Black's first instinct was to lock the case carrying the Bliss tablets in the locker along with JC2's weapons. He immediately realized the foolishness of such a thing when he walked into the training room and saw Haney pulling out his gun and cleaning kit. Every team member had access to the locker. There was no way he could keep the Bliss there.
That left him with only one alternative. Cursing Dickerson yet again, Black took the case to his bedroom. He had a safe in the back of his closet which none of the other men knew about. Only Jake had ever set foot inside his room, and that had been for a brief, unplanned fuck when Black had awoken to someone tapping on the window that opened onto the catwalk.
Kneeling before the safe, Black quickly spun the dial and opened the heavy door. The scent of gardenia momentarily gave him pause, but he told himself to get a grip. He opened the silver case and looked grimly at the rows of Bliss tabs lying there like innocent candy buttons. The guidelines for distribution of the drug had been uploaded to Black's PRU this morning. Here's your prescription for fun, Dickerson had written in a twisted attempt at humor. Black hadn't laughed.
The top layer of tablets was intended as Starr's reward for good behavior and to keep him from going into withdrawals. Beneath the narrow sheets, he found the bandage-like tabs that Dickerson had offered to Jake and him last night. Black pulled out four, and then shut and locked the case. He placed it carefully inside the safe, avoiding looking at the safe's other contents.
He had just spun the dial when his Personal Retrieval Unit buzzed from within his jeans pocket. He pulled out the unit, which was the size of a bar of soap, and turned on the screen. The urgency on Bee's face had Black running out of his room.
"There's been an accident," Bee told him, his voice coming in clear over the earpiece Black wore clipped over the shell of his ear. "Starr's and Sola's crafts struck each other a block up Provident Street."
"I'm on my way," Black replied curtly. The screen went black as he shifted to All Send, which would transmit his message to all of JC2's PRU's. "Everyone meet me on the corner of Provident and Hastings."
Once outside the Clubhouse, he ran up Hastings Street. He could hear a man shouting up ahead, but he couldn't see anything. Possibilities ran through Black's head. Had someone from the street known of Starr's transfer and tried to take him out? Or had both Starr and Sola been targeted with the intent of keeping JC2 short-handed?
He found his teammates on the corner as he'd ordered. Black reached into his pocket and held out the tabs. "Here, you'll be wearing these on a daily basis for as long as Starr is a member of the team. It's twenty-five milligrams of Bliss. Wear it behind your ear."
Haney looked at the tabs in his hand with wide eyes. "The Department's giving us Bliss?"
Black gritted his teeth. "If you don't wear them, Starr will be able to feel all of your emotions. This is not official policy. We have not been ordered to use these, so the choice is ultimately yours. I will warn you, though, that Starr likes to play head games. He may take advantage."
"Use 'em," Jake told his teammates as he reached for a tab. He quickly applied it to his skin. "Starr'll try to fuck with you otherwise, believe me."
Looking doubtful, Bee nonetheless took two tabs and handed one to Haney. "Twenty-five mil -- that isn't too strong. We'll barely notice it."
"It's just to blur your readings," Black confirmed. He closed his fist around the remaining tab, but Jake saw it.
"What about you?"
Black shook his head. "You know how I feel about this." Ignoring Jake's scowl of disapproval, Black urged the other men up the street. "What's happened?"
"Got a call from the driver of Sola's craft," Bee said as they neared the two vehicles sitting in the middle of the street. The cruisers looked as though they'd collided. Fortunately, they had done so on a stretch of Provident that was lined on either side by junk-covered fields of brown grass. Besides a homeless man who lay sprawled beside a tire, there weren't any other on-lookers in sight.
"Holy shit," Haney breathed as they slowed to a walk.
"Step away from the craft!" Sola yelled. The large man had his gun out, pointed at the other electro-craft where an officer lay slumped against the steering wheel. Starr was leaning casually against the fender.
"Make me," the empath purred.
Bee gaped. "Tell me that's not --"
Jake laughed darkly. "It is."
Black ignored them both as he approached the vehicles. He had expected as much from Starr and therefore wasn't surprised to see the empath dressed in red leather pants and a silver chain link vest over a white T-shirt that read, 'I support the men and women of JCPD'.
Starr's long pale hair was still tinted purple at the ends and that same lack of disregard for orders was evident as he nonchalantly lit a cigarette and brought it to his lips. "You need to have your yearly psych test re-evaluated, sweetheart," he said, blowing a stream of smoke over his head. "Either that, or someone at the station apparently doesn't fully appreciate the term 'psycho'."
"Fuck you," Sola growled out, cocking his weapon. "Step away from the craft, junkie. And keep your hands where I can see them. "
In complete contrast to the empath, Sola was dressed in black canvas pants and a long-sleeved black turtle neck. Heavy combat boots were spread wide in a shooting stance. His severely cut brown hair was uncovered, his pale ice blue eyes boring into the man in front of him.
The agent took a step back, angling himself to cover both Starr and Black and his men as they cautiously approached. "It's Lt. Black from JC2."
After a pause, Sola relaxed somewhat but kept his gun trained on Starr. "Sir, my apologies for being late. My craft was struck en route. It's clear that this subject overpowered the man behind the wheel resulting in a loss of control."
Black looked to Starr, who was staring at him with amused green eyes. "We meet again, sweetheart."
Black sighed inwardly before turning back to Sola. "Sgt, this man is also a member of JC2. There must be another explanation for what's happened here."
Sola blinked in surprise. His gun arm lowered as he looked at Black. "He's -- he's an agent?" Sola asked, incredulous and not bothering to hide his disgust.
Starr smirked and flicked his cigarette over his shoulder. "Mmm, spare me. You're no better than I am, sweetheart. You're just a little more . . . dangerous." He twirled his finger beside his head and mouthed "crazy".
Bee snickered beside Black. "Oh, man, this is gonna be interesting."
Black raised his eyes to Starr's. Interesting wasn't the half of it.
An ambulance took away the driver of Starr's craft. He'd suffered a mild concussion when the two cruisers had collided. Starr's explanation for the accident was terse:
"He asked me if the rumors about me and Capt. Dick were true." The empath shrugged. "I told him to open his pants and find out. Guess the poor boy couldn't unzip and steer at the same time."
Jake snorted and headed up the stairs to the second floor of the Clubhouse. Bee and Haney, unsure how to react, looked anxiously at their commanding officer.
Sola narrowed his eyes. "Sir, may I speak with you privately?" he asked of Black.
Black nodded and led the man into the computer room. Once inside, Sola shut the door. His face was tight, his lips pinched.
"Sir, with all due respect, being asked to join JC2 is an immense honor. All throughout my career I have been working towards joining a Special Forces team as effective as JC2 in combating gangs and drug lords. But this" -- he waved a hand in frustration towards the door -- "is this a joke? Do you honestly expect that junkie to contribute in any possible way to what we're attempting to do? Does he even know how to handle a gun?"
Black crossed his arms. "Agent Starr is rated for both the phase whip and a handgun. I understand your concerns. They have been noted. Captain Dickerson personally recommended that Agent Starr be included in this team and I respect that decision. I expect you to, as well."
"But what good can he possibly do? He's probably on drugs as we speak. If I am to entrust my life and the lives of my teammates to a drug abuser --"
Black held up his hand. "Agent Starr's drug use has been taken into consideration and is being handled. Don't concern yourself with that." He reached into his pocket and held out the Bliss tab. "I should have mentioned this last night, but I neglected to. Starr is an empath." He nodded as Sola stiffened. "He can't read minds, but he can sense emotions. Therefore, by leave of the Captain, I have been given regulated doses of Bliss to distribute to those members of the team who feel uncomfortable being exposed in his presence. I cannot force you to use this, but the other men are already doing so."
To his surprise, Sola reached for the tab immediately, sticking it behind his ear. "I wish I'd known this beforehand, sir," Sola mumbled. "Having that freak in my head all this time . . ."
"He can't read your thoughts," Black reminded him, impatiently.
Sola didn't appear to care. He glared at the door as if he could see Starr through it. "Is he here for a special assignment, sir?"
"That has yet to be revealed to me," Black said, somewhat reluctantly. He didn't like being kept in the dark and disliked even more having to admit to his ignorance. "Will you have a problem working within this team, Sgt. Sola? If so, tell me now and I will arrange for your transfer back to R&R."
Sola looked back at him and the hardness Black had sensed in the man was paired with a steely determination. "No problem, sir. I want to be a part of JC2, no matter who it is I'll have to work alongside. I've dedicated my life to eradicating the scum of Juxtapose City. Nothing and no one will stop me."
It was a more impassioned answer than he'd been looking for, but Black was willing to take what he could get. "Alright then. I'll show you where you're staying."
The one who looked like he was a kid was staring at him unabashedly. The big one with the baby face was trying not to look as obvious as he glanced over from the corner of his eye. Calyx smiled slightly, amused by the reaction of Black's teammates. Thanks to the tabs he saw the men wearing behind their ears, he couldn't sense them, but instinct told him that these two wouldn't be as difficult to deal with as the psycho he'd just encountered, or Black's lapdog from last night.
The latter man, after returning Calyx's grin with a challenging sneer, had retreated upstairs. Laying booby traps, Calyx thought with a private laugh. Definitely a lover, Calyx decided. The look the lapdog had sent Black before heading upstairs had been purely possessive.
Calyx came out of his musings as a hand tapped him lightly on the shoulder. The younger agent who'd been staring at him now had his hand extended.
"I'm Haney Wilkes and this is Bee Mathers." Haney gave a tentative smile as they shook hands. "The guy who went upstairs is Jake. Jake Cole. He's the second-in-command."
Starr let his lashes drift down, hooding his gaze. "I'm Calyx. I think your boss wants to call me Agent Starr, so I'll let him. It makes me sound rather mysterious and sexy, don't you think?" He smirked at Haney's stammered agreement. "We'll see how long that lasts before the rest of you break down and start calling me 'asshole'."
Haney's green eyes widened before he burst into laughter. He half-turned and smacked the big guy in the chest. "He's funny! This won't be so bad, Bee."
Bee rolled his eyes, his face pinkening slightly. "Cut it out, will you, Haney?" He reached for Calyx's hand and engulfed it in his. "We were expecting something else, to be honest. We've never dealt with an empath before. Well, besides arresting 'em."
Calyx's lips curled. "Hmm, is someone spreading naughty rumors about me already? I'm shocked. Don't tell me -- was it the lapdog?"
"Lapdog?" Haney's confusion lifted into an expression of shocked hilarity. "Oh, Jesus. You don't mean Jake do you?"
"You'd better not let him hear you say that," Bee warned, glancing anxiously up the stairs.
"Why not? It's what he is, isn't he? I'll bet he trails after Black wherever he goes, doesn't he?" When the other two men looked at each other uncomfortably, Calyx laughed. "I hope he's housetrained. Now that I'm here, he may try to mark his territory."
Bee groaned, throwing a hand across his eyes. Haney just stared at him in morbid fascination.
"You're gonna be trouble," Bee declared. "Thank God we're in the other house, Haney."
"There are two houses?" Calyx asked.
"Yep. The other place is called the Dugout. It's me, Haney and Jake. This house is the Clubhouse. You're with Sola and Black."
So Darkness would be sleeping in the same house. Interesting. Calyx leaned back against the wall as the door to the computer room opened and the psycho and Black came out. The empath smiled in delighted surprise at the peace in his mind.
"Thank you for putting an end to all of that," he said to Black, tapping his head meaningfully. "You're the only one I enjoy 'feeling' that way."
Black barely glanced at him, making Calyx's lips curve wider. Like the other members of his team, Black was dressed casually in jeans and a sweater. The teal blue color of his sweater set off his dusky skin. In the light of day, he looked younger. But the firm set of his expression showed that he was determined not to act like it. Calyx watched him walk past to the stairs. He wished the other man's jeans were a little tighter. Black had a nice ass.
Black had already shown him and Sola the downstairs level. Besides the tactics and computer rooms, there was a small kitchen and, more interestingly, a door that opened into a long room that had been converted into the team's training room. Thick mats covered the floor and walls and various training dummies were lined up against one wall.
Upstairs, the house looked more normal. A small common area with a small brown loveseat and a coffee table sat beside the top of the stairs. A short hallway led to three doors.
"Sgt. Sola, this will be your room," Black said, indicating the door nearest the stairs. "Store your weapons in the downstairs gun locker."
After the grim man had disappeared inside the room, Calyx turned to Black. "Do I get to stay with you?" he drawled, propping a hand on his hip suggestively.
Haney laughed nervously.
"You two head on down," Black told Bee and Haney, his eyes on Starr.
When the sound of footsteps had faded, Black leaned back against the opposite side of the hallway. "We need to get some things straight between us," he said calmly.
Calyx mimicked his position against the facing wall, hooking his thumbs into the top of his pants. "Do tell."
"I can guess what your relationship with Capt. Dickerson was," Black began. "It won't be like that here. I don't sleep with subordinates."
"Not even your lapdog?"
Black frowned. Calyx felt the man's surprise like a splash of cold water.
Calyx laughed quietly. "Your boy has teeth and he isn't afraid to bare them when a new dog shows up."
"Sgt. Cole and I do not have that kind of relationship."
Calyx said nothing, still smiling.
"And neither will you and I." Though Black's face remained impassive, a rush of irritation blended with frustration swept through the empath. "You don't need to provide 'favors' to any member of this team. If anyone approaches you inappropriately, I want you to tell me immediately and I will deal with him."
"But what if it's something that I want, too?" Calyx straightened away from the wall and stood before Black. Wary brown eyes stared up at him, their thick lashes lowering slightly in annoyance. The empath felt anger seeping past Black's tight control, along with a faint trace of unease. This last made Calyx place his palm against the wall beside Black's head and lean forward. "What if I want to give you one of my 'favors'?"
"I'd tell you I'm not interested," Black said tightly. The anger Calyx felt coming from him grew stronger. The empath might have backed off at that point if he hadn't sensed a touch of something else. Something unexpected. Calyx's eyes darkened as he recognized the thin shreds of emotion Black was unable to completely hide.
Holding Black's eyes, Calyx moved his leg forward ever so slightly. The moment the leather of his pants came in contact with the front of Black's jeans, something hot and panicked slid through Calyx's mind. It shot straight to his cock. It made him lose control for a second, made him push his thigh against Black's groin and rub against the bulge there.
Black gasped, his hips jerking back.
"Don't hide it," Calyx breathed, eyelashes fluttering as sensation began to flood him. He lowered his head and skimmed his lips across the other man's temple. "Give it to me, sweetheart. Let me feel you."
Brown eyes widened a second before Calyx found himself flat on his back on the carpet, staring up at the ceiling.
"Don't ever try that again," Black said in a breathless voice. To the empath's surprise, everything he had been feeling from Black vanished as solidly as if a sound-proofed door had been shut. Black fisted his hands as he got his breathing under control. In an even voice, he said, "Being a part of this team is an opportunity. I suggest that you don't blow it by thinking with your dick."
Calyx shook his head ruefully. "Ah, sweetheart," he murmured, "stop tempting me and I won't try to play."
A tightening of his lips was Black's only reaction before he spun away and stalked down the stairs. Calyx lay on the carpet for a moment, one hand idly stroking himself through the leather. He groaned ruefully. Mmm. If Black weren't a police officer fully capable of rendering him a eunuch, Calyx would have flown down the stairs after him and finished what he'd started. Smiling slightly, he rolled agilely to his feet and grabbed his duffel bag from where he'd dropped it.
He was still thinking about the encounter as he walked into his assigned room. One moment he was in the doorway, the next he found himself shoved hard against the wall. He saw stars as his head bounced off the wall.
"Welcome to the team," Jake said. He slammed Calyx against the wall again. "Looks like I'm going to have to set you straight on the rules around here."
"Let me guess," Calyx said, "you're the only one who gets to sleep at his feet."
"Fuck you," Jake snarled. "This isn't some party you've walked into. JC2 is Black's life. I'm not letting you fuck it up just because you can't take no for an answer."
"Is that your problem, too?" Calyx asked, cocking a brow. "Jealous?"
One of Jake's hands flew to the patch behind his ear. The empath laughed at the betraying gesture. "Don't worry, you idiot. I can't feel anything from you. Everything's obvious in your little cave-man show here. You're worried Black might be interested in me, aren't you? Poor baby. Aren't you living up to his expectations?"
Jake started to slam him backwards again, but this time Calyx rammed a knee up into the other man's crotch. It didn't catch Jake dead-on, but it was close enough to make the man release him and back away.
"You stay away from him," Jake warned, holding a hand protectively over his groin. "You never know when word of your whereabouts might make its way onto the street. I can only imagine how excited some of your old friends would be to see you again."
Calyx was tired of this threat. He'd heard it constantly since being arrested two months ago. "I'd like to see you step out there, Cole." His mouth twisted. "You think you're such a tough guy. You're so used to hiding behind a gun and five other guys you wouldn't last two seconds in the neighborhood. Being a cop doesn't mean anything out there. You'd better stick to where you're safest -- in this cozy little doghouse, begging for a treat from your master."
"I'm driving you out of here if it's the last thing I do, Starr."
Jake shook his head in disgust as he left the room. Calyx rubbed at the back of his head. Cole was nothing but a bully. He'd learn soon enough that Calyx wasn't your typical street punk who could be intimidated by a little roughing up.
"Asshole," he muttered. He shut the door, but not before a giving lingering look at the door across the hallway. Stay away? Yeah, right. Cole had just given him double the incentive to keep trying.
Wolf Sola finished stowing his clothes and gear away and sat carefully on the edge of his bed. JC2 was living in style. If his old teammates in R&R ever heard about JC2's private housing, they'd throw a fit, demanding to know why they didn't deserve such treatment.
The answer was easy. JC2 got the job done. Sola had long admired Lt. Sundhill and his success with the first Juxtapose City Unit. When Sola had gotten wind that a second unit was being put together, he'd pulled strings and called in every favor he had in an attempt to get himself appointed as its leader.
Sola had been with special teams for eight years. After being recruited from the regular force at twenty-two, he'd worked with the bomb squad and Recon and Recovery, earning commendations left and right. At thirty, he'd thought himself in the perfect position to assume command of the new JC Unit team.
But the team had been given to Black. Sola stared out of the room's single window at the overcast sky. Who the hell was Black, anyway? When he'd heard of the appointment, he'd asked everyone he knew for any information about the new team leader.
All he'd gotten were shrugs and jealous rumors: Black was some bigwig's son. Black was some government agent undercover. Black wasn't even his name. No one knew. And when he'd tried to slyly question the head of the special teams department -- Captain Dickerson -- he'd received a chilly warning to keep his nose out of things that didn't concern him.
But Sola had a lot invested in JC2. The man he had become was a direct result of the drug trafficking on the streets. He had a vendetta to pursue and JC2 was his means of doing so. So as he'd bided his time with R&R, Sola had done some digging.
Black was an alias, but no other identification could be found for JC2's leader. His past record was sealed by Dickerson's order. That he was the Captain's prodigy was apparent, but Sola wanted to know how and why Black had come to be such. Where had he worked before assuming JC2? Why was his identity and past such a secret?
And what burned Sola more than anything else was that what did exist of Black's public records claimed that he was only twenty-three. Sola hadn't been able to fully believe it until Black had approached him last night. A kid was leading Juxtapose City's elite force. A fucking kid! Sola would bet his left nut that he'd seen five times as much action as Black had. And yet here he was, a lowly Sergeant while Black was a Lieutenant.
Sola stood and looked down at the sidewalk. Black and the two other guys -- Bee and Haney -- were talking on the concrete. Sola stared at the top of Black's head and felt his gut churn with the injustice of it all. Well, he'd get his chance. He was finally on the team after nearly a year of waiting. One way or another, Sola would prove himself the better leader. And if not, he would find another way to remove Black from the team. Black's records weren't sealed for traffic tickets. Somehow, Sola would learn the truth. He was willing to bet his career that it was something that would ruin Black forever.
"Here's my opinion: Sola's a G.I. Joe who's taken one too many hits to the head and probably sleeps with a gun in his underwear. And Starr -- Starr is someone who'd rather be high on drugs in the middle of a dance club, but he'll settle with giving you a blowjob."
Bee blinked at Haney. "I can't believe you just said that."
The younger man shrugged innocently. "Why? You know it's true. Sola's too gung-ho and Starr's been staring at Black's ass ever since he got here."
Black rubbed at his eyes. "Bee? Do you have anything more helpful to add?"
Throwing his partner a reproving look, Bee turned to his commanding officer. "My first impressions are that Sola is a rigid, by-the-book guy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As for Starr --" The big man looked uneasy as he glanced at Black. "I gotta side with Haney on this one. He doesn't seem like he belongs here. He acts like it's all for fun."
Black nodded, looking down the street. He'd come to pretty much the same conclusions himself. "After the service tomorrow, I'm having you guys and Jake do some drills with Sola. I'm going to take Starr to the range and evaluate him. If he's not up to par, this may end tomorrow. I won't have the team jeopardized by anyone who can't carry his weight."
Haney shifted, clearly uncomfortable. "About the service tomorrow," he began. "Starr's gonna go nuts, isn't he? I mean, if he's an empath, a funeral is gonna be hell for him."
Black hadn't wanted to go into this but he nodded. "I've been authorized to give him controlled amounts of Bliss. It should get him through it."
"Aw, jeez, Black," Bee said, sympathetically. "What're they thinking turning us into drug dealers, huh?"
Black couldn't say what he wanted to say because he knew it would be insubordination. So he tightened his jaw and remained silent. He looked down as his PRU buzzed. Bee and Haney respectfully backed away as Black took the call. The small screen filled with Dickerson's smug face.
"How's it going?" Dickerson asked.
"Starr and Sola are adjusting to their new home," Black replied curtly. "Tomorrow afternoon I will conduct the evaluations."
"They'll be fine," Dickerson said dismissively. "I wouldn't have recommended them to you if I didn't think they would fit on the team."
Dickerson glanced to the side, as if checking the privacy of his surroundings. "I want you to drive me tonight, Black. Same time."
Black's knuckles tightened around the unit. He fought the urge to fling the PRU against the side of the Clubhouse. "I think I should remain here, sir, since it's the first night. It might not be a good idea to let Starr and Sola remain in the house by themselves."
"For Christ's sake they're not puppies that're gonna piss on the carpet when you're not around. They'll be fine."
"Yes, sir," Black bit out.
Dickerson's voice dropped. "We're going to the Hop, so wear something appropriate. That red shirt you had on last time was good. Wear that."
Black's eyes lifted to his teammates. He breathed a little easier as he saw they were too far away to hear anything. "Whatever you want, sir."
If the older man heard the forced note to his voice, he pretended not to hear it. Dickerson nodded and the screen went black.
Black pocketed the unit and walked to the other men. "I've got another assignment with the Captain tonight. Keep Starr and Sola with you in the Dugout until you turn in. Make sure everyone remains civil."
Haney bit his lip. "Um, Jake's gonna --"
"I'm counting on you two to keep Jake under control. Don't let him get at Starr." Black paused before adding, "And don't tell him where I've gone. It's none of his business."
Bee frowned disapprovingly, but nodded. "Whatever you say."
Dinner was strained, to say the least. Haney kept up a constant stream of chatter, for some reason thinking it would loosen everyone up. Black congratulated himself on not telling him to just shut up and eat.
"I'm curious about the other JC team," Starr said, interrupting Haney in the middle of his discourse on the best places in the neighborhood to get pizza. "Are they housed near here?"
"They're in the south side," Bee told him, winding lo mein around his fork. "Captain thought it would be more practical to have a team available on both sides of the city."
"Word at the station is that you're building a better record than Lt. Sundhill," Sola commented, watching Black intently.
Sola had been staring at him all throughout dinner and it was giving Black a headache. "Both teams are racking up the best success rates in the department. This isn't a competition."
"Tell that to Sundhill, the prick," Jake muttered into his food.
"I heard he doesn't like you much."
Black met the cool ice of Sola's gaze. "I'm not out to make friends."
Sola dropped his eyes to his food and speared a water chestnut with his fork. "Must be the rivalry. He wouldn't have any other reason to dislike you, right?"
Black chose not to respond. His head was aching from both the uncomfortable tension in the room and the effort it took to block himself from Starr. He could feel the empath's eyes on the side of his face. He pushed away his food and stood up.
"I want you all to get to know each other better while I'm gone. We're going to be placing our lives in each other's hands, so we'd better learn to start trusting each other. Tomorrow, we'll be attending the service for Max and Lucas, so get your rest."
"Where are you going?" Jake demanded.
Jake stared after the other man's back, his hand clenched around his fork. "He's going out with Dickerson, isn't he?" he demanded of Haney.
The younger man shrugged helplessly.
"I wish I knew what the hell they did . . ."
"It's the Captain's business," Bee told him firmly. "If Black needed you to know, he'd tell you."
Starr leaned back in his chair. "Capt. Dick requires our leader's services often, I take it?"
Jake glared at him. "It's nothing like what you provide the Captain."
Starr just smirked, his expression skeptical.
"Black's pretty secretive, huh?" Sola said around a mouthful of barbecue pork. "Does anyone even know his first name?"
"Who cares?" Jake muttered, grabbing his and Black's abandoned plate. "He can keep his damned secrets."
On his way past the table to the kitchen, he 'accidentally' bumped Starr's shoulder, making the empath spill the juice he had been drinking down the front of his shirt. God, I am such a child, Jake thought to himself as he listened to Starr curse. But he smiled just the same.
Black left his motorcycle at the station and signed out an unmarked cruiser. He took off his leather jacket and laid it across the passenger seat as he began the drive to Dickerson's house. He was wearing black silk pants and a red satin shirt opened at the throat. He'd rolled the sleeves up to his elbows. A gold stud glinted in his ear but he wore no other jewelry. The familiar comfort of his gun pressed against the small of his back.
As usual, it wasn't Dickerson's wife who answered the door, it was the Captain himself. Dressed simply in a black suit and shirt, Dickerson nodded approvingly when he saw Black. "Let's go."
The Hop was a discreet club on the outer fringes of the Blue Square, the heart of Juxtapose City's night scene. The club itself was in a dark building on an unlit street. A single bulb burning over a metal door served as its entrance. Black parked the craft up the corner from the building and shut off the engine, waiting for instructions.
"Turn around," Dickerson said from the back seat.
Black shifted in his seat until he faced the older man. He remained still as a large hand lightly touched his hair.
"When are you gonna change them back?" Dickerson asked quietly. Black knew he wasn't referring to his hair. "You look like your mother."
"I know," Black answered. "That's the point."
Dickerson frowned. "It's odd, seeing you like this . . ." He trailed off, seeming to forget that his fingers still rested in the other man's hair. The police Captain's eyes cleared and he dropped his hand to finger the collar of Black's shirt. "I like this. It looks good."
"What do you want this time?" Black asked, trying to keep his voice even.
Dickerson smiled, but it wasn't a pleasant smile. "I think I miss your little empath. Let's make it interesting."
Black's fingernails dug into the palms of his hands. "Whatever you want."
Dickerson nodded. Black got out of the car. The air was cool against his sweating skin as he and the Captain walked toward the bulb-lit doorway.
Calyx sat up in bed. This wasn't working. Sola must be dreaming about driving a tank over little old ladies because Starr was getting some disturbing rage/pleasure/remorse sensations in rising and fading waves from the man. What was wrong with that guy? If this was how it was going to be, Calyx was going to demand a little Bliss nightcap before going to sleep from now on.
Scratching at his ribs, Calyx dug around the floor beside the bed and found his cigarettes. The nicotine rush soothed his nerves and he sat back against the pillows and tried to relax. He missed Black. He went ahead and laughed aloud at himself, but it was true. Darkness was the only person of interest around here and without him it was just plain tedious.
He thought back to the conversation at dinner. He doubted Black was doing anything like what he'd been forced to do with Capt. Dick, but he was curious all the same. Secret assignments? What a man of mystery you are, Darkness.
As if on cue, he heard Black's motorcycle roar up. Calyx glanced at the clock. Almost three a.m.. What could last until such a late hour? The garage swallowed the growl of the bike and the next sound Calyx heard was the downstairs door opening and closing. He heard the unsteady tread of heavy footsteps up the stairs and recognized it instantly. Black was drunk.
"What happened to your vaunted control?" Calyx murmured into the darkness of his room. A frown dragged his lips down. Not only was Black drunk, he wasn't blocking himself.
And he felt it.
The cigarette fell from between Calyx's fingers. It was only the smell of burning fabric that jolted him into awareness to pat it out.
Calyx shoved his fist between his teeth as emotions suddenly swamped him. Disgust/anger/helplessness/betrayal/pain/pain/pain . . .
Choking on a cry, Calyx hurtled out of bed and dragged on the clothes Jake had stained at dinner. The moment he heard Black's bedroom door shut, he bolted out into the hallway and threw himself down the stairs. He let himself out the front door and broke into a run, heading away from the lights and running instead towards the darkest part of the neighborhood. He knew he could get himself killed by wandering the streets by himself. If anyone recognized him as the snitch he'd become, his life wouldn't be worth the price of his blood.
But desperation overrode caution and Calyx needed a hit. In the blackest alley he could find, his instincts steered him to a bony man in a tattered trench coat. He didn't bother bargaining, he paid too much and he didn't regret it.
Amazingly, he wandered his way back to the Clubhouse. He dropped down onto the stoop and fell back against the front door. Everything was just fine now. Everything, in fact, was beautiful . . .