14. No Place Like Home

A cold night wind whistled over the island, rustling through the palm leaves and stirring up the sand.

Larry shivered himself out of a dreamless sleep. Boy it was cold! He sat up and rubbed his hands briskly over his arms in an attempt to warm them. The fire had died down to a bed of glowing coals.

He looked over to see Balki's quietly slumbering form illuminated by the faint orange light. His breathing was slow and even as he lay on his back, head resting on the edge of his lifejacket. Larry was glad that he had finally fallen asleep. At least he wasn't hurting now.

Larry frowned as he noticed that something dark and wet smeared the lifejacket and the entire left side of Balki's face. He moved closer. With a gentle hand, careful not to wake his cousin, he turned his head so he could get a better look in the faint firelight. In his sleep Balki had managed to reopen the cut on his face and it was now bleeding just as bad or worse than when he had first received the injury. Even though it was quite dark and he could barely see the sight made Larry nauseous.

He turned away and shivered. He would have to do something to stop the bleeding. Balki was in bad enough shape without being weak from blood loss. But he couldn't do anything in the dark.

He stood, moved over to their small pile of driftwood and dropped a piece onto what was left of the fire, causing it to pop and crackle.

Balki's eyes opened and he looked curiously up at Larry. "You're awake already?" He asked in surprise.

Larry gave a small shrug. "I was cold."

"Usually the Song of Princess Riva is good for at least eight hours sleep."

Larry stared at his cousin for a long moment. So the song had been for him. "Well, these aren't exactly normal conditions."

Balki grimaced himself to a sitting position, declining Larry's immediate offer of assistance. At the change in posture he let out a soft moan and brought his hand up to his nose bridge.

"Balki?" Larry asked worriedly.

"That spitting headache is back." He explained weakly. "And this time it brought a sledgehammer. This is worse than being kicked in the head by a yak."

Larry bit his lip in sympathy. With his frequent stress-induced migraines he knew just how debilitating a headache could be. "I'd offer you an aspirin but…" He trailed off with a helpless shrug.

After a long moment Balki spoke up, his voice somber. "Cousin?"

"What?"

"This trip isn't fun anymore."

Larry gave his cousin an odd stare. "It took you this long to come to that conclusion?" His tone was light and sarcastic but deep down Balki's comment bothered him.

He put few more sticks on the fire until it was shining brightly, then he filled the shell full of water, grabbed his detached sleeve and moved over to Balki who gazed at him quizzically. "You're bleeding again." Larry explained at the unasked question.

Balki touched his fingers to left side of his face and examined the red that smeared them with mild interest. "Well I'll be snookered. I thought it had stopped."

"It had." Larry said with a hint of irritation. "And it wouldn't have started again if you hadn't moved around so much."

"I'm sorry."

Larry dipped the cloth in their makeshift bowl and moved to touch it to Balki's face but the light was much brighter now and he could see his cousin's cut, bloodstained face clearly. Suddenly the world started to spin and little green spots popped in and out of his vision. He blinked hard, trying to make them go away.

Balki eyed him with concern. "Cousin…?"

"I'm fine." He said right before a wave of nausea hit him. He managed to stifle a moan as he closed his eyes and tried to ignore his churning stomach. The whole sensation was all too similar to being seasick.

"Cousin, are you alright?" Balki asked in alarm

"I'm fine." He said again, opening his eyes but keeping them fixed on the sand. "I…I just have a little problem with the sight of blood. Well, that much blood, at least."

A look of mild confusion crossed Balki's face. "It don't bother you earlier."

"Actually, it did." Larry admitted a little sheepishly. "But I guess I was so worried about you it kinda took back seat. Now that the adrenaline wore off…" His voice trailed off and he gave a little shrug.

After a moment he squared his shoulders, took a deep breath to steel his nerves and lifted his head, ready to try again. The sight still made him lightheaded, but with a determined frown he swallowed the dizziness and managed to run the cool wet cloth gently down his cousin's face.

Balki watched the battle on Larry's face with concern. "Cousin, if it really bothers you don't worry about it. I'm okay. Really. It'll stop by itself soon enough."

Larry shook his head with violent determination. "No. I will not let this get the better of me again!"

Balki fixed him with a curious gaze. "'Again?'"

Larry looked mildly startled at the question as if just realizing what he had said. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but closed it quickly with a resolute frown. His emotional issues were not what was important now.

" 'Again'?" Balki asked a second time, seeing that there was obviously something on his cousin's mind.

Larry sighed resignedly. Balki had asked. "I was twelve." He began as he placed the cloth directly over the cut and with one hand pressed hard, eliciting a pained hiss from Balki. "Sorry, but the pressure will make it stop." He explained before continuing his narrative. "Anyway, Elaine, Gary, Davy and I were out playing in this small patch of woods about half a mile from our house. At eight, Gary was the oldest of the three so I was basically babysitting. Once we crossed the creek they took off ahead of me but they didn't get very far before Elaine tripped. She didn't bounce back up right away like she usually does so I ran over to make sure if she was okay. I'll never forget the look on her face when she looked up at me and said: 'Noogie, I think I need to go home.' Then she held her hand out. She'd sliced it right down the middle on a broken bottle or something. It was bleeding pretty bad."

"Did you take her home?" Balki asked worriedly.

"No. I took one look and fainted. The next thing I remember is waking up on the living room couch with half of the family gathered around. Apparently Wally from the filling station had carried me home."

"Was Elaine okay?"

"She got a couple stitches and was mad because she couldn't play the piano for awhile, but other than that she was fine." He shook his head in frustration. "But that's not the point. I wasn't there for her when she needed me. Every single time someone really needs me I'm useless."

"Now, Cousin that's not true." Balki wagged a finger with the gentle rebuke.

He shook his head, still keeping his hand pressed firmly against his cousin's forehead. "Balki I—"

But the Mypiot didn't let him finish. "I need you, and you're here for me now." Balki's soft voice radiated heartfelt assurance and gratitude.

Larry looked down and saw the warm firelight flickering in Balki's large, dark eyes and he was suddenly irritated at himself. He had let past emotions carry him away again. With a mental resolution to not let it happen again he managed a smile. "You've been looking out for me the past few days. It's about time I returned the favor."

A firm shake snapped Larry awake. He blinked and shielded his eyes from the light that shone all too brightly on his face.

"You alright, pal?" Asked a dark figure behind the flashlight.

For a brief moment he was confused and disoriented. Then realization hit him like a speeding locomotive. He leaped to his feet, elation and relief pounding him like waves. He grabbed the man's hand and pumped it furiously, words spilling from his mouth completely unchecked. "Thankyouthankyouthankyou! I can't tell you how much…I mean we've been stranded here for so…what would we have done if you hadn't…"

"Cousin, you're babbling."

At the sound of his friend's voice he turned abruptly and ran over to where two men had Balki laid out on a stretcher. He kneeled down beside him and took his hand. The Mypiot had a triumphant smile on his bruised face. "See, Cousin? I told you they'd come back for us."

"You were right! You were right!" Larry exclaimed, laughing and crying at the same time.

"You know, Cousin. This is the perfect occasion for the Dance of Joy. But…" He looked with sad resignation at his arm and then back up at Larry. "I don't think I could catch you."

"We'll take a rain check." Larry promised.

As he looked over his cousin's battered condition Larry's elation suddenly morphed into confusion, which quickly switched to irritation. He turned to the closest of their rescuers with a withering glare. The man looked quite startled at the accusation on the Larry's face. "What took you so long?"

...

"One, two, three. Up!"

Klunk

"One, two, three. Up!"

Klunk

"Larry, are you sure you don't want us to help?"

"I'm fine, Jennifer. I've got a rhythm going. One, two, three. Up!"

Klunk

"Cousin, you're going to hurt your back again."

"I'll worry about my back later. You sit still and quit making this harder. One, two three. Up!"

Klunk

"This feels like the bumper cars at the state fair. Too much more of this and I'm gonna get my whip lashed."

"Quit complaining. We're almost there. One, two three. Up!"

Klunk

"I don't ride in the bumper cars anymore. It messes up my hair."

"See?" The apartment door swung open and Larry entered the room, pushing Balki in a wheelchair. "I told you we'd beat those stairs."

"You were right. Cousin, you're the stair master!" Balki looked up at his cousin from where he sat in the chair. The left side of his face was still black and blue, but the cut that ran down to his cheekbone was sealed with several precise stitches. His arm was cradled in a neat sling and the upper part was strapped in a tight plastic brace. A thick white cast with writing all over it swathed his left foot. Dimitri sat contentedly on his lap.

"Yeah, you didn't even fall or throw your back or anything!" Mary Anne said, dropping one of Larry's suitcases and a plastic grocery bag.

"Thanks for the confidence Mary Anne." Larry slipped the duffle bag off his shoulder and tossed it onto the couch.

"You're welcome." Squeaked the shapely blonde, completely oblivious to Larry's sarcasm.

Larry took Balki's bag-on-a-stick from Jennifer and placed it on the couch along with his duffle bag. "Listen, why don't you stay for awhile? We're going to make smores." He hooked a thumb toward the kitchen.

Mary Ann cocked her head with an expression full of blonde naivety. "Some more what?"

Larry and Jennifer stared at her for a beat before Jennifer said. "We'd love to stay but we have a flight leaving in forty-five minutes and we still have to change." She made a small gesture indicating their casual clothes.

"Oh. Okay." Larry tried to keep the disappointment from his voice. He had been so close to never seeing her again and now he didn't want to let her out of his sight.

"I'm glad you guys are alright." She put a hand on his arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. Larry's whole body tensed and he suddenly felt hot. She stepped a little closer, her face just inches from his. "We were worried sick when we got that phone call."

He braced himself in anticipation. Could this be the kiss he had been waiting for for so long? But she didn't come any closer. She just froze there, so tantalizingly close! Was she waiting for him to make the first move? He couldn't. The fear of rejection was just too great. He could see himself leaning closer to kiss her and getting a slap across the face. At that moment he would have settled for a quick peck on the cheek or forehead. Anything. But alas after a moment she backed off, squeezed his arm again and let go. She turned toward the door and tapped her roommate on the shoulder. "Come on. We've got to go."

"Bye, Balki." Mary Ann leaned over and gave him a soft kiss.

When she pulled back and straightened, Balki let out a contented sigh and said; "Wwoww!"

"You get better, okay?" She smoothed down his hair before following Jennifer to the door. "You know…" She said to Jennifer as they stepped over the threshold. "When we get back I think we should make him some chicken soup."

"Mary Anne, he's got broken bones not a cold. Chicken soup wouldn't help."

"Well, it wouldn't hurt."

Larry stared at the closed door for a long moment, absently rubbing his arm where Jennifer had touched it. Then he let out a resigned sigh, picked up the grocery bag from the floor and headed into the kitchen. He stopped suddenly, looked around him and sighed again, this time with contentment. They were finally home!

"I can't wait 'till my arm is better." Balki remarked wheeling the chair back and forth with his one good foot. "Then we can really have some fun with this thing!" Balki seemed to think that the wheelchair was a toy and one he couldn't make proper use of with his broken arm. "Cousin, would you spin me around again?"

"One ride per day." Larry said absently as he pulled a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers and a couple of Hershey bars out of the grocery bag.

The young immigrant gave a small, discontented sigh and watched his cousin rummage around in the cupboard for something or other.

He flinched suddenly. Then with an annoyed grimace Balki reached his hand up toward the multitude of tiny stitches that now adorned the left side of his face.

"Ah!" Larry warned without even turning around.

Balki pulled his hand down with a quick jerk, startled at being caught.

"How many times have I told you not to scratch that? Am I going to have to strap your hands behind your back?"

"No!" Balki said emphatically, answering the rhetorical question. He was already immobilized enough and it was driving him crazy. Loosing the use of his other hand would be unbearable. "I'll stop."

"If you keep messing with it you'll end up with a big ugly scar there." Larry lectured as he carefully stacked the chocolate and marshmallows onto the crackers, making sure everything was even and well balanced.

"You mean like Inago Montoya, only on one side?" Balki asked, thinking that might not be so bad.

"No. More like the Phantom of the Opera." Larry grinned to himself as he set the plate in the microwave and watched the marshmallows expand. With an analogy like that Balki would surely keep his hands off his face for awhile.

With a small, irritated huff at being scolded for the umpteenth time that day, Balki managed to push himself up out of the chair. He stood precariously on one foot for a moment before hopping over a couple feet and flopping down on the couch.

"Balki!" Larry admonished as he stepped into the living room with a plate of four smores in his hand. "I'm supposed to help you with that!"

"I did it fine myself. I'm not completely decapitated."

Larry frowned as he sat beside his cousin. "Yeah, well if they'd have stopped for us when they flew over the first time you wouldn't be in such a mess."

"But they couldn't stop. They had to get that little girl to a hospital. They told us that, remember?"

"Yeah, I remember." He admitted with a resigned frown. "Here, try one." He held out the plate to Balki who took a smore and examined it for a moment before taking a bite. Larry smiled as the Mypiot's eyes quadrupled in size and a string of melted marshmallow and chocolate stuck to the side of his mouth. "Good?"

"Cousin, this is absitively posolutely one of the best things I have ever tasted!"

"Really?" Larry asked, obviously pleased with himself.

"I didn't know you could cook!"

Larry's face fell.

"I must send this recipe to Mama." Balki exclaimed, taking another bite.

With a small sigh Larry picked one off the plate and leaned back against the couch. "You know, I never thought I'd see this place again." With his smore he indicated their apartment. "It's good to be home."

Balki nodded in agreement. He had already managed to get his hands sticky.

"I can honestly say that was the worst vacation I have ever been on."

"I don't know, Cousin. It wasn't that bad."

Larry turned to his friend with complete shock.

"Except for the painful and life-threatening parts I had fun. Think of all the things we did. I mean, never in my vilest dreams did I think that I would get to go on a cruise in such a beautiful boat. We get to play with the dolphins. I hadn't did that in a long time. We get to sleep on a beautiful beach. And I get everyone to sign my cast." He pointed excitedly to his foot. "See, the doctor sign it. Although you can't read his very well. You sign it, Jennifer sign it and dot her name with a little heart. And look, Mary Anne drew a purple kitty that is saying 'get well'."

"I see." Larry said with a forced smile. Still not seeing his cousin's point.

"And you, think of what you did!"

The smaller man cocked his head curiously. "What did I do?"

"You learned how to catch fish with your hands."

Larry couldn't help but grin at that particular memory. "Yeah. I wish I had a picture of that. Dad will never believe it."

"We could always go up to the lake and try our hands at fishing up there."

"Maybe someday. I don't know about you, buddy, but I've had enough of the outdoors to last me a loooong time."

Balki's eyes lit up. "Oh, I almost forget. While I was in the hospital and you were snoring up a hurricane, I read in one of those magazines about something called 'white water rafting'. It look like fun so I call the number and make us preservations for three months. By then I think I'll be up to it."

Larry's eyes bulged and his jaw dropped in a mixture of anger and disbelief. Before he could utter even one chastising word Balki said:

"Got you!" A huge grin spread across the young immigrant's face and his dark eyes twinkled mischievously. "Cousin's should joke more!"