The Reality of Fantasy
Chapter 11 - Cat's in the Cradle

Jim's internal clock woke him before the sun reached his window. He automatically rolled out of bed and began his morning ritual of piss, shower, brush, floss, comb. He padded out of the bathroom in search of clothes and appropriate mind altering substances.

"Eeeewwww! Your Nerf set is hanging out!"

Jim grabbed the nearest movable object he could find – the Yellow Pages – and hurled it at the disembodied voice. There was a thump, a crash, and a child's angry wail.

Then Jim remembered there was a kid sleeping in his fucking living room. Oops.

Jim cringed and stepped forward. "Uh, David?" The wailing just got louder. "Okay, okay, sorry. You're okay."

"I fucking hate you!" Jim's eyes began to adjust in the light, and he could see David scrambling up over the back of the couch. "Stay away from me, you... violent... sex offender!"

"You're gonna –" Jim cringed as the kid went toppling over the back of the crouch and immediately howled even louder. "– fall." Jim peeked over the couch, to see if the kid was dying, or if he was just making a bunch of noise. The truth was probably somewhere in the middle. David was holding onto the back of his head with both hands, but Jim saw no blood. Satisfied that the injury was invisible to the naked eye, and therefore, perfectly ignorable, Jim retreated to his room to get dressed.

When Jim came back to the living room in a slightly more appropriate state of dress (he'd found a pair of jeans to throw on and a button down shirt to at least pull up his arms, if nothing else), the boy was still on the floor holding his head, but instead of screaming and crying, he was staring angrily at the ceiling. Jim knelt down and gingerly reached for the kid's head. David flinched. "Don't fucking touch me."

Jim sighed. "Are you okay?"

"I fell off the back of a couch after somebody threw a phone book at my head! No I'm not okay!"

A giggle escaped Jim's lips, which was rewarded with a solid kick to his shin. "Fuck!"

"That's what you get! Don't laugh at me!"

Jim scooted away from David and rubbed his shin vigorously, as if he could erase the pain if he just rubbed fast enough. "Sadistic little motherfucker... Geez, I forgot you were in here! I didn't know who the fuck was talking when I came out of the bathroom!"

"Whatever! I hate you!"

Jim got to his feet and hobbled into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. "Yeah, well, the feeling is fucking mutual right now. That really hurt."

"Good! You suck!"

Jim glared at the kid for a moment before abandoning the coffee pot. "I can't deal with this." He grabbed his pack of smokes from the front bookcase and went out to the balcony.

A couple of lights were on, and people were peeking out of their windows at him. It was unusual for so many of his neighbors to be awake, but it was unusual for a screaming child to be in his living room, he supposed. He flipped one lady the bird for staring a little too fucking hard through her window, and lit his cigarette.

A moment later, there was a squeak, a buzz, and all the lights on the second floor winked out. Jim just chuckled and kept right on smoking. He called over his shoulder, "Everything okay in there?" The pitter pater of not exactly little feet got closer and closer, and then the screen door slammed into him, crushing his cigarette against his face. "Fuck! Watch out!"

"I didn't do anything, I swear!" David's eyes were wide and wild.

"I didn't say you did! Damn, you are one paranoid motherfucker!" Jim shoved the door off himself so he could follow David inside. Sure enough, he could smell burnt circuits by the coffee pot. "Damn."

"I'm not a period motherfucker," David was chanting, getting louder and louder as Jim mourned the loss of his cheap but reliable coffee maker. "I'm not a period motherfucker!!"

"Shut the fuck up, it's five o'clock in the fucking morning," Jim hissed. "And the word is paranoid, not period."

"I'm not that either!"

Jim raised his eyebrow, but decided that arguing was only going to result in more early morning screaming. He reached for his now useless coffee mug, and David jumped back from the approaching hand, knocking over a barstool in his haste to get away. Jim laughed and picked the mug up gently. "Paranoia. Noun. The state of believing everyone everywhere ever is out to get you. See: David Marcus."

David narrowed his eyes at Jim. "Stupidface. Noun. Stupid motherfucker with a stupid face. See..." David blinked and stared off into space. Jim, who had been formulating a response for the little twerp, grew concerned when David didn't try to say his name. "See... the man with a open shirt and no shoes," David said lamely. Then he went to the couch and started pulling his blankets into a ball. "I have to wash these," he said in a small voice.

Jim shook his head. "Just leave them there. I'll deal with them."

David blinked a few times, but he left the blankets alone and went into the bathroom. The door clicked shut, and the shower began to run. Jim sighed and inspected David's blankets. Yep. Ammonia. He wrinkled his nose and took the blankets to the dumpster.

When he got back upstairs, Jim could already smell disinfectant. Inside, David was wiping down the plastic on the couch. The boy didn't seem to notice Jim. Instead, he used up half a roll of paper towel on the wipe down, and then rifled through his bag until he pulled out a soft, tatty looking stuffed doll, that looked remarkably like a fish.

Jim blinked. "I know that fish," he said with wonder.

David jumped, but he didn't yell. He glanced at Jim, before turning to nuzzle the fish. "It's my mom's."

Jim sat down next to David, as close as he could without touching the kid. "Yeah. I know."

David looked up at him skeptically. "Do you know my mom?"

"I used to," Jim said wistfully.

"Oh." David released his deathgrip on the fish. "How..." The boy frowned as he trailed off. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Are you related to me?"

Jim started. Had those old farts not told the kid anything? "Yes. At least, everyone thinks so."

"Oh." David picked some imaginary lint off the fish. "Are we... cousins?"

Jim laughed and touched one of the fish's fins. "For Carol's twenty-second birthday, she told me she wanted to go to a real carnival. Not the kind that pop up for three days in a vacant lot in the middle of Inglewood or Westchester. She wanted something quaint and quirky, something that involved farm animals and side shows." Jim paused, to see if he was boring the child, but it appeared he had David's undivided attention. Jim smiled, and went on.

"It took me days to find something that we could get to on the weekend between work and class and all the stuff we used to do for our usual fun, but I found a huge carnival in Perris. We drove four hours, with the sun in our eyes, to get there before the box office opened. She was so excited, and even though we had to wait almost a half hour before the box office even opened, she was thrilled when we got on our first ride.

"We used up all our tickets in an hour, and we had to run out to buy more. On our way back to the ticketmaster, she saw a shooting booth – one of those with the ducks that goes across the booth and disappears underneath the fake grass, and comes up again on the other side? She saw the huge stuffed animals, and she said she just had to have one of those to take home with her – what good was a trip to the carnival without a carnival prize, right? So I promised her I would try to win her a stuffed animal.

"Man, I think we stood in front of that damn shooting range for two hours! And I probably only hit a total of three ducks the entire time we were there." Jim grinned and leaned down to whisper in David's ear. "Between you and me, I kept missing on purpose, because I was afraid that if I made it too easy, she'd just make me try to win her more stuff. Anyway, we wound up spending all our tickets on that booth, and I told her I needed a rest, and we should try our luck somewhere else. She was disappointed, but we got on some rides, and took some pictures in a fun booth, and she perked up again.

"And that was when I saw him. He was so soft and fluffy, covered in perfect ruffles, like a courtesan out for a day with the King. I had to have him. I had to have him for her. I even had a name picked out. I named him after her dad, because, as much as it drove me crazy to see the way that old goat treated Carol, I knew she was a daddy's girl like no other." Jim paused, as a strange connection began to make itself known to him.

"Who was he," David said, on the edge of his seat.

Jim blinked, startled out of his realizations, and remembered he was telling a story. "He was David." When the boy frowned in confusion, Jim pointed to the fish in the child's arms. "He was by the dunking booth. I had to throw a ball and hit a target, and make some poor man fall in a barrel. Really cruel game. Anyway, I wasn't holding back this time – I wanted that fish, dammit! And that poor man fell right in the water on the first try!

"Carol, of course, was ecstatic. She ran right up to him – mind you, I hadn't said a word – and said, 'Jim Kirk, if you don't let me take this one home, I'll never... call you again." Jim cleared his throat to cover the censoring lie, but he doubted David even heard. "Naturally," he continued, "I let her take him home." He grinned at the memory. "She clung to him for the rest of the day, and into the night. I think she probably slept with him." Jim smiled down at David, but his smile faltered when he saw the look on the boy's face.

David did not appear to be even remotely enchanted with Jim's story. "My mother told me that my father gave her this fish."

Well. Someone told the kid something. Jim sighed and got up, went to the corner of the living room, to the shelf on the entertainment unit where he kept the photos of his mother on display. There was a shoebox hidden away in an alcove underneath the pictures. Jim pulled this out and went back to his seat next to David.

Inside the shoebox were the rare pictures from his own childhood, a couple of programs from various graduations for his friends, and a letter from Carol, wishing him well for finishing his Masters in Library Science (he'd been surprised she'd been keeping such good tabs on him). Inside the folds of this letter were a few other mementos from their relationship – a dried, pressed rose she'd given him on a birthday, his fake ID, and a handful of photos taken in a special photobooth in Perris, California. Jim pulled these out and laid them out on the coffee table without a word.

David glanced skeptically at the photos, uninterested in a bunch of tiny pictures at first. But then he realized what he was seeing – in the last three, the girl in the photo looked much happier than she had in the previous six, and in all three of them, she was holding a perfect, fluffy fish, with ruffles around its waist, and brightly colored eyes that stared into the camera, as if it knew how special it was. The boy in the picture was gangly and scrawny, with wild yellow curls that took up almost the entire frame of the picture, but there was no doubt that he was the same man in the livingroom. David picked up the last of the three photos, turned it around, and read the blocky printed script on the back. "Carol's B-Day. Perris Annual City Faire – Family Photo. Jim, Carol and brand new son haha. 2003"

David dropped the picture like it was hot and looked back at Jim again. "No fucking way."

Jim gathered his memories and placed them back in the box without a word. "I haven't asked for a paternity test to confirm anything, but I doubt your mother was seeing anyone else at the time, David."

"Oh. Shit," the boy said with wonder.

"Wait – wait, so you were just fucking with the cops with that 'don't hurt my daddy' shit?"

David snorted. "Did you want to go to jail?"

Jim shrugged. "Good point."

David looked Jim up and down for a moment, then looked out of the window. "The sun is coming up."

Jim smiled. "See? I'm your father, and the universe didn't come to an end. You even got to keep both hands!"


Jim's smile fell like a rock. "You haven't seen Empire Strikes – no. Hell no. Fail. Get away from me."

David's angry screams could be heard through the entire complex again.

By Thursday, Jim was wishing he hadn't taken FMLA time – by law, if the leave was taken to spend time with a new child in the family, the first two weeks of the twelve total weeks allowed had to be taken together as a single unit. David had been in Jim's care for six days, and, technically speaking, not even a full work week, and Jim was already climbing the walls. Despite the freakout over the drawer, David had continued to touch, and therefore, break shit. He'd broken a lamp, three of Jim's six plates, the carafe from the already defunct coffee maker, the bathroom cabinet door, the handle on one of the kitchen drawers, a shelf in the refrigerator, and the hot water spigot in the kitchen. Jim had long since given up on shouting about any of it, and spent most of his time praising any and every deity he could think of that his pills were still hidden away in the back of his glove compartment when his car had been found. He was working his way up to three pills at a time, twice a day. It wasn't the most responsible response, but it kept the peace. He guessed. Whatever.

Still, the time was coming to pay the piper. One of the downfalls of family leave was that it was unpaid, and his usual payday was approaching rapidly, which meant so were the due dates on most of his bills. The solution to that problem was easy – Gary. The problem with that solution was that Jim had no fucking clue what the hell he was supposed to do with the kid. And so most of the week, Jim pretended that he wasn't running out of cash, and sat in the house, stoned out of his mind, while the kid smashed the rest of his shit.

But he was growing weary of the pills by Thursday morning. They were losing their power – the hit was weak, the rush nearly nonexistent, and what effects he could feel only seemed to last a few minutes. He was growing tolerant, and that was intolerable. Time to change up the routine. "David! We're going for a ride, dude."

"Is it far? Are we going to the park?" David ran to the front door, notebook in hand, and bolted to the edge of the staircase.

"Get out of the damn way, I told you a million times, don't stand at the top of the goddamn stairs. And why do you always ask me that shit?"

David moved one single footstep to the side. "Because maybe one day you'll grow a clue and take me to the fucking park?"

"We're not going to the damn park, quit asking me that shit!"

"You suck!" The pair of them argued all the way to the car and down the street. David soon fell silent as they began to pass through different residential neighborhoods, all of which could be delineated by the types of trees planted in the public spaces. Jim glanced down from time to time to see what David was putting in his book – pictures of trees, fairly accurate ones, accompanied by long, elaborate captions.

Eventually, they arrived in a pleasant, if industrial area right off the San Diego Freeway. Jim pulled up a few yards from his intended destination, and rolled the windows down a crack. "Don't get out of the car. I'll be in that brick building on the corner," Jim said. "If something happens and you need me, honk the horn as long and loud as you can. But only in an emergency. Are you fucking listening to me, you little turkey?"

David didn't bother to take his eyes off his notebook. "Yeah stay in car honk if 911. I wanna go to the park after this."

Jim didn't want to make promises he couldn't keep. "Not today."

"Fuck you then," David said absently.

Jim slammed the door as hard as he could and stalked away from the car. "Gonna wash that fucking little mouth out with some goddamned bleach," he said under his breath.

He was halfway to his destination when a carhorn blared nonstop, and scattered a flock of birds resting on a phone pole overhead. Jim turned and ran back to the car like his life depended on it, and yanked open the door. "What? What happened?"

"Where are you going?"

Jim counted to ten forwards, backwards, in German, Spanish and English twice before he trusted himself to speak. "I have to talk to someone about some important business. I told you, only blow the horn like that in an emergency." He started to close the door.

"Please, no!" David lunged for the steering wheel again, but Jim got his hands on the kid's wrists and practically threw him against the seat. "No," David just whined.

"I will be back as soon as I can," Jim said tersely. "Sit down. Shut up. I'll be back, dammit."

David began to cry. "I'll be good, I promise! I won't call you names anymore! I won't! Please don't leave me with him!"

Jim blinked. "Leave you with who, David?"

David was too distraught for intelligible words, but he pointed at the car Jim had pulled up behind. It was a slick Chrysler, with a custom paint job that vacillated from a deep forest green to a vibrant violet, with a silver glitter overlay. It was fucking ridiculous, and it was a car Jim had seen twice before – once in Hollywood, after Gary had left him alone in the promenade, and once at the drug house, parked in the driveway, the day Gary had been unexpectedly on hand to hand out bonus cash.

Jim sat down in the driver's seat. "You know Gary?" David sobbed harder and nodded, and grabbed for Jim's shirt. Jim gently pried the boy's hands from his shirt. "Did... Carol leave you with him sometimes?"

"T-to w-w-work," was the stuttered reply.

Jim scowled. "Did he hit you?"

David shook his head. "He was m-mean. C-called me n-names."

"But I call you names," Jim said in confusion.

David threw himself into Jim's lap as best he could with a steering wheel in the way. "Y-you c-care if I c-c-cry!" He began to wail anew.

Jim sighed and rocked the miserable child for awhile, until the tears began to subside. "David. I have to talk to Gary for a little while," Jim said softly. "But, but," he said, holding a finger up to stave off the boy's panicked protests, "I will be back in a few minutes, and then we'll go run one more errand before we go home. And if I finish this other errand soon enough, we'll stop at the park for a little bit. Okay?"

David didn't look like anything would ever be okay again, but he sat up and put his hands in his lap, and nodded his acquiescence. Jim closed the door again, more gently this time, and smiled before walking off.

Martin and Kevin were dressed more casually than they had been last week, and they had a game of dominoes going on a folding card table just to the side of the doorway, but they were both on their feet and offering salutations and well wishes before Jim made it to the property line. Jim smiled grimly and waved them off. Their hospitality was of little interest to Jim.

The dancing girls were on their stages, shaking their asses for men covered in grease stains and full of sandwiches and beers. This was a different crowd than the one Jim had seen last Friday night, the bluecollar crowd in for a nice lunchtime show before they went back to the daily grind. The atmosphere was far less glitzy.

Or maybe that was just because Jim was no longer dazzled by the 'kindness' Gary had been showering on him.

Jim forced himself to calmness. There was no point in causing a scene – Jim hadn't even known the kid fucking existed when Gary had been dealing with him, so Jim was just as responsible for the boy's fear of being left in Gary's care as Gary himself. Just be cool.

"Jim!" Gary came from a back room, all smiles, like a toothy fucking snake. "And here I was wondering if I was gonna have to come rescue you from that car, hah!"

Jim didn't bother to laugh. "I need a favor."

Gary's smile dimmed just a little, but he gestured at a table. "Let's have a drink."

Jim sat down, back ramrod straight. "I can't. My son is in the car."

This time, Gary's smile disappeared completely. "You have a son?"

"I think you've met him."

Gary narrowed his eyes. Jim hadn't wanted a scene, but it looked like there was going to be one anyway. "What do you want?"

Jim shook his head minutely. "Dial down the macho, Gary, damn. I want a job that doesn't involve me hanging out in a skank party all night, while my kid sits in the dark by himself."

Gary measured this. "You ask for a lot of special treatment."

"You give me a lot of special treatment." Jim chuckled bitterly. "Tell me, Gary, did terrifying a little boy make you feel better that his daddy left you?"

Gary flattened his hands on the table. Jim could see the veins popping out of the backs, and wondered if he was in danger of being flattened against a spooge covered floor of a strip joint. "You broke my heart, you vicious motherfucker."

Jim blinked. "Uh... did you mean for that to sound as gay as –"


Jim's eyes widened. "Oh." Then something occurred to him. "Well, wait, what about Liz Deh-"

"She's a fucking strung out crack whore, Jim! She sucks my dick for drugs! That's completely different!

It sure is. "Why didn't you ever say anything?"

Gary laughed without any trace of humor, false or otherwise – not even a fucking smile, which was creepy as shit. "Because I thought it would help me keep you if I chose to be your brother instead."

Jim sagged in his seat. "Gary... I'm sorry... I..."

"It doesn't matter," Gary said bitterly. "You're back. It's good enough."

"Is it?"

"It has to be." Gary sighed. "I need your special brand of charm at a party in Newport Beach tonight."

Jim shook his head. "I can't. I don't have anyone that can watch David."

Gary twitched, but he smiled. "Bring him here. The girls –"


Gary jumped, startled by the vehemence of Jim's refusal. Jim was just as surprised, honestly, but the thought of leaving the kid with people so closely associated with Gary made Jim's stomach turn. Jim glowered, daring Gary to make an issue of it. Gary shook his head quickly. "I need you out there, man. I... please? I promise the kid will be –"

"Goddammit, I said no." Jim stood up and fished the keys out of his pocket. "Fuck it, we'll take the fucking bus.

"No, Jim, no, wait. You don't have friends at work that can watch the kid? Come on, man, we're like this." Gary put his index and middle fingers together and held them up to Jim's eyes. "Come on."

Jim glared at Gary for a while. "Give me the address. If I can't make it... the car will be back up here before noon tomorrow."

Gary grabbed Jim by the neck and got right in his face. "I've been good to you."

Jim easily slipped out of Gary's sweat slick grasp. "Were you good to Carol?" Gary's breath came shallowly, but his lips were sealed. Jim snorted. "I thought so." He held his hand out. "The address?"

Gary stared at him a little longer, but he fished inside his jacket and pulled out pen and paper. "It starts at eight," he said sourly.

Jim snatched the paper. "If I can't make it, you'll have your car back tomorrow. Where do I pick up the goods?"

"The usual. I never bring saleable amounts here."

Jim sighed heavily. "That's ridiculously inconvenient, you know that, right?" Gary said nothing, just stared angrily, nostrils flared. Jim rolled his eyes. "Fine. If I can't make it, the car will probably be here before fucking midnight, in that case." Jim turned and stalked out of the club before Gary could make another threatening gesture.

By the time Jim got back to the Escalade, David was strapped into the last row of seats, writing furiously in his book. Jim watched him for a moment, torn between a desire to wrap him up in his arms and never let go, and a need to keep enough emotional distance between them for the day when David was able to care for himself and go his own way. Practicality won out over sentimentalism, and Jim got behind the wheel and drove further south.

There was plenty of parking available under the giant tree outside Leonard's apartment, and Jim was able to park without incident. Jim checked the time – Leonard should be on his way home from work. That meant they would need to kill some time. After a moment's hesitation, Jim gave up his excellent parking space and pulled out in search of a park.

He found one just half a mile down the road. It was split in the middle by the same one way street that ran around the corner from Leonard's place. Beyond that was a busy street, the same busy street that Jim assumed lead to the bridge over the ports. Beyond that was another park with what looked like a cliffside view of the Pacific.

David was still in the very back, nose down to his notebook, scribbling furiously. Jim climbed to the back. "Minor change of plans, dude," he said softly. "What the hell are you writ–"

"Don't look!" David snapped the book closed so hard the papers fluttered, and stared at Jim with red eyes.

Jim just smiled. "Look out the window."

"I don't want to look out the fucking window!"

Jim laughed and clapped his hands in delight. "Kid, you are un-fucking-believable! Just look out the damn window!"

David threw the notebook to the front of the car, but he turned and looked. "The park?" He looked back at Jim. "But I thought..."

"I told you, jackass, change of plans." Jim got out of the car and picked a tree to sit under. "You coming?" David took his time about collecting his book from the front seat, but eventually he lay down next to Jim and began drawing all the creatures he saw on the ground.

Parking was impossible, naturally. Jim gave up after half an hour of circling and pulled up in the driveway. "Okay, out."

"Where are we now?" It was amazing how much more civil David had become after an hour at the park.

"We're at my good friend's house. I need to see if he's home yet... oh."

Just as they got onto the front lawn of the apartment, Leonard's long ass Buick rolled up behind them in the driveway. He took his sweet time about getting out of the car, gathering jackets and coffee cups and bags and shit. "I assume this bigass gas guzzling monster has something to do with you, Jim?"

An effervescence filled Jim's body, like he'd turned into a giant bottle of fizzy soda. He started to giggle, and before he knew it, he'd tackled Leonard in a bear hug. "Ugh, I'm never going on vacation again!"

Leonard laughed and kissed him, in broad daylight, right there on his front lawn, like Jim was his perfect little housewife come to say hello after a long day at work. "You can go on vacation," Leonard growled. "You just have to remember to take me, next time."

"The fuck is this shit?"

Jim and Leonard jumped apart. Leonard gave Jim the eye, but Jim just waved it off. "Watch the language, David," he said in a fake whisper. "Leonard, let me introduce my son, David. David, this is Leonard."

Leonard smiled and went over to David. "Well, I'd offer to shake your hand, but my hands are pretty full right now. But it's very nice to meet you, David."

"Yeah, hi." David looked at Jim. "Dude, seriously? Any other special shit I need to know about you, or are you done now?"

"Shut the fuck up and go in the damn house."

Leonard laughed nervously and unlocked the front door. "Jim, how do you expect his foul language to improve if you keep using it?"

Jim snorted and followed Leonard inside. "Oh, I think his foul language is fucking perfected, actually."

"Look at all these booooooooks!" David ran into the apartment and plopped himself down in front of the bookcases that lined the wall that separated the living room and den/dining area.

Leonard smiled. "I got more books in that room," he said, pointing to the den. "You look to be about... eight?"

"Seven!" David said brightly.

Leonard cocked his head and raised both eyebrows. "Oh, only seven? You seem so smart!"

Leonard fluffed the kid's ego so much Jim thought he was going to have to buy a ticket on a red-eye flight just to get the little fucker back down. He followed the two of them with his hands on his throbbing temples and tried not to freak out about this ridiculous situation.

Finally, Jim couldn't take it anymore. "Hey, hey, hey, hey. I'm so glad you two are getting along and everything, but this is kinda not a social call, actually." Both Leonard and David glared at him, daggers in their eyes, before finishing up their conversation. Jim blinked.

When they were satisfied that they had reached a reasonable conclusion to their discussion, Leonard took Jim by the elbow and lead him back to the living room. "Okay, so this isn't a social call. What is it."

Jim chewed on his thumb anxiously. Maybe this was a bad idea – what if Leonard was offended? But there weren't a whole lot of options, and maybe he'd make an exception just this one time –

"Jim, you're gonna gnaw it right off the damn bone."

"I need a favor."

"I assumed as much." Leonard sighed and sat down on the couch. "How long."

Jim blinked. "Is it okay?"

"I don't know yet. How long?" They both jumped as a shriek of delight echoed from the other room, and both tabbies came tearing into the living room to hide under the couch.

"Uh... possibly all night?" At Leonard's look of horror, Jim hastened to explain. "I plan on coming back pretty late, but I don't really want to make him move or anything if I don't have to. And maybe I could pay you back in something other than cash?" Jim smiled hopefully and waggled his eyebrows.

"Let me get this straight," Leonard said. "You want me to babysit your brand new foster kid adoptee whatever you want to call him, in exchange for a roll in the hay? Is that what you're saying?"

Jim's smile faded. "Well, you don't have to say it like that..."

"I – this – we – this isn't going to work. I can't believe you, Jim – every time I think we have a connection –"

"Leonard, no, I just – " Fuck. He was going to have to give the car back, and figure out how to get back home on the bus, and what was he going to do for money for the rest of the month? The bonus was nearly depleted on too many fast food dinners and gas for the ginormous car that he still technically needed, plus he still needed to pay for the repairs to his car, since the insurance company just kinda laughed at him about that, and how the hell was he going to get his next fix, what with his relationship with his dealer in the fucking toilet, and dammit dammit dammit!

"Jim? What is it? Talk to me."

"I... can't. I just need your help. I wasn't trying to be callous with the offer for sex. Hell, I thought you would think was cute." Jim knew he sounded slightly hysterical, but he was well past the ability to deal with shit without either melting down or overmedicating.

"Okay. Okay, it's okay, I'm sorry." Leonard wrapped Jim in his arms. "I'm sorry. Forgive me?"

Jim clung to Leonard like he was a lifeline – which probably wasn't far from the truth. "I need your help."

"Okay. Okay, yes, I'll keep him."

"It's just one night. We'll be gone by morning, I swear."

"Jim, tomorrow's Friday. Y'all can stay if you want." Leonard pulled back. "I know I get ornery and tetchy and all that, but... well, it's because I miss you, and I'm afraid you don't miss me as much as I'm missing you." Leonard snorted. "Damn, that sounded crazy possessive. Sorry. If I start talkin' stupid, just tell me, okay?"

Jim didn't know what to make of that, how to reassure Leonard that there was no reason to worry, so he just shrugged and half-ass nodded. "What time is it?"

"About seven-ish."

Jim reluctantly wriggled out of Leonard's embrace. "I gotta say goodbye to the kid. It might get dramatic. Ignore us." Jim ignored the questioning look on Leonard's face and went back to the dining room.

David was sitting at the little round glass table by the window, flipping through what looked like a princess fairytale book, complete with color illustrations. "Hey. You." No response. Jim put his hand over the words in the book. Still no response. Well. He moved his hand over to the princess with the giant yellow gown and seventy-mile long train.


"I need to talk to you, David."

David rolled his eyes at first, but then he gasped. "No," he said shakily. Jim sighed. "Do you trust me?"


The boy's frank answer hurt. A lot. Tears sprung to Jim's eyes. "Oh." He looked away and tried to compose himself, but it was difficult – it had never occurred to him that David would answer any other way, especially after the boy's display in the car earlier that afternoon.

"Hey..." David's voice sounded small and sad. "I'm sorry... don't be sad..."

Jim gave up on trying to hide the tears in his eyes, and blinked them out, letting them stain his hot cheeks. "I need you to trust me right now, David. Can you do that for me?"

David hung his head, but he nodded. "Kay."

Jim sighed and reached to ruffle the yellow curls, but David ducked away from the touch. "I'll be back tonight. If you don't see me tonight, then I'll see you in the morning."

David turned his face away. "With my bag?"

"No. We'll go home sometime tomorrow." When it was obvious that the child had no more use for the conversation, Jim got up and went back to the living room. "Okay, Leonard. I'll see you tonight?"

Leonard sighed. "That didn't sound like it went well."

"He's been jerked around, I think. Probably gets dumped on a lot of unsuspecting people, and left with them for a while." Jim went out to his car.

Leonard followed, but rather than going to move his car, he went to Jim's window, fiddling with his keys. "Here," he said with a grunt, and handed Jim a key. "This is the key to my backdoor. Just let yourself in tonight." Then Leonard went to back his car out of the way.

Jim took a slight detour home before making his pickup – he wanted a change of clothes, and thought David might sleep better with something familiar. The pickup and party themselves were both remarkably unremarkable. Carolyn P. was in better spirits than she had been the last time Jim saw her, and it was no wonder – she showed up at the party sometime after Jim had, cooing and flirting and running away from potential customers. Jim spared half a second to wonder what she'd had to do to get back in Gary's good graces, but no more. He pushed his wares hard and fast and was done before the party really had a chance to get swinging. All the better for him, he supposed.

Jim drove back to the strip joint and found Gary in the middle of a bump'n'grind with the first girl from the drug house – everyone seemed to be back in Gary's favor – and waited out the ridiculous display. Gary looked ready to throw down to see Jim there so early, but Jim just handed him the payment, and said he'd keep the car a couple more days. To Jim's surprise, Gary just hugged him. Jim was glad to see that Gary's random generosity was being extended even to him, but he was more glad to get the hell out of the sex club and back down to the beach.

By the time Jim crawled up the three blocks from the first available parking space to Leonard's back door, Jim had absolutely no desire to fuck anyone ever. He missed the keyhole three times before the door magically unlocked and opened on its own. Startled, Jim shyly stepped inside. Leonard sat crosslegged on the bed, bleary eyed, but smiling. Next to him was David, glowering at the door, until he registered who exactly was coming in, and what he was carrying in his hands. "You're back!" David lunged forward and grabbed the tatty fish from Jim's grasp.

"I told you I'd be back tonight. What the hell are you people doing up, it's almost one!"

"Okay, okay, he's back," Leonard said roughly. "Now for the love of God, go to sleep, boy!"

"Okay!" David jumped up and ran out of the room, crashing into something on the way. "I didn't do it!"

Jim just flopped face down in the bed and began to snore immediately.

A moment later, some jackass thought it would be hilarious to wave coffee under Jim's nose, like he hadn't just gone to bed. "Wake your sleepy ass up, Jim," Leonard's voice said from the ether. "I know you smell this damn coffee. I see your nose working."

"Erurrrrrrrngh." Jim turned over, and was assaulted by eyelid penetrating lightbulbs. "Mrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!"

"Dammit, Jim, it's almost ten! Get the hell up and talk to your kid, or so help me I will pour ice water down your damn drawers!"


Suddenly, ICEBERGS.


Leonard just sat across from Jim's shrinking balls with a cup of ice water in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other, blinking mildly. "I told you what would happen."

Jim just narrowed his eyes and snatched the coffee out of Leonard's other hand. "I hate you right now."

"The feeling is mutual. You did not tell me that pancakes turn that child into Dennis the Menace on speed."

Jim choked on his coffee. "I didn't know that – I've never given him pancakes. But, for what it's worth, he tried to make me pancakes and started a kitchen fire." Jim grinned at the shock on Leonard's face before got out of bed and wandered into the dining room where David was pretending to be an airplane as loudly as he could. "Hey. Hey. HEY."

David stopped and flopped his arms down. "What?!"

"Get your notebook. We gotta jam."

David rolled his eyes. "How come you can't ever sit still unless you're high as a kite?"

"What?!" Jim whirled around at the voice from the kitchen doorway.

"Oops." David could be heard running to the living room. "I didn't do it!"

"Uh, that's... not what it sounded like," Jim said.

"Oh, I think that's exactly what it sounded like," Leonard said, a wild look in his eye. "That's why you don't complain about my drinking, isn't it? It didn't even occur to you that you shouldn't bring a kid into a house covered in empty beer bottles."

Jim blinked. "What? It's clean..." And it was – the bottles were mostly in bags, or stacked neatly on the countertops.

Leonard narrowed his eyes. "Well the kid noticed, and he asked me about it while you were gone."

"Oh." Jim cringed. "I guess it's good he didn't see the first time I spent the night, huh?" The look on Leonard's face told him that probably wasn't the wisest thing to say. "So, uh, I'm gonna get going, because I need to see a man about a car..."

Leonard narrowed his eyes. "That's why you don't tell people what's going on with you, isn't it?"

"Huh? Because I need to see if my car is ready? What?"

"Don't pretend you don't know what I mean," Leonard snarled. "Because you're a drug addict!"

Jim sighed and flopped his hands. "Leonard... I told you why I have trust issues. I trusted you with that information. I... ugh, you're talking stupid again."

Leonard pursed his lips in clear frustration, but he sighed and rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Ain't like I can really say shit at this point anyway."

"No, it ain't." Jim closed the distance between them and dusted Leonard's cheek with a dry kiss. "I'll see you soon."

Chapter 10
Chapter 12

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