Like a Fish Needs an Anthropologist

Simon's office smelled like cold Sumatra coffee and freshly rubbed eraser. There was a fine mist of pink crumbs covering the desk, like he'd been trying to erase his paperwork instead of fill it out.

Jim had found a pattern in the placement of the crumbs, a definite mathematical structure, an arcing fan design with an almost organic shape to it, like the cells in a leaf, random, but related at the same time. The crumbs were quite spongy, actually, and fluffy in a popcorn, dryer-lint sort of way. They would taste gritty, he decided, like sand, but more giving, with that warm rubber taste/smell that was like the dentist's office, the tang of the drill speeding away enamel, the metallic heat--

Blair suddenly put a hand on his arm, and like his touch started off a chain reaction, Jim found himself raising his own hand and taking a sip of his coffee, which was surprisingly cold. He wondered how long he'd been enjoying the miraculous world of eraser lint and why Blair hadn't done something earlier to pull him out of it.

"And you haven't heard a word I've said, have you, Ellison? What was it this time? My tie? The weave of my shirt? Get him out of here, Sandburg."

Blair grabbed him by the elbow and tugged him out into the bullpen. Simon's door slammed behind them, like even his office was angry. Jim frowned. Blair was already talking.

"It's not you, Jim. He's having some problems with Darryl, and sure you left out the part about seeing the shooter on the balcony, and that was why you busted into that diplomat's party, but Simon's looking to, like, reaffirm his position of authority in any way he can, and that's why--"

"He yelled at me," Jim said, not liking the way that sounded, like he'd been bad. It made him feel sulky and mean. He hated the Hawaiian shirt Blair was wearing.

"He was trying to--"

"Yeah, yeah, I got that, Chief, thanks," Jim said, stalking off to find something to glare at that wasn't Blair because Blair, for all his "embrace your emotions, Jim, they're your friends" crap, never let him have a decent sulk.

Blair spent the rest of the morning chasing down a certain requisition form that was only available when Jal was in the building and Jal, as it turned out, was not an easy man to find. Blair did, however, get the number of the cute blonde down in booking, so it wasn't a total loss. Not that Jim would see it that way with the mood he was in.

Blair came back into Major Crimes to find Jim sitting at his desk and glaring at Rafe. The only explanation Blair could come up with for this was that Rafe was in a good mood, and Jim wasn't.

Diversionary tactics, go: "Hey, Jim, buddy, wanna get lunch?"

Jim transferred his glare to Blair. "Lunch," he mumbled. "Green kelpy things, not fit to be spat out of a cow, no thank you."

"Uh, standing right here?" Blair said, his hands up in defense.

"Good for you, Chief." Jim smiled, but it wasn't a smile intended to make Blair feel better. It was Jim's smug passive-aggressive "don't you feel like an idiot?" smile. Blair ignored it.

"You really need to eat. What did you have for breakfast? Like a muffin and some coffee, right? You need protein. I bet your blood sugar's all whacked out and that's why you're so--" Blair realized what he was about to say and stopped.

"So what, Sandburg?" Jim asked through gritted teeth. That vein in his forehead was throbbing again and he looked so angry and ridiculous that Blair couldn't help smiling. Jim growled at him.

Blair stopped smiling and rolled his eyes. "Pissy."

Either Jim felt he couldn't dignify that with a response or he was trying to decide the best place to hide Blair's body. One often lead to the other. Time for a compromise.

"We could go to Wonderburger."

Jim narrowed his eyes. "What's the catch?"

"No catch. You're hungry, we'll eat."

"I didn't say I was hungry. You said I was hungry."

Blair counted to ten. And then he counted to ten again.

His silence must have unsettled Jim because he stood up and pulled his coat on. "Fine, but I'm driving."

Blair grabbed his jacket and trotted after him, wisely keeping to himself that his Volvo was in the shop. It'd only annoy Jim and Blair didn't want another lecture on his "lifestyle." Like driving a shitty car was a political statement rather than him just being broke.

As soon as Jim stepped outside, it was like someone'd pulled a too-tight helmet off his head. He inhaled in surprise.

Blair, of course, constantly monitoring his heartbeat and respiration and brainwaves, immediately noticed something was different. "Tell me what's happening, Jim."

Even though Blair was dancing around in front of him and peering into his eyes with that look like he wished he had a camcorder, Jim no longer wanted to punch him, in fact, he couldn't even remember why he'd felt so angry earlier. "Huh."

"Good huh or bad huh?" Blair demanded.

"It went away."

"What went away?"

"Whatever was wrong," Jim said, waving at his head, intentionally vague. Saying too much would only play right into Blair's touchy-feely hands. Jim couldn't have Blair expecting him to talk about his feelings every time his senses went on the fritz. He'd never have any time to himself.

Blair sighed. "Can you describe exactly what changed?"

"I stepped out onto the sidewalk and..."


"And, I don't know, it was like I could breathe again."

"Good, that's good," Blair said, nodding rapidly. "Must be environmental. Something inside the building making you act so -- so, I mean, did you notice anything weird going on today?" He tilted his head. "New smells or noises or people?"

Jim went through his day so far: Break room, rest room, file room, squad room, rest room again. Nowhere he hadn't been before, though maybe he needed to lay off the coffee. "Can't think of anything," he said. "Someone was stomping around upstairs when we first came in, made me want to go up there and...uh, but that was hours ago. They stopped."

"Uh huh," said Blair. "I'm gonna go check it out. Maybe you should stay here."

Jim pulled the door out of Sandburg's hand. "I'll go with you."

"Come on, man, why go back in there if you don't have to? I've got this. Seriously." Blair gave him a staying look and slipped into the building. Jim thought about following him, but in the end decided to let the kid handle it. It was probably new vent work or a fresh coat of paint or something else equally harmless to the population at large.

He tried to pretend this stuff didn't bother him -- the zones, the freakouts -- but it did. He hated how lost it made him feel. It was his job to protect the people of this city. Unless the people had recently gotten their nails done or were wearing a shirt with reflective paint, and then he was usually too busy getting pulled out of oncoming traffic to deal with their problems. It didn't make any sense that these abilities he'd developed to protect others effectively stopped him from being able to protect himself, but that, Blair had explained over and over, was his job. That didn't mean Jim had to like it.

Blair came out of the station, dangling a set of keys and grinning like a used car salesman. "Road trip!"


"There's new carpet in the administration offices," Blair said. "I went up there and the fumes were, it was like you could see them wiggling up from the floor, all that synthetic fiber and glue, yuck. No wonder you were going nuts."

"I wasn't--"

"So Simon gave us the rest of the week off, and the keys to the cabin he'd rented to go fishing with Darryl."

"You mean he gave me the rest of the week off."

Blair waved a hand. "I can get someone to cover my intro classes. Not a big deal. You're always complaining we never leave the city. Here's your chance. You can't work in that building until the smell dissipates."

That had been Jim's next objection. He fumbled for a new one. "Uh, but what about Simon? I thought he was going up there this weekend."

"His plans changed," Blair tossed over his shoulder, heading for the truck and digging through his backpack for something. "You know, for a guy with super-hearing, you sure do miss a lot."

"I hear everything, Sandburg. I just don't listen to all of it."

Blair pulled a notebook out of his pack and muttered how convenient that was and that they were going to the cabin if he had to strap Jim to the roof of the truck and drive them there himself.

"I heard that," Jim said, and when Blair snorted, Jim realized that had probably been the point.

"See, this was a good idea," Blair said, dropping down next to Jim.

Jim grunted and fiddled with his reel.

"Fresh air, open sky, birds singing, I bet you're feeling better already. No more unprovoked fits of rage or--"

"Sandburg, shut up. You're scaring the fish."

"--at least no more than usual."

"Do you want to eat canned chili for dinner? Because if so, keep talking. I think there are still two or three fish that haven't fled to the other side of the lake 'cause of your yapping."

"Whatever," Blair said easily, pulling out the floppy hat he used to wear on digs. A few minutes passed like that, with Jim giving Blair little sidelong glances and Blair not saying a thing. Eventually, as Blair knew he would, Jim cracked under the pressure of getting his way.

"That's it?" Jim looked at him suspiciously. "That never worked before."

"Maybe I'm trying something new." Blair lounged back on the dock, propping himself up on his elbows. It wasn't entirely comfortable, but he was going for a look here. "You know, taking the advice of someone I respect, trusting their judgment, their ability to, like, evaluate the unfamiliar and set it--"

"Sandburg," Jim said, exasperated, looming over him. "You've made your point."

"Thank you! Because it's really imp--"

Jim kissed him, cupped Blair's head in one broad fishy hand and brought their mouths together. Blair kissed him back, mind spinning in every direction, unspooling like Jim's fishing line had, arcing out over the sun-spotted lake, weightless, and oh, Jim was such a cheater. Blair pulled away to accuse him of changing the subject, but the second he did, Jim wrestled him down onto the dock, kissed him again, and said--

"Now shut up."

Jim went back to fishing, watching the lake intently, head cocked, listening to things only he could hear. Blair could have argued but the sun was making him drowsy, and he stayed there on his back, looking up at the sky, the pointy tree tops, thinking about the sunburn Jim was going to get on the back of his head, the tips of his ears.