Black Fire

by Julnick

| 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15

Chapter 11 [Top] [Next]

Rick was gone before pre-dawn light began to grey the darkness of the room, irritating David out of a fitful sleep. He resisted the soul-deep desire to pull the blankets up over his head and fumbled for the alarm clock, muting it before it could jar his already fragile temper. He closed his eyes until the tempting precipice of sleep drew close enough to scare him back to full wakefulness. He sighed, flung the blankets back, and rolled to his feet. Rick had left no evidence of himself in the room. Or the rest of the apartment, David found as he wandered through to the kitchen.

He started coffee brewing and studied the closed bedroom door. He didn't believe in karma, or destiny, or whatever his mother was calling it on any given week. But he couldn't let this kid walk back out onto the streets and into the arms of a predator whom, he knew, would devour the boy's heart and soul and spit him out hollow and broken. No matter how much he told himself he couldn't control the boy. He couldn't let him go. No matter how much he told himself it wasn't even his business... He couldn't make that decision again. No matter how right it had been. He couldn't look again into eyes so cold and dead that the anger, the accusation, even the pain had been burned from their depths, leaving nothing but cold, grey ash.

The coffee pot was hissing angrily now as it surged up and spilled over into the upper reservoir of the percolator. David shook himself, feeling faintly nauseated, and slid it off of the burner. He turned off the heat and watched the coil cool, like an ember, from fiery orange-red to coal black. The heat still rolled off of its deceptive darkness, searing his skin as he stood over it. He didn't pour the coffee.


David carefully studied the diagram displayed on his laptop as the bedroom door opened with a faint squeak of hinges. He heard two footsteps then a sharp inhalation and he glanced up as Evan cursed.

"You scared me! What are you doing here?"

David raised his eyebrows. "I live here."

Evan was wearing a grey and red, three-quarter sleeve baseball shirt over too-long, baggy, red cotton sleep pants. His bare feet barely showed beneath the folds of cloth puddled around his ankles. His short, brown hair was rumpled and it stuck straight out from his head in several places. He blinked, scowling as if the light pained him then he scrubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I thought this was Friday."

"It is. I didn't go in to the office today."

"Why not?

David ignored the querulous tone. "I have things I can do from home, and I didn't feel like going in. There's coffee, but you'll have to warm it up."

Evan sniffed and rubbed his face again then blinked slowly in the direction of the kitchen. He padded around the bar and tapped the metal percolator lightly with his fingers before trusting David's assessment of its temperature.

David listened to Evan bang around the kitchen and gritted his teeth, trying to concentrate on his work. He said nothing and didn't look up as Evan finally flopped into the chair across the table and clunked a bowl of cereal and mug of microwave-warmed coffee onto its surface.

"Where's your friend?"

"He left."

Evan drew one foot up onto the chair and hugged his knee to his chest. "He spend the night?"

David gritted his teeth. "Yes, Evan. He spent the night."

"Did you fuck him?"

David gave up and closed the laptop. He studied the young man, his irritation evaporating rapidly. In the warm sunlight, in soft, over-sized clothes, David suddenly saw something else behind the studied defiance that once again etched every line of Evan's face and body. Something else behind the detached contempt in the grey eyes. Something fragile and sad that cooled the heated reply on David's tongue. His voice was gentle when he finally spoke.

"Rick and I are just friends, Evan."

The something flickered, strengthening, for a moment, threatening to overwhelm the indifference. Then it was gone. "You don't act like 'just friends'." Derisive, baiting. David said nothing, he held Evan's gaze calmly until the boy looked away. "Sorry about the shower," he muttered, pushing at the cereal with his spoon.

"It can be replaced." David didn't think his tone had changed, but Evan flinched visibly.

"I'll pay for it."

David smiled. "Evan, you don't have to pay for it."

The lines of Evan's body had gone rigid. His breath was coming quick and short. "I pay my debts. I can get money. Or I can..." His eyes came up slowly to meet David's. "I can do...stuff."

David felt his face harden and fought to keep his voice neutral. "Like cleaning the gutters kind of stuff, or like giving head kind of stuff?"

A bright flush spread rapidly up Evan's face and reddened his ears. David held his gaze steadily. Evan stammered slightly. "Do you...want me to give head?"


At the abrupt flatness of the refusal, the flush changed quickly from embarrassment to hot anger. "Why not? I'm good!"

"I'm sure you are."

Evan's eyes narrowed. "Fuck you."

David considered his reply for several seconds. "I don't want you for that, Evan."

Evan was very still for a long moment; only his chest moved, short, angry breaths. Then he surged to his feet, the cereal bowl in his hand. He flung it hard into the kitchen sink, the shattering of crockery echoing off the metal walls. Then stamped into the bedroom and slammed the door.

David's initial impulse to laugh at the childish tantrum was quickly replaced with a cold ache in the pit of his stomach. Not funny, on second thought... No, not funny at all...


Chapter 12 [Top] [Next]

For three hours the pounding music made the wine glasses rattle on the shelves. David gave up trying to work, or read, or focus on anything beyond not opening the bedroom door and laying upon the wayward youth exactly the action Rick had advised the night before.

Eventually, David settled for lying on the couch and studying the ceiling, challenging himself to find, in the music, the same satisfaction that Evan did. He ignored the knowledge that Evan was getting his satisfaction from his rebellion, not from his music. The hours passed painfully. David was thankful that it was a weekday and the neighbors were all away at work.

The sun was low, casting reddish rays and long shadows across the floor. The house went quiet, but silence had come and gone all day as CDs were exchanged. He'd only bought the kid three of the damned things. And now he had every song of each of them etched onto his memory. Maybe Rick was right. He certainly couldn't allow this behavior to continue. But he wouldn't play sex games with a child. He briefly considered grounding the boy, but had no idea how he would enforce it. The kid had the ability to run at any time and David couldn't stop him and wouldn't call the police. They both knew it and that gave Evan the upper hand. David didn't like being at a disadvantage. His eyes narrowed and he sat up. The music had not started again.

He rose to his feet just as the bedroom door opened. Evan stopped a few paces beyond the doorway and stared at him. The boy was dressed in his old, torn jeans and leather boots, a ragged T-shirt and a black leather jacket. His eyes were hard, his hair was calculatingly disheveled, his chin jutted slightly in defiant challenge.

David crossed his arms over his chest and carefully schooled his expression to bland curiosity. He knew what was coming, he had no idea what to do, but he'd be damned if he'd let Evan see that.

"I'm going out."

David studied him. "Okay," he said, finally. His heart was beating hard. His stomach ached with tension, but he was pleased at how steady his voice was.

Evan, however, faltered. His defiance slipped, showing slightly hurt surprise. "You're not going to stop me?"

"I can't."

The surprise quickly burned away before a rising fury that darkened the boy's features. "You're not even going to try?"

"Tell me, Evan. What can I do to stop you?"

Evan stared at him for several seconds, his face registering a mixture of anger and disbelief. "Good..." he said finally, although he didn't sound as if he believed it. He studied David for another moment then turned toward the front door.


The boy glanced back over his shoulder.

"If you walk out that door, you will be punished."

Something flitted across Evan's face, something that made David's belly clench with sudden and fierce protectiveness. Then it was gone, replaced with a cocky sneer. "No, I won't. If I walk out that door, I won't be back."


Evan slammed the door closed behind him and stood for a moment in front of the elevator, his throat uncomfortably tight. He hadn't punched the down button yet and started to reach for it, then stopped, letting his hand drop again. He glanced back at the door. The tightness was making it hard to breathe and his eyes were stinging. Suddenly, he realized he was stalling. Waiting. Waiting for that door to open behind him, waiting for David to step out and tell him to get his ass back inside. To tell him he couldn't leave. To stop him.

Seconds ticked by. Evan's breathing was choppy, and his chest hurt. There was no sound from behind the apartment door. No movement. Nothing.

He felt the tears start behind his eyes, the pressure building in his sinuses. Turning, he jabbed viciously at the elevator button, digging into his belly for something hot and angry to burn back the terrible ache in his chest. By the time the chime signaled the arrival of the elevator and the doors slid open, his breathing was roughened only by rage and his eyes were dry and restless. He stamped into the small, warmly lit cubicle and slapped his hand against the lobby button, then crossed his arms and thumped his back against the far wall and glared at the closed doors.


Evan pushed through the building's front door and clumped down the steps onto the sidewalk. In typical Colorado fashion, clouds had come in, rapidly transforming the warm afternoon into a bitter, sleeting early evening. He pulled his coat tight around his body and bent his face from the stinging spray. He took three steps, eyes focused intently on the pavement, before a hand came into his line of vision and viciously grasped the front of his jacket.

Sudden, bitter fear made Evan's knees weaken and his belly turn to ice water. Desperately afraid of what he'd see, he forced his gaze up into the face of his assailant. He sagged, momentarily relieved. Then he registered the expression in the grey-green eyes and his ribcage tightened around his lungs.

"Where ya' goin'?" The drawl was too precisely calculated, the eyes too sharp. They belied the casual disinterest of the tone.

"None of your business." Evan tried to snarl it, but he could barely get it past his throat. He could feel the man's knuckles through the leather of his coat, pressing into his chest. He was suddenly aware of his heartbeat thudding in his ears. Emotions that he didn't want to recognize were pushing out from the corners of his mind like dark, terrifying shadows. He made a half-hearted attempt to pull away but the man shook him. A slight, effortless movement. It jarred Evan's teeth.

"I've had a bad day, Evan. Don't piss me off." The tone was still mild, the voice soft, but there was something frightening behind the eyes. Evan suddenly felt in serious danger of crying and realized he desperately did not want to do that in front of this man. He took a gulping breath, fighting back tears. Rick seemed not to notice. "I asked where you were going."

"Out." Evan tried to wrestle his voice under control, but it still trembled when he spoke. He winced.

Rick's lips twisted into a humorless smile. "No you aren't." His grip shifted slightly and Evan found himself nearly pulled off of his feet, and steered, inexorably closer to the entrance of the building he'd just escaped.

"What are you doing here?" Evan managed to hiss through clenched teeth. He was pleased at the edge it put on his voice.

"Taking you home."

Evan tried to twist loose from Rick's grip and was rewarded with a moment of freedom as the man released the front of his jacket. Evan took half a step back and jumped as the unoccupied hand landed sharply across the seat of his jeans. Evan's teeth snapped shut. The slap stung, making his eyes burn. He shifted his hips and stumbled a few feet forward before spinning on the other man. He was halted however as Rick seized the back of his collar now and hauled him up the steps of the building.

Evan's mind was reeling. "You can't hit me!" he gasped finally as Rick opened the buzzing door and shoved him inside and toward the elevator. Evan glanced at his face and winced.

"Why the hell not?" His eyes were cool and focused on the brushed metal of the elevator doors.

Evan considered, for a moment, his chances of bolting, shifting his weight slightly. But as if anticipating this move, Rick's hand was suddenly tight again on Evan's collar. Evan squirmed, realizing suddenly how much the swat still stung on his skin. His belly felt tight and cold. He glowered at Rick's profile. "Cause you're not my top."

The wall chimed and the doors slid open. Rick's gaze slid down and Evan felt the ice spread to his lungs as their eyes locked. He refused to look away, and Rick smiled grimly.

"This has nothing to do with tops and bottoms. You're a little boy, Evan. That's a grown up's game."

"I'm not..." Evan flinched as the grip shifted from his collar to his shoulder and tightened painfully. His breath quickened and he felt the familiar spark of rage glow to life deep in his belly. With an abrupt twist, he jerked his shoulder from under Rick's hand and threw himself into the farthest corner of the elevator.

He stood, breathing heavily, his body tense, anticipating retaliation. But Rick made no move toward him. "I'm not a boy," he spat. He hesitated. Still no reaction. "And you're not my father!" The spark roared to life, hatred and fury burning hot and bright and uncontrolled within him. He clenched his teeth, willing the other man to take so much as a single step toward him.

Through the blind haze of rage, Evan didn't notice the flicker of emotion that crossed the doctor's features. By the time the bell signaled their arrival at their destination, Rick's face was again unreadable and Evan's fury had settled into a simmering sulk.

As the doors chimed open, Evan fixed Rick with a dark scowl and crossed his arms over his chest, his chin thrust up in defiance.

"Out." Rick's voice was hard.

"No." Evan flinched as Rick's hand descended.

Evan struggled violently as he was dragged across the hallway to the door. Finally, Rick whirled on him, eyes bright and furious. Evan froze. His heart hammered against his ribs and his mouth felt as if he'd swallowed sawdust. "Sorry..." He nearly choked. His throat was suddenly tight and dry. "I'm sorry, sir..."

Rick said nothing. His eyes never left Evan's face as he banged his free fist against the heavy door. The sound thundered in Evan's ears, his legs were shaking, he was sure he was on the verge of crying or pissing himself. He desperately wanted to look away but he was mesmerized by the unfettered fury swirling in the depths of the grey-green eyes. Rick leaned slightly closer, giving Evan a rough shake like a dog with a rat. "Don't." Evan heard himself whimper softly. The fire in Rick's eyes seemed to cool slightly. His focus drifted and his expression softened. Evan had the distinct impression that another vision had just been superimposed upon his face. He kept very still, only his chest jumped as he took gulping breaths.

Rick's eyes cleared in a moment, and he looked at Evan in consternation. Vaguely distracted, his voice was gentle and soft. "Don't call me, sir." He looked away and shifted his grip once again to the nape of Evan's neck. The pressure of his fingers was reassuringly firm and warm. Evan barely had a breath to wonder what it was Rick hadn't said, before the door opened and he felt, with weary detachment, his belly drop again.


Chapter 13 [Top] [Next]

It took a long moment for Evan's mind and senses to come into agreement. The look of carefully leashed temper on David's face was not directed at him.

"Your sister called."

The grip on Evan's neck slackened and he glanced up. Rick's face was pale. "Shit..." He shoved Evan before him into the apartment and shoved the door closed behind them.

Evan jumped as David spoke again. "Go to your room, Evan." He looked up into the hard lines of David's face. Rick was across the room poking at the keypad on the kitchen phone. It chirruped cheerfully as he dialed. The room was warmly lit against the quickly falling blackness beyond the bay windows, but Evan shivered. He forced his eyes to meet David's and felt the faintest, feeblest spark push up from deep in his belly.

"I don't live here anymore."

"Go to your room, Evan!" Rick barked from the kitchen, then cursed and slammed the phone down into its cradle. David's gaze never flickered from Evan's face. Evan realized later the futility of his next move, but at the time was acting on an impulse that he wouldn't begin to understand for a very long time. He bolted.

David caught him as his fingers brushed the doorknob. Evan thrashed in the restraining arms, hissing and snarling through gritted teeth. He bent his knees, forcing David to carry his weight, but the grip didn't weaken. So he began to kick.

He heard a curse as his foot connected with something solid and bared his teeth, increasing his struggles. What happened next occurred with such fluid and deadly accuracy that Evan was momentarily stunned into submission. Without knowing exactly how it had happened, Evan suddenly found himself free. Then hands gripped his wrists and his arms were pulled and folded across his chest. His hands were tucked against his ribs. He was suddenly his own, human, straightjacket. He felt his weight shifted until he was hip to hip with... Rick, he realized. David was in the kitchen. The phone was chirping. Evan panted, squirming, testing the limits of his new position. Rick's left foot was blocking Evan's right leg. Evan felt awkward and off-balance. He hesitated to lift his left foot for fear of toppling them both, and he could get no leverage to kick out with his right. He keened softly in desperate frustration, wriggling against the tight grip on his wrists. Then he realized David was speaking and his head jerked up.

"Non-emergency... Yes... I want to report a runaway."

Evan's chest went cold. For a moment, he couldn't breathe. Then he realized that Rick was speaking, too. Had been for some time. A gentle mantra. "You're okay, Evan. You're okay... Shh... You're okay, now."

Evan's vision began to blur and he tried to blink away the tears. They trickled over his eyelashes and traced rapidly cooling tracks down his face. "No... Please..." He looked up into David's face and suddenly realized how desperately alone he was. "Please don't send me away. I'm sorry... Please..." David's eyes were fixed on Evan's. Evan poured his desperation into his voice. "I'm sorry. Please don't send me away, sir, please, I'll do anything... I'll never talk back again..."

Slowly, David lowered the handset, and Evan felt the tightness in his chest loosen slightly. "Thirty seconds ago, you were ready to run away for the third time in forty-eight hours. We can't take care of you, Evan. We can't even keep you in one place."

"I'm sorry!" Evan felt the momentary spark of hope slipping away. "I won't again... I won't... You said you wouldn't let me fall again... Please..." Something hardened in David's eyes, and Evan felt the grip loosen on his wrists. Carefully, he pulled his hands free and knotted them in front of himself. "Please...?"

David remained where he was, but Rick moved to the table and took a chair from it. Evan felt a sudden sinking anticipation in the pit of his stomach, which shifted abruptly to confusion as he watched Rick carry the chair across the room and set it down facing a blank stretch of wall. He turned, his eyes caught Evan's, and he pointed resolutely to the seat. Evan felt his forehead furrow and he turned uncertainly toward David, who raised a questioning eyebrow. Evan glanced back at Rick and the obviously waiting chair. He squirmed, suddenly feeling uncomfortably childish as he crossed the room and scooted his bottom onto the wooden seat. He tucked his knees in against the wall and twisted slightly to look at Rick who was coming around to his left. The man tapped a point on the paint at Evan's eye level. Evan obediently turned back toward the glossy whiteness and slumped against the back of the chair.


The boy's mouth was turned down at the corners, his shoulders sagged. The toe of one battered shoe was turned inward slightly; the other foot was tucked behind his ankle. His head drooped until his chin was nearly on his chest, but his eyes remained resolutely fixed on the white paint. Evan sighed heavily, but Rick sensed no theatrics in the meek posture. He resisted the impulse to ruffle the boy's hair. Instead, he focused his attention on David who was still standing near the door, still holding the phone, the earpiece pressed against his belly.

Rick's eyes narrowed slightly and he strode across the room. As he approached, David shifted his gaze from Evan to his friend and held out the phone. Rick took it. The faintest chime could be heard and a distant, recorded female voice. "If you would like to make a call, please hang up and try your call again..." Rick thumbed the power button and studied the other man's face. David said nothing and finally Rick shook his head and turned away. Before he could take a step, a hand tightened on his bicep. He started to look back then hissed as the grip became painful.

"Dammit, David," he said under his breath. David said nothing. He steered Rick toward the second bedroom and quietly shut the door behind them. Rick freed himself and spun, fire in his eyes. "What is your problem?"

"Call your sister." David's face had shifted once more to the mask of fury that had greeted him at the door, Rick glared at him.

"We can't leave the kid out there alone."

"I'm not. Call. Now."

"I did! I got the machine."

David's palm connected painfully with the back of Rick's left leg.

"Ow, dammit!" He twisted out of reach. "Don' that...again!"

David glowered at him. "Call her damn cell, jackass. Now!"

Rick muttered and began punching numbers. The handprint on his thigh stung and his sister was the last person he wanted to tangle with, but David was looking on, arms crossed over his chest, towering like some great Nordic avenger. Rick put the phone to his ear and listened to it ring. Once. Twice... Three times... He prayed for it to click over to voice mail, but the fourth ring was abruptly clipped off and a familiar voice answered.

"Hi..." he mumbled.

"Ricky! God DAMN it, where the hell have you been?"

He winced. David turned and quietly let himself out of the room.


Evan listened to the muttered argument behind him, then the two men went into the spare bedroom and the door closed on any further sound. Evan allowed himself a brief moment of luxury as he shifted to wrap his arms around his belly in a tight hug. But he quickly dropped his hands to his lap as he heard the door open and close again. Prickles of ice flurried in his stomach and his breath quickened but the footsteps didn't pause behind him. He followed the sound into the kitchen. Cupboard doors began opening and closing and pots clanged.

Evan looked at the wall and sighed again in resignation. At least being beaten would have been exciting... He banished the thought almost as quickly as it crossed his mind. He didn't want that. He didn't want to be beaten... He didn't want to be beaten...

It became his mantra until he heard the door open and close again and heavier footsteps moved across the room. Boots. Rick. Evan strained his ears, but the conversation in the kitchen was too soft to make out clearly.

Bored, Evan began to worry at the baseboard with the toe of his shoe. Then soon, he was kicking at it, simply thudding a rhythm to himself to pass the time. The hand that fell somewhat less than gently on his shoulder nearly startled him out of his seat. He looked up. Rick's expression was not approving.

"Sit still or stand..."

Evan slouched lower in the chair and glowered at the wall, but he stopped kicking.

Why did he wish he was kneeling on the wood floor in the dark again? He picked at his coat. Why? His bangs were tickling his eyes. Because, he thought, at least the pain was *something*... Anything... He made up his mind and acted before he could change it.


"You're as bad as he is," David muttered over the regular beat of his knife dicing potatoes for the stew pot.

"I'm not fifteen," Rick replied, his tone more tired than angry, now. He rested his elbows on the edge of the bar and watched across the counter as David worked.

David stopped for a moment to look at him. "And twenty-three year olds don't ditch their jobs without so much as a phone call."

Rick had the good sense to flush and shift uncomfortably on his stool at that. "I..." He studied the countertop for a few seconds. "I don't have an excuse for that." Then his demeanor shifted abruptly. "But it isn't your business, either. You're not my mother."

"I'm your best friend, I get a say when you start heading for a cliff."

Rick's eyes narrowed with something coldly malicious. "No. You don't get that chance again. Not with me. And whatever you think you're doing with this one," he nodded over his shoulder, "it won't change a damned thing."

David had just set down the knife, hard, when the first loud thud drew their attention away from their argument and to the boy still sitting in the chair. Now, apparently, honing his percussion skills on the baseboard of the wall.

Rick was off his stool and three steps toward the wayward youth before David even made it around the kitchen counter. Seeing it was handled, and too irritated to deal with either of the two of them at that moment, he picked up the knife again and began a more vigorous attack of the carrots than was probably necessary.

Rick had just slid back onto his stool when a movement behind his friend caught David's eye. Evan had turned sideways in his chair to face the two of them, his face was a mask. An odd mixture of resignation and resolute determination.

"I'd like to be returned to my Master now, please..."

David ground his teeth, as Rick turned on the stool. David, finally reaching his limit with tantrums snapped, "No!"

Rick, sounding equally irritated, growled, "Face the wall." When the boy stared at the two of them in indignation and surprise, Rick started to his feet. Evan's eyes widened and he scooted himself back into position, his chest rising and falling quickly with angry breaths.

"You can't keep me here against my will!" he nearly shouted.

"Fuck this," Rick muttered, snatching his coat and heading for the door. He turned for a moment toward Evan. "You even *think* about leaving this house and I'll send the cops after you."

"Where are you going?" David demanded.

"Since when do I answer to you?

David gave him a long, hard look. "It was a reasonable question, Rick."

"So was mine," he replied and let himself out into the hall.


Chapter 14 [Top] [Next]

As Rick waited for the elevator, he flipped open his phone and turned it on to a chime and fourteen new messages. Leaning his head back against the wall, he squeezed his eyes shut against the tears that were threatening to fall. He counted his breaths until the grip on his throat loosened, then he dialed a number and pressed it to his ear.

The elevator chimed, the phone rang into his ear, the doors slid open and he stepped inside. Two more rings. His heart was beating hard in his chest. A voice followed a click and she sounded annoyed. "You hung up on me."

"I'm sorry..."

"What the hell is wrong with you lately?"

The tears returned, pricking at his eyes. "Can I come over?"

He heard a sigh on the other end of the line, when she spoke again, her voice was softer. "I ought to smack your butt for hanging up on me." A faint smile curved Rick's mouth. "Of course you can come over. Where are you? Do you need a ride?"

"No... "


The silence stretched for a moment. "Jen? Thanks..."

"That's what sisters are for."

"No, I mean... Thanks..."

"I know, baby boy... I love you, too."

The tightness returned to his chest with a vengeance, he wasn't sure he could speak without his voice breaking, so he whispered a quick "Bye," and hung up.

The elevator chimed and stopped, it's doors sliding open onto an empty lobby. Grateful, Rick scrubbed his hands over his face and walked out the front doors onto the street.


Jen set a glass of ice water on a coaster on the coffee table and flopped down on the couch beside Rick. She propped the heel of one well-worn tennis shoe against the table's edge and tucked her tongue into her cheek for a moment while she thought.

Rick absently fingered the gold chain at his throat and studied his sister's shoe. The stitching was getting tattered, the sole was cracked and crushed beneath too many hours on the hard, unforgiving, radiology lab floors.

"It isn't like you to miss work like that, Ricky."

Rick tugged on the chain a final time then ran his hand through his hair, rumpling the bleached ends. "Do I still have a job?"

Jen sighed. "Probably. Although, if it were anyone else..."

He just nodded at the unspoken words. He was the golden child. Dr. Genesee loved him. But his behavior today would require some serious scraping to get himself back into the old man's good graces. "I don't know what's wrong with me."

Jen let the words hang in the air until Rick began to shift uncomfortably on the couch beside her. The ice in his glass popped in the aching silence. Finally, she said, "Tell me about it, baby boy."

Rick cast her a sideways glance. Her own glass was sweating in her right hand, ice cubes clinked and cracked in the water. She was carefully studying the rim as she traced it with the middle finger of her left hand. For a long time he said nothing, just watched her hand move.

"I found him."

The meditative circling faltered only a moment. "Oh?"

A sudden rush of grief tightened Rick's chest and threatened to choke him. He fought for a shuddering breath and pressed his hands to his face. Jen leaned forward and gently set down her glass before shifting on the couch to face him. She propped one elbow and tucked her right hand under her chin. When Rick dropped his hands again, tears glittered in his eyes. "Do you remember that kid David brought in?"

Jen's eyes grew distant for a moment. "The runaway... Evan?"

Rick nodded. "He ran again. I caught up with him at Charlie's..." Jen said nothing, so Rick pushed onward. "I lost the kid in the crowd but I saw...him. I caught up with them both in the alley. The kid was half-naked and bloodied up, about thirty seconds from raped."

"Shit..." Jen breathed.

Rick pressed on. "They didn't even see me until I had my knife at his throat and he let the kid go... I thought I could kill him, Jennie... I really thought I could do it if I ever saw him again. I would..." The tears finally broke free and streaked down his face. "But I couldn't do it. I couldn't kill him. I couldn't even hit him, Jennie. I just let him go." Jen reached over and pulled him toward her as Rick shuddered against full out sobs. "I let him go, Jennie... I let him go..."

He let himself fall into her soft warmth, clinging to her strength as he always had. Finally, the tears ran out leaving only the aching chasm inside that no number of tears could ever ease. Slowly, as his breathing returned to normal, Jen sighed into his hair and kissed the top of his head. He pushed away from her slightly and she rose from the couch, gathering her glass from the coffee table.

She disappeared into the back bedroom and reappeared with a bundle of sheets and pajamas. "Been a while since we had a good sleepover." She smiled. "So are you crashing with David lately?" Rick hesitated. Jen was too good not to pounce on it. "You two had a tiff, didn't you?"

Too late, Rick caught his eyes dropping. "Not really..." He dragged his gaze up to meet hers. She gave him a stern look and snatched cordless phone off the wall cradle.

Rick growled, "He's not my mother, I don't need to check in with him on every decision I make..."

His sister raised one eyebrow and balled a fist on her hip. Rick felt the old familiar tightening in his belly at that look, despite the fact she hadn't spanked him since he was twelve. His backside still remembered well enough. He ground his teeth and took the phone from her outstretched hand.


Chapter 15 [Top] [Next]

The conversation had been brief and one-sided. "I'm at my sister's" and the soft ticking of a dead connection. David listened to the muted clicks for a moment then set the phone into the cradle. He carefully placed his open hands, palm-down on the surface of the counter. For several seconds, he counted his breaths. Slow and even. He finally raised his eyes and met a bright, curious gaze.

For a moment, the boy's expression was soft and open, free of the hard edges of anger and pain that David had become accustomed to.

Caught, Evan blinked and quickly turned his head, his gaze once more focused on the wall in front of him. A dark sulk pulled at the corners of his mouth and hardened his jaw.

David winced, the hostility in the boy's posture cut at already worn defenses. He lifted his hands from the counter, and brushed them absently against his jeans before going to the dining table and sliding out one of the remaining chairs.

"Come here."

For a moment, Evan didn't turn, he sidled deeper into the chair, shifting his shoulders in a good impression of James Dean. David waited, and finally, the defiance softened and Evan shifted on the seat of his chair until he could see David over his shoulder.

In a moment, David watched the boy take in both him and the chair. Something wavered in the green eyes, something strangely desperate and hopeful, but tempered by suspicion. David felt his gut tighten. That hope would change to hurt in a moment, then burning hatred. All of it hinged on him. On what he would do. He glanced away.

"Sit down," he muttered, turning back toward the kitchen. He paid pointed attention to pulling dishes from the cupboards. When he returned to the table, Evan was sliding into the seat, his head bowed slightly, watching David from under his bangs.

David ignored him. He set the dishes down on the table. Two more trips from the kitchen had the table set and a simple dinner served. David spooned soup into Evan's bowl, and then his own. He poured milk into the boy's glass. "It's all I've got," he snapped, anticipating defiance. Evan slouched slightly lower in his chair and said nothing. David watched obliquely as the boy picked up his spoon without comment or complaint and slowly brought a measure of soup to his mouth.

He swallowed it, set the spoon down gently and reached for the milk glass.

David shook his head slightly, tearing his attention from the boy's abrupt shift in behavior. He reached for his own spoon and ate mechanically, without tasting.

Finishing his dinner, Evan waited silently for David to finish, then rose and carried his dishes to the sink. He rinsed them and stacked them neatly on the counter, murmured a barely audible thanks, and disappeared into his room.



Chapters 16 - 20

~ Julnick

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