Nettles

Debra Fran Baker


"Victory!" Blair walked into the loft, grinning broadly and fists clenched in triumph. Five years ago, he'd have bounced in, but five years ago, he wouldn't have been wearing a cadet's uniform. Jim waved to him from the couch, both phones and his notebook hidden from Blair's sight.

"I take it you had a good day, Chief." He had to smile back. "Defeating the academy again?"

"Oh, yeah, man. I have won the battle and the war for equal rights." He turned to hang his cap on one of the hooks, displaying a neat doubled ponytail.

"You're keeping your hair?" Jim wasn't sure this was good or not.

"I don't know yet, but it's now my choice, not some sexist bureaucrat or mindless rules.

Why should only women get to keep their hair any length they want?"

Jim, having heard all this before, just chuckled and stretched. "You want to make dinner tonight? I'm beat."

"So not a problem. I'm so wired, I could fly!" He disappeared into his room, where Jim could hear the whisper of cheap cotton and polyester onto plastic hangers. Moments later, he reappeared. This was the Blair he knew - old jeans, a faded flannel shirt over a newish t-shirt, and his hair back in a normal tail. "Stirfry okay? I think we have some chicken in the freezer."

"Sounds good to me. Or we could just order in."

"Nah." Blair took a couple of chicken filets out of the freezer and put them in the microwave to thaw. Then he pulled out half the vegetable drawer and started to chop. "Want me to tell you how I slew the regulations?"

"Lay it on me, Chief."

And Blair was off, chopping, slicing and grating, filling the air with scent of hot oil, ginger and soy sauce, all the while quoting the entire battle word for word and with commentary, and not expecting any replies from Jim.

For his part, Jim let the tide of words, sounds and scents wash over him. He'd spent a large part of his afternoon making appointments - and the thought of those appointments made his skin itch. He took advantage of Blair's preoccupation to check his notebook again, to make sure he got all the times straight - and to wonder when he was going to have time to do anything at the station.

"Jim! Jim! Dinner's ready." Jim tucked his notebook into the couch as inconspicuously as he could, and got up to set the table.

~~~

Jim crept into the station, extending his senses for signs of his captain - the sound of his breathing, the scent of expensive coffee - anything at all. The coast being clear, he walked over to his desk, placing his bag of burgers and coffee carefully among the clutter of papers, both official and not.

And there, on the monitor was a neon pink sticky note. "Ellison, soon as I come in, your ass is mine. Banks."

He clearly did not mean that in a good way. Jim looked forlornly at the growing pile of reports and casefiles, picked up his lunch and crept out of the office. His skin itched even more.

~~~
"Yes, I'll have all the necessary materials tomorrow at 1PM. See you then. Good evening." He put down the cordless and picked up his notebook to make a checkmark before going to stir the chili. Just as he was adding a touch more black pepper to the pot, the phone rang.

"Jim! Finally! Who have you been talking to all evening?" Blair's voice was nearly drowned out by background noise.

"Never mind, Chief. Where are you?" He juggled th