by Jane Davitt

Carlton watches Spencer slip farther down in his chair, his legs sprawled invitingly, indecently wide. If he were looking -- which he isn't, at least not so that anyone can notice -- he could see that Spencer dresses to the left. Carlton favors the right, which means that if he were ever to go head to toe (and all points in between) with Spencer, they'd both have something hard to scratch an itch against. Good to know.

"You're a sloppy drunk," he comments, not unkindly, pushing his arousal aside for later when he's not so tired and he can deal with it effectively. He's had a lot of practice at doing that -- the shoving aside and the jerking off -- since he met Spencer, but he doesn't seem to be getting any better at either activity. His thoughts wander to Spencer far too often and his hand can't deliver the satisfaction he thinks Spencer could, nowhere near.

 It's been a rough day for everyone involved in the Darnell case and though Carlton doesn't approve of smoothing the edges with drink, every once in a while, it's a better option than going to bed to lie staring up a ceiling painted with gory images. Even so, he's not up to sitting opposite a lolling, sprawled Spencer. It's too enticing an image and right then Carlton's resistance to temptation is low.

Being close to death always makes him aware of how many opportunities he's missed in his life. A bullet splitting the air an inch from his head was responsible for his first blow job from a man. Hell, from anyone. Running from a bomb that exploded with him a bare yard outside the danger zone led to him face down, ass up on a motel bed snapping out terse instructions to a man with an amused grin and a selection of novelty condoms. Carlton had picked the neon green one. It glowed in the dark and he'd spent the next week reading up about radioactivity.

"Sit up," he snaps at Spencer, smothering his desire under a thick layer of outward annoyance.

To his mild surprise, Spencer obeys him, struggling up straight, then leaning forward in a more or less controlled slump, his hands on the sticky surface of the table, his face disturbingly closer. Carlton can see the shadows chase across Spencer's face like wind-lashed clouds. "We got him."

"I got him," Carlton corrects Spencer. "He was my collar." Grudgingly, he adds, "You helped, if you can call the cavorting and shrieking you do helping. What the hell were the Jumping Jacks for?"

Normally, a question like that would be enough to send Spencer off on a tangent about exercise being a waste of time, or the benefits of a pineapple-heavy diet, but tonight he just shakes his head, holds Carlton's gaze, and says without much of a slur, "Your collar? You have a collar, Lassie? A for-real one? How come you've never used it for show and tell day at the station?"

"It's an expression, Spencer," Carlton says impatiently. Would it kill the man to just once stay focused? Sometimes Carlton wonders what he sees in him, why he's so obsessed by Spencer. It doesn't make his life any easier, that's for sure. "Your dad was a cop, you must've heard it before."

"The expression? Yeah." Spencer holds out his hands, miming an action with a loose, vivid flow of movements. "No cuffs back in the good old days, so you got them by the collar, twist and choke to take the fight out of them, grab them by their belt and carry them off to the Black Maria. Job done."

"Something like that," Carlton allows. "We're not supposed to choke them now though." He broods over that sad limitation for a few sips of his drink. It's like the people in charge don't want to instill some good old-fashioned respect in the criminals.

"You've choked me like that," Spencer says, not indignantly but reminiscently. Clearly good times, as far as he's concerned, which is freaky and therefore normal because it's him.

"I've done no such thing," Carlton denies without flinching at the lie. He promises a disapproving deity that he'll say a Hail Mary later and knows he won't. Lying to Spencer doesn't count. Like breathing, it's necessary.

"Did," Spencer says indifferently. "You've slammed me around a few times."

Carlton unbends enough to make a partial confession."In the line of duty, I may have --"

"No." Spencer's cat-green eyes are sharp now. "You enjoyed it. So did I."

Carlton wants to deny it, but he can't. He's ushered Spencer from a room more than once, his arm clamped around Spencer's shoulders, his fingers leaving bruises he'd never get to see on Spencer's upper arm.

Not long after they'd met, he'd fought with Spencer in a hotel kitchen, their bodies tight together, Spencer fighting him so carefully, every move calculated to bring his thigh between Carlton's just for a second, giving Carlton something to rub against, a moment of bliss and hell. Spencer's next move had twisted him, turned him so that his ass was thrust up and Carlton had wanted to let go as if Spencer were scalding hot as much as he'd wanted to grunt and drag Spencer closer. Months later and Carlton can still recall that fight in vivid detail. He replays it at night sometimes and it doesn't end with the discovery of a body in his fantasies, but Spencer on his knees, servicing Carlton with a hungry, avid mouth, choked gasps and muffled moans replacing the endless stream of nonsense he always babbles.

Maybe that's the root cause of his obsession. From minute one, he'd felt the sparks between them, knew he'd found someone who'd fight him back and not crumble, though Carlton's sure he can make Spencer bend.

"You must wish we were still back there at the start of it all, with no one trusting me so you could cuff me and…collar me as often as you wanted," Spencer says, unerringly joining in the conversation Carlton's having in his head -- and it's uncanny the way he does that, it really is. "I haven't been your collar for a while now, Lassie. I'm a good boy. We work together. Look at us. Drinking buddies."

The way Spencer mouths the word, 'collar', repeating it, stressing it without any subtlety whatsoever makes it take on a different, if still familiar, association in Carlton's mind. He pushes aside his faint unease (good boy? What the hell?) to briskly disabuse Spencer of the idea that they're friends. When he's finished, Spencer's looking crushed and small, shrinking back in his chair, so he signals for another round, prompted by a vague sense of guilt. The speed with which Spencer returns to perky and irritating lets Carlton know he's been played. That stings more than it should, as if something's shifted in the relationship so that Spencer's manipulations, normally no more than an accustomed aggravation, have crossed a line.

"You cops are all on the kinky side," Spencer says after lowering the level in his glass to halfway. "You know, collars and cuffs, subdue and conquer, discipline and detain… Are you sure you don't have a collar at home, Lassie?"

Carlton permits himself a moment of wistful regret that he doesn't have a pair of handcuffs on him at that moment through some unaccountable oversight. He could cuff a kneeling Spencer to the table leg and walk away, just leave…but he can't. He's promised. With what he thinks is admirable restraint, he answers Spencer calmly.

"I will beat you to a bloody pulp with my bare hands if you don't start talking about the weather."

"Huh? It's Santa Barbara. It's sunny and warm. What's there to talk about?" Spencer shrugs and nearly misses the table with his left elbow when he leans forward again.

Carlton sneaks a look at his watch. This ordeal can't last much longer. Where the fuck is Guster?

"I bet you have a collar," Spencer declares, all too loudly for Carlton's liking. "Black. Very traditional. You've never found the perfect su -- someone to put it on, but it's not all stiff and hard and new because I see, ooh…" Spencer actually puts his hands to his head and pretends to be getting a vision. Carlton wonders if Spencer's deluded himself that he really is psychic because there is no point at all in Spencer pulling that trick when Carlton is the only one watching. It distracts him from what Spencer's saying, which is just too ridiculous for words anyway. A collar. As if. Really.

'Su-someone' gives him a lot to think about, though.

"I see you touching it a lot," Spencer says, the words like slick drips of oil, impossible to wipe away, leaving Carlton feeling…dirty. "Holding it when you spend some quality personal time, maybe even wearing it and pretending -- oh, Lassie. Bad boy. But that's what you're looking for, not what you are."

Goaded, his heart hammering at the thought of it, Carlton shoves his hand out, clenched into a tight fist, and grazes Spencer's snoop of a nose with his knuckles. "Clever. Want to read my palm?"

Spencer's fingers, both hands, curl around his fist, hold it as if it's precious, then push it aside without releasing it. "Don't need to. I know everything I need to know about you."

"Madam Spencer sees all," Carlton mocks to cover up his reaction to what had sounded like a threat because if Spencer did… "You are so off base." A guy walks past, black, bald, slender, and Carlton snatches his hand back, blushing. Not Guster. Damn.

"Would it suit me?" Spencer wonders and pulls the vee of his Polo shirt wider, exposing his bare throat. "Could you see your collar on me, Master Lassieface?"

The disrespect Spencer's showing might earn him something from any Dom worth his salt, but it wouldn't be a collar. Carlton can't help picturing one around Spencer's neck, though, buckled into place, neat, erotic, satisfying on so many levels.

He blinks. Okay, this conversation is starting to worry him. Spencer's not psychic. Not a chance in hell. He's tapping his finger on a lot of Carlton's very carefully hidden kinks, though and that's --

Carefully hidden.

What is hidden can be found by someone determined, imaginative, insightful -- and Spencer's all three. The man's gone to extreme lengths to play jokes on Carlton and incredible though the idea is, he could have even gone so far as to --

Carlton breathes deep and slow. The last time he'd…indulged himself, had the box been just slightly too far over to the left?

"Spencer --"

"What would happen if I had a hickey from someone else?" Spencer says without blinking, though Carlton's voice had been cold with suspicion. "Would you put the collar on me to cover it up or wait for the bruise to go first, every last bit of it?"

Carlton stares at Spencer's neck, and yes, there's just a faint smudge on it, just where a mouth would want to kiss and bite. He's shaken with the need to obliterate that mark with his teeth which is stupid of him. It's probably just dirt, or a trick of the light.

Spencer's waiting, quiet, expectant and Carlton realizes that he's actually supposed to answer the question. With a shrug, he gives Spencer the truth. It's not like Spencer's sober enough to be a reliable defamer, after all.

"If I had a collar, which I don't, I wouldn't put it on a marked neck unless I'd done the marking. And I wouldn't put it on your neck unless it was with the intention of pulling it really, really tight."

Spencer smirks at him, like he knows a threat as hollow as an Easter bunny made of chocolate when he hears it.

"And I wouldn't put a black collar on you," Carlton says, noting Guster's arrival out of the corner of his eye with relief tinged with a little, just a little regret. "It'd be green."

"To match my eyes?"


"The Psych logo on the office window?"


"I'm running out of reasons," Shawn admits sadly. "You win. Treasure the moment, Lassie."

"It's the color you'll be tomorrow when you're throwing up all this vodka," Carlton says and rises to his feet. He'd agreed when Guster had said that Shawn shouldn't be left to drink alone and offered to babysit until Guster had changed out of clothing splattered with someone else's blood and taken a really long shower, but he's had enough. Spencer's prodding at him hard tonight and Carlton's feeling exposed, confused, angry, and hopeful in no particular order.

Only the fact that his hip is bruised from Spencer's well-timed shove, a push that’d saved Carlton's life, is keeping him from flinging Spencer up against a wall and demanding answers. That and the way that Spencer's holding it together with an effort Carlton can see is costing him. He owes Spencer, but every instinct he has is telling him not to let this go, that Spencer's using Carlton's temporary lenience as a way to get something he's wanted for a while, not to piss Carlton off to the point where he throws a punch.

Guster pauses at the bar to get a drink and Carlton's just got time to get his answers another way.

"Mr. Spencer," he says, leaning over and making his voice intimate, soft as he breathes the question into Spencer's ear. His hand closes on the back of Spencer's neck. He doesn't trust himself to touch Spencer's throat without stroking it hot and red. "Do you know what I'll do to you if I find out that you've been in my house, snooping around?"

He pulls back enough to see the flash of startled guilt in Spencer's eyes, but it's not sufficient. He's already figured out that Shawn's broken in, after all. He needs to know just how far Spencer's rampant curiosity took him. He wants to be sure that Spencer knows what he's got in his future.

"The July edition of Whipping Boy," he says and his voice is as cold as the barrel of his gun now. "Page fifty-seven."

Spencer's reaction is everything he'd hoped it would be. The wide eyes, the involuntary squirm, the parted lips as he whispers Carlton's name, trepidation and yearning in perfect balance.

"I don't have a collar," Carlton says, wondering how long that statement will be accurate, "but I have everything I need for that page to come true for you."

Assuming he can bring himself to do it. It's a little outside his comfort zone and the guy on the receiving end in the photograph has some genuine pain darkening his eyes, along with his undoubted arousal.

Guster's approaching now, his expression worried, his hand clutching a drink as if it's all that's keeping him from sinking.

Spencer licks his lips and darts a glance up at Carlton, nakedly open, promising everything but an apology. That moment lasts as long as they ever do with him, then Spencer smiles, flirty-dirty, irrepressible.

"Make it page seventeen in the Christmas special and I'll be there tomorrow night with --"

It's a measure of how well he knows Spencer that Carlton's resignedly mouthing 'bells on' as Spencer says the words. The image of what those bells will be hanging off makes him smile as he walks away, something he hadn't thought he'd be doing for a while.

Because it's been a hell of a day.

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