Note: Response to the "Jim in uniform" challenge. Not, I'm sure, what anybody was expecting.... Consider yourselves warned!
-- by Mackie/
"What am I doing?" Jim Ellison moaned aloud as he took one final look at himself in the bathroom mirror. Automatically, he straightened his tie for the umpteenth time, uncomfortable with the crisp newness of his form-hugging uniform. After tonight, there would be no turning back; all the bridges would have been burned.
The telephone call had begun innocently enough: "Hi, Jim, this is your old buddy, Al -- remember me?"
Of course, Jim remembered. Something so integral to his life was not easily forgotten. But everything had gone steadily downhill from there.
Hours later, he was staring at his reflection and pondering the thousand disjointed thoughts warring in his mind. This shouldn't have happened. The past should not be allowed to come back and haunt him. He'd never survive....
Show a little backbone, Ellison, he chided his image in the mirror, practicing a stoic expression that came off more startled than stern. Face it, he was a wreck.
Resolutely, he straightened his shoulders. Hell, he'd taken an oath, hadn't he? What good was it if he wasn't prepared to respond if called upon to serve? He'd always been conscientious of his duties and obligations, so why was he balking now?
Because he wasn't a young man anymore, damnit. More importantly, he was no longer a leader of young men -- how could he hope to keep up with them, keep them focused on their mission if he couldn't earn their respect?
It was going to end in disaster, he was certain.
But he couldn't back out. Others were counting on him to answer the call.
Would his friends look at him differently once they found out the truth? Sure, they might have suspected -- his short haircut and military bearing, his right-wing, conservative political views, his no-nonsense approach to the law -- but no one knew for certain. Even Simon didn't suspect. Jim had never put it on his resume; it hadn't even appeared on his routine background check when he'd been accepted into the police academy.
Why did it have to be coming up again after all these years? Why did Al have to call him, asking for a "favor", but really meaning it was time to step forward and be counted as part of the brotherhood to whom he had sworn an oath.
Well, if he had to go, he'd better leave quickly, before Sandburg got back. He could never hope to explain it to his partner, not in any way that made sense. If he found out, Blair would have to think differently about him.
He was halfway across the room when he heard the key in the lock. If he'd been paying attention instead of waffling around in doubt and insecurity, he might have heard Blair's car, or at least the elevator carrying his roommate to the third floor. But he'd left it too long; there would be no cowardly retreat down the back stairs.
Blair swept into the loft like a minor tornado, shedding backpack and jacket in one fluid motion, dropping one and hanging the other on the coat hooks beside the door. Closing the door, he turned toward his roommate, a smile and half-formed greeting freezing on his face as he caught sight of the man before him.
"Uh, Chief, I thought you wouldn't be back for another hour or so," Jim began stupidly, wondering how he could erase that look of stunned surprise from his partner's expression.
Blair realized his mouth was still open, and he closed his jaws with enough force to rattle his teeth. "Jim?" was about all the younger man could manage to say.
"This isn't what it looks like," Jim continued lamely, then realized it was exactly what it looked like, so what was the use in denying it?
Blair leaned back against the door, his eyes wide. "Why didn't you ever tell me?" he asked at last, his voice quiet with barely suppressed emotion, his eyes actually tearing with the effort to hold himself in check.
"Don't make a big deal out of this, OK?"
"Don't make a big deal -- ? Man, it is a big deal, isn't it? It must have taken you years to do, right?"
"So why didn't you tell me? Did you believe I'd think less of you or something?"
"Because I knew you'd react exactly the way you're reacting," Jim answered, a tinge of coldness creeping into his tone. He knew he was never going to be able to turn back the clock on this one. Not ever.
"Why now? I mean, how long -- ?"
"It's been over fifteen years since I last put on the uniform," Jim admitted.
Sensing the beginnings of the "young-and-impressionable" defense, Blair dragged his mouth into a wry semblance of a smile. "Well, at least it still fits. Where'd you have it hidden -- in the bottom of an old trunk somewhere?"
Jim shook his head a bit defensively. "Actually, I had to go out and buy one."
"And you're determined to do this? You're actually going to go out dressed like that?" Blair sounded frankly incredulous, and who could blame him?
"I have to," Jim retorted. "I took an oath. If it meant something then, it should mean something now."
Blair saw the irritation in his partner's expression and tried to tone down his bad reaction to the surprise. "Look, man, I'm not belittling you or your beliefs, OK? I'm just -- I don't know -- shocked is a good word. It's like you have a secret life or something."
"It just never came up before, you know?" Jim insisted, trying to quell his rising temper. "It's not the sort of thing you just segue into casual conversation. This is just a one-shot deal. After tonight, it'll be over."
Taking a deep breath to calm the swell of emotion, Blair stood aside and opened the front door. "OK, man, just don't expect everything to stay the same. You know the other guys won't be so easy on you, and I'll be catching it right beside you because they'll think I knew."
"Believe me, I know it won't be easy," Jim replied, averting his eyes from his partner's tear-filled gaze. "I know."
Blair had barely closed the door behind his departing friend when emotion overcame him. He knew Jim would hear, but he was unable to help himself. Desperately, he wiped at his tearing eyes and tried to catch his breath. God, the least Jim could have done was warn him! He had to think -- was he going to stand beside his friend when the comments started flying, or would he step aside? Until tonight, he never would have believed anything could drive him from Jim's side, but there were some things a friend shouldn't have to deal with, weren't there? Did Blair have to just stand there and take it when the fireworks erupted?
At the very least, he owed Jim an apology for his emotional loss of control. For someone who prided himself on his ability to take things in stride, he hadn't handled this surprise very well at all. Jim had every right to be angry.
In the meantime, Blair wrote a note to remind himself to pick up a copy of every local paper tomorrow. This was going to be news, he was certain, and he'd better see how much of the story was printed so he could be armed with an informed defense.
The next morning, the Local section of the Cascade Herald carried a half-page article, with an accompanying photograph: "James Ellison, 1980 Eagle Scout Recipient, addresses new achievers at Court of Honor banquet."
And he still looked damn fine in uniform.