Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Humor

Summary: Blair devises a unique sensory test for Jim to take place at the detective's least favorite location -- the mall.

In Search Of ...
by Becky and Robyn
February 1998

"You're it, Jim. See you there."

The caller clicked off and Jim stared at his cellphone a moment, then turned it off, Blair's final chuckle still ringing in his ears. He sounded entirely too pleased with the prospect of this little game he's talked me into. Placing the phone on the kitchen counter, he rolled his eyes to the ceiling. How does he do it? How did he convince me to let him do this? Why did I let him? He sighed and turned away to go into the kitchen, heading for the fridge. Unfortunately nothing inside was what he wanted. Closing the door again, he leaned against it, sighing.

His and Blair's conversation from three days ago echoed in his mind.

~~~~~~~~

'We need to start testing your senses in environments that force you to use all your skills at once -- Ranger and police training included. Places like that parade in Little Havana during the Cortez case. Or like large outdoor markets. Or like grocery stores.' Blair had paused then and grinned rather evilly before continuing. 'Or like the mall.'

'The mall.'

'Yeah, the mall.'

'Sandburg, I hate the mall. You know that. I can barely stand going to it.' At that point, Jim had realized that he was already losing the battle.

'I know, I know, but that's exactly why we're going. We have got to get you used to that much sensory input bombarding you at once. Anyway, here's what we're gonna do. You give me a half-hour head start, then you come and find me.'

'That's it? Hide and Seek?' His first and most fatal mistake -- asking for clarification -- never a wise move.

'Yeah, you could call it that. You told me you found me in the parade by tuning into my voice. This time you'll have to use more than hearing to find me.' His partner had been getting very excited by then, hands moving in the air, eyes dancing with ideas, mouth moving faster than his brain could keep up with. In other words, pretty much normal for Blair.

'Uh-huh. I thought you didn't like for me to do this kind of stuff by myself. That you were worried I'd zone out.'

'Already taken care of, man. I talked to Simon about this and he agreed to help.'

~~~~~~~~

Jim was drawn out of memory when Simon cleared his throat. "Jim? You zoning already?" He shook his head, looking at his captain who was leaning against the opposite side of the kitchen island, an amused smile playing on his lips.

Pushing away from the fridge, Jim asked, "So, Simon, tell me, how did Sandburg convince you to help with this?"

Simon's smile stretched into a wide grin. "Another upgrade to the departmental web page and he promised to share certain recipes with me. A man's gotta eat, you know."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "These wouldn't happen to be recipes with certain special added ingredients, would they, like say maybe grape leaves?"

Simon laughed, shaking his head. "No, not exactly, same recipes, without the leaves."

Jim chuckled. "Just who are you trying to impress, sir?"

"That's for me to know and you to keep your nose out of."

"Yes, sir."

Simon paused, then asked, "You haven't told me how the kid convinced you to do this. I mean, I'm just going to keep an eye on you, make sure you don't 'zone-out'. You're the one who's being tested, not me."

Jim sighed. "I promised him several months ago that I would let him do some sensory tests. And then I kept putting it off. Or things came up and we couldn't do it. During the holiday season, Blair pinned me down, made me swear an oath as a police officer that the next time I got time off, he could do whatever tests he felt necessary and that I would cooperate fully." He shrugged. "He didn't forget. He never forgets."

Simon laughed, amused at the semi-disgusted expression on Jim's face. Jim glared back good-naturedly, then started smiling as well, chuckling softly, but not for the reason Simon thought. Just for that, I don't think I'm gonna tell him that Blair will probably cross-examine him later. I have a feeling that after that, Simon will never agree to do this ever again. Blair's simple Q&A's can turn into things worse than IA investigations. His grin widened a little more and he turned back to the fridge to hide it. Poor Simon.

*********************************

As the Volvo made its way the last half mile to the Cascade Mall, Blair found himself taking particularly deep breaths. Adrenaline surged through his veins. Man, I gotta stop hyperventilating here! he thought to himself. This idea of playing hide and seek in the mall seemed like such a simple idea when he'd first proposed it to Jim -- after all, this would be no big deal, he had thought -- just another senses test which he'd been fortunate enough to convince Jim into cooperating. But Blair had realized that hiding from a sentinel would be no easy task. And Jim wasn't just a sentinel -- he was a skilled detective and a Ranger to boot -- both were occupations in which ordinary people, much less sentinels, were trained to be human bloodhounds. Jim had been able to track down bad guys long before his enhanced senses had emerged. What's worse, I'm not just some bad guy that Jim's only heard of, Blair thought frantically. I'm his friend, plus I live with the guy! He knows me, maybe better than I know myself. He probably notices minute things about myself that I don't even know about! Blair's pulse felt like it was speeding out of control. He didn't want this test to be too easy. That would take out some of the fun, and he wouldn't get nearly as much information. Blair wanted to stretch Jim's abilities as far as he possibly could.

That's okay, Blair forced himself to calm down as he pulled into the parking lot, grabbed the backpack, and headed for the mall's doors. I'm going to have fun with this if it kills me. I do have some tricks up my sleeve. He smiled mischievously to himself as he remembered his plans, which had become rather elaborate as the test day had neared. I'll have a chance to think on my toes, see how creative I can get. Another stab of nervous excitement made his heart and stomach twinge again. He had a half an hour to prepare a few roadblocks before Jim arrived.

Blair headed directly for the Bath and Body store. He was going to go about this in a systematic way, making sure he had each applicable sense challenged as much as possible. Taste and touch were pretty much out, but as for the other three.... He grinned to himself in barely suppressed delight. This is gonna be sooo fun!

"Blair!" A slim brunette came out from behind the counter, her eyes sparkling and obviously pleased to see one of her most faithful customers.

"Hey, Jenna, how're you doing?" Blair laughed, giving her a hug in greeting. "You have the cards ready, right?"

"Yep, they're all ready for you," Jenna said. "I still don't understand what came over you, though. Why in the world are you volunteering to hand out card samples of this shampoo?"

"Hey, I just wanted to show some appreciation to my favorite store. This store is the only place that sells my particular favorite Jasmine Rain shampoo, you know."

Jenna's eyes narrowed. "You're not telling me the whole truth, Blair. I can see it in your face."

"Well, maybe not," Blair allowed. "But thanks for your help. This is gonna help me out a lot. And you've got to promise me one more thing. If anybody -- and I mean anybody -- comes in here asking if you saw me, you have got to say no. Got that?"

"Are you playing some kind of hide-and-seek game or something?"

"Well ... kind of, yeah."

"Uh-huh. Well, whatever is going on in that complex mind of yours -- well, I don't think I really want to know," said Jenna.

Blair grinned, relieved that she was letting it go for now. "I need to ask you one more favor. Can I use the back room real quick to change?"

"Sure, Blair," she said as another customer signaled for assistance. "The cards are on the counter when you're ready."

In a few minutes, Blair was changed into a set of brand new clothes which he had bought yesterday, still smelling like the store they had come from. The backpack was also different than the one he usually carried, borrowed from one of his students for the afternoon. He would have nothing on that smelled like him, except for underwear. He would pick up his own backpack, with his clothes in it, later on today, after this whole adventure was over.

He grabbed the stack of 100 sample cards which had already been sprayed with the smell matching that of his favorite herbal shampoo and made his way to a spot directly in front of the store.

"Would you like a free sample of our Jasmine Rain shampoo?" Blair smiled as he began handing them out to people in the heavy mall traffic. A chorus of squeals enveloped him as a bunch of teenage girls descended upon him and held out their hands for a card.

In ten minutes 50 of the cards had been handed out. "Jenna," Blair motioned for her. "Do you mind handing the rest of these out whenever you have a chance? I gotta go."

"Sure, Blair," she said, but the boy had already disappeared into the mall crowds.

*********************************

Fifteen minutes later

Jim paused long enough to take a deep breath before pulling open the heavy glass doors at the southern end of the Cascade Mall. Stepping inside, he stopped and looked around, noting the huge crowds of people milling in and out of stores. The hubbub of voices as they overrode each other was nearly overwhelming, even with his senses turned to what counted as 'normal'. He winced away as several teenage girls whooshed past him, shrieking with laughter.

There were reasons he didn't go to malls. Lots of them. Shrieking teenage girls were one of them.

Another set of teenage girls, older ones, walked by him and he had to stifle the urge to sneeze as their cloying perfume wafted around him. He could almost feel it being absorbed into his clothing and skin.

Perfume was another.

Wrinkling his nose and taking shallow breaths, he reached inward and found the dial for smell, turning it down a little until the cloud of perfume had passed. Simon stepped up next to him, bringing with him the ever-present scent of cigars that clung to his clothes and hands. For once, Jim was happy for it. For some reason, the cigar scent didn't bother him as much as it used to. Blair would probably tell me that I've tagged it as familiar and recognizable as part of defining 'Simon'. And he'd probably be right -- like he always is.

Simon asked from his side, "You okay, Jim?

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Too much perfume there for a moment. But I've got it under control now."

"Good. How long do you have again?"

"An hour tops. And if I don't find him, Blair gets to do more tests." He paused and shuddered dramatically. "So, finding him is an absolute must."

Simon laughed again. "Just don't go asking me for help. This is your test, not mine. Sandburg finds out I helped you and all his promises are 'null and void', his words."

Jim grunted, then re-opened his sense of smell, starting to shuffle through his mental cards of scents that reminded him of his younger partner.

"You ready to start, Jim?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, then, let's get this show on the road. Sooner we find Sandburg, the sooner I can get out of here. I really hate the mall."

"I hear that, Simon, believe me."

"Any idea where to start?"

Jim paused, looking around, then said, "Well, Blair told me not to bother with the department stores or the, uh, more feminine stores." Simon rolled his eyes while Jim laughed and went on. "But everything else is fair game. I say we start with the shoe store across the way. Blair's been muttering about needing a new pair of shoes for the past month. Maybe he decided to get in some actual shopping during this little game of his. After that, we work our way down the mall systemically. "

Simon nodded in approval. "Very well, then, shoe store it is. Let's go."

Halfway to the shoe store, Jim paused, frowning and looking around him, smelling something familiar. Simon glanced at him, one eyebrow raised in question. "What is it?"

"Sandburg's shampoo."

"Shampoo," Simon repeated in a monotone, somewhat skeptical, voice.

Jim nodded, semi-distracted. "Yeah. He buys a special brand, not from the supermarket. Some kind of herbal something-or-other. It's got a very distinct scent."

"How come I've never noticed it then?"

"It's pretty subtle, sir. It would have to be, otherwise he wouldn't use it."

Simon hesitated, then asked, "And why would that be? Or do I really want to know?"

Still distracted and looking around, searching for Blair, Jim shrugged. "He's careful about my senses, Simon, doesn't want to overload them. He knows I pick up everything."

Simon's lips twitched in amusement and he raised a hand to cover his mouth, coughing to cover a chuckle, "How ... domestic and ... considerate of him."

Jim threw him a half-glare, then grinned, bringing his hands together and rubbing them. "This will be easier than I thought. Now I just have to pin the scent down and track it."

"Good. Faster the better."

Jim opened his mouth to say something, but then whipped his head around when the scent of Blair's shampoo hit him again -- from behind him. He turned, expecting to see Blair exiting a store. But he wasn't there. It was another young man and definitely not Blair. Then he smelled it again, from the opposite direction. This time he saw two women, each pushing a baby stroller, talking and laughing, oblivious of Jim's consternated stare.

And it came again -- very strong this time. In a blur of color and voices, a passel of girls swept by him, all giggling and whispering to each other. All of them carried with them the scent of that shampoo. He noticed that one girl clutched a small white card in her hands. Across the top he could read 'Bath and Body Store - sample card of our Jasmine Rain shampoo'.

Eyes widening with realization, Jim muttered under his breath, watching the girls disappear into the shoe store he and Simon had been heading to. "Why that little . . . sneak."

Simon looked from Jim to the girls and back to Jim. "What did I just miss?"

"The shampoo smell, Sandburg's shampoo. It's everywhere." Jim gestured at the girls. "You know those little card samples you can get with fragrances on them?" Simon nodded warily. Jim went on. "One of those girls had one that had the scent of Sandburg's shampoo on them. And considering how strong the scent was, I think they all had them." He swung around and scanned the people nearest him, sending his sense of smell outward in a circular pattern. Then nodding sharply, he turned back to Simon. "I was right -- it is everywhere. Sandburg somehow got those samples out so I wouldn't be able to use scent to track him."

Simon laughed approvingly. "Very smart of him. Just don't tell him I said so."

Jim grunted in acknowledgment. The two men turned and headed for the shoe store, revealing a panel of windows that they had been standing in front of, a large Barnes and Noble bookstore. The part of the bookstore that looked out onto the mall was a small coffee and espresso shop. One of the coffee customers sitting next to the window slowly lowered a newspaper, at first peering over the top so that only his blue eyes showed. As he watched the two tall men walk away from him down the mall, his eyes danced and a rather elated grin spread across his face. Blair downed the rest of the caffeine (as if he needed any more at this point) and could hardly keep himself from bouncing as he exited the store.

Stay calm, Sandburg, stay calm, he repeated to himself as he tried desperately to walk naturally in the direction opposite that of the shoe store.

*********************************

"Can I interest you in a pair of these fine loafers, sir?"

"No! I mean, no, thank you," Jim said, trying to stay polite as he declined for what seemed like the thousandth time since he had entered the small but overly helpful shoe store. Simon's smile was also getting a tad pasted as he tried to follow Jim while politely waving off salespeople. Jim was trying to make his way to the back counter where a young female sales associate was ringing up purchases. If Blair had been here, he would have almost surely spoken with her. I know that kid, Jim thought to himself.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen. How can I help you today?" The platinum blonde smiled sweetly.

"Uh, yes, ma'am. Could you please tell me if Blair Sandburg has been by this store this afternoon?"

The only response Jim got was a puzzled look. "I'm sorry," she smiled, "if you could you give me a description of this man, I might be able to help you."

Jim paused and started to say something, then thought better of it. With a short laugh, he said, "He's a regular customer here. About 5' 10", long brown curly hair sometimes worn in a pony tail, always carries a backpack. Pretty hard to mistake."

The blonde smiled sweetly again, but shook her head. "I'm sorry, but that description happens to fit many of our customers." She paused a moment, apparently in thought, then asked brightly, "Do you happen to have a picture of him?"

"A picture?" Jim said incredulously. Simon, standing next to him with his hands shoved in his pockets, was busy trying not to look too amused.

"Yes, a picture, in your wallet perhaps?"

"A picture. Well, all right. . ." Jim dug out his wallet and flipped to a picture of him and Blair from their fishing trip with Simon a few months ago. "Him!" he stabbed at the photo rather impatiently. "Have you seen him?"

"Ah, yes, now I recognize him. Yes, he was here earlier. He left this for you," she said, and handed Jim an envelope.

"How long ago was he here?"

"Oh, probably 15 or 20 minutes."

"Thank you, ma'am," Jim said as he and Simon turned away. "Oh, by the way, that was pretty good acting," Jim called back. The blonde blushed and smiled before turning to the next customer.

"How did you know she was faking it?" Simon asked as Jim opened the envelope.

"I wouldn't have just by watching her, but her heart rate sped up a little when she said she didn't know. I also thought that I recognized her as one of Sandburg's one-time dates from a few weeks back. I think she's taking drama at the University."

Simon shook his head in amazement. "How do you keep track of all of that kid's dates?"

"I have my ways, sir."

"Whatever."

Jim was now reading the short, handwritten note.

~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~

Jim's jaw clenched a few times as he showed the note to Simon who couldn't keep himself from chuckling this time.

"Where to now, Jim?"

Jim sighed. Smell isn't much help at this point. What other places would he go in the mall? For the first time Jim regretted not accompanying his partner at least once to the shopping center. At least then he would know the layout better. Well, at least it's only a one-story mall. Hopefully less chance he can slip past me and double back. Jim decided to focus on his hearing, seeing if he could pick up on any auditory clues that would lead him to his conniving partner.

"Hey Simon! Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Then realizing Jim was using his super-hearing, "Of course I don't hear that!"

"C'mon, sir, this way." Jim motioned as he headed toward the noise. "I hear this music that Sandburg would like. Jungle music. Hear it now?"

"Hear it? I can feel it now -- those drums are so strong I think my eardrums are going to implode. You let Sandburg listen to this stuff in the loft?"

"Actually he usually turns it down when I'm there." Jim picked up his pace as he headed for the Natural Gifts store that was obviously the source of the music.

Fortunately the two men were still far enough away that Jim's sentinel hearing would miss smaller details, for neither could hear the additional undertones of two people arguing in the said store.

*********************************

"Matt, you weren't supposed to play the tape yet!" Blair yelled above the music. "I'm supposed to call you with my cell phone when I want you to activate it!"

"Sorry, prof!" the young man yelled back. He was about the same height as Blair, but light brown hair with bangs that were perpetually hanging over his eyes.

"Matt!"

"What?"

"Can't you turn it off!?!"

"I haven't figured that part out yet!"

Blair rolled his eyes and proceeded to examine the unnecessarily complicated stereo system's set of knobs and levers. Suddenly an arm reached in and fiddled with one of the knobs, and the music was suddenly down to a more reasonable volume. Blair and Matt turned to face the store manager, the latter with some trepidation, who had her arms crossed and was tapping her foot on the ground.

"Look, uh, Ms. uh, Sarah," Blair rapidly read her name tag, "I'm really sorry about that. Matt said he'd okay'd this music with you, but I didn't mean for it to be that loud. I am so sorry."

The lady (attractive, of course) looked stern for a moment longer, then one corner of her mouth turned up into an amused half-smile. "I should probably turn the music totally off . . . but I kinda like it. Good job Matt -- I'm always looking for this kind of music." Both guys heaved a large sigh of relief.

"Besides," she continued, "I've had my share of mishaps trying to figure that stereo system out myself."

"You like this kind of music?" Blair said, trying not to sound too enamored.

"Yes! And you are . . .?"

"Oh, Sarah, this is Blair Sandburg, my anthropology professor at Rainier," Matt cut in as Blair shook her hand. "Prof, this is my boss, Sarah McKnight."

"Anthropology, eh? I minored in Anthropology. What do you specialize ..."

Unfortunately, Blair had tuned her out because he spotted the two hunters down the mall a way, but headed directly to the store he was in, no doubt because Jim had heard the music.

"Uh, sorry, but uh, I need to go. No, I need to hide." Blair was looking desperately around the store for something to hide behind or under, realizing that he wouldn't be able to get out before Jim got there.

"You need to what?"

"Hide."

Sarah and Matt just looked at him quizzically.

"Look, I'll explain it all to you later," he said distractedly as he spotted a mini-waterfall that looked like a large pile of rocks. He could wedge himself behind that and the display case.

"Please, whatever you do, DO NOT tell anyone that I'm here!"

Leaving Sarah and Matt looking somewhat aghast, Blair scrambled behind the waterfall just a couple minutes before Jim and Simon entered the store. A couple customers also noticed the anthropologist's strange actions, but luckily just shrugged and kept on shopping.

His heart pounding, Blair hugged his knees to his chest as he heard the two men enter.

*********************************

Jim and Simon entered the store, which smelled vaguely of incense and mostly of pottery, candles, and birdseed. A large display case containing choose-your-own-polished stones had an earthy waterfall next to it. Familiar Peruvian-style jungle music filled the shop.

"You hear that, Simon?" Jim said again.

"Jim, I am not that deaf," Simon said, somewhat annoyed.

"I don't mean the music, sir," Jim said, looking toward the speakers which were at the corners of the store.

"What do you mean? The waterfall?"

"No, there's somebody talking in that music."

"You mean like a subliminal message? You have got to be kidding."

"No, sir. It's ... Sandburg."

"What's he saying?"

Jim spoke slowly, trying to make the words out that were hard for even him to hear.

"'Good guess, Jim, but I'm not here. Isn't this tape cool? Good guess, Jim, but I'm not here. Isn't this ...'" Jim stopped, rather annoyed as he realized he was repeating himself.

Again, Simon had to try not to laugh. "Hey Jim, this is great! Just think, you'll never be able to be fooled by some subliminal message saying 'Buy this now.' I should take you to all the stores in the mall and see which ones have subliminal messages."

"Please, sir, you're starting to sound like Sandburg," Jim said drily. "Let's get out of here."

"I'm whaaaaat? Yes, please, before this message gets to me any more than it already has," Simon shuddered as the two men made a quick exit.

After they were gone, Blair managed to stand up from the little corner he had wedged himself in. A few more customers looked oddly at the man who had obviously been hiding behind the waterfall, but Blair waved casually as if it was totally normal and walked back over to the main counter.

"So what exactly was that all about?" said Sarah.

"Well, suffice it to say that I'm having a little contest with a friend to see if he can find me in a mall."

"Riiiight. And what did music have to do with all of that?"

"Uh, well, it was a ... clue," stammered Blair.

"Sorry about putting the music on, prof," said Matt.

"Don't worry about it, I think it worked out better that way anyway," said Blair, relieved that Jim had left the store quickly before finding him.

"Does this mean that you're still taking me to a movie?"

"Yeah, I guess. I gotta go. Matt, bring that tape back to class tomorrow. Sarah, I'll see you around," Blair flashed both of them a smile as he exited the store, mentally trying to figure out how he was gonna get past the Sentinel now that he was ahead of him.

Peeking around the corner, he spotted his two tall friends standing in front of a large music store -- one with darkened windows and lots of rows blocking the view of the outside walkway. He bit his lip, urging mentally, Come on, Jim, go in, you know I love that store. Go in, please! When they did finally enter the store, Blair withheld a whoop of giddy and relieved delight, bouncing on his toes slightly.

Waiting a few moments more just to be sure, he strode down the walkway, slowing to walk beside a group of women, using them to block the view of the windows. Once past the store, Blair hurried on, securing his backpack more firmly on his shoulders and headed toward his next target.

*********************************

Several minutes later, still feeling the residual pounding of drums in his ears, Jim stepped out of the Virgin Records Megastore which he knew Blair liked to frequent. Unfortunately, his brief foray into that store had turned up no results, unless you counted Simon finding the CD Daryl had been hinting at wanting for the past few weeks. Waiting for his boss to finish paying for his purchase, Jim turned his attention back to the stores on either side of the mall walkway. Where would Sandburg go? Where would he try to hide? Where would I go if I were him? Chewing on his lower lip, he scanned the storefronts and displays. His eyes stopped at the Brookstone store some ways down. Hmm . . . a possibility. Might as well take it. Turning back to find Simon waiting next to him, small CD bag in hand, Jim gestured down the walkway.

Walking next to Jim, Simon raised an eyebrow in expectation. "Well?"

"There's a Brookstone down this way. It carries the types of gadgets that Sandburg finds very intriguing. He can't afford most of them, but he likes to talk about them a lot. He has a friend that works at this one, who I think helped him find me some earplugs last year."

"Earplugs?" Simon chuckled, "Kid playing the stereo too loud?"

Actually, it was his writing that got to me, but . . . "Something like that, yeah. In any case, I want to stop and look around. Knowing Blair, he's left another note or something. And probably asked his friend to deny seeing him, but it can't hurt to ask. Maybe I can pick up something anyway."

Simon grinned. "Never hurts to be hopeful."

Jim threw Simon a glare. "You're finding this entirely too amusing, sir."

"I am, aren't I."

Shaking his head at Simon's unrepentant grin, Jim looked back at the Brookstone store as they neared it, turning up smell and hearing cautiously. The faint scent of Blair's shampoo hung in the air, but he didn't trust that anymore. Not after seeing those sample cards floating around. Probably just more teenage girls. He shuddered at the thought of more squealing, but continued to scan for Blair's voice.

Nothing. He glanced down at his watch. Thirty minutes already gone and hardly anything to go on. At this rate, I'll be owing Sandburg tests just so he can train me to find him better. He'll probably want to do this again sometime to retest me. Not what I call a desirable outcome.

He looked back out at the people teaming and swarming in and out of stores, each intent on their own lives and their own purchases. For a moment, the sight of so many people overwhelmed him. I'm never gonna find him in this mass horde. Never. Then Blair's voice echoed at him -- 'You found me in that parade in Little Havana, Jim. Come on, you can do this.'

Growling, Jim muttered under his breath. "You weren't trying to hide from me then, Chief. This is different."

Blair spoke again in his mind. 'Yes, it's different, but not that different. Think of this as a challenge. Concentrate, Jim. You can do this.'

Straightening slightly, Jim turned back to where he'd left Simon -- only to find him not there. Now what? He looked inside the store and saw Simon relaxing in some huge black leather chair, eyes closed, a look of decadent pleasure on his features. Jim strode inside, his lips turning up into a smile as he realized that the chair was a full-body massage chair, something Simon was obviously taking full advantage of. He stopped next to it and crossed his arms, staring down at his captain. His mouth twitched up into a sideways grin.

"Having fun, sir?"

Simon opened one eye slowly and peered lazily up at him. "Oh, yeah. Think I'll get one of these for my office. Just what I need."

Jim laughed. "Whatever you say, Simon." He looked toward the back of the store. "I'm gonna find out which one of these clerks knows Sandburg. Don't go anywhere."

"Wasn't planning to."

Rolling his eyes, Jim walked away, heading for the back of the store and the counter where he could see a few store clerks processing customers' purchases. He knew that Blair's friend's first name was Gregory, but nothing else. Hopefully, one of them was Gregory, or knew who Gregory was. Blair was the type to stop in and say hi to every friend he knew in whatever place he might be visiting. Hopefully today will be no different.

Taking up a position behind the line of customers waiting for assistance, Jim passed the time by eyeing the various 'toys' scattered on the display case next to him. Miniature massagers, travel blow dryers and irons, coffee warmers, hi-tech lint brushes. He shook his head. The things people will buy for amusement sake. He looked ahead of him again, but the line hadn't changed lengths. Where are all the clerks? Zooming in, he read the name tags on the male store clerks. Randall, Dexter, and Mike. No Gregory. Jim sighed in exasperation, realizing that if he waited around for the line to diminish that he might be here forever. Oh, never mind. I'm only going to waste time doing it this way. He turned, planning to head back to Simon.

Upon stepping out of line, he caught sight of Simon standing at another display case, one hand playing with the knobs of some small machine. What is he looking at now? He headed toward Simon, intending to ask. He had just opened his mouth to do so, when a high-pitched, nearly inaudible buzz assaulted his ears, sending a crawly, itchy feeling rippling down his spinal cord. The dial spun out of control even as he was reaching for it. Wincing and resisting the urge to clamp his hands over his ears, knowing that it wouldn't help, Jim hissed at Simon as he drew near.

"Simon!"

Simon looked up and immediately caught the look of pain on Jim's face. His own eyes going wide with realization and regret, he quickly turned off the machine, waiting until Jim drew up next to him to speak in a low tone. "Sorry. I should've known you could hear that. Are you okay?"

Straightening up and relaxing his shoulders from their instinctual hunch, Jim nodded. "Yeah, I think so. What was that?" He looked down at the display shelf and then rolled his eyes. "An ultrasonic insect repeller? Oh, you've got to be kidding. If Sandburg gets a hold of this information, he'll never let me forget it. Simon ..."

Simon laughed. "Don't worry, I won't tell him."

Jim grunted. "I hope not."

"Are you ready to go then?"

Jim nodded, gesturing Simon toward the exit. "Yeah. I don't think Gregory is here. And I don't want to wait ..." His voice trailed off as he spotted a rather familiar-looking white card lying on the floor next to the entrance. Must have missed it when I came in. He paused in the doorway and picked it up. The Bath and Body script flowed across the top. And along the bottom a different type of writing that he knew very well. Blair's handwriting. It was only four words and a symbol.

~~~~~ Sorry, Jim. Try again. :-P ~~~~~

Simon read the card as well and looked away to hide a smile, continuing on his way out to the mall. Jim almost had to be impressed that Blair knew him so well as to predict where he would go looking for him. Almost. He pocketed the card and went to join Simon. Obviously I've been going about this wrong. I need to change my plan of attack.

*********************************

Sipping at his Orange Julius contemplatively, Blair pondered his next move as he strolled quickly through the mall. He'd bypassed the Brookstone after a quick peek in, asking if Gregory was there. Too bad today was his day off. Would've been fun to involve him in this little game. He always did enjoy the 'cloak-and-dagger' type of stuff. He frowned to himself. Who else can I ask to do something? Moving the straw around in the lid of his drink idly, he ran through the list of people he knew in the mall, which was surprisingly long, but not-so-surprisingly heavy on the female side.

He stopped walking, looking at the stores surrounding him. Where would Jim look for me? Probably in places he'd think I'd go. So, what if I go somewhere he won't look for me. Somewhere he won't go. Hair salon? Too bad they don't have one here. Hmm . . .

Coming to a decision, he downed the rest of his drink with a grin and started looking for a place to trash the cup. A heavy hand descended on his shoulder, making him jump and let out a startled half-yelp of surprise as he whirled around, almost expecting to see a merrily grinning Jim. "Aah!"

Two equally startled faces stared back at him, amusement and curiosity dancing in their eyes. Blair deflated quickly, laughing in nervousness. Oh, man, it's not Jim! Just calm down, Sandburg, calm down. Plastering a grin on his face, he asked, "Hi guys, what are you two doing here?"

"Well, Hairboy, we could ask you the same thing," Brown grinned at him.

Rafe nodded in agreement, crossing his arms. "You were looking a little suspicious there, like you were casing the jewelry store."

Blair quickly looked back to where his eyes had been resting -- it was a jewelry store all right. And he'd probably been staring at it without even realizing it. He looked back at the two cops. "No, just lost in thought, I guess. Doing some shopping and I was trying to remember where the store was I needed to go to." He paused, then cleared his throat to go on. "So, what are you two doing here?"

Brown waved a thumb back at Rafe. "He's 'helping' me pick out a gift for my girlfriend. Or so he says."

Rafe hit Brown's arm. "Hey, I'm helping! What do you know about gifts for women? You forgot last time and bought something off of Blair here at the last second. And if I remember correctly, when you do remember, you buy her stuff like candy and flowers."

Brown shrugged, looking affronted. "Women like that stuff." Then he hesitated and glanced at Blair. "Don't they?"

Blair laughed, nodding. "Yeah, they do. Normally. What's the occasion?"

"Six-month Anniversary of our first date."

"Oooh, important one. Normal candy and flowers will not cut it. Um, try Godiva's Chocolatier and maybe go for roses." He glanced back at the jewelry store, and grinned. "Or you might want to try the jewelry store. Looks like they've got a nice selection. You could also reassure anyone who asks that I'm not gonna rob them."

Both men laughed and Brown slapped him on the back. "Thanks for the tip, Hairboy. I'll owe you one."

Blair waved it off. "Nah, just some advice. But you could do me a small favor."

Brown nodded. "Yeah?"

"Jim and Simon are around here somewhere and if you happen to see them, could you maybe not mention that you've seen me? Even if Jim asks?"

Rafe raised an eyebrow. "And why would we do that? What's going on here? Ellison mad at you or something?"

He shook his head. "No, no, no, nothing like that. We, uh, well, we're having a little bet to see if Jim can find me in the mall in an hour. His time is just past half over right now. And I'd rather he didn't get any extra help."

Rafe and Brown exchanged a look, then Rafe asked, "And Simon? What's he here for?"

Oh, man, talk about thinking on your feet. Uh . . . He rapidly pulled together a reasonable answer. "Amusement value."

Brown chuckled. "Amusement value. That's a good one, Sandburg. I'll have to remember that."

Blair blinked, unsure of what that response meant, but decided not to press his luck by asking. "So you won't tell Jim anything if you see him? Or Simon?"

Both men shook their heads, still smiling. "Nah, we won't say anything, Hairboy. Just relax."

Blair breathed out in a rush. "Oh, thanks guys." He glanced down at his watch, then down the mall. "Well, I really ought to get going before Jim shows up here."

Brown nodded and started pushing Rafe toward the jewelry store. "See you around, Sandburg. And good luck." He and Rafe wandered away, both joking with each other. As they got out of earshot, Blair heard one last comment from Rafe.

"Didn't I suggest jewelry two days ago? But did you listen to me? No, of course not, why would you . . . ?"

Blair chuckled, then hauled his mind back to why he was really there. First, a trash can, then the next stage of my plan. Grinning, he spotted both his targets and hurried away.

*********************************

Jim and Simon proceeded down the mall at a slightly more determined pace than they had originally. Jim was silent, as if contemplating where he would go if he were hiding from himself. Now there's a thought I don't want to try to figure out! Sounds like something Sandburg would say. Simon eyed him curiously when he chuckled, but didn't say anything. Looking at his watch again, Jim's chuckle turned into a slight frown. Twenty minutes left. C'mon, Ellison, stop thinking like yourself and think like your partner. He scanned the stores in front of him again. He's not going to the places I would expect him to. So, where would I not expect him to go? Where would I not want to go?

Before he could answer his own question, familiar voices floated to him across the other multitude of sounds in the mall. He stopped and looked across the walkway to a jewelry store and saw Brown and Rafe just then exiting, both laughing, Brown carrying a small bag.

Simon asked, "What is it, Jim?"

Jim pointed discreetly. "Brown and Rafe. I think they've been shopping for Brown's girlfriend. Maybe ..." He grinned at Simon's half-hearted protest.

"Jim, you know what Sandburg said."

"Yeah, I know. He said that you weren't supposed to help me. He didn't say anything about Brown or Rafe."

"Semantics, Jim. He wouldn't want you asking them for help either. You know that."

Jim tossed off another quick grin. "So we won't tell him." He then strode across to catch up with Brown and Rafe before they got too far away. Simon rolled his eyes and followed at a brisk pace. He caught up just as Jim had stopped the two other cops, starting up a nice casual conversation. "Fancy meeting you two here."

The two men exchanged a quick glance, then Rafe answered, a little too quickly, for them both, "Yeah. We were just getting a gift for Brown's girlfriend. He needed help."

Brown glared at him good-naturedly. "Thanks, partner. You are so kind."

Rafe grinned. "I can't help myself."

Simon and Jim laughed at the face Brown made before pointedly ignoring Rafe and asking, "So, what brings you two to the mall?"

Jim shrugged. "Oh, not much. Just perusing the stores, looking for something ... or in this case, someone. You wouldn't happened to have seen him, would you?"

Rafe blinked innocently. "Seen who?"

Jim smiled. "Sandburg, of course. You have seen him, haven't you?"

After only a slight hesitation, Brown replied as they both shook their heads, "Hairboy? Nope, haven't seen him. But we'll let you know. We really should be going . . ."

Jim stopped them, stepping in between them and throwing an arm around both their shoulders. "No, no, now, wait just a minute here. You both seem a little too, um, anxious to get away. Are you sure you don't know anything? Anything at all?" Simon rolled his eyes again, crossing his arms, waiting to see what would happen. It didn't take Jim's sentinel senses to see that Brown and Rafe did know something . . . and really didn't want to tell Jim.

Neither man said anything, so Jim went on, still smiling, looking up at the roof of the mall, nodding slightly as if in thought. "Of course, this is all speaking hypothetically, of course."

Rafe repeated slowly. "Hypothetically."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, hypothetically. You're both cops, right? So, hypothetically speaking, if I was after a dangerous suspect who looked amazingly like Sandburg, what could you tell me about him? Hypothetically."

Brown replied after a moment, squirming slightly under Jim's arm. "Uh, well, hypothetically speaking, we'd need to know why he was dangerous and why you needed to find him."

Jim didn't waste a moment on his reply. "He is driving his roommate slightly crazy. You see, if I don't find this suspect in the next twenty minutes, I'll have to do this all over again at a later time. And I really don't want to do that." He tightened his arms, grinning more. "And I don't think you want me to either, right?"

Rafe choked out, withholding a hysterical laugh. "Are we still speaking hypothetically here?" Jim nodded, the slightly silly and mock-threatening grin still on his face, and Simon laughed, one hand going up to his mouth at the absurdness of the whole conversation. Rafe continued. "Hypothetically, what if we told you that we made a promise not to say anything to either you or Simon."

Jim pursed his lips, shaking his head rather sadly. "Well, I'd have to say how disappointed I am that you couldn't help me." He paused for effect, then went on. "And I'd have to remind you that I have control over the roster of names for the Heschelman stakeout for the next two weeks. I could always rearrange the order of shifts ..."

Brown glared at Jim. "That's cruel, Ellison."

"So it is. I'm a desperate man, H. I do what I have to."

Rafe and Brown exchanged another look, then Brown sighed and replied, "I'd say this hypothetical suspect of yours did look a lot like Sandburg. Strange how that was. Except for the backpack. It was blue instead of that leather brown one that your partner usually has with him."

Jim nodded approvingly and looked at Rafe, who rolled his eyes and said, "His clothes were similar, though they looked fairly new. All dark colors. And his hair was loose. And that's all we're gonna tell you. We do have some principles, you know."

He squeezed his arms once more around the two men's shoulders, then released both his fellow detectives, slapping them on the back. "Thanks, men. Your help in catching this dangerous suspect is most appreciated."

Brown and Rafe looked at each other, then back at Jim and Simon, before Brown said, "Uh, yeah. Well, as I was saying earlier, we really need to be going. Talk to you later, guys." And then they vanished into the crowds of people ... at a rather fast pace.

Simon said after a moment, shaking his head. "That was downright dirty, Jim. Sneaky and underhanded."

Jim nodded once. "Thank you, sir, I'll take that as a compliment. Now, let's go find Sandburg. Time is rapidly disappearing on me."

*********************************

Seventeen minutes left. Blair looked up from his watch, grinning a little, both in anticipation success and in terror that his Sentinel would appear out of nowhere at any moment. Jim's running out of time and so am I. He must be getting nervous by now and getting more focused, more intent. And a more intent Sentinel is a more determined Sentinel and lots more likely to find me. His grin widened as his stride quickened. So, that means I've got to pull out my last few tricks to fool him. He paused in front of an Abercombie and Fitch store before heading to his final destination, ostensibly checking out the window display of sweaters and coats and idly looking out at the people walking by, checking for signs of his partner -- and currently playing hunter to Blair's prey.

When he caught sight of Jim and Simon rounding a curve in the mall, he froze for half a second, then shot into the clothes store. Gotta hide, gotta hide. Oh, man, what if he saw me!?! He looked around, panting lightly before making a rash and hurried decision. Spotting a circular rack of long coats set against the side wall of the store, Blair hesitated only momentarily before dashing over. He glanced around him, but no one was watching. I cannot believe I am doing this! Quickly, before any of the store clerks did notice him, he parted the coats, shoving them aside.

Then he bent down, crawled inside, and closed the curtain of coats around himself. And then he waited, clutching the borrowed backpack in his lap, eyes wide as he forced himself to breathe slowly and quietly. Just be calm, Sandburg. Be calm. It will be a whole lot more likely he won't find you if he doesn't hear some frantically beating heartbeat from inside a rack of clothes.

And if he does find me, well, it's been fun. And just think what an interesting time we'll have explaining this to the store clerks. An hysterical giggle bubbled up his throat, threatening to burst out, and he clamped a hand over his mouth to contain it as he heard Simon's voice as he entered the store.

*********************************

"Are you sure you saw Sandburg, Jim?" Simon looked around, not seeing the young man anywhere in the store, at least not anywhere in sight.

Jim nodded, moving further inside, dialing up his senses as he did so. "I saw him, Simon. I know I did. It was Sandburg. Running into the store."

"You didn't see his face, though."

Jim reluctantly shook his head, conceding the point. "No, I didn't, but it was him. The hair, the backpack, the stride, they all fit. He came in here and he's probably trying to hide from me." He sent his senses out, scanning the store. Shoppers of varying age milled around the clothes racks, talking, examining sweaters, shirts, coats, and other clothing. A few kids were scattered among the shoppers, usually straying from their mothers, even as Jim noted that those mothers kept a close eye on them. Good, I don't need to be dealing with a screaming kid today.

He turned up his sense of smell slowly, automatically filtering out any unwanted scents. He was searching for something particular, something that still might be of use to him, something that.... Ah-hah! It is here. Jim focused in on the scent, tracking it to a clothes rack of long coats along a side wall. A rack that had no one standing near it. Smiling predatorily, he then turned up his sense of hearing, focusing it, and picked up a rapid heartbeat. As if someone was either scared or on an adrenaline rush. He laughed softly, drawing a look from Simon.

Jim motioned toward the clothes rack. "I think I found our little suspect, Simon."

Simon raised an eyebrow and followed Jim slowly as he advanced upon the circular rack of coats. "You think he's hiding inside there?"

"Yep."

Upon reaching the rack, Jim reached for the coats, inserting his hands to pull them apart. "Game's over, Chief. Time to go home." And then he yanked them apart and stared down inside, a decidedly evil grin on his features.

Two huge bright blue eyes stared back at him. And those eyes were definitely framed by a curly mop of brown hair. But two seconds later, everyone in the store knew that Jim hadn't found his prey as the little toddler let loose a wail of fright, dropping the 'Bath and Body' fragrance card that he had found to chew on. Jim blinked and backed up rapidly as a woman shoved him aside and swooped down on the little boy, gathering him up in her arms, soothing him instinctively. "Sh-sh, it's okay, Jackie. I'm here." She glared daggers at Jim, shifting to shield her son from the big man who seemed so threatening.

Jim stammered out, "Oh, ma'am, I am so sorry. I didn't mean to ... I thought that ..."

Simon, several feet behind Jim, covered his eyes momentarily with one hand, sighing softly, muttering under his breath about the wisdom of this whole thing. He turned partially away, leaving Jim to continue apologizing to the irate woman ... or at least trying to, in between her angry statements. His eyes landed on another rack of long coats on the opposite side of the store. The coats suddenly parted and an intent face peered out.

A very familiar face, lit by two very bright and very mischievous blue eyes.

Those eyes met his and stopped, a mixture of pleading and unsureness flitting across them. Simon threw a glance at Jim, who was still very much occupied by the woman and whose back was to that coat rack. He looked back at Blair and made a quick gesture for him to get a move-on. Blair nodded and hurriedly detached himself from the coat rack. And then grabbing up the unfamiliar blue backpack, he tiptoed out of the store in a rush, not stopping even once to look back. Simon watched him disappear outside and head past the windows in a streak of dark colors.

Shaking his head, Simon turned back to Jim, schooling his features to reflect nothing more than mild amusement at Jim's predicament. That kid is something else. How much time is left anyway? He glanced at his watch. Twelve minutes. My, my, Ellison, Sandburg may win here, after all, beating out Ranger skills, detective training, and Sentinel senses. I should've laid down a bet on this whole thing. He fought down another smile as Jim turned back to walk over to him, chagrin evident in his features.

Simon asked neutrally, "Everything okay?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. No harm done. I was so sure, Simon. The scent was there and so was the heartbeat. But it was just one of those cards again."

"And the heartbeat?"

Jim grimaced. "I forgot that little kids have fast heartbeats as well. I should know better than that."

Simon shook his head melodramatically. "Yes, you should. What will Sandburg think?"

Jim made a face. "I don't even want to consider it." He scanned the inside of the store again, but didn't pick up anything other than the residual scent of Blair's shampoo among the clothes racks. Probably more kids or more teenage girls. Geez. He looked back at Simon. "I'm done here, Simon. Let's move on."

Simon nodded and gestured for Jim to lead the way. Hope you found a good place to hide, kid. I have a feeling that Blair Sandburg's Last Stand is rapidly approaching.

*********************************

Blair skidded to a halt just inside the pet store, taking a deep breath to offset the panting he'd developed from his near-mad rush down to this end of the mall. Okay, Sandburg, last place in the mall. Nearly next door to a department store. Nowhere else to go. He walked through the large store, evading children and their parents, stacks of pet houses both the plastic budget and carpeted luxury versions, racks of chew toys, displays of leashes and harnesses, and mountains of pet food. Swerving around the large parrot squawking for attention, he made his way to the back of the store to the back counter.

The cashier at the counter raised an eyebrow at his approach. He grinned at her, waggling one hand. "Hi, Lise."

"Blair, what are you doing here? I thought you had to stay out of pet stores. Something about your roommate's allergies or something?"

He shrugged, hefting the backpack up for her to see. "Came to return this."

Lise, a tall, leggy blonde, one of his senior students and good friends, took the backpack from him. "What? Oh, thanks." She stared at it, then at him, before dropping it behind the counter and picking up something else. She hefted Blair's backpack up onto the counter. "Someone dropped this off for you a bit earlier. Said you would be dropping by to pick it up."

He took the pack, shouldering it easily. "Oh, yeah, thanks."

"Blair, what is going on here? Are you in trouble or something?"

He glanced at the clock behind the counter -- seven minutes and counting -- then answered, "No, no, no trouble. Just a little fun."

"Uh-huh. You never did tell me why you needed my backpack."

He laughed. "Well, you see, I was playing this little game with my roommate. I wanted to see if he could find me in the mall in an hour or less. I didn't want anything on me that would tip him off as belonging to me."

Lise's eyebrows rose to her hairline. "Blair Sandburg! I may have never met your roommate, but even I know he's a cop. What possessed you to even suggest such a thing? And how in the world did you get him to agree?"

Blair waggled his eyebrows. "My boyish innocence?"

She smacked his arm. "Not!"

Blair shook his head, still laughing. "Sorry. No, really, I just wanted to see if he could do it. Actually, I'm a little surprised he hasn't found me by now. I half-expected to get caught before thirty minutes was up and there were a few close calls along the way. Jim is like the closest thing there is to a human bloodhound."

"How long do you have left?"

"Just over five minutes."

"You planning just to wait around in here until the time is up?"

Blair nodded, glancing toward the front of the store. "Yeah, I figured I might. It's not that Jim hates animals or something. He actually likes dogs. But it's just the concentrated smell of animals in an enclosed space -- it gets to him really quick." He grinned. "If anywhere is safe to spend my last minutes on the run from big bad Detective Ellison, it would be here."

Lise laughed again. "You are one very strange, very sneaky individual, Blair."

"So I've been told."

*********************************

It wasn't until Jim was half a dozen feet past the pet store that he stopped and turned around, nearly colliding into Simon. "What is it, Jim?"

Jim ignored him for the moment, staring at the entrance to Pet World, feeling his nose twitch in annoyance already as the odors of pets, pet food, pet dander, pet everything assault him. Where I would go if I were hiding from myself? Where would be the last place in the mall I would want to visit? He made a face, grimacing. Sandburg, if you're in there, I may just have to kill you. You know I can't stand the smell of pet stores. The memory of his reaction to the dead animal parts during the poacher case was still fresh in his mind -- and he was fairly sure it was still fresh in his partner's mind. He muttered under his breath, then forcibly dialed his sense of smell all the way down, until it was nearly totally turned off. His eyes would still react, but it was better than sneezing and announcing his arrival.

Simon spoke again. "Jim?"

Jim motioned toward the pet store. "He's in there, Simon."

Simon raised an eyebrow. "He is? And how would you know that?"

"Because time's almost up and this is the last place I would want to visit. I know it and Sandburg knows it." He paused, then took a deep breath. "So, let's get inside, grab my conniving little partner, and get out of here." Without waiting for an answer, Jim strode quickly inside the store, Simon following behind him, wanting to see the end of this whole game. He glanced at his watch as they entered. The final minute countdown. If Sandburg's not in here, then we won't be visiting another store, that's for sure. It ends now. He paused and rolled his eyes up to the ceiling. Thank goodness.

*********************************

"Whoa! No, you don't. I don't think we want a loose puppy in the mall. Bad for business." Blair grabbed the squirmy black puppy and hauled back into his lap, or rather the lap of the little girl seated in his lap. He shifted his position a little, forcing some circulation back into his half-numb legs. The little girl's parents stood at the counter with Lise, going over payments and care for the new puppy.

The little girl squealed when the puppy turned and started happily and playfully licking her face. Blair laughed along with her and got his own share of licks when she moved and the puppy stretched up to get him. He pushed the puppy down with hand and got a better hold of him, then reached up with the other arm and wiped at his face. The parents came around and claimed their little girl and her new puppy. The little girl waved at Blair, still smiling. "Bye-bye, Blair."

As he hauled himself off the floor, Blair waved back. "Bye-bye, Jessie. Have fun with your puppy." Then he looked down at his watch and realized that he had barely a minute left. Now or never, Jim. Snatching up his backpack, he threw a grin over at Lise, then edged his way around a high shelf to peer toward the entrance.

And there, to his much astonished gaze, were Jim and Simon.

*********************************

Simon watched with poorly concealed amusement as Jim eyed one of the largest deluxe doghouses he had ever seen. He chuckled. "You think he's hiding in one of those or something?"

Jim grunted. "If he's not, he will be by time I'm done with him. After I catch him."

"Now, Jim, you agreed to this."

"Yeah, yeah, don't worry. I won't do him any permanent harm."

"Hmm."

They made their way slowly to the back of the store, heading for the counter where Jim could see a tall, leggy blonde talking with a few customers. They had just started to turn around a tall shelf filled with dog leashes and harnesses when a huge clatter sounded at the front of the store. Jim's hands went up to his ears automatically as the sound of aluminum pet dishes clanging together and rolling around loudly on the concrete floor. Everyone in the store turned to look at the doorway where a young man stood frozen like a deer in headlights, a pile of dishes around him, liberally decorated with rawhide bones that had also fallen. His eyes caught Jim's and he smiled sheepishly, waving one hand. "Uh, hi?"

Simon rolled his eyes and behind him he heard the woman at the counter sigh softly. "Oh, Blair."

Jim took a step toward the door, opening his mouth to say something. But all that came out was a loud sneeze. And another. At the doorway, Blair moved again, heading toward the doorway and escape. He paused only long enough to grin and wave again at the blonde. "Bye, Lise."

Then he tore past a few entering customers, Jim's voice ringing out behind him. "Sandburg!"

After a few moments, Jim strode out as well, very intent on finding his partner, not running, but walking at a good clip. Those in his way made sure they weren't by time he reached them. Simon paused a long moment, then walked slowly out after them, wondering if he still really wanted to be seen with them. He exited the store in time to see Jim catching up to Blair as they left the mall by the side entrance. As he neared the now-closed mall side doors, he saw both partners on the sidewalk outside, Jim grabbing one of the straps on Blair's backpack to pull him toward him.

Simon exited and watched with a smile as Jim hauled Blair to him, or at least tried to. Another sneeze intervened and Jim lost hold of the strap. Blair laughed and sidled away. "My backpack's been sitting in that store all day and I've been holding a puppy, Jim. I'd advise you to keep clear for a bit."

Jim sneezed again. "When I get my hands on you --" He stopped, then grinned slyly. "Sandburg, you should know I'm plotting my revenge as we speak."

Blair widened his eyes in mock horror. "Giving me more paperwork isn't going to cut it, Jim. We both know who does most of it now anyway."

Throwing a quick look at Simon who was patently not listening, Jim shook his head. "No, I wasn't thinking about paperwork. More along the lines of a," he paused, then grinned evilly, "noogie!" Blair yelped and scrambled away from Jim's long arms, dashing down the sidewalk, Jim's voice following him. "You can't run forever, Chief. You have to come home sometime! I'll get you then."

Blair disappeared around the corner of the building and Jim laughed loudly, rubbing his chest in pleased satisfaction. Simon stepped up next to him. "If I haven't said it before, Jim, let me tell you again, you are a cruel man."

Jim grinned wider, "Aren't I though?"

"Just do me a favor."

"What?"

"Don't kill him until he gives me those recipes."

Jim laughed again. "You got it, sir." He paused, then added, "Come on, Simon, let's get out of here."

"Best idea I've heard all day."

- The End -