Title: No Zones Allowed

Author: alyjude

 Author Email: alyjude@webtv.net

 Rating: PG

 Pairings: J/B

 Status: Complete

 Date: 07/09/02

 Category: Humor

Disclaimer: You know the drill. We don't own, we just play.

Author's Notes: Thanks to TSL for their patience and a BIG THANK YOU TO Gershwhen, my beta and to Michelle for hosting me!

Summary: Jim is zoning. Can someone figure out why before he's run over by the cluebus?

No Zones Allowed

by alyjude


He'd zoned.

He'd fucking zoned. When had he last done that anyway?  Five, six months ago? Yeah, at least. Damn, he was nothing more than a stupid child, still fascinated by something shiny. Fucking, damn trendy clothing store.  Using three silver balls that bounced up and down, up and down, to advertise themselves. Shiny and bouncy, and just like Blair, and what had Jim done? Gone all goo-goo eyed then promptly zoned.

Not that he was mad that he'd zoned. He wasn't. He was mad because he'd stood there like an idiot, in plain view of anyone who wanted to look, with Simon, for twenty long minutes. Poor Simon, trying so hard to bring him out. Okay, that still wasn't why he was really mad. He was really mad because Simon had called Sandburg. And Sandburg had come. And in two minutes, Jim had become zone free.

God damn Sandburg. He'd left a class to come to Jim's aid. A class. Forty-five students and a slide presentation. For Jim. And it had taken the little shit only TWO FUCKING MINUTES to bring Jim out. TWO FUCKING MINUTES!


A folder was dropped on his desk and he glanced up, scowling.


"Homicide, via Simon, just turned this over to us, Jimbo. You and me."

Oh swell. Connor. Could his day get any worse? She leaned across his desk and grinned. He got a whiff of her perfume, sneezed three times, then nodded to himself. Yep, his day could get worse.

"What the fuck are you wearing, Connor? And did you bathe in it or something?"

She patted his cheek. "Don't worry, Jimbo, I promise not to upstage you -- this time." She snickered and walked to her desk, grabbed her jacket and purse, then with a jerk of her head, said, "Come on, hop to it. We have people to interview."

Jim looked up at the ceiling and mumbled, "Why me, God?"


This time it was an ice cream truck.

Jim and Connor were leaving the cute little mansion that belonged to the publisher of Cascade's premiere print rag when the truck came down the street. Connor was ahead of him and already down the brick steps that led from the massive front door to the sidewalk, when Jim heard the little bell.

Ching-a-ling, ching-a-ling.

He'd cocked his head, listened to the soft tones of the bell, and that was all anyone wrote. Jim was off; this time in audio sentinel la-la land. When he came out of it, he was still standing on the brick steps, thirty minutes had elapsed and Sandburg was standing in front of him, his hand on Jim's cheek.


"Yeah, Jim, it's me. Or the tooth fairy. Take your pick." Blair proceeded to give Jim a huge toothy grin.

"You had a conference this afternoon," Jim said, his mind numb.

"Yep. Then Connor called. I ducked out in the middle of Professor Handelman's scintillating discussion of grass huts, hats and skirts. It was a real audience pleaser."

"Sounds like it. Did he do any modeling?"

"Yeah, but the hut looked shitty on him."

Jim burst into laughter. When he was laughed out, he asked the inevitable, even though he knew the answer.  "What happened?"

Blair turned and looked out over the street. "Well, according to Connor, an ice cream truck came along and the guy rang the bell and you took a nap."

"And this was how long ago?"

"Thirty, thirty-five minutes ago."

"Well, fuck."

Blair nodded. "Yep."

Jim looked down at his partner and saw those blue eyes staring up at him, wide and innocent, and Jim's own eyes narrowed. "What, Chief?"

"Nothing, Jim, nothing. Just—nothing."

"Shouldn't you get back?"

"Yes, I should. If I can sneak back in, I might be in time for Professor Whitman's lecture on the effect of the rebirth of the blue-winged Batberry bird of Brazil on the lost tribes of the Amazon. It's a real corker."

Jim's eyes narrowed again. "You just made that up, didn't you, Sandburg?"

"I do *not* make stuff up, Jim. It's Whitman's theory that the lost tribes of the Amazon will be found thanks to the Batberry bird of Brazil." Sandburg cocked his head and looked thoughtful. "The Batberry bird of Brazil is really attractive. For a bird. I'd get found for it."

"You're sick, Sandburg, very sick. Go to school."

Blair had promptly trotted down the steps, waved a good-bye to Connor, then climbed into his Volvo and sped off.

Batberry bird of Brazil indeed.

"Okay, Connor, where to next?" Jim asked as if he'd never zoned in his life, let alone twice in the same day.


The rest of the morning was rather uneventful, with their witnesses disappointing them by telling the truth. As far as Jim was concerned, that meant they hadn't interviewed the murderer yet. As he negotiated the turn onto the Riverside Bridge, he asked, "Who's next?"

"Um," Connor said as she thumbed through the file, "Annie Demayo. She was Henderson's fiance. I saved her for last because she lives out on the sound."

"East end or west?"

"West. Once you get over the bridge, take the 20."


They drove in silence for ten blessed minutes, then Connor broke it.

"So, it's been awhile, hasn't it?"


"You and zones."

"Suppose so."

"What do you think triggered it?"

"Gee, Connor, I believe it was a bell."

"Har-har. I mean, why are you suddenly zoning?"

"How the hell should I know?"

"You're the sentinel, Ellison. If anyone should, wouldn't it be you?"

"Well, I don't know, so let's drop it, shall we?"

"But no one could bring you out of it—except Sandy.

That doesn't bode too well, you know?"

"And that means what, exactly, Connor?"

"It means, what if you zone and Sandy isn't around?"


He really hated Connor. Really, he did. And he especially wished that she wouldn't call Sandburg - Sandy. Sandburg was NOT a Sandy. Sandy was a girl, or a big beefy redheaded man, or some freckled guy named Sanderson. Sandy was NOT Blair. Blair was NOT Sandy.  Jim gave a little shiver.

And why wouldn't Sandy -- *BLAIR* -- be around?

"I think she knows something."

"But she wasn't lying."

"But she knows something, Ellison."

Jim moved up another car length. Thank God Wonderburger finally had a drive-thru. He was only three cars away from the order menu. He glanced over at Connor and frowned.

"Yeah, you're right, she knows something. I think we'd better re-interview John What's-his-name."

They moved up another car length.

"Why re-interview him?" Connor asked, curious.

"I sensed the same kind of holding back, the same fear."

He waited for the comment and when it failed to materialize, he realized that of course, it wouldn't.  Only Sandburg would have been excited to find out that Jim could sense similarities in fear scents and Connor wasn't Sandburg. Duh. For that matter, no one was Sandburg.

Thank God, only one car now separated him from his Double Wonderburger with everything. Sandburg would kill him if he knew, but hey, what Sandburg didn't know, yadda-yadda.

"So after lunch, we head back to the Cascade Whisper?"

Jim nodded, too engrossed in the approaching order menu and Wonderburger clown to actually provide a verbal answer. He was so close to the burger of his dreams that if the cell phone rang right now—he'd toss it out the window, so help him God.


Well fuck.


"You gonna answer that, Ellison?"

With a tortured sigh, Jim pulled out the offending phone, flipped it open, then barked, "This better be good!"

<Hey, man, how's your day?>

"Sandburg, did you hear me? I said 'this better be good' and asking me about my day doesn't qualify."

<I was just asking, Jim. You know, concerned partner and all? And if you order the VeggieBurger, I'll let you order a small fry.>

"Sandburg, I'm hanging up now."

Jim hit the *end* button, but not before he heard Sandburg's laughter. The prick.

"Jim, our turn to order. I'll have the Double Wonderburger with everything, a large fry and a chocolate malt."

Jim closed his eyes, counted to ten, then when a sickeningly sweet voice asked, "May I take your order, please?" he said, "One Double Wonderburger with everything, one large fry, one chocolate malt, one Double Veggieburger with everything, one medium fry (take that, Sandburg) and one— diet soda."


The second interview with John Tallon simply cemented Jim's certainty that Tallon and Demayo knew something together. How sweet. While they were in Tallon's office, Jim noticed a picture behind the man. Three young people, arm in arm, laughing for the camera. Jim recognized Tallon and Demayo, but the third person was *not* Henderson, their victim.

"Mr. Tallon," Jim asked as he and Connor stood to leave, "that picture behind you? I recognize you and Miss Demayo. I didn't realize you two were that close."

Tallon immediately drew himself up and Jim's senses went on alert. The guy was reigning in his emotions.

"We've known each other for quite a while, Detective."

"I see. And you didn't feel it important enough to tell us earlier?" Connor asked sweetly.

"You're investigating Ralph Henderson's death, you already know that I've met Miss Demayo, why would it matter how long we'd known each other?"

The man's pulse was fairly jumping. Jim smiled disarmingly. "Who is the other man in the picture, Mr.  Tallon?"

Tallon gave a quick look over his shoulder and his pulse rate went off the chart.

"Oh. That's—Geoff, my brother."

"Did Geoff, your brother, know Henderson?"

"No, Detective, he didn't. He works for the Forestry Department and patrols the Wenatchee National Forest.  He's there ten months a year. He'd have no reason to know Henderson."

Bingo. The man was lying. His brother *did* know Henderson. Which led Jim's detective mind down another path.

"Mr. Tallon, what was your brother's relationship with Miss Demayo?"

"Relationship? We were all—we're all—friends. Just friends."

Double bingo. Lying again. Or rather, shading the truth.

"Were your brother and Miss Demayo ever involved, Mr. Tallon?"

Tallon's mouth took on the characteristic of a carp.

"Was your brother upset at the engagement, Mr. Tallon?

Still in love with Miss Demayo, perhaps?"


"When was he last here, Mr. Tallon? And I'm sure you're aware we can check it out rather easily."

"I—my brother—did not, would not—"

Tallon sank back into his chair and put his head in his hands.

As it happened, both Tallon and Demayo only suspected Geoff Tallon. And had been covering for the man. Which left Jim and Connor with the task of tracing Geoff Tallon's movements, then deciding whether to head up to his work site. As they both climbed back into the Ford, Connor sighed.

"You do realize that you make detectives obsolete, don't you, Ellison?"

"Oh really? You knew Demayo was hiding something, Connor. How long before you'd have come up with everything we got in Tallon's office?"

"Well damn, Ellison, that was a nice thing to say."

Smiling as he pulled out into traffic, Jim said, "I can say nice things, I just choose not to."

Connor laughed and relaxed, so feeling better himself, Jim reached into the Wonderburger bag and took out the small bit of veggie burger that he had remaining. He managed, with one hand on the wheel and one on the burger, to push the paper down enough to take a bite. His last thought was a memory.

Connor sat in the truck, worrying her bottom lip. The traffic surged past them and she was grateful she'd managed to get the steering wheel from Jim and then guide them to the curb. They were out of traffic and no one was paying them the slightest heed. Thank God.

She checked her watch, then grimaced. It had been over twenty minutes since she'd called Sandy. Twenty long minutes. Twenty minutes of staring at a zoned-out detective. God damned, but this was scary. And she felt totally helpless. She'd done everything. She'd crooned, petted, touched, put his hand on her heart, her face, all of it. And nothing. What if he never came out of this one? Was that possible? She heard a light honk and looked up and into the rearview mirror.


Thank you, God.


Blair pulled up behind the truck and jumped out, then jogged over to the driver's side. He looked in, his face a study in worry.


"It's been almost thirty minutes this time, Sandy. I did everything, but nothing worked."

"Okay, okay, don't worry. Look, why don't you slide out and let me in over there, okay?"

Nodding with relief, Megan climbed out and watched as Sandburg ran around the front of the truck, then took her place inside.

"Hey, Jim?"

"I tried that, Sandy," Megan said in an impatient voice.

"Just let me do this."

Sandburg took Jim's hand and placed it over his own heart. "Jim, can you feel that? It's my heartbeat. Now I need you to concentrate and you should know, I feel like a total idiot. Heartrate indeed. As if you'd know. But still. Would you like to know what you took me away from this time? A conference with the Dean.

Personally, I'm glad. I was being hauled on the carpet

and I didn't even do anything wrong—"


"Hey man, there you are. Cool."

Jim blinked twice, turned his head, looked over at Sandburg, looked down at his hand over Sandburg's heart, then groaned.


"Yeah," Blair said with a wry smile, "again."

"What did you say about a carpet?"

"Nothing, Jim, nothing. Do you know what triggered this one?"

Megan poked her head in the window and pointing at the seat between Sandburg and Jim, said, "He was eating the rest of his Veggieburger, Sandy."

Sandburg glanced down, then up into Jim's confused and

frightened—blue eyes.


"That's okay, Jim. Don't worry. I'm done for the day, so why don't I follow you and Connor back to the station, all right?"

In a voice Sandburg had never heard before, Jim asked, "Maybe—Connor could take—your car, Chief?"

Blair drove them back to the station, Megan following closely behind.

Ithad been a gas watching Connor try to wedge her tall frame into his car. He hadn't had that much fun since Orville Wallace had done it. Okay, that hadn't been fun, exactly. After all, the man had been hurting, but still, the idea was the same.

Blair often forgot how much shorter he was, but watching someone like Megan trying to get into his car, and it was easy to remember how short 5'7" could be for a guy. Not that he minded being short—for a guy. He didn't. Being short held all sorts of advantages over the years. Good advantages. Great advantages. People forgot you were there. Heh. Hell, how many times in the last three years had he simply followed Jim into Simon's office without Simon even noticing? Too many to count.

Yeah, being shorter than average was a good thing. Of course, for a woman, he was tall. Not that he was—a woman. Didn't want to be either. And didn't his mind have somewhere else to go?

"You're not saying anything, Sandburg."

"I'm driving."

Jim gave an inelegant snort. "Oh, like that ever stopped you. You usually talk *and* wave your hands around while tooling down the street."

"But that's in my car, not your sacred truck." 

"Why does everyone act as though I never let anyone drive my truck?"

"Um, because you never let anyone drive your truck?"

"Do too. You're driving it right now."

Blair sighed heavily and kept driving.

"I can't believe you're not talking about it, Sandburg. Are you okay?

You're not sick or anything, are you?"

"Jim, what the hell are you talking about?"

"My zones. Three zones in one day, Sandburg, and you're not asking."

"You got anything to tell me?"

Jim shrugged helplessly. "No."

"There you go. When we get home tonight, we'll see what we can come up with, all right?"

"That's it? We're just gonna wait until we get home?"

Blair rolled his eyes melodramatically. "Yes, Jim, that's it. We're going to wait until we get home."

"Oh. Okay."




He tried not to show it, but Jim was actually—hurt. Here they were, back at the station, and Sandburg was working on a late sentinel fixer-upper of a report for Simon. Sheesh, didn't he matter at all to Sandburg?  By now the younger man should have written volumes on all the possible reasons for Jim's zones. He should have asked  dozens and dozens of personal questions, he should have made several charts, and yet, he'd done—nothing. Okay, he'd said 'when they got home,'  but Jim hadn't believed that for a moment. He'd just known that once back  at the station, the guy would be all over him like a bear who's just found the beehive. But no. Nothing. The little shit.

So, what, being with a sentinel was old hat now? Jim was boring Sandburg? Sure, that had to be it. Greener pastures. Get tired of the new toy after the shine has worn off. Well, damn, it wasn't like he was broken or anything. You don't just trade a sentinel in - do you?

Fuck. Maybe you do.

When was the last time Sandburg had spent an entire day with Jim at the station? Two, three weeks? And how much actual time when he *was* here?  A few hours at the most if Jim bothered to take the time to add it up.

Fine. So what? Like he needed the guy? Like he couldn't figure out how to take care of these fucking zones himself? Like he needed Sandburg to solve a case? Not hardly. He was a damn fine detective with or without his senses and yes, with or without Mister 'You're my Holy Grail' Sandburg. So he didn't want to talk about Jim's senses? Fine. Just— fine.

"So, where are we on the Henderson investigation?"

"Where are *we*, Sandburg? If you mean, where is Major Crime on the Henderson investigation, or where are Connor and I on the Henderson investigation, well, we're just fine and thank you for asking."

"Whoa, what bug crawled up your ass?"

"Off hand I'd say that particular bug would be you, Sandburg. And—"

"Ellison," Connor interrupted as she walked up to Jim's desk, "I just talked to Geoff Tallon's boss, a Captain Phillips. He confirmed that Tallon was on the duty roster the two days prior to the killing and the day after, but," she grinned ferally, "not the day *of* the killing."

"Where is he now? Were you able to confirm his location?"

"He's at work today through Friday. They live at the station while on

duty, so—"

"So we head out and talk to the guy."

Jim got up, but Connor put up her hand. "Whoa, Ellison. It's a two hour drive. You plan on spending the night or something? Or maybe we'll just drive up there in the morning?"

With a grudging nod to Connor's reasoning, he sat back down.

"This is cool, man. I've got nothing on the dockets for tomorrow, I can join you."

"Gee, Sandburg, swell."


Okay, they'd been home over two hours. They'd eaten, even cleaned up.  So where were the questions? Here he sat, in his usual corner, surfing and finding nothing, and so far, Sandburg hadn't said a word about his zones. Jim was getting mad. Sandburg had an obligation. Right? Right. Jim tossed the remote onto the coffee table, got up and walked over to the French doors.



"It's after eight."

"Gee, thanks, Jim."

"You dork. Zones? Questions? Finding out answers? He-llo?"

He could hear the bed creak, then the soft footfalls of his partner. A moment later, tired eyes looked up at him.

"You up for this, Jim?"

"Excuse me? *Up* for this?"

"Well, you don't usually like to discuss your emotions and that's probably what we're dealing with here, so yeah, are you up for this?"

"What, you've already decided this about *me*? My fucking emotions?"

"Well, unless something unusual has happened, and you haven't told me, which, golly, would be such a surprise,"  Blair wiggled his head, "ye-ah, it's about you and your emotions."

Sometimes, Jim really wanted to throttle Sandburg. Really.

"Look, let's just do this, okay? I'm fucking up for it already."

Sandburg gave him a little smirk, then disappeared for a moment and When he came out, he held a yellow legal pad in his hand. He walked over to the table and sat down, then waited. With a sigh, Jim followed and took the seat opposite.

"Okay, what did you eat from yesterday afternoon up until I met up with you and Megan on the street today?"

Okay, this was more like it. Tests, questions, yeah, real detective work.


"Any phone calls from old friends?"




"Were you cleaning anything out and you came across old pictures or something like that?"

"Sandburg, where the hell are you going with this?"

Blair dropped the pen and rubbed at his eyes. "Jim, I'm just trying to pin down anything odd in the last twenty-four hours, okay?"

"Fine. No cleaning."

"Fine. Anything unusual about the case? Like, are any of the suspects old girlfriends?"

"Oh, that's funny, Sandburg. You're a real riot, you are."



"Anything unusual about the case?"

Jim managed to look chagrined. "No. Nothing. I don't know any of them, don't want to know any of them. By-the-book investigation."

"Why was it kicked upstairs from Homicide if it's so by the book?"

Jim shrugged and said, "You know the victim. Big time columnist, good friend of the owner and publisher, and he's been cold for over forty-eight hours. Pressure sent it up to us."

"Ah. Okay, so nothing unusual. Describe the incident in front of the clothing store again."

"Sandburg, this is starting to feel like an interrogation here—"

"As well it should. Tell me again."

"Breakfast with Simon—"

"Why? That, in of itself, is unusual."

"Oh. Well. No reason—exactly."

Blair tapped his fingers restlessly.

"He just wanted an informal—setting—for our talk."

The tapping increased.

"I've been—kind of—touchy, lately. A little. Not much, just a little."

The tapping doubled.

"Okay, I zoned yesterday too."

The tapping stopped. Cold.

"Don't look at me like that. It was at the station and I brought myself out. It only lasted a moment, but unfortunately, it happened in Simon's office."

"I see. What were you doing in Simon's office?"

"Well, we'd just wrapped up the Iori case, remember? I told you about it. Anyway, there we were, laughing, kind of congratulating ourselves, and I put my hand in my pocket and the next thing I knew, Simon was saying my name over and over again."

Blair frowned. "Your pocket?"

"Yeah, my jacket pocket."

Blair nodded at the camel colored jacket hanging from the peg. "That one?"

Jim nodded and Blair pushed away from the table. He walked quickly over and reached into—

"The right pocket, Sandburg, but there's nothing in there."

Blair's fingers connected with something and he drew it out. Looking disgusted, he said, "You're right. Nothing but one of my hair ties. And how do you always end up with them, by the way?"

"You take them off, fiddle with them, I grab them and—"

"Stuff them into a pocket, yeah, yeah."

He shoved the tie into his pocket and with a thoughtful expression on his face, retook his seat. "Okay, so back to breakfast. Tell me again."

"We came out of Othello's, there's this dress shop and just outside of the door, there's this stupid canister thing with those stupid silver balls bouncing all over the place. I started watching them and thinking—"

"Thinking? You never said anything about thinking? What were you thinking?"

"Don't get your knickers in a twist, Sandburg. I don't know, I was just—probably—thinking I'd like to shoot those damn balls out of the air, you know? Then you were there."

"Okay, bouncing balls. Got it. The next zone?"

"The ice cream truck. The bell."

"Did you think anything that time?"

"Um," Jim rubbed at his temples, "I don't think so, other than the bell sounded—nice. Real nice. Not like the one the truck had when I was a kid. That thing was loud."

"You managed to think all that while zoning?"


"Sorry. Couldn't help it. But maybe this is tied to your childhood? Do the bouncing balls relate at all to being a kid? Maybe you and your dad? Or Steven?"

Jim shook his head adamantly. "No, no bouncing balls. And these zones aren't—bad, exactly. Not like—when—Danny died."

Blair cocked his head. "Not bad, Jim?"

"No, not bad. In fact, something kind of warm-like each time, now that I reexamine the zones."


"Yeah," Jim answered defensively, "*warm-like*. Wanna make something out of it?"

"Who me? No way, man. Warm-like."

"I need a beer. Want one?"

"Sure, why not? We're going nowhere fast, I don't think we need a designated driver tonight."

Jim gave a little humph as he opened the fridge and took out two beers.  He walked back over, handed Blair one, then twisted off the cap of his and took a good swig.

"Okay, the last zone. Tell me about that one again."

"Man," Jim said as he swallowed, "again?"


"I reached for the rest of my Veggieburger—"


"By the way, Jim? I'm proud of you."

"Oh shut up." The fact that Jim was smiling fondly over at Sandburg somewhat diluted the command.

"So you reached for your Veggieburger—" Blair coached.

"And I remembered the first time I ever had one and the next thing I knew, you were sitting there, holding my hand to your heart."

A little excitement came into Blair's eyes and he almost bounced in his seat. "Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Sense memory."

"Uh, Chief? Run that by me again?"

"Sense memory, Jim. You may have zoned on your memory of the first Veggieburger. When was that? Were you a child? A teen? What?"

Looking thoroughly disgusted, Jim said, "No, Sherlock, I wasn't. I was A thirty-six year old detective at the time and I was tasting my annoying partner's Veggieburger because he practically shoved it into my mouth."


Jim noticed that Sandburg had that thoughtful look on his face again.

"What? What?"

Sandburg's expression cleared and he smiled. "Nothing. It's just odd, that's all."

Giving Blair an exasperated look, Jim said, "Sandburg, care to share exactly what you find odd?"

"You mean besides the obvious?"

"You are so dead. Just tell me."

"My hair tie. My veggie burger. Odd."

Jim frowned because there was something in Blair's eyes, a dark glitter, that caused a set of shivers to use his spine as a racetrack. The shivers were making their indecent way down his body when the phone rang. Grateful, Jim literally jumped up to answer. "Ellison."

<<This is a recording, please hold for a telephone representative-->>

"Right. You just bet I will." Jim hung up—soundly.

"I'm thinking that wasn't Simon."

"How many years have you spent in school, Sandburg?"

"Enough to put my intelligence to work in order to figure out that wasn't our esteemed boss," Blair responded with a grin.

Jim looked at the smiling face and decided that maybe he was done for The evening. His zoning problem could wait. Giving himself a little shake, he said, "We have to be up early tomorrow, Chief. Connor'll be here at seven. I'm hitting the hay."

"Okay. This can wait another day. Besides, I already have enough information to begin to formulate a hypothesis—or two—or a hundred."

Jim watched as Blair gathered his pad and pencil, then rose and stretched. He watched, fixated, as the Henley shirt rose up, revealing the small of Sandburg's back—




"You, ah, did it again. Only a couple of minutes though."

Jim focused, turned his head right, left, then down. Blair was staring up at him, that dark glitter back and swimming in the blue depths. Jim found himself leaning forward—then pulling himself back up. 

"Yes, well, no tie, no Veggieburger, no bouncing balls, Sandburg. I think—I'm just really tired. See you in the morning." 

He turned on his heel and took his stairs two and three at a time. When he reached the top, he wondered why his heart was beating so hard. It wasn't as if he'd been running from a pack of criminals—or anything.



Blair followed Jim's progression upstairs, but only when it was obvious

that Jim was upstairs to stay, did he walk into his own room.

He dumped the pad and pencil, then stripped down to his shorts. He pulled out and slipped on one of Jim's old cropped Cascade PD sweatshirts. The sleeves had also been chopped off, but he figured it would be more than warm enough. He padded back into the living room and spent the next couple of minutes doing Jim's job --  namely locking up.



Jim stood at the rail, his body hidden by the darkness of his room.

From his perch, he watched Blair move about the loft. His senses were

Sharper than he was used to, but he didn't wonder why. He just watched.

He zeroed in on the expanse of skin visible below the raggedy edge of the sweatshirt, at the contrast of pale flesh and dark hair that promised more if one only chose to go lower; at the hips that just held up the shorts; and at the sturdy, but slender legs that carried Blair around the room.

Fascinated, Jim watched the sway of dark curly hair and he listened, eager to hear it as it rubbed against both flesh and the collar of the sweatshirt.

He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes.

Aftershave, still clinging to skin, the scent of which held undertones of earthy musk. Natural body odor, the perfect note to compliment the aftershave, mingled with Sandburg's clean sweat and the detangler Sandburg used on his hair. Together, they enveloped Jim, held him captive so that even as Blair disappeared into his room, Jim could still *see* him.

Jim stood for several minutes smelling, listening, seeing. It was only when Sandburg's breathing evened out that Jim finally went to bed himself.


When Jim came downstairs the next morning, he wasn't surprised to find

Sandburg already up and at the table with one of his algae shakes. And

A bowl of Rice Krispies. Which was odd.

"Chief, shake *and* cereal?"

"I'm hungry. The shake gives me the energy I'll need all day, but the

Rice Krispies—"

"Satisfies the little boy in you?"

Head down, but grinning, Blair said, "Well, yeah. So sue me."

"Nah, I'll just get myself a bowl and join you. Do we have—"

"On the sink. One left. I used the other to add to my bowl."

"Great. Can't have Rice Krispies without—"



Two minutes later, Jim was happily eating a bowl chock full of '"snap, crackle and pop." He was half way through when he noticed that Sandburg had the Henderson folder in front of him.

"Playing catch-up, Sandburg?"

Blair shrugged and kept on reading.

"So what do you think?" Jim asked, ignoring the fact that Blair was still reading.

"I'm still reading."


Jim spooned more Rice Krispies into his mouth and after chewing and swallowing, said, "So, whatcha think?"

Blair's lips twitched. "I'm—um, well, still—you know, *reading*."


As Jim continued to eat and watch, he realized that in the last two or three weeks, he'd missed sharing cases with Sandburg. He was actually anxious to hear the younger man's views on this one. As he swallowed another spoonful, Blair, eyes still on the report, picked up his spoon and absently guided it, dripping milk, to his mouth.

Jim frowned. Cocked his head—and watched, his entire being focused On the spoon as Blair's lips closed over it—


Jim blinked. "Just tell me—not—"

"Again, Jim. You did it again."

"How long?"

"Just a few seconds. I asked you a question and you didn't answer. You

were just—staring. And by the way? Do you have any idea how weird it

is to see you zoned? Have I ever mentioned that? How your eyes go all

blank and your mouth opens slightly and—"

Jim held up an impatient hand. "Gee, thanks for the vivid description, Sandburg. Do I drool too?"

"Not yet, no. But you keep this up and one of these days, it's Happy Dale Farm for you, my friend."

"Gee, Sandburg, have you always been this reassuring? Or is this new?"

Blair snorted and went back to his chair. "I don't suppose," he asked As he sat down, "you have any idea what triggered this one?"

"Sandburg, were you or were you not in this room, at this table, with me?"

"I was. So—do you have any idea what triggered it?"

Jim's sigh could have been heard all the way to the station, Blair was betting.

"I was eating, you were eating, I was watching you—read and eat, listening for Connor, end of story."

"Huh-uh. Sure. Okay. Got it."

Blair got up, picked up both their empty bowls and carried them into The kitchen. When he came back, he swallowed the last of his shake, then took the glass and put it in the sink. Jim joined him, the box of cereal in his hand.

"Uh, Chief?"

Blair turned from rinsing off the dishes. "Yeah?"

Jim made a little jiggle motion with his finger, which was pointed at

Blair's lips. "You - green-"

Rolling his eyes, Blair wiped his mouth. They worked together for a few moments, cleaning up, then Jim said, "So, did you finish the report before my little trip?"

"Yeah, and I'm curious. Why are we interviewing this guy in the mountains again?"

Jim knocked on Sandburg's head as he said, "Does the word suspect ring A bell? Not to mention the fact that both Henderson's fiance and his coworker, brother of our mountain man, lied to protect him."


Jim paused in his wiping down of the table.  "Ah?" he asked, cloth in hand.

"Well, I did notice a couple of things. Small things, really, but they struck me as odd." Blair shrugged helplessly as he finished.

Jim put down the cloth and picked up the folder he'd set on the chair while cleaning. Waving it under Sandburg's nose, he asked, "Do you plan on sharing your little tid-bits?" 

Catching the folder and taking it from Jim's waving hand, Blair opened it and took out one statement. Smiling, he waved it under Jim's nose.

"You and Connor interviewed Philip Abbott, the owner and publisher of the Cascade Whisper, right?"

"Yes. At his home. Does an ice cream truck ring a bell, Sandburg?"

Blair's expression changed and blossomed into a huge smile. "Wow, that was good, Jim. Ice cream truck, ring a bell. You're just so talented."

"And in two minutes, you're dead. Get to the point."

"Abbott said he hadn't seen Henderson since the morning of his death, right?"

"Correct. Henderson dropped off a particularly nasty story to Abbott."

"At his home, right?"

"Yes, Sandburg, at his home. So?"

"Well," Blair scratched the back of his head, "like I said, two things, really jumped out. First—computers. Abbott used his while you were there, according to your notes. He looked something up for you?"

"Yeah, the subject of Henderson's last column, the one that hadn't run yet. In case one of Henderson's "victims" might have been angry enough at the man's poison pen to do him in."

"Exactly. So why did Henderson bring his story to the boss' house? Why not just send it like most reporters do?"

Jim's eyes narrowed, then his face cleared. "No way, Sandburg. If you're intimating that Abbott might be our killer, nuh-uh, his vitals were perfectly normal during the interview."

"Jim, that's not a full-proof method. You've had suspects before that could fool you. People whose signals were so odd or all over the map, that you couldn't tell if they were lying. And maybe, you didn't ask the right questions?"

"Well, we sure didn't ask if he'd killed the man. But we did ask him where he was when Henderson was killed and all signs pointed to a truthful answer."

"Like I said—"

"I know, I know. Go on. You said two things?"

"Yeah. Um, right here," Blair squinted and read, "Abbott seemed truly shocked by Henderson's death. As Detective Ellison and I were leaving, Mr. Abbott stopped and looked down at the floor of his entryway. He pointed and said, 'He stood right here, Detective. Right here. Only a few days ago, dripping all over my floor. And he was—so worried.  About the rain water ruining my wood.'"

Blair looked up. "Henderson was dripping the last time Abbott saw him.

Dripping wet from rain."

"And this is important, why?"

"Jim, Jim, Jim." Blair shook his head. "Henderson was killed on Monday, the twenty-fifth. According to forensics, the time of death was between seven and nine that evening, right?"

"I read the report, Sandburg."

"Jim, it didn't rain Monday until that evening. It rained for exactly forty minutes. I know, I was trying to run to my car in the deluge.  That was at seven-thirty, just after it started. By eight, it was over."

"Well, I'll be damned."

"Hey, not something either you or Connor would catch, Jim. Didn't you say you'd both been down in the old PD Files room most of Monday?"

"Yeah. The two of us, plus Taggert and Brown. That damn Fitzgerald case."

"Right. You came home red-eyed, sneezing and scratching your skin raw."

Jim nodded, remembering the miserable drive home. Barely able to concentrate, his skin crawling and eyes running, he'd been praying that Sandburg wouldn't be having another late night at the University. Jim also remembered the flood of relief when he'd spotted the Volvo, parked exactly where it should be.

Twenty minutes after walking in the door and showering, his skin had been covered in cool, soothing aloe gel, cucumber slices placed on his eyes and he was flat on his back on the couch. A miserable day had been transformed into one of the most comfortable, relaxing evenings he  could remember. As he'd rested, the sounds of Blair grading papers, helped by one of Sandburg's classical CD's, lulled the detective into a restful world somewhere between sleep and wakefulness.

"...hardly surprising that you guys didn't know or realize that it had only rained once that day, or should I say—night."

Jim came back with a start and automatically nodded. "So basically, Abbott lied to us about the time he'd last seen Henderson. And considering the time of death, well, Mr. Abbott just moved to the head of our suspect list."

"Jim," Blair asked, looking thoughtful, "what exact question did you put to Abbott? I mean, how did you ask Abbott where he was at the time of Henderson's death?"

"Didn't we just cover that?"

"No, not really. And don't give me that look. This last week has been hell on you. What with zoning and all," Blair added with a wicked smile.

"Your sparkling wit constantly amazes me, Sandburg."

Grinning brightly, Blair said, "Yeah, I know. I'm like a fine champagne. All bubbly and sparkling. Question is, do I tickle your nose?"

Jim had just taken a sip of his coffee he'd had resting on the edge of the kitchen island and at Blair's words, he spit it out. The obligatory coughing followed as Blair rushed into the kitchen to get a few paper towels.

"Geesh, Jim, you're a lethal spitting weapon. That coffee made it all the way to the sink. I'm lucky it missed me. Was it," Blair smirked, "something I said?"

"You putz. And why the question about the question I questioned Abbott?"

Through Jim's entire speech, Blair's head had been nodding in sync with every "question". Crossing his eyes, he pretended to be dizzy and reached out for the counter.

"Gosh, Jim, you're so—verbal. Excuse me while I go throw up."

"Double putz."

"Is there such a thing?"

"Apparently. I seem to be looking at one."

"I walked into that, didn't I?"

"Big time."