An Early Test
Jim stopped pacing as he saw Sandburg's car pull up outside on Prospect. At last, the kid was here.
By the time the elevator stopped, the couch cushions looked as if someone had just got up, music was playing quietly in the background, and a cold beer was casually sitting on a drinks mat on the coffee table. To an observer, it looked as if the occupant of the loft was relaxing at the end of the day.
Or glaring at the clock.
Naturally, Jim opened the door before Sandburg could knock on it. "You made it."
"Man, I'm sorry I'm late. You wouldn't believe how many questions students can have about a simple essay."
Jim stepped back as Sandburg came in, talking a mile a minute as he explained about his day. His long day.
Not that Sandburg had said that; he didn't need to. His clothes - the same clothes that he'd worn all night while on a stakeout with Jim - were crumpled, and his face was weary.
"Hey, nice place!"
Jim glanced around. He guessed it was. "Listen, if you're tired, we can do this tomorrow."
"What? No way, man! I've been looking forward to this all day!" The enthusiastic gleam in the kid's eyes was unmistakable.
Jim guessed that having his very own Sentinel to use as a lab rat was invigorating to a geek like Sandburg.
"Okay." Jim didn't mind if the kid stayed. "Take a seat."
Grabbing another beer, Jim handed it to Sandburg, then sat on the couch watching as the kid dug into his backpack and pulled out a series of small, round tubs, piling them up on the coffee table. Finally, a notebook and pen were pulled out and the kid put his glasses on. Jim guessed that meant business.
"Okay, I thought we'd start off with something simple, like smell. In each of these," he shook one of the containers in the air, "I've kept something that has an easily identifiable smell."
Jim's face must have shown what he was thinking.
"No, no, nothing gross, man - I swear!" Sandburg hurried to assure him, a grin on his face. "Things like rose petals or vegetables. Anyway, before I came over, I emptied them out. All you have to do is identify what was in there."
"Fine." Jim took a swig of beer first then picked up a tub.
"Before you start, what number is it?"
Glancing at the top, Jim muttered, "Five," then unscrewed the tub. At once, the pungent smell of onions greeted him. "Onions."
"Great! Although that was an easy one," Sandburg admitted, scribbling in his notebook. "Next?"
After a few minutes, Jim relaxed. The smells were, as the kid had said, easily identifiable, and his senses, which had been plaguing him since he woke up just after noon, had settled down. Even the sound of the air conditioning was a hum in the background instead of being a migraine-inducing rattle.
Getting into a rhythm, he was more than halfway through the stack of tubs when he realised that Sandburg's pen had stopped scratching its way across the page. No wonder. The kid, who'd been awake since at least ten the night before when Jim collected him from that warehouse of his, was asleep. Jim wasn't surprised. While he'd slept the morning away, Sandburg had been at Rainier...doing his day job.
Moving quietly - although from Sandburg's snores, he needn't have bothered to keep it down - Jim removed the tilting pen and the notebook that was threatening to slide off the kid's knee, and put them on the coffee table. Sandburg's glasses followed them, and Jim stepped back to observe his handiwork.
He frowned. Sandburg couldn't be comfortable sleeping like that. Arranging a cushion on one end of the couch, he guided the kid down onto his side and was pleased to hear the snores stop. If they'd kept up, he might have had to wake Sandburg up before the neighbours started complaining.
Naturally, once the kid was lying down, his feet had to go up, and Jim eased off the tatty sneakers and put them on the floor, before covering Sandburg with the afghan. There was a few seconds' silence, then the kid muttered and snuffled his face into the cushion beneath his head.
Jim smiled, oddly pleased. He might have guessed the kid was a snuffler.
Stretching slightly, he turned off the stereo and turned on the TV, keeping the sound whisper quiet, before fetching himself another beer and sitting back down. Propping his feet up on the coffee table in the midst of the abandoned test, he smiled.
When the kid woke up, they could order pizza. Then, if Jim was in a good mood, he might even consider finishing that test of Sandburg's - although he'd insist that this made it two separate tests, of course, and Sandburg would owe him for that.
Glancing over, he smiled again before turning his attention back to the TV. For a day that had been so...irritatingly unsettled, the evening was turning out much better than he'd hoped. Leaning his head against the back of the chair, he listened to the sound of quiet breathing, and the odd snuffle, and relaxed even more as the kid's scent permeated the loft.
Realising that he was smelling Sandburg, Jim glanced over and frowned. He'd better not admit to that one. For one thing, Sandburg would undoubtedly see it as something that needed to be tested, and for another, the kid would get paranoid - and Sandburg's scent was fine the way it was.
Relaxing again, Jim took another swig of beer and watched TV. Yep, this had definitely turned into a good evening.
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