Sidestepping Adventures of Anthro Boy and Sentinel Man
"Oh, man!" Anthro Boy grumbled as he followed Sentinelman down a corridor. They were underground by three floors and the damp and dark was starting to make Anthro Boy wish he'd stayed with the truck. Of course, Sentinelman hadn't suggested it this time. They were supposed to the investigating a weeks' old crime scene, and the cops had no reason to believe Parsons or any of his henchmen would still be in residence. It was a fruitless search for clues but Simon had to make them go through the motions before he could tell the Chief Parsons was gone for good. The Sentinel had checked out the upper floors of the building upon arrival and declared it clear, and therefore safe for Anthro Boy's entry.
Blair had given his partner a glare for that one, but followed. He had hoped that Jim wouldn't find the hidden door on the basement level which led to the lower two floors but the Sentinel's hearing had detected the echo as they'd walked through the basement halls, and Sentinel sight had found the crack in the wall indicating the secret doorway. Blair had said nothing beyond congratulating the Sentinel on his abilities.
He was constrained by Sidekicks' Local 214 Rules against saying anything more. He'd already broken one rule this month, and figured if he broke any more they'd look into his files and find out he hadn't paid his dues this year. The party last night in the Sidekick Donut Cafe had achieved a new level of rowdiness as they celebrated the overturn of the networks' censorship committee standards against same-sex gestures of affection. It was a small step, as the new standards explicitly stated that no same-sex non-platonic relationship could be depicted through the use of said gestures but the sidekicks didn't care. It meant they could fondle and be fondled all they wanted as long as no body parts went "sproing". The sidekicks had already contacted a California underwear shop to get specially made underwear and bras to hold themselves down.
The party held in the cafe had been a lot of fun, and the beer had flowed freely. Blair, knowing he'd have to work today, had stuck with apple cinnamon tea and as such had been in position to remember the conversation he'd had with Zurich, Parsons' sidekick. Zurich had been friendly in an evil drunk sort of way, and Blair had given in to the impulse to ask him for his boss' plans. None of the other sidekicks were sober enough to object to the violation of Union rules and Blair had listened carefully as Zurich cheerfully explained.
Afterwards Blair understood the reason behind that particular rule. Zurich had admitted to the presence of the traps laid about in the very building they were searching today. Blair couldn't warn Sentinelman, and although he was certain his partner could get them out of almost any trap Zurich had described, there was one on the third level underground which Blair would prefer they avoid. He was still working his way through several of his new phobias, including spiders, elevators, and grass snakes, and Parsons had apparently hacked into his therapists' files and created a trap especially for him. Zurich had apologized; the evil sidekick had a few phobias of his own after his boss' trap tests. He'd paid for the next round, to make up for it in advance.
Now Blair was walking down a dark hallway, wondering where exactly the trap would be set. They'd already by-passed most of the traps, guided by Anthro Boy's subtle coaxing of Sentinelman to discover them before they were tripped. Now, although Sentinelman was moving carefully and keeping Anthro Boy tucked behind him protectively, Blair was worried. He was confident of his partner's ability to get him out of the trap once sprung, but it would take a little while and by that time Anthro Boy would have a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. Trying to distract himself, Blair focused on the darkness around him.
"Can you really see where we're going?" he whispered, barely able to make out the walls.
"Yes, Anthro Boy," came Sentinelman's patient reply.
"OK, just asking."
"For the fourth time, Chief. Oh for... here," Sentinelman stopped -- Anthro Boy walked into him nose first and quickly copped a feel. "Grab my belt." The Sentinel took Blair's hand and guided it towards his belt, stroking a thumb along his partner's palm as he did so. Blair smiled and took a hold of the leather belt. "Now don't get lost," Sentinelman added as he turned to continue walking down the corridor.
"Thanks, Jim," Blair said softly as they continued. He reminded himself to tell Zurich thanks for leaving the lights out.
They walked for another ten minutes, Sentinelman seeing nothing unusual. Anthro Boy was growing more nervous and finally the Sentinel commented on it.
"It's nothing, Sentinelman. I just wanna get back upstairs where I can see."
"It looks like we're almost to the end of the building, Anthro Boy. Shouldn't be more than another fifteen minutes. If you had remembered to put new batteries in the flashlight you wouldn't be standing in the dark now."
The chastisement stung, but Anthro Boy didn't flinch. Sentinelman would have seen it and Blair had decided last month to avoid letting the other man see such things. Gaby had told him that sidekicks shouldn't distract their heroes with their problems. He and Gaby had been emailing each other since they'd met at the Sidekick's Annual Convention three months ago in Denver. He'd noticed that his Sentinel seemed much more relaxed, acting less worried about his partner's well-being. Gaby said you had to reserve your partner's concern for an actual rescue -- Blair just hoped he wouldn't need one today.
"I didn't think the power would be out...." Anthro Boy started to reply, then decided it didn't matter.
A moment later Sentinelman said, "Hey, I think I found something."
Twenty-four hours later Blair, bundled in one of his favorite winter coats in a gesture of comfort as well as warmth, walked into the Cafe. Jim hadn't even looked back as he'd headed over to the Gyro Sandwich Diner, already calling greetings to several of his cronies before Blair could even ask him how long he intended to stay. Blair was out of the hospital only since that morning -- kept overnight for observation following a bump to the head -- and he wanted to go home and relax and let Jim take care of him. The trap had been just as nasty as Zurich had described and in the process of adding 'tree frogs' to his list of work-related phobias, Anthro Boy had been thrown against a concrete wall, head first. Now, more than anything, he wanted to go home and find some more aspirin.
He'd tried to suggest it but tonight was darts night at the Gyro Diner and Jim said he and Bruce had a lead in the Teams Competition. Blair started to say he'd head home by himself, meet Jim at the loft when the other man was ready to come home. He'd stopped, not wanting to spend the evening home alone with only the TV for company. So instead he headed into the Cafe and found a table. Most of the sidekicks were there, talking quietly as they ate. Several seemed to still be suffering from hangovers from two nights before. Blair grinned to himself and ordered a beer.
"Hey, Anthro Boy, how's it going?"
Blair looked up and smiled at his friend Justin. "Not too bad. Have a seat."
"Thanks." Justin sat down and flashed a quick look at Blair's head. "Bandage, huh? What was it, concussion?"
"Yeah. Got it yesterday at Parsons' place."
"You got it," Blair nodded slowly.
"Musta been a pretty bad one to keep you overnight."
"At least a number two."
"Ow! Geez, no wonder you look like you'd rather be at home in bed."
"All of the symptoms, none of the comfort," Blair replied with the Sidekick's unofficial anthem. The official anthem was, of course, "This is why Superman works alone."
"I hear ya. I broken three fingers last week and what did I get? A strip of tape and one day off typing our reports. *One* day! I have to type one-handed now... good thing I've practise at it or I'd be home now, still typing reports."
Blair shook his head in commiseration. He normally didn't like complaining -- except to Jim, and he'd given that up for Lent -- but tonight he needed a distraction. Complaining about one thing might make him forget about everything else he wanted to complain about. "I had to swallow about three cups of valerian tea to even get moving. I wanted a bottle of Advil," he finished glumly.
"I hear that," Justin said, raising his cola in a toast. Blair clinked glasses with him and drank the rest of his beer.
"Hey guys, did you hear the news?" A girl wearing a yellow trenchoat and pink sunglasses sat down with them.
"What news?" Justin asked.
"The Heroes are having a weekend up at Harrison Lake. Just Heroes, no sidekicks invited. They want to "commune" with nature or something." She rolled her eyes.
"You mean, sit around, drink beer, tell lies about their exploits and complain about their sidekicks?" Blair clarified.
"You got it. Just like Derby's party last year."
"Oh man... it took me a week to Sentinelman's senses back on-track after that party!" Blair shook his head. "I never did find out what they were drinking."
"You think you had it bad?" A red-headed kid stepped up and joined the conversation. "Who do you think cleaned up after that party?" He jerked a thumb at himself.
Blair laughed. "I am so glad Sentinelman's got a neat streak a mile wide. No way he'll let those guys trash his loft." Inside, however, he didn't feel so much like laughing. Glancing down at his empty glass of beer, he decided he really didn't feel like hanging out. His head was pounding and the thought of Jim being gone for a whole weekend made him feel anti-social. If Sentinelman wasn't ready to go home, he'd catch a cab. Sitting home alone might be depressing, but hell -- he was depressed anyway. He said his good-byes and went outside.
On his way over to the truck, Blair began talking softly to his Sentinel. "Sentinelman? You there? Any chance we can go home now?" He rubbed at his forehead and muttered, "Oh god I want an Advil and twelve hours of sleep."
There were other Heroes who might overhear him, so he kept his voice carefully casual. No hint of the jealousy that Jim would be going off on yet another weekend spree with his buddies, leaving Anthro Boy behind. No hint of the exhaustion, the pain, or the exasperation he felt. He wished he could yell at Sentinelman and get it all out of his system, but that only worked when he was trying to explain that Sentinelman was being an idiot. Character control only worked one way, it seemed. No amount of volume or vocabulary seemed to get through to the guy when it was about Blair's complaints. He remembered his last attempt, a quiet reiteration that a thank you wouldn't go astray once in a while. Sentinelman had laughed, said thank you, and promptly forgotten all about it. Again.
Blair rubbed a hand over his forehead. There was no sign of Jim leaving the Diner. He sighed. "See you at home, Jim." Blair began walking down the sidewalk to the next intersection where he stood a better chance of catching a taxi. He jammed his hands in his coat pockets, glad he'd worn the heavy garment. Luckily he had enough cash for the ride home.
His head was still throbbing and he wondered if he should walk to a drugstore before finding a taxi. If he remembered correctly there should be one another block down. Smiling at the thought of drugging himself into oblivion, he didn't hear the truck until it pulled up beside him. He looked over and was startled to see Jim leaning over, rolling down the window.
"Hey Blair, want a lift?"
"Yeah..." Blair felt his smile widening. Jim returned the smile slowly. Blair moved to get in the truck; Jim said nothing until he was belted in and waiting for them to pull away from the curb.
"I'm sorry, Chief. I was on my way out. I was saying good-bye to everyone when I heard you leave."
"Oh. Sorry about that. I guess I just figured you were--"
"Having too much fun to remember my partner wanted to be home in bed?" Blair turned, guiltily. He was surprised to find a similar look of guilt on the other man's face. He was further surprised to hear Jim say, "I thought you were OK. You usually let me know when you're still hurting."
"I what?" Blair blinked.
"Don't tell me you didn't notice? The way you complain when you're hurt?"
"Of course I noticed... I just didn't think you did."
"Well," Jim shifted uneasily. "I'm not supposed to. Union Rules, you know? Besides, I can't take you to bed -- my bed -- and comfort you the way I want to, so I try not to do anything to make it harder." Blair stared for a moment ion disbelief, then started laughing hysterically out of sheer relief. Jim glared, and amended, "Difficult. Chief, don't hurt yourself even more over there."
Blair couldn't stop himself from laughing. It made his head pound and his stomach hurt, but he coulnd't help it. Jim just gave him another tolerant glare as he stopped at Randy's Drug Emporium; Blair had himself more or less under control by the time Sentinelman returned.
"No... my head hurts." Blair was leaning against the cool glass of the window.
"Here." Jim tossed a paper bag in his lap.
Blair opened it to find a large bottle of extra strength Advil. "Thanks, Jim." He gave his partner a smile. Jim returned it, and Blair thought that maybe a shoulder rub wouldn't be bending the rules too badly. As long as he didn't go sproing...
Will Anthro Boy get his shoulder rub? Will anything go "sproing"? If so, will the network censors notice?
Tune in next weeek to find out! Same Sentinelman time, same Sentinelman flannel!