Author’s Note: This story is set sometime after the events of “Rainy Day Remembrance.” Thanks as always to Nancy Taylor, who helped me fix a problem that delayed this story’s completion for months. It was written for Kathryn Andersen, who asked me to fill some of the holes in the middle of the series after I had written a couple of stories set five years down the line. *blush* Sadly, I never finished the job. Dedicated to all the roommates who ever put up with me.
“Well, this shouldn’t take too long,” Jim announced with satisfaction as he studied the luggage in the back of the truck, a rather large duffel bag with a garment bag leaning up against it.
Ariel smiled sheepishly as she retrieved her backpack from the bed. “Um, I wouldn’t say that. We still have to get the rest of my stuff out of storage.”
The detective’s eyes narrowed. “Storage?” he repeated with a sideways glare at his partner. “Sandburg, you didn’t mention anything about storage.”
“Well, the storage room is on campus,” Blair rationalized. “It didn’t really seem like an extra stop…”
“Especially since it’s in the building,” the redhead agreed, her eyes hopeful.
Ellison sighed deeply. “All right. Where do we deposit the first load?”
Ariel pointed out a door halfway down the building, which opened onto a little patch of sidewalk that probably passed for a patio. A balcony hung over it from the floor above, creating a nice shade. “Just drop everything on the porch. I’ll slip inside, get registered, and get my key.” She disappeared into the building.
Jim lifted the duffel bag out with a sigh. Blair collected the garment bag and followed him to the apartment she had indicated.
The detective zeroed in on the door, a frown crossing his face.
“What?” Sandburg asked warily, recognizing his partner’s expression.
“The door’s unlocked,” Jim pointed out. He turned the knob and pulled it open.
The room inside was already half-filled with boxes. A couch upholstered in a revolting seventies-style plaid sat against one wall, with a couple of cookie-cutter standard dorm chairs pushed into a corner to make room for it. On a desk on the opposite wall sat an open TV box, with a VCR stacked carelessly on top of it. Someone was clearly in the process of moving in, and it wasn’t Ariel.
The Sentinel turned to his partner. “Are you sure this is the right room?”
The familiar voice snapped Ariel’s attention back the way she had come. “Heather!” she exclaimed in delight.
“God, I was hoping you’d come in today!” Heather Pratt returned gleefully, her dark eyes sparkling. The two girls embraced. “I’ve missed you!”
“I’ve missed you too!” Ariel pulled back and looked at the necklace her roommate was wearing, a little shamrock almost the same shade of gold as her hair. “Ooh, did you get that in Ireland?”
Heather’s hand flew to her throat as the two resumed walking towards the apartment. “Yep. That reminds me, I got something for you too–it’s back at the room. Did you get your key yet?”
The redhead nodded. “What about you?”
“Yeah. I left it in the room.”
“Oh, yeah?” Ariel cocked an eyebrow at her roommate. “I’m assuming you left the door unlocked then, since you didn’t know when I’d get here.”
The blonde smiled back impishly. “Don’t I always?”
They reached the apartment door just as Jim and Blair were turning around to come back out. Heather took one look at them and her eyes widened in appreciation. “Well, hi! Shouldn’t you be walking into my life, not out of it?”
Blair stifled a snicker, while the detective just smiled indulgently.
“Let me guess,” the anthropologist asked. “This is Heather?”
Ariel nodded. “Blair, Jim, I’d like you to meet Heather Pratt,” she introduced the blonde. “My roommate for all but a couple of semesters of my college career thus far. Heather, this is Blair Sandburg, and this is his roommate, Detective Jim Ellison.”
“Heather, it’s nice to meet you. Ariel’s told me a lot about you,” Blair held out a hand to Heather, which she accepted with a sly smile.
“Yeah, she mentioned you a couple of times too,” she told him with a smirk. “When she remembered to write. Call me ‘Heaven.'”
The anthropologist glanced back at Ariel, who was doing her best to keep her expression blank. “Oh, yeah? Why ‘Heaven’?”
The blonde batted her eyelashes once at him and said in a flagrantly come-hither voice, “Because I’m the closest thing to it you’ll ever see.”
Whoa! The anthropologist blinked twice before a huge grin spread over his face. He cocked one eyebrow playfully at her and turned on the charm. “I don’t suppose that’s a theory you’d care to test sometime?”
Heather didn’t miss a beat. She leaned in toward him and whispered, “Oh, it’s not a theory. It’s a proven fact.”
The Sentinel disguised a snort of laughter as a cough.
Heather then released Blair’s hand, letting one finger trail suggestively down his palm as she pulled away. He just stared at her with an expression of breathless awe on his face.
Jim nudged his partner with his shoulder. “Heel, Sandburg,” he murmured with a smirk.
The teasing comment broke the spell as Blair pulled his attention away from Heather to glare at the detective.
Ariel nudged her roommate, grinning. “Hon, you’ll have plenty of time to flirt with Blair later. Right now, I want to be at least half moved in before I go to bed.”
“Sandburg, didn’t I tell you to let me carry the heavy stuff?”
“Geez, Jim, I’m not that weak.”
The detective laughed. He watched Blair dig determined fingers into the knot in his shoulder. “I never said you were, Chief. But you have to remember to lift with your legs, not your back.”
“You okay?” Heather asked, popping out from behind a now-empty box in the kitchen. She crossed the room and tossed the cardboard out onto the patio.
The grad student grimaced. “Yeah, I’ve just got a bit of a knot in my back.” He tipped his head from side to side, trying to crack his spine.
Heather placed a hand over the spot that he had been rubbing. Her fingers prodded gently at the muscle and she whistled. “Yeah, you’ve got a knot in there all right. Take off your shirt.”
Blair’s eyes widened. “Already?” he joked.
The blonde smirked and smacked his shoulder. “Smartass. I’m going to give you a backrub, and you can’t do a proper massage through three layers of fabric.”
“Gonna mix up one of your concoctions?” Ariel asked as she deposited yet another empty box outside the apartment door.
Heather just smiled impishly. “Take off your shirt,” she repeated to Blair. “While I go find my oils and something to spread on the floor.”
She disappeared into the bedroom and Sandburg grinned broadly at his partner. “Guess we ought to offer our services as movers more often, huh, Jim?” he teased as he began unbuttoning his flannel.
Jim got a mischievous gleam in his eyes. “I don’t know, Sandburg, selling yourself for just a backrub seems a little cheap. Don’t you agree, Red?”
Ariel laughed. “Not from what I’ve heard about Heather’s backrubs.”
The blonde emerged from the back with a patchwork quilt thrown over one arm, a basket in her hand and a thin book tucked under her other arm. Nudging a few boxes and their makeshift coffee table–her trunk–aside, she spread the quilt out on the carpet. “Now, finish stripping and lie down there. I’ll figure out a blend and be right with you.”
One of Blair’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re into aromatherapy?” He snuck a glance at Jim, wondering idly how the older man’s Sentinel senses would respond to something like that.
Heather nodded and flipped open her book. “Believe it or not, it works. I like to take a bath with lavender sometimes before I go to bed. It helps me sleep.”
Hmm…Heather in the bathtub, now there was a pleasant mental image, Blair ruminated as he watched the blonde. Pulling off his last shirt, he collapsed onto the quilt and pillowed his head on his hands. Maybe he could forego the backrub–just relaxing seemed to be helping enough.
A contrary muscle in his back spasmed in protest. Okay, maybe not, Sandburg grimaced.
Jim sat down on the couch with a sigh, while Ariel continued unloading books onto the bookshelf. Both watched Heather curiously as she let a few drops of several different oils fall into the bottom of a teacup. When she seemed satisfied with the scent, she uncapped a bottle of almond oil and poured a small amount into the cup to help blend the other oils.
Curious, the Sentinel took a sniff. Rose, Jasmine, and a couple of others he didn’t recognize by name, although he’d smelled just about every essential oil there was in that one shop when they were trying to track down Veronica Sarris.
Ariel’s roommate took a deep breath and released it, her chest bobbing a little under the low-cut top she wore. Idly, Jim observed that Heather Pratt was a very attractive young woman. He breathed in the scent of the concoction once again. It really was quite pleasant, and very soothing.
Stepping to Blair’s side, the blonde set the cup down beside him and proceeded to straddle his back. She dipped her fingers into the oil, rubbed them together, then took his shoulders in both hands and began to knead them.
The anthropologist let out a low moan. “God, that feels good,” he murmured into the floor.
The air in the small apartment was beginning to seem unseasonably warm, and the Sentinel found he was having trouble breathing. His eyes seemed pinned to Heather where the young woman was working on Blair. Every movement was slow and measured, every time her hands slid up his back, her body rocked forward in a smooth, flowing, enticing motion. For one moment, Jim felt an almost feral desire to pull her off his partner, throw her up against the wall, and put that nickname of hers to his own little test–
Startled, he recoiled from the thought. God, where the hell was his mind going? She was only twenty, for heaven’s sake!
“Chief,” he almost gasped, springing to his feet. “I’m going to go get some air, okay?”
His only answer from the younger man was a distracted acknowledging grunt.
It took a brisk walk in the rapidly-cooling evening, to a part of the campus some distance from the girls’ apartment, before Jim felt fully in control of his hormones again.
What the hell happened to me back there??
The detective passed one hand over his stunned face. He hadn’t felt that out of control since Laura McCarthy, whom Blair had hypothesized was emitting some sort of pheremone that his heightened senses were reacting to. Could his response to Ariel’s roommate be pheremonal too? If it was, why hadn’t it happened right away, when they’d first met, instead of hours later?
Not to mention, at least this time, she seemed to have the same effect on Blair. At least, once she’d started that backrub.
Think, Ellison, Jim scolded himself. What changed between this morning and when you first started having this…reaction.
His mind scrolled through the day. They’d picked up Ariel at the airport, brought her to campus, met Heather, spent several hours helping them move in…then Blair had stopped, complaining of a sore back, Heather had offered to give him a massage and brought out that basket of essential oils–
That was it. He’d started losing control the moment he’d smelled those oils.
Aromatherapy, Blair had said. Jim didn’t know much about the subject, but wasn’t aromatherapy based on the idea that certain scents had a particular effect on the human mind and body?
He’d have to ask Sandburg when the younger man finished his backrub. But in the meantime, he would wait out in the truck, instead of the apartment. He might zone out from pure boredom, but at least he wouldn’t find himself fantasizing about a woman twenty years his junior.
“Um, guys, I think I’m going to go to bed,” Ariel stated uncomfortably, picking herself up from her seat on the couch and closing her book on the bookmark. Almost an hour had passed and Jim still hadn’t returned, while the emotional atmosphere in the room had gotten more and more uncomfortable. The charge in the air was now making her feel very much like a voyeur.
“You don’t have to,” Blair slurred in protest from the floor.
The redhead smirked. Right. “It’s okay. We can finish unpacking in the morning. Night, Blair. Thanks for coming over, and thank Jim for me too.”
With a tight smile, she hurried into the back room. The door shut firmly behind her.
Heather cast a worried glance in that direction, then back at Blair as he shifted under her. “Are you okay?” she asked, concerned.
“M’fine,” he murmured. “Mind’s jus’…wanderin’.”
Her hands froze. “Maybe I should stop.”
He made a weak effort at shaking his head. “S’okay. I like it.”
With a silent sigh, Heather resumed kneading his neck, her eyes drifting once again to the closed bedroom door. It’s not you I’m worried about.
“Man, that has got to be the best backrub I’ve ever had in my life,” Blair enthused as he climbed into the cab of the truck beside Jim. “And Heather, is she hot or what? Ariel was right when she said I’d like her.”
There was no response except a sideways look from the Sentinel as he pulled out of the parking lot. The younger man frowned. “Hey, Jim, why didn’t you come back in?”
The detective looked uncomfortable. “Sandburg, this aromatherapy business…are there any scents that are supposed to be aphrodisiac?”
Blair’s curly head bobbed. “Yeah, of course. Rose, Jasmine, Ylang-Ylang, Patchouly…” He rambled on down the list for about thirty seconds. “Why?”
Jim sighed. “Because I detected about half of that list in that concoction Heather made.”
“You mean–” The anthropologist’s eyes widened. “Oh! Wow, that stuff really works, doesn’t it?”
“You’re telling me,” the Sentinel murmured.
“This is great!” Sandburg exclaimed, starting to get excited again. “The oils didn’t really affect me until she started rubbing them into my back, but you picked it up from across the room–”
“This is not great,” Jim contradicted him. “Chief, the stuff was giving me fantasies about a girl half my age. If I hadn’t left when I did, I don’t know if I would have been able to stay in control of my actions.”
Blair grimaced. “I get the picture.” He too remembered the last time Jim had lost control of his body’s response to a woman. It had not been an experience either of them would care to repeat. “So, what do you think we should do?”
The detective wrinkled his nose. “First of all, as soon as we get home, you take a shower and wash the mess off you. I don’t want to find myself having explicit dreams about Ariel’s roommate because you reek of that stuff.”
“Or about me, huh?” the younger man joked, earning him a daggered look from his roommate. “Hey, relax, man, I was kidding. You know I’m as straight as they come.”
Jim snorted. He couldn’t argue with that. “Then tomorrow we’ve got to figure out something to tell Ariel, so this doesn’t happen again.”
“How about the truth?” Blair suggested. “I mean, I know we don’t need to, and it’s your decision, but I think we both know she can be trusted.”
“I’ll think about it,” the Sentinel sighed.
“Morning,” Ariel yawned as she wandered into the kitchen the next morning. Heather was sitting at the table, staring white-faced at her aromatherapy book. “When’s your first class?” the redhead asked as she reached for a bagel.
When there was no answer from the blonde, her roommate did a double take. “Uh oh. Heath, what happened?”
Heather let out a despairing little groan and buried her face in her arms. “I just made the most horribly huge mistake.”
Grabbing her breakfast off the counter, Ariel sat down and regarded her friend curiously. “Oh? What’s that?”
Her face burning, Heather pushed the book toward her roommate. “That mixture I used on Blair last night–it worked so well that I decided to write down all the ingredients so I could make it again sometime…Airy, three-quarters of the oil I put in that was aphrodisiac!”
Her roommate stared at her for a minute, then began to laugh. “Well, that certainly explains a few things!”
“He said, after you left, that his mind was wandering, but I didn’t realize…Oh, God!” Heather hid her face again. “I picked them because one of the effects was supposed to be muscle relaxation, I wasn’t trying to seduce him or anything! I swear!”
“I know you weren’t.”
“But he doesn’t!” the blonde almost wailed. “What am I supposed to tell him?”
Ariel shrugged. “Tell him the truth.”
The other girl’s head popped up. “Are you kidding? He’ll hate me!”
“He’s not going to hate you,” the redhead promised. “You don’t know Blair like I do. He won’t hate you for something as little as that.” Her eyes took on an impish glint. “Especially not with the way he was flirting with you–and you with him, I might add–before you ever even pulled out your oils.”
“No, he’s going to hate me,” the other woman repeated with conviction.
Ariel rolled her eyes. “Suit yourself, but you have to tell him something.”
Heather groaned and hid her face in her arms again.
A bright smile beamed across Blair’s face as he opened the loft door to admit Ariel. “Hey, you’re early. Food’s still on the stove.”
“Is that a problem?” the redhead asked, one eyebrow shooting up in imitation of her favorite television character.
The anthropologist shook his head. “Nope, no problem.” He glanced out into the hallway behind her. “Heather didn’t come, huh?”
She fought a smile. “No…she’s a little afraid to be around you right now.”
“Oh?” Sandburg closed the door behind her. “Is it about what happened with the oils?”
Ariel stared. “You knew about that?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“It’s, um…kind of a long story.” He glanced at the table, which Jim was setting with typical Sentinel meticulousness.
“You’re not mad at her, are you?”
“No, why would you think that?”
“I don’t,” Ariel grinned, “but Heather does. She’s firmly convinced you’d hate her if you knew what happened, even if it was an accident.”
Sandburg chuckled. “Guess I’ll have to talk to her, then. No, I don’t hate her. But there is, um…a little bit of a problem. Which is partly why we invited you over for dinner tonight. So it’s just as well that Heather didn’t come.”
The redhead frowned, looking from one to the other. “What do you mean?”
“Well…I didn’t figure out that Heather had used aphrodisiacs in that blend,” Blair explained. “Jim did.”
“Jim?” Ariel cast a puzzled glance in the detective’s direction. “But how? She didn’t use any of the stuff on you. She didn’t even give you a backrub.”
“She didn’t need to,” Jim stated. He sighed. “Sandburg, you explained this to me, maybe you’d better–”
Blair shrugged. “Okay, Jim, although you did just fine breaking the news to Simon.”
“That’s because Simon saw the evidence before he heard the outlandish story,” Jim retorted.
“What outlandish story? What are you guys talking about?” Ariel asked, confused.
“Why don’t you have a seat,” Jim interceded. “We’ll explain over dinner.”
Ariel ran a finger back and forth along the side of her glass, eyes fixed thoughtfully on the water in it. A pensive frown creased her lips.
“Ariel,” Blair started. “It’s okay. We know that this can be a little hard to swallow. Sheesh, even Jim was skeptical at first, and he was the one experiencing it.”
“No,” she shook her head firmly. “It’s not that I don’t believe you…I mean, you’ve never lied to me–” The redhead hesitated mid-thought.
Jim took advantage of the pause to shoot a curious look at Blair, half expecting to see chagrin on the younger man’s face. Sentinel hearing focused in on his roommate’s heartbeat. But both Sandburg’s face and his heart remained calm.
Well, I’ll be damned. He really hasn’t ever ‘obfuscated’ to her, the detective marveled.
“I’m just thinking maybe I owe my mom an apology,” Ariel continued in a soft voice.
This caught both men’s attention.
“Your mom?” Blair asked, excited.
She nodded. “You said you have a lot of cases of people with one or two ‘heightened’ senses?”
The detective could almost hear his partner’s heart sinking. He frowned–that was a possibility he’d never really considered, that Blair might actually want to find a second Sentinel. It made logical sense considering what little he knew about scientific research methods, but something about the idea disturbed him.
“Yeah, yeah, I do,” Sandburg confirmed.
Ariel sighed. “Well, I think my mom would be one of them. She’s always smelling things that no one else in the family does. I…I always thought she was imagining things. I tried not to, but sometimes I was actually…” Her voice hitched a little. “I was embarrassed by her. But if this is true–”
“Just smell? You’re sure?” Blair asked with a tone that was still slightly hopeful.
The redhead frowned. “Well, she always has been a light sleeper, and once she heard me typing from two rooms away when I had my door closed and my radio blaring.”
The anthropologist’s interest visibly piqued even more, but before he could rattle off another question, she continued.
“Not sight, though. I’m sure of that. She wears contacts for nearsightedness.”
“Oh,” Blair’s ballooning excitement popped once again.
“Look, Chief,” Jim pointed out calmly, “why don’t you wait until you know if you’re ever going to meet the woman before you start planning any tests for her?”
The detective chuckled. “Yeah, Sandburg likes to think of me as his own personal guinea pig.”
Ariel giggled. “Now, that I find difficult to imagine.”
“Well, you probably can imagine that he’s not the most cooperative test subject,” Blair groused good-naturedly.
Before the redhead could ask for details, Jim changed the subject. “So what are we going to do about your roommate?”
Ariel grinned. “Well, I don’t think we’ll need to do anything right away. It’ll probably be a couple of weeks before she even picks up the book again, she’s so paranoid. Beyond that, I think I can run interference.” She turned to the younger of the two men. “The only real problem will be convincing her you don’t find the whole incident unforgivable.”
He nodded. “Well, why don’t I come back to campus with you tonight and have a talk with her?”
She agreed. “Sounds good to me.”
“So, you’re really *not* mad at me?” Heather asked again in amazement.
Blair shook his head. “Why would I be? Honestly, I don’t think I would have been upset even if you had done it on purpose. In fact, I was wondering…”
The blonde watched him with an inquiring expression.
“I know there’s eight years age difference between us, but I really do find you attractive. That’s not just the oils talking.” He smiled the same gorgeous, sincere smile that had melted many a young woman’s heart, including Maya’s. “Could we maybe get together again, sometime?” His voice turned more flirtatious. “Maybe let nature’s aroma take its course?”
She smiled in response. The idea had definite appeal, but…
Her smile never faded, except from her eyes. “Nah. Call me superficial, but I like my guys to be significantly taller than me.” With a mischievous grin, she held one hand up to Blair’s head and ran it through the air towards herself. “Sorry.”
Then, thinking of the grad student’s roommate, her expression became even more mischievous. “Of course, significantly older I can handle too, in the right guy.”
Blair laughed and faked being stabbed through the heart. “Ouch, I think I get the point. Should I send Jim over now, or later?”
“How’d it go?” Ariel asked as the bedroom door closed behind her roommate.
Heather leaned against the door, letting out a low breath. “Well, you were right, he doesn’t hate me.”
The redhead grinned. “I told you so.”
“In fact…” Heather hesitated. “Oh, hell. He asked me out.”
For an infinitesimal second, a flicker of dismay seemed to cross the other woman’s face, but she masked it with the practiced skill of a lifelong actress. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him no.”
The redhead looked up at her friend, surprised. “Why?”
“Airy, I know you like him,” Heather answered softly. “You’re a hell of a lot more important to me than any guy. I’m attracted to him; I’ll admit that right now. But I won’t let that come between us.”
The redhead took a deep, shaky breath. “You’re right, I guess I do have a little bit of a crush on him. But if he wants you…I won’t stand in the way. I’ll understand. I can’t pretend it won’t hurt a little bit–maybe even a lot–but I’ll live with it. You’re too important to me too.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” The blonde rolled her eyes melodramatically. “Will you just shut up and stop playing the martyr for once? I could take just about any guy on this campus and be just as happy. And you know that.”
She grinned, poking her roommate in the shoulder. “If you don’t want to tell him, that’s cool. But sheesh, let *me* be selfless for once, okay?”
Ariel smiled. “Well…okay. If you want. But I can almost guarantee you nothing’s gonna happen.”
Heather just shot her head with another knowing smile. “We’ll see.”