by James Walkswithwind and Wolfling with guest lines by Lori

Author's webpage: and

Author's notes: This is what happens when we start talking late at night. Inspired by the "why is the Loft so important" thread that's been happening on Prospect-L.

Blair came through the door to the loft whistling and shut it behind him. He threw his keys in the Basket Jim Had Put By the Door for Keys, and took off and hung his coat up on the Coat Hooks So Provided.

"Hi, Jim," he called out cheerfully. "I'm home."

There was no answer. That in itself was not unusual; even when Jim was home sometimes he preferred stealth to verbal replies. Blair found himself starting to grin in anticipation of being jumped, when he saw Jim.

Zone-out. Right in the middle of the living room.

Great. Well time to do the Guidely Thing and bring him out of it. He went over to his partner and touched his arm. "Jim? Yo, Jim, man, time to come back."

There was no immediate response. He hadn't really expected one -- depending on how long his Sentinel had been standing here, he might have zoned rather deeply.

Blair wondered what might have caused it as he spoke again.

"Jim, come on, you going to make me strip nak.ed...again?" His voice trailed off and he frowned. The mask on the wall, the First African Mask That Jim Had Allowed Him To Put Up In The Living Room was askew.

How in the world had it gotten like that? Blair abandoned Jim for the moment it took to walk over and right the mask. As soon as he turned around he saw Jim blink once.

"Hey, Jim. You back with me?"

Another slow blink, then his lover's eyes focused on him. "Blair? My god..."

He was across the room to Jim's side in a moment. "It's okay," he soothed. "I fixed the mask."

Jim exhaled in a single, explosive breath. "Thanks, Chief," he said in that understated way which said I Couldn't Live Without You and Your Guiding Light Around Me.

But his hand closed around Blair's arm in a warning. "It wasn't just that mask. That was just.I don't know. Too much."

"I know, I know. But it's fixed now-"

"No." Jim's soft voice chilled Blair's heart. "There's more."

Blair felt a cold shiver of premonition go down his spine. "More?"

Without speaking, Jim turned, pulling Blair along with him. Whether to protect himself, or provide protection for Blair, he couldn't tell. Normally, The Sentinel was all gung-ho about 'stay behind me, so it eats me first' especially when they went to the Maker's Mark dance club, but he didn't really need to get into that just now. But every so often Jim needed his Guide to go first.

Like that time when...well, this certainly wasn't the first time, so Blair told himself that being shoved in front of Jim was no reason to get the willies.

Jim was pushing him over to The Lamp That Had Illuminated Their First Kiss. It looked all right to Blair and he turned and told his lover so.

"Turn it on," Jim said, his voice tight.

With trepidation, Blair did.

And gasped in horror; someone had changed the wattage of the bulb.

"There's nobody here now," Jim reassured him in a tight voice. "But somebody has been here." He looked around, visibly going into 'scan' mode. After a moment he said, "I can't sense anything, no new scents, nothing."

"Maybe we better look over the rest of the place," Blair said, his stomach roiling. He felt violated. Someone had been in the loft. In Their Place. Touching Their Things.

"Over there," Jim said, interrupting his thoughts before he could imagine the worst. Jim was pointing towards the door to the Office That Had Been Blair's Bedroom.

Blair glanced up over his shoulder at Jim and then crossed the room to look at the door. What he saw threw him in a towering rage.

"There's a scratch! There's a scratch on The Door You Put Up To Signify My Presence Was Not Transient!!"

"I know," Jim sighed. He took a hesitant step away from Blair, towards the kitchen.

Blair reached out and latched onto his arm. Whatever they found in the kitchen, they would face it together.

With a small nod, Jim accepted his support and continued towards the kitchen. When they reached the center of the room, they stopped. They each looked around.

"I don't see anything."

"Maybe, maybe whoever it was didn't come into the kitchen?"

"Maybe." It was clear from his lover's tone that he didn't believe it.

"Maybe we should check the fridge?"

There was a pause. Then Jim put his hand on Blair's back. "Go ahead." The 'I'll cover you' was unspoken, but there.

Taking a deep breath, Blair gripped the fridge's handle and opened the door.

There was a pause while he surveyed the interior. "Well?" Jim asked.

He closed the door again and turned to face his Sentinel. He met Jim's eyes and put his hands on his shoulders. "You're going to have to be strong, Jim."

"What's wrong?"

"It's the tupperware."

"Is it gone?" Jim sounded perplexed.

"No, not gone..." He swallowed. "It's clear."


"It's clear. The red and blue are gone."

Jim pushed past him and yanked the refrigerator door open. He stared for a long moment.

"Just don't zone on me, Jim, okay?" Blair knew his voice sounded a little small and scared but he couldn't help it.

They'd messed with the tupperware!

With a quick shake of his head, Jim slammed the door shut. He looked at Blair, then slowly -- reluctantly -- looked towards the second floor bedroom.

Blair shivered. What could they have done up in the Bedroom Where They Showed Their Love To Each Other?

And did he really want to know?

"Let's check the bathroom," Jim said decisively.

"Right." He nodded decisively and headed that way, Jim's presence a comforting shadow behind him.

Before they reached the bathroom, Jim stopped at the hot water tank closet. He gave Blair a curious look. "I smell something...."

He opened the door.

Jim froze. Blair looked around him and did likewise. It was gone. The Hot Water Tank That Was So Small They Had To Share Showers To Have Enough Hot Water was gone.

In its place was a brand new, much larger tank. One that would provide lots of hot water for individual showers.

Jim slammed the door shut. Without a word, he grabbed Blair's arm and hustled them out of The Loft That Was Not The Loft, stopping only long enough to pluck Blair's keys out of what Blair now saw was A Basket of Entirely The Wrong Color.

They got in the elevator and the doors closed behind them. Then the elevator music started.

"No, no, no, no, no," Blair muttered, stabbing at buttons, trying to make the music stop.

Beside him, Jim had his hands over his ears and was talking to himself. It sounded like "Down, down, down", but whether he was talking about the elevator or his dials, Blair didn't know.

The elevator ride finally ended after what seemed an eternity of torture and Blair all but carried Jim outside, the sentinel still holding his hands over his ears and mumbling.

Blair managed to get them into his Classic Yet Runs Well Except When The Criminals Are Nearby Car, seatbelting Jim in before shutting the door and running around to the driver's side.

He got in, started the car, and peeled out of the parking lot like the hounds of hell were chasing them.

He didn't know exactly where he was going, at first.

But as he drove, he realized he'd aimed them for a hopeful haven of safety. If not actual safety, at least someplace where he could hide behind someone besides his nearly-zoned Alpha Male.

Blair relaxed slightly at the realization; his subconscious had been thinking even when he hadn't. Which of course is a paradox, but then so are most things in fiction. I mean a sensitive guy named Jim?

A few more turns, a few little more Recklessly Speeding Down Neighborhood Streets, and they were there.

Turning off the engine, Blair got both himself and Jim out of the car and up the walkway to the front door. Then he began knocking on the door, the noise sounding like a woodpecker on speed.

The door swung open, and an irritated frown growled at him. "What?!" Simon Banks snapped. Then he got a good look at Jim and stepped back, out of the way. "What's wrong?"

"The loft-" Blair started.

Simon's eyes narrowed at him, even as he helped steer the still-babbling Sentinel into the living room.

"Someone's been in the loft. Messing with our stuff."

There was a pause. He shook his head. "Say that again?"

"Someone--they...the Mask...and the Lamp. And they...the tupperware, Simon! The tupperware!"

"Calm down, Sandburg," Simon said, trying to get Blair over to the couch to sit down alongside Jim.

Blair shook off Simon's hands and began pacing. "Not to mention what they did to my door. And they switched the water heater!"

"Oh!" Simon's face suddenly cleared with understanding. "Sandburg," he began, but Blair was on his feet again, furious.

"The loft is our special place, man. It's our Retreat From The World. Everything in it has a special meaning. You don't understand what this feels like."

"Sandburg," Simon had his hands on Blair's shoulders. "Will you listen to me?" He gave Blair a not-so-gentle shake.

Blair stopped and looked up at the police captain. "What?"

"The hot water tank. They just replaced it. Probably knocked a few things over while they were at it."

He blinked uncomprehendingly at Simon. "They?"


He gaped. "But it's not in the- we didn't get any notice!"

"They probably forgot. These aren't the regular props guys." He slapped Blair on the shoulder, lightly. "Come on, I'll get you some coffee."

"All right," he muttered, letting himself be calmed down. "But I want our tupperware back!"

As he settled back on the couch, he heard, "Who were they?"

"Props," Blair said, waving a hand dismissively, mouth curled up in disgust.

"Props? But they usually do such a nice job. Thanks, Simon," he said as he was handed a mug of Steaming Hot Freshly Ground Roasted Chenelle Number Five.

"Simon says they're not the regular prop guys."

"Who were they, then?"

They both looked at Simon, who fidgeted. "Well you see..."

They heard the front door open, and someone came in. Blair and Jim both looked up to see Simon.

Real Simon.

He winced. "Have you gotten into the coffee beans again?"

Jim and Blair looked at each other wearily. "Clones," they said in unison.


Series/Sequel: same universe as Send in the Clones.

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