CHAPTER TWO

In which the boys meet a real cowboy and things blow up

 

Six and a half hours later, they pulled into the Bill Pickett Arena on the west edge of town. They could have done it in five and a half if someone (Mikey) didn’t need to pee so often, and if someone (Danny) hadn’t remembered that some diner in Lusk had prize-winning apple pie. Luckily someone (Jace) had remembered the speed trap right when you come into Cheyenne. Nothing like a speeding ticket to slow down a trip. Ironic, that.

At the end of summer, the foothills of the Rocky Mountains were painted in shades of brown and yellow. The hills were low here, not the dramatic peaks of the actual Rockies, just a rolling swell of land stretching off to the west. A tell-tale line of green behind the arena hinted at a river. The air smelled like hay and dust and horses, which wasn’t surprising given the handful of trailers parked in the dirt lot and the horses tied up near them. A few more horses grazed in the fields next to the parking lot. Danny parked the wagon on the paved part of the lot.

“Well?” He turned to Mikey. “Where now?”

Mikey checked his phone. “I texted him when we turned. Hold on.” A chirruping sound announced a new text. “He’s coming out. C’mon.” He scrambled out of the car before the women could even open their doors.

Danny and Jace got out of the car a little more slowly, taking in the area, Danny caught Jace’s eye over the top of the Roadmaster, waggling his eyebrows at Mikey’s enthusiasm. Jace had one foot up on the door frame, and he’d propped his elbows on the roof, looking as relaxed as Danny had seen him in a while. His thick black hair hung below his shoulders. He was getting back some of the golden glow that his mother fought so hard against. The paler Jace was, the happier Khun Honey was. But Danny loved the tan. It brought out the hazel in Jace’s eyes.

It had been a long time since Danny had roadtripped with his best friend. This time, though, it was ghosts bringing them together again. Literal ones and the more figurative ones that haunted the blank years of Jace’s absence.

Danny stood up and twisted the stiffness out of his back with a groan.

“Tough drive, old man?” Jace asked with a smile.

“Karl!” Mikey’s yell pulled their attention away from each other. He ran across the parking lot towards the rangy cowboy headed their way. With a whoop, he leaped into the man’s arms. They could hear his deep laughter right before Mikey kissed the breath out of him. As the kiss went on, Danny cheered and clapped, Jace right there with him. “Go, Mikey! Woo hoo!”

Mikey slid down to the ground and walked back to the car, dragging Karl by the hand. When he got close enough, he punched Danny hard in the arm.

“Ouch!” Rubbing his arm, he pointed at Jace, “Jace did it, too!”

He stuck his tongue out at Danny and smiled at Jace. “I like him better.”

Karl kept his left arm around Mikey as he shook Danny’s hand. “Karl Morrison.” His handshake was firm and sure, hands work-hardened. He was about ten years older than Mikey, tall and rectangular, with faded jeans and well-worn boots.

He reminded Danny of his elementary school principal in the way he sized him up. And, as with Mr. LoMonico, he had the feeling none of his charm would make the least bit of difference. He decided then and there to play it straight with him. No pun intended. “Danny King.” He nodded across the car. “My partner, Jace.”

“Nice to meet you, boys. Nice car.”

Danny liked him already.

“Oh, Karl, you’ve made a new best friend. Any friend of the Master of the Road is a friend of Danny’s.”

“That so? I’ve always like a nice Woodie.” Ignoring the groans, he patted the old station wagon on the roof. He motioned towards the large brick building with a tilt of his head. “Why don’t we go inside, get some privacy, some coffee, and we could talk.” He headed off towards the arena.

Mikey took off after Karl with a skip, but Danny waited for Jace to come around the front of the car. They walked side by side, Jace hovering to Danny’s right and a half a step behind.

 

Inside, they passed the ticket booth, the concession stand, and a trophy case. A walkway curved behind the wooden benches lining the empty sawdust arena below. There were some chutes on one end of the space and a couple of small holding pens on the other side.

“Sorry about the tight squeeze.” Karl pushed open the door to a small office. “I’m squatting here while the school is going on.”

Danny poked through the random papers and mostly empty file cabinets. “So you’re not here all the time?” He cataloged the minimal furniture and objects in the room, idly determining which would make the best weapon for some kind of attack as if the grip of his Glock 19 wasn’t pressing cold against his side in its holster. Having only one plan was how you get dead. He noticed Jace scanning the sightlines as they both maneuvered until their backs were against the wall, and they had clear views of the door and the windows overlooking fields running down to the first rise of hills.

“Usually we’re down by Castle Rock,” Karl answered, walking over to a small tabletop fridge. “This was just kind of a one-off.” The encouraging rattle when he opened the fridge caught Danny’s attention. He pulled out a couple of brown bottles, holding them out to the room. “Beer?”

Mikey took one.

“What do you have?” Danny liked to know his options.

Karl handed Mikey his beer. “Got, ah, Fat Tire and,” he moved some bottles around in the fridge. “Some 1554, and one Easy Street left.”

“I’ll take a Fat Tire, can’t go wrong with the classics.”

Karl popped the cap and handed it over. “One for Jaceny here, too.” He gestured at Jace with the bottle and saw Jace’s raised eyebrow. “What? You want a 1554? I didn’t think you liked the dark beers.”

“And I though you thought microbrews were for hipsters. No offense,” he apologized to Karl.

“None taken.”

“Can cowboys be hipsters?” Mikey asked. “Can you combine subcultures like that?”

Danny shrugged. “When in Rome. You don’t turn down local beer, Jacey. It’s rude.”

Jace held back an eye roll, so Danny kept his smirking to a minimum in return. They clinked their bottles together, meeting each other’s eyes before drinking. Jace took a sip and frowned, eyebrows raised.

“Everything okay?”

“It’s good,” Jace said.

“That it is.” Danny took another swallow, relaxing a little as the minutes ticked by and nothing jumped out at him. It’s always been tough for him to relax in a new place, new circumstances, but Jace was here now, and that helped. Still, he felt kind of trapped in the small room.

Mikey was perched on the desktop. He cleared his throat, and Danny lifted his beer in a small salute, giving him his attention. He pointed at Karl who was settled in the chair behind the desk.

“So,” Karl began, “You want to hear more about the job or keep flirting?”

Danny flicked a look over to Jace, then over to Mikey who shook his head no the minutest amount. “The job,” Danny answered

“Mikey told us you’ve been having some incidents?” Jace was using his sincere voice and the wide eyes, the way he did when he wanted something from people. Sadly for Karl, he wasn’t immune to the face. He looked at him like all people, gay, straight, bi, young, or old, did when he used the face on them. Like they wanted to mother him or sleep with him. Or the other way around. Whatever.

People trusted Jace in a way they didn’t trust Danny. Danny was tall and muscular, his arm muscles stretching against the flannel shirts and light brown hair cut almost military short. Jace looked like your gawky baby brother or that nice boy who cut your lawn. Slender and non-threatening. He was obviously non-white but in a hard to pinpoint way.

That was what made Jace the more dangerous of the two.

Danny wasn’t hiding anything. What you saw was what you got. He knew he came across as an ex-cop, a little dangerous and a lot cocky. And he was. Jace came across as gentle, despite his molten temper and fists of fury.

Karl ran his hands through his hair, glancing at Mikey. Mikey nodded in what Danny imagined was supposed to be a reassuring manner. He knew how Karl felt; he was seen it a thousand times. Things you’ve been thinking seem simultaneously more real and more ridiculous when you say them out loud.

Mikey took Karl’s hand. “Tell them what you told me, Karl. Believe me, Jason’s seen shit you can’t even imagine. Things you don’t want to imagine.”

Danny held up his empty beer bottle at Jace. When Jace nodded yes, Danny crossed the room to the fridge, pausing with one hand on the door. “Karl? D’you mind?”

“Help yourself.”

Danny pulled out one for himself, one for Jace. Held one up for Mikey who shook his head. Karl’s first one was mostly untouched, so he didn’t bother. He popped the caps and walked over to Jace. They leaned against the wall, shoulder to shoulder. “So, Mikey said it was mostly normal poltergeist level stuff? Things thrown across a room, stuff moved?”

“I guess. If you call that normal. But, yeah. Stuff was moved, broken. Tires slashed. The vandalism seemed to be specifically targeted at a couple of people.”

“Who?” Jace asked.

Karl frowned and contemplated the ceiling. “Marge Keller was the first one. All her framed photos were smashed. Then David Espinoza. All his CDs were pulled out of their cases and snapped. All the air was let out of Kim’s tires. Every one of them – truck, trailer, ATV.”

“That doesn’t sound supernatural,” Danny said, shifting restlessly. Jace hip-checked him to make him stop fidgeting. “It sounds like a pissed off girlfriend or something.”

Mikey rested his hand on Karl’s shoulder. “Tell them.”

Karl rolled the beer bottle between his palms. “Truthfully, I thought the same thing at first. I mean, there’s a lot of people in the circuit, even on our smaller IGRA circuit, but you tend to run into the same ones over and over, especially the professionals. And sure, there’s drama, just like everywhere.”

“Remember Kristen and Amber in Cheyenne?” Mikey said. “That thing with Ken?”

Karl scoffed and shook his head at past drama.

Danny straightened up, finger raised, to ask more about Kristen and Amber and Ken when Jace’s pointy elbow caught him right in the ribs. Danny was usually better at ducking Jace’s blows considering Jace still used the same moves he did in kindergarten. “Ow.” he elbowed Jace back just as hard. “Prude.”

Jace was about to retaliate, and Danny was planning his next move when they froze at Mikey’s pointed throat-clearing.

Danny quickly snapped on his most innocent expression. Mikey was obviously even less impressed than his elementary school teachers had been.

“Sorry,” Jace apologized. “So was there, uh, drama around these incidents?”

“Not drama, really. Poor communication, maybe. Someone said they saw David with some guy who wasn’t his boyfriend, that new guy from out by Grand Junction. But I think they were just looking for his dog.”

“But then it got worse,” Mikey prompted. Karl’s expression was pained, and he ran both hands through his short hair. “You’re gonna think I’m crazy.”

Danny snorted. Jace fought to hold back a smile. “Look, let’s shortcut through the ‘you won’t believe me’ and ‘try us’ part of the conversation and tell us what you saw.”

The papers on Karl’s borrowed desk fluttered with the force of his exhale. He threw back the now-warm beer, earning him an approving look from Danny. “I think I saw a ghost.” Mikey rubbed his shoulder.

Karl’s smile as he leaned into the touch was sweet. Good for Mikey. Danny liked the old cowboy. Mikey should think about taking a break from dating other starving artists and wannabe musicians who were one step up from grifters. Date somebody with a job.

“Jason’s been seeing ghosts since he was eleven.”

“Really?” Karl’s eyes widened.

“Yes. When I was eleven, I fell through the ice into the lake. I was clinically dead for twenty-four minutes.”

Karl whistled. “Holy cow. And since then you see dead people?”

Danny is impressed by Jace’s restraint when instead of leaping across the room and strangling Karl, Jace just rolled his eyes at the reference. “Yeah. I do,” he answered.

“Are you seeing any now?”

“I don’t think so,” he answered. “Unless you’re dead.” He cocked his head like he was appraising him. “Are you?”

“No, of course not. Do I look like a ghost?”

“Ghosts look any way they want. Sometimes I can’t tell ghosts apart from real people. That was fun in middle school.”

Okay, enough of that. Danny put his arm around Jace, giving him a squeeze. “Nobody in this room is dead. Yet. Though if Mikey tries to play any of that crap he calls music again, I can’t vouch for how long he has to live.” No one laughed.

Outside the window, the sun sank into that perfect golden hour light, making the hills glow and throwing sparkles off the pond. Dust rose from the far holding pens and the light streaked through it like a picture of God in a Sunday-school classroom. The barking of dogs and the voices of the small crowd of men and women practicing roping on some barrels drifted through the window.

Danny turned back to Karl. “Okay, tell me what you saw.”

“I was looking out the window there, and I saw some guy walking across the field. Normal kinda guy. Young, not too tall, skinny, tight jeans, cowboy boots. I’m thinking something was off about him and then, poof,” Karl spread his fingers wide. “He disappears. From the middle of the field.”

“Could you have lost sight of him?” Jace asked.

“Yeah, sure. But the thing was.” He leaned closer, looking around as if the ghost might be in the room. “I saw him again. By Kim’s trailer. And I was sure I could see right through him. I yelled, and he looked up at me. I think,” he stopped, shaking his head. “This part was probably the sun, but it looked like him eyes were red. He pointed at me, and I am not embarrassed to say it scared the piss outta me. Then he disappeared again.”

The room was quiet for a long second until Jace realized everyone was looking at him. “What?”

“Well? Is it a ghost?” Mikey asked.

“How the hell would I know?” Jace crossed his arms over his chest.

“You’ve seen them,” Karl answered.

“Yeah? Well, so have you.” He pushed off from the wall, pacing, gathering his hair in his hand, and tugging it as he walked. Mikey handed him a fresh beer as he passed by him.

“Thanks,” he said. “Sorry. I’m sorry. It’s just so much pressure. I feel like if I get things wrong, people will get hurt.”

“Have you guys done this a lot?” Karl asked.

Danny frowned. “Investigate? Yeah. I’ve been a PI for the last five, six years. Since I quit the police force.”

Karl gave Danny a glare rivaling any Jace had ever thrown at him. “You know what I mean. Ghosts.”

“No,” he confessed. “This is only the second time.” Danny leaned up, stretching his back out. Between the drive, the beers, and the slanted afternoon sunlight coming through the windows, all he wanted was a nap. “I guess we’ll need to do some research. Right, Jace?”

Jace’s shoulders slumped, his eyes half-closed. “Yeah. Try to find out who it could be if it were a ghost. What they want, if we could give it to them.”

“Ghosts want something?” Karl asked. “Like unfinished business?”

“Yeah. Sometimes. Sometimes they’re just lonely. When I was little, I mostly saw other little kids who wanted to play.”

“I don’t know if that’s sweet or terrifying.”

Mikey walked over to Karl, sat on his lap and put his hands on Karl’s shoulder. “It’s terrifying. Trust me. I remember hanging out with him, and suddenly he starts talking to invisible people.” He shuddered. “And you get this feeling that someone’s watching you, from just outside your peripheral vision. Or that someone’s almost touching you.”

Karl pulled him in tight. “God.”

Danny’s mouth twisted in a half-smile. “Hey, maybe you’ll get lucky, and it will be a run-of-the-mill crazy person.”

“Great,” Karl said faintly.

“Library tomorrow?” Jace asked. “Research any deaths?”

“Yeah, sounds great. I’ll talk to the vics, see if we could find some pattern. See if it’s tied to the place or something you brought with you. But for now, dinner? Find a room? I thought I saw a place out by the highway.”

Karl and Mikey stood. “Don’t worry about that. I’ve got a trailer you can use for a few days. Belongs to a couple of friends of mine who aren’t using it during the week.”

The muffled boom of an explosion rattled the window, and a flare of red light flooded the room. Danny hit the floor hard, pulling Jace with him. Turning his head, he saw Mikey on the floor, his scrawny body thrown over Karl’s larger one. Jace scanned the room from the floor. They could hear the screams of people and horses. Karl struggled to get up, but Mikey held him back, looking at Danny. He held up a hand and listened. Not hearing any more explosions, he nodded.

Outside the window, chaos shattered the idyllic picture of seconds before. Flames engulfed one of the trailers parked near the back of the lot, the ground around it scorched black. A few men and women stood in shock, while others scrambled to drag horses away from the danger and a few hauled buckets of water to the burning wreckage.

Karl and Mikey tore down the hallway, Danny right behind them. Jace grabbed the fire extinguisher as he ran past it.

 

The flame had burned down, and scattered embers glowed red through the field by the time they reached the lot. Muddy runnels formed around tires and feet and fence posts on the soaked ground. A couple of people with buckets of water and fire extinguishers walked into the fields around the arena, eyes locked on the ground, looking for any stray ember. Dry grasses waved in the sunset breeze, brown and yellow, stretching away north and south from where they stand. The place was a tinderbox.

The wind blew the smoke from the smoldering remains of the trailer towards Danny. Underneath the smell of kerosene and melted plastic was that sickly-sweet acrid smell Danny was unfortunately far too familiar with. Karl’s hand flew up to cover his nose and mouth, his eyes wide and terrified. “Oh god,” Mikey whispered, pulling Karl against him.

Jace leaned towards Danny, hand discreetly over his nose, too. After that last case, Danny knew Jace hated the smell of burned flesh even more than he did. “I’m gonna,” he tilted his head pointedly in the direction of the crowd gathering around the scene and circled his finger.

“Yeah, good. See if you could find out, ah, who that might be.” Danny ran his hand over his mouth and exhaled as Karl turns his stricken-glance to him.

“Yeah.” Jace jogged away.

A dark-skinned man with salt and pepper hair strode rapidly up to them. He checked out Danny, frowning when he couldn’t place him. He grabbed Karl by the upper arm. “Karl. What the hell is going on?”

Danny watched where the man gripped Karl, relaxing when Karl reached up to pat his hand.

“Gunny. Thank God. I have no idea what’s going on. Whose trailer was that?”

Gunny shook his head and smacked his cowboy hat against his chaps, back and forth. Danny found the sound of felt brushing against leather oddly soothing. “I don’t know. I think it was Carol, Luce’s girlfriend. You know, that barrel racer from Laramie?”

The sound of sirens rose and fell, and Danny could see the lights coming towards them in the rapidly darkening sky. He needed to check out the tanks before it got too dark and before the fireman taped off the scene. “Mikey, I gotta talk to Jace. You okay here?”

“Yeah. Go. I’ll take care of these guys.”

Danny clapped him on the shoulder before running to the car. He rummaged through his bag, pulling out a flashlight and the thing he got off the internet that was supposed to read ‘spectral presences.’ It looked like a bad prop from Star Trek – Classic Trek – and made him feel ridiculous.

Near the burned trailer, Jace talked with two young women, one hand absently petting the dog leaning against his leg.

Danny quickly checked Jace for injuries. Ridiculous, he knew. Nothing could have happened in five minutes. But he still couldn’t quite believe Jace was back in his life. He kept expecting him to disappear like one of the ghosts. “Hi,” he greeted the new women. “So what do we got?”

“Best guess? Propane tank explosion.” Jace answered. “Doreen and Sunshine here said they saw flames by the back of the trailer right before it exploded.”

Danny raised one eyebrow at Jace. Sunshine? Jace silently conveyed shut up quite clearly with the twitch of the corner of his mouth. “Yeah?” he asked the girls. “Did you see anybody near it?”

He got a double head shake in response, though one of them, Doreen he thought, was a second slower to answer.

Jace noticed, too. “Doreen? Did you see something?”

“I – I don’t know. Maybe.”

Red lights flashed across the parking lot as the fire trucks pulled in. They didn’t have much time. Danny elbowed Jace discreetly, flashing the meter at him.

“Tell me, whatever it was. It might help,” Jace told the woman as Danny walked to the remains of the trailer.

There wasn’t much left of the old trailer and what was left was doused with water and fire extinguisher foam. He waved the meter near the blacked propane tanks: red lights across the board. Either there had been a ghost, or the thing just randomly made that sound. How would he know? He stared across the fields to the dark shadow of the foothills as though he’d be able to see a vengeful spirit laughing at them. That would certainly help clear things up, but the field remained stubbornly empty.

A couple of firemen were headed their way, and Danny knew that if they didn’t disappear, they were looking at hours of investigations and yellow tape and interviews. Since he left the force, he was never excited about getting up close and personal with any kind of law enforcement. Truthfully, he hadn’t been a fan even before that. He attributed his brief stint as an officer of the law to a kind of temporary insanity brought on by a complete and total lack of any other idea of what to do when he’d graduated college with a degree in liberal arts. With an emphasis on 20th-century gay literature. That certainly had turned out to be a lucrative combination.

Given his experience, he wasn’t looking forward to interacting with the firemen, either. It wasn’t like he could tell them the arsonist was probably a ghost. How, exactly, the ghost blew up a trailer wasn’t really Danny’s concern. What he and Jace needed to figure out was who it was and what it wanted what to do about it before someone else got killed. If the last case had taught them anything, it was that destroying the resting place and the bones could banish a ghost. The problem was identifying those things. Just because Jace could see a ghost, didn’t mean he knew who they were. Sometimes they didn’t want to talk to him. If Danny were a vengeful ghost, he certainly wouldn’t be telling anybody his name. Ascertaining the identity of the deceased involved lots of investigation. Tomorrow was going to be interviews and research for sure.

 

It was close to midnight by the time Jace and Danny got settled in the borrowed trailer, which was tiny but well-appointed. The maple wood, and the mauve and gray color scheme put it at close to thirty years old, but it had a small TV/VCR combo and a stack of tapes Danny was going to sort through if they had any down time.

Danny sat at the table in a t-shirt and boxers, rapidly working his way through a huge sandwich. Thank god for late night delivery. Jace stepped out of the closet-sized bathroom, hair wet, his t-shirt clinging damply to his chest. He pulled the cotton away with a frown. “I hate getting dressed when I’m still wet.”

“Just be glad this thing has a shower,” Danny mumbled around a huge mouthful of turkey, bacon, and guacamole. He held the sandwich out to Jace. “This is awesome. Want some? Turkey and guacamole. Practically vegetarian.” Jace’s looked skeptical, but he leaned forward to bite into the proffered sandwich, groaning happily as he swallowed.

“Right? Trust a college town in a state with legalized marijuana to have excellent sandwiches.”

Jace opened his mouth to take another bite, but Danny snatched the sandwich away before he could. Jace’s teeth closed on nothing. “Mine.” He shoved the other white-paper-wrapped sandwhich at Jace. “This is yours. Extra veggies. Spicy mustard, like you like.” He slid over a can of root beer and a bag of potato chips. Jace’s smile was so bright, you’d think Danny had made the food himself. “Stop grinning like a loon. Eat.”

“You remembered what I liked.”

“I made you lunch for basically six years. How could I forget?” Jace was the youngest of five. There were four girls and then him. Lunches at his house varied between plain bologna on white bread and Thai-style dishes. Jace hated both choices. Kids made fun of his ‘weird food’ and bologna was gross. So Danny had shared his lunch for a while until his mother had asked why he was always so hungry after school. Danny told him. The next day, while they were making lunch, his mother told him to grab two bags instead of one.

“Yeah. Thanks for that, again. And tell your mother thanks again. It meant a lot to me.” Jace sat with him back pressed against the wall, leg up on the bench seat, one arm stretched out across the banquette. He stared out into middle distance as he tapped his bare foot against Danny’s shin with the rhythm of the song in his head. Outside, some night birds were singing, and every now and then a horse whickered or a dog barked. The breeze coming through the screened windows carried a hint of autumn. It was a gorgeous night.

“This is relaxing,” Jace rubbed his foot against Danny’s leg and smiled at him.

Danny rolled his eyes, shoving the last of his Cheetos into his mouth and brushing the clinging orange dust off his hands. “Yeah, except for the charred corpses and the killer ghost, it’s great.”

Jace balled up the wax paper wrapper and threw it at Danny’s head. “Why do you have to ruin the mood?”

“What mood? No wonder you never dated, if you think eating sandwiches while looking at your body sets some kind of mood.” He couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face. Damn, he’d missed Jason. It was good to have him around, even if it was his own special kind of torture. He’d gotten used to suppressing that urge over the years.

He slid out of the bench seat with a yawn, Jace’s eye on him the whole time. Jace’s toes were cold when Danny grabbed them, shaking his foot back and forth. “C’mon. Bedtime. And put some socks on. I don’t want to feel your cold, clammy feet on my back in the middle of the night.”

“Yeah, okay.” Jace dragged himself out of banquette. “Research tomorrow? I’ll hit the library while you poke around here?” Danny nodded. Jace rubbed his hand up and down his arms, smoothing away the goose bumps. “We need to figure this out quick. That was one pissed off, dangerous spirit.”

“Did you see it?”

“No. But I could almost feel it. So could Mikey. He said the aura around here was quote ‘red-black and gross.’“

“Our ghost is also quite determined. Propane tanks are a bitch to explode.” Danny slipped behind Jace to get to his duffle bag, steadying himself with a hand on Jace’s hip as he squeezed behind him. Jace’s skin was chilled with the night air and the dampness of the shower.

“And you know that how, Bill Nye?”

“Saw it on Mythbusters,” Danny said into the duffle bag as he dug for some pants to sleep in. “They had to use a mini-Gatling gun with incendiary bullets to blow it up.”

“Oh, you must have been so jealous.” The skin around Jace’s eyes crinkled with his smile.

Danny had to smile back. “You know it. Never fired one of those.”

Jace laid a hand heavily on Danny’s shoulder. “Dream big, little boy. One day.”

Danny swatted his hand away. “Bite me.” He sucked in his gut as Jace passed behind him to open the plywood door to the bedroom. Jace’s hand lingered on Danny’s side as the door swung open, fingers slipping into the gap between t-shirt and waistband of his shorts. Danny sucked in a breath. Jace was going to be the death of him, and he didn’t even realize it.

“There’s only one bed,” Jace announced.

“Yeah?” Danny asked, half paying attention.

“I could sleep out here, I guess.” Jace frowned, looking back at the dining area table. The bed it set up into would be about four and a half feet long, a tight squeeze even for him.

“Yeah. That’s not gonna work. Just get in bed. I’m going to set the salt lines.” That was one thing all the websites and books had agreed on. Salt kept out some of the scary things that go bump in the night, most particularly ghosts. He slipped on his jeans and grabbed a bag of rock salt. It might blow away overnight, and he felt ridiculous circling the trailer in it, but he was lining those propane tanks anyway. Better ridiculous than dead. A little protection was better than nothing.

After he spread the salt around the tanks and debated putting a circle around the entire camper, he leaned against the trailer, looking at the stars and breathing in the thin air. Pulling out his cell phone, he punched in a text to Mikey. Salted?

Like a big pretzel, he texted back. The phone buzzed again. I can see you standing out there. Go to sleep. Jace’s waiting. He thought about texting him again, but couldn’t think of exactly what he wanted to say. He lined the metal steps of the trailer with salt as he walked backwards into the little box. The knowledge that Jace actually was waiting inside, safe and alive, where Danny could see him and touch him, sat warm and comforting in his chest.

Jace grumbled as he slid into bed, already warm with Jace’s body heat. “Cold,” he muttered as Danny’s arm brushed him.

Danny stretched his foot down to find Jace’s sock-encased feet. Good. Jace’s ice-cube toes were legendary. “Go to sleep, Jace.” Danny turned on his side, sliding until he felt Jace’s back warm and strong against him. They hadn’t had a sleepover since Jace had dropped out of college and out of their lives. It had been a long time since he’d felt Jace’s body rising and falling against him in his sleep. It felt different than he remembered – still calming, but there was an awareness of Jace’s body that prickled on his skin at the places where they touched and in the palms of his hands. He forced the thoughts away, matching his breathing to Jace’s and counting sheep until he slipped into sleep.

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