Title: 'Twas the Night the Volvo Died - part 3 of 3
Fandom: The Sentinel
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....
The Next Morning
"Okay, the loft’s ready,” Jim said as he surveyed the work he and Simon had done. "I've got his favorite foods laid in, the tree in the bedroom is lit, there’s eggnog in the fridge, the Godiva hot chocolate on the counter, and our downstairs neighbor, Regina, made his favorite magic cookie bars, bourbon brownies and Rice Krispy Treats, also spiked. I left a nice sampling of all on the nightstand, on his side of the bed.” Nodding happily, he added, "So I’m thinking we're ready for 'Operation Bring Sandburg Home'."
"Maybe you are, but my head's pounding. What I wouldn't give right now for your ability to dial down pain."
Jim immediately walked down the hall to the bathroom, took a bottle from the medicine cabinet and returned. Shaking out two tablets, he handed them over. "Need a little hair of the dog to help these go down?" he asked with a sympathetic smile.
Simon's answer was to simply pop them into his mouth and swallow before asking, "What did I just take?"
"Blair's foolproof 'Grading Papers Headache' medicine. He claimes the great Merlin concocted them, but It's just a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine."
"Whew, if that doesn't work nothing will."
"Give it 20 minutes and you'll be feeling good as new," Jim assured him.
"Before we head to the hospital, I'd like to make a request."
"Oh yeah, what?"
"Is there any way you could hold off showing Blair," he jerked his head towards the window and obviously the garage across the street, "his Christmas gift until Daryl and I get here, along with the others, for the party on Christmas Eve?"
"You think anyone else cares that I got him a new journal to write in or the new slippers or--"
"Come on, Jim, don't torture me. You know what I mean."
Jim thought about it for all of 30 seconds before saying, "Actually, that's a great idea, so yeah, I'll wait for the party... although… I really had a plan for just the two of us going down there and, you know, surprising him that way. But with whole gang here it'd be far more difficult to surprise him. The minute we all scramble downstairs, he’ll know something’s up."
Simon was silent for a couple of minutes before snapping his fingers, "I think I’ve got the perfect answer - we use Daryl." At Jim's puzzled expression, he explained. "Look, he knows he's getting a car from his mother and me, so he doesn't have to drive his mother's old Subaru. But he's getting it when he's with her over New Year's. But if I rope him in on this and you tell Sandburg that we have the car stored in the garage to fool Daryl--"
"I knew there was a reason you’re a Captain! You really are smart. And don't worry, I'll make sure Blair knows it was your idea, so you'll get all the credit."
"Gee, thanks I'm all a-twitter here."
Jim reached for his jacket as he added, "Besides, it'll provide all the proof he needs."
Slipping into his own jacket, Simon frowned. "All the proof he needs of what?"
Keys in hand and door open, Jim said as he walked out, "Why, proof of how smart you really are, of course."
Simon closed the door behind them and joined Jim at the elevator. While they waited, he took out a cigar and the fancy cigar punch Daryl ha d given him for his last birthday; punched a small hole in the tip of the cigar and, after putting the punch back, took out a box of matches and lit his stogie.
As he took in his first drag, he dropped the burned-out match into the receptacle behind them and, after taking a few more satisfying puffs, he rolled back on his heels and said conversationally, "They tell me being a beat cop's job isn't nearly as bad these days, but I'm not so sure. Thank God I'll have you out there in the new year. After a couple of weeks pounding the pavement, you'll be able to let me know."
Discretion being the better part of valor, Jim wisely shut up and let Simon have the last word. Besides, now that donuts were experiencing a resurgence, resulting in almost as many gourmet donut shops as coffee kiosks, he had an idea that being a beat cop was a heck of a lot worse now – or better, depending on how much a cop valued his waistline. And Jim valued his, but damn, donuts were his Achilles heel, so yeah, way worse. Way.
"Just tell me you put something up, like the wreath for the door?" Blair was dressed and sitting on the edge of his hospital bed, his uninjured leg swinging impatiently. They were waiting for the usual release and, for the last twenty minutes, Blair had been grilling them on everything from what was going on in the squad room before sequeing to Daryl’s visit. He’d finally gotten around to whether Jim had done any decorating.
Hoping to keep from giving in and ruining the surprise of a decorated loft, Jim looked at his watch and said, "Why is it a nurse always gets you dressed to go home, tells you all she has to do is get the doctor's release, and then she's never seen again?"
"She may not be seen again but an aide always shows up with a wheelchair, which I'm sure will happen any minute now. Besides the whole ‘get dressed and wait’ thing is hospital policy," Simon answered.
Blair flicked an imaginary piece of lint off his jean-clad leg before chiming in. "You know, I think it's a secret test to make sure you're really ready to go home. That's why I always sit on the edge of the bed, because the mistake comes while you're waiting, see?"
Jim didn’t and, based on Simon’s expression, neither did he, but he was interested in seeing where his partner was going. Besides, Blair looked impossibly wonderful, even with the butterfly bandage on his cheek. His hair was in complete disarray and Jim wanted nothing more than to get his hands in it, but they were, after all, in the hospital, with Simon - and speaking of, he'd better go back to listening because his partner was still talking, and he was pretty sure he hadn't taken a breath yet.
"... and then your back starts to hurt, so what do you do? Right, you lie down. Jim, I tell you, that's the kiss of death because that's when that one nurse suddenly reappears, like Merlin, in a cloud of smoke. She sees you lying down, decides you're not ready to go home so goes running back to a doctor and, the next thing you know, you're stuck in here for another week. Man, it really sucks, you know? I'm thinking it might be more than a test, it might also have something to do with the good old bottom line and those big fancy bonus checks they get for keeping the beds full."
Trying not to laugh outright, Jim said, " Chief, I'm pretty sure they don't get paid by the bed. Privatized prisons; yes, but hospitals, not so much. They want you out sooner than later - and the sooner the better."
Jim got out of the chair by the window to join Blair on the bed. He placed a hand on the swinging leg, hopefully to keep it and the bed safe from damage, before saying, "In fact, I'm still surprised they kept you for three days. With you, it's usually only an overnighter."
"Oh yeah, three days. Well, you know, there was, kind of, well, it was more like... maybe sort of--"
Simon looked from one man to the other, sensed a fight coming on, and decided he should make like a magician and pull a disappearing act. "Okay, since I’m Conner’s Secret Santa this year and still haven’t figured out what to get her, I’m heading to the gift shop until the nurse returns to release you – although if I had any say in the matter—”
"Which you don’t,” both Jim and Blair said in perfect unison.
"My suggestion,” Simon went on as if he hadn’t been interrupted, "I’d have them keep both of you in here indefinitely.” Proud that he’d finally had the last word with Jim and Sandburg, he walked out, head held high.
As soon as Simon left, both men fell silent. Blair went back to swinging his leg and Jim wondered how much the hospital would charge him for a couple aspirin. Probably a small fortune. Damn it. Three days. Three. Which meant…damn, he couldn’t hold it in any longer. "Oh my God, Sandburg. You pulled the doctor-patient confidentiality card, didn't you?"
Looking very uncomfortable, Blair shifted on the bed. "Aw, come on man, you know how you get. It was for your own good. Hell, even thinking they were minor injuries--"
"What do you mean thinking?" Jim asked as he got to his feet, ignoring the fact that his voice might have squeaked. Lowering it, he said, "Explain - now."
"I just meant," Blair said, moving his hand around as if holding a baseball in the general vicinity of his head, "there was a little swelling, and you know how doctors are about swelling... here." He made a more circular motion with his hand this time, only now next to his temple. "Turns out, once the swelling goes down, well, they like to wait another 24 hours which is the reason it went from two to three days. That's all." He patted Jim's cheek while giving him his cheekiest grin. "See? It wasn't anything bad, but... just... you know how you are, so I asked the doctor to refrain from giving you all the information, which is my right to do, no matter what we have on those file cards out there… somewhere." He gave an aimless wave of his hand that was supposed to indicate the area outside the room.
"Chief, we talked about this. We talked long and hard about this, considering what we do for a living. And yet you just went back on everything we agreed."
Jim's voice was low, the disappointment evident in both tone and expression. Blair suddenly felt as if he'd made the wrong decision. But before he could respond, Jim went on.
"How am I supposed to trust you now? And you know I don't mean about anything else. But this; the injuries or, God forbid, an illness. Jesus, Sandburg, I'm really angry here."
Blair took one of Jim's hands and squeezed hard. "Oh, man, I'm sorry. I guess I didn't think it through. Just wanted to save you a little worry, that's all. But that's what we do with each other, right? Worry?"
Jim didn't respond or even look at him, and that really scared him, so he got up, pushed Jim's legs apart and moved in between them. Taking Jim's face between his hands, he entreated, "Look at me. Come on, look at my face, Jim, read my eyes."
Feeling the warmth of Blair's hands on his cheeks and the slight tremble running through them, Jim lifted his head to look into his partner's eyes – and the anger was somewhat diminished. Blair must have realized that because he said, "You have my promise never to do anything like that again, Jim.”
A simply made statement, said with an honesty that Jim could clearly see in those beautiful eyes staring back at him. There was just one problem. "You already promised - on those cards out there," he wiggled a finger towards the doorway, "the ones you mentioned a moment ago?"
Blair shook his head. "I don't want to be a nitpicker, especially during such a solemn moment like this, but nowhere did we promise anything. All I did was sign a card stating that medical information about me was to go to you first, and you did the same with yours."
Jim looked angry again, not to mention giving Blair the 'when did you flip your lid' look. "Sandburg, no one, not even my father, hell, not even your mother can make me as angry with you as you do."
Blair had that squinty look; the one that said he had no idea what Jim had said, so naturally, he said,
"I haven't a clue what you just said because your father can't make you angry with me, and my mother can't make you angry with me, which means I'm the only person who could make you angry with me and I get that - I've made you angry with me. But let's talk sensibly here. I'm giving you a heartfelt apology and a real promise it'll never happen again, so the important thing now is how long, precisely, are you going to hold this over my head? I mean, it's the holiday season and I'd like to think we could get through it before Christmas Eve before you throw it in my face in the middle of juicy fight, the kind that ends up with us having spectacular make-up sex, which wouldn’t happen if you did throw it in my face, so be warned now. Plus, we're a couple now and that's what couples do, so just give me a ballpark figure, okay? And remember, Valentine's Day isn't all that far off, so you want to make sure you're done bringing it up in every argument between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, or no heart-shaped box full of Almond Rocca, I'm telling you that right now, okay?"
What does a guy do in a situation like this, with a man like Blair Sandburg? Jim hadn't a clue nor had he ever had one where his partner was concerned. Which meant there was only one answer and it was simple. He was going to love Blair Sandburg with every fiber of his being. But God damn it, when he died, he had every intention of coming back and haunting the bastard.
The aide finally arrived with the wheelchair and, after one steely look from Jim, eagerly relinquished it to him.
Thankful that Simon had returned, Jim gave the room one last going over, making sure all the get-well flowers were in either Blair's lap or Simon's arms, along with the requisite "Once Home" instructions from the doctor inside the usual plastic hospital bag hanging from Simon's wrist. Jim figured between the two of them, they had a drawerful of hospital bags. Finally satisfied, he patted Blair on top of his head. "So, feel like going home, Chief?"
Sandburg made a forward motion with his hand. "Home, James, post haste."
Behind them Simon huffed a bit and said, "Oh, now that was original - not."
Cocking his head to the left, Blair cupped a hand to his ear and said, "Did you hear something, Jim?"
Simon responded for his top detective by saying, "He refuses to answer on the grounds that it might seriously harm his future with the Cascade P.D. – and me. Something you might consider the next time I join him in the task of picking you up from the hospital, Sandburg."
Blair tilted his head so he could see Jim. Plucking at his sleeve, he said, "Isn't it wonderful, what a great captain we have? I mean, what other boss would come to the hospital just to help you take your partner home?"
Pushing them out the door, Jim said, "Nice save, Tonto. Nice save."
Heading towards the elevator, Simon made one slight correction – and once again; the last word, "Toto. It's, ‘nice save Toto."
"…can we at least stop off at Mann's Department--"
"No! Nor will we stop at Ridges Sporting Goods or CVS – and by the way, Ellison, what the hell kind of Christmas present can he get someone at CVS? Unless it's for me, as in something for the made-by-Sandburg headaches," Simon answered. He didn't miss the fact that his voice sounded a great deal like it had when driving a five-year-old Daryl around during the holidays. Knowing Blair would have a lot of flowers and balloons, he’d offered his car; a decision he was now regretting.
"How 'bout just--"
Jim give him a little kick, on his good leg, before saying, "No, we're not stopping at Post Haste, either. You already picked up the stationery for Sally and, before you ask, we're not stopping--"
Simon took his right hand from the wheel and held it up in a ‘stop now’ gesture. "Allow me to finish that sentence. Sandburg? Listen and listen carefully; we're - not - stopping - anywhere. Understood?"
Jim didn't need an answer from Blair, he could hear the fact that he was nodding; could hear the slide of hair under the knitted cap and the crimping of his shirt collar under his sweater as his head bobbed up and down. But because Simon couldn't, he gave him a gentle elbow in the side - the undamaged one.
"Oh, right. Yes, Captain, Sir, my captain! We're not stopping anywhere on the way home... except maybe a gas station."
"So help me, Sandburg, if you say you need a bathroom when we've only just left the hospital, I'm going to have to kill you. And no, Jim would not testify against me."
Blair, not in the least bit cowed by Simon’s words, said, "Hey, I may not have perfect vision like my partner, but even I can see your gas gauge, Simon. And yes, by the way, he would too testify against you because a husband trumps a boss and a friend every time."
For a reason he could never explain, Simon suddenly felt like a complete heel. Some homecoming. He was just about to say something; anything to lighten the mood, when Sandburg beat him to it by asking, cheeky grin in place, "Are we there yet?"
That was all it took. Ice broken, mood lightened and all three laughing.
After their laughter died down, there’s was a comfortable silence; the kind Jim loved. It said a great deal about not only the friendship between the three of them, but also about his relationship with Blair. Maybe that's what he loved most about it; how they could sit together for hours and not say a word, yet feel comfortable, safe and loved, with no need to do anything but enjoy the closeness of the other. And, somehow, Simon understood it, appreciated it, even shared in it. Over the years, their friendship had become a welcome and needed bond and the three of them had certainly been through a hell of a lot since Jim had first brought Sandburg into Simon’s office.
For Jim, both as man and sentinel, moments like these when he could surround himself with Blair's scent, hear every inhale and soft exhale, and the gentle thumps of his beating heart, were lifesavers. He could feel the relaxation flowing from Simon and see the half smile on his face; one that not even all balloons and flowers between them could hide from his sentinel sight. In fact, he doubted Simon was even aware of the grin as he drove them toward Prospect. But it was also in such moments when he wished with all his heart that this gift of heightened senses could have been shared with Blair, the man who was his other half.
Content, Jim kept his eyes on the road ahead, imagining Blair’s expression of surprise at the loft. And later, when he climbed into their bed, he wouldn't be alone. Blair would be right beside him, where he belonged.
God, it was moments like this that Blair loved. He knew everything was right between them and he was finally going home. Tonight, he’d be sleeping in his own bed, and he wouldn’t be alone. Jim would be right beside him, where he belonged. But right now, he was just living in the moment and happily breathing in the hint of Jim's aftershave. He glanced over to see Jim's profile; so strong in the lights provided by the street lamps and Christmas lights. Was there anything better than this? Doubtful.
"You did put up the door wreath!" Blair exclaimed as he approached their home.
Stoic expression in place, Jim just shrugged and batted one of the balloons away from his face. "Couldn't have you returning home without at least seeing that ugly wreath."
"It's not exactly ugly, just a little overcrowded," Simon offered helpfully. "In fact, I meant to ask you about it." Just in time he stopped himself from adding the word 'yesterday', which might have tipped Blair off.
"That's Naomi's handy work," Jim said, even as he nonchalantly flicked at a poinsettia petal. At least he hoped he'd looked nonchalant. "For a woman who despises Christmas, she can really create an ugly wreath when she puts her mind to it."
"You've got it backwards, Jim. if she'd put her mind to it, that would've been gorgeous. She was trying to be accommodating."
Puzzled, Simon looked at Jim, then Blair, then back at the wreath. "Accommodating? Am I missing something? Your mom loves Christmas."
"Yes, she does, but you have to understand how, for Mom, it represents a confliction."
The three of them were still in the hall, still staring at the wreath, door still shut. Jim was getting a little antsy but when he saw Simon's confused expression, he figured it’d be easier to provide a quick explanation in order to get Sandburg in the front door before New Year’s. Taking the deep breath he was fast becoming accustomed to, he dove in. "Confliction, Simon. Spelled, ‘c-o-n-f-l-i-c-t-i-o-n’, as in conflict combined with affliction. Confliction has its origins in the fact that Naomi’s still feeling conflicted over her son marrying a pig which is, in her opinion, an affliction of her son’s. Yet she also knows that same Pig’s saved many lives, with her son’s help. Hence, the confliction. And please don't tell me I need to use it in a sentence since Sandburg’s already done that. Now, can we go inside?"
Simon gave a loud sigh; an exaggerated, melodramatic sigh; his ‘Jim Ellison/Blair Sandburg/Naomi Sandburg’ sigh. But it was enough to satisfy Jim that he could finally open the fucking door. If some of the shine was off the tinsel, so be it. Blair wouldn't know the difference anyway.
Trying for nonchalant again, he divested Blair of everything on his lap, grateful that Simon got the message and took it all – which left him looking like one huge planted balloon or plants growing balloons. Jim unlocked the door and, trying to hide his grin, nudged the door open and pushed Sandburg inside. He could hear Simon unload everything on the floor behind the door; the only space left untouched by Christmas decorations. He’d left their small fireplace going so it would offer the only light and now that Simon’s arms were empty, he gave the planned ‘go ahead’ nod and Simon quickly snapped on the light switch as they both said, "Surprise!"
When there was no immediate response, Jim was afraid he'd overstepped one of those hidden boundaries husbands and – husbands - don’t discover until it’s too late. He placed his hand on Blair's shoulder - and knew instantly that wasn't the case. He knew every tremble that Blair's body could create and this one was of sheer joy.
"Oh, man, Jim, I can't believe you did this," Blair breathed out in awe.
"We did this," Simon proudly corrected.
Blair did a little pirouette in his wheelchair, the better to take in every single inch of their home. When finished, he finally looked up at his partner, eyes almost as bright as the decorations. "How? How did you get it right? Man, you didn't miss a thing - everything's exactly where it should be!"
"Please. You do this every year. If I don't know by now where everything should go... my Sentinel stripes should be stripped from my shoulders."
"Wait," Simon interrupted. "You have Sentinel stripes on your shoulders?"
The scathing look bestowed upon him by Jim and Blair were so eerily alike, he shut up.
Blair’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Okay, cough it up." He didn't wait for Jim to 'cough' up anything as he reached up and tapped Jim's chest – hard. "You used the Christmas photo album to replicate everything, didn't you?"
"What did you expect, Sandburg?" Simon couldn't help but interject. "The only thing he doesn't know about you is your computer password, so had no choice but to pull out the album Naomi started for you two. Her 'confliction' must be the type of condition that comes and goes--"
"Like her," Blair finished. "It's a loving condition, so we love her back. And of course, Jim's very – very – very grateful for that album, aren't you?" He punctuated his words with two additional ' taps' on Jim's chest.
"Hey, what's more important here? The how or the why of the decorations – and for that matter, your mother?" Jim asked rather petulantly.
Blair changed the pokes to a gentle, reassuring pat. "You’re right. It doesn't matter how you did it, just that you - and Simon - did it. And you a magnificent job of it too. You even remembered to put the snowmen at the railing upstairs. I'm so proud of you."
"Hey, when Jim Ellison does a job, he does it right."
Simon elbowed him in the ribs. "Yeah, with a little help from--"
"Tonto?" Blair offered helpfully.
"On that insulting note, Sandburg, I'll take my leave. Still have some last-minute shopping to do, not mention adding several additional methods of body disposal to my ever-growing list of 'How to get rid of Ellison and Sandburg Without Anyone the Wiser.'" Then to take the edge off his words - not that there'd been one, he patted Sandburg on the shoulder. "You take care of yourself. Christmas is just around the corner as is the Sandburg-Ellison party and we want you on your feet and feeling great."
With that, and a final thank you from Sandburg, he left them alone - at last.
"Would it be trite to say alone at last?"
"Well," Blair said, "normally I'd say yes, except you took the words right out of my mouth."
They smiled at each other, the kind that if it weren't for the lights, would have lit up the room.
"Do you have any idea how much I missed you?" Jim asked.
"Yes. After all, I'm a very miss-able guy."
"You're slipping, Chief. On a scale 1 to 10 on my 'Blair Sandburg Romantic Response O'Meter', you just hit a -5."
Looking horrified, Blair said, "But you hate mush!" His expression then slipped easily from horror to mischief. "But hey, if it's mush you want, and knowing I have a rep to protect with your so-called, 'response o'meter '," Blair opened his arms wide, "then I missed you th-iiii-s much." Grinning now, he added, "Now that, my friend, was off the scale."
The glint in Blair's eyes was all the invitation Jim needed. Laying his hands on the arms of Blair's wheelchair, he went in for the best, deepest kiss he could come up with – which, considering he was a sentinel, was damn good.
Blair was settled comfortably on the couch, propped up by a pillow and Jim. The fireplace gave off a glow of holiday cheer and, with the tree lights shining brightly on all the decorations, Blair not only felt like he was finally home, but that Christmas really was around the corner. Usually Hanukkah and Christmas were intertwined, but not this year. The Jewish holiday ended on the seventh of December, and the criminals of Cascade, not to mention some gunrunners, had kept them too busy since then to do any decorating – until Jim and Simon had thought to do it for him. He shouldn’t have been surprised by the act. Despite Jim's attempts to hide it, he was a generous, thoughtful man. But this…and getting Simon's help? Oh, yeah, he'd been surprised. Very. Decorating just wasn’t a Jim-thing. But maybe…maybe he liked it now?
He felt a little nudge from the generous, thoughtful man, so tilted his head back. "You nudged, Oh Great Decorator?"
"I did. I couldn't help but notice the one spot in the entire living room where your gaze seems continually drawn?"
In a voice as innocent as a saint's might sound, Blair said, "I've no idea what you mean. I'm simply taking in the incredible ambiance you worked tirelessly to create for my homecoming."
Jim nudged him again. "I call bull. You've been looking at every present under the tree, trying to figure out which are yours and what's inside. So, in the best interest of your eyes, most are for or from, friends and family, which means even this sentinel hasn't a clue what's inside any of them, except of course, the ones we purchased for said friends and or family. I guess we'll both just have to wait for Santa to bring ours. Thank goodness we've both been very good boys this year."
"Santa? Suddenly a big believer in The Man, are we?"
"Chief, you might have just turned thirty, but at heart, you're still a twelve-year-old expecting gelt from his mother--"
"Oh, like you don't hold your hand out for that little bag of coins," Blair shot back.
"Hello? They're chocolate. I'm always going to say yes to chocolate."
Blair patted Jim's knee reassuringly. "Sure, sure, my little Santa believer. You just keep telling yourself it's just the chocolate."
Jim knew he'd lost again. Another game of one-upmanship down the tubes. Why he even bothered was beyond him, considering he'd lost that war minutes after he'd let Blair move in with him. How long had he been losing the war? Using his mathematical brilliance, he quickly figured if Sandburg had been twenty-six at the time, and was now thirty, then he'd been losing the war for—maybe he should use his toes to count? In the glow of red, green, white, blue and yellow Christmas lights, Jim smiled. Four years. And while he'd never admit it, he didn’t mind losing one bit. Hell, he’d never even had a chance; not from Blair’s, "One week, man” to "Larry and I, we were watching The Wild Bunch, right?”
Yep, he’d been a goner. He tightened his arm around Blair ever so slightly because this was one war he was very glad he'd lost. Blair gave a large yawn, signaling it might be time to get him upstairs, something that sounded pretty good to Jim, too. "Let's say we hit the sack, Chief."
"As much as I hate to leave the beauty of the living room, the bed’s definitely calling my name."
Now the hard part. He had to watch his partner carefully, in case there were any signs of discomfort, but at the same time, he couldn't let him get all the way to the top because he still had the surprise of the tree. When they were almost at the top, he stopped Blair from going any further. "Okay Chief, close your eyes."
"Do I really need to point out the fact that I'm not in bed yet?"
"Do I really need to point out the fact that I wouldn't ask you to do something if I didn't need you to do it?" Jim shot back, with a grin.
"Wow, Alpha Jim comes out to play. Okay I'm rolling over, playing Beta to your Alpha and closing my eyes."
Because Blair did in fact close eyes, he missed Jim's heaven-directed eye-roll. Probably a good thing because Jim didn't feel like an elbow in the ribs in the middle of another surprise moment.
He maneuvered Blair to the bed, continually reminding him to keep his eyes shut. After sitting his partner on the bed, he reached for the remote and turned on all the Christmas lights, including the tree’s.
Thanks to the snowmen at the railing, Blair had been unable to see anything else. But now, he’d get the entire effect. He stepped to his left and said, "Okay, you can open them."
"Are you sure?" Blair asked, grinning. "Wouldn't want to catch Santa doing thempmmph—"
Jim's hand over Blair's mouth worked but then he thought…maybe…. He quickly replaced his hand with his mouth. After a several seconds, he pulled away just enough to say against Blair's lips, "Open those baby blues, Chief."
This time, Blair did it – without any witty comeback – and the first thing he saw, thanks to Jim moving slightly to his left, was the tree. The expression on his partner's face was everything – and more - that Jim could’ve hoped to see. He sat down next to him just as Blair spoke.
That seemed to be the only thing Blair could say as he gazed happily, if somewhat dazedly, around him. He took in the lights trimming the windows, the forest of miniature Christmas trees on the chest, and the wreath on the closet door. Then of course, his gaze returned to the junior Spruce in the corner, white lights threaded perfectly throughout, and the red and gold balls hanging from its branches.
"The doctor said you'd have to stay up here for a couple of days," Jim jumped in to keep it from getting too…all right, too mushy. "Actually, his exact words were that he'd prefer you be kept up here for a couple of days - so I thought it might be easier on you if everything looked as nice upstairs as downstairs." He knew he was talking fast, but Blair was totally bowled over; something not easy to do to Sandburg. Surprising him was almost as hard as surprising a Sentinel.
Still staring at the tree, Blair blindly reached out for Jim's hand, who took it and squeezed gently. "I take it you like it?" he asked, voice now low and soft.
"Ohmygod," Blair breathed out as he returned the squeeze. His eyes finally made it to the bottom of spruce. "Huh, Jim? There are presents under the tree."
Grinning, Jim pushed Blair gently down, lifted his legs up, propped up the pillows, and said, "Boy, nothing gets by my little junior detective."
The elbow in the ribs he was always trying to avoid hit home, but gently, and was more of a nudge as Blair said in awe and maybe just a touch of censure, "Just tell me they're for show? You know we both have more than Santa has in the entire North Pole – even if we have hidden them from each other. And speaking of hiding…where have you hid mine? I've looked everywhere--"
Jim threatened him with the hand again and laughing, Blair stopped – almost. "Okay, okay, so you're hiding them with…Simon? No, Megan…no, not there, she'd tell me…."
"Sandburg, they're real, so shut up. I figured it'd be fun for Christmas Eve? Save me from the usual, 'Come on Jim, let's just open one' routine. Which," he quickly added before Sandburg could interrupt, "I always gave in, and we'd inevitably end opening every single present. Which," he went on, "left nothing for Christmas morning. And you know I hate that." He waved a hand at the gifts. "So now you have presents to open Christmas Eve so that peace will reign until Christmas morning when we tear into the ones from Santa."
He might have said more – but the expression on Sandburg's face was on he'd never seen before. "What?" he finally asked.
"Just…wow. And do you realize you've said more words in explaining those presents, then you've said to me at any one time in all our years together?"
Okay, now he had the answer to the expression. Not exactly romantic or particularly holiday-ish, but he figured he had the perfect response; one that would say everything he was feeling. Tugging at a loopy bit of hair stuck behind Blair’s ear, he whispered, "Doofus."
Even though the bedroom was decorated as part of Jim's plan to keep Blair upstairs, he quickly discovered in the few days before Christmas Eve and the party, that his plans fell woefully short. Seemed the lack of an upstairs fireplace was the primary complaint. Jim thought it was a pretty weak excuse for demanding to be allowed downstairs, but he was just so glad to have him home, he gave in. Besides, when you're on a nice comfortable couch, with the love of your life holding you in his arms, in front of a small blazing fire, was there that much difference between upstairs and downstairs?
On the other hand, because there were still things to do in preparation for the party, and with Blair downstairs; Jim found himself faced with a tyrannical director – or should that be 'dictator'? It didn’t matter how Jim wanted to do something, Blair had a better suggestion. And using the word ‘suggestion’ was being kind. Who knew Sandburg could give orders like a drill sergeant? If he weren't such a nice guy, and if Blair wasn't so easy on the eyes, Jim might wish his partner back in the hospital – just for these last couple of days. But he was a nice guy who loved his 'easy on the eyes' life-partner to death. Hence, he let Blair tell him what to do - then did whatever he’d been about to do, albeit with a grin on his face.
Now, chores done and wanting Chinese for dinner, but with Blair still very much in drill sergeant mode, he said, as he put the last bag of sliced and diced vegetables in the fridge, "I’m feeling like pizza tonight, Chief. What do you think?”
"Pizza? I don’t know…maybe Chinese?”
Jim grinned as he reached for the Golden Dragon menu in the take-out drawer.
As Jim cleaned up the remnants of the Chinese dinner, he wondered why he didn't feel more comfortable, knowing everything was ready for the party. Something was amiss and, being a sentinel who was very attuned to his partner, he thought he knew just what that ‘something’ was, because despite Blair's excitement at being home and his appreciation of the decorations, there was a definite shadow lurking in his eyes. And no, it didn't take a psychiatrist to figure out the cause.
Even knowing that in a couple of days he’d be helping to remove that darkness with unveiling of the gift across the street, even knowing that didn't alleviate the pain he could feel for his partner. He almost wanted to show him now - but there were three good reasons for not giving in; the primary one being that Blair was supposed to be resting in bed, not traipsing around outside in freezing cold weather in order to see his replacement. Which he'd then want to drive, and every sentinel sense he possessed told him Blair needed the time. Time to reach full strength so he could traipse around in freezing cold weather, see his replacement, then immediately get behind the wheel and drive it wherever he wanted to go.
The second reason was, of course, his promise to save the big reveal for the Christmas Eve party and, finally, the third reason was simply knowing it was all about the right moment - and that moment wasn't tonight; not when Blair was still wincing whenever he changed positions on the couch. Okay, there was also a fourth reason. It was a Christmas present and it wasn’t Christmas yet.
No, the big reveal would happen on schedule. In the meantime, he’d do everything possible to keep Blair's mind off the loss of the Volvo.
Late on Christmas Eve--
Blair was comfortable on the couch, a hot toddy in hand. They’d finished the party clean-up and now the only proof they’d even had one were the new presents under the tree, all placed there with strict orders not to be opened until Christmas morning. Everyone was long gone – if Jim didn't count Simon. He’d been certain the man would leave with Daryl, but instead had let Megan take him home while he’d stayed behind – ostensibly to help with the cleanup. But based on the evil look in his eyes, Jim knew better. Deciding to put the man out of his misery, he glanced over to make sure Blair couldn’t see him and, satisfied, gave Simon a shrug, then waved, indicating Simon should join him in the kitchen.
His boss was nothing if not subtle. He got up, stretched, then said, "I think I’ll have another hot toddy; one for the road, so to speak.”
Eyes on the tree, Blair nodded and said, "Absolutely, Simon, just make sure it’s a virgin."
Simon, who was already halfway to the kitchen, stopped dead at Blair’s response. Jim could see the indecision, but finally Simon must have decided the Ellison Inquisition was more important than any witty retorts he could have made, because he continued into the kitchen.
Once past the counter, Jim pulled him to the furthest corner but, before he could say anything, Simon whispered, "Do you have any idea how many great retorts I had for that 'virgin' remark?"
"Not so loud, Simon, he’ll hear you.”
"Don’t be ridiculous. You think I don’t know what a sentinel whisper is? Now, why the change up? Daryl was extremely disappointed at not being able to show off his acting skills, not to mention seeing the car. So why?”
"I was going to do it while you were all here, I swear. Had it all planned, just as discussed… but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed… the more it felt…. Oh hell, I just wanted it to be a private thing between the two of us. And by the way, I explained things to Daryl but the gang arrived before either of us had a chance to tell you. Then I was playing host with the drinks while Sandburg was doing the food and Daryl was having a great time with Estrella, so he just plain forgot, for which I was very grateful to Morales for bringing her – you know how it is, being a weekend father and all – and by the way, Daryl didn't mind at all once he was introduced to her, so basically there was no chance to pull you over, okay? And really, think how much fun he'll have showing off his new pride and joy at the New Year's Eve party Dad's throwing for Major Crime at his club."
He paused to take a breath at the same moment Simon whispered, "Take a breath, why don’t you?"
A gleam of humor had replaced the less than desirable ‘evil Simon’ look, so Jim could breathe easier. Thank God Simon understood. He placed a hand on the man's shoulder and gave it a little squeeze. "Thank you for getting it. So how about that virgin hot toddy now? You know the one,” he added not so subtly, "to send you home?"
Giving Jim a rather disgusted look based on that feeble 'clue', Simon let him off the hook by saying, in a normal voice, "Well, I did come in here for just that, but now… since I only stayed behind to help with the clean-up,” he lowered it again to add, "and so I could kick your butt for not sharing the reveal," his voice went back up again, "I'm going to say good night and take my tired body home. I’m sure Daryl’s still up, trying to decide which single present I’ll let him open tonight."
Full of gratitude, Jim smiled. "Wish Daryl a Merry Christmas for us, and the bag with your haul is next to the key stand.” Then he couldn’t help but add, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
One dark eyebrow rose at that, but Simon, ever the gentleman, simply stuck his tongue out as they moved back into the living room, at which time Simon whispered loudly, "Something tells me you two want to be alone, although for the life of me, I can't understand why."
Jim would have sworn to anyone who asked, that the word ‘impish’ was one he’d never have used to describe an expression of Simon’s. And yet he was looking at just such an expression now. Yep, it was impish with soupçon of devilish humor. Jim looked over at Sandburg, who was getting to his feet, having heard Simon’s ‘stage whisper’. Jim pointed at the couch and ordered, "Sit.”
Blair grinned. "You’re kidding, right? I look like a dog to you, do I?”
"If you won’t listen to him, maybe you’ll listen to me?” Simon asked pleasantly. Too pleasantly.
Blair sat down.
"Yes, well, maybe you should move in with us, Simon? He never does what I tell him to.”
"You’re not my boss,” Blair answered for Simon. "Now, let’s do this together, shall we? On the count of three, we’ll end this endless goodbye by saying, ‘Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.” He held up a hand and waved his index finger in the air. "Ready, gentlemen?”
What could either of them do or say, but nod? After so many years with Sandburg in their lives, they’d long ago admitted – if only to each other – he was the alpha.
Another finger joined the first, and finally the third, at which point, all three men said in perfect – and miraculous – unison, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
Jim glanced around their living room and had to admit it looked both festive and romantic. He lit a few candles, checked the fireplace – in a way Blair would call obsessive – and finally the tree lights. Yep, perfect. Totally satisfied, he joined his partner on the couch, after lifting his legs and then replacing them on his own lap. "Great party, huh?"
Blair favored him with a very contented grin. "Best ever, man. Absolutely."
Suddenly, thanks to his partner’s words, the answer to how he’d get him downstairs, came to him. He’d been waffling between revealing the car tonight; Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning and he now knew both the when and the how. He patted Blair’s leg. " Best ever, eh? I’ve got a feeling we could make it even better."
Blair, who’d turned his attention back to the tree, said, "Don't tell me you're planning next year's party already?"
"No way. But I am talking about finishing off tonight's party with a little romantic stroll outside in the snow. Snow which Santa very thoughtfully provided this Christmas Eve. Which you’ve got to admit was very nice of him."
"Can't argue with that. We haven't had a white Christmas in quite a few years."
Jim got up from under Blair’s legs, then patted them as he stood. "You stay right here while I get all the necessary warmth for a trek in the Christmas Eve moonlight."
"For crying out loud, I'm fine now, all better and can get my own 'necessary warmth', okay?"
"Ah, I guess that's why you let Simon and me do the cleanup?"
"You fell for it, didn’t you? Man, you’re both so easy.”
Laughing, Jim said, "Message received, love of my life. Let's go."
A few minutes later, dressed for the weather, they headed for the elevator. Once downstairs and outside, they had to stop and catch their breaths - their street had never looked more beautiful. Almost every building was decorated, lights bright and shining, sending a rainbow of colors over the fresh snow. And to top it off, there was that beautiful, full, Christmas Eve moon.
"Oh, man," Blair whispered, "it's magical, Jim."
All Jim could do was nod as his sentinel senses took in everything in a way he wished could be shared with Blair. They enjoyed the view for a few moments, but Jim had a job to do; he had to get Blair to the garage and the script had been in his head for days, even if the 'when' of it hadn’t been as certain. Trying to look as if he’d just remembered something, he said, "Heck, I just remembered something, Chief. Dave, you know, across the street? He asked me to check something in his garage while they're away for the holiday. If we’re out, would you mind if we strolled over there; get it out of the way?"
Blair was still so awe-struck by the beauty around him that he acquiesced without even thinking about it. Jim steered him to the garage, then fished the key out of his pocket. Once unlocked, he rolled the door up, showing the covered lump that represented his Christmas present to Blair.
Sandburg, seeing it, asked, "Hey, I thought Dave drove to Vancouver? Did he change his mind?"
"Actually, that's what he wanted me to check on."
Giving Jim a strange look, he asked, "What, he was afraid his car would drive away on its own or something?"
"Actually," Jim said as he walked over and placed his hand on the tarp, "he knows it's going to be driven away – by you." He managed to get the tarp off just as the word ‘you came out. And there it was, the twin to Blair’s beloved gray, 1962 convertible Corvair, ruined by Alex so long ago. There were more than enough Christmas lights to penetrate the gloom of the garage, making the classic car almost ethereal-looking. Jim glanced over at his partner, whose eyes had grown impossibly round.
"It's my Corvair," he finally said in a soft voice full of awe and disbelief.
"Yep, Chief, yours. Your new – old – car." He reached into his other pocket and pulled out another key which he dangled from his fingers. "Merry Christmas, babe." He then held them out to Blair.
Eyes glued to the beauty before him, Blair reached blindly out, knowing Jim would put the key in his hand. When he felt the metal, he grabbed it and walked slowly around to the driver's side, taking in every inch of the glory that was his new car. "Jim, I can't believe you did this." He ran a hand lovingly across the side of the driver's door. "I'm not going to ask where you found it, because you're a miracle man, but I am going to ask a favor." He finally took his eyes off the car to look at Jim. "Remember when we were inspecting Jack's car in the garage and you ran my hand over the door?"
Jim nodded, wondering where the heck this was going.
"That moment, when you took my hand? That’s when I knew.” At Jim’s puzzled expression, he added softly, "That’s when I knew I loved you.” He smiled invitingly, "Care to repeat it?"
Without a word, Jim walked around, came up behind him, took his hand and placed it gently on top of the driver's door. He then ran their hands slowly across the same surface Blair had just touched. The closeness of that single act seemed to create one person; as if they were each part of the other. Still, Jim found he needed more. He turned Blair around and said, "Make me a promise, Chief."
"Don't worry, Jim, I'll never leave."
Jim wasn't a bit surprised Blair had known what he’d been about to ask. He leaned down until their lips barely touched – and felt Sandburg's grin just before Blair mumbled against his, "And this is where it fades to black."
Neighbors on Prospect Avenue who were in the middle of enjoying their Christmas Eve were interrupted by the sound of a car motor revving up. A few were curious enough to look out their windows just in time to see a gorgeous Corvair take off down the street. But the strange part was how, despite the unseasonably cold weather, the top was down. A few recognized Jim and Blair so simply shook their heads knowingly before going back to enjoying their own Christmas Eve.
Back to Part One.