Disclaimer: Pet Fly's guys.

Author's Notes: In an odd way, based on the 'empty loft' scene in Sentinel Too. Many thanks to Lady Shelley, Katzenjammerjen, and Alibi for beta'ing the first draft.

Nesting Instincts



It didn't seem like that big a deal when Blair first brought the subject up. As a requirement of his teaching fellowship, he was taking a group of undergrads on a tour of nomadic Indian campsites for two months. It wasn't like the Borneo thing, only two months. Jim had been kind of amused by the way Blair puttered around the night before leaving. Double and triple checking what he had packed, double and triple checking that Jim would be careful about zoning in the field, that he knew where the medical file was, the list of sedatives that wouldn't affect him, and drugs he might be 'sensitive' to. Plus he left a half dozen emergency contact numbers for different points along the itinerary, and made sure that there was plenty of tofu casserole and ostrich chili in the freezer.

It reminded him of his childhood, his dad going away on business trips and always juggling last minute details, shouting instructions to Sally, apologizing for whatever school events he'd be missing and promising presents when he returned.

The first week, Jim hardly noticed the difference. To tell the truth, the kid had been living in his back pocket for so long, working and living with him, that it was kind of nice to have the place to himself again. He could eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, or have Wonderburger for lunch or dinner without the accompanying nutritional diatribe. No weird sounding music, no weird smelling candles. The sports page, TV remote, and the full capacity of the hot water heater tank were all his and his alone. And the loft was quiet at night.

Too quiet.

It was something he noticed around the second week Blair was gone. He slept poorly, waking several times, uneasy without knowing why, until it hit him. Blair wasn't there. He'd grown accustomed to sharing his living space, accustomed to the small sounds the younger man made even when trying to be quiet, even accustomed to the vague awareness that he was not alone. Now the loft seemed oddly empty.

By the fourth week, he began to notice it at work as well. Something would happen and he'd make a note to tell Sandburg about it that night, then remember that he was gone. He'd hit the brakes on the truck a little hard and his free arm would swing out to bar an empty seat. Around the time Blair usually came to the station from the University, he'd glance up at the bullpen door, expectantly.

Watching television was just as bad... sitcoms weren't as funny without Sandburg there to laugh at the jokes... getting to watch Walker Texas Ranger wasn't as satisfying without a commercial break lecture on everything from Chuck Norris' career as a stuntman-turned-actor opening up the market for kung-fu action movies, to the history of the Texas Rangers... to particularly stupid plot contrivances in that week's episode.

He was just coming back from the bathroom when he noticed the little cobweb in the corner of one of the panes of glass in the French doors to Blair's room. He didn't like the idea of spiders running rampant in the loft. Didn't like the cobweb there, implying dustiness and disuse. He picked up a dust cloth and swiped it away. Actually, the panes themselves looked a little dusty. A quick wipe with a paper towel and Glass Plus helped. Of course, the sheer curtains hung inside the doors for privacy were dingy and yellowed. The television droned on, background noise giving a semblance of life and color to the outer room while the man worked, until it was too late to do any more and he went to bed.

The next morning Ellison fixed his breakfast, showered, and went up to his room to dress, navigating the mess of all of Sandburg's furniture and belongings moved out into the loft living area with ease. He worked a full day, catching up on paperwork, interviewing witnesses, then came home. He put on an old Santana CD and changed into well-worn jeans and a paint-splattered grey tee.

He dust mopped, first the ceiling to knock down any more spiderwebs, then the walls. He sprayed the futon mattress with Fabric Fresh and put it out on the balcony to air, then ran down to the basement to throw a load of laundry in. Then he set up the stepstool and began washing the paneled walls of Blair's room with a rag and a bucket of hot water with Murphy's Oil Soap. Jim took a break to grab some of that chili and a beer, checked on the laundry, then mopped the floor, waiting for it to dry before setting Blair's bed up again, polishing every inch of the wooden frame with lemon Pledge, enjoying the faintly acrid chemically clean smell of it.

He put the mattress back on, and stood in the middle of the room, breathing in the fresh clean scent. Much better than the musty smell. Wood gleamed softly. He thought about the dust bunnies and shed hair he'd found under the bed and clinging to the dragging hem of the bedspread. Much better.

The last two weeks of Blair's absence he kept following the same routine. People at work didn't notice much of a difference in Ellison. He seemed a little tired, was kidded about raising a little hell without the curly headed competition cramping his style, and he teased back, giving as good as he got. Every night, he went home and cleaned. Each bookshelf was dusted. Each book was dusted before being replaced. Artifacts were carefully wiped with a clean rag, that had recently been Ellison's third best flannel shirt, and placed back where they belonged. The desk was polished, the lamp shade and photo frames cleaned, the contents of the drawers straightened out. Pens were tested, dead ones discarded, and pencils sharpened.

It kept him occupied, kept him busy. He didn't have to think about anything but the minutiae of each chore. He didn't have time to miss the kid. There was work to be done, order from chaos.

Every stitch of clothing was washed or dry-cleaned. The closet was carefully scrubbed out, before the clothes were returned. He carefully polished the last pair of dress shoes, and put them back in the closet, then surveyed his handiwork. Part of him was bemused by his own behavior, thinking that he'd gone too far... he'd just been joking about plastic furniture covers. On the other hand, the clean fresh smell of the room pleased him, the glimmer of polished wood, the darker color of the clean stained glass lampshade, it needed doing much more than the lick and a promise Sandburg had time for... the room just needed a good going-over... Yeah... that was it.

Of course, he'd been neglecting the rest of the loft in his cleaning frenzy, though the rest of the loft had never been allowed to get into that state in the first place. He spent the last weekend doing the usual chores, cleaning the living room and bathroom and grocery shopping to restock the kitchen.

Deeper in his psyche, the sentinel was content. The den had been repaired, his companion would be coaxed back to safety and comfort, and the smell of his absence had been banished.

"... so I don't think Brooke has been camping before in her entire life," a tanned and wind-tangled Sandburg laughed, crossing the living room and opening the door to his room. "In fact, I don't think she's ever been outside> before... the atrium at the Mall Of America doesn't count, does it?"

He started to toss his duffel bag in and paused. "Hey Jim, did you clean in here?"

"Yeah, I picked up a little. Didn't throw anything away, just straightened it up."

"Cool. Looks nice, thanks." And Sandburg came back to the table and the pizza, continuing his tale about the glamour girl and the great outdoors.

~ End ~

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Page last updated 8/15/03.