Bonding Through His Pathetic Display

Piper still wasnít used to the bump and rustle of the bus as it jostled along the highway. The claustrophobic confines of her bunk didnít help matters either. She threw aside the light-shielding curtain and crawled out of bed with a sigh. Sometimes she wondered why she had agreed to not only manage the band but tour with them as well. As she padded quietly into the living room area of the bus, a compelling sight reminded her; Ed Roland curled up on one end of the couch, half-naked and reading a book. From her vantage point near the couch, she observed him quietly as he perused the contents of the book avidly. Ed was a voracious reader.

"Hey!" he greeted her upon noticing her arrival. He suddenly became aware of his bare chest and placed the book over it. "Sorry, I didnít think anyone was up this late," he laughed.

"Please. . . itís not like Iíve never seen a manís chest before." She chuckled at his obvious display of modesty.

"Okay, good. . . because my shirt is waaaay over there." He indicated its position with a nod towards the table. "Canít sleep?" he asked her with a smile.

"No. I guess Iím still not used to all of the road noise," she confessed with a shrug.

"Well, come keep me company then," he invited, patting the space beside him with one hand.

She sank down onto the couch next to him, noticing a carton of Oreoís lying on the coffee table.

"Ed," she began teasingly, "are you sitting up late eating junk at two oíclock in the morning?"

"Yeah, it would appear that way wouldnít it?" He chuckled. "Hey, I like my junk just as much as the next fella. Wanna help me eat it?"

"I never say no to chocolate," she replied as he handed her the cookies with a grin.

He set the book aside and leaned against the arm of the couch with a languid stretch. Piper pretended to be intensely interested in something outside to avoid blatantly staring at his appealingly lean physique which she attributed to his vigorous onstage antics as well as five miles of jogging each day. Ed never stood still for more than five seconds.

"So. . . are ya haviní fun with us?" He asked.

"Oh absolutely! Yíall are awesome. . . I feel like Iíve known you forever instead of just for about three weeks," she remarked.

"Weíre lucky to have you for our manager. . . our last guy was. . . oh. . .

well. . ."

"A money guzzling prick?" She supplied innocently.

"Yeah, actually." He ran his fingers through his hair, which fell back into place in a tousled mass of flaxen kissed waves.

"I got that impression. . ." she added thoughtfully.

He suddenly glanced at the dim light overhead, as if studying the bulb intensely. A look of slight aggravation crossed his handsome features as he squinted at the soft glow of the light, lips parted slightly.

"Ed, what are you doing? Trying to go blind?" she asked curiously, eyeing the light in attempts to figure out what had caught his attention.

"Nooo. . ." he continued to stare at the light intently. "Man, I canít seem to. . . huh. . . huh. . . choooo! There." He brushed a lock of his golden brown hair away from his cheek after the unnaturally soft sneeze displaced it.

"Oookay, I missed something. . ." she noted after blessing him.

"Oh, you know. . . Iíve had to sneeze for about ten minutes now and when I look at something bright. . . oh man. . . thatís sounds crazy, doesnít it?"

"Not really. Iíve heard of that. Never tried it myself," she said, still secretly marveling over the incident.

"Good, then Iím not crazy," he laughed.

"No more than the rest of us."

Without warning, he drew in a sharp, trembling breath of air, his blue-green eyes fluttering closed. "Huh-essshoooo! Issshoooo! Excuse me!" he exclaimed. "Sorry, but Iíve been sneezing all day. Think ya may have been right earlier. . . maybe I do have a cold." He blinked, shaking his head. "Wow. . . that kinda hurt!"

"And you also remember what I said about taking care of yourself?" she added, folding her arms over her chest with a cocky smile.

"How could I not? You popped me on the head with your leather schedule book. . . hard!" He rubbed the top of his head at the memory.

"Sorry. . . I just know how you are. Somebodyís gotta boss you around," she teased.

"Yeah, but you like to smack me around," he protested with a laugh.

"Whatever it takes," she said with a shrug.

"Iím not that bad!"

"Oh yes you are!"

"Okay. . . maybe. . ."

She kicked at his bare foot playfully as he pitched a half-eaten Oreo at her which sailed past her head and hit the wall with a crumbling thwack.

"You have suck ass aim," she noted jokingly.

"Oh yeah. . . well. . . well. . . when I think of somethiní to say,

Iíll. . . uh. . . tell you! So there!" He stuck his tongue out at her childishly.

"Oh, you really cut to the core with that one," she groaned with a laugh.

"Aw, shut up," he chuckled, hiding his face behind one of the decorative pillows.

"Iíll eat all of your Oreoís," she threatened teasingly.

"You do and Iíll tell Dean. Heís bigger than you are."

"So are you," she reminded him, thinking of Edís six foot tall younger brother.

"I know, but heís meaner than me. And I canít punch worth a damn!"

"Oooh, you said a cuss word," she taunted, clapping a hand over her mouth in pretend shock. "Some son of a minister."

"Iím not that fuckiní nice!" He feigned indignance.

"Look, Iíve got you beat here, so why donít you get me something to drink before Iím forced to further insult your manhood."

"Oh, okay," he agreed with a smirk before rising to his feet. "What would you like. . . a glass of arsenic and coke?"

"Oh dear. . . I think you may have just successfully made a come-back."

"Gimme a break! Itís late," he complained with another laugh as he approached the refrigerator. "Now really, what do you want?"

"Oh, whatever you grab," she waved her hand dismissively.

He held up a block of cheddar cheese with a grin.

"I think Iíve had enough cheese for now, Ed." She rolled her eyes.

He snickered before grabbing a couple of cans from the shelf and tossing the cheese back onto the top rack. Before he closed the fridge, she had the pleasure of watching as he turned away from the door although still affording her a lovely display of his sternutatory prowess.

"Huh. . . Chooo! Choooo! Huh. . .chhhhh!" He stifled the sneezes into the crook of his elbow demurely, each soft explosion eliciting a delicious little shiver from his appealing frame. "Excuse me," he whispered quietly, hoping she hadnít born witness to his actions.

"I saw that, Ed," she called accusingly.

"Man, what is it with women? Yíall see and hear everything!" He trotted over to the couch and handed her a Sprite.

"You want to know what I hear? I hear all that congestion in your voice so I know youíre sick. Now just admit it and get over it, okay?" She cracked open the can with a hiss of carbonation.

"Okay, okay. You win. . . Iíve got a cold. Great, fine, okay. . . everythingís peachy," he admitted, his blue-green eyes dancing.

"Alright then."

"Okay then."

"Stop it."

He laughed.

"You can be a real pain in the ass, you realize that, donít you?" She eyed him knowingly.

"Oh, of course! But you still love me."

"I donít know if Iíd go that far. . ." she rubbed the icy can against his bare thigh. "But you are cute."

"Hey!" He yelped as the cold aluminum connected with his warm skin.

She twisted away from him as he attempted to return the favor with his own frigid Sprite.

"Ah, youíre getting old," she teased him as he tried to grab her wrist.

His hand snaked out of nowhere and clamped down on her arm before she could scramble to the opposite end of the couch.

"Old, huh?" He grinned mischievously, taking the drink out of her hand and setting it on the coffee table next to his own. "Now, youíre gonna get it."

Before she could wriggle out of his grasp, he began to tickle her side mercilessly.

"Stop it! Get the fuck off of me," she shouted a bit too loudly between her gasping laughter.

"Not until you say ĎEd Roland is the smartest, funniest guy Iíve ever met.í"

"Ed Roland is the biggest dork Iíve ever met!" She giggled as he tickled her stomach with renewed zest.

"Uh. . . no. . ." he pinned her wrists against the couch with one hand and tickled her with the other.

"Iíll bite you if you donít get off of me," she threatened him.

"Youíd better not. . . I might like it," he countered jokingly.

"Uh. . . what in the hell are yíall doing?" a groggy voice intoned above the wrestling pair.

Ed looked up from his torturous game to find a very sleepy and very aggravated Will rubbing his eyes.

"Nothing," Ed replied innocently, still pinning her wrists to the cushion while he held her down.

"Weíre bonding," Piper answered nonchalantly.

"Oookay. . . well, could yíall. . . uh. . . Ďbondí a little more quietly?" The bass player requested with a smirky grin.

"Sorry, Will," Piper apologized solemnly as Ed suppressed a fit of laughter.

"Yeeeahh. . . well. . . Iím going back to sleep now." Will eyed them suspiciously for a moment before turning to walk back to his bunk.

After his departure, she and Ed exchanged a semi-embarrassed glance before he collapsed on top of her into a giggling heap. Her resolve evaporated as she dissolved into peals of laughter.

"Oh man. . . do ya know how bad that mustíve looked?" Ed mumbled into her hair, shaking with silent laughter.

"What, you half naked on top of me while pinning me to the couch? Whatís so odd about that?" She chuckled, secretly reveling in the weight of his body atop of her own.

"Weíre acting like a couple of kids," he remarked, brushing a lock of his golden brown hair away from one aqua eye.

"Nah. . . more like a couple of idiots."

"That too. Weíre supposed to be professionals here ya know." He laughed again as she held him tightly, preventing his escape.

"Payback time." She tickled his ribs lightly.

"Hey! Youíll be real sorry if you donít let me up," he warned her.

"Oh yeah? Why?"

"Because. . . I have to. . . huh-choooo! Sneeze." she felt his body shudder with a quavering breath once again. "Eshoooo! Huh-chisshooo!" he sneezed with his characteristic quietness yet with trembling force, his lean body shivering slightly.

Piper practically went limp beneath him. His unusually soft sneezes sent her into a frothing frenzy.

"God bless you!" she exclaimed, forcing her voice to conform to a normal yet playful tone.

"Thank ya. Hey, I warned you. . ."

"So?"

"Now youíve got boy cooties." he teased her before adding, "I didnít sneeze on ya, did I?"

"Nah. . . you turned your head. The pillow got drenched though."

"Oh well. I hate this couch anyway." he leaned heavily on her chest.

"Youíre crushing me, you ass!" she gasped.

"Who, lilí olí me?"

"Get off me, Ed!"

"Ah, you like it. . ." he dangled his mane of hair over her face, tickling her cheek with the ends of his golden brown locks before finally releasing her from her prone position beneath his body.

She struggled dizzily to sit up as he offered her his hand for assistance.

"Whew! Man, now Iím tired," he rested his head on her shoulder. "You make a good pillow," he noted, an affectionate grin playing at the corners of his mouth.

She poked him in the ribs but he didnít even flinch. Instead, he pulled the fuzzy blanket that adorned the couch from itís resting place and wrapped it around the two of them, receiving no protest from Piper as he laid down on the spacious couch, wrapping her in his embrace.

"What are you doing now?" She asked.

"Bonding," he answered simply.

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