The Games People Play

By Xasphie

TITLE: The Games People Play

AUTHOR: Xasphie

E-MAIL: xasphie1@aol.com

SPOILERS: None

CATEGORY: Gen, tiny bit of angst, and one hangover

DISCLAIMERS: Oh I wish. But no, they’re still not mine. Someone else owns them.

SUMMARY: Blair’s up to something, and Jim’s not amused.

STATUS: Complete

AUTHOR’S NOTES: With many, many thanks to Judy for beta-ing.

Originally posted to the SA List February 2004

 

The Games People Play

By Xasphie

Jim knew he was tired, but he was fairly sure he would have remembered if Blair had mentioned that he wouldn’t be home until late. Ellison had crawled through the door and thrown the Menderson case file down in a haphazard heap on the couch, before crashing down next to it.

By his watch it was after 9pm – he’d give the younger man another hour or so, before Uncle Jim started making phone-calls, demanding to know his whereabouts.

He set his dials as low as he dared, and closed his eyes.

The quick ‘shut-eye’ was disturbed over two hours later, by the noisy arrival of his roommate. Blair was hopeless at keeping quiet and between walking into the kitchen counter; knocking the fruit bowl on the floor; dropping his keys and cursing out loud, it was no surprise that Ellison was soon wide awake.

"Hey, Chief," he greeted, offering a smile in welcome. "Where have you been?"

"Oh, hi Jim." Blair’s eyes were nearly closed, he looked so weary "Was at th’University. Sorry. Didn’t think t’would run on this late."

"What? Didn’t think what would run this late?" Jim’s curiosity was aroused, but his words fell on the back of the dark curls as an exhausted anthropologist trudged into his room.

"’M gonna go t’bed. Wiped." The words were slurred and were swiftly followed by a dull thud, as Sandburg collapsed bodily onto the bed, and fell sound asleep.

Grinning as he walked into Blair’s room, Ellison played ‘Mom’, removing Blair’s boots, and pulling the blanket up over the sleeping form. He cast a glance at his bedside clock and set the alarm for the morning. He could be sneaky and take a peek at Blair’s diary, but felt guilty for even considering the thought, and decided to hold his curiosity in abeyance until the morning.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Where’s your playmate?" Rafe scoffed, as he landed another manila folder onto Ellison’s desk. "He’s usually here typing your reports on a Tuesday afternoon."

Jim glared at the extra work being heaped onto him, but managed a gruff yet civil response. "Don’t know. He’s not answering his cell, and his office phone goes onto the answering machine."

"A-ha. Perhaps he’s found a life after all!"

Ellison knew his colleague’s jibe held no malicious intent, but he was irked that Sandburg hadn’t bothered to call him. Some instinct told him that his partner wasn’t in danger, but that was beside the point. Wasn’t it common courtesy to let someone know if you were going to be letting them down? He sighed heavily, and continued stabbing away at the computer keyboard. He could swear someone had switched around all the keys, because the rubbish that was appearing on the screen didn’t seem to bear much relation to the words he thought he had typed in.

An hour later, his desk phone rang. "Ellison."

//Hey Jim.//

"Sandburg, where the hell have y…"

//Yeah, sorry, got kinda held up. Everything’s okay, but I’m still at the University. Karen was struggling with something to do with the game.//

Game? "Is there a tournament?"

Jim’s well-intentioned inquiry was met with a laugh, and a hastily added. //Not that kind of game, Jim. Look I’ll explain later. I’m gonna stay again tonight, so I’ll be back late. Don’t wait up for… what? Okay, Karen, I’ll be there. Yeah, look man, I got to go. Sorry I’m not at the station this afternoon. Talk later. Bye.//

Ellison was bemused, staring at the dead receiver in his hand. Game? What game? He’d asked about a tournament, assuming it would be something to do with the forthcoming Interstate basketball meet and Sandburg had had the barefaced cheek to laugh at him.

Sandburg had laughed at him?

He’d pay for that.

Brown chose that moment to come and request the detective’s opinion on a statement he was reviewing, but beat a hasty retreat at the scowl he received. He pulled a face at Rafe as he crept quietly away, mouthing words to keep well away from the ill-humored man. Not even Taggert arriving with a late-afternoon snack of cream donuts lightened the black shadow hanging over Ellison’s desk.

It was a relief to all when the man eventually grabbed his keys, threw the case folders into his in-tray and stormed out of the bullpen. The remaining detectives pitied Sandburg when Ellison got a hold of him – for whatever he had done wrong this time.

 

It was closer to midnight this time, when Blair finally struggled through the door. Ellison was watching a re-run of the evening’s game and was scoffing at the dim-witted remarks of the commentator. The empty beer bottles strewn around the vicinity of the couch indicated his mood and state of mind.

"You’re still up?" Blair’s opening comment was light-hearted, and he wasn’t expecting the rough response.

"Like I could have gone to bed, and you wouldn’t have woken me up with your noise?" Ellison’s eyes were bloodshot and he angled slightly as he stood. "I take it you’re going to collapse on your bed like last night, and I can go to bed in peace, now?"

"Um, actually I have some grading to do, first. Although I am tired, so I won’t be up too late. And," Sandburg added as an afterthought. "I’ll write quietly!"

His intended joke fell on deaf ears, and Sandburg watched the older man climb the stairs in silence. Jim was acting like a petulant child who had had his toy taken away. Although Blair could appreciate that Ellison would have to tackle a lot of paperwork on his own, without the presence of Office Administrator Sandburg, Blair also conceded that the work he had been doing himself that afternoon, far outweighed any whining Ellison could produce. After all, Blair was not paid to be at Major Crimes, and any help he offered there was surely a bonus. Wasn’t it?

He shrugged, threw his backpack onto the kitchen table and reached inside it for the ream of papers he needed to grade before heading to bed.

 

When Ellison woke in the morning, he reached out his senses, as he habitually did, and established two pertinent facts. Firstly; Sandburg had clearly fallen asleep in the middle of grading, and was snoring at the kitchen table. Secondly; he had a stinking hangover.

He was not amused to realize either point.

Feeling the effects of too much beer the night before, and still in a disgruntled mood, he yanked on his robe and ‘accidentally’ kicked Blair’s chair in passing, on his way to the bathroom.

"Wha…. h’nh?" The tousled head raised bleary eyes, and one of the papers remained stuck to the side of Blair’s face. He registered that Jim had gone into the smallest downstairs room, and dropped his head back against the table, already asleep once more.

Ellison was in a better frame of mind after his shower, and raised an admonishing eyebrow at the sleeping figure still draped across the table. He prodded his roommate on the shoulder and waited for a response. When nothing was forthcoming, he prodded him again, harder.

"Chief. Wake up. It’s 9 o’clock." He lied efficiently.

"9 o’clo …? Shit." The majority of papers slid to the floor as Blair fought to find his feet, rushing headlong into the bathroom to perform hasty morning ablutions.

Ellison snickered all the while, as he got dressed, ran a brush through his receding hairline and descended to watch the rest of the show. His hangover could wait. Winding up Sandburg was too much fun.

The kid shouldn’t have laughed at him yesterday.

Blair staggered out of the bathroom, shirt in hand, socks falling off his feet. He hastened into his room and returned moments later, wearing a fresh t-shirt, fighting his way into a clean pair of trousers, and holding the gray socks in his teeth.

"Wh’ dudn’ oo wa’e m’?" The muffled question was completely incoherent, even to Sentinel ears.

The mirth in Ellison’s eyes was evident as he moved forward to remove the sock-gag. "Mumble that again, Chief."

"Why didn’t you wake me?" Sandburg reiterated, zipping his trousers and stuffing papers into his backpack. "Where are my keys?" he asked, snatching back the socks, and nearly tripping as he tried to walk to the door and don the socks at the same time. He was mostly clothed and halfway out of the door when he took a moment to glance at his watch.

That couldn’t be right.

If it was 9 o’clock, then why was the little hand pointing at the number 7?

It took another moment to register, before he looked back at the laughing Ellison, whose smirk now covered the whole of his face.

"You bastard."

"Couldn’t resist, Chief." Jim was leisurely making himself a pot of coffee. "You’re so easy to wind up. And besides," he reached for a second mug. "You laughed at me yesterday, and I had to get my revenge."

"What?" Blair was incredulous. "You lost me an hour’s sleep, because I laughed at you?"

"Tournament." Ellison clarified, enjoying Blair’s discomfort.

"Oh… that." Sandburg accepted the offered coffee, but couldn’t hide his own smile. He couldn’t afford to laugh at Jim again, if wind-ups were the result.

"Care to explain?"

Blair slowly sipped the refreshing caffeine, and bowed his head to try and keep a straight face. "They’re doing Chess at the University, and they got stuck with the video link for the end game, so I offered my help. Karen was getting very flustered, because it’s such an important part."

"So why laugh when I asked if it was a tournament?" Ellison was peeved, his hangover not thoroughly deadened yet by the two Advil he had knocked back.

Blair snorted, threw down his coffee mug, grabbed his bag and ran out of the loft. Sentinel hearing picked up on the guffaws of laughter that echoed in the elevator.

Sandburg was going to pay.

 

"Jim, Blair called for you earlier." Taggert grinned as he handed over the slip of paper with the telephone message. "He says, he knows you’re not into intellectual stimulation, but you might enjoy this version of chess!"

Anyone other than Taggert, or possibly Simon, would not have gotten away with vocalizing that message. He was glad that no one else was around to hear the comment, and was cross that he could feel himself flush with embarrassment. The paper detailed 7pm, Rainier University Main Hall, and the words "wear black" were heavily underlined.

Jim did not want to be anywhere other than in bed that evening, preferably in complete solitude, with a white noise generator, some earplugs, an eye mask, a gallon of cold water and a bottle of Advil. Not usually susceptible to hangovers, this one had not abated as the day progressed, and he was borderline on uttering the immortal words, "never again". It had only been seven, or was it eight beers? Or could it have been nine? He didn’t know. His headache didn’t particularly care either.

The clock on the wall told him that he had just over two hours to get back to the loft, shower, find something black to wear and be at the main hall at the University.

"Goddammit, Sandburg. This had better be good." He ran his hand through his hair, ignored the remaining work on his desk and headed back to 852 Prospect.

 

Ellison was surprised to see that the main parking lot at Rainier was overflowing, so he reversed and parked near Blair’s recently washed Volvo, outside Hargrove Hall. He trotted back over to the main campus building, where his hearing and headache were immediately assaulted by the noise from a throng of people herding towards the main auditorium.

The huge banner across the entrance screamed "Chess."

Why were these people so animated over a boring strategy game, which involved a board he much preferred to use to play Checkers?

He had just arrived at the first set of double doors, when he was asked for his ticket.

"My what?"

A flurry of Blair saved him from further embarrassment, as he was hauled off through a side door and escorted around to the back of the building. "Sandburg, what the hell are you playing at?"

"You’re right on time, Jim. That’s great."

The bounced excitement was exuding from the anthropologist, and he looked so wired Ellison casually considered that he might just have taken something.

He pulled back his arm and slammed himself to a halt. "No," he insisted, as Sandburg tried to entice him forwards. "Tell me what I’m doing here, and where exactly we’re going."

"You’re coming backstage with me!" Blair’s grin nearly bisected his face. "You’re going to see a side of chess you would never have considered."

"Sandburg, it’s a strategy game involving a bunch of small figures, played by two bored Russian guys, sitting in a park in New York, both men bringing half a board each. What more is there to learn?" Blair’s smile faltered briefly, as he recognized the underlying warning of Jim’s exasperation.

"All you need to concentrate on tonight, Jim, is your dial for hearing." Sandburg watched to ensure his Sentinel was heeding his warning. "Don’t worry about anything else."

"My dial for hearing." Ellison was dubious, "Whatever you say, Chief." Against his better judgement, and residual hangover headache, he allowed himself to be dragged through a nearby door into the backstage area.

Ellison was amazed.

He was instantly surrounded by a bevy of rushing people, some wearing all black, like himself, others wearing a variety of clothing, and adorned in the oranges and browns of stage makeup. He nearly fell over a small, foot-high chess piece, and walked into two rooks and a knight before light very slowly began to dawn.

"Sandburg," he growled, not liking to be unsure of either himself or his surroundings. "You said this was a chess game. What the hell are all these people doing back here?"

Blair clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder and steered him off down a long corridor. "I never said it was a game, Jim. You just assumed that." He paused a moment at a partially closed door, with a multicore electrical cable preventing the door from shutting completely. "I told you Karen was having a problem with the video link for the end game. The End Game is a scene. Last night was the opening night of the musical Chess."

Ellison so hated it when something dawned on him, and it wasn’t the sun. Sandburg had had the upper hand all along.

"You’ve heard of it, surely. Those two guys from Abba wrote the music, and the guy who wrote the lyrics for The Lion King wrote the words."

The detective nodded in mute understanding, vowing revenge in all forms of early morning starts and visits to Wonderburger. He seriously wondered whether or not he could get the use of the training run at the Academy for a morning workout session with the short, lively man in front of him.

"And we’re here, well away from the backstage area, because …?"

Someone opened a door beyond where they were standing, and Ellison’s hearing was blasted by the sound of brass and woodwind warming up.

"They aren’t performing in the main theatre, because they wanted to have a fuller band and the pit wasn’t big enough. The band are back here and they’re playing through sound relay and video camera." It was all making sense now. "The members of the band are ecstatic, because they’re allowed to play as loudly as they like in here, and the poor sound guy gets to monitor the levels and feed it back into the main PA from Front of House."

Jim recalled Blair’s words about dialing down his hearing, and quickly offered a prayer to the god of Advil. His hangover would just have to cope.

"I was in here last night, man, and it so rocked. I had to share. You ever been to a rock concert?" The withering glare he received disturbed him, but he continued. "This is waaaay beyond that. You’ll love it."

Ellison wasn’t so sure, but he wasn’t averse to new experiences.

Dials firmly in place and locked on low, Ellison followed Blair through the two intervening doors and watched the last few minutes of the band readying themselves. Considering the noise, there weren’t as many players as Jim had anticipated. The main noise would be emanating from the two electric guitars, the electric bass, the electronic drum kit and the three keyboards. Each instrument fed through its own amplifier.

This was going to be loud.

As the evening progressed, Jim felt himself entranced by the variety of sounds being produced, and the depth of orchestration, but more particularly he noticed how much fun each of the musicians was having. Especially during the rock numbers.

By the end of the evening, he had to acknowledge that Sandburg had been right. This was way more fun than a rock concert. He would also be prepared to argue that it had quite possibly been louder… but his hearing dial was under firm control.

He felt sorry for the sound engineer out front, who would have been having to monitor and adjust the volume. He also felt passing pity for the musicians’ ears, which had another five performances to get through.

"Hardly," the trombone player admonished, as he heard Jim’s comment to Sandburg on their way back up the corridor. "Do you have any idea how much we love doing this? There aren’t many shows where we don’t have the director squealing at us for being too loud!" The jovial grin added to his feelings. "Coming back tomorrow night?"

Ellison found himself accepting before he knew what he was saying.

He’d always heard that the best cure for a hangover was "hair of the dog", but he supposed that if he had a headache, why not blast it with decibels to knock it off the scale?

He watched Blair bounce towards a girl, who must have been the Karen of the video-link troubles. He was not surprised to watch his friend lock lips with the pretty Stage Manager.

Now was a good time to leave and head back towards the truck. He would catch up with Sandburg at the loft.

Regardless, he needed more painkillers.

 

"Hairboy, long time, no see." Brown patted Sandburg on the back as he made his way out of Banks’ office. "Where you been?"

Henri was perplexed that it seemed Sandburg hadn’t heard his greeting, and had spun around, surprised at Brown’s presence.

"What’s up with him?" The detective asked Ellison, using his thumb to indicate over his shoulder where Blair was shaking his head and batting his ears, as though trying to dislodge something.

Jim smirked, and licked his lips.

He had a dial for his hearing.

He had closely monitored the influx on his senses the previous night, even if it was Advil assisted.

And he hadn’t been standing nearly as close to the main speaker as Sandburg had been…

 

Fin

copyright Xasphie February 28th 2004

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