Disclaimer: No they are not mine. They belong to Pet Fly, UPN & Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended and no money has changed hands.

Authors Notes: This story was written for and inspired by StarWatcher and her gallant effort to save the tadpoles. The only down side was that she had to beta her own giftfic!! First posted at SA

Rated: G -- Little bit of swarm and humor.

Feedback: Yes please. I'd love to hear your thoughts. jessriley80@hotmail.com


Jess Riley

The Sentinel stood in the kitchen, salivating at the gastronomic delight he had just created. Four different kinds of processed meats and three wonderful varieties of delicious cheeses, all delectably smothered with a combination of mustard and mayonnaise... and not a single solitary green, red or any other coloured garden-variety vegetable to be found. Yes, this was a truly extraordinary mega-meat and -cheese extravaganza, on glorious, fresh, white bread. And the best part yet -- it would be consumed, and all evidence of this decadent delight well and truly disposed of, before his health-conscious, rabbit-food-eating Guide came home. Yes, this afternoon Jim Ellison was indeed a man in heaven.

As the last delightful morsel slid seductively over his heightened taste buds, he heard a sound he didn't want to hear so soon -- Sandburg was already home.

"Hey Jim," smiled the young grad student as he entered the loft in a flurry of motion. He was dressed in his usual attire of faded jeans, flannel overshirt and jacket, but the Sentinel's keen eye picked up on the one detail that was out of place. Along with the normal backpack and books, his Guide was bearing an extra burden -- a jar of muddy water.

"Chief! I didn't expect you home so early," exclaimed Jim as he quickly tried to hide the evidence of the recent crime that had taken place in the kitchen. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah man, everything's cool. I just thought I'd dismiss myself early for a change." Blair unceremoniously dumped his backpack on the floor by the door, all the time trying to keep the contents of the jar from spilling over.

"Sandburg, what have you got in that jar?" grumbled Jim, watching as a drop of water spilled over the rim and splashed on to the floor. "And what on earth have you been up to? You're covered in mud!"

"Um... well it's kind of a long story, Jim."

"Out with it, Chief," commanded Jim, arming himself with a dishcloth in order to exterminate the offending mess on the floor.

"Well," began Blair, "I was in a bit of a rut this afternoon, so I decided to take a walk and clear my head. The campus was really buzzing, so I wanted to find somewhere peaceful. Did you know that if you walk to the back of the university, down toward the woods, that there's a veritable plethora of plant and bird life? It's unbelievable really, and in all the time I've been there, I've never really taken a good look around the place."

"I'm sure I'm finding this fascinating Chief," muttered Jim, bending down to mop up the water. "But how about you get to the point?"

"Oh yeah, the point. Well, anyway, while out on my walk I came across this puddle, and when I took a closer look I saw these little guys flipping around."

"These little guys meaning...?" Jim was becoming slightly frustrated at his long-winded partner.

"Tadpoles Jim. I found tadpoles!" Blair's infectious smile lit up his face as he bounced excitedly on his toes. Unfortunately, bouncing was a movement not very conducive to holding a jar of muddy water still and level. So as the Guide bounced, the water sloshed over the side of the jar and once again splattered Jim's polished floors.

"Will you be careful!" berated Jim, and he grabbed the jar from the excited young man and held it steady. "Chief, may I ask what the hell you're going to do with them?"

Blair looked at Jim with his best 'puppy-dog eyes'. "I guess letting them live in the tub for a while is out of the question?"

"Don't even joke about that Sandburg," growled Jim.

"Well maybe I'll just go out and buy a fishbowl. That should work -- at least until they start to turn into frogs."

"Seems to be an awful lot of trouble for a bunch of bugs Chief. Why don't we just flush them... there's plenty of water in the sewer system."

Blair reached out and grabbed the jar back from the Sentinel in one quick motion. "I can't believe you'd even suggest that." Pushing past the bigger man, he headed to his room. "I guess I'll just keep them on my dresser until I figure out what to do with them. And Jim, they are not bugs," he huffed, closing the French doors behind him.

Jim bent down and once again mopped up the droplets of water that now led all the way to Blair's bedroom door. "Chief I don't understand what all the fuss is about. I mean, they're only tadpoles."

"Yeah, well, they're my tadpoles," came the irritated response through the closed doors.

Several hours later, Blair was drawn out of his room by the delicious aroma coming from the kitchen. As a peace offering, Jim had decided to cook a roast lamb for dinner. "Hey Chief... are the kids asleep?" he asked, smiling at the young man.

Blair shot Jim an annoyed look. "Ha-ha, very funny; you're such a riot Jim. For your information, yes they are."

"Well here," said Jim handing Blair a large Tupperware bowl. "Maybe you should transfer them into this. You leave them in that jar all night and you're bound to have a few floaters in the morning."

Blair roughly took the container that Jim was holding out. "I don't understand how you can be so callous man. I mean, they may only be tadpoles, but they do have feelings you know."

With a quick-witted retort dying to be released, the Sentinel bit his tongue. Sure, to him they were just a bunch of slimly bugs, but to Blair they seemed important. Deciding to opt for the sympathy factor, he protested, "Chief, I'm truly wounded. How can you say that to me? Here I am offering you my best Tupperware container and you call me callous!"

"Jim you haven't used that container since I stored the leftovers from the Tibetan stew I made."

"Well, what do you expect Sandburg, it had goat's meat in it! I still can't get the taste out of my mouth."

Blair walked over to the fridge and pulled out a small bag that had been hidden in the back. "Goat's meat is a hell of a lot healthier than this carcinogenic stuff you call food," he said, throwing down the sealed bag that contained Jim's precious processed meat.

Knowing that he had been sprung, Jim decided to change the subject. "Dinner will be ready in a about thirty, Doctor Dolittle." He playfully pulled one of Blair's mud-encrusted curls to try and lighten the mood. "Just enough time for a good scrub, I'd say."

"Jim, you ever have a pet?" asked Blair, wiping his mouth on a napkin.

"Yeah, I had a dog when I was about six. His name was Bogart." Jim smiled as he remembered the dopey face of his Labrador pup. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason, just wondering. Did you have him for long?"

"No, only for about a year. He was hit by a car. Or that's what my father told me."

"What, you didn't believe him?"

"I did at the time, but when I was a teenager I found out the truth."

"So what happened?"

"Well, apparently when I was at school, Bogart got into dad's closet and chewed a pair of his finest leather shoes. Sally told me that Dad literally hit the roof and bundled the dog into the car. Anyway, by the time I got home from school, Bogart was gone."

"You mean that your dad got rid of him?" asked Blair in disbelief.

"I guess so. Sally's not sure where he took him, but that was the last I ever saw of him."

"Ah man, I am so sorry; that must have really hurt!"

"I guess at the time it did. That stupid dog meant a lot to me. He was always there with his dopey face, never angry, never judgemental. Just always there."

Dinner progressed in silence for a while until Jim's own curiosity surfaced. "So what about you Chief, ever have a pet?"

"No, never," replied the young man a little despondently.

"Come on Chief, you must have had something. A bird... rabbit... hamster maybe?"

"No, I never did. We were never in the same place long enough for me to have a pet. I remember when I was about four I wanted a kitten, but Naomi said it wouldn't be fair to have a pet with the amount of travelling we did. She said that a pet would hold us back and limit our free spirits. I always kinda wondered if being stuck with a kid might have held her back."

"Oh come on Chief, I've seen your mom around you; she loves you."

"Yeah I know that, but I always feel like it's on her terms. She loves me when she has the time to love me. When it suits her, not necessarily when it suits me. I'm not blaming her, though. I know it must have been hard being a single parent. She was young when she had me and it must have been tough having a kid tagging along. Do you know that we never stayed in one place longer than six months, Jim?"

"Well I'd say you were lucky then. How many people have had the opportunity to see as much of the world as you have?"

A small smile graced the young man's face as he remembered his past. "I suppose I have been to some pretty amazing places. I guess I've just always wondered what it would have been like to have a place that was ours. You know, four walls and a roof that you could call your own... someplace to always come back to."

"Four walls and a roof don't necessarily bring happiness Chief. If you only knew how many times I would have loved to have hit the road just to get away from those four walls."

"What about these four walls, Jim? Have they bought you happiness, or would you still like to just take off?"

"Yeah, I still feel like taking off sometimes, but I suppose that's only natural. But these walls? I guess you could say that they've bought me happiness. But you know what? It's not necessarily the walls that make you happy Chief, it's who you share them with."

Blair looked up at the Sentinel in surprise. He'd never expected to hear anything like that coming from Jim. "You mean you like sharing your walls with me? I thought most of the time I annoyed the crap out of you."

Jim looked at the expression on his Guide's face and laughed. "You do, but you keep life interesting. Now, since I cooked, you can do the dishes. I might run down to the video store and grab us a couple of movies, what do you say?"

"Sounds great," said Blair, still smiling like a Cheshire cat.

"Anything in particular you want to watch?" asked Jim, grabbing his keys.

"How about 'Lassie come Home'... or maybe 'Homeward Bound'."

"No," was all Jim said, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Blair walked out onto the balcony and waited for the Sentinel to appear. "How about 'Old Yeller'?" he suggested, peering over the railing as soon as he saw Jim.

"How about this?" Jim shouted back, flipping Sandburg the finger.

"Now that's not very nice," laughed Blair, going back into the loft. He decided to make a quick detour to his room, just to check that the 'kids' were okay.

Jim poured himself a cup of coffee and wandered into Blair's room. Blair had left for an early class and he had the day off. Peering down into the Tupperware container on the dresser, he studied the tadpoles. There were still in the early stages of development, just a round, fat head and a slimy, wiggling tail. "You guys are really not attractive," he commented. "I guess you're lucky it was Sandburg who stumbled across you; otherwise you'd be bird food." Jim thought back to the conversation at the table last night. A smiled graced his face as a plan formed in his head. "I'm going out for awhile," he told the tadpoles. "I think you guys could use a fancier home. Now you better ALL be alive and kicking when I get back. Any floaters and I'm not going to be happy," he warned.

It had taken Jim several hours to set up the concrete fishpond on the balcony. It was quite an elegant little pool that had set him back a couple of hundred dollars. But the money wasn't important, because he knew that the look on Blair's face would be priceless. Carefully setting the final lilypad in place, he switched on the pump. A steady trickle of water ran down a small rock facade and into the pond. Going into Blair's room, he retrieved the Tupperware container and carried it outside. "Okays guys, time to see your new home." He gently tipped the contents of the container into the pond and watched with satisfaction as the tadpoles swam happily in their new habitat.

It was sunset before the grad student graced Jim with his presence. Blair entered the apartment carrying several grocery bags. Spotting the Sentinel on the patio as he set the bags on the kitchen island, he said, "I grabbed some stuff at the supermarket. You feel like beef stew tonight?" When he didn't receive an answer, he looked more closely at the big man. "Hey, Jim, you okay?" Becoming worried when the Sentinel remained totally still, he hurried over to the glass doors. "Hey big guy, what's going on?" He placed his hand on Jim's back and rubbed gently, afraid that the Sentinel had zoned. "Jim you in there?" he asked soothingly.

He was startled when Jim's voice broke the silence. "So, Chief, what do ya think?"

Blair peered around Jim in order to see what the other man was talking about. "Jim what is this?"

"It's a home for your new pets." Jim grabbed Blair by the shoulders and positioned him in front of him. "So... what do you think?"

Blair stared down at the fishpond, and it took a minute for him to realise what Jim had done. "I don't know what to say, man. You didn't have to do this. This must have cost a fortune!" he protested guiltily. "Jim they're only tadpoles. I was going to take them down to the park and let them go in the lake."

Jim turned his Guide around so he was facing him. "Chief, I know they're only tadpoles, but like you said, they're your tadpoles. You said you never had a pet... and now you do. Don't worry about how much it cost. I wanted to spruce the patio up a bit anyway... and besides, I find the sound of running water relaxing. So why don't you stop worrying and just enjoy."

"Jim... thanks man," said Blair, and he lunged forward and enthusiastically hugged his friend.

Taken a bit by surprise, Jim eventually returned the hug. "You're welcome, kiddo." Blair didn't see the fond smile Jim bestowed upon him; this kind of reward was easily worth the price.

The two men both enjoyed the tadpole pond. Each evening -- unless it was raining -- Jim read his newspaper on the balcony, relaxing to the sound of the bubbling water. Each morning Blair went out to check on the progress of his 'kids'. He had borrowed a book from the library on the life cycle of frogs, and was getting immense enjoyment out of watching them grow. After about four weeks the tadpoles' transformation was complete, and his tadpole pond became a frog pond.

Pulling on his robe, Blair stumbled out of his room and headed straight for the balcony. He peered down into the pond, ready to say good morning to his new bright green friends... but they were gone. His 'kids' had left home. "Jim!" he shouted as be ran back into the apartment and bolted up the stairs. "Jim, they're gone!"

The Sentinel was abruptly awakened by the frantic cries of his Guide. Immediately sitting upright, he took in the upset figure standing at the top of the stairs. "Blair what's wrong?" he asked, throwing back the covers.

"Jim, they've left home. My frogs are gone."

Jim wisely suppressed his smile. "Chief, you knew that they would grow up and leave eventually." He got out of bed and rubbed the young man's shoulders. "I'm sure they'll be back. They've probably just gone out to explore the world. They know where the pond is, and I wouldn't be surprised if, in a couple of months, you find more tadpoles in the pond."

This time when Blair leaned against the big man, Jim had no hesitation in wrapping his arms around him. He sympathised with his Guide. They might be 'only frogs' to Jim, but to Blair they were so much more. They were a symbol of permanency. They had helped the young man believe that he did have a home, a place that he did not have to pack up and leave. And to the Sentinel, those slimly little bugs had made him realise that these four walls were truly a home.

"Come on kiddo, how about I take you out to breakfast?"

"Jim, now that my frogs have gone, do you think we could get a cat?" mumbled Blair against Jim's chest.

Jim pushed Blair back and growled. "Don't push your luck Sandburg."

"Please Jim. Please." The grad student thought that, by the end of the day, he just might have his kitten...

The End

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