by Kay Lillibridge
Hi gang! Here's my first story since the Sentinel Too epilogue I wrote a while ago. I had a lot of fun writing it, I hope you like it. Anyroad, here are some bits of info before the main event...
Summary: Blair takes on a simple baby-sitting job, only to have things go wrong almost from the start.
Disclaimer: All characters are property of Pet Fly and Paramount. I'm only borrowing them for the story, honest. No money is earned from this endeavor, just a few smiles (I hope!).
Blair eased open the door to the loft, then backed in. He was trying to balance several unwieldy packages, and they were all threatening to spill onto the floor.
"What's all that, Chief?"
Blair nearly jumped out of his skin, then yelped as one of the packages thumped onto the floor. "Aw man, look what you made me do, Jim."
Jim Ellison chuckled and reached out to relieve his roommate of some of the load.
"And what are you doing home?" Blair asked. "Aren't you supposed to be in San Francisco this weekend for that big forensics convention or something?"
"Yeah, but a case of mine just broke wide open and I decided to stick around and mop up the pieces. Why? Planning on hosting a wild party while I was gone?"
Jim was walking toward the sofa to deposit Blair's packages so he missed the guilty look that flitted across the grad student's face.
"Um, Jim," Blair said, shuffling bundles from one arm to the other, "actually, I did have something in mind, but if you're not cool with it." His voice trailed off.
Jim was looking closely at Sandburg, who was starting to get nervous. Jim strode up to the smaller man and snatched the remaining packages from him, then leaned in close. "What, Sandburg? This had better be good."
Blair flushed and started to back toward the hall. "Well, I kind of promised a friend at school that I'd look after her for him while he's out of town. I didn't think there'd be any problem, she's really sweet, and it's legal, and since you weren't going to be here anyway."
"Blair, you're babbling." Jim advanced on the grad student again. "Out with it. Who's 'she'? What's legal? What exactly did you promise that's so bad you don't want me here?"
Blair backpedaled out into the hall. "It's nothing bad! Really! It's just..."
Jim followed Blair into the hall. Blair was getting more and more flustered and Jim was starting to look mad. Blair raised his hands in supplication. "Honestly, man! It's nothing, it's just a little --"
A rustling sound and a soft chirrup caused both men to freeze. As Jim bent down to peer inside a small box on the floor Blair closed his eyes and waited for the explosion.
"SANDBURG! What. Is. That?"
Blair took a deep breath and turned to see Jim pointing an accusing finger at the carry-box. "It's a ferret."
"Ferret?" Jim straightened and towered over Blair. "You may think you're bringing that rodent into the loft, but you'd be wrong."
Blair scooped up the carry-box, turning it so Jim could see the furry shape inside. "She's not a rodent, she's related to weasels, Mustela nigripes in fact. Ferrets are actually welcome in some farming areas because they eat prairie dogs, and in England they once used them to hunt mice and catch rabbits, but now they're endangered. Actually, this is a domesticated ferret, that's different." Blair opened his mouth to keep talking but Jim held up a hand to silence him.
"Rodent, weasel, whatever. You promised your friend you'd look after it?" Jim gestured at the cage.
Blair nodded. "Her name is Merry. I've got all her stuff here, her regular cage, food, bedding and all that. And Chad gave her a bath and trimmed her nails this morning so she's set for the weekend."
"Bath? Nails? Is there a ferret beauty salon somewhere?" Jim waved his hands around his head, "Chez Ferret?"
Blair laughed weakly. "Nooo, it's just normal stuff you do for a ferret."
"Uh huh. I see." Jim leaned closer and peered into the cage, where a small furry face was peering back at him. "Well, since you promised, bring it in. But it stays in the cage. In your room. Got it?"
As Jim headed back into the apartment Blair nodded vigorously. "Right. No problem."
Early the next morning, sunlight on his face teased Blair awake. He stretched, then turned and glanced at his clock, decided it was too early to get up, and shifted onto his stomach. A soft rustle pulled his attention over to the cage on his desk and he grinned. Jim had been fine with the "baby-sitting" situation once the surprise had worn off. He'd even allowed Blair to let Merry run around for a little while in the bathroom, under careful supervision of course. Chad had given Blair some of Merry's favorite toys, including a sorry old sock that she liked to play tug-of-war with. The little ferret, barely a pound of fur and muscle, had hung on for dear life as Blair tugged on one end of the sock, letting out fierce mock-growls. After only a minute or so of this Jim had knocked on the closed door, asking Blair if he needed any help with the fierce animal he obviously had locked in there with him. Blair had laughed and invited Jim to come in. To his surprise, Jim did come in. He'd perched on the edge of the tub and watched with a bemused expression as Blair had tossed a small jingle ball for Merry. When Merry, ever the flirt, had bounced over to the bigger man Jim had frowned, but he'd let the ferret sniff at his fingers. Blair shifted onto his side, smiling at the memory. A light knock on the door of his bedroom startled him out of his reverie.
"Hey Chief, I'm running downstairs with a load of laundry. You have anything to add?"
Blair glanced at his clock again. It was just past eight. He groaned. "Only you would do laundry at eight in the morning on a Saturday."
Jim chuckled. "I'll take that as a no."
Blair heard Jim whistling as he left the apartment and decided he might as well get up, sleep was long gone. Before heading to the bathroom for a shower he went over to check on Merry. He tapped lightly on her cage door, then unhooked it to add a little kibble to her food dish. "Good morning, little lady. Sleep well?"
The ferret was curled up in her nest box, a small ball of white and black fur. She glanced at Blair, chirruped softly and resettled herself for a nap. "Yeah right," Blair muttered as he rehooked the cage door. "Glad somebody can sleep in."
Twenty minutes later Blair was standing under a stream of hot water, reveling in a long, guilt-free shower. After a few more minutes he reluctantly turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. He hummed to himself a little as he dried off, thinking about his plans for the day. As he belted his robe he decided he might as well go down to that new little coffee shop near the university. One of the waitresses there was a fellow anthropology student and pretty cute into the bargain. He'd play with Merry for a while, then head down to the cafe for some morning coffee. And who was to say that wasn't why he was really there?
Blair grinned as he walked back to his room, toweling his hair. His hands froze as his gaze fell on Merry's cage. Merry's cage with the door open. Merry's empty cage. "Oh no," he thought. "I hooked it, I know I hooked it!" He dropped his damp towel on the floor and rushed over to the cage. He checked to see if Merry was curled up in a corner under her bedding, or somewhere on the desk amid his papers and textbooks. No, no ferret. He dropped to hands and knees and crawled around his room, searching under every piece of furniture. No ferret. He stood up and looked wildly around the room, then began rummaging through the bits of clothing he'd left on the floor. No ferret. Blair's eyes grew large as he realized the little ferret must have gone out into the main room of the loft. "Oh man," he groaned, "why did I have to take such a long shower?" As he hurried out into the hall, scanning for Merry as he went, another thought crossed his mind. "Jim is going to *kill* me!" he muttered.
"Why would I do that, Sandburg?"
Blair nearly jumped out of his skin for the second time that weekend. "Jim, I swear, you've gotta start making noise when you move around."
Jim shook his head as he came out of the bathroom, hefting a plastic bottle. "I just came back for the softener. What's up? You look a little jumpy this morning."
Blair carefully schooled his face to a neutral expression. "Nothing, Jim. I'm just a little distracted I guess."
"Right. I'm going to go add this to the wash, then I'll be back. Maybe we should let the ferret run around a little more?"
"Ferret!" Blair's voice almost cracked on the word, and Jim gave Blair a strange look. "Um, no. I mean I think she's asleep. Sleeps a lot in the day, you know. Nocturnal."
Jim was still staring at him, and just when Blair was sure his roommate would demand to see the ferret, Jim shook his head again and left for the laundry room. As the door closed behind Jim, Blair exhaled noisily, then spun in place. "Merry!" he called softly. "Merry girl, where are you?" He went up and down the hall, then into the kitchen. After the kitchen he started a quick search of the living room. No ferret. He dropped to his hands and knees again and began peering under furniture, calling the ferret's name and praying he would spot a small furry body before Jim came back. A soft chirrup caused him to freeze. When he heard it again he spun around just in time to see a flash of fur going behind one of the bookcases. Blair leapt to his feet and made a dash for the bookcase. By the time he crossed the room there was a distinct absence of ferret. A horrible thought crossed Blair's mind. Chad had told him that Merry loved to explore new places, and on top of that her favorite game was hide and seek. She would play with him for hours, he'd said.
"Damn!" Blair ran his hands through his damp hair. "Think, Sandburg, think."
A memory from the night before sent Blair running down the hall to his room. Maybe she'd come out for the sock game?
Blair was clucking his tongue and calling the ferret's name, wiggling the sock on the carpet near the bookcase when Jim came back with the bottles of detergent and softener. "What on earth are you doing?" Jim demanded.
Blair straightened, the sock dangling from one hand. "Uh, playing with Merry?" he offered.
Jim banged the bottles down on the kitchen counter. "Out here? I thought you agreed to keep the ferret in your room, or at least in the bathroom with the door shut!" Jim stalked over to where Blair was standing, and snatched the sock from his hand. "I don't want some little rodent messing up the rugs, or chewing up my books or something."
"Hey, chill, man. She's not going to mess anything." Blair held out a hand for the sock while behind his back he had his fingers crossed. Jim still looked skeptical, but he gave the sock back to Blair.
"So, where is it?" Jim asked, glancing around the living room. "I hear it, but I don't see it."
"You can hear her? Where?" Blair realized his mistake as the words left his mouth, but it was too late to take them back.
Jim rounded on him, a dangerous look in his eye. "You don't know?" he asked. "The ferret is loose out here, and you don't know where?"
Blair gestured vaguely. "She kind of got out of her cage, and now she's playing hide and seek."
Blair winced as Jim loomed over him. "Let me get this straight: you promised to keep it in the cage. Now it's loose out here. Doing who knows what. Is that right?"
"Uh, yeah. But don't worry, man. I'll have her back in her cage in a jiff."
"I see. And how do you plan on that? Will it come when you call?"
"No," Blair admitted. "But I figure she has to come back to me eventually, she'll get tired of the game if I'm not playing.''
At Jim's blank look Blair continued. "Merry's playing hide and seek. Like a little kid, you know? If I don't play along I think she'll get bored and come out."
"I see. All right, we'll try that."
Half an hour later Blair was slumped in a chair across from Jim at the dining table, quietly counting minutes. No ferret, but he did have an increasingly irritated sentinel. A sentinel! Blair sat bolt upright as he realized he had a surefire way of finding Merry.
His roommate looked up from the magazine he'd been idly flipping through. "Yeah? Found the ferret yet?"
Ignoring the sarcasm in Jim's voice, Blair popped up and began to pace near the table. "I should have thought of this before! We can use your senses. You can hear her, or maybe even smell her, and we'll have her in no time! It's the perfect answer, Jim!"
"What?" Blair stared at the older man. "What do you mean, no?"
"The ferret's your responsibility, you find it." Jim pushed back from the table and headed for the door. "I've got laundry to finish."
Blair stared at the door as it shut behind his friend. "I can't believe he did that!" He groaned and tugged at his hair. "Ahh! Jim, your stupid ethics are gonna drive me crazy!" A soft chirrup caused Blair to jerk around toward the stereo. Peeking out from behind one of the tall speakers was the lady at the center of the morning's chaos. "Merry!" Blair stretched out a hand and walked slowly toward the ferret. "There's a good girl," he whispered. "Stay there and let me scoop you up. I've got some yummy treats in my room for you."
The little animal stared at Blair with wide eyes, then when he was only a few feet away she disappeared behind the stereo cabinet. Blair lunged forward and caught a glimpse of Merry dashing across to one of the couches. By the time he'd run to the couch and thrown himself down to look underneath, she had vanished again. Blair sprawled on the floor and moaned. No ferret.
When he heard the front door open, he sat up and glanced at Jim who gave him an evil grin. "Don't have it yet, do you?" Jim asked.
Blair was sorely tempted to pummel his grinning roommate but settled for a choice phrase concerning Jim's parentage. The phone's shrill call interrupted the reply his roommate probably had planned, and Jim scooped up the cordless phone instead. After saying hello and listening for a few seconds he walked over to Blair and handed the phone to him. "It's for you."
"Yes?" Blair said, hoping it was someone he could blow off without a problem.
He paled when he heard a familiar voice on the line. "Hey, dude! It's Chad! The weather in Chicago is so bad they canceled my flight from San Francisco. The airline folks put me up in a hotel last night, but they said it would be at least another day before I could get a flight to Chicago, so I decided to bag the trip and flew home. Can you pick me up at the airport? I'll get Merry and her stuff and we'll be out of your hair."
"Uh, hey Chad. Uh, back here? Airport? Okay." Blair's mind was racing. What could he do? If he said he couldn't pick Chad up his friend would probably just take a cab. He knew Blair was home, and Blair couldn't bring himself to lie and say he was on his way out or something. Maybe he could just wait until Chad was here and then break the news to him about Merry? He took a deep breath. "Sure, Chad, I'll come get you. It'll probably take me about a half hour to get out to the airport. What terminal?" As his friend told him the place to pick him up, Blair was wondering how he could convince Jim to stay and look for the ferret while he went to the airport.
He hung up the phone and turned to see Jim watching him with a guarded expression. "That was Chad, he's back early and wants to pick up Merry."
Jim's only response to this announcement was an arched brow.
"I'm going to go pick him up at the airport. Could you, uh, look out for Merry while I'm gone?"
"I suppose I don't have much choice, do I?"
"Oh, thanks, man. I'll make this up to you, I will. I'll do laundry and dishes for a month. I'll scrub the bathroom, anything!"
Jim walked over to Blair and leaned down to poke a finger at his chest. "I'll hold you to that, Sandburg. I didn't want that critter here in the first place, and now that it's gotten loose I'm holding you solely responsible."
Blair nodded vigorously as he got to his feet. "No problem. I'll be back with Chad in maybe an hour. She'll come out of hiding for him, I know it."
Blair had driven to the airport as fast as he dared, his thoughts spinning. How was he going to tell Chad he'd botched a simple baby-sitting assignment? Chad doted on Merry, he'd probably never speak to Blair again if anything had happened to her. Blair had avoided talking about Merry as much as possible as he drove his friend back to the loft, but the moment of truth was almost here. As he opened the loft door and invited Chad in, he gathered himself to explain how he'd 'lost' Merry. His prepared words stuck in his throat when he saw Jim sitting on one of the living room couches with a book in one hand. With the other hand he was stroking a small furry ball nestled in his lap.
Jim grinned sheepishly, then laughed when he saw Blair's dumbstruck expression. "What took you so long, Sandburg? The little lady and I have been having a grand old time."
Blair's eyes flicked to the living room rug, strewn with Merry's favorite toys. "What?"
"Jeez, Blair," Chad chided, "you look like somebody hit you with a two by four."
"Two by four?" Blair parroted.
At the sound of Chad's voice Merry's head had popped up and now she jumped down from Jim's lap to scamper over to him. Chad bent down and scooped up the ecstatic bundle, letting her climb up onto his shoulders. As he stroked the little ferret he walked forward to shake hands with Jim, leaving Blair standing in the doorway, a confused look on his face.
"Glad to meet you, Chad. I'm Jim, Blair's roommate." Jim stood and the two men shook hands, then Jim gestured to the toys on the rug. "Sandburg, I'll gather these up while you get Merry's other stuff."
Blair snapped out of his surprise and led Chad back to his bedroom where the two of them packed up Merry's things. A few minutes later they came back out into the living room. Merry was now in her carry-box, and Chad brought her over to Jim so he could pet her again before they left. Blair stared suspiciously as Jim ruffled the ferret's fur, completely at ease.
"So, Blair," Chad said, "I guess I should be getting Merry home so you and Jim can get back to your Saturday plans. Thanks for looking after her. She can be such a scamp but I guess she was good for you two, huh?"
"We'd be happy to look after her for you any time." Jim said.
Blair gave his roommate a sharp glance, but Jim only raised an eyebrow.
A few minutes later Blair was following Chad down the hall to the elevator, his arms once again full of bundles, thinking he needed to have a serious talk with his partner when he got home.
When Blair got back to the loft he dropped his keys onto the table beside the door. "Jim?"
His partner's voice filtered down from upstairs. "Up here."
As Blair came to the top of the stairs he saw his friend sorting and folding laundry into piles on his bed. "So, Chief, Chad and the critter get home okay?"
Blair folded his arms and leaned back against the railing. "Yes, and thanks to your little act Chad is none the wiser about Merry's unplanned adventure."
"Act?" Jim turned to face Blair, a sweatshirt folded over one arm. "What do you mean?"
"That whole Peaceable Kingdom scene you had laid out for Chad. I'll admit, you had me fooled."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Sandburg. After you left the ferret came right up to me, brought me her sock and everything. We had a blast." Jim turned back to his bed and added the sweatshirt to a growing pile of neatly folded clothes. "If you ask me, I think you were the one having lady trouble."
"Lady trouble? Man, you are a piece of work Jim!" Blair threw up his hands and turned to go back downstairs, his friend's laughter following him down the steps. "One of these days," Blair muttered, "I swear, one of these days."
~ fini ~