Disclaimer: Characters from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions and are used without permission but with no intent to defraud.
Author's Notes: (Or Apologies/Excuses:) Originally written for the SentinalAngst ListThis is a bit cheerful for an angst list, but my oldest is studying for her GCSEs so we've enough angst at home. Larry the cucumber actually sings about his hairbrush.
I Liked That Toothbrush
Blair wasn't quite sure at what moment he noticed that something was going on. He was too busy during his brief pit-stops at the loft to pay much attention to his surroundings. Eat, shower, sleep if time, those were the priorities, and he hardly managed that much. Balancing his commitments at the PD with the demands of academic life was always a bit of a juggling act, and lately everything seemed to be falling out of the air.
No surprise then that a little extra tidiness failed to attract his attention at first. For one thing, Jim's idea of neatness struck him as obsessive at the best of times. He swore that was why he'd fallen briefly for the line about shoes at the door and plastic covers on the furniture. Way to go, Jim. You should NOT have been up for making jokes after a day like that. Coming within one second of being scattered as fishfood has this damaging effect on my brain...
If anything, he put the ever-increasing perfection of the loft down to his own absence. There was a limit to how much mess he could make if he staggered in at midnight and crawled out again at six-thirty. And Jim seemed fine when he saw him, though it wasn't often since things were quiet at Major Crimes but frantic at Rainier.
Consequently the situation crept up on him sneakily, and like the majority of things that creep up sneakily, bit him in the ass just when he could have done without nasty surprises.
He came home on Friday with the welcome prospect of a bit of extra time to catch up with life and for the first time in days he actually looked at the apartment. It was immaculate. Not one single thing was a millimetre from the position that Jimusually in his dreamsliked to allocate to it. Further investigation showed that the fridge was apparently waiting for approval from the FDA to stand in as a clean room for some esoteric medical research. It was made even more depressingly sterile by an almost complete lack of food. Mugs, pots and pans were not only spotless, they were practically standing to attention. It dawned on him that this level of tidiness went beyond obsessive to definitely unnerving.
Then he noticed the spice rack. At some point during the week, the jars had not only been lined up but their contents had been levelled so that every jar was full to exactly the same point.
Oh man, I'm way too tired to think about why you've done that, Jim. Where are you anyway?
He found a note in his room telling him that Jim was eating out with his brother. That at least was a relief. So was the fact that his room hadn't been tidied. Quite a lot of his possessions had been put into it in neat piles but it was still ultimately a room that said 'creative student' or 'total slob' depending on your perspective.
He wallowed for a moment or two in the familiar comfort of his unmade bed, and thought about the evening. There was no food, and anyway the kitchen discouraged anything as messy as cooking. He decided to eat out, preferably somewhere with no gleaming surfaces in sight. And preferably not alone. He picked up the phone and began to work down his current list of attractive dinner partners. The first couple of calls eliminated Louise and Dolores. With the third, to Amanda, he hit lucky. Sort of lucky, anyway. Admittedly her personality was a bit sharp and dictatorial, but no-one could deny it was beautifully packaged. Anyway, it beat eating alone.
When he finally returned to the loft, around midnight, he was tired. Really, really tired. The sort of tired where you go through the necessary motions before going to bed without ever really engaging your brain. Above all, the sort of tired where you just stand and stare blankly when you realise that your homely, well-loved, slightly squashy toothbrush has disappeared.
Yep, disappeared. As in gone. Not there.
Blair looked at the toothbrushes. He rubbed his eyes. There were two of them. They were where he and Jim had kept the toothbrushes. Neither of them was his. Actually, on a closer look, neither of them was Jim's either. His brainmore than unhappy with this sort of stimulus at ungodly hours of the nightthrew up a refrain he associated with a large singing cucumber : "Oh where is my toothbrush... not fair, oh my toothbrush..."
With an effort he dismissed veggietales, washed his face in cold water and looked again. Upright and military in the toothmug, facing forwards very neatly, were two toothbrushes which were exactly identical except in colour. Close inspection showed that a small neat post-it note on the yellow one said 'Blair'.
Oh, no. This is definitely not happening... "oh where oh where, not fair not fair"... aaaargh, "JIM"
"Hi, Chief. Had a good evening? Who was it this time?" Jim, who he'd assumed to be in bed was just hanging up his jacket.
"Jim! My toothbrush!"
"The new ones look neater don't they? I would have got two the same colour but it might have been confusing..."
Blair blinked at him and refused even to contemplate this. "Jim. WHERE... IS... MY... OLD... TOOTHBRUSH?"
"I put them with the cleaning things," Jim told him cheerfully, apparently expecting some happy appreciation of this thoughtfulness. "They're very good for cleaning the grout between the tiles. I did the bathroom today, and they were much better than a cloth."
Blair glared at the sparkling tiles, but lost any real enthusiasm for recovering his toothbrush. He had two options here. He could sit down for an interesting discussion with his sentinel about exactly what had led to this tyrannical disposal of other people's toothbrushes, and incidentally to a level of tidiness totally unsuited to normal human life. Or he could leave it until the morning and go to bed.
He went to bed.
Without cleaning his teeth.
Blair's righteous indignation wasn't proof against eight hours solid sleep, in fact it was totally forgotten for the first half hour he was awake. He surfaced slowly to the delicious smell of coffee, and staggered into the kitchen groping for a mug. Jim was cooking something that also smelled good, and he grunted at him as one Neanderthal to another while he waited for the caffeine to hit.
"You going to shower before you eat, Sandburg?"
He was moving on automatic pilot and it was only when he was in the shower he remembered what had happened. By then he felt at a disadvantage. He'd drunk Jim's coffee; he was about to eat the breakfast he was cooking; he suspected the clean clothes he'd just dropped in a heap on the floor were courtesy of Jim doing the laundry. It would be a bit churlish to go out and start yelling.
All the same, he couldn't just leave it. It wasn't just the toothbrush, attached though he'd been to it. That thing with the spice rack was definitely nearer padded cell than house designer, and the whole loft suggested behaviour that was pushing his guide alarm buttons.
He tried to find a non-threatening way to broach the subject over breakfast. It didn't help that Jim was being a sort of normal, Saturday morning Jim. He had ordinary plans for the day, he even volunteered that he'd had a good evening with Steven. By his standards, he was well up there with Mr Sunshine. It only really left the direct approach.
"You have any problems last week?" Blair asked. "Senses playing up? Anything unusual?"
Jim shrugged. "It was mostly desk duty. Things are really quiet."
But to an experienced Jim-watcher, there was the slightest flicker in his expression. Blair decided to persist. "But there was something?"
"Yeah... no... I don't really know, Chief. Nothing that would count as evidence."
Blair not infrequently thought that the military had overdone the name and number thing with Jim. "Okay," he cajoled. "But you felt as if something wasn't quite right."
Ellison sighed a little, with the put-upon air of a hard-working detective who was being forced to think on his day off. Blair remembered his toothbrush and hardened his heart. "C'mon, Jim. Give. Something was playing up, wasn't it."
"It felt as if it was, but it wasn't." Jim scowled, but with the effort of defining it, not at Blair. "All week I had this... feeling, I suppose. Like way back when I first had trouble with my senses. Only there wasn't any actual trouble."
"No spikes? No zones? Nothing weird?"
"But you did use them."
Blair decided he really didn't know how annoying those monosyllables were. Gritting his teeth he said, "Can you maybe tell me a bit more about what it felt like?"
"It felt exactly as if my senses were out of control. Only they weren't."
"But you felt you needed more control," Blair said thoughtfully. "So you... er... tidied up a lot."
Jim looked round at the loft as if he noticed its pristine appearance for the first time. "Yes. It needed doing..." The faintest hint of uncertainty crept into his tone. They both looked at the spice jars. "Maybe I was a bit over the top," Jim admitted generously. "But it's okay now anyway. It's gone."
"That feeling. I'm fine now. Looking forward to the weekend."
Blair looked at the normal debris in the kitchen, and Jim's relaxed slouch. He didn't look like a sentinel about to have a hissy fit. Well-fed, contented and purring were the images that came to mind. Maybe the great toothbrush mystery would have to remain just thata mystery. They were going to enjoy their weekend.
It was just as well, because Monday plunged Blair into a week which proved even more horribly hectic than the previous one. An unhappy coincidence of coughs, colds and people calling in favours heavily overburdened his timetable. Besides that, a paper was due, and Simon sent him a whole lot of photos of artifacts to identify from a case Henri and Rafe were working on. Into that chaos, in the interests of still having a social life when it was all over, he decided he needed to factor Louise, Dolores and Amanda.
Luckily, Louise was kind-hearted and Dolores busy. Amanda was easily annoyed, bossy and demanding. The trouble was her more visual qualities remained irresistible; he just couldn't quite bring himself to give her up, even if his week was rapidly becoming the stuff of nightmares. Just keeping all his varying commitments from total disaster took all his energy, especially on four hours sleep a night. He refused to look at the loft. If it was alarmingly spotless again he didn't want to know until the week was over.
Jim hadn't enough to do. That was why he was out on the balcony using his sight to look for almost invisible specks of dust and any traces of insect life. Just occupying himself. He was reasonably sure of that. He was bored and he wasn't enjoying the week at work, so it made sense to get a few little cleaning jobs out of the way.
He couldn't really blame Simon. The big captain had for some reason seemed quite keen to give Jim the majority of the few cases that had come up. Only they'd all been routine and quickly solved, and the perps had without exception given up with a cowardly sort of preference for non- resistance.
Not that he wanted to be shot at or anything of course, but it would be nice to have a legitimate excuse to hit something that could hit back; he'd already spent hours in the gym.
He felt... restless. He couldn't define it any better than that. Something was bothering him, sure as a rash on sensitive skin, but he couldn't pin it down. It wasn't his senses. He'd played with the damn dials 'til Sandburg would have been proud of him, and everything was fine-tuned and working impeccably. He wasn't zoning, either. Not even now, when he was watching a minute spider scuttle down the side of the building to find a more friendly environment. He was too restless to zone.
It wasn't like he felt a threat, either. He'd have told Sandburg about that quickly enough these days, he wasn't stupid. But he didn't feel danger anywhere, he wasn't dreaming. There had been nothing in the people he'd met, eitherthere'd been an unusual number of moronic, irritating, obstructive people about, but nothing weird. He just felt... aggravated. He could only forget it when he was busy, and he was running out of things to do.
He decided it would be a good time to sponge clean the covers on the couch.
Doing it thoroughly took him into the early evening, a fact he only realised when the doorbell rang. He was surprised to find a pretty, though rather petite, redhead there. She was slightly flustered and very apologetic. "Oh, I'm so sorry. You must be detective Ellison? I'm Louise. I was looking for Blair. We had a sort of date, and when he didn't show up I wondered if he was okay. He's had a horribly busy week."
Jim had found a hasty answering machine message from Blairalong the lines of 'Sorry Jim, paper going badly, in late.' It hadn't mentioned standing up rather pretty ( though vertically challenged) dates. Trained detective intelligence suggested to him that Blair had forgotten her.
"I think he said something about a paper going badly," he said tactfully.
"YesI know he's got a deadline soon. Poor Blair. I hope he takes some time off to eat."
It dawned on Jim that she was a nice girl, and obviously had a sympathetic nature; also there was nowhere dry to sit in the loft. He wasn't a natural opportunist like Blair, but he had his moments. "If you haven't had dinner yourself..." he began.
The evening was one of the pleasantest he'd spent in a while. He felt he was doing Blair a favour, and Louise was good company. It wouldn't be too much of a pang to return herhe got a slight crick in the neck conversing with her, and she really needed a box to stand on if he was going to say goodnight properly when he dropped her offbut she was a big improvement on some of Blair's dates. Besides, it turned out she shared a flat with her 'big' sister. "She's quite a bit like me, but a bit taller," she said cheerfully as she paused outside her door. "Maybe when Blair's back in circulation, you could both come over."
"I'd like that," Jim said truthfully. He solved his immediate logistical problem with a happy combination of brain and brawn, hoisting her the requisite height into the air and kissing her goodnight to their mutual satisfaction.
His good mood lingered into the nighthe didn't even feel annoyed when he was woken by a muffled yell from downstairs followed by smothered curses about soaking couch covers and manic-obsessive cleaning behavioursbut it didn't quite make it to work with him the next day.
He knew why that was. It was because he was surrounded by untidy idiots all of whom were incredibly over-sensitive if he quite reasonably pointed out their failings. He was trying to get some work done, for instanceand listening to Joel say "When are we going to see Blair again? I never knew anyone who could fit as much into twenty four hours as that kid."when Henri put a sticky coffee cup down right next to Jim's paperwork. Jim's moderatewell, maybe a bit loud but not actually ruderequest for him to move it immediately, somehow got the attention of the whole bull pen. Simon ought to give them some work to do.
Later, just when he was explaining to Rhonda why Blair wouldn't be in, some half-wit from Homicide rang up with a question that should never have come through to Major Crimes. He noticed Simon looking at him as he put the guy straight. Not as if he was about to say 'Well done Detective' either. For the rest of the day he seemed to keep bumping into Simon every time he turned round. It was enough to irritate anyone. To cap it all, Simon sent him home early on the grounds that there wasn't much to do. He didn't seem to want to know when Jim pointed out he'd nothing to do at home either.
He looked round the loft. Nothing to do at all. He fiddled with the answering machine. "Won't be in 'til after midnight, Jim. Sorry, manthis has been the week from hell. Oh, and Jim... if you do any sort of spring-cleaning that leaves things WET just mention it okay. A note on the kettle will do."
Jim smiled slightly. The kid left the most unusual messages, With a sudden inspiration he decided to go down to the basement and overhaul the washing machine and tumble dryer.
Friday morning started badly and got worse. For Blair it took the form of a sore throat and a hacking cough, which woke him early and put him off his food. He got through the morning fuelled on ever stronger cups of coffee until the cough irritated him so much that he decided to break with his usual principles and buy something to suppress it. He blenched slightly when he realised that what he was being offered was red, syrupy and full of E numbers, but the pharmacist swore it was the most effective thing he stacked. Blair swallowed a generous helping of it for lunch, backed up by some extra strong coffee because he couldn't afford to get sleepy. At around four o'clock he remembered he'd been supposed to meet Amanda at one.
For Jim, Friday morning began with a confused dream of sea lions barking and juggling coffee cups. Then he got into the PD and found someone had borrowed a pen from his desk. It made it look... wrong. Lop-sided. Asymmetrical. Henri and Rafe came up to ask if 'Hairboy' had finished with their photos and he saw that very pen in Rafe's hands.
Simon was drinking an early cup of coffee and hoping some criminal would be stupid enough to commit a major crime in the docks or the warehouse district. Ellison needed a bit of space. Or if he didn't, the rest of Major Crimes did. The bull pen had breathed a collective sigh of relief when he sent Jim home the day before. And that desk! He'd swear the man had to have measured the distances between items; no-one could get that degree of symmetry by eye. Or maybe a sentinel could. He didn't really want to know.
He wished he could ring Sandburg, but Jim had not very politely intimated that if anyone gave Sandburg any more work there'd be hell to pay. At least he didn't seem to have any problem with the kid, he was talking about him fondly enough. He certainly had a problem with something though.
A sound of raised voices outside his office suggested to him that Ellison had arrived. He looked out. Another of the things he didn't really want to know was why Jim and Rafe were in each other's faces. It occurred to him that sending Ellison down to the docks area could come under the heading of crime prevention in more ways than the obvious. "Ellison... my office," he shouted.
A morning at the docks left Jim with sore knuckles and a swelling bruise on his chin. He didn't bear any malice towards the two dockers he'd had an argument with, though. He'd found the smuggling operation Simon had suspected, dealt with the ringleaders, and left the tidying up to the appropriate authorities and the uniformed police. He was puzzled as to why Simon had sounded so surprised about it when he reported in; the man had sent him to do a job. Maybe he hadn't expected it to break so quickly.
He entered the PD to find a man-eating blonde demanding to see Sandburg.
The desk sergeant looked at him gratefully as he marched over. "Detective Ellison. I've told the lady this isn't the place..."
"He stood me up," shrilled the blonde. Jim dialled her down a few notches. "I waited half an hour at the restaurant. He should get his life organised. Where is he?"
"Busy, and who the hell are you?" demanded Jim.
"I'm his girlfriend, if it's any business of yours."
"Lady, it's definitely my business, and you are NOT Sandburg's girlfriend. You may have been his lunch date for today, but in everything else you'd better go join the queue."
The blondeshe turned out to be the totally mis-named Amanda who he vaguely knew to be third or fourth on Blair's listargued the toss, but invigorated by a well-spent morning he disposed of her rapidly to the evident admiration of the desk sergeant. The things she said as she went suggested she'd scratched from the list altogether. The desk sergeant blinked. "He really picks them," he said with feeling.
Jim went up to the bull pen to write up his report. Most of the people there still seemed not to have enough to do. Including Simon. He felt distinctly aggrieved when he was called in to the Captain's office yet again.
Simon had spent a lot of the day trying to work out exactly what could be bugging Jim. Not that you could fault the man's work rate. Simon had been distinctly disconcerted when Jim called in to say he'd solved the smuggling case. 'I invented it to get you the hell out of my bull pen' hadn't seemed a good response. A few calls of his own ascertained that Jim really had bust a completely unsuspected smuggling ring. Before lunch. Since then Simon had been working on a hypothesis.
"Jim," he said slowly, offering him a coffee, "I... er... thought you deserved some congratulations for this morning's work. In fact for a number of good jobs. It shows you don't miss Sandburg."
Jim slammed his coffee mug down and stood up. "What the hell is that supposed to mean. I'm sick and tired of everyone here taking Sandburg for granted. Have you any idea what a godawful couple of weeks the kid's had? And for your information, I do miss him..."
He stopped abruptly. Simon grinned. The smug sort of grin of a captain who knows best. "You do, don't you. It bugs you not having him around."
Jim opened his mouth to deny this, and closed it again. It was never any use arguing with Simon when he had that look on his face anyway. He focussed on the prickling sense of something wrong that was still present in his senses. It wasn't so much not having Blair around. He missed the chatter, hell he missed the sound of the kid's heartbeat, though luckily Simon didn't know that. But he'd had to live with that before. It wasn't not having Blair around. No, it was the feeling that Blair's life was totally out of control. He'd never known the kid quite this desperate without being able to do something to help out. On a conscious level, he'd been aware of it of course, but he hadn't associated it with this total sensory unease. It was almost like what Sandburg would probably call empathy. He'd been trying to get control of his own life which didn't need it because the chaos in Sandburg's resonated in his every sense and cell. He wasn't sure exactly what he could do about it, but he felt better being able to name the problem. Meanwhile there was that benign look of Simon's to wipe off.
"You're right," he said, seeing with satisfaction that Simon found this the most disconcerting response he could have given. "I think I'll go off a bit early and see if it's still possible to climb the papers to get in his office door. If that's all right with you, of course."
Simon realised his mouth was hanging open and hastily closed it. "Yes. YES. Oh and Jimwe don't take him for granted. Never. Not after a fortnight like this."
He was captain right? He ought to get the last word.
Blair finished marking the last test at five o'clock. His paper was handed in. Classes were done for the week. He felt slightly weird, which a small voice at the back of his mind suggested might be due to a diet consisting solely of coffee and cough linctus, but he felt incredibly relieved. If he'd had the energy he would have stood on the chair and played a fanfare.
On cue, the door of his office opened, and a friendly face looked in. A fellow TA, asking enthusiastically, "Blairdid you know that Emily's had her thesis accepted. We're just going to drink to her success."
"Oh man," Blair hesitated. "I'd like to come out but I am wiped. Totally."
"Oh that's okaywe're just opening a couple of bottles of champagne here. Come and drink a toast to her."
It sounded a nice sort of way to forget about the week. Blair drank a toast, and several more. Everyone was pleased for Emily, and the champagne flowed freely. Around the third toast it occurred to him that maybe this hadn't been such a good idea on an empty stomach, but it seemed a pity not to stay a bit longer. Around the fifth, he realised if he didn't walk back to his room now, he wasn't going to be able to. Rather regretfully, he slipped away.
It was definitely none too soon, he realised. The corridor was rocking and swaying about him, and he seemed to keep bumping into walls. At least a pleasantly euphoric numbness stopped it from hurting. He stumbled into his room and let his chair come and hit him behind the knees. Luckily he was sitting down when he realised the room was already occupied.
"Been celebrating, Chief?" He jumped violently and blinked at Jim. Well, a couple of Jims but he blamed the cough medicine for that. "Jus' a few toasts. Emily got her whassit, an' ever'body's happy."
He was pleased to see Jim looked happy as well. Or amused, anyway.
"Exactly how many bottles of champagne did you drink?" Jim asked.
"Only a glassss or two," Blair said. " 'm not drunk. 'S the cough medicine and having no dinner. Or breakfas'. Or lunch... Oh man, lunch... Amanda... deep shit..."
Jim picked up the bottle of cough medicine to read the label. "This stuff says avoid alcohol and only drink after meals. Oh, and don't worry about Amanda. I explained to her."
Blair was relieved. "Blessed Protector, yeah! Thankss Jim." He leaned back to look at both Jims more carefully and his chair slid treacherously out from under him and dumped him on the floor. He waited 'til the room stopped spinning, and a thought swam up through the bubbles. "You okay man? Why're you here. Something was playing up?"
He found himself rising up through the air and then hanging uncomfortably upside down looking at the back of Jim's jacket. While he was still working out what had happened, Jim's voice said, "Oh, I worked out what was playing up. I'm fine, Chief."
"Then why'm I upside down. 'S ver' undig... undigni... Put me down, Jim."
"Can't do that," Jim said firmly. "I'll tell you what it is, Chief. I've got this test I want to do. See, I start by using my senses to check out this corridor to make sure it's completely empty."
"Cool." The world was swirling out of reach, but Blair was still fascinated by the idea of Jim inventing a test. "Whass next."
"Tell you in a minute," Jim said. "Oh and Chiefthe test will be ruined if you puke down my jacket, okay?"
"Ssure thing, man. Whass next?"
He really wanted to know, but somehow as soon as they began to move, he lost track of what was going on. The next thing he was really sure of was sliding into the seat of the truck, where he promptly flopped flat. Jim pushed him up enough to strap him in and get into his own seat, but he didn't seem to mind being a pillow. Blair decided fuzzily that the way he felt, it would be better not to look at even one Jim driving. He closed his eyes.
Jim pulled into his parking place, and thought for a moment. He'd got Blair out of Rainier without anyone giving them a second glance, but he didn't want to run into any neighbours with a shoulder full of Sandburg. On the other hand, Sandburg was snoring slightly and drooling a damp patch on Jim's jeans. He really didn't look up for walking. It occurred to him that in fact he could do the test he'd made up. He listened carefully, gradually extending his hearing into the elevator and up. No-one about. Probably everyone was eating.
He hauled Sandburg in an upright position as far as the elevator, and in the sack-of-potatoes one after that. He was nowhere near as light as he looked. He was tempted to tip him straight into bed, but on second thoughts he decided to try to get some toast and soup into him. Blair was uncoordinated but remarkably co-operative. He'd swallowed half the bowl of soup before he really woke up at all.
"Open up. Don't talk."
"Why're you feeding me."
Jim put the spoon into his hand. "I'm not. You're feeding you."
"Oh." Blair finished the bowl. "Should never have bought that cough medicine. 'S all additives. Hey, Jim. You really okay man? No problems at all?"
Jim wasn't really touched that even operating on only about 10% of his usual brain power, Blair's first thought was for his sentinel. That would be a bit touchy-feely. His arm was just hugging the kid because he hadn't seen him all week. "No problems."
"So what was with the tidying, and the covers, and my toothbrush... I liked my toothbrush." He blinked sleepily.
Jim eased back into pillow mode. Better not put the kid to bed 'til he was sure he wasn't going to throw up. In the morning he was going to have to explain a few things, including Amanda, and Louise, and Louise's sister and why Simon was probably going to hug Blair the minute he saw him back at the PD. But for now...
"We'll make it one of YOUR house rules, okay. No-one touches anyone else's toothbrushes."
Blair's eyes briefly opened wide. "I get to make a house rule. Wow, Jim!... 'S okay though," his arms flopped out in a generous gesture. "Whass a toothbrush anyway. You're my bes' friend, man. You want my toothbrush, you can have it, Jim."
He fell asleep with his mouth open.
Jim thought it was the most attractive sight he'd seen for days.
~ End ~
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Page last updated 8/15/03.