Chapter 1: Friday
Jamie shifted on his chair and sighed, staring at his sock-covered feet. He hadn't even gotten to put on real clothes that morning -- just a quick change into fresh flannels and a long-sleeve tee before Pop harassed him down to breakfast. Because God forbid you show up at the table in what you wore to bed, unless you were half-dead. And that had been hours ago. Hours spent sitting on the floor right next to Dad as he worked. Which sucked just as much as he remembered, although it had the benefit of not being the corner. He let his face fall into the sulky lines he'd resisted all morning, picking at the side of his designation disc, pulling the thin plate out of the housing on his desg-band and clicking it back in.
He didn't even know why he bothered in his off hours sometimes; the subs rights groups won their case years ago. Same reason he kept a Dom on Record card in his wallet, even on-duty, probably. Looking down and seeing Dad's and Danny's discs on either side of his was...comforting, he supposed. Most of the time, anyway. Same as knowing that if he got hurt bad, someone would find the card and call Dad or Danny for him. It was just everything else that came with Typing out as a Sub (class: Brat, which sucked out loud ) that he hated.
He thumped his toes on the baseboard, thoroughly bored. He'd always hated when Dad did this with him. Making him stay close until he was ready to talk. Boring him until he opened his mouth and explained himself. He'd been in college last time, still a kid. He wasn't a kid anymore, but it wasn't like Dad or Danny really cared about that.
"Dad," he started.
"Are you ready to talk to me?"
That calm, "I can wait until you come to your senses" tone made Jamie want to shriek. Maybe throw his chair, too, but he had more self-preservation than that.
"Dad, come on. I'm not a kid anymore." Although even he could hear the edge of a petulant whine in his voice.
"Ah. Seems like you need more time to think, then. I'm just going to finish making lunch."
How could he be so stupidly patient ? How could he just stand there stirring soup and making sandwiches when he was killing his own flesh and blood with boredom ?
"Dad!" Jamie protested, twisting around in his seat.
That got a reaction. His dad turned away from the counter and pinned him with a ferocious glare.
"Jamison Francis Xavier Gabriel, turn around and face that corner."
He didn't yell, because Dad rarely yelled, but That Tone went right through him. And shit damn hell , his Confirmation name. Dad never pulled that one out unless he'd really dropped himself in it. Jamie whipped back around to face the corner, face and ears burning. He crossed his arms over his stomach and hunched in on himself a little, most of his will to fight quickly replaced with churning apprehension.
Had he really dropped himself in it? He had no clue what Sarge sent to Dad with the three week proac Drop leave notice...and the still-unofficial green slip. Thank God it was unofficial. He didn't want to know what Dad would do to him if he screwed up enough for an official department greenie.
He knew exactly what Renzulli wanted him to talk about--come clean about, more like. That they'd tried to kill him. He'd kept the extent of the damage to Joe's Chevelle quiet, got it fixed up again without Dad any the wiser, but he knew Renzulli knew and thought it was eating at him. And he knew that Renzulli agreed with the shrink he'd seen after his undercover stint. She thought he needed to spend more time in a "dynamically supportive" environment. Which meant home. Which was a bunch of bull. He kicked at the baseboards, clicking his disc in time with the soft thumping. Working in a Dom-heavy environment sucked almost as much as living in a Dom-heavy family.
"That's quite enough of that, young man."
Jamie froze, listening as Dad crossed the kitchen to him. He stifled his squeak of dismay when Dad hauled him up by one arm and towed him across the kitchen. He expected a flurry of smacks and a blistering scolding for immature behavior and sulking, not Dad boosting him up onto the kitchen counter and making him settle with his hands flat on his thighs. That Dad could still do that...he shivered a little, hoping he hadn't pushed too far.
"You know that I'll always answer naughty little boy behavior with naughty little boy consequences. If you're finding it too hard to behave sitting on your own, then I can keep you within reach, Jamie. Keep your hands flat and don't thump your feet."
Still calm, still patient. Jamie's stomach clenched around nerves. Faced with his father's looming presence, pushing didn't seem like such a great idea. It never seemed like such a good idea once he was back in Dad's orbit, but away from him standing in a corner? That was when he usually went a little nuts. And kicking the wall was a surefire way to get Dad's attention.
But those words . Did he have to get out the "make Jamie squirm" vocabulary every single fricking time?
And when the hell had he started spinning out? He never behaved like that, no matter what he'd classed as. 'Brat is a classification of need just like Masochist, not a descriptor of behavior, young man.' He'd heard that often enough growing up.
"I shouldn't have left you on your own in the corner, Jamie."
The softly spoken admission startled Jamie out of his descent into navel gazing misery at his poor behavior.
"S'okay, Dad. Shouldn't have been kicking the wall, anyway." He stared down at his hands, still flat on his thighs.
"Well, no, but you're unsettled and acting out."
Jamie wrinkled his nose at that. Acting out? Really?
"Dad! C'mon! I'm not five !" He hated, hated when Dad or Danny (or, God forbid Grandpa or Linda) used that kind of language to describe a perfectly normal, non-Brat reaction to everything sucking.
"No, you're definitely not five, son, but you are using your behavior to show me what you need from me. It's pretty obvious that you need your Dad riding herd on you right now. So that's what we're going to do, kiddo. Same rules as the last time you lived at home."
"Dad! That's...what do you mean same as the last time ?" Jamie spluttered.
"What I mean, Jamison, is that you're moving back home for awhile. I should have done it as soon as you took that beating, but I decided that what you needed then was your independence and your normal routine. It's been made very clear to me that what you need for the moment is your Dad and a lot more supervision."
"Dad! You can't...I don't... please don't." He bit his lip to stop it quivering as reality slammed home.
Legally, he didn't have a leg to stand on. Subs in law enforcement, especially his Class, had to have a Dom of Record acting as a guardian, who was preferably also in law enforcement. They didn't have to spread it around or designate, but they were considered dependents. They had "special needs" for "dynamically supportive" environments since they worked high-stress jobs. He only got to live in his own apartment and have his own life because Dad let him, encouraged him. Usually.
"Not forever, Jamie. We'll keep your lease current, and you will go back. But right now, right now you need more support, and I need you here."
"I need you at home for a while. Did you think you were the only one having trouble after your undercover stint and Bitterman? Pop swears I haven't slept more than four hours at a time since then. I need to be able to make sure you're okay."
"I could just come over more?" Jamie suggested, mind racing. Dad needed him close? Dad was admitting to needing anything?
"And I could meet the Pope, Jamison. Three weeks of Drop leave for a Sub whose Class means he doesn't drop, and a green slip? You ought to know that you're at least grounded."
Dad stopped what he was doing long enough to give Jamie one of his Looks. One of the ones that promised a world of trouble if he kept it up.
"It wasn't an official greenie, Dad!" Jamie protested, thumping his heel on the cabinet.
"I'm counting that as stomping your foot, young man, which you know better than to do. You also know that the officiality of a green slip doesn't matter. Sergeant Renzulli is keeping something off the books, but I will be getting to the bottom of it with you. Now, wash up for lunch."
Just like that, Dad lifted him off the counter and swatted him toward the sink.
"What if Sarge is just being overprotective?" Jamie washed his hands, drying them on a towel before he went to sit at the table.
"And what if we had pigs flying formation over midtown? You know as well as I do that Sergeant Renzulli thinks you need something that you're not getting." He tapped the green slip sitting ominously in the middle of the kitchen table.
"But you haven't...not since college , Dad!" Jamie protested, dragging his spoon through his soup.
Tomato soup and grilled cheese: the official meal of the overwrought. At least, that's what Dad always said.
"And that tells me that I've let an awful lot slide over the years, or I just haven't paid enough attention to you. So we're going back to the rules that worked to keep you settled. I won't interfere with your work, not unless there's a damn good reason, but you're going to be living with a lot more oversight. Now, eat your lunch."
"But I like it how it is, Dad." Jamie sighed before he ate more soup. "And I'm fine . I don't need anyone riding herd on me, I swear."
"I imagine you think so, son, and that you don't want any changes. But I'm not doing you any favors by letting things slide. You need structure right now, and to be home. Deep down, you know that as well as I do."
Jamie slouched in his seat, taking a few sulky bites, as much to show his displeasure as to avoid looking at his Dad. If he looked him in the eye now , he was just going to spill everything at the worst possible time. He could probably get out with his skin and independence both intact if he was smart.
"Sulking at me isn't going to change my mind, little boy. You're just confirming everything I said."
Still patient, still calm, still firm, still making him want to throw something. Jamie rolled his eyes at his sandwich.
"Whatever," he muttered.
Mary Mother of God! Would he ever learn to keep his damn mouth shut? Especially when Dad had apparently decided to find his Top card again?
"Would you like to repeat that, young man?"
Something in Dad's tone, or maybe it was the air of strangled patience he wore, made him leave his brain trying to catch up with his mouth. He felt a little disconnected, like his designation had fully hijacked his body.
"I said whatever." He glared across the table, setting his spoon down with a final-sounding clink. Challenge issued.
"That's what I thought you said, Jamison." Challenge accepted.
He had no other warning, and he'd apparently forgotten just how fast Dad could move, because he found himself abruptly dangling in the air over his Dad's thigh. He looked down, scrabbling a little for some kind of purchase, but Dad had one foot propped on the rungs of his chair. He wasn't going anywhere until Dad let him down.
He remembered, distinctly, Dad doing something similar to a seventeen-year-old Danny who'd been acting "too big for his britches" at dinner one evening. Typing out as a Dom had not done good things to Danny's behavior. Jamie counted himself lucky that he at least was afforded the privacy of no one else in the house. He yelped as Dad's broad palm connected with his bottom.
Eleven more measured smacks followed, all centered exactly where he sat, before Dad set him back on his feet. He hissed at the sting, twisting under Dad's hands resting on his shoulders. He only just avoided rubbing his throbbing backside by gripping hard at Dad's biceps. He'd forgotten exactly how much he hated that kind of spanking.
"Look at me, young man."
Jamie looked up, unable to disobey that tone, hoping he wouldn't see disappointment in his father's face. There wasn't anything that felt worse than disappointing Dad. But all he saw was patience and understanding.
"I am not putting up with any more naughty little boy shenanigans from you. You do not speak to anyone that way. Ever. Have I made that clear?"
"Yessir," Jamie nodded fervently as he spoke. He didn't think it could be any clearer in that moment. Although, he really would appreciate Dad not using the word "naughty" anymore. Or calling him a little boy. He got enough crap off Danny calling him kid all the time.
"Good. Sit down and finish your lunch."
Jamie glanced down at the hard wooden seat before looking back up at Dad, pleading for leniency.
"Oh no, young man. If you're going to act out, then you can finish your lunch sitting on a sore bottom."
Jamie gave him one more silently pleading glance.
Uncompromising, as always. Jamie found his body obeying the command, wincing as his backside hit the chair. But that one order, combined with the sting in his tail, unspooled the stress he'd carried in his shoulders and neck, leaving him feeling a little wrung out and a lot less ornery.
"Dad?" he didn't like how unsure he sounded, how lost.
Danny would have told him to can it and eat. Dad just gave him an encouraging nod. They'd about finished, anyway.
"I...I'm sorry. I don't know where…" he fidgeted with his spoon.
"I'm going to stop you right there, Jamie. I appreciate the apology. You're feeling pretty off kilter right now, hm?"
"I'd say that in the last few years you've had more than enough to try to handle. And -- no, you're going to let me finish."
Jamie snapped his mouth shut when Dad held up a hand to forestall debate.
"You've done well, Jamie, but it's time for me to step in again. I've let you get a little too far afield, and it's not good for you. You have tremendous coping skills, and I've let you fly under the radar, mostly. But I can't do that anymore. It's not fair to you, and I'm not going to let you bury your needs under determined competence anymore. I haven't been what you've needed...not since your mother...and then Joe. What you needed got lost somewhere, and you...kiddo, you're a lot of things, but pushy for your own needs you aren't."
Jamie wasn't sure where the clinking noise was coming from until he looked down at his shaking hands. Detached, he watched Dad reach across the table to take his spoon. He gripped the table, hard, trying to stop the shaking, but Dad came around and drew him to his feet. Tucked under his father's arm, he let himself be led out of the kitchen and into the living room. Dad sat on one of the sofas and pulled until Jamie curled up against him, half in his lap.
"I haven't been looking after Jamie very well, have I? And son, I promised your mother…"
"That I wouldn't be a cop," Jamie cut in quietly.
"No. That I wouldn't lose sight of your needs. But we'll make it okay, hmm? We'll get back to where we need to be, kiddo."
Suddenly, the quivery feeling in his chest caught on a sob. The safety, the security he felt held like something fragile in his father's care--there was nothing in the world like it. He felt wholly and entirely safe in a way he hadn't since his mother died. And not just physically. He felt Dad shift him fully into his lap and clung to him. He couldn't stop the tears even if he wanted to. There was that deep-seated feeling of relief, that someone else was in the driver's seat. That someone noticed and would help.
Professionally, he was fine. He loved his job, loved being an officer. Personally, though, he felt like a fraud. Like he was just faking his way through everything. Like he'd lost himself somewhere along the way. But Dad saw. Dad felt present in a way he hadn't been in years, and it felt wonderful. Yeah, he was a big guy, but there was something more, some part of his personality that drew all attention to him. Some part of his sheer presence in the world that reached deep, and told Jamie that he was safe, that he could let go of his rigid control for a little while.
Eventually, the tears slowed, leaving his face itchy with the salt, but the rest of him a lot calmer. He leaned heavily on Dad's chest, the deep quiet of the house and Dad's arms wrapped strongly around him, soothing and anchoring him through the post-crying shudders.
Jamie nodded, still too shaken to speak. He hadn't let go like that in years. Not since before Mom died. Some part of him had thought he wouldn't need to, not anymore. That he could wall off his designation and go on with life like he was Neutral. That he could be a "normal" adult. That he could control himself, keep everything to himself, and fly under everyone's notice.
"Sorry," he muttered, looking up sharply when Dad tapped his cheek.
"You have nothing to apologize for, Jamie. Do you understand?"
There was only one answer for that, no matter how Jamie felt about it privately.
"Your mother would have told me to get my head out of my backside years ago, you know. And someone from DSR did . How did you run into them?"
Jamie groaned, "We needed them on a call. She found you?"
"She emailed me, and I got it this morning. I don't think I've gotten one before with "What the hell are you doing to your child?!" as the subject line. Hell was in all capitals."
Jamie snorted, "Surprised it was that mild."
"You weren't harassed, were you?"
"She...uh she wasn't really happy. Apparently I'm not supposed to be running around with my "emotional energy cranked up that high"? Went up one side of me and down the other. She was discreet, though. Said it wasn't anyone's business, but that she noticed and had to do something. I didn't know she'd actually email you."
He'd never liked being scolded like that, no matter how discreetly. She'd respected his privacy, calling him over for a minute after everything calmed down before she very quietly ripped him a new one. He didn't know how she Typed, but she certainly hadn't given him the wide berth most of the Doms on the Force did. He hadn't been that comprehensively told off by a nonfamily member since he got green-slipped in college.
"I didn't like it, and I came very close to calling the Captain of the precinct she's out of, but she was right. When I stopped and thought about it, we haven't given you anywhere close to what you need in the past few years. I just didn't like someone outside the family pointing it out."
It hurt, a little, to hear Dad's voice so quiet with self-recrimination.
"It was a good wake-up call, especially since it's been brought to my attention that one of my kids thinks getting mouthy with a DSR team leader and his Sergeant is okay. Not to mention the scuffle in the squad room that got you your Drop leave."
Jamie's stomach dropped.
"Dad, I can explain, really," he started.
"Renzulli gave me a pretty good overview of what happened, and that email was pretty enlightening, too. Did you really tell someone who works in emergency dynamic support to 'butt the hell out'? And then follow that up by letting your Sergeant know you felt three weeks of what should have been full disciplinary leave, fixed so it wouldn't be a major roadblock to your career, was 'a gigantic bunch of horseshit'?"
Dad sounded, not angry or annoyed, but interested in a way Jamie recognized. That kind of engaged interest combined with the disbelieving note in his voice spelled certain doom in a way shouting never would. But couldn't Dad have waited until all this had blown over to switch on his Toppiness again? He seriously had the worst timing, and Jamie half wanted to blame Agent Conover for tripping it with that damn email.
"Probably?" Jamie winced. "I was pretty steamed. And the guys I scuffled with wouldn't leave the new kid alone. Sarge ripped me a new one after that."
"At which point you mouthed off to him, too?"
"Yes, sir," Jamie sighed. "That's when he green-slipped me."
Oh, he was so dead. Laid bare, without even bringing the Chevelle (and months of what Dad would classify as lying) or that he'd known a while ago he was headed off the rails (more lying, and he had a feeling words like omission and commission would be flying around soon) into it, he was in trouble up to his ears. Maybe, if he wasn't dead, he'd be able to sit down this side of Ash Wednesday...maybe. It was only just November. He could hold out hope for Pentecost, anyway.
"And what else would you like to tell me, while we're getting everything out in the open?"
The mild tone belied the seriousness of the question. Jamie's stomach clenched, the acid burn of pure, animal panic an unwelcome addition. He was, without a doubt, completely and wholly fucked. Because that tone, that tone , meant Dad knew. Everything. The Memorare started as a spontaneous background to his swirling thoughts. Maybe with some divine intercession he'd survive the next fifteen minutes.
"I would recommend opening your mouth soon, young man. If I have to start telling, you're going to be an extremely unhappy boy."
...to you do we come, before you we stand, sinful and sorrowful…
Well, sorrowful was about to be horribly true.
Chapter 2: Friday Confessions
"Jamison, you're running out of time," Frank hardened his voice. He had to make himself see it through, get everything out in the open.
Jamie bit his lip, hard, pressing his forehead to his dad's shoulder. He had to start. He knew he had to, but he couldn't get the words out. Panic clawed at him in a way it hadn't in years . Even active shooter situations felt safer than confessing himself completely to Dad. And what was he going to say about the moonlighting? That was blatant disobedience.
"One, Jamison. Don't let me get to three," Frank warned.
"It wasn't just a cut brake line. The Chevelle and I almost wound up in the East River," Jamie blurted. Even the idea of Dad counting. Ugh. "I almost died, and I lied so you wouldn't try to stash me somewhere safe. And I've been moonlighting to help pay my student loans, and not sleeping when I know I should be, and I knew months ago that I...that this...that I needed more and help and I didn't say anything because, because everyone else seemed to need you more . Between going undercover and Vinny...the department shrink said I needed to be in a dynamically supportive environment four months ago and I kept it from you. And I'm sorry, Dad. I'm so sorry." Jamie's voice broke on the last word, and he bit hard on his lip to keep the tears at bay.
Frank listened to Jamie's rambling confession, trying to breathe deeply. Trying to quell the exceedingly natural instinct to turn Jamie over his knee and not stop spanking until Christmas. Even Danny , for all his moments of being pure trouble, never managed to amass quite the list of misdeeds he'd just heard from Jamie. And of course he hadn't. He'd never had his family ignore his basic needs as a person for years.
"That," Frank started when he could trust himself to not bellow. "That's an impressive list of naughtiness, Jamison Francis Xavier."
"Yessir," Jamie mumbled.
"And I'm sure how badly you've felt has been magnified by not getting enough sleep, hmm?"
"Yessir." Jamie winced at Dad's tone. "I am sorry."
"I'm afraid we're pretty far past 'sorry' fixing any of this, Jamie."
Jamie could have wept in relief at finally hearing 'Jamie' again. Oh, he was in deep, but he didn't know how many more 'Jamisons' he could hear without bolting.
"First thing first, though, so we're going to deal with that green slip right now. And when I send it to your Sergeant, it's going with a request for a further three weeks of leave for you."
"Dad!" Jamie squawked, outraged. "I can't be out for six weeks! "
"You can, and will. I'm not going to hear any more backtalk from you on the subject, either. We're going to need that time to get your head where it needs to be, and to re-establish our relationship, Jamie. Honestly, you've been in the NYPD for three years at this point, and you haven't taken more than a couple of days here and there. I can always request it as PTO; HR will be ecstatic, and I'll stop getting emails from them."
"I hear one more syllable on the subject, and we can schedule in another spanking." Frank tipped Jamie sideways and swatted his seat, hard.
Jamie yelped, but shut up. He'd have three weeks to convince Dad to let him go back to work on time, in any case.
"What do you say when I've made a decision like this, Jamie?" Firm but patient, that was key.
"Yessir," Jamie sighed.
"And now for the green slip. What happens when a green slip comes home with you, young man?"
Frank detached Jamie and got him on his feet, taking his hands to keep him in place. He'd had to go after a panicked, bolting Jamie once, and he never wanted to do that again.
"I get spanked," Jamie stared at his feet.
"You say it to me, Jamie, not to your feet. What happens?"
Jamie made himself look his father in the eye, feeling all the while like the lowest possible thing ever. His cheeks and ears burned in shame at how he'd behaved the previous afternoon.
"I get spanked, Dad."
"That you do. You will also write two formal letters of apology. One will go to Sergeant Renzulli, and the other to Agent Conover. I won't have you speaking that way to anyone," Frank kept eye contact with Jamie. He could see the acceptance, and the relief, wash across his son's face, as if to say 'Finally, Dad's in charge again'.
"Yes sir. I...I want to. It was…" Jamie trailed off, trying to think of the right words.
"Naughty and unprofessional," Frank finished for him. "And we're going to deal with it right now."
He wasted no time in loosing Jamie's hands so he could whisk his flannels and underwear down to his knees. Jamie bit back a whimper at it, and his hands flexed as if to grab at his clothes before they slid south, but he kept still. Frank turned him over one thigh just as briskly, not wanting to give him any time to work himself up. Usually, he made the miscreant drop his pants and get over himself, but the change felt right for this, for dealing with Jamie. He pushed Jamie's shirt up and rested his palm at the small of his back. That was usually all the restraint Jamie needed.
And wasn't the crux of the issue that it was Jamie? The last baby he and Mary had, the last baby either of them rocked to sleep, the last little boy in the house who needed Daddy to clean out scraped knees and fix the small crises in his life. He'd been so busy trying to treat Jamie just like his brothers as he grew up that he'd overlooked one crucial point: Jamie was nothing at all like Joe or Danny, not where it counted. And he'd spent years completely and thoroughly overlooking that Jamie still needed him, maybe more now than he had as a child.
Jamie flinched and hissed at the first solid spank Frank landed on his backside. He settled into a steady rhythm, not too heavy-handed. They were going to be awhile, and he didn't want to have to finish before they got through what they dearly needed to.
"I don't know what's gotten into you, lately, young man, but you're going to straighten up and behave yourself properly if you don't want to spend all your time over my knee being spanked for green slips. That Renzulli kept this one unofficial was a favor to you, because he knows you're not like this, usually. So, why, Jamie? I'd like an explanation, please," Frank kept his tone level even as he scolded.
Jamie kicked his toes against the floor in a testy little flick by way of a response. Frank suppressed a smile and laid down a pair of harder spanks, one on each cheek.
"Without the attitude, little boy. Explain why my normally polite Jamie decided that he really needed to be a mouthy brat to two people who could really affect his career."
Jamie's back went rigid at that, and Frank moved the hand resting on Jamie's back, quickly using that arm as the restraint with his free hand curved over Jamie's hip. He tucked him closer, spanking steadily.
"I'm waiting, Jamie."
"I don't know! " Jamie spat back at him, squirming against the rising sting in his seat. "Okay? I don't know! I just did!"
This was worse, way worse, than he remembered. Each swat seemed to smack the breath right out of him. And Dad's hands were hard . He bucked against Dad's restraining arm, kicking wildly until Dad's free leg closed over his. Trapping him. Restraining him. The relief of all the lies ending edged slowly into panic, and panic abruptly turned to blinding fury.
"It's not like you care, anyway!" Where the hell had that come from? "You haven't noticed anything in years , so why now, huh? 'Cause I embarrassed you in some way? Fuck you! You haven't...you just... you can't ignore me until I'm inconvenient to you! Let me go! Just let me go like always! I don't need you! I don't!"
Frank heard, not the rage in Jamie's voice, but the grief. The pain that he'd caused with his inattention. He couldn't change the past, or take back the hurt, but he could deal with what was in front of him. He tucked Jamie closer, easily corralling his writhing, and kept swatting firmly. He'd shaken loose a lot of feelings he didn't think Jamie knew he'd buried, and he would see them purged. Now.
"I'm not letting you go, Jamie, so you can stop bellowing at me like that. I made a lot of mistakes with you after your mom died, and then we lost Joe and really lost the plot. Well, kiddo, I've got the plot again, and I'm not letting you go. You're stuck with me. Dad's in charge again, and we're going to make some changes so you never feel like this again. But before we go into that Jamie, what responsibility did you have to me when you started feeling like you needed more from me?"
Jamie closed his eyes tight against threatening tears and pressed his face into the sofa cushions. He shook his head.
"Enough of that, Jamie. I asked you a question. What was your responsibility?" Frank tipped Jamie forward and dropped his leg a little, moving from spanking Jamie's red bottom to the crease where bottom met thigh.
That got an immediate reaction. Jamie squeaked at each hard swat there, right where he sat.
"Tell you! I'm supposed to tell you!" His voice pitched higher than he wanted, breaking a little on the last word. Dad just kept spanking as they spoke, slowing a little to let him answer, and then picking up the pace again.
"Exactly, Jamie. We have a responsibility to each other to communicate, not to act out at work just enough to force a confrontation. So we're going to finish up our discussion of green slips, and you're going to remember every time you sit down tonight and tomorrow exactly how I feel about them. I do not want to have to revisit this topic, ever." Frank forced himself to finish, as much as he wanted to gather Jamie up and hug him.
That wouldn't serve him well at all. They needed to rebalance their relationship, and Frank needed to draw a sharp line under behavior he wouldn't tolerate. He couldn't remember spanking Jamie so thoroughly for anything before. He brought his hand down sharply, applying each swat where Jamie would feel it most when he sat, and watched. Jamie slowly lost the rigidity in his back and shoulders as he drooped down onto the sofa cushions, letting them and his dad's lap hold him up.
"It's going to be okay, kiddo. We're going to make it okay."
The first sob took them both by surprise as Jamie fully let go. He let go of the anger, and the fear behind it. He let go of the iron self-control he'd practiced for years in absence of any outside structure, and wailed at each spank. He didn't care about the noise or if anyone heard him carrying on; he only cared about the neverending spanking lighting up his butt. As before, the tears wouldn't stop, no matter what he wanted.
Slowly, he realized that Dad wasn't spanking him anymore, but was instead rubbing his back as Jamie howled over his knee. He tried to pull himself together, and yelped at the almighty swat Dad landed on his backside. He let himself cry after that, not that he could have stopped, anyway. Eventually, even the uncontrolled sobbing slowed to sniffles and hiccuping.
Frank let the steady rub of his hand up and down Jamie's back anchor his kid through the worst of the sobbing. When he heard the first hiccups, he righted Jamie's undershorts and lifted him up to straddle his lap. Jamie collapsed against him, completely wrung out, and hid his face in his shoulder.
Frank let him take refuge, rubbing his back and murmuring nonsense to him. Jamie was by far the most elusive of his kids, but he felt like they'd taken a good first step. He'd need to keep an eye on him, keep him close, but they would fix it. First, though, Jamie was going to take a nap.
"Want to go wash your face so you can lay down for a while?" He asked quietly.
Jamie nodded against his shoulder, and slowly shifted off his dad's lap. He fidgeted on his feet, feeling oddly fragile and uncertain.
"Use the powder room, Jamie. Wash your face and come right back here."
Short, simple orders helped. Jamie found his way to the little powder room, blew his nose, and washed the worst of the salt off his face. He didn't think he much cared for feeling so, so vulnerable, but he was too tired to complain. He went right back to Dad, resisting the urge to rub some of the burn out of his seat. He didn't think it would help.
"Lay down, Jamie." Frank patted the sofa next to him. He had his book, Jamie's pillow, and his son's favorite of the quilts Grandma Betty made.
Jamie flopped down, too tired for coordination, and rested on the pillow in Dad's lap. He was halfway to sleep when the quilt tucked around him. He drifted off to the sound of pages turning in the quiet, utterly at peace for the first time in years.
Chapter 3: Friday Night
Jamie squirmed through dinner, one more unwelcome new experience in a day full of them.
He'd never been spanked hard enough before that sitting down remained an uncomfortable experience hours later, even with the padded chairs in the dining room. He'd never been spanked bare before, either. Over Dad's knee, yeah, but not with his pants down.
Perversely, he felt better (safer?) than he had in months, or at least a lot calmer. Because he knew that he and Dad would fix everything, together. He didn't hold out a lot of hope his continued ability to sit down over the next few weeks, and he was so completely in the doghouse, but even that made him relax a little, weird as it was. And he wanted to fix things. He didn't want to keep feeling like he was two different people: work Jamie and home Jamie.
"Jamie, are you done?" Frank broke into his son's reverie, pressing a hand to his shoulder. Jamie startled against his hand, looking up with slightly glassy eyes, a sure sign in his youngest of trying to fight off sleep.
"Yeah, thanks Dad," he handed his plate up, hoping Dad hadn't noticed his jump.
"Grandpa's taking care of the dishes for us. You go on up, brush your teeth, and get in bed. I'll be up in a few."
"Dad! It's barely seven thirty!" Jamie protested.
"I don't hear a young man giving his father a hard time, do I?" Henry poked his head into the dining room. "Because I seem to remember hearing that someone was in a lot of trouble."
"No, Grandpa. I'm going up to brush my teeth, like Dad said." Jamie stared at the tablecloth, ears burning.
"Come here and give your grandpa a hug, first," Henry moved further into the room.
Jamie skirted around his dad to collect his hug. Grandpa'd practically scorched his ears off scolding when he brought dinner home...and got a quick rundown on how busy Jamie had been breaking most of the family rules, and the very few Dad made specifically for him. Grandpa squeezed him, hard.
"It'll be okay, Jamie," he rubbed a hand up and down Jamie's back. "It'll be okay. You listen to your dad now, hmm?"
Jamie nodded into his shoulder.
"I'm really sorry, Grandpa," he murmured.
"I know, kid, I know. We'll get you back on track. Go on up and get ready for bed." He sent Jamie off toward the stairs with a soft swat. As soon as he heard Jamie going up the steps, he turned to Frank.
"Get him settled for the night, and come back down for a nightcap, Francis. I think we could both use one."
"Sure, Pop. Need any help with the dishes?"
"There are three plates, Francis, I think I can manage," Henry replied crisply. "Go get your Brat into bed."
Frank got. He could hear Jamie running water in the bathroom, so he settled in the big rocking chair still sitting in the corner of Jamie's room. He'd offered to move it when Jamie hit his teen years, but Jamie wanted to keep it in his room, claiming it was the best place to read.
Jamie wandered in, scowling at the injustice of being sent to bed early, and stopped short.
"Teeth brushed?" Frank asked, smiling, as he got up and moved over to Jamie's bed.
"Yes," Jamie muttered.
"Good, in." Frank held up the blankets and waited. "Jamie, you have about three second to get into bed."
Jamie lasted about one of those seconds before he growled under his breath and scuffed over to his bed. He didn't stomp, because it was rude to Grandpa downstairs, and Dad made it pretty clear when they were kids that he considered stomping on the same level as 'whatever' on the Reagan Scale of Rudeness. He flopped onto his bed face down, still grumbling to himself. And yelped when Dad landed a smack on his backside before tucking the blankets around him.
"We'll work on 'with a good attitude'," Frank commented dryly, sitting next to an outraged Jamie. "That was for the grumbling. I don't appreciate hearing what I could make out of that. You're very lucky we're not heading back downstairs for the cod liver oil, Jamie."
"Yessir, sorry," Jamie murmured, chastened. Could he maybe stop acting like a teenager for two seconds? He hadn't even been such a pain when he was a teenager.
"We'll just have to adjust, hmm?" Frank rubbed his hand firmly up and down Jamie's back. "You're probably going to feel off balance for a while yet. We'll get through it. And if I survived Erin and Danny's teen years, I'm pretty sure getting you through this'll be a piece of cake."
"I wasn't this bad as a teenager, Dad," Jamie muttered, half to his own arm.
"It seems like we're going through what most families do when their kid Classes as a Brat, just a lot later. We deal with these things as we need to. Just so happens you're dealing with it while being grounded for the foreseeable future."
"Grounded?" Jamie groaned through a yawn.
"Very, very grounded, Jamie. We'll talk more about what that means tomorrow. I'd like you to try to get some sleep, now. And you stay in bed tonight, got me? I find you out of bed for anything other than the bathroom or to find me, you're going to regret it." Frank went from rubbing Jamie's back to scritching his fingers lightly through his hair, from the nape of Jamie's neck to the crown of his head. It was sovereign against a tiny Jamie who didn't want to sleep, and Frank hoped it still worked.
"Mmm, sure, but no'tired," Jamie slurred, sleep already claiming him. Which was NOT fair, because Dad pulled out the head-scratchy thing again.
"Keep telling yourself that, Jamie. Sweet dreams, kiddo," Frank smiled down at his youngest.
"Mm-hmm," Jamie managed before he slipped into a deep, boneless sleep.
Frank waited a few minutes before rising slowly and spreading Jamie's favorite quilt over him. He slipped out of the room, heading for the stairs and a drink. He and Pop would hear if Jamie got up to wander.
Frank dropped heavily into his chair, greatly appreciating the two fingers of scotch waiting for him on the side table next to the printout of the email.
"Well?" he asked his father.
"I'd say this family has been the victim of a decade-long snow job, Francis," Henry sighed, sipping his own scotch. "And that young Officer Reagan is lucky you put him to bed."
"I'd say you're right." Frank scrubbed a hand over his face, avoiding his glasses. "How did I miss this, Pop?"
"Jamie invested a lot of time and energy into making sure that we all think he's low-maintenance, Francis, probably from the minute he Classed. But Betty and I at least should have caught it. We went through this once with your Uncle Matty." Henry looked grim.
"And I was old enough through that that I should have clocked it, too." Frank rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his face onto his hands.
"And you can sit there and blame yourself, or you can stop stewing and move forward," Henry thumped his glass onto his coaster. "Which it seems like you're doing. What's your plan?"
Frank sat up, there was no use in slumping.
"Keep him close, build a relationship not based on my kid lying to me, and give him the structure he needs at home. Work is fine; he's an exemplary officer. We need to figure out how home works for him, since we didn't when he was first Classed." He'd considered his options for most of the afternoon and evening.
"To be fair, he Classed and then skipped town for college, Francis. I don't know that any of us had a chance to give him what he needs. What are you going to do in the short term to handle the trouble he's gotten himself into?" Henry sat back.
"Oh, he's extremely grounded, he's not leaving the supervision of a responsible Top while he's off work, and he's not going to enjoy sitting down for a good while, either. I'm not going to tolerate the disobedience or the dishonesty, Pop."
"Good," Henry nodded forcefully. "That's exactly what his nonsense deserves. Now, what about this DSR agent giving you hell? You look her up?"
"Yes, and she was doing her job, Pop," Frank managed a tired smile. "She's well-liked, stable, and in a Triad with the head of the DSR, Dr. O'Rourke, and Captain Conover from the 6-3. They're her contacts."
"Conover, you said?"
"Because the only person I remember with a Conover was little Gwinny Grady, Andrew Grady's granddaughter, and I'm surprised she'd have the nerve to email anyone like that."
"Andrew Grady?" The name rang a bell, but Frank couldn't quite place it.
"That Officer who died in a foot pursuit in the '80s. He's the reason for the departmental heart health push around then," Henry explained, brow furrowing. "And the regular stress tests for officers over 40."
"Pop, it's not like we don't have more than one Conover on the Force."
"Except this one made Captain, what, a few years ago? If it's who I'm thinking about, there was probably some talk from when she was a patrol officer."
"You're going to have to be more specific." His father's near-encyclopedic memory for the NYPD, and his honestly ridiculous web of connections, remained both a blessing and a curse.
"Gwinny wound up in her grandmother's care, and Maura Grady was born mean. After Gwinny turned sixteen but before she Designated, she married Officer Conover to get emancipated on a judicial allowance. Mrs. Grady kicked up a stink, tried to ruin Conover's career and force a divorce, but Conover'd already sent her to friends in Ireland, and they'd done everything legally."
"I remember that mess, now. And the promotion. There were a few who tried to bring it up again, but she has a clean record. You really think it's them?"
"Could be. Scandal happened under Crooked Connor, though. I got it secondhand."
"And you just happen to know the particulars that well?" Frank asked, drily.
Henry had the grace to look uncomfortable.
"I'll admit to asking around about it at the time. I met her grandfather a couple of times. He was a good cop and a good man. I didn't like to hear the kind of talk I did about her grandmother, and that's all I'm saying on that subject. I don't know that I like the DSR, but if her record is clear and her assessment was right…"
"Unfortunately, it was," Frank sighed.
"Then all that's left is to handle Jamie. What are you going to tell Danny and Linda?"
"Oh, I'm not telling them anything. Jamie's going to confess himself to them tomorrow, if you'll take the boys out?" It felt, for a moment, like talking to Mary about handling their kids. He wondered what she'd have made of this whole mess. She and Joe had always been the best at figuring Jamie out.
"Francis, that's positively evil, and I'd be delighted to spend the afternoon with Jack and Sean." Henry smiled, shaking his head. "Jamie's not going to be very happy with you. I think I'm going to turn in and read for a while. I'll keep my ears open for any nighttime wanderers."
"Night, Pop. Sleep well." Frank stood with his father and waited until he'd left the room to sit again, picking up his book from the table.
He wanted to listen out for Jamie for a bit, himself.
Chapter 4: Saturday
"Up and at 'em, sunshine," Danny pitched his voice louder than necessary while he pulled open the curtains in Jamie's room.
Jamie startled his way awake, scrabbling at the bed to keep from falling off. He really needed to stop sleeping on the edge of it.
"Dad said you need to be downstairs in five, and just put on fresh flannels. What the hell did you do, kid?" Danny stared down at a Jamie who looked suspiciously guilty.
"What?" Jamie croaked, sitting up cross-legged against his pillows.
"What kind of trouble did you land yourself in that Dad's keeping you in pajamas when you're not sick? This is like next level grounded, Jamie. He only does this when you're seriously in over your head." Danny perched on the bed next to Jamie.
"It's pretty bad, Danny. And um, I maybe left something out when I was coming clean to Dad yesterday...only because I didn't think of it then!" Jamie put his hands up, as if he could fend off the slow burn of Danny's temper. "And I'm not sure how to tell him, now. He's already mad at me. And disappointed," his voice dropped to a miserable whisper.
"It can't be that bad, kid. You wanna tell me?" Vulnerable Jamie was his damned kryptonite. Danny put an arm around him and hugged.
"It's really that bad. And, um, did Grandpa take the boys out?"
"Yeah, they're gonna be gone all day. Pops got tickets to a game, and he's gonna take 'em for lunch after. Planned something for the morning, too."
"Then I'm probably supposed to tell you and Linda together." Jamie recognized this gambit. He'd had to do the same thing once before, only he'd been a Sophomore in college confessing to underage drinking.
"Want me to get her now, or you wanna eat breakfast first?" Danny patted Jamie's back.
"Can we just get it over with? But, could I get dressed and downstairs, first?" Jamie picked at the quilt over his knees.
"Sure, kid. You sure you don't want to keep the rumpled up cute points? Dad and Linda might not kill you when you look about twelve."
"Yeah, or Dad'll just send me right back up to change, and then I'll be in more trouble for being rude." Jamie dropped his head onto Danny's shoulder.
"Or that. All right. Get yourself dressed. I'm supposed to wait for you." Danny moved to the rocking chair, looking determinedly at the ceiling to give Jamie some privacy.
Jamie thumped his head off the wall. He was so, so dead.
"Before I die of waiting, kid. You got three minutes left. Move it," Danny ordered.
Jamie huffed, but did as he was told. He hesitated at his sock drawer for a minute before he tugged a worn-soft piece of paper out of the back. He slipped it into his pocket before pulling out fresh socks. He sat on the bed to pull his socks on, surprised that he wasn't still sore from yesterday, just a little tender. He wandered over to Danny, nudging his older brother's foot to get his attention instead of saying anything. He half thought that if he opened his mouth now, everything would come rushing out.
"Good, come o...get a sweater or something, first." Danny stood, tugging Jamie back to his dresser.
"Danny, I'm fine!" Jamie protested.
Danny ignored Jamie's squawking and dug a sweater out of one of the drawers, pitching it directly into Jamie's face.
"Put it on. We don't need you freezing to death, on top of everything else."
He thought he heard Jamie grumble 'fat chance of that with Dad lighting my ass on fire every chance he gets', but he put that out of his head. Despite being the only Sub, and Brat to boot, in the family, Jamie spent the least amount of time in trouble. Well, had spent. Danny had a gut feeling Jamie's days as the golden boy were coming to a close.
Jamie shouldered into the sweater despite his protests, and Danny suppressed a grin. Trust his kid brother to have raided Dad's sweater drawer.
"Come on, you, let's go face the music, huh?" Danny slung an arm around Jamie's shoulders and guided him out of the room.
They got downstairs too fast. Jamie hung back by the staircase until Danny hooked a finger into his desg-band and tugged. He dragged after Danny, stomach tight, palms sweaty, until Dad stopped them and pulled him into a hug. Jamie clung unashamedly.
"It's just Danny and Linda, Jamie. We're not feeding you to the lions," Frank let his fondness for Jamie seep into his words, and felt Jamie nod against his chest.
"But there's one more thing I have to tell you, and you're really not going to like it, Dad."
"Then you'd better spit it out, Jamie. No, not here," Frank propelled Jamie into the living room where Danny and Linda sat on the sofa. "You're not splitting the group to make it easier."
Jamie swallowed, hard, and pulled the paper out of his pocket.
"This came with my initial Classification letter," he admitted. "The pages weren't numbered, and...and I kind of panicked?"
He handed the page to his father, hands shaking.
"And kept panicking for ten years?" Danny bounced up off the sofa.
"Danny, let him talk," Linda chided, and Danny dropped back into his seat.
"There wasn't ever a good time! Everyone was so proud of me graduating early and going away and I couldn't...all I could think was that I'd be a disappointment…" Jamie trailed off, hunching his shoulders up and ducking his head.
It was Linda who moved first. Frank and Danny watched in stunned silence as she stalked to Jamie, turned him by one arm, and smacked him firmly across the seat half-a-dozen times. Jamie yipped.
"You are not ever a disappointment, Jamison, you hear me?" she scolded.
Jamie yipped again when Linda turned him sharply to face her. He nodded, frantically.
"Frank, does that say what I think it does?" she asked.
"If you think it says that Jamie practically pinned the needle on the Brat scale, and that in the opinion of the Designation Board he should have more, and not less, supervision, then yes." Frank folded the page again, putting it in his pocket. "I had wondered about this, but Mary and I decided that since Jamie seemed to be doing well we wouldn't push it. Clearly, I should have."
"Oh no, no, Frank. This family has enough free-floating Catholic guilt for you to feel bad for believing your kid," Linda turned only enough to look Frank in the eye. "The only person who should be feeling guilty here is Jamison Francis."
Jamie gulped. He'd really, really dropped himself in it. Linda rarely pulled out his middle name. She swatted more, stopping bad behavior in its tracks, where Danny waited for you to push enough to earn a spanking, but middle names? He was dead. In a lot of ways, Linda was a stricter Top than Danny, even.
"Leaving aside your dad and Danny, young man, am I so hard to talk to? Huh?" Linda gave his arm a little shake.
"No, no ma'am," the ma'am fell automatically from his lips. "I...I just…"
"You just wanted to hide the Classification you didn't like, and do what you wanted to do."
"Yes, ma'am," Jamie hung his head, biting his lip to keep it from quivering. "And I was afraid I wouldn't be allowed if you all saw that. And that Mom and Dad would be disappointed."
"We're going to talk more, later, little boy, about how I feel about you keeping secrets like that. You have more you need to tell me and Danny about?"
"Then you stand right here and you talk," Linda moved him so he stood in front of the sofa before she sat next to Danny again.
Jamie heard his dad sit down behind him. He didn't quite know how he'd managed to make such a mess of things.
"Go on, Jamie," Frank prompted. "You'll feel better getting it out."
"And you look at us, kid, not the floor," Danny spoke for the first time since his initial outburst.
Stern, yes, but gentle at the same time. Jamie wanted to cry hearing that tone from Danny. If he sounded like that, he couldn't be too mad...yet.
"Yessir," Jamie forced himself to meet their eyes. "I, um, I lied about the Chevelle and the extent of the damage to it. They cut my brake lines and I almost wound up in the East River. I've been moonlighting to pay my student loans and lying about it. And...and the department shrink told me four months ago that I needed to be in a dynamically supportive environment, and I didn't say anything about it. I...I've been lying to everyone for the last ten years, and I got myself green-slipped and on the DSR's radar on Thursday." He choked out his confession, more coherently than he'd expected, and waited.
"I'm not sure if I should ask Dad if I can spank you til your butt falls off, or be proud of you for keeping a con going for ten years." Danny sounded genuinely at a loss.
Frank and Linda scolded at the same time.
"What?" Danny got up to pace. "Yeah, he's a Brat and I'm a Top and his secondary, but he's my kid brother, too. Can't blame a guy for being conflicted. He couldn't even keep Christmas presents a secret, and we find out he's managed something a lot bigger for a decade?"
Whatever Jamie had expected, it wasn't this. He'd expected more yelling, for a start, but both Danny and Linda looked too stunned to yell. Yet. Jamie startled when Dad's hand dropped on his shoulder.
"Come sit with me, Jamie," Frank murmured, guiding Jamie back to his chair.
Jamie followed, pausing long enough for Linda to nod at his questioning look. She'd put him there, and he didn't want to move without permission. Not when she was throwing middle names around like that. Dad sat and tugged his arm. Only, when Jamie went to sit on the floor, he found himself redirected to Dad's lap, just like he was Jack or Sean or Nicky.
"Dad!" He hissed, perching awkwardly. He hadn't sat in anyone's lap (without having first been spanked...so, like maybe twice more) since before he left for college. He hadn't been in Dad's lap like this since the night before he left, not-quite-seventeen and nervous. Only that had been up in his own room in the rocking chair, not the middle of the living room in front of God and everyone.
"What, I can't hold my kid?" Frank suppressed a grin at Jamie's subtle attempts to wriggle off his lap. "Relax, Jamie. No one's going to make fun. And it's not getting any easier listening to you explain about the Chevelle."
At least that got him to stop squirming.
"I'd recommend that you enjoy the fact that you're sitting in my lap and not over it, in any case," Frank pitched his voice low.
Jamie went red, the bright flush coloring his ears and cheeks, and all but wilted against him. Even fully grown and with the muscle he'd put on at the Academy, Jamie wasn't much of a burden. Subs, especially the more tactile Classifications, were built light. Frank let Jamie tuck himself up more comfortably and rubbed his back while they waited for Danny and Linda to process.
"I'm guessing you decided how you want to handle this?" Danny asked, leaning against the back of the couch.
"Jamie's moving home for a while, he's grounded until I decide otherwise, and outside of work he's not allowed to go anywhere without one of you, Grandpa, or me until he's no longer grounded. He's also earned himself several spankings." Frank patted Jamie when he groaned at the pronouncement.
"What were you taking, Jamison Francis?" Linda's quiet question cut through the room. She knew Frank and Danny wouldn't think of it, but she worked with Subs every day going through the aftermath of suppressants.
Jamie stiffened, stomach dropping.
"What?" he croaked.
"It would have been after your Sophomore year, but before you started the Academy. What were you taking in college and law school?" Linda pressed, voice tight. She pressed her hands together in her lap.
"Neutralx," Jamie whispered, curling into his Dad.
"Where did you get it? No, you don't hide from me. You look me in the eye and you tell me where you got it." Linda pointed to a spot directly in front of her. "Come here."
Frank let Jamie go and swatted to get him moving. He watched his youngest drag over to Linda, shifting on his feet in front of her and Danny, who hadn't left his post behind the sofa. Hearing Jamie admit to taking that...the only word for it was poison, chilled him. And Frank could guess why. He'd have taken it during his mother's illness, and through the aftermath of losing Joe, to make sure he wasn't asking for more from his already stressed family. Frank sat back, willing to let Linda and Danny handle this part.
"You tell Linda where you got that crap, kid, right now," Danny leveled a stern glare at his little brother.
"There was a clinic outside campus. A girl...I dated this girl briefly who...and Syd was pretty upset when I went off it. But I thought...Mom and Joe...no one had any more to give and…" Jamie stumbled through his explanation. Linda took his hands in hers, anchoring him.
"That clinic still there?" Danny pressed.
Jamie shrugged, yelping when Danny leaned over to swat the side of his leg.
"That's not an answer, Jamison. Is the clinic still there?"
"I don't know, honest! I stopped when I left Boston, Danny, I swear! I just...I couldn't ask for any more from anyone!" Tears welled in Jamie's eyes. "I just couldn't!" He stamped a foot for emphasis since Linda had his hands, and stared down at his feet in shock.
He'd never done that before. Danny swatted him again, and he jumped at the sharp sting.
"Is that your decision, Jamison?" Danny asked, quiet and gruff.
"No, sir," Jamie mumbled.
"No, it's not something you decide. So why did you think you got to decide for us what we could give you, huh?"
Jamie shifted on his feet, clearly unwilling to answer.
"Do you need me to warm up your bottom for you? Or are you going to answer?" Danny raised an eyebrow.
"There was a girl, before Syd, she knew what was going on with Mom and she thought it would help...just to take the pressure off you and Dad, Danny! You didn't need…" Jamie broke off with a yelp as Linda let go of his hands long enough to swat.
"Thanks, babe," Danny pressed his hand to her shoulder.
"We get the idea, Jamison, and I think I can speak for every Top on this room when I tell you that you don't decide that unilaterally. Now, what did you promise me before you went to college?" Linda broke in.
"That I wouldn't get into any of the suppressants," Jamie hung his head. "No matter what."
"And what did I promise you?" She pressed. "Look me in the eye and tell me, little boy."
Jamie squirmed, but answered, "That you didn't care where we were or who was watching, if you found out I'd so much as touched that stuff with my little finger, you'd spank me bare right where you found me."
"Exactly," Linda let go of his hands and whisked his flannels down before putting him right over her knee.
She wasn't going to turn everything into high drama, but she was going to deal with his broken promise by not breaking her own.
"I can't believe, little boy, that you would promise me something and then turn around and decide you knew better," she scolded, peppering his bottom with sharp spanks.
Jamie squirmed a little and squeaked in response, gripping the sofa cushions so he wouldn't reach back.
"You know what I call that? Hmm? Making a promise you don't intend to keep? I call it lying Jamison Francis Xavier, and I can't believe you would lie to my face. I can't believe you would decide to poison yourself like that, and for what? So you could make a girl happy? So you could pretend you didn't need anyone? Well, little boy, you're in big trouble for it now, because I will never accept you lying to me, ever." She moved her hand down to target his sit spots, lighting a fire across already tender skin. "You take so much as an aspirin without asking until I say any different, Jamison Francis, and you're going to feel a paddle across your bottom, understand?"
The scolding, and the scalding spanks targeted where he sat, proved Jamie's undoing. He burst into tears, nodding frantically.
"Yes'm, m'sorry!" He sobbed, going limp over Linda's lap.
Linda spanked for a few more minutes, turning the tops of his thighs scarlet, and leaving a deeper red where he sat. She didn't intend to have to revisit the conversation ever again.
"What are you going to do if you need any kind of medication, Jamison?" she asked.
"Ask! I'll ask!" Jamie squirmed against the stinging smacks, trying not to kick.
"You say! I swear! Linda, m'sorry!" Jamie didn't know what else to do. The apologies fell from his mouth with little input from his brain.
"You'd better." One more scalding pair of smacks at the base of each cheek, and Linda finished.
She let Jamie sob himself out over her lap, rubbing his back and patting the unspanked part of his thigh. It took him several minutes to calm enough for her to slide his flannels up again. Fresh tears greeted even the soft fabric rubbing over his sensitized backside, and then Jamie slid down onto his knees and buried his face in her lap. He shuddered, still trying to calm down, as she brushed her hand through his hair.
She gave him a few more minutes before she drew him to his feet, standing herself so she could pull him into a hug. He clung to her, still shaking, and let loose a few more tears when Danny came around the sofa to sandwich Jamie between him and Linda.
Frank let them be, let Jamie get the reassurances he needed that yes, he'd been very naughty and they didn't like it, but that he'd been spanked and forgiven for his naughtiness. Frank wondered how many more bombshells Jamie would drop in the coming weeks; he certainly seemed to be full of surprises.
He stood and crossed to them, gratified when Linda and Danny immediately turned Jamie over to him. He pulled Jamie into a hug and let him cling, resting his cheek against the top of Jamie's head.
"You need breakfast, or Pop might just kill me for not feeding you."
That got a watery chuckle out of Jamie.
"Do I hafta sit?" Jamie asked hopefully.
"Do I hafta sit?" Danny parroted, heading for the kitchen as Frank and Jamie followed. "Yes, you have to sit. You want to eat breakfast without the sore tush, then you behave yourself. Linda, do you hear him? Do I have to sit…"
Danny's grumbling trailed off, and Jamie heard him in the kitchen, opening the fridge. Despite his honestly flaming butt, and being grounded, and restricted to being supervised by a family Top, and the promise of further spankings, Jamie felt better and more together than he had in months. He let Dad direct where he went, and sat, wincing, at the kitchen table. Linda sure had a smack on her.
"Grandpa made up pancake mix before he left," Frank pressed a hand to Jamie's shoulder before he went to the stove. "Linda, you sit, we're giving you the day off."
"Yeah, because someone is spoiled," Danny teased, plunking a full glass of OJ in front of him. "You drink all of that."
"Yes, Danny," Jamie answered dutifully, squirming a little.
"He did make enough for everyone, unless you don't…" Frank gave Danny a quick grin.
"Hey, never said no to pancakes," Danny backtracked quickly, pulling plates out of the cabinet. "And Linda's been working overtime with the boys and me on nights and now Harvard here acting out. Anyone deserves Grandpa's pancakes, it's her."
Jamie sipped his juice and leaned against Linda, who'd sat down next to him, content to listen to Dad and Danny rag on each other. His eyes hurt, and his breathing still didn't want to settle completely, but he relaxed into the safe-haven his family gave him. Linda put her arm around him and he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so completely safe and loved.
And if leaning against Linda took his weight off his butt, he wasn't telling on himself.
"I don't know how anyone is sitting here acting like everything is fine, when it's not !" Nicky glared down the table, specifically at her grandfather and uncle Danny.
"Nicky," Erin warned. "We talked about this."
"But it's not fair!" Nicky insisted. "Uncle Jamie can't even open his mouth or anything without half the table jumping down his throat! And why, his Designation? I thought you were different! "
"Pretty sure Uncle Jamie can let us know if he doesn't like something, Nicky," Danny warned, giving her a Look despite Erin kicking his ankle.
"Yeah?" Nicky scoffed. "When he can't even pick where he's sitting?" she gestured down the table to where Jamie sat between Danny and Frank, just as he had at Mass that morning. "You're all acting like he's suddenly incapable! I didn't think we acted like that around anyone!"
"Uncle Jamie's not a Top?" Sean whispered to Jack, not as quietly as he thought. "Does that mean we don't have to listen to him?"
Jamie bit the inside of his cheek, trying not to laugh as Danny turned his glare from Nicky to his boys. He knew they'd have trouble with Nicky, but Erin had wanted to be the one to talk to her.
"No. It means that if I hear you're giving Uncle Jamie, or any Sub responsible for you, a hard time then you're gonna be in twice the trouble you'd be in normally. Understand?" The look on Danny's face got a subdued 'yessir' from both boys.
"I can't believe any of this!" Nicky shoved away from the table and stood, throwing her napkin down. "This kind of...of... paternalism! I lost my appetite!" she stormed off, headed into the living room.
"I'm sorry," Erin sounded close to losing her temper, pinching the bridge of her nose. "I'll go talk to her."
"I'll go, sweetheart, you finish your dinner and relax." Frank started to rise when Jamie cut in.
"Dad, could I take this one? It might help more," he set his napkin down and waited.
"You sure?" Frank asked. Jamie had been quieter than usual, even for him.
"Yessir, anyway, I'm calling Confirmation Sponsor dibs," he flashed a quick grin.
"That's not even a thing, kid. You sure you want to deal with this?" Danny cupped the back of Jamie's neck briefly.
"Code of Canon Law, Dan, look it up. Erin, you mind?" Jamie asked, ignoring Danny's fussing.
"No, please. If you can talk some sense into her, go ahead," Erin sighed. "She's just not listening to me."
Jamie got up and headed out of the dining room.
"That is not a thing, kid!" Jamie heard Danny call after him, and then, "Dad, you got a copy of the Code of Canon Law?" from the dining room.
Jamie found Nicky in a miserable huddle of teenaged angst on the stairs. He sighed, of course she couldn't have her crisis on the nice, padded sofa. He sat next to her, ignoring the twinge in his seat when his butt pressed against the wooden step.
"What's the matter, Nicky?" he asked, keeping his voice quiet. "You're pretty upset, huh?"
And suddenly found himself with Nicky half in his lap, weeping into his shirt.
"Okay, okay, Nicky, it's okay," he soothed, patting her back.
"It's not fair!" She all-but-wailed into his chest.
"You're gonna need to be more specific, Nick-nack," he pushed a little.
"You're...they're...it's like you're not even an adult! Grandpa watched what you put on your plate, and added stuff! And keeping you between him and Uncle Danny at church and dinner, and making you stay in the kitchen with him, and…"
"I'm gonna stop you there, Nicky, okay, and explain some of this for you. I'm not going to tell you everything, because a lot of it is personal, and between me, Dad, Danny, and Linda." Jamie cut off her recitation of perceived slights against him.
"Aunt Linda?" she pulled away to look him in the eye. "What's Aunt Linda have to do with this?"
"You think she wears a Top desg-disc for decoration? Trust me, Nick-nack, do not ever get Aunt Linda to go full-Top on you," Jamie cautioned. "She's probably stricter about some things than even Dad."
"It's like no one trusts you to make decisions anymore, and you're more responsible than Uncle Danny! I still don't think that's fair." She just wasn't going to think about Aunt Linda like that.
"Nicky, right now I'm not sure I trust me to make good decisions about personal stuff. I...I made some pretty bad choices and they're having lasting effects. And right now, I need Dad and Danny and Linda jumping all over me. Because of my Classification, and don't make that face at me, the people I choose to let make decisions for me doing just that is less stress on me. And I choose it, Nicky. It's my choice to trust, to let go, to let Dad handle things for me sometimes. To let Dad and Danny handle me , sometimes. And if I came home tomorrow having revoked my DoR for Dad and Danny, they would respect that. Because they respect my choices, and they respect me. And I respect them."
Nicky snuggled against him, thinking.
"Now, you want to share what has you so upset? Because it's not just watching Dad give me more broccoli."
"Some...some of the guys at school have been making...comments as we get closer to Designating," she admitted, voice small and breaking.
"What kind of comments?" Jamie's gut clenched.
"About which girls they think are going to Designate Sub, and what they want to do to them," she whispered, ducking her head under his chin.
"Anyone say anything to you?" Jamie asked carefully, his temper hopping.
"And then you saw Dad and Danny tag-teaming me all day, and you got to thinking maybe if you were more like Uncle Jamie than you thought, maybe they'd be like that with you? All the time, because you're a girl, hmm?"
"Yes, Uncle Jamie."
His heart went out to her. He knew that feeling, and the leering jeers from classmates. Wondering if you'd ever be able to be what you wanted most in the world.
"I think we need to talk to your mom and Grandpa about school, because it's not okay," he rubbed her back, hoping he could soothe some of the hurt. "I know some people who might be able to help, but I have to make sure Dad's okay with it, first. We'll get this straightened out, okay?"
Nicky nodded and sniffled, "okay, Uncle Jamie."
"Why don't you go wash your face, and then we can go back in to dinner." Jamie put her on her feet and nudged her toward the powder room.
"Do I have to apologize?" she asked, plaintively.
"Yeah, Nicky. You do. And properly, no halfway, okay?"
"Yes, Uncle Jamie," she huffed and stopped to turn back for a moment. "If I have questions, about Designation and Classification stuff…?"
"You can always ask," he promised.
"All I'm saying is that she's gonna be spoiled if everyone keeps on this way," Danny dropped a handful of cutlery into sudsy water in the sink.
"Drop it, Danny," Jamie warned, voice tight. "She apologized, and we all moved on, okay?"
"Look, we all know how she's gonna Designate, okay? I'm just saying…"
"If we all know, then maybe you should shut your damn mouth," Jamie snapped,taking them both by surprise.
He didn't know why his temper flared that way. He'd learned to read Danny's harping on a subject as care instead of him being an ass, but the whole conversation had his hackles up.
"Hey, watch it, kid. Dad's not the only one who swats for that kind of sass," Danny warned, turning to point a soapy hand at him.
"Oh, fuck you, Danny. You think you know everything? Then tell me why Nicky would want to the guy who fucking well goes out of his way to upset her mother every week, huh?" Jamie paced, hands waving as he tried to tamp down on his spiraling temper. "Who the fu--"
"Oh, I think that's quite enough of that," Frank interrupted Jamie's tirade with a hand clapped on his shoulder. "Are you done having a tantrum, young man?"
Jamie turned, fury bubbling under his skin, "Go to hell."
"I guess not. Danny, you mind if I handle this one?"
"Not at all, Dad." Danny started the dishwasher and the water running in the sink and then leaned back against the counter.
Jamie found his view of the kitchen suddenly limited to the floor as Dad jack-knifed him under one arm, snugged close to his hip. Dad's hand landed, hard, on his backside, rekindling the burn left by Linda.
"Ow!" He yelped, twisting in Dad's hold.
Danny made a considering noise and reached under the sink to turn the disposal on.
"Thank you, Danny," Frank swatted Jamie again, raising him up onto his toes and holding him there. He laid down a steady rain of smacks as he spoke. "As for you, Jamison, I have had it with the language. I let it go on Friday, but that's it. You're on notice, little boy. Any bad language, any hint of a tantrum from you, and you're going over my knee. I do not ever want to hear you speaking to anyone the way I heard you speaking to your brother just now, is that understood?"
"Yessir! Yes, please, Dad! M'sorry! M'sorry! Ow!" Jamie wriggled under the hard spanks targeting his sit spots, squeaking at the burn.
Just as suddenly as he'd been bent over, Jamie found himself upright and gasping, but dry-eyed. His hands went back to cup his seat automatically. As an attention-getter, that method worked entirely too well. Dad moved him over to the counter and boosted him up. Jamie squeaked again when his blazing backside made contact with the counter. Dad reached into the cabinet next to them and withdrew a familiar, hated bottle and spoon.
Danny turned the disposal off and went back to washing the breakables.
Frank gave Jamie a warning look as he poured a generous dose of cod liver oil into the spoon. Jamie had tried slithering off the counter for freedom precisely once, but he didn't want to take any chances.
"Open," he ordered.
Jamie opened his mouth hesitantly, grimacing as the viscous oil coated his mouth. He swallowed, trying not to gag, and shook his head, eyes watering.
"Every time you swear from here on out, Jamie, you're going to get a dose of cod liver oil. We're done with it, got me?"
"Yessir," Jamie replied fervently.
"Now, do you have something you're like to say to your brother?" Frank prompted.
Danny turned to face them again, drying his hands on a towel.
"I'm sorry, Danny, really. I...I don't know…" he floundered after the initial apology.
"Come here, you brat," Danny held his arms open.
Jamie scooted over to him, grateful for the comfort of his big brother's hug. He gripped the back of Danny's shirt, still shaking a little, and tried to tamp down on the ridiculous urge to cry.
"You use that kind of language at me again, and you're going over my knee when Dad's done with you, got me?" Danny swatted as much of Jamie's backside as he could reach.
"I got you, Danny," Jamie murmured into his shoulder. "And I'm really, really sorry. Anyone could've walked in and heard that, and I…"
"Yeah kid, and that's the problem. I'll ask Linda to ask around about that crap you were on, see if there's any long-term stuff you need to worry about, okay?" Danny cupped the back of Jamie's head and swayed a little.
"You got it kid. You want to go talk to Dad, now?" Danny pushed Jamie back to see his face. A little red-eyed, but no worse than that. "Go on."
Jamie let Danny turn him around, went with the little shove Danny gave him to get him moving, and deeply appreciated Danny's sudden commitment to sparkling glassware.
"Dad, I...I don't know…" he trailed off.
"Come here, Jamie," Frank opened his arms and let Jamie make the three steps across the kitchen.
"I'm sorry," Jamie whispered into his dad's sweater.
"I know you are, peanut," the old nicknames slipped out sometimes. "We took care of it, though, hmm?" Frank hugged tighter, let the comfort sink bone deep.
Jamie nodded. His butt had settled down to a muted throbbing, and his breath finally stopped hitching. He just had no clue why he'd lost his temper so suddenly and completely.
"Why don't we go upstairs so you can brush your teeth and put on your pajamas?" Frank rubbed Jamie's back when he stiffened in presumed horror. "No, you're not going to bed, yet. I do want you more comfortable, though."
Jamie took a deep breath, held it for a bit, and then let it out along with the tension in his shoulders.
"Good, Jamie. I know this is hard for you, and Danny and Linda and I all know that you're trying."
"Trying your patience, maybe," Jamie joked, his laugh a little strained.
"Not so much as you think," Frank patted his back and let him loose. "I'll be right behind you, Jamie. You get your teeth brushed, change, and wait for me."
"Yes, Dad," Jamie sighed but moved, heading for the hall.
"Danny?" Frank leaned against the counter by the sink.
"Yeah, Dad?" Danny finished up the last of the glasses and dried his hands.
"You'll talk to Linda tonight?" He asked.
"Yeah. This isn't like him," Danny propped up against the counter and crossed his arms, a mirror of his father.
"No, it's not. And it started about when we both started acting like actual Tops again. I haven't heard that much bad language from him since he was sixteen and trying to fit in with Seniors."
Danny snorted a laugh. "He was a complete lower-case 'b' brat for what, a week before we got our usual Jamie back?"
"Three, Danny. Your mother was about to give up in despair when I had a sharp discussion with him. Turned him right around," Frank smiled and shook his head at the memory.
"Yeah, I'll bet. You gonna go up after him?"
"I probably should. He's had enough time to brush his teeth twice."
"Spoiling him," Danny teased.
"Probably, but I'm just following the proud Reagan tradition," Frank chuckled as he left the kitchen, Danny sputtering behind him.
To clarify, because Blue Bloods timelines are notoriously wonky (see, Erin's shifting age, who's the oldest, and how much younger is Jamie, anyway?), here's what I go with, in order of age:
Danny: 12 years older than Jamie
Erin: 10 years older than Jamie
Joe: 8 years older than Jamie
With a Jamie who skipped 2 grades (5th and 6th - not uncommon for a smart kid in Catholic school), putting him at about 25/26 during this fic. He's about 10 years older than Nicky.
Chapter 6: Monday
Jamie jogged to the front door, skidding a little on the wood floor in his socks. They weren't expecting anyone, but Dad sent him out to see who was ringing the doorbell while he finished lunch for them.
"Hi...Janko…" he gulped, suddenly very aware of his still-pajamaed state.
"Hey Reagan, Sarge asked me to drop this by," she shook his PT bag. "You sick?"
"Uh, not exactly?" How did you explain to your Probationary Officer that you were a Sub and your Dad was punishing you? He scratched the back of his neck.
"What d'you mean, not exactly? Reagan...you're a Classed Sub ?" she hissed, catching sight of his desg-band, the one he never wore on tour, or anywhere else she'd seen, for that matter, and snagged his wrist. She didn't recognize the initials on the Dom discs clipped in on either side of Jamie's designation, but she sure as heck recognized the stylized 'S-C' in the center.
"You don't have to say it like that!" he hissed back, looking back down the hall and yanking his wrist back.
"Why the hell didn't you tell me?! I mean, I knew you weren't a Dom, no matter what those knuckleheads think, but I'm your partner ," she gestured wildly, catching him with his bag.
"It's not like everyone else knows and you--" Jamie whispered back.
"If you two want to argue, we have a nice, private living room for that." Frank cut Jamie off. They weren't nearly as quiet as they thought. "One that isn't the front stoop where the neighbors can get a front-row seat. You have fifteen minutes until lunch, Jamie. Good to see you, Officer Janko."
As his dad headed back toward the kitchen, Jamie thumped his head off the doorframe before he grabbed Eddie's wrist and towed her inside. She looked like she'd swallowed her own tongue. He set his bag down out of the way and stopped in the living room with a deep sigh.
"You wanna yell?"
Eddie took a good look at him before she made up her mind. Oh, she wanted to yell, but he looked too pathetic standing there in an oversized sweater and yellow flannels covered in bees for her to actually yell at him.
"Kind of. Isn't that the kind of thing you tell your partner. You know, in case you drop or something?" she asked, pointedly.
"I don't drop, Janko, not like that," Jamie shifted on his feet. "I...I, um...I Classed as a Brat."
"How much trouble are you in?" Eddie couldn't help the question, because Jamie's Classification plus the leave suddenly made sense. She wasn't dumb, and she knew she was right when Jamie turned red and looked like he wanted to melt through the floor.
"I'm pretty sure the answer to that is 'all of it'," Jamie sighed. "I made a mess of a lot of stuff, and we're getting it straightened out."
"Uh huh," Eddie crossed her arms over her chest and stood hipshot. If it showed off her own Domme desg-disc, well. "Six weeks of Drop leave of mess, Reagan? That's...impressive by any standards."
"Can we not talk about it?" Jamie's cheeks flamed with the embarrassment. "That's pretty much all we talked about this weekend."
And he looked fricking adorable, all embarrassed and pajama-y. Like, Uniform!Jamie and Civvies!Jamie certainly gave her all kinds of pants-feelings, but Pajamas!Jamie just looked too cute. She wasn't one of those squealy maternal Dommes, but a blushing Jamie in flannels (and what was probably one of the PC's sweaters, come to think of it) made her want to flap her hands and squeak.
"Are we okay?" Jamie cursed the quiver in his voice at the question, but he really couldn't deal with another person pissed at him. "I'll understand of you feel you need to--"
"Don't be an idiot, Reagan. I'm not gonna get my band knotted because my TO is a Sub. What kind of Dynamist ass does that? You're the best, and I'm not going anywhere. And unless you do something really dumb and dangerous , I'm not gonna narc you out, okay? Also, I think I might choke on my own tongue if I had to call the PC, so don't make me, huh?" She socked him lightly on the arm, leaning in to whisper the last, and raised a smile from Jamie, at least.
"Yeah, I'll do my best. Thanks, Janko." Still embarrassed, but Eddie's easy acceptance soothed some of the worry. "We'd better get moving before Dad comes looking for me."
He led her back to the door.
"You and Renzulli totally owe me, you know," she hissed. "I wasn't expecting anyone but you to be home!"
"It's just Dad," he shrugged. "Right now, he's more likely to chew my ass off than anyone else's."
"Really, that's supposed to make me feel better?" Eddie gave him her best unimpressed Domme look. It didn't have much of an impact, but she figured with Commissioner Reagan as your Top, you probably wouldn't find anyone else terrifying.
And anyway, the conversations around Jamie's designation usually ended with "and if he's a Sub, who the hell could Dom him?" She felt a little smug knowing the answer, even if she'd never talk.
She liked Jamie as a person, partners aside. He was a good guy. And she liked what she'd seen of his home. It felt...homey and comfortable. Calm. She didn't pick up on it as much, not being a Classed Top or a strongly typed Domme, but the energy in the house was calm, quiet...and welcoming.
"I'd ask you to stay, but I'm, um, kind of grounded?" Jamie wondered if it was possible to expire from sheer embarrassment. And then if he even needed to be embarrassed with Eddie. She didn't seem to care much.
"Define kind of." Eddie raised an eyebrow.
"Like the kind where I'm not supposed to be anywhere Dad, Danny, Linda, or Grandpa can't see me?" Jamie rubbed the back of his neck, staring at a spot just above her shoulder. "I'm pretty sure Dad's just trying not embarrass me right now or he'd be in here."
"Sure you don't want to tell me what you did, Reagan?" Eddie grinned. "'Cause it sounds like you dug yourself in deep."
"Really, really sure, Janko." He managed a smile back. "Thanks for bringing my bag. Tell Sarge I'm still alive, huh?"
"Welcome, and I will. Text or something, if you can, huh? They're gonna think someone killed you, otherwise." She backed out the door.
"I will. Thanks." Jamie watched after her until she pulled away from the curb with a double tap on her horn.
He made his way back to the kitchen, surprised when his dad snagged him into a hug.
"I know that wasn't easy, Jamie. I'm proud of you." Frank murmured into his hair.
Jamie shrugged as best he could, returning the hug. They stood quietly for a minute before Dad let him loose and patted him toward the table.
"Go on and sit down. I'll have lunch right over."
Jamie sucked in a breath at even the light pat on his butt. Three spankings in as many days, two of them pretty serious, left an impression. He really wished the Tops on his family would stop trying to get their message to stick by smacking him where he sat. And that he could get his mouth under control, or at least engage his filter again. The gut-clenching horror of Dad looming suddenly into view as he mouthed off at Danny while doing dishes...he never wanted to experience that again. Or the new and unwelcome experience of Dad bending him over under one arm and spanking him for 'having a tantrum.' Right there in the kitchen where anyone could walk in! Ugh.
Frank brought steaming bowls of soup to the table, to go with a basket of rolls. He sat, watching Jamie as he dipped his spoon and took a bite.
"Dad, is this?" he trailed off.
"Your mom's recipe. Grandpa and I found it in one of Grandma's recipe files," Frank explained.
They ate quietly, Jamie especially appreciating the comfort of his favorite soup. He thought the recipe was lost when his mom died. Halfway through lunch, the front door opened and closed, followed by the sound of feet in the hallway.
"Hey," Danny appeared in the doorway.
"You're awfully casual for a workday," Frank commented mildly, taking in Danny's jeans and sweater.
"Seems like someone put a bug in my Lieutenant's ear about overtime and when I last had leave. Linda's at work, and the boys are still at school." Danny leaned over Jamie's shoulder, stole his spoon, and ate some of the soup. "You found the Squeak Soup recipe?"
Jamie rested his head on the table, just resisting the urge to thump.
"The card said 'Jamie-bug's favorite'," Frank replied evenly.
"Sometimes," Jamie muttered to the table, "I really wish they'd had another kid."
"Nope, this is definitely Squeak Soup, isn't it, Squeak?" Danny ruffled Jamie's hair as he went to get his own bowl of soup.
"Wasn't three months of me ignoring everything you said enough to get you to stop?" Jamie asked, still slumped over.
"Nope," Danny nudged him a little as he passed by. "And you never tried that with Mom calling you Jamie-bug."
"Because I wasn't suicidal, Dan. It was Mom ."
"Fair point, you never did it with Dad calling you peanut, either," Danny pointed out, starting in on his lunch. "And he called you that yesterday.
"Jesus, just kill me now," Jamie muttered, flipping Danny off under the table.
"Jamie, sit up and eat, and knock it off with the blasphemy and the crudity before i decide you need help controlling your mouth. Danny, we're not revisiting every embarrassing nickname we ever gave your brother," Frank scolded mildly. "If we went through all of them, we'd be here until Christmas."
Jamie sat up, favoring his father with a withering look.
"Eat, Jamie," Frank reached over and cupped Jamie's cheek, patting gently to pacify him. "So, Danny, what are you up to this week?"
"I texted Linda and had a list long as my arm back in about two minutes. Interestingly, about half the list was 'spend time with your brother'. She wanted me to pass on some stuff about the Neutralx, too. She checked in with a couple of doctors she knows, and that stuff is nasty."
"Shouldn't it be out of my system? I haven't taken it in almost three years," Jamie worried at his lip with his teeth.
"Yeah, but it helps rewire how you react to stuff. It kinda neutralizes the normal Brat emotional response, above and beyond what you can do yourself. It's meant to be a short-term assist through a bad situation when you don't have a Dom available. But you take it long enough, then go off it, and then you start getting the kind of attention you need again, and boom."
"Boom?" Frank asked.
"Yeah, boom. You get a normally pretty level and well-behaved Brat who's basically just reset themselves. It's like you only just Classed, kid, and you're not gonna know which way is up for a while. Although, Dad, you remember when Jamie got pneumonia?" Danny grabbed a roll from the basket.
"I don't think I'll ever forget that." Frank reached over to tap on Jamie's chin. "Quit chewing on yourself."
"Anything about this remind you of that?" Danny ate while giving both of them time to think.
"He didn't want anyone to worry," Frank answered after a long pause. "Erin had just had Nicky, and she had a rough time of it, your Mom was busy helping her out, I was in the middle of a couple of investigations, you and Linda had just bought your house, and Joe was in college."
"And the kid didn't want anyone to spend their time worrying about him and his cold, so," Danny trailed off.
"I was ten!" Jamie objected. "And everyone else's stuff seemed more important! And we weren't supposed to be self-centered," he finished in a near-mumble.
"Let me guess, the life and times of St. Francis?" Danny asked. "You were in seventh then, that was Brother Sun, Sister Moon , right?"
"You can't do calculus, but you remember the name of every mob guy and what we did in Religion class?" Jamie griped, grinning to take away the sting of his words.
"Not everyone's a skipped two grades genius, brat," Danny batted him softly across the back of the head. "And it was the same every year. Still don't think you were old enough to watch that one."
"Which he explained, in detail, to Sister Martin Elizabeth when he filled in for you at parent-teacher night later in the year," Jamie sighed long-sufferingly. "I had another two months of 'If you think your brother will approve, Jamison?' before Sister Daniella got wind of it and stopped it."
"Hey, I didn't want my kid brother exposed to stuff he wasn't ready for," Danny protested.
"Why didn't I hear about any of this?" Frank stood, snagging Jamie's bowl, and went to the stove to refill it. "I thought they put you in Religion and Phys Ed classes with your age group? And I should have heard if they didn't."
He set the full bowl in front of Jamie, ruffling his hair before he sat again.
"Far as I know, they apparently missed that part. Fifth grade Religion and seventh grade Math conflicted." Danny shrugged. "Kid did okay, anyway."
"Yeah, with Danny, Mom, and Linda hitting the roof every time something was 'inappropriate for a ten year old'." Jamie groused. "I was lucky the fifth-graders still liked me, especially after I passed out serving the All Saints Day Mass and my older brother comes charging into the school in uniform to carry me out. My seventh grade social life was toast. Fifth-graders thought Danny was 'badass'."
"I'm undeniably badass, kid. And I'd like to see you keep your cool if you get called off a tour because Nicky passed out at school, she's got a high fever, and they can't get ahold of Erin. No way was I gonna let them send you to the hospital with Sister Martha." Danny kicked Jamie's ankle under the table.
"And the kindergarten, first, second, third, and fourth grade teachers all got to explain that just because Officer Reagan used those words, really loudly, they weren't okay, and they weren't allowed to," Jamie snickered. Because ratting out your big brother for something that wouldn't get him more than a Look from Dad never got old.
"You know, I'm getting the feeling that there were a lot of things falling under 'Don't tell Dad, he's already stressed' around then." Frank put in, shaking his head.
"All I know is if I have to do one more hospital run with this one, I'm gonna chip him or something. Or get that rookie of yours to start informing," Danny threatened.
"Janko wouldn't, and if you asked, you'd probably wind up minus some teeth," Jamie warned, grinning. "Her loyalty lies with her TO."
"Yuck it up, kid. One of these days I'll get someone to spill," Danny teased back.
Frank sat back and enjoyed watching his oldest and youngest poke at each other. The lack of heat behind their teasing made it all the sweeter. He swore he could feel some of the rift between them heal, ragged edges knitting over as they reworked their relationship.
"You know why I called you Squeak?" Danny asked, later, when he found Jamie curled up on the sofa looking at some of the family albums.
"Short for pipsqueak, 'cause so was I," Jamie answered as if by rote. "Joe always said that."
"Joe was being an ass 'cause you didn't do it for him." Danny dropped down next to Jamie and flipped pages until he found an earlier picture.
His teenaged self stared back at him, trying to look tough. Fifteen, no, sixteen. The tiny Jamie on his hip dated the picture (and destroyed any tough guy points), the stitches and black eye meant he was four. He hated thinking about that night, hearing Joe chasing Jamie around upstairs before all the crying started. Poor baby caught himself on the corner of the dresser in Erin's room, cutting open the corner of his eye. Twelve-year-old Joe wailing that he broke the baby while Danny tried to control the situation, load both of them into the car, and get Jamie to the ER, because Dad was working and Mom was out with Erin.
"Do what?" Jamie leaned over until Danny gave up and put an arm around him.
"Before you could talk, if you wanted me or Dad to pick you up, you'd raise your arms and make this squeaky noise. Joe was sore about it because he was so excited to be a big brother, but you wanted Mom, me, or Dad, and he was too young to help as much as he wanted to. Used to make you laugh when I called you Squeak."
"If you promise you'll never call me that in earshot of anyone in or adjacent to the NYPD, I won't threaten to knock your teeth out if you do," Jamie allowed. "And, um, did I refuse to stop crying 'til you got hold of Dad that night?" he tapped the picture.
"Yes, you did," Frank answered as he entered the living room, making a beeline for his chair. "I was in the middle of a breaking case, it was practically chaos behind me, and I was on the phone explaining to my four-year-old that he was extra lucky that Daddy kisses were magic and worked to make owies better even over the phone. I almost didn't live that one down."
"Hate to break it to you, Dad, but people remember that. I've been asked at least three times if my owie healed up," Jamie snickered at Frank's nonplussed expression.
"Hmm," Frank smiled back at him. "Jamie, why don't you try laying down for a little bit. You look tired."
Danny didn't wait for Jamie to argue, he put a pillow in his lap and nudged. Jamie took the hint, lying down quietly. It felt kind of nice, anyway, getting to take a nap in a quiet room with Dad and Danny standing watch, even if it was mostly to get him to pipe down.
Chapter 7: Monday Night
Frank tapped on Jamie's bedroom door, waiting until he heard his son's quiet 'Come in'. He entered the room and went to sit on the edge of Jamie's bed, next to where his son sat cross-legged and looking entirely too thoughtful.
"I know that look," Frank brushed his hand through Jamie's shower-damp hair. Sitting on his bed like that, Jamie looked about twelve.
Jamie looked up from his knees, biting at his lip.
"If I hadn't hidden that part about my Classification, about me being at the top of the scale, would you have let me go?"
Frank sighed at the look in Jamie's face, that unique mix of guarded hopefulness and worry that he'd seen almost every time Jamie asked something for himself as an adult. He scooted back to lean against the headboard, kicking off his slippers so he could stretch out his legs, and held his arm up in invitation. Jamie curled against him, just as he had as a child and then a teenager.
"I want to say I would have, no questions asked, but I have a feeling it would have been one of those things Mom and I argued about," Frank admitted. "Not because I've ever thought of you as incapable, son, but because I'm your father and a Top and I worry too much. But you would have gone when you did, it just would have taken me some time to get there, and you would have had a lot more campus visits from your family."
"Would it have been like me skipping grades? Between you and Mom, I mean?" Jamie asked, still quiet and contained.
But that was their Jamie, as quiet and contained in his behaviour as he was in his speech. Usually. Unless he was pushed enough to lose his temper.
"How did you know we disagreed about that?" Frank asked.
"Dad, come on, you're really obvious when you don't like something. And I think you and Mom thought you were being quieter than you were." Jamie curled up tighter, resting his head against his Dad's shoulder.
"I was proud of you, Jamie, so proud. But I worried, too. You were still a little boy, and we were talking about launching you into an older peer group with little preparation. Unfortunately, I knew a little too much about what some of those kids were getting up to."
"I wanted to, though," Jamie reminded him.
"That didn't make it easier on me," Frank admitted. "I wasn't going to tell you no, not when you let Mom and I know you wanted to, but it was hard to let you. You were such a mature kid, but you were still my little boy, and I knew it meant letting go sooner. I missed a lot of your childhood, son, and that's something I'll always regret."
"You were there for everything really important, Dad. And I understood."
"Your head understood, Jamie. I'm not sure the heart ever does," Frank tucked Jamie closer, resting his chin on the top of Jamie's head. "But you tried."
"I never...Dad...I didn't resent your job, ever. You were working, and sometimes you couldn't be home for bedtime or dinner or whatever, but you were always there for the important stuff. And not just your body. You made sure that if it was important for us, then you were focused on us," Jamie twisted his fingers in the hem of his t-shirt, mostly so he wouldn't play with the buttons on his Dad's shirt. Some old habits died harder than others.
"I missed less with Danny and Erin and Joe than I did with our Christmas surprise," Frank gave in to the impulse and dropped a kiss on the crown of Jamie's head.
"And you made up for it in other ways, Dad." Jamie shrugged, thinking of mornings fishing, bedtime stories with Dad on the phone, and all the little things that reminded him his father cared. "Danny...he said maybe this is time for us to make up for some of what you think we missed out on. Just, you know, time."
"Maybe it is. I'm off this week, and working from home mostly after that while you're on leave."
"Are you mad about the letter?" Jamie asked quietly.
"It was ten years ago, Jamie. I'm not about to spank you for it, if that's what you're wondering. Part of me wonders where you learned you couldn't trust us, but no, I'm not mad about it. And it's not like you've tried to cover it up with anyone else. It's in your departmental file." Frank felt Jamie relax against him, the tension he'd held onto fading with his father's reassurances. "I could have looked at any time."
"I wasn't going to lie on my application, Dad, or not disclose. I met some officers who didn't, and they pretty much all regretted it, and..." He let himself fiddle with his Dad's shirt buttons.
"And you have more resources available when you disclose," Frank finished Jamie's sentence.
"Like the DSR, even if you really want to duck them, and drop leave, although I watched Sarge hand out two weeks to a confirmed neutral officer once," Jamie admitted. "I don't think a lot of officers know the DSR is mostly an internal resource."
"They're still pretty new, Jamie. I have every faith the rank and file will get used to them. It's like any change."
"There's one other thing, Dad, that Nicky and I didn't get to ask about yesterday." Jamie hoped Nicky wouldn't be too upset with him, but they ran out of time. "It's tangential to the DSR."
"Nicky's decided she'd rather be one of their agents than an officer?" Frank chuckled.
"No, Dad. It's...Nicky was so upset on Sunday because some of the guys in her school have been making comments as they all get closer to Designating. Mostly about the girls, you know, who's going to be a Sub and what they want to do to them kind of stuff." Jamie felt his Dad stiffen.
"They've made comments to Nicky?"
His tone, deadly quiet, sent shivers down Jamie's spine.
"Yes sir," the sir came automatically. "She promised she'd talk to Erin, and she let me know today that she did. I wanted to ask you if I could contact Agent Conover? I know Nicky's not NYPD, but I think they do outreach, right? And you have her email?"
"They do, Jamie, and I think it would be appropriate for it to come from you." Frank barely kept the simmering fury out of his voice. It wasn't Jamie's fault.
"And please don't be this mad when Nicky wants to talk to you about it," Jamie ventured. "She heard some pretty nasty stuff, and she's really upset. She's gonna need all the Grandpa hugs she can get."
"Do you think Nicky would object if my detail and I went with the DSR and I made some pointed comments about sexual and Dynamic harassment?" Frank asked.
"Do you want Nicky to ever talk to you again?"
"That would be ideal."
"Then I'd skip it and just give out the hugs. If you skip the commentary, she might talk to you again in a couple of weeks."
"Am I supposed to just stand there?" Frank pursed his lips.
"In the background, with a detail of really big doms, all of you exuding menace," Jamie teased.
"Exuding menace?" Frank asked, dryly. "We'd be the muscle?"
"Pretty sure Nicky will refuse to speak to you on principle if you show up," Jamie sobered. "Maybe just be ready to take her out for ice cream or something later."
"It's November, and she's not six anymore, son."
"She's sixteen, probably always hungry, and ice cream therapy knows no seasons," Jamie argued. "Just be there for her, just like always."
"I will," Frank promised, since it seemed important to Jamie. "I'll even consider the ice cream, although I'd argue about perpetually hungry. And you need to get under the covers and ready to sleep."
"Janko let me know that acting like teenage girls can't always be hungry, just like the boys, is sexist and damaging." Jamie shifted when his Dad gave him a squeeze before getting up.
"Then I'll do my best to stop being surprised." Frank pulled the covers down, shaking them out and then holding them up for Jamie to scoot under.
"Dad?" Jamie curled up on his side as his Dad tucked the blankets around him.
"Yes?" Frank sat on the edge of the bed, facing Jamie.
"Thanks for talking through everything," Jamie managed through a yawn.
"Any time, son. You try to get some sleep now, hmm? And stay…"
"In bed," Jamie finished, smiling. "I will."
"Unless you need me," Frank added, leaning forward to kiss Jamie's forehead. "Sleep well."
"You, too," Jamie yawned again.
"Good night." Frank rose, turning Jamie's bedside lamp off as he went to the door.
Jamie rolled onto his stomach, pleasantly sleepy, and let himself relax further. He always slept well at home, lulled by the familiar night-time noises, and the sounds of Dad and Grandpa downstairs.
Chapter 8: Tuesday
The quiet morning noises -- the burble of the coffee maker, the soft scrape of turning newspaper pages -- were broken by heavy footfalls on the stairs. Frank hid a smile behind his section of the paper. By the sound of it, Jamie would prefer to still be in bed. Frank watched surreptitiously as Jamie slumped into the kitchen, all disheveled pajamas and truly impressive bed head, as if on autopilot. Jamie navigated by luck around the table, coming up behind Frank to drape over the back of his chair and hug him, just as he'd done almost every morning in high school. He wasn't quite fast enough to stop Jamie from reaching over his shoulder and stealing his coffee.
Jamie sighed happily into the steaming cup of consciousness. He vaguely heard Dad's irritated hmph as he drank deeply, finally prying his eyes open. And yipped, jumping, when Dad swatted him sharply with a folded section of the morning paper.
"Manners, Jamie," Frank scolded mildly. "Go back up, change into fresh flannels, and brush your hair before you come down. We don't parade around the kitchen in what we wore to bed."
Jamie blinked sleepily at him and drank more coffee. It was darker than he usually drank it, but that only meant it started working faster. Being booted up to bed before ten pm every night helped, but he'd never been an uncaffeinated morning person.
"Jamie," Frank warned.
"Morning Dad," Jamie yawned, feeling some of his brain start to come on line.
"Don't 'morning, Dad' me, son. Go make yourself presentable."
That got through the morning fog. Jamie looked down at the coffee cup in his hand, then brushed at his shirt before he reached up and tried to flatten down his hair.
"Did I steal your coffee?" He bit his lip, shooting a glare at his grandfather who choked on a laugh.
"Yes, you did," Frank gentled his tone and stood, wrapping an arm around Jamie and retrieving his mug. "Why don't you try going up to change and brush your hair, hmm?"
"More pajamas?" Jamie sighed, leaning heavily against his Dad.
"I think so. You need quiet days right now." Frank gave him a little squeeze before swatting him back toward the door.
"Be right back," Jamie turned in the doorway to grin at his dad. "Won't steal your coffee this time."
"I'll start breakfast for you, kiddo. You want my world-famous oatmeal?" Henry rose from the table, bringing his bowl to the sink.
"Sure, Grandpa. Thanks," Jamie smiled at him, a little shyly, before he ducked out into the hall.
"I'm not sure where you got that one, Francis," Henry remarked, salting the water in the pot. "Your other two would want pancakes."
"At least I have one who knows his grandfather isn't a short-order cook. And Mary got him onto the healthy stuff early. He's a terror hopped up on sugar, even now." Frank chuckled a little at old memories of a sugar-high little boy careening around the first floor. The abrupt drop and subsequent tears were less entertaining.
"You and Mary treated Halloween candy like a controlled substance," Henry recalled, pulling the oatmeal out of the cabinet. "Are you going to object if I use honey in his oatmeal?"
"No, Pop, you know how he likes it," Frank rinsed his mug out before he poured himself a fresh cup of coffee.
"I know, I know," Henry groused. "Not too sweet, Grandpa," he mimicked, voice going a little higher.
"I don't sound like that!" Jamie objected as he re-entered the kitchen. He went immediately to his grandfather at the stove, leaning over his shoulder and giving him a quick hug. "Oh, huh, I usually just use the quick oats in the microwave."
Henry turned, finger raised to scold, "I did not just hear that, young man. You might as well be eating wallpaper paste as that nonsense. I'm pretty sure it tastes the same. Go on and sit," he turned Jamie to the table and swatted, eliciting a yip and a pout from his youngest grandson. "That was for microwaving your breakfast."
Jamie rubbed at the sting as he collected his own cup of coffee and slouched to the table. He'd forgotten Grandpa's opinions on oatmeal. Like the one time he brought home a Scottish brand instead of either Quaker (for quicker breakfasts) or McCann's. He still heard about it every time he volunteered to help with the groceries, and he'd been about nineteen at the time.
"I saw a recipe for baked oatmeal that I think we should try. Then you can heat it up in the toaster oven like a civilized person," Henry continued.
Jamie shared a look with his dad and drank his coffee. Sometimes, you just had to wait for Grandpa to be done.
"Thanks, Grandpa," he cut in, not mentioning his lack of toaster oven in his apartment. "That sounds good."
"That's because you usually know good sense when you hear it," Henry brought a bowl over to the table and Jamie sniffed appreciatively.
Honey and cinnamon glazed apples and raisins nestled on top of steel-cut oats, a swirl of cream around the edge of the bowl finishing it.
"Thanks, Grandpa," Jamie smiled up at him. "This smells great."
Henry clasped his shoulder, the brief pressure a reassurance.
"You eat every bite, too. You've been losing weight on us, Jamie."
Jamie froze in his seat. He didn't think he'd lost enough for anyone to notice. He'd noticed--he hadn't gone down a waist size yet, but his belt made everything bunch--but he didn't think it was noticeable yet. Especially not when he'd been stuck in pajamas for just about ever.
"I can feel your ribs, son," Frank put in. "Which is why Danny is taking you for a physical tomorrow."
Jamie stared at his father following the pronouncement, spoon dangling over his bowl.
"Dad, I--" he started.
"No, we're not discussing this, Jamie. Danny will pick you up after he drops the boys off at school, and you're not going to give him or Dr. Haverty a hard time, understood?" Frank stopped the argument in its tracks.
"Yessir," Jamie muttered, poking at his oatmeal. "Even though I'm perfectly healthy?" He couldn't resist one more protest.
"Perfectly healthy people don't make me think they need to eat more," Henry scolded, fixing himself more coffee after putting the oatmeal pan into the sink to soak. "You look half-starved, and I don't care how fashionable skinny is these days, my grandson isn't wandering around looking like no one ever feeds him. Or one of those hipsters."
"And beside that, Jamie, I said you were going. That's final. I don't want to hear another word from you on the subject. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Dad," Jamie sighed. That tone meant pushing it with further protest was...inadvisable.
"Now, eat your breakfast before you waste away," Henry reached over to brush his hand through Jamie's hair.
Jamie started in on his breakfast, surprised to find he was actually still hungry. The oatmeal was perfect, especially for a cold November morning, and he dug in. Dad and Grandpa's easy acceptance, and their absolute refusal to accept anything but obedience from him on certain matters, helped more than he wanted to admit. Their very matter-of-fact attitude about everything kept him more level than he liked to think about.
It still made his stomach clench, thinking about how much he needed from Dad and Danny and Linda. He tried not to brat at them, not to push, but his brain kept...shorting out on him. Or his temper did. He'd never been so...moody before, no matter what Danny and Erin tried to say about his teen years. He knew it was a combination of his own body chemistry being out of whack and the aftereffects of the Neutralx. If they'd told him about that with the injections, he'd have skipped it. And maybe that he hadn't been sleeping so well pretty much since Joe was killed wrapped into his current predicament.
He'd always been the independent one, determined to do things on his own. The whole Designation thing had thrown a wrench into his plans, but he'd found a workaround. Sort of. It hadn't ever really worked, but he'd tried. Neutralx and a lot of self control weren't a long-term solution, and he'd probably taken that crap longer than advisable, but his family needed him to not need them. Or so he thought. He ate steadily as his mind chewed on the issue at hand. Apparently, he'd been wrong about pretty much everything.
That really stung.
And now that he was actually getting decent sleep again (three nights wasn't going to undo a long standing sleep deficit, but it was a start) he could see how much his attitude had suffered in the past few months. He supposed he was surprised Dad or Danny hadn't called him on it sooner.
"And if you finish all your breakfast, Jamie, there was a special delivery for you this morning." Henry commented, using his paper to point at a box on the counter.
Jamie looked at the box, and then into his bowl, debating if he'd get clobbered for having bad manners if he shoved an overfull spoon into his mouth. Probably. He'd heard Dad haranguing Danny about table manners only a couple of weeks ago. He forced himself to take small bites, unconsciously jiggling his knee as he ate. He dropped his spoon into his empty bowl and took both to the sink, running water into the bowl to keep the oatmeal from sticking, before he turned to the counter and the mystery box.
"Anyone know who Dr. G.F. Conover is?" He read off the return address, although the box wasn't stamped at all.
Jamie dug in the utility drawer for the household scissors, missing the look his father and grandfather shared.
"Open it and find out," Henry prompted.
Jamie shrugged, used to Grandpa being weird sometimes, and slit open the box. The warm scent of baked goods met him as he lifted the flap. He pulled out two envelopes, one addressed to him, and one to his father.
"Dad, there's a note in here for you." Jamie held out the note.
"Why don't you read that one out for me?" Frank asked, lowering his paper.
"Okay…" Jamie shook his head, Dad and Grandpa were in one of those moods apparently. "Commissioner Reagan, Dear sir, I do hope I'm not overstepping, and that this is alright. I'd like to offer my sincere apologies for that subject line. I meant to edit it before I hit send. And it's signed G.F. Conover, or as we were once introduced, 'the red-headed subbie with no ti--' I'm not saying that !"
Frank barked out a laugh at Jamie's shocked horror, and had to put the paper back up to regain his composure after catching sight of his father's face.
"I'm sorry, Pop, it's really not funny." Frank managed, eventually.
"It most certainly is not, Francis. Is this G.F. Conover who I think?"
"Little Gwinny Grady grew up, Pop," he answered gently. "And developed an unfortunate sense of humor. That was a callback to how I met her. It was a domestic turned hostage situation where the kids got out, thanks to her and the Sub half of the couple. I went to check on the scene, heard the children hadn't been picked up by DCFS yet, and asked where they were. That's how the head of HNT on the scene directed me."
"Wait, someone from the NYPD told you to find--on a--" Jamie stopped trying to form a coherent thought. "I mean, there's still a lot of crap that gets thrown at the DSR, and, you know, Sub officers, but that's…"
"I was behind him. I don't think he actually knew who was asking. Needless to say, he was let go immediately," Frank explained. "Especially after he smacked her somewhere personal and called her 'sweet cheeks'. Have you ever had that 'crap' thrown at you, son?"
Jamie froze, tapping his own note against his palm. "There's a reason I disclosed in my file, but don't wear my desg-band, Dad."
"That didn't answer you father's question, Jamie," Henry pointed out.
"I mean, yeah, sometimes. It's not easy, even now, being a Sub in law enforcement. You get the people who don't much like Subs in the ranks. Usually don't like women, either, so you know the type. The DSR helps, though. Hendricks, the agent in the 12th, he's a good guy. He runs interference when he needs to, you know? Keeps everything from boiling over," Jamie explained. "And sometimes you get a traffic stop or something that goes bad because they can tell. Doesn't happen too much with me, but we've got more Subs coming in, and some of them catch a lot of crap the first few months. I step in if I can. It doesn't bother me as much as some of the others."
He ducked his head, opening his own note and catching the card that started to slide out.
Officer Reagan ,
Terribly sorry for dropping you in it. Take this as a peace offering (and because you're hitting my 'half-starved' buttons). I enclosed my card--if you ever need to talk to someone who's been where you are now, call me. I do mean that, sincerely. I also enclosed the meeting times for the NYPD and associates monthly Brat meeting. It helps to have people who understand.
Agent G.F. Conover
He tucked the card into his pocket, smiling a little, and investigated the box. A few loaves of soda bread, in what looked like both whole wheat and white with raisins and caraway, a couple of tins of cookies, a few different types of scones, and a package of tea rounded out to contents. Apparently, Agent Conover said sorry with food, and believed in feeding people like his Grandma Betty had.
"You know, Jamie, playing it off like it doesn't bother you isn't going to help. And isn't exactly honest," Frank gentled his voice and watched Jamie freeze in his tracks.
"I...I didn't mean to…" Jamie looked down, fiddling with a cookie tin.
"I think I'm going to get myself together for the day. Have a few things to do at the youth center, you know," Henry stood and crossed the kitchen to give Jamie a bracing pat on the back before he ambled out. "We'll have tea when I get back."
"I know you didn't mean to, son, and I know you try to keep work at work, but if you're getting hassled then that's something I need to know, and something that needs to be officially reported to the DSR. It's why we have them," Frank stood, crossing to Jamie and pulling him into a hug.
"I don't want to...to snitch, Dad. It's not right, and I do get hassled by some of the guys who've figured it out, but what can I say to you about it?" Jamie rested his forehead against his dad's shoulder.
"You report specifics to the DSR agent in your precinct. You tell me if it happens, and how you feel about it. I'm not going to ask for names, Jamie, but I'd like to be able to help you with how it makes you feel." Frank rubbed Jamie's back, soothing his boy's worry. Neither of them liked talking about their feelings, but they had to start somewhere.
"Ninety percent of the time it's a detective, Dad. The uniformed officers are more supportive, generally. Not all of them, but we know who to avoid, you know?" Jamie muttered. "And it stinks, and it's humiliating, and I don't get it half as bad as the more obvious Subs. I'm pretty sure that it's Danny's reputation shielding me, mostly."
"And you're good at undercover work, Jamie," Frank tucked Jamie under his arm and led him out of the kitchen and toward the living room. "I'm not surprised you haven't been clocked that often, although I'll admit to worrying about the stress it puts on you."
"I think it's more that my brother is likely to be a problem if he hears I'm having a hard time. Agent Conover clocked me in about twenty seconds while she wasn't even paying any attention to me."
"Did anyone else at the scene?" Frank sat on the sofa and tugged until Jamie curled up beside him.
"Not even your partner?"
"No, Janko didn't notice. I think she maybe suspected a little, but she didn't know for sure until I told her yesterday." Jamie shifted a little until his head rested against his dad's shoulder.
It was maybe his imagination, but it seemed like everyone was touching him more. More hand clasps on his shoulder or the back of his neck, more Dad and Danny and Linda pulling him close. More hugs and back rubs and definitely more...cuddling.
"I'd put that down to you, son."
"I guess?" Jamie picked at a fuzz on his pants.
"So, what are you going to do if someone gives you a hard time?" Frank pressed.
"Report it to the DSR and tell you later,"Jamie sighed, his answer more dutiful than anything. "Not specifics, but just that it happened."
"Good. I know it's hard, Jamie, but it is necessary."
They lapsed into quiet after that, Jamie wondering if he could get out of telling his dad, or if he'd just sort of know like he did when they were kids. Dad always seemed to know exactly what was bothering him, whether it was a guilty conscience or more worldly troubles, like Mikey Andrews and his friends.
He'd lost count of the number of times they'd finished dinner and then heard 'Daniel, is there something you'd like to share?'. Sometimes it was 'Joseph' or 'Erin Rose', but most of his memories involved 'Daniel'. He hadn't heard his name like that until he hit second grade, and by then only Joe was still at home full-time. Even as adults, if they heard that at the table, they were likely to come clean, fast. He didn't particularly want to restart the tradition, this time with added 'Jamison'. Which meant sharing before he was asked.
"Agent Conover invited me to join the monthly NYPD and associates Brat meetup. When I'm not grounded anymore, can I go?" And didn't asking for permission feel weird.
"I think I might be prevailed upon to spring you for a night, since the next several will likely happen while you're grounded."
Jamie pulled back and stared at his Dad, only realizing he'd gone slack-jawed when Dad gently pushed on his chin.
"Well, I didn't hear 'but it's the biggest party of the year, Daddy!' or 'c'mon Dad, this is a bunch of crap!' from you, and what you want to do could help your career."
Jamie snorted, snickering at the surprisingly accurate impressions of Erin and Danny as teenagers.
"Sure I shouldn't be checking the basement for pods?"
"Pretty sure," Frank smiled back at him. "There will be conditions, Jamie, but I think it might be helpful to you. I used to go to some of the Top meetups, and I know your brother does when he can."
"I wasn't ever much of a joiner for stuff like Sub groups," Jamie shrugged. "It's kind of...nice, though, someone inviting me without it being a thing because of who you are."
"You haven't had a whole lot of invitations, have you?" It hurt, sometimes, to think of what Jamie missed, but he knew the feeling.
"It didn't seem to matter too much to Vinny, and Renzulli was more likely to kick my butt into line than Danny, even. I don't think Janko really cares, either, unless she has to come out here for something...and we have to be more careful on the job, too. But other officers? There's some stuff that gets thrown around, but these days it's mostly that they're happy they don't have to deal with you off duty, too."
"Am I that terrifying?"
"Not to me," Jamie curled closer. "But they've seen me take rips, and crap tours, and everything else without anyone interfering. And they've seen Danny rip me a new one a couple of times, and Sarge, and they're mostly just glad they're not Detective Reagan's brother or Renzulli's former boot."
"Your brother still riding you?"
"Not as much now, especially with me being Janko's TO, but sometimes, you know?"
"He worries about you, but you're not six anymore, so he can't pick you up and cart you home or up to his room. So he yells, sometimes." Some of the sweetest memories Frank kept tucked away involved his youngest and oldest. Danny, so impatient with everyone else, giver of deadlegs to Joe, doted on his baby brother. He just didn't have as many options he deemed socially acceptable anymore.
"If he really wanted to, he wouldn't let anything like my age stop him, Dad," Jamie snickered. Danny in full Top mode was a force of nature.
"Mm, probably," Frank agreed. "You know, you're how Linda knew she wanted more than a casual thing with your brother.
"I was five when they started dating, Dad. Not sure what I had to do with it."
"It was maybe a month or so into them dating. We'd had a lot of snow that winter, and another storm rolled in before Danny could drive Linda home after school. It was the first time she was at the house, and the minute they got in the door there was little Jamie running in so he could tell Danny all about his day." Frank poked Jamie in the side, watching him crunch sideways and bite his lip to avoid giggling. "Apparently seeing her big, tough boyfriend go all gooey over his baby brother's 'whole entire alph'bet and numbers' sealed the deal."
"Oh, god," Jamie muttered, face flushing. "I remember that now."
"Didn't hurt that the first thing Danny did was pick you up and settle you on his hip, just like he always did, and that you Church-whispered to him that his new friend was really pretty.
"Am I ever going to be the cool person in a family story?" Jamie groaned. "Or am I going to be forever five, and cute, and swallowing stuff I shouldn't?"
"Or getting yourself in trouble, or wandering off on us because you saw something interesting. Sorry, son, it's the lot in life of the youngest. Although, Joe thought you were the best Christmas surprise, ever." Frank didn't move to help Jamie up from where he'd stayed flopped over, half in his lap. It was the most relaxed he'd been, when not on painkillers, in years.
"Joe was eight and didn't want to be the baby anymore," Jamie grumbled. "Danny wasn't so hot on me."
"Danny turned into a giant softy the minute he met you," Frank laughed. "Your mother barely had to do anything but feed you between Danny, Erin, and Joe. And it was a pitched battle between Danny and Erin on who got more time holding the baby. Danny won out because someone mostly wanted his big brother, and you tended to yank on Erin's hair and earrings."
"I just…" Jamie trailed off. "Sometimes I think they still look at me and see a toddler trying to keep up with them.
"More like their eight-year-old little brother who needs a hand with his shoelaces," Frank corrected. "Joe was the one who remembered that even little brothers grow up.
"Yeah, he was." Jamie lapsed back into quiet.
"How about we check out the Western marathon on TCM, hmm?" Frank patted Jamie's knee.
"Thought I was grounded?"
"The Top who has custody gets to make the rules," Frank teased. "And I think we could both use some downtime."
"Do I get popcorn?" Jamie asked, not exactly hungry, but for some reason wanting a snack.
"Move it into the sunroom and you can have extra butter," Frank promised. "And a cookie when Pop gets back."
"You know," Jamie argued, rolling off the sofa. "I don't get all hyper and then fall over and wail anymore if I have too much sugar."
"No, you get jittery and argumentative, and then you fall asleep. You don't need anything amping you up right now anyway, Jamie." Frank swatted Jamie toward the sunroom and the TV. "Get the TV on while I make popcorn."
Jamie went through the dining room and into the sunroom, picking up the remote as he flopped onto the sofa. He felt tired again, even though he hadn't been up for long. He tuned in to the middle of a Hopalong Cassidy film and watched. Uncomplicated black and white films were probably best. He startled as the front door opened, and turned to find Danny dumping his coat over the bannister. Danny called out a greeting toward the kitchen before he joined Jamie in the sunroom.
"Hey kid." He didn't bother to ask Jamie to move, just nudged him up, sat, and let Jamie lean against him.
"Hey Danny." Jamie startled a little at being so easily manhandled, but soon relaxed. "Dad's making popcorn."
"Dad made popcorn, and your coat gets hung up, Danny." Frank entered with two bowls, setting one in Jamie's lap before he claimed the chair.
"I'll get it at the next commercial?" Danny grinned. "Ooh, extra butter!"
"Like you need more grease running through your veins, Dan," Jamie teased, earning himself a swipe across the back of the head.
"Shut up and watch the movie, kid."
But the arm anchoring Jamie to him took the sting out of his words. Jamie relaxed against his brother, content for the moment to let the world move on outside their home.
Chapter 9: Wednesdays Are the Worst
Jamie hated Wednesdays.
Hated, loathed, despised...in fact, any bad day he'd ever had was a Wednesday. Pop quizzes? Always on Wednesdays. Waking up late? Wednesdays again. He was pretty sure that most of the times he had to stand next to Jack Boyle were on Wednesdays, too. Standing next to his Dad? He looked small. Standing next to Jack? He looked like he hadn't hit puberty yet. Self-fulfilling prophecies aside, he was pretty sure Merton never had to deal with Wednesdays like his.
He sat at the kitchen table, thumping his heel moodily against his chair leg as he finished the last of his toast. He didn't want to go see a doctor, and he didn't want to be taken anywhere, and he really didn't like Dad suiting up and heading out while he was eating breakfast. And he didn't much like the reminder to behave himself for Danny that went along with the quick kiss Dad dropped on the crown of his head as he left, either. Like he was still seven and prone to wandering off.
"Hey, kid." Danny walked in through the kitchen door. "What's with the face?"
"What face?" Jamie grumped. "Hey! Hands off my breakfast!" He swatted at Danny as he leaned over and swiped the last of his bacon.
"You shoulda been done ten minutes ago, kid. We need to get moving if we're making your appointment. Scoot your boot," Danny ordered.
"Scoot my...I'm not Jack or Sean, Danny." Jamie sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
"C'mon kid, move it or I'll move you," Danny warned.
"You and whose--" Jamie started.
"Do you want to hit three before ten AM, kid? Because that would be a new record for you." Danny leaned against the counter, hands on his hips. "And you're already on one for arguing."
"Danny, come on! You don't have to start that again!" Jamie protested, shifting in his seat.
"Seems like I do, actually," Danny countered. "You want a spanking before we even get out the door? Or are you going to stop pushing? Because I can keep counting."
"I just have to brush my teeth and get my shoes on," Jamie muttered, shoving away from the table.
"Hey, that wasn't an answer, kid. You ready to stop pushing?"
"Yes, Danny," Jamie huffed. "I'm ready to stop pushing."
"Good," Danny sighed. "Go brush your teeth and get your shoes on."
Jamie sulked out of the kitchen to do just that, leaving Danny to clear his plate into the dishwasher. Jamie stared at himself in the bathroom mirror as he scrubbed his teeth clean, willing himself to get a fricking grip. He could not go through the day this grouchy. He spit and rinsed, checking his shirt before he left the bathroom to clatter back downstairs.
Danny waited by the front door, holding his coat. Jamie slipped into his sneakers and yanked on his own coat, stopping when Danny snagged him by the hood.
"Grab a hat and gloves, kid. It's cold out there."
Jamie sighed, but did as he was told. A hat and gloves weren't worth bringing Danny's wrath down on his head. He'd managed a whole two days without being spanked, and he wanted to keep it that way. Finally, they were out the door.
Dr. Haverty's practice wasn't far, for which Jamie was eternally grateful. He clamped his mouth shut, willing himself to just make it through the short drive. He caught Danny frowning at him a couple of times, and managed a tight smile.
"You want me in with you, or you want me in the waiting room?" Danny asked as he parked.
"Um," Jamie weighed his options. "In with me?"
"Okay. You want me gone, you tell me, okay?" Danny caught Jamie's full attention with that.
"I will, thanks." Jamie slipped out of the car, headed for the office entrance. By the time he got checked in, Danny had made himself comfortable with a magazine.
Jamie dropped into the seat next to him, unsurprised when Danny dropped a back issue of National Geographic into his lap. He slouched as comfortably as he could, appreciating that Danny wouldn't poke at him to make him sit up straight like Dad would. Not like Danny would win the King of Good Posture award, either. Soon, too soon, a nurse called for him. He sighed and heaved to his feet, feeling Danny follow.
"I'm Ella. I'll be getting you started for Dr. Haverty. Jamie, I need to remind you that under HIPPA…" the nurse started.
"Ella, it's Officer Reagan, and he's my brother and my secondary. I'm entitled to have him in with me if I so choose," Jamie shifted, crossing his arms.
"Well, it's not what we recommend. Step on the scale, please?" Ella gestured to the alcove containing a scale. "You might have questions or concerns that…"
Jamie handed Danny his coat and slipped out of his shoes before he stepped up. There was a reason he hated doctor's offices.
"I don't, and if I did, then I could just ask Detective Reagan, who is also a patient here, to leave. Where's Nurse Haverty?" Jamie backed to the height scale affixed to the wall once Ella got his weight.
"She and Dr. Haverty are on vacation. I'm filling in. I'd like to give you one more chance to consider flying solo, okay? I know doctors can be stressful, Jamie, but I don't think you really…" Ella pressed.
"Look, Ella, right?" Danny waited until she acknowledged him. "He's told you what he wants. How about we all respect his agency and let him make the call, okay?"
"Hey, look who's been talking to Erin and Nicky! And maybe Baez and Jackie, too," Jamie teased. "And Ella, Dr. Haverty has never questioned my right to have a DoR with me in an appointment. If I didn't want Danny with me, he'd head right back to the waiting room."
"His appointment, his call," Danny planted himself behind Jamie.
"Fine, if you're sure . You're in room two."
Finally. Jamie entered the room and made for the exam bed. The paper crinkled under him as he sat, and he tried to control his breathing. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to make comments about his blood pressure. Ella got through his blood pressure and temp reading fast, mostly to escape Danny's glare, Jamie thought. They waited quietly after she left, Jamie wondering if the doctor would be better or worse. His tension cranked high, Jamie jumped when the doctor knocked.
"Hi! You must be Jamie!" A youngish man entered, all wavy hair and beaming smile.
"Uh, yeah, I'm Officer Reagan." Seeing who would use his title was the fastest way to see who wasn't a prejudiced jackass.
"It's so great, hun, how your whole family is in service! Greg, Dr. Haverty to you, told me about it! He was sorry to have missed your appointment, but anniversaries wait for no man! But, no worries, I'm also a Dr. Haverty! We're cousins."
Jamie tried not to boggle, and then tried not to snicker at Danny's not quite sotto voce 'oh, give me a break!'
"Um, great? And it's Officer Reagan." Jamie ventured, hoping he could keep a straight face.
"So, we're going to have a little look-see at your chart, and oops! Someone hasn't been eating enough! You're down ten pounds from last year, Jamie. But we'll get to that in a minute. I'll do a quick bp and pulse check, now that you've had a minute to settle, and then we'll get your jeans down for a minute to re-check that temp."
"Excuse me?" Jamie flinched back as Dr. Haverty entered his personal space.
"Best way to get a sub's temp is rec--"
"Okay, no, we're done," Danny decided, bouncing out of his seat. "Kid, put your coat on. You don't need this crap. Get out of his space, doc."
Jamie slipped by Dr. Haverty, happy to be out of his orbit, and took his coat.
"You might want to talk to your nurse, Ella, about respecting Subs' rights, too." Danny herded Jamie ahead of him and straight out of the exam room.
They stopped at the front desk to check out. Sherrie, Dr. Haverty's usual receptionist, looked around before she leaned over the desk. She'd stapled a card to Jamie's forms.
"Greg Haverty wanted to get some blood work on you, so the orders are in your packet. And the number for the state medical board, Officer Reagan. Do you think your father would be open to calling, as well?" She kept her voice low.
"Probably," Jamie quirked a smile at her. "We know this isn't the usual here."
"Could you call when Dr. Haverty is back? I know Dad wants Jamie in for a physical, but not with that schmuck," Danny shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked on his feet.
"Of course. I'll put a note in our system. And if you could, please call. We're really running out of patience, but Andy is family…" Sherrie pasted on a polite smile as Ella rounded the corner. "You're all set. See you soon, Officer Reagan."
Jamie and Danny escaped into the cool morning. Jamie squirmed on his feet.
"You think we can go back so I can shower?" he asked.
"Want a run, first?" Danny unlocked the car so they could get in. "Dad asked if I could go running with you before you go completely nuts."
"Completely nuts?" Jamie grinned at him. "Dad said that?"
"Smartass," Danny muttered, but his smile took the sting out of his words. "So, you want a run?"
"Sure," Jamie hadn't realized how much he missed his regular runs until Danny mentioned it.
He buckled his belt before Danny could complain, and tried not to use the imaginary brake pedal on his side. He'd been too distracted by thoughts of the impending doctor visit to notice earlier.
"Great, after that, I'm taking you out for lunch before you help with the grocery list Linda left. After that it's picking up the boys and back to Dad's for dinner." Danny navigated the streets easily, trying not to notice Jamie's tight grip on the arm rest.
Jamie didn't know if Danny talked to Dad or Linda about it, but knowing the plan for the day helped. He'd spent so much of his life on a schedule that he didn't always know what to do with unstructured time, other than something productive. And anyway, just being an adult took up most of his free time.
Two hours later, Jamie scrubbed a towel over his hair, wicking away the last of the dripping. He stood before his dresser in jeans and an undershirt, trying to decide on a shirt. Fresh from and run and a shower, his skin finally stopped crawling post-Dr. Haverty. Guy was a creep. He settled on a thermal, shouldering into it before he pulled a flannel out of his closet. That should be warm enough to keep Danny from bitching while not being so warm he'd die in a store with his coat on.
He sat on his bed to pull on socks before he padded out into the hall. He bumped into Danny who took one look at him before snagging him by the wrist and towing him into the bathroom.
"You're not going out with wet hair, kid." Danny located the hairdryer and plugged it in, handing it to Jamie.
"I'll put a hat on, or something, Danny. It's fine," Jamie squirmed in Danny's grip, but he remained wedged between Danny and the sink.
"You do it, or I do it for you, but you're not going out with wet hair. Jesus, kid, you want pneumonia again ?" Danny scolded. "Because I don't want to have to pick your passed out butt up for a fifth time. You in the hospital on oxygen is pretty old, kid."
"Going out with wet hair doesn't make you sick, Danny. Your wife's a nurse, you should know that," Jamie grouched. "And it's not that wet, and I don't like hairdryers."
"Suck it up, kid," Danny muttered. He caught Jamie by the back of the neck and frogmarched him the two steps to the toilet, making him sit. "I don't know why this always has to be a fight, but your hair is going to be dried."
Jamie knew damn well he was being ridiculous, but he couldn't seem to stop.
"I said no, Danny! Weren't you just talking about respecting my agency? Screw you!" He jerked back out of Danny's reach.
"Yeah, about something that isn't going to wind up with you sick or hurting. Right now, you're squirmier than you were at five, and you're gonna knock it off because we've hit two," Danny ordered. "What the hell is up with you?"
"I'm not gonna get sick! I got my flu shot, and I take care of myself," Jamie stopped short at Danny's snort. "Mostly," he amended. "And that's loud, and too hot, and the air feels weird, and I don't like it. That's what's up."
Danny set the hairdryer in the counter, taking several deep breaths. He could either wrestle his kid brother into submission, or actually listen to Linda and try some of his rapidly dwindling patience. He turned back to Jamie and perched on the edge of the tub so he could look the kid in the eye.
"Okay, kid, I'm listening, not yelling. What's up with you and hairdryers?" He used the same tone he'd use with Jack, and watched as Jamie seemed to deflate.
"I told you already. I just...don't like how it feels." Jamie stared determinedly at his hands, his cheeks burning with embarrassment. "It kind of burns, if you're not careful."
He felt like a kid again, complaining that his clothes were itchy and he didn't like it and no one listened except for Grandma because they thought he was just being six and weird about wearing a suit. Only this time it was Danny trying to be patient with him. At six, it was the laundry detergent giving him hives, again.
"Yeah, and who wasn't careful drying your hair?"
Of course Danny picked up on that.
"Erin," Jamie admitted. "It was the first time I got to go to Mass on Holy Saturday, and Mom made me have a bath before because we'd get home too late otherwise. Mom asked Erin to make sure I was ready, and she was kind of pissy with me because I took too long in the bath so she had to rush. And she didn't change the setting from hot even though Mom told her to."
"Setting up a lifelong hatred of the hairdryer, huh?" Danny patted Jamie's knee and sighed. "Got any more small appliances you hate that I should know about? An unreasonable fear of the toaster oven? Blenders make you jittery? Vacuum makes you hide under the bed? Huh?"
Jamie managed a grin through his embarrassment.
"Just the hairdryer, Danny. Can we just go, please?"
"No can do, kiddo. I'm not Erin, and I'm not rushing, and your hair is going to be dry before we leave." God, but Jamie was squirrelly. "I'll keep it set low, okay?"
Danny retrieved the dryer and checked the settings before he flicked it on. On low, and cool, it wasn't nearly as noisy. Jamie still jumped a little when the air hit the back of his neck. Danny gripped his shoulder, both for comfort and to keep him in place, and wondered exactly what Erin did to their baby brother.
He knew the higher scale Brats got a little weird about some things, there was that tendency toward sensitive skin for one, but Jamie didn't usually get that stubborn unless it was really bad. Like how he'd spent most of his toddler years recreating a nudist colony, only for Mom to realize later that the detergent was giving him a rash. Jamie slowly relaxed under his hand, seeming to trust that this time he wouldn't be burned.
"So, uh, you've been ducking these things since you were what, seven?" Danny asked. "How do you get this mop cut?"
Jamie closed his eyes, and Danny watched his ears go pink. Deeming Jamie's hair dry enough, Danny switched off the dryer.
"A very understanding barber," Jamie answered after a moment of silence.
"Uh huh," Danny favored him with a sceptical look. "You're done, kid. Go on and get your shoes on so we can go."
"Am I still on two?" Jamie asked, edging around Danny toward the door.
"Two was for the screw you, kid, not your weird relationship with personal grooming appliances. Now scoot, I'm hungry." Danny swatted him out the door, following as Jamie clattered down the stairs.
He winced when the kid skidded a little on one of the risers. How many times had he been told to walk in the house? And how many times had he gone ass over tits when he inevitably slipped? Feeling like he had Jack and Sean both to keep track of, Danny called after him,
"Walk, kid! If you fall down the stairs again , you won't have to worry about me because Dad will cream you!"
The sounds of Jamie thumping downstairs abruptly ceased.
If Wednesdays sucked, then grocery shopping with Danny on Wednesday sucked even more, and was rapidly overtaking papercuts and cavities on Jamie's list of most-hated things. He sulked after Danny, who was shopping all wrong . He'd started at the dairy section, instead of in produce like normal people. He wondered if inappropriate grocery shopping habits could be an indication of demonic possession.
"Danny, there's a reason produce is first. There's a reason Linda has it first on her list!" he pointed out.
"Yeah, and I'm not picking up all the stuff that's just gonna get bruised first. We'll get the big stuff first, kid." Danny gritted his teeth, trying to keep from strangling the grouchy brat, and looked for the 2%. "Go pick up the OJ, huh? No pulp, Sean won't drink pulp."
"I'll go find apples, which is what you should be looking for," Jamie grumped.
"OJ, Jamie. Now," Danny tried to keep his voice down, even as his blood pressure rose. "And fix your attitude before I have to fix it for you."
"Fine," Jamie muttered, slouching off to get OJ. He knew that tone from Danny.
He dumped the OJ into the cart as Danny added ricotta and cheddar. Which, clearly, belonged on top of other things, not smooshed under tissues. Jamie wasn't quite sure why, but the whole thing felt wrong and stupid and aggravating in the extreme. He trailed Danny through finding sandwich bags and soda before his temper frayed in frozen. Danny put waffles in the cart. Waffles that were going to thaw too much by the time they got through everything else and get squished under flour, which Linda also had on the list.
"This is bullshit, Danny!" he kept his voice down, but kicked at the cart wheels.
"Hey! Knock off the language and the crappy attitude," Danny pointed at him with a half gallon of ice cream.
"You're doing it wrong!" Jamie hissed. "You can find me in produce."
"Jamie, I swear if you stomp off on me you'll be on three, and you'll be talking to Dad about your attitude this afternoon after I get through with you." Danny dumped the ice cream into the cart.
"What. Ever." Jamie shot back and walked away, ignoring Danny's hissed demands that he turn around right now .
His indignation at Danny's insistence on shopping backwards lasted through him finding a basket and starting in on the produce shopping. He picked out apples moodily, brooded over the tomatoes, and finally felt trepidation clenching around his stomach at the avocados. What the hell had possessed him? He went through the rest of the memorized list on autopilot, stomach burning with nerves. Danny was going to kill him. And then Danny was going to talk to Dad, who would kill him all over again.
Danny stood right behind him, seething. Jamie turned, tried to speak, and found his mouth too dry to talk. He knew that look on Danny's face.
"Stick the basket in the seat, hold onto the side of the cart, and do not dare let go or walk off on me again, little boy. I don't know what's up with you today, but you're done."
Jamie appreciated Danny keeping his voice down in an attempt to minimize his embarrassment, but his face still burned at the order. Nothing held a sign over your head that said "misbehaving Sub" quite like having to hold onto the side of the cart through the grocery store. Suddenly subdued, Jamie did exactly as Danny told him. They needed a few more aisles before they finished. Jamie didn't move from his spot by the cart as Danny found what he needed as quickly as possible.
At the checkout, Jamie transferred himself to the cart handle when Danny tapped it. He watched his brother unload the cart and push it to the end of the checkout for the bagger. Jamie found himself tucked between Danny and the cart, Danny apparently giving him no chance to run. Why, why did he have to push with Danny? He didn't want to be in trouble. He didn't want his backside to clench every time Danny shot him That Look. He didn't want to have to stand right next to his brother as they left the store, not daring to let go of the cart.
At the car, Danny detached him from the cart and steered him to the passenger side.
"I ought to put you in the back with the child locks, kid, but I'm going to trust that you'll sit here for the five minutes it'll take to load up," Danny scolded, opening the door and waiting until Jamie scrambled into the seat.
Danny buckled him in. Just leaned in, twitched the buckle out of Jamie's hand, and buckled him in. Jamie's stomach clenched with dread.
"I won't move, Danny," Jamie all-but-whispered.
"Good, because if you so much as twitch, you're gonna be the afternoon show in the parking lot, got me?"
"Yessir," Jamie murmured, hands clenched in his lap.
The ride back to Danny and Linda's was silent. Jamie bit his lip, trying to get his roiling emotions under control, shame at the forefront. He hadn't been so consistently badly behaved since high school, and almost never in public. He didn't even know why he'd been such a creep on and off all day, just that nothing felt right and he didn't like it and he hated Wednesday.
He found himself trailing Danny into the kitchen, both loaded with bags, a short time later. Once they'd set everything down, Danny crossed to him and boosted him up to sit on the counter.
"You can sit right where I can see you and think about today. Don't move," Danny ordered.
"Yes sir," Jamie shifted slightly, but settled. He didn't want to think about how he'd behaved. And he really, really hated Wednesday. Maybe he could plead diminished capacity due to everything sucking?
All too soon, Danny had all the groceries away and the bags hanging from the back door.
"C'mon, kid. We need to have a talk about today." Danny lifted Jamie off the counter and towed him into the living room. He could have let the kid get down himself, but something in the misery radiating from him made Danny want to give him the comfort of gentle hands.
Jamie dragged his feet as he followed Danny. The bare minute it took to get from the kitchen to the living room stretched into an eternity until he stood before his brother. Danny sat on the sofa and pulled him to stand in between his knees, one finger hooked into his desg-band. All the easier to turn him right over his lap, Jamie supposed. And to make sure he wasn't going to bolt, although he'd only ever done that once.
"Would you like to explain what the hell was going on with you today?" Danny started.
"I don't know!" Jamie squirmed on his feet. "I swear, I don't! Everything was just wrong today."
"You pulled yourself together a couple of times, kid, what happened while we were shopping? You know you don't just walk off like that, no matter how old you are."
"I hate Wednesday." Jamie muttered sullenly.
"Okay, that's at least honest," Danny sighed. "What is it you hate?"
"Everything always goes wrong, and Dad and Grandpa left this morning before I finished breakfast, and Dr. Haverty was an asshole, and it was all just wrong , Danny." Humiliatingly, he felt his eyes fill and he bit hard on his lip to stop it quivering. "And you grocery shop backwards."
The last was in such a small, quiet voice that Danny almost missed it. Just like he'd missed Jamie slowly unspooling through the day. Although, Dad had argued that it was probably best to let Jamie go off the deep end a little, if just to show him that they could handle him at his worst.
"That sounds like a lot for one day, kid," Danny let the sympathy he felt creep into his voice. "A lot of little stuff that added up on you, hmm?"
"Okay, so we're going to deal with you getting to three today, and then it's done between us. You got me?"
"I got you, Danny. Do I still have to talk to Dad?" Jamie asked, plaintively.
"What's the rule?"
Jamie squirmed on his feet again. He really, really hated Danny doing that.
"If I get to three with you, then Dad and I have a talk about respect and boundaries," head down, he kicked at the carpet as he answered.
"So we're going to clear up this little issue between us, and you and Dad can talk tonight." Danny didn't waste any more time. He loosed Jamie's desg-band and moved to unbutton the kid's jeans.
"Danny, you've never--" Jamie caught hold of his wrist before Danny could unfasten his pants.
"And you've never spent an entire day giving me the trouble you did today, kiddo." Usually, the Double Jeopardy rule stopped Jamie's bad behavior in its tracks. "From now on, you want to Brat at me, your pants can come down."
Danny shook off the loose hold Jamie had on his wrist and unfastened the kid's jeans. He took jeans and shorts down together, straight down to Jamie's knees, before he turned Jamie over his lap. Jamie squirmed against his restraining arm, kicking a little to test the limits. Danny swatted him, the crack of hand on bottom sharp in the quiet room.
"Settle down, kid. We're gonna be here a while." Danny set about warming up Jamie's backside.
Jamie squirmed unconsciously at the sting, instinctively trying to get his butt out of the line of fire. He'd forgotten how Danny spanked, not methodically heavy-handed like Dad, but lighter with more sting and no actual pattern to it. He didn't know what was worse, knowing where the next heavy spank would fall or having no idea where he'd feel that sharp sting again. Dad's hand rivaled any paddle, not that Jamie had much experience with those, while Danny used the quick wrist flick that made him deadly on a handball court.
He already felt awful about his behavior through the day, and combined with the steadily mounting sting in his tail, it didn't take long for the first tears to pool in his eyes. Face down against the sofa cushions, Jamie let them trickle out. Danny couldn't see he was already crying, so he felt no need for stoicism. Danny spanked without lecturing much, another departure from Dad's way. Jamie yelped when Danny suddenly picked up the pace, squirming at the stinging spanks raining down on his butt.
"Ow! Ow, Danny, please!" The plea fell from his lips with no input from his higher brain processes.
"Please what, kid?" Danny never let up on the pace he'd set.
"Please, no more!" Jamie begged. "I get it, I do! I'll be good!"
"We're not even remotely done here, kid." Danny dashed any hope Jamie harbored of sitting comfortably. "You bought yourself a thorough spanking today, and that's what you're getting right now."
"But I'll be good! I swear!" Desperate, Jamie kicked out against the fire Danny kindled in his seat. "I won't do it again! Danny, please stop!"
"You're always good, kid," Danny softened his tone. "It's just your behavior that's naughty sometimes."
Danny never stopped spanking. Maybe he never would. Jamie felt his breath catch and he burst into noisy sobs, not of repentance, not yet, but the tears of frustration he'd repressed all day.
"That's good, kid," Danny praised. "That's good. Just get it all out, huh?"
He let Jamie bawl over his lap, let him squirm and kick for the moment. There was time enough to let him get all the frustration and irritation he'd tried to keep a lid on out. Holding Jamie safe through the storm of his emotions, anchoring him with stinging and unpredictable spanks was no trouble at all.
It was a little like keeping an eye on a tantruming toddler, making sure they weren't going to get hurt while letting them get it out. Although, there was nothing childlike about Jamie, even in the midst of a Brat-fit. Off-duty, Jamie felt...softer, less sure of himself, and had for the last few months. Danny wished he and Dad and Linda had picked up on everything when Jamie was in college. Hell, Danny would have walked a beat in Boston if it meant his baby brother could be spared the turmoil now. But they hadn't, and they needed to get Jamie through all this and settled.
He watched Jamie's backside go from a healthy pink to scarlet under a steady rain of spanks. He wondered if half the attitude Jamie'd copped was related to Dad and Grandpa going out in the morning. What was it Linda said? Jamie would probably not react well to disruptions in the routine right now? Something like that. Add in Jamie's bizarre hatred of Wednesdays, and Danny figured they were doomed from the start.
Slowly, Jamie's cries changed, turned from the wild weeping of a boy not liking that he was being spanked to the deep sobbing that tore at Danny's heart. He hated himself a little in the moment as he tucked Jamie closer, hitched him forward, and dropped his knee. The first spanks to Jamie's sit spots elicited a screech and wild kicking. Jamie's jeans went flying right before Danny closed his leg over Jamie's to keep him in place. And to make sure he didn't inadvertently get kicked in the face.
Jamie wailed as Danny spanked hard where bottom met thigh, dignity completely abandoned. He didn't care about the noise he made or how much he squirmed, he only cared that he could let Danny know he was sorry, and it hurt, and he wouldn't be such an ass ever again. He went limp over Danny's lap, completely exhausted. Danny would spank him until he decided he was done, and there wasn't anything Jamie could do about it. He didn't care in that moment, he wasn't responsible for deciding when he was done being spanked. He could only vow to himself that he wouldn't behave like that again. Pliant and penitent, he sobbed into the sofa cushions.
Jamie didn't notice when he stopped spanking and started running a comforting and up and down the kid's back, but that was fine. Danny would hold him safe until he was ready to stop sobbing. He patted an unspanked part of Jamie's thigh, soothing the poor kid. Jamie's backside and a handspan down each thigh sported an impressive shade of dark red. Slowly, Jamie calmed, the sobs tapering off to soft, shuddery breaths.
"You ready to come up?" Danny asked softly.
Jamie nodded, sniffling.
"Shorts on or off, kid?" They were bound up at Jamie's ankles.
"Off, Danny, please," Jamie rasped, voice wrecked from weeping.
"Your partner know about your nudist tendencies?" Danny teased as he untangled Jamie's shorts and tossed them in the direction of his jeans.
Jamie gave a watery chuckle before hissing as Danny helped him up. He curled into his big brother's embrace, not caring at all that he was bare from the waist down, except for his socks. It wasn't like he had anything Danny hadn't seen before, and no one was due home any time soon. He had time before he had to even think about pants and modesty.
"Wasn't my fault," Jamie teased back, breath still hitching. "Only thing that didn't make me itch then was the diapers."
They lapsed into quiet then, Jamie finding his place curled against Danny's chest. He'd been smaller the last time Danny held him that way, but they made it work. He rubbed his cheek against the shoulder of Danny's shirt, the soft fabric soothing against his wet and overheated skin.
"Did you just wipe your snot on me?"
Danny sounded so disgusted that Jamie couldn't help but laugh.
"No," he chuckled. "But it'd serve you right if I did."
"Or you could go right back over my knee for being gross." Danny poked him in the side.
"Abuse of power," Jamie muttered. "I'll tell the Commissioner on you."
"Bet he'd agree with me," but Danny took the sting out of his words with a soft kiss to the top on Jamie's head. "We okay, kid?"
"Yeah, Danny, we're okay. I'm sorry about today." Jamie picked at the hem of his shirt. "Really."
"Forgiven and forgotten, kid," Danny pressed another kiss to Jamie's hair. "We handled it."
"Unfortunately," Jamie grimaced, reaching back to rub his flaming rear.
"Hey, you want a snack? We have chocolate waffles and ice cream."
Jamie pulled back to look Danny in the eye.
"You knew I was going to get myself in trouble today. And Dad might just kill you instead of me if you bring me home all sugared up."
Danny had the good grace to look sheepish.
"Yeah, well, figured you'd push today, kid. You were gonna go over my knee sooner or later, you just wanted it sooner."
"Did not," Jamie shot back. "You shop wrong. And I need my shorts if we're eating."
He hadn't really been hungry most of the day. He felt lighter after Danny dealt with him. Lighter and calmer than he'd felt in a while. And suddenly, really hungry for waffles and ice cream.
Chapter 10: Wednesday - Double Jeopardy Bites
As Danny sped toward home, Jamie tried not to squirm. Danny's version of a spanking left a lingering sting that made sitting still ridiculously difficult, no matter how much he wanted to keep Jack and Sean from figuring everything out. He wasn't embarrassed, not really, but it just wasn't their business. They all tried to keep a pretty strict line between adult stuff and kid stuff, and what went on between him and the family Tops wasn't kid stuff. They didn't need to know about it. Although, Jack, Sean, and Nicky weren't stupid and probably had some idea of what was happening. They at least knew he was really grounded.
He twisted his fingers in the hem of Danny's hoodie, trying to figure out what to say to Dad. Jack and Sean, brimming with energy after a day in school, poked at each other in the back seat, talking over each other in a rush to tell Danny about their days. It gave him a chance to think, at least, while listening with half an ear to Danny and his boys just in case they tried to pull him into the conversation. He picked a little at a pill in the fabric of the flannels Danny let him borrow. He usually wouldn't be out in what were essentially pajamas, but he really hadn't wanted to put jeans back on after Danny got through with him. And Danny's flannels and hoodie were...well, stupidly comforting, like wearing one of Dad's sweaters (or Joe's...most of the sweaters he'd had wound up in the linen closet, ready for a niece or nephew or sister or brother who needed the comfort of a familiar piece of clothing).
But what was he going to say to Dad? And what was Dad going to say to him? He'd never had to deal with Double Jeopardy before. He'd always, always stopped at...well, he'd at least stopped at the second warning from Danny. The first from Linda stopped him cold only because she always teamed it with a swat. And Grandpa had a way of saying his name that pretty much dropped him in his tracks...or had. Grandpa hadn't trotted out That Tone in a long time. Jamie fretted quietly, hoping Danny wouldn't pick up on it. Although, fat chance of that. Everyone seemed to be on high alert around him, just waiting for him to freak out about something. It made privately worrying himself sick a lot more difficult when he had three people picking up on his emotional state again.
"So, since I haven't heard anything about you two knuckleheads getting yourselves in trouble this week, why don't I text Mom and see if she wants to meet us for ice cream at that place near the hospital when she gets off shift?" Danny grinned at the cheers from his boys and poked Jamie in the thigh. "We can drop Uncle Jamie off with Grandpa, and maybe see if Pops wants to come, hmm?"
Which meant Danny getting everyone else out of the house so he could talk to Dad.
"How come Uncle Jamie can't come?" Jack leaned forward against his seatbelt.
"Hey, sit properly in the car. The belt won't help if you stretch it like that. And Uncle Jamie isn't feeling so hot today, not that it's your business." Danny locked eyes with his oldest in the rearview mirror. "Got me?"
"Yeah, Dad. We got you." Jack answered dutifully as he sat back again.
"Uncle Jamie, is that why you're wearing pajamas?" Sean piped up.
"Yeah, Sean. I'm not feeling so good this afternoon," Jamie twisted around to smile at his nephews. "Maybe I can take you two out soon, huh? We'll see what your Grandpa says."
"You're not like, contagious sick, right? Cause Tommy McKinney had the flu and came to school anyway last month and got everyone sick," Jack sent him a sceptical look from the back.
"You know how sometimes your mom looks at you and decides you're not going to school, even though you don't have a fever or anything?" Danny cut in.
"Uh huh," the boys chorused.
"It's like that, only Uncle Jamie needs more than a day, or even a weekend to feel better. Okay?" Explaining what was essentially Dynamic exhaustion was a lot easier than Danny expected.
"Cause he's older than us?" Sean sounded thoughtful.
"Not just that, boys. Uncle Jamie's been working really hard since he was a kid, and he needs a break from it right now. It's why he's not going back to work for a while, and needs quiet." Danny explained.
"Way to make me sound like some Merchant-Ivory heroine, Dan," Jamie grumped. He remembered Linda loving those films when he was a kid. "Next thing you're gonna be talking about is the galloping consumption."
"A what?" Jack and Sean gave each other a look. "What are you talking about?"
"Ask your mom," Danny snickered as he pulled up in front of the house. "Okay, boys, out and go find Grandpa and Pops. We're right behind you."
The boys were out of the Jeep in record time, racing each other up the front walk and around the back to the kitchen door. Danny watched them elbowing at each other; they reminded him of him and Joe, sometimes.
"You okay, kid?"
"Yeah, Danny, thanks for figuring out how to get everyone out," Jamie spoke more to his knees than to his brother.
"Hey, that's what I'm here for. You need what you need, and you deserve privacy. No one needs to know if you don't want them to."
"Although, how you're going to fit more ice cream and dinner…" Jamie teased as he got out of the Jeep.
"No one needs to know about waffle sundaes, kid." Danny followed his brother up the walk, grabbing him in a headlock once they were off the stairs and ruffling his hair.
Jamie swatted at him, laughing, "Dad's gonna find out, anyway, Danny."
Danny let him loose with a gentle shove toward the kitchen door, "move it, genius. We'll talk to Dad before I get everyone out of the way, okay?"
Jamie stumbled through the doorway, nerves coming back full force.
"Yeah, Danny, okay." He worried his lower lip with his teeth.
"Hey, none of that, kid. It's gonna be okay." Danny caught him by the back of his neck and guided Jamie through the kitchen. Jamie just didn't have the breadth of experience of being in trouble as the rest of them, and needed an anchor, sometimes.
"Yeah, if okay means I'm dead," Jamie answered bleakly.
Danny snorted. "Dad's not gonna kill you, kid, trust me. He never killed me, and I was the one who...actually, we don't need to go into that. The boys aren't that far away and I don't want them getting ideas."
Jamie poked at his older brother. "This one of the times the whole neighborhood heard you yowling while Dad lit you up?"
"Brat." Danny swatted him gently toward the living room and the noise of his kids inviting Pop out for ice cream.
Jamie met his father's eye as they entered the living room, feeling like he might puke. He'd never had to worry before, not about double jeopardy, and he didn't know what to expect. He hated not knowing what to expect. But Dad pulled him into a quick hug, clapping Danny on the shoulder as he passed.
"What do you think, Pops, want to join us for ice cream?" Danny broke into his boys' chatter.
"I think it's not every day an old man gets asked out for an afternoon," Henry teased. "I'll get my coat. Why don't you boys stow your book bags in the TV room for later and wait for me and your Dad in the kitchen?"
Jack and Sean zipped out of the living room to do as they were told. Midweek ice cream wasn't anything to test losing, no matter how old they were.
"What happened today?" Frank asked, looking between his boys.
"Danny got to three with me," Jamie admitted, shamefaced and miserable. "I'm sorry, Dad. I promised you…"
Frank pulled him back into a hug, effectively cutting off his argument. He cupped the back of Jamie's head, gently guiding him to rest his forehead against his shoulder.
"Little stuff built up, and boom," Danny explained. "We'll have to rebook his appointment. It was a fill in Dr. Haverty today...Andy, I think? Anyway, he was an ass. Jamie's down ten from last year, though."
"Thank you, Danny. You all right?" Frank wouldn't skip a check-in with Danny, no matter how much misery his youngest radiated.
"I'm good, Dad. I'm gonna get everyone out of your hair. We'll call when we're on our way back, and we'll bring dinner tonight." Danny ruffled Jamie's hair one more time before he turned and left.
Frank rubbed Jamie's back as they listened to Danny herding everyone out the door.
"I think we need to find your room and have a talk, hmm?" Frank turned Jamie loose and patted his butt to get him moving. "Go on up. I'll be there in a minute. You can think about explaining today."
Jamie fled to the relative safety of his room. He peeled out of Danny's hoodie for lack of anything else to do and sat on his bed, wincing as his backside made contact with the mattress. A minute later he bounced up to pace between bed and window. Waiting for Dad was almost as bad as, well, Wednesdays.
Finally, mercifully, he heard Dad on the stairs, although his stomach crunched with nerves. He tracked his footsteps down the hall, meeting his eyes as he appeared in the doorway. Jamie gulped.
"I'm hardly about to string you up, son." Frank crossed the room quickly, stopping long enough to press a supportive hand to Jamie's shoulder, wanting the afternoon done with as much as his boy did.
Jamie crossed to him when he sat on the bed, and stood, shifting from foot to foot by his knee. Frank whisked flannels and shorts down before he quickly turned Jamie over his lap. No use letting him get any more worked up. Jamie's still-red backside and thighs had him wincing in sympathy.
"I don't think Danny's ever raised quite this shade on you before, Jamie. What in the world happened today?" Frank asked, rubbing Jamie's tense back.
"Wednesdays suck, Dad," Jamie sighed, folding his arms and resting his forehead on them. "And I think Danny was making a point."
"So you've said before. Why don't you start with how you got to one."
Jamie squirmed a little, pressing his toes into the floor, and remained quiet.
Frank sighed and swatted him, but more gently than usual and with a cupped hand. Jamie needed the sound and a little sting, not another full spanking. He needed to feel thoroughly taken to task, or he'd eat himself sick with guilt until he earned what he thought he deserved. And he never deserved to be disciplined so harshly as he thought he did.
Jamie gasped at the swat, yelping despite himself. Inviting more through stubborn silence suddenly seemed like the worst idea. Especially since he had no idea what Dad had planned for him.
"I wasn't ready when he got here and he said I was being difficult," Jamie grumped.
Frank swatted again. "He said you were, or you were actually being difficult?"
"I was!" Jamie twisted over his father's lap. "I was being difficult. I didn't want to go, and you and Grandpa both left before I was done with breakfast!"
The fervent answer left Frank thankful Jamie couldn't see his face. The threatening smile likely wouldn't go down well, no matter how fond. Linda had warned about issues with sudden changes in routine in the short term, and the slightly petulant tone made Jamie's opinion abundantly clear. He'd have to keep a closer eye on it. Frank dealt three swats to the base of each cheek, covering reddened sit spots with a fresh sting.
"That deals with one," he patted Jamie's back. "What was two?"
Jamie whined a little in response, kicking his toes against the floorboards, even as he calmed down enough to relax.
"Jamie," Frank warned.
"I told Danny screw you," Jamie admitted quietly, ashamed.
"Why, peanut?" He really had to watch the old nicknames, especially when Jamie was back on duty. He'd heard some of the comments around Danny calling him kid. He didn't even want to think what would happen if he slipped and someone heard him call Jamie peanut.
"The hair dryer."
Frank watched Jamie's neck and ears go almost as red as his backside and waited for more information. He hadn't realized Jamie still harbored a hatred of hair dryers.
"My hair was wet and Danny wanted me to dry it. He did it for me, but not before two." Jamie squirmed in embarrassment. "You know I don't like the hair dryer!"
"Cod liver oil for that, then," Frank decided. "We've talked about that mouth on you before."
"Yessir," Jamie sighed into the bedding.
Jamie stiffened over his lap again, shaking his head.
Frank swatted with a bit more force than before, earning a squeak and a good bit of wiggling from Jamie. He easily corralled his squirming son, laying down another swat.
"Dad!" Jamie protested, crossing his ankles and pushing his toes into the floor. "Ow!"
"I'm waiting for an answer, young man. What was three?" Frank patted the warm bottom under his hand as impetus to answer. "I can keep swatting until you want to answer me."
"I gave Danny a lot of attitude and walked away from him in the store." Jamie's admission came in a panicked rush. "He was shopping backwards!"
"He started in dairy!" Jamie nearly wailed.
Frank ruthlessly suppressed the urge to grin. He wouldn't embarrass Jamie that way, not when he clearly felt so vulnerable about it. For his orderly, methodical child, starting in the dairy section would feel near to armed insurrection, especially right now.
"That's certainly one way to shop," he allowed. "Did he do the frozen stuff before the canned goods?"
"And the flour! He put flour on top of thawing waffles and ice cream!" Jamie thumped his toes on the floor for emphasis.
"Anarchy," Frank murmured. "Jamie, son, you know you can't walk off like that. We didn't accept it when you were a child, and we're not going to accept it now, especially when you're not quite yourself. You know the rules. Walking off like that is flat disrespectful."
"Yes sir." Jamie slumped down, sighing. "M'sorry. I promised you I'd listen to Danny, and I didn't."
Frank laid down one last set of swats, six to each sit spot, to finish up. Jamie yelped at each smack, squirming against the sting. He wasn't crying, but his back heaved under Frank's soothing hand as he struggled to keep his composure. Frank helped him up once he'd calmed some, steadying him on his feet and righting shorts and flannels before pulling him down to curl up in his lap. Jamie snuggled against his shoulder, completely wrung out, resting his weight on one hip.
"How about we don't have to do that again, Jamie, hmm?" Frank rubbed his back, encouraging him to curl closer. "Today was a little too rough on you, I think.
"I don't want another day like today," Jamie sniffled, voice shaking. He gripped the front of his Dad's shirt and cuddled in. "I couldn't get it together, and I'm so tired. And Dad?"
"I think...I think I need to give up my lease right now." Jamie's admission came haltingly.
"What?" Frank pushed Jamie back a little to stare at him. "Son, are you sure? I told you we'd keep it current. This isn't forever."
"No," Jamie agreed. "But it's not going to be short-term either, you know? I...I've been half-assing this since I Classed, and I don't want to anymore. I don't think I can, Dad. Not when I know what it's like doing all of this the right way."
"If that's what you want, Jamie, then that's what we'll do for you. But we'll talk all of this out when you're not as upset and tired. How much sleep did you actually get last night?" Frank could see the evidence on Jamie's face.
"I don't know. I had trouble falling asleep, and then I kept waking up." Jamie tucked himself close again, head under his father's chin.
"Were you thinking about giving up your lease?" Frank wrapped Jamie in a firm hug, and felt his youngest go almost boneless against him.
"And other stuff. Doing this the right way, you know?"
"What about coming to get me if you needed me? I seem to remember telling you to." For a rebuke, Frank kept it gentle and quiet.
Jamie squirmed a little. "Dad," he protested. "I'm not a kid!"
"No, you're not. I've told Erin and Danny the same thing on other occasions, though. It's not about you being my youngest, Jamie, it's letting you know that I'm here for you." He swatted gently at Jamie's bottom. "And I can do without the whine, young man."
Jamie yelped, "sorry!"
"We'll talk more later, Jamie. I think you need to lay down for a while. You look exhausted." If they could erase some of the evidence of a mostly sleepless night for Jamie, there was the slim possibility Linda wouldn't pick up on it.
"Could you…" Jamie trailed off as Frank shifted him to the bed, blushing and twisting his shirt hem between his fingers.
"Could I what, son?" Frank tugged the blankets out from under him and shook them straight again.
"Could you stay? Until I fall asleep?" Jamie rolled onto his stomach, bunching his pillow under his head.
"Of course I can." Frank tucked the blankets firmly around his son before he sat. "And that goes for any time you can't sleep and want some company. You come find me."
"I will, I promise, Dad."
Jamie cuddled close, and Frank ran his fingers lightly through his hair. Having Jamie with him on a more or less permanent basis would complicate some things, but would also ease some of the worry. He'd be able to be the Top and father Jamie needed, more effectively than if Jamie went back to his own place. And they wouldn't be skating around the department guidelines for dependent subs any more. Jamie living with Sydney had covered them, but with her departure they'd been on the edge of acceptable for almost three years. Written permission in his file only went so far.
Maybe it would be a good move.
Chapter 11: Wednesday Night Could Be Better
In which we have some breakthrough, and Jack almost gives his Uncle Jamie a heart attack.
Frank slipped into Jamie's room a few hours later to find him face down and starfished across his bed, dead to the world. He crossed the room to sit on the edge of the bed and rubbed Jamie's back.
"Time to wake up, son," he coaxed.
Jamie groaned and curled into a ball.
"Tired," he whined.
"I know, Jamie, you're still tired. If you don't get up, though, Danny might eat your part of dinner. And you won't sleep tonight." Frank patted Jamie's hip.
"Dessert?" Food maybe piqued some interest.
"I heard something about apple crumble and ice cream."
"Even after waffle sundaes?" Jamie cracked his eyes open, and then realized what he'd admitted. "Oops?"
"Let me guess, Danny felt bad about spanking you?" Frank chuckled. "Yes, you can still have dessert tonight."
"Dinner sounds good." Jamie shifted until he could rest his cheek against his Dad's leg.
Frank ruffled Jamie's hair. "You need to get up and wash your face if you want to come down. Make yourself a little more presentable."
"Or I could just look like something nested in my hair," Jamie snickered, and then scooted up to curl against his headboard. He ducked his head at the lightly chiding look on Dad's face. "There's something more serious I wanted to talk about, and then I'll go clean up, I swear."
"Okay, son. Shoot."
"I want to, um, we're talking about some of what Nicky's been dealing with tonight, right?" He bit his lip.
"Yes, and stop chewing on yourself." Frank reached over to tap Jamie's chin.
"Can we tell the kids more about what's going on with me? Not all of it, but...Nicky's Designating soon, and then it'll be Jack and Sean, and I don't want...Dad, I don't want any of them thinking I'm ashamed of my Designation or my Class. I don't want them to think that we think it's something shameful, you know? I think I went too far with it being private, and now it's like I think it's something to hide." Jamie fidgeted with the edge of his quilt, eyes on his knees.
"You know, we've always tried to take your lead on this, Jamie. If this is what you want, then that's what we'll do." Frank covered Jamie's hands with his own. "There is absolutely nothing for you to be worried about."
"It's embarrassing that I'm twenty-six and I'm just figuring this out, Dad," Jamie huffed.
Frank didn't answer. Instead he stood, hauled Jamie out of bed, and marched him over to the rocking chair. He sat, tugged until Jamie curled up in his lap, and pushed into a slow rock. Jamie curled into him automatically, ears and neck a fierce red.
"You figure out what you need to, when you need to, Jamie. Sixteen or twenty-six, it doesn't matter. The need is the same. You'll be ninety and still have the same needs. And I'm getting pretty tired of listening to my kid talk himself down. Yes, you should have told us about your Classification letter sooner, but you didn't. You dealt with everything on your own as much as you could, and you're done, kiddo. You don't have anything left to keep going on your own. And you shouldn't have to. You never should have had to." He wrapped Jamie in a strong hug, let the deep pressure relax Jamie where his words couldn't, and lapsed into quiet.
They sat for a few minutes, rocking quietly, Frank hoping that the motion and the contact would help. Jamie had been a tactile kid, until he went away to college. He'd stopped touching, then. Stopped hugging him and Pops over the back of their chairs when he passed by, stopped flopping onto Joe and Danny, stopped curling into Linda's side when they sat on the sofa together, stopped sitting on the floor by Jack's feet and leaning against his legs.
He should have seen this whole mess coming from miles away. And now he and Danny and Linda had to try to undo to the damage done by a decade of unintentional neglect combined with the after effects of suppressant use. They'd been playing the game with two-thirds of the deck missing, and he was done. He'd drawn a couple of fresh boundary lines for his kid, but nowhere what he needed.
Jamie needed the whole set, and fast. And he needed them strong and steadfast, needed to bounce off them and make sure they'd still be there. His backside might not want to survive the inevitable destruction testing of the rules, but they'd come out the other side of this. Stronger, with any luck.
He felt the first wracking sobs before he heard them, Jamie's shoulders hitching. He rocked them slowly as Jamie choked out years of distress and exhaustion.
"It was lonely, hmm, kiddo?" Frank spoke softly, tucking Jamie as close as he could. "I'm here, now, peanut, and Danny and Linda are, too, and we see what you need."
If anything, Jamie sobbed harder at that.
"We see you, Jamie, just as you are. No more hiding what you need from us. No more having to figure it out on your own. You always found our rules a comfort, hmm? Danny and Erin and Joe saw something to fight, but you felt safer, better, knowing what the rules were. We'll get you back there, sweetheart. We'll get you safe and settled again. You let it all out, peanut. Dad's got you." He kept up the soothing litany as he rocked, anchoring Jamie as best he could.
He'd expected something like this for a while now, since he and Danny spent an hour scrubbing blood off Jamie in the hospital after Vinny was killed. He'd never seen Jamie look so vacant before as he had sitting on a bed in a private room, covered in his partner's blood. He'd thanked God in that moment that Jamie was alive, bruised and stitched up and in shock, but alive. He'd let the doctor stitch his arm, but wouldn't let them clean his hands or face, wouldn't change out of his clothes. Renzulli, so blessedly practical, showed up at the door with Jamie's bag and washcloths, towels, and soap. Not the hospital-issued stuff, scratchy and sure to raise hives on sensitive skin, but the stuff Jamie kept in his own bathroom, a testament to the trust Jamie gave him.
Now, though, Jamie didn't have the reserves to keep grief at bay. So Frank rocked them slowly, thankful that he and Mary thought ahead when Danny was born and went with the big rocker. It had been a tight fit in their first house, but it meant that he could sit comfortably, and that the kids could fit in it together as they grew up. That it still comfortably held him and Jamie was a testament to good furniture design. And Jamie needed the comfort of it now just as he had at three and six and fifteen.
The wild, wracking sobs tapered off slowly, giving way to hiccups and shuddery, wet breaths. Frank rubbed Jamie's back and stayed quiet. Jamie coughed a little, rubbed his cheek against Frank's shoulder.
"I...I got your shirt wet," he rasped out, sniffling and coughing again.
"I was a beat cop in the '70s, son; your tears aren't the worst thing that's ever been on a shirt of mine," Frank soothed, earning a watery chuckle.
"I keep crying all over everyone." Jamie went to swipe under his nose with his hand.
Frank grimaced, caught Jamie's hand and dug out his handkerchief. He mopped Jamie's face up himself, although he gave the handkerchief over so Jamie could blow his own nose.
"You don't have the reserves to stuff it down like you usually do, and you need to start letting go, son."
Jamie huffed out a frustrated breath. "But I shouldn't… "
"Shouldn't what? Have feelings? Express them? Ten years from now, if you came across Jack curled up in Danny's lap because he was exhausted and upset, would you judge him so harshly?"
"No, Dad!" Jamie objected. "That's not what I mean! Of course Jack would go to Danny if he needed him. It's just…"
"It's just that Jamie has some very complicated rules that apply only to him, hmm?" Frank patted Jamie's backside, both comfort and warning.
"Dad...I...it's just…" Jamie floundered, wincing even at the gentle pat on his tender butt.
"It's just that whatever those rules are, you're done with them Jamison Francis Xavier. Am I completely understood?" Frank deepened his voice, tipped Jamie's chin up to look him in the eye. "Because if I catch you applying any should or shouldn't to yourself that doesn't come from me or Danny or Linda, then I really will break out Great Aunt Vi's hair brush."
"Yessir," Jamie squeaked, horrified. "I'll be good, I swear."
He'd never actually used the brush that sat on his dresser, just like Pop never used it on him. It sat there as a warning that discipline could always make your backside more uncomfortable. He knew his kids had held it in a sort of terrified and fascinated regard, just as he had. He hadn't even used it on Danny, and Lord knew Mary suggested it often enough. The flat of his hand applied to a misbehaving backside had always sufficed, just as Pop's had for him. They'd both seen too much--too many children and too many subs beaten and scarred--to use anything harsher. The same with the cod liver oil that lived in the kitchen and the bathroom cabinet both. He'd seen too many blisters from soap to use anything like it, and he would never compromise anyone's airway like that.
"I'll hold you to that, Jamie. All I ask is that you try. We're rewriting how we handle each other, and we're bound to misstep at times, but it'll never be the end of the world."
"Yes, Dad." Jamie relaxed against him again.
"You want to wash your face before we head down?"
"Yeah, it's all itchy." Jamie rubbed at his cheek.
"Alright. You go on while I change my shirt. And Jamie?" Frank put Jamie on his feet but kept ahold of his wrist for a moment.
"You're officially short-leashed, son. When you finish in the bathroom, you come find me."
"Yes, sir." Jamie sighed. He really should have expected that. No Top worth the Classification would fail to respond to the twisted up mess he presented.
Apple crisp and ice cream, Jamie decided, went surprisingly well with absolute soul-crushing embarrassment. And, if the looks on Jack and Sean's faces were anything to go by, they felt the same. Because Dad started the family discussion portion of the evening with,
"We all need to talk about sexual and Dynamic harassment."
Which sent the pre-teen and teen boy (and Danny) demographic at the table choking in horror on their dessert. Because their Grandpa just said sexual. And Danny was kind of a prude.
"Well done, Francis," Henry observed, chuckling. "You nearly killed your grandsons."
"A little decorum, boys," Frank leveled a Look at them. "This is a serious discussion that I convinced your mother you were old enough to be included in. Although, I probably should have asked her about her husband, too."
Jack and Sean snickered a little at that, recovering from the shock.
"It's important," Nicky cut in, fiddling with her fork. "It's important because it's going on at my school, and it's been directed at a lot of the girls...and me."
"Who?" Danny asked, voice dropping into a growl. Jack and Sean edged their chairs slightly toward Pops.
"That's not what we're talking about right now, Danny." Frank stopped Danny in his tracks with a look. "And we're taking care of it. Jamie is going to reach out to the DSR to see what they might be able to help with."
Danny subsided, but he wasn't happy about it.
"And I've experienced it too, guys. It's not just girls who get it," Jamie added.
"Where?" Sean asked.
"In high school and college, but at work and on the street, too. A lot of Doms and Neutrals don't Designate anymore, so when someone sees a desg-band, they'll assume." Jamie explained, staring at his bowl.
"You said at work," Jack started. "Does that mean that other police officers have…?"
"Some have, yes. If they know. We don't have to Designate when we're on duty, and a lot of us don't unless we're off for a full day. But I grew up around the NYPD, so there are enough people around who remember." Jamie shrugged, "I'm lucky, though, because no one wants to cross your Dad. I get it at traffic stops, sometimes, that kind of thing."
"That's why we're talking about it now, together." Frank explained. "We want you boys to know that it's okay to stop it if you hear it, and to report it to your teachers immediately. And to tell any adult in this family. We'll make sure something is done."
"If anyone gives you trouble for it, you let us know." Danny tapped the table for emphasis. "Because we don't put up with that crap, not in this family."
"I waited too long to say something," Nicky bit at her lip. "It's been really awful at school, and I didn't know what to say, or how to say something, until I lost my temper. And that's not cool. It's hard, and other kids are probably going to be pretty awful about it, but we have a responsibility to say something, and to report it."
That, coming from Nicky, probably went further than any adult lecture.
"And…" Jamie trailed off. "I realized that you kids didn't know how I Designated or Classed, and that's not right. It's not fair to any of you for me to act like my Classification is something to be ashamed of. I don't want any of you to get to sixteen and feel like you should hide anything. I'm a Classed Sub, guys, and I Classed as a Brat. Do you have any questions?"
"Is that why you're grounded?" Sean asked.
" Sean! " Jack hissed. "You don't just ask people stuff like that!"
"Jack, it's okay. He's got questions. It's not why I'm grounded, Sean, but it's part of why your Grandpa grounded me. Because for me, it works. Rules and consequences help." Jamie answered as candidly as he could.
"Does it make you feel like a kid?" Jack fidgeted with his napkin. "Like, having to ask to do stuff?"
"No. It's hard, sometimes, and right now you're going to see your grandpa and your mom and dad coming down on me like a ton of bricks for some stuff, but I feel better with those boundaries. And that's just for personal stuff right now. Mostly, you probably won't really notice what happens between me and your grandpa and your parents. Work is my own business, unless I get a greenie." He could feel his ears burn red.
"Aren't Brats like, super rare?" Sean cocked his head. "We got some of it in Health class, but my teacher said that there weren't a lot of Classed Subs, and most of them were Service Subs and stuff like that, anyway. And Tops and Brats were rare."
"Not in our family," Jamie grinned. "We tend toward Tops and Brats. And those Classifications tend to gravitate toward each other in general. We manage to find each other, even in a city like New York."
"Did you know before you got your letter?" Jack kept his eyes firmly on the table.
And that was a surprise. Although, Jamie supposed, if anyone reminded him of himself as a kid, it was Jack. Quiet, introverted, contained...and calmed by rules and structure in a way Sean wasn't. Nicky was the same, but Jamie would bet she wouldn't pin the needle like he had. She settled for Dad and Pops and Danny and Linda...and Jack in ways she couldn't for Erin.
"There are always some signs, Jack." Frank answered gently. "Your Uncle Jamie had a way of knowing who was a Top without really understanding what that meant. When he was small, he would tell us someone felt safe to him. And there are other signs too. Mostly small things that Tops and other Brats notice."
"But, did you know, Uncle Jamie?" Jack pressed.
"Yeah, Jack, I knew. Once I was old enough to understand the feedback I was getting, and had words for it, I knew. Sooner than I should have, probably. I was, um, they didn't take me out of the eighth grade talk like they did in seventh." Jamie caught his eye. "Any questions you want to ask in private, that's okay, too, you know."
"Thanks," Jack managed a tight smile.
"What's going on, Pops?" Sean leaned toward him, failing to whisper.
"Never you mind about that, kiddo. Your brother will talk to you when he's ready to." Henry actually whispered back, pacifying Sean for the moment.
Jamie didn't miss the Looks being traded between the Tops at the table, and he kind of wished they wouldn't do that. It left Erin out, as the only Gen Domme in the family.
"Dad, could Jack and I take care of the dishes together tonight?" Jamie asked carefully. Short-leashed meant not going out of Dad's sight, usually, but he had a feeling Jack had more questions.
"I think that would be fine, Jamie. Especially since it's also movie night." Frank announced.
"Grandpa, it's a school night." Nicky was quick to point out.
"Not for you three," Erin grinned at Nicky, the quick, bright smile they hadn't seen enough of in recent years. "We arranged it this afternoon."
"Really?" Sean leaned over Jack to ask their parents. "We never get to just stay home."
"Really, really." Linda answered. "You get some absences allowed for family time, and we used one. You'll be back in school on Monday."
"Awesome!" Sean elbowed Jack until he got a high five out of his brother.
Most families didn't use them, but most families didn't have a strong bent toward one Dynamic or another. It was like a Drop leave light for the whole family, a day or two to hunker down and spend time together. And it was super old-school. With all the upheaval going on with him, Jamie figured they were due. Dad liked to have everyone close sometimes, to make sure his clan was safe and secure. Sometimes, a high-scale Top like Dad just needed to see everyone in one place, make sure all his ducks were still in line.
"I'll wash, you dry?" Jamie asked, heading for the sink.
"Sure, Uncle Jamie." Jack still looked a little too thoughtful.
Jamie looked back to double check that the door was closed before he started the water. Jack took his position close by, a dish towel in one hand.
"Something bothering you, bud?" Jamie wondered briefly if Danny felt with him like he did with Jack. They had nearly the same age gap, and he'd been Linda's de facto mother's helper practically from day one.
"I think...I think I might be a lot like you, Uncle Jamie." Jack told the dish he was drying.
Jamie looked down at him, saw Jack bite hard on his lower lip, and followed his instincts. He left the water running, because his family was a bunch of nosy assholes sometimes, and took the plate and towel off Jack. Like his Dad had earlier, he towed Jack to the closest chair, sat, and pulled the kid into his lap.
"Hey, hey, Jack, it's not the end of the world, buddy," Jamie soothed, holding Jack tight. Sitting with someone in your lap when your butt had been spanked twice in one day was no picnic, but Jamie managed.
"There's so much that...Health class...I don't...you hear...how do you do it, Uncle Jamie?" Jack finally managed a coherent question.
"Not really well right now, Jack, honestly," Jamie smiled into his nephew's hair. "And you won't know for sure for another three years or so."
"But you said a couple of things, and I could see Nicky maybe understood a little, but Sean didn't, and I really did. Like how rules and consequences make you feel better, and Grandpa said how you knew when people felt safe. Like, Nicky kind of got it, but I know exactly what you meant when you said it." Jack's words tumbled out, half muffled against Jamie's shirt.
"I thought you might." Jamie kept his voice low, soothing like he had when Jack was three and fussy. "Jack, it's really okay. This won't change your life, honestly. I mean, it's only crimped mine a little because I was really dumb as a teenager and I'm dealing with that fallout now, but being a Classed Sub isn't going to change anything."
"Except how Mom and Dad treat me. Uncle Jamie, they already act like you need to be protected from everything, what are they gonna be like with me?" Jack slumped against him.
"Unless they have a reason not to, they're going to let you live your life the way you want to. Your Grandpa and Grandma let me go off to college when I was sixteen, buddy. Your Mom and Dad aren't going to be much different." Jamie rubbed his back. If Jack gave off any more distressed proto-Brat vibes, they'd have every Top in the house dropping into the kitchen.
"What if I can't do it on my own, though. You did for ten years!" It was nearly a wail.
"Yeah, and that's what was dumb, buddy. Your Health class teachers, do they ever talk about Dynamic Exhaustion?"
"Because that's what happens when you lie to your family for ten years and try to take care of everything on your own. It's not good, Jack, and it's not healthy. I'm trying to figure all this out now, you know, what I need and why, when I should have done it at sixteen." Saying the words hurt, but he needed Jack to know the truth. "And I'm in all the trouble everywhere with your Grandpa and your parents for it."
"It doesn't seem like you're in trouble, Uncle Jamie."
"That's only because it's private, you know? No Top in this family is going to start yelling everything from the rooftops. Why I'm in trouble and what that means is between us. If you Class like me, that's how it'll be for you, too." He could feel Jack relax a little.
"Why Grandpa and Dad? They're your DoRs, right?" Jack ran tentative fingers over Jamie's desg-band.
"They are, and it's because I trust them with me, Jack. I trust their judgment, and that they have my best interests at the heart of any decision. You might find someone else, or you might be in a profession where you don't need Doms of Record. I chose to be a cop, and that means I have to have a guardian Dom in my life. If I stuck with law, I wouldn't."
"But why when you're a cop and not when you're a lawyer? That doesn't sound fair." Jack huffed a little.
"And maybe it's not, but it is departmental policy. It's to help make sure my head is in the right place. We see a lot of stuff we really don't want to on the job and have to make a lot of hard decisions, and it helps to come home and have Dad tell me to eat a sandwich and go to bed." Jamie let Jack relax against him again. "And it helps Dad. Tops get anxious when their Brats are out of sight for too long."
Jack snickered at that. "Like when Dad wants Mom to put us on speaker because he won't be home until after bedtime?"
"Yeah, like that, buddy." Jamie shared in Jack's amusement. "Now, are you ready to tackle the dishes?"
"Yeah, and Uncle Jamie?"
"Thanks. It helped hearing it from you, you know?"
"I know. Now, if we want to actually get movie night, we need to get a move on." Jamie put Jack on his feet and swatted him gently toward the sink, following after.
"Um, Uncle Jamie?" Jack returned to his spot, waiting for clean dishes.
"Yeah?" Jamie squirted soap onto the sponge and started in on the dessert plates, glad to be off his aching rear.
"Do, um, do you still get spanked?" Jack's ears went almost as red as his hair.
Jamie nearly dropped the dish he held. "What?" His voice broke.
"Well, um, you were sort of um, squirming during dinner, but I don't think Sean noticed? And, um, Ms. Lafferty, she teaches Health, she said corporal is um, best for Brats? And that even though a lot of Doms won't use it so much, more traditional families do? And Grandpa is really traditional?"
"That's, um, that's a pretty personal question, Jack." Jamie finally managed.
"You said I could ask if I had any."
And wasn't that his own sulky tone in a smaller package?
"I did, but it's a really personal question, buddy." Jamie stopped and took a deep breath. "But, yeah, our family uses corporal when it's found necessary. Let's go with it's been pretty necessary recently. Kind of like smacking a fritzing computer."
"And cod liver oil for swearing and stuff?" Jack pressed.
"Yeah," Jamie gave him a quick, if shaky, conspiratorial grin. "But I'm pretty sure your Dad got dosed a couple of weeks ago when he dropped the big one while he was fighting with Aunt Erin."
"No way," Jack giggled.
"You think that growl your Grandpa gave was for show? Daniel, I'll meet you in the kitchen doesn't mean they're gonna have a cup of tea, bud. Grandpa hates language like that at the table."
Jack snickered as he dried dishes.
"Yeah?" Jamie braced himself for another horrifying question.
"Thanks. For talking to me and for not getting mad when I asked about...you know." Jack focused on the plate he held.
"No problem, bud. If there's something you want to know, or you just want to talk, you come to me, okay? Same thing I told Nicky, you come talk to me first. Got it?"
"Yes, sir. I got it." Jack answered promptly.
"Good, now let's get this done." Jamie refocused on the dishes, and lost himself in the repetitive chore.
Maybe, just maybe he'd survive Nicky and Jack's Designations.
Maybe. He focus on surviving family time, first.
Chapter 12: Thursday's Child is Having a Terrible Morning
In which Jamie's headspace is kind of a disaster, Agent Conover wants to simultaneously hug him and smack his teachers, and Grandpa proves he can still handle a snippy Brat.
Jamie yanked on whatever jacket was close at hand and fit, shoved his feet into sneakers from the pile in the mudroom, and yanked the door open. The cold, crisp morning air did nothing to cool his temper as he stormed down the walk and to the sidewalk. He needed out. He needed to walk until the urge to hit something (someone?) passed. Shoulders hunched against the chill, he stomped down the sidewalk toward the neighborhood park. And practically walked right over Baker and DCPI Moore coming up the sidewalk.
"Ooh, someone saw the Post."
Jamie closed his eyes and prayed that he would be struck down. Of course the crisis intervention gang would bring Agent Conover.
"Detective Baker, I hate to ask you to play messenger, but could you let Commissioner Reagan know that I have Officer Reagan and that we'll just take a little walk? Please?"
He felt an arm slip through his and tried to yank away. He went precisely nowhere.
"Of course, Agent Conover." Baker sounded as calm and vaguely terrifying as always.
"We won't be too long." A rustle interrupted her. "And DCPI Moore, could you?"
"I got it."
Garrett sounded close by, but Jamie wasn't opening his eyes. It may have been childish, but he didn't really care.
"Come on, cupcake, we're going to get you cooled down."
He felt a tug on his arm and followed. He didn't have to, but they were going toward the park. Jamie opened his eyes and looked down at Agent Conover. She had a beret tugged on over her hair, a trench coat on against the chill morning, and sunglasses perched on her nose even though it was cloudy.
"On an op in Paris?" He asked, maybe a little more tartly than intended, flicking at her beret.
Agent Conover stopped and Looked at him, tugging her sunglasses down and wincing. "I have the world's worst hangover, it's supposed to be my day off, and I'm marching your ungrateful backside around your neighborhood so you don't try to walk to the Post and punch someone. For God's sake shut up until the Advil kicks in."
Jamie shut up. He knew that look. Last time he'd seen it, it was on his mom's face on New Year's morning. That weird combination of Mom glare, complete satisfaction, and deep regret for all her life choices. For Mom, Jamie made a cup of coffee and found the Advil. He could give Agent Conover a few minutes. She drank steadily from a giant water bottle as they walked.
"I'm sorry," she murmured a few minutes later.
"You're having a crappy enough morning, you don't need me being hungover and crabby at you. So, I'm sorry."
"Thanks." Jamie let curiosity take the lead. "Was it at least a good night?"
"It was the annual "Pre-Thanksgiving No Kids Ceilidh"." Agent Conover explained. "Only this year it turned into something of a bacchanal, and Detective Baker called at seven. And since Fel saw the paper and pretty much hit the red zone, I had to get myself some kind of presentable. How are you doing? 'People to PC: Spank Your Brat' can't be very fun to wake up to."
"No, I...how do you deal with it?" Jamie felt his anger deflate as they walked, leaving behind the acid sting of shame. "There's been enough about you and the DSR in the Post."
They wandered into the park he'd spent so much of his childhood in. It was deserted, before nine on a Thursday, but comforting in its familiarity.
"The first time it was 'Dynamic Support? Or On-Call Girls?' and I lost it. I'm honestly impressed you remembered shoes and a jacket. I walked straight out of the house with no shoes or coat, in December. I've developed a pretty thick skin since then. Felan, Dr. O'Rourke, still goes bananas, but that's why we have lawyers."
Agent Conover rubbed his arm, looking sympathetic.
"You got lawyers involved already?" Jamie angled them toward the swings.
"They crossed a line today. Reporting about a rip or the DSR in general is fine, although the 'you're grounded' crack was pushing it. You know the privacy laws around dependent subs. They blew straight past them. And they got nastily personal."
"And now everyone in New York knows how I Classed, and everything," Jamie sighed, rubbing his free hand over his face. "I don't even know how to deal with this."
"You don't deal with it, and neither do your Tops. You let the DSR and the lawyers handle it. This is part of why we're here. We give you cover to do your job." Agent Conover slumped into one of the swings. "Come on, honey, sit down and tell me how you're doing, aside from the Post's asshattery."
Jamie considered the swing, and then considered his still-tender butt. It didn't hurt , not really, but he still wasn't exactly inclined to sit if he didn't have to.
"I think I'd rather stand," he murmured, feeling his cheeks heat.
"That well, hmm?" Conover chuckled.
Jamie felt his spine stiffen in sheer outrage as he stared at her, trying to find words to express himself that wouldn't end in cod liver oil.
"Oh, no. No, honey, don't take it that way. I have been exactly where you are, I swear. Older Brat to younger, it gets better, really."
The empathy and understanding from her left Jamie speechless for a moment.
"Really?" He sounded bleak even to his own ears. "Because this past week hasn't gotten better, and I'm pretty sure Dad's going to be pissed that I stormed out of the house. And I just keep screwing up."
Jamie lowered himself into the swing next to her, staring at his knees.
"At least at one point in our lives, honey, every high-rated Brat in the NYPD has been there. We've all been an emotional, exhausted mess, and we've all needed help. It took my Tops almost a solid year to get me straightened out and back to level, and I didn't have to deal with half the crap you have."
"I walked off on my brother, Danny, yesterday because he started shopping in the dairy section." Jamie cringed as the words left his mouth. Why would he admit that? And to an almost complete stranger.
"First time I met your Dad, when I got called the red-headed subbie with no tits? I finished my paperwork, left work, and got on a plane back to Ireland. I left a note." Conover grinned at him. "And there's something really wrong with your brother."
"He did the frozen stuff before the canned goods and flour!" At least someone else took it seriously. "And he wasn't just messing with me. Linda said that's just what he does."
"How did you not throw something at his head? Seriously?" Conover took another swig from her water bottle. "Did anyone appreciate your restraint?"
"No," Jamie muttered, kicking as the worn grass and dirt under the swing. "It's all such a freaking mess. "
And he admitted to any of it because she knew. She knew exactly how he felt, and she wasn't blowing smoke up his butt. He didn't know why or how he knew that, but he did.
It was...good, in a way, to have someone understand, not because they sympathized, but because they'd walked the same road. Or at least one similar enough. To have someone older and more experienced tell him it would work out brought an immeasurable comfort.
"You're going to feel like that for a while. Dynamic Exhaustion is a complete bitch."
Conover patted his hand and then rooted around in her shoulder bag. She brought out a plastic container and handed it to him.
"The rest went inside with DCPI Moore, but I had a feeling you might make a break for it."
Jamie opened the container to find three still-warm cinnamon rolls. With the good kind of icing.
"You know, Dad's been rationing sugar like I'm some kind of speed freak." He considered how to eat one of the soft rolls without getting icing everywhere.
"I have handi-wipes and mouthwash in my bag." Conover assured him, kicking off and swinging a little. "Does it bother you, when he starts limiting sugar and the like?"
Jamie smiled at the contraband treat. "No. I...um...it feels safe? I guess? I don't know…"
"But you feel like it should bother you?"
"Yeah," Jamie admitted quietly. "I'm an adult, and I let my Dad and Danny and Linda tell me what I'm allowed to eat, and when to go to bed, and everything like that. And it shouldn't make me feel so safe, because I'm twenty-six. But it does, and I don't know why. "
"Because you're a high-rated Brat-Classed Sub, Jamison Reagan, and we're wired that way." Conover stopped her swing and turned to get his attention. "Some Subs need a scene every six months, some need it weekly or monthly. Some deal with that need with their jobs. Same with a lot of Doms. We live it, though, twenty-four hours a day. Not because we can't function without a Top, but because we're at our best when we have clear, enforced boundaries. And with us? We need those boundaries to be really, stupidly strict."
"So it's not weird that I feel better when Dad pretty much puts me to bed?" Jamie concentrated on his cinnamon rolls, willing himself to stop blushing.
"Cupcake, half the people living in my home can't sleep without a good night visit from me and at least two of our Tops. Fel or Hendricks for preference. You're really not that special that way, honey."
Conover patted his arm again.
"It just...it feels like I'm the only one." Jamie hunched his shoulders up to his ears as he licked icing off his fingers. Conover handed him a wet nap without even blinking.
"Christ but you need a peer group, yesterday. After we talk your Tops down, I'll talk to your Dad about getting you over to mine for an evening. You're not alone in this, sweetheart...Jesus, and I never even asked if you were okay with sweetheart or honey, it's just...right now you kind of inspire it."
He'd have bristled if anyone else he didn't know so well used those endearments toward him, but from Conover it just left a warm, cared-for feeling behind. Like she saw something in you worth kindness and softness, and gave it willingly.
"It's okay," voice quiet, Jamie kept his shoulders hunched around his ears. "I don't mind."
He could feel the blush staining his cheeks, and startled when he felt something nudge his hand. Conover had the cinnamon roll container open again so he wouldn't have to shove the incriminating wet nap in the pocket of...apparently Danny's coat. He dropped it in and watched as she shoved it back into her bag. What the hell else did she have in that thing? It was like sitting with Mary Poppins.
"Working with the DSR, and keeping my household of nuts in line, I don't really have a lot of boundaries anymore. If I say something or do something you don't like, just tell me, hmm?"
"I will," Jamie promised, dropping his head into his hands. "God, I should have had this figured out when I was sixteen! "
And startled back up when Conover snorted and started laughing so hard she had to hang onto the chains to keep from falling off her swing.
"What?" he grumbled, bristling at her laughter. "What's so funny?"
"You...oh, honey...you really think everyone else had their Dynamic figured out at sixteen?" she hooted, breaking down into a giggle fit.
"That's why we Designate then!" Jamie couldn't keep the edge of a despairing wail out of his voice. "So we have two years before we leave home to work everything out!"
"Oh, God, no." Conover got herself under control and turned her swing so she could grab his hands. "Sweetheart, none of us have our shit together by eighteen. Our brains haven't even finished wiring themselves properly. That year it took Con and Fel to get me level? I was twenty-five."
"But Danny and Erin and Joe--" Jamie started.
"Not one of them a Sub, cupcake. I don't know if it's nature or nurture or both, but Subs need more time. You get into Subs rated like we are, even leaving aside Class, and you're looking at a good chunk of your twenties spent not knowing whether you're coming or going."
"Son of a bitch, " Jamie muttered, kicking at the grass.
"Tell me about it. Sweetheart, you're not weird and you're not lagging behind anyone. You maybe needed a little more Topping and a little less independence the past few years, but you're right where you need to be, and it seems like your family has your back. And the diocese has a hell of a lot to answer for in terms of Dynamic education. Good God."
She squeezed his hands. Jamie sat, staring down at his feet, as his entire Sub worldview rewrote itself. He wasn't broken or deficient. He wasn't lacking.
"On that note, we should get back before someone comes looking for us." Conover hopped off her swing and held a hand out to him.
He took it, let her pull him to his feet, and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. His mind reeled, but he could pull out his good manners on autopilot, thanks to his mother.
"Now, did I ever tell you about the first time I met your brother? Because I seem to have a knack for meeting your family in the most embarrassing possible way. How familiar are you with the O'Rourke painters..."
Jamie let Conover's bright chatter wash over him, but he was pretty sure that was the point. He let her lead him home as he turned new information over in his head.
Jamie hesitated at the front door, rubbing the cuff of Danny's coat between his fingers.
"You are allowed to just walk into your own home, right?"
He knew that tone. Every Sub knew the concerned, searching tone of a professional hoping they weren't about to kick over a beehive of overly strict Doms.
"Oh, um, yeah. I just...I'm kind of grounded and I walked out without saying anything to anyone?" he shifted on his feet as Conover sighed.
"Kind of grounded, or don't go anywhere alone grounded?"
"Don't leave my sight grounded," Jamie admitted.
"Jesus Christ, cupcake. What did you do? "
"I maybe, maybe removed the section of my Classification letter that explained my rating? And, um, spent ten years dodging all attempts at Topping me properly?" It felt somehow easier to tell another Brat, in a way he couldn't have told even Eddie. "Some more recent stuff, too."
Conover muttered something that sounded like "Mother of Pearl!" as the front door swung open. Jamie blanched at his Grandfather's irritated expression.
"Well, are you two going to stand on the front stoop like overgrown Girl Scouts, or are you going to come in?"
"Good morning, sir."
Conover's bright greeting cut the tension, and Jamie realized exactly who she reminded him of. Grandma Betty. Nevermind that his grandmother was a Top, Conover shared her ability to project warmth and calm at people.
"Agent Conover, it's good to see you looking well."
His grandfather's stiff greeting surprised him, but then Jamie remembered a half-overheard 'I didn't care for her grandmother, Francis'. Guilt, maybe?
"Thank you, sir."
Jamie looked between them, shifting a little with the awkwardness. Faint raised voices from the kitchen had Conover sighing.
"Sounds like I'm needed. I'll just...yeah."
She slid past both of them, yanking her phone out of her bag as she went. Jamie moved to follow and stopped short when Grandpa snagged him by the wrist.
"Oh no, young man, you're coming with me."
Jamie looked to Conover, but she only turned enough to grimace at him, point to the kitchen, and mouth 'Sorry!'. Jamie glared at her. Deserter.
"Grandpa, it's about me! I should be part of the conversation!" he balked when Grandpa tugged him toward the dining room.
"Right now your father needs to be the Commissioner. He'll let you know when you're needed."
Grandpa loosed his wrist and snagged him by the ear. Jamie had no choice but to follow.
"Pops! What if someone sees!" he twisted as he hissed his objection.
"Your father and his people are in the kitchen with Danny, and everyone else is still upstairs. And I don't much care who sees, little boy."
And wasn't that the big difference between Grandpa and Dad? Dad waited until they had some privacy, usually. Grandpa didn't care who might be around; he wasn't letting anyone behave badly on his watch. His grandfather never stopped, just towed him into the sunroom and slid the pocket doors closed. He pointed at the sofa, letting Jamie loose with a solid smack across the butt.
"Ow!" Jamie yelped, hands automatically going back to rub. "It's not fair!"
"Not fair, Jamison Francis, is finding my grandson gone from the kitchen and the door open. You're lucky you're not over my knee right now." Grandpa leveled a scolding finger at him. "And you will be if you don't straighten up, right now."
Jamie stood by the windows and kicked at the rug, sulking, "I was upset."
"That's not an excuse, young man. Now, you sit your bottom down before I decide it needs to be warmer."
"I'm allowed to have feelings," Jamie muttered, defiant since Grandpa was still by the door.
"But you are not allowed to wander off on your own, Jamison. You know better."
Jamie crossed his arms over his chest and glared. His heart thumped, and he knew he was playing with fire. He'd never really challenged his grandfather before. Between his glare and his bark, Grandpa could almost always make him back down before it came to a head. Or a spanking.
"I was not wandering, Pops. I'm not six!" Where had he left his sense? "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a fricking grown up!"
"What I noticed was the backtalk you're giving me, little boy."
Grandpa crossed the small room quickly, and Jamie found himself upended, jack-knifed under his arm before he could mount a protest. Grandpa might have been old, but he could still move quickly when he needed to. He'd forgotten that, getting so wrapped up in the mess of his own feelings. He yelped as Grandpa's hand landed hard on the center of his butt. At least he still had his flannels and boxers on, minimal protection that they were.
"I know you're upset, young man, but you need to mind yourself." Grandpa lectured, swatting Jamie's bottom briskly.
Jamie yelped at the sharp sting, squirming under Grandpa's arm. The spanking didn't let up after half-a-dozen, like Dad did sometimes. Grandpa seemed to think he needed a thoroughly warm butt.
"I will!" he squeaked. "I promise! Ow! Grandpa, ow!"
"You've been toeing a dangerous line, young man, and it stops now. No more sulking and grouching when you're told no. You'll be part of the conversation when you need to be, and not a moment sooner. Understood?"
"Yes!" Jamie replied, fervently. "I understand, I swear."
"Good. Then we're about done here. We'll just go over what I think about you disappearing. There'll be no more of that, either, Jamison."
Grandpa moved his hand down, relit the fire on Jamie's sit spots. Yeah, because those needed more attention, Jamie's sulky brain supplied. Warm? Ha! Apparently Grandpa thought he needed his backside roasted.
When Grandpa finally righted him, Jamie's hands went back to cup his stinging bottom. He wasn't crying, but that kind of quick smacking wasn't expected to produce tears. He felt...better? More together and less grumpy and sulky, in any case. When Grandpa tugged his arm, he moved, letting himself soak up the comfort of a rare hug. Jamie clung to him, unashamedly.
"M'sorry, Grandpa. I didn't mean to…"
"Hush, kiddo, you're forgiven. Now, we're going to settle on the sofa. You feeling better?"
"Uh huh," Jamie murmured, going where he was directed. He laid down on his side, his head on the pillow in Grandpa's lap. "I told Jack last night that it was like smacking a fritzing computer."
Grandpa's laugh at that soothed the last of Jamie's guilt for being a creep. Well, sulky and difficult, anyway. Grandpa tucked a quilt around him, and Jamie let himself relax. Grandpa rubbed his shoulders, easing out the last of the tension.
"I don't know why I keep pushing, Pops. I never...it's not like me." In a small, quiet room, it was easy to share his worry.
"This isn't the worst these walls have seen, kiddo. Your Uncle Matty was hell on wheels for years. You? You're just a little blip."
The reassurance and the gentle hand brushing through his hair helped him let go of the worry, at least for the moment.
"Everyone keeps tucking me under blankets and making me lay down," he sighed.
"Your mom and grandma used to do the same thing, only they used you to calm down grumpy Tops." Grandpa chuckled at the memory. "If your Dad came home upset, your mother, bless her, would hand you off to him and tell him to sit with you until he got his head out of his backside. At some point, you started doing it on your own with him, and me, and Danny."
"I think I remember? Danny used to just pick me up and take me with him." Jamie rubbed the soft quilt binding between his fingers.
"With a face like thunder," Grandpa laughed. "He'd stomp into the room, pick you up like a football, and stomp back out."
"Is that normal?"
"For Tops with a tiny Brat? Yes, kiddo, it's normal. You're not the only one kept level by the relationship. We don't exist in vacuums. Matty did the same sort of thing with me, only he was a lot older and grumpier about it."
"D'you think everything's going to work out, Grandpa?" Jamie asked.
"With you? Of course, Jamie. You've never failed at anything you've tried to do, and you have a whole family who won't let you, beside that. We'll keep watch until you're steady again."
Grandpa cupped the back of his head, hand gentle and soothing.
"You've had a hard morning, kiddo, and it's not even nine yet. Close your eyes for a few minutes, and I'll wake you up with enough time to go and brush your teeth."
Jamie stiffened a little. "Brush my teeth?"
"You want your dad smelling cinnamon roll on your breath? He'll withhold syrup, and that would be a shame." Grandpa laughed a little.
Jamie sighed, "Agent Conover feeds people like Grandma used to."
"Thought she might. And you needed it, kiddo. But we don't have to tell your dad. I had one myself while we waited for you to get back, and they weren't all that sweet. Close your eyes for me?"
Jamie closed his eyes and relaxed into Grandpa petting his hair. The soft, soothing touch sent him drifting toward sleep. It was no trouble at all to lay down, warm and comfortable under one of Grandma's quilts, and nap off the effects of the morning. Grandpa could keep an eye on things...and could still handle him at his snottiest. That the oldest Top in the family didn't think he was that much trouble encouraged him. It wouldn't always feel like such a mess.
But for now, he would nap.
Chapter 13: Thursdays Can Get Better
Vere paused at the kitchen door, wincing as the volume behind it rose again. She took a deep breath, tucked her hat and gloves into her shoulder bag, ran her hands over her hair, and changed out sunglasses for regular glasses. Praise all the saints, the Advil worked. She fished her Visine out of her bag anyway, held her glasses in her mouth by one stem, and dosed up. She would NOT go into the PC's kitchen looking hungover. Or still a bit drunk.
She put her glasses back on and bumped the door open only enough to slip through. The Commissioner and DCPI Moore were shouting at each other. Detective Reagan leaned against the island, working his way through a plate of cinnamon rolls and a mug of coffee, and injected an occasional comment.
Detective Baker leaned against a counter also with a mug of coffee, looking as unruffled as ever as she occasionally took notes. She made her way over, trying not to draw any attention to herself. Even in khakis, a plaid shirt, a sweater, and slippers the Commissioner cut an imposing figure. Vere leaned against the counter next to Baker. It always paid to find the most sensible person in the room. Even if she was playing hangman against herself.
"What seems to be the problem?"
"The Commissioner wants to make a statement, DCPI Moore wants him at least five miles away from everything, and Detective Reagan is all for going down and punching people." Baker explained, voice soft. "We just need to wait a minute until one of them walks out."
Vere sighed. "Lovely. This is going to be fun."
She took a deep breath, steeled her spine, and,
"Right, so, DCPI Moore is correct, and we're not punching anyone, Detective Reagan." She pitched her voice above the shouting.
Silence reigned for a full minute after that.
"When did you get here?" Garrett asked, flummoxed.
"About two minutes ago. We have lawyers and Dr. O'Rourke over at the Post's offices. So the DSR lawyers are handling the issue, and any statement will come from Dr. O'Rourke. She'll want to run it by you, DCPI Moore." Confident, authoritative (kind of wanting to barf) that was key. She could totally fake it in a room of angry Doms. And DCPI Moore.
"And where is the Commissioner in all this?"
"At home, with his family, letting the DSR do what they're there for." Vere put all the authority she could into her words.
"I am the Police Commissioner, and Jamie is one of my officers." Frank started.
"And this wasn't just a nasty hatchet job on him," Vere sighed. "It was also a sideswipe at you and Detective Reagan as Tops, insinuating that Officer Reagan is somehow out of control. Let the DSR step in front of you, just this once. We're used to this."
"I agree, Frank. It's not ideal, but I'd like to keep you away from this for the moment," Moore agreed.
"The sideswipe at you was also an insinuation that you're bad at your job. Because if you can't 'control' one Sub, how are you supposed to run the NYPD?" Vere took the mug Baker handed her. "Thank you. So sir, let the DSR take this one? We're here to stand between the NYPD and crap like this. Please let us? Because right now you have incredible public support due to the Post."
"What do you mean?" Danny asked thickly, through a mouthful of cinnamon and icing. "These are really good, by the way."
"Thank you. I heard from the Post's head of IT. She woke me up before Detective Baker." Vere took a deep sip from the mug and just managed to stifle a moan. She'd had to run out before caffeine. "Most of the Post's employees are livid."
"How did you hear from people at the Post? They stopped picking up for me at seven thirty!" Garrett started.
"We roomed together at St. Perpetua's." Vere explained. "She was just annoyed no one caught it before it went online. Apparently the digital content manager spent an hour screeching about journalistic integrity."
"All right," Frank muttered. "I will not make a statement at this time. And I will wait until Garrett tells me one is needed to speak to anyone."
"Thank you, Frank." Garrett looked relieved.
"Now, where are we with IAB and who exactly spoke to the press?" Frank followed up.
"I had word that the DSR is fully cooperating with IAB, although Internal Affairs was a little nervous about the level of anger shown by some of the DSR agents toward whomever leaked Officer Reagan's file." Baker answered. "HR has been more reluctant, but apparently Dr. O'Rourke went down to explain the situation and gained their cooperation, as well."
"What do you mean his file? Stuff in that article isn't in our files." Danny sipped thoughtfully at his coffee.
"Not the general departmental file, Danny. We have full files at One PP that include a separately held DSR compiled profile, as well as notes from agents." Frank explained.
"And that's only available to specific DSR agents and the fourteenth floor, and only with an officer's approval. We treat them like medical records, and there are strong privacy laws at play," Vere worried at her lip. "Both the person responsible and the journalist know that."
"We will get to the bottom of this, sir. I'll have some notes to pass on to Dr. O'Rourke if there are questions." Baker concluded, tucking her pad into her shoulder bag.
"We have this, Frank. We won't cut you out of it, and I'll make sure you know what's going on, but we have it." For once, Garrett soothed instead of riled the Commissioner. "You enjoy your family time."
"And Detective Reagan?" Vere caught his attention. "You have another week of Drop Leave coming. I looked at your file, and someone needs to have a chat with the DSR agent in the 54th. You're about seven years late for a quarterly."
"I have cases!" Danny objected. "I can't be out for another week!"
"Take your quarterlies and we won't have this problem. And you're not going to your Sergeant on it, either. I had O'Rourke put it in. She's taking an interest in you." The grin was probably pushing it, but Detective Reagan wasn't nearly as terrifying when he was slumped over and thumping his forehead on the island.
"Great," he muttered.
"This is usually the part where I tell someone that the rules are for everyone, but I think you get it."
"And on that note, sir, we'll be going. We will keep you apprised of any new developments." Baker herded Moore out the door.
"And sir? Officer Reagan is okay. He's upset, and angry, and embarrassed, but he's really okay. He'll want to stick close today, though." Vere hitched her bag a little higher on her shoulder as she headed for the door as well.
"Thank you." He looked tired at that. "And thank you for talking with him. We were worried, what with the reaction he's having after the Neutralx."
"After the what? " Vere turned back, letting the door thump closed. "He was on...when?"
"Midway through his sophomore year until some point in his third year in law school. He didn't tell you?" Detective Reagan looked far too smug. "Ooh, golden boy just got the DSR really interested."
"It's not even approved for...his rating would...who in the hell would give a high rated Brat that...that...crap?" Her voice went squeaky in outrage, but she didn't care. "High rated Subs have enough trouble metabolizing medication correctly, and that stuff isn't approved for Brats. We...we don't drop...we don't have the same biological mechanisms at play…"
"Dad, I think you broke Conover." Danny muttered.
"That's how he did it," she murmured, finally, brain clicking into high gear, talking more to herself than anyone else. "When you get onto the higher ratings, things get weird. We run more off emotional cues than anything else. For us, it...it had to have been cut with something. It blocked you picking up on him, but him picking up on you, too. Before last Thursday, had you been fighting with him more?"
"What?" Danny asked.
"Sophomore year through last week, did you two fight more? Misunderstand each other?" she pressed.
"I thought that was just him growing up, not wanting to listen." Danny fixed himself another cup of coffee. "It's been better since last Thursday."
"No, he was blocking the exchange from Dom to Sub and back. But not Sub to Sub. He couldn't...it works differently, I'm guessing. So I cracked the door, and you kicked it down, sir." She directed the last to the Commissioner.
"Danny, didn't Linda say that it neutralized the normal Brat emotional response?" Frank asked.
"She might've said Sub? I could've changed it to Brat when I told you. Linda knows the bio chem stuff."
"This is all completely theoretical, but it explains a lot. Especially Miller," Vere sighed.
"Miller?" Frank picked his mug up from the counter.
"He and Officer Reagan are like oil and water, and I'm guessing it's because he's not getting anything off him. He's sort of blanked himself out, somehow."
"And since he wasn't living with me or Danny, we didn't notice." Frank finished.
"That's a working hypothesis. And since his system started to mature and regulate based on its suppressed state, he's now getting a lot more input than he's used to. Mother of God," Vere rubbed a hand over her face. "The emotional feedback...no wonder he's exhausted."
"So, the kid's a mess, and he's gonna be a mess for a while is what you're saying?" Danny set his mug down to cross his arms over his chest.
"On the bright side, you're doing everything right?" Vere tried. "No? No bright side? Honestly, you really are doing everything right. Keep him close and call him on his crap. It'll all work out."
"That's the wisdom from the 6-3's mama bear?" Danny's grin took the heat from his words.
"Really?" Vere raised an eyebrow.
"Will kill you if you come near her kids," Danny sniggered. "You have a reputation."
"I knew I should have been an archaeologist," she sighed wistfully. "But no, I had to dedicate my life to keeping stressed out cops level. I could be finding a bog mummy right now."
"In any case," Frank cut in before they could get more ridiculous. "Thank you for your time this morning. We'll keep a close eye on Jamie."
"Let me know if anything goes sideways. And please let him know I'd like to have a word with him regarding suppressants?" Her smile wasn't very nice, but she didn't care.
Danny snickered again. "Kid's gonna wish he stayed a lawyer."
A car horn sounded outside just as Vere's phone buzzed.
"And that would be my ride. I mean it, sir, if you need help with anything, or just someone he might listen to, call. I'll email to see if he's free next Thursday evening? Meeting a small peer group might help, as well."
"Provisionally, I'll say yes, but I'll see when I get your email." Frank crossed the kitchen to open the door for her.
"Thank you. He really will come out of this just fine." She didn't know why she needed to, but reassurance seemed the flavor of the day.
Frank opened the front door for her and watched until she got safely into the car Captain Conover leaned against. He closed the door as they drove away, leaning back against it.
"You wanna go back to bed, Pop?" Danny asked. "You look exhausted."
"No, Danny, I'm fine. It's just been a long morning." He slung an arm around Danny's shoulders, steering him back to the living room. "We'll just have a few minutes of quiet."
He could hear his father rummaging around in the kitchen, no doubt starting breakfast. They could take a few minutes to catch their breath before helping. And he could hear Erin in there too, anyway.
Jamie bopped down the stairs, seemingly unaware of anything other than the phone in his hand, and ran his tongue over freshly minty teeth. He snickered at the spate of early morning messages from Eddie.
Did you see the Post yet?
Maybe don't read past page 4?
Holy…(and a string of emojis)
Are you ok? Do you need me to shoot anyone?
Seriously, Reagan, are you ok?
Cancelled my sub. When said why, agent on phone looked at paper. Cancelled her sub too.
DID YOU SEE TWITTER?????
Don't go on Facebook
Forgot you hate soc med. So glad you're a luddite. Seriously.
Journalist's gf just broke up with him on Twitter! Also, everyone at 12th pissed. Even Miller. Heard it from Sarge.
Day off DVR time. Expect text from Sarge. Or call. He hates texts. I'll watch twitter for you. And ItAS.
They trailed off there. Jamie tapped out a quick reply recapping some of his morning as he wandered toward the kitchen. The kids were sprawled in the sun room watching something on the TV when he passed through the dining room. He slipped his phone into his pocket and went into the kitchen.
Danny and Erin stood at the island slicing fruit into a bowl and bickering happily. There were a lot of elbow jabs in play...more than probably sensible given the knives also in use. But that was Danny and Erin. Danny pulled him in for a quick hug before swatting him toward Dad.
Dad finished with the coffee maker and pulled Jamie close. He felt all the tension bleed out of him at the hug and snuggled closer.
"Were you giving Pop a hard time this morning?" Frank asked quietly.
Jamie stiffened, mind racing. If he admitted to bratting at Pop until he got smacked then there would likely be a repeat performance. But if he didn't, and Dad found out later, then that was lying. Ugh.
"Francis, leave the boy alone," Henry cut in before Jamie could incriminate himself. "Jamie behaved just fine for me."
Jamie relaxed again since Grandpa had his back.
"And it's not like I'm incapable of handling a little bratting, in any case. Jamie, come here. You're helping with pancakes this morning."
Jamie gratefully extricated himself from his sceptical father and went to help Grandpa at the massive griddle on the counter near the stove.
"You're not covering for him, Pop, are you?" Frank leaned against the counter.
"Have I ever covered for my grandchildren, Francis? Honestly, kiddo, it's like he thinks I'm going senile. Or soft. Watch the bacon for me."
Jamie grinned at that, taking over the bacon in the pan on the stove. "Nah, grandpa, you're not either."
"Covered for Danny a couple of times."
Out of the corner of his eye, Jamie caught Danny freezing in place. Dad sounded entirely too casual.
"And Erin at least once, although that was more Mom, I think."
And Erin froze as well, shooting a half-panicked look at Danny.
"So it would really just be tradition at this point." Frank took a sip of his coffee. He hadn't had a chance to enjoy it earlier what with half of One PP invading his kitchen that morning. "And Jamie, Agent Conover wants to have a word with you regarding suppressants."
Jamie squeaked, "what?"
"Someone's in trouble," Danny singsonged. "She looked pissed, kid."
"Why would anyone bring that up?" Jamie asked plaintively. He wasn't trying to lie or anything, he just didn't think it was necessary to share that.
"Like it or not, Jamie, the DSR is technically part of your support structure right now. We'll talk more later, but it is absolutely right for them to know." Frank let himself lecture a bit.
"Yessir," Jamie murmured, turning back to the bacon. Grandpa squeezed his shoulder.
Jamie fished his phone out of his pocket when it buzzed and thumbed open the lock screen. And stared.
So, did you nutshot Paul dos Santos when you were 7?
And buzzed again.
Grew up in Bay Ridge. Was totally hung up on a super smart girl with a family of cops. Got punched in the crotch by her 7 year old brother for harassing her.
And buzzed again.
IT WAS YOU!!!! No one else would send a card apologizing. Cute, Reagan.
OMG! Shit! You're grounded! Text back! I didn't just senf 'nutshot' to the PC, did I?
"Jamie, honestly, I know everyone wants to check in with you, but could you turn that off?" Erin dropped the last of the pineapple into the bowl and smacked Danny's hand before he could sample it.
"Um, Erin?" Jamie poked at the bacon, dread tightening his stomach.
"We have a Code S."
"We have a what?" Erin's knife clattered to the counter.
"Paul dos Santos was on Inside the Actor's Studio. Eddie figured it out."
Erin muttered something that was definitely not on the approved list.
"Erin!" Frank scolded. "I know we would all rather forget that day, but what's done is done."
"And I'm pretty sure you'd have to know all of us to figure it out. Eddie only really got it because he apparently talked about the card."
"I'm sorry I punched you where I did. I couldn't reach your face." Danny quoted, chuckling. "Only you, kid."
"I was seven!" Jamie objected.
"Well I will be eternally thankful that I had Detective Estrada on my team." Henry gripped Jamie's shoulder again.
"Why's it such a thing, anyway?" Danny asked, finally snatching a piece of pineapple.
"Because it means he's in New York again, and he'll probably look Erin up again, and then Jack'll get weird for like, a month." Jamie explained.
"He looks you up?" Danny growled.
"He sends a note asking if I'd like to have dinner. I've never accepted, Danny. He's kept his distance for the last, what, nineteen years?"
"Well, yeah, but--"
"But it's your sister's decision how she handles her life, Danny." Frank cut in. "You keep your nose out of it."
Which, Jamie thought, was about as likely to happen as ice skating in hell. Just generally, really, because Reagans were genetically incapable of not meddling. See: Eddie being assaulted. Or any of Danny's cases, ever.
"I wasn't here for it, but if he keeps bugging you…" Danny trailed off at his father's cleared throat.
"I'll be sure to call Jamie. I'm sure he'd like to catch up." Erin answered sweetly.
Danny skulked over to the kitchen door and leaned into the dining room.
"Who wants to hear an embarrassing Erin story?" he called.
Jamie pressed his lips together and tried not to snort at the sudden stampede from the sun room.
"What did Mom do that's embarrassing?" Nicky bounced on her toes, eyes gleaming.
"We want to hear, too!" Jack and Sean elbowed each other in the doorway.
"Help me bring the dishes in and set the table, and you'll get a bonus baby Uncle Jamie story." Danny started handing out plates and napkins.
"I did not agree to that!" Jamie hollered from the stove.
"Tough, kid," Danny smirked at him.
Jamie caught Erin's eye and nodded. She nodded back; game on. They had enough ammunition between them to sink Danny. What would it be: one of the stories the older guys at the 12th shared about rookie Danny, or '98 times your dad got spanked'? He should probably save the rookie stories for a real emergency, like Eddie coming to dinner, and follow Erin's lead.
Grinning, he texted Eddie back so she wouldn't stroke out and transferred the bacon to a platter. Danny would never know what hit him.
Chapter 14: Friday Frank's (Still) In Love
We get so little of Mary Reagan, other than she was Frank's beloved wife and her children adored her, so here we go.
And also domestic overload and family stories. :-)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The soft click of a camera shutter pulled Jamie out of sleep. He felt warm--too warm for his bed and the quilts on it. He looked left, then right, and was rewarded with the sight of Jack cuddled up on one side and Nicky on the other. Both kids were out cold, so where…? He looked to the doorway and sighed. Danny and Linda stood in the open doorway, phones out and elbowing each other. Danny murmured something too low for Jamie to hear and Linda doubled over, hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter.
Jamie shifted, trying to get up without waking Jack or Nicky. Danny started at the movement and looked up from his phone.
"Thought you'd sleep through," Danny crossed to Jamie's bed, lifting Jack up so Jamie could slide out.
"I was half awake anyway, I think." Free from the covers, Jamie stood and stretched while Danny settled Jack.
"How did you not wake up when you had company? Two months ago you almost took my head off for walking too loud past the sunroom." Danny slung an arm around Jamie's shoulders and led him out of the room.
"You clomp when you're comfortable somewhere." Jamie poked Danny, shrugging his arm off so he could hug Linda.
"I do not clomp!" Danny closed the door to keep the room more or less quiet for the teenagers and caught Jamie in a headlock, scrubbing a hand over his already impressive bedhead.
"You kind of do, honey," Linda snickered, taking a few more pictures for her albums. There'd been so much sad for them in recent years that it was good to see Danny and Jamie playing.
"And what is the rule on wrestling in the hallway?" Erin's amused question cut through the trash talk, she leaned against the wall, one eyebrow raised at her brothers.
Linda snapped another picture as their heads came up, both men reaching for an innocent expression. Jamie managed it, eyes angelicly wide, while Danny failed miserably.
"Good morning hugs?" Jamie tried.
"Uh huh," Erin passed by, digging Danny in the ribs because she could. "And has anyone seen a missing teenager?"
Danny loosed Jamie and gestured to his bedroom door. Erin peeked in, snorting at the two sprawled out in the bed.
"Please tell me someone got pictures?"
"I figure the phrase 'using your uncle as a teddy bear' is gonna buy us at least a couple of years of cooperation," Linda grinned, hooking her arm through Erin's. "We'll let those two get cleaned up. Jamie, Pops wanted some help with breakfast in a couple of minutes."
With that, she and Erin disappeared down the stairs. Jamie looked at his brother, leaning against the wall like he had all the time in the world.
"So, uh, Dad was really serious about me not being out of someone's sight?"
Danny snorted, "Kid, you have no idea. Go on and get cleaned up. I can wait here."
Jamie sighed, but did as he was told. This was going to suck.
"So, we were promised a baby Uncle Jamie story yesterday, and no one delivered." Nicky grinned impishly over the rim of her mug and the dining room went quiet.
Jamie froze, fork in hand, and glared. See if he ever sneaked her a mocha again. Danny rested a hand on the back of his neck, rubbing gently at his nape with his thumb. Jamie went on with his omelet, although he kept an eye on Nicky.
"I did promise, didn't I?" Danny grinned. "You know, your Uncle Jamie barfed on a mayor once."
"Which one?" Jack asked, expression calculating. Depending on the mayor…
"It was...what, Pop, '86?" Danny turned to Frank.
"Had to be. Jamie was maybe six months old?" Frank poured himself another mug of coffee.
"It was Koch." Henry supplied, bringing a fresh plate of bacon into the dining room.
"It was at one of the NYPD family days. They were doing a cookout at one of the parks, and the mayor stopped by." Danny continued. "And, well, your Uncle Jamie was small and cute and pretty easy going as long as Mom or Dad or I was around, so he got passed around a lot. And he wound up with Pops and Mayor Koch and Grandma Betty and Mom. So, the mayor winds up with the baby, which is great for photos, but Jamie'd been bounced around a lot and it was hot."
"And we were pretty sure he was cutting a tooth," Frank cut in.
"Which is important, because he usually tolerated bouncing pretty well. But just as the photographer snapped a photo, your uncle projectile spit up all over Koch's suit. It was spectacular," Danny chuckled.
"He'd been warned by me and Betty and Mary." Henry sent the bacon down to Jamie. "And he was usually fine with a baby. Not a bad guy, either, although the end of his last term was rocky."
"That's the whole thing?" Nicky raised an eyebrow.
"I remember the mayor not getting upset," Danny shrugged. "Hey, no one specified what kind of baby Uncle Jamie story they got."
"No giving anyone ideas, Danny." Jamie poked him in the ribs with an elbow, although he grinned as he did it. "They hear enough as it is."
"Come to think of it, there are a few stories no one has heard." Frank gave Jamie a look before more tussling could break out.
"Like what, Dad?" Erin, looking suspiciously at a bouncing Nicky, removed her daughter's mug from her and sniffed. "And who's been mixing coffee into Nicky's hot chocolate?"
Everyone at the table looked blank.
"Now why would anyone give Nicky coffee?" Henry asked.
"Anyone want to hear how Mary and I met?" Frank took the offending mug off Erin and handed it to Jamie. "Could you refill Nicky, Jamie?"
"Sure, Dad." Because having to get up for a minute was better than fifteen minutes of Erin lecturing.
He was back in time to hear,
"Dad, Grandma Rose told us. You met at a St. Brendan's mixer." from Danny.
"It was technically sponsored by St. Brendan's," Frank chuckled. "But it wasn't a mixer. Your mom...well, at the time we had our reasons. You know she was very active with social justice causes?"
"Grandma Mary was?" Jack swallowed hastily so he could clarify. He had hazy memories of a frail-looking woman who knitted a lot and made the best cookies.
"She was pretty active with the Catholic Workers until, well, she didn't want to stall my career. Back then higher ups would have wondered what I was letting my wife do, protesting like that. Well, until they met her." Frank fished in his pocket for a minute, coming up with a creased and folded picture. "This is the first picture anyone ever took of us."
Jamie snagged it first, unfolding it carefully so he and Danny could look. There was Dad in his uniform, hat askew, hauling a very young Mom away from a crowd. The signs made it clear they were protesting for peace, but Jamie knew the look on Mom's face. He and Danny handed the picture over to Erin.
"What happened?" Jamie asked.
"It was a peaceful protest, until someone threw a bottle at the police line. We were meant to be keeping people out of the traffic. Your mother had just marched over and slugged the young man responsible for the throwing. It ended with no charges filed, once the pastor from St. Brendan's got involved."
"Grandma Mary protested stuff?" Sean studied the picture when Erin handed it down the table. "Like what?"
"Like access to free clinics for women, equal access to housing and banking for women and minorities, war, sometimes even police action." Frank explained. "She was very concerned about real equality, not just on paper equality."
"She sure was something when she got going, Francis." Henry smiled softly, obviously fond of his daughter-in-law.
"And she let you have it, Pop. Me too, when she thought I was being stubborn."
"And principals who didn't let her son leave early so he could pick her younger son up," Jamie snickered.
"What happened?" Nicky asked, sensing one of the good family stories.
"I got dismissed early because it was snowing, but the high school didn't. Mom called to get them to release Joe early so he could meet me at the bus stop since he hadn't driven in that day, but for some reason the principal wouldn't." Jamie started the story.
"That may have been my fault?" Erin picked up. "He was new, since Sister Daniella Marie was reassigned, he'd been the vice principal before. And, um, Mom and I had a little run-in with him over dress code, which I'll explain later. But he wound up in some hot water for it. So when he had a chance to get back at Mom through Joe and Jamie, he took it."
"If it wasn't for Sister Anna Victor in the library, Joe wouldn't even have been able to call home," Danny put in. "I just got here with your mom when he called, panicking because it meant Jamie, who was just ten, was out there in the snow. Alone. So your mom and I had to go find him. Which we did, six blocks from home, soaked and freezing, but plowing through."
"And then Mom went through the diocese and the Superintendent's office like she was mounting a war, especially when she found out…" Jamie faltered a bit.
"He told Joe that if Mom couldn't effectively care for her children herself, then she should have stopped breeding before she had to rely on the older children to care for the younger." Erin reached across the table for Jamie's hand. "And not one word of that was true. You were the best early Christmas present."
"Anyway, before we get too sappy," Danny nudged Jamie in the side, taking the sting from his words. "Mom got Mr. Hargrove canned. She even kept Jamie and Joe out of school for a solid week since she 'couldn't trust the high school administration to act in the best interests of her minor sons'. And when other St. Brendan's families heard...whoo, was that a problem."
"Other high school students were in the same boat as Joe, and word got around," Frank smiled, shaking his head. "There was a walkout, and a ceremonial vote of no confidence. Mary was quite proud of that one."
"Grandma did all that?" Jack blinked. "The grandma who made the best cookies ever? And knitted?"
"That just goes to show you, kid, that people have a lot more layers than you'd think." Henry ruffled Jack's hair. "Your grandma cooked, and baked, and sewed, and knitted, but she could also call five people and have a protest planned in about twenty minutes."
"So, could I use Grandma Mary for my school project?" Sean asked after a few minutes of quiet. "Because she sounds cool, and it has to be someone I didn't know but other family members did."
"What project is this?" Frank asked.
"We're doing family oral history projects with Father LaPierre for Religion. Um, after we're gonna talk about...uh, generational memory? I have the paper in my backpack, but it's something with the Gospels and perspective?" Sean bit his lip. "I have to pick someone this week, anyway. And Grandma Mary sounds cool."
"You know, she was, until she made you eat homemade yogurt." Danny made a face and then jumped. "Ow! Erin, c'mon!"
"Do I need to remind anyone that we don't kick under the table?" Frank turned a mock-serious glare on Erin.
"Of course not, Dad," Erin smiled innocently.
"It had to be the carpet scorpions." Jamie backed her up, voice shaking with suppressed laughter.
Erin snorted and put her head down next to her plate. Her shoulders heaved with laughter, and Danny went down next.
"The carpet scorpions!" he wheezed, leaning on Jamie, who looked a bit strained.
"Boys, Nicky, never have more than one child." Frank sighed as Jamie lost his battle for composure. "The nonsense gets exponentially worse."
Also, I will get to all the comments. :-) Life has been...hectic.
Chapter 15: Saturday and Sunday Evening
"Dad?" Jamie stared intently at the mug he was drying. Dinner and dessert done, he and Dad had claimed dish duty. Having everyone home was fun, but they both needed a few minutes of quiet.
"Hmm?" Frank rinsed a handful of silverware and tucked into the draining rack.
"When are we going to, um, talk about, you know?" Jamie fidgeted with the towel.
Frank rinsed his hands, dried them, and turned to open his arms to Jamie.
"Put that down before you rub the pattern off," he ordered gently.
Jamie set the mug on the counter and turned back to walk straight into Dad's hug. He tucked himself close, hands shaking a little until he gripped the back of Dad's sweater.
"Tomorrow, peanut. After everyone leaves, we're going to have a talk about the moonlighting."
Jamie sighed, "Okay. Really the moonlighting?"
"It's a single issue, and I think it might be the one you feel guiltiest over." Frank gave him a little squeeze. "And it's not like every issue we discuss will end in a spanking, peanut. Some things will just be a discussion."
"But that one…" Jamie trailed off. Moonlighting the way he did was flat disobedience. Painting was fine...security work before he hit three years off probation was not. And that kind of disobedience...ugh.
"And then it'll be over with, and we can move on."
"Yeah," Jamie sighed again, trying not to groan. "I know. I just…"
"I made my decision, Jamie. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Dad." Jamie murmured.
And now he waited, showered and in fresh pajamas, for Dad to join him in his room. He shifted, sat cross-legged on his bed, fingers tapping against his knee. He wasn't scared, but he really hated the waiting. He could be patient, he could play the long game, but the minute his butt was on the line he just wanted it over with. He looked up as Dad popped the door open and walked in.
"I think we need to sit and just talk for a minute, peanut."
Jamie unfolded himself and slipped off the bed to trail Dad to the rocking chair. The old nicknames, Squeak and Peanut and (once, from Erin) Bug, were perversely calming. As long as they were never used in front of the kids or in public. He let Dad sit before he curled up in his lap.
"I got to thinking last night." Frank started, rocking slowly. "That you probably heard that you were...unplanned quite a bit, growing up."
"Some," Jamie managed a shrug.
"And hearing what someone like Hargrove said...I'd imagine you heard some of that, too." Frank rubbed Jamie's back, tucking him closer.
"Sometimes." Jamie's voice came as barely a whisper.
"So, when a kid hears that for most of his life, that he was an oops, that his parents don't have time for him, what do you think the result is?"
Jamie sucked in a breath, sucker-punched with the realization.
"Because," Frank answered his own question. "I think the result is a kid who tries as hard as he can not to be a bother. And then an adult who tries to handle everything on his own, who tries as hard as he can not to need anything beyond maybe a sandwich and a little company sometimes, hmm? Because if he's not needy, and if he doesn't ask for anything, then maybe he won't always be a mistake, huh?"
Jamie's breath heaved in his chest.
"I...I…" he tried to form an answer.
"Shh, shh," Frank soothed. "You were never anything other than wanted and planned for, peanut. Everyone in this family was overjoyed when your mom and I told them she was pregnant. Well, Danny was excited after he got over what that meant about his parents," Frank chuckled. "But we planned for you, Jamie, and we waited for you. And sometimes when we say you were our Christmas surprise, well, that's only because you decided you were ready to join us a few weeks early."
"But everyone spent that Christmas in the hospital, pretty much," Jamie sniffled. "Joe told me."
"Because if Mom and I hadn't brought you brothers and sister down, we would have had an absolute insurrection on our hands. We all wanted to be with you, peanut. It was your first Christmas, and you had a little bit of a rough start, so of course Danny and Erin and Joe had to make sure you were being taken care of." Frank rubbed soothingly over Jamie's shoulders, trying to ease the tension Jamie carried there.
"I never thought about it like that," Jamie murmured. "I only…"
"You only ever thought you were an afterthought?" Frank supplied when words failed Jamie.
"Yeah. And I tried really hard not to be...not to be a mistake. Once I understood, I didn't want you and Mom to be disappointed that you'd had me. I changed everything," Jamie trailed off.
"For the better, Jamie. Only for the better. You know, having you helped Danny and Erin and Joe all learn how to be gentler with each other. They were pretty rough and tumble with each other, but once you came along, they needed to be quieter and gentle with you." Frank kept the chair rocking, let Jamie have the space he needed to process. "Got Erin to rein in those elbows of hers, which was a blessing."
"I thought...everyone said stuff...the past week has been hard, Dad." Jamie finally went with an admission. "And I feel really crappy."
"And you've had quite a few of those notions of yours challenged, too. Haven't you?"
Jamie nodded, the front of Dad's sweater soft under his cheek.
"Feeling a little confused and jumbled up?"
"Yeah," Jamie answered quietly.
"How about we sort out one of those things making you feel awful? Hmm? We can talk more after, if you want to." Frank shifted Jamie off his lap, helped him get his balance after being crunched up, and stood.
He took Jamie's wrist and towed him to the bed. Jamie didn't pull back, but he didn't exactly step lively, either. Frank sat and pulled gently until Jamie stood between his knees.
"Now, what are we talking about, peanut?" Frank kept hold of Jamie's wrist.
"Moonlighting as a bouncer." Jamie bit his lip.
"Is all moonlighting off the table?" Frank asked.
"No, sir," Jamie answered. "Just the security work. And that only for three years after probation."
"Do you know why I made that rule?"
Jamie shook his head.
"Because I've seen too many people hurt doing security work, son. I know you were with a good group, but you don't know if the club has the right insurance, or even if they have all the right permits. And if you get hurt there, through inexperience or just bad luck, you're off the job you took an oath to do. I gave both your brothers the same rule, too, Jamison Francis Xavier, and it's one I take very seriously."
"Yes, sir," Jamie swallowed around the lump in his throat. He hadn't realized...well, he'd sort of known, but Dad hadn't laid it all out like that before. But...that shouldn't have mattered.
Jamie startled a little when Dad whisked his flannels and boxers south, and mostly cooperated with Dad putting him over one thigh. He didn't balk, anyway, and settled down as much as he could. Bare and upended over Dad's lap, getting ahead on his loans seemed much less important than obeying the one rule he'd been given. Dad shifted him, tucked him close with one strong arm anchoring over his back. Jamie jumped when Dad rested his free hand on his backside and patted.
"What was the one rule, Jamison, that I gave you for work?" Frank steeled himself and let the first spank fall.
Jamie squeaked at the sting, startling against the restraining arm across his back. He went nowhere.
Frank swatted again. "I'm waiting for an answer, young man."
"Ow! Dad!" Jamie protested. He much preferred Danny's method of just spanking without the interrogation.
Another swat. "Jamison Francis, I asked you a question."
"No security work until after my fourth year," Jamie grumbled. He tried to remind himself that he'd feel better after, that there wouldn't be any more lies he'd have to tell, but it was cold comfort when your dad's hands rivaled oak for hardness.
"Thank you," Frank shook his head at Jamie's acting up and settled into a steady rhythm. "I don't make many rules regarding your work, young man, because that's your business. I made one to make sure you had enough experience before you took on anything more dangerous than painting. Club security can be dangerous, Jamison."
Jamie squirmed against the mounting sting in his tail, shaking his head at Dad's last words.
"Oh yes it can be, little boy. Beside the obvious dangers, little boy, you're a Sub. While it shouldn't matter, you know that it does to some people. There are some who would target you for just that reason, and that kind of disregard for your own safety is not something I'll ever overlook. I made one rule, Jamison Francis Xavier Gabriel, and did you follow it?"
Frank kept a careful eye on Jamie as he spanked. His bottom pinked up quickly, his fair skin coloring easily from the sharp swats raining down. But it was more his body language Frank watched, even as he made certain that the stinging pink (and eventual hot red) coloring Jamie's backside wouldn't give way to even the hint of a bruise. And Jamie's body spoke of his internal conflict. The rigid back and the testy little flick of his toes on the floor told Frank that they had a way to go. And that Jamie knew damn well he was in the wrong but didn't want to admit to the reality of it. Yet.
"No! No, I didn't follow the stupid rule." Jamie squirmed against the stinging smacks raining down on his butt.
"Oh, stupid, is it?" Frank kept his tone light. "Is it stupid to want my kid to come home safe and rest, and not go straight back out to some seedy club?" He smacked his hand down sharply, one to the back of each thigh.
Jamie squealed, pushing his toes against the floor.
"No! No, Dad!" he answered fervently, immediately regretting Bratting at his Dad.
"The first few years of this job, Jamison, are the most taxing." Frank lectured. "You're learning, every day, how to be the kind of cop you want to be, not picking up bad habits after hours. Even after probation ends, you're still learning and adjusting. The job is hard, physically, mentally, and emotionally, some days, and it takes time to adjust and learn. Three years after your probationary year isn't arbitrary, little boy. That's the time you need to learn what you're doing, and it's the same Pops asked of me."
Jamie's bottom glowed red, and Frank had no doubt Jamie felt like he'd been doused in oil and lit on fire. He could hear the hitching breaths that meant the first tears, and repositioned Jamie so they could finish up. He pulled Jamie forward a little and raised his leg, tucking his heel against the bed frame, to jack-knife Jamie over his thigh.
"But I quit!" Jamie objected, short of breath and sounding a bit watery. "And I won't ever again! I swear, Dad!"
"I know you won't, son." Frank answered, gravely. "But there's the matter of you lying to me every time I asked what you were doing."
"But Dad--" Jamie started, squirming.
"But nothing, Jamie. You don't lie to me, or Danny, or Pop. And certainly not in a way that means we don't know where you are." Frank let the first spank fall, right where Jamie sat, and locked a leg over Jamie's at the flurry of kicking that followed.
"I'm sorry!" Jamie hollered, voice cracking at the sting. "I am! I won't again, Dad, I swear!"
"You most certainly won't." Frank agreed, spanking hard on the crease where Jamie's bottom met thigh. "And you'll remember that every time you sit for a while. I will not be lied to, little boy."
Jamie went stiff, squeaking at the eye-popping sting Dad managed, before he shuddered and gave in to tears fully. The dam burst, and with it went his resolve. He wailed at each spank, limp over Dad's knee, purging years of guilt. It hurt, oh! it hurt! But each searing spank also swept away the guilt he'd felt for years, lying the way he had. Maybe it was a Catholic thing, but feeling like he'd paid for his misdeeds helped him let go, so it wouldn't fester.
Frank watched Jamie carefully, judging the moment. Jamie's tears weren't the 'I'm sorry I'm being spanked' sort, but held the promise of penitence. The hard, choking sobs meant Jamie was blowing off another chunk of guilt and grief, and Frank felt his own eyes tear in sympathy. Jamie had had too much of both for someone his age. He finished with three to the base of each reddened cheek, but with more sting and sound than smack to them. Jamie needed to know they were done, but he didn't need anything more than that.
Frank rubbed his hand softly over Jamie's back, soothing his distraught child. He rearranged himself, taking Jamie with him, so he could sit up against the headboard and let Jamie curl around him. He pulled the extra quilt from the foot of the bed up around Jamie's shoulders, modesty, comfort, and warmth all in one. Jamie hid his face in his shoulder and wept, hard.
"You're okay, peanut, you're okay. Let it all out for me, kiddo. Don't hold back, son, hmm? Just get it all out. We have all the time you need," Frank soothed, rubbing Jamie's back and shoulders to offer some comfort, and waited.
Slowly, the wild, choked sobbing slowed to weeping, and then to teary hiccups. Frank held Jamie close, rubbing his back and whispering nonsense to him through it, until Jamie coughed and stilled. They sat quietly for a few minutes, until a soft knock startled them both.
Henry pushed the door open, carrying a glass of water and a little tray with a few washcloths on it. He set the water on Jamie's nightstand and sat next to Frank, patting his arm. Jamie peered at him, glazed and flat exhausted.
"Hey kiddo. We're going to get you a little more comfortable, hmm?" Henry patted his cheek. "You look tired."
Jamie nodded against Frank's shoulder. "Uh huh."
"Uh huh is right. Can you sit up a little?" And maybe he sounded like he was talking to a sick Sean, but Jamie looked like small words would work best in the moment.
Jamie managed to balance upright with some help from his Dad. Grandpa helped him strip off his shirt before rubbing him down with one of the warm, damp washcloths. He hoped one was for his face. He felt cleaner, better, but still fuzzy when Grandpa wiped his face off, cleaning it of the dried tears. Grandpa helped him into a long-sleeved tee still warm from the dryer, and Jamie recognized the faint aftershave scent -- one of Dad's. Calm and comforted, he felt his eyes slide shut.
"Okay, peanut, it's bedtime for you." The soft rumble of Dad's voice sounded in his ear. Jamie managed a nod. Bed sounded good.
"Water, then sleep," Henry ordered.
Jamie felt a straw against his lips and drank deeply. No sense in upsetting Grandpa, and he was thirsty. Then Dad helped him sprawl face down on his bed without Grandpa seeing he was bare...although the shorts and flannels on his floor were probably a giveaway. Then Dad rubbing his back and dropping a kiss on his head, and then the click of his light and blessed darkness.
"I'll pour you a drink, Francis."
And content knowing that Grandpa would take care of Dad since he could barely move, Jamie fell into a deep sleep.
Chapter 16: Monday Morning, 3:00 AM
The steady blink of the alarm clock mocked him. He was supposed to be asleep, just like everyone else in the house, but apparently his brain had other ideas. Jamie flopped from his side to his stomach, face down into his pillow. He was comfortable, just warm enough to be cozy and encourage sleeping without being so warm that he'd wake up sweating an hour later. But sleep wouldn't be encouraged. He curled onto his other side before flopping onto his stomach again. He didn't even want to be thinking about what he was thinking about. Maybe it was just that he'd already slept for seven hours? And that his stupid brain wouldn't stop worrying.
About Nicky...and what would happen with her dad in a few months. Because Jack was a good Top, mostly, or he at least was a good Top when only needed to fill in on occasion, but he was a seriously crappy husband and an even worse father. And Nicky...maybe she'd be a decent fit with Linda? Just, kids tended to rate similarly to their closest parental match, and Jack wasn't a super high-rated Top. And Nicky was looking more like she'd be Classed as a Brat, but on the lower end of the spectrum. And Dad and Danny and Linda were all...they might wind up being way too much for her. Hell, they were too much for a lot of people.
He punched his pillow into submission and tried curling up on his side again, but his legs felt...itchy. Like he needed to move or he was going to start screaming, which really wouldn't go down so well. He slipped out of bed, wincing a little when he had to sit for a minute, and grateful that Dad's shirt covered him. The dark of his room was broken by slats of light, the streetlamp shining through his blinds, and he picked his way to his closet. Maybe if he went for a walk?
He did that, sometimes, when he couldn't quiet down the noise in his head after a rough day. He'd wait until three or four in the morning, when even New York quieted down a little, and then go out for a walk. During the summer, the cool air off the river and out of the parks erased the usual city stench. He could just go out for ten minutes, just down to the park and back, and it would be enough. And no one had to know. He knew which steps to avoid on the staircase, how to get out without anyone hearing. He'd done it often enough as a teenager.
A pair of track pants, a henley, and warm socks later, he was ready to go. He could grab tennis shoes and a coat from the mudroom.
"For a Brat who just got spanked not eight hours ago, you seem pretty set on going over my knee again." Frank leaned against the doorjamb, watching Jamie root in a drawer in the dark.
Jamie shot upright, clutching his chest, socks flying into the air like wooly fireworks. He managed a good foot clearance off the floor, too.
"Dad!" Jamie squeaked, gasping for air as he turned around.
"Jamison," Frank mimicked. "What's the rule about middle of the night excursions?"
"I can explain?" Jamie tried weakly.
"Yes, you can," Frank agreed. "You can explain while you put your pajamas back on and get your naughty backside into bed."
Even in the dark he could see Jamie flush an embarrassed pink.
"I was just going to walk down to the park?" Jamie dragged back toward his bed, shedding the henley as he went.
"I'll give you a few points for honesty, at least." Frank sighed, meeting Jamie halfway. "Want to explain why?"
"I kept thinking." Jamie's voice was almost lost as he shouldered into his T-shirt. "I couldn't turn my brain off."
Frank handed him his shorts and busied himself straightening out Jamie's sheets and blankets while he changed.
"So, you'd rather perform an entire bed-based calisthenics routine and then try to sneak out instead of doing what I told you to do?" He held up the blankets for his shamefaced boy and let Jamie slink into bed. "The bouncing woke me up, son."
"Oh," Jamie bunched his pillow in his arms and buried his face in it. The tips of his ears were pink.
"What's got you so tied up in knots, peanut?" Frank sat next to him and rubbed firmly over his shoulders.
"Stuff." Came the muffled reply.
"I could always put you over my knee again." Frank patted Jamie's backside before continuing to rub his back. "I did find you gearing up to sneak out."
"Nicky...and her dad. And designating." Jamie spoke more to his pillow than his father.
"That is definitely a pickle." Frank scratched his fingers through Jamie's hair. "But it's not yours to solve all alone, Jamie."
"But it's Nicky , Dad," Jamie picked at a wrinkle in his pillowcase.
"And someone feels responsible, hmm?" Frank covered Jamie's hand with his own before he worried a hole in his sheets. "It's not just on you, peanut."
"But I'm the oldest Sub in the family," Jamie objected.
"Technically, that's your Great Uncle Matty, Jamie." Frank corrected gently. "And he's pretty interested in what's going on here, too."
"But he's in California, Dad. And it's Nicky. I've always been…" Jamie trailed off.
"You've always been the one she goes to. Half uncle and half big brother? Sometimes, I think we let you help out too much," Frank sighed.
"But I liked helping with Nicky and Jack both. And Sean the summer after Freshman year. I liked that you and Mom and Erin and Danny and Linda thought I was responsible enough." Jamie curled up on his side so he could look his Dad in the eye. "And it's not like that was all I did, and Danny and Linda paid me for it."
"What did you call them? Nick-nack and the Jack attack?" Frank chuckled. "I thought you should get more time to yourself, but your mother told me to let you make that decision. Just like Nicky needs to make some decisions for herself, coming up." Frank tapped his nose.
Jamie grumbled a little to himself, flopped back onto his stomach, and pulled his pillow over his head,"It doesn't mean I have to like it."
"I don't speak grouch, peanut." Frank patted his back. "And you know Nicky will be fine. No one will let her face anything alone."
Jamie bunched his pillow under his head. He was being ridiculous and he knew it.
"I know, Dad, and I trust everyone, but…"
"But you still feel like if you're responsible."
"Yeah," Jamie nodded. "And I know it's not all on me, but no one else understands how it feels from this side."
"And you know she'll find you if she's upset about something?"
"She tends to. Like, she'll talk to Erin, but not right away. I'm...lower pressure, I think?"
"You are, son, for Nicky and Jack. They both know that you understand how they're feeling, at least to a point, and you're less likely to fly off the handle than Erin or Danny." Frank rubbed at the tension in Jamie's shoulders.
"But I need to make sure they're not using me as the easy out," Jamie groaned.
"Because they're likely to, at least at times." Frank agreed. "You tried that with Joe a couple of times."
"All it ever got me was Joe giving me the look and escorting me to you or Danny," Jamie grumbled. "By the ear. And I have to remember that. But that doesn't solve the Jack issue."
"I don't think anything will solve the Jack issue, peanut. Not for Nicky and Erin...and not for you." Jamie stiffened a little under his hand.
"Don't know what you mean." But his voice was small in the dark.
"We've been focused on making sure Nicky and Erin are okay, but Jack was a Top in your life as well, kiddo." Frank chose his words carefully. "It's okay to miss that."
"I don't...I…" Jamie stopped with a huff.
"And worrying about Nicky is probably pulling up some of the feelings you had when he left, hmm?"
Jamie just grumbled in response, curling in on himself.
"We'll work through it, Jamie. But no one is leaving, and no one is leaving you. We'll get it all figured out, okay, peanut?" Frank patted his tense back.
"Okay, Dad." Jamie blew out a breath and with it half the tension he'd carried in his shoulders.
"Good man. Think you can sleep now?"
"Yeah," his answer cut off in a yawn.
"Mm hmm?" Jamie curled around his pillow, pleasantly sleepy again. Maybe finding Dad was the right idea.
"If I catch you trying to sneak out at night again, I will spank you. Understand?" Frank tucked the blankets in around Jamie.
"Y'sir," Jamie slurred, halfway to sleep.
"I'll let you know when you're allowed to be up in the morning. Sleep well, son."
Frank took that as a 'you too' and headed out. He paused at the door, watching Jamie for a minute, and shook his head fondly.
He was just going down to the park. Honestly.
Chapter 17: Tuesdays with Conover
A quick thanks for everyone being so patient! This is part one...part two should be up this weekend, at some point.
"I'm going to what? " Jamie set his fork down with a clink and stared at his dad.
"You're spending tomorrow morning with Agent Conover. I have a meeting and Pop has to be at the Center," Frank explained patiently.
"I don't need a babysitter! " Jamie sat back and glared in outrage. "I'm twenty-six!"
"And I'm not comfortable with you being alone for a few hours right now. I'm not going to argue with you, Jamie. You're going, and that's it. Whether or not you want a hot backside to go with you is the decision you get to make." Frank pointed his butter knife at Jamie as he spoke, completely out of patience.
Henry hid a smile, standing to clear the kitchen table.
"This is ridiculous!" Jamie huffed, crossing his arms.
"And we value your opinion, generally. Specifically, I made my decision." Frank let the edge of a warning creep into his voice.
"I'll go," Jamie muttered. "But I don't have to like it."
So he found himself stomping across the back patio of an end row brownstone, early in the morning. He looked again at the back elevation and stared. It was three brownstones, separate entities from the front, but obviously renovated into one unit from the back. The garden floor opened onto the patio through a two story paned glass conservatory. The usual porch off the back of the first two buildings let the parlor floor enjoy the glassed-in view, as well.
Jamie let himself in, as the sign taped up in one sliding door ordered, and thumped upstairs. He heeled off his sneakers to add to the shoe rack near the open back door, picking up the pair of slippers with his name on them. He walked through and found himself in an old-fashioned kitchen. The appliances looked more or less modern, but the layout and cabinets looked like they hadn't been updated since the '40s. A u-shaped work area took up two-thirds of the room's width to his left, the inner leg forming a corridor with the opposite wall's cabinets and counters. A swinging door, to the dining room, maybe, broke up the storage wall. To his right, a long, L-shaped settle sat in the well-lit corner. One side backed to the windows, and the other ran along the wall. Thick, bright cushions invited sitting.
And behind the settle, the wall bloomed into a mural. Jamie wandered over for a closer look. It was a family tree, with Vere, Captain Conover, and Dr. O'Rourke in the center. A small country cottage anchored one side, and a front view of the brownstones the other.
"They're the center for a whole lot of us."
Jamie almost jumped out of his socks at the voice sounding from the floor. He gripped the arm of the settle and gasped while a woman levered herself up. She twisted the kinks out of her back and Jamie realized she topped him by several inches. And then looked again. He'd know that face anywhere, although he usually saw the less feminine-ly inclined version. Dr. O'Rourke, if she grew out her hair and wore makeup. The woman, obviously a relative, wore a peasant blouse and a long, multicolored skirt, although some of it looked like paint and not fabric. She'd been working on the mural, and had green paint smeared over one high cheekbone.
"I didn't mean to interrupt." Jamie finally managed, once his heart rate came down.
"And I didn't mean to scare you. I'm Fia. You must be our Vere's Jamie?" She quirked a grin at him. "Actually, you look... holy mother of all the saints! "
"What? What's wrong?" Jamie took a step back as she swung around him and toward the swinging door.
"Vee! Vee, seriously! Get your backside...oh, there you are!" Fia O'Rourke fluttered around Vere, dark hair tumbling over her shoulders and down her back. "I've found him! He's been in New York this whole time and now he's in my kitchen! Your kitchen. Oh, whatever! I need your face, kid."
Jamie wasn't entirely sure what was going on, but Vere smiled at him and winked. As long as one other sane person stayed in the kitchen, he wouldn't book it. 'I need your face' sounded threatening no matter who said it.
"Fia, Fia-darling, calm down, hmm? Let's get Jamie settled, and then we can talk about what you'd like to do. Have you had any tea, love? Or has Fia completely forgotten her...do NOT touch your hair, Maire Fiachre, you're covered in paint." Vere caught both her wrists before she could run her hands through her loose hair.
Jamie watched Vere harass Fia into sitting so she could braid her hair back. He wasn't quite sure what to make of anything, so far.
"Jamie, have you had tea yet? Or did Fia just accost you immediately?" Vere clubbed Fia's braid up, clipping it out of the way of paint-covered hands. "I'd say it's not usually like this around here, but I'd be lying."
"No tea, yet," Jamie managed. "We sort of surprised each other?"
"Fia was doing one of the bits by the floor?" Vere steered Fia toward the sink. "You, wash."
"And she wonders why we all call her some form of Mother," Fia muttered, but scrubbed her hands.
Vere moved Jamie to the settle and nudged until he curled up among the cushions. For having a wooden seat and back, it was surprisingly comfortable. She crossed to the counter, pouring tea from a dark green teapot into a sturdy mug.
"Milk, sugar, lemon?" she asked, pulling a plate down and arranging a couple slices of something on it.
"A little milk?" He liked his pretty strong, dark even with milk.
"That's good. If you told me you liked it light I'd make you sit with Felan all day," Vere teased, splashing milk into the mug after the tea.
"Snob," Fia bumped Vere's hip on her way past. "Oooh, is that...ow!"
"Please try to act like you weren't raised by cave trolls? Hmm?" Vere rubbed Fia's hand where she'd swatted.
"First thing this one ever said to me was 'If you've come in from the sheep and haven't taken your boots off, I will beat you over the head with my mop handle.' And she cast aspersions on my upbringing." Fia sniffed as if deeply hurt and fixed herself both a mug of tea and a plate.
Vere snorted, bringing Jamie both the mug and the plate. And Jamie realized abruptly that she was Vere and not Agent Conover . She wore Conover like armor, he thought, in sharply tailored shirtwaist dresses and sturdy fabrics instead of plate metal. Vere wore similar dresses, but they looked softer, less tailored, and with a cardigan instead of a jacket. Her hair, too, curled softly against the nape of her neck, while at work she wore her curls pinned up despite their short length.
"You can ignore ninety-five percent of what comes out of Fia's mouth. I made gingerbread this morning." Vere busied herself at the counter.
It looked more like banana bread to Jamie than a cookie.
"Proper gingerbread, mind," Fia corrected. "Not the weird crunchy stuff."
Jamie broke off a corner of his slice and nibbled at it. Rich, sweet spiciness exploded across his tongue.
"Mm, s'good." He sipped at his tea.
"Great, now, about needing your face," Fia started, leaning against the end of the counter.
"Could you not say it that way?" Jamie interrupted. "It sounds...weird."
"You're a cop, aren't you?" Fia sighed. "Vee didn't say, but…god, the house is full of them."
"Yeah, and needing my face sounds bizarre."
"Anyway, were you at Harvard in 2007?" Fia waved off her concern over the number of police in the house, gesturing with the hand that held her gingerbread.
"Crumbs, Fee-love." Vere interrupted, handing her a plate.
"I was in law school," Jamie confirmed, thoroughly confused.
"Ha! I knew it was you! How would you like to be painted? I've wanted you for The Minstrel Boy since I saw you. Or maybe a medieval saint? In the right light...with those cheekbones…"
Fia trailed off, head cocked to one side as she considered her options.
"That has to go through Dad, and probably 1PP, too. I've done undercover work, and my face can't be everywhere." Jamie cut her off before she could get started. "Wait...you're Fia O'Rourke? That Fia O'Rourke?"
"If you mean 'the well-known Irish artist, Fia O'Rourke, much to the consternation of her toad of a younger cousin, Fiachre O'Rourke,' then yes. And I was the one who was almost arres--"
"Maire Fiachre, not one more word." Vere intervened, tone forbidding. "He does not need to know about that incident ."
Jamie suddenly understood just why 'we all call her some variation on Mother'. He recognized that tone; he'd heard it last Saturday from Linda when Nicky and the boys started picking at each other.
Fia just grinned, wickedly bright. "So, can I ask your dad about using you?"
"Just don't say it like that?" Jamie grinned back at her. "He likes your art. We got him a print of 'Overdowns' last Father's Day."
Fia snickered, glancing at Vere. "Oh, he does, hmm? That was our Vere at Worlds." She slung an arm around Vere's waist and pulled her close, resting her chin on Vere's head. "All three were her."
"Grandpa likes 'In Defiance of Nature'. It reminds him of Grandma, I think." And if the red hair was a hint, that one was Vere, too. He remembered Grandma standing that way, chin raised and hands on her hips, although she didn't do that while getting soaked in the rain.
"She'd had a fight with Colm, walked out, and wouldn't come back in until he apologized. It was glorious. This one came to us looking like the wrong end of a bare knuckle fight, wouldn't talk for three months, and then comprehensively called us all on our shit when she did." Fia let Vere turn to hide her face in her shoulder. "Turned the whole household inside out."
"I've just decided that I don't like you, you agent of chaos. I was never anything but perfectly polite."
Jamie snickered at the muffled declaration.
"Now that I've had the chance to thoroughly embarrass you, I'm going to visit chaos on Felan. And you," she pushed Vere back a bit and tapped her on the nose. "Sit, hmm? You've been on your feet all morning."
She nudged Vere along, handing her a mug and plate before she could complain, and got her to sit. Vere let her slippers thump to the floor and curled up opposite Jamie.
"And I'll know if you're not resting, Vee." Fia left with that vaguely menacing statement, letting the door swing behind her.
Jamie watched the hem of her skirt wedge itself in the swinging door, and heard a muffled 'damnit!' from the other side before it twitched free.
I'll add some links to old kitchen plans, but it's based on one from the late '40s.
Overdowns are the jump everyone knows from step dancing: one leg kicked out in front and the other tucked up. They require a good bit of core strength.
And Fia used Vere because she was a broke young artist and there was finally someone in the house who could sit still for longer than a hot second. And who would do weird things For Art. :-)
Chapter 18: Tuesdays with Conover Part 2
So, somehow this became a 4,000 word conversation on relationships and personality. Jamie and Vere were chatty, and Jamie was anxious.
There are mentions of a few NHL teams, but not player names. They're real, living people and it felt weird with actual names in.
"Not to be rude, but is she always like that?" Jamie turned to Vere, feeling a little out of his depth.
"Fia is...always and irrepressibly herself. Too many 1930s screwball comedies as a kid," Vere sighed. "She can be a little much, but she does mean well. How are you? You look tired."
"Didn't sleep so well for a couple of nights," Jamie shrugged, fiddling with his mug for something to do with his hands. "Last night mostly because I was annoyed."
"Let me guess--Commissioner Reagan, in his boundless wisdom, announced to you at some point yesterday evening that he was parking you here for the morning?" Vere sipped at her tea, eyeing Jamie speculatively.
"How did you know?" Jamie poked at his gingerbread.
"Because I have two a lot like him. And when I'm as worked up as you are, they're about five hundred times as protective as usual. And that's leaving aside the suppressant issue," Vere poked his knee with her toes. "We'll get to that in a minute."
"Great," Jamie muttered, sullen.
"You, cupcake, can wipe that look right off your face. Your dad is dealing with a lot right now, too, all your Tops are. Yes, you're a complete miserable mess right now, but they're the ones who missed it, who let you pull the wool over their eyes. So they're going to tighten up on you. And if you don't like it, then you need to talk, not have a tantrum over it. And yes, I'm lecturing," Vere paused, giving Jamie a stern look. "Because it sucks for everyone right now."
"It's like everyone's ignoring that I'm not a kid!" Jamie protested. It wasn't exactly accurate, but that was how it felt , at least in the moment . "I can make decisions, and I don't need to go to bed before Sean! "
"The youngest nephew?" Vere clarified.
Jamie nodded at his mug.
"That's a lovely segue into suppressants," Vere chirped. "To put it plainly, you fucked your brain over. You let some unknown person inject you with god knows what at a crucial point in your brain wiring up properly!"
"It was Neutralx," Jamie interrupted, sulky at being scolded. And by another Brat, to boot.
"It was fucking not!" Vere shot back. "If it was, it would have done sweet fanny adams to you, because Neutralx doesn't work on us! We don't drop like gen Subs. Whatever they gave you had to be cut with something! You blocked all the emotional input you're supposed to be getting and the output Doms pick up on! And now that door's been kicked in and your brain is trying to rewire itself to cope with the flood! No wonder you're being booted up to bed before a ten year old! You're bound to be exhausted! You turned yourself into a fricking science experiment!" She was yelling by the end, and she didn't care.
Jamie leaned away, swallowing convulsively. He didn't usually behave like he was. Okay, maybe a couple of times he'd gone sulky and grouchy as a teenager, but not as an adult. But everything felt like too much, and he hated it. He hated falling asleep every stupid afternoon, and going to bed by nine and falling asleep then, too, and feeling stretched and exhausted and having his stupid, stupid brain overload and decide he was going to be an ass to people he liked. And he wasn't going to get all weepy just because someone yelled at him, even if he'd sort of inherited Mom's 'all my emotions run through my tear ducts eventually' (so had Danny, but he wasn't talking about that because last time he wound up with a dead leg.)
"I'm sorry," he worried at the fabric of his track pants. "I...it was...Mom was sick, and Dad...Dad hardly looked any better, and no one had the time or the bandwidth to...I, um...I couldn't…"
And just like that, all the anger drained out of Vere.
"Oh, sweetheart, I'm sorry." She set her plate and mug on the ledge behind the settle back and moved, taking Jamie's from him as well. "Can I hug you?"
Jamie nodded, still staring at his knees. Vere curled up on the cushion next to him and tugged. Jamie rested his cheek against her shoulder, curled up against her side. It felt a little like a hug from Linda or Erin, but with an added layer of understanding. A safe harbor, at least for a little bit.
"I shouldn't have yelled, and I'm sorry I did. You were under a good bit of pressure, hmm?" She carded her fingers through his hair.
Jamie nodded, the brushed flannel of her dress soft under his cheek.
"All the stress of school, and just existing in the world as a Sub, and then your mother, too. And you felt like needing anything from your dad or Danny or Linda would be too much?" Vere lowered her voice, gentling her tone.
Jamie nodded again.
"And I'm guessing someone pitched the suppressants as a solution?"
"I wasn't supposed to...I'd promised Linda, but…" Jamie trailed off again. "She was pretty steamed about it."
"Do you know…" Vere started, and then stopped, taking a deep breath. "Suppressants are incredibly dangerous, Jamie. There are mechanisms in a gen Sub's physiology that Neutralx deals with, but they're not meant to be used long term. They're supposed to be a very short term solution, and they don't work for us. We don't drop the same way a gen Sub does."
"You keep saying that, but no one ever explains." Jamie thought he should maybe move, but Vere was warm and comforting, and he felt completely upside down.
"So, gen Subs have subspace when they drop. It's psychological, yes, but it's also physiological. Brats don't, unless we consistently overstretch ourselves and avoid appropriate Topping. Then, god, Brat drop is brutal. It's mostly physiological, and it's usually coupled with Dynamic Exhaustion." Vere stopped there.
"Have you ever?"
"Yes, once. I was twenty-five, I'd just moved back to help Felan build the DSR, we were finishing this place and figuring out our relationship, and I was overworking. I was taking all the emergency night calls, working a full schedule, and keeping the household running. The year started with your dad hearing that , and kept going with the Art Incident. I, um, stood up after dinner one night and passed out. I was done. It took something like six months to get me fully functional again."
"You were probably leading up to some kind of crisis, if only to take the pressure off. Your system, right now, is in overdrive, accommodating all the new input you're getting." Vere watched carefully as Jamie digested new information.
"What do you mean by input?" Jamie asked, finally. "You keep talking about it like it's a computer program."
"Once you get into the high ratings, leaving Type out completely, things get...weird? It goes more empathic and emotional, I think is a good way to put it. So we're getting...you've just known, right, that someone is lying or that they can be trusted?"
"Yeah, um, Renzulli thought someone was an EDP, but there was something...he said Joe was like that, too," Jamie answered.
"It's part of our rating. You grew up with more of it than most, though. Subconsciously, we pick up on really subtle cues, mostly emotional ones, and can act on that. It's how we function. And if you don't learn to filter as a teenager, or you block that function, then you get...you as an adult. I'm shocked you haven't just keeled over by now." Vere patted Jamie's hand. "It must be an incredible shock to the system to have a suddenly much larger influx of data to process, basically."
"So I never really primed my system or learned to filter? I let my system mature with an artificial block in place, and then something took that out, and now I'm what, flooding the engine?" Jamie worked through it slowly.
"That's a better analogy, honestly. So by the afternoon you've probably stalled. Napping a lot?"
Jamie felt his cheeks heat. "Some."
"And getting kicked upstairs to bed early?"
"Every night," Jamie grumped.
"That's your dad reacting to the energy you're giving off. He might not even realize it."
Jamie groaned, letting Vere tuck him a little closer.
"Yeah, cupcake, your system is down. You're going to want to watch germs right now, too. You'll be okay, though." She patted his arm.
"Is it, um, normal to not really know what you want from a Top?" Jamie's voice cracked a little toward the end, but he needed to ask. It'd bothered him, that he didn't really know. Hadn't even let himself think about it, because he wasn't 'like that'.
"How so?" Vere asked quietly.
"Just, you hear other Subs talking, and they know, specifically, what they like and don't like, and what they look for in a Dom, and...I don't." The admission tasted bitter on his tongue.
Thinking about it, he'd shoved his whole dynamic down, repressing it until it was nearly unrecognizable. From Eddie, he knew the article shocked a lot of officers he worked with. Even with other coverage, he hadn't pinged for anyone. They thought he was Neutral. Well, they had. Now they knew.
"Then this is a good time for you to find out. You were with a Domme, though, right?"
"Syd," Jamie murmured. "Yeah, but she...I don't know. Like, she wanted a Sub, but not one who needed as much. And her family was really...old school traditional. I don't want that."
"So there's one thing. What exactly didn't you like? That her family did?" And if she had to, she would find this Syd and have a little come to Jesus with her.
"They expected me to kneel and be fed," Jamie couldn't help the disgusted nose crinkle. Being faced with one place setting for Sydney and a kneeler pillow for him...some Subs loved it, but he didn't. Especially as a surprise.
"That's not even common across Subs." Vere wasn't sure what her face was doing. "Some families do, but it's almost always a private thing. So you don't want to kneel and be fed, you know that."
"Did I…" Jamie trailed off. "Did I damage myself? Will any Top even want me?"
The question surprised him. He hadn't meant to ask. He kept that kind of thing inside, stuffed down deep where it couldn't pop out and humiliate him. Only he asked, because sitting with Vere felt safe, felt judgment-free, and he needed to know. Would anyone who wasn't his family, wasn't somehow obligated, ever want him? Sydney hadn't, not in the end.
"Oh, sweetheart, yes." Vere blinked back sudden tears and swallowed against an aching throat. "Yes. You haven't...you're not damaged, love. You...you're figuring out what you want and what you need at the right time for you. There are so many people who want a bright, brave, sweet, lovely young man like you. You're not damaged, and if anyone says that to you, you send them to me."
Jamie blinked back tears of his own. He'd thought...he hadn't expected unconditional support. He felt...safe in a way he didn't even with Dad. Something about another Sub, another Brat reassuring him...fears he hadn't even realized left in a rush. He breathed deeply, tried to blink back the tears, but a few slipped down his cheeks.
"What'll you do, bite their kneecaps?" Jamie sniffled, felt Vere press a soft handkerchief into his hand.
"Brat," she couldn't help but giggle at him. "I'm taller than that, you creep."
"Not by much," Jamie teased back. "Could, um, could we talk about something less...emotional?"
"Of course. So, what's this about not knowing what you want? I'd think you'd have a relatively decent idea of what gives you the yips by now. Or is it more you're not sure how you want a relationship to look?" Vere snickered at Jamie's muttered grump.
"Why that? "
"Because it's hard to get emotional about, and you need to talk to another Sub about it. Do you really want to sit down with your dad and a list of kinks and discuss them?" Vere poked gently at his side.
Jamie hadn't actually known his whole body could cringe at once, automatically. Once he straightened out, he twisted to glare at Vere.
"That's what I thought," she smirked. "Not that I'm dragging one of those out, either. There are some things I don't need to know. But you should know what you want out of a relationship with a Top."
Jamie settled, curled up against her, and thought.
"I like...I think I'd like a more traditional Top, but not like Syd's family. More like Dad and Danny and Linda. I like that they respect that I have a life and a job, and that we're working out how to work around that. And...I don't want someone who won't respect that Dad and Danny and Linda will always have a place in, um…" he trailed off, unsure of how to say it.
"Your support system?" Vere supplied.
"I guess?" Jamie shrugged. "Just, Dad's probably always going to be top dog. And it's not like a pissing contest thing, either. He'd never see it that way, but my brain sees Dad as the final authority."
"You want a Top or Tops who'll work with your family? Who will respect the structure already there?"
"I don't know that I would ever not need Dad and Danny and Linda, you know? I'm always going to respond to Dad as an authority, because I choose to, and I need someone who won't be offended by that." Jamie worried at his track pants, rubbing the fabric between his fingers.
"That's pretty normal, sweetheart. I sort of have some of that with Colm, Felan and Fia's oldest brother. He really was the one who put me back together. I won't ever not go to him when I'm at my most stressed."
"That's it. Like, Dad and Danny are...safe in a way that I can't explain. And I need someone who respects that." Jamie took a deep breath, letting out a gusty sigh. "And, um, I need someone who calls me on my crap. And I really don't want, I don't know, the really kinky stuff? It's just not for me."
Vere snorted out a quick laugh, "Oh, I hear you on that one. I've heard so much more than I ever wanted to from others."
"I guess I knew more about what I wanted than I thought." Jamie worried at his lip. "This is...it's nice, less stressful. I haven't had a lot of Sub, um, friends."
He could relax here, in a warm kitchen that smelled of baking bread and spice. He didn't have to keep up the walls, fortress strong, that he had to at work. Like at home, he could rest, but it was different. An understanding, bone deep, sat between them. They could talk about Sub things, Brat things, and it was okay.
They weren't related and she wasn't family, but he could be fully himself and still be safe. There wouldn't be even a hint of rumor or scandal that anyone could use against his dad. He had to be so careful in public, so in control at all times, that the sort of respite he'd been given felt like coming up from a deep dive too fast.
"Friends is right, although I sort of steamrolled you into it." Vere carded her fingers through his hair.
"I've heard some other Subs talk about stuff like this, but I was always so busy, and then Syd didn't like me hanging out with anyone without her, and...both my partners have been Dominants, so I've had to be really careful."
"Reputation," Vere groaned. "It's such an absolute pisser."
"And I get, well, you know. There's always some asshole who's gonna comment, even after you prove that you can put them down." Jamie sighed. "And I have to watch extra so it doesn't get smeared on Dad and Danny."
"And that's just the other officers and detectives," Vere grumbled. "We're working on it?"
"Even from the first year, it's gotten better." Jamie patted her hand. "There isn't so much directed at me anymore, and I step in where I can. But, um, Danny says I have 'Bambi eyes', so…"
"But you've had to be four times as good to get half as far," Vere sighed.
"You like hockey?" Jamie recognized the quote. Every Sub remembered the Penguin's newly named captain's Designation press conference.
"It's easier to know which teams are safe. And I like the skating." Vere shrugged. "Caps, Penguins, Rangers are pretty good, Bruins definitely...they speak up more. Most of the Canadian teams, because they started the push to open up to everyone."
"It makes a difference. Just like the DSR makes a difference," Jamie reassured her. "Some of Dad and Grandpa's stories...ugh. And I have Danny around."
"He's one of the good ones," Vere smiled. "I'm glad you have some extra cover."
"He, um, nearly got a rip 'cause one of the detectives on scene called me honey and asked me to 'be a good boy and go and get more tape'. I thought Danny was gonna rip his head off. Jackie had to haul him off, and then I had to head to his place after shift so he could make sure I was okay," Jamie shook his head, mostly fondly. "He's protective, you know?"
"When it's your brother and Curatola on scene, all the Subs relax. You can see it. Same with his Sergeant and yours."
"Renzulli? He's great. I mean, a lot of the brass knew me as a kid, so they get a little hotter under the collar when it's me, but I can see the change, you know? From when I was little. Even from when Danny started."
"Your family has done more for Subs in the NYPD...I don't think you all realize." Vere paused for a moment. "I don't think anyone knows, or at least they never said, but my grandfather was a Sub masquerading as a Neutral. Because if you were a Sub then, you were going to be on a desk your whole career, making coffee and trying not to lose your temper the nine-hundredth time you got your ass pinched or slapped in a day."
"Jesus," Jame breathed. "I know most of the 12th thought I was some weird Neutral, but that...I can't imagine the stress. Vinny knew almost immediately, and Eddie just found out, but god...having to hide? On purpose?"
"Even now, Felan and Con get a lot of comments about keeping me in line, which they give as much attention as that nonsense deserves. But, um, it was Colm who told me that people would see a brilliant person and want to shove me into a little box because of the S on my band. And the best thing I could do was to learn to tell them to go fuck themselves." Vere chuckled.
"If I told someone to do that, I would taste cod liver oil for a week," Jamie protested. "So not fair."
"He did tell me to dress it up if I could, but the man runs a sheep and alpaca farm, and is not a dedicated public speaker. He was pretty firm on the wording, and if anyone wanted to complain, they could address it to him."
"Danny wouldn't care, but Dad would have to," Jamie muttered. "He'd back me up on the sentiment, but I'd be in trouble for the wording."
"And since Colm is built like your father, but larger, sending people to him generally got them off my back. I had a professor who traveled across Ireland to lodge a complaint in person in the Spring. At the height of lambing season. He never bothered me again," Vere snickered at the memory.
"Just once," Jamie sighed. "I'd like that freedom."
"Well, now I have to be just as politic as you are, cupcake. You can live vicariously through my younger, more foul-mouthed self." She patted his arm.
"I'll have to." Jamie bit his lip but took the chance. "Because if I tried it now, I'd probably never want to sit down again."
"Tell me about it. I love Felan and Con to bits, but by now they have a nasty way of just knowing things. Like when I'm stressed and trying to hide it."
"There's no hiding in this kind of relationship," Jamie deepened his voice, not quite hitting Frank Reagan. "I call that lying."
Vere snorted on a laugh. "I can see that. I'm guessing your family is as unimpressed with truth-shading as mine is?"
"We'll leave it at if I ever called it 'truth-shading' in front of Dad or Danny or Linda, or, you know, Grandpa, there would be holy hell raining down on my head. And I'd probably die of fish oil poisoning." Jamie laughed ruefully.
And startled at a knock on the kitchen door.
"Lunch is here, pet, are you ready?" Dr. O'Rourke's soft brogue sounded through the door.
"We'll be a minute, love. Thank you!" Vere called back.
"Lunch is here?" Jamie asked. He had the impression Vere liked to cook.
"What exactly do you think we were 'discussing' when you arrived? I thought Felan was being unreasonable. She thought having been on my feet batch cooking for the week since about 6 was unreasonable. We, um, sort of compromised?" Vere felt herself blush as they clambered off the settle and stretched. "She ordered in."
"And she didn't just walk in?" Although, a closed kitchen door in his home meant knock first.
"It's my kitchen. If the door is shut, you knock and wait," Vere explained, herding Jamie toward the door. "It's my domain, and everyone here respects that. No one's barred from using the kitchen, except Fia because she's a nightmare, but it's very much my space. Like the study is Con and Felan's."
"And we all knock and wait when a door is shut." Dr. O'Rourke piped up from the dining room sideboard. "Fia's gone off to do...light studies, I think she said? So it's just the three of us."
Jamie hovered near the door and watched as Vere crossed to the sideboard to help with plates. O'Rourke turned to her, cupped her cheek in one hand--checking in, Jamie realized. A few niggling worries about his own family suddenly halted.
They were showing him something extremely personal and tender, O'Rourke's hand soft against Vere's cheek, the other rubbing her arm. Showing him that this was normal, expected. Dr. O'Rourke reminded him suddenly of his Dad in the set of her shoulders and the care she took. He'd been nervous to meet her--he'd watched her rip into an officer mishandling a terrified Sub witness once, quietly vicious--but nerves fled in the face of reality.
"Come sit and tell me about whatever you two were cooking up this morning. My girl looks entirely too satisfied with herself for it not to blow up in some way." The teasing smile took all the sting out of her words.
"Top secret Brat business," Jamie deadpanned. He felt a little nervous, but he thought maybe teasing was okay here?
Vere giggled delightedly and O'Rourke looked a little pained, but mostly amused.
"You were right," she sighed at Vere. "He's going to fit in with your group just fine."
Jamie just ate his soup. He'd have to apologize to Dad for being such a creep about everything, because he'd had a really good morning. He stopped, spoon halfway to his mouth as a thought hit him.
"You're not going to try to set me up with anyone, are you?"
Vere just snickered a little while O'Rourke sighed.
Vere reached across the table and patted Jamie's arm.
"More seriously, I won't try to set you up with anyone unless you tell me to. I've had it done to me and it's not fun," she reassured him.
Jamie looked up, puzzled. "You've been married since you were sixteen ."
"Yes, but I was so far away, you know? And I didn't have a dom with me, so…" Vere trailed off, shrugging.
"So they thought you were what, free game?"
"Something like that. I made it clear I wasn't available after a few 'let's meet for coffee' instances where my friend didn't show, but a single dom did."
"Seriously?" Jamie sat up, staring. "You're married. "
"Not everyone takes it that seriously. Or, well, they don't when you're a sub. Now, if you tell me that you're interested in someone you meet here, that's another thing." Vere patted his arm.
"And if anyone here tries that on you, you let me know and I'll deal with it. This home is a safe space, and we'd rather know if anyone is making you uncomfortable." O'Rourke cut in.
"I will, I promise." But with Vere there, Jamie didn't think he would need to go to O'Rourke.
A buzz and Vere scrabbling in her pocket for her phone interrupted that train of thought. She slipped out of her seat and went into the kitchen.
"She'll only be a minute. Eat your lunch." The softly spoken order had Jamie giving his food his attention.
A few minutes later, Vere returned to the dining room. "Jamie, love, will you be all right here until your dad gets here? There's a bit of a situation I need to take care of."
"Yeah, I'll be fine."
"Vere? Would you like to share?" O'Rourke set her napkin down beside her plate.
"It was Kit. Well, someone for Kit. There was an incident when she dropped Pavs off for work."
Jamie recognized the careful version of events for people who didn't know Kit.
"Go on, then. You're all right getting down there?" O'Rourke stood and crossed to Vere to kiss her gently. "Be safe, darling girl. Don't take on anyone outside your weight class, hmm?"
"I'll be careful. I'll check in on Pavs, too." Vere leaned around O'Rourke to smile at Jamie. "We'll have to see about getting you over here for the group. And just in general. Take it easy, hmm?"
"I will," Jamie smiled at her. "Go fix your crisis."
And Vere was gone. O'Rourke joined him at the table.
"I can see you're dying to ask, so go on." Her tone was warm, devoid of any scold, and Jamie realized that she spent a lot of time with cops. And Vere,who seemed almost as nosy.
"Not you for this one?" Jamie bit his lip, hoping he hadn't overstepped.
"How many times a week are you made to feel horrible in a specifically dom-related way?" O'Rourke countered.
Jamie hadn't thought of that. "Oh. That's why there are so many Subs in the DSR?"
"Partly. And...look, if I charge into a situation with my dominance cranked right up, trying to take control, what's going to happen if it's another Dom?"
"A fight, probably." He'd seen footage in some of the HR training. And had to get between scrapping Doms more often than he really wanted to.
"At least." O'Rourke agreed. "If I went to Kit now, I'd probably retraumatize her. And Vere can pull people up on their awful behavior in ways I can't. I'm read as a threat, especially by men and other Doms. She's not."
"But I've watched Hendricks deal with Dom bullshit in the precinct without escalating the situation."
"Are any of the people involved his?"
"What do you mean?"
"Kit is family, and she's one of my Subs. It's Dom bullshit, but if she's hurt by someone, I want to take them apart. It's the same with Vere, only amped up because we're bonded. I'd imagine your family feels similarly about you. When the Sub is yours, the response is heightened. It's still not okay to pull Dom bullshit, but the urge to is always there."
Jamie paused before he answered. He'd never been able to talk like this with a Top before. Dad and Grandpa seemed to run on instinct, and Danny would rather eat his own arm off rather than discuss his feelings. No one seemed to really understand why they reacted the way they did, except maybe Linda. Even Erin didn't like to talk about it. But she got a good amount of crap for being a woman and a Dom...Domme. She preferred Domme. But O'Rourke, like Vere, had a way of making a space feel safe. Like he could talk about anything and it would be okay.
"You lose your perspective?" Jamie wanted to clarify.
"That's a good way to put it. When it's someone I consider part of my family, my instinct is to end the person who hurt them. I've learned to tamp it down as an adult and redirect it, but it's always there. Brats like you and Vere…" she trailed off, drumming her fingers on the table.
"Brats like me…" Jamie prompted.
"Your emotional energy is set higher than others at baseline. You pull a very strong response out of a Top. There's a--and please don't take this the wrong way--a greater feeling of vulnerability from you. Like you need to be protected. I'm surprised your family is so supportive of your career."
"You support Vere." Jamie replied carefully.
O'Rourke chuckled. "We try to. We have a particular sort of arrangement, Vere and Con and I. It wouldn't work for a lot of Tops and Brats, but I think you understand that better than most. And Vere isn't usually walking into burning buildings or pulling undercover ops, hmm?"
Jamie smiled, ducking his head. "I hope not. I mean, maybe the burning building thing, but not going undercover. With Dad and Danny and Linda, though, it isn't about letting..."
"It's about trust." O'Rourke finished for him. "Con and I both trust Vere implicitly in most things, just as she trusts us. Like you trust your father and your brother."
Jamie shrugged, staring at his hands. "We're working on it. I did a lot of really stupid stuff in college. I don't think Dad trusts me a whole lot right now."
"I heard about most of it, at length." But O'Rourke sounded more amused than annoyed. "Vere had Opinions."
"Oh God," Jamie groaned, letting his forehead thump softly on the tabletop. "Does everyone know?"
"No, not everyone. Vere is capable of discretion. Just me and Fia. Not even Con since you're both cops, but she'd rather not know in any case since it's not her business." O'Rourke reassured him.
"It's still…" Jamie squirmed in his seat. "It's embarrassing. I don't know how things got so screwed up, how I got so screwed up."
"You can stop behaving like you're the only Sub in the world ever to screw their Dynamic at any time." O'Rourke commented wryly. "And she's vocal because she likes you and she's worried. Getting a look at you, she's right to be."
"What?" He felt his face slide into worried innocence. Maybe it was a Brat thing when faced with an annoyed Top: 'If I look cute enough, maybe no one will kill me?'
"Oh, don't you 'what' me, Jamie Reagan. Do you know how close you were to dropping?" Her light brogue deepened, consonants and vowels eliding smoothly.
"I didn't even know I could ," Jamie admitted, swallowing hard. "Everyone always said that Brats don't drop. We're supposed to be hardier. Or something."
"You're or something, alright." O'Rourke muttered, then sighed. "Not dropping at the same stimuli as a gen Sub doesn't mean you're somehow less prone to it. Or that no Brat has ever dropped. Most Brats have a Top around frequently, or seek one out instinctively. They don't keep going until they're weeks from a crisis, or stand up from dinner and pass out."
"Weeks?" Jamie bit his lip. Vere hadn't made it sound so dire.
"Weeks," O'Rourke confirmed. "Your family may not have realized, but your GP did. He sent over the results of the bloodwork he ordered. That confirmed what a few of us in the DSR suspected."
"Isn't that a HIPPA violation?" Jamie sat back, fighting the urge to cross his arms over his chest.
"Because you're a police officer, he's required to report that sort of thing, just as he would be for your brother or your father. The markers we see...yours are not looking so good. You've put a tremendous amount of stress on your system. There's a good deal to be worried about."
"I think I've heard this one a few times," Jamie muttered.
"And you'll hear it again, especially as you're currently on my radar," O'Rourke leaned forward, voice grave. "And I will be the one deciding when you're ready to be back on duty."
"But Dad only requested another--" Jamie protested.
"Three weeks, yes. But the DSR needs to see several markers improve before you're back at work." She loathed these conversations, seeing a young Sub try to hold it together as they heard yet another person say they weren't fit for duty due to Dynamic issues. She saw what Vere saw in him: a young, overstretched Brat trying to be everything to his city and his partner and his family and who really just needed rest. A lot like her sweet girl a decade ago.
"So I might not be back until…?"
"Potentially until after the New Year. I've spoken to your father and brother about it. You may also be ready in another five weeks, Jamie. It depends on a few things together, not just one factor."
"I didn't...no one said anything to me." Jamie let his shoulders hunch around his ears and swallowed hard.
"We'll know a little more in a couple of weeks, pet. You're doing everything right, you know. And you've been more...gracious than many in your position." O'Rourke reached over and patted his arm.
"I don't think Dad would agree." Jamie managed a strained chuckle.
"Well, it's not like you've thrown anything at anyone's face or stomped off into the dark of night in the midst of an absolute meltdown."
"More like I'm paying back taxes on being an idiot," Jamie muttered.
"None of that, now. You look done in. You can lay down in my study until your father gets here."
O'Rourke stood and gestured for him to follow her. Jamie followed, not as reluctantly as he wanted to. He didn't like this Toppish insistence on naps (and really didn't want to encourage anyone), but laying down also sounded nice. He'd had a long morning.
"Dad?" Jamie stared down at his cutting board and reduced the garlic to a fine mince.
"Yes, Jamie?" Frank poked at the browning meatballs, keeping his eyes firmly on the skillet. Sometimes, not having your Top's full attention was more helpful.
"I'm sorry I was a creep this morning." He reached for an onion before he turned the garlic into an unrecognizable mess.
"I'd hardly call you that, peanut."
"I was sulky and grumpy and only just not disrespectful," Jamie pointed out.
"Jamie, son, you're going to have opinions of your own. Sometimes, those opinions are going to be that your old man is an overbearing jackass." Frank caught Jamie freezing in place out of the corner of his eye.
"Dad, I would never-- "
"Relax, peanut. I'm just giving an example. If you had called me an overbearing jackass this morning, you'd have gone out the door tasting cod liver oil. But you didn't, and I'm proud of you. Jamie, you're allowed to have feelings and you're allowed to disagree with me." Frank kept his attention on the pan.
"But…" Jamie trailed off.
"But nothing. You're allowed to be grumpy, Jamie. It's only when you take your grumpiness out on the rest of us that there's a problem. Understand?"
"It's not how I feel; it's what I do with those feelings?" Jamie hazarded.
"That's exactly right, son. Now, let's get dinner on the road before we have everyone in the kitchen demanding garlic bread." Frank slipped the kitchen towel off his shoulder and snapped it in Jamie's direction.
"Everyone?" Jamie asked, handing over the garlic and onion and going to find canned tomato. "And we're really okay?"
"Well, Erin and Nicky. I thought you might want the quieter half of the family tonight." Frank snagged Jamie as he went past and pulled him into a rough hug. "And we're really okay, peanut. I'll always tell you if you're in trouble."
"Thanks, Dad." Jamie rested against him for a minute. "You know Mom used to brown meatballs in the oven, right?"
"She always said it made them dry." Frank tucked Jamie under his chin.
"Nope. You have to use muffin tins. They can go in the dishwasher after, too."
"But she'd come back and haunt us for putting her good pans through, hmm?"
"Something like that. I thought she'd have written it down." Jamie sighed a little and reached out to snag the spatula and poke at the meatballs.
"Maybe she wanted us to figure it out together," Frank dropped a kiss on the crown of Jamie's head and swatted him gently toward the counter. "Get the garlic bread together? Erin's bringing a salad."
"Sure." Jamie slipped over to the counter, snagging more garlic from the keeper on the counter.
"Any other secrets you have hiding under that mop? Like who broke Great Aunt Delia's milk glass vase collection?" Frank asked easily.
"No clue, Dad. No one shared that with me." Jamie felt his face do the Thing. The I'm So Innocent Thing. He'd have to ask Vere if it was a Known Brat Reaction.
"Oh my god when will dinner be ready? I had practice and I'm starving! " Nicky announced as she burst through the doors.
Jamie had never been so thankful to see his niece. Like Dad didn't know Mom loathed hobnailed milk glass, anyway.
Chapter 20: Dropsies
Jamie dragged air into tortuously tight lungs as the world swam in and out of focus. His vision fuzzed and blurred as he groped at the ground, trying to push up. His hand slipped in...something and he fell heavily, only just avoiding hitting his head on the brick wall behind him.
He shook his head, but couldn't clear the afternoon flashing over visual snow.
The muffled scream that lured him in.
The wide, terrified eyes of a young man sprawled and vulnerable.
The rage rolling off the Dom looming over him.
Dad's "you can fly solo for a bit today, peanut."
The bite of the slim, bedazzled canister in his hand.
Panic, terror, rage...he couldn't clear the emotional backlash. They tumbled over and over, spiking his pulse, sending adrenaline coursing.
He didn't know if the Dom would return. He couldn't get up, he could only clutch harder at the pepper spray, hands shaking. Nicky's pink, sparkly pepper spray probably saved his life.
Which could end in an alley. Fuck. Panic squeezed his lungs. Dad...and Danny...he would not die in a stinking alley. Not after he'd gotten so far. Just three more weeks on Dad's requested leave.
Wheezing, he tried to push up again and tumbled back against the wall.
"It was back…" was that a voice?
Sound faded into static.
And then there were hands on him. A low, guttural moan ripped from him as he tried to get away .
"Reagan...Reagan...come on, kid."
Was that Sarge? Jamie shoved weakly at the blurry figure. Why wouldn't his body work.
"Janko. Phone -- call Conover, tell her I think he's in Drop and we're getting him to St. Vic's. Then pull up close and call it in." Renzulli snapped out, throwing his phone to Janko.
"Sarge?" Janko took a step forward.
Janko fled to the sidewalk.
"Kid, come on, come up for me," Renzulli coaxed.
Why was Sarge touching his face? He tried swatting at the patting fingers.
"Jamison Francis, open your eyes. Now." At his bark, Jamie's eyes popped open.
"There we go, kid. Good, Jamie, good. Keep your eyes open, kid. I'm gonna get you up."
Renzulli eased an arm behind Jamie and hoisted him up. Blessed Mother, did the kid ever eat? Marie'd be having kittens if she knew. Jamie wobbled against him and started to slide down the wall.
"Oh no, kid. It's too cold for sitting in an alley. Come on." Renzulli hauled Jamie awkwardly against him and helped him stagger to the RMP.
Janko held the back door open until Renzulli managed to bundle Jamie into the back, climbing in after him. He held the kid steady, goading him into staying conscious, while Janko hit the lights and sirens and hauled ass.
Vere had never been more thankful for 6'5" fellow Brats than in that moment. She may have preceded him, but everyone moved for Pavel. And Kit, who followed him, only a head shorter. She scanned the crowds, nodding quickly at the security desk, until she saw Officer Janko, in civvies, pale and obviously trying not to fidget, near the elevators.
"They've got him in a room, but he's in for scans right now. Ruling out a head injury," Janko reported. "Is everyone here cleared?"
"Good, and yes. Dr. Jones," she gestured at Mal. "Is a consultant. Pavel and Kit are here for added support. Room?"
Vere hitched her tote higher on her shoulder. Kit reached forward and took it off her.
"I'll take you up." Janko hit the button with more force than necessary.
"Are you okay?" Vere asked gently as they filed into the elevator. Mal and Kat shuffled to the back, Mal so she could lean against the wall and shuffle through her paperwork.
Janko startled and stared at her for a moment. "I'm fine."
"It's not easy, seeing your partner like this," Vere continued.
"Sarge was with him. I didn't...he wouldn't let me close. At all." Janko answered tightly.
"Is hard," Pavel butted in, voice quiet. "Seeing friends hurt. Not being help. Is okay for being upset."
He'd deepened his accent and dropped articles and tenses, Vere noticed. That and his posture, hunched a bit trying to make himself smaller, said volumes: he was trying not to be a threat.
"Yeah," Janko was first off the elevator when the doors slid open.
Vere patted Pav's arm before she followed the young woman, trailing Pavel and Kat like ducklings. Mal peeled off, turning to walk backwards for a moment.
"Officer, you have a name for the doctor?" she asked.
"Um, Derwent, I think?" Janko swallowed hard. "They got him in pretty fast, and Sarge sent me back to clock off and change."
"Thanks! I'll find him from that." Mal continued down the hallway, overtaking a person in scrubs and stopping her for a moment.
"She'll find him. And she has privileges here, so that's a help."
Janko shrugged a little, but led them into a room. Vere checked the space. She's called ahead with recommendations, but there was no guarantee of anyone listening. But it was the Dom/Sub room she'd suggested with the double bed. That gave them enough space to work comfortably, especially if Jamie didn't need an I.V. Janko crossed to the visitor chairs and perched, tapping her fingers on the arm rest.
Pavel went to check the bathroom while Kit set one of the totes on the chair next to Janko and rooted through it. Vere started yanking the hospital sheets off the bed, stuffing them into the requested laundry bin.
"His skin is going to be ungodly sensitive right now. Did they put him in a gown?" She focused on the sheets.
"Um, no? I think it was scrubs? Sarge wouldn't let them put him in a gown and his clothes...he was collapsed in an alley." Janko rubbed her hands together, startling when Kit produced a thermos and a mug. She flat out stared when Kit poured out fragrant tea and handed her the mug.
"You had a pretty bad shock." Kit wrapped Janko's hands around the mug. "And it's cold out."
"What exactly are you doing here?" Janko asked, staring at the tea.
"Support, essentially. His Tops aren't available and we're the next best option." Vere explained, yanking a sheet out of the tote and spreading it over the mattress. "And making sure the room is Brat-in-Drop friendly."
"I'm ready for help with shower. You said you found in alley?" Pavel exited the bathroom wearing a rashguard, swim trunks, and shower shoes.
"Yes?" Janko squeaked a little, clearing her throat and flushing.
Her own sexuality aside, Vere understood Janko's reaction to Pav's thighs. He'd kept up his workout routine, even after retirement.
"Then he need shower. Katya, you have shower things?"
Kit didn't even look up at him, just pitched a kit toward the sound of his voice. He twitched it neatly out of the air. "Good, Katya."
"I have towels and clothes for him, too, when you're ready." Kit left the bags to pace, stretching a little before clubbing her long, dark braid up at the back of her head.
"Who are you people?" Janko finally demanded, voice quiet and tense. "I don't...what's going on with Jamie? No one is telling me anything."
Vere stopped immediately and went to her, moving the tote so she could sit.
"It's extremely likely that he's in Brat Drop, which is...not good. Part of that means that he's...physically, it's going to look a lot like a really bad flu and exhaustion. It's probably going to be hard for him to eat, either flat keeping things down or texture issues. He won't be able to regulate his emotions, everything will feel like it's too much. His entire system is currently crashing."
"Shit." Janko muttered.
"So he gets support. Therapeutic cuddling, essentially. It'll help him regulate his body temp, breathing, and emotional state." Vere patted Janko's arm. "And you're welcome to hang out here as long as you're comfortable."
"You're not kicking me out? I had to do a lot of talking to get in here, and it's only because the nurse I was talking to knows the Reagans." Janko chewed on her lip, gripping the mug tight.
"You're his partner, Officer Janko. You watch his back, and he trusts you."
"You could call me Eddie."
"Okay then, Eddie. How much support are you getting from Hendricks?" Vere gave her a searching look.
They both turned at the snort from Pavel and Kit's giggle.
"She never stop. Is worst." Pavel murmured.
"Complete worst." Kit agreed, snickering and then turning serious. "Reagan incoming."
"Let's get this show on the road." Vere stood, took a few deep, centering breaths, and blew off the stress of the afternoon. They'd keep Jamie safe until the Commissioner could come for him.
Chapter 21: Statements
"So, uh, as warning, I called Conover and she brought some people with her." How did you talk to a Sub who could barely focus? Especially when you were supposed to have some kind of CO's objectivity.
Tony looked down at the kid. Jamie only just kept himself from slithering out of the wheelchair. Nurse...Hitchcock? kept one hand on his shoulder to keep him upright, which seemed to help.
"Saw Mal 'ready. V'mpre." Jamie slurred, blinking up at him with pupils blown wide. No wonder they took so many samples.
"Uh, Janko said she had a, um, a Kit and a Pavel with her? You okay with that, kid?"
"Met 'em." Jamie lurched sideways, the nurse's quick reflexes the only thing that kept him in the seat. "They're okay."
"Okay, we're going to stop for a minute." Hitchcock interrupted.
Tony sighed, but moved out of the middle of the hallway. The nurse parked Jamie and moved to crouch in front of him. Jamie made an obvious effort to focus.
"The only reason you're not on a gurney right now is Dr. Jones going nuts about the sheets and detergent, and you promised you wouldn't squirm around. We have about thirty feet of hallway before we get to your room, and I'm not risking a head injury, so you're going to stay still. Got me?"
Jamie nodded, a little too fervently, and tipped forward.
"S'ry, s'ry." He slurred, bracing against the nurse's shoulder. "I'll try, Nurse Hitchcock?"
"Good. Because I don't want to explain to Linda how you got a concussion under my care." Hitchcock settled Jamie back in the wheelchair. "Not when she finally used some vacation time."
Jamie winced. "Tha'd be bad."
"So you're going to behave for me?"
"I will. Promise. No mad Linda."
"Good. She'd skin me alive."
Tony followed behind when they got underway again. With Jamie more cooperative, they arrived at the room quickly. A tall, broad youngish man lounged in the doorway, face brightening when he saw them.
"Hello Mr. Timosov." Hitchcock sighed.
"You, uh, know each other?" Tony asked, stepping closer when Timosov dropped down to crouch in front of Jamie.
"I come hold babies few days in week. Meet Hitchy there. Tell him call me Pavel, but stubborn." Timosov answered, gently cradling Jamie's cheek in one big hand. "Oh, zaichik. Not feel so good, huh?"
"Please tell me you didn't bring everyone?" Hitchcock asked, long-sufferingly.
"Hello, Nurse Hitchcock, Sergeant." Conover arrived on scene, and Tony breathed a sigh of relief.
"Agent Conover, good to see you. Am I going to be able to get Reagan's statement?" Best get everything back on track. Or as on track as it ever got with Reagans.
"Hey, Jamie." Conover joined Timosov, leaning against him. "You want a shower or your statement first, sweetheart?"
"Statement?" Jamie swallowed hard. "Don't think I can hold on til after."
"Okay. It's me, Pavs, Kit, and Office Janko in the room. Who do you want in there?"
While Jamie thought, Tony watched Timosov stand and show Hitchcock some kind of ID or something.
"You and Eddie." Jamie decided. "Is't okay, Sarge?"
"That should be okay. Uh, Mr. Timosov…"
"Take Kit down for snack. Athletes always hungry. Vere...we be back in bit."
He didn't seem annoyed at all, just poked his head into the room and beckoned. In short order, he hustled a tall young woman toward the elevators. Vere took over with the wheelchair, parking Jamie in the room across from the visitor chairs. She dragged one over next to him and sat, taking his hand in hers.
Tony took out his notebook and got ready. "Whenever you're ready, Reagan."
Jamie took a deep breath, steeling himself.
"I just finished at the Green Market. We needed stuff and Grandpa is away with Danny and Linda and the boys. They had the trip planned for a while before everything. I just put everything in the car when I heard what sounded like a scream in the alley. I called it in and tried to wait, but I heard it again, so I went to look. There was this kid on the ground and a guy above him. Big...um...over six foot, definitely. I identified myself and got his attention on me, got between him and the kid, and the kid ran. He put me on my knees." Jamie stopped, swallowing hard, pale and shaking.
"All I could think was that I wasn't...it wouldn't be another Reagan dead in an alley. He was so angry, it didn't take much to get him to slap me. I slumped against the wall, and when he got close again, I pepper sprayed him. I think he had dark hair, brown eyes. He had a hat on and his hood up, navy hoodie. He ran after I sprayed him, and...I don't remember much after that."
Tony hadn't seen Conover move. He started back when she shoved a bucket between Reagan's knees and pushed his head down. He and Janko both swallowed hard at Jamie's choked retching. Kid couldn't be bringing up more than bile at this point in the day. Conover held the bucket steady with one hand and cradled his forehead with the other, keeping it from resting on the bucket's lip.
"Adrenaline aftershocks," Conover explained before turning her attention back to Jamie. "It's okay, sweetheart, you get it all up."
Jamie coughed and spit a few times, hopefully done. Janko looked a little green around the gills. Tony stood, slapping his notebook against his leg.
"I need to go, get the report written up. Reagan, you need anything?"
Jamie raised his face from the bucket and yipped when Conover took her chance to wipe it. He pulled back, making the same face Tony last saw on a grumpy toddler. Conover, unperturbed, got him by the chin and finished cleaning him up.
"Just, don' tell Danny? Not yet? He's gonna blame himself."
"We're trying to get through to the Commissioner's office, but he's…"
"Closed door meetings." Jamie interrupted, swaying in his seat.
"And I got a message in to Detective Baker. As soon as she can, she'll let him know." Conover finished, moving with the bucket to the bathroom.
"You need anything, kid, you call, okay?" Tony couldn't help it. He tried to be a good CO, but all he could see at the moment was the little guy who called him Officer Tony.
"Thanks, Sarge." Jamie managed, rubbing a hand over his eyes.
"Yeah, thank me by behaving yourself." Tony teased a little as he left, misgivings roiling in his gut. Oh, he trusted the DSR, but it was Reagan.
I'm mostly still alive. :-) Moving and then a virus from hell derailed a lot.
"Now, we go slow, hmm?" Pavel crouched in front of him, eyes soft and understanding. "Anything you need, you say. Nothing you ask is too much. You can't say, you make noise, okay? I figure out from there."
Jamie nodded. "I'll ask."
"Good, zaichik. Is okay I pick you up?" Pavel gripped Jamie's shoulder, but gently.
"It's okay." The answer came faintly, Jamie's voice wavering.
"You lucky you get Type 2 goalie," Pavel commented as he scooped Jamie out of the wheelchair and turned to the shower. "Built like two-door fridge."
That, at least, got him the ghost of a smile.
"Pretty sure even twiggy goalie can carry right now, skinny." Pavel scolded gently, settling Jamie into the shower chair.
"All I do is eat." Jamie huffed.
"Huffing burn lot of calories." Pavel raised an eyebrow at him, but kept his tone mild.
Jamie blushed, and Pavel had no clue why some Top hadn't snatched him up. He was an absolute sweetheart.
"Okay to take top off, zaichik?"
"Can--" Jamie cut off, staring at his knees.
"Can what, zaichik?"
"Can you take your shirt off?" The question came as barely a whisper.
Usually, he'd make a joke of it, but Jamie radiated misery.
"Good, Jamie. Of course I take shirt off if it make you comfortable." He yanked off the rashguard, balled it up, and tossed it toward the counter. "Thank you for ask."
Jamie nodded jerkily.
"How about we get shirt off you, scrub, and then I wash hair, hmm?"
Jamie nodded again, worrying at his pants.
"It was a really good morning." He whispered.
Jamie finally looked up, and Pavel's heart ached at the tears spilling onto his cheeks. He flicked on the water, pointing the shower head away from Jamie, for a little more privacy.
"Oh, zaichik," Pavel crooned, sinking to his knees in time to catch Jamie as he slid forward, trying to hide his face in his knees.
He shifted them around to curl Jamie into his lap. A hospital shower floor wasn't the worst place he'd ever sat, and Jamie needed an anchor. And some tears and snot weren't the worst things he'd ever had on his shoulder.
"He not take away good morning, sweetheart. Not so good afternoon, maybe, but whole day is not bad. Get all tears out, hmm? We have all time we need." Pavel rocked them slowly, gently rubbing Jamie's back.
Finally, Jamie shuddered, coughing, in his arms.
"What's wrong with me?" he rasped, voice wrecked from weeping.
Pavel paused. Technically he probably shouldn't say anything since he wasn't a doctor. Actual diagnosis came from Dr. Jones and Felan. But he damn well knew what he was looking at. He'd caught Vere (literally) during her Drop, and Jamie wasn't far off. He seemed to be in a lucid period, holding on by sheer will.
"You're in Brat Drop, zaichik." He answered, finally. Felan could yell at him later if she wanted to. "Body wants to shut off for bit, so arms and legs all wobbly, balance is crap. Is like mono and chronic fatigue while Dynamic goes all to hell. Going to have trouble regulate emotions, going to have trouble stay warm, stuff like that."
Pavel snorted. "Yes, definitely fuck."
He gave Jamie a tight hug, which unfortunately brought his nose close to Jamie's hair.
"Okay, cuddle is very nice, and I'm yell at Vere later for steal all Jamie cuddles, but you need wash. Alley is worst smell."
That got him a watery giggle. Pavel rolled to his feet, lifting Jamie with him and tucking him close. "Wash first then hair, or hair first them wash?" he adjusted the water temperature and double checked his toiletries.
"Wash." Jamie answered quickly, squirming a little. "I think I'm allergic to the scrubs."
Pavel sighed. "Detergent and probably poly. No wonder you itch."
Thankfully, neither of them was squeamish or easily embarrassed or over encumbered with modesty. Pavel helped him squirm out of his clothes, making him slow down so he didn't pitch over onto his head, and turned the water back toward them.
"Is okay I check for hives?" he asked, holding Jamie upright. "Have to move you around little bit."
Jamie nodded, blushing a little. Pavel went quickly, running careful hands over Jamie's pinked-up skin. Definitely some kind of contact dermatitis, but no hives. He sucked air in between his teeth at the bruises coming up along Jamie's shoulders, hip, and backside. And barely restrained a growl at the finger-shaped bruises circling one wrist and smudging Jamie's jaw.
"Going to ache, zaichik. No hives, but lot of bruises."
"I slipped a couple times." Jamie swallowed hard, trembling a little in his arms.
Pavel hmmed, lathering the washcloth, and set to getting Jamie clean. Jamie melted against him as he scrubbed gently, pliant under hot water and tender handling. Jamie's breath hitched a couple of times while Pavel washed, sensitive to even the gentlest touch. Overstretched and exhausted, soft hands and gentle commentary nearly undid Jamie.
"Good, zaichik, good, your Papa be very proud," Pavel crooned, elbowing off the water for the moment. "Sit for minute while I get towels."
He settled Jamie gently, mindful of hip and butt, and stepped out to snag a few of the soft towels on the counter. He lifted Jamie briefly and unfolded a towel on the seat before settling him down again. That towel folded over Jamie's lap. The other, he wrapped around Jamie's shoulders.
"Think maybe you have too much vulnerable today, hmm?"
"Thanks, Pav. Covered up feels better." Jamie worried the soft terry between his fingers.
"And we use same detergent, so is good. Put head back for me?"
Jamie complied, giving him a better view of the bruising around his jaw. What he'd give for ten minutes with the asshole...not to do anything permanent, but he'd learned early how to use his size to intimidate (and had unlearned those early lessons through first his Mama and then Vere). And he knew he could be a scary fucker when he wanted to. And he wanted to. Pavel sighed and gently wetted down Jamie's hair. He needed gentle and solid, not fellow Brats growling about murder.
"This is not how the 'shower with hockey players' dream goes."
Jamie's disgruntled mutter startled a snort out of him even as it made his heart ache anew.
"I'm retire," Pavel snickered. "Could call friends, though."
He lathered shampoo through Jamie's hair, hands gentle and soft. Jamie'd had enough hurt for a lifetime.
"Did...was...that...out loud?" Mortified and squeaky, Jamie's cheeks pinked up with a fierce blush as he stammered.
"Is okay, zaichik," Pavel soothed, massaging Jamie's scalp. "Fantasy is good. Is healthy. I'm worry if you not see bunch of big, tough, mostly-Doms and go 'oooh'. I'm not tell anyone, either. Happens in shower, stays in shower."
Jamie relaxed again with a sigh of relief as Pavel rinsed out his hair. He smiled down at Jamie, not caring that he probably looked pretty sappy, and scrubbed a towel over Jamie's wet head.
"I'm think nap is best place for you, after get dressed, hmm?"
Jamie nodded, eyes closed. "M'tired."
"We get you dry and dressed, and we go out to cuddle with Vere and Katya. Is good?"
"Yeah." Jamie agreed.
Pavel didn't even ask for Jamie to help get himself dressed. Jamie was smaller and lighter enough for him to do all the work. And he didn't want a repeat of the one time he'd tried to wrangle a drunk teammate into pajamas. In no time he had Jamie snuggled into flannels and a sweatshirt. He got himself dressed and paused.
"Zaichik, you want wheelchair or carry?" Although he thought Jamie looked barely coherent.
"Dunno if I c'n sit up." Jamie managed, eyes glazed.
"Hold on too long, I'm think," Pavel murmured. "I'm carry you."
He scooped Jamie into his arms, letting him cling koala-like, and nudged the wheelchair out of his way.
"Don't fight, zaichik." He murmured. "We keep safe until Papa come. Let go, milyi."
Jamie whimpered and clutched at his shirt.
"Be good for me, milyi. Let go now. Is safe, zaichik. I'm take to Vere, she keep watch." Pavel rubbed Jamie's back, navigating the few steps to the bed.
Katya scooted off the bed as soon as she saw him, making room. He managed to get himself situated without letting go of Jamie...who probably would not let go, anyway. Vere budged up against him, helping him resituate Jamie in his lap. Katya climbed back into the bed with them, bracketing his other side. Vere murmured something into Jamie's ear and he went limp against Pavel's chest.
"He hold on too long," Pavel murmured. "Like other Brat I'm know."
"Thank you, Pavyushka." Vere rubbed Jamie's arm, touch soft, as she leaned hard into his side.
"Thank me by not steal all Jamie cuddles," Pavel muttered. "Rude."
They all jumped at Eddie's sudden question.
"For Brat who work too much and not sleep enough and eat like bird and pretend everything okay and avoid Tops, yes. Blows up in face eventually." Pavel elbowed Vere so he could answer. "Always blows up in face."
Catching a Dropping Brat twice was twice too many times. And as one of two Subs in the room who hadn't ever Dropped, this one was his. Vere had zero legs to stand on.
"Pav's right. And he'll be okay. I promise you, he'll come out the other side of this just fine. I did."
"So he'll be back to normal?" Eddie bit her lip.
"It'll take some time, but yes."
"Okay. You, uh, need me to um, help with anything?" Eddie asked, looking relieved at Vere's clear promise her partner would be okay.
"Not sharing Jamie cuddles right now, not even with partner." Pavel grumbled, getting the laugh he wanted.
He watched Eddie relax a bit and enjoyed holding Jamie safe with his two favorite people. He leaned against the raised head of the bed, curling Jamie close, and closed his eyes.
Between Eddie and Vere, any intruder didn't stand a chance.
Jamie floated, warm and comfortable and safe, in the dark. He'd roused slightly, enough to hear and feel a bit, enough to know who was with him. He curled closer to Pavel, tucking his head under Pavel's chin, and relaxed again.
The steady click of knitting needles and a soft drift of warm sandalwood meant Vere keeping watch. Soft, cool hands on his feet and the barely there brush of cold on his toes -- Kit was giving him a fresh pedicure. He got some ribbing about it, but Kit liked to practice her nail art and there weren't any rules about pedicures or officer's toenails on the books. And his feet weren't ever gross, as an added bonus. He thought, maybe, Eddie'd joined the group on the bed--he could smell her shampoo--but he wasn't positive. She might not have moved from the visitor's chairs.
Content with those surrounding him, Jamie dropped back into deep sleep. He'd maybe try to pry his eyes open when Dad got there.
Frank leaned on the door jamb and took in the room for a moment. He knew damn well just how lucky he was that these people found his boy. That they'd taken him straight into their generous hearts and gave him another safe place to land. The last time he'd rushed to a hospital room for Jamie haunted him--but this was the exact opposite.
No gray-faced child in too much shock to acknowledge anything outside his tortured brain met him.
Instead, he found a usually stark hospital room bathed in soft, warm lamplight. The bed lay in shadow, but the lamp gave off enough light to see the pile of people resting together. Jamie lay curled up in a large man's arms in the center, snoring gently against his collarbone. His feet trailed into the lap of the slim, dark-haired young woman to the left, his toenails painted dark blue. Vere curled around Jamie and the man from the right, knitting project abandoned in her lap and dark circles smudging under her eyes, seemingly hard asleep. Janko sat toward the bottom of the bed, her back up against Vere's shins, obviously keeping watch despite her closed eyes.
She opened her eyes when he shifted, shoes creaking a bit, and he held a finger to his lips. Janko nodded, and gestured toward the visitor chairs with her chin. Fia O'Rourke somehow sat sideways in one, lamp pulled nearly over her shoulder, sketchbook propped on the leg folded against the arm and back of the chair. Her long skirt and shawl trailed off the chair to pool on the floor, shawl drooping over the chair arm behind her. She squinted at the bed and made a face at her sketchbook, waving him in with an expansive gesture.
"Four of them are out hard, so you may as well sit for a bit. Tea?" Fia smudged some of the pencil with the side of her thumb.
"You have tea?"
Fia jerked her chin toward the rolling table set up against the wall. Frank blinked at the electric kettle and mugs. And good quality tea bags.
"Thank you." Frank fixed himself a cup before settling into the other visitor chair. "I don't suppose you brought comfortable chairs, too?"
Fia snorted, nearly smearing the side of her hand over the soft pencil sketch in the process.
"Even Vee can't fit those in a tote bag. And he's a bit better, even, from when they brought him in. Less restless, Vee said, actually sleeping instead of unconscious." Fia brushed futilely at the strands of hair come undone from her braid, leaving pencil dust smudged over her cheek.
Frank sipped his tea, making a noncommittal noise. He needed to talk to the doctors and Vere and see what they were in for. Subs in this sort of distress...at minimum he'd have to keep the kids and their school germs away. Jamie would need him in a way that would likely infuriate his independent spirit.
"What are we in for, when he's released?" Frank asked, sipping more tea. The hearty blend soothed more than a light Darjeeling might.
"Oh, lots of fun." Fia quirked a wry grin at him. "Vere was extremely weak for a long time, like what you'd have with glandular fever. And cross about it, too, when she wasn't flat miserable. She picked up every cold that came through, and her emotions were all over the place -- fine one moment and chucking a tea cup at your head the next, once she was out and about. Only ever once with that, though. We don't hold with throwing crockery about and it's not in her nature, really. Your Jamie...well, it's likely he'll need a great deal of support and even more structure. Though I don't imagine structure will be a problem for you."
The gentle needling dispelled the last of the stress knotting his shoulders.
"No," Frank stared down into his tea. "Structure isn't a problem."
"He'll need a good bit of care, and he'll likely hate it a bit. On the bright side, you shouldn't have another crisis like this?" Fia finished off a couple of shadows and scribbled her name in the bottom corner. She ripped the sheet off her pad and handed it to Frank. "And you now have him memorialized drooling on Pav's shoulder."
"Thank you." Frank managed, coughing on the mouthful of tea gone down wrong.
"I'll put it in a travel folio so it doesn't smudge before you get it home. Pencil is a bugger for smudging. Also, while I have you here, how do you feel about me using Jamie as a model for a couple of paintings I've been planning for years?" She slapped her sketchbook shut and leaned forward on it.
Frank stopped to think before he answered.
"It would depend on what the paintings are and would have to go through a couple of official channels before you get a yes. He's been undercover and having his face out there could be dangerous."
"But that's not a flat no?" Fia bounced a bit.
"It's not a flat no." Frank answered.
"Wonderful! I have sketches of what I've been planning!"
Frank stared down at the stuffed file suddenly in his hands and offered up a silent prayer that Jamie would wake up soon.
"And since we're both here I can go through my vision with you!"
Frank wasn't entirely sure what his face did, but Janko suppressed a laugh, snorting a little.
"Now, I first saw your boy on Harvard's campus in 2007. I was late to set up a show, and he was headed to class, and we crossed paths in a quad. The sunlight hit him from behind and haloed his hair and those cheekbones! And I immediately thought of The Minstrel Boy. You know the song?"
Frank nodded as Fia set off again, barely waiting for his acknowledgement.
Heaven save him from artists. He knew, absolutely, that somewhere in the afterlife Mary was watching and laughing.
Consciousness seemed a long way off and too much trouble to try for. He could stay safe, resting in the warm dark. But the soft, drowsy cocoon dissipated around him, something prodding him to open his eyes.
Even if that sounded like too much work.
Slowly, he pried his eyes open, thankful that someone had the foresight to bring a lamp to replace the glaring hospital overhead. His head throbbed dully and his mouth tasted...honestly, the less said about that the better. He rested for a moment, still mostly boneless against the bed, and got his bearings.
Fia had left - a while ago if the nearly gone drift of her perfume was true. And there was a cool spot on his left where Kit had snuggled in. And Pavel, obviously, since Jamie rested on the mattress and not on him. He thought he vaguely remembered a rumbled 'be good, zaichik' not that long ago. But he heard Vere talking quietly to…
"Dad?" Jamie rasped.
"You're awake." Frank stood immediately and crossed to the bed, reaching to cup Jamie's cheek with his hand. "How are you?"
"What truck hit me?" Jamie tried for a chuckle and instead coughed.
Frank immediately adjusted the back of the bed upright and held up a cup of water for him. Jamie took the straw gratefully, draining the cup quickly.
"More like the shipping tanker Brat Drop." Dr. Jones commented as she walked into the room. "Hey, Jamie. Hello, Commissioner."
"Dr. Jones." Frank nodded to her as he soothed Jamie's coughing fit. "How does it look?"
"And that's my cue." Vere stood, crossing to pull Jamie into a hug. "I'll be checking in with you, Jamie. You have my cell, and I expect you to use it. Even if it's just because you're bored, love. Same for Pavel."
Jamie drank in the hug from her, clinging without any shame. He was too tired, anyway.
"Behave yourself, hmm?" She murmured into his hair.
"I will." Jamie promised.
"And text me as much as you want. Especially if you just want company or a little sympathy."
"Promise." Jamie let her loose, reluctantly, but he did it, and she slipped out the door.
Frank sat quickly and pulled Jamie into his side. Jamie curled up, still a little floppy-limbed, and leaned hard.
"I love the HIPPA compliant." Dr. Jones smiled at Jamie. "Now, we should have Dr. Devereaux here shortly. I can tell you what you probably already know because Pavel has never been good at keeping his mouth shut -- you're in Brat Drop. All of the markers are there."
Jamie nodded, swallowing hard. He'd hoped for something else--there were pseudo Drops, weren't there?
"It can't be a pseudo Drop?" Frank asked rubbing his hand up and down Jamie's arm.
"We were hoping, but this is the real deal. His hormone levels are all over the place. I'm surprised you're even remotely coherent, Jamie."
"Vere and Pavs and Eddie and Kit helped." Jamie explained listlessly. He was maybe ready for another nap, even though he'd just woken up.
"Cuddle therapy would explain it. So, you're in for a difficult few weeks. You'll be signed off work until after the New Year. Essentially, I'm prescribing bed rest, regular meals, and Dominant micromanagement."
"Whoopee." Jamie muttered, then squeaked at Dad's warning pat to his hip.
"Manners, Jamie." Frank scolded quietly.
"Sorry, Dr. Jones." Jamie ducked his head, biting his twisting lip.
"You're going to find emotional control difficult right now, Jamie. If I remember Vere's Drop properly, you're not going to have much of a filter for a while." Mal smiled gently at him. She had a soft spot for sarky Brats.
"I spoke to Agent Conover, but I'd like the medical opinion, as well. So we'll be dealing with--" Frank started.
"Sorry I'm late, got held up. We just have a few things to go over before we can get you out of here Officer--Jailbait?!" The hospital doctor stopped short, staring at Jamie.
"Devsy?" Jamie blinked at him. "They let you into med school?"
"Jesus Christ, Jailbait, you were supposed to be a lawyer!"
"Do you two know each other? Or is calling officers jailbait a new thing for you, Matt?" Mal leaned against the wall, trying to suppress a grin.
"We kept him out of trouble his first couple years at Harvard." Dr. Devereaux defended himself. "Well, mostly out of trouble," he amended.
"Devereaux's a Dynamic specialist." Mal explained for Frank. "And apparently went to Harvard."
Frank nodded his thanks to Mal but kept quiet. Some battles Jamie needed to fight himself.
"I saw the Reagan, but didn't put it together with you. Do Neilsy and Kleiner know?" Devereaux gentled his tone slightly.
Jamie winced. "C'mon, Devs, I don't even have Facebook."
"Mm hmm. Neilsy's gonna flip, kid. And Kleiner…" he trailed off, sucking air in between his teeth. "But medical stuff first, we're discharging you into your father's care. You don't have any kind of head injury, thankfully. We'll arrange a series of follow-up appointments with me and Dr. Jones so we can monitor what's going on with you. But mostly, you need rest and quiet to get better."
Jamie bit his lip, mentally adding to the number of people he'd disappointed with crappy choices. He'd considered looking them up--Matt and Jason and Eric had taken one look at him from across Western Civ 101 and adopted him into their group. And he'd repaid that care with radio silence. He ducked his head, shame twisting his gut.
"Hey, uh uh, you're not the worst person on the planet. We all fell out of touch with each other. Law school and med school and internships and 80 hour weeks and whatever the hell Kleiner's up to got in the way. I was just surprised." Because it was an asshole of a Dom who could look at a Sub as miserable as Jamie and not melt.
"You're not mad?" Jamie hated himself in that moment for having to ask, but even the idea that a Dom, a Top, could be upset with him...his stomach twisted again.
"No, I'm not mad. No one else is going to be mad either. And Neilsy owes me a hundred bucks." Devereaux soothed.
"You bet on me?" Jamie glared, still slumped over against his father's shoulder. He stifled a yawn. He just had to stay awake for a few more minutes.
"Jailbait, if anyone actually thought you'd be a lawyer for more than a year, then they're an idiot. I'm going to attach my cell, Neilsy's, and Kleiner's to your discharge papers. Email addresses, too. And sir," he switched his attention to Frank.
"If there's any negative change, if he passes out or goes incoherent or just backslides in some way after the next three days, call and text me and Dr. Jones. I don't care what time it is. We'll monitor hormone levels with bloodwork, but there's the Dynamic part of this, too. You'll need to keep a journal, each of you, just to record symptoms like mood swings and fatigue level. Your papers will have everything Jones and I are looking for."
"We can do that, right Jamie?"
At Frank's question, Jamie startled awake, shaking.
"Sorry! Sorry, I can stay awake." He mumbled.
"Close your eyes, son. I've got you right now." Frank allowed himself to press a kiss to the crown of Jamie's head. Jamie went boneless against him.
"He's going to be like that for a week or so, probably. Just, uh, give him a lot of structure and quiet. No even lightly bending rules, no big changes. He's living with you?" Devereaux asked.
"Yes." Frank desperately wanted to get Jamie home. He knew it was the sheer vulnerability Jamie exuded, but he wanted his youngest home and tucked up in bed where he could be cared for properly.
"Good. That will help. A familiar place where he feels safe is best. I put all his paperwork in a folder, and Nurse Hitchcock is coming up with a wheelchair. I'll get out of your hair so you can get him home."
"Dr. Devereaux, thank you for keeping an eye on Jamie in college." Frank couldn't let that go unsaid.
"I just wish we could have stuck around longer, but Jason and Eric and I all had to scatter. If it's okay with you, sir, Jason--that's Neilsy--and I will be in touch as friends. He's in the city, too."
And didn't that help further explain why Jamie turned to suppressants--family in disarray and the friends who'd kept him stable scattered.
"I think Jamie can use as many friends as possible right now." Frank managed a smile.
"Thanks. I'll let you get him home. Jonesy?" Devereaux slipped out the door.
"Be right with you, Matt. You'll be okay getting him in once you get home, Commissioner?" She straightened everything in the folder she carried.
"We'll manage, thank you."
"I can have Pavel meet you there if you think you'll need help. And as warning, Vere is going to stop by tomorrow morning with enough food for a small army. You're probably not going to be thinking too much about cooking the next few days."
"Dr. Jones, we'll be fine. And thank you for the warning. I'll keep an eye out in the morning. I'd like to get Jamie home."
As he'd hoped, his tone worked as a dismissal.
Frank tucked the blankets tightly around a softly snoring Jamie and stood, stretching the kinks out of his back. He stared at the baby monitor he'd dug out of his closet, weighing hearing if Jamie was distressed with his son's possible reaction to being monitored. An innocuous thing, but it seemed to lurk on Jamie's nightstand. Well, Jamie would just have to lump it. He plugged it in and turned it on, his instincts appeased for the moment.
It was early enough, despite the darkness outside, that he could call Danny and Linda and Pop...especially his father right now. He might have grandchildren of his own, but he still sometimes needed his dad to tell him he was doing it right. It didn't happen often, but Jamie Dropped.
Jamie Dropped and none of them saw it coming, not even the DSR. He'd seen Felan O'Rourke's face when Baker came in, the shock there. Just as he'd seen the tight worry in Conover's even as she tried to reassure him, give him everything she remembered to help him get Jamie through this. Although, he was fairly certain she hadn't gained those circles under her eyes just worrying about his boy.
Pop would probably know, the retired NYPD gossip grapevine remained strong.
He tried not to think about the hours Jamie had waited for him, tried not to feel like a failure as a Top and as a parent. The reality was that his job, his vocation, demanded a great deal of his time. And it was vocation. His calling, his service, in the way he could provide best. He'd have made a lousy priest, though he suspected everyone knew that with the distinct lack of discussion from his pastor when he was a kid. Jamie was the only one who might have done well, but he'd have to have been a Jesuit, probably. But their family vocation lay in the community, in the NYPD and in the justice department, not in the Church. He slipped out of Jamie's room, clipping the monitor's receiver on his belt and leaving the door open just a crack. Jamie never liked waking to a completely dark room.
Imagining Erin as a nun had him huffing a laugh as he headed down the dimly lit upstairs hall. The cream-painted plaster, dark woodwork, and thick hall runner softened the regular household noises, but he found himself treading lightly on the stairs. He thought again about replacing the foyer and stairway wallpaper--it was a bit dark, especially with the woodwork--but his mother chose it and his wife kept it.
He tried not to keep the house as a monument, but he liked it as it was. He loved the memories of each room--Mom and Pop getting the kids to move the living room furniture so they could teach Danny and Erin to jive; Jamie and Joe chasing each other around; first steps and first days of school and tucking up on the sofa to read together--and the life they gave the old house.
He straightened up a bit as he moved through the living room--righting the afghan on the back of the sofa and neatening up the papers on the coffee table--and into the hall. He snagged the phone as he walked into the kitchen and set it on the counter so he could forage in the freezer for dinner. He thought they still had some of the lasagna Linda brought over last week.
Prize claimed, he stuck it in the microwave while he called his family. It took a couple rings before a slightly breathless Danny answered.
"Hey Pop, what's up?"
"Hi Danny. Are you with Linda?"
There must have been something in his voice, because Danny's tone changed.
"Yeah, and Grandpa. We're having a drink before dinner. Boys are at some kid's thing with the water slides. What happened?"
Some kid's thing with the water slides that Danny had likely vetted to hell and back, if Frank knew his son.
"It's going to be easier if I tell all of you at once. Could you put me on speaker?"
And he could hear his father and Linda and the clunk of Danny setting his phone down.
"Francis, what's happened?"
"Hey Pop, hi Linda." Frank started.
"Any time this century, Francis."
"Jamie dropped today." Best to get it all out at once.
The commotion on the other end was instantaneous.
"What the hell is going on there?" From Danny.
"Danny, calm down and let him explain." Linda.
"I would also like to know what the hell is going on, Francis." Pop.
"He's sleeping right now, and he will be okay. From what I've been told, he was at the Green Market as planned but heard something down an alley. He went to investigate and stopped an assault. He went down, but managed to pepper spray the assailant. The initial victim ran. With...it...it was the last straw for his system. The young man he saved called it in, and Renzulli was in the area. He got Jamie to St. Vic's and the DSR got him through until I could get there." Frank's hands shook as he spoke. He put them flat on the counter for a moment. The afternoon could have gone so much worse.
"Wait, he was at the Green Market and Renzulli just happened to be in the area?" Danny, of course latched onto that detail.
"Apparently Conover told Hedricks who happened to mention it to Renzulli that Jamie would be out on his own this morning." And wasn't it luck that the DSR was just as full of nosy meddlers as his own family?
"And no one thought to call any of us?" Pop again, crisp and annoyed. He'd be Francis Xavier in a minute.
"Jamie was very specific about the hospital not calling you. He didn't want you coming home early, and he's feeling awful enough right now that you should try to enjoy the rest of your vacation. I can handle it for a few days." He hoped he made it clear.
"Who saw him, Frank?" Linda, this time, sounding a lot calmer than Danny or Pop.
"Devereaux, with Mal Jones as a consultant." He tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder while he yanked his lasagna out of the microwave. He left Jamie's relationship with the doctor for later. No need to clutter up the conversation.
"He's a good one, and we don't have that many Dynamic specialists on staff. Jamie's really okay?"
"Jamie's really okay. He's upstairs sleeping like a log, and I put the monitor in his room. He didn't hit his head and he's otherwise healthy. And he's probably going to spend the next few days sleeping." Frank reassured them as he cut into his...early dinner? Late lunch? He hadn't had a chance to eat that afternoon.
"How are we supposed to be away when...do you really want us to stay here, Pop?"
He could hear Danny tapping his fingers on the table, fidgeting against the anxiety.
"I would. Would you come running back if I told you Jamie had the flu?"
"No." Danny conceded, finally. "And he really wants us to stay?"
"He was pretty firm about it. I think right now he's sensitive enough that he'd feel like he ruined your trip, and I'm trying to keep him quiet and resting." Hopefully he wouldn't have Danny and Pop on the doorstep at the crack of dawn.
"We'll stay, Frank. It's two days. You'll keep us updated?" Linda cut in before either man could start again.
"I will. I'll even send pictures. I'm going to need all of you rested for when he's coherent again, in any case."
"All right, Francis. I don't like this, but Jamie is an adult. More or less."
Frank bit his lip to keep from laughing. "Thanks, Pop. Say hi to the boys for us?"
"Sure thing, Pop. And you're sure?" Danny had to ask one more time.
"Yes, Danny. You show up here before you're supposed to and we're going to have a very long talk about what no means." It never hurt to be extremely clear with Danny.
"Geez, you don't gotta pull out the threats. I'll stay put. Tell Jamie we love him, okay? And take care of yourself, too." Danny sighed.
"I will. I'll keep you all in the loop, and I'll see you on Sunday for dinner."
Frank answered the last chorus of 'love you' from Linda and disconnected. He popped his dinner back into the microwave and went to find his book in the living room, stopping at the mantle and lighting the votive he kept by Mary's picture there on his way. Frank smiled fondly at her, caught laughing at something, and stroked a finger down the glass.
"If you're listening, Mary, I need you with me. You always did understand Jamie best."
He tapped the glass one more time before he turned and picked his book up off the side table. He rubbed a finger over the scar in the wood where Jamie'd knocked a baby tooth out. The microwave beeping startled him out of his maudlin mood, and he shook his head a little.
Dinner, then sitting with Jamie. No time for brooding sentimentality.
And maybe he'd be able to get some kind of food into his kid at some point.
"Dude," Neilsy hissed and elbowed him in the side.
"Ow! What, dude?" Matt Devereaux socked him back, scootching back a little to let Kleiner into the row. He liked the inside seats.
"Devsy, new kid. He's like, twelve." Neilsy tried for subtlety, but it was definitely not his strong point.
Matt looked down the rows and stared. The kid really did look twelve, maybe. Slim and small and looking kind of like he wanted to puke. Which, first day of class at Harvard would make anyone want to puke. Especially if you were like him and Neilsy. Or getting the attention of just about everyone because you looked like you should be in middle school. Before he even realized what he was doing, he was on his feet and walking down toward the doors.
"Hey, kid. I'm Matt. Me and Neilsy and Kleiner have a seat open in our row."
The kid stared at him for a minute. "I'm Jamie. Jamie Reagan."
"C'mon, Jamie. Might be the only seat left in here. Who'd think Western Civ 101 would be such a hot course." He herded the kid up the stairs to their row - middle of the lecture hall in the lefthand block of seats. Kleiner bitched if they tried to sit anywhere farther back.
Neilsy saw them coming and, looking like he really wanted to snigger, moved one seat over. Matt didn't nudge, but Jamie slid into the now open seat, setting his bag under his feet and producing a notebook and pen from somewhere. Matt sat on his other side, using his size to shield the kid from curious stares. Fricking Freshman.
"Neilsy's next to you, and Kleiner's next to the wall." Matt made the best introductions he could. Kleiner leaned around Neilsy and waved.
"Yo, jailbait!" Neilsy greeted him happily. "How's Harvard?"
Sometimes, Matt thought, he knew exactly how people who owned Labradors felt. At least the kid laughed, though.