Disclaimer: Pet Fly owns, only for fans reading pleasure, etc, etc.
This story was written as a gift for Gail Gardner, SentinelAngst list member (her website is Ship's Cat), in thanks for putting me up (and putting up with me) on a week's visit to Finland at Easter 2005, however, please read the Author's Note at the end! This story has a serious point to make. If you are a male fan fiction writer, or a male reader of fan fiction, I would particularly encourage you to read this story.
This story was amended and posted to for bardtotheages in September 2011.
Warnings: please see Author's Note at end.
Summary: Sandburg offers to buy his suspicious Sentinel a glorious cholesterol laden breakfast…cue the Sandburg Zone.
"Come on, Jim," Sandburg's voice floated up, "How can it take a guy so much time to comb so little hair?"
Jim walked down the steps from his bedroom, his steps slowing and his expression changing from annoyed to confused as he took in his room-mate and Guide, Blair Sandburg. Today it was Sandburg's turn to cook breakfast, but nothing was happening. There was no coffee percolating in the machine, no bread in the toaster, no bacon sizzling on the grill (he had still no been able to persuade/bribe/intimidate Sandburg into frying foods). Blair, instead of pottering around the kitchen in his usual sleep-wear of vest and boxers, busy rustling up food for his hungry Sentinel, was standing fully dressed and wearing his jacket, boots and backpack at the door, clearly ready to leave.
"Come on, Jim." Blair repeated with impatience.
"Where are you going? You're supposed to be making breakfast?" Jim was in no mood to enter the Sandburg Zone this morning.
They'd cracked two big cases in the last thirty-six hours, and neither had resulted in them being able to get a little if any sleep during that time. Which was just tough – they were due on the straight twelve-hour shift that all MCU personnel pulled once every two weeks and the fact that they'd had no rest in the preceding thirty-six hours was their problem. Jim wanted lots of awesomely strong coffee, an entire pig's worth of bacon rashers and California's entire corn crop of toast and biscuits inside his gullet before he ventured forth.
"I'm buying you breakfast." Blair urged. "Anything you want. Go wild. Just hurry up."
"Buying breakfast," Jim folded his arms and regarded his room-mate steadily, perfectly well aware that they had more than adequate yummy breakfast foodstuffs in the loft kitchen. "Where?"
"That new place that's just opened at the end of the block." Blair recited the words in a clearly irritated sing-song. "I got talking to Hilka, the lady that owns it and said we'd stop by for breakfast. Look Jim, I. Am. Buying. Then we can go straight into the station."
Damn, if I've been sucked into the vortex that is the Sandburg Love Connection I'll kill him, Jim glared at his room-mate even as he plucked his jacket from the coat hook by the door and prepared to put his boots on. "Sandburg, if this place tries to pass off tofu and hikers trail mix as real food, then I swear –"
Blair snorted. "I wish, man. Hilka is Finnish. They don't believe anything is properly cooked unless it contains as a minimum of a pound of butter and a pint of cream."
Finnish? As they left the loft, Jim wasn't reassured. Flaxen haired Nordic Goddess or no, if she offered him fried rasher of Rudolph, he was out of there…
Luckily there was a parking slot directly outside the new café, which had been named Finnesse rather than Finesse; very droll, thought Jim sourly. They were the first customers as Hilka had just opened the café; she turned out not to be a six-foot-four Wagnerian Valkyrie a la The Ring Cycle but a short, plump brunette with a happy grin and a wicked laugh.
Naturally, Blair had learned her life story in the first ten minutes of their initial meeting and so briefed Jim in an undertone as they took seats at a window table. Her mother was a stereotypical Finn in looks but her father was an American of Anglo-Amerindian descent, from whence she got her dark hair and brown eyes; she'd been born in Seattle but from the age of six months had lived in Finland. All Finns were at least trilingual, speaking Finnish, Swedish and English, plus usually Russian. Her father's job had taken Hilka's family all over the Scandinavian Peninsula with the net result that she spoke Danish, Inuit, French, Italian and German as well. In the melting pot that was Cascade, Hilka was finding that despite its newness, her fledgling business was taking off. This corner block was at the juncture of Little Italy and the Russian Quarter and she was already getting regular customers from these ethnic groups.
"Okay, Sandburg," Jim grumped, "I'm sold. But I swear if she tries to make reindeer any part of this –"
Blair glared at him then redirected his attention as Hilka came back bearing two large mugs of coffee with hot, frothed milk. As she placed them on the table, Blair switched his glare to a smile and said to her what Jim swore sounded like, "Kitty, Kitty" before launching into a conversation utterly incomprehensible to Jim; the only thing he knew now that he didn't before was that Blair was fluent in Finnish. Yep: hello Sandburg Zone. What kept yah?
"What did you order?" he asked, thinking unhappily of 'kitty, kitty'.
"Rudolph, Prancer, Dancer and Blitzen…" sniped Blair, adding two sugars to his coffee and taking a large slurp.
"Blair, I swear if she serves us fried reindeer –"
"Oh relax your anal-retentive self," Blair rolled his eyes, good humour apparently restored by the coffee. "No reindeer were harmed during the making of this breakfast. Besides, you don't fry reindeer; you should sauté it with bacon and mushrooms…"
Jim hesitated on the verge of taking issue with the 'anal-retentive' crack, aware that so far this morning his own attitude has been less than stellar, and that the younger man looked even more tired than Jim felt. Just like him, Blair had spent the last day and a half working to bust those two big-league drug smuggling rings, and just like him, Blair was now on the MCU rota for the 12-hour shift looming horribly in their immediate futures.
Temporary Captain Finkelman – okay, Sarah, she hadn't been that bad really – had shown up their point of vulnerability when she had followed procedure and immediately revoked Blair's long-expired 90-day ride along, on the unarguable grounds that Blair was so integrated with the MCU that everyone in it treated him as 'one of them' to the point he was actively involved in investigations that led to situations so dangerous seasoned SWAT officers would have paused. The brutal reality was that Blair hadn't been sanctioned or insured, nor had the department.
Simon and his secretary Rhonda and Taggart, them, had put some serious and devious thought into the problem, and now Blair was on the Police Dept payroll – albeit at a very low stipend – as the Major Crimes Unit's 'Consultant Criminal Anthropologist'. Not forensic anthropologist, but criminal anthropologist, a role that Rhonda had basically invented one night watching the Discovery Channel. Instead of studying and profiling criminals and killers after they were dead, Blair studied them alive and fresh – 'proactively not reactively' as he had put it – like they were an unknown Amazonian tribe just discovered. Blair had been able to get several grants and Simon some social funding to help pay for their little scheme, and to Jim's well hidden relief, Blair had delayed moving out of the loft back to a new own apartment yet again – since he'd been $850 a month rent and utilities on that ghastly warehouse, financially he was 'okay' enough to get by on his PD consultant stipend and his TA salary.
Which was why Blair looked so completely exhausted, because unlike Jim, in the brief periods he hadn't at the station during the previous 36-hours of police fun, Blair was in his own 'office', that cubby-hole joke of an artefact storage room, pulling all-nighters to catch up on his work and ensure that when the students and other staff arrived at Rainier, they found fully prepared information and graded essays.
The whole Ventriss saga had highlighted just how much of his teaching job Blair had missed over the past four years due to being with the MCU and the attitude of Dean Marcia Bug-Up-My-Ass Edwards had proven that when it came to ethics, academic principles and supporting her staff, she would drop them like hot rocks in kow-towing to spoilt brat students with rich daddies. Since then Blair had been anal-retentive himself in not asking others to cover his classes and so forth.
Jim would have liked to have suggested he quit the TA role, but Blair was a natural teacher and the combination of grants, PD salary and TA salary and co-tenancy at the loft meant he had been able to start paying off some of his student loans early whilst still being able to save enough in a 'disaster fund/unemployment buffer'. It had been clear how if important it was to Blair to retain his own identity outside 'the Sentinel's Guide' and to work in some academic arena, and yes, he had been visibly smug at the way his being able to start paying off his student loans early had made dear Dean Edwards grind her teeth. Simply, if he was vertical and walking, Blair did the work at Rainier as well as the PD. But now Jim guiltily realised that Blair was, as usual, taking a quart out of a pint pot when it came to energy.
However, Jim's intention to be conciliatory went the way of all good intentions as Hilka reappeared bearing two plates on each of which resided what looked like a mound of scrambled eggs on top of two oval puff-pastry objects.
"Carrellian Pancakes." Blair rubbed his hands with glee.
Jim glared at a description that sounded like it came straight off the menu in the Star Wars' Mos Eisley cantina scene. "What?" He looked down at the mixture suspiciously as Hilka placed it in front of them and disappeared again.
"A Carrellian pancake is short-grain white rice inside a puff pastry case. You hard-boil eggs, chop them up, and mix butter into them while they're still hot, then serve on the pancakes…just try it, Jim." Blair said with a hint of snap in his tone.
Aware that Blair was moving from just 'morning blues' to genuine anger, Jim obediently cut off a corner slice and placed it in his mouth, chewing stoically and trying not…to…think…about the taste - which was great. He looked down, cut a huge slice off and tried again just to make sure.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner," Blair muttered with only a soupçon of sarcasm as he grinned involuntarily at Jim's enjoyment before tucking into his own breakfast.
Jim polished both pancakes off in short order, and the mug of strong but excellent coffee. Since Sandburg was springing, he decided on another round of both, and Hilka was only too happy to comply, topping up Blair's mug at the same time as the younger man ate more slowly.
Jim started on round two, ignoring Blair's amused chuckle, and bent his mind to the task of how to make sure they came here regularly without having to admit to Mr Smugly Smirking Guide that okay, he had called it right. However, as he ate, savouring the pleasant textures and tastes, Jim never left 'cop mode', which was why he'd chosen a seat that gave him a clear view of the sidewalk. He constantly scanned his surroundings both inside and out, being aware at all times of the people passing outside and the automobiles at the junction.
Due to his position, he had a perfect view when the bus drew up at the stop light right outside the café window; he glanced up and therefore saw Sandburg stark naked. He blinked; not 99-percent naked with tastefully arranged fig leaf, sheet, etc. One hundred percent au naturel, butt nekkid.
"Jim!" Blair yelled frantically, skidding back his chair as semi-masticated egg, rice and mashed up flecks of pastry sprayed all over the table, him and his own breakfast. But instantly he forgot his ire as Jim gagged and hacked. "Jim?"
Leaping up, Blair instantly moved to support Jim's torso as the man coughed and choked. Instinctively rubbing his hand in concentric circles at the top of Jim's back as the big man wheezed, Blair grabbed the glass of water he'd poured and held it to Jim's lips so he could sip it.
"Easy, easy," he soothed in desperate worry, completely bewildered.
Part of the reason why he'd brought Jim here was because Carrellian Pancakes were the ideal Sentinel breakfast – rice, eggs, butter and puff pastry were in the top ten 'no danger to the Sentinel' food list and as long as Hilka hadn't poured several pounds worth of salt and pepper into the mix Jim would never have a problem.
"Jim, what is it? What's wrong?" He raised his head and glared furiously at Hilka, even more enraged when she merely stood, seemingly frozen, as Blair snarled, "What did you do? What did you put in it?"
His hand trembling from the attack, Jim slowly raised it and gripped Blair's chin like a vice. Blair instinctively tried to pull back as his lips and cheeks were squeezed together in what would have been a humorous way in any other circumstance but Jim deliberately tightened his hold till it was painful and forced Blair's head to the right. The light changed to green and outside Blair saw his own nude body down the length of the bus as it slowly pulled away.
"Oh," Blair said without any modicum of surprise never mind shock, "that."
"What the hell did you do Sandburg?" rasped Jim, his throat still sore from the choking bout as he glared at the younger man.
Blair shrugged, blatantly unconcerned, "I did some modelling."
"Some 'modelling'?" Jim repeated the phrase loudly as shock gave way to anger.
"Yes, some modelling! It's not like you haven't seen it all before –" he winced as he realised what he'd just said.
Hilka's tiny squeak was drowned out by Jim's outraged bellow of "Sandburg!"
"I didn't mean it like that," Blair addressed Hilka in an attempt at damage control, "We're just room-mates."
She made another tiny squeak as if in answer while her eyes never lifted any higher than about two inches below his belt buckle. Mostly concentrating on the large, fuming cop now seriously invading his personal space, a small part of Blair's mind acknowledged that her action was probably some sort of cosmic payback for every guy who spent ages talking 'to' a woman but never raised his gaze above her cleavage.
Jim was still glaring furiously, though Blair's statement had been true in the literal sense. From the age of eighteen until thirty-three, Jim had been in the U.S. Army, used to living in barracks with a large number of other men and where personal space and privacy for hygiene was non-existent. Blair likewise had grown up in communes and cultures with liberal attitudes to clothing and nudity.
Whatever their other neuroses, hang-ups about nudity weren't on the list for either Jim or Blair; neither man exactly paraded around the loft in the altogether, but it wasn't uncommon for them to be in a 'two men, one bathroom and both late for work' situation, wherein each was more concerned about getting ready as fast as possible than being precious about the fact that the other wasn't wearing any clothing.
"And you never thought it worthwhile to mention to me that naked posters of you were going to be splashed all over the city?" Jim barked.
Blair blinked. "How on earth could I have known – wait a minute. Obviously you were too busy ogling to look at my head."
"Oh I saw your head!" Jim snapped.
There was a moment of charged silence then Hilka whirled on her heels, her face flaming, and hurried into the back. Both men could hear her laughing hysterically.
"I meant you didn't look at my face." Blair reiterated, clearly trying not to laugh himself.
Jim sucked in a deep breath as his fury surged anew at this flippancy; one of the few flashpoints in their partnership was that the Sentinel tended to be very possessive and insecure over keeping his or her Guide and thus tended towards attempting 'ownership' behaviour and attitudes, and the Guide – a good one at least – understood the Sentinel's needs but didn't enable or cave in to such an unhealthy attitude that would severely tip the balance of power in the Sentinel-Guide bond and ultimately prove emotionally destructive. Jim was aware that he was teetering on the edge of grossly over-reacting and that Sandburg and he would have a really angry outburst at each other if he didn't get a grip. So…breathe, think, and don't start yelling…yet.
He hadn't really taken in anything other than his Guide's nudity, but having perfect recall courtesy of his Sentinel senses enabled him to extract the subliminally absorbed image of Blair's face from the poster. His righteous anger stuttered a bit as his brain compared the face on the poster to that of the man standing not a foot away and – "Your hair. You had short hair..."
"I was twenty-two when that photograph, amongst others, was taken, and I was living in Finland." Blair stated. "I knew they were using one of the images when I got the royalty cheque last week, but I had no idea of which one, or where it would be. It could as easily have been London or Rome as Cascade." He dropped the money for breakfast plus a large tip on the table as even he could hear from the muffled gurgles that Hilka was still in no condition to come back out of the kitchen. "If you've finished freaking out, we need to be in work."
Jim winced as he and Blair left the café. Cops were merciless at the best of times; the taunting that would result from his partner's nude body being plastered across Cascade's public transport did not bear thinking about. To his astonishment though, they walked back to Sweetheart without incident.
"I can't believe nobody's looking at us." Jim muttered as he unlocked his beloved truck.
Blair heard him and shrugged. "Of course not, as far as everyone's concerned a fashion model is a glamorous person who lives on the beach in Malibu or Waikiki. They don't expect to see the guy on the poster walk past them a minute later. Although, if everyone's like you very few people will be noticing my face, apparently."
Jim flushed, hating being on the defensive. "So how many more of these posters are likely to show up?"
"Relax; I only did that one shot in the nude." Ignoring Jim's loud sigh of relief, Blair explained, "I lived in Finland for a while on a project for Rainier. They were looking for fashion models and paying a good rate. I couldn't afford to pay for professional photos to be taken, so I hired the equipment for an afternoon and did them myself. Fortunately my portfolio passed muster and since I'm also the photographer I retain the image rights, so I get a small royalty fee whenever one of them is used."
Jim nodded understanding; Blair had had numerous articles published in various periodicals and scientific textbooks, and sometimes received small royalty cheques whenever any of his work was reproduced. If Blair had done the modelling in Finland it was highly unlikely any more of his photographs would turn up being used in the States; it could only be the Sandburg Zone at work that the only nude shot he'd done was the one chosen for use in Cascade…or knowing the Sandburg Zone the entire Pacific Northwest. Please god, no, Jim prayed as he pulled Sweetheart in the Cascade PD's parking garage.
Any hopes Jim entertained that nobody noticed anything were almost instantly extinguished. Lorraine Kovacs, one of Vice's few female detectives, flirted outrageously with Blair while her partner Dan Freeman glared in the background. By the time the elevator had ridden up to the seventh floor, Blair had been hit on by every female cop and glared at by every male cop.
They entered the MCU bullpen and immediately an outraged cry rang out, "Sandburg! You're getting my cleaning bill!"
"H.?" Blair asked in disbelief as big, black – and usually cheerful - Detective Henri Brown approached them, only this time with a fierce scowl, and wearing unheard of attire of conservative navy slacks, white shirt, tie and jacket as opposed to his usual grunge-type baggy pants and eye-wateringly exuberant Hawaiian shirts.
"What happened?" asked Blair, warily.
"You're what happened." Henri glared at them as the MCU's other detectives grinned. "I never got to taste my vanilla Frappucino; I spilled it all down my favourite Hawaiian shirt and my pants when a bus sailed past the diner window with you plastered naked all down the side. If Mr GQ here hadn't had an account at that fancy tailor's on 5th and Vine," he jerked a thumb at his partner, Rafe, "I would have been the one in the altogether."
"Sandburg!" Simon Banks came out of his office with his glare cranked up full. "You mind explaining what the hell you were doing?"
"Looks like I wasn't the only one who didn't notice your face, Chief," Jim cracked but subsided as Simon's face became deadly.
Once again, Blair reiterated his explanation, finishing, "The nude shot was for a good cause, a cancer charity, which was why I did it. Read the wording on the poster," he advised them slyly.
Simon gave a snort of irritation. "Sandburg, from now on I intend to keep my eyes closed whenever I leave this building." He glared, "Back to work, people! Unfortunately I doubt we can count on the criminals in this city being stunned into honesty by the sight of Sandburg in his birthday suit."
© 2005 & 2011, The Cat's Whiskers
Continued in Chapter 2…