Caught on Fire


Love is like friendship caught on fire.
—Bruce Lee

- 7 -

Jason opened the front door and went in, followed by Bill, who lingered in the hallway while Jason shut the door and looked around. "Mom?" he called.

"I'm in the kitchen, honey," she answered.

They went into the kitchen, which was filled with the scent of roast beef. Jason was reminded of all the times in junior high he had dragged his friend over to make sure he got a good, home-cooked meal.

"Are you staying for dinner, Billy?" his mom asked, closing her crossword puzzle book.

They exchanged glances, and then Jason looked at her. "Where's Dad?" he asked, ignoring her question for the moment.

"Out back," Linda said. "He's working on the hedge. He'll be in—Jason?"

He paused on his way to the back door, glancing a little nervously between her and Bill, who was standing near the doorway to the hall almost as if he hadn't run tame in this house since he was ten. Then Jason said, "I'm going to get him. There's something I need to talk to you both about."

He walked quickly to the hedge where his dad was working, feeling oddly reluctant about leaving Bill in the kitchen with his mom. She'd always liked Bill, ever since the first time she'd met him, but he had no idea how she'd react to losing her chance at grandchildren, or him moving away... or you being gay, stop beating around the bush. Still, he thought she'd take it better than his dad would, remembering this and that over the years, not to mention how well his dad fit in at the station.


Frank Scott looked up. "Jason," he said.

Great, something's already got him annoyed. "Can you come inside for a minute? There's something I need to tell you and Mom."

"Would it be about your job, by any chance?"


"When were planning on telling us that you're unemployed? That you quit?"

"Where did you hear that?"

"Where do you think? I do have friends in the personnel office."

"Dad, please, I don't want to go over this twice. Come inside."

Frank gave him a surprisingly bitter look and headed for the house, dropping the clippers on the barbecue pit as he passed it. This is not beginning well, Jason thought, following him inside.

Bill and his mom had obviously gotten over his nervousness, Jason was glad to see. They were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking. Jason sat down around the corner from Bill, leaving his father the chair between him and Linda. Neither he nor Frank got anything to drink, and Linda, looking back and forth between her son and her husband, clearly understood the subtext Jason was missing.

She spoke first. "What do you want to tell us, Jason?"

"Possibly something about his job, honey," Frank said.

"Your job?" she said to Jason, startled. "Did it fall through?"

"No," said Frank. "When were you planning on telling us that you're unemployed? That you quit?"

Jason really wished his dad hadn't heard that; it obviously bothered him. A lot. "I'm not unemployed. I've got a perfectly good job, starting next Monday."

Frank lost some of his belligerence, but still seemed annoyed. "What is it?"

"Patrolman," Jason answered. "With the Boston Police Department."

"Boston?" Frank asked, clearly startled. "Massachusetts?"

"Yes," Jason said, glancing at his mom and noticing she didn't look surprised at all. "I'm moving to Massachusetts. With Bill."

There was a long pause. Then Frank said, "Why?"

For just a minute, Jason wanted to say, 'pay, benefits, always wanted to live in a big city, can't stand seeing Emily every day', anything but the truth. But only for a minute. "Because we're in love," he said, reaching across the corner of the table and putting his hand on Bill's. "We're going to be married—well, civilly united. Legal, though."

"What?" Frank hadn't shouted, but his voice was cold.

"I said, because we're in love—"

"I heard what you said. I want you to explain it to me."

"Explain it?" Jason demanded. "What do you mean, explain it? I love Bill. He loves me. He's going to MIT. I'm going with him. We're going to be married. They're simple concepts. What's so hard to understand about them?"

"What's hard to understand is how my son can suddenly go from wanting to marry a woman to being—" he stopped, flushed. "What's hard to understand is how someone I've welcomed in my house can do this to my son."

"Watch it," Jason had never felt so cold with anger.

Linda intervened, looking frightened. "Frank, we've known Billy since he was a child."

"I thought so."

"I mean it," Jason said. "Watch what you say."

"You watch your tone," Frank said warningly. "I'm still your father."

Bill stood up, the sudden motion breaking the tension at least for the moment. "Look," he said carefully to Jason, "I'm getting in the way. I'll wait outside."

"Bill—" He was so not being chased out of this house. Not by himself.

"Jason," Bill cut him off. "I'll wait outside. Remember what I said." He stared at Jason across the table, holding his eyes with his own and they so filled with love and warning that Jason almost couldn't stand it.

"Okay," Jason agreed, reluctantly. "I won't be too long."

"Take your time," Bill said. He went the wrong way around the table, away from Jason, and put his cup in the sink. "Thank you for the coffee, Mrs. Scott," he said, as if it had been an ordinary visit, and then went out the back door.

Jason saw the look of relief on his mom's face. She was right: if Bill had gotten within arm's reach of him by going out the front door, Jason would have given his dad a display he'd... probably have been unable to ignore, so it was a probably a good thing Bill had more self-control than he did, if there was any way to preserve this relationship.

Before he could say anything, his mom spoke up. "Frank, he's still our son, you're right. You're his father, I'm his mother. We're a family—"

"He should act like it."

"You should act like it," Jason retorted. "You could try being happy for me."

"Happy? I was happy when you wanted to marry Emily. I'm supposed to happy about this?"

"This is the man I love." Jason said with careful deliberation. "And while we're on the subject, he didn't 'do' anything to me. Except love me."

"Is that what they're calling it now?" They locked eyes.

"That's what it is." Jason said. Even in the middle of this, he could hear his voice soften as he said, "I've never been loved like this."

"I would hope not."

"God damn it, what is your problem?" Jason said, shouting for what he realized was the first time.

"I... can't deal with this," his dad said, sounding, suddenly, more lost than angry. "I can't deal with him."

Jason had stiffened, but the tone got to him despite himself. And then he heard Bill saying you don't want to lose them if you don't have to, and he realized that, even if he didn't mind, and he did, Bill would feel pretty bad about being the cause of any estrangement. Buying himself time to think and calm down a bit, he brought his hands up to his face and pinched the bridge of his nose, hard, between them, taking a deep breath and holding it for a moment before blowing it out. Then, calm enough to speak rationally, he said, "Okay. Okay. I'm not leaving Bill, but I'm not going to try to force him down your throat, either."

"What does that mean?" Linda asked, sounding hopeful.

"It means, I'm moving to Massachusetts. But you don't have to tell people why. I'm inviting you to our civil union ceremony, but if you can't come, I'll understand. I'll call you on the phone, and I won't ask you to talk to Bill or get annoyed if you don't ask about him. If we come back to Angel Grove, I'll come here by myself. Can we live like that?" Because that's as far as I can come.

His mom looked at his dad, who suddenly seemed to realize how close Jason had come to just walking out the door after Bill and never coming back. "And right now?" he said.

"Right now," Jason answered calmly, "I'm going after my," he paused, "roommate."

"When will you come for your things?" his mom asked.

"Tomorrow, or the next day maybe," he said. "When you're at the station, Dad." He looked from him to her. "Is this going to work?"

"It will work," she answered, giving Frank a hard look.

"I'm sorry, Jason," his dad said. "I can't... yes. Yes, this will work."

"I'll call tomorrow," Jason said.

And then he left.

Bill was sitting on the hood of the Jeep, leaning back against the windshield, his arms around his knees. He was doing that thing he did, looking at something only he could see. This time, though, he wasn't so far away that he didn't notice when Jason approached. "Hey," he said softly, turning to dangle his legs over the side of the hood. "What happened?"

Jason leaned on the car beside him, resting his head in his hands. He wanted to hug Bill, to be held, but he knew better. Not in public. Not the Cranston way... "We're still talking," he said. "Thanks for that, by the way. If it had been left up to me, they'd be seeing the mushroom cloud in Stone Canyon."

"Your mother knew."

He looked at Bill. "What?"

"Before you and your father came in," Bill said. "She told me she knew."


"She said your wearing my shirt was the last clue she needed. She seems fairly insightful."

"It's just, I mean, you were sitting there like nothing happened."

Bill smiled. "She'd just told me to be good to you."

Jason felt some of his anger drain away. "She wasn't upset," he nodded. "Just Dad..."

"I'm sorry, Jason. I truly am."

"I know. I didn't want to lie to them. I did so much of that before—"

"You had to. You had no choice."

"But I was still lying, Bill. I was hiding who I was from them. And now there's no excuse. Of course, the truth I get to tell them isn't the one they want to hear."

"Jase, come here."

He looked at Bill. They were so close Bill's knee was touching his hip. "I am here."

Bill reached for him, pulling him over to stand between his knees, and wrapped his arms around him. "She told me to be good to you," he said. "It's an easy charge..."

Jason wrapped his own arms around Bill's waist and laid his face against his chest. He felt Bill's chin resting on his head, and he tightened his hold. A tiny piece of him hoped his parents were looking, but only a tiny piece. "God," he said softly, "I love you, William M. Cranston."

"I know."

Jason could have stood there all day, but he knew Bill must be uncomfortable. He had gotten what he needed, anyway. He tightened his hold for a moment, and then pulled away. "Now, we really need to go shopping."

"If you say so," Bill said.

"I do say so. The state of your refrigerator is scandalous. I'm cooking tonight. Lamb, if I can find any. A nice rice pilaf, with apricots. And we need eggs for breakfast. Cokes. Orange juice. Something for tomorrow..."

Bill laughed. "Lamb and rice pilaf? You know what? I think I'll keep you."

"That is the plan... especially since I've been and gone and burned my bridges."

"He'll come around."

"I hope so." Jason pulled out his keys. "Get in. Let's hit the Safeway first."

"Okay." Bill pushed himself gracefully off the Jeep. "We'd better go by a travel agent, too. We need to get you a seat on the same flight I'm on next week."

"We can't fly," Jason protested automatically. "How is all your stuff getting up there? Not to mention mine, though compared to you I haven't got much."

Bill buckled his seat belt and said, "Sunday we put it all in boxes. I can start in the lab while you go to church?"

"I suppose..." Jason wondered if he'd look for one in Boston. Depended on how tolerant they really were up there.

"Then on Monday morning, two big men in jumpsuits show up and load it all onto a truck. All we do is unpack it again in Cambridge next weekend."

"Then how is my Jeep getting there?" Jason headed the said Jeep away from his parents' house toward the shopping center.

"You get to drive in the snow?"

"I'll have to," Jason said, and then Bill's tone registered. "You can buy a car, just get one that's not older than you are."

Bill was silent for a block, and then he said, quietly, "Do you know the difference between 'can' and 'may'?"

Jason almost responded with his father's old Can you? I'm sure you're physically able but you may not, but fortunately the real meaning of the question penetrated in time. He reviewed his words, and sighed to himself. "I'm not giving you permission. You don't need my permission."


He slid a sideways glance at Bill, who was looking satisfied. But he felt he needed to say something more. "Look, Bill, you know me. Sometimes I come off a little bossy—"

"As long as you know the difference," Bill said, not sounding annoyed at all, "I'll even take your suggestions into consideration."

"Too kind," Jason grinned.

"You want to teach me to drive in the snow?"

Jason groaned aloud, remembering hours of frustration trying to teach Bill martial arts. His tactile, do-what-I'm-doing, like-this, higher-no-not-that-high style hadn't worked at all well; Bill's ability to defend himself in a fight was due more to his determination to learn than anything else. And what was worse, he'd been able to adapt to tutor Jason in science and math with very good success... he'd been AGHS's best tutor ever, actually spending half his time his abbreviated senior year tutoring, mostly junior high kids in trouble... "That's such a good idea," he said. "Let's kill each other before our first anniversary."

"I could buy a book," Bill said, ignoring Jason's renewed groans at the idea of learning to drive in the snow from a book, "and you could correct my technique."

Jason slid another sideways look at him; a small smile was curling the corner of his mouth. "Are we still talking about driving?"

"We don't have to be," Bill replied.

"You interest me, Cranston."


"Oh, yeah." Jason laughed. "We'll work something out. About the driving, too."

Bill laughed and put his foot up on the dash.

"You are aware," Jason said conversationally, "that if I have to slam on the brakes or we hit something, you'll break your leg?"

"If we hit something," Bill said, "I'll probably break my legs anyway, given the track record of air bags." But he put his foot down.

"We should drive to Boston."

"Drive? You're insane, Jason. Do you know how far it is? 3000 miles, roughly. To get there in four days we'd have to drive over 700 miles a day. That's twelve hours a day driving... at least."

"Why do we have to be there in four days? I don't have to be there until next Monday, and you aren't telling me you didn't give yourself at least a week to get acclimated."

"They're delivering on Saturday. We couldn't leave till Tuesday at the earliest—"

"Bill, I'm sure they'd be happy to charge us an arm and a leg to pick it up early and store it for a week or two."

Bill contemplated that. After a moment, he said, "I wonder if I can cash this ticket in."

"You like the idea?" Jason liked it. Nine, ten days on the road with Bill, no one else around.

"It's one of your better ones," he agreed. "We'll call them."


"I've been thinking," he added after another block.

"That's not new," Jason observed. "What about?"

"Getting civilly united. We should wait, you know."


"Because Vermont is a long way away. Longer than Boston."

"True, but I don't see the point."

"Hey, Scott!" He was interrupted when a patrol car pulled up in the lane next to him. Fred Hanson leaned out.

"Hey, Sarge," Jason said across Bill.

"What's with this? Usually you kids give us back a year or so in gratitude for making you marketable in the big city." He was grinning.

"Nobody told me," Jason grinned back.

"Smart-aleck," Hanson said amiably. "Wait till the blizzards start."

"I'm told I'll like snow."

"Yeah, sure. Good luck up there." The light turned green and they went their separate ways.

"Ex-partner," he said. "I'd've introduced you, but... well, I told Dad he could lie about why I'd gone, so if I started telling people he has to work with..."

"It would invalidate the arrangement. I understand. It's okay, Jason. It really is."

"Yeah?" Jason actually ground the gears as he pulled into the parking lot.

Bill reached over and squeezed his leg. "It's okay."

"Yeah. Besides, it would just make Hanson glad I was leaving... So," he parked the Jeep and looked at Bill, deliberately changing the subject. "Why should we wait? We just drive up there before we get to Boston."

"Well, it'll be hard for anyone to get there on such short notice."

Jason was a bit startled. "I hadn't actually thought about asking anyone."

"I hadn't thought you'd want it private," Bill responded, equally startled. "We have to ask Kim, if we don't ask anyone else. She'd kill me if we didn't."

"You're right. We owe her a wedding."

"So we'll have to coordinate with her schedule. And with anyone else we ask. It's not like asking someone to run over to Santa Barbara for an afternoon ceremony."

"You know," Jason vented some of his annoyance, "the fact that there's only one place in the whole country we can get married is—"

"Something we should be grateful for, perhaps." He sounded serious.

"Why? Because even just a couple of months ago there wouldn't have been anywhere?"

"That, and the fact that it is so far away means people can use that as an excuse not to be rude and tell us they wouldn't come on a bet."


"Kat, certainly. Rocky maybe. I don't know about Adam and Tanya..."

Jason didn't know either. He'd just figured on not asking. But if they made it clear they didn't really expect anyone to come all that way, asking was a gesture of friendship. And he didn't want to lose all his friends... "Hey," it occurred to him. "Tommy will probably want to come. We'll have to coordinate with him, too... this is going to be complicated."

"That's how life gets," Bill said philosophically. "Are we shopping, or are we sitting?"

"We're shopping. I'm going to introduce you to the produce section."

"Is it too late to change my mind?"

"Way too late."

Bill smiled at him. "Yes. You're right. It most certainly is."

- 8 -

Jason sat on the couch in the Cranstons' living room, watching the Angels game with the sound low, threading his fingers through Bill's hair. Bill, his head pillowed on Jason's thigh, had fallen asleep in the second inning—no fan of organized sports, he, but at least he didn't object to Jason's watching them. Close enough to perfect. Jason had pulled the blond's glasses off and put them on the coffee table next to his stockinged feet and divided his attention between his team and his lover to the point that he had to look at the screen to know what the score was. He wondered if he'd ever get used to this: to having the right to watch Bill sleep, to touch him sleeping, to sit there until he woke up while joy fizzed inside him... He didn't hear the car pull up, and by the time he realized the door was opening, it was too late to wake Bill in order to face his dad in a slightly less picture-worth-a-thousand-words way, to explain instead of demonstrate.

But Edmund Cranston merely glanced his way as he came in, putting his suitcase down to turn around and shut the front door. For a minute Jason thought he just hadn't noticed his son or maybe just hadn't registered the possessive way his arm was wrapped around Jason's leg. Or where Jason's hands were... But then the man smiled that subdued version of his son's incandescent smile and he said, softly, "Hello, Jason. It's good to see you here."

Jason smiled back, more in relief than anything else. Bill had been right... for all the apparent lack of communication in this house, compared to his own family, Mr. Cranston knew his son. He might not know how to talk to him, but he obviously didn't miss much. "Hey," Jason shook the blue clad shoulder under his hand. "Hey, sleeping beauty. Wake up. Your dad's home."

"What?" Bill opened his eyes. "What?"

"Hello, son," Mr. Cranston said.

Bill sat up, finding his glasses after a moment, and stepped over Jason's legs to get to his dad. They smiled at each other, though they didn't touch, and Bill picked up the suitcase. "How was the trip?"

"Fine." The man smiled again, a little more mischievously. "I won't ask how you've been."

"No..." Bill grinned back. "Did you eat?" he added as he headed for the side hallway that led to the bedrooms.

His dad paused in the process of hanging up his coat—Bill's habit of tossing his at the nearest horizontal surface and not really caring whether it got there or not must be his version of rebellion, Jason thought with amusement—and called back, "No. Not yet."

Jason got to his feet. "There's lasagna in the fridge. I can heat it up," he offered.

"You can cook? Yes, thank you. Bill won't starve in Boston, then, that's good to know."

"I heard that," Bill said from halfway down the hall. "And it's Cambridge."

"Cambridge, then," his dad said. "But you can walk to MIT from downtown Boston in fifteen minutes. That makes it Boston to my mind." Turning to Jason he added, more softly, "So you are going with him to Boston? Cambridge. Wherever."

Jason paused on his way to the kitchen and looked Mr. Cranston in the eye. "Yes," he said as softly, willing him to believe. "Wherever he goes. From now on."

The older man's tired grey eyes—they always looked tired, Jason thought, tired or sad—held his for a long moment. Then he nodded, once, decisively. "That's good. That's very good."

After his own father, Jason found himself needing to hear it in so many words. "You don't mind?"

"My boy's been breaking his heart over you for a long time now," he said. "I'm glad he's going to be happy. What I'll mind is if you ever leave him. Not coming to him—that's one thing. His choice to keep on... But. Leaving him would be another, altogether."

Where had he ever gotten the notion that not saying things meant not feeling them, that reticence equalled detachment? Edmund Cranston's eyes were eloquent with a fierce love that left Jason feeling slightly shaken. "Never," he promised. "Never. I couldn't. Not now that I know how much I love him..." He shook his head. "I never will."

And he never did.

the end


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