Where There’s Smoke…
By Donna Smith
(Set in the Songlines/Second Generation Universe created by Marianne Edison)
Blair was watching TV when he heard a happy gurgling sound coming from Simon Ellison’s crib. He went over to take a look at his little charge. Only moments ago, the baby had been nodding off to sleep. Now he was kicking his feet and waving his little fists happily, his eyes riveted to the door. Blair had seen this behavior before. It always meant the same thing. Blair walked over to the front door and opened it. There stood his partner and Sentinel about to unlock the door.
“What’s this, Sandburg? You suddenly developing Sentinel hearing?”
“Not quite.” Blair frowned. How was he going to tell Jim about this one? Personally, he thought it was kind of cool, but he knew Jim wouldn’t think so.
“Alright, Sandburg. What’s going on?”
“What makes you think something’s ‘going on’?”
Blair stood by the baby’s crib, frowning. “It’s about Simon…”
“What’s wrong!? Is he OK? Did he get hurt? What happened to him while I was gone? What…”
“WHOA! Calm down there, Jim! He’s fine. He’s not hurt. Man! I guess I’m not the only one who sends you into super-BP mode.”
“Well I wouldn’t do it if you weren’t such a trouble magnet.” Jim walked over to look down at his son. “If nothing’s wrong, then why are you so tense? And don’t tell me you’re not. Your heartbeat’s all over the place.”
Blair took a deep breath and just plunged ahead. “I noticed another one, Jim. I thought I’d seen hints of it before, but I wasn’t sure. Now I am.”
“Another one?” Jim sat down on the sofa, rubbing his face with a worried hand. “You’re sure?”
“I’m positive—as positive as I can be without Simon actually telling me himself. It’s hearing, Jim. He knew you were coming up to the loft. I didn’t hear you at all.”
“Then…that’s why you opened the door before I got to it?”
“But it could’ve just been a coincidence.”
“This isn’t the first time, Jim. I’ve been watching him whenever you go away and come back. Now I’m sure—it’s not a coincidence.”
“But that makes…four.”
Blair sat down next to him. “Four.”
Jim jumped up and started pacing. His son had four enhanced senses. What were they going to do? What if he ended up having all five? He clenched his fists. He’d wanted his son to have a normal childhood—to be normal. Not like him. Not a…
Jim was good at reading Blair with his Sentinel abilities, but Blair had gotten pretty good at figuring out what was on Jim’s mind, too. He jumped up, getting in Jim’s face. “Jim. He’s not a freak. You’re not a freak! You’re both special and the world needs more people like the two of you. If he turns out to be a full Sentinel, we’ll deal with it! He’s not going to have the kind of childhood you did. We’ll all see to that. With the family and friends this kid has to start out his life with, he’ll be the most well-adjusted, normal, Sentinel the world’s ever seen. And don’t you forget it!” Jim would never make his own son feel like a freak, but Blair knew William Ellison’s words still haunted his friend sometimes.
Jim visibly relaxed. “Down, boy! I get the picture. You’re right, Chief. I just…”
“I know. Things will be different for him, though.”
“How could he go wrong with the world’s foremost expert on Sentinel’s helping him?”
Blair smiled. “And the world’s greatest Sentinel.”
“Well, I wouldn’t…” Jim stopped suddenly. “Simon’s here.” Jim walked over to the door and waited with his hand on the knob.
Blair shook his head, chuckling. Simon hated it when Jim opened the door before he had a chance to knock. That’s why Jim made it his business to do it every chance he got.
Jim swung the door open quickly just as Simon got to it. “Ellison! Can’t a man walk up to your door like a normal person?”
Blair laughed. “When you see any normal people coming up to the loft, let me know.”
“Funny, Sandburg. Hilarious. Well, since you’re just standing there, maybe you could make yourself useful and grab one of these bags.”
Blair took one from him, looking out into the hallway. “Jim said it was just you, but I thought you were bringing Rafe and Henri to the poker game.”
“They have to finish up the report on the Manelli bust. They’ll be here in a little bit.”
“That’s a relief! Aislyn and Megan aren’t going to be here tonight so I was hoping it wasn’t just going to be the three of us. The winnings I’ll get from the two of you won’t even cover my gas for the week.”
“A bit optimistic, aren’t we, Chief?”
Blair was unpacking the bags Simon had brought. “Nah. I’m a realist, man. You guys play like crap when you’re coming off from a big bust. You’re too tense and you can’t concentrate.”
Simon exchanged a look with Jim. “Well, Sandburg. I guess we’ll have to stop playing after busts then. We wouldn’t want you to have an unfair advantage, now would we?”
Blair winced. “Me and my big mouth.”
Jim cuffed him on the back of the head. “You said it, Sandburg.”
Just then the baby made a little fussing sound. Jim went over to the crib and picked up his son. “You hungry, little guy? You woke up just in time. Uncle Simon brought chips, dip, and salsa. You like salsa, don’t you?”
Blair scowled at him jokingly. “Jim! He’s much too young for salsa. You should give him some of these buffalo wings instead.”
Jim carried the baby over to Simon. “Could you hold him for a minute while I get a bottle ready?”
“Couldn’t Sandburg take him?”
“I would, but I’m kind of busy, Simon. Don’t worry. He doesn’t bite. Well, he does. But he doesn’t have any teeth yet so he’ll just gum you. You’re a tough police captain. I’m sure you can handle a little gumming.”
Simon took the baby from Jim. It wasn’t like he hadn’t held a baby before. It was just… His namesake didn’t seem to like him. Maybe he was imagining things. Why wouldn’t Jim’s son like him? He held little Simon close, rocking him gently. The baby grimaced at him and started squirming violently. Agitated little fists and feet waved in the air. Simon’s fussy little cries were about to turn into full-blown wails.
Blair quickly came around the counter and took the baby from Simon. Almost immediately the tiny bundle settled down, nuzzling into Blair’s shirt. Blair frowned at Jim. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. Every time Simon got close to the baby, the infant became agitated. The look on Jim’s face said he didn’t have a clue, either. They had to find out what the problem was before it got worse.
“I don’t get it, Chief. For some reason my son just doesn’t like Simon. Every time he picks the baby up, little Simon starts crying and fussing.”
“The captain may act tough, but I think it’s really bothering him. He jokes about it, but…you know.”
Jim rocked the now-sleeping baby in his arms. “I don’t know what to tell him anymore. Wait until my son is in kindergarten and maybe he’ll have grown out of it by then?”
Blair looked thoughtful. Little Simon’s behavior was making him think of something else.
“Hey, Chief! You still with me?”
“Oh, yeah. Just doing my own kind of zone-out here. I think I might have an idea…”
“Now you’re really scaring me.”
“Funny, man. I’m serious. Do you know when Simon’s next day off is?”
“He somehow managed to wrangle this Saturday off. Why? What are you cooking up in that demented brain of yours?”
“I’ll let you know when, or if, it works. This could be very important or it could be nothing.” He saw the incredulous look on Jim’s face. “Trust me.” Blair smiled enigmatically and refused to say anymore.
Jim shook his head in surrender and put the baby back in his crib.
“You want me to what!?” Simon stared at the animated young man in front of him.
“You heard me. I want you to come over to the loft Saturday for a little experiment. Don’t worry, Simon. It won’t hurt a bit.”
“This sounds like something that could only come out of the Sandburg Zone.”
“Humor me.” He turned pleading eyes on the captain. “You want to find out why little Simon doesn’t like you, don’t you?”
Simon just glared at him a moment, furiously chomping on the end of his cigar. “I’ll do it, but this better start making sense when I come by Saturday afternoon.”
Blair waved his hands in a theatrical gesture. “All will be revealed.”
Simon scowled. “Don’t you have some work to do?”
Blair practically bounced out of his office with good cheer. Simon hoped whatever he had wasn’t catching.
Simon knocked on the loft door. If he didn’t already know Jim was at work, he would by the fact that he actually got to knock this time.
Blair opened the door. “Simon! Come in. I wasn’t sure you’d actually show up.”
The captain walked past Blair. “I said I would, Sandburg. Now are you going to tell me why I’m here?”
“Well… I need you to take a shower.”
“I’m sorry. I thought for a moment you said you wanted me to take a shower.”
“That’s exactly what I said.”
Simon turned around and headed for the door.
Blair ran ahead of him and blocked his way. “Simon, come on! You haven’t even let me explain. This is really important. It has to do with Simon’s Sentinel…”
“This is a Sentinel thing?”
Simon held up a hand. “Sandburg. I’m really not sure I want to hear the rest. You know how all this mumbo-jumbo ruins my day. You and Jim still owe me big time for all the Sentinel craziness you’ve put me through over the years.” Blair was giving him that look again. He wasn’t going to cave in. He wasn’t… Simon pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. “Is this really necessary?”
“It better be.” He took off his jacket and headed for the bathroom.
Blair waited about ten minutes until he was sure Simon was in the shower. He creaked the bathroom door open, sneaking inside. Where did Simon put his clothes? Blair looked in the closet. There they were.
“Sandburg? Is that you? What are you doing out there?”
“Uh…just bringing you some clean towels.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re up to something?”
“Because you’re a paranoid cop. Finish your shower.” He grabbed Simon’s clothes and quickly slipped out of the bathroom.
Blair went down to the laundry room and threw Simon’s clothes in the wash. He then went back up to the loft, hoping Simon was the kind of guy who liked to take long showers.
Jim and Megan were just entering the building after a long shift when a loud, familiar yell assaulted Jim’s ears.
Jim winced at the sound, wondering if it was really as loud as it seemed. He looked at Megan. She’d heard it, too. “Do we really want to know?”
“It’s our duty as officers of the law to check out disturbances. Besides, I think Sandy may need our help in case the captain tries to kill him.”
“I MEAN IT, SANDBURG!”
Jim and Megan hurried up the stairs. “They’ll at least need someone to identify the body.” When they got to the loft, Jim opened the door slowly, not sure what to expect where Blair and Simon were concerned. Sandburg was standing by the bathroom. Simon was nowhere in sight.
“OK, Chief. What have you done to Simon?”
“Now why do you automatically assume I did something to him?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the fact that he’s yelling your name at the top of his lungs and he doesn’t sound happy.”
“Well, there is that.”
“SANDBURG! Why aren’t there any towels in here? Where are my clothes!?”
“I’m not giving them to you until you brush your teeth.”
“What am I? A little kid?”
“And don’t forget to gargle! I want you to have some nice, minty-fresh breath.”
“So help me, I’m coming out there! Clothes or no clothes!”
“Now, Simon. You don’t want to give Megan a free show, do you?”
“I’m going to kill you, Sandburg!”
Jim looked at Megan for some kind of clue as to what was going on. She shrugged her shoulders, as much in the dark as he was.
Blair stood by the door, enjoying every minute of his power trip. “If you don’t hurry, you’re going to get cold.”
They could hear the violent jostling of items as the captain did as Blair told him. From the sounds of Simon’s mumblings, Jim thought his partner better find someplace to hide before their boss came out of the bathroom.
After a few minutes, the door opened part way. An angry hand shot out, waiting. Blair handed him his clothes without a word.
Ten minutes later, a very angry Simon emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of steam. Jim wasn’t sure all the steam was from the shower.
“You’d better have an good explanation for this, Sandburg!”
“I do. But first, I want you to pick up little Simon.”
“You know he’ll just start crying.”
“Simon. Just do it!”
Simon picked him up warily. The baby didn’t fuss at all. The bewildered captain held him to his chest. The infant snuggled closer and closed his eyes. “Well, I’ll be!”
Megan laughed at the look on her boss’s face. “You should close your mouth, Simon. You look like a stunned mullet.”
Simon scowled at her before turning to Blair who was beaming like an idiot. “What just happened here?”
“Quite a lot, actually. All of it important.” He held up his hand, wiggling five fingers at Jim. “Five.”
Jim furrowed his brow. He took Megan’s hand for reassurance. “Five.” She nodded in understanding, leaning into Jim to give him support.
Simon glanced back and forth at the three of them. “Would someone tell me what’s going on here?”
“Well, Simon. It’s now official. Your little namesake here is a full Sentinel—all five senses.”
“What!? I thought you said you wouldn’t know until he was older.”
“I didn’t think I’d be able to, but we’ve seen evidence of all five. They don’t seem to be very strong, though, relatively speaking. That’s a good thing because otherwise we might have some real problems and…”
“Sandburg! What does this have to do with you taking my clothes?”
“I need to start at the beginning. You know that gourmet baby food Rafe bought for Simon? Well, Simon didn’t like it at all. I tried some myself to test it. Pretty good stuff. Real flavorful for baby food, though. Maybe too flavorful. I went to the store and got some of that bland generic stuff and he loved it. I thought it was just a matter of taste at first. When I was a baby, I refused to eat the veggie flavors when my mom tried to give them to me. Now I love vegetables. Naomi sometimes even tried to make the airplane noises and…”
“Sorry. Anyway, I picked up on a few other things that didn’t seem like much at first. But when I started putting them all together, I got the picture. Jim noticed that he didn’t like it when someone turned on the light over his bed. He would squint and flinch. We put in a lower wattage bulb and he was fine. And have you noticed that he never plays with that toy Rhonda gave him? The one with the nubby texture? I’ve tried to give it to him several times, but he pushes it away. I don’t think he likes the feel of it. He doesn’t seem to like blankets with a certain type of texture, either.”
Jim nodded. He, Blair, Aislyn, and Megan had been watching Simon carefully for any signs of heightened senses. Jim had noticed the light-sensitivity thing, but it was Blair who discovered all the others. He always seemed to be one step ahead of Jim, observing and cataloguing everything about the baby’s behavior. What would he do without his Guide and friend? He smiled fondly at Blair who still hadn’t taken a breath.
“And then a couple of weeks ago Aislyn and I took him to the park. He was staring off in one particular direction and suddenly started getting excited about something. I looked that way, too, but all I could see was someone in the distance walking towards us. When she got closer I could tell that it was Megan. She’d finished up early and decided to join us. He recognized her, Simon! Before we did! Then this last week he showed us his fourth. He can hear Jim outside the loft door before he comes in. He can tell it’s Jim somehow by listening! Of course, I’ve run some other harmless tests to be sure that these incidents weren’t just coincidences, but he keeps proving me right. It’s incredible!”
Jim put a hand on Blair’s shoulder. “Calm down, Chief. You’re going to explode.”
“I can’t, Jim. This is all just so cool!”
Jim shook his head. He was dealing with this better than he had been earlier in the week, but Jim couldn’t imagine actually being happy about all this. Maybe someday, but not yet. “I’ll remember you said that when he starts having zone-outs.”
“At the rate he’s developing, I’m sure that won’t happen for years yet. And when it does, we’ll handle it, Jim—like we’ve handled everything else.”
Simon snorted. “Wonderful. So when he’s old enough to turn a door knob, he’s going to be opening the front door before I knock like someone else I could mention.”
Megan patted him on the arm. “But think how helpful it will be on those occasions when you have your hands full.”
Blair continued. “I’ve been making notes on his behavior and it seems he doesn’t have a lot of range yet. By the time he gets more sensitive, we should have him operating his own dials. I figured he had the fifth heightened sense, too—I just needed a method of testing it. Then you came over and it all started making sense and I…”
“What does this have to do with you making me take a shower!?”
“Sheesh! You’re so impatient! I’m getting to that.”
“Well, skip the prologue and get to it quicker!”
“Fine! Here’s the bottom line. I have good news and bad news for you, Simon. The good news is that little Simon doesn’t hate you. The bad news is that if you don’t want him to cry every time you get near him, you’ll have to lose the cigars.”
“Is this some kind of a joke? If it is, I’m not laughing.”
“Neither am I. I’m serious here. Why do you think I washed your clothes? Why do you think I made you shower and brush your teeth? To get rid of the smell.”
“Is this another one of your schemes to get me to quit smoking, Sandburg? Jim’s a Sentinel and he seems OK with my smoking and I’ve known him for years.”
Blair folded his arms and looked at Simon with exasperation. “Yes, Jim’s been around you for years, but most of those years he was repressing his abilities. And he’s known you so long that the cigar odor has probably become an integral part of your overall scent by now. He probably doesn’t even register it most of the time. When he does, he just dials it down so the smell doesn’t bother him. The baby doesn’t know how to do that yet.”
Megan gave Simon a doe-eyed, pleading look. “Think how much healthier it would be for the baby without smoke around. And Daryl’s always saying how much he wishes you’d quit for your health’s sake.”
Jim almost laughed. She’d obviously been studying the “puppy-dog” look from Sandburg. Heaven help them all!
Simon was weakening, but not quite ready to surrender. “I still don’t know if I’m buying this theory of yours.”
Without a word, Blair went into the other room. He came back with a large Ziplock freezer bag. He’d taken Simon’s cigars out of his pocket before he washed the shirt and sealed them in the bag. He took one out and waved it near the baby’s head, careful not to let him see it or touch it. Little Simon jerked his head away and started to squirm. Blair held the cigar near the other side of his head. The baby jerked from it again. Blair moved the offending object away, put it back in the bag, and took it to the other room. Their newest little Sentinel settled down again peacefully.
Simon looked down at the sleeping bundle in his arms. He sighed heavily. “OK, OK. So you’re right. I’ll get rid of them.”
Megan was delighted. “Good for you, Simon! Our son will certainly appreciate it and Daryl will be so pleased.”
Blair was pumping his fist in a celebratory gesture.
“Don’t get so excited, Sandburg. You act like you’ve won the lottery. All your schemes didn’t get me to give up smoking—a baby did.”
Jim shook his head. “Technically speaking, Sandburg did it. The baby couldn’t very well tell you what he needed. If Blair hadn’t figured it out…”
“Details, Ellison. Unimportant details. At any rate, it’s a good thing the baby doesn’t have a problem with coffee, because I have a feeling I’m going to be drinking a lot of it from now on.”
Blair gave him a faintly apologetic look. “Wellllll…”
“Now, Simon. You’ll wake the baby.”
“If I weren’t holding this kid, I’d…”
Blair moved a little further out of Simon’s reach. “Then it’s a good thing I gave him to you, isn’t it?”
1) I love the whole Songlines/Second Generations Universe. Thank you, Marianne Edison, for creating it—and thank you to all the people who’ve enriched it with stories! The idea of a Sentinel and Guide growing up together under the watchful eye of Jim and Blair really appeals to me. I hope people keep adding stories to this universe!
2) I’ve read all the stories in this universe and have seen a first zone-out story, but not one where Jim and Blair discover that little Simon is a full Sentinel. I was hoping to fill a spot in the timeline with this fic. If someone wrote one about it already that I missed somehow, sorry.
3) When Megan says Simon looks like a stunned mullet, she just means he looks really surprised and confused. This is an Australian expression. The mullet is a fish that is traditionally whacked on the head to kill it after it’s been caught. And no, I’m not Australian—I read it in a book on Australian culture and language.
4) I can’t believe how long it took me to write this story! I started it forever ago but got distracted by the Magnificent Seven. I recently discovered their fic on the Internet and had to read and read until I couldn’t read anymore. Oh, that Ezra Standish! I think I’m in love!