Man, he so could not believe this. Christmas Eve, and he was standing in the middle of a neighborhood basketball court, in the freezing rain, with an arm the size ofa South American python around his neck, and fingers the size of Genoa sausages wrapped in his hair. He really needed to think about getting it cut one of these days. This was really getting old.
As his vision blurred, he noticed, vaguely, that the freezing rain had turned to snow. Oh, goody, a white Christmas. He just hoped he wouldn't be spending it at Cascade General. Their stuffed turkey gave cardboard a good name.
"Look, you're surrounded, O'Malley. Let him go, and you won't be hurt."
Ah, good ol' Jim. Calm, firm, just the right touch of reasoning menace in his voice. Of course, that touch of menace also caused O'Malley to tighten his chokehold, which, by the way, was very aptly named. In another minute, he wouldn't have to worry about spending Christmas in the hospital, or anywhere else for that matter.
"I'LL MAKE YOU A DEAL, ELLISON," O'Malley yelled.
Sandburg thought about telling him that yelling wasn't necessary with Jim, but that probably wouldn't go over well with his sentinel, and since he couldn't say much more than, "gaaah", he let it go.
"BACK OFF AND MAYBE PRETTY BOY HERE WON'T GET HURT. I'M HEADING FOR MY TRUCK AND IF YOU LET ME GO, YOUR FRIEND MIGHT BE ALLOWED TO REACQUAINT HIMSELF WITH OXYGEN."
Pretty boy? Pretty boy? Pretty MAN, you asshole, he wanted to yell. Again, he doubted that O'Malley would get that from, "Gaaah."
Speaking of oxygen, that would go over pretty well right about now.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Jim... moving in, arms in the air. What the hell? Oh, man, now they were both going to end up at Cascade General.
When Jim was close enough to speak in a normal tone, he said, "O'Malley, you're not leaving here alive unless you let him go. You killed two cops, and trust me when I say that the other cops couldn't care less about the long-haired throwback to the sixties you're threatening. On the other hand, I care very much because I happen to know that he got me a pretty nifty gift, but hid it real well, so you see, I really need you to let him go so he can tell me where it is. I might also add that he most certainly is*not* pretty, but he's damn fine looking for a guy."
During his entire recitation, Jim had been moving slowly forward, getting closer and closer, and O'Malley's arm had been getting tighter and tighter. Jim was now within arms reach, but he was just standing there, a helpful grin on his face. Even to a man starving for oxygen, Jim looked damn good.
Suddenly Jim's arm went back as if about to scratch his neck, and the next thing Blair knew, the muzzle of a gun was resting against O'Malley's forehead. Blair could look up and see Jim's wrist. He was pretty sure this was the weirdest situation ever.
"Now let him go or I'll blow your fucking brains out through the back of your head," Jim hissed.
Blair's eyes were about to roll back inside his head when the arm was removed. He grabbed his neck and fell to his knees. Jim calmly stepped - over -- him, turned O'Malley around, and cuffed him. Rafe and Brown came up and Jim said, "He's all yours, guys. Get him out of my sight."
"You got it, Jim. Hairboy all right?"
Blair was seeing some pretty nice spots before his eyes, but he managed to nod his head, even though he couldn't see anyone. Jim holstered his gun and knelt down next to him. Hand on his shoulder, he said, "Yeah, he's gonna be fine, Brown. I'm gonna run him over to Cascade General, just in case. See you back at the station."
"Right, Jim. We'll bring Simon up to speed."
Blair felt Jim's hand under his elbow and figured the man wanted him to stand. He knew that was a good idea, but his legs were putting up a royal stink. He waved a hand in the air, hoping the gesture would be correctly translated by Jim into, "Hold your horses, Sentinel Man, this guppy ain't movin' yet."
"Okay, I get it, Sandburg. Take all the time you need. And Sentinel Man? You're going to have to come up with something way better than that. Maybe ... 'Hunk Man Supremo'?"
Blair snorted, did his best "you juvenile prick" eye rolling, then wondered if he'd talked, or at least 'gaaahed' out loud. He must have because he was damn certain that ESP was not one of his sentinel's talents. To date.
"Feeling up to walking over to the truck yet? A bottle of Dasani is calling your name, Chief."
Blair felt his legs pushing up, so he nodded, and once again a hand was there and Jim was lifting, and miracle of miracles, Blair was standing upright. Dark spots danced in front of his eyes -- he would have preferred scantily clad sugar plum fairies of the male gender - and he almost hurled his lunch. Instead, he put one foot in front of the other and made his slow way off the basketball court and into the dark parking lot. He didn't miss the fact that he was leaning heavily against Jim, or that Jim had his arm all the way around his waist. Damn, it felt good.
It felt even better when once seated inside, Jim leaned over him, picked up the other half of the seatbelt, and brought the two pieces together and clicking them shut before pulling it nice and snug across Blair's belly. He shuddered slightly as Jim's hand brushed his thigh.
"You okay, there, Chief?"
Not trusting his voice - squeaking might lose him some macho points - and he needed all the macho points he could get - Blair nodded. His water bottle was placed in his hand as Jim said, "Okay, we'll get you to the hospital, have the doc check you out, then to the station, and finally home." Jim patted his thigh this time, and Blair shuddered again.
"Wow, imagine that. You can't talk for five whole days, Sandburg. I can't even conceive of such a thing."
Seeing the smirk, Blair did some quick talking with his middle finger.
"Now, now, is that any way to talk on Christmas Eve? And don't give me that, "But Jim, I'm Jewish" because I have a home that looks like Santa's workshop, thanks to you."
Blair gave him both his middle fingers.
"So he's okay, then?" Simon asked with a concerned look out the window of his office.
"His throat is badly bruised and is sporting some interesting colors, but it's his larynx that really took a beating. He won't be able to talk for a few days, and he has a whopper of a headache." Jim shot his own look out the window, and added in a strange voice, "It was - close, Simon."
"So I've read in Brown's and Rafe's reports. That Dirty Harry routine of yours was a bit much, wasn't it?"
"It worked," Jim, said defensively.
"Right, and isn't that all that matters," Simon responded sarcastically. He signed off Jim's report and said, "Get him home, Jim. And other than tomorrow around noon, I don't expect to see you two until--"
"New Year's," Jim finished for him.
"Right, and after that, not until the fifth."
Jim unlocked the door to the loft and ushered Blair inside. Knowing his surprisingly sentimental partner, Jim turned on the tree lights first, then the small lamp next to the nearest couch. Straightening, he said, "You can have the shower first, Chief. When you get out, I'll have a nice hot toddy waiting for you. As for dinner--"
Blair mouthed the word, "Tamale", and Jim, grinning, nodded. "Right, almost forgot. I'll take them out and get the fixing's ready too."
Blair nodded gratefully and headed into the bathroom. He was forced, in order to keep his head attached to his neck, to move very slowly, and to avoid, at all costs, any movement of said head. Once in the bathroom, he turned on the water - very carefully, then sat down on the toilet seat cover and, just as carefully, undressed. His shoes were a bit of a problem, but he was very flexible and could actually put his legs behind his head (something he'd always wanted to show Jim), so he simply brought his foot to his hand, instead of the other way around. Shoes and socks discarded, he slowly wiggled out of his jeans and shorts, and finally stood up, a bit too fast, but after a moment, the room slowed down and he was able to climb into the shower.
Moving was really out, so he decided cleanliness and godliness would have to wait a couple of days and he settled for rinsing. But that still left the problem of his hair. He finally decided to stand for awhile, get warm, then just use some leave-in conditioner and get out.
Fifteen minutes later, dressed warmly, and with thick socks on his feet, he padded out in a nice billow of steam, and sat down at the table. Jim had set it, and Blair noticed several items at his place setting. There was the steaming hot toddy, in his case, hot tea with lemon, as promised, but there were also two aspirins - and a pad and pencil. Blair looked up and fixed his gaze on his partner. It was gestures like these that almost convinced Blair that Jim loved him as much as he loved Jim. Almost. As he downed the aspirin, he watched Jim move around the kitchen, and decided to simply enjoy the view. While Jim continued to prepare their Christmas Eve dinner, Blair wondered how he would now give Jim the one gift he'd been planning on for days. His gaze landed on the pad, and he had his method. Smiling, he went back to watching Jim.
Jim slid the plate piled high with beef and chicken tamales onto the table with one hand, and the lazy Susan with the other. He went back, grabbed a beer for him and a refill of the toddy for Blair, and sat down. He was just about to reach out and snag a tamale when an arched and bushy eyebrow caught his attention. Smiling, he said, "Pain meds? No beer, buddy, sorry."
Jim wasn't surprised at Blair's response. He was getting good at talking with his middle finger.
"How's your throat?"
They were seated on the couch in front of the tree, with only the fire and the tree lights for illumination. A bowl of popcorn, liberally sprinkled with cheddar cheese powder and loaded down with butter, sat between them. Both men had their legs on the coffee table. Blair shrugged and smiled, and remembered how hard it had been to eat the tamales. He'd ended up mashing them with a lot of sour cream so that they'd slide down his very sore throat. Prior to Jim's asking, he'd been considering another pain pill, but if he went for one now, it might unleash the to-date absent mother hen, and God forbid that should happen. But damn, swallowing was a bitch. He looked with sorrow-filled eyes at the popcorn, sighed heavily, and went back to looking at the tree.
Jim coughed in a manner that suggested he was fully aware of Blair's pain and was trying hard to keep the mother hen in the basement, as he said, "You want to open a gift tonight?"
Blair grinned at the undertone of "Could we, Blair, could we?", and then shot a glance at their stockings, which he'd hung from the stereo. Tonight might be easier than waiting for tomorrow. He knew he wouldn't sleep a wink. On the other hand, if Jim 'opened' it now, tomorrow might be a guaranteed bummer of a day. Oh, what the hell. He nodded, and pointed at their stockings.
Jim grinned, jumped up with way more eagerness than a man of almost forty probably should show at the idea of opening a present on Christmas Eve, and grabbed both stockings. With one in each hand, he said, "Wait, there are more than one in these, so do we just reach in and grab one, or do we consider the stocking gifts as one gift?"
Blair looked at him from under his eyebrows.
"Right, I agree. A stocking is one gift." He walked over, sat down, handed Blair his stocking, and said, "You first."
Anything to forestall the inevitable. Blair dug in. The stocking had four smallish gifts, and he pulled them out, then started with the smallest of the four. Unwrapping it, his eyes grew wide at the electronic poker game. He'd recently become hooked with watching it on television, and playing on his computer, and he'd made noises about the two of them actually taking that Vegas trip they'd talked about two years ago, but had yet to take. With shining eyes, he turned to Jim and mouthed a heartfelt thank you.
"You're welcome. Open the others," Jim urged.
Blair did, and found a gift certificate to Orleon's Rare Books, his favorite book store in the world, a digital golf score card keeper for use in his other hobby (thanks to Jim) of golf. He grinned but his eyes held a special sparkle because the twin to this one was in Jim's stocking.
The last two stocking gifts were typical; a bottle of his favorite after-shave, and a gift card to the Rainier Student Store. He was already in seventh heaven, and he held the feeling to him like his favorite afghan. In about two minutes, said mood could be shattered to hell and gone.
Jim turned to his stocking, and pulled out the first of three. Blair grinned, because the first one was the score card. He watched Jim's long slender fingers carefully pull the paper away, then saw him grin hugely at the box. They high-fived each other, but then Blair cringed as Jim's hand hovered over the other two gifts. He chose the easy one, and Blair let out the breath he'd been holding. Jim unwrapped the second one in the same careful manner as the first, then gasped as he lifted the lid of the compact plastic box. Inside rested ten vintage fishing flies - all hand tied, all between forty and fifty years old.
"Oh, God, Blair, this is... this is incredible. These have to be at least fifty years old." Jim turned to him, and with eyes shining his gratitude, said, "Thank you, Chief. Thank you."
Blair nodded, suddenly shy. He watched as Jim touched each one with the reverence of a true fisherman. Finally he put them aside, and pulled out the last box, the one Blair had added just two hours ago, while Jim had taken his turn in the shower. He had the sudden impulse to run, but he stomped down on it, and simply... waited.
Jim held the box with a puzzled expression on his face. The box weighed next to nothing. He shook it, then with a grin, unwrapped it. His fingers paused just before taking off the lid, because his senses were telling him that Blair was scared. Out of his wits. Okay, so he wasn't quite as certain of this gift - which made Jim wonder what the heck it could be. Well, only one way to find out. He lifted the lid. Inside sat a folded slip of paper. Curious, he lifted it out, and as he was about to unfold it, Blair got up and walked over to the window.
Huh-oh. Whatever was on this paper, it had to be bad. Suddenly, Jim's hands began to shake. Was... Blair leaving him? Was that was... no, no, he would never do it this way.
"Blair?" he asked softly.
Blair waved a hand, signifying that he should open the slip of paper. Jim opened it.
*Jim, I'd planned on saying this to you tonight, but we both know that's not possible, thanks to O'Malley and his decision to try and bust out when you guys had him and his drug lab surrounded. Okay, so here goes.
I've been trying to come up with the perfect gift for you, and I finally decided that you needed to get married again....*
Jim nearly choked. He looked up, his face scrunched into some ungodly expression and was about to say Blair's name again, but he realized that Blair's eyes were closed and his hands clenched into fists. Jim bent his head and went back to reading, but his heart wasn't in it.
*...and I know the perfect individual, so I'm giving this person to you as my gift.
Jim, will you marry me?*
Jim's vision blurred, but he managed to read the last part again, and again, and again. Finally, he folded it very carefully, tucked it into his shirt pocket - the one on his left, over his heart -- got up, and walked over to where Blair was standing, eyes still closed. He wrapped his arms around his partner, bent his head, and whispered, "Yes, I'll marry you, but only if you promise not to let Naomi plan it."
Blair's eyes flew open and he immediately turned in Jim's arms. Head tilted, he mouthed, "Really?"
"Really, you goof ball." He grinned and added, "I've got to give you ten points for originality. And where's my ring?"
Blair took Jim's hand and led him back to the couch. He pushed him down, sat next to him, took his pad and pencil, and scribbled furiously before handing the pad to Jim. Jim read: "Consider the ring around the shower as your engagement ring."
Jim laughed, but it was short-lived as Blair climbed on top of him, and invaded his mouth. As first kisses went, it wasn't bad. It would have been tops on the chart if Blair's discomfort and inability to breathe hadn't interfered.
Jim chuckled as Blair moved off of him to sit back down - and slap the cushion hard in frustration. "It's all right, Chief. We'll have our time in the sack. In fact, I plan on keeping you there - barefoot and lubed - through the new year."
He grabbed the pad and quickly wrote: "Just what part of me do you plan on 'lubing', my little dumpling?"
Grin wide and complete, Jim leaned over, took the pad from Blair's hand, kissed his temple, then his nose, and whispered, "I'm an equal opportunity luber, Chief." "Good thing," Blair mouthed.
Nuzzling the hair behind Blair's left ear, Jim murmured, "By the way, Pretty Boy, where did you hide my good present?"