No Matter What They Say I've Done
"Security to section four. Code six."
The store intercom repeated the announcement for the third time and Zach threw himself back to sit on the short commercial carpet, arms full of dark gray comforter. He tried to catch his breath and stop laughing, but neither effort was made easy by the movement in the other half of the piled bedding. He blew a strand of disarranged hair off his forehead and set about trying to uncover a head from the shifting fabric.
"I'll bet that's us," he said when he caught a glimpse of darkness too shiny to be satin.
Jack's face turned towards the opening and he struggled to get head and shoulders through, entirely without success. "What's us?" Zach had his legs caught under there somewhere in the crook of his own.
"The security call," Zach explained almost idly, not moving an inch as Jack twisted in attempt to escape the yards of fabric.
That stopped the futile movement. "Us? You're not serious!" Zach gave another one of his shrugs that, impossibly, still looked elegant among the ruins of a once decorative display of comforters.
Jack took a slow look around at what they'd done to the nearby displays and racks of sheets and curtains, expression going from incredulity to mild alarm. "You are serious. Should we…" get out of here, was the reflexive response of the street kid faced with approaching authority, but he wasn't that anymore, either. He'd stopped running from things a lot more frightening than mall security in recent months.
Zach thought he meant fix the damage. "Nahh, no time." He shifted his weight back as if in preparation to stand, then lunged back onto Jack instead, resuming the tussle. He flipped a fold of the voluminous material over their heads as Jack managed to leverage a roll. "We're already busted, love. Let's leave it to their imagination."
It had all gotten started very innocently. They had been looking over curtains for the small kitchen window, and saying he simply couldn't visualize it, Zach had maneuvered Jack in front of the display to 'test the frame.' Jack had retaliated by bullying Zach into a hanging display of shower curtain fabric and wrapping him up from every direction until he found the perfect color 'to compliment that golden skin.' By the time they got through the rest of the apartment, arranging one another in poses in front of wall hangings and under and occasionally in displays, they had been so far gone in mischief that the attempt on the bedroom furnishings had simply been the breaking point.
It had seemed only necessary for Jack to shake loose the colorful bed sheets to test them against Zach's frame and hair. Of course, nothing had been rich enough to go with Zach's laughing vivid blues, and Jack had been forced to kiss them closed before making his decision. Zach had gone him one better at the comforters, threatening to cocoon him in every shade until he found 'exactly what I want to see when I come home late.'
"What you will see is me in the living room with coffee," Jack had returned, already dodging away. Zach had only been teasing, but suddenly it had seemed only natural to toss what was in his hands over Jack's head before he could escape. They had ended up in a rolling tangle on the floor and…
"Security to section four. Code six."
"All right, gentlemen."
The deep voice was only about ten feet away, so Zach judged it prudent to at least answer. He got his head out with only minor difficulty since Jack had stopped fighting at the voice. Flushed and unrepentant, he addressed the new arrivals, one smallish male clerk and one security guard -- size X-large but grizzled on top -- in his most honeyed tones. "Be with you in just a second."
Cliff Terrence stood maintaining his stern expression while the two boys untangled themselves from the variety of king sized comforters, wondering what exactly they'd done to make the department clerk afraid to approach them. Mr. Whittier had called in from the employee lounge that two men were destroying his department, pulling down displays, ripping open packages and exhibiting lewd behavior. What Terrence actually saw in the area were a number of curtains left haphazardly over racks, several of their best quality silk sheets on the floor and, of course, the display of their finest comforters in a jumble in front of him. He'd seen bigger messes during the holiday sales, and he'd never heard of a wrestling match, however inappropriate, being considered lewd behavior. Whittier was not among those store employees whom Terrence trusted overmuch, and he wasn't willing to react harshly on the weight of his say-so alone.
A black-haired kid was freed at last, gasping for breath, seeming half smothered between laughter and his time spent beneath the heavy fabric. He looked up at Terrence and Whittier and quieted instantly, blushing to his fingertips. The blond caught a handful of the dark gray fabric and brought it to the kid's face. "Now that is perfect. I'll just have to be sure to keep color in those cheeks."
"That's about enough," Terrence told then, still polite but very firmly. These boys were supposed to be intimidating? The tall one might be insolence on the hoof but that didn't make them dangerous.
The clerk chose that moment to mutter something about perverts that made even the security guard frown. Zach, all traces of humor gone in an instant, gave him a look full of enough incipient violence to shut his little mouth and step him half behind the guard. It also brought the security guard up a step, however, hand falling to rest on a nonexistent gun holster. Probably an ex-cop. Zach made himself tone it down a little before he got them in real trouble. Jack was sending a wave of calm across the psilink and Zach patted his arm. At this point he was really rather more amused than angry, still riding the fun from their misbehavior. Of course, edged playfulness had always been one of his most dangerous moods.
Zach stretched long legs free from the chosen bedspread and settled back on his elbows, blowing hair out of his eyes again. He kept his gaze on the clerk as he addressed the guard and got to watch him twitch. "Is there a problem, officer? You're the first store employees we've seen in the last hour."
The guard didn't seem to register the title as inappropriate and Zach gave a small internal sigh. A real ex-cop would probably handle things too efficiently for him to get much chance at entertainment.
Terrence hesitated, mentally filing a reprimand for Whittier. Given the time, he'd probably gone on an extremely long lunch break and, finding things in a shambles on his return, had intended to make a fuss to cover his lapse. If he'd been here and paying attention the boys would probably never have gotten so rambunctious. Now that security was involved Terrence suspected that the mouthy one would force a scene rather than be shown quietly to a door.
Sensing Terrence's mood, Whittier began a rapid-fire recital of the boys' misdeeds and behavior, not allowing the guard the opportunity to answer the older boy. The blond in fact now wore an expression that suggested he was enjoying the show. Terrence had a sudden peaceful image of Whittier locked in one of the storage closets. Preferably gagged. When the clerk took a breath, he interrupted with what he considered admirable patience. "I understand, Mr. Whittier, but lets see if we can't avoid any further unpleasantness, all right?"
"Unpleasantness?" Pale blue eyes rolled in melodramatic disbelief. "That one had the other one down on the floor doing no telling what kind of indecency…"
A single motion would have had Zach on his feet and moving forward if Jack hadn't anticipated him by a split second. He grabbed Zach's nearer arm and didn't let go. Unwilling to chance hurting those graceful hands by twisting away Zach was forced into a short stumble that put him back on his butt.
The clerk was completely behind the security guard now. Still yammering. "Do you see? Do you see now why I called you? They're a menace."
Jack slid close and put his arms around Zach's shoulders, hating the shake outrage had put in the hands that rose to clasp his forearms in response. Zach had started up more out of a desire to see the little idiot jump than anything, but the rush of the movement had strengthened his very real anger at the vulgarity spoken in Jack's presence.
Terrence listened to the petulant whine beneath Whittier's self-satisfied rambling, took in the genuine emotion beneath the tousled blond hair, the earnest expression on the green-eyed kid as he tried to soothe him, and decided whose attitude he liked least in this situation.
"You can go, Mr. Whittier. I'll finish up here."
"Now." That particular voice had stopped gangbangers in midswing a decade ago. It had no problem sending one pompous little man on his way today.
Left with the two figures huddled in the mess of the display Terrence stifled a sigh. The blond was still in belligerent posture, still poised to jump up again, but he was softening towards the shoulder where the other kid had propped his chin. After Whittier's misplaced comments he gave them the grace of silence until the blue eyes rose to look at him again. He had decided to be as diplomatic as possible. "Now, gentlemen, there's no damage done here that I can see. I extend the store's apologies for Mr. Whittier's behavior, but unless there's something specific we can do for you today, I'm going to ask you both to leave."
Zach studied him for a moment, then shrugged. With the clerk gone he had lost his target and there was no point in continuing the game. "You can save the placating tone for that little pissant you just chased off the floor." He pulled his feet in and rose gracefully, straight up to avoid the appearance of further aggression. He took Jack by both hands and lifted him to his feet. "We really weren't looking to make any trouble. We're still not."
Terrence didn't bat an eyelash at the arm the blond stretched around the other's shoulders, too busy evaluating the sudden change in attitude. What he'd taken for a maybe twenty-year-old looked closer to thirty with his composure drawn back around him. The arrogance had toned down to a collected confidence and the anger to irritated disgust, and he definitely did not move like your average American civilian. Except for the fastidious way he was putting clothes and hair back into order he might almost have looked like…
~No way is this guy a cop. Not a…~ He ran a hand across short cropped hair the mirror told him was mostly gray, reminding himself that things had changed since he was on the force. There were homo cops now, though not that he'd ever seen. Not that any of that mattered at the moment, except that he felt he had a better chance of ending this discretely with this professional young man than with the outraged kid of a few minutes ago.
"That's good, son, then we're after the same thing. If you gentlemen will come with me I can just write this off as a minor disturbance and nothing has to come of it."
~Of course not.~ Zach thought sardonically that the guard deserved points for making it sound like a favor. No upscale store would want to make a fuss over anything short of destruction of property or violence. "That's fine, officer. We can find our way out."
Jack had not ventured a word since the guard arrived, knowing that Zach was not only better prepared to handle a brush with authority but also had more to lose if it went badly. But at that he turned to Zach in dismay. "But, Zach, we spent so much time finding everything." He turned to the guard and looked up, and up. "Sir, can't we please just…"
Zach interrupted, seeing by the tightening jaw that they had reached the end of the guard's considerable patience. "It's all right, Jack. Never mind."
"But you never get time off." Jack looked back at the guard. "Sir, he never gets time off, I don't want it to be wasted just because I was acting so silly. I could wait for him outside."
The guard's expression reminded Zach that, though calling the law on them for rumpled bedding was vanishingly unlikely, having them trespassed for refusal to leave the store was much more so if they ticked him off sufficiently. The thought of what that idiocy would do for his security status took the last of Zach's humor. "Never mind, Jack. Let's just go."
"Wait, Zach, just one minute, please?" And back to the guard again. "Sir, aren't the salespeople here on commission? We picked out a lot of stuff. Surely there's someone who could ring us up real quick, just to get the sale."
The guard looked exasperated but as if he were considering it if it would just get them out of there without further trouble. And Jack had just given Zach a very appropriate idea of how to deal with the escaped clerk who had started all this. He made his voice very polite. "Sir, if you can get that clerk who called you to ring us up, and be civil, I'll buy everything we messed up. All of it."
That was at least two of everything and half a dozen sheets and comforters, well into four digits, and Terrence's eyes went hard. "I believe we've had enough games for today, sir. Now, I'm asking you to follow me."
Zach had fished out his wallet and was quickly extracting his platinum card and a fifty-dollar bill. "No game officer. And I'll give him fifty bucks if he'll hold it for us for a couple of hours so that we can pick it all up at the door."
This really was getting outrageous, Terrence thought briefly. But Whittier was the one clerk who always spoke of him in reference as the black security guard. He was a self-important little creep, and Terrence was human enough to enjoy the thought of watching him try to choose between his puffed up indignation and his greed. In the end, between the earnest hopefulness on the one face and the knowing wickedness on the other, he went and fished the clerk out of the lounge for them.
And was well rewarded. The blond's manner had changed again, oozing charm and reconciliation. With a very polite 'please forgive the misunderstanding' he was following Whittier around the store. As they gathered up all he had agreed to purchase he exercised a subtly lethal wit that Whittier was completely incapable of appreciating. Not even entirely sure that he was being put on, and too vain to admit to not understanding the elegant phrases and four-syllable words, Whittier laughed when Zach laughed, sobered when he sobered, and just in general made it almost impossible for Terrence to keep a straight face.
He decided he was glad he'd indulged the young men. He hadn't gotten this much entertainment out of a day on the job since he'd worked vice in the transvestite districts. No way the older boy was a cop, not flashing around money like that, but maybe a military tech of some kind. No, the military still didn't take fags.
"And thank you both for your solicitousness, I'm sure we can find our way out. Do take care Mr. Whittier. Officer. Good day."
Or maybe he was just a regular civilian-type asshole.
Jack was amazed by Zach's cheerfulness as they started hand in hand down the tile corridor, the guard watching them obviously for sake of form. The big man had been more than amused behind his bland expression by the clerk's bumbling arrogance. Jack himself had been alternately amused and vaguely horrified by Zach's verbal cat and mouse.
Zach gave him a slow, lazy smile. "That was fun."
"That was…harsh," Jack returned a little uncertainly. "You were…playing with him."
Zach blinked, startled out of his self-satisfaction. "He was an officious pr-- twit. He deserved it."
Jack only nodded without particular expression and Zach realized he had actually been bothered by the vitriolic teasing. Zach had put on the little show because it was fun, and the guy deserved it, and because he could, but mostly for Jack's entertainment. If the little scene had bothered him at all then it more than defeated the purpose.
Jack felt Zach's sudden uncertainty, saw him searching for words, doubtless of apology, and decided that he himself was the biggest jerk currently in the store. Jack pulled his hand free and returned it to where it was beginning to feel most comfortable, around Zach's waist. Returning nastiness in kind wasn't the same as being vicious. "If he'd understood a word of it I'd feel sorry for him." He let a laugh tint the words and felt Zach relax against him. ~Yep, I am a complete jerk.~ "As it was you were doing standup comedy for the security guard. Remind me never to tempt you into a battle of wits."
"It only works when your opponent has faults to pick on, love, so it should never come up." Jack's ears pinked when he realized the compliment and Zach smiled.
"I've never been thrown out of anywhere before, or at least anywhere I had any business being," Jack continued in defiance of the tickle of embarrassed pleasure. "At least we got everything we came for."
"You really made a great choice on those sheets. Silk…" He let his fingers trail lightly up Jack's spine on the way to his shoulder and watched the color creep into the slender neck. "Yum."
Jack's only acknowledgment was to smack Zach's stomach lightly when he succeeded in making him shiver. "But all that stuff, Zach, all those comforters. What are you going to do with them?"
Zach let his expression reveal contemplation of a pleasant future. "Lay them, oh, three or four deep in front of the hearth, then put you on them. With the sheets."
Jack gave him an annoyed expression, because this was pure teasing yet it evoked a body response at the images just the same. "Zach!"
Zach laughed and intercepted the quick hand before it could swat him again, kissed first it then the hot cheek. "Full blush. I win."
"Oh, you…" Mock outraged, Jack swung him around into a telephone alcove between two potted plants as they cleared the store.
When they emerged a few minutes later Zach's usual composure was lost to an expression of blushing, stunned delight. Jack held him steady, pointedly tolerant, keeping his triumph off his face if not out of the link. It might be years before he could match Zach at word play, but there were other kinds of teasing at which he'd been a much quicker study.