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In Another Man's Nikes

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FRIDAY AFTERNOON

Simon Banks looked down at his hands, which were currently holding a thick three-ring binder.  "What the hell is this?" he asked Blair, who'd just handed it to him.

"You said you'd cover for me while I'm gone next week. This is a compilation of things you might need to know to support Jim. Sorry it isn't more formal.  Mostly, it's notes I've taken on what went right or wrong, what we did to fix things when they did go wrong, what kind of innovations we used, how to explain how Jim found things without revealing his senses…"  Blair trailed off when he saw Simon's alarmed face. "Don't worry, Simon, the chances that you're going to need this are slim.  Jim's been doing really well and he often works without my help these days.  It's… just in case."  He waved and left Simon's office with a jaunty, "See you in a week."

*****

SATURDAY/SUNDAY

Simon dutifully skimmed the contents over the weekend, but it gave him a headache and he put it down.  The most curious items were in small zippered pouches in the back, the kind that would contain pencils and pens. Instead, one had some small menthol lozenges, butterfly bandages, and packets of aspirin, Benadryl and ibuprofen.   Another had a piece of Velcro and a little clicking device Simon recognized as a dog-training tool, something that made him snort a laugh.  A third had a black sleeping mask and a small flashlight that shone either a steady or flashing beam. The fourth contained a square of cloth.  He remembered reading the first page of the 'zoning' section, explaining that a zone happened when Jim focused on one sense to the exclusion of the others and got lost in it.  The solution in most cases was for Blair to stimulate a different sense.  Hoping that he wouldn't have to use anything in the book, Simon found a messenger bag and put the binder in it, so it would be handy but inconspicuous.  

*****

Saturday, Jim decided that the loft needed a good cleaning. He pulled out a dust mop to which he'd attached an extra handle, allowing him to reach the ceilings.  Blair had laughed when he saw the contraption, but Jim was happy with the results.  He ignored a little voice that told him he was using it while Blair was absent so he wouldn't have to listen to any ragging.  After completing the ceilings, he proceeded to dust all surfaces and mopped the floors.  Next, he tackled the bathroom and kitchen; by midday, they were gleaming.  He decided to wait until after lunch to do the laundry.

He opened the freezer, looking for something easy to defrost.  He smiled when he saw a number of containers, all dated and labeled.  There was also a note from Blair:

          Jim- in case things get busy at work, here are some quick meals.  Don't forget to make a salad! -Blair.

He was about to choose a container when the phone rang.  Lunch with Steven sounded more appealing than eating alone, and he spent an enjoyable afternoon with his brother.

When he finally made it home, he decided it was too late to start laundry and watched the Jags game until bedtime.

Sunday he woke bright and early to a beautiful, clear day. It seemed a shame to waste it on laundry, so he pulled out his fishing equipment and spent the day at one of their favorite streams.  Except that Blair wasn't there to tease, it was a perfect day.

*****

MONDAY/TUESDAY

The next two Blair-less days went well.  Jim had court all day Monday.  While he grumbled at how slowly justice moved, especially while he was hanging around waiting to testify, by the end of the day the case was in the jury's hands.  He checked in with Simon, who had nothing pressing for him.  Jim got home and opened the fridge for a beer, remembering the meals in the freezer.  Sending silent thanks to his missing friend, he put some meatloaf in the microwave.  By the time he'd showered and changed into sweats, it was ready to eat.  He sat down to dinner, wishing Blair was there to share his day.

Tuesday was a slow day for everyone in Major Crime.  Although he tried to volunteer to go on existing cases, they were all well in hand.  Simon looked pointedly at the pile of paperwork waiting for Jim to complete and file.  Wishing Blair was there to help him, Jim started on the pile and got a surprisingly large number of reports finished before he quit for the day.


*****

WEDNESDAY

When Jim arrived Wednesday morning, Simon called him into his office.  He offered Jim some of his own coffee, always a sign that something important--or unpleasant--was in the works.

"What are we supposed to do with this?" Jim asked, looking at papers Simon handed him.

"Try to prevent it from happening in Cascade," Simon answered.  He picked up the carafe of coffee and topped off their cups, waiting while Jim read through the information, giving him time to absorb it.

Jim took a long drink, needing the caffeine, and looked again at the papers.  "So, there's a series of high-end thefts that have taken place over the last three months, all within the state."

Simon nodded.  "At least we think so.  Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, Bellingham, Spokane, Everett, Kent and Puyallup. Most of the thefts were of paintings, but there was one diamond necklace and a Faberge egg."

"You're joking, I thought those were all in Russia."

"It was something called a Kelch egg, not made for the tsar but still made by Faberge and still very valuable."

"And why do you think they might strike in Cascade?"

"Simply good odds.  All the others are in the State's most populous cities. Vancouver and Renton haven't been hit yet either, but Cascade is bigger and wealthier than either of them."

Jim rubbed his head, trying to ward off a headache.  "I wish Sandburg was here."

Simon looked worried.  "Why, are you going to zone or something?"  He looked around for the messenger bag.

"No," Jim huffed.  "Not everything is about the senses.  He'd look at what we have here and in about two hours he'd have researched it and come up with a good working theory."

"Well, I'm not Sandburg, but I was once a pretty good detective myself, and you are, too.  Why don't we start by getting the details of each theft. Maybe we can see a pattern."  Jim nodded.

*****

The next several hours were spent rounding up and reading the detailed reports from the various PDs where the museums were hit.  Simon commandeered a conference room, one that they often used for cases that required room for a lot of evidence or a lot of personnel.  One entire wall was covered with pin boards; a white board filled another wall. On the white board were three columns, listing what was stolen, where it was stolen, and when it was stolen.   On the pin board, they'd affixed a large Washington map with pins at each theft location then attached a string to the pins, connecting them in the order of the thefts.

They'd been staring at the boards, spit-balling ideas and coming up with squat.  "We're missing something," Jim said, wishing for the nth time that Blair was there.  He was sure Blair's input would provide that missing piece.

"What about insurance?" Simon asked suddenly.  "Who gains and loses here?"

Jim sat up and started going through the reports.  "You might be on to something, Simon.  Every one of these pieces was stolen from museums or galleries, but they're all privately owned."  He showed the reports to Simon.  "Each was on loan for special exhibitions.  What are the chances of that?"

Simon nodded.  "No such thing as coincidences.  Maybe we should talk to the owners. But first," he said, patting his stomach, "let's grab some lunch."

*****

It took the rest of the afternoon for them to contact each owner of the stolen pieces.  By agreement, Simon led the questioning while Jim listened to the responses, hoping his hearing could detect either a waver in the answer or an accelerated heartbeat, indicating a possible clue.

The first call was a little rocky. Simon's booming voice, which strangers tended to find intimidating, prevented Jim from hearing those delicate telltales.

As Simon picked up the phone to make the next call, Jim put his hand on Simon's arm. "Simon, you're going to have to lower the volume and the tone.  We're trying to discover if these people know anything that can help us, not cross-examine them like they're perps.  Try to be, you know, a little sympathetic.  Blair usually tries to let them know how bad we feel about their loss and how hard we're trying to solve their cases."

"I'm not Sandburg," Simon growled.

Jim just shrugged.  "I'm just saying.  You know, catching more flies with honey."

Simon glared at him, but his method changed with the next call.  

The next three went well, with Jim saying he couldn't hear anything off in the victims' answers.  He started rubbing his head, trying to ward off a headache.  By the time Simon hung up on the next call, he noticed that Jim had zoned.  A simple shove got him out of it, and Jim shook his head, chagrined.  "Maybe we should break," Jim admitted, rubbing his head again.  "I need something to eat."

Simon pulled out a packet from the binder. "You look like you could use these, too," he said, handing Jim a packet of aspirin. He filled Jim's cup with some fresh coffee. "Caffeine makes aspirin work better," he said.

"That's what Sandburg says," Jim said, downing the pills.

Simon rolled his eyes.  "No kidding," he said, pointing to the packet.  On it was clearly written: take these with coffee.

While they ate their favorite pastries, courtesy of the donut girl (Simon got a pineapple turnover, Jim a cheese Danish), Simon remembered Blair's notes about preventing zones.  Simon pulled out the binder and found the Velcro.  "Here," he said, handing it to Jim.  Maybe you can rub this between your fingers to prevent a zone?"

Jim looked at it. "Thanks, sir.  Blair suggests splitting attention between two senses, so this is perfect."

They got through the rest of the calls without incident, then went back to their 'war room' to debrief.

"Well," Simon said in a discouraged voice, "I don't know how much that helped.  Every one of them has held off collecting from their insurance companies, hoping the pieces will be recovered.  Did you get anything from listening in?"

Jim shook his head.  "Not much.  With the exception of Barney Frasier, they all sounded sincere."

"What'd you hear from Frasier?"

"He sounded a little nervous, but not out-and-out lying."

"Well," Simon said, leaning back in his chair.  "one thing we did find is a pattern.  They're all expensive pieces owed privately and lent to museums for special exhibits. Let's find out if any Cascade museums fit that scenario."

It took only a few phone calls to discover that the Matheson Museum, which specialized in Native American pottery, was going to exhibit a Georgia O'Keeffe painting starting the following Saturday.  The painting belonged to Nathan Freeman, one of the first families of Cascade. No other museum had any special exhibition scheduled.  Simon alerted the captain of Burglary to the facts, and he agreed to set up extra patrols and a stakeout.

"That takes care of the possible Cascade target," Jim said, "but we still don't know if that's their next target and who they are.  Since we have a few days before the opening, I'd like to inspect a couple of the other hits."

Simon looked at the list. "Okay, the most recent theft was in Kent.  Let's call their department and head over there tomorrow when the museum opens."

*****

THURSDAY

Mitch Conley, from Kent PD's Burglary squad, met them at the front of the Crafton Museum, where the diamond necklace had been stolen.  "I can't tell you much," he said as they entered the building.  "Looks like they came in from the roof, entering through the access door.  But how they got up there has everyone stumped.  There's no fire escape to climb up and no one heard a helicopter which might have dropped them. Forensics didn't find anything--not a print, not a hair."  After a few more questions, Conley wished them luck and left.

Jim started by looking at the roof door, confirming that it had been picked.  There were no fingerprints, but he hadn't expected any.  He then started out from the door to the edge of the building, walking the perimeter, staring, looking for some clue.  Simon watched silently, not wanting to interrupt.  He looked around, wondering whether lighting a cigar would interfere with Jim's perusal.  When he turned to ask, Jim was stock still.  Zoning, he realized and was alarmed to see how close to the edge Jim was.  He couldn't simply jolt him out of it.

Simon pulled out the binder, keeping a wary eye on Jim while he thumbed through Blair's notes. In the section on "sight and hearing", Blair wrote about how these were Jim's strongest and most-used senses, and one solution didn't always work.  At the top of one page was a note scribbled to him:

          Simon, don't smack or shove Jim, the way you did during the Marten case. Jim's black ops training might make him lash out.

Simon huffed at the note, then continued looking for suggestions.  

Blair noted because both were so strong, using one was successful in getting Jim out of a zone involving the other.

Simon tried yelling Jim's name.  Perhaps my voice is too familiar.  Next, Simon opened a pouch and pulled out the dog clicker.  He tried clicking it from where he stood, then slowly moved closer, clicking all the time.  When he'd covered about half the distance, he saw Jim take a deep breath and shake his head.  He looked around at Simon then at the clicker questioningly.

"Another zone," Simon confirmed.  "What's going on, Jim?  I thought that didn't happen anymore."

"It doesn't," Jim replied.  "I don't know why it's happening now.  I'll have to ask Sandburg."

"Well, he's not here right now."  I wish he was, dammit. "Did you find anything before you slipped into la-la land?"

Jim made a face but nodded.  "Yeah.  I was looking at some chips in the cement ledge.  They seem familiar…" Jim stopped talking.

"Ellison, don't you zone on me again!" Simon shouted.

Jim rolled his eyes.  "I'm not zoning; I'm thinking.  These marks look familiar." He looked hard at them, trying to remember. "Damn!" he exclaimed. "They're the same marks as the McCarthy brothers' robberies. They used a grappling hook to string a tightrope from…" He looked around and pointed, "…that building."

"Let's get out of here," Simon suggested.  "We'll call the other PDs to find out whether it looks like the same M.O."

"You'll call them," Jim answered.  "I've got another hunch to track down."

*****

"Okay," Simon said, hanging up the conference room phone. "All of the robberies seem to be done by acrobats.  Sometimes it was that tightrope trick, other times they scaled the buildings and cut holes in the plate glass; another one looks like they strung a zip line to travel across and got in through a window." He pulled an aspirin packet from Blair's stash and took them with a gulp of cold coffee, making a face. "Another thing they have in common is the stolen items were the only things stolen; in fact, they were the only things of significant value in the exhibitions.  Jim, these were all very small museums that had the good fortune to have these big-ticket items on loan.  That's why it was so easy to rob--none of them had more than basic security in place." He sat back in his chair, watching as Jim added more pins and another connecting string to the map.  "So, what did you find out?"

Jim stepped back to look at his handiwork.  Every point where the two lines intersected was also the site of a robbery.  "You're not going to believe this," he said, pointing to the new string.  "That's the route of a circus, specifically the Merry Time, which travels through Washington and Oregon, wintering in Arizona. This covers their stops for the last five months.  They stay at each stop anywhere from three to seven days.  As you can see, it's not a very efficient route; they crisscrossed several times.  But," he said with a triumphant smirk, "the dates they were in the cities in question all match up--perfectly. And look where they're playing next," he said, holding up a flyer announcing their arrival in Cascade.

Simon whistled. "If that's true, we've got a helluva theft ring about to fall in our laps.  But there's not enough evidence for a warrant.  What do you want to do?"

Jim shrugged.  "If it's them, we'll have to assume they'll hit the Matheson. Look here." He pointed to the white board where he'd added another column: the dates the circus played in each city. "They've never hit when they're still setting up; it's always a day or two before the end of their run.  We should update Captain Navarro, so he can catch them if they hit.  Meanwhile, unless they have a fence who travels with them, they might still have at least a few of the pieces hidden." He grinned without humor.  "I think tomorrow we should go to the circus.  And sir," he said, looking at his boss' impeccable suit, "Wear something to blend in, huh?"

*****

Despite his best detective's reassurances, Simon wasn't at all comfortable with the sensory troubles he'd witnessed.  He made himself a dinner of chicken and rice, then sat down to read more of Blair's notes. Although he didn't have time to commit the material to memory, he was able to see patterns. Most of the information fell into three categories: zoning, sensory spiking, and finding ways to make the senses more useful.  He recognized things that happened to Jim on cases, like the pain spike from when he was wounded protecting Angie Ferris. Simon was impressed despite himself with the solution of 'dialing down' the pain and how Jim was then able to apply the same concept to all his senses, learning to turn them up and down at will. He was alarmed to read about an early zone on the mined bridge when Lee Brackett forced them onto a secret CIA lab. He remembered clearly how nudging Jim had quickly snapped him out of a zone when Brent Marten was killed.  Surely that meant that, even if Jim did zone occasionally, it would be easy to get him out of it.

He came across some of Blair's earliest notes written after the Switchman case.  Simon was again impressed with how Blair had guided Jim to separate out the smell of roses from all the smells in the farmers market and even more impressed that Jim was able to do it so quickly. He read with chagrin the odyssey of finding Veronica Sarris through the combination of smells Jim identified on the watch cap yarn, remembering how he'd belittled Jim when Ellison had asked for a search warrant.  He hadn't even listened when Jim connected the dots--her relationship to Jim's dead teammate for whose death she blamed Jim, her Navy demolitions experience, her subsequent discharge due to mental instability and how the bombings had started two months after she left the psychiatric hospital.  Sandburg, practically a stranger, had believed in Jim, had supported him as he tracked down Sarris and helped Jim find the bus bomb, risking his life to do it.  Simon shook his head and closed the binder.  Enough for tonight.

*****

FRIDAY

Jim nodded approval at Simon's plaid shirt and blue jeans.  "You're even starting to look like Sandburg," he smirked as Simon got in Jim's truck.  
Simon didn't dignify it with an answer. "Where's the circus setting up?"

"Memorial Park. They arrived last night."

"You went out there?  Why didn't you call me?"

Jim shrugged.  "It was a simple reconnaissance mission.  They have some carnival attractions already set up, so we should be able to wander around and not attract attention."

"And what exactly are you hoping to find?"

Jim shook his head.  "I don't know… exactly.  I want to check out all the performers, especially the tight-rope walkers.  Maybe see some nervousness or overhear a bit of conversation.  Snoop around any containers big enough to hold the paintings if we get a chance.  That sort of thing."

Simon shrugged.  "Okay.  I enjoy fishing as well as the next man.  Let's go."

*****

They wandered in a seemingly random fashion, Jim stopping occasionally to look and listen.  He watched the trapeze and high-wire artists practice, unfurling his hearing to see if they were saying anything incriminating.  All of them had elevated heart rates, but that could easily be explained by their exertions.  He shook his head slightly to let Simon know and continued wandering.  

Simon nudged Jim, murmuring a suggestion that they check out the management trailer.  They bought ice cream cones from a stand and meandered, drawing slowly closer to the trailer, where Jim heard two men talking.  

"Carlo checked it out last night. Looks simple."

"Good. The last one was dicey.  When do we unload?"

Our next stop is Blaine. A quick trip over the border and we're done."

"The crew's getting nervous--wanting to get their cut.  How about I take what we've got and do an early meet?"

"I don't give a fuck how nervous the crew is. It's your job to keep them under control and get them to follow the plan. If you can't do it, I'll find someone who can. Got it?"

"Yeah," came the angry reply.  The door flew open and a dark-haired man stomped out of the trailer. "We'll see who's in charge," he mumbled to himself.

"Trouble in paradise," Jim said quietly. "It sounds like they've got everything here and are meeting the fence just over the Canadian border, probably in Surrey. The guy who flew out of there wants to take what they've got and fence it now. The boss nixed it."

Jim tossed the last of his ice cream cone and walked over to a hot dog stand.  He paid for hot dogs and lemonade for them both, then walked out to a table well away from any other people.  He used the food and drink to hide his mouth as he said, "If that guy gets the jitters, he could take off with the stuff."

"Tailing him would be difficult.  Not enough people around to hide us."  Simon looked around.  "Do you have anything in your bag of tricks that might help us find the contraband?"

Jim made a face.  "Well, I don't have x-ray vision and trying to listen to that guy as he wanders around won't work."

Simon thought, trying to remember some of Blair's notes.  "What about smell?  Those paintings are oil and canvas--would that work?"

"Yeah," Jim began sarcastically, "picking out old oil paint and dust from sawdust and carnival food and the smells of…" he looked around, "monkeys and tigers and elephants and washed and unwashed people is going to be a real treat."

"I don't hear a 'no'."

Jim sighed.  "I don't know, maybe.  I've been to enough museums with Sandburg to know what the smell is like.  But I don't know if I can filter out all these other smells."

Simon looked thoughtful.  "Maybe we can stack things in your favor.  The paintings aren't going to be near the animals or the sawdust--they're probably in packing crates. Why don't I spring for churros and let's take another stroll."

*****

Simon thanked whoever was listening that he'd had the foresight to read Blair's notes the night before.  He slowly walked Jim through identifying and dismissing smell after smell.  After two mini-zones and an obfuscation about Jim and epilepsy told to a curious roustabout, Jim was sure at least one or two paintings were in crates piled at the back of the main tent behind some electrical equipment.  Simon called Rafe, who showed up to stake out the area.

Still trying to figure a way to convince a judge to give them a warrant ("yes, Your Honor, I just happened to smell the paintings as I passed by the circus tent" wouldn't fly), Jim and Simon decided to look inconspicuous by taking in the matinee show.  Jim, Velcro in hand, tried to listen in on the high wire and trapeze artists, still believing one or more of them were the culprits. Unfortunately, the crowd's noise made it difficult and, already nursing a headache from the earlier zones, Jim gave it up for a lost cause.  

Simon passed Jim a bucket of popcorn and, when he didn’t grab any, discovered Jim looking straight at the trapeze act. Shit! Another zone, Simon thought, and it's sight, his strongest sense.  He remembered reading how the stronger the zone the harder it was to retrieve Jim.  His memory went back to an unusual entry about a hard zone Blair had faced.  He'd tried several things, to no avail.  In desperation, he tried a quick kiss.  I don't know whether it was my touch, my taste, or the smell of my shampoo, but Jim came out of it.  He didn't remember it and I couldn't tell him, so it remains a mystery.   After reading that, Simon realized what the square of cloth must be--a piece of clothing that had Blair's scent.  Since Simon wasn't willing to kiss Jim, he pulled out the cloth and stuck it under Jim's nose.

The effect was immediate--Jim took a deep breath and shook himself like a wet dog trying to get dry. He looked at the cloth, then at Simon. Before Simon could say anything, Jim grabbed his arm and said quietly, "Look at that redhead in the silver and gold outfit. You're not going to believe this--that stolen necklace is sewn into her costume."

Simon squinted, then looked around.  He asked to borrow binoculars from a man next to them and focused.  "Well, I'll be damned.  You know what this means?"

Jim grinned.  "Yeah, we witnessed someone in possession of stolen property, so we don't need a warrant. Round up the troops, sir."

Simon stepped out of the tent, quickly calling in the closest available units, requesting as many unmarked cars as possible.  He updated Rafe and they moved to the parking lot to coordinate the take-down.  They waited until the matinee show was over and the spectators had exited. Rafe and Simon joined Jim, who barged into the dressing room and arrested Maria D'Angelo, trapeze artist and wife of Frank D'Angelo, owner of the Merry Time Circus. She was still wearing her costume. It was fortunate for her that Frank was handcuffed, otherwise he might have done Maria great bodily harm. "Stupid bitch," he said with feeling, as he was led away.

Jim cleared the dressing room and used it as an impromptu interrogation room.  Faced with the possibility of years in prison, Michelle broke down and showed them where the rest of the stolen items were hidden.  Although the 15th Precinct was physically closer, Central Precinct had more personnel and jail cells, so every member of the circus was transported there. The innocent were sorted from the guilty over the long hours that followed their arrests.

*****

The entire day shift of Major Crime stayed, including Rhonda, who ordered food and drinks set up in a conference room.  She also contacted the other cities' PDs, who sent representatives to get in on the interrogations, argue over jurisdiction or join in the celebration.

Finally, finally there was nothing left to be done that evening. Arraignments were set for the morning, the evidence was safely locked up, reports were written and visiting officers were tucked in their hotel beds.  Simon and Jim walked over to the conference room looking for food and were pleasantly surprised with what was left.  They carried their full plates to Simon's office, and he made a fresh pot of coffee.  Once cups were poured, he sat down, his face serious.

"Jim, you did an awesome job cracking this case, but I need you to level with me.  I thought zoning was a thing of the past--how long has this been going on?"

"I honestly don't know what happened this week.  I haven't zoned in months."

"Then why did Sandburg give me so much information?"

"What are you talking about?"

Simon opened the messenger bag and handed Jim the binder.  He watched as Jim flipped through the pages.  

"Simon, these are mostly old cases or things that happened over the last two years, nothing recent. I don't know why he gave you all this or why I had so much trouble." Jim sighed.  "The guy who usually figures out all the answers isn't here."

"I thought I'd find you here," came a welcome voice. Blair looked at the remains of their meal. "Geez, Jim, tell me that isn't the only stuff you ate all week.  Did you even touch a vegetable? And French fries don't count," he added as Jim opened his mouth to respond.

"Sandburg," Simon said, getting up from his chair, "I stopped getting nagged about my eating habits after I got divorced… except when I see you. I'm ready to head out. We'll continue this tomorrow," he said to Jim.  He picked up the binder and shoved it into Blair's arms.  "Fortunately, I didn't have to kiss him." With that, he left.

Jim looked at Blair, who'd just turned a bright red.  "Something you want to tell me, Chief?"

"I will if you will.  Simon sounded a little frustrated.  What went on while I was gone?"

Jim stood and draped his arm around Blair's shoulders. "It's a long story.  All I can say is I'm glad you're back."  With that he got his jacket and they headed down to the parking garage.

*****

Jim told him enough in the elevator that Blair put out his hand for Jim's keys, giving Jim some aspirin and a bottle of water before he turned the ignition.  In the loft, he bustled Jim into the shower and brought him soft sweats, which he laid on the toilet.  Blair then went into the kitchen and made comfort food: tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  

After they ate, they sat on the couch and went through a debrief that was, by now, routine.  Jim told Blair what happened, Blair asked questions that prompted more information, all the while he scribbled notes.  

When Blair finally called a halt, Jim sat back and looked at him, worry in his eyes. "Do I zone that often and is it just that you're there to stop it?"

Blair looked at him in surprise.  "No, no!  You haven’t zoned in months, maybe a year.  I'd have to check my notes to be sure."

"Then, why did it happen? And, if I'm not zoning, why did you give Simon that binder?"

"That wasn't because I thought you needed it; I didn't even think he'd need to open it.  It was, you know, just in case.  I didn't want him to be caught flat-footed because I'd be gone all week."  Blair sighed.  

"Look, Chief, I have faith in you.  You'll figure this out. In the meantime…"

"Yeah?" Blair asked, suspicious at Jim's change in tone.

"What was that remark Simon said about a kiss?"

Blair blushed for the second time that day.  "I… I didn't realize I'd put that note in there.  I was in such a rush to get everything collected for Simon.  I didn't edit anything, just stuffed it all in the binder."

"Okay, but that doesn't answer the question."

"It was the Dillon case, remember? We were in the warehouse, pinned down and you were returning fire in three different directions." Jim nodded.  "SWAT threw in a flash-bang and rushed the place.  Your sight and hearing spiked at the same time and put you into a hard zone; I couldn't reach you.  I was desperate and afraid they'd find you there, not to mention you were the one holding the gun and protecting us. And I didn't have anything on me to bring you out of it."

"And…?"

"And I kissed you, okay?" he said, a little defensively. "I thought either the scent of my shampoo or my taste or touch would help.  And it did--it's like everything re-set. You snapped right out of it and got the upper hand."

Jim looked at him.  "You mean I didn't dream that?"

Blair looked doubtfully at him. "That would be a pretty crazy dream, Jim, even for you."

Jim gave him an impatient look.  "No, I mean I thought I dreamed that you kissed me." He looked thoughtful and soft all at the same time. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"I was embarrassed," Blair admitted, "and afraid.  Technically, it was an assault. You were unconscious so couldn't give your consent. I didn't know If you'd slug me or kiss me back.  I was afraid to know which."

Jim gave him a slow grin. "Can you tell which now?" Blair stared at him, wide-eyed.  "I'm of sound mind.  Want to give it another try?"

Blair smiled shyly and moved closer, then suddenly put his hand on Jim's chest.  "Wait a minute. This could change everything."

Jim put his hand over Blair's, trying to convey his sincerity with touch.  "I sure hope so." He finished covering the distance and put his lips on Blair's, softly at first, then stronger.  Blair returned it enthusiastically, stopping only to catch his breath and say "wow".  

"I'm not sure whether it's smell or taste or touch, Chief.  I think we need to do a few more tests."

Blair grinned.  "Yeah, I can see we'll need to do a lot more testing.  What say we move this somewhere more comfortable?"

*****

Blair was lying on Jim, his head on Jim's shoulder.  They were enjoying a post-coital glow; both a little amazed at the turn their relationship had taken.  "Hey, I think I have a theory."

"Of course you do.  Can't it wait until the honeymoon is over, at least?"

Blair gave him a gentle smack on his chest. "Hey, our honeymoon hasn't even started.  I'm thinking Hawaii, or maybe Bali." Jim snorted.  "So, what do you think of this?  We've been working together nearly non-stop and you've got a handle on your senses, right?" Jim shrugged. "Well, excluding this week.  Anyway, you don't really need me for things like zones and spikes; I'm doing things like suggesting ways to use your senses; like innovating.  And, of course, for coming up with creative explanations to cover them."

"Okay."

"So, when I'm around, you know how far you can stretch them; maybe you stretch more when I'm in close proximity and when I'm at school you rein them in, all unconsciously."

"Mm-hmm," Jim said as he started to explore Blair's body.

"So, I'm kind of like your security blanket.  You know your limits when I'm around, but you didn't with Simon.  You used them like you would when I was here and stretched them too far.  So, you just have to recognize that and consciously rein them in when I'm out of town.  Not stop using them, just, you know, understand your limits."  He looked down at where Jim was playing with his chest hair, noticing Jim's hard-on.  "Well, I see there's no talking to you right now--no blood in your brain."

Jim grinned and pointed to Blair's own enlarged cock. "Kettle, black, Chief.  Although how you can even talk is beyond me."

"Maybe you need to work a little harder to shut me up," Blair teased.

Jim moved up from Blair's chest to his lips, smothering them with his own. He smiled when the only thing that came out of Blair's mouth was "mmmmm".

*****

They lay, sated and sticky, after another round of lovemaking.  Blair's hair, made even more wild than usual by their activities, tickled Jim's nose, making him smile.  He knew they weren't finished talking and decided to surprise his partner by taking the initiative.  "So, what are we going to tell Simon?" He could feel Blair smile.

"That we're very happy together and if same-sex marriage ever becomes legal, he'll be your best man?"

"Blair," Jim said, giving him a warning squeeze.

"That kissing you wouldn't have worked, but otherwise he did a great job?"

"Seriously.  I'm afraid he's going to put me on desk duty forever."

Blair shrugged, which was a little difficult to do while stretched out across Jim. "We'll tell him the truth. You were a little out of whack last week, most of the time you are just fine, and I'm working on how to make sure it never happens again. Oh, and thank him for filling in.  If he hadn't read my notes about the kiss, we might have never gotten together."  

"In other words, the famous Sandburg obfuscation method?"

Blair shrugged again.  "Why mess with success? Simon works best when we don't bother him with the details. I'm sure he'll be happy to go back to blissful ignorance. And in the meantime, we'll work on this to make sure you're safe.  I want you to come home to me every night."

Jim nodded and gave him a kiss. "That's the best motivation I've had for sentinel testing, babe.  We'll figure it out together.  But for now… I'll change the sheets, we'll shower, eat and get ready for round three, what d'you say?"

"I say you come up with the best plans."  As he trotted down the stairs, stark naked, Blair asked, "Eggs, bacon and toast okay with you?"

As Jim stripped the bed, he thought back to their first morning in the loft when he'd called Blair's breakfast-making a 'courtship ritual'.  "Perfect," he called down the stairs.  "Just perfect."  

~~the end~~