Fallen Starr

by Chris White

 

 


Black strained, trying to hear whether their quarry had fled down the left or right hall, but all was silent. Pointing fingers to Bee and Haney, he gestured them down the left fork, while he led Jake down the right.

"Third floor secure," announced Sola over the headset.

"Proceed to the fifth," Black ordered.

Lack of word from Starr made him nervous, but he didn't have time to pamper the empath. Starr would just have to learn how to deal with Sola on his own.

Swinging, flickering overhead lights lent the hallway a drunken aura. Fortunately none of his team had been hurt in the explosion. If he had his way, the perps wouldn't have time to set another charge.

Gunfire shattered the quiet.

"Suspects sighted at A-21," announced Bee, breathless. "In pursuit."

Black wheeled, passing Jake and tearing around the corner just in time to see Bee and Haney vanish to the left at the end of the hall. As they passed what might be a parallel route, he waved Jake to take it, and then prepared to take the next.

Another explosion rocked the building, knocking Black off his feet and showering him with ceiling chips and dust.

"Officer down," said Sola over the headset. "Fifth floor, C-29."

A chill shot through Black's pulse. Starr.

"Suspects apprehended," Handy added a moment later. "Four of them. Prepping for transport."

"What is Leopard's condition?" asked Black, pleased that he managed to keep his voice level.

Sola took his time answering. Black gritted his teeth and tried to decide if he should assist the others in handling the prisoners, or go and make sure that the Wolf wasn't slaughtering the injured lamb.

"Unconscious, but vitals are stable," Sola finally responded. "Idiot ran right for the tripwire."
"I'll help prep the prisoners," said Black, wishing he didn't feel so relieved. "Remain where you are, Wolf."

His legs wobbled slightly as Black got up and pulled out his PRU. Two bombs. No one lost. At least, not yet.

The PRU's screen showed that the transport vehicle was on its way, along with medics. Whatever Dickerson wanted with these dealers, they had better be worth leading his men into two different traps.

#

In a way, Black was pleased that even Jake was tense while they loaded the dealers up to move out. If everyone was concerned for Starr, that meant that his team was getting stronger as a unit. The sight of Starr's limp, pale form being loaded into the evacuation unit, however, tied his stomach in knots. He didn't let himself stop to ponder the why's.

"Escort the transport to make sure it gets there," said Black to the others. "Wolf, take command."

Four pairs of eyes blinked at him in shock. He didn't feel like arguing. Sola was perfectly qualified, and maybe giving the man the nod would calm some of that alpha male edge for a bit. "I'm going in with Leopard."

Jake opened his mouth to say something, but Black turned and hopped into the back of the evac. As the medics closed the hatch, he was pretty sure he caught sight of Jake shooting him the bird while Sola barked orders. He smirked and shook his head.

"Vital signs are normal," said the medic as the evac transport surged into motion. "Pupils dilated. He might just have a concussion, but we'll want to run some tests to make sure."

Black nodded, not trusting his voice to remain steady. He'd never seen Starr so still, not even when flying on Bliss. Was he really missing that cocky grin and teasing tone?

If there was ever proof that he was a masochist, Black supposed that was it. Still, he couldn't stop hoping that a hand would snake out and try to grope him. Then at least he would know that Starr was okay.

#

Black couldn't stop pacing, even if it did make him look like he belonged down in the maternity ward waiting on a newborn.

Listening to the others bicker over the headset wasn't enough of a distraction. Sola had led them with military efficiency, and they were preparing to stand down and return to the house.

"You sure you don't want one of us to come wait with you?" asked Jake, sounding a little too hopeful.

"I've got it covered," said Black. "Head home."

A white-masked doctor appeared in the hall. Black watched him, and only realized he was holding his breath when the man turned and came straight toward him.

"Lieutenant Black?"

"Yes Sir. What's the news?"

"A lot of bruising, a severe concussion, and a few broken ribs," answered the doctor. "I want to keep him here for at least overnight for observation."

Black frowned. What were the chances that some of Starr's old friends might find him here?

"Your Captain suggested that your man be kept under guard," said the doctor. "Should I call security?"

"No," said Black. "I'll take care of it."

The doctor nodded. "Room 638."

As Black watched the doctor leave, he wondered whether Dickerson wanted Starr watched for his own protection, or to make sure he didn't try to escape. Either way, Black headed for the elevators. Might as well take the first watch over Starr. At least if the empath was smothered in his sleep after making too many lewd comments, he would know who did it.

#

Black tried to focus on the team's latest training vid, but suddenly realized that he couldn't remember what section he was on. He rubbed his eyes and looked to his PRU. No updates from Haney. Starr was still out.

"You still up?" asked Jake from the hall.

"I have work to do," said Black, rewinding the vid. The last thing he needed was Jake's unwarranted jealousy right now.

"When's the last time you slept?"

Black clenched his jaw and stopped the vid at the spot he last remembered paying attention. "I caught some sleep at the hospital. I'm fine."

Jake laughed, just annoying him further. "Sure, Lieutenant Black let himself sleep during guard duty."

"Vid, play." Black sat back to return to taking notes. When the couch shifted under Jake's weight, he pretended to be too engrossed to talk.

"Listen, Black, it's not your fault."

"Of course it's not my fault," snapped Black. "I'm trying to watch this."

"Vid stop."

Black looked to Jake in surprise. When he opened his mouth to argue, Jake leaned forward, forcing him to sink back into the couch if he wanted to avoid contact.

"It's not your fault. You're not going to be any good to anyone if you don't get some sleep. If anything changes, we'll wake you up. I promise."

The tenderness and concern in Jake's eyes made Black's spine itch, but he had a point. When the man leaned away, Black sighed. "Fine. Wake me up if there's any news."

"You got it," said Jake.

Black found it hard to believe that he would manage any sleep at all. Yet, once he let himself lie down, it was only moments before slumber overtook him.

#

A sharp knock shot Black out of bed. The room spun for a moment as he got his bearings. "What?"

"It's Starr," said Jake from the other side of the door. "He's awake."

Black told himself that his heart did not just go pitter-patter. "I'll be right there."

"I'll wait out front for you."

Jake was gone before Black could argue. Could it be that the man was actually worried about his imagined rival?

Black chuckled and pulled on some clothes. As much as he hated to do it, he also grabbed some tabs of Bliss. If Starr was in significant pain or disoriented enough, his ability to block what was happening in the rest of the hospital would be dampened.

#

Black forced himself not to run down the hall. Jake had insisted on coming inside, and Black was not going to give him any reason to think that his concern was anything more than professional. Bee waited in the hall once they reached Starr's room.

"What are you doing out here?" asked Black.

"The doctors are giving him the twice-over," said Bee with an awkward look.

"Why? What's wrong?"

Bee scratched his head. "He was acting a little ... odd."

"Odd?" asked Jake. "Odd for a regular guy? Or odd for Starr?"

Black rolled his eyes, and Bee grinned. "Odd for Starr."

The door swung open and the same doctor from before stuck his head out. "Ah, Lieutenant Black. Would you come in?"

Black nodded and followed him, noting the way that Jake and Bee tried to catch a glimpse of what was happening before the door shut. Starr still looked wan and pale, but those familiar green eyes were at least open and focused on something, even if that something was a nurse's hand.

"How many fingers?" asked the nurse.

Starr squinted. "Two? One?"

"That's a pretty serious concussion you have there, son," said the doctor.

Black waited off to the side as the doctor moved in closer.

"That explains why my head feels like it's home to a construction project," said Star, slurring his words slightly.

"What's your name?" asked the doctor.

"I ... I'm not sure," answered Starr groggily.

Black took in a sharp breath breath, hoping that this was one of Starr's little jokes at his expense.

"Do you remember what happened?"

Starr lowered his lids for a moment, and then lifted them. A little furrow appeared in the middle of his brow. "No. What happened?"

"Who is this gentleman?" asked the doctor, pointing to Black.
Black braced himself for one of Starr's patented inappropriate remarks, only to find himself facing a placid, confused look from the empath.

"I ... I don't know. Do I know you?"

Black blinked.

The doctor frowned. "I'd like to keep him for at least another day for observation."
Starr yawned, and his lids drooped. He looked too tired to full take in the fact that he had no idea of who

or where he was.

"All right," said Black, shifting with uncertainty.

"So far he seems too muddled to be sensing anyone's emotions. Until he's better, I don't want anyone near him without a Bliss tab on," said the doctor. "What they sense after their brains get banged around can end up amplified or twisted. The results can be," the doctor paused, the ghost of some painful memory passing across his place, "unfortunate."

"Shouldn't we dose him instead, then?" asked Black.

"No," said the doctor. "Bliss doesn't mix well with the other drugs, and it will override his body's natural warnings. I take it that he's an addict?"

While the assumption was natural, Black bristled at it anyway. Still, it was true, so he nodded.

"We'll add a little something to his drip to ease the withdrawls then. Why don't you head home, Lieutenant? No doubt he'll sleep for most of the day. Make sure your men don't disturb him while sitting guard duty."

"Yes, Sir," said Black as the doctor stepped toward the door.

"I'll notify you when there are any changes."

Black nodded and followed the doctor out. Jake and Bee looked at him expectantly, and he found himself not sure of what to say. "He's pretty messed up. Let's stick with the rotations for now, the doc will let us know when we can get Starr out of here."

"He gonna be okay?" asked Bee with concern.

"Yeah," said Black with more certainty than he felt.

He looked to make sure that Bee and Jake were both wearing their Bliss tabs. Jake wasn't, which was a testament to how quickly they'd left the house. "No one's supposed to go near Starr without their tab on until the doctor gives the okay, so I guess you're staying here, Bee."

"You got it," said Bee.

Black turned toward the elevators, not checking to see if Jake followed. Starr didn't recognize him. Starr didn't even wink at him. Was this his fondest dream, or his worst nightmare?

From the unsettled gurgling in his stomach, he wasn't sure.

#

Black fidgeted with the tab as the elevator approached Starr's floor. He could have sent someone else to pick up the empath and then just avoided the problem, but Starr was part of his team and he was responsible for what had happened. As the doors slid open, Black slapped on the tab before he could change his mind. The thing made his skin crawl, but he wasn't going to risk hurting Starr any worse.

Jake was waiting at the door on guard as Black approached. "They should have him ready by now."

"Have you seen him?" asked Black.

Jake shook his head. "Just really briefly, when they wanted to ask if Starr recognized me."

"Did he?"

The worry in Jake's eyes answered the question before his mouth did. "Nope. He didn't even make any comments, or ask about ..."

Black knocked on the door, not wanting to be reminded that a healthy Starr would be whining that he wasn't there. The nurse from earlier popped it open, and let him in.

"Ah, Lieutenant," said the doctor. "Are you sure you're ready to take on this patient yourself?"

Starr waited in a wheelchair, purple and yellow bruises still flowering on the side of his neck and his arms. While the look in his eyes was alert, his demeanor was all too calm. Black had a brief impulse to grab the empath and shake him at the soft, curious look in those green eyes, but resisted. "He'll be safer back at the house. We've all got medical training, it should be fine."

"Do you remember this fine gentleman?" asked the doctor, looking at Starr.

"He visited me earlier, didn't he?" asked Starr.

"But not from before then?"

Black blinked as Starr looked him over with an unsettlingly platonic gaze.

The empath sighed. "No. I don't."

"If you run into any trouble," said the doctor, "call me immediately. I've sent instructions to your PRU for his care."

Black nodded. "Bringing him back to the house should jog his memory, I'd think."

"It very well might," agreed the doctor.
With a pat on Starr's shoulder, the doctor said, "Just take it easy, Calyx, and it will all come back to you in due time."

"I'll do my best," said Starr.

"Let's get you back to the house," said Black.

Jake's eyes were full of questions as an orderly took over Starr's wheelchair and they left the room. Black just shook his head, and Jake fell in beside him. What were they going to do with an amnesiac Starr? What happened if they were called out on a mission? What if he never remembered anything?

As he helped Starr into the car without a single attempt at a feel, Black tried to tell himself that this Starr was much more pleasant than the old one. The words rang hollow in the empty hole that his new teammate had once filled in his head.

#

Black gripped the wheel hard through the silent drive home. A testament to Jake's discomfort was the fact that he actually had told Starr to sit up front. The quiet calm oozing from the empath was enough to make

Black want to pull over and scream.

"Here we are," said Black as they pulled up to the house.

Starr blinked, a little furrow again appearing on his forehead.

"You don't remember?"

Starr shook his head.

"Give it time," said Jake, sliding out of the back seat.

Black did as well, and noted that Bee and Haney had both appeared on the porch. Their jaws dropped, and he looked over to see Jake helping a tentative Starr out of the car. For a brief moment, Black wondered if Jake, too, had taken a blow to the head during the mission.

"Hey Calyx," said Bee as he and Haney bounded over.

"How are you feeling?" asked Haney.

The empath shoved his hands in his pockets. He looked terribly lost, like a child who found himself in the wrong neighborhood and couldn't imagine how he would get home. Black resisted answering for him, in hopes that the more Starr interacted with the rest of the group, the sooner his memories would return.

"I'm feeling okay," said Starr.

Both men's faces fell after a moment. Starr looked away.

"You still don't remember us," said Bee. "Do you?"

Starr shook his head.

"Come on," said Black, placing his hand on the empath's shoulder. "We'll give you the house tour. Maybe that will shake something loose."

"All right," said Starr.

The open compliance Black felt as he led his companion into the house made his stomach twist into knots again. As the tour proceeded, Starr obediently let them lead him about, touching what they suggested he touch, looking at what they suggested he examine. Nothing brought back that mischievous spark to his eyes.

If anything, Black realized that the empath was trying very hard to remember just to make them feel better, and was becoming exhausted with the effort. Bee, Haney, and Jake didn't seem surprised when Black nodded for them to walk away for a while. They left without argument, giving Black the beginnings of a headache.

"You look tired. Now's as good a time as any to see your room," said Black.

Starr nodded, reaching up to rub the back of his neck. "If you don't mind, I could really stand to lie down."
Sola blinked in his doorway as Starr spoke, looking stunned. "Did the freak get a personality transplant? Can we keep him?"

Starr winced and couldn't seem to meet Sola's feral grin.

"Not now, Sola," grumbled Black.

The man's door slammed shut.

"What was that about?" asked Starr.

"He must not have taken his medication," sighed Black.

The shy smile that answered left Black itching to head to the target range and gun down any simulated movement. "Here we are. Your room."

Starr's hand trembled slightly as he reached for the knob. Black forced himself to stand back and let the empath enter in his own time. As the door swung open, Starr took a step backwards. "This is my room?"

"It is," said Black, shifting from one foot to another. "Do you want company, or to be alone? My room is just across the hall if you need anything."

Starr nodded and took a slow step toward the garish, glittering mess before him. "It's all right. I'm really tired. I should rest."

Black retreated into his room, trying to ignore the recriminations flying about his head. He should never have paired Starr with Sola. Who knows what that asshole did to the empath? Or had Starr really just not seen the tripwire?

Empaths shouldn't be in the field. They can be too easily distracted without enough Bliss in their system to render them useless as officers. A sudden blast of fear or pain from anyone nearby could get Starr killed, or all of them killed for that matter--if the empath didn't distinguish quickly enough between his own emotions and those he was picking up.

Black shut his door and leaned back against it. If Starr came through this okay, he would give the empath a choice: desk duty, or more intensive training. But what if Starr didn't come through this okay?

He let himself slide down until he was sitting on the floor. If the empath didn't regain his memories, then he would have essentially caused the death of Calyx Starr, the most insufferable person he had ever met. That man across the hall was someone else. Someone with no capacity to understand the secrets and pain that

Black dealt with day in and day out.

Only now did he realize how much he had come to rely on having someone like that around.

#

Calyx just stood there. This couldn't be his room, could it? He picked up a shiny, short shirt and tried to imagine it against his skin, what it would look like on his body. Why would he ever want to flash that much flesh at people? What was he? A hooker?

A yawn escaped from him that practically swallowed him whole. He was tired, so tired.

"Time for more detective work later," he muttered, still surprised at the sound of his own voice. After tossing the shirt aside, he lay down. Better to sleep than face the hopeful stares of the others. All he could do was disappoint as not a single memory surfaced.

When he closed his eyes, it was the troubled chocolate gaze of the Lieutenant that haunted him most. There was something Black wanted from him. What was it?

#

Black jerked awake at the sound of a soft knock. He was drenched with sweat, and nightmares swam just behind his vision in a way that they hadn't for quite some time. "What is it?"

"Um, Black," said Jake from outside the door. "I think you should come see this."

He growled and nearly snapped at Jake before he realized that something might be wrong with Starr.

"Okay, I'll be right out."

After throwing on some clothes and running his fingers through his hair, Black swung the door open. Jake waited there with a nervous look.

"What's wrong?"

"You really have to see it," said Jake with a crooked smile. "In the kitchen."

Black stumbled behind Jake, still trying to wake up. If Starr made it to the kitchen things couldn't be that bad. However, as he stepped around the corner he saw what Jake meant. There was Starr in a baggy sweatshirt, his hair swept back, whistling and stirring something in a bowl.

"Um," said Black.

Jake looked at him with a definite I told you so lift to the brow.

"Hey, good morning," said Starr. "I couldn't sleep so I figured I might as well make some breakfast."

Domestic. Starr. These two words were so at odds that in his mind, Black could see them cringing away from one another. "I didn't know you could cook."

Starr's hand stopped, and he held still for a moment, making Black regret what he said. Then Starr began stirring again. "I must have known how. It's not like I just picked it up out of thin air, right?"

"At least someone around here can cook," said Jake. "We eat way too much fast food around here. Now that we know, you might be on cook duty permanently."

Starr chuckled and sat the bowl aside. "Eggs, pancakes, bacon ... am I forgetting anything?"

"Juice," said Jake. "OJ."

"Oh yeah."

Black just stood in the doorway as Starr rummaged in the fridge, his sweats nicely accenting his firm ass.

Jake walked up and bent to look as well. "We seem to be out. Want me to go pick some up?"

"Yeah, if you don't mind," said Starr. "Will it take long?"

"No longer than it'll take you to whip us up a proper breakfast."

Starr smiled, and Black thought he saw something pass between Starr and Jake. He rubbed his eyes and told himself he was definitely not awake yet.

"Coffee?" asked Starr as Jake trotted out.

Black considered retreating to the ignorant safety of his room, but if Starr's concussion got the best of him the whole place could burn down. At least that's why he told himself he was sitting down at the table as though nothing was wrong. "Sure."

He had barely answered when a steaming mug slid onto the table in front of him.

"So we're cops, right?" asked Starr as he tossed bacon into a heated pan. The meat sizzled like Black's brain felt every time this stranger spoke to him.

"We're special forces," said Black, not sure of how much he should divulge.

"What do I do if we're called out?"

"You stay here," answered Black. "At the very least until I test you and see if you've retained your skills and training."

Starr nodded and lifted a pan, flipping a pancake like a pro. Black blinked and considered skipping breakfast and going running.

"This shouldn't take too long to get ready. Would you mind waking folks up?"

"Um, sure," said Black, gladly fleeing the kitchen rather than using his PRU. Maybe he should take Starr to the shooting range after breakfast. That might jog a few memories.

#

Jake sat silent in the car, not daring to speak. The tension radiating off of Black cut the air like razorblades. After all of his bitching about having the empath on the team, why would a month of a placid, confident

Starr be getting to him?

He almost asked, but the moment he turned his head and opened his mouth he saw a muscle in Black's jaw jump. Okay, no questions then.

Tires squealed as they turned the corner. Black was definitely worked up, and this was more than just him blaming himself for what had happened. Jake knew him that well, even if the old Starr would have claimed otherwise.

By the time they reached the house, Jake was ready to leap out of the car and kiss the ground.

"We've got the next couple of days off," said Black in a cool, distant tone. "I've got some business to take care of, so I won't be around much. Keep the guys from killing one another while I'm gone."

"You got it," said Jake.

The tires peeled again as Black backed out. Jake let out a deep sigh. Time for a shower. He needed some heat to melt off the frost that riding with Black had left on his skin.

#

Jake plopped down in front of the TV, and cycled through the movie selections. What did he want to watch? Something mindless? Action? They'd been training non-stop while they re-integrated Starr, so he'd seen as much action as he could stand lately. Maybe an adventure.

"Hey. Mind if I join you?"

"Hey, Starr," said Jake, glad that Black wasn't there to project daggers and flee the room. "Sure, have a seat."

"How am I doing? With the training?"

"You're doing really well."

"It's like my body remembers what it's supposed to do, even if I couldn't explain why," said Starr with a slight smile. "It's a relief. I can still fit in, at least."

Jake flipped through the action movie listings, trying very hard not to think of Starr's aforementioned body. They had spent a lot of time together in the last month and those tight buns and firm form were starting to creep into his dreams. It was easier to resist the empath before when Starr was so obnoxious he was easy to hate, but once in a while he could have sworn that the growing interest was mutual.

"Which one of these you want to see?" asked Jake.

"Doesn't matter," said Starr with a grin. "I won't remember any of them."

Jake chuckled and picked one. The space battle effects were supposed to be top notch, but the plot wasn't so involved that they couldn't talk. He scratched the back of his hand. Since when had he cared about being able to talk to Starr during a movie?

"I don't think the Lieutenant likes me," sighed Starr after the opening credits ended. "Did we get along before?"

Jake debated how to answer that one. "Yes and no. He'll warm up to you. He's like this with everyone."

"Did we get along?"

Jake could have sworn that the couch shifted and Starr's tone of voice dropped just slightly. His breath quickened, and his sweats suddenly felt less roomy. He reached up quickly to check that his Bliss tab was on. It was. "Yes and no."

"Do you think you could warm up to me?"

Definitely closer. Jake gulped and turned, expecting to see a patented Calyx Starr leer. Instead, his gaze met with soft green eyes, vulnerable and even a bit needy.

"Everyone is out. No one would have to know," said Starr.

Jake licked his lips, trying to tell himself that this was not a good idea. When his memory came back, Starr would have a huge gloating party about this. If it came back. The doctor seemed less and less sure that it would.

Starr reached up a hand and gently stroked his fingertips along Jake's cheek. Jake shivered, unable to remember the last time someone had touched him so intimately. So innocently. It was pathetic of him, but he decided that it was worth the ribbing later. As much as Starr won't want to admit it when he's in his right mind, this person was as much a part of him as the smooth-talking addict.

Jake leaned in and breathed a sigh into the soft, hesitant kiss Starr planted on his lips. Was this what Starr would have been like if he hadn't been raised on the streets? Without having had to sell his body and without giving himself over to the ravages of Bliss to keep from going mad?

He suddenly didn't want Starr to remember. Jake wanted to wrap his arms around this newborn and keep him safe, locked away from anything that could harm him. He pulled Starr in close, and felt the empath's tension drain away as he dug his fingers in to massage Starr's back through his sweatshirt. A languid purr was his reward.

"That's nice," whispered Starr.

Jake kissed his cheek. "It is, isn't it?"

As Starr began to do the same in return, Jake decided he could get used to this. Quite happily.

#

Black sat in the driveway cursing his luck. Dickerson was busy at some society social function. The police scanners had all too little going on tonight, as though most of the city was just too tired to cause any trouble. Even most of the lights in the house were off. The team must have taken their night off to heart and gone out clubbing.

Maybe if he went in quietly he'd avoid them. Mind you, Starr's door would be open as it always was lately.

The room had been cleaned, all of the garish clothing tucked into the back of a closet in favor of newer, more modest wear. Crazy magazines and objects Black had never dared to ask the origins of had vanished as well. Neat, orderly, and bland. It made him want to drink himself into a stupor.

This Starr at least knew his place. If told to go away, he'd do so. With a sigh, Black slid out of the car and quietly closed the door. As he suspected, the house was pretty quiet as he stepped inside. Maybe he would watch a movie. Something completely mindless, with a lot of blood.

Carefully, he padded toward the living room. A quiet laugh made him pause. Damn, there was someone else up. Wanting to at least know what he was dealing with, he continued creeping forward until he was able to peek through the doorway.

A movie played on the TV, its rays illuminating two half-undressed lovers on the couch. Bee and Haney, he figured, from the way they were gently enjoying and exploring one another. That was, until a lock of hair flopped from beneath them. A long, white-blond lock, with a purple tip.

Black's hands shook as he continued staring. It was Starr, Starr and Jake. This wasn't just a prelude to sex, they were very much working toward making love from the purrs and soft whispers.
The rest of him began to shake as well. Why did he care? He had no claim on Starr. He hadn't even wanted Starr's attention. All he had wanted was to be left alone in the depth of his misery.

But Starr hadn't done that. Starr had dragged him kicking and screaming into the light, more than once. Like a moth to a flame, he hadn't been able to resist the temptation. What was he going to do now that that flame had been doused?

An ache spread out from his stomach through his heart. Starr wasn't coming back. The doctor seemed fairly sure that if he hadn't by now, with all of the swelling gone, then he may never do so. For a moment, he nearly tore off his Bliss tab to let the empath feel the pain he was causing. He barely stopped himself in time. They had purposely been shielding Starr from everyone's emotions, even his own. The empath needed a slow introduction to his abilities, and training to help him survive them without reverting to addiction. Who was he to deny Starr that?

Something wet slid down his cheek. Black wiped it away, and decided that he'd better retreat before the lovebirds noticed him. Maybe he would call Dickerson and leave a message with a report. He'd been avoiding sharing the doctor's concerns, in case it might upset the Captain. Yet, wouldn't Dickerson prefer this new Starr? It was hard to tell.

#

Watching Jake and Starr giggle and feed one another had Black about to put a hand through a wall.

Fortunately, his PRU buzzed. He stepped out of the room and answered. "Black."

"I want you to bring Starr in," said Dickerson. "I've sent the address already."

"When?" asked Black.

"Now."

Black wrinkled his nose, not wanting to face the all too sweet duo, but at least he would have the satisfaction of breaking them apart for a time. "Of course."

Dickerson's face vanished, and in its place showed an address in a pretty abandoned part of town. Was Starr's training with his abilities going to start today? With that few people around, it should be safe to let him feel just one or two. Black winced, realizing that if that was the case, he had to get himself under control. Otherwise he was going to send Starr screaming into the night.

Both men looked up as he entered the room. "Starr, the Captain wants to see you. Come with me."

A shadow passed over Jake's face, and Black didn't need to read the man's mind to see his concern. Still, there was nothing he could do to make Jake feel any better without lying, so he said nothing.

"I'll get my coat."

Starr bounded toward his room, and Jake looked him in the eye. "Dickerson sound mad?"

"No," Black answered truthfully. "He didn't."

"Okay."

Black forced himself not to look back at Jake as he and Starr left, but he could feel Jake's stare on the middle of his back. He could also hear Jake's wishes as though they were drilling into his brain.

You take care of him, Black. You watch his back.

As Starr slid into the other side of the car, Black murmured a promise back to Jake. "I will."

#

As always seemed to be the case, the address led to an abandoned warehouse. Sometimes Black thought that if they demolished every abandoned warehouse in the city, crime levels would drop by two thirds.

"This it?" asked Starr.

"Yup."

They stepped out, and Black spotted Dickerson's form waiting in a doorway. "Leave him here," said the Captain. "I'll call you when it's time to pick him up."

Black blinked and then frowned. The last time he had left Starr with the Captain, things had not gone well.

Yet, Starr wasn't so cocky now. He wouldn't be baiting the Captain into dark moods.

"I said, leave him," said Dickerson. "Starr, come with me."

With a slight smile and a shrug to Black, Starr followed the Captain into the building, and something in Black's stomach snapped. Starr really didn't remember. He didn't remember any of it, not even what the Captain had done to him.

Here he was, trying to start over, and his demons plagued him day and night. Starr, though, was truly getting to start again, from scratch. No demons. No regrets. What kind of ass was he to begrudge him that chance?

If you love something, set it free. Black fingered his keys as he slid into the car. Did he love Starr, or just need that over the top empath to force him to be a human being from time to time?

It didn't matter if he'd loved Starr or not. The old Starr wasn't coming back. Black decided that he would go find a gift for the new lovers. He'd never seen Jake so happy, and he'd never seen Starr so content with himself. It was time to stop making Jake run scared and watch his back. It was time to move on, he could survive without Starr, he'd done so long before the crazy empath came into his life.

#

Calyx grunted as he hit the wall, and threw his hands up to protect himself rather than punching a superior officer as his busted lip inclined him to. Was this some kind of test?

"We had a deal!" shouted the Captain.

"What kind of deal?" asked Calyx, pressing himself further into the wall as the red-faced man stalked toward him. "I'm sorry, I don't remember. Just tell me and I'll make it right."

The Captain leaned in close, and Calyx clenched his hands.

"I had to see it for myself," said the man. "I had to make sure that you weren't just trying to get out of it. You really don't remember, do you?"

Starr shook his head so hard that he gave himself a headache.

Dickerson huffed and stepped back. "You won't get out of this that easily, Starr."

"That's fine, Sir. Just tell me what I need to do." Yet, there was something in the Captain's eyes that told Starr to run. He tried to slide toward the door but a gun appeared in the older man's hand.

"We're going to play a little," said Dickerson with a nasty smile. "We're going to see if we can make you remember."

"And if not?" asked Calyx, his voice cracking.

"Then I'll have to find myself another empath, since this one will have gone mad, unable to control his abilities."

The Captain picked up a briefcase and dropped it onto a small table. Calyx shook as Dickerson opened the case and pulled out one vial after another. He had seen some of the objects inside before, during his training. Bliss, and other illegal substances.

Then the Captain reached up with his free hand and tore the Bliss patch from behind his ear. Emotions too strong for him to sort out slammed into him like an explosion. Hate/lust/greed/anticipation/determination knocked his knees from beneath him. As he slid to the floor, the Captain came up to him and grabbed his mouth, forcing it open.

"Be a good little whore and swallow."

Dickerson forced his mouth shut and Calyx swallowed reflexively.

"Now sit still, I've got a playmate for us."

Calyx couldn't have gotten up if he wanted to. He tried to crawl toward the door, but the room began to melt, and suddenly he couldn't find the way out.

A new wave of emotions hit him. Calyx cried out and fell to the floor as terror/agony/hopelessness punched him in the stomach. The Captain had dragged a young woman into the room, her wrists and ankles were bound so that she could barely move. She was covered with bruises and tear streaks tracked through the dirt and blood on her face.

Dickerson punched the girl in the stomach. She whimpered and fell, and Calyx twisted in pain.

"First her," said the older man, Starr's rippling vision twisting the grin into a gargoyle-like mask, "and then you, pretty whore."

The Captain pulled out a knife and cut the girl's dress off of her. Pure, unadulterated, lust flooded through Calyx as Dickerson began pawing her. A predator's lust, dark and hungry. Then the girl started crying, and on top of the lust came shame/fear/loneliness so strongly that Calyx wretched the contents of his stomach onto the floor.

In his head, the Captain's words echoed. "First her, then you. First her, then you."

Calyx screamed the same time she did, as Dickerson thrust into her. Why was this happening? What had he done to deserve this?

Something flickered in the back of his mind. He deserved all of this, and more.

#

Black stood in the middle of the store, pretending that he hadn't noticed the attendants hovering close. What the hell did he know about buying gifts, especially for new gay couples? Maybe he should phone his mother. She might have an idea.

His PRU buzzed. Black pulled it out, relieved and annoyed that it was Dickerson already. He would have to find a gift later.

"Black here," he said, stepping out of the store.

"He's ready. Come pick him up."

Dickerson's face was unreadable, but Black detected a hint of satisfaction in his tone. "Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine."

The Captain hung up, and Black went to his car. At least he wasn't going to have to go home without being able to tell Jake when he'd see Starr again.

#

As Black pulled up to the warehouse, something felt different. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but it made the hairs on the back of his neck tickle. Pulling his weapon, he headed for the door.

"It's about time," said Dickerson, stepping outside.

He had the same smugness to his tone that Black had noticed through the PRU. That often didn't bode well.

"He's sedated. Clean him up and bring him home. He won't wake up probably until the morning."

Black frowned. "Sedated? Clean him up? What happened?"

The Captain slid into his car and shut the door without answering, leaving Black to stare at the retreating tail lights. He kept his gun drawn and moved through the building, making sure it was secure, until he finally came upon Starr. The empath lay nude on the floor, pale as death. Bruises marred his face, wrists, and much of the rest of his body. Upon closer inspection, Black realized that there was damage in other places as well.

Black shook with rage. The PRU nearly cracked under the pressure as he pulled out the unit and called Dickerson.

"Just clean him up and take him home. That's an order, Lieutenant," barked Dickerson, hanging up.

After throwing the unit into the wall and smirking at the satisfying crack when it hit, Black stalked about, looking for something suitable to clean up his fallen comrade. He would have missed it but for the smell of cleaning fluid. A large stain had been on the floor, probably blood from the faint tan against the gray concrete. Had someone else been here? Or had the blood been Starr's?

Finally he managed to find a bathroom. Black went back to the empath and gently picked him up. Starr might look light and lithe, but he was solid muscle after all of this training, and carrying him was no simple task. Still, Black managed, and tenderly cleaned away the stains of tears and of whatever other abuse Dickerson had heaped on his companion.

Why would the Captain do this?

#

Jake knew something was wrong the moment Black stepped from the craft. Their fearless leader wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Come help me, will you?"

A sick, scared feeling clenched in Jake's stomach. He approached and found Black trying to gently pull an unconscious Calyx from the car. One glimpse of the bruises was enough to have him grabbing Black's shirt and snarling.

"What happened? What did you do to him?"

The hurt in Black's eyes made Jake back off.

"I didn't do this," said Black softly. "I ... I'm sorry. But I didn't do this."

Yet, Jake could see that Black was blaming himself for it, as usual. "Let's get him inside."

Black nodded and bit his lip, looking terribly young and close to tears. "He's sedated. He shouldn't wake up until morning."

Jake took Calyx's shoulders while Black took his feet. Bee and Haney had returned, and stood silent and concerned, watching as they carried Calyx past.

"Who did this?" Jake growled.

"I can't say," said Black, still not meeting his gaze.

Dickerson. Somehow, Jake knew it was him. How could Black let this happen? He knew the man's moods better than anyone else.

Yet, as they gently laid Calyx into his bed, the slump of Black's shoulders told Jake that Black was wondering the same thing.

"I think it's best that no one be on the bed with him," said Black, looking away. "I'll bring in a chair. Sit with him as long as you can, and then wake me up, and I'll take over."

Jake was nearly sick as he stood as he realized what Black was telling him. "O-okay."

Black nodded, looking numb, and then stumbled from the room. After returning with a chair, he stalked across the hall and into his own room. As the door slammed behind him, Jake pulled up a chair and sat next to Calyx. Faint lines creased the empath's face, lines of worry and fear. What had happened with the Captain? What had happened to his Calyx?

A lump started to grow in his throat. Jake tried to swallow it, but it wouldn't budge. What if this wasn't his Calyx anymore? What if this was Black's Starr?

Jake shut Calyx's door, sat down, and cried.

#

A scream shattered the night. Black fell out of bed, scrambling for a weapon, only to realize that it was coming from across the hall. Starr's room.

When he threw Starr's door open, the empath was going wild, thrashing against Jake who was trying to hold him still and calm him down. "Get the hell away from me! Leave me alone!"

Starr finally managed to fling Jake off of him, and then backed himself into a corner, emerald eyes glinting feral like a trapped animal's. This wasn't the calm, pliant Starr who had spent the last month winning Jake's heart. This was Calyx Starr, the wounded addict, unless Dickerson had managed to completely drive Starr out of his mind.

Black looked to Jake, and could see the pain in his friend's eyes.

"He's all yours," whispered Jake as he slumped past and shut the door behind him.

He's all yours.

Starr collapsed onto the bed, sobbing hard.

He's all yours. This wasn't Jake's Starr. This was his, the cocky empath who could reduce him to a quivering puddle with just a look. God help him, but Black felt relief pooling in his chest.

"Go away," pleaded Starr.

Black came closer instead, sitting on the bed next to him. "No."

"Then take off that goddamned Bliss tab!"

Black turned inward and looked at the swirl of emotions inside him. So much guilt and pain, surely Starr couldn't handle it at a time like this. "I don't think that's a good idea."

Starr lifted his head, a mess of tears with a runny nose and puffy red eyes.

This was his Starr, the one who tomorrow would probably go running with him just for a chance to watch his ass the whole way, and probably try to grope him while they were at it.

"Take off that goddamned Bliss patch," said Starr more slowly, "so I can know I'm not the only fucked up asshole here."

Black fought back tears at the pain lacing through Starr's voice. He reached over and stroked Starr's damp cheek, and held Starr's gaze with his own as he dropped his shields and removed the patch. Starr reeled, backing away instinctively as self-recrimination/guilt/rage washed over him.

Then Starr straightened up and leaned into his touch. Black continued stroking as Starr's tears began to fall.

"Thank you," whispered Starr miserably.

"Welcome back," whispered Black.

He allowed himself to feel the relief at having his Starr back, and a slight smile lifted the corner of Starr's mouth even as he continued to cry.

"Couldn't make it without me?" asked Starr between sniffles.

"I'm not sure," said Black honestly, continuing to stroke Starr's cheek. "Maybe not."
Starr rested his head on Black's lap and started sobbing anew. He couldn't even imagine what it would be like, to be gifted with a chance to start over both in body and in spirit, and then have that ripped away.

One day, he would make Dickerson tell him why he had done it. One day, Dickerson would pay.

"I love it when you get all protective of me, Darkness," sniffed Starr, a hint of his usual cockiness back in place.

"Hush," said Black, leaning down to kiss the top of Starr's head. "Just hush."



The End


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