He reread the report, nodded in satisfaction, and hit 'print'. While waiting for the finished product, he pulled his coat down from the rack and slipped it on, glanced up at the clock, and gave a low whistle. He might just make it on time, but it would be close since he still had to change.
Simon's report lay in the printer tray and he plucked it up, stapled it, then walked over and dropped it in his boss' box. As he headed for the double doors, Conner looked up, smiled gently, and said, "See you there?"
"Yep. And don't forget the bag from the guys on the late shift."
"I won't, and Joel's bringing the one from Arson too. Should be a great haul this year."
He nodded as he took his gloves out of his pocket. "Yeah, but am I the only who thinks it should be Joel playing Santa?"
She laughed lightly and said, "In a word - yes. And don't forget whose idea this was in the first place, okay?"
He stopped in the process of putting on the second glove, tilted his head in a questioning manner, and asked in a worried voice, "Bad idea, doing this on Christmas Eve?"
She shook her head and said softly, "No, not at all. The holiday has taken on an all new meaning for me and every man and woman in Major Crime, not to mention the entire station." She made a shooing motion with her hand and added, "Now go on with you. You have a costume to pick up."
He smiled and, with a wave, headed out.
As he stepped out into the hall, he wasn't aware of the sad, worried, dark blue eyes following him.
He rode down to the parking garage, his mind a couple of hours ahead. In spite of his worry of earlier, he was now actually looking forward to his stint as Santa Claus at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. He got out of the elevator and walked the short distance to the truck, unlocked it, climbed in, and started the engine. He turned up the heat, checked the rearview mirror, and slowly backed up, then turned and headed toward the exit.
As promised by the weather man, it was snowing, a light soft snow, and the temperature had dropped. He turned on the windshield wipers, made his right, and headed for the costume rental store.
"...and here's the beard. But you'll notice that we don't use the kind that strings over your ears, no sir, this is the real thing and comes with this tube of spirit gum... much better than anything we've had before."
He fingered the white beard and murmured, "It's almost... luxurious."
"Oh, it's real, sir. Real hair." Seeing the stricken face of his customer, he hastened to add, "The wig dealer pays handsomely for men to actually grow their hair with the express purpose of cutting it."
"Ah, well, that certainly makes me feel better - I guess."
The shop owner settled the beard back into the box, folded the tissue paper over the costume, and reattached the lid. "Captain Banks dropped off the check earlier, so this is all yours. Just remember, we close at eight tonight, it being Christmas Eve and all, and we won't open again until the twenty-sixth. You can return this then."
He gathered up the large box, put the shoe box on top, and said, "Thank you. I'll make sure and get this back to you on Friday."
"Very good, sir. Happy Holidays."
"Same to you."
He made his way out and onto the sidewalk, got the door to the truck open, and managed to get both boxes inside. He shut the door, walked around to the driver's side, got in, and headed for the hospital.
"He is too coming, I heard the nurse say so," Jeffy said, his lower lip sticking out.
"He is not coming. He can't come, Jeffy, he has tons of presents to deliver tonight. Santy doesn't have time for us, silly."
"Does too. My auntie says he 'specially has time for us 'cuz we can't be at home for Christmas. And you don't know anything anyway."
Susie Holcomb's lower lip began to tremble as she said quietly, "I know lots of things, and yes I do, Jeffy. Way more than you." With that, she slid down in her bed, pulled the covers over her head, and said, "So there."
Sensing that he'd gone too far, Jeffy looked at the lump that was his best friend in the hospital, and said, "I'm sorry, Susie. But honestly, you can ask a nurse, Santy is coming and I bet he brings you exactly what you want."
"I suspect he's right, Susie," a voice said from the doorway.
Both children looked up, then smiled as a tall redhead walked in.
"Hi, kids, I'm Inspector Megan Conner, and this," she pulled someone's arm, and a second later, a man stumbled into their room, "is Detective Rafe. We're here to take you down to the play room for the party, and to meet Santa."
Both children sat up eagerly as two nurses entered pushing wheelchairs. Jeffy looked over at the third bed and asked, "What 'bout Abbie?"
The boy in the other bed was curled up and appeared to be sleeping. He made no move indicating that he'd heard anything. The nurse put her finger to her lips and said, "We'll take Abbie just before the party starts, but for now, let's let him sleep. He didn't have a good day, plus his parents aren't going to be able to make it tonight."
Jeffy nodded in understanding even as his nurse lifted him up and placed him in one of the wheelchairs. "Make sure an' leave room next to me 'an Susie so's Abbie can sit with us, okay?"
Megan took the chair from the nurse, leaned over and tucked the blanket around the boy as she answered, "Don't worry, we will. I'll come back and get him myself, all right?"
Jeffy and Susie, who was now in her chair, both nodded enthusiastically. Susie looked wide-eyed at Rafe and asked, "Do you have a real badge, and everything?"
Rafe grinned at her, then pulled his suit jacket aside to show the gold shield hooked to his belt.
"Wow," the two children said simultaneously.
Laughing softly, Megan and Rafe pushed them out into the hall and toward the large playroom where the party for all the children in the cancer unit was being held.
The playroom had been transformed, thanks to the staff of the hospital and the Cascade Police Department, into a winter wonderland, with a little of Santa's Village on the side. Tables were decorated with green or red tablecloths and candle-lit centerpieces, and even the food that adorned them were in a holiday motif. The cookies were snowflakes or edible tree ornaments, and the punch came in two flavors and colors; strawberry and lime. There were cupcakes in peppermint and chocolate, and several holiday pies had been brought by detectives from Major Crime. All of the food had been made to look as attractive as possible in order to entice the children, many of whom were undergoing chemotherapy, to eat. An assortment of snowflakes and brightly colored giant ornaments hung from the ceiling, and more than one small child found themselves captivated by the beauty above their heads.
At one end of the room, a special platform, with ramps on each end, had been erected, and in the middle of the platform sat a large and ornate red chair. Every child in the room knew who would be sitting there, and they couldn't wait for their moment with Santa Claus. Those that were ambulatory would be allowed to sit on his lap, and the ramps made it possible for the wheelchair-bound children to be pushed right up next to "Santa".
Holiday music played in the background as detectives and hospital staff served the children, parents taking a relaxing back seat to the festivities. The atmosphere was charged with anticipation as the carolers sang, the children ate and played games, and the time approached for the special guest star, the man with the toys.
"Oh, man, will you hurry. I've only got a few minutes left and I'm not even half ready."
"Hold your horses, Santa baby. The fringe is curling up under the jacket... let me just--"
"Henri, if you don't hurry--"
"There, got it! Okay, turn around... that's it, now the belt...."
He raised his arms so that Henri could bring the wide, shiny black patent leather belt around to the front. Once he had, the bright gold belt buckle was threaded onto it, and finally snapped shut.
Henri stepped back to look at his handiwork, the gave him the thumbs up sign. "Man, you're looking good!"
He turned to the mirror, pulled on the wig, and with Henri's help, it was adjusted and the hat was added. The beard had been put on earlier and he had to admit, from the waist up, stuffed body and all, he looked a whole lot like... Santa Claus.
"Come on, let's get those boots on and get you out to the kids."
Smiling around the beard, he nodded.
Henri, seeing it in the mirror, smiled gently back. It was good to see a real smile on his friend's face.
Simon caught Henri's high sign and immediately strode over to the platform. He jumped up, and the children, faces full of icing, whipped cream, and red or green moustaches, all quieted, knowing something good was about to happen. Susie poked Abbie, who'd finally been wheeled in, and whispered, "Here comes Santy."
Abbie nodded and looked around the room before whispering back, "Where will he come from? There's no chimney. You tol' me he comes down the chimney."
"He does," Susie whispered back. "But only at night, on Christmas Eve. When he comes to parties for us, he just comes in the door... I think." Susie looked at her friend and asked, "Doesn't he come down your chimney?"
Abbie shook his head. "No, I'm Jewish and we celebrate Chanukah."
Susie blinked and frowned as she tried to puzzle that out. Finally she said, "Well... Santy is everything, so you should be all right. He'll have a present for you, I'm sure," she said with the assurance of youth.
Abbie wasn't so certain, but he was willing to give Santa a chance.
Simon raised his arms and said, "Okay, everyone, do you know what time it is?"
A chorus of young voices immediately answered, "It's time for Santa Claus!"
"You're right, and here he comes!" Simon said with a loud bellow.
Every head in the room swiveled around to the back doors, which were thrown open by two aides dressed as elves... and there, in the doorway, stood ... Santa.
Abbie's eyes grew wide as the jolly laughing man entered. Eyes wide at the sight, he took in the beautiful red suit trimmed in white fur, the full beard, and finally, the black shiny belt and boots. And the huge green bag over his shoulder. He watched as the man walked down the aisle, his voice booming out as he talked with children, touched their faces with his gloved hand, and laughed merrily.
Santa finally reached the dais and took his seat, the elves on either side. Nurses began to move their charges forward, and Abbie was wheeled over, Jeffy and Susie in front of him. He watched as each child received a hug, a kiss, and shared words with Santa before the jolly man reached into his bag to bring out a gaily wrapped gift to bestow on the happy child. He didn't think Santa would have a gift for him, but he really wanted to talk to him, to hear his voice. He'd been very sick all day and his mommy and daddy couldn't come til tomorrow, but he thought he might feel better if Santa talked to him. Santy seemed like such a happy man.
He was very glad the gifts had been wrapped by Major Crime. He knew by the ribbons which gifts were for girls (the green ribbons) and which were for boys (red ribbons). He was also grateful for the two aides behind him who knew each child and whispered their names before they approached, as well as sharing little tidbits about them. As one chair was pushed over, one of the 'elves' bent low and whispered, "This is Abbie Irving. He had a very bad day and his parents had to work tonight."
He nodded, and as the thin, pale boy was wheeled close, he said, "Abbie, I'm so very glad to see you!" He glanced up at the nurse and asked, "Can he sit on my lap?"
The nurse nodded, so he leaned forward and, very carefully, lifted the small boy until he was settled comfortably, back braced by 'Santa's' arm. Making sure to keep his voice deep and low, he said, "I hope you're enjoying the party, Abbie, and I'm so sorry your mother and father had to miss this, but I know they had to work and will see you tomorrow."
Abbie, fascinated by the beard, Santa's knowledge, and the kind blue eyes staring down at him, mumbled, "mommy promised she'd be here for breakfast, but I'm missing the lighting of our menorah," he took a deep breath and added, "all eight nights."
"Ah, but then that means you're missing your gelt too, and probably no opportunity to play with your dreidel, right?"
Abbie nodded, his expression one of joyous surprise that Santa Claus understood and even knew about Chanukah. His surprise grew as 'Santa' pulled a pale blue bag out of the big red one, rooted around inside of it, and, to Abbie's amazement, pulled out an even smaller blue sack. He held it up to his hear, shook it, then smiled and handed it to Abbie, who took it eagerly. He pulled the strings apart and upended the sack onto his palm.
"Gelt!" he exclaimed happily. He fingered through the coins, then grinned when he realized some of them were chocolate foil coins. "Oh, goody, chocolate!"
"You think you could eat a few pieces, Abbie?"
He nodded excitedly, feeling really good for the first time that day. "I'll share with my friends, Jeffy and Susie, okay?"
"What a nice thing to do. And you can tell them all about Chanukah at the same time. And," he reached back into the bag and pulled out a small replica of a menorah, "you can put this on your tray and light a candle in your heart, all right?"
Looking with wonder at the small menorah now in his hand, he said, "Oh, thank you, Santy! Thank you!"
He kissed the boy's cool temple, brushed back some of his dark curling hair, and said softly, "Happy Chanukah, Abbie."
"Oh, Happy, happy Chanukah, Santy!"
Costume off and back in his street clothes, he watched as the nurses wheeled several of the children back to their beds. He stayed out of the way as his fellow detectives followed along and helped put the children to bed, setting their new toys up so that they'd be able to see them first thing in the morning. He grinned as he watched little Abbie sharing his gelt with his bedmates, all the while explaining about his menorah. He watched a few more minutes, then walked slowly over to the elevator. He felt pretty good tonight, for a change. But in just about twenty minutes, he'd be feeling much better.
He parked and shut off the engine, then looked up at the building to his right. He smiled at the only window on the third floor with its light on. He got out, locked the truck, then stood on the sidewalk for a few moments.
It was Christmas Eve and he didn't think he'd ever seen a more beautiful night. The snow was still lightly falling, and as he looked up and into it, it seemed like almost a miracle. White flakes drifted down from the dark sky and touched his nose. He grinned like a boy. The silence on this end of the street was relaxing and somehow right for the evening. He turned back toward the building and almost ran up to the front door. He threw it open, crossed the lobby to the elevator, and a minute later, he was getting out on the third floor. He walked down the hall to the second door on the left. A young woman was just coming out, and seeing him, she smiled and said, "How did it go at the hospital?"
"Great. I can't wait to tell him all about it."
"Well, he's all yours, now. And Merry Christmas, by the way."
He took a small box out of his coat pocket and handed it to her. "Merry Christmas, Marilyn."
"Oh, Detective, you didn't need to do this."
"Yes, I did. You've been a real friend."
She shook her head, then said as she tucked the wrapped gift into her pocket, "I'll wait til tomorrow morning to open. I'm weird that way." She leaned in and bussed him on the cheek, then waved goodbye. As she got into the elevator, he turned and entered the room.
Taking off his coat, he said, "Hey, man, you're gonna love hearing about St. Joseph's." He hung it up, then pushed the comfortable chair over to the bedside. He took the lax hand, and rubbing it gently, said, "So, I'll tell you all about it, then give you your massage, then read some more from the new James Patterson novel."
Blair looked at his partner, then leaned over and kissed Jim's forehead. When he sat back, he said, "There was this little boy named Abbie, and Jim, you would have loved him. He has lymphoma, but God, he was incredible."
Blair began to talk to Jim, and while he was certain there were people who thought it foolish to talk to a man in a coma, Blair wasn't one of them. He knew that Jim could hear him. He just knew it. To him, this coma was simply Jim's way of dealing with an amount of sensory overload he'd been in no way able to accept. The noise of reporters, the flashing bulbs, the sound of the shot, the return fire, the two bullets slamming into his chest, the loss of blood, the frantic attempts by the paramedics to keep him alive, then the mad race to the hospital, during which he'd been brought back to life no less than two times - oh, yeah, way more than the strongest sentinel could handle. This coma was Jim's way of bringing his mind and body and senses back online, Blair was certain of it.
As he talked, he held Jim's hand.
"Your dad and Steven will be here tomorrow, and Simon is dropping by in the afternoon, as will Joel. Megan sends her love and she'll be here on Saturday, like always. Daryl will be here for New Year's, so Simon is literally floating on air. Oh, and it's snowing out. We haven't had snow for Christmas in I don't know how long. Maybe it's a good omen. Whatcha think? Oh, and mom will be here this weekend, but don't worry, I won't let her put so much as one leaf of sage in here." He laughed lightly, then went on.
Outside, the snow continued to fall.
Marilyn stopped at the front desk to sign off, and after dropping the pen back down, she said, "Night, Gertie. See you on Saturday."
"Right. Hey, how are things upstairs?"
Marilyn shrugged. "The same, no change."
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised, you know? After all, that's why Detective Ellison is here, but still, for some reason, I've had such hope."
"I know what you mean. Blair is here every single day, and on his days off, he practically lives here. I just figured that would have to work, you know? But it's been four months, and the doctors just don't hold out much hope."
Gertie made a little tsking sound, then said, "Doctors always say that. You haven't dealt with comatose patients for as long as I have. I've seen amazing things in all my years here, and not one of the patients that proved the doctors wrong, had the kind of love and attention that Detective Ellison has from that young man. Not one of them."
"Well, I haven't given up hope, and tonight is just the night for an extra prayer."
"I'm with you on that, Marilyn. Merry Christmas, and see you this weekend."
Marilyn waved a hand and headed out. Gertie looked upward and said, "Tonight would be a nice night for a miracle, Lord." She went back to work.
Simon walked into his home, turned on the living room light, and slipped out his jacket. He pulled off the muffler and dropped it on top of the coat, then walked into the kitchen. He got a bottle of Jack Daniels out of the cupboard and poured himself a stiff one.
He sighed heavily. Sandburg had done a brilliant job tonight. Those kids were probably still walking on clouds. And where was Sandburg now? At the Williamsburg Home, no doubt. Simon closed his eyes, but immediately saw Jim's body, on the lawn in front of City Hall, blood seeping into the earth from two bullet wounds in his chest. But hey, the honorable John Steiner, Mayor of Cascade was alive and kicking, thanks to Jim's brave and valiant effort to stop an assassin's bullet - or in this case - two bullets.
God, there'd been so much blood. Even today, all these months later, Simon had the urge to wash his hands. He'd been covered in Jim's blood by the time the paramedics had arrived. And Sandburg? Simon shivered as he remembered the way Blair had looked, how his eyes had gone dark, and his bloodied hands, shaking as Jim was pulled away. It had been at that precise moment that Simon had known that Blair was in love with Jim. But he never brought it up, not once in the ensuing months. He didn't ask when the doctors told them all that Jim was in a coma. He didn't ask when they were all told that while there was always hope, it was time to move him to a facility that could take constant care of him - for as long as the coma lasted. He didn't ask when Blair told him that he and Jim's father had chosen the Williamsburg Home, and he didn't ask as Blair settled into a routine that would break a lesser man. A routine that had him start his day early, at the home, with Jim, and finish the day the same way. Simon knew that Blair stayed with Jim until after midnight every single night. Knew that he read to him, watched television with him, massaged him, changed him, did everything he could think of to do. And at six each morning, he was back with Jim for breakfast before coming into the station for a full shift as a detective. A detective that more than pulled his weight.
Simon could almost understand what Blair was doing. He simply didn't want to spend any more time at the loft - than he had to. So - work, and Jim. But it had been months now, and Simon didn't know how much longer Blair Sandburg could keep it up.
"I'd have been dead by now," he said to no one.
He looked out the kitchen window, at the softly falling snow, and suddenly he had the desire - no - the need -- to be with Sandburg... and Jim. Putting his glass down, he hurried back into the living room, put his coat on, grabbed his keys, turned out the light and left.
Joel looked out his bedroom window and thought of Jim and Blair. God, how he missed them. Which was an odd thing to say, considering that he saw Blair every day, and was partnered with him. But the Blair he worked with bore little to no resemblance to the Blair of over five months ago. This was a Blair without Jim.
He peered out and up, and thought he could just see a few flickering stars between the snow clouds. Joel closed his eyes and said softly, "God, please give them both back to us. I know Blair is surviving, as Jim would want him to, but I have to ask you, is he really?" He clasped his hands together and with his eyes on the sky, added, "They're in your hands, as always, and your wisdom is trusted, but I can't bring myself to believe that you would give us the wonderful gift of a sentinel, only to take him from us. I put my trust in you, and pray for tonight, a night of miracles. Amen."
He bowed his head for a few silent moments, then was suddenly struck with the need to be with Blair, tonight, of all nights. No, to be with Blair and ... Jim.
Joel headed out.
Blair sat quietly, Jim's hand still in his. He wasn't ready to read to Jim yet, instead choosing to just... look. Between the massages and the physical therapy, Jim looked much the same as he always looked. His skin was pale, but really, Blair thought, that was the only significant change. Blair trimmed Jim's hair himself, and he shaved him every morning, bathed him most mornings, and took care of the small things, like nails and such. The fact that Jim never moved, or spoke, or opened his eyes, didn't lessen Blair's need to be with him. He could hold Jim's hand, stroke a finger down the much loved jaw, confide in him, share his day with him, and sometimes, sometimes, he was strong enough to talk about the future. Their future.
But it took all his strength to talk of a time ahead. He and Jim had only acknowledged their feelings three hours before the event that changed their present. They hadn't even shared a kiss before hustling over to City Hall and Jim's security detail. Who could have predicted that a city worker, recently fired for being drunk on duty, would try to get back at the city by shooting their mayor?
Blair looked around the room, a room he'd chosen for Jim because of the window overlooking the city, and smiled a bit. Between Major Crime and the Home itself, the room was beautifully decorated for the holiday. His menorah sat on the table in front of the window, and while he rarely arrived for sunset, he'd lit each candle, each evening, just as he'd done tonight. Continuing to look, it seemed that the room drew closer, the walls sliding inward. He didn't feel trapped but suddenly... he was overcome with helplessness... and hopelessness.
"Oh, God," he whispered. He bowed his head and closed his eyes tightly. He squeezed Jim's hand hard as he murmured, "God, Jim, I need you so much. So very much. I don't think... I'm trying to be ... trying to make it, to be, but... I don't think I can go on much longer, you know? I never realized how I depended on your voice, just the sound of your voice, whether you were complaining, or teasing, or coaching, or just... just being you. And your hands. You can't begin to know how I've missed them on me. A pat, a bump, a thump with your fingers, or a palm to my forehead, or your hand on my back, or my neck...."
He coughed and felt his throat closing up with emotion and he had to move, to get up, to do something. He stood and put Jim's hand down, then moved to the window. He found himself brushing a hand over his face... and the sudden tears. Man, he'd promised Jim this wouldn't happen, but damn it, maybe this was a quarterly thing. Like, every three months, his emotions would get the better of him....
There... couldn't be another three months or four, or five, or even ... one. Jim had to come back to him now.
"Please, Jim. Please. Don't leave me like this. I'm not as strong as you always thought, don't you see that? None of us are. We need our sentinel, man, and I need... I need my friend, and my partner, and my... now don't laugh, but I need my ... soul mate, my other half. I need you--"
Simon pulled up in front of the Home and parked behind the truck. He was just getting out of the car when Joel pulled in behind him. Smiling, he waited until his friend had joined him on the sidewalk, then said, "You couldn't stay away either, I see?"
Joel shook his head. "Not tonight. I just needed... to be here, I guess."
"Same thing with me." He glanced up, then back to Joel as he said, "Shall we?"
The lobby was warm and inviting, with a small decorated Christmas tree in the corner. Two wreaths with red bows hung on either side of a large oak wall clock behind the receptionist's counter, and on the counter sat two poinsettias. Gertie looked up as the two men entered, and smiled.
"Captain Banks and Detective Taggart, Merry Christmas. I'm surprised to see you tonight."
The two men walked up to her, and while Joel signed them both in, Simon said, "We found that tonight, of all nights, we simply couldn't stay away."
She nodded in understanding even as her expression grew sad. "I'm afraid there's been no change, but Detective Sandburg is already upstairs so go on up."
"Thank you, Gertie, we will."
They took the elevator to the third floor, and once there, walked down to Jim's room. Simon knocked softly on the door, then opened it, and with Joel right behind him, he entered quietly, but stopped just inside.
The bedside lamp was on, but evidently Blair had it on the lowest setting. A small, but real Christmas tree stood to their left and Simon wondered when Blair had set it up. It hadn't been there last weekend. It smelled wonderful, was beautifully decorated and lit with small multi-colored lights. That and the small bedside light lent the room a warm and inviting glow. But the reason for going no further inside lay with the young man at the window.
At that moment, Simon was certain he'd never seen a lonelier or more despondent man in his life. For the last months, Sandburg had been a rock for all of them. Always positive, certain that Jim would come back to them, he'd been cheerful and encouraging when it came to everyone getting on with their lives while they waited for Jim to 'wake up'. Not once since the doctors had delivered their news of Jim's condition, had anyone seen so much as a chink in Blair's armor. Until now.
Blair's shoulders were slumped, his arms crossed over his chest, head bowed. Fine tremors seemed to be coursing through him and he looked so helpless that Simon had the urge to wrap him in his arms. But he didn't. He turned his head to look at Joel, saw the shining moisture in his eyes, and waited. He didn't have long to wait.
Joel moved toward the younger man slowly as he said in a soft voice, "Blair, I hope you don't mind that Simon and I dropped by tonight...."
Blair's spine immediately stiffened, then he straightened, let his arms drop to his side, and without turning, said, "No... uhm, no, of course not. But it's Christmas Eve...."
"And this is where we both needed to be," Simon said, his voice as soft and caring as Joel's had been.
Blair raised a hand and almost angrily brushed it across his face, and both knew exactly what he was brushing away. Joel moved to the right of Blair as Simon moved to the left. For a moment, the three men simply stood, bodies just touching while Sandburg gathered himself together. Joel was the first to change the moment by simply draping an arm over Blair's shoulders, offering comfort in a way he prayed the younger man would accept. Simon, seeing how Blair almost leaned into Joel, slipped his arm around Blair's waist.
The clock on the wall quietly ticked the time away, while outside, the snow continued to fall.
"He's going to wake up, Sandburg. And soon," Simon finally said.
They were still standing in the same positions and Blair's surreptitious sniffling had abated. Simon figured it was time to talk, albeit quietly.
"I believe that with every part of me, Blair," Joel added.
Choking up again, Blair could only nod. Their reflections stared back at them, surrounded by the tree lights and Blair found his eyes searching for Jim in the window glass. What he saw caused him to whirl around, almost knocking Joel over in the process.
Jim was moving.
Stunned, all three men watched as slowly... so very slowly, Jim's hand rose, dropped down, then rose again....
Blair was by his side in a flash, Simon and Joel right behind him. He grabbed the slowly waving hand, and holding it fast between his own, he leaned down and said, "Jim? Jim, can you hear me? Come on, man, open up those sentinel eyes of yours, give me a big fat ol' grin and tell me to shut up, okay? Could you do that for me, Jim? Please? It's... like, you know, Christmas, and I've got to tell you, I can't think of a better gift, well, maybe I could, because if you woke up, we'd be able to actually finish what we started, you know? So maybe you could--"
"Whoa, Sandburg, whoa. Give Jim a chance. He might not even... I mean, this might not be what you think it is. Let's just call--"
"Can't a guy get any sleep around here?"
"Do you mind, Jim? I'm trying to talk some sense into Sandburg here so that he doesn't... so that he doesn't...."
Simon's voice trailed off as he realized who he'd been talking to. Blair reached out and grabbed his arm, his fingers squeezing so hard, Simon had to bite his lips.
Jim stopped, coughed slightly, then said, "If you think anyone can talk sense into Sandburg, you're crazy. I've been trying for years."
His voice was rusty and low, but it was Jim's voice - Jim's beautiful voice.
Blair released Jim's hand, sat down next to him ... and started to laugh. He threw back his head and laughed until tears streamed down his face. Jim rubbed his eyes and blinked several times, then stared at his partner. Before he could say anything, Simon sat down on the other side of the bed... and started to laugh as well. Joel joined in a few moments later.
Jim scrubbed a hand over his face, and said, "Who knew I could be so funny?"
The laughter finally died out, and as Blair sat on the edge of the bed, his breath hitching, Jim slipped his hand under the blue denim shirt and began to lightly rub the warm skin. Blair closed his eyes and sighed deeply.
"Uhm, buddy? Can you tell me what's going on now? I don't... I don't actually recognize this room, you know? And I've learned that when I wake up and don't know where I am - well, it's not a good thing."
Blair lowered his head, then began to shake it back and forth. Simon, seeing his distress, said, "Jim, you're at the Williamsburg Home, and you've been here for the last four months. Do you remember the security detail on the Mayor?"
Jim was about to answer, but Blair twisted around a bit and grabbed the hand that was rubbing his back. Jim watched, astonished, as Blair gripped it like a life preserver. Unable to tear his eyes from his partner, he nodded. "I remember."
"Do you remember the ...shooting?"
Jim frowned and rubbed at his forehead with his other hand before saying, "Vaguely. I... I heard the rifle... the hammer being pulled back, and I ... did I spot the guy?"
"You did. And then you launched yourself forward, placing your body between the killer and the mayor. You were hit two times, in the chest."
He dropped his hand and absently rubbed a spot just over his heart. "I... I see."
Simon looked over at Joel, who indicated the door, then pointed down. Nodding, Simon said, "Look, Joel and I are going to head downstairs and let the staff know about this... about... you. They'll need to call Doctor Johns and probably look you over... and all. We'll also call your dad, Jim, and Naomi, and the rest of Major Crime, so hang in there, we'll be back in a few, all right?"
Jim, his eyes back on Sandburg, nodded.
Simon got up and he and Joel walked out, but not before looking back at the miracle in the bed.
"Chief? You ... okay?"
So many days, weeks and months without hearing that one word. An endearment to end all endearments.
"I'm... fine - now. How you feeling?"
"Odd, Sandburg. Odd. And ... I'm so sorry, Chief. So very sorry for putting you through all of this.. for how long again?"
"It's been five months since the shooting, and four since they moved you here. And you should be sorry, jumping in front of those bullets that way." There was no sting in his voice, only a soft smile that matched the one on his face.
"Yeah, well, trust me, next time, someone else can do the jumping. Just make sure it's not - you."
Blair didn't answer, just squeezed Jim's hand even harder.
Eventually, Jim managed to reverse things and bring Blair's hand to his lips. He kissed the back of it, then said again, "Sorry."
Blair shook his head but still couldn't speak. Jim looked around the room, and smiled. "I'm thinking it's Christmas. You do all this, Sandburg?" he said with a wave of his free hand, indicating the decorations.
"Me, your dad, Steven, even mom. We all did it."
"It looks good... for a room I'll hopefully never see again. You think this Doctor Johns will let me ... go... home? Tonight?"
"I'd like to see him try to keep you here," Blair said, his tone telling Jim that he would, indeed, be going home tonight.
"You think I could sit up then?"
"What?" Blair looked down at their hands, then added sheepishly, "Oh."
He let Jim's hand slide from his, and together, they got Jim up. Blair got the pillows up and Jim scooted back until he was resting against them. He stretched a bit, tested his muscles, and whistled. "I feel pretty good for four months in a coma."
"They do a great job here, Jim. You've had daily workouts, massages, the works. Your father and I insisted because we both knew... we knew that... we knew...."
His voice trailed off again and Jim saw him grimace as if in pain. He thought enough was enough. He pulled Blair down until his head was just under his chin. As he kissed the top of Blair's head, he whispered, "You never gave up, did you? I bet you've been here every single day, and you probably haven't been taking care of yourself, and--"
A hand came up and covered his mouth. He grinned into Blair's palm, then nipped it. "Ow." Blair took his hand away, and grinned up at his sentinel.
The look of love almost took Jim's breath away. He remembered the hours before heading for City Hall, and he chuckled, then said, "We probably have a record now for the whole 'I love you' thing. If memory serves, we said the words, but never even kissed each other. "
"Unfortunately, you remember correctly. No kissing, no groping, just words. Okay, I did all the talking--"
"Oh, now that I do remember. Took guts, Sandburg. Took guts."
"Could we not go over it again? Could we maybe... get to the kissing part?"
For an answer, Jim gave a small tug and pulled Blair down to him and eventually... onto him. "I like the way you think, Chief."
Grateful beyond words, Blair simply ... kissed the man.
The calls had been made and the doctor, Jim's father, and his brother were on their way. Gertie had been almost as excited as he and Joel, and had quickly called Marilyn to give her the good news.
Simon looked over at Joel and asked, "You think we've left them alone long enough?"
Joel checked his watch, then grinned. "Oh, yeah."
Grinning, both men headed back up to the third floor. At Jim's door, they paused, but only for a moment before walking in.
And for the second time that night - stopping dead just inside.
Blair was lying on top of Jim and Jim's arms were around Blair, holding him, and they were... they were... kissing.
Jim and Blair were kissing.
"They're kissing," Joel whispered.
"You noticed that, did you, Joel?" Simon whispered back.
"It's Christmas Eve, the fifth night of Chanukah, Jim's awake, and they're kissing," Joel whispered in wonder.
Smiling, Simon nodded, and they both continued to watch Jim and Blair kiss.
It was a wonderful Christmas Eve.