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by alyjude Title: 'Twas the Night the Volvo Died… - alyburns' (aka sideburns & alyjude) Hiding Place — LiveJournal
If you spoke faster than David Hewlett you’d travel back in time: Michael Shanks
alyburns
alyburns

new cover art
by alyjude








Title: 'Twas the Night the Volvo Died
Author: alyjude
Rating: PG
Fandom: The Sentinel
Pairings: J/B
Category: Slash/Established relationship/Humor/Holiday

Summary: Well, see, there was the Volvo and gunrunners and the Coast Guard and it's almost Christmas and Jim and Blair are up to their usual shenanigans...oh, and there's this baby buggy too...

Disclaimer: Not mine, theirs. Or so they would have you think....
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NOTES: This story was written for the 2017 Secret Santa story for Franscats. My muse took off on an extended vacation right after Christmas, so part two was finished. Fast forward a few...months (try seven) and the muse walked in as if he'd never been gone. The jerk. Tan too. But I was finally able to get back to answering the great question of how the Volvo met its end, and what the heck a baby buggy had to do with it. Gotta tell ya, Simon was pretty angry with me too, since he was left hanging along with Franscats and the few others who read part one
NOTES, THE SEQUEL: I must thank Franscats for her patience and understanding, which went beyond measure considering she's waited almost a year!
I must also thank the magnificent Magician/Merlin/Regina because without her, this wouldn't have been finished at all. The woman literally came to my home (brought lots of goodies), sat in my rollator, and literally typed as I dictated the conclusion! Later, she had to walk me through loading at my LJ as it's been so long, I forgot how to do things (it came back, thank God). And she walked me through the AO3 process as the memory of that was also long gone. in an effort to truly thank her, I've immortalized her within the story - have fun finding where. She's already immortalized within the fandom as our "go-to gal" when it comes to where to find stories and who wrote them, but she's now established herself as a great writer as well, so she's now immortalized in someone else's story! Again, have fun finding her.







new cover art

It was probably 30 degrees outside, thanks no doubt to climate change, yet Jim was sweating the sweat of the Chopek valley. Thank God this was his final trip to the basement - which also meant the final trek up the stairs and out of the basement.

By using his elbow to press the 'up' button on the elevator, he managed to keep hold of the last two large - and heaviest - boxes. When the light flicked on, he praised the elevator gods again. They were obviously taking Christmas-pity on him considering the damn thing had been out of order for the last 2 weeks.

"You know how it is, Detective Ellison. That part's coming all the way from Pocatello, Illinois."

In spite of the fact he was pretty certain the state of Illinois had never been graced with a city called Pocatello, the part had arrived. Although it was far more likely that Simms, the building's resident handyman/janitor, had finally removed his ass from his lounger to do the tweaking their aging elevator required every now and then.

As the door thankfully slid open, Jim couldn't have cared less whether the part had been sitting on a shelf in a non-existent city in Illinois or their sometimes-lazy janitor had simply done his job. Today, when he needed it, it was working.

As the elevator started its journey up to the third floor, Jim figured his elbow had been getting as much of a workout in the last 3 hours as had his whole body.

Once inside the loft, he set his load down next to the other seven. Stepping back, Jim used his shirt sleeve to wipe his brow while trying to figure out how he, Jim Ellison, had nine boxes of decorations.

Of course, the answer was simple; he didn't. Okay, that was a lie. They were his as much as Sandburg's now that they were 'partners in all things'. Jim couldn't help but smile at that because he really liked the 'all things' part. Two whole years of the ‘all things’ part.

Okay, enough of that. What he needed to do was get the boxes open, the contents organized the 'Ellison way', and everything would be ready for decorating. But first...he slipped his phone out of his back pocket, flipped it open, pressed '2', and waited for Simon to answer.

"Banks."

"As promised, free pizza and all the beer you can drink, so get over here now. I'm not doing this whole decorating thing alone."

"That sounded suspiciously like an order, Detective Ellison."

"Did you miss the free pizza and all the beer you can drink part?" Jim counted to three before adding, "Sir?"

"Right. On my way. Just keep in mind, I'm the director type - I sit and direct."

"I think you mean... Sir...that you sit, drink my beer, eat my pizza, and point."

"You're so close to the edge, that if it weren't the holiday season and if I weren't in such a generous and giving mood...."

Simon didn't have to finish the sentence because they both knew that Jim knew that Simon knew that Jim knew... Jim stopped. That was too much 'knowing' about how much he and Simon knew - without a beer, let alone opening the first box and watching its red and green guts spill out. Giving himself a little shake, he said, "See you in a few." Then, because he couldn't help himself, he added, "Don't forget the beer - Sir."

Before Simon had a chance to shoot back a witty retort, Jim snapped his phone shut. He then immediately snapped it back open and started to press '6' - speed dial for Emilio's New York Pizza - best in the city and another holiday tradition for the last...

No, it couldn't be.

Jim dropped down on the couch, the air whooshing out of him. "My God, has it really been five years?" he asked the six-foot blue spruce in the corner.

It was an undecorated Christmas tree and therefore completely silent. Not that a decorated tree would have answered either, and not that speaking or non-speaking trees mattered, because of course they didn’t. Besides, Jim knew the answer.

Yes, it'd been five years since Blair's "Just two weeks, man" back in early '96. He grinned as he remembered how, when the holiday season rolled around, Jim had discovered his roommate of nine months - give or take - had 'traditions' - and they weren't restricted to the celebration of Hanukkah. Oh no, Blair Sandburg wasn't satisfied with one holiday, he had to embrace all of them, hence their holiday traditions had been born. Jim absentmindedly rubbed his cell phone with his thumb as his mind replayed that first Hanukkah and Christmas.

Hanukkah had fallen on the 23rd that year so while they were in the middle of the madhouse that was Christmas, he was able to enjoy the incredible beauty and serenity that represented Hanukkah with Blair. By some miracle, seeing the joy and love his partner gave each of those first two holidays... yeah, he'd been a goner, all right. And now the whole holiday season had taken on a different glow since he and Sandburg had finally removed the blinders and admitted their true feelings two years ago.

Sandburg would no doubt consider this year an anniversary worth celebrating - their second official Christmas as a couple - but then, everything was now an anniversary for Sandburg. Hell, the first time they'd collared a bad guy; five days after declaring their love and consummating it - and had he really just thought those words, "...declaring their love and consummating it"?

He had.

His years with Sandburg were starting to show in his language choices. Where was he? Oh yeah... that had gained the status of an anniversary. And of course, the first time he'd told him to stay put even though, at the time, Blair was his official partner and a full-fledged member of the department, was an anniversary, but only because the previous night had been the night. No, not their first time, just their first time upstairs.

All right, enough with the anniversaries and traditions. He started to pick the phone back up... but then he thought of one tradition he actually enjoyed, had been enjoying since that first holiday season. He called it, "The Good Fight". The fact that this tradition wasn't restricted to the holidays meant nothing other than it represented "The Joys of Living with Sandburg".

"The Good Fight" represented more than him saying no to something Sandburg wanted, it was the fun of making Sandburg work for it, because he knew he'd eventually say yes - in other words - lose. But there was no time of the year he enjoyed it more than now.

Actually, it was more of a dance nowadays then a fight. He'd danced around with the "No way, Sandburg!" while Blair danced around him, gradually leading him to the grudgingly given, "Fine, have it your way, Chief."

The first year, the fight had been real, but Jim had to admit its death had come fairly early in December. He'd found himself succumbing to the cuteness - God forbid Sandburg should ever hear him use that word in relation to him - that was Blair when dragging out Santas, reindeers, and enough garland to trim Texas. He grinned again as he remembered how, at the sight of that first reindeer, it'd been one solid hour of, "No way, Sandburg, not in my home" and, "There's no way a reindeer's going out on that balcony - and what do you mean it lights up everywhere?"

That was followed by his personal favorite; "Sandburg, you get that goddamn elf off my bedroom railing or so help me, I'll drop kick both of you from here to the Marina!"

In retrospect, he had to admit it'd been Blair's responses to his threats every year that led to his enjoyment at losing the Good Fight. His partner had two primary acknowledgments, but Jim's favorite fell under the category of a possible Christmas miracle as Blair managed to say it all without taking a breath. And while a word might have changed here and there over the years, its essence remained the same.

"Don't be the Grinch that stole Christmas Jim and the reindeer isn't that big and it doesn't light up everywhere and for crying out loud leave the elf alone after all what did he ever do to you, man? And I don't like the way you're twisting that garland like maybe you're going to use it as a weapon like around my neck or something, man that would be so uncool especially at this time of year besides then you'd have Mom down on you and Simon wouldn't be too happy either because even though he's not too fond of me your senses would go out of whack and he'd be down his best detective Jim hello Jim why are you looking at me like that man Jim Jim I don't like that or maybe I do or are you zoning man cuz if you're zoning I'm going to leave you that way until I'm done...."

At that point, he'd be forced to let his voice trail off because he'd barely have one left and certainly no oxygen. But that wasn't the only response that could take the fight out of Jim. No, the other one; the one he could now admit openly - with no weird feeling in the pit of his stomach - had been the closer. It was also, he suspected, the response Blair had known all along worked the best; had been designed to work; and the one Blair used more often than any other.

It was simplicity in its purest form.

"Aww, Jim...."

Yes, simple. But Blair's blue eyes would grow impossibly large and dark, with depths inviting so much, but which took Jim so long to finally see - and recognize. A joke on him, considering he was a sentinel.

But, somehow, Jim had always managed to avert his gaze and gather his senses enough to fight back just a bit more, usually with the same words he'd used that first year; "No Sandburg, no decorations, no tree - not a single sprig of holly. Besides, you're Jewish."

That's when Sandburg would remind him, as he'd done that first year, that he was everything, celebrated everything, and, “…if the world would only do the same, they'd truly know peace on Earth.”

Who could argue with that? Jim - for a bit longer - before giving in like a gentleman, which, that first year, had meant storming up the stairs, going over to the closet door he didn't have, and slamming it. The slam was represented by throwing a paperback (Louis L'Amour) against the wall. In his defense, he'd never thrown the book, except that one that had already been murdered - by Sandburg.

Okay, maybe ‘murder’ was too strong a word… and just maybe he’d been responsible? If he remembered correctly, Sandburg had been making a big pot of Jim’s favorite stew and had seen the book on the counter where Jim had left it that morning. Curious about Jim’s sudden change in reading habits - from Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, to an author who wrote westerns, excellent westerns, to be sure, but still…so he’d picked it up in one hand, while stirring the stew with the other.

It was at that precise moment that Jim, who’d been visiting with his brother, arrived home earlier than expected and, in trying to be funny, had said something like, ”Stick ‘em up!” Evidently, he was less funny and more… surprising… which was why the book and spoon went flying.

Poor Louis L'Amour ended up in the stew pot, while the spoon, being lighter, flew farther and ended up on the living room floor.

So, Louis L'Amour Beef Stew.

Yummy.

And yes, he’d tried to save the book; after all, it was Hondo. But it had been a lost cause, hence he’d thrown the wrinkled mess.

So yes, he'd put up the good fight and, yes, that year he’d lost – as he’d ultimately done every year since, and every year since, the loft ended up with a tree, a menorah (when the two holidays intersected) and decorations from the top of his bedroom to the closet in Sandburg's hobbit-bedroom (now a study/exercise room).

Jim always found himself considering the idea of selling tickets, figuring he could make a fortune permitting people to traipse through his home while ogling at Cascade's version of the North Pole.

His smile dimmed slightly.

This was the first year he'd be decorating sans Sandburg, but there was no way it wasn't going to get done. Both he and Simon had agreed there was no way they'd bring Sandburg home from the hospital without the loft looking the way it should - the way it would have long before now, if not for a major counterfeiting ring.



The brains behind the outfit, Noland Carmichael, had decided things were heating up in Los Angeles, in more ways than the, "...eighty-three and sunny...." so, with Treasury agents nipping at his heels, he'd bugged out. And lucky Cascade, he'd chosen them as his new base of operations. Oh joy, but not to the world and most definitely not to Major Crime.

Normally counterfeiting wouldn't have come even close to their doorstep, but when the mayor's son passed five fake twenties, Major Crime had quickly found themselves working hand-in-hand with four Treasury agents. Blair'd been thrilled because Jim had proven his senses to be invaluable during a similar case a few years back. He could instantly tell whether a bill was legit with just one swipe of a finger across its face. Of course, it wasn't just his sense of touch; he could spot a fake across the room, and even his sense of smell could work toward finding counterfeit money. Jim hadn't been so thrilled, because they'd be working with the Secret Service. Men who were a little harder to fool.

Looking back on it now, he could say no problem, they'd done it. But it'd taken every member of the team to make sure the agents hadn't tripped to the fact that Jim was special. Tracking down the fake bills that were spreading fast across the city have been the easy part, but finding where they were printing them? That turned out to be a bit more difficult and was the reason behind a stark loft so late in December.

The bills were really wreaking havoc with the economics of the city, especially since it was the height of the shopping season, so the pressure to find their location, the printing press and templates had built exponentially. Oddly enough, it hadn't been Jim senses that gave them the break they'd needed. No, that had been Blair.

Everyone had been standing in Simon's conference room, detectives squared off against the agents as they argued in front of the huge map of Cascade. Blair'd been the only quiet one, standing thoughtfully between the rest of them and the map, studying it hard. His next words broke the case.

"There's no way Ji-we can't find this place. If it's in the city, he--we'd--have found it. That means it's not in the city and that just leaves... the water."

Every head in the room turned to stare at him, at which time he added, "They've got to be on the water, guys."

And just like that - although he didn't know it yet - Noland Carmichael and his counterfeiting ring were about to become history.

Oh, sure, Blair's pronouncement had started even louder talking, with everyone gathering around the map and shooting questions at poor Sandburg. But he stayed his course - pun intended - and insisted it was the only way Carmichael could have eluded them. He'd come darn close to saying, "...eluded Jim..." but at the last minute had managed to make the switch.

Once his premise had been accepted, the next step had been finding the ship, which proved remarkably easy, again thanks to Sandburg. While the rest of them had been arguing amongst themselves, he'd quietly gone to his laptop and the Port of Cascade's Marine Report website.

Once there, he'd quickly discovered there were a little over three hundred ships in port and, after checking "Recent Arrivals" that matched the dates Carmichael left LA and the first bad bill had shown up in Cascade, he'd found no ship that "fit the bill" - Sandburg's bad pun at the time, not his.

So, Blair had simply slipped into an area within the Port Authority site he didn't have authority to 'slip into'. But even for the agents, it'd have taken precious time, especially since Adam Clark, Executive Director of the PA, hated the mayor. So, with normal channels being out of the question, naturally, Sandburg took his own version of a shortcut; one that worked.

He'd quickly discovered that one ship, the Queen's Lady, had been rented and was sitting exactly 12.5 miles off their coastline, meaning they were in international waters, thus just outside everyone's jurisdiction. With a little more investigative work on Sandburg's part, he'd been able to confirm the Queen's Lady's was being rented by a shell company that could be traced directly back to Carmichael.

From that point on, the issue had been finding a way to close them down by catching them in the act and somehow getting the ship out of international waters. Megan had been quick to point out it should be fairly easy to catch them when transferring the "queer lobsters" from the ship to shore - and yes, it'd been Blair who'd quickly piped up with, "Queer equals fake and 'lobsters' is Aussie slang for twenty-dollar bills" - without even looking up as he continued to work at the computer. There were several "ahs" and "ohs" following his explanation, while Megan just grinned.

In spite of a lot of work, brain power and chopper fly-bys (with Jim using his 'super-vision' as Blair had begun to call it), they'd never witnessed a smaller vessel leaving or arriving at the Queen's Lady.

Through process of elimination, some outside-the-box thinking on Megan's part, and a little accidental help from Rafe, they’d come up with the answer. Their counterfeiters were using a one- or two-man submersible.

Rafe's contribution had been the suggestion that scuba diving couriers had to be the answer - until Simon pulled the plug by pointing out what was probably an obvious problem; time. And that's when Megan had mused that perhaps Carmichael was using a Narco Sub.

Narco Subs had become a common method for Colombian drug dealers to get their product to the US, undetected, as they were virtually invisible to both sonar and radar. But they were also bigger and heavier than anything Carmichael needed. That sent Sandburg on another search, this time for a stolen submersible, the thought process being that Carmichael would hardly have had time to build one of his own. And sure enough, he'd found a police report from Palo Alto, California, from the Schmidt Oceanographic Institute, which was missing a two-man submersible. The theft date had occurred five days after Carmichael supposedly closed shop.

Obviously, they didn't want to raise suspicion on board the ship, so they’d commandeered one of the tour choppers flying out of the Cascade Marina - with one change; they’d swapped out the pilot for one of Major Crime’s own, Dave Hawkins, a licensed helicopter pilot. Then, with Simon convincing the treasury agents to join him in trying to discover where, along the coastline, the submersible could be docking, he and Blair were left alone in the chopper with Jim now free to use his senses in finding the submersible during one of its trips.

Of course, that still left the problem of getting the Queen's Lady to move back into jurisdictional waters so the Coast Guard could do their thing and the CPD, in conjunction with the Treasury guys, could close the whole operation down.

The Coast Guard had already been extremely helpful, first by agreeing to a joint operation and then, once the frequency used by the Queen's Lady had been identified, allowing the necessary jamming equipment to be brought on board their Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter, the "Materling". And no, it had not been lost on any of the Major Crime team that they'd be working onboard a 'sentinel' ship.

The jamming equipment would keep Carmichael from contacting his submersible should he trip to the fact his sub was being followed by the helicopter - but it also offered the opportunity to utilize the frequency to their own benefit.

As Jim sat alone in their home now, he had to admit it'd been a testament to their complete exhaustion combined with the extreme pressure of the investigation, that it had taken the captain of the Materling, John Edwards, to point out they could use the frequency to fool Carmichael into coming in after his sub. The idea was amazingly simple; once they had the submersible, they could send an SOS to the Queen's Lady inferring the sub was in trouble. Then, as soon as the ship was back inside their jurisdiction, the Coast Guard could surround her and, hopefully, seeing he was outnumbered, Carmichael would give in without a shot being fired.

It had taken three days of routinely flying low over the water - two things neither of them enjoyed any longer - before he'd finally spotted the sub on a run to the coast.

While thrilled to have spotted it, they were less than happy when Detective Hawkins informed them he’d kept them out to the limit of their fuel. Which meant they missed the gobsmacked (Blair’s word, not his) expressions on the faces of Carmichael’s two men exiting the submersible and finding themselves completely surrounded by the Coast Guard, the Cascade PD and the Treasury Department.

After that, everything had gone exactly as planned. They sent out the SOS on the two-way radio that the submersible was in trouble and, considering the amount of money they’d found in the sub, there'd been no doubt Carmichael would head in to rescue them. And he did.

Unfortunately, he hadn't given up as quietly as hoped. In spite of the required Coast Guard warnings; firing over the bow of the ship not once or twice, but three times, Carmichael had still tried his damnedest to get back into international waters.

Then, in an action similar to one Jim had taken during their little adventure aboard the Cyclops oil rig, he'd grabbed one the Coast Guard's two 7.62 mm machine guns to quickly and cleanly taken out the engine - if he did say so himself - and he just did.

After that, and before anyone else could be injured, Carmichael's men had started to flee the sinking ship. Not that it was actually sinking, but they were caught like rats... on a sinking ship.

Sandburg would have been so proud of that particular pun/analogy.



Jim allowed himself a rather dramatic sigh because at least the case was really and truly over - not counting having to go to court. But that was at least two or three months in the future, so there was time to breathe and give thanks that Blair was okay and coming home. He still had to decorate; making sure everything looked exactly as it should, including the little surprise upstairs - a duplicate of the tree down here.

Jim glanced up at the bedroom and congratulated himself on purchasing the smaller tree. The decision had really been a no-brainer because when they brought Blair home, it'd be to the upstairs bedroom, where the doctor preferred he stay for most of the first 48 hours.

He knew Blair would complain continually, and try to sneak downstairs as often as possible if Jim couldn't find a way to keep him happy - other than the usual way. But he was pretty certain the junior version of their tree woul do the job. Of course, he could have rearranged the entire bedroom so all Sandburg had to do was turn his head in order to see the living room in all its Christmas glory. But as much as he loved his partner, Jim figured it was a helluva lot easier to just buy a second tree.

Okay, a much smaller version of this Blue Spruce, but still... it was something he knew his partner would love.

Oh, shit, the pizza! He'd spent so much time reminiscing and going over the damn case - and Simon would be here any minute, which meant if pizza wasn't at least on its way, there'd be hell to pay. Jim picked up the phone and finished his call to Emilio's.



Satisfied that everything was ready and the pizza on its way, Jim found his gaze going back to the beautiful tree by the window in the corner of the living room. He knew his partner had already done his Christmas shopping and the presents were probably already wrapped; Jim just didn't know where Blair had hidden them.


sketched loft



Over the years, Sandburg had certainly discovered that trying to hide his gifts for Jim was near impossible, thanks to his senses. He may not have X-ray vision, but between his sense of smell and touch, as well as hearing (like shaking a gift as he’d done as a child), well, it was amazing how easily he could figure out what was hidden under all the wrapping paper.

So, three years ago, Sandburg had started hiding Jim's presents, and not in the loft or in the Volvo. No, he'd started asking others to keep them for him, or hid them at the University. Well, at least before all hell had broken loose following a certain press conference.

Jim's few boxed gifts for Blair were here in the apartment and, when he and Simon finished, they'd go under the tree. But there'd only be a couple, plus the gifts they'd purchased for their friends... which left the tree upstairs.

Mmm, he mused, what could he do for his Jewish- Christian-Wiccan-whatever partner who was still a kid at Christmas? What could he put under the upstairs tree so, even after being decorated, it wouldn't look so barren ....

Jim's grin returned, wider than before. Toys.

Toys were just the answer. They'd also solve the annual, "Just one present, man! It's Christmas Eve!" whine. Besides, Blair never could stop at just one, which meant all Jim had to look forward to on Christmas morning was a tree with no presents beneath it - and Blair's cinnamon rolls.

One out of two wasn't bad, but maybe this year he could make it two out of two and, for once, they'd have a real Christmas morning.

If he had a different personality he might, at that moment, be rubbing his hands together while snickering gleefully. Instead, he just kept smiling - until he heard Simon's arrival downstairs, right on the heels of the odor from his cigar.

He waited for the pause that would signify Simon's removal of said cigar from between his teeth... then placing it carefully into the building's ashtray beside the elevator doors (he'd retrieve it when he left, as usual), and finally the sound of the elevator doors sliding open...and closing... its movement up to the third floor....

Jim counted to ten before saying, "It's unlocked, Simon."



"I can't believe you have nine boxes of decorations."

"That's funny, I had the same conversation with the tree earlier today," Jim said wryly.

Simon put his empty beer bottle down on the counter. "Talk to the tree much, do you?"

"It's not quite the conversationalist Sandburg is, but in his absence...."

Leaning back against the counter, Simon crossed his arms over his chest, cocked his head to the right and, with a humorous expression on his face, said, "Damn, you really miss Motor-mouth, don't you?"

Tossing the dirty paper plates – remnants of their pizza dinner - into the red recycle bin under the sink and the empty bottles in the blue one, Jim asked, "And I suppose you don't?"

"About as much as discovering my dog has fleas and just transferred them to me," Simon shot back.

"Sandburg's a flea now?"

"I don't know why I get into a tug of words with you any longer. In the old days, it was easy, but now--"

"Now you lose every time," Jim finished for him. "I think it's only fair since I'm always losing to Sandburg."

"Yeah, but the problem is; I lose to Sandburg too, so now I'm not only losing to him, but you as well. That puts me at a distinct disadvantage as the boss."

"Oh, I don't know... you're still taller so could fall back on the old threat of stepping on him."

Before Simon could decide how best to respond, he remembered he really wanted another beer. Indicating the fridge, he asked, "Another one?"

"Oops, can't have the boss beer-less in the face of the work ahead, can we? But at least you’re no longer starving.” Making a motion of scratching his head, he asked, “Just how many pieces did you have, anyway?"

“Only five—“

“Seven,” Jim corrected with a knowing smile.

“Five, seven, who’s counting… besides you?” He gave a rather pointed glance at the boxes. “A man needs his strength.”

Jim jerked his thumb at the nine boxes, grabbed two more beers out of the fridge, tossed one to Simon, who deftly caught it, then said, “Speaking of strength, it’s time to get to work. We’ve had food, we’ve got more beer, so let’s get this done.”

"Would that be 'done' as in this beer, or 'done' as in those boxes?"

"Done as in the battle of words, the beer, and at least lifting the lids off nine boxes."

Laughing, Simon leaned over and tapped his bottle against Jim's. "Deal."



The empty boxes were stacked against the wall; their contents organized "Jim-style". Tree ornaments were laid out by size and type; large balls first and then moving down in size as the decorating would move up the tree. The lights were in neat, tidy circular piles, ready to go on before anything else. Decorations for the kitchen and 'dining room' were on the dining room table, and on the coffee table sat the living room decorations - organized by type, size and eventual location.

What Jim considered to be extraneous decorations, like wreaths and garland, were stacked on the first two steps of the stairs.

In the middle of the living room stood Simon, hands on hips as he stared at the organized chaos surrounding him. "It's been two hours," he said in disbelief. He held up two fingers. "Two hours, Jim."

"If you're trying to tell me something, just spit it out," Jim said from where he stood by the stairs, looking happily at his work. Everything was waiting to be placed in their proper spot and he was supremely satisfied. He'd wanted to do it like this for years. Of course, Blair being in the hospital wasn't how he'd wanted to do it, not by a long shot. But at least this year, there was none of the going from box-to-box, indiscriminately grabbing an item, then standing for several seconds while deciding where it should go before settling on a spot - only to change its destination at the last minute and move it somewhere else.

No, this year he knew exactly where everything would go... mostly because he had photos from last year.

Yep, tonight they'd decorate in an orderly fashion.

"Jim? Did you hear me?"

Tearing his eyes away from the decorations, he looked over at Simon, one eyebrow raised. "I'm a sentinel. You don't think that's an odd question to ask?"

"Hey, I'm not the expert. How do I know you didn't zone or something?"

"Because I didn't? Because I heard you complaining about it taking two hours, asked if you were making a point and you said - and I'm quoting here," he made air quotes, "'Yes, I'm making a point that it took two hours and we haven't done anything.' Which is an incorrect statement because we've done a great deal. We're now ready to decorate."

Jim fished around in his jeans pocket and came up with a coin. "The only thing we have to do now is flip for it."

Clearly puzzled, and with an expression that said Jim had finally slipped over the edge, Simon asked, "Flip for what - and do I really want to know?"

"We flip to decide if we do the tree or loft first. What else?"

"You know, the years with Sandburg have really done a number on you. Maybe we should flip to decide if that's a good or bad thing."

Ignoring him, Jim said, "Heads or tails?"

"Oh, for crying out - all right, tails."

Jim tossed the coin in the air and caught it, but before he could flip and look, Simon gave a little grunt. "Ah, Jim, didn't you forget something?"

Frowning slightly, Jim started to answer, but then realized exactly what he'd forgotten. Looking only slightly sheepish, he kept his hand closed so neither of them could see the result. "Okay, if it's heads we do the tree first, tails and we do the loft--"

"You do realize that it's never been necessary to say the latter half of that whole spiel, right? I mean, once you've determined that one side will represent a certain choice, it's self-evident the other side represents the opposite."

Now it was Jim's turn to look at Simon as if he'd gone over the edge. "And who exactly do you think's been around Sandburg too long...Sir?"

It was now Simon's turn to look a little sheepish. "Damn, I did sound like him. That's exactly what he'd have said."

Nodding slightly, Jim then said, with a perfectly straight face, “If it’s heads, I decide, if it’s tails, I decide.”

Simon was just about to nod his agreement when Jim tossed out the grenade. “Oh, and we decorate upstairs too...did I mention there's a tree up there as well?"

With an exasperated shrug and long-suffering sigh, Simon huffed out, "Of course there is." He looked heavenward, sent up a Christmas prayer, closed his eyes, then said, “Go ahead, you look.” But before Jim could open his palm, Simon's eyes popped open as something else hit him. With a thoroughly disgusted look, he said, "Now wait one gosh darned minute. You already know what that coin says, you can feel it."

Looking offended – and equally innocent, Jim asked, "What am I missing here, Simon?"

Making a motion as if knocking on Jim’s head, he answered, "Hello? Detective Sentinel? Whether you just open your hand or flip it over, you know exactly what that coin will show when you uncover it."

"Simon, Simon, Simon," Jim said as he gave a sorrowful shake of his head. He placed both hands over his heart as if covering a wound. "I'm hurting here. Truly hurting, and shocked; shocked I say. How could you, my trusted boss; my friend, say such a thing; think such a thing?" Dropping his arms to his side, he smirked… and waited for all the balls to drop. He didn’t have long to wait.

Suddenly Simon's mouth opened - and stayed that way - until Jim walked over and, with his index finger, pushed gently upwards on Simon's chin. "You should be ashamed of yourself…Sir…first, for falling for that old heads/tails chestnut, and then thinking I’d cheat. Me, ‘Detective of the Year’ two years running.”

Simon removed Jim's finger from his chin and said, as only a good friend could, "Oh, shut up."

Pocketing the quarter, Jim asked, “Before or after you tell me whether we do the tree or loft first.”

“At this point, I’m voting on the tree… and using you as the tree topper,” Simon said with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

Jim winced as he reached for the lights.



Simon dropped down onto the couch and with a huff, said, "I can't possibly be getting too old for this, it's just decorating."

Jim handed him another beer before joining him on the couch. "This was decorating the Ellison Way, and trust me, if it had been done the Sandburg Way, you'd be dead to the world and likely to remain so straight through New Year."

He looked around the loft with obvious pride before adding, "This was decorating the organized way--"

"You mean the military way," Simon interrupted, "and trust me, under Sandburg's guidance, we'd have been done hours ago because he'd have simply said, 'Go forth and decorate', instead of your, 'Go forth... with Step A, then B, C, D and--"

"Surely," Jim interrupted, "you're not going to argue about doing it the military way?"

Simon leaned back a little in order to eye Jim with suspicion. "You trying to tell me you're not exhausted?"

Jim considered a Sandburg obfuscation, but while Simon might not be a sentinel, he could always tell when his people were lying to him - and themselves. He gave a shrug that might be construed as a surrender. "Okay, okay, yes, I'll give you...tired; a bit."

After seeing Simon's look, which practically yelled, "Try again, Ellison," he added grudgingly, "Yeah, all right, maybe - just maybe - Sandburg's way might have been, maybe, a little less, I don't know... tiring, maybe?"

"More fun too." Simon couldn't resist that final dig. "And admit it; we're both too young to feel this way - whether doing it your way or his."

With an air of total capitulation, Jim said, "Since honesty is the best policy with the boss - that would be you, your best detective - that would be me, is going to have to say that we're both exactly the age to feel as old as we do right now."

"Okay, enough about how we feel, it's time to get down to brass tacks. We've created Santa's North Pole, and yet the area beneath the tree is completely barren. You do understand the concept of gift-giving, right?"

Suddenly energized at the words ‘gift-giving’, Jim eagerly sat forward, eyes shining with excitement. "I've done all the shopping for everyone, thanks to Sandburg and his list. But more importantly...."

Jumping to his feet all thoughts of being tired completely gone, he rubbed his hands gleefully together and said, "Simon, you're not going to believe what I did. I wasn't sure I could come up with the right gift, the gift for Sandburg this year, but I did."

He moved to the tree and, spotting a favorite ornament, started fingering it. His voice took on an almost dream-like quality as he murmured just loud enough for Simon to hear, "Blair gave this to me last year, had it made to order. Did you notice it when we were decorating?"

Simon got to his feet and moved to Jim's side so he could see the ornament in question and, as soon as he did, gasped in appreciation. "My God," he finally said, "is that carving onyx?"

ornament

Fingering it lovingly, Jim nodded, the lump in his throat preventing any chance of speech.

"It's a wolf," Simon said almost reverently. "His spirit animal."  When Jim shot him a shocked look, Simon smiled softly. "Sandburg told me all about your jaguar and his wolf."

"Did he by chance also tell you what went along with this ornament?" Jim finally managed to ask.

"If you mean the rings, yes." Ignoring the new version of shock on Jim's face, Simon headed for the kitchen. As he walked, he continued talking. "Considering everything we went through after the dissertation fiasco, he wanted to make sure there were no more secrets. So, after you two came back from your New Year's holiday a couple years ago, he came into the office and, in the spirit of full disclosure, confided that you two were, for all intents and purposes, married."

He took out the last two bottles of Coors and, holding them between the fingers of his right hand, he grabbed the pizza box with his left and started back toward the tree. "He knew you wouldn't tell me, what with wanting to protect him and all, so he did it for you. I was really stunned by his ring. It was incredible."

Setting the pizza box on the coffee table, which meant moving a stuffed North Pole, red-scarved penguin and a weird-looking Santa on skis aside, he handed off one of the beers before adding, “Although, I haven’t a clue what you’re trying to protect him from, and I'm a detective." He twisted the cap off, took a swig and, after swallowing, added, "Two pieces of pizza left; one with and one without. Want to toss for it?" he finished with a wink.

Neither the wink nor sarcasm were lost on Jim. "You can have the pepperoni." The unopened beer still in his hand, he turned back to the ornament as he said, "So Sandburg and I being 'married' - that doesn't bother you?"

"Should I be insulted that you think it would?" Simon asked, his voice uncharacteristically low.

"Don't worry, I'm not talking about the actual married - married part. I'm referring to the fact that you now have not only a sentinel and his partner on your team - a secret the whole squad has to keep - but now those same two men are married to each other."

"You know," Simon said thoughtfully, "you gave that speech a lot like Sandburg, meaning I don't think you took a breath either." After sitting back down and reaching for the last slice of pepperoni, he added, "For your sake, I'm glad it's not a question of believing I'm prejudiced."

Turning away from the tree, Jim looked at his boss and, after seeing only complete honesty and understanding in the dark eyes staring back at him, he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his ring and slipped it on. Joining Simon on the couch, he held out his hand. "Blair had them made, and yes, he's the one who did the proposing - even got down on one knee, the romantic devil."

The humorous tone in Jim's voice wasn't lost on Simon even as he found himself gazing in wonder at the band. "So, you wear his spirit animal?”

"Yeah. He figured by wearing this, I'd be protected by his spirit animal and of course, as you’ve already seen, he's wearing mine. As for trying to keep it a secret and protecting him...."

He took the cap off his beer, took an extra-long swallow, then said, “About that, Simon... see, he said from the beginning that if I was going to be stupid enough to try to pull off keeping us a secret...well, then he was going to wear his, figuring the only comments he'd get would be on the ring itself and its... let's just say its uniqueness."

"Well, he was certainly right about that. We definitely asked about it; about the material, etc.. We now know a great deal more about a man's Mokume ring--"

"With a meteorite band and a panther carved into the mokume stripe?" Jim finished for him.

wolf ring
panther ring
Shooting him an exasperated look, Simon continue talking as if he hadn't been interrupted, "Than we probably ever needed - or wanted to know. And of course, not one single detective was in the least bit fooled into thinking it was just a simple new ring." He glanced pointedly at Jim's before finishing. "Every single one of us knew exactly what it meant and kept waiting to see when you'd man up and wear yours."

Jim shook his head in wonder. "Blair told me it would be no big deal; that everyone already knew, but did I listen? No. You'd think by now I'd have learned my lesson."

"Would that lesson be the one where Sandburg's always right?"

"That's the one," Jim acknowledged.

“So, when – exactly - do you wear it?”

Hearing the sharpness in his friend's voice, and while fingering in the ring, he answered, "From now on? All the time.”

Satisfied with the answer, he said, "Okay, so you've got a great ornament, you guys have rings, you're married..." He looked around the loft, "and we've just finished decorating your home, which now looks like Santa Central - and we bring the kid home tomorrow--"

Spirit suddenly back to being uplifted, Jim grinned. "Yeah, I get to bring him home tomorrow where he belongs. And not a minute too soon. You know how he feels about hospitals."

Glancing around Jim and Blair's home, Simon took in everything the two of them had accomplished. The twinkling garland that framed the front door (inside and out) and upstairs railing; the lighted poinsettia wreath on the door (inside and out) and the colored lights surrounding Jim's front windows, and trimming his balcony.

He couldn't help but grin at the very large, very tall, lit-from-within plastic snowman sitting out there, and wishing he could have been here the day Sandburg brought that thing home. He'd have given anything to have seen Jim's expression. Simon let his gaze continue on around the room, taking in the beautiful little wooden reindeers, the whimsical elves, a sleigh full of mini-presents, the candles of so many different shapes and sizes...even the Mr. & Mrs. Claus on the kitchen counter stirring up a bowl of something Christmassy and, of course, the Christmas apron, matching towels and oven mitts for Jim.

Then there was the large, beautiful wreath hanging on their feature wall and the basket of wooden 'snow balls' for the mini-fireplace. And then he thought of everything Jim had done upstairs with decorations that had, in past years, further filled spaces down here. All done for Blair Sandburg, so that when he came home from the hospital...speaking of the hospital....

"Uhm, Jim, you know, you never did tell me exactly how Sandburg was injured in the first place.”

"Mmm, really? Oh, I'm sure I did...."

Simon didn't bother to answer, he just let his eyes do the work for him.

"Okay, so evidently I didn't."

Simon continued to sit quietly, his dark eyes boring into Jim.

"Yes, well, it all started with…. a baby buggy…."

"Did you just say baby buggy? Last time I looked, they don't have baby buggies on Coast Guard cutters, Detective Ellison."

"Yes. Well. See, it kind of happened like this...."


End Part 1 - Go to part 2
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