The nightmare again. It was bitterly easy to recognize it now: the unlit hallway with the oddly familiar pansy wallpaper, the sickeningly sweet scent of the gardenia air freshener. The nightmare. Even while immersed in it, his dream-self protested that it had been weeks since he'd last endured this. What had brought it back? Why now? No one answered.
He was walking down the hallway, hemmed in by jittery bodies that eagerly herded him forward. Under the cloying aroma of gardenia were other smells: a sticky and sharp scent like copper, the acrid smoke of gunpowder. Below it all, like the bottom note of a perverse perfume, was the strange lemony tang of addiction as it sweated through skin pores. In this nightmare it was all one big stink. He'd walked this hall a hundred times and inhaled the same gagging smells. He knew what lay ahead and it never changed.
When he entered the bedroom, they were kneeling on the carpet just like always. The man was dressed in a white T-shirt and blue striped pajama bottoms. She was wearing a plain cotton nightgown. A gift, said a whisper in his mind. He looked down at their bandana-covered faces; he listened to their muffled sobs beneath the cloth. He knew who these people were. Their faces haunted his life. But knowledge could do nothing to stop this dream from unfolding.
Two shots, clean and quick. Their blood pooled on the carpet, seeping towards him. He tried to back away, but the blood followed him. He began to panic, knowing what was going to happen next. Memory didn't disappoint.
Familiar, hated hands settled on his shoulders, holding his struggling body still for the encroaching wetness. "Don't be ashamed, pretty," a raspy, disembodied voice spoke from the air. "Now everything you want is yours. And you're all mine. . ."
Hands slid down the front of his chest in a sensual caress, pulling at his shirt. He fought against the grip, his stomach roiling. He tried to yank the hands away, but his grip was too slippery. When he looked down to see why, he discovered that his own hands were stained with blood.
The black wetness was everywhere, soaking his clothes, his face -- he could taste it in his mouth when he screamed. He watched as the bandanas were removed from the two bodies lying on the carpet. He knew whom he would see. He didn't want to, shaking his head around a silent scream of denial.
But when the cloths were removed, his heart stopped. Not the same nightmare. This one was even better. The dead faces of his teammates -- Max and Lucas -- stared up at him.
"Don't be ashamed, pretty. Now everything you want is yours." A chuckle sounded near his ear. "And you're all mine . . ."
The dream shattered as Black shot upright in bed. A scream welled in his throat, seconds from bursting free. He clenched his jaw to hold it in. Gasping, his first, frantic instinct was to look to the bed beside him. A shaky breath that would have surprised his teammates fluttered past his lips. The sheets next to him were empty, just as they should be, the way he made certain they were. No one -- no one -- would ever know that the leader of Juxtapose City's most powerful elite police force woke up most mornings with a fear in his heart that left him shivering in the sheets. No one would ever know. He would sooner die.
He ran a hand down his face. Not yet six in the morning. His alarm would go off in another four minutes. He turned off the alarm and sat in the sheets for a moment, ruthlessly sweeping the last remnants of the nightmare from the corners of his mind. Today was an important day for JC2; he needed to be clear-headed and composed. Today, they were integrating two new members. One of them was Calyx Starr.
He slid from the bed and began to dress because he needed the distraction of movement. He pulled on blue sweatpants and a JCPD T-shirt. He tugged a windbreaker over his shoulders before kneeling to tie on running shoes. The laces shook, refusing to cooperate. He stared at his trembling hands a moment before curling them into fists. Not now, he told himself angrily.
He went to the connecting bathroom and ran the tap. Cool water flowed over his cupped hands before he splashed his face with it. Go away, he demanded, throwing more water in his face as if he could dash away the memories. Don't make me remember.
When he raised his dripping face and looked in the mirror, he didn't like what he saw. He looked his age. Being the youngest team leader in JCPD's history, that was not a good thing. Water dripped from his soaked brown bangs -- too long, he reflected distantly -- and spilled onto his pale cheeks. He looked like his mother. That's what he had been told. The wide brown eyes -- currently sunken from lack of restful sleep -- were definitely hers. So were the lashes, much to his embarrassment. Her mouth -- yes, generous lips now tightened to a pale slash. Maybe even her cheekbones. But the rest was his father's -- from the skin that tanned so easily to the firm, stubborn jaw. A chin that kept him from being taken too lightly, from veering into "pretty".
A face that was not his. It stared back at him, looking too tired, too strained with the attempt to be taken seriously. It was a face that creased easily into an expression of frustration. There were so many things he could have done differently, so many ways he could have spared more lives. The thoughts took their toll on days like this. Black had to turn away.
When he jogged downstairs, he was met with a silence normally filled with the sounds of his teammates. The eerie quiet that met him now had pervaded the house for almost a week. This morning, he hadn't the strength to break the silence on his own. He let himself out of the house without a sound.
The air was crisp and redolent of smoke and the smell of burning leaves and wood. Fall was fast approaching, but for now, it was like any other early morning in Juxtapose City. A cold, harsh sun was slowly burning away the last traces of run-off fog from the bay. The air was still. He burst through the white clouds of his own breath as he began to run down the empty street of their neighborhood.
Lucas used to complain that they lived in the ghetto.
"For all the money they spend on our equipment, you'd think they could afford to get us digs in a decent part of town," the agent had grumbled. He'd made the mistake of parking his electro-craft on the street and woken up the next morning to find it vandalized. "I mean, come on -- we're important."
It had been a hollow complaint, Black remembered. Private citizens provided JC2 with a housing arrangement to be envied. Yes, the buildings he currently ran past might have seen better days -- some were failing, all were old and had never been remodeled. But JC2's building had been discreetly renovated. It looked as old as its neighbors on the outside, but inside, the connecting wings had been gutted and customized to provide his team with everything they needed.
Jumping a gutter and briefly skirting a sidewalk, Black wondered if Lucas would have been similarly disappointed with his funeral service scheduled for tomorrow. Having attended one such service already, Black knew it would be a simple affair with a quick speech, attended by only a few higher-ranking officers in the department and the survivors of his team.
Survivors. That's all that it came down to, didn't it? Whoever was left standing got to pick up the pieces and try to continue on. He didn't want to be the last one left.
Don't think about it. Think about . . . Calyx Starr.
It was a distraction that almost sent him stumbling over a hubcap that was lying on the side of the street. An empath for JC2 . . . What was Capt. Dickerson thinking? If Black allowed himself such indulgences, he would say that Starr would end up being his personal albatross, his bane. But that was thinking foolishly. He told himself that nothing could bother him if he didn't want it to. It was all a matter of control: controlling Starr, controlling his own reactions to the empath. And, yes -- controlling the Bliss he and the others would have to use when dealing with Starr. That last would be the most difficult.
So difficult, in fact, that if it had been any other person besides Dickerson demanding this, Black would have told that person to take his empath and shove it. But this was Dickerson's game and Black was his star player. The man had done Black a favor no one else in this world would have done. Questioning when his debt to the older man would be repaid was a waste of time. Black rounded a street corner, picking up his pace. He could never satisfy that debt. Ever. Black owed Dickerson his life. Whatever Dickerson wanted of him, whatever the captain decided he wanted Black to do for him, Black would do it. It wasn't a question.
He came to the two-mile stretch of street that was shadowed by the overhead tram that ran the length of Juxtapose City. He usually took note of the time at this point, setting personal goals each time he ran this circuit. Today, he ignored his watch and simply ran as fast as he could, forgetting about pacing himself or the fact that there was another mile to go after he finished this part. He knew he would make it home if it killed him. For now, he wanted to run so hard he could think of nothing else but his breath laboring in and out of his lungs, of the asphalt turning to fire beneath his feet, of the heavy swing of his arms by his chest as he reached for that unattainable relief from his thoughts --
You're all mine.
Desperation made him push harder, faster. When he'd passed the liquor store that marked the end of the two miles, he kept up his punishing pace. His lungs and throat screamed at the stab of the cold air. His thighs burned. Physical pain he could handle. Strength and sheer will allowed one to endure almost anything. It was the other he didn't want . . .
He pushed himself faster. Faster and faster until he rounded the last corner and the familiar grey square of JC2's housing complex burst upon him like an exuberant friend.
Gasping, he slowed to a walk, his legs trembling. He raised his arms above his head as he strained for breath. His face was so hot not even the sweat drying on his skin could cool him. He almost smiled at the blankness of his mind. Almost, until he saw the figure sitting on the steps of Black's building.
He braced his hands on his hips and eyed Jake warily. "You're up early," he panted, pausing on the sidewalk.
His teammate and sometime lover, shrugged. He was wrapped in a heavy coat with jeans underneath and ragged sneakers on his feet. "So are you." Jake panned the other man with his eyes, taking note of Black's harsh breathing. "Hard run today, huh?"
Black knew where this was going. "Can it, Jake," he warned as he bent over his knee to stretch.
"You only try to break the sound barrier when you're upset over something," the other man continued, unfazed by the warning. "Is it the new guys joining today?" In a quieter voice, he added, "Is it Starr?"
"I said, leave it alone," Black snapped, his hard-fought equilibrium starting to waver.
"Oh, no you don't," Jake shot back, standing up. "I can see those wheels turning, telling you to push me away. Not gonna happen, Black. I'm on your side, remember? I'm not trying to weaken you, I'm trying to help you. You keep it all bottled up like you do and you're gonna explode one of these days. JC2's leader can't afford that risk."
Black stormed up to the other man and though Jake was taller and currently stood on a step above him, Black's glare was no less powerful for the height disadvantage. "Don't you dare threaten me with losing the team!" he snarled. "Just because you and I fuck once in a while doesn't give you any rights to me, Jake."
Hurt made the other man twist his lips. "That's right, I'm just a convenient lay. I don't own any part of you, do I?"
You're all mine.
The voice from Black's nightmare drifted on the cool morning air, sending chills over his skin. He took a breath and unclenched his fists, forcing his body to unwind from the tight spool Jake had wrapped it around.
"This isn't something I want to talk about," he muttered, his tone forestalling more conversation.
He waited for the man to step away, but Jake wouldn't budge, daring Black to push him out of the way. Black looked up into the other man's golden eyes. Fight me, Jake's eyes demanded. But Black knew better than that. He deflated the situation by sliding sideways to slip around Jake. As he let himself into the building, he heard his older teammate sigh in defeat.
He left the door open for Jake even though the man didn't live there. JC2's housing consisted of two main buildings shaped into a U around a central courtyard. A narrow catwalk ran over the courtyard, connecting the largest bedrooms of each building. Black lived in one of those bedrooms in the first building the guys had nicknamed the Clubhouse. Jake, Bee, and Haney lived in the second building -- the Dugout -- and it was Jake's bedroom at which the catwalk ended. Across town, JC1 lived in identically planned housing. [ JC2's house]
Jake followed Black into the kitchen. Black noted that Jake seemed uneasy at how quiet the Clubhouse was now that Lucas and Max were gone. He sincerely hoped the older man wouldn't comment on it.
"When I provoke you, you're supposed to take it out on me, you know. That's the healthy thing to do."
Black opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a bottle of clean water. "Jake --"
The other man raised his hands. "I know, I know. Shut the hell up. You're doing a kick ass job of leading us and all I seem to want to do is rattle you to prove that you're human. What's the point, huh?"
Black knew, but he wasn't about to voice it. Jake was growing too attached. He took a healthy swallow of water, studying the light-haired man as he did so. When he lowered the bottle again, he met Jake's eyes. "I think you and I should take a break." He didn't temper it with 'for a while', or 'for the time being'. He didn't pull punches that way.
Jake dropped his eyes to the countertop, shaking his head slowly as a bitter smile curved his lips. "Yeah, fuck you, too, Black. Alright, you want a break from me? You got it. After all, you've got Dickerson's toy coming in today. I'm old news."
Black stared back. "Don't ever say that again."
Jake looked up at him and this time his smile was almost sad. "You know what the funny thing is? I know why you're doing this and it has nothing to do with me or Starr, does it? It's all those fucked up notions you have about responsibility and duty and all that shit. I've got news for you: Max and Lucas aren't dead because of you. If something happens to me or any of the other guys in the future, I doubt it will be because of you, either. We can take care of ourselves. I can take care of myself."
Black's eyes didn't waver. "I trust you to do your job. I just don't want you to forget that that's why you and I are here. We're not here for each other; we're here for the job."
"So it's wrong that I care if you get hurt," Jake returned evenly. "You're saying it's not part of my job to care whether or not I think you're pushing yourself too hard, even if it might endanger the team."
Black didn't blink. "Your job is to put your life in my hands. My job is to see that I don't lose it. If you question my ability to lead this team, you know you are always welcome to inform Capt. Dickerson of your opinion."
Jake smiled bitterly. "And get myself canned or demoted to street duty? No thanks."
Black didn't bother refuting the assumption. It was probably true.
Their eyes met in the ensuing silence. Jake eventually sighed in capitulation. "Stressed or not, you can still handle JC2 better than anyone I know. I don't want you to lose it. That wasn't my point in coming over here." He moved to the front door and paused with it open. "You take care of all of us," Jake said quietly, "when're you gonna let any of us take care of you?"
Black tried to think of things he could say to make Jake understand that such concerns weren't needed or deserved. He tried to think of ways of explaining the unexplainable. The front door shut before he could come up with a single thing. He looked down at his hand and studied its fine tremor. He could never reveal those secrets to anyone. Not in a million years.
"Please, God, tell me it's Haney who made breakfast."
Bee raised his butter knife threateningly. "I can kill you with this in three seconds." He dipped the weapon into the communal butter dish. "But for now, I need it to eat with. And for your information, these are Haney's pancakes, but only because I was late getting ready."
"Well, thank God for alarm clocks that don't work," Jake breathed, dropping into one of the kitchen chairs and grabbing his silverware. "No offense, Bee, but your flapjacks pull the fillings from my teeth."
"Screw you, I love 'em."
"Yeah, but you love mine better, don'cha, big guy?" Haney teased, one green eye winking at the large man. He speared a couple of pancakes and tossed them onto his own plate. "Fastest way to your heart, Bee. I learned that a long time ago."
Bee colored slightly, his eyes dancing nervously to Jake. Jake rolled his eyes. As if he didn't know that the two men fooled around. "Please," was all he said, throwing a disgusted look at the big man. "Give me a little credit for not being a complete idiot, would you?"
Bee's blush faded, and he grinned around a mouthful of pancake. "Wish I could, but it's kinda hard what with you actually being an idiot and all."
Haney passed the syrup to Jake. "So where's Black? He wanted a meeting, right?"
Jake scowled, his humor fading. "Probably still trying to get the pole out of his ass," he muttered into his plate.
"I'm right here."
Jake didn't bother to look guilty. He didn't care. His knew his eyes glowed with childish petulance as he looked up at their leader but he couldn't help himself. Black left him feeling nervous and unsure of himself without even trying.
Because Black tries so damn hard to be perfect and you know you don't give a rat's ass about such things.
"I actually managed to keep three pancakes out of Bee's mouth," Haney said with an earnest grin. The youngest-looking member of JC2 handed their leader a full plate. Haney looked like a kid and they always teased him as though he were one, but Jake doubted that the other guys even remembered that the youngest member of their group was, in fact, Black. Wasn't he something crazy, like, twenty-three? No wonder everyone hated him down at police headquarters. Black had managed to snag a job other officers had been working years to get.
None of Jake's admiration showed on his face, however, as he regarded the other man. He was still pissed at Black for 'dumping' him.
"Last night, we met the replacements for Max and Lucas," Black said quietly, leaving his silverware on the table and sitting there with his hands resting carefully on the table top. "They're joining us this afternoon."
Haney and Bee exchanged glances. "So soon?" Haney breathed, a touch of betrayal in his voice. "It hasn't even been a week."
"The undesirables of Juxtapose City don't care about providing us with mourning time," Black told him, but his voice was shaded with understanding. "I'm sorry, Haney, but JC2 needs to be a full team as quickly as possible."
"You're right, I know." Haney screwed up his face, his pale blonde hairline coming down to meet his brows. "Just seems so cold, you know? We haven't even had the service for the guys and already we're deciding who fills their beds."
"Speaking of which," Jake said, carefully cutting into his pancakes, "where are the new guys going? Max and Lucas were both in The Clubhouse. I, for one, vote for a change in room assignments."
"Room assignments remain the same," Black said, not looking at Jake. "I see no reason for them to change, and every reason why I need to keep the new members with me."
"Sure you do," Jake mumbled, hating that he sounded like a jilted lover.
Bee threw a curious look at him. "So, uh, who're the new guys? Anyone we know?"
Black nodded. "I've uploaded their files to your Personal Retrieval Units. Bee, you may be familiar with Wolf Sola? I think you worked with him once when you were in the Department."
Bee gave a theatrical shudder. "Aw, hell, Black. That guy --"
"-- is an ass," Jake finished for him. "I'm taking bets on how long it is before he tries to play King of the Mountain with you, Black."
Black frowned at him, the idea of anyone challenging his authority apparently not even a consideration to him. "Sola is a good agent and knows his place. He has never been accused of insubordination and I don't expect it now."
"Yeah, but this time JC2 is at stake," Haney threw in, looking worriedly at Black. "You know how many guys want your job, Black."
"It won't happen."
Jake snorted, saying nothing. With anyone else, he would have considered the statement to be a reflection of arrogance. With Black, he knew it was because the dark-haired man truly trusted that Sola would behave as he should. For dealing with the scum of the City as often as he did, Black could be surprisingly trusting. In Jake's mind, it was just another reason why their leader needed Jake and the others to watch out for him.
"Who's the other newbie?" Bee asked, soaking up the last of the syrup on his plate with a wedge of toast. "Someone else I know?"
Black almost smiled then. "I doubt it. His name is Calyx Starr."
"He's an empath," Jake cut in, smirking.
Bee stopped chewing.
Haney screwed up his face again. "An empath? As in --"
"Psypath," Jake said, enjoying this more than he'd expected to. He could feel Black glaring at him, but he didn't give a shit. "As in fucked in the head and hooked on Bliss." He kicked back his chair to balance on its hind legs. "You shoulda see him last night, all strung out and dressed like some street whore. Dickerson --"
"Shut. Your. Mouth."
Jake let his chair fall forward with a dull thunk, his grin fading beneath the look Black leveled at him. Bee and Haney sat, frozen.
"Starr is an official member of JC2. If I hear you slandering him again, you're facing disciplinary action." Black's steel voice cut through the silence of the kitchen. "If you have a problem with the new members, Sgt. Cole, deal with it. If you can't, I'll recommend your transfer to another unit."
Sgt. Cole. Jake mentally shivered. Black was definitely pissed to be addressing him so formally. And he'd never before threatened Jake with transfer. Never.
"It won't happen again, sir," he said somberly.
Black's eyes shuttered, flashing with something that could have been frustration. Jake instantly regretted his big mouth. Black had told him last night how difficult this was. Now here Jake was being a jerk about it.
"Starr and Sola will be contributing members of this team," Black told them as he stood up, his plate untouched. "I expect you all to assist them in integrating. If you cannot do that, please send your transfer requests to my PRU."
The three men watched in subdued silence as Black left the building to return to the Clubhouse. After a moment, a piece of toast struck Jake between the eyes.
"You sure as hell know how to piss him off!" Haney snapped at him. "What's your problem, anyway?"
Jake shoved his plate away angrily. "You have no idea. Both of these new guys are nothing but trouble. Black's already had a run-in with Starr, and Sola is just a loose cannon waiting to explode somewhere. We gotta watch out for each other on this, guys."
"Jake, are you a deliberate dumb-fuck or just an accidental one?" Bee sighed. "Didn't you hear our fearless leader? Integration, Jake. That means working together. Us three and the new guys."
"You don't understand," Jake mumbled, running a hand through his hair in agitation. Something bad is going down and even Black knows it. But he couldn't articulate why he felt this way, so he sat at their breakfast table and fumed. "Just keep an eye on Black, okay?"
"Thought that was your job," Haney said cautiously.
Jake gave a grim smile. "Not anymore, kid. Not anymore."
Three hours later, Black stood on the steps of the Clubhouse, waiting for the arrival of Sola's electro-craft. He'd spent the time between breakfast and now going over Sola's previous evaluations, looking for something to jump out at him and give him justification for the slight unease he felt over the man.
When every opinion he'd received on Sola had been a negative one, Black knew it was time to take notice. Last night, when informed he was being transferred, the agent had been nothing but professional, thanking Black for the opportunity. But faces could lie, words could deceive, thus the check through old files. But after a thorough investigation into the man's history with the Department, nothing had caught Black's eye. If anything, his initial opinion that Sola was an excellent agent was reiterated in the man's files.
Just a bad personality, Black decided, rubbing his hands slightly to warm them. He could deal with that. Black needed the man's police skills, not his ability to make friends. It might make the team's transition that much harder, but he trusted the others to do what they should. He thought briefly of Jake. Most of them, anyway.
Black sighed, not wanting to dwell on the older man, but finding his thoughts drawn there as though to a sink hole. He should never have gotten involved in a physical relationship with his teammate. Worse, a subordinate. Black knew better and he'd resisted, he truly had. When the team was being put together by Dickerson, Black had noted the lingering look Jake had given him upon their first introduction to each other. He'd known to be wary.
After three months and double as many missions successfully completed, Black had thought he'd made his disinterest clear to the other man. Jake, however, seemed to see only what he wanted to. Despite Black's efforts to avoid being alone with the man, Jake had cornered him one night in the workout room that spanned the back of JC2's housing. The memory, five months old, still made Black angry . . .
In the mirrors that lined the far wall, he watched the door open from the Dugout side. With dread, he knew who it would be even before the familiar light-brown hair poked itself inside. Black kept his face expressionless as Jake regarded him in the reflection.
"What are you up to, Black?"
"What does it look like?"
Undeterred by the frosty reply, Jake stepped inside and closed the door behind him. He was dressed, like Black, in navy shorts and a grey T-shirt, standard-issue from the Department. He had a towel slung around his neck and gripped it with both hands as he watched Black do his bicep curls.
"You've got nice definition going on there."
Black eyed him in the mirror. "That sounded like the opening of a gay porn flick."
Jake cocked his head, smiling enigmatically. "Did it? I wouldn't know."
He studied Black in the mirror, waiting for a response, a heated denial. Black didn't waste his breath with either. He pretended that Jake wasn't there and finished his set in silence. Maybe if he ignored the other man, he would get the hint and go away. He put away the weights and started to reach for new ones. No such luck.
"You need a spotter? Surely you want to do more than free weights?"
Black hesitated, hating that he hesitated. He didn't want Jake to affect him. He couldn't, not while being the other man's commanding officer. "Sure," he said crisply. He wasn't about to let Jake intimidate him.
Jake grinned and moved to the bench. "How much you want?"
Black told him and waited while the other man added the weights to the bar. He was nervous and didn't want to be. Chiding himself for feeling as though he were being stalked, he carefully lay back on the bench and accepted the bar onto his palms. He'd started with a lower weight than usual, unconcerned with impressing Jake with how much he could bench, more concerned with being able to control himself.
He didn't look up at the other man, focusing his eyes on the ceiling tiles and not on the golden gaze that he could feel moving over his face and down his body. Dammit, this was a bad idea.
"That's it, keep it up," Jake urged in a low voice. "You're lookin' good. Just two more -- you got it."
Black hid a scowl. He'd never noticed how sexual the simple words of encouragement could be if you were in that frame of mind. Careful to avoid any accidental contact with Jake, he slid off the bench and added more weight as he was instructed. Staring fixedly at the metal bar, he lowered it into Jake's waiting hands.
Jake was pumping a lot. His breath came out in controlled, explosive bursts. Black tried not to notice how the veins popped out beneath the golden skin of Jake's biceps and forearms, how the muscles stretched rope-like beneath his thin T-shirt. Unlike Jake, Black didn't say a word while the man completed his set. He didn't want anything he said to be construed as the wrong kind of encouragement.
After Black had helped guide the bar back into its rests, Jake sat up, panting slightly. His skin had reddened somewhat with exertion.
"Whew! That's good!" Jake exclaimed, feeling his chest muscles through his T-shirt. "Got a nice burn starting." He squeezed himself slightly, his thumb grazing over an erect nipple. Black kept his eyes on the ground as they traded places, but again, he felt the golden gaze moving over him.
He lay back on the bench as Jake changed the weight for him. The simple task seemed to take a long time. Impatient, he rolled his eyes upward only to discover that Jake had moved slightly forward and now stood straddling the top of the bench. The position made the legs of his shorts gape open and Black could not help following the line of muscular thigh upwards to the secrets of shadowed flesh. When he realized what he was seeing, Black flushed, his eyes shooting away only to collide with Jake's.
"Ready?" the older man said in a strange voice.
Flustered and angry with himself, Black gave a stiff nod and accepted the bar onto his palms. He tried to concentrate on balancing the bar, on his form as he steadily lowered and raised the weight. Anything but the awareness of Jake standing over him with legs spread, his crotch just a glance away. Black's nostrils flared and he could almost catch the scent of Jake's arousal. Three more and I'm out of here, Black told himself, willing to sacrifice pride to escape this situation.
But he was too late. Jake abruptly disappeared from his place above Black's head and reappeared at the other end of the bench, kneeling between Black's spread thighs.
"What are you --" Black's eyes widened, his grip on the bar wavering as Jake boldly cupped him through his shorts. "What the fuck are you doing?" he panted, suddenly lacking the strength to lift the bar into its rest.
Jake stroked him harder, bring him to full arousal with ridiculous ease. "I'm tired of pussy-footing around," the older man told him in a husky voice. He kneaded the stiff flesh, making Black bite back a moan. "I've been hard for you since the day we met. I know you've noticed me, too. I've got the proof nice and stiff right here before me."
"Get you hands off me!" Black hissed, trying to close his knees, but blocked by Jake's body between them.
To his shock, Jake yanked the waistband of Black's shorts down his hips, freeing his trapped erection. "Tell me that again in thirty seconds," Jake murmured, squeezing Black's hard flesh. "I don't think you really want me to stop this, do you? Sir?"
He added the honorific in a sultry purr, the word shooting straight to Black's groin. With a final surge, Black forced his shaking arms to lift the bar into place. He sat up quickly, intending to punch the other man in the face, only to fall back with a harsh groan as a hot, wet heat suddenly swallowed him whole.
"Don't," he moaned. "Jake, stop it . . . Sgt. Cole --"
Jake's response was to suck him harder, taking him even deeper down his throat. Black gripped the narrow sides of the bench, knowing he should stop this, knowing this was against every rule in his personal book. But Jake was too aggressive, too intent on getting what he wanted to allow Black the strength to refuse.
A hand encircled the base of his cock, squeezing him where Jake's mouth didn't cover. Another hand caressed the flat washboard of Black's stomach. Black caught that hand, not wanting the touch that was, strangely enough, more intimate than the one around his cock. With hard, skillful sucking, Jake brought Black swiftly to the edge of his orgasm. Jake lifted his head, lips swollen and wet.
"You get off on fast and furious, don't you?" Jake panted, rising up and quickly stripping off his own shorts. Black didn't know what he meant, but didn't care when Jake pulled a small tube from the pocket of his shorts and squeezed its contents onto his hand.
Black braced himself on his wrists behind him as Jake rubbed the cool lubricant over Black's jutting flesh. He should stop this. He couldn't fuck a subordinate. Black knew all of this, but he didn't utter a word of protest as he watched Jake reach behind him and careful loosen himself with his own fingers. If anything, Black grew more aroused, more intent on breaking all of the rules he had set for himself. Since JC2 was technically not an official part of the Department, the same rules didn't apply to them. But Black enforced his own, and they definitely forbade this.
"No frills fucking, that's what you want, isn't it, sir?" Jake rasped as he moved up the bench to straddle Black's hips.
"Enough with the 'sir'," Black bit out. "If you want to do this, do it."
Jake's lips curved into a triumphant smirk before he lowered himself onto his leader's swollen shaft. Both men groaned as the hot column of flesh found its home in Jake's body. Black shut his eyes, hating the sudden vulnerability he felt as Jake grabbed him by the shoulders and began to rise up and down. Black bit his cheeks, holding back the sounds his throat wanted to release. He was afraid the sounds would be too telling, would reveal how very long it had been since he had last done this with someone, since he had last dared to allow someone to touch him.
He needn't have worried. Jake was lost in his own world, eagerly riding Black with a hunger that revealed a subtle but definite shift in power. When Black tightened his hands about the older man's waist, guiding him into a more satisfying rhythm, Jake fell into it without protest, groaning heavily. Soon, it was Black who dictated how hard, how deep, how fast. Black was in control again, and it eased him enough to allow him to find the release that had been hovering on the edge of his consciousness.
With a throaty groan, he shoved his hips up one final time, shooting his seed into the body above him. Jake grabbed his own cock and pumped it furiously until he, too, shouted out his pleasure.
Untangling himself from the other man a bit more rudely than he probably should have, Black reflected that it hadn't been as bad as he'd feared. He'd still been in control. Nothing had changed.
And indeed, nothing had changed for him in the five months since, Black realized as he watched the traffic pass their building. He knew the same wasn't true of Jake, hence their falling out this morning. But that wasn't Black's concern. Attachments in their field were never a good idea. It was why none of the men had families. If someone existed in the world whose death could distract you from your job, you were vulnerable. Black could not allow that.
Comforted by the certainty that he'd made the right decision with Jake, Black turned his head as a familiar-looking electro-craft pulled up to the sidewalk. Black walked down and leaned into its opened passenger side window. To anyone watching, he looked as though he were scoring a hit, or more innocently, offering directions.
"Got a gift for you from the Captain," said an officer Black had seen with increasing regularity at the station. He had dirty blonde hair cut short like a soldier's and easy-going features that would get him pummeled on the street. His name tag read, Berkley. "He didn't want this in the same vehicle as the empath, I guess."
Black looked down at the metal briefcase lying in the passenger seat. He knew what was inside it. Dickerson was right in not sending it along with Starr. Black had seen addicts engage in hit-and-run attacks on school children while in pursuit of their next hit.
Grimly, he retrieved the case. "Thanks. Is Starr coming along then?"
Berkley nodded. "They left just after I did. Should be here any minute."
Black gave his reluctant thanks and watched the cruiser drive away. He looked down at the case in his hands. He knew there was probably enough Bliss inside to make him a small fortune if he sold it on the streets. Enough to sell for a tidy sum and still have plenty leftover to play with.
Black's stomach churned and he nearly threw the case into the street. He had never before hated his job, thinking it a blessing, an opportunity to make things right. But right now, holding Bliss in his hands and waiting for the arrival of Calyx Starr, Black almost wished that Dickerson hadn't interfered. He could have saved the captain the trouble of keeping Black from the fate of Hangway. Because if all went as badly as Black feared it would, he would end up there eventually, anyway.