Lucas visibly wilted under Joe's glare. It was his own fault he knew, he'd been trying to help, 'stupid, stupid, stupid' he chastised himself mentally. What the fuck had he been thinking anyway, had he really expected to help? 'Or was it just another pathetic plea for attention from Joe?' Lucas asked himself.
After they'd saved Empire, for a few weeks everything seemed good, great in fact... but inevitably, his actions had come back to bite him in the ass. And now Joe was pissed at him. Again.
"What did you do with it Lucas?" Joe asked.
"Joe, I didn't..."
"Don't lie to me," Joe growled. His cheeks flushed with annoyance, his eyes dark.
Lucas swallowed. "I swear I didn't..."
Lucas wasn't expecting the smack until it was too late to move. The heat against his face where Joe had hit him, the pain in his hand, where he hit the floor. Lucas bit his lip to stop from crying out.
"I swear to fuck Lucas, if you don't come clean, I'm calling the cops," Joe said.
Everyone was watching. Gina, Corey, AJ, Mark, Berko, Warren... even fucking Jane. Lucas felt tears prickling his eyes. He couldn't blame Joe for thinking it was him. But did he have to do this here? Where everyone... Lucas let out a choked sob.
"Lucas..." Joe growled again, reaching for him.
"That's enough Joe," Berko stepped up, blocking Joe from Lucas.
"Berko..." Joe's voice was low, angry.
"Lucas, go wait for me outside," Berko said.
Joe glared. "Now just..."
"Shut up!" Berko said.
Lucas was stunned into immobility. Fuck was Berko trying to get Joe even angrier? "Lucas. Outside."
Lucas winced, pulling himself up from the floor and doing what Berko told him too. He looked back at Joe, glaring at him, eyes hard and angry. Lucas tried not to cry again, as he slipped out the backdoor of the store.
Joe was beyond pissed off. When Lucas had taken the nine grand, fuck it was stupid, but he'd genuinely thought he was trying to help. Until last night. 'I should have known,' Joe chastised himself angrily. 'She warned me.'
"Get out," Joe told Berko, angry he'd gotten in his way. "And tell Lucas I better not see him near here again."
"Oh I'm going, but you think about something Joe..." Berko stepped up close, so only Joe could hear his whispered words. "Lucas doesn't have the safe combination anymore..."
Berko walked out, casual, like he owned the world, leaving Joe reeling.
The safe combination. Fuck. He'd changed it, he'd goddamn well changed it after he took over the store, the only people who knew the combination were... himself and Jane.
No. Jane wouldn't, it didn't make sense, she didn't need the money, why would she...
"Joe..." Corey's voice was quiet, almost afraid.
"Get back to work," Joe said.
"You alright?" Jane asked, her face the picture of concern.
"You're better off with him gone Joe, he was just using you and your good heart," Jane said, patting his arm.
"No! Lucas wouldn't..." Joe protested.
"He stole money from you, twice," Jane said.
"He..." Joe shook his head. Fuck he didn't know what to think.
"You did the right thing," Jane said, assuring, before she kissed him. It was sweet and warm and nice. But Joe's spine tingled uncomfortably, the though of what Berko has said wouldn't leave his mind. Lucas couldn't have taken that money.
Jane smiled sweetly and left him alone with his thoughts. Joe sighed and closed himself in his office. "Fuck!" he cursed, kicking the paper bin across the room.
Lucas leaned against the wall outside, reaching up to touch his lip, not surprised to find blood there. He wanted to be angry, to rally against Joe's accusations, but he'd brought it on himself, taking the money... he couldn't blame Joe for thinking it was him this time.
It hadn't been. He wouldn't do that to Joe. But he could see how Joe would think it was him. A leopard doesn't change his spots. Wasn't that what he'd heard Jane tell Joe.
"Come on," Berko took his arm, dragging him towards his house. Lucas looked at the shack, cobbled together, with a tin roof and a million posters plastered half on top of each other. House might have been too strong a word; still it was better than standing outside.
"You didn't take the money," Berko said. It wasn't a question.
Lucas shook his head, looking at his feet.
"Joe knows that, he just needs time to remember it," Berko said.
"I don't know..." Lucas shrugged.
"I do. Sit down, I'll get something for that lip," Berko told him. Lucas complied, letting Berko take control. He hated to be babied, but he couldn't think past the fact that Joe hated him now. Nothing else seemed that important.
Joe paced his office like a caged animal, his eyes drawn repeatedly to the safe. 'Lucas doesn't have the safe combination anymore...' Berko's works rang in his head. And it was true. Joe had given no one the new combination, except Jane, for the nights she closed up.
But Jane wouldn't... why would she? She didn't need the money, hell she had a lot more in savings than he did at the minute and he was paying her a managers wage. She had no reason to steal the money. Lucas didn't either though. He made good money and Joe knew he lived pretty frugally, the only real extravagance he had was his bike. He didn't spend a lot of money on food and booze, or go out clubbing every weekend... he had no reason to take it... except he'd done it before.
'To help you, you ungrateful bastard,' some voice in Joe's head reminded him.
Joe let his head fall back against the wall, wincing slightly, he stood there fixated on the safe.
The knock when it came was gentle. Joe knew it was likely Corey. Since she'd started dating AJ and dropped the Speed, she was really starting to come into her own.
"Come in," Joe said tiredly, prepared for a dressing down.
"Are you okay?" Corey asked, poking her head in.
"I... yeah," Joe said.
"I don't think Lucas took that money," Corey said, closing the office door, so no one else could hear them.
"Well no one else..." Joe felt his ire rising, but Corey put him right back down.
"Lucas would never steal from you Joe... for you, not from you," Corey said.
"What he did was stupid," Joe said. Corey didn't disagree. "Well if he didn't who..."
"You know Joe, it's not my business who you date, but I think, you need to take a look at who around here, might want Lucas gone," Corey said, leaving before Joe could even begin to formulate a reply.
"Joe, Corey wasn't in here giving you a hard time was she?" Jane asked, walking into his office like she owned it.
Joe stared at her. She was... God, how had he been so blind?
"You bitch," Joe snarled.
"Don't Joe me, you took that money and you made me think it was Lucas. Fuck, you must think I'm a real idiot. Hell you must be right, 'cause I fell for it. Hook, line and fucking sinker!" Joe's voice got louder and louder, as Jane backed out of his office and he followed her.
"Joe, don't be ridiculous why would I..."
"Why... I'd like to know that too. Why did you do it Jane? Why?" Joe asked.
The yelling brought the attention of the others, as Gina, Corey and AJ settled in to watch.
"Don't fucking lie to me! You're the only one who knew the combination. I should have realised, but instead you had me so wrapped around your little finger I accused Lucas... I should have you arrested right now," Joe snapped.
"He's the one who has you wrapped around his little finger. All he has to do is look at you with those big brown eyes and you heel like a puppy..." Jane said.
"You... you were jealous? You were... get out, right now. If I ever see your face again, I swear to God, I'll have you arrested," Joe said.
"You can't just throw me out I..."
"Was he not clear?" Gina stepped in front of Jane, as she moved towards Joe.
"He sounded clear to me," Corey said, taking a place beside Gina.
"Crystal," AJ agreed, though he remained where he was, at Jane's back.
"Get out of my way," Jane hissed.
"Door's over that way," Gina pointed. "See it's all big and red."
"I said move," Jane said, moving forward. Gina blocked her, grabbing the back of her neck.
"And I said no..." Gina said, tugging the hair hard, until Jane was bent half backwards. "Doors still that way," Gina reminded her, pushing her towards it. Joe knew he should stop it, but he didn't feel one bit of sympathy as Jane hit the floor.
"I'll have you arrested for assault," Jane said.
"Maybe we can share a cell, you can be my bitch," Gina smiled brightly.
Jane got to her feet, with as much dignity as she could muster. "You're a pathetic looser anyway, probably a faggot, want to fuck him don't you, that's why you let him walk all over you," Jane snarled, storming out.
For a few moments, no one said anything, then Joe; let out the breath he'd been holding and flopped onto the couch. "I can't believe I was so stupid."
"I can, if it helps, it's not your fault. It's genetic," Gina supplied.
"Not helping!" Joe said, but he couldn't help a chuckle.
"You need to talk to Lucas," AJ chimed in, a few beats later.
"I doubt he'll want to talk to me," Joe said.
"If you don't try, how will you know?" Warren piped in.
"Look man, I stole... tried to steal from you... and I brought a gun in to the store, you forgave me..."
"That was different..." Joe said.
"Yeah, Lucas actually likes you," Warren grinned, cheekily.
"I guess," Joe said, half agreeing.
"I'll go find him, he's probably..." AJ started to say.
"No... I'll go. I should... it should be me. The store..." Joe looked around.
"We'll take care of it Joe," Gina said.
Joe nodded. Okay. Now he should... stand up, yes, that was a plan.
"Lucas is with Berko... go," Gina said, giving Joe a push towards the door.
Berko was standing outside his place, casually propped against the door, cigarette dangling between his fingers, a beer bottle in the other hand. He looked like he did any other day, but the moment Joe started to walk towards him, he could *feel* the tension roll of him.
"He's resting," Berko said.
"And I'd let you because?" Berko seemed thoroughly unimpressed. He'd never seen him look so... angry didn't seem to cover it.
"I need to..."
Before Joe could finish, or even start, Lucas appeared behind Berko at the door. "It's okay," he said quietly, going back inside again.
Joe moved forward, Berko's hand on his arm stopped him. "You hurt him..." the threat was unspoken, but Joe heard it loud and clear.
Lucas sat on the bed, waiting for what Joe might say. He didn't know if he was expecting anger, or apologies... probably anger, he'd never heard Joe say sorry to anyone the whole time he'd known him, not really, not about the big things... it was part of why his ex-girlfriend had left him... forced him out at gun point, small detail.
"Lucas..." Joe started, pausing. Lucas waited his heart racing in his chest. Joe didn't seem angry anymore... that was something at least.
"So... I hear you got fired today... and it just so happens, I'm looking for a new night manager..." Joe said. "The pay sucks, the hours are lousy and the boss is a stupid prick... but I can't think of anyone better for the job."
Lucas looked up at him, like maybe he'd gone insane. Or maybe Lucas was the insane one and this was all a dream.
"There is no one else I'd trust to do it," Joe said quietly.
"I..." Lucas didn't know what to say.
"Lucas..." Joe knelt down in front of the younger man. "I do trust you."
Lucas felt tears prickling at his eyes again. Fuck he'd just stopped why...
"Don't cry..." Joe said softly, his thumb swiping across Lucas' cheek, wiping away a single tear. Lucas gasped softly, the touch making him shiver.
Joe felt Lucas shiver. "... probably a faggot, want to fuck him don't you..." Jane's words came unbidden to his mind. Holy fuck. The realization hit Joe so hard he could barely breath, or maybe it was how soft Lucas' lips felt on his. Warm and soft and trembling.
Joe pulled Lucas close, toppling them, until Joe lay on the floor on his back, Lucas half atop him, their lips still joined as Joe clutched Lucas' head tightly.
Lucas buried his head against Joe's neck, as they broke for air, shivering, his breathing harsh. Joe wanted to think it was from pleasure, but he knew it was fear. Lucas didn't know what Joe was going to say, or do, even though Joe had returned his gentle kiss with a passion Joe hadn't known he possessed for the younger man, Lucas was still afraid.
"I'm... I'm sorry Lucas," Joe said, feeling Lucas' sharp in take of breath. "I'm sorry," he repeated, holding Lucas close as he felt the younger man shake, felt the damp of tears against his skin. "I didn't..." Lucas started to say, sniffling as he looked up at Joe.
"I know... I know..." Joe stroked the side of his face. "I'm..."
Lucas shook his head. "I don't blame you... If I was you I'd think I..."
"No, you wouldn't and if you did, you'd give me a chance to explain... I didn't even..."
"It's..." Lucas bit his lip and Joe wondered what it was he couldn't say.
"Jane called me a faggot when she left... said I wanted to fuck you," Joe found himself saying. Lucas stiffened in his arms and Joe wondered if he'd said the wrong thing, but it was too late to take it back now.
"She was wrong..." Lucas said, moving to pull away.
"Yes. She was," Joe agreed, pulling Lucas' head down, until he was just inches away. "I don't want to fuck you Lucas," he murmured, closing the distance to kiss Lucas' gently. "I love you."
Lucas gasped softly against his lips, a surprised half sob, that allowed Joe the access he needed to plunder Lucas' mouth with his tongue, tasting, teasing, drawing Lucas' tongue into a battle he had no desire to win.
When they broke again for air, Lucas still laying half on top of Joe, his eyes bloodshot and damp, his lip swollen and split... he looked terrible. And Joe didn't care, he wanted nothing more than to take him home right now and love him all night... but he needed to be sure it was what Lucas wanted.
"So... that job..."
"The offers still there?" Lucas asked, like he'd been unsure.
"Of course," Joe said.
"Then I... I'd like to accept," Lucas said.
"There is one small thing... " Joe said.
Lucas looked unsure. "Okay."
"The boss... he's a stupid prick, but he's trying to do better... he might need a lot of patience..." Joe said.
"I can do patience," Lucas said, a small smile lighting up his face.
"I notice how you didn't disagree with the stupid prick part," Joe grumbled softly, but he was smiling.
"I don't like to argue with the boss..." Lucas giggled.
"Oh you..." Joe growled, his eyes alight with laughter as he pulled Lucas into another kiss. How had he not seen this coming? How had he not known how good it could be. Joe let himself forget it all in Lucas' kisses. Maybe he was a stupid prick, but he was learning and he couldn't think of a more perfect 'study buddy'.