Jim was pacing the Loft, glancing at the clock every few minutes.
Ten, she'd said. Ten.
Well, it was nearly midnight! Where was she?
As if on cue, the door opened and Sandy walked in, smiling even as she said, "Man, Jim, I'm sorry I'm late! Dean and I were talking and we lost all track of time!"
"Uh-huh," Jim sighed, wincing as Sandy's form became Blair's and empathizing with the hiss of pain.
"I'm serious," Blair said, stretching before he went into the bedroom. "Night, Jim."
"Night." So it's DEAN now, is it? Jim smiled humourlessly and pulled out his cellphone. Well, DEAN, let's see how you like being on the receiving end of one of Ellison's special pranks? "Hey, H? Jim. Look, you remember Masterson?"
It took a little sedative, a little lock picking, and a lot of mechanical fiddling, but at last the deed was done.
Jim sat outside Masterson's apartment and listened to his startled shock when the radio and TV both would not produce voices. The customized plugs in Masterson's ears muffled the sound of his own voice.
Jim's smile widened -- they'd rigged Masterson's car radio so voices would be muted as well. He started the truck and drove to work, grinning from ear to ear.
"Well?" H asked as he walked in.
Jim gave him a thumbs-up sign.
"All right!" H laughed.
Jim winced as Simon's bellow tore through the bullpen. "Yeah, Simon?"
"My office --- now."
Jim walked in, blinking as the smell of vanilla hit him. He looked toward Simon and frowned. "Sir?" he gestured to the coffeepot.
Simon sighed. "Sandburg thought it would help me relax."
"No, but that's beside the point!" he sighed and ran a hand across his forehead. "Would you care to explain the frantic phone call I received a few minutes ago?"
Jim frowned. "What call?"
Simon leaned against the desk and glared at him. "From Sandy. What the hell is Sandburg still doing in drag?"
Jim shook his head. "I'll explain later."
"Anyway," Simon sighed. "Sandy called, like I said, frantic. Masterson came to the Loft, afraid that he's going deaf!"
He tried. He really did. But Jim could not --- quite -- keep the grin away.
Simon nodded. "All right. Out with it."
"Out with what, sir?"
"Out with whatever it is you did." Simon's eyes narrowed. "And don't give me that 'I'm innocent' face. When I see it, I know you're anything but."
"No. Don't 'Simon' me. You tell me. Now."
Jim swallowed convulsively. Simon ordering in that low, furious voice was worse than Simon yelling. He sighed, tasting defeat. "It was a prank, sir."
"A prank." Simon rubbed his forehead again. "You pulled a prank on an ATF agent."
"Well you see, sir, he's been spending an awful lot of time with Sandy and ----"
Simon gaped at him. "You're jealous! Good God, Jim, you're acting as though that really is a woman!"
"I am not jealous." Jim would not answer the second sentence, because he knew Sandy was as female as Blair was male.
Simon just shook his head. "I don't care about your motives, Ellison. Go home and undo whatever the hell you did."
Jim sighed. "Yes, sir."
Jim walked into the Loft to find both Sandy and Masterson glaring at him. "Hi, guys," he said lamely.
Sandy stood up and flung something at Jim. He blinked as the earplugs bounced off his chest and landed in his cupped hands.
"A prank is one thing," Sandy growled, her voice low and furious. "but this was just plain cruel."
"I was going to tell him when he came in today...."
Masterson stood up. "Ellison, I couldn't have come in like that! You threatened my job, Ellison. I want to know why."
"Aw, sheesh." Jim rubbed the back of his neck. "I thought you had it coming, okay? You... you and Sandy've been spending all your time together...."
"That's it." Sandy grabbed Masterson's coat. "Dean, you go home --- get H to help you fix everything. I'll see you later tonight."
"Sandy...." Masterson began.
She shook her head. "Just go on. Let me handle him."
"All right." The look he gave Jim clearly telegraphed 'don't hurt her'.
Jim gave one curt nod.
Masterson touched Sandy's cheek and left the Loft.
Sandy rounded on Jim. "Of all the stupid..." Jim opened his mouth, and Sandy hushed him with an upraised finger. "No. No, you listen! Dean and I are working on something! We are working, not dating!"
Jim blinked. "You're... not....dating?"
"No! For God's sake!" She waved her hands as she stalked, frustrated. "Jim, I'm not a woman or a man -- I'm both! I can't date anyone seriously, least of all a coworker!"
"I... I thought...."
She sighed and when she spoke again, her voice was gentle. "Jim....there's no need for you to be jealous. He's not trying to replace you or take me away. We've got some leads on one of his cases and we're going over them. He wanted a woman's POV. That's it. He's a friend -- nothing more."
Jim sighed. "I'm s----" but she cut him off again.
"No, Jim. This time it wasn't me you hurt. If you're going to apologize, do it to Dean. Not me." She grabbed the couch arm and grunted as Blair re-emerged. "I'm going for a walk," he said, grabbing his jacket.
"Okay....whe-when will you be...."
Blair met his eyes. "I'll be back when I'm back," he told Jim. "Last time I gave you a time and was late, you hurt a friend. Gonna be awhile before I can trust you again."
He shut the door with a bang that turned into an odd buzz around Jim.
Jim blinked and looked down at his hand, where the buzz was coming from. He extended his hearing and found Blair sleeping in his room! Frowning, he raised the phone to his ear. "Ellison."
"It's H," came the frustrated sigh. "Can't figure out how to just take out voices. Sorry man... I letcha down."
What? Jim thought, a bit stunned. It's not HAPPENED yet? What was that -- a vision? A Might-have-been? "Uhm, H..." he said, a bit shakily, "...it's okay --- that might not have been such a good idea after all."
"I'm sure. Thanks for trying."
H's voice held a smile. "Hey, not a problem. All ya gotta do is call." And he hung up.
Jim closed the phone and sat down, listening to Blair sleep. That... that... whatever-it-had-been had rocked him a bit.
Was he jealous of Masterson? Did he truly have a right to be?
Jim walked into Blair's room and sat down on the bed. When Blair turned over and blinked blearily at him, Jim smiled.
"What's wrong?" Blair asked, sitting up.
"You too tired to hit Joleno's?"
Blair blinked again, startled. Joleno's was an open-all-night restaurant nearby. "We walking?"
"Not too tired." He stood and shifted to Sandy, sighing in pain as she pulled on an over-shirt and jeans to cover the sleeping T-shirt and boxers. "What's up?"
"We need to talk, Chief -- away from the Loft."
"Who's paying?" was all Sandy wanted to know as they left on their early-mornng jaunt.
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