Author’s Note: Set after “A Certain Similarity” in my Ariel chronology and during the episode “Neighborhood Watch” on the series. Thanks to my beta reader, Nancy Taylor, and Aussie-slang consultant, Kathryn Andersen. And Medie, for bugging me to finish and for showing me people other than me *do* like Jim/Megan by their reactions to her stories.
“Man, you may be a Sentinel, but sometimes you can’t see what’s right in front of your nose.”
Jim turned to look at his partner as the elevator doors slid shut. A devilish grin covered most of Blair’s face, and there was a knowing sparkle in the younger man’s eyes.
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” the detective asked.
“It means that seventy-five percent of the time, your way of reacting to a woman you find attractive is to pick a fight with her. Sort of the grownup equivalent of pulling her pigtails.” Sandburg continued to smirk at him like the proverbial canary-consuming feline. “And you accuse me of being in denial about Ariel.”
“Wait a damned minute, Sandburg. Are you trying to imply that I’m attracted to Conner?” The look Jim shot his partner was one of pure incredulity.
“To quote you, Jim, ‘You said it, not me.'”
“Chief, I think those whatchamacallit grubs have gone to your head.”
“Witchety grubs, Jim.”
“Whatever. Maybe the last batch you had was rancid or something.”
Blair chuckled. “Why can’t you just admit I’m right? Come on, even Simon can see it. ‘The way you two carry on, no one will doubt it,’ and I quote.”
Jim just snorted. “Somehow I doubt that playing matchmaker is what Simon had in mind.”
“Come on, Jim, you know there’s precedent! The concept of competition as courtship is *ancient*, man! You have the myth of Atalanta, who would only marry a man who could out-run her, Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing with their ‘merry war,’ Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights…although that’s not such a good example because they both married other people–”
“–or just look at your own history, Jim. Beverly Sanchez, Elaine Walters–”
“Spare me the English lesson and the history lesson, Sandburg. I suppose you’re going to try to tell me I was subconsciously attracted to Cassie too?”
Blair shook his head. “No, Cassie you definitely didn’t like. Although I think it could be safely said we both consider her a friend now.”
Bewildered, the detective shook his head. “Explain to me the distinction here, Chief, because I don’t see it.”
“It’s pretty simple, actually,” Sandburg complied in a calm tone. “What it comes down to is respect. You perceive Megan as an equal, whereas with Cassie you never did. You had no respect for her. And believe me, there is a visible difference in the way you treat the two of them. For one thing, if Cassie Wells were to ever leave Cascade, for whatever reason, something tells me that even though you like her more than you used to, you wouldn’t be nearly as eager for her to stay as you were with Megan.”
“I was not ‘eager’–”
“Oh yeah? You were the one who said her choice should be obvious.”
Before Jim could form a rebuttal, the elevator doors dinged open. Fuming, the Sentinel stormed out, nearly bowling over the object of their conversation.
“Conner, will you look where you’re going for God’s sake?” Ellison snapped.
Megan bristled. “Excuse me?? I look where I’m going? I’m not the one who blew out of the lift with a bug up his arse!”
“I wasn’t expecting someone to be blocking the exit,” Jim shot back.
The Australian opened her mouth to retort, but the Sentinel interrupted her. “Save it, Conner. You can act like a nagging wife once the assignment starts, but not before.”
Jim marched across the lobby and turned to look expectantly at Sandburg from just within the glass doors.
Aghast and furious, Megan turned to Blair as well. “What the hell was that about?”
Not trusting his voice, he just shrugged with a mild grin.
She let out a low, indignant “Hmph!” and continued in the direction she’d been going, which was not into the elevator. Sandburg watched her for a moment, mildly appreciating the view, then glanced back at his partner.
He almost laughed when he noticed that Jim too was intent upon the Inspector’s retreat.
“The mating dance of the modern Sentinel,” Blair chuckled softly.
“I heard that!”