written November 14, 1998


Where There's Smoke

by Arduinna


Blair walked into the loft, jingling his keys in one hand and sniffing at the air in pure appreciation.

"Hey, Chief," Jim greeted him, still stirring the pot that was producing those wonderful smells. "Traffic bad? Thought you said when you called that you'd be home fifteen minutes ago."

Blair prepared to launch happily into his story, then suddenly remembered why he didn't want to tell Jim this story. He managed to change the words to, "Yeah, something like that," trying for a casual tone and praying that the hesitation hadn't been noticeable.

Jim's head lifted, a faint frown appearing. "What do you mean, 'something like that'? What happened?"

So much for casual.

"Nothing, Jim, really," Blair assured him. He turned to toss his keys in the basket, and risked a surreptitious look at his lover -- who was still frowning at him. He'd have to give him a little more, then. He walked over and leaned up on tiptoe to kiss Jim soundly on the cheek, then bent over the pot to inhale more deeply. "I just had a little car trouble, that's all," he said offhandedly. Hopefully, he ignored the groan above his head. "This smells wonderful -- when's it gonna be ready?"

Jim, refusing to be distracted, tapped him firmly on the shoulder. "Car trouble? Okay, Sandburg, what happened this time, and who gave you a ride? And how much is it going to cost you?"

"Nothing, no one, and nothing," Blair said promptly. "It's fine. Are we eating soon?"

"Come to think of it, it was your car I heard drive up. And we're not eating until I find out what happened to it. I wish you'd just get a new one -- this one's more trouble than it's worth!"

"Hey, my car's a classic, man!" Blair protested, aggrieved.

"Yeah, right. So what happened to the 'classic' this time?"

"I just had a little smoke, that's all."

Jim blinked. "That thing always has a little smoke. It burns more oil than gas."

Coughing slightly, Blair admitted, "It was coming from under the hood, not the tailpipe."

"Overheating?" Jim asked, still sounding confused. "It overheats all the time."

"No, not overheating. The smoke was coming from the side of the hood, near the windshield."

"It was what?"

"Coming out the side of the hood." Blair tried an "everything's fine" smile.

"But it's 'nothing, really'," Jim said flatly. He was definitely not smiling back.

"It isn't anything, honest, Jim," Blair said earnestly. "I turned the key and the engine wouldn't start. I gave it a minute and tried again. That's when smoke started pouring out the side of the hood."


Blair ignored the interruption. "I took the key out and opened the hood up -- no more smoke, no burning bits, nothing. I tried starting the car again and it worked fine, ran like a charm the whole way home. No smoke. No problem! Can we eat now?"

Jim stared at him, disbelief radiating from every pore. "No problem," he repeated. "Are you crazy? Why didn't you take it to the garage?!"

"Because it's nothing. I told you -- after I opened the hood, it was fine."

"Blair, cars do not simply start smoking for absolutely no reason."

"I didn't say there wasn't a reason, I said there wasn't a problem," Blair said, and promptly shut his eyes and tried to control the automatic wince. That had been a mistake. Time for a distraction... He opened his eyes wide. "I'm really hungry, Jim -- I had to skip lunch. Can we eat now?"

Jim took one step backward, planted his feet, and crossed his arms. "So what's the reason?" he asked, ignoring the puppy eyes.

Blair glanced at the stew simmering away, jumping slightly as a long arm reached past him, picked up the cover, and placed it firmly on the pot. He looked back in time to see Jim's arms crossing again, a determined look settling onto the square face. Cop-mode, oh joy.

"You're not going to like it," Blair warned.

"I'd already figured that much out."

"Okay. Like I said, it's nothing, really."


"Okay! It's just the gremlins, all right?"

There was a brief silence.

"The gremlins."

"Yeah, the gremlins. I told you about them, Jim."

"I know, but I thought you were hallucinating, Sandburg."

"Gee, thanks," Blair muttered, glancing down.

A warm hand cupped his chin, lifting his face until he was staring into worried blue eyes. "Blair," Jim said hesitantly, "there's really no such thing as gremlins, you know."

"This from a man who sees big black panthers on city streets," Blair teased, feeling better.

Jim blinked. "That's different," he protested weakly.

Relenting, Blair hugged him hard, then let go to pick up the spoon and the pot lid. He started stirring. "I know it's different," he agreed. "But it's kinda the same, too. It's just a different kind of reality than you're used to, that's all. Trust me, gremlins are real. And they're living in my car."

Jim's chin settled on the top of Blair's head, and one arm snaked around his waist while the other hand reached for the spoon Blair was wielding so energetically. "Slow down, Chief, it's not a race," he said absently, then his tone sharpened. "You really think you've got gremlins living in your car?"


"And they're just playing with your mind?"

"Yep. Mostly."

The body behind him stilled, and the chin left his head. "What do you mean, 'mostly'?" Jim asked suspiciously.

Whoops. "Well, I mean, they are just playing games. I mean, think about it -- this was more of a tease than anything else, sort of a 'Hi, Blair, we're still here!' thing, y'know? Just a little smoke, nothing to worry about. Most of the other times I actually wind up having to take the car to the shop, even though there's nothing really wrong with it. But... they can get malicious. That's why it's so important not to tick them off," Blair said earnestly. "C'mon, Jim, I explained this before."

"I think I blocked it out," came the morose reply. "Gremlins. Jeez. Like a pushy spirit animal wasn't enough."

Blair twisted around, open-mouthed in shock, to stare up at Jim.

"What?" Jim asked.

"The panther!"

"What about him?" Jim looked around the loft, checking.

"What if he's the reason the gremlins have settled in?"

Jim stared at him. "How long did you say it had been since you've eaten?"

Blair flapped a hand in annoyance. "This isn't low blood sugar, it's a theory!"

"Some theory."

"Do you have a better one? No. So... this is a theory. This is very cool."

"A better one? I don't even believe in gremlins!"

"Shhhh!" Blair hissed, reaching up to clap a hand over Jim's mouth. "Don't tick them off!"

Jim rolled his eyes and licked the palm covering his lips. Blair jerked the hand away, but his eyes still held a warning. Jim sighed. "Okay, I'm sorry," he said. Turning, he raised his voice and addressed the loft. "I'm sorry I said I didn't believe. I didn't mean it. Better?" he asked, turning back to Blair.

Blair shook his head but let himself be drawn into an embrace. "You didn't sound very sincere," he said doubtfully.

"Sandburg, that was as sincere as I could manage about imaginary gremlins, all right?"

Blair winced. "I hope so," he muttered. His stomach chose that moment to rumble, breaking the moment as both men laughed involuntarily.

Jim hugged him tight then let go, teasing, "You weren't kidding about being hungry, huh?"

"No, and that smells fantastic. Do you need me to do anything?"

"Just grab some plates and a couple of beers, and we're all set."

No more mention was made of gremlins or cars as the talk drifted to Jim's latest case and Blair's latest problem student. The rest of the evening passed like always -- doing the dishes, watching some tv, paperwork for Blair, newspaper for Jim -- until finally Blair put his pen down and looked up with a smile.

"You know, Jim, you missed a couple of spots," he said softly.


"Earlier. When I had my hand over your mouth. You missed a couple of spots."

Jim smiled, eyes darkening. "Only a couple?"

"Well, maybe a few," Blair admitted, laughter in his tone.

"I suppose I'll have to remedy that."

"Mmmm. I suppose you should. Still," he added with a mock sigh, "you look awfully busy. I wouldn't want to interrupt or anything."

"No, of course not," Jim agreed. He went back to the newspaper.

Blair waited, grinning. Sure enough, a minute later the paper started to droop, then dropped entirely as Jim surged up out of his seat. With a whoop of pure joy, Blair ran for the stairs, laughing, Jim in hot pursuit.

They reached the bed at almost the same instant, and Jim tumbled them down onto it, laughing as hard as Blair was. When he'd caught his breath he said, straightfaced, "I believe you said I missed a spot?"

"Several," Blair agreed happily.

"You said 'a couple'!"

"I underestimated."

Jim's fingers were busily undressing them both as he spoke.


Jim whistled all the way into work the next day, happy with the world in general and his little corner of it in particular. Life was good.

He called out a cheerful 'good morning' to his co-workers as he settled in behind his desk. Hands all over the squadroom reached for coffee cups in automatic protest at the thought of morning, and he chuckled.

Simon strode out of his office a moment later, and Jim began to brace himself in anticipation, then relaxed as his captain moved off to talk to someone else after giving him a distracted wave. Looked like this was going to be a good morning to catch up on some paperwork.

Jim smiled benevolently on all and sundry, garnering a few odd looks in return, and turned his attention to the reports he had to finish.



"Sir?" Jim asked, blinking.

"Would you mind not whistling?" Simon asked, brows drawn together. "You're driving everyone crazy."

"Was I whistling, sir?"

"Yes, Jim, you were whistling. Piercingly."

"Sorry, Captain," he apologized. "Sorry, guys," he added, raising his voice. Grumbles rose on all sides for a moment, then subsided. Jim grinned apologetically at Simon, who muttered something unintelligible and waved his cigar in annoyance as he walked back into his office.

Life was good.

Remembering to keep his mouth firmly shut this time, and carefully not thinking about all the fun things that you could do with mouths, Jim turned back to the reports.

Still bubbling over with good cheer, he switched from pen to keyboard, humming very very quietly, tapping the keys in rhythm with the song that had been stuck in his head all morning. After about an hour he'd managed to reduce his workload significantly, and his humming had started working its way up to the audible level.

Life was just... good.

Suddenly a tiny cloud drifted into his sunny world: the program crashed. Jim dismissed the moment's panic with an internal laugh -- he'd been saving religiously, every couple of minutes, so there was no great harm done. Smile back on his face, he fired the program back up again.


The smile was fading now, as Jim tried again. And watched it crash again. And again. And again. Finally giving up, he rebooted the computer, figuring that would fix whatever was wrong. Sure enough, the program loaded this time.

Relieved, Jim called up the file he'd been working on for the twenty minutes before the crash. A soft groan escaped him as he realized that all his work was gone; nothing had been saved, despite his care.

"Here," said a voice at his shoulder as a cup of coffee was shoved in front of his face, "you look like you could use this. Quite the difference from this morning. What's wrong?"

"Thanks, Simon," Jim said ruefully. "It's nothing major -- the computer just ate a big chunk of the work I'd put in, so I've got to redo it."

"Ate it, huh? Maybe next time you should hit save every now and then, Ellison." Simon grinned as he took a sip of his own coffee, leaning back casually against the desk.

Jim grimaced. "I did. I was saving every couple of minutes. For some reason it just didn't work."

Simon's eyebrows rose at the comment, then he nodded sagely. "It's a simple enough problem, Jim," he said, standing up and clapping Jim on the shoulder. "You've got gremlins." Chuckling, he walked away.

Jim managed a hollow laugh in reply, staring in private horror at the monitor. Gremlins?


The ringing telephone was a welcome distraction from the pile of papers in front of him. "Blair Sandburg," he said politely into the mouthpiece.


"Jim! Hey, man, you at work? You need me to come down there?"

"Yeah, I'm at the station, and no, I don't need you to come down. Stop trying to get out of grading papers. I just wanted to ask you a question."

"Damn, you caught me," Blair said cheerfully. "Okay, shoot."

"Umm... what was that theory you were talking about last night?"


"Yeah. About the you-know. And the gremlins."

Blair pulled the phone away from his ear to stare at the handset in disbelief. "Oh, no..." Hastily, he replaced the handset. "What happened?"

"I lost a lot of work on the computer, that's what happened. Simon seems to think it's gremlins." Jim sounded a bit... grim.

"Oh, man... Um, okay, this was a bit unexpected, I mean, I thought they were focusing on me, but maybe they decided to teach you a lesson for not believing in them last night, right? Okay, we can deal with this, no problem, it's still just mischief --"



"How do I get rid of them?"


"Oh, no."

"Sorry, Jim, but there really isn't a way to get rid of them. You just kinda have to hope that they get bored and move on. And try not to tick them off in the meantime."

"And how do you suggest I do that?"

"I don't know -- maybe you could try leaving out a saucer of milk, or something."

"That's brownies, Chief."

"What?" Blair asked, blinking.

"Brownies. You leave a saucer of milk out for brownies."

"I do not even want to know why you're leaving milk lying around for little girls in beanies, Jim," Blair said firmly.

"Not that kind of...!" Jim half-shouted, then lowered his voice, obviously remembering that he was in a crowded squadroom. "Not that kind of brownie," he repeated tightly. "The other kind. The kind that fix shoes."

Blair was grinning at the wall as he continued to bait his partner. "Shoes? Jim, man, I think you've finally flipped. Cobblers fix shoes, not little girls."

"Sandburg," Jim growled, then fell silent. A moment later, he continued, "And I suppose an anthropologist who knows all about gremlins has never even come across a single mention of brownies in his life, huh?"

Caught, Blair let the chuckle escape. "Sorry, man, but that was just too priceless to pass up."

"Yeah, yeah, very funny," Jim groused.

"Besides, I was too surprised that you knew about them -- I honestly didn't connect it at first, that you were talking about faery brownies."

"I'm not a complete moron, you know, Sandburg," Jim said dryly. "I have done some reading in my life, and I did hear some fairy tales when I was a kid."

Blair's grin broadened as he unthinkingly pictured a four-year-old Jim, nestled into a comforting arm, wide-eyed at the worlds being drawn for him out of the pages of a magic book. Blinking himself back to the present, he excused himself with a cheerful, "Well, it doesn't exactly go with the tough-guy image, you know?"

Jim grumbled, and Blair hastily swallowed his laughter. Jim was the only person he knew who didn't bother using words when he grumbled like that. It was just noise -- and it was cute as hell, too.

"I heard that," Jim said.

"You did not!"

"Gotcha," came the smug reply.

"It's not my fault you sound so cute when you do that," Blair said.

Jim coughed, and changed the subject back. "Are you sure there's no way to get rid of them?"

"Positive. You just have to put up with them. And try not to annoy them."

"They ate my file, Sandburg."

"I know," Blair soothed. "But it's not like they --"



"Whatever you were about to say. Don't say it. Don't give them any ideas."

"Oh, right -- hey! I just realized -- you believe in them now! That's great!"

"Don't push it, Sandburg."

"No, man, I mean it, this is great! I mean, if you not believing in them is what turned their attention to you, maybe now that you believe in them they'll leave you alone. Try saying "I believe" somewhere where they can hear you."

A soft groan sounded in his ear. "Sandburg, that's Tinkerbell. Oh, God."


"I don't believe this."


"Brown was walking by just as I said that. You should've seen the look he gave me. Why is this my life? Things were so good this morning..."

Blair's grimace of sympathy turned into a grin of pure reminiscence. "Yeah, they were, weren't they? Have to do that again sometime. And don't worry about Brown -- when I stop by later on this afternoon I'll make sure to thank you again for the help figuring out my student's paper. That should take care of it." Someone knocked on the door and stuck a head around to see if he was busy -- Diane Russell, from his Intro class. He waved her in. "And speaking of students..."

"I heard. I'll see you later, Chief. Are you sure...?"

"Positive, Jim," Blair said firmly. "Sorry, man, but you're just gonna have to put up with it for a while."

Jim sighed. "Right. Thanks, Chief. Bye."


Blair hung up the phone and smiled encouragingly at Diane.

"I'm really sorry to interrupt," she started hesitantly.

"Hey, no problem, it's what I'm here for. Now, what can I do for you?" He settled into office-hours mode, suddenly desperately trying to keep his supportive expression from turning into a delighted one.

If the gremlins were in Jim's computer, they weren't in Blair's car any more.

Life was good.

~ fin ~

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


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