"Save our woodland! Stop the road!"
The chant went on and on, around and around. It was enough to give the whole world and its lover one hell of a headache, but Constable Andrew Rawlings stood stubbornly firm at his post--smack bang between the protesters and the workmen about to start clearing the old oaks away for the new motorway.
It should have been impossible to pick out one single voice from the chaos, but Andrew's hand tightened into a fist at his side as a well-educated tone cut through all the others as if they were merely whispers.
"What's wrong, Andy? Nothing to say now?"
Andrew pointedly kept his back to the protesters and pretended not to have heard.
"Come on, constable! Give me another order!"
Harris, the cop immediately to Andrew's right, leaned slightly toward him. "You want me to go give him a clip around the ear when we take him in, tell him to shut the hell up?"
"No," Andrew bit out.
"It's not like he hasn't got it coming," the other man pointed out. "He's been a right cheeky sod ever since we got here."
"He's also my bloody flatmate," Andrew snapped.
Rocking forward onto the toes of his shoes, Andrew could just about make out Ben's reflection in one of the riot van windows. He looked big and tough, broad shouldered enough to take on the whole world. Appearances were deceptive. If the little fool managed to get through this without getting literally bloody it would be a miracle.
"Show us your truncheon, constable!"
Andrew held back a sigh as he rolled his eyes heavenward. Turning around, he let his eyes travel all the way along the rows of hard-core protesters, serious environmental activists and troublemakers looking for a fight.
Ben really didn't have any idea what sort of trouble he'd landed himself in this time. His nice, sensible parka coat made him stand out like a sore thumb among the scruffy rabble. His neatly styled brown hair did nothing to help him blend in with all the dreadlocks.
"I told him not to come to the protest," Andrew muttered to Constable Harris.
"Doesn't look like he listened."
"He never does," Andrew admitted. "Bloody teachers. He always thinks he knows best--thinks he can get away with treating me like one of the kids in the class."
Harris cleared his throat. "So, when you say he's your flatmate..."
Andrew glanced toward him, joined the dots and shook his head. "We share a flat, not a bed."
The other cop seemed to relax. "Not that I'd have a problem with it if were...I mean...I'm not..."
Andrew half smiled. "Harris, when you're in a hole, the appropriate thing to do is to stop digging." He met the suddenly nervous looking man's eyes and chuckled in spite of it all. "Ben's the one who's into the whole gay pride thing. I don't really care what anyone thinks about my sex life..." He trailed off, all his attention homing in on the protesters.
All hell was about to break loose. Andrew could feel it in the air. It was all about to hit the fan, and Ben was going to get stuck in the middle of it with nothing but that bloody stupid banner he was waving for protection.
"Silly little fool," Andrew whispered to himself. He'd obviously thought it was going to be one of those peaceful little demos he was so fond of attending. "Doesn't have a bloody clue..."
Barely a second had passed before the first bottle was thrown at the workmen.
Andrew mumbled a curse under his breath. Ben wouldn't like that. He didn't approve of littering. Unfortunately, he was just about naive enough to give the thrower a right dressing down as if he was no different to the nine year olds in his class.
More glass bottles rained down from the nice blue spring sky. Stones joined them. So did other random items. Anything that could be picked up and tossed through the air was a suitable weapon now. Whatever travelled far enough to land at the workmen's feet in one piece was quickly snatched up and pitched back.
Most of them had better arms than the protesters. Suddenly the sky was full of makeshift ammo, the air jam-packed with angry shouts.
Trying to keep his eye on Ben and the apparent ringleaders at the same time, hoping like hell that neither ran headlong into the other, Andrew didn't have much attention to spare for any instructions that might come down the chain of command. The first he knew of the order to advance on the protesters and clear the way for the workmen before things got any worse, was all the other cops stepping forward around him.
The protesters retreated. Andrew noticed a flash of heavy metal chains. He saw the padlocks snap into place. That was all the encouragement his cock needed to harden behind his fly. Ben in bondage. Well, wasn't that just bloody brilliant? As if he didn't have enough trouble keeping that image out of his head at the best of times.
Andrew stormed forward, hoping to get there in time to arrest Ben before his friend got his own padlocks fastened. Of course, he was too late. As Andrew came to an abrupt halt in front of the other man, Ben was already wrapped in chains, restrained to one of the old oak trees he was so keen to protect.
He glared up at Andrew from his seat at the base of the old gnarled trunk, his eyes militant and sparkling with pleasure. Grabbing hold of the other man's coat, Andrew pulled him as far up and forward as the chains would allow and brought his lips to Ben's ear. "This isn't a game. You're going to get hurt."
He relaxed his hold just enough to look the other man in the eye.
"Save our woodland! Stop the road!"
Andrew took several steps back. It was that or do something both of them would end up regretting, like throttling the little fool, or worse, kissing him.
Bolt cutters were brought out. The men wielding them were soon making their way down the lines of thugs and idiots, freeing both at the same time. Other cops left, dragging protesters away to the waiting vans but Andrew stayed put, never going more than six strides away from Ben's side.
The moment his friend was released, Andrew caught hold of his arm and dragged him out of the worst of the confusion. "You're lucky I was here," he began.
"Have you read him his rights, constable?" Sergeant Jefferies called out. He'd found an overturned crate to stand on and his eyes were darting through the crowd, checking on a dozen different constables every minute.
Damn! Andrew ground his teeth together hard enough to make his jaw ache, but there was no avoiding it. "You have the right to remain silent, but it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court," he muttered.
The sergeant's attention moved elsewhere.
Ben parted his lips.
"You have a right to remain silent," Andrew repeated. "Use it."
"There's no need to get snippy," Ben chided.
Tightening his hold on his friend's arm, Andrew hauled him across to one of the police vans waiting to transport all the protesters to the station. Glancing into the first one, he stopped short. There was no way in hell Ben could go in there. Knowing him, he'd start pointing out the spelling mistakes on all the sociopath's tattoos. Pulling Ben back before he could clamber in, Andrew found a quieter van full of less psychotic looking guys.
He'd barely shoved Ben inside it, when all hell broke loose behind him.
Ben raised an eyebrow at him.
"I mean it," Andrew warned, already turning back to the panic.
It seemed to take several lifetimes before everything was under control, six extra men were in handcuffs, and Andrew was able to turn his attention back to the van. Except it wasn't there. None of the vans were. Ben was apparently already on his way back to the station.
Andrew turned his eyes up to the sky, but no one seemed to be willing to look down on a hard put-upon flatmate and help him out right then. Ben was all alone and the only one who could get him out of this mess was Andrew.
As soon as he could get back to the station, Andrew headed straight to the custody cells, only to be redirected to interview room three. A peek through the glazed panel in the door informed him that Ben was alone in there. Finally, something had gone his way!
Yanking the door open, Andrew stormed in and slammed it behind him.
"Have you lost your mind?"
Ben looked up from the battered interview table, apparently not the least impressed.
"Well?" Andrew demanded.
"No. Not last time I checked," Ben said, folding his hands neatly on the table in front of him. The gesture might have looked prim and feminine if it hadn't been for the fact he was built like an ox. "Have you?"
Andrew stormed forward and leaned over the table. "What's your school going to say when they find out you've been arrested?" he demanded.
The door swung opened behind him. Apparently, Inspector Blake was just in time to catch that last question. "Wait a minute," he ordered, in the voice of a man who'd worked far too many double shifts to leave anything to doubt. "You're still in school? How old are you?"
Ben's eyes met Andrew's. The cheeky little bugger smiled. "I like him."
"Shut up," Andrew snapped, before turning his attention to Blake. "He's a teacher, not a pupil. He's thirty years old and more than old enough to be interviewed on his own." He glared at his friend over his shoulder. "And the headmaster is going to have him strung up if he has an arrest on his record."
"Mr. Thomas knows I was there," Ben cut in, his tone still perfectly polite. "The children helped me make the banners. We're doing a project on environmental issues this term. He thinks it's a great way to get them more interested."
Andrew glared down at him. The guy knew how it set his teeth on edge when he went all teacher-y on him. He was half sure that's why he did it so often.
"Will he think you're setting a good example for the children when you're on the news tonight throwing glass bottles at the police?" the inspector asked, looking down at the notes in his file.
"He won't see that, because it didn't happen. Our part of the protest didn't throw anything," Ben corrected, in that same teacher-y tone.
Andrew sighed, knowing that Ben was already starting to weave his spell over his superior. Within a few minutes, Inspector Blake would no doubt be calling Ben 'sir' and apologizing for not handing in his homework on time when he was seven.
"You may also wish to note that ours was also the only section of the protest whose banners were all both spelled and punctuated correctly," Ben went on, now well into his stride. "Why don't you take a seat, and we'll see if we can't get this misunderstanding all straightened out."
Inspector Blake, a man who Andrew had personally seen take down a knife wielding junkie twice his size without even blinking, obediently sat down opposite Ben.
Ben glanced across at the piece of paper where he was writing his notes. "No wonder you can't tell who did what from those. Your handwriting is appalling!"
Andrew ran his hand down over his face and retreated to the corner of the interview room. Slouching against the wall he glared at his friend. It didn't take Ben long to have the whole world singing from his school hymn sheet. Inspector Blake was soon agreeing that Ben should obviously be released without charge.
Unless Andrew was very much mistaken, when the inspector left the room, he was simply glad he hadn't been ordered to write out I will not be silly and try to arrest my teacher five hundred times.
Ben leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow at Andrew as they were once more left alone together.
Lifting his hands, Andrew clapped very slowly, several times. "Very impressive."
His friend said nothing.
"Now," Andrew went on. "If you can convince me that trick would have worked on a whole protest full of idiots scrambling for a fight then perhaps I wouldn't think you're such a bloody pillock."
"I've been to lots of protests," Ben began.
"And I've never tried to stop you from going to any of them before," Andrew cut in. "Doesn't that tell you something? I ordered you not to go to this one for a reason!"
"Good for you," Ben muttered, folding his arms across his chest.
"Why didn't you do as you were told?" Andrew demanded, returning to his previous position of leaning over the table. His hands were curled so tightly into fists, his knuckles were white before they even met the cheap laminate.
Ben looked from Andrew's fists to his face and back again. "I would have thought the reason was obvious."
"Not to me."
Suddenly, Ben was on his feet and leaning over the table, too. Their noses were barely more than a few inches apart. Their eyes locked, and Andrew saw all the anger he felt reflected back at him with interest.
"I didn't do as you command, Andy," Ben bit out, each word enunciated very carefully, "because you're not my master!"