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Fitting In

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Going to the academy was easy, being accepted was hard. I showed up on the first day like an eager kid ready for his first day at kindergarten. Standing in formation I soon realized just how out of place I looked. True to my word, I hadn't cut my hair. Mistake.

I looked at the freshly shaved necks of the men in front of me and wished I had at least made an effort to fit in more. The next day, I pulled my hair into a low ponytail thinking it would be less noticeable. Mistake.

Even pulled back, I noticed that my hair was longer than some of the female candidates. When a training officer mistakenly (and I’ll go to my grave believing that) referred to me as ‘miss’, I knew something had to change.

I stopped by Jim's barber on the way home, and while I didn't get Jim's preferred 'high and tight', I did crop it pretty short. Jim's reaction when I got home was one of surprise. In his clumsy way, he'd complimented me, and then clapped his warm palm on the back of my bare neck. It sent shivers up my spine and made my dick stand up and take notice.

Okay, maybe I need to explain something here. I'm not gay, well, not in the conventional sense (but then, when did I ever do anything the conventional way?). Sure, occasionally I'd see a guy that I thought was good looking, but I'd never felt inclined to pursue him. I'd even had guys made haphazard (and really good) passes at me. But I would always decline in a friendly way and move on. I just wasn't gay. And then I met Jim. Jim isn't your typical guy in any way, shape or form, and that even applies to his sexuality.

When I moved into the loft (and really it was just for a week), he pulled me aside for a long talk. At first I thought it was just Jim's house rules, and that’s how he started. Then his voice changed and became more serious; he told me he was bisexual and that the topic was off limits or our entire working relationship was off.

You could have knocked me over with a feather at the revelation, but I agreed immediately. I'll admit that later I wished I'd negotiated on that, thinking about how a chapter about the mating habits of sentinels would be great. I quickly realized how serious he was on the topic after I attempted to ask one question about a guy Jim was dating. The idea of that chapter quickly went into the trash.

So back to the haircut and his hand on my neck. At the time, I couldn't tell you what it was, what was different about that touch than any of the hundreds of others Jim gave. Jim is touchy feely, a pat of the back, a tap on the cheek or forehead, a nudge against my shoulder. But this... I didn’t know what it was, not at first, I only knew it felt different.

A day later, I had convinced myself that I was just lonely for companionship and had imagined the whole thing. Then it happened again. This time we were in the kitchen, I was doing the dishes and he was leaning against the counter, asking me about my day. I don’t remember what I was saying, but it made him laugh (one of those good, throw your head back laughs, too) and he dropped a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I looked over my shoulder at him just as his thumb moved across the skin above my tee-shirt collar.

And it hit me. It was a caress. Jim was caressing me. Touching me like... like a lover does.

In the moment, I froze. I was confused and turned on, but unsure. While I had no experience with men, I wasn’t worried about the physical side of a relationship with a man, I was more concerned with what his caresses meant.

Did Jim just want sex? Why now? What had changed? Or was it more? Did Jim have feelings for me? And what were my feelings for him?

That was a question I stewed on while I laid in my bed that night when I should have been sleeping. Yes, I liked Jim. He was the best friend I’d ever had. I trusted him with my life. I cared about him. But was I attracted to him? Did I love him? Well, yes, of course, but was I in love with him? I wasn’t sure what I felt but I knew I needed to figure it out. I didn’t want to hurt or mislead Jim, and being unsure was certain to do that.

I decided to continue to be myself around him, but also be open and receptive to any overtures he made. There was a subtle difference that I’m sure no one on the outside could perceive, but I felt it, and I know Jim did too. We touched more, shared more lingering looks, but we never put words or actions to it. It was only a matter of time before one of us had to make a more certain move.

***

Back at the academy, things quickly fell into place after the haircut. While I didn't have a strong athletic background, I was fit; Jim took me to his gym and showed me a few things that helped with the physical training. I spent extra time at the gun range, Joel taking the time to reinforce when I was learning.

Pouring through the manuals and memorizing procedure and codes, I aced the course work, my years of academia paying off. Plus, all the time I'd been around Jim and Major Crime certainly helped.

I finished the academy in 9 weeks, second only to an Afghanistan war veteran. After a long weekend, I started my police career as a detective. It sounds pretty smooth and straightforward, but it wasn't.

There were new faces in the bullpen since Megan had gone back to Australia and Henry had transferred to Seattle to be closer to his aging mother. My friendly overtures towards Abigail Suarez and Riley Thompson were met with cool reception. Both were cops with half a dozen years of experience, Suarez a transfer from narcotics and Thompson from vice.

There was friction from the get go. They came up the hard way, academy, patrol, narcotics and vice respectively. I'd bypassed the usual path and leap-frogged right into a coveted spot as the partner to the detective with the highest closure rate in the department. Not to mention my public disgrace as a self-admitted fraud. They were efficient but aloof when dealing with me, but I wasn’t overly concerned as long as they did their jobs.

I’d finished at the academy the first week of December, and when Rhonda asked if we wanted to do a ‘Secret Santa’, the whole bullpen agreed. I drew Abigail’s name, and with some stealth investigating, I found out that her favorite band was playing a small acoustic show just after the first of the year. I blew past the price limit but managed to secure two tickets. I knew the way to friendship couldn’t be bought, but I hoped it would at least soften her attitude towards me.

While normally the holidays were rife with cases, the afternoon of the ‘Secret Santa’ party, everyone was in the bullpen. Rhonda played Santa, passing out the gifts, plus handing out gift cards to a new coffee shop an anonymous person had bought for the entire 7th floor.

Watching the others opening their gifts, I delighted in their surprise. Jim appreciatively sniffed the leather of a new holster. Simon coveted a bottle of 15-year old Scotch. Expectantly I waited for Abigail to open her gift, and when she did, her smile of delight was worth the price I’d paid for the tickets. Unexpectedly, she looked at me right then, and in an unguarded moment, smiled at me. I knew for certain that with time, she and I could be friends; I just needed to continue to prove that I deserved to be there.

Finally, I opened my gift. The box was heavy, making me even more curious. I looked around right before lifting the lid, but no one was showing any extra attention.

I pulled out... a mug. A coffee mug. I could immediately tell it wasn’t commercially made; it was crafted on a potter’s wheel. Flipping the mug over, I saw no distinguishing marks. I held it by the handle; it felt good in my hand, it was a good weight, and an unusual shade of blue. I tried to hide my disappointment as I looked around the bullpen, hoping to get any clue as to the gift giver, but saw nothing unusual.

Just then, Jim thrust a file in front of me.

“Look at this, Chief,” Jim said. I set the mug down and forgot about it, immersing myself in the case file.

***

It was late when I got home that night. I’d waited around at the lab for test results to get back while Jim went to talk to the victim again. I was sure the lab results would implicate the perp I was suspicious of but instead, they had ruled him out.

Disappointed with the way the case was going, I let myself into the loft. The darkened loft surprised me; I’d parked next to Jim’s truck.

“Jim?”

“Yeah,” I heard his voice from the far side of the room.

“Why’re you in the dark?” I asked. “Oh, oh, are your eyes bothering you?” Ever the guide.

“No,” he said with a sigh. “Just... no.”

“Okay, that’s cool,” I said. I dropped my keys in the basket and shrugged off my jacket. Out of familiarity with the loft, I secured my service revolver in the gun vault beside Jim’s with no trouble, and then turned back to my Sentinel.

It only took a minute for my eyes to adjust and I saw Jim sitting on the stairs. I felt a compulsion to go to him. As I stepped around the post, I saw my Secret Santa gift sitting on the table.

“Hey, my mug. What’s this doing here?” I wondered out loud.

“You don’t like it?” Jim asked softly.

“Huh? Oh, I’d forgotten about it.”

“You don’t like it,” he said again, his voice even softer.

I shrugged. I’ll admit I’d been a little disappointed with the gift, feeling like it had been ‘a last minute, gotta get something’ gift. I picked it up and remembered the weight. It had the feel of a handcrafted mug, but that would mean...

Jim startled me when he began speaking.

“When Simon and I were working our asses off to get you that shield, I was never really sure you were gonna go to the academy but you did. Even then, I wasn’t sure you’d stay and finish.”

I thought about my mother then and her rootless existence. It must have always concerned Jim that one day I might just decide to pick up and leave. Leave him.

“When were you sure?” I had to know.

“The day you cut your hair. I knew you were committed that day.”

I smiled, remembering that day and the feelings I’d experienced.

“It hit me then that you’d really be my partner.”

I stepped closer, leaning against the stairs.

“When I drew your name for the Secret Santa, I— ”

“You gave me this?” I lifted the mug I still held in my hand.

“I made this,” Jim said, taking the mug from me.

“Made?” Jim made this!

“I was working a case, following a lead down at the art center, saw some students working on the wheel. It was so mesmerizing, I could have zoned.”

“Did you?” I asked protectively.

“No,” Jim said with a smile. “You taught me better than that.” He nudged my chin with his fist.

“Anyway, one of the teachers noticed and asked if I wanted to try.” Jim shrugged.

“How long did it take you to make this?” I knew the answer was going to be important.

“Eight weeks.” Before the Secret Santa but after the haircut; when he was certain.

And in that moment, I could imagine Jim sitting at the potter's wheel, his hands molding the clay, shaping it. The determination to make this gift for me. The time he'd spent with me on his mind as he did it. The love... oh, the love.

I watched Jim turn the mug over, wondering what his Sentinel sight was showing him that no one else could see. In Jim's hands, I noticed the color again. In the bullpen, it had been more of a flat blueish, but in the moonlight, it practically shimmered, a crystal, ice blue. I suddenly knew why he had painted it this color as my eyes met his.

"Everybody in the bullpen has their own personal mug, wanted you to have one too."

He had wanted me to feel welcome and accepted. My heart pounded in my chest but I was certain.

I saw his eyes close a split second before mine did as I leaned in to kiss him. It wasn’t a long, or particularly passionate kiss, but it was the first time I’d ever kissed a man. It was perfect that it was with Jim.

I pulled far enough away so my eyes could focus of the ice blue of his eyes.

“This won’t help me fit in,” I said, my hand joining his on the mug.

“Guess that depends on where you want to fit in.”

Jim's hand was on the back of my neck again, pulling me in, and all those feeling from the day of that fateful haircut, came rushing back: desire, attraction, friendship, laughter, acceptance, and love, a whole lot of love.

I didn’t know how it was going to work out, only that it would.