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Blair Sandburg sat on the couch, reading and making notes on an anthropology journal and enjoying the feeling of the late afternoon sunshine on his skin. The winter light, slanting through the window, felt rare and warm. As he sipped a beer, he thought of purring like a large cat, but decided not to.

A knock came from the door.

***

Linearity and sequentiality are vastly overvalued concepts except for use in filing.

***

Blair Sandburg sat on the couch, reading and making notes on an article in an anthropology journal that was three weeks overdue at Rainier Library. He sighed. At least, if he had to be working on the first day off in months, he had good weather for it; the winter light slanting through the window felt warm on his denim-clad legs. He purred tiredly.

A knock came from the door.

"Who is it?" He didn't want to ask; he'd spent too long on interruptions already.

"Trans-Oceanic Express, package for Dr. Blair Sandburg. Need a signature."

He sighed, put the journal and notepad aside and went to open the door. Just as a matter of habit he looked through the peephole before he did.

Nothing unusual. Nothing was ever unusual.

Blair opened the door, accepted the package, which was about the size of a breadbox but less yeasty, signed the pad, handed it back to the large brownish-gray-clad octopus, and closed the door as the multi-armed mollusk nodded at him and squidged its way back to the elevator.

The box, as he expected, contained a treatise on the appearance of Sentinels among major cetacian clans that he'd requested from the University of Atlantis at the beginning of the term.

***

Boredom is a judgment call on the nature of the beholder.

***

Blair Sandburg sat on the couch, reading and making notes on a criminology journal and enjoying the feeling of the late afternoon sunshine slanting through the window.

He raised his head suddenly. Something was burning. When he looked down he saw that his jeans were on fire, ignited by the sunlight poring through the new panes of window glass that acted as lenses to concentrate its intensity.

Blair acted instantly. He threw the beer on his jeans to put out the smoldering flames and pitched the three-pound bound Journal of Criminology through the window.

"Oh, shit," he muttered. "The landlord's really going to have it in for me. Three broken windows in four weeks. And what am I going to tell Samantha?"

***

If events repeat themselves -- and this is only a matter of probability, not of prediction -- they do not ever do so precisely in the same manner. Nothing ever happens exactly the same way more than once.

This can be considered a good thing.

But that consideration, too, is a judgment call.

***

Blair Sandburg lay on the couch, reading and making notes on an article in an anthropology journal that was three weeks overdue at Rainier Library. He sighed. At least, if he had to be working on the first day off in months, he wasn't missing the good weather; it had been pouring rain all day.

A knock came from the door.

"Come in," he called. "It's open."

The knock came again.

Blair sighed. The latch was probably stuck, for the third time today. He'd have to find the oil can and fix it; it was either under the sink or in the toolbox. He hauled himself up to a sitting position, dropped the journal and his notepad on the coffee table, and was almost all the way to his feet when the two men with guns charged through the door.

The first shot caught him in the shoulder, the second in the arm and the third in the chest.

As he fell back on the white couch, he thought of only two things: the relative distance of the all- purpose stain remover from the couch, and that he should have returned all his library materials, including the complete novels of Raymond Chandler, before they were overdue.

***

Anything is possible.

***

Blair Sandburg sat on the couch, stared out at the endless Cascade rain, and tossed aside the anthropology journal he'd been reading for the past four hours. He felt bored. Nothing ever happened to him, outside of his usual routine.

He was just about to get up and make himself a snack when the door opened and his roommate entered, dressed in black leather edged with silver chains.

"Have you been a good boy today?" asked his roommate in a sexy, threatening voice.

"No. I'm bored." He threw the words across the loft.

"Too bad. I was much worse than you." His roommate handed him the well-worn ping-pong paddle. "It's your turn."

"Bored, bored, bored," Blair sang to himself in a monotone.

***

The expected result may not be the last thing that will happen, but it's seldom the first.

***

Blair Sandburg lay upside down on the couch, his knees hooked over its padded back, reading an article in an anthropology journal. His head rested on the edge of the couch, and his hair flowed over the edge and down to the floor in long loose curls.

The door opened and his roommate came in, carrying grocery bags.

"Hey," Blair said. "What's new?"

"Sale on tofu at Greenfields. I picked up some of that nice light cheese for you, and a dozen organic brown eggs. And a new variety of algae." Jim grinned at him as he put away the packages of food. "Nice of you to finish cleaning under the couch."

"Told you I'd do it before you got back," Blair said, swishing his curls back and forth on the floor until they trailed long, ropy dust bunnies. "Besides, you said you liked your sex life down and dirty."

"Oh, yeah," Jim licked his lips. "Nice and dirty."

"Hey, man, it's all for you. Go to it." Blair unhooked his long-tressed, now-grimy hair and tossed the silky mop to his roommate, who caught it, cuddled it and ran upstairs with it. He smiled. hearing the delighted moans issuing from the upper level, murmured, "Whatever turns you on," and went on to the next article in the journal.

***

Life is an irreproducible result.

***

Blair Sandburg sat on the couch, reading and making notes on a criminology journal and listened to the sound of the rain hitting the balcony windows. It felt so good to be indoors and warm in front of the fireplace instead of outside in the dreary late autumn weather.

Jim Ellison, his roommate, came down from the upper level of the loft and stopped at the bottom of the stairs to admire the view of Blair and the firelight. The homey picture touched him deeply, but he knew one thing was missing to make it perfect.

He walked over to the back of the couch, leaned over to kiss Blair's cheek, and put his hands on Blair's shoulders.

"Mmmm," Blair purred. "Nice."

"Do you want to?"

"Now?"

"Sure, why not?" Jim's voice sounded throaty.

"All right. But I'll do you afterward."

"Of course. I'll make it so good for you."

"You always do." Blair tipped his head back to kiss Jim deeply.

Jim worked on Blair's shoulders, rubbing out all the stress and strain of the long day of reading, and massaged his scalp. When Blair was thoroughly relaxed, he started what he'd planned to do when he was standing at the foot of the stairs. He slid his fingers through the long, soft curls to separate them, and went to work.. By the time he was done, all of Blair's hair was in elegant corn rows.

"Oh, Jim, that -- that feels so wonderful." Blair ran his hands over his neatly arranged scalp. "You're so good to me."

"You're welcome, Chief." Jim pushed the coffee table aside and sat on the floor between Blair's knees with his back to the couch. "Now you'll do me?" He lifted his shoulder-blade-length hair and laid it sensuously across Blair's lap.

***

Some people warp probability. Where they are, events do not restrict themselves to following the laws of probability.

Some people are just warped.

***

Blair Sandburg sat cross-legged on the couch, reading and making notes on an article in an anthropology journal. He drained his cup of herb tea, put the cup on the coffee table clumsily -- it was a little further away than he'd realized -- and it sloshed and spilled a few drops.

"What a slob," the coffee table said. Its voice sounded too smooth, like a supercilious butler from an old movie. "And not even coffee."

"Quiet," Blair told it, turning a page. "You can be replaced."

"And you couldn't? He's had me longer than he's had you."

"He's had me more intimately," Blair said. He rapped the edge of the table with the back of his heel.

"Jealous. He'll make you clean me because he likes me better," the coffee table insisted. The smoothness in its voice had become the slightest bit raspy.

"Give me a break."

"What's so important about you, anyway? You're just another human male. He'll tire of you as he did the others."

"And you're just another straight-edge table with a twisted sense of its own importance."

"Ah, yes, but I have friends."

"Right."

"You don't believe me?"

Blair shrugged and turned a page. "Sure. You have friends."

"Yes, and you look quite tasty to one of them."

Blair's eyes widened, but it was too late to react. He felt the gap between the back of the couch and the seat enlarge, and he started to feel himself slide into the open space. As he fumbled for balance, tossing his journal in the air, the white couch's unspeakable maw opened, swallowing him whole, then closed again to appear just as it had a moment before.

The anthropology journal fluttered down to lie open on a cushion. It was ignored.

"You were right," the couch murmured in a deep, thick voice. "Definitely an acquired taste, but a good one."

"Plenty of time to acquire it, with all the samples you've had to work with."

"But he kept wiping me off," the couch complained. "How am I supposed to taste anything when it's taken from me so quickly?"

"Well, you wouldn't want to taste that substance he spilled on me. Roasted barley tea! It's awful," the coffee table mourned.

"There, there," the couch murmured. "Let's see if that documentary is on that you like. It always cheers you up."

The television, finally waking to its friends' appeal, obliged with "The X-Files."

Jim Ellison, coming home a few minutes later after a long day at the police department, picked up the mug, got a clean sponge from the kitchen and carefully wiped up the spilled barley tea, polishing the table until it gleamed. He picked up the anthropology journal, looked it over curiously and set it, closed, on the coffee table with its bottom edge precisely three and a half inches from the edge of the glass table top, then sat back on the couch and watched "The X- Files" as he waited for his roommate to return from wherever he'd gone this time.

***

Time appears to be linear only because we think we experience it that way. Many possibilities exist. Not all can be explained, or even comprehended, without the ability to consider non- dualistic alternatives.

***

Blair Sandburg sat on the couch, making notes on an article on criminology in a journal. When he finished, he stretched his arms over his head to unlock his shoulders, twisted from side to side, put the journal and the notes aside. He stood, stretched again and wandered to the balcony to check the weather, which was doing nothing but being cloudy and uncertain.

"Where the hell are you, Jim?" he complained. "You were supposed to be here an hour ago."

A knock came from the door. Blair went to answer it.

"Hey, Hairboy," Henri Brown said as he walked in, "you all ready to lose tonight?" He put two six-packs of beer and a grocery bag full of pretzels and dip on the kitchen island. "Man, what's with the long face?"

"Jim's late."

"He'll be here. You know Ellison; he can't resist a good card game. C'mon," Brown urged him, "let's get the place ready for tonight."

"You're right," Blair admitted. He took the makings for tacos out of the fridge, warmed up the chopped, spiced chicken on the stove, and let Brown answer the door as the rest of the players arrived. By the time they'd all shown up, the food was ready, the loft was ready and the only missing ingredient for the evening was Jim himself.

Blair took over as host, not without some inner qualms. He bet moderately the first few hands, won a little from Simon and Rafe, lost to Megan, won more from Samantha, lost to Joel, and won again from Brown and Carolyn.

Unfortunately, as the evening drew on, the margaritas became stronger instead of weaker. His betting ability, usually reliable, grew erratic and he started losing. Worse, his memory was playing tricks on him, and in the middle of a hand he wouldn't remember what he'd bet at the beginning.

In the last hand, he had four twos. Four of a kind. He thought he'd have a chance at regaining some of his lost wealth, so he threw in an IOU. Carolyn, however, laid four queens down on the table and picked up the IOU.

"You know," she said, hiding a smile, "I've always wanted to live in a loft."

"You bet the loft? Ellison's going to kill you," Simon exclaimed.

The door flew open on its hinges. "Hiya, guys," Jim Ellison said as he staggered in, his arm around Cassie's shoulders. "Sorry to in'errup' you, but I've got n-n-news." He hiccupped, loudly and alcoholically, and it was obvious that if Jim was three sheets to the wind those sheets were all California king-sized. "Blair, buddy, h'w are ya?"

"You've got news," Rafe muttered. "Blair lost the deed to the loft to Carolyn."

"I'm really sorry, Jim," Blair said, and he was sorry. He also knew he'd be a whole lot sorrier when the hangover from the margaritas kicked in, in its full glory, in a few hours just when his roommate was yelling at him.

"Nev'min, San'bur'," Jim said. "Got n-news." He seemed to be trying to focus his eyes on something smaller than the universe, but it didn't seem to be working.

"What kind of news?" Simon asked. He went and put his arm around Ellison and assisted him to a chair; Cassie had been having trouble supporting most of the man's weight herself.

"'M in love, Cap'n. So much in love," Jim beamed up at him mistily. "Gave her my heart. Gave her my loft."

"You can't do that!" came from Carolyn and Blair simultaneously. The rest of the crowd prepared to get out of the way of firearms, checked for first-aid kits for the wounded and conferred on the list of places to hide any bodies.

"'S awright," Jim assured them. "We c'n stay til th' end of the month."

Carolyn squared off with Cassie. Blair looked from one of them to the other with concern undimmed by his present condition.

"I can't believe this is happening," he said.

Wait a minute, his laboring brain told him. Try that again. Remember Kant. I think, therefore, I am. I believe, therefore, it exists.

Blair squared his shoulders, opened his mouth and said firmly, "I disbelieve."

And he stood by the balcony doors, looking at the late afternoon clouds, waiting alone for Jim to return.

***

There's nothing either right or wrong but thinking makes it so.

There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Dichotomies aren't; beyond the either/or lie the maybe, the if, and the other hand.

***

Blair Sandburg sat on the couch, reading and making notes on an anthropology journal and enjoying the feeling of the late afternoon sunshine on his skin. The winter light, slanting through the window, felt rare and warm. As he sipped a beer, he purred like a large cat, pleased with the taste of beer in his throat and the comfort of the well-padded couch after the straight wooden chairs in his Rainier office.

A knock came from the door. "Hey, Sandburg, give me a hand here."

"Sure thing." Blair opened the door and caught the third bag of groceries as it started to slip from Jim's arm. With the coordination born of long experience, the two men moved around each other easily as they put away groceries and household supplies.

"What've you been doing today, Chief?"

"Getting caught up on anthro reading." Blair ran a hand through his hair, glad he'd had the ends trimmed before it had become thoroughly ratty. "Did you know there's a tribe of people that think they've found a way to experience multiple simultaneous realities?"

"Isn't that called Gamblers Anonymous?" Jim teased. He set aside a few carrots, celery and green onions on the counter, and took down the wok from storage. Blair took the wok from him, set it on the burner, and brought out soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. He started to chop the garlic and ginger.

"No, get real here, man. According to the article, they allow the discontinuities in their lives to accumulate and use those to ride the timestreams to alternate universes."

"Discontinuities. Timestreams. Have you been watching too many 'X-Files' repeats?" Jim took out a package of calamari and another of octopus and began expertly cleaning and dicing it as Blair warmed up the wok. "What do you mean by discontinuities, anyway?"

"When you remember something as deeply as the rest of your memories, different from what the rest of the world thinks happened, but the evidence could support either your version or everyone else's."

Jim decided to ignore the casual use of the term 'evidence.' "Such as?"

"Well, my friend Greg is absolutely certain he saw Boris Karloff in the movie of 'Arsenic and Old Lace.' If you look at the movie, there's a character who refers to himself as looking like Boris Karloff, but he was played by Raymond Massey." Blair waved his hands to illustrate the difference. "Now, Karloff may well have played the role on Broadway, but if he did, it was probably years before Greg was born, and I doubt it was filmed; they didn't do that back then. So, if Greg saw Boris Karloff in 'Arsenic and Old Lace', when did he see it? There's only one movie, and it's the Massey one, so it's a discontinuity."

"And this tribe would say that there's another version of the movie where Karloff plays the character who says he looks like Karloff." Jim shook his head. "I suppose you want to believe in this?"

"It's an interesting concept," Blair said. "It would help explain some of the odder things that have happened, like your visions or my dreams."

"What, like animal spirit guides, or mystical temples deep in the forest?" Jim's voice was the slightest bit sarcastic. A rumbling growl sounded behind and above him. "Keep your claws in. You'll get fed," he said. "If you don't want seafood, you can go hunting for yourself, you know." The grumble subsided, and the large black velvet piece of unreality with its paws hanging off the edge of the upstairs bedroom blinked enormous golden eyes and pretended to ignore the whole exchange.

"No, because we know those are real; we've both experienced them." Blair tried to think of an example in Jim's life, other than the dreams and visions. "Okay. Here's one. I'm certain that I didn't drink the last of the roasted barley tea, but the box of teabags is empty." He showed Jim the empty box. "And you don't drink it, do you?"

"No way, Chief. You've got me there," he admitted. "Then again, Naomi does drink it, and she might have finished the box when she was here last week for that international table-tennis tournament."

"Yeah." Blair checked the wok; the hot cooking oil was ready. He tossed in the ginger and the garlic and stirred in a few drops of sesame oil, and then began to add the chopped vegetables. "So, when do you think you're going to see her again?"

"In a few minutes; she's coming over for dinner." Jim pushed the chopping board of seafood toward Blair. "She's an interesting woman."

"I didn't think you two would get along at all, at first. It's a real relief that you like each other so much."

"Glad you think so, Chief." Jim mixed the scraps of the seafood with a good-sized serving of Purina Spirit-Guide Chow and took the bowl of food upstairs. A happy growl greeted him, and from below Blair could hear sounds of bodies rolling in the upper room and thudding gently against the furniture.

Blair didn't even look up as he said, "Shadow, stop playing with your dinner." He stirred the seafood into the wok and added a little white wine. "Jim, we're almost ready down here."

Jim came down the stairs and went to the door. "Hi, Naomi," he said, and kissed her cheek. "What's all this?"

"Well, you said you were tired of cleaning that old white couch and the glass-topped coffee table, so I bought you new furniture," Naomi explained, "as an engagement present." She held the door open for two burly men who carried in an overstuffed couch in shades of green and brown and a coffee table made by hand from one crosscut slice of an enormous tree. "They had such wonderful vibrations, I couldn't resist."

"Thank you, Naomi. That's very considerate," Jim said as the men took away the slightly dingy white couch and the glass-topped coffee table that he'd never, really, thought he'd been able to keep adequately clean. "I'm sure Margaret will be thrilled. She loves your taste."

"She's going to adore them, Naomi. Sorry I can't hug you right now, but I'm kind of busy here," Blair said as he divided the stir-fry meal into four servings. "Here, you want to carry these to the table?"

"For my favorite son, anything," Naomi said, kissing him on the cheek as she picked up two plates. "What time is she getting home?"

"Right now," Jim said, opening the door for Margaret, whom he wrapped in a big hug and kiss as he swept her off her feet.

"Hello, honey," Margaret said softly as she reached up to kiss Jim back. "I brought the wine."

"I've always admired your taste in wine," Jim told her, giving her another little squeeze before he put her down. He took her coat and watched with pleasure as his fiance went to the kitchen to kiss his soon-to-be-official-co-husband as well.

"The food's getting cold, Blair. Eat now, play later." Naomi said with a smile, watching her son and his loves.

***

Anything is possible. Some things are less likely than others.

Probability is a measurement of past performance, not a prediction of the future.

***

Blair Sandburg sat on the couch, as the sunlight faded on a late winter afternoon, making notes on an article on criminology in a journal. When he finished, he stretched his arms over his head to unlock his shoulders, twisting from side to side. As he put the journal and the notes aside, the phone rang and he went to answer it.

"Sandburg."

"Hey, Chief, a bunch of the guys are going to Riley's in a few minutes for food and beer; you want to come along or are you still busy?"

Blair's stomach rumbled. "Are you kidding? I can taste that calamari pizza and Sam Adams already. I'll meet you there."

"Great. How'd it go for you on your day off? Did you get a lot done?"

"Uh-huh. Caught up on about a year's worth of the Journal of Criminology, but nothing else happened. It was pretty quiet here. Nice. How did court go?"

"Same-old. No problems. We got a conviction on the armed robbery case." Jim's voice faced for a moment, then returned. "What? Okay, we're ready to roll. See you there."

Blair hung up the phone, grabbed his jacket off the hook and put it on, picked up his backpack and left, locking the door behind him.

Behind him, the loft settled itself for the night with the usual small creaking noises as the building cooled. A last dim ray of light glanced off the coffee table's glass top and struck the white couch, next to the criminology journal. In the bookshelf, behind the couch, a paperback novel by Raymond Chandler that had been shoved back into the bookshelf quickly before the poker game last weekend wavered on an edge and fell to the floor.

It wasn't Blair's book; it was one of Jim's that he brought out to read when he had insomnia, which happened a lot less frequently since Blair had become a detective.

The book, undamaged by the fall, lay a little open on the floor. Its bookmark, a glassine envelope, opened slightly to spill the end of one long strand of dark hair out to curl over the cut edges of the pages and onto the gleaming hardwood.