Author's disclaimer: The Sentinel characters belong to Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. Written for pleasure, not profit.

For adult readers only, please. Contains male/male sex and some strong language. Do not repost, publish or link without discussing it with me first.

Comments are welcomed at JBonetoo@yahoo.com

Author's notes: I originally intended this as a companion piece to "Weathering," but Jim wanted to do another first-time story, so, as it turns out, it's only connected in a vaguely cosmic spiritual way. ;)

Many thanks to Katherine, Kat and a couple of 'Shes Who Shall Remain Nameless' for beta-reading. JaC -- you're excused.


Exposing the Nape

by Bone


I told him he didn't have to do it right away.

Hell, I told him he didn't have to do it at all.

He's been scrapping policy since the first minute he walked in the station, so why should this be any different? He took out a perp with a vending machine, for God's sake. He uses his mouth like a registered weapon. It's not like he has anything to prove to the rank and file. When the captain convenes a ceremony on your behalf, there's nobody left to convince. In the past four years, he's bamboozled the brass, impressed the troops, and literally charmed the pants off half the administrative staff.

I told him he didn't have to do it.

But Sandburg's smart. Street-smart, book-smart, whatever else kind of smart there is, he's it. He's got brains, and heart, and a tougher body than you'd maybe think to look at him. He's smart enough to know he's got to blend a little better. He knows something pretty basic is changing; he knows things he got away with as an observer will get his ass kicked as a rookie.

I wonder if it all didn't start long before now. When I met him, he was just a kid. Smart, but still really just a kid. He wore wild stuff - patterned vests, tribal necklaces, and earrings, lots of earrings. Three in his ear. One in his left nipple. And one in his navel, which I've only seen once, but even now I can tell you its exact dimensions, tell you he's probably still a little sore because of the extra warmth around it, the little red spot underneath. That makes sense; it's an area under constant chafing from jeans, and shirt-tails, and fingertips.

Back up, buddy, back up. I'm on a slippery slope here. I don't understand how I can get from making fun of his wardrobe to imagining his fingertips in his belly button. How does that happen? I don't know, but it does, with startling frequency. He'd freak. At least, I think he'd freak. We haven't exactly talked about it. I really hope we never will. You think I have a hard time expressing my feelings? You ain't seen nothing yet. It's a road I'm not going down, a path we're not taking. It isn't even an option I'm going to put out there. I'm just not.

He's done enough for me. He doesn't need to do that, too. He doesn't even need to know I want him to do that.

See where I've gotten to, without meaning to? What I've been trying to say is that I wonder if this isn't just another step in a logical progression. Maybe he's just growing up. Kids do that. Especially kids who get to know the seamier side of life hanging out with cops. While he seems younger than his age in some ways, he's lots older in others. What he doesn't know about cultural rituals hasn't been discovered yet. He's a sponge about stuff like that; squeeze him hard enough and he'll spill an hour's conversation on Inuit rites of passage, or Chopec funeral ceremonies, or some esoteric thing about a tribe I've never even heard of.

So he's smart. And he learns fast. He absorbs, and then he adjusts. I don't know why I haven't noticed how much he's adjusted since we teamed up. Don't I have enhanced senses? Shouldn't I have noticed that before now?

He hasn't worn the earrings for about six months or so. One morning he wandered out to the kitchen, scratching his stomach, reaching in the fridge for some OJ, and I realized the usual glint from the sun sliding in and hitting his earrings was missing. No light bouncing from the wall to the ceiling and disappearing, like it had every other morning. I didn't say anything. What should I say? "Chief, I miss the light show from your earrings"? Somehow, I can't see myself saying something like that. So I didn't say anything.

He stopped layering dead flannel about the same time. I know he didn't get a raise or anything, but the bright stuff he used to wear must be crumpled in the back of the closet somewhere, because now he wears colors like navy and maroon. He's ... muted ... a little. He even tucks his shirt in now, most of the time, and he got something tweed that he wore when he was teaching. Tweed. It's almost funny, when I think back on those ratty old sneakers he was wearing the first time we met. From that to tucked-in and tweed, in four short years. Wonders will never cease.

Of course, he's not going to need the tweed anymore, is he? He's not going to be teaching, or roaming the hallowed halls, or heading off on expeditions to the Great Beyond. He spent his life in pursuit of something he's never going to be allowed to have. He spent his future to preserve mine.

It's not the first time he's done that. He puts himself on the line every day, riding around with me. He balks if I tell him to stay put, or if I put my arm out to hold him if we take a turn too hard. He's put himself in my corner, and if I let him, he'd come right out in the ring with me. He's been pummeled, shot, drugged, and let's not forget, drowned. I don't forget it. I remember it every day, usually right about the time I realize I haven't seen him for a few hours. I get antsy now, being away from him. I like being in smelling distance of him. I like being in touching distance even better, but I've got to watch that. I already touch too much.

This leads me back to thinking about fingertips in his navel, and how much I'd like them to be mine, when I'm supposed to be thinking about how much he's grown, and changed; how he's adjusted. I'm supposed to be thinking about Blair, and his hair, and whether or not he should cut it.

Telling him he doesn't have to do it isn't getting me anywhere. He's nodding at me, but his mouth's still saying, "Yeah, you said that already, Jim. What else have you got for me?"

He's looking for more from me. We're standing at the counter, like we have a thousand other mornings, eating breakfast standing up, like we're in a hurry. We're not, but it's a habit now. Kind of like waking Blair up by watching him sleep for a minute, breathing him in, then stepping back and rattling something in the kitchen has become a habit. Like checking his heartbeat every half-hour or so has become a habit. He's my habit, my drug of choice. He alters my mind and jolts my body. I never get enough to satisfy the craving, so I keep coming back for more.

He's looking at me, his eyebrows raised, waiting.

"Ummmm ... what's the rush? You've got all summer," I try.

He's still nodding, which means he doesn't agree with me. "Yeah, so, what, I go all summer like this," and he grabs a handful of hair, showing it to me, "and then make all my changes at once? I think not. No, I'll do it now, get used to it. One thing at a time, you know?"

Now I'm the one nodding, when I don't really mean it. I don't want him to lose the Blairskin rug. I don't want him to cut his hair - it's the one thing he said he wouldn't do, way back when. He shouldn't have to do it, not on top of everything else. I haven't been able to talk about that, either. Not since that awkward blurting out in the hospital hallway. I started, and it just came pouring out. He looked shocked. Too much, too little, too late; I realize that. I just worry that if I start talking again about what he means to me, who he is to me, that I won't be able to keep myself from slobbering all over him.

"Want me to come with you?" The offer's out before I realize it.

He cocks his head to the side and his eyes narrow. "I'm not sure I'm ready for your guy. Isn't there some happy middle ground between this and that?" he says, pointing at my head. I could be offended, but I think I'll let it go.

"Just tell him you're not jarheading," I tell him, and I watch his curls bobbing up and down as he nods yet again. I can't help it. I reach out and wrap my fingers in his hair, let the strands catch on my fingers, let myself get tangled in him. "I'm going to miss the mop."

He bends his head toward me, and I thread both hands through his hair. "Yeah," he whispers. "Me, too."


It's just hair.

It'll grow back. That's what hair does, right? It grows. I bet I'll have to do this again right before I go to the Academy. Now that would have been a convincing argument. Wish Jim had thought of it while we were standing at the counter this morning. Then we could be out doing something, anything else. We could be fishing, or watching a movie, or hey, I know, solving a crime. But no. Jim didn't seem to be able to think of anything to say except that I didn't have to do it. I know I don't have to, but I think I should. For some reason, I think it'll make the rest of the transition easier. Get my mindset set. Cast away the trappings of youth. Get used to exposing my nape.

I probably could have put my foot down, made a big deal about it, turned on the persuasion, pulled in some favors, and gone through the Academy with my ponytail intact. I could have leaned on Simon, done the guilt-trip thing with Jim, and probably gotten my way. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. It seems like a pretty trivial thing to pull out the big guns for; better to save them for something really important, like vacation days.

Besides, part of me seems to think that if I have to learn to be someone else, making a big change in what I look like is a natural part of that process. If I look in the mirror and see my old self there, I'm just reminded of who I thought I was going to be, and what I thought I was going to be doing. If I look in the mirror and see something unexpected, something new, maybe it'll make all the rest of the new and unexpected easier to face.

In some cultures, the cutting of hair is a grieving thing. In others, it's a sign of shame. I've got some of both going on. Grief for what could have been. A little shame for how it all went down, for my inability to control the situation. On top of that, I've got some residual irritation at my mother, and her well-intended but disastrous interference. And I keep getting a strange, stinging, singing feeling when I realize that if I do this, if I go through with this, it's official. It's permanent. I'll be Jim's partner, on the level, on the up and up, instead of on the Q.T., instead of on the hush-hush.

Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg.

Partners.

For real.

So I'm sitting in a chair that's too big for me, a chair obviously designed for Army recruits and retired Marines; designed for men so busy defending their countries, and their cities, and their right to bear arms, that they haven't got the time to worry about their hair. I'm sitting in a chair, holding the arms so hard I think I'm leaving dents, and the only thing that's keeping me from bolting is the fact that Jim's right there, sitting directly in front of me, so I can see him the whole time. I'm not facing the mirror - I couldn't do it. The barber has an oddly gentle touch for a guy named Bear. Hearing his name made me smile because he looks like Bull from Night Court, except he's got a chrome dome. I backed up a good foot when I saw him - I could practically see the razor in his hand, smell the shave cream, but I backed into Jim, and he put both hands on my arms and squeezed real tight, real fast, then nudged me forward. I could still feel his body heat behind me. And then he sat where I could see him, and he's been watching me ever since.

The floor's starting to change color - little drifts of brown hair piling up, floating to the corners and settling. I can't read Jim's face to tell whether he approves of the newly hatched chick look for me. He's not smiling, he's not frowning, he's just watching with this real intent look on his face. That look feels like his hands in my hair this morning. He's a toucher; always has been. But his hands in my hair this morning, well, that felt like something different, something beyond getting my cheeks patted or my head thumped. He wrapped his hands in my hair and tugged, said he'd miss the mop. I think it's the most telling thing he's ever said to me, and that includes the little speech in the hospital about what a good cop I am.

I don't think he knows how much he really said in telling me that; I'm not sure he knows how much his hands said there, in my hair. Sign language where I couldn't see it, where I could just feel it. The sharp tug, the unconscious flex, the way he let himself get tangled up. It felt like sex.

Sex, with Jim.

Yeah, the cutting of the hair might be the start of something all new. Something besides the police academy. Something besides creating a replacement for something else.

The cutting of hair has another connotation: women did it in the 1920s to show their independence. They bobbed their hair for the first time. They raised their hems, they tossed their corsets, they drank like fish, and they cut the symbolic ties of long hair.

In a nutshell, they shed their inhibitions.

I can feel a breeze blowing across the back of my neck. It's a weird feeling, almost what I imagine it's like for Jim all the time. I'm totally aware of that breeze on the back of my neck. When I turn my head, nothing brushes my ear, nothing whispers across my shoulder.

I feel lighter.

I feel naked.

I feel like shedding some inhibitions.

I feel like gripping, flexing, getting tangled up.

If I'd known how horny I'd get doing this, I might have done it years ago.


Blair didn't look in the mirror until we got home. Not at his reflection in the truck window, or the rear view mirror, or even in the store windows we passed. He kept his chin down, eyes on the ground, and the back of his neck looked so pale the sun bounced off it like it used to do with his earrings. Only when we got home did he go in the bathroom, turn on the light, and stare at his reflection in the mirror over the sink.

Then he leaned over the toilet and threw up breakfast.

By the time I figured out that I didn't have to hold his hair back (we've been to some pretty gruesome crime scenes -- this isn't the first time he's tossed his cookies in my presence), it was over.

"Sorry, man; don't know where that came from," he's muttering now, wiping his mouth with his hand.

I flush the toilet and hand him his toothbrush. "It's okay. It was a big deal, doing that," I tell him, pointing to his shorn head.

"It's just hair," he says around his toothbrush, sounding disgusted with himself.

"It's more than just hair," I say, and he catches my eye for a second, then looks away.

"Yeah, I know," he mumbles, then spits and rinses.

I hand him a washcloth, and he scrubs at his face for a minute, then dries himself off and stands there, like he's not sure what to do now.

"All right, Chief, let me look at you," I say, and I put my hands on his shoulders.

He actually doesn't look all that different. He looks like he's got his hair pulled back, only there's no lump of ponytail at the back. Bear did a good job with him. There's nothing military about it; no one's going to mistake Blair for a Semper Fi guy. He looks older, which isn't what I expected. I can see the bones in his face better; his eyes look bigger. He looks more solid somehow. More like a man, less like a kid. He looks like ... a teacher.

"I thought it might go Afro," he says, looking at my face like it's a mirror, tilting his head first to one side, then the other. "That would have been pretty funny, huh."

I grin at him. "My very own Shaft for a partner."

He's grinning back now, and he smells like toothpaste and clean water. I'd wondered the same thing - whether once he got the weight off his hair it would just stand straight up off his head in little kinky curls, but it didn't. He's got it brushed back, and it curls a little at the ends, but they wrap around themselves in dips and waves, and it looks more like Matthew McConaughey than Linc from the Mod Squad.

"Looks good," I tell him with a nod. "The ladies'll be all over you."

He blinks, then straightens up a little, tugging out from under my hands. "So what else is new?" he says, leering at me, but his heart spiked when I said that, which I don't get.

"Come on, Romeo, let's go turn some heads," I say, reaching for him again, reaching out to grab the ponytail that's no longer there, and my palm hits the bare skin at the back of his neck instead. It's like glass. Smooth and cool. Firm. My fingers are rubbing across his skin before I can stop them, and then it's all I can feel. He feels like clean sheets, like jumping in a pool, like how vanilla ice cream tastes. Under the pads of my fingers, I can trace the place the hair starts at the surface, the babyfine hair, the pattern of how it grows. His skin is warming under my fingers, and he's starting to lean into my hand, pushing back against me.

I'm zoning; I can feel everything sliding away except my hand on his neck; I think I can get to pore level if I let myself go. I know I can. I just concentrate on the pads of my fingers, and they turn into microscopes, mapping out tiny inconsistencies in his skin, a freckle here, a scratch there. I keep finding little tiny bits of snipped hair that Bear didn't get with his brush.

His breath pulls me back. He's breathing through his mouth, little puffs, like he does when he's meditating. God, how long have we been standing here? His face is flushed, his heart is pounding, and he's staring at the third button on my shirt like there's going to be a test on it later. And I'm just standing there, facing him, with a hand wrapped around his neck, rubbing him.

When I start to pull away, he tips his head back and closes his eyes. Oh, Jesus. The feathers of his hair tickle the back of my hand, and I reach up to cradle his head, happy to take the weight.

"Jim," he whispers.

"Yeah," I whisper back.

"You zoned," he says.

"Yeah."

"You zoned on me," he says.

"Yeah."

"You zoned on me."

And he's moving forward, his head still back; his eyes still closed, like he can't watch. One hand grabs a handful of my shirt and the other latches onto one of my belt loops. Now we're face to face, chest to chest. I don't have to look down to know he's hard; I can feel the heat of him radiating against my leg.

Every good intention I ever had about this man flees, hightailing it down some other road. What shocks me is how easy it is; how I didn't have to say anything, how we didn't have to talk about it. Whenever I tried to picture it, it seemed to include serious conversations at the dinner table, some exchange of promises, and a solemn trip up the stairs. And it was always dark.

I certainly never pictured leaning over and kissing my roommate's neck in the bathroom in the middle of a Saturday morning. Never pictured him turning around and pressing back against me, dropping his chin to his chest so I could get my mouth all over him, all over the new bare skin.

Touching zoned me; I can't imagine what tasting will do to me.


ohmygodohmygodohmygod.

There must be some seriously good mojo in cutting hair. I can't think of anything else that can explain this. This, or ...holy shit ... especially not that. He's got his tongue out now, and it's hot, and wet, and it's all over my neck, up to my ears and back, lapping at me. I can hear him starting to catch his breath, almost hear a little groan behind me. I don't know if this is normal post-zone behavior or not. Certainly not that I've experienced before. Maybe I'll ask him later. Ooooooooh. Maybe not. Not if it would mean he'd never wrap an arm around me like he just did, pulling me up on him, so that pole in his jeans can ride my ass.

Do you know how long I've wanted this? Could it be some cosmic recompense? Some evening out of the universe's sense of fairness? I can't rightfully say I'd have chosen this path, if I'd known what waited for me. It seems selfish, somehow. I don't know that I would have traded the dissertation for a fling in the bathroom. Then again, had I known his mouth would feel like this, I might have considered it. And it's probably not a fling. Jim's not a flinging kind of guy. He's more a dig-his-heels-in type, which can be annoying if you disagree with his position, but I'm in total and complete agreement with this position, and he can dig his heels in anywhere he chooses as long as he keeps this up.

Should we talk about it? Nah. Maybe later. I'm barely functional as it is, and between the puking and the being licked, I'm feeling a little bit outside my normal parameters of ... normal. So I think we'll just ride this out, see where we get beached. We can talk anytime; I'm not sure it's a good idea to pass up on the opportunity to make the bathroom a once and future place for erotic imagination.

Who knows when we'll get to do this again?

"Jim, oh my God, you feel so good," I murmur at him, knowing he can hear me, no matter how quiet I get.

He responds to that by hefting me closer, pulling me up deeper into him and rocking his hips into mine.

"Oh, yeah," I manage to get out, barely. I can do non-verbal, too; it just takes the right stimulus.

He's shuffling backward, and I can feel him close the door with his foot. Now he's sliding out from behind me, propping me up on the door, like he knows if he lets go, that's it, I'm a puddle on the floor. He'd be right. So now he's holding me up against the door with a hand on my belly, and he's dropping to his knees. I'm still not looking, but I know that's what's happening. I can feel his hands tugging my shirt out of my jeans, feel him breathing on my stomach. Oh, man, I've got to see this.

When I open my eyes and look down on him, I have to breathe real deep, real fast, and grab myself to keep from coming. He's looking at me the way he looks at a cold beer on a hot day; the way he looked at that Laura woman. He's looking at me like there's nothing else in this world that could possibly claim his attention. Focused doesn't even describe it. He's looking at my navel like he's never seen one before. Once I think I've got it marginally under control, I reach out to pet his head, and he pushes into my hand. He's hot, and he's shaking just a little. Not surprising, really. We have entered a whole new arena of life, here. When I say I wasn't expecting this, I mean I really wasn't expecting it. It's one thing to do the occasional late-night chicken choking to remembered images of black silk boxers and flexing pecs. It's quite another to have the object of the choking being pulled out of my pants by the subject of the images.

And nothing in my imagination or surprisingly diverse fantasy life could prepare me for how it feels when he takes my hips in both hands and swallows me whole. He's scalding me, boiling me alive. He's got me deep, and tight, and he's sucking hard the whole time. I get to watch this, because he's got his eyes closed now, and I don't have to worry that one of us will catch the other's eye and start thinking about what the fuck we're doing here. So I can see his cheeks hollow out, see his cheekbones tighten, see his lashes flutter. He's sexy as hell; all flushed and breathing hard through his nose, all tongue, and teeth, and suction. I'm feeling wobbly everywhere except where he's got ahold of me. That's not wobbly. That's happy as a pig in mud. That's the happiest I think it's ever been, and as soon as I can talk again, I think I'll tell Jim that. Yeah, I think I will.

He's digging his fingers in my ass now, right through the jeans, humping me on his face, and it's just stunning to stand here, with all my clothes on, and get blown by my partner. My never-expressed-an-interest-before partner. Makes me think I've been observing all the wrong things. I should have noticed something. He bottles stuff up, but this?

I'm helping him now, moving up and down on him, thrusting up into his mouth, and he's holding on tight, so tight I think I'll still feel those fingers in my sleep. I know I'll feel that mouth. I'm always going to remember that mouth. I'm going to remember being here, next to the tub, remember how the light comes in, how the water's dripping in the sink, how he sounds when I get close to letting it all go.

I lose it all - place, sound, ability to stay vertical - all of it. I come so hard I scare myself. I've never blacked out before, but I'm close to it now. My ears are ringing, my hands seem to belong to somebody else, and I couldn't stand upright if I wanted to. But I don't. I want to be horizontal, preferably naked, preferably feeling Jim's dick somewhere really squishy. Fortunately, I think he's feeling the same way, because he's pulling me down, letting me sit against the door, taking the onus off my legs to hold me up, which is good, because they just quit for the duration.

He's still kneeling in front of me, monster erection straining the front of his pants, but he's not reaching for me, not undoing his jeans, nothing. Okay, brain, pull yourself together. Time to go verbal again.

"Jim?"

"Hmm?"

Okay, so he's not verbal yet. Maybe he can just take some direction. The man needs relief. "Why don't you take your shirt off?" I ask him, and I think that sounds good - almost innocuous; certainly non-threatening.

Whoosh - it's gone, a blue splash in the tub.

"Good, yeah, that's it." I'm going for encouraging. Now let's see if he can handle explicit. "Why don't you let me watch?"

He doesn't get it for a minute. He's staring at me, his nostrils flaring, and I'm sure he's still got Blairspunk up his nose and down his throat. Doesn't seem to be bothering him, though; not if the tension level he's exhibiting says anything about it. He blinks at me twice, then turns bright red. Damn, that makes his eyes the bluest blue I've ever seen. Forget sexy - this guy's gorgeous.

Then his hand moves, and I don't believe it, I really don't. He's going to do it. He unzips, pushes down his jeans and undies, and takes himself in hand. I'm almost sorry I asked for this particular thing, because my hand's itching to grab him. But I think it's cool that he's cool with this (cool? he's hot), and since I have no idea how long this hair-cutting mojo will last, I might as well get my money's worth out of it, right?

He's stroking up and down now, moving into his hands, using both of them now, squeezing. I slide down so he's between my legs, so I'm basically lying under him, and he moans at that.

"See me spread out here, Jim? I'm for you; I'm all for you," I tell him, unbuttoning my shirt and pushing it open. "You can do anything you want."

He likes that. I don't have to be a Sentinel to know how close he is. The head of his dick's twice the size it was a minute ago, and I can see his balls snugging up. He drops down on one hand, so he's looming over me, and he's rubbing himself hard with the other. Those bluest blue eyes are starting to go out of focus, so I reach up, put my hands on his shoulders and say, "Oh no you don't. Stay with me here. Come on, stay with me."

It was either the right thing to say, or the wrong one; I guess it depends on your perspective, and your objective. I wanted him to come, and he's doing it, shooting all over me, hot streaks spattering me from crotch to collarbone. It's always the bitch of sex - you want it to last forever, and then you can't wait to feel how good the good can be, and lasting doesn't matter so much anymore. I'm not sure between us we had the self-control of a frat boy dirty dancing under the influence of his fourth six-pack.

Must be the mojo.

I'll either blame it or give it credit, depending on how he feels once he realizes we just screwed around next to the toilet.


Mojo.

Blair's blaming (crediting?) this to mojo. This - the fact that we're sprawled, unzipped, stinking of come, doing our best to sort out our various body parts.

He started spouting the mojo theory while I tried to clean my junk off him with toilet paper. That didn't faze him a bit, although I have to admit it gave me pause. I've never jerked off in front of anybody else before, let alone jerked off on anybody else. I didn't even know I thought that was an incredibly sexy idea until about ten minutes ago. Now I'm swabbing at his chest hair, making apologies under my breath, and he's laughing.

"You're sorry?" he says. "Don't even say you're sorry. That was the best time I've ever had in a bathroom."

Now he's making me laugh. "Beats losing your lunch, doesn't it?"

"By a mile," he answers back, using my shoulders to pull himself up. He pats me, like he's done a million times, and reaches for the washcloth he used on his face a shockingly short time ago.

So much for restraint. So much for self-control. So much for not asking this of him. Oh, that's right. I didn't ask. I took. Just like I've been taking for four years. And if I'm not taking, I'm taking it out on him. I blamed him for shit he didn't create and couldn't control, and then I blamed him for making me feel bad about it.

He must be right. Credit (or blame) the mojo.

I can't think of any other reason why he'd be so damn happy about this.

When he's as clean as he can get without a complete hosing down, he opens the door to the bathroom and goes to the kitchen like it's any other day. I wash my hands once more for good measure, retrieve my shirt from the bathtub, and join him. He's drinking water from a bottle, and I can't look away from his chin, his throat. It's like I never saw him before. Maybe he's right. Maybe cutting his hair let something loose in us. I've never had a hard time keeping my hands to myself, or at least off his private parts. I've always been able to talk myself down. But something's changed, and it feels like more than just being able to see his face without its frame of hair.

"You want to hear something kind of interesting?" he asks, and he sounds so carefully casual I know it's really important.

"Sure." I'm game. I took. Let's see if I can give.

"I've always wondered, down deep, if it was just the hair people dug," he says. "You know, you hear it often enough, you start wondering if that's it, that's the charm."

"That's not the charm, Chief," I tell him.

"Well, obviously. I mean, at least not for you," he says, and he grins around the mouth of the bottle.

It makes me want to kiss him.

"So it was having it cut?" He can be a persistent little bug. "That's what brought this on?"

I get a bottle of beer from the fridge and hoist myself up on the counter. Might as well get comfortable for this; it's been a long time coming.

"No, it's more complicated than that," I say, hedging a little. Give me a break; this is worse than answering out loud in class.

He tilts his head and looks at me. "Come on, Jim. I shed my skin," he says, tugging on his short, short hair. "Now it's your turn."

So it is.

I start to work on peeling the label off my beer.

"It's been ... I mean, I've always ... You ..." Fuck. Talk about feeling exposed. Not looking at him isn't helping, so I make my eyes meet his. He's calm. Really, genuinely calm. Calmer than he's been since before Naomi burst on the scene and fucked up everything. If he can be calm about this, the least I can do is talk to him. Looking at what he's done, what he's sacrificed, it seems the very least I can do.

"I've wanted that to happen for a long time," I tell him, and my voice only cracks once in the middle. That brings him closer.

"Really?" he asks.

"Yeah. That's not how I pictured it," I say, pointing to the bathroom. "Or at least not where."

"You've pictured it?" He's standing in the vee of my legs now, his hands on my knees.

I take a deep breath. "Lots of times."

"Cool," he says, and underneath the new man is the kid I knew.

"So what made today different?" he asks, and it's a reasonable question.

"You do too much for me. You always have. You do all these things, and you don't ask for anything."

"What do you mean?" He looks puzzled.

"Blair, the first week I met you, you said you'd never cut your hair. You had your life mapped out; you had friends, a mission, and a headful of hair. And now look at you. Look at where you are."

He comes even closer. Close enough that I can smell myself on his skin. It's like drinking a shot of tequila, that smell. It gets down inside my stomach and burns.

"Jim, I'm where I want to be." He says it so firmly I'm sure he's not blowing smoke up my ass. I'm sure he believes it. I just don't understand why.

"How is that possible?"

"Look, Jim. No, I didn't plan this," he says, leaning on me a little. "It never occurred to me that any of that shit would go down like it did. And no, getting my own badge hadn't really seemed a viable option, but don't you get it? I thought I was losing it all. Everything. I thought I'd lost the dissertation, and any hope of a job, and you. So when it turned out I got to keep you, well, that made the rest of it not seem so bad."

I hear the words, but I'm more reassured by how easily he slips in under my arms; how easy it is to wrap him up and just hang onto him. I never did that before, not like this, but I think I'll keep doing it. He seems to like it, and it makes me feel like maybe it's not just the mojo at work. I feel like he opened up my skin and crawled in, which should scare the piss out of me, but instead, it just feels good.

He's got his arms draped around my waist; his thumbs tucked in the back of my jeans. Looking down, I can see the back of his neck, plain as day, and I think about what he's showing me, what he's doing.

"If it makes you feel any better, you've still got more hair than I do," I tell him.

He lifts his head, and his smile rocks my world.

"Actually, that does make me feel better," he says, then tucks himself back into my chest.

"I love you a lot, Chief," I whisper into what's left of his curls, showing him my barest part, too.

"You better," he whispers back.

The End.