written January 31, 1998



by Arduinna


Blair dropped his head to the steering wheel and groaned softly. "Not again. Please, not again. I can't do this again." He shuddered once, then took a deep breath and sat up straight. "I can do this. I can. Right."

One more deep breath, and he got out of the car and headed up to the loft, knowing Jim would still be there. He only hesitated a second when he got to the door, then squared his shoulders, pasted a bright smile on his face, and breezed in.

"Hey, Jim? Could you do me a favor?" he called.

Jim walked down the stairs from the bedroom, still buttoning his shirt, a frown on his face. "What are you doing back here? I thought you left for... oh, no. Not again."

Blair grimaced slightly, dragging one hand through his hair. "Yeah, again. It won't start. I'm sorry, but could you --"

"--Drop you at the University on my way into work." Jim sighed. "Yeah, all right. Have you called the tow truck yet?"

"Was just about to," Blair said, relieved. "Hey, thanks, man, I really appreciate it. I know I've been asking for rides a lot..."

"Three times in the past two weeks," Jim agreed drily. "But who's counting."

"I know! If they could just find a problem... Hello? Yeah, hi, I need a tow... it's parked outside 852 Prospect... yeah, that's right... Yeah, that's the one. Right. Thanks." Blair hung up the phone, shaking his head and muttering, "I can't believe they know me by name, and know what garage I use. This is so embarrassing." He turned to Jim. "Tow truck's on its... Jim? What's wrong?"

"Did you say 'if they could just find a problem'?" Jim asked calmly.

Blair froze for an instant. Had he said that? Oh, man! "Umm... yeah. Didn't tell you about that, huh?" he asked, looking away and laughing a bit hollowly.

"Are you telling me there's nothing wrong with your car?"

He glanced back and swallowed at the look on Jim's face. "Guess I didn't tell you," he muttered. "Umm.. jeez, Jim, look at the time! We better get going," he tried.

"Sure. You can explain in the car," Jim said agreeably.

Blair sighed. Busted.

Silence reigned until they got in the truck. Blair was feeling a little more hopeful until he realized that Jim hadn't made any move to put the key in the ignition.

"If I don't talk, we don't move, huh?"

"You got it."

"Okay. I didn't say anything before because it's all so nuts, you know? It really started a couple of months ago -- I'd bring the car in for something I figured would be major, but it would turn out to be something minor. Remember? Like the time I thought I was going to need a new fuel pump and all I needed was a new valve."

Jim started the truck and eased into traffic. "Yeah, I remember that. You lucked out."

"Exactly! And who's going to complain about lucking out a few times, right? So I just sorta went with the flow. Hell, I even bought us a present with some of the money I saved."

"What present?" Jim asked, frowning a bit as he pulled up to a stoplight. "I don't remember a present."

"Jim, I'm hurt," Blair declared mournfully. "And you told me you'd never forget it."

"The oil?!"

"Yeah, well, oil seemed like an appropriate thing to buy with car money," Blair said, grinning, "even if it was the wrong kind of oil to put in a car. Looked great on you, though." His voice trailed off as he lost himself in memories of Jim that night, body gleaming with the aromatic oil Blair had rubbed into him. "You looked like a Greek god," he murmured unthinkingly, then blinked himself back to awareness when Jim spoke beside him.

"Do you mind?" the older man complained. "I'm supposed to be going on duty, and I'm never going to be able to concetrate if you remind me of things like that."

"Sorry," Blair said, trying for a repentant tone. He was going to have to dig that oil out again.

"Right," Jim said, shooting him a disbelieving look. "Okay. So what's going on with the car? You still haven't told me what you meant back in the loft."

"Yeah," Blair sighed, "right. Okay. So a couple weeks ago the car died on me when I was going out to lunch with some friends, remember?"

"I remember. I had to pick you up outside that god-awful restaurant."

"Hey, man, that was a terrific restaurant! They've got the most incredible --"

"Sandburg," Jim said warningly.

"Right. Sorry. So I get it towed, and the mechanic checks it out, and it starts up fine. I think that's a bit weird, but whatever. I pick it up, it runs fine for a few days. Then the temperature gauge started going like totally wacko, right? So I drop it off that night, and the next day they look at it. But the really weird thing is, the mechanic can't find anything wrong with it again. He says everything checks out. So I pick it up, and sure enough it runs fine. Then today it wouldn't start up - battery's fine, it just won't start. Honest to god, Jim, I'm going crazy enough that I hope it does have something wrong with it. My mechanic is starting to laugh at me behind my back, I can tell."

"Jeez, Chief, that's rough," Jim said, straight-faced.

Blair shot him a dirty look, then continued. "I'm serious. It's driving me crazy." Gloom settled over him as Jim turned in to Rainier's campus, heading for Blair's building. "I know what it is, too," Blair added.

"Sandburg, if you know what's wrong, tell your mechanic and get it fixed!" Jim said, exasperated.

"He wouldn't believe me. Anyway, there's nothing he can do."

Jim pulled up in front of the building and turned to look at him. "Okay, I'll bite," he said, more calmly. "What wouldn't your mechanic believe?"

"Well, it's one of two things," Blair said. "Either they're really trying to drive me crazy -- you know, gaslight me, make it so I'm the only one who ever notices anything wrong -- or they're playing 'cry wolf', and trying to lull me into a false sense of security, so I start ignoring stuff like warning lights and little problems, then one day they're gonna blow up the car when I'm not expecting it."

Jim was staring at him with an odd expression on his face. "Who, Blair," he asked gently. "Who's trying to drive you crazy?"

"Gremlins. My car is infested with gremlins, Jim. It's the only explanation," Blair said seriously. "I just hope they're into mischief, and not the nastier stuff. Well, I gotta go. Thanks for the ride!" Glancing around quickly, he decided it was safe and snuck in a kiss on Jim's cheek as he leaned over to grab his backpack. He slid out of the truck and headed for the door, glancing back once to wave.

Jim was sitting right where he'd left him, staring blankly in Blair's general direction. After a second, he lifted a hand to wave back, then the truck slowly pulled away.

Blair just hoped that Jim didn't do anything stupid. Having gremlins in one car was bad enough; if Jim ticked them off, they'd be everywhere.

~ fin ~

Feedback of any sort, from one line to detailed crit, is always welcome, at arduinna at trickster dot org.


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