Continuity: up to early Zeo or thereabouts... no trip to Aquitar. Set post-graduation.
Jason was enjoying his time off, an unusual three days in a row, especially with the good news that his partner had given him two nights before. Fred Hanson had told him he'd heard from his contacts in the personnel office that Jason had gotten all-around good marks. "Passed your probation with flying colors," Hanson had said as they unwound over the beers that Hanson figured he was old enough to drink, even if he was still three months shy of being able to buy his own, "they'll be asking you to make it permanent." And even though Hanson, who'd be getting a new rookie as a matter of course, had spent half an hour coming up with unbearably bad suggestions as to who Jason was going to end up with, he was going to miss the older man.
Hanson's parting words had been serious, though: "You ought to start taking some night courses, Scott. You're a sure bet for a gold shield one of these days, and a bachelor's will make it that much sooner." Jason wasn't at all sure he wanted to go back to school, but a class a semester? He could probably handle that. And it wasn't like his dad hadn't told him the same thing. Repeatedly.
For some reason, it sounded more reasonable coming from Sgt. Hanson than from Det. Frank Scott, though. Go figure, Jason thought, rolling over to pick up his watch from the bedside table.
He had slept in. Nearly noon. He stretched and contemplated what he was going to do with the afternoon. Maybe stop by the dojo and work out with Rocky. Maybe find a movie matinee. Maybe sit around in front of the TV.
Maybe, remembering his conversation last summer with his dad, go apartment hunting.
He and Emily had been looking, but of course he didn't need anything that big now. And he'd been letting it slide. He didn't mind living at home; he really didn't want to live by himself. But, now that he was nearly twenty-one and gainfully employed, he supposed he ought to move out. More to the point, his dad did. He guessed he could look around for a roommate. Or get a dog.
"Jason?" His mom rapped on his door. "You have a phone call, honey."
"Thanks," he answered. "I'll be right there." Maybe the afternoon was arranging itself.
He pulled on a pair of jeans and an Angels teeshirt and went into the kitchen.
"Jason, hi. It's Kim."
"Kim? Hey, how you doin'?" he asked, pushing himself up onto the counter. "Where are you?"
"Actually," she said, "I'm in Angel Grove. There's a competition in L.A., and I came up to visit my mom and Ron. I'd really like to get together with you if you have some free time?"
"Great," he said. "Timing couldn't be better. I'm off today and tomorrow. Dinner or something?"
"I'd like that. Maybe we could start with lunch? I haven't been to Ernie's in forever, I'm dying for one of his papaya smoothies."
"You're on," he grinned. "Meet you there in, say, twenty minutes?"
"I always liked Kim," his mom said after he hung up.
Okay, he thought as he went back to his bedroom, moving out will have some advantages.
Kim hadn't changed much; she was still chestnut-haired and the cheerleader's three P's: pretty, petite, and perky. Jason always forgot how much of each when she was gone, and he and she hadn't seen much of each other in the past three and half years. Usually what stayed in his mind was her heart and her spirit; there had never been any spark between them (it would almost have been incestuous, he thought), but he could certainly understand why it had depressed Tommy Oliver when he'd lost her. She flung herself at him with her customary enthusiasm as soon as he walked into the Juice Bar.
"Jason! You look so good!" She hugged him and kissed his cheek.
"You, too," he said.
She pulled him over to a table where smoothies and sandwiches were already waiting. "I have been dreaming about this place," she confided.
"Ouch," he said. "That's a sad commentary on your fantasy life... or maybe I don't want to know."
She snickered. "I wish it was hot sex on the counters, but it's just been nostalgia." She looked around the room. "Sometimes it seems like I have more memories of Ernie's than anything else in town."
"I know what you mean," he nodded. "It feels like coming home every time I come in here. And yet, somehow, that just doesn't happen very often."
"How are you doing with it?" she said, suddenly serious.
"Emily," she said. "I heard you two broke up."
"Emily... yes, we did. But Emily didn't have anything do with Ernie's. I mean, she didn't come here, but I did. With the guys. How did you hear about Emily and me breaking up, anyway?"
"The guys," she said, laughing. "Well, Billy."
"You two still talk?"
"Of course," she said. "Billy was my first boy pause friend, and vice versa. And just because you never called him when you were in Switzerland"
"Hey," he defended himself, "in the first place, guys don't do that. Talk on the telephone. And in the second place, Switzerland was an expensive phone call."
"And in the third place?"
"What third place?" She raised an expressive eyebrow and he capitulated. "And we wrote, anyway. Look, you know Billy and me"
"Yes, I do." She sat back, nibbling on her sandwich with a mysteriously pleased air. "So, you aren't exactly broken-hearted, are you?"
"Over Emily?" Jason started to reflexively deny it, and then remembered who he was talking to and that she wouldn't let him get away with being glib. So he gave her the same honesty that they'd always given each other, ever since when. "No. It's funny, really, Kim; I mean, one day we're together and having these little half-conversations about moving in together and whatever, and the next she's telling me she's had it, fed to the eyeteeth with me and everything, and she never wants to see me again. And I'm..." he shrugged, spreading his hands in front of him, "I'm okay. I really am. It's exactly like nothing happened. Like the last year was just... a movie I was watching."
"Really?" Her eyes were wide, but somehow she didn't seem disbelieving.
"Really." He shrugged. "Obviously she was right when she said we weren't right for each other."
"Apparently," she said. She seemed to make her mind up about something and bounced to her feet. "You done? Walk with me."
She giggled. "It's what Coach says when he wants to chew you out in private."
"Oh? So what have I done?"
"No; it's what I'm going to do. Come on," she tugged at his arm. "We have to go somewhere private."
"Kim" he started.
She snickered. "Not hardly, Jason. It'd be like with my brother... well, you're cuter than him, but you know what I mean. I have something to tell you."
"Am I going to want to hear it?" She was seven inches shorter than he was and weighed half what he did, but when she wanted him to move she always won.
"I think so," she said, serious again. "I really do."
They walked past the parking lot towards the picnic grounds at the north end of Angel Grove's main park. For a nice Wednesday in the middle of August there weren't many people there and they were able to find an empty table far enough from anybody else for a conversation to go unheard.
"This takes me back, too," said Jason, sitting the wrong way on the bench and leaning back against the table. "We just need Zack and Trini and Billy." He'd deliberately not mentioned Tommy, nor, for that matter, any of their later friends, Rocky, Adam, Tanya... he was evoking the earliest days of his and Kim's friendship, when it had just been the five of them, an unlikely group but one so tight he'd once thought nothing, not any amount of distance or time, could ever break them up.
Kim's dark brown eyes were soft. "Those were good times," she said. "A lot's happened since then. If somebody had told us half of it, would we have believed them?"
"Not me," Jason shook his head. "Not the weird stuff for sure, and probably not the more prosaic, either. Switzerland, you actually joining a national team"
"Hey," she slapped at him playfully.
"I didn't say making the team," he said. "I always knew you were that good. But back then, we were all going to stay here, forever. Weren't we?"
"We were," she nodded. "Except maybe Billy."
Jason looked away, over the park. "Yeah. Except him."
Billy Cranston was not quite his oldest friend, he'd known Zack a year longer, like Billy had met Kim first, since she'd lived on the same street when his family first moved to Angel Grove. But Billy was his best friend, closer than Rocky or Tommy, with whom he'd had more in common, closer than Zack, even. He'd always thought of him as a brothera much brainier younger brother, even though Billy was actually six weeks older. He engaged Jason's caretaker instincts like no one else he'd ever known, maybe because he had such a talent for attracting guys who wanted to beat him up for being so intransigently unconformingand, frankly, for screwing up the grading curve so completely. That kind of thing happened when you were as smart as Billy, especially when you honestly couldn't comprehend slacking off just enough to get As but were almost hard-wired to do the best you could. And when you coupled that with really bad eyes and an almost total lack of coordination, well, Jason had gotten a heckuva lot of martial arts practice outside of the dojo even before Zordon had recruited them to defend the world.
Oddly, though Jason hadn’t given much thought to missing anyone when he had let Zack talk him into going to Switzerland three years ago, he had found that once overseas he had missed having Billy to talk to more than he’d missed anyone or anything else from home. When he'd finally admitted to himself that he was wasting his time at the peace conference he'd come home, and though by then Kim was in Florida training for international gymnastics competitions, and Zack and Trini were still in Europe, he'd been happy to be home. Been happy to be back in little, weird, sleepy except when something was destroying downtown again Angel Grove.
But now Billy was going to MIT. In a couple of weeks. And for some reason Jason really couldn't put a finger on, he wished like hell he wasn't.
Of course, as Kim had remarked, that Billy wasn't going to go to college in Angel Grove had always been a given. If his dad hadn't been sure that it would be better for him to be with people his own age, he'd probably have been in grad school by fourteen... Jason had to admit, Mr. Cranston had almost certainly been right. Billy had taken forever to acquire social skills as it was. But when he hadn't left after he'd graduated a year early, when he'd stayed on to work with Zordon, somehow Jason had let himself get suckered into thinking he'd never go.
But now he was.
Jason realized that he'd been quiet a long time, and that Kim was just sitting there watching him. What was the last thing anybody said? he thought frantically. Oh, yeah. "Sure, he was always going to take off into academia, even before anything else. Stanford, MIT, hell, maybe wherever that is in England Steven Hawking is."
"Yes." Kim put her hand on his knee. "Jason, I'm going to tell you something I promised I'd never tell you. I'm going to tell you because I think you should know it, because I think it's the best thing, and because I'm tired of watching two of my best friends in the whole world screw up their lives. I've thought about telling you for a couple of years now, and I haven't 'cause it's not my secret, but ever since you and Emily broke up I've been thinking about it really, really a lot, it's even messed up my training, and then last week I decided I should have said something already, so I'm telling you."
Jason looked at her, feeling an odd combination of alarm and amusement. "Kim, that made absolutely no sense to me at all."
"Oh, it wasn't supposed to," she said. "That was my emotional prologue, so you'd understand the purity of my motives."
"Okay. Do you remember when we were fifteen?"
"Sure." He'd never forget that year. Way too much had happened.
"Well, do you remember when Billy and I, you know," she made a circular motion with her hands, "with the switching bodies?"
"Sure," he nodded. That hadn't been the weirdest thing that had happened that year, but it ranked up there.
"Well," she said, "those two days made me kind of think that what we are, I mean as who we are, is made up of three things. There's like your brain, what you know and so on, because I didn't know anything Billy knew, or him me. And there's your, I guess, soul, or personality, or whatever you want to call it." She paused; he waited. He had no idea where she was going with this. "And then there's your body. And your body can do things kind of all on its own."
"Oh, yeah," he agreed.
She giggled. "Omigosh," she agreed. "Did I discover boys have it tough!"
"I hope you learned to make allowances..."
"I learned why Billy wore those baggy overalls."
"Is there a point to this?" Jason asked, but lightly. He really didn't want to hear that Billy had been nursing a crush on Emily since freshman year. For one thing, Emily would eat Billy alive, if she paid him any attention at all, and for another, he was going to feel really bad if he hadn't noticed that.
"Of course there is," she said. "Billy's gay."
Jason just stared at her. His mind had locked up, he couldn't think of anything to say. Finally, "You're sure it wasn't you?"
"It wasn't me," she said calmly. "In the first place, it wasn't me, my taste in boys, I mean. And I asked him."
"You asked him?"
"Jason," she said reasonably, "I didn't want to get him in trouble. I had to know if it was, you know, normal or if somebody might beat him up over it. I had to know how much I had to hide."
"Oh," he thought about that. "Yeah, I guess you pretty much had to ask him... What did he say?"
"After he apologized? He confirmed it. And then we talked. I mean, really talked. It was like pulling teeth at first, you know him, but after a while he was kind of glad to have someone to talk to, if you know what I mean."
Jason had always thought of himself as filling that role in Billy's life, but... well, okay, at fifteen he probably would not have wanted to hear this. Okay, no probably about it. "I'm glad you did," he said, meaning it. He wished Billy had said something since then, explained why he didn't want to double with him and Emily and one of her friends, wished Billy hadn't felt like he still couldn't say it. Wished he'd been a bit more trustable... "Kim, why are you telling me now?"
"Because it was you," she said simply. "Is you. Billy's been in love with you since you guys were fifteen, and he still is."
He'd known that was coming. There really couldn't have been any other reason for this conversation, this way of doing it. Just telling him that Billy was gay, that could have been done oh-so-simply, just dropping it into conversation. Hell, just making some remark that implied he'd already known. So, on some level, he'd known it was coming.
But hearing her say it out loud was devastating in a way he'd never expected. How could I not have known that? How could I not have seen? Funny, he'd have thought he'd have been angry to be told somebody, some guy, felt like that about him. He remembered conversations at the station, in the locker room, in the squad car with Hanson... he'd always half-way felt like he was going through the motions there, and maybe it was because he'd sort of, a little bit, suspected... And being angry at Billy, for anything, somehow that seemed so wrong...
"Jason." Kim turned to straddle the bench and put her hand on his arm. "Jason, I'm not done yet."
"Geeze, Kim, what else could there be?" He could think of a few things, mainly dealing with Billy meeting somebody at one of those seminars he went to, and he really didn't want to hear that. Jason Lee Scott, what kind of a friend are you? he jerked himself out of that line of thought. You should be happy for him.
"Are you listening to me?" she asked.
He forced his attention back to her. "Yes."
"Okay. This is the hard part, because I could be wrong about this, and if I am then I had no business at all telling you anything. Billy asked me not to, trusted me with his secret, and the only reason I'm telling you is because I think I'm right. I think this is the best thing... Jason, why do you think he's going to MIT?"
"Because he thinks it's the best school," Jason said, a little surprised at the question. "He always has, you must remember that. I mean, every now and then he'd sort of consider Stanford, because it's closer, but that was always like flirting with a false religion or something. He always went back to MIT."
"I know, but I meant, why now. Why go, instead of keep on like he has been?"
"I don't know." And he didn't. Billy had made his decision and announced it, and then been singularly unwilling to discuss it.
"It's because you broke up with Emily," Kim said. "Because you're suddenly available again. Because if he stays, it will hurt too much. So he's running away. Just like you did."
Jason had been going to say something but that last sentence stopped him cold. "What do you mean?"
"When you went to Switzerland," she said. "You broke up with whatever her name was and then you went to Switzerland, when you had absolutely no interest in peace conferences." She paused, but he had nothing to say yet, so she continued. "Why do all your relationships work out the same way, Jason? You meet someone, you get all intense and start talking about forever, you do all the right things, and ... you fail." She squeezed his arm as if to take the sting out of it.
He wasn't angry with her. He'd wondered the same thing himself, why he had such spectacularly bad luck in picking girlfriends, what the fatal flaw was... He stiffened and looked at Kim with incredulity. "Are you saying?"
"Yes," she said flatly. "I am. I think you're gay."
"My girlfriends haven't complained about that," he said.
"Oh, please," was her rejoinder. "Jason, hardly any guy in the world is so gay he can't manage to have sex with someone who wants to. Gay guys have been getting married and having children for centuries, millennias even; they just haven't been real happy while they did. Now, maybe I'm wrong, maybe you just aren't any good at being a boyfriend. But you're such a nice guy, I can't believe that. And certainly not over and over; you're too smart not to figure out your mistakes. If you want to."
He couldn't think of anything to say to her.
"Look, Jason, I'm sorry if you're angry or insulted"
Now that he could answer. "Kim, no. I'm not, not either. I know you mean well... I just don't think you're right."
"But you haven't yet. Thought, I mean. You're just reacting to what I said, like, well, like a jock-cop. There's a lot more to you than that."
"There's nothing wrong with being a cop," he said quietly. "Or a jock."
"No," she agreed instantly. "There's nothing at all wrong with being a man who's a cop, or a man who's a jock, or even a man who's a cop and a jock at the same time. But you have to be a man first, Jason. You have to be a person. You have to look at yourself and realize who you are and what you want to be in the future, where you're going, and," she shrugged and made a little moue, "all that pop-psych stuff." She squeezed his arm again. "Please promise me you'll do that. You'll think about what I said, not just dismiss it out of hand and jump back into your roles and never look outside their proscriptions. Promise me, please?"
"Is that what I've been doing?" he heard himself ask instead of 'what you think I've been doing'.
"Yes, I think so," she said. "I really do. I know it's easier, it's certainly safer, and I know it's hard to stop. We usually can't until someone makes us... I couldn't. And I know it can hurt like hell to become who we really are. But I know you're one of the strongest, bravest people I've ever known. And I know Billy loves you so much it's... well, it's almost scary. Maybe you don't love him. But I'll bet you never even thought about it. That's all I'm asking you to do, Jason. Just think about it, okay? Because I really hate seeing both of you hurt so much."
"You do," she interrupted him. "You hate being alone, Jason. You surround yourself with people and you kill yourself taking care of them, because you need to be loved. But you're like that song, you're looking in the wrong place when you look at somebody like Anna or Emily."
Once again, he didn't know what to say.
She squeezed his arm one more time, and then looked at her watch. "I fibbed," she admitted. "I ran up here today just to talk to you, and I have to get back for the meet. I can't stay any longer or I'll miss it... Walk to my car with me?"
"Sure," he got to his feet automatically.
They walked back to the parking lot in silence. She opened the door then stood there beside it and looked around. "It's a nice little nest. But if you don't leave eventually you get too big and you suffocate. Or become stunted. I met a man in Arizona who told me, eagles have to fly farther than sparrows, and higher. But they live longer, and they see more. Promise me you'll think about it?"
Jason leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. "How could I not?" he asked. "Thanks, Kim. Whatever decision I come to, I'll never forget how much courage it took for you to come to me and say what you did."
She smiled at him and hugged him. "You've always been such a class act, Jason. I love you."
"Yeah, that's what they all say while their cars warm up." He grinned. "You take care of yourself. Don't be such a stranger."
"You, too. Keep in touch." She held his eyes for a minute, and then slid behind the wheel and shut the door. "You know my email address, Jason. Use it."
"Yes, ma'am." He stood and watched her drive away, and then began walking, with absolutely no idea of his destination.
After a while, he didn't know how long, he found himself back in the park. Looking around, he found a tree to put his back against and lowered himself to the ground, feeling like he really, really needed the support. Like the world might not stay put underneath him.
It hadn't been that hard to believe Kim about Billy. He'd never have thought it on his ownhe was going to have to think about that, he knewbut once it was put to him, it was almost obvious. Man, he found himself thinking, how could I have done that to him? How could I not have noticed? He shook his head sharply and ran his hand through his short black hair. He needed to think about what he was going to do now, not what he had, or hadn't done, in the past.
But at least he understood something now he'd never really grasped before: why Billy did things with him that he didn't really like doing... Jason found himself remembering the past spring... Opening Day, Anaheim. Good seats, good hotel, birthday present from his grandparents. And Billy sitting next to him, instead of Emily. Because she didn't like baseball, didn't like sports at all, and although she'd have liked a weekend in L.A., and he could probably have managed to get her to go to the game with him, the begging and grovelling and paying-back was all just... really not worth it. But Billy would come on the invitation, though he wasn't crazy about L.A., and only had any interest at all in sports where someone he knew was playingJason himself, Rocky, Zack, Kat's summer softball leagueand the only payback he seemed to want was Jason's killing a Saturday following him around some techno-geek exposition up in San Jose, which Jason would probably have done anyway just because Billy so rarely asked anything...
Jason remembered the game, sitting next to his friend and glancing sideways at him, seeing him leaning back in his seat and looking in the general direction of the field, though his eyes were unfocussed and he was probably thinking about something entirely unrelated to baseball. But he'd felt Jason's glance, or caught the movement of his head; anyway, he'd looked at him with warm green eyes and a slight smile and said, "Having a good time?"
"If they win, it'll be perfect," said Jason.
And Billy had smiled, really smiled. "Then they will. It's your birthday... well, your birthday present at least."
And it hadn't been until later that the thought had crossed Jason's mind: what was the difference between love and friendship, if your best friend's the one who gives you the perfect day... And now he knew, in this case there was no difference. He turned to Billy because Billy offered him love just like Emily did.
No. Better than Emily's. Selfless. Jason-centric.
Kind of scary, that thought. But warm...
That was hardly the only memory he had of spending time with Billy, but it was one of the strongest. He found himself looking at it, feeling it, and remembering all the little things he hadn't noticed himself memorizing. The way the sun turned Billy's hair into several hundred different shades of gold and topaz and amber. The hearthfire warmth of his eyes, and the long lashes that shaded them. The strength of the shoulder only a couple of inches away from his own. The drops of water that had fallen from the cup onto the hollow of his throat, just barely revealed by the dark blue polo shirt, one button undone. The shadows that collar cast on his throat. The fine hair on his forearms, bleached almost invisible by the sun. The worn brown leather watchband high on his left wrist and the elegance of the hand holding the paper cup. The way his jeans fit his hips, with the belt almost as worn as the watchband and the end of it not quite long enough for the next loop and dangling. The length of his legs, the way one foot was under the seat in front. The touch of his knee through those jeans and his own khakis.
Jason surfaced out of that memory like a diver off the rocks in Acapulco. Quite suddenly he wished it weren't August, so he'd have a jacket or something to toss across his lap. He settled for pulling his knees up and wrapping his arms around them. Wow. Had that been there all that time? Because it was certainly there now.
He looked out at the joggers and saw the truth. One of the reasons he'd broken up with Emilywell, he'd broken up with Emily because she'd dumped him. But one of the reasons she'd dumped him, why none of his other girlfriends had ever stayed for long, was that they'd always accused him of a certain lack of interest, even though they'd never been able to accuse of him being interested in anyone else. Emily had called him 'immature', 'spoiled', 'more interested in hanging out with his friends than building a real relationship'. Fair enough. Now he knew why. The women running past him, most were pretty, some were beautiful. But abstractly so. The guys...
Boy, did he wish Billy weren't in Massachusetts.
But he was. And actually it was probably a good thing, since he probably couldn't just walk in and... well, what? Ask him to marry you?
Jason sat there in the hot August sun and knew that was definitely, absolutely, no more nor less than what he wanted.
And how weird was that? This morning, he didn't even know he liked guys that way. Now he wanted to spend the rest of his life with one. No. He smiled. With Billy. That was the thing. That was why it was so, so easy to accept it. Like those 3D pictures where you stared and stared and then suddenly saw the dolphins leaping, or whatever, and then you couldn't see anything else and couldn't understand how you'd missed it before. It's Billy... and I've always known I loved Billy. Now it's just a different way of loving him.
He leaned back against the tree and thought about that. Not that he had much to go on... but he could imagine. Some things, anyway...
Get yourself back in hand, Scott. Oh, that was a bad choice of words... Jason shook his head again and tried to reestablish a measure of control over his body. He hadn't been taken like this, just by thinking about someone, since... well, since ever. God, he wished Billy wasn't in Massachusetts...
That was a suddenly sobering thought. Billy was in Massachusetts. And when he came back next week, it would only be for a few days, maybe a bit longer. And then he was going back to Massachusetts. To Cambridge. For years. Maybe forever.
Jason hugged his knees to his chest with a different emotion than before. MIT. Billy had always wanted to go to MIT. Back in fifth grade, that first national science fair... sure, he'd talked about Stanford every now and then, but his only reason for thinking about that schoolwell, Jason had to consider what Kim had saidhis main reason for thinking about a California school was his dad. And his dad wouldn't hear of it. And there was no other reason. No other reason that was a reason.
Billy was going to go to MIT. He was already enrolled, for crying out loud. He'd done so much by correspondence and AP already, he'd have his bachelor's by Christmas. And then grad school, and a doctorate or maybe two, probably in, Jason didn't know, three years? Four? He probably had a dissertation half-written in his head already... And then what? Teaching at Angel Grove University? Oh, yeah. That was likely. And even if likely, it was wrong.
Zordon had snared Billy, kept him here three years longer than he'd have otherwise stayed, maybe four... he could probably have graduated even earlier than he actually did. But now it was time for him to leave, be who he was supposed to be. Jason couldn't possibly ask him to stay here. Not even "here" as in Stanford. Even though he'd probably do it, if Kim was right... especially since he'd probably do it.
Jason-centric... he'd thought that earlier. It had warmed him. Now he realized what a seductive trap it was, what he'd been doing for the last, well, three years, maybe more. It's not like you're anything special, Jason Lee Scott. You'll never steal fire from the gods. You're just gonna be another working cop... He turned that thought over in his mind. Then he smiled. Sure. Cambridge was in Boston. And the last time he'd looked at an atlas, Boston was a big city. And big cities always needed cops.
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