Black Fire

by Julnick

| 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20


Chapter 16 [Top] [Next]

David opened his eyes. It was still dark in his room, but the darkness was thinning. He twisted his head and winced at the bright glow of the digital alarm clock. Almost five. It was Saturday. His eyes felt gritty, his body ached, more exhausted than he'd gone to bed. He groaned and rolled out of bed.

The living room glowed more brightly in the weakening darkness. David rolled his shoulders, his eyes stinging even at the faint light.

His feet ached as he padded across the hard wood floor and around the bar into the kitchen. He reached out, absently brushing his fingers across the counter top as he walked past the stove and reached for a water glass.

His fingers brushed something out of place on the dark counter, and he snatched at it. A sheet of paper. He frowned and pulled the refrigerator door open, squinting, he studied the paper in the spilled light.

He let the refrigerator door close with a soft thump and fell against it, letting his back slide down the smooth surface until he was sitting, knees tight against his chest. The words were invisible once more in the darkness but he rubbed the paper between his fingers, letting his head fall back heavily against the molded plastic behind him.

"Fuck..."

*****

Rick reached out, lingering paralysis of dreams still numbing his fingers, he snatched at the glowing buzz of his phone and knocked it onto the floor.

He cursed thickly and groped along the floor, his fingers finally closing around the plastic case. He squinted at the display, sighed and flipped it open.

"What?"

"He ran again." David's voice was unnaturally calm, at odds with his words, the dichotomy agitated Rick's brain enough to open his eyes fully and blink in the darkness.

He rolled onto his back and threw one arm across his forehead. "So? Follow him. That's what he wants."

"I don't think so. Not this time..."

Rick was silent for a moment. "Why not?"

"No drama, just left a note on the counter. I doubt he expected me to find it before morning."

Rick was surprised at the cold knot that formed in his belly. He didn't care about this kid. "What does the note say?"

"Not much. Thanks for taking care of him. Sorry about everything."

"Not sorry enough to tell us where he went, though, huh?"

"If he went back..."

"I don't think he did. After that incident in the alley... He dumped his collar."

Rick could nearly hear the responses to that being considered and discarded before David spoke. Apparently choosing to let it go, he said, "He might be done, but Keith isn't."

Rick flinched at the sound of the name. He kicked the sheets off and swung his legs over the edge of the couch. "Alright." Police weren't an option. He knew they weren't an option. And antagonizing David with the suggestion didn't seem satisfying enough to bother with at the moment. He found his jeans on the armchair and stumbled into them, holding the phone awkwardly against his shoulder. "Alright." He cursed under his breath, nearly losing his balance as his foot tangled in his pant leg. "You check the bars, I'll check the alleys. What time is it?"

"Little after five."

"Mike's up, he goes running. You call him, I'll call Jack. Dragging him out of bed before dawn... Of the two of us, I've a better chance of survival..."

"Why's that?"

Rick grabbed the phone and shifted it to his other ear, baring his teeth in a vicious smile. "I'm hotter."

*****

Jack was still growling ominously as Rick crossed the empty downtown pay lot in the misty grey of "too damn early."

The rigid set to his jaw and the piercing blue stare did uncomfortable things to Rick's stomach. He'd known Jack for five years. It was still hard to look him in the eyes.

As Rick moved into comfortable speaking range, the older man pulled the worn, grey army cap from his head and scrubbed a calloused hand through the thick, shorn pelt of silver hair, still peppered with black. Rick ran his tongue over his lips, his mouth gone uncomfortably dry. He flinched as Jack, gripping the bill of the cap, thwacked it hard against a denim-clad thigh.

Rick swallowed and found his voice. "Thanks for coming."

The man huffed and pulled the cap back on and low over his face. He slapped dust from heavy palms. Rick took a halting breath and searched for a comfortable place to focus his eyes. "You know, you're going to owe me something serious after this one, boy."

Rick eased the reins on the whirl of emotions in his belly, the tantalizing mixture of fear and desire brightened his eyes and hinted at the edges of his coy smile. "You know I'm good for it, sir."

The older man's stony countenance finally broke open in a devastating grin. "And worth the wait, hm?"

Rick's smile widened. "In so many ways."

Jack smiled, then rolled his shoulders, his body language shifting. "Well. I'm a patient man."

Rick sensed the change and transitioned smoothly, dropping the innuendo, he shoved his hands into his coat pockets and walked closer. "And a good one. You know you'll be the first I call."

"The second, boy, and proud to be in that number." He raised an eyebrow in admonition. Rick felt a painful tug in his chest and managed a half-smile. Jack saved him from speaking. He cleared his throat and shifted once more, the mantle of professionalism settling seamlessly over his demeanor. "I made some phone calls. Didn't get much, usual suspects. Got a couple good hits around the bus station."

Rick shook his head. "He's not an experienced hustler, he wouldn't know to go there, yet."

"Doesn't take long..." Jack fixed him with a long stare then shrugged. "Few other maybes..."

*****

Chapter 16 [Top] [Next]

Evan was shivering. His heart pounded hard against his ribs as he edged along the rough wall of the alley. It stank of trash and an afternoon thunderstorm had left puddles of mire that splashed over his boots as he walked. He glanced at a doorway, two concrete steps raised the entryway from the muck. He hesitated. The sun would be up soon, his eyes burned for sleep. He turned from the doorway, shrugged his hands deeper into his jacket and inched out toward the street.

He fingered the twenty in his pocket. The only money he had. The only money he'd ever earned. His stomach tightened uncomfortably and he pushed unnecessary thoughts away. Food and shelter. He took a deep breath, feeling the simplicity of focus strengthen him.

He set his jaw, thrusting his chin up and strode out onto the sidewalk.

The darkened window of a dingy bookshop that catered to "alternative" tastes bordered him to the right. Across the street, a latex toy and apparel shop was gated down and dark for the night. The sky was showing the faintest hints of gray, but the yellow glow of street lamps still held sway over the street. Stop lights bled into tendrils of mist that caressed the barred, painted glass of store fronts and the dimly lit entrances to bars that didn't advertise.

Vague intentions drove his steps forward, down the street, past the front entrance of one of those bars. No alcohol was served after two in Colorado. With law enforcement looking for reasons to shut them down, these bars were very careful to follow the very letter of the law. The spirit, however, could be perverted with supreme creativity such as only money could inspire. Three hours past closing and men still trailed out paired or in small groups, or sometimes, alone.

Evan eased himself around the corner onto a dark side street. He crossed it and edged up beside the adjacent building. A couple of trees and unkempt shrubbery provided shadowy cover. He eased down to a crouch and set his shoulder against the corner of the building, he had a good sight line on the men leaving the bar, and enough cover to make himself unobtrusive, yet visible enough in the seeping of street lights that standing would be enough to announce his presence, and intentions, to anyone of a similar mind.

Evan turned his head, following a pair of men too drunk to walk. Or too high. Or both. They leaned heavily against each other, stumbling far into the street before weaving back onto the sidewalk, muttering and laughing softly to each other. He watched them for several minutes until they finally crossed the deserted street against the light and disappeared past hulking buildings.

As Evan turned his attention back to the bar, a man, already less than fifty feet from him, caught his eyes and held the gaze just long enough to belie casual interest. Evan felt his heart thump heavily in his chest. The man was old, but in a sexy way. He was dressed in faded jeans and heavily worn cowboy boots. His hands were deep in his pockets, an old denim jacket gapped open over a dark t-shirt that traced the curves of pecs and hinted at sharply defined abs. Evan let his eyes trail over the man for a moment and rose to his feet as the man crossed the street, angling slightly, his gaze now steady and definite, fixed on Evan's face.

Evan lifted his chin in an oblique greeting. The man didn't respond. His eyes shifted, taking in the surroundings quickly, his manner cautious but sure. When he stepped onto the sidewalk on Evan's side of the street, he tipped his head to the right and turned, striding down into the shadowy depths of the side street.

His heart was hammering painfully against his ribs, but Evan trailed after him, forcing his mind and his body into the old, familiar steps of a dance he'd danced many times before. Only this time, it was survival.

*****

The man slowed his pace enough for Evan to move into step with him, then took three more paces and stopped. He turned, he was tall enough that Evan had to tilt his chin to look at him directly. He quickly found it uncomfortable and ducked his head, looking up at the man through his tangled bangs.

"Hey."

As Evan spoke, the man looked down at him. The gaze was piercing and struck a chord of icy fear through Evan's gut. Strangely, though, it wasn't the primal terror of looking into the eyes of a predator. It was a more achingly nostalgic dread of squirming under a father's admonishing glare. "You working tonight?"

The man's voice was deep and held the faintest trace of huskiness. Evan felt his belly melt at the sound of it. He closed his mouth quickly to cut off a stammering reply. He swallowed and licked his lips quickly. "Maybe. What're you looking for?"

The man shrugged slightly, his eyes still boring intently into Evan's. "Depends. What're you offering?"

Evan felt his breath quicken and glanced at the lit street now a good block away. "Um... I'm good on my knees." He felt a flush creep up his face and he clenched his teeth, stirring the embers in his belly, burning back the humiliation with defiance.

But the man showed no disdain. He merely raised his eyebrows in a quick acknowledgement and said, "How much for being good on your knees?"

Evan felt the blood drain from his face. Reality slapped him hard and he stumbled. Tossing about, he felt the edge of the worn bill in his pocket and ran his lip beneath his teeth. "Twenty." The word came out breathless and barely audible. He kept his eyes focused on the metal button midway down the man's jacket.

"Twenty," he heard the man echo above his head. He couldn't bring his gaze to the man's face, there was something in the voice that he couldn't judge. Too little? Too much? Evan shifted his feet. He should have asked for more. One trick, he could earn enough for a bed and food for two days. He flicked his tongue over his lips. "For sixty, I'm good at anything you want."

"Anything I want?" There was a curious edge in the man's tone.

Evan glanced back toward the bar. He knew the question being asked. He looked up at the man's face, his belly was an ice storm. "Anything," he said with a conviction at odds with the tremors fighting their way into his fingers and past his knees.

"Sixty bucks for anything..."

Evan flinched on the words. He glanced up as the man reached into his jacket and pulled out a leather bi-fold. He felt his mouth go dry and swallowed, trying to work up enough saliva to earn his pay.

In a practiced move, the man opened the wallet and turned it outward. The shadows darkened it, but the gold ridges caught the light. Evan froze for a moment, the minute details of the heavy badge etching themselves painfully into his mind. He took a stumbling step backward and the man grabbed a handful of his jacket, folding the badge back into his pocket with the other hand.

He pulled Evan roughly forward and toward the building. "Hands on the wall. Spread your feet." He shoved him roughly into position even as Evan stumbled to cooperate. The cop patted roughly down Evan's arms and legs, over his chest, pockets, waistband. Evan felt his face tingling and realized his panting breath was barely reaching his lungs. His arms and legs were trembling. The cop grabbed him by the back of his jacket and pulled him back onto the sidewalk. "You got I.D.?"

Evan fished into his front pocket, his chest tightening rapidly. He offered the I.D. he'd traded favors to get. The man flicked a bright, compact flashlight onto the face of the card, then clicked it off. He fixed Evan with a hard look. "This your real name?"

Evan shook his head, "No, sir." He felt the tears rising and ducked his head into his knees as wracking sobs tore abruptly through his chest.

*****

The officer said nothing for some time. Anguish eventually faded to embarrassment and Evan slowly reined his terror and grief back deep into his gut. Finally, only trembling sniffles still betrayed him.

He scrubbed the tears from his face with damp sleeves and glanced up just as the cop turned his head abruptly, eyes focusing on something up the street toward the lights of the main avenue.

Evan looked as well and his belly knotted with a sickening mixture of relief, hope and dread. The familiar lines of the slight figure fitted themselves desperately to Evan's mind. The light was behind the man, casting the face and the striking, grey-green eyes into shadow. But Evan knew the stride. The casual, coy tilt of the head. The hands shoved deep into coat pockets, shoulders hunched slightly as he slowed to a halt several feet away.

Evan glanced at the cop, whose eyes glittered in the faint streetlight. His face betrayed no reaction to the stranger's approach. Evan felt his eyebrows draw down and he glanced back toward the man who'd already saved him from the streets twice. Creeping doubt fed the worry already gnawing at his gut. The old fury and hatred that warmed him through the darkest nights on Master's floor, seemed dead, cold coals in his belly. He felt helpless, torn open, raw, vulnerable to the barest cruelty.

"Evan." It wasn't a question. Rick's voice was cool and emotionless.

The cop had his badge in his hand again, he flickered it into a draft of light and Rick nodded faintly. "You know this kid?" the officer demanded.

Evan felt the ground sway beneath him. His breath caught in his chest, as an eternity of silence passed. Finally, Rick spoke. "Yeah. I know him." Evan felt more than saw Rick's gaze shift from the officer down to his own face. "Been lookin' all over for you, Evan. Dad's spitting fire, gonna take the strop to your sorry butt for this one..."

Evan opened his mouth before the words fully registered in his mind. Then he realized he had no words to offer and closed his mouth abruptly. His heart was pounding, his butt and belly were tight in anticipation of the confrontation and the punishment he knew would come. But, Rick was here. Standing before him. Lying to the police for him. Warmth surged through his limbs and tears of relief and gratitude filled his eyes and nearly spilled down his cheeks before he realized they were there.

Then Rick's posture shifted and he turned toward the officer, his tone shifted subtly, as if just struck with a realization. "Is he in some kind of trouble, officer?"

The cop looked down at Evan for a long moment then back up at Rick. The cop's voice was hard, unforgiving. "Solicitation."

The faint light caught the outline of Rick's profile and Evan saw the muscles tighten in his jaw. "Solicitation?" he repeated, his tone unreadable. He took a step closer. "Sir, may I speak with you privately for a moment?"

The cop eyed Evan with suspicion. Evan schooled his expression to sincere innocence and nodded rapidly at the cop's brusque order to, "Stay put."

The two men stepped a few feet away. Still close enough to catch him if he tried to run, but far enough that their low voices blurred to unintelligible murmurs.

Evan sat. His heart tripping over in his chest, his stomach aching, his butt going numb against the hard concrete. He huddled tighter into his jacket and earned a sharp glance from the cop so he shrank down into a ball and waited, motionlessness, for the announcement of his fate.

*****

Finally, the conversation ended and the cop stepped toward Evan. "Well, boy. I think you've got a lesson coming to you when you get home, so I'm going to let you go with a warning." Evan felt a surge of relief tremble through him. "This time," the officer growled. Evan nodded gratefully.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"You best consider yourself lucky you ran into me tonight. Boys like you, come morning, you thank that rising sun that you're still on this earth to regret what you've got coming to you. Could have been somebody a lot meaner than me decided to take an interest in a scared rabbit like you tonight."

Evan nodded again, the backlash of terror he'd been holding back now worked away at the warm edges of his gratitude. He risked a glance at Rick, who was standing in full profile to the faint streetlight. His face was a mask. Evan felt an uncomfortable lurch in his stomach as their eyes met. He quickly shifted his attention back to the glowering countenance of the cop.

The man's lips pressed together in a thin line as he shook his head. He pulled a worn, army cap from the back pocket of his jeans and whapped it hard against his thigh. The sound cracked the still air and Evan jumped. Then the cop pulled the cap over his head, the brim casting his face into shadow. He nodded slightly to Rick, then turned away walked slowly back up toward the main drag.

When he disappeared around the corner of the building, Rick finally spoke, the sound of his voice startling in the heavy silence. "Get up."

*****

Chapter 17 [Top] [Next]

Evan trailed after Rick in silence as they headed back onto the lit street and walked past the darkened storefronts.

Rick pulled a cell phone from his pocket and dialed. The single-sided conversation was strange and it banked the storm of fearful anticipation that was already tearing it's way through Evan's midsection.

"It's me," a brief pause, then. "Yeah. We're on our way back." This time the pause was longer as Rick listened, his eyes moving restlessly over the barred windows and empty street. Finally, he shook his head impatiently. "Don't ask any questions and don't come home for an hour. Your hands are clean." He sighed and lapsed into another long silence. "Then give me a better option, David. It won't kill him. But someone else very well might..." He listened once more, nodding slightly. "I'll look forward to it." A wry smile curved his lips and he snapped the phone shut.

Evan's stomach had knotted to the point of nausea. He glanced up at Rick's face, but Rick didn't acknowledge him. They continued to walk in silence while Evan's mind worked furiously.

He was fairly certain, at this point, that the threat of a stropping hadn't been idle talk. David didn't like it. David usually seemed to get his way between the two men, but, Evan realized, his own behavior may have tipped the balance of power in their relationship as far as he was concerned. What he could make of the phone conversation wasn't heartening.

He glanced up again at the other man's face. His chest felt tight. He contemplated his past weeks with David, feeling a flush of heat creep guiltily over his face. He'd tried so hard, done everything to fight, to resist to rebel against everything David tried to do for him, but, he'd have dropped to his knees in a heartbeat if David had ever ordered it of him. He'd have stripped to the skin, have taken any beating... Anxiously... Gratefully... Desperately...

But, now, it was Rick... Rick who bowed to David's dominance, who showed in every line of his strength, his eyes, his demeanor...a strong, willful, experienced submissive. It was Rick who was dragging him back home alone. Rick who called David off tonight. Whatever consequences Evan was to face, whatever the meaning of the veiled threats implied by Rick's lie to the cop and the cop's admonitions... They would be meted out by Rick, not by David. By the submissive, not by the dom.

Evan started as a car approached from behind them, slowed, and crossed into the oncoming lane to stop at the curb beside them. Rick turned toward it, and Evan stopped where he was, watching cautiously.

The driver's side window whispered down and a young man around Rick's age, leaned out of it. His hair was short and dark as his eyes. "Want some candy, little boy?"

Rick sauntered up to the driver's door, and leaned a hand on the frame. "Where's David?"

The man in the car grinned. "Jack's going to take care of him." The grin widened. "For an hour."

Evan's stomach lurched unpleasantly. Rick nodded. "Thanks." He cast a glance at Evan and motioned toward the back seat. "Get in." Without waiting for compliance, he strode around the hood of the car and climbed into front passenger side of the car.

Evan, feeling his breath coming short as his fate suddenly loomed as near as a car trip back to David's apartment. He walked slowly to the door behind the driver, who watched him silently. His fingers felt numb and awkward as he lifted the handle and pulled the door open. As he slid in and pulled the door closed, he was achingly conscious of the firm, leather seat beneath him, and noted the comfort with which he sat, wondering how long it would be until he felt it again.

The two men rode in silence in the front seat as the car purred through the deserted streets. Evan studied Rick's profile, his belly knotting and re-knotting over itself. The submissive, not the dom... Somehow, that changed everything.

*****

As they entered the darkened apartment and Rick flicked on lamps, Evan hovered near the door. His skin had once again paled to the color of bleached bones. Rick noticed the boy casting nervous glances toward the large, bay windows, dawn not yet brightening the eastern sky.

He walked to the table and motioned Evan forward. Pointing to the table, he commanded softly, "Empty your pockets."

Evan shot him a frightened glance, his movements becoming jerky as he dug into first his coat pockets, then his front and finally his back jeans pockets. Rick watched the accumulation grow on the table top.

When the boy finally dropped his hands and began shifting nervously from foot to foot, Rick reached out and spread the contents gently with his fingertips.

A strange feeling seized his heart for a moment as he catalogued them, the collections of a little boy. Bottle caps, scraps of string, a piece of green glass worn dull with age, colorful rock chips... And, more unsettling for their surroundings, items very much not a boy's... Condoms, a lighter, half a pack of cigarettes, a twenty dollar bill. Rick tapped the cigarettes out against his palm and frowned, each one was a different brand. He cast a glance at the boy who looked ready to faint.

"Do you smoke?" he asked, lifting the cigarettes. Evan shook his head, his entire body trembling.

Rick raised his eyebrows, tilting the pack so that the cigarettes inside rattled faintly.

Evan licked his lips, his eyes moving skittishly about the room, carefully avoiding Rick's gaze. "They aren't for me."

"Who?"

The boy's eyes were shining. "Other guys."

Rick felt his face harden as he thought, then let the subject drop, temporarily. He plucked one of the condoms from the table and held it up. His eyebrows raised in mute query. Tears were definitely glittering in the boy's eyes now, but he was holding them from falling. Rick waited patiently for the explanation.

This time, Evan's gaze fell upon and remained steadily on the condom Rick held. Then, finally, he raised his eyes to Rick's and held the man's stare until Rick felt the urge to glance away. There was no insolence in the gaze, only infinite sadness. Rick pressed his lips together and let the package drop back to the tabletop. He pushed a few more items aside. "No drugs?"

He saw from the corner of his eye the boy's headshake. "I don't do drugs." There was almost a note of pride in the tone, defiance. Almost. Rick looked at him sharply. The boy still fidgeted nervously, but nothing in him signaled deception.

Finally, Rick nodded and reached out to grasp the boy's chin, pulling his face toward the light. Evan winced slightly, his pupils tightened. "Have you been drinking?"

Evan offered the faintest shake of his head, still blinking against the light. "Not tonight," he murmured. Rick studied his face for another moment then let him go.

"Take off your jacket."

Evan shrugged it off and laid it carefully over the back of a nearby chair. He shivered suddenly and wrapped his arms around himself. It wasn't cold in the apartment.

Rick took a deep breath, studying the trembling figure. For a moment, he imagined what the boy was feeling, then his eyes narrowed. "Evan?" He waited for a long moment until the boy finally dragged his eyes upward and held Rick's.

Rick began to speak, then stopped, pressing his lips to a thin line. He let his breath out slowly as he stared into the tearful, grey eyes. Finally, he released the boy's chin and tilted his head toward the second bedroom that had become Evan's.

Evan cast a glance toward it, then a single mournful look back at Rick's face before he turned and trudged across the living room and let himself into his room.

Rick followed him in and flicked on the overhead light, bathing the room in warmth that didn't melt the chill of anxiety that was gnawing at his gut. With an air of confidence that was rapidly fleeing him, Rick strode across the room to an expanse of empty wall and tapped a point. "Nose."

A faintly mutinous look crossed the boy's features, but it fled as quickly as it appeared and he dragged his feet across the floor slowly, finally positioning himself obediently against the wall.

Rick nodded faintly to himself and walked quietly out of the room and next door to David's bedroom. He paused inside the doorway, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim light seeping in from the main room. He crossed quickly to the nightstand to the right of the bed and opened the drawer. In the back, his fingers closed on smooth, cool wood, and he drew forth a large, solid hairbrush. The wood was unstained and satin-finished. The brush head was a large oval, bigger than his own hand, studded with neat rows of dark bristles that had never stroked hair. The back was smooth and solid, carved from a single piece of wood head to handle.

Rick fitted the round handle into his palm and swatted the brush head tentatively against his thigh. The sting was bright and startling. His heart stuttered momentarily then he turned to the door and strode purposefully toward the boy's bedroom.

Evan turned slightly at Rick's entrance, then started and abruptly turned his face back to the wall. Rick quelled a stirring of nervous anticipation and sat down heavily on the bed. "Come here."

The boy turned and approached slowly, apprehension flickering in his eyes.

Rick nodded slightly. "Put your hands on your head." Evan tilted his head slightly, apprehension mixing with uncertainty. Slowly, he obeyed the command, his eyes widening as Rick reached brusquely for his jeans.

Rick fumbled slightly working the boy's fly open and he flushed, but a quick glance at the boy's face assured him the kid was concerned at that moment with nothing more than his own ass.

With a swift movement, he tugged the boy's jeans clear of his hips and worked them down to his knees. He took in the fine trail of hair reaching down the boy's belly. He turned his gaze away, but in a moment his mind had pieced together the images. The boy's body was trembling slightly, the muscles in his belly tightened as he shifted uncomfortably. His cock was stiffening slightly, but, nothing in his posture spoke of anything but fear.

With a rough movement, Rick grasped Evan's left forearm, turning the boy and guiding him down, awkwardly, across his knees. He felt the muscles shift in the boy's belly as he wriggled forward, finding his balance and pressing his hands firmly against the floor. His toes barely touched the floor on the other side, and he continued to squirm nervously seeking purchase against the smooth planks.

*****

Evan heard the shrill cry of his own voice ring in his ears as the first, hard stroke stole his breath and his resolve. He had barely time to take in a breath before the second seared across his buttocks, he gritted his teeth, strangling the yelp down to a coughing hiss. Tears were already rising in his eyes and he'd only taken two swats. He shook his head, trying to remember how to take it, how to absorb the pain, turn it into heat and fury and passion... The next stroke and his own shriek startled him abruptly from his thoughts. He clamped a hand over his mouth and smothered a choked cry.

It hurt.

It didn't feel good. It wasn't fun. It wasn't heat or fury or passion. It just hurt.

Evan squirmed, already feeling desperation beat down pride and dignity. He scuffed his toes against the floor, shifting and repositioning his weight, feeling the tight grip around his waist hold him firmly, easily in place.

"Ow..." It was barely a whisper, barely formed sounds around a gasping breath, but it broke something in him. Hearing it from his own lips drove a deep crack into his already quickly crumbling resistance.

He wasn't sure how many swats he'd taken. He couldn't sort individual marks from the general burning sting. It felt like so many, but a hopeless corner of his mind recognized it was probably barely ten. He could have several times over as many left to take. The thought was immobilizing. Another stroke sent a jolt up his spine and he jerked, arching his back against the sting, tears building in his eyes.

He fought through two more before his voice broke free of his hold. "Ow! Please. Please!"

*****

Rick hesitated, setting the brush to his side for a moment, he studied the young man. At the respite, the boy slowed his desperate writhing and let the taut muscles of his shoulders slowly loosen. His head fell forward, his breath slowing to hitching gasps.

For several more seconds, Rick was still, watching, listening to the ragged breaths. His mind, though at first had been a mess of conflicting thoughts and feelings, was now very very still.

He'd been startled at first by the boy's violent reaction. The kid was an experienced submissive. And Rick knew exactly what the kid was experienced in. Though, this wouldn't be a walk in the park, it shouldn't be an exercise in torture for an experienced bottom. Yet the kid fell apart in minutes.

It had concerned him. His mind had worked at the dichotomy, the boy's plea had startled him to pause. But, then, something slipped into place. The piece he needed, the confirmation... He raised the brush and brought it down again, faster and harder than before.

Lulled by the reprieve, the renewed assault sent the boy completely over the edge. He shrieked and bucked and writhed, his pleas lost coherence, then words, his voice was growing ragged, hoarse at the edges of his howls.

Abruptly, Rick dropped the brush and released his hold on the boy's waist. Evan flung himself away from Rick's lap, tumbling onto the floor. He sat down hard on the smooth wood, keened and shot to his feet. His face was a mask of utter misery as he desperately rubbed his butt, hopping from foot to foot as well as his tangled jeans allowed. He fixed a wounded gaze on Rick's face, doubt and uncertainty clouding the bright pain in his eyes. He was sucking rapid, shallow breaths through his teeth, still whimpering faintly, tears, no longer falling, still glazed his cheeks and had now, with the sweat clinging to his chest, dampened the front of his T-shirt.

After a moment, the rapid, shallow breathing hadn't slowed, and the boy was going slightly wild-eyed. Rick rose from the bed, and took a step toward the boy. Evan began to shrink backward, but Rick snagged his arm, pulling him forward and landing a sharp slap against the outside of his thigh.

Evan's eyes widened and he sucked in a deep lungful of air. Before he could shriek, Rick clamped a hand over the boy's mouth and nose.

Staring steadily into the wide eyes, he leaned forward slightly, raised one eyebrow and said very softly. "Stop it."

He dropped his hand and watched the boy let out the breath in a three part hitch, then draw a quick breath, caught Rick's eye, added two more hitches to it, filling his lungs before letting it out again.

His breathing, slowly returning to normal, Evan seemed to abruptly remember his state of undress and snatched at the knotted mess of denim around his ankles.

Rick turned, allowing the boy to gather himself while he smoothed the rumpled bedcovers and retrieved the hairbrush. He didn't look back as he opened the door. "Get ready for bed, lights out in ten minutes." He stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.

*****

Chapter 18 [Top] [Next]

Rick's voice sounded strained and weary, "I'll look forward to it." A soft click and abrupt silence ended the conversation.

David cursed and snapped the phone shut, then nearly dropped it as it immediately buzzed again in his hand.

He flicked it open, "What?"

"I'm not him," came a gruff voice. David nearly dropped the phone again in mortification. Feeling the blood drain from his face, he snatched the phone to his other ear. "Take it Rick called you already."

"Yeah, I... I'm sorry, Jack."

"You take too much crap from that boy, you know?"

David sighed and glanced down the deserted sidewalk. "Which one?"

A warm chuckle filtered through the speaker. "Where are you? I'll buy the coffee."

*****

David pressed his back into the vinyl booth and traced aimless circles over the table top with his fingers. Then he realized Jack was watching him intently and he dropped his hands to his lap.

"How old are you, David?"

David looked up, his brow furrowing slightly at the unexpected question. "Twenty-three." Jack frowned thoughtfully and lapsed into a brief silence. Finally he looked up. "Okay, do the math for me..."

David shifted uncomfortably. "I graduated early."

"From college?"

"Yeah. Well... I did high school in two years and college in three."

Jack nodded, "That's right. I think I knew that once. You're a smart one, aren't you?" The question didn't sound as if it were waiting for an answer. Jack seemed lost in thought again and David watched him uncertainly. Jack made him nervous, made him feel he needed to measure up, earn the man's respect and approval. "Twenty-three..." Jack stirred his coffee and scratched his chin. "That's a tough kid you've got yourself involved with."

David didn't know how to answer, but he felt a sharp stab of inadequacy and glanced down at the table.

Jack continued to speak, seemingly oblivious to David's discomfort. "I put the fear of God into him tonight. And he doesn't have a record, never been picked up by us, so the scare might slow him down for a while... But, I have a feeling something stronger than fear is driving him and it's going to rear it's ugly head again. Sooner than you're going to like."

David nodded slightly. He had no idea what to say. He was in over his head. What had been apparent to him early on was now becoming painfully public knowledge. He was in over his head. And it wasn't his own life in the balance this time... A kid was going to drown if he didn't get his own feet on solid ground.

"Twenty-three," Jack mused. "Smart doesn't count for experience. You're too young for this, boy. You know that?"

David dragged his eyes up to meet the older man's. "Yes, sir," he murmured.

Jack, having caught David's attention, held the gaze intently. "If you're too young at twenty-three... You were sure as hell too young at seventeen."

David flinched. He started to answer, then changed his mind and swiveled his gaze toward the glittering streetlights outside the window of the restaurant. Rain had begun to fall again. It was an unusually wet season. Distant lightning sheeted across the clouds.

"You made the right decision, then."

The gruff voice seemed to come from a distance, and David struggled to pull his mind back from the simple beauty of the storm. He lifted the mug of coffee in front of him, then hesitated and set it back down, turning it in his hands. "I was a scared kid."

His answer was met with silence and he finally glanced up. Jack was frowning. David watched him, turning the coffee cup slowly about in his hands. The older man finally spoke, his gaze once more fixed intently on David's face. "Then let it go."

David smiled bitterly. "He won't let me."

The older man sat back abruptly, his face darkening. "It's not his choice, boy. It's yours. You made your choice then, and he made his." The gruff voice had softened to barely more than a hiss, but David felt pinned behind the force of it. "Stop carrying the cross for his stupid mistakes, you've got plenty of your own to make in the here and now."

Jack opened his wallet and thumped some bills down on the table. David flinched, his face burning, stung by the rebuke. Jack slid out of the booth and smacked his worn cap against his thigh. David studied the table top. "He'll blame you as long as you let him, boy. It's a hell of a lot easier than admitting the truth, isn't it? For either of you." He pulled the cap on and tugged the bill low, casting his face into shadow. Without another word, he turned and strode through the empty restaurant and disappeared out into the dark rain.

*****

The darkness of night was bleaching to grey in the eastern sky. David eased the lock open as quietly as he could and let himself into the apartment. He didn't know what he expected to find, what energy he expected to feel in the emptiness. Nothing felt different. Nothing betrayed to him what had taken place in the preceding hours. He found himself almost shaken by the lack of the unusual as he hung his coat and moved cautiously deeper into the darkened living room.

His eyes adjusted slowly from the brightness of the hallway to take in the shadowy forms of the furniture, surfaces highlighted faintly in the glitter of the city lights refracted through the rain- streaked bay windows.

As his night vision improved, details flowed out of the darkness. And a voice.

"You're past curfew..." Rick spoke softly from the far corner of the living room. David's eyes sorted his faint silhouette from where he sat, one leg flung over the arm of an overstuffed chair.

David stepped forward and eased himself onto the couch. He studied Rick in the darkness, finally seeing enough details to find the faint gleam of his friend's eyes in the scant light.

"He's asleep," Rick said, his tone rising very slightly, defensive or challenging.

David was too tired to answer. They sat together in silence for several minutes. Finally David asked, "Stay the night?"

He watched Rick's face turn toward the windows, heard a soft chuff of bitter laughter. "Night's over."

David pushed himself to his feet and stepped forward extending his hand. Rick looked up at him. It was too dark to see the finer planes of expression on his friend's face, but he had an unsteady feeling that there was something deeply wounded behind the faintly glittering gaze that met his from darkness.

He heard Rick sigh heavily then felt the warmth of Rick's hand in his own and he pulled the younger man to his feet. They were standing less than a foot apart, David could feel the warmth of their bodies mingling, he tightened his hand, drawing Rick closer. "Stay the morning?"

Rick turned his face away, his eyes lowered, the light caught no reflection and his expression fell completely to the darkness. His curt nod was barely a shifting of shadows on blackness, but David felt the movement. He nodded in return.

"Okay," he murmured.

*****

Chapter 19 [Top] [Next]

Evan woke slowly. He was sore. Muscles protested across his back and chest as he shifted in his bed. His shoulders were stiff, tendrils of pain snaked down his thighs... The effort to hold himself still, and then the frantic struggle to escape left his sore to the bones. He didn't want to think about his ass. He eased himself onto his back, letting the mattress waken the tender bruises.

He stared at the ceiling, narrow bands of grey light leaked through the blinds and cast their stripes across the paint. The house was silent. A glance at the bedside clock revealed 5:37, the morning just clawing it's way free of the night. Returning his gaze to the ceiling, he sighed. He was embarrassed. Alone with no one to face but himself, he realized he could admit it. He was embarrassed at the depths to which he'd sunk. Selling himself. He closed his eyes, then opened them again, too uncomfortable with his own honesty to face himself in the dark. It was one thing when he was starving, living on the street, he thought, ignoring a queasy feeling in his gut when he thought of the twenty dollar bill folded into a tight rectangle, wedged into a back corner of the high shelf in his closet. Bad enough when he was desperate, but running away from a roof over his head, a soft bed, three meals a day... To sell himself on the street.

Then, and this was even harder to face as he rolled out of bed. Then... A few swats on the butt and he was crying and carrying on like a little girl. He tugged on his jeans and shoved his feet into his boots. He couldn't explain it. How many beatings had he taken from Master, and he came unglued from a kiddie spanking. He snagged a T-shirt and yanked it roughly over his head, feeling the hot burn of anger deep in his belly. That was good. That was familiar. That was armor.

He grabbed his jacket and shrugged into it. He was going soft here. They treated him like a kid long enough that he was actually regressing into one. Crying like a little girl...

He pressed one ear to the door. Silence. Still wary, David could be up, working, or worse than him...Rick.

Evan turned the doorknob slowly and eased the door open. He peered out uneasily, his heart was hammering against his ribs. He cursed at himself silently, willing his courage forward. What was he afraid of?

The living room was deserted. Edging through the doorway, he glanced over to the kitchen. No one. He crept out of his room.

The door to David's bedroom was closed, no light seeped through the gap between it and the floor. Evan eased forward, across the living room, placing each foot cautiously, gently, with each step, his heart beat faster, his gaze flickered about the room, with each step he expected a creak of the floorboards to give him away. Expected to hear the rattle of the doorknob to David's room. Even, he had to admit, a hint of superstitious fear tickled his spine as he half-expected Rick to materialize out of thin air before him.

Finally at the front door, he slid back the deadbolt. His pounding heart was nearly knocking the breath from him as he reached for the knob, grasped it, and halted. As the metal warmed beneath his skin, he felt with growing certainty that the door would open onto Rick's scowling countenance. He took a deep breath, then another, and a third... Mentally chastising himself for his cowardice, he turned the knob and pulled the door open in a single, smooth movement.

As a view of the empty hallway filled the frame of the door, Evan was so relieved he was almost dizzy. Realizing he was probably close to hyperventilating, he forced himself to hold his breath for a moment, then let it out slowly.

Holding the door carefully to keep it from closing too quickly behind him, he inched out into the hall, turning the knob as he eased the door closed to prevent a telltale click as the latch slipped past the strike plate.

Finally, the door closed, silence nearly smothering him in the short hallway, he went to the elevator and hesitated. The arrival of the carriage would be accompanied by a soft chime. Usually an unattended detail, but on this occasion, suddenly a significant consideration.

Considering for a moment, he finally turned away from the elevators and strode to the windowless door at the end of the hall. It opened onto the building's rarely used stairwell. Evan eased the door closed behind him and set down the stairs at a trot.

*****

No longer concerned for the racket he made, Evan banged the door open at the bottom of the stairs. Breathless from the countless flights he'd nearly run down, he strode across the lobby and flung himself against the front doors and out into the cool, morning air.

He hadn't yet set down his second footstep when he glanced up from the concrete steps and froze. Eyes gone wide in astonishment, Evan struggled to coordinate his feet and stumbled a step backward, thumping soundly against the closed door behind him.

Rick, in leather jacket, paper coffee cup in one hand, raised his eyebrows. Recovering more quickly than Evan, he was the first to speak. "You have got to be kidding me..."

Evan realized he was inviting flies and closed his mouth. For a wild moment he considered bolting, but somehow he knew that Rick would snag him without effort before his feet even hit the sidewalk. His own body blocked a swift retreat back through the front door, and even if he could make it inside, there would be nowhere to run. Before he had fully formed them, he opened his mouth and let the words tumble out in a rush. "I wasn't running away!"

One eyebrow crept higher. "Oh yeah?" Rick's tone was lazy, almost bemused. "It's a little early to be turning tricks."

Evan felt his face flush. He didn't have a witty and biting comeback. He chewed air for a moment before closing his mouth again. Against all his will, Evan felt cold fear sink gnawing teeth into his belly. He was suddenly and painfully aware of his backside pressed against the cold glass door. "I wasn't..." His face was burning, his brain felt sluggish. "I was just getting some air."

"Really," the lazy drawl drew the word out. "Does David know?"

"He was sleeping," the words were out of his mouth before Evan realized he might have walked into a trap. For all he knew, David could have just realized Evan was gone and called Rick on his cell. Could even have gone out for coffee with him and be around the corner, parking the car. The heat on his face began to prickle with icy needles. Realizing that honesty may be the safest avenue, he said, "I didn't tell him."

*****

Chapter 20 [Top] [Bottom]

David had been dozing lightly since Rick had gotten up after less than an hour's sleep. His body ached with exhaustion, but his mind was too tired to settle into sleep, it hummed restlessly until he finally gave up and flung off the covers. He padded into his bathroom, as a concession to Rick's company, David had worn pajama pants and a T-shirt to bed, now he shucked them off, leaving them on the floor with uncharacteristic abandon and stepped into the shower.

It took him less than five minutes to wash his body and hair and he was too tired to linger under the hot water. The temptation to sleep was too strong with the soothing heat working the pain out of his muscles. He shut off the taps and stepped out of the stall, toweling himself dry as he went back into the bedroom.

As he was pulling on jeans, David heard the apartment door thud shut and heard Rick's voice, irritation putting a sharp edge on it. David muttered a curse as he pulled a T-shirt over his head and opened the bedroom door.

*****

"Ground rules," Rick was saying to a scowling Evan whom he was guiding less than gently to one of the wooden chairs at the table. David caught a slight pinching of the boys features as he was set very firmly on the hard seat. Rick ignored it.

David leaned against the jamb of his bedroom door and watched the scene in silence. Rick glanced up, caught his eye for a moment, but said nothing. He set a Starbucks cup on the bar counter in the kitchen and turned back to the sulking boy. David realized, suddenly that the kid was fully dressed, including his jacket.

"You don't leave this house without permission, is that clear?" Rick strode back toward the table. Evan was glaring at a point in the living room. He muttered something too low for David to hear clearly, but he made out the words "not a house" and "apartment." Rick placed one palm on the table and leaned closer to the boy, "You don't leave this house without permission," he said again, slightly slower than before. Though his tone was even, there was a hard edge to it that made even David's belly twist uneasily. Evan only scowled more deeply.

His face still turned away, Evan said, more clearly this time, "You're not my father."

Rick straightened and turned back to the kitchen. "And thank God for that," he said, snatching the cup from the counter and dropping it into the trash under the sink. His back turned, he didn't see the wrenching look of pain cross the boy's features. David, struck by the hurt on Evan's face, nearly stepped into the fray, but Rick's next words halted him. "They'd have *me* on the hook for your little stunt last night. You know what happens to prostitutes, Evan? They get arrested, and that's if they're lucky. The unlucky ones get *dead*."

David closed his eyes. Jack hadn't shared the details of his encounter with the boy. Christ...

"I told you I was just getting some air," Evan's tone was still querulous but it lacked the conviction of real anger.

Rick leaned closer to the boy. "You can have all the air you want, right here. You don't..."

Evan rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders away, shifting his body toward the living room and crossing his arms over his chest. David felt his jaw drop at the boldness of his defiance. Rick raised one hand and brought it down on the table top with such force that David jumped. Evan's head shot around like a startled deer.

Rick, his tone now sharp enough to shear paper, said again, this time biting off each word, "You don't leave this house without permission. Is that clear?"

Evan glowered at him but didn't look away. David saw his lips move, but his answer was too soft to hear. Rick, however, seemed satisfied enough to straighten up.

"Go to your room," he said, his voice very slightly softer.

Evan looked up at him and for a moment David thought the boy was going to say something, but then apparently thought better of it and scooted off of the chair. David noticed that Evan sidestepped around Rick, managing to keep from turning his back on the man until he was well out of his reach. Hesitating a minute more, Evan gave David a searching look then fled to his bedroom. His door thumped shut with more force than necessary, but he was clearly restraining himself from a blatant act of defiance.

Rick, muttering curses, sank into one of the wooden chairs. David crossed the room and slid into another. Rick was still cursing quietly but creatively at the ceiling. David waited him out in silence and finally was rewarded with an attentive stare.

"Okay," David said, fixing Rick with a steady gaze. "Tell me."

*****

Rick unraveled the tale of the previous evening. David listened to his description of Jack's handling of the of the boy and Rick's intervention without interruption. As Rick began describing their return to the apartment and the subsequent punishment meted out to the boy, a sudden thump rattled through the walls. As one, the two men turned their eyes toward the closed bedroom door. As if on cue, another thud made the door clatter against it's latch. Rick looked at David. David glanced back at him and nodded, jaw set.

David strode to the door and opened it without knocking. He stepped into the room and closed it quietly behind him. Evan, on his back on the bed, didn't notice him enter and raised both feet, slamming them against the wall with a bone-jarring bang. David stepped between the boy and the window, casting his shadow over the bed. Evan halted, primed for another assault on the plaster, and stared up into David's face.

For a moment David thought the boy was considering placing another kick at the wall but apparently decided against it and lowered his feet to the bed. David held out his right hand. "Give me your shoes," he said placidly. Evan stared at him. David lifted his left hand, fingers spread. "Five," he folded in his thumb, "four..."

*****

David stepped into the living room and closed the door behind him. He carried Evan's boots in his left hand. Rick raised his eyebrows. "Creative," he said as David returned to the table.

"I told him if he puts a hole in the plaster he'll spend the weekend repairing it and repainting his room." He set the boots on the floor. He looked up at Rick, frowning slightly. "How did he take the spanking?"

A wicked smile curved Rick's lips. "Not well at all."

David nodded. "Good."

*****

[Top]

Chapters 21 - 25


~ Julnick

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