"It's in open ground, there'll be hundreds of people there, it's not even that late, it's well lit-"
"Not without me," Eric glanced at his reflection in the mirror and turned his head to snatch a quick kiss. "Thank you."
"It's the FAIR - it's only one night. What do you think I'm going to do?"
"Nothing, you're very sensible. But not everyone else is and I don't want you down there alone. Why don't you ring the others and see if anyone else is going that you can tag along with?"
"I can go with them?" Michael said hopefully. Eric shouldered into his jacket.
"Yes. But without Stephen, Rolf or Joe with you, the answer stays no. I'll be late-"
"Probably around three or so. I'll try not to wake you."
"Have a good time," Michael said dully. Eric grimaced.
"It's a charity dinner, it won't be fun."
He followed Mike downstairs and caught him in the hallway, pulling him close for a hard hug.
"I'd far rather be with you and at the fair- I'm really sorry it's clashed like this."
"It's ok," Michael muttered, not looking at him.
"The other one has bells on," Eric said, snatching another kiss. "We'll do the fair another night. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, hmmm?" Eric said as he went out to the garage and drove off in Michael's car as it was the one not blocked by the cruiser in the driveway.
"I'm sure I'll be in bed EARLY as there's NOTHING TO DO!" Michael yelled at the retreating car. He shut the door and picked up the phone to call Chris, before remembering that Chris was still grounded to infinity. He punched in another number.
"Hi, Rolf. It's Michael. Is Matthew around?"
"Yes, just a moment."
"Hello?" Matthew said when Rolf handed him the phone.
"Hey. Think you can talk Rolf into going to the fair tonight?"
"Oh, I wish. I would, but I have a project I need to finish up at work tonight. It sorta needs doing by ," Matthew said as Rolf left the room. "It took all my persuasive powers to get His Highness to allow me to go back to the office."
"How long will you be?" Michael asked plaintively.
"I can only stay until ten, whether or not it gets done," Matthew groused. "I swear, sometimes he acts like I LIVE at the office.
"Are you SURE you'd not rather go to the fair?"
"In a heartbeat," Matthew's usual natural mischief asserted itself for a moment and then dissipated with a sigh. "But this has got to get done by morning. I only came home to eat; I'm going back the minute I'm done. Try Chris and-"
He broke off, remembering. Michael snorted.
"Yeah, the Prisoner of Zenda. And ever since you and he got caught up in school with the mad gunman, Eric's come over as neurotic as Joe and Rolf. I can't go anywhere interesting without an escort."
Since Michael was the one of them with the most easygoing partner- and the one who had the most freedom to explore the few interesting places the town had to offer- Matthew wasn't unsympathetic. He and Chris, and mostly Todd, were used to these kinds of expectations: to Mike it must feel somewhat restricting.
"I'm sorry. This payroll really
"It isn't going to take you all NIGHT though is it?" Michael demanded. "Come on, suppose you're done by eight-"
"I'm going to be lucky to get done by ten," Matthew said wryly. "I only came home in the first place because SOMEONE phoned and made threats-"
"Matthew, if you want to go anywhere tonight you need to eat," Rolf's voice said in no uncertain terms. Matthew muttered something under his breath: Michael had a fair idea what.
"Sorry, there's a wolf on my tail."
And the phone was put down.
Which was irritating.
Michael understood perfectly well what it was like to have someone beside you meaning
Todd answered promptly enough for his boredom to be very clear.
"It’s me. Did you have any luck?"
"Are you kidding? Steve wouldn't even discuss it."
"Eric either," Michael lay back on the carpet with the phone and sighed. "No WAY unless someone goes with us."
"From the list of approved babysitters," Todd said sourly. "I'd just love to know what they think is going to happen if we don't have one of them breathing down our necks. Did you try Matthew?"
"Nope. And Rolf's all over him. They're not going to go anywhere else tonight."
Todd sighed. "Damn. That's it then."
Mutual gloom spread over the phone line. Michael glanced at his watch.
"Want to come over?"
If they were going to be depressed, they might as well be depressed together.
Todd left a message for Stephen and headed out the door for the quick ride over to Michael's. He parked in the drive next to the cruiser and knocked on the front door.
"Hey. Come in," Michael said a moment later, opening the door.
"I thought about stopping at the movie place, but I think we've seen about all they have," Todd said as he entered the living room.
"I'm sick of watching TV. ESPECIALLY with the fair on the other side of town. It's a charity event, for Pete's sake, I don't know what they think is going to happen," Michael groused, flopping onto the sofa.
"I know. Lonely will creep out of the woodwork and follow us around. Some nut will go crazy with a gun. I mean, come ON."
"Want a drink?" Michael asked, getting up again.
"Coke I suppose, since I have to drive home later. Did you eat?"
"No. Eric didn't fix anything and I'm not in the mood for a sandwich."
"Want to order a pizza?"
"Yeah, I guess. There's that new place that opened, have you tried theirs yet?" Michael said, looking on the fridge for the ad.
"No. Let's do that. I'm sick to death of Dominoes. At least this will be something different."
"Here it is. They have a special, buy a large get a medium for free. Hungry?"
"Yeah," Todd said, laughing. "They have wings?"
"Yes. Those too?"
"Sure, why not. Cold pizza for breakfast sounds divine."
Michael turned to look at him.
"I know. ONLY if I wake up LONG before Stephen. He's working late tonight, at least I can hope."
Michael kept looking at him. "Cold pizza?" he finally said when he realized Todd still had no idea what he'd found so strange. Todd grinned.
"Stephen used to live on it when I first met him and he was doing the cooking for the bar half the night. Once we moved in together he came over all responsible and stopped it, but it's pretty good."
"Eric would go mad."
"If he eats donuts, he doesn't do it where I can watch," Michael said sighing. "And he might be big but he's fit. I can't outrun him, I've tried."
Todd laughed and picked up the phone, dialling.
They ate and Michael sat in front of the videos, scanning through without success for anything they hadn't watched at least twice before. By they were down to flicking cards into Eric's upturned uniform hat which happened to be sitting on the table.
"I'm sure Matthew didn't NEED to work until ten," Michael said, glancing sourly at the clock when Todd got up to retrieve the cards. "We could have fitted an hour in at the fair."
"It's probably work he's put off for a week."
"Rolf sounded seriously brassed off about it."
"It's only just past tax season; you know what he's like about Matthew working overtime." Todd pulled a face. "If it wasn't for breaking every speed limit in the county he'd never make it home from the office in time for breakfast."
"He does have a heavy foot."
"And he NEVER gets caught. Well, except for that one time, and he totally freaked out about it. I got SO tired of listening to him go on and on about it."
"Yeah. Let's try something. Let's call him and see if he'll spend the last hour at the fair. At least we could ride SOMETHING in that time," Michael said, grabbing the phone. "Pick up the phone, you prick, it's not Rolf."
Michael cleared his throat. "What time is it?"
Matthew looked at the clock on his phone. "It's only 9, you said -" he started heatedly, before he heard giggles and realized it wasn't Rolf. "NOT FUNNY," he said loudly and hung up the phone.
"Hey, it’s -" Michael looked up at Todd. "He hung up on me!"
"Call him back," Todd said, laughing.
Michael dialled the phone again.
"Munchies bar and grill. What can I get you?"
"A ticket to the fair."
"I'd SO like to go, but I'm still trying to get this payroll done. The fucking printer is giving me FITS," Matthew said, sounding distracted.
"Just call Rolf and tell him that you need more time, come to the fair for an hour, then go back. We're dying here."
Matthew wasn't about to admit that he'd been driven to work by Rolf, so that Rolf could dictate exactly when they were leaving. Rolf knew by experience that no matter what he said, Matthew would stay until he was sure he got all the work done, whether or not it COULD wait until the following day.
"I can't. Rolf would kill me if I went, anyway. I have to leave by ten and go home to bed. I'll catch up with you tomorrow." Matthew hung up the phone.
"Call him again," Todd said grinning. Michael dialled and then snorted.
"He's left the phone off the hook. He's no fun."
"I suppose that's it for the fair then. He's going to be speeding again to make it home by the deadline." Todd sprawled on the carpet beside Michael. Michael stretched out beside him, flicking a card that lay within reach.
"Did you ever hear anything about that speed trap you went through?"
"No, thank God!" Todd said emphatically. "After all the winding up Matthew did about it too! Steve would have gone mad."
"Was it a cop you went past?"
"No, one of the flash cameras. I think it got the guy ahead of me- I was only three miles over the limit- but Matthew swore up and down it had got me. Terrified the living daylights out of me, I would NOT want to explain a ticket."
"It’s not that big a deal."
"You're married to a cop, for Pete's sake!"
"Eric speeds all the time, it's driving the squad car."
"That isn't what Matthew said!"
"Matthew likes winding you up, that's all. And it's not like you have Rolf to deal with if you DID get a ticket."
"I suppose so. But that made me SO mad, I could have killed him."
"He can be a rat sometimes."
Todd picked up another card and flicked it at the hat. When the card landed inside, his eyes lit up and he stood up, putting the hat on his own head.
"I have an idea," he said, looking at Mike.
"What?" Mike asked suspiciously, seeing the gleam in Todd's eye.
"How about officer Todd and officer Mike pull Matthew over for speeding on his way home tonight?"
Michael sat up with a quizzical look.
"The hat'll fool him for about two seconds-"
"The cruiser," Todd said quietly, eyes bright with mischief.
"Oooohhhhh noooooooo you don't," Michael said quickly. "NO. We can't."
"Oh, but we can. Hat right here. Keys over there. Cruiser on the drive. And to prevent any escape, a water gun to keep him covered. Remember that one of mine that looks like a pistol? Can you imagine his face when he sees the car? Come on, we can do it."
"Are you crazy? What if we get spotted?"
"The road out towards his office is deserted anyway at this time of night, that's why he speeds! No one'll see us, we can lie in wait and I
"Eric's radar gun's in the trunk..." Michael echoed, his eyes starting to gleam in spite of himself. Todd grinned at him.
"Where are the keys?"
It was pitch dark on the country road that led around the edge of town. Todd and Mike picked their spot with some care, eventually lighting on one at the end of a long, straight stretch which gave plenty of scope for the radar gun. Michael, who knew the most about the workings of it, set it up and then opened the driver's door, pointing Todd at a row of switches.
"That's the light, that's the siren- turn them on when he's a few metres away and I'll flag him over."
"What if he doesn't stop?" Todd said doubtfully. Mike grinned.
"He'll stop. Then put the reflective stuff on and get out of the car with the gun...I'll signal him out. By then he should be about ready to wet himself."
"Poor Matthew," Todd said grinning. Mike shook his head.
"He should learn to go to fairs instead of working. It’s for his own good."
Todd looked up and watched as a car slowed significantly as it approached the parked cruiser. "Eric must have so much fun watching these people freak out all the time."
"Oh, he hates that. Especially those that drive on his back bumper, at whatever speed he's going. Why people can't figure out that he knows how fast they're going behind him just as much as in front of him, I'll never know."
"Is it about time for Matthew?"
"Maybe another five minutes or so."
"I'm not finished yet!" Matthew said when he answered the knock on the door.
"And I said you would be at ten. Get your jacket and let’s go."
"If I can just -"
"You can just get your jacket," Rolf said easily, herding Matthew ahead of him into his office. "Did you get the checks printed?"
"Yes, but I wanted to finish the taxes so they could take those too."
"But they're not due until the fifteenth, right?"
"Yes, but -"
"They can wait until tomorrow."
"They need -"
Matthew sighed and picked up his jacket. "Yes sir. Just
Rolf captured his hand, towed him away from the desk and snapped the light out as they left.
Once in the carpark, with the door locked, Matthew visibly relaxed, the paperwork safely abandoned. He clapped his hands as they walked to the truck, holding them out.
Rolf threw the keys over and got into the passenger seat, wincing and hastily snapping off the CD that promptly blasted over the stereo.
"WHAT was that?"
"NOT Queen," Matthew gave him a sideways grin and turned out of the carpark. He could do the route home in his sleep, and at this time of night it was blessedly quiet. He drove, humming to the station Rolf had tuned in- rather more softly- on the radio, half an eye on Rolf who was leaning with his eyes closed, head against the seat rest. So long as those eyes stayed closed and the road stayed empty, there was no reason why 50 mph shouldn't creep up just a little- the sooner they got home, the less excited Rolf was likely to get about late bedtimes needing compensating for tomorrow night.
He was coming down the long stretch of country road that led to their end of town when his peaceful drive was suddenly interrupted with the flash of blue lights and a police siren switched on in the cruiser ahead of him. Rolf's eyes snapped open, even as Matthew hit the brake, stomach freezing.
"What is it? A speed trap?" Rolf glanced at Matthew's speedometre and mentally sighed, but the police officer ahead of them was already flagging them over and his partner was getting out of the car, pulling a reflective jacket on.
"Ok, take it easy. Pull over, park behind them. Where's your wallet?"
"My-" Matthew pulled over, eyes wide, hands beginning to shake. Rolf leaned past him for his jacket, making his voice as reassuring as he could.
"They'll want to see your ID and licence. Wind the window down. It's ok, you're not going to get arrested."
"Oh God, he's got his gun-"
"It's dark, he doesn't know who we are. It's all right. Keep your hands in sight and wind the window down."
Trembling slightly, Matthew rolled the window down and watched the cop advance on him with trepidation. His partner, gun held in both hands and levelled low, stepped after him, covering the car.
"Do you know what speed you were doing then, sir?"
The minute Matthew heard the voice, his head snapped up. The cop stood waiting, a stern expression on the face half hidden by the cap.
"Fire somewhere? Pregnant wife in the car?"
Matthew's throat swelled with sheer fury, recognising the voice, and beyond it, Michael's blue eyes and Todd's slighter figure, shaking with laughter.
"You BASTARD, Mike!"
"Is that ANY way to speak to an officer?" Michael demanded, waving the radar gun. "Get out and spread 'em, I'm-"
He broke off as the passenger door opened. Matthew, at Michael's eyelevel, saw his head tip back and his eyes travel up as Rolf unfolded his entire six-foot eight-inch length from the passenger seat and stood up, leaning his folded arms on the roof of the car.
Matthew watched as the blood drained from Michael's face, the mouth falling open slightly in a look he pictured on a deer in headlights. He checked out the mirror and saw Todd with the same look on his face. He started to shake again, this time with the leftover adrenaline rush turned to laughter. Tears began to stream from his eyes as he worked - hard - on not laughing out loud.
"Michael David Kearney. A felony called impersonating an officer ring a bell?" Rolf asked, not moving from across the truck.
Michael's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, but no sounds were made. If there was only one person in the world, aside from Eric, that he had NOT wanted to see at this moment in time, it was Rolf. His stomach rolled itself into a knot, leaving him slightly nauseous.
Todd wasn't doing much better. This had been a grand idea until the tree had unfolded from the car, and now it stood poised to kill them.
A car passed by, slowing down to check out what was happening before moving on.
When Rolf was absolutely certain that neither Todd nor Michael intended to make a comment on the situation, he leaned on the car roof and began to explain himself.
It took some time.
It began with a brisk summary of the laws surrounding the putting of police equipment to improper use, moved over his opinion of their characters and his feelings about young men hanging around darkened, deserted roads at this hour of the night, and continued to his considered reflections on practical jokes, especially unkind and thoughtless ones played on his partner when he was tired, overworked and minding his own business. Michael and Todd, mouths open, still frozen to the spot, listened to every word in silence. Matthew, still in the car, listened with rapt enjoyment and did his best to keep his hysteria to himself for fear of interrupting Rolf's oratory skills. Never, in all the time he'd known Mike and Todd, had he ever seen two such stunned and completely horrified young men.
"It is- ," Rolf said eventually, summing up with a glance at his watch. "BUT for you, Matthew and I would by this time be home and both of us would be able to get up in the morning having had a decent and adequate night's sleep.
Todd, looking about ready to cry, shook his head.
"WHAT?" Rolf said irritably. Todd coughed and managed a hasty approximation of "No, sir".
Rolf pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and held it out. "Then call him please, explain it to him and inform him that I'll be dropping you at the bar as soon as possible."
Todd gaped at him and his fingers curled reflexively - around the trigger of the water gun. When the sight of the water spraying onto the front of Rolf's pants made it through his less-than-focused brain, he leg go of the trigger and the gun clattered to the gravel on the side of the road. Rolf looked down at his pants, then back at Todd and shoved the phone into his hand. Todd finally shut his mouth and the tears started to fall.
"Please......? I'll tell him when I get home-"
"You'll tell him now and you'll hurry up about it, Matthew and I have a home to go to."
The bark was getting distinctly louder. Todd hastily dialled with fumbling fingers, well aware of three sets of eyes and ears on him.
Todd tried to get a hold on his voice, though it still squeaked when he got through to the bartender.
"Stephen, please. It's Todd."
"Hey, Todd, just a minute," Kelly said, handing the phone over to Stephen.
"Hey, Sunshine. You getting ready for bed?" Stephen inquired of his partner.
That did him in. Through more than a few sobs, Todd said Rolf would be dropping him off at the bar soon and hung up. Rolf took the phone back and opened the back door of the truck.
Todd scrambled into the seat, curling up into a miserable ball in the corner, unable to meet Matthew's eyes.
Matthew's near hysteria had left him as the reality of what Todd and Michael were facing hit him. He carefully avoided eye contact with Todd and waited, wishing Rolf would just hurry up so they could get home.
"Michael, you're going to drive the cruiser straight to my home. Get those lights off immediately and be very careful. You'd better pray that you don't get pulled over by any of the other officers on the way."
Michael couldn't even muster a response; just took off nearly running for the cruiser. He slid in and with shaking fingers flicked off the revolving lights. He took his first breath since seeing Rolf and nearly passed out, thinking about how Eric was going to view this incident. He put the car in drive and slowly pulled away from the road.
Rolf got back in the passenger seat. "Follow him home," he said, buckling in after he checked his rear seat passenger. Matthew promptly pulled out and followed, driving with extreme care and attention and no intention of drawing Rolf's fire if he could help it.
To everyone's relief, no one looked twice at the police car making its way slowly onto the drive of Matthew and Rolf's home. Rolf got out of the truck and went around to the driver's door, opening it for Matthew and holding out his hands for the keys. Matthew slid out promptly, leaving Todd still curled up in the far corner of the back seat and Michael slinking unwillingly from the cruiser towards them down the drive. Rolf pointed at the passenger seat and Michael hurriedly took a seat. Leaving them there, Rolf headed up the drive, unlocked the door and kissed Matthew.
"Get yourself to bed, sweetheart, I'll be back as soon as I can. Are you all right?"
Matthew nodded, half temped to make a bid for sympathy, but too well aware of how Todd and Michael must be feeling right now to want them in any deeper.
"Lights straight out, we'll try not to wake you," Rolf watched until Matthew went inside and the upstairs light switched on. Then he strode back to the truck, every movement making it very clear how unimpressed he was.
The journey to the bar was over far too fast for Todd. Once in the carpark, Todd slid slowly out of his seat and Rolf jerked his head at Michael.
"You, too. I don't much want to leave you alone with my car right now."
Michael stood up on legs that shook about as much as Todd's and trailed them into the bar, Rolf's hand on Todd's shoulder and pushing him ahead.
When Stephen spotted the three of them, he motioned towards his private office and followed them in a moment later, shutting the door. Having seen the hang-dog looks of the two young men and Rolf's thundering face, he knew this wasn't a simple drop-off.
Todd now knew the meaning of caught between a rock and a hard place. Rolf on one side, his partner, his face losing the easy smile, on the other.
"Todd, I think you need to fill Stephen in," Rolf said when the silence grew long.
Todd risked a look at Stephen, hating the expression on his face.
"It was only a joke - we just meant to give Matthew a shock, it was supposed to be funny -"
"WHAT was?" Stephen demanded. Todd looked at Rolf, longing for help, but none was forthcoming.
"We took Eric's car," he admitted, "Set up a speed trap-"
"Eric's-" Stephen broke off, shocked. "The CRUISER? WHERE?"
"The mill road out towards town-" Todd mumbled, "Where it's unlit-"
"You and Michael drove the cruiser out to THERE at this time of night?"
"They flagged us down no less," Rolf said acidly. "WITH radar gun,
"I don't believe it," Stephen said eventually, blankly. "I really don't. Rolf, I'm so sorry. Please give my apologies to Matthew; it must have been quite alarming."
"Especially since these two were
"I do apologise," Stephen said again, glaring at Todd. "I'm sorry too that you've had to spend your evening rescuing this young man. I'm sure you had many better ways to spend it."
Rolf nodded shortly and pushed Michael ahead of him back towards the car.
"And you," Stephen said as Rolf and Michael left, "can take a seat right there while I get things wrapped up here to go home where we'll discuss tonight's escapade."
Todd sat down and tried not to burst into tears as Stephen closed the office door behind him with a solid click.
Rolf kept his hand on Michael's shoulder and opened the door for him. Michael didn't dare ask where they were going, and was surprised when they pulled up to his house.
"You can get a change of clothes and your toothbrush together. Five minutes," Rolf said as he followed Michael into the house. While Michael was upstairs, Rolf wrote a note and posted it in a conspicuous place.
Michael got a clean pair of shorts and a t-shirt and grabbed his toothbrush. He didn't know what was worse, the thought of waiting at home alone for Eric, or under arrest at Rolf's until he came to collect him. He took one last look at his room before heading downstairs.
Rolf ushered him out to the car, locking the door behind them.
All the lights except the landing light were out when they reached Rolf and Matthew's home- Rolf glanced up at the bedroom window and a little amusement pierced his annoyance. Matthew clearly wanted no part of tonight's trouble, much as his curiosity must be killing him. He locked the front door behind a dejected Michael and nodded upstairs.
"Spare room, get yourself ready for bed, I'll be up in a moment."
Michael fled. Rolf checked on the cats and followed, standing with his arms folded, waiting while Michael hurriedly brushed his teeth and got into bed, half afraid that Rolf would want to discuss this personally, rather than leave it to Eric in the morning. His stomach unclenched a little with relief when Rolf snapped the light out.
"I advise you to be VERY little trouble, young man. Get some sleep. Goodnight."
Ha ha ha.
Sleep the last possibility for tonight, Michael rolled over and tried not to imagine what Eric would make of this in the morning. In their circle of friends, Eric was by far the easiest going, but he had clear limits. How had something that had seemed so funny and so harmless, suddenly turned into this nightmare?
Matthew was doing a seriously good impression of being asleep. Rolf got ready for bed without putting the light on, slid under the covers and pushed a sleepy cat out of the way.
"Eight out of ten."
Silence. Then Matthew turned to look at him, blankly.
"For the acting," Rolf explained. "Are you all right?"
"Fine. It scared the hell out of me while I thought it was the police, but it's ok."
Resisting the urge to explain how far from ok it was, Rolf fought and won his battle for territory with the cat.
"WERE you speeding when they pulled you over?"
Matthew swallowed, thinking about it. "Maybe by five miles an hour? Not much-"
"But they knew to expect you to be speeding?"
Matthew was grateful for the darkness as he felt his face flush hotly. And from the silence, Rolf had his answer.
"We'll discuss the dangers of speeding tomorrow, brat," Rolf said as he found Matthew's forehead and dropped a gentle kiss on it before pulling him close and falling to sleep.
Michael tossed and turned and jumped when a cat landed on his bed. He scratched the cat behind her ears and talked softly to her, listening to her purr. Finally sleep overtook him and the cat curled up and slept at his side.
Rolf woke first and showered, waking Matthew up when he was finished. After the usual five minutes of cajoling, Matthew finally rolled out of bed and headed for the shower, forgetting that Michael was still there.
Rolf went in to wake up Michael, finding a cat on each side of him.
"Michael, wake up. I'm getting breakfast ready, so hit the shower."
Michael worked his way out from under the two cats and sat up, rubbing his eyes. It took a moment to work out where he was and why, and his stomach tied itself up and he had to run to the bathroom. He was startled several minutes later.
"Yes, sir," Michael said as he finished undressing and climbed under the warm spray. When he'd finished washing he dried off and brushed his teeth, heading downstairs a few minutes later.
"Hi," Matthew said, sitting at the table. Michael mumbled a response, not looking at him, and stood hesitantly, waiting for further instructions. Rolf took a chair opposite Matthew, putting a plate down in the third laid place.
"Michael, come and eat."
Michael slid into the chair, head down. Rolf buttered toast, glancing across at him.
"When you're done, cancel your first two appointments today."
"I can't, they're-"
"CANCEL them, Michael. After that, what you do is up to Eric. I'm going to be an hour late for work this morning myself while we wait for Eric, and it's an hour I can't afford to miss so I don't want to hear anything about your commitments. Matthew, come on, it's ten to seven."
Well aware of how upset Michael was, and of Rolf's mood, Matthew ate as fast as possible, swallowing the absolute minimum required to get out of the house, and escaped.
"Jacket," Rolf called after him. "And the office key's in my jacket in the hall."
"Got it." Matthew reappeared, key in hand, snatched a quick kiss and headed for the front door.
"See you, Mike."
"Bye," Michael mumbled, still picking at toast.
"JACKET," Rolf said, louder.
"Michael, stop crumbling that and eat it."
Wondering why Rolf, like Eric, seemed to think eating was easy and imperative no matter how one was feeling- and being well aware of how futile it was to argue- Michael forced the toast down. Rolf held out a hand for the plate.
"Thank you. Cancel your first two calls and then you can face that corner until Eric gets here."
Michael stood up on unsteady legs and headed to the phone.
Eric pulled up into their driveway and was immediately concerned when he realized his cruiser wasn't on the driveway. He went into the house and quickly found the note, his face turning grim.
Your partner is under house arrest and the cruiser is impounded on my drive until your arrival. Rolf.
"This does NOT sound good," Eric said, getting back into the car and heading directly to Rolf's.
Michael was beginning to wonder if Eric was EVER coming home when he heard a car on the drive. Goosebumps rose on his arms as Rolf got up to open the side door.
Eric, on the other side of the door was equally edgy. Rolf's sense of humour, while subtler, was no less lively or wicked than Matthew's; he could usually find something funny about the worst of exploits. The note had been uncomfortably terse. The cruiser on the drive looked in one piece- although what on earth it was doing here defeated Eric. Rolf opened the door and he looked thoroughly unamused. Eric followed him into the kitchen, too anxious for platitudes, and found his partner standing shoulders hunched, looking thoroughly miserable in the corner. There were no obvious slings, no bandages or casts, no crutches... marginally reassured, Eric turned straight around to Rolf.
"What's he done? What's the cruiser doing here-"
"Michael." Rolf beckoned to the miserable brat in the corner. Michael trailed over, very slowly, eyes on the floor. Eric looked at him, increasingly anxious.
Michael swallowed, knowing he might as well get this over with.
"Todd and I ... took the cruiser and set up a speed trap for Matthew- he was at the office working late-"
"They stopped us both at gunpoint," Rolf said acidly. "At ten-thirty PM at night in the middle of nowhere."
"GUN point?" Eric demanded, thinking in horror of his sidearm. Michael saw his expression and hurriedly interrupted.
"WATER gun, and the radar gun, that was
There was a long silence.
Eric was a phlegmatic character; far more so than Rolf, Joe or Stephen- it was very rarely he got annoyed about anything, but glancing at Eric's face now, Michael had no doubt at all that his partner was downright furious. He quickly dropped his gaze. Eric cleared his throat, voice quiet but clipped.
"Rolf, I'm very sorry about this. That was something I never expected to have to leave on Michael's list of don'ts. Looks like that'll have to change. Michael? You have two minutes to get your things together.
Michael ran upstairs quickly, tears stinging his eyes. He grabbed his clothes and his toothbrush and made his way downstairs.
"I think you owe Rolf an apology?"
Michael barely managed to look up, "I'm sorry."
"Thank you," Rolf said, not unkindly.
"Here are the keys to your car. Straight home, I'll be right behind you."
Michael took the keys and jumped in his car, fumbling with the ignition. He was very glad to be out from under Rolf's chilling gaze, but he was heading home for the fire.
"I'll make sure Michael makes this up to you. There isn't an excuse for keeping you from work," Eric said as he took the keys to the cruiser and preceded Rolf from the house.
"That's all right. My decision to keep him here until you arrived.”
"Thanks. I'll talk to you later," Eric said as he stepped into his cruiser and headed home.
As expected by anyone being followed by a police car, Michael drove home meticulously carefully, obeying each speed limit and stop sign to the absolute second. It did not help much, since by the time they reached their home, Eric had had plenty of time to think the whole matter over several times and was still more annoyed. Michael slowly got out of his car, locked it and trailed Eric towards the house, his stomach in knots. How on earth had he been so stupid to have touched the cruiser?
Eric shut the door behind them and dropped a hand on his shoulder, steering him rapidly through the house and to the kitchen where he pulled out a chair.
"Sit. What on EARTH made you drive the cruiser? You know I won't ever let you drive it, there's a good REASON for that-"
Eric's usually genial voice had sharpened to a bark. Michael jumped, tears starting to sting.
"The insurance.... and that when you're in the car you're carrying police identity- the car might be flagged over or you might have to get involved in a situation because of the car-"
"NONE of which you are trained to deal with!" Eric agreed. "And moreover, the car is official police property! You do NOT touch or take things that do NOT belong to you!"
"If you'd been caught driving that car, never mind wearing a uniform and impersonating a police officer, you would have been arrested on the spot, Michael David. You would have been charged, and we BOTH would have been in very serious trouble, involving court appearances. Have you any IDEA what a night in the cells would be like?"
Michael shook his head hard, tears really starting now. Eric leaned on the table, voice quietening a little.
"I don't intend for you EVER to find out. There is a serious difference between impulse and natural mischief and committing a crime, Michael- I know that difference because I know you. A judge won't, and is going to take a lot more convincing once you get too close to that line. What possessed you to try and scare Matthew like that? I'm not at all surprised Rolf was so annoyed."
"He...he wouldn't go to the fair with us, he had to work..." Michael said unsteadily. Eric shook his head and dropped into a chair.
"You mean you and Todd couldn't talk him into blowing work off?"
Michael nodded slowly.
"So instead of giving up, you decide to scare the crap out of him, and found yourself facing not just Matthew, but Rolf."
Michael nodded more slowly.
Eric couldn't help a wry smile from crossing his lips at what Michael and Todd had to make of that when Rolf's presence was made known to them. After everything was said and done, he'd have to ask about that. But not now.
"You are incredibly lucky that Rolf was the one who caught you, and not another officer. Not only could you be facing charges, you'd embarrass me in front of the entire force. Did you ever think of that?"
Michael was trying his best to defy the laws of physics and melt through the chair into a puddle on the floor. He would have argued wholeheartedly with Eric that Rolf was NOT the best person to have caught him if he hadn't made several valid points after that. And no, he'd not thought of embarrassing Eric. He never thought of getting caught in the first place, and had he thought that far ahead, embarrassing Eric would have been the least of his worries anyway. His face was flushed hotly.
"Michael?" Eric said, a little more sternly.
"No," he said quietly, trying to look anywhere but at his partner.
"You didn't think about a lot of things, did you?"
Michael shook his head, eyes starting to sting in spite of himself.
Eric straightened up and glanced at his watch, voice quietening a little.
"It's ten AM. You can salvage the rest of your appointments if you start now. And I really need to get some sleep. We'll finish discussing this after dinner tonight. I expect you home not one minute after five."
Michael nodded, hurriedly getting to his feet and picking up his jacket. Eric put a hand on his shoulder, kissing him briefly as he passed.
"Have a good day."
Michael escaped onto the drive and shut the front door behind him, not sure if he was relieved or dismayed at the reprieve. Then work mode kicked in and he pulled out his cell phone, dialling for his first appointment of the day.
"Hi- it's Michael Kearney? I had to delay our appointment this morning, I'm just ringing to say if I pick up the replacement parts now I can come straight out to you and do the repair-"
He spent the rest of his day rebuilding computers, trying to keep his mind off five PM.
When he finished the last call of the day he slid into the front seat of his car and shut the door. Glancing at his watch, his stomach flipped as he realized that five was closer than he cared to know. He slowly turned the ignition and backed out of the lot, heading towards home.
Eric had lain down almost as soon as Michael had left, not waking up until after . He'd gotten only five hours the night before, and the additional four he'd just snatched had helped a lot. He worked on cleaning the house after he grabbed a sandwich, thankful he wasn't going to work until the following day. When rolled around, his stomach tightened at the upcoming scene they were going to have to have. He fixed a light supper and had that waiting on the table when Michael drove into the garage.
Michael stepped out of his car and grabbed his jacket before heading slowly up the two stairs and into the house. He thought about sidestepping Eric, but when the arms went open for a hug, he dove into them, needing the comfort.
"How did the appointments go?" Eric asked over Michael's head.
"Okay," was the muffled response.
Eric kissed the top of his head. "Why don't you take a shower and change, hmm?"
The implication that he wouldn't feel like it later was obvious. Stomach lined with lead, Michael headed upstairs and slid out of his clothes, putting them away with attention to detail he'd never manage on a usual day. The shower was over even quicker, despite the fact he took as long as he possibly could. All too soon he was left with nothing to do but trail slowly downstairs where Eric was already sitting at the table and waiting for him. Supper was actually something he always liked- but tonight Michael ate quickly, not even tasting it, just wanting to get the meal over with as he knew Eric wouldn't let him go without eating. They got up and did the dishes in equal silence, broken only by the chink of china being put back on shelves. Finally the table was dry, the cupboards were shut and Eric pulled out a chair, taking a seat.
"Sit down, Michael."
Mike sat, slowly. Eric's voice was a lot softer than this morning but no less stern.
"You've had all day to think this through. Is there anything you want to say that we haven't already covered?"
Mike shook his head, eyes down. "Just.... I'm sorry I took the car. It was stupid, we got carried away and we didn't think anyone would ever notice anyway-"
"IS that the point?"
Michael's voice cracked a little. "No sir. It was stupid and dangerous."
"I'm disappointed that you'd so easily let frustration and some silly idea lead you into something so serious and so thoughtless. For a start it makes me wonder if I can trust you having friends in the house unless I'm here to keep an eye on you. Or if I need to make arrangements to have you supervised. For Pete's sake, Michael, I never thought you'd make us have to do that!"
That hurt. Michael was used to being alone, and keeping himself occupied. He enjoyed some of the quiet times, getting into a good book or just watching a favourite old movie. To think what he'd just done could compromise that really bothered him, and the tears finally started.
"It wasn't meant to happen! It was a joke!" Michael cried.
"Do you realize how many times people say that? That houses burn down because someone 'didn't mean to light that match so close to something?' That people die because 'I didn't mean for the gun to go off?' Your actions weren't that serious. But they COULD have been. And it doesn't change the fact that you DID take the car, whether or not you're sorry about the outcome, does it?"
Mike shook his head, trying to hang on to some vestiges of dignity. Eric leaned on the table, voice quieter but VERY firm.
"Michael, look at me."
Mike got his head up with an effort. Eric's face was naturally good-natured, nothing rattled him, nothing penetrated that calm, but Mike thought he'd never seen Eric look so stern.
"I forbid you, absolutely, to touch ANY police item that comes to this house. If temptation ever gets the better of you again, then I promise you for a month you will not be allowed to stay in the house alone. That will be a privilege you have to earn back the hard way."
"This is MY home too!" Michael choked out, "I've got the right to BE in my home-"
"Exactly, Michael. But more importantly you NEED to be safe in your home. And if you can't achieve that yourself then I WILL ensure it for you. You have been warned and now it's your decision."
And there was no arguing with that. Eric waited a moment, then when Mike didn't speak any further, got up and took the paddle out of the kitchen drawer, laying it on the table.
"Come here, Michael."
There was no point- absolutely none- in prolonging this awful evening. Nor in pretending he had any grounds for clemency. Stifling the urge to sob, Michael got up and went slowly around the table. Eric moved him further away from it, out of reach and danger of unyielding wood.
"Take your pants down."
Michael worked on trying to swallow around the knot of tears caught in his throat and slowly worked the sweats off his slender thighs. They fell silently around his ankles. It took a little more effort to pull his shorts down to follow. He enjoyed undressing in front of Eric most of the time, but when it was for a spanking it was the last thing in the world he wanted to do. Finding himself in this position was always a shock, and one he tried to avoid as best he could. He felt Eric's hand pull him closer and down across his lap.
When Michael was turned facedown, the tears burst forth of their own accord. Knowing that his very cool and bare bottom was going to be an extremely uncomfortable red very soon was more than he could handle.
Eric didn't waste time. He began spanking hard and fast, and very thoroughly. He was going to leave Michael with very little doubt in a few short minutes that what he did was not to be repeated. When the skin was a uniform shade of red, he picked up the paddle. Michael was sobbing hard, long past coherency, although unusually limp for so early into a spanking. Eric suspected he simply felt guilty enough that he had little to no sense of protest, just an unhappy awareness that he thoroughly deserved this. Adjusting his grip around Mike's waist and taking a moment to let him calm a little and get his breath, Eric steeled himself and applied the paddle, hard, to Mike's already scarlet bottom. Mike jumped at the first searing swat and struggled involuntarily for a few seconds, then went limp once more and began to cry harder. Eric worked his way steadily in batches of six swats, six sharp smacks to each spot before he moved to the next, cheek by cheek, area by area, focusing on doing the task at hand properly. Michael's sobs rose, rapidly becoming interspersed with yelps and incoherent apologies and expostulations, and in spite of himself he squirmed, kicking, unable to help it. It made no visible difference to Eric. The paddle did no damage, raised no blisters, but it continued to fall steadily, painfully and soundly until Eric reached the last set of six. Michael's crying was the only sound after that. He was still now, head down, limp and he didn't move when Eric laid the paddle down, not responding to Eric's far gentler touch on his head, ruffling hot and damp hair. Eric picked him up and turned him over, gathering Mike's long limbs into his arms and holding him tight.
It was several long minutes later that Michael was able to focus on anything else besides his searing rump. He couldn't remember a more serious spanking, though he was sure this wasn't the first he'd received. He continued to cry as the throbbing pain radiated in waves, and finally started to cool.
Eric kept a firm hold on Michael, using his closeness to assure Mike that everything was going to be all right. When Michael had settled down to mostly hitching breaths, he helped him to his feet and over to the sink for
a cool paper towel on his face.
Michael then took a glass of water and drank deeply, trailing Eric from the kitchen into the living room, trying to find a way to walk that didn't seriously aggravate the burning ache of his bottom.
Eric turned the television on and turned it low, pulled Michael down onto the couch and continued to pet him, letting him curl up on his side, head down in his lap.
"I'm sorry," Michael said unsteadily when his voice finally cleared enough. Eric smoothed his hair back from his wet face.
"I know, sweetie."
"Are you mad at me?"
"No," Eric said with absolute conviction and without heat. "It's over now. It was a mistake, I don't expect it to happen again, but we've handled it. It's all right."
"I won't do it again."
"I know. It's okay. You do, however, owe Rolf a SERIOUS apology- and Matthew. You're going to have to make it up to Rolf for making him late for work this morning. And you are going to be seriously grounded for the rest of this month."
Michael ducked his head, unhappy for the final verdict but still unable to say anything else in his defense. And still more aware that things could have been far, far worse than being here, cuddled up to his lover with nothing more to worry about than being grounded.
"It sure has been quiet around these parts," Joseph said after taking a sip of wine.
"Todd's handled the grounding rather well," Steve said as he cut into his steak. "How about Michael?"
"He's been really great about it. He's working his way through books and puzzles, and the house is clean, the yard mowed. Mine
"Congratulations!" Joseph said, laughing. "Chris is coming 'round, and I think we'll be situated by the end of the week. He's not going to know what to do with his free time."
Eric looked over at Rolf, who had remained silent for some time now. "Sorry, Rolf. Didn't mean to leave you out of the conversation, but you seem to be the only one with a partner who is not grounded here."
"Tell me about it," Rolf said with a grimace. "I've gotten constantly reminded that there is 'nothing to do' and 'no one in the world to talk to' just about every day. I think I'm having a harder time than any of you trying to keep my partner happy and busy!"
Joseph grinned, "Just tell him to do something stupid and he can be just like the others?"
Rolf laughed, "Uh....no. He does pretty well at getting himself into his own sticky situations. I don't think I need to help him in that department."
Everyone laughed and continued eating.
And Matthew....at home.....was plotting.