Communication Breakdown
Written by Beth

"Okay. 3:30 then. Thanks very much," Stivers said, then slowly put the phone down and looked around the squad room. "Where's Bayliss?" she asked.

"He went outside as soon as I got him here," Falsone said. "I think he wants to be alone."

"Yeah, well, I can't leave him alone. I've got something to tell him," Terri said, and headed out of the office. She found him exactly where she thought she would: standing up on the roof, gazing out at the waterfront.

"Tim," she said softly.

He slowly turned to face her. His face was very red, but that could have been from the cold. His swollen eyes and the tear tracks on his cheeks confirmed it, however--he was still deeply upset about this shooting.

"Gee asked me to get you an appointment with counseling to talk this over," she said carefully. "You're supposed to be there in fifteen minutes."

"Oh great," he said sarcastically, whipping off his glasses and fiercely rubbing his eyes. "That's--that's just exactly what I needed."

Terri stepped a little closer, her dark eyes scrutinizing him. "You look pretty upset," she offered. "It might help. They're trained to help police deal with these types of situations."

"Trained to help," he said in disbelief, then slowly put his glasses back on. There was a pause.

"I don't need help--there isn't help--" He broke off, fumbling in his coat pocket for a handkerchief and wiping his nose. "You don't *help* a man who's just killed someone."

"It was a clean shooting," she said quietly, firmly. "Gee thinks so, Falsone has proved it, and I think you know it yourself, Tim. Look--just go to this counselor. Go through the motions if you have to, but please. Do it."

He sighed, then ran a hand through his hair. "Okay, okay," he said resignedly.


Tim sat uncomfortably in the waiting room to the counseling office, glancing impatiently at the vinyl furniture and the ads for various drugs. Paxil, BuSpar, Zoloft, Welbutrin, these and other strange names, many of which he'd heard in passing on television commercials but none of which he knew much about. The posters read: "Depression: There Is Help," and "Don't Let Social Anxiety Disorder Ruin Your Life." Tim felt sick. What he needed was "Childhood Trauma Wiped Away in One Fell Swoop," or "Turn Back Time and Decide *Not* to Shoot!" If there were pills like that, he'd gladly take them.

The shooting was still replaying itself in his mind, not so much the events themselves as the feelings attached to them. The fear and regret were still intense enough to make his mouth dry up and his forehead break out in sweat. Unbearably awful: this day was the worst he could remember since . . . well, since the day he'd gotten shot himself.

Tim glanced impatiently at his watch. 3:40--the counselor was late, and there was still a ton of paperwork to do for the case. He sighed in annoyance as he realized that there was no way he'd be leaving work on time tonight.

Finally, a small, plump man stepped into the waiting room.

"Detective, uh, Bayliss," he said.

The voice was tired, uninterested, unsurprised. Another cop, another crisis, business as usual. Tim bristled with dislike, nodded curtly.

Mid-fifties, he'd guess, if the lines in the face and streaks of gray in the beard were any indication. But then even his own beard had started to go gray, so it was possible that this guy was younger. Fat belly, worn tweed jacket and rumpled chinos. Obviously contracted from the outside, obviously not a cop--the man seemed completely divorced from the street, the police, anything at all that informed this shooting or how Tim felt about it. Tim glared at him, then stepped into the office.

"I'm Doctor Hurst," the man said, extending a hand to shake. Tim brushed past him, sat down. The doctor slowly followed suit.

"You were involved in a shooting a few hours ago," Dr. Hurst said, staring at some notes he'd scribbled on a legal pad. "I've talked briefly with your lieutenant, so I know the basics, but it might be good for you to recount the events."

Tim sighed impatiently, shifted in his chair. The doctor looked expectantly at him. He remained silent.

"Why did you shoot, detective?" Dr. Hurst finally asked, a hint of annoyance in his voice.

"Because he'd shot at me once, and because he was going to shoot me again, and I didn't want to die," Tim answered, aggravated, and then frowned in surprise, uncomfortable with the rationale he'd come up with.

"Your lieutenant says that you were pretty broken up at the crime scene."

"I took a life. The sheer *loss* of that--the incredible waste--yeah. It upset me."

Tim half expected to start to cry again, but found himself numb, unable to summon up the energy.

The counselor gazed steadily at Tim with watery blue eyes. "So what are you going to do about it? How are you going to grieve this man?"

Tim looked at the floor. "I don't have a right to grieve for him. I'm the one who killed him," he finally got out.

Dr. Hurst crossed his legs. "If you don't grieve, you're not going to get past it."

"I don't *want* to get past it," Tim said sharply. "I don't *want* to forget it, or come to terms with it, or diminish the horror of what I've done in any way. To do any of that cheapens that man's life."

"Oh, I'm not at all suggesting that you diminish what happened," Dr Hurst said. "I agree--you did do an awful thing."

Tim stared at him in shock.

"That man will never breathe again, never smile, never walk the street, fall in love, laugh at a joke," the doctor continued.

Tim stared in shock. "You think I don't *know* this?" he finally got out, his voice shaking in anger. Calm, he thought desperately, fighting the urge to get up and shake the man into next week. Calm.

"You did an awful thing," the doctor repeated. "But--and this is even more important, detective--I don't think that you did the *wrong* thing. Do you hear me?"

Tim crossed and uncrossed his legs, tugged at his jacket.

"You've got to be able to feel sad that this happened--I think I see evidence of that already," the doctor added, and now his voice was oddly gentle.

Tim took a deep breath.

"But you've also got to give yourself a fair shake. This was--it sounds like it was an impossible situation," the doctor said grimly. "It's not fair, and it's not good, but sometimes life ends up that way."

"I shouldn't have done it," Tim murmured. "I wish to god I wouldn't have."

"But you did do it. You did it, and you're alive because of it. And that is not a bad thing."

Dr. Hurst leaned forward, spoke urgently. "What you've got to do, detective, is allow yourself to see both the tragedy *and* the necessity of the event."

Tim shook his head. "No, see, you don't *get* it. I can't see the necessity of it--I'm never going to see the necessity of it. You don't-- Killing goes against everything I hold dear in life."

Dr. Hurst frowned. "You say this as an officer of the law?"

Tim made a noise of frustration. "I say it as a Buddhist, which I am. Or was. Until today." His voice trailed off as he finished.

"But your job requires that you be able to kill if necessary," Dr. Hurst said firmly.

"Well obviously I *can* do it, now can't I?" Tim shot back.

"Detective, if what you're telling me is that you can't fulfill the responsibilities of your position, then maybe you should be thinking about another career."

Tim threw up his hands. "Like I just said--when in the heat of the moment, the cop in me took over, not the Buddhist. So I guess I know which part of me is stronger."

"But what about the next time?" the doctor asked. "What if you need to shoot someone and you can't? If you can't come to terms with that part of the job, I'd strongly suggest a leave of absence of some sort."

Tim glared at him. "What the hell kind of school did you go to? Because this is just--this is--I get the feeling that you're trying to make me feel *worse*!"

"That is not my intent, detective."

"Well, that's what you're doing," Tim said tightly, then sighed. "Look," he said after a minute. "I can fulfill the responsibilities of the job. The Buddhism . . . I see now that it's probably not going to work for me, all right?"

Dr. Hurst stared at him for a while, then began to speak again.

And on it went: responsibility and sadness and giving yourself a break--over and over again. At some point, Tim stopped listening, began simply to nod, to look interested, to say, "I see" here and there for effect. He was exhausted, he was soul-weary, and he was sick of talking.

". . . finished here, then," Dr. Hurst finally said, and Tim smiled in sheer relief, stood up, and shook the damn man's hand.

"Detective," Dr. Hurst said in a loud and deliberate voice.


"Listen to me. I suggest that you seek further counseling for this. Do you hear me?"

"I hear you," Tim said automatically.

"And one more thing. Try not to spend the evening alone, all right? Find a friend, someone you trust, someone you can talk to, and go out or something. Please."

Tim held back another smile. Who the fuck was he supposed to do *that* with?


Tim stood outside the station, looking over at the Waterfront. He knew they were all in there, and he knew that they'd be glad to see him, but he just couldn't do it. The last thing he wanted right now was to be around people whose life's work would compel them to squash exactly what was bothering him. "It was a clean shooting," they'd say, as if that were enough, as if that would somehow help, would get rid of the fact that a man was dead because of him. He didn't want that kind of help--didn't need it.

He pulled his coat closer over his shoulders and began to walk. "Don't be alone," the counselor had said to him this afternoon. He'd been too embarrassed to say that he really didn't have anyone he could stay with. Frank was in New York, and he really didn't feel like calling him up--really wasn't up to facing the unique brand of clarity Pembleton brought to most issues. Besides, Frank was probably sound asleep now. His mother? That was laughable. He was still recovering from the time he'd spent with her last summer.

There were a few men he'd dated recently, but that didn't feel right either, and since the whole Roger Fisk debacle, he'd been extremely wary of bringing together his career and his sexual orientation.

What he needed was someone who'd known him for a while--someone who knew about all the sides of his life but who wasn't too closely affiliated with the police.

He laughed out loud when the idea suggested itself to him.

"God," he said to himself. "You are so pathetic."

He hadn't seen Chris Rawls in several months. Chris didn't know that he'd been shot; Chris didn't know that he'd lost Frank; Chris didn't know about his conversion to Buddhism. Chris didn't even know that he'd actually continued to date men after their relationship had ended.

"Some relationship," he muttered as he got into his car. It hadn't ever really taken off--he hadn't let it. He'd been too paralyzed with fear, with the enormity of accepting his attraction to men. It wasn't something that *could* happen quickly for him, given his background and upbringing. There had been too many taboos to confront, too many bouts with shame.

Chris had been incredibly understanding and gentle with him. There had been long conversations about how one *really knew* when one was attracted to another man, about how relationships between men were different, about what intense emotional connections between men were like. Chris had also introduced Tim to several of his friends, had given him faces and names and personalities to illuminate the shadowy construct of "gay man" that lurked in Tim's imagination. And finally, Chris had begun, carefully, to initiate him in the rites of intimate physical contact between men.

And Tim had freaked. He could kiss Chris, he could hug him, he could even--one drunken night--allow Chris to bring him to orgasm. But beyond that, he could not reciprocate; could not even admit to himself that he *wanted* to. It had all been too new, too intimidating. As the weeks went by, Chris had been patient, and then less patient, and then, finally, hurt.

"It's not working," he'd said on the last night they'd seen each other, his voice calm. "You're not ready."

Tim had wanted very much to be able to deny that and he'd even opened his mouth to start, but Chris had raised a hand to stop him.

"You're not, and you know it. You can't relax, Tim. You're not open emotionally, and it's not happening physically. I've tried--" He broke off, laughed a little. "I've tried every trick in the book. But it's just not happening."

"So you're dumping me," Tim had said, amazed at the hurt he felt.

Chris had smiled. "I never really had you, so I can't exactly dump you, can I? Look at it that way if it makes you feel better."

And so it had ended. At first, Tim had felt liberated: his experiment had gone so wrong that it seemed to have proved something. Bi-curiousness had received a hetero-answer. Tim had seen women for a while, and it had been fine. Just fine.

But not exactly fulfilling, and in time, the same old questions presented themselves to him. And he'd been able to answer them with a little more success this second time around. He could now definitely say that he lost some of the inhibitions, had learned that sex with another man could be--was--an incredible experience.

But as of late, his elation on that point had subsided. As far as relationships went, he just hadn't been able to find someone he felt right with--and since he still felt bruised and unhappy about his interactions with Roger Fisk, and about the furor his web site had raised, he wasn't going to look around right now.

He parked on a side street near the Zodiac, and got out of the car, disturbed by the feelings he'd just roused. Suddenly, it seemed not such a good idea to go in. The shooting had been bad enough--to confront Chris and the whole sexuality thing as well seemed insane. He lowered his head in the cold, kicked a stone across the street, thinking.

"Table for one?"

"Uh, yeah," Tim said, looking around. Thank god it wasn't crowded--there were many nights when it was impossible to get seated here without a reservation. The Zodiac looked almost exactly how he'd remembered it; he found that strangely comforting. He ordered some wine--now that the Buddhist thing was shot, he might as well enjoy some of the things he'd missed--and studied the menu, trying hard not to look uptight He hadn't even seen Chris when he came in--maybe it was owner's night off.

Tim rested his chin in his hand and looked with interest at the other couples in the room. It was wonderful to see the freedom with which hands were held, kisses were exchanged. As the disapproving stares and looks of disgust he'd been getting at the police station indicated, such acts were forbidden in the places he spent most of his time. It was a relief to escape to a more open environment, even if only for a few hours.

He ate pasta primavera and sipped the wine, remembering the night long ago when Chris had made this dish for him in his very own apartment, laughing and complaining about Tim's ill-equipped kitchen. Tonight's version of the dish had not been as excellent as that one had been, but Tim consumed it all nonetheless.

By the time he'd finished his meal, Tim was fairly convinced that Chris must have the night off. Politely declining dessert, he leaned back and waited for the check.


"He's ready for the check now," Noreen said.

Chris pretended to stare at the menu for tomorrow.

"I think you should go talk to him," Noreen softly added. "I just--you'd really regret it if you didn't."

"Yeah, yeah," Chris said abstractedly. He was not at all sure whether he had to strength to go out and confront The One Who Got Away. The whole thing with Tim had affected him a lot more deeply than he'd anticipated. Despite Tim's anxieties, his hesitancy, and his inexperience, Chris had felt something with him, something strong. And when it finally became apparent that Tim was not going to stop flipping out, was not going to be able to return the feelings, Chris had ended up a lot more hurt than he thought he'd be.

Stupid, stupid. Never bring anyone out: that was the cardinal rule. He should have felt himself falling for Tim early on and put an end to it then and there. Let the crush die.

Noreen gently placed Tim's check on the desk in front of Chris. "Go talk to him," she said, and left.

Chris threw down his pencil, left the check where it was, then headed to the bathroom. He sighed, ran fingers through his hair, pronounced himself a thorough idiot, and then went out onto the floor.

He approached Tim's table circuitously, not wanting to be seen before he saw for himself. Chris caught his breath for a moment as he watched Tim drink coffee, absently fiddle with his spoon. The man was just incredibly lovely.

"I can't believe you didn't ask for me."

Tim looked up in shock. "Chris," he got out, looking awkward and delighted all at once.

"Hey," Chris said, smiling, and pulled out a chair and sat next to Tim. For a brief while, Chris let himself stare, become acquainted once again with the lines and curves of the face in front of him.

Something was different--in fact, a lot of things were. For one thing, Tim was much thinner, and his face looked drawn and almost haggard. He didn't look well--he didn't look happy or relaxed or in any way content. And the eyes . . . there was something in them, a deep emotion that Chris wasn't sure he could read. He wasn't even sure that he *wanted* to. Concern flooded him, and then regret. This was not his problem--Tim was not his problem. Best to see why the man had shown up and just get this thing over with.

And so Chris asked, "How are you?"

"How am I? Great! Really really great," Tim said, and then smiled a little, looked down at his plate.

Such a liar. Such a liar, and he knew that Chris knew this, and so he must want Chris to ask about it . . .

"You know, I get the feeling that you don't really mean that, Tim," Chris said.

Hazel eyes met his. "You noticed," Tim said softly, and the eagerness and the . . . gratefulness in his voice were almost unbearable.

"Of course I did," Chris said softly.

What had happened? he wondered. How had Tim ended up so alone that he'd come here? Chris was no one to Tim--he was an ex-boyfriend, and only that if the term was drastically broadened.

"Well, it's been kind of a rough day," Tim said, then laughed, shook his head. "And I--I needed to talk to someone about it, you see, but then I realized that there really wasn't anyone to talk to."

He looked quickly up at Chris, then away. "So I tried to remember people who I've been able to talk to in the past, and, well, you popped into my mind, and so here I am."

Chris sat very still, feeling torn. Was he ready for the maelstrom of emotions that had attended his every interaction with Tim Bayliss thus far? Was it really worth risking getting hurt again just because Tim couldn't find anyone else to talk to on this one night? Was it worth getting caught up in yet another psychodrama?

"You can tell me anything you want, Tim," he finally said, and Tim stared deep into his eyes before slowly turning away in embarrassment as he began to tear up.

Oh god. Something really *was* wrong--something serious.

"Hey," Chris said gently. "Come on. What do you say we go to my place and talk about all this? Just talk. Okay?"

"I haven't gotten my check yet," Tim said, roughly wiping his eyes.

"No way I'm charging you for this," Chris said. "What'd you have anyway--the primavera?"

Tim nodded, a little more in control of himself now. "I liked it!" he added when Chris scowled.

"If you'd told me you were coming, I could have fixed you something *really* good," Chris said. "Next time I definitely will."

Christ. What the hell was he doing suggesting that there might *be* a next time? This was just classic, and stupid, and he was going to regret it tomorrow, he just knew it.

"That'd be great," Tim said uncomfortably, and then they were both standing up, Tim getting into what looked like an impossibly heavy coat and wrapping a scarf around his neck and Chris wandering over to the bar to pick out a wine that went well with sorrow.

And a while after that, they were in Chris's living room, and in a strained voice, Tim told Chris about the murdered monk, Larry Moss, and the shooting.

"So how does it feel to be drinking wine with a killer?" Tim asked, voice full of self-loathing.

"I'm sorry, Tim," Chris sincerely said.

Tim sighed, shifted restlessly on the couch. "I just--everything I *do,* Chris, everything I try to do, I ruin. I'm so sick of it!"

"You're a good cop," Chris offered.

It was clearly the wrong thing to have said.

"Yeah, right. So I'm a good cop. That's all anyone knows, that's all anyone says." Tim glared at Chris. "The problem is, Chris, I want to be *more* than that, and I'm trying, and it isn't working, and so I just keep staring at dead bodies fifty hours a week."

"Well, what else do you want to be?" Chris asked.

"I wanted to be bisexual--I ruined that. I wanted to be a Buddhist--no deal. I wanted to be a father, maybe a husband, someone about whom other people *care,* someone they depend on, and . . . Well, it's just not that way."

Jesus. There was a whole lot of stuff here, and Chris couldn't--he wasn't a psychologist, for god's sake, and he didn't know the right things to say to someone so depressed, so unhappy. He'd just have to flounder around, hope he didn't do more damage than help.

"Maybe you're giving up on yourself too soon," he carefully said. "You say that you've failed at all these things like it's something unique. Well, people fail at things every day--they make mistakes, they screw up, they get it wrong. The thing is, Tim, you have to keep going, to get up enough courage to try again and not close down so quickly."

There was a long pause, during which Chris agonized. Fuck. That was--that had been a *pep talk,* for god's sake, a bunch of cliches.

And so he wasn't all that surprised to see Tim give him a look of equal parts disgust and aggravation, although he was a little shocked at what came out of Tim's mouth.

"Oh, that's beautiful, Chris," he said, his voice low and mean. "Really. Straight from Hallmark cards. Never give up--climb every mountain. These are words to live by. You've really helped a lot, you know?"

Anger swept over Chris then, and hurt, but the anger was a lot stronger, and so he struck back. "You're not happy right now, and for that I really am sorry, Tim. And the shooting thing really is awful, and I feel for you on that count as well. But I am not going to sit here and take abuse from you just because you don't feel good. So take it down a notch, okay?"

"Oh, god." Tim sighed in resignation. "You know what? I--it was stupid for me to come here, stupid for me to put you in this situation. I'm unhappy, and I'm being a jerk, and you don't need this. So let me just get the hell out of here and let you go back to your life."

"Tim, wait--" Chris said, annoyed. God *damn* it was just the same, it was always going to be the same...emotional theatrics, and displays, and fundamental miscommunication, and why the hell had Tim even bothered? Why had *he*?

He sat rigidly on the couch until he heard the front door slam shut.


"Bayliss! In my office," Gee said.

Tim had known that this was coming--Gee had been darting looks of concern at him all morning. He supposed it was good of Gee--hell, it was *kind* even--to care about his well being and to want to talk to him about the shooting on this first day after it had happened. But for the life of him, Tim didn't want to go in there, didn't want to have to take part in yet another well-meaning but uncomprehending person's attempt to make him feel better.

This was the lieutenant, however, and even on the best of days, it wasn't possible to say thanks but no thanks to Gee. So Tim was up on his feet and in Gee's office very soon after receiving the summons.

Gee motioned for Tim to take a seat and then shut the door behind them. Great--it was going to be a long talk.

As he looked across his desk at Tim, Giardello frowned. The man hadn't been himself since he'd taken the bullet for Frank--ever since then he'd seemed . . . pensive, too quiet, not at all himself. Not only that, but he'd gotten downright strange, what with the web site and the sexuality thing and being the department spokesperson for Buddhism. Sometimes Gee felt as if he didn't even know the man anymore.

Obviously, Tim missed Frank very much, but there was something else, too--almost a sort of despair about him these days. Giardello flashed back to Tim sobbing, rocking back and forth in agony at the crime scene, and stifled a grimace.

"How are you holding up?" he asked.

"Fine Gee," Bayliss said, but the deep circles under his eyes and the haggard look on his face told otherwise.

"You saw the counselor yesterday?"

Tim nodded.


Bayliss sighed. "It was helpful," he said as if by rote.

Giardello sat back, looked hard at Tim, hoping to jar some sort of truth out of him, to make the man cough up something of substance.

"You know, I don't think anyone who hasn't gone through it can understand quite what it's like to shoot someone in the line of duty," he said.

Dim hallway, flash of light and stench of cordite, a body crumpling and falling.

Howard had been so good to him that night, so sympathetic and kind--but he hadn't been able to hear it, not really. He'd been too wrapped up in grief, in the shame and the horror. But that didn't mean that he wasn't grateful to Kay for having tried--it didn't mean that the mere sound of her voice hadn't been comforting on some level.

"I've known you for a lot of years, Tim, and as I've told you before, I've seen you develop into a fine detective. One of the best."

Bayliss straightened in his chair, a faint flush staining his fair skin.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

Glad to see that praise from the lieutenant still meant something to his detective, Gee went on. "So know this: The shooting you were involved in was *clean.* Completely above board, Tim."

Bayliss nodded dumbly, automatically.

"And so to the extent that you can, I want you to stop torturing yourself about this--to move on. Do you hear me?" This last was said sternly, in a command voice. Maybe if ordered to do so, Bayliss would shape up.

"I hear you," Tim said, and by this time he'd had enough. He wanted out of this office, needed to be away from Gee, away from this damned conversation, and so he began to stand up, to plan an escape. "Uh . . . was there anything else you wanted to talk about?" he asked.

"As a matter of fact, there was," Gee said, and Tim sighed and sat back down, not missing the wry look on the lieutenant's face.

"I was wondering what you decided to do about the web site we discussed. The one Mrs. Gaffney was so upset about." Gee was wearing his inscrutable smile.

Tim was indignant. Why bring this up now?

"I deleted it, sir," he said tightly. "But frankly, I have to tell you that right now, I wish I wouldn't have."

"I see where you're coming from," Gee said.


"But ultimately, Bayliss, I think you did the right thing for your career. Whether it's fair or not, I just don't think people are ready to openly confront sexual orientation in the police force at this time."

"Yeah, well, that stinks," Tim said fiercely. "I should be able to be who I am and work this job at the same time."

"No one's saying that you can't be," Gee replied. "But you have to face the consequences of the fact that you've chosen a way of life that many people have strong objections to. And so like it or not, if you let it be known, you're going to take flack for it."

You're different and *you* have to pay the price for it. Keep it under wraps. Don't rock the boat. Suppress who you are to make their lies and lives easier.

"Know what? I should really be getting back out there. Thank you, Gee, for the advice and for the . . . support," Tim said, then quickly stood up and left, not caring if he was being rude, or abrupt, or improper, because he knew for certain that if he stayed in there, he was going to blow up at the lieutenant. And he wasn't quite ready to lose his job over this. Not yet . . .


Why were the most horrible moments in his life always piggybacked on *other* horrible moments? He'd lost control during the Thompson case, told Frank about Uncle George, and split up his and Frank's partnership all in the course of a day. And a couple of years later, on another horrible day, the squad room had become a war zone, he had gotten shot, and Frank had left the force.

In a way, Tim thought, he should be grateful--he hadn't killed Moss until at least a week after getting called faggot by Fisk.

He cracked a humorless smile, then took a shot of scotch. He'd been able to beg off working at the Waterfront tonight--might as well take advantage of some of the useless pity he'd been getting.

But now he wished that he hadn't done it, because being busy at the bar was suddenly looking a hell of a lot better than sitting at home alone and getting drunk, which was completely pathetic.

Maybe he should just go to sleep. He consulted the clock. 10pm wasn't too early for bed, was it?

While he was undressing, the phone rang. Leave it--he should just fucking leave it--but he knew that he wasn't going to.

"Tim, this is Frank."

"Frank Pembleton. What's going on?" Tim asked flatly. There really had to be only one reason for the call.

A pause.

"I heard about the shooting," Frank said, and Tim laughed.

"Hey, great!" he said. "So, did Gee give you the good news, or did you hear it on TV?"

"Look, Tim--I know what you're doing right now," Frank said.

"Oh you do, do you?" Tim said, annoyed.

"Of course," Frank said, completely confident, serene. "You're sitting around the house getting drunk and blaming yourself for the whole thing." He was quiet for a moment. "Either that, or you just slept with someone you hardly know."

"I'm not that drunk," Tim said weakly.

Another pause. "But you're still feeling sorry for yourself."

"Frank, that man did not deserve to die," Tim said vehemently. "I took his life--I *ruined* it--I destroyed everything that he was."

His voice was shaking. Jesus.

Frank's voice softened just a bit. "Tim, you can't think about it that way. The man was about to kill you and you acted in self defense. It's a good shooting."

"What the hell do you know about it? You weren't even there!" And as he said those words, the fact that Frank wasn't ever going to be there again hit Tim with devastating force. "You should have been there. I--I *needed* you, Frank."

He could hear Pembleton sigh on his end of the line.

Tim laughed.

"Know what, Frank? I just figured something out. You didn't leave the force because of, of Kellerman, or Gee, or me, or any of that. You left because you realized that you weren't able to take a life. *That's* why you didn't shoot the guy who was aiming at you. And so see, *I* don't come out so well in the same situation, now do I? I just lifted the gun and blew the guy's brains out."

"You're really in fine form tonight, aren't you?" Frank asked, aggravation in every syllable he spoke.

"Admit it, Frank. The comparison stands. You wouldn't have done what I did."

"What I would or wouldn't have done has no bearing on this. We're talking about *you.* Tim Bayliss. And it was *all right* for you to have saved your life, Tim!"

"I just--I wish it wouldn't have happened," Tim said very quietly, very sadly.

"I know." Frank's voice was almost gentle.

Tim fought another wave of longing, then wondered for the umpteenth time whether it would be easier for him just to stop talking to Frank altogether. It was such a no-win situation: although he was glad to hear his friend's voice, talking to Frank only hammered home just how painful it was to be without him. And each time Tim thought he'd come to terms with the whole thing, something like this happened and made the wound feel fresh. He regrouped.

"Know what? I'm going to be fine. I mean--this is obviously a hard thing to deal with, but I'm gonna handle it, okay? I can deal."

"You can deal. Well, all right then." Frank sounded skeptical, but he didn't push it, and for that Tim was glad.

He really could deal . . . maybe.


Tim shifted uneasily in his chair, nervously stirring honey into his tea. Chris was twenty minutes late now, and while he knew on one level that when Chris said he was going to be someplace he really was going to be there, Tim was nonetheless starting to worry. He'd waited for Roger Fisk for, what, forty minutes at least; had sat there playing with the silverware, gulping down water, and trying to ignore the pitying looks the waiter kept giving him. He'd even gone to the pay phone and called Roger a couple of times, thinking that maybe he'd forgotten the date, or that he'd gotten the time wrong.

You had better not even fucking *do* this to me, Chris, Tim thought angrily.

In a way, it was funny--he had called up Chris and scheduled this whole thing in order to apologize for his behavior last week, to make amends, and now he was mad all over again before even laying eyes on him.

Tim glanced out the window for the umpteenth time, then sighed in relief as he caught a glimpse of Chris out on the sidewalk, hurrying inside.

"Sorry I'm late," Chris said, taking off his black leather jacket and draping it over the chair across from Tim's. He didn't actually sound that sorry, though.

Tim registered again just how good looking Chris was. Something about the thick, dark brows and the set of his full mouth--or maybe it was his body, so tight and well-formed and graceful. He'd been a fool--a complete and utter fool--to hesitate with Chris, to panic like he did.

"--right back," Chris was saying, then heading for the counter.

Tim snapped back to attention. He really had to get a grip. He was here to apologize to Chris, not to lust after him or beg him for a second chance. And besides, it was presumptuous to think that Chris would even be interested in another go-round. He probably had someone waiting at home for him right now, in fact, someone handsome, rich, and well adjusted, someone who never ruined anything and never wore bad clothes. Oh, and who probably didn't kill people, either.

"Okay, Tim," Chris said, sitting back and crossing his legs. "What's up?"

So he *was* mad.

"Look, Chris, I'm really sorry about the other night," Tim said. "I it was stupid for me to have dropped in on you unannounced like that."

Chris looked steadily at him, his features unreadable, and Tim began to feel awkward.

"You wanna give me some help here?" Tim asked.

Chris widened eyes. "Okay. Um . . . so apology accepted."

"Thank you," Tim said. "I really--I wasn't myself."

"You were really depressed, Tim."

Tim crossed his legs, looked at his shoelaces.

"Yeah, well, it's been that kind of year, you know?"

"Actually, I don't," Chris said slowly. "We haven't talked in quite a while."

Tim took a deep breath, bit down on his lower lip, and Chris had to look away, down at the table, at the sugar packets he'd scattered around his coffee cup, the spoon Tim had used to stir his tea. Anywhere but at that mouth.

Get a grip, he told himself fiercely.

"Well, a lot of bad things happened," Tim said slowly.

"What kinds of things?" Chris asked.

"Frank quit the force." It came out so forcefully that Tim was taken aback for a moment, embarrassed at the intensity of the pain in his voice.

"Uh, and that's been hard to deal with."

He looked at Chris for a response.

"I know you cared for him very much," Chris quietly said.

That made Tim feel awkward, so he forged on: "So that was--that was painful. And then, and this was just a few weeks ago, my sexuality became a topic of discussion and, well, scorn around the department. And with all of this, I--I've been kind of worried that I might not be able to make any of that stuff work out at all."

"What do you mean not make it work?" Chris asked. "Your sexuality? Is it--are you still nervous about the whole thing?"

Incredibly embarrassed by the gentle way Chris was speaking, Tim looked out the window and at the cars parked in front of the coffee shop.

"It--it's just very hard to, uh, sleep with men--to be in relationships with them--and to do the job I do. Cops aren't exactly open-minded about certain things."

"Well that's definitely true," Chris said immediately, and fell silent. "So you--you're sleeping with men now?" he finally asked.

"Um, yeah. Yeah," Tim said, ducking his head a little bit.

"Oh," Chris said noncommitally. "And how did--did you come out at work, or what happened?"

Tim laughed. "Oh, this is good. See, I started this web site--"

And out came the Fisk story.

Still so confused, and he was still so beautiful, and Chris wanted very much to reach out to Tim. Problem was, he couldn't decide whether he'd rather hit the man or caress him.

"I'd hate to see you give up part of yourself to fit in at work," he finally said. "No job is worth that, Tim."

Easy for you to say, Tim thought. Chris controlled his own workplace, a *gay* restaurant, for god's sake, and so he probably wasn't all that up to date with homophobia on the job.

But at the same time, his words had a certain power to them, and they made Tim feel better. And since nothing else had done that for him as of late, this was not insignificant.

"It was really good to talk to you," Tim said as they prepared to leave.

"Glad to hear it," Chris said, pulling on his jacket.

"We should do this again, you know? And next time, I won't--the whole thing won't be all about my problems," Tim said regretfully.

There was a pause during which the two men looked uneasily at each other.

"So, how about next week?" Chris finally said.


Chris drove home, body tense and mind still reeling from the conversation he'd just had with Tim. If indeed they were still going to see each other, if they were going to meet every so often as "friends," he was going to have to do some hard and fast adjusting.

Hearing Tim talk about sleeping with other men hadn't helped. That was--that was just classic, and unfunny, in the most painful of ways. If Chris had met Tim only a few months--maybe even a few weeks--later, there would have been a much better chance for the relationship between them to broaden, to become strong, to actually work, for god's sake. And of course there would have been sex. It seemed cosmically unfair.

Chris sneered at himself. Thirty-nine years old and still mooning over men he couldn't talk into bed. It was better just to forget that altogether, and to decide on the other issue at hand: could he stand to be friends with Tim?

He wasn't feeling very friendly right now, not at all kind or helpful or and disinterested. What Chris was feeling were anger and lust, hard and pure. His body was aching and he was tense, frustrated, miserable. Fuck. Fuck Tim Bayliss, with his sexy mouth and messy problems and his *need,* his uncanny ability to walk into the restaurant and somehow recapture Chris in less than five minutes.

"Hi," Julian said, opening the door and letting Chris inside his apartment.

Chris stood stock still, looked around to refamiliarize himself. Julian was an untenured professor of English at Johns Hopkins, and as always, his place was a chaos of books, journals, papers, cigarette butts, and dirty dishes. He and Chris had met about four years ago, and they'd dated for a few months until it had become overwhelmingly obvious that things between them were really not going to work out. At base, Chris had found Julian exhausting: overly analytical, almost pompous at times, and terminally condescending, not to mention a truly disgusting slob, and he supposed that in turn, Julian had found him pedantic, closed-minded, anal retentive, and intellectually uninteresting. Or boring. Boring was probably more the word.

Despite all this, however, it was--the sexual chemistry between them had been incredible. And so in true mother-nature-fucks-with-us-all fashion, Chris found himself having the best sex of his life with someone he didn't even really like all that well. In fact, he and Julian had stayed together a lot longer than they should have as a result. It was not until after they'd become absolutely unable to tolerate each other that the two of them had broken up and then arrived at their present . . . arrangement, which was basically this: barring the presence of a monogamous relationship in either man's life, the two of them would at a moment's notice, if possible, get together for sex when one of them needed it.

And in this capacity, Julian had been wonderful. Once the pressure of a relationship had been removed, he'd loosened up a bit, had become funny and kind. They didn't see each other often--in fact, Chris hadn't seen Julian in several months--but when they did get together, it was incredibly satisfying for both. Julian's single-minded devotion to Chris's body was very flattering, as was his, erm, talent for enacting certain fantasies. And so.

"Wow. You look really wound up," Julian said, his voice low and amused.

Chris nodded. "I was hoping you could help," he got out.

Julian smiled, then stepped very close to Chris, wrapped long arms around him. He was tall and thin--kind of like Tim except more graceful, Chris thought meanly--and his cheekbones stood out like angles in his narrow face. His hair was gray; his eyes were steely blue; and his cock, if Chris remembered correctly, and he knew that he did, was thick and long. As always, Julian wore black: the man owned only three pairs of black jeans and he wore them every damned day, he put them on dirty or not and pretended that he was the epitome of cool. It had annoyed Chris to no end when they were still together, but in retrospect, the whole thing was amusing. And today the jeans were clean, because Julian smelled great, something clean and herbal in his clothing, on his skin. Very nice.

"You look so hot," Julian murmured, and then slid large hands down over Chris's ass.

"Oh god," Chris got out, and lifted his face and then they were kissing hard, desire spreading through them both, their breathing getting heavier, their bodies tensing, their movements much more frenzied.

"What can I do for you, baby?" Julian whispered, his mouth wet and hungry against Chris's neck. "What do you need? Hmm?"

It was always hard for Chris to talk at these moments, always difficult for him to tell Julian the brutal truth of whatever fantasy he happened to be having at the time. But Julian had proved very persuasive and patient in this regard; he loved to talk while fucking, loved to tease and plead and worm secrets out of his partners. So Chris knew that eventually, it would come out.

He reached over and slid hands under Julian's sweater, across the warm skin and taut muscles of the man's chest, then over the nipples, again and again, until they raised into hard points under his fingertips, which made Julian gasp. And the sound of that went straight to Chris's aching cock, made him wild, and he--this had to happen *fast,* he now saw.

"I need you to fuck me," Chris said, and Julian nodded, and then took Chris's mouth in another hungry kiss before promising, "Oh yes."

And then they were in Julian's bedroom, and Chris pulled off his clothes, then slid onto Julian's ridiculous silk sheets--a stupid and useless luxury for someone who was so slovenly--and Julian was undressing as well, and pulling out condoms and lubricant from the bedside table, and his cock was huge and hard and Chris wanted in the worst way to be obliterated by it.

"Hurry," he whispered.

And Julian did, and so quite soon, Chris was gasping and groaning and trying desperately to impale himself on Julian's long, thin fingers as they moved deep inside of him.

"Who am I?" Julian whispered, leaning forward to kiss Chris's stomach. "Who do you need me to be, baby?"

It was intolerable; he couldn't say it. Julian skillfully angled his fingers and brushed deep inside of him and oh god.

Aching and longing and on the verge of insanity, Chris felt like crying in relief when at long last Julian leaned in, hot and eager and very ready, and buried his cock inside of Chris.

"Ohhh," Chris exhaled in delight, and Julian laughed fondly.

"So beautiful," Julian whispered. "So incredibly good."

And he began to move, long slow strokes right to Chris's core. Ecstasy.

"Tell me, Chris," Julian murmured as he moved. "Who am I? Tell me who's fucking you right now."

"Harder," Chris gasped, and Julian's eyes grew dark with desire as he sped up a bit.

"Who's making you feel so good?" Julian implored. "Who are you thinking about?"

"You don't--" Chris broke off, then caught his breath again. "You don't even know him, so--"

Hips still moving, Julian leaned in to kiss Chris's neck, and it was so goddamned good to be pounded into and worked over like this.

Julian's lips touched his earlobe. "Let me make this good for you, baby. Tell me whose cock is inside of you right now, deep and hard, and I'm not going to stop, baby, don't worry, just give me the name, Chris, and you won't *believe* how good--"

"Oh god," Chris whispered. "Ohmygod. Tim."

And Julian caught his breath and then cocked his head and asked, "Tim?"

"Jesus, Julian. Yes!" Chris said, exasperated, and then it was just insane, Julian going at him like mad and telling him that Tim would love to see him like this, that Tim was longing to be with him, that Tim was, wanted to, or would be doing any number of things that simply weren't ever really going to happen, but it was fine, it was just fine anyway. And not long after that, Chris screamed and came hard and he *was* obliterated, unable to think or move, and it was exactly what he'd wanted.


"I won't be too late," Frank said, and Mary grinned, shook her head.

"Nonsense. The two of you have lots and lots of catching up to do and I'm going to fall right asleep anyway, so go on and have a good time," she told Frank.

"All right, baby," Frank said softly, then leaned in and gently kissed her.

"It's been so great to see you again," Tim said sincerely, stepping forward and wrapping Mary in a huge embrace. "I hope you have lots more conferences to go to in D.C."

"You take care of yourself--do you hear me?" Mary said in a low, intense voice, then reached out to push Tim's hair out of his eyes before letting him straighten up again. "And Tim? A hair cut, all right?"

"I will," Tim said, chuckling.

"And keep Frank out of trouble tonight," Mary joked, and then they were waving goodbye, and she was heading into the elevator and up to the hotel room she and Frank had reserved.

"Well then," Tim said, rubbing his hands together. "It seems we have the night to ourselves. What would you like to do, Frank?"

"I should be up there with Mary," Frank grumbled, then caught the look in Tim's eye and said, "Whatever you like, Tim."

"Come on," Tim said in disbelief. "Isn't there anything about Baltimore that you've missed--a bar you'd like to go to, or a restaurant?"

Frank thought for a second, narrowing his eyes and scowling.

"No," he said. "Not really, no."

Tim sighed, gave Frank a reproachful look. "You lived here *how* long? And you can't remember a single good thing about it?"

"I haven't been gone long enough to miss anything," Frank said matter of factly.

"Okay, then," Tim said, trying to keep from sounding injured. "How about the Waterfront? Hmm?"

Frank groaned. "Oh no. Not tonight. I don't want to have to see Munch and Lewis or anyone else. I'm tired, and all I really want to do is sit down and have a drink. With you, Tim."

Tim stared down at Frank, trying to regulate himself, not to look too hungry, too excited. He was still hardly able to believe that Frank was actually before him in the flesh.

"All right. We'll go to my place then," Tim said, and Frank followed him out to his car.


"I'll take a scotch," Frank said from the living room.

Tim took out a carton of orange juice and poured some for both of them.

"Have this instead," he said, handing the glass to Frank, who looked at it with loathing and then sat it firmly down on the coffee table.

"Scotch," Frank repeated. "Now, Tim."

Tim looked in consternation at Frank. "Do we even have to discuss this?"

"Not at all. You're going to get me a drink and bring it in here. It's simple."

Tim sighed. "All right, but if anything happens to you . . ."

"Nothing's going to happen," Frank said confidently, then got up and followed Tim into the kitchen.

"More," he commanded when he saw the measly amount Tim had poured him.

Tim set the bottle of scotch down hard on the counter, stepped back. "Okay--fine. You know what? *You* pour it," he irritably said, gesturing at the bottle.

"All right, I will," Frank said, and then neatly poured himself just a tiny bit more than Tim had given him before picking up his glass and heading back to the living room. Tim concealed a smile, then slowly put the bottle away and went out to sit next to Frank on the couch.

"Mary's right about one thing--you *do* need a haircut," Frank said, looking critically at him.

"Yeah, well, I've had some other things on my mind recently, Frank," Tim said stiffly, self-consciously running a hand through his hair.

"Right," Frank said, leaning forward and resting his arms on his knees. "So--are you starting to feel better about the shooting thing now that a couple of weeks have passed?"

Tim made a face, sighed. "I don't know. Maybe. I mean, I've stopped thinking about it constantly."

"You're not still thinking anything stupid like it was your fault, are you?"

Tim laughed. "Some set-up you give me. So if I've been thinking it, I'm stupid?"

"Well yeah," Frank said plainly. "To the degree that you're agonizing over this thing needlessly, you're stupid."

"So is this how you talk to your students?" Tim goaded, and Frank gave him a half smile.

"Naaah. They couldn't take it."

"You, uh, you're liking teaching?"

"So far," Frank said. "It's always hard at the beginning, but I think it's going to work out."

Tim looked carefully at him. "Do you--have you found that you still miss police work?"

Frank turned the full force of his gaze on Tim. "Yes, I miss you, Tim," he said patiently.

"Oh," Tim said, restlessly shifting his long legs.

"But no, I'm not coming back," Frank added, then took a huge swallow of his drink. Always, always he said that.

"I want you to," Tim said very quietly.

"I know," Frank answered, then sighed. "Tim--you know as well as I do that this is how things have to be."

"Actually, Frank, no. I don't know that. Cause from where I'm sitting, you left a perfectly good job, a good partnership and a good life here, for little to no reason. And I still--I just wish you wouldn't have."

"Come on," Frank chided.

"But I *can't* stop needing it--I can't stop needing you!" Tim said fiercely.

"Well, you have to stop it," Frank replied, matching Tim's tone. "In fact, you should have stopped it a long time ago. And I'm talking years here."

"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Tim asked, stung.

Frank shook his head in aggravation. "Exactly what I said. You should have addressed this need in yourself a long time ago. It's been there since the very first day I met you. And it's eating you alive, and then you come to *me* about it and make it my problem, and so it eats me, too. But it's not my problem. It's just not. You need to find a way to be yourself *without* being so dependent on other people. I mean it, Tim."

It was a speech in the grand Pembletonian tradition, well spoken, energetically delivered, and extremely painful to hear. When Frank had stopped speaking, Tim felt a part himself collapse.

"So I shouldn't need anyone," he tiredly said.

"Not to the point where you're not yourself without them," Frank said cooly. "And isn't that precisely your problem now? I go, you don't know who you are any more. Right?"

"You know, you really--you think you're pretty fucking important, don't you?" Tim shot back.

"To you I am," Frank said plainly, and Tim had to cough, look quickly away, because he was on the verge of tears. He swallowed hard, then glared at Frank.

"You know, I think this conversation is over," he said stonily, and Frank shrugged.


It wasn't a loud bar, for which Chris was grateful, although he still would much rather have stuck to coffee shops. It was too date-like to be meeting someone in a bar, and that interfered with his carefully constructed persona as Tim's-good-friend-and-nothing-else Rawls.

Not that Tim didn't still make Chris's heart rate increase when he stretched, or when he tilted back his head to drink, and not that Chris still didn't feel a uniquely painful longing after having spent time with Tim. It would be lying to himself if he tried to claim that he'd completely eradicated his feelings for Tim, and Chris didn't want to fall into that trap right now, didn't want to convince himself that he was over this and then get broadsided later on when he remembered that he wasn't. But even with all this in mind, it was getting increasingly easier to watch Tim with more fond regret than anything else.

Tim came into the bar radiating energy. With a grin on his face, he sat down and immediately began to regale Chris with a tale about a strange case he'd just worked, something about a murder in the morgue and a clueless suspect named Clayton. Tim was in a good mood, laughing easily and often, and it was infectious.

So when Tim's expression suddenly darkened as he gazed across the room, Chris nervously turned around as well to see who or what had provoked the response.

"Jesus Christ," Tim said in a low, furious voice.

"What is it?" Chris asked. There were a few couples at the standing at the bar, but certainly nothing that seemed infuriating.

"That's--I think I'm right--my god. That guy over there talking to the bartender? That's Roger Fisk!" Tim hissed. "You know, the guy who--"

"You told me," Chris said, and then quickly reached out and put a hand on Tim's shoulder, because it really looked like Tim was going to get up and go deck the guy.

"He has the right to go to bars," Chris said quietly.

"Fucking lowlife hypocrite," Tim spat, then turned angry eyes to Chris. "How can he stand himself?"

"Fear makes people do a lot of strange things," Chris said. "Who knows? If I were a cop, I might be closeted as well."

"No you wouldn't," Tim said. "And besides, being closeted is one thing. But what he did to me, Chris--the way he acted--that was something else altogether. Completely out of line."

"I know," Chris said anxiously as Tim began to stand. "You're exactly right, Tim. It was cowardice of the worst kind. But going over there and hitting him isn't going undo any of that, and it's not going to make either of you feel better about what happened."

"Oh my *god,* Tim said, nauseated, and Chris looked again at Fisk, who had just begun to passionately kiss the guy standing next to him. Fisk really was kind of handsome, Chris thought distractedly, almost a beefed-up Pembleton in a way. He could see why Tim had initially been interested.

"You know, I think I am going to go talk to him," Tim said.

"Come on, Tim. I really--that is *such* a bad idea!" Chris said urgently as Tim stood up.

"I'm not gonna punch the guy or anything, okay? I just . . . I want him to see me here, and for him to know that I see him. That's all."

"I still don't think--" Chris began, and then froze, because suddenly Tim was leaning in very close and hugging him.

"I appreciate your concern, but it's okay, Chris," Tim said gently, then slowly straightened up, leaving Chris's mind jarred and his senses rioting.


Actually, he might well punch the motherfucker into next week, but Chris didn't need to know that--he looked upset enough as it was. And the small part of Tim not consumed by rage felt good about that, glad to see that Chris cared.

He walked slowly toward the bar. Fisk was still sucking face, thick forearms locked tight around the waist of his companion. It seemed so damned unfair that Fisk was at peace with himself like this--that he'd been living a life that involved kissing, and a boyfriend. When Tim compared this to how things had been for *him* since their last encounter, he suddenly wanted to hurt the man very badly, to make him suffer. And it would be incredibly easy to do: one anonymous phone call, and Fisk would suddenly find that his work buddies were just a little less friendly.

But there was just something so . . . petty about that, and Tim groaned inwardly as he realized that in a way, he sympathized with Fisk, or at least understood him. Letting it be known that you were in sexual relationships with other men really was frightening at times--and Tim knew that the fear he had felt when he and Chris had been together was in some ways only another verison of Roger's panic. And maybe it was nothing but dumb luck that Tim hadn't, in his confusion, taken someone else down with him. Someone else besides Chris, that is. He grimaced.

But understanding Fisk didn't preclude being pissed off at him, and as he came close, Tim again considered just taking a swing, smashing the man's handsome face.

"Hi Roger," he said right into Fisk's ear. The couple quickly separated, and two pairs of annoyed eyes met Tim's.

"How're you doing?" Tim asked, watching Fisk go blank with shock.

"Great, great," Fisk said with forced joviality, obviously extremely uncomfortable.

"You remember me, don't you?" Tim asked.

"Uh, yeah. Sure!" Fisk awkwardly said. "Bayliss, right?"

"Right," Tim said darkly. "Although some days I just go by faggot, don't I, Roger?"

"What the hell--" Fisk's partner began to say, but Fisk cut him off with a gesture before turning to Tim.

"Look. I am *sorry* for what happened at the station."

"So tell me, Roger," Tim said as if he hadn't heard. "Did you and your buddies laugh about how the faggot tried to come on to you? Did you tell them what a freak I was, how disgusted you were by what I'd done? Tell everyone you could find?"

Fisk sighed, rubbed his eyes, and for a heartbeat Tim thought he saw hesitation in the man's face. But then Fisk shook it off and began to speak in a low, angry voice.

"What kind of idiot parades his sexuality all over the fucking internet?" he asked incredulously. "And what kind of idiot tries to discuss a date at the *police department?*"

Tim narrowed eyes but continued to listen.

"Like I tried to *tell* you, I've got to keep a low profile," Fisk went on. "If I'm gonna survive as a cop, I can't go around the station with all my laundry hanging out, and you coming up to me all whiny and worried about a fucking dinner date did not *work* for me, it did not *help.* And I really don't think that it's my fault that you were too stupid to see that."

"You wanna believe that's how things were, Roger, you go right ahead," Tim said. "But I'm telling you right now that what you did--how you called me out that day--it was wrong, and it was cowardly, and it was--it was pathetic."

"Fuck you," said Fisk.

What was this, high school? Tim laughed a little bit in amazement, then shook his head. "Yeah, well, fuck you too. I'm out of here," he said, and then slowly headed back to Chris.


"You know, I really don't think it's fair that I had to come in here again," Tim said, glaring at the crisis counselor. "Especially when you're not even the person I talked to in the first place."

Yet another satisfied customer. One day, she thought, someone with a good attitude is going to walk through this door, someone who really wants to see me, and I'll be so damned shocked by it that I'll probably fall over dead.

"Unfortunately, Dr. Hurst wasn't available today, and it's standard procedure to have a short follow-up visit," she patiently said. "We just want to make sure you're not suffering any aftereffects from the shooting."

"How could there *not* be aftereffects?" he asked, and not entirely politely.

"I'm talking about extreme reactions: panic attacks, nightmares, an inability to keep food down."

"Well I'm not having any of those things. Okay, well, nightmares, but then I always have those, so it's not really important."

She nodded, staring at the notes Hurst had given her. "You spoke with Dr. Hurst about a crisis," she said. "The conflict between Buddhism and police work. How are you handling that?"

Tim rolled his eyes. "No more Buddhism," he said. "Lots more police work."

"And are you okay with that? Is it working out?"

He groaned and crossed his legs, obviously now understanding that he wasn't going to get out of here without having to talk seriously.

"Right now I don't have any other options. But I'm thinking about, uh, other things I might want to do one day," he said.

"Are you feeling burned out?" she asked.

"No. Not like you mean, anyway. I can still do the job, and I still care about doing it right."

"Okay. Good. Are you still feeling distanced from the profession?" She frowned--Hurst's notes from the last session had been cryptic.

"So who gets to see these notes you're looking at?" he suddenly asked. "Did he write down stuff like 'subject feels confused' or 'detective's heart isn't in the job'? Cause I'm starting to feel a little bit uncomfortable about all this right now. I mean, this is my career we're talking about here."

"There's a record that you've been in for counseling in your personnel file, but these notes are confidential. Nothing you've said here can be used against you in any way."

"Until I'm rude to my boss and then he comes in here and asks to see the file, right?"

"No," she said. "Really and truly no. This is a safe space, and you can say whatever you want to without fear of reprisal."

"Hmph," he said, but didn't see fit to elaborate. She sighed, then went on.

"All right. I'm going to shift gears a little bit, go back to the basics. What I want you to do is tell me how you feel about the shooting right now. Today."

He looked reluctant.

She waited.

"All right," she finally said when he continued his silence. "Suppose that tomorrow you find yourself in a similar situation to the one you were involved in before. What would you do? How would you act?"

He gave her a look of incredulity.

"What I'm trying to get at is this: will you be able to use your gun again if necessary?"

"I don't see how I can answer that," he said.

"This is *important,* detective," she said sternly. "Will you be able to discharge your duties as an officer of the law should you be in another situation involving gunfire?"

He nodded, finally understanding the official nature of the question. "Yes. I can fulfill my responsibilities as an officer of the law."

"Even if it involves shooting your weapon?" she insisted.

He sighed. "Even if it involves shooting my weapon."

"All right. I'm going to choose to believe that you're serious, because I have a feeling I've gotten all I'm going to get out of you on this matter." She began to gather her papers, gestured to him to leave.

"Can I ask you something?" he asked.

She looked up at him. "Of course."

"This of course understanding the absolute confidential nature of our discussion," he said.

She put her pen down, folded her hands together. "I won't write a thing."

"All right. Good." He coughed, shifted uncomfortably.

"Go ahead," she prompted.

"Yeah. Uh . . . okay. And I don't want to get into any details--just give me the short version. How exactly does a person go about asking someone he hurt before to try a relationship again?"

She took a deep breath, then laughed out loud.


A drop of sweat rolled down his face. Chris brushed it away with a shaking hand and then went back to chopping the vegetables, trying to block out the impatient and angry voices the people in the dining room were making. He was alone in the kitchen tonight--no one else had shown up--and his heart was pounding. He was filled with shame, with panic, sweating like a pig inside this stupid chef's jacket, unable to breathe right. In front of him on the counter was a row of orders, but he'd somehow gotten them out of sequence and he couldn't remember which one to work on first. Moreover, he'd completely forgotten to do the prep work last night, so he'd had to start everything from scratch.

"Chris," Noreen burst into the kitchen, breathing hard, her voice high and scared. "There's someone in the dining room-- he's very, very upset, and--"

She made a noise of distress as a man dressed in an expertly cut suit brushed angrily by her to glare at Chris.

"I have been waiting for my food for well over an hour now!" the man bellowed, and Chris winced as he heard the noise in the dining room subside as people listened. "What the hell is wrong with you people?"

"You ordered the veal, right?" Chris asked, voice shaking, trying desperately to remember whether he'd remembered to put it in the oven.

The man shook his head in fury. "The duck, you idiot!" he screamed. "The duck!"

"But that has to be marinated over night!" Chris said in shock, and the man made a percussive noise of disgust before striding angrily out of the kitchen.

"Please. . ." Chris called after him, but he was ignored. Outside in the dining room, he heard the man complaining loudly to the rest of the customers: "Never in my *life* have I encountered *worse* . . . idiot in the kitchen has absolutely no idea . . . food critic for the *New York Times*!"

"I am so sorry," Noreen whispered, then quickly left the kitchen.

Chris picked up the orders with a shaking hand and tried to remember the one he'd been working on last, tried to arrange them in some sort of coherent sequence, laying them on the counter like playing cards.

"Hey," a soft voice said from behind him, and Chris snapped his head around.


"In the flesh," Tim said, grinning and incredibly handsome, laughing a little bit at him.

Chris flushed as he realized how stupid he looked in the awful chef's uniform, then felt his face grow even hotter as he realized that Tim was seeing exactly how pathetic he was, how incapable of running his own restaurant.

"It's okay," Tim said in a gentle, low voice, and Chris thrilled at the sound of it. "You're doing just fine, Chris, you're going to be just fine."

"I'm kind of in trouble," Chris said and the panic began to take over again.

Tim stepped behind him, then, watched as Chris began to sort through the orders again. He smelled heavenly, like sandalwood and leather, and Chris had to fight to keep his concentration.

"I want to help you, Chris," Tim said, and Chris held his breath because Tim was kissing the side of his neck, sliding arms around his waist, laughing a little into his skin.

"No!" Chris said, his voice a broken whisper. "I have--I have to get this done, and . . ."

Tim was sliding large hands down over his ass, massaging him through his clothing. Chris shook in excitement.

"Chris?" Noreen came into the kitchen again, furrowed her brow, and then stared in fascination as Tim moved his hands to the waist of Chris's pants, quickly, easily unbuttoning and unzipping them.

"*Go,* Noreen!" Chris gasped as Tim began to ease the pants down over his hips.

"I want you," Tim was murmuring.

"I'll be back in just a minute," Noreen said quickly, then stepped out.

"But that's not enough--" Chris began, then groaned deep his throat as Tim's large hand encircled his cock, began to stroke it with hard, powerful movements. He leaned into Tim, groaned again when he felt the outline of Tim's erection against his bare ass.

"I'm going to fuck you, Chris," Tim said, and Chris whispered "Yes, yes, please," thrusting desperately into his hand, and Tim laughed again before slowly reaching over Chris's shoulder to a dish of butter on the counter.

"Oh my god, my god," Chris said, then leaned over and rested his arms and head on the counter, the smooth surface cool against his cheek, and moaned in delight as Tim spread the butter inside of him, and it was too good, so dirty and greasy and sexy, and the people in the dining room were furious, he was really fucking everything up, and Tim's fingers were so strong, and Tim was going to fuck him like a race horse, and Noreen was going to come back any minute--

Chris jerked in shock, then sat straight up in bed, groaning as he felt the warm mess spreading over his groin and stomach. He got out of the bed and stomped into the bathroom, used a wet washcloth to clean himself off.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. He was supposed to be *over* this-- he was supposed to have *stopped* thinking about Tim in that way, to have given up the fantasies, the longing.

Why in hell was it so hard to give up? Why couldn't he reconcile himself to the fact that he simply wasn't going to have Tim? And why did it still hurt so much to think about it?

He went back to his bedroom, glanced at the clock. 8:30 a.m.; that meant he'd had, what, six hours of sleep, not nearly enough. He climbed back into bed, swore in frustration as he realized that he was wide awake, then lay still, thinking.


Tim stretched, yawned, glanced over at his clock. 8:30 in the morning. He lay flat on his back for a moment, then groaned. Hard as a rock every day this week--it was like being in his twenties again. What the hell was happening to him?

You know what--and why, a voice in the back of his head said, and Tim sighed, then let his eyes fall shut.

Although he'd panicked at the time, Tim could still remember some of what it had felt like to have Chris touch him, how Chris had moaned quietly in the back of his throat, made soft, reverent noises as he gently slid a warm hand down over Tim's stomach. Tim moved his own hand there now, rubbed his stomach in circles, moving slowly, steadily downward until fingertips slid under the waistband of his boxer shorts.

"May I?" Chris had whispered, voice low and vibrant, and Tim moaned a little bit as he remembered, then gave them both permission to move forward and wriggled out of his shorts. Ah yes, and Chris had *known,* somehow, exactly how to move and what Tim liked best, and Tim's entire body had been rigid with panic, but it had still felt so goddamned good, so incredibly intense and sweet. And Chris had stroked him hard, and he hadn't stopped, not even when Tim had half- heartedly asked him to, and somehow that had made it all the better. Tim moaned out loud now, definitely not stopping, his hand slick and moving fast, over and over again until he exploded, he exploded and he hissed in pleasure and he rocked his hips a little and then lay still, breathing hard.

Of course on the night in question, Tim had immediately jumped out of bed and pulled on his clothes, ignoring Chris's gentle, exasperated voice telling him to relax, that it was all right, that he hadn't done anything wrong, that it was good for him to let go like this. Tim had spoken quickly, incoherently, something about having to get up early the next morning, then had bolted out of the house and hailed a taxi.

And one week later, Chris had ended the relationship, and with good reason. Tim sat up, shaking the memory out of his head, then headed for the shower. He had to be at work in less than an hour.


It required some creative driving, but Tim made it to the station in time, walked into the squad room with a few minutes to spare, in fact. And this turned out to be a very good thing, because something was up--people were milling about, acting strangely, talking in hushed voices. Tim said a quick hello to Munch, then sat at his own desk, pulled out an ME report that had arrived too late to do any good. He would look at it anyway until he figured out what was going on.

Suddenly, Gee broke forth from his office, his broad features telegraphing intensity and annoyance. "Your attention, people," he commanded, and the room fell completely silent.

"As some of you have mentioned, today marks the one-year anniversary of the shootout in the squad room," Gee said darkly, shooting a formidable glance in Stu Gharty's direction. "If any of you find yourselves . . . uncomfortable being here today, come and talk to me and we'll arrange for you to make up the hours at a later date. That's it."

The room remained silent until Gee disappeared back into his lair, and then a sudden burst of chatter erupted. Still staring at his report, Tim eavesdropped. They were talking animatedly about cases, the coffee, the weather--anything except the fact that only one year ago today, people had died in this room, on their turf.

He'd died too, only not in this room. One year seemed both too soon and too late for an anniversary celebration. Maybe he should throw a party--the first annual Tim Bayliss deathday celebration, complete with black streamers, black balloons, a cake shaped like a tombstone. Instead of presents, people could bring him funeral wreaths, flowers.

There had been so many fucking flowers in the hospital. Lovely, bright--very kind gifts, of course--but Jesus Christ, the smell. Too many perfumes in one small space, too much sweetness--in the end, it had nauseated him. And then, of course, the flowers had begun to die, all of them, because his stay in the hospital had far exceeded the average life span of the cut flower. His mother had clucked, had gone around pruning, getting rid of the dead and consolidating the living in a few smaller vases, but after a day or two of this, Tim had insisted that she get rid of them, all of them, get them the hell out of his sight. What good were beautiful things that died so soon-- what was he supposed to think when they died like that?

The phone on his desk bleated and Tim started violently, then slowly picked it up, listened to the familiar monotone of the dispatcher's voice. Great--just great. Suicide. He sighed heavily, stood up to leave.


Tim drove carefully through the heavy rain, both hands on the wheel, carefully observing all the rules of the road. He wasn't particularly in a hurry: the suicide wouldn't be a clearance, it would not go on the board, it would not provide any excitement or provoke any interest. The one thing suicides did provide was an overwhelming sense of loss, particularly if the deceased was survived by a relative or spouse. And since this was a quiet neighborhood street lined by family homes, Tim was certain that there would in fact be grieving relatives at the scene.

He saw the ME's van in front of the house, slowly pulled into the driveway, then sat quietly for a moment, unbuckling his seat belt and looking around. Once he'd confirmed that no one was watching him, Tim gingerly pulled open his coat, then slid a hand over the soft cotton of his shirt to his back until he felt the familiar ridge of raised skin through the material. His scar, souvenir of a trip to hell and back, permanent reminder of the day his world had exploded.

"Okay," he said, his voice loud in his own ears, then withdrew his hand, opened the car door, and headed into the house.

"This is a bad one," a uniform quietly said as Tim entered the home--that meant that it was a kid, probably. Tim wiped the raindrops off of his glasses, squinting blindly at the nondescript middle-class decor. He could hear anguished, muffled crying from deep in the house: the parents.

"Michael Brunson. Sixteen years old," said Dr. Lausanne as Tim entered a bedroom full of sports equipment and tennis shoes and textbooks. It evoked almost visceral memories of his own childhood, and Tim winced. Not easy years.

Certainly not easy for Michael Brunson, lying there with his head in a plastic bag full of vomit and mucus. Tim pressed lips into a thin line, leaned over to look more closely.

"Classic do-it-yourself hemlock society job," Dr. Lausanne said. "Bottle of barbiturates from the mother's room, alcohol from the liquor cabinet, bag from who knows where. Death from lack of oxygen."

You idiot, Tim thought darkly as he looked at the kid, took in the pale legs, the varsity softball tee shirt, the class ring on his hand. Only a few more years and the kid could have left home, could have made things better for himself . . .

He was assuming rather a lot. "He leave a note?" Tim asked, and the uniform nodded, pointed to a piece of paper spread out on the night stand.

Short and sweet: can't go on, life too much, love you mom and dad. Meaningless cliches, shamefully inadequate in the face of the very real despair they'd been meant to convey. For a moment Tim wished desperately that the kid would have been more articulate, that he could have communicated the why of the matter more clearly, could have given himself and his final act more meaning.

No sense here, though, only sadness and loneliness--teenage angst turned way up, and with horrifying results. Poor stupid fucked-up kid.

"Jesus," Tim murmured, then slowly left the room to talk to the parents.


"Chris? You down there?" Noreen called.

"Yes I am," Chris responded, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice. He'd *told* her he wanted time alone in the wine cellar to do inventory--what the hell was she doing bugging him after only fifteen minutes?

"Tim's here," she said. "Okay if I send him down?"

Tim?! Chris quickly scanned his memory. As far as he knew, they hadn't planned anything, and besides, it was coming up on 10:30 p.m.

"Sure," he called back, then squatted down to count a row of bottles. When he heard Tim's feet on the stairs, he stood up, looked expectantly at him.

Tim didn't look good. He was obviously under the influence of some strong emotion, and his eyes were bright and hard.

"What's wrong?" Chris asked immediately, taking a few steps toward him.

"Everything," Tim said.

Chris frowned. "Did something in particular happen?"

Tim laughed a little bit, although it was completely without conviction. He looked and spoke as if he were on autopilot. "Yes, Chris, something happened. A lot of somethings happened, and I cannot stand to be in my head for one more minute--I can't stand my own fucking thoughts!"

He broke off as a wave of emotion swept over him, something between despair and anger and sadness. Chris looked intently at him, trying hard to figure out what in hell was going on.

"Tim . . ." he said gently. "Maybe if you talked about it--"

All of a sudden, Tim stepped incredibly close to Chris, close enough so that Chris could smell him, feel the warmth of his body, see the pain in his eyes up close.

"Not now," Tim said quietly, then slowly reached out and tenderly cupped the back of Chris's neck. Chris felt his breathing quicken, stood stock still, eyes on Tim's, skin tingling at the touch. Tim smiled once, then slowly drew Chris in and kissed him deeply, hungrily, his tongue sweeping into Chris's mouth in broad, desperate gestures, seeking comfort, warmth, assurance. It was devastating, and Chris wrapped arms around Tim and hugged him, trying to calm him, to soothe him.

When Tim began to pull back, Chris tightened his arms, looked into his eyes. "Which case is it?" Chris asked.

"Oh, a suicide," Tim flatly said, then leaned in, kissed Chris's neck a few times, his mouth hot and wet. "Jesus-- I've wanted to do that forever," he said huskily, then pulled back, breaking away.

Chris stared at him in amazement.

"Look--I'll call you tomorrow, all right?" Tim was saying. "Maybe by then I'll--I'll just call you, okay?"

"All right," Chris said helplessly.

Tim smiled his ghost of a smile one more time, then slowly headed up the stairs.


Chris walked out of the Zodiac just shy of midnight, still vaguely irritated with the few lingering diners who'd kept him there so late. Normally he wouldn't have cared--after all, such people were his livelihood--but then normally he wasn't insanely worried about Tim Bayliss.

Tim had looked so . . . desperate was the only word that fit. Desperately sad, desperately angry, desperately confused and reaching out for help. The kisses he'd given Chris had felt so hungry, so sad; in retrospect it was very obvious that Tim had been working mightily hard to distract them both from whatever he'd been feeling. Not that Chris hadn't enjoyed the contact, because God in heaven, it had been a miracle, hadn't it, any number of unspoken prayers answered all at once.

He had to keep in mind how confused Tim had been, however, had to consider the very real possibility that Tim hadn't really understood or meant what he was doing. He smiled wryly. Some things just didn't seem to change. Anyway, the important thing to discover was what had been bothering Tim, not why he'd taken a second or two to kiss Chris Rawls.

Chris got into his car, then froze a moment, trying to think. Was he really going to do this?

Tim answered the door to his apartment fairly soon after Chris had knocked. A good sign--Chris may have disturbed him, and was certainly intruding on his private space, but at least he hadn't woken the man.

"Chris!" Tim said in surprise. He word navy blue sweats, a gray tee shirt, and white socks that were falling down. He looked more weary than desperate now, and really rather cute, and Chris squirmed inwardly. This visit may well have been a huge mistake.

"I . . . came to see how you were doing," Chris said in a low voice. "You had me pretty worried back at the restaurant."

"Yeah," Tim said slowly, then stepped back. "Come on in."

Tim brought Chris a glass of water and they sat together on the couch.

Chris studied the coffee table in front of them: on it was a short history of the evening of Tim Bayliss. An empty bag of pretzels, a couple of bottles of beer, a rumpled-through magazine, and what appeared to be a journal, the pages curved around a pen.

"You know, I'm not usually messy like this," Tim said quickly. "I just--tonight I haven't felt very much like cleaning up after myself."

"What's going on, Tim?" Chris asked.

Tim leaned back in the couch, rested his feet on the coffee table, then slowly looked at Chris. "I thought I said I didn't want to talk about it."

Chris felt his face begin to burn a little bit. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "I shouldn't have bothered you like this, shouldn't have barged in. If you want, I can leave."

"No, no," Tim said. "Not now--I mean, you're here, right? It's probably some sort of sign." He ran a hand through already tousled hair.

"Look," Chris said plainly. "If I can help you, I will. If you want to talk, I'm glad to listen. But I don't--I'm not here to pull teeth, or to upset you further."

Tim put his feet down, then turned to face Chris. "I appreciate that, I do," he said, then reached over, took a long drink from Chris's water glass.

Chris watched with some amusement. "So," he said. "Let me know. What do you want?"

Tim set the glass down, wiped his mouth, then sighed. And before Chris had really registered what was happening, Tim reached over and slowly took his hand, entwined their fingers, used his thumb to trace circles into Chris's palm.

Chris looked closely at Tim, trying to figure out what was going on in his mind, how to interpret the touch.

"I'm feeling death all around me, Chris. My own, the guy I shot, this kid who killed himself today," Tim said quietly.

Chris nodded, urging him to go on.

"And it's suffocating me," Tim added, squeezing Chris's hand for effect.

"I can see how--I mean, I can imagine--" Chris began, then broke off, embarrassed, when Tim said, "No you can't. Not really."

Tim moved closer to Chris on the couch.

"You can't understand because you haven't been through it, haven't worked with death for years like I have. And I don't expect you to," Tim said urgently, then lifted his hand, began to slowly rub Chris's lower lip with his thumb.

Chris felt his breathing quicken as the warm pressure of Tim's touch spread throughout his body.

"Okay Tim," he said, gently removing Tim's hand. "This probably isn't--"

"I'm upset, Chris, and I'm stuck inside myself, and I'm alone. And so let me do this, okay?" Tim said almost petulantly, then slid a strong arm around Chris's waist, moved in to kiss him.

Chris tensed as he felt the full force of Tim's hunger, his need. Tim was kissing him furiously, his mouth demanding, and his large hands were roughly pulling Chris's shirt up. It was frenzied, unnerving.

"Tim," Chris said quickly when Tim stopped for a moment to remove his own shirt. "Come on. I think we should stop this."

"No, no, no," Tim pleaded, chanted, and looked at Chris with desire-filled eyes, his face a study in frustration, agitation.

He's not even seeing me, Chris realized, and annoyance and pity filled him in equal measure.

Tim threw the tee shirt onto the floor and then began kissing him again, and touching him, and it was not affectionate; Tim was eating him up, moving with shattering intensity and speed. Chris reached out to run a hand over Tim's shoulder--it got batted away. He tried to move a bit; Tim held him fast. This wasn't reciprocal; Tim wasn't letting it be--he didn't even seem interested in that. The whole thing was oddly impersonal and not particularly exciting; Tim was obviously only going through the motions, zoning out, trying to get away from things. And the longer it went on, the more annoyed Chris became.

"That's enough," he finally said, breaking away from Tim, then standing up to glare down at him. "Not like this. Not right now."

Tim looked angrily up at him. "Goddammit, Chris! I *need* you!"

"I'm here for you," Chris said. "Right here, Tim. But I am not going to be your stand-in; am not going to have sex with you just so you can forget about being upset."

Tim looked astonished. "But I just wanted . . ."

He fell silent, buried his face into his hands.

"I am so sorry," Tim muttered, embarrassed.

"It's okay," Chris said, feeling sad, and slowly sat down again. "But really--if you could just face this instead of trying to--"

Tim sighed heavily.

"Okay, okay." He bit his lower lip, then shook his head, began to talk. "So the suicide today, right? It was a kid, Chris, a seventeen-year-old boy. So I did that, and it's making me think about all sorts of bad things, like the guy I shot, and being alone, and how sad life can be. And on *top* of it all--"

He broke off, laughed.

You know I got shot last year, right?"

"Yes," Chris said, looking down. "And I meant to come and see you, but I heard that you were okay, and then--"

Tim brushed away the comment, frowned. "Don't worry about it. We were completely out of touch at that time. And anyway, the whole thing was--it ended up being-- See, I actually died."

"Oh my god," Chris whispered.

Tim smiled a little. "And while I don't remember it, it's just--I can't even tell you what it's like to be ripped apart like that, to know that you died, that you left your body."

Tim looked at the expression on Chris's face, then smiled a little bit. "I didn't *feel* it or anything--it wasn't like that. In a way, I'm more frightened by the fact that I came back than I am that I died in the first place. Cause it's, uh, it's kind of a lot of pressure. It's like I got the biggest wake-up call in the universe, and I still have no idea what to do about it."

Chris smiled a little.

"And I keep--my god, I just keep screwing it up," Tim said unhappily.

"Where did you get shot?" Chris asked, looking for a scar on Tim's chest.

"My back," Tim said, then slowly turned so Chris could see.

Chris gasped a little when he saw the jagged, angry finger trailing down Tim's side. "Can I take a closer look?" he asked.

Tim nodded, caught his breath as Chris slowly bent over, then waited, feeling very vulnerable.

"I'm so sorry," Chris murmured, and then his fingers began to gently brush over Tim's skin, to stroke the scar, each movement of his hand sending waves of warmth through Tim's body. Tim closed his eyes, held his breath, afraid to talk, to move, for fear that Chris would stop. It felt so heavenly.

When Chris finally withdrew his fingers. Tim opened his mouth to say something, anything, to prevent him from begging Chris for more. "Uh--" he began, but then broke off in astonishment, because then Chris was tenderly pressing lips to the scar, gently kissing it over and over, bathing it with his soft tongue. Such kindness, such intense emotion and affection in Chris's mouth, and Tim trembled in the face of it. He'd felt alone for so long that even this slightest of touches was like a gift, a benediction. It had him on the verge of tears.

This was so much more intimate than the manhandling he'd given Chris moments ago; so much more real. Shame consumed him. He had used Chris, had come on to him in an effort to distract himself from his own unhappiness, and you couldn't *do* that, you couldn't treat people like extensions of yourself or use them to stage your own sad dramas, because the minute you did that, you eradicated them, wiped away everything that they were. Just like I eradicated Moss, Tim thought, and suddenly felt sick.

Chris closed eyes, breathed deeply, completely fixed on comforting Tim, on making him feel calm and loved. Tim was so sweet, so tense and uncertain, and Chris knew instinctively that it had been a very long time since anyone had touched him so tenderly. And Chris was enjoying very much taking care of Tim, delighted to be allowed to do so.

It was so funny to be kissing a scar, a wound, because in a way, it was exactly what all this was about: he wanted to heal Tim, to make things better, didn't he? Good god--was he becoming strange? Was he fixated on Tim's pain? Chris opened lips, licked the path of the scar, rubbed swollen lips over it one more time. Did it really matter at this point? After all, it felt wonderful, and it was making Tim feel good, too; Tim was radiating thanks and pleasure and excitement all at once.

Finally, Chris gently patted Tim's lower back, then straightened up. Tim slowly turned around to face him.

"I hope--I hope you didn't mind my kissing you," Chris said slowly.

"Oh no. It was . . . it was very nice," Tim quietly answered.

"I want you to feel better," Chris said plainly, honestly. "I want you to feel better about yourself, your life, your future."

"Thank you, Chris," Tim murmured. "I really--it's good to know that someone cares."

Chris looked intently at him. "Well, I do. A lot, actually."

Tim smiled.


"Do you have an extra tee shirt?" Chris asked, his voice sounding incredibly loud in the darkness. They'd been up talking until four in the morning, and he was tired and overwhelmed.

"Mmmm. Yeah," Tim said, and swung his legs out of the bed. He got up, pulled a shirt out of a dresser drawer and handed it to Chris, then returned to bed.

"Thanks," Chris answered, then went into the bathroom.

Chris stared at Tim's toothbrush, noted the kind of toothpaste he used, lightly touched a razor that he'd left on the sink. And as he pulled on the tee shirt, he breathed in deeply. It smelled like Tim, of course.

This was definitely one of the weirder nights he'd been through, and Tim's invitation to sleep here had only made it that much more strange. Because although they had both agreed that the night would be platonic, Chris knew for a fact that he was going to want more from Tim in the light of day, knew that he was going to wake up, reach for Tim, and just--start. And Tim apparently knew it, too: when Chris had half-jokingly said, "You want a platonic night? Sure. But I make no promises about the morning," Tim had lifted brows, grinned a little, and then replied, "Yeah, well, I was actually kind of counting on that." So it was--they had agreed to something, possibly something very big, and if he could just think clearly right now, Chris knew that he'd be feeling a lot of things--he very much wanted to feel these things, was worried a little bit that he *wasn't* worrying, or feeling trepidation, or . . .

Stop. He was just too exhausted.

He splashed his face with water, brushed his teeth with his finger, then returned to the bedroom very quietly. Tim was breathing evenly, his eyes shut. Chris gingerly got into the bed, sighing as he did so.

He closed his eyes, sank into the pillow, and lay on his side. A soft breeze came in from a partially open window above the bed, and he breathed in, enjoying the way it felt on his skin.

The bed undulated as Tim moved, and Chris held his breath for a moment. Tim was very close, and when he spoke, his mouth was only inches from Chris's ear.

"I want to hold you. Is that okay?"

"It's okay," Chris said softly, shifting a little so Tim could slide an arm around his waist, gently ease into him. Chris could feel the warmth of Tim's chest against his back, could feel his chin lightly resting against the back of his head. Tim was trembling just a little bit, and he smelled like toothpaste and sweat. It felt wonderful.

"It has been so long--" Tim murmured.

"I'm here," Chris said softly.

"Sleep well, Chris, okay?"

"Shhh," Chris answered, then closed eyes and listened to Tim's deep, regular breathing.


And the next morning when Chris woke up Tim was looking intently at him, breathing deep and fast, his eyes dark and excited.

"You're up," Tim said softly, then reached out to stroke his face.

So it was going to happen. Or was it? Chris stretched a little, looked closely at his soon-to-be lover, then spoke plainly.

"Just to be clear: I want to make love to you now," he said without hesitation, and Tim grinned.

"I--want that too," he said, and Chris smiled, then slowly closed the distance between them. Tim closed his eyes, leaned back, and relished the contact.

And it was achingly slow and intense. Chris moved so deliberately, so tenderly, so expertly that there was no room for shyness; he insisted that they come together openly, simply. And it was very frightening for Tim to let himself be stripped down, to offer himself so nakedly, to put his heart into each touch, every kiss. But Chris was doing it, and it was so incredible, so wondrous to receive. So Tim had to reciprocate: he wouldn't have been able to forgive himself if he hadn't.

Chris was talking to him, very sweetly, so gently, and Tim drank it in, reveled in it. He felt loved, felt exalted, and it was heartbreaking to finally get that at last, because with each passing moment, he realized exactly how bereft he'd been before.

Physically, it broke down into the same components that made up any sex act: mouths met, skin tingled, blood redistributed itself in achingly sensitive areas. This was all familiar to Tim, but nothing had prepared him for the sheer terror and ecstasy he felt as Chris slid deep inside of him for the first time ever. It was so much, it was everything, and Tim let go, sobbing deeply in between moans of pleasure and trembling hard as he met Chris, *really* met him, over and over again.

When he opened his eyes again afterward, Chris was looking deep into him; Chris *knew* him now, and it was devastating.

"I don't even know what to say, how to thank you," Tim whispered.

Chris nodded, then smiled, and Tim realized with astonishment that Chris was still too overcome to talk. Tim reached over, gathered Chris into his arms, and held him tight.

Chris breathed in, drunk all over again with the proximity, the sensation of Tim's naked body so close to his. It had been such a long, strange trip getting here, and he was scared, very scared, in fact, that things were going to unravel, go bad, but there was nothing to be done about that. He had to take this slowly, carefully, to appreciate and honor each moment, because no matter what happened afterward, he had this now, he had it, and he wasn't going to waste it, not even a second.

"Let's just be still for a while, okay?" he got out, and then closed his eyes.