Bee knew the rule: don't get involved with your teammates because one day, you may have to watch them die. Losing a teammate's life was allowed to hurt, sure, but it couldn't compromise your decisions. Bee knew this, he understood the reasoning. But it didn't change his feelings for Haney.
That was fine; Bee was good at separating his emotions from the job. He was a professional. He'd been in the Department for years. He knew the drill. It was only now, in the realm of dreams, when he had no control, that he regretted his relationship with his teammate. It was the one place where he was vulnerable. And this nightmare was a perfect example why.
In the dream, he and Haney were in the Dugout, sitting on the couch watching TV. The door to the training room opened down the hall. Bee wouldn't have given it a second thought, but with the opening and closing of the door came a squishy sound, like socks pressing down in wet sneakers. It was summer; no reason for rain. So Bee turned.
Starr didn't look the way he had when they'd all met him yesterday. He looked too thin, his bones jutting from his hips through the stained leather pants he wore. His cheekbones were razor sharp, stretched taut over prominent bone. His feline green eyes were too bright -- fever bright -- but the skin around them was sunken in and shadowed. Bee recognized the look. Drugged to the gills. It only somewhat explained the bloody knife in his hand.
It was a big butcher knife, straight out of a horror flick. And just as in those teen movies, the empath was slashing madly with it, not aiming, just filling the air with flashes of silver. Bee leapt forward from the couch, grabbing at Haney's arm to yank him away from the descending knife. But the blade sank deep into Haney's shoulder. Bee watched, horrified, as his lover's face twisted into an expression first of surprise, then pain as Starr retracted the blade and slammed it home again.
Bee howled in anguish, his feet pinned to the carpet by invisible hands. He tried to reach for Haney, tried to grab the empath's knife with his bare hand -- but Bee could do nothing. All he could do was watch helplessly as his friend's -- his lover's -- blood saturated the fabric of the couch.
"Why did you trust him?" Haney asked Bee in a pain-wracked voice. His light green eyes filled with tears. "You should have kept me safe from him."
"I didn't know," Bee sobbed, tearing at his own hair.
"Don't trust him," Haney whispered. "You can't trust him."
Bee screamed as the other man's eyes rolled up into his head. He heard a low, mocking laughter.
Starr smiled at him and brought the blade to his lips. "Three down, two to go." . . .
Bee shot upright in the sheets of his bed. His T-shirt clung wetly to his chest. He raised a hand to his heart and felt it thundering beneath his skin. Dream, he told himself firmly. Wasn't real.
When his heart had calmed somewhat, he slipped out of bed and into the hall. He let himself into Haney's bedroom and closed the door quietly behind him. Once beside the other man's bed, Bee sank to his knees on the carpet. He had to touch Haney, had to be sure that this wasn't the dream.
Haney's eyes fluttered open at the touch to his cheek.
"Hey, big guy," he murmured sleepily. When Bee's expression registered through his drowsiness, he caught the larger man's fingers. "Bee, what's wrong?"
Bee sucked in a shaky breath and managed a smile. "Nothing. It's nothing."
Haney frowned, climbing higher into wakefulness. "Why do you have that look on your face? You look . . . scared."
"Just let me watch you sleep, okay?"
Smiling bemusedly, Haney scooted back on the mattress and lifted the sheet. Bee slid into the warmth and pulled the smaller man tight against him.
"You're heart's going crazy," Haney said, studying the other man's face. "This isn't nothing."
"Yes, it is," Bee murmured, pushing Haney's face against his shoulder. He smoothed his hand over the short blonde hair. "It was just a dream, Haney. Just a dream."
The words were more to convince himself, than anything.
Black's PRU buzzed six seconds before his alarm went off. He rolled over and blindly slapped his hand down on the alarm before fumbling for the Personal Retrieval Unit. He was too tired to find the No Video button.
"Well, good morning, beautiful. Rough night with the Captain? You look like hell."
"What do you want?" Black grumbled, dragging a pillow over his eyes.
"Just thought you might like to know that our resident empath is currently passed out on the front steps of the Clubhouse." Jake laughed. "I always figured we'd end up with some bum on our porch. I just never thought it'd be one of our own."
Black filtered the other man's words through the tribal beat that pounded within his head. "You're joking."
"Would you like me to take a picture?" Jake offered happily. "It might come in handy later."
Black's first reaction was to demand if Jake had done something to the empath while Black was off with Dickerson. He shelved that idea, knowing it would be wiser to get all the facts first. He shoved away the pillow and sat up, his eyes closed as he rubbed his hand across them.
"Stay in the Dugout. I'll take care of this. Don't tell the others. That's an order, Jake."
Black raised a hand to his throat, but when his fingers touched the skin, a shiver passed over him.
"Black." Jake's voice was subdued. Concerned. Black didn't want to hear it. "Where did you go last night?"
"It doesn't concern you," Black replied, staring at the sheets of his bed as a memory washed through him. Sickness that had nothing to do with the alcohol he'd consumed made his stomach heave.
"The hell it doesn't," Jake retorted, but his voice was still soft. "Just tell me he doesn't hurt you, baby. Just tell me that."
It was the endearment that reached him, touched him when he couldn't stand to be touched. He glared down at Jake's face on the screen. "I said it doesn't concern you. Leave it alone." He could read the stubbornness on the other man's face and wondered yet again when and how it had gotten to this point, that Jake was so possessive. Knowing the other man would continue to harass him about this until he was satisfied, Black gave in, just a little. "He doesn't touch me, Jake. Leave it at that."
"Every time you come back," Jake said, his thumb visibly stroking the side of the screen, "you're unhappy. Tell me what he wants from you. Please, Black."
But Black had shared all that he wanted to on this topic. "Drop it, Jake. Forget it. The funeral is today. Please make sure Haney and Bee are ready. I won't have us late for the service."
Jake's face clouded. "Of course we won't be late, but dammit --" Black shut him off.
He tossed the PRU to the nightstand and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He moved shakily to the bathroom and threw water into his face. He spent more time than he should have staring at the face he saw in the mirror.
He nudged the empath in the ribs with his foot. "Get up."
To his relief, Starr actually responded, squinting his eyes in the morning light. "Why hello, Darkness." The empath cleared his throat. "You look . . . better."
"I wish I could say the same."
Starr gave him a weak smile as he maneuvered himself into a sitting position against the front door. Black squatted and looked him over disapprovingly. The empath was wearing his shirt inside out and backwards. His boots were unlaced. Black reached up and checked the pulse at his throat.
"You have a soft touch," Starr murmured. Black's eyes lifted, finding the green gaze thoughtful and free of its usual flippancy. "I should have guessed that about you. From what I've seen of you up here." The empath tapped his head.
Black dropped his hand, uncomfortable. "I could have you thrown off the team for what you did," he said. "You scored a hit last night, didn't you?"
Starr shifted and winced as cramped muscles protested. "You made me."
Black frowned. "What are you talking about?"
A craft drove past the house. Starr watched it warily, waiting until it had reached the end of the street and turned before responding. "When you came home last night, you weren't blocking yourself from me. I could feel you."
Black forgot to breathe. "What did you --" No, forget that. He didn't want Starr to voice it, to try to come up with his own conclusions as to what he had sensed from Black. "It won't happen again. I'm sorry."
"Why are you apologizing?" Starr asked, his brow furrowing. Black looked down in mild surprise as the empath's hand settled over his own where it rested on his knee. "You can't help what you feel. You can't help it when you hurt."
"I don't hurt," Black ground out.
"Liar," Starr said, almost whispering the word. His hand tightened. Black told himself to fling it off. He didn't. Starr had a smooth palm. It felt warm over his suddenly freezing fingers.
Starr smiled a little. His thumb stroked lightly, just once, over the back of Black's wrist. "You can't lie to me, sweetheart. I'm an empath, remember? No one can know you better than I can."
Their eyes locked for a frozen moment. Black felt his knees tremble. He pulled his hand from beneath Starr's, pretending not to see the flash of disappointment in the green eyes. He straightened to his feet and deliberately used the position to look down at the other man. "You're not ever to leave the house on your own, is that clear? If a situation calls me away again, I'll provide you with a tab before I go. "
Starr tilted his head back, smiling tiredly. "Better yet, why don't you just stay home with me? I'm sure I could be better company than you had last night."
Black opened the door, nearly spilling the empath inside. "No thanks," he said. But the answer didn't hold the bite that he wanted it to.
A funeral ranked right up there with outright death as one of the things Calyx dreaded most. He couldn't have handled it clean. No way. Death probably would have been preferable. But thanks to the little tab dissolving in his bloodstream -- courtesy of a clearly reluctant Lt. Black -- Calyx was feeling nothing but good, thank you very much. He was probably the only one.
This pleasant little get-together was the culmination of a strange morning. Breakfast had been odd, to say the least. The big man with the baby face, Bee, who had seemed like such a nice fellow yesterday, had overnight jumped onto the watch-out-for-the-freak bandwagon. The man had watched Calyx eat as though the empath were a hawk looking to pounce on an unwary sparrow. The sparrow, apparently, being Haney. Calyx found the abrupt flip bewildering.
The psycho, Sola, wearing a dress uniform so starched it could have cut paper, had nearly gone ballistic when he'd seen Calyx's civilian clothes. Calyx wasn't disrespectful -- even he wasn't that big of a prick. He simply hadn't been issued a uniform yet. But his somber -- for him -- knee-length black coat and pants hadn't impressed Sola. Calyx was sure that if it weren't for Black's presence, Sola would have strangled the empath with his dress collar.
And Black -- Black didn't say a word. It had made it difficult to eat. It made every eye in the kitchen fall to him in a mixture of sympathy and unease, as if their leader wore a brace of dynamite strapped across his chest. Only Jake had braved conversation with him, the results of which had left the lapdog with such an expression of frustration on his face that Calyx had nearly laughed.
Now here they were, staring at two coffins draped with flags being lowered into the ground on the edge of Juxtapose City. Calyx could see the bridge from here, shrouded in fog. It looked skeletal, cold. He rarely made it outside the City. He'd been born in its alleys and he would most likely die there. To be outside, looking in, left him feeling strangely lonely. The press of people and their emotions, although his biggest burden, was also something he had grown used to. Go figure. He must be a closet masochist.
But no pain now. Calyx scanned the small crowd, all men, and felt himself drool, just a little. So many pretty boys, all in their shiny, pressed uniforms. There was something to be said for a crisp, dark suit that filled out the shoulders and tapered at the waist. His eyes settled on his own team. Hmm, even Jake looked somewhat delectable. Without his smart mouth, with his face softened in grief, the light-haired sergeant could be an attractive man.
No one, however, compared to Darkness. Calyx sighed a little as he studied Black from beneath his lashes. The empath's mind fell gleefully into the gutter, fantasizing about stripping off that dark uniform to discover what lay beneath. Pressed up against Black yesterday, he had felt something of the man's body, the tight, lean muscles. The Bliss in Calyx's system spurred him to imagine the feel of that firm body around his cock. Tight, hot, struggling just a little -- Calyx held back a groan, his heavily-lidded eyes lifting to Black's face.
Ah, well. That's where the fantasies ended. Calyx turned away, watching Captain Dick toss a handful of dirt onto the coffins. Whoever it was who decided to make Black the commander of JC2 deserved to be shot, in Calyx's opinion. As good a job as Black supposedly did with the team, right now he looked like a college kid playing dress up in his father's uniform. Normally Calyx wouldn't have cared. To hell with the JCPD; they'd written his death warrant. But Darkness called to Calyx, reminded him of himself in some strange way. Black didn't deserve to be here. He was too young to be thrown to the wolves of the Department. He was definitely too young to have that expression on his face.
All Calyx could say was, Thank God for the Bliss.
"It was a good ceremony," Captain Dickerson told them. "Your men deserved it. The Department will miss them greatly."
Jake nodded, pretending to be moved by the man's condolences. Dickerson hardly knew Lucas and Max. His words were only that.
"Thank you, sir." Black shook their Captain's hand. Jake watched his leader's expression for a slip. Nothing. "Your eulogy was very much appreciated by my men. It did Lucas and Max great service."
"I wish I hadn't had to do it," Dickerson replied gravely. Unlike Black, his eyes lingered on the younger man. Black just looked away.
Like trying to read a wall, Jake thought, annoyed. He watched Black's eyes drift over to Starr, who stood on the fringe of their group, a peaceful expression on his face. The empath noticed Jake's regard and smirked at him. It took all of Jake's will not to storm over there and smack it off his face. Yeah, he understood why Starr had to be high on Bliss right now, but it wasn't right. Not at Lucas' and Max's funeral. Not after they had died trying to keep scum like him off the streets.
"Lt. Sundhill," Dickerson said suddenly, looking over Jake's shoulder. "I was afraid you wouldn't be able to make it."
Jake stiffened, his eyes going to Black. His leader turned slowly and for once, Jake was actually pleased that Black possessed the world's best poker face.
The blonde-haired leader of the first JC Unit saluted Dickerson. "Sir. I apologize for missing the service. I did my best to rearrange my schedule."
"We're glad you made it, aren't we, Lt. Black?"
"Yes," Black said impassively, extending a gloved hand. "Thank you."
Lt. Andrew Sundhill would always remind Jake of a surfer. He was the quintessential golden boy: blonde-haired, blue-eyed with a tan even in the winter. Quick to smile, quick to charm, it was no surprise to anyone in the Department that he'd been selected to head JC1. And no one had begrudged him the assignment because he wasn't just pretty teeth and hair: Sundhill had a record that stood up to anyone's. Well-respected by the entire Department. A legend in his own time. And in his own mind, Jake thought. A man, Jake secretly suspected, who was Black's unspoken idol.
You wouldn't guess it to look at Black, however. JC2's leader looked as thrilled to see him as he would a drug dealer. "I'm glad I've never had to return the favor for JC1," he said to Sundhill.
Sundhill enfolded Black's hand in a two-handed grip. "It's difficult, I know, Lieutenant. I sympathize greatly. Three men in less than a year . . . you're very strong. You have my admiration."
"There's nothing to be admired for," Black said crispy, retracting his hand. "My men are dead and I'm not. That's nothing to be congratulated for."
Sundhill inclined his head respectfully. "You're absolutely right. You bear the pain of the surviving. I don't envy you."
"Lt. Black is aware that misfortune befalls even the best prepared teams," Captain Dickerson said, laying a fatherly hand upon Black's shoulder. The older man's face creased into the perfect picture of understanding and support. "That which does not destroy us, makes us stronger. JC2 will be a more effective team for what we've learned here."
Russet eyes looked inward, studying something only Black could see. "Yes, sir. Yes, it will." Dickerson and Sundhill looked at him, then exchanged glances over his head.
Not liking the attention on his leader, Jake thrust his hand out to Sundhill. "Sgt. Jake Cole, sir. I hope you remember me. Thank you for being here."
Sundhill smiled a little at his obviousness and shook Jake's hand. "Of course I remember you, Sgt. Cole. You're the Lieutenant's second-in-command." His blue eyes shifted briefly to Black. "I hear you're a source of great support in JC2."
Jake almost lost his polite smile. So, Sundhill knew about his and Black's relationship, did he? Great, just great. He wondered what other gossip had made the rounds.
"I hear you've acquired a new member," Sundhill added, as if in answer. His eyes twinkled. "An empath, as I understand it. How is that working out? Think it's something that will spread to the other teams?"
He was referring to Starr as though he were a virus, which, in private company Jake would have agreed with. But he would never admit that to Sundhill. No way. Jake smiled hugely. "Actually, sir, we're all looking forward to working with Agent Starr. This may give us the advantage on the streets that we've been looking for. As I'm sure Lt. Black will tell you, we expect to surpass every goal we've set for ourselves with the team's new addition."
Black looked at him blankly.
Sundhill laughed, clapping Jake on the shoulder. "Nice, Sgt. Glad to hear it. I was afraid the empath would be more of a pain in the ass than a help. I'm looking forward to hearing about your exploits. I'll be following along closely. As will all of us in the Department."
Exploits? Jake thought, scowling inwardly. Who the hell did he think they were, a bunch of deep sea adventurers? And what was that jibe about the Department? Jake could just imagine what was going down at the station: betting pools galore, everyone wagering on how badly JC2 fucked up its next big deal. Well, Jake sure as hell didn't like having Starr on the team, but he wasn't going to let the freak screw things up. JC2 had a reputation to uphold.
"I'm sure you'll be impressed with what you hear," Jake said pleasantly.
Sundhill smirked. "Yes, I'm sure we will. Well, if you'll excuse me Lt. Black, Sgt. Cole. I'd like to have a word with the others." Sundhill saluted the Captain and nodded at Black. "I wish you luck putting your team back together. You've got your work cut out for you."
Black returned the nod wordlessly.
Captain Dickerson murmured something into Black's ear before he, too, walked off to make the circuit of the funeral goers. That left the men of JC2 alone, Black staring blankly at the two holes being filled with dirt.
Jake didn't hesitate, willing to be rejected. He stood behind the smaller man and placed his hands over the stiff shoulders. When he wasn't immediately shrugged off, he began kneading the rock-hard muscles beneath the fabric.
"We're going to be fine," Jake murmured, digging in with his thumbs. Black was so tense it had to hurt, but the other man didn't make a sound. "JC2 is solid. Bee and Haney are as strong as ever. Sola's a hard-ass, but he knows his job. Starr will take some getting used to, but it'll happen. Relax, Black. We're gonna be okay."
Black finally reacted then, bringing his gloved hands up to his face and covering it for a second. He immediately dropped his hands again, but the action had been telling. Jake didn't care who the fuck was watching; he drew Black back against his chest and hugged him. For once, Black was too tired to fight the embrace.
"I can't make the wrong decisions," he heard his leader murmur. "I can't afford to lose another one of you. I just can't."
Jake pressed his lips against the sable hair, an intimate gesture he'd done only twice before in their five month relationship. "You have this team for a reason, baby. You can handle it and you won't make the wrong decisions. We're here to back you up. Don't forget that."
To Jake's surprise, a hand squeezed his arm where it crossed over Black's chest. "Thank you, Jake."
The whispered words left him without a reply. He hugged Black tighter and turned his cheek against the brunette hair. He saw Starr watching them, an expression on his face that Jake knew the empath would never have allowed if he hadn't been high on Bliss. It made Jake chuckle.
Black roused himself at the sound. Jake sighed, knowing the time for personal indulgence was over. He could just imagine the thoughts going through Black's head, the reproach for giving into weakness, and in front of the Department's big shots, no less. Jake dropped his arms and gave him space.
Black half-turned and Jake saw his attention caught by Starr, standing by himself between the rows of crosses. The empath didn't seem to care about the stares he received from the other mourners. Starr had dressed as befitted the occasion and had even pulled his hair back into a loose ponytail and tucked the purple ends back under the band. But everyone knew who he was. JC2's joke. Black's joke.
Did Black see what Jake did, that Starr was a threat? Or did he see what Jake didn't want to -- the cool, beautiful lines of the empath's face, the green eyes that promised intimacy of a sort Jake could never manage? Jake didn't know what Black saw, and for once in his life, Jake wished that he were a freak, capable of reading his leader's mind.
Black and Starr stood in the parking lot outside Jubilee's, the Department's unofficial watering hole. Black had long since removed his coat and dress collar. He now yanked open the throat of his shirt and sighed as the constriction was released.
"Thank God," he breathed, rubbing at his throat.
He felt the weight of a stare on him and turned to find Starr looking intently at his throat. "You've got marks on your skin," the empath commented.
Black resisted the urge to pull the collar closed. It could have been a bluff.
"Looks like fingerprints," Starr said mildly.
The empath was waiting for a reaction, a defensive reply. Black knew better.
He took the offensive, stepping up to the taller man and lifting a hand to the pale face. Starr flinched before steadying, giving a rueful smile at himself. "Old habits die hard," the empath murmured. Starr remained motionless beneath Black's touch. "The trick is to put an ice pack on as soon as you get home," he said conversationally. "It helps to alleviate the bruising."
"I'll remember that," Black said curtly.
"I hope you won't have reason to."
Black didn't say anything. He used his thumb and forefinger to open a green eye wider. He studied the pupil within before dropping his hand and stepping back. "It's been four hours since I gave you the tab. How do you feel?"
Starr sighed, his usual feline glint back in his eyes. "Like coaxing you into the backseat of a craft and using my tongue to make your toes curl." He laughed at the brunette's expression. "And no, that isn't the Bliss talking, sweetheart, that's all me." He cocked a brow and placed his palm flat on Black's chest. "Interested? There's nothing like some well-administered pleasure to relieve the stress. And I'm very good at --" he ran a tongue across his lips " -- administering."
Black stepped back, breaking the contact. "Do you act like a whore to get a reaction?"
Starr laughed, pulling the band from his hair. Purple-tinged strands cascaded down his shoulders. "I am a whore, sweetheart. Didn't you read my file? There's no easier way to score a hit than to trade your body for it. And no," he said with a smirk, "I am not feeling sorry for myself. That's simply how it is. You know. You've seen it."
"You're no longer on the street," Black reminded him. "You're a part of this team and the last time I checked we didn't have need for a whore. It's time you take this assignment seriously, Starr."
Pale lashes shielded the bright green eyes. "I take this more seriously than you know, sweetheart. You'd be surprised."
The empath's tone did surprise Black. Mollified somewhat, he said, "I'd like to take you to the range and test your shooting skills. Do you need to return to the house to change?"
"Will I embarrass you in front of your colleagues dressed like this?" Starr held his arms out and spun.
Black looked over the other man's long black coat, tight black pants and zippered boots. Yes, the multiple silver chains around his neck didn't help, but the empath looked as conservative as he was probably ever likely to get. Black knew he should take advantage while he had the chance. "You're fine. We'll go now. I'm sorry you won't get to spend time with the others." He indicated Jubilee's behind them.
Starr rolled his eyes. "Miss out on the chance to step in puke and get hit on by drunks who'll only accuse me of seducing them in the morning? If I wanted that, I'd have stayed on the street. I'm looking forward to handling your gun, Darkness. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Black smiled, amused. Calyx Starr at the range. This, he was sure, was going to be interesting.
Jake felt like he was at a strip joint waving a dollar bill at a ten-dollar dancer. He couldn't flag down the beleaguered bartender if he had a bullhorn. "I'm never gonna get a fuckin' beer," he muttered.
"Better order three when you get your turn," Bee advised.
Jubilee's was packed, both with the usual off-duty officers, and with most of the mourners from the service. Nothing like a good funeral to drive cops to drink.
Bee, who'd been smart enough to head straight for the bar as soon as they'd walked in, picked distractedly at the label on his beer. "I'm feeling a little unsure about Agent Starr," he began tentatively.
Jake glanced at him. "Join the club." He grinned as the bartender finally acknowledged his waving money. Three beers were slid in front of him on the hardwood, one of which he immediately tipped to his lips. "Don't turn your back on that freak, whatever you do."
"What do you mean?" Bee looked back at their table, watching Haney and Sola in animated discussion. Well, Haney, anyway. Sola was nodding, encouraging the motormouth. Bee smiled. "What reason do you have to mistrust him?"
"For one, he's an empath. For another, he's a junkie."
Bee turned back and stared at the surface of the bar. "He's not a junkie any longer, though, right? I mean, he can't lose it. Black has control of the Bliss."
"Sure. Like I didn't find him high on the porch this morning . . . Er, shit." Jake mentally smacked himself in the forehead. "Look, forget I said that. It was supposed to be on the down-low."
Bee was looking at him with a strange light in his eyes. "Starr went out and got himself a hit?"
"It's not gonna happen again, believe me." Jake waved his beer at the other man for emphasis. "Black had a talk with him. You can be damned sure Starr won't do it again. Not if he wants the continued use of his limbs."
Bee took a deep breath, as if mentally gathering himself. "Alright. So he won't be OD'ing on us anytime soon. Maybe that's all that I'm afraid of. Addicts can be so unpredictable."
"Maybe it's the fact that he's a dick?" Jake offered. For some reason, the suggestion made the other man relax and smile.
"Come on. You're just jealous of him," Bee accused.
Jake's eyes bulged. "Jealous? What the hell are you talking about?"
"I'm not blind. I saw you with Black at the cemetery, proving your point to Starr." Bee's smile faded. "Come to think of it, we all saw it. You'd better be more discreet next time you want to do something like that. You don't know how Dickerson feels about relationships within the team."
Jake scoffed, taking a big swig from his bottle. "What does Dickerson care? He's screwing his way through every hooker booked at the station. He's the last person to talk."
"I'm just saying, if Black ever feels like your actions threaten his job --" Bee shrugged. "I wouldn't put it past him to have you transferred."
"What?! Black would never do that. This is our leader we're talking about."
"Exactly. This is Black."
Jake thought about it. "Fuck. You're right. JC2 is his life." He sighed. "We really need to get that boy a hobby outside of work."
"Speaking of which --" A body pushed up against Jake's shoulder, nearly making him knock over his beer. Jake told himself to keep his cool. Sola never noticed. "What does our fearless leader like to do when he's not busy busting drug lords? " the grim man asked with forced nonchalance.
"What's with all the questions?" Jake sneered, turning around. "You writing your school report on him?"
Sola smiled thinly. While their dress uniform had succeeded in making them all look like movie stars -- in Jake's opinion, anyhow -- Sola only looked more rigid. Like some military school drop-out. Must be the perma-scowl, Jake decided.
"Black's my commanding officer now. The one I trust with my life. You can't blame me for wanting to get to know the man better." Sola grinned -- well, bared his teeth, which Jake supposed was the man's attempt at a grin. "But Black's tough to get close to. Doesn't like to chitchat, which I respect. I just want to know if there's anything we can connect on."
Jake grunted, concentrating on his beer again. "All Black does that I can tell is peck away on the computer, or occasionally hit the streets for info." He held up his finger. "But I told him if he does that again I'll kick his ass. He'll get himself killed going out alone like that."
"He does manage to come up with some good info, though," Bee said thoughtfully.
"Huh, wonder how that is. Good connections he won't share?" Sola wondered.
Bee muttered something and abruptly pushed away from the bar. Jake watched him return to their table and speak a few quiet words to an officer who'd begun an intimate conversation with Haney. The officer's eyes widened before he immediately offered his seat to Bee. Bee took the vacated chair and touched Haney's knee beneath the table. Jake snorted. Hypocrite.
"Come on, buddy," Sola said with a forced joviality that made Jake wince. "You know Black better than anyone. What do I have to do?"
Jake sighed. "Look, you wanna work well with Black? The key is don't touch him, don't try to be his friend, just do your job as best you can and he'll love you for it. He may not say it, but trust me, he'll love you."
A shadow fell over him. "You should know, eh Cole? Very touching scene at the cemetery, by the way. Brought tears to my eyes. Really."
Jake lifted his eyes to Will Flaherty, JC1's second-in-command. "Fuck you."
Flaherty, a tall thin reed of a man who seemed to have been with the Department since the Dawn of Man, wagged his fingers at Jake. "Fuck me? What, deciding to go legal, are you? Finally realized that Black is jailbait? How's it feel working for someone who was attending his high school prom the same night you were out booking your first bad guy?"
Jake took a pull off his beer, feeling his adrenaline beginning to run. Flaherty might be just the thing he was looking for to take the edge off the funeral. "It feels like I'm on the best goddamned team in the Department. That's how it feels." Jake grinned darkly. "Oh, but that's right, you wouldn't know that feeling, would you?"
Flaherty's narrow face hardened. "Yeah, your record's good, but you're also dropping like flies. You guys are nothing but disposable tampons to Black. Who's next? The Captain's fucktoy? I got fifty bucks says the fucktoy takes the hit on your next outing."
"No one's next," Jake bit out. He was intensely aware of Sola standing silently beside him, listening like some snooping reporter.
Flaherty chuckled. "What's the matter, Cole? Did I strike a nerve? Maybe the Captain's fucktoy is now Black's fucktoy? Maybe he'll give Black a few lessons and give him back to you as a better ride --"
Jake split his knuckles on Flaherty's teeth. It felt good, damned good. Flaherty nearly went down, but quickly regained his balance. Jake was ready for him. He blocked the fist to his jaw and returned one of his own. It missed and Jake had to jump backwards to avoid the fist driving towards his stomach. Then bodies were swarming over them, pulling them apart and Jake was left to grin at the furious sergeant from JC1. He felt Bee and Haney beside him, offering support as the rest of JC1 gathered behind Flaherty.
"Not gonna waste my time on you, Flaherty." Jake shook off the arms that restrained him. "My friends were buried today and I'm not gonna disrespect them by spilling JC1's blood. Lucas and Max, strangely enough, held some respect for your team."
"The feeling's not mutual," Flaherty said, spitting blood onto the floor.
Jake would have dove at him if it weren't for Sola's arms around his chest, holding him back. "Not here," the man warned. "You don't want the Captain hearing about this."
Breathing heavily, Jake nodded and stepped back. "You need to change that attitude, Flaherty," he snarled as he and the rest of JC2 made their way to the door. "Better yet, we'll do it for you. Keep your eye on us, boys. The lessons begin now."
Shouts and catcalls followed them out, but Jake was proud of himself for not responding. The crisp air outside the bar felt good against his sweating face.
"You're absolutely nuts," Haney muttered. He was grinning, though, his boyish face looking up at Jake admiringly. "Nice hit, by the way. I think you knocked out a tooth."
Jake smiled. "Yeah? I hope so. Maybe it'll improve his face some." He rubbed at his cut knuckles. "So now that I'm worked up, let's say we go through those drills Black wanted us to do. You up for that, Sola?"
Still looking back at Jubilee's, Sola nodded. "Absolutely." He looked at Jake and the others and pulled his lips into a smile. "I'm anxious to see what Black's been teaching you."
Why do I feel like he's a goddamned mole? Jake thought to himself. What did it matter? In another couple of hours he was going to find out exactly why Sola was on his team. And if Jake wasn't impressed by what he found, Sola sure as hell was going to pay for it.