What Flavor am I? by Aleeta Smith

What Flavor am I? - Aleeta Smith

“Come on, Jim. I’ve been dying to show you this place. Since we’re up here on the Murphy case, why can’t we get lunch before we go back to the loft? Mama’s Place has the best food around. Not to mention she makes everything from scratch.”

“When did you say you found this place?”

Blair shrugged, “A few months ago when the Volvo broke down on me. I was trying to get a meeting with Cristov, but he wasn’t there.”

Jim nodded, “Wasn’t that a few days before he was found in the Bay?”

Blair sighed, “Yeah. Anyway, I broke down a few blocks outside of town.”

“Outside Pinecrest?”

Blair laughed, “No. My sense of direction is not that bad. I did say it was close. I broke down on my way home.”

Jim nodded, “Waste of gas, if you ask me, Chief.”

Blair sighed, “Turn right up there, at the stop sign.”

Jim noticed the “Welcome to” sign first, but then glared at the speed limit sign, “Fifteen? What kind of place has a fifteen mile an hour speed limit?”

Blair did his best not to grin, “A very small town.” Blair tried not to laugh as Jim grumbled about blinking and missing hole-in-the-wall, one stop-light towns. “Don’t worry, Jim. The food will make up for it. I promise.” Blair smiled sunnily, “And besides, I want you to meet Mama. She’s a trip, man. I’ve never met anyone like her.”

Jim’s eyebrows rose, “With all the people you know? Now that’s saying something.” Jim concentrated on the road, “Is that it, on the right?”

Blair squinted, looking in the direction Jim was pointing “Yeah. That’s Mama’s Place. Just pull in front.”

Jim’s frown deepened, “Whatever you say, Chief.” Jim eyed the deserted looking gravel parking lot and square, squatish building. Only a modest sign out-front gave the building any identity, proclaiming in faded lettering, “Mama’s Place: Fresh Food from Scratch, Since 1934. ‘If you leave hungry, it’s your own fault.’” Jim couldn’t quite make out a smaller sign. Even close up, the paint had faded beyond most recognition. What he made out was, “…don’t like it. It’s free.”

Jim had barely pulled to a complete stop, when Blair opened the door and hopped out, “Come on, man. I’m hungry.”

Jim laughed at that, “When aren’t you?” Jim shook his head and followed Blair into the covered-window building. Jim was shocked as he took in his surroundings. The inside was a slightly modernized, modest looking fifties soda shop.

Jim took in the decor and heard Blair’s response to a feminine voice saying, “Blair, honey, I haven’t seen you in months.”

“I wasn’t sure you’d remember me.”

Jim noted the very southern accent immediately, “Child, I never forget my special flavors and you are one of the most special. Where have you been? Not still trying to get that witness of yours, are you?”

Jim walked in further and took in the mid-sixties, heavy set women who was holding his partner at arms length, examining him with a critical eye, “No, ma’am. Unfortunately, he ended up dead before we got a chance to talk to him.”

Girlish laughter peeled from the women, “Now, what did I tell you about calling me ma’am? You know it makes me feel old.”

Blair smiled, sheepishly, “Sorry, Mama.”

Jim raised an eyebrow as he noticed a blush spreading across Blair’s face. Jim had never seen Blair blush like this, not even in the face of complete humiliation. The women’s gaze locked onto Jim. His instincts told him to run, bolt, do anything but let this person who could make Blair call her “Mama,” near him.

Jim felt his face go stony, “And this must be Jim.” She nodded, as if she knew not to approach or touch him, “I’ve heard so much about you.”

Knowing he had to say something, Jim tried to respond, “I hope not all of it was bad.”

The girlish laughter broke out again, “None of it, actually.” Mama looked at Blair, “Blair here sings your praises like a choir boy on Easter Sunday.”

Jim watched as Blair’s blush deepened, “I’m guessing you boys came in for our lunch special. Blair, you go wash your hands while I figure out what flavor you’re here Detective is.”

Jim frowned, “Flavor?”

Mama seemed to perk up at that, “Oh, didn’t Blair tell you?”

Blair made a weak protest, “I wanted it to be a surprise.”

“Oh,” Mama patted Blair on the arm, “How sweet.” Jim was amazed at the sheer warmth he could feel coming off of Blair’s face. She turned to Jim, “We have a tradition, here at Mama’s Place.”

Blair perked up then, and Jim was relieved that some of the red was leaving his partner’s face as he dove into a subject that wasn’t himself. “It’s really amazing, Jim. They pick out an ice cream, tailor made just for you. They pick the size, amount, number of toppings, everything! And if you don’t like it, it’s free. But, Jim, I haven’t heard one complaint.” Blair gestured, “Mama made a whole new ice cream flavor, just for me. I’ve never had anything like it. That’s what I wanted you to try. I want to know what flavor you are.”

Blair stopped suddenly, his face going even brighter shades of red then Jim thought possible, but it was Mama who interrupted the silence, “Aw, I wouldn’t call it amazing. We Reece’s are known for pickin’ a good flavor when we see one. We just tend to be right the first time.” Mama nodded, “Only ever been wrong once in sixty-five years.” Mama sighed, “Little girl…she wanted pecans, but was allergic to ‘em. Didn’t know that when Mama made the ice cream, though.” Mama looked sad, “It was a real good thing that Doc Sallenger was in for his weekly special.”

Jim was stunned, “Anaphylactic shock?”

Mama nodded, “Yep. Mama and Daddy had to rush her to the hospital over in Stonybrook and left me to mind the store.”

Jim noticed the haunted look in Mama’s eyes, “Did she live?”

Mama focused on Jim, looking him directly in the eyes, “Just barely. That’s why we adopted a policy of asking allergies before we start making your special flavor.” Jim felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise as Mama’s eyes went unfocused, “You’re a peculiar one. Sensitive to everything! Huh.” Mama’s eye cleared and she looked Jim up and down, “I do believe you are my second toughest case ever.” Mama sighed, “You boys, run and wash your hands. Polly will bring out your lunches in a minute.” Jim watched as the women turned and walked briskly behind a counter, through a door, and into a back room.

Jim looked at Blair, puzzled, “Chief, we didn’t order anything, yet.”

Blair’s smile widened, “That’s the fun part. You don’t have to.” Blair motioned Jim to follow, “Come on, we have to wash our hands or we won’t eat.” Jim’s frown increased, but he followed Blair into a well-placed men’s bathroom.

After washing their hands, both men seated themselves at a booth in the back corner. Jim felt his gut twist as he saw a young brunette in her early twenties approach them with a heavily laden tray.

“Sandi, I thought Polly was bringing our orders?”

Sandi smiled, “Sorry, Blair. Little Maxxie had other plans.” Jim’s gut untwisted a small fraction as he saw a silver band on Sandi’s left ring finger. Jim actually smiled as his sense of smell picked up the delightful aromas of the food Sandi was placing in front of them. “You must be Jim,” Sandi held out a hand as she put the now empty tray to her side. Jim took it and was surprised by the firm grip. Jim tensed as a small tremor ran through Sandi’s body. Jim was about to comment when she continued in a rush, “It’s nice to meet ya, finally. Blair said he’d try and drag his partner up here next time he came. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble.”

Blair broke in before Jim could reply, “Has the family eaten yet?”

Sandi turned to Blair and Jim watched as a blush came to her face as he spooned a mouthful of mashed potatoes into his mouth, “Blair, you know we don’t eat until after lunch rush.”

Blair nodded, swallowing, “Forgot. When’s it hitting?”

Sandi looked at her watch, “Oh, nuts. Ten minutes, I gotta go if I’m gonna have all those lunches for the Girl Scouts done by the time they show up.” Sandi looked up and stared into Blair’s eyes, “I’ll talk to you once more before you leave.” A chill ran down Jim’s spine, which was weird in the almost overly heated interior.

Jim watched as Blair dug into his food with relish. Blair looked up, noticing Jim’s reluctance to eat, “What, isn’t that what you wanted?”

Jim looked down at his food and swallowed, “Yeah, actually. I’ve been craving this since we were on that stake out last week.”

Blair looked up, “Oh, you mean the one outside the Italian restaurant?” Blair nodded, “That explains that,” Blair motioned to a large plate of Chicken Alfredo, a smaller dish of baked meatballs in marinara sauce, and a basket of garlic breadsticks. “But what about that?”

Jim shrugged, “I like stuffed potatoes.” Blair shook his head, muttering darkly about injecting lard directly into veins. Jim smirked and motioned to Blair’s lunch, “That doesn’t look particularly healthy.”

Blair smiled widely, “Actually, it is.” Blair motioned to the large pieces of fried chicken on his plate, “These were soaked in buttermilk overnight, coated in corn meal, and fried in peanut oil.” Blair sliced the chicken open, “See no oil inside.” Blair’s smile widened, “Just juice. It’s perfect. The vegetables are garden fresh from Polly’s garden and were cooked in Canola oil.” Blair motioned to the small bowl of butter, “That is fresh honey butter. You don’t need much to accentuate the taste of those yeast rolls, which were made fresh,” Blair looked at his watch, “about two hours ago. The mashed potatoes have very little salt and no preservatives, since Mama makes a fresh batch every day.” Jim nodded, defeated, “Everything we are eating is healthy in almost every aspect.” Blair shrugged, “I have no complaints.”

Jim reluctantly picked up his fork and took a tentative bite. Nodding, “Not bad.” Jim began to enjoy his meal.

Jim watched as people began to file in and get seats. To Jim’s amazement the waitresses—Jim took note of three—never took a single order, but just arrived with a tray laden with food and drinks. Jim noticed his own drink and eyed is suspiciously. Jim noticed that Blair’s drink had a straw in it and his didn’t. He was silently glad, he really didn’t care for the things. Makes everything have a plastic taste. Shrugging, Jim tentatively tasted his drink. Just water. Jim concentrated on the next taste, Well water, I think.

Jim was distracted as a group of noisy girls came in with two harassed looking older women and two younger women. Jim listened in to the adults’ not so quiet conversation, “I don’t know what blew the tire.”

“Is there someone on the way?”

Jim watched as the exasperated blonde sighed deeply, “Who do you think I was calling while you herded the girls off the bus?”

“Don’t get an attitude in front of the girls. I didn’t know what you were checking on. I just knew you were on that dern cell phone of yours.”

Jim made to stand up, when a hand groped his forearm, and a whisper caught his attention, “Don’t Jim. Mama already has things under control.” Blair pointed. Jim followed his line of sight to see Mama coming out of the back door.

“Well, now, what do we have here?”

One of the girl spoke up, “The tire on the bus went ‘Boom!’ so, we’re stuck here until we can get it fixed.”

“Is that right?” Mama looked over to the four leaders.

The blonde nodded, “Yes, ma’am. Is it alright if we stay here until the tow truck arrives?”

The girlish laughter filled the room, “Of course, child. Just do me one favor.” The blonde nodded, at her wits end, and willing to do just about anything to keep her heathens quiet and in a safe place until they could get back on the road. Mama smiled, “Don’t call me ma’am. Call me Mama. Ma’am makes me feel old!”

Relieved laughter broke from the blonde, “As long as you call me, Susan.”

Mama nodded, “Deal. Well, Susan, I’m guessin’ your youngin’s are starving. You follow Lexi there and she’ll take you into the back room and get you and your youngin’s all fixed up. How’s that sound?”

“That sounds absolutely wonderful.”

Jim watched as the eighteen girls ranging in age from twelve to seventeen and their four leaders filed into a door on the opposite side of the counter, near the entrance.

Jim turned to Blair, who was happily finishing his mixed vegetables, “How did she know?”

Blair looked up innocently, “Know what?”

Jim looked back, toward the back room, “That the bus of rug-rats was going to break down?”

Blair shrugged, “Mama’s just good like that. She had the town mechanic here in ten minutes when I broke down. If any family needed to be tested for the second sight, it’d be this one.” Blair eyed Jim’s meatballs, “You gonna finish those?”

“Yes, Cookie Monster, I am. Finish your own lunch before you start trying to mooch off of mine.”

Blair smirked behind his drink as Jim went back to eating his food. Under his breath, he said, “Yes, sir. Captain, sir.”

Jim looked up, “I heard that.” Jim speared a meatball and bit it in two.

Blair looked away quickly and swallowed his drink. Jim’s nose flared as he caught a whiff of something, but it was gone too quickly. Frowning, Jim surveyed his surroundings and extended his sense of smell. Jim kept eating, absently as he tried to identify what had caught his attention. Sighing, when he couldn’t pick it up again, Jim went back to enjoying his meal.

When both men were done eating, the third waitress, a twenty-something-slightly heavy set women with jet black hair and dark brown eyes came with a pitcher and a tray. “Polly, how’s Maxxie and Cassie?”

Polly blushed, “Lying down. Those girls wore them out. ‘Specially the older ones. I’d take that pretty one with the blue streaks in her hair home, any day. Maxxie actually fell asleep in her arms. Can you believe it?”

“Wow. Get her number. You should call her for a baby sitting job.”

Polly sighed, “I would, but she lives out in Seattle. That’s a bit of a drive for just a babysitting job.”

Blair shrugged, “You never know. Get her number, anyway. You just might need it.”

Polly smiled, “Are you trying to get into the family business, Blair?”

Blair chuckled, “Nah, just common sense. You never know when you might need an extra hand, no matter where that hand may be.”

Polly laughed, a slightly deeper version of Mama’s laughter, “You’re probably right. That’s the funny thing about common sense. It ain’t that common.” Polly filled their glasses, “Mama will be out in a minute with your desserts.” Polly looked at Jim, “She said you were almost her hardest.” Jim felt his hackles rise again, “I’m not surprised. You two are the most complicated flavors I’ve ever seen…but you complement each other.”

Polly laughed shortly and shook her head, as if to dispel something in her vision. She smiled at Jim, “Don’t let all of this get your undies in a twist. The folks around here are so use to us, that we forget that we unnerve some people.” Polly waved in an expansive motion, “We don’t get many newbies here. Except for this bus load and Blair, we haven’t had a newbie in almost a year.” Polly began gathering up their empty plates, “Mama loves a challenge, though.” With a fully loaded tray, Polly picked up the half-full pitcher of water, “I hope you like your flavor,” and with that, she left.

Jim started to watch her leave, but his attention was diverted by Mama carrying a tray toward them. She stopped in front of their booth, “Well, you were a pickle to figure out, but I think you’ll like this.” Jim watched warily as she placed a single dish in front of him. “Blair, I thought you might want a cone this time.” Mama deftly picked a waffle cone laden with toppings and whip cream. “Two cherries, right?”

Blair smiled broadly and nodded, “Yes, ma’am, Mama.”

Mama burst out laughing, “Your mama must have bred manners into you, sweetheart. You just can’t stop bein’ polite, can you?”

The blush returned, but in a smaller degree, “Sorry, Mama.”

Mama laughed shortly, “Don’t be sorry, Sweetie. I wish more people had your manners. It wouldn’t be such a tough world if they did.” Mama deftly upturned a small bowl onto Blair’s waffle cone. When she moved it away, Jim saw two maraschino cherries sitting contentedly on top of the whip cream. Mama turned to Jim, “If more people were as sweet as Blair, here, the world would be an infinitely better place.”

Jim had to smile at that, “Yeah, but I’m not sure the world could handle too many episodes of the Sandburg Zone.”

Mama laughed again, breathily, “Maybe, but the more Blair’s on this Earth, the more Jim’s it would need to keep them outta trouble.”

Jim groaned, “Now I know it’ll never happen. They cracked the mold when they made Sandburg, but it broke when they made me.”

Mama nodded, chuckling, “I hope not. You two are good people. I do, truly hope neither molds were harmed in any way.” Mama gently patted Jim’s shoulder, “Okay, enough jawin’. Eat your ice cream before it melts. Neither of you like soupy ice cream.” Mama nodded towards the dish, “Let me know how you like it,” and walked back towards the counter.

Blair smiled, “It looks like a lavender purple vanilla. Try it.” Blair began to dig into his waffle cone with a spoon.

Jim saw the relish on his face as he took the first bit. Jim sighed, he hadn’t detected anything poisonous or any kind of mind altering drugs in his food. Why not. Jim picked up his spoon and dipped it into the slowly melting bowl of ice cream. Hesitantly he tasted it. “Hmm. Almond. Sugar. Vanilla. Cream. Cherries. Chocolate. Butter rum? Raisins? A hint of mint.” Jim took another spoonful, relishing the subtle tastes, “Chief, you weren’t kidding. Were you? This stuff is great.”

Blair just grinned, “I’ll let you have a bite of mine if I can try yours.”

Jim pushed the dish closer to him, “Sure, Chief.” Jim grinned, “It’s really good.” Jim noticed then that Blair had a dollop of whip cream on the side of his mouth. Jim motioned to his face, “You missed, Chief.” Jim shook his head, “Don’t know how you can miss a target that big.” Jim felt something stir inside him as he watched Blair’s tongue slip out and capture the wayward whip cream.

Blair shrugged, “Hey, even missiles miss their targets ten percent of the time.”

“Let’s not get started on that, again. Okay? I think we’ve debated that one into the ground.”

Blair gave him a small smile and tasted his ice cream. Blair let it melt on his tongue, trying to understand everything Jim got out of it. Sighing, “It tastes like vanilla with a hint of raisins, to me.” Blair leaned his cone forward for Jim to take a bite.

Jim smiled and took a spoonful, “Most of the tastes are very subtle. I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone but a Sentinel could taste it all.”

Blair nodded, not trusting himself to speak, as he watched Jim spoon Blair’s ice cream into his mouth. Blair felt his gut clench and his groin ache. He tried to breath deeply as he watched Jim’s reaction. “Mmm. Definitely not subtle. Talk about sugar shock. And you’re eating all of that?”

Blair smiled, his jaw muscles only a little tight, “Yep.”

“Great, you’re going to be bouncing off the walls. It’s a good thing we can’t find Tenison. I don’t think he could handle you,” Jim motioned to the half empty waffle cone, “on that much sugar.” Blair just continued to smile. They finished their ice cream in comfortable silence. Jim’s nostrils flared as he picked up the faint scent again, Jim finally recognizing it as pheromones, someone was aroused. His eyes locked on Blair as he realized where the smell was coming from. It’s Blair? Jim looked around, the small restaurant had emptied as most customers seemed to get their meals to go. Jim noticed they were almost the only ones left, except for an old couple in the opposite corner eating in companionable silence. Jim noticed that they were holding hands.

Jim swallowed, feeling a lump trying to close off his throat, “What is it?” Jim looked back quickly. Blair was watching him intently, “Is something wrong?”

Jim shook his head, “No. I just thought I heard something.”

Blair nodded and went back to finishing his ice cream. Jim watched in amusement as Blair bit the bottom off of the waffle cone and proceeded to suck the last of the ice cream out of the bottom. Jim swallowed as an image of Blair’s mouth on his body doing the same thing to him, suddenly made it almost impossible to swallow. Jim reached for his water and proceeded to knock it over, “Damn.”

Blair’s reaction was quick, “Whoa, man.” He was out of the booth in two seconds flat.

Jim wasn’t as fast as he made a grab for his jacket, and ended up with half of the spilt water in his lap.

“Damn it,” Jim cursed under his breath, but Blair had heard and smiled. Jim made to get out of the booth and proceeded to elbow Blair in the process.

“Hey,” Blair dodged another elbow as Polly came up with a small bucket and three washrags.

“Don’t worry, boys. You two move to another table and I’ll have this cleaned up before you know it happened.”

Sandi was right behind her, “Actually, Polly, I think they’re ready to go.” Polly handed Blair two bags with several Styrofoam containers in them. “Would you like refills on your drinks, to go?” Polly looked between the two men and Sandi and shrugged. Polly handed Jim a dry wash-rag and went to clean up the spill. “Blair, can I talk to you a minute?”

Blair looked puzzled, “Sure.”

Sandi looked at Jim, “You can pay Mama at the register.” She pointed to the end of the counter that held an antique cash register.

Jim eyed Sandi as he whipped his now damp pants and walked over to the register. Mama appeared from the door behind the counter. “So, did you like it?”

Jim had to smile, “Yeah. I have to admit it. I’ve never had anything like it.”

“But you liked it, right?”

“Yes, Mama Reece. I liked it very much.”

Jim watched as Mama’s face went pink, “Well. I don’t think I’ve ever been called that before.”

Jim looked surprised, “Really? Your name is Reece, isn’t it?”

“Sure is, but I’ve always been just ‘Mama’ like my Mama before me.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Mama shook her head, “Not at all.” Mama puzzled over the name for a few seconds, “I think I like it. ‘Mama Reece.’ Has more personality then just ‘Mama.’” She looked down at the register and began typing numbers. A total appeared on the display, “Your total is $21.37.”

Jim nodded, only half paying attention, his thoughts still mostly on his not-quiet-drying-fast-enough pants, “For as good a meal as that, I expected it to be more.”

Mama Reece smiled, “Nope.” A sly look crept over her face, “But if you want to take a gallon of your ice cream home with you…”

Jim’s eye lit up, “How much?”

“Eight dollars.”

Jim paused, “What about Blair’s? How much is his?” Mama Reece’s smile became even wider, “I’ll give you a half gallon of each for ten.” She thought a moment, “And a list of what I put on top. How’s that? Sound like a deal?”

Jim smiled, “Deal.”

Jim watched as Mama Reece took a pad of paper out of her apron and scribbled furiously, pausing only to think a few seconds. When she was done, she ripped it off the pad and handed it to Jim. “I’ll be right back with your ice cream.” She paused at the door, “Do you want me to have someone put it in the back of your truck for you, so Blair won’t know about it?”

“Won’t it melt?”

Mama Reece shook her head, “I’ll put it in a cooler for you.” She waggled her finger at him, “You’ll just have to promise to bring it back next time you come.”

Jim smiled and nodded, “That’d be great.”

Mama Reece nodded and disappeared through the door. Jim pulled out his wallet, put thirty-seven dollars on the counter, tucked the list of ingredients into a fold of his wallet before putting it away. Jim tuned into Blair then, hearing his voice rise in pitch and volume, “I don’t believe you. He doesn’t work that way.”

“Blair, I know what I saw.” Jim recognized Sandi’s voice.

“I don’t care.” Blair stopped suddenly and whispered fiercely, forcing Jim to focus more intently, “Jim doesn’t like me like that. He’s straight as a flippin’ arrow.” Jim could hear pain in Blair’s voice. The instinct to protect his Guide was pulling him toward the closed door.

Jim swallowed hard, knowing he shouldn’t be listening to Blair’s private conversation, “But you love him…” Her words stopped him dead.

“And I always will. But he doesn’t…” Jim heard Blair choke on his words. Jim felt his chest tighten, ‘Oh, Blair, I’m sorry.’ Jim focused on the door and could see through a space between signs. Sandi had taken Blair into her arms, “I just wanted to warn you. To let you know what might happen, so you could be ready. I didn’t mean for it to hurt or upset you.”

Jim could see the unshed tears in Blair’s widened eyes, “He doesn’t…” Jim’s throat closed as he watched a single tear slip down Blair’s cheek. “He’s my best friend. He doesn’t want anything more…I’ve learned to accept that.”

Sandi pulled away, “But you shouldn’t have to. You love him!” Sandi gently shook Blair, “And he loves you.”

Anger flared in Jim, ‘No right. She has no right to tell him that. I should be the one…’ Jim’s mind came to a screeching halt and was slow to start back up.

“Don’t say that. He’ll hear you.”

Sandi looked at Blair, “Mama’s taking care of him. She should keep him busy for a few more minutes. I did that on purpose. You do realize that, right?”

Blair nodded, blotting his eyes with his sleeve, trying to get rid of the moisture, “Yeah, I kinda figured.”

“Blair, have you ever told him? How you feel about him?”

Blair swallowed, “I tried to, once, but…” he shook his head, “I don’t think he knows.”

Blair paused, “I’m not sure I could stand him knowing…how I feel…and not loving me back.” Blair shook himself, “No. No, he’s my best friend. I’d do anything for him.”

Sandi put her hand under Blair’s chin and lifted his head until he looked her in the eyes, “Then you need to tell him how you feel about him. While he is conscious, awake, and in his right mind. Okay?”

Jim’s heart stopped for a split second as he waited for Blair’s answer. “Alright, I’ll try.” Jim gasped, wondering when he had started to hold his breath.

“Don’t just try…”

A hand touched Jim’s shoulder, “You alright, Jim?” Jim jumped slightly and turned to see Mama Reece standing behind him.

“Yeah. Never better.”

She nodded, not quite convinced, “Cooler’s in the back of your truck. Lexi put it there while Sandi was talkin’ to Blair.”

Jim nodded, “Thanks.”

Mama Reece’s eyes narrowed, “Boy, you look spooked. You see a ghost or somethin’?”

Jim shook his head, “No.” Jim swallowed, “I was just thinking.”

Mama Reece nodded, her face serious, “That can be a dangerous pass-time. You go on, now. You look tired. Maybe you should let Blair drive.”

Jim nodded, “Yeah, maybe.”

Jim turned to face the door and paused, “Don’t worry. They’re done talking.” Jim turned to Mama Reece, “You won’t bother them if you’re ready to go.”

Jim nodded, “Thanks, Mama Reece.”

“I want to see you two more often. If you can, that is. Come back soon.”

Jim waved as he approached the door, “I don’t think Sandburg will let me forget this place. See you next time, Mama Reece.”

Jim opened the door, “Bye, Honey.”

Walking out, Jim watched as a few rays of the setting sunlight played in Blair’s hair.

“You ready, Chief?”

Blair looked up, his cheeks only a bit flushed, eyes slightly pink, puffy, “Yeah, man. Anytime.” Blair turned to Sandi, “I’ll see you next time, okay?”

Sandi gave Blair a small sad smile, “Let me know how it works out. Okay?”

Jim tried hard not to notice their by-play. He was very glad that he’d brought a jacket as he watched a wisp of wind make goose flesh appear on Blair’s skin.

Blair just nodded, “I’ll let you know.”

“Come on, D’artagnan. We need to get back and file that report.” Jim tossed his jacket to Blair, “Put this on. It’s starting to get cold.”

Blair smiled as he moved around the Ford, “Was I that obvious?”

Jim unlocked the truck, reached across, unlocking the passenger side, and got in. Blair opened the door and Jim answered, “Nah. Only I’d notice the goose bumps.” Blair put on Jim’s leather jacket before getting into the truck. “Besides, I know you too well. You’re never warm enough.” Jim pulled out of the gravel parking lot and made his way to the highway.

“Are we going to the loft first? Or are we going to the station?” Blair indicated the bags at his feet, “Mama made us dinner.”

Jim smiled, “I wondered what was in the bags.”

Blair smiled, “Sandi said Mama didn’t want me to have to cook when she’d made enough for two meals.” Blair shook his head, “Mama doesn’t waste food.”

Jim looked over at him, smiling, “And who would want to waste such good food. Huh, Chief?”

“Exactly, my man.” Blair’s smile turned into his patented kilowatt smile, “Why waste such good food when we’d be more then happy…”

“To not have to cook.”

“Hey, man. You know I would have cooked tonight.”

Jim snorted, “Yeah right, Chief. Tofu pizza is not on my dinner list tonight.”

“Hey, at least it isn’t possum.”

Jim waved a finger, “Don’t let Simon hear you say that.”

Blair laughed, “Oh, Yeah. His grandmother cooked that.”

The chuckling subsided and a companionable silence unfolded. Finally, “You want music?”

Blair shrugged, “Yeah, sure. Radio or tape?”

Jim glanced at Blair, “That depends. What tapes do we have?”

Blair opened the glove box and began flipping through its content, “Wow, man. I forgot I left this in here. I’ve been looking for it for weeks.”

“What?”

Blair pulled out an oddly shaped pouch, “A friend of mine asked me to find out about this. He found it in his car, after his ex-girlfriend and he broke up. He tried to find out about it, but he’d hit a dead end.”

“What is it?” Jim looked at the strange embroidered bag.

“Well, I haven’t been able to figure out more then it’s a very strange melding of several different kinds of magic. Who ever made it had influences from all over.”

“Magic? Like the Wizard of Oz kind of magic or Willow on Buffy, kind of magic?”

Blair chortled, “More like Willow’s magic. It does have some neo-pagan influences.”

Blair pointed, “See these red threads, here. Those could have several different meanings. They could mean either love or blood. And these,” Blair pointed to a series of carefully embroidered characters, “Those are from what’s known as ‘The Witch’s Alphabet’ which has both druidic and Celtic origins.” Blair turn the bag around and pointed to a corner, “But the beading here has Native American origins. Though, the herbs inside.” Blair sighed, “That is…the ones I can smell.” Blair stopped and turned to Jim, “Jim…”

“Oh, no. I am not messing with that thing.”

“But, all you’d have to do is smell which herbs are inside. It’s not much. It’s just like the tests you already do.”

Jim shook his head, “No way, Chief. If Incacha taught me one thing, it was to never touch another person’s magic.”

“But, Jim. You can smell the herbs from where you are. You wouldn’t have to touch this,” Blair shook the pouch, making a dry rustling sound, “And that way I won’t have to open it and meddle with the insides.”

Jim looked at him, “At least you were smart enough not to open it.”

Blair shrugged, “Reluctance and the fact that I lost it, helped.”

Jim sighed and noticed the sign for their exit, “Listen, we’re almost home.”

Blair looked up, “Really?” He looked around, “That was quick.” Blair glanced at his watch, “Hmm. That’s strange,” Blair tapped his watch, “My watch’s dead.”

“Maybe you need a new battery.”

“Yeah.” Blair watched as the suburbs began to grow, “Maybe.”

“How about we wait until we’re home. It’s been a long day. We can go in early and get that report filed. Right now, all I want is a nice hot shower and some of that,” Jim pointed to the bags by Blair’s feet, “in my stomach. Fair enough, Chief?”

Blair sighed, “Yeah.” He hid the small smile that tried to play across his lips. He knew that Jim would tell him what was in the pouch. I won’t let him forget about it until he tells me. Blair suppressed a sigh, Tommy was so sure his ex-what did he say her name was, Tamie…Tabby…Tamica…Tonya, that’s it-was trying to sabotage his new relationship. If she really did put this in his car…maybe he wasn’t too far off. Blair examined the pouch, Everything I know tells me that this is more of a protection and love charm then anything harmful. I’ll have to do some more research. None of the things on the outside suggest anything besides pulling love to the barer. Or would that be the placer? Would the person who placed it in Tommy’s car be the attractor or the attractee?

Jim watched as Blair’s brow furrowed. He smiled, knowing Blair was deep in thought as he studied the pouch in his hands. Jim watched Blair turn the pouch around in his hands over and over again. Jim heard the satiny ribbons that bound the pouch together slide along his skin. Jim could smell the herbs start to sink into Blair’s skin, giving him an even more earthy smell. Jim internalized a groan as he shifted in the seat. His pants were getting a bit tight around the groin. Almost home. A _cold_ shower and then…and then what? Eat dinner next to a man I find attractive? What am I going to do? I can’t kick him out. I don’t want to loose him, again. Does he feel the same about me? I mean, what he said today…does that count? Was it what I think? They could have been talking about someone else. Jim played Blair’s conversation with Sandi over in his head, God, does he feel the same? Jim sighed as he pulled in front of the loft, “We’re home, Chief.” Jim looked at Blair, who was staring intently at the pouch in his hands. “Chief?” Jim reached out and lightly touched Blair’s shoulder, “Chief, you with me?”

Blair gave a small start and looked at Jim, “What?”

Jim pointed to the loft in front of them, “I said, ‘we’re home.’”

Blair looked up, “Oh. Right.”

Jim watched, as Blair looked around him a little dazed, “Chief, you okay?”

“Yeah. I just remembered I have to go to the store. We don’t have any parmesan cheese or beer.”

“You gonna walk?”

Blair nodded, “Yeah, unless you want something else.”

“Nah just smells like it’s going to rain again. You want me to come with?”

“Nah. You go have that hot shower you so richly deserve and I’ll be back before you get out.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Blair was out the door of the truck in moments, “Don’t forget your keys.” Blair stopped, patted down his pockets and withdrew a set of jingling keys with a bashful smile. Jim watched as Blair made his way down the street and around a corner. He sighed as he realized Blair had left him to carry in the bags of food. That would have been no problem, if he didn’t have to bring in the cooler of ice cream on top of that. Jim sighed as he checked “Sweetheart” for the night. In park. Parking break on. Lights off. Engine off. Windows up. Locks, locked. Got everything? Jim looked around the cab, bags of food in hand and spied the strange little pouch of Blair’s. He would forget his head if it weren’t attached. Jim picked it up, gingerly, and put it into one of the bags. Shutting the door firmly, Jim moved around to the truck bed and picked up the cooler. Sighing again, Jim made his way to his apartment, wondering when they were going to get an elevator that worked regularly.

By the time Jim had unloaded everything from the bags and lain in out he was more then ready to try what was in the Styrofoam containers. Jim adjusted his waistband again, Still a little too tight for my liking. Shower first. Food later.

Jim went up to his room and striped. He grabbed his robe and was coming down the stairs when the door opened. Jim stopped dead as Blair came in.

For a moment everything went still. Nothing moved as both men’s eyes locked. Blair stood in the door, one arm around a bag of groceries, the other carrying a twenty-four pack of beer. Jim stood on the stairs, robe in hand, naked as the day he was born, body not quite cooled down.

Jim watched as Blair’s face went red, “I thought you’d be longer at the store.” Jim put on his robe with dignity.

Blair came in and shut the door, “So did I, but it wasn’t as busy as usual. They had this new stuff on sale,” Blair indicated the beer in his hand, “I know you don’t care for cans, but I thought we could try it.” Blair put the bag on the counter, “You had your shower yet?”

“No, I was just heading that way.”

Blair nodded, “Man, you didn’t have to unpack the food. I would have done that while you were in the shower.”

Jim shrugged and went into the bathroom, his heart beginning to race, his nostril flaring. Jim shut the door and leaned against it, the scent of Blair’s pheromones making his body rise to the occasion. Jim tried to take a deep breath, but his senses kept betraying him by focusing in on his Guide. Jim could hear Blair’s raised heartbeat, smell his arousal. I have to get this under control. I can’t just jump the kid. Kid. Yeah right. I can’t keep calling him that, either. He’s as old as I was when I went down in Peru. Jim resolutely took off his robe and started a shower.

His hearing betrayed him again as he focus in on Blair mumbling, “Maybe that’s what she meant. Seeing us together.” Jim heard Blair’s sigh.

There could be no question about Sandi’s conversation. After all the strange things that have happened today…what’s one more? Jim finished his shower quickly, I have to tell him before my nerve runs out. Damn, this is worse then my wedding day. At least I’ll only be humiliated in front of one person if he doesn’t feel the same. With that thought, Jim put on his robe and went to talk to Blair.

Blair looked up from dishing noodles onto a plate, “Oh, good. You’re done. Dinner will be done by the time you’re finished changing.” Jim looked down at himself, then back up as Blair neatly poured alfredo sauce on the already portioned noodles. Jim smiled and went to change.

Blair was setting the table when Jim returned, “This formal enough, Chief?”

Blair looked up, Naked would have been just fine with me, but we’re talking your taboos, not mine. Blair smiled and gave a small bow, “Dinner is served.”

“Looks good.” Jim gave a quick sniff, “Smells good, too.”

“Betcha it tastes even better.”

“Reheated?” Both men sat down at the table.

Blair nodded, “Yep.”

“Good, because there’s something I want to talk to you about.”

Blair swallowed, “What is it?” Oh, gods. Mr. Repression-R-Us wants to talk? Oh, don’t let him have heard Sandi. I knew she was talking too loud. Damn it.

“Chief…Blair…”

Blair swallowed harder, Oh, gods. He never calls me by my first name. “Jim, man, what is it?” Blair watched as Jim got up from the table and began to pace. He paced for a moment before he made his way to the glass doors that open onto the terrace. Blair hesitantly followed. “You know all that you’ve done for me, I don’t think I’ve said thank you, once.”

The cool wind from the open doors wasn’t the only thing that made Blair shiver, “Jim?” Blair hesitantly put his hand on Jim’s shoulder, “I know…”

“No,” Jim cut him off as he shook his head. Jim trapped Blair as he turned around to stare into his eyes, “Blair you’ve done so much for me. After the fountain, I thought I could tell you how I felt, but then that stuff with Alex messed everything up. Including…well, mostly it messed with my head. Then your dissertation came out…”

“Jim, you know…”

Jim placed a finger on Blair’s lips, “Let me finish…or I’m not sure if I’ll ever get this out.” Blair nodded, silently, not quite sure if he wanted to know where this was going, “Yes, I know you didn’t mean for that to happen, but it did. Yes, that caused some interesting problems, but when you gave up everything…” Jim felt his throat trying to close down. He cleared it, “I didn’t know how to tell you then. Hell, I still don’t, but,” Jim’s eyes dropped, “I kind of…over heard you talking to Sandi. I know I shouldn’t have, but the pain in your voice,” Jim looked at Blair, pleadingly, “It’s like a homing beckon for my senses. You, in pain, is one of the first things I hear in any situation. I couldn’t help but focus in on what you were saying…”

“Jim, how much did you hear?”

Jim shook his head, “I’m not sure, but” Jim took Blair’s face in his hands, gently forcing Blair to look him in the eye, “Blair, I…do…love…you.” Jim’s eyes were earnest.

Oh, god. “Jim, do you know what you’re saying?”

Jim smiled, “Yeah, Chief. I do.” With that, Jim leaned down and gently pressed his lips against Blair’s.

Blair’s arms wrapped around Jim’s neck as the kiss went from chaste to deep and foreign. Their bodies moved forward, pulled together like magnets. Hands began to move, searching, yearning. Cloths tried to shed, but reluctant lips wouldn’t part.

Laughing, they separated breathlessly, “This would go much faster if we were both naked.”

“Yeah,” Blair laughed again, “It would, but which direction are we headed?”

Jim stopped and held Blair a little away from him, “Till death.”

Blair laughed sarcastically and striped the shirt that remained around his neck, tossing it to the floor, “Been there, done that…you brought me back. Can I burn the t-shirt I never got?”

Jim pulled Blair into his arms as his heart squeezed, “Sure Chief.”

Blair moved slightly away, “Don’t get all serious on me, now.”

Jim smiled, “Well, then, how about we talk about burning clothes later.”

Blair smirked, “Like when we change house rule number 1?”

Jim’s hand swiftly bopped Blair on the back of the head, “Sure, Darwin.” Jim’s face sobered, “How about beyond death, Chief? That sound good?”

Blair nuzzled Jim’s chest, capturing a nipple and making Jim gasp. Blair smiled around his mouthful. Glancing up, he answered, “Here…and beyond. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered.” Blair nipped and licked his way to Jim’s other nipple, “And when my case is decided, I’ll be the doctor ordering it.”

Jim gasped again, “Getting a little cocky, aren’t we?”

Blair smiled, “Oh, yeah,” and pushed his hips into Jim’s. Jim’s groan made Blair smile even wider, “I’d say more then a little bit. Wouldn’t you?”

“Bed. Now.”

An impish smile played across Blair’s face, “I thought I was the one giving the orders.”

Jim’s hands buried deeply into Blair’s hair and pulled his head back gently, but firmly. “If you’re not careful, Doctor Sandburg,” Jim could feel a shiver run down Blair’s spine, “I’m going to take you on the cold, hard, wooden floor.”

Jim stared into Blair’s eyes, which seemed slightly dazed, “All my brain registered was hard and wood after you called me…”

“Doctor Sandburg?” Jim felt the shiver again. “Let’s take this to bed, Doctor…” before Jim could finish, Blair’s lips were kissing him senseless.

When they finally broke apart, Blair felt a wall against his back and realized that they were both naked save for boxers and socks. “You check the loft. I’ll put dinner up until later. Meet at the stairs in ten.” Blair saw Jim’s reluctance, “You know you won’t feel right until you’ve checked all the locks.” Blair could see Jim’s reluctance slipping, “And you don’t want our dinner sitting out all night. Do you?”

Jim sighed, “Ten minutes…or I come looking for you.”

Blair shivered at the growl in Jim’s voice. He’d never heard that particular pitch. Blair hurried to the kitchen and did a record time clean up job. I’m glad I didn’t take everything out of the containers. Blair could hear Jim securing the door in his room that led to the alley. Just get it all into the fridge. Blair smiled as his hands shook, I haven’t been this nervous in years. When was the last time I was this nervous? Blair thought as his hands worked. His smile fell, When I was up on that podium. Telling the entire world I was a fraud. Blair sighed as he stacked several Styrofoam containers and opened the antique refrigerator, At least I may still be able to get my doctorate. When this court case goes through, I doubt Rainier University will ever try to screw me again. Jim was right, when he said they were just trying to use me. All they ever wanted was another thing they could brag about. And that publisher, how could he have released my dissertation? To the press? When I expressly forbade it. What an asshole.

“Tick Tock, Chief.”

A shiver of anticipation ran first up and then down Blair’s spine. He checked the clock, “Two minutes. I still have two minutes.” Blair quickly put the dishes to soak, No use incurring the wrath of Mr. Obsessive-Compulsive Clean. A smile broke out on his face, Especially when I want to keep him in bed. Man, it’s a good thing I went to the store. Blair turned off the water in the sink and checked the time, One more minute. He moved quickly to the paper bag and pulled out what he’d been hoping Jim wouldn’t smell. Let’s hope he’s not allergic to KY jelly.

“Chief…”

Blair looked up and his heart almost stopped. Before him stood a completely naked Sentinel. Blair swallowed, hard, and tried to talk, “Wow.”

“Time for bed.” Blair’s body responded to the purring quality in Jim’s voice. He nodded and walked to meet the sight before him. Jim’s open arms went eagerly around the younger man, a soft whisper met Blair’s ear, “You’re mine. Now and forever.” Blair didn’t have time to respond as Jim’s mouth descended on his. Blair felt his body being lifted off the ground. Strong arms held him closely and secure as Jim moved them both up the stairs to his room. Blair was laid gently onto Jim’s bed and summarily stripped of his remaining clothing. Jim noticed what Blair had been holding and laughed, “Always the Boy Scout. Huh, Chief?”

Blair shook his head, dreamily, “Uh uh, that’s you department.”

Jim smirked, “Well, you always seem prepared.” Jim took the box of condoms and lubricant out of Blair’s hands and put them on the bedside table.

“Improvisation and preparation are two different things.”

Jim slowly crawled on top of Blair, letting their skin touch at every possible point, “I think I’ve finally figured out a way to keep you quiet.”

Blair groaned, “Mmm, really?”

Jim smiled at Blair’s expression, “Yeah.” Jim captured Blair’s lips again and began to move. Both men groaned as their erections rubbed against each other.

Blair seemed to come to his senses as he pushed Jim away, his eyes wide, “Jim, I’ve never done…”

Jim smiled, “Don’t worry, Chief. I haven’t done very much, either. I know a little…that comes from working Vice for so long, but,” Jim shrugged, “we’ll figure out what’s right for us.”

Blair smiled sheepishly, “Okay. I mean, I know what I look like and I know what most people think…”

“Blair, I never listened to what anyone else had to say about you. I know you. I trust you.” Jim’s hands went to Blair’s cheeks, “I love you.”

Blair swallowed, “I love you, too.”

“Good, then it’s settled. We can figure out how this…” Jim waved a hand between the two of them, “sex thing is going to work by taking it slow. Feel out what’s comfortable to us.”

Blair couldn’t suppress the smiled that crossed his face, “Experiment?”

Jim snorted, “Yes, experiment. Maybe even do some tests.”

Blair’s eyes lit up, “Oooh, now I get to experience first hand what Sentinel senses can do in the bed room.” Blair watched as a slightly evil smile appeared on Jim’s face, “Uh-oh.”

Blair watched as Jim moved lower, down his body. Blair gasped, mouth wide, hands clutching the sheets, back arching as Jim’s mouth encompassed his almost painful erection. “Oh, god.” Blair’s eyes rolled back, into his head. His final coherent sentence—or was that thought—was, “If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up.”

The end

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Author’s Notes: This is what happens with way too much sexual tension, a half-gallon of my favorite ice cream and watching two, eight-hour tapes of The Sentinel. Hope it’s not too bad!