Self Image

Debra Fran Baker



"Oh, God. Not again."

Blair shivered as he climbed the stairs to the loft, hearing Jim's screams all the way up. Jim was on his bed, huddled in the corner, shaking and screaming as he had every night these past few days. All Blair could do was watch and wish that he could hold his partner without setting off more terrors.

It had all started when they began this new case.

******

"Ellison, Sandburg, in my office NOW!" Blair and Jim looked at each other. They hadn't done anything that would get them in trouble, at least not yet.

Simon was waiting for them with someone else, a tall man in a suit.

"This is School Commissioner Minton. Commissioner, this is Detective Ellison and his partner, Blair Sandburg."

"What's going on, Captain?"

"There have been several incidents at one of the local high schools that I want you and Sandburg to look into."

Blair looked interested. "Incidents? What sort of incidents?"

Minton took off his glasses for a moment. "Several of the young men in the high school have been beaten up very severely by what we assume are their peers."

"Surely that's not a matter for Major Crimes, sir? Fights are a fact of life for high school boys."

"Ellison, just listen for a change."

"Thank you, Captain. Some of those boys were injured severely. One is in a coma. That takes it out of normal range."

To Blair's surprise, Jim still looked stubborn. "I can understand that - you probably have a number of irate parents. Even so, why involve Major Crimes?"

Blair placed a quelling hand on Jim's arm. "Sir...why are those boys being beaten up? You haven't said."

"It's not easy. I pride myself that we in Cascade are among the leaders in educating for tolerance. We have had no racial incidents at all in recent years, for example." He took a deep breath. "We believe it was gay bashing."

Blair could feel Jim stiffen and then pull his arm away.

"Do you have any evidence of that?" Even Jim's voice was stiff.

"Nothing direct, Detective. Only rumors. And parents who won't let us look any closer."

Blair wasn't surprised at that. Even his own mother...

Simon spoke up. "The commissioner want us to look into this as quietly as possible. The attacks are escalating. The last boy is in a coma. The next boy may be killed. We need to find out who's doing this and stop them."

"So, Simon, what do you want Sandburg and me to do?"

"I'll let you two figure it out. Find some way to get into the school and get the ears of the kids."

Blair sat for a moment. "Substitute teachers make sense."

"Are either of you qualified?"

"Yes, sir. I'm a teaching fellow at Rainier. Anthropology."

"I thought you were a police officer?"

"He's a consultant to the department, and the best person for the job."

The commissioner looked dubious but nodded. "What about Detective Ellison?"

"Where Blair goes, I go."

"I suppose you could coach basketball or something."

"I could also teach a class or two. I did go to college."

The commissioner blinked. "Er...yes. I'll see what I can do. I assume you want to teach in your specialty, Mr. Sandburg?"

"I can teach anything, sir."

The commissioner nodded. "I'll get something set up for tomorrow at Cascade South High School. That's where the last two bashings occurred."

The commissioner was as good as his word. The next morning, Cascade South High School had a new history teacher/assistant basketball coach and a new general substitute, presently sitting in for Mrs. Smith, the freshman English teacher.

Blair noticed the looks as he walked into his first class, tossed his hair back and wrote "Mr. Sandburg" on the board.

He didn't need to be Jim to hear the whispers.

"Oh, he's so *cuute*!"

"Dude, look at that hair!"

"He can't be old enough to teach!"

He could ignore those. He'd heard them at the beginning of every semester since he'd gotten his BA.

There were others he couldn't ignore.

"Hey, Billy, you think he's a fag?"

"Yeah, Billy? You want him?"

"C'mon, all the other girrrls do."

Billy was a tall, skinny, fair skinned boy who looked at his interrogators with panic.

'It can't be this easy.' The interrogators were what he thought of as "football" types - pretty much what he thought Jim must have looked like at that age. The type of guys who'd made his own life miserable in the various secondary schools he'd attended. But they'd only used words, not actions. It was the quiet ones who'd caught him after school.

"Hi. I'm Blair Sandburg, and I'll be taking over for Mrs. Smith. I know you guys are doing _Flowers for Algernon_ right now. This is cool because it's one of my favorite books. If someone would pass out an attendance and the rest of you take out your books, we'll begin. And, yes, this is going to count."

He ignored the groans, but found himself wishing for his university freshmen again. At least they *wanted* to be in his classes.

By the time his (well, Mrs. Smith's) free period rolled around, he'd gotten into the very different rhythms of her classes. He found himself enjoying the kids, despite the loving stares all the girls were giving him.

As he sat down with a cup of coffee and nodded to the other teachers in the break room, Jim came staggering in.

He grabbed a cup for himself and dumped his load of books on the table.

"I hated high school the first time around, and I'm no happier with it now."

"They're only kids, Jim. Walking hormone factories. You have to adjust for that."

"They are not kids. They're monsters. The girls are always *looking* at me and the boys are all acting like I'm invading their territory. And not one of them believes that Gerald Ford was ever president or that we ever put a man on the moon."

"It's way before their time, Jim. Ancient history. Go with it."

"How the hell am I going to get the kids to say anything to me when they don't bother listening? I'm supposed to be a permanent teacher here, not a sub."

"Look, I'll help you with lesson plans tonight, after we finish our coaching. That's when we'll learn something."

Jim shook his head. "Homework. I'm too old for homework."

"So, you two know each other?"

She was tall and blonde and seemed curious about the two new men in the school. Not too long ago, Blair would have tried to date her.

Jim shook his head. "We met this morning when we signed in. I'm Jim Ellison. I teach history." He gave her that devastating smile.

"I'm Andrea Nox. Math."

She smiled warmly at Jim and wedged herself between him and Blair.

"Hi." Blair felt he should make his presence known.

"Oh, hi. And you are?"

"Blair Sandburg. I'm subbing for Mrs. Smith."

"That's nice. So, Jim, are you here permanently?"

"I hope so. Especially with colleagues like you."

And there was that smile again. Why does he waste it? 'Jim, look at me for a change.'

What was the point? Jim would not notice him with blondie in the room. Blair was trying to keep the jealousy at bay when someone from across the room called "Andrea!"

She looked away from Jim's shoulders and waved at the other teacher.

"I have to go, Jim. Will you miss me?"

"Of course." Jim's eyes followed her across the room.

"What was that about, Jim?"

Jim shrugged. "Just a little bit of fun. She's not my type." Blair rolled his eyes, missing the look Jim gave him completely.

The warning bell rang. "Back to the little monsters."

Jim sounded grumpy and not a little intimidated. He gathered his books and followed Blair out of the room. As they walked through the hallways, various teenage girls approached them.

"Hi, Mr. Sandburg."

"I'm in your next class, Mr. Sandburg."

"Flowers for Algeron is my favorite book, Mr. Sandburg."

"Better keep away from the jailbait, Chief."

Blair just smiled.

Things were better for him in the afternoon. Jim had a knack for coaching sports, and he was in his element for basketball. Blair hung out in the gym to watch. He was impressed.

Jim carefully guided one boy to a better form by the free throw line, first by example and then by positioning. When the boy made the point, he gave him a thumbs up. Blair was reminded of all the times Jim helped him learn a cop's job. There was Jim's endless patience and gentleness.

"Mr. Sandburg?"

It was Billy from his first period class. He looked confused and scared.

"How can I help you, Billy?"

"You remembered my name?...Can I talk to you?"

Blair smiled. "Sure, but wouldn't you rather talk to someone besides a first day sub?"

"N..n..no...Something you said in class..."

"In class?"

"About how Charlie is punished for being different..."

"Yes?"

"Mr. Sandburg, it's not just in books."

"No. It's hard to be different."

"*You're* different."

"Lots of guys have long hair and earrings, Billy."

"Yeah, but you also *like* books."

"It's that what the problem is?"

"Yeah. The other guys...they think I'm some sort of fag 'cause I don't like sports but I like to read."

"They *think* you're gay? Are you?"

"What! Mr. Sandburg! Just 'cause I..."

"Slow down, Billy. I'm just asking."

"Oh. I don't think I am. I mean, like, I like girls. And, I've thought about guys and it's, like, nothing."

"Okay. You're not gay, then. You're a straight guy who likes books."

"Yeah."

"Is that a problem?"

"A couple of guys were beaten up. One's hurt real bad. And everyone thinks it's because he's gay, except he's not."

"How do you know?"

"He's like a friend of mine." Blair's ears picked up.

"You can't tell by looking, you know. Look at Mr. Ellison there."

"*He's* not gay."

'No, he isn't. Too bad for me.' Blair shrugged. "So far as we know."

"People are saying you are."

Blair shrugged. "It's not important."

Billy sat back in shock. "It's *not*?"

"The only thing that matters is if I'm a good teacher or not. Do you think it would make a difference to, say, Mr. Ellison's coaching abilities?"

"Mr. Sandburg, are you saying that Mr. Ellison is..."

"Mr. Ellison and I never taught in the same school before. There's no way I could learn his orientation one way or the other today."

"Oh." Billy took a long look at Jim, whose t-shirt was drenched in sweat, as he towered over the freshman boys.

Blair tried not to notice how it defined Jim's muscles.

"Billy, do you have any idea who beat your friend up?"

'Great going, Sandburg. Just blurt out everything!'

"N..no. Kev wouldn't say."

Jim blew his whistle. "Okay, guys. Practice is over. You, on the bleachers - next time, play or don't show up! I want to see all you guys here on time tomorrow, or the whole team runs laps."

"The whole team, Coach?"

"Yes. That's what a team is for. And do your history homework!"

The boys filed into the locker room, Billy following slowly behind.

When the last boy left the gymnasium, Jim climbed the bleachers to sit next to Blair.

"What was that about, Chief?"

"Billy is getting the 'fag' treatment." Blair shook his head. "Damn, that brings back memories."

Jim looked at him. "Memories? Someone you knew was..."

"Me, Jim. Look, I'm long over it, but I was little and younger than everyone else and my mom was strange and I read. It happens. Billy isn't gay, and knows it, but that doesn't stop anything."

"What about you, Chief?"

"Bullies like that don't care if you are or you aren't, so long as they think you are. The boy in the hospital was a friend of Billy's, and Billy says he's not gay, either."

"Yeah. I figured that out. He wouldn't tell you who did it?"

"Of course not. Jim, I'll meet you back at the loft. You need to clean up and we can't leave together."

---------------------------

"Where can he be? It doesn't take that long to shower and push a bunch of boys into a school bus."

Blair stirred the soup simmering on the stove and looked at the clock again. It had been over an hour. He added yet another cup of water just to keep it liquid. Finally, the door opened. Jim's tie was askew and he looked ready to bite someone.

"Jim? What happened?"

"Stupid kids. Someone found a bodybuilding magazine in someone else's locker. One look at the kid would tell you he was buying it for the protein supplements, not the muscle men."

"Jim..."

"It doesn't matter anyway. I know. The other kid begins shouting that Munsen's a fag, and the others join in."

"What happened?"

"Munsen wanted to fight, of course. It took me an hour to get everyone calmed down."

"Was there a fight?"

Jim took a deep breath and sighed. "Thank God, no. It was the whole freshman squad against one kid, and even with his muscles, that's not my kind of odds."

"What took an hour?"

"Convincing them that it made no difference. I just thought, 'What would Blair do?'"

Blair bit his lower lip. "It was your own good sense. Dinner's ready."

"Yeah. I could eat."

Blair kept a steady stream of commentary about his day. He'd truly enjoyed teaching Mrs. Smith's classes. They'd had unique insights into "Flowers for Algernon." He tried to draw Jim out, but Jim just grunted and ate the soup. However, Jim did let him show him how to write a basic lesson plan and to give him other hints.

"Jim, I watched you coach those kids. You know how to teach. Just use the same skills in the classroom."

"That's not how you teach."

"So? I do question and answer. You do skills and drill. What's the problem? Start the kids with something to do when they come in. Review the homework. Teach them the next chapter and make sure they understand it, and give them time to start homework before class ends. Just like you do as a coach."

Jim blinked a couple of times. "I can do that. I can even tell them stuff not in the book."

"Exactly. I know we're not going to be here very long, but so long as we are, we have a duty to these kids. You can do it."

Blair leaned over the sample lesson plan and pushed his glasses up. Jim leaned closer. For a moment, Blair thought he heard Jim sniff his hair, but shook that notion off.

"I know the Revolution cold. All I need to do is get it organized, right?"

"You got it, Jim. I'll take care of the dishes now."

Jim was so absorbed in his plans that he didn't respond. Blair grinned.

-------------------

That night, Jim's screams woke him from a sound sleep.

It wasn't Jim's first night terrors. As Blair pulled on a pair of sweats, he tried to think of what might have triggered these. The last time it had happened was when Jim started remembering finding his friend's body.

He climbed the stairs, making as much noise as possible. He knew what he'd find, but that didn't make it any easier. Jim was sitting as far back on his bed as possible, his eyes wide open but not seeing, his hands fending off some unseen attacker.

"No, get away! Get away! Don't...don't...please, don't! Da...don't!"

Blair stood there, wringing his hands in pain and frustration. This was not the Jim he knew. It was a frightened child whom he couldn't help.

If he tried to touch him, Jim would retreat further. If he said something, either Jim wouldn't hear or scream louder. Even the "guide voice" wouldn't help. This wasn't a Sentinel thing. It was a Jim thing. And Jim wouldn't even remember it in the morning.

All he could do was stand there and hope that Jim wouldn't hurt himself, and wait for the terrors to end. They took a few more minutes, but they did end. Jim's breathing calmed and his eyes closed again as he went back to sleep. Now Blair could do something.

Gently, Blair touched Jim's shoulder. Jim didn't pull away, nor did he wake. He moved closer to Blair. Blair continued to stroke him, comforting him into a deeper sleep.

"It's all right, Jim. You're in your own loft, in your own bed. No one is after you. It's only me, only Blair. Everything is going to be fine."

Blair had found that if he did this, Jim would sleep until morning with no memory of the night before. If he didn't, Jim might experience more terrors. He'd spend some time speaking to him and petting him, and then, when he could be certain Jim would not dream like that again, he'd slip quietly down to his own bed. Sometimes he even managed to get back to sleep himself.

He'd tried to get Jim to talk to someone about these terrors, but Jim refused to even believe they happened. After all, he didn't remember any of it.

Jim looked so peaceful, finally, and oddly young. Beautiful, too. Blair did as he sometimes did in the past and gave into temptation. He kissed him, as lightly as possible, just a brush of lips against Jim's forehead. He'd long ago accepted that he'd never have anything more, and tried to make himself believe it was enough.

"Good night, Jimlove. I'll see you in the morning."

He got up to leave, but found that he couldn't - Jim had somehow gotten hold of his hand, and was not letting it go. This had never happened before. Jim's grip was like iron. He couldn't make him let go without waking him, and Blair was not about to wake him.

"You don't want me to go tonight? Okay, then. I won't."

Resigning himself to a sleepless night, Blair crawled into the bed next to Jim. Eventually, Jim's grip would relax, and Blair could creep downstairs. Or so he hoped. It took hours. Blair found himself dozing on and off, but he always awoke to Jim's hand holding his. Finally, as the sky began to turn faintly pink, Blair could free his hand.

'The first time I get to sleep with Jim and not only do I not sleep, he doesn't even know about it.'There would be a couple of hours until dawn. He'd manage to get in a little more sleep.

-----------------------

Jim was disgustingly chipper the next morning.

"Chief, I have a feeling today is going to be just fine."

Blair, who was holding on to his blender to stay upright, only moaned at him.

"I just have to remember that I'm the teacher, right?"

"Yeah, sure, Jim. Did you make coffee?"

"Want me to get you some, Chief?"

Blair poured himself a cup of algae and nodded.

"What's wrong? Did you have a bad night?"

"Yeah, Jim."

"Too bad. I slept great." Blair couldn't summon up the energy to roll his eyes. He took the coffee cup from Jim and sipped at it gingerly. Too hot, but he needed it. Five classes again. And that Andrea Nox person would be after Jim again.

Two cups of caffeine and a shower later, he was ready to go. He was about to get into his Volvo when Jim stopped him.

"Look, Sandburg. You're clearly not in good shape. Why don't I drive us both to school today?"

"Because we supposedly just met yesterday?"

"Yeah...and Coach Ellison and Mr. Sandburg found out they live close enough to car pool."

Blair was not about to argue. Especially not with a Jim who was downright *perky*, as ridiculous as that notion was.

"Okay. You win. But that means I drive tomorrow."



Blair's instincts took over when he got to his classroom. The kids seemed excited that he was back as Mrs. Smith, as the students put it, and they were even more excited over "Charly."

By the time his break rolled around, he was wide awake, with the exhilaration that a good class always provides. Jim was looking decidedly *less* perky in the teacher's lounge.

Andrea Nox was still trying to hit on him, but this time, for some reason, Jim was not responding.

"Hi, neighbor!" Blair handed Jim a cup of coffee.

Andrea shot him a look. "Neighbor?"

"Yeah. We live on the same block."

"Thanks, Sandburg."

"Sandburg? *You're* Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair sat down on Jim's other side, cradling his mug.

"Yes. Blair Sandburg, substitute extraordinare."

"My freshman girls can't stop talking about you."

Blair shrugged.

She continued. "That's not always safe, you know. You'd better be careful."

'Blondie, I've fended off the advances of any number of college freshmen, of both sexes. I can handle some teenagers.' Blair sipped his coffee.

"I'll be okay."

She just nodded, and after a few more minutes of aggressive flirting were ignored, stalked away.

"So, how have your classes been this morning?"

Jim looked at him. "They're still little monsters. I still hate high school. But they are doing their work, so it's better."

"Did my suggestions work?"

"To a point. I hate kids, you know that?"

Blair just grinned.

A short-haired woman approached them.

"You guys are the talk of the school, you know."

Jim growled into his coffee. Blair grinned at her.

"What are they saying?"

"I let the girls pick the topic for the debate club yesterday. They chose to debate over which of you has the bluest eyes."

They looked at each other's eyes for a long time. Blair found himself getting lost in the depths of Jim's...

"Well?" She sounded amused.

"He does!" 'Oh, God. We didn't say that at the same time?'

The woman laughed. "I see. Well. Andrea's wasting *her* time, isn't she?"

Jim looked confused, but Blair was starting to panic. "We just met."

She just nodded. "Don't worry. I'm the last person who'd say anything." She smiled and walked away.

"We're in trouble, Jim."

"What are you talking about, Chief?"

"She thinks...she thinks...she thinks we're involved."

"What! That's ridiculous."

"Jim..."

"She thinks we're sleeping together? That we're a couple of...of...a couple?"

"Shhhh! Jim, I don't know. Maybe. For two guys who just met, we spend a lot of time together."

"Maybe she just knows we're here as cops."

"Jim..."

"Sandburg, don't worry about it. Even if she does think so, she just said she wouldn't tell."

"Right, Jim."

The bell rang.

--------------------------

Blair had to wait for Jim's practice to be over this afternoon, since they'd come in Jim's truck. He took his lesson plans and used the time to write a quiz for the next day.

A couple of upperclassmen were hanging around the gym, too.

"You Mr. Sandburg?"

"Yes. Can I help you?"

"My girlfriend talks about you a lot."

"She does?"

"Yeah. Mr. Sandburg this, Mr. Sandburg that. You're not so hot."

Blair shrugged.

"You got those earrings and that long hair, and everyone says you're always around Coach Ellison."

"Yeah, I heard you was a couple of...you know." The other boy flipped his wrist.

"'Were', not was. Where did you hear that?"

"Around. 'Course, lookin' at Mr. Ellison, I guess that's not right."

"So, I'm gay because I wear earrings and Mr. Ellison isn't because he's muscular?"

The two boys looked at each other in confusion.

"I'll bet you two are always hanging out together."

"So? We're buds."

"And Mr. Ellison and I can't be 'buds'?"

"Look, all's I know is that we don't like fags in South Cascade. And we don't like fags who steal our girlfriends, neither."

"I see."

Blair wondered briefly if the kid had even heard what he himself had just said. Then something on the court took his attention.

Jim was talking to a group of boys seriously. One was pointing to the other. Not for the first time, Blair wanted Sentinel hearing.

Suddenly, one boy made a fist, but Jim managed to stop it. That boy began to shout at him. Even Blair could hear it.

"Get your stinking hands off of me, you fag!"

Jim, who had touched the boy for a moment, stood there very quietly. Blair picked up his materials and walked down the bleachers. The older boys looked at each other, but stayed where they were.

"I'm not touching you, Jack."

Jim was using his "See how calm I am" voice, and was wearing the corresponding smile. Blair knew, even if the boys didn't, that it was time to worry.

"You were!"

"And what were you doing?"

Jack, stymied, just stood there.

"You're still a fag!"

"Really?"

"Yeah...cause you're always on Michael's side."

"Ah, and what would it make me if I were always on your side?"

"That's easy, Mr. Ellison." Blair knew that a new voice would carry.

"Mr. Sandburg? What are you doing here?"

Jim didn't sound happy, but Blair forged ahead.

"If Mr. Ellison was always on one person's side, he'd be unfair, wouldn't he?"

The other boys nodded.

"Is Mr. Ellison on Michael's side?"

"He's always sticking up for him."

"Was he, or was he doing his job by preventing a fight?"

"Mr. Sandburg..."

"Michael, what would have happened if you had hit Jack?"

"I dunno."

"Mr. Ellison?"

"If there had been a fight, both Jack and Michael would have been suspended."

"Ah, and then Michael would have stopped being what you thought he was, even if he wasn't in the first place?"

Jack paused to decipher what Blair had said.

"Uhh...no, I guess not."

"Should Mr. Ellison have let the fight continue?"

"No."

Blair nodded and walked back to the bleachers

Jim led the boys through some cooling down exercises, and followed them off to the showers, but not without letting Blair know they'd talk later. The older boys disappeared.

____________________________

Blair watched Jim disappear into the locker room. Jim would be a while, so he decided to see where the boys went.

He packed up his materials and left the gym. There was no sign of them, but one of the doors to the outside was open, so he went through it.

The two boys were leaning against a car in the student lot. They were just talking to each other, but there was an air of watchfulness about them. They were clearly waiting for someone.

Blair debated waiting with them, but it could be anyone, including a girlfriend.

Just as he'd decided to go back into the building again, one of the boys saw him. The boy grinned, mouthed the word "faggot" and shot him the finger.

Blair decided to ignore this bit of disrespect for the moment, and went back in. He memorized their faces, though. Unlike the ones teasing Billy his first day, these boys may be more than talk.

Jim didn't say much on the way home. He just drove the truck as if it needed all of his concentration. Blair wanted very much to talk to Jim, but knew it would be futile to try it when Jim was in this mood.

The mood continued while Jim tossed dinner together. Blair tried to concentrate on lesson plans and even some of his real classes, but found it impossible.

He took a deep breath when they sat down to dinner.

"Jim, what is bothering you?"

"Nothing."

Blair shook his head. "I know you better than that. Don't try to stonewall me, Jim."

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Jim...something is wrong, and it has to do with this case."

Jim put his knife and fork down.

"You really want to know? Okay, I'll tell you. There is a rumor that *we* are gay."

"So?"

"So!? Chief, did you hear what I said? They think we're gay. They think *we* are lovers."

Blair shrugged. "Does that matter? I mean, it's not like we have to worry about our jobs in the long term."

"It doesn't bother you that they think you're a...fag?"

"Nope. I know what I am, and who I am, and that's enough for me. One of my mother's lessons."

"Well, it bothers me. I don't want people thinking I'm something I'm not. I want people to see me the way I see myself."

"How do you see yourself, Jim?"

"I'm a man."

"Yes. That's pretty obvious. You'd make a strange looking woman. I'm a man, too."

"Men don't...sleep with other men."

Blair shook his head. 'You held my hand last night so tightly I almost lost circulation. You did it after I kissed you.'

"Jim, no matter who you sleep with, you're a man."

Jim was silent for a moment. "Chief...answer me straight. No lies, no obfuscations. You were bashed in high school."

"Yeah. Until I learned to fight back. Naomi was *not* happy."

"Why?"

"Well, I'm small, and I'm always new, and I read a lot. All of which are crimes."

"Sandburg..."

"That was why then. It was later I realized I...didn't care about the package very much." Blair tried to look calm, but his mouth felt like cotton. He had no idea what would happen next.

Jim said nothing for a long time.

"I'm sorry, Jim. Maybe I should have told you."

Jim shook his head. "It's okay, Chief. Yeah, you should have told me, but I know that's hard to do."

"Yeah."

"What are we going to do about those rumors?"

"Nothing. Act like you don't care. The way you did this afternoon."

"I don't know if I can do that."

"Just try. How did the history classes go?"

"I think I managed to pound one fact into their brains today. It's easier chasing drug dealers."

Even though they kept the conversation on classes and sports, Blair noticed that Jim kept looking at him oddly. Was Jim hiding something from himself again?

Jim did the dishes that night because Blair did them the night before, which gave Blair more time to deal with his double teaching load. Blair, though, spent it trying to figure his Sentinel out.

Jim sat down next to him to do his own "homework." He grimaced at the papers he had to grade, but got out a red pen and set to work.

Blair tried a little experiment. He moved just a little closer to Jim. Jim didn't react at all. Blair moved even closer, until he was just barely touching him. Jim closed the remaining gap.

Blair didn't move. He waited for Jim to notice, but Jim never did. He just continued to grumble about the idiocy of his freshmen. Blair finished grading the remaining quizzes and stood up. He'd had a rotten night and wanted to get some extra sleep.

"Night, Jim."

"Night, Chief."

Blair couldn't get to sleep, though. He had too many thoughts swirling through his head. The boys; the rumors; Jim and what he might be hiding; his own feelings. Finally, though, he heard Jim make his way upstairs and somehow that relaxed him enough to get to sleep.

Until Jim's screaming woke him up again.

It was a replay of the night before.

Jim was screaming on his bed, fending off only he knew who. Blair stood hugging himself in worry, not able to do anything. He could feel the tears running down his face. Something had to be triggering these attacks. He'd never had them twice in a row before.

Finally, Jim began to quiet. Blair reached out again, to do his calming routine. This time, he didn't kiss Jim, who settled quietly back in his bed. Blair sighed and padded softly downstairs again. At least he'd get some more sleep.

Jim wasn't quite so perky the next morning. He poked listlessly at his breakfast when Blair served it to him.

"Chief?"

"Yeah, Jim?"

"Did I have a nightmare last night?"

Blair nearly dropped his coffee. "Yes..yes, you did."

"I remember some of it. I remember...my father. I don't know what it was, but he was angry."

"Good. Good. We can work with this. We can figure out exactly what the trigger was."

"Yeah, maybe. I remember something else, too. I remember *you.*"

Blair carefully put his cup down on the table. "Me? What do you remember about me?"

"You were there. I could hear your heartbeat, smell your scent...just as things were at their worst, you were there, and I knew everything would be all right."

"Jim?"

"And then I remember your voice. And your hands. And everything *was* all right. Did I dream that?"

"No. I was there. I'll always be there for you." Blair looked straight at Jim and reached out his hand.

Jim stared at him, his eyes filled with confusion, terror and joy all mixed up. Before Blair's hand reached his, the phone rang. Still staring at Blair, Jim picked it up.

"Ellison....Simon, what's wrong?...Damn. Do you have names?...Yes, I know them. They're two of my players...No, not that I know of...Are they all right?...Thank God. Any clues?...What do you want us to do?...Sounds right to me. I'll call you later, Captain."

"Jim, what's up?"

"Two of my boys were bashed last night."

Blair had only rarely seen Jim look so angry.

"Who?"

"Billy Taylor and Michael Munsen."

"Billy's one of my English students. He's the one who thought he might be gay because he likes books, even if he likes girls."

Jim nodded. "Michael's the kid with the magazine. That damn magazine. I was reading...Oh, my head!" Jim pressed his hands to his forehead.

"Jim? What's wrong?"

"Nothing, Chief. My head just started pounding. It's better now. What were we talking about?"

"The boys. Billy and Michael."

"Right. They probably weren't gay to begin with."

"Does it matter, Jim? I mean, even if they were gay, does that make it right?"

Jim blinked his eyes. He looked at Blair as if he'd never seen him before. "Does it make it right? No, I guess it doesn't, but it doesn't seem fair to be beaten up for something that isn't true."

"Does it seem fair for me to be beaten up because I read or because I'm short? Those were perfectly true." Blair shrugged. He'd come to terms with that a long time ago.

"I don't know, Chief. You're making my head ache. Finish up here. We don't want to be late today."

As they were cleaning up, the phone rang again.

"Ellison. Yes, Dr. Halper?....Yeah, I'll be there....Sure, I'll call Sandburg. No problem. Bye, sir."

"What was that about, Jim?"

"That was the principal. He wants us in a little early for a staff meeting."

Without more discussion, they climbed into Jim's truck again. At this point, there was no stopping the rumors anyway. Especially if even the principal assumed one could always reach the other.

The meeting was held in the auditorium. Every teacher was there, including the other substitutes. Some knew what was going on, but most were confused. The principal mounted the stage.

"Fred, what's going on here?"

"Is everyone here? Okay, Andrea, I'll answer your question. Two more boys were beaten up last night. Billy Taylor and Michael Munsen. They are *fine* - just bruised. This time they picked a couple of athletes who could fight back. They'll be back in school in a few days, and they are not to be penalized for these days off."

"Dr. Halper? Do you have any idea who might have done this?"

"Mr..Ellison, is it? They're on your team, right? No, we have no idea. However, there is a police investigation going on, or so I'm told."

"Will we be informed about any developments?"

"That's up to the police. Any more questions?"

After Halper repeated the same story several more times, they were released. Jim looked unsatisfied, but he couldn't ask more direct questions. So far as he knew, Dr. Halper was not in on their covers.

Of course, all the kids knew what was going on immediately.

"Mr. Sandburg, is it true that Billy was beaten up last night because he was gay?"

"No."

The students buzzed in amazement. "B...but...my...boyfr..."

"Lizzie, Billy was beaten up last night because someone *thought* he was gay."

"What's the difference?" One of the other boys almost sniggered.

"None. It's equally bad. Lizzie, your boyfriend?"

"I...never mind, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair nodded. "Get out Algernon, kids. Let's talk about the ending."

"It's so sad. They only like him when he's stupid."

"Do they like him, Lizzie? Or does he just think that way?"

"I..don't know, Mr. Sandburg. Let me think."

'Do that, Lizzie.'

The students remained distracted, but Blair managed to get through the lesson. He sat on his desk as the students filed out, reminding them about their homework. Lizzie hung back, waiting for the other kids to leave.

"Mr. Sandburg? Can I talk to you?"

Blair smiled. "Of course. What is it? You did very well in class today."

"Thanks...it's about my boyfriend. He...told me about Jack and Billy last night."

She twisted her hair with her fingers.

Blair stopped smiling. "What did he say?"

"I shouldn't...I didn't *say* I wouldn't...Kevin said he saw the whole thing. That those two were faggots and that Mr. Ellison was...like that too, and that's why he stuck up for them...he said he saw the whole thing in the gym."

"What happened in the gym?"

"You know, Mr. Sandburg. Kevin says you were there. He says you and Mr. Ellison...but you can't be. All the girls are saying that you can't be."

"Okay, Lizzie. Mr. Ellison and I aren't important." He took a deep breath and ran his fingers over his head, pulling strands out of his ponytail.

He thought about the two upperclassmen who'd tried to taunt him in the gym.

"What did Kevin say about the beatings, Lizzie?"

"Just that...he saw them. That two big guys, bigger than him or his friend Jeff who he always hangs out with, grabbed them that night by the reservoir, you know, where the kids hang out?"

Blair nodded. "Go on, Lizzie."

"He said that they were tough for a couple of fruits, and that they gave pretty well. Even guys who just watched got hit, he said. That's how he got his black eye."

"Okay, Lizzie. Thanks for telling me this. You were a big help."

She preened.

"Do you need a late pass for your next class?"

"Nah. Ms. Nox don't care."

She let go of her hair and ran off.

By the second period, the students had calmed down somewhat, and Blair's lessons went on as usual.

And then they were back in the teacher's lounge. This time, Andrea Nox gave them a sniff and a cold shoulder, and they were frankly stared at by other teachers.

Jim, who looked exhausted and worried, was clearly listening to some whispered conversation.

"Jim?"

"There seems to be two sides to this debate. One side thinks we're long term lovers, and one side refuses to believe we're gay at all. Most of those seem to be women."

The short-haired teacher from the day before approached them, holding three cups of coffee precariously balanced on a notebook.

"I didn't introduce myself yesterday. I'm Jessica Weston. Call me Jessica. And I know who you are."

"I'll bet you do." Jim gave a rueful smile.

"Have some coffee. Look, I'm in the same boat, or I would be if anyone knew."

She sat down next to them.

"How did...why do they think this about us?"

She shrugged. "Maybe you give off vibes. Maybe it's because you're the only single men who haven't succumbed to Andrea's charms. I don't know."

Blair looked at her. "How do you...keep it a secret?"

"My lover works nowhere near here."

"Jessica, we're not..."Jim couldn't continue. "Have you heard any rumors about the bashing? I'd think that would take precedence."

"Kevin Jackson came in with a black eye today, and his pal Jeff Graciano has a sprained wrist. They claim they fell off their roller blade."

Blair looked at her. "Kevin's girlfriend said that he said he was a witness, and that he got the black eye because he got in the way of flailing fists. I didn't believe her then."

"Why didn't you say anything, Ch...Sandburg?"

"I was going to tell the cops when I had a chance."

Jim looked at him and nodded. He got the message - Blair was going to wait until they were alone.

There was to be no practice that afternoon, by administrative fiat. Jim complained all the way home.

"Those kids need something normal. They need the practice. I was just getting them to be a team! And now, with two players out, they really need some time together."

Blair just nodded and "uh-huhed" in the right places. They had other things to talk about that afternoon, and it was best that Jim got this out of his system.

But Jim didn't give him a chance to talk. As soon as they were home, Jim put together a shopping list and went out for groceries. Well, they *were* low and it was his turn, but Blair knew avoidance when he saw it.

--------------------------------

Blair was on the phone when Jim finally got back from the grocery store.

"Yeah, Simon. Tell Megan and Brown that the kids hang out by the reservoir. Look for the ones with bruises. They'll be the ones who know something."

"Simon's sending Connor and Henri out to question the kids?"

Blair nodded at Jim. "Okay, Simon. Jim's home. Yeah, I think we might have this solved. Good night."

Jim began putting away the groceries. "I thought we'd have spaghetti in garlic oil tonight. Something simple."

"Yeah, Jim. Whatever. Jim, we have to talk."

"About what?" Jim put a pot of water on the stove and began to make a salad.

"About what happened last night. About what we talked about this morning."

"I don't want to talk about it, Chief."

Blair began to pace around the living room, clenching and unclenching his fists.

"This is *so* frustrating. Jim, man, this is not something you can just forget. We *need* to talk. Things aren't the same anymore."

Jim put down the knife and the tomatoes. "Why not? Why can't things be the same? I *like* things the way they are. I like my life the way it is."

Blair walked into the kitchen and touched Jim's shoulder. "I know. You hate change, and this is so not what you're looking for."

Jim turned to face him. "I don't know that, either. I like things the way they are. I don't want to change. But, I want...I don't know what I want. Dammit, Sandburg! Why do you have to analyze everything?"

"Because that was your second major night terror in two days last night. Because I spent the night before last lying awake in your bed because you were holding my hand and I couldn't make you let go. Because we have a school full of terrorized kids. Because...oh, dammit, Ellison, because I love you!"

Blair ran out of the kitchen and into his room. He sat on his bed and buried his face in his hands.

"You idiot. You idiot. You stupid, stupid idiot. How could you just say that? Idiot, idiot, idiot."

"I am one, aren't I?" Blair felt Jim sit next to him on his bed.

"What? Oh, God, Jim, I'm sorry."

Jim put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't be. Never be."

"Jim?"

"I don't know what to say right now. I'm not good with words."

"Yeah, you are."

"Sandburg...Blair...I don't know what I'm feeling, or if...but I know you. And if you feel this way, it's...I don't have the words. Don't...don't go away."

"I'm not going anywhere, Jim. Not unless you want me to. I made you a promise this morning. As long as you need me, I'll be here." Blair felt something escape his eyes. He couldn't be crying.

Jim touched the tear on Blair's cheek and looked at his own hand in wonder. "I...I don't know how to respond to this, but I'm glad you're here."

"Yeah. I'm glad I'm here, too." He wiped his face. "What do you say we eat dinner?"

"I have to make it first. Ten minutes, okay, Chief?" Blair nodded.

He watched Jim leave the room. The discussion wasn't over yet, but something was a lot clearer. There was even some hope that Jim would...no, not yet. It was too soon. Everything was too soon. Even after three years.

The table needed setting while Jim sauteed the garlic in the oil and tossed the spaghetti. It was a perfectly ordinary task, but nothing felt ordinary now. Jim kept looking at him.

Jim came to the table with two bowls of pasta, and put one in front of Blair. Blair picked up his fork and began to twirl, then put it down again.

"Chief? What's wrong? Stupid question."

"Yeah. Why are you so calm? Last night, I told you I was bisexual. This morning, you remembered you had nightmares. Tonight, I said what I said. Why aren't you reacting?"

"I don't know. Fifteen minutes ago, I was angry and scared and confused as hell, but now...now I don't know. Maybe I still am. Maybe I'm screaming somewhere inside. But I don't feel it. I feel...I still can't put it into words...Safe? Does that make sense?"

Blair thought about it as he began to eat his dinner. "I don't know. I do know I'm scared. And off-balance. And that this tastes really good."

Jim smiled. "Have some salad, Chief."

Blair smiled back. "Yeah. We'll need our energy. Simon didn't ask for us, but I think we need to be by that reservoir tonight. Those are our students there, not just random kids."

"Only for the moment, Sandburg."

"The moment is all we have."

Jim nodded. They finished dinner in an uneasy silence. Jim went to the living room to clean his gun while Blair did the dishes. Jim also called Simon and told him they were going. Simon wasn't happy about it, but gave him permission.

An hour later, they drove up to the reservoir in Jim's truck. Blair could see Jim peering into the darkness and looking worried.

"Jim, what's going on?"

"Do you see those fires up ahead?"

"Barely."

"The kids are there. I know them. I know their faces, I know their voices. It's my players. And they are planning something. Sounds like revenge."

"Revenge?"

"Yeah. Two of their own were hurt. They can't let that happen."

"I get that. It's like the team is a miniature tribe, and they lose honor if they let this go."

"Whatever you say, Darwin. I knew I should have had practice today. I might have defused this."

"Maybe. Tribal loyalties can run pretty high. I think it's a good thing you're here now."

"Yeah. Let's go talk to them."

They climbed out of the truck together. Jim led the way through the darkness to where his team were gathered. They were huddled together near some fires. As they got closer, Blair could make out baseball bats and tire irons, as well as bicycles chained nearby.

"What's going on here, boys?"

"Coach Ellison! What are you doing here?"

"It's a nice night. I thought I'd...take a walk. You didn't answer my question, Marcus. What's going on here?"

"Uhhh...just like you said, Mr. Ellison. It's a nice night."

"And Jack here decided to walk with his dad's tire iron? I don't think so. Try again."

"We're going to get them."

Marcus fingered his bat.

"And who would that be, Babe Ruth?"

"The ones who got Billy and Michael. No one messes with a teammate, no matter what!"

"Who are they?"

"It's team business, Coach."

"That makes it *my* business. Who are they?"

Blair stepped forward. "Kevin Jackson and Jeff Graciano, right?"

"Mr. Sandburg?" Jack squinted to see him. "How did you know?"

"I'm right, aren't I? You're going to beat up Kevin and Jeff."

"Yeah. Everyone knows they did it, and we're going to teach them a lesson."

Jim shook his head. "How do you know? None of you were there."

"If we were there, we'd have stopped them!"

"And now all you're going on is rumor. Michael and Billy were beaten up because of rumors."

"Mr. Sandburg, we all know Kevin and Jeff were involved. They came in hurt today."

"Be that as it may, you weren't witnesses and you don't know. That makes you the same."

"Coach, you tell him! You understand."

"Yeah, I understand. Mr. Sandburg is right. Let the people who know what they are doing get these guys. *You* don't want your teammates beaten up. *We* don't want anyone beaten up."

"You would say that, Mr. Ellison. We all know about you and Mr. Sandburg."

"Jack, that's a rumor, too. Just like those rumors about Michael and Billy. And if they weren't teammates, would you be here right now?"

Jack looked confused. "But they *are* teammates! And they have to know not to mess with the team."

Jim motioned to Blair to move away from the boys. "Chief, I'm going to come clean to them. The chances are we aren't going to be back at the school tomorrow anyway."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. All my cop instincts tell me so."

"Go for it."

They moved back into the firelight.

"Guys, I have to tell you something. It's a secret, but I think you should know."

The boys all looked at each other.

"What is it, Coach?"

Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out his badge. "I'm not a coach. I'm not even a teacher. I'm a detective in the Cascade PD. Here's my badge."

"Cooool!" The boys crowded around to see.

"If you're a cop, then..." Jack gestured to Blair.

"Mr. Sandburg is my partner."

The boys breathed a collective sigh of relief.

"See, I told you they weren't fags! They're cop partners." Marcus nearly crowed in triumph.

"You didn't know they were cop partners!"

"No, but I knew they weren't fags. Look at Mr. Ellison. He can't be one."

Blair looked at Jim, who seemed unable to breathe.

"None of this matters. We told you boys the truth because we think you can help us. Will you help us so no one gets beat up anymore - not teammates, not anyone?"

"Okay, Mr. Sandburg. Don't tell anyone."

"Wouldn't dream of it. Do you know where Kevin and Jeff are?"

They nodded and collectively tried to give the information. Finally, they got the facts straightened up and ordered the boys to go home.

"Detective Ellison? Does this mean you won't be our coach any more?"

"I'm afraid not. I'm going to miss you guys."

"Too bad. You were a great coach. A lousy history teacher but a great coach." Jack waved as he and his teammates gathered their implements of destruction and drove off on their bikes.

Blair followed Jim back to the truck. As they drove to the other side of the reservoir, they called in their destination so that Henri and Megan could meet them there.

There was another crowd of boys waiting for them.

These were no freshmen, either. Many were big enough to be seniors, and some looked like they'd been out of high school a while.

Kevin and Jeff were there, standing on the periphery and clearly both dwarfed and cowed by the bigger boys.

"Hey, look. It's the two faggot teachers. I guess those two queer frosh liked it so much they recommended it to their friends."

The speaker was one of the seniors. Blair had seen him pick up his girlfriend after the last period class.

"You're Doug Bradley, right?"

"What's it to you?"

"Just wondering. Now, what exactly did we come here looking for, Doug?"

"Oh, I know you fruits like it rough. You want us to do you like we did those brats."

Jim smiled - *that* smile. "And what did you do to those 'brats', Doug?"

"Taught them that we don't like queers in South Cascade. We don't like queer students and we don't like queer teachers."

Doug clearly hadn't learned that when Jim's voice got that smooth, he wasn't happy.

"And so you plan to beat us up, too?"

Doug looked at Jim. "You're not so tough. A real man can take out any fag. That's what my dad says."

"I guess he knows."

"Yeah."

"Bradley? Joe Bradley? Is that your dad?" Doug nodded. "I went to high school with your dad. He was on the football team. Like me."

Doug looked confused. "Liar. Dad never said...What are you doing?" Jim had clearly heard something in the distance.

He nodded to Blair. Blair heard nothing, but apparently back up was coming.

"How old are you, Doug?"

"Eighteen." Jim smiled again.

"Kevin, Jeff, come over here." They looked at Doug and then limped over.

"How did you guys get so banged up?"

They were silent.

"No one believes it happened rollerblading, guys. That's *so* lame." Blair walked up next to them.

"Mr. Sandburg...hi."

"It's better to tell the truth, you know."

"It was Doug! And the others. They *made* us. They told us that if we didn't, they'd do us!"

"Okay, boys, before you go on, I think I'd better say something." They looked at Jim in confusion.

"Are you absolutely certain about what you saw and did?"

"Yeah. We were *there*."

"Yes. But those guys were tough. We thought fags were wusses, but those guys really got us. So the others...Doug and..."

"That's all I need to hear." Jim walked over to Doug and took a plastic restraint out of his pocket.

Before Doug knew it, his hands were fastened behind his back. "You have the right to remain silent..."

"You *ain't* no cop!"

"If you should give up that right..."

Doug continued to protest until Jim was finished reading him his rights, although Jim did take care to ascertain he understood them. He quietly handed the three boys to Henri and Megan and told Henri to book them. He and Blair were going home. They'd deal with everything in the morning.

"Mr. Ellison? Are you really a cop?"

"Yeah."

"Is Mr. Sandburg your partner?"

Jim's face lit up. "Yeah. He is."

"So you aren't fags?"

"I'm a cop and he's my partner. Nothing else matters."

They drove home silently.

When they got to the loft, Blair tried to get Jim to say something, but he failed.

"I just want to get a night's sleep, Chief. We'll deal with this in the morning."

*****

And, once again, here Blair was, standing helplessly in Jim's bedroom while the man he loved screamed into the night.

"Oh, man, Jim. I wish I could help you."

Something changed. Jim's breathing slowed somewhat and his eyes seemed to focus. "Ch..chief? Is that you?" His voice was hoarse.

"Y...yeah. I'm here." Blair crept forward and cautiously put a hand on Jim's shoulder.

Jim clutched it as if it were a lifeline. "Don't go. Stay here. I...need...stay?"

"Okay." Jim closed his eyes for a moment, and then patted the bed beside him with a shaky hand.

Blair nodded and, slightly shaky himself, sat next to him.

He crossed his legs and leaned against the headboard.

"Are you okay, man?"

"No. Not really." Jim bit his lower lip. "Chief, the...the dream is very clear now. I need to tell you."

"I'm listening."

Jim nodded. He wrapped his hands around his knees and stared into the distance."Yeah. It starts...it starts in my bedroom. My dad is there and he's holding something. It's a magazine. I can't see it clearly or read the name, but it's something I know I'm not supposed to have. He's yelling at me."

"Go on."

Jim sounded like he was still in a dream. "He's saying I'm no son of his. No son of his likes this sort of thing. He's saying he's ashamed of me, that his sons are men. That if I was like that, he'd kick me out of the house.

"He's taking off his belt. It's the hard black one, the one I got him for Christmas. It hurts. It hurts a lot, even through my clothing. Stop, Dad! Stop! I'll be what you want me to be. I'll be a man. Stop!"

Jim buried his head in his hands.

Blair sat there awkwardly, screaming inside. He'd only met William Ellison once, and now...now he never wanted to see him again. He reached up to stroke Jim's shoulders. To his surprise, Jim leaned into his touch.

"It was like I was back there again."

"Jim? This wasn't just a dream?" Blair knew almost for certain that it wasn't.

"No." He swallowed. "I was a scrawny fourteen year old, you know? Like some of the boys on my team, like Michael. It was the seventies, bodybuilding was just getting big again. And I knew Dad would get me free weights. So I bought a couple of bodybuilding magazines, just to see.

"And what I saw...oh, God, I'd forgotten all of this. It's like it was gone. I saw men's bodies. You know how grotesque some of those bodybuilders get, but that...I saw men wearing almost nothing and...I liked it."

"Jim..."

"Then...oh, God. I wanted to see more...I found...other magazines. I was curious, you know? And I liked how I felt when I saw...so I found the other magazines and...I hid them. And Dad found them, and...I was bruised for a week."

"Nobody noticed?"

"No. We...didn't then, you know? And I blocked the whole thing out. I got the other sort of magazine and Dad was proud, even if they didn't do much...you know. And he even kept me supplied with condoms later on. I...didn't use many of them, though. Dad just thought I did."

"Let me guess. You never dated the same girl twice."

"Yeah. Dad thought that meant I was a real Romeo. Oh, God. It's all...it's all falling into place."

Blair was silent.

"There's so much that didn't make...why I close my eyes in the gym...Carolyn...Oh, my God."

"It's okay, Jim."

"No. No, it isn't."Jim began to shake uncontrollably. "I'm not like that. All my life...I've thought of myself one way, and now...I can't be. Chief, how did you..."

"I was a lot younger and my mom was cool about it. It still wasn't easy for either her or me to accept that I was bi. Part of all that therapy was dealing with it. It will be okay. You just had a shock, is all."

"It's not all. Bi. You're bi. I...don't think I am. I think I've been playing a game with myself all these years."

"Jim...maybe you should see someone. Your self image has had some major changes these last few years. You don't want to make any major statements about yourself just yet."

"Who?"

"We'll find you someone...do you want me to go away, go downstairs?"

"NO! Don't go. I need you here. I need you. I...I've hidden it from myself for so long, I can't say it."

"Oh, Jim."

Breathing heavily, Jim turned to face Blair in the dimmness. Maybe it wasn't so dim to Sentinel sight.

"You...you're beautiful." He sounded puzzled. "Why didn't I see that before? I did, I just didn't want to know that. You are beautiful. And I need you. And..." Jim closed his eyes for a moment, and then kissed Blair's lips. Then he began to shake again.

Blair went with his instincts, and folded Jim into his arms. Jim buried his head into Blair's shoulder and slowly the shudders disappeared. Blair just held him gently until he quieted.

"Better?"

"It feels safe here. It feels right here. I feel like I'm home."

"You are. With me. I've already said it. I love you, Jim."

"I...it's too much." He took a deep breath. "I love you, B..Blair." And he smiled. Even by the light of the half moon, Blair could see that smile.

Blair was prepared, quite happily, to spend the rest of the night just holding Jim, no matter how aroused he became. Whatever Jim needed, Jim got.

But Jim surprised him. "It's probably too soon, but I've waited years for this...can I touch you? All of you? Please?"

Blair nodded and kissed Jim's forehead. Then he slipped out of his sweatpants and stretched out naked over the blanket. Jim had seen him naked before - no, he hadn't, Blair realized. Jim never really *looked* at him the few times he'd surprised Blair in the shower.

Jim smiled again. "So beautiful..." He began to touch Blair gently. Blair shivered even in the warm room. First Jim explored his face, softly touching his eyes, his lips, exploring the roughness of his beard. Then he moved down Blair's body, weaving his fingers through the matt of curls, teasing Blair's nipples for a moment, stroking his hairless sides, until he got to Blair's groin. He touched the rapidly thickening penis for a moment, his eyes bright with wonder. Then he went down Blair's legs, stroking their firm muscles until he reached the feet.

"Oh, God, Chief...I think I've dreamed of this my entire life...touching a man, knowing a man. Knowing *you* - all the textures, all the...I need to taste you, to smell you...beautiful Blair."

He began all over again, this time using his mouth and his tongue to explore the same territory, absorbing Blair with all the senses that he could. Blair lay as still and quiet as he could, despite his growing arousal. He could feel tears leaking down his face, both for the sheer joy of this moment as Jim cherished his body and for all the pain and deprivation Jim had suffered all these years.

Then Blair could keep silent no longer. As Jim's tongue found his penis, now thick and hard, he moaned. Jim was awkward and obviously nervous, but he tried and he learned quickly, and Blair had dreamed of this for too long. He exploded in Jim's mouth.

"I'm sorry, Jimlove."

"It's all right. Next time." He sealed this promise with a soft kiss.

"Let me..." Blair reached for Jim's own erection. One touch, and Jim, too, came.

"Next time." It was too soon to expect anything perfect, but Blair wouldn't have traded this first time for anything.

Jim got up to change his boxers, and collapsed back into Blair's arms. 'I have so much to teach you, Jim, but we have time.' They slept wrapped around each other.

-------------------

Morning was strange - both familiar and unfamiliar. They showered together, bumping into the soap dish and arguing over temperature but having fun nevertheless, but there wasn't room for both to shave, so Jim left to make breakfast while Blair groomed himself. And when Jim took his turn, Blair set the table, just as usual. Except that they couldn't keep their hands to themselves, nor could they stop kissing each other, nor did they want to stop.

Then Blair realized something midbite. "Jim...we have to call Dr. Halper. I don't know what he knows or doesn't know, but he may need new subs for today."

"Good call, Chief. He's probably already in. I'll call while you take care of the dishes." Blair nodded. He dropped an absent kiss on Jim's head as he began to clear the table. Jim smiled and stroked Blair's rear end as he walked away. Then he picked up the phone.

"Dr. Halper? This is Jim Ellison. Hello. Did you find out what happened last night? You did? Good. Yeah, I'm a cop. I'm sorry we couldn't...I'm glad you understand. Yeah, I'm glad we got...what? I don't know...I'll ask him. One second. Yeah, he's here with me."

"Chief? Fred Halper wants us to talk to the kids today. Is that okay with you?"

"Sure, Jim! Who's taking our classes?"

"He says sure. When do you want us? We can do 2PM. Sandburg wants to know about our classes....Oh, okay. I'm glad that's covered. Yeah, they're good kids. See you then."

Blair walked into the living room, drying his hands on a towel. "When are we going in, Jimlove?"

"I like that." Finally, Jim turned his dazzling smile on Blair. "2PM? I know you cleared your schedule this week."

"Yeah. That should be fine. And the classes?"

"There already was someone lined up for my classes...he just started a few days late. And they just called in one of their regular subs for your classes. But I will feel better once we come clean to the kids. At least about being cops."

"They're going to ask, you know, about us.."

"I know. And we'll tell them what we would have told them anyway. That it's not relevant, one way or the other. Not that they'd believe it."

Blair nodded ruefully. "What about Simon?"

Jim's eyes widened. "Simon. Damn. I don't know. Look, we'll play it by ear. There are gay cop...*other* gay cops, I mean." Jim fell silent.

"Are you okay, man?"

"I just said it, didn't I? I'm gay. I've always been gay, I just hid it from myself. Chief...I think I do need to talk to someone. You ask around, find somebody good, and I'll go. I need to sort this out."

"We both do, Jim. But we'll do it together."

"Meanwhile, we need to get you moved upstairs."

"You mean it? Are you ready for this?" Blair felt warm all over.

"Blair, I'm not going to spend another night without you if I can possibly help it."

"Yes!"

Jim got a roguish look in his eyes. "Hey, Chief? When do you get the toaster oven?"

"Toaster oven? That's for the ladies. *I* get a cd player - my choice, opera or show tunes."

Jim threw a napkin at him.



***The End***



Copyright 1998 Debra Fran Baker and NightRoads Associates.

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