“I can do it all. What do you…what are you looking for?”
There was just enough light emanating from the dockhouse to illuminate the boy’s face, heart-shaped and deceptively innocent, considering his proposition. Drake looked him up and down quickly: Baggy, well-worn clothes couldn’t quite conceal a fragile figure; large eyes attempting seduction were more heartbreaking than sultry.
“‘It all?’” Drake repeated. The boy winced at the older man’s mocking tone.
“You ever been with a man before?” Drake demanded.
Even in the dim riverside light Drake could see the child’s face flush with shame, or something else. The answer was unnecessary. Christ, how old is this kid? Drake shook his head in disgust.
“I…” the boy’s voice trailed off, his posture of hopeful sensuality appeared to deflate.
“So what are you offering?” Drake pressed.
“Other stuff. I can do other stuff. I mean…Marco told me that not everyone would want, um,” the boy lowered his eyes, lashes surprisingly long, shadowing cheeks still baby-round with youth.
Drake lifted an eyebrow. “Intercourse?” he prompted, watching the boy’s face flush again. Even the tips of his ears were pink.
“Yeah,” he whispered.
“Well, guess what, kid,” Drake drew the words out. “Marco was right. Not everyone will. I don’t, for one.”
Almost imperceptibly, the youth’s head lifted. “You…don’t?”
“Nope.” Drake slipped one hand inside his jacket, all the time prepared, from long practice, for the boy’s flight. As usual, his experience-honed instincts were sharp and on-target; as if on cue the boy’s head snapped up.
“Oh, shit,” he said, realization clouding his blue eyes. “You’re a cop, aren’t you.” He took a few steps backward.
Drake measured his attempted retreat, then caught the boy’s arm – not his jacket, a rookie mistake. With one arm he contained the struggling youth; with his free hand he flashed his badge. “Good guess,” he said shortly. “You want to tell me your name?”
The boy glared back at him with large, darting eyes. Was he on something? Drake shook him. “What’s your name?”
“Kyle,” he whispered, almost too softly for Drake to hear.
“Kyle what?” Drake prompted, trying to ignore the plea in the impossibly soft blue eyes. The boy shuddered in his grasp, whether from cold or fear, Drake wasn’t sure. Concerned, the older man started to tow Kyle back toward the unmarked car nearby. Perceiving and immediately misconstruing the movement, Kyle began to panic, struggling in Drake’s arms.
“Let me go, you fucker!” he cried desperately, fear evident in his voice. “Let go!” He kicked, very nearly catching Drake’s shins. Gulping miserably, Kyle wrenched at the hands restraining him.
“Hey, hey, cut it out!” Drake spoke sharply to be heard over the boy’s protests. Quickly and expertly he restrained the boy, more gently than he could have, but with no question of who was in control. Realizing he’d lost the fight, the boy exhaled against him, rebellion draining away.
Drake took a breath, took in the situation.
The fear coming off the boy was a live thing, almost a scent in the air. Under the shaggy hair his blue eyes were frightened and wide, taking in the station around him. Drake sighed. So young – the small face, partly obscured by shaggy dark-blond hair in serious need of a cut – was smooth and unlined, marred only by dark circles under the light eyes, speaking to too many nights awake, in fear or pain, when a kid his age should have been fast asleep. He didn’t look like a criminal – he looked like a boy who could use nothing more than a good meal and a soft bed.
“You’re coming with me,” Drake said firmly. The boy looked up at him, something between alarm and relief flickering across his features. Someone else was in charge, and Kyle, working hard to control his breathing enough that he wouldn’t throw up, gave in to it and let himself be led toward the older man’s dark sedan.
“Okay, kid.” Drake sighed. He’d be happy if he never saw another boy as young as Kyle with eyes so old and tired. The kid looked exhausted, underfed and gangly, perched awkwardly on a hard, station-issue chair. “Let’s talk options.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Kyle mumbled.
“You didn’t do anything?” Drake repeated. “Hey! Look at me.” He rapped the table sharply for emphasis. Kyle jumped slightly in his seat, then looked away, embarrassed.
“Solicitation is a crime, kid,” Drake said, observing how the boy winced at the word “crime.” This was no experienced hustler; under the grime and street dirt was little more than a child, soft-faced and wondrous at the trouble he had gotten himself into.
“But nothing happened,” Kyle protested again, weakly.
“Don’t give me that,” Drake said sharply. “You’re lucky it was an undercover officer you propositioned tonight, buddy. I’ve seen what happens to kids like you out on the street. Not every client is as nice as I am, were you prepared for that?”
The frightened eyes gave Drake his answer.
“Listen,” he said. “I have a friend, a social worker. He’s dealt with kids like you before. Your options are more than just jail or the street, kid. That is…if you cooperate,” he said pointedly.
Kyle sat rigidly in the chair, not meeting the older man’s eyes.
“Tell me your last name,” Drake changed tactics.
Kyle pressed his lips together.
“We can do this my way,” Drake said evenly, “or we can do it the hard way. Which do you prefer?”
“By the way,” he added, when Kyle kept his mouth tightly closed, “I definitely recommend my way.” He let his voice trail off, knowing the threat it carried. Drake leaned closer across the table, hearing the pace of Kyle’s breathing increase. He was invading his space, making him nervous.
The kid was intimidated; this would make it easier.
Kyle, heart pounding wildly, allowed a glance at the older man. The strong square jaw was as imposing as the deep voice, and the dark eyes showed no sign of mercy.
Drake shook his head. “Okay, kid, you…”
“Stratton,” the boy burst out suddenly.
“Right. Now we’re getting somewhere.” Drake gave the youth an approving glance and was surprised to see the boy flush under his gaze, eyes bright with something more than fear. He twisted the stained sleeves of the oversized denim jacket in impossibly small fingers.
“Now,” Drake said, gentling his voice, knowing he’d gotten his points across. “Let’s talk about what you were doing out there.”
The loud ring of a cell phone interrupted their conversation.
“Just a minute. And don’t move,” he ordered the youth, who, with a pout that made him resemble nothing so much as a toddler – the effect magnified by his oversized garments – slumped into the hard plastic chair.
But he didn’t move.
Satisfied – touched, even – Drake flipped his cell phone out.
“Molloy here,” he barked into the receiver, half an eye on the boy at the table, who had now slouched even lower and was toeing the linoleum floor inquisitively with one dirty sneaker.
“Spencer, hi,” he said, much more quietly, recognizing the voice. “What’s going on? I can’t really talk; I’m working…”
Drake turned another fraction away from the table.
“Spence, I…yes, I know what time it is…I just need to finish this first, and then I’ll be…no, I’m sorry,” Drake swallowed hard. “Listen, I’ll call you right back. I don’t…yeah, I know, Spence, I know. Half an hour, Spencer.” Drake held the phone an inch away from his ear, the all-too familiar tone as immensely expressive as it was calm.
Snapping the phone shut, Drake clipped it back onto his belt. He swallowed hard, covering nervousness with his easily-assumed professional demeanor. That could wait; this would not. Sizing the situation up – half an hour, he’d worked on nastier deadlines before – he strode back to the table.
“Talk to me, kid,” he said. His voice was sharp enough to get Kyle’s attention, warm enough to keep the boy from sinking any further into his chair, and Drake thought, as the kid turned those big, watery blue eyes up at him, that he just might have won him over.
Score another for the good guys.
Drake closed the front door behind him.
Drake didn’t have to look very far. Spencer stood in the hallway, hands on hips, looking rather large and none too pleased with him. Drake gulped.
Then the hands that had perched on Spencer’s hips were resting on Drake’s shoulders, which actually helped quite a bit.
“You all right?”
“I’m fine,” Drake sighed. Except for what was coming, of course. “I know it’s…late.”
Spencer drew away. “It certainly is. What are you doing in those clothes?” He busied himself taking Drake’s coat, starting to slip it onto a hanger then, thinking better of it and wrinkling his nose, leaving it in the front hallway for cleaning.
Undercover work was rarely a neat job.
“Drake?” Spencer turned back to the other man.
“I was down at the docks,” Drake said quietly.
“You told me you were on desk duty tonight, Drake.”
Drake bit his lip. “I was. This came up late. They were going to send Domenico but…”
“But you volunteered to go.” Spencer shook his head.
“Spence, I’m sorry, I—”
“Do you remember why you were supposed to be home at eight?”
“We talked about it yesterday and this morning, Drake. You knew I had a late court date upstate and wouldn’t be home until after nine. And you assured me you’d take care of feeding and walking the dog when you got home. At eight,” he added pointedly. “He was hungry and not very happy when I got home.”
The dog in question looked up from the front hallway, where he was curiously sniffing Drake’s discarded coat, with what Drake could have sworn was a reproachful look.
“Ah, Mugger, I’m sorry,” Drake crouched to scratch the dog behind the ears and the animal whined forgivingly. If only humans accepted penitence that easily, Drake thought, with a sideways glance at Spencer.
“I completely forgot about Mugger,” Drake admitted, standing back up. “Is he…okay?”
“He’s fine. But Drake, if your plans changed, you should have called me.”
“You were in court,” Drake offered weakly.
“Drake. You know my phone is always on me; if you left a message I would have gotten it during a recess or after we broke. And you knew I’d be in the car for two hours on the way home.”
“I…it came up really quickly, Spence. I didn’t really have time to…”
“You had time to change clothes, didn’t you?” Spencer pointed out.
“Yes.” Drake lowered his head.
“Be straight with me, Drake,” Spencer said, his tone gentle enough to take the harshness out of his words. “You didn’t call to tell me you were taking the undercover assignment tonight because you were afraid I’d say no.”
“Well…” Drake’s voice trailed off. “I’m sorry,” he said finally, squatting next to Mugger again, feeling guilty and enjoying the mutt’s friendly presence.
Drake had discovered the untagged, uncollared mix – he had some German shepherd around the head, that was all Drake could say for certain – at the site of a hold-up. When no one claimed him, despite Spencer’s efforts, the affectionate nickname “Mugger” became his name.
Mugger was a loving and cheerful pet, exhibiting no negative effects from his origins until the day Drake’s parents came to visit and Mugger proudly presented Drake with his mother’s wallet, lifted smoothly from her purse while the others were busy.
They’d done their best to retrain him, but were still careful to keep him close when they walked him around the neighborhood.
Drake scratched Mugger behind the ears again, ruffled the soft fur under his jaw.
Drake stood up and advanced a few steps toward Spencer.
“What was so important that you couldn’t risk I’d say no?” Spencer inquired gently.
“I got a lead on Marco Quay, you remember that case?” Drake began. “He moved his boys cross county after the last one we picked up, and it took longer than I thought; he’s gotten smarter,” Drake added ruefully, recalling how any trace of Marco’s other “employees” had disappeared. “He’s got the really young ones out on their own; he’s hoping we can’t trace them to him. He was just a kid,” Drake added softly.
Spencer cupped his jaw, scratchy with past-five o’clock shadow. “Drake. I know how committed you are to that case. Do you think I wouldn’t understand your wanting to be involved?”
“Well, no, but…”
“But you didn’t want to chance it, so you left me in the dark instead. That’s not acceptable, Drake. You know that.”
“If you’d thought ahead, we could have gotten Mrs. O’Leary to come take care of Mugger. All it would have required was a phone call to handle the responsibilities you already had *before* you took on another one.”
“I didn’t think I…I’m sorry.”
“All right. It’s late and you smell like a dockworker. Let’s get you into the shower and then we’ll deal with this.”
But Spencer just escorted him upstairs, one hand warm but firm at the small of his back.
Spencer leaned against the bathroom counter, arms folded, as Drake shed his clothes, stopping to tip them into the hamper. Any extra points would help at this stage, he thought grimly.
“Tired?” Spencer studied the other man’s face.
Drake nodded reluctantly.
When he’d stripped to his briefs, Spencer turned the taps on. “Go on, you’re filthy,” he said gently.
Drake stepped out of his underwear, then paused. “Spence, you should have seen this kid,” he said quietly.
“I know.” Spencer pulled him into his arms, gave him a brief, hard hug, then turned him around with a ringing swat. “Shower, Drake. Now.”
Drake let the hot water pound around his shoulders. Clouds of steam rolled out of the stall and filled the bathroom with warm moisture. He lingered under the spray a couple minutes longer than necessary, startled back to the present by a rap on the shower door.
“Leave some for the fish, D,” Spencer said lightly.
Toweling off, Drake trailed Spencer into the bedroom, not bothering with clothes.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” Drake said unhappily as Spencer sat down on their bed and mutely patted his knees.
“Don’t drag this out, Drake,” Spencer said, not unkindly.
Drake sighed. His cop’s eye scanned the distance between Spencer and the door, between Spencer and himself, but it was just habit. He might feel pushed into this position, but if pressed he’d admit he wasn’t sure what he’d do with clemency.
That was his mind, though. Right now his heart beat swiftly, and he couldn’t help letting a protest escape as he noticed the paddle resting on the quilt next to Spencer’s right hand.
“Yes indeed, young man. We’ve discussed this before. Handle the responsibilities you have before you take on another. And trust me to know what’s important, to you and to us. Don’t leave me in the dark because you don’t want to hear my opinion.”
When he put it that way…
“I do trust you. I’m sorry, Spence.”
“I know, love. It’s putting theory into practice that gets you off track sometimes. But I told you what we would do if this happened again. Was I unclear about that, Drake?”
“It’s ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ Drake,” Spencer corrected.
“No,” Drake looked at his feet.
Spencer patted his knees once more. “You don’t want me to come get you, D,” he said quietly.
Flushing, Drake padded across to him. “I didn’t mean not to call,” he offered lamely, clambering onto the bed, as Spencer took his arm and guided him across his knees.
“Spence, he was so young, just a kid! I needed to…”
“No,” A firm swat to one bare cheek cut him off. “It’s not about him right now, Drake. This is about you and me. Everything else can wait.”
“But…” Drake caught his breath at the next flurry of swats, sharp and stinging. “Yes, Spence,” he mumbled into his folded arms.
“You are to call me if your plans change,” Spence lectured, one hand warm across the other man’s bare butt, rubbing slightly. “And you are to fulfill your responsibilities to me and to this household.”
Drake closed his eyes, feeling guilty again about Mugger’s sad doggie eyes when he’d arrived home. Poor hungry mutt; he hadn’t meant to let him down.
“Stop it,” Spence landed a hard smack to the center of the exposed butt. “Mugger is fine now; the issue is your following our rules, not the dog.”
Drake gulped. “I’m sorry.”
“I know you are, but I’d like to see you make a better decision next time,” he said firmly. “You know the rules about calling and keeping each other informed. Disobeying those rules because you don’t want to hear my opinion on whether you should be working late—”
Drake blushed. Sometimes the other man knew him too well, he thought.
“…is not acceptable. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir,” Drake mumbled.
“I know how important your job is and how well you do it. And I will always support you when you’re honest with me.”
“I know,” Drake whispered.
“Right. I gave you fair warning. I’m going to paddle you now; next time – and I don’t want there to be a next time, Drake – I’m going to tack a grounding on, too.”
Drake wished he’d just get on with it. But no, Spencer liked to be completely clear and fair. No matter how long it took, Drake sighed.
“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable, D,” Spencer added above him. “When you don’t keep in touch, I worry about you. I don’t know what you’re doing out there.”
Drake swallowed hard. Spencer wasn’t being unreasonable, and he knew it. Drake’s father had been a cop; Drake knew all too well what it was like to stay up at night, worried about where he was and if he was all right, battling visions of bad guys and guns and worse.
“I didn’t mean to worry you, Spence,” he said softly.
“I know, babe, I’m not saying you did it on purpose, but you do know the rule about calling and you know why it’s there. So,” Spencer said briskly, knowing he’d gotten his point across, and knowing it was time to start the spanking, while the other man was cognizant of the error of his ways, but before he could over-punish himself with guilt, “You’re not to do it again, Drake.”
With that he lifted his hand and landed the first of a volley of sharp but unhurried swats, turning the flesh across his lap warm and pink. Drake shifted uncomfortably, aware of the arm heavy along his back, keeping him firmly in line.
“Ow, Spencer!” Drake cried out as a particularly well-aimed smack caught the underside of one cheek. Spencer delivered a few more swats to that tender area and Drake gulped hard, giving in to the desire to cry.
Spencer stopped, rubbed the glowing flesh gently for a few moments, then picked up the paddle. Drake winced, recognizing the movement and sound.
“I get it, I’m sorry,” he cried, one last attempt at leniency, then sobbed with something between disappointment and relief when Spencer snapped the paddle down hard.
And then there was nothing to do but give himself up to the cries that escaped his throat almost of their own accord, while the paddle set fire to his already sore flesh, rising and falling in a painful and unavoidable rhythm.
Spencer’s voice seemed to come from very far away and Drake gasped around his sobs, trying to hear him.
“All right, babe, we’re done.” Spencer lay the paddle on the quilt and dedicated the right hand that had been busily smacking to the new task of gentling the vivid flesh before him. He stroked the area lightly, his other hand rubbing firmly across the damp back, moving up to ruffle the back of Drake’s hair.
Drake lay across the other man’s lap, worn out and sore, almost ridiculously soothed by Spencer’s ministrations.
“Let’s get you into bed,” Spencer said from above him, his words sounding closer now. Drake winced and sobbed once as Spencer eased him up. “Just stand up for a minute, love, and let me pull the quilt down,” he urged, cupping the back of Drake’s neck and tugging him forward for a brief cuddle. “Good boy.”
Spencer’s hands left Drake only for a moment, to whisk down the covers, flick out the bedside light, and then they returned, stroking and soothing, as he maneuvered them both into bed. Well used to this routine, he’d already closed the house down for the night. Now Drake settled on his stomach with a soft sound of discomfort. Spencer eased him gently toward his chest, taking most of Drake’s weight on his own body, protecting the sensitized cheeks from the comparatively rough cotton of the bedsheet.
For several minutes he just held the other man, then he felt Drake take one long, shuddering breath and then relax a bit. Spencer recognized the sound; his emotions spent, Drake was now ready to talk.
Spencer freed a hand to stroke the thick head of hair cradled against his neck and waited.
“He was a runaway originally,” Drake said quietly, voice still thick from his earlier crying. “Out of state, and then he ran away from a bad placement.”
“Where is he now?” Spencer pressed at the other man’s powerful shoulders in a comforting massage. The tension had drained away but still Drake nearly purred under Spencer’s strong hands.
“Kinder House,” Drake said, “but it’s just a forty-eight hour placement.”
“How’d you manage Kinder House?” Spencer asked, impressed, knowing the waiting list.
“Dovid was doing intake tonight,” Drake shrugged. “He’s terrific. Spence…?” There was just enough moonlight creeping in the window for Spencer to make out the other man’s hopeful smile.
“I think the kid’s perfect for the Home-to-Work program,” Drake said. “He can get his GED, he really hasn’t been on the streets that long, I think it would get him right into shape…”
Spencer sighed. “You win, D. I’ll call Lavonne tomorrow and see what I can do.”
“You’re the best,” Drake said sincerely.
“Well, it sounds like you took care of the hard part. You handled the situation beautifully. I’m proud of you.” Spencer slipped a hand down to pat Drake lightly where he was sore and the other man shifted, sleepy in spite of the stinging. “What time are you on tomorrow?”
“Not ‘til three,” Drake murmured.
Hearing the exhaustion in Drake’s voice, Spencer rubbed gently, then moved his hand to stroke Drake’s bare back instead. “Good; you need the sleep. Close your eyes, love.”
Needing no further encouragement, Drake closed his eyes and sank into the softness of his pillow, Spencer’s hand warm and soothing on his back.
“Spence? You’ll call in the morning—ow,” Drake protested sleepily as Spencer landed a slight swat to his tender cheeks.
“Go to sleep, Drake,” Spencer said firmly.
“Right,” Drake snuggled closer. Spencer would call tomorrow; Drake trusted him.
Score one more for the good guys, Drake thought tiredly, just before sleep overcame him.