Joe had to admit that it had been a good week. To his surprise, the cabin Dex's parents had left him some years earlier had proven to be modern enough to meet his rather stringent requirements for camping. In spite of the other man's almost perverse love of hiking, the vacation had turned out to actually be relaxing. They'd needed a break after months spent rebuilding the base, and his genius engineer had come through brilliantly. Not even Polly had dared the rough landing or the long horseback ride required to get up here and bother them, a fact for which the pilot was exceedingly grateful.
He leaned now against the porch railing, staring over the treetops at the termination dust that had marked this section of the Rockies a few nights earlier. No wonder he likes it so much out here, he thought for the millionth time. It's breathtakingly gorgeous.
"I told you you'd like it," Dex commented as he came up beside him.
"You were right. You always are."
"Mm. Sometimes. I'm glad I was this time, maybe I'll actually be able to convince you to come back again."
"I can't imagine turning down an invitation. Especially now that I've seen how miserable the landing approach is. I don't want you coming out here alone, not with that strip of garbage for a runway."
"Hey, I'm a competent pilot. I've been here plenty of times without you, you know."
"I'm well aware of the fact that you can fly, Dex. The point is that if you crashed, there wouldn't be anyone to help you. The odds are that no one would even realize anything was wrong until you didn't show up at base two weeks later."
"I have an emergency radio, Cap."
"Yes, in the cabin. A mile away from the airstrip. What will you do, crawl here on all fours?" Why do I do this? He wondered to himself with an internal sigh. Berating him for coming to a familial haunt isn't going to make him realize I'm in love with him, it's just going to piss him off. Damn it, though, I don't know how else to say it without coming off as incredibly creepy. It's not like I can just blurt out that I want him, where the hell would that leave us?
"You're assuming an awful lot," Dex interrupted his thoughts. "What if I ended up with just a broken arm or something? I mean, it wouldn't be a fun walk, but I don't think I'd need to crawl."
"Again, not the point. I don't like the idea of you being up here by yourself. It's too…"
"Soothing? Peaceful? Introspective?" Dex suggested teasingly, throwing adjectives that the other man had used to describe the area back at him.
"It's too dangerous," Joe finished, shooting him a look. "There's getting here, there are bears and snakes, there are those sketchy lanterns inside – I still can't believe we haven't been blown up trying to light those things – there are too many things that could go very wrong. What if you fell while you were out hiking? What if there was a freak snowstorm? What if-"
"I thought you liked it here," the engineer interrupted, sounding a little miffed. "You haven't been worried about all those things all week long, have you?"
"No, because I've been here with you. If something had happened to either of us, there would have been help available."
"So what, you aren't going to let me come here anymore because you think it's too risky?" He straightened, crossing his arms defiantly. "Because that's not going to go over very well, I've got to tell you."
"Come here all you like, Dex, it's your cabin," Joe said gently. "But do me a little favor and always bring someone with you who can handle a crisis. All right? Knowing you won't be here alone will let me sleep nights."
The shorter man smiled at that, shaking his head slightly before leaning against the rail beside him. "You know something, Cap?"
"What is it?"
"It's kind of cute when you get all protective. You're like a mother bear."
"Just doing my job."
"Oh, really?" Dex met his eyes knowingly, raising one eyebrow. Joe had been acting oddly ever since the whole Totenkopf incident, and it hadn't escaped his notice. He goes out with Polly, but he checks on me every night after he gets back. He never did that before. I've asked him out here a million times, and he's always had something else on his plate; this time, he cancelled on other people to come with me. He's done nothing but go along with things and compliment me and give me weird looks all week. If he really does feel the same way about me that I do about him, I wish he'd just spit it out so we can do something about it before we leave. "Just doing your job, huh?"
Sky Captain watched him for a moment, then sighed and looked back towards the snow-capped peaks. "Maybe not just that," he admitted quietly.
He was secretly triumphant, but he knew better than to continue pushing the issue. When Joe wanted to say more about it, he would, and that was fine. It was best to let the issue rest for now. "Just don't start carrying me around by the back of my neck with your teeth," he joked easily, bumping into him slightly with one shoulder. "That would hurt."
"Oh, God, I can see the headline now," Joe moaned. "Do I really have to go back to that wretched woman tomorrow?"
"We have to go back to work tomorrow, but that doesn't mean you have to go back to Polly," Dex shrugged quietly. "That's entirely up to you." He took a deep breath of the cool mountain air, holding it in his lungs for a minute before releasing it slowly and turning away. There, I said something to encourage him. Maybe that will coax it out of him. "Either way," he went on, "you can eat at least one last dinner in peace. I know they don't serve elk at those trendy restaurants she likes, so you should probably enjoy it while you've got it." Flashing another quick grin from the doorway, he vanished inside.
"Mmm…" Joe sighed, rubbing his hand idly over the spot where his engineer had nudged him. A whiff of the promised meal made his mouth water. Polly can't cook to save her life. Every single thing we've had since we got here has been phenomenal, and he looks so damn good with that tan…does he already know what I want to say? Why else would he have told me I don't have to go back to Polly? I don't want Polly, I want Dex. I just…I have to have him. "Oh, bloody hell," he whispered, closing his eyes. "I'm in trouble."