Everything You Need In One Convenient Location

Author's disclaimer: Not mine, not profiting.

Author's notes: Big thanks to Lori and Ces, for the instantaneous simultaneous beta that I rudely ran off in the middle of. Dedicated to Cal in the hope that she won't kill me for writing this instead of doing other, more urgent things.


HODGSON'S FAMILY SUPERMARKET, 8.53 p.m.

SECTION 1 - FRESH PRODUCE

"Jim, you can't start in this section. Everything ends up getting bruised by all the stuff you put on top of it."

Jim squinted, aware that squinting didn't do much to relieve pain caused by Celine Dion's whining voice pumped through tinny speakers, but unable to summon the life-or-death urgency it took to clamp down on these screwy senses. To make himself feel better, he used a gentle judo trick to separate Blair's fists from the cart. "I'm driving."

"Jim, we'll do this section last, okay? Jim. Jim."

It was fun to see Sandburg thwarted. He sighed heavily, pulled monkey faces, and muttered jargony insults under his breath.

Jim tossed some lettuce and a bag of tomatoes into the cart, just to watch Sandburg dive to save them. A week ago the kid had crushed some guy's chest with a vending machine, but god forbid Jim roughhouse some fucking fruit. Would it be insensitive, Jim wondered, to make that comparison aloud? Well, only one way to find out.

"Oh, the whole violent death thing definitely freaks me out," Sandburg replied absently, comparing two apparently identical eggplants, "but I don't kid myself that I don't have, like, priorities."

"I don't eat eggplant," Jim pointed out. "It's got that weird plastic texture."

"And although altruism and self-sacrifice do lend a higher survival rate to species which breed such traits in a number of different individuals," Sandburg gently placed both eggplants in the cart, "given the nature and state of today's society, I'm personally priveleging intelligent, law abiding citizens over homicidal anarchists in the great game of who has to die today, you know what I'm saying?"

"Sandburg, I don't eat eggplant," Jim repeated.

"And besides, when all's said and done... they started it." Blair studied some red curly stuff, and scowled at the price. "It really is a jungle out there," he sighed, shaking his head sadly, "but that's no reason to damage your food before you've even paid for it."

AISLE 1 - RICE, PASTA, NOODLES, CEREAL

"Man, this place is unreal. This diagonal thing, wow."

"I'm so glad you approve," Jim said with as much sarcasm as he could muster, which actually wasn't very much. He personally found the angle of the shopping aisles disturbing. Something about the whole weird layout of this supermarket suggested a criminal mind, but try as he might he'd never found anything the least bit shady about the place or its owners, so in an annoying paradox he'd become very loyal to it.

Carolyn had hated the diagonal aisles too, and had expressed her opinion with loud silences and visibly restrained impatience whenever they'd come here. Shopping, Jim believed, always highlighted the worst in a relationship. If they couldn't even settle a chicken/lamb dispute, what hope was there for the loft/house issue? None. And that was why he had the loft and Carolyn had a house, now.

He had liked Carolyn, and respected her even more, but on dark nights he wondered what she'd been thinking to marry him. It probably, he conceded, all came down to her being thirty-four and single, and him being the best option and willing to have her, job and all. Which just about summed up his own reasons, but he had liked that about it, instead of deluding himself that it was hearts and roses.

"You like curry?" Sandburg asked him, as they walked by a display of curry paste.

"Not really," Jim said.

"Does it wig out your senses?"

"I just don't like the smell."

Sandburg looked thoughtful. "You like Thai, though, right?"

"Yeah, but not the curries."

"You like spicy?"

"Some is okay."

"What about Mexican?"

Jim wondered if there was gonna be a new theory espoused at the end of this. "Yeah, I eat that a lot."

"Ahh," Sandburg said, as if it were actually interesting. "Do you know how to make lasagne?"

"Well, yeah, it's not rocket science."

"Great!" He grabbed lasagne sheets and threw them in. "I haven't had homemade lasagne in years."

"Hey!" Sandburg skipped out of reach. "You're a sneaky bastard," Jim said to his back, but it was pretty funny.

Blair turned around, a Botticelli-Machiavelli thing happening on his face. "You think I tricked you? I'm so hurt."

Jim hadn't made lasagne since the week after Carolyn moved out. He'd made a really good one, but it was so much hassle that he'd felt really pathetic when he sat down and ate it alone.

He'd need to remember parmesan, when they got to the other end, and might as well get some fresh basil too.

AISLE 3 - CANNED GOODS

Just for fun, Jim pretended Blair was his boyfriend. He, Jim Ellison, had somehow captured, seduced and tamed this sexy little bundle of contradictions, and now he got nurtured and fed and fucked by him on a regular basis.

They'd met, he mused, on a case at the university. No, wait, too much like the women he met these days, when he never knew if they actually wanted him, or just wanted a guard dog they could also take to dinner parties. Jim decided instead that he'd met fantasy Sandburg at one of the mayor's charity functions, this time in support of a university venture. Sandburg had looked like a pornographic fantasy in black tie, while Jim, fantasy Jim, had more hair and a body that wasn't losing definition faster than he could maintain it. They'd flirted sardonically over horribly sweet champagne, but Sandburg had given mixed signals, so Jim hadn't made a move. Then a few months later, a chance meeting at a hot dog stand outside a Jags game had led to a few beers and then sex, and then eventually, without any hassles like flowers and goddamn weddings and talking about their relationship, they had moved in together.

And now he, James J. Ellison, was fucking a gorgeous younger man, who was smart, and liked Jim's personality, and who did half the cooking but never made things with eggplant in it. And they touched one another subtly but obviously when shopping, while tanned muscle queens looked on in jealousy, and sexy women sighed forlornly about the waste. It gave Jim a warm fuzzy feeling.

Sandburg put a hand on his waist and leaned close to his ear. Jim shivered happily. "Hey, check it out," Sandburg whispered. "I haven't seen legs like that since I dated this French girl in my honours class. I was devastated when she went back."

Thud. Hello, reality, and welcome to Mixed Signals R Us. Jim looked, and acknowledged grudgingly that Sandburg had a point. Legs to remember for later, in sheer pantyhose and businesslike heels that did weird things to his gut. Sandburg relinquished the cart, pulled some elastic out of his pocket, and tied back his hair. "I saw her first, man, so stand aside." Since they hadn't seen her face yet, Jim didn't argue.

He walked right up to her and put a hand on her shoulder as she bent to look at some canned peaches. She straightened up, brushed back long blond tresses, turned her head, and... damn. Fucking gorgeous.

"Oh my god," Blair said. Jim snorted. Smooth approach, dude. He straightened up his collar and prepared to swoop.

She squealed, grabbed Sandburg's face, and kissed both his cheeks.

"Marie-Ange!" Sandburg cried happily, kissing her cheeks and her lips as she kissed him again and again. "When did you come back?"

And didn't it figure that they spoke in French, too, so Jim couldn't even use his messed up hearing to eavesdrop on their delighted reunion. They were crooning to one another in sultry accents, and Sandburg's voice flowing over and around soft words was the sexiest thing Jim had ever heard. Disgusted, he marched around the corner.

AISLE 4 - FLOUR, SUGAR, BAKEWARE, NUTS

"She's engaged."

Ha, Jim thought. "Too bad," he said.

"And even worse, she's starting her doctorate at CCU. I can't believe she'd stoop that low."

"I went to CCU." Jim said. "What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing, man, nothing!" It was fun making him backpedal, too. "Just their anthropology department is, like, really lame. What did you do there?"

"Peace and Justice Studies. And the ROTC program."

"Well, there you go." Sandburg looked relieved. "Rainier doesn't even have those, so I won't hold it against you."

Ha, Jim thought. "Good," he said.

"They don't really call it Peace and Justice Studies, do they?" Sandburg burst out. "That's so fucked up. Somebody at CCU has read way too much Orwell."

SECTION 2 - MEAT, POULTRY, EGGS.

"Now this is great," Sandburg said, doing his little excited wriggles. "The separate room is a really energy efficient design but chain supermarkets no longer implement it because--"

Jim pushed the door open, taking a deep breath to brace his skin against the cold. The breath, and the stench of blood, caught in his throat, making his head spin. He could feel it coming from far off, like a baseball zooming in out of a clear blue sky to strike him between the eyes and explode, drenching him with blood and gore while freshly mutilated corpses lay strewn around him on a bright, silent, icy plain. Jim clamped down on his fear, refused to think about names, and tried to refocus on the mission. Then the air got warmer and sounds started up again, and the smell putrefied briefly in the heat and then faded... Jim blinked. He was sitting on a crate several meters from the meat section door, staring into blue eyes.

Fuck.

"You back with me?" Sandburg said, gently.

Bile was still pressing up toward his throat, but Jim nodded.

"That happen often?"

Jim shook his head. "I haven't been here since... everything started." Sandburg was rubbing his arms slowly, and he concentrated on that until the nausea faded. "I'm fine."

"Wait here, I'll go back in."

"Sandburg, it's--"

Sandburg dug through his backpack and handed him, not aspirin, dammit, but a notebook and pen. "Write down what happened for me, will you? I'll be right back."

"I want steak," Jim said, feeling petulant. He liked browsing the meat, but that had been nastier than anything in recent memory.

"And I want details," Sandburg replied, and he was definitely flirting. Without waiting for agreement, he went back through the doors.

Jim flipped through the notebook, trying to make sense of the scribble. He wanted control of his damn senses, and he wanted it now. Never mind the painful shit, but he couldn't do his job if he did this zone-out thing over the smell of blood. Judging from the notes, though, Sandburg wasn't holding out on him. Observations, speculations, theories, possible tests of this thing or that thing--all stuff Jim had heard before. Part of him was disappointed, because if there was information Sandburg wasn't sharing, Jim could have found it and fixed this problem without help. But no, it did need to be a partnership, whether Jim wanted one or not.

Here was something interesting, scribbled in the margins around something else: "good looking & built,"--built was underlined twice--"poss corr repr adv? Div, nko. Chk kin, & res preciv aes stds." Whatever that meant, but at least Jim wasn't imagining that Sandburg was checking him out.

Sandburg came back out again, and Jim quickly closed the notebook and stood up. "Did you get steak?"

"I'll show you mine if you show me yours, partner."

"Sorry," Jim lied. "My head was hurting."

"You can do it later." Sandburg dropped his stuff and Jim looked at it. Eggs, free range. Chicken and lamb. Ground beef, but not much. No steak. Jim scowled.

"I've been teaching for too long," Blair said cheerfully, poking Jim in the chest. "I know when somebody has no intention of doing their homework."

"C'mon, that's really harsh." Not that Jim wanted to be a wuss about a zone-out, but this was steak he was being denied.

Sandburg raised his hands turned around. He had a tray stuck in the back of his jeans. Jim grabbed it. Rump. Beautiful. He slapped Sandburg's ass with it. "You are such a prick."

AISLE 5 - SAUCES, SPICES, CONDIMENTS

Sweet chilli sauce, oyster sauce, plum sauce. Honey mustard, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil. Prunes, dried apricots, shredded coconut. Garam masala, cardamom pods. Lemon grass. Vine leaves. Wasabi. Marmalade.

"Hey, slow down, Ivana. What's all this for?"

"It's just the basics, stuff you don't have. My kitchen went bang, remember?"

"Alright, whatever." But seriously, Jim thought, this was a lot of stuff for a guy who was staying 'a week, max'. Not that he was gonna kick the kid out at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, but still.

Sandburg was raving about some Mexican thing he was gonna make, so Jim figured he'd forgive him for the lasagne stunt. Mexican would be great, with a couple of sixpacks. Maybe tomorrow, and he could leave work early and they could eat and drink and watch the Jags together.

Jim's eyes followed as Sandburg crouched down to study a row of kim chi, his jeans stretching across his lovely round ass. He wobbled, put one knee on the ground, and then the outline of his cheeks through the denim was perfect. He still had his hair tied back, and was squinting at the labels. Jim drank the sight in. Definitely Mexican tomorrow. And after the game, they'd have dirty, dirty sex, perfect guy sex, which Jim hadn't had in months with all the Switchman's chaos, and this sensory stuff distracting him. There'd be loud grunting, fast jerking, and then coming hard without waiting for the other to go first, cause they'd do all that in Round Two, after a nap.

Sandburg would look great on his hands and knees on Jim's bed, ass nudging Jim's hand impatiently as Jim knelt behind him. Or Sandburg would be curled up on the couch with his laptop, hair back, lips pursed in concentration, backwards words about depth of vision reflecting in his glasses. Jim would sneak up behind him and press a cold beer to his neck, and Sandburg would jump but then swat Jim away in annoyance, and Jim would creep into his lap and undo his pants and really distract him.

Jim would come home after a bust, three a.m., tired from screeching lawyers and sore after falling down an embankment in the chase, and as he hung up his coat, a soft "hey," would bring him to the open doorway of Sandburg's room. Sandburg would uncurl from his futon and beckon. Jim would take a few steps, Blair a few, and then Blair would sink gracefully to Jim's feet, open his pants, and suck him off hungrily. After, Blair would sort of hug him and put him to sleep on the futon, and go upstairs to sleep in Jim's bed, where Jim would find him when he staggered upstairs at dawn.

Alright already, Jim told his cock, you've convinced me. If he doesn't find a place, he can stay. For a while, anyway. Until we see what happens, and what doesn't.

And if Sandburg was going to stay, Jim had better do something about the bathroom door not shutting properly. He made a mental note to pick up a new hinge when they reached the hardware section.

AISLE 7 - STATIONERY, GIFT WRAP, GREETING CARDS

Two kids in torn jeans and worn t-shirts looked to the left and to the right. Jim studied a trigonometry set and watched out of the corner of his eye as the first slipped a calculator in her back pocket, and the second dropped a pencil sharpener into his jacket sleeve. The security camera in the aisle was on Blair, who was sighing over fountain pens.

An interesting moral dilemma, Jim realized. Normally he'd give security a quick heads-up and let them deal with it, but he could just guess that Sandburg would have a tirade about the societal damage caused by law enforcement's inflexibility, and the greed of corporations creating the urban underclass forced to steal from them, and besides, they probably need them for school, man, and education is, like, really important.

Jim figured a few hours of legal torment would do the kids a favour in the long run, but he also wasn't ready to trash his fantasies about getting his cock sucked tonight. But damn it to hell, it was stealing, no matter what Sandburg might or might not say about it.

"Hang on to this," Jim called out, as he shoved the cart in Blair's direction and strode after the kids.

"What's up?" Blair asked, sidestepping as the cart clunked past him, and catching up.

"Sssh. Don't interfere." It had to be said every time, even though it was obviously a futile plea.

Jim got silently behind the two kids, grabbed them both by the back of the neck, and shook them. The girl cried out in terror and Blair grabbed onto Jim's arms. "Jim, what are you doing?"

"You two put all that stuff back," Jim ordered in his softest, most dangerous voice, "and walk out of here and never, ever do it again." He dropped them, and as they spun around he tensed his arm muscles and brushed his jacket back to let them see his gun. He bent down, stared hard into their wide eyes and added, "you don't want me to catch you doing it twice. Got it?"

They threw the sharpener and calculator and a block of chocolate on the floor, and ran. Blair stared at him. Not in a will-we-won't-we way, in an I-can't-believe-you-did-that way. Jim sighed.

"Just don't, okay. It didn't do them any harm and it might scare some sense into them, so no shit about social responsibility."

"Give you shit, are you kidding?" Blair laughed and slapped his back. "That was so cool! Wooo, scary Ranger dude, they'll never forget you."

"Yeah. Well." Jim was incredibly pleased. Blair's hand lingered on his back as they wandered back to the magazines. Jim picked up the pen Blair had been admiring, and put it in the cart despite his objections. Life was good.

AISLE 9 - SNACKS, CRISPS, SODA

"No."

"Hey, let go. I want some Pringles."

"No way. Picture all that salt crusting in your veins like crud in a sewer."

Jim shuddered. He'd had enough of sewers to do him a lifetime. "Well, at least let me get some Coke."

"You know what all that refined sugar is like? Drinking powdered glass. That's what it does to your gut."

"Sandburg, that is not true. Millions of people drink Coke."

"It is so true. There's a conspiracy to keep it from the public, but refined sugar is deadly. I'll bet you five grand, no kidding, that there'll be civil action lawsuits against soda manufacturers really soon. Worse than cigarettes, I guarantee it."

"Okay, whatever, we can skip this aisle."

Sandburg snickered, and turned into it. "I'm just kidding, man. Don't get too much, that's all."

AISLE 10 - DENTAL PRODUCTS, HAIR & SKIN PRODUCTS, FEMININE HYGIENE

Life was not good.

"Why the hell do you need..." Jim couldn't even bring himself to say it, and wondered, not for the first time, if heightened senses had turned him into a complete lunatic. A complete lunatic who had let a really, really weird stranger, that he knew nothing about, con his way into his life.

Sandburg frowned distractedly, examining different floral-printed boxes. "Jim, tampons are like, a household essential."

The scary thing about Sandburg was that there was probably no end to the reasons why this could be, and Jim was afraid, very afraid. He nervously ran through the checklist in his head--pisses at urinals, stubble, chest hair, adam's apple, masturbates in shower, ogles women--but Jesus, there was another checklist, too--high cheekbones, long lashes, long hair, eyeliner, sensitive, flirty, expertly manipulative, not to mention pretty as hell. The possibilities were terrifying... Hermaphrodite? Transvestite, transsexual? If so, former man, or former woman? One of those lesbians who shot up testosterone and packed fake bundles for kicks? And Jesus, wasn't Blair a girl's name anyway?

Jim pushed the cart hard, grabbed random razors, soap and painkillers as he flew by, and once safely around the corner drew deep breaths amidst scented toilet paper while he waited for Sandburg to catch up with him. He was not jonesing for a testosterone-shooting, strap-on-wearing lipstick beard, for chrissakes. Sandburg was kidding, again. Or he was just a male who needed tampons, for a perfectly good and logical reason. Jim wasn't going to ask why, either. He was a detective, he would damn well figure it on his own. Sadly, the fact that he suddenly had a semi-legitimate reason to check out Blair Sandburg's package was not the thrill he would have imagined, sixty seconds ago.

"Dammit, Jim, no wonder you're a barbarian in the morning." Sandburg appeared, dumped an armful of bottles and packages in the cart, and then fished out Jim's razors, soap, and aspirin. "You're not in the army anymore, and you gotta make things easy on your senses, capiche? So no two-cent razors, and do you have any idea how much acid there is in soap?"

Jim pointedly put the aspirin back to hide his gratitude, because he was stubborn enough to have used those crappy razors, if he'd bought them. He reached for toilet paper but Sandburg slapped his hand down.

"Three ply is a totally unethical waste of resources. Since your face will be so happy from now on, your ass can cope with recycled."

"Sandburg, stay away from my ass."

Pretty. Flirty. Long eyelashes, dipping with perfect authenticity. Trouble with a capital P for Pricktease. "Whatever you say, man."

AISLE 11 - HARDWARE, BATTERIES, AUTO PRODUCTS

Hinges. New lightbulb for the balcony. Mousetraps--there was a funny smell in the cupboards, and even though Sandburg was calling it a trace-residue hallucination, Jim needed to do something about it. Engine oil. Car wax.

That tiny floral box peeked out from under all his manly selections. Nope, he hadn't been kidding. Were they some weird sex toy? Like a buttplug or something? But then Sandburg would hardly dub them "a household essential". Unless he was a complete maniac, and weird freaky sex toys were a household essential...

AISLE 12 - GARDEN, PETS

...maybe Sandburg was married? No, couldn't possibly be. Teenage daughter, weekend custody? Hardly seemed likely. Had he mentioned anybody at all who lived with him? Jim didn't think so.

Jesus H. Christ on a fucking cross, maybe they were for Larry. Male or female, that was a mental image Jim really didn't need. Sandburg ducking into the baby aisle for diapers was already bad enough.

Jim broke into his bottle of aspirin, dry-swallowed three, and tried to put it the whole thing out of his head.

AISLE 13 - DAIRY

"Okay, okay, I give up. Why are tampons a household essential?"

Sandburg looked up, surprised. "You're kidding. You really don't know."

Jim cringed. "Look, never mind. I don't care, don't tell me."

"I mean, there's a one in a million chance that they'll ever be necessary, but man! If they are, big brownie points, you know?"

"No, and I don't want to know, so forget--"

Ah. Okay. Gotcha. He could picture it: Sandburg, who was obviously a consummate role-player, digging in a cupboard, shouting Eureka! and proudly presenting the box to a blushing girlfriend, fumbling through an ultimately convincing story about buying them for a woman who'd dumped him the next day because she couldn't make allowances for his punishing schedule...

"You're a sly fucker," Jim said, half disgusted, half in awe.

"It's not that bad." Sandburg bounced up to the cheese. "I figure, modern courtship is like war--you gotta have the weaponry on hand, but only the battle determines appropriate tactics."

"I figure modern courtship isn't a war worth winning," Jim admitted, thinking, finally. That was the last piece of the puzzle--code cracked, evaluation complete. Subject: Blair Sandburg, ethics: situational. Weaponry comprehensive, deployment reactionary and proportional. Capacity terminal, objectives benign. Gains high, security risk low, dangerous only in edge cases.

With a huge sigh of relief, Jim filed Sandburg away in the "acceptable risk" section of his head.

"...but then it turned out she was doing this Wiccan orgy thing with a bunch of pot-head lesbians and a retired chemistry professor, so I was right all along. You like cheddar or vintage better?"

I like you, Jim thought, and then shook his head, vaguely surprised at himself. "Uh. Cheddar. Thanks."

SECTION 4 - DELICATESSEN

"Get some bacon, we can just make BLT's tonight."

"You eat bacon?" Jim asked, then kicked himself. Obviously, he did. Shit, the kid might not even be Jewish, Jim had just assumed.

"No, but I eat BLT's," Sandburg said, smirking in a way that implied he knew what Jim was thinking, and wasn't gonna tell him the answer. Which meant, Jim thought smugly, that Sandburg didn't feel like doing the whole speech about to what extent he was Jewish. Which meant, basically, that he was.

Ha. This guy wasn't so difficult to figure out after all.

"And get olives, too. I'll be in the bakery."

Jim smiled at him, and Sandburg, walking backwards, smiled back.

CHECKOUT

It was nearly ten, and there were only three checkouts open, so Jim got in line behind a woman with a half-filled cart. Sandburg grabbed the corner of their cart and kept walking, pulling Jim along behind it.

"What are you doing? She hardly had anything."

"Yeah, yeah, and pretty cute, but you're judging by the wrong criteria." He pulled them in behind a family with an overflowing cart and two crying kids.

"I'll take my chances back there, thanks," but Sandburg grabbed his hand and yanked him beside him.

"No, listen. Number one," he murmured, "compare the cashiers. Ours is an old pro, that one was obviously new. She would have scanned slowly, looked up all the codes, needed a supervisor if anything went wrong."

Jim didn't move his hand. Sandburg was still holding it. "Ours has B.O. that could suffocate a horse."

"You're hallucinating that because you're pissed off. Two, you need to notice the contents of carts, not just the size. That woman has lots of different little things, which take time to scan; these people have bought in bulk. Large items and multiple items process faster."

"Did you make this up all by yourself or has some freak actually done a paper on it?"

"It's basic anthropology, Jim. Well, technically, sociology. Or perhaps a kind of social psychology, hmmm..."

Jim sighed loudly and let go of Blair's hand to rub his forehead. One of the kids screamed at the other. Both had snot congealing on their faces. Jim sighed again.

"My point is, you observe people, you gather data, and you can use it to predict outcomes of certain situations. I predict we'll be through before that schmuck."

Jim looked over. A guy in immaculate gym clothes was in their original line, chatting to the woman in front. Cautiously, Jim extended his hearing, picturing it veering around the kids so that they didn't burst his eardrums. *But I heard the neighbourhood was a good one,* the guy was saying. *Do you work out at the gym next door? You must, you have such a great body.* The woman pulled out a cellphone and dialed. *Hi Honey, I'm just leaving the supermarket now. I'll be home in twenty minutes.* Jim even heard the answering machine pick up before she snapped the phone closed again. Carefully, he pulled his hearing back, realising it really did get easier with practice, but a shout of "MOM! CANDY!" stabbed into his brain like a knife. Jim winced. So much for small victories.

Blair rubbed his arm. "Sorry, man, you were right, we should have stayed over there. Just dial it down, nice and easy, and we'll be done in a few minutes."

Jim leaned into the touch, knowing he was being too obvious, but liking it too much to really care. It didn't actually stop his ears rattling or his stomach rolling, but at least it was something nice he could focus on.

"Damn," Blair muttered suddenly. "Kejap manis."

"What?" Jim said, if only because it seemed like the expected response.

"It's a kind of--" Blair made a complicated gesture which wasn't even vaguely explanatory. "Be right back," he said, and disappeared into the maze.

Kid One screamed at his mother again. Kid Two complained to Daddy that Kid One was looking at him. Jim moved over to the newsrack so at least he didn't have to look at any of them, and flipped through the magazines on display. Who magazine, as in "who the fuck cares what Madonna wore to the Oscars?", the Cascade Living magazine, for people with far more money than taste, Newsweek, for the morons who thought their government was really nice and tried to do the right thing in foreign countries, Soap Opera Digest, for trapped wives who had absolutely nothing better to do than watch five soap operas a day, and who quite frequently stuck kitchen knives into their beer-swilling, bed-farting, bitch-slapping men when the TV didn't pacify them enough. Behold, all ye future anthropologists, the artifacts of a bright and enlightened society.

And there was Modern Woman, which Carolyn always bought, and Jim had carefully read to try to understand what she was thinking. Mostly, he suspected, she was thinking he was a bad husband, and the advice columns seemed to confirm this. 'Dear Modern Advice, my husband won't talk about his emotions no matter how persistently I explain the importance of communication in a relationship. Dear Hurt and Angry, you have a BAD, BAD HUSBAND.'

"Dear Modern Woman," Jim composed in his head. "Fuck you. I really liked my wife but six years of my life were classified. I *couldn't* discuss my nightmares over eggs and toast in the morning." He shoved the magazine back in the rack. He supposed he was a chauvinist for thinking that a marriage was built on a few hard concessions as well as mutually-agreeable compromises.

The problem was, Jim realized wryly, he hadn't made any concessions either. Like it would have killed him to get a house in the suburbs--he just hadn't wanted to, and when it came right down to it, hadn't cared enough to do it for Carolyn's sake.

Well, next time, if there was one, he was only going to marry somebody he'd move to the suburbs for. Fortunately, he probably wouldn't do it for anybody who would want to live in the suburbs. He grabbed a Playboy and a Playgirl, ducked back to the cart and shoved them under the bread. Obviously he was going to be a bachelor for a long, long time.

"I saw that," Sandburg's voice whispered in his ear. He sounded... possessive.

"Yeah, and?"

"And nothing." Sandburg dropped a black bottle in the cart, hesitated, and then threw a box down on top of the whole pile, gauntlet-like.

Condoms. Large. Ultrasensitive.

Jim couldn't stop his eyes dropping down to check. Yep, large. Ultrasensitive made him think of all this Sentinel stuff, and whether it might be good for something besides giving him headaches. Probably not, but there was only one way to find out.

He looked up, and Sandburg was watching him. The light was on his face just right, and he looked macho and capable, eyes dark and unreadable, lips a mysterious and seductive curve. A stubbled cheek, framed by a sideburn and an ear full of silver. Definitely a complete stranger.

Jim's cock twitched, and his stomach fluttered. Kid Two gave off a particularly awful shriek. The cashier also had swamp-like foot odour. Those two damn eggplants lay like grenades at the bottom of the cart, and who knew what the psychotic monkey had done to his loft while they were gone?

Life was... getting interesting.

Jim shook his head and smiled.

## The End ##


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