Two short stories featuring Wes and Link and Ken and Jess. The first one is written by PJ. The second is my response.
Written by PJ with a little help from Dizzy
Link/Wes, Ken/Jess and Little J
Wes wandered into the barn just in time to see his ranger gently pull what looked like a ball from his pack. “What you got there, T-man?” He questioned looking over Link’s shoulder.
Link’s gloved hands held the little ball of spines up for his partner to see.
Wes reached out and carefully stroked his finger down the little snout poking out from the spines. “I thought hedgehogs were illegal in California?”
“They are,” Link sighed. “Someone left this baby in a box at the wildlife center last night.”
“What are you going to do with him?"
“Well, legally I have to find him a home out of state or put him down,” the big man answered. “We’ll keep him for a while and see what happens.”
Wes took the hedgehog from Link and laughed, “He reminds me of Jess. Prickly on the outside but soft and squishy on the inside.”
“Yeah, he does,” the ranger agreed, “but you probably shouldn’t tell Jess that.”
“No, probably not but I think I’ll call him Little J while he’s here.” Wes chuckled again.
“Hey, speaking of Ken and Jess they are do for dinner in a couple of hours,” Link reminded Wes.
"Oh, I need to run to the store before they get here. I want to pick up something for dessert. You know Ken and his sweet tooth,” he explained to his ranger.
“Ok, Babe, you do that and I’ll fix up a place for Little Jess.” Link agreed. “Then I’ll get the grill started so it’ll be hot when you get back.”
“Sure, T-man,” Wes said as he handed the baby hedgehog back to Link. Link snagged his partner with his free hand and pull him in for a kiss. “Hmm, miss you today, Babe.”
“I missed you more,” Wes laughed as skipped away from the swat Link had intended for his brat’s rear.
Dinner had been eaten and the dishes stacked on the counter. Link took a small carton from the fridge. He pulled out a couple of meal worms and added them to the small pile of melon he had cut up during dinner. The other three men said nothing but were patiently waiting for an explanation for, up until the worms were added, what looked like the makings for desert.
Link finally looked up noticing the looks on the other men. He smiled when Jess grunted, “Um, I think I’ll pass on desert.”
“OH this isn’t for us,” Link countered, his eyes sparkling. “It’s for Little Jess.”
‘Oh, crap,’ Wes thought. “Link!,” he scolded.
Jess’s head snapped up. His eyes darted between Link and Wes then he growled, “Who’s Little Jess?”
Link realized his mistake and tried to smooth Jess’s ruffled feathers. “Sorry, Jess, his name is really Little J. I guess because you are here I said Jess by mistake.”
“Yeah, I’m not buying that but nice try,” Jess grunted. “What is Little Jes, um, Little J?” he demanded looking at Wes for answers.
“Um, well, he’s an itty bitty…um…baby hedgehog.” Wes mumbled all the while moving closer to Link and protection.
“So, why did you call him Little J?”
“Well…um…he just reminded me of you,” Wes said a little bolder with Link so close. “You know, tough on the outside but not so bad once I got to know you.”
Ken laughed at loud as Wes stutteringly explained how he came up with the name.
Link broke the tension by sliding the bowl of melon and meal worms across the table to Jess. “Wes, why don’t you go introduce Little J to his namesake?”
“You do know you’re not helping here,” he said as he leaned down and kissed his man.
“Come on, big guy,” Wes pleaded. “He’s in the barn.
Jess followed Wes out to the small barn. He'd been here several times, and seen the small animals that Link nursed back to health. Most of the animals were released back to the wild.
As the two men walked out to feed the small hedgehog, Ken turned to Link. "He really is just like one. All prickly and sharp on the outside, but has a soft underbelly."
Jess and Little J
Walking into the small barn, Jess wondered if he should try to talk to Wes. He wasn't a talkative man and he had been kind of prickly to Wes in the past. Clearing his throat, Jess said, "Um. So, is this gonna be a pet? Kind of like that damn raccoon that keeps coming around?"
Pulling on the heavy gloves, Wes answered absently, "They aren't native to here. People had them as pets, but they'd let them go for some reason. The little critters really tore up some nests and messed up the habitats of other animals."
Jess listened with half an ear, his attention was focused on how gently Wes was picking up the small tan and brown animal. The little thing huffed and rolled into a ball, the spines ready to spear anything that touched it.
"Is it sick?" Jess asked.
"No," Wes said, holding the little huffing ball in his hands. "Why?"
"His breathing," Jess explained as he leaned down to get a closer look.
"Oh. No, that's just what they do as a defense. They huff like that to scare away things that come to close to them," Wes said with a smirk.
Jess knew what Wes was thinking; that Jess was like that. Sighing, Jess knew Wes, and almost every other person, had reason to think that.
"Once he trusts me, I'lll show you his belly. You can touch him there, it's really soft," Wes told Jess.
Slowly the little creature unrolled from his little ball. Jess watched as Wes slowly and gently turned the hedgehog on it's back. The white fur on his belly looked soft. Jess couldn't help but stroke that fur with his finger.
"It really is soft, isn't it?" Jess said. He was so focus on petting the animal, he didn't see Wes's grin.
"You wanna put on the other gloves? You could hold him while I clean out the cage and put his food in," Wes said.
Jess looked to where Wes had nodded. He reached over and put on the heavy gloves. Cupping his hands together, he found himself soon holding the prickly little ball.
"What are you gonna do with him? If they are illegal in Cali, what will your Mountain Man do with him?" Jess asked. Then he had a thought. A thought that horrified him. "He's not going to kill it, is he?"
"Do you think Link would have brought him home if he was gonna kill him?" Wes scoffed.
Jess brought the animal up toward his face, hoping to block Wes's view of the emotions playing across his face. Ken had a lot to answer for! He'd gotten the ice around his heart to thaw a bit, and now he was worried about a damn hedgehog.
"I raked out all the poop and put fresh bedding in. The meal worms are in too, so lets put him back so he can eat," Wes said, holding open the door to the small cage.
Jess tilted his hands and the little animal waddled into his cage. Jess watched as the hedgehog continued to waddle toward the bowl with the worms in it. "They really are cute little things, aren't they?"
"Yeah, they are. Link's got a buddy out in the Ozarks. He's going to come out and pick him up," Wes said. "He has a wife and a couple kids and they all live on a farm. This'll be the most spoiled hedgehog in the world."
Jess busied himself with taking off the gloves, which helped hide the relief that showed on his face. He didn't want Little Jess to be hurt, and this farm sounded like the perfect place to live out his life.
The rest of the evening past quickly. They had coffee and chocolate cake in the living room, talking about the next family barbecue and how Kevin was settling in so well with Wes's parents. Soon they were in Ken's truck and Jess was telling him about the prickly little animal.
"Ken, he curled up in a little ball and all his spines were sticking out. He was huffing and puffing like a freight train. You shoulda seen him," Jess was saying. "But when he started to relax in Wes's hands, we got him to roll over. And his stomach was all white and so soft."
"Kind of like you, huh?" Ken said and then grimaced when Jess punched his arm.
"Shit," Jess groaned.
"Hey, be nice to me, and I just might pet your soft underbelly," Ken promised him.
"Yeah? Well, you petting my soft underbelly will make other things hard," Jess said suggestively.
"I can live with that."
Scooting a little closer to Ken, Jess thought, yeah, I can live with that too.