2015-09-28 08:46 pm

Index Post


This journal is dedicated to hosting StarWatcher's fanfiction for The Sentinel. My stories are gen, with a few (clearly marked) exceptions. Most are slice-of-life tales that focus on the friendship between Jim and Blair. Stories are listed in reverse order of writing, most recent at the top of the list. Each link will take you directly to the story, just as on a standard web-page.

Please note that "The Sentinel", as well as the characters of Jim, Blair, and the other members of the Major Crime Unit of the Cascade Police Department, actually belong to Pet Fly and Paramount. I'm playing in their universe for fun, not profit, and having a grand old time along the way.

For those who are new to The Sentinel, I have compiled background information for the show and characters, with pictures. Those with slow internet may prefer a text version of the background information, with only one picture.

If you're looking for more Sentinel fanfic, I have a list of fanfic resources for The Sentinel.

MY APOLOGIES! I thought I had this account set to allow anonymous comments, but the wrong box was ticked. I think it's fixed now, and I apologize to all those who couldn't get in to comment.

And now, on to the stories. Happy reading!

54   Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow   1.3 pages.   Sentinel and Guide are introspective.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

53   Through the I.U.I   12 pages.   Blair hasn't quite fallen through the looking-glass.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

52   By Another Name   7 pages.   Some words change our perspective.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

51   Necessity is the Mother...   4 pages.   Inventions R Us, Sandburg style.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

50   Pretty Ribbons to Say   .75 page.   'Trinkets' can be much more...
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

49   Just Another Sandburg Moment   8.5 pages.   It was supposed to be a simple trip to the bank.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

48   Unique and Unusual   10 pages.   Jim knows when something is important to Blair.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

47   Eye of the Beholder   30 pages.   Friends and family aren't always an easy mix, but maybe that can be changed.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

46   Kidnapped!   16 pages.   Who the heck is 'the boss', and why does he want Blair?
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

45   Spring Has Sprung   7 pages.   Kite-flying for fun and... fun.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

44   Need to Know   44 pages.   Blair's dreams after Incacha's death will lead him on a quest.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

43   Blame it on Garmina   5 pages.   Department of Stupid Excuses.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

42   Rain, Rain, Go Away   12 pages.   The rain is driving Blair crazy.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

41   Them's the Breaks   8 pages.   It can be surprising who's 'essential'.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

40   Story in progress.

39   Quacks Like a Duck   10 pages.   Blair and animals -- always more complicated than expected.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

38   Merry Christmas, Chief (gen)   25 pages.   Christmas = Friendship + Snow + Love.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

38   Merry Christmas, Chief (slash)   27 pages.   Christmas = Friendship + Snow + Love.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

37   All That Glitters   54 pages.   Jim and Blair are still learning to work together while dealing with a troublesome case.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

36   Zucchini, Tomatoes and Corn, Oh My!   13 pages.   Blair becomes embroiled in a tasty enthusiasm.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

35   Lucky Two Hundred   .3 pages.   Blair's mess is organized -- really it is!
                    Light style; black font on white page.

34   Bryd's-Eye View   12 pages.   A new detective is introduced to Major Crimes.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

33   One Bright Summer   63 pages.   Sixteen-year-old Jim is training for a steeplechase, and meets seven-year-old Blair hanging around the stables.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

32   ...Of the Plains   .25 pages.   Descriptive scene.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

31   It's About Friendship   32 pages.   Christmas + Friendship.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

30   Wreath of Friendship   .5 pages.   Christmas Challenge -- "Wreath".
                    Light style; black font on white page.

29   Just Desserts   9 pages.   What had he done to deserve this?
                    Light style; black font on white page.

28   Sentinel Haiku   .1 pages.   Series summary, in haiku.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

27   The Misty Solitudes   26 pages.   While camping, Jim and Blair meet a local legend.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

26   Years May Come, Years May Go   14 pages.   Major Crime celebrates with a friend..
                    Light style; black font on white page.

25   Ships that Pass...   8 pages.   A soldier protects a college student, just before a mission.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

24   For the Children   6 pages.   Blair's Halloween project grows bigger than he expected.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

23   Windsong   16 pages.   Jim is afraid Blair intends to leave, and Takes Steps.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

22   Stakeout   5 pages.   Blair is bored; Jim gets his man.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

21   Small Victories   5 pages.   Jim helps out with Blair's good deed.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

Interlude   Personality Questionnaire   4 pages.   Jim and Blair answer a few questions.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

19   For Services Rendered   2 pages.   Sometimes doing a favor pays off.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

18   Watching Him Sleep   2/3 page.   Late-night thoughts after a difficult case.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

17   The Honor of Friendship   4 pages.   Jim receives a letter that disturbs him.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

16   Unfinished snippet. Maybe someday...

15   Oh, Good Grief!   1 page.   Some people have wa-a-ay too much time on their hands.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

14   You Damned Well Better   6 pages.   Missing scene for TSbyBS.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

13   Of Rain and Rainbows   4 pages.   Post TsbyBS, a shared domestic moment.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

12   'Tis the Season   9 pages.   Christmas is a time for gifts and... senses testing.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

11   Lessons in Social Dynamics   2 pages.   Blair mixes Christmas and sentinel sensitivity.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

10   Spam Dealings (gen)   3 pages.   Blair vents, Jim reasons.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

10   Spam Dealings (slash)   3 pages.   Blair vents, Jim reasons.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

09   He Who Laughs Last...   4 pages.   Blair hatches a get-even scheme.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

07   Xena Studies   3 pages.   Blair finds sentinel clues in unusual places.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

"Letters" Trilogy

06   Letter to Blair   8 pages.   Jim writes an unmailable letter.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

08   Letter to Jim   11 pages.   Blair's letter tells Jim of his hopes and plans.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

20   Moving Forward   60 pages.   Resolution of the two letters.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

05   A Word from Our Sponsor   5 pages.   Blair snarks, but Jim is amused.
                    Light style; black font on white page.

04   Once More Into the Breach   14 pages.   It seems that our boys will never manage to have an uneventful camping trip.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

03   Cleanliness is Next To...   3 pages.   What happens when someone gets careless about cleaning?
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

02   Spreading the Word   6 pages.   What does a helpful grad student do for his friends?
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

01   Glorified Calisthenics   5 pages.   Blair does a favor for Megan, and Jim learns that some things aren't as easy as he thought.
                    Light style; black font on white page.
        Also available at Artifact Storage Room #3   and at   Archive of Our Own.

2013-03-28 02:33 pm

#54 - Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow


Title: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
Summary: Sentinel and Guide are introspective.
Style: Gen
Size: 800 words
Warnings: None
Notes: Dues for March, 2013.
Feedback: Not necessary, but anything you want to give is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

by StarWatcher

Yesterday, I thought I was going crazy. I couldn't possibly see what I thought I was seeing, hear what I thought I was hearing. How could sunglasses not make a dent in the headache-inducing brightness of the sunlight? How could shirts that I'd worn countless times before start feeling like burlap -- if not sandpaper -- against my skin? My workplace, that I've had no problems with for five years, was becoming intolerable. The doctors could find nothing wrong, and referred me to a psychiatrist. Seemed like the only choice left was to become a hermit somewhere in the back of beyond.

Yesterday, I had an unattainable dream. I'd found people with one or two enhanced senses, but only rumors of people able to use all five at elevated levels. Those amazing individuals were always 'from my grandfather's time', or 'living with the tribe up the river', but I never found them. I wanted to believe, searched for so many years, all over this wide and varied world, but came up bupkis. I almost gave up looking; it seemed hopeless. When I met you that day, I was excited to think you might be my dream... but still expecting to be disappointed.

Today, I know I'm sane, but wonder if crazy would be easier. 'Dial it up' -- or down -- 'piggyback' this sense to that, 'split your attention so you don't zone'... it's not as easy as you seem to think. Did those early sentinels manage so easily, or did they struggle as I do? Could they handle their senses without a guide at their back? If I'm supposed to be able to do this alone, I don't know if I can. What will I do if you leave? There's a chasm in front of me; without your help, there's no way forward.

Today, I know my dreams were so much less than reality; I found not just a sentinel, but a truly good man. I'm blown away by the strength and compassion you demonstrate as you protect your tribe. I wonder if 'protective instinct' is a sense that can also be heightened, or if that's just who you are and always will be, sentinel or not. I didn't know I'd become your guide -- teacher, and backup for your senses -- but it feels 'right', even destined. I never suspected that, when I found my sentinel, I'd finally find a purpose for my life.

Tomorrow... 'aye, there's the rub'. How many 'tomorrow's can we sustain this... partnership? You decided against Borneo, but there'll be other expeditions, other opportunities to leave. If nothing else -- after your diss, when you're a tenured professor, I doubt you'll be able to follow a grumpy cop who's fighting his wonky senses. I imagine 30 years with your help, fine-tuning my sentinel skills, but I can't honestly see it. If you're gone, all I see is darkness, and my senses driving me to madness. I hate being dependent on another person, but I don't have a choice. Will you stay?

Tomorrow... is a realm of exciting opportunities. When you really develop control of your senses... the possibilities are dizzying. Cascade will become the safest city in America, because smart criminals will go elsewhere to find prey, and you'll catch the dumb ones. I want to be part of that, helping you figure out more effective and efficient ways to use your senses, seeing how far they can be expanded, helping protect our city. Yeah, I expect it'll take years, but I'm on board with that; I really think you need me. I am your guide, after all; can I stay?

"Penny for your thoughts, Chief; you look a million miles away."

Blair pulled his gaze from the infinity of the ocean, turning to the man beside him. "More like years away. I was wondering... where do we go from here?"

Jim shifted as his own gaze turned outward; the rocks on the bluff had been comfortable until now. "Back to the loft, I suppose."

"You're not that obtuse." Blair's voice was irritated. "I think we've reached a crossroads. Do we sign up for the long haul, or do we say 'good enough' and call it quits?"

"It's your life, Sandburg. Whatever you decide works for me."

Blair snorted. "It's our lives; we're a team. And you going all 'stoic' makes me think you'd rather I hang around. But you gotta actually say something."

The silence stretched before Jim turned to face him. "I have a feeling the guide is essential to the stability and functioning of the sentinel. Think you can do thirty years?"

"Not a problem." Blair's shoulders relaxed as a grin lit his face. "But don't write yourself off early; I figure at least fifty years."


"Oh, yeah."


Together, guide and sentinel -- friends -- watched the sunset.

The End

Author's Notes

Return to Story Index

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2013-01-06 09:43 am

#53 - Through the I.U.I.


Title: Through the I.U.I.
Summary: Blair hasn't quite fallen through the looking-glass.
Style: Gen
Size: 6,100 words, about 12 pages
Warnings: None
Dedication: To Dolimir, in gratitude for her permission to riff off her story.
Notes: A missing scene for Dolimir’s delightful Calvin and Hobbes story, The Last Frontier. December 2012 dues for SentinelAngst.
Feedback: Not necessary, but anything you want to give is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Through the I.U.I.

by StarWatcher

From his position under the large oak tree -- an ideal spot to enjoy a warm, late-spring day while grading Anthro 102 essays -- Blair Sandburg watched the goings-on with fascination combined with feelings of inevitability. How come this always happens to me? he wondered. I didn’t used to get this much flak from the universe. Is hanging around with a sentinel causing some kind of probability bleed-through? Or was Incacha’s passing on the ‘Way of the Shaman’ more literal than I realized?

It had to be one or the other. How else to explain the sight of a large, bipedal tiger accosting various students as they crossed the University’s grounds? Since none of said students were screaming and running, even when the tiger grew so frustrated that its furious growling could be heard from where Blair sat watching a hundred yards away, apparently no one else could see it.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. The tiger was targeting individual students, walking in front of them and waving its arms -- yes, it seemed to use the front limbs as arms rather than legs -- as it tried to speak to them. When it got no response, it tried mock attacks -- rushing forward as if to pounce -- guaranteed to elicit a reaction even if, for some inexplicable reason, the students had decided en masse to pretend that an actual occurrence wasn’t real. When one student utterly failed to notice anything untoward, the tiger used the same tactics with another student, then another and another.

Oddly enough, the tiger hadn’t tried to touch anyone, and it always moved aside when one of the students might walk through the space it was occupying. Blair wondered why it would care. If it was substantial, touching a student -- or allowing a student to walk into it -- would certainly elicit the notice it seemed to want. But if it wasn’t substantial, and couldn’t touch a student, why move instead of letting a student walk through its space? Was disturbed ectoplasm painful?

Or was Blair merely hallucinating? In which case, nothing had to make any sense, anyway.

Blair deliberately rubbed his hand over the rough bark of the tree against which he sat. It certainly felt real. He plucked a blade of grass from the growth next to his knee and bit into the broken end. His mouth flooded with saliva to wash away the slightly bitter taste. His bodily responses wouldn’t be so realistic if he were hallucinating, would they?

Okay, working hypothesis: the man-sized, bipedal tiger was real, possibly from an alternate reality, or a different plane of existence, or something like that. Get a grip and deal with it! he told himself, as his mind tried to skitter away from the implications. It worked for Star Trek, and ‘the spirit plane’ has worked for shamans throughout time. Treat it like it’s real, and worry about the fallout later.

Okay. Whether or not he was a shaman -- and Blair had thought Incacha passed on a title rather than an actual change in status (or abilities, or thought-patterns, or whatever) -- he was a teacher and a guide, and he tried to be a worthwhile citizen of the planet. In any of those roles, it was up to him to try to help a being in distress... and the tiger certainly seemed to qualify.

First order of business -- bring the tiger over here without attracting the notice of any of the students. Blair sometimes played up his reputation for being ‘quirky’; his students’ belief that nothing fazed him helped generate a more relaxed classroom atmosphere and wider-ranging class discussions. But he didn’t want anyone to notice him having a conversation with apparently thin air; his reputation could easily slide from ‘unconventional’ to ‘ridiculous’.

He essayed a four-toned whistle -- a sort of nonverbal ‘over he-re’ -- at a volume that wouldn’t carry more than ten feet, except to sentinels and animals. Sure enough, the tiger’s head swung around and focused on him; Blair gave him a subtle nod and a restrained thumbs-up. The tiger dropped to all fours to come loping over, then sat and regarded Blair hopefully. “You can see me?” it asked.

English. Not only did it usually -- or at least frequently -- use bipedal locomotion, it spoke normal, everyday, bog-standard English. For some reason, that was the most disconcerting thing so far about this whole situation.

“Uh, yeah,” he stuttered. “I’m Blair Sandburg.”

The tiger snorted. “That’s a sissy name. My name is Hobbes,” he declared with distinct pride.

“Oh yeah? Named for the British philosopher?” It seemed a bit incongruous, somehow.

“That’s inconsequential; I’m me,” Hobbes insisted. “Are you going to help me or not?”

“I’ll give it a shot. Help you with what?”

“I need to get home. When I came through, I thought I’d be in Calvin’s world, but he wasn’t here, and so far, you’re the only human who can see me.”

“Okay, let’s take it one step at a time. First, came through where? Second, who’s Calvin?”

Hobbes’s tail twitched in irritation. “Calvin’s my best friend since cubhood, even though we live in alternate universes. Now that we’re grown, he’s a brilliant scientist -- in fact, we both are -- and we’re working on a way to connect our universes. We thought we had it, but when I came through, he wasn’t here. And when I turned around, the I.U.I. was gone, and none of these humans,” the corner of his mouth lifted in a snarl as he turned to view the strolling students, “can see or hear me. I should have expected it, I suppose; none of Calvin’s people have ever seen me, either.” The snarl disappeared, and his whiskers drooped. “They all think I’m a stuffed toy.”

“Well I have to admit, talking tigers aren’t common around here. But I can see you,” Blair pointed out, “and you don’t look very stuffed to me. But it would help if I understood the rest -- what’s an I.U.I, and where?”

“How’s your math?” Hobbes asked with a decided sneer. “And your theoretical physics?”

“Passable on math,” Blair admitted, “but nonexistent on theoretical physics.”

“I have a PhT in both, and --”


“Tigrate of Philosophy,” Hobbes said impatiently. “And Calvin has matching PhDs. We could fill up ten pages with the formulas on our Inter-Universal Interface, and you still wouldn’t understand it, so why should I try to explain it?”

“Point,” Blair agreed. “So how about you just take me to where you came through your I.U.I?”

The tiger snarled softly to indicate... disbelief? Irritation? Blair wasn’t sure. “Oh, just what I need. I’m the preeminent theoretical physicist of my generation, and someone whose grasp is ‘nonexistent’ is going to put his finger on exactly what’s wrong with our I.U.I.”

“Up to you.” Blair shrugged with seeming indifference. “But since you can’t see it, and I can see you when no one else does, maybe I’ll be able to see something about your interface what will tell you how to fix it. Or I could take you to the physics department and let you discuss the problem with Professor Rogers. I’ll even translate for you; I’m sure he’ll understand that I’m just passing on the comments from an invisible talking tiger.”

“You wouldn’t talk so big if I pounced you,” Hobbes declared.

“Pounce away,” Blair said cheerfully. “If you don’t need my help, I’ll just go back to grading essays and you’ll be a great story to tell my partner when I see him.”

“Why do humans have to be so difficult?” The question seemed rhetorical. “Calvin always seems to have problems with his group, too.” Hobbes stood -- on only two feet, again -- and glared down at Blair. “Well, come on; you’ll have to hike.”

“Hiking works,” Blair said easily. He shoved the essays into his backpack and stood, noting that Hobbes was half a head taller. So why should he be any different than the other giants I hang with? he asked himself wryly. Aloud, he added, “Lead on, McDuff.”

The tiger huffed. “I told you, the name is Hobbes.”

“No Shakespeare in your world; got it. Just show me the way.”

Hobbes hadn’t been exaggerating. They left the University, traversed the mile or so of urban territory between the campus and ‘unimproved’ land, climbed a gentle hill, and strode into the forest. They travelled about two more miles before Hobbes stopped and waved his hand -- paw -- upper limb at the area in front of them. “This is it,” he announced.

Blair surveyed the section of forest they’d reached. He saw old pine needles laying in a soft, thick layer on the ground, tree trunks rising all around them while the upper foliage dimmed the light beneath, scattered saplings and wildflowers establishing a hold wherever sunlight broke through the cover of the larger trees. There was nothing at all to suggest Hobbes’s ‘I.U.I.’ “Are you sure?” he asked quietly. “I mean... at this level, one tree looks pretty much like another.”

Hobbes snorted. “Of course I’m sure; I told you, I’m a scientist. “Look; I marked the tree directly in front of me when I stepped out.” The tree he indicated had two sets of four parallel slashes in its bark, crossing each other to form a large X.

“And right here; see?” Hobbes pointed to an area of the ground that showed some scattering of the pine needles. “You can see where I stepped out of the interface; my tracks start in the middle of nowhere.”

Blair looked carefully, but he wasn’t a tracker. The disturbed pine needles might be tiger-tracks, but they might equally have been scuffed by a passing deer or bear. Besides... “Aren’t those tracks, on the other side of where you stepped out?”

“I swear, humans are as ignorant as a six-week-old cub,” Hobbes sneered. He seemed to do a lot of that. “Can’t you tell those tracks are going the other way? When I realized what had happened, I tried to jump back through the interface. I thought, even if I couldn’t see it, it might still be operating.” He shrugged, his tail lashing in agitation. “I hit nothing more than thin air, and landed right -- here.” He stabbed a forward claw into the pine needles.

“Did you hear anything?”

“No explosions, which I half expected if Calvin’s and my universe ever came in contact with each other. Just birds and bugs and other small animal life.”

“I kind of meant...” Blair gestured vaguely toward the space where there was no I.U.I, “...an electronic hum, or buzz, or maybe your friend calling for you. Just... something to indicate that your interface was still ‘live’.”

Hobbes frowned. “Does this world even have computer technology?”

“It’s a growing field,” Blair admitted. “Most offices have desktop models, and smaller, portable laptops are becoming popular. They don’t hold as much memory as the bigger models, but they’re pretty handy for people on the go.”

“Sounds like you’re not too far behind my universe, or Calvin’s. So you should know that solid-state technology doesn’t ‘buzz’ or ‘hum’ or make any other sound effects. And no,” he forestalled Blair’s next words, “I didn’t hear Calvin calling. I couldn’t detect anything but ordinary forest.”

“Hm. Well...” Blair squinted at the invisible -- or non-existent -- I.U.I. “I suppose you tried this, but a good scientist checks to see if results are replicated, right?” He lifted a couple of pinecones from the ground and threw them, one after the other, through the supposed interface area. The results were anticlimactic; both sailed through the air until they hit the ground at the end of their trajectory.

“Of course I did!” Hobbes snapped. “Pinecones, rocks, beetles -- all with the same result.”


“In case the interface reacted differently to living versus non-living matter. And I jumped through three more times, but I’m still here.”

“Y’know, I was sort of joking earlier, but maybe we should talk to Professor Rogers. Since he knows physics, he’s more likely to be able to help you than I am.”

“Do you trust this man?” Hobbes demanded. “Enough that you think he’ll believe you about an invisible talking tiger? I know I’d have a helluva time explaining an invisible talking human in my world.”

That would be a problem, Blair admitted to himself. He barely knew the professor, but he suspected that trying to convince the other man he was passing on questions and comments from an invisible being -- he wouldn’t have to mention that Hobbes was a tiger -- would be an exercise in futility. Especially since he still wasn’t sure that he wasn’t immersed in an extended hallucination.

“You’re right; he wouldn’t believe me,” Blair conceded. “But I know someone who will -- and he might even be able to see you. And if we’re real lucky, your I.U.I. Hang on a minute.”

Blair reached in his backpack to pull out his cellphone, and checked the readout. “Nope; no service out here. We’ll have to hike back to that hill we climbed before we reached the forest, and I’ll call Jim. Let’s go.” He settled the backpack on his shoulders and started back toward the university, with Hobbes silently following.

When the phone rang, Jim stifled his exasperated growl. He and Blair had closed their last open case just yesterday; today had seemed the perfect time to tackle the backlog of paperwork, while Blair handled his own version at the university. There’d be another case soon enough -- he worked in ‘Major Crime’, after all -- but he’d hoped to make it to quitting time without having the next case tossed in his lap. Blair would probably blame it on bad karma; personally, he thought the universe had a sick sense of humor.


“Hey, Jim, chill, man. The sun is shining and God’s in his Heaven, and I’m not calling about a case.”

But he was calling; it could be as innocuous as a suggestion for dinner, or as troublesome as a flying saucer full of H. G. Welles’ invading Martians. “What’s up, Sandburg?”

“I have a friend who’s having a little problem, and I thought your special talents might help us work through it. Can you get away for an hour or so?”

Jim was already shutting down his computer. Of course he could get away; if he didn’t, Sandburg’s friend’s ‘little problem’ could spread to involve half the city and three branches of the military. Far better if he stepped in to prevent any potential disasters. “On my way, Sandburg; where should I meet you?”

“We’re on a hill about a mile from the university grounds. You start at the back of the Chemistry building, and head toward the forest on the other side of the Campion roadway...”

Jim parked the truck at a convenience store on the Campion roadway; no sense hiking from the university if he didn’t have to. As he approached the specified hill, he could see Blair in animated conversation with... empty space? No, there was a -- haze, or a waver in the air -- in front of Blair, where a ‘friend’ might sit.

It didn’t look as if Blair was concerned, but Jim needed all the information he could get before he was expected to deal with a hazy bit of air. He paused and recalled all the practice sessions he’d endured under Blair’s coaching. Reaching into his pocket, he rubbed his thumb across the jagged edge of a key while he extended his senses, one by one.

Hearing: Blair seemed to be comparing anthropological notes with his hazy friend, but there was no second voice; all he could hear was a... disturbance in the sound-field. It made no sense, but it was the only way he could describe it. Jim could still hear the wind, the birds, the rustle of leaves on the trees and blades of grass, but when the sound passed that area in front of Blair, they seemed ever-so-slightly distorted. Hunh!

Smell: Okay, something definitely different, there -- a kind of wild-animal smell, but without the musty undertones of animals that spent their lives outdoors.

Vision again: Still the hazy-wavery effect, but now that he concentrated, there was kind of... an outline? He and Blair had been experimenting with his ability to focus on different wave-lengths of light, allowing Jim to see into the infrared and ultraviolet ends of the spectrum, but it was difficult. Jim pressed harder on the key’s edge to anchor himself and carefully dialed toward the short waves. Nothing in infrared. How about the longer ultraviolet?

A chill swept over Jim as he finally saw a tiger, so much larger than his friend, sitting on the grass in front of Blair. He ignored the peacefulness of the scene -- since when did tigers sit cross-legged on the grass in front of a human? -- as he drew his gun and tried to work out how to handle the situation. The tiger was turned three-quarters away from Jim’s position, so hadn’t seen him yet, but there was absolutely no cover on the open, grassy knoll to mask his approach. And if he came from the rear angle, when the tiger became aware of him -- and it would; it was a wild animal, after all -- it would run right over Blair if it tried to escape Jim, or maybe even attack Blair, as the nearest threat.

No, probably the best tactic would be to circle around, and go toward them on a line that would place him between Blair and the tiger. The animal would see him sooner but, if he needed it, he’d have a clear line of fire with less danger to Blair.

As expected, he had barely reached his approach trajectory before the tiger’s nose and ears twitched, and it turned its head to face Jim fully. Jim tensed, readying himself to react to any threat, but the tiger merely turned back toward Blair, while pointing in Jim’s direction.

Blair immediately jumped up and faced Jim with a big smile. When the tiger didn’t react to the sudden movement -- which any wild animal would see as dangerous -- Jim relaxed just a little, although he remained on high alert against any untoward move from the tiger. He would not allow Blair to be harmed by this creature.

Hobbs turned his head and pointed down the hill. “Is that your friend? He doesn’t look very happy.”

Blair jumped up, smiling in welcome and relief. Somehow, he just knew that his sentinel would be able to do something to get Hobbes through his I.U.I. “Hey, Jim!” he called, “can you see him? This is Hobbes, and he needs our help.”

“Yes, I see him, Sandburg, but I’m using ultraviolet wavelengths to do so. How can you see him? And what do you mean ‘his name is Hobbes’?” Jim asked as he came close enough for Blair to hear. His voice was testy, almost growling, and Blair rolled his eyes; of course the big guy would treat an unknown situation as dangerous before he even knew all the facts.

And of course a tiger would react to Jim’s growl, and the way he practically stalked toward them. Hobbes was standing beside Blair, ears pinned back and tail switching as he snarled, “He means my name is Hobbes, you ignorant human! If you can’t even get that through your thick skull, maybe you should go back to the trees your ancestors came from.”

“Time out, both of you!” Blair said sharply, while wondering idly if tigers had testosterone; Hobbes and Jim certainly seemed ready to engage in pitched battle at any second. “We have a situation here, and we won’t solve it by the two of you getting all alpha-male at each other. So, truce?”

“I will if he will,” Hobbes declared as he took a step backward, raising his ears and stilling his tail by what seemed an effort of will. “And if he puts his gun away. Is this how you treat visitors to your universe?”

“Hobbes has a point, Jim; he’s just looking for help, and he’s been perfectly peaceful, so put away your gun. I promise, you won’t need it.”

“What point? You mean he talks? And you can talk to him?”

“Well, yeah.” Blair looked between Jim and Hobbes. “You can’t hear him?”

Jim blew a frustrated gust of air. “No, I can’t. And like I said, I can only see him in ultraviolet. So how can you see and hear him?”

“My working theory is that Incacha actually changed something when he passed on the Way of the Shaman to me; no one else on campus could see him, and Hobbes was certainly trying hard enough to get people’s attention.” Blair shrugged. “I decided it doesn’t matter; I can deal with a talking tiger from another universe, or I can check myself into a psych ward. I prefer to deal. And Hobbes seems cool with it, so, you know -- ‘boldly go where no man has gone before’.”

“It’s easier for me,” Hobbes pointed out. “I already knew there was an alternate universe inhabited by humans instead of tigers; it stands to reason that there’d be more than one. Actually...” he smirked at Blair, “...now that I think about it, you’re handling the information much better than I might have expected. Maybe the soft sciences have a few uses, after all.”

“That’s interesting,” Blair said. “In our universe, there’s a long-standing rivalry, sort of, between the hard sciences and the so-called soft sciences. An awful lot of the engineers, physicists and mathematicians tend to look down on the psychologists, archaeologists, and anthropologists. It sounds like it’s the same in your universe.”

Hobbes nodded. “Calvin and I have compared our universes. There are some differences, of course, but many more similarities.” He snorted softly as he crossed his arms. “And of course the hard sciences are more worthy of respect; specific actions lead to specific reactions, and results can be replicated and categorized. All you get from the soft sciences is a range of results, and nothing is ever the same twice in a row. They shouldn’t even be called ‘sciences’.”

“You’d be surprised,” Blair grinned, fully prepared to uphold his side of the argument. But then he shook his head, waving the discussion away. “But this doesn’t get you any closer to your own universe -- or Calvin’s, if that’s what you intended. We better head back and see if Jim can do something about your I.U.I.” He turned toward his watching friend. “Jim, you with us?”

Jim frowned as he watched Blair and Hobbes talking, hearing only Blair’s side of the conversation. He could see the tiger’s lips moving -- and how weird was it, to see the cat-mouth forming human speech patterns? -- but, regardless of how he adjusted his hearing dials, he got nothing from the big cat except that area of weird sound distortion. Loud, soft, low pitch, high pitch, it made no difference, and was pretty damned disconcerting. Every time he thought he was getting the hang of using his senses, something else would come along and rub his nose in his own inadequacies.

“Jim, you with us?”

“Only your side, Chief -- which tells me you can talk to anyone, anywhere, any time, under any circumstances. But no matter how much I try, I can’t hear anything from... your new friend.” Maybe if he tried really hard, he could bring this situation back toward the mundane. Spirit animals were bad enough, but at least they didn’t talk. Maybe whatever-it-was would sound better coming from Blair.

“Hobbes, Jim; it’s not that difficult.” But a thread of humor laced his voice; Blair must realize how reality was shifting uncomfortably under Jim’s feet. “But we have a couple of miles to hike. Hobbes, why don’t you lead the way, and I’ll explain to Jim as we walk.”

And this is why I was never a fan of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Jim thought bleakly, as he listened to Blair spin a tale of talking tigers traveling to and from alternate universes. He liked even his leisure-reading rooted in the real world, and this situation simply... wasn’t. But, apparently, if he could get... Blair’s friend... through his interface, he and Blair could get back to dealing with their own, highly-underrated, mundane universe. I swear, I’ll never complain of boredom again, he silently vowed.

And there it was, just as he hadn’t really expected -- a shimmering, silvery oval hovering about a foot off the ground, about three feet in width and six feet tall. Although it didn’t look opaque, he couldn’t see anything through it, and there were no strings or wires to hold it in place. Worst of all, when he paced behind it -- far behind -- to examine it from all angles, there was no backside. He had an unobstructed view through the trees: no silvery sheen, no oval, not even a visual distortion.

“Well, you’re both right, Chief; it’s there and I can see it,” he told them when was back in front of the thing. It was better to see an impossible thing that shouldn’t be there than to not see an impossible thing that should be there. “But it feels... I can’t feel any substance there. It’s like looking at a reflection, except then there’s the background solidness of the thing that’s doing the reflecting.”

The tiger was saying something; his body language was almost as expansive as Blair’s. Blair nodded and reported, “Hobbes says of course it’s not substantial, any more than a doorway is. What he wants to know is, can you get him through?”

Jim shrugged helplessly. “What can I do, Sandburg? Toss him through like a ball?”

The tiger nodded as it spoke, and Blair passed it on. “Hobbes says it can’t hurt to try.”

That was easier said than done; the tiger was as big as he was. After a little experimentation, Jim made a stirrup with his hands, and the tiger stepped in it and jumped, with Jim using a throwing motion to give it an extra boost. It worked, but wasn’t successful. The tiger went through the oval, but not into it, and landed on all fours on the other side.

“Hobbes says this time felt a little different,” Blair told him. “Like it was trying to grab him, but it couldn’t get a hold.”

“Actually, I felt something, too,” Jim admitted. “Kind of like a... disturbance in the force?”

Blair groaned theatrically. “You did not just quote Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars!”

“Why not? It’s an accurate description,” Jim said absently as he stepped closer, trying to get an angled view across the face of the oval. “Ask your tiger if it could suck me in if I try to touch it.”

“He says he can hear you, and that he’s not ‘my tiger’; his name is Hobbes,” Blair reported. “He also says it’s safe to touch; just don’t stick your hand through.”

Jim shrugged as he slowly, cautiously extended his index finger and touched what should be the surface of the shimmery oval. It was... weird. Even with his sense of touch dialed up, he felt no substance. But there was something... He poked it a few times, gently, then flattened his palm and brushed it across the almost-there surface. He felt information, knowledge teasing his mind, just out of reach -- and then he knew.

“It’s gone into a kind of hibernation,” he told them. “Your -- Hobbes -- just needs to wake it up, and then he’ll be able to go through.”

“Hobbes says he’s not mine, he’s Calvin’s. He also says he can’t wake it up without a lot of equipment that’s in his universe -- which he can’t get to, because he’s stuck here.”

“Sandburg, I don’t know what else to tell you.” He tried not to take out his frustration on Blair; it probably wasn’t his fault that he’d become involved with an improbable creature from an improbable place. “You can’t go through a door unless it’s open, and this one isn’t.”

Blair sighed. “Yeah, I get that. I just thought maybe you could, like -- nudge it, or something, with your sentinel senses.”

“No,” Jim said slowly, “this feels more like a job for Incacha.” He looked meaningfully at Blair. “Or for the one he passed his legacy to.”

“Me?” Blair squeaked. “But I’m not a real shaman; I haven’t studied or anything.”

“I bet you know more about it than you realize, Chief. And at this point, it looks like it’s up to you, or Hobbes is stuck here forever.”

Blair regarded Hobbes soberly. “Um, a shaman is a person who interacts with the spirit world, and who is able to use that connection to control some natural events. The thing is, I was given the name of ‘shaman’ a while back, but I haven’t really done anything with it. I know stuff through my studies, but...” He shrugged eloquently.

“So you’re saying not to expect too much,” Hobbes summarized. “I’d almost rather you can’t do anything; Calvin will never quit teasing if I’m rescued by the application of one of the soft sciences -- and this shaman thing sounds positively squishy. But it can’t hurt to try, so do your thing.” He waved a paw in haughty permission, then crossed his arms and twitched his tail expectantly.

“I can’t just snap my fingers,” Blair told him, stalling for time. “It takes a little preparation.” The power of belief couldn’t be discounted when trying to affect the natural -- or unnatural -- world; he’d need the boost of Jim’s and Hobbes’s belief -- or least a willingness to humor him -- so he had to make this look good.

Blair took a deep breath. “Okay, Jim find me a big flat rock. Hobbes, gather up just the pine needles your feet touched when you came through the interface. I’ll find some dry sticks to make a small fire.”

Hobbes gave him an inscrutable stare before he started delicately picking up individual pine needles. Jim headed off through the trees with a wave of his hand, and Blair went the other way. It seemed a little brighter in that direction; maybe he’d find a downed tree as a source of his dry wood.

Fifteen minutes later, he was back to see Hobbes clutching a handful of pine needles, and Jim approaching with a rock the size of a dinner plate. Okay, this might actually work.

Blair paced off the distance between the interface and the tree Hobbes had marked, and chose a spot halfway between. He laid his wood aside while he scraped away the forest detritus to reach bare dirt. “Okay, Jim, the rock goes right here.” When it was positioned, he laid his sticks on top, in a flat layer to form a miniature platform. “Now, Hobbes, I need your pine needles -- a nice, even layer.”

When it was arranged to his satisfaction, Blair reached into his jeans and pulled out his pocketknife. Pulling open the blade, he handed it to Hobbes. “Now I need a bit of your fur.”

Hobbes took the knife with a snort, and started shaving a small patch on his upper thigh. “You know, this shaman thing is getting squishier and squishier. What good will my fur do?” But when he handed back the knife, he also held out a small handful of fur and watched as Blair sprinkled it over the pine needles.

“It establishes a connection between you and your interface,” Blair told him. “And I need to be connected because I’m performing the ceremony.” He sawed the end off one of his curls, and dropped that on top of the growing pile, then passed the knife to Jim. “And Jim needs to be connected because he’ll provide some of the energy we’ll need.”

“You know I don’t have much to spare, Sandburg.” But he cut a small piece of hair from the nape of his neck and, getting a confirming nod from Blair, added it to the rest.

“Just be happy I don’t need to shave you bald. Now, sit over there.” Blair pointed at a spot toward his left. “Hobbes, you’re over there,” he added, pointing toward his right.

Satisfied with their positions, Blair reached into a pocket of his backpack and withdrew a match-book, then settled behind the little rock-pyre.

“I didn’t know you carried matches, Chief.”

“Never know when they’ll come in useful -- like now.” Blair grinned. “I can rub sticks together to start a fire, but this is a lot easier.” He pulled a match from the book and closed the cover.

“Now, I’m pretty sure there are no shamanic rituals for waking up an inter-universal interface and sending someone to another universe. So we’re just going to go with focus and visualization. Focus as hard as you can on the interface, and visualize it waking up and energizing, and Hobbes disappearing as he jumps through.” Blair held the match poised to strike the matchbook cover. “Jim, since Hobbes and I can’t see it, you’ll have to watch and tell him when to jump -- but be careful not to go too deep. Ready?”

Receiving nods from both of them, Blair took a deep breath, struck the match, and touched it to his miniature bonfire. He watched in satisfaction as it flared up, then stared into the flames as he made a mental picture of Hobbes jumping through a gleaming, energized interface.

As small as it was, it didn’t take long for the fire to burn down, and Jim still hadn’t given Hobbes the go-ahead. Blair clenched his fists, and tried to aim even more energy toward Hobbes’s I.U.I. It might look stupid to anyone else, but he was convinced that shamanic abilities were real. The problem was, he wasn’t sure he had any, but he couldn’t think of any other way to get Hobbes home; the universe just needed to get with the program.

Only a few tiny flickers were licking at the last of the bottom sticks when Jim cleared his throat. “Hobbes, get ready; something’s happening.”

With a bound, Hobbes was on his feet, poised in front of the still-invisible oval. He looked over his shoulder toward Blair. “Honestly? I didn’t think it would work; thanks for demonstrating that the soft sciences can occasionally be useful. I’ll tell Calvin he has to stop the teasing, at least for a few days.”

“Now, Hobbes!” Jim shouted.

Without hesitation, Hobbes jumped into midair between the trees, and disappeared, just as the last flicker died into nothingness in the ashes on the rock.

“It worked?” Blair could hardly believe it.

“It worked.” Jim’s voice rang with satisfaction. “And the interface is gone.”

Blair continued to stare at the empty space where Hobbes had vanished. “Wow. It worked. And I met a being from another universe; how cool is that?”

“I’m just glad we don’t have to write a report; even you would have a tough time making this sound normal.” Jim stood and reached down to give Blair a hand up. “Ready to head home?”

“Yeah.” Blair ground the ashes into the rock, making sure that no spark was alive, then shouldered his backpack. He turned to follow Jim, but stopped for one last look at the ‘scene of the crime’; this was definitely one for the books. “Do you think he actually made it home?”

“Hobbes?” Jim quirked an eyebrow and Blair nodded. “Sandburg, he’s a talking tiger scientist who jaunts between universes; somehow, I think he’ll land on his feet.”

“Oh, ha-ha-ha; you slay me, man.”

“Not yet, but the next time you decide to get involved with a furry universe-hopper, I might reconsider.” Jim slung an arm across Blair’s shoulders and urged him down the path.

“Yes, because dealing with the lowlifes of Cascade is so much safer than working with a scientific tiger.”

“But if you need to, you can outwit the lowlifes. Someone as smart as Hobbes must be, not so much.”

“But I don’t need to outwit the smart guys,” Blair insisted. “They’re not the ones with plans for threats and kidnappings.”

“I have an idea; let’s avoid the lowlifes and the smart ones, and order a pizza when we get back to town.”

“Now that’s a significant advantage to working with detectives -- they know how to move directly into problem-solving. Half meat-lovers, half taco pizza?”

“You’re not so bad at problem-solving yourself, Chief; throw in some garlic bread and I think we have a workable plan.”

Blair snickered. “Yeah, I’m visualizing it right now.”

“So let’s get out of here, and turn your vision into reality.”

“Right with you, big guy; right with you.”

The End

Author's Notes

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2012-08-08 12:24 am

#52 - By Another Name


Title: By Another Name
Summary: Some words change our perspective.
Style: Gen
Size: 3,285 words, about 7 pages.
Warnings: None
Notes: August, 2012, late dues from last June
Feedback: Not necessary, but anything you want to give is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

By Another Name

by StarWatcher

Blair reached the end of the chapter, put his bookmark -- a folded receipt from a paid bill -- between the pages, and laid the book on the ground beside him. Jesse Stone was an old friend, but he’d been sitting long enough. He stood and stretched, then took a few moments to reaffirm his appreciation of just being here. The river in front of him flowed smoothly, with a contented burbling as it passed a rocky area upstream. All around, he heard small animal life: birds chirping and calling as they went about the business of feeding their nestlings, a rustle in the bushes nearby that indicated the passage of a rabbit -- or maybe a porcupine -- and bees buzzing as they visited the flowering trees and weeds. The various perfumes of the different flowers tickled his nose as a light breeze brushed his face. Good thing I don’t have hay-fever, he mused as he headed closer to the river. This place wouldn’t be nearly so pleasant if I was sneezing my head off.

Jim was standing in the middle of the river, as he had been for the past two hours, patiently casting and settling flies on the surface of the water. Or maybe not so patiently; the last time Blair had wandered down to see how Jim was doing, he’d been warned not to let his ‘clodhopper stomping’ scare the fish. Translation: the fish weren’t biting, and ‘expert fisherman’ Jim Ellison felt like he was losing face... as if Blair cared whether either of them caught anything.

They’d known when they headed out that the recent storms had probably roiled the water, which would make catching anything iffy, at best. But after a slew of rough cases and the Exam Week from Hell, they’d both needed a break. When the university scheduled a three-day weekend, Jim took the Friday off, and they’d headed out of town to enjoy the mild, late-spring weather. The time off was working for Blair; as long as he wasn’t grading papers or following a case, he didn’t care how his ‘rest and relaxation’ was presented -- which was why he’d quit fishing an hour ago, in favor of the literary goings-on in Paradise, Massachusetts.

But Jim... Blair watched for a few moments. Jim looked like he was working a case; his concentrated glare at the water, ramrod-straight back and ‘fish will be caught’ attitude suggested that he wasn’t grasping the concept of ‘leisure’. If he didn’t ease up, he’d go back to work more uptight and tired than when he left.

“You know,” Blair said softly, “we brought plenty of food. The fish might be biting closer to sundown, or early in the morning.”

“I’m fine, Sandburg!” Jim’s voice was equally soft, but abrupt. “We can eat chicken or pork chops any time. We came to fish, so I’m fishing.”

“Sure thing, man. Just remember --” Jim’s glare should have frozen Blair’s tongue, but years of teaching had toughened his armor. “-- that you don’t get extra relaxation points based on the number of fish you catch.” Jim transferred his glare to the river and the unseen -- to non-sentinel eyes -- fish. Blair recognized the unspoken ‘go away and leave me alone’. “Okay. I’m going for a little hike, stretch my legs. Catch you later.”

As he walked past the campsite, Blair grabbed a canteen, clipped it to his belt, and raided the cooler for an apple. He debated taking his backpack -- he might run across a fossilized fern or shark’s tooth, possibly an arrowhead or two -- but decided to leave it. It wasn’t likely he’d actually find anything, certainly not more than would fit in his pockets, and he’d rather travel unencumbered. Taking a bite out of the apple, he headed uphill, away from the river. At least he couldn’t get lost; any direction ‘downhill’ would take him back to the river, from which he’d be able to find the campsite.

Blair returned two hours later, eagerly following his nose the last hundred yards. Jim’s determination had obviously paid off; two fish, breaded with cornmeal and Jim’s secret spices were frying over the fire in their cast-iron skillet, with another on a piece of waxed paper, waiting its turn. The Dutch oven was warming the baked beans -- leftovers from two nights ago, as were the ‘just in case’ chicken and pork chops still in the cooler -- and the coffee in the pot smelled ready to pour.

“You knew I was getting close, huh?” Blair observed as he headed to the river to wash up. Fish cooked quickly, and these looked just ready to flip; Jim seemed to have judged the cooking time to the second.

“Your footsteps sound like Rice Crispies, Chief -- snap, crackle, pop,” Jim said as he ladled some beans onto a plate. He slid one of the fish next to the beans, handed the plate to Blair as he sat down, then grabbed a plate for himself. “Good thing you don’t have to hunt for your dinner; you’d go hungry to bed every night.”

Blair shrugged as he swallowed a crisp, flaky mouthful. “Man doesn’t live by meat alone, and vegetation doesn’t run away. I’ll go after the roots and berries -- and fish, since you’ll be too busy hunting -- and we’ll turn it all into a meal and share.”

Jim kept his face sober, though his eyes twinkled with humor. “You’re an anthropologist; haven’t you learned that the ‘man code’ means you have to provide your own food? No meat for you.”

“That works, too,” Blair acknowledged. “I’ll have a healthy diet of fish, fruits, and greens, while you develop rickets and beriberi from an all-meat diet.” He grinned. “Catching these fish certainly improved your disposition; I was afraid you’d arrest me for excessive use of sunshine, or something like that.”

Jim had the grace to look a little shame-faced... but only a little. “Yeah, sorry about that, Chief. Sometimes it takes me a while to start to unwind.”

Blair waved an expansive hand. “You think I don’t know that? You are the king of control, and you don’t let go easily. I was just afraid I was going to have to tie you down and yank it away before you let yourself relax.”

“You think you can take me, Sandburg?” Jim gave a disbelieving snort, then put the remaining fish in the skillet.

“No problem,” Blair said easily. “I’ll just use my magical ‘guide voice’ to put the big, bad sentinel in a trance, then grab the control module and put it in a safe place until we leave; I know you’ll need it when you’re back at the P.D.” He scooped more beans onto his plate and ate while he waited for the fish to cook; the hike had made him hungry.

Jim shifted as he set his jaw. “Isn’t that against the code of ethics? There’s gotta be something in the Guide Handbook about not interfering with the sentinel.”

Blair mastered his brief surprise; surely Jim didn’t think he was serious. Or did he? Jim still seemed to believe his sentinel skills were just waiting to bite him in the ass.

“You’re right; it’s rule number one -- ‘A Guide shall not harm his Sentinel or, through inaction, allow his Sentinel to come to harm,” he intoned, with mental apologies to Isaac Asimov. “But aiding and abetting the relaxation of the sentinel doesn’t qualify as ‘harm’,” he pointed out.

“So let me guess... you’re prepared to spend the next hour arguing that ‘interfering’ isn’t the same as ‘harm’, so you’ll just keep poking your nose in wherever and whenever you think it’s necessary.” Jim’s tone was sort of -- but not completely -- joking.

Blair’s eyes widened. Jim must be feeling the stress of the last few cases more than either of them had realized. Something was certainly bugging him, but a wise man -- or guide -- knew when to give his friend -- or sentinel -- some space.

“Sorry, man; bad timing,” he said, quietly. “You’re right again; relaxation is an individual undertaking, and I shouldn’t dump my expectations on your shoulders. So from here on out, this is me, backing off.”

“Yeah, well...” Jim used the activity of taking the fish from the fire and cutting it in half to hide his face. He lifted one half onto Blair’s plate, and the other onto his, then sat down. “I appreciate your concern, but I appreciate more your keeping a lid on trying to do something about it. A couple more days of this, and I’ll be as relaxed as... a snake snoozing in the sun.”

Blair willingly jumped into the game. “Nah, you’re not that slinky. How about a basketful of sleepy puppies?”

“You’re the one with the puppy-dog eyes. I think I prefer a panther cub basking with his buddy.” Jim waggled an eyebrow, as if his hint weren’t broad enough.

“Works for me,” Blair agreed. He set aside his plate and headed toward the cooler. “You ready for some apple pie?”

They sat quietly over pie and coffee, watching the rising moon cast its beams upon the placid river as they eased farther away from the hassles of school and work, and enjoyed the simple friendship each gave to the other.

The next morning, Blair joined Jim again in the river. The water looked somewhat clearer, and Jim’s shoulders seemed a whole lot more relaxed than yesterday. Jim took position in the same area, within easy casting distance of a shaded spot under a broadly-branching tree. Blair headed a little upstream, focusing on a quiet eddy just below the choppy, rock-strewn part of the river.

The best part about fishing was the time available for quiet contemplation while waiting for the fish to bite. And if that didn’t appeal... a guide could devise new ways to test his sentinel’s abilities -- as well as speculate on ways to talk said sentinel into participating in said tests.

Wonder if he’ll ever say, ‘Sure, Sandburg, I’ll do your tests; it’ll be useful to know how far I can stretch the senses.’ Blair snorted softly to himself. It could happen -- in which case, he’d start preparing for the Apocalypse, because the world would obviously be ending. But maybe --

Blair’s thoughts cut off as he felt a tug on the line, and he turned his attention to dealing with a good-sized bass; definitely a keeper. And, he noticed, he had the first bite today. Ha! But he better not gloat -- otherwise, he’d never be able to talk Jim into working on any tests.

“So...” Blair started as he drank the last of his coffee; lunch was finished, and Jim seemed in no hurry to get back to the river. “You planning on more fishing this afternoon, or can I talk you into taking a hike with me? I saw some interesting rock formations yesterday, but didn’t have time to get there. I thought maybe --”

Jim expressed his opinion of that suggestion with an irritated snort. “You thought maybe you could sneak in a few dozen tests while we’re hiking. Don’t even start, Sandburg.”

Blair swallowed the argument he’d been planning, trying to project injured innocence. A second snort from his partner indicated he hadn’t been successful.

“I know how your mind works, but you’re supposed to be an anthropologist and a student of human nature. Don’t you get how the word ‘test’ acts like an automatic danger signal, so anyone who hears it wants to run far away?” Jim threw a challenging glare that stopped Blair’s hands in mid-takeoff, again shutting down the impending retort. “You’re a teacher; I’ll bet every one of your students would agree with me. ‘Test’ sounds too much like clocks ticking and worrying about getting an F and sitting in the corner with a dunce cap demonstrating how stupid we are!”

“Oh, come on!” Blair protested, finally able to get a word in edgewise. “‘Test’ just means we’re finding out what your senses can do, so we can figure out better ways to use them. I mean... how else do you expect to learn to control what you can do?”

Jim kicked dirt over the fire as he considered Blair’s words; whether they went hiking or back to the river, they couldn’t leave it burning. He had a point, but...

“What sends shivers up your spine, Chief? Isn’t there a word that gets under your skin, and you can’t ‘logic’ away your feelings?

“Oh, well, um...” Blair’s eyes lost focus as he seemed to be searching for an answer. “Maybe ‘climb’, I guess, though it kind of depends on the situation. ‘Climb the stairs’ -- no problem. ‘Climb a ladder’ -- some problem, considering whether it’s stable, and how high it is. ‘Climb that tree’ -- I’d really rather not.” His gaze cleared, and he cocked an eyebrow. “But I did, you know -- ignored angry woodpeckers and gravity to get you that nest. And it’s not really the same -- heights are actually dangerous; a fall can break anything from an ankle to a neck, in which case you’re a goner.”

“And who knows what one of your weird sounds or smells will do to me? Headaches and allergies, just waiting to pounce.”

“Twice!” Blair yelped. “You’ve had a bad reaction only twice -- and I fixed it as quick as I could.”

“How many times have you broken your neck climbing trees?”

“It was an arm, actually -- and I’m designing the tests with as much safety as I can, and monitoring your reactions every step of the way.” Blair’s voice was developing a stubborn tone.

“I know that, Chief. It’s just --” Jim shrugged. Satisfied that the fire was out, he crossed to the cooler and filled their canteens with water, then tossed one to Blair. “So let’s go see these formations of yours; I could do with stretching my legs for awhile.”

As they hiked uphill, the peaceful forest and shaded quiet -- enhanced by the occasional chatter of a squirrel, or a phrase of birdsong -- worked to soothe the irritation each man was feeling. When they reached an open area that gave a broader view of their surroundings, they paused by mutual consent to get their bearings.

“This is where I turned back yesterday,” Blair said. “But see,” he gestured toward a striated, reddish cliff-face to their left, “I thought it might be fun to poke around there -- if it’s not too far away.” He used a carefully neutral tone for the last part, waiting to see how Jim would react.

“Not too far; about three and a half miles, I’d judge,” Jim told him.

“Works for me; let’s go.” Blair started across the clearing, heading for the middle of the cliff.

Jim joined him, raising an arm to point out something only he could see. “If we keep to this path, we’ll run into some real crappy stuff -- broken ground and jumbled rocks that will make walking tough. If we head that way --” he pointed toward the northernmost edge of the rock formation, “we can avoid the mess.”

“Score another one for sentinel senses,” Blair said softly. “I can’t even see what you’re talking about, and you zeroed in on it without any trouble. Wouldn’t you like to have even more control... like, being able to judge a distance exactly, instead of settling for ‘about’ a mile or whatever?”

“Sandburg, say you’ve run a race. Can you control the huffing and puffing afterward, and just breathe normally?”

Blair gazed up at the sun; it didn’t seem hot enough for Jim to be suffering from sunstroke. “If I have to, I guess -- but not for long.”

“That’s how I react to the word ‘test’. I can control my irritation for a while, but it’s going to break through -- and probably affect your results.”

Blair grinned his relief; they could work with this. “You realize that’s not logical, right? I mean, you’re the one lecturing me about ‘checking your feelings at the door’.”

Jim answered Blair’s grin with one of his own. “I don’t have to be logical; I’m a ‘throwback to a primitive breed of man’, remember?”

“Like I could forget being shoved against a wall. Funny how you’re willing to accept that description if you think it’ll get you out of something.”

“First things you learn in Basic,” Jim said, relaxing even more with the familiar banter. “Never volunteer, and always have a reason.”

“You learned well, Grasshopper.”

The incline was steeper as they approached the outer edges of the cliff. Blair used the need for deeper breathing to plan his next strategy. His opportunity came when they paused for a break to drink from their canteens.

“Okay, so ‘test’ is out. How do you feel about a ‘check-up’ on your senses?”

“Kind of the same way I feel about ‘turn your head and cough’.”

“Ouch. So, scratch that one,” Blair agreed. “‘Evaluate’?”

“Right back in school.”



“So that would also rule out ‘experiment’ and ‘examine’, I guess.” Blair paused. “Also ‘analyze’ and ‘probe’.”

“Definitely not ‘probe’,” Jim agreed. “That’s ‘doctor’ combined with ‘alien abduction.”

“Ya’ know, I’ve written enough anthropology articles, school reports -- and after-action summaries for you -- that I’m pretty much a walking thesaurus, but we’re running out of suitable labels, here. ‘Review’, ‘measure’, ‘assess’, ‘gauge’ -- are any of these judgement-free for you?”

Jim’s response was a mute headshake, but a twinkle in his eye and a twitch at the corner of his lips suggested he might now be pulling Blair’s leg.

“In that case...” the gleam in Blair’ eye was a match for Jim’s, “...I’ll just have to ‘investigate the parameters’ of your senses. Which is a mouthful, so I’ll abbreviate it to I.T.P. We’ll have an hour of I.T.P, or we’ll do I.T.P.s on the weekend, or --” He broke into hearty chuckles at the affronted expression on Jim’s face.

“Laugh it up.” Jim’s attempt to sound threatening was only partly successful. “And I’ll I.T.P. of your share of cleaning duties in the loft, and I.T.P. the concoctions you expect me to swallow in the name of ‘dinner’, and --”

Blair raised both hands to head height. “Okay, okay, I surrender. We’ll just take some time, once in awhile, to figure out what your senses can do, okay?”

“That works. And I suppose...” Jim surveyed the forest behind them, and the cliff-face ahead, “...the figuring-out is more comfortable in natural circumstances than with those Rube Goldberg contraptions you dream up. Just -- way less than twenty-four/seven, got it?”

“Got it!” Blair replied happily. “And since we’re out here anyway -- I was kind of wondering how many fossils you might find, compared to how many I could find without your help.”

“Of course you were,” Jim agreed, another smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Lead on, MacDuff. Just remember -- if you want to keep any of them, you’re carrying them all back.”

Blair nodded. “Well it’s not like I need to collect any of them; just keep a count, you know? In fact --”

Jim walked beside him, letting the cadence of words flow over him like the rhythm of the river they’d left behind. In the final analysis -- and there was another ‘test’ word, he noted -- it really didn’t matter whether Blair ‘investigated the parameters’ or ‘figured out the senses’, or even asked for the dreaded ‘tests’. He had a friend who understood him, made allowances for him; he could make a few allowances in return. Jim smiled at the man beside him, still expounding on the number and type of fossils they might find. Yeah, with a friend like Blair, life was good.

The End

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2011-12-25 09:01 pm

#51 - Necessity is the Mother...


Title: Necessity is the Mother...
Summary: Inventions R Us, Sandburg style.
Style: Gen
Size: 1,710 words, about 4 pages in MS Word.
Warnings: None
Notes: Secret Santa "Extravaganza" entry, 2011.
Feedback: Not necessary, but anything you want to give is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Necessity is the Mother...

by StarWatcher

"Did you ever have a sled, Jim?" Blair had been hunched over his computer for twenty minutes, clicking site after site in search of an elusive goal.

Jim raised an eyebrow as he looked up from the newspaper. "I did, actually... well, me and Steven together. Didn't do us much good; Cascade so seldom gets a decent snow. I think I used it maybe half a dozen times before I outgrew it."

Blair groaned softly. "Yeah, that's what I was afraid of. I'll bet there are plenty of places in this country where the same conditions occur – where snow isn't reliable, but kids still want to go sledding. You'd think someone would've invented a conversion kit, but I can't find anything remotely suitable."

"Well, I'm sure you'll figure out something," Jim replied comfortably as he turned his attention back to the newspaper; whatever harebrained idea Sandburg was contemplating, Jim would learn about it soon enough.

After another twenty minutes of fruitless searching, Blair closed his laptop with an exclamation of disgust. "This isn't getting me anywhere; I need to do some on-site research." He shrugged into his jacket and grabbed his keys, then paused in the doorway. "Want anything while I'm out?"

"We could use the latest upgrade of our super crime-fighting kit."

Blair grinned. "Last time I looked, Home Depot was fresh out; you know how all the cops snatch them up as soon as they're available. I'll see if there are any new supplies." He chuckled as he closed the door behind him.

"I'll have you know I'm a genius!" Blair proclaimed as he crossed the room and dropped assorted bags on the table; they clanked as they hit the hard surface. "In fact, if I patent it, I could make a fortune – or at least pay off my student loans."

"Right up there with Einstein," Jim agreed from the kitchen as he sprinkled parmesan cheese on top of the mixture in the casserole dish. He slid it into the oven, then set the timer.

Blair chuckled as he hung his coat on its peg. "More like Da Vinci. I'm going beyond theorizing to inventing. It won't win me a Nobel Prize, but it will make a certain little boy – and his mom – very happy." Crossing back to the table, he upended the bags to reveal various pieces of hardware and four small, but sturdy-looking wheels.

Interested despite himself, Jim poked at the bits and pieces on the table, trying to guess what Blair planned. "Boy and Mom?" he asked, with a raised eyebrow. "You hiding a torrid love affair, Sandburg?"

"Absolutely. I can't expose an impressionable young kid to a grumpy old sentinel; I'd be hauled in for child endangerment." Blair snorted as he sorted the nuts, bolts, brackets and clamps into four identical groupings. "Between the university and the PD, when would I have time to maintain a separate household?"

Jim tried to recall any conversation over the past few months that might have mentioned a child, but there was nothing. "So... is this some kind of charity project?"

"Not exactly," Blair hedged. "Or maybe, kinda sorta?"

"Spill it, Sandburg. Why is this place going to be turned into a mad scientist's workshop?"

"Mandy – one of the librarians at Rainier – is a single mom; her husband died in a construction accident about eighteen months ago." Blair sighed. "Her son, Peter, really wants a sled for Christmas, but she hates the idea of how disappointed he'll be when he can't use it very often; kind of hard to explain to a seven-year-old why winter doesn't necessarily bring snow to Cascade. So I said I could find a set of removable wheels, to make it a kind of all-terrain sled."

Jim regarded Blair closely for several long seconds.

"What?" Blair's tone was somewhat defensive. "Did you miss the part about librarian? It behooves every grad student to be on good terms with the library staff. Otherwise, books you need to assign are already spoken for, or won't be back till next week, or whatever."

Jim smiled as he raised an eyebrow. "'Behooves'? Do you think the fancy lingo will hide your caring heart?" He reached out to tug on one of Blair's curls. "It's one of your best attributes, Chief; no need to downplay it."

"Theoretically, you're right. But when you're a guy with long hair and earrings, you learn to pick your moments. But thanks, man; I appreciate the support." Blair gave Jim a wide smile, then continued briskly, "Anyway, I told Mandy I bet there would be some kind of conversion kit available on the Internet; it just makes sense that someone has a dual-purpose sled – or maybe a dual undercarriage would be more accurate – whatever. I said I'd find her one, but there's no such thing. Can you believe it? Conversion kits for snowmobiles, but nothing for kids' sleds. But then I figured there was no reason I couldn't build it myself, and voilà!" He waved grandly at the bits and pieces spread out on the table.

It was certainly an innovative idea, but Jim suspected it would be more complicated to execute than Blair realized. "I don't think you can claim 'voilà' yet; you still have to build the thing. And how will you be sure it fits the way it needs to?"

"Got it covered," Blair assured him. "Mandy already has the sled; she's keeping it in the library storeroom until Christmas, so Peter won't find it. So tomorrow I can swing by after class, tell her about the plan, and bring the sled here to work on it. Just a couple of hours, Jim, I swear!" Blair hurried to alleviate the slight frown that had appeared between Jim's brows. "Or, you know, Murphy's Law being what it is, maybe four or five hours – but I'll finish by midday Saturday at the latest, and take it right back to Mandy as soon as I tighten the last bolt!"

Jim deliberately heaved a deep sigh, though a smile quirked the corner of his mouth. "Could be worse, I suppose; the loft could be ankle-deep in wood shavings because you decided a hand-built sled was the way to go." He winked at Blair's relieved expression, then turned into the kitchen. "But now dinner's ready; time to get your voilà-stuff off the table."

Fair enough. Blair quickly bundled the hardware into his room, then helped Jim set the table. They enjoyed generous portions of chicken-and-spinach casserole as they discussed the vagaries of the latest stupid criminals, and the chances of the Seahawks reaching the playoffs, recharging their batteries before facing tomorrow's routine of teaching, and combating crime.

Blair had moved the dining table to take advantage of the sunlight that shone through the balcony doors. The Flexible Flyer lay upside down on a pair of old towels to protect the table's surface as Blair muttered under his breath, talking himself through the complications of designing a system that would allow the wheels to carry the sled without interfering with the runners, and would be easy to put on and take off as needed. Jim took a break from his cleaning to wander closer.

"Need some help, there, Sandburg?"

"Maybe... how good were you in shop class?"

"Straight A's, of course."

"Of course; I should have known." Blair chuckled, then gestured with his chin to bring Jim closer. "This will clamp around the struts, and it's solid enough, but I can't get rid of the wobble." Pulling on the assembly of nuts, bolts, and brackets, he demonstrated a slight side-to-side movement.

Jim used a wrench to tighten it more, but the wobble remained. "You're right," he agreed. "That'll make the wheels unstable; it could be dangerous. Easy fix, though; you just need a size down in brackets."

"I thought of that," Blair argued, "but the smaller size won't fit around the struts."

"No problem; just bend the corners out a bit. Then the bolts will bend the sides inward around the struts, and everything will be nice and tight. But young Peter probably won't be able to put them on by himself."

"Didn't expect him to. As long as Mandy can use a wrench and screwdriver – and I know she can – it won't be a problem." Blair crossed the room and grabbed his jacket from its hook. "Thanks for the suggestion, man; back in forty-five."

"I'm impressed, Chief; it works as advertised."

The sled was on the floor; the wheels extending to the side gave the runners an inch clearance. It was sturdy enough to carry an adult, as both Jim and Blair had tested, sliding across the floor; it would easily carry an adventurous child as he rolled down every hill he could find – or those that his mother would allow him to try.

"Gotta admit, I'm rather proud of it," Blair said, trying not to sound too smug. "I'm pretty sure I'll be in Mandy's good graces for as long as I'm at Rainier." He put a foot on top of the sled and gently rolled it back and forth.

Jim shook his head as he walked into the kitchen. "Don't sell yourself short; regardless of your relationship with Mandy, you'd have done it just to make a little boy happy. People talk about the Christmas spirit, but your little demonstration definitely goes above and beyond."

"You know the old saying – giving makes the world go round." Blair picked up the sled and leaned it against the wall under the coathooks. "I'll call Mandy and see if this is a good time to bring it over."

"Yes, I know the old saying... it's love makes the world go round." Jim used a wooden spoon to stir the mixture simmering on the stove, then poured some into two mugs. "Though I suppose we could make an argument that giving is a manifestation of love. Regardless, I think anyone who helps a child have a happier Christmas deserves a reward." He handed a mug of spiced cider to Blair, then lifted his as if for a toast. "Merry Christmas, Chief."

Blair lifted his mug and clinked it against Jim's. "Since you helped, that means you also deserve a reward. Merry Christmas, Jim."

The End

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2011-12-20 07:59 pm

#50 - Pretty Ribbons to Say


Title: Pretty Ribbons to Say
Summary: 'Trinkets' can be much more...
Style: Gen
Size: 500 words
Warnings: None
Notes: Secret Santa drabble days, 2011
Feedback: Not necessary, but anything you want to give is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Pretty Ribbons to Say

by StarWatcher

"Why ribbon, Chief?" Jim sat at the table across from Blair and picked up a jaunty brown reindeer, examining it with interest. "I thought origami used paper."

Blair grinned as his fingers folded and shaped the strip of black velvet. "Origami techniques can be adjusted for lots of materials – paper, palm fronds, ribbon... Mostly I just like being subversive."

Jim manfully resisted complaining about the scattered bits and pieces as he studied some of Blair's other creations – a delicate pink rose, a serene little angel in white and gold, and a stiff but graceful bird of paradise in twilight-blue; Blair had amassed enough shades and colors to put a rainbow to shame. "Subversive?" With a teasing glint in his eye, Jim filched a length of purple ribbon, tied it into a giant bow, and perched it atop Blair's head. He studied the effect, then shook his head. "Fetching as it looks, it doesn't seem capable of bringing down civilization as we know it."

"Going way back, ribbons were a luxury item – so much that the English Parliament once tried to reserve the right to wear ribbons for only the nobility." Ignoring the purple strand curling near his ear, Blair made two careful cuts in the black ribbon with a pair of sharp scissors. "So when a commoner like me gets his hands on this much of it... the world might be coming to an end."

"It would be a colorful rebellion," Jim acknowledged, surveying the rich hues spilling out of several bags, "but hardly life-threatening."

Blair concentrated for a moment as he executed a delicate twist and tuck, then responded to Jim's gentle teasing. "Since I'm going for life-affirming, that's probably a good thing."

It didn't seem that a few ribbon trinkets could attain such import but, in favor of avoiding a ten-minute explanation, Jim didn't voice the obvious question. It seemed safer to ask, "So, where'd you learn to make all these shapes?"

"You should already know the answer to that one." Blair shrugged one shoulder with a wry smile. "I picked up different designs in various places; many cultures have some kind of folding-art that they're happy to teach an interested observer. And there are a bunch of patterns – and directions for making them – on the internet." He nodded toward the open laptop humming at the far end of the table.

"So what happens to them when you're done?"

"Some are for the tree when we put it up, but most will go to everyone in Major Crimes, and some other friends at the PD and university. Just a little something to say I appreciate them in my life, but nothing major that will obligate a return present, you know?" Blair carefully studied the object in his hand, giving it a few more tweaks. "It's like the song says – 'Pretty ribbons to say I love you'."

Blair turned the figure on his hand, and Jim was looking at a little, black, cat-face. "And I do. Merry Christmas, Jim."

The End

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2011-07-01 01:19 pm

#49 - Just Another Sandburg Moment


Title: Just Another Sandburg Moment
Summary: It was supposed to be a simple trip to the bank.
Style: Gen
Size: 4,260 words, about 8.5 pages
Warnings: None
Notes: June, 2011.
Feedback: Not necessary, but anything you want to give is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Just Another Sandburg Moment

by StarWatcher

As Blair Sandburg hurried into the bank, he evaluated the possibilities. There were only two windows open, and the line in front of each was equally long. Typical, he thought. Everyone wants to make a quick stop during their lunch hour... and that's when they close two-thirds of the windows. Then his conscience spoke up; tellers deserved a lunch-break, too. But, still, he argued with himself, why not divide the shifts into lunch at eleven or lunch at one, and have everyone here to take care of the noon rush?

Well, kvetching wouldn't get him to the front any sooner, and he needed to get this check in his account today; American Anthropologist had paid a tidy little sum for his article, and he had plans for the money. He stepped to the end of one of the lines – which would, of course, inevitably turn out to be the slower-moving of the two – and settled into his usual waiting-time activity: people-watching.

It was a pretty standard group – mostly businessmen or secretaries, with a sprinkling of college students and a couple of young mothers holding babies. Still, he mused, how can anyone really tell? Looking at me, who would guess that I'm a guide for a sentinel, or that I follow him into crime scenes?

Snickering internally, Blair amused himself by rewriting the life stories of those around him. That man was building a prototype anti-gravity device that would revolutionize the travel industry, and that guy was a master swords-smith for the local SCA, hiding his identity as an Immortal. That woman was the top instructor in hand-to-hand combat skills at the super-secret Spy School, and that one... was acting very strange.

Standing in line at a bank didn't usually make people nervous. Antsy, yes, in a hurry to be finished, but this was more than that. Blair noticed her chewing her bottom lip, and a faint sheen of sweat on her face – in a bank that, like so many public buildings, was air-conditioned too cool for comfort. Her eyes, as they flicked over the other customers, looked frightened, but when they shifted to a man at one of the writing desks, she looked positively sick.

That man didn't look particularly thuggish – clean-shaven, polo shirt, casual slacks, and light jacket, no visible scars or tattoos – but his eyes, when he glanced at the nervous woman, were positively cold. And he was a lot older than her; mid-thirties, Blair judged, while he'd bet the woman had barely reached twenty.

Shit! This wouldn't be the first time an older, dominant person had forced a younger, weaker one to be the 'front' for a crime. Blair had a sick, sudden suspicion that he was about to be caught in a bank robbery. Not good; there were far too many people around. Of course, people at the front of the line left after they'd finished their business, but others kept coming in; six more people had lined up behind him in the last five minutes. In the panic and confusion of a robbery, it was all too likely that someone would be hurt, or even killed.

Just his luck that Jim had stayed at the PD to work during lunch; they could use the big guy right about now.

There were only six people in front of the nervous woman; Blair had maybe fifteen minutes to deflect the robbery. Desperately trying to keep his actions casual – he didn't want to alert Mr. Cold-Eyes – he glanced around the room, looking for something he could use. Unfortunately, official buildings tended to be pretty sterile; all he could see were pens, chairs, and potted plants, none of which would make an effective weapon. Well... maybe a pen, if he could get close enough to poke it in the guy's eye, but he didn't have Jim's covert-ops training. Besides... pen in the eye? Eew.

And shouldn't there be a guard? Didn't they get someone to cover if he went to lunch? A big, tough, robo-cop-type guard might be able to prevent this whole thing.

Well... maybe he could just walk out; other people were leaving.

Blair ostentatiously checked the big clock on the wall, then took a half-step sideways to survey the people in front of him – eight. Glancing again at the clock, he frowned, shook his head, and headed briskly toward the exit.

Whoops! Bad move; Mr. Cold-Eyes tensed, and his hand shifted toward his jacket pocket – which was hanging suspiciously low. Folks who had finished their business were apparently a negligible risk, but someone who had stepped out of line wouldn't be trusted.

Okay. Blair changed trajectory and, pulling out his cellphone, stopped next to a wall, out of the traffic pattern. He was near enough to Mr. Cold-Eyes that the man should be reassured by hearing his carefully public conversation.

Blair punched in the number and waited impatiently. As soon as the other end was picked up, he started talking, using the slightly-raised voice of the cellphonically clueless. "Hey, Jim? I'm sorry, man, I know you'll think I left my brains at home, but I can't remember – did we decide that two hundred or three hundred dollars would cover the weekend?" Making a quarter-turn to hide his face from Mr. Cold-Eyes, he continued in sentinel-level tones, "Get someone down to the bank; I think it's about to be robbed!"

Jim Ellison shook his head as his cellphone rang. Sandburg always made such a production of things; what was so hard about going to the bank and then bringing back lunch? Snapping open the phone, he started, "Yeah, Ch-"

But Blair was already talking. "Hey, Jim? I'm sorry, man, I know you'll think I left my brains at home, but I can't remember – did we decide that two hundred or three hundred dollars would cover the weekend?"

"What?" They had no plans for –

The volume dropped. "Get someone down to the bank; I think it's about to be robbed!"

Jim snapped to attention. "Tell me what you can, Chief; we're already on it." He scribbled a note and passed it to Henri, whose eyes widened even as he carried it immediately into Simon's office.

"It's just that I think we'll need more; we'll need a nice present, and the prices are always jacked up at a wet bar."

Jim had never been so appreciative of Blair's obfuscation skills; he was obviously trying to divert suspicion of him talking on the phone. Sure enough, the next sentence was barely a whisper. "The bank at Third and Emerson. Two people, one male, one female. The male is mid-thirties, and I think he has a gun in his pocket. The female is young, and I think the guy is forcing her into it."

Simon was standing at his side while he scribbled the information on another note. As soon as he read it, Simon was on another phone, calling for uniformed personnel to be sent to the area. The bullpen was quietly active as his colleagues put on bulletproof vests and checked their weapons; no one wanted to make noise that would interfere with Jim gaining as much information as possible.

"Save the social work for another time; it doesn't matter why she's a participant."

"Yeah, well, I think it does matter," Blair argued, again in his public voice. "We expect this to last for a lifetime; it should be a nice gift." Jim could picture his free hand gesturing as he 'argued' with his listener, while his voice dropped again. "There's a boatload of customers in here – about twenty potential hostages – and I don't see a guard."

"Got'cha, Chief. We're on the way; ETA ten minutes." He heard a sigh of relief before Blair responded, again speaking for whoever was in the bank.

"Well, if you say so. Talk to you later, man."

As the connection ended, Jim felt a chill. If Blair was so concerned about putting on a performance, the bank robber must already be suspicious, and that was dangerous. Blair could be counted on to keep his head, but so much could go wrong in a situation like this. And 'keeping his head' didn't mean he'd keep his head out of whatever action ensued.

Jim stood and crossed the room to pick up his own vest, which was a signal for Simon to bellow, "All right, people, let's roll!" As Simon led the exodus through the main doors, Jim felt a surge of gratitude. Strictly speaking, bank robbery didn't fall under the purview of Major Crimes – but Sandburg was one of their own, he was in danger, and they responded.

Blair carefully didn't take a deep breath as Jim disconnected; he couldn't afford anything that would make the suspected robber suspicious. But, despite that, he really wanted to do something to sideline the unwilling – he was sure of it – accomplice. Didn't matter if Jim disapproved; it simply wasn't fair that she would end up with a record, just because she had hooked up with the wrong guy. Okay... showtime.

As he turned back to face the room in general – and let Mr. Cold-Eyes see what a harmless guy he was – Blair gave a thoughtful frown while surveying the people waiting in line. There were now only four people in front of the nervous young woman; he hoped the PD would get here soon... and not pull up with sirens screaming. Until then, maybe he could finagle her away from her 'post'.

Blair let a happy smile of inspiration show on his face – at least, he hoped it looked like that – as he approached. "Excuse me, Miss, may I ask your opinion about something?"

"Um..." she glanced toward Mr. Cold-Eyes, but apparently couldn't think of a way avoid Blair. "...yes?"

"Great, thanks. My name's Blair Sandburg, by the way; how do you do?" His smile was as open as he could make it.

She ducked her head and shrugged a shoulder. "Oh. I'm... Melissa."

"Pretty name for a pretty girl." Blair winked, but continued his impromptu story; if she was too nervous, she might stop talking. "Here's the thing... my niece is getting married, and I want to get her something really great, but I don't know what girls her age like. You look pretty close..." He let his voice trail off suggestively.

"I'm nineteen," Melissa murmured.

"See, that's perfect! My niece – she's my older sister's child – she's just turned twenty. Is there something that's really 'hot' in your group of friends – something every girl wants?"

Melissa cast another glance toward Mr. Cold-Eyes as she twisted her purse-strap in her hands. "Well... um... I guess I never thought about it. Don't most brides have a gift-list online?"

"Oh, she does, but I wanted to do something more personal than that, you know?" Blair leaned closer, trying to look as if he were making a confidential observation, but kept his voice loud enough to be 'overheard'. "The thing is, my niece is the sweetest girl ever – kind of like you – but her mother is real judgmental. If my present isn't 'good enough', she'll give me grief about it for the next twenty years." He dropped his voice to the quietest possible murmur as he urged, "Look, you don't have to do what he says; it's not worth getting a record and going to jail. There are people who will help."

As Blair stepped back to a more normal conversational distance, he risked a glance at Mr. Cold-Eyes. Yep, the guy was furious but, as Blair had suspected – hoped – he couldn't risk making a fuss; a disturbance would derail any plans he had to complete the robbery and get out quietly.

Raising his voice again – hey, if the other customers got mad enough to throw him out, that would also derail the robbery – Blair continued his obnoxious over-sharing. "Don't get me wrong; my big sis is great. I mean, she practically raised me 'cause my mom had to work such long hours, and she always went to bat for me when anything bad went down. But it kind of made her always looking out for the bottom line, you know? And that's a kind of sad way to live, I think. But she's married with two great kids, so who am I to judge? I mean –"

The main doors opened to allow a few more customers into the bank – two of whom were Jim and Rafe. Blair felt his tension dissolve; the professionals could take over. But should he 'know' them, or play dumb?

Blair juggled that question for only a second; Rafe strode to the writing desk next to Mr. Cold-Eyes to start filling out a deposit slip, while Jim walked toward Blair with recognition in his eyes.

"Hey, look, it's my friend Jim!" Blair told Melissa, with not-so-feigned delight. "He's coming to the wedding as my 'and guest'. Jim, meet Melissa; she's helping me with ideas for – Megan."

Jim raised an eyebrow, but stepped in smoothly. "I'm sure Megan will be properly appreciative. Pleased to meet you, Melissa. Has my partner, here, been burning your ears with chatter?"

Faced with another stranger who seemed determined to make conversation, the young woman looked ready to bolt. "Oh... um... he's been very... friendly," she stuttered.

"Hey, not cool, man!" Blair protested. "Just 'cause I don't need an Act of Congress to talk to a stranger. And what are you doing here, anyway? I thought you had to work through lunch."

"After that phone call, I thought you could use some help. His sister says he's always been a bit scatter-brained," Jim told Melissa.

Blair kept his sigh internal; Jim must've been outside for the last few minutes. Sometimes sentinel hearing is damned inconvenient, he reflected. He's gonna tease me about my 'big sister' for weeks – and probably bring the other guys in on it, too. Still, he'd help string this out as long as needed. They must be planning more police than just Jim and Rafe – they were probably just getting everyone into position. He could only hope that it wouldn't come to a standoff and/or tear gas.

"So what happened, Chief? You picked the slowest line, as usual?"

"Oh, well..." Blair met a few glares from the other patrons. "Sorry folks; didn't mean to cut." He deliberately made his way to the end of the line, while Jim walked alongside. "Actually, I guess I kind of... lost my place when I called you, and then I was talking to Melissa..."

"And you couldn't call while standing in line?" Jim grumbled. "Well, since I'm here, I might as well deposit my check while I wait. But you owe me for this; double-meat WonderBurger." He crossed the room to fill out his deposit slip; Blair was pretty sure it wasn't a coincidence that he chose the writing desk on the other side of Mr. Cold-Eyes.

The main doors opened again; Megan, Henri, and Dills were part of the group that entered, as well as three uniformed police officers. Mr. Cold-Eyes started sweating when he saw the uniforms, and Blair watched him sort of cringe when one uniform took a stance in front of the doors while another took up a position behind him. With his eyes darting around the room – probably looking for a way out, Blair supposed – he didn't notice Jim and Rafe moving closer from each side. He completely ignored Henri – an Hawaiian-print shirt really didn't scream 'cop', Blair acknowledged – until the big man stopped right in front of him and his genial voice filled the room.

"Well, if it isn't Howie the Heist!" Henri leaned on the writing desk, giving Mr. Cold-Eyes – Howie – a beaming smile. "Something you may not realize after your recent stint inside, Howie; in the past ten years, technology has exploded. We got your picture off the bank's closed-circuit feed, then checked your record. Six months out of the pen, and you've already bamboozled some innocent young girl into doing your dirty work for you – all for the sake of 'love'." Henri 'tsked' as he shook his head. "You give the concept a bad name, my man; no girl deserves the way you use 'em and toss 'em."

"This is an outrage!" Howie the Heist insisted. Blair recognized the move: when in doubt, bluff. "I was merely filling out a deposit slip; there's no law against that."

"No, but there is against bank robbery," Rafe informed him. He nodded toward where Megan and a woman police officer were pulling Melissa away from the line. "I'm sure that young lady will be anxious to explain exactly what you intended her to do. Hands, please," he continued as he pulled out his cuffs and closed them around Howie's wrists. "You have the right to remain silent..."

Ten minutes later, the bank was clear of all but actual customers. Outside, Blair stood next to Jim and watched as Howie and Melissa were loaded into squad cars and driven away. "What's going to happen to Melissa, Jim?" he asked. "I can't help feeling she was just caught up in something she didn't know how to get out of. I mean, she didn't even pass over the note –"

"And that'll be taken into consideration, Chief," Jim assured him. "Howie the Heist has a known pattern of using naïve young women and, like you said, she didn't actually begin the robbery process. She'll probably get a couple years' probation."

Blair stared after the disappearing squad cars. "Y'know, I kind of get the feeling she fell in with him because she doesn't have enough... confidence in herself, I guess. D'you suppose the judge could get her into... I dunno, a self-esteem class or workshop, or something?"

Jim snorted. "So now you want to add another hat to your repertoire? Anthropologist, teacher, guide, social worker?" He shrugged. "It's a thankless job, Sandburg, but if you feel that strongly about it, you could attend her hearing as a 'Friend of the Court'. And now, let's get lunch and get back to work."

"Thanks for the idea, big guy. I'll do that." He matched his steps to Jim's as they headed toward the truck a half-block down the street. "So, what're you in the mood for – Chinese, pizza, or deli?"

Three Days Later

"I'm just sayin', every little bit helps." Blair continued their discussion – or lecture, depending on who named it – as he and Jim walked from the elevator to the door labeled 'Major Crime'. "We already recycle; changing to compact fluorescents is just another tiny step of environmental responsibility."

"I'm not arguing, Sandburg," Jim replied. "But it's not very financially responsible to throw out all our incandescent bulbs unused. I think when they burn out is time enough to replace them; we don't have to change every lighting fixture this weekend."

"Okay, you've got a point. But I'm holding you to it; don't think I'll forget the next time we stock up on light bulbs," Blair warned.

Jim merely opened the door to Major Crime and held it for Blair to step through first – where he was met by whistles and applause. "There's the man of the hour!" Henri shouted, with a wide smile.

Blair stopped short, staring at the changes in the room – specifically centered around Jim's desk. A large serving platter on the desk held several dozen cupcakes, and a giant silver balloon bobbed in the air. It was tethered to the chair Blair used, and read, "Congratulations!" in rainbow-striped script.

"What?" Blair asked, bewildered. "I didn't do anything."

Jim chuckled and, with a hand on his back, urged him further into the room. "On the contrary, Chief; you do a lot of things – and they're finally coming home to roost. Captain, I believe this is your show."

"Sandburg," Simon boomed. Even standing in the doorway of his office, his voice filled the room. He continued as he strode forward to take a stand near the decorated desk. "The detectives of Major Crime wanted to congratulate you. You did a great job identifying the situation and alerting us to prevent a robbery." Whistles and applause from the detectives around the room filled the air again, each person seemingly trying to outdo everyone else.

Simon waited for the commotion to subside, then continued. "However, we've noticed the number of times you seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and decided that deserves some recognition. So... Rhonda?"

Smiling, Rhonda pulled a flat box out of her desk drawer and crossed to place it in Simon's hands. He removed the lid and held up the box for Blair – and everyone else – to see the small plaque inside.

"So, the personnel of Major Crime hereby present you with the first annual Blair Sandburg Trouble Magnet Award. Here's hoping that you don't win it every year."

Chuckling, Blair reached out to accept the box from the captain, while Megan and Henri demanded, "Speech! Speech!"

Blair shook his head. "You guys... thank you. I appreciate this – really I do – but, come on. I don't get in that much trouble. It could happen to anyone."

"But it doesn't," Jim pointed out. "It happens to you. I wanted to call it the 'Didn't Stay in the Truck' Award, but I was outvoted." The mock glare he threw his fellow detectives was met by more laughter, and catcalls.

"Well... who am I to argue against group consensus?"

Megan's smile was fond as she winked and said, "Why not, Sandy? You do it every day."

Blair allowed a thoughtful look to cross his face. "Come to think of it... you're right!" He grinned at the people gathered round. "But I suspect that you'd all rather nosh on cupcakes than listen to one of my speeches –"

"Thank you, Chief," Jim said, fervently.

"So, dig in, everybody." Blair waved at the platter, and watched as the detectives descended upon it. They really did resemble a swarm of locusts, he thought.

Simon cleared his throat meaningfully. "Ten minutes people, then back to work. This is a police department, not a frat house." He moved in to grab a cupcake with sprinkles on top and retreated to his office.

Blair dived in to grab two cupcakes, then passed one to Jim while he enjoyed his coworkers' good-natured teasing and returned it in kind. Soon enough, the others drifted away to their own desks, and Jim sat down and booted up his computer.

Blair tugged on the balloon string, watching the shiny laminar bob in the air, then sat next to Jim and planted his elbows on the desk, chin resting on one hand. "Well, that was a surprise," he murmured. "It seems a bit much for just making a phone-call."

Jim shrugged. "You're one of us, Chief. Don't you know that by now?"

"Really?" Blair's tone was hopeful. "I mean, everyone's been friendly, and I know the teasing is part of the group-bonding process, but I thought... they were just being nice because I'm your tagalong."

"Nope. We may think of you as a geeky little brother, but you're our geeky little brother. Believe me, an unwanted tagalong would get frostbite from the chill in the air, no matter how polite everyone was. Of course..." Jim looked up with an evil grin. "Geeky little brothers are expected to pull their own weight. How about you start obfuscating your way through the Clement report; I still can't sling the words like you do, to hide my use of..." He trailed off and discreetly tapped his nose.

Blair grinned. "You know, I expect my students to do their own homework. At your advanced age, don't you think it's time you learned?" He opened his laptop and logged on to the PD server. "But I suppose you use the tools at hand."

"Blair..." Jim's voice was troubled, and softly insistent. "Look at me." When Blair's eyes met his, he continued firmly, "Not a 'tool'. Never. We're friends sharing the load. If I ever made you feel differently... I swear I didn't mean it. I know I carp, but we are friends. Don't ever doubt it."

Blair searched Jim's eyes, then smiled and nodded. "Yeah, man, I know. It's just... I guess folks coming right out and saying it feels a little 'off'. It's usually me saying it, not other people, you know?"

"Well, of course not." Jim relaxed slightly when he saw Blair's acceptance. "No mushy stuff allowed; you're a de facto member of a police department, and we're macho, macho men."

"Even Megan?" Blair chuckled.

Jim snorted. "You do know the woman, right? Especially Megan."

Blair nodded. "Yeah, you're right. Of course, she wouldn't have it any other way." Then he poked an elbow into Jim's ribs. "So does that mean I get to be a macho, macho man, too?"

"Sorry, Chief; you don't meet the height requirements for 'macho, macho'. But you do qualify for a single 'macho'. Good enough?"

"Good enough," Blair agreed as he turned back to the Clement report. "Thanks, friend."

"You got it, friend," Jim said, settling down to his own work while he considered Blair's words. Should he make an effort to tell the kid more often how important he was? Jim pictured himself stumbling over a declaration of thanks while shoving a bouquet into Blair's hands, and shook his head. Nope; would never happen.

But he could get tickets to next week's Jags game, with reservations for dinner at Boyden's Bistro before the game. ... Yeah, that would work; one friend to another, just the way it should be. He hoped it never changed.

The End

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Author's Notes

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2011-04-24 07:55 pm

#48 - Unique and Unusual


Title: Unique and Unusual
Summary: Jim knows when something is important to Blair.
Style: Gen
Size: 5,065 words, about 10 pages
Warnings: None
Notes: Apparently, Bilson & DeMeo made up the "Onkatu tribe in Kenya"; the first reference in Google is to the episode "The Rig", and I can't find any information about a real tribe by that name. <g> Given that push, I've adjusted canon a wee bit; you'll see where.
Feedback: Not necessary, but anything you want to give is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Unique and Unusual

by StarWatcher

Blair sighed as the truck crested the hill; in the gathering dusk, Cascade spread out below them as far as the eye – his eye, anyway – could see. "You know, a couple more days would've been nice. I feel like yelling like a little kid, 'I don't wanna go home!' and stamping my feet."

"Until one of us becomes independently wealthy, we have jobs to report to, just like every other working stiff," Jim pointed out. "And the river will still be there the next time we want to get away for the weekend."

"Oh, yeah. And Simon is going to have a cow when he sees the trout we got. Too bad his mom's birthday was this weekend."

Jim chuckled. "Better not let Simon hear you compare fishing to his mom's seventy-fifth birthday celebration. And I don't think he'll complain too much when we hand over those two beauties we saved for him."

"Probably not." Blair glanced at the cooler he was using as a footrest, which held six fine trout packed in ice. "Maybe we could even cash in on them – he might yell softer the next time he's pissed at one of us."

Jim turned onto Fairmount, which would take them past the PD to Simon's house. "In your dreams, Sandburg. He's more likely to yell louder, so he can be sure he's not showing any favoritism."

"Yeah, but –" Blair's words stopped short as Jim slammed on the brakes, then made a sharp-angled turn into a cross-street they'd almost passed. It was obvious Jim had seen something; he grabbed the magnetic police light and clamped it to the roof as he accelerated down Pretoria – a direct route to Prospect, Blair realized. Whatever Jim had seen didn't have to be on Prospect, of course, but experience suggested their building would be right in the middle of it. "What's up?"

"Something big ahead. Lots of emergency vehicles and some city trucks."

"A fire?"

Jim shook his head. "No smoke, either fresh or old. I don't sense any explosive residue, either."

"So we rule out fires and bombs; that's a relief," Blair muttered as he clutched the 'oh shit' handle above the window. Anyone would think that driving down a straight road, even at high speed, wouldn't be so hairy. But that 'anyone' had never experienced Jim Ellison behind the wheel.

"Bad news, Chief," Jim said, his mouth tightening into a grim line. "I think it's centered on our block. And it smells kind of... wet."

Blair deliberately leaned sideways to thump his head on the window. "Of course it is. Fate has decreed what we will never have an uneventful, relaxing weekend. I knew that not running into poachers, drug dealers, forest fires or orphaned Bambies was too good to be true." He paused, as his brain processed the second part of Jim's statement. "And what do you mean, 'wet'? We live in the rainiest city in Washington, and barely two miles from the ocean; doesn't it always smell 'wet' to you?"

Jim had been maneuvering the truck around clots of stopped vehicles, but the turn onto Prospect seemed clear. He pulled around one last cluster of randomly-parked cars and careened through the turn… into six inches of water. The speed created a bow-wave that was too much for the truck to handle; the engine sputtered, coughed, and died.

"I mean wet," Jim said, gesturing at the scene in front of them.

Blair stared through the windshield at the chaos in front of them. Emergency personnel were splashing through a street filled with water – curb to curb and stretching across the sidewalks to lap at the buildings. Police were knocking on doors – probably to check the safety of the inhabitants, Blair realized – and EMTs were treating a few people in the back of a couple of ambulances. But the biggest cluster of activity seemed to be at a spot about two hundred yards from their building.

"Can you tell what's going on?" Blair reached out to lay a hand on Jim's arm, grounding him to extend his senses through the swirling water and decreasing light.

It didn't take long. "Looks like a major water main break," Jim reported. "There's a whopping big hole in the middle of the street, and the road is cracked and buckled for half a block on either side. But they seem to have the water main fixed – or at least capped – for now; the water level is dropping pretty fast, and I don't see any more spilling out of the hole."

"Well, that's something, anyway," Blair muttered. "Man! I'll bet people thought a bomb had gone off."

"Very likely," Jim agreed. "But it looks like a lot of people may have been out when it happened." He gestured to a crowd of watchers on the far side of the yellow police tape.

Blair peered forward, but he could barely make out people at that distance, much less faces. "Are you sure they aren't just looky-loos?"

"Some are. But I see the Robertsons, the Delgados with their kids, Mrs. Kwong with her mother, and the Stavridis family. And others may be even later getting back from wherever they were than them and us; the police and EMTs certainly don't seem to be finding many people who need help."

"So when do you think they'll allow residents back into their buildings?" Blair settled back against the seat; might as well be comfortable while they waited.

Jim reached into the glove box, pulled out his badge, and clipped it to his belt. "Whenever it's certain all residents have been accounted for, and the water main is deemed safe. We can't help with the second, but the first is right up our alley. Let's go, Chief." He stepped into the water – now barely ankle-deep – and headed toward the center of activity.

Blair grimaced as he followed Jim; there was a big difference between wearing waders to stand in a river, and sloshing around with wet feet. If they did much walking, he'd be looking at blisters tomorrow. "Actually, you being you, I bet you could probably help with the water main. If you get close enough to get a direct look, you can probably tell if the repairs are going to hold or not."

"And if I think the repairs are sub-par, of course they'll believe an 'ordinary cop' over a man who has years of experience with water lines."

"If it comes to that, we'll think of something," Blair insisted. "Think about it. Do you want to ignore a weak spot, and be rousted out of bed in the wee small hours if it blows again?"

He had a point, but Jim hoped it wouldn't come to that. Some of Blair's 'obfuscations' were inspired, but some... not so much. The more tap-dancing they had to do around the sentinel thing, the more likely it was that someone else would eventually find out.

Shoving that thought away with the ease of long practice, he approached the coordinator to offer his help.

Three hours later, after Jim had discreetly verified that the repairs to the water main were solid, and the streets were clear – of water and most of the city vehicles – residents were finally allowed back into their buildings. The truck had dried out enough that it started with minimal sputtering, and Jim parked in his usual spot.

"That was a lot more work than I thought it'd be," Blair groaned as the elevator carried them upward. "I'm going to take a hot shower and not move for the rest of the evening."

Jim unlocked the door and they walked through, then stopped abruptly when greeted by a scene of disorder. CDs and books had been knocked to the floor, lamps and knickknacks were lying on their sides, and there was a long crack in one of the balcony doors.

"Oh, man! I guess it really did feel like a bomb went off."

"Looks like you'll have to put that 'not moving' thing on hold for a while."

"Somehow I knew you'd say that," Blair grumbled, as he headed for his room. "Just let me put on some dry sweats and socks."

Jim headed upstairs to change into dry clothes, himself. He frowned as he saw his bedroom; by his standards, it was a mess. But it took less than five minutes to put things back on shelves – fortunately, nothing was broken – and he joined Blair back in the living room.

"It's a mess in my room, too," Blair announced as he started picking up CDs.

"I'm surprised you can tell the difference, Chief." Jim pulled the duct tape out of a kitchen drawer and crossed to the balcony doors to reinforce the cracked pane; it would be ugly, but safer, until he could replace it.

"Real funny, big guy. Just because I enjoy a little freedom in my living arrangements doesn't make me a slob." Blair righted the lamp and the candlesticks, then moved to the other side of the bookshelves and speakers. As the floor came into view, he rushed forward. "Oh, no! How did I not see this?"

At the sound of real distress in Blair's voice, Jim turned to see him lifting his Onkatu devil mask from the floor – in three pieces. He looked forlorn, almost devastated.

"I'm sorry, Chief." Jim had crossed the room to examine the damage, and laid a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I know how much it meant to you." That was the reason that he'd allowed Blair to hang the ugly thing in the living room in the first place, but it had grown on him after awhile. It did lend a certain oddball cachet to the place and, in all fairness, Blair hadn't fussed about his Red Heron poster on the front door.

Blair ran his fingers along the broken edges, then held the pieces together and examined the join. "Kakami made this for me. It took him almost a month, but he said a storyteller with such strange tales of other lands should carry something to prove the truth of their land when I told their tales back home. You'd have liked him, Jim; he was this mixture of practical and humorous, and always looking out for the other members of the tribe. He laughed when he gave me this mask, but it meant a lot to both of us." Blair gave Jim a strained smile. "As big and cumbersome as it is, I've kept it around for seven years. And now... a few scratches or dents are no big deal, but I don't think superglue will fix this."

"You don't have to do it yourself, Chief. I'm sure there's a woodworker somewhere around that could fix it – Cascade is big enough to pull in all skill-sets. And wood is a pretty forgiving substance; I think it won't even be that hard, if someone has the right tools, and the expertise." Jim tried to project encouragement, although the damage was extensive. "Think about it – if Kakami could make it from scratch, someone else will be able to put it back together."

Blair shrugged, then shook his head and faced Jim with a more open smile. "Sorry, man. You're right, of course; if I look hard enough, I can find someone who can fix it. I'll just put it in my closet until the end of the semester; by then I'll know how much money I can spend on it."

He disappeared into his room while Jim realized – again – that, as generous as Blair was to everyone around him, he was chronically short of funds; putting himself through school on grants and a TA's salary didn't give him much spending leeway.

But Jim could do something about that. If called on it, he'd say it was reimbursement for all the unpaid hours Blair put in at the PD. While Blair went into the kitchen to sweep up broken glass, Jim returned to taping the cracked balcony door as he planned 'Operation Fix-a-Mask'.

Jim sighed as he set the broken pieces of mask – carefully wrapped in an old sheet – on the passenger-side floorboard. After he settled himself behind the wheel, he pondered his next course of action. A little research had turned up two carpenters who had experience with detailed craftsmanship. Either man should have been able to fix the mask – probably could fix the mask, if he were being honest – but neither one felt 'right'. The hell of it was, he couldn't solve the problem, because he couldn't figure out what was pinging him the wrong way.

He watched the passing traffic as he sat outside the second shop. It must be an adjustment for any creative person, Jim thought. Inspiration would probably be a whole lot easier in a quieter environment, but if they wanted to make a living, they had to be where customers could find them. He imagined Blair's Kakami had made the mask during long, lazy evenings while he watched friends and neighbors performing customary tasks, and listened to the sounds of the African wildlife outside the perimeter of his village.

Of course! Jim gave himself a mental head-slap. It made perfect sense; he should have headed there first thing. Now... Jim glanced at his watch while he calculated time and distance. Blair was spending the day at the University library, so wouldn't notice Jim's absence. And if he did get back to the loft later than Blair... well, Jim would've run into an old friend and forgotten the time while catching up. It wouldn't be exactly a lie...

Jim watched for a break in traffic, then pulled into the street. At least his truck was a lot more comfortable than a bus.

Two of the monks were working in the tiny cemetery when Jim pulled to a stop in front of St. Sebastian's. They watched as he walked around the truck to retrieve Blair's mask from the other side, then spoke as he came closer.

"Brother Jim. It's good to see you again. But isn't Brother Blair with you?"

Jim nodded a greeting. "Brother Theodore, Brother Frederick. No, I'm planning a surprise for Blair, so I snuck out while he's studying. I need to speak to Brother Jeremy and Brother Marcus, if I may."

"Certainly," Theodore said. "Brother Jeremy is in his office, and Brother Marcus is in his workshop. You know the way." He nodded toward the front of the building, then continued pulling weeds as Jim walked toward the door at the top of the steps.

The door to the abbot's office was open; his desk was covered with papers, and Brother Jeremy seemed to be filling out some forms. Jim knocked on the doorjamb and stepped in when Jeremy raised his head.

"Brother Jeremy; I hope I'm not disturbing you."

Jeremy graced him with a slight smile. "Not at all, Brother Jim. I confess, I find the paperwork one of the more onerous parts of my duties; a short break would be pleasant." He laid down his pen and gestured Jim to the chairs in front of his desk.

"I guess paperwork is always with us," Jim replied, as he sat down, placing the wrapped devil mask in the next chair. "It looks like you have as many forms to fill out as I do."

"Possibly, although I suspect mine are far less gruesome." Jeremy shrugged. "What can I do for you Brother Jim? You didn't arrive unannounced to discuss our various paperwork."

"No, sir, of course not. I was hoping to enlist Brother Marcus's woodworking expertise. I have – or rather, Blair has –" He stopped short, only now realizing the unfortunate contrast. "Forgive me, sir; I wasn't thinking. I have an African devil mask here, that needs repair, but maybe I should take it somewhere else."

Brother Jeremy's eyes twinkled. "We're not as hidebound as that, Brother Jim. A wooden mask is an artistic representation, not a true symbol of the devil's presence. Although, if it were... the grounds of a monastery would surely be an appropriate place to vanquish him."

Jim nodded. "Thank you, sir. It means a lot to Blair; it was a special gift from a friend, and it got broken. I thought Brother Marcus could fix it – for a suitable donation to the Church, of course."

The abbot regarded him thoughtfully. "I confess, Brother Jim, I have had some concerns about Brother Blair working so closely with you; your life seems to be a violent one. I am reassured that you would make such an effort for a friend; it tells me that you care for him."

"I do, sir. And I promise you, I'll do everything in my power to keep him safe."

"Fortunately, the Lord expects us only to do the best we can, so you won't be expected to perform miracles. Remember, Brother Blair has made several visits to Saint Sebastian's; we all know how easily he falls into scrapes. But it's good to know that your intentions are in the right place." Jeremy picked up his pen. "Forgive me, but I must return to my work. You'll find Brother Marcus in his workshop."

Jim stood; he had a job to complete, as well. "Thank you, sir."

Brother Marcus was humming – still? always? – as he worked, the doors open to the pleasantly warm day. Jim stood in the doorway and watched as Marcus planed a piece of wood, appraised the result with a knowledgeable hand running along the surface, then shaved off two more tiny slivers. Seemingly satisfied, he picked up a piece of sandpaper to further smooth the wood.

Yes; this was the place. Blair's devil mask would be comfortable here... and Jim would never tell Blair that such a thought had even crossed his mind. He cleared his throat and stepped into the workshop. "Brother Marcus? May I have a word?"

"Of course, young man; Brother Blair could tell you I'm always willing to talk. I was beginning to wonder if you thought I would bite you." He chuckled at Jim's raised eyebrows, but never stopped his sanding. "Did you think I was so oblivious as to not know you were standing there? I'm afraid our little unpleasantness last summer has reawakened my old wariness. I'm trying to leave it behind – it's inappropriate in this place of peace – but old habits are easily rebuilt and difficult to lay to rest." He hmphed, and smiled gently. "But you didn't come to listen to an old man ramble about payment for past sins. How may I help you, Brother Jim?"

"This," Jim said, laying the pieces of the mask on a nearby table and unfolding the sheet so that Marcus could see it. "It's one of Blair's treasures – made by a friend – and he was pretty upset that it got broken. I was hoping you could fix it."

Marcus picked up each piece and examined it carefully as Jim explained what had happened. "Certainly I can fix it," he agreed. "But why did you bring it to me?"

"Why?" Jim's response was cautious; it was too likely that a religious man would scoff at his belief that the mask would respond better if it was mended in a more rural environment, away from the clamor of the city. After all, it wasn't a living entity that could respond to stress or serenity as it 'recovered' from being broken. Still...

"I'm sure there are woodcrafters in the city who could take care of this, and it's a considerable drive out here. So I have to wonder, why did you decide to bring it so far? Not that I object," Marcus said, continuing his examination. "It's a fascinating piece of craftsmanship."

"Because... a friend of Sandburg's made it, and I think he'd like the idea of another friend fixing it." Jim shrugged uncomfortably. "Things like that... mean a lot to him."

Marcus cast Jim a sharp glance. "So our young friend is now 'Sandburg', as you try to distance yourself from showing how much you care? Tut-tut; I've seen too much of the world to believe that. But I'll allow you your little fiction – for a price."

"Of course," Jim agreed. "I told Brother Jeremy I'd make a generous contribution to Saint Sebastian's. Anything you want; I've always believed a workman is worthy of his hire."

"There is more than one kind of payment. Brother Jeremy considers monetary compensation because he needs to balance the monastery's books. But you..." Marcus raised an admonishing finger. "This is an opportunity for you to balance your connection with Blair."

"I... what?"

Marcus smiled. "To put it simply, I think it would mean even more to Blair if two of his friends worked together to fix what another friend once made. It's too late to start today; the repair won't be difficult, but it will be somewhat time-consuming. Shall I expect you next Saturday?"

For such a gentle, soft-spoken man, Brother Marcus had certain similarities to Jim's former drill instructor; he could definitely see how the man had made it to the upper echelons of the Mob. "I'm afraid... I don't have much experience with fine woodworking," he admitted. "I wouldn't want to do something to damage the mask more."

"You won't." Brother Marcus's voice was quietly certain – but then, he was a man of faith, Jim thought ruefully. "And the gift you'll present to Blair will be even more meaningful, because it will have come from your hands as well as your heart. In years to come, you'll both treasure that knowledge."

Jim bowed to the inevitable; he recognized an irresistible force when he met it. "I'll be here next Saturday, then, unless I'm working a case. Thank you, Brother Marcus."

"Think nothing of it, my boy. I'll see you then."

Marcus folded the sheet back over the mask and left it with a little pat, then returned to his original project and picked up the sandpaper again. As Jim stepped out the door, he heard the humming resume, as well. It seemed to weave together strands of peace and wellbeing, an assurance that the mask would be comfortable here.

Definitely time to leave, Jim thought, as he stepped into the truck and started the engine. If I hang around much longer, I'll turn even new-agier than Sandburg!

But truthfully, he was sort of looking forward to next Saturday – as much for spending time with Brother Marcus as for having Blair's mask whole again.

Jim was parked three blocks from the loft, where he could keep an eye on the building, but Blair wouldn't notice the truck when he got home from the library. Jim hadn't been able to think of any way to wrap or hide the mask, but he did want to surprise Blair. The simplest solution was to let Blair walk into an empty loft, then follow with the mask a few minutes later.

Blair was late, as always – he'd expected to be home by 4:30, and the hands on Jim's watch were already nudging 5:00 – but it hardly mattered. Jim was still basking in a glow of peace that had cocooned him during a day spent with Brother Marcus. He understood now why Blair was so fond of St. Sebastian's, and particularly of Marcus. Despite his past, Brother Marcus had apparently been a figure of stability to a genius kid who had started college very young. As Marcus had shared tales of a younger Blair – and Jim returned the favor with anecdotes of Blair's time with him – Jim got the impression that the monk had been a father figure to Blair. Even though the older man had not specifically made such a claim, it was evident that he cared deeply for Blair. It was good to know that, in the midst of traveling the world on various expeditions, Blair had had the certainty of someone who would be there when he returned.

Jim leaned forward as he caught the sound of the Volvo approaching from the other direction. He watched as Blair parked in his usual spot, hoisted his backpack over one shoulder, and disappeared through the main doors. As soon as the doors closed, he eased the truck forward and parked in the spot next to the Volvo.

As soon as he stepped inside, he stretched his hearing to monitor Blair's progress toward the loft. He heard whistling as Blair stepped off the elevator on the third floor; his day at the library must've been as productive as last week's. Jim grinned; he was sure he'd hear all about it, later in the evening.

As soon as he heard Blair close the loft door behind him, Jim slipped quietly into the stairwell and began to climb; using the elevator would alert Blair to his approach.

Jim waited outside the loft's door as he continued to monitor Blair's actions inside. The plan was to interrupt Blair at the most inconvenient time – either settled down or very busy – for maximum surprise effect. The whistling was replaced by the TV – something about the construction of the pyramids – and then Blair was in the kitchen, pulling out pans and utensils, and muttering about inconsiderate partners who didn't show up on their night to cook.

That was a cue if he'd ever heard one. Jim pulled the sheet from the mask, then knocked sharply on the door. As footsteps approached the door, Jim stepped back and held the devil mask in front of his face and body, watching through one of the eyeholes. When Blair opened the door, Jim pitched his voice to sound like a lost child. "I'm looking for Blair Sandburg. Can you help me find him?"

The reaction was everything Jim had hoped. Blair's mouth dropped open in stunned surprise, and then his eyes lit with pleasure as he reached out to stroke the repaired mask. "Jim? How did... when did..."

"Happy Saturday, Chief," Jim said. "I told you it could be fixed." Blair still wasn't moving, so he simply walked forward so that Blair automatically stepped out of the way. He set the mask on the couch and, with a careless wave, invited Blair to inspect it. "So, what d'you think? Personally, I think Brother Marcus did a bang-up job... and I helped." Marcus had been right; it felt good to have had an actual hand in reaching this moment.

Blair was examining the mask front and back, running a finger along the barely-visible break-lines, and scrutinizing the ingenious metal clasps that Brother Marcus had devised to hold the joins together from the back. "I never thought it could look this good again," Blair said. "Brother Marcus did a great job – but I would have expected that from him. I don't know why I didn't think of taking it to Saint Sebastian's in the first place. But what made you think of it? You were the one who was sure there would be suitable craftsmen here in Cascade."

"I actually found two," Jim admitted. "But it just seemed like the person who fixed the mask should care as much about it as you and Kakami. And since Brother Marcus knows you so well..." Jim couldn't resist a smirk, "...he seemed like the sensible solution."

Blair easily recognized that smirk. "Oh, man! It's not bad enough you pumped Naomi for blackmail material, now you're getting it from Brother Marcus, too? There's no justice," he grumbled.

"We had a... meaningful exchange of information." Jim sometimes found it useful to dress up his explanations in 'officialese' as a version of taking the fifth, even though Blair would easily decipher the hidden meaning.

"And you told him about what I've done on some of your cases? I'll never be able to show my face there again."

"Nonsense, Chief. Brother Marcus really lo– likes you. He's just curious about your life now, the way I am about what you did before you found a sentinel. Did you really suggest a herd of goats to keep the University grounds mowed?"

"Hey, it would have been ecologically and economically sound – the agriculture students could have managed them, and if they used angora goats, they could have sold the mohair as well as goat's milk, which is even healthier than cow's milk. It was just... goat-prejudice that administration didn't accept my idea. Well... that, and the test pair eating all the flowers in front of the Admin building."

Jim chuckled. "Only you, Sandburg. There's a reason Brother Marcus and I agreed that you're a unique and unusual person... and we wouldn't have you any other way. Kinda like your mask."

"Yeah, my mask." Blair carried it across the room and hung it in its former spot, then stood back to admire the fierce gaze. "I don't know how to thank you, Jim; there're a lot of memories tied up in that mask. And now there are two more to make it even more meaningful."

"Two? Only one fixit job, here."

"Two. A friend who conceived the fixit job, and a friend who performed the fixit job – along with the first friend, who helped." Blair waggled his eyebrows when Jim shrugged. "Did you think I wouldn't notice that little admission?"

Jim ran a hand over his hair. "All I did was hold it steady, Chief; Brother Marcus did all the work."

Blair shook his head with a wry grin. "Y'know, it's not an admission of failure to have someone know you did something nice for them." He threw a mock punch, and snickered as Jim deflected it. "You know how to handle that, but not how to handle gratitude. But you'll just have to suck it up and deal. This is one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me, so... thank you, Jim. I really, really appreciate it."

"Okay, Chief, I got it. You're really, really welcome. Now..." he headed toward the kitchen, "...what's for supper?"

"Got'cha; enough of the emotional stuff." Blair followed Jim into the kitchen. "I was planning baked flounder with scalloped potatoes and green beans with onions. But we could go out for some kind of celebration – on me."

Jim started washing his hands at the sink. "Nope; sounds good to me. I'll start peeling the potatoes."

"You got it." Blair washed his hands, then pulled out the mushrooms and green onions that he would slice to cook with the flounder.

They worked quietly side by side, partners as always, while the TV droned in the background and the Onkatu devil mask surveyed his domain with satisfaction. Next week they'd be chasing down the latest criminal, but for now, life didn't get any better than good food shared with a good friend.

The End

Author's Notes

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2010-12-25 11:40 am

#47 - Eye of the Beholder


Title: Eye of the Beholder
Summary: Friends and family aren't always an easy mix, but maybe that can be changed.
Style: Gen
Size: 14,570 words, about 30 pages
Warnings: None
Notes: Dec. 15, 2010, for Secret Santa. My thanks to Alyjude who helped me with some sticky points in the story, and to Ainm, who gave me a writing extension.
Feedback: Not necessary, but anything you want to give is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Eye of the Beholder

by StarWatcher

December 18, 1998

Blair bustled through the loft door late Friday afternoon, his arms full of grocery bags and his mind full of ideas. "I think I got everything I need for the baking, Jim; can't wait till you taste the Springerle, and I guarantee you'll swoon over the Rumkugeln." He shoved the door closed with his foot and carried his bags to the kitchen, still talking. "Do you think we'll have snow for Christmas? I know the weatherman said it's unlikely, but with so much snow in the mountains, it makes sense that some of it would come our way. Have you gotten a heads-up from your senses?" He continued talking as he sorted through the bags and put some of the ingredients into the refrigerator. "I know I'm the first to complain about cold, but I haven't seen many white Christmases, and I think it'd be kinda cool – no pun intended – if we... oh..."

As he closed the refrigerator and turned to locate Jim, Blair found two pair of eyes watching him from the living room, one with amusement, the other with a kind of surprised wariness. He had the feeling he'd interrupted an intense discussion, but it was too late to back out now. "Sorry, man; I didn't notice we had company. Steven, right? It's been awhile." Blair's grin was disarming as he quickly hung his coat and hat on one of the hooks, then approached the other two men. He extended a hand in greeting, pausing as he saw the cast encasing Steven's right arm, from his palm to the middle of his biceps. "Oh, man, it sucks to have a broken arm. How did it happen?"

"I've been wondering that, myself," Jim said. "It must be pretty embarrassing, 'cause he's not talking. Of course, you know that means we just have to pry it out of you, Little Brother. 'Fess up; did you fall out the window when her husband unexpectedly came home?"

"What?" Steven seemed caught between affront and laughter. "What kind of a dog do you think I am?"

"Whoops! Wrong question," Blair advised. "I asked him that once, and you really don't want to know the answer. I'm thinking... this is Cascade, the most dangerous city in America. You valiantly fought off two – no, three – muggers, and escaped with only a broken arm, right?" He settled on the corner of the coffee table, establishing a circle with both Jim and Steven, who were separated on the loveseat and sofa. Eyes sparkling, he glanced between them, inviting them to share the fun.

Jim readily took up the gauntlet. "Chief, he's gotta live up to the Ellison genes! He interrupted a mob hit on one of the horses at the track, but in all the confusion, the horse knocked him down and stepped on his arm. Next time, call me," he advised. "Mob activity is police business."

'Laughter' was evidently overcoming 'affront'. Steven's eyes twinkled as he told them, "Close, but no cigar. A busload of schoolkids were visiting the track when a couple of thugs tried to kidnap them for ransom. I grabbed a pitchfork from a wheelbarrow of manure and bravely engaged in battle to save the kids. But then..." He paused, seeming to search for a suitable ending. "Then a third guy showed up and knocked me down, and they all took off. It was my misfortune to fall against the edge of the wheelbarrow, and here I am."

"You tell almost as good a story as Blair does," Jim said, "but the ending was a little weak. So what really happened? It can't be that bad."

Steven sighed, apparently disinclined to continue putting up a façade. "It really is that bad... or at least that stupid. Remember those wild winds last week?"

"Oh, yeah, they were rough," Blair said. "When I drove in from Rainier, I swear the Volvo flew most of the way."

"You wouldn't be the first to run afoul of the weather; just spit it out," Jim advised.

Steven shrugged. "Okay, okay. You're still a bossy big brother, you know?" His half-hearted glare morphed into a rueful smile. "Anyway, I was walking down one of the outside staircases at the track when a particularly strong gust hit; felt like a runaway horse had slammed into me. I went down half a flight, and feel damned lucky to have only broken an arm."

In an instant, Jim's attitude went from teasing to intense. His gaze sharpened as he said, "Are you sure you didn't also hit your head? Even minor head injuries can have consequences, you know."

"Yes, I'm sure," Steven huffed. "The doctor checked everything, and then ordered an MRI just to be sure. Both Dad and I have donated generously in the past; I suppose they don't want to stint on treating an Ellison."

"Glad to hear it," Jim said. "You and Dad are supposed to leave the 'getting hurt' part of the game to me."

Steven gave him a thoughtful glance. "Because you're a cop? Surely your captain isn't that laid-back about injuries in the department?"

"Nah, because he thinks he's Superman," Blair explained, then winked at Jim. "But that's an idea; you should trade on your name next time. Maybe they'll let you out sooner."

"More likely keep me longer because of it. I'd rather be a grumpy cop than a rich patron's son; less hassle all around."

"You've got it nailed," Blair assured him. "When they start handing out 'grumpy cop awards', you'll be the first recipient. Oh, hey, hey, it's really not that bad!" Blair waved off the concern he saw on Steven's face. "It's kind of a cop-bonding and male-bonding thing combined; it doesn't mean anything other than business as usual. Everyone in Major Crimes really has each other's backs; you just have to get past the verbal camouflage."

Jim snorted. "And Sandburg is the master of verbal camouflage; he's dying to know why you're here, but anthropologically speaking, he figures the discussion should be between brothers. Right, Chief?"

"See, I knew you had a brain under that 'stoic cop' exterior; my influence is finally having a civilizing effect." He grinned at Steven as he stood, trying to alleviate the thread of discomfort he felt beneath the brothers' banter. "Don't pay any attention to me; I'll be in the kitchen making lots of noise with the pots and pans while I start dinner. Are you staying? I make a great penne and sausage, with garlic bread."

"Sit, Sandburg," Jim ordered. "There's no big secret, here. My dad has the idea he'd like to 'get away' for Christmas, and wants us all to go up to his lodge in the mountains."

Blair was delighted; he'd been urging Jim to spend more time with his father and brother. "Hey, that's great! Away from the stimulus of the city, bonding with your family... sounds like the perfect downtime for a sen- stressed-out cop."

"Stressed out?" Steven's gaze sharpened on Jim's face. "You look okay."

"Because I am okay; Sandburg has a frustrated mother-hen complex. And not just me, Chief; you're included in the invite, too." Jim cast a meaningful look at Steven, which Blair easily deciphered.

"Hey, I appreciate the thought, man, but it's totally unnecessary," he assured Jim. "The last thing a family get-together needs is a fifth-wheel sorta-partner that your dad and brother barely know."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "There's no 'sorta' about our partnership, Sandburg. And frankly, I have an ulterior motive; I'm hoping a fast-talking anthropologist can help keep us from snarling at each other from our separate corners." His shrug was self-deprecating, but Blair thought Jim's eyes held a sort of nervous entreaty.

As Blair hesitated, Jim abruptly stood. "Excuse us a moment, Steven." With a jerk of his head, he strode toward Blair's bedroom, closing the door behind them as soon as Blair stepped inside.

Blair spoke first. "Jim, Christmas is a family thing; they won't want me there."

"I want you there," Jim told him quietly. "You know things are still rocky between me and my dad, and not much better with Steven. I've never seen you at a loss for getting along with people; I really think you being there will make it easier all around."

"Well..." Blair was torn; he wanted to help Jim, but – "You need some alone time with your family, man. Putting me in the mix will just drag out the reconnection process."

"No. Allow me to know my family better than you do, Chief. And besides – as far as I'm concerned, you're family, too. It would be different if you were getting together with Naomi, but she's off in Timbuktu or somewhere..."

"Sri Lanka," Blair murmured, a bit dazed. Jim considered him as close as family?

"...and my downtime will be a lot more relaxing if you're with me."

How could he resist? He smiled up at his best friend. "Okay, man, I'm in. But be prepared; we are packing every ingredient I can think of. If necessary, I'll cook my way into their hearts."

"Since I'll reap the benefits of that plan, I support it wholeheartedly. And we can start winning over Steven now; need some help with the penne?"

"You and Steven both," Blair insisted. "Might as well get started on that family-bonding thing."

"You got it, Emeril," Jim said, following Blair back into the main room. "Just tell us what to do."

Steven noticed the difference as they were coming back into the living room. Judging by the smile on his face, Jim's irritation with the proposed gathering had disappeared. Steven didn't understand why his brother wanted to include Mr. Sandburg in their group, but if that was what it took to overcome the initial hostility, so be it.

With no more warning than the overheard, "You got it, Emeril," he was swept into the kitchen to 'help' with dinner preparations. Although he'd thought it a polite fiction to keep them all together in the kitchen, Mr. Sandburg actually put him to work stirring the crumbled sausage – mixed with ostrich meat, of all things – to ensure even cooking without burning. It didn't take much concentration, even working left-handed, and gave him an opportunity to watch the interaction between his brother and... partner? Roommate?

Oddly enough, Jim actually followed Mr. Sandburg's – Blair; he'd insisted that Steven call him 'Blair' – directions instead of trying to take over; Jim diced onions and minced garlic while Blair chopped tomatoes, then cut open a French loaf and slathered it with the garlic butter that was warming in another pan. They shared tasks and moved around each other – and him – without ever getting in each other's way, like a well-rehearsed dance pattern. Through it all, Blair talked – about the University, Jim's work, Steven's work, the police department, seasonal highlights and preparations, celebratory customs in other cultures and countries. He never seemed to stop talking... except that he managed to include both Steven and Jim in his ramblings, soliciting their input and riffing off their answers as he wove them into a circle of companionship.

Steven paused in his stirring. Where had that thought come from? But it seemed accurate; Blair managed to exhibit aspects of master chef and scout leader, combined with news commentator and overlaid with the mantle of a skilled raconteur; he could easily have been a bard in earlier times. It all meshed in an effortless, comfortable gestalt that made him feel like he was sharing a campfire with a best friend. Steven hadn't felt so at ease since... since his mother left, he realized.

Was that why Jim kept the guy around? It wasn't likely he needed the rent money, but if he did, he could certainly find a more conventional housemate – a former army buddy, maybe, or a fellow police officer. On the other hand, Jim had always had a protective big-brother vibe going on, with just about every kid who was smaller or weaker than him. Blair didn't seem to need it, but he was enough smaller than Jim that it might be an unconscious, automatic reaction on Jim's part. Although that 'campfire-friend' feeling was a heady sensation; he could understand why his brother wouldn't be in a hurry to encourage Blair to find his own place.

But during dinner – which, for the record, was every bit as tasty as Blair had promised – Steven decided there was something else, undercurrents he couldn't decipher. They weren't lovers, he was sure of it, but Jim and Blair definitely shared some sort of secret. A few half-spoken phrases had been stopped short, after which Blair offered the distraction of another anthropological observation or story, using fluent storytelling to hide the earlier words behind a mask of obscurity.

A few of those half-spoken phrases stirred a spark of niggling familiarity in Steven's mind, but he couldn't bring it into focus. He was pretty sure it was something important, but the flow of conversation buried the spark before it could grow, and then the evening was over and it was time for him to leave.

Just before he stepped into his car, Steven stared at the lighted windows above him. He felt torn between pushing to find out what the secret was – Jim was his brother, after all – or letting sleeping dogs lie. Some half-formed instinct told him the secret might be dangerous... but Jim was his brother. And certainly Jim deserved his privacy... but there was still the brother thing.

And besides, Steven admitted ruefully to himself, he was damned curious. Maybe Jim would relax while they were at the lodge, and he'd talk about it. If not... well, the time together would be an opportunity for them to reconnect, enough that Jim might tell him later.

Satisfied with his plans – vague as they were – Steven slid into the driver's seat. He had a lot to do, with barely a week to get ready for Christmas and the trip. Maybe it wasn't too late to get a reservation at Carino's; they could get a head start on the family reconnection, and Dad could start adjusting to Blair in neutral territory. Snickering, Steven pulled into traffic. Dad wouldn't know what hit him.

December 21, 1998

On Monday morning, Jim resolutely relegated the upcoming trip to the back of his mind. Thank God Sandburg had agreed to join them; his presence would likely help prevent a rift that would have him not talking to his father for another twenty years. But it would be business as usual through Wednesday.

After showering, shaving and dressing, he rapped on the French doors as he headed into the kitchen. "Up and at 'em, Sandburg! Crime detection waits for no man!"

Sandburg moaned inarticulately before Jim heard the covers pushed back. "It should – if not for Christmas, at least for my school break. Is the concept of 'sleeping in' like, some kind of foreign language to you?"

"You just had the weekend; what more do you want?" Jim snickered as the bleary-eyed figure stumbled toward the bathroom. "Will blueberry pancakes brighten your outlook?" He pulled out the ingredients and started measuring.

Blair turned in the doorway, his expression hopeful. "With pecans added?"

Jim grabbed the container from the fridge. "Can do, Chief. You have fifteen minutes; chop-chop!"

The door closed on Blair's mutters about what he'd like to chop. Jim grinned as he mixed the flour, milk, and eggs. He was looking forward to some time with Sandburg not having to maintain his university schedule. Everything – from paperwork to planning strategy to, of course, using his senses – seemed to go more smoothly when his partner was in the vicinity.

Blair ambled into the kitchen, poured himself some coffee, and set out the jelly, butter, and syrup as Jim ladled the batter onto the skillet. Leaning against the counter while Jim monitored the cooking process, Blair asked, "So, what did I miss before I got in yesterday? When are we doing this, and are you sure you want me along? And what's the best way to get on your dad's good side?"

"I'm using my seniority this year to take off both Christmas Eve and Christmas day. We figured to drive up on the twenty-fourth; counting the weekend, that gives us four days – long enough to 'reconnect', if we're going to, and short enough that we can probably avoid killing each other." Jim shrugged. "As for impressing Dad, I dunno; you got any connections to Big Business? Waving around a hefty stock portfolio would probably do the trick."

Blair frowned. "Hey, I get that your childhood wasn't the greatest, but none of us grew up in a Norman Rockwell world. You should cut him some slack; he's your father."

Jim didn't answer as he served the pancakes onto two plates and handed one to Blair. Still in silence, they carried the food to the table and began to eat. Finally, Jim answered. "Chief, you've been hanging around the PD for over two years, now; you know some of the things parents do to kids. That relationship doesn't give them a free pass."

"Oh, come on!" Blair protested. "There's a big difference between being remote and clueless, versus being actively abusive. Everyone I know wishes their parents had done things differently – including me, sometimes. But what we have to remember is that most of them did the best they knew at that time. Your dad is trying – he apologized to you, right? And if this trip isn't an attempt at reconciliation, I don't know what is. But you've gotta meet him halfway."

"You want some more?" Jim asked, crossing to the stove and ladling more batter onto the skillet.

Blair stared at the stiff, uncommunicative back. "Yeah, might as well," he muttered. There had to be some way to make a dent in the thick skull across the room.

"Your men," he said, as Jim put two more pancakes in front of him. "I'll bet some of them screwed up a time or two. What was your reaction?"

Jim stared at Blair through narrowed eyes. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Did you toss them out of the army and lock the door behind them?"

"Of course not. I gave them KP, or extra PT, and made sure they had the training not to do it again. Then I put them in their jammies and tucked them in bed," Jim finished, strongly sarcastic.

Blair nodded vigorously. "You gave them another chance. Some of them more than one, right?" Jim shrugged halfheartedly. "So doesn't your dad deserve at least that much? He's a fallible human being, Jim, not a monster."

Jim stared at his empty plate for a few moments, then took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders. "You're right, Chief." He raised his eyes to meet Blair's. "But that's why you've got to join us. I keep seeing a monster, and I'm too much like my old man – stubborn as an old mule. With you along, we might actually make it work. Us three Ellisons, alone together... probably not."

"Anything I can do to help," Blair assured him. "But you've got to throw out some ideas, so we can smooth over the awkward spots."

"Just like preparing for a mission," Jim agreed. He glanced at the clock. "But save it till later; if we don't get a move on, we'll be late to the PD."

December 22, 1998

Steven noticed his father's frown as he checked his watch. "Jimmy's late. Are you sure he's coming?"

Just like Dad to expect Steven to know the unknowable. "He said he would. But remember, he's a cop; he's probably tying up loose ends or something. He'll call if he expects to be too late."

Steven reached for his menu, hoping his old man would take the hint and calm down. As much as William wanted to be part of his eldest son's life again – not that he'd said it in so many words, but Steven could tell – their father kept defaulting to the habits and behaviors that had led to Jim leaving home so long ago. Steven was quite certain that if Dad started telling Jim how he should live his life, or expressing disapproval of his career choice, Jim wouldn't put up with it. He was trying to think of a way to suggest that their father should ease up and mellow out – even though he was pretty sure the old man didn't even understand those concepts – when he saw the waiter leading Blair and Jim to the table. Too late.

As soon as they were seated and had ordered drinks, Blair started taking. "Hey, Mr. Ellison, Steven; thanks for inviting me. I've been looking forward to talking to both of you." He grinned as he cast a sly look at Jim. "According to this big lug, nothing at all happened when he was a kid; I'm looking forward to any stories you care to share."

Jim lowered his menu to raise an eyebrow at his friend. "Don't forget, Chief, Naomi told me about plenty of your childhood escapades; in the interests of my family getting to know you, I might just have to share."

Blair groaned, even as he chuckled. "Mr. Ellison, what is it about parents? I know Naomi – that's my mom – dredged up the most embarrassing stories she could remember; she thinks they're 'cute'. So in the interests of fair play, surely you should share some embarrassing stories about Jim. Steven... you're his little brother; what kind of trouble did he lead you into?"

"Well... there was that time we went treasure-hunting down in the mud-flats." Steven was quite sure that Jim would retaliate, but the story was too good to pass up.

Maybe the tale of a triumphant return home – both of them covered head-to-toe in sticky mud and dragging a broken bicycle that Jim had been sure he could fix – wasn't the most appropriate for a dinner, but Blair seemed to enjoy it. He retaliated with a side-splitting account of helping to build mud-and-wattle structures in West Africa. Even as he roared with laughter, Steven suspected that Blair was enhancing the story for effect – no one could be as inept as he claimed to be – but it was effective; even Dad chuckled, while Jim thwaped him on the head before starting a story about a mud-based incident from his time in the army.

As dinner progressed, Steven reflected that he couldn't remember a more comfortable family gathering; odd that it seemed to be the non-family member who was making it so. He was impressed all over again with the depth and scope of Blair's knowledge and experience – and with his ability to find the commonalities of human interactions, connecting his adventures and insights to the more ordinary lifestyle that Steven knew.

Really, Blair was simply fun to be around. His vibrant attitude and general joie de vivre pulled everyone into his orbit and... well, he just seemed to make everyone feel good. He remembered seeing Blair at the racetrack's Benefit party, flirting with Pat and other attractive women; the guy had seemed like an inconsequential lightweight at the time. It was kind of comforting to realize that he'd underestimated Blair, and that Jim had such a solid friend in his corner.

On the other hand, Dad didn't seem terribly impressed with Blair's conversational offerings – he was still using the formal 'Mr. Sandburg' when speaking to him – but Steven definitely noticed the lightness in Jim's attitude. He remembered a big brother who'd been closed-down and angry before he left home, then an ice-cold authoritarian who'd suspected him of murder last year. Now Jim seemed comfortable and relaxed, chuckling at quips and stories from Steven or Blair and sharing his own, and even remaining civil toward their old man. Maybe this Christmas get-together would actually work without Jim and Dad blowing up at each other again.

William Ellison prided himself on being a gentleman, as well as a practical man. Despite his resistance to including an outsider in their family dinner, this was neither the time nor place to express his opinion. Steven had warned him that Jimmy wouldn't consider a gathering at the lodge – or even a family dinner – without Mr. Sandburg being present so, even though he'd been appalled when he'd realized who the man actually was, he had acquiesced.

When Foster attacked him and Jimmy last spring, William had assumed that the scruffy, undersized stranger who helped him out of the woods was some lower-echelon officer who happened to be available to join in the manhunt; the man wasn't worth a second thought. The recent information that Jimmy actually housed the man was disgusting; Jimmy shouldn't even be associated with this unkempt, hyperactive... student. And didn't that tell him everything he needed to know, that the man wasn't even beginning to build a career at his age. He was little better than the riffraff that Jimmy had to deal with every day.

He talked a good game, but William would be willing to wager that more than ninety percent of his stories were either made up, remembered from books, or retelling someone else's experiences; no one so young could have seen or done so much himself. Why the hell Jimmy hadn't long ago kicked him out was a mystery; how could his home be the sanctuary it should be, with such a babbling fool around?

But worse than that... Mr. Sandburg was a danger to Jimmy. If he found out about Jimmy's so-called 'gift' – and how could he not, sharing an apartment with him – there was no doubt he'd sell it to the media; Jimmy would be hounded as a freak, just as William had always feared.

Not that he could fault the young man; everyone had to watch out for his own bottom line, and that little nugget about Jimmy would probably net him thousands from the right news source.

Wait; that was worthy of consideration. He could pay Mr. Sandburg to not go to the news. Ten thousand – no. He evaluated the long hair and general antsy attitude. Five thousand would probably be sufficient; it was undoubtedly more money than the student had ever seen at one time. He'd make the payment in small bills, so it would look more impressive.

On the other hand, that would leave him open to blackmail; didn't most people who were paid off come back for more? Not that he couldn't afford five thousand a year, or even ten, but it was the principle of the thing. He'd pay any amount of money to keep Jimmy safe, but he wasn't about to be bled dry.

But maybe a payoff wouldn't be necessary. A man like this – all book-learning and little real-world experience, despite his overblown stories – might be too dim to realize how different Jimmy was. The way he acted, fawning over Jimmy like he was some comic-book hero... maybe he'd think Jimmy's special abilities were just him doing his job well. There was no sense giving the little sycophant ideas if he didn't already suspect.

Yes, that was a better plan. Four days at the lodge should give him enough information to determine whether Mr. Sandburg was a real threat, or the negligible nonentity he seemed to be. After that, he could finalize a plan of action.

So, he'd forego his attempts to talk Jimmy out of including Mr. Sandburg in their get-together, and use the opportunity to get to know the enemy. If the threat wasn't neutralized by the end of that four days – either by bribing Mr. Sandburg or, even better, by convincing him that he could do better than hang on Jimmy's coattails – his name wasn't William Ellison.

As soon as Jim had pulled out of the parking lot, Blair turned and demanded, "Two shopping days left; what kind of present do I get for a man who hates me?"

"I wouldn't exactly say 'hate', Chief." Jim's obfuscation skills weren't as well-honed as Blair's but, in recent years, he had learned by observing a master. "He just... doesn't know how to fit a non-businessman into his worldview."

"You're a detective! Don't tell me you didn't notice the equations being run behind his eyes; he was planning where and how to hide my body."

"It's not like he'd succeed, Chief," Jim said gravely. It was too dark for Blair to notice the twinkle in his eye. "And if he did, I'd solve the case and haul him in. I'd make sure you got justice."

"A lot of good that'll do my decomposing corpse. I'm serious, man! I mean, it's not like anything will make him like me, but something he considers a 'suitable' gift could at least raise me above the level of cockroach."

Jim paused at a red light and turned to face Blair. "What's the fuss? Dad knows you don't know him; he won't be expecting a gift from you. For that matter – four adult males, half of whom haven't interacted with the other half for twenty years – I'll bet he doesn't expect any of us to exchange gifts. This trip is just an excuse to hang out with his sons." The light turned green, and he moved forward with the traffic.

"And I'm not one of his sons!" Blair's voice grew more intense. "It's all about the correct social interactions, man, especially for the elders of a tribe. Your dad has a level of status, and... well, it's probably not a conscious expectation. But if I follow the proper protocols, he'll be more comfortable with my presence than if I don't. And more comfort means 'hate' might be modified to... oh, something like 'grudging tolerance'. I can work with grudging tolerance; even Simon doesn't bellow in my direction as loud as he used to. But proper protocol dictates that junior members of a tribe who are requesting closer-than-public interactions with the elders – that's me, in case you're not following – enhance that request with some kind of tribute."

Jim snorted. "You mean a bribe."

"If you want to be crude about it, yes. But no. It's basic tribal protocol. You've dealt with tribes – the army, the Chopec, the cops – you know this stuff, even if you don't want to admit it. So give me some ideas; what kind of things does he like?"

Jim shook his head in irritation as he parked outside the loft. "Chief, I haven't dealt with the man in twenty years, and before that, I barely paid attention to his life; I was too busy bucking his orders and expectations." He followed Blair into the building. "Maybe... a good whisky. He was always real proud of offering the 'good stuff' to guests. Get a bottle of the best you can find, wrap it up fancy, that'll work."

"Excellent! Excellent; I can research that." Blair didn't even shrug out of his coat as he entered the loft and hurried to boot up his laptop. "And what about Steven? Not that he's like an 'elder' or anything, but it would be pretty shabby to have a gift for your dad but not your brother."

Jim sighed as he sat on the couch across from Blair and watched him clicking through various internet sites. "You not going to let this go, are you? I know even less about Steven than about Dad; he was still a kid when I left home. Maybe..." Memories old and new collided. "When he was a kid, his favorite candy was jelly beans – and did you notice the dish on his desk at the racetrack? A nice assortment of gourmet Jelly Bellies would probably do the trick."

"No time to order," Blair muttered. "Do we have a source here in Cascade?" He clicked a few more keys. "Yes! Okay, I'm good to go; thanks man!" His fingers rattled across the keyboard with increased energy.

Jim sighed and leaned back against the cushions, contemplating the upcoming trip. Sandburg was right; Dad didn't like his partner. But their lives were entwined for the foreseeable future; he wasn't about to hide Blair away like some shameful secret. At least Steven's reaction to Blair seemed favorable; maybe his attitude could help convert Dad. If the old man would unbend just half an inch, he couldn't help but see what a worthwhile person Blair was. It might be possible; Dad had seemed considerably less – stringent – during the Foster case than Jim had expected.

On the other hand, Sandburg had a point with his anthropological ramblings – it wouldn't hurt to go bearing gifts. But he needed something that wouldn't outshine Blair's offering; the point was for Blair's 'tribute' to be the most impressive, junior to senior. Maybe...

Jim moved to sit right next to Blair. Might as well take advantage of those skills; as soon as Blair was finished his search, he could start one for Jim. After all, he thought, I deserve some sort of payment for the good advice I shared.

December 24, 1998

"Simon, don't they understand the concept of 'time off'?" Jim argued into the phone. "It's not like they'll do anything with the information before next week."

"Sorry, Jim; the DA insists," Simon said. "Look, it won't take long; you can be out of here by noon."

Jim barely avoided snarling at his captain; it wasn't Simon's fault. "Alright, tell him I'll be there in..." he glanced at his watch, "an hour and a half. I'll need to check with my dad, adjust our plans."

"I'll let the DA's office know when to expect you. But the sooner you get in, the sooner you'll get out," Simon reminded him.

"Fat chance of that," Jim grunted to himself as he hung up the phone.

"What's up, man?" Blair asked as he settled a dufflebag next to the boxes packed with the food he wanted to take to Jim's dad's lodge. He'd ignored Jim's mild observation that William would have made sure the lodge was well-stocked as he packed pumpkin bread, three kinds of pie, and an assortment of cookies, as well as the promised Rumkugeln and Springerle. A variety of cheeses, vegetables and condiments filled another box – they'd stay cool enough in the trunk of the car – although Jim had convinced him that he didn't need to include meat, eggs, or butter.

"The DA has decided, in his infinite wisdom, that if he has to work today, so does everyone else. He absolutely has to go over my testimony about the Tipton case before I leave town," Jim growled.

"I thought you already gave him your deposition about that case."

"I did. Apparently he needs to be sure I didn't forget to tell him anything the first two times we went over the information."

"So... do we tell your dad and Steven to go on ahead and we'll come up later, or do we all just get a late start?"

Jim surveyed the boxes and bags waiting by the door, juggling the logistics of load-up and travel time. "I think a better idea is that you go up with Dad and Steven, and I'll follow. It's not like you can sit in on the deposition, but you can help get things unloaded at the lodge, get everything squared away before I get there."

"I dunno," Blair said, dubiously. "The way your dad looked at me the other night, he'll blame me for you not being there. I mean, a two-hour trip will give him plenty of time to build up a lot of resentment."

Jim shook his head, chuckling his amusement as he put on his jacket. "Chief, you're acting like a nervous boyfriend meeting his girl's parents for the first time; that's not like you." He picked up one of the boxes, and the bag he'd packed earlier.

"I kind of feel like it," Blair admitted, shrugging into his own jacket. He picked up his duffle and one of the other boxes, preceding Jim out the door and heading toward the elevator. "It's – uncomfortable – knowing that your dad is predisposed to think the worst of everything I do or say. This buffering thing works both ways, you know?"

"You mean you want to tag-team my dad? Not exactly sporting." Jim stowed his bag behind the seat, and the box in the bed of the truck as Blair did the same on his side. "You wait here and watch the stuff while I get the last box."

Blair climbed into the truck and buckled his seatbelt while he pondered. Jim was right; it was ridiculous to feel so uneasy about interacting with William Ellison. It didn't make sense; Blair had always figured that he could talk to anybody, anytime, about anything. And when it didn't work, he understood it was because the other person was reacting to their preconceptions about the man in front of them – unfair, perhaps, but a facet of human nature. But somehow, he couldn't be that unconcerned about Jim's dad. Intellectually, he knew that the senior Ellison couldn't break up his and Jim's partnership, but it sure felt like a sword hanging over his head.

Blair startled as Jim opened the other door and slid into his seat; he hadn't even noticed when the last box was dropped into the pickup bed.

"Relax, Chief," Jim suggested as he headed down the street. "Dad won't do anything overt – it would be beneath his dignity. Besides, you and Steven get along well enough; he can be your buffer until I get there. And I think your anthropologist brain has figured it out; you'll give Dad all the perks due him as a tribal elder, and it'll be such a change from my teenage hostility that he'll start to think you're a pretty good guy. What can go wrong?"

Blair groaned. "I wish you hadn't said that! With our luck, one of the reindeer will break a leg on your Dad's roof, and we'll have to find a replacement."

"I'm a sentinel, remember? I'll be able to find Bambi, and we'll draft him as a stand-in. It'll all work out; you'll see."

Blair heard the underlying reassurance; Jim meant much more than Santa's reindeer. "Yeah, okay," he said as Jim pulled to a stop in front of his father's house. "I'll make up a batch of eggnog this afternoon; just be sure you're there to drink it!"

"The scenery around here is awesome," Blair said. "I can see why you built a vacation home up here." Trite, he told himself, absolutely banal, but after an hour and a half, he was finding conversation drying up. It seemed like Mr. Ellison threw cold water over every idea that could have led to a decent discussion.

"At the time, it seemed like a good investment," William said.

Yeah, just like that.

Thankfully, Steven had been complicit in not letting everyone devolve into a frigid – Ha! Bad pun! – silence. He half-turned in the front passenger seat to engage Blair, riding in lonely splendor in the back.

"We had some good times up here when we were kids," Steven said, with a gentle, reminiscent smile on his face. "There's a small lake where we could swim and fish, and lots of hiking in the forest. And imaginary hunting. Well, the shooting was imaginary – we weren't allowed to have guns, of course – but we almost always found real game. Jimmy was a wiz at tracking down deer, elk, wild turkeys... we even saw bear cubs a couple of times, if there was a vantage point where the mother wouldn't notice us."

"Lots of snow," Blair observed, eyeing some crystalline walls standing on cliffs above the road. "Did you do much skiing? I noticed you're not bringing any, but maybe you have some at the cabin?"

"We didn't make it up very often in the winter," Steven explained. "Seems like our Christmas breaks were filled with fancy house-parties at our place or Dad's business associates'."

"Connections are important." William's tone suggested that should be understood by anyone with a modicum of intelligence. "Steven recognizes that, even if Jimmy doesn't."

Blair just couldn't resist. "Oh, Jim absolutely uses connections to do his job. Like, when he needs information, he goes straight to his best snitch, Sneaks." He launched into a story that had Steven chuckling heartily, and even William's expression softened a little. Maybe.

The 'connections' discussion – Steven highlighting the vagaries of the horse-racing world, and Blair drawing comparisons between corporate executives and indigenous tribal leaders – kept them occupied until William pulled his car to a stop in front of – Blair classified it as a Swiss chalet on steroids. Jim was right; it was plenty big enough that four people could avoid meeting each other if they were so inclined.

Well, Steven seemed on board with everyone getting along. Hopefully, Jim would show up soon and help with the family-and-partner gathering. In the meantime, he had promised to make the eggnog before Jim got here.

It was a surprise, although welcome, to find the lodge already warm; they were high enough into the mountains with enough snow on the ground that it was cold. "I have one of the groundskeepers at the resort outside Rockport on retainer; he keeps the place up and makes sure it's stocked with supplies before I come," William said casually as he struck a match to light the kindling under the logs waiting in the fireplace.

"I am down with that!" Blair grinned at William as he headed back out to bring in more of their bags and boxes.

As soon as Blair had dropped his dufflebag in his assigned bedroom, he headed into the kitchen. The coffee was already brewing; Steven's doing, he assumed. The tangy aroma of coffee added to the piney scent of the burning logs in the fireplace; it created a definitely welcome, holiday atmosphere. Blair crossed to one of the counters to set out the goodies he'd brought. "Mr. Ellison? Steven? I brought some traditional Christmas desserts; would you care to have any?"

Steven wandered over to examine the selection. "Looks good," he said. "What are those?" 'Those' were the size of ping-pong balls, covered in chocolate sprinkles and slivers of nuts.

"Rumkugeln; rum-and-walnut balls common in Austria. And these –" Blair pulled out a platter of thick, square cookies, with a snowflake design pressed into the top, "– are Springerle, made in Bavaria. The red snowflakes are anise-flavored, and the yellow are lemon-flavored. The anise is traditional, but not everyone likes it."

"I'm game for anything," Steven said. He poured himself some coffee, then put one of each on a plate, as well as a piece of blueberry pie. "Where did you find them?"

"I made them – well, all of this. The owner of the Natural Foods store made some Springerle for her customers; when I started discussing recipes with her – a couple of Naomi's friends grew up in the old country and taught me how to make a lot of their favorite dishes – she let me borrow her snowflake press. Baking for the holidays is a great tradition; people develop and forge basic connections through the sharing of food. Of course, I don't always have the space to get fancy, but Jim has a great kitchen. He goes more for the 'comfort food' entries in the hypothetical cookbook – I don't think I've ever seen him follow written directions – but anything he makes will knock your socks off."

Steven slid a piece of banana cream pie onto another plate, and placed a fresh cup of coffee on the plate itself. "Funny, I never thought of Jim cooking. Should have guessed, I suppose; anything Jim ever tried, he did well." He used his left hand to pick up the plate, and stabilized it on his arm-cast as he carried it into the living room and set it on the magazine table at his father's side. "Here you go, Dad. Eat, drink, and be merry – we might as well enjoy the fruits of Blair's hard labors."

"Thank you, Steven. And you, Mr. Sandburg," he called into the kitchen as an afterthought. He picked up the coffee to sip it as he continued reading The Wall Street Journal.

"Hope you like it," Blair called back. "Listen, I brought a bottle of cream, and it looks like your guy supplied the other stuff I'll need. Do you mind if I use your kitchen to make a batch of eggnog? There's a carton in the fridge, but homemade beats store-bought every time."

"Certainly, Mr. Sandburg; make yourself at home."

Steven moved back into the kitchen. "Need any help? I can at least handle any stirring to be done."

"You got a deal. Here you go." Blair set a pan of milk, cream and nutmeg on the stove. "Keep stirring while this heats until it's just about to boil." While Steven did that, Blair beat the egg yolks with sugar.

Conversation was minimal; the noise of the electric mixer drowned out anything less than a shout. But Steven enjoyed the process as he and Blair worked together. It reminded him of his childhood, watching Sally in the kitchen. He'd felt safe and warm then, as he did now, which was silly – as an adult, he hardly needed a feeling of 'safety'. Probably just the effect of the season, he decided; might as well relax and enjoy it.

Following Blair's instructions, Steven slowly added the hot milk to the egg yolks while Blair kept the mixer running. When that was finished, Steven stirred the mixture as it heated again, while Blair beat the egg whites. Steven had never realized how – not complicated, exactly, but detailed and time-consuming it was to make eggnog; no wonder most people bought it ready-made. But the smell already told him that the real thing would be worth the effort.

Newspapers had always been useful for keeping others at arm's length. William could hardly believe the gall of that young man, taking over the kitchen like he was the owner of the lodge. Of course, William had given permission – his duty as a host made it mandatory – but it rankled. He intended to convince Mr. Sandburg to move out of Jim's life, not allow him to entrench further. And the way he'd lured Steven into working with him in the kitchen – it seemed that Mr. Sandburg was trying to worm his way into both sons' lives, as if he were deliberately solidifying his position with Jim and Steven.

William had to give him credit; at least the little hippie knew better than to try to suck up to him. But he suspected that this making-nice to Steven was a way for Mr. Sandburg to entwine himself more thoroughly in Jim's life and – by extension – William's. Although Jim had never asked for a penny from his father, Mr. Sandburg must have found out that Jim came from money, and expected to cash in. What other reason could a fatuous college student have to associate with a police detective?

He would find his plans thwarted; William would make certain of that. To that end... he should at least pretend to be sociable with the young man. Arguments made by an uncommunicative stranger wouldn't be very convincing. And it was probably better that he begin before Jim arrived.

William rose and carried his empty plate into the kitchen. "The pie was very good, Mr. Sandburg. Where did you learn to cook so well?"

"Oh, thanks. But, hey, call me Blair, okay? I'm 'Mr. Sandburg' to my students." He didn't even have the courtesy to stop his preparation of the eggnog while he spoke to William. "Well, I've learned from pretty much every corner of the world..."

William's ability to feign interest had been honed by years of corporate social gatherings. It stood him in good stead now as he half-listened to the long, rambling, trumped-up tale.

Mr. Sandburg finally finished his story at the same time he put the eggnog in the fridge to chill. William gave him no credit for immediately filling the sink to wash the dishes he'd used; it was undoubtedly part of his plan to get on William's good side, even though it made sense – Steven couldn't put his cast in water, and William hadn't washed dishes in over forty years.

In the midst of washing, Mr. Sandburg paused and raised his head. "Is that thunder? The weather report said clear for the next few days."

William glanced out the window while Steven went to the door. It was sunny, but they all heard the rolling rumble, and felt the vibration beneath their feet.

Then the lights went out.

Jim made a conscious effort to stop grinding his teeth as he finally – finally! – satisfied all the DA's questions and walked out of the office. How many times could the same information be covered before it was deemed 'adequate'? He glanced at his watch; apparently as many times as it took to drag the meeting an hour past the promised 'out by noon'.

He made mental calculations as he headed the truck out of town. He'd still reach the lodge by mid-afternoon, still have three and a half days there. And by the time he got there, the eggnog should be ready for its taste-test. Sandburg swore his recipe outshone all others for flavor and texture; Jim intended to hold him to it.

As he took the turn off Interstate 5 to Route 20, Jim settled into a Zen-like state that was every bit as good as the meditation Sandburg was always trying to foist on him. The day was sunny, the road was clear, and he had Santana in the tape deck. He could relax and enjoy just being 'in the moment'. Sometimes Sandburg's new-age stuff wasn't such guff, although Jim didn't intend to let him know that.

An hour out of town, he narrowed his eyes at the flashing lights ahead. This wasn't a logical place for a DWI or Immigration checkpoint, but it looked like the Highway Patrol was stopping all cars. Some passed through the checkpoint, and some made a U-turn, heading back this way.

Jim took his place in line and waited. As the HP approached, he rolled down the window. "Is there a problem, Officer?"

"Depends on how far you're planning to travel. There's been an avalanche between Marblemount and Newhalem. The reports are, it's extensive – almost ten miles of road are inaccessible. You can get to Marblemount, but not far past it."

Jim cringed internally; how many vehicles had been caught in such a massive event? "I'm a police officer and former Ranger," he offered. "Do you need any help with search and rescue?"

"As far as we can tell, we were incredibly lucky, with no vehicles in the area at that time. We have helicopters flying over the lower edge, looking for signs, but it looks clear so far."

That was a relief; no injuries, and Dad's group should have reached the lodge long before the avalanche occurred. But, from the description, it could well affect the secondary road that led to Dad's lodge. "What caused it? Doesn't seem like there's enough of a snow-pack yet for avalanches to be triggered."

The officer – her nametag read 'Daley' – glanced down the road. As yet, no cars had stopped behind Jim's truck, so she was prepared to satisfy a citizen's bump of curiosity. "Damnedest thing. Seems like a wheel fell off a private plane as it flew over the area; it landed on a high slope and started a chain reaction. They've got snowplows working from both ends, but it likely won't be cleared till morning."

That was hardly encouraging; even when the main road was cleared, it would be some time longer before the road to the lodge could be plowed – assuming it had also been affected by the avalanche. The only way to know for sure was to get to Marblemount and check the situation for himself.

"Thank you, Officer. I'm heading to a lodge past Marblemount. I think I need to get some first-hand information; it's possible that the avalanche is past my turnoff. If not, I'll put up at a motel for the night, so I can move out as soon as it's allowed." Marblemount had only two motels, but they were unlikely to be fully-booked.

"Sounds sensible," Daley agreed. "Good luck to you, sir." She stepped back, and Jim proceeded past the checkpoint.

He was already considering possibilities. Had the avalanche affected the lodge? Might he be able to walk in from Marblemount? It was about fifteen miles, but doable; maybe he could rent some cross-country skis.

All of that could be worked out later. Right now, the worst was not knowing what was happening with Sandburg and his family. There was no cell signal out here; he'd have to stop at Concrete, and call from there. With luck, they were snug at the lodge, without an inkling that anything had happened. But it seemed like his luck – and Sandburg's – rarely ran that way.

"Whoa!" said Blair, as the hum of the refrigerator died, and the only light was that coming through the windows. "Do you often get power outages?"

"Anyone in this area should be prepared for all eventualities," William pointed out. "There's a propane-powered generator in the shed out back; all I need to do is turn on the gas-feed and flip the switch." He pulled his coat out of the front closet before heading outside.

"Oh, hey, I'll take care of that for you; be right back." Blair stepped out the back door of the kitchen and jogged across the yard, deliberately bounding through the snowdrifts and laughing aloud as he went.

Steven watched through the window. "Have you noticed how much fun Blair has with life? Being around him is kind of refreshing."

"Have you considered he's pulling the wool over Jimmy's eyes?" William countered. "I wonder when we'll see under the mask – or if he's good enough to keep it up."

Steven stared at his father. "Dad... didn't you listen to Jim? He and Blair are friends, that's all." William merely compressed his lips, signaling his disapproval. "Oh, come on! Jim's a detective; how long do you think Blair could keep some hidden agenda secret from him? Whatever you suspect, it doesn't make sense."

"I can't take that chance," William said. "Jimmy's important to me; you're important to me. Maybe I haven't shown it enough, but I don't want to see either of you hurt."

Steven swallowed. "Thanks, Dad. I... you're... important to me, too. But, don't you see, part of a parent wanting good things for their children is respecting the children's decisions. If you don't give Blair the benefit of the doubt, I think Jim will draw a line between you and him."

Blair was trudging back from the generator shed; why hadn't the electricity come back on? "You might have a point," William acknowledged as Blair stood on the porch, stamping the snow off his shoes.

"We have a problem," Blair announced as he walked through the door. "No propane."

"What!" William thundered. "I gave specific instructions that it be filled."

Blair shrugged as he toed out of his wet shoes. "Well, either your caretaker-guy forgot, or there's a leak in the system. All I know is, the gauge reads 'empty'. I turned on the gas-feed and flipped the switch, just in case the gauge was wrong, but nothing happened."

William strode into the living room. "Let's see if the Sheriff knows what happened to the power," he said as he picked up the phone. He huffed in irritation as he replaced the receiver. "No dial tone; whatever took out the power took out the phone lines, too."

"I left my cellphone in my pack; I'll go get it," Blair offered, heading toward the stairs.

"Don't bother," William said. "No service out here."

The three men exchanged glances. "So now what?" Steven asked. "We have food but no power. Do we hunker down and wait for it to come back on, or get the hell out of Dodge?"

"Living with Jim has taught me that information is necessary before you can plan an operation," Blair said. "I suggest we pack our bags and head down to that last town we passed – Marblemount? We can find someone there who knows how long the blackout will last. If it's not long, we can come back. Otherwise, we head home."

"We'll have to watch for Jim if we head home, flag him down so he won't pass us and start a manhunt when he finds the lodge empty," Steven said.

"Jim's got great eyesight; he'll see us first," Blair said casually.

William shot him a look. "Perhaps I can get a propane delivery from Marblemount, and we can come back here. But I think Mr. Sandburg – Blair – makes sense. If we leave right away, we can make it to town and back before dark. If we come back."

Blair grabbed his dufflebag, which he hadn't yet unpacked, then banked the fire while William and Steven threw their clothes into their suitcases. They were in the car and driving away from the lodge within ten minutes.

Within another fifteen minutes, they faced the probable cause of the power outage – a massive river of snow crossing the road. William stopped the car, and the group contemplated the sight in silence.

"Well, that puts paid to getting a propane delivery today. I could climb a tree," Blair offered. "If it's not too extensive, maybe we could climb over and walk to town."

"Too dangerous," William decided. "None of us have warm enough clothing, and it's over ten miles to town."

"And somehow, I don't think Jim will be joining us later today," Steven said. "Unless he hitches a ride with Santa." Blair snorted, but William sighed.

"Surely they'll get the road plowed tomorrow. They're used to snow-removal around here." Steven and Blair nodded agreement.

After some maneuvering in the narrow road, William was able to turn the car around. As soon as they were inside the lodge, Blair took charge.

"Okay, look, we've got a lot going for us – we have food, shelter, and warmth. But we're going to have to make the most of the warmth. I think we should hang blankets to block off the doorways to the other rooms, and plan to sleep in front of the fireplace tonight. I mean..." he faltered for a moment, noticing the way William and Steven were staring at him. "Sorry, Mr. Ellison. It's just that I've lived in so many different cultures around the world, I know a bunch of survival tricks – from hearsay, as well things I've experienced myself. They might not all be necessary, but it'll be easier to get rid of excess heat than it will be to build up more heat if we don't have enough."

William nodded; perhaps Jimmy and Steven were right, and this young man was more level-headed than he had given him credit for. "Thank you, Blair. We'll follow your lead; certainly neither of us have been in a situation like this."

"Right. Okay..." Blair surveyed the room, making plans. "We'll bring some mattresses down from the bedrooms later and put them in front of the fire. Steven, you collect every extra blanket and sheet available; pull them off the beds we won't be using, as well. Mr. Ellison, I hope you have a toolkit around here; we'll need a hammer and nails, and maybe rope and a staple-gun if you have them. And then you can rearrange the furniture – move the chairs closer to the fireplace; just leave enough room to put the mattresses on the floor. I'll bring in as much firewood as I can, and pile it in that corner." He waved toward the area farthest from the fireplace. "We'll lose heat every time we open the door; once we batten down the hatches, we want to avoid that."

"We can do that," William said. "And, Blair – you can call me William." The open smile he received surely couldn't be faked; perhaps he really had misjudged this young man.

"Thanks, William."

Blair headed outside toward the woodshed at the side of the lodge, while Steven and William split up to accomplish their tasks.

Ninety minutes later, the living room looked like a cross between a Gypsy caravan and a laundry-yard. A huge pile of firewood filled one corner, while blankets or quilts had been nailed in front of every door and window to help prevent heat loss. Blair had hung ropes from the ceiling to hang sheets – pinned together end-to-end to make them long enough – around the stairs to the upper story. Three mattress, each piled with several extra blankets, were fanned out in front of the fireplace – which now held a newly-blazing fire – with the most comfortable chairs pulled into a semi-circle just beyond them. The kitchen table and chairs had also been moved into the living room, taking a place behind the easy chairs. The non-perishable food was clustered at one end; they would be able to snack on cheese, crackers, pie and cookies without venturing into the kitchen, now growing increasingly chilly. Several hurricane lanterns, which William had unearthed from some hidden storage, provided wavering, but adequate, light.

"I'm impressed, Blair," Steven said as he leaned back in a chair and stretched his feet toward the fire. "Short of having the power restored, I don't think we could be any more comfortable. And imagine the stories we'll have to tell when we get home, right, Dad? 'We survived being snowbound by the avalanche of ninety-eight.' Should be good for a few rounds of drinks."

"It's quite an innovative plan," William agreed. "Thank you, Blair; left to our own devices, we wouldn't have thought of many of these... enhancements." He resolutely ignored how tacky it all looked; their survival might well be at stake.

"Well, I have one more trick up my sleeve," Blair declared. "We deserve a hot meal. I can't cook a turkey dinner over an open fire, but goulash is doable. I'll be right back." He grabbed one of the lanterns, ducked around the blanket that blocked the kitchen doorway and returned a few moments later, carrying a large cast-iron skillet. It was filled with the ingredients he'd need, but apparently not everything. "One more trip," he promised, heading again into the dark.

Blair was soon chopping carrots and onions, and measuring spices. He refused offers of help – "Thanks, but it's a one-man job," – but started a freewheeling discussion about recipe variations around the world and memorable meals both good and bad. While the goulash burbled gently on the fire, they shared cheese and crackers, then finished the meal with generous portions of pie.

"That was excellent, Blair," William said. "I just wish Jimmy had been able to get here before the road was blocked."

"Jim doesn't let much stand in his way," Steven said. "I bet he'll be here about ten minutes after the snowplows break through tomorrow."

"Or before," Blair added. "I wouldn't put it past him to commandeer a dogsled if the snowplows aren't getting the job done fast enough." That produced a general chuckle in the group.

Conversation languished for a while, until Steven slapped the arm of his chair. "We need to wake this party up; anyone ready for a game of poker?"

The rest of the evening passed with raises and calls, Springerle and Rumkugeln, copious quantities of eggnog, and tales – undoubtedly enhanced – of Jim's, Steven's, and Blair's childhoods. Blair stored the best of them in his memory; he might need the ammunition someday.

When Steven was up by thirteen thousand dollars – which translated to thirteen cents – they called a halt, added more wood to the fire, and settled into their nicely toasty beds.

December 25, 1998

Morning started with Blair's scrambling sprint to toss a couple of logs into the fireplace, a quick poke to stir the fire to renewed life, and a desperate dive into the warmth of his covers. "Give it about half an hour," he advised when Steven raised his head to see what was happening. "Then we'll be able to move around without getting frostbite."

William's voice came from beyond Steven. "I thought parents didn't have to get up early for Christmas once the kids were grown. You boys go back to sleep, or Santa will take your presents back!"

Blair snickered and shared a glance with Steven – by golly, he felt like a kid – and followed William's orders.

An hour later, while Blair mixed pancakes for breakfast, Steven and William stacked the mattresses on the far side of the room. Depending on circumstances, they could be carried upstairs later, or moved back in front of the fire if they had to spend another night. They removed the blanket that covered the east window, to let in some sunlight, but left the others covered; the extra light wouldn't be worth the loss of heat.

William watched Blair kneeling in front of the fire as he cooked pancakes. None of them had attempted to shave this morning, and Blair's extra heavy beard-growth – not to mention bed-head that resembled the tattered remnants of a windblown bird's nest, despite having been finger-combed and ponytailed – made him look particularly scruffy. But William also noticed the muscles evident in the forearms below the rolled-up shirt sleeves, and the strong, capable hands as they proficiently dealt with iron skillet and open flames.

"You seem very adept at cooking over an open fire," William remarked. "I suspect I'd burn everything to a crisp."

"It's a useful skill," Blair agreed. "Anthropologists need to adapt to the cultures they're studying; sometimes being able to demonstrate the skills they take for granted is the best proof that you're actually a human being. Although I must admit, Ben Franklin had the right idea when he invented the stove." Blair lifted the pancakes onto a plate, and set it in front of William. "Yours is coming right up," he told Steven as he ladled more batter onto the skillet.

They were lingering over pie and coffee when they heard a truck horn outside, followed by the sound of a slamming door.

"Roads must be open again," Steven said unnecessarily as he moved to hold the blanket aside so it wouldn't tangle the opening door.

"And he didn't even need a dogsled," Blair said as he put the skillet back in the fire and ladled more batter onto the surface. "I should have known he wouldn't miss breakfast."

Jim spent the night at the Buffalo Run Inn, right next to the highway that passed through Marblemount. It didn't make for a very restful sleep; there was far more traffic than usual in this tiny town, as relief crews rotated in and out to keep the heavy machinery working. On the other hand, this end of the snow removal was less than five miles away; he could easily follow the progress from both sides of the avalanche debris. He was up, checked out of the motel, and first one in line when the plows met and the road was opened. A few persuasive words and generous tip convinced a weary driver to tackle the road to the lodge immediately, instead of leaving it for another driver on a later shift. He followed directly behind, passed the plow with a wave of thanks as soon as it broke through the blockage, and pulled up in front of the lodge at 9:05 – not bad at all.

He felt a surge of relief when he saw Dad's car in the parking area, and smoke coming from the chimney. He'd known why he couldn't reach them on the phone yesterday; the avalanche undoubtedly pulled down the phone and power lines – thank God Dad had a backup generator – and there was no cell service this far into the mountains. Still, the 'what if' scenarios had tumbled through his mind, and it was comforting to have proof that they'd been baseless figments of his imagination. He honked the horn to let his family know he'd arrived, and strode through the front door...

...to stop, just inside, with his jaw dropping open. The place looked like a refugee camp – an impression that was reinforced by the unshaven faces smiling at him, and Sandburg hunched like a gnome in front of the fireplace.

"Hi, Jim," said the gnome. "Merry Christmas! Have a seat; your pancakes will be ready in just a couple of minutes."

"Merry Christmas, bro. 'Bout time you got here; you've been missing all the fun."

"Merry Christmas, Jimmy." William smiled his understanding of Jim's confusion. "There's coffee in the pot next to the fire."

"Coffee might help," Jim agreed. He filled a mug, then sat across from his father. "What happened here? Thanks, Chief," he added, as Blair set a plate of two golden-brown pancakes in front of him.

Steven seemed to be treating the situation as a big joke. "Funny thing," he quipped. "As soon as you lose electricity, you travel back in time about a hundred and fifty years. Who knew?"

"Blair knew. He organized all this to keep us warm overnight," William explained.

"And your dad didn't even flinch when we transformed this room into something that looks like a back-yard rummage sale." Blair grinned at William as he refilled his coffee mug. "You were a real trouper," he said as he set the mug in front of William.

"What happened to the generator? And is there any blueberry pie left?"

"I don't know; is there?" Blair ducked the crumpled napkin Jim tossed at him and slid the pie-pan across the table. "And either the propane tank is empty, or the generator is out of order, so we made alternate arrangements." He shrugged. "As your dad said, we handled it; no big deal." He reached for a Springerle, dunked a corner in his coffee, and started munching.

Jim raised an eyebrow. "You told your usual guy to get the place ready?" he asked William.

"Mark Hilliard," William replied. "He's always been reliable. But we won't be able to get a repairman or gas delivery today. Now that the road is clear, we should probably head back to Cascade."

That was Jim's cue to agree; he was still hesitant about enforced closeness with his family. But, under William's matter-of-fact tone, he caught a thread of disappointment. Dad did want this, and it looked like he'd tried hard to make it all come together... and it was Christmas.

"I'll go out and take a look," he said. "Maybe it'll work if I bang it a couple of times."

Blair sighed with mock sorrow. "William, I regret to inform you that your son – sorry, Steven, his eldest son – is a Neanderthal; he thinks every problem can be solved by hitting it with a bigger rock."

"That's because experience has demonstrated that eighty-seven point six-five percent of problems can be solved by using a bigger rock." Jim chuckled at the disbelieving expression on William's face. "Sorry, Dad; Blair brings out the worst in me." At the end of the table, Steven wasn't even trying to stifle his laughter.

Jim finished his pie and stood, reaching for his jacket. "You still keep a toolbox in the pantry, Dad?" At the affirmative nod, he tossed Blair's jacket into his hands. "C'mon, Chief; I'll show you how useful a rock can be."

"Then taking the toolbox is cheating, or overkill, or something against the man-code," Blair protested as he followed his partner out the back door.

"Didn't you know?" Jim's voice floated back to the men inside, watching through the window and shivering slightly in the cold air. "A wrench is just a specially-shaped rock."

Steven chuckled. "I can hardly imagine two more different people, but have you noticed how comfortable Jim is around Blair? I've haven't seen him so relaxed since we were kids; Blair is good for him."

"You may be right, Steven," William agreed. But Jimmy would be deeply hurt if Blair turned on him; as engaging as the young man was, he still could be a con artist. William had forgotten that, until Jimmy presence here had reminded him. He had to be careful, watchful – ready to support Jimmy if needed.

Jim rapped his knuckles against the propane tank, listening to the note it produced. "Well, the gauge must be defective, Chief; it's full. Let's see where the problem is." He ran his fingers along the exposed pipes and wires, then stopped. "I think this is it."

Blair couldn't see a thing; that section of wire looked no different from the rest. "What?"

"There's a dead zone right here; it breaks the power flow." Jim flipped off the circuit-breaker, then pulled a pair of wire-cutters out of the toolbox. Within minutes he had cut out the damaged section, spliced the wire back together, and wrapped it securely with electrical tape. When he flipped on the circuit-breaker, the generator hummed to life.

"All right!" Blair crowed. "But you realize you just blew your big chance."

"Chance to pay a repairman a hundred dollars for a ten-minute fix?"

"No, man; chance to bond with your family under extreme conditions."

Jim closed the toolbox and, together, they walked back to the house. "Your definitions are out of whack, Chief. Food, warmth, and soft beds don't qualify as 'extreme'. And personally, I want the oven working; it's time to put in the turkey."

Jim prepped the turkey and put it in the oven while the others began restoring the living room to its former status. It took less time to remove the hanging blankets than it had to put them up; they and the mattresses disappeared into the bedrooms upstairs. After a short discussion – Blair asked, and William agreed – the pile of wood remained in the corner; it was convenient and, over the next two days of keeping the fireplace supplied, the pile would be mostly depleted. The easy chairs were left in the semi-circle in front of the fireplace; the cozy grouping felt more comfortable than the previous arrangement.

Blair joined Jim to make the sweet potato casserole and the dressing while Steven kibitzed with unnecessary advice, claiming his broken arm as the reason he couldn't help.

"Actually, he managed pretty well last night," Blair told Jim. "I think your little brother is lazy."

"I know, but it's Christmas, and I should indulge him," Jim said. "I could break the other one for you, and then you'd have a good excuse to sit around and do nothing." Jim's tone toward Steven was oh-so-very-helpful.

"Not worth it," Blair pointed out. "I'd have to file a report for use of excessive force, and then you'd be dealing with the counter-paperwork till Valentine's Day. Just think how many trees that would kill."

"I approve of saving trees – and my other arm," Steven assured them through his laughter.

William sipped another cup of coffee and watched his sons and their friend. This Christmas trip had been a good idea; he hadn't seen the boys so relaxed since Jimmy was a teen. Blair was a big part of that, he acknowledged. If only he could be sure the young man didn't have an ulterior motive for staying so close to Jimmy.

With dinner in the oven, Jim and Blair made short work of washing the dishes. When they were finished, Jim put on a solemn expression as he spoke to the others. "You know, I think I'm being taken for granted. I fight my way here through adverse conditions, then immediately get put to work as a repairman, cook, and dishwasher. I deserve a little recompense – like pie and eggnog."

"And presents," Blair said. "It's not a big deal – and I don't expect anything in return – but I brought a few things I'd like to share."

"I brought some, too." Steven looked around the room, eyes narrowed in thought. "But if we're going to that, we need a tree.

William shifted uncomfortably. "I'm sorry, boys; I never thought of bringing a tree."

"If you had, it would be like coals to Newcastle," Blair chuckled. "Since Jim has been so overworked, I'll do the honors." He took the wire-cutters from the toolbox and headed outside, jogged to the nearest pine tree, and quickly returned with an eighteen-inch cutting from one of the branches. "A tree!" he proclaimed with a flourish.

"From the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Farm? Excellent choice, Chief, but it needs an appropriate tree-stand." Jim pulled a checkered dishtowel from a drawer, then gestured the others to follow him into the living room. He twisted the dishtowel into a rope and coiled it into a ring on top of the end-table next to the sofa. With a flourish, he waved Blair forward, and grinned as his friend stood the little branch up in the middle of the decorative towel.

It was cute. It was silly. "'It's not such a bad little tree'," Blair quipped, bringing smiles from Jim and Steven. But... they all felt it. Somehow, that small sprig of greenery made it feel more like Christmas.

Despite that, an uncomfortable silence fell.

"Well! This is awkward!" Steven said with forced heartiness. "I bet even Blair doesn't know of any traditions that cover gift-giving between estranged family members. So... anyone want to play Santa?"

Blair hadn't thought this far ahead. The last thing he wanted was for anyone – specifically, William – to feel embarrassment for not having given someone else – specifically, him – a gift. "How about we simply hand our presents to each other, and then we all just open them?"

"Works for me," Jim said.

In short order, everyone had pie and eggnog at hand, and a few boxes or envelopes on his chair. After a few exchanged glances, Steven took the lead. "Dad? We think you deserve to be first. Have at it."

"Thank you, Steven." As he opened the gifts, William seemed pleased by Steven's subscription to a new financial magazine, touched by Jim's gold and onyx cufflink and tiepin set, and... suspicious of Blair's Crown Royal. His 'thank you' was no more than correctly formal.

Blair thought he understood; William was trying to juggle two perceptions of Blair, and having difficulty maintaining a balance. Blair-the-man had proved himself capable in a difficult situation, and could be accepted. But as a friend of his son, Blair-the-anthropologist might be dangerous, and William's instinct was to protect Jim. It was perfectly natural; Blair just hoped that William didn't see the flash of irritation in Jim's eyes.

Steven tore into his presents next, as if he could hardly wait. When he opened Jim's package, Blair caught a glimpse of the young boy who had looked up to his big brother. Whatever was inside would have been acceptable, but the assortment of fancy coffee beans was a hit; Steven promised to share his "Organic Rainforest Blend" in the morning. He snickered when Blair's package of Jelly Bellies was revealed. "A little bird must've told you what I like," he said, popping one into his mouth.

"Something like that," Blair agreed, satisfied with this present, at least.

Jim's eyes gleamed at the Jags tickets that Steven gave him. "Nice to see you're suitably appreciative of your big brother." He spread fifteen tickets into a fan. "But do I need three tickets for each game? Me and Blair... and who else?" Steven tossed an orange Jelly Belly at him.

Blair held his breath as Jim tore the wrapping from the copy of Jack Kerouac's Big Sur that he'd found in the used bookstore. It was one of the few Kerouacs that Jim didn't own, but was that because he wasn't interested? When Jim smoothed his hand across the cover, Blair started to breathe again. "Thanks, Chief."

"I'm glad you like it."

Blair had two envelopes to open. He supposed Steven had asked Jim for gift suggestions, just as he had. But his jaw dropped when he saw the amount on the gift certificate to the Campus Bookstore. "Steven! This... I... Thanks, man! I mean, really."

Jim chuckled. "You turned Sandburg speechless; high praise, little brother."

The other envelope held two tickets to the Anthropology exhibit in Olympia next weekend. Blair felt an incredible rush at the indication that Jim had selected a gift so specifically to his tastes – and that he intended to accompany Blair to the exhibit.

"More high praise, man," he murmured. "I don't know what to say. 'Thanks' doesn't quite cover it."

"That's plenty, Chief. You're welcome."

"Well, that was nice," Steven said. He raised his eggnog. "I propose a toast: Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas!" everyone chorused, and drained their glasses.

"Now, that turkey smells mighty good," Steven added. "Shall we?"

Jim interrupted the suggested exodus. "Before we eat, I have one more present – for Blair. Something that's very important... and long overdue."

He waited a moment for the others to settle back into their chairs, and smiled at Blair's quizzical expression. "This one isn't wrapped, Chief; just listen.

"Dad, Steven... I know you've both wondered why Blair continues to live and work with me – why he would want to, and why I allow it, when it seems we have hardly anything in common. And I have to admit, in normal circumstances, I probably wouldn't have given him the time of day; he basically forced himself into my life, and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. And for that, I'm incredibly grateful. I don't tell him very often..." Jim cast a wry look toward Blair, who was wide-eyed in surprise. "...more like, hardly ever, but I couldn't do it without him."

Steven's attention shifted between Blair and Jim, as if he might find a clue for understanding Jim's speech. "Do what? Blair's a nice enough guy, but he's not a cop. Sorry, Blair."

"Oh, I've heard it before." Blair dismissed the comment with a hand-wave. "It's nothing but the truth, after all."

William was also looking from Jim to Blair, his expression frankly dubious. "You mean your... 'gift', Jimmy?"

"Yeah, Dad, that's exactly what I mean." Jim focused his attention more fully on Steven; he might have to face Dad's disapproval later, but he was determined to do this. Blair deserved the recognition.

"About two and a half years ago, my senses went into overdrive – everything became fifty times more intense than normal. But when I can control them, it gives me a big boost in my work. That's where Blair comes in – he helps me refine that control, and figures out ways I can use my senses more effectively." Jim was relaxing now; it was a relief to let his family in on the secret. "Kind of like a combination athletic coach, piano tuner, and dog-trainer." That earned him a snort from said coach-tuner-trainer. "In fact, that's how I fixed the generator – I literally felt the short in the wires."

"That's amazing," Steven breathed. "Last year – is that how you knew where the weak spots were in the stadium?"

"That's it," Jim confirmed. "I could hear the weak areas in the concrete collapsing in on itself."

"And when we were kids? The animals we found when we were 'hunting' – that wasn't just luck, right?"

"Right. I had the enhanced senses back then; just didn't realize what I was doing with them. They kind of... disappeared when I was a teen, and when they came back, they hit hard, knocked me for a loop."

William spoke hesitantly. "How long before you finish your... training, Jimmy? Will you be able to control your – senses – by yourself?"

With a gesture, Jim passed the lecture over to Blair.

"We're not really sure, William; the information about people with Jim's abilities is very old, and not well documented. Theoretically, he should be able to manage the input easily – the same way we do with our average senses – but in reality, Jim finds it much easier to handle everything when I'm around. We're not exactly sure why, but we don't mess with a good partnership." Blair's eyes were shining; he had never expected to hear such validation from Jim.

"So..." William seemed to brace himself. "What's the bottom line, here? Jimmy's explained what he gets out of your partnership, but what about you?" Though unspoken, Blair read the next thought in William's expression: How long before you take off and leave my son to flounder for himself?

"I got a friend," Blair said simply. "Jim's right; under ordinary circumstances, we probably wouldn't have associated with each other. I basically called him a caveman the day we met. And at first, all I saw was the embodiment of a quest I'd been following for ten years – a sentinel, a tribal protector, someone who's genetically programmed to be better than the rest of us. But when I got the stars out of my eyes and looked at the man, I saw someone who's loyal, warm, trustworthy, and rock-solid. I... didn't have much of that when I was growing up; I want to hang on to it. But mostly, working with Jim just feels right. We've got a connection that..." Blair shrugged. He could try to explain, but suspected neither William nor Steven could truly understand.

A blazing smile crossed Blair's face as he turned from William to Jim. "That was the best present I've ever had, in my whole life. Thank you, Jim."

"Right back at'cha, Chief." Jim's return smile was as broad as Blair's. "Now, enough of this touchy-feely stuff. I don't need an enhanced sense of smell to know that dinner is ready; time to eat." He led the way to the kitchen, with Steven following, asking questions about Jim's use of his senses and Blair's contribution in dealing with them.

Blair hung behind for an opportunity to have a private word with William. "Mr. Ellison – William – I won't leave Jim high and dry; I'm in this for the long haul," he said softly. "I would never do anything to hurt him, and his secret is safe with me."

William regarded him silently for long moments. "I don't actually trust altruism, Mr. Sandburg. And although Jimmy has always had good judgment, people have been fooled before. But I'll accept that you're sincere. And... thank you for helping my son."

"It's my very great pleasure," Blair assured him. "Now, we better get to the table before those two leave us nothing but scraps."

As they stepped into the kitchen, Jim gave Blair a small nod, accompanied by a quiet smile. Of course he'd heard. William and Blair might never be fast friends, but cautious cordiality at least gave them something to build on.

Jim continued carving the turkey as his family – by birth and by heart – gathered around the table. Blair served the dressing while he traded quips with Steven, usually targeting Jim, and William poured a round of coffee for everyone. Although their get-together had been unconventional and haphazard, Christmas was working its magic of fellowship – forging new relationships, mending cracks in old ones, and encouraging people to see the joy in their lives.

"Dad? White meat or dark?"

"Both, please. ... Thank you."

Lively conversation highlighted the shared meal as afternoon settled into evening. It was shaping up to be a pretty good weekend, Jim realized. He really couldn't ask for more than that.

The End

Author's Notes

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2010-10-01 11:13 pm

#46 - Kidnapped!


Title: Kidnapped!
Summary: Who the heck is 'the boss', and why does he want Blair?
Style: Gen
Size: 8,120 words, about 16 pages
Warnings: None
Notes: September, 2010. My thanks to Jess Riley for giving Megan's speech an authentic Aussie flavor.
Feedback: Not necessary, but anything you want to give is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org


by StarWatcher

Some amorphous time between "The Waiting Room" and "Most Wanted",
when Jim and Blair are working well together before the final dissertation mess.

"So, Jimbo, why am I here instead of Sandy?" Megan Connor stared idly into the darkness outside the truck. They were depending on Ellison's eyes for the stakeout, not hers; she just had to make sure he didn't blank out if he used his senses too hard -- 'zone', Sandy called it.

Jim Ellison shifted in his seat as he tried to restrain his irritation at having her here. It made no difference that Connor was doing the best she could; she just rubbed him the wrong way. Blair had instructed him firmly -- ordered him, really -- to 'play nice', but it felt wrong to have someone else in the passenger seat.

"Sandburg calls it the 'Plight of the Lowly TA'," he sighed. "Between studying for tests he needs to take himself, and grading his students' tests, he doesn't have time to sit in the dark and do nothing. Hell, he barely has time to eat and sleep; I don't know how he does it."

Megan smiled affectionately. "If we could bottle Sandy's energy, we'd be able to run crime right into the ground. But at least it's not permanent; term will be over next Thursday, right? And then you two can get back to normal."

"It would be nice," Jim said absently, as he focused more intently toward the target. "Sandburg's already making noises about developing a new syllabus for the Fall semester -- which means checking lots of sources to see what he wants to include -- and writing two papers to submit for publication. He needs to clone himself, just so he can get everything done."

"Why not just drag him out of town on one of your fishing trips? Then he'd have to take a break."

"Sometimes Sandburg gets so focused on one idea, he can't see anything different. I've already suggested a sort of mini-vacation, but he turned me down. Thought it would be real good for me and Simon and Joel to get away, though."

Megan chuckled. "Maybe you could kidnap him; just sling him over your shoulder and walk off. But I don't think Sandy would appreciate the caveman routine any more than I would."

"You got that right. Sandburg's easygoing, but he can be ferocious when he -- heads up! Our guy is on the move."

Megan squinted in the direction Jim was looking, but could distinguish only a vague area of 'slightly darker'. "You're the sentinel, mate, not me. How do you want to handle it?"

"He's on foot. I'll follow him, and you follow me. Is your phone on vibrate?"

Megan pulled her cellphone out of her pocket and made the adjustment. "It is now."

"No telling how far he'll lead us. I'll hang back far enough that he won't see me, while you follow both of us. I'll give you a call when we need backup."

"Or I'll move in if something goes wrong."

Jim gave a disgusted snort. "I'm not an amateur, Connor."

"No, you're Sandy's partner... and he'll wear steel-capped Blundstones to stomp all over anyone who lets you get hurt. I'm not taking any chances."

"Give me a break," Jim muttered. "Okay, he's far enough ahead not to see me. Stay as far back as you can, while still keeping me in sight."

He slipped out of the truck, easing the door closed behind him, and moving forward into the shadows. Megan also exited quietly, keeping her eyes on the dark figure in front of her. She wouldn't be able to let him get very far ahead... a flash of white near ground-level caught her eye; Ellison's ridiculous white socks. Her part of this moving surveillance had just gotten a little easier. She gave it a count of ten, then followed her temporary partner.

When Jim walked in at two AM, he found Blair snoring gently on the couch, his glasses askew on his face and a red pen dangling precariously from a limp hand; he'd obviously conked out in the middle of grading.

Jim shook his head ruefully; waking Blair to send him to bed would probably be counter-productive. Once awake, he was likely to go back to his grading, operating on the theory that he could override his body's need for sleep.

Working carefully but efficiently, Jim removed Blair's shoes and lifted his legs onto the couch, then pulled the glasses off his face and the pen out of his hand and set them safely on the coffee table. The final step was to pull the afghan from the back of the couch and drop it over his sleeping friend. That would hold him till morning and, hopefully, Blair would sleep in. Jim certainly intended to do just that; after all, there was a reason for Saturdays.

As he climbed the stairs and undressed for bed, Jim pondered Megan's suggestion. Kidnapping wouldn't work -- Blair would see right through any disguise he came up with -- but there had to be some way to get him away from the university stress. Blair would relax and make the best of things if he had no choice, but how to get him to that point...

Jim woke with a plan filling his mind in glorious detail. Complicated though; it would take a couple of weeks to work out, and he'd have to ask his dad for a favor and dip a bit into his savings account.

Actually, quite a bit of savings. He calculated swiftly; round-trip air for... well, two people, maybe, and one-way for four. Some out-of-the way but comfortable place for him and Blair to stay for a week. No, call it ten days; might as well enjoy as much time off as possible. Hmm... this was beginning to look suspiciously like overkill.

Jim gazed over the railing to watch Blair still sleeping on the couch, his face scrunched into the cushion and his right hand occasionally twitching as if he were grading papers even in his sleep. This was a man who had so many irons in the fire he couldn't even count them: student, teacher, sentinel researcher, guide, on-call anthropological expert for information to crack some of Cascade's more esoteric crimes, untrained but incredibly creative partner to an active cop, and... best friend.

And Blair had been juggling all those hats for the better part of three years. Not overkill so much as finally getting his due.

Having satisfactorily disposed of any possible arguments, Jim dressed and went downstairs, where he stopped in the bathroom and used the john. After showering and shaving, he moved to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee, then raided the fridge. They had enough leftover this and that to make a killer super-duper deluxe omelet for two. If Blair was going to study and grade all day -- likely -- he'd do it more efficiently with a good meal under his belt.

Two Weeks Later

Blair slid his backpack off his shoulders as he approached the Volvo in the otherwise-empty parking lot. The University Library was on shortened hours during semester break, but he'd found the books he needed before they locked him out, and he'd get a lot done on his new syllabus this weekend. In fact, he'd managed to do more than he'd expected in the week since the semester had ended; Jim hadn't needed much help with his cases at the PD. It was odd for Jim to have such a light load -- he tended to grab any new case that came along if he was anywhere close to finishing a previous one -- but maybe he was closing things down for awhile to take that mini-vacation he'd talked about... and none too soon. Blair sincerely hoped Jim would take Simon along; they could both use the break, and maybe the captain would bellow a little more quietly after some time off. Blair grinned to himself; he'd be sure to point that out to Simon when he and Jim got back.

He had just tossed his backpack into the rear seat when someone crowded him from behind -- where the hell had he come from? Blair hadn't seen anyone nearby -- and jammed a gun into his ribs.

"Don't turn around, kid," a low, threatening voice said, "and put your hands on the side of the car."

"You have got to be kidding me!" Blair exclaimed bitterly, even as he obeyed the orders. "Jim's not working on anything important, and all I'm good for is anthropological information. Tell you what," he babbled as a blindfold was tied over his eyes and handcuffs snapped over his wrists -- in front of him, thankfully, "why don't you take off the cuffs, and I'll keep the blindfold on until you get out of here. No harm, no foul; I won't even try to look, and you won't have a pissed-off sen- senior detective looking for you."

His captor said nothing as Blair heard a vehicle drive up, and then he was urged forward. "Honest, you're just asking for trouble. You know about Jim Ellison, right? He won't stop till he finds me, and then you'll be in a world of hurt."

"The door's open; sit down." His captor grabbed Blair's hands and put them on the seat to give him a positional reference, then placed a protective hand on top of his head and guided him into place. Apparently this guy had watched too many cop shows -- or been on the receiving end of this procedure a few times. Blair did not find the thought reassuring.

"Relax, kid." Now his seatbelt was being buckled -- probably to make it harder for him to escape, Blair thought bitterly. "Your great Detective Ellison won't find you where you're going. We've got orders not to hurt you -- unless you give us too much grief -- so just take it easy. A couple days in custody, we get what we want, and you'll be let go. Like you said, no harm, no foul."

The guy got in from the other side and sat down beside Blair, the engine revved, and the van -- he'd had to step up to get in -- pulled smoothly away. So at least two -- the talker and the driver -- and possibly three, if there was someone in the front passenger seat. Not good odds for escape, especially in handcuffs. But maybe if he acted suitably resigned to the situation, they'd let their guard down and he'd have a chance later.

Blair relaxed against the back of the seat as the road-sound and -motion changed when they hit a major highway; apparently, they'd be going some distance. Meanwhile, he pondered the workings of the universe. Did every sentinel-and-guide pair get so much shit dumped on them, or was Jim Ellison some kind of focal point?

And how was said Jim Ellison going to find him?

Megan -- using binoculars -- and Jim stood in front of her car, watching from a distant rise as Blair was forced into the van and driven away.

"You sure you trust them with Sandy? That one bloke is awfully big," Megan observed thoughtfully.

"Hudson and Dominguez served with me for four years until I disappeared in Peru; I know them as well as I know anyone in Major Crime. They'll follow the game plan to the letter." Jim slid into the passenger seat; Megan wouldn't let him drive. "Hurry up; I need to take Sandburg's car home and hightail it to the airport. They'll backtrack and circle to let me get there ahead of them, but I can't waste any time."

"Sandy will be mad as a cut snake when you tell him it was a fake kidnapping -- and that he spent almost seven hours worried about you and afraid for his life."

Jim chuckled. "I thought you knew him better than that, Connor. His heartbeat is at an alert level, but he isn't particularly frightened. The guys won't make any death threats, just tell Sandburg that he's being held for a few days. He's already planning an escape; I can almost hear the wheels turning. Fortunately, both men are experienced in controlling prisoners."

Megan pulled up beside Blair's car and turned a curious eye toward Jim. "You can still hear his heartbeat... even from this distance?"

"I'm good, but not that good." Jim showed her the wireless earpiece, then returned it to his ear. "There's a radio-transmitter hanging behind the front seat. Blair won't see it, and I can listen in and call a halt if things get out of hand."

"You better," she said, darkly. "If Sandy gets hurt..." She left the threat unfinished. "If it was two of us scarpering off with him, we'd be sure he was okay."

Jim grinned at her as he climbed out of the car. "You just want a chance at a paid trip to Hawaii," he pointed out. "Even if no one talked -- and it's kind of hard to give orders that way -- and you kept his blindfold on, he'd figure out who had him. This way it stays a complete surprise."

"You're a boof-head. You could have just asked the man; this is a crappy way to start a holiday. But I suppose Sandy'll have fun... after he kills you for your shenanigans."

"We'll bring back postcards to taunt you," Jim promised as he started the Volvo. "See you in twelve days, Connor."

He sped away, jauntily waving from the window... just to rub it in, Megan was quite sure. Jimbo was like a big kid, planning this 'operation'. Still, he already seemed more relaxed than she'd ever known him... and if anyone deserved a flash holiday, it was those two. She put her car in gear and headed back toward the PD; some people still had to work.

After an interminable drive -- it was damned boring to travel without being able to watch the passing landscape, and no conversation to distract him -- the van turned off the main road; their speed was slower and the pavement was rougher. A shorter interminable time later, Blair tensed as his mind caught up with the input his ears were giving him. Planes -- lots of them -- landing and taking off. Shit! Being taken away from the city was bad enough; if he disappeared into the wide blue yonder, Jim might never find him.

Blair made swift plans as the van rolled to a stop. He doubted an escape attempt would be successful, but maybe if he created enough of an uproar, there'd be someone close enough to notice and intervene. At least he'd be doing something, instead of going quietly like a lamb to slaughter.

The engine was shut off, and the driver's door opened and slammed shut. No sound from the passenger side; good, he'd only have to contend with two men. Blair flinched as, without warning, a hand was fumbling against his hip.

"Sorry, kid; didn't mean to startle you," the man beside him said as he unbuckled Blair's seatbelt. "Hang on a sec; I'll come around and help you out."

The other door snicked open; this was his chance. Blair quietly drew in a deep, centering breath. Wait for it; wait... With the shifting of the seat cushion that indicated the man was unbalanced, half in the car and half on the ground, Blair shoved his blindfold to his forehead, pulled open the door and launched himself outward. Hangar ahead -- maybe there'd be someone there who wasn't involved in this insanity.

He'd managed barely half-a-dozen steps when he was tackled from the side. Blair felt the breath knocked out of him, and he was going down, but his assailant twisted so that Blair landed on top of the other man's body. Huh? Ignoring the possible reasons for such a painless takedown, Blair slammed an elbow into the man's gut and scrambled upward -- only to be caught by the other guy. Big guy, even bigger than Simon; a damn giant. But it didn't slow him down; the giant easily spun Blair around and simply lifted him off his feet, so that his twisting and wriggling and attempts to kick were completely ineffective.

He threw his head back, trying to slam into the giant's nose, but only hit his chest; the man was so tall that, even though Blair's feet couldn't reach the ground, his head didn't even come up to the giant's chin. Damn! It ought to be illegal to grow that big.

Only one option left. Blair filled his lungs as deeply as he could, considering the iron bands masquerading as arms that were clenched tight around his torso, and gave it everything he had. "HE-E-E-L-L-LP!" he shouted. "Call the POLICE! I'm being KIDNAPPED! HE-E-E-L-L-LP!"

The giant simply chuckled as he pulled the blindfold over Blair's eyes again, then turned and started walking. "Shout all you want, kid. Everyone who can hear you has already been paid off. You're too important for the boss to leave anything to chance."

Now Blair was being carried up some steps -- he heard the metal clattering of the rolling stairs that were used when a plane didn't have access to an airport gangway -- and then the air, sound, and smells changed as they entered the plane. After a few more steps forward, the giant set Blair on his feet, then guided him to sit down.

"I told you we won't hurt you," the giant was saying as he buckled Blair's seatbelt. "If the way Carlos was so careful in taking you down doesn't prove that, I don't know what will. Good move with that elbow-strike, by the way. Carlos's gonna be feeling that for awhile, and if I hadn't-a been there, you might've gotten away."

Yeah, right, Blair thought bitterly. He flinched as a hand grasped his ankle, then he felt a metal band circling it, and heard the 'snick' as it was locked.

"Okay, kid, you're all set." A giant hand patted his knee, then he heard the 'whoosh' of the seat cushion across the aisle. "Your shackle is chained to the floor, so don't try running again; you'll just end up flat on your face. I'll take off your blindfold and handcuffs after we've leveled off; it's a long flight, and the boss wants you to be comfortable."

Blair heard the door close behind him, then the engines engaged and they were taxiing to -- a position in the take-off lineup, he supposed. He sagged in his seat as despair almost overwhelmed him. He hoped that his 'comfort' wouldn't be equivalent to the condemned man's last meal; right now, his situation certainly didn't seem overly encouraging.

'Jim, I don't know how you'll do it, but please find me!' he whispered deep in his heart. Maybe, if Jim's spirit animal was on duty, he'd get the message. Blair couldn't think of any other option.

Jim watched the escape attempt from the cockpit. Although he flinched when Dominguez used a flying tackle to nab Blair again, that protective roll made it probably the gentlest takedown he'd ever seen. Jim winced, then smiled with pride. Dominguez was a good man, and didn't deserve the elbow-strike, but Blair's short stature made too many people underestimate him; he was stronger and scrappier than expected, especially when the odds were against him. He might even have completed his escape if Hudson hadn't been on hand to grab him.

Hudson had carried Blair through the hatch; now it was a matter of waiting their turn to take off. After a quick word with the pilot and co-pilot, Jim entered the cabin, closing the cockpit door behind him.

He glanced at the temporary partition that had been built to separate the cabin into two compartments, making a quick check that the connecting door was securely closed. It would be, of course -- Dominguez was a stickler for detail, and had never let his Captain down -- but Jim couldn't not check. Satisfied, he sat in one of the luxuriant leather chairs scattered around the area and smiled at the women cozily settled on the sectional sofa that filled one corner. He'd met Emily Hudson and Magdalena Dominguez for the first time last week; their husbands had been part of his squad before he went into Special Ops, but they had met and married their wives while he was living with the Chopec. Visually, the ladies appeared to be complete opposites. Magdalena was as tall as her husband, with an athletic build and long, dark hair. Emily, with a cap of short blonde curls, also sturdy but barely five-foot-four, seemed positively tiny when she was beside her husband. The women seemed similar in attitude, however, both approaching the world with easy acceptance and general good humor. Right now, they looked like excited teenagers at their first school dance, enjoying the opulence with open appreciation, and nibbling on the selection of fruit and candy that decorated the coffee table in front of them.

"Well, ladies, the pilot tells me we'll be taking off in about fifteen minutes. Are you both okay? Have you checked out the rest of our provisions?" He nodded toward a well-stocked serving cart resting against the forward bulkhead. "If there's anything else you need, I'll send the co-pilot back to get it before we're in the air."

Magdalena giggled and shared a look with Emily; like their husbands, the women were long-time friends. "You hire Pete and Carlos for a few hours' work and pay them with free trips to Hawaii, and a place to stay! And you include us in the deal. What on earth could we need on top of that?"

Emily nodded confirmation of her friend's words. "Neither of us had a real honeymoon when we married our guys; you know what it's like getting time off when you're in the Army. For an opportunity like this, we'd ride steerage and eat bread and water on the trip; I think we can make do with smoked salmon and cream-puff pastries."

Jim chuckled. "The menu was my father's doing. I don't often ask him for a favor; he was tickled to be able to help me out, and went a little overboard. But it's in a good cause."

"Just to get your friend to take a vacation?" Magdalena asked. "Surely there would be an easier way... although I should shut up before you reconsider and cancel the flight." She giggled again, and mimed zipping her mouth.

"You don't know Sandburg; if he's decided something is for the 'best', it takes dynamite -- or a kidnapping -- to move him. All of this --" Jim gestured to their well-appointed surroundings, "-- was easier to arrange than getting him to change his mind about working straight through his summer break."

Emily shook her head fondly. "I know the type; Pete's just like that. But Mr. Sandburg surely won't like being treated as a prisoner till we land. I mean, I know Pete and Carlos won't hurt him, but... well..." She glanced doubtfully at the closed door between the cabins. "It just seems an uncomfortable way to start a vacation."

"Actually, Sandburg's kind of an old hand at being kidnapped." Jim chuckled again as both women's jaws dropped. "And your husbands know what to do. In a little while, they'll take off the blindfold and handcuffs, and Sandburg will have food and some movement in the cabin. Not salmon and pastries -- he'd get suspicious if Pete and Carlos were too nice to him -- but good enough."

He paused as the plane turned, the engines revved, and the plane gathered speed down the runway. Moments later, the plane banked, heading out over the ocean. Jim unbuckled his seatbelt, and moved to the serving cart. "Next stop, Hawaii. May I offer you ladies a drink?"

Blair felt the plane bank onto a new heading for wherever-the-hell-they-were-going and pondered karma as it applied to one Blair Sandburg. What had he done in some past life that he was paying for? The worst part of it was that whatever happened to him spilled out to other people; how would Jim handle his senses without Blair's support? Of course, Megan knew what to do -- in theory -- and she could help Jim avoid zoning. On the other hand, if Jim's senses were spiking, her best efforts were generally ineffective, despite following every coaching suggestion Blair had tried to teach her. Blair was reasonably sure it wasn't Megan; she'd make a pretty good guide for a sentinel... as long as it wasn't Jim. He still retained a faint -- and sometimes not so faint -- edge of antagonism toward Megan whenever he had to work with her. It definitely affected his responses to her attempts to guide him, just when he most needed the help.

And any problems Jim might have with his senses would probably get worse as time went on. Blair's captors had said he'd be let go in 'a couple of days', but that didn't square with an airplane flight; why go to so much trouble and expense just to turn around and repeat it two -- or even three or four -- days later? And when -- or if -- he was let go, would he be within reach of Cascade? Or, worse, within reach of a way to get to Cascade?

That way lay madness, Blair decided. Better to get his captors talking; they might let something slip.

"Hey!" he called. "Feels like we're level; you said you'd take off the handcuffs and blindfold."

"Yeah, the boss said you wouldn't sit quiet for very long." Blair couldn't hear footsteps over the noise of the plane, but then the voice was right next to him. "Hold out your hands."

A moment later the cuffs were removed, and Blair pulled the blindfold over his head and looked around. His jaw dropped. He'd assumed 'the boss' must be wealthy to hire a private plane, but this was... sumptuous. His body was nestled deep in a wide, cushiony seat covered in butter-soft leather. Two pair faced each other, spaced so far apart that even Simon could have stretched his legs to full extension without hitting another seat. On the other side of the cabin was a sofa, decorated with plush pillows, and long enough to sleep on. The place was a flying palace.

Blair turned his gaze toward the two men watching him and evaluated them. The big guy really was a giant, easily six-foot-six and built like a linebacker; he was watching Blair with relaxed hazel eyes under sandy hair, and a wry grin on his broad, friendly face. Blair would have tagged him immediately as a 'good guy' and been happy to meet him... if he weren't part of a pair of kidnappers.

The other guy was smaller, about Henri's height, but built like a greyhound, lean and muscular; Blair had direct confirmation of his speed and strength. His eyes and hair were dark, and his gaze more cautious than his partner's but, in other circumstances, Blair would also have pegged him as one of the 'good guys'. Maybe he'd have to get his people-meter recalibrated.

When in doubt, negotiate, obfuscate, but above all, keep talking. "Listen, are you sure you've got the right man? I mean..." he waved at the sumptuous surroundings, "I don't think either Jim or I have gotten on the wrong side of anyone this rich; your boss wouldn't like it if you bring him the wrong man."

"Blair Sandburg, Teaching Fellow at Rainier University, ABD, observer and sort-of partner to Detective James Ellison of the Cascade Police Department, Major Crimes Division." The big man recited it like a well-learned lesson. His smaller partner spoke up for the first time to prove he had also done his homework. "You're well-liked at the University, popular with most of the personnel at the PD, and never lack for dating opportunities. You're a good poker player, inventive at self-defense," he touched his stomach with a rueful grimace, "and, when given the opportunity, never stop talking."

"Well, that certainly sounds like me," Blair acknowledged. "But maybe your boss mixed me up with whoever he really wants. I'm telling you, me and money like this -- we're so far apart that we aren't even in waving distance."

"The boss isn't wealthy himself," the giant admitted, "but he's... got connections. You're the right guy, so you might as well resign yourself to the idea that you're along for the whole ride."

Blair sighed. Yeah, might as well. "So, you know my name; what do I call you? Frick and Frack? Mutt and Jeff? David and Goliath?"

"Only if I get to be Goliath," the smaller guy said, while his giant friend snorted. They shared a glance, then the bigger guy shrugged.

"Can't hurt. I'm Pete, he's Carlos."

"Well, Pete, Carlos... can't say I'm exactly pleased to know you, but thanks. So now what? How long is 'the whole ride'?"

His captors exchanged glances again. "A few hours," Carlos said, noncommittally.

"A few hours?" Blair's voice rose in outrage. "And what? I'm supposed to just sit here and twiddle my thumbs? And just how many hours is 'a few'?"

"That information is need-to-know, and you don't," Pete told him. Funny; that tone of voice sounded a lot like Jim's when he was being similarly non-communicative. "It's not like you're in chains. Well..." he glanced at Blair's ankle and his lips twitched. "Not in a dungeon, anyway, and you'll find your -- tether -- is long enough that you can move around a bit. We have reading materials," he pointed to a shelf over the sofa, "and food." That gesture indicated a serving cart at the end of the sofa, piled with sandwiches, fruit, and carafes of whatever. "We'll even eat and drink what you do, to prove it's not drugged."

Blair eyed the serving cart with due consideration. "Well, I did miss lunch," he said thoughtfully.

"Say no more," Pete said, as Carlos brought the serving cart close enough for Blair to examine and choose from its contents. "And when we're finished --" From a shallow drawer under the sofa, he produced a deck of cards with a flourish worthy of a magician. "-- how about a hand or two of poker?"

Carlos handed his partner a sandwich, while Blair grabbed another from the same plate -- tuna on whole wheat. "Don't pay attention to him, kid. Pete's damn good; it'd be a shame for him to be censured for extorting money from our... guest."

Blair kept his surprise to himself. There were rules for the treatment of prisoners? Maybe among the police or military, but he'd never heard of such a thing among kidnappers. And -- 'extorted'? 'Censured'? Those terms certainly didn't fit the image of a band of criminals, of whatever flavor. These guys hadn't threatened him or made bombastic proclamations about the rightness of their particular cause, and they had treated him like a person instead of a tool -- or a pawn. In short, this wasn't like any kidnapping he'd ever experienced, or even heard of, and Pete and Carlos were acting suspiciously un-criminal-like. Maybe he could allow himself to relax a little... at least for the next 'few hours'. It wasn't like he could bail out at several thousand feet in the air.

Aloud, he said, "Don't let this boy-next-door façade fool you; I've taken my share of poker pots over the years. On the other hand, my wallet is in my backpack which, last time I saw it, was in the back seat of my Volvo." He reached into the pocket of his jeans, fished out a few stray coins, and made a show of counting them. "With a stake of eighty-seven cents, I don't think it'll be much of a game."

"What, you've never played for peanuts?" His eyes crinkling with humor, Pete handed Blair a large can of 'Gourmet Honey-Roasted Peanut Halves and Wholes'. "I think we've got enough here for several games."

Blair nodded, and swallowed before he spoke; the sandwich was excellent. In fact, it was one of his favorites from Dominic's Delicatessen, and if it hadn't come from there, he'd eat his shirt instead of the sandwich; Dominic's recipes for his sandwich mixtures were unduplicated by any other establishment and kept secret, known only to his family. And Jim, of course; teasing apart the ingredients had been one of Blair's early tests for his sense of taste. Blair glanced at the other plates; Philly steak, egg salad, and meatball subs were also staples on Dominic's menu. He'd have to taste them to be sure, but it was another point to add to the 'not the usual kind of kidnapping' column.

"You're on. I've experienced a severe shortage of peanuts lately; I'll be happy to relieve you of some of your no doubt ill-gotten gains." Blair reached for one of the carafes, discovered piping-hot coffee, and poured himself a cup.

Carlos groaned as he reached for one of the Philly steak sandwiches. "That's all I need, to sit in a game with two sharks instead of one. At least I can afford to lose peanuts."

"Yeah, yeah, you're so put-upon," Pete told his partner. "Ignore his whining," he advised Blair. "Carlos can hold his own with anyone in our --" He caught himself sharply, and finished with a lame, "-- group."

Blair wondered what term Pete had avoided. 'Team'? 'Unit'? 'Squad'? He was increasingly convinced that these guys were not the hired thugs they pretended to be. In which case, there were worse ways to spend an afternoon; sitting -- literally -- in the lap of luxury and passing the time with conversation and a good game of poker. And maybe one of them would let something else slip, to help confirm Blair's half-formed hypothesis about this abduction.

"I'm game," he said cheerfully, while reaching for one of the Philly steak sandwiches. "Just as soon as we finish lunch."

The afternoon passed in a sort of timeless Limbo. Most of the window shades were pulled down -- and stayed down, on specific orders from Pete -- preventing Blair from gaining any clues about the terrain they were flying over. The forward shades were left up, which provided some natural light, but Blair's leg chain didn't reach that far; all he could see was blue sky and the occasional cumulonimbus.

At least Pete and Carlos had abandoned most of the 'abductor' attitude, and become pleasant traveling companions. The three of them didn't so much play poker as dabble at it; betting was low-key, and the action frequently paused as they shared tales of past exploits. As Blair had thought, both Pete and Carlos were ex-military -- they wouldn't say which branch -- and each tried to top the other in recounting various off-duty capers in non-specific parts of the world. Blair suspected some of the stories were creatively enhanced -- training goats to race with monkey jockeys? -- but he easily countered with the peculiarities of undergraduate students, and adventures from his various expeditions. There was no need for Pete and Carlos to know that some of those escapades had happened to Blair's colleagues.

Despite the casual play, Blair had pulled considerably ahead -- a good handful of peanuts -- when they were interrupted by the pilot's announcement. "Prepare for landing; estimated time of arrival in twenty minutes. Please ensure that all loose items are safely stowed."

Carlos groaned as he tossed his final hand on the table. "Well, that's it. Not that I could have taken that pile away from you, but I was sure this hand was a winner." He began storing leftover food and drinks in locking compartments of the serving table.

"Not gonna happen; the kid's good," Pete said with a grin as he swept the cards and magazines into the drawer under the sofa. Then he sobered as he faced Blair directly. "Sorry, Professor; I'm gonna have to cuff and blindfold you again."

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me!" Blair exclaimed. "I promise you, I understand that I'm far enough from home that trying to make a break would be an exercise in futility. If you leave them off, I'll be a model prisoner." Until I see a chance to take off, he concluded silently.

Pete shook his head as he approached with the handcuffs. "No can do; the boss's orders are specific. It won't be much longer," he added as he closed the cuffs around Blair's wrists and tied the blindfold firmly around his head. "We'll be taking a car for the last part of the trip, and then you won't have to see us again."

Blair slumped deeper into his seat. "I appreciate the attempt, Pete, but that's not a whole lot of comfort right now."

The engine noise deepened and Blair felt the pressure as the plane descended for landing. He was not looking forward to meeting 'the boss'. Maybe he'd be lucky and the man would have died before Pete and Carlos delivered him to wherever. Right now, that looked like the only way he'd get out of this.

Blair sighed as Carlos -- even blindfolded, he could feel the difference in the bulk between him and Pete -- helped him into another vehicle, this time a car. At least the seat was comfortable, he thought as he leaned back when the car started moving along a smooth road, but he was getting damned tired of being hauled around willy-nilly every time a two-bit thug thought having a hostage was automatic protection from police retaliation. On the other hand, as kidnappings went, this was by far the easiest one he'd ever participated in. No bombastic threats, no injuries, good food, good company, comfortable travel arrangements... He'd like to put in a request that all future abductions would follow the same pattern. But if he had his druthers, he'd go with 'never again will Blair Sandburg be a hostage'.

He sighed again; this was boring. Pete and Carlos had reverted to their pre-plane silence; they didn't respond to a single one of his remarks, questions, or opinions. And with the blindfold on, he had no visual clues; they could be anywhere from Alexandria to Zanzibar. Hell, for all Blair knew, the plane had circled and they were back in Cascade.

The car turned, then traveled at a slower pace. Narrow road? Approaching their destination? Blair hoped so; he really couldn't plan anything until he knew what was going on. And he couldn't help but wonder who 'the boss' was, and what he wanted with Blair.

The car finally pulled to a smooth stop and the engine shut off. The driver -- Pete -- got out and shut the door firmly. Blair leaned to the side, expecting Carlos to unbuckle his seatbelt again, but he said, "Relax. Pete has to check with the boss, make sure everything's ready. It'll be a few minutes."

'Everything's ready'? Oh, that didn't sound good. Maybe all the easy-peasy 'we won't hurt you' camaraderie was just to soften him up for the kill. Blair winced, and hoped the gods wouldn't take his thoughts literally. He wondered if maybe the Fates could ensure that 'the boss' would never be ready. In fact, it would be outstanding if 'the boss' suddenly decided he didn't need a hostage any more, and told Pete and Carlos to turn Blair loose. That would be good. Very good. As long as he wasn't in the middle of the Sahara, he could hike to some kind of civilization. Then all he had to do was find a phone; one call and Jim would be on his way to end this travesty of human interaction.

Carlos shifted. "Pete's coming. Hold still; I'm gonna unbuckle your seatbelt."

They must have timed it. Just as Blair was loose, the door opened; with Pete standing right there, there was no sense in making another escape attempt. He accepted Pete's guiding hand on his elbow and moved forward with the other man --

-- only to stop short after a very few steps. Blair's senses weren't as good as Jim's -- they couldn't be -- but in working with the sentinel, he had learned to pay attention to what he could learn from other input. Right now, he didn't even have to strain to realize he wasn't in Cascade, unless 'the boss' was holed up in the Botanical Gardens. There were flowers growing nearby, many different varieties; the various scents mingled without competing, so strong that he could almost taste their nectar in the air. And there seemed to be as many birds calling as there must be flowers growing. Some he recognized -- there was a mockingbird, and there a house finch -- but most were completely new to him. If 'the boss' chose to live in such a paradise, maybe he wouldn't be such a bad guy.

On the other hand, Hector Carrasco had loved his daughter and grown prize-winning orchids as a hobby.

Pete had waited while Blair evaluated, but now nudged him forward again; soon enough he was being guided up a few steps and walking across a wooden floor. Blair heard a door open; he was guided through and, a few steps later, wooden floor gave way to a softer surface underfoot.

"Right here, Professor," Pete said. Blair stopped walking when he did, and then Pete was unlocking his handcuffs and pulling off the blindfold. "The boss wants you to look around for a few minutes before you meet him. Keep your nose clean and you'll be okay."

With those ominous words Pete was out the door, and Blair was surveying his new surroundings. On the surface the place could be mistaken for a 'rustic cabin', but the details proclaimed, 'High-End Resort'. The polished hardwood flooring was graced by a large woven mat in the center -- palm fronds, he thought -- and the cozy-looking wicker and bamboo furniture was enhanced with thick, colorful cushions. One wall was dominated by a full entertainment system -- large TV, stereo, and even a laptop. The opposite wall... wow!

Blair was stopped short in his clinical evaluation, standing in breathless admiration of sheer beauty. The huge picture window framed a vista of lush vegetation, trees, vines and bushes showcasing a riotous profusion of flowers. Within a short distance -- this cabin must be on a hill -- the land dropped away to give a view of the ocean, shining bright blue, far different from the grayer waters seen from Cascade. This place definitely met the criteria for 'Paradise'.

But even Paradise had a snake. Pete and Carlos were out of sight; maybe he could hightail it before 'the boss' showed up. Blair crossed to the outer door and had just turned the knob when a voice spoke behind him.

"Leaving so soon, Chief?"

Blair spun, and simply stared. Jim was standing in an archway that led to a short hall. He crossed his arms and cocked his head with a casual air, a broad grin on his face.

"Y'know, most people would look forward to a vacation in Hawaii," Jim continued. "I'm a bit disappointed that you'd want to walk away from it."

Blair prided himself on his flexibility and capacity to go with the flow, but he was having trouble processing this. "Jim? What are you doing here? I mean -- you're 'the boss'?" He quickly made the connection. "Let me guess; Pete and Carlos were in one of your units."

Jim chuckled as he moved into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. "Got it in one, Chief. But if they'd referred to me as 'Captain', it would've given the game away. You want a beer?" He pulled out two bottles as Blair walked forward in a daze, accepted one of the beers, and settled in a large comfortable chair, never taking his eyes from his friend.

"But... how? Why?" Blair sputtered.

"'Why' is easy; you were so determined to work through the summer that the only way I could get you out of Cascade was to kidnap you. 'How' wasn't much harder. Dad was happy to lend his corporate jet, and one of the vice-presidents has a time-share in these cabins; letting me use them for a couple of weeks got him big points with his boss. Add some incidental money from my savings and, voilá! We have the next ten days in Hawaii -- sun, sand, surf, native culture... take your pick."

"My pick? What's in it for you?"

Jim shrugged, with another easy grin. "I figured my best friend would share; I choose five days of activities, and you choose five. Every other day work for you?"

"I suppose your days will be surfing and golf," Blair said with a snicker. "And then some golf and surfing?"

"I can have you looking like a pro inside a few hours," Jim promised. "Haven't you always wanted to say you surfed in Hawaii?"

"Y'know, I really have," Blair agreed, his eyes twinkling. "And I'm sure you've always wanted to visit the State Museum of Cultural and Natural History, and listen to the legends of a native Kahuna... if he'll talk to a haole."

"Sounds like a blast. Although maybe I should keep my cop vibes away from the Kahuna, and go fishing or surfing while you talk."

Blair snickered again. After the worry about meeting 'the boss', relief brought snickering very close to the surface, and easily released. He took a swallow of beer before he said, "I figured you'd find a way to get out of talking to any kind of shaman-figure. But you'll have to catch enough for a good fish-fry."

"Count on it. But since that's at least a couple of days off, I think it's time to head out for some grub. It's late for Cascade, and those sandwiches were awhile ago."

"Those...? You were on the plane!" Blair accused. "Where? There wasn't room to hide."

Jim's expression proclaimed his virtue. "Sandburg, I'm hurt. You wouldn't expect me to take a commercial flight while you flew Executive Express. Magdalena and Emily and I were cozy and comfortable on the other side of the bulkhead. What you saw didn't lead to the cockpit; it split the cabin in half."

"Well I wondered why I was chained in the back half of the space. It wasn't like I'd try to jump out during the flight." He shot Jim an admiring glance. "Sneaky, man."

"Tactical, Chief, not sneaky; I was Covert Ops."

Blair shrugged. "Potato, potahto. And tell me about 'Magdalena and Emily'. Pretty?"

"Very. Also married -- Magdalena Dominguez and Emily Hudson." At Blair's blank look, he added, "Carlos and Pete? Your kidnappers?"

"You brought their wives to a kidnapping? Granted, I don't know the ins and outs of the criminal underworld, but that sounds a little hinky."

"Only from your end. From their end, it's payment for services rendered -- free flight to Hawaii, and a cabin for each couple, for ten days. The ladies were suitably impressed with my dedication to giving my best friend a vacation... and really looking forward to having belated honeymoons here."

Blair stared with raised eyebrow. "Jim Ellison; who'd-a thunk? Closet romantic softy."

Jim's level gaze dared Blair to contradict him. "Merely practical. I could hardly expect my men to do their best work if their wives knew they'd gone to Hawaii without them."

"Oh, yeah; I'm sure those two -- Pete especially -- are severely henpecked, and need the protection of their former captain." Jim nodded his confirmation, failing to suppress the quirk of his lips. "Okay, I'll give you that one, but you're not off the hook. You could've just said 'Hawaii', and I'd've put down my books. I mean, kidnapping is completely over the top, even for a gung-ho ex-Ranger. How did you even concoct such a plan --"

"Sandburg! Dinner! Magdalena and Emily want to meet you, and their husbands are pretty nice guys when they're not holding someone prisoner."

Blair paused, his rant barely begun. Jim's eyes were so hopeful... and, really, it was kind of stupid to complain about being in Hawaii for the next ten days.

"You're right," he acknowledged. "And I guess I really should offer Pete and Carlos a formal 'thanks'. That really was the best abduction I've ever had."

"I'm kind of hoping it's the last one you'll ever have," Jim said as he ushered Blair toward the door.

"I'm down with that," Blair agreed, fervently. He paused on the veranda to take another long look at the area. The sun was setting, casting shadows that birds flitted though as they headed to roost, while highlighting the jeweled tones of the blossoms that were closing for the night. In all of his travels, he'd never seen a lovelier view. "Jim?" he said quietly.



"You're welcome, buddy." Jim slung his arm over Blair's shoulders and, together, they headed out to dinner -- and the beginning of what promised to be a spectacular vacation, made even better by being shared with a true friend.

The End

http://www.aaanativearts.com/tribes-by-states/hawaii_tribes.htm   This site is where I found the definition / description of Kahuna: "Below the chiefs in temporal power, but often far above them in spiritual power, were the kahuna, or priest craftsmen. They were specialists in professions such as canoe-building, medicine, the casting and lifting spells, and in other fields."

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2010-06-08 09:39 pm

#45 - Spring Has Sprung


Title: Spring Has Sprung
Summary: Kite-flying for fun and... fun.
Style: Gen
Size: 3,200 words, about 7 pages
Warnings: None
Notes: Written March & June, 2010.
Feedback: Not necessary, but I certainly do like to get it!
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Spring Has Sprung

by StarWatcher

Cindy is one of my biggest fans, and I've just learned that flying a kite from her wheelchair is one of her fondest childhood memories. This story is dedicated to her.

Jim paused on his way toward the door, his gym bag slung over his shoulder. "You sure you don't want to come, Chief?"

"Thanks, Jim, but I have too much to do; once in a while, school has to take precedence." Blair used his red pen to scribble a note in the margin of the essay he was marking.

"It's sunny and warm outside," Jim coaxed. "And a little time at the gym would help you keep up the next time we have to chase a perp."

Blair snorted as he tossed the finished essay onto the coffee table and picked up the next. "You fill our 'running' quota just fine; I'll stick to using my brains and an occasional walking stick or baseball. Besides, anything under sixty-five degrees doesn't count as 'warm' --"

"Whimp!" Jim jeered. "It's only three degrees off, and it'll hit sixty-five in another hour."

"-- and after I finish the grading, I have another project planned," Blair continued, ignoring his partner's interruption.

Jim shrugged as he snagged his jacket from the hook beside the door. "Suit yourself. Just don't blame me when you turn decrepit from lack of exercise."

"Keep tellin' yourself that," Blair retorted as he deliberately -- Jim was sure of it -- lifted his sock-clad feet to rest them on the coffee table. "It wasn't me who had to resort to using sentinel abilities to eke out the high score in our last basketball one-on-one."

Jim wasn't going to dignify that slander with a response. "Okay, Chief. I'll be back in a few hours. Think I'll hit the market after the gym, save us a trip tomorrow."

"Remember, organic --"

"-- is the way to go; gotcha."

Jim closed the door behind him, leaving Blair immersed in academia.

Jim manhandled the overfull grocery bags through the door -- why make two trips up the stairs if you could cut it down to one? -- and stared at the changes in his formerly pristine, orderly living room. The loveseat had been shoved aside, and the coffee table pushed up against the couch -- apparently to allow Blair to drag the dining table to a position in front of the balcony doors, where the shades had been raised to the top, to allow as much light as possible to enter. A frame of sticks and string lay on one end of the table, while an explosion of colored tissue-paper covered the other end, and the debris of bits and pieces littered the floor around the table like a meadow of wildflowers run rampant. Blair was engrossed in cutting several layers of deep-rose tissue into triangles.

"Sandburg! What in the name of --"

Blair didn't so much as twitch. "Relax. It's just paper; I'll clean it up and move everything back when I'm finished." He laid the rose-colored triangles aside and started folding a piece of bright gold paper into quarters.

"And the living room has been turned into a kindergarten art project because...?" Jim was wavering between irritation and amusement as he started putting the groceries away. In the year since Sandburg had moved into the spare room, his presence had made Jim's life fuller and more interesting. On the other hand -- Jim watched as a scrap of gold drifted down to the floor -- 'interesting' frequently had drawbacks.

"The first day of Spring is next week."

As an explanation, it didn't go far. "That would certainly explain the warmer temperatures," Jim agreed, "but not why the place looks like a tornado has passed through."

"In some parts of the world, Spring is traditional kite-flying time. Some of the schools have got together and are hosting a kite-flying festival and contest next weekend. I thought I'd make a kite and join in the fun." Blair pulled the sticks-and-string framework closer and started arranging triangles, rectangles, and parallelograms of colored paper on top.

"Wouldn't it be easier to just buy a kite? Certainly a lot less trouble." Jim wandered closer to watch as Blair moved the pieces of tissue around, apparently trying to devise a pattern he liked. The frame was made of flat strips of wood, three that were three feet long, and one that was four feet. They were carefully notched in the center and crossed over each other to form an eight-pointed starburst, with one arm that was a foot longer than the others. The sticks were grooved to hold four layers of string at regular intervals from the center to the one at the outer edge to hold the frame stable. The effect was that of a giant spider-web wearing a dunce-cap, and the farthest thing he could imagine from the traditional diamond-shape he thought of as 'kite'. "It doesn't look like it'll be stable enough to fly," he observed. "And what's with that extra-long piece?"

"Mostly for effect; I'll put folded paper on that line, and it'll hum in the wind. You'll see -- with a good tail and the string attached at the right points for proper balance, it'll outfly most of the store-bought kites, which is a good enough reason to make it myself. But the point of the exercise..." Blair paused as he stepped back to judge the effect of his design. "The point of the exercise is fun and creativity, and buying a kite just isn't creative. Besides, mine will be prettier. What do you think?"

"Well, there probably won't be another like it," Jim said, keeping his voice as neutral as possible. Somehow, all those bits of paper were laid out to form spirals in rose, gold, green and white. The spirals started in the center and curved around the kite till they reached the edge. The colors were pretty, but the effect was... loud. He suspected that Blair would consider it 'vibrant'. "That tissue paper won't stand up against the wind; get a few holes in it and it'll be bye-bye kite."

Blair spread newspaper over the one clear spot on the table, transferred the kite-frame to it, and reached for the nearby bottle of Elmer's glue. "Nope. With separate pieces like this, and each side glued down, any tears will be localized. They can't spread to ruin the whole kite, and the other sections will keep it in the air." He put a line of glue along the sticks and string that formed one of the center triangles, and carefully pressed a gold piece of tissue onto it. "It'll dry tonight, and I'll give it a test flight tomorrow. You'll see."

Jim snickered as he moved the coffee table so he could sit on the couch, then turned on the TV. "I'll see you head to the store after that thing crashes and burns. Just remember -- every speck of paper in the trash when you're finished." He settled in to watch some college basketball.

"One of these days, Jim, you'll learn that my talents are many and varied." Blair's lofty tone was counteracted by his own snicker; his mouth quirked as he quietly began to sing, "Let's go fly a kite..."

Jim simply turned up the volume on the TV a couple of notches.

Over waffles the next morning, Jim glanced at Blair's kite, which was leaning against the wall under the coathooks. "I'm impressed, Chief; it actually looks pretty good."

Blair nodded in satisfaction. "It'll look even better in flight, with the sun lighting it -- like stained glass."

"You're actually going to try to fly it?"

"Absolutely! And there's no 'try'; it will fly. The weather forecast is perfect -- sunny, highs in the mid-seventies, winds from ten to fifteen. I've got a few more essays to grade; I figured I'd do them this morning, then go out after lunch, when it's nice and warm. Care to join me?"

"Sandburg, I haven't flown a kite since I was eight!" Jim protested. "It's kind of a ridiculous activity for a grown man. On the other hand, I suppose you'll fit right in with the rest of the kids."

Blair snorted. "Oh, sure. That's why the contest will have child, teen, and adult divisions; they want to have openings for all the adult men and women who won't be flying." His eyes sparkled as he issued a challenge. "Since you're so sure it won't fly, you need to come watch; I don't want you to think I'm exaggerating when I report my success."

"Exaggerate? You? How could I possibly think that?" Jim studied his friend, noting the light of excitement and enthusiasm in Blair's eyes. Right now, he resembled a seven-year-old more than twenty-seven; it was a good look for him. Considering the schedule he maintained between Rainier and tagging along with Jim to help with his senses, Blair certainly deserved some downtime.

Well, he really had nothing better to do, so why not? "Tell you what, buddy. We'll stop at Sports World on the way, and I'm buying the best kite they have in stock. We'll have our own little contest to see which kite flies better and higher. Loser buys dinner for the winner."

"You're so on, man. Prepare your palate for dinner at Mama Louisa's, because winner gets to pick." Blair stood and carried his plate to the stove. "But in the meantime, I'm gonna cook another waffle; you want one?"

"Yeah, Chief. Thanks."

"Right; bring your plate."

A few minutes later, each man was sitting again at the table, pouring real maple syrup -- one of the perks of living this close to Canada -- over his waffles. Each took a share of the newspaper, and they settled into their normal, companionable Sunday morning routine.

"Satisfactory, Chief?" Jim asked as he pulled into the nearly-empty parking lot overlooking Banbury Beach. "No electric wires, no kite-eating trees, and a good, steady onshore breeze."

"Couldn't be better," Blair agreed. "There won't be many people around, since it's not warm enough for swimming." He slid out of the truck, and carefully pulled his kite from behind the seat, then waited patiently while Jim unfurled the big yellow-and-purple Delta kite, which the clerk at Sports World had assured them was the best flyer available.

"Doesn't matter what that guy said," Blair commented as he watched Jim attach the string and tail. "You are going down, my man."

"We'll see, Junior; we'll see." Side by side, they headed down the path toward the beach.

"So, can I assume one of Naomi's boyfriends taught you to make your own kites?"

Blair shared a wide grin with his friend. "You need to ask? I was eight, I think. His name was Tom Davidson, and he'd grown up in Bermuda. Kite-flying is a big deal there, starting in the Spring, and especially on Good Friday. Tom said everyone flies kites on Good Friday, and no one uses a store-bought kite. He said they even sell do-it-yourself books, teaching people how to make different styles of kites, but this one..." he lifted the kite in emphasis, "is the most common."

"Sounds like you liked him," Jim said, as they reached the sand.

"Yeah, I really did; he was a good guy." Blair shrugged. "But he didn't last long. Round about the middle of June, Naomi took us to the next wherever; I don't remember exactly which one."

Jim kept his frown to himself. Even though Blair seemed to think his childhood had been exciting, and that it had given him a pleasant exposure to different lifestyles and cultures, Jim sometimes thought the kid had missed some very important aspects... things like stability, and having a trusted person always around. Sally had been that for Jim, but he suspected Blair hadn't had a similar constancy, even from his own mother.

But this wasn't the time or place to compare childhoods; he was here to uphold the honor of precision-crafted materials assembled to exact specifications against homemade bits of string and paper. It would be no contest.

Although the day was sunny, the wind coming off the water was cool; the beach was empty, save for a couple of fishermen sitting on an outcropping of rocks at the far end. They could use the full length of the sand without needing to maneuver around people enjoying the beach and ocean.

Jim surveyed the expanse of sand. "How about you go that way a hundred yards or so, and I'll go this way a hundred, so we'll have enough room to fly without the kites interfering with each other."

"Sounds like a plan," Blair agreed, and headed down the beach, his kite tugging gently in his hand, as if eager to be set free.

When he judged he was far enough away, he turned to see Jim holding his kite at the ready. "Oh, we didn't plan this part," Blair said in a normal voice, sure that Jim would hear him. "I guess we should send off our kites at the same time, huh?"

Jim raised his hand over his head in what Blair had to assume was assent.

"Okay, give me a second." Blair turned his back to the wind, holding the kite so the wind was pushing against it, and made sure that both tail and string were free and untangled. He looked toward Jim. "Ready?" Again, Jim raised his arm overhead. "Okay, on three. One. Two. Three!"

He tossed his kite gently into the air, taking a few running steps backward. The wind caught it immediately, lifting it upward as Blair played out the string, adding judicious tension to prevent it diving out of control.

Blair had forgotten how thrilling it was to watch a kite that he had made with his own hands dancing on the wind. It dipped and soared, responding to each tug or release he gave the string, climbing higher and higher, seeming to aim for the sun.

Time passed unnoticed as he became immersed in total sensation. Sound -- the buzz of the paper waving from the strings on the longer 'header' stick mixing with the rhythmic wash of waves retreating and advancing on the sand behind him and the screech of gulls in their eternal quest for food. Touch -- the warmth of the sun on this head and shoulders, the mild pulse of the wind against his back, the vibration of the string in his hands. Sight -- always, always the view of his kite playing in the sky, becoming increasingly smaller in his vision as it sought escape from the bonds of earth and gravity.

Finally, Blair had to stop paying out the line, or lose sight of his kite altogether. He felt a flash of envy -- not for the first time -- for Jim's senses. Jim would always see his kite, no matter how far it flew.

Jim -- distance -- they were supposed to be having a contest here, but he'd completely forgotten to keep an eye on Jim's kite. Blair searched the sky, and finally located a purple-and-yellow blot in the sky, about the size of a postage stamp. Pretty much the same apparent size as his kite; they seemed to be flying equally well, and there was no way to tell if one was higher than the other, especially from this angle. Maybe if he were closer to Jim's position, he could make a better evaluation.

Accordingly, Blair started to move toward Jim, now keeping an eye on the kites' relative locations; if one kite got caught in the string of the other, it would bring their impromptu 'contest' to a screeching halt. But the wind was steady, without the variable gusts that would cause erratic flight; it should be safe enough.

He stopped about seventy-five feet from Jim; close enough to view the kites from essentially the same angle, far enough that they shouldn't cross each other. Blair spent a few minutes refining his tension on the line, making sure his kite continued to fly high, then focused on both kites to judge if there was any difference.

He couldn't see anything that would give one kite precedence over the other. Both were flying steady and true, without needing any frantic attempts to prevent them plummeting toward earth, and... nope. He honestly couldn't say that one looked higher than the other.

"So what d'ya think?" he asked Jim, still in at a normal volume. "They look the same to me; how about you?"

"You're right, Chief!" Jim raised his voice to travel the distance. "I think it's a draw!"

Blair nodded. "Good enough for me. Shall we bring 'em in?" He started winding the line around the reel -- carefully. If his kite fell on the way down, he could still lose this contest. The trick was a smooth, controlled action, to keep his kite flying until he could reach up and grab it.

Jim was using the same controlled economy of motion; for a guy who hadn't flown a kite since he was eight, he sure hadn't lost the touch. Of course, it had been more than a few years since Blair had put a kite in the air, and he hadn't had any trouble. Must be like riding a bike; once learned, never forgotten.

Interesting that such observations applied to children's activities, and playful ones at that. No ever said 'Once learned, you never forget' about math, for instance. Maybe there was a paper in that...

As the kites came closer, another -- unspoken -- contest developed; could they keep their kites flying at the same height and bring them in together? Blair snickered when he realized what was going on, and Jim flashed him a grin, but both men kept an eye on the kites and each other until -- finally -- they reached out and plucked their kites out of the air at the same time.

Blair whooped. "Couldn't have done that better if we tried!"

"We did try," Jim pointed out, his tone dry. "And I don't think they pass out any awards for synchronized kite-flying."

"So you don't think we can start a trend?" Blair pulled a mock pout. "And here I was hoping to make the Guinness Book of World Records."

"I think you'll have to settle for greatest sentinel expert -- when we're both old and gray, of course." Jim turned to start back to the truck, and Blair fell into step beside him.

"I'll be gray; you'll be bald. But it sounds like a plan."

As they stowed their kites behind the seats and climbed into the truck, Blair asked, "So, since neither one of us won -- or we both did -- how will we handle dinner?"

"I think Mama Louisa's was a good idea. The only difference is, we each pay for our own meal."

"So, pretty much as usual."

"Pretty much."

Just before he turned onto the main road into the city, Jim added, "Except for the kite-flying. That was kind of special. Thanks, Chief."

"You're welcome, Jim."

Blair smiled as he turned to watch the passing scenery. What was 'special' was their friendship. Flying kites, or fishing, or chasing after perps... at the end of the day, that never changed. He hoped it never would.

The End

Bermuda kite in rainbow stripes

Posted under a Creative Commons license from Aodhdubh.
Found at Wikipedia.

Pictures of Delta kites:

Colorful Delta kite in sky.

Rainbow Delta kite.

Pictures of Bermuda kites:

Bermuda kite history, with picture of spiral design on kite.

Yellow and green triangles, with central floral design.

Varicolored spiral design on beach.

Purple and blue starburst design on beach.

Small starburst design with rainbow swirls on beach.

Large multicolored rainbow swirl design on beach.

Large geometric varicolored triangle design on beach.

Directions for making various types of kites. Good site, with history and photo gallery.

Directions for making the hexagonal kite.

Directions for making the high-flyer kite #1.

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2009-09-28 10:36 pm

#18 - Watching Him Sleep


Title: Watching Him Sleep
Summary: Late-night thoughts after a difficult case.
Style: Gen
Size: 400 words, about 2/3 page in MS Word
Warnings: None
Notes: Written in October, 2004, for LJ challenge.
Feedback: Not necessary, but I every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Watching Him Sleep

by StarWatcher

As I watch him sleep, I can't help thinking about our last case. He was incredible, using his senses like I always knew he could. But I didn't get to see it; I had to hear about it second-hand. I'm told he was in the groove, hitting on all eight cylinders; he found the tiniest bits of evidence with ease, and wove the pieces into the pattern that led the gang to the perp. Our friends are amazed and baffled, but willing to overlook the mystery, because when they found the perp, they rescued -- me.

He didn't sleep for three days. Now, he needs me in his senses and... I need him. When I startle awake from the memories, it's a comfort to see him so close. That's how tired he is -- my waking doesn't wake him, though I know that if I whispered his name, he'd be with me in an instant. So I watch him in the sleeping bag next to my bed, and listen to his quiet little snores, and I hold on to the certainty that kept me balanced for those terrible days. He found me. He'll always find me.

I love you, Jim.

As I watch him sleep, I can't help thinking about our last case. I was afraid I'd lose him forever. Thank God the senses worked like he always said they could -- feeding me all the information I needed, no zones or spikes however hard I pushed. The rest of Major Crimes helped, providing backup for the senses as well as more mundane detective work. There weren't too few clues, but too many; the man was masterful at planting red herrings. But we did it; unraveled the threads and followed them to the end. To Blair.

I don't want to let him farther away than arm's length; I can barely let him take a piss by himself. So here I am. The sleeping bag is comfortable enough, and I only have to open my eyes to see his face, battered but whole. Even before I look, I can hear him, scent him; his presence is the safety net for my very being. As I am his. I'll never forget the look of trust in his eyes, underlying the relief that we had arrived. He knew I'd find him.

I'll always find him. The alternative is unthinkable.

I love you, Blair.

The End

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2009-09-28 10:28 pm

#17 - The Honor of Friendship


Title: The Honor of Friendship
Summary: Jim receives a letter that disturbs him.
Style: Gen
Size: 1,805 words, about 4 pages in MS Word.
Warnings: None
Notes: Challenge story, written September 2004. Nominee for Burton Awards 2005 in the "Favorite Smarm Story" category.
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

The Honor of Friendship

by StarWatcher

Blair started talking before he reached the door, knowing his sentinel would hear him. "Hey, Jim, it's your night to cook and I'm starved. Hope you have something filling planned." Shutting the door behind him, he set his backpack under the coathooks and tossed his keys in the basket. "Or were you planning to order out? Let's make it soon, because like I said..." He drifted into silence, finally noticing the dimness and silence of the loft; no lights were on, and no dinner preparations underway. Cautiously, he approached the unmoving figure on the couch.

"Jim? What're you doin' sittin' here in the dark, man? What's wrong?" The lack of response increased his concern; he sat on the coffee table and laid a gentle, but firm, hand on his friend's knee. "Come on back, Jim. Whatever it is, we'll handle it. Listen to my voice and --"

"I'm not zoned, Sandburg," Ellison broke in, a thread of irritation lacing his voice. "I'm just... thinking. And... remembering."

"Oh. Well, okay. Um... you want me to start making dinner while you think?"

A disinterested, one-shoulder shrug did nothing to alleviate Blair's concerns. He focused on the sheet of paper clenched in Jim's fist; the salutation, 'Dear Uncle Jim' was clearly visible. Uncle Jim? Casting about for more clues, he discovered that he was sitting on an envelope; the name 'Nakamura' was in the top left corner, with an address in Seattle. Tentatively this time, feeling a little awkward, he laid a hand on Jim's knee and patted gently.

"Um, is it bad news? Is there anything I can do to help?" When a half-hearted headshake was the only response, his voice sharpened with the beginnings of irritation. "C'mon, Jim, you can't just sit here like a lump. Whatever it is, it's thrown you for a loop, but it won't get any better if you don't face it. Talk to me man, and let me help."

"The daughter of one of my men is getting married." The tone was lifeless, more suited to announcing death than marriage.

"One of your men? You mean your team from Peru?" He waited for a short, confirming nod. "But that's... good news, isn't it? Why has it got your shorts in a twist?"

Finally, the stunned expression in Ellison's eyes was dissipating. The look he gave Blair was almost challenging as he explained, "She wants me to give her away."

Blair blinked in confusion. "And that's a bad thing? I suppose, if she doesn't have any male relatives, and you were her father's commanding officer, even if you weren't friends, she might think of you --"

"We were friends," Jim cut in. "Good friends. Sammy Nakamura came into my unit about four years before that last mission." The tension in his body eased slightly; he leaned back into the cushions as he continued. "Friendliest guy you'd ever want to meet; he'd give even you a run for your money. The first major holiday after he joined the team -- Fourth of July -- when he found out I wasn't going to spend it with family, he invited me to join his, and wouldn't take no for an answer. We had a picnic in the park -- fried chicken, homemade potato salad, the whole schmear. He had a wife who adored him, and three of the prettiest little girls you've ever seen, and about two dozen various relatives who were all as friendly as he was, and made me feel welcome. It was a good day; probably the best July Fourth I ever spent." He lapsed into silence.

Blair waited a few moments, but his curiosity overcame his patience. "And...?" he prodded gently.

Jim sighed deeply. "And after that, the family took me under their wing and invited me to quite a few Saturday barbecues and various holiday celebrations. The kids saw me so much that they took to calling me 'Uncle Jim'. And then I took their father on that last mission, and eighteen months later I had to explain to them that the light of their lives was gone forever."

Jim sprang from the couch and stalked across the room to stare out the balcony doors. "God, Sandburg! Maria -- his wife -- never said anything, but I knew what she was thinking... just what Veronica thought. Why should I come back alive when he died? I stood with them at the funeral -- Sammy deserved that respect -- and they invited me to come back to visit, but I knew how much they had to hate me. I just couldn't face that. And Veronica proved I was right."

"And you haven't seen them since?" Blair ventured.

"No. Not when the mere sight of me has to remind them of what they lost. And now Lilianna wants me at her wedding? I can't do that to them!" His voice was ragged with suppressed grief.

"Jim." Blair rose and followed his friend to the window, standing close in silent support. "If they hated you, they wouldn't ask. No rational person could blame you for what happened; apparently Maria was wise enough to recognize that, and strong enough to teach it to her kids. You said there are lots of relatives. That means you're not a 'last resort'. Lilianna specifically wants you. Probably as a link to her father, since you served with him, but also because she remembers you with affection -- 'Uncle Jim'. And I imagine she got her mother's permission before she wrote, which means Maria's okay with it, too. They're offering you an honor, man, not a reason to... to... immolate yourself."

Ellison's tension eased further as he considered Blair's words. "You're probably right," he conceded. "But... it's been so many years. How can they --"

"Years don't count if the friendship is real. Obviously they can, and that's the only thing that matters. Now what you have to decide is, will you do it, or not? But think about this, Jim." Blair's voice firmed, warningly. "They're willing to overlook the years of non-communication from you; they probably understood that you had to grieve in your own way. But if you turn this down -- don't at least attend the wedding -- that'll be an unforgivable slap in the face to the whole family. Do you really want to do that to the memory of the man who was your friend?"

He paused. "Right. I guess that's all I have to say on the subject. I'll leave you to think about it while I go out and pick up some dinner. Re-read the letter, Jim, and look at it from their point of view instead of yours." He grabbed his jacket and keys, and flipped on the light as he walked out the door; not even a sentinel would be able to read in the room that had become increasingly dark.

Jim wiped his mouth and tossed the napkin on the table. "Thanks, Sandburg, I needed that. Didn't realize how hungry I was." He regarded his friend soberly. "I also needed that little pep talk of yours. Thanks for that, too."

"So? You gonna do it?"

"Yes, I think so. It'll be good to see Maria and the kids again -- see how much they've grown, and like you said, lay some ghosts to rest." He hesitated. "Still, I could use a little moral support. The invitation is for me and a guest; I suppose they expect a wife, but... July twenty-seventh; you'll be on summer break. If you want to, that is," he finished uncertainly.

Blair beamed. "I'd be honored, big guy. I love weddings -- there's no stronger affirmation of man's hopes for the future. Hey, what about presents? Do you remember anything about her likes or dislikes? Do you want to pool our money and get one really nice one, instead of two ordinary ones? I know a place..."

Jim parked the truck and eyed the once well-known house uncertainly; maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. But as he approached the gate, he heard excited squeals and the sound of running feet. "Uncle Jim! Uncle Jim!" He submitted to a group hug, listening with delight to the cadence of happy young voices.

The girls finally let him loose and stepped back, their words tumbling over each other as they welcomed him. His eyes sought Lilianna. She had grown into a stunning young woman with a bright, open countenance and -- he searched closely -- no shadows in her eyes when she looked at him. The knot in his chest loosened. Apparently Blair was right; she really didn't blame him for her father's fate.

He looked up as Maria stepped from the front door and hurried toward him. The years had been kind to his friend's wife; her face was serene and unlined, and only a sprinkling of gray dusted her hair.

"Captain Jim!" she called. "It is so good to see you again." She reached him and enfolded him in a careful hug, almost as if she would comfort a child. "Thank you for coming; your presence will honor our family." The smile she gave him showed none of the blame that he had felt burdened with for so many years.

His throat was thick as he answered, "Maria, I'm happy to be here; it's an honor to be asked. I'm just so sorry --"

"No," she said gently. "You have nothing to be sorry for. And we will not allow old hurts to shadow this time of joy. My eldest daughter is getting married. Her father will be watching from Heaven, and you shall stand at her side in his place. Now, come inside, sit; we have so much to talk about...

"I tell ya', Jim, your friends really know how to throw a celebration. And wasn't Lilianna a beautiful bride? You looked really good, too, in your dress blues. I thought it might be too stark for a wedding, but the contrast really highlighted everyone else's finery. And when Lilianna and Damien pledged their vows -- I swear, the love was palpable, man, damn near visible. It certainly gives us hope for the human condition, doesn't it? I mean..."

Ellison let his friend's words wash over him, a comforting background of sound as he drove homeward. It had been good, but even better was a new sense of peace he had gained. Maria's and the girls' acceptance had provided a healing balm that comforted his soul.

"Sandburg..." he started, but didn't know how to continue.


"Just... thank you." Would Blair know what he meant?

"No problem. That's what friends are for."

Blair did know. Thank God for good friends; his road was lighter because of them.

"I know. But thanks anyway."

The End

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2009-09-28 10:21 pm

#15 - Oh, Good Grief!


Title: Oh, Good Grief!
Summary: Some people have wa-a-ay too much time on their hands.
Style: Gen
Size: 515 words, about 1 page in MS Word.
Warnings: None
Notes: Written July, 2004. Snippet in response to an Internet picture.
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Oh, Good Grief!

by StarWatcher

Jim glanced up from the evening newspaper as he heard Blair's snort of amusement; his partner was ensconced at the kitchen table with his laptop in front of him. The snort had given way to soft chuckles.

"What's up, Chief?"

"I swear Jim, some people have wa-a-ay too much time on their hands. You know that old saying, 'Idle hands are the devil's playground'? Here's one cat that probably thinks so."

Picture is here.

His curiosity piqued, Jim ambled to the table and peered at the laptop screen over Blair's shoulder. He saw a dour-looking Persian cat, glowering out at the world from under a football helmet that had been carved from the rind of a lime; the animal certainly looked ridiculous. Jim grinned in tandem with Blair's reaction. "Well, you have to admit, it's... creative," he pointed out. "And at least it'll come off easily. It could be worse."

"Oh yeah? I know little girls like to dress up their pets, but shouldn't a grownup be above that sort of thing?"

"Nah; adults are worse than the kids. I remember when I was a kid, I was walking down an alley with some friends. We passed a back yard -- well-kept, green lawn, trees, flowers -- and barking at us through the chain-link fence were two little white poodles. Well, they had been white, originally. One was dyed pastel pink, and one was dyed pastel blue -- with matching bows in their top-knots, of course. We treated it like a huge joke, even me, but I felt kind of sorry for them; I always imagined the other dogs laughing at them."

"Oh, gross!" Blair muttered. "Some people have no couth."

"Couth, Chief? Is that an actual word?"

"If it's not, I just invented it. People are adding new words to the English language all the time; I might as well contribute my share."

"Well, I have a few words that might take your mind off the pets of people who lack 'couth'," Jim suggested.

Blair leaned back and glanced up at his friend. "Oh, yeah? What words are those, big guy?"

"Dinner. My treat. Lasagna at Marelli's."

"Hmmm..." A judicious frown creased Blair's forehead, then he nodded decisively. "Yep; I think those words just might do it." He grinned as he shut down the laptop and stood. "Gotta say, Jim, there are times when I really like your linear approach to problem-solving. I'm with you all the way."

"Thought you might be. A full belly makes the whole world brighter. I'll bet even that cat forgave his owner after a plate of tuna."

"Yeah, but man, ya' gotta wonder about the cultural mores or skewed thought patterns, or whatever, that leads to this sort of thing." Blair shrugged into his jacket and preceded Jim out the door. "You know, some other cultures occasionally dress their animals, but it has religious or ceremonial significance. In fact..."

Jim shook his head in fond amusement as he locked the door and followed Blair to the elevator. He'd probably learn more than he ever thought possible about people's decoration of animals in different cultures, but it would be informative, entertaining, and probably good for some tales in the break-room when Blair wasn't around.

Nope; dinner with Sandburg would never be boring.

The End

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2009-09-28 09:56 pm

#14 - You Damned Well Better


Title: You Damned Well Better
Summary: Missing scene for TSbyBS.
Style: Gen
Size: 2,930 words, about 6 pages in MS word.
Warnings: None
Notes: Written March 2004. My thanks to Arianna, for a super-fast beta and some very useful suggestions. Her input helped improve the story considerably.
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

You Damned Well Better

by StarWatcher

"Captain Banks! How dare you have one of your bully boys haul me in here like some common criminal? I knew you were just like all the rest!" The redheaded whirlwind angrily shook off the hand of the officer who had 'escorted' her -- forcibly -- from the loft to Cascade PD, and glared at the man in front of her. She disregarded the little internal voice that suggested the man in the wheelchair still looked enervated from his stint in the hospital, and maybe she should moderate her reactions. "I won't stand for this; you have no right!" She expanded her glare to include her son's so-called 'friend', who was resting a hip on the side of the captain's desk, apparently in support of whatever the man intended to say. Naturally; pigs always shared the same mud-puddle. "If you think I won't --"

"Ms. Sandburg!" Simon thundered, slapping a large hand on the desk and effectively silencing her -- for a moment. "If you will listen for just a few minutes, we have a proposal we want you to consider."

"And you know, Naomi, if you'd simply come in as we asked, we wouldn't have had to send someone for you." Jim's tone was remote; he had promised Simon not to lose his temper, but he was still seething at the repercussions from her thoughtless, stupid actions.

"Jim! That's enough!" Simon ordered. "Now, Ms. Sandburg..." He moderated his tone with an effort. "...if you'd please have a seat, we'll discuss our idea."

Reluctantly, warily, she seated herself. Whatever these pigs wanted couldn't be good. "Fine, Captain, say your piece. I want to be there when my son gets home. He said he'd only be at Rainier for an hour or so."

He nodded. "Understood. But your son is what we want to talk about. Are you aware that the university fired Blair?"

"What? No! He didn't say anything..." She gaped at the men across from her.

"Well he wouldn't, would he?" Jim grated. "I had to find it out from Jack Kelso, a professor who's one of his friends. Frankly, you and I have done a pretty good job of trashing his life, Naomi, so we have to find a way to help him fix it."

She bristled, indignant. "How dare you! All I did was ask an old friend for advice."

"And support him instead of your son when he kept pushing harder against Blair's resistance, and support the university when they invited a pack of reporters in instead of mentioning that you knew Blair didn't want any notice taken of the situation, and work behind the scenes to bring the Nobel prize committee into the mess when -- again -- your son had specifically asked you to do nothing. Where was your head, Naomi? You couldn't have caused a bigger mess if you had tried!"

"Me!" she flared. "What about you?! You're the one who wouldn't let him explain, you're the one who told him you didn't trust him anymore! It was you he gave that dreadful press conference for."

Ellison's gaze bored right through her with all the warmth of an arctic iceflow. "Guilty," he growled. "And I'll be kicking myself for the rest of my life. But we can't go back; all that's left is to go forward."

"Exactly!" Naomi's voice dripped with satisfaction. "I'll persuade him to come traveling with me, and we can leave all this unpleasantness behind. I think Nepal; there's a commune there near a temple where people can visit daily for spiritual peace and enlightenment. He'll forget all this nonsense about running around with the -- police." Her lip curled with derision.

"'Nonsense'? Dammit, Naomi, he's the best partner I could ever want, and I told him so! Why do you keep belittling him? You raised a strong, capable, honorable man, and you treat him like he's ten years old. He's been standing on his own two feet for a helluva long time, but you refuse to see it! What the hell good is spiritual peace and enlightenment if you keep him tied to your apron strings and don't let him DO anything with it?"

"And I suppose being your shadow is so wonderful? Spiritual peace and enlightenment is better than being kidnapped or beat up or shot, however much it doesn't fit into your narrow little view of life." She was seething, her face reddening unattractively. "Believe me, the sooner I get him out of here, the better off he'll be!"

Ellison's voice was flat, final. "He can't go. I need -- we need him here."

"Can't? Of course he can! I'll --"

"Ms. Sandburg," Simon interrupted smoothly. He'd been content to let Jim ruffle Naomi's feathers with some hard-hitting truths; if she were off balance, she might be more receptive to their plan. Now it was time to play 'good cop' to Jim's 'bad cop'. "I understand that you want what's best for Blair; we do, too. We just want to offer him an option, give him a choice. But we wanted to discuss it with you privately, first, which is why I instructed Officer Donelly to watch for Blair to leave the building before he brought you here. If we can reach an agreement, it will help prevent any more stress for Blair."

Naomi's angry glare eased somewhat, and she relaxed slightly in her chair, but still maintained an air of suspicious alertness. She nodded for Simon to continue.

"The truth is, as I told you once before, Blair is a very valuable member of our team, and we don't want to lose him. We'd like to make him a paid member of the department, offer him an official position."

"My baby as a gun-toting pig? No way in hell!" she spat. "I'll never allow it!"

Jim stirred restlessly, but Simon silenced him with a hard glare before turning back to Naomi. "Ms. Sandburg, your son is not a 'baby'; he's a grown man, and not answerable to you -- or to us either, for that matter. This will be entirely his decision; we just want to make the offer, in the hopes that he'll accept it."

"And why should he?" she challenged. "All he's gotten around here is heartache and grief." She scowled at Jim. "He can't possibly want to continue working here!"

"He may not," Simon agreed equably. "But he does have friends here, people who admire him and respect him, and who want to support him. The university is closed to him right now, and we don't want to dump him like yesterday's trash. We just want to give him an option; whether or not he uses it is up to him."

Naomi snorted, inelegantly. "The option to do what? Work with that... that... Neanderthal who tramples all over his psyche and doesn't appreciate him? The option to wave a gun around and terrorize the populace? That's not Blair!"

"No, it isn't," Jim cut in emphatically, "and that's exactly why we want him. Do you know your son at all, Naomi, or do you only see him through your sixties-colored glasses? He's not falling under our spell; we're falling under his. By his very presence, he's... I guess in your view, he's humanizing us. He helps us see human beings instead of victims and perps. And the insights he can offer, the cultural connections that we may overlook, have helped us solve a number of cases. In other words, he helps us help the innocents, and put away the bad guys, just by being himself. We don't want another cop, Naomi; they're coming out of the Academy twice a year. We want Blair, just as he is."

"You say that now," she muttered bitterly, "but you'll eventually turn him into a cop-clone; it's inevitable."

Simon sighed deeply. "Ms. Sandburg, please try to put aside your preconceptions. Blair has worked with us for four years without becoming a 'cop-clone'. As Jim said, we don't expect to turn him into a typical Academy graduate; we want him to continue doing exactly as he has been doing -- but now with official sanction and a paycheck."

"Oh, sure," she sneered. "And I suppose the entire police force will welcome him with open arms after his press conference? More likely, your testosterone-laden, jack-booted thugs will slam him into a wall for daring to show his face here! Do you think I'll let my baby be cut down by 'friendly fire' when I could have prevented it? You've got another think coming, Captain!"

Simon rubbed his eyes for a moment, wondering why the painkillers that were so effective for the wound in his back weren't touching his headache. "We're not stupid, Ms. Sandburg, whatever you may think of us. We plan to release a statement to the Press -- and make sure it gets talked about among department personnel -- that Blair was acting for the good of the department, that his fraud admission was a carefully-constructed ruse to help us draw out and capture a cold-blooded assassin. Your son is well-known and well-liked around here; people will find it much easier to believe that he helped set up a sting, than that he's a fraud and a liar."

Naomi shook her stubbornly. "There's absolutely no reason that he should continue working here," she insisted. "He's so much better than that! He can get a job anywhere... unless you plan to withhold your precious 'statement to the Press' if he doesn't toe the line," she accused.

"Naomi," Jim said softly, "we are not holding out a carrot, or pandering to hurt feelings; we're trying to right a grievous wrong. You know that Blair is too honorable to have lied in his dissertation; we want to try and remove that cloud hanging over him. If he chooses to stay, fine. If not..." he swallowed heavily, and hesitated. "If not, we want to make sure he doesn't have this undeserved stigma following him around."

She stared at him through narrowed eyes. "You are!" she hissed. "First you let me think you're this 'sentinel' that my son calls you, then you let him deny it and tell me that you're an ordinary man, but you really are! So now what; you need to keep Blair chained to you so this... this... thing will work? You're just feeding off him like some disgusting parasite."

"No. I'm a good detective; Blair doesn't change that. But..." Jim shifted uneasily, but really, for all intents and purposes, she already knew. "But Blair helps me to be a better detective... and to be a better man. I don't feed off him, Naomi. It's a..." He cast about for an explanation that would resonate with her. "It's a... psychic symbiosis, a working partnership." He shrugged. "I was wrong to dismiss his help, and I'll tell him so. I can only hope that he'll be as forgiving as he's always been."

"'Symbiosis' means both entities get something. Apparently you get help with this sentinel thing; what does he get?"

"Not much," Jim acknowledged soberly, but his gaze was steady as he continued. "He gets my undying support, he gets my vow that I'll never turn on him again, he gets a home for as long as he wants it. He gets a job where he can make a difference for the better -- maybe not so much in the grand scheme of things, but it can be pretty damn big to the victims he helps. And he does help, Naomi; he's good at it. One door has been shut in his face; we're just trying to keep the other one open."

She turned a measuring gaze on Simon. "So, what, you don't expect your Press statement to make a difference to the University? You think he can't go back there?"

"I can't speak for them, Ms. Sandburg. We'll certainly help Blair fight his dismissal, if he wants to. He seems a bit disenchanted, right now, but that may change, and we'll support him if he needs our help to go back."

"Naomi," Jim urged, "we hurt him. There was wrong on all sides, but Blair is the only one paying for it. We're trying to fix that, and all we're asking from you is that you don't throw a hissy-fit. Blair knows how you feel about cops, and he may well decide not to stay. But let it be his decision, not something he does to appease your rantings about 'jack-booted thugs'."

She sagged in her chair. "I just want him to be happy, and I don't think this is the place that will allow him that." She had to hold on to that. Their arguments sounded reasonable, but there had to be a catch somewhere.

"That's perfectly understandable, Ms. Sandburg," Simon soothed. "I have a son, too; all we ever want is the best for our children. But I repeat -- we're not trying to force him. We just want to make an offer, and know that you won't subvert it."

"What; you expect me to smile happily at the idea of my baby staying in this soul-destroying place?"

"That's exactly what we expect," Jim asserted. "You will smile, and approve, and give him your whole-hearted support, so that he won't think he's disappointing you if he stays."

"Or what? You'll toss me in a cell? That'll really help convince him to stay, won't it? I don't give in to blackmail; I know several good lawyers with experience in civil disobedience cases. You can't hold me!"

Jim's patience snapped. "Dammit, Naomi, what is the matter with you? We're trying to help, and you're making it into two dogs fighting over a big, juicy bone! You want blackmail?" He stalked toward her chair, the cane clenched in a white-knuckled grip, and stared down contemptuously. "You better think long and hard over which life Blair would choose if you force it on him. You really shafted him, lady; what makes you think he'll automatically go in your direction instead of ours? If you fight us on this, the only one who'll be hurt is Blair. You damned well better get with the program, or you'll just end up tearing him apart. Is that really what you want? Will that vindicate you somehow, that your son is hurt even more deeply, but thank God he didn't become a pig?" His voice dripped with venom. "You're a real piece of work, lady -- allowing him to make his own 'choices' only if they meet with your approval. Is that the kind of 'personal freedom' you've been advocating all these years? What a load of crap!"

"Jim," Simon said softly, "stand down." He could hardly refute his detective's words -- he felt the same way -- but they couldn't crowd the woman too closely if they still hoped for her acceptance.

Jim straightened, shook his head briefly, and turned to the window, leaning heavily on the cane as the adrenalin subsided. He'd been too close to losing control; he hoped he hadn't blown it entirely.

"Excuse us, Ms. Sandburg," Simon continued, just as softly. "As you can see, we feel rather passionately about this. It should be obvious to you that this isn't some half-hearted attempt to assuage Jim's feelings of guilt; it is our fondest wish to have your son become a permanent member of our department, if he'll accept the position. So for the last time -- will you go along with this?" Mentally, he crossed his fingers. It wasn't the last time; he'd argue for another hour, if necessary, but had no idea how to persuade her if she wasn't already convinced.

Naomi stared thoughtfully at Jim's back, noting the tension in his shoulders, then turned a measuring gaze on Simon, finding only open sincerity in his face. She thought back; although she had only met them a few times, they seemed to be honorable men. And maybe they were right; Blair had never been a wimp who allowed himself to be pushed around. If he was still here after four years, he must have found something worthwhile, something that spoke to him. His life's dream? Her gaze returned to Jim, staring out at -- what? What could he see and hear that no one else could conceive of? No one except for her son. Did she really have the right to come between them, even if she was sure it was for Blair's own good? Mightn't he come to hate her if her actions shut him away from this? She couldn't bear that, really, she couldn't. With a deep sigh, she capitulated.

"You make a good case, Captain. I don't like it -- I certainly hope that Blair refuses your offer -- but I won't stand in his way. I swear," she grimaced slightly, "he'll never know that I disapprove. I did several years of theatre in high school; I'm a very good actress when I need to be." She stood, impatient to flee this confrontation. "And now, as I said, I want to be there when Blair gets home. Let me know when you plan to make your 'offer'; I'll be here, with the biggest damn smile you've ever seen," she finished bitterly.

She swept out of the office, still inwardly seething, but with dignity outwardly intact.

Simon leaned back in his chair, feeling utterly weary. "Thank God," he murmured. "We did it."

Jim turned haunted eyes upon his captain. "Not quite. We still have to convince Sandburg."

The End

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2009-09-28 09:45 pm

#13 - Of Rain and Rainbows


Title: Of Rain and Rainbows
Summary: Post TsbyBS, a shared domestic moment.
Style: Gen
Size: 1870 words, about 4 pages in MS Word.
Warnings: None
Notes: Written March, 2004
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Of Rain and Rainbows

by StarWatcher

Blair Sandburg hunched his shoulders, trying to prevent the water from trickling down his neck as he dashed toward the building's entryway through the drenching summer downpour. Naturally, all the close parking spaces were already taken. "I suppose I should be grateful it's only wet, not cold," he muttered sourly. Sometimes it seemed like Cascade's weather was nothing but rain.

His mood lightened and he grinned briefly as he stood just inside the main doors and vigorously shook his short curls -- his long hair had been sacrificed for the Academy -- imagining that he must look like a drowned poodle. Oh well, unlike the Wicked Witch of the West, he was in no danger of melting. He'd relax with a good hot shower, then start dinner. Maybe lasagna; he felt like creating something hearty and satisfying, and Jim would appreciate it.

As Blair slid the large pan into the oven and set the timer, he noticed the brightening light; the storm had passed and the setting sun, now dipping below cloud level, was shining through the balcony doors. He grabbed a beer and walked out onto the balcony to enjoy the freshened, cooled air, a welcome break from the earlier heat of the day. He listened to the faint rumble of thunder in the distance as the storm continued moving out to sea, then watched in wonder as a rainbow began to form, its colors dim at first, then glowing ever more brightly.

Jim Ellison had been following the enticing scent all the way from the parking lot. He closed the door behind him and tossed his keys into the basket, supremely grateful that Blair had started dinner; it would help him forget this long, frustrating day. His senses were workable without Sandburg by his side, but difficult. He was keeping a mental count. Just thirty-seven more days, and guide and sentinel would be official partners. He was looking forward to it, along with everyone else in Major Crimes.

As he hung his coat on the hook, Jim sniffed appreciatively. "Smells good Chief; when will it be ready? Do you need me to run out and pick up some garlic bread?"

When there was no answer, he looked around the loft, and finally noticed his partner on the balcony, unusually still. Wondering what was going on -- if he didn't know better, he'd think Sandburg was zoned -- Jim reached in the fridge for a bottle of beer, then went to join his friend.

"Hey, Chief, what's up?"

Blair started slightly, then relaxed. "Hey, Jim. Glad you're home. Nothing much man, just... contemplating."

Jim frowned thoughtfully and examined the area. Sandburg's skills as an observer, previously impressive, were now even sharper after some of his Academy classes. But the Sentinel didn't see anything suspicious. There were a few people walking in the late afternoon sunlight, a few cars splashing through puddles; nothing that seemed worthy of such deep consideration.

"Contemplating what, Chief? There doesn't seem to be anything too exciting to hold your interest."

"I've just been thinking what a miracle rain is." Blair waved vaguely outward, apparently encompassing everything within sight.

"Miracle? This from the man who hates cold and wet? I don't think I've ever heard you say one kind word about the rain."

Blair grinned a little ruefully. "Well, yeah, I don't like being wet, and I hate splashing through puddles and spending the day with damp feet, and it's a real pain in the ass trying to keep books and papers dry if they won't all fit in my backpack. But, just look at it, man." Another expansive wave outward. "The leaves are glistening and washed clean, the air smells purer; even the buildings look less grimy. It's refreshing, you know? And take a look at that rainbow; isn't it the brightest one you've ever seen?"

It was probably a rhetorical question, but Jim answered anyway, "Close to it, I guess. I saw some pretty spectacular ones in Peru."

"Yeah? This one is so clear and bright that I can actually see all seven colors, and I don't, usually; it's pretty damned amazing. Makes me wonder, though..." he cast a quick sideways glance at his friend, "...not running tests or anything, just curious; how many colors can you see with sentinel vision?"

"I don't know, Chief; I've never bothered to try." He focused for a moment. Sandburg was right; shades upon shades, and the deeper he looked, the more variations there were. And they kept shifting as the angle of the sun changed, fluctuating, brightening, dimming, almost substantial enough to swim in...

"Jim? Hey, Jim!"

Whoops! Enough of that. Jim shook his head slightly as he pulled himself back from the edge of a zone and gave his friend a reassuring smile. "I'm here, Chief. As to the colors..." he looked out again, "I really can't say. It's not separate colors so much as different shades. Or if each shade could be considered separately, there are no names for them. Like, you see indigo and violet, right?"

Blair nodded silently, intent on Jim's words.

"I know some people who can't tell the difference; to them they both fall under the heading of 'purple'. Right now, I see over a dozen gradations between those two, and really can't tell where 'indigo' stops and 'violet' starts." He shrugged. "Basically, I see more than the average bear, but you already knew that."

Blair nodded again. "Yeah, I know; it's just one more piece of sentinel amazement, I guess. Hey, did you know that rainbows don't have a backside?" He grinned at Jim's raised eyebrow. "Honest, man. It's all to do with angles of light striking the suspended water droplets in relation to where the observer is standing. I remember, Naomi and I were driving with some friends when I was a kid, and up ahead of us there was this huge rainbow that bridged the highway. I was so impressed as we got closer and closer; I just knew it would be so cool to drive between the 'legs' of the rainbow, and couldn't wait to see what it looked like from the other side." He bounced with his enthusiasm. "Well, we drove between the legs, all right, and God, Jim, it was stupendous -- these huge pillars of colored light on each side of us, seeming almost solid." He frowned briefly. "Of course, knowing now what I just told you about the light angles and such, I don't see how that could have really been. But that's the way I remember it." He shrugged. "Anyway, when we passed, I turned around to look out the back window, and there was nothing there; plain blue sky and open prairie. After I got over my disappointment, I started pestering Naomi about what had happened to it." He shook his head briefly and took a swallow of beer. "Come to think of it, that may have been the first time I got interested in the scientific aspects of the world; I was pretty young."

"Tell you another one, Chief," Jim offered. "If you're up in a plane, rainbows aren't arches, they're circles, suspended in the atmosphere." It was Blair's turn to raise an eyebrow, and Jim chuckled. "Sentinel's honor. Apparently we see the arch when we're on the ground simply because the horizon gets in the way. I've seen rainbow circles twice, after flying above or around thunderstorms."

"That is so cool! I wonder if it would be possible to charter a plane and go rainbow-chasing, to see that? Well," he snickered in self-deprecation, "maybe when I win the lottery."

Jim punched him gently on the shoulder. "Don't forget, it means you'd have to go up in a small plane. Is your scientific curiosity worth that?"

Blair considered briefly. "You're right. It's probably better -- certainly cheaper -- to just keep my feet right here."

"So, rainbow-gazing has kept you out here for..." Jim cast a quick, measuring look at the bottle in Blair's hand, "two-thirds of a beer?" He couldn't help the worry, never far from his mind, that maybe things weren't going as smoothly at the Academy as Blair claimed.

"Not entirely. When I heard the thunder, it just got me thinking -- where would we be without rain?"


"Not 'we' as in you and me," Blair snorted. "'We' as in all of mankind. I remember a quote I read once. 'Humankind owes its existence to six inches of topsoil -- and the fact that it rains'. That's just awesome, man. Did you know that the Sahara was once a jungle? The climate changed, it stopped raining and, voila! Uninhabitable desert. And the Anasazi -- they had the most highly-developed culture in what is now the American southwest, and then they just disappeared. No one really knows why, but the speculation is that the climate changed and repeated seasons of drought made it impossible for them to stay. When you actually think about it, it's just mind-blowing."

"Which is why I'll leave such thinking to you, Professor," Jim replied dryly. "I don't want my mind blown; it works much better in one piece."

"You are such a Philistine, man," he grumbled, good-naturedly. "How the hell did you make Cop of the Year if you don't use your brain?" Blair ducked the anticipated head-whap.

"It's because I use my brain for things that are really important. Rainbows and weather patterns won't solve crimes."

"I don't know; haven't you ever heard the theory that knowledge is never wasted? It might come in useful someday."

"Ri-i-ight. The next time a knowledge of rainbows helps me solve a case, I'll be sure to give you due credit in the report."

"And I'll get a blast out of saying 'I told you so'," Blair retorted comfortably.

Jim lifted his head. "The oven timer just went off, Chief. Is dinner ready?" He turned to follow as Blair strode toward the kitchen.

"Nah, that's the ten-minute warning," floated back over his shoulder. "Time to put in the garlic bread. Care to set the table while I toss the salad?"

As Jim pulled out the plates and silverware, listening to Blair's continued chatter, he reflected that the idea of rain and rainbows actually summed up their situation rather nicely. They'd passed through several stretches of personal 'rough weather', and a couple of storms so all-encompassing that it had seemed their world would be destroyed. But the storms had passed, their -- dingy -- connection had been washed clean, and the rainbow promised fair weather ahead.

He sat across from the man who was his best friend, brother, partner, and guide, and once again gave silent thanks for his continued good fortune. There might be more rough weather ahead -- life was never easy -- but from now on, he'd be aware of the gathering clouds. With forewarning, they might be able to avert the storm, or at least raise an umbrella against it. Never again would sentinel and guide -- or Jim and Blair -- face the elements alone.

"Chief ?"


"Thank you."

The glowing smile was all the benediction he needed.

"You're welcome, man."

The End

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2009-09-28 09:38 pm

#12 - 'Tis the Season


Title: 'Tis the Season
Summary: Christmas is a time for gifts and... senses testing.
Style: Gen
Size: 4,420 words, about 9 pages in MS Word.
Warnings: None
Notes: Written December, 2003.
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

'Tis the Season

by StarWatcher

Thursday, October 30th

"Hey, Jim, got any plans for Saturday?" Blair asked, oh-so-casually.

Ellison immediately felt the mental warning flags go up. Tests. Sandburg wanted to rope him into more tests.

He looked up from the newspaper he was reading and fixed the younger man with his most fearsome scowl, the one that always made the perps quake in their boots. "Cleaning. Shopping. Relaxing. That's what a 'day off' is for, Sandburg, or haven't you learned the concept?"

Sandburg seemed to have quit grading papers for awhile. He wandered to the fridge and extracted a couple of bottles of beer. There was no sign of boot-quaking as he smiled sunnily at his friend and handed him one of the bottles. "Oh, great. If we really work at it, we could finish the cleaning early, then swing by the Arts-and-Crafts Fair before doing the regular shopping." If anything, the scowl facing him deepened. "Think about it man. Booths of gorditas and burritos, Alaskan king crab legs, mooshoo pork, pad thai, elephant ears, caramel apples with nuts... you can chow down and I won't say a word, I promise."

"I am thinking about it. Echoing barn-like buildings filled with strange smells and crowds of loud people. Why should I subject myself to that? You go if you want; you don't need to drag me along."

"But it's a great opportunity, Jim; a chance to practice controlling your senses -- hearing especially -- in a realistically adverse situation, but it's not life-or-death hanging on your success. If it gets to be too much we'll leave, I promise, but some day you might be grateful that you had that practice." The gaze he turned on his friend was earnest and hopeful, and wide-eyed as a child's.

Ellison felt his resolve crumbling. "Sandburg, why bother? Shoving through crowds, looking at booths filled with ticky-tacky junk..."

"Jim! Not ticky-tacky! Hand-crafted art, and items that someone has put time and effort into. Okay, okay," he hastened to forestall another objection, "some of it is less 'polished' than you or I might like. But there's some good stuff too, man, at reasonable prices. It's a chance to appreciate individual creativity, the best of small-town Americana, even if you don't buy anything."

Ellison's eyebrows rose. "Small-town, Chief? In Cascade?"

"Hey, man, 'small-town' is an attitude as much as a place, and hand-crafting goes with that attitude." Blair waved off the comment airily, and fixed his partner with a considering eye. "Why the negativity, man? Did a toy train bite you on the ankle when you were a kid?"

Jim sighed. He was losing this battle, but he wouldn't go down without one last effort. "Sandburg, you still haven't told me why. Why should I go with you -- you're a big boy, now, you can go alone -- but also, why do you want to go in the first place?"

"Well..." He eyed the big man uncertainly, half-afraid of being laughed at. "Like I said, it's a chance to appreciate individual creativity and ingenuity. And if I buy something, I'm supporting a local artist, and that's always good." Jim was still waiting. "And I like to get an early start on Christmas shopping. Sometimes you can find some really unique gifts that will be a lot more appreciated than the same old stuff from a department store." Jim still didn't look convinced. Blair sighed. "And I like to get stuff for the Christmas Wishing Tree, and this way I can get more stuff on the same budget, and spread it around to more kids."

Jim blinked. Apparently they'd just crossed into the Sandburg zone. "You lost me, Chief."

"You know the Wishing Tree they have in the mall every year, the one they put up the first weekend of November?"

Jim didn't, but he nodded encouragingly. As usual, Sandburg saw right through him.

"Ah, man, you mean you never noticed it? It's this big tree, decorated with paper stars. Each star has the gender and age of a kid whose family can't afford Christmas presents. You pick a star, buy a gift that you think would be appropriate, and pass the star and gift over to mall management. They pass it to the group that's in charge, and those people wrap and distribute the gifts to the right kids in time for Christmas."

Jim had to swallow a lump. It never ceased to amaze him how giving his friend could be. He couldn't help but wonder if Blair had ever been on the outside looking in, hoping for a Christmas present that didn't come.

"That sounds like a worthwhile endeavor, Chief, but why not just do it at the mall? The toys will be handy; in and out and you're done."

"Like I said, more bang for the buck. I can buy probably three toys at the Fair for the same price I could buy one at the mall -- give three kids a little bit of Christmas instead of just one." He shrugged. "It's something I've been doing for the past five years. I just thought you might like to join in." Once again his gaze turned hopeful and beseeching.

Jim should have known that his surrender was inevitable, but he could still bargain for terms. "Okay, Chief, it's a date." He raised a cautionary finger. "And I'll even practice dial-control with you; you made a good point. BUT, fair warning... if it gets to be too much, I'm out of there, and you'll have to take the bus home."

"Oh, man, that's great! You'll have a good time, Jim, I promise!" The smile on his face could have provided light for every apartment in the building.

Privately, Jim still had doubts. But as he returned to his newspaper, he supposed that it wouldn't be too traumatic; nothing he couldn't handle. He hoped.

Saturday, November 1st

Jim woke as Sandburg's alarm went off below him, and frowned as he glanced at his own clock. Saturday was a day that they both enjoyed sleeping in, if possible, and it was barely 6:45. Maybe Blair had forgotten to leave his alarm off last night, and would turn over and go back to sleep? Jim focused his hearing on the room below his. No, the rustling of clothing indicated that Sandburg was getting dressed. More sounds told of a quick stop in the bathroom -- flushing toilet, hands being washed -- and then the light went on in the kitchen. Cupboard door opened and shut, pan placed on the stove, fridge opening...

He heaved himself upright and passed a hand over his face, then looked over the railing into the room below. "Sandburg! What's up?"

The answer was indecently cheerful. "I'm up, Jim, and you should be, too. Early start on cleaning today, remember? Breakfast in fifteen, buddy; get a move on!" Jim heard the eggs crack on the side of the bowl, and the whisk starting to beat them.

Oh. Right. The Arts-and-Crafts Fair. Oh well, Sandburg certainly seemed determined to get started and get finished; might as well take advantage of it. He pulled on jeans and a T-shirt, slipped his feet into the soft moccasins he wore around the house, made his own stop in the bathroom, and joined his friend in the kitchen. He made and buttered the toast, poured the coffee that Sandburg already had brewing, and sat down just as Blair brought two plates of scrambled eggs to the table.

Three hours later, the loft was spotless, and they were on their way to the fairgrounds. Ellison was feeling slightly stunned. Sandburg never shirked helping to clean the loft, but he had never approached the job with the energy he had displayed today. Apparently, this Arts-and-Crafts thing meant more to him than he'd let on.

Jim parked the truck at the end of a sparsely-populated row that was a considerable distance from the entrance. He didn't mind the walk, and the truck was less likely to get 'dinged', as most of the patrons would be searching for spots closer to the main gate. He grinned as he remembered a quote he'd read years before: 'As a nation, Americans are dedicated to keeping physically fit -- and parking as close to the football stadium as possible.'

As they reached the midpoint of the parking lot, Jim hesitated. Even from here, the noise and the smells were noticeable. He looked askance at the three large, Quonset-hut-like buildings, apparently ideally designed to amplify sounds while splitting them into so many pieces that there seemed to be no source. He really didn't want to do this. Maybe he should just leave Sandburg here and head home now...

The guide was in tune with his sentinel. Blair paused with Jim, and laid a grounding hand on his arm. "I really think you can do this, man. Just dial your hearing and smell down about two points below normal. When you're comfortable with that, we'll experiment with raising one or the other -- just a notch -- to locate specific items, then down again. When that's good, we'll see if you can go two notches up, then down. It's all about control, Jim. If you can do it, you've gained experience for similar situations. If not, we'll quit and go home. I can come back alone tomorrow and find what I want. Okay?"

Okay. He was a sentinel, and Cascade was his territory. Sandburg made sense; he had to learn to cope with all of his territory. He gave a short nod, then adjusted the mental dials as his guide had suggested. A quick scan into the fairgrounds and... yes. It was better already. He could do this. As he relaxed, he felt Sandburg relax beside him as well. Together they walked through the gate and into Building A.

For awhile they wandered the aisles at whim -- Sandburg's whim. Apparently, anything could attract his attention, although Jim noticed that he seemed to spend more time on the actual hand-crafted items, rather than ones that were simply re-packaged from other sources. Those also became the booths that Blair expected him to be able to 'mark' and recognize. "Jim, listen to the tone of these wind-chimes. Doesn't that hand-beaten copper make a distinctive sound?" He had to agree that it did. "Come on, Jim, this is hand-spun wool yarn and natural dyes. It's got to smell different than the usual commercial stuff." A cautious loosening of the scent dial proved Sandburg right again. "Hey, Jim, take a whiff of these carved boxes. Aren't the exotic woods more recognizable than the usual lumber from Home Depot?" They were indeed. "Focus on the falling of the water as it passes from one level to another; does each fountain have a unique sound, or are they all the same?" Each one was different, a soothing murmur that he'd never consciously noted before. Maybe he should get one for the loft....

But, despite the distractions, Blair kept a close eye on his friend. As Jim followed quiet suggestions to 'filter out the smell, it doesn't have to affect you', or 'turn up your hearing just a notch, but let the echoes shift to the background', he was pleased to discover that Blair's impromptu training session seemed to be working. By noon, he was completely comfortable, able to relegate the myriad sounds and smells to a balanced, non-invasive sensory backdrop -- one that didn't hamper his efforts to focus on specific items. And right now, he had one specific item in mind -- lunch. Of course, even that became a training session.

They paused in a quiet, sheltered area between two of the buildings. Blair looked up with a light of challenge in his eyes and a wicked grin dancing on his lips. "Okay, Big Guy; we've seen some of the food stands, but not all. So, use that nose to discover what our options are. You decide what smells the best, and that's where we'll eat."

Jim answered with a grin of his own. "So you say, Chief. What happens if I discover that WonderBurger has a stand here?"

"Fine. You can have WonderBurger -- after you point me to the homemade gorditas and shrimp-fried rice." A punch on the arm became a grounding touch.

Jim closed his eyes and concentrated on smell. It took a few minutes, as he needed time to note and discard the countless scents -- glue, wood, paint, incense, dye, fabric, leather, and so many others -- of the various handicrafts. Sandburg's earlier coaching paid off; all of these were now known and recognized, and he was able to shunt them to a mental storage bin labeled 'non-food', and ignore them. Very soon, he was identifying the various foods and cataloguing the ingredients that would enhance or detract from the flavors, peripherally aware of Blair waiting patiently by his side.

"Got it. Okay, Chief, hope you brought your appetite and don't mind mixing cuisines. We'll be having barbequed ribs with honey-mustard sauce, baked salmon patties, and shrimp egg-rolls, along with..." he paused to confirm his information, "some really excellent homemade bread, and a dessert of real, honest-to-god, old-fashioned handmade strawberry ice cream."

"Oh, man, it sounds like the heart-attack will be worth it. Lead on!"

After a self-indulgent second helping of the ice cream, Sandburg's whole demeanor changed. Gone was the carefree wanderer, replaced by the focused gaze of a dedicated hunter. "Okay, Jim, I deliberately didn't make note of where the specific booths are. You're going to use your senses to lead me back to the things I want. First stop -- the booth with the hand-carved boxes of exotic woods. I think one would be great on Simon's desk to keep his cigars in. Follow your nose and lead on, MacDuff!"

In short order, Blair had chosen Simon's cigar box (after consulting with Jim to be sure that the scent of that particular wood wouldn't adversely affect the cigars), one of the beaten-copper wind-chimes for Rhonda, and a hand-dyed, hand-knitted scarf for Megan, in shades that would complement her coloring.

Sandburg's enthusiasm was contagious, and Jim had to admit (privately) that Blair had been right -- many of the crafts were well-done and would make good gifts. And since he was already here, gifts purchased now would save him having to spend so much time in other stores... For Simon, he selected a pen-set in the same wood as the cigar box. Megan would get a sort of beret-thingie that matched the scarf Blair had chosen, and Rhonda would get a miniature table-top fountain. She might like to keep it on top of her filing cabinet.

But enough was enough; a little shopping went a long way, even though his senses had long since adapted to the crowds and noises and smells. Jim stopped Blair as he headed toward another booth. "Sandburg, the experiment was a success; the dials are working." He grinned slightly at the restrained bounce that expressed his friend's satisfaction. "So finish up; I'll give you another half-hour, then I'm out of here."

"Great, man, no problem. Just need to get the toys for the kids, and I already know which ones. So -- you remember that booth with the animal marionettes, and one was attached to a revolving arm that made it dance? You said the motor had a really annoying squeak. Where is it from here?" His eyes were alight with expectation; it seemed that the testing wouldn't be over until they actually left the building.

Sandburg was good. In the requisite thirty minutes, he had purchased two of the marionettes -- ("Hey, man, interactive toys that promote imagination; they're great!"), a set of hand-carved, unpainted, wooden vehicles -- ("Classic, man. A three-year-old can bang these around as much as he wants without hurting them."), and matching bracelet-and-necklace made of small polished chunks of semi-precious stones, undoubtedly the 'leavings' from making the larger, more formal jewelry. ("It doesn't matter, man. Some little girl will just see that it's pretty and shiny and enjoy showing off to her friends.")

Maybe Sandburg's spirit was catching. As they passed a booth displaying rag-dolls and plush animals, Jim paused to examine them more closely. The dolls were hand-stitched, without any small pieces to be pulled off and stuffed into an inquisitive mouth; their painted-on features had an individuality that commercial dolls lacked. The animals were engagingly fuzzy and squishy, just right for a young child to cuddle with in bed.

He glanced uncertainly at his friend. Were these toys too simplistic -- or maybe ordinary -- to be gifts for a needy child? Blair's beaming smile and encouraging nod assured him otherwise. Jim selected a brown-haired rag-doll in an apple-green dress, and a rainbow-colored, floppy kitten. As the booth-attendant made change, he warned, "But I'm not going in the mall, Sandburg. You can choose the stars for the kids that get these toys."

"Sure, Jim, no problem," he declared. "No sense duplicating our efforts when one can take care of the job."

As they finally headed toward the main exit, Sandburg stopped at one last display. His face was almost wistful as he examined the display of tree ornaments. These were made from simple, solid-colored balls, each with a tiny teddy-bear head, arms, and legs glued on. The ball was, in effect, the tummy of a teddy-bear at the same time it was a toy that the bear was clutching. Some had children's names on them, and a sign proclaimed that any ornament would be personalized free. Kind of kitchy, Jim thought, but Blair touched one with a tender finger.

"Wouldn't this be great for kids? Give them a visible connection to the tree and the holiday, something that's just theirs, but shared by everyone."

"I guess." Jim was a little uncomfortable with the note of -- longing? -- in his friend's voice. Where was this coming from? "Not very practical for an anonymous gift though; you wouldn't know what name to put on it."

Sandburg quickly shook off the little mood. "No, of course not. And it's not really something they could use or play with all year." He headed swiftly for the door, smirking slightly as Jim was left half a beat behind.

As they settled into the truck, Blair looked over at his friend. "Thanks for coming, man; it's always more fun to share with somebody. I know it wasn't your ideal way to spend a Saturday, but... well, thanks. And 'specially for adding to the toy collection. They'll make some little kids awfully happy on Christmas morning."

"No problem, Sandburg; I've had worse times, and the cause seems worthwhile. And the practice really did help my control. Of course, if you really want to show your appreciation..." He glanced over to see Blair with an eyebrow raised, waiting for the punch-line, "... you'll declare a no-testing period for the next two weeks."

"Two weeks! Man, you can't let your skills get rusty; three days."

"Ten days."

"One week, and I'll bake a blueberry shortcake."


They grinned at each other in perfect harmony, sentinel to guide, friend to friend.

Sunday, November 2nd

Immediately after breakfast, Blair grabbed his backpack and the bags of toys they had bought. "I'm outta here, man. I'll swing by the mall to pick some Wishing Stars to match these toys, then drop them off with management. After that, I need to do some work in my office. Should be back around three. You need anything while I'm running around?"

"I'm good, Sandburg. I think I'll go to the gym later, but I should be here when you get back. Dinner at Luigi's?"

"After the way we pigged out yesterday? How about vegetable stir-fry and blueberry shortcake?" He fixed his friend with a stern look.

Jim's grin was unrepentant. "Had to try, Chief. Yeah, sounds good. You gonna use canned blueberries, or do you think the organic market might have some fresh?"

"Why don't you check it out, Jim? At this time of the year, they won't be local; you can tell better than I can if the ones at the market are good enough. Otherwise, I'll just use canned." He watched Jim settle back with the morning newspaper, and was out the door with a careless wave.

As soon as Blair's car turned the corner, Jim's relaxed pose disappeared. Even on Sunday, the gym would be less crowded before noon. Going now would give him time afterward to swing by the Arts-and-Crafts Fair again. With the senses practice he'd done yesterday, he should be able to spend a short time with no difficulty, even without his guide. There was something he wanted to pick up without Blair knowing... He grabbed his gym bag and locked the door behind him.

Blair left the Mall Office with a sense of accomplishment. Six toys, six stars -- and six children that would have at least one present to open on Christmas morning. Every time he did this, he realized all over again that giving, not receiving, really was the best part of the season.

He glanced at the wall clock as he headed toward the main exit. He had plenty of time to stop back at the fairgrounds again before heading toward the office. It wouldn't be much -- little more than a trinket -- but he hoped Jim would appreciate the gesture.

Saturday, December 20th

The small, but well-shaped, living tree was standing in front of the far balcony doors, waiting for its lights, tinsel and ornaments. This had been Blair's innovation. Jim had explained, the first year Blair was in the loft, that he didn't like to put up a Christmas tree because he could smell the cut trees dying. Blair had been intrigued, but quickly suggested a potted tree from a local nursery. The smell would remain fresh and clean to sentinel senses, there would be far fewer dropped needles to clean up, the rental fee was comparable to the cost of a cut tree, and it would be returned to the nursery after Christmas -- no need to worry about disposal of a discarded tree. Jim had counseled him to, "Breathe, Chief; you've convinced me," and joined his friend in evaluating the potential 'candidates'. Both men had been pleased with the experiment, and continued the custom the next year.

Blair had been waiting all week for this. Decorating the tree was a cultural tradition that he hadn't always had the opportunity to participate in. He enjoyed it whenever he could, and sharing with his friend made the experience even sweeter. He'd been up early, working in the kitchen; they'd have fresh apple pie and hot spiced cider after the tree-trimming.

Jim positioned the lights -- small, so the heat wouldn't harm the tree, and unblinking, so the sentinel wouldn't risk a zoneout -- to his exacting standards, while Blair unwrapped the ornaments from their protective tissue and lined them up on the couch. From there, it would be easy to choose the 'correct' color and shape of ornament needed to 'balance' all sides of the tree. Privately, Blair thought that tree-trimming in accordance with sentinel -- or maybe it was 'anal' -- sensibilities subdued some of the spontaneous fun. On the other hand, the previous years had demonstrated that the final effect would be beautifully harmonious. So, when Jim 'adjusted' half of the Blair-placed ornaments a quarter-inch forward or back, it didn't make a dent in his good mood. He simply enjoyed spending some down-time with his friend while instrumental carols played softly in the background and the air was redolent with the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen.

Finally, all the ornaments were placed, and they both stood back to evaluate the effect before hanging the tinsel.

"What d'ya think, Chief?"

"Actually, Jim, I think it needs one more thing. Hang on a sec; I'll be right back," and he hurried into his room.

Jim took the opportunity to cross the kitchen and reach into the dark corner of the far cabinet's upper shelf. He grabbed the tissue-wrapped package and turned just in time to see Blair emerging from his room with a similar bundle.

There was an awkward pause.

Blair moved first, thrusting his bundle toward Jim. "Um... maybe it's kind of silly, but I wanted you to have this."

"You took the words right out of my mouth, Chief. This one's for you."

Blair grinned, noticing the similarity of the packages. "Is this a case of 'great minds' Jim?" He carefully opened the tissue to reveal one of the teddy-bear ornaments in a creamy silver. Inscribed in deep blue lettering was,

Blair - a Friend for all Seasons

"Oh, man," he breathed. "This is... this is just so cool. Thanks Jim; this is just... great!" His smile was incandescent.

Jim was touched; it took so little to make his friend happy. "You're welcome, buddy. So, can I guess what this is?" He unwrapped the paper to discover a teddy-bear ornament of blue. The silver-lettered inscription read,

Jim - Brother of my Heart

Jim smiled a slow, sweet smile, and didn't even try to resist. He moved forward, to bestow and receive a heartfelt hug. His voice was husky as he murmured, "You got it, Chief. Friend and brother -- it doesn't get any better."

Together, they walked back to the tree to find prominent places for both ornaments before they added the tinsel.

They waited until darkness fell to turn on the lights. Blair sighed contentedly as the tree shone in splendor. He and Jim sat on the smaller couch, sipping cider and contemplating the sight before them. One might think that the Menorah -- placed several days previously on a table in front of the near balcony doors -- would be overpowered, especially with only two candles burning tonight. Not so; the two icons of the season seemed to lend strength and meaning to each other.

It was a perfect representation of his heartfelt wish every year at this season -- peace to all the peoples of the world, whatever their belief system might be. Realistically, he knew that worldwide peace would be a long time coming. Perhaps it couldn't happen until every person had found a secure, comfortable 'niche' for his or her personality. He didn't know. But he did know that he was fortunate to have found his niche, at the side of his sentinel and friend... and he was never letting go.

The End

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2009-09-28 09:30 pm

#11 - Lessons in Social Dynamics


Title: Lessons in Social Dynamics
Summary: Blair mixes Christmas and sentinel sensitivity.
Style: Gen
Size: 870 words, about 2 pages in MS Word.
Warnings: None; conversation fic.
Notes: Written December, 2003. A snippet as "payment" for off-topic list-posting.
Feedback: Not necessary, but I certainly do like to get it!
Email: If you prefer not to post a comment that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Lessons in Social Dynamics

by StarWatcher

Blair spoke from his spot at the kitchen table, without looking up from his laptop. "Hey, Jim, I've found the answer to Christmas shopping for all the ladies on my list. There's this site --"

"'All the ladies', Chief? As in more than one?" Jim chuckled as he turned to the sports page. "I thought you were between girlfriends right now. And if you're not, talking plural could get you in trouble with some of them -- or all of them. Didn't Sam give you enough problems?"

"Ji-im! I'm talking friendship gifts, not girlfriend gifts! Little things like this help to lubricate the gears of social interaction, so to speak. It helps to stay on the good side of the people who can make my life easier, or a pain in the butt."

"You lost me, Chief. Who are these mysterious people?"

Blair shook his head pityingly as he clicked on another link. "Jim, Jim, Jim. I know you know that barking at people is not the most effective way to encourage cooperation. Other people may believe that glaring, Neanderthal façade you put on, but not me."

"Sandburg, I don't need a lesson in social dynamics. I'm just curious about who these 'ladies' are that you need to butter up."

"Well..." he leaned back in his chair and started enumerating on his fingers, "...there're the librarians, Donna, Linda, and Nancy. Of course it's part of their job to research materials and hold stuff for the TAs, but it doesn't hurt to say 'Thank you'. And Emily, the secretary at the Anthro department, and her assistant Charlotte -- it can make a difference whether my stuff gets handled and copied first or last. And Sadie the donut-cart girl; haven't you ever noticed that she always has at least one left of the banana-bran muffins for me and a buttermilk donut for you? That deserves recognition. And Rhonda and Megan, of course. And --"

"Okay, Chief, okay! It was just a general question; I don't need all the gory details. So, what's your great solution?"

"Like I said, I found this site, and they'll make soaps and bath salts and bath oils to order -- I can select shape, color and fragrance. So I can get a 'different', individualized present for each lady, but they're all on the same 'level' -- no hidden hurt feelings because someone else got a 'better' gift. And they're pretty inexpensive, too; I can afford to get a dozen or more.

"Come to think of it..." He reached out to click on another page. "It says here that the soaps are made with glycerine and Vitamin E oil. Maybe you should try a bar; it sounds like they would be sentinel-friendly on your skin. What scent would you like?"

Jim passed him on the way to renew his cup of coffee, while another click took Blair to the list of fragrances. "Of course, there aren't too many masculine scents, but maybe cinnamon orange or Hawaiian rain or juniper breeze... Wait! Here ya' go! Sage!" He turned to waggle his eyebrows and cast an evil grin at his friend just as Jim set a fresh cup of coffee within easy reach.

Jim offered the expected head-swat, which Blair avoided with practiced ease, but seemed intrigued. He peered at the computer screen over Blair's shoulder. "You may have something there, Chief. The unscented stuff I use has a scent -- the soap chemicals -- just no perfume. It's better than the perfumed stuff, but still not pleasant. You think maybe they would mix up a bar with half the usual amount of scent? It might hide the soap chemical smell without being too overpowering for me. What d'ya' think?"

"Good idea, man," he replied neutrally, manfully hiding his internal smirk. Yes! He took the bait! "Maybe get a couple of bars at half-strength and a couple at quarter-strength. Maybe even a couple at eighth-strength. I can use whichever doesn't work for you."

"Yeah, I think you've got something there, Chief. Show me that list of fragrances." He scanned the list as Blair scrolled down. "Citrus might not be too sweet. Maybe ocean? Or rain forest? Hell, Chief, this is no good. Ordering scents on the Internet, there's no telling what those names actually smell like."

"Hey, no problem, man. I'll e-mail them, explain that we want a very subtle scent that's not sweet. We can get several; whatever you or I don't like can be spread out among the ladies at the PD."

"Good; you do that, and let me know what my part of the bill is." He went back to the couch, but paused before he picked up the newspaper. "Chief?" He waited till Blair looked up. "You really didn't need to go through that little charade. Thanks for looking out for me."

Busted! He should have known that he couldn't really put one over on his sentinel. Blair shrugged and grinned. "No problem, man; all part of the service. We aim to please."

The guide returned to his computer as the sentinel returned to his reading, each taking comfort from the knowledge that the other cared. In this season of caring, this was undoubtedly the most precious gift of all.

The End

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2009-09-28 09:16 pm

#10 - Spam Dealings (slash)


Title: Spam Dealings
Summary: Blair vents, Jim reasons
Style: Very, very mild slash
Size: 1,125 words, about 3 pages in MS Word
Warnings: None
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Spam Dealings (slash)

by StarWatcher

"Jim, you know the worst thing about spam?"

Jim looked up from the newspaper he was perusing while he waited for game-time; the Jags were playing the Bulls tonight. "Uh, Chief, spam is electronic junk mail. It's all a pain in the ass; how can there be a 'worst thing'?"

"Think about it, man. At least hard-copy junk mail can be transformed. Like, use the unprinted side of pages to write a shopping list. Or crumple it up and use it as kindling to start a fire. I know several people who use shredded junk mail as packing material when they mail stuff in boxes.

"But spam simply takes up my time as I have to weed through my messages, identify the unwanted junk, and delete it. And I'll bet it's offensive to a lot of people. Like, I keep getting stuff that guarantees an increase in my bust size. I wonder if women get stuff that guarantees an increase in their cock size?"

"Chief, how long does it take you to identify and delete a piece of spam?" Ellison folded the newspaper, laid it on the coffee table, and ambled into the kitchen. Extracting a couple of beers from the fridge, he crossed to the table and handed one to Sandburg.

"Oh, I don't know; maybe... two and a half seconds?" Blair accepted the offered bottle, and took a sip, staring thoughtfully at his open e-mail program.

"So, let's see..." Jim grabbed a calculator from the kitchen drawer and started punching in numbers. "If you delete twenty-four pieces of spam, you've wasted a whole minute of your day. If you practice, you could probably delete thirty pieces a minute, saving yourself a whole fifteen seconds." He shrugged. "Somehow, I don't think that a minute, or even two, will be missed by the end of the day."

"You're missing the point, man. Multiply that minute by days, weeks, months. Expand my minute to all the people sitting at computers all over the country. Productivity goes down, costs go up... I've read where spam costs the country several billion dollars a year! Not to mention that it's getting to be a major irritation to ME!" His voice rose as he expressed his frustration.

"Sorry Chief, I think you're stuck with it. I mean, what can you do to make it go away? Not your spam -- I've seen blocking programs, which will probably help -- you can pick one up tomorrow. I mean, what can you do to wipe out all the spam on the Internet?"

"Not a damn thing! That's why it's so irritating! That's --"

"-- why you should let it go and stop obsessing. Chief, it's not worth you driving yourself into an ulcer. In the greater scheme of things, it just doesn't make that much difference." Crossing over to his friend, Jim gently removed Blair's fingers from the keyboard and powered down the computer.

Blair's shoulders slumped. "I suppose you're right," he mumbled. "But I wish I could do something."

"Chief, you're the smartest man I know. If anyone can come up with something, it'll be you. How about --" Jim paused for a minute, wracking his brains for an idea that would lighten Sandburg's mood. He snapped his fingers. "Got it! How about you devise some suitably devious punishments for the perpetrators who get caught? Make the results so heinous that it will actually make people stop and consider before they get into that."

"Oh, right, Jim, like that'll ever happen! They get away with it because it's easy and cheap to do, and damned difficult for any law agency to find their hidey-holes."

"But that'll change. Didn't I read that California signed a law to prosecute the major corporations that allow spam to be sent out in their name? If they're hit on the bottom line -- their profits -- they'll give up the practice. Now what you have to do..." Jim's voice was encouraging, "...is to figure out something evil for the ones who actually set up the e-mail programs. They don't have billions of dollars to fine, but I know you can figure out a way to hit them where it hurts."

"Well..." Sandburg's irrepressible good humor was beginning to surface. He glanced over at his friend, noticing the glint of amusement in Jim's eyes. His own lips quirked upward in response. "Okay. Um... How about they spend their jail time with unlimited computer access -- on a computer that has a modem speed of only fourteen BPS, and a mere sixty-four K of working memory?"

"Sounds good," Jim admitted judiciously. "How about their sentence runs one week for every thousand pieces of spam they sent?"

"Oh, man, lots of them would be in jail for years!"

"Is this a problem?" Jim grinned as Blair's curls tumbled from the vigor of his headshake. "And if that doesn't deter them, then what?"

Blair frowned. "Well, for a computer geek, there's not much worse than a slow computer. Except..." His frown became an incandescent smile, and Jim congratulated himself on the success of this 'mission'. "Except a really fast computer, with tons of memory -- and the only sites they can access are made up of nothing but cheesy advertisements, and the only e-mail that they can get is spam. Five hundred pieces of spam per day, guaranteed!"

Jim chuckled and saluted his friend with a raised bottle. "Sounds like a winner, Chief. We convict a few people with that sentence, and the rest will be dropping the spam so fast, their keyboards will be lonely."

"I certainly hope so, man; I certainly hope so. But it'll take time. What'll we do until then?"

"In the long run? You get a spam-blocking program to deal with the worst of it, and get real familiar with the delete key to take care of whatever gets through. In the short run..." His voice changed to a seductive purr, "you can come upstairs and prove to me that your cock doesn't need any enlargement."

Blair closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then exhaled forcefully while shaking his head and torso, as if, Jim thought in amusement, he can just shake away the aggravation.

But maybe he could. Blair glanced up at Jim with a wicked grin. "Only if you prove the same thing to me, man." He sprinted for the stairs, shedding clothes as he went. "Last one naked is a rotten egg!"

Jim followed more slowly, chuckling to himself. His life-partner didn't have a one-track mind, but it was amazing easy to derail him from any other tracks onto this one -- and Jim loved him for it. He quickened his pace; he didn't want to keep Blair waiting.

The End

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2009-09-28 09:01 pm

#10 - Spam Dealings (gen)


Title: Spam Dealings
Summary: Blair vents, Jim reasons
Style: Gen
Size: 1,220 words, about 3 pages in MS Word
Warnings: None
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Spam Dealings (gen)

by StarWatcher

"Jim, you know the worst thing about spam?"

Jim looked up from the newspaper he was perusing while he waited for game-time; the Jags were playing the Bulls tonight. "Uh, Chief, spam is electronic junk mail. It's all a pain in the ass; how can there be a 'worst thing'?"

"Think about it, man. At least hard-copy junk mail can be transformed. Like, use the unprinted side of pages to write a shopping list. Or crumple it up and use it as kindling to start a fire. I know several people who use shredded junk mail as packing material when they mail stuff in boxes.

"But spam simply takes up my time as I have to weed through my messages, identify the unwanted junk, and delete it. And I'll bet it's offensive to a lot of people. Like, I keep getting stuff that guarantees an increase in my bust size. I wonder if women get stuff that guarantees an increase in their cock size?"

"Chief, how long does it take you to identify and delete a piece of spam?" Ellison folded the newspaper, laid it on the coffee table, and ambled into the kitchen. Extracting a couple of beers from the fridge, he crossed to the table and handed one to Sandburg.

"Oh, I don't know; maybe... two and a half seconds?" Blair accepted the offered bottle, and took a sip, staring thoughtfully at his open e-mail program.

"So, let's see..." Jim grabbed a calculator from the kitchen drawer and started punching in numbers. "If you delete twenty-four pieces of spam, you've wasted a whole minute of your day. If you practice, you could probably delete thirty pieces a minute, saving yourself a whole fifteen seconds." He shrugged. "Somehow, I don't think that a minute, or even two, will be missed by the end of the day."

"You're missing the point, man. Multiply that minute by days, weeks, months. Expand my minute to all the people sitting at computers all over the country. Productivity goes down, costs go up... I've read where spam costs the country several billion dollars a year! Not to mention that it's getting to be a major irritation to ME!" His voice rose as he expressed his frustration.

"Sorry Chief, I think you're stuck with it. I mean, what can you do to make it go away? Not your spam -- I've heard about blocking programs, which will probably help -- you can pick one up tomorrow. I mean, what can you do to wipe out all the spam on the Internet?"

"Not a damn thing! That's why it's so irritating! That's --"

"-- why you should let it go and stop obsessing. Chief, it's not worth you driving yourself into an ulcer. In the greater scheme of things, it just doesn't make that much difference." Crossing back to his friend, Jim gently removed Blair's fingers from the keyboard and powered down the computer.

Blair's shoulders slumped. "I suppose you're right," he mumbled. "But I wish I could do something."

"Chief, you're the smartest man I know. If anyone can come up with something, it'll be you. How about --" Jim paused for a minute, wracking his brains for an idea that would lighten Sandburg's mood. He snapped his fingers. "Got it! How about you devise some suitably devious punishments for the perpetrators who get caught? Make the results so heinous that it will actually make people stop and consider before they get into that."

"Oh, right, Jim, like that'll ever happen! They get away with it because it's easy and cheap to do, and damned difficult for any law agency to find their hidey-holes."

"But that'll change. Didn't I read that California signed a law to prosecute the major corporations that allow spam to be sent out in their name? If they're hit on the bottom line -- their profits -- they'll give up the practice. Now what you have to do..." Jim's voice was encouraging, "...is to figure out something evil for the ones who actually set up the e-mail programs. They don't have billions of dollars to fine, but I know you can figure out a way to hit them where it hurts."

"Well..." Sandburg's irrepressible good humor was beginning to surface. He glanced over at his friend, noticing the glint of amusement in Jim's eyes. His own lips quirked upward in response. "Okay. Um... How about they spend their jail time with unlimited computer access -- on a computer that has a modem speed of only fourteen BPS, and a mere sixty-four K of working memory?"

"Sounds good," Jim admitted judiciously. "How about their sentence runs one week for every thousand pieces of spam they sent?"

"Oh, man, lots of them would be in jail for years!"

"Is this a problem?" Jim grinned as Blair's curls tumbled from the vigor of his headshake. "And if that doesn't deter them, then what?"

Blair frowned. "Well, for a computer geek, there's not much worse than a slow computer. Except..." His frown became an incandescent smile, and Jim congratulated himself on the success of this 'mission'. "Except a really fast computer, with tons of memory -- and the only sites they can access are made up of nothing but cheesy advertisements, and the only e-mail that they can get is spam. Five hundred pieces of spam per day, guaranteed!"

Jim chuckled and saluted his friend with a raised bottle. "Sounds like a winner, Chief. We convict a few people with that sentence, and the rest will be dropping the spam so fast, their keyboards will be lonely."

"I certainly hope so, man; I certainly hope so. But it'll take time. What'll we do until then?"

"In the long run? You get a spam-blocking program to deal with the worst of it, and get real familiar with the delete key to take care of whatever gets through. In the short run, you start popping the corn; the game's on in five minutes."

"Oh, right." After a startled glance at the clock, Sandburg rose to grab the popcorn pan and the cooking oil.

A few minutes later, he joined his friend on the couch, settling the big bowl of popcorn between them. He glanced over and murmured, "Thanks, Jim. Don't know why I let the little things get to me sometimes. I appreciate the boost."

"You're human, Sandburg," he chuckled. "We all have those days. Now forget about it and watch the game." Jim settled his feet on the coffee table, grabbed a handful of popcorn, and prepared to enjoy the game. His guide was close by, relaxed and at ease; all was right with the sentinel's world.

"From 'neo-hippie punk' to 'human'. Gee, Jim, it's big of you to admit it. Does this mean I've come up in your estimation?" He smirked at the mock-glare tossed his way. "Right, man, got'cha; shut up and watch the game."

He settled back and grabbed a handful of popcorn for himself, relaxing once again in the comfort and security of having a friend like Jim. The big guy was right; there was no sense in stressing over a little thing like spam, or even a big thing like a deranged psycho-killer. Jim and Blair, cop and partner, sentinel and guide -- nothing could stand against them. Life was good.

The End

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