 2

Morning, late. Bobby loved mornings, late. There was something about them, something no one else saw.

Maybe it was just because he liked to sleep in so much. Or maybe it was that the grumpy people were already off to work. Or maybe because Scott never scheduled him for the Danger Room workouts this time of day.

Bobby walked along the sidewalk, face turned into the sun that smiled down at him (the sun liked mornings, late, too) and the clouds that drifted lazily through the clear autumn sky.

That was another thing he liked. Autumn skies. The hint of warm weather, the ability to still go out walking, but the promise of Cold on the horizon. Leaves turned orange and gold, a burning glory, a last act of defiance against the Cold of winter.

Bobby bounced up the steps of the hotel, smiling brightly at the doorman as he waltzed in. He glanced down at his paper, then headed to the stairs and jogged up them -- all the way to the eleventh floor. He was winded by the time he reached the top, but the cool (if air-conditioned) air felt good as it snapped into his lungs.

The door opened into a patentedly Hotel Hallway, and Bobby bounced down that until he came to room J-23. Jamie's door. Whistling tunelessly -- the only way Bobby knew how to whistle -- Bobby raised his knuckles and rapped--tap-tap-tap-tap--on the door. A moment later it opened, showing an older man's face, black hair tied back into a ponytail, streaks of white running through it like lightning.

"Hey, Forge," Bobby said, finding his smile coming back. "Jamie still here?"

Forge smiled, his face creasing into worn grooves. "Yeah. Come on in." He stepped back, opening the door farther, gesturing for Bobby to enter the small hotel room. "Jamie's been complaining all morning that you got him drunk," Forge chuckled, though his silver eyes held a question as they looked up at Bobby.

"Yeah, well, he was warm," Bobby answered, smiling. He could hear the shower running, and made his way to one of the beds, seeing the small table occupied with a typically Forge-looking mess. Bits and pieces of metal and wires, computer boards and chunks of plastic -- all a very technical confusion.

"Actually," Forge commented, not really paying attention, "alcohol doesn't make you warm. That's an illusion."

Bobby cocked an eyebrow to himself, then smiled lopsidedly and shrugged. "Oh. Well, he was comfy. And he stopped shivering."

"Psychosomatic," Forge muttered under his breath.

"What?" Bobby asked.

Forge shook his head mutely and walked to the small table.

"He been in there long?" Bobby asked as Forge sat back down at the table, pushing a duffel bag aside with his foot.

"About fifteen minutes. I think he's soaking off the hang-over," Forge answered, picking up a chip of Somethingorother and eyeing it before placing it with a Whatchamacallit.

Bobby nodded and sat on the bed, fidgeting. He tapped his feet, whistled under his breath, played with the blankets. Finally he got up and wandered for a bit, ending by the bathroom door. "Hurry it up, James!" Bobby shouted over the shower.

"Go 'way!" he heard dimly from within.

Bobby's smile spread slowly across his face, lighting his eyes with a wicked gleam. Consideringly, he walked around the edge of the wall, head cocked, one hand trailing along the paint. Finally he stopped where he thought the top of the shower might be, and placed both hands flat on the wall. He closed his eyes, leaning his forehead against the stucco, and concentrated.

There -- beneath the drywall, before the tiles. Pipes were running, carrying an absence of Cold, which meant heat. Water pipes. Carrying hot water. To the shower. Bobby's slow, wicked smile returned, and he slowly started to chill not the water itself, but the pipes.

A satisfying yowl echoed from the bathroom, and a moment later a dripping wet Jamie raced out, towel wrapped tightly around his waist.

Bobby grinned smugly and tried to keep his eyes on Jamie's face as he leaned a shoulder against the wall, laying his arms over his chest and crossing his ankles nonchalantly. "Hi."

A narrow, well-muscled chest shuddered outward, then collapsed as Jamie took a deep breath. "I'm gonna kill you for that."

Bobby laughed, seeing Forge look up out of the corner of his eye. "Cold showers are good for hang-overs."

Jamie rubbed the back of his forearm across his mouth, his other hand holding his towel firmly in place around a trim waist. "Who said I had a hang-over?"

Bobby blinked innocently. "Didn't you know? When people have hangovers they always look really pale. You, my boy, look really pale."

Jamie shifted uncomfortably. "Oh."

Bobby laughed again, pulling his eyes away from Jamie's (very bare, very wet and oooh there was an image) long torso and back up to his face, brown hair almost black from the water as it lay flattened against his head. "I'm kidding," Bobby said, grinning again, cocking his head. "Go get dressed! And hurry up!"

Jamie ducked his head once, in a nod, then disappeared back into the bathroom.

"What do you boys have planned?" Forge asked, not looking up from his whatchamacallits.

Bobby straightened and considered taking offense. He was no 'boy.' He'd been an X-Man far longer than Forge ... then he decided the day was too nice, and Forge was old enough to call anyone 'boy.' Bobby slouched back against the wall, smirk playing around his mouth. "We're going to just hang out, mostly. Later, Jamie has to buy me dinner because he lost a bet." Bobby grinned impishly.

Forge chuckled, shaking his head. "Have a good time," he said, glancing up as the bathroom door opened and Jamie walked out, tucking a black T-shirt into faded blue jeans. He ran his long fingers through recently brushed hair, effectively ruffling it all up again, then smiled brightly at Bobby.

"Set?" Jamie asked, picking his brown trench coat up off the bed.

"Yeah," Bobby answered, smiling and raising a hand at Forge before ducking out the door.

"How 'bout McDonald's for lunch?" Jamie offered, smiling as though he carried the entire day in his heart.

"You trying to get out of buying me expensive food?" Bobby answered, mock-offended. He stepped off the curb to avoid someone, then hopped back up. The sea lay on one side, and the city on another. Jamie walked near the railing that kept people from falling into the ocean.


Bobby laughed, sending a sidelong glance at the younger man. "I want dinner. Expensive dinner."

Jamie groaned.

"C'mon, the government pays well! I'm sure of it, having watched lots of TV," Bobby said, still grinning.

Jamie snorted. "Okay, then. McDonald's for dinner!"

Bobby laughed, reaching out to push Jamie. Jamie stumbled against the railing, then grinned and ran ahead. "Hurry up, slow poke!" he shouted, weaving through the crowds of people.

Bobby blinked, then took off after Jamie, legs pounding against the sidewalk. He finally caught the other man at a park, sitting on a rock by a small pond.

"Hey, Bobster, look," Jamie said in a hushed tone, deep brown eyes twinkling.

Bobby thought he really liked those eyes. In fact, he more than really liked them.

He tore his thoughts away from that course and turned his gaze to the water, where Jamie was pointing. "What? The fish?"

Jamie rolled his eyes. "No. Look -- is that a seahorse? I've never seen a seahorse in a pond!"

Bobby frowned and leaned forward slightly, putting his hand down on the boulder Jamie sat on. One of Jamie's legs was pulled up onto the rock, the other still planted on the ground. He had twisted, looking backward to see into the water, and Bobby could feel the man's breath tickling his ear. "I don't see a seahorse," Bobby said after a moment.

"Right there. I swear it's a seahorse!"

Jamie leaned forward to point, brushing his shoulder against Bobby's. Bobby's stomach tightened, and he closed his eyes tightly for a moment. This wasn't the person to feel this way about, he chided himself. The moment passed, and Bobby opened his eyes to look.

"I don't see a seahorse," he said again, though he was looking hard. "I don't think they can live in ponds anyway."

"It was!" Jamie protested, then shifted around until he lay on his stomach on the boulder, leaning across the water, sprawled next to Bobby. "Right there!"

Bobby hesitated, then decided he needed a better balancing system if he was going to lean and look. Carefully, he shifted until he perched with one hand on either side of Jamie's shoulders, toes digging into the soft dirt by Jamie's feet. "Where?"


Bobby frowned and leaned closer, almost but not quite touching Jamie. "Where?"

"There!" Jamie twisted, blinking as if he hadn't realized Bobby was that close. "Um." A blush crept up his neck (This boy blushes faster than I do!), and he slid downward, ducking out beneath Bobby's arms and standing off to one side. "If you lean over you can see it better. I think it's hiding under that fern-y looking thing."

Bobby eyed Jamie, then glanced back at the water. "Sheeeeya, right."

"Really!" Jamie sounded thoroughly frustrated. His hand -- slighter than Bobby's -- planted itself back on the rock and he leaned close again, shoulder brushing shoulder as he stretched across the water to point. "That fern-y looking thing!"

Bobby could smell Jamie's aftershave. His stomach tightened again as Jamie pulled back slightly, brushing brown hair across Bobby's cheek. The brown trenchcoat tickled against Bobby's legs, and as Jamie shifted to get better balance his knee kissed against Bobby's shin.

Bobby swallowed hard. This man was adorable, and he wasn't even aware of it. That was all right, though. Bobby was more than enough aware of it for both of them.

Head dizzy with the scent of aftershave that wasn't his, Bobby leaned farther forward to peer around the fern-y thing Jamie had been pointing at. He blinked several times, trying to focus on the water instead of Jamie.

And then, rather suddenly (though it really shouldn't have been unexpectedly, Bobby noted), Bobby's feet were wrapped in long arms and pulled up off the ground, toppling him headfirst into the pond.

He was screeching as he surfaced, though he wouldn't have admitted it. Men didn't screech.

"I am going to KILL you, Jamie!" Pond sludge hung in his face, and as he stood up a large poi fish tried to eat his pants.

Jamie was laughing too hard to run away, doubled over and clutching his sides. "Your face--!" he gasped, pointing one slender finger.

Bobby fought his smile, shooing the poi away, wiping brown muck off his arms. The water was waist-deep, and now it swirled with upset mud. Bobby's clothes were brown. His skin was brown. His hair dripped green slimy stuff.

Oh, yes. Jamie would pay. He must pay.

"I am going to get you," Bobby warned, smiling wickedly as he sloshed through the pond.

"Sir! No bathing in the pond, sir!" someone pompous and official-looking shouted.

Jamie started laughing harder, nodding. "That's right, you horrible pervert, you! No bathing in the pond! I tried to tell him to get out," Jamie gasped in the general direction of Pompous Man, unable to catch his breath.

"Very funny," Bobby muttered, clambering up onto land and shaking the water out of his hair and onto Jamie.

Jamie just kept laughing.

"You sicko!" Bobby snorted, falling to his knees next to Jamie and wiping sludge off on the other man's chest.

Jamie pushed back, trying to keep from getting slimed, but gasping too hard to put up much of a fight.

"That pond is probably infected with all sorts of diseases!" Bobby continued, his voice shaking with mirth as he wrung his shirt out on Jamie. So much for his nice, new shirt. One look at Jamie, though, and he couldn't be even irritated. Those sparkling brown eyes were running over with tears, and his grin was so big that his dimples were like canyons in his cheeks. "Sick, sick, sick!" Bobby said, flopping backward and rubbing his spine along Jamie's stomach, wiping off mud.

Jamie laughed and pushed him away, then rolled to his knees and stood. "Oh, Bobby, your face was so stunned! It was hilarious! You should have seen it!"

Bobby chuckled, still kneeling. "I'm sure! Probably a lot like yours last night, in the bay!"

Jamie laughed harder and nodded, wiping tears off his face with the back of his hand. "Yeah!"

Bobby watched, grinning, as Jamie collected himself.

"C'mon," Jamie said, still grinning, "I'll buy you some new clothes."

Bobby sniffed as if upset, though he couldn't quite suppress his smile. "I stink."

"How's that different from normal?" Jamie quipped, holding out a hand to pull Bobby up.

Bobby grasped the other man's warm fingers in his own, feeling the solidity, the stability as he pulled against Jamie to get up. "The stinky part. That's different from normal," Bobby answered Jamie's quip. "You're thinking of yourself, where it's normal," he said, blue eyes sparkling.

Jamie laughed and started out of the park, his stride long and sauntering.

"You're dirty, too," Bobby commented, matching Jamie's long, carefree steps.

"I'll get me new clothes," Jamie answered, smiling brightly. Bobby grinned in return, finding it impossible to remain solemn in this man's presence. It was such a welcome change from how things had become of late, a change Bobby was reveling in.

They walked in silence broken by the occasional chuckle to a department store, where both made a beeline for the men's department.

"We need non-stinky clothes!" Jamie announced -- loudly -- to whoever cared to be listening.

Bobby laughed and pulled a pair of jeans and a shirt in his size off the rack, then headed into the changing rooms. A moment later he returned, finding Jamie pulling clothes out, too, and got underwear and socks, grateful that he was one of those rare people who could wear off-the-rack clothing in a pinch.

Jamie started to laugh all over again.

"Shuddup," Bobby said, though he was grinning as he said it. Jamie kept laughing, and followed Bobby into the changing rooms.

"Little wet, huh?" Jamie asked, banging the door shut on a nearby stall.

Bobby opened his mouth to say something dirty, then thought better of it and entered his stall. "Just a little," he answered, and grinned to hear the bubbling laugh. He peeled his shirt off, then pulled his shoes off with his feet, and managed to somehow wiggle out of suddenly-smaller jeans. Socks and underwear went next, and he pulled on the new clothes quickly, chilled from being both wet and in an air-conditioned building. Funny. As The Iceman he could stand sub-zero tempatures, but as just Bobby Drake he seemed almost sensitized to the cold. Hank had said once that it might have been because he was exposed to cold in the flesh so rarely -- normally, he was ice.

The new jeans weren't nearly as comfortable as his old ones, but they'd do. The shirt, a plain white button-down, felt nice and dry against his skin, though.

"We need to find a bathroom, too," Bobby said, walking in stockinged feet out of the stall. Jamie leaned against the wall, wearing new pants and a new shirt -- a black T-shirt that hugged his body nicely. Bobby purposefully looked away and headed out to find some shoes that didn't squelch when he walked.

It didn't take too long to find new tennis shoes that fit decently, and Bobby walked swiftly into the men's bathroom to wash the sludge from his hair.

He ignored the odd looks as he ducked his head beneath the faucet, then pulled his shirt off and scrubbed his face, neck, arms and hands. Jamie wandered in, and Bobby watched the reflection of the other man as dark brown eyes filtered across his bare chest. Then that blush rose again, and Jamie leaned casually against the sink to contemplate the other wall as if he hadn't just been eyeing Bobby.

Bobby felt complimented. And hopeful. Maybe Jamie was interested. Now wouldn't that be fun?

"I still smell," Bobby said, using paper towels to blot most of the water out of his hair and scrub his body dry.

"I smell, too," Jamie answered solemnly, gaze still focused on the far wall. "I smell flowers and ocean spray and -- right now -- pond scum."

Bobby chuckled. "I need ... cologne or something. Anything to take this stench away!"

Jamie nodded and rolled around the corner, disappearing out the door. A moment later he returned, picking a price tag off a bottle of cologne before handing it to Bobby. "This smell okay?"

Bobby nodded and put it on, relieved to find that between the sink-bath, new clothes and cologne, he could hardly smell pond-scum anymore. "This stuff smells good," Bobby commented, sniffing again. It smelled familiar. It smelled like ... oh yeah. Like Jamie.

"Yeah, I think so," Jamie said, leading the way out of the bathroom. His trench coat swirled around his legs like a strange cape, first hiding his form and then flattening against his body, showing every long line and sharp curve.

Bobby wondered if maybe Jamie really could be interested. It would be easier to date him then a lot of other guys -- after all, he wouldn't have to hide the whole I'm-going-to-go-save-the-world-now shtick. And Jamie was really cute.

"You know," Bobby said at last, trotting until he walked alongside Jamie, "after all this I think I need to go someplace nice for dinner."

Jamie chuckled. "I'm going to pay more for that, aren't I?"

"Oh yeah," Bobby affirmed. They stopped at the register, ignoring the fact that the woman there was giving them very strange looks as she unclipped security tags and price marks from the clothes they were wearing. She didn't much seem to appreciate the fact that Bobby sat on the counter and twisted around to check out the price on his boxers, or the fact that Jamie had peeled the sticker off the bottle of cologne.

Jamie handed her a credit card even before she read the price out, and she ran it through quickly.

"Here's your receipt," she said, handing him the slip of paper, "and your card. Thank you for stopping by."

Jamie smiled politely, nodding, and the two men walked out of the department store.

"So, anymore ponds you wanna visit?" Bobby asked, smiling.

Jamie's grin returned, like the sun coming from behind clouds. "Nah. None of the rest are as deep."

Bobby laughed and followed Jamie down the sidewalk, the breeze ruffling through their hair. "I think," Bobby said after a moment, "that I want to go to Chez Adrienne's for dinner." A wicked smile played around his mouth, and light blue eyes slid sideward to glance at Jamie.

Jamie's deep brown eyes peered from behind a layer of mahogany hair, suspicious. "And I'm paying?"

Bobby nodded.

"I haven't heard of Chez Adrienne's. What is this place?"

Bobby smirked. "Got a tux?"

Jamie shook his head slowly. "It's that fancy?"

Bobby grinned, showing twin rows of white teeth. "Close. You need to look really good."

"This is my punishment for dumping you in the pond, isn't it?" Jamie asked, though he didn't sound very irritated.

"Yup," Bobby answered. He put his hands in the pockets of his jeans, striding happily. They'd made it to the pier -- close to the same place Bobby had seen Jamie the night before -- and the wind off the ocean was cool on Bobby's face. It carried the tang of the sea with it; salt and fish and something unidentifiable but distinctly sea-like. And the promise of Cold was heavier, whispering "Soon" into the ears of those who would listen.

"Rain's coming," Bobby murmured, able to taste the moisture on the wind.

"How can you tell?" Jamie asked, turning his face into the breeze.

"Water. The wind carries more than usual."

Jamie turned to him, a question in those dark eyes. "I thought you were all ice-y, not water-y."

A grin tugged at Bobby's mouth. "Yeah. But what do you think ice is made from?"

Jamie cocked his head, facing forward once more. That gait, long and loose-limbed, lengthened a bit more, and Bobby had to walk faster to keep up. How could someone shorter than he have such a long stride?

"That makes sense," Jamie said after a moment, nodding. He turned suddenly, leaping backward and up, planting his hands on the rail between the sidewalk and the ocean and hoisting himself away. His feet landed on the rail and he stood gracefully, pivoting on his toes and walking along on the fence. "Whatcha wanna do?" He tipped a bit, and one arm flashed out to keep his balance.

Bobby grinned and walked alongside Jamie on the ground, watching as the other man stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked casually, feet scuffing the salty wood. "I'd say go to a park," Bobby answered, half-laughing, "but now I'm afraid of ponds."

Jamie laughed delightedly, rolling his shoulders as if tickled pink. "You are not!"

"Sure I am," Bobby answered as seriously as he could. "Absolutely traumatized. See, someone shoved me into one once."

Jamie turned to him in mock horror. "No!"

"Yes. It was horrifying. I was all covered in muck and slime and I stunk."

"Did you hate that person?" Jamie asked, and even though a smile played around his mouth, there was an uncertain question in his eyes.

Bobby blinked, surprised. He stopped and turned to look up at Jamie, who paused and gazed back down at Bobby, now far more worried.

"Not at all," Bobby said, very seriously. "I deserved it. And it was funny."

Jamie smiled, and Bobby recognized the grin. It was the very same one he used when he was trying to shrug something off as no big deal. "I know. I was kidding."

Bobby nodded, agreeing though he knew the question hadn't been entirely a jest.

There was the sound of scraping sand, and Jamie half jumped, half slid off the fence. Both arms flew above him as he dropped, following the line of his trenchcoat as it billowed. Jamie landed on the ground, bending his knees to absorb the impact, and then sprang up. His jacket snapped to attention around his ankles, swirling impatiently. "I'm starved. Want lunch?"

"You're just trying to fill me up so I don't run the bill up at dinner," Bobby teased.

"Yeah!" Jamie answered. "C'mon. There's a Burger King this way." Jamie cocked his head in the direction of the restaurant, hands finding their way back into the pockets of his brown trenchcoat. The loping stride picked up where it had left off, and Jamie headed down the street.

It didn't take them long to reach the Burger King and order, and after Bobby had fended off Jamie trying to pay for their food ("You're paying for dinner -- not lunch!" he'd argued, laughing. "Yeah, but lunch will be cheaper!" Jamie answered, so free with that teasing grin) they gathered hamburgers and french fries and headed out to the little kids' playing area, Bobby leading the way and Jamie laughing as they had to duck through the three-foot high door meant to keep adults out.

"I always loved the balls," Bobby said, grinning as he set down the tray on a plastic table. "And you?"

Jamie's grin was considerably smaller as he shook his head slightly. "I didn't have a favorite thing. Actually, I didn't play in these."

Bobby shot him a questioning look, and he elaborated, "I lived in the middle of New Mexico, on a farm. There weren't any playground fast-food restaurants."

Bobby looked up at him, eyebrows raised. "You're from New Mexico?"

"Ah shorely am," Jamie replied, eyes twinkling as a heavy accent -- too heavy to be believable -- emerged. "Ah was growed an' raised thar!"

Bobby laughed and shook his head, deft fingers pouring french fries from their container onto the tray. "You're full of it."

Jamie laughed, but looked slightly offended. "I am not! I am from New Mexico! They just didn't really talk like that!"

"Liar!" Bobby grinned back.

"Nu uh! I grew up on a farm!"

"With Ma and Pa Kent?" Bobby snickered.

"Very funny. We grew corn, and we had a few chickens, and two cows. Bessie and Bossie."

Bobby looked at him cynically. Jamie looked earnest, but Bobby still wasn't sure he believed it. "Why don't you have an accent?"

"After--" there was a bare hesitation, and Jamie continued, "I came to live here, I lost it. I didn't have much of one to begin with, and I didn't like being called 'cute' all the time."

Bobby slid into the bench, watched Jamie do the same. "Why did you leave?" he asked, still not sure he believed the other man.

Jamie's eyes flickered from one spot to another, twitchy and restless. The smile that always seemed to hide at the corners of his mouth was gone. "My parents died, and I was too young to live by myself."

"Oh." An uncomfortable silence filled the air, not even the laughter of several children in the play area able to cover it. Backtrack! Find safe ground! Bobby's mind screeched at him. Backtrackbacktrackbacktrack!

Jamie was playing with his fries. He'd picked one up and was using it to push the others around, scooching them into Bobby's fries and then carefully pulling them out again.

"So you've never played on one of these playgrounds?" Bobby asked finally, forcing a light tone and a smile.

Jamie's head shot up, relief flooding his eyes at the change of topic. Bobby's smile turned genuine. The other man couldn't hide an emotion if his life depended on it -- his eyes were much too expressive.

"No," he answered, shaking his head. "Never."

"Well we should fix that." Bobby grinned wickedly, tilting his head toward the netted, plastic monstrosity in a tempting invitation.

Jamie laughed delightedly and scooted out from behind the table, following Bobby to a rubber mat.

Bobby sat and untied his shoes, stuffing them in the little slots.

"This is so silly," Jamie chuckled.

"Oh what, and practicing fake martial arts on a pier support, at night, was serious?" Bobby laughed, reaching over and flicking an ever-present lock of hair out of Jamie's eyes. There was a moment of skin-to-skin contact -- freckled skin, warm to the touch, hot to the touch -- and then Bobby had pulled his hand away.

Jamie glanced up at Bobby, a startled/embarrassed/curious expression in his eyes, then looked studiously back down at his shoes. "It was. I was teaching that group of people the correct way to practice the extremely difficult art of Fake Tai Chi."

"Is *that* what that was?" Bobby asked, pushing himself to his feet and waiting for Jamie.

"Yup," Jamie answered, standing. He flashed a brief smile at Bobby -- a smile that would be Bobby's undoing -- and then looked toward the plaything.

"C'mon," Bobby said, and took the few steps needed to reach the tube you had to crawl through to get inside the netted area.

It was hot within the tube, and everything glowed a slightly red color. Bobby glanced back, bumping his head on the side, checking to see if Jamie was following. He was.

"Hurry!" Bobby called, and it echoed hollowly back. Bobby scrambled forward on his hands and knees, dumping himself headfirst into a pit filled with colorful plastic balls. He scurried -- as much as one could scurry -- out of the way, and heard Jamie fall into the pit behind him. Bobby stood, head touching the top of the net-pit, and bent to pick up one of the balls.

"You know," he laughed as he tossed the globe at an emerging Jamie, "this place used to seem a lot deeper!"

Jamie chuckled as the ball bounced off his chest. "It's only knee-deep!"

Bobby cackled in return, throwing himself backward, his landing cushioned by the plastic spheres. "Look! I'm swimming!"

Jamie's giggle tickled Bobby's ears, and he grinned. He liked that laugh -- liked it a lot more than the sadness he'd seen in Jamie's eyes earlier.

"A slide!" Jamie called, and Bobby felt more than saw the other man step over him, the balls making a shush-ing noise with each step Jamie took.

Bobby sat up and looked around, then followed Jamie through another tube and down a plastic slide, back outside the monstrosity.

"Hey!" a pimply voice shouted as Bobby landed on top of Jamie, both of them laughing. "You can't be in there!"

"Get off me," Jamie said, his voice filled with breathless, chuckle-filled hiccups. He grinned and shoved against Bobby, knocking him over.

Bobby was laughing too hard to protest, instead flopping over and lying on his side.

"You two can't be in there!" the pimply voice said again.

"Yeah, yeah," Jamie answered, waving a long, slender hand negligently at the teenager. "We know. We were just making sure it was up to standards." He looked down at Bobby, brown eyes twinkling merrily. "Right?"

Bobby sat up, managing to sort his face into some semblance of seriousness. "Right."

"You're not allowed to be in there," Pimply said again. "It's against the rules."

"And how do you suggest we find out if it's up to standards?" Jamie asked pompously. Somehow, he managed to look pretentious even while sitting on a multi-colored mat, trench coat splayed out around him.

"You're not checking if it's up to standards," Pimply countered.

Jamie tugged at his shirt. "I beg your pardon! Are you calling me a liar? I could sue for that!"

Pimply looked suddenly nervous, and Bobby decided to help.

"Next thing you know," he muttered to Jamie, loud enough for the boy to hear, "he'll be asking us for credentials."

The boy heard. "Do you have credentials?"

Bobby stood, lifting his chin and puffing out his chest. "Of course we do! We're with the CPA of the NYCCA in the third branch of CCNT! Go ahead, call your superiors! In fact, I'm sure they'll be thrilled to hear that we're being harassed for doing our jobs! I think I'll call them! Just wait until they hear that you won't let us inspect this play area -- they'll shut it down for months while the paperwork goes through the courts! And how many people do you think will bring their children here then, hmmm?"

Pimply looked rather uncertain. "Well, no, I ... mean, you can finish your inspection."

"Thank you, we're done," Bobby sniffed, and walked stiffly over to where his shoes were. There was a moment of silence, and then Jamie's ringing laughter filled the air.

"CPA of CCNY--what? Where did you come up with those?"

Bobby grinned. "I'm just a genius."

"Sure you are. That's it," Jamie snickered, reaching Bobby and getting his own shoes out.

Bobby grinned up at Jamie in return and finished tying his shoes.

continued >>

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