The morning of his third date with Sue Davis in Records—the date where Jim was sure to get laid—he came down with hives. Big, flaming, butt-ugly ones all over his neck and chest.
Sandburg was pure sympathy and offered him something gooey that smelled rotten, telling him to rub it on. When Jim crossed his arms and shook his head, the mad scientist pulled something else out of his kit that smelled even worse and was fucking green to boot, at which point Jim threatened to kill him, and Blair shrugged and cut him a quarter tab of Benedryl.
Which sucked, because even a tiny bit of Benedryl made Jim nap like a grandpa, and today it was his turn to testify against Parnas, who was going down for murder one and aggravated assault if they could get it, or for murder in the second if the baby-faced D.A. screwed up their air-tight case. So Jim nibbled the corner of his quarter, then nibbled a little more on the way to the Justice building, and by the time he got there he could wear his tie without cursing.
"Man, there must've been, like, an invisible sliver of kiwi in your fruit tart last night," Blair said later, when he found Jim at home with his shirt off and idly scratching the little bumps that were left. "I'll add this to the incident record. Sure you don't want to try some of that urtica urens?"
"Was that the stinky stuff, or the real stinky stuff?"
"The stinky stuff."
A few weeks later Jim ran into Myriam Barnard at Big Mo's. Myriam had been a kick-ass witness for their jewelry store heist case about a year earlier, and had a serious memory for detail, which she proved by remembering Jim's name and the fact he'd been going through a Tootsie Roll phase at the time.
"You still have a thing for chocolate?" she asked. And, yeah, he did, when it was wrapped around a gorgeous body like hers, topped by this really sweet smile. But he couldn't exactly say that, so he stammered something about watching his weight, and saw her eyes travel down, then up, and then down again.
"Well, whatever you're doing is working real well, honey."
"You free next Saturday?" he asked with absolutely no finesse, but she just smiled wider and gave him her number.
That Saturday afternoon Jim's eyes went wonky. Even with his eyelids slammed shut it was so damned bright he felt like he was stuck under a klieg.
"Hmm, photosensitivity..." Blair sniffed as consulted his computer. He'd shut off all the lights in the loft and his face was glowing in the light coming from the screen. He scanned rapidly as he tapped, tapped, through Jim's extensive list of 'incidences'. Jim couldn't believe the care Blair took with everything when it came to his senses.
"Can you fix it, Chief?" Because he really was desperate. He hadn't been laid in months; it was hard to find a date when the only people he ever met were snitches and perps and other cops. And Myriam was beautiful, and smart as anything.
Blair held up his hand, pursing his lips as he read and making the pouty lower one pooch out even further than normal. Jim had to look away. That was the other thing about getting laid—maybe then he would stop staring at his partner's lips.
"Well, says here you've had three incidences, two from ingestion, one from contact. The first was from that cold medication; the second was one of the side effects from the golden. And the third was—" Sandburg, paused, and Jim squinted over to spot an evil grin on Blair's face.
"Says here—feminine hygiene spray."
"Sandburg!" If Jim were feeling even a little less like his head were about to explode, he'd be off the couch and have Sandburg pinned against the wall.
That image entertained him for about a second and half until he realized he'd never mentioned any such thing to Blair. "I don't know where you got your data on that one—"
"Bettina," Blair said smugly. "From Bunko."
"I dated her too, remember? And after you came home that time and practically had to crawl up the stairs on all fours—"
"Enough, I get the picture. Anyway," Jim said with—really—admirable patience, "that can't be it. I haven't been anywhere near...well, like you said."
"More to the fucking point, can you fix it? Can't we, I dunno, hose me down with oatmeal or soak me in raw goat's milk or something?"
"Now I know you're sick."
"Not sick, desperate," Jim mumbled, taking care to keep it below normal hearing.
"And that's another thing—why so desperate all of a sudden?"
Shit. The bastard saw and heard everything.
"Forget it, Chief," Jim said wearily. "I have to go make a phone call."
He stumbled up to his room, made the call, and stuck his head under a pillow. Myriam's clippy disappointment followed him down into sleep.
Two weeks later it was supposed to be Cindy Stephenson, a very nice Parking Control Officer, except there was a—surprise!—visit from Naomi. Sage, sage, sage, and Jim with a headache that could kill an elephant. Did elephants get headaches? Jim's brain was too swollen to wonder about it.
The next time things went terribly wrong—and, really, Jim was too good at his job not to detect something of a pattern there—was when Jane from the bakery asked him if he'd liked the tarts last time, which led to a discussion of kiwi (she told him they didn't use any) and how disgustingly furry they were—why would anyone eat something so hairy? Since Jane was staring at the open neck of Jim's shirt at the time, he figured all systems were green.
He asked her if she ever got hungry for something more substantial than pastries—well, not in those words, because his tongue got tripped somewhere around 'hungry', but she seemed to get the gist, because she wrote her phone number and 'Friday!' on his receipt and gave him a free croissant.
Jim purposely didn't tell Blair about it that time, because he didn't need the added humiliation, assuming things followed their usual, terrible course.
But Friday rolled around without a single rash, hive or hallucinogenic event, and by the afternoon he was chomping at the bit to finish up the last of their paperwork and get home to shower and change.
Sandburg was working at his own desk, elbow to elbow, and the fifth time Jim shot a look at the clock, Blair lifted his head and frowned at him.
"You got ants in your pants? Or maybe we used too much fabric softener that last load?"
"No, I—" Jim clicked twice and their report started chattering out of the printer behind him. "—I have plans."
Something in his tone turned Jim's head, and he caught Sandburg with a strange expression.
"Well, nothing. It's just—" Blair lowered his voice, "I'm mentally checking our Benedryl supplies."
"Real funny, Chief."
"I mean, twice is coincidence, but thrice is a pattern, you know?" Blair stood up and reached over Jim's head to grab the printed sheets. "Do the words 'psychosomatic disorder' mean anything to you? "
"Oh, can it, Sandburg. Those were flukes, all of 'em. I mean, look at me—it's four forty-five and I'm in primo condition—"
Just then, Blair pulled back his arm, pages in hand, and yelled "Shit!" A split second later something hard knocked Jim in the back of the head and the air around them was filled with a powdery black cloud.
Jim gasped in surprise, and just like that the stuff was in his mouth and up his nose. He coughed once and started sneezing like crazy.
"Shit, shit, shit, the toner!" Blair was chanting, holding the tail of his flannel shirt up to his face. "Jim, don't breathe it!"
But that was like—horse, barn door, blammo. He couldn't stop sneezing, and his body just keep insisting on inhaling again right afterward in a vicious cycle. At least he managed to keep his mouth closed. His vision went dark, and he knew it wasn't the black gunk, because his eyes were leaking like an irrigation system.
Then he felt a warm hand wrapped in flannel covering his mouth and nose. Now he was inhaling pure Sandburg, which was a definite step above that caustic black shit. After a while he could breathe again, cautiously, but his chest was tight, his sinuses a solid block of cement, and he was blind as a bat.
Jim coughed. "Get me out of here," he said, his throat so swollen the words barely rasped out.
"Hospital. I gotta get you—" Blair sounded frantic. "Jesus. Jesus. Hey, H., can I get a little help?"
So, the final, humiliating touch: stumbling down the hallway from Major Crime with Henri making 'black face' jokes—You know, that shit was tired when Jolson tried it, Jimbo—and Blair on his other arm guiding him like he was Helen Keller, and then he had to let Sandburg drive his goddamned truck. Poor Sweetheart was so confused she kept slipping out of gear with a grinding klunk that made him see transmission repair bills behind his eyelids.
Next came the joy of the hospital, and toxic exposure cleanup protocol—oh, how he loved that routine, the high pressure spray that felt like a thousand tiny, vicious ice-picks digging into his skin. They used the scrubbing brush and hypoallergenic soap that Blair had brought from the truck, because, as he explained to the orderly, "Jim has very sensitive skin."
Now there was a macho moment.
And the whole time, Sandburg was saying, "I'm sorry, Jim, so very sorry," over and over in variation, and Jim tried to reassure him, no big deal, just an accident, but it was kind of hard to focus when he had a six foot four orderly scrubbing down his privates.
Maybe a little too macho, that moment.
They gave Jim a set of scrubs and pulled his blood, and then Jim had to wait for the eye guy to come take a look. At that point, Jim hoped they'd gotten rid of all the toner on the outside, but he could still feel the tiny, ultra fine grains trapped in his nostril hairs, and was wondering if he was going to be blowing attractive black snot for the rest of his life.
So he was in a pretty pissy mood once they finally released him with dire warnings and demands he take in huge amounts of fluids and come right back if anything mysterious developed.
But back in the truck, with Sandburg muttering quietly next to him and calling himself an idiot and a poor excuse for a guide, Jim suddenly thought of something.
And then he remembered something else, and another thing that made him smile—he was grinning, now, because it was all slotting together like that Jenga game, which looked so cool when it was a tower; Jim was always tempted to glue Sandburg's together so they could just admire it as a structure.
The truck rattled over the speed bump before the turn onto Prospect. Jim's brain was thinking holy shit, and no way! Sandburg? And he wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, except both would have hurt his sinuses too much just then.
Once Blair had Jim upstairs and tucked on the couch, he changed his clothes and started buzzing around gathering this and that—liquorice root tea for Jim's cough, he said, and "I picked up a sinus bulb at the hospital pharmacy, Jim." Eventually, Sandburg puttered a little close, and Jim wrapped an arm around Blair's leg and gently steered him onto the couch next to him.
"What, Jim?" Blair sounded testy.
"So, I've been thinking about your psychosomatic theory, and the problem I have with it is—it's complete bullshit." Jim opened his eyes but everything was still mostly dark, so he followed Blair's hand back up to his shoulder and then patted him on the chest. "This isn't about me. It's about you."
"Me? You're nuts. How can I make you have psychosomatic reactions?" Blair scoffed, shifting under his hand.
Jim felt kind of bad for him, and said gently, "They're not; that's what I'm trying to tell you. First, poor Sue—I have to stand her up because I get hives. They don't use kiwi at Lenore's, so it had to be my morning orange juice, which you poured for me."
"Jim. You're not allergic to orange juice."
"Yeah, but weren't you trying out some green guava/mango/kiwi blend that week? Are you sure you used a clean glass for me? You're usually pretty fuzzy in the morning, Chief."
Silence. Then a weak, "Of course I did, Jim. I mean, I'm pretty sure—"
"Hmm." Jim blinked a couple of times. The darkness was finally lightening up a bit. "Next, poor Cindy—no, wait, it was that gorgeous Ms. Barnard—"
"Yeah, who was a witness, Jim. Let's not forget that."
Jim chuckled. He could now see the outline of Blair's stubborn jaw. "Photosensitivity, that time, and you had a cold that week. Did you stick to your homeopathic stuff? Or did you sneak a little Nyquil and maybe drop the spoon back in the drawer?"
The shadow of Blair's jaw dropped.
"And then Naomi happens to show up—did you know she was in town? Maybe give her a call to come over for lunch?"
Blair went rigid.
"And obviously I don't have to go over recent, painful events—"
"Shit. Oh, shit," Blair whispered.
Jim was glad his vision was getting better, because it looked like poor Sandburg wasn't a hundred percent anymore. He was curling up, his head dropping.
"Aw, c'mon, Chief. It's no big thing." Jim shifted closer and put a hand on Blair's rounded back.
"No big thing?" Blair said hoarsely, disbelieving. "Jim, I...I freakin' poisoned you."
"Nah. Not on purpose, not really."
"Shit, I'm a crappy guide."
"Yeah, but it was for a good cause."
He could see Blair's eyes now, watch them widen with surprise. Jim smiled and gave a final pat. Then he leaned back on his own corner of the couch and laced his hands behind his head. "There something you're not telling me, Chief? Because this would be a good time to come clean."
"Yeah. Or, I suppose you could just come over here and kiss me or something."
Blair's eyes widened just that little bit further before narrowing. "Very funny."
"Do I look like I'm kidding?" Jim could feel his heart pounding—could hear both their hearts pounding in a rapid, asynchronous clamor. That was good. At least they both were scared out of their tiny minds. Jim tried not to show it, though, because he figured Blair didn't need the added stress. It looked like he was having enough trouble dealing with his own. "Hey, Chief."
"Y-yeah?" Blair was still staring at him.
"I could swear I just asked you to lay one on me. Am I gonna have to come over there?"
"N-no. No." But Blair didn't move, just kept looking at him.
It was a good look, though. All heavy and scared and sweet with wanting. Finally, because it was such a good look on Blair, and because he still seemed frozen, Jim gave in and swung around to drop his head right into Sandburg's lap.
"My head still hurts," Jim said, as if he put his head in Sandburg's lap every day of the week. "Rub my temples for me?"
Blair never could resist a guide request, because his paralysis seemed to break, and a moment later Jim felt his strong fingers right there, hitting all the good pressure points. Jim sighed happily.
"You wouldn't kid a kidder, would you, Jim?" Blair said. His voice had dropped unusually low. The sound made Jim's cock perk right up in his pants.
"Nope. I'm being hundred percent straight with ya."
"Ha-ha," Blair muttered.
Jim laughed, and finally he couldn't take it anymore. He reached up and hauled that sweet face down, bringing the lips that had been driving him crazy for way too long right within kissing distance.
And at last Blair seemed to get it, because he bent that final inch on his own, and laid his mouth on Jim's.
Jesus, the kid was a good kisser. Soft, gentle lips contrasted by a wicked tongue that really liked to play. The taste of toner disappeared, replaced by a mouthful of Sandburg. Damned fine.
Blair's hand was resting on Jim's chest, where it started to move around idly, brushing over Jim's nipples, making them pop up under his T-shirt. Jim groaned.
Blair broke the kiss with one last peck on the corner of Jim's mouth. "Jesus."
"You said it," Jim agreed, grinning. He coughed suddenly, and then rolled away to hack some more—being on his back had brought up the gunk in his chest. He felt Sandburg's hand on his shoulder, supporting him.
"Crap," Jim said when the spasm was over. His head had gone back to pounding.
"I should get you that liquorice root." Blair sounded guilty again.
Jim rolled back over and tucked his face against Blair's waist so he could wrap an arm around him. "You're not going anywhere," Jim mumbled against Blair's flannel-covered belly.
"Okay. Sheesh." Blair gave a happy laugh.
"I've made a decision, Chief."
"Yeah?" Blair's hand covered the back of his head. Jim was sandwiched in Blair, which was pretty nice.
"Yeah—no more dating. It's too dangerous to my health."
"Damned straight," Blair said fiercely.
Good. Jim gave him another squeeze and then drifted a little in his Blair cocoon. Blair's fingertips tickled over his ear and then settled on his neck.
"Hey, Jim?" Blair whispered.
"Mm?" Jim rumbled.
"My legs are falling asleep." Whiney.
Jim grinned secretly against the warm flannel.
"Hey, you broke it, you bought it."