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Written for the Worst-Case Survival Scenario on LiveJournal.

Ticked Off

by Riley Cannon

Thanks to Maverick for beta assistance and so much more.

~Ticked Off~

Stretched out on the hillside, the California sun beating down on him, Elliot Stabler shifted around with an impatient grumble, handed the binoculars to Eddie Drake, and fished out the pine cone digging into his crotch. Ignoring the slow, sidelong look Eddie gave him wasn't working too well, so he sent him back a dark glare that should have made the guy scoot on over and give him some space. Of course that had zero effect as well; perversely, Eddie managed to slide in even closer, his shoulder and leg brushing Elliot's. Refusing to let that bother him, not about to admit it stirred up anything but a mild sense of irritation, Elliot confined himself to a frustrated sigh as he searched in vain for a comfortable spot out here among the trees and grass and rocks and weeds.

Man, he missed New York.

"You don't do a lot of stakeouts, do you?" Eddie said, training the binoculars on the ramshackle cabin in the clearing down below where they were expecting an arms dealer named Sergei Volsky to turn up.

"Done my share." Elliot sat up and put on his sunglasses, arms looped around his raised knees. "We're wasting our time here." That was the part of stakeouts he hated, the hurry up and wait aspect of it when he wanted to be out there getting things done. He was convinced this was one was even more pointless than usual.

"Yeah, probably. Least we got a nice drive up the coast."

Well, yes, there was that. Eddie wanting to make a road trip of it had blindsided him just a bit, right along with Rose and the rest of the team if he was any judge, but the drive along the coast highway hadn't been the worst experience of the last few weeks. Great scenery, good music on the stereo -- and pretty decent company, Elliot conceded, letting his gaze travel along the lean lines of Eddie's body for a moment. He looked quickly away as the blond head turned toward him, and could feel the sun scorching him hotter than ever. The tick crawling up the faded denim of his jeans was almost a welcome distraction.

"What was that?" Eddie asked as he swiped at the tick and sent it flying off into the underbrush.

Elliot shrugged. "Just a tick."

Sitting up fast, Eddie gave him a disbelieving look. "And you just released it back into the wild? Jesus. Fucking find it and kill it."

"I am not looking for a goddamn tick," Elliot grumbled back just as Eddie's phone went off.

"Here," Eddie tossed it to him, on his feet and pulling off his sleeveless shirt. "Oh man, oh man, oh shit! I got ticks, I can feel them crawling all over."

Oh for Christ's -- "Yeah, Stabler," he rolled his eyes and spoke into the phone, Connie's voice sounding tired and cranky, wanting to know if they'd found anything. Telling him no, not a whisper of anything, Elliot watched with fascinated dismay as Eddie kept on stripping, the frantic process imbued with an unexpected finesse. He didn't simply rip his wifebeater off, for instance; no, first he pulled it up, as if flashing his belly, hands running over his stomach and chest as if feeling himself up, dropping the cloth on the ground and stroking his arms and shoulders, the sculpted ridge of collarbone. Had Eddie picked up the moves from one of the ex-wives? Better imagining that than letting his thoughts briefly wander off to picturing the other man performing a slower, sensuous version of the striptease under very different circumstances. Eddie was reaching for his belt buckle and zipper now, and Elliot growled, "Drake, put your damn clothes back on," because this was playing hell with his concentration.

"Excuse me?" Connie said in his ear. "Am I interrupting a special moment between you guys?"

Elliot glowered at the phone now, shook his head at Eddie hopping around on one foot now and trying to pull off a boot, and wrapped it up quick. "I don't think Volsky's going to show here. It's nothing but a wild goose chase."

"I'm getting that same impression, Detective." Connie sighed. "Okay, you and Eddie head on back here and we'll go to Plan B."

At the rate they were going, Elliot suspected they were going to use up the entire alphabet, but he kept that observation to himself for the moment. Ending the conversation with Connie, he picked up his leather jacket and slipped the phone into a pocket -- and lunged forward to catch Eddie just as the lunatic caught his foot on a rock and started to fall. Elliot caught him just in time, but his own footing was uncertain and they both went down in a tangle of arms and legs in the dirt, his sunglasses flying.

Breathing hard, sprawled out on top of him, Eddie gave him an imploring look. "Elliot?"

His hands on Eddie's back, the skin warm and smooth over hard muscle, Elliot looked into his eyes. "Yeah?"

"Check me for ticks?"

Elliot let out a sharp breath and pushed Eddie off him and got to his feet. "I am not checking you for ticks."

"Come on, Stabler," Eddie sat up, one boot off, belt undone and jeans pushed partway down his hips, "it's not like I'm asking you to give me a prostate exam. Just make sure none of those fuckers are on me." He fixed Elliot with a look of heartfelt sincerity. "I'd do the same for you."

Elliot gave him a skeptical look back. "I doubt that."

Conceding that possibility with a wry scrunch of his face, Eddie said, "Okay, maybe I wouldn't, but do this for me and I'll buy you a beer."

"Oh yeah, there's some incentive." Elliot shook his head, fighting back a smile, and knelt back down in the dirt, seeing no alternative if he ever wanted to get out of here and back to civilization. "All right, just hold still."

"I am still."

"Then why are your lips moving?" Elliot bit back another smile as Eddie shot him a dirty look. He wasn't quite as successful at staving off a grimace as Eddie raised both arms in the arms, pits exposed to the world.

"Hey!" Eddie had an affronted look on his face now. "I showered this morning, okay? Christ, are you always this damn prissy?"

"Yeah," Elliot growled back, "forgive me if inspecting your armpits isn't the highlight of my life." Squinting, he leaned in for a good look, detecting neither offensive odors or any sign of ticks. To make sure, he ran his fingertips over the area, feeling only skin and hair -- and giving Eddie a warning look as the other man squirmed around. "I said hold still."

"Bite me, it tickles."

Elliot sighed and moved around to have a look at Eddie's back, the flex of muscles under his hands bringing on a disturbingly pleasurable sensation that he fought to ignore. Keeping himself distracted, he said, "You know, I've been on the force almost twenty years, and this is the first time I've had a partner try and strip naked on me."

"Yeah?" Eddie tilted his head back at Elliot's urging. "So Benson's never given you a glimpse of her goodies? Owww! Hey!" he cried out in protest as Elliot gave his hair a yank. "Man, you just have noooo sense of humor," he complained, reaching up to pat his tender scalp. "All I'm saying is, people see a good looking guy and gal working together, they wonder."

"People can keep their minds out of the gutter," Elliot warned him, fingers combing through blond hair and checking that scalp carefully.

"Yeah, it's like I've always said, you East Coast guys are way too uptight."

"It's called being professional." Elliot checked behind his ears next.

"It's also called having a stick up your ass."

And like that was the first time he'd heard that. What Elliot couldn't quite explain was why hearing Eddie say it caused him a pang. Not giving himself a chance to dwell on that, he put a hand on the back of Eddie's head and encouraged him to lean forward a bit. "You know," he kept his voice neutral, "you could try being less insulting seeing I'm doing you quite a favor here." Eddie didn't say anything to that, but his shoulders lifted in what felt like an apologetic shrug, and Elliot went on with the examination. Blond curls were clustered on the back of his neck, and he carefully brushed them aside, fingers stroking skin as Eddie shifted around again. "You ticklish here too?"

"Not ticklish, exactly."

Frowning over the out of the character cryptic reply, the blond hair slipping between his fingers and teasing a sensation that ... wasn't ticklish, exactly ... Elliot bent closer, gaze sharply focused on a dark spot just at the base of Eddie's scalp. "Oh fuck," he breathed out and felt Eddie tense up.

"Oh man, this has got to be bad for you to say fuck. I'm gonna die."

"You're not gonna die, just shut the hell up." It was a tick all right, a big fat one, like it was already bloated on Eddie's blood. "You got a first aid kit in the car?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Then come on." He caught Eddie by the elbow and hauled him up, retrieving the clothes scattered on the ground and shaking everything out, turning even his jacket inside out for a closer examination. "Zip your pants."

"I'm zipping, I'm zipping." Eddie's nervous fingers were having some trouble, though. "Christ, can't you just pull it off me?" he demanded, losing his footing on the uneven ground again.

"Whoa, easy there, Drake, I gotcha," Elliot said, shooting out an arm to steady him, fingers curled tight around his bicep and his own muscles tensing to hold Eddie still. "Just calm down," he told him, not letting go until he got a nod that said everything was okay now. "Come on." It wasn't remotely a life-or-death situation, but he hurried Eddie along to the car all the same because just thinking about that parasite feeding on him gave Elliot a jittery feeling in his stomach. Popping the trunk, he was very pleasantly surprised that there really was a first aid kit tucked inside and, praying it wouldn't just be stuffed full of condoms, he opened it up. "You might want to restock this sometime," he said, plucking some alcohol swabs from the slim pickings, along with a small Ziploc bag and a stoppered tube.

"Better get the tweezers too."

"Nope, no tweezing *or* pulling. Don't you know any goddamn first aid?" Elliot asked, getting Eddie to brace his arms against the car and bend his head forward again.

"Well, excuse me for not being a Boy Scout," Eddie grumbled back. "This isn't a situation I run into a lot, you know. What're you doing?" he asked as Elliot pulled out his wallet.

Selecting a credit card and positioning the baggie, Elliot told him, "This is how you remove a tick," carefully scraping the edge of the card against Eddie's skin and the tick. "This time I mean it -- don't move."

"I'm not moving." His arms and shoulders did tense up some more, however. "This gonna take long?"

"Why? You got places to be?"

"Well, you know, chase down some asshole, jerk off to some porn."

"Yeah," almost almost "it'd be a real tragedy, throwing off that schedule." One more nudge -- "Got it!" He flashed a huge grin as he swept the tick into the baggie, sealed it up, and stuffed that inside the stoppered tube.

"Ugly motherfucker," Eddie said as Elliot let him take a look. "That it?"

"Just about." Tearing open the packet of alcohol swabs, Elliot swiped them over the bite mark, making a thorough job of it, and slapping a Band-Aid on for good measure. "Now we're done," he said, tucking the tube into the first aid kit and snapping it shut.

Eddie watched him close the trunk, a dubious look on his expressive face. "And ... we're taking it with us because...?"

"Because you want a specimen so it can be checked for disease."

"Oh." Eddie rubbed the back of his neck, looking uncertain now.

Elliot sighed, reached over to pat his shoulder. "It's just a precaution, Eddie. You're fine." There wasn't a lot of reason for the other man to take a lot of comfort in those words, not that Elliot could see anyway, but Eddie looked back at him and nodded, like he was drawing some reassurance all the same.

"Well," Eddie rubbed his leg, favoring it just a bit now the adrenaline rush was waning, "since we've met you've shot me and exposed me to ticks. Might be about time for some payback, bro."

"Thought that's what socking me on the jaw was about," Elliot said, still feeling a twinge from that.

"That was in the line of duty. Could've blown our cover otherwise."

Maybe, but he was pretty sure he'd detected a surge of satisfaction in Eddie at the time. "Anyway, shooting you was also in the line of duty, and I had nothing to do with the ticks."

Caught for a reply, Eddie just made a huffing sound and glared at him across the hood of the car. "You drive," he said, slipping into the passenger seat.

Elliot smiled and got behind the wheel, more than glad to head back to civilization. As they got back to the highway, he looked over at Eddie, catching him looking pensive. "What?"

He shrugged, scratching his shoulder. "You're not gonna tell the squad about this?"

"What, that you stripped naked and danced a jig all because a tick fell on you?"

"Yeah, that."

"Drake, I'm not telling my priest about this." And that promise shouldn't have meant that much to the guy, but the way Eddie looked at him, like he'd really been worried about getting outed like that, gave Elliot a good feeling.

"Thanks." Eddie leaned over to fiddle with the stereo, The Eagles' Take It Easy coming out of the speakers. "You do the confessional thing?"

"The confessional thing? Yeah, been known to."

"Does it help?"

He shrugged. "Sometimes." Not a lot lately. It was getting harder and harder to believe there was a just and loving God, for one thing.

Eddie sighed, humming along with the song, "Well I'm standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona..." and scratching some more, squirming around. "You sure you got those fuckers? There was just the one?"

Elliot rolled his eyes. "No, Eddie, I left a couple on you so we could do this all over again."

"Huh. You don't have to get snarky about it." He slumped down, head resting against the seat, feeling his forehead now. "Seriously, what are my chances of getting like, Lyme Disease?"

"Pretty slim since that only occurs on the East Coast and I'm pretty sure I didn't bring any with me."

"You sure?" Eddie grabbed one of his hands off the steering wheel and pressed it to his forehead. "Don't I feel hot?"

"Jesus Christ... You feel fine." Elliot pulled his hand free. "Are you always this high maintenance?"

Expression wry now, Eddie said, "Why do you think there's three ex-Mrs. Eddie Drake's?"

Sounded good, but Elliot had a hunch there was a lot more to that story. In fact he already knew there was quite a bit more to Eddie Drake than first met the eye, and the unexpected facets he had already discovered only made him curious to stumble across more. He wanted to convince himself that was only because a good mystery always sucked him in ... but it was becoming an increasingly hard sell.

Driving along, the sun going down, he looked over at Eddie again, smiling as he saw him dozing, head leaning against the window. He'd never say it to his face, but Eddie had at least one quality in common with that tick: they both worked their way under your skin and wouldn't easily let go.

And Elliot had to admit, he didn't much mind the idea of getting bit by Eddie Drake.


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